Archive for July, 2007

From Seuss to Spade?

Conversation between Hamlet and Rain Dog at bedtime:

H: Daddy, tell me a story about a bad man.
R: What kind of bad man?
H: Just a bad man.
R: Does he stay bad, or become nice?
H: He stays bad.

Four years old and already thinking noirish thoughts. It’s a crime writer’s career dream come true.

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Thanks to LawMummy for saying I have a “schmooze-worthy” blog. This new award is given “to recognize those people that were exceptionally adept at creating relationships with other bloggers by making an effort to be part of a conversation, as opposed to a monologue.” I now have to tag five other people I read and deem schmooze-worthy:

Sandra Ruttan
Patti Abbott
Mark Terry
Karen MacInerney
Natasha Fondren a.k.a. SpyScribbler

Thanks to all of you, too, for being schmooze-worthy yourselves!

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AstroTurf (TM)

I read somewhere that the grass on the other side of the fence is probably AstroTurf. It sounds cool, but then something is lost from the analogy – once you get to the other side, the grass there is still greener than the natural stuff on the side you were just on. Right?

This past spring I was counting the days until Rain Dog could be home with us all day, every day. I just wanted someone to help with the kids so I could work. And that dream came true. About a week after school ended, I was able to get some short stories completed that have gone on to be accepted here, here, and here. (Two won’t be available till next year, but it’s the acceptances that count.) It’s been great. And yet I find myself once again looking forward to the start of school.

It’s not that I hate having Rain Dog home. It’s just that when he is, it completely blows our routine out of the water. To wit: with Daddy home and the days so hot, we have to find Fun Things to do. Whether these are trips to South Carolina or the lake or the mall, Fun Things are ever so much better than being trapped in the house with a bored 4-year-old and his teething brother. However, there’s a caveat: invariably, said 4-year-old will sleep on the way home. This means no couple time at night… and no writing time, either.

Other mothers say that you conveniently forget the pain of childbirth, enough to continue to have children. Thank you, that has not been my experience. However, I’d argue that a writerly version of that old wives’ tale is that you conveniently forget how little time there is, whether someone is available to watch the children or not. I guess it just goes to show the ever-present necessity of maximizing that time… and not feeling guilty when it doesn’t come easy.

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On a recent road trip to South Carolina, we were pretty well prepared for bored children. The best advice I’d read online: make up games, but let the kids lead.

So it was with Hamlet. Before long he was asking us to help him make up stories. Rain Dog and I would start, then give Hamlet a turn. Before long, even Boris got a turn:

Rain Dog: “And there was a monster in the house! Boris, what did he monster want?”
Rain Dog as Boris: “Milk!”

Invariably, though, because we do after all have a 4-year-old boy, the stories ended up as so much potty humor. “And then the monster pooped!” But hey, it kept the kid entertained. What more could you ask on a 12-hour trip?

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Every time Sally saw Ed on a street corner, she wanted to ask him to come home. Something about his scraggly gray beard, skinny frame, and washed-out blue eyes made her feel both protective and guilty. Protective because he was still her husband, and not much more than a little boy lost. Guilty because she was the reason he was on the street in the first place.

To his credit, he never reminded her of that, even though she could see he recognized her. Maybe he was afraid she would assail him with the memories that flooded her every time she thought about taking him back. Maybe he was right.

The first thing she always remembered was the way his moods followed the seasons. What he called his “fertile times” came in spring and fall. His “fallow times” happened during summer and winter. But his moods weren’t all that yawed like a yo-yo; their whole life together had, too. His bipolar disorder had been ubiquitous, suffused everything until she could no longer console herself with the idea that it was the disease, not the man, that was the problem.

The second thing she recalled were the manias. How he’d seduced her with the most quixotic mind-vacations she’d never thought possible: his plans to become the next Jackson Pollock, for one thing. His wildly romantic gestures, for another, especially the time he bought tickets to Belize for a flight departing the very next day. That was the Ed she’d met and dated.

