Review, short version: Three roses for him, many skunks for her.
Review, long version:
According to her website, author Susan Elizabeth Phillips has published 24 books, and I’ve read most of them.
And I’ve enjoyed all I’ve read, a couple enough to read twice, and one – three times.
It had been awhile, so when I went looking for her latest and found Dance Away with Me, I was elated. Somehow I’d missed it’s publication 2020, and I was SO ready for some more Susan now.
Phillips’ website unabashadly states that “Life is better with happily ever afters,” and her love stores have them. They also have strong, smart lead female characters, and strong, smart male lead characters, and when the females and males meet, there’s often a lot of conflict and a lot of great, snarky dialogue before they figure out their happy ending.
Let’s start with the lead male in Dance Away with Me: Ian North, age 36. He’s everything you want in a hunky romance hero: tall, dark, handsome and built. Very alpha, but sensitive. He’s super-rich due to his being a highly successful, hughely talented artist. He’s also a tortued soul, because he can’t create art anymore. Plus, he had terrible parents, and a very messed-up childhood.
The lead female is Tess Hartsong, age 35, and she is Phillips’ first lead female character who totally disappointed me.
When we meet Tess, her husband of 11 years had died two years ago, and she’s dealing with grief “that would never, ever go away.”
Tess apparently had a career as a certified nurse midwife, but she jettisoned that. She sold her home in Milwaukee and bought a dilapidated cabin in the Tennessee mountains, because her late husband had talked about moving to Tennessee someday. Tess is a mess, and there’s no indication that she’s pursued any kind of professional help to deal with her grief and anger.
I’m not suggesting that Tess should just “get over it.” I know, firsthand, that grief knows no timeline. I also know that the right therapist can help us learn to live with the grief, and learn to live again.
But not Tess.
Through a series of events, Tess is suddenly delivering a premature baby, and the baby’s mother, Bianca, dies. In Tess’ muddled mind, her anger “had made this happen. It had seared the placental membrane, boiled Bianca’s blood until it wouldn’t coagulate…Her own anger had done this.”
See what I mean about Tess’ mental state?
The man Tess believes is the baby’s father – Ian – turns out not to be; the baby was fathered by a sperm donor. The baby is, in reality, an orphan, and should have immediately been turned over to child protection services.
Instead, Tess names the infant girl “Wren” and latches onto her like a drowning person latches onto a life preserver. Somehow, this baby, to whom she has no legal right, is going to fix everything.
As Tess’ obsession with the infant gets worse, we meet another facet of Tess: Tess is a bitch. A self-righteous know-it-all who says whatever she likes to whomever. She’s arrogant and obnoxious. She assigns degrading labels to people and she’s scornfully judgmental. She gives sex advice to the local teenagers without their parents’ permission because “I’m right.”
Not my idea of a book character I want to spend time with.
Back to the baby. Tess: “I’m her family. I was the first person to touch her. The one who’s fed her, changed her, held her against my body…” “She only wanted to be with Wren…Taking in the little sounds she made – the squeaks and yawns, her baby snores. Her perfect deliciousness…” “This baby was hers. She would give up her life for this child. She could not let her go…” “Wren is mine. She belongs with me.”
A fine way for a mother to feel.
But Tess is not the baby’s mother.
Then there’s the matter of Tess’ mess of a life: no job, no money, no health insurance, a crappy, unsafe house – and she thinks she’s prepared to care for a child (to whom she has no legal claim)?
Then there’s the matter of Tess practicing medicine in Tennessee without a license.
And the irony, toward the end of the book, of Tess suggesting that Ian is emotionally crippled.
Uh-huh. That’s right, Tess. You’re the perfect person to psychoanalyze someone.
And this brings me to my comfort zone – once again totally out of step with the almost 1,900 Amazon reviewers, 96% of whom gave Dance Away with Me three stars or above (73% gave it five stars).
It also raises the question, when Phillips’ next book, When Stars Collide, comes out this June…
Every Sunday my newspaper runs a full page titled The (almost) Back Page.
It’s a collection of short articles that aren’t worthy of big headlines or the front page, but still articles worth reading.
Here are three recent stories that prompted research on my part, and of course, my own spin:
Caught and Charged
The Charles Schwab Corporation is an American multinational financial services company whose motto is “Own Your Tomorrow”:
Kelyn Spadoni (pictured below, right), a Schwab client, appears to have done just that – owning her tomorrow by buying a new car and a house.
It seems that Spadoni, 33, of Harvey, LA had requested a transfer of $82.56 into her account.
Instead, Schwab transferred $1,205,619 into Spadoni’s account.
Spadoni, obviously a fiscally responsible person, noticed the$1,205,536.44 in additional funds, exactly as she should have. Aren’t money experts always telling us to “monitor your money”?
She then transferred the money into a different account and bought the house and car the next day.
Who wouldn’t be tempted to do the same?
Especially after the crap year so many have had?
Imagine the pleasure Spadoni felt, walking into that Hyundai dealership and writing a big, fat check for the Genesis SUV she chose. Imagine the thrill Spadoni felt, pointing to a house and saying, perhaps, “I’ll take that one,” a house she likely couldn’t have afforded on her salary as a 911 dispatcher for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The Schwab transaction, variously called a “software glitch,” “clerical error” and a “mistake,” came to Schwab’s attention and they, of course, contacted Spadoni.
Or tried to – she didn’t respond to their texts, emails or calls.
Now it appears someone besides Spadoni may be “owning her tomorrow”:
Schwab contacted the authorities and Spadoni was arrested on April 7. She was charged with fraud and theft – and also fired, the Sheriff’s Office said – and has since been released on a $150,000 bond.
Now, of course Spadoni knew what she was doing was wrong.
And we know it was wrong.
Wouldn’t you have been…
Caught and Killed
A violent death is never something to celebrate, and this was a violent death.
Still, I couldn’t help but give a small, inward nod when I read this:
Elephants: 1. Poachers: 0.
The location was Kruger National Park, in northeastern South Africa, one of Africa’s largest game reserves at 7,523 square miles.
Its high density of wild animals includes the Big Five: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos:
Its high density is a big draw for poachers, and a big menace for the Big Five.
Especially for rhinos, which, according to an April 20 Washington Post article,
“…are frequently targeted by poachers for their horns, which have been used as an ingredient in traditional medicines in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam for thousands of years. Aside from medicine, the horns are often seen as a symbol of high social status and purchased as gifts.”
Apparently the deceased alleged poacher and his two partners had entered the park, armed with axes and a rifle. They were spotted by rangers who gave chase. The men fled, dropping their weapons.
I think it’s reasonable to infer that the men were in the park for nefarious reasons.
I think it’s also reasonable to assume that they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the chandelier.
Because their escape route took them straight into a herd of elephants.
Now, I’m no expert, but I know that African bull elephants are big: up to 13 feet tall, and up to six+ tons.
And I know that breeding bull elephants have one focus, and they do not like to be disturbed.
And when some puny humans run into the herd and interrupt the…shall we say courtship, the bulls are likely to get annoyed.
And they did: The bulls and the rest of the elephant herd stampeded, and one of the men was killed.
Park rangers arrested another of the men, and apparently the third escaped.
The elephants resumed their breeding activities, unbothered.
It’s likely the dead poacher had family and if so, I’m sorry for their loss.
But I’m not sorry that in this one park, on this one day, we didn’t have one more of these:
The One That Got Away
The setting for this story is the Detroit River, which flows west and south between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie:
In April, three biologists from the Michigan-based Fish and Wildlife Service office were in a boat on the river, putting out setlines with hooks to catch and survey the lake sturgeon population.
It was their version of just another day at the office, when one of them felt a tug on the line.
What they pulled in – and it took all three of them – was a lake sturgeon:
But not your typical lake sturgeon; this female measured 6-feet, 10-inches, had a girth of nearly four feet, and weighed in at 240 pounds, one of the largest ever caught in the country.
One of the biologists, who is 5’ 6”, obligingly laid down next to the fish to give us some perspective:
The group estimated the sturgeon’s age at about 100 years, and that in itself is amazing for a number of reasons:
People do fish for lake sturgeon, though the flesh is described at “edible but not prized.” It’s the sturgeon’s eggs that are in demand – caviar produced from sturgeon eggs can sell for more than $100 an ounce:
So for around 100 years – since 1920 – our wily female has evaded those who have wanted to eat her, or harvest her eggs.
In addition, according to a May 5 article in the Washington Post, there was…
“…a boom in commercial fishing that continued into the early 1900s, periods of over-harvesting, and habitat loss driven by shipping channel construction and the damming of tributaries.”
And, during World War II, Detroit was considered the “Arsenal of Democracy,” producing jeeps, tanks, bombers and airplane assemblies, artillery guns, ammunition, helmets, drugs, electronics, and other military items. Oil pollution was rampant, and they discharged not only oil but other toxic substances into the Detroit River.
Our wily female survived all that, as well.
And other hazards, like collisions with boats. Lake sturgeons are slow swimmers, and when it’s fish vs. boat…
It’s no wonder the fish are considered a threatened species in Michigan – in fact, in 19 of the 20 states where they’re found.
The three biologists from the Michigan-based Fish and Wildlife Service office tagged the female and released her.
I love to write – and have for a long time – but that doesn’t mean I’m a great writer.
Or even a good writer.
Which is why I know that as a writer, I can always improve.
Which is why I enjoy taking creative writing classes.
Our writing instructor gave us a tricky assignment. She wanted us to take several writing rules and break them, repeatedly but not blatantly, in a piece.
But – she wanted the piece to be written so that at first read, you might not notice the errors.
I chose three writing rules to break, and had some fun with it. The piece is below, followed by a list of the rules I broke.
As I slowly awoke at the crack of noon, I immediately realized my blood alcohol level was getting dangerously low.
So I repaired to my neighborhood watering hole, Peely’s Pub, where – that’s right – everybody knows my name. But you don’t, and you won’t – just call me Nameless Narrator. Ms. Nameless Narrator if you prefer to go formal.
Peely’s was everything you wanted in your neighborhood dive: a couple of neon beer signs flashing in dirty windows, inviting you into the dim, narrow, smoky room. Funny how these places are still smoky, even after those health folks decided smoking was bad for us. The bar was on one side, booths on the other, a few tables in between, a dusty Foosball game in the back. Remember Foosball? Me neither. The jukebox was playing the last 26 seconds of that Garth Brooks’ favorite, I’ve Got Friends in Low Places, a tune that suited my mood perfectly.
Buddy, the bartender – that wasn’t his name, either – reached for the gin as I settled on the cracked leather bar stool. The leather wasn’t real, but it didn’t matter because the gin was. Watching Buddy make my drink of choice – a parsley gin julep (that’s right, I said “julep”) was to see a maestro in action. He carefully counted out eight parsley leaves, then muddled them in a cocktail shaker with fresh lime juice – none of that bottled stuff for Buddy – and simple syrup. I don’t know why they call it “simple,” and I don’t care. Then Buddy added ice cubes and crushed ice, and masterfully measured out one-and-a-half ounces of gin, not a drop more, not a drop less.
After several well-choreographed shakes to the shaker, Buddy applied a strainer and poured the liquid nirvana into a tall glass of ice. But he wasn’t finished yet. His masterpiece still required a splash of club soda and a wheel of lime, skin on, sliced to a thickness of precisely 7/16 of an inch.
As Buddy reverently placed the glass on the cocktail napkin in front of me, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. Why people use that cliché is beyond me, since eyes don’t have corners. I turned my head about 40 degrees and that’s when I saw him. Seated at the end of the bar, eight stools away, looking right at me as if he were Columbus and he’d just discovered America. He was tall, dark and – well, you know the rest. How did I know he was tall? Because I’m also the Omniscient Narrator.
The scruffy two-day growth of beard couldn’t disguise his sculpted cheekbones and squared-off chin. Dark eyebrows arched over dark eyes, and went well with his headful of thick, dark hair. Did I mention he was tall, dark and – I believe I did. His broad shoulders filled out his suit jacket to perfection, and his loosened tie revealed the long, strong column of his throat. I’ve always wanted to say “long, strong column” in reference to a guy, and not a Greek building.
He was drinking beer straight from the bottle, American, not that imported stuff. I like that in a guy. In fact, I liked everything about this guy, and I sensed that the feeling was – well, you know the rest. He lifted his beer, drained the last few drops, set the bottle on the bar, stood, and began walking toward me.
And yes, I admit it. I thought, “Of all the gin joints, in all the…” – well, you know the rest.
I raised my glass, caressed it with my lips, then took a long, healthy swallow. That dangerously low level of alcohol in my blood was about to get taken care of.
And so, my friends, was I.
What’s wrong with this writing?
I used nine adverbs ending in -ly. Why is this bad?
Some experts say:
Overuse of adverbs is the hallmark of lazy, cluttered writing. Good writing should use strong verbs rather than -ly adverbs. Often the adverbs mean the same as the verb and become redundant, leading to messy prose. The most common (over)use of adverbs is to modify the verb said, e.g., “I’m leaving,” he said angrily.
By reducing these adverbs, the author allows the characters to convey the emotions of the dialogue themselves. Instead of telling the reader, they show them:
He slammed his fist on the desk. “I’m leaving.”
I also used nine verbs ending in -ing.
Some experts say,
Choose -ing words more carefully and replace with more powerful or descriptive verbs. Replace weak or common -ing words with specific, stronger word choices. Your writing will become more concise, clear, and engaging.
Instead of writing this:
She was running down the street like a maniac!
She charged down the street like a maniac!
I also used at least a dozen clichés, and all experts agree, clichés are to be avoided at all costs (and yes, “at all costs” is a cliché):
Cliché: a phrase or opinion that is overused and shows a lack of original thought.
Here’s an old cliché:
Dead as a doornail.
Here’s a more recent cliché:
That’s around 30 rule-breakers in one piece of writing done deliberately.
I did a great job of writing badly!
Don’t get out your red pen if there are other rules I broke indeliberately…
(This post is yet another from my endless list of Topics About Which I Knew Nothing. And I grew up in Detroit – but didn’t know about this.)
Let’s say it’s America 100 years ago – 1921.
The Great War ended three years ago, and the U.S. is prosperous.
Warren Harding is president, the New York Yankees are going to their first world series, and people are dancing to the popular tune, Ain’t We Got Fun?
