About Me

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Delray Beach, FL, Westport, MA, United States
Undergraduate degree, Colby College; MA in teaching, Columbia Teacher's College; former high school English teacher in three states; former owner of interior design co. with advanced degree from R.I. School of Design. Published first book in 2009 titled, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS. Her humorous manuscript titled ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS was published in June, 2014. In 2015 A SURVIVAL GUIDE won a gold medal in the self-help category at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association conference. See website By CLICKING HERE.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Memories from a Chilly Basement

Courtesy of bing.com
This nostalgia piece is by friend and practicing pharmacist Don Weiss.  Don is the author of three detective/mystery novels, including Picture Perfect.


For those of us of a certain vintage, there was nothing better than getting the Lionel or American Flyer catalog right before Christmas. We drooled over the color illustrations of streamliners, steam engines, passenger cars, and accessories.  My big brother had a terrific Flyer set and every year about a month before Christmas, my Dad set up the train table in the basement and a new layout would take shape.

Growing up we didn't have a lot of money, so model trains were a luxury.  I remember going to my friend's house and watching his Lionel trains with more than a touch of envy.  Still, those American Flyer trains beckoned and I could be found in our basement with my brother and father watching that big steam locomotive ply the rails, puffing smoke, and Dad showing me when to push the button for the switch. Heaven was turning off the basement light and watching the locomotive's headlight as the train made its way around the layout, accompanied by the luminous glow of the miniature streetlamps that lined the sidewalks of our Plasticville town.

Like most boys, as my brother and I grew older, model trains were replaced by a growing list of other interests, mainly girls and cars, and the trains were packed away.  After my father passed away in 1982, we rescued the trains from storage before my mother put our house up for sale.  I watched with the same little boy fascination as the big locomotive came to life for the first time in twenty-five years, after some cleaning and lubrication.

Twenty years ago, I was celebrating Christmas at my brother's farm in Waterdown, Ontario, and suggested that we get his old American Flyer trains and set them up around the Christmas tree.  Neither he nor my nephew answered.  "Well, what do you guys think?" I asked.  Then I was told the truth.  All of the trains had been stolen from the storage barn a few years earlier.  My jaw dropped.  The thief who stole the trains took more than he realized.  The basement of our house was always on the chilly
side, but the warmth of the memories of my Dad, my brother, and me on those cold winter evenings, so long ago, will stay with me forever.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An Imaginary Christmas Letter from a Condo Association President

Dear Condo Association Members,

Happy Holidays from your President and her Board of Directors.  We are hoping for a bright New Year!

As you know, we have had a difficult 2013.  The roof leaks that began in tropical storms this summer have been remedied with an entirely new roof, which fortunately was completed before the storm of the century hit in November.  Roof repair was budgeted for 2015.  The emergency assessment covered most of the cost, with our insurance policy covering the remainder.

The garage floor was painted over the summer.  The result was squealing tires and skid marks, as some of your vehicles slid across the garage.   The floor has been completely repainted and there have been no further incidents involving cars sliding into one another.  The second emergency assessment covered the cost of repainting. However, two of you have sued the association.

The pavers on the driveway were cleaned and resealed under budget. However, the storm of the century in November dislodged some of them.  The company is so busy that they have yet to repair the holes.  We've installed neon cones to prevent any damage to vehicles.  Please practice making "S" turns in the garage, before proceeding up the driveway.

The air conditioning units on the roof, as many of you know, took direct hits in that storm.  The one unit that blew off landed in our neighbor, the Sea Cove's, office, with a resulting law suit.  Fortunately, no-one was injured.  Insurance companies are "talking."

Some of you might have noticed a different "look" to our landscaping.  It is a result of neglect for two months, during which our contractor did not show up and all attempts to locate the owner were futile. We have hired a new landscaper, Green Design.  It is slightly more expensive, with a resulting minimal increase in your quarterly fees.  The Board will follow up with a letter of explanation to all homeowners. We have also hired a detective agency to find the previous contractor. The cost will be covered in the increased quarterly fees.

Finally, I'd like to compliment our new manager, Mr. Howe, for the spirit in which he decorated the lobby for the holidays.  There was a glow in the entry we've never had before, due to the multitude of colored lights.  Some of you requested Mr. Howe remove half of the decorations, especially the gingerbread houses, which were attracting roaches.  I conveyed this wish to Mr. Howe, who removed almost everything and was despondent until the leak occurred from the plumbing fixtures in the apartment above the lobby.  We could have had a serious fire, if the Christmas lights had still been up. Some of you then requested Mr. Howe replace the decorations.  I asked him to put half back up and return the other half for credit.  The Board has vetoed all further expenditures, including replacement of the wallpaper that was ruined in the lobby.

Effective immediately, I am resigning as your President. I will be out of the country indefinitely and thank those of you who supported me.  Peace be with you!
Ann Beckwith, President

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Family Thanksgiving

It didn't get any better than this...Thanksgiving with the family around the table, listening to our grandchildren describe what they were grateful for - a family who loves them, food to eat, a place to live, friends they enjoy.

They'd written it all down on lined sheets of paper with accompanying pictures.  Our seven-year-old granddaughter told us she was most grateful for her sister.  "We fight a lot," she read, "but I really love her."

As the artist in the family, she went so far as to illustrate her extended family in living color, with categories and names.

She was learning phonics in Massachusetts (an oxymoron!).  "Aunts" were not labelled as "Ants."  They were "Onts."

"Uncles" were "Onkls."

"Parents" were "Parints."

"Cousins" were "Casins."

But we understood perfectly...the meaning of thanksgiving.

Monday, November 25, 2013

In Honor of November 22, 1963

In honor of the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, I'm sharing two segments which Massachusetts native and friend Tom Coughlin wrote, describing his hours as part of the honor guard in Washington, D.C., for JFK's farewell.

Part II

After the services in the Capitol building, Mrs. Kennedy exited with her children.  She stood at the top of "our" stairs with Caroline and young John-John, who held a flag in one hand.  Although we'd been ordered to keep our eyes straight ahead at all times, at that moment I swiveled my eyes up and to the left as far as possible, keeping my neck rigid.  Just then John-John gave his famous salute.  Our hearts were moved, even if our bodies couldn't.  After the guests had departed the Capitol, the public filed single-file up the steps to enter the rotunda for a final good-bye.

Our Chief Petty Officer led us Coast Guardsmen to a small room under the same steps we'd been patrolling.  "You all stay here," he said, leaving us.  As soon as he was out of sight, a group of us headed out for a tour of the Capitol.  Without a guide, we had no idea where the rotunda was, but we were determined to find it.  I took the lead.  We knew we were on borrowed time, since k.p. duty, maybe worse, would await us if our Chief Petty Officer beat us back.

A large group of maybe a hundred people turned left  into a corridor ahead of us.  We followed and walked past people lined up along the right wall.  They whispered, "Must be a changing of the guard," as we passed.

Suddenly we were in the rotunda.  Behind a velvet rope in the center was the flag-draped casket.  We kept moving toward it. A member of the color guard unhooked the rope, thus inviting us to join him behind.  Without a clue as to what to do, I led the group around the casket.  Passing the President's head, I looked up and saw T.V. cameras above the door leading to the corridor we'd come from.  I envisioned some admiral watching T.V. at that very moment and seeing us walking inside the rope and around the casket.  As anybody with military experience knows, when in doubt, there is one safe move: salute.  Alongside the casket, I smarty executed a "left face," held my spot while I saluted, and executed a "right face," marching away a few steps.  Each of our team members behind me did the same maneuver at the same spot. It became clear to the guard on duty that we were going to march off, so he removed the velvet rope for us and we headed back to our room under the stairs.  We made it back just before the Chief.  It was then that we learned Oswald had been shot several hours earlier.

The following day when JFK's casket left the Capitol on its way to Arlington National Cemetery, our little group was back in D.C.  Our stair duty had been given to others, so without specific duties, the Chief let us join the crowd.  Even in uniform, we weren't granted access anywhere!

Over the years the memories of that bright November 25, 1963, day led me to look for photos of myself on the steps.  I finally went to the JFK Library in Boston.  When I appeared with my long story at the front desk, I had to fill out a form for a researcher's card.  I took the card upstairs to the library and was greeted with the question, "Which day, Sunday or Monday?"  The librarian's second question was, "Which side of the stairs were you standing on?"

