03 June 2021

What to Do With the Body


One of the major tactical problems with murder is what to do with the body. Any idiot can kill someone (or so it seems), but successfully corpse disposal is rare. Very few murderers have incinerators on hand, or woodchippers (not to mention the stomach for it), or work for a funeral home, meat packing plant, or meat pie production line. Sweeney Todd is famous because he was rare – and even he got caught. (See? Now you can sleep better at night.)

Of course, the main thing that has almost always been done is to dump it. Whether in deep water, with weights (BTW swimming pools are a poor choice: stick with oceans), or in a remote wooded location, or in a ditch, or sometimes at someone else's door, dumping the body followed by running like hell is a time-honored tradition. This is why people keep stumbling over bodies when they go hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing, or walking down dark alleys. And then the police show up, and sometimes the FBI, and, very often, they can track the murderer down.

Burial is also popular. However, a word of advice: don't do it on your own property. And when the police show up asking to search the place, don't tell them "Sure, search away. Just not over there." (Yes, that happened, I believe in the Daybell case.) Another word of advice: dig deep. And then deeper. And then deeper still. And, after filling the grave, plant something quick and spreading. Agatha Christie (in Nemesis) used Polygonum Baldshuanicum, a/k/a MileAMinute. Kudzu would be perfect.

Another very common method of disposal is putting the corpse in the freezer. There was the woman in Japan who kept her mother's body in a freezer for 10 years, because that way she got to stay in the apartment on her mother's senior citizen rent. A man died, and as people were disposing of his estate, they opened his freezer, and found his mother's body in it. Back in April, 2021, a freezer filled with human body parts was found dumped and half-buried in the Alaska woods (interesting combination). (The article goes on to list a number of freezer disposal incidents HERE) And if you google "corpse in freezer", you get an endless list of hits.

My Note: The problem, of course, with the corpse in the freezer is then, what do you do with the freezer? As that google search will tell you, this has stymied a lot of people.

Now you may be asking, what has gotten Eve so interested in body disposal? No, I have not, nor am I planning to kill anybody. No, no, I do but jest, poison in jest; no offence i' the world.

But what sparked my interest was a highly unusual place for a body: Inside a papier-mâché dinosaur statue. Specifically, a stegosaurus, although I'd have been just as intrigued if it had been any kind of dinosaur sculpture.

stegosaurus, Barcelona

It happened in Barcelona, Spain. Apparently a father and son, walking by the sculpture, noticed the smell (this is almost always a give-away). Now, here's the tricky bit:

While police have not confirmed how he got inside, local media reports that the man dropped his phone inside the statue and was trying to retrieve it, BBC News reports. He fell inside, hanging upside down, and was able to call for help. However, police have not confirmed how the man got inside the dinosaur. Police are awaiting the results of the autopsy to find out the cause of death. (CBS News)

Here are the obvious questions:
  • How did he drop the phone?
  • How addicted was this man to his phone?
  • Why did he go diving in after it?
  • How do you fall head down into a dinosaur leg?
  • Okay, if he called for help, who heard him?
  • Or did he fall head down into the dinosaur leg, and then called for help, and then dropped his phone?
  • And whoever he called - in person or by phone - why didn't they save him?
  • Or at least call the police?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Meanwhile, please, don't try any of this at home.

02 June 2021

A Legend on Klickitat Street


It started in Yakima in the 1940s.  A small boy complained to a librarian that there weren't any books about kids like him.  And, of course, he was right.  Most children's books were European fairy tales or stories of upper class English children.

So the librarian decided to write a story about a boy growing up in her hometown of Portland, Oregon.

By the time that librarian, Beverly Cleary, died in March at the age of 104 her books had sold 90 million copies.  Portland has honored her by naming a school and a library children's room after her, and by placing statues of some of her characters in a park near where they (supposedly) lived.


Not bad, huh?

Her first book was Henry Huggins, about a little boy who lived on Klickitat Street.  But she truly found her muse when she started writing about Ramona Quimby, the younger sister of Henry's friend Beezus (Ramona's pronunciation of Beatrice.)

It's hard to explain what makes Ramona so special because she was, well, so ordinary.  No super-powers, no daring adventures.  Just a bright kid trying to cope with everyday dilemmas and injustices.  Did her teacher think she was a nuisance?  Did another kid get credit for for her work?  And (more seriously) will her father find a new job?  Read Ramona the Pest and see how a master can turn the minutiae of a kid's life into literature. 


Cleary won the Newberry Award for Dear Mr. Henshaw, which I highly recommend.  If you wanted to get all high-brow you could say it's a book about writing therapy.  It was inspired by two kids who each  asked Cleary to create a novel about divorce.  In the book sixth-grader Leigh Botts writes a letter to his favorite author full of very standard kid-to-writer questions and Mr. Henshaw responds with a snarky list of questions of his own.  That leads Leigh to begin a diary and he uses it as a way of coping with his family trauma while, at the same time, learning to write.  

Moira MacDonald, who writes for the Seattle Times, decided to read (or re-read) Cleary's books after her death and came up with an interesting insight.  Cleary's young adult novels, she said, seem hopelessly old-fashioned and dated, but her children's books are fresh as springtime.  


Which may mean that there's something universal about being a kid (in spite of what that blessed little boy in Yakima said).     

And that reminds me.  I have been reading the Mystery Writers of America's excellent new manual How To Write A Mystery (full disclosure: I have one page in it), and Chris Grabenstein has an essay about writing for children.  He says: "[D]on't put a chalkboard in your classroom scene.  Nobody uses chalkboards anymore.  They are dusty relics.  Do try to remember how it felt to be in front of a class, unable to solve a math problem because, oops, you didn't do your homework.  The feeling is the same."

Universal.



01 June 2021

Ever been to a Jewish wedding? Here's your chance!


Barb Goffman

I've heard fiction readers say many times over the years that they love learning new things. They don't want lessons like in school, but getting an inside look at a profession or learning what it's like to live in a different part of the world, these are experiences readers seek out.

I had this idea in mind when I was planning to write my newest short story, "A Tale of Two Sisters." It's published in Murder on the Beach, an anthology with eight short stories, most of them novelette length (as mine is), which was published last week. All the stories are set, as you can imagine, on a beach. All different ones. The stories take readers to the shores of Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mexico, California, and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin story is mine, set at a beach resort on Lake Michigan.

Because my story takes place during a wedding, I wouldn't have the opportunity to take readers on a tour of the Wisconsin town. And because my story is written from the perspective of the maid of honor, I couldn't give an inside look at a wedding-related profession, such as a wedding planner or a caterer or a photographer. What kind of inside experience could I give people that they might not know much about?

What if, I thought, I set the story during a Jewish wedding? That's not that exotic to me, since I'm Jewish. My family and a lot of my friends would probably feel the same way. But a lot of people have probably never been to a Jewish wedding. The customs and traditions would be interesting. Readers could experience going to a Jewish wedding without having to get dressed up or buy a gift. And thanks to the power of exposition, it would be like having a Jewish friend sitting with them throughout the event, providing short explanations of the things going on. Jewish readers would probably enjoy the story too, I figured, because they may never have read a story that showcases these traditions. 

