Comes the Darkness

Yesterday I did not write or blog. Instead I put together Adirondack chairs. Four of them. And it felt good. Sometimes you just have to push away from the computer and spend a day making things with your hands. The world will not miss you.

To those in the US –  have you been shopping for outdoor furniture in the last couple of years?  Holy Cow! Gone are the days of redwood picnic tables and folding chaise lounges. It’s a whole new world, as Joel and I found out when we set out to replace our worn out, odd assortment of hand-me-down outdoor furniture.

The first place we went was called Patio World.  I was hoping they sold furniture in a world of price ranges and styles. Wrong!  This is a place for people willing to spend thousands of dollars for a piece of furniture that’s going to sit outside in the sun and be pooped and peed on by an assortment of critters.    The cushions were thick and the fabric was guaranteed to outlive me. Luckily the salespeople at that high end joint ignored us.  Isn’t it funny how salespeople can spot shoppers who prefer not to go into debt just to keep up with the Joneses? I’ve heard it said that your shoes give you away.  I was in flip flops.

“Let’s check out the wine store,” Joel announced as we left. 

“Wine store?” 

He pointed to the big box store across the street.When I first started making treks down to San Francisco (back in the Ice Age), a trip to Cost Plus World Market was always number one on my list. Housed in a large windowless warehouse on Fisherman’s Wharf, it was a place where you could buy really cool stuff from all over the world: batiks from India, Japanese tea kettles, jewelry made from Indonesian seashells, Witch Doctor masks from Africa, bittersweet chocolates from Zanzibar, rattan furniture from the Philippines, just about anything you could imagine and more. 

It was nirvana for a kid from Reno Nevada where the most exotic thing you could buy with your hard-earned babysitting money was a taco from the town’s one Mexican restaurant.

 

Since then Cost Plus has been franchised all over the United States. A flagship store still sits on the Wharf but it’s no longer in a warehouse with a sawdust floor and you no longer enter through a fog of incense. Fertility Gods sit on shelves in well marked areas and not on bales of hay in poorly lit corners.  Most notably, salespeople are no longer free to wander around barefoot or smoke pot on their breaks. Today’s world market is a antiseptic, well-lit, big box store.

However, we know the wine buyer for the stores in our area and he assured us they bought good stuff so we wandered over.  Perhaps going home with at least one bottle of good wine might save the day, only – we never got to the wine department. Just beyond the front door we encountered a brightly colored display of Adirondack chairs, and they were on sale.  “They’ll do,” I said, to which Joel agreed.  Mexico was playing somebody (I forget who) and he wanted to get home to the World Cup.  

Have you ever tried assembling an Adirondack chair?  It’s not hard, but it’s confusing. The seat and back legs are one piece and the front legs are assembled at a V angle to them which has to be contrary to logical chair assembly. However after putting them on backwards a couple of times, I finally got the idea. The trick is not to tighten the bolts until you’ve assembled the whole chair.  Otherwise, you start over from scratch.

After finishing, I lined the chairs up on the deck facing the canyon.  What do you think?  I’m reminded of the deck of the Titanic.  I can almost hearing the band playing Nearer My God to Thee. 

Ah well.  With a few colorful cushions made in Vietnam, they’ll do.

 

The Embarrassment of Parenting by Geoff Le Pard

Today’s post comes from the delightful Geoff Le Pard who’s just published his first memoir, Apprenticed to My Mother.  I have read many chapters on his blog and they were both hilarious and poignant. In this bit, Geoff fondles a subject all of us can identify with…the gruesome thought of our parents having sex.

From Apprenticed to My Mother,

The Embarrassment of Parenting

Many things are going to embarrass you, if you are a child. Your parents being the most obvious. From kissing you by the school gates, to talking to you when you’re hanging out with your mates, to serving something wholesome when friends come round, to dancing at any stage, you will be mortified.

But perhaps the nadir of the urge to squirm comes when the subject of sex raises its ugly head (which is perhaps an unfortunate image with which to start this piece).

My parents were no different, though maybe they were slightly more aware of the impact it might have on the Archaeologist and me than some parents during the 1960s and 70s.

As is the case with all small children who sleep in a separate bedroom, the idea that my parents may be capable of any intimacy beyond a peck on the lips was anathema. Still is, in truth. I think I managed to make it to about 11 or 12 before the concept of parental congress became something that might, just have legs.