Women had achieved the right to vote a year earlier, corsets were out, and stylish, well-to-do ladies were wearing ensembles like these:
And if a woman was quite well-to-do, she may have buzzed around town in this quite stylish vehicle:
Talk about stylish!
Check out those side windows – that’s curved glass, the first curved glass in a production automobile.
And the interior was outfitted like an Edwardian sitting room, complete with plush carpet, drapes, flower vases, and a comfortably padded bench seat along the back wall:
That’s seating for the driver and one companion, while a second companion could relax in a cushy bucket seat up front that swiveled toward the back seat for socializing:
And best of all, there was none of that dreadful hand-cranking to start the engine, like those old Ford cars:
You could break an arm doing that!
In your sweet, stylish automobile you just turned the key, and you and your friends were on your way to a soirée or afternoon cocktails (never mind Prohibition), surrounded by elegant comfort and privacy.
Your Detroit Electric car.
The Detroit Electric was produced by the Anderson Electric Car Company, which built 13,000 electric cars from 1907 to 1939. In addition to being easy to start, the cars were advertised as reliably getting 80 miles between battery recharging, and their top speed was 20-25mph – fine for buzzing around town.
They were quieter, smoother, and easier to drive, with tiller steering, a pair of pedals (brake and release) and a simple lever to increase the speed or slow the car. And they required less maintenance than gasoline-powered cars, plus no stopping at gasoline stations for our 1921 ladies:
Yes, there was a downside – electric cars then, like now, were more expensive.
By 1921, Henry Ford had whittled the base price of his car down to $415 ($5,714 adjusted for inflation), but the Detroit Electric’s base price was $2,985 ($46,203). And when Charles Kettering introduced the electric starter, it eliminated the need for the hand crank and broadened the appeal of gasoline-powered vehicles.
In the 1910s, the Detroit Electric Car Company was producing 1,000-2,000 cars a year. Production slowed in the 1920s, and after the stock market crash in 1929 the company filed for bankruptcy. They continued to build special-order cars, until the last Detroit Electric was shipped in 1939.
There are still a few Detroit Electric cars around today, mostly in museums, including these:
And this one, a 1914 Detroit Electric driven by Clara Ford, who apparently didn’t care to drive the Model T made by her husband Henry!
My research also led me to the website of the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation in Kingman, AZ where I read this:
At the beginning of the 20th century the U.S. had almost twice as many electric cars registered as gasoline ones. There were around 300 manufacturers of electrics. By the beginning of World War II, they were almost all gone.
And I saw pictures of the restoration of a 1930 Detroit Electric, including red drapes in the windows to match its luxurious interior:
Even as Detroit Electric cars are museum pieces now, perhaps someday we – or our descendants – will visit museums to see other old, no-longer-produced cars.
Someday – when those old gasoline-powered cars have been completely replaced by clean, quiet, lower-maintenance, environment-friendly, affordable electrics:
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on American Masters’ Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie to Page.
Laura Ingalls Wilder! Author of the Little House books! Hero of my childhood reading!
I devoured those books, all of them.
Or at least, I thought I did.
Then I watched Prairie to Page, and realized my belief that I’d read all the Little House books was a myth.
Just like, as the film reveals, much of what Wilder wrote in her books.
There are nine Little House books:
Little House in the Big Woods Farmer Boy Little House of the Prairie On the Banks of Plum Creek By the Shores of Silver Lake The Long Winter Little Town on the Prairie These Happy Golden Years The First Four Years
Not only had I not read them all, I hadn’t even heard of a couple of them.
So that’s my myth. What was Wilder’s?
Wilder (1867-1957) wrote about her family living the pioneer life in the vast, open spaces of the Midwest in the mid-to-late 19th century. Yes, there were many challenges, wrote Wilder, but the family survived.
The family was Ma, Laura and her sisters, and Pa, whom Laura clearly idolized. Or perhaps a better word is idealized, as the ultimate pioneer – strong and brave and resourceful and kind and patriotic, and a wonderful father who played the fiddle to serenade his family.
And when I was reading the books – when I was nine and 10 – Pa seemed like the best dad ever.
After watching Prairie to Page, I’ve revised my opinion.
“Pa” was Charles Ingalls, born in 1836. He’s pictured here with his family in 1894:
Revised my opinion…why?
Prairie to Page was an eye-opener about good ole Pa.
Ingalls would have been 25 in 1861, the year the Civil War began. In 1863 the U.S. Congress passed the Conscription Act, requiring all men between the ages of 20 and 45 to register for the draft. Yet as we see in the film, according to Wilder biographer Caroline Fraser, Ingalls never served his country, was never in the military.
Doesn’t sound all that patriotic to me.
And despite all the other glowing ideals that Wilder attributed to her father, it becomes very apparent in Prairie to Page that Pa Ingalls was…
He got jobs, but somehow they didn’t work out. He tried farming, repeatedly, but that didn’t work out, either.
And he moved around – a lot – dragging his family with him.
He’s quoted in Wilder’s books as saying, “My wandering foot gets to itching,” and sounding proud of it. Ingalls’ “wandering foot” eventually took the family more than 2,000 miles, most of it by horse-drawn covered wagon and on foot. Here, according to mprnews.org, is a map of their “wandering” before Laura, 18, married Almanzo Wilder in 1885:
And poverty followed the family’s every step.
One story that never appeared in the Little House books was Ingalls having to sign a document in front of county officials declaring that he was “wholly without means.” This earned the near-starving family a barrel of flour.
Wilder also didn’t write about the time when she and her sisters were hired out for domestic work at a local hotel to help support the family.
Or when Ingalls woke up everyone in the middle of the night, packed their meager belongings into a wagon, and left town to avoid his unpaid debts.
Then there were Ingalls’ bad decisions, like building a cabin on land in Kansas, ignoring the fact that the land belonged to the Osage Indian Reservation. It was not open to settlers – or “squatters,” as they were called – but he built there anyway. When rumors circulated that U.S. soldiers were going to sweep illegal homesteaders off the land, Ingalls packed up the family and wandered on – again.
“By the time Laura was 15,” said a film interviewee, “she’d lived in 14 different homes.”
As the American Masters’ synopsis put it,
“Though Wilder’s stories emphasized real life and celebrated stoicism, she omitted the grimmer and contradictory details of her personal history: grinding poverty, government assistance, deprivation…”
Doesn’t sound like an idyllic “Little House ” childhood to me.
There’s much more in Prairie to Page, including Wilder’s racism (“There were no people; only Indians lived there”); the death of her younger brother, Freddie, never mentioned by her; and the extensive involvement of Wilder’s daughter, Rose, in the Little House books, the first of which was published in 1932. Wilder wrote, but Rose edited, added, deleted, and coached Wilder throughout the process. To the point that, as another interviewee put it, “Without Rose, there would have been no Little House books.”
The mother/daughter collaboration is widely known now, but back then, it was a secret.
And it wasn’t complicated, though it contained an ingredient I’d never heard of: Campbell’s Sweet Potato Cooking Soup.
I put together my list – the soup, chicken, frozen southwest vegetables, black beans, siracha hot chili sauce…
I couldn’t wait to smell it cooking.
I couldn’t wait…
Go back and look at the soup can.
“Potato” is misspelled.
No, Campbell’s didn’t do that – I did.
That “e” on the end of “potato” doesn’t look all that wrong, does it?
Vice President Dan Quayle didn’t think so, back in mid-June 1992.
It was an election year, and Quayle was on the campaign trail, as was his running mate, George H.W. Bush.
One of Quayle’s stops was an elementary school in New Jersey, and the setup was Quayle leading a sixth-grade student spelling bee. He called on one of the kids, and asked him to write “potato” on the blackboard. The kid did, and put down the chalk.
Then Quayle suggested the kid to add an “e” to the end of the word:
It was the “e” heard around the world.
The vice president, the person whose primary function is, if needed, to assume the role of president of the United States…
Couldn’t spell “potato.”
The media had a field day:
And this story has followed Dan Quayle around ever since.
Why am I writing about this?
In part, because I can sympathize with Dan Quayle.
I, too, have misspelled “potato,” adding an “e” to the end.
I have also misspelled “tomato,” adding an “e” to the end.
It doesn’t look all that wrong, and you know why?
Because we add an “e” at the end of “potato” and “tomato” to make them plural:
Why do we add an “e” before that “s”?
For absolutely no logical reason at all.
That’s my conclusion, after visiting numerous websites trying to ascertain why.
The rule appears to be that we add an “es” to some words ending in the letter “o,” for example:
And there’s a bunch of words that end in “o” where I guess we just throw caution to the wind and spell them any damn way we choose, because both plural forms of spelling are considered acceptable, including:
No wonder English is known as one of the hardest languages to learn.
It often makes no sense: if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? And there are so many rules, and then so many exceptions to those rules, like the “s” vs. “es” examples above.
Then there’s the order in which we put words – we’d say, “An interesting little book” but not “A little interesting book,” because it just sounds right. And pronunciation is so tricky, like silent letters. Why is there a “k” in “knife,” if we don’t pronounce the “k”?
And do not get me started on homophones: A bandage is wound around a wound. And to, too and two.
How did I go from talking about a recipe to bemoaning homophones, with the Tale of Dan Quayle in between?
It’s to say that I have, once and for all, finally and forever…
…Assimilated the fact that there is NO “e” in potato or tomato.
The Spanish Princess, a STARZ production, supposedly tells the story of Catherine of Aragon (daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain), who became the first of Henry VIII’s six wives.
I can’t figure out who would watch The Spanish Princess.
If you’re interested in Tudor history, it’s hard to watch the egregiously inaccurate events, costumes, hairstyles and pretty much everything else:
Left, Catherine as a young woman. Unlike in “The Spanish Princess” (right), respectable women covered their hair with headdresses.
If you’re not interested in Tudor history – why watch?
Unless the point for the not-interested viewers is the nudity and sex?
If so, those viewers are going to be disappointed:
Episode 1: We briefly see Catherine getting out of the bathtub; above-the-waist frontal nudity, full rearview nudity.
Episode 2: We briefly see Catherine’s breasts; sex is alluded to.
Episode 3: No sex, no nudity. But Henry and Catherine engage in swordplay, which appears to be a form of foreplay:
Episode 4: Henry and Catherine engage in bird hunting with crossbows, which also appears to be a form of foreplay. Henry does a scene bare-chested, and he’s buff, but no sex, no nudity.
It may be that the sex-and-nudity thing heated up in episodes five through eight, but I was too bored to watch them.
The problem is that the accurate history of the Tudors as monarchs of England, though short (1485-1603), is fascinating. A lot is known about this era, and there was no need to gussy it up with inaccuracies, exaggerations and flat-out that-never-happened stuff.
One example: Sixteen-year-old Catherine arrives in England from Spain, and meets her intended, Prince Arthur, age 15 and oldest son of King Henry VII. She also meets Arthur’s younger brother, Henry.
While Arthur is portrayed as a pale, skinny wuss – which he wasn’t – Henry is a tall, handsome, muscular young man in his late teens, witty, articulate, horny, and prone to sexual innuendo:
Sexual sparks fly between Henry and Catherine.
When Catherine arrived in England in 1501, Henry was 10 years old.
Another example. I didn’t see this – I read about it online.
The Battle of Flodden was fought between Scotland and England in 1513. Henry VIII was in France, and Catherine was his regent. The Spanish Princess portrays Catherine leading the troops into battle…
Catherine didn’t lead troops into battle. Not at Flodden, not anywhere.
Just two of the myriad reasons for the disclaimer at the end of each episode stating that there were changes for dramatic purposes.
I guess the first eight episodes of The Spanish Princess got decent ratings, because eight more episodes followed in 2020. Amazon has a short summary of each episode, and they all sound pretty insipid, including this one:
Episode 13: 1517-June 1519: When the plague hits London, the court flees to Hampton Court, but Margaret “Maggie” Pole and Thomas More remain in an empty and surprisingly romantic palace.
While the suggestion of anything romantic happening between Thomas More and Maggie is ludicrous – even for “dramatic purposes” – the one good thing that came out of this mess is that Maggie is played by actress Laura Carmichael.
Remember whiny Edith from Downton Abbey?
One and the same!
And good for Carmichael – she gets plenty of opportunity to display her whining chops in Spanish Princess:
Since President Biden took office, he’s likened the fight against COVID to a “wartime undertaking.” He’s suggested that wearing facemasks and following other guidelines is “patriotic,” and asked us to “Do it for your country.”
I wonder how many of us – including me – would whine a little less about pandemic restrictions if we knew a little more about what Americans began experiencing 80 years ago?
Biden’s words harken back to language Americans were hearing during World War II, when American civilians were asked to make sacrifices we can’t begin to imagine.
To better educate myself – and pull the plug on my whining – I started researching what our civilian parents or grandparents or great-grandparents were asked to do back then in the name of patriotism.
A quick reminder: The U.S. entered World War II in December 1941. The war ended in September 1945. We’ve dealt with the pandemic for about 14 months. Americans experienced what I describe below for almost four years.
The word “blackouts” doesn’t sound like much – until you live with them on a regular basis.
Blackouts began on the West Coast even before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, with the goal of keeping the public from being a war target. The idea was that enemy planes couldn’t target what they couldn’t see, and that any light visible from above could attract bombs and gunfire.
When the air-raid alarm sounded, not only were lights turned off; families were also required to shut off appliances, disconnect electricity, and turn off water and gas lines.
People were told to install blackout curtains on every window, always tightly closed at night, and closed when the alarm sounded. An alternative? Paint your windows black.
To make sure everyone was following the rules, the Office of Civilian Defense was set up and wardens drove the streets, shouting “Put that light out!” if you transgressed.
In addition, there were drills that required residents to practice their response to an air-raid alarm and could include moving to a public shelter, bomb shelter, or one’s basement until the blackout ended.
By 1943, about six million wardens were out all across the country, checking to ensure no light was visible, and there were legal penalties for noncompliance.
And it wasn’t just at home – streetlights were off or dimmed. When the air-raid alarm sounded, anyone outside had to take cover inside. People in cars were to pull over and find shelter in the nearest building.
And that car you were in? Here are just some of the restrictions:
Use only one headlight fitted with a slit covering.
No inside light.
Reduced brake lights.
To be seen more easily from the ground but not from above, the back bumpers and running boards were painted with white matt paint.