Once I decided to write the story, I realized I've only been to three Jewish weddings in the past decade, and I wished I'd taken notes. My memory isn't what it used to be. Thankfully, I have several friends who offered their recollections, and I used some of their last names in the story as a thank you. 

So, if you've ever wondered what the hora is, I've got you covered. The ketubah, that's in there. Ever wondered why you'll see some brides--and sometimes some brides and grooms–circling each other? You'll want to read my story because all will be revealed. 

Lest you think the story is all about culture and tradition, don't worry if that doesn't interest you very much, because while a Jewish wedding is the setting of my story, and while I hope readers will find it interesting, my main goal in writing "A Tale of Two Sisters" was to entertain the reader. More specifically, I wanted to make people laugh. The editors of the anthology said they wanted light funny crime stories, so that is what I set out to write, and I believe I succeeded. Multiple readers have told me in the past week that they found my story "hilarious." That made my heart sing. It wasn't enough to make me break into a hora (since you need multiple people for that), but I did do a Snoopy dance in my chair.

tiara
a tiara might play a role in my story

If you want to learn more about the anthology, especially the stories by my co-authors, you're in luck. We're having a launch party on Facebook on Friday, June 4th. Each of us will talk about our stories for a half hour, and there will be videos and giveaways. The fun will run from 5-9 p.m. ET. Feel free to pop in and out as time allows. I'll be speaking (typing) from 7-7:30 p.m. ET. For the full schedule, and for the event itself, please go to the Destination Murders page on Facebook by clicking here.

Murder on the Beach has stories by Ritter Ames, Karen Cantwell, Lucy Carol, Eleanor Cawood Jones, Shari Randall, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Cathy Wiley, and me. It's out in ebook form from all the usual suspects (at a discounted rate until Friday, I believe), and in another week or so the trade paperback version should be out too. I hope you'll check it out. This is one book that will make you smile while showing you that sharks aren't the only danger near the water.

31 May 2021

Verbal Issues That Go Beyond Pet Peeves


I originally thought I was going to write the usual frivolous rant.

You know the kind of thing—how people say, "just between you and I." Would they say, "just between we?" Why can't they figure this out?

Or, "Let's face it," as a preface to a generalized assumption about what people think, usually one that I don't share. I once heard a highly respected mystery writer say, "Let's face it, you can never have too many handbags." I responded tactlessly because I honestly thought she was kidding.

But mere verbal peccadillos are hardly worth talking about these days. What's really making me bite nails is the way today's extremists insist on making language, beautiful language, political, and try to impose it on us all with extreme prejudice.

My first post-motherhood job in 1977 was an editorial job at McGraw-Hill, a publisher that was proud to have created the first guide to nonsexist language for its editors' use. I felt like Wonder Woman as I changed the likes of "workmen" to "workers" and "every man" to "everyone" in my big project, an accounting textbook. It felt wonderful, and there's no question in my mind that it made a difference to women. What's happening now feels more like an attack on free speech. More than one fellow writer has said to me privately that it's not safe to say what you think. There's a fine line between changes and censorship, between the evolution of language and the imposition of a political party line that uses language to impose its views.

I'm not talking about the use of "they" and "them" as singular subject and object pronouns for a trans, non-binary, or gender fluid individual. That's the usage that's evolved, so let's accept it. The problem starts when self-appointed language police start "correcting" users of traditional pronouns, ie "he, she, him, her," in reference to individual men and women.

We hear a lot lately about the right for groups of people to call themselves what they themselves wish to be called. Most of us take this very seriously. We respect the right of former Hispanics to be called Latinx, of former African-Americans to be called people of color, or former transsexuals to be called trans people. In fact, I was corrected the other day when I referred to someone not present who'd changed their name from Someone-a to Someone-o as a trans person. Apparently, since that person might be gender fluid, gender expansive, or non-binary rather than trans (neither of us knew), I wasn't supposed to use a noun at all, but stick to a pronoun, they, in a sentence in which a noun was called for. I've been fighting for the rights of others my whole life, and I'm not afraid to stand up and say, If this be treason, I'm still gonna use a noun.

I thought an online corporate training module on workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation went too far when it counseled employees to avoid the term "pregnant women," substituting "pregnant people." I googled "pregnant men," and it seems trans men do get pregnant. It's a serious issue. A significant number become depressed or suicidal as a result. But if pregnant women become invisible—well, women have been invisible before, and it's not a good thing.

One last beef. We all have the right to be called what we want to be called. Really? All of us? Speaking of invisible, I'm not happy, as a Jewish woman (only two degrees of separation from people who died in Auschwitz), to be labeled a "privileged white." If so, why are white supremacists throwing bombs into synagogues? Evidently they're reading a different set of labels. Finally, I'm a woman with the organs and identity I was born with, and I never asked to be called a cis. I do not give my permission to be called a cis. I am woman, hear me roar.

30 May 2021

The Road to Hana


“The Road to Hana” is one of those stories that took several years from concept to to conclusion and underwent many transformations during the journey. I started out with the right murder weapon in mind and had the correct setting for the story to play out. I just needed to figure out the proper characters for protagonist, antagonist and secondary players.

The setting is an exotic location, a paradise where murder is out of place. It is also a location I am familiar with, having gone back to it many times over the decades.

If you look at the Hawaiian island of Maui as a figure 8, the airport would be located at the waist of the figure. Driving clockwise from the airport on the lower half of the 8 takes you 52 miles to the small villages of Hana on the windy side of the island. Most of this 52 miles of highway clings to volcanic rock cliffs and parallels  the coast. It has 56 bridges and 620 curves with dense jungle on both the uphill and the downhill sides of the road. Most of the bridges are one-way at a time, built of crumbling cement date stamped in the 1920s. The view is beautiful, but don't take your eyes off the road for long. This side of the island is not the side where all the nice, sandy beaches are located, nor the large, fancy resorts. It's where you go on a one-day trip to see what's left of old Hawaii or else to get away from everything.

Wkipedia map

That's setting. So, who would make a good protagonist? How about a big city homicide detective recovering from a bullet wound in the line of duty. He wants someplace warm, quiet and laid back to rest up for a few days. To that end, he rents a tourist bungalow outside Hana and settles in to see a few local sites, find a good restaurant and have a tourist drink or two.

In the beginning, he does not suspect that another visitor's death may actually be a homicide, nor that the antagonist may consider a second murder to cover up the first.

With the above information in place, the antagonist and bit players wrote themselves into the story. Now, I'm not sure what took me so long from start to finish. "The Road to Hana" appears in the AHMM May/Jun 2021 issue. That makes four stories in four straight issues. A good run, but now it will be a long dry spell before any others of mine get published.

Aerial View Hana Highway © Wikipedia

Originally, I wrote this one as a standalone, however I I usually try to keep in mind what it would take for one of my standalones to become a series. In this case, the detective could only make so many trips back to the islands before the concept gets worn out and he needs to retire and move to the islands before he can stumble over more bodies and make it seem credible. Otherwise, the Tourist Board would surly ban him from setting foot in the islands.

If you ever get the chance, I recommend taking a trip to Maui and driving over to the Hana side to enjoy the scenery, if nothing else.  We swam in the Seven Pools, hiked up through bamboo forests on the old volcano to a 100 foot water fall splashing down to a small pool and ate ripe guava off of trees along the way. Also found coconuts on some of the small beaches. Never did make it to aviator Charles Lindbergh's grave in a cemetery behind an old church. Maybe on the next trip.

