Monday, August 31, 2009

The Powerful Miserable Gift

* Written a while ago when Hurricane Charley hit us by surprise, but seems appropriate tonight when lightning is poking skinny fingers down at the treetops, and thunder is rattling the windowpanes!

I think of Victorian women in the tropics. Like here in Florida. They would be appropriately trussed up in corsets and petticoats, strolling demurely in the park, hankies in hand to sop up the “glow” on their foreheads, upper lips. Rice powder puts up a brave facade as perspiration drips like Chinese water torture between the shoulder blades, down the spine. Charming little floral parasols provide slim relief from the summer sun…A moist sigh and a case of the “vapors” doesn’t seem so weak or contrived under the circumstances.

Had I lived then, I’d have been spoken of in whispers behind oriental fans. "Oh that poor, poor thing. She's truly lost her mind.” There is no social convention on earth that would compel me to suffer as they did.

The heat drives me mad.

I’d have been the local Isadora wearing my hair loose and wild. I would scandalously allow the tropical winds to caress my sweating body (yes, sweating) by wearing the least amount of fabric that I could! The nearest fountain, with lion heads spurting cool, cool water into a pool, would be my muse and compulsion. My gauzy shift would float cloud-like around me, a floating Ophelia, as I wiggle my bare pink toes in the water… Ahhhh!

You may have surmised by now that I am under duress. The preceding daydream is inspired by this: I am currently sitting in a pool of malarial yellow heat. The first 2004 hurricane, Charley, plunged us into the 19th century for seven days and the second one, Frances, threatens to do the same for a total of two weeks. Air conditioning, a 20th century wonder, obviously bestowed upon us by compassionate aliens from an advanced civilization, is not an option at the moment. Some nice power fellow imported from North Carolina will come and untangle the Gordian knot that is our power line. So until then, the challenge is to find the perfectly low tech ways to stay cool and calm…and not go insane as I slap mosquitoes.

They explode like small blood-filled piƱatas.

Cold beer, ice cubes, cold showers followed by body splashes and sweet smelling powder all fail to give long term relief…But some unexpected gifts have done quite nicely. After arranging chain-sawed debris into to designated pile areas to the point of heat exhaustion, I find myself standing, face turned upward without flinching in the rain. It is warm and soft and rinses the sticky sweat from my skin. It cleanses the many bug bites and scratches that speckle my legs and arms in itching constellations.

Fence is down.  Easy to find the dog though. Simple fix. Necessity and this mother is inventive. Can hear her all over the neighborhood with the frying pan tied to  her leash!

Standing on the dock, I can see the wind coming to me as it steps lively, sashaying in ripples across the lake. It starts on the far shore and brushes the surface approaching in Fosse-like moves until it blows my hair and shirt back in a cool embrace.  I am mesmerized by the frogs on the pond as they sing for the rain.

At dusk, when the steaming primeval day is nearly over, I have turned the chaise lounge away from the television toward the wide open French doors to bask in left over wind gusts. They are full of scented hints of the churning sea and Saharan dust, the genesis places for these soggy bullies, these one-eyed spiral storms.

Again I am immersed in the night, a stranger that I had so deftly banished with tightly closed windows and the white noise din of violent media and cleaning machines. A creak of a branch where a possum walks, the owl hooting…All as new as hearing them for the first time.

Flurries of wind ruffle the trees causing them to flex their branches proudly.  Live oaks. They defied the hurricanes’ attempts to rip off their limbs and fling them onto our roof, through our windows. They gloat and lean protectively over my house whispering promises of shade and protection. They have done their time in the wind tunnel and continue like Tolkien’s Ents to shroud our world with magic.

This is a time devoid of creature comforts. It is a misery. It is a gift.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dopamine Oz

Scene 1

          The stage is lit with one work light and there is a lady’s vanity downstage. Someone is heard off stage in mid-tirade. Enter Mary. She is tall,  in her late forties and dressed in simple attire. She is talking to herself, and anyone else who may be listening, and gesturing with her right hand. Her left arm is curled against her chest and works only a little.

You asked for it didn’t you? Be careful what you wish for…remember? Life was firing on all cylinders… It was good but you didn’t know how good, did you?  (She sits at the vanity. Shaking, she is taking aim and missing her eyeliner, attempts to paint her lips.)  Oh, screw the make up! Like they say, God never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have. Oil can! Oil can! (She squirts perfume on and flips two pills in the air catching them in her mouth.) It started off pretty rough, but who knew where the yellow brick road would lead? When did I first shake hands with the Tin Man? Oh yes -

          Enter a Man and a Woman. They pull up three seats. The Man sits in one. The Woman takes Mary by the arm and invites her to sit opposite the Man who is formal and staring lidlessly. Woman takes her position behind the Man.

Do you know already why we have asked you to meet with us today Mary?