There was the incident with the baker’s delivery boy, who whilst walking around the side of our house was confronted by my father, red-faced, running away from my mother, broom in hand and calling, ‘Come back, Desmond, it’s Thursday and my turn…’ I heard about this third hand from the brother of a friend of the sister of the deliver boy. I think he might still be in counseling.

Or, the occasion of the engrossing TV drama when Mum, cup of coffee in hand, leant forward to absorb the tension and missed her mouth. The scalding liquid made its unerring way into her top and thence into her bra. She did the only sensible thing: she began ripping off her clothes, quickly revealing her bra to the gaze of three startled males. I assume my father had seen this before and my brother may have too, but, whilst I had seen the garment in the washing, I had never been present when it was disported.

‘Barbara, the boys.’ My father’s panic mirrored my own. By now my mother was pulling the material away from her skin and at risk of revealing more than was clearly thought appropriate.

‘Oh for goodness sake. Pathetic.’ Mum stood and, still trying to ensure the skin was not melting into the upholstery, headed for the kitchen.

This is but one example of the cruelty of TV when each family had one screen and only two or three channels. Nowadays, if a programme might be embarrassing, there is at least the option to watch on different screens or on a laptop or Mac. Not then. We all shared the experience, for good or bad.

In many ways the 1960s were a watershed, bringing smut directly into our living rooms in the guise of ‘modern’ dramas. Dennis Potter and Harold Pinter appeared as playwrights who were as liable to put swearing in the small screen as nudity. And it was the nudity that caused the most problems.

Picture the scene; a 25 inch TV sat in one corner of the living room. Facing it from the right was my father, positioned next to the fire so as to get first dibs on any warmth the sclerotic gas burner might deign to throw out. His chair was ancient with wings behind which he could hide if needs be. Next, my mother in her small chair, almost too small for her. It hugged her sides and had low arms which allowed her to reach all around and pick up whatever project she would be working  on while watching the TV: shelling broad beans, mending trousers or socks, quilting or embroidering in a ring, making a stuffed toy for some raffle. Then there came the Archaeologist and me, squeezed onto a two seater sofa next to the door to the hall through which an incessant and bleak draught blew; necessarily I was next to the door.

On the TV is a BBC drama. Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. This adaptation is in a number of parts and my mother has done well to persuade my father that they should watch it. For an educated man, he wasn’t keen on ‘improving’ TV. We have reached episode four when Therese and her lover have killed Therese’s husband. They are in bed together.

My father is, as was often the case, asleep in his chair, his head lolling to one side. My mother is squeezed into hers, her hands full of wool. I’m not sure if the Archaeologist is present – I think not, but perhaps my attention is distracted. You see, in the previous episode there have been some glimpses of interesting parts of the female anatomy with which I was less than familiar at that point. I have hopes, given the rumpty-tumpty that is continuing on screen.

Therese and her lover are finding congress difficult in the light of the murder they have recently undertaken. Tension is building and then then…  It all happens so quickly. The lover rips back the sheets, exposing both actors to the camera. The man – sadly – leaps from his bed, his voice rising well above the soft tones of moments before.

In his chair Dad stirs. Mum, seeing the full frontal nudity unfolding as it were in front of her, begins to stand but is inhibited by her chair, gripping her sides. She is doing what comes naturally in such moments: she is heading for the panel that will let her change channels – oh, for a remote, she might have thought, had such things existed.

I, and the Archaeologist are trying a complex maneuvering that will enable our body language to scream ‘we aren’t looking, hardly interested really, you won’t get us watching smut’ while all the time making sure we have a clear an unimpeded view of the screen. The lover stands, face to camera. In a voice tremulous with emotion and self-disgust he intones:

‘We must master fate.’

Rarely have pauses been more pregnant. My mother stops, halfway out of her chair. Despite the compelling sight of a completely naked couple filling the screen, the Archaeologist and I are now staring at Dad. Dad, in turn is ogling the screen, his eyes flitting back to Mum and then the actor. He couldn’t look more distressed, a disappointment redolent of the sort of let down that follows unreasoning hopes. ‘Surely he’s not, Barbs. Surely not on the BBC.’

At that moment the actor cups his exposed genitals, a belated attempt at modesty but sadly, given my father’s mishearing, merely convincing him that he is, indeed, about to witness the first example of televisual onanism that has been broadcast.

