Wednesday, December 15, 2010


"Further to my letter of October 6, 2010..." (Yawn) "By my computations it appears that all discovery was due..." (Groan) "After a review of your responses..." (Go to hell...Run it up the flag pole and see if anyone salutes it...sue me - oops too late.) Just once, I'd like to open my mail and read "Congratulations, you've just won the following prize..." It really doesn't matter what I win...the raffle for the church's crazy quilt, tickets to a Barry Manilow concert, the sequel to the "The Story of Cutlery," hair rollers.

The last time I won something I was on a bowling team. I was so terrible at it, so gutter prone, I had the highest handicap in the entire league - maybe in the history of the league. It's been almost thirty years and I might continue to hold that title. I still wince when I recall one rather unfortunate occasion; I let go of the ball as I swung my arm backward nearly wiping out an entire row of bowling housewives on the opposing team who were sitting unaware on the bench. Early on I learned that bowling was a very competitive sport for these ladies, and not just a lark, as it was for me. But until that moment I had not realized it could also be quite dangerous. I made a mental note to look into my homeowners insurance to see if I needed extra coverage for negligent acts.

On the bright side, because I was a lousy bowler I had an amazing handicap. And because I had such an amazing handicap, when it came time to "Bowl For Turkey" just before Thanksgiving, I won the ceramic covered dish shaped like the bird. Likewise, at "The Christmas Bowl" I won the set of three serving trays, in graduated sizes, painted with a Poinsettia motif. That last win was just too much for the long-timers on the league. Some of them were heard to grumble (quite loudly, I might add) that "the lousy bowler" was winning all the prizes, while they - the true bowlers who cared deeply about the sport - were being left in the dust with no prizes to show for their expertise. I don't know if there is a natural correlation or if it was just coincidence, but the best bowlers were usually built rather sturdily. Therefore, I decided to take the road of least resistance and quit the league. A shame, really, since I loved bowling. I bought my own bowling ball with the finger holes drilled specifically to fit me. It was a beautiful twelve-pound blue sparkler; I even went the extra mile and had my initials engraved on it. It had a lovely carrying case as well, also blue. Although bowling shoes are never truly attractive, I was lucky enough to find a pair made by Hush Puppy that might have been mistaken for regular buff-colored loafers if one stood far enough away from them and then squinted really hard to make them blur a little.

I also loved the sound of the bowling alley...the rumbling down the lanes, the crack and kerfuffle of the pins as they dropped (or in my case, the lack of crack and kerfuffle followed by a hollow plunk.) And then there was the movement of the bowlers...the fist pulled back in a jerking motion followed by a "Yes" and a little bow and another jerking fist...maybe a "That's the way...that's it." High fives all around. I didn't have many of those moments either. Mostly, I'd line up my shot, then step - hop - step as I drew my right arm back and followed through and then prayed the ball would stay in the lane. Just one pin, please God in heaven. Most of the time I was able to hit something. But there were no high-fives, no fisted "Yeses." Mostly, it was pretty quiet as I walked back to my place on the bench trying not to look ashamed. But every once in a while I'd line up the shot perfectly, step - hop - step - and I'd remember to keep my thumb pointed to the right and my wrist flat as I executed the release and - bingo. "That's the way...that's it...Yes!" I'd do my chicken dance, and strut back to my place pridefully. But the other members of the league weren't fooled by any of it. They knew dumb luck when they saw it; and, there was still the matter of the handicap. They didn't appreciate some lousy bowler grabbing all the loot. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the dour faces of the league champions, or their gold and silver plastic trophies in the shape of bowling pins, I was the one with the ceramic turkey bowl and Poinsettia serving platters. There was no getting around that!

Since my bowling career ended, I haven't won anything. I'm not much of a sport model; I'm more like an old Packard. When I moved to Savannah, I was asked to join a tennis league. I think I must have looked the part of a "lady-who-tennised." I was thin, and yuppie looking, and lived in a new house, in a nice neighborhood, with children in private school. Ergo, it followed I must also be into tennis, right? Once again, I thought it was all just for fun. I didn't realize they actually expected me to know how to play tennis...or that they expected me to help them win matches. I just figured we'd schlep on over to the tennis courts and bat the ball around and then drink wine. I bought a tennis racket and racket cover and shoes and a visor; but, I didn't figure on a dress code. I think I showed up in jeans and a paint-stained T-shirt that said something like, "I Live To Boogie." In return, I was greeted by ladies in little pristine white skorts with matching tops. Being a fast learner from past events, the morning wasn't over before I told them I thought I was better off bowling.

Still, I would dearly love to win something. And although I don't expect it, I would be lying to you if I didn't admit I would love to win the short story competition next Spring. Unfortunately, I don't think I can rely upon handicapping for an edge over the competition. Just ink, and paper, and a couple of thousand words. Who would have thought it was so difficult. I mean, no balls, no pins, no nets, and no dress code. Now, if I can just come up with something interesting to say, and manage to stay out of the would be lovely to do the chicken dance.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I'll Give You Stormy Weather

My dad. My dad exuded atmosphere. He came up the hard way in Chicago...went to the College of Hard Knocks you might say...and he didn't take "nothin' from no one." For a tough guy, he sure cried a lot though. He cried when he heard something on the news about a kid being lost, or hurt...or worse. He would be yelling at the television calling the President a sonofabitch one moment; he would be weeping the next. There was a "bastard" who swerved his car to hit his dog Moochie on purpose. He chased the car for blocks. He was going to kill the bastard if he caught him. He was 10, but he was going to kill that bastard if he caught him. Finally, exhausted, he tripped and fell. The bastard got away. Moochie was dead. Dad liked to drink a lot. When he did, he would tell that story. I'd cry over Moochie. Part of me wished Dad would have caught up to that bastard; most of me was glad he didn't.

My dad was a born musician, if it's possible to be born something, and there wasn't an instrument he couldn't play. It didn't matter if it had keys or strings or valves, or if it swung cool or blew hot. He could make that instrument do what it was put on earth to do; he could figure the thing out in his head long before he held it in his hands. He could play music long before he could read music. Like the Sorting Hat might have said, "It was all there - in his head."

He had a band. He was the bandleader and the trumpet player and the band played wherever they could. Back in those early days they played in some pretty seedy bars - for dimes and quarters. He didn't care as long as he was playing music. Besides, seedy bars wouldn't have bothered him. Like I said, he was a pretty tough guy. After Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, he joined the Army. It doesn't always happen this way, but the Army actually used his talent wisely. He was put in charge of a band that played for the guys stationed in various parts of the world. The conditions were still pretty rough, he'd want you to know. It wasn't a piece of cake and the bombs didn't know not to land on the musicians. The bombs didn't care where they landed.

They played at some USO spots too. The band had a gig in Spokane, Washington - late 1943 or early 1944. Lucky for him, on this particular night it wasn't a seedy bar like he was used to. If it had been, she would never have walked in the door. But she did. She was wearing a dress that came up just above her knees. He was sure happy that girls were saving on cloth and wearing their skirts above their knees. It was all for the war effort, you see. She was wearing a skirt just above her knees, and her hair was pulled up on the sides, and it hung down in the back. It bounced when she walked. She wasn't very big. He figured she couldn't be much taller than 5 feet, and she was petite in figure as well. She came in with her sister, who was much taller. He watched her. He watched as they talked and smiled and were having fun. He could tell she had a small space between her two front teeth and dimples. He knew. Right then. Just like that.

He was handsome - movie star handsome - and he was a little dangerous. She hadn't grown up around dangerous men. She had dated boys, mostly from the farms around her parents' farm. They were all good Catholic boys. She went to a good Catholic girls school. She didn't know any dangerous men. Certainly not dangerous trumpet players. She could tell right from where she stood how blue his eyes were. He was wearing his uniform. She was watching him too. He handed his trumpet to one of the guys in the band, never taking his eyes off her, and stepped down from the stage and walked over to her through the couples dancing to the music.

It happened just like that. Decades later, he told my brother why he never played "Stormy Weather." When my brother told me, I laughed until I thought I'd cry. He had a million stories, my Dad did. Many of them were a tough guy sort of way.

Monday, December 6, 2010

We Need A Little Christmas

My neighbors were out in force this weekend decorating their houses for Christmas. I got the yearly flyer, printed on seasonal green paper, reminding me of (a) the holiday progressive dinner, (b) the tradition "many, many years old" of placing one dozen luminaries in front of each house thereby "creating an unbroken chain of light" throughout the neighborhood on Christmas Eve, and (c) the equally ancient tradition of putting a large red bow on every mailbox.

Last year, my daughter was across the street helping our dear friends place and light their luminary candles at the curb, when Dr. Z exclaimed, "I wish I knew what imbecile thought this one up!" Katharine could hardly contain herself and ran home to tell the imbecile - also known as Mom - what he said. We laughed so hard we nearly knocked over the dinner table. The progressive dinner was also my idea, as were the beribboned mailboxes. Back those "many many years" there were only about 50 houses and I was president of the Homeowners Association. I also started a Fourth of July Parade with bikes and wagons and baby strollers festooned with streamers and balloons and other red, white and blue do-dads and froo-froo. It culminated at the park with a huge picnic and super games like "Dunk The Dads." (Getting enough dads to agree to being dunked was one of the most difficult tasks of my administration). Apparently, as the years rolled on it became more difficult to get people organized; the 4th of July party was dropped. But while it lasted, it was great fun.

