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RAINY MONDAYS

I rub the sleepy out of my eyes and stop making the bed. It’s wash day! I can skip this chore. After breakfast I turn on my favorite radio talk show to listen to while putting on my face. Ummm, he must not come on this early.

I can’t believe it! I missed both my pills yesterday, morning and evening! Better wash one down right now and how did they get in the wrong slot?

I get a better look at that object by my mailbox when I open the windows. It surely looks like a newspaper, but I don’t get the paper on Monday or Tuesday. Too bad the delivery guy made a mistake. That means I’ll have a slim Monday paper to read on this rainy day.

The drizzle is kind of pleasant, the air a little cool as I retrieve my illicit newspaper. Darn it’s heavy for a Monday. Ummmm I don’t remember getting the fat Sunday paper yesterday. Plop, it goes on the table. Darned if it isn’t Sunday’s edition. That guy must have forgotten and dropped it a day late.

What’s the date on that paper? Twenty-fourth. Let me check the wall calendar.

Uh oh! Sunday? Today is Sunday? Let me turn on CBS. There is that big yellow sun and the Sunday Morning show. You mean I don’t have to wash clothes, gather and take garbage, clean litter? Then I glance in the bedroom. There’s that unmade bed, just as rumpled as my mind.

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I am spoiled. For almost thirty-seven years I’ve enjoyed a bucolic view from my large living room window. Behind my solid wood, vine covered fence another home has for that time either been occupied by quiet people or vacant and crumbling. No more. Now it hums with chain saws, thuds with hammers, vibrates with rap music.

Did I mention the Vegas light show? Okay, they aren’t neon and don’t flash, but new ones seem to go up each day, as do out buildings. Another new roof is taking shape today. Soon, there won’t be an inch of lawn in that plot of almost an acre. The trees are long gone.

The first construction was an eight foot solid wood fence for all but a small strip right behind my house. Next a screened pool enclosure. Some time in there the private dirt road leading to the house was paved. The road dead ends at the fence in my side yard.

I gave their landscaper permission to cut the limbs on my trees that hung over the fence. It’s the law, so I get no points here. I did allow him to come in my yard and cut the errant limbs back to the trunk. He kindly offered to pull potato vines and take down a little bamboo. That sounded fine until I see about a fifteen or twenty foot swath of cleared land this side of the fence. But this is bamboo. That won’t last long. I’ve always hated the invasive stuff, but now am happy for a buffer.

I know they got the house for a song, but somebody has money to burn. It needed a new septic tank and water supply for starters.
Who are these people? I don’t know. I see people on the roofs a lot, but don’t know if they are workers or live there. Property records show it owned by an LLC, which owns property all over the U.S. and the Cayman Islands. So no name to call, no way to discuss things unless I climb an eight foot fence or scale the solid electric gate that blocks their drive. This is a compound.

A cop early on stopped them from throwing trash over the fence. Then a couple of weeks ago I called again. I refused to be run out of my house a second time because of a loud party. That day the music was loud enough for to hear over the leaf blower a guy was using on the roof. Guess he never heard of earphones. My house was vibrating so badly with the rap beat my cats hunkered in the hallway as they do for a thunderstorm. Earlier neighbors two blocks away told me they were hearing the music. I don’t think the sound lowered when he finished with the leaf blower. It stopped abruptly, though, about 9:15 p.m. when the cops arrived and I haven’t heard it again, but who knows.

I should be happy they have fixed up the abandoned property, and cleaned up the mosquito breeding pool, but I long for the day I looked over the fence and saw only trees, heard only birds and the rustling of leaves on the trees.

It’s All Good

My day started with the rat a tat tat of roofers at the house behind my fence, about thirty feet from my bedroom. But that’s OK. It was nine o’clock and I really wanted to see that house repaired and lived in for the first time in years. So there was a balance of aggravation and reward. Who knew that would be the cadence of my day?

