Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts

19 May 2022

Hiding in Plain Sight & Other Crimes

by Eve Fisher

Musings about Hiding in Plain Sight:

First of all, re the story of former Corrections Officer Vicky White who ran off with the inmate Casey White from Alabama, I am amazed that they stayed uncaught that long. I mean, 6'9"?  Seriously?  They were caught, as you probably know, in Evansville, Indiana, where "they were found with $29,000 in cash and four guns, including semiautomatic weapons and an AR-15. They also had several wigs in different colors." But, no matter how many wigs they had, how did they make it 11 days without being turned in, especially staying in a motel for a week?  Outside of a basketball convention, 6'9" anywhere should have been like Herman Munster in a Mickey Rooney lookalike contest. 

Along similar lines, I want to know how Jack Reacher isn't known all over the country:

6 feet 5 inches tall, weighing 210–250 pounds and having a 50-inch chest. In Never Go Back, he is described as having "a six-pack like a cobbled city street, a chest like a suit of NFL armor, biceps like basketballs, and subcutaneous fat like a Kleenex tissue."..."He was one of the largest men she had ever seen outside the NFL. He was extremely tall, and extremely broad, and long-armed, and long-legged. The lawn chair was regular size, but it looked tiny under him. It was bent and crushed out of shape. His knuckles were nearly touching the ground. His neck was thick and his hands were the size of dinner plates."  (Wikipedia)  
So... tell me again why he has to introduce himself anywhere?  

And I've written before about James Bond announcing himself everywhere he goes.  "Bond, James Bond."  Not very secret.  

Meanwhile, it's tragic that Ms. White killed herself, but: a widow, no children, and highly respected as a CO at the jail - employee of the year four times - what did she have to go back to? Jail. Trial. Prison. Corrections officers - any law enforcement officer - often face retaliation in prison. The truth is, sometimes consequences show up that are so stark and horrific there's no way to live with them...

Speaking of Consequences...

Some news outlets are already speaking of the Buffalo, NY white supremacist terrorist as a "white teenager," and "just a boy, really." Bull hockey. Last I heard, 18 makes you an adult in this country. You can vote, marry, drive, and as he did, buy any kind of freaking rifle or "long gun" you want from a licensed gun dealer anywhere in this country at 18. 

I'd say more about this case, but I'm too sick to my stomach. 

Meanwhile, even before this one, we've had 198 mass shootings in the United States this year: 

Who's safer with this endless flood of guns, ammo, and hot rhetoric?  Personally, I think it's about damn time that Stochastic Terrorism be made a crime.  

After all, if they could convict the woman who texted her boyfriend repeatedly, encouraging him to kill himself (and he did), why can't we do something similar to people on "certain networks", etc., who actively rev up their listeners to a fury and then say things like, "I'm only asking questions." 

Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows, so is one who deceives a neighbor and says, “I'm just asking questions...”  Proverbs 26:18-19 (Paraphrased for modern usage)

No you're not. You're trying to get them stoked so that you get higher ratings. And maybe there'll be a shooting, and then the ratings will shoot up even higher. 

Which leads me to my next idea:  a Sandy Hook style class-action lawsuit against Tucker & Friends and Fox News for the whole "great replacement theory" and other racist theories that are getting innocent people killed.  

Even More Horrific:  Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

The numbers are horrific. As of March, 2022, there were "103 people missing in South Dakota, with Indigenous people making up 62% of all missing persons despite being only 8.7% of the state’s population. According to the Attorney General’s Missing Persons page, Indigenous women make up 28% of all missing persons and 63% of women currently missing in South Dakota." Also, "Native American women are murdered at a rate ten times higher than the national average." (HERE  And a few of the grisly details HERE)  

Meanwhile, the South Dakota legislature approved making an Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP), which was fantastic! 

But then AG Ravnsborg said he couldn't find "the necessary funds to establish such a position." Yes, we have a very cheap legislature - they don't give money to anything, even when it's their idea. 

At last the non-profit Native Hope said it would fund the position at $85,000 per year for three years, so there may be some hope. Now can they find the law enforcement necessary to do the actual investigating???

BTW, Native Hope's website is:  Donations are always gratefully received.

On a Lighter Note, What's in a Name?

"A man found floating on a raft in the ocean off the coast of Rhode Island in 2016 after his boat sank has been indicted on charges alleging he killed his mother at sea to inherit the family's estate, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday.  The eight-count indictment released in federal court in Burlington also says Nathan Carman shot and killed his grandfather, John Chakalos, at his home in Windsor, Connecticut, in 2013 as part of an effort to defraud insurance companies, but he was not charged with that killing. [Why, one may ask?] Carman was found in an inflatable raft eight days after he went fishing with his mother, Linda Carman, who was never found." 

Now families are tricky things, and God only knows what led Mr. Carman to do the things he did. But greed does seem to have been a factor:  he sued the insurance company for $85,000 for the loss of his 31 foot fishing boat, The Chicken Pox. (NewsTimes)  Yes, The Chicken Pox

So of course I sat around thinking of similar suitable names for a boat, and came up with:

Montezuma's Revenge
The Spanish Flu
Daddy's Hemorrhoids 
Reilly's Pyloric Valve 

And those are just the printable ones.  Feel free to add your own!

05 May 2022

Helen of Troy

My friend and fellow historian Doolin' Dalton (Brian Thornton) have at various times discussed historical questions of all kinds from all ages. And I've often pondered those Western Ur-epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, from which we get legends, myths, stereotypes, tag lines, slang, and a whole new kind of hero:  Odysseus, who wins everything by his wits, not his brawn. (QUITE a change from past heroes, from Gilgamesh to Odysseus' fellow warrior Achilles.)  

The Iliad and The Odyssey were finally written down somewhere in the 700s BC, but scholars and archaeologists have proved, from Homer's language to archaeological excavations, that it's set in Mycenean Greece (1700-1050 BC), some time between the 13th and 12th centuries BC. Long time ago, but reading it even today there's a lot that seems very… modern? normal? about a 10 years' war with lots of posturing, POWs, destruction, burnt earth, rape, death, trickery, treachery, etc. 

But what strikes me every time I read it is something that (back then) no one talked about. This was a patriarchal world with a matrilineal inheritance system. Later, as a historian, I figured out that this wasn't and isn't unusual.  From the Hebrew tribes to China to Egypt, from the Hopi to the Tuareg,  Check out Wikipedia - matrilineality has been, is, and ever shall be among certain cultures. And it makes perfect sense. While there may be some doubt in a pre-DNA world as to the father, there's almost never any doubt about who's the mother. (This is part of the reason royal houses and most aristocracy had their moms-to-be used to give birth in public. No switching babies!)

You can see it everywhere, once you look for it. Penelope, waiting for Odysseus to come home, weaving her web and unpicking it every night while hundreds of suitors are besieging her to marry her. It doesn't make sense from a modern point of view - after all, if Odysseus is dead, then there's the grown son Telemachus to take over, right? But if it's a matrilineal system, then as long as Penelope is alive, her husband, not her son, is King of Ithaca. She's quite a prize. 

It also explains why, when Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to the gods to get a fair wind back to Greece, his wife Clytemnestra decides to murder his sorry ass, because he just killed the heir to the throne, the one who would pass on the throne of Mycenae to her husband. (No, I have no idea why Clytemnestra's other daughter, Electra, couldn't replace Iphigenia in the line of succession. Myths are sloppy things. But it does explain why Orestes has nothing.)  