I don’t think any of us really recovered from that moment. It took years to bring some sort of stability to the evening’s entertainment. Dad never really trusted mum’s judgement around dramas and Mum felt obliged to perfect her up, out and ‘let’s see what’s one the other side’ movements. such that even the most harmless of inappropriate phrases could lead to a change of channels.

As for actual sex, well, I remain to be convinced. I suppose I feel, like most children, it would be a kindness to believe I was adopted.


Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes poetry, short fiction and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.

Life in a Grain of Sand is a 30 story anthology covering many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015

Salisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

Available here

 

Buster & Moo is about about two couples and the dog whose ownership passes from one to the other. When the couples meet, via the dog, the previously hidden cracks in their relationships surface and events begin to spiral out of control. If the relationships are to survive there is room for only one hero but who will that be?

Life in a Flash is a set of super short fiction, flash and micro fiction that should keep you engaged and amused for ages

Apprenticed To My Mother describes the period after my father died when I thought I was to play the role of dutiful son, while Mum wanted a new, improved version of her husband – a sort of Desmond 2.0. We both had a lot to learn in those five years, with a lot of laughs and a few tears as we went.

Mr. Tinker Tries to Make a Deal

Heartbreaking but beautifully written.

tin hats

Waiting for life to load…

A message appears on his Skype.  Malcolm Staples wants to discuss some property.  Who is Malcolm Staples he thinks.  A veterinarian is supposed to be here in a few minutes, but the vet will probably be late, so maybe there is time for a quick call.  The man dials Malcolm’s number.  The phone rings and a young voice answers.

“I’d like to speak with Malcom Staples please.”

“Yes, this is he.  Is this Mr. Tinker?”

“The same,” he says.

“I’m glad you called back Mr. Tinker, I went by your houses, the ones for sale across from the football stadium, and I just wanted to ask a few questions.”

“Sure,” the man said, “but first who am I speaking with?”

Malcolm tells his story.  He is a developer/builder/real estate agent who used to work for one of the biggest home builders in Texas, but has…

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Jan’s Ice Cream Parlor #ThursdayDoors

My husband has two passions: cooking and trains.  Today he’s making his signature dish, wickedly good Garlic Mac and Cheese, and so I was able to sneak into his train room. For those of you who aren’t involved in that particular hobby, modeling is extremely detail oriented work, particularly when you’re talking about the smaller gauges.  Above is an HO gauge model of the Pacific Fruit Express which is approximately five inches long and two inches tall. It was built from a kit, as were all the trains and buildings I’ll be showing today.

Above are some of the more complicated trains that he’s put together recently.  But there are thousands more.  Believe me.

The passenger trains even have passengers however, they don’t look very healthy.  This must be the Train of the Damned.  

Can you spot the conductor at the door?  He looks like he’s either waving or trying to get out.  Perhaps he’s realized the passengers are all zombies.

The one thing model railroaders are absolutely fanatical about is realism, which means weathering. They’ll spot a rusted building on the side of the road and have to stop to take pictures.  Then they obsess for days over how to achieve that particular look.

Realism also means that buildings must have lights. This factory along the tracks contains over thirty little tiny lights that had to be hand-wired.

I’m not sure but I think this is a loading dock of some sort. I’ve been to model railroad conventions and met women every bit as gung-ho as their partner but that’s not me folks.

Actually, I lied.  I’ve only been to one convention and it was in Redding California back when the romance was fresh, if you know what I mean. If you’re not into trains, you have to be really in love to go to a model train convention. The layouts and exhibits are great but sitting through a one hour forum on  “ways to support your train guy,” well, it’s just not for me.

Below is the Cameramadoodle Ding Dong Candy Factory.

Named for our son Cameron.  Model Railroaders aren’t that imaginative and if you live with one, you’re gonna end up on a marquee.  Did I mention the second floor of Jan’s Ice Cream Parlor is a brothel?  I guess my clients enter through the back door. I don’t know how they get up to it.  I guess they must be awfully horny.

And here, just for Norm, the conductor of the ThursdayDoors challenge, is a door.

