Saturday, September 24, 2005

Ice cream and spare change

The other night, feeling rather at a loss for something to do as well as nostalgic, I let Gavie decide our destination. We'd taken care of our errands and had about an hour to "kill" before his bedtime ritual kicked in.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked as we drove, knowing very well that the reply would be one of his still-unintelligible grunts.

Ahhhh, but my boy does know sign language! He knows that a pointing finger can tell mommy exactly what he wants. In the rear view mirror, I saw the little hand go up and the index finger direct my attention to the big red Dairy Queen sign. "That's my boy," I laughed, turning around at the next light.

We pulled in to the crowded lot and disembarked -- though first we had to avert a row about the handful of coins he was clutching. I told him to leave them in the car; his fist, clenched tightly around the quarters and pennies, told me to forget it. We compromised. I said I'd keep them in my pocket so he wouldn't lose them while we ate our cones.

Being that he almost lost a coin earlier, he agreed. You see, Gavie is still a little fuzzy on the concept of pockets. Combining that iffy knowledge with the five-point harness of his car seat (which effectively prevents you from even finding your pockets) nets you a toddler who puts things up the leg of his shorts. It's efficient, until he has to stand up.

Coins safely in pocket, he took my hand and we went in to the DQ.

I'm not sure that there's much to rival a toddler's first ice cream cone. Eternally serious, Gavie watched how I started, then considered the kid-size cone before him. After a moment's contemplation, he decided that starting at the top of the ice cream -- like mommy -- was his best approach, and his little tongue cautiously licked at this new delicacy. Determining it to be "good," he morphed from careful to... well, he started to bite it. Apparently just licking it wasn't fast enough.

Now, I know, some of you are cringing at the mere thought of biting ice cream. Gavie was non-plussed, however. He takes after his mom on this one. Ask the girls I had lunch with in grade school how I used to peel the sides off of my ice cream sandwich and then bite the frozen treat. Don't ask me why I did it, I just did. Who knows what makes a third grader tick?

Anyway, Gavie made it to the cone part and watched me for a moment, wanting to see how I was handling this not-as-cold, not-as-soft, crunchy thing. I took advantage of the moment and did one of those exaggerated "watch how you eat the cone" lessons.

Being that I was reveling in the thrill of mommy-hood, of introducing my boy to a new treat, and of seeing him enjoy it so much, I actually had the audacity to think how neat it was that he could mimic me so well. Gavie watched and learned, of course. Then took a bite of the cone.

From the bottom.

There are two lessons to be learned from this, readers.
1) Always carry baby wipes, even if you no longer carry a diaper bag.
2) Ice cream's melting point changes in the hands of an almost-three-year-old.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Symphony in White 2

Written during my senior year in college, this was inspired by a print of Whistler's painting, Symphony in White 2. There was something about the woman's expression that fascinated me. Thanks to the time of year, Halloween, this story pretty much wrote itself.

She wore her wedding negligee as she crawled out onto the roof. Turning the window’s lock to catch upon closure, she pushed it shut. There would be no turning back now. But why should she? Life was nothing but pain and isolation. Didn’t they see it in her portrait? The painter had; he had captured it with frightening accuracy. It looked as if she were contemplating the golden wedding band with deeper concentration than any young, and supposedly optimistic, bride should. As if trying to convince herself that all would be well in the end.

But it had been three years and nothing had changed. Her time at home, alone with his mother, was so frighteningly stifling that she had to stop and remind herself to breathe -- otherwise she would turn in to one of his mother’s grotesque knick-knacks. Just stop breathing, let her skin harden, her eyes glaze. For a few months they might even let her form sit out in view. “Yes, that was my wife,” her husband would say to visitors, his voice with that polite tone he always used with her. “She got bored. But it’s nice to keep her around, she’s a reminder of why I never plan to remarry. Too frightfully dangerous to my creativity, my writing.”

Then he would put her away, maybe tuck her away in the never-used guest room, regale her to the attic after that, once the prickings of guilt were gone. If there was any guilt. After all, he had promised to give her the life any woman deserved: free of work and in a beautiful home. Well, it was free from work. His mother had kept house until she was seventy-five. Then he hired a cleaning lady who came every day to run the house exactly as mother specified. “See, my love, you don’t have to life a finger,” he had said. “Consider this home your palace.”