In a short while he brought out boxes of photos donated by some of the country's leading newspapers. I spent several hours going through them and culled my choice down to two that captured my memory of that day.  One shows me standing on the stairs to the left of Adlai Stevenson, Dean Rusk, and several others who were coming down.  The other is the shot taken from the top of the stairs over my head, the flag-draped casket on the carriage below receiving our salute.

Certainly all of us who were alive at the time remember where we were when we heard that JFK had been shot.  My most vivid memory is of that sad, historic November Sunday when I had a front row seat, as the nation said farewell to a fellow son of Massachusetts.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Honor of November 22, 1963

In honor of the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, I'm sharing two segments which Massachusetts native and friend Tom Coughlin wrote, describing his hours as part of the honor guard in Washington, D.C., for JFK's farewell.

Part I

...a reprieve from my Fall River (Massachusetts) draft board in 1963 allowed me enough time to find a slot in the highly coveted six-month Coast Guard Reserve program, nearly impossible to get into in New England.  Coast Guard basic training was in Cape May, N.J., and it was there in the last week of boot camp that we received word that our President had been shot and killed.  The tiny Coast Guard had no permanent marching or honor guard unit in Washington, D.C.  Boot camp was the logical place to find a large group of men who weren't yet assigned to critical functions.

Our two senior classes were driven by bus to Baltimore harbor Coast Guard Base.  We lined up according to height and at 6'3", I was among those chosen for Washington.  We received white gloves, white leggings (like spats from WW I), white belt, and a rifle with sparkling chrome bayonet.

We boarded buses to take us to the White House, where a small number got off for honor guard duty. Those classmates would march down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol with JFK's casket.

The rest of us got off at the Capitol.  Other branches of the service joined us on the steps, where we positioned ourselves alternately by service branch.  I was about three-quarters of the way up the steps on the left side, so I had a good view of the streets and plaza below, which were empty at the early hour we'd arrived.

An Army captain was in charge, who had no clue which civilians needed a salute.  He relied on one of my Coast Guard classmates who'd worked his way through Georgetown Law School as a guide in the Capitol.  "That's the Secretary of the Army, salute," my classmate advised, or, "That's a senator, no salute."

Whenever a salute was required, we "presented arms" with our rifles-cum-blades.  As more and more limos pulled up dropping off government leaders from all parts of the world, we were doing the up-and-down routine pretty rapidly.  After a large group passed us up the stairs, I looked out over the crowd to see that it had grown from a few deep at the curb to a sea of humanity.  

A deafening boom came from nearby.  It was the beginning of the 21-gun salute from large field cannons in a park on the other side of the Capitol.  Soon afterward, horses' hooves rang across the open square.  The crowd was silent, as though a sea of cotton had stuffed every crevice and open space.  The procession came into view, first the flag bearers, then the horse-drawn carriage carrying the casket, then the riderless horse, prancing sideways.  They stopped at the bottom of the stairs where we stood at attention.  Members of our honor guard carried the President's body in precision cadence up the stairs, followed by Mrs. Kennedy, her children, President and Mrs. Johnson.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Happiness Is a Cheap Drug Part II

In anticipation of the 2014 publication of my book, ELDERLY PARENTS WHO HAVE ALL THEIR MARBLES:  A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS, I've invited fellow writer and practicing pharmacist Don (D.G.) Weiss to be a guest blogger.  The excerpt below is from his second mystery novel ALL THAT GLITTERS and concerns the importation of cheap drugs purchased on the internet from Canada.  This is in no way a reflection on the vast majority of legitimate drugs purchased from Canada, but as always, "caveat emptor."

     Part II

The emergency room doctor responded to the call from the nurses' station.  "We got a real winner here, Doctor Russell."  The ER nurse laughed.  The doctor looked at the chart and chuckled quietly to himself.

"Priapism is no joke, nurse."  The doctor half-scolded her, but he was trying to control his own amusement. He was more concerned about the blood results he was reviewing.  He walked into Jim's room and introduced himself.

"I'm Doctor Russell, Mr. Tobias.  Let's see what we can do for you."

"What's the matter, Doc?" Jim asked.  "Why does it hurt so much, and why won't it go down?"

"How long has it been this way, Mr. Tobias?"

"I don't know, Doc.  Maybe ten or eleven hours.  Is that important?" Jim asked.

"Are you a diabetic, Mr. Tobias?  Do you use drugs of any sort?"

"I don't do drugs, Doc.  I only took a Viagra last night about eight-thirty," Jim replied, somewhat embarrassed by his admission.

"Do you have the bottle with you, by any chance?" Dr. Russell asked.

"I don't have a bottle but I have the pills with me.  Why do you ask?"  The level of pain his swollen penis was causing him was evident.

"There is some counterfeit Viagra floating around that comes from India.  It contains the main ingredient that comprises Viagra but also could contain other drugs like blood thinners or anti-psychotic agents.  My concern is that your blood tests indicate that your blood is taking longer to clot than it should, which may indicate the Viagra you took is not genuine.  It may also contain more of the active ingredient, which could account for your problem.  An erection lasting this long could result in permanent damage causing impotence.  Where did you purchase this?"

"I bought it on-line from a place in Canada."  The color had drained from Big Jim's face.

"Doc, this really hurts!  Can you help me?"  Big Jim was almost pleading now.

"Well, we can apply some ice to your penis and scrotum."

"Will that help me?"  Jim looked on the verge of tears.

"Well, if that doesn't help, we can drain some blood directly from your penis..."

Big Jim Tobias passed out cold!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Happiness Is a Cheap Drug Part I

In anticipation of the 2014 publication of my book, ELDERLY PARENTS WHO HAVE ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS, I've invited fellow writer and practicing pharmacist Don (D.G.) Weiss to be a guest blogger.  The excerpt below is from his second mystery novel ALL THAT GLITTERS and concerns the importation of cheap drugs purchased on the internet from Canada.  This is in no way a reflection on the vast majority of legitimate drugs purchased from Canada, but as always, "caveat emptor."

Big Jim Tobias knew that tonight he was going to get lucky.  His date Charlene more or less hinted at it.  What Charlene didn't know was that Big Jim wasn't necessarily big all over. He was having a certain issue with male function that required chemical help.  The cost of Viagra was outrageous but Big Jim was willing to pay the price.

While Charlene was in the ladies' room, Big Jim took the Viagra pill from the supply he had just purchased over the internet at www.Saveonprescriptiondrugsnow.com. He wouldn't disappoint Charlene later on.  Of that he was certain.  He'd also saved about $400.00 on his little blue friends.

An hour after they got home, he rolled off Charlene pretty pleased with his performance.  Charlene seemed happy as well.  After about ten minutes, she started nibbling his ear.  It didn't take Jim long to respond.  Again he lived up to their expectations.  She purred like a kitten and they both drifted off to sleep.

About two o'clock in the morning they made love again.  Jim didn't even have to wait for his erection. It was already there.  As a matter of fact, it had never gone away.

They slept until eight in the morning.  Jim's erection was still there but it was now painful. Charlene wanted to make love again and wanted to be on top.  He was grateful that she was facing away from him, because while she seemed to be satisfying herself, he was in agony.  He had to do something and soon!  Charlene finished and got up to go to the bathroom.  Big Jim pulled on his underwear and his jeans and tried with some difficulty to stuff his swollen, painful member into his pants.  Charlene came out of the bathroom.

"Where're you going, sweetheart?"

"I'm sorry, but I've got to meet a guy to talk about a drywall job in Ocala."  When he kissed her goodbye, Charlene swore she saw tears in Big Jim's eyes.  He put one foot in front of the other at half-speed all the way to his jeep, then headed for the nearest emergency room.

"What a sentimental guy he is, and my god what a lover!"   Charlene went back to bed, smiling.

Read Part II next week!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sixty Is a New Sixty

In anticipation of the 2014 publication of my book, ELDERLY PARENTS WHO HAVE ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS, I've invited fellow writer and practicing pharmacist Don (D.G.) Weiss to be a guest blogger.  D.G. is the author of three detective/mystery novels, including the first in the series, Picture Perfect.  He'll be sharing some lighthearted commentary on the aging process.