 

Maybe it doesn’t matter

I haven’t been blogging lately because I’ve been editing a story I started way back in 1998.  I have no idea how many times I’ve edited this particular story but after years and the countless renditions, there are only a few sections I can reread without finding a word or a phrase that stops me in my tracks with it’s banality. Any sensible person would have given up and moved on to puzzles they know the answers to but not me.The story is based on the contentious relationship between my grandmother and my Auntie Dottie who had more in common than they would ever have admitted during their lifetimes.  Both were on their own emotionally from an early age; both were not shy about giving their opinions, and both were far braver and willing to take risks than the men they married. 

They spent the majority of their lives in a small town that, on the surface, is postcard perfect New England.  However veer off Main Street and the stray dogs scrounging for food will tell the story of a town that strains to stay true to the qualities once so important in small town America:  respectability, civic duty, and charity. The decline began after WWII when the mills and factories supporting the town began closing. Many of the young men who went off to war, didn’t return.  They moved to larger cities where their GI benefits went further.  The situation worsened when increasing crime and corruption rates in nearby Springfield Massachusetts made the hills surrounding the town appealing for commuters. The resulting increase in property values forced families who’d been squatting peacefully in the woods down into town and on welfare. You can probably guess the rest. 

My grandmother was born in the town during its years of prosperity but her parents were fresh off the boat.  In fact, they probably jumped off the boat. Letters from relatives in Sweden suggest that Great Gramps was in trouble with the Swedish military. Since he was a milliner by trade, maybe the Swedish army didn’t like his hats.  Who knows?  Great Gramps was a man of few words and none of them Swedish.  When his wife died young leaving him with a teenage daughter, he promptly boarded the girl at a “teaching” hospital in Springfield where she would learn a trade and not be a burden on him.  Years later she would return to the town with her husband and daughter to take care of him and there she would stay the rest of her life.

Dottie showed up on my grandmother’s doorstep in the early 1950s, married to her soft-hearted son and pregnant. She hid her painful past with a laugh that could trigger a tsunami and lived life in fast gear as if knowing she would die young. Any money she and my uncle earned was immediately spent on gaudy, flashy items which were far out of the arena of necessary.  In my grandmother’s time the things Dottie became legendary for would have gotten a woman shunned and ostracized. But the town was changing. 

I spent the summers of my youth in the twilight of my grandmother’s world and the emergent reality of my aunt’s.  I’m not sure if it’s the story of a relationship or the story of a town.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Do you ever keep returning to a story again and again knowing you may never get it right?

Legally Bombed on the Poop Train

In the sixties cult classic, The King of Hearts, a Scottish soldier played by the late Alan Bates is dispatched by his commander to a small French village to diffuse bombs left behind by Nazis.  Once there, he tries to convince the townspeople of their imminent peril but they could give a rat’s ass.  Instead they insist on dressing in costumes and holding a carnival in the streets. 

At some point he realizes that he’s actually dealing with the patients of the local insane asylum. The other villagers fled to safety before his arrival, leaving the crazies behind.

Last Friday, aside from the usual “Trump fumes in tweet threat,” this was the headline in our local paper that first caught my eye: “Legally Bombed.”  It referred to the annual 4/20 Fest happening in Golden Gate Park.  This festival has been going on for years but this was the first time it was officially legal.  Yes, finally Gram and Gramps can smoke their weed in peace and we don’t have to worry about posting bail.

  

Then my eyes fell on this gem: “S.F. toilet monitor becomes a hero.” In San Francisco, public toilets or “pit stops” are so notorious for drug overdoses that they must be monitored by an actual human being.  So if you’re in SF and decide to use a pit stop, be aware that someone is counting how long it takes you to pee. I’m not sure what the accepted norm is, but don’t dawdle. Despite my snarkiness, this was actually a sweet story about an ex-con who saved the lives of two alleged junkies and was honored by the city.  No ticker tape parade but a commendation and a new uniform.

The next scratch-your-head-till-it-bleeds headline came from the great state of Alabama where they just executed an 83 year old man for the mail-bomb slaying of a federal judge back in 1989.  If they’d had him in prison for so long, why wait until he’s got one foot in the grave anyway? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. The last sentence of the article was the kicker:  He did not respond when an official asked if he had any last words.  Indeed.

