Heads of Technology

The Eldest Unnamed One and I have a new hobby. It's called "Fix Mertis's Computer."

We play it for hours. We have become obsessed by it. Worst of all, I turned him onto it and now he's a little junkie.

See, it's like this. Mertis, despite having once been appointed Head of Technology at the P.D, knows nothing about computers or technology. Hell, Mertis hasn't found anything new of value since Disco came onto the scene.

Don't get me wrong, Mertis is a wonderful, down-to-earth woman, but let's face it, she don't know shit about no computers. And she likes Enya.

I would personally rather open a vein than listen to Enya. Her music sounds like like whales dying or having sex (depends on whether it's a "happy" song or not) so I think Mertis having an affinity for this music is probably why she can't handle technology. Listening to Enya has addlepated that part of Mertis's brain.

Anyway, Mertis's Toshiba Satellite P25S52..whatever, died and Mertis, in a fit of Mertis mania, ordered a Dell. It's like the second time the thing's crashed, but still, before it's even diagnosed, she orders a Dell! Of course, I agree with her, the Toshiba is shit. We both had the same computer and I ordered my Dell last year and will never again even touch a Toshiba anything ...except of course, for Mertis's dead Toshiba.

I just had to say..."Let me look at it."

The thing turns on. The Windows screen comes up and then...it just won't finish loading, or if it does, it won't run, or if it tries to run it moves slower than molasses.

It's a machine. I can't let a machine defeat me! So I turn on my Dell, look up what's wrong with the Toshiba and proceed to delve deeper and deeper into the underbelly of computer repair for dummies.

I get the thing to boot to the command prompt. This gives me a surge of confidence. I just don't know what booting to the command prompt will do for me since I don't know any commands to prompt.

So I research some more. I get a list of commands. I don't know what they mean either, but I feel I'm on the track of something.

Suddenly, two days have gone by. The immaculate at Thanksgiving house is now totaled and the Unnamed Others are demanding I either feed them or go to the grocery store.

I tell them, "Wait a minute."

I type, "cd c:\windows\system32"

When it then goes to Windows\System32, I am freaking amazed.

Two days later, I still don't know what that means but I think if I can just get some of the start up programs to not start up or the drivers to register or salute or tell me they need to roll over, I'll be a genius and the computer will work again.

Mertis says "It has a 3 year warranty at Best Buy. Just let me take it in. The boys are starting to look pale and weak."

I look up from her laptop, bleary-eyed, and say, "You can't take it now! I've almost got it!" I look back down at the black screen, type "devmgmr_show_details=1" and wait for a response.

I realize Mertis is still standing there, waiting for a response from me, so I say, "I'll cook dinner in just a minute."

A day later, the Eldest Unnamed One has learned how to cook and how to defrost things in the freezer until they resemble ingredients for meals. The Unnamed Ones are fed and out of guilt, because she has brought this plague upon our house, Mertis has done the dishes.

Then the Eldest makes the fatal flaw. "Let me see that," he says, like he's the King of Technology and a miracle healer to boot (no pun intended.)

It has been two days now. The Eldest is now here with me, doing his homework with one hand and re-booting the Mertis Toshiba with the other. I say, "Hon, it's after 11. You've gotta go to bed."

He looks up at me with bloodshot eyes and a maniacal grin. "Wait a minute," he says. "I just gotta try this one last thing."


The Flea Sees All, Knows All...

My sister Flea called last night. In honor of her second month without Dad, she now has a really bad case of bronchitis. "It's the second month in a row," she wailed. "What is this?"

She doesn't wait for an answer. She knows. "It's grief," she says, coughing.

She wants me to believe Dad is all around me/us. "I talk to him all the time," she says. "If I don't, then I'll think he's really gone and I can't do that!" As further proof, she offers me the story of Dad's sister, Ann.

"I sent them a CD of the funeral. So Ann goes to play it but her CD player's broken. There's no way for her to hear it but she doesn't want to be rude and not thank Mom for sending it. So she's sitting in the kitchen with Peter (her husband) writing Mom a note about how she can't listen to it yet, but she will when she and Peter hear this sound coming from the living room."

I know what is coming but I don't really believe it until she says it.

"It's the funeral CD. She left it in the CD player because it wouldn't turn on and it wouldn't open to let her get it back out. It's playing the funeral service. Can you believe it!" Flea hacks away, caught between her desire to keep telling the story and her need to breathe.

"They listened to the whole thing and then guess what?"


"They can't get it out of the CD player because it's broken. So there it is. It won't turn on and it won't let go! Now, tell me that wasn't Dad at work!"


"Okay," I say grudgingly. "I get that he is all around. I just want to know why I haven't heard from him. Personally. Right here where I can see him or at least dream him."

"You gotta tell him you really need him to show up," she says. Like she's got a hotline to heaven and knows for a fact what's what in the Great Hereafter.

"I told him," I said. "Over and over again."

She doesn't even hesitate with her diagnosis. "Well, he's new up there, you know. And he's been sick. He's gotta build up his power. He can't just flit around from one of us to the other. He's got to build up his strength."

"So what am I, last on the totem pole?" I demand.

The Flea sighs and coughs at length. "I'm telling you," she says. "He's right there. Are you still taking sleeping pills?"

"I'm down to half a pill, if that,"I tell her.

"Well, are you dreaming?"

Like I'm doing something wrong and it's preventing Dad from showing up. How did it get to be my fault he's not haunting me?!

"Yes, I'm dreaming."

"Do you remember them?"

Oh, for Pete's sake! "Kind of. Enough to know Dad's not in them!"

She tells me there's this great psychic on Lifetime who knows all about these things and if I'd watch her, I'd understand all of this better. Apparently, she's seen a documentary on this person and as the psychic espouses the Flea's point of view. This makes the Lisa person one to watch.

I want to believe this, really I do. I want her to be right about this. I want to think Dad is right over my shoulder...most of the time...

I stand in the dark sunroom listening to the Flea, giving her short, one word answers because I am trying not to cry. Outside the white flower garden is still blooming on this late fall night.

Does Dad see the roses? Has he smelled the sweet scent of the phlox?

Does he know how much I miss him?


Chocolate and Visions

Okay, this is bad. You know the chocolate assortments I bought as "office" gifts yesterday?

I'm eating them. I'm eating them and trying to decorate the tree in my tiny office.

It is turning out to be harder than I expected- the tree decorating, not the eating chocolate- that part's going along just fine.

This room where I spend hours and hours, couldn't be more than 10 x 12 feet. I had it decorated with angels, primitive and gothic, traditional and funky but at some point over the summer I packed them all up and threw them into the attic. My rational at the time was that summer had arrived and so it was time to lighten up. I replaced the angels with blue and white stuff- quilts, pictures, anything light, lacy and blue or white made the cut.

But I don't even like blue.

The bad thing about being in the shrink business is that you over-analyze everything and have a hard time pulling the wool over your own eyes. I packed up the angels because I was mad at God for not helping Dad.

Angels have always been a special thing between Dad and me. I saw an angel when I was five and Dad was the only one who believed me. He gave me a pin one time that looked exactly like the angel I'd described to him. He always listened when weird and unexplainable events happened to me and he never tried to tell me that I was nuts.

Like the time my friend, Tom, committed suicide-by-biker.

Tom was a privileged white kid and an alcoholic. When I met him he was a counselor in a drug treatment program and I was an intern. The most noticeable thing about Tom was he was short. Like 5'2" short. A miniature man, trapped in a small body. But this didn't seem to slow him down.

With his help I learned to paint and rebuild cars, work with drug addicted kids and develop a love for Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

A few years after our failed relationship, he called one night to tell me what a fine counselor I was and how he knew I was going to make it. He said he wanted me to know how much he cared about me and would always value our time together. He thanked me for being in his life.

I didn't have any idea he was trying to say goodbye.

A few weeks later, Dad called to say Tom had been airlifted to a hospital in Lancaster. He'd been beaten and left for dead by a group of bikers. Apparently he'd gone into the roughest bar in Chester County with the sole intention of drinking himself into a near stupor and picking a fight he would never win.

Dad said, "If you want to see him, you'd better hurry. He's in a coma."

I was a kid. I didn't get it. People emerged from comas and were fine, weren't they?

But something in Dad's voice made me rush, stopping only to buy red Gerber daisies because I knew bright colors stimulated patients in light comas.

I rushed up into the intensive care waiting room, full of hope and the expectation that Tom would be good as new soon. I'm sure this shone out from every pore of my young, idealistic body because when his mother saw me and the red flowers she said, "Tom's brain dead. We're only waiting on the organ transplant team to arrive before we cut off his life support."

