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).