29 May 2021

I Have a Few Questions


Our guest columnist today is my friend Adam Meyer, a screenwriter and fiction writer. His TV credits include several Lifetime movies and true-crime series for Investigation Discovery; he recently finished his first thriller, Missing Rachel; and he is the author of the YA novel The Last Domino. Adam's short fiction has been nominated for the Shamus Award and has appeared in Crime Travel, The Beat of Black Wings, Malice Domestic: Murder Most Theatrical, and other anthologies. He also has stories upcoming in Malice Domestic: Mystery Most Diabolical, Groovy Gumshoes, Mickey Finn 3, and more. Please join me in welcoming Adam to SleuthSayers!
— John Floyd

I Have a Few Questions

by Adam Meyer

I've often wondered: why am I usually so wiped out after a long day of writing?

I'm just typing words, after all. My father was a construction worker, who spent his days climbing skyscrapers. When he "rested his eyes" during TV show reruns at night, he'd clearly earned the rest. After a long day of work, I haven't done anything more physically taxing than dash to the kitchen for a handful of trail mix. So why am I so wiped out?

Over the years, I've come to realize that while the physical component of writing may be minimal, the mental piece of it can be intense. And what is it that's so tiring, so draining, so utterly exhausting?

Simple--it's the questions.

My daughter is eight now, but I can still remember when she was just a toddler. Back then, everything was a question: Why do we have to pay for the food before we leave the grocery store? Why are there traffic lights? Why can't I have ice cream every single day? (Come to think of it, that last one still comes up.)

As writers, we are perpetually living in this question phase of our lives. I can remember as a teenager, the very first time I started trying to draft a short story. Staring at the screen of my primitive Atari computer, I asked the question: what's the first line going to be?

After several minutes of puzzling this out, I went with the tried and true, "It was a dark and stormy night." Phew. At last, I was on my way!

Alas, more questions lay ahead, ready to ambush me. What was the story going to be about? A man and his cat, I decided. Great, now I was ready. But wait, what was I going to call this man and his cat?

It didn't take long to realize that the questions were not going to stop. In fact, they were built into the process. And experience has not made this go away. In fact, the more I've learned about writing, the more questions I seem to have.

From the very moment a new idea pops into my head, the questions begin: who is this piece going to be about? Why would the character do this or that? What is the conflict they're facing? And how am I going to resolve it?

Another question I find myself asking is how much space I'll need to tell this story. Have I come up with an idea that will sustain six or eight thousand words? In that case, it's a short story. But if the idea feels bigger and more complex, then maybe I have a novel or a screenplay. So which is it?

Over time, if the idea really starts to gather momentum, I have to consider the biggest question of all: is this something that I really want to write?

When I was younger, the answer almost always seemed to be a resounding yes. These days, it can depend on a variety of factors. What's the potential market? How long will it take me? What other deadlines do I have that I need to consider? 

If those answers satisfy me, I find myself asking one more question: have I written something like this before? I hate being bored. Then again, taking on a new challenge makes the writing more fun. But is this project too far out of my comfort zone?

Of course, I've learned that at some point I need to put the pre-writing questions aside and sit at my laptop. But that only invites a new series of questions: What's the first line going to be? That depends. Do I want to start at the beginning of the story, or somewhere in the middle?

Even if I've outlined a piece, the questions continue to come up, because what seems like a better idea always pops up. But is that idea really better? And which choice is most consistent with my characters?

As every writer knows, there's nothing better than finishing a draft. It's not just the sense of accomplishment, but also the feeling of utter relief. It's like dropping your toddler off at pre-school. For a few too-short moments, you actually get a break from the questions. But then … revision.

What is revision if not a series of questions one needs to ask about the manuscript? Yes, I've narrowed the choices considerably by this point. I've decided to focus on this character instead of that one. I've laid down the track of the story and followed it to what I hope is its natural conclusion. 

However, I still go through line by line and scene by scene and make sure that everything adds to the story. I also ask myself (again) if there is a better choice to be made. Sometimes it can be as simple as changing a word, other times it may mean adding a new character to a scene or shifting the point of view.

Of course, that leads to the final question, the one my eight-year-old is still likely to ask on long car rides: are we there yet? In other words, is this project done? At this point, I may bring in writer friends that I trust for feedback. OR I may just decide that I've had enough and move on. 

After all, I've been hard at work. And I'm tired, so very tired, of asking questions.

Adam and daughter Leah, writing away
Adam and daughter Leah, writing away

That said, I have some questions for you--what do you tend to think about most before you write or while you're writing? Which questions are the easiest and hardest for you to answer about your work?

28 May 2021

Stuff about Louisiana


On December 20, 1803, The formal transfer of the Louisiana Purchase was held in the Cabildo building in New Orleans. The oldest city in the land purchased from France was Natchitoches, Louisiana, founded in 1714.

The tallest state capitol building in the U.S. is in Baton Rouge. It stands 450 feet.

State Capitol Building, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The largest enclosed stadium in the world is the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

The Port of New Orleans has historically imported and exported much of the world's food, coffee and oil.

The term "Uncle Sam" was coined along the New Orleans wharves before Louisiana was a U.S. territory as goods labeled U.S. were said to be from "Uncle Sam."

The dice game of Craps was created in the early 1800s (some say 1805, some say 1813) by New Orleanian Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville. A simplification of the European game of Hazard, which dated back to the Crusades. Craps caught on quickly and thrived along the New Orleans riverfront and spread worldwide.

Louisiana is the No. 1 producer of crawfish, shallots and alligators in the U.S.

Do I have to tell you what this is?

Oldest rice mill in the U.S. is Konriko Co. in New Iberia.

24% of the nation's salt is produced in Louisiana.

Two American Revolution battles fought outside the original 13 colonies were fought in Louisiana in 1779. At Baton Rouge, Spanish Colonial Governor Bernardo de Galvez (Spain was allied with the Americans), captured the British fort and forced the British to surrender a second fort at modern Natchez, Mississippi. In a second battle, American and Spanish privateers captured British supply ships and two armed sloops. Galvez cleared the British from the Mississippi River and the sea lakes around New Orleans (Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne and Lake Saint Catherine). Galvez later took Pensacola from the British in 1781.

Louisiana has over 6.5 million acres of wetlands, the most in the U.S.

The staircase in GONE WITH THE WIND was copied from the antebellum plantation house Chretien Point in Sunset, Louisiana, located 14 miles north of Lafayette.

Chretien Point Plantation House, Sunset, Louisiana

Louisiana's Tabasco holds the second oldest food trademark in the U.S. Patent Office.

The largest sugar cane syrup mill is Steen's in Abbeville, Louisiana. (My grandfather Calixte De Noux worked in sugar mills up and down the Mississippi in the early 20th Century).

An early bottler of Coca-Cola (some say the first bottler) Joseph Biedenham of Monroe, Louisiana, was one of the founders of Delta Airlines, initially called Delta Air Service. Also involved in the creation of the Airline was Monroe's C. E. Woolman whose use of an airplane to crop dust for boll weevils became the first crop dusting service in the world.