A palace? It was a study in gothic tackiness meets overstuffed Victoriana. High ceilings, gaudy wallpaper, red velvet furniture, bric-a-brac, and painted wood. Paint! Paint on everything that could be painted. Including the marble fireplace, which was coated with green to compliment the leaves in the rose wallpaper. Last week she had tried to re-arrange the front sitting room. Mother’s response to it had been terrifying. Ranting, screaming, waving her arthritic stick arms until they practically dislocated themselves. “How dare you touch my belongings?” had been the main crux of her fit. How could he have guilt when he had given her exactly what he had promised?

Except, she decided, for the love he had shown during their courtship. Two years of flowers and wine, poems... a true romance. Then, suddenly, it dried up. They were married. She had difficulty conceiving. He took it as unwillingness; as a sign of her indifference to their relationship.

The ring went first. She yanked it off her finger and hurled it at the waters below. How dramatically fortunate that their house, no, his house, overlooked the sea. It sat so close that she could practically swan dive from the gable. They were craggy rocks, sharp guarantees that she’d succeed. The ring arced and vanished, lost in the white capped waves that slammed against her fate below, their soft crashes hiding the click of the window as it was unlocked.

It was a beautiful, warm day. An Indian summer. Not a suicide day by any definition. Those days were bleak, stormy. The wind should be whipping her hair around her face, the white satin soaked and clinging to her slim body. Death would be beautiful and regal. Thought and planned and executed in a gracious manner.


Her husband was holed up in his private study. It was as crowded and overstuffed as the rest of the house, having been decorated by Mother five decades ago when it became her office. Long and thin like a bowling alley, one wall -- bookshelves. Floor to ceiling, end-to-end, nothing but books. The opposite wall, file cabinets of his and Mother’s paperwork of the family business. Untouched and unneeded since she retired twenty-six years ago, they were kept regardless. He did not like to touch Mother’s possessions; after all, it was her house. Interrupting the chain of cabinets were chairs from the old dining room table. They were pushed flush against the wall. Mother didn’t like things sticking out for him to trip on. Sitting at the far end, also pushed flush to the wall, was an incredible antique roll top desk. Almost out-of-place in this high-ceiling gray room, too grand from an otherwise gray room, the desk proudly displayed this year’s latest computer model.

And there he sat. Pounding out a manuscript, his hands properly arched and fingers keying perfectly, was her husband. Martin. There was no noise beyond the keyboards quiet clack, not even a chair creak. There was no movement beyond that of his hands.

Peck, peck, peck. He never paused. The words were coming too quickly. Spilling out easily for the first time in too long, he was frantic to type them all before it was too late and they vanished.
It’s too easy, too easy! A quiet voice rejoiced in his head. Thank God no one’s pestering me. This is it, the story, the one I’m going to have a name with! Mother’s napping and the little woman isn’t....


The well dried up and his train of thought crashed so abruptly that he cursed loudly and solidly.
Leaning back in his chair, dramatically covering his face with his hands, he cursed again. Why did I have to think about her? He scowled. She always did this to him. Always. Every time she came around and pestered, Martin, come out with me. Martin, why are you always in there? Come out and eat dinner with me, Martin. I miss you, we’re growing apart. Never a moment free of her, always trying to play the wife role but never wanting to give him a son. Selfish to the end, he thought, feeling the usual irritation inevitably felt when she was around. So full of life, carefree, bright and cheerful... during their courtship. Once she had made it obvious that she wanted nothing to do with him and that darling carefree facade was dropped, he gave up.
Within six months she was gloomy and complaining, insisting that Mother was resentful of their marriage! Certainly Mother had her misgivings, but before the wedding they had seemed so dire. Before long, he realized that Mother’s predictions were true, that this little chit would never make an understanding wife. She would never get the picture that being a wife meant being reasonable and letting the man be in charge. How many women wished that they could stay home and never work! And she wanted to work! At some outlandish job in the city, with a newspaper! Well, he would let her have her dreams, that was fine, but no wife of his was going to run around the town like some hoyden under the pretense of work. Let the “modern” women act that way. He had made that clear after their wedding, sure that she would understand and prefer the life of leisure he offered. Particularly in Mother’s fine old mansion. Here, away from the hellish city, he could write in peace.

