Friday, March 28, 2008

The Charybdis vortex

I was invited to a good friend's wedding next month, and looking forward to it, especially since he had always said he'd never get married again. He's a real sweetheart. He's kind, giving, forgiving and genuinely a good man but I had my doubts when I met his girlfriend/fiancee. On the surface she seemed nice and was polite when we met. That turned out to be one of her faces. She has several.

I happened to see her at a concert recently where she sat a couple rows in front of me. I waited until the intermission to speak to her but couldn't find her so I went to the restroom. As I sat there contemplating my belly button, I heard her voice and she was furious. I tried to hurry up, but nature just will not be hurried, and I am glad now that I did because had I emerged I'm certain I would have been blasted to smithereens.

She had nothing good to say about my friend and screamed that he was cheating on her. The other voice, supposedly a friend, reminded her that she had been cheating on him from the beginning and really didn't have the right to complain -- the pot calling the kettle black, and all that. There was a sharp crack of sound that could only have been a slap, followed by a shocked gasp. "You know it's true," her friend said through her tears. "No one cheats on me," she said. "When I find out who it is I'll make them both pay, but he's not getting out of this marriage. I am not going to give up the house or the income from the renters, and I'm certainly not going to let him get out of this so easily."

I heard the door open and the friend's voice sounded farther away. "Yeah, you worked so hard for it. You tricked him into moving you into the house his mother gave him with that phony story of being stalked. If he's smart, he'll kick you out." The door swished shut with a soft thunk. "We'll just see about that," she said. The stall door next to mine slammed shut. I got out of there as quickly as possible and left the concert.

I'd heard stories from his best friend, but I didn't pay that much attention to them because she was hurt because they hadn't been close since the girlfriend came into his life. After all, his best friend is a lesbian and he is not the kind of man who is willing to give up sex for the rest of his life. I chalked all the complaints and stories up to jealousy and hurt. Now the stories make sense.

Like anyone who steals or cheats or lies, she transfers her guilt to him and makes him the bad guy. I don't see where he'd have the time to cheat on her since he works full time, has his own business on the side and spends every free moment with her and her two kids. She doesn't work -- at least not in the conventional sense. She draws and has tried to sell her work to writers as illustrations and has even tried to get a couple of galleries interested in her work, but hasn't had a lot of luck. She did sell one painting to a greeting card company and it is doing well, but not enough to make a living. She claims he's unfocused and irresponsible and doesn't have a good work ethic, even though he's the one paying the bills and giving her everything she wants. His grandmother lived with him before she came into his life, but made room for her in the house, even moving in with his sister to keep from getting in the girlfriend's way. Her granddaughter doesn't have as much room, but my friend said she was glad to have her grandmother move in with her and her family. I'm beginning to think there is another story here somewhere.

I've heard about the screaming rages and the black depressions and how she decided she didn't like his roses and made him take them out to build her a Zen garden even though he has bred those roses for a long time, lavishing time and patience on them until they are the most beautiful roses you've ever seen. The yard was filled with their soft sweet scent all summer but now it's a different landscape with raked sand around boulders placed here and there in the tie-rod fenced area where the roses grew. I have nothing against tranquility, and it's not so much the change outside, as the change inside that makes me wonder how happy he could be. Little by little she has gotten rid of his plants, taken over his home office as her own and, since she is an atheist, made him dismantle his altar and meditation space because she wanted to expand "her" office. She is controlling every aspect of his life and is so obsessed with his best friend that he no longer calls her or spends any time with her.

One of our other friends stopped by when he saw the guy out in the yard playing badminton with her teenage daughter. It was a spur of the moment idea. She was polite and quiet while they talked but two days later when I ran into my friend he said she had thrown a fit and claimed the guy was sent to spy on them by his best friend. I knew that wasn't true because she was in Arizona with her sister and brothers for their father's funeral. She didn't now anything about it.

The thing is that I can't go to him and let him know what he's walked into because it's not my life. I'd like to put him on his guard, but I can't. It's his life and he's made his choices. He told me he has had second thoughts but he is so enmeshed in this situation he doesn't know how to get out. I don't think there is an easy way to get rid of someone who has infiltrated your life and your home so thoroughly without causing some major emotional -- and probably physical and property -- damage. He said she is irrational and might even be crazy and he's worried about the kids. He doesn't want to hurt them and he doesn't want to go through with the marriage because then she'll really have him by the short hairs. He's a nice guy in a bad situation. He's mentally, emotionally and verbally abused and there isn't anything I can say without causing more problems, so I listen and let him talk, hoping he will figure a way out. I have suggested he talk to a counselor because I'm not sure he'd believe me if I told him what I know, not because he'd think I was lying but because she has alienated every one of his friends and cut him off from all support. He's going to protect her even at the cost of his own peace of mind and his future.