At my yearly physical when I turned fifty my doctor asked, "Do you know what being fifty means?"
Image courtesy of Photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos..net

I stared at him.

"It means you just bought yourself a colonoscopy."

"I'd rather buy a vowel," I said.

Then at fifty-five, my blood pressure and cholesterol went through the stratosphere.  For years, I'd had the blood pressure of a seven-year-old girl.  Now I was being introduced to all the medications I'd been dishing out over the years:  ACE's, ARB's, Calcium Channel Blockers, Beta Blockers, and the ever popular Statins.

After months of trying different combinations, my blood pressure and cholesterol returned to near normal levels.  Of course, now I have leg cramps, acid reflux, and heartburn - all in the fine print.  I've cut back on salt and sugar and I'm trying to exercise.  Sometimes, though, I can actually taste chocolate butter cream frosting melting on my tongue.

I look back on my life before sixty, before fifty, before pills, and sigh.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Game Three Fallout

                                  Red Sox vs Cardinals                                   
Game Three, World Series
October 26, 2013

      From the bathroom I heard, "Holy S___! Obstruction??  What was Middlebrooks supposed to do...roll over so the runner could sashay home?  He was sprawled in the dirt.  Are they serious?"
     The T.V. room went dark.  Stomping his way to the bedroom, Charley reached around the corner and switched off the bathroom light, where I'd just popped two vitamins into my mouth that could have fed a horse.
     I had to make an instant decision:  grope my way to the end of the room for the switch or grope my way along the counter for my cup of water.
     The water won.  Till it landed on the floor and I started choking on one of the horse pills lodged in my throat.
     Charley returned to the bathroom and flicked the switch.  I was bent like a pretzel, coughing and gasping.  
     "I'll get some water," he said.  
     I shook my head, but he'd already poured a cup.
     He walked toward the wet spot on the floor. I put up my palms to stop him.  "I'll dislodge it with the Heimlich," he said, putting the cup down and stepping into the water.
     As he raised one knee onto the rim of the tub to get me into position, he slipped.
     "Damn!" he said as his elbow hit the floor.  I imagined a night in the emergency room after the Red Sox had been robbed of a World Series game.  It wouldn't be pleasant!
     He lay beneath me, one leg still hooked on the edge of the tub.  I lay on top of him.
     The pills dislodged down my throat.  "You OK?" I rasped.
     "Yeah.  My elbow got it."
     "It isn't swelling, but I'll get some ice.  I take it they lost?"
     Sox fans, please...keep calm and believe!

     Full disclosure:  we're New Englanders and our two sons played in the Red Sox farm system during the '90's.  One of them will be in attendance with his wife for Game Six at Fenway.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Monster Has Invaded!

     It's Halloween and a monster has invaded. It's been slow and insidious, and I'm to blame.  I've invited the species in. They've crept from my computer screen to my brain.  
     I don't mean vampires or parasites or flesh-eating bacteria.
     I mean SOCIAL MEDIA WEBSITES.  I want to opt out, but it's impossible.
     I'm a writer and love what I do...when I can do it.  A writer is living in the best of times (for self-publishing) and the worst of times. Too much promotion on social media means too little writing!
     I just attended the annual Florida Writer's Conference.  It was three days of nonstop seminars, information sessions, and networking with dinners and more networking.  Fun, exhausting, and now I'm on information overload.  The monster inside my computer waits for me every day.  "Interact, interact, interact!" it tells me, before I begin writing substance.
     I took twenty pages of notes at the Conference. I already had a website (www.minorleaguemom.com), a Facebook presence (Pamela Carey), a LinkedIn presence, a Goodreads presence, and a Pinterest presence.
     Now I'm supposed to add a Twitter presence.  And post on it four times a day.  And contribute to Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Amazon discussions.  And post a blog at least once a week and answer my loyal followers who respond to my blog.  All of these sites should lead back to my website, where my book is sold.  The website must be updated regularly.
     My work is stored on "clouds" in the sky.  For my new book (ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES:  A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS), I'll need a video trailer that is titillating and informative.  I'll need CD spinoffs and e-book supplements.
     At the Conference I met publishers and agents.  One agent gave me a blank stare when I described my presence on the web.  "How many followers do you have?" he said.
     "Five hundred and a data base of twelve hundred from the sale of my first book."
     "You need 100,000 for national presence.  Why don't you become a spokesperson for a national caregiver or geriatric association?"
     I gave the agent a blank stare.  The monster was creeping out of this man's mouth!
     I know people who are great marketers.  They aren't writers.  I'll do what I can, until I find a publicist who works for nothing.  Halloween will be over soon.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The IPhone and the Over-Fifty Set

     "Mom, I already programmed your address book into the new phone,"  Julie said to her seventy-something mother.  "All you have to do is hit PHONE, CONTACTS, AND THEN THE NUMBER THAT POPS UP.  It's three steps."
     "Julie, I tried and it doesn't ring.  I don't know what I'm doing wrong."
     "Do you have your glasses on?"
     "Yes, I have my glasses on."
     "Well, that Jitterbug phone has a four-inch screen and the biggest letters of any phone on the market.  The functions are alphabetical, so you don't have to hit an icon.  Can you find the paper where I wrote down the steps?"
     "I don't remember where I put it."
     "I'll be there after work, Mom.  Try those three steps again and dial me.  Hit PHONE, CONTACTS, AND THE NUMBER THAT POPS UP FOR ME."
     Julie did not receive a call.  She dialed her mother, but got a busy signal.
     Later, she tried again.  This time her mother answered.
     "I didn't hear from you, but your line was busy," Julie said.
     "When I dialed you, I got some internet site for young men.  They were all in speedos.  I must have hit the internet by mistake.  Then my hearing aid started shrieking.  I thought I was gonna go crazy, but I didn't know how to shut the speedos down.  I thought you said this thing is compatible with hearing aids!"
     "That's what the customer rep told me, Mom. Glad the thing was good for something."
     The next day:  "I picked up another phone for you, Mom.  It's much simpler and has no internet.  It's called the 'Jitterbugplus,' and it's a voice speaking to you.  All you have to do is say 'Yes' or 'No.'  It has big, huge numbers.  And I got you a surprise, too."
     "It's a little box you wear around your neck.  In case you can't reach the phone or you can't dial in an emergency.  It's called the '5StarUrgentResponse.'   It dials into a central number when you press the button."
     "At least I'll have somebody to talk to."

     The other side of the coin, for savvy over-fifties, is a Twitter account using the Iphone.  Creating a Twitter bio can be daunting, however.  A younger family member should probably handle this, or a co-worker - someone who can string several words together that are witty, self-deprecating, and concise in 160 characters, while summarizing the over-fifty's professional and personal accomplishments.  In the NY Times on Sunday, October 6, 2013, Teddy Wayne posted Hillary Clinton's Twitter bio:  "wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, Sec-State, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD..."

     And for those over fifty who are even more adept on their Iphones, there's always Match.com, Ourtime.com, or ChristianMingle.com.  Just beware of speedos!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rum Runners in Our Town?

We live in the coastal town of Westport, Massachusetts, almost half the year. Charley grew up not far from here, and I grew up on the coast of southern Connecticut.  Both states were rum-running territories during Prohibition and the temperance movement of the 1920's.  In fact, the entire east coast was rum-running territory.

Slatted wooden folding chairs pressed against each other on the floor of the Westport Methodist Church hall one night last week. Standees lined the walls.  In front at a table with three other panelists and a moderator sat Carlton Macomber, aka Cukie. Cukie reminded me of a diminutive ninety-something Santa, but when he took the microphone, his unassuming voice transported us into black ships' dangerous waters.

"Boys doing the rum running outfitted their boats to meet the mother ships beyond the three-mile limit, in Rum Row. Those ships came from the deep south, overseas, and Canada.  Without lights (hence, the name "black ships"), the Westport boys tried to outrun the Coast Guard cutters.  They delivered their loads to trucks signalling from Horseneck Beach or up the Sakonnet River. Later on, when things really heated up with the Coast Guard, the mother ships anchored twenty-five or thirty miles out.

