Showing posts with label wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wine. Show all posts

12 April 2018

Metaphors and Morality Plays

by Eve Fisher


Image may contain: text and outdoorThe sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
    - Robert Frost, "Two Tramps in Mud Time"


We're back in the middle of February here, folks.  With some regularity.  Now I don't mind a snow day every once in a while.  I think of all the things I can get done, like read a good book, finish cleaning out that closet, or (gasp!) writing.  But of course, too often, what happens is that I end up, hours later, looking up from an internet reading binge that is only occasionally informative, as in,
Do you want to see the oldest tree in the world?
Answer:  hell yes!

Image may contain: outdoor
6,000 year old Senegal baobab tree.
6,000 years old.  Think about that.  That means that huge tree was a little sprout/twig back in 4,000 BCE.  That's a long way back.  It's right on the border between the Neolithic (New Stone Age) and the Bronze Age; humans have learned to cast lead, smelt tin, copper, and are just starting to smelt bronze.  There's agriculture in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as animal husbandry, tamed dogs and cats, pottery, combs, beads, and lots of clothing.  But there's no writing, not yet, so we don't know how all of this happened.  We can only imagine.

(Fun note:  6,000 years ago, there are still mammoths on Saint Paul Island, Alaska, and Wrangel Island, Russia!)

Opium fields
The other thing that's already been developed is alcohol, both beer and wine, and perhaps strong liquor, in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Georgia, Sicily, etc.  Traces left of fermentation have been dated back beyond 8,000 years ago, which proves what I used to tell my history classes:  no society has ever been found that was able to live drug free.  They always had something.  

Alcohol, marijuana, mushrooms, and opium derivatives are universal and thousands of years older than any writing.  Which makes sense, because living in a physical body is going to get painful sooner or later.  Think of the pre-industrial world:  tens of thousands of years of hard work done without benefit of machines, accidents, wars, beatings, old age, botched surgeries, unsuccessful surgeries, cancer, medieval dentistry, ancient trepanning, arthritis, osteoporosis, rotten teeth, and all the other wear and tear of daily life.
As Dr. Samuel Johnson said in the 18th century, about alcohol:  "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
I bring all this up because Buzzfeed posted a great article April 3, which I read while watching the snow whirling past my window, called "The Opioid Crisis Isn't a Metaphor".  Quite simply, it points out that - contrary to innumerable modern op-eds - people aren't drowning in opioid addiction because post-modern life in America is hell on earth.  People have been drowning in addiction and alcoholism since the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Life, any time, anywhere, will sooner or later get you taking serious medication. 

Oxycontin 
And - as the article says - that's why people generally start taking opioids:  they're in pain.  And when it comes to severe, teeth clenching pain, aspirin, Advil, or Tylenol just don't cut it.  For that, the best thing is still opioids, the derivatives of that ancient poppy plant, cultivated for multiple thousands of years, but now processed to a fare-thee-well:  codeine, heroin, morphine, all those oxys, and the latest scourge, fentanyl, which would drop an elephant in its tracks.

But even then, people in pain really do not "addict" that easily.  Unless they're widely available, as in West Virginia, where out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 21 million opioid painkillers to two pharmacies in Williamson, WV, population 2,900, in 3 years (see Vox), not to mention millions more to other pharmacies in other small towns throughout the country.  Let's put it this way, if that much crack or meth had arrived in Williamson, WV, in 3 years, every law enforcement authority in the country would have been all over it.  But it was legal.  And all the physicians urged to give them out like candy, and renew the prescriptions at the drop of a hat, for as often and long as... well, as they're asked for.  And why?  Because:  profits.
NOTE:  Meet the Sacklers, the family behind the whole opioid crisis, (Daily Mail - and Esquire), $14 billionnaires and counting, most of which came from OxyContin.  (Oh, and they don't like to talk about it - they're very private people.  Spread the word.)
So, we have two chronic human needs - for pain relief, and to get wealthy - meeting in communities around the nation, and it's all legal.  (At least at first.)  Addiction and overdoses begin to skyrocket, especially as teenagers - who will do anything and everything to get high because that's what teenagers do - get their hands on them.  As people sell them on the black market to make some extra cash.  As people trade them around in search of better pain relief or a better high.  As it all rolls up into one giant white pill shaped ball and pundits ask "Why do people do these things?"  And cluck their tongues like America was such a Puritan paradise before this happened.