The smile on my face never faltered. I pushed the daisies into her arms and smiled. "I know," I said softly. "These are for you."

I remember making it as far as my father's house and him meeting me at the bottom of the basement garage steps before I completely lost it, falling into his arms and crying "Why? Why did this happen?"

I was inconsolable.

Dad stayed with me until I was at last calm enough to lie down upstairs in my old room. But I couldn't sleep. Instead I continued to sob, heartbroken at the tragedy of Tom's broken life.

I was crying like this when Tom suddenly appeared next to me, sitting on the bed wearing what appeared to be soft pink long-johns.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. "You're supposed to be dead!"

Tom smiled and shook his head softly. "I can't go with you like this," he said. "You're grieving too much. Don't you see? I'm not hurting anymore. Didn't you hear what I was trying to tell you a few weeks ago? I can't live with my alcoholism. It's too much. I don't belong here. And now, I don't hurt anymore."

I stared at him, not believing for a second that it wasn't a dream and telling him so.

"You don't believe me?" he said. "In a few seconds your sister is going to come in and take one of your albums out of that milk crate. When you wake up, it'll be in her room and she won't even see me sitting beside you. Now go on, act like you're sleeping. Here she comes!"

Sure enough, Becky came tiptoeing softly into the room, slipped one of my favorite albums from its place in the milk crate and left...All while Tom jumped up and down, hollering her name.

She never saw him.

Later I told this to my father and asked, "Do you think that was a dream, or did I really see him?"

Dad rubbed his chin, considering. "I think you saw Tom," he said finally. "I think you're one of those people who isn't afraid to see things they don't understand. Now I would be too afraid. That's probably why I don't see angels or dead people."

He made my experience seem so completely rational and once it was, I could accept the comfort and solace Tom's visit brought me.

Which is why I am pissed off now.

Doesn't Dad know I need him? Why hasn't he come to see me? Why don't I feel his presence?

I decorated my entire office in angels again over the weekend. I put pictures of Dad up on the wall above the mantle. I trimmed the tree in angel lights and proceeded to decorate it just as I always have, in gold and white ornaments, with angel lights. I had almost finished when I realized I just didn't feel it. This year, gold and white and traditional weren't doing it for me.

That's when I began pulling the carefully arranged, delicate ornaments off the tree, packing them back into their crate without even looking at the rest of them. In their place I began to hang funky, colorful Santa and creature ornaments- ignoring completely the beige and white simple angel decor.

I'm sorry, but fuck angels. What have they done for me lately? Did they save my dad? No. Did they help him come visit me in dreams? No. Do I feel him all around me as I've felt others in the past? Hell no. So why hang the little pissants on the tree? Why honor them when I think they're big, fat manipulative liars?

I know. That's completely immature. It's not the angels' fault...Or is it? Couldn't they have been more present? Couldn't they recharge Dad's batteries enough to send him on a l.o.a from heaven long enough to say, "Kid, I'm fine"?

Becky says he's all over the place with her. She talks to him constantly because she says the alternative, not believing and not talking, realizing he's just flat gone, would be too much for her. "I couldn't take that!" she says.

I lean on the chest freezer in the sunroom, the only place in the house where my cell phone can receive a signal, and listen to her certainty. She is dog sick with bronchitis which she seems to have caught on both month anniversaries of Dad's death and still she is gung-ho Dad's still with us.

While I, on the other hand, hang ornaments on the tree only to take them down again and start over. Bah-humbug!

Where the hell is he when I need him?


Two Months Today...

Sometimes you've just got to wander...

My friend, Ellen, and I set off this morning for the outer reaches of Siler City. We were off to see the Fruitcake Lady at Southern Supreme. That's where Ellen goes every year to buy fruitcake...and loads of other yummy goodies.

And she gets lost every year, which drives her nuts because she goes EVERY year and grew up nearby, so she figures it shouldn't be that hard...

We made it as far as the landmark with the insurance company and somehow, the right road just wasn't there.

Maybe it was because we were talking about our sons and how on earth we were going to let go of them next year when they leave for college. And what we would do without those boys to mother.

I offered to share my youngest with her but it's not quite the same as having your own, right there, on site so to speak.

When the railroad signal arms fell down over the tracks and we realized the road on the other side wasn't a road, well...we decided to take a possible shortcut.

But we were talking about finding inner happiness, which really did have something to do with the Fruitcake Lady because she started baking fruitcakes in her garage (which isn't where I keep my oven, but then, who am I to judge?) She loved making fruitcakes and people loved eating them, so by doing what made her happy, she became successful.

This took us through a small town so tiny it only had a building that used to be a store/post office and on into outer Bear Creek where a red tin-roofed building seemed to appear out of nowhere in a field.

"Oh good," Ellen said. "No tour buses. Usually there's tour buses and the place is packed. I only see one church bus."

Which meant the line for the restrooms was only 4 deep with little blue-haired ladies moving v-e-r-y slowly. We scandalized them by using the Men's room. "It's really not like most men's room's," Ellen explained to the ladies still waiting as she emerged. "It's clean and doesn't smell too bad at all."

I don't know if this swayed them. We were already moving on to the Tasting Room.

And I would tell you all about it except that Southern Supreme was by no means the highlight of our day.

See, Ellen and I were both born on August 8th. We share the same first name, even though she goes by her middle name, and we share the same skewed view of the world as well as an inability to have one conversation at a time.

We always have two or three stories going at a clip and happily skip from one to the other just as we rove from one spot to the other. So it made sense to turn out of the parking lot in the opposite direction from where we'd arrived.

"You're not in a hurry, are you?" she asked.

Which is how we came to wander every back road Ellen could find on our way from Caswell county to Guilford county. Along the way, Ellen opened a treasure chest full of memories, characters and stories as she seems to know something about every old house out in the country.

We ate lunch at a great diner called Brownie Lus (I think) where the artificial Christmas tree was already up and trimmed with white hand-crocheted ornaments. The regulars all got kidded by the waitresses and we got called "Hon." The barbecue sandwich was terrific even if the man sitting behind me did seem to have T.B or some other consumptive ailment that caused him to hack and gasp for air every few minutes.

But of course by then we were talking about hypercritical parents who ride their almost-perfect children and other parents who seem to forget they even have children and what we'll do for Christmas and how Thanksgiving went without Dad.

We were back in the little red truck and headed back out onto the open road by 12:30. I know this because I looked at the clock and suddenly realized, Dad died exactly two months ago that very minute.

I started to say this to Ellen but didn't. I mean, what do you say? "My dad died this very minute two months ago?" Well, yes, probably I should have, but then what do you say? I didn't even know exactly what I thought or how I felt about it. So I let it stay with me for a little while, sitting between us like a quiet visitor.

We drove through the warm autumn day with Ellen telling one character's story after another. There was Junior Jones, (or some name like that with two J's) who made his fortune first in a rock band and then by digging a big hole which he filled with water, added a water slide at one end and called Lake Juno. It made possible the wild hacienda-styled ranch house he erected in memory of his beloved Mexico and the winters he spent basking in that country's warmth.

Ellen told about an old woman who lived in the lonely wooden house we passed near a crossroads in the middle of a nowhere cornfield. According to local lore, this old lady would stand at her bedroom window late at night and stare out at the nearby cemetery. If she saw a light, she watched, waiting until it came to rest on a family's plot. She said the light was foretelling the death of someone.

Of course, Ellen and I had to wonder if the old lady saw the light land on her own family's plot, and if so, did she have time to tell anyone or did she just wake up dead?

Ellen's stories washed over me, coloring the already beautiful afternoon with the warmth and affection she has for the place and people of her old hometown. Somehow the pang of acknowledgment of Dad's death eased as Ellen told her stories. They were like a salve and I didn't figure out why until this very moment.

Ellen was remembering...those who went before and those who were still living but who had rich and colorful pasts...She was not forgetting and in not forgetting she was unconsciously pointing out the truth of memory.

Marking the passage of time after someone dies doesn't diminish or add to their importance or worth in our lives. The people we love will always linger in our hearts.


Writer's Clog - Flushing Ideas Onto Paper

It's time to start thinking about the next book. Actually, it's past time...and I have zilch, zero, zip, nada in my brain. I mean, sure, I have little germs of ideas and snatches of settings or characters, but no bones to hang it on. It makes me long for the old days when the boys were young and they'd say..."Tell us a story!"

I'd say, "What do you want to be in this story?"

They'd rattle off about two dozen odd events, characters or monsters and I'd be off an running. We had an ongoing story that was so popular the cousins still ask for the next chapter whenever they visit. It was a long adventure story chronicling the misadventures of a poor, Irish lad who must leave his widowed mother and family behind to seek his fortune. The Potato Famine has killed their father and left them without any hope of survival unless Tom Henry Liam O' Shaunnesy can find a job and send money back to Ireland.

