Saturday, December 09, 2006


My family is so supportive. My parents sent me a page from their local newspaper about a woman who took 30 years to get published. My wrote, "How long have you been writing?" and my father wrote, "Take a little time, Love Dad." I guess that means I only have 15 years to go before one of my books is published. They seem to have forgotten about all the articles, profiles, interviews, essays and stories that have already been published. My parents, like most people, equate writing success with books that have the author's name on them. The books I ghost wrote don't count either.

Oh, well, it could be worse. I could have 30 years to go.

That is all. Disperse.


Out of the darkness she came, bringing memories of murder and disappointment and a season of living with fear and darkness.

I haven't though about Dekkie Moate in years. She is a part of my past in New Orleans. Since I've been raking up old ashes in search of a spark of life and remembrance about those days it was inevitable that should would catch fire and burn her way back into the forefront of my mind. She did.

We met at a temporary agency, both looking for better paying jobs, any jobs. Since we were both hired for the same job, nuclear investigations in Tennessee, and she didn't have a car it was suggested that we pool our resources. We did. I promised to pick her up once the formalities were signed, sealed and delivered and take her to Tennessee with me. In return she took me to a lonely shell and rock strewn shingle, like a dirty secret, in the bayous surrounding Lake Pontchartrain. Twisted, gnarled skeletal trees like pale wraiths scattered among the tangled, humped roots of trees sucking life through the brackish and iridescent oil slicked waters of bayou cupped a small cold beach. "What do you feel?" she asked.

I shivered and looked back at her. Wrapping herself close with her arms, her eyes shifting nervously among the shadows as she inched closer to the one pallid ray of sunshine spearing it's way down from a cloudless sky beyond the reach of the trees. "Cold fear," I said. "This is not a happy place. Why did you want to come here?"

We stood at the end of a long dusty shell packed road where the dregs of Lake Pontchartrain licked noisily at the slimed rocks and sterile fingers of beach. We stood on the point of Frenier Beach where her mother went missing and her mother's lover died with his pants down around his knees slumped over the reclining front seats of his dark green Nash. Her mother's clothes were neatly folded in a paper grocery sack on top of the neatly typed lyrics of a song from The King and I.

We Kiss in a Shadow

We kiss in a shadow,
We hide from the moon,
Our meetings are few,
And over too soon.

We speak in a whisper,
Afraid to be heard;
When people are near,
We speak not a word.
Alone in our secret,
Together we sigh,
For one smiling day to be free
To kiss in the sunlight
And say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"

We speak in a whisper,
Afraid to be heard;
When people are near,

We speak not a word.
Alone in our secret,
Together we sigh,
For one smiling day to be free

To kiss in the sunlight
And say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"

To kiss in the sunlight
And say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"

Over the next few months as we shared a room at the Quality Inn in Sweetwater, Tennessee she told me about her mother and her life and the most famous murder/disappearance in Louisiana history, a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.

I wondered then, as I wonder now, how it would have affected me had my mother's lover been murdered when my mother disappeared and left me looking for truth among the lies that no longer held her life together. It is no wonder, despite the cold evil presence that haunts Frenier Beach, she is unable to stay away.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Waste of space

In a bold new move, and to prove how ecology conscious they are, Xerox has designed a new kind of paper. The printing fades after being exposed to light in about 16-24 hours, a process that is sped up by using the paper to print something new. Supposedly for emails and memos that you just have to see in print on paper, this innovative paper could be the genesis for a whole new crop of ideas. Death bed and murder confessions spring immediately to my warped mind. I wonder though why develop such a paper in the first place. Okay, so memos that have the shelf life of a May Fly are one reason, but why print them out when email is so much simpler and faster and creates no waste? Do we really need to smell the ink or toner and feel the paper in our hands?