Breakfast and then off to the grocery store for prescriptions that had to be picked up today, not to mention groceries. I was ahead of my normal schedule. Looking good. Turned the key to the car and NOTHING. I mean nothing! No sound at all. Calm down. This is why I have a battery charger. Except the sound of complete silence was all I got with it attached.

Aha! This is why I have GEICO roadside assistance. An hour later a tow truck arrived. His device, looking a lot like mine, but more industrial started the car right up! I breathed a sigh of relief, but was still concerned about a bigger problem. Mine was a two month old battery. How could it do that to me? It must be defective. The tow truck guy scribbled on his pad, then nosed around my car.

“Did you recently turn on these two lights inside your car?”

“Those? No.”

“When was the last time you drove it?”

“A week ago Friday, eight days ago.”

“You sure you didn’t turn these lights on?”

“Not since I looked for a receipt about a week ago. Oh.”

But again, this was good news. My new battery might not be defective. Only the driver. To be certain I followed instructions and went to Auto Zone and had them check it out. It was charging fine by then. Bless their hearts, they had no idea when they sold me that battery they took me to raise. You see the very first day my son dropped it into his pickup bed onto a crowbar and battery acid poured everywhere. They had to come out in hazmat mode to clean it up—and give me a new battery. Now this. I’m sorry, Auto Zone.

Finally, I’m picking up my meds, which should be free or very cheap because I finally finished my deductible.

“Do I owe anything?” I asked.

“$76.00.

“What? This is what I always pay, but my deductible is behind me!”

The pharmacist was sympathetic and as bummed by insurance companies as I. There was nothing he could do. But my car had made it to the druggist and my heart would not go into overdrive without meds, so in balance, all was good.

I realized it was late afternoon by then and I had forgotten about lunch. That taste of Boars Head at the deli counter wasn’t quite enough. A little cup of pure cider was nice in produce department, but lunch was what I was missing. At the next turn was the demo lady. She was cooking meatball sandwich, soup, and mud pie. She was almost ready to serve.

“I’ll just pick up my wine in the next aisle and be right back. I’m starving, forgot to eat lunch.”

“Wine?” A waitng woman said. “Get me some.”

When I returned our demos were ready. They were generous. The three of us got into a conversation about the first time we had wine. I mentioned Boones Farm at age 30.

“Get outta here,” the other lady said, “Boones Farm was my first as a teenager.”
“Do they sell it in the U.S.?” she asked.

“They did,” I answered, “but I haven’t seen it in years. Where did you buy it?”

”Dominican Republic.”

We really wanted to uncork one of my wines to have with our lunch, but thought better of it.

“Give her an eggnog!” my new best friend told the demo lady.

So now I am swigging eggnog with a three course lunch. Not bad. All we lacked was rum.

“Oops, I forgot to announce the demo is ready,” said the demo lady.

I wondered why the three of us had time to visit.

So missing lunch seemed bad at first, but turned out to be delightful.

The bagger who took my groceries to the car would not leave until she knew the car started. If it didn’t she was prepared to put my cold items in refrigeration until I got on my way. IT STARTED. But had it not, I was covered.

Some might say I had a bad day, but no. No. I had a wonderful day. If all the negatives had not happened I would not have had the positives.

Okay, there’s one negative I haven’t balanced yet. In the mailbox waiting for me was a bill from the Toll Authority for two missed tolls for “someone” driving my car. I check the date. I insisted Jason drive my car to his oncology appointment that day to save his gas. He must have forgotten I don’t have a transponder. So I, who never drives on toll roads or Interstates has a toll violation. Where’s the good in that? It’s only $4.95, and I can pay online. Without going to jail, I assume. It’s all good.

Writers who need writers are the luckiest people in the world, and I just spent three days with about six hundred writers, agents, publishers and editors. At the core they are all writers. I can’t tell you how many times we talked for ten or fifteen minutes before I discovered the writer was also one of the above. Each time I would think, but these are nice people, they actually want to find authors to represent or publish! Where are the ogres we are so afraid of? As a matter of fact, probably a third of those I talked with at the table or in the hall turned out to be there presenting, interviewing, and actively looking for talent. Someone remarked it was the only conference he had been to where presenters, exhibitors and member mingled. Come to think of it, that has been my experience, too.

