Friday, October 30, 2009


I wrote this short story last fall. I took the kernel of truth from J's story and used it in this fictionalized piece. It is a long short story -- not ideally for a blog, so I am warning you now, or come back and read it when you have some time to do's about 4500 wds long...HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Charlotte held the slip of paper between the middle and index fingers of her right hand as she gripped the leather steering wheel of the rental car. She peered at the hastily scribbled directions she had written from her conversation with Kevin that morning while keeping an eye out for the landmarks he had given her, in deference to her “navigationally challenged” nature. As she slowed to read street signs, cars zoomed behind her bumper until they were positioned to whiz around the halting vehicle, impatient in their quest to fly through rush-hour traffic. One or two honked as they sped by.
“It’s obvious I’m looking for a street,” she said aloud. “Read the out-of-state tags, jerk.” Finally spying the one she wanted, she pulled off the busy road into a quiet neighborhood with a sigh of relief.
All the houses looked cared for; lawns tidy and trees large and well established. She felt pleased Kevin had found a house in such a prosperous-looking residential area. After eighteen months in a cramped and flimsy FEMA trailer, she would’ve been happy with anything solid with four walls that weren’t portable, but this was more than she had hoped for. Taking a sharp right onto a street she recognized from their conversation, Charlotte slowed to allow another car to pass so she could continue to observe the neighborhood. It was peaceful. Not a person or animal moving, not a leaf or dead plant out of place.
She saw Kevin’s green Explorer parked high up a steep driveway. There it is, she thought. Our house. It seemed a little ungainly, like how a fat woman squatting over a toilet must look, the way it crouched on its small hilltop – but she could see why it had appealed to Kevin. With its long covered upper-balcony, series of French doors, and ornate wrought ironwork and fancy brick, it looked like a typical New Orleans-style house. A little bit of home, she smiled, without the grime and high-water marks or brown, scorched, debris-strewn yards of most of the neighborhoods we’ve left behind.
As she stretched her legs beside the rental car, a gray Lexus purred up the drive and parked behind her. A dumpy woman in neon-green Capri pants far too tight for her ample butt and thighs clambered out, preceded by a halo of frizzy red hair.
“Hi, oh, I’m so sorry. I’ve been running behind all morning. I’m Emily Redding, your real estate agent. I see your husband’s already inside waiting.”
As the stranger talked she walked over and grabbed Charlotte’s left arm, not seeming to notice her flinch -- Charlotte disliked being touched by strangers -- and steered them both up four steps towards a cream-colored front door. Before Charlotte could respond, however, the door yanked open and Kevin loomed before them.
“There you are! Finally!”
Charlotte wasn’t sure if the remark was addressed to her or the realtor, but it didn’t matter. As Kevin wrapped his arms around her she leaned into his broad sturdy chest and inhaled the smell of coconut that always seemed to pervade him. She allowed herself to relax after the stress of the long drive, and suddenly felt like weeping. Embarrassed, she turned her face to the nearest wall.
Kevin laughed. “You’ll have to excuse my wife; it’s been a long, hard year and a half, and she hates change.” Kevin grinned at Emily and kissed the top of Charlotte’s head as the realtor busied herself with a chirping cell phone, giving them a brief minute of privacy as she headed off a sales call.
“No, no,” Emily replied absently after hanging up, to nothing in particular. “I was hoping to get here after ya’ll had some time alone together…”
Sharp metallic clicks echoed through the bare hallway, and picked up speed as a bundle of tightly twisted furry brown and white hair barreled towards them. Wriggling and wagging a stub of a tail, a dog made a beeline towards the still entwined couple.
“Lucy!” Charlotte cried as she pulled away from Kevin and flung herself on the linoleum. Hugging the dog, which she had missed as much as Kevin, she gave the entry hall another quick glance. This awful tile must go, she thought, as she struggled to kiss the dog’s bobbing fuzzy head. Lucy’s warm moist tongue gave her doggie kisses until Charlotte protested in delight.
“Now I know she’s feeling better,” Kevin said to Emily, while both watched the scene with bemused looks.
“Shall we take a quick glance around the house?” Emily asked, pointedly looking at her watch. Charlotte could tell she was anxious to complete the formalities of their meeting. Reluctantly getting off the floor, she ignored Lucy’s pawing and whines for more attention.
“Sorry – certainly – let’s get started. I’m eager to see it.” Falling in line behind Kevin and Emily, Charlotte and Lucy obediently followed them to the back of the house.

“Do you really like it?” Kevin asked when they were finally alone. His expression conveyed he expected Charlotte would say she loved it, and he anticipated full praise. When she smiled but paused the teeniest bit before repling, he frowned.
She did like the house. And yet…His smile stretched tighter.
“So you don’t like it? What’s wrong now? This is more house than I ever expected us to get!”
“I know,” Charlotte rushed to reply. “It’s just – I don’t know – it’s fantastic – but, I just have this – feeling – in some of the rooms…”
“Oh, GOD, your feelings…” Kevin stormed.
Wounded and hurt, Charlotte shrugged. “I know; sorry. It’s a great house.”
Kevin’s expression softened, and he glanced around the empty kitchen. “Hey, we’re both wiped out. I bought OJ and milk and cereal, but what do you say we go try to find one of those restaurants Emily told us about? I’m tired of sandwiches and fast food, and I know you must be.”
“I’m all for unpacking later,” Charlotte sighed. She fumbled in her purse for lip-gloss and smoothed back unruly black curls, which had untwisted from the bun she had hastily pinned this morning. As she did, she thought back to the events that had drawn them here. They had decided the month before Kevin would go ahead and find a house in Arkansas while Charlotte stayed in Louisiana to clear up the final details of moving out of state, and attending to insurance matters involved with the flood. She knew she had no right to criticize his choice of houses. He did the best he could, she rationalized. No need to add to an already stressful situation.
Before they could head out the door, Lucy moved to prevent their exit. A medium-sized mutt weighing around thirty pounds, Lucy wasn’t as formidable as a large dog, but for all her slightness she was solid. Her high-pitched barking sounded too loud and frantic in a hall unsoftened by rugs or furnishings.
“Lucy, no! What’s wrong with her?” Charlotte tried to soothe and silence the dog as Lucy continued to block the door with her body. “She never does this!”
“Lucy, down!” shouted Kevin, pushing Lucy roughly to one side. Lucy growled and crouched low, crawling back to the threshold.
“Whatsa matter, sweet girl?” Charlotte asked as she stroked the dog’s jerking head. She was annoyed by Kevin’s unnecessary roughness and surprised Lucy was growling. This move had been hard for everyone.
“Don’t hit her. She’s just sad we’re leaving.”
“I didn’t hurt her – she’s spoiled.”
“This isn’t like her, she’s never done this before; we’re leaving and it’s a new place, she can’t help it…”
“She’ll be fine,” Kevin said, curtly. “I’m not staying in the house for a dog – I’m hungry.” Shoving past Lucy a final time, he pushed Charlotte through the door gently and firmly. “She has to get used to it sometime.”

Climbing into the Explorer’s passenger seat after brushing off cracker crumbs while trying to ignore the sour smell of grease and fast food wrappers crumpled on the floor, Charlotte glanced over her shoulder towards the house. As she buckled her seat belt, she noticed a slight movement, like a fluttering, behind the curtains of an upper window. That was that tiny room painted pink she thought. Surely Lucy couldn’t have run upstairs that fast. She felt her face flush and glanced down at her hands, which were trembling slightly, but didn’t say anything as Kevin pushed the key in the ignition and the engine turned over. Maybe we left the ceiling fan on in that room, she mused, making a mental note to check when they got back. As they eased down the steep drive, Charlotte thought she heard Lucy howl, and the hair on the back of her neck stiffened.