As a writer I want what I print out to last--as long as there are no errors. If there are errors then I have to use clean paper and start all over again. If I use the new Xerox paper when I have a perfect finished product it will fade in 16-24 hours. Does that mean I should deliberately make mistakes so I can get the most use out of the paper, which is supposed to be good for up to 50 printings, or should I be more careful and print out only what is error free on non-fading paper? In the end, the paper will still be recycled no matter how many times it is used to print useless short lived memos, so what have I gained? What if I forget I have the fading paper in my printer and print out my novel to send to a publisher who ends up receiving a stack of blank paper with only a return address on an envelope to designate where it came from, an envelope that will most assuredly be trashed as soon as the stack of paper is removed? Here I am waiting for word from the publisher and nothing happens, not, I might add, a situation that is that rare. Writers wait endlessly for publishers. If six months or a year goes by without word our lives and writing continue regardless. I can just imagine 10 publishers with 10 manuscripts that were on the paper wondering why someone is sending them blank paper. Is it a hoax? Does the writer think they're funny or clever? "Well, we'll show them," the publisher says and puts the paper in their own copy machine to print out copies of another author's novel or changes and they send those to the author who wonders why the publisher has sent them blank paper. Is this some kind of joke or is the publisher telling them something? Could it be their words are as worthless as the paper or are they asking the author to start from the beginning? I can see all kinds of misunderstandings cropping up and a new war beginning in the publishing industry.

The wars will escalate in every sector of our ordered and well papered lives. Bill collectors and finance companies will receive contracts for payment on the fading paper and will be unable to take their proof to the courts. Lawyers' briefs will vanish overnight in the judge's chambers and the offending lawyers will end up paying fines and spending time in jail for contempt of court. Supreme Court decisions will disappear (and some of them should). Government will crash and burn as chaos reigns and all because fading paper was used to print out laws and ordinances and communications. The country will come to a standstill and the Internet will catch fire from the venting and wars and recriminations and breakdown of society as we know it.

I don't think this paper is a good idea. It's one of those things that seems like a responsible, ecological choice but ends up throwing the delicate natural balance into chaos. I wonder what CEO Xerox will fire for this one?

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Holiday food tips

1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it's rare. In fact, it's even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-aholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have SOME standards.

10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Reread tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

Remember this motto to live by:

"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, totally worn out and screaming, "WOO HOO what a ride!"

That is all. Disperse.

And EAT!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rambling no rose

It was warm enough to leave the windows open last night but it sure is cold this morning. I had to get up out of my warm bed and close them because I have to start work in a couple hours and I find it a little difficult to type when my fingers are blue and cold. Just a quirk really.

I mailed off the last of my holiday cards yesterday and a package for a friend. It was cheaper to send the package by Priority mail and ask for delivery confirmation than it would have been to send it regular mail and wait three or four days for it to show up. Sounded like a bargain so I went for it. I paid the rent and the bills and now I'm broke but that's the way it usually works. At least I got food last night and a pot of homemade vegetable beef soup is simmering on the stove filling the house with that herb and food scent that makes the mouth water. I forgot an ingredient so I have to track back to the store to pick it up today so I can make another cheesecake and freeze it. It will be a gift for someone, maybe one of you. How do you feel about key lime cheesecake? Or do you prefer plain or maybe chocolate raspberry swirl?

This is one of the few times I wish my family lived closer because I love to bake and cook and give the results as gifts, although I'm sure my mother wishes I were back in Ohio to help her and the family deal with everything my father is going through. Carol seems to have picked up the ball and run with it so maybe me being here is a good thing since other people are doing what I've always done--handle things.

I haven't had much time to read lately and I'm going to have even less time to read since I have to work even longer hours than before. It's all part of the grown up thing that I really don't like very much. There are days when I wish I could run away, just pack up the car and hit the road and drive. I've even thought of packing a few things, stowing them in a back pack and just start walking. By the time I reach the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail I should be in shape to through hike either or maybe both. There's something so soothing about a walk in the woods with nothing on the mind but putting one foot in front of the other. I'd stop every once in a while to pick up a day job or two or work for a week or two to get enough money to push on but it would be a simple life with no bills and no responsibilities and no pressure. I wouldn't have to sit in that chair for 12-16 hours a day and I could stop and walk into a public library and read for a few hours without worrying about all the chores I need to do. I'd be close to nature and I could stop and make radio contact with my backpacking rig and chat with people all around the world and across the country. To meet new people and hear different stories I could write and submit at those libraries would be heaven indeed. That is the life I would choose.