Think for a moment how dangerous this was. The streetlights are off. Instead of two bright headlights, you have one headlight and that’s almost totally covered. Predictably, blackouts increased the danger of night driving, and consequently, fatalities increased. The increased darkness also increased crime and murder in some locales.
But – you probably weren’t spending much time in your car, because gasoline was limited, for many to just three gallons per week. Due to…
After we entered WW2, the government created a system of rationing, limiting the amount of certain goods that a person could purchase because those items were diverted to the war effort.
The government created the Office of Price Administration (OPA), and one of OPA’s responsibilities was to manage the rationing process.
OPA created ration books that went into use in May 1942, and every American was issued a series of ration books:
The books contained removable stamps for rationed items, and you couldn’t buy a rationed item without giving the grocer the right ration stamp. Once your ration stamps were used up for a month, you couldn’t buy any more of that item.
This is assuming the store had the item you wanted which it often didn’t, given the local and national shortages.
Housewives were encouraged to have “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Tuesdays,” and to do more with less. One example is Chicken Croquettes from The Modern Hostess Cookbook– Patriotic Edition, published in 1942. This, like many recipes, supplemented rationed meat with filler – in this case, one cup of breadcrumbs or rice for each cup of chicken.
And don’t Chicken Croquettes look appetizing?
People over 12 were allotted 2½ pounds of meat a week. In today’s terms, if you cruised into Wendy’s and ordered a couple of Pretzel Bacon Pub Triples, you’ve pretty much eaten your entire week’s meat ration in one sitting.
And it wasn’t just meat and gasoline that were rationed – here’s a partial list of additional rationed items:
Coffee rationing meant a meager one pound for five weeks for everyone over 15. One pound isn’t much, and five weeks is a long time – you don’t want to get to the bottom of the coffee can and still have two weeks left to go.
So you limited your daily consumption of coffee at home – anathema to serious coffee drinkers. Lots of people resorted to reusing coffee grounds.
Used coffee grounds make a good plant fertilizer. Used coffee grounds for another pot of coffee?
The military had a high need for leather, for shoes and combat boots and leather flight jackets. Once leather rationing began in February 1943, each man, woman and child was allowed to purchase up to three pairs of leather shoes a year. A year later that was decreased to two pair, and that continued through the end of the war.
You’re thinking, “I could get by with two pairs of shoes a year,” and yes, you could. But what about kids, and their ever-growing feet?
Families pooled their ration stamps, and adults made do with fewer shoes to provide shoes for the kids. If you could find the shoes – shipments were limited, and people often stood in line for hours, only to find the supply had sold out before they reached the store door.
And how about rationing nylon?
For centuries, women – and in some eras, men, as well – wore silk stockings. Silk was expensive, hard to clean and ripped easily, and silk stockings were an item only the wealthy could afford.
Then in 1939, nylon stockings made their debut. They were sheer, light brown, and had a dark seam running up the back of the leg. Nylons were durable, washable and affordable, and became an instant success, the must-have for women in all levels of society.
But then the war started – and nylon was permitted only in the manufacturing of parachutes and other military items.
So women started applying liquid makeup (above, right) to their legs to give the illusion they were wearing stockings, and even drew a line up the backs of their legs – with an eyebrow pencil – to simulate the stocking’s seam.
Can you imagine the time it took to apply liquid makeup to both legs, from your feet up to above your hemline? And then drawing a straight dark line up the backs of both legs? What if you sneezed while you were drawing the line? Would you have to clean off your leg and start all over again?
Yes, it seems bizarre now, but back then many women considered it a viable workaround, and they did it until nylon rationing ended when the war ended.
Throughout World War II, civilians were impacted by what the government was taking away – rationing – and also impacted by what the government was asking for.
The government asked Americans for donations – products made from rubber and most types of metal, clothing and rags, nylon stockings, kitchen fat, and paper, among other items. The collection of these items was called “scrap drives,” and many Americans considered it patriotic to collect and donate these items.
For metal, housewives threw in their aluminum pots and pans, farmers sacrificed their old tractors, cities and towns ripped up wrought iron fences and trolley tracks, and melted down historic Civil War cannons. Children sacrificed metal toys, and people even removed bumpers and fenders from their cars. Americans were encouraged to imagine these items being transformed into armor and weaponry for their soldiers and sailors in harm’s way.
Donated rubber, said the government, could be used to make jeep tires, clothing to make cleaning rags, and please give up your only pair of nylon stockings to make parachutes.
Salvaged paper could be used by the military for blood plasma containers, K-ration cartons, shell casings, vaccine boxes and bullet cartons. People were asked to sort and bundle brown paper, brown paper bags, corrugated boxes, wastebasket scraps, old newspapers and magazines, and paperback books to help support the war effort.
Perhaps the greatest item collected in scrap drives was kitchen fat, an item necessary to produce glycerin – glycerin was a vital component of bombs and other types of explosives. Conscientious housewives would keep a can on the top of the stove, and every time they cooked bacon or other fatty meat (IF they were lucky enough to find meat at the store and IF they had the right amount of meat coupons), they’d pour the leftover grease into the can. When the can was full, it went to the scrap drive.
And through it all, everywhere Americans turned they saw posters exhorting them to do their part in this “wartime undertaking” to help America and the Allies win the war:
This has been a long-winded post, yet it doesn’t begin to cover the sacrifices Americans were asked for to support the war effort.
And I haven’t touched on the sacrifices made by 16 million Americans in military service, and the loved ones they left at home to wonder, and worry – and wait.
So, what’s it all mean?
It means that for most of four years, Americans were asked to make do, do without, and give, give, give.
Almost four years. That’s a helluva lot longer than the pandemic has lasted.
The catalyst for this post was a recent headline in a pandemic-related story:
“People are pretty depressed and fed up.”
And it’s true – people are pretty depressed and fed up with the pandemic restrictions.
I know I am.
So this is a reminder for me – and for any who care to take it as such – that Americans have been through very tough times before, and come out the other side, better for it.
Here’s hoping that someday, the same will be true for us.
If I confined my blog posts to writing only about subjects about which I knew nothing…
I’d never run out of subjects.
The depth and breadth of my lack of knowledge could fill all the books in the Library of Congress, and that’s around 39 million books.
All those, and then some.
Case in point:
I’d never seen the word “rhebok” until I recently read in it a novel. The reference was the narrator’s dog “bounding around like a rhebok.”
What the heck, I thought, is a rhebok?
I’d seen and heard the word Reebok a million times. Who hasn’t?
Those famous logos…
That you see on famous people in those famous shoes…
And other logoed clothing…
The brand has been around – in the U.S. – since 1980.
So I knew what Reebok was.
Meet the rhebok, a medium-sized antelope weighing 42-66 pounds with a long neck and narrow ears. Only the males have horns, which are six to 10 inches long. Rheboks are described as “good jumpers,” hence the book referring to the narrator’s dog as “bounding around like a rhebok.”
Rheboks live mainly in Southern Africa, and Southern Africa was colonized mainly by the Dutch. Their spelling of rhebok was reebok.
Ah! A connection!
But how did reebok get connected to Reebok?
For that we need to meet Joseph William Foster, born in 1881 in England and trained as a cobbler. At the age of 14 in 1895, he was a member of the local harriers – “harriers” was another name for cross-country runners. Joe started working in his bedroom above his father’s sweetshop in Bolton, England, designing some of the earliest spiked running shoes.
Joe founded his shoe business, J.W. Foster, in 1900. Eventually his sons joined him, he changed the company name to J.W. Foster and Sons…
…and they gradually became famous among athletes for their “running pumps,” pioneering the use of spikes:
Foster’s shoes were made famous by 100m Olympic champion Harold Abrahams (pictured) in the 1924 Summer Olympics held in Paris. (Abrahams would later be immortalized in the 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire.)
In 1958, in Bolton, two of the founder’s grandsons, Joe and Jeff Foster, formed a companion company, “Reebok,” having found the name in a South African dictionary won in a running race – by Joe Foster as a boy.
They chose the name because of the rhebok’s ability to expertly move in its natural habitat – mountainous terrain – sometimes at speeds up to 37mph.
And while I doubt that today’s celebrities who wear Reeboks are doing much running around in mountainous terrain…
And I doubt that they know the connection between rhebok and Reebok…
Now I do, and so do you.
And someday, when the pandemic is over and armed with this new knowledge, we’ll wow ‘em at work with the story of rhebok and Reebok and…
We’ve been in the pandemic for over a year, and it’s been horrible.
I have a sneaking suspicion that – for some – the pandemic may become a very easy excuse.
“We’re out of that because I screwed up and forgot to order it” replaced by, “We’re out of that because of the pandemic.”
And when we hear, “…because of the pandemic,” we’ve become accustomed to nodding and accepting the explanation.
Here’s another one:
“We can’t do that for at least three weeks because we’re working from home and I’d rather play Minecraft” replaced by, “We can’t do that for at least three weeks because we’re working from home due to the pandemic.”
Seriously – here’s what I expect future conversations to sound like:
Customer: I’m calling to see if my order has been processed? Customer service person: Processing orders has been delayed due to the pandemic. Customer: Ma’am, the pandemic was declared officially over in 2022. This is 2024. Customer service person: Processing orders has been delayed due to the pandemic.
Case in point – the California DMV, which I consider the Asshole of California.
Though the California Employment Development Department (EDD) is a serious contender for that title:
But based on recent and ongoing experience, I think the DMV has a solid hold on “Asshole.”
Here’s how they started out handling the pandemic, in April 2020:
So to “put their best foot forward,” as the DMV says on their website, someone came up with the idea of a virtual assistant named “Miles.”
I needed help from the DMV, and after many calls and copious amounts of time on hold but never actually talking to someone, I was desperate.
I decided to try their online options, “Ask DMV”:
This is where I met “Miles.”
Miles is a “chatbot,” the definition of which is, “bots that simulate human conversation by responding to certain phrases with programmed responses”:
Of course, none of the selections offered were relevant to my issue – a possibility that clearly never occurred to the DMV chatbot makers – so I typed in my question, as Miles suggested.
That flummoxed Miles:
I clicked “Chat with an Agent” and got this:
Progress: I now had a case number!
But after a lengthy wait, up popped another message, above – no agents were available. And it was my fault, because I “didn’t respond to the agent.”
Who hadn’t responded to me.
I took a few days’ break, then I went on the DMV website to see what was happening with my case. I typed in my case number and got this:
Whaddaya mean, “The case was not found”???????
Ask Miles, damnit!
Still desperate – obviously – I decided once again to call the DMV.
To my astonishment, this time around I was offered the option of leaving my number for a callback, and I did.
About two hours later a human from the DMV called!
His name was George!
I told George I was following up on paperwork I’d mailed on March 2 – six weeks earlier. And without bothering to ask me anything else – not even my name – his excuse was immediate, and creative:
“Due to the pandemic and the Post Office, everything at DMV is delayed.”
See? Creative! Why let the DMV shoulder all the blame, when you can blame the Post Office as well?
Yes, we’re all aware that the Post Office is having problems:
But, c’mon. If you’re going to blame the Post Office for stuff being delayed, why not also include that long traffic signal that made you late for work, and that guy at McDonalds at lunchtime who forgot to ask if you wanted fries with that, and you had to circle around and get in line again to get them?
I asked George if he could verify that the DMV had at least received my paperwork. Now he did ask my name, and after a very lengthy wait he said, “Yes, we received that on March 27.”
I’d mailed my paperwork on March 2.
I’m in San Diego, and the DMV is in Sacramento, about a 500-mile journey:
George is telling me that it took the Post Office 25 days for my paperwork to go from San Diego to Sacramento?
I could walk from San Diego to Sacramento in less than 25 days, and I’m no speed walker.
That received-on-March-27 date isn’t when the DMV received my paperwork. It’s when some slouch at the DMV got around to bothering to open it and start processing it.
While I was digesting this information, George again said,
“Due to the pandemic and the Post Office, everything at DMV is delayed.”
I asked if he could estimate about when my paperwork might get some results. His response was,
“Due to the pandemic and the Post Office, everything at DMV is delayed.”
(Yes, he’d now said this three times.)
Then after a pause he added, “In six to eight weeks.”
That’s not six to eight weeks from the day I mailed the paperwork – it’s six to eight weeks from March 27, the day George says the DMV received it.
I’m imagining George and a group of his colleagues at the DMV Charm School, getting their monthly Customer Service Sensitivity Training:
Instructor: Listen up, people! We’re expanding DMV Excuse #678. It’s now Excuse #678 R-1, and I want everyone to repeat after me: Due to the pandemic…”
(The class repeats this.)
Instructor: …and the Post Office…
(The class repeats this.)
Instructor: …everything at DMV is delayed.
(The class repeats this.)
Instructor: Good! Now, everyone, let’s say the entire Excuse #678 R-1!
(The class does – they’ve got this one nailed!)
“Asshole of California,” definitely.
I’ll close with another imaginary conversation.
The year is 2023:
Child: My Grandpa’s too sick to come to the phone, so I’m calling about the paperwork he mailed to you. DMV: When did he mail it? Child: Well, I’m 17, and he mailed it before I was born. DMV: Due to the pandemic…
Very early on this past Tuesday morning, when I was sound asleep…
Something woke me up.
My bedroom has a sliding glass door and screen door, and faces our backyard.
It was dark, but there was enough ambient light to clearly see:
A person standing on the other side of the sliding door.
My heart started pounding.
Otherwise, I was so stunned, I just laid there at looked at him. Or her.
Dark tights, rather than pants or jeans.
The person had something in their hand, and appeared to be trying to open the screen door.
It’s the middle of the night, and there’s a person five feet away from me, trying to break into our house.
It was unreal.
After a few seconds, my blank mind unfroze a bit.
I kept my eyes on the intruder as I started slowly edging toward the nightstand, to reach for the phone.
I glanced over to see how far away I was from the phone. When I looked back toward the sliding door, the intruder was gone.
Pounding heart. Tight throat, so tight I know I couldn’t have screamed.
I woke up my husband, and we called 911.
We pulled on our bathrobes and turned on the lights – inside, outside, many lights.
I was still stunned. Add to that shock, fear, horror and yes, anger.
Someone had just tried to break into our home.
The police arrived quickly, drenching our house with flashing red and blue lights. Two flashlights swept across our property and the surrounding area.
I made coffee, and my hands shook a bit as I drank it.