(She responds to the Man, and / turns to the audience to articulate what’s really going on in her head.)  Oh, and I thought maybe because it’s my birthday, there’d be cake. / Why is my hand shaking? / Ha Ha.

Mmm hmm… yes… well. We have come to a business decision with which I am sure you would agree upon explanation. We hope you appreciate that it is nothing personal. It’s just the times, and the economy and well… We’ve retooled our workforce to be a lean mean machine (He pumps his fist like Tony Robbins) and we (He nods toward the Woman) have determined after a great deal of consideration and even soul searching that your job is no longer necessary.


Really? I am floored. / Nothing personal? How personal is losing your job with kids to feed at home? / But y’know if anyone were to pick a perfect time to drop your load to make the bottom line look better, it’d be now wouldn’t it? Better to slice than be sliced right? / Soul? What soul? What th’? My leg’s twitching like a frog on electrodes!/ How about you toast to your brilliant cost cutting prowess with the martinis you two no doubt will have after our little meeting here. Cheers to another successful uptick! / I need that drink right now. Stop with the tremors already! They will not see me cry damn it!


You see? The sarcasm Mary. This is part of the reason why I… (He collects himself.) We will see if we can’t place you in another position elsewhere in the company but with the condition that if we are unsuccessful, in thirty days we’ll discuss your severance, ok?


Shall I get you a jacket? Is it cold in here? You’re shaking.


Sorry, sorry. That was uncalled for. No, I am fine, not cold. / What the hell? I am shivering like a freakin' junkie. / I don’t agree with your business decision but you obviously have/ a vested interest in keeping your bloated salary/ the bigger picture in mind. /I wish I had a picture of you with a goat./ I have a lot of other skills in my war bag/ skills to drop kick your bald ass into the next county/ so I am sure something will come up in thirty days to challenge me. / I got your challenge. Go ahead and find two competent 20 year olds who will work for a fraction of what I cost. What is with my toes? God they’re cramping!/ I am sure you can see /you blind naked bottom feeder/ that there’s a ton of opportunity for a 15 year veteran in the company/ this top heavy arrogant money-grubbing company/ for someone like me/ lil ol’ expendable me.


Thank you for your understanding. Now my assistant here will go to your office and get your personal effects and you can leave directly from here –


No, I’ll get my personal effects myself if it’s all the same to you./ wouldn’t want you to discover the pens or the Post-its I stole from the office./ I want to say goodbye to everybody. / Oh my God, I am locking up. Must will the legs to move… /Just give me a moment ok? /So you can reassure yourselves I won’t go postal on your sorry asses.


(She leans in to Mary in a saccharinely sympathetic way.)   You know, before I came here, I was a licensed practicing psychologist so if you need to talk about this… Here’s my card.


Thank you / Talking with you would push me to the top of a tall building with a loaded rifle. Hollow points. I am looking at you in the crosshairs first bitch! / I’ll take that under consideration.

         Man and Woman exit.

You said it. Out loud so God and the angels and all the cells in your body could hear. “I just need something to give me a break from this friggin' hamster wheel…”  So logically, it’s your entire fault. You knew that putting it out there into the plasma pool like that just stirred up all the flying monkeys. Like poking them with a sharp stick! Tin Man needed an oil can and, as it turned out, a certified mechanic to make the diagnosis and maybe put in the fix too…

          Man Enters in Lab Coat


(In a dry flat monotone)  So your arm is stiff. Ok. Raise it. Ok. Only that far? Ok. Take ibuprophen. See you in six months.

          Man takes her by the shoulders and spins her 180 degrees to face Woman in Lab Coat.


(Bubbly, plastic)  So your arm is stiff. Ok. Raise it. Ok. Only that far?  Ok. Take ibuprophen. Let’s give you a cortisone shot in the joint. See you in six months.

          Woman spins her 180 degrees to face Man in Lab Coat.


(With eastern Indian accent)   So your arm is stiff. Ok. Raise it. Ok. Only that far? And you are profoundly fatigued as well? Ok. Take ibuprophen. Let’s give you a cortisone shot in the joint and you must meditate morning and evening even until the day you die. See you in six months.

          Man spins her 180 degrees to face Woman in Lab Coat.


(Gruffly, with authority, impatience)   So your arm is stiff. Ok. Raise it. Ok. Only that far? And you are profoundly fatigued as well? Ok. Take ibuprophen. Let’s give you a cortisone shot in the joint and what’s this voodoo about meditating morning and evening even until the day you die? You need to toughen up Missy. Everyone’s got stress. Take it like a woman! Get a handle on it. Meanwhile let’s break up those adhesions in your shoulder. This is going to hurt…

          Woman manipulates Mary’s arm and shoulder like a Russian wrestler and the sound of loud cracking is heard in concert with a yelp from Mary in pain. Woman then spins her 180 degrees to face Man in Lab Coat.