This is how he becomes the cabin boy on a pirate ship and eventually, over time, the ship's captain.

Of course, I can't remember every detail and I never wrote the tales down, so that's one book lost to follow-up. Besides, once I've told a tale, there's no point in telling it again. I'd only bore myself.

So I rattle around the house knowing that somewhere there is a small town on a lake, with a diner, and a woman about my age facing down the back 40 of her life and realizing the nest is empty and it's time for re-invention. I know there is an old Victorian house in need of repair, an old lady who says, "Life ain't hard, honey. You make it hard!" I think she is in the early stages of Alzheimers. I know there's a diner in the tiny downtown area. I know the town has somehow been overlooked in the recent rush for land development on anything near water. It was once a resort area but that was in the 40s. I think there is a man in this town who might be perfect for the main character, if indeed romance is what she's wanting. Course, she can't have that until she untangles some of her own knots.

I toy with the idea that the main character's father is dying and wants to return "home" to this small town. I think it could be a book about letting go and starting over. But all I hear in my head is my agent's voice asking, "Where's the conflict?" Where is that something special that gets it all moving?

I think I have the fire laid...I just need a match to set it all off...

Anybody out there got a light?

Argh! The writer's "life!" You spent most of your time creatively constipated, waiting for the writerly Milk of Magnesia to take effect!

When I wrote my first book I had no idea I was supposed to have thought it all through. I had a main character, a love interest, a dead body and a hairless chihuahua. I got out a sheet of notebook paper and wrote down 23 bad things that could happen to an exotic dancer and her chihuahua- one per line. I saved the last 3 lines to wrap it all up into a credible mystery plot.

Now how or why I thought this would work is the real mystery, but hey, it did. But with each book, they raise the bar...as well they should, given that inauspicious beginning! Now I feel like I'm hogtied with "Shoulds" and "Musts."

It's like the scene in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" where Robert Redford is trying to get hired to guard an old man and I think a payroll as they make their way from Point A to the bank. The old man has Redford shoot at a target but won't let him add any of his customary flourish as he does so. Finally Redford's character says, "Can I move?" When the old man nods yes, Redford shoots the fool out of the target because he is finally free to move.

Well, I can't move. Not yet.

I would put a suggestion box here...but I'm technologically challenged. Any and all ideas, wishes and thoughts will be greatly appreciated!


Christmas Chaos...It's Baaack!

It's that time of year...Down with the fall crap and up with Christmas. These are the before pictures. My office and den "before" I began dragging box after box after box down from the attic- before the transformation that should both exhaust and hopefully exhilarate us into the spirit of the holidays.

It looked pretty bare around lunchtime.

A few hours later, however, we had mass chaos. The place looks like a tornado hit it!

Through all of this, the big yellow lump on my office carpet remains in place, sleeping off a day of barking at the neighbors' dogs (Think that's why they're moving?) while Maggie the Schnauzer follows me from picture to picture, hoping for a yummie handout.

And speaking of yummy handouts:

When the going gets tough around here, the tough make a lemon glaze poundcake. One must keep up one's strength during these decorating marathons.

This year I am embracing my inner glutton.


Mornings- Then and Now

Oh, there was lots of sleeping in going on this morning! Apparently lots of picture taking, too...

Damned childrens!

Payback's a bitch, gentlemen!

Anyway...The Flea and the Black Angel got off all right, headed back to New Bern. I loaded them down with leftovers. Now all I need to do is invite the entire Russian Army and I will be able to get rid of the rest.

My grandfather used to say, "Remember my son, when counting your cash, that one day of turkey brings six days of hash!"

For years I thought this was meant as a good thing. I loved Dad's turkey hash. Only recently did I find out other people did not share this viewpoint and would be sick of hash by the second day! Oh well.

Dad's hash wasn't probably "real" hash by definition, but it is good...Chop up the leftover turkey, throw in the leftover stuffing and gravy, heat it all up and serve with cranberry sauce. There's just nothing quite like it...or maybe it was the fact that Dad would dance around the kitchen, his right hand up, index finger pointing skyward as he jitterbugged and sang "Big Daddy to the Rescue" off-key.

It reminded me of all the breakfasts he made every morning of our childhood...scrambled eggs with a glop of condensed mushroom soup and shredded cheddar cheese, bacon and raisin toast...He always sang big band tunes and shuffled between the refridgerator and the stove with a modified, slow jitterbugging step.

How could anyone keep a rotten morning mood in the face of that show?

He'd serve us breakfast while Rocky and Bullwinkle raced around on the T.V, never breaking stride, always humming....and...now that I think about it...always farting. Ever so often he'd cut one, then act like he had no idea where the sound came from! We'd all giggle while he pretended not to know what we were laughing at.

Funny the things you remember when you sit down at the keyboard and let your fingers do the talking...

What a dad! Jitterbugging, singing and farting...what more could a little kid ask for on a school morning?


It Was The Best Of Times...

It was a lovely Thanksgiving. The Flea and I made it through with a minimum of tears. Too much food was consumed, good friends sat around talking, laughing and teaching us a new game- Pass the Pigs. We taught them Apples to Apples.

We found the lid to the applesauce jar and cleaned up...

And then...we were over it!

And that is the way it was...Thanksgiving 2006.


Thanksgiving Intentions

Dad Thanksgiving 04 The Black Angel, Dad, and my Sister Flea

Don't we always have good intentions?

I intended to be well-rested this Thanksgiving...but due to my Children Who Must Not Be Named and a crisis of faith with their father...I went to bed at 3 a.m. But damn, it was worth it! The Unnamed Others are male and as such, rarely emote.

Whatever is going on inside those brains and hearts remains unspoken...Until something provokes them to the point of exploding and then I hear it all. They are angry at their father for basically not listening to them, treating them like second class citizens instead of family members and trying to control them.

Welcome to my ex-world, but I do not say this.

Instead we talk for hours about how they intend to handle things. The Eldest says he gave his dad a book to read that explains his philosophy. The Tao Te Ching. He talks about how you do not preach your philosophy, you instead live if. If others are interested, they will follow. It is about letting go of trying to control others and centering your own reality, he says.

I say, "We create our own realities," and the Eldest says, "How do you know that?"

Like he is the first person in the universe to discover these facts and is shocked that an old fart like his mother could know of such amazing things! I say, "Your grandfather taught me this."

"I knew it! I knew it was familiar! It's grandaddy!"

We talk on into the night about his grandfather and what he has learned from him. About love. About the importance of family. And finally about his father and how my eldest intends to have lunch with him and present him with ways to see the problem between them as a shared responsibility and not the fault of the child. He says to lose his cool and be angry is non-productive. He had done this part already and it is time to move forward, he says.

I am blown away. I am amazed that a child with such wisdom came from me.

It is one of those rare talks you have with your children in which you know you will always remember this particular moment and that your child will remember it also. In that way, you always live on, in them.

Of course, this is not our first momentous talk. I remember another one, shortly after I separated from their father. Somehow we got down to the brass tacks of the birds and the bees and how human beings procreate.

To this day, my youngest remembers that talk. "Oh, my God! That's how my bed got broken? My aunt and uncle were doing "it" in my bed? Oh, gross! Throw it out!"

This comes after the eldest has said he already knows all about sex. "You put your penis up the girl's butt," he says confidently.

Not without lube and permission, I think, and struggle to keep a straight face.

The youngest says, "You mean you had sex with dad after you had us?" He is completely shocked. "I thought the man did it to the girl and then he died!"

The Eldest looks at his brother with great disdain. "Stupid, that's spiders not people! Besides, if Dad died after he got Mom pregnant, how would you be here?"

"Oh," the Youngest Unnamed One says.

These are talks we will always remember. They are pivot points in our path and will always be regarded as sign posts and mile markers along life's journey.

Today I am bleary-eyed and stupid. I try to clean the house, do the laundry and prepare for Thanksgiving at our house...but it is a fragmented preparation. I do one thing here, another over there, forget I was doing one thing and start another.

I am not having fun. If I were having fun there would be laughing. I would be having a glass of wine and talking with someone. The time would fly by.

Which is when I remember that someone would have been my father and this is my first holiday without him.

Tomorrow my Sister Flea comes in with the Black Angel. I am terribly afraid we will look into each others eyes and see the same thing...the grief and recognition that this is our first Thanksgiving without The Wisest Man in the Universe.

I am afraid we will dissolve like sugar into boiling water and become one big puddle of grief. I am afraid I will cry and cry and not be able to pull it off for the kids and our friends.

But I also know I am my father's daughter. If I have one-tenth of his courage and wisdom, I'll make it. We'll all make it.