On the other hand, there was the Ed she married—foolishly, just three months after meeting him—he was that persuasive. This disaffected Ed had appeared shortly after their wedding. His perfunctory response to her, when she found a brown recluse spider in the closet, had so enraged her that after she killed the spider—and its unhatched progeny—she found pictures of infected spider bites online and showed them to him, one by one, desperate for any response that showed he cared about what she felt. He gave none, just kept staring forward as if catatonic.

She’d tried to get treatment for him. He’d gone with her willingly. It was just that all the treatments involved drugs, which Ed wouldn’t even consider. “They’ll turn me into a zombie. They’ll kill my creativity,” he said, so mournfully that Sally didn’t have the heart to insist that the bipolar disorder was what ultimately killed his creativity.

For all intents and purposes, then, Ed remained indistinct from his disease. That realization made Sally decide to pursue a campaign of quid pro quo. Selfish and immature, sure, but she couldn’t just divorce him. She figured there had to be a way to snap him out of it.

She waited for autumn’s manic episode. Then, the first thing she did was abrogate most of her housewifely responsibilities. She stopped doing the housework; she laundered only her own clothes, used paper plates while Ed continued to use china. He didn’t notice.

She escalated her fear of bugs into an apparent case of melissophobia. Not much of a stretch. Still he didn’t notice.

Then she stopped reacting to Ed. She didn’t gush over his paintings or his plans as she once had. That was hardest of all, because he did notice. He’d gaze at her with disappointment, sadness even, and it was all she could do not to scream at him See how it feels. Shortly after that was when he left.

Sometimes she’d see sidewalk art that she thought was Ed’s, but she never saw who created it. Just that it appeared most on her regular routes. At first she thought it was a punishment for the way she’d treated him in those final months: not to be able to tell him one last time how much she loved his work. Then she thought maybe it was a test, like in a fairy tale. If she caught him working, it would mean he was ready for her to take back.

Most recently, though, she thought it was a message. Come and join me. We couldn’t work in your world, but maybe we can in mine.

On their second anniversary, Sally donned a long-sleeved t-shirt, light pants, and walking shoes. She tied a fleece sweater around her waist, left her key in an envelope for the landlord, then went downstairs into the sunshine. Ed’s next fallow period was right around the corner. He’d need her.

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Happy Birthday, USA

A few weeks ago, we had some work done on our home to 1) remove bats and flying squirrels and 2) keep them from coming back. The man who did the work told me that he had been home from Iraq from about a year and a half. Coincidentally, one of our Terminix service guys, a military policeman, had orders to go back in August.

At some point I Googled our Critter Control guy. I needed his phone number and was too lazy to go through our paperwork looking for it. Instead, I found this article. Holy crap, I thought. The guy fixing our house has a Bronze Star?

Later that week, when he returned, we got to talking. Let’s just say this man has very strong ideas about the war. Ideas that made me think. At one point he said, “The Iraqi people deserve their chance at freedom.” That brought me up short. It had nothing to do with the president or vice president or their aides, nothing to do with anything except unadulterated altruism. The Iraqi people deserve a chance. If they choose against it, at least they had a choice. Isn’t that what the United States is all about?

He didn’t change my mind about the overall shenanigans in Washington, the lies that brought us to Iraq in the first place in an appalling case of ends not-quite-justifying the means. Closer to my view is this excellent op-ed by Keith Olbermann, who gave me chills when he ended his address with “Good night, and good luck.” (Anyone see that movie? He really did evoke Murrow last night. Yes, folks, there’s one broadcast journalist left who cares, and lets people know it.) Olbermann summed up my feelings nicely, about people in power who take full advantage of the fact that Americans are more interested in shopping and Paris Hilton than they are about, well, very much of anything else.

Thanks to a humble service provider, I can understand better when I see the families of dead servicemen telling us that their soldiers “died for freedom.” Now I realize that’s true, even if their deaths also happened to line someone else’s pockets. It’s with that in mind that I feel I can celebrate our country’s birthday for the first time in years. I love the United States, the fact that the most important thing about democracy is the matter of choice – the free will that God Himself bestowed on us when He created us. Too bad the Islamist extremists don’t recognize that choice in their interpretations of God.

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