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is the longest over-water bridge in the world at 23.87 miles.

Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge between Metairie and Mandeville, Louisiana

While the International Joke Telling Contest is held annually in Opelousas, Louisiana, the biggest joke in Louisiana has been its legislature since – forever.

After the U.S. military academies, Louisiana State University (LSU, aka: The Ole War Skule) contributed the most officers to the U.S. armed forces in World War II.

The Louisiana Hayride radio show helped Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash rise to stardom. It was broadcast from KWKH Radio, Shreveport, Louisiana from 1948 into 1960. I was a kid in the 50s and a teenager in the 60s. Never listened to the Hayride. I was (still am) a rock and roller, although I do like Elvis, Hank and Mr. Cash.

The oldest pharmacy in America was claimed to have been located at 514 Chartres Street in the New Orleans French Quarter. Early medicinal mixtures were known as cocktails (good for what ails ya).


New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, 514 Chartres Street

New Orleans is birthplace of Jazz, which gave way to the Blues and Rock and Roll. Some call Jazz the only true American Art form.

Information from a number of books and online source, especially The Real Cajun Deal who copied information from Cajun Works.

That's all for now, folks.

www.oneildenoux.com

27 May 2021

The Strange Death of American Diplomat Silas Deane


Silas Deane
Silas Deane

Silas Deane's career began with one of those rags-to-riches stories so much appreciated in American folklore. In fact, Deane might have made a lasting place for himself in the history texts, except that his career ended with an equally dramatic riches-to-rags story.

— James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle


You know his ambition… his desire of making a Fortune… You also know his Art and Enterprise. Such Characters are often useful, altho always to be carefully watched and contracted, specially in such a government as ours.

— John Adams writing of Silas Deane


The over-achieving son of an ambitious Connecticut blacksmith, Silas Deane was by turns a graduate of Yale, a teacher/law student, merchant, politician, and the first "minister plenipotentiary" from the rebelling British colonies of North America to the Kingdom of France. By the time he died in 1789, aged fifty-one, he had long since experienced a complete reversal of his fortunes: for the final decade of his life Deane remained a discredited pauper, hounded by scandal, plagued by declining health, and eventually forgotten by history. A puzzling turn of events for a man who racked up success after success during the early years of his life.

And yet nothing about Silas Deane is more puzzling than the manner of his death.

After graduating from Yale in 1758, Deane supported himself by teaching school while simultaneously studying law. One of his pupils from this period, a tavern-keeper's son named Edward Bancroft, figures prominently in the final years of his life, first as Deane's secretary during his negotiations with the French over the question of a possible alliance with the rebellious colonies against the British, and later as his benefactor: one of the few people who would advance the penniless Deane money. 

Bancroft was Deane's pupil for only a brief amount of time (he ran away to sea), but the two remained friends, and when Deane needed a private secretary to assist in negotiations with the French, he contacted Bancroft, now a physician and scientist of some note, then living in London, and invited him to come work for the American delegation which by then consisted of three men: Deane, Benjamin Franklin, and the dour William Lee.

But more on Bancroft and the American diplomatic mission to France in a bit.

After being admitted to the bar in 1761, Deane briefly practiced law in Hartford, Connecticut, before eventually moving to the town of Wethersfield, where he married Mehitable Webb, the wealthy widow of a merchant, took over the family business, and built a big new house next door to the one where his wife and her children had lived with her first husband. His wife gave him a son, Jesse, in 1764, and died herself not long afterward, in 1767.

On the left is Deane House, the house Silas Deane had built for his new family. On the right is Webb House, the one his widow had lived in with her children during her marriage to her first husband.

Deane remarried, this time to the wealthy and politically-connected granddaughter of a former governor of Connecticut, and decided to go into politics. When the first Continental Congress was convened, Deane found himself a member of the delegation appointed by the Connecticut legislature to attend. 

However, Deane was not without his enemies, especially those who envied him his wealth and the swift rise in his political fortunes, and he was not selected to return to Congress the following year. Instead, members of Congress approached Deane about acting as minister to France, and securing badly needed military supplies for the Revolutionary cause.

Deane agreed, departed immediately for Paris, and began throwing quite a bit of his own money around trying to raise more money, and secure a treaty of alliance with France. By the time he called on Bancroft to join him from London, Deane had spent a considerable sum of his own private fortune on this mission for which he drew no salary. 

And at this point things began to go south.

Franklin shortly after arriving in France in 1777
While Benjamin Franklin remained a friend to Deane for years, Arthur Lee, the other member of the American delegation in France, seemed far too disagreeable to have much in the way of friends. A member of the wealthy and powerful Lee family, one of his elder brothers—Richard Henry Lee—later served as president of the Continental Congress and senator from Virginia, another brother, Francis Lightfoot Lee, was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Along with being accomplished, the Lee brothers had in common the fact that neither of them much cared for their irascible, ill-tempered younger brother Arthur.

Not surprisingly, Arthur Lee took a distinct dislike to ever-on-the-make Deane, who, in addition to working on an alliance with the French, was also attempting to line up investors in a possible canal linking Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence River, and a scheme to secure steam engines of the type he had seen being used in England a use them in American grist mills.

To complicate matters, negotiations with the French slowed down, likely due in no small part to the fact that Bancroft, whom Deane trusted implicitly, was in fact a British spy. Every Sunday for well over a year Bancroft would drop a parcel containing his weekly reports of the progress of Franco-American relations into a hollow tree in the Tuileries Gardens, whence it was retrieved by another British agent and posted to London.

The Disagreeable Arthur Lee
It wasn't long before Arthur Lee denounced Deane to Congress, claiming he had used his position in Paristo enrich himself to the tune of £50,000. This charge resulted in a heated debate, which in turn resulted in Deane being recalled from France.

When Deane returned to America he had not been apprised of the nature of the recall. He had come back from France on a French warship, accompanied by the first French ambassador to the United States—treaty secured. As a result he had left his account books in Paris, and was left to defend himself without the documentation of his considerable expenses.

Things went downhill from there. After a long, public and ugly back-and-forth, both in congressional session and in the press, Congress rebuffed Deane's requests for reimbursement, and he returned to France a much poorer man than he had been, thoroughly embittered by the experience. 

Shortly before Cornwallis' hugely consequential surrender  to Washington's Continental/French forces at Yorktown in 1781, letters written by Deane to friends back in America—in which he denounced the Congress and suggested the best course of action for Americans might be to patch things up with Britain—fell into the hands of Sir Henry Clinton, the commander of British forces in New York City. Within days they had been published by a Tory newspaper in that city.

Now unwelcome in America, and with France getting too hot for him, Deane moved to Ghent, in Belgium and spent his time drinking and importuning old friends and acquaintances for money. This continued until 1789, when Deane decided enough time had passed that he might be able to restore both his reputation and his fortune at home.

He went to London, where he visited Bancroft (who continued to supply him with money) and the American painter John Trumbull. From there Deane booked passage to America on the Boston Packet in September. The ship departed London, but soon ran into fierce winds and laid to in order to make necessary repairs.

During a stroll around the deck with the ship's captain, Deane suddenly became violently ill. The captain put him to bed, where he soon died.

As recently as 1787 Deane had been bedridden by a protracted bout of ill health, so not much was made of his death by the British authorities who investigated it. He was buried in Kent, and for them that was the end of the matter.