It's a charming thought and one that pops frequently into my mind a lot these days when I'm feeling pressured and harried and worried about paying the bills and having enough money saved for the future. But it's the pipe dream of frustration. I don't need to run away to be free. I am free now. I go and come as I choose--most of the time. I do have to work and sometimes it seems endless, especially in a job I don't like, but what's to say there are other jobs that would be better or less endless. On the road I wouldn't have beds to make and kitchens to clean and trash to take out. I would have camp to make every night, dishes to wash out, food to hang, trash to dispose of, clothing to wash and things to air out. I'd still have to work some time at manual or unskilled labor for a fraction of what I make right now and the work would be mindless drudgery, albeit something new and different. I'd still have to buy shoes to replace the ones I'd wear out and clothes when my own were too threadbare to keep me warm on arctic nights and days. I wouldn't be able to bathe as often and the smell would probably keep me out of public libraries where it's warm and cozy and full of chairs and tables and books.

Whether its' the open road or my comfortable haunted apartment, it's a trade-off. It's like the stories of running away to join the circus. You think it's all painted faces and popcorn and animals. You don't know about the back breaking labor of putting up and taking down tents, practicing hour after hour after aching hour to get a trick right or washing and scrubbing down smelly elephants or mucking out cages or the thousand different tasks that need to be done for two hours of play time and entertainment for the masses. I know about what makes a circus run because my father ran away to the circus when he was younger. When he had his fill he joined the Army.

As Erma Bombeck said, "The grass is always greener over the septic tank." The trick is to be happy in whatever you do or wherever you live and if you're not happy to find what makes you happy. Whatever you choose, it will mean work and probably a lot of work, but you get to choose the work so choose wisely. No road is easy to walk but some are more worth the effort than others. The good thing about roads is that there are lots of them. All it takes is a change of course to find the one that suits you and takes you where you really want to go.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Holiday farce

Most people lose sight of common sense during the holidays. Like the full moon, the holidays induce a kind of madness that results in breakups of marriages, fights, and suicides. The only thing the holidays don't have in common with the madness of the full moon is the need or desire to over spend. A friend recently told me that most people spend upwards of $800 on gifts, with the emphasis on "upwards".

I remember reading a blog on my friends list and the friend in question talked about their longing for their home during the holidays. The friend is from Europe and it was the sights and sounds, smells and tastes of the holiday season she missed and not the gift giving and commercialism she found here. Retailers go all out to lure us into their stories to buy things we don't need and children won't play with 30 minutes after they find out what is inside the pretty wrapping paper and that wrapping paper is becoming more and more expensive for less and less paper. The cashiers and a few customers were talking while I waited in line, oohing and aahing over some very pretty wrapping paper that cost less than $2. Yes, it was inexpensive but there was barely enough on the role to take care of more than two good sized packages; that was something else the mentioned.

When I was growing up the holidays was a special time when, greedy kids that we were, we couldn't wait for Christmas morning to rush downstairs and work our way from the foyer into the living room opening packages as we went. My parents spent lavishly at Christmas--I should say my mother spent lavishly. Every year now she warns everyone that she and Dad can no longer afford to spends lots of money like they used to do. This year is no exception. I wonder what they could have done with the money they would have saved if they had spent less money when we were children. I honestly cannot remember more than a few gifts I received and those were the ones that were special. I would have been just as happy without all the dolls and games and toys and things just to have had those few special gifts. This year, like many years in recent memory, I told Mom what gift I wanted: pot holders and kitchen towels. A few years ago I asked for a telescope. I do not need much and I would rather have something I can use or a gift certificate to or even some of my things in storage (postage is a great gift when it's attached to my sewing machine or some of my cooking utensils or books). I am easy to please. I always have been. But there are those who are not content unless they go into debt every single year or drive their spouses crazy by spending so much money it affects their marriage, their credit and their lives--just because it's Christmas.