But getting back to Christmas. Christmas is not my favorite holiday. I far prefer Halloween and Thanksgiving. In fact, I far prefer just an ordinary day. The beauty of Christmas, and its true meaning, has gotten so lost it has become almost foreign to it. Inevitably, the hawking started even before the trick and treaters came ringing the doorbell. The odious commercials of the Lexus sitting on the driveway with a big red bow attached to the roof run several times an hour. Now, in all fairness, this year's commercials include the suggestion that a lower end automobile, such as a Kia, are also acceptable. You such a bad economy we are allowed to make such concessions.

Thinking through all the Christmases I've lived through, I tried to remember if I have ever ever known someone who woke up on Christmas morning to a Lexus sitting on the driveway with a big red bow attached to its roof? No one came to mind. To whom are these commericals directed, I wonder. Why stop at a Lexus? Why not a private jet, or a swiss chalet, or a rocketship? Why not King Tut's death mask or the Hope Diamond? With expectations as magnanimous as that, what chance does the hand-knitted scarf or the bath gel have, you might ask? If you're lucky, and the people on your gift list are the right sort, the scarf and bath gel will be received with happy joy, and not one of the dear ones will expect a Lexus. I am as lucky as that. Nevertheless, the tinsel is losing its shine and I wish the hawkers and hype-sters would simply leave Christmas alone. Go sell something else.

Well, I really didn't come here to talk about Christmas at all. What I wanted to do was steal a meme from Baker's Daughter, who in turn borrowed it from Litlove. Caterwauling about Christmas was simply a tangent brought about by one of my...

10 Best Friends From Literature:

Mame Dennis, Auntie Mame. Because we all (even a Grinch such as myself)need a little Christmas every now and then - if we're being perfectly honest. Besides, she throws a great party.

Winnie The Pooh, "If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you." No explanation necessary.

Nancy Drew, she solves mysteries and drives a blue roadster convertible. She also has a handsome single father who would be a very cool date...for me!

Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird. Because sometimes you simply need a lawyer you can trust - or a Will that can't be broken.

Scarlett O'Hara, Gone With The Wind. Yes, she is selfish and willful and narcissistic, but she'll always land on her feet. A very practical friend to have.

Jean Valjean, Les Miserables. To remind me of redemption of the soul.

Glinda, The Good Witch Of The South, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. "She knows how to keep young in spite of the many years she's lived." I figured she'd also be able to get me back home should I ever get lost.

Severus Snape, Harry Potter Series. He knows how to yield a mean wand; and, I saw through to his goodness right from the start.

Sir Simon, The Canterville Ghost. Dear, sweet ghost...because he helps us understand "what Life is, what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both."

Black Beauty, Black Beauty. But not for what he might bring to me. We would explore our little world together. I'd feed him apples and sugar cubes and tell him he is the most beautiful horse that ever lived. He would have a warm place to sleep and sunny fields in which to run. No one would ever abuse him again; I'd make up for all of it and I'd always be ten years old. The same age I was when we first met.

It is hard to limit these friends to ten. Impossible, really. It's like trying to choose a favorite child. But here are the ones that spring immediately to mind. The others will, I pray, forgive me and not keep me up all night demanding to know why they didn't make the cut. They can be a pesky bunch.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks

I hate flying. I hated flying even back when they served hot meals on crockery with metal tableware and fabric napkins - in coach! I hated flying even when international flights included menus on heavy card stock painted in watercolors. I still have the menu from my flight to Shannon Airport in 1969. The beverages offered included, but were not limited to, Sherry, Manhattan, Martini, Whiskey Sour, Gin, Vodka, assorted wines...and more. A split of champagne cost $1.00. The meal consisted of Hors d'Oeuvre, Medaillon de Boeuf grille, Legumes de Jardin au Beurre, Salade, Fromage, dessert, coffee and tea. I could have ordered a Chivas on the rocks for $.50 (and probably did.) Nevertheless, even in the days when one "dressed" to travel and when every effort was made to accommodate the traveler's comfort, I hated flying. Today, I am certain I would find it a nightmare.

I was determined to spend Thanksgiving week in Chicago visiting my daughter, Katharine, and my brother, "Uncle Rudy," so I decided to drive. My son promised to look after the house and my pets. The journey takes about 16 hours of solid driving, and, of course, the occasional stopping to re-fuel, walk around and grab a snack. I divided the trip into two 8-hour drives, stopping half-way in Nashville each way. Luckily, my oldest and dearest friend lives there, and was gracious enough to provide me overnight refuge. Since I avoid public restrooms if at all possible, I am very fortunate that I can go at least eight hours without having to use "the facilities."

The scenery on the drive was pleasant; some of it was quite beautiful, particularly the mountains in North Georgia and Southern Tennessee and the rolling farmland in Kentucky. Indiana, on the other hand, was dreary verging on dismal. This was especially true when I entered what was apparently a windmill farm area. The windmills are erected on what was once working farmland - and might still be farmland for all I know. The houses and barns and silos remain, but I can't imagine living in such oppressive surroundings. The first windmill I saw, tall, slender and white, was simply an oddity. But like the sorcerers apprentice they multiplied as I drove on, first by rows, then by acres, and then by miles. The sky was white, the ground was misty, and they filled the horizon waiving their ghostly, bony arms around and around. The effect was utterly depressing and a little like being in the presence of Harry Potter's dementors, i.e. the feeling I'd never be happy again.

One of the benefits of a long road trip is the ability to listen to books and I had wonderful company in Elizabeth Von Arnim, Agatha Christie and Lilian Jackson Braun. I began with The Enchanted April, followed by Appointment With Death, and Taken At The Flood. The Christies were read by Hugh Fraser, who plays Captain Hastings in both the A&E Poirot series and the PBS Mystery! series. They were all extremely satisfying until I reached the end of Taken At the Flood which made me furious. Whatever was Agatha Christie thinking? It is outrageous that a woman would come to the realization that the man attempting to choke her to death was her one true love. True, as it turned out he was not the murderer after all, but nevertheless...I think I would have run very quickly in the opposite direction. "When Rolly told me that if he couldn't have me no one else would, and then started strangling me, I realized I really did love him after all" she confides to Poirot. Good grief! What?? I began to drive erratically and very nearly swerved off the road, so great was my utter disbelief in what I had just heard. It was not just maudlin, it was dumb. And what did Poirot do? What did he say? Nothing! Where was the outrage? Aaargh. Had it not been rented from the library the last disc would have been Frisbeed out the window as I drove through Chattanooga.

About an hour out of Savannah I slipped the first disc of The Cat Who Talked To Ghosts into the CD player. I wasn't at all certain I'd be interested in this series. I had seen Lilian Jackson Braun's books lining the shelves at the library and bookstore; she's very prolific. I am happy to report I was hooked from the first track and, notwithstanding the end of a long journey, was actually a little sorry I didn't have farther to travel. I have fallen in love with ex-journalist Jim Qwilleran aka Qwill, and his two Siamese, crime-solving cats in this breezy mystery. I have also been warned that his girlfriend/librarian is bright, witty, attractive...and jealous, so I'll admire him from afar. I may not wait for the audio book to be finished before I run out and grab all "the cat" books I can carry from the library shelves. I do so love a good find.

I did take one hardbound book with me on the trip. When I went to hear James Swanson speak, I also signed up to volunteer for the Savannah Book Festival which takes place next February. Lisa Genova is the keynote speaker for the Festival and I checked Still Alice out of the library the day before I left for Chicago to gain some familiarity with her work. Dr. Alice Howland (the Alice of Still Alice) is a Harvard professor who is an expert in cognitive psychology. She is brilliant, highly respected, widely published, and is married to a man who is also a professor at Harvard. Together they share interesting friends, accomplished careers, successful children, collaborative projects, and they are happily married. At the height of her career, at the age of 50, Alice is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease. The novel takes us, month by month, through Alice's decline, as she is slowly robbed of her brilliance. Although the book is fiction, Genova (who is also a Harvard professor) has thoroughly researched this hideous disease and the destruction it leaves in its wake. If any project deserves funding, finding a cure for this insidious and cruel monster should be high on everyone's list. It is not a selective thief - it takes everything one has and is no respecter of persons. Still Alice will frighten you, anger you, and it will stay with you. We reside in our minds; it is where we are stored. In losing our minds we lose ourselves.

Katharine and I had Thanksgiving dinner at "Uncle Rudy's" house and stayed the night. The table was beautiful and bountiful. There were two turkeys (one deep fried and one roasted) and a duck and all the trimmings and plenty of wine and lots of good company. I could have cried with happiness. The time flew by too quickly, as time is wont to do.

When I walked in my front door after being gone a week, Tallulah the cat was waiting to greet me. Typical of Lulu, she lead me straight to her food bowl, meowing at its emptiness, the remains of breakfast scattered on the floor. Her brother, Blue, was hiding under the bed and hissed his disapproval of my absence. He apparently deigned to forgive me because a little while later he crawled onto my right shoulder and fell asleep. Saji, the arthritic dog, got up with some difficulty and stretched and wagged his tail and wanted a biscuit. I was home - my books on their shelves, photographs in frames, a basket of mail - small insights into the life lived there. I was home with a renewed appreciation for my journey, my family, my friends. I was thankful; my cup runneth over.