(With thick Czech accent)   So your arm is stiff. Ok. Raise it. Ok. Only that far? And you are profoundly fatigued as well? You feel overwhelmed and your leg is dragging. Ok. Take ibuprophen. Let’s also get you started on some anti-depressant medication…What? You have no insurance?

          Mary screams. All freeze.


Maybe a little something for anxiety as well…


Here’s what you said, “I wish I could get just a little rest, a hiatus from life, a reason to just drop out for a while.” And somebody heard it…(She turns to the MAN who, still in a white coat is reaching out to gently touch her fingers, shoulders, arms…cradle her head in his hands… )    Doc, I have this weird shaking and stiffness in my arm and leg. My left leg drags when I walk. Foot cramps. Maybe it might be nerve damage from all the shots and adhesion busting when my shoulder froze up… maybe stress makes me shake…

Uh huh…

Frankly, I am not complaining. All this wiggling is making men wonder what it’d be like to do me – like those old “magic fingers” beds in motels. Quarter in the slot and 5 minutes of bliss, you know.  Unless it's the Bates Motel.  Whole different vibe there...


(Laughing)   Frozen shoulder is the first symptom you know. Let me have your arm. Quit resisting. Let me have it!


(She visibly cannot release her arm to him, but makes it into a claw grasping demonically for her own throat.)   No you can’t have it. Bwahahahaa!! It is possessed!


Ok, ok. Very funny.  Now walk for me.


Typical male.  You don't want to see us coming, but can't stop watching us walk away. How do you want it? Goosestep, sashay or runway? Watch me work it, medicine man. (She attempts a runway turn and stumbles. He catches her in his arms, steadies her, and holds her hand.)


Oooh Doc, the “magic fingers” comment hit a nerve eh?


(With gravity)  You know it's Parkinson’s, don’t you?


(Full stop)  Well, I guess I’ll be making all the martinis from now on.

          Spotlight irises in on Mary

And there it was. Maybe if it had been left unsaid, hadn’t been even thought of or flown carelessly from your big mouth like some mutant boomerang, no jonnie-on-the-spot agency of disaster such as God or an angel or even the billions of potentially malfunctioning cells in your body, your brain, would’ve been the wiser.

(To be continued)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

They're All Tim to Me

Wal-Mart. 5:00 a.m. Where else would I be? Sleeping? Not a chance.

The soldier standing behind me in the checkout was clutching a half dozen blue washcloths, blue bath towels, and a six-pack of Lever brand soap. He was a tall guy wearing the dusty beige and tan uniform; the color scheme marking the troops who do their duty in sere desert environments half the world away these days. The old Viet Nam era olive and pea green camo is in moth balls for the time being I guess since we put a lid on that fight so many decades ago. His cheeks were ruddy from a particularly close shave that morning I am sure, his nails clean, his boots as yet unscuffed and new.

When he appeared to be daydreaming or in a zone of some sort, I leaned in to the gal behind the counter and said, “Add his stuff to my order, ok?” Without missing a beat she took the blue fragrant bundle out of his hands and rang it up on my tab, despite his protests. “She’s treating you today, sweetie!” she said, “Got to have our soldiers clean and tidy don’t we?” He gracefully stood down and let me have my way. “Well thanks very much. Army National Guard. I deploy to Afghanistan in January. My name is Tim.”

Signing up for Facebook, I knew the odd unfamiliar “friend hoarder” would lob a request on the table sooner or later so I was poised to mash the ignore button, mostly to save them from themselves. Especially my kid’s friends, some of whom think I am cool, but don’t need me looking in on their worlds. And my peculiar middle aged scenario, with whom I socialize and what I find amusing is, well, none of their business.

But in a weak moment, a Boy Scout buddy of my son’s showed up requesting to “friend” me and I said ok for no apparent reason except that he was probably a pretty stand-up kid if he was a Scout. Initially I understood him from his posts to be typical in every way for his age.  He was into zapping zombies, cyber-cuddling his cute girlie friend, and enjoyed taking silly “what is your dog name” quizzes that are the hallmark of the time sink that truly is Facebook. We shared mutually identical outcomes from one such quiz and, ironically, bonded as warriors; bows and arrows our Elvish weapons of choice, thank you very much JRR Tolkien.
My son noticed our byplay and casually tossed off this up-to-that-moment-unknown-to-me nugget of information: “Tim’s in Afghanistan. An Army private. Military Police I think.”

Tim is not quite 20.

What’s with this seething red veil of anger that suddenly overtook me? Why didn’t it manifest itself in general over the fact that our best young men and women are fighting to defend a culture, a politic we barely understand if not completely reject; tip-toeing around explosive devices and dodging rocks thrown at them by children at the behest of their zealot fathers? Why? I just now realize I don’t know why we are subjecting them to, and worse, sacrificing them for… what? Damn it, this pisses me off!