Why Medicaid and Ex-Husbands Can't Get No Respect

My corporate clinical supervisor-ette (not the head honcho of clinical supervision, sounds half my age) called today to say I had to discharge Cookie from treatment. "She's not capable of benefiting from psychotherapy."


I suppose working on decreasing her agitation, increasing her ability to remember even simple things, lessening her grief, her anxiety, her depression and her pain about losing every memory and feeling she's ever had in her 93 year old life is not beneficial.

Apparently not to Medicaid.

See, they want to know Cookie's progressing with her therapy. They want her to get better. Just holding her ground, or losing her mind slower don't count for shit.

And if Medicaid ain't happy, ain't nobody at Corporate gonna pay me either. I can see her all I want, I just won't get paid for it. Well, of course that's exactly what I'm going to do...Which may be why things like bills pile up around my place...but I can live with myself, so I suppose it's an even-up swap.

In fact, living with yourself has been a big topic of discussion around here lately.

The Eldest Unnamed One has decided there are two types of people in the world, In-ies and Out-ies. The Innies live their life from the inside out- they don't look for their self-esteem and self-worth to come from material things or money. The Outies are all about status and prestige. They think money will fill them up, but they have to get that from their insides.

"I figure I can't make anybody else happy until I make myself happy. If I'm doing something I feel passionate about, I'm happy." He draws a round splotch and a squiggly line on the paper at the kitchen table where we sit. "This is me, happy. This is energy. When I am happy, I am energized." He draws a second splotch. "This over here is matter. Energy attracts matter. So if I'm energized and happy, the rest will take care of itself."

Pretty freakin' wise for an 18 year old, eh?

His father begs to differ. He says the Eldest Unnamed One is irresponsible because he was 40 mins. late for curfew one time and 10 mins. late the next. "He doesn't want to spend time with us...We wanted him to bring his friends over for his birthday. When he did, they didn't want to sit in the hot tub with us and talk. That really hurt Plumpette's feelings." (Plumpette is Wife # 3) All they wanted to do was play video games! He showed us absolutely no respect."

Hmm. Doing what you want on your birthday is a sign of disrespect, eh?

Go figure. 18 year old boys preferring video games to a romp in the hot tub with a couple of 'rents. What's wrong with that boy?

I suppose Medicaid and my Ex have a lot in common. They're both Outies and they're both shooting themselves in the foot.


The Saga Finishes...Part 3

The night of the stake-out, I drive downtown and park across the street from the P.D. I've had the weekend to think the whole thing over and in that time I've managed to remember that I am somebody's mother and not just one somebody, two somebodies. I can't go off hurtling myself into dangerous positions and winding up dead just because I want to write mystery novels. That is totally too selfish.

But I really want to! So I make a bargain with myself. If there's trouble, I won't try to save the po-lice. I'll just call 9-1-1 on my cell phone and lock the car doors.

I decide the powers that bargain for the universe may not think this is enough of a promise for behaving in an irresponsible, un-momly way, so I promise to also throw in a home-cooked breakfast for my boys when I return home, even though I will have been up over 24 hours and will be incredibly tired. See? I will have suffered to have an evening's excitement.

The P.D complex looks like a huge tinted-glass and concrete structure with a set of building-wide concrete steps leading up to the front door. On all cop and court TV shows, as the D.A is leaving the courthouse, they are always descending an imposing set of marble or concrete steps. Well, this must be standard issue for all governmental buildings that house people likely to give live interviews because that is what this building looks like. There is even a statue at the bottom of the steps of a cop reaching out to aide a little boy.

In the dark, the entire picture is fairly imposing.

Imagine then what it looks like to stand at the top of those stairs and look out onto the wide boulevard that T-bones into the municipal plaza and see a lone, unmarked police sedan coming steadily toward me out of the darkness.

I have checked in with the Watch Operations officer, signed a form that gives the police basically carte blanche to throw me into the line of fire and not face any consequences, legally or financially and then been instructed to wait at the top of the steps until I see Detective Smith's car pull up out front.

It is a warm, May evening, but I shiver a little when I see his car. When he ignores the curb and pulls his vehicle up onto the sidewalk, I realize the powers of the universe know me better than I thought they did...They know I love men who ignore the rules.

He steps out of the car, rounds to open the passenger side door and I pray for one more favor from the universe. Please do not let me trip on these stupid steps and land on my ass at his feet. I am that kind of klutzy.

He barely says a word until we have driven off. His radio is squawking with communicator to cop traffic and we are heading into the urban (if you can call it that) warehouse district of town. Without a word he parks in a shadowy parking lot, pulling the car in to face out. I think this is so he can be ready to make a speedy get-away in case we need to chase the bad guys.

He rolls down our windows. "I like to hear what's going on out there," he explains. "I'm waiting on my partner."

Tonight he has questions of his own. How long have I been writing. Who is my publisher. Do I know Patricia Cornwell (They all ask me this, male, female, straight, gay, cute or ugly- they all want to know, do I know her. Down here on Planet Earth, we little authors do not get to dine in the rarefied air of the Best-seller but admitting this is always hard. It's probably the cop equivalent of saying to one of our small town cops, "So, do they let you use real bullets or are you still using the rubber ones?")

Apparently, my detective sees something because as I'm answering one of his questions, he interrupts. "Punch the button on that glove box, will ya?"

I do. The compartment falls open and a single beam of yellow light hits a large, black semiautomatic pistol. He reaches across the seat, brushing my knees with his arm as he moves, and I swear to God I will remember this the next time I am having sex alone.

He grabs the gun, jams it barrel down in between our two seats and says, "There's a guy walking toward us. See him?"

I look out, squinting into the shadows and only then do I see a figure making its way across the parking lot.

"Don't worry. If he gives us any trouble, I'll shoot him."

Oh, my hero! I can scarcely breathe I am so taken with this big, strong, hunk of burning love...who is also, I might add, married, so it's only a fantasy but still...

Can you say naive? Can you say gullible?

Would you have smelled this line 5000 miles away? I bet you would have. Not me. Not good old soccer mom, Nancy. I think, yes, he will shoot this guy if the stranger so much as approaches the car. What a man!

Hell no. Do you know how much paperwork he'd have to fill out, not just for discharging a firearm but for actually committing a homicide, which is what that would be if the guy was just strolling by and asked what time it was...

But I didn't realize any of this. I was sitting in a car with Sam Elliot's better-looking, lost brother and all I can think about is when was the last time I felt this excited about anything? And no, boys' soccer games do not count as adult excitement.

Well, the guy walks on past and my detective tells me the story of a woman he arrested whose name was, his hand to God, "Asdawnbreaks Sobeginstheday."

Yes, I swallow this too. Whole. Right along with the woman he arrested named, Lasagna. Urban myth, my ass! This, I think, is real life!

Has it really been that long since I got out into the real world or am I just brain dead?

My hunk of burning love's partner arrives and while he's cute and knowledgeable, he's no movie star cowboy. He pulls his car next to ours, front side in so he is face to face with Detective Smith and they agree upon their respective locations for the stake-out.

I learn we are staking out a drug house, looking for a homicide suspect. The killer crawled in through the tiny kitchen window of a little old lady's house in the subsidized housing development where she lives and snapped her neck like a twig for $2. A few days after my night with Detective Smith, we go to see the scene and my heart is broken by the unnecessary tragedy.

She has carefully saved the ribbons from every birthday and Mother's Day floral arrangement her adult children have ever sent her and they are tacked to her living room walls, along with pictures of those same children through the years. In the spotless kitchen a pristine white washcloth hangs over the dish drain.

"We found a coffee can in the back of her pantry full of cash," Detective Smith says. "The guy didn't even get that. All he got was $2."

He takes me into the victim's bedroom, shows me the blood on her mattress and on the floor beside her bed. He shows me the footprint of a brand new sneaker, revealed by Komassi blue powder and a Lumalite. This is why we are sitting in an unmarked car listening to the chatter of the surveillance officers...We are looking for a kid wearing brand new sneakers.

But I don't know the details when Detective Smith pulls onto a narrow side street and up onto the sidewalk beneath the low-hanging branches of a tree. It doesn't occur to me that this is a fairly conspicuous way to stake someone out...I mean, parked on the sidewalk? Unnoticed? I don't think so.

But at the time, I only chalk this up to Detective Smith's cavalier attitude.

We are talking in soft voices. He is explaining to me that we are "supervising" the stake-out from almost a mile away. As if he senses my disappointment, he suddenly stiffens again and whispers, "You've got one coming up on your right. If he tries anything, don't worry, just lean back against the seat and I'll shoot him!"

The guy blows right on past us without a word...which is difficult given the unmarked car takes up a good two-thirds of the sidewalk.