The following week passed quickly – too quickly – Charlotte thought, but eventually Kevin started his new job as a computer sales associate, leaving her alone to finish unpacking and acclimate to a new city, new state. And Lucy, too, but the dog seemed to find exploring the back yard immensely more pleasurable that any room inside the house, and even seemed opposed to entering some of the rooms, regardless of whether or not Charlotte was in there.
“It’s so quiet around here…almost eerie,” she said after dinner one evening while hanging new curtain rods in the living room.
Kevin held up a few curtain rings in the palm of one hand.
“Yeah, well, it’s not exactly ‘the big easy,’ that’s for sure, but what did you expect?”
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said, struggling to push heavy gray fabric through a ring. “But it’s so quiet around here, even during the day. There must not be any kids at all in the neighborhood, and I only see people in cars -- ”
“So? We don’t have any kids.” Kevin winced as soon as the words left his mouth. He hadn’t given much thought to what Charlotte was saying; he had been distracted, simultaneously admiring her bare legs as she perched on the kitchen stool, and watching Lucy through the window digging at something in the yard – probably some rodent hole. I need to check that out --- we don’t need mice in the house or moles tearing up the yard.
Charlotte paused and the heavy curtains slipped from her hands and thudded into a heap on the wood floor. “What did you say? Is that how you think of us? As childless? We did have a child, and we will have one again. I don’t think Dr. Leroy has all the answers.”
Kevin’s face reddened and the pity and alarm that skittered across it angered Charlotte even more.
“Fuck it,” she muttered as she hopped over the velour drapes and fled the room.
* * *
Ever since Ashleigh died of SIDS, Kevin felt Char was never going to forgive him. He’d beat himself up about it plenty of times. He had insisted they move the baby into her nursery across the hall. After all, they were right there, and the baby monitor was positioned by the bed. Charlotte checked fifty times a night anyway. Kevin hadn’t been able to sleep with the baby in the bed with them. She was so tiny and delicate – irony of ironies – he had been so afraid they’d inadvertently roll over and suffocate her. And the baby’s constant wakefulness prevented him from sleeping when he could finally sleep. But he knew Char blamed him, though she never said anything directly.
He also knew it would’ve never happened had the baby remained in their room. And if he hadn’t insisted they use the old family crib his parents had handed down so proudly.
“It’s been in the Fowler family five generations,” his dad had said. Kevin had noticed the doubtful look on Charlotte’s face as she traced the wide slats on the side of the crib with her fingers, though she had said nothing.
Kevin accepted this. But he was still frustrated and angry. It’s been four years; he wanted their life back. Maybe that was why he had begun an affair with Carla from accounting. He never would’ve noticed her had things been different – or rather the same – between he and Charlotte. Carla looked cheap --- too obvious, with her fire-engine-red lipstick and feral mouth, vapid, eager eyes, and tight, low-necked sweaters and bottle-blonde hair, which even Kevin could see was way too light for her age. The way she leered at him from their first meeting, he knew she would be easily available should he choose to take her up on it. And one afternoon after work when the company had met for drinks, Kevin did just that.
Slightly drunk, and definitely horny, there still had been no valid excuse; he knew what he was doing. Long hot showers couldn’t seem to drive the Patchouli scent of her away after their assignations in the dingy Motel-6 off the old main highway. But Char never seemed to notice. So maybe the lingering odor had just been in his head. Still, he was relieved the move had given him an excuse to cut it off after just a couple of months, before the affair became obvious to all but the most sharp-eyed gossips in the office…
Kevin jerked to attention. Charlotte had come back into the room and was eyeing him with curiosity.
“…So, I said, we’ll try again…where were you just now?”
“Umm, just thinking about something at work. …Lucy wants in,” he stammered, moving across the room. Fortunately Lucy was always a good excuse, since her needs topped anything else in the house.

The following day after dinner Kevin announced he had to attend employee training at the computer store’s headquarters in Houston if he intended to get a promotion anytime soon.
“Management told me I’d have to go to Leadership Academy if I want on the fast track,” he said between mouthfuls of Cherry Garcia ice cream, his spoon repeatedly scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl.
Charlotte wished he’d stop clanging the sides of the glass with the metal spoon and get more if he wanted it, then decided she was just annoyed she would be left alone so soon. When he saw her down-turned mouth he suggested she come along for the week.
“I can’t see sitting in a hotel room when there’s still so much to do around here.” She gestured vaguely around the kitchen.
“There’s a pool, you could hang around there, or go shopping…”
“And leave Lucy in some kennel? No, we can’t afford that. And we don’t have the money for shopping yet,” she replied, shaking her head regretfully, thinking of all the furniture they needed to buy for the sparsely furnished rooms. After Katrina, they were starting at square one.
“Whatever,” he said, setting the empty bowl in the kitchen sink.

By the third day after he was gone, Charlotte decided to tackle the boxes stacked in a room she wanted to turn into a guest bedroom. The upstairs consisted of their master bedroom with bath and walk-in closets – unusual for a house built in the ‘70s, as the realtor had pointed out – two rooms connected by a Jack n’ Jill bathroom, and the tiny pink room she had assumed had been a nursery of some sort. Where the curtains had fluttered that first night.
All the bedrooms had windows and French doors to the balcony, but despite that, they felt claustrophobic and dark. Being upstairs at all made her feel mildly anxious. Her stomach felt hollow and seemed to flop at the slightest noise – the air conditioner kicking on, the hum of an appliance downstairs, the creaking of a stair step…
She had grown accustomed to the sudden cool spots she’d unexpectedly encounter in the narrow hallway. She even halfway welcomed them over the dampness that seemed to linger in the dim corridor. But still, being up there at all often felt oppressive and made her irritable. She knew she was being irrational.
Charlotte stood poised at the top of the stairs and peered down the hall cautiously. I wonder how we can open this up. If nothing else, it needs a brighter coat of paint and some wall sconces. She’d try to remember to ask – what’s her name -- Emily -- for a recommendation for a hardware store that sold lighting fixtures.
At that moment, she heard Lucy go wild. Must be a chipmunk or squirrel again, she decided, since the dog was in the back yard. Charlotte pivoted but resisted heading back down and forced herself to continue through the hallway. Instead of the guest room, however, she headed to the nursery. The light switch on the wall of the pink room flipped to her touch but no light came on. Damn. She tripped on the edge of the raised threshold, but caught herself and walked across the floor to pull apart the curtains.
As she pushed them aside she came face to face with a wan vision staring back at her from the outer balcony, inches from the glass.
Gasping, Charlotte stumbled backwards as if pushed in the chest, her hands flying to her open mouth. She wanted to scream but no sound came from her throat but a raspy wheeze, like the hiss of a deflating tire, which filled the dead air of the room.
Her eyes cast about wildly, anywhere but back into the eyes of that – what – child?
After a few seconds, when she felt she could bear it, she lifted her eyes back towards the window, willing herself to stay steady on her feet, preparing to flee the room. She halfway expected to see nothing. It was nothing. Didn’t I just think this would’ve made a great room for Ashleigh if she were still with us? The figment was a girl, about her daughter’s age had she lived; all this is some kind of projection from my psyche, she thought desperately, fear making her nauseous.
But when she reluctantly raised her eyes, the little girl was still before her. Only now she was in the room. Close enough to touch.
Charlotte backed towards the door, keeping her horrified eyes on the faint oval face swimming before her in shimmering waves, until she felt the doorframe with her fingertips, half-tripping over the threshold again.
The disembodied face smiled then, and for some reason the smile filled Charlotte with more terror than had she glared. Slamming the door behind her, Charlotte ran down the hall and wrenched a knee as she stumbled down the stairs two at a time.
Sitting at the kitchen table, eyes and ears alert to the slightest movement or noise, Charlotte made no move for a long time. Maybe twenty minutes passed as she numbly watched the hands of the wall clock revolve. Her chest gradually stopped heaving and her heart stopped pounding and slowed to a regular rhythm. When she could think again, she began to wonder just what she had seen. Was she dreaming? Of course -- what had just happened hadn’t really happened…it couldn’t have…this was surreal…. she had heard of things like this – had watched shows on TV until she spooked herself and turned them off – but this was real life, wasn’t it…?
Finally, when Lucy scratched a third time on the back door Charlotte got up to let her in, her numb bottom and throbbing knee reminding her she was indeed awake, and had been sitting in the darkness of the kitchen for over two hours. For the rest of the night she sat in the downstairs den with the TV blaring and her cell phone turned on before her, Lucy hugged closely to her side.

She didn’t dare tell Kevin when he called the next day. He considered her too fragile from Ashleigh’s death and the trauma of Katrina. She knew he’d assume she was having another breakdown and she’d be forced back to some psych ward or into seeing yet another therapist, who would say the same old things and offer the same old prescriptions for “anxiety.” Kevin would mutter about her “attendant drama” and watch her more closely. There would be whispered phone conversations when he thought she was asleep. A few remaining friends would dash off breezy notes once they learned their new address. Her parents would offer to visit.
Mainly just to have somebody to talk to and because she knew no one else in town, Charlotte dug Emily Redding’s business card from the bottom of her purse. Emily answered on the second ring.
“Emily Redding Real Estate.”
“It’s Charlotte Fowler, Emily,” she began, noting how reedy and high-pitched her voice sounded. She hesitated, unsure of how to begin.
“Why, yes, Charlotte!” Emily replied warmly. “How are you enjoying the house? Have you met any neighbors yet?”
“The reason I’m calling,” Charlotte said, ignoring the questions, “is, I need – I mean I want – to know if there were any – children – who lived here before us, and if, well, if anything out of the ordinary happened here…” Charlotte’s voice faltered then, and she decided not to say any more until Emily responded. She heard a long sigh, so knew the connection had not died. After another pause, Emily spoke slowly and carefully.
“Your house was considered a stigmatized property,” she replied warily. “As I told your husband the day I showed it to him. Of course,” she continued, her voice picking up speed, “we’re under no legal obligation to have divulged any ‘latent defects,’ since what occurred could not possibly have affected your physical health or safety…”
Charlotte interrupted. “Stigmatized property? What’s that? What do you mean? And what do you mean ‘like you told my husband?’”
“Kevin was more interested in why the house was available for such a low price considering it’s real property value and the neighborhood, and didn’t seem concerned by it’s history. I assumed he’d told you…” Emily answered.
“Well, I’m asking that you tell me now…” pressed Charlotte.
Emily paused again. “Just a minute – my other line,” and clicked off. Coming back after a long wait, she said, “You still there? Sorry, had to take that call…” She sounded disappointed Charlotte was still on the line.
Charlotte said, “Please continue.”
Emily sighed yet again, before reluctantly starting. “Well, basically, the story I heard was that in the early ‘70s, the teenage son of the family living in your house was killed while out riding around drinking with friends. The driver had drug him out of the car and hit and knocked his head on the curb, left him lying on the sidewalk; all because he was angry the kid had vomited in his car. The kid went into a coma and died the next day before his parents were notified. The parents divorced shortly afterwards, and the mother hung herself a few years later.”
“Where?” asked Charlotte, once she could gasp out the word. She steeled herself for the answer.
“In the garage,” was the rather surprising reply.