In American circles the rumor ran riot that Deane might have been a suicide, what with his poor fortunes and shattered reputation. Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine both referenced the event and the possibility of suicide in their correspondence.

Deane's fortunes were eventually posthumously restored. in 1841 Congress paid $37,000 to Deane's granddaughter as compensation for his expenses, along with admitting that the process by which his claims had been initially denied was rushed, shoddy and unprofessional.

As for Deane's death: natural causes? Suicide? Absent an exhumation and an autopsy, who can say what really happened here.

However, in 1959 historian Julian Boyd advanced a theory that Deane was, in fact, murdered. The most likely suspect? Deane's old pupil and secretary, Edward Bancroft.

Edward Bancroft
The Duplicitous Edward Bancroft

Because when Bancroft ran away to sea, he washed up in Barbados. While there he took a position as a surgeon for one of the sugar plantations on the island.

During his sojourn there Bancroft learned quite a bit about the science surrounding textile dyes. It was how he would make his name later. The plantation owner took a liking to Bancroft and sent him all over the Caribbean as his representative. During that time Bancroft became an expert in the making of dyes, and set about perfecting the process.

He also became an expert on poisons. While in Surinam he came in contact with native peoples who tipped their arrows with all manner of nasty concoctions. And Bancroft took notes. More than that, he touched on the subject in a book he wrote about his travels in the Caribbean.

As Boyd's theory went, Deane managed to work out the fact that Bancroft was a spy. Bancroft, by now drawing a hefty pension from the British government in exchange for his efforts in its behalf during the Revolution, also hoped to be awarded a lucrative patent for his dyeing process. 

Said patent might not be forthcoming in the event of Bancroft being unmasked as a spy. And Bancroft saw Deane on his final day in London. Oh, and the initial source of all of those rumors about Deane committing suicide? You guessed it. Edward Bancroft. Apparently he spread the word far and wide.

So...natural causes? Suicide? Murder? History is mute on the subject.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

See you in two weeks!

26 May 2021

Undone



Kristen Lepionka painted on my radar with a column she wrote for CrimeReads, about women protagonists in crime fiction – more to the point, about queer women.  Woman PI’s and cops aren’t the novelty they were forty years back, when Grafton and Sara Paretsky debuted, and the hard-boiled was getting legs with Tami Hoag and Patsy Cornwell, but Lepionka had something bigger in her sights: an increasing presence of women of color, and the fact that a good number of them are no longer straight.

https://crimereads.com/a-brief-history-of-queer-women-detectives-in-crime-fiction/

It’s been a while since Joseph Hansen premiered his Dave Brandstetter books, and back then it seemed like Hansen had staked a claim on barren ground.  At least, not too many other people followed his lead.  Little by little, though, the goalposts have moved.  Something similar happened in the science fiction community.  Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree, and Anne McCaffrey blew a hole in the prevailing gender mythology, along with Chip Delany, and the whole Doc Savage/Tarzan heroic construct came tumbling down.

This, naturally, led me to start reading Kristen Lepionka’s own mysteries.  The Last Place You Look came out in 2017, What You Want to See a year later, The Stories You Tell the year after that, and Once You Go This Far in 2020.  Cozy, they ain’t.  They’re tough, and tough-minded.  Roxane Weary, a dead cop’s daughter, has a private license and a buttload of attitude.  She’s in fact something of a trainwreck.  Her issues aren’t incidental, either.  The stories are as much about how she navigates the world as they are about the cases she pursues.  The tangles are both personal and professional.  And there’s a lot of sex.

You may think you’ve visited this side of town before, but Roxane makes it unnervingly intimate.  Her anger and her self-awareness are equally claustrophobic.  It’s a burden.  But it gives her an edge.  She don’t know quit; she just keeps coming.  This isn’t your Travis McGee knight in tarnished armor convention, either.  Roxane keeps pushing because she’s basically so pissed off at her own life, and the way things shake out for people, that she won’t take no for an answer.

I’m making her sound unsympathetic, which isn’t true at all.  Her strength is her transparency, and Roxane’s voice invites confidences – even if you’re not sure exactly how confident you are in her, you’re still pulling for her.  The plots are dense, but there’s also a very specific density to Roxane’s approach to the canvas, her family, her unresolved past, the fabric of her community, hanging by a thread.  I might not be giving you the flavor.  The books have a muscular rhythm, and the asides are snappy and acerbic.  There’s an underlying tension between what Roxane hears and observes, and what’s left unspoken.  There are laugh-out-loud moments, and scary ones, too.  I simply find myself enormously charmed.  I really like this girl.

This is, I guess, the key.  That you can take a complicated person, a character that’s not generic, somebody who doesn’t always make the right choices, and who sometimes can’t even get out of her own way, and reveal her as authentic, but still make her the fulcrum of a credible mystery.  Roxane’s a good detective, and she comes by it honestly.  She seems real to me.  She’s not a collection of tics, or a literary device.  That's a departure.

25 May 2021

The Best Closet


     Earlier this month, O'Neil De Noux wrote about the death mask of Napoleon on display at the Cabildo in New Orleans. The article got me reminiscing. I've always liked museums, the ones with stuff rather than just art. The good ones tell stories. As a child, the Pettigrew Museum in Sioux Fallas was a might bike ride from my house. The old Victorian house held a fascination for me. It was a great old closet, full of Native American arrowheads, geodes and other rocks, and the implements with which the settlers scratched out a living on the Great Plains. 

Jerry, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, 

via Wikimedia Commons

    The great museums are must-see tourist stops. They can also be overwhelming. I've taken power naps on the lawns of some of the world's great exhibit halls after plodding through floors of priceless artifacts. Today I shall praise the small museum. They tell a specific story. These museums help people to find the treasure in their own backyard. They are often staffed by people who care deeply about their niche subject. A little bit of customer interest makes them giddy.

    Not far from the Cabildo, just down Chartres Street in the French Quarter, is the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Shelves chockablock with glass dispensing bottles, the labels listing the original ingredients. Louisiana was the first state to license apothecaries. The state was cutting edge for health practices. But it was also New Orleans so they dispensed voodoo. The museum focuses on 18th and 19th-century health care. This isn't the Metropolitan Museum; a visitor won't be here all day. But as people who occasionally think about poisons, this could be your spot. 

    One caveat: The docent-guided tour helped me see things I would have missed. He pointed out Love Potion #9 as well as the ceramic jar near the cash register holding the leeches. The website says that guided tours are suspended during the pandemic. Perhaps they'll be back again by Bouchercon. 

    If you find yourself near the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park, consider visiting the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho. You'll know you've arrived when you get to the potato sculpture out front. The price of admission included a package of freeze-dried hash browns when my family and I visited. Shockingly, they didn't have any other visitors that afternoon. The attendant at the register was happy to talk about the exhibits. Want to see the world's largest potato crisp? She'll make sure that you don't miss it. 

    If you're passing through west Texas, stop by the Odessa Meteor Crater Museum. There you'll see...a meteor crater. Or you will if you hurry. Originally 115 feet deep, the winds of the last 65,000 years have filled the crater with sand. It is now only 15 feet deep. Your time is limited. 