"I knew the guy who was the most successful," Cukie said.  "He put two 300-horsepower aircraft engines on his boat, the Star.  No Coast Guard cutter could ever catch him, 'cause he'd disappear into the Devil's Pocket.  From outside the harbor at Half Mile Rock, it looks like there's no opening.  Then his buddy would turn the big wheel to open the rotating bridge over the East branch (of the Westport River), and the Coast Guard thought he'd vanished into thin air.  But he saved his money, and he was generous.  If anyone needed cash, no matter who it was, he'd give it to him on the spot."

"Would you say that half the town was in on the action?" Dawn Tripp, local author and moderator, asked.

"Half the town heard the trucks go up their dirt lanes from the beaches and then up Main Road.  They just kept their shades down.  It was the middle of the night and those trucks never put lights on till they got out of town.  They went to Fall River, Providence, New York, Boston.  Heck, Mayor Curley of Boston sent people down to pick up his shipments."

"Were the syndicates involved?" Dawn said.

"If Mayor Curley was into it, my guess is a 'Yes,'" Cukie said.  "What started out as a cat-and-mouse game between local boys and the Feds turned cut-throat.  More and more money exchanged hands, and everyone wanted a payoff.  More violence, too."

"Since we're talking about federal laws being broken, did local law enforcement get involved?"

"Oh, there might have been one or two arrests with a fine in Fall River court, but it was a slap on the wrist, really.  You've got to remember, there was only one constable here in town.....and he didn't have a driver's license.  If an accident happened, he called his son to take him to the scene."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Whitey Bulger and Aaron Hernandez: An Imaginary Encounter in Bristol Co., Mass., Corrections Facility

Hernandez:   Wassup?
The usual suspects

Bulger:  You talkin' to me?

Hernandez:  I don't see nobody else sunnin' in this resort, 'cept those two guys with rifles.

Bulger:  Nice 'toos.  What's that snake going round yr neck?  Looks like it ate a few pigs.

Hernandez:  That's my gang.  It mean, "Don't mess with me," but it came out like balloons together.  The guy doin' it was zonked.  I got 'toos all over.  My woman, Shayanna, she liked 'em.

Bulger:  What kinda name is that?  She from Wyoming?

Hernandez:  Watch y'r mouth, gran'pa.

Bulger:  She rat on ya?

Hernandez:  Like those FBI stoolies did to you.

Bulger:  Got that right.  Whadda they get you for?

Hernandez:  Murder.

Bulger:  How many?

Hernandez:  One.  Can't find nobody else.

Bulger:  That's nothin', man.

Hernandez:  How many they get you for?

Bulger:  Eleven convictions.  Can't find the other eight.

Hernandez:  You Bulger, right?  What kinda name is that?  Ain't it a wheat or somethin'?

Bulger:  That's "bulgar."  I'm Irish, nothin' else.

Hernandez:  Lotta luck you had, Mr. Potato Head.

Bulger:   You a mongrel, right?

Hernandez:  Y'u'r a wise ass.  I's American, just like you.  Land of opportunity.  Where's the $25 mill you hid?

Bulger:  Say what?

Hernandez:  Hey, man, ya'll never see it.  How old 'r ya?

Bulger:  Eighty-three.  Ya'll never see it, neither.

Hernandez:  Wha' else they got on ya?

Bulger:  Extortion, money laundering, weapons.  How'd they get ya?

Hernandez:  Dumped the body too close to home.  Shoulda put it in the cemetery, where it belonged. Wudda looked natural.  What'd you do with 'em?

Bulger:  Made a pit for all of 'em.

Hernandez:  An' I thought I was stupid!

Bulger:  You callin' me stupid?  How much you get a season?

Hernandez:  Three mill.

Bulger:  And you callin' me stupid.  I didn't get my ass kicked for chicken change.

Hernandez:  We both got 'cuffs and shackles, way I see it.

Bulger:  You been out here 'fore?

Hernandez:  You the first I seen or talked to in this country club.

Bulger:  What they got up their sleeve, throwing us two out here?  Ya wired?  Cuz if ya' got a wire, I'll break every bone in yur body, 'cuffs or no 'cuffs.

Hernandez:  I'm a mean, lean, runnin' machine.  Wires would show on this manchunk.

Bulger:  That's prob'ly what they want.  Us to kill each other. Save the state some dough.

Hernandez:  Only one'd come out alive, and it ain't you, old man.

Bulger:  Well, least I'll be famous.  They made a movie 'bout me with Jack Nicholson.

Hernandez:  Nobody could play me.

Bulger:  Yeah, you're one-of-a-kind.  The Pats are real proud a ya and Belichik's prayin' for your soul.

Hernandez:  Coach didn't pray.  He just made us run a thousand times.  I miss his yellin'.

Bulger:  Yeah, he misses you, too.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Bedroom Scene

     Frank is ninety-five.
     Rita is eighty-eight.

     Frank and Rita and their spouses were best friends.  They all immigrated from various regions of Italy and ended up within five miles of each other in Florida.  Every Sunday after mass they went to breakfast together. They alternated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter holidays at each other's homes, and visited each other's relatives.
     Frank still drove.  After his wife, Maria, and Rita's husband, Tony, passed away, Frank stopped by every day to visit.  He changed light bulbs, tightened screws, and took Rita for groceries or appointments. Every Saturday he delivered her to the hairdresser and picked her up afterward for a matinee and early dinner.  On Sunday after mass and breakfast, they visited Perpetual Gardens Mortuary, where Maria lay on a slab directly above Tony.
     Five years after Maria had passed and nine months after Tony had passed, Frank put his house on the market and moved into the guest room at Rita's.

     Frank (his first night in the guest room):  Rita, I can't find my glasses.
     Rita (in her bedroom):  Look on the kitchen table.
     Frank:  Where?  I can't hear.  I took my hearing aides out.
     Rita (louder):  In the kitchen.  Put your ears in.
     Fran (with loud squeal from his hearing aides):  OK.  Where the hell is the light switch?
     Rita:  Next to the phone.
     Frank (fumbling):   There they are!  When should I shower?
     Rita:  When you want.
     Frank:  There's no shower in my bathroom.  Now or in the morning?
     Rita:  In the morning.
     Frank:  Do you eat, then shower, or shower first?
     Rita:  Do what you want.  I have coffee, juice, Italian bread toasted.
     Frank:  I always have oatmeal with bananas.
     Rita:  Too bad.
     Frank:  What?
     Rita:  Never mind.
     Frank:  What can I put my dentures in?
     Rita:  A glass from the kitchen.
     Frank:  I'll get it.  I forgot my Polident.  You got any left from Tony?
     Rita:  It's in my bathroom under the sink.
     Frank:  OK.  What time you get up?
     Rita:  Seven o'clock.
     Frank:  Seven o'clock?  Why so early?
     Rita:  I say the rosary.  Sleep, if you want.
     Frank:  Yeah, I don't say the rosary.
     Rita:  Do what you want.
     Frank:  Can I come in for the Polident?
     Rita:  There's no-thing exciting here.
     Frank (going through Rita's bedroom to her bathroom):  I heard on TV Dentu-
               cream poisons people.  You might find me dead on the floor.
     Rita:  You no wear them enough to get poison.    If I find you dead, I scream for
              Dolores (next door).
     Frank:  Call 9-1-1 after you scream.
     Rita:  You check the stove?
     Frank:  Why should I?
     Rita:  I check at night to make sure no gas.
     Frank:  We had cold sandwiches tonight.
     Rita:  Oh, yeah.  You check the front door?
     Frank:  I locked it myself.
     Rita:  Then go to bed.
     Frank:  I'm trying.  Night, Rita.
     Rita:  Good night, Tony.  I mean Franco.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From the Grandkids

Our daughter-in-law parked the new white SUV in her driveway to surprise the girls when they got off the school bus.  Here are their reactions.
Emma:  "Is that the only color they had?"
Hannah:  "Does dad know about this?"

We had the pleasure of a granddaughter's visit for four nights.  We went to the beach, attacked each other in bumper boats, played tennis, visited a church fair, shopped for school clothes, went to the movies, and got a pedicure.  Hannah called her parents to report in.
Her mom:  "What have you been doing?"
Hannah:  "Oh, nothing much."