Monday, November 8, 2010

North And South

When I'm not listening to a book on tape or Led Zepplin during my morning commute to work, I have the radio tuned into a local talk show. Several weeks ago I was mentally arranging my work day and only half listening to the radio. But something the host said caught my immediate attention: James Swanson was in town and would be speaking that evening to promote his latest book, Bloody Crimes: The Chase For Jefferson Davis And The Death Pageant For Lincoln's Corpse.

I can't remember if I read Swanson's Manhunt last year or in 2008, but it was one of the best books I read that year. In fact, it remains one of the most interesting books I've read in recent memory. It recounts the twelve days spent by John Wilkes Booth from the assassination of Lincoln to his capture and death. Like the author, I have always been fascinated by The Civil War. It was probably that fascination which lead me to a life-long love of history in general and fostered my declaration of a major in college. Growing up as a child in Chicago, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln was the most revered figure of all the American giants we learned about in school - as was befitting a state in the union which adopted the motto "Land of Lincoln." Few eighth grade field trips did not include a trip to Springfield to visit Lincoln's tomb. His birthday, February 12, was a holiday. Schools and many businesses were closed. Most families I knew had a portrait, bust or statue of Lincoln somewhere in their house. The most popular picture was the same one that graces our penny. Our house held a bronze bust of Lincoln which was given away as a promotional advertisement by Lincoln Savings and Loan. I would be willing to guess the bank is long gone or gobbled up by a conglomerate; but, the bronze bust of Lincoln is still sitting on one of Shorty's bookshelves. And, of course, he was particularly special since he and my sister shared a birth date. (She would wish me to point out, month and day only...not year.)

Despite my Yankee upbringing, and my inbred reverence for Lincoln, I also grew up with a romantic melancholy for the Old South, fostered no doubt by movies such as Jezebel and Gone With The Wind (both well before my time, I hasten to add, but still accessible to me). Those tales of the South painted pretty pictures of life in the great plantation houses made wealthy from cotton and tobacco crops. Looking through the prism of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s, the films seldom exposed the evil upon which much of this wealth rested. But slavery was a fairly well-covered topic in school. Intellectually, I knew that a system which enslaved one human being to another was, at its soul, wicked. Such a society would, and should, fail. But there were other stories as well. Stories of privilege and plenty, of ideologies battling each other, of broken lives and devastated homes, and bodies lying in farm fields. Stories of a way of life coming to an abrupt end.

When I moved South over twenty years ago, I was surprised at how much The Civil War was still being fought in the minds of my new neighbors. Whereas, it was a topic covered in school and sometimes in film up North, it was always distant history. Down South, the war between the states was viewed through a different lens. I came to realize the memory of the war was kept fresher because most of the blood shed in that bloodiest of wars was shed on southern soil. The legends were kept alive by the proximity of the battlefields, the crumbling ruins, the monuments. Even today, you will raise the temperature of the room by recalling the memory of General William Tecumseh Sherman. To say he is still reviled around these parts is an understatement. One speaks his name with caution for there will be at least one denizen of the South present who will surely consign his soul to the devil. Speak it with a Yankee accent at your peril. Sherman is best known as a human juggernaut who burned as much of the south as he could on his March to the Sea, sparing nothing in his path until he reached Savannah. Savannah, I am most grateful to say, he gave to President Lincoln as a Christmas present instead of torching it to the ground. (But perhaps he was kind to small children and dogs.)

After learning James Swanson was to speak at one of the churches downtown, I decided I would go home after work, grab my copy of Manhunt, and head out to hear him. Swanson was a treasure trove of historical fact, but mostly I remember the anecdotes and odd tidbits. For instance, Swanson owns a locket containing a lock of Lincoln's hair which was cut as he lay dying. The locket is framed and hangs in his bedroom. Imagine walking past Lincoln's hair every morning and evening. I was stunned when he said Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States Of America, was a guest at the Savannah home of Hugh M. Comer, stood on the veranda and gave a speech to a cheering crowd of thousands of people who packed into Monterey Square. Stunned because at that very moment my car was parked outside the front door of that house. When I walked back to my car on that quiet evening I stood for a moment and tried to imagine how different it must have appeared on May 3, 1886. I tried to imagine a noisy throng gathered to hear Davis speak. I listened for ghosts. All long gone, I heard nothing but a whippoorwill calling.

I found Swanson to be a very engaging and friendly fellow. Being a Yankee, and great admirer of Lincoln, I told him I felt guilty that a small part of me was hoping John Wilkes Booth would make it through the dragnet. Swanson threw his head back and laughed. "You know, I was in Chicago when a woman came up to me and said, 'I hate you, James Swanson.' I was taken aback for awhile until she added, 'You made me like John Wilkes Booth.'" "Are you satisfied that you know him now?" I asked. He smiled and said, "Ahhh".

As I told a lady standing next to us who had not read Manhunt, it is a marvelous historical work that reads like a thriller. Even though I knew how it ended, I thought just maybe he'd get away this time. Of course, things worked out the way they should have. Artfully, without turning Booth into an heroic or sympathetic figure, Swanson succeeded in making him human. I broke a promise to myself not to buy Bloody Crimes at the lecture, but in the end I figured...what the hell...and picked up a copy.

Swanson appeared to have a good time working the room. Savannah is an easy place and I think he felt that ease. He seemed in no hurry for the evening to end. I handed my two volumes over to him for his signature, thanked him, and walked out into the quiet night. I got into my car and tossed the books on the passenger seat. When I got home, I put the books on my night stand. It was only later, just before I turned out the light, that I flipped open one of the covers and read, "To Linda _____, my fellow traveller - North and South - on the journey to discover John Wilkes Booth."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Felony and Mayhem

I've missed you, missed you, missed you. I have so much to tell you, but where to start. Let's talk about books, shall we?

One would think that with shelves heavy with books I have yet to read I would have no trouble finding something just right. But the sad fact is, of late it has been all fits and starts - with nothing quite right. A trip to the bookstore was in order. Sometimes nothing else will do – not even the library...or the shoe department at Macys. I usually haunt a small, locally owned (and home grown) bookstore on one of the squares downtown. It’s the sort of little shop with creaky wooden floors, low ceilings, over-stuffed furniture, and “rooms.” Being an independent bookseller, it is staffed with people who actually read most of the books in stock - an often overlooked but valuable fringe benefit. Go often enough and someone will eventually learn your reading taste and be able to set your compass to true North. But, it’s hard to compete with the big boys. As a result some of the books are a bit more expensive than one would find at a large chain. And, obviously, the boundaries of its real estate prevent it from holding as many titles as one would find at a mega store. Nevertheless, for sheer meandering through stacks, it is my bookstore of choice. You are welcomed at the door with the tinkle of a little bell, and a smile, and a greeting for a “good” time of day. But I was on the other side of town meeting with a client whose store is spitting distance from Barnes & Noble. And so what’s a girl to do? True, there was also the lure of my discount membership. I am almost ashamed to say how fickle I am in my loyalty when a 5% discount is involved. I caved. I was not sure what I wanted although I felt certain I would know it when I found it. A stroll down the Fiction section merited nothing; I moved on to the Mystery aisle.

It was there, on a top shelf, I came across a series of books published by Felony & Mayhem Press with Art Deco covers reminiscent of 1936 movie stills. Although they publish several “vintage” authors, these volumes were written by the late British author, Margery Allingham. An inside page proclaimed that books published by Felony & Mayhem were originally published prior to 1965 and featured “the kind of twisty, ingenious puzzles beloved by fans of Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr.” Aside from the delicious name of the publishing house, the book titles themselves were too seductive to resist: Police At The Funeral, Death Of A Ghost, The Case Of The Late Pig, Dancers In Mourning, and The Fashion In Shrouds. But I could only allow myself one and eventually chose The Crime At Black Dudley. Joyous find! What fun! It was the jolt my happy-reader-button needed. Even better, Black Dudley introduces Allingham’s “gentleman sleuth”, Albert Campion. Better still - there are more.

I fully appreciate that the cliche of the English manor house in the middle of nowhere, filled with eccentric house guests, and murder committed in the dark during a parlor game has been so overworked it should itself fall dead with a thud. But it works. It even seems fresh.

Although obviously well known to many readers, Margery Allingham was new to me. I therefore lay claim to her as my very own discovery. Usually newly found authors come my way through the suggestions of others. I am very puffed up that I stumbled upon Allingham without any hints from the outside world. How I blithely worked my way through Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot, and Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew without bumping into Allingham I shall never know. Chalk it up to one of the benefits of an inadequate education, perhaps. Since she was a fairly prolific writer prior to her death from breast cancer in June of 1966, (the same month and year I graduated from high school) knowing there are other volumes waiting for me when what I am reading gets dreary feels a little like opening the pantry door and finding provisions in store for a blustery winter.

A few days after my great discovery, I met the author of one of the best books I have read lately. I was carrying Black Dudley at the time, having just a few more pages to go until the end. I am afraid I spent more time discussing Allingham than John Wilkes Booth. Nevertheless, he was gracious - and I think his interest was piqued. But that’s another story for another time.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I've been away. Not far away. Not even away away. Nevertheless, it has been a trip. I am happy to be back in familiar surroundings.