I’m hesitant to single anyone out because there were too many contacts to mention all, but you know I will. One of the first I met was Lynn Price, Behler Publications, sitting next to me at lunch. She is an award-winning author as well. She would give the rousing closing keynote speech Sunday. More about Lynn later.

Saritza Hernandez was just another fascinating writer who turned out also to be an e-pub agent with L. Perkins Agency. She served on the experts panel discussion, which was worth the price of the conference.

While getting a breath of fresh air on the patio, someone spoke to me in a soft, lilting Southern voice. She asked the usual, “what genre do you write?”. I gave the elevator pitch I have been formulating, “Short stories, Southern literature mostly.”
She told me she writes Southern novels, and had a new release, “Momma’s Comfort Food.” It’s a novel, but peppered with food and recipes because readers want to know how to make the dishes that figure in the story. We talked about Southern food and the tendency of those not from the South to not realize this is how we REALLY talk, think, and turn a phrase. After that Rhett LeVane could not hide her excitement about a Southern novel (Catfish Alley) of a new author she recently reviewed for Southern Literary Review. Be still my heart! So after Googling Rhett, I must add several of her books to my Kindle library, as well as the new novelist she highly recommends.

Joan Levy and I have a habit of snagging solo conference attendees and bringing them to our table before they can think. After all, that’s how we met. One of the first was Cristina Kessler, writer of nine children’s books published by Penguin. She inserts various African and other languages into the stories so the children can learn a little of another language. Cristina and her husband lived in various African countries for twenty-eight years while with the Peace Corp and Care America. They live in the Virgin Islands now.

This is where publisher Lynn Price comes in. She was at our table again sitting next to Cristina. She has asked to see her new travel guide and a couple of other young adult books of hers which are now out of print. I’ve heard several stories of this nature that occurred at the conference. It doesn’t hurt that Cristina’s book won first place in RPLA for non-fiction travel.
At closing ceremony Cristina won free registration for next year’s conference in the drawing today. She was on the fence about next year, but not now. Is it luck or did she make her own luck. Maybe a little of each.
Linda terBurg, what a warm, interesting person. Linda is a marketing specialist I had the opportunity to sit by a couple of times. Her presentation was inspiring. If only I had something ready to market.

I know I am sprinkling in a mix of writers and professionals, but that was the nature of the conference. Kate LeSar is an instant friend type. She was published in the collections book and won an RPLA award. It was great to celebrate with her at our table. Kate has trained nonliterate midwives in Afghanistan, taught health care workers in Calcutta and run a nursing home for Armenians in Boston. We had a lot to talk about there.

I have to stop somewhere, so it will be here. At the awards banquet they called the name Helen Parramore for an RPLA award. I know her! Well, not really. I have yellowed copies of her “My Word” columns (longer letters to the editor) from years back, but we’ve never met. She’s a retired educator is all I know about her besides what she reveals in her op ed pieces. I’ve been her biggest unknown fan. Today I searched for backs of heads (which was the only view I got of her last night) and of course, checked name tags. I ran into a couple of people who know her. It was one of those “she was just here” things. Alas, we never connected. I think she will get the word though that she’s a rock star to me. If I remember right, she moved from the house with the purple door, but I hope her new home has one, too. It suits the Helen I know and don’t know.

Come to think of it, a purple door suits most writers I met the last few days. Until next year. . .

Day in the Country

Fall was in the air as the temperatures dropped for the first time yesterday. Bonnie, Rebecca and I headed to the country, to Biggar Antiques in Lake Alfred, Florida. A relaxing afternoon at their Halloween festival was just what we needed.

But first, we were hungry. It was after 2 p.m. and none of us had eaten lunch. A quick bite, and we’d hit the road. Quick, but charming, Bonnie and I requested, with good menu choices, no fast foods, but food fast, because the antique store would close by 5 p.m. and the shop was an hour away. Mimi’s fit the bill. We grabbed a table outside in the breeze and shade and ordered drinks from a waifish waitress with a whispering French accent. When we ordered, Rebecca asked if the French fries were good.