Charley (aka 'Papa') on the phone to Olivia:
"How are the twins (her brothers) doing with potty training?"
Olivia:  "Not too well.  Will runs and makes it, but Ryan still poops in his pants."

Papa to Will on the phone:  "What did you like best about your first day at (pre)school?"
Will:  "Lunch."

Emma after her birthday:
"Thank you for the check.  I can't buy anything because Dad's putting it in the bank.  That's OK, grandma.  The school clothes you got were nice."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What's Real?

What do you believe on an internet dating site?

First, the woman's photo is probably ten years old (at least), unless it's a photo of her youngest sister.  Of course there'll be no wrinkles, midriff fat, or gray streaks on a twenty-something.  Ditto for a man's photo.

Did she lie about her age?  H-E-L-L-O?  What woman in her right mind would post her real age on an internet site for the world?  Let's assume she cheats by five to ten years.  Ditto for a man.

If the woman lives in south Florida, chances are her face has been tweaked at least once.  Girls receive gift certificates for surgical face lifts when they turn sixteen down there - no lie.  Injections of Juvaderm plump out the hollows and Botox smoothes out the wrinkles.  Possible ditto for the man.

If the potential date passes a background check without a criminal record, things might progress to the meet-and-greet at a neutral place.  Here are some first impressions:


Holy crap!  Are those boobs real?  Who cares -  I've hit the jackpot.  Not a wrinkle on her.  A lot of cash for those boobs and dimples.  She must be loaded.  But those eyelashes? They're long enough to damage my eyeball.  The hair - I know she's not a natural redhead, but didn't she read the instructions?  She's hot, though.  I'd like to get her out in the wilderness.  But those fingernails might puncture the air mattress.


Holy crap!  He's old enough to be my father.  His interests were camping and hiking, but what if we're on a mountain and a bear came along?  He'd have a heart attack and I'd be a goner.  I bet he doesn't even have an Iphone to make dinner reservations. He'd be asleep halfway through the meal, anyway.  I wonder if he drools.  And he looks cheap.  His barber shouldn't have a license.  I'd have to do all the cooking and cleaning.

"I'm sorry, John, what did you say?  You'd like to fly us to Sun Valley next weekend in your jet?"

Monday, August 26, 2013

Grandma's Plan

     Our eight-year-old granddaughter recently spent four non-stop days with Charley and me. Here are her
interests:  reading, crafts, cooking, games, softball, surfing, tennis, dancing, music, shopping, movies, fashion, and lots of things I've left out. Since we only had four days, we tried to cram in as much as possible.

     We picked blueberries and baked muffins, shopped for school clothes, had a pedicure, saw a Smurfs movie.  She dived under four-foot waves and rode her boogie board (left her surf board at home), had a shoot-out with me in bumper boats, played tennis, went to a church fair where a magician transformed a white handkerchief into a bunny and she spent $1.10 on gifts for her sister and herself.

     Our "quiet" time was spent on the computer searching for instructions to make patterned duck tape into a purse.  The instructions were too complicated, and she'd already made the easier projects.  Family photo albums provided some amusement and time for me to wash my hair.

     My plan for grandchildren's future visits is:  I WON'T HAVE ONE!  We can sit on the deck and our amusement will pass by:  butterflies, squirrels, chipmunks, hummingbirds, robins, mockingbirds, sparrows, seagulls, hawks, possums, and maybe even a fox or a deer.  Books can provide our adventure, shared chapter by chapter, before eyelids droop at 9:00.  We can walk to the beach and along its length. We can arrange flowers we've picked from the garden, feed the birds, and cut herbs. We can make up our own recipes while the car stays in the garage.  Or we can sleep in the shade.

     This is sounding too much like a plan again!



Monday, August 19, 2013

Morning Walks on the Island of Ischia

     Sidewalks on roads hugging hillsides on Ischia, Italy, exist as a brief nod to the tourist, then disappear. Charley and I include a mandatory three-to-four-hour walk each day we travel, but it can be death-defying.
     One of our routes includes the main thoroughfare into the town of Forio.  We climb wooded paths over  the hillside behind our hotel and follow a road along the cliffs.  Our work is rewarded at the scenic

overlook.  Below us lie wide, sandy beaches, vineyards rising up the mountainside, and the bulls-eye fort in town across the Bay. From our perch, we wind down one-lane cobble-stoned streets that lead through a tunnel.  Since I can hear the traffic coming in either direction on the stones, I wait for silence before starting through.  Charley has charged ahead and waits in the shade of a cafe at one of the beaches.
     When I catch up with him, we proceed to the most difficult part of the walk.  We arrive at the main cog and cross to face traffic.
     In Italy, crosswalks are mere suggestions.  Mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles weave around pedestrians trying to get to the other side. Waddling widows in black take their time and receive deference. Charley decides that since crosswalks are meaningless, he'll cross where he pleases, including blind curves. He grabs my hand and holds his free hand up like a traffic cop, defying two lanes of traffic to stop or hit us. Our luck has held so far.

      The rest of the thoroughfare has no sidewalk until we reach the harbor.  Trucks loaded with cement or tour buses with faces frozen in glass whiz past at 45 mph.  We flatten ourselves against stone houses. The space between my feet and the traffic lane is six inches.
     Charley walks ahead, using a sideways pushing motion away from us.  He is certain that motorists coming out of the curves will see him swishing and make NASCAR moves in the fifty feet before we become decorations on the side of local buildings.
     In front of one market, a car is heading to claim a parking space.  It is the same space where Charley is walking.  "Hey, stop!" he yells to the female driver, who slows to within three feet of his upright palms.
     Out jumps Nana, with her grocery bag.  "Quoi?  Quoi?" Nana says.
     In other words, "What's your problem?  Don't you know my daughter owned a moped when she was six?"

Monday, August 12, 2013

"We Do Not Have Crime Here"

     "Oh My God," yelled Dee, stumbling into the suitcase she'd left on the floor.  She'd flown
overnight from Miami to Venice, transferred to Naples, and taken a seventy-five-minute ferry ride to the island where she'd taken up residence.  "Where's my TV?"
     She darted like a chicken without a head around the living room/dinette/cooking space.  "It was right on this table when I left for the States.  And where's the cable box?"
     She dived under the tablecloth that hung from the TV table.  "Damn!  He got the computer, too!"
     Dee ventured upstairs to her bedroom.  Everything was still in place, but her clothes hung at odd angles in the closet.  They'd been slashed.
     Of Italian heritage and fluent in the language, Dee refused to be a pushover.  She dialed 1-1-2 for the Carabiniere (state police) on the island.
     "Carabiniere," someone answered.
     "I'd like to report a robbery in my home," Dee said in Italian.
     "Not possible.  There are no robberies on Ischia.  Everyone's door stays open."  The phone went dead.
     Dee came out of her apartment like a boxer out of her corner.  She went down the whitewashed steps to the street beneath her apartment and wound down to the marina.
     "Taxi," she yelled.
     The driver deposited her at the Carabiniere Station.  Dee explained what had happened and filed a report.  "We'll come in the morning," the officer said.  "This is a very serious charge - we do not have crime here."
     "And you've never heard of Mafia in Napoli, either," Dee said under her breath.
     Two twenty-year-olds appeared in uniform the next day.  They stood open-mouthed, staring at the closet where Dee's clothes hung in shreds.
     "There is no crime on Ischia," one said.
     "I know who did it," Dee said.  "I filed a report last winter.  He rents above me and put his cable dish on my terrace while I was in Florida.  I pulled it down when I came back and he told me I'd find my apartment gone this spring.  Check your files, you'll find my report. There was a witness."
     "I'm sorry, Senora, we have no proof."
     After they left, Dee spun on the heels of her Birkenstocks.  This time she told the taxi driver to drop her at the island's newspaper office.  She supplied the reporter with her police report and photos from her closet and TV table.  "I will not be intimidated," she said in her final statement that ran on page one.
     The following week, Dee had the creepy feeling someone was stalking her. She whipped around and snapped a photo with her phone.  The tenant who rented above her was in the photo.  She continued to the fruit stand to test melons.  When the alleged robber began yelling at her across the cherries, she snapped
another photo.  This time he was in snarling position.
     She called a Neapolitan lawyer who worked for the American Embassy.  "What happened next?" I said.
     "Nothing.  Italians talk and talk but they don't do anything.  The landlord's a strong-arm lawyer on the island.  Even the state police are afraid of retaliation.  It's standard practice to cable-poach, but that tenant never offered to pay me a dime and he put the dish up without my permission."
     At our hotel, one of the waiters called Charley a "Neapolitan at heart."  We'd taken it as a compliment till we found out the Neapolitan heart is made of straw.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Dispute in Italy

     We left Barcelona overdosed on Spanish history, bizarre structures, tapas, crowds, Gaudi, and Miro. Next stop:  Naples.