We sit and sit and sit, until finally the detective says, "How about some coffee?"

Finally, I think, some action.

We pull up to the convenience store. Detective Smith opens his door, turns to me and says, wait here. He leaves the motor running and heads inside, but with an apparent afterthought, he spins back and starts to say something.

"Hey, if anybody gives you a hard time," he starts...

"Don't worry," I say, patting the butt of the semiautomatic beside me, "I'll shoot 'em!"

I follow Detective Smith around for the next four months, attending workshops he teaches on sexually-related homicides of children in which he posts pictures of murder victims who look just like my boys...and I am sure he knows this and is testing me for a reaction. I never let him see me sweat.

When I have a psychotic patient who stalks me, I go to Detective Smith for advice. He raises an eyebrow. "Do you have an alarm system?" he asks. "Motion lights?" "Bushes?" He shakes his head slowly. "Get motion lights and have the bushes around the house cut down. I'll check his record." He raises his head and gives me the cowboy bedroom eyes. "I would never let my wife go off to see patients at night," he says.

In the midst of my fear, I feel like the proverbial Knight In Shining Armor has arrived.

I write my book and Detective Smith's image forms my hero. I give him Reba McEntyre as a vicarious fantasy reward for him, even though I'll never tell him this.

When "Your Cheatin' Heart" is published, the newspaper calls to interview him and blurbs his comments in the Sunday issue's review of the book.

I continue to sing his praises all over town, at every book club and rotary club meeting, at every signing, I talk about him without ever mentioning his name. But when I talk and other cops are present, they all know who I mean.

Because they are laughing.

"We call him Pretty Boy," they tell me later, when they know me well enough to clue me in...poor benighted fool that I am. "He's always acting like that! He was just putting on a show for you. We don't shoot people that give us trouble, you know that!"

My friend, Donna, pops what's left of my idealist balloon. "Oh, yeah," she says. "I know his Mama. She goes to my church. You know he sings in a Gospel quartet? That boy just loves his Mama!"

Sigh. He is not super-human after all.

A year later, after he has retired, I run into him in the grocery store. He is there with his wife and they look just like any other retired couple, strolling around, gathering cans and clipping coupons.

By now I know he's played me, played his role to the hilt and taken me for a ride with his macho-cop swagger, but still I get flustered and barely manage to stammer out "Hello."

Looking back on it now- after I've gotten my own life and no longer rely strictly on the fantasy version- I see he gave me every thing a good fiction writer needed- a hero, a plot line and the energy to create a two book series.

What more, indeed, could one, poor Soccer Mom/Mystery Writer ask for?

Patricia Cornwell, my ass!


Why I Ride With The Po-lice- The Saga Continues

More about the po-lice...

The first time I called the local police department here in lovely North Carolina, to ask if I could interview a detective, I was prepared for rejection. Coming from Atlanta, I pretty much expected the police in North Carolina were like the ones in the big cities...curt, to the point, and uninterested in talking to a "holster-sniffing" mystery writer. Boy, was I wrong!

"Come on down!" the sergeant in charge said, "I've got just the man you need to talk to!"

He didn't even ask what sorts of books I wrote or if I was published!

It didn't occur to me to get nervous until I was already walking into the municipal building and headed for the Criminal Investigations Department, or CID.

Ever since I was a wild-assed teenager, I've been a bit leery of the police. I just expect them to run my tags, check me for warrants and be ready and waiting to pounce when I show up. Of course, it'd been years since I'd been a teenager and I was now a Soccer Mom...And even when I was a kid, I never got arrested...That is, if you don't count the time they ran us in for soaping the school windows, or the time Jimmy Bostelle bought us beer and the cops witnessed the entire event and called my dad. (They told him they didn't pick me up because I was the minister's daughter, but they thought he would like to know what his kid had been up to...)

Anyway, I digress.

I had worked myself into a good lather by the time I reached the waiting area of the CID offices. The detective realized I was nervous as soon as he saw me. Not that many Soccer Moms read Guns and Ammo magazine, especially not upside down. Oh well, so much for the subtle sophisticated air I'd been aiming to project!

When Detective Smith (Oh, yeah, like I'd say his real name and risk him finding out about all this, my version, that is, of how we met?! Not on your life, buddy!) Anyway, when Detective Smith called my name, I lowered the magazine and looked straight into the eyes of the most gorgeous hunk of burning love ever to inflame a Soccer Mom's secret fantasy life.

Tall, muscular, wearing a white oxford-cloth shirt with the sleeves rolled up to expose tanned forearms. Salt and pepper hair cut spiky and very in-style...And he had a mustache that rivaled that of any cowboy's. He looked like Sam Elliot's long-lost, better looking brother...

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I was completely undone. I mean, what lowly, mystery-writing, Soccer Mom, wanders down to the local P.D and finds a guy like this waiting for her?

He says, "Pleased to meet you," and smiles. His voice is deeper than Sam Elliot's. It is the bedroom voice I have often imagined I hear whispering in my dreams...just before I wake up and find the dog snuffling around on my pillow...

"I'm Detective Smith," he says. "Let's go back here."

We walk off between a corridor of tweed-covered partitions. I think he is taking me to his office and imagine myself behind closed doors with this man for an hour. Imagine my surprise when I find he has led me to an interview room with see-through glass observation panels and a rubber chicken hanging on the doorknob!

Oh, this is one, cool, police detective, all right!

For the next 45 minutes I ask him questions I already know the answers to...I mean, I've been to a bazillion forensics workshops. I don't need facts. I need heroes and characters. While he talks I write down everything he is not saying...the way he looks, the way the room smells, the little phrases he uses, the fact that he has a crush on Reba McEntyre. I soak the man up like a sponge and when I realize I have nothing left to ask, I get ready to leave.

That is when he says the words that are the equivalent of a wet dream to a writer...At least, a Soccer Mom Mystery Writer's dream...

"How'd you like to go on a stakeout?"

I ignore what sounds like a glass coffeepot crashing on the other side of the mirror. I look right into my detective's eyes and breathe, "When?"

"Monday night. Just come down to the Watch Operations Center about nine and have them page me."

Nine. Monday night. After the boys do their homework. After they're in bed. After my husband is ensconced in front of Monday Night Football. "I'm going on a stakeout!" I sing silently in my head. "Nana, nana, boo, boo, I have a life!"

That afternoon as I wait with the other moms outside the elementary school, I tell them everything...and maybe a little bit more...Okay, so their tongues are hanging out because this is the kind of stuff that just doesn't happen to us and therefore it is my duty to embellish just a tad. I had to add in a few little details...like how I think maybe Detective Smith thinks I'm cute...or how I don't know for certain, but this could be a little bit risky and I'm thinking maybe over the weekend I'll go learn out to shoot a Glock semiautomatic, just in case my new mentor gets into a jam and needs my help.

Their eyes widen. My heart is racing with the possibilities that now lie before me...

I am going on a stake-out, with a real live detective!

To be continued in my next post...it's time to cook dinner...


Standing On The Corner With My Brother

I should’ve taken the camera…but I’m vain. I’d look like a tourist in the middle of Mayberry Country, Mt. Airy, North Carolina, and that would just not do…even though I ate a messy pork chop sandwich at the Snappy Lunch, the tiny restaurant Andy Griffith made famous by mentioning it once on his show.

If I’d thought about it, I would’ve used the camera on my cell phone to record a blip of the wonderful bluegrass band, playing live on the sidewalk. Instead, I called my brother, who shares my love of music and said, “Listen!”

“Who’s on mandolin?” he asked.

I explain he’s a skinny kid with black hair and I have no idea who he is. I don’t mention that the stand-up bass has a baseball cut open and stuck on the bottom to hold the upright in place. I don’t say there’s a sticker on the bass that says “Play naked,” because to disturb musicians by speaking is unthinkable to a fellow musician.

Instead, we stand there, on the sidewalk, my brother and I, a thousand miles apart, sharing the moment, as close as if we were in actuality, side by side.

When I step away and resume our conversation he tells me that he’d called earlier to say Mom is in the hospital with double pneumonia, but she’s much better. He tells me he’s just bought ribs because the Eagles are playing Tennessee and he makes a dish to symbolize the opposition and feasts on it with his friend, Matt, during the game. It is their way of dispensing with the competition.

I hang up smiling because my brother is stepping into the role of family patriarch without knowing it. He is the one who calls now to bring news about Mom. He is the one who checks up on Sister Flea and me. He is the glue now.

God, I love him swell!

And this is why I am not writing more tonight:

Nite Nite!


Why I Ride With the Po-Lice

One of the great things about being a mystery writer is you can call up the police and tell them you're writing a book and need information. If you live in a fairly small town, they'll say something like "Well, some on down, little lady! Wanna go on a stakeout?"