This also explains a lot about Helen of Sparta, a/k/a/ Helen of Troy. She was reputedly the most beautiful woman in the world from childhood. Theseus kidnapped her when she was 7 or 10, depending on who tells the story, and while he did not take her virginity, he did satisfy himself with her other ways. She was rescued by her divine half-brothers, Castor and Pollux, who returned her to Sparta. When she was old enough to marry, as many as 36 princes and warriors showed up. This made her father, Tyndareus, King of Sparta, very, very nervous - what if they wouldn't accept his choice? What if they kept fighting forever?  

Odysseus (good old wily Odysseus) cut a deal with Tyndareus - if Odysseus figured a way to make everyone agree, then Tyndareus would back Odysseus' marriage with Penelope. Agreed! So Odysseus made everyone swear that whoever Tyndareus chose, all the suitors would defend the chosen husband against anyone who quarreled with him. Or seduce or kidnap Helen. 

Obviously Odysseus could see the writing on the wall:  her life would never be tame.  And perhaps Tyndareus knew as well, and picked the relatively uncharismatic Menelaus for her husband:* someone who, when the going got tough, would fight to keep her, and later take her back.   

* It reminds me of when, in 900s AD France, the Merovingian line finally sputtered out, and the French nobles gathered around and elected Hugh Capet King of the Franks, because he was relatively weak and landless.  He surprised them by hanging in there, and siring progeny that ruled – in one branch or another – until 1848. 

And thus, the Trojan War…


We may or may not have the choice to love,
but we have no choice in being loved.
We are or we aren't, 
and there's nothing we can do about it.
(An inconvenient truth.)

Perhaps that's why so much of art and artifice
revolves around getting someone to love us.
Once more trying to fight against immovable fact.

But it's true: we cannot make someone love us.

But if they do,
it's harder than you might think to make them stop.
They say that God hasn't wearied of us yet.

that hidden shame or public outrage,
is truth's dark face of love.
It is obsession,
whether with a place or a memory or a person or an idea.

Without that, it's merely curiosity.
Scratching an itch.

Poor Helen.
So many men's obsession.
Though some of them, like Theseus, were just scratching an itch.
So young, so young - 
Is it any wonder there's no hint that Helen ever loved back?
Not even in Troy, 
where Aphrodite has to keep luring her back 
into the not quite wedded bed of Paris.

She'd been inoculated against love.

And then came all the tribute-bearers,
fiery warriors and princes.
And of them all Menelaus was chosen for her husband.
Menelaus, not the sharpest knife in the drawer,
nor the man to set the world on fire.
Although he did when Paris took her.

But when he burnt those topless towers
was he burning for a woman or a crown?
He was only king of Sparta because he married Helen.
Without her he was just another landless prince.

Oh, yes, I can easily believe
that Helen went home with Menelaus,
that paragon of boring husbandhood,
and was perfectly happy, 
living out her days in peace and quiet.
I can imagine her relief.  

Think about it.
Her whole life was spent with men 
ravening like wolves for her fair flesh.
Except for one man who was ravening for something else.
But because he did,
he was the one man who would always want her,
take her back,
forgive her,
live quietly with her,
happy to have her,
his Queen who made him King.

© Eve Fisher, 2022

My latest story, "For Blood", a sci-fi/mystery combo, is up at Black Cat Weekly #35. Available at Black Cat and  Amazon.  


21 April 2022

Twickenham Garden

The last couple of weeks were wild. Last week, I was exposed to Covid at an AVP workshop at the pen (which was a really excellent workshop), and so, out of an abundance of caution (because I'm fully vaxxed and double boosted) I isolated for 5 days except for brief forays for necessities with an N-95 mask firmly in place.  Covid test was negative, praise God. Boosters work!

Even wilder was the weather - we had 3 days of 50-60 mph wind gusts, and we all now understand why Beret in Giants in the Earth went mad from the wind. Seriously, semi-trucks were being blown over on the highway. 

And the South Dakota House Legislature voted to impeach AG Jason Ravnsborg for killing Joe Boever. This surprised a lot of us because the House Judiciary Committee voted against recommending impeachment. But then a lot of information leaked - such as the fact that the investigating officers were convinced that Ravnsborg lied, lied, and lied some more, and wrote it down, but the House Judiciary Committee refused to hear any of their evidence. (If you're surprised by this, you haven't been keeping up with my reports from South Dakota.)  It also didn't help that Ravnsborg put out the most incoherent, whiny letter you ever read defending himself (See HERE.) South Dakota can put up with a lot of misbehavior, but the key virtues up here are hard work, more hard work, and no whining. Ravnsborg's impeachment trial in the Senate will begin June 21st. 

Anyway, Allan and I began watching the Irish shows recommended by David Edgerly Gates in his The Irish & Their Discontents. The opening episode of Single-Handed had Jack Driscoll coming back to the rural Northwestern Irish community he grew up in, and finding out that nothing is as simple as he hoped it would be. The line that stuck with me was "I thought I knew the place. But it's a cesspit." 

And that is so true. Any community can seem beautiful, carefree and innocent on the surface. Look long enough and all the cockroaches come out; the mold's ankle-deep; and innocence - what happened to that? And it is, apparently, always  more shocking when it's a rural area, a small town, where everyone knows everyone and they appear - from the outside - to be all happy families together. (That's why Agatha Christie set so many of her stories in the countryside.) Our illusions die hard. 

  • Familiarity can breed contempt, but when you're stuck with the same people in a small area for life, what it really breeds is secrecy.  
  • It's pretty easy for the biggest bully and/or the richest person to take over, like the boss cow, because how are you going to stop them? Think of what's going on in Ukraine right now. At the beginning a lot of pundits said that NATO and the US could not even think about going in militarily - i.e., help to defend Ukraine - because Putin might use the nuclear option. Well, that's how bullies win and take over - they threaten to do something and everyone (see above) goes along or ignores it. 
  • There's always a group of wealthy and/or powerful (usually men) who run everything. If they like you, you get jobs and contracts and help and protection. If not... 
  • There's always a gossip, dripping with venom and spite, who's willing to let everyone know any little nasty tid-bit s/he finds out. (They're just as likely to be male as female.)
  • No one will ever talk about domestic or sexual abuse at all. "That doesn't happen here." If the victim runs away, there will be a lot of whispers. If they ever return for a visit, well, they won't be admired for their courage. That's a big can of worms, and no one wants it open.
  • For that matter, if you leave a small town to go make your fortune in the big city, at least some people will hold it against you. How dare you make us look bad? What's good enough for us should have been good enough for you.

All because humans are humans, whether rural or urban or in a monastery:

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
Gr-r-r--there go, my heart's abhorrence!
  Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
  God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?
  Oh, that rose has prior claims--
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
  Hell dry you up with its flames!
             - Robert Browning

(See the whole diabolical poem HERE)

John Donne © Wikipedia
Twickenham Garden
Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears,
Hither I come to seek the spring,
And at mine eyes, and at mine ears,
Receive such balms as else cure every thing.
But O! self-traitor, I do bring
The spider Love, which transubstantiates all,
And can convert manna to gall;
And that this place may thoroughly be thought
True paradise, I have the serpent brought.
                - John Donne

(See the entire poem - with interesting commentary - HERE)

We all carry the serpent with us, don't we?

07 April 2022

Due Diligence in South Dakota

The South Dakota State Legislature has finally wound to a close. Lot of drama. Lot of culture war bills, which, as usual, took up the first 2 months of the session, leaving the truly important stuff - like the State Budget - until the last freaking week. 

There was also a lot of feuding between our Governor and the legislators, culminating in 3 gubernatorial vetoes of bills which the legislature wanted: oversight of all the latest in Federal dollars coming to SD, a bill allowing pregnant minors to give consent for prenatal and maternity care *, and a bill that would allow marijuana misdemeanors to be automatically expunged after 5 years from someone's record.  