Had I gone away on a roller coaster, it couldn't have been a more raucous ride. There was renewed grief in the one year anniversary of a personal loss; the joyous homecoming of a much-loved child and her new found love; the wonder of being a tourist in my own city; the melancholy of saying good-bye once again. But most of all, I've been taking a journey with someone I love down Independence Road. The road has not yet come to an end, but the pavement is pitted and broken. Weeds and roots of trees are working their upheaval; it is getting very difficult to maneuver. Can there be anything but a Dead End around the next bend? For now, there is at least dappled sunlight on that road. But I can see the spreading canopy in the not so distant horizon and it threatens to choke out every shaft of light.

To counter such dark effect, I escaped. Lunch at the beach, a walk along the pier, standing on the still parapet of a Civil War fort and trying to imagine life in that place at that time. All were welcome diversions. But if I was forced to name one place where I truly felt everything would work out okay, I would probably say the happy and friendly confines of my kitchen. As much a science laboratory as an art studio, it welcomes me into its Nantucket Gray-ness. I make things there - the sweet and the savory. But there is more to the kitchen than cooking. In the final analysis, we crave not only that which feeds but that which nourishes.

My kitchen is not a wonder of modern technology. The oven is as old as the house and lists gently to the left. If I baked cakes its uneven kilter might matter more. But I don't, so it doesn't. The clock and the timer stopped working long ago; but, I've never really needed a buzzer. A fragrance, an aroma, will usually tell me all I need to know. I am confident in those surroundings. There are no granite countertops. The dishwasher, though fairly new, never worked very well. A month after the warranty ran out, it refused to drain water. A month after being repaired it refused to fill with water. (The man who fixed the dishwasher was a recent Russian emigre and I could not understand anything he said. When I asked him what was wrong with it, I could have sworn he said, "You don't want to know." He probably said something else, but a faint dread kept me from asking for clarification.) I wash dishes by hand and actually enjoy the hot sudsing up while I look out the windows of the breakfast room. I muse that something must be done with the garden, once my pride and joy. I've allowed the weeds and wild grasses to claim dominion for far too long. "When the fall weather is here," I tell myself.

As I said, I am confident in my kitchen. I am confident, for instance, that if I melt three tablespoons of butter and whisk in three tablespoons of flour and cook them gently, and if I then add just the right amount of milk or cream, a bechamel will evolve. With the warmth of freshly grated nutmeg and a sprinkling of Parmesan I have created something very close to perfection. There is an alchemy to cooking. Beef browned in a Dutch oven with carrots and onions, drenched in red wine, and then left to cook slowly will produce a maddeningly succulent dish without any great effort. Magic. Where else in life do our dreams so consistently realize themselves?

This weekend I had five plums...

...and I made a tart

....with a bit of flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and an egg.

It satisfied more than hunger.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Thought I Could, I Thought I Could...

On the third trip to ACE Hardware on Saturday morning, little Juliana, standing behind her cash register, asked, "Are you back again, Miss Linda?" She advised that I find "a guy to start your engine." Hmmm.... She's a sweet young girl from, I think, Jamaica so I refrained from making a quip about finding a man to get my motor running. But I was sorely tempted since I almost never waste an opportunity to be knee-slapping hilarious and can usually come up with a clever one-liner. This time I just let it alone.

I was living in a MasterCard commercial:

Additional Spark plug: $2.99
Blaster: $4.99
New Gas can: $3.49
Fresh Gas: $2.69
Fresh Motor Oil: $5.00
Engine Starter: $3.59
Siphon: $5.99
Fine sandpaper: $0.69
Liz Claiborne jeans: $64.00 (when bottle of motor oil slipped out of greasy hands, hit patio and bounced back up.)
Conquering Combustion Engine: Priceless

If I had to diagnose what was wrong with the lawn mower, I would make a stab that the carburetor and fuel line needed to be cleaned. It wasn't the spark plug and it wasn't the air flow. However, I admit I am not at all certain. After my third trip to ACE I came home armed with product called Blaster, a pink liquid that gets sprayed into the spark plug housing. (I forgot to put the spark plug back on first time around and it all spurted out, but now I know better.)

From 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., I tinkered with Sparky. I sanded out the inside of the spark plug cap. I tried to adjust the throttle. I stared into the carburetor. I siphoned out the gas and oil and replaced both. After the second dose of Blaster "the Sparkster" started up with a great smoking growl...only to die within seconds. I held down the throttle, pulled the cord, and he roared to life. Once again he fizzled. Again and again we engaged in that dance, Sparky and I, for what seemed like hours. The sun rose higher and warmer. At last, hot, grimy, and exhausted I sat on the patio steps and murmured calmly, "I hate you." And then I did what one does with machines when all else fails. I pulled myself up and kicked him. Swift and hard.

Was it the Blaster? Did Sparky get bored with the game? Or was it genuine fear of injury to movable parts? Who can say. But on Saturday Sparky acquiesced. On the very next attempt he sputtered, then belched and began to hum.

In triumphant joy I pushed him toward the lawn. He putt-putted happily. He did a mighty fine job when all was said and done. We'll have to have another go at it later in the week, however, since I was too exhausted to do more than attack the worst parts of the lawn.

Afterward I let him rest in the cool shade of a Magnolia tree before putting him away. I felt proud of myself and happy Sparky won't be thrown into a landfill any time soon. I think he must be happy about that as well. I'm not certain but as I wheeled him into the garage I do believe I saw him wink at the new edger. She's a new model and is quite good looking, if a little too thin. With any luck, she might be just what he needs to keep his motor running.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Little Engine That Won't

Tempus fugit...what can I say. And the older one gets the tempus fugits even faster.

Let me fill you in on the latest dilemma. I've spent the greater part of the week on a particularly thorny problem. I've expounded before on landscaping issues which are part and parcel of living in my subdivision. There are rules. Actually, it is a very nice place to live. I love my neighbors, and the Homeowners Association is pretty good at planning little events to help keep it a real community. But there are rules, and I'm breaking one of the cardinal ones with my grass. I don't want to break the rules, but I do not take defeat lightly. So here's the scenario. I no longer have a landscaper. He was too expensive. He made more per hour than I do. But he was good. When you think about it, being good at what one does for a living - keeping consistently at peak best through the day-in and day-out grind - is not as easy as it's cracked up to be. No denying it. He was good. I simply could no longer afford the luxury.

As I've written before, I found a power mower in my garage. I dusted it off, oiled it up, and it sputtered along all summer - until two weeks ago. It's not an old mower. I pull the cord, the motor spins, but it doesn't kick in. (I have a John Deere riding mower in the garage as well, which also doesn't work and which needs to get hauled away on a trailer for servicing, but that's another story.) This is what I have learned about power mowers - they need three things to start: air, fuel, and a spark.

I learned how to change the spark plug - nothing. I learned how to change the air filter - still nothing. I drained the gas and re-filled it. Dead. Yesterday, I decided I'd clean the carburetor - at least I think it's the carburetor. I learned that when I press the little red "prime" button, a squirt of gasoline shoots through an opening inside what I think is the carburetor, and then into the part of the engine that houses the spark plug. Should it do that? I sat on the patio steps and thought hard about it - trying to get into the mind of the combustion engine. The spark that the spark plug is supposed to make probably ignites the little squirt of gasoline and that sets the whole caboodle in motion. Is that how it works? Could that be right?

I've tried getting a copy of my owners manual on-line. There is an owners manual for my lawn mower, all right. But instead of it being an owners manual for the walk-behind power mower, it's a manual for a leaf blower. The leaf blower manual is not much help. Did I mention that being good at one's job is admirable? Things should just work right. Is that a tall order? I want my lawn mower to work. I want the owners manual for the mower to be for the mower and not for a leaf blower. Should I print off the leaf blower manual anyway just in case I buy it one day? Did someone make a mistake and switch the two manuals? Maybe if I pulled up the manual for a leaf blower I'd find the manual for the lawn mower.

The lawn situation is getting pretty desperate, so I will have to hire someone to cut it. That should give me another week or two to tinker. I don't think the problem is the starter spring. Until yesterday I didn't even know there was such a thing as a starter spring. But I learned how to change that as well, just in case.

My reading assignment for the weekend will be to learn everything I can about the combustion engine. I cannot allow it to win. Like Winston Churchill, I will fight on the land...I will fight on the sea...I will never give up.

Wrestling the lawn mower into submission is one of my loftier goals. It's right up there with baking a flaky pie crust. (The secret is vodka.) I'll let you guess for which one.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Glimmering At Last

Several months ago I made the decision to enter a national short story competition. There is a small cash prize for the winning entry, which would certainly be nice, but even more attractive is the publication of the story in a major magazine. In addition, the magazine would pay the author its going rate for a short story. I have approximately 6 months to submit something.

Between you and me, I realize I have very little chance of actually capturing the prize. I've read past submissions and the entrants are obviously professional writers. Nevertheless, I've been wanting to embark on a new challenge, to jump head-first into something a little over my head (which, incidentally, is also how I learned to swim).

That was May. It is now the end of August. Obviously, I realize that if one is to write a story - any kind of story, even a disaster - it helps if one has a topic. A Theme. In my spare time, I've spent the last few months "writing" as follows: I sit, pen poised, waiting for genius to strike. It does not. I stare, blankly, at the wall, at the paper, out the window. I get up and stretch, arms overhead, arms back, bend this way, then bend that way. Sit back down, pick up the pen, and stare blankly.