No joke. This happened. But that's another story.

One of the great things about being a therapist and a writer is that once you're friends with the police, they'll call you to go ride with one of their squad whose having a "few problems." That way, you can chat informally about whatever's on their mind AND ride along.

I always chose to ride on third shift, preferably in the worst part of town. When you live in a fairly small town, you've gotta do what you can to see anything "good" and even then you can spend an entire night riding along and listening to someone's life story and never even stop a speeder.

But not this night.

I remember first that it was raining. Big drops rolled down the side windows as I stared through them into the fractured light of the passing signs and cars. The patrol car was warm and smelled of old vinyl and stale coffee.

The radio chattered in the background and I waited for the driver to say something beyond our basic introduction. Usually I tell the officer who's setting me up with his troubled buddy not to say I'm a psychotherapist, just to say I'm a writer. If the situation warrants, I'll be the one to say what my "other" job is.

Cops never follow instructions.

"So, Sammy says you're a shrink,"

Oh, great. I cringe and stare through the windshield, trying to make myself smaller and less like whatever this cop's vision is of a "shrink."

"Something like that," I say.

I hardly have the words out when he says, "Just tell me one damned thing- It's been seven years since I got divorced and I still have feelings for her. Now why the hell is that?"

It was going to be a long night.

I looked over at him. He was a skinny beanpole of a man with a bald eraser head, fringed in short, black stubble. He looked like a pencil with a dirty eraser, but when he turned and caught me staring, his eyes were dark pools of hurt and well, I'm a sucker for big, dark eyes.

And I can't stand to know someone's hurting when maybe I could help. So, we talked. And talked. We drove around and around while he told me all about it and I listened.

See, basically people know what they think, how they feel and what they want to do about a situation. They just want someone else to really listen and then maybe validate what they're experiencing. If they really wanted advice, they'd ask Dear Abby.

I am really glad he's not totally depressed because when the call came in to respond to a break in and domestic dispute, I wanted to know I was traveling with someone capable of taking care of the situation without the need of an out of shape, clogging, soccer mom.

This was not my first ride along. I knew the drill. Stay in the car. They respond. You watch from a safe and boring distance. We rounded the corner onto a darkened, tree-lined street and Sam cut his headlights and eased up to the curb in front of the house.

At the same time another patrol car, coming from the opposite direction pulls up to the curb in front of us, its lights out. A small, red-headed, Opie Taylor look-alike emerges from this car and stands waiting for Sam.

Sam turns to me, hands me a Mag light. "Don't turn this on no matter what," he says.

"Then what's it for?"

Sam give me a pitying look. "In case you need it."

Took me five whole minutes to figure out a heavy metal flashlight is an excellent defense weapon.

Then Sam's opening his door, clambering out of the car and turning to poke his head back in and look at me. "Well?" he says. "Are you coming or not?"

I'm tempted to look behind me for the other person in the car, the one who is probably an in-shape, po-lice officer and not me.

"Sure," I say. I try to toss it off like, "Sure, I'd love to pet your alligator," but Sam's already disappearing into the darkness in front of the cars with Opie by his side.

I haul ass after them and almost fall over the split rail fence they have easily vaulted while I must struggle to keep ahold on my Mag light, not rip my soccer mom dress pants and climb in 1 1/2" heels.

It is dark as shit in this middle of nowhere, low-rent district but I do not turn on my light. Besides, I can see now. As I approach the house, the front door flies open and light spills out into the yard as one very large, very agitated woman fills the doorway and screams at me, "Oh, dear Lord Jesus, help me! He's gonna kill 'em! He's gonna kill 'em!"

Do you know it does not occur to me to go back to the car and press the little red button Sam carefully showed me as he instructed me to "Push this if I'm ever in trouble." No. I am somebody's mother. It never enters my mind not to barge right on in past the lady with flashlight in hand and a momma hard-on that rivals anything any man can bring on, even in his most excited state.

I cross the threshold and hear a voice say the same words I use every day, in the same tone, as he addressed the same situation I face all the time with two boys...

"Get off of him! Get off of him right now!"

The woman behind me shrieks as I hear bodies crash out into the tiny home's single hallway. A gigantic man, mostly naked, appears to be walking with Sam attached to him. I jump into the kitchen/dining area alcove, gripping my Mag light, ready to strike as soon as I can get a good shot in.

Fortunately Sam has complete control of the situation. I don't know where Opie is but Sam has this behemoth pinned against the living room wall and is cuffing him. Both men are streaked with blood and I can't tell whose blood it is. There is too much.

"Ma'am," Sam says, looking straight at me. "Would you mind helping me with something?"

Oh, goody! My turn!


Sam nods toward the kitchen. "There's a bottle of Tilex next to the sink. Would you mind spraying me down with it?"

Okay. Sam obviously needs me. He is wearing a black uniform and it looks damned good on him too, I might add. That is why he needs this motherly advice. I say, "But Sam, bleach isn't good on black polyester."

"Yes, ma'am," Sam says patiently. "But I'm cut and I don't have a first aid kit right here with me."

Again, this is not soccer mom S.O.P.

"That's going to really sting," I caution, but something in the way Sam looks at me makes me go ahead and pick up the bottle anyway. I spray him and he actually thanks me.

When we pull into the underground garage leading to the jail, Sam pulls his suspect out of the backseat and says to me, "Excuse me, Ma'am. I'm going to take him into the bathroom over there and clean these cuts off with a little antiseptic before we go in."

"Now, Sam," I say, attempting to take the first aid kit from his hands. "There is nothing here I haven't seen before and I do know how to clean a cut, so I'll do it."

The two men stare at me like I've lost my mind until finally the big man says, "I don't want no damned shit on my cut!"

I act like he's a big baby and do it anyway. Sam makes me wear Latex gloves.

When we go inside, Sam takes the guy in to see the magistrates. They look like the Pointer Sisters, only they're having way more fun than a concert. One flirts with Sam. One offers Sam some of the goodies on a side table because it's someone's birthday. And the third one types up the complaint or whatever it is called when your estranged, crack-head husband breaks into your house, violating the restraining order and commences to beat the hell out of you.

Sam has me sit just outside the small office on a long wooden bench that has a ballet bar attached about two feet above it. He handcuffs his quarry to the ballet bar. While we wait, another cop brings in two transvestite, Asian waiters, who promptly begin telling me all about how they are not guilty. I have no idea what they are not guilty of, but I do know they are committing fashion faux pas all over the place and should be issued a citation for failure to yield the right of way to pancake foundation and too much rouge.

Finally Sam comes out of the Magistrate's office and begins filling out paperwork at a stand across the room from his arrestee. He motions me over and explains the paperwork to me. He is in the middle of this when he apparently hears something that garners his attention.

Spinning around, Sam crosses the room to the spot where his guy is sitting. The man has his shoe off. Sam calls me over. He stoops down and picks something up, then turns back to the guy sitting with his shoe in his hand.

"Would this be a piece of glass from the window of the glass door you did not crash through when you did not break into your ex-wife's house?" he asks.

Sam doesn't wait for the man to answer him, just turns to me and says, "See this?"

I nod.

"Ma'am," Sam says solemnly, "this here would be a clue."

It was all I could do to keep a straight face and nod.

"I see," I say.

I have never turned down an opportunity to ride with the police. Where else could I receive such a rich education?

Missed Clues Along Life's Pathway

I was flipping through some old photographs tonight and found this one. It's my wedding day. I'm standing next to my groom at the reception, talking to a monkey puppet.

Now, I don't want to be the one to say anything here...but of course you know I will...

Wouldn't you think, looking at that picture in the days after the big event, I might've stopped to wonder why I found a monkey better company than my new husband?

Now I know it was a clue of what was to come...And I apparently continued to ignore it for another 16 years.

Oh well, at least two good Unnamed Ones came out of the ordeal.

Lost the stuffed shirt, kept the monkey.

Kind of puts me in mind of that commercial:

Monkey puppet- $20.

Losing a stuffed shirt but gaining two wonderful sons...priceless!


Common Ties and Common Ties

Hey Look!

I came home from a crappy day and look what was in my email box!

Dear Nancy:

Thank you again for submitting your story, "Fooling Dolores," with Common Ties – we have been sorting through a large number of submissions, and we have chosen yours from among them!

We are very excited about your story – now be sure to pass it around and check often for reader comments!

Congratulations, and thank you for your powerful contribution.

Common Ties is "an interactive story blog," that publishes personal accounts or stories about events in everyday life. This is how they explain it:

"It is based on the hunch that people write best about what they know best - their own stories and the stories of those around them. This is journalism at its most intimate; real stories of real people that illustrate who we are and how we are connected."