     Over the years we have fallen in love with southern Italy.  Life is exuberant and loud.  Neapolitans are brash, grabbing life as it comes and squeezing tight, as evidenced by the antics of twosomes on scooters or in passionate embraces whenever the mood strikes.  Neapolitans have ruled and been ruled, many times. They know in the course of human events, cultures are fleeting.  The sea lies in front of them, with Vesuvius behind.

     Men gather to discuss world events, local problems, and familial disputes.  Their voices rise, as their hands move up and down in prayer position.  Sometimes they squeeze their fingers together, pointing inward, as if they'd burned themselves.  For hours they stand there talking and yelling, yet nothing seems to get resolved.
     The three-quarter-mile road to our hotel on the island of Ischia was under construction for eighteen months.  The hotel owner was in a dispute with his neighbor, who shares the driveway, as to who should pay to fix the road.  Meanwhile, guests could either walk up the hairpin turns high over the Bay of Naples or wait at a staging area for the hotel to retrieve them.

     Last year, we noticed stones from the wall along the driveway tumbling down the hillside. Walkers could become ghosts, swallowed by gaping voids that delineated the sides of the promontory. "This is a prestigious hotel and I don't understand why the owners can't negotiate a settlement," I said to Charley.  "They're a member of a chain that must demand inspections."

     "You'd think they'd have paid off the neighbor," Charley, the pragmatist, said.

     "There has been a dispute as to who owns the part that needs fixing," the hotel manager told us.  "They won't accept our offer."

     This year, a new rock wall appeared where the driveway had been disintegrating.  The neighbor constructed a ninety-degree angle where the property divided.  The walls create such a narrow turn that taxis can't make it through.  Unless they're in Lilliputian cars, hotel guests must wait for shuttles to bring them to the hotel.  I could hear the neighbor saying, "Gotcha!"






Sunday, July 28, 2013

Flamenco on the Island of Mallorca, Spain

Manolo de Cordoba, Madrid
Photo his own
     Picture Ichabod Crane from Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: "tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves...and his whole frame most loosely hung together."  Add oily hair sticking to his ears and narrow head and Ichabod's snipe nose.

     That is the figure that spun in front of us during a flamenco show at our hotel.

     Except that this male wore black tights and a shocking pink ruffled shirt under black vest and twirled a pink neon cape.

     We shouldn't have been surprised.  The hotel was billed a "five-star" on Mallorca, but was more like a Holiday Inn.  Housekeeping had shoved twin beds together to form our king, so one of us was continually falling through the crack at night. When we used the sink, pipes gurgled in the shower and water rose from its drain.  There were four computers available for guests to use (with accompanying coin machines), but none of the four worked.  The front desk gave me refunds.

     Ichabod continued to twirl in front of us, like a whirling dervish.  He accompanied three very talented female dancers,  who changed for each number from gold spangles to red ruffles to blue fringe to yellow satin. Their feet pounded the stage in a blur. Finally Ichabod stopped twirling and toppled toward the audience, obviously dizzy.  Someone in the front row caught him.

     The music muffled my laughter.  In Ichabod's final moment of glory, he threw his head back while his arms shot straight toward the ceiling.  As the music faded, we watched his long appendages creep down his torso and over the thin hips to his thighs.  The seductive pink cape slithered with them.  Fortunately, it was only a few steps to the bar.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mallorca, Spain

We flew nonstop from Dublin to the island of Mallorca, Spain.  A transport was supposed to meet us at the airport to take us up the coast to our hotel.  After we retrieved our bags and exited the luggage area, we scanned the signs.  No "Carey."

We waited fifteen minutes.  There was a cluster of people in the middle of the terminal.

A man in a dress shirt and tie came toward us.  He displayed a nervous smile.  "Are you Carey?" he said in almost - English.

"Yes," Charley said, no smile on his face.  "Where have you been?"

"My name is Juan Lopez," he said, extending his hand.  "I've been waiting at the meeting place."

"Meeting place?  What meeting place?  We've never been here.  We got our luggage and came through the nearest exit," Charley said.  I was trying not to giggle.

"In the middle," Juan said, pointing.  "Where everyone meets."

"Except all the drivers who came down here, near our luggage," Charley mumbled.

We relaxed by the pool and walked the wide promenades along the beach for two days.   A guide was going to drive us across the island on the third day.  "Hello, remember me?  I'm Juan," he said.

Juan drove us to a winery in Santa Maria, as well as an olive oil factory and Saturday market in Soller.  He never stopped translating. One hand went up in the air off the wheel, a finger pointing out the correct pronunciations. "Here, 'Macia' wine, it's pronounced 'Mathia,'" he said.  "The Spanish 'S' is a 'C' on Mallorca, but is pronounced like a 'TH.'"  I kept my gaze focused out the window.  We were going seventy mph with a one-armed driver.

"Limoneros," Juan said, pointing to thousands of acres of lemon trees in the plateaus.  "Cabras, goats," he said, pointing to the hillsides.

For lunch, Juan drove us up hairpin turns to a restaurant two kilometers above Porto Soller.  The view was spectacular. After lunch we wound down along coastal 'S' curves ('C' curves in Mallorca, pronounced 'TH' curves), past villages crumbling off cliffs and Hollywood stars' homes. On a 'TH' curve in Deia, Juan took both hands off the wheel to demonstrate the round shape of potato cakes covered in chocolate   "There, in restaurante," he said.  "Famoso," he added.  I didn't give a rat's ass about potato cakes.  I just wanted Juan to get both hands on the wheel .

In Valldemossa, Juan explained that "shopping" had made the town famous with a French woman.

"What kind of shopping?" I said.

"I forget how you say his name in English."

"You mean a man brought his French mistress here and made the town famous hiding out?"  Charley's imagination was having a good time.

"No, not hiding out. Shopping," I said.

"No shopping, living, no hiding out.  Shopping," Juan said.

"You just said no shopping," I pointed out.  "And why would he bring her to this small village to shop?"  I could think of better places to get a designer collection!

I opened my guidebook.  Turns out Chopin ("shopping") had brought his mistress, French writer George Sand, to live on the coastal mountainside.  Sand described it as "the winter from hell."
Valldemossa, Majorca, Spain

Monday, July 15, 2013

Notes from Dublin

We started in Dublin, a five-plus-hour overnight flight from Boston.  By the time we got our drinks and dinner on board, read a few pages of a novel, and closed our eyes, we were landing...at 7 a.m. local time or 2 a.m. Boston time.  Which gave us all day to explore, except that we couldn't see straight, were lightheaded, and our hotel room wasn't ready.

So we grabbed breakfast and sat on a comfy sofa in the lobby.  By the fire.  Yes, in Dublin in June they needed a fire.  When my eyes rolled back in my head and my mouth hung open with drool slithering down my chin, Charley returned to the front desk to beg for our room.  By noon we were in.

We didn't bother to unpack.  I would never have found anything I put away, anyway.  Instead, I peeled down my slacks, tore off my jacket, and crawled on all fours across the bed covers like an animal.  Charley wasn't far behind.  We stayed there for four hours, till we got hungry again.  So much for our first day in Dublin.  After a spectacular dinner of fresh fish, we found our way back to our lair.

The following morning brought sunshine and temperatures into the seventies.  Ashes smoldered in the fireplace.  We dug through suitcases to find tee shirts and shorts.  For four hours a guide walked us through Trinity College, the Temple Bar section, Dublin Castle, and two cathedrals. Guinness Storehouse had to wait till the following day, with its free sample of ale.  We got our own pints at lunch and headed back for...what else? A nap, but not before we'd fallen in love with Dubliners and their city.  