I believe I can speak a good story. Funny things have happened to me quite a lot all my life. Even if something wasn't particularly funny (or even pleasant) at the time, I've found that with a few embellishments and the right dramatic flourishes I could turn a ho-hum event into a fairly good yarn. But a written story isn't helped by slapstick and pratfalls, so it was useless to pull them from my ditty bag. And let's face it, it's difficult to write about dead air...white space.

My first hurdle, then, was pretty basic stuff...come up with an idea for a story. It sounded easy enough, complete novice that I am. I'm sure there are writers who have heads like treasure chests - filled with an abundance of sparkling gems...ideas of all shapes and sizes that snap, crackle and sizzle with brilliance. Sadly, I am not one of them. My ideas, when they came at all, were more reminiscent of wet cotton wool than of richly brocaded tapestry.

After months of listening to those ideas falling with a solid thud, I sat down and wrote a letter to a friend of mine. As I finished it, my son Charlie stopped by to borrow my lawnmower and he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was just finishing a letter, and I also told him about the competition. "I can't think of anything to write about," I said (in full gloom). He stopped a second, patted me on the back, and said brightly, "You will." And he was off with my mower and gas can. I stared down at the letter. I realized I didn't have my friend's address. I wrote 6 pages of a letter that I could not mail.

I sat at the table, drumming my fingers with one hand and holding my chin with the other. I stared out the window. I hoped Charlie wouldn't kill my lawnmower by running it in the rain. I looked at the state of my own lawn. It was finally green, but it was sadly in need of a haircut. I should have used the lawnmower myself first, and then leant it out. Why didn't I think of that? I looked down at the letter - at what seemed like a complete waste of time. Obviously, the place to start would have been securing the address. Doing it the other way around made no sense at all. Blink...blink...blink...I had it! Just like that! Only three months, four days and a few hours. Just like that!

Strange how the mind works. One thought leads to something else completely unrelated, and that unrelated thought leads on to another unrelated thought, and before you know it, you've arrived at the place you were seeking - no map, no compass, no night sky to guide you.

And so, it's one foot in front of the other.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thursday At Random

  • Although I promised myself "No More Books," I cheated. A box arrived last Friday with four new ones and I set out immediately to read Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams. The only review I had read about it was by someone who stopped at page 80 because s/he was already one-fifth into the book and no Victoria had as yet appeared. Sometimes I just have to shake my head at people - and wonder. That Victoria should have become queen at all was an unforeseen event that sat on the shoulders of other unforeseen events, i.e. but for this...that. The unfolding of how her reign ever saw the light of day is one of the major themes of the book. I doubt anyone keeping bets in 1796 would have placed favorable odds on the way things ultimately worked themselves out. The first half of the book concerns itself with those twists and turns of fate and establishes Becoming as the operative word in the title. I spent a wonderful weekend reading and enjoying it. Nevertheless, it had a few flaws. I found two typographical errors which jumped out at me like a warts on Mona Lisa's nose. One word "compained" which should obviously have been "complained" would have been easily found with Spellcheck. In addition, there was a very poignant episode that Williams only touched on briefly that I think deserved to be covered in more depth. Victoria (an only child) and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, had a strange and estranged relationship. The Duchess, obviously power hungry, struggled to maintain control over her daughter; Victoria rebelled and tried to push away from her domineering parent with even greater force. Williams spends a great deal of time documenting their troubled relationship. When at last she became queen, Victoria snubbed her mother in small but significant and often cruel ways. Upon the death of the Duchess of Kent, Victoria told her eldest daughter that she never felt her mother loved her. How sad. But as she sorted through her late mother's belongings, she discovered the duchess had kept every little keepsake, every note, every piece of clothing, every lock of hair, every snippet of handwriting which was Victoria's. Obviously, her mother cared very deeply for her. Victoria was such a prolific journal keeper and letter writer, I have to imagine she revisited her relationship with her mother and expressed more fully some feelings of remorse. There's always a human story behind history, isn't there.

  • After finishing Becoming Queen Victoria I jumped right into The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. What fun! I am severely miffed, however. Another great story idea not conceived by me. My copy has a little ribbon bookmark bound into it...the second recently purchased book with such a feature. Is this the rebirth of an old trend in bookbinding? If so, I like it. Until now, I think the only book I have with ribbons in it is my old and obsolete Daily Missal. I can understand why it needed so many ribbons. They were there to keep your place during Mass as you jumped from the Ordinary (which itself is further divided into the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful) to the Gospel to the Epistle and back again. There's a lot of jumping around in a Catholic missal. The ribbons in my missal are red, yellow, green, black and white but I could never remember which color belonged where, so I was always on the wrong page notwithstanding ribbons. Now most parishes use monthly throw-away magazine-y type things cloyingly called "missalettes." I find them totally unappealing and irksome - much like a ball point pen that gets thrown away when the ink is used up. But, having a ribbon in a novel is lovely. That's something I can get behind. And since there's only one - no confusion.

    • Is there anything more joy provoking, more warmly welcome in the kitchen than the smell of the spice cupboard? Mine is slightly narrow and three-shelved and filled with all sorts of exotica: cumin and cinnamon, sage and rosemary, garam masala, smoked paprika, bay leaves. Thrown together in a pot, all at once, no doubt they would be locked in mortal combat - the culinary equivalent of cacophony in a barnyard. But residing in the cupboard, they live in peaceful harmony: Tellicherry peppercorns rubbing shoulders with coriander...ginger and oregano and nutmeg all getting along. Sometimes I open the spice cupboard solely because I want to inhale. Oh! the evocative smells - of the summer sun, and burning leaves, and Christmas, and the mystery of far-away places all at once. When the mood to organize strikes, I try to coerce them into alphabetical order. It never lasts, though. The dried garlic insists on sitting next to the pumpkin pie spice, and the marjoram always hides in the corner. Just the a wonder. When we seek the spice of life we invariably mean that which makes us happy, which brings us joy. We spice up our love lives, and sometimes use spicey language when angry. Open your spice cupboard and breathe in its warmth. Go ahead. Take a moment. Be transported. As I rummage around to search for just the right flavor - hard on the trail of that elusive chord - the bottles clatter softly in a muffled promise of happiness to be experienced in the perfect dish. But it's the perfume that gets me. Every time - it's the perfume.

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Perfect Ten

    Bibliophiliac posted an interesting meme the other day which I think I'll borrow, seeing as it's Friday and I have little thought for anything other than getting through the pile of work on my desk, and then falling headfirst into home repair projects this weekend - none of which seem very interesting. Without further ado:

    Award Presentation for Ten Characters From Literature I Love Or Love To Hate (In Random Order):

    1. Best Change Of Character By A (Um..) Character: Jean Valjean, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo. Since I've always imagined him to look like Louis Jordan, I've been smitten with him from the very beginning. But, he is also such a redemptive and ultimately unselfish character how could I not love him?

    2. Best Character In A Bit Part: Monseigneur Charles Francois Myriel, the bishop of Digne, Les Miserables. Considering the heft of the book he is a minor character and yet a pivotal one. Without one particular act of human compassion by this priest there would be no story, no Monsieur Madeleine, no factory in the town of Montreuil, and no home for the orphaned Cozette, no stage upon which Jean Valjean can play out his selfless love. He certainly made the most of his limited page space.

    3. Most Single-Minded And Relentless Villain Who In The End Is More Pitied Than Despised: Officer Javert, Les Miserables. Since Les Miserables is my favorite book out of all I've ever read, this post must necessarily be top-heavy with it. Poor inflexible Javert. He is so wedded to his belief in the law he does not fathom that laws can be unjust. This inability to reconcile justice with mercy is his undoing and in the end, there is nothing for the reader to do but pity him. He also brings much of the suspense to this party.

    4. Most Unsinkable Heroine: Scarlett O'Hara, Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell. Yes she's willful. Yes she's spiteful. Yes she's a little selfish. But we love her nevertheless. Perhaps it's her buoyancy. We're left with believing she will eventually have it her way. Her determination is a little reminiscent of the aforementioned Javert. We hope hers is a happier ending.

    5. The Crazy For Love Award: Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy. What was she thinking? Abhorrence to fakery is one thing. Devotion to love is another. But wasn't there a saner alternative? I read Anna Karenina right after finishing Gone With The Wind. Both heroines were bright lights to which others were drawn. Both were haunted by love and desire gone awry. But whereas one struggled (albeit selfishly) to survive intact, the other simply crumpled. These two would never have been friends. Scarlett would probably have described Anna as "mealy mouthed." If I was asked who I'd rather have a drink with it would most certainly be Scarlett. But I loved both books.

    6. Best Friend Award: Winnie The Pooh, A.A. Milne. I can't even find the words, so I'll simply quote: "Some people care too much. I think it's called love." "Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

    7. Father Of The Century Award: Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee. It isn't always easy to do the right thing. But there are times when one person, standing for something good and true, is stronger than an entire crowd in opposition. (Also bestowed Lawyer Of The Century Award.)

    8. Best Lead In Tragedy Of Lost Dreams: Nick Romano, Knock On Any Door, Willard Motley. A large and gritty book, I can't think of a character I've more wanted to save than Nick. It is the story of a young Italian-American (although the author Willard Motley was African-American) growing up in Chicago's Skid altar boy with hopes of one day becoming a priest. How different his life played out. It is quite simply a crushing masterpiece. First published in the 1940s, I'm not sure if it is still in print. If you can find it do not let it slip through your fingers. It is just one of those books that will still be with you years...decades...hence.