Upon hanging up, Charlotte briefly considered calling Kevin, but thought better of it after noting the time. He’d still be in seminars. She was angry but recognized why he hadn’t told her. It definitely explained how they could afford the place. It still did not explain the presence of the little girl in the upstairs bedroom, however.
“Am I going mad?” Charlotte muttered to herself. She tried some of the coping mechanisms she had learned from previous therapy but soon gave up when her efforts felt weak and ineffectual.

The day before Kevin was to fly home, a letter addressed to them both arrived in the mail. Charlotte didn’t recognize the childish handwriting, but the return address was from Kevin’s old company. Sliding a butter knife along the seal, she paused, sniffing the oily scent of Patchouli that wafted into the air. Where have I smelled that before? She wrinkled her nose.
Drawing out a single slip of paper, she unfolded it. Just two words were printed in all caps on a piece of office paper: I’M PREGNANT, along with a long-distance telephone number.
With a jolt Charlotte let the paper slip from her fingers, where it landed facedown in a smear of strawberry jam left over from breakfast. Hastily retrieving it from the sticky puddle, she thoughtlessly wiped it with an index finger, leaving a reddish mark along the middle of the phone number. Now it looks like blood, she thought. She’d leave it to Kevin to wonder whether it was or not.
After abandoning the letter on the kitchen counter, Charlotte coaxed Lucy into the house and then wandered into the garage. Taking a slow look around, she noted the jumble of packing boxes and hunting and camping equipment Kevin had scattered across the concrete floor. She pushed the mess away with both feet as she made her way to the outer wall toward a ladder propped on its side. Hauling it to the middle of the room, she set it under a steel beam that connected to the garage door. She then went through various boxes until she found a length of cotton rope in Kevin’s fishing gear.
Hefting the thick rope across the beam and tying it off, she stepped back to consider it hanging there. I wonder what it’d feel like. She reached up and looped it taunt around her neck, climbing onto the fourth rung of the ladder. The smoothness of the rope was surprising. It felt as warm and comfortable as an old turtleneck. She wanted to feel its tightness.
She hesitantly stepped off the ladder rung with one foot and felt a shock of surprise as her body reacted to the suddenly violent wrench of the rope digging into her neck. She looked down as both feet involuntarily jerked against the ladder and felt a flash of despair as it was knocked over in her struggle to regain her footing.
She continued staring at her dangling, twitching feet as her hands clawed her neck, which was stinging hot, and growing raw. As the rope thickly cut off her air – too slowly, she thought – she began losing consciousnesses. It was then she sensed movement beside her. The tightness of the rope prevented her head from turning easily, but just before she blacked out she made a desperate effort to swing her body to one side. In doing so, she caught a glimpse of a woman swinging beside her, in practically the same position. The long-dead woman’s body was rigid and looked marbled; her sightless eyes bulged. Clasped in one hand was the crumpled school photo of a young boy.
As Charlotte continued to hang there helplessly, her world grew darker and her body finally stopped quivering spastically. The zing of shock and panic that had soared through her and the unbearable dread of hanging next to the presence faded and she became calmer.
The heavy dullness of her body weight grew lighter as she felt herself floating away. Her last conscious thoughts were for Lucy; her ears filled with Lucy’s wail as the dog let out a long howl from inside the house, which echoed and reverberated throughout the garage.


Reprinted from a New Yorker August issue. Poem by David Harsent:

They bring with them a coldness, as tradition demands,
and a light, dry odor of rot
much like worm in wood, and bring a chorus of cries

to fill the air as if it were birdsong, and bring in their open hands
tokens of themselves, a letter, a snapshot,
and bring some trace of their point of departure, a smudge

on the shoe, a stain on the sleeve, and bring the disguise
they lived under, stitched with their names,
hoping you'll give them the nod, hoping you'll recognize

something, perhaps, of the old times, the fun and games,
while they shuffle up as if they stood on the edge
of night so a nudge would tip them over, and bring

a dew of death that settles on picture frames,
on pelmets, on clothes in the closet, on books,
on your eyelash, to make a prism through which you get

a broken image of what must be a stage set
of the Peaceable Kingdom, a front
for that place you only ever find in dreams,

its undrinkable rivers, its scrubland of snarls and hooks,
horizons gone askew,
beasts hamstrung and walking on their hocks,

and bring their long-lost hopes, which they lay at your feet
then stand back, stand apart,
hairless, soft-skinned, their eyes bright blue

like the eyes of a newborn, and bearing a look
of matchless sorrow, as would, for sure,
stop the heart of whoever it is they take you for.

An American Tragedy

When I was nine, a large family moved across the street. Five brothers and sisters. They were gregarious, feisty, loud, and gorgeous. Their mom was an exotic dark-skinned beauty and dad was a blonde athlete, and the kids inherited all the best genes. But they were a bit snarky. I guess they had to be tough-skinned with so many siblings afoot. The eldest, J., who I alluded to in previous postings, was a wild kid. My brother and I were not. But my brother and J. were friends, and J. and I were friendly, or so I thought, until I turned 13 and he was 14. Overnight, it seemed, he became mean and targeted me for teasing, bullying, and even threw acorns at my head (ever been hit by a shower of acorns thrown at you hard? It hurts. What felt more miserable was being tormented for no discerning reason).

Before he turned horrible that summer J. gave me my first 'real' kiss - just a brief peck -- but still it was exciting and confusing. Then school started and we began circulating in different worlds, and he immediately took up with a girl with the largest breasts in 9th grade and developed even more of a reputation for wildness. As the year wore on, we pretty much ignored each other unless he singled me out to say or do something mean.

We still rode the bus together, though I tried my best to keep a low profile. Being singled out by J. meant being a target. By the end of our bus route, most of the kids had gotten off and only a half-dozen remained. This particular Friday afternoon, J. sidled up behind my bus seat. I tensed for whatever was coming next, but he seemed pretty mellow. He sat behind me and started singing almost under his breath the same lyrics over and over from that song "Bye, Bye, Ms. American Pie:" "this will be the day that I dieee....this will be the day that I die..." That's all of the song he'd sing. It was really getting on my nerves. Our stop came and we got off. We were standing behind the bus and he asked what I was doing that weekend. All the sudden the bus surged backwards, and before it hit me, J. lunged and shoved me sideways. I was shaken, but he quickly shrugged it off and walked up his drive. It was the last time I saw him alive.

The next afternoon, the neighborhood was abuzz with rumors that J. was in the hospital from an accident the night before. I went over to ask his sister if he was alright, and his mother answered the door. When I asked her, she paused a long moment, smiled sadly, and said that he was alright now.....

Later on we heard the whole story. J. had tried to see his girlfriend who was baby-sitting, but she wouldn't let him in. He met up with some friends and they began drinking with an older guy - an 18 yr. old. J. got sick from the liquor and threw up in the backseat and the guy got mad, pulled over, and dragged J. out of the car and hit him. J. fell backwards and hit his head on the curb. The other boys got out of the car, and took J. over to another friend's house. J. was disoriented and they put him on the sofa and began playing poker. When they went to check on him, he was in a coma. They dropped him off at a hospital, where they left, never revealing more than his name. The hospital began calling all the similar last names in the phone book. My SIL has the same last name, and after her dad received two calls from the hospital, he figured out what W. had a kid that age and called J.'s mom, who got to the hospital 10 minutes after he died.

His family decided not to prosecute the driver, and the judge suggested he leave; he joined the Army. J.'s parents divorced a few years after that, and his mom stayed in the house. When the rest of the kids were out of the house and off to college, it was sad to see her rattling around in that big empty place. She never recovered from J.'s death. Once my mom showed her a short story I wrote about J. in college, and she remarked she thought everyone had forgotten about him. I heard she began drinking more and more. And one afternoon, her third-youngest son found her hanging in the garage.

Something's Witchy....for Wonder Wye...

Before I post anything, I must draw your attention to the fantabulous button -- oh, your eyes were immediately drawn to the witch and her kitty??? No doubt. Tamara over at Mad Boastings of a Cheapskate Mom made me a button she copied from an old photograph of me. Seriously, T. is brilliant. Go over and get your personalized button. And feel free to put my on your blog -- it's so cool, I like to show it off.....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Thin Veil...

When my brother was about 7, he began to talk about a ghost walking up and down the second story deck of our house. He said it was dressed in Civil War garb and it never paused, just paced back and forth....I was a year and a half younger and never saw it myself, but have always had an active imagination so it scared the bejeezus outta me.

But I didn't think much about it until later, when S. was in his teens.....he had a horrible dream where he saw a school bus plunge down an embankment and 'saw' there were no survivors...the very next day, a school bus in a different state had a horrible accident like this and the children died.

When he was 14 and I was 13, a mutual friend and neighbor was killed. When S. was 17 and out driving, he saw J. standing by his motorcycle in a red jacket that he used to wear everywhere, smiling at him. S. was driving over a bridge. He did a U-turn (it was deserted) but he didn't see anybody where J. or somebody, had just been...