It's like the online version of NPR's "This American Life."

Even better- if they want to publish your story, they pay you!

This news couldn't have arrived at a better time. I came home from seeing private psychotherapy patients all day, the last of whom had just lost her father, and the kitchen was a mess. In fact, the entire newly cleaned house was once again, trashed...muddy dogprints, the detritus of a day of boys being home sick, dog hair...

I was feeling a little cranky when I opened my email.

But with the good news, I felt much better. I wanted to share it. And when my family's reaction was considerably underwhelming, I burst into tears at the dinner table and fled to my bathroom where I sat on the potty and felt real damned sorry for myself.

All I could think was, my dad would've been excited. He would've said, "Oh, honey, that's great!" He wouldn't have asked the kinds of questions that poke holes in the fragile balloon of happiness. He wouldn't have been teenaged-boy disinterested.

Even in the midst of blowing my nose on tissue paper and snuffle-sobbing, I knew my reaction was not exactly rational...it was, in fact, totally off the wall. Worse, I had no idea what would make me start sobbing at the dinner table.

And then I remembered my last patient of the day. Hello! Her dad just died. She is dreading the holidays and it was my job to affirm her feelings and help her sort through the memories of holidays past.

I did this so easily. Too easily, in fact. I even wondered why it didn't seem to bother me at all.

Remember, I am a trained psychotherapist.


So, I crawled out of my self-pity opt, apologized to the family, and still just miss the hell out of Dad right now.

Shortly before he died, he went to his filing cabinet, removed a green folder and handed it to me. The folder had my name on it. Inside was every newspaper clipping, every review, every picture of me that had ever been printed...And this included the picture of me as a Girl Scout in Sixth Grade, marching in the Memorial Day Parade.

There was no love like my Dad's unconditional, no-holds-barred, love. And I know at least one other person right now who feels the same way...and if I think about it for a nanosecond, I know a lot more...It's tonight's common tie, I guess.

God, I miss him swell.


It Is Not A Good Day To Be A Fish...

The Unnamed Ones came home from school with a stomach bug. But they are men...

and didn't call The Mom.

Instead the Oldest Unnamed One curled up in his bed, in the dark, wearing his Eagles jacket and wrapped in his quilt. I didn't even see him as I walked through the house, into my room where I found the Youngest Unnamed One, a.k.a Bag Boy, curled up in my bed watching HBO and hugging my pillow.

I found the dead fish on my way to get the thermometer.

The Oldest Unnamed One keeps/kept it on the counter there because "It stinks!" I told him, "Change the water more often!" He said, "It's not that!" But I didn't hear conviction in his voice.

Still the Beta made it over two years, so I suppose that's good in fish years.

However, a boy must be responsible for his pets, so I called, "Hey, come flush this fish!" I know the demise of the fish is not news to the boy. It appears to have been dead for at least a day or two and it is their bathroom.

A croaking voice from the Oldest's bedroom cried weakly, "I can't. I think I'm going to throw up!"

That's when I realized we were dealing with a plague.

One dead fish, two sick boys and you know, I'm not feeling too hot myself. I'm sure it's all in my head. Sympathy pangs, right? Because I really can't get sick. Not now. Not with the weekend two days away. I have, for once, plans.

Wonderful, indulgent, all-about-me plans.

Let's see...the boys had stomach aches over the weekend that have now blossomed into throwing up today, Tuesday. I have a stomach ache today...that puts hurling on what, FRIDAY?!

I know. It's a selfish, bad mommy who thinks of herself when her boys are worshipping the porcelain throne.

But...I'm going here:

Where I will see this:

And soak in this:

And I'll do a little of this:

And this:

And I'll sleep a lot here:

And I'll look out at the woods and feel like this:

Unless of course...I become a plague victim.

Which would probably be karma for thinking about the weekend when my boys are thinking about hurling!


The Boy Who Never Knew I Loved Him

Let's just get this part over with- of course we all fall in love in high school. It's practically a given. Half the time they don't even know we're in love with them, but love is love...even when they don't know.

I doubt the boy I not-so-secretly loved ever knew...or if he did, he was too kind to let on, to nice to openly break my heart by putting words to his feelings

You know how I know this?

One night, long after high school and college, when I was living alone in a drafty, old duplex, he and two other guys from "the day" called. Of course they were drunk. They called, they said, to tell me they'd just been talking about me and decided I was the "girl we most respected" in high school.

Is that the kiss of death, or what?

I mean, it's wonderfully sweet. Thank you. I will dine on that fact in my old age. Hell, even now I am pleased to hear it.

But you don't say that if you're in love with a girl. You say that when you've already said, "I love you like a friend, like my best friend, like my sister"...etc.

I was his designated driver. This occurred shortly after the night when he told his dad he was sleeping over at a friend's but was really staying out all night, partying. In his infinite and impaired wisdom, he decided to cruise by his house at 5:30 a.m. There, in a plaid bathrobe, at the end of the driveway, stood his father, retrieving the Sunday paper.

My wild boy toots the horn of his white V.W and says "Hey, Dad!" as we drive by.

He was grounded for months and I became the designated driver.

He was going steady with a girl who shared my name, Nancy. He married a girl who was everything I'm not but still someone I competed with because she was the "good girl" at Dad's church and I was the "bad influence." It really got under my skin when I learned she'd "won" him.

When we hung out, he wore an over-sized Army jacket. One night when it was very cold, he slipped it over my shoulders and I was enveloped for hours in the scent of him. He would do things like this, sweet little things that I treasured and remembered for years.

I was his confidant- to the extent that any teenaged boy ever confides his feelings and thoughts to another human being.

I was, in a word, his pal.

At some point, years and years later, I tell my dad about my unrequited love. That's something girls do, I suppose. But Dad's reaction surprised me.

"Oh, that would never have worked!" he said, laughing. "He's way too conservative for you!"

My pot-smoking, under-aged drinking, cohort who busted our friends out of military school and lived the wild life was now conservative? No way!

"He married the perfect woman for him. You'll see. Next time you visit come to church."

"They go to St. James?" I am astounded. He was Catholic if he was anything. She had him attending an Episcopalian "Catholic Lite" church! That spoke volumes.

One Spring, before Dad retired, I go to church. I am waiting for the service to begin when I feel a light tap on my shoulder. It's Her. "Come out to the parking lot," she says sweetly...and I do not mean fake sweet, either. She actually is sweet. "I know he'd love to see you."

Damn. I am at the 10:30 service and they attended the 8 o'clock. She is the only reason I will get to see him.
I rise and follow her outside into the parking lot. A green SUV sits across from us, its engine humming in the cool Spring morning.

"Look who I found," his wife says, sliding into her place beside him, leaving me standing on his side of the car feeling awkward.

My boy has grown up.

You know how they always look fat, bald and much older and you're just shocked by how badly the years have treated them? Not him. My boy has morphed into the spitting double of Robert Freaking Redford!

My heart snaps again and I wonder if he hears it.

I am so polite. We make small talk. They are the perfect couple, I realize. They fit together. She, like me, is a social worker but in a hospital. I am too overwhelmed to remember what he does but I do see immediately what Dad was trying to say.

My wild boy has become his father.

"He would want to be the one in charge and you would've fought that all the way," he'd said.

Dad is right. I would not have Her finesse. I am the bulldozer type. She is the whisper of conscience.

And, I might add, she doesn't seem to have gained an ounce or aged since high school either...Dammit!

This would've been a boring confirmation of what we always come to realize about our old boyfriends...that they would've been so totally wrong for us...had I not looked into the backseat of the SUV. There sit the two sons.

The eldest is sitting straight in his seat, every bit the proper oldest boy, very polite. In fact, both boys are polite and well-schooled in the social graces.

But it is the second boy who makes my day.

There sits my boy, reincarnated. Oh, he's dressed appropriately enough, and his facial expression mirrors that of his parents and his brother...But there in his eyes, is that mischievous twinkle I remember so well.

I smile at him as I think, Run boy! Go be wild before you have to grow up and become who you "should" be. Don't take your dad too seriously. Sure, he means what he says now, but once he was just like you, wild and longing for adventure. Live it up, honey, the future is nipping at your heels.

Such wicked, rebellious thoughts for the most respected girl.

I turn away from the boy and take a last look at this boy grown into Robert Redford. I do not see a twinkle in his eye any longer. I'm sure this is exactly as it has to be, but still I am sad...Because the wild girl who still lives inside my heart did so love that bad-assed boy.


Stinking Rugs and Failed Salvations

I have this old rug. Well, not really that old. It’s a Pottery Barn rug, 10’x 13’, maroon, purple, brown squares resembling a patchwork quilt. It is thick, soft wool and it stinks.