Martin had never really gotten over his mother’s having to work and leaving him alone. Even now, the thought brought him considerable angst. Being raised by his shiftless father who could not, or would not, take over Mother’s family’s business when she inherited it, made Martin fully aware of a wife’s duties. He had promised himself that he would never be that way, that his son would be raised by a mother and that he would be the sole support of the family. He would never let a woman run his life and castrate him with a larger paycheck. Not even in this era.

She had been so annoying that several times he had considered divorce. But had never mentioned it. Divorce would be too shameful to the family name. Even in this era. He did have standards, even if the rest of the world had gone to pot.

Although it was not below those standards to wish she would go away and leave him alone. Why, just last week, he even caught himself wishing her dead so that he and Mother could live in peace again, rather than his having to put up with those two bickering constantly. When she understood that Mother’s house was Mother’s house, as he had told her a hundred times, and that she should just live here and enjoy it for its beauty and grandeur, then she would be happy.

He rose from the chair, pushing it back slowly to keep the floorboards from creaking and waking Mother. He needed inspiration.

Though it was the same annoying little shrew that he had married who took away his inspiration, it was the same shrew who returned it. He had learned that there was only one temperament of hers that he liked that give him the shove he needed to continue writing.
He traveled to her private dressing room, the one room Mother had permitted her to redecorate without fuss since it was only an old servant’s room. The room was an explosion of color and femininity in comparison to the rest of the house. Martin never felt at ease in here; it was too pink, too delicate, and too frilly. Everything was draped and scattered. Nothing was pushed against the wall, everything seemed to be in his way. A grouping of chairs, snuggled together, she had once explained, because it gave an intimate feeling to any women sitting there, sat towards one corner of the room. In another, a massive armoire, one of Mother’s antiques, had been stripped of its heavy finish and redone as “French country” style. Whatever that was. He just knew that Mother would have a fit if she saw it. A matching dressing table with an enormous mirror sat near it, jutting out slightly to make room for the brass coat rack behind it that she draped her scarves on. A twin bed had been dressed up to act as a couch, an idea he remembered her exclaiming over during breakfast one morning. With bolsters on either end to act as armrests and a mountain of pillows, it did resemble a couch, though in Martin’s mind, it was rather disproportional in comparison to a real couch. He shrugged, as he always did when he entered the room. One of these days he would redo it.

The dressing room was adjoining to their once mutual bedroom. He had moved out about two years ago, taking his childhood room back, when it was apparent that she would not be a good wife. He turned the knob and walked in. There she was, lying in her bed, looking delightfully peaceful and innocent,

“Darling,” he said, “I need some more inspiration. Give me some.” And he sat next to her, in the chair kept by the bedside. Holding her hand, stroking it, he encouraged her. “You know, when we first married, your behavior was intolerable and so destructive to my writing. But now that you’ve shown you understood me, you’ve been so very kind and for once unselfish. I do love you, more than you realize, now.”

She stared back at him, her glassy eyes never blinked and her face remained serene.
Before leaving, he smoothed her wedding negligee and re-crossed her hands under her breast. Darling little thing she was now, darling.

He supped with Mother that night.
“I’m so glad you talked me out of selling out business, Mother. Taxidermy does make a nice hobby.”

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I was in the computer lab.

September 11, for me, began when I heard some buzz on the radio about a plane hitting a building. On that particular Tuesday, I found myself getting a few pieces of paper signed for my Winchester Thurston retirement benefits... something 401K-ish in nature. In all honesty, I can't recall for the life of me now. But there I was, waiting for Bernie to take care of the tedious paperwork, when I started to pick up a few words from the radio.

At that point, you see, no one really understood what was happening. It was, for the moment, still a horrible -- yet not earth-shattering -- accident. Everyone was still working, processing this and that in the school's financial office. GW was blowing smoke about finding out the details, and we were all wonderfully ignorant. Or do I mean "innocent?" I don't know. Maybe both.

Something, however, must have registered, because walking out of the building, I looked up at the sky, thinking how blue it was. And how silent. "I'll get Chantel's radio," I thought to myself, crossing the street and walking back to WT's high school. "This is too important, other people have to know."