I can say here what I can't say to him. She is a controlling, selfish, unstable narcissist who has burned everyone around her as soon as she had no further use for them. She comes off so nice and giving and thoughtful until you cross her or tell her the truth. She doesn't want the truth. She sees the world only as it fits her reality and she gets rid of or destroys anything that mars the perfect image she projects. People don't exist except as extensions of her ego and she is dangerous.

It hurts me to see him being sucked farther and farther into Charybdis's vortex with not even a bird to lead him through the straits, but unless he takes my hint and goes for counseling I'm afraid he's doomed. She has too strong a hold on him. I wonder now if there will be a wedding next month or if it will be postponed. I'm praying for a postponement to give him enough time to find a way out.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's easy being green

I've been working on some green articles and stories and I keep coming back to the same thing; I don't remember having to take out as much garbage when I was growing up. No wonder couples argue over who has to take out the garbage all the time. There was less packaging then, too, which goes along with the increase in garbage. When did it all change and why?

Growing up, Carol and I spent about a month in the summer (when we were in town and not in some foreign country or other state, of course) staying with our aunt and uncle, Mom's brother and sister-in-law, at their house in the country. They had five acres and I'm amazed now that their five kids and us two could fit in a two-bedroom house, but we did. Uncle Bob had remodeled the basement to include two more bedrooms, but there was still one bathroom and it seems to me we took baths in shifts and used the same water with lots of Mr. Bubble that petered out after the second round no matter how much you put in. They had a well and the water was hard so Mr. Bubble didn't bubble very much anyway. But that doesn't have anything to do with the green part.

There was a big mound (almost a hill) of table scraps that rotted quietly in the sun, attended by crawling and flying insects until it was raked out and spread over the garden in spring when Uncle Bob tilled it into the soil to ready the ground for planting. Out of the five acres, I'm pretty sure the garden took up about 1-1.5 acres and things grew there in abundance: tomatoes, peppers (not the hot kind, they weren't popular yet), green beans, corn, carrots, peas, etc.

All summer long we grazed surreptitiously among the rows when we weren't scouring the nearby woods and dump for blackberries. As the vegetables ripened, we picked them and ate them for meals, but we also helped can and freeze the bounty, sealing in the sunshine and warmth and color of summer in glass jars that had been used and reused for decades, some of which were probably used by Aunt Lois's mother and grandmother before her. A few of the blackberries made it to the freezer, but not many; we ate them as fast as we picked them, saving just enough to share with our uncle and aunt. They didn't buy much from the grocery store, outside of bread and meat. Milk came in a great big tin milk can from across the road at Gallagher's dairy farm, where they also got eggs. The milk was raw and tasted different than anything my parents bought at the store.

My aunt and uncle lived in the country but they weren't really farmers and their place, in spite of the garden, wasn't a farm, although there were still farms in the area all around them. They lived just a few miles from Worthington which is a fairly good sized town and now nothing more than a suburb of Columbus where the upper middle and upper classes still live. Even that close to town, my uncle's place was heaven to me.

I didn't mind the work that went along with gathering and preserving the harvest because it never occurred to me I should think of it as work. After all, it was summer and I was on vacation. We didn't watch much television but we were never bored. There was always something to do, especially in getting ready for our annual beauty pageant at the end of our visit.

In town, Gram had a little garden in the back yard where she grew a few vegetables for the table and for canning and I spent many happy hours sitting next to her with a newspaper across my lap stringing green beans and shucking corn. We talked about everything and nothing sitting there in the sunshine our fingers busily stripping and snapping the bright green beans fresh from her garden, and I helped her with freezing and canning the bounty so the smell of beans cooking with onions and a bit of ham or bacon would fill the house even in the winter time to make the mouth water and the memory quicken. And Gram made jelly from the grapes on the arbor behind our house or gave me a bobby pin to pit cherries that would be cooked and preserved in glass jars for later. It wasn't until I was married and we were stationed at Hill AFB in Utah that I decided to try my hand at making jam.