* MY NOTE: So much for pro-life, right? Our Governor's reason for vetoing the bill was that "Parents' constitutional rights include the right to care, custody, and control of their children. That includes the right to make healthcare decisions for their child." (HERE) And what if they make terrible ones, Governor? What if they're the worst parents in the world?

But the Legislature declined to even try to override each veto.

Instead, the House Select Committee's response was to vote against recommending the impeachment of South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for killing Joe Boever in an automobile accident. (HERE) Governor Noem has been pushing for Ravnsborg to resign or be impeached from the get-go.)

It was all classic South Dakota passive-aggressive. 

Speaking of passive-aggressive, I've mentioned before that we have and are having an influx of Blue State Refugees (BSRs) - and some Red State Refugees (apparently Missouri is getting expensive) - that has made for some interesting dynamics. For one thing, these BSRs do not practice passive-aggressive. Nor do they do due diligence, as far as I can tell.  

Officer Grant Tripp has told me some of the tales from Laskin, SD. A lot of BSRs have moved there, drawn to it for freedom, rural values, cheap prices, clean air, and the right to do whatever they want:

They see these ads for houses, you know - 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, new furnace, $75,000, and they think hey, it's the deal of the century. Which, compared to where they're coming from, it is. Only they don't bother to ask why it's got a new furnace. Why they all have new furnaces. We all know it's because it's on the flood plain, and we've had two 100 year floods in 20 years, and the third is due any time we get another 5 inches of rain in 5 hours. In other words, probably next year or so.  And so they buy it and move in, and go around moaning about the smell of mold and mildew down in the basement. Well, guess what?  You really should take a sniff of a basement before you buy it, at least in my book. 

And then there's all those cheap slab constructions that Lars Opdahl put up south of the tracks, you remember? Well, he had them as rentals, because no South Dakotan is going to buy slab construction, because you need a basement for tornadoes in the summer and insulation and storage in the winter. But these people snap them right up. No questions asked. And then they bitch and moan about freezing to death all winter. Not to mention their pipes freeze and then burst.

And that leads to the bitching and moaning about the heating bills, which are high. One guy told me, 'I pay more in utility bills here than I did in _____ !'  Well yeah, you're in a small town now, and most small towns get most of their money from electric and sewer and water bills, because there's not a large tax base.

'And they tax everything!'

Yep. South Dakota state sales and use taxes are 4.5%, and every community's tacked on a municipal tax rate, too. Some places are as much as 6.5%.  Look, we don't have an income tax in South Dakota, but you still need to get the money from somewhere to run counties, towns, cities, and the state. So we have high property taxes, sales tax on everything, and use tax on everything but concealed carry permits. It costs more to live up here than you might think. An income tax would probably be a lot cheaper.

The other complaint, of course, is that there's nothing to do in Laskin, as if it's a national tourist center or a big city:

'There's no shopping! 

'The movie theater's so small, and it shows the same damn movie all week, and no matinees!

'And the casinos - they're just dive bars with slot machines! 

'And the restaurants - there's no variety. Just fast food and a few cafes.'

What did you expect in a county of less than 10,000 people?  And it could be worse. You could move out to one of the really small towns in South Dakota, population under 500. There all you'd have is a post office, and a bar, which at least will serve chislic and burgers with the beer. You want more variety? Do what the rest of us do, go to the nearest big city once a week or so and stock up, and have a nice dinner before you drive home.  

Oh, and they're shocked there's so much crime. Yeah. Well, guess what, there's meth in Mayberry these days, along with fentanyl-laced heroin. I-90 is a major drug corridor that runs from the Pacific to the Atlantic and right through South Dakota. 

I heard about some Blue State Refugee guys who were hired as cops in Rapid City, and they were shocked, shocked, shocked! that there wasn't much in the way of cheap housing. Really? They didn't notice Ellsworth Airforce Base? And the Black Hills, Sturgis, and other major tourist centers? And then they found out about gangs. And drugs. And a high murder rate.  Back in 2019, the crime rate in Rapid City, SD was higher than in 92.2% of U.S. cities. It hasn't gotten better. And Sioux Falls' crime rate was higher than in 83.1% U.S. cities."  (HERE)

Another fun thing is their sudden concern for the environment, as in 'Isn't there anything they can do about the feed lots? That smell...'  Nope. Just thank God you don't live by a CAFO (that's Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) of hogs.  Oh, and that stinky green stuff in the lake is agricultural runoff. Nitrates and phosphates. Fertilizer. You know. Agriculture and tourism, our two biggest industries.

'Why do you live here?'

Well, most of us were born here. All our friends and family are around here. You can, or at least could, always count on your neighbors to help out in a crisis. And living in a small town has a lot of advantages:  It's quiet. (In other words, tone it down, folks.) There's a slower pace of life. (Slow down. Quit driving 50 on 20 mph roads.) And good manners. Or at least that's how it used to be...** And when you really want to get away from it all, there's lots of wide open spaces, especially West River. Nothing but grasslands as far as the eye can see. Just sit and listen to your own heart beating…

Think about it: If you want to change South Dakota to the place you left, then why did you leave? Why are you here?  

Thanks, Grant!  Say hi to Linda!

** Please stop yelling in stores and at city / county commission / school board meetings. [Example HERE]  That's not how we do things up here. At least, not until now... 

24 March 2022

Dark Tales for Children

Thanks to Joseph D'Agnese's Reading in Bars blogpost (HERE), I read Zilpha Keattey Snyder's The Egypt Game, and really enjoyed it. I think Snyder captured childhood obsession and fantasy perfectly. You do the damnedest things in childhood, from time-travel to being horses, from reading every single novel by an author and memorizing every freaking character and plot twist (Tolkein, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Andre Norton, Heinlein, T. H. White, Ray Bradbury, Carolyn Keene, Sherlock Holmes, etc.) to knowing you are going to die if you don't get to watch the latest episode of [fill in the blank here].  

And children know that adults have absolutely no understanding or comprehension of who you are, what you want, or what you're going through, and never will. Deep down, every child completely disbelieves that adults were ever children. They are an alien species, set down among us to tell us what to do and train us for some future role. This is, I think, part of the attraction we had for Stranger in a Strange Land, aside from the sex (which for the 60s was pretty damn racy). The Old Ones raising the Nymphs to become something else made perfect sense. 

But I disagree about the darkness of The Egypt Game. Yes, a child is murdered. And a second one, later on. I know, I know, if that isn't dark, what is? Well, so is child molestation, and in my childhood neighborhood we had a guy across the street who was molesting his foster kids, and our college-age next door neighbor tried to molest me when I was six. That's dark - too dark for most children’s book writers to think about touching, and probably rightly so.  

Anyway, despite the murders, there's a distance kept throughout the novel which makes sense:  children really can ignore almost everything if they're obsessed with something else. And 99% of the adults of The Egypt Game are harmless. Most of the time, the children spook themselves, which is also normal. 

MY NOTE:  In The Headless Horseman, my Laskin character, Linda Thompson, reminisces about how she talked herself into an obsession with a man – who does look pretty odd – that makes her absolutely terrified of him. Meanwhile, in case you haven't guessed, there were worse characters roaming Laskin at the time.  

Anyway, as I thought about it, I realized that children's literature has actually gotten tamer in many ways.  Try Nancy Drew - the books we were reading in the 1960s were still, mostly, the editions of earlier years. And thinking back on those books, what I remember is how in almost every story, Nancy was knocked out, kidnapped, bound, gagged, and taunted at least once, if not more than once. 