HA!  The original Puritans banned dancing, drama, cards, gambling, and most toys, but they did drink.  The Mayflower was loaded with more beer than water, and the very first Thanksgiving meal was served with beer, brandy, wine and gin.  And I'll bet they used whatever they could for pain relief.

And then there's the little issue of withdrawals.  As the Buzzfeed article says, "And once you’re addicted, you don’t take a hit because you’re surrounded by postindustrial despair. You do it because not taking a hit makes you feel worse than you could have ever imagined. If you go long enough without it, you’ll vomit, crap your pants, and want to die, just for starters. So of course you'll do anything to get another hit."  And it's not just opioids.  Untreated, alcohol D.T.s (delerium tremens) has a 15-40% death rate. 

Crack cocaine
Now many have noticed that the idea of drug addiction as a way of coping with a life lacking any hope, purpose, or possibilities, was never applied to black urban neighborhoods anywhere.  When the crack epidemic erupted in urban America back in the 1980s and 1990s, no one tried to understand why urban blacks were using crack cocaine in such high numbers, or how a life of unemployment, racism, urban decay, hopelessness, etc., could affect their addiction.  Instead, America got tough on crime, to the point where, "the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 increased penalties for crack cocaine possession and usage. It mandated a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole for possession of 5 grams of crack; to receive the same sentence with powder cocaine one had to have 500 grams."  BTW, poor urban blacks used crack; powder cocaine was more often used by rich urban whites.  5 grams vs. 500; nothing to see here, folks, just keep moving...

So yeah, this whole idea of drug addiction caused by post-industrial despair only cropped up when white people began to become addicts, criminals, and die in epidemic numbers.

Addiction:  From Morality Play to Metaphor of Modernity in only 30 years.  Depending on where it happens, and to whom...










21 March 2017

Be They Sinister or Sleuthy, Seniors Have a Place in Short Stories

by Barb Goffman

Looks can be deceiving. No one knows that better than people who try to slip something past you. Con artists. Murderers. And sometimes even wide-eyed children and little old ladies. When you appear nice and innocent, folks will let you get away with murder.

I've written before about using teenage girls as protagonists. They work well as evil-doers or crime-commiters because no one suspects them. They're young and peppy and can come across as sweet if they try. They're also fearless and their brains aren't fully developed, so they'll do stupid things few adults would. Today, I'm going to focus on the other end of the age spectrum: the senior set. (I know some people don't like that term, but I mean no animus, so please bear with me.)

Imagine you come home to find your house burglarized, with your files ransacked and your computer--with all your notes--stolen. In real life, you'd call the cops, never thinking you personally could find the culprit. It could be anyone. But things are different for fictional Amateur Sleuth Sally.
Sally knows she's been investigating the arson death of poor Mr. Hooper, who owned the corner store. So with the neighbors leaning on their porches or whispering in small groups on their lawns, watching the police spectacle (it's a small town so there's spectacle), Sally goes outside and studies her prime suspects in the arson murder and her own burglary: those very same neighbors.

Is the culprit Oscar, the grouchy guy in the green bathrobe across the street who puts out his trash too early in the morning? Sally heard he owed Mr. Hooper money. Or is it Maria, the skinny lady who works at the library? She lives two doors down, and Sally has heard she spends time with Mr. Hooper when Mrs. Hooper is away on business--or at least she used to until Mrs. Hooper put a stop to it. Or was it Mrs. Hooper herself, the betrayed spouse? Sally has lots of questions and suspects, but she never stops to think about kindly Katrina, the grandmother who lives next door. Surely a woman who bakes cookies and serves as a crossing guard couldn't have done in Mr. Hooper.

