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RPG Digest

March 2020

 

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March 2020

 

Link to online version: http://alstonbooks.xyz/RPGDigest.htm

 

Appreciation

 

Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm.

Table of Contents

Dancing To the Sound of Laughter by Laura Alston. 3

Crossing the River by E. B. Alston. 3

Vita Sackville-West  by Rita Berman. 4

The Cologne Cathedral, World War II by Peggy Ellis. 6

Why the Greeks? by Randy Bittle. 8

There is No Senior Discount for Reading This!!! 9

A Precious Friendship by Sybil Austin Skakle. 10

Do You Remember When by Marry Williamson. 11

The Big Lie by Tim