One of the officers asked us some questions – could I identify the person? No, I couldn’t see their face. Could I describe the person’s clothes? I did. Height and weight? Average and average. He gave us a card. The officer’s name was on one side, and the case number written on it on the back.
We’d become a case number, and that case had a one-word, handwritten description:
We’d had a prowler.
Prowler: a person who moves stealthily around or loiters near a place with a view to committing a crime, especially burglary.
Or perhaps more than one prowler.
We discovered that the prowler outside the bedroom had opened the screen door about three inches. We have another sliding door in our family room, and that screen was open about two inches.
We knew we hadn’t left the screen doors open.
Were there two prowlers? More?
What would he or she or they have done if they’d gotten into our house?
Grabbed a purse and wallet and run?
Asked us for jewelry or drugs or…what? And when we said, “We don’t have any jewelry or drugs,” would they have believed us?
Did they have weapons?
I’ve got a vivid imagination, and it’s been running full-time since around 12:30am Tuesday morning.
And I’ve been doing some research, as well.
Said one website,
According to the FBI statistics, a burglar strikes every 30 seconds in the U.S. That adds up to two burglaries every minute and almost 3,000 burglaries per day.
We get into a fine distinction here.
Burglary: Entry into a building illegally with intent to commit a crime, especially theft.
A burglary is when the person actually gets into the building illegally.
I couldn’t find statistics on attempts to enter a building illegally.
We didn’t have a burglar, we had a prowler.
And I know that makes us damn lucky.
She or he or they didn’t enter our house that night.
But I’m still damn mad, and sad.
Mad, because though our home wasn’t entered, it was still an invasion. They chose our house. Had they been watching us, prior to that night? Making a note of our usual bedtime, and the best places to break in?
Mad, because I feel victimized, and we were victimized, and I hate that.
Sad, because I’ve never felt unsafe in my home, and now I do. My home, my sanctuary, my favorite place.
Still favorite, but no longer safe.
I know that makes me naïve, when you consider how often home break-ins, or attempted break-ins, happen.
When you consider that there are almost 80,000 security alarm services business in the U.S., with revenues of $27 billion annually – a thriving industry.
When you consider that there’s nothing special about us, and why would be exempt?
So instead of my wondering “Why us?” I should accept, “Why not us?”
We know the prowler or prowlers will never be caught.
We know we’ll never get answers to our who and why questions.
We know we’ve simply become another statistic.
We know this has changed us forever.
And I hate that this happened.
We let our neighbors know about the prowler, and we’re taking the steps to make our home more secure.
This does not include buying a gun, but oh…I better understand why many people do.
I’ve moved the bedside phone so it’s now within immediate reach.
We count ourselves lucky, and know this could have been much, much worse.
And eventually, someday, the memory of that person in the dark hoodie and tights, standing five feet away from me, trying to break into my home…
She was Alice Roosevelt (1884-1980), oldest child of Theodore Roosevelt and his first wife Alice.
She’s the focus of Stephanie Marie Thornton’s American Princess.
There were already of number of books about Alice – her memoir Crowded Hours, biographies, and she always appears in Roosevelt family sagas along with her famous father, even more famous cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
But, says Thornton in her Author’s Note,
“I was shocked – and more than a little delighted – to discover that no one had novelized Alice’s story.”
So Thornton did, and her book is easy to read, and the history aspect held my interest. It’s written in the first person, so we learn what Alice is thinking as well as what she’s doing. That helps in understanding why she did what she did.
Such as smoking cigarettes in public, riding in cars with men, staying out late partying, keeping a pet snake in the White House named Emily Spinach, and placing bets with a bookie.
That seems silly now, but it was shocking in the early 20th century.
I came to think of her as “Anything-For-Attention Alice.”
And I found her hard to like.
True, she had a rotten start in life. Two days after her birth, in the same house, her mother died of undiagnosed kidney failure. Eleven hours earlier that day, Roosevelt’s mother had also died, of typhoid fever.
Distraught, Roosevelt unloaded Alice on his sister Anne, and headed west, where he spent two years traveling and living on his ranch in North Dakota. Alice was raised by her aunt until Roosevelt remarried in 1886, to Edith Carrow.
Any attention Alice might have been getting from her father and new stepmother was soon divided when Alice’s half-siblings started arriving a year later – and divided even more in 1889, 1891, 1894 and 1897 as babies kept arriving.
Thornton’s Alice says,
“As always, I tried not to let it bother me that all my younger half-siblings were granted whatever pets and toys they set their hearts on, further evidence that I would forever be other when it came to our family.”
So to feel less other – and to get the attention she craved – Alice pushed the behavior boundaries.
And she never stopped.
Theodore Roosevelt became our 26th president in 1901 following the assassination of President William McKinley, and Alice thrived on the attention she received from being the “first daughter.” Soon the press – and she was, by choice, in news a lot – began referring to her as our “American Princess.”
Alice says, rather smugly,
“There was no denying that I was the second most popular Roosevelt in the world.”
When Alice’s debut takes place in the White House with 600 of her closest friends, she’s elated – all the attention is on her. Says Alice,
“I’d become the talk of Washington by becoming the most successful, witty, and lively debutante of the season.”
Alice can get rather wearying after awhile.
She is credited with being witty, saying things like, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, sit right here by me.” And some (in my opinion) very narcissistic things: “I pray for a fortune. I care for nothing except to amuse myself in a charmingly expensive way.”
And Alice could also be cruel. When her cousin (and Democrat) Franklin was running again for president in 1940, Alice – a Republican, just like Daddy – said publicly, “I’d rather vote for Hitler than vote for Franklin for a third term.”
American Princess is – like Alice’s life – full of high drama, much of it created by Alice.
It’s short for Eveleth, which is a pretty rotten name, considering her mother – who abandoned Evvie when she was 10 – gave it to her because Mom was miserable in her small-town Maine home, and pined for the dreams she’d once had in her hometown of Eveleth, Minnesota.
“I am named after my mother’s unhappiness,” says Evvie.
Meet Dean Tenney, a big-time major league pitcher until suddenly – he couldn’t pitch anymore. The fans and sports writers who cheered him one day now consider him the personification of “failure.”
Dean needs a low-profile place to figure out what’s next.
Meet Linda Holmes, author of Evvie and Dean’s story, Evvie Drake Starts Over.
I was first intrigued by Holmes because she’s on National Public Radio – NPR – a station I listen to a lot and greatly respect. When I learned she’d written her first book, I wanted to know more. Evvie came out in late June 2019 and hit The New York Times best seller list on July 13 – pretty impressive for a first-time author!
There’s a third character, Andy, a mutual friend of both Evvie and Dean, though they’ve never met. Andy knows that Dean is looking for a place to lick his wounds, and that widowed Evvie has a small apartment at the back of her house. It’s obvious where this is going, and that’s OK.
I found Dean easy to like – he’s smart, sensitive, and really suffering from losing the career he loved and now appears to have lost. And he’s tried everything to fix it; he tells Andy, “I went to eight sports psychologists and two psychiatrists…I did acupuncture, acupressure, suction cups on my shoulder, and candles in my fucking ears…I quit gluten, I quit sugar, I quit sex, I had extra sex, I ate no meat, just meat…”
The list went on, and my heart went out to him.
But Evvie – sometimes not so easy to like. She could be funny, but also do some major Pity Party. She has a lot of baggage and knows it – “Baggage. So goddamn much. I should have my own cargo plane” – but can’t acknowledge that she needs professional help.
Until, toward the end, a friend says, “Your head is the house you live in, so you have to do the maintenance.”
I started out liking Evvie, but then I got annoyed, then exasperated, then back to liking her, then I got pissed at her, and then…
Yup – twice. The good kind.
So I’d have to say that the author did a good job of keeping me engaged in her story.
I did have trouble liking Evvie at times, but I had no trouble liking Evvie. It’s well-written, easy to read, a good story with complex characters that I cared about all the way through.
Evvie is Holmes’ first novel – and I hope, not her last.
The pandemic has been and is a lot of tragic, terrible things.
It’s also something very ordinary:
And if you’re not a person accustomed to entertaining yourself, it can be very boring indeed.
Without labeling all teens as such, I suspect that many aren’t adept at entertaining themselves.
That’s why articles abound on the internet, like this one:
Though how teens can get bored when they have, on their phones at their fingertips, endless access to Snapchat, Tik Tok, Instagram, WhatsApp, Kik, Telegram and more to search, and share, and star in their own lives…
Apparently some teens still do get bored.
Bored is the only reason I can think of for a 13-year-old to take her mother’s SUV – without permission – pick up a friend, and head out for a joyride sometime after 11pm on February 12.
And if she wasn’t bored, then what was she thinking?
According to this article from American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry:
Thinking – that is, thinking logically – isn’t something teens generally excel at:
Many parents do not understand why their teenagers occasionally behave in an impulsive, irrational, or dangerous way. At times, it seems like teens don’t think things through or fully consider the consequences of their actions. Adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. There is a biological explanation for this difference. Studies have shown that brains continue to mature and develop throughout childhood and adolescence and well into early adulthood.
Scientists have identified a specific region of the brain called the amygdala that is responsible for immediate reactions including fear and aggressive behavior. This region develops early. However, the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later. This part of the brain is still changing and maturing well into adulthood.
The article goes on to say,
Pictures of the brain in action show that adolescents’ brains work differently than adults when they make decisions or solve problems. Their actions are guided more by the emotional and reactive amygdala and less by the thoughtful, logical frontal cortex.
When it comes to making good decisions, teens are at a distinct disadvantage.
As was the 13-year-old driver.
She isn’t named in the news stories, so I’ll call her X.
Shortly before 11:30pm, X’s joyride was interrupted when she was pulled over in Escondido, about 30 miles north of San Diego, for a traffic violation.
If you’ve ever been pulled over by the police – and I have – it’s an unnerving situation.
Those flashing red-and-blue lights in your rearview mirror…the knowledge that you must have screwed up, even if you don’t yet know how…or maybe you know exactly how…but either way, as that police officer approaches, you know you’re in Big Trouble.
The news stories don’t detail what traffic violation the was, and it probably doesn’t matter.
What matters is that X didn’t sit meekly in her driver’s seat, awaiting her reckoning, like most of us do.
Instead, as the Escondido police officer approached the SUV, X allegedly sped off.
That lasted for six blocks, then she lost control of the vehicle, and careened off the roadway:
Two homeless men were laying in a patch of shrubbery next to a concrete-block wall.
The SUV slammed into both men…
Both teens then allegedly got out of the damaged vehicle and made a failed attempt to escape on foot.
One man died at the scene, and one died later in the hospital.
The men were Mateo Salvador, 33, and 51-year-old Sofio Sotelo Torres.
The girls weren’t injured, but the two men were dead.
After being caught and questioned by police, X and her friend were released to the custody of their families pending completion of investigations.
Weeks passed, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through X’s mind. Was she upset? Remorseful? Ashamed? Or perhaps just regretting that her little joyride may have gotten her into some serious trouble?
On March 24, X was jailed on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, felony hit-and-run and evading arrest. She was booked into Juvenile Hall in San Diego:
Her passenger wasn’t facing charges or mentioned in the police department’s statement.
If the case moves forward, according to CBS 8 TV,
“It means she will have proceedings in juvenile court which is closed to the general public, before a judge only. Meaning she won’t have a jury trial and her identity will remain sealed,” said San Diego defense attorney Gene Iredale, who is not representing the teen.
If convicted, the maximum sentence for the teen would be juvenile detention until her 21st birthday.
“Her parents could also face consequences, but not in criminal court. The parents, assuming the girl stole the car without their knowledge, are not criminally liable for anything. There may be civil liability on behalf of the parents.”
On March 26, X pleaded not guilty:
Our law says a 13-year-old is not an adult.
X took on the responsibility of an adult when she decided to drive a vehicle.
X took on the responsibility of an adult when she invited a friend to join her in the vehicle, taking on the responsibility for the friend’s safety.
X behaved like an adult when she realized the police were telling her to pull over – she pulled over.
X behaved like some adults, fleeing in the vehicle from officers.
X behaved like some adults when she lost control of the vehicle.
X behaved like some adults when she fled the crash scene on foot.
X behaved like an adult, but our law says she must be considered a child.
Am I disagreeing? Am I suggesting that X should spend a long time, perhaps the rest of her life, in prison?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that two men are dead, and even if X gets the maximum sentence, she’ll walk out of juvenile detention a free person at age 21, records sealed.
Is this a not-very-interesting novel about an interesting subject, or a not-very-interesting novel about a not-very-interesting subject?
The author is Kerri Maher, the book is The Girl in White Gloves, and the subject is film actress Grace Kelly (1929-1982).
And since Grace Kelly is the subject of more than 30 books, two biopics, and countless print and online articles – and the fascination with her continues to this day – I’m going with the former:
A not-very-interesting novel about an interesting subject.
Worse: Not only a not-very-interesting novel, Maher managed to make Grace Kelly boring.
Kelly was many things, some rather sad, but she was not boring.
Kelly was an A-List award-winning actress who began performing in 1950, and appeared in theatrical productions, more than 40 episodes of live TV drama productions, and 11 movies, one of which – The Country Girl in 1955 – earned her an Oscar.
She appeared in movies with some high-profile leading men: Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Ray Milland, Bing Crosby, Alec Guinness and William Holden.
She had a number of lovers – high-profile and otherwise – before marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 and becoming Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace. Their wedding was estimated to have been watched by over 30 million viewers on live television
She and Rainier raised three children, and she established herself as a gifted philanthropist and humanitarian, dedicating her public life to charities and fundraising.
Yet…somehow, Maher managed to make Kelly boring.
And make the book confusing. One problem I had was the time period switches: The book starts out in 1955 and jumps as follows: 1969, 1949, 1951, 1974, 1952, 1954, 1975, 1955, 1956, 1976, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1978, 1981, and then 1982 with Kelly’s death following a car crash.
I’ll admit I tend to be a linear person, but that has to be too many jumps for even the least linear.
Another issue I had was the author giving us a situation, but giving no reason for it. For example, Maher tells us that after their marriage, Rainier banned all of Grace’s movies in Monaco – yet she doesn’t tell us why.
Rainier’s initial attraction to Kelly was the fact that she was a movie star, and then he bans her movies?
I realize the book is a novel, not a biography, but I thought that, and other unanswered questions, left gaps that needed to be filled.