You all know. Of course she did. And Sally Sleuth's failure to recognize that appearances can be deceiving will almost be her undoing. (Almost. This is a cozy novel I'm outlining, so Sally must prevail in the end.)

But things don't always tie up so neatly in short stories. In short stories, the bad guy can win. Or the ending can really surprise you. Or both. And kindly Katrina could end up pulling one over on Sally Sleuth. I've made use of this aspect of short stories in several of my own, particularly my latest two.

Everyone loves
cabernet

In my newest story, "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?," seventy-year-old Myra Wilkinson is in her final week of work. She's retiring on Friday after working for forty-five years as a law firm secretary, forty of them for the same guy, Douglas. But as her final day looms, Myra isn't as excited as she anticipated because Douglas has chosen Jessica, a husband-hunting hussy, to replace her. Jessica doesn't care about doing the job right, and this is bothering Myra to no end. Then something happens, and Myra realizes that Douglas has been taking her for granted. So she comes up with a scheme involving Douglas's favorite wine to teach Douglas a lesson and reveal Jessica for the slacker she really is.

The beauty of the plan is no one will see Myra coming. On the outside she's kind and helpful. She calls people "dear." As one character says, she's "the heart of this department." Myra's nice on the inside, too, but she also has sass and a temper, which come into play as she hatches her scheme and it plays out.

Another great thing about Myra is she's known Douglas for so long that she knows his weaknesses, and she makes use of them. (This reminds me of a wonderful scene from the movie Groundhog Day. Bill Murray's character says of God, "Maybe he's not omnipotent. He's just been around so long, he knows everything.") The older a character is, the more knowledge she'll have--information she can use against others.

Towanda!
An older person like Myra also might be willing to throw caution to the wind, seeing she's made it so far already. (That reminds me of a wonderful scene from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes in which Kathy Bates's middle-aged character is cheated out of a parking spot by two twenty-something women, one of whom says, "Face it, lady, we're younger and faster." Kathy Bates goes on to repeatedly ram her car into the the other woman's car, then says, "Face it, girls. I'm older and have more insurance." Granted Kathy Bates's character wasn't a senior citizen, but she had reached the point where she wasn't going to just take things anymore.)

Anyway, so what happens to Myra and Douglas and Jessica? You'll have to read the story to find out. You can read "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?" in the new anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was
published last week by Koehler Books. It includes seventeen stories of crime and wine and is available in hardcover, trade paperback, and e-book. Most of the stories are set in Virginia (where most of the authors live). Why is a book of wine mysteries set in Virginia? Well, our great commonwealth has a thriving, but perhaps not well known, wine industry. We hope to change that.

Getting back to seniors, Myra isn't my only recent senior character. In my story "The Best-Laid Plans" Eloise Nickel is a mystery writer, a grande dame of her profession, and she's being honored for her lifetime achievement at this year's Malice International convention. (Does this convention's name sound familiar? Good.) It's too bad for Eloise that the convention's guest of honor this year is Kimberly Siger, Eloise's nemesis. Then, to make matters worse, a few weeks before the convention, Kimberly insults Eloise in Mystery Queen Magazine. Eloise isn't going to take that, so she plans to make Kimberly suffer during the convention. Because she's known Kimberly for many years, Eloise knows Kimberly's weak spots. And because she's thought of as a nice, aging lady, she figures no one will suspect her of any nefarious doings. Do her plans work out? Read "The Best-Laid Plans" to find out. This story, published in the anthology Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional,  is a finalist for this year's Agatha Award. It's available on my website: www.barbgoffman.com/The_Best_Laid_Plans.html

So, fellow mystery authors, when you're thinking about your next plot and want a bad guy or gal who can hide in plain sight, think about a senior citizen. The same goes when you're devising your sleuth. A bad guy may not spill his guts if thirty-something Sally Sleuth is nearby, but he certainly might if Grandma Greta is. He thinks she's so innocuous, he won't see her coming--until she pulls a gun on him.

Do you have a favorite character--good gal or bad--who's a senior citizen? Please share in the comments. We can never have enough good short stories and books to read.