A neighbor told me about a field where we could get fresh strawberries if we were willing to pick them ourselves. I was game. I bought two cases of jelly jars and a block of paraffin and washed the jars in the dishwasher. While they steamed and dried we drove over to the field and picked baskets of strawberries. I had a vague idea of what to do but it didn't take me long to find a recipe in an old cookbook that had traveled with me from Ohio to Arizona and back to Ohio before we came to Utah. It was so old and worn the dust cover was yellowed with age and ripped in a couple of places; Gram gave it to me when I got married.

I found the recipe and decided to make jam instead of jelly, stopping on the way home to buy a food mill and some sugar, and then at home I set to work cleaning and slicing the strawberries, eating a few along the way. At the end of a very long afternoon I had 24 jars of strawberry jam safe under their waxy seals, gleaming like rubies behind the pristine glass. We had strawberry jam with the biscuits I made for dinner and more strawberry jam in the morning on the breakfast toast. The boys couldn't get enough, but 24 jars of jam is a lot to get through even with three hungry boys.

I gave a half dozen jars to my husband to take to a couple of his single friends living on base in the bachelor barracks and they came back a couple of days later clean and begging to be filled again. The jam was a hit and the word got out that the best place on base to eat was at our house -- if you could wangle an invitation.

We weren't allowed a compost bin or heap outside the door on base so the food scraps went into the garbage disposal, but even then there wasn't much garbage. Either packagers didn't feel the need to waste resources on hermetically sealing their products or the packaging was flimsier, but there was a lot less waste. I don't have my canning equipment here, but I think it's time to start stocking up so I can fill my shelves with the bounty that waits just up the street when the Farmer's Market sets up business on the weekends.

I miss seeing all the summer colors and sunshine tastes that that I helped put into reusable jars sealed with Kerr and Ball lids. I miss the taste of homemade piccalilli and sun ripe tomatoes that didn't come from a hot house but grew on a vine amid the dirt under the warm summer sunshine. I miss the sweet snap of carrots and stringing green beans on the porch and homemade strawberry jam and grape jelly. I miss the feeling of being closer to nature and knowing where my food comes from and having a hand in preserving it for the cold winter evening when a taste of summer is just what I need to brighten up a meal. But most of all, I miss those carefree summers and not realizing that all the effort that goes into preserving the harvest is more play than work back in the days when no one knew what it mean to be green, they just were.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dinosaur tracks

I got sucked into playing Scrabulous on facebook but I didn't know there were cheaters out there. I found out when I kept seeing messages about not using word finders. I didn't see word finder as an option in the preferences for Scrabulous so I kept looking and . . . nothing. Went to my old friend Google and came up with several sites that offer a computer generated word finder for Scrabble players. I figured out how to work it and then realized that was how the people who beat me so badly did it; they cheated. I'm a good player because I've been playing since I was a child, but the idea that there was a way to cheat completely shocked me. I didn't think it was possible. It's like sitting down to a game of chess with someone you think is on your level and find out you've been playing against a chess master, or worse yet a computer. What's the point?

A woman I played last night asked me if I was using a word finder and I was surprised, to say the least. No, I am a good player. I looked at her stats and she is good, too, but with all the messages about word finders I can see why she might be suspicious. Scrabble is part brains and a big part luck because if you get lousy tiles (all vowels or all consonants) it can ruin your game. I can see where a word finder might help there, but I play the tiles I'm dealt and do the best with what I have. Every once in a while I'll exchange some tiles, but not often. I hate losing a turn. I guess that makes me a dinosaur. I do wish, however, that there was a way to tell if someone is using a word finder before you pick your partner. I'd have to say that someone with a high score, a really high score, is probably using it, although there are times when the tiles fall just right and your opponent leaves you wonderful openings, so ... it's still all a crap shoot.

In a world of computers and pirates everywhere looking to get ahead any way they can, it's inevitable that it will infiltrate even the hallowed boards and tiles of Scrabble. It's a shame really because it doesn't help you think better. I'd say it's the reverse and using a computer generated word finder is the best way to speed brain atrophy, but I'm a dinosaur about such things. I like computers. They have made my life easier and more enjoyable on so many levels, but they are also the devil's tool in some ways. As in life, there will always be rain -- or snow -- when you least expect or want it.