In 1987, on the same night, BOTH of my grandmothers died just hours apart. (They weren't close). Both of them 'came' to both of us in our dream was they came and sat on the edge of the bed and said good bye...Steve said his was similar. A few months after my maternal grandmother died, I had a long dream about her. When I woke up I was able to tell my mom all about her, people she was now with, and facts from her life I never knew. Things I had no way of knowing before.

When I had my first brain tumor it was an emergency operation, and my parents didn't call my brother until after the surgery. On the day of my operation, S. had a splitting migraine, which he had never had before, and he said he left work and stumbled home and flopped on the couch and slept for about 10 hrs. He dreamed of my operation. When my parents called he wasn't surprised to hear the news. Later on when we talked, he was able to tell me how many surgeons were in the OR, how many nurses I had, the number of my hospital room, where the tumor had been located, and whether or not they were able to get it all (they weren't). And, I 'heard' my surgeon say they hadn't gotten it all -- don't let anyone tell you that you can't be cognizant under anesthesia -- I have undergone 11 major operations now, and I have remembered things from 11 and 14 hour operations.......

When my beloved torti cat, Gogo, died, I was alone in the house crying the morning after. Excy and the other cats were outside. Gogo had a distinctive cry that sounded like "maww" -- people on the telephone assumed I had a kid trying to get my attention when they heard her -- I was in the BR when I heard her cry "maww" from the kitchen. She had been in all my dreams for 17 years. The night she died I never dreamed about her again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arnold has a sense of humor... nice to know! Did you hear the news that Arnold S. (Ah-nold "I'll be back" S.) never got along with a state congressman trying to pass a bill, and when AS vetoed it, his wording lined up perfectly to spell the words "Fuck You" -- the odds that this could happen unintentionally were astronomical, particularly using the K to spell out something halfway pertaining to the bill.

F- finally
U- understand
C - challenges
K - kinda
Y - yakked
O - otherwise
U- ultraconservatives


Ghost #3

Another Burnside ghost.....

James began working at Burnside in 1890 at the age of 16. He eventually became head butler at the Big House. I heard he ruled with an iron hand, and everything had to be 'just so.' The Shoemaker-Johnston clan were Quakers and then Episcopalian and conscious of social mores. The kindness, respect, dignity, and high wages they offered their employees was returned two-fold, and at least in James's case, with great dedication. It's said he only spent 10 days away from the Big House, and when he suffered a stroke, he was so miserable at his own house, the Shoemakers remodeled the Big House to create an apartment for James to live in so he could continue to 'watch things,' convinced that the other workers hired after his stroke were inferior to the task of running the house-hold. Since James died in the 1960s, and I moved into the Big House in 1990, I just had stories and photographs to rely on. I regretted missing meeting him, and another man who cooked -- his creations still get thrown up in my face: "This is great (insert item here) but not like Emory used to make, blahblahblah..." I've heard it for 18 years and so has my MIL...not that it bothers me. I noticed Excy isn't bothered so much he wants to learn to bake or cook....

As I said before, when I moved in an Irish house-keeper came 3-4 days a week, and she would tell me that she'd see James looking at her from mirrors or mirrored surfaces or panes of glass......I remember her saying it gave her the willies to be watched like that.....then one day, Excy heard her scream, and when he ran down the stairs she said that James had stepped on her foot! She described what she was doing, and Excy replied that she wasn't supposed to be doing whatever it was she was doing anyway--apparently James had been annoyed at her lackadaisical housekeeping!

One of the house rules was we were not to do laundry after 10 p.m. C. and S. went to bed early, and even though the laundry was on the first floor, their BR was above the landing and the noise could be disturbing. One evening just after 10 p.m. I was pulling things out of the dryer when I felt the air behind me get cold and it felt charged with an energy---it felt oppressive and my skin began tingling and the hairs on the back of my neck really did start to prickle --- something felt dark and looming behind me -- even the statically charged air seemed to make my voice sound odd, as I said, "I'm just leaving, James, I am getting the clothes out of the dryer now!" I was too frightened to look behind me. I grabbed up all the clothes in my arms and ran up the flights of stairs -- didn't want to chance taking the elevator -- afraid to!

The Word on Tipping

I wish I could remember the blog -- I read so many -- that had a long interesting discussion via the posting and comments on the practice of putting tip jars out for services one didn't necessarily think a tip would be required -- say, at the counter of a deli, or a fast-food restaurant where you place your order, or the drive-in lane at Starbucks. (What's next? The dry cleaner or movie ticket booth?)

So I was interested to read in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine this little item written by Jeffery Goldberg in his 'What's Your Problem?" column:

Q: Have you noticed that food stores, delis and the like, have started asking for tips for their employees? I ordered a sandwich at a deli the other day and handed over my credit card and when the receipt came back, there was a space for a tip. I always thought tips were for waiters at sit-down restaurants. These demands are creating anxiety for me. Are the employees behind the counter now working for tips as well?

A: This is indeed a disturbing trend, but not one that should cause anxiety...Food service workers who are not waiters must be paid at least the minimum wage, so they do not, in fact, work for tips. (Waiters are paid a base salary less than the minimum wage, and are expected to report their tips as income. "Expected" as in "not expected.") If you are a kind and considerate person, you could ask the clerk serving you at the counter if he does, indeed, work mainly for tips. If he answers yes, leave him a generous gratuity and report his employer to your local tax authority.

Well, what's your stance? I leave left-over change or two-bits in the jar, usually, if the service person is pleasant, especially if I'm a regular....but it certainly isn't mandatory.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From Worried to Wacked Out

I just couldn't get over two little blips in the news...People magazine ran a story about 'balloon boy's' family, and as glad as I am that Falcon is physically okay, I'm concerned for his well-being more than ever. I've restrained on making comments about child-rearing b/c I have no kids of my own. This, however, is beyond the pale. A father who considers being on Wife Swap and any other reality show he can swing the pinnacle of his career? To convince a six year old to partake in a publicity stunt like this is despicable. Kids sleeping in their clothes so they can 'storm chase' any given moment. Dad's obsession with UFOs; referring to fried eggs as 'space eggs' who screams when the 'mother ship' is cut into while eating....from wacko to space cadet...these people walk among's more scary than any horror movie out there.....

Some man bought a hotel in Taos, New Mexico, a tiny place, noted for being eccentric and artsy, and having the occasional celebrity neighbor (Julia Roberts comes to mind) -- who fired all the employees because they were Mexican and he 'didn't speak Spanish and it made him uncomfortable.' He's the boss, he can do as he likes, but HELLO? He tried to get them to change their names to English-sounding names -- does he have a clue where he is?? Let's hope he doesn't buy a hotel in, say France or Russia......

Ghost #2

The Big House at Burnside was given in the will to Sally and her sister N. when their mom died. Unfortunately. Sally loved it, and loved living there, but N. lived elsewhere and wanted the $$. No one had replenished the family fortune enough to buy N. out, so after 132 years of continual family ownership, it was sold -- first to a family that had McDonald's franchises (actually they took great care to renovate it and update the archaic electrical and plumbing, which cost a fortune -- don't know how they furnished the inside, Excy and I had left MD by then), and then they sold it to another family..breaks my heart...

As to another question about ghost #1, maybe it wasn't 10 minutes we stared at each other, it just felt that long! And I had no thoughts -- I was stunned and thinking that this couldn't be happening.....

One would think after that experience I would be better prepared for the next incident. It didn't involve actually staring through a ghost, though, so it even though it was weird and eery and unexplainable, it was a bit less traumatic.....

John Bowers Ecceleston was born in 1857. Excy is named after him, though Excy's full name is James Houston Eccleston Johnston, Jr. (see why we call him Excy?!). When John Bowers Eccelston was a boy, he was rather frail. The story goes that when his parents told him they were going abroad, he told them that if they left him, he'd die before they got back. Some in the family maintain it was of a broken heart, but that sounds just a wee bit Victorian to me.

On the landing of the front stairs is a tiny footprint, reputedly his. It has been sanded out and painted over through the years but it remains. I actually was living in the house when the stairs were repaired and watched one attempt. It was a clear outline, and looked shellacked, about the size of a young boy the age of 6 or 7.

On afternoon I was doing the laundry when I heard the heavy, huge front door open. Someone then lightly and quickly ran up the stairs. It sounded like a child. I was alone in the house, but it didn't bother me because S. and C.'s grandson often came in the house and his mother, B., often did to drop off mail or whatever. The front door, though, was seldom used, so that surprised me. The laundry is just off the main hallway on the first floor and I took two steps, opened the laundry door, and shouted hello, that I was downstairs, who ran upstairs? No answer. The front door was open. Hearing no reply, I went back to the washing machine and when I turned my back, I heard someone run down the stairs and slam the front door. This time I RAN to the front door to peek out on the terrace. The door was locked. When I peered out the sidelights, no one was running off......I had the distinct feeling I had just 'met' little John Bowers.....

We have his pastel portrait hanging in our hallway, along with his dad's and Uncle's portraits. We looked up his death in the family book -- 1870, so he was about 13 ....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ghost #1

It isn't that I didn't believe in ghosts. I just never really thought much about them one way or the other. Whatever strange occurrences I'd had in my life up to that point were more along the lines of intuitive hunches, dreams, and visions. Plus, when I was 13, a good friend with CP died. When I was 14, the first boy who ever kissed me was killed. If I hadn't seen them, well, I pretty much assumed I'd go through life without ever seeing a ghost I'd never met!