Nancy Drew in bondage
Image courtesy of The Paris Review

And sometimes it was Nancy and her chums. Repeatedly. In The Clue of the Velvet Mask, George Fayne, one of Nancy's best friends, was not just chloroformed and kidnapped, but shot up with mind-altering drugs, and - when she's finally rescued - is terrified that they are all going to be killed. Now this is important because George is, throughout the series, just as brave as Nancy, and even more of a daredevil. So for her to be frightened? So frightened that she's screaming at Nancy to give up the investigation? Scary. Also, the villain nearly smothers Nancy to death in that one. In fact, the ruthless, dangerous criminals who Nancy's up against repeatedly drug and physically assault Nancy and her friends. (Wikipedia)  Very dark.  

MY NOTE:  The Clue of the Velvet Mask was the last ghostwritten Nancy Drew by Mildred Benson, who has been credited as Nancy's original creator, and apparently the darkest one she ever wrote. If you want to see how dark it can get, you need to find the original - the 1953 edition - currently out of print.  

SECOND NOTE:  We all knew, BTW, that George was gay, even back in the 1960s, but then we were California girls, and learned stuff early. Didn't bother us a lick. When we role-played Nancy Drew novels, none of us minded being George if we couldn't be Nancy - what we hated was being assigned to play Bess Marvin, George's cousin and Nancy's other best friend, who was always depicted as plump, hungry, and scared of her own shadow.

Yes, children's literature has been tamed. Think about Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. An orphan is almost starved to death in an orphanage, escapes, and is taken in by a young gang of pickpockets and thieves under the tutelage of a career criminal. Among the companions are a young prostitute who is regularly beaten and eventually bludgeoned to death by her brutal criminal lover. Etc. How the hell did this ever get read aloud as a post-supper treat? And yet it was. 

Going back even further in time, there's Martha Sherwood's The History of the Fairchild Family, published in 1818 and remaining in print for over a hundred years, and part of every good Victorian child's library.  Fiercely Calvinist, it's all about the Fairchild parents trying against all odds to save the souls of their little unregenerate children Emily, Lucy, and Henry.  Horrific things happen - Augusta Noble, saucy, pert, and disobedient, plays with candles and burns herself to death, which immediately leads to everyone declaring the obvious truth that she is now burning in hell as well. And, when Emily, Lucy, and Henry fight amongst themselves one day, their father first whips them, then takes them out to see a gibbet, where a rotting corpse is hanging, its chains rattling in the wind, and makes them kneel in the dust and pray underneath it.  Now that's nightmares.

BTW, if you want to read The Fairchild Family in all its horrors, you can read the 1819 text HERE - especially "The Story on the Sixth Commandment."  It explains the early Victorian mindset better than any modern analysis can ever do.

And, finally, Grimm's Fairy Tales. I remember The Robber Bridegroom very well, because for some reason I was fascinated by the fact that the robbers gave the poor victim three glasses of wine:  one white, one red, and one yellow.  Anyway, the miller's daughter goes to see her betrothed in the forest, not knowing he's a robber. At the house both a bird in a cage and an old woman tells her that the people there will kill her and eat her. The old woman hides her behind a cask, and the robber & his gang arrive with a woman whom they proceed to get drunk, and then kill her and chop her up. Luckily the ring finger flies off and lands in the miller's daughter's lap, and she shows it at the pre-wedding banquet. The bad guys are executed, so all is well. Huzzah!

Maybe that's the hallmark of true children's literature - in the end all the bad people are caught, executed, die, are destroyed? And then you grow up, and you find out that the bad guys aren't always caught, executed, die, or destroyed. That's when your heart breaks, and the real nightmares begin.

"Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon."~ G.K. Chesterton, writing the original lines, in Tremendous Trifles, Book XVII: The Red Angel (1909)

10 March 2022

The Silence of the Lambs

Flock of sheep.jpg
“Evil commonly strikes us not as a problem, but as an outrage. Taken in the grip of misfortune, or appalled by the violence of malice, we cannot reason sanely about the balance of the world. Indeed, it is part of the problem of evil that its victim is rendered incapable of thought.”
— Austin Farrer*, Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited
While I have never personally seen The Silence of the Lambs (I don't watch movies in which a serial killer is the hero), I do know that the title comes from Clarice Starling's nightmares - memories of the screaming of spring lambs as they were slaughtered at a relative's farm.  At the end of the movie, Clarice is able to sleep again, because her success at saving Catherine Martin has allowed her to "sleep peacefully in the silence of the lambs."  (Thanks Wikipedia!)

We all prefer the silence of the lambs.  Quiet those nightmares.  Make those dark memories go away.  Paper over those dark thoughts.  And for God's sake, don't let anyone remind us of how bad life is for all the little lambs still being slaughtered.

It helps that little lambs often don't scream while being slaughtered.  Faced with inescapable evil - and it's surprising how much evil is inescapable in this world - the lambs are rendered incapable of thought, of speech, of reason, of anything but enduring what has to be endured right now.  Later can come a reckoning - that is, if they can ever come up with the words to explain what happened, the stomach to tell it, or the courage to pursue any sort of redress.  

And here's the thing:  when something truly terrible happens, there's almost always a moment of silence.  Because the mind just stops.  There is no reasoning, no words, just raw experience.  A very strange place to be. Most people (including myself) leap to somewhere else. I'd say 90% of the time, the first thing that rushes up is a black hole of horrordenialfearangerdisgustpanicrepeat.  The second is rage and/or violence. Anything but stay in that black hole. Anything at all.**  

NOTE:  Freezing also happens in the face of natural disasters. My husband was in Gulfport, Mississippi during Hurricane Camille, and when it hit, he stood at a plate glass window and watched the winds pick up a semi-truck and throw it directly towards where he was standing. Luckily, it didn't go through the window, just landed right outside. But the point is, he couldn't move. He was hypnotized.

NOTE:  Same thing happened with a cousin of Allan's in Ireland during the Troubles. Standing outside a building, having a cigarette, and then a bomb exploded - and the wall behind her went down. She couldn't move. Frozen.  

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog about powerlessness and protests in the aftermath of the Ferguson riots.  You can read it here:  (Absolute Powerlessness)  

I don't know a woman who hasn't been sexually harassed, discriminated against, assaulted, and/or abused, and it's not because I'm hanging out with a loose crowd.  It's just what happens.  And if you say something - well, "Jeez, can't ya take a compliment?" "What were you wearing?" "Were you drinking?" "What were you doing there?" "Why didn't you say something earlier?" "Now is not the right time to say anything." "Why can't you wait to say something until later?"  (There's never a right time to say something, is there?) 

I know a lot of people who have been harassed, discriminated against, assaulted, and more based on their gender, ethnicity, and/or race.  And those who attempt to get redress - well, "I didn't hear / see anything."  "I don't remember that happening." "Why didn't you just shut up and follow orders?" "Why didn't you say something earlier?" "Now is not the time."  "Why can't you wait to say something until later?"  (There's never a right time to say something, is there?)

I know a lot of people with PTSD, from a variety of causes, because I know a lot of veterans, victims, survivors, etc. Most of them never talk about what happened, because it's too damned hard. 

Here's the thing:  no one becomes powerless, they are made powerless, either systematically or traumatically.  It's alarmingly easy to do.  It's what every domestic abuser / child abuser / cult / dictator etc. has done throughout history to keep power and render the lambs silent.  The wealthy and the powerful count on their money, their clout, their background, their connections to get them out of anything. And the powerful always believe that the powerlessness  they have created - the lack of reaction, that stunned silence, the helpless capitulation that powerlessness can cause - will last forever.  

And this is why the powerful are always horrified when the lambs finally turn. 

I'm writing all of this for two reasons:

(1) For those of us who write mysteries, thrillers, or just about anything, to keep that in mind. The first reaction to evil is sometimes indeed sheer stunned silence. What comes next is a crap shoot. For example, look at this picture of Zelensky, meeting with a President who wanted a quid-pro-quo of lies for desperately needed - and promised - military aid weapons. 