“I don’t know,” the waitress whispered, “I don’t eat here.”

Okay.

We made our choices and waited, and talked. Rebecca’s friends called and asked us to come over to Elephant Bar up the street and eat with them. They would have drinks waiting. It was tempting. We could see Elephant Bar from the patio where we sat, but our food would be there any minute.

At some point we realized Rebecca was now in the sun and 45 minutes had passed. We hailed the young man who showed us to our table and asked for our waitress. Shortly she, silently appeared with her order pad.

“Hello, what I can get for you?”

“How about the food we ordered 45 minutes ago?” Bonnie said.

The waif in black whispered something unintelligible and smiled.

“No, forget it. We are leaving. We have to be somewhere,” Rebecca said as we gathered our things and got up. And she was suddenly gone. We go in to tell them we are leaving and someone came out of the kitchen with food and asked if we wanted it to go. NO! Then she explained she was the regional manager on site for “coaching.”

“No charge, just let us bag the food for you.” Which she began to do.

Now we have only food, so stop at Albertsons’s for bottled drinks, hit I-4 and get on our way. The food is cold, and Rebecca is trying to eat and drive.

“My crotch is vibrating,” Rebecca says, and grabs her phone. Now she is eating, texting and driving. But we make it to Lake Alfred about 45 minutes before closing, having no time to enjoy the country scene after we leave I-4.

The shop is lovely as ever in the old downtown building. The gifts and antiques are tasteful and beautifully displayed. Best of all, the owner, Mrs. Biggar and her daughter-in-law Karen are there with Karen’s infant son, the one they waited ten years for. He was adorable.  We learned chaos preceded us. Mrs. Biggar had cut her arm and was bleeding badly. Karen shed her Halloween costume to take her to the hospital. They were back when we arrived and doing fine, but feeling a bit harried.

Bonnie found a LOT of stuff and I found the most beautifully crafted silver bracelet I could not leave there. Did I say their prices are unbelievably reasonable for such quality and good design whatever the product?

We decide to look for a coffee shop as we leave because that’s just what we need to relax us. We would have to hit I-4 to find one. Rebecca is talking to a friend on the phone when Bonnie points to the sky.

A “J,” she says, gazing into the sky. “E” . . . “S” . . . “U”. . . Bonnie recites as the miles tick on. Bonnie doesn’t take her eyes off the sky. Then she begins singing “Jesus Loves Me.” We join in. Rebecca’s friend on the phone asks if we have been drinking. If only.

Grandma, do you still have the tin full of buttons I used to play with when I was little?” Rebecca had her grandmother in South Dakota on the phone. Bonnie continued to watch the fading Jesus. The antique buttons in the store had brought back memories. The buttons Rebecca remembered would be waiting for her on Grandma’s demise, Grandma promised. They had a charming conversation over the next few miles.

“We’ve got to find a gas station,” Rebecca says.

“Got to be Shell or Mobile,” Bonnie said.

“Is the light about to come on?” I asked. I had missed earlier conversation due to road noise and sitting in the back.

“It’s been on since before Bonnie started seeing Jesus in the sky,” Rebecca said, “She wouldn’t pay attention to me. Now it’s almost to the end of the red.”

Jesus is fading.

I-4 is packed, no proper service station appears. I volunteer to buy gas at ANY station, but Rebecca decides we can make it to Altamonte exit. Did I mention Bonnie and I now have very queasy stomachs? We are car sick or have food poisoning from the restaurant, so a Coke and motion sickness pill (just in case) become as important as gas.

We arrived at the station on fumes, grab Cokes and head to drug store for motion sickness pills for Bonnie. A more normal feeling began to creep in our tummies after a few swigs of Coke and we made it home.

I wouldn’t take the world for my relaxing day in the country. I like the “things” in my life to have purpose or memories. Every time I look at my beautiful silver bracelet our incredible day will all come back to me and I mean “incredible” in the most literal way.