Yes, it's easy to look back on the past and see how spoiled I was when it came to gifts under the tree and say I would have been happy with less, but it really is true. One year an aunt gave me a book. It was Heidi by Johanna Spyri. I read that book many times and even slept with it under my pillow. I still have it. Then there was the year I received an easel, brushes and a paint box with some canvas boards. I painted with those tools for years, added colors and acrylics and brushes one at a time. My favorite gifts came in my stocking: oranges, nuts, and a little candy. But I wonder how my father felt about how much Mom spent every year, especially the year I snooped and found the basement room that was filled floor to ceiling with toys and gifts, so many gifts I was literally stunned by the sight.

My landlady is a generous and loving person and last year, my first year here, she gave me a big bag of goodies and home baked breads as a gift. She gave a similar bag to Nel across the hall. We talked about that a few weeks ago and she told me she'd rather give something home baked because it is a little more personal--and a touch less expensive. Last night when I took her half of the key lime cheesecake the hall and her apartment were filled with the smell of baking bread. She checked the bread in the oven while we talked in the kitchen, shedding light on three raisin- and nut-studded loaves turning golden in the heat. She told me she soaked the nuts and raisins in liquor for several days before she added them to the dough she made, reminding me of a Kentucky Bourbon cake I have made in years past.

Things here are serene and pleasant but outside these walls there are rumbles of bitter arguments to the beeping sound of credit cards being swiped in stores all over the city. Gone are the cozy holiday meals that fill the house with the scent of spices and baking meat or the warmth and glow that spreads outward from the kitchen. Instead families with go out for dinner and spend their holidays in movie theaters ignoring each other for hours. There will be no leftovers for turkey sandwiches or casseroles and no extra trips to the kitchen to nibble on leftovers while friends and family gather to share a day or an evening of music and laughter, sharing their favorite gifts, ones that they will remember and treasure for years. Instead there will be silence and an atmosphere you could cut with a dull knife and long walks in the freezing cold and snow to cool down hot tempers and get away from the looming specter of harsh words over excessive spending and debt at a time when the wasted money could be used in better ways. I wonder how many of those gifts that will find their way under trees this year will end up on eBay or in yard and garage sales come spring and summer for pennies, nickels and dimes. It's no wonder we need bigger and bigger houses with lots of closet space; we need a place for our stuff, stuff we do not need and won't want 30 minutes after we receive them.

How many gifts did you receive last year do you still have or even remember? Were they worth the cost or the arguments or the debt? Think about it, then think less about how much you plan to spend and even less about spending so much. If you need to spend that money to feel good, give it to a charity in your child's name or your own name, and remember those children who will be ecstatic over one or two gifts some stranger put into a gift collection box at a store without knowing more about the child than whether or not they were a girl or a boy. Give the money to a food pantry or homeless shelter so more people can be fed throughout the holidays and every day. I'm sure your harried and frustrated mate, the one who works and pays the bills, will thank you for not excusing your excesses with, "But it's Christmas."

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tick tock

There aren't enough hours in the day. I'm reading the latest issue of The Sun, something I have put off because I was working or writing or dealing with family stuff, and the interview with Studs Terkel. I want more. I want to read his books and research his writing and his life but I don't have the time. I have laundry to do and I need to put in a few hours of work to pay the bills. I have to clean the kitchen and go to the market and I need to finish editing the newsletter. I want to spend a little time writing because I have a story boiling merrily on the back burner that kept me from sleeping and dreaming last night. There is also a need to deal with what's happening back in Ohio with my father and the lack of communication that sends me into a fury of useless anger at people because they don't ask questions and won't do their jobs. I also need to finish the proposal package requested by a publisher and it needs to be finished today. There's no time.

I feel a little guilty about taking time off yesterday to relax and read and regenerate because I could have done half of what I need to do today but after working 12- and 14-hour days all last week and putting in time writing, I needed the rest that I should regret today. The only thing I did that could be seen as work was bake a key lime cheesecake for the landlady, but for me that's not really work, that's pure pleasure. I don't have a Kitchen Aid mixer with the paddles and I don't have a mixer that can handle two pounds of cream cheese so I use a wooden spoon and do it by hand, but it's not work. I love the way the individual ingredients resist coming together and blending into a harmonious creamy batter that fills the house with the scent of sunshine and sweetness with a hint of soft vanilla as it bakes, the 50 minutes passing like no time at all. Each addition, from the sugar to the eggs and finally the fresh key lime juice, defies inclusion, slipping around and over the spoon while I stir, bobbing up on the edges away from the slow swirling center, skipping away from the relentless movement toward the center and homogeneity. One egg yolk kept popping up and wouldn't break so I toyed with it, dipping the spoon down into the batter and folding the batter around it only to have it pop up again and again whole and unbroken. I smiled and laughed, playing a little longer until the desire to taste the creamy tart-sweet cheesecake today won over the egg yolk's wholeness and I jabbed the spoon into it and worked it slowly into the satiny batter.