It took a face and name to ram it home. Tim.

Tim has access to the soldier’s psyche saver, the internet, and is allowed to communicate relatively freely from a mountaintop in the middle of what I un-affectionately call BF-istan. We enjoy “Tim Time” in the wee hours of our morning here in the states chatting through Facebook. Don’t know what time it is there. Jokes, advice, discussions of food he’s craving when home, plans to woo the hell out of his girlie, reflections on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Sun Tzu’s Art of War have traversed the amazing global space between us. For security, we keep topics light and non-specific to his posting there. Sometimes a guy’s just got to let it fly when things are some kind of crazy. We take that journey together and rant colorfully at fate and the universe. All this is cached mentally, for us both really, to help withstand the madness when he sits lonely lookout on occasion; when he is on “missions” riding along in trucks on unpaved mined roads where the stones rain down with glass shards and murderous taunts from the sneering mouths of little boys. And I know full well that is what is going on.

Now I am in. It is personal. I flail and gasp for air emotionally with every report of soldiers killed by IED’s or ambushes in BF-istan. Where’s the laptop? I open Facebook and exhale a torrent of pent up breath and conflicted utterances both profane and grateful when I see Tim’s presence there.  His footprints, better yet his old soul dance moves, are evident in his activities there including his hysterically funny practice of taking "chick" quizzes to the uproarious bemusement of his brothers in battle. I count the days until I know Tim will be back in the arms of his family and friends, making life plans devoid of warfare, and eating chocolate covered pizza.

I send shielding energy with another Tim who shook my hand and smiled with military pride in Wal-mart at 5:00 a.m. cradling his soap and washcloths in big strong hero hands.


Vegas. Baby.

Wander and Lust hook up in a single sweaty tangle and whelp a child: Las Vegas. There it is the rule to wander adrift with permission to embrace whatever form of lust is burning a hole in your pocket.

Check off gambling, flesh, free buffets, alcohol, adventure, crime, Donny & Marie. Check them off as excesses inappropriate back home in American Dream subdivisions where the horizon is dotted with church spires stabbing sky high. Home is where the lasciviously pious remind us in titillating terms of our baser instincts making them the object not of revulsion but of sublime curiosity. In Vegas, the wanderer gets a waiver from chaste behavior, a bye on boredom. God just looks away.

Snap snap snap! The sound of the silent Mexican men and women who stand in long oompa-loompa lines thrusting business cards out toward sweaty hands. This small brown wall of people wear t-shirts boasting: Sexy girls want to meet you now! Meet you anywhere in 20 minutes! They slap and flip the cards against the palms of their hands. That snapping aggressively penetrates the deliberate fog of walking by them.

Don’t want to see them.

This disturbing alien receiving line is willed to be invisible.

On the cards the pink and purple visages of young girls depicted in varying degrees of undress and invitation. Who are they? Where are they now? Has a mother or father found their missing darling on the Strip by accidentally spotting her corn-fed Midwest image smiling seductively from the two-dimensional world of these cards? Some who actually take the cards from the earnestly motivated Mexicans pocket them furtively like collectable souvenirs for review later. Most realize too late what is in their hand and fling them down violently like a bad beat poker hand. Dropped cards, photos of beautiful fallen angels with shining hair, nails, lips and skin trampled to grey pulp beneath hurrying feet, dapple the ground, float in the gutter, sail casually on puddles of precious water, twisting and turning in the hellish heat.

The cab driver said, “Just drop your bags in your hotel room, put your watch and Blackberry in the safe, and lose track of time.” That done, it is easy to melt into this smoky dusty convection oven cacophony of a place. It is easy to catch out of the corner of your eye the echoing romantic images of the Rat Pack boys, Dean, Jerry, Sammy, and Frank, leaning on the wall at the Sahara, grinning. It’s not so easy to reconcile the stark contrasts brought to this crusty cancerous spot on the face of the earth by a failing national economy.

The searing laser sun and the stark enveloping shadows cut the days sharply. Beige gritty dust devils shimmy in front of half-built pleasure palaces with names like Trump and Fontainebleau. Cranes, in suspended states, trace paralyzed etch-a-sketch angles against the purple backdrop of distant peaks. Even the moguls stand and wait in Vegas.

Vegas. Baby. It all stays in Vegas

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Football Son

(I wrote this five years ago, but it pretty much resonates with every step my son takes toward adulthood)

My son. My smiling little “bubba-baby-bunny-boy,” who molded to my neck like warm fragrant bread dough as an infant; my tenderhearted boy who always tells me out loud in public that he loves me (even in front of his friends,) is playing… “Junior Midget Football.”