Since the psychology class was in my classroom, I took her radio to the computer lab. For years I grew up hearing stories about that began with the question: "Where were you when...?" You call fill in the blank with any tragedy. Kennedy, Jack Ruby, Princess Diana, whomever.

As I fiddled with the dial, trying to find a station that wasn't static, I told Chantel and the two students in there that a plane had hit a building in New York and I wanted to know the details of the accident. A moment later, a reporter's voice filled the room.

"Oh my God, the Pentagon's on fire."

Years from now, when someone asks "Where were you when...?" I'll have an answer: the computer lab on the first floor at Winchester Thurston with one teacher and two students. The walls were a bland yellow, the lab had a white board. There were shelves running the length of the outside wall, waist-high. The radio was in front of the last window, the one to the back of the room, next to the computer guy's office. It was the second period of the day, my free hour because the writing class didn't meet that day.

The remainder of September 11th was spent comforting students and trying to keep a semblance of order so that the lower grades would not learn about the tragedy from some hysterical high school student. How bizarre it was to watch the towers crumble while the elementary school students enjoyed morning recess, their laughter a surreal soundtrack to the whole event. Later, my seniors and I talked about how this might affect them. We talked about how this might be, would be, different from the 1991 Gulf War, during which I was a high school senior. God love those elementary teachers. Talking to seniors is one thing, you can acknowledge the events and somewhat sort through the emotions. But those men and women kept teaching, acting as if nothing were wrong all for the sake of those little ones.

I did my share of 9/11 donating. My husband and I, childless at the time, even inquired about adopting those orphaned by the attack. We talked about bombing those bastards and turning the desert into a sheet of glass, making it a parking lot. Our anger knew no bounds, and the thought of the innocent losing their lives mattered little.

Gradually, of course, common sense began to win. After all, why slaughter thousands of innocents in the quest for revenge? Darned if I know. Mr. Bush, can you help us out here?

He can't answer right now, dear readers. He's neck-deep in southern sludge, mired in muck, and trying to deal with an 800-pound gorilla that leapt onto his back and is hanging on rather tenaciously. Methinks that the beast will make it rather difficult to sit on Trent Lott's porch, but I'm thinking that the right spindoctors will be able to pull that overgrown monkey off by then. Good thing. I hear that those nasty beasts make vacationing a real challenge.

However, with our feckless leader's approval rating being so pitiful (only 4 out of 10 Americans think he knows which end is up), this might take some serious spinning. Not that a lot of it isn't going on already -- my current fav is the line that FEMA is more of a "back up" or something to local emergency response teams. You know, if my entire city is under ten feets of water, I'm thinking that we'll need more then the locals to get things rolling. Then again, what do I know? I'm not trained for a disaster of such proportions. Not like Brownie.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

An update on "Killing Julie"

About two years ago, I did something rather brave (for me, at least). I posted a good bit of Killing Julie on, which was introduced to me by Chantel. My ego soared as a result, for the feedback was incredible. Not that I got a lot of comments, but an apparent following developed. My site was visited an average of 150-200 times a month while I was regularly posting chapters. Wow!

But, then, things happen, life gets in the way... yada, yada, yada. I haven't posted in nearly a year now.

Today, I went back and posted a link to this site. It's my intention to start publishing a few tidbits here and there. It won't be the novel in entirety, but -- hopefully -- it will help me continue on my way. Heck, maybe I'll be really lucky and a publisher will see it!

(Let me know when you see pigs flying past your window, okay?)

There's nothing to publish today aside from a few changes that the characters demanded.

Julie really is dead. She had to die, I fear. Seems that her character was so stale -- she's been trying to hook up with Greg for nine years, for God's sake! -- that nothing was happening. So she replaced innocent little Amy Daniels and became the murder victim. She's been replaced by Elizabeth, who is much more comfortable with herself and her career. She's a lot less timid then Julie, too.

Greg Clayborne, despite his affection for Julie, didn't love her enough when she was the protagonist. I sent him to a new job in another state and Matthew Clayborne, no relation to Greg, moved in to help Elizabeth find not only love but also Julie's killer. Matt's a younger version of Greg, but more intense.

Franklin didn't like his name. Too old-fashioned. He changed it to Alex, and in the process became less 2-D in personality. However, he still resembles a Ken doll with his boyish all-American good looks.

