A Tale of Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Today is my birthday and the plan was to be in Ireland. I’m not sure where exactly although the county of Connemara was high on the list.  If not for the pandemic, I’d be on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the one my ancestors faced hundreds of years ago.  Tomorrow we face that grey abyss, that swallower of ships … battered and seasick to finally land where the mighty river narrows, Quebec.

I was born on a Friday afternoon in a small town in the middle of Massachusetts. If it wasn’t for the recklessness of  motor vehicle drivers I probably would have been born in Springfield which is closer to my grandparent’s house.  To explain, we go back to the year 1913.  In that year people drove “motor vehicles” on roads meant for horse and buggies with little or no instruction and zero regulation.

 

This led to an alarming number of accidents.

I can’t imagine why, can you?   In the small town of Palmer, which is on the main route from Boston to Springfield, there was no hospital. The nearest was in Springfield, a distance of thirty miles.  Thus most of the accidents were ultimately fatal.  The newspapers highlighted the need for a hospital and a local philanthropist by the name of Mrs. Emeline Wing stepped forward to donate her home to the cause and that is where I was born on this day many years ago.   My grandmother was the head nurse and I was her first grandchild. Shortly after I was born the hospital moved to a more modern building on the outskirts of town.  The house is no more.  Now there’s a bank. 

My parents were of the opinion that children only needed food, clothing and schooling.  They didn’t need big, fancy birthday parties.  However, for my sixteenth birthday they did take me to Trader Dick’s Kon Tiki Bar (across the street from the Sparks Nugget) and I had a virgin Mai Tai with a slice of pineapple and a miniature umbrella. I can’t remember what I ordered but it was probably a lot more exotic than pot roast (my mother’s speciality).

 I’ve had a few “unforgettable for all the wrong reasons” birthdays. One year we attempted to drive from Aspen to Reno in one day which would have been possible if the weather had cooperated.  By the time we got to Wendover Nevada we could go no further.  We had to stop.  Wendover is where your car breaks down after crossing the Bonneville Salt Flats and  Wendover is where the Mormons go to gamble, drink and hang out at strip clubs, particularly on Memorial Day weekend.  We had difficulty finding a room.  We couldn’t get a seat in any of the casino restaurants.  Dinner was buck fifty tacos from a stand and drug store gin and tonic. We sat in our hotel room and watched tumbleweeds blow into the hotel pool as sand storms went about the business of  destroying windshields. 

Wendover Nevada looking east toward the Salt Flats.

On the television we could only get three channels: Fox news, Spanish soap operas, and a marathon of Undercover Boss, a reality show that attempts to prove bosses really care about their employees.  The morning couldn’t come fast enough.

Today is supposed to be the hottest day of the week and so perhaps we’ll just stay home.  Water the green beans and the garlic and read a good book.  Ever have one of those birthdays you’d just assume forget?

 

Dressing

Another lovely post from Duke.

tin hats

When do scars become beautiful?  I have asked myself that question a number of times.  In fact, it is always on my mind.  I can’t shake it.  Love is part of the answer.  Beyond the scar we must look for the tatters of love and it is like a difficult book we have been assigned to read and the words make little sense, yet we struggle to find the true meaning of the red and white lines or in the mind where it shows with incalculable shiftings and footfalls of unexpected events.  We usually feel sorry for the person and there is madness or mistake or torture.  Without love, we are only left with the scar, and its permanence, and in typical fashion, we turn away.

Scars are like telescopes viewing a star in the sky.  There is the obvious outward appearance and then there is the distance between you…

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When Mother takes her pills

Today is my mother’s birthday.  She’s 94.  She lives in an assisted living facility although it’s only because she doesn’t like to take her pills. If she doesn’t take them, she gets all foggy.  If she does take them, Lord help the staff. She takes to trying to run the place. What can you do?

Today she was visited by a fellow “prisoner” who confided an urgent desire to escape and Mother alerted the front desk via her emergency button. Mother:  “They came and took her back home and then I looked out the window and there she was trying to get over the speed bumps again.” (I guess she was using a walker) “And I called the front desk and said, ‘whelp, she’s at it again’ and they all thanked me.”  Mother would generally be the first to try to escape but apparently my brother has managed to beguile the ladies at the front desk with his swaggering charm (the men in my family all age well … fuck that) and so Jimbo’s daring escapades keep her entertained.

The Dashing Jimbo in his favorite hat.

She used to live with my husband and me but we are very boring and we live at least a four hour drive from her beloved son who is always innovating, creating, partying, and exercising.  She lived with him briefly but he doesn’t own a television set and has lately become a vegetarian.  She needed and could afford to live someplace where she could have a television in every room, eat what she wanted, and meet with her friends to plan their little rebellions. Life is meaningless for mother unless there’s something to rebel against.

So, happy birthday Mom and enjoy that coffee ice cream you fought so hard for!