But, boys and girls, I’ve saved the most bizarre news item for last. In addition to executing 83 year olds, Alabama is the final resting place for New York City’s poop. The residents of tiny Parrish found this out the hard way when one of the “poop trains” used to transport the shit sat on tracks outside their town for two months.Ten million pounds of poop left sitting in Alabama’s humid climate. It must have smelt heavenly. There is a plus to poop, of course. Shit processing provides jobs which the state desperately needs. But, who did the residents of Parrish blame the stench on? Lax environmental laws? The fact that their officials had no plan to transport the shit from the trains to the landfill?  No. You got it. The elite liberals of New York.  I can’t wait till Trump finds out.  What do you think he’ll tweet?

It’s time to find that insane asylum, folks, and beg for admittance.  By the way, Happy Earth Day. May you never find a poop train in your backyard.

Adventures in a Nash Rambler

I was too young to drive when I marched for the first time. I was also too young to understand the complexities of the so-called “conflict in Vietnam.” I only knew we were sending young men to die in a country on the other side of world; a country that didn’t seem to pose any real threat to the United States.  My father’s refrain (shared with most of his generation) was “when you’re asked to serve your country you just go. No questions asked.” Which seemed to be a stupid thing to do.

There were no anti-war marches planned in my hometown of Reno Nevada for two reasons. One, the good ole boys, who were proud they couldn’t even find Vietnam on a map, would have loved an excuse to commence a shootin’ party on the nerds who actually planned to graduate from high school.  And two, the city fathers would have loved  to advertise that Reno was “the place where them damn anti-war protestors got what was coming to them.”

From estuarypress.com

San Francisco, that was where it was all happening. So I hitched a ride to the City with my best friend, her father, and Dr. Mole (not his real name but what he looked like). The drive required us to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains which at any time of the year is a crap shoot (just ask the Donner Party) and sure enough we encountered heavy snow just past the summit and could barely see the road.  Then the radio, which had been iffy since we left Truckee, suddenly sparked to life.

The song that brought the radio to life was “If You’re Going to San Francisco.” I saw this miraculous coincidence as a validation that my deception had the cosmic seal of approval. You see, my parents thought I was going to a book fair with a friend who was an A+ student, her father who was a noted Chaucer scholar, and the dean emeritus of the philosophy department. Had my father known that I’d lied and I was on my way to an anti-war march with two socialist-leaning democrats, he would have had me locked up. 

After dropping Dr. Mole off at a shabby Victorian belonging to his elderly mother, the Chaucer scholar, A+ student and I checked into a motel near the UC Berkeley. It was one of those motels on University that generally rented rooms on an hourly basis which only sharpened the perceived danger of our escapade.  

In the morning we wandered around the campus where other anti-war rallies were being held and then met Dr. Mole at Moe’s Books on Telegraph. Moe’s is the sort of place that caters to obscure classics and rare out of print books. In other words, nirvana for any academic so soon both men were lost in the dusty back shelves. We had to constantly remind them about the march.

View from the water

If you’ve never been to San Francisco, there are only two ways to really appreciate the skyline for the first time; either by crossing the Bay Bridge or taking the ferry from Larkspur to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Some people may argue for the Golden Gate approach and I wouldn’t say they’re wrong but you don’t really get the whole skyline and it was spectacular on that day.

The parade started in the city’s crowded financial district and meandered up to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate park.  I don’t remember anything other than marching behind a flat bed truck from which Country Joe and the Fish played acoustic guitars and led cheers but it’s not a short distance and there are steep hills along the way.  Today that walk would kill me.  I do remember poor Dr. Mole complaining mightily when we finally reached the stadium and found a seat but it didn’t take him long to revive once the speakers began describing the horrors of a totally unnecessary war.  For such a little man, he could really let it be known how he felt “No More War!”

We drove back to Reno that night; this time there was fog on the summit and ice on the road.The old Nash Rambler’s electrical system shorted out somewhere along the Truckee and we had to stop while the two men, neither or whom had any mechanical skills, tried to figure out why the lights were no longer working. But the gods spared us that night, the lights miraculously came back on, and we all lived to tell the tale. However, after my father found out about my adventure, peaceful dinners at our house were officially a thing of the past. 

As I watched the recent marches for stricter gun control, I thought about the arguments my father and I had almost nightly during those years. What a waste. I hope that’s not a scene played out in the home of any young marcher but sadly, it probably is. 

I never thought back in the sixties that I’d be marching in my actual sixties…  Just goes to show that the fates are fickle and love to play a good prank or two on our sorry selves.