Richard is still Richard. He dated Elizabeth in college. Despite their break up and some of the awful words exchanged, he still adores her.

Paul, Elizabeth's weasel of a husband, still dies the day after she demands a divorce. The hardest part for her is acting like she cares.

I have no idea if this is a romance or a thriller or what. Maybe it's turning into a piece of chick-lit. I'm sixty pages in, Paul just flipped his SUV, and Alex is beginning an active pursuit of Elizabeth. Matt came to Paul's funeral and disappeared again. Elizabeth, incidentally, has decided that enough is enough. She's going to forget men, focus on her career, and begin to renew the friendships that Paul tried to destroy.

I think.

Monday, September 05, 2005

You're an adult. Act like it.

My husband and I were at Wal-Mart this evening, when I saw something that dropped my jaw. A toddler -- perhaps three years of age at most -- stood up in the cart and dove at her mother. Expecting it, the mother caught her easily, hugged her, and put her back in the cart. A sweet moment, really.

The jaw-dropper was the fact that the little girl wasn't so little. She was obese.

Being politically correct, I told myself that perhaps there was a medical reason for the child to be so heavy. It's possible. No need to silently disparage the parents who were, incidentally, rather rotund themselves.

Unfortunately, when a three-year-old has thunder thighs, it stays with you. I started looking around at the other shoppers and their children. I want to believe that tonight was simply coincidental, but I can't. There were so many heavy children -- with heavy parents -- that I was dumbfounded.

Teaching at a post-secondary two-year college, I live by the phrase "you're an adult." I truly believe that those over the age of 18 are more then capable of living their own lives, making their own mistakes, and enduring the consequences. Protecting them from themselves does nothing but prolong childhood and encourage irresponsibility. When students come to me and ask if they might skip class, not take a test but do the make-up, or not do homework for whatever reason, I always give them this response: "You are an adult. You can make your own choices so long as you can live with the consequences." (For the most part, they hate that answer. But since I tell them on day one that I do not coddle or chase students, they pretty much live with it. I have to hand it to my students, they may not like what they hear, but they appreciate the predictability. )

So, if you are an adult and you want to live on potato chips, fast food, and soda pop, go for it. You're an adult. If you don't know that fast food is fattening, then you have bigger problems in your life.

But what the hell are you doing feeding that same garbage to your child?

Some parents claim that they can't control the child's appetite, that the child will throw a tantrum unless placated. Ha. As Supernanny might ask: who's in charge in this house?

I have my share of relatives and students who talk about their children's behavior. I have a toddler in the throes of the "terrible twos." Some parents have control, others don't. There are days when you feel you have control and others were you're convinced that the child does. And, yes, when it comes to food, there are days when it's easier to make the begged-for pizza then broil chicken breasts, mash potatoes, and steam broccoli. Yes, I have taken my son to McDonald's (once) and Arby's (once). And, believe me, there are days when getting him to eat a single brussel sprout is WWIII, and I wonder why I bother.

But to allow someone who doesn't even know what a calorie is to dictate his own diet is absolutely irresponsible.

We close the curtains to our dining room during dinner. There's no need for the neighbors to see my son's tantrum over getting milk -- and not juice -- in his sippy cup. Nor do they need to see the battle of the chair. He wants to eat one bite then leave the table, coming back when the mood strikes him. I expect him to sit until he's finished. Believe it or not, I only have to pop him back in his chair an average of three times a meal now. When we first started letting him sit on a regular chair, my dinner got cold long before he even started to think about finishing.

I've learned to put smaller portions on his plate, since he can always have more, and Gavie's learned to sit in his seat for most of the meal. Hey, he's only 2 1/2. "Most" and an empty plate are a good start. He's trying to assert his independence, to test his limits. I'm not about to crush him, but I've no intention of throwing my hands up and saying "woe is me!"

Why are there so many parents out there who can't tell their children what needs to be done, and what are the ramifications upon our country? When a levee breaks (God forbid) a generation from now, will our country be too fat to get up and help? Will those refugees be so used to someone handing them self-esteem, direction, and everything they demand that they'll be incapable of caring for themselves in the days following the disaster? Will our politicians be too busy blaming someone else... opps. They're doing that already. Never mind that last one.