The Purity of Soft Ghost

tin hats

She dresses every morning in her invisible clothes.  They are sexy and mostly dark, black being preferred, and they are expensive because she has dreams and promises to keep.  No eyes will touch her true self, no one can see how she shines like the coat of a sleek horse in the sun.   The strangers, and most are strangers, will never know her beauty.  Yet, she must leave the house and face the day and so it is, year after year, up from the bed of her nightmare, until slowly she begins to tear along little dotted lines in her skin.  Again, few understand because they cannot see, but sometimes she shows others, those with right eyes, with long eyes, with deep eyes, and she points to where she bleeds and they become her friends and together she sleeps with the depressed and the destitute and all the bodies of…

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Hemingway prepares for a Small Claims Court Battle

Have you ever had a cockeyed dream that makes absolutely no sense but you can’t wake up from?  Well, that is me today and it’s only 10 am.  I could ingest coffee beans for hours and still feel like I’m stuck in the toilet with a diving bell on my head.

Happy Hour, Worms Officer’s Club many years ago.

I blame this unholy state on the brilliant idea I had round about the time (guessing 4:30 am) that the cat got zapped by a spaceship surfing into the inland valleys on the fog and skidded across the wood floors mindlessly ripping apart my socks (which were fortunately not on my feet).  Oh yeah, today’s the day to finally start that project I’ve been putting off. I’ll just lie in bed where it’s warm and think the whole thing through.

My last brilliant idea. Take pictures of rotting onions on napkins.

Does anyone really have brilliant ideas before the sun is up?  Word to the wise: If you want to start your day off well, don’t leave your windows open when the weather’s predicted to change. I went to sleep in sunny southern California and woke up on the moors of northern Scotland.  Howling winds, fog, banshees, the whole nine yards, as my mother would say. And my brilliant idea …  organize all of our books.
We have bookcases and bookcases full of books, some I’ve had since childhood.  My books are primarily biographies, novels, short story collections and reference books.  My husband, on the other hand, collects military history books, cook books, books on model trains, travel books, how-to books on every imaginable subject, art books and computer science books.  And all our books (except the cookbooks) are scattered throughout the house.

So where to begin this project, I thought.   First idea: Organize books alphabetically.  But not by title.  By author.  Then all the Hemingways would be together and separate from How To Prepare for Small Claims Court (how the hell did I get that book?)  Dumb Idea.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Second idea: Separate by genre.  First by fiction and non-fiction.  Easy peasy.  Wait a minute.  That would separate Classic Greek Myths from the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Okay … bad idea.  You’ve gotta have a reference book in order to really understand the Classics, know what I mean?
In a dither I asked my bookish friends for advice.  One of them said he organizes books by subject matter.  Hum, The Civil War for Dummies along side Red Badge of Courage and perhaps a How To for applying a tourniquet?  That’s a thought.  My other friend warned against organization.  She claims figuring those things out drives librarians to chew up their sweatpants.  I only have a few pairs of sweatpants and in this lockdown, they’re already pretty thread bare.
***
4:30 pm update:
Here’s how my project has gone so far.  At 10:45 am I picked up a copy of Capote’s  In Cold Blood and thought – hum, haven’t read this book for a while.  Read a few pages.  Ahhhh.  Made a cup of tea and sat down and now I am in Kansas.  After all, tomorrow is another day!  Right?  Got any tips on organizing a book collection, other than eating your underwear?

Sophie

tin hats

During the quarantine, I pass in and out of not liking myself.  I search for things to soften the light.  You need to understand this for what it is, a broken-down apartment on the Pacific Coast Highway. I have to get there.  It’s important to me.   Most of us are children of sentimentality as we lie beside a lost love on the highway, waiting for her or him to come back to us.  Come back, come back, we say, in the sift of our dreams.

Cheap blue sunglasses give my face a cinematic look and I’m barefoot.  Yeah, I’m sitting here on the sidewalk in front of the 7-Eleven on a blistering afternoon in Austin, Texas waiting for a bus to crash into the store.  This particular 7-Eleven gives off vibes like that because several years ago Charles Whitman shot a man coming out the door carrying a cherry Slurpee. …

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An explanation for TP hoarding: the howling skitters

I can’t drive through Salinas California without thinking of John Steinbeck and how hated he was in his own home town.  It’s something all writers deal with if they are truthful. For those of you unfamiliar with Steinbeck, Salinas is a medium sized town at the northern end of the one of the most agriculturally rich valleys in the world. We drive through it often on our way from the SF Bay Area to Southern California where my daughter lives.  For most of the year it’s an incomparable drive. Mile after mile of farmland growing up the fog-ridged hills that separate the inland from the coast.  Just off the highway are small towns where you can stop and get authentic Mexican tacos or a bag of fruit and vegetables fresh from the farm.

 But Steinbeck did not write a pastoral.  No, he wrote about how, in cramped and desperate conditions, using more than your fair share of toilet paper could bring your family shame.  Let me explain.