Open to as many formative life experiences as he can handle, I didn’t throw the force of motherly will against it. Full on, tackle football. Why did I approve this clashingly savage, bloody, testosterone fest rite of passage? Why did I allow the potential awakening in my 11 year old son of the harder, lesser angels of our nature?

Perhaps his hours of Xbox paralysis combined with slush-brained TV broadcast flotsam watching pushed me into a compromise to which my motherly instincts shouted “NO.” Perhaps it was that every man in my family possesses that fervent puppy-eyed desire to live vicariously through our offspring on the field of play, the holy gridiron. Perhaps I had practical visions of a college sports scholarship, but would that justify what was to come? I physically trembled at the notion.

When he came home in his full defensive linebacker regalia, helmet, pads and mouth guard, and knelt in a football pose for a photo in the front yard, I was awash in emotion. He was a grass-stained gladiator of my own flesh, a warrior of Spartan silhouette, and every bit as intimidating.

He was huge!

My son was going to hit and be hit hard by the gladiator sons of other mothers.

And the league name of “midget” is a cruel misrepresentation. Bruises in varying degrees of healing, colored burgundy, yellow, green, spotted his arms and chin in shapes like thunder clouds. Someone kneed, elbowed or drove his helmet into my son’s body with force and purpose. And my son had done the same, right back at ‘em with more force and purpose in an escalating process called conditioning. Star and birdies have skidded and tweeted in circles around his head, but he got back up to be knocked down again. He has eaten turf and has provided a turf lunch on a platter with garnish to his adversaries. All badges of honor to him.

The wolf mother in me howled in protest, but only a blur of tears gave hint to how I felt.

In a nanosecond, my brain rocketed to the future when he will be stretching thinner and thinner the silver cord that links mother and son together. I saw him waving goodbye as he enters the arena of higher education. I saw him departing as a patriot defending our country.

Cord stretched thinner. Gossamer.

I saw him marrying a girl, competing in business. Cord near invisible but intact.

I saw him taking the punishing hits and tackles of an American Man’s life in the name of God, family, country and justice…And getting back up again with a cockeyed grin. I saw all this in one prescient maternal flash that shook me.

A grubby bruised yet gentle defensive back hand brushed away the tears. He gathered me up in a rib-crunching hug.

“I love you Mom,” he said.

Brilliant silver cord links us, stretched to infinity. My son forever

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ghost Story: This Is The Kind...

Satisfying our mutual and natural urge to wander, I travelled with my 13 year old daughter this summer. We hiked around the Smokey Mountains, had facials, went to the Indian casino, and found a kangaroo farm out in the middle of nowhere Georgia. But from the jump, we made a plan to fulfill our interest in visiting a “haunted hotel” in the South, and ultimately ended up for a night at the Inn at Merridun in Union, South Carolina. This antebellum inn is widely known for its “haunts” and good food.
We were not disappointed either way!
On the outside, if you squint, there is a glimpse/a hint of this mansion’s glory days when it was central to a booming cotton industry and anchored many square miles of property for the family by which it was owned. The echoes of steam locomotives chugging by laden with white drifts of cotton linger on the tracks not 100 yards away from the front door. The gracious porches, where sparkling entourages of lavishly dressed guests were once greeted and ushered into the house for society balls, roll now like a set of ocean waves, the marble tiles pushed up and sunken down at intervals. Looking up, all is overarched by a tin veneered ceiling gone green with dripping corrosion.

Now in unremitting dilapidation, the entire house seemed as though it is melting gracefully into the landscape drawn down by gravity and unseen tendrils of kudzu and mildew pulling it earthward. No line is plumb, no angle angular. It is a rounded dowager, an aging belle, stuffed with a profuse collection of delicious antiques, lolling on a green throne. She is holding court anxiously awaiting imaginary suitors to fill her dance card with waltzes and reels.

Naturally, upon settling in, we went into our “Ghost Hunter” mode. Since we were the only party staying at the inn that night, we gleefully explored every possible space in the mansion for cold spots, fleeting peripheral sightings or disembodied voices. We ranged around trying to whisper and tip toe from the gentlemen’s sitting room on the first floor to the ballroom on the second. Ballrooms in those days were situated above the “mosquito line” for the comfort of the guests! We heard a ghost dog barking, footsteps above our heads, felt cold tentacles embrace our legs, saw a shadowy sad man leaning over the balcony, and heard far away laughter with piano music.

And always the train going by on that discontinued spur - all distant and lonely and muted like the volume was turned down.

Imaginations overwrought, we just wound ourselves right up into susceptibility of the most exquisite degree. We took gobs of pictures hoping to catch an “entity” digitally and did catch a few creepy photos with smoky ectoplasm and orbs in them, we think.

Assigned to the ground floor suite called “The Senator’s Room,” really the only scary thing about it upon first examination was a framed and signed photograph of Strom Thurmond next to one of Jimmy Carter, both of whom apparently stayed there at one time. I thought it might be disconcerting enough getting to sleep with those two evil birds gazing down from above the spooky black painted fireplace! But they were the least of it, as it turns out.