That stunned reaction might indeed be part of how that particular lamb has changed:

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.” - Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

(2) There are apparently a lot of people in "certain circles" (looking at you, Tucker Carlson!) who deep down really, really, really wish Ukraine had just rolled over and surrendered like a good doggie. Because then they could keep their talking points beautifully intact about Putin as a strong, moral, pro-Christian global leader. 

A few notes on that subject: 
Just because Putin attends church on high holy days does not mean he's devout. That used to be the norm for everyone - we've all heard of Easter & Christmas Christians. 
And while he is anti-LGBQT, which seems to prove something to "certain people", he's also pro-choice on abortion. 
Not to mention that he has people killed (see below). 
And then there's the fact that he's declared the liberal ideology that has underpinned Western democracy for decades to be "obsolete." 
NOTE to his admirers: in Putin's Russia, there is no freedom of speech, assembly, elections, movement, protest, or anything else - even for you, if you dared to go and live there.  
And he has said, “The breakup of the Soviet Union is a national tragedy on an enormous scale; only the elites and nationalists of the republics gained.” 
(Last I heard, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, what used to be Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany, what used to be Yugoslavia, and Albania do not agree with him. And before people write, "Most of those weren't Soviet Satellites!", they were in the Warsaw Pact, each of them had Soviet installed or Soviet friendly governments, and some had Soviet tanks which rolled in to put down any attempts at independence in the 1950s and 1960s. Look it up.)  
Back to killing people:  Alexander Litvinenko, Putin critic, 2006; Anna Politkovskaya, reporter on Chechnya, 2006; Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine 2005-2010, poisoned 2004 but survived, permanently disfigured; Sergei and Yulia Skripal, father and daughter, 2018 in Salisbury, England but survived (barely); endless journalists, dead.  Etc, Etc, Etc.
But - according to many people, still, in "certain circles", the current invasion of Ukraine is the West's fault, because we haven't realized how vulnerable Putin feels. And how much we in the West had to do with his feeling vulnerable and threatened, because...  NATO. Never mind why NATO exists in the first place. Never mind Soviet interventions in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), or the hard-line Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe that lasted well into 1989 countries (or later). 

Look, the classic position of any bully or abuser is: "You made me do this!" "They were picking on me!" "Shut up or you'll get worse!" "But I want ___" 

Hey, in the immortal words of innumerable people in "certain circles":  "F*** your feelings, snowflake."

And always remember, "Total liberty for the wolves is death for the lambs." (Isaiah Berlin)  

* Austin Farrer (1904-1968) was an Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian and biblical scholar. He was friends with C. S. Lewis (Farrer gave Lewis communion on Lewis' deathbed), Tolkein and Sayers.

** Denial is also another way to deal with it, but it didn't work for Clarice. An even better example, perhaps, is Daphne du Maurier's short story No Motive:  the price always has to be paid. 

24 February 2022

Just Another Day in Paradise

First of all, RIP, P. J. O'Rourke, with whose writing I often disagreed, and almost always laughed. A couple of my favorite quotes from Parliament of Whores:

"The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it."

"A reporter needs to remember that any time a politician tells them they are 'present at the making of history', can achieve the same feeling by going around to the backside of a dog and being 'present at the making of earth.'" (That one's paraphrased – but close enough!)

It's been a hell of a month, so far, in South Dakota. Suddenly Marty Jackley and Kristi Noem are endorsing each other, for AG and Governor respectively.  Four years ago, of course, they were taking knives to each other on horseback.  

We had two successive Sioux Falls police officers arrested for possession, manufacturing and distribution of child porn on yet another app I'd never heard of, Kik Messenger, where apparently you can sign up and send anything you like without giving them name, address, email address, phone numbers, in other words, in near-total anonymity.  (Argus)  Rumor is that the feds are investigating.  The mayor and police chief are vowing to review hiring practices for the department. Good idea. And maybe check their cell phones every once in a while. After all, employers can check your social media online, right?  

I know everyone's saying Covid is over, but no one's told us up here.  We're averaging 6 people dying a day for quite a while.  Only 31% of South Dakotans have been fully vaxxed and boosted, which means - for those who don't do math – that 69% of the population have NOT been fully vaxxed and boosted. In fact, 30% haven't had even 1 dose. And people wonder why I still wear a mask when I'm shopping at the grocery store. That and the fact that there's always one person who's unmasked walking down the center of the aisle while sneezing and/or coughing up a lung without benefit of hands or inner elbows.  (Ewwww!!!) 

Meanwhile, Little Shrimp on the Prairie is back!

(For those of you who have forgotten my previous investigative journalism on this company - with the help of my dear friend, Dark Ally - see this walk down memory lane:  Little Shrimp on the Prairie)

Or maybe not.  Tru-Shrimp, the Ballaton, MN indoor shrimp farming company, which has been on hold for a number of years after getting a few million investment dollars from, among other things, Lake County, SD, announced a month ago that they would be offering an IPO – 1.5 million shares at between $9 and $11 per share. Among my inner circle, loud laughter ensued. And it's only continued now that – once again! – Tru-Shrimp is backing off, and once again, our dream of home-farmed shrimp for the masses is dying in a vat of stagnant water.  (SEE HERE.)

Meanwhile, on February 21, 2022, Jan Grape did a post about "Been arrested lately?" which was great. (HERE)

And my answer is yes, I have been arrested - way, way, way back in 1972, in L.A., specifically downtown Hollywood, in a police sweep that was meant to assuage shopkeepers who were tired of shoplifters and other kinds of trouble. 

So one night the police came through and arrested quite literally everyone in sight. EVERYONE. Including my then boyfriend. Well, that freaked me right out, but I knew better than to go running up and raise hell. So instead, I went home – which was about 3 blocks away, in the Blackburn Hotel (names changed to protect the guilty). And a cop followed me. Inside. Up the stairs. And walked right into our studio apartment and arrested me. Cuffs, a muttered Miranda, and down to the station, where I was booked and put in jail. 

That was Friday night. I spent the weekend inwardly hysterical, thinking of endless possibilities of never getting out, or getting lost in the system, while outwardly pretending to be calm, fasting, and doing yoga in the cell hallway whenever they let us out for a bit. God, I was a good actress. The result was that on Monday, I was let go along with almost everyone else against whom there were no real charges. (Just about everything that my arresting cop did that night was illegal.) No arraignment, nothing. Just led me out, gave me back my few belongings (including a crumpled pack of cigarettes), and out the door. That first cigarette was sheer heaven!  

The only problem was that I had no real idea where I was. The jail was not in downtown Hollywood, so I bugged some people, found a bus, got a ride, made it back to the general area, and got back home late that afternoon. Great reunion. All was well. 

BTW, the shopkeepers really reamed out the cops over that sweep.  They didn't want us, the residents, arrested. We were their customers. Poor as we were, we were the ones buying coffee, cigarettes, newspapers, donuts, in the morning, the Red Mountain wine at night, not to mention toiletries and generally keeping the bodegas and the coffee shops going. You know, regulars. The shopkeepers didn't want us locked up. They wanted more police presence in the stores, keeping an eye on the strangers coming and going. In the [short] remainder of my time in the area, there were no more sweeps. 

And that's been it for my official criminal record – and after 50 years, with no arraignment, I kind of think my non-existent record has been expunged.

10 February 2022

The Human Condition

I watched a segment on CBS Morning News where they talked to David Magee about his new memoir Dear William, about losing his son to an accidental drug overdose. I agree that it was tragic, that the family dynamics played a role in everything, that the combination of teen depression and availability of drugs to freaking everyone played a role - However, one thing that struck me was that everyone agreed that "this generation is different", because they're facing so many crises, and there are so many drugs, and etc.  Really?  