    9. Best By-The-Book Detective: Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. I love Sherlock Holmes. I love Hercule Poirot. I love Miss Marple. But Sam...Sam is a bad boy. Sam is a tough guy. Sam was fooling around with his business partner's wife. Sam doesn't like his partner, Miles Archer. But when your partner gets killed "you gotta do something about it." And when you fall for a murderess, well, you gotta do something about that too. 'Cause no matter ain't gonna take the fall for nobody. "All we've got is maybe you love me and maybe I love you. Maybe I do. I'll have some rotten nights after I've sent you over, but that'll pass." By the book, Sam, all the way. After finishing The Maltese Falcon I talked like a gangster for an entire week.

    10. Best Coming Of Age Award: Huw Morgan, How Green Was My Valley, Richard Llewellen. Huw's voice is perfectly pitched as he recounts the elegance, beauty, drama, tragedy, desire and majesty of simple lives in a Welsh coal mining town. It is one of the most beautiful novels I've ever read, and even brushing by it in thought makes me feel as though I will cry.

    I am certain that once I hit the "send" button, all the other characters I know and love, and know and hate, and know and love to hate will be jamming the lines demanding to know why they were excluded. So let me just say to them here and now, before they get rowdy and belligerent, before they attempt keep me up all night, this was not an exhaustive list. There will be other lists, other opportunities to shine. After all, what's that line, Scarlett? "Tomorrow is another day."

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Dropping In

    Well, hi there. No - no you didn't come at a bad time at all. I was just about to make myself a fresh pot of Gunpowder Green if you'd care to join me.

    What's that? You'd like a good stiff drink instead? I think that can be arranged. Let's see. I have vodka in the freezer...a-a-and some brown stuff in the bar. Oh! There's a little bit of rum left over from when I had house guests in January.

    No, I don't have wine. I find that if I keep red wine in the house I drink it. Did you know that a small bottle of wine has over 700 calories?! A small bottle of wine has only 5 glasses in it, and 5 glasses of wine is nothing as far as I'm concerned. (Rummaging noisily.) There's a little sherry. (Calling over shoulder from built-in bar cupboard.)

    Yes. I have olives but they have pits. Calamata I think.

    Well, if you don't mind I don't either. Shaken or stirred?

    Please, sit. You can use that small pillow for your back. The one that says, "I cannot live without books....Thomas Jefferson." John got that for me from the Smithsonian. All Jefferson's books are preserved there. Don't you just love Old Tom?

    I'm sorry I don't have any munchie snacks to go along with your drink...although I do have some unsalted almonds in the freezer. I should have something tucked away for "when guests drop by unexpectedly." You know, like articles in women's magazines suggest. Only I never have unexpected guests drop by...until now that is.

    Oh no no no. I didn't mean to suggest...I mean, it's perfectly fine...Uh...(I should have vacuumed the carpet this morning instead of playing Nintendo.) Have a nut? They're thawed out by now.

    These? That's my reading stack. I just finished Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple.

    Well, I never heard of her either until recently. It's a shame she disappeared; she's making a come-back though. Persephone Books has republished some of her work and made them available again.

    No, the Greek goddess...Haides' wife. The one who ate the pomegranate seeds. They have a bookstore in London - not Haides and Persephone the goddess -Persephone Books has a bookstore.

    Apparently, there is a Persephone reading group and the book they are discussing this month is Someone At A Distance. Luckily for me, it seems to be the one Persephone book in the entire Live Oak Library system.

    No, I didn't mean I'm lucky they only have the one. I'm lucky they had that one since that is the one I wanted to read. Something really should be done about it.

    About what? About the fact that they only have one Persephone book.

    You know, I checked this one out on Wednesday and already finished it. Two days. Less than that, really, since I checked it out at noon.

    Fast read indeed. Even though it was over 400 pages it took no time at all. You see, the thing is it's a very simple yet well-told story. For the life of me I couldn't tell you what made it so difficult to put down. It has no action, no suspense. And almost from the beginning there is an inevitability to it. The dialogue between the family is cloyingly sweet throughout much of the book. And yet I simply could not put it down. I read it when I should have been working. I read it when I should have been sleeping. I just read it until I was finished. And then I thought about it quite a lot. Odd for such a simple story, don't you think?

    Definitely. I would read another by Whipple if I could find one; but, I am on a very tight book budget and am using the library more and more these days.

    Well sure I could order it directly from Persephone Books, but shipping costs from England would make that pretty pricey. How much is 10 pounds in dollars these days? The rate of exchange changes so much, it's hard to keep up. I just usually double it in my head and figure I'll be in the ballpark.

    I doubt you want your glass re-filled this early in the...oh, you will. Delighted. I'll be back in a tick.

    Here you are. Slante. Oh dear, my fault. I shouldn't have filled it so close to the top. Not to worry. Vodka doesn't stain the carpet. Another good reason not to keep wine in the house.

    What's that? White wine? I don't like white wine. No, really. I don't want to try to acquire a taste for it. It's either too sweet or tastes like an oak tree.

    Well, right now I'm reading O Pioneers! What did you say? That exclamation point that appeared over my head just now? That one? It's part of the title. Yes, very clever. It's very short and I'll have it finished by today. I drove out to Tybee to pick up Death Comes For The Archbishop also by Willa Cather and Middlemarch by George Eliot after work yesterday only to find out they are closed on Thursday! Excuse me? That exclamation point? Oh. No...that time I was exclaiming. Yes, I understand. It can be confusing.

    What a strange day to be closed. Thursday. Which reminds me, I have finished the first four of the Thursday Next series and have the fifth, First Among Sequels, sitting on the stack.

    That's what I thought, too, but I was wrong. The next one doesn't come out until March 2011. Fforde is supposedly calling it, "One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing."

    To be honest I wasn't all that upset to find the library closed. I mean, when the library is across the street from the ocean even a closed library is a nice place to be. I'll go back to get the books today. I might even stop and get an ice cream at that little shop.

    Uh, no I don't think I'll join you in one - it's a little early for me. But I'll be most happy to get you...right...right away. I'll just put it in a fresh glass while I'm at it.

    (I better re-think the Vodka Lime Chicken I planned for dinner tonight.)

    Thursday, July 29, 2010

    Letters From The Heart

    Their voices sit silent for years - sometimes decades - until I open the envelopes and they begin to speak to me again. With each pen stroke they confide in me, they encourage, they amuse, they comfort, they cheer, they inspire and, at very rare times, they sadden, hurt or disappoint me. But they all have a commonality...hopeful anticipation at their arrival and a jump in the heart. A letter! They begin, “Dear Lin,” Dear Grads,” “Dear Lindy,” “Sweetheart,” or just plain, “Hi, Grad!”

    A written letter requires something of oneself. "I will tell you who I am," it whispers, "if you will but listen and read between the lines." The writer's thoughts pour from the brain, through the heart, down to the hand, through the ink and onto the page. He or she reveals the vulnerability that lies within all of us. A written letter says, "I was thinking of you and only you at this place in time." A written letter is kept, never deleted.

    Every once in a while, but not very often, I will go to the trunk where my letters are kept and begin to read them. It is almost always a bittersweet experience - as much pain as pleasure perhaps. And still, something makes me want to revisit them now and again.

    They recounted broken hearts:

    “Hi, love life is really a mess! It’s my own fault though. I did exactly what I told myself not to do. I fell and I fell hard. I guess I knew all along that Denny was too good to be true. I saw the punches coming but I was too stupid to duck. So, the hurt and the pain take over from there anything in this whole stinking world worth caring about?...Some things you have to find out for yourself. ALL MEN ARE BASTARDS! A.M.A.B So much for my sob story. I’m on my second river so I guess I’ll close now.
    Love, Walsh.”
    (Name changed ever so slightly to protect the unrepentant.)

    A coming of age:

    “Dear Lin, I address you from an entirely new and decidedly sophisticated 20 year old vantage point. I not only have passed out of the difficult years - but have actually finished one whole day of honest to God real work...I ache to be able to write - poetry, i.e. This is my one and only fitful & dull effort of this season:

    “A wagoner’s red roses
    and a Plantation Jerusalem
    wait in the furrows...” Best love, J.”

    The poem she continued to pen was quite lovely. I disagreed with her self-criticism...but then I always have. I doubt I ever made that clear.

    And warnings of lurking dangers tucked into the joys of living a large life:

    “Dear Lin, I know you are most likely trying to read this letter and walk to class at the same time which means you are most probably not looking where you are going and are likely to take a great fall (like Humpty Dumpty). If you insist upon such a dangerous undertaking, please watch out for cars, motorcycles, potholes, kids on tricycles and other pitfalls along the way...I sat with the band for the last show. When Cleo came on, Greg ran up on the stage and kissed her. At the finale Jerry came rolling and they carried him off stage, as usual. Greg did about a 15 minute trumpet solo and the audience went wild. I didn’t think they would ever let him stop playing. We finally got out of there and went to Mass and then to Forees for breakfast. I got home at 6:00 a.m....Father L. presented my mother with a dozen red roses and named her “Queen of the 1967 All Hallows”. Now there’s no living with her. I asked her to pick me up from the “L” tonight and she said she didn’t see why a queen had to run errands...As Always, P.”