Of course, as if on cue, the atmosphere literally became charged when an unbelievable summer storm enveloped the place as the sun went down. Electricity was snapping and popping all around and ozone scented the air profusely. I could not have ordered a more appropriate special effect had it been a movie set.

My ever-so-mature and intelligent theory on “ghosts” up until this point is that they are merely “echoes” of past energies left behind by really passionate and particularly distinctive humans whose personalities were just too, well, interesting not to leave an indelible imprint on their environments. Basically, I contended with a haughty confidence born of sublimely misguided arrogance, these energies are like a television broadcast possessing no sentient thought, and no purpose. Just recordings replaying until the battery runs out, if you like.

So, going in, “I ain’t scared of no ghost!”

Not until 3:11 a.m. in the morning anyway.

I awoke in our dark room with just the gleam of a streetlight streaming through the window. T was oblivious next to me snoring and cooing in her sleep a little as she does.

Then I heard a voice coming from the sitting area in the room.

Clearly, closely and not in my head. It sounded like an old woman but had a childish tone as well. She said,

“This is the kind of paper that…”

Then she paused and said it again a little louder and sounding slightly annoyed.

“This is the kind of paper that we…”

And then…nothing. T continued snoring.

I smiled. Now I had finally heard my “entity,” my “energy recording from the past,” and congratulated myself that our adventure there was worth every penny; the fun factor was off the chain. Great story to tell! Confident and content, I rolled over positioning myself back to back with my squishy snuffling little daughter to sleep.

Then, directly in my ear, sounding as though the talker was standing over me, I heard,

“This is the kind of paper that we use, LINDA!”

And what was my cordial, measured and winning response?

I told a ghost to “SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”

Upon hearing my name being called, my southern-bred charm, poise and manners flew right out the window with what I imagined to be a very offended specter. T emerged from her stupor only to say, “Mom I didn’t say anything! Why are you telling me to shut up?” From her vantage under me, because that is where she ended up, all she could see was me - white faced and growling, eyes bugging out and poised on all fours like a mother lion. I was unconsciously pushing her behind me trying to shield her from…


I am struggling even as I write this with the embarrassment of that moment concurrent with harvest of goose bumps popping up all over my lily white skin. No kidding, I am still floored by the experience!

Needless to say, in a flurry of dramatic flapping on my part, the lights went on, the TV and my computer were powered up. I made every modern electrical contrivance work to repel any more ghostly encounters for the night. We were left alone, ultimately, and I think it was because I was so rude!

Well, mea culpa all to heck!

Oh, by the way, the innkeeper, a lady called Peggy, explained the next morning over a beautiful breakfast, that the resident ghost from our room, a certain Miss Fannie, expressed to a visiting psychic (with whom she apparently had a better encounter than I) that she was not pleased with the renovations made to the inn. She was especially annoyed that the wallpaper had been replaced with plaster and painted.

Apparently, Miss Fannie was the bossy business mind behind the plantation for many years, ran the massive cotton farming operation there, and evidently ruled every one’s life there as well!

She was also quite the prude. Her ghost allegedly confronted newlyweds after evidently being disturbed by their, ahem, newly-minted marital hijinks in the wee hours, calling the bride a “harlot!”

As we drove away from the Inn in the radiant purging light of a summer midday in the south, T said she was going to miss the sound of sweeping. She was certain she heard someone tidying up as she was going to sleep the night before.

“Didn’t you hear her on the porch outside our room Mom?”

I didn’t, and we were the only ones in the Inn that night, but the ghosts dish up what we might need to hear at any one moment in life. My message was one of humility and T was gifted with sleepy comfort. I come to find out that there was a sweet black nanny who purely loved the children for whom she tended at the mansion. Many had seen her apparition gently and rhythmically sweeping the porch outside the children’s rooms as she waited for them to settle down and sleep. It appears that love, among many other emotions, lingers on.

That’s my story. I am changed by it. You might say humbled.

Ordeal in Cordele: Aunt Polly

There is no more riveting tale born of travel than the one single crystalline slice of danger that Aunt Polly survived in Cordele, Georgia.

Aunt Polly has been indulging the inborn urge to wander her entire life. Retired from a career as a beloved kindergarten teacher known for her creative and highly effective teaching methods, she never settled down to the white picket fence, 2.5 kids, suburban life that was so prized by women in her generation. If she gets a hankering for kid interaction, she just goes to a brother or sister's house, soaks up some niece and nephew fun, and blithely leaves on the next leg of her life's journey.