Welcome back to the 1960s. 

In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis increased the number of active nuclear defense drills - "drop and cover" - against a nuclear annihilation that seemed ever more imminent. 

1962 - Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, beginning the long battle to save the planet - and ourselves - from ourselves. 

1963 - John F. Kennedy's assassination.

1961-1975 - The Vietnam War: endless deaths, endless napalm; Buddhist priests setting themselves on fire; watching as prisoners were shot in the head; My Lai massacre; naked girls running screaming down the road; "We had to destroy the village in order to save it"; all broadcast nightly while we ate our dinners and pretended everything was going great. 

the 1960s - the Civil Rights movement; watching dogs, hoses, bats, set on groups of non-violent protesters, live on TV. 

1965 - the Watts Riots. Makes everything since pale in comparison. 

1966 - Richard Speck AND Charles Whitman the same damn year. The Boston Strangler throughout the 1960s. And many, many more. 

BTW, the first death of a person my own age was when a 14 year old fellow student died of an illegal Mexican abortion. (We all knew she'd been knocked up by someone in the family.)

The first non-relative's dead body I ever saw was another fellow student who died of a heroin overdose. Before fentanyl.

1968 - The assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. I was 14, and both - along with the death of the girl mentioned above - gutted me. And the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention was enough to make our Founding Fathers throw up in their graves.

We've forgotten the level of acceptable violence towards women and children in the 1960s, 1970s, even early 1980s. It was quite common to see black eyes, swollen jaws, bruised arms, etc. in the grocery store. Everyone ignored it. Children were whipped to bruises and cuts - just discipline, that's all. 

Speaking of what you could do to women and children, as I've said before, in 1961 my neighbors' college-aged son tried to molest me when I was six years old. No repercussions, other than my father built a fence between our houses and they never spoke to the neighbors again. God only knows what that frat boy got up to in later life. 

And catty-corner across the street was a family which took in foster kids. All of us kids knew that the dad was molesting the girls, but we also knew that if we said anything, we were going to be in trouble, because we weren't supposed to even know such things could happen. 

Also across the street were Annie, Mabel, and Frank, two silent movie actresses and their live-in boyfriend (not sure if he was he or she) who were doing just fine, thanks to royalties, cigarettes, and wine. Perhaps the most normal people in the neighborhood. 

Oh, and there was the overwhelming legal use of liquor in public. Public drunkenness was taken for granted. Take a look at the characters in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and in The Best Years of Our Lives.  ("the sixth martini" in The Thin Man...)  Suburban housewives like my mother drank because they were bored, lonely, not allowed to get a job or a degree, and perhaps came from a long line of violent alcoholics, and there was nothing else to do. Drunk driving was no big deal - depending on who you were, the most that would happen is you'd get stopped and they'd drive you home. MADD wasn't even founded until 1980. 

And you combine that alcohol with prescription drugs - well, we may not have had oxy, but there was Darvon, Valium, Seconal and Miltown for the anxious, amphetamines (Benzedrine, Dexadrine, etc.) for the tired housewife and long-haul trucker. All the over the counter diet meds were straight up dexy. There were a lot of accidental overdoses then, too, including Judy Garland's.  And a few deliberate ones.  And all the kids knew where the liquor and the drugs were, and helped themselves... 

Different? I don't think so. 

"Our ignorance of history makes us malign our own times:  People have always been like this." - Gustave Flaubert


Meanwhile, Florida man is back!  


38-year old Bradford Weitzel, of Port St. Lucie, told Martin County Sheriff’s Detectives that he couldn’t find his car after leaving a Martin County bar early this morning, so he stole one in a good faith effort to locate his own. He said he somehow ended up on the train tracks along Indian River Drive. That’s when Weitzel claims the vehicle he stole suddenly stopped dead on the tracks as a train was coming. So he said he got out and ran, leaving the car on the tracks. Within seconds, the train hit the car, catapulting it into a nearby home where the homeowners were sound asleep. Fortunately, they were not physically injured, although the explosive sound of a driverless car smashing into the side of their home was clearly jolting. Meanwhile, Weitzel continued on to a nearby fruit stand, where he vandalized the business then tried to steal a forklift. In the end, Weitzel said he thought it was best to flag down the responding deputies to let them know he was still looking for his car.  Bradford Weitzel was arrested and charged with Grand Theft, and Criminal Mischief. Additional charges are expected.  We told you a title was not possible."  



BTW, Our South Dakota legislature passed, and our Governor Noem signed, a bill that bans transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams. (Link)  Meanwhile, the best transgender athlete in the State is a transgender boy who plays football on the boys' team and is really good. 

In February, after an hour of testimony during which lawmakers and parents aired their fears of letting trans students play sports on teams that conform with their identities, a few opponents of the bill were allowed to speak. In his confident voice, Kris beamed in over Zoom: “One of the many things I've learned in my life is that people do not say anything until you do.”

He detailed his experience, having had to switch schools to play football. He said no kid should fear playing sports because of their gender identity, their race, or anything else. “No child should ever have to go through that kind of hurt—being shunned because you did not fit the standards of their expectations…. All I want to do is be a kid and play what I love, which is football and sports in general.” (LINK)

So far, he's not included in the law, but... give it time. He's got a hard row to hoe, damn them. 

More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, but hey, at least we're not stealing forklifts to find our missing car. Yet.

27 January 2022

Same Old Rodeo

It's a bleak cold January day, up here in South Dakota. The legislature has been called into session, and the usual barrage of anti-transgender, anti-abortion, anti-CRT, anti-academic freedom, and anti-[insert title here] bills are flying around the Capitol like the snowflakes they are. 

The impeachment hearings for AG Ravnsborg are on-going.

Governor Noem took time out of her busy schedule to go to a gun show in Las Vegas.

Somehow I believe that the firearms and ammunition business would continue to thrive out here, even if she hadn't attended. But she got on TV!

The Summit Arena in Rapid City, SD is going to host the Black Hills Stock Show from January 28-February 5th. This event generally hosts 200,000-300,000 attendees, and so the announcement was made: "As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, there are no health requirements or mandates in place for the event. The Monument officials encourage everyone to stay home if they are sick and be respectful of others." (KELO)  Which makes perfect sense when you realize that right now 1 out of every 25 South Dakotans has an active case of Covid-19. Come for the fun, stay for the ventilator…

So, how to chase the blues away in dark January? Watch TV!

My latest recommendation is Mr. & Mrs. Murder, an Aussie comedy-mystery on Netflix. "Nicola and Charlie Buchanan run an industrial cleaning business specialising in crime scenes". They're also funny, quirky, and it's always sunny and bright. Only one season, but 13 episodes, so enjoy!

Available now on Prime: the Death in Paradise Christmas Special.  

On my soon to be watched list are a couple of police procedurals: Bergerac (Britbox), set on the Isle of Jersey, and Candace Renoir set in France.

And I've just heard that the 4th Season of The Good Karma Hospital has dropped in Britain, which means it will be coming soon to Acorn, which I watch via Prime. TGKH stars Amanda Redman, which makes it a must-see in my book anyway.

Not so cheerful, but fantastically well done is the 1987 production of Carr's A Month in the Country (set in post-WW1 Britain) starring unbelievably young future stars Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh in their first screen roles, & Natasha Richardson in her second. The uncovering of the medieval mural is an experience in itself, along with the eventual discovery of who / what / why...  

Another wonderful walk down nostalgia lane is Cider With Rosie - there's one version, with Timothy Spall (2015), available for free on Amazon, and another (1998), with Laurie Lee (the author) narrating it available on Tubi.  On a dark January day, either is worth it for the wildflowers alone...