    My mother’s letters were always newsy and, in retrospect, reflected her deep concern over financial matters and her desire to “do more” for me - and her worry that I might be lonely:

    “Dear Linda, how’s my darling college daughter? Did you meet the girl from LaGrange who lives down the hall? Did the other sophomores get there? Have you made any friends?...I hope the $5 helps. I wish it could be more. I can send you $10 when I get paid....I am saving for the next semester so don’t worry about anything. I just want you to concentrate on your studies, Love, Mom.”

    Although I worked every summer to help pay for my tuition, my parents still had to do most of the heavy lifting to provide for my education. My sister rolled up her sleeves and added her shoulder to the wheel in what was to become a family effort to insure that I graduated on time (is there a platitude I've left out?):

    “Dear Lindy, I simply can’t borrow any more money from the credit union. Judi is going to pitch in, but the way I see it you will still need to borrow $400. I am enclosing a letter from Ms. W. at the school who says she will be able to help you with a National Education Loan. I am enclosing her letter because I think it was very sweet of her, and she speaks so highly of you. I felt very proud. (Mom would never have been convinced that the last sentence of the letter which read, “We have great anticipation that Linda will be an alumna in whom we will take great pride” was a boilerplate paragraph and appeared in every such letter written to a parent. My Mom believed it and that is really what mattered in the long run. I never tried to burst her balloon). P.S. Judi is sending you $10. Love, Mom.

    In reality, Ms. W didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat. She was apparently able to help me secure a loan, however. That much of her letter to my mother was sincere.

    Some of the letters tell me that so-and-so “can’t wait” to meet me, and “I told them about all your funny stories.” In fact, my funny stories appear to be a rather constant thread that runs through the letters over the years. Sometimes I cringe at the thought of “Grad the clown” or Grad The Class Cut-Up. Cringe because that wasn’t me at all. Cringe because I was really very quiet and inwardly shy. The funny stuff seems to trickle out as a theme as the years stretch toward the end of the letter-writing era. I suspect life gets in the way to some extent and human interaction takes on a more sedate and reserved tone. Although in retrospect, "funny" might have been a loftier goal than "sophisticated." I was never able to pull off the latter successfully anyway.

    I have no letters from my father. I do have some snippets of his handwriting, however. For instance, I nagged him mercilessly until he wrote something in my Eighth Grade Graduation Keepsake Book. Dad had a unique mode of written communication. He posted “Notices” by the telephone in the kitchen.

    “NOTICE: Mama - take my shaver to the repair shop.”

    “NOTICE: Lindy - stir the stove-top.” (He loved to make soup or spaghetti sauce, so that is most likely what he meant.”

    “NOTICE: Who left the bathroom light on? You know who you are.”

    But my all time favorite, the creme de la creme of NOTICES, the Daddy-est dad-ism, the transcendent and unsurpassable DAD NOTICE:

    “NOTICE: I told youse that cat would get that bird. But youse wouldn’t listen. I came home and found fedders all over da place, but no bird - I hope youse are happy.”

    I can see him sitting at the gray Formica kitchen table penning this Notice Of Doom. I watch him pause after making that long “dash," grasping for the perfect coup-de-grace - the final denouement. “I hope youse are happy.” It drips with his frustration and disgust at our apparent cavalier attitude concerning the health and safety of the parakeet. Truth be told, he was bluff and bluster on the outside, but was arguably the most sloppily-sentimental one in the family.

    Yes, Dad. Just remembering that NOTICE makes me happy. It was so tragically funny it overshadowed the grief and loss I’m sure I felt over the lost parakeet. From darkness, light. Even now, when I need a quick dose of “happy” just recalling that NOTICE acts as pure glucose for my weary soul.

    So there they are. Tied with ribbons and lovingly stored in a steamer trunk. My letters; memories of my family and of my friends. Friends who have remained constant, friends lost to time, friends lost to death, friends lost to simple stupid neglect. They live in envelopes of various colors and sizes, bearing stamps from all over this Big Blue Marble of a world we inhabit. They tell the stories of lives lived - their lives and mine. They tell them over time and over distance. They tell them one word at a time.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    When In Doubt, Steal An Idea

    The Curious Reader: Grad? Oh, Grad? You really need to come up with something to write about. I am growing very tired of languishing. You need to go someplace or do something...bore, bore, bore.

    Grad: Oh, God, it's you again. I'm afraid you are growing into a pest of heavy-duty proportions. I have created a monster who is always pulling at my sleeve.

    The Curious Reader: Ahh! Shall I call you Mary Shelley, then?

    Grad: Your attempt at humor, is it?

    The Curious Reader: Not too subtle?

    Grad: Decidedly not. If I borrow a meme from other bloggers, will you please be still for a few days while I get some work accomplished? My banker, my bartender and my bookie will appreciate it.

    The Curious Reader: You have a bookie?

    Grad: (Groan) Never mind.

    Books I Haven't Read: (A Purloined Idea from Bookman)

    1) The Bible. I haven't read the Bible. The only portions I've read are the Gospels and Epistles used as readings at Mass. I have an old Bible History text book that was my sister's, but I haven't read that either. Very odd since all the schools I went to, including the one in Ireland, were Catholic institutions.

    2) Not The Secret Garden nor Alice Through the Looking Glass nor any of Anne of Green Gables. What was I reading in those callow days? Most likely detective stories.

    3) I read Twilight and liked it, but my interest sputtered out half-way through the second book. What was the title? Eclipse? New Moon? I can't even recall that; I gave it away to someone. Everyone else is wild about the series so I'm sure the problem is with me.

    4) Anything by Willa Cather. I can hardly believe it, but it's true.

    5) Aesop. I had a copy of Aesop's Fables which my eldest son read and re-read as a child. He knew all the stories and characters and loved to tell me about them. I am familiar with many of the tales but only through his eyes and his retelling.

    6) Alexandre Dumas. No Three Musketeers, no Count of Monte Cristo. But I am determined to right that wrong.

    7) The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery. This is shocking to me. I read every night to my children, but alas, I did not introduce it to them. I do have a grandson, so there is redemption for me I trust.

    8) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Laroux. I did see the play at Albert Hall in London, however. It was the most magnificent thing I've ever seen on-stage. Actually more thrilling than any movie I've seen as well.

    9) D. H. Lawrence. I tried, honestly I did.

    10) Number 10 I have reserved for something I did read, but really shouldn't have. I think I felt I had to prove something to myself. Or maybe I got drunk one night and began to read it on a dare. I read it while a student in Ireland so that could have had something to do with my folly. In any event, I wish I could get back the time spent reading the damn thing. I could have spent that time reading one of the above more worthwhile works, or getting a manicure, or learning to dance the Macarena. So here it is...the most boring book of all time (including The Story of Cutlery) (drum roll, please)...Ulysses. I think James Joyce figured the publisher was going to charge him for every period he used. Go ahead and read it if you insist, but it should come with a warning label so you know what you're getting into. Why it is a classic I couldn't say. Someone with a lot of letters after his name probably labeled it brilliant, and that is all it took. Personally, I wonder whether Joyce wasn't smoking something funny when he wrote it.

    Friday, June 25, 2010


    As I read my way through the Shakespeare plays I cannot help but wonder about the boy he might have been. Was he annoyingly cerebral? Could he relate to other kids who said things like "Hey dude" rather than "Harken!" Did his mother want to stuff a rag in his mouth to stop him emoting? Or tell him to shut up and eat his oatmeal? Was he a little prissy pants? Somehow I don't see William Shakespeare as the stud-muffin-heart breaker of Stratford on Avon. Geniuses rarely fit in and I imagine he had a rather rough time of it.

    I left Henry VI, Part I with poor Joan being lead off to the stake (proving unequivocally that smoking can be dangerous to ones health) and Suffolk gloating Margaret shall now be queen, and rule the king; But I will rule both her, the king and realm. Politics, power and greed. Will we ever learn? I'm waffling on my original idea of reading all the plays in chronological order. For one thing, I don't know that I have the ability to recognize the intricacies of the Bard's evolution as a writer. For another, I don't think I care. At my age I read for fun. So, perhaps I'll continue on to Part II (which does make some sense) or say "to hell with it" and read Love's Labour's Lost. (Stay tuned, details at 11.)

    Getting back to what I planned to tell you all along, I closed the back cover of Wolf Hall (reviewed at length by better minds than mine - suffice to say I loved it) and was once again on the prowl. A little background information is in order here: A few months ago I wandered into the library and saw a display entitled "Librarian Picks..." with volumes and audio books recommended by the library staff. Among these was an audio version of The Well Of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde. I picked it up and began to read the back of the case.

    "Have you read the Thursday Next books?" a voice asked over my shoulder. I turned to find the diminutive, graying librarian attempting to maneuver a push-cart of books destined for re-shelving peering at me over her glasses which were festooned with a kind of Edwardian grill-work.

    "No, I've never heard of them or Jasper Fforde. New glasses!"

    "Prada...only fake," she whispered tapping the rim.

    "Very becoming."

    She smiled. "I strongly recommend them...the books not the glasses" Now she twittered a little, but softly because, after all, we were in the library. "But I'd begin with the first one first."

    "Do you have that one on audio?"

    "Not at this branch, but we can get from another branch in a few days."

    "Well...that's okay. I was looking for something to listen to right away so I'll just start with this one."

    She gave me that okay-suit-yourself-don't-listen-to-me look, held it for a moment, and disappeared into the stacks preceded by the slightly wobbly cart.