Everyone knew Polly was addicted to adventure from the very beginning. She began her professional career by shaking off the dusty bonds of a potentially mundane life in St. Louis, Missouri to teach school in Hawaii. With a few wildly global stops along the way, including another story involving an Arab prince trying to add her to his harem, she eventually settled, as much as she could be settled, in South Florida to teach. Her brother, my father soon joined her there, and started his family.

Frequently, she would scoop my brothers and I up for trips to sailing regattas or to Sanibel Island where we "shelled" for the most beautiful conchs, whelks and cat's eyes and where we reenacted with gusto pirate shenanigans. Naturally rambunctious and sometime foul-mouthed, we were not the most well-behaved trio, so we responded well to her form of discipline - the dreaded "sorry corner" where we would have to cool our heels while all of Aunt Polly's great activities swirled around us. To be isolated from all the fun was torturous! And the burden of our favorite Aunt's disapproval was withering.

The School of Real Life is the most fascinating classroom to Polly, and she still infects those around her with a deep curiosity about human nature and nature itself. It is her life's mission to share too.

To travel with Aunt Polly was to learn to be organized and on schedule. That's why her experience in Cordele, Georgia a few years back is as vivid in the telling as the day it happened. Some guy messed up her carefully planned routine in a big way.

Polly had driven her pre-set goal of eight hours on this leg of her trip north going to see one or another of our kin in St. Louis. The hotel in Cordele was probably a welcome sight for her, since she knew it meant engaging in a comfortable linear set of activities - check-in, unload, take a swim, a short nap, then, by 4:00 p.m. dinner and a smoke at the restaurant fronting the hotel. Nice and neat and predictable.

So with her signature short hair still wet but coaxed into a salt and pepper pixie style hairdo, and wearing her uniform of cotton Capri trousers and a light cotton button up sleeveless shirt with flats, Polly strolled to the restaurant, sat down and relaxed.

There was a older couple there, some men, waitresses and other normal denizens of a restaurant catering to travelers using I-75. Reading with her head down, probably puzzling over a crossword as is her habit, Polly didn't notice the door open to reveal two men struggling, one with his arm around the other's throat and a gun to his head. It was the deafening gunshot that brought the situation to her attention...Reflexively she put her pocketbook down between the wall and the booth in which she was sitting and she tucked her cigarettes, for whatever reason she cannot say now, in her belt.

The Man with the gun was wide-eyed and tall and wired. Sweating and grunting with effort, he pushed his male hostage into the restaurant and waved the gun around. The older couple began crying out as the bullet that had been shot to get everyone's attention had grazed the old man's ear rendering him bloody and her hysterical.

"All the men get out!" growled the Man.

Polly remembers hearing the old lady pleading to go with her injured and shocky husband and astonishingly she was allowed to go.

Once the men and the old lady got out leaving a slipstream of sweat and noise behind them, the Man aimed the gun at Polly and told her to get up.

And she did.

Why he picked her, Polly isn't sure. Could have been her height which approximated his stature, the fact that she was looking at him in her penetratingly curious way, that she was closest to him, she doesn't know. He wrapped his arm around her throat, lifted her to her tippy-toes and barked orders to the four other women remaining with Polly in the restaurant.

The strangest things went through Polly's mind, like that her captor didn't smell like anything; there was no scent to the Man.

He pushed the women, stumbling and trembling, through the kitchen area and into a back windowless pantry where they were forced to kneel on the floor.

This was when Polly started "talking."

"I am a teacher. I taught for a long time and you could've been one of my students, you know. I had lots of little kids in kindergarten who grew up to look just like you. Do you remember any of your teachers? I had pets like bunnies and guinea pigs right there in my classroom. And I taught art too. My kids always enjoyed painting on big easels. How about your Mom? Got any sisters? What are they going to feel when they hear about this. What's your name?"


He pushed Polly's head down into a tray of yeast rolls where amidst the heart wrenching scent of bread and escalating panic, Polly began praying out loud. She intoned a fervent rendition of the rote Catholic prayers that give so many of us comfort when things seem dangerous or hopeless, or both.

"O my God, I am heartily sorry...Hail Mary Full of Grace....our Father who art in heaven....I believe in one God, the Father Almighty..."

"What is that you are saying there?" shouted the Man.

"My prayers." answered Polly.

"Say them to yourself and close your eyes!"

There was a pause. A long pause during which Polly heard a hard to identify jingling sound. It took a full minute to figure out that the Man was clumsily reloading his small silver gun. That jingling Polly heard was the loading of six bullets. There were six of them in that pantry.

Then she blurted out with all the randomness of someone who thought she was condemned:

"I need a cigarette. Want one?"

"NO!" he thundered.

Then he paced, and paused, and paced and paused and then said, "Yeah, I'll take one.''

A tiny "Me too!" squeaked from one of the other captive women.