There are other novels out there about Grace Kelly, though I haven’t read them so can’t recommend them, but only for that reason.
I can’t recommend The Girl in White Gloves, either.
Grace, glammed-down in “The Country Girl,” and glammed-up to collect the Oscar she won for it (with co-star William Holden).
When I’ve been in Asian restaurants (pre-pandemic, of course) and seen people using chopsticks with great dexterity…
I confess to more than a twinge of envy.
I have never managed to master chopsticks.
When I try to use them I’m as likely to get a chopstick in my nose as any food in my mouth.
I do just fine with a fork, but chopsticks…not so much.
Chopsticks have been around for a long time.
Forks…not so much.
Estimates place the use of chopsticks as eating utensils at around 5,000 years ago in China, and spreading to Japan, Vietnam and Korea by 500 AD.
Forks were in use for eating by the fourth century in the Eastern Roman Empire, but didn’t become common in Europe – specifically, Italy – until the 14th century.
And then a forking scandal ensued. “Shocking!” exclaimed some. “Unmanly,” sneered others. And the Catholic Church disapproved of forks, seeing it as “excessive delicacy.”
Most of Europe didn’t adopt the fork until the 1700s, which begs the question:
Without forks, how did medieval Europeans transfer the food from their plates – to their mouths?
Very sharp knives.
The process was simple: Poke, tear, stab or spear a piece of food from the plate with your knife, transfer the food to your mouth. Chew, swallow, repeat.
I probably would have sliced my nose trying to get the food in my mouth.
When you were a guest in someone’s home, you did a BYO – bring your own knife. Then, if you were attacked by a ne’er-do-well on your way home, you’d use the same knife to defend yourself.
As I said – sharp.
As I said – slice my nose.
So – in terms of table utensils, at least – I’m glad I don’t live in the Middle Ages.
I’ll stick to my trusty fork, yes, even in Chinese (or Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese) restaurants. I’ll be the one mumbling to the waitperson, “Can I have a fork, please?” while my fellow diners display their “Why did we invite her?” looks.
Better that, than a chopstick in my nose.
Today there are many types of forks – in one article I counted 35, including one for ice cream.
Then there’s perhaps the most famous fork of all, thanks to Yogi Berra, who famously said:
One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is the opportunity it presents to enjoy the absurd.
I love funny stuff, but I love the absurd even more.
You know – those human behaviors that make you pause and say…
“Is this the truth?” you wonder, “or is someone making this up?”
Usually, it’s the truth.
That’s the beauty of the absurd.
One blog I posted about the absurd was June 2018, when the United States Postal Service (USPS) came up with the brilliant idea of selling scratch-and-sniff stamps:
The postal service, which has been in financial trouble since Ben Franklin founded it in 1775, apparently decided that scratch-and-sniff stamps would help turn things around.
USPS predicted – incorrectly, it turned out – that hordes of us would welcome the opportunity to scratch and sniff something that had been mangled in machines, spilled on floors, and touched by how many who-knows-where-those-hands-have-been.
Then there was the very first post I did, back in May 2017:
I talked about how I hated having houseguests, how most people hate having houseguests, but that we do it anyway.
I recounted several houseguest experiences, including the time my friend and her husband came to stay for just one night.
One night – that was doable, right?
After a nice day together, we all turned in. Then, when I was almost asleep, I heard a noise from the bedroom next door that was instantly recognizable though almost indescribable. It was female, it was loud, and it began with “oh, oh,” followed by, in an equally loud male voice, “oh, god,” followed by a duet: “god, oh, oh,” followed by – well, you get it.
But never was the absurd easier to find than after Trump and his parasitic family moved into the White House.
The absurdity was non-stop, and for absolute absurdity, no one could beat Melania Trump.
March 2020: Our country had started its miserable slide down into the pandemic. Was Melania focused on where our country was headed, and what she could do to alleviate the suffering?
She was focused on this:
Building a tennis pavilion at the White House.
So I love the absurd, but – sadly – over the past year I’ve realized that my enjoyment of the absurd had gotten…frayed around the edges.
My enjoyment of life in general had gotten frayed around the edges.
A daily increasing pandemic death toll will do that.
Oh, I had it better than most, and I knew it. I hadn’t lost anyone I loved, I didn’t know anyone who’d been infected, and if I hated wearing a face mask, well – just suck it up and do it.
Recently, writer Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times summed up her – and my – situation perfectly:
“Knowing how little I’d lost compared to others didn’t lessen my misery, it just added a slimy coating shame to it.”
So here I was, wondering if I’d ever find anything absurd again. Wondering if I’d ever again have another one of those “What. What?” moments.
Salvation came on March 24, with this big announcement:
Who? I thought.
Who the hell is Chrissy Teigen?
And who cares if she deleted her Twitter account?
Well, if the Associated Press (AP) – a respected, credible media outlet – considered her newsworthy…
Perhaps I was onto something.
It turns out that Teigen, 36, is “an American model, television personality, author, and entrepreneur.”
Which is another way of saying she doesn’t really do anything, but is, instead, famous – for being famous.
She has – had – 13.7 million followers on Twitter, who apparently couldn’t wait to lap up pearls of wisdom like this:
“john” being her husband, singer John Legend.
The couple have two children, one of whom appears in this image with Teigen, which Tiegen posted:
In addition to posing for photos with her son, Teigen noted another activity the two share:
“Wait til the find out we take baths together.”
I think she meant till rather than til, and they find out, but who am I to question such eloquence?
Teigen’s eloquence was again on display in this treasure:
Teigen’s husband had been invited to perform at President Biden’s inauguration, and Chrissy accompanied him, taking note of the “literal fucking heroes” i.e., National Guard members.
Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?
My search to find out who Chrissy Teigen was didn’t uncover any Nobel Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes or even door prizes, but it did lead to my discovering these important items on her website:
If you, like me, have been craving some basic b*tch hair thingies – problem solved.
And her 13.7 million former Twitter followers? If these examples are anything to go by, they are bereft:
So all this explains the attention paid to Teigen in the national and international news – in addition to the Associated Press, I found her dumping-Twitter story on CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Variety, People, the Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, ABC, CBC…
And Glamour, which boasts “1115 Stories about Chrissy Teigen”:
I, and I’m certain that you, want to know in which public places Teigen and her husband have had sex. Ms. Eloquence said:
“One time, at the Grammys, I said that we had sex at ‘that Obama thing,’ and that came out wrong. Because what I actually meant was…it wasn’t with them or near them…I believe it was at the DNC, actually.”
The story goes on to say,
Teigen also said she and Legend have done it at the Los Angeles boutiques Ron Herman and Fred Segal (“right in front of the juice bar”). They’ve had sex on a plane too – and not a private jet.
As for the burning question, Why, oh why did Teigen close her Twitter account? According to the Washington Post,
Her departure from Twitter came on the heels of her announcing her partnership with Kris Jenner to create a line of plant-based cleaning products, which drew criticism online.
Apparently some people were trolling Teigen and Jenner, like this example:
“Seems pretty tone deaf. Two wealthy women with housekeeping staff, marketing cleaning products to the middle class in the midst of a pandemic.”
Apparently this isn’t the first time Teigen was trolled.
Teigen’s last tweet included this:
“But it’s time for me to say goodbye. This no longer serves me as positively as it serves me negatively, and I think that’s the right time to call something.”
Teigen didn’t specify what “something” it was the right time to call, but…a mere bagatelle.
So…those 13.7 million former Teigen Twitter followers are sad. They miss this epitome of eloquence, this model of motherhood, this…this…
Let’s leave the monikers to Glamour, which said it best:
Chrissy Teigen is a national treasure – this is not up for debate.
Nothing will ever replace the pleasure of holding a book in my hands.
No eReader or whatever other technology comes along next week will ever replace the tactile experience of holding a book and turning the pages, while I’m immersed in the world captured between a book’s hard or soft covers.
I know eReaders have their upside, and I’m not saying I’ll never use one.
But having a book in my hands – no eReader can compete with that.
I love books. All books.
That doesn’t mean I read all books, or love all the books I read. But books have been my constant companions since I was a kid, and I mean the walk-into-the-library-and-take-a-book-off-the-shelf kind of book.
And speaking of library books…
This is directed toward the – sadly – many people who, for reasons I can’t comprehend, deface library books.
You deface them with pen, pencil and/or highlighters. You dog-ear corners and/or tear out a page, or pages. You bend and then break the spines.
Then you return the book to the library. Sometimes a book is so damaged that library staff must remove it from circulation and, hopefully, have the budget to replace it.
Otherwise, staff will make an effort to ameliorate the damage, and return the book to circulation.
The latter is the case with this library book, Potshot by Robert B. Parker:
When I first picked up the book, I glanced at a mark on the cover and thought it was part of the design – the title is Potshot, it’s a detective story, and there’s what looks like a gunshot hole as part of the cover image.
But I immediately realized – no. That mark was not part of the cover design.
The mark was…a cigarette burn:
What angry or frustrated or I-don’t-know-what-kind-of person would deliberately press a cigarette into the cover of a book and burn a hole in it?
Was it the same person who did this to the book:
Or did several sick, sad people contribute to the book’s sad state?
This is far from the first damaged library book I’ve seen, but by far, it’s the most egregious.
A cigarette burn?
So here’s my message to you book damagers:
The book you’re holding is an inanimate object. It has nothing to do with the rage or frustration or whatever it is you’re feeling.
The book you’re holding doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the taxpayers whose hard-earned dollars support the library.
The book you’re holding – and damaging – isn’t conveying your message to its subsequent readers. All it’s conveying is that a sick person – you – was allowed to get a library card, and has abused the privilege.
Stop taking your problems out on our library books.
Unless you’re expecting an income tax refund or an Economic Impact Payment (EIP), an envelope from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not something you want to see in your mailbox.
Maybe you did your own taxes and made a mistake. Maybe someone else did your taxes and they made a mistake.
Or maybe you’re a criminal, and…
So it was with great trepidation that I opened the envelope from the IRS. I could feel the tension knotting up my shoulders. My vision got a bit blurry. My heart was pounding.
And I didn’t think even I’d done anything wrong!
I started to read.
The letter turned out to be not only innocuous, but helpful. The topic was the second EIP, and what to do in case I hadn’t received it yet. The suggestions included the “Get My Payment” option on the IRS website; the “Where’s My EIP” app on my smart phone; and a toll-free number to call.
The letter also offered this helpful information:
“Remember, the IRS won’t call or otherwise contact you asking for personal or bank account information…”
I guess the scammers who left us a message the other morning weren’t familiar with the IRS’ policy.
At 8:30am – 8:30am!!! – the scammers left this voicemail:
“Due to some suspicious activities related to your Social Security number, we are forced to suspend your Social Security number with immediate effect. In case you feel this is an error, you may connect to the legal department of Social Security Administration. In order to connect with Social Security Administration officer, press one. In case we do not hear from you, your Social will be blocked permanently. To connect now, press one, and you will be automatically connected to the concerned department.”
The male voice was heavily accented, and the script writer won’t win any Pulitzer Prizes.
But that’s not why we didn’t “press one.”
We didn’t “press one” because we know that doing so would connect me to someone who wanted my personal information or money – or both.
According to this IRS Tax Tip about this specific scam:
There are all sorts of warnings about scammers out there, from the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI and others. We hear the warnings, we read the warnings and then somehow, sometimes, when that scammer calls there’s a disconnect in our brains and…
These billion-dollar statistics say it better than I ever could:
In the U.S., money lost in phone scams almost doubled from 2019 to 2020.
People that get sucked in by telephone scammers aren’t stupid. But scammers are masters of intimidating people, scaring people, or in this case, romancing people:
These women went looking for love in all the wrong places, and the scammer found them. According to the article,
“Kofi Osei, a native of Ghana who lives in Randolph, Massachusetts, used fake names on dating sites and opened bank accounts using passports with aliases, according to court documents. When the women transferred money to those accounts, he quickly withdrew it, converted it to cashier’s checks, and used it to buy cars at auction and for other personal expenses, prosecutors said.”
What’s it all mean?
It’s means we’re all susceptible, myself included.
And if you love them, don’t bother to read anymore.
I’ve long thought that fireworks were much ado about nothing.
You get in your car, possibly with young children (because teens are way to cool for this), and drive to the fireworks show in bumper-to-bumper traffic with all the other people who love – or pretend to love – fireworks.
Then you watch the fireworks.
Then you get back in your car, the kids up way past their bedtime and cranky, and sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic with all the other people who love – or pretend to love – fireworks.
In the car, the kids have already forgotten about the fireworks. By morning, you will have, too.
Here in California, fireworks are an especially bad idea because of our ongoing drought conditions:
Which is one of the reasons why, in California, fireworks are illegal in many places.
One of those places is Ontario, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. If you’re a resident of Ontario and you’re not sure about the legality of fireworks, you can easily find out, just as I did:
I suspect that the people associated with a home in the 400 block of West Francis Street knew this.
But that didn’t stop them from stockpiling a massive amount of illegal fireworks.
Which led to a massive explosion on March 16, just after 12:30pm:
Two known deaths.
Three people injured.
The home destroyed.
The blasts rained down debris – including ammunition and large nails – over 80 properties, and windows were blown out in homes blocks away:
At least $3.2 million worth of damage, officials said Friday.
Evacuations of more than 100 displaced residents – 24 families – in the surrounding neighborhood that will remain in place for days, while the fire department’s bomb technicians work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to dispose of unexploded fireworks at the scene of the explosion.
“Approximately 60 27-gallon boxes or cases of unexploded fireworks at this point,” Ontario Fire Department Chief Ray Gayk said on Wednesday.
Gayk also said 24 bomb technicians from three counties have been called in to assist in the process.
The FBI is involved, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Imagine yourself in one of the nearby houses. It’s lunchtime, nothing much going on. Suddenly, a massive explosion. Another explosion. Was it a plane crash? A gas pipeline? A terrorist attack? Your kids are terrified. You’re terrified. What should you do? What can you do?
Imagine looking out your window and seeing this:
Eventually, a police officer arrives at your door, briefly explains the situation, and tells you that you must evacuate. No, she or he doesn’t know for how long. But you must go, now.
Where will you go?
Now let’s tally up just some of the costs to the taxpayers: Police, fire department, those 24 bomb technicians, the EPA, the FBI, and the ATF.