When I met Excy, he was living just outside of Baltimore in Stevenson, MD, in a 17,000 sq. ft. house his family had owned since they built it in 1861 as a summer home, to get them out of the hot confines of the city. Eventually they moved to Burnside full-time, and in 1893 they gradually added even more land and started a working diary farm. They had established their fortune running a courier service -- sort of a precursor to federal express -- and were friends with U.S presidents Grant (a frequent guest at the house), Hayes, and Garfield. They were progressive, and there were many 'firsts' -- they developed stanchions for use for dairy production, still used today, and did a lot of research into certified milk, which evolved into the idea of pasteurization. They developed a trolley line to carry the milk to the stone dairy, and were among the first to acknowledge the importance of using covered milking buckets. (duh!). In 1904 the dairy was operating so well, Shoemaker II, the son of the first Samuel M. Shoemaker, explored other interests and became concerned with bettering the state's roads, researching the field to the extent of creating the Shoemaker Road Law, put into effect in 1906 and in operation today, and building a road from the dairy to the front gates of the house that was so well built it was resurfaced only once since it was laid. He helped in agriculture research. He helped develop AA. Burnside's Big House had the first telephone in Baltimore County, the first paved road, the first electricity and indoor plumbing, the first plate warmer, and they were making ice cream on the property when it was in the experimental stages elsewhere. Mr Birdseye, of the frozen food fame, was a friend and gave Excy's grandmother a freezer. Excy remembers being on the knee of Lon Chaney. Eleanor Roosevelt was also a friend of his grandmom's, who was Chairman of Maryland's Victory garden progams during WW II. In short, an interesting and varied family. When I met them at a family reunion, they reminded me of the cast of characters straight out of the movie You Can't Take It With You. If you couldn't roll with the punches and tease right back, you'd be toast. They were bonafide true eccentrics.

By the time Excy and I moved in together, Burnside's Big House and much of the 49 buildings on its property were owned by Samuel M. Shoemaker III's widow. Her daughter, Sally, Excy's cousin, lived in the Big House with her husband. Excy and I lived on one end of the house, Court and Sally the other, and we shared the front parlors, old dining room, and old kitchen and laundry facilities. Family lived on the property in former tenant and converted farm buildings, like the trunk house, stone dairy, bowling alley, laundry, tool shed, etc. A few unrelated families were scattered here and there on the property and had become as close as family. It was like living in a quite special commune.

It was easy to be transported back through time, because when we walked out of our apartment, an area of the house that had been converted for James the butler who had lived there and overseen the family for 60 years, everything was like a time capsule into the 1800s. Court and Sally at that time were in their 60s and both worked in Baltimore. I had quit working for ARCHITECTURE magazine in DC, and after driving Excy into Baltimore every morning to take the train to work in DC, I usually wrote at home all day, alone in the house. Occasionally a house keeper would be there, or Barb, Sally's daughter in law, would come by and deliver the mail or something. Sally had laughingly mentioned ghosts, and their Irish house keeper swore she had seen them and had run-ins with James, but I didn't think much about it. Since Burnside had been in the family 132 years, if there were any ghosts around, they would be family. Not that I honestly thought I'd ever see any.

One afternoon a few weeks after I had moved in, I walked out our apartment into the landing of the second floor and opened the door into the doorway to the 'old' part of the second floor hallway. Down this hall was the 'pink' bedroom, the 'green' bedroom, the 'blue' bedroom, the nursery, and Court and Sally's bedroom. I was taking this shortcut to go down the front stairs to the laundry. It was about 3 p.m. I was two yards from the more formal 'green' bedroom when I stopped short. Right before me a woman had floated silently through the closed door of the 'green' bedroom. She stopped. We stared at each other. She was white from top to torso, and dark below with a black full skirt. She had no features. I could see right through her. I don't know how long we stared at each other, I guess about 10 minutes, and then she just.....apparitated....It was such an extraordinary phenomenon I sat down on the front stairs to catch my breath. It was eery, but I wasn't scared. I couldn't believe my eyes. I was flummoxed. Nervous. Jumpy. When Sally got home a few hours later, I told her what had happened. Sally is a no-nonsense Episcopalian, and rather formidable when she wants to be, and I had no idea what to expect. "So you met the spinster Aunt," she replied. She told me this ghost had been seen before, apparently only hangs about that particular room, (Sally said she must be a snob!) and no one really knew much about her......Try as I might for the two years we lived in the house, I never saw her again. I guess she had thought no one had been home, since the house was quiet and I had just moved in, and she thought she had had the house to herself......

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween Week Kick Off

Okay, everybody tilt your head...sorry...could not get this to post straight....Excy drew this invite up for one of our old parties and I love it so much I wanted to share it....that's me as a witch, Excy the vampire, and one of our three black cats emerging from the koi pond....

In honor of all things Halloween week, here's the rundown:
Monday I will write up my sighting of Ghost #1
Tuesday is Ghost #2
Wedesday Ghost #3 (in order of appearances)
Thursday will be true stories of ghostly encounters and tales about my brother
Friday a sad and true American tragedy
Saturday I will post a short ghost story I wrote up last fall. I used some of the facts from Friday's story in my fiction.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Halloween Memories, Pt. 2

The guests are gone, my friend decided to throw a garage sale instead of packing and didn't need my help today, the laundry's going, and I'm trying to get somewhat organized. I remember some of you wanted to see some of our past costumes, so here are a few:

Asher and Sarah (my nephew and niece). Ash is an 'Ashbot' my brother constructed from bits and pieces in his garage....Sarah was in love with fairies that year...

Brother Steve as Calvin in his spaceship from the comic strip 'Calvin and Hobbes'

I guess dad can't think of anything scarier than Richard Nixon, because this was the second time he went as the former 'tricky dick.' My 'Mummy' -- even mummies like triskets; wonder how she's going to eat them?

Excy the night he was 'the ghoul in the road' (see earlier post). Thankfully he has finally quit smoking -- that was what I found truly scary!

Okay -- short story: after college I wanted to roam out west and I wanted to learn to snow ski. I ended up in Alta, UT. I liked it so much I stayed a few seasons. My then-boyfriend was a photographer. One Halloween we got a gig photographing guests at a fancy ski lodge opening in Park City. Salt Lake City was just down the valley. In UT, the Osmonds are local royalty. I was still in UT when Marie Osmond got married, and the experience was akin to Princess Di's nuptials -- all manner of media, withTV coverage on all local channels, streets cleared for a big parade to the crystal cathedral (or whatever that monstrosity is called), people all excited about watching the procession -- businesses and shops closed for the occasion -- Anyway, at this Halloween party, around midnight, Donny Osmond appears, dressed head to toe in white -- tuxedo, cape, shoes -- I go up to him brandishing the camera and ask him who he's supposed to be. Dude got so offended. He drew himself up and kind of tossed his hair and said, "I'M Donny Osmond!" He was so indignant I didn't have the heart to tell him I knew who he was, I was just yanking his chain.

There was also a fortune-teller there who told me I wouldn't be ending up with that particular boyfriend (I didn't) and that the world was going to end 'soon' (this was in 1981; I guess I should've pressed more on her definition of 'soon.')

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We interrupt this program.....

Dang. Out of town company again. Ya'll know how I feel about this. (Newbies go read 'houseguests' from September). I'll be back this weekend after I clean the house and drive to Hot Springs to help a friend pack up her house to move....I'll feel like Miss Hell's redheaded step-daughter so I'll start posting more of those ghost adventures I've warned you I'd be telling you on Halloween week........

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mad About (All) the Men...

Is it just me, or does Mad Men seem more on the edge of unravelling than usual? One thing I've liked about the show is the tendacy to strike that disconsolate chord with life, with plots that keep you guessing about motive, but what, exactly, is going on with Ken and Barbie -- I mean, Don and Betty, lately? Even by her Ice Princess Bitch and his Machiavellian standards, things are getting just a bit too bizarre, what with her hissy fit 'want me!' attempt at a 'keep him guessing' fling with that poor dupe, and Don's (why?) schoolboy crush with that young teacher...and I need more exposition to Betty's character than just picking up a copy of The Group to reveal her stay-at-home-housewife angst...Getting disappointed----more Joan!

And Now for Something Completely Different...
Having grown up on a steady diet of Mad Magazines fueled by my weekly allowance, Monty Python's, week-long Python-athon is right up my alley. My parent's hooted at Beyond the Fringe; MP is our generation's answer to lunacy and da-da theater of the absurd -- that and the first two seasons of Saturday Night Live (the golden years) - revealed to me I like my comedy straight up with a twist....

The dead parrot routine:
A hapless man buys a parrot that the shopkeep convinces him 'is sleeping.' He returns to complain the bird is, in fact, dead.
Shopkeep: Maybe it's just pining.
Customer: It's not pining. It's passed. This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot.
In frustration, he takes it out of the cage and pummels it.
Shopkeep: I can't take it now! You've killed it!
Say no more, say no more! Nudge nudge wink wink.....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

lovely blog!

When you are recipient of a 'lovely blog award' you are to post it, (natch) - link the name of the lovely person's blog who awarded it to you, and then, the fun part, find someone who doesn't have one yet whose blog you follow, and spread the love. They then display it with your link on their blog.