    Last October, my wife and I were driving through New England checking out the fall foliage. On Main Street in Winstead, Connecticut stood a grand building. The sign out front identified it as the American Museum of Tort Law. Sadly, COVID-19 had it shuttered. Small surprise, I suppose. I'd expect a tort museum to think about potential liability. A virtual tour is available through the website. I'll be back if only to check out the gift shop. 

    Museums make great locations for mystery tales. The Smithsonian and the Louvre have been the setting countless times. By their nature, museums hold rare things. Even in the specialty museums, the collections are valuable to someone. Museums have quirky exhibits. If you want to bump someone off with a Lakota Sioux arrowhead, have them visit the Pettigrew. And never underestimate the lethality of a potato fork. 

    To safeguard the collections and to simplify ticket sales, access in and out of a museum is limited. A diverse group of people gathers there. Tourists from various walks of life collect at museums mingling with locals. Museums store secrets from the past. They host social events, weddings, parties, and fundraisers. Elegantly dressed people attend soirees at them. Or they will again soon. Intrigue and mayhem easily follow. 

    A museum closely based on the Idaho Potato Museum provides the setting for "The Case of the Brain Tuber," my story in the current Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I rely upon all the elements of a museum: the social center, limited access and, the odd assortment of items collected to tell the story. 

    In March, Mystery Weekly published "Exhibiting Signs of Death," a story set in an imagined tort law museum. I've had a good year placing my stories in exhibit halls. I'm glad that museums are opening again. I look forward to visiting. 

    If you're thinking about Bouchercon 2022, pencil in the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. 

    Until next time. 

24 May 2021

YOUR Way


Writing is the hardest subject to teach. It's not information like history or science, and it's not a manual skill like carpentry or shooting lay-ups. It's a combination of knowledge (Vocabulary and grammar) and synthesis, combining that knowledge with the writer's own experience, emotions, skills and interests. When you have 25 or 30 students in a class or online with different cultures, environments, and DNA, trying to teach them the same skills the same way at the same time and expecting to absorb it at the same rate is a sure way to fail.

This is why so many graduate not only as mediocre writers, but as people who hate writing. Writing is a personal, even intimate skill, and the cookie-cutter approach doesn't work. I see and hear writers at workshops proclaiming that their method is the only way to write, and it always annoys me.

I was a panelist at a workshop a few years ago where one audience member asked if we outline our novels and I was the only one who said, "Yes." Before I could even explain that I used the term loosely, two other panel members screamed at me as though I had relieved myself on the table.

I told one of them later that if her method produced writing like hers, NO ONE should want to know how she did it.

Teaching writing should be less about getting the actual words right and a lot more about finding the way that works best for YOU. Schools need deadlines so teachers can grade your early stumbling efforts, but it doesn't help anyone. Teachers look at spelling, grammar and punctuation because that's easy to evaluate. Structure, style, pacing and rhythm, on the other hand, need larger samples than time permits. My senior honors English class gave me six weeks (It might have even been eight) to produce a research paper of 1000 words, and the teacher checked our footnote style (Remember Turabian?) with a microscope. Now, I expect to write that much on any given day (I produced the first draft of this essay, 1050 words, in about 35 minutes).

I don't know a single writer who uses precisely the same process that I do, and I claim that it works for me because I'm satisfied with most of the 15 novels and 30-some short stories I've published so far. But several writers on this blog have published hundreds of short stories and three times as many novels as I have. I have only a general idea of how most of them work, and it doesn't matter.

When I conduct my NANO workshops, I tell students that the important goal is not really producing 50,000 words, it's learning HOW TO produce those 50,000 words. If they've never tried to write a substantial amount before, it's a great chance to learn how to do it.

I suggest ideas you can use for outlining (Or simply listing scenes). I demonstrate the structure of a scene, how and why some characters work better for a story than others, how setting may help your story by creating obstacles or a context for your character, and how conflict enhances your plot. You need to find your own way to reach those goals.

Here are the questions schools can't help students answer, mostly because they're also doing math, science, social studies, foreign language and art homework, too, so their time is crowded. Never mind a social life.

How do YOU write the most effectively?

Do you write better in large blocks of time (Two hours or even more) or in short bursts of ten or fifteen minutes? Does that change if you're in an early stage of planning or actually working on the last pages of your story? I tend to go faster as I find a story's details and rhythm.

Do you need an outline or do you write a lot of junk then go back to save and expand the good stuff? I know a few major wirters who outline (Robert Crais and the late Sue Grafton among them), but Dennis Lehane, Tess Gerritsen and Carl Hiaasen don't. I wish I could write like any of them.

Do you need quiet, or can you listen to music or the traffic outside your window?

Do you need an deadline to motivate you? For me, one advantage of being unpublished and without a contract was that I could work at my own speed. I could go back and rewrite pieces and learn how to make them better without worrying about meeting someone else's deadline. I did 30 years of THAT in theater.

Are you better off writing your first draft with a pencil (John Steinbeck, with legal pads), crayon, rollerball, or fountain pen (Tess Gerritsen's preference), or typing into a computer? How about talking and recording your ideas first?

Do you have to write everything in order? Can you jump ahead to write a scene you expect to use later, and if so, do you need an outline to know that?

Steve Liskow
Steve Liskow

What gives you your ideas? Neil Gaiman answered this question better than anyone else I know when he said that writers get ideas because it's their job. Just like carpenters need to handle tools, actors need to learn lines, and musicians need a good sense of pitch and rhythm. If you can't get ideas SOMEHOW, you're not going to be a writer.

Do you edit as you go along, or do you write a complete first draft before you revise, or a combination of these? Is your process the same for short stories and novels (Mine isn't)?

Do you know other writers who can read and critique your work? How do you give and take criticism? I've been in three writing groups, and none of them helped me very much. I know several writers in the area whose work and judgment I respect, but at this stage I seldom bother them for anything except occasional feedback.

What do you do when the writing isn't flowing or you're overwhelmed? I read, do jumbles and crossword puzzles, play guitar, or praactice piano. I used to work out at the health club because mindless physical repetition helps me release my unconscious, the best editor. That went away during the pandemic.

What did I leave out? I don't know, but maybe THAT's what you need to answer.

23 May 2021

Asian Aversion


Crime writers Eve Fisher and Mary Fernando have written about bigotry and touched upon prejudice against Asians. A farmer in rural Minnesota demonstrated one way to mitigate the problem.

I lived in a state forest near Big Lake, Minnesota, one of many villages near the upper Mississippi River, all grown up now into a city. Not many eateries fed travellers along Hiway 10, and it didn’t help the main diner closed and was sold to an Asian family.

Lake in Big Lake, Minnesota
Big Lake, Minnesota © Wikipedia

In town one day, my neighbor Bud announced several of us must go to lunch at the newly reopened diner. One bigmouth said he wasn’t gonna et no Viet Congo victuals.

Bud said, “They’re Korean and it’s damn good food.”

“Don’t care. Who knows what they put in it?”

At that point I suggested, “Garlic, ginger, onion…”

Bigmouth sneered.

Neighbor Bud wasn’t a fragile flower. He said, “Way I figure it, you got a choice between stupid and hungry, or well-fed and wise. Whizzit gonna be?”

Bigmouth grudgingly came along with a group of us, grumbling the whole way.