And let's not forget Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot:  Evil Under the Sun (1982) where he's joined by Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, James Mason, Jane Birkin, Roddy MacDowell and/or Death on the Nile where he's joined by Bette Davis, David Niven, Simon MacCorkindale, Jane Birkin, Olivia Hussey, Jack Warden, George Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, and Mia Farrow all over-acting their little hearts out.

Back to Netflix and comedians:  we laughed our heads off at Russell Howard's Lubricant, Jim Gaffigan's Comedy Monster, Nate Bergatze's The Greatest Average American, Gina Yashere's stand-ups, including her on the new season of The Standups, and many, many more. Plus I just keep Tom Papa's You're Doing Great on file, ready to cheer me up on cold, gray days like today.


13 January 2022

An After-Christmas Story

One of the fun things about the pre-Christmas television extravaganza is all the ads for things that you might never have thought of as good Christmas presents.  The brand-new car with giant bow, for example, would never have happened in my family, nor ever will.  

One of my favorites was the gift of Botox "for lines" - with supposedly 30-something actresses (played by, probably, teenagers) rejoicing at this touching proof of her husband's care instead of hitting him up the side of the head and checking his internet history and cookies. Every time it ran - which was often, I made up a new slogan for it:

"Botox: so that you never have to worry that your forehead moving again."

"Botox: make your face match your Chico's!"  

"Botox: because wrinkles are icky." 

"Botox: because they told me you'd love it." 

There was also the perennial ads saying, "Give the gift of lottery tickets to everyone on your list!" Because yeah, that way they get to know exactly how much money you're willing to spend on them -  three dollars.  Five, if you put it in a card. 

Speaking of gambling, the Royal River Casino, was advertising just about every hour on the hour that with every "100 points" you earned gambling, you'd get a piece of cookware!  Gamble your Christmas money away and get a free Dutch oven!  Sauce pan!  A skillet!  And then you can go home, and give your spouse that skillet as a Christmas present, which s/he may use as in the reaction to Botox for Christmas above.

BTW, this reminded me of Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. I read this when I was a teenager, and loved it. The movie, A Christmas Story, only included a minimum of the book, but I understand another one - My Summer Story - included my favorite part, which was the Great Free Dish Giveaway.  

Now when I was a kid, besides Green Stamps at the grocery store, you could get glassware and/or dishes at the gas station (B.C. and Flintstone were popular glassware, and we had some of that). You could also get dishes and/or towels in laundry detergent, but my mother never bought those, because the dish/towel usually took up most of the box. Jean Shepherd's story is a classic of the giveaway with purchase sales technique: 

"Finally the doors opened and the mob surged forward. The Box Office roared with activity as we pushed and stumbled toward the marquee. Just inside the door Mr. Doppler and two ushers stood, packing cases stacked behind them, handing out to each lady a beautiful, gleaming butter dish. 

"What a start! Doppler, the master showman, realized that a smash opening was imperative for the success of any Big Time act. He could have opened with a prosaic cup or saucer, but his selection of a butter dish as an opener was little short of total inspiration. Handing a butter dish to housewives who came, almost to a woman, from Oleomargarine families was masterful. In fact, few people in the crowd had ever even seen a butter dish before and some had to be told how to use it. My mother, a reader of Good Housekeeping, recognized the rare object for what it was, a symbol of Gentility, Good Taste, and the Expansive Life. She was delighted... 

"Mr. Doppler beamed, his black suit crinkling as he clanked out butter dish after butter dish, distributing largess to the multitude. “Next week there’ll be a different piece, lady,” he said over and over. “Maybe a bun warmer, who knows?” Thus he insidiously planted the seed in the mind of each butter-dish clutcher that next week could be even more Exotic. The hackles of desire rose even higher as they filed into the darkened auditorium. “What is a bun warmer?” “You warm buns in it, you idiot!” Snatches of complex Table Etiquette debates drifted back and forth as the mob went up the aisle, butter dishes clanking. 

"...The incredible news of Mr. Doppler’s largess spread through the neighborhood almost instantly. Over back fences, through tangled jungles of clotheslines, up alleys, into basements, up front porches, into candy stores and meat markets, the winged word spread...  The following Friday the Orpheum drew crowds from a three-county area, a jostling throng that stood in long expectant lines to see Blondie Takes a Trip starring Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake and to receive as compensation for that trial by fire a Pearleen-finish Bun Warmer. Mr. Doppler did not fail his public. Bun Warmers flooded Lake County in a massive deluxe Hollywood Finish tide... 

"The third week saw the first cup and saucer combination, a two-piece bonus. The fourth week a petite, delicately modeled egg cup, the first ever seen in the Midwestern states. Week by week the crowds grew larger. The tension mounted as piece after piece was added to family collections. Speculation was rife as to what the next week would bring. Doppler usually just hinted as he and his aides passed out celery dishes and consommé bowls. “Maybe next week an Olive Urn, with pick.” ...

"I remember particularly the night we got The Big Platter, as it became known in our family over the years. The Big Platter—a proper name, like The House On The Hill, The Basement, The Garage. The Big Platter was important. There was only one Big Platter in every complete set of dinnerware, the crowning jewel in Doppler’s diadem...  

"Few of us at the time realized in the exultation of the moment that the end of the party was already in sight. Without warning one night the patrons were handed a finely sculptured grape-encrusted Gravy Boat. This windfall was greeted with hosannas in our innocence. The following week a strangely furtive Doppler dealt out to each female patron another Gravy Boat, all the while mumbling something over and over about: “The shipment was wrong this week. You can exchange this Gravy Boat for a dinner plate next week.”... And the next week, and the next weeks until... 

Well, read the rest  HERE. The chapter "Free! Free!" begins on page 121. 

And all I can say is that I hope that, at the Royal River Casino, a few skillets were hurled.

30 December 2021

The Problem of Time

It's December 30.  2021 is almost over. If you expect an elegy - well, I'm not sure how this is going to turn out. It might get bumpy.  For one thing, 2021 whipped by like a cobra in the jaws of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which raises the question, shouldn't everyone have a pet mongoose, even if imaginary?  But let's move on.

The good stuff is that I've been writing and working at the penitentiary and writing some more - and all have been going very well.  Murderous Ink Press and I have grown very close, also the Bould Awards, and Michael Bracken has accepted 3 of my stories for 3 different gigs.  I sold my 31st piece to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine!  Life is sweet.  And other stories are out searching diligently for a home...
The bad stuff is that Covid is still with us and in South Dakota it apparently isn't going anywhere.  We've all lost somebody we loved, and more whom we liked, and many, many more we simply knew,  talked to, waved at, and all will be missed...  

Time slips and turns and knots you, 
time slips and goes and leaves you 
living in a haunted world, 
full of ghosts that linger inside your lids 
when you close your eyes.
— Eve Fisher, last stanza of "The Terror of Time"

Time is a tricky subject. Back in 1999 a man named Julian Barbour wrote The End of Time "advancing timeless physics: the controversial view that time, as we perceive it, does not exist as anything other than an illusion, and that a number of problems in physical theory arise from assuming that it does exist. He argues that we have no evidence of the past other than our memory of it, and no evidence of the future other than our belief in it."  (Wikipedia)  

Well, I read it, and felt the way I feel about a lot of philosophical approaches to whether or not or how or why anything is real, from time to free will. It can all sound pretty logical and/or convincing, but then there's the simple fact that, for example, I'll bet that Mr. Barbour still asks when dinner's ready, or "Do I have time for a quick shave?" Just as people who say there is no free will or that it's all Fate will still ask you to pass the salt.