Just before Christmas I found a well-used copy of Grapes of Wrath while collecting books to donate to the library.  I’d just read Travels with Charlie and hungered for more Steinbeck, an author whom I hadn’t read since high school.  Travels is an easy and relaxing read; apropos for a long plane ride.  Grapes has now taken me three months and I’m not yet finished.  Each chapter deserves a second, sometimes third reading.  It’s that good.

If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, it’s set at the end of the Great Depression.  The Joad family are hardworking, proud though simple farmers forced from their land in Oklahoma by crop failures and the greed of large agricultural interests. They set out for California just hoping for a fair chance to earn a decent living.

Once in the Salinas Valley, they’re treated as sub-humans which is probably why Steinbeck couldn’t set foot in that town again.  They are forced to live in labor camps where the rules are made by the occupants.  Many of the rules involve sanitation huts which must service a number of families.    

Jessie (“big committee lady”) to Ma Joad:

“We got our trouble with toilet paper.  Rule says you can’t take none away from here.” She clicked her tongue sharply “Whole camp chips in for toilet paper.”  For a moment she was silent, and then she confessed. “Number Four is usin’ more than any other.  Somebody’s a-stealin’ it.” 

Later the “confessor” explains why her family’s been using more than their fair share:

“Skitters.  All five of ‘em [her daughters]. We been low on money. They et the green grapes.They all five got the howling skitters.”

I’m not saying that the TP hoarders all read The Grapes of Wrath and are now afraid of facing the apocalypse having to share a toilet with strangers, particularly if food runs out and they’re forced to eat green grapes and get the “howling skitters.”  I think it comes from a deeper fear of being shamed for your toilet habits. If you’ve got a mountain of TP you can use as much as you want without “big committee lady” casting shame on you.

But then, I’m always full of it!

I Will Be Home

I think the phrase from this post that most haunts me is “I lie in the dark.”

tin hats

I once went out a few times with the great-granddaughter of General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, the ex-President of El Salvador.  She told me stories about how crazy he was, unless you were crazy, and then he was perfectly sane, and then she asked, “So, are you crazy?”

One day General Martínez looked out the palace window and saw a campesino drop in the street.  He didn’t think too much about it and turned back towards a group of ministers huddled over a table.  They were looking at the location of Indian villages and discussing how they might launch another massacre of the Pipil people.  The man lying in the street was eventually carried away to the hospital, where he died that night of smallpox.

The smallpox spread through San Salvador rapidly.  General Martínez declared a national emergency and ordered colored lights to be hung from houses and placed in parks. …

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Don’t eat the soap despite what he says

I haven’t been able to find a carton of eggs in the store for two weeks.   According to the produce clerk the last egg shipment (a quantity that usually lasts the store three days) was sold out in thirty minutes.  As to why anyone would want to hoard more eggs than they could possibly consume in ten days (which is about as long as a refrigerated carton of eggs will stay fresh, it’s beyond me.  You can’t freeze them or dry them. Do you suppose people are going to attempt to hatch chickens by sitting on all those eggs?

Honest folks, y’all just sit on them eggs awhile and you’ll have your own egg-laying hens in no time! 

And so we are down to our final four eggs. Maybe this week we’ll be able to find eggs at our local grocery but on the oft hand we cannot, Joel, who loves eggs, is being rationed.  One egg every other day.  It’s hardly a tragedy.   Some people don’t eat eggs at all.  Some are allergic.  Some are lacto/eggo tarians or whatever the term is for someone who who can live without any animal byproducts whatsoever.  I’m a firm believer that you have a right to eat whatever keeps you healthy and makes you happy but life without cheese is simply not life for me.

As bizarre as it is to hoard eggs, the hoarding of fresh onions or garlic surprised me as well.  Ain’t nothing worse that five pounds of rotting onions.  Maybe the idea was to chop them all up and freeze them? Or maybe make fifty pounds of onion soup to store in your freezer.  And what happens if the power goes out?

Luckily I had a few onions and gloves of garlic on hand.  I guess I’ll use them to grow some more.

Supposedly it’s very simple to grow onions.  You wait for sprouts to appear and then plant in dirt with a lot of compost.  I know I should be doing something more productive during my quarantine time than waiting for onions to sprout but there’s nothing worse than not having onions or garlic when you need them.

To quote Scarlett (O’Hara): As God is my witness, I will never go onion-less again!

But folks, there’s no need to worry.  We’ve got a president who’s smarter than all the epidemiologists.  He’s figured out how wipe out the virus with an everyday household product. That’s right, if you get sick, just take a bite or two of Irish Spring (or whatever flavor soap floats your boat.) His rational, if just washing your hands in the stuff kills the virus, think what eating it will do.  Heck, it might even make you immune

 

On a serious note, do not eat soap.  It probably won’t kill you (or make you blind) but it will sure make you happy you hoarded toilet paper!

Please tell me that you are all finding more productive ways to spend your quarantine time other than watching garlic cloves sprout!  I need hope.