“Order steaks,” Bud suggested.

Bigmouth stared at everything suspiciously, mumbling under his breath. When the steaks arrived, he sniffed it. He poked at it with his fork in case it wasn’t dead. To be sure, he stabbed it with a knife.

Then he took a bite. He chewed. And another bite. He stopped grumbling. He ate everything, everything on his plate.

Leaning back, he patted his stomach and said, “God-blessed-durn, that was the best steak I ever et. I wonder what they put in it?”

Bud said, “Garlic, ginger…”

Bigmouth not only became a fan of the diner, he became friends with the family.

Every town needs a Bud. And a great Oriental restaurant.


As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Big Lake is all grown up into a city, one I wouldn’t recognize nor find my way around. But a local web site demonstrates a decided hostility I can’t account for.

Searching for a picture of the town, I came across BigLake.com where, at the bottom of the home page, I found one of the weirdest legal statements ever, complete with a fat, yellow acknowledgement button:

Due to GDPR, residents of the EU are STRICTLY FORBIDDEN from using this site.
18 USC § 1030 (a)(2)(C)

Why should a burg in Minnesota care, let alone disapprove, that Europe values the privacy of its citizens? Clearly the programming muggle has no understanding of Europe’s data protection regulations or United States Criminal Code or United States Uniform Commercial Code regarding fraud. How very, very peculiar.

But if that Asian restaurant is still around, try the Steak Korean.

22 May 2021

Money Laundering and other Taxing Services (Bad Girl Returns...)


 Apparently, I have been too serious on here lately.  There have been complaints.  In an effort to address this, I present the following:  Money Laundering and Other Taxing Services.


So this really isn't a blog about money laundering in the classical sense (meaning Uncle Vince and those three restaurants in the east side of The Hammer...but I digress.)  However, I do somewhat come round to money and bathing, or perhaps authors being taken to the cleaners (sic) in the penultimate paragraph.

In fact, this post is more about the plight of poor authors doing their fiendish taxes, and how the banking industry has become a playground for disciples of Satan.  (Not Santa.  He remains a relatively good guy, although I've learned not to sit on his lap.)

I was doing my taxes the other day, and it made me think about how great things were in the good ole days.  Remember how simple life used to be?  Someone would mail you a little carbon slip to let you know how much money you made.  All you had to do - as a law-abiding citizen - was run your finger along a little line in the tax guide, and you'd know how much tax you had to pay.  You'd write a cheque for that amount, then go drink yourself blind or shoot yourself in the head, whichever was most expedient.  Things were simple back then.

 Now, figuring out your taxes is a profession in itself.  Actually, it's several professions; taxes now have their own accountants and lawyers, the lucky little things.  Soon they may have their own psychiatrists.

Which brings me to banking (and other taxing services.)  I remember when you'd take your paycheck and give it to the bank for a little while.  Then you'd go back a few weeks later to take out cash for certain life essentials like beer and pharmaceuticals.  All the money would still be there plus some extra cash you made on your money, called interest.  Things have changed radically since then.  Interest is passe.  Sort of like digital watches...

Now when you put your money in the bank (which of course you don't...you put it in a cute little automatic teller machine where it mixes with everyone else's little packets of money in terribly immoral ways) - (or even worse, you simply transfer it to whatever account you like with absolutely no regard whatsoever for its feelings and preferences or - Gawd help me - gender.  Which reminds me: did you see the New York University survey where they now give you a selection of 35 different gender choices?  I personally wanted to identify as a SA {smart ass} but was told PETA might get involved.)

Back to the point.  The point is, that when you go back to draw it out again, you find less than the amount you deposited.  Most of your money is there, but so is something else called a Service Charge.

I must admit I'm baffled by this need for a service charge.  I mean, exactly what services did these people feel it necessary to perform for my money?  Did they give it a bath and take it on field trips?  (ahem...note the reference to money 'laundering')

 Frankly, I'm getting fed up.  If they are going to take my money out on the town and show it a good time, the least they can do is teach it how to reproduce...

Melodie Campbell writes seriously silly stuff and even gets paid for it.  She writes about the mob in Hamilton, Ontario, just in case you thought Canadians were all nice guys.  (However, we are extremely polite before we kill you.)  Check out her books at all the usual suspects:


 


21 May 2021

The Psycho Sidekick


 

(C) 1985 ABC

Back in the day, Robert B. Parker introduced us to Hawk, a mysterious ex-mercenary who made split decisions in morally ambiguous situations. In his earliest appearances, his appeal came from being the wildcard. Could Spenser trust him? Did he need someone like Hawk to do what his personal code would not permit?

In terms of the story Promised Land and the next few follow-ups, the answer is yes. He's a wildcard. He's not on Spenser's side. His priorities merely coincide with his. Once the series's initial run ended, however, Hawk became a set piece, a witty sidekick to add irreverence to Spenser's snappy patter. But Parker had left his mark on the PI genre. Now everyone had to have a sidekick, most notably, Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Genaro series with sociopath Bubba Rugowski. Robert Crais managed to raise the game with this type of character in Joe Pike, the stoic ex-soldier partner of his daffy Elvis Cole.

While Pike is a great read, I often wonder if the archetype was even necessary. When I began writing, I made it a point to avoid the psycho sidekick. To me, the PI was a loner. He or she choose that life because they really don't want many connections tying them down. Originally, this was narrative. The Continental Op traveled everywhere. Philip Marlowe had to be a singular presence in his cases. Perhaps the best example of all comes from Ross McDonald. McDonald described Lew Archer as a man who would disappear if he turned sideways.

Of course, readers demand more than a guy in a trench coat and fedora slinking down back alleys. Spenser is a war veteran, ex-cop, and former boxer. Kinsey Milhonne might cherish her solitude, but her elderly landlord has a crush on her, and the Hungarian diner owner insists on feeding her. 

Hawk added a certain dark element to the Spenser series in its heyday. Unfortunately, he became a rote character others used because that's what Robert Parker used. When he or she is fleshed out, it works very well. Alas, there's a bad tendency to make them one of those X-Men that show up in the Deadpool movies with no Ryan Reynolds to play off of them.

20 May 2021

A Broad At Home and Abroad


Medical tests for Allan this week, so time is limited.  But I was looking through my old travel notes, reminiscing and thinking, and thought I'd share some.  Enjoy!

2018

In Amsterdam, a blonde woman, chubby, wearing a flesh-colored dress, very short, very low-cut and too tight, so that at first glance she looked naked. It was a cool day, so she also looked very chilly. 

Canadian lady told us a story about a man on another cruise, very rich, know-it-all, full of himself, who would order a platter of asparagus and extra entrees and then want everyone to share, even though everyone had ordered their own. It was like he hadn't grasped that no one was paying extra for any of it, as if it weren't free and he was spending his own money on them. I said that if he really had money, the least he could have done is bought everyone a round of drinks.  Everyone agreed.  Loudly.  And the first of many rounds of drinks was bought.  

Common phrases on a cruise: 

"The food was better last year."

"I've never told anyone this before...."

On a tour bus, to us, "Oh, was this your seat?" while staring at our water and coats that they just moved out of their way as if they'd never seen them before. 