So no, I don't buy into "time is an illusion" any more than that this whole thing may be an Alice in Wonderland dream (which I find much more plausible), simply because there's a whole lot of things that simply can't be done, but have been done, are being done, and will be done, here and hereafter, that have a beginning, middle, and an end:

Pregnancy and childbirth.
Natural disasters.
Taking a walk.
Learning a language.
Learning anything.
Teaching anything.

Yes, there may be spooky action at a distance between particles, twins, lovers, etc. but something's moving, something's changing, something's interacting.  Maybe it is all in our minds - but what's wrong with that? The rules still hold. It's only in dreams that they don't. 

"It's astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely
(Not for very much longer)
I've got to keep control" 
— Richard O'Brien, "Time Warp", Rocky Horror Picture Show

And time always fleets forward. No wonder time travel has always been popular in fiction, from H. G. Wells on. Most of writers adhere to the general theory that if you can go back in time, you either wouldn't be able to alter the past or if you do, you'll completely disrupt the present you came from (see Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder).  Some writers have used time like a thread to knot in on itself like Robert Heinlein's By His Bootstraps, which seems weird until you read his All You Zombies, which gives the knots an extra twist.  And I simply do not have the time to analyze all the timeless time shenanigans of Kurt Vonnegut, except to say that I can hardly wait to see Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time.

COMPLETE SIDETRACK:  There's also some pretty bad time-travel writing, and my secret cringeworthy favorite is Michael Crichton's Timeline.  Let's face facts, it's basically, a male Disneyworld Joust fantasy, where all the male time travelers are in awe of how brimful of zest and zowie and kabang the Middle Ages are. At last, life lived to the full! It helps, of course, that they didn't arrive in a plague year, they didn't have to experience medieval dentistry or medieval childbirth, and they keep escaping everyone who wants to kill them by (mostly) running like hell. And they can all eat, drink, & use up precious resources - not to mention kill people who were real in the past - without changing the quantum future they came from. Which is impossible, because it's like a maximum of 20 generations and you'll find a common ancestor with every other individual alive on the planet - so sooner or later one of them had to have wiped out their great^20 grandmother and they'd go poof! But no one goes poof. Whenever I want a really good laughing rant against bad time writing, I read Timeline.

Yes, I know, some of the same arguments could be made about Claire Randall in the Outlander series, but they don't bother me because they're romantic fantasies and Gabaldon never pretends any of it's serious science. Crichton always did.  

But back to the problem of time:  Personally, I think we're never comfortable with time because is it's alien to us. Time is always too fast or too slow.  The nostalgia of the endless dreamy Saturday afternoons of childhood is counterpoised with the endless horrific waiting for medical test results. The measure of time is a steady beat, but our impressions of it are infinitely elastic. The time from Christmas to Christmas for children and for adults are entirely different. And then there's boredom:

"The English are not a very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity." — George Bernard Shaw

“Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” ― Susan Ertz

We never get used to time. We are not fish in water, or birds in air, or even humans in air. All our lives, we struggle with time, fight it, lose it, find it, watch it, use it, beat it, waste it, fear it, hate it, try to conquer it, and eventually lose it. Time, that continuum in which we live and move and have our being, is not our natural habitat. Alien to our dying day. It's a container, a prison, a fiendishly complex videogame, etc., that I believe is specific to this space/time continuum we live in for right now

What comes next - well, to each their own spin. Maybe we're all right.


"May we always be grateful for the past, find joy in the present, and remain excited for the future." 
— Anonymous

Goodbye, December!

16 December 2021

My Brain on Old Movies

Notes from my brain as I rewatched Otto Preminger's Laura:

My God, look how young Vincent Price was in 1944. This was nine years before he began his career in horror movies. Otherwise he'd never have gotten the 4 year gig on radio as The Saint.  But I have to say when I was young I read my way through a stack of Charteris' The Saint novels, and Price's was certainly not the voice I ever imagined for that British swash-buckler.  (You can listen to the episodes  HERE.)  Meanwhile, Price's Shelby is tall and soft and definitely a gigolo, which makes the idea that Gene Tierney's [breathtakingly beautiful] Laura would fall for him a real problem. Judith Anderson's Ann Treadwell (Laura's aunt) is more understandable, although I think they should have had Agnes Moorehead reprise her role as Emily Hawkins in Since You Went Away. She would have eaten Shelby alive, purring the whole time.

Musing: Agnes Moorehead is the main reason to watch Since You Went Away, because I find the movie pretty saccharine, not to mention trite, melodramatic, and I get tired of watching Claudette Colbert only being filmed from one angle. Oh, and I keep waiting for Jane to run into one of the posts as she runs after Bill's departing train. They spoofed that in some movie, but I can't remember which one.

BTW, Dana Andrews (Detective McPherson) and Gene Tierney had real chemistry.  I looked it up, and they ended up doing 5 movies together - Tobacco Road, Belle Starr, Laura, The Iron Curtain, and Where The Sidewalk Ends. BTW, my favorite Dana Andrews movie is The Best Years of Our Lives.

And my favorite comment about him comes from Radio Days, where all the kids are down at the Rockaway shore and talking about their favorite actresses:

Young Joe's Friend #1: My favorite is Rita Hayworth.

Young Joe's Friend #2: I like Betty Grable.

Young Joe's Friend #3: I like Dana Andrews.

Young Joe's Friend #2: Are you kidding? Dana Andrews is a man.

Young Joe's Friend #3: She is? (IMDB)

And I'm always happy to see Clifton Webb. 

He alternated between character actor and leads, nominated 3 times for an Academy Award - Laura, Sitting Pretty, and The Razor's Edge - and deservedly won it for The Razor's Edge (and if you've never seen it, watch it - Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney are the leads.)  He also played Frank Galbraith in Cheaper by the Dozen (with Myrna Loy as his wife), and his character, Mr. Belvedere (in Sitting Pretty and Mr. Belvedere Goes to College) was the model for Mr. Peabody in my favorite cartoon series of all time, Rocky & Bullwinkle.  

Excuse me while I wallow in nostalgia:  Mr. Peabody, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, Boris Badenov, Natasha & Fearless Leader, Fractured Fairytales, Aesop & Son, Bullwinkle's Corner & Mr. Know-It-All...  

And Myrna Loy was also Frederic March's loyal wife in The Best Years of Our Lives, which brings us back to Dana Andrews, and back to Gene Tierney:

Very beautiful, with great range. Watch Laura, and then watch her Oscar nominated performance in Leave Her to Heaven and The Razor's Edge. Great success, interrupted more than once by tragedy.  Manic-depressive before anyone knew what that really was, and the shock treatments made her lose much of her memory.  And of course, hers was the source of the tragedy in Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd:  her daughter, Daria, was born deaf and mentally disabled, because a fan broke a rubella quarantine and infected the pregnant Tierney while she volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen.



Otto Preminger was a great director. Here are the ones (besides Laura) that I remember watching a long, long time ago:

The Man With the Golden Arm 
Bonjour Tristesse
Anatomy of a Murder
Advise and Consent
Bunny Lake is Missing (this one will twist your head off)
Hurry Sundown (Michael Caine in one of his many appalling American accents, but otherwise, like all of these, very educational for a young girl/teen in the 1960s…)

Oh, and can anyone point me to where I can find a maid like Bessie Clary, Fidelia (Since You Went Away), Matilda (The Bishop's Wife), etc., etc., etc.?  

Oh, damn - the movie's over. What's up next?  
The Bishop's Wife, or The Man Who Came to Dinner?  
Monty Woolley's in both, 
        and Bette Davis is in The Man Who Came to Dinner
               and she starred with Humphrey Bogart in Dark Victory
                       and Bogart starred with Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray in We're No Angels...