The point is this, are we -- the adults -- going to raise a generation of children who remain children? The best thing we can do for our children is to not to do things for them.

If Johnny doesn't study and fails a test, don't call the teacher and demand a retest. Let him live with the F and learn from it.

If Sally tells you that she wants fried Oreos (they exist, trust me) for a snack every day after school, tell her no. If she says you don't love her, give her that maddening parental pat answer: "It's because I love you that I'm doing this."

When Billy screams in frustration because the square peg won't go into the round hole, encourage him to find a new approach. Don't take the lid off and toss the peg in.

So adults of the world, unite! Let them scream for their junk food, accept the fact that you'll be accused of being mean and heartless, and live with the reality that you are not meant to be your child's friend 24/7.

The truth is brutal: a failure to prepare your child for a world that links weight and intelligence, that values appearance, and that demands that successful people truly think, will condemn that child to a standard of living that is lower then what you have now.

Go buy the ear plugs and start being the parent.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

I need an opinion?

Why did it take so long for help to reach New Orleans?

I've been puzzling over this for the past few days, and can't find an answer that I like. I can understand a brief delay due to cell phone towers or electricity being knocked out. I can understand that there are behind-the-scenes dramas in general that can delay things a few hours. I can even understand that there might be a very legitimate reason for a short delay that we, the public, are not going to be privy to.

But four days?
I'm not sure that I'll ever have an answer that I'm comfortable with.

Perhaps, though, "comfortable" isn't the answer I should be looking for. Katrina stirred me from my complacent little limbo. I've been bumping along for some time now, near-seventeen months to be exact, living in my own little happy place while my father dies. When I leave his house, leave him and my mother behind and turn on the radio for the drive home, I'm able to pretend that nothing bad is happening in my life. When I dial my old college roommate and we talk about our sons, about who we were friends with, and about our new houses, I'm able to live the life that I pretend to have.

Helping my father, all 6'2" and 115 lbs of him, is something I do because I want to. Please know that. Holding his hand to steady him as he walks down the steps is something I'm very happy to do. We've reversed roles, as countless other parents and children on this planet do. However, as part of caring for him, I'm doing everything I can to keep his limited world calm. I keep my stress to myself, never argue with my mother, and tell only funny stories. Anything to keep him from worrying.

So how does this mesh with Katrina? The devastation, the humanity, the lack of humanity, and this blog, have forced me to face that I have to rock the boat again. I can't spend my days being docile (when I'm not with my father). No wonder I'm frustrated sometimes! I have a voice that has been stomped on and pushed down and held prisoner all because I was trying to live in my happy place.

Happy places, you see, do not involve opinions that might make others unhappy. If others are unhappy, they might say something. If they say something, I might have to stand my ground.

So here's my opinion... or rather, here are my opinions:
  • FEMA should not be under Homeland Security.
  • GW should keep his mouth shut and let Laura do the talking. At least she doesn't sound like a deliberately engineered sound bite.
  • Those who are refusing to leave their flooded out houses New Orleans at this point are adults and can make their own decisions. As long as they are willing to live with themselves and any consequences, who are we to force them into refugee camps?
  • Stealing diapers and formula is not looting. Stealing a television set, or ten, while the city floods, is. Then again, stealing anything to make a fast back or capitalize on others' need is just plain wrong. Shooting looters on sight isn't always a bad idea.
  • Those who use this disaster as an excuse to act like animals are not acting.
  • When I hear about the way some "people" behave, the thought that their bodies would probably never be found floats through my mind.
  • If the majority of the people suffering are those in the lower socio-economic bracket, this is a good time to help them get back on their feet. Don't just hand people a check and say "see ya later." Why not find a way to educate them? Help them learn a trade that will enable them to live above the poverty line. Hand them a check and a tuition voucher for a trade school or college.
  • The media needs new video feed. We've been watching them save the same people for the last five days.
  • The media also needs to interview survivors who not only make interesting copy but also sound intelligent.

There. Opinions bound to irritate at least one person. Maybe two. It's a start. :)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Watch this space!

Today, nothing but kudos and congrats to my friend Chantel, author of Love and Ghost Letters, which comes out today.

She's a talented author, a wonderful teacher, and a dear friend.

Orchids to you, Chanty!!!

(Watch this space for the forthcoming book review!)