Every one of these public servants endangering their lives, working in an area littered with unexploded fireworks.
These are people with critical jobs, people who could be needed elsewhere, but instead are involved in this tragedy.
We may never know why the stockpile of fireworks in the house on West Francis Street exploded.
Or why the people associated with this were stockpiling fireworks.
I suspect they anticipated selling the merchandise prior to July 4.
Because so many people, for reasons that escape me, just have to get their firework fix.
I’m betting the police, fire department, those 24 bomb technicians, the EPA, the FBI, and the ATF aren’t fans of fireworks.
Review, short version: More skunks than I have room for.
Review, long version:
A long-time friend and I are avid readers, and while we often talk about books, we have very different preferences in what we read.
Occasionally we’ll both read the same book and invariably, we’ll agree to disagree on the book’s merits – or lack of – and move on.
So when my friend emailed and said,
“I just finished Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance, and it was very good. I think you’d like it.”
I thought it was a daring statement on her part. I decided to give Clock Dance a try.
I hated it.
This was my first experience reading Anne Tyler, though she’s published more than 20 novels. Her genre is described as “literary realism,” and while her website is skimpy on information, it does mention that she won a Pulitzer Prize for a novel in 1989.
Her website also lists numerous excerpts from glowing reviews of Clock Dance that include language such as,
Before I gave up about half-way through the book, I’d encountered none of these.
Tyler’s lead character is Willa, and we meet her at seminal moments in her life: in 1967 at age 11; in 1977; in 1997; and then in 2017, where it appears most of the story will be told.
By 2017 we’ve gotten a clear picture of Willa – a victim of her mother’s physical and emotional abuse, and her father’s enabling of it. A victim of her bully husband, dropping out of college at his insistence. The husband dies in 1997 and at some point Willa remarries, now becoming a victim of a man who infantilizes her – nicknaming her “Little One” and telling her that she, at age 61, is not capable of traveling on an airplane without him.
Willa has “VICTIM” written all over her, and I detest stories where women are – and remain – victims.
The destination Willa wants to fly to is Baltimore, and the reason is so convoluted, and so nonsensical, that it defies credibility. She gets a phone call from a stranger in Baltimore about a woman named Denise, who at one time was the live-in lover of Willa’s son Sean. Denise was shot in the leg and is in the hospital, and, says the stranger, Willa must come to Baltimore to take care of Denise’s nine-year-old daughter Cheryl.
Now, Denise is no longer living with Sean. And Cheryl is not Sean’s child. There is no blood tie between Willa and Cheryl, no connection of any kind. What does Willa decide?
She decides to fly to Baltimore to take care of Cheryl.
The only clue seems to be on page 114: Willa is hoping for grandchildren. Willa “longed for grandchildren.”
So Willa is going to Baltimore to take on the care of a stranger’s kid and – what? Pretend Cheryl is that longed-for grandchild?
Willa needs to get a life. Her own, and not someone else’s.
Willa meets the child, Cheryl, and it was Willa’s observations of her that turned my feelings about Clock Dance from dislike into loathing:
Page 122: “She [Cheryl] had a pudgy face and a keg-shaped tummy that strained her T-shirt, and her legs were so plump that the inseams of her shorts had worked their way up to her crotch.”
Page 129: “Cheryl had soft, tawny skin, unfortunately pouching a bit below her jaw…”
Page 136: “Cheryl was sitting against her headboard…She wore pink pajamas with cap sleeves that showed her upper arms, which were wide and soft and squishy like a grown woman’s arms.”
Clearly Tyler’s goal was to portray Cheryl as overweight and, therefore, unattractive.
I don’t call this “Delightfully zany…Charming…Tender.”
I call it body shaming, and I call it shameful.
Since I didn’t finish the book, I don’t know why Tyler titled it Clock Dance, and I don’t care.
I don’t know where the story goes, and I don’t care.
I don’t know if lead character Willa goes through some kind of metamorphosis, stops being a victim and stops body shaming Cheryl. And I don’t care.
But I’m rooting for Cheryl. Maybe she’ll grow up and become our first female president.
So it’s no surprise that I only recently became aware of a fashion trend that’s been around for awhile.
“Awhile” meaning since 1983.
And that trend’s longevity is understandable, when I show you what I’m talking about:
These well-known actresses obviously shop at the same garbage dump designer store.
Called “street couture,” I learned it goes back at least to 1983 because of this article in the Washington Post:
What Vogue “called street couture” was also known as “bag lady chic,” and it’s easy to find examples of that, as well:
In an indication of our heightened sensitivity, the term “bag lady” fell out of fashion, but the look did not:
We now call it “homeless chic,” and rest assured, it is not for women only:
Designer unknown; sleeping bag (on right), not included.
And lest you’re concerned that this stylin’ is only for the rich and famous or runway models, here are some shots of regular folks – yes, like you and me! – proving that we, too, can have this look:
But to avoid committing terrible fashion faux paus, I found an online article with tips for getting the max out of our new look. Written by someone named “Katy,” we can easily see her stylin’ sense; here’s her photo, along with her advice:
Nothing should be your size. If it is, you’re doing it wrong. The key to this look is wearing EVERYTHING oversized. That means you’re sizing up at least one to two sizes.
Your jeans should be baggy enough to fit a diaper in the crotch. Please don’t WEAR a diaper, but you catch my drift.
Structured shoes are a must. If you wear this look with something casual like tennis shoes, it will be bag lady in the WRONG way.
Don’t go too crazy on the jewelry. This look is all about the mass amount of clothing you’re wearing and if you try to layer a ton of big jewelry, you WILL look like you’re just wearing everything in your closet.
Now, armed with this wisdom, we’re ready to go homeless chic.
And just ignore the nasty naysayers who say stuff like:
It’s been so long since I’ve been in a restaurant, I’m not sure I’ll remember what to do.
Of course, I won’t be in a restaurant any time soon, since they’re still closed for indoor dining in most places.
Well, not in Texas, but I don’t live in Texas. I did for a short while, but fortunately left before I had any encounters with the creepy, scary, dangerous creatures that live there.
Like this eight-inch-long Texas Readheaded Centipede (left) and the equally creepy, scary, dangerous you-know-who (right).
But I digress.
Here’s what I envision when indoor dining is allowed again.
I walk into the restaurant and almost have a meltdown.
Walk into the restaurant? No drive-through, no curbside?
I flop into a chair at the nearest table, just like I do at home. Then I look down and notice I’m not wearing my usual raggedy gray sweats and slippers, and remember that I’m not at home. I’m wearing clothes I haven’t seen in ages, and they’re clean.
Or they’re fairly clean, because I dusted them off.
I straighten my posture, then look around the room.
There are people at other tables, and none of them are wearing masks.
I’m almost freaked out by the sight of so many uncovered noses and cheeks and chins, but I steady myself.
A pleasant person comes over, smiles, introduces himself, and hands me several pages with stuff printed on them.
I say, “Thanks, but I brought my own reading material,” and hand the pages back.
Puzzled, the pleasant person says, “You don’t want to look at the menu?”
Menu. Menu? The word sounds vaguely familiar. Menu.
Then the memory surfaces: Menu! That’s how you learn about the food, and the prices! You read the menu!
Chagrined, I take the menu back and lay it beside my plate as the pleasant person departs.
That’s when I notice some silvery items on either side of the plate. I recognize them – sort of – though I haven’t seen any for what seems like forever.
Those silvery items are…are… Wait. It will come to me.
Utensils! I have some at home, in a drawer that hasn’t been opened for what seems like forever.
McNuggets and Whoppers: No utensils needed.
I glance around, hoping no one has noticed my elation at remembering utensils, and spot items on some of the other tables that I do recognize.
I’ve had one in my hand pretty much non-stop since mid-March, 2020:
“What should I have for breakfast? Red or white?”
I begin perusing the menu, my eyes stumbling over the unfamiliar words:
But “Angel Hair Pomodoro…Salmon Picatta…Eggplant Parmigiana…Meat Lasagna…”
What’s with this foreign language? Do you have to be bilingual to eat here?
And what’s with all these choices? Why don’t they just offer one item, so I don’t get all flummoxed?
The pleasant person approaches my table and I panic. Is he going to ask me something I’m ill-equipped to answer?
He does. “What would you like to order?
“Um…” I say.
Then inspiration hits: “I’ll have a glass of wine.”
“Of course,” he smiles, pointing to the last page of the whatchacallit, menu. “Our wines by the glass are listed here.”
“Oh,” I groan. “You mean you have more than just red or white?”
I am so out of my depth, and his smile has faded into something like what you see in an emergency room, when the nurse behind the counter tells you, as she’s been telling you for the past six hours, “It will only be a few more minutes and the doctor will see you.”
I point to one of the wines by the glass, and he nods and turns away.
What am I going to order? What do I want to eat? I know for certain I’ve done this in the past – made a choice and ordered – but I’ve grown unused to making choices.
Especially since the choices are, “Stay home” or “Stay home.”
By the time the pleasant person has returned with my wine, something wonderful has happened.
I’ve remembered that some people who work in restaurants are waitpersons or waiters or waitresses. Three memories in one blinding flash!
But not a single memory of what I want to eat.
So I come up with this subterfuge:
I close the menu and say, “Everything looks so good! What would you recommend?”
The waiter looks – nonplussed? And my heart sinks. Was what I asked considered rude? Does the waiter think I’m quizzing him to test his knowledge and professionalism? Is he going to call someone over, to expel this miscreant from the premises?
Then he smiles, and my sinking heart starts to rise.
“Our most popular dish is the lasagna,” he says. “Would you like to try that?”
The days when you learned – usually the hard way – to always keep correct change in your purse or pocket.
Because if you had to go, and the only toilet around was a pay toilet and you didn’t have that nickel or dime or whatever…
And plenty of people were faced with this dilemma, so they found a workaround. This prompted the pay toilet proprietors to update their signs with warnings:
What diabolical sadist came up with the idea of having to pay – to pee?
This will not surprise you:
He was the head of the government, and he needed to raise money to pay for his wars.
In other words, you were taxed for using a toilet.
The diabolical sadist was Emperor Vespasian, in Rome around 74AD.
After Vespasian, the pay toilet timeline is pretty much blank until the late 19th century. That’s when John Maskelyne invented the first modern pay toilet in London, or rather, the first modern pay toilet lock (pictured left).
Maskelyne was a magician by trade, apparently of such repute that a professional organization, The Magic Circle, named a prize after him, awarded for “noteworthy contributions by a member or non-member of The Magic Circle to the art or literature of magic.”
I’ve been unable to ascertain what prompted magician Maskelyne to invent a pay toilet lock, but I doubt anyone named any prizes after him for that.
There are conflicting reports as to when pay toilets began appearing in the U.S. – some sources say that was in Terre Haute, IN in 1910; others point to Walt Disney installing them in 1935, in his Walt’s restaurant in Hollywood.
Like he needed the money.
However and whenever, pay toilets in airports and restaurants and railroad stations became common, and in almost all major cities in the U.S, people were paying to pee.
I should pause here and note – pay toilets weren’t just for peeing. But women had to pay every time they went into a toilet stall, while men paid only when they needed a stall.
Still, the fact that women had to pay every time was considered discriminatory by many, and some formed the group CEPTIA (Committee to End Pay Toilets in America). Lawsuits were filed, and in 1973 Chicago led the way, becoming the first city to ban them.
Pay toilets in America were almost obsolete by the end of the 1970s, though you’ll still see plenty of them elsewhere in the world. Some of those have done away with the coin-operated locks and instead have attendants in the bathrooms who, in exchange for a tip, will hand you a towel to dry your hands. In some instances, the attendants hold the toilet paper hostage until you pay up.
So if you’re planning a trip abroad (someday), I’d suggest you fill your pocket or purse with pence or rupees or pesos or cedis.
And I have every expectation that you’ll soon be paying to pee on your transportation, as well.
The airlines, which already charge us for carryon bags, checked bags, oversize bags, the bags under your eyes, snacks, drinks, priority seating, priority boarding, seat selection, ticket booking/changes/cancellations, Wi-Fi, traveling with pets, traveling without pets, runway fees, take-off fees, landing fees, segment fees, and fee fees…
Are missing a significant revenue stream (if you’ll excuse the expression) by not having…
My morning routine: Start coffee, wake up computer.
On the computer, one of the first things I google is “Biden.” I want to see our country’s top news stories, and a good place to start is with the president.
Ten headlines appear – the most recent stories – and I scroll through them.
Yesterday morning wasn’t any different as far as my routine, and some of the 10 headlines were as expected – Biden and the COVID relief bill, Biden and immigration, and so on.
But yesterday morning, an identical topic appeared in three of the 10 headlines, in the first, seventh and ninth positions.
And as I looked at those three headlines, I couldn’t help but compare them to headlines from the previous administration.
Here are the three headlines from yesterday:
Three out of the top 10 headlines were about President Biden’s dog biting a security guard.
I couldn’t help but think, “How wonderfully boring.”
And, “What a relief!”
Especially when you compare the dog-bites-security-guard headlines to these, for example:
Trump threatening to make war on North Korea:
Trump threatening to make war on Iran:
Trump threatening to make war on Americans:
After headlines like this, I’ll take dog-bite stories any day.
Earlier I used the word “boring” with regards to Biden, and I meant it as a great compliment.
There are many articles that use the words “Biden” and “boring” in the same sentence, like this one:
And I believe those writers mean it as a great compliment, as well.
One writer who put it particularly well was Michael Grunwald, in Politico shortly after the 2020 election:
Here are some excerpts:
“After four years of presidential rage-tweeting, name-calling, gaslighting, race-baiting and all-around norm-breaking, an exhausted electorate decided this week that it was ready to return to politics as usual.”
“Former Vice President Biden ran on a detailed policy agenda, a long record of Washington service, and a poignant narrative of pain and endurance. But his central promise was more basic: to restore decency, civility, empathy and most of all stability to the White House, so Americans wouldn’t have to think about their president every day, or wake up worrying about his tweets.”
“Biden is an optimist who genuinely sees America as an exceptional nation, a beacon of goodness to the world. He’s corny about his faith in America’s ability to come together and overcome adversity…”
“…America no longer seems to be yearning for a blow-stuff-up guy. It’s more interested in a put-stuff-back-together guy.
I recently saw a news story that caused two disparate reactions.