In Giverney and at Cap de la Hague, the scents, the quiet, the bird songs, the gardens, the wildflowers. Allan and I talked later and realized that it made us realize how sterilized rural South Dakota is: the Monsanto chemicals have killed all the wildflowers. 

Later, sitting listening to Bach while the drunks from the Ocean Bar keep knocking down the sign:  "Quiet, please: Performance in Progress".

Woman whose collagen was sloping out of her lips; rich husband, white hair, largely ignoring her except to pay for her wine. 2 Cor. 6:12 "You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections."  Isn't that the truth. 

2013 

A woman on the ship from Long Island, always complaining, especially about food.  She said she didn't eat beef, chicken, fish, or anything with a face.  Our guide finally got exasperated and said, "then what do you eat?"  She shrugged.  "I guess I can try the chicken."  This couple has done over 560 cruises, married 57 years, obviously have lots of money, but say with pride that they NEVER tip. No wonder they're always complaining about the lousy service. You get what you pay for...

Santorini is a volcanic shell, a dark half-moon, with walls like a worn castle; rippling soft tan, white/red/black lava that STOPPED and hangs, waiting to resurrect and sweep down to the sea again. And above, white houses (at night, a spangle of light against black velvet), hanging on the edge like angels' nests, with every one ready to take flight. 

The interior is like Crete, i.e., a dry Ireland, the Bloody Foreland area, white houses, donkeys, ditches, only dry, with figs and vines and olive trees instead of green velvet grass. Everything looking, sweeping out to the sea with the never-stopping wind. The wind and the land and the lava, all heading out, over, away, and if you could see the wind, you would see the explosion of Thera, the ash and dust rising and going out, re-enacted forever. Blue church domes, glossy with fresh paint. Dust clouds. Plastic covers snapping in the wind. Bougainvillea everywhere (it's a tough plant). Eucalyptus trees, trunks painted white - even without paint, eucalyptus has the color and feel of young firm limbs. All dryads must be eucalyptus, willow, or sycamore.  

Coming back on the ship, we were in the middle of a group of Japanese tourists.  What made me look twice was that one woman was holding a toy monkey, the size of a toddler, dressed as a toddler, in a baby carrier.  (I looked at it more than twice to make sure that it was a (1) a doll and (2) a monkey.)  That was disturbing enough, but she was holding it and talking to it as a toddler, as was the Japanese man who was apparently with her.  Allan wondered if maybe she'd lost a child. I'm wondering if maybe she never had one, and this is her surrogate, a babybot if you will. Very, very strange. 

2006 

At Bryce Canyon, time standing still, geologically speaking from a human vantage point. Forty plus years since I've been here, and it looks the same to me: vast, beautiful, etc. At least now I understand more of my love for Custer in SD - very similar in sweep; there are rock formations, just not so techni-colored; and the altitude, God knows, is more bearable. 

Kodachrome State Park (wonder who got paid to give it THAT name): 

1. A tall lingam, 40 feet tall, so sheerly phallic that my reactions were, in order, 

"if this was in India, they'd put flowers on it"

"if this was in India, they'd pour milk over it every day"

"if this was in India, there'd be a temple next to it, and worshippers would come out every day."

2. A massive outcropping of red rock, shaped exactly like the top half of an ape's skull, with huge dark sockets. Dark green junipers masked the lower half of the skull, and the red rock swept out to the side into another shape that was like a little temple, mini-pillars and hoodoos that, at a distance, seemed like dancers, smeared slightly, caught in movement. (I later used this in "The Dark Side of the Moon" - AHMM, Feb. 2016 - as the hide-out of the serial killer.)

3. Out of a lump of red rock rose a 30-foot pillar of rough white stone: the sentinel. 

So what did the Anasazi think when they came here? 800+ years ago all the rocks and spires and sentinels and lingams and pillars were here, but was it as dry then as it is now? It's hard to believe that it was: dry creek beds, inches of dust-fine dirt. 

But at Escalante there was a running river, at the bottom of hundreds of feet of cliffs that were striated, bottom to top, red, black and white, and shaped into meringues, swirled, slanted, bare, or tufted with junipers, bristlecone pines, sagebrush, all of it harsh and dry and beautiful.

And then, down, down, down in the dark red heart of all that fantastically carved rock, was the tender, living green of willows and rushes and grass, the tender living green that only comes from a endless water. We walked along that river in Escalante, saw thousands of willows, thrusting up from the sandy soil like living whips. Up on the cliffs of Bryce we saw bristlecone pines that had been bent and bowed by the winds until the trunks and the branches had been twisted into gray snakes that you could almost swear were moving along each other, v-e-r-y slowly. Up there the air was cool and windy and seemingly bearable: until you looked at the trees, and thought about what it would do to you. Down by the river, the cliffs funneled the sun and heat down to a furnace by a running river forge that simmered your skin in its own grease, made your lungs gasp with the thickness of it the wet hot air, filled your nose with damp from within and without, all of it suffocating, harsh, and seemingly unbearable: until you looked at the willows, the cattails, the grass, and it was all alive.

2000 

We caught a subway from Port Authority to Grand Central Station, which is the best way to make Grand Central look really up town and classy. At Grand Central we raced to the platform to catch the R train to Astoria. Street musicians were in every conceivable cubby-hold and wide space in the path. At our final platform we were serenaded by Peruvians, playing their haunting pipe/ guitar music. 



We were also entertained a man who looked like a mechanic in a business suit, carrying a large bouquet of flowers, and who was incensed to find out that the public phone wasn't working and had eaten his money. He kicked and screamed, hit and yelled, did everything short of taking someone's briefcase and using it as a hammer to try to beat that phone into giving him his money back, but failed. The New Yorkers surrounding us showed their typical determined uninvolvement and ignored him, standing around like ill-dressed and burdened penguins, waiting for their train -- the F, the N, the R, whatever letter was their treat -- until he actually started beating the casing of the machine with the receiver. At that point everyone stepped away a few paces, in unison, as if we were the penguin Rockettes, but otherwise did not give him even a glance. 

At one point he stopped his maddened beating to yell at the Peruvians to shut up, but they ignored him, too. I admired the fact that throughout, he held the bouquet of flowers upright and safe, even as the telephone mouthpiece exploded into chunks of plastic flying around.  More penguin shuffling...  And then the subway came, and we all - including the gentleman with the flowers - got on.  

A few days later we went to St. Michael's cemetery, which belongs to the Episcopal church but is nondenominational in its burying, where I found where my uncle Jimmy, a/k/a/ Demetrios (Daddy's younger brother) was buried. He died in 1940 at the age of 21 of rheumatic fever, so I never met him. His tombstone - huge pink granite - included both names, his birth and death dates, and a picture of him, young, smiling, handsome forever.  

Then we went to the really old Greek neighborhood in Astoria and found the brownstone where Yaya and Popoo used to live. Very big brownstone, as it turns out (that must have been one hell of a favor Popoo did the Gambinos, but that's another story), and currently owned by a very nice Bangladeshi man who talked to us about how long he'd owned it, and yes, the living room was still in the same place.  And, all around and within me, the sense of time shifting and moving like water.  


PS - Allan came through his doctor's appointments with flying colors - no more crackle or fluid in his lungs; no lung cancer.  He's still on oxygen, but he's doing much better.  Huzzah!