That is all. Disperse.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Judicious gambling

I feel -- I don't know what the word is. I'm out of words right now, having used them all in reviews I just finished. I wrote over fifty reviews last year and that doesn't even include the books I read for my own enjoyment. I'm doing two reviews a week now and I think it's time to take a breath, even though I feel good about the work I've done. There were so many good ones from this last shipment of books I'm going to have to read them again and find somewhere to put them. The floor is getting full and the bookshelves are bowed beneath the weight of what I already have on hand, and 95% of those are mine for research, for giggles, for -- well, just because. The last two included a book on a love affair with gambling and a Brain Bomber targeting the elite at universities across the country, another Unabomber targeting people with brains. If he'd been born earlier, he would have targeted Einstein and what a loss that would've been.

Probably the most interesting part of both books is the cultural difference. The autobiography reminded me of my childhood when my mother always wore dresses and jewelry and went out on the weekends with my suit-clad father to play bingo or have friends over for drinks and Canasta or Michigan Rummy. I miss those times when I didn't really know they had such a short shelf life and we would all end up spread out across the country and living lives completely separate and alone. Card parties and dancing and drinking and bingo and Sunday morning hangovers at the beach or behind drawn shades seem like a different century instead of a few decades ago, and it's hard to look back and not miss the simplicity and closeness we shared with our family and close friends. Such is life of a military brat no longer associated with the military. Things were different when Dad retired. There were still parties and cards, but no more drinking or hung over Sundays to get through before work on Monday.

It's seems strange to be nostalgic for the old days when my parents drank, especially since it wasn't really an issue and never a part of my life even though I was of legal age at 18. When I married and followed my husband from base to base, we had the card parties and drinking, but neither my husband nor I suffered the Sunday hangovers. We didn't drink that much. The sense of family and camaraderie is something I left behind when I divorced the Air Force, and I sometimes miss it. I have friends and we get together and go to gallery showings and spend holidays together drinking wine and swapping stories, but none of them have children and mine are grown and gone, so it's just us old folks sitting around, and no one plays cards. I miss that the most, like Screw Your Neighbor which was sanitized and became Uno. I liked it better when it was a little bit naughty, at least in the name of the game. I even miss the weekly bingo games, even when I lost. I didn't lose much because I'm not that much of a gambler; I'm what people call a judicious gambler. I don't feel like I have to play and I never take more than I can afford to lose. My ex-husband said that made me no fun to be around, especially when I'd get up from the table while I was still winning. Do you know a better time to leave?

Anyway, it's time for me to get back to bed and get a few hours of sleep before the sun comes up and stirs me into facing another day of work and responsibilities. It was fun while it lasted.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I've been pondering why I write. For a long time I didn't write, afraid to put my thoughts and emotions down on paper so they could be found and used against me, used to punish me for allowing such thoughts. That's why I quit writing. My thoughts, my confusion, my fears, my dreams were no longer safe between the pages of my diaries and journals, not even in the wall safe in the closet of my bedroom, not secure from my mother who searched them out wherever I hid them and punished me for what I'd written. Most of the time I didn't even remember what I wrote, having purged it all and vented my spleen onto the blank pages, but that didn't matter; I was punished all the same. I was silenced.

It was out of silence I began writing again, the silence that surrounds a stranger in a strange land. The land was a jail in New Orleans where I waited out the ice storms and freezing rains incommunicado because on paper I didn't exist. I was lost in the system. Then I got a wonderful gift, a pad of legal paper and a black felt tip pen and I began to writing, haltingly at first and then with more confidence as the black ink swirled along the lines and down the pages, filling them with everything I thought and felt. I didn't care who read it as long as I could write, just the way I wrote as a child and a teenager contemplating the changes around me and where I fit in.

Oblivious to the women around me, I wrote, set the filled sheets aside and wrote some more. Curiosity, Eve's original sin, led the women to peer over my shoulder or sit down next to me and shift the papers closer to read, and they were excited. More than that, I found where I fit in when they sat down wherever there was an empty space near me and told me their stories. They wanted a witness to their lives.

None of those women told me they were innocent. They told me the simple truth about shop lifting for their children for Xmas, their johns, their charges and their complaints about the legal system and the cops. Some of them were innocent, but they knew there were things of which they weren't innocent: being black, being poor, being women. Some women were confused about why they were there; I was one of those. Some women were proud of their histories and how they beat the system or called in favors to lessen their punishments. But all were honest with me because they wanted someone to know the truth as ugly as it sometimes was. And so I wrote for myself as much as for them, giving them a voice they were denied outside the facility walls, and through them I found my voice.

My voice has changed over the years since then, growing stronger, more confident, sometimes complex and sometimes simple, but not silent, never silent. I am a voice for the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the hurt, the dead and the silent.

That is why I write.