So without further ado here are two blogs I would like to award this to:


One is a nondenominational prayer site for our four-legged companions (guess which) and the other is just a funny mind...
I enjoy reading their posts, and know you will too, so check 'em out!

A Ghoul in the Road

One of our Halloween parties broke up around 3 a.m., and I was too wired to sleep, so began cleaning up some of the debris, when Excy's pager for the volunteer fire department went off. Hoping it wasn't any of our guests, he scrambled to get to his gear and get on down the road.

He was still dressed like a ghoul, in an old white dinner jacket, "blood" dripping everywhere...white face and black rings around his eyes...he is 6' and rather wraith-like anyway when he wants to be...

By the time he got to the scene of the accident (thankfully not any of our partiers), there wasn't much more to do, so they told him to go back around the bend of the road and stop any cars before they got to the curve so they wouldn't interfere with the police cars, fire-truck, and ambulance.

So Excy stands in the middle of the black country road -- no lights of any kind around -- and starts flagging down the first approaching car. It's 3:30 a.m. Halloween night in a deserted stretch of highway and some spooky looking guy is standing in the middle of the road trying to wave down your car? His truck is nowhere to be seen and they can't see the cars or flashing lights around the bend.

This car does not want to stop. He approaches, they roll away. They won't roll down the window. He tries again and they roll slowly further down the road...finally they see the police lights flashing through the trees and come to a full stop.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

eBay of Woe

Two falls ago at this time, I was recovering from a surgery that went badly. One of my closest friends and I decided to rent a cabin in the Ozark Mts for a week to get away from everything and relax and just 'be,' to hike around the woods and buy crafts for Christmas presents. M. brings her laptop b/c she has to be 'connected.' As for me, give me wine, good food, good books, and I could care less, though the cabin did end up having cable, and I enjoyed watching some old classic movies. We both brought cell phones so we could communicate with the outside world if necessary. I only use mine for emergencies and keep it in the car for such. If someone new needs the number I have to look it up -- that's how little I use it. (I hate talking on the phone, generally). M. laughed when she saw it -- it was so old ( I've since gotten an upgrade) it looked like a GI Joe walkie-talkie. But guess which phone got the better reception in the mountain ranges?

M. is a huge advocate of eBay. Loves it. All throughout the week she is on there bidding, and persistently wants to show me the wonders of eBay. Finally I sit for a lesson. There's a hard to find Western I want to add to my collection of favorite movies. We track down several versions and price ranges and I bid on one, using M's already established identity. The next afternoon we learn we have won the bid. But the seller writes to ask if she would send a check rather than going through PayPal, the online banking site. Mo checks his rating, which is very high -- meaning he has good reviews on previous transactions, so she responds that her friend, who actually bought the video, will send the check to the address he has provided, and forwards all the info to my home computer. I'm thinking maybe this is kind of cool after-all.

Once home, I send an email confirming arrangements for the video and a check in the mail. Three days later, I send another email. Still no reply. When I check with the bank, I discover the check has been cashed; pretty quickly, considering it was sent to CA. I email again to say I see the check has gone through, when may I expect the tape? Still no reply. I have a bad feeling about this. I email M. and forward all the info and she tries on my behalf. Nada. We figure him for a deadbeat and contact the eBay police. I explain in painstaking detail but eBay sends a lame generic reply about my 'not being a customer,' so M. sends off yet another email to customer relations to try to get some resolution. So much for my wonderful venture. I should have just flushed the money down the toilet. In the meantime, the seller changes his email and account information and disappears. eBay does nothing.

But deadbeat forgot one thing -- I had his mailing address. A little sleuthing easily determines it's valid. I'm feeling stung from being ripped off the very first time I decide to give eBay a go. SL, wherever you are, you don't stand a chance against one very pissed-off, had-a-crummy-year woman. I fume. I plot revenge. I go to a big-box store and collect a half-dozen 'lap trash' inserts that fall out of magazines like Health, Family Circle, Oprah, self, Fit. I sign him up for Scientology, and anything else I hope will be unappealing to him.

I'm still angry though, and decide my personal whipping boy needs that little extra I sign him up for the Book of the Month Club, where as a special offer, he can receive six advance copies of the book of his choice. Everything You Thought You Knew About Sex is Wrong is selected to arrive at his door.

Four months later, I happen upon SL's address as I was doing a little spring-cleaning at my desk. The dark days of fall and winter seemed far away. Before tossing the scrap of paper into the wastebasket, I briefly considered dropping him a postcard to ask how he liked the reading material and if he learned anything.*

*I have. When I go on eBay now, I pay through PayPal or not at all!

Friday, October 16, 2009

'05 Halloween party

I'm looking for some of my earlier costumes but here is an '05 Halloween party we had. Dad as Richard Nixon. (Note the button. Sure he wasn't).

"Julia Child" (actually a former professional chef) with mom, the leopard woman.

My friend the Mad Professor, who helps decorate for three weeks before, digging graves and stringing ghouls in the woods and front. Couldn't do it without J's extensive collection of all things Halloween!

Two ivory-billed woodpeckers. They were awarded a brain shaped candle for their 'best of show' attire.

Some of the food. Note the green deviled eggs (avacado) and ghoulish finger candles....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Halloween Memories

When I was growing up our neighborhood teemed with kids around my age. On the other end of the spectrum were widowed older ladies who doted on children. It was a veritable gold-mine situation on holidays - Halloween in particular. Halloween night meant about five or six 'haunted houses.' We youngsters were already jacked up from parties at school, where we dressed in our costumes for that night and exchanged candy, and ate the cupcakes and cookies bought for the classroom. That night we seldom ate dinner, just picked at our meal and anticipated popcorn balls, mulled cider, candied and caramel apples, and CANDY galore that we were allowed to shovel to our bag by the fist-full. One house handed out rolls of shiny quarters!

Dad being an architect meant he liked to put his creative bent into some of our earlier costumes, before we got old enough to choose our own outfits. One Halloween I remember towing a white cardboard church as tall as a trike behind me. It had 'stained glass' windows we made from ironing crayon shavings between layers of wax paper pressed together. (Turned out great). The church was illuminated by a large flashlight positioned inside, which made the windows glow as I trailed it behind me while it rolled along on a wheeled platform.

Another Halloween when I was nine, he turned me into a cardinal (the bird), with large cardboard cutout wings with feathers attached and a paper mache head it took a few weeks to create. It was quite effective. I ended up hating that costume. The head was cumbersome and hot, and I couldn't see well through the 'beak.' And at every stop I was retained by adoring blue hairs, "Fred! Fred come see! And get the camera!" As my gang flitted away to the next house, I had to skip a few houses to race to join up with them a few houses ahead. Curses! I moaned everytime I was oohed and aahhed over. This costume was donated to our children's theater's costume department afterwards. From that time on, I have never worn another mask of any kind.

That's So Squirrelly

It's not nice to laugh at the misfortunes of others, but sometimes it's just so hard not to -- especially when it's utterly bizarre.

I worked at a beautiful office building on NY Ave., in DC that was fronted in glass and overlooked a brick courtyard, with a tiny patch of lawn and a few trees. One spring, a male squirrel began attacking men who walked by 'his' turf. He was overly protective of this territory because of mating season, the animal control people later mused, though we never saw him woo females, and he never attacked female humans. Every afternoon for about four days I could count on looking out the window and being entertained by watching -- like some great silent screen pantomime -- men in suits walking soberly through the courtyard one second, and then seconds later leaping in the air like a ballet dancer, clutching their head in horror, and either bunny hopping or spinning in circles with what resembled a coonskin cap flapping in wild gyrations on their head. One guy slapped himself on the head with his brief case as hard as he could and then flopped on the grass, rolling, while two men rushed to help him and beat the squirrel back with a trench coat. Another time the guy was shouting at the squirrel like you would a dog that refused to heel, as if it was going to respond to verbal commands. Mostly they got scratched up and disgruntled, and their dignity really took a big hit. We were warned not to go out for breaks in the courtyard until animal control captured the poor misguided beast. The entertainment was eventually captured and carted away, and I've never laughed so hard soda's poured out my nose again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Modeling Standard

Ralph Lauren encouraged a s--- storm of publicity, firing that model for breach of contract -- at 5'10" and 120 lbs, she was fired because she had become too obese to fit in their sample clothes. Dumb model, letting herself go like that. Especially since all 'normal' women are over 5'8 and weigh at least 5 lbs lighter than that. What was she thinking?? I modeled four years in college and just out, in the states I lived in at the time. Nothing national. I modeled in print ads, TV, and runway. It was great money but horribly tedious, and generally people you were hired to work with didn't treat you with respect. The models themselves were pretty cut-throat and catty, and you could tell they'd just as soon throw you under a bus. You could see it in their eyes, a whiff of desperation as they quickly sized you up as you entered the room for a call back: Is this the one who could beat me out of a job? I was invited to go to NY to meet Eileen Ford of the Ford Agency in 1982 but by then I'd decided I'd had enough and wanted to get a job in the writing field -- plus I was ancient by modeling standards then, at 23. There were good moments of course, but mostly I remember deprivation. One day I came home all indignant that someone had told me I was too skinny and needed to eat. (I was between 115 - 120). I remember saying to a friend, "I eat! I had an apple and a potato today!" "Yeah, you eat!" she replied. Geez......