Polly was allowed to pick her head up from the bread tray, open her eyes, reach into her pocket for a lighter and pull her cigarette pack from her belt. She gave the Man a cigarette and lit it for him, shared another with the bulging-eyed panicked waitress who had requested it and finally treated herself to one. Always defiant about her smoking, and under the circumstances, Polly probably enjoyed that first delicious drag on the cigarette to the point of absolute rapture.

Then she began thinking of what to talk about next.

Although they couldn't directly see, they could all feel the gathering of police cars and bystanders pressing in outside the restaurant to witness the end game spectacle. The Man knew the storm was building to a thundering crescendo outside and was jittery and nervous to be so cornered. Like public executions in the middle ages, people had flocked to that parking lot with their children and neighbors in tow so see if there would be blood.

The incident with this desperate man had begun miles down I-75 where running blindly from authorities he had ambushed a car of military men, killed one, and took as hostage another. He then sped away in their car, and crashed it right in front of that restaurant where his journey would also crash to a halt. The radio was alive with blow by blow commentary about this hostage situation in a truck stop restaurant in Cordele. Put on your hat Mama, we're going to the hostage show!

"It doesn't matter what you have done, you know, if you just give up and walk
out of here, it'll be better for you than any other idea you might have."

"There is no justice for blacks in Georgia. Forget it."

"Why don't you give me the address of your mother then so I can write her after all this is over and tell her what happened. So she gets the real truth of it."

"NO! Just shut up."

"Look let us go, and I will walk out there and tell them to just let you come peacefully. I will stand up for you. I will. They'll listen to me."

"NO! No, they won't. Close your eyes!"

And the sound of five women breathing what they all thought were their lasts breaths was the only sound heard in that pantry for a spell. Tears pooled from beneath their closed eyelids and ran down their cheeks. Breathing gave way to hitching sobs. They heard him walk up to and look at each of them, muttering to himself under his breath. They braced for that loud noise and flash of light that would end their lives.

A moment, a teardrop, an ash fell to the floor. And he said:

"You, teacher, you get out of here. Tell them the others will follow one by one."

Polly placed the cigarettes and the lighter on the counter of the pantry, looked the black Man squarely in the eye, put her hands in the air, and then turned around to walk to freedom. With every step she took, she could've been shot either by her captor or by the agitated gun-toting hair-trigger people outside.

It was a dangerous moment.

It was a long walk out the front door into the late afternoon sunlight.

The police met her and, quick stepping her out of harm's way and only half listening to her pleas to not shoot the man, placed her in a trailer parked across the street where she could watch from a window what happened next.

One by one, the other four women emerged from the restaurant. Polly remembers one waitress running and screaming hysterically as she swung open the door and sprinted to collapse dramatically in the arms of a uniform. The others were like Polly, scared but reasonable.

No shots rang out in a barrage that day. The restaurant was spared the constellation of bullet holes it would've sustained had the black man come out blazing. The hungry crowd was disappointed. No blood, no guts, no suicide by cop. What a gyp!

In fact, the small silver gun barely made a sound deep within the restaurant pantry.  The black man, who would get no justice in Georgia, shot himself in the head amidst the echoes of a school teacher's prayers and the lingering scent of fresh baked dinner rolls and cigarette smoke.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Good Night Booby Boy Wherever You Are!

No corner of Florida is immune from my presence lately being the chief chauffeur for my kids.

We see some great stuff travelling around, most particularly is the ritual of spotting a certain young boy every morning on the short hop to school. We have seen this little guy grow at least six inches since we first noticed him and I think he has cycled through at least three bookbags over the last years. Here's the drill: After avoiding the camera light on Dixie Belle, which is relentless in its pursuit of speeding me, my daughter and I snap our heads to the right and every morning, unfailingly we are treated to our profound delight by the same scene with only slight variations from day to day.

Standing on the sidewalk in front of a collection of condominiums, is Booby Boy waiting for the bus. He is accompanied by a proud and buxom smiling lady in hospital scrubs who we can only assume is his beloved, and I mean beloved, Mommy. They wait together for the bus wrapped in their own personal bubble, talking, laughing, gazing into each other's eyes with Booby Boy's bespectacled blissful face in full contact, fully engaged, in his Mom's cleavage!

We analyze the scene every day, musing on how much he's grown, how her scrubs went from pea green to a cheerful print and maybe she has a new job, how disturbing yet delightful that this boy is so joyful every day during these stolen moments from an obviously very busy day, that we can salute a kid who is developing such a profound respect for breasts, that we feel so guilty for anonymously hijacking their small slice together, how hard is the single Mother's life.

At night, we wing by there on the way back from soccer practice and the sidewalk near Dixie Belle seems mournfully vacant. My daughter and I routinely and simultaneously fall silent and glance over trying to glimpse just the smallest hint of Booby Boy and his Mom. Unrequited we sigh, look at each other and intone in unison, sometimes in harmony-

"Goodnight, Booby Boy, wherever you are!"