The first: “Good for her!”
The second: “That is so ageist!”
The story was about an unidentified Australian woman who reportedly was in a pub, celebrating her birthday. Her purse was on the table, and a guy grabbed it and ran.
The 45-second video appears to have been taken by a security camera. There’s no audio, and the quality is poor:
Here’s what happened:
The woman chases the man on a sidewalk, and as he turns into a parking lot, she grabs him by the arm, swings him around, and they both fall to the ground.
She wraps her arm around his neck – a chokehold – and grabs her purse with her other hand. As he struggles to stand, she has her purse in one hand and grabs his shirt with the other. His shirt is sliding off, and as she’s holding on to her purse and his shirt, and he starts dragging her across the pavement.
Now shirtless, he breaks away, heads to his truck and gets in. She pulls herself into a sitting position, and by about 33 seconds into the video, she’s on her feet, purse in hand. She keeps her eyes on him as she heads back to the sidewalk, and walks back in the direction they came from:
The would-be purse snatcher drives away, and the news stories said he’d later been arrested.
It’s easy to understand my “Good for her!” reaction. Her courage in chasing the thief, the tenacity in her pursuit, her determination to thwart him, and her success are all so impressive.
As to my second reaction – “This is so ageist!” – here’s the reason for that.
I read a number of articles about this event, and it appears the January 19 story was broken by 7News.com.au in Australia on February 21. Here’s the online headline:
How did 7News.com.au know the woman was a “grandmother”?
There’s nothing in the print story to indicate the woman self-identified as a grandmother.
There’s nothing in the video to indicate the woman self-identified as a grandmother.
Yet the 7News.com.au print and video versions refer to the woman as a “grandmother,” “gutsy grandmother,” “no-nonsense nana,” “nan,” “ninja nan,” “feisty nan” and “super-gran.”
The story was picked up by U.S. media coast to coast, from ABC News in Los Angeles:
To the New York Daily News:
And even internationally – here’s Great Britain’s Daily Mail:
And without exception, every story I saw also referred to the woman as a “grandmother,” or some variant.
It appears that the TV station in Australia started it, and without bothering to verify it, the other media outlets repeated it.
And that’s ageist.
Yes, it appears that the woman is older than her 20s or 30s or 40s.
But why did they assume that she’s a “grandmother”?
Because it’s an easy, older-woman label to slap on someone, rather than going to the trouble of ascertaining its accuracy.
The woman appears to be older, so she is, therefore, a grandmother.
And the implication is, “Look at what this old lady did!” As though a person of a “certain age” is too slow or too feeble or too mentally incapacitated or too something to tackle a purse snatcher, get him in a headlock, and retrieve her purse.
This all has to do with labeling people based on their appearance, and I realize labeling people based on their appearance is a much bigger issue than one woman in Australia.
Suppose it’s 1915 and you’re in the United States.
It may be that you want to go to Europe.
It may be that you have to go to Europe.
Either way, a reminder: It’s 1915 and there are no commercial airplanes to take you to Europe. And commercial travel by blimp doesn’t come along until the 1920s.
Your options are:
Don’t go to Europe.
So you book your passage on a cruise ship.
And the top-of-the-line, most luxurious cruise ship in 1915 was this:
In May 1915, plenty of people had booked their cross-Atlantic passage on the Lusitania, some with trepidation – Europe was embroiled in World War I, and the German Embassy in New York had put this notice in the shipping pages of New York newspapers on April 22, 1915:
“Liable to destruction.” No wonder some people were worried.
But the British-owned Lusitania was seen as invulnerable; it was the fastest ocean liner then in service. And, people were assured, the ship was thought to be so fast and so large that no German submarine could catch it, or sink it.
Besides, the Lusitania was a passenger ship, and even those horrid Germans wouldn’t dare attack a passenger ship.
This brings us to Kim Izzo’s Seven Days in May – three of her lead characters had booked passage on the Lusitania, departing New York on May 1, 1915. The book’s title comes from the number of days they would spend on the ship.
Those three lead characters are New York heiresses Brooke Sinclair and her younger sister Sydney, as well as titled Englishman Edward Thorpe-Tracey, Brooke’s fiancé. Brooke and Edward are going to England to be married, with Sydney as Brooke’s maid of honor.
The fourth lead character is Isabel Nelson, who works at the British Admiralty in the top-secret Room 40.
Some of Seven Days in May is the backstories of these characters – we learn about Brooke’s narcissism, Sydney’s political causes, Edward’s financial problems, and Isabel’s supposedly sordid past.
We also learn that the Lusitania was being tracked by the Germans, that the British Admiralty knew it was being tracked by the Germans. And that Winston Churchill – First Lord of the Admiralty – believed the German sinking of any vessel with Americans onboard would draw the U.S. into the war as allies of the British.
Or so author Izzo says, and she makes her viewpoint clear.
The sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915 – just 14 miles off the coast of southern Ireland – was shrouded in mystery then, and still is today. For every fact proposed, there’s someone who staunchly argues otherwise. The ship was carrying a large amount of ammunition – no, it wasn’t. It was struck by one torpedo – no, it was two torpedoes. The death count was 1,128 or 1,198 or 1,201 or something else, depending on who’s telling the story.
Why did this “invulnerable” ship sink in 18 minutes? Why did the Admiralty try to blame the captain? Why did so many people die, after the 1912 lesson of the Titanic and that ship’s tragic misuse of lifeboats?
Izzo makes her viewpoint clear about it all, though in her Author’s Note she does allow that “the Lusitania remains an enduring mystery.”
Izzo’s recounting of the Lusitania sinking doesn’t start until page 255 out of 346 pages, but when Sydney and Edward end up in the Atlantic, and Brooke’s whereabouts are unknown, it does make for fairly suspenseful reading. And Isabel’s behind-the-scenes-in-Room-40 perspective on what the British government does and doesn’t do – before, during and after the sinking – had me shaking my head.
And wanting to learn more.
I started learning more by watching a 60-minute DVD by National Geographic, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, released in 1994.
It features Bob Ballard, he of found-the-Titanic fame, this time exploring the wreck of the Lusitania. Toward the end of the film he offers his theory of why the ship sank so quickly.
Leading up to that there’s lots of video from Ballard’s then-state-of-the-art underwater robotic technology, interviews with survivors who were young passengers when the Lusitania sank in 1915, and tragic shots of recovered bodies in open coffins, waiting to be identified. Some never were, and some bodies were never recovered at all.
The video lists the lives lost at 1,195 – yet another different number from those I cited above – and at one point Ballard says the Lusitania sank in “15 minutes,” again different from the 18 minutes I’ve read many times.
Of the many Lusitania facts, stories and conspiracy theories, Ballard does not resolve whether or not the ship was carrying live ammunition in its cargo hold to help England’s in its war against Germany. But many people are certain it was, and they’re also certain of this:
That the British government tried to destroy or at least seriously damage the wreck to obliterate whatever might be found by divers and salvagers.
Here are some online examples:
“The Lusitania appears in a much more deteriorated state due to the presence of fishing nets lying on the wreckage, the blasting of the wreck with depth charges, and multiple salvage operations.”
“The wreck is pocked with holes that were probably made with depth charges…we saw a number of unexploded depth charges, presumably a remnant naval exercises.”
“The wreck was bombed by the Royal Navy. Depth charges were dropped on the wreck during World War II. A Dublin-based technical diver, Des Quigley, who dived on the wreck in the 1990s, reported that the wreck is ‘like Swiss cheese’ and the seabed around her ‘is littered with unexploded hedgehog mines.”
“Professor William Kingston of Trinity College, Dublin claimed, ‘There’s no doubt at all about it that the Royal Navy and the British government have taken very considerable steps over the years to try to prevent whatever can be found out about the Lusitania.’”
“After its sinking, the British Navy mined the shipwreck to destroy evidence about what was held in its cargo hold.”
(Whether people are working from home, as many have been for the past year, or on-site at the job, there is one constant truth: Many, many managers are the worst. Here’s my take on that reality.)
According to its website, Inc. is a business magazine founded in 1979 and “the only major brand dedicated exclusively to owners and managers of growing private companies, with the aim to deliver real solutions for today’s innovative company builders.”
Inc. publishes six print issues annually, as well as daily online articles and videos.
It was an Inc. article that was attributed as the source for a newspaper piece I recently read, that had me shaking my head in both wonder – and disbelief.
Here’s the headline:
Seriously – is this Fantasy Island?
Managers don’t care, “genuinely” or even disingenuously.
Not about employees.
Managers care about scheduling their next golf game, their next three-hour martini-laden lunch, about the gift they need to pick up for their lover spouse.
Managers care about squeezing the maximum amount of work out of the minimum number of employees for as miniscule amount of money possible, to score points with their managers.
Let’s look at a few of the Inc. tips for those “innovative company builders”:
“Chatting with them about things other than work”? Isn’t that what managers get annoyed about when they spot employees chatting with each other about things other than work?
Manager: “Ruth and Nathan, it sounds like you’re rehashing the 49ers losing streak on company time. So I assume you’ll make up the time by working through lunch?”
But who knows? Perhaps an inexperienced manager will take this advice to heart, and try something like this:
Manager: “Chris, how’s that hideous cat of yours and will that report be on my desk in an hour?”
Another tip from the article:
You know and I know that when you look up “oblivious” in the dictionary, there’s a picture of a manager.
It’s highly unlikely that a manager is going to pick up on an employee’s “going through a rough time.” It’s even less likely a manager has the slightest interest in being “an ear”:
Employee: Ms. Crain, I’m really struggling with making my rent and my car payment and staying on top of my mother’s hospital bills and –
Ms. Crain: And this pertains to me…how?
This isn’t the article’s last piece of advice, but I’ll close with it, anyway:
Stop. I mean it.
OK – let’s pretend that the manager pretends to be interested in pretending to care about an employee’s career goals because the manager read about doing that in the Inc. article:
Employee: My career goals? My only goal, career or otherwise, is to get the hell out of this sewer of a company and the hell away from you!
Manager: Good, good. Will that report be on my desk in an hour?
What’s it all mean?
The U.S. workplace is no Fantasy Island.
Managers won’t read the Inc. article because they already give themselves an “A” for performance and, well…everything.
And that’s why we’ll keep seeing articles like this:
I’ve been whale watching five times, and saw this:
So I can only imagine the thrill of seeing whales, up close and personal, in their natural habitat, doing their natural whale thing.
For instance, going airborne, like this:
This is a humpback whale, and this behavior is called “breaching.”
Now imagine a seeing a humpback whale breaching, but he looks like this:
This extraordinary creature is Migaloo, and unlike the fictional Moby Dick, this great white whale is the real deal.
And he is great-looking, isn’t he?
Scientists determined that Migaloo is a “he” from skin samples taken in 2004. They estimate Migaloo was born in 1986, and he was first sighted in 1991, passing through Byron Bay, off the east coast of Australia:
Aussies are crazy for Migaloo. There’s a website for reporting sightings, with a nifty logo:
There are books and a CD:
And an Australian company, Migaloo Private Submersible Yachts, maker of “the world’s first submersible superyacht…”
When Migaloo is in the neighborhood – that is, off the Australian east coast on his annual migration from Antarctica to Queensland, as he was last June…
It makes headline news:
Why, you may be wondering, would a male humpback whale – picture an animal longer than a school bus and weighing up to 40 tons…
Want to haul his big self from Antarctica to northern Australia?
Migaloo is looking for love in all the right places.
According to AustralianWildlifeJourneys.com,
Each January, around 60,000 humpback whales leave the frigid, food-rich waters of Antarctica and begin the world’s longest mammal migration, a 5,000 kilometre (3,000+ mile), three-month journey to the warm waters of northern Australia where they mate, calve and nurture their newborns:
And Migaloo may, on his journeys, have fathered at least one offspring:
The photo caption identifies the whales as “MJ (Migaloo Junior) and his mother, shortly after birth.”
MJ was first spotted in 2011. Scientists say it’s likely Migaloo’s, but he has neither confirmed nor denied it.
Migaloo doesn’t kiss and tell.
I learned a lot from my Migaloo research, including where his name came from.
According to the Pacific Whale Foundation, when the public learned about Migaloo there was a clamoring to “name the whale.” It was decided that the naming should be done by the elders of the local aboriginal collective in Hervey Bay, and they named him “Migaloo” or “white fella.”
The website goes on to say,
The elders explained their connection to all white or albino animals and that they appear on earth to be respected and revered; that their unique color demonstrates the need to respect all forms of life even if they appear different than “normal.” They should be honored with reverence and respect, not discrimination and shame.
This word was in an article about the writer’s recent three-mile trek through the cold, slushy streets of Chicago.
Throughout her trek she encountered…
Piles of snirt.
I’d never heard nor seen the word, but I knew exactly what it meant.
Snirt: It’s dark, yucky stuff that originally was pristine snow, but has been piled up, driven on, plowed through and thoroughly covered in dirt, de-icing salt, car exhaust, and any other available crud.
Snow + Dirt = Snirt.
If you grew up in the Midwest, as I did, you’re intimately familiar with snirt.
You have no choice, because the piles of snirt continue to grow throughout winter. New snow is piled up onto old snirt and becomes new snirt. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
When spring finally arrives and the ground starts showing signs of coming back to life, the snirt piles remain, adorning yards and parking lots with this:
Into, and beyond spring.
Some snirt piles have been known to impede summer Little League baseball practice:
“Coach, where’s second base?” “It’s underneath that big pile of snirt, Tommy.” “What do I do if I hit a double?” “Just run straight from first base to third, and we’ll figure it out from there.”
One factor in my move from the Midwest to San Diego County was the weather, and generally, it is all it’s cracked up to be. This week, while people in many other parts of the country continue to suffer from the recent hellacious winter storms, our weather forecast looks like this:
So it may surprise you to know that we do get snow here – at the higher elevations – on Mt. Laguna, Palomar Mountain and so on. The weather forecasters on the local news actually get excited when the snow levels drop from 5,000 feet to 3,000 feet and lower:
And the residents? For reasons that escape me, hundreds of them choose to bundle up and drive – in bumper-to-bumper traffic – to those locations to experience snow and do this:
Though of course, by the time those hundreds of cars arrive at their destination, a lot of the snow has been turned into…
But here’s the catch:
We don’t have to live surrounded with this:
We can visit it – if we so choose.