    But by the time I listened my way through one-third of the book I knew. As much as it pained me, I returned the audio book unfinished. The librarian knew her stuff. I had to start from the beginning. Starting in the middle was like trying to eat a sumptuous meal with a head cold. I was missing too many nuances of flavor. I wasn't just reading a book. I was entering a new world and I needed the backstory...I had to learn the language.

    That weekend found me at Barnes and Noble where I bought The Eyre Affair in paperback (I also purchased a hardback version of the 5th book in the series, First Among Sequels, at a super-deluxe bargain price that I simply could not pass up.) The Fforde was put on the back burner of my reading stack. And so it was that after having finished Wolfie I was wandering down my upstairs hallway and spotted The Eyre Affair on a bookshelf. I snatched it up as quickly as a frog does a fly. Rarely have I fallen into a book so effortlessly (which oddly enough is much of what the series is about). So mesmerized was I by the writing, the story, the premise that as I neared the end I was afraid of "running out" of Thursday Next.

    I stopped at the library last Friday and picked up Lost In A Good Book and The Well Of Lost Plots (book version). When she saw me the librarian said, "I knew you'd be back for these." Which brings me to a sidebar discussion: The benefits of a small library, or a small bookstore, or a small grocery...or a small local bank for that matter, are much the same. You are known by your name if you go in often enough. The people who work there look out for you. They keep an eye out and know when something seems amiss. "We've got some nice lamb chops, Miss Linda," "Morning Mrs. ___. Got your deposit? How's Katharine doing?" "We just got so-and-so's latest book. It's right up your alley." Oh, there are drawbacks, surely. Not enough copies, few exotic ingredients, no Panko crumbs - that sort of thing. But by and large (or by and small) big is better in some departments but small is better for others.

    The weekend looms long - being the Fourth of July. I'm half-way through Lost In A Good Book and am trying to pace myself, debating if I should go ahead and check out Something Rotten...just in case of an emergency. What if it rains all weekend and there is nothing to make me feel guilty about laying around reading? Eating only things I can handle with one hand? What if I really and truly can't put Lost In A Good Book down? And immediately jump, crazed and as unstoppable as a juggernaut, into Well Of Lost Plots? And it gets to be Monday afternoon and the library is closed for the holiday and the Thursday Next well has run dry? (I'm slightly dizzy and my colon is giving me a worrying feeling at the prospect.) There is always First Among Sequels as a fall-back but I don't want to read out of turn. Nope. I'd better take precautions. I'll have to prepare - stock the provisions. I'm off to hunt down Something Rotten, so I must run along now.

    Oh yes. Before I go...Are you sitting down for the best news? The 6th Thursday Next adventure comes out this fact I think next week. Once I have the new book in my hands, and have read the last word on the last page of that latest book I promise to start a twelve-step program. But for now, there's joy in Bookville!

    Happy Fourth of July. Happy Birthday good ole U.S.A.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    "Brush Up Your Shakespeare"

    I've never been a reader who can have more than one book in progress. Juggling multiple reads has always felt uncomfortable in an odd and inexpressible way. But when reading a long-ish book (Anna Karenina, Armadale, and Noble House come to mind) or a flat-out tome (Les Miserables) I have often felt the need to break away and let my mind settle briefly elsewhere.

    In taking a recent pause from Wolf Hall (which I am enjoying enormously) I wandered over to my bookshelves. A two volume set of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, acquired at some point while I was still in high school, caught my eye. Oddly, there is no publication date in either. Upon opening Volume I, I noted that in apparent youthful exuberance I had placed a small check by the plays I had read. They included A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, The Merchant of Venice, King Henry IV (Parts I and II), The Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Coriolanus. Although I know I read Cymbeline, it wasn't checked off. Perhaps by that time I had grown up enough to stop keeping score. In any event, some Shakespeare was just the ticket for a little diversion. I thought about the tiny check marks. Was it my early intention to read my way through everything Sweet Ole Bill wrote? And if not, why not? Why not! And so, I shall. They are perfect interludes, beautifully crafted and each one short enough to read in an evening. So, that's my read every play and sonnet contained in those two volumes and tick each one off as I go.

    The first unchecked play was Titus Andronicus - and so that is where I began. I dived in knowing there was some debate whether this play was actually written by Shakespeare. Many scholars reject it as one of his plays altogether. Others argue that, at most, Shakespeare may have made some suggestions to its real author regarding character development. Its style is certainly alien to Shakespeare's in the copious blood department. It was a stunning 16th century version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I know Shakespeare was quite the innovator but...who knew? Not being a fan of slasher movies, I found it more than a little disturbing and quite unlike Bill. Example: "And now prepare your throats. Lavinia, come, receive the blood: and when that they are dead, let me go grind their bones to powder small, and with this hateful liquor temper it; And in that paste let their vile heads be baked, to make this banquet; which I wish may prove more stern and bloody than the Centaurs' feast." (Scene II, as Titus cuts the throats of Chiron and Demetrius and Lavinia collects their blood in a basin.)

    I was grateful when Lucius (one of the few principal characters to survive with all his limbs, his head and his throat intact) delivered the plays final lines, spoken as he throws the body of Tamora to the beasts and birds of prey rather than provide her with a burial. It was so him.

    And so, I staggered to the sink to wash the blood off my hands 1) relieved Titus Andronicus was over, and 2) buoyed in the knowledge I would never have to read it again. I was also grateful it was not my introduction to Shakespeare. I doubt I would have been a repeat customer. Of course, Saw II fans would probably enjoy it.

    Because I am trying to read the plays in chronological order, the next is King Henry VI, Part I written in about 1590. It is said to have been produced on the stage in March 1591 and received rave reviews by the audience. William Shakespeare would have been about 26 years old, as if there isn't enough to make underachievers feel queasy. (Someone...please tell me he lied about his age.) Once again, there are some qualifications as to the plays complete authorship and experts can't quite agree that this one is "All Shakespeare - All The Time." It was probably a collaborative effort; most critics concede it contains Shakespeare's "touch," at least.

    Looking ahead, perhaps something a little lighter, Maestro? I see Love's Labour's Lost waiting in the wings.

    One day I hope to visit the Bard's final resting place.

    Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare
    To dig the dust enclosed here.
    Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
    And cursed be he that moves my bones.

    Of course, you could skip Shakespeare altogether and simply sing Cole Porter:

    Brush up your Shakespeare,
    Start quoting him now.
    Brush up your Shakespeare
    And the women you will wow.
    Just declaim a few lines from "Othella"
    And they think you're a helluva fella.
    If your blonde won't respond when you flatter 'er
    Tell her what Tony told Cleopaterer ,
    If she fights when her clothes you are mussing,
    What are clothes? "Much Ado About Nussing."
    Brush up your Shakespeare
    And they'll all kowtow.

    Sleep well, Bill. Try not to roll over.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Something Wonderful

    When I was a young girl I would awaken in the morning and say to myself, "Something wonderful is going to happen to me today." Do understand - I didn't merely hope it...or wish it. I believed it. I trusted it. I went armed into the world wrapped in the warmth of it. Quite often something wonderful didn't happen. That never seemed to matter. Although totally unreasonable, the "not happening" never altered my belief that it would. When the next morning arrived I knew that something wonderful was going to happen to me that day.

    At some point I stopped saying it to myself. I wish I remembered when, or how old I was, or why. It was some time after college, perhaps, but I can't be certain. It wasn't cold turkey but rather a gradual weaning off. Quite simply one day it dawned on me that I had lost it somewhere...somehow. I hated that I had lost it. It made me feel instantly older and burdened and very tired. Oddly sad and slightly darkish. Out of sorts. I mused, "Not with a bang, but with a whimper." And although he was writing about something far more serious and not about my lost belief, I nevertheless felt a kinship with T. S. Eliot.

    I decided I would begin to say it to myself once again every morning and get it back. But I found it really is not as easy as that. What made it work for me...what made it real...was that I believed it - really and truly. I suppose life and experience take their toll.

    But in all my years on the planet I have never awakened in the morning saying, "Something terrible is coming. Something dark and insidious with long, oily fingers reaching for the throat. Something mean and grim and seemingly unstoppable." Until now. Georgia has approximately 100 miles of coast - ocean and beach, marsh and wet lands. It is a fragile and tender place. It doesn't belong to us but we belong to it. The marshland in particular is quiet and hushed. Walking along a trail on Cockspur Island, 5 minutes from my home, I can hear the marsh sounds - frogs, fish jumping, gulls, rustling reeds. Traveling farther up the road one comes to the ocean and the beach and the sight of dolphin fins rising up and down in graceful arcs. The usual cast of characters, the terns, skimmers, pelicans, egrets and other birds are present doing what they do: preening, pecking, dozing, taking flight, diving, calling, filling the sky.

    The most recent prediction is that the oil may very well be carried around the Florida Keys and up the eastern seaboard destroying life as it goes - a phosphorescent, unctuous, aquatic equivalent of Sherman on the march. There is even the possibility it will cross the Atlantic and despoil those shores.

    I am angry. I am angry at a reckless and cavalier company. I am angry at the feckless, flatfooted and delayed response of Washington and our "leaders." (In quotes because I see very little leadership being displayed.)

    I have heard that the gush may not be quelled until Christmas! How much of the coast I have come to love will remain?

    Maybe private and government resources will work together to come up with a solution. Maybe we can put politics aside and bring together the worlds best and brightest minds in an effort to find an answer. Maybe if we all clap very loud Tinkerbell will live. Maybe something wonderful will happen tomorrow.