Nothing in two weeks of travel that followed would top the time I spent in an apothecary there...James Joyce's apothecary, to be precise, where he'd chatted with neighbors who later appeared as characters in his novels.  China shaving mugs with lather brushes sat on wooden shelves along the walls.  Lime soaps, Joyce's favorite, remained stacked in glass cases.

Five members of the James Joyce Club sat on wooden benches behind the counters. They were reading from The Dubliners.  Twice a week they read, until they finished. Then they'd select another of Joyce's novels. I stood and listened.

"Come in, come in," the man on the end said.  "Sit with us."

He was stout with a bulbous nose but slid his haunches over so I could fit.  I listened to the flow, since I'd missed the entirety of the story (they were on the last chapter), and I'd never read the book.  My companion took his turn reading in a deep, sonorous voice that commiserated, then laughed, with the priest who was the protagonist.

When he stopped, he handed me his copy.  "Would you like to take a turn?"

I'd studied Joyce in college and had taught English in high school.  I figured I couldn't flub up too badly, although my voice was missing the brogue.  I began reading and continued through the ending.  "Great job!" my companion said, as I passed his book back.

The rest of them clapped.  Too bad it wasn't for me.

Monday, July 1, 2013

"Building" an Argument

     Just like any other married couple, we have our disagreements.  Have you ever asked, "How does that make you feel?" in the middle of an argument with your spouse?  Me, neither.  And I know enough not to mention my husband's departed mother during an argument.  Although it would be easier to blame her for his faults, since she can no longer defend herself and she raised him, didn't she?  I'm sure my daughters-in-law have a few thoughts about me during arguments with my sons.
     I don't go to psychological help books like, His Needs, Her Needs; ScreamFree Marriage; and Getting to 'Yes.'  Some couples find marital retreats helpful, where they practice the avoidance of name-calling and placing blame.  Can't I practice that in my kitchen?
     Today researchers have discovered ways to BUILD better family arguments, including those between siblings.  That's right - build an argument.   In a N.Y. Times article on April 14, 2013, Bruce Feiler discusses seven lessons from various psychologists' and professors' research.  Here they are:

1.  Do not bring up an issue that bothers you between 6 and 8 p.m.  Women, not men, are highly stressed during those hours (can anyone guess why??).

2.  Physical posture matters!  Sit at the same height to talk to each other, with feet on the floor, and look in the other person's eyes.  Do NOT cross your arms over your chest like Chief Sitting Bull.

3.  All parties should sit on CUSHIONED  chairs.  A soft cushion makes people more accommodating and generous. (Perhaps pillows would suffice, if there aren't cushioned chairs.)  Parties should sit next to each other, instead of opposite, to increase collaboration.  So far, they're not recommending hand-holding.

4.  In a heated argument, go to the balcony for five minutes.  If you don't have a balcony, just separate.  Come up with alternative solutions that would be acceptable to you before coming back together.  New options might emerge - or not.

5.  Be sure to get out an egg timer before starting an argument (?!).  Each party should have three minutes to state his case.  After that, researchers found that people repeat themselves and voices get louder with each repetition.  If this begins to happen, go to the balcony for five minutes (you will cool off quicker if the temperature is below freezing).  Just be sure to come back.

6.  Never use the word "You."  Use "I" or "We."  The pronouns "he" or "she" should be avoided, since focus will divert to another party (perhaps, rightfully so?).

7.  "I'm sorry" is necessary because it may describe how you feel.  If it isn't how you feel, say it anyway.  Apparently it will indicate you're taking responsibility for the impact you've had on someone else.  Try to avoid all sarcasm as you say the words.

I have no additional comments to make on these findings.  I'm sure some of you might, though.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Charles J. Sykes, aka Bill Gates, Speaks to the Graduates

     In honor of those graduating in 2013, I'm summarizing some thoughts of Charles J. Sykes from his 2007 book, 50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School.  These thoughts have been attributed incorrectly to Bill Gates, but according to Snopes.com, they are not the words of Bill Gates and he never gave this speech to Mt. Whitney High School, Visalia, California. This is in no way intended as a political statement, but is certainly food for thought.

Rule 1:  Life is not fair - get used to it.                                  

Rule 2 - The world won't care about your self-esteem.  The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3 - You will NOT make $40,000 a year right out of high school.  You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you EARN both.

Rule 4- If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5 - Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity.  Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping - they called it opportunity.

Rule 6 - If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7 - Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now.  They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you are.  So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents' generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8 - Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not.  In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer.  This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9 - Life is not divided into semesters.  You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself.  Do that on your own time.

Rule 10 - Television is NOT real life.  In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11 - Be nice to nerds.  Chances are you'll end up working for one.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Ladies' Night Out

     I opened the envelope and saw shoes - beautiful shoes - all over the invitation.  I figured my friend was selling some brand I'd never heard of and probably wouldn't want.  Or maybe it was a fundraiser.
     But there was no mention of a sale or a charity.  The invitation asked me to come enjoy the company of my "sole mates," and to wear my funkiest, dreamiest, or most comfy shoes...to go wild, or not.  A girls' night out!
     I looked through my closet and brought out a shocking pink pantsuit and a blue spiky wig.  No blue or pink shoes in there, though.  I ran to PayLess.
     For eighteen dollars I found six-inch stilettos in a pink, blue, and white floral.  I pictured my back twisted like a pretzel after five minutes in those beauties.  But the immediate issue was getting them on over the balls of my bunions. 
     I went up a size and, like Cinderella, slid the shoe over my left foot.  For some reason, probably having to do with the right side of my brain being dominant, my left foot is one-quarter-inch larger than my right.  So going up a size was automatic, and  I'd brought along some knee-highs to make the slide less painful.  I held onto the shelving and tried to stand up.  Miraculously, I was able to take a few steps.  "Perfect," I thought, "as long as I don't have to stand to talk, drink, or eat."
     A photographer snapped shots of the most unique pairs among the fifty that stepped over the threshold that night.  Who would've guessed - our hostess had on my exact shoes!  Well, they weren't exactly the same, since she'd used a glue gun to encrust the six-inch heels in crystals.
     That was just the opener for our hostess' creativity.  The living room showcased magnificent pairs, including red sparklers resembling Dorothy's from "The Wizard of Oz."  Quotes around the room brought to mind Imelda Marcos' famous line during her exile, "They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes."  Eight-and-one-half-by-eleven-inch renderings of Prada, Jimmy Choo, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Ferragamo, complete with peacock feathers and laces to the knee, surrounded the dining room.  A miniature shoe collection sat in the center of the table.  In the downstairs party room, tables were set for dinner with a single shoe and "Fifty Shades"-type poem as centerpieces.  We found our assigned seats and admired the red, purple, and gold footwear painted by our hostess on three-foot-by-three-foot canvases around the room.
     Fifty ladies in a conga line, wearing shoes they couldn't stand in (or not wearing them - I'd jettisoned mine under the table), created an indelible image. In a contest we guessed the most expensive pair on the shelves at Nordstrom.   The answer was a $3900 pair of Christian Louboutin's, but the winner didn't receive shoes for a prize.  She received wine - even better!  We formed a circle to pass decorated flip-flops to our right and left, over and over, until our hostess said, "What you hold in your hand right now is yours."  I ended up with pink ones, topped by floppy white roses.
     It was our hostess' birthday, and the two-tiered cake boasted a Cinderella-like crystal shoe on top.  But it was our hostess' daughter who made the night so memorable.
     "Our family's been through a lot in the last several years," she began, "and yet we feel so fortunate to celebrate Mom's birthday with you.  There's nothing more important in life than friendship, love, and the memories we create together...not our jobs, not our houses, not our clothes, not even our shoes!"