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Ghost in the Attic

When we were dating, Excy used to call every night around 11:30 or midnight to say goodnight (we are both serious night owls). He had his drafting desk in the attic of his family's old house in MD, a 13,000 sq. ft. 'summerhouse' that had been built and lived in by his family relations since 1863. One night as we were chatting away I heard a scuffle, the phone drop, and a few seconds later, he got back on the line and stammered, "I gotta go."

The following day he told me he had been sitting on his drafting stool, doodling as he always did when we talked, when a wicker chair that had been pushed to the far side of a wall rapidly slid all the way across the room towards him. He had thought it a good time to leave the attic. In the morning he went back up and the chair was in the same spot as where it had stopped that night. He shoved it back to the side. He said it was heavy. He switched his studio to the old tool shed shortly afterwards.

We lived in the house -- called Burnside, in Stevenson, MD -- for two years. His cousins had one end of the house and we had the other, and we shared the old kitchen, laundry room, two front parlors and the dining room. We got married in the old cutting garden and had our reception on the wrap-around front porch and terrace. Everything in the old part of the house was from 1863, and it was like walking into a time capsule. I loved it, having grown up in a Frank Lloyd Wright-like house my dad designed and built in 1963. I loved the integrity of the place, the high ceilings and walls, the dark wood floors, the old wavy glass, the marble, the old fixtures -- nothing had been replaced. While we were at Burnside, I actually saw one ghost, and had experiences with two others. But they were all in the family, and I never felt threatened or very scared -- it was just shocking and eery, and your mind is busy processing that the experience is happening but you're not prepared for something so extraordinarily outside the realm of 'normal.'

No one replenished the family fortune and unfortunately Burnside was given equally to two remaining sisters - one cousin, who lived in the house, and another who just wanted to sell it for money. So after 130 years as the family home, it was sold to strangers. We couldn't bear to see it and the front pastures sold off, and we moved away. We have been back -- family still live in houses converted from former buildings -- Burnside also had been a working diary farm -- so the bowling alley, trunk house, laundry, and 'honeymoon' cottage still are homes of relations -- and it's still bucolic and wonderful, but when we lived there it had the feel of almost a commune serenely buffeted from the outside world, and it's not the same.

As we get closer to Halloween I'll write about the ghostly encounters. Halloween memories are on my mind and I'd like to share a few....

Monday, October 12, 2009

Acupunture Saved Me from a Mugging

When I worked in DC I used to have acupuncture on Thursday afternoons and then return and work late to make up the time I had to spend out of office. The magazine was headquartered on Connecticut Ave, NW, which was a great area during the day but could get a little dicy when night fell. I was exiting the building around 7 p.m., when I noticed this really grungy guy weaving towards me with his hand stuck in his pocket and a rather menacing look on his face. Looking around I saw there wasn't anyone else on the sidewalk. As he was closing in, his eyes never leaving my face, I kinda backed up for a bit more time. When I get nervous or flustered, I have a habit of running a hand over my hair. Weird, I know. Anyway, my hair is thick, and sometimes I have found the acupuncturist had inadvertently left a needle in the crown of my head that he didn't notice when pulling them out at the end of the session.* When I touched my hair, I felt a needle he had forgotten this day. I took two giant steps towards the guy, flourished the needle he had watched me pull from my head, and held it like a sword towards his eyes, shouting, "YOU don't want to FUCK with ME!"

"Jesuzzzz, lady!" He slurred, backing away.......

* This happened one other time. Riding in a crowded elevator after another session, I felt a prickling sensation and reached up and pulled out a needle. Chuckling aloud I said, "Oh, another one!" The five people packed around me kinda leaned farther away...

It's a Hate/Hate Relationship....

Cars that honk when the owner remotely locks them. I jump every time when I'm walking through the parking lot.

Bills from companies for 5 or 10 cents after you've just paid the balance in full -- or thought you had.

Toll-free service callers who still call after you've signed up on that 'Do Not Call' list.

Nonprofit organizations we used to donate to who do not take 'no' for an answer. I am polite about it but eventually want to say hey! Sign up for my nonprofit kidney account or mustang sanctuary will ya? We'll cancel each other out.

Hair stylists who cancel at the last minute when you've scheduled the appt. around an 'event.'

Restaurant meals that come to the table cold, or when they bring the appetizer out with the entree. We eat out so seldom, we go to a nice place and expect a great meal. And yes, it gets sent back.

People who tip 50 cents or a dollar to 'make a statement.' I was a wait person, and I know how hard they work. Maybe it wasn't even their fault. Talk to the manager, but don't be a boor.

People who talk over you before you've finished your sentence, or who make you feel you must rush through what you are saying.

Computerized services that cut you off before you've completed the transition, thus making you begin again.

ATMs that don't work when you drive up to them.

Stores that are closed during normal business hours.

Just a few of my unfavorite things ..
What gets your goat?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Oh the Glamour

Today was a day in retrospect I should have spent in bed, cats sleeping all around, reading O or more, or even People. Everything -- I mean every friggen' thing, was a disaster. Bleach on a new shirt. Water turning brown and staining white towels. Deciding to turn to the kitchen since laundry was such a disaster, I started to make a frittata for dinner. Somehow the zucchini meant to be julienned into it did not make it from the check-out counter into my grocery bag. So I improvise. We'll see how that turns out. Okay, I need chocolate. LOTS of it. Sleuthing through the pantry I spy enough ingredients for a chocolate meringue pie. The chocolate pudding part of it doesn't thicken much, but I pour it in anyway and try to get to chill in the refrigerator (what I really need to do is chill myself). The meringue never rises to peaks but it's halfway there so it gets spread on the pie. Bad judgment all around. It browns and the pie is still as jiggly as jello. Maybe it's the monsoon that never seems to end. Maybe the coons will enjoy it, though I now remember they aren't supposed to eat chocolate, so into the trash it goes.......I should have pulled out a pizza and be done with it. There's always ice cream.....

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A No-award Award

I am not a computer design guru (as you can tell from the anguished post below about how to do something basic on my blog), so being a total luddite, have zero idea how to make one of those awesomely cute awards I see on other sites. The lovely blog award I was given to pass along (which I will! But so far the folks I have in mind have one already) isn't something a **manly** man like Krowe would necessarily care to display -- so -- here is my (ta dah!) "No Award Award" to Letters from Joshua for having one of the funniest, most erudite, blogs around. Seriously , ya'll need to check it out. (Not the same as when someone in the South says "Hey, watch this shit!" -- Then you need to back away. Quickly.

Old News of the Weird

Tucked away in my 'simply too good to be true' file is this little (pork) nugget. For your edification:
300 pound Pig Upsets Passengers, Embarrasses Airline
A 'pampered porker' flew first class on US Airways from Philadelphia to Seattle on a nonstop flight for 6 hrs. Sources familiar with the incident (sounds a little deep throat) say the pig's owners (I'd say staff) convinced the airline the animal was a therapeutic companion pet (and just what would a pig's services be? Eating? Rooting around? ) "Frankly," one witness said, "I couldn't tell what kind of therapeutic service it was providing. (Ah, there's the rub -- how did this escape the reservationist?) All I know is it was ugly (ah -- I bet it didn't judge you...) and it pooped."

The Airline confirmed the incident and stressed it would never happen again. The pig's owners (how politically incorrect) were a woman in her 30s and an elderly woman who claimed they had a doctor's note (apparently a universal free pass, regardless of your age) with them to fly with the animal. The pig's owner (I'd say assistant) had described the pig over the phone as weighing 13 pounds, but when it got to the gate it weighed 300 pounds. It took four people to wheel it past security and to the gate and they were struggling (and yet they did...) Baggage charges were waived (!) and the pig was seated on the floor in first class. "It didn't smell -- it was a clean pig, and it slept like a pig in a blanket," said one witness."Mostly people made jokes about lunch being BLT sandwiches," said another...

It wasn't until after the plane landed that the pig wreaked havoc. Squealing loudly, it ran loose through the aircraft and tried to enter the cockpit * finally finding refuge in the food alley** and refusing to budge. The two female passengers traveling with the pig struggled to control the animal*** and manged to drag it off the aircraft and into the jetway. That's where it left its mess. Another woman suggested the owners pick up the pig's feces and they were not happy about that, the report stated. **** Once the pig was off the aircraft, another passenger had to push it from behind while the two owners pulled it up the ramp while the pig squealed loudly. FFA officials in Seattle said there were unfamiliar with the incident+ and vowed to investigate.

* It feel asleep on the job, it was a terrorist, obviously...
** Natch....
*** Oh, now it's an 'animal'...
**** Shit happens. I think these women wouldn't be popular on the streets of the city...
+ Why am I not surprised. Dollars to donuts the matter was dropped immediately. So there is such a thing as bad publicity...

Friday, October 9, 2009

This stinks

Thanks blogspot, for a wanky ass program I posted a NEW article that I drafted on Oct 3rd and it insists on putting in under Oct 3rd. And yes I HAVE attempted several times to change the date in 'post options.' So, someone tell me what else I can do other than rewrite the d=== thing.