No Stone Unturned

Note to self: next funeral you attend look around for visual markers. How far is the burial plot from the granite bench? The mausoleum, the white structure—anything? If you do not, I promise you will not go back in the rain, carrying an umbrella and the deceased’s favorite yellow roses and find her in less than half an hour. I know, I know, you aren’t thinking about that when you are burying your friend, but location will become important later. Trust me.

 

In the old days, stones were creative, artistic, monumental, or just small and respectful, but they were unique and easier to spot than flat granite and bronze plaques. You can’t stand in one spot and scour the horizon for a name or shape. No, you must walk in the wet grass clippings, and dare I say it, walk on graves. You try not to, but the head and foot of the gravesite become merged into the next occupant. Finally, I’m ashamed to admit, you just wander without regard to tradition.

 

You are so clever at first. You look for two stones, one for her, one for her husband. When that is fruitless, you look for a spot missing a stone by an older plaque because there has not been long enough to put a new one for your friend. Finally, moist and hot from the misty rain, you just wander. You even call your friend’s name and say, “Damn, it Gloria, where are you?” Then you see a wide stone with her last name spread across, her husband’s name on one side with dates and hers on the other without. One large stone was not even in your bag of tricks, but there it is. So you call the friend who came with you and the two of you finally plant the roses in a vase. You fuss at your deceased friend a bit for hiding and messing with your head as she was prone to do, wish her Happy Birthday and recall what a kooky, special person she was.

 

All the while, you are making a mental map for next time, where to stop, which tree to line up with, how far in to go – what you should have done at the funeral had you been thinking straight. So this is fair warning. Heed it or not. And if you do, you have my admiration. If not, I might see you wandering out there among the flat grave stones.

I was once one of two holdouts on a felony jury. In another felony trial I was among the eleven who agreed. Presentation of those trials took hours and we had to return the next day to finish hearing evidence on at least one. The witness list was in the teens in the Federal case, two or three on the other. Our deliberation took almost as long as the trial, half a day at least each time. Both were years ago, so my times aren’t exact. My point is the proportion of time hearing testimony to time deliberated was about equal. The Casey Anthony trial lasted about six weeks. The jury deliberated eleven hours.

 

In the trial where I was a holdout I was certain the defendant was guilty, but so much conflicting testimony and alternate theories were presented that I could not be sure. I had reasonable doubt that the crime might have been perpetrated by another. So we talked, and talked, and talked. Finally another juror recalled testimony he thought pointed undisputedly to the defendant. I had not heard that. Neither had the other holdout. We asked the court clerk to let us see the testimony, thinking someone would just read it to us. Instead the court was reconvened, we all returned to the places we had been hours before, and the clerk read the portion we asked about. We adjourned to our room, voted and delivered a unanimous decision. We had all listened, but it was so easy to miss something important. At that time no notes were allowed either. Only two of us missed the key element.

 

The other case was similar, except that after hours of discussion someone mentioned particular testimony. The lone holdout said she had not heard that. The courtroom was set up again and the court reporter asked to read the testimony in question. I read the defendant’s lips as he said to his attorney, “I said that?” The vote immediately after that was unanimous for guilty.

 

While I totally respect the Casey Anthony jury and know what a gut wrenching job they had, I have to wonder at the brevity of their deliberation. You writers out there know that you may think a story or novel complete many, many times, but a critique group or editor will dig deeper and see something you missed. For that reason, as much as I hate to criticize a jury, I am afraid they didn’t dig deeply enough. Perhaps a few more hours, or days in this case, of discussion would have satisfied many of their doubts. But what is done is done. I can tell Juror #3 wishes she might have been able to connect more dots and perhaps she could have had those twelve have had a longer discussion. But maybe not. Remember all of us heard much more than they did both on court TV when the jury was out of the room and in the three years prior.

 

In the elevator after a trial it is sometimes hard to suppress the tears even when you feel you have made the right decision, so I get it. The jury is to be thanked for sacrificing weeks of their lives for justice. I just hope that was the end result.