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grandma's Gifts

     When Jen's son, Sean, turned three, Jen's parents bought the toddler a Betta fish.  It looked like an ordinary fish but had beautiful fins and could breathe air from the water's surface. 
     "I know your schedule is hectic with Sean and work," Jen's mother said, "but you won't have to worry about taking care of it, as long as the dog can't reach it.  Just an occasional sprinkle of freeze dried shrimp in this little fish bowl.  It doesn't need filtration or a pump.  Besides, Sean will love watching it in his room."
     It was the kind of bowl Jen used when she made strawberry trifle.  "He can watch his dog in his room."
     Jen's mother found a beautiful tank for Sean's fish, now named Goldie.  "This tank goes perfectly with your living room!  Look at the chrome trim and the lovely waterfall."
     "Mom, I need a light for this and a pad and some rocks and stuff in there and a pump for the waterfall.  Besides, it's too big for Goldie."
     "So, we'll get her some company."
     "This is a Betta fish, Mom.  It's not an exotic $20 fish.  Goldie doesn't need a palace."
     Along with a supply of Amquel, Novaqua, aquarium salt, and a PH kit for the new tank, Jen's mother found a sucker fish to keep Goldie company.  "It's really a small catfish," she said, "but it will keep the tank clean.  I couldn't get a male Betta, because they're very aggressive toward their females.  I didn't think Sean would want to see that."
     Within two weeks, the sucker fish passed away.  So did the next sucker fish.  Goldie thrived.
     For Sean's fifth birthday, he received a lizard from Jen's parents.  The lizard came with its own tank, a heat lamp, a tank lamp, a tank pad, and a supply of wax worms and crickets.  "Oh my God!  My electric bill!" Jen said.  "Not to mention that crickets are going to be jumping all over the place."
     Sean hid in a closet and wouldn't come out till the lizard and his house were back in grandma's car.

Monday, May 20, 2013

An Autotrain Story Part III

     Jim managed to turn off the handheld shower with a wrench.  His shirt was soaked.  Steve sat on the toilet with a towel around his waist.  It was the only place he'd been able to get out of the spray.  "All set now," Jim said, turning to leave the compartment.  "Hope none of yur stuff got wet when I opened the door.  See ya at breakfast.  OK, Marge, you kin go in now."  Marge reappeared from the corridor outside.
     Around six-thirty, Marge and Steve dragged themselves into the dining car for coffee, bagels, and juice.  This time they sought the booth with Jim and Ann.
     "Sit, sit," Jim said.
     "We really appreciate the help you gave both of us," Steve began.
     "No problem.  We're used to it."
     "I imagine you've got some wild stories riding back and forth."
     "Damn right 'bout that," Jim said, slurping the milk in his cereal.
     "So where do you live, riding the rails for Amtrak?"
     "Close to Lorton.  Fact, our family's comin' to git us.  Maybe you could meet 'em."
     "Well, thanks, but we'll have to get going once we get our car."
     "Yeah, guess so.  Too bad.  Our son's on his way back to UVA after he drops us home."
     "UVA?  That's where I went," Steve said.  "Marge, too."
     "Yeah?  He just pledged a frat there, Sigma Nu.  We're real proud of him.  I learnt the secret handshake."
     "Sigma Nu?  No way!  That was mine, too.  I'd love to meet him!  Give me the shake, bro'."
     Elbows bent, arms twisted around each other, two palms grasped in a handshake.  "Fact is," Jim said, untwisting his forearm, "there's a couple other Sugma Nu's from UVA on this trip.  See the guy in the yellow shirt?  And the guy 'cross from him?  We's all from Lorton.  Come on, I'll introduce ya.  They's 'bout your age."  Jim led Steve down the aisle behind them.
     "Steve?  Steve Thomas?  Damn, it's you!  How the hell are you?"
     "John Baines?  My old roomie?  This is unbelievable!"  John had jumped into the aisle and was bearhugging Steve.
     "This is Jack Ryan, another Sigma Nu."
     "Please, if you've finished breakfast, others are waiting for your seats," the attendant said.
     "We've got to catch up," Steve said.  "Let's meet in the terminal and figure out where we can grab a cup of coffee.  Maybe your family can join us, Jim."
     Two by two the group swiveled with arms around each other and retreated down the aisle.  "Woo, woo, woo, Sigma Nu," trailed off behind them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Autotrain Story Part II

     Marge and Steve slid onto the two remaining Naugahyde seats in the dining car.  Across from them sat the tattooed man and his very large wife.
     "Howdy!  I'm Jim and this here's Ann," Jim said, extending his hand.
     "I'm Steve and this is Marge," Steve said, as handshakes were exchanged over the table.  "What have we got to eat?"
     A waiter sidled up.  "There's beef, chicken, salmon, or lasagna.  The menu's on the table.  I've got red and white wine, or beer." 
     Marge opted for white wine without raising her eyes from the menu.  "Where you from?" Jim asked, as the waiter poured from pitchers.
     "We're heading back to Connecticut," Steve answered.  "Should be a five hour drive from Lorton.  How 'bout you?"  The women remained silent.
     Marge raised her wine glass for a taste.  Just as the liquid rolled off her tongue, something warm and furry brushed against her ankle.  Her scream became a rasping choke.  Steve gave her a few whacks on the back that would have dislodged a side of beef.   "You OK?"
     "Get me out," she yelled, pushing Steve into the aisle.  "There's a rat under the table!"
     "That ain't no rat," Jim said, laughing.  "That's Ann's cat. She won't go nowhere without Whiskers."
     "I think I'll have dinner in the compartment," Marge said.  "Beef will be fine."  She turned and started down the aisle.
     "Sorry, folks," Steve said to Jim and Ann.  "Guess she got a good scare."  He paused and placed an order for two beef dinners for compartment #216.
     Their sofa had transformed into two bunk beds, the lower one six inches wider than the upper.  "Can you sit on the bed and eat?" Steve asked.  "I'll sit in the chair."
     "I can't even get in the room, let alone sit on the bed," Marge said, still red in the face.  Her thick shin was wedged between the lower bunk and the sink cabinet. 
     "Just a minute," Steve said from out in the corridor.  With a twist and simultaneous shove, the leg dislodged and Marge fell onto the bunk. 
     "Ow!  Thanks a lot," she said with undisguised sarcasm.
     "My pleasure," Steve said with reciprocated sarcasm.
     "I don't know how I'm going to get up this ladder," Marge said, pointing next to her.  "Besides, I'll bump my head on the ceiling if I try to go to the bathroom."
     "I'll sleep up there," Steve said.  Their meals arrived and they ate in silence.
     During the night, Steve swung his feet over the top bunk, forgetting that webbing hung from the ceiling.  The more he tried to disentangle them, the more his size thirteens became engaged.  "Shit!" he said, waking Marge.
     "What happened?"
     "I'm caught and I can't get out."
     Marge climbed out of her warm nest and positioned one foot on the ladder.  "You need to come a little higher so you can reach my feet," Steve said.
     By the glow of the night light Marge lifted her other foot but it missed the next rung.  She slipped backward onto the floor.  "You OK?" Steve asked.
     "I think I wrenched my neck," Marge said, climbing onto her knees.  Steve hit the porter's button.
     Leonard arrived in less than a minute.  "I'll call for a nurse we have on board," he said, disengaging Steve's two feet from the webbing.  Marge had pulled herself into the  chair.
     Ten minutes later, there was a knock on their steel door.  "I'm the nurse you called for," a woman said, peeking in.  "Oh, it's you two.  I'm Ann  - remember?  What's the problem?"
     Ann flopped from the outer corridor onto the bottom bunk like a beached whale.  Marge crawled from the chair and sat on the floor next to her.  As Ann massaged, Marge's neck relaxed.  "Can you make it down on your own, Steve?" Marge asked.
     "Yeah.  Thanks, Ann."
     In the morning, Steve attempted to shower from a sitting position on the toilet.  It was the only way his six-foot frame could fit in the cubicle.  When he'd finished, he turned the shower knob to "Off."  The water refused.
     "Marge, I can't turn this thing off," he yelled through the bathroom door.
     "Well, I can't open the door without flooding the floor.  I'll call the porter."
     "Good morning," said Leonard, feigning cheerfulness.  "How may I help you?"
     "My husband can't turn off the shower in there."
     "I'll call a plumber we have on board."
     In ten minutes there was a knock on the steel door.  "I'm the plumber - oh, it's you two.  I'm Jim - remember?  Amtrak hires my wife and me for this route.  Marge, you'd better git outside 'less you want to git wet.  Steve, you got a towel on in there?"