While the baking time passes so quickly, the time it takes the cheesecake to rest and cool seems endless. I put the cheesecake in the refrigerator in its springform pan as soon as it come out of the oven and close the door for 24 hours before I can even unmold and cut it. The time passes slowly so I read for a while and fell asleep with the book still in my hands until the phone rang.

At first, I didn't know who was on the other end of the line. They knew me obviously because they talked familiarly. "Why are you asleep?"

"Because I was tired."

"I'll let you go back to sleep."

(Why does someone who wakes you from a sound sleep always say that?)

"No, tell me what you want." I was beginning to wake up.

"We took Dad to the emergency room today."

It was Beanie. I was awake.

"What happened? Is he all right?"

Dad was in pain. His neck hurt and he couldn't bear to swallow. He asked to go to the hospital. He was in tears.

My father's hands are crippled and deformed with arthritis, the joints skewed to the left and right like badly set fractures. He digs in the garden and planted a row of trees on either side of their long driveway from the road to the house. He remodeled the chicken house and painted and hung wallpaper and did a thousand different jobs with his crippled hands and he never complained or winced in pain.

Dad was in pain.

When his heart valve exploded and he was literally drowning in his own blood, his doctor told him he could either go to the hospital or die right there in his office and he'd call the coroner instead.

He asked to go to the hospital.

The only time I have ever seen my father cry was at his father's funeral, a man I barely knew as I scarcely knew most of the people from my father's side, my side, of the family.

He cried. My father cried from the pain as they took him to the hospital.

Anger boiled up inside me as Beanie told me the rest. Intravenous morphine that didn't touch the pain. Waiting for hours to see a doctor who took less than five minutes to pronounce the pain muscular. "You probably slept wrong." OxyContin added to the Dilaudid that didn't touch the pain. An IV line that blew a blood vessel, humped up underneath my father's fragile skin. "It's normal," she said and walked out. My mother gets blood transfusions every month to stay alive and she knows a blown blood vessel when she sees one; she has had many of them. The nurse wouldn't listen. The doctor didn't come back. They sent my father home with a prescription for Percocet. Mom gave him a muscle relaxer at home on top of all the other meds and he is still in pain, still in tears. They did no tests and the possibility of a blood clot in the carotid or jugular didn't occur to the doctors. He slept wrong. He could move his head with some discomfort but he couldn't even swallow without pain. This was no spasming muscle and they didn't even do an MRI or a CT-scan to check.

Take two Percocet and call me when you're dead.

All these disparate ingredients refusing to work together to provide anything useful. Ignorance is bliss and these people are obviously in a constant state of mind-numbing orgasm. It's a national disease. Our melting pot has stopped boiling and blending as the center no longer holds. The egg yolk keeps bobbing up around the spoon no matter how hard I work at slowly combining the ingredients and it isn't funny any more.

It's like the huge cockroach in New Orleans that sauntered into my bedroom while I read Atlas Shrugged. I threw the book at him and he threw it back. He marched right into the room and across the bed on his way to a crack in the old walls to join the party inside, completely oblivious to me or my presence. I was nothing more than a bump in the midst of his road, an insignificant bump. There was nothing I could do but keep on reading before it was time to go to work and leave the apartment to him and his friends rustling between the walls, hoping without hope they'd go away and things would be better.

Things are better. There are no cockroaches here and there is plenty of work and laundry and cleaning and grocery shopping and newsletters to edit in the hours left before the week begins anew and I sit chained to my desk for 12-14 hours a day while I wait for the next phone call that reminds me time is running out and the lunatics are running the asylum and giving out pills instead of cures.