The city of San Diego proudly claims the title of “America’s Finest City,” and there are a number of reasons for this.
Katherine, Anne, Jane, Anna, Katheryn, and Katharine?
After all the books – fiction and nonfiction – and feature films, made-for-TV productions, websites, plus blogs devoted to Tudor history…
Is there anything left to say about Henry VIII’s six wives?
Long-time and prolific author Alison Weir thought so.
Weir’s list of fiction and nonfiction books is impressive:
As her books focus mainly on Tudor and other English royal history, I consider Weir something of an expert and I’ve learned a lot from her books.
So when she launched her six-books fiction series (the sixth is due out in May) about Henry VIII’s wives – one book for each wife – I thought…
I’ve now read the first five, most recently Katheryn Howard, The Scandalous Queen.
In Weir’s Author’s Note, she describes the book as a novel based on “the revised and expanded biography…the original version of which was published in my book The Six Wives of Henry VII, in 1991.” Weir is a meticulous researcher, and relies on sources contemporary to the period as much as possible. She also sifts and sorts other sources and forms her own perspective, one I’ve consistently found to be credible.
With Katheryn Howard, Weir has added dialogue, and characters’ thoughts, motivations and feelings – most of which we can’t know, but again, I think credible.
And at the end – though I knew what was coming – I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Katheryn. She wasn’t the brightest flower in Henry’s bouquet of brides, but she was used, and disposed of, by ambitious, powerful men she was too naïve and powerless to fight.
If you know Katheryn’s story, I think you’d enjoy Weir’s insights. If you don’t know Katheryn’s story, this is a good place to start, though I’d actually recommend reading Weir’s “Six Tudor Queens” series in order, starting with Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen.
I don’t always agree with Weir, but I always enjoy her books.
Weir suggests these miniatures “can be identified on good grounds as Katheryn.” Left: “Portrait of a Lady, Perhaps Katherine Howard” in the Royal Collection Trust, by Hans Holbein, painted c. 1540. Right: “Portrait Miniature of Katherine Howard” by Hans Holbein, painted c. 1540, Buccleuch Collection.
Mother Jones, the magazine, has been around a long time – since 1976.
I only recently learned that the magazine was named after a real person:
Also known as Mary Harris Jones.
Also known as “the most dangerous woman in America.”
At age 65.
Why was she the “most dangerous”?
This is not a biography about Mother Jones – there’s the 2002 book by Elliott Gorn for that, and Jones’ autobiography from 1925. Instead, it’s a brief recap of only a few reasons I think she’s so extraordinary.
Mary “Mother” Jones was a survivor. A doer. And an energizer.
Mary’s birth date is unknown but she was baptized in 1837, so we’ll use that year.
Born in Ireland, she and her family were victims of the Great Famine, which caused at least a million Irish to emigrate between 1845 and 1849, and another million to die of starvation and disease.
In North America Mary received some schooling, taught for awhile, and in 1861 married George E. Jones, a member and organizer of the National Union of Iron Molders.
In 1867, when they were living in Memphis, George and their four children died during a yellow fever epidemic. Mary relocated to Chicago, built a dressmaking business, and lost that in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
According to the National Women’s History Museum website, Mary
“…found solace at Knights of Labor meetings, and in 1877, took up the cause of working people.”
Mary had begun her career as a labor organizer.
In 1897 Mary joined Eugene Debs’ Social Democracy and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) national strike in the Pittsburgh district, the first UMWA victory. She then joined the UMWA’s organizing drive in the Pennsylvania anthracite coal region, and was commissioned a national organizer.
Beloved by the workers she organized, they began calling her “Mother Jones” as Mary focused on the rising number of working poor during industrialization, especially as wages shrunk, hours increased, and workers had no insurance for unemployment, healthcare or old age.
She took part in and led hundreds of strikes, scorning jail, deportation to other states and threats on her life. She became the enemy of wealthy business owners, and in 1902 a U.S. attorney called her “the most dangerous woman in America.”
Pretty cool moniker for a 65-year-old.
And she didn’t slow down.
Mary was sent to survey the West Virginia coalfields in December 1900, reporting back that ‘‘conditions there were worse than those in Czarist Russia.’’
I recently watched a PBS documentary, The Mine Wars, which details a period when West Virginia coal miners were trying to unionize. The conflict between miners and owners escalated, eventually leading to the Battle of Blair Mountain, largest insurrection in the U.S. since the Civil War.
The film recounts Mary’s impact there, calling Mary the “nation’s most unlikely labor organizer.” While a newspaper described Mary as “loud, profane, and demanding,” the people she was helping called her the “miners’ angel.”
Of her efforts on behalf of the miners, Mary said, “Six months ago the men were afraid to look at me. Today they are realizing they are men, and have some right on this Earth.”
Well into her 80s, Mary continued to agitate and actively assist in the struggle to unionize workers, and continued to organize coal miners into her nineties.
She died in 1930, age 93.
I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser.
I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.
Kristin Harmel’s When We Meet Again (2016) and Chanel Cleeton’s TheLast Train to Key West were only so-so in my opinion.
Harmel’s lead character, Emily, 36, is so guilt-ridden that it gets wearying very quickly. When all is resolved at the end, my main emotion was relief that Emily’s story was over.
Cleeton’s three lead characters – Helen, Mirta and Elizabeth – are all in Key West, FL in 1935 for differing reasons. The fourth character – a weather event called “the most intense hurricane you’ve never heard of” – messes everyone up, then all is resolved.
So – so-so.
Except for the “I didn’t know that” moment in each book.
I have a lot of “I didn’t know that” moments. What I don’t know would fill the Library of Congress and plenty of other libraries, as well.
So I love learning new information, whether it’s through hearing it, watching it or reading it.
Even when the source is so-so books.
In When We Meet Again I learned that during World War II, there were German POW – prisoner of war – camps in the United States. (I didn’t know that.) Part of the book’s story takes place in Florida, so I started my own research at the Museum of Florida History:
“During World War II, some 378,000 German and Italian captives were sent to prisoner-of-war camps in the United States. Overall, about 10,000 German prisoners spent time in Florida, and it became a relatively common sight for Floridians to see POWs working on farms or in logging camps.”
Few of these prisoners were Nazis; most were just young men conscripted into Hitler’s army, many of whom were anti-Hitler and happy to sit out the remainder of the war in the safety of U.S. POW camps.
Another source – PalmBeachCountyHistoryOnline – talked of how the shortage of agricultural workers created a demand for labor. In addition to working on farms and in logging camps, the POWs were put to work in a bean-canning factory, and they…
“…helped to build the Lake Okeechobee Dike. Others chopped sugarcane in the fields in and around the camp from before 8am to about 3pm, for which they were paid 80 cents a day in coupons they traded for items such as cigarettes and beer.”
World War II ended in September 1945 and, according to Smithsonian magazine,
“By 1946, all prisoners had been returned to their home countries.”
Though, adds History.net,
“…an unknown percentage later came back to the United States, largely because of poor employment prospects in the immediate postwar Germany.”
And some POWs had fallen in love with American women – one of the storylines in When We Meet Again.
My “I didn’t know that” in The Last Train to Key West has to do with the U.S. government’s lousy treatment of U.S. military veterans.
That sounds timely, and it is, but this story is set in 1935, and these were veterans of World War I – a war that had ended in 1918,17 years earlier.
According to my research,
“…in 1924 many of these veterans had been awarded bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. Each certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier’s promised payment with compound interest.”
Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929, and in mid-1932 they marched to Washington, DC to demand early cash redemption of their service certificates.
According to public radio PRX.org, this group, now called the “Bonus Army,” consisted of:
“…more than 20,000 veterans and their families arriving in the nation’s capital. They established a tent city and vowed to stay until their demands were met. But finally, in a historic confrontation, General Douglas MacArthur’s Army troops routed the Bonus Army and burned their camp to the ground.”
A 2015 story in the Miami Herald says,
“President Franklin Roosevelt tried to fix the problem when he took office in March 1933 by putting the men to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. When the economy began showing signs of recovery, many vets headed home. But some – written off as hopeless hobos by many but likely suffering combat-related disorders – returned to Washington to resume protesting. Faced with another showdown, Roosevelt persuaded Florida and two other states to reopen work camps.
“By late summer 1935, about 700 soldiers were in the upper Keys building a highway bridge to link Lower Matecumbe and Fiesta Key, and open the hardscrabble Upper Keys to the flow of tourism filling coffers in Key West.”
When the “the most intense hurricane you’ve never heard of” hit the Florida Keys on Labor Day in 1935, many of these veterans died; “soldiers,” says the article, “sent to a mosquito-infested rock during hurricane season to work for the government only to be abandoned once the inevitable storm arrived.”
Some died on a long-delayed evacuation train hit by a massive tidal wave, while for others who weren’t evacuated,
“Farther south, the veteran camps – the closest settlements to where the eye passed over Long Key – simply washed away as sustained 185 mph winds hammered the flimsy tents. Soldiers later recounted lashing themselves to trees or hanging on to railway tracks. Some sought cover in trenches where rock for the highway bridge had been quarried, only to drown when the storm surge filled them.”
The tragedy in the Florida Keys was yet another shameful chapter in a book about veteran mistreatment that our government is still adding chapters to:
I’m glad I read When We Meet Again and The Last Train to Key West because two so-so books sent me on a research journey where I learned important information about our country’s history. Some of it was discouraging, but all of it was worthwhile.
Daughter: Mom and Dad, this is Jacob Chansley, but you can call him Jake. Jake, this is my Mom and Dad.
Jake: How ya doin’?
Dad: Ah…How do you do, Mr. Chansley?
Jake: Dude, it’s Angeli. Jake Angeli.
Daughter (whispering): Jake, we agreed we weren’t going to get into all that right away, remember?
Jake: Dude, I’m speaking the truth, like on the cover of my book, OK? “The irresistible call of truth,” OK?
Mom: Did you say your “book,” Mr. Angeli?
Jake (reaching down the front of his pants): Yeah, I brought you a copy, see?
Mom: Why…how…how thoughtful. And doesn’t your…er…makeup look just like your picture?
Jake: I created the look. It totally speaks to my being the QAnon Shaman, ya know?
Mom: Yes, you’re…er…Very eye-catching, especially in person!
Dad: I, ah…I see your book is in Italian, Mr. Angeli?
Jake: Like totally, Dude. The title means “The Past Reveals the Future.” That’s a direct quote from me but, like, in Italian. Like the author.
Daughter: And Dad, the other line on the cover, that’s what Jake was referring to, it says, “The irresistible call of truth.” Isn’t that profound?
Mom: Why don’t we all sit down? Jake – oh, watch out for the lamp, your, er, horns…
Jake (narrowly missing the lamp, sits): We’re cool, Dude. I speak the truth.
Mom: Well, our little girl engaged – this is a surprise!
Daughter: And look at my ring!
Mom: Is that…er…
Daughter: It’s a wolf’s head! Because Jake is also known as “Yellowstone Wolf.” Isn’t that sweet?
Mom: Ah…How did you two meet?
Daughter: Oh, Mom, it was so romantic. It was last month, in Washington, DC and –
Dad (interrupts): Washington? We didn’t know you were going to Washington?
Daughter: Well, it was, ah…very last minute but it was all over the news how so much was going on there on January 6 and I wanted to witness it for myself, you know, see history in the making, and there was this huge crowd there, near the Capitol, and as I got closer I saw Jake…
Daughter: …well, I didn’t know he was Jake then, of course, but – I saw him on the other side of the crowd and our eyes met and, well…I just knew!
Mom: Knew what, dear?
Daughter (turns to Jake, smiling): I knew he was The One.
Jake (modestly): Yeah, that happens a lot.
Dad (sternly): You’re talking about the day a mob broke into the Capitol. Those, those criminals are being arrested, all over the country, for breaking into the Capitol!
Jake: I’m not really all that worried about it because, in all honesty…I didn’t break any laws. I walked through open doors, Dude.
Dad (sputtering): But, but – you did break the law!
Jake: The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors-in-office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win.
Daughter: Dad, here, look at my phone, here are some pictures of Jake…
Mom (soothingly): Why don’t we look at the pictures later, dear – I think dinner is just about ready.
Jake: Dude, I assume what you’re making is organic. Like, I don’t eat anything but organic food.
Mom: Organic? Well, I, um, I’m not sure…
Jake: Yeah, eating organic is part of my shamanic belief system and way of life. Dude, I mean – I’m so strong about this, in jail I went for nine days without eating because they weren’t doing organic.
Dad (shouting): JAIL? My daughter’s engaged to a guy who was in jail?
Jake: I lost 20 pounds! And my agent is working on a book deal! Whaddaya think of this title: Q For You: The QAnon Shaman’s Jailhouse Diet! With me, looking super-buff on the cover:
Dad (mumbling): My daughter’s engaged to a criminal.
Jake: So my lawyer got me transferred me to the Alexandria Detention Center, and a judge told ‘em they had to do organic for me.
Mom: I, ah, don’t know if you’d call anything I made organic, exactly, but…
Jake: Dude, no problem. Like I told ‘em in jail, it’s food grown without herbicides or pesticides. Organic canned vegetables, canned tuna – wild caught – or organic canned soups.
Mom: Well, I’ll see what I have in the pantry…
Dad (slumped, face in hands): My daughter’s engaged to a guy who was in jail. A guy who stormed the Capitol. A guy…
Jake: Dude, I’ll tell you all about QAnon over dinner. I speak the truth! And I know we’re gonna be great friends.
Jake: And to prove that – you can call me Yellowstone Wolf…Dad.
And my library is not the biggest – that’s in Washington DC:
But my library is the world’s greatest, most recently because of…
That’s right! Home delivery of library materials…
I am an avid reader and movie watcher, and for years my library has been my main source for books and DVDs. If the items I wanted were on loan to another customer, I’d just put the items on hold, the library would email me as each item became available, and I’d pick it up. My library also utilizes a statewide loan system, so if my library didn’t have the item, I could request it from another library.
It all worked so wonderfully well, and then…
The pandemic closed my library in mid-March 2020, and that meant no more books. No more DVDs. Right?
The amazing library team had anticipated closing, and already had a system in place to start home deliveries the very next day.
And delivering not just books, but DVDs, and books and music on CDs.
I can’t stress the importance of that enough: the very next day.
Instead of people coming to the library – the library came to them.