To read my new post, head on down to 'Obnoxious People & the Things I've Done in Retaliation, Pt. 2'


Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Scariest Movie Ever

When I was 9 and my brother 10 my parents left for the weekend, leaving to babysit us a mild-mannered, middle-aged librarian from where mom taught school. Saturday night she took us to McDonalds - we were never allowed to eat at Mickey D's - this was a real treat! Then her boyfriend came to our table. It was quickly decided we'd all be going to a drive-in movie. There was a double billing of horror shows. Librarian lady and her boyfriend climb in the backseat and order us in the front. "Whatever you do, DON'T even THINK about turning around!" She growled.

Night of the Living Dead begins. Ten minutes into the movie, I'm whimpering, "Can we go now?" "NO! DON'T TURN AROUND!" She orders. I am a deaf-mute by the time the picture ends. For months I envision zombies clamoring through the woods up to our house....this movie is still horrifying to me.....

What movie keeps you sneaking looks out the window or locking the bathroom door?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Learner's permitting

The Assassian's comment to my post below reminds me of when I was learning to drive with hand controls. It's not a hard thing to do at all unless you have zero motor skills and your instructor is too busy flirting to watch you navigate the get a knob on your wheel that all truckers have, and some gadgets like on a motorcycle for acceleration and braking, but sometimes you also get a little dicey with the devices and your car does the opposite of what you had wished...I was learning how to park and pull out in a totally deserted lot at Barnes&Noble when all these mothers with strollers suddenly came streaming out the door -- I finally rolled down the window and shouted "New driver of hand controls here!" Boy you should' ve seen them scatter......a few days later I almost took out a grocery boy picking up stray shopping carts at Kroger but he dodged too quickly.

Driving skills

My mom is great. Love her to pieces. She is a beautiful, witty, smart, at 81-still-vibrant, former school teacher with an advanced degree who taught gifted and talented 4th and 5th graders. We've always been close. We learned how to play tennis together, and have had many adventures through the years. I don't think anyone's a bigger fan of all things moi. I grew used to old boyfriends through the years falling under her spell. Several even went so far as to say they wished I were more like her...Well, she is more diplomatic -- and sweet. For all that, though, I am a tomboy. Funny, since my dad's first name is Tom.

My family aren't 'shouters,' or demonstrative. I've never been 'grounded,' -- it's all very 'civilized' -- my SIL says we're the most repressed family she's ever met (we don't hug; drives her crazy). Only once when I was 22 did I engage in a heated argument with my dad that resulted in raised voices. "Why can't you be more like your mother?!" "Because I'm, just like YOU!" I retorted. We both glanced at mom who shrugged and smiled, yes.

As mom's grown older, her driving skills, never strong to begin with, have grown more and more impaired. That and a few minor health issues enabled us to wrest the keys away from her, and her beloved vintage Camero (I call it the cram-ero) sits in the carport. Between dad, me, my SIL, and mom's friends, she gets out as much as she wants to, but every once in awhile she brings up the issue of driving again, which traumatizes the family to no end, except for dad. I think he's getting worn down from her arguments. Maybe from living with her, like Stockholm syndrome or something. Not even in a sherman tank should mom be allowed on the road. I promise to send out an all-points bulletin if she is, so you and your loved ones can watch out for a silver '80s Camero that looks like it's driving itself weaving slowly down the road...The last time mom drove a car she 'parked' it at the top of their steep drive to get out and get the mail, and it flew down the driveway, bounced off the curb, and stopped on the front porch inches from their huge glass window front. I regret missing that incident.

So I knew better the other day when instead of pulling out of a parking spot, she suggested I drive forward, and when I glanced forward it looked level and I did -- I attribute it to some little reptilian part of my brain going, "It's your mother -- she's never wrong!" and found my little Vibe almost straddling the parking bumper...a female motorcyclist insisted on staring and smirking at me forever...with as much dignity as I could muster, I extracated the car from the block and snarled at the manky cow that I guess she never made mistakes (as if she could hear through the windshield) and drove with as much dignity as I could muster, calculating that it really should be about 30 years before anyone wrested the car keys away from me....

Positively Stupid

In the Oct. issue of more magazine, author and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich is interviewed for a book she's written in praise of pessimism, called Bright-Sided. She argues that people have become relentlessly positive, that positive thinking has become so ingrained, people are being fired from their jobs for being too negative. She says there is a danger in not recognizing you can be responsible for your own troubles and for blaming everyone else.* She began thinking about this when diagnosed with breast cancer and buying into the idea that positive thinking is good for one's health. Well, having lived with cancer for 25 years, I know positive thinking is good for one's health. But I see her point. You can carry it so far. I once had a friend, a real New Age-y guy, ask me why I had 'given' this cancer to myself! It was flabbergasting to think he actually thought that, and to make someone feel they had done something to themselves for not being 'positive' enough was just insensitive and cruel. The stress of illness is enormous without any additional feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

*A friend (I admittedly don't see much of anymore) simply does not believe she is responsible for being fired or let go from every job she has ever had. After a year, she's looking again, claiming it was another 'conspiracy' by the co-workers, who were 'jealous' of her, or 'racist,' and she always did all the work...this same person has a 17 page resume. I told her I was pretty sure the POTUS doesn't have a 17 pg. CV, but if so, he was the only one who could get away with it, but she insisted on keeping it. (She's in administrative positions). I'm thinking that is a warning right there to potential employers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finished pillow

This is the needlepoint pillow I made of our friend's C and D's two kitties looking intently at their aquarium -- or seafood buffet. C. sent the photograph and I took it from there. It was a lot of fun to do and I think it turned out great.

Critical care

I'm one of those ridiculous people who bore others by telling them amusing cat stories, and insufferable because I know my cats are way more exceptional than yours. Right now we are living with a geriatric cat, which is pretty much like living with any chronically ill or older person. Four of our animal companions have died the past several years - how unfair they don't live as long as humans. For some reason, our cats don't manage to make it past age 17 despite excellent care and attention. When Scatteroo (Scat -- hey, shaddup, it's not the 'poo' he is named for but the Scat --jazz -- music-- he's cooler than any cat alive, see?) turned 17 this summer I held my breath, particularly after his biological mother (living with the ancient p's -- remember Monty Python?) died suddenly.

But he was doing great. Until he woke up one day and wasn't.

Scat's a real mama's boy and never tolerated leaving the house, much less going to the vet's. So they made housecalls. Which is fine if you have as many animals as we do. But when they needed him in ICU for round-the-clock care, I knew this wasn't going to go so well. Visits every day, dragging in nightshirts that smelled like me, warm gooey treats to tempt him to eat, hot towel baths, and plenty of silly songs with his name prominently scattered (getitgetit?) throughout, it wasn't going so well. Scat was miserable sharing the room with barky dogs and frantic cats in a wire cage and he decided he would rather die. After 10 days of watching him get worse I made the decision he was coming home to die in my arms. Calculated risk, but would you want to die in a hospital? Excy knows I'd haunt the shit out of him if he didn't at least drag me out to the parking lot.

'Roo has been home since mid-June, and we give him an IV every night. It's hooked up to our LR floor lamp, and we all watch 'Frasier' while he's getting his treatment. The others hang around for moral support, or to play taser tag or scarf treats, whichever you want to believe. He throws up every morning and we play 'where's the up-chuck' before somebody steps in it, but other than that, he is doing alright. Gotten totally spoiled and won't touch anything but cat treats or Salmon. But he's still alive and seemingly happy again. The vet says it's a medical miracle.

She Was in a Pickle, and a Pickle Lead Her to Salvation

We could all use a laugh, so pulled straight from the AGL file, here is your 'that's the news that was' news tidbit of the day. This little gem came over the AP wire some years ago. Judging from some of the past comments I've received, I reiterate -- everything I print is true -- accurate, well, it was in a newspaper you decide...

A woman who claims she was permanently scarred after a hot pickle from a McDonald's hamburger fell on her chin is suing the restaurant. Dashaloo Desmond* claims in a lawsuit that the burn also caused her physical and mental pain and is seeking damages. Her husband, Dingobat Ditty, is ALSO (caps mine) seeking damages because, as he puts it, he "has been deprived of the services and consortium of his wife."**

The hamburger "was in a defective condition or unreasonably dangerous to the general consumer and in particular to Ms. Desmond," according to the two-page lawsuit. According to the lawsuit, she is permanently scarred, with second degree burns.

There are almost no words.
*Did you think these were their real names?
You parents had better drag your kids out of Macs right now before more bodily harm is inflicted.

With Thanks

Thank you Cynthia D., for your 'Lovely blog' award, button below on right. As a 'newbie' at this blogging biz, it is most appreciated, and I am going to bestow it on some others I am following!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Two blips in the News

Did ya'll see hear these two stories?
1) A 27-year-old woman was on a first date with a guy. After the meal he excused himself, saying he had left his wallet in her car. He skipped out on the check and drove off in her car.

I am so envious of this woman. What a brilliant story she has to dine out on for the rest of her life. And any dates she has in the future will always be great in comparison.

2) The 80-year-old man who, in the same week, had been tied up and pistol-whipped, and then accidently shot days later while trying to learn about guns for self-defense.

And you thought you were having a bad week?! Seriously. Excy won't let me have a gun. He says if I got one it'd better be chocolate, because someone would just take it away from me and make me eat it.


Okay, found one. Here's my Lenny, or as he prefers to be addressed, Master Lenny-poo, Esquire...
This is in addition to the post 'family feud' below. For some reason blogspot decided that today was Sat., and it wouldn't post before the ones I sent out yesterday!