I didn’t notice it at first. It was such a steal. Hundreds of dollars less than one bought in a Pottery Barn store. The colors, so rich and lush, pulled me into its comforting spell. I just had to use it in my new office…Even though the walls of that office are done in pale, peach-colored grasscloth from the 70s.

Peach wallpaper, maroon rug, teal blue carpet underneath that. It was a design nightmare but with enough stuff on the wall, you don’t really see the peach color and the rug completely covered the teal, industrial carpet…Which made opening the door a bit of a challenge as it wasn’t cut to accommodate a thick, wool rug…but I made it work, sort of.

That’s when the odor became noticeable.

Contained in that small 10 x 13 foot office, unrolled and exposed to the air, my sweet, dear rug exuded an unmistakable smell.

I watch CSI. I read. Hell, I write mystery novels. I’ve attended lots of forensic conferences and ridden with police officers all over the country. And while I have never actually, first-hand visited the infamous Body Farm, I know the smell of decomposition and this rug had it in spades.

I stood in my office, looked down at my e-bay prize and envisioned the only thing I could- A dead body.

Oh, the thing had been cleaned afterward. I knew this because there was also the strong odor of chemicals, but the dead body scent still lingered.

I did the only thing I could.

I called the Unnamed Ones, loaded it up onto the back of a pickup and drove it home.

We dragged it onto the sunroom, unfurled it and I worked on it with the carpet cleaner and every anti-stink product known to man. It worked. My beautiful rug became the touchable, work of art I’d known it could be. We pulled it into the family room and there it stayed, lush and welcoming throughout the winter.

Someone said, “Don’t you think it makes the room look too dark?”

No, I did not- anymore than I thought the maroon clashed with the peach wallpaper and teal carpet in my office.

But then came the Spring and the April Showers and once again my dear carpet began to emit a familiar smell. This time it was not dead body. It was Dogs Too Prissified To Pee Outside When It’s Raining.

I have a very low tolerance for this behavior.

The rug had much less of a tolerance.

The little bastards were crafty. They switched favorite spots on the rug- peeing indiscriminately everywhere they could find a squat-able square.

We chased after them. We spot cleaned, de-odorized, scrubbed, chemicalized and in general, did everything the killer did to get the dead body stink out of that rug, but it wasn’t working. No matter how much we scrubbed- there was still a faint whiff of urine…and dead body.

The Unnamed People I reside with began to complain. I countered if they were more firm in their handling of the Unnamed Dogs, we wouldn’t have this issue.

Finally though, I had to concede defeat. We rolled and folded the massive rug up into what resembled a bent-in-half hotdog and shoved it in a corner of the sunroom where it awaited either the brawn to carry it up into the attic or the Miracle of Destinkification.

Periodically someone would say, “You know, it stinks like dog pee on the back porch,” and I would give an injured sniff and say, “Well, one of them peed out there.” I would mop the porch with buckets of Pinesol and then they’d complain about that smell!

Spring turned into summer. Dad got sick and I spent almost six months in New Bern praying for a bigger miracle and then I came home to the life I had left behind and the Unnamed Ones who loved me.

But Friday I could ignore The Damned Rug no longer.

I spent the afternoon hauling the sunroom furniture out onto the patio, scrubbing the terrazzo tile floor, and then rolling “It” out onto the clean, slick surface. I vacuumed it first with a Kirby, the nearest thing to a tornado ever invented. I brought the carpet cleaner down from the attic, (which was no small feat when you consider that I had to fight my way through Christmas, Easter and Halloween decorations with a damned machete.)

I loaded up the machine with the approved and appropriate cleaner and then I pulled out my Secret Weapon. When I was with Dad in the assisted living facility I made friends with Mona the Wonder/Cleaning Woman. She turned me on to her never fail carpet cleaner and deodorizer.

“You know what happens on these carpets,” she’d said. “This never fails.”

Okay, so it didn’t work on the carpet in my rental unit- but that carpet had been in place for hundreds of years and dirty, drunken construction workers had wrought untold amounts of desecration to it- so that carpet didn’t count.

For added insurance, I sprayed every other deodorizing and carpet cleaning product I own, and with four dogs and one cat, trust me, I have ‘em all.

I went over it with the heavy machine. I detached the hand tools and used them. I put muscle and sweat into my labors. And then the carpet machine blew up.

I mean white-smoke-fire-and-the-smell-of-melting-components blew up. This added a new aroma to the mix.

When the Unnamed Others arrived home they wrinkled up their noses. “It smells worse than it did before!” They touched the rug. “It’s not even wet! Are you sure you did it the right way?”

After three hours of solid, back-breaking labor this was not what I wanted to hear. Things like: “You poor thing! You must be exhausted!” came to mind.

We carried it out onto the patio and draped it over the wrought iron patio chairs. I settled for waxing the terrazzo tile floor and fantasizing about committing multiple homicides then disposing of bodies in stinking, maroon wool.

My joints and muscles ached. I was frustrated and my feelings were hurt. Worse, I couldn’t quite figure out how and why I had become so invested in this hunk of noxious rug.

My friend, Marti, called and I explained about the rug. I said, “I don’t know what it is but I don’t want to give up on it. I mean, it’s mine. It just feels like it’s something of mine that I don’t want to lose.”

Marti was very matter of fact about the rug.

“Bring it out here,” she said. “We’ll use the power washer on it.”

“The power washer? On a wool rug?”

“Sure,” she said. “I clean all my carpets with the power washer. I figure, fuck it, they aren’t going to get any worse and I drag ‘em out in the driveway and turn the power washer on ‘em.”

“And it doesn’t ruin them?”

“Nope. You’ve seen my rugs. They’re fine.”

And they are, too. Every square inch of Marti’s house is pristine and odor-free. She has met the enemy and they are hers. Dirt runs when it sees Marti approaching.

A feeling of relief washes over me. Marti, somehow, intuitively “gets” me. She may not know why the rug is important- she only cares that it is- therefore, saving my rug is important to her- without question, attitude or hesitation.

She also gets that calling in a carpet cleaner is not an option. For some reason the salvation of this carpet is a personal, hands-on mission not to be left to the ministrations of strangers.

That night, as I lie in bed, I try and sort out my feelings about the rug. Why does it mean so much to me?

I mean, I am a trained psychotherapist. I do know that pouring this much energy into the salvation of an inanimate object is irrational. I should haul the thing to the curb and be done with it. But I just couldn’t give up on it. I, personally, had to save that rug.

Which is when, of course, I realized what that rug symbolized.


In my battle with the maroon carpet I had the tools, the chemicals, the know-how and still…once again, I was failing to save something or someone I loved.

One day there will be a “power washer” for Pulmonary Fibrosis.


Yellow Raincoats and First Loves

It is raining when I look up from my novel to see his face. The carpool line snakes around First Presbyterian and it will take too long to reach him if I wait. I really can’t wait, not after seeing his eyes, big and brown, blinking not against the raindrops but holding back a wall of tears I know will soon burst like a dam.

I pull into the parking lot, grab the huge bright yellow and pink flowered umbrella from the backseat and head for him, my eyes never leaving his face. I have never seen my little boy hurt like this.

He stands in the queue next to his stiff, stern kindergarten teacher, wearing his older brother’s hand-me-down, yellow Mackintosh. His sneakers squish in the deluge as he steps out to greet me, to take my hand in his.

I know not to stop, not to ask “What is wrong?” until we are a safe distance away from the others. But we are not quite to the parking lot when I see the convulsive jerk of his shoulders. Barely contained grief is leaking out around all the edges of his being.

I stop and kneel down beside him on the wet sidewalk. I am trying to both shelter and hide us with the oversized, Mary Poppins umbrella.

“Ben, what’s wrong?”

He looks at me, stricken, as tears well up and course down his sweet cheeks.

“It’s Dennifer,” he says in his quaint, gap-toothed lisp.

“Jennifer?” The first love of his life, the cute little blonde with the perpetual smile…the damned hussy! If she’s hurt my boy…I compose myself.

“Did something happen?” I ask.

He is sobbing now, his body wracked with silent, deep waves of grief that cut through his body, making sound impossible. For a long moment we are frozen as he tries, hiccups wails, tries again and finally speaks.

“Dennifer said she don’t want to be my gwirlfriend no more. She’s gwoing to…gwoing to…” He sobs, hiccups again, gasps for air. “She is gwoing to marry her cousin!”

I pull him into my arms and hold him close. The umbrella shelters us both from view now, hiding the two of us as we cry for broken hearts, the pain of first loves and brazen hussies who decide their cousins are better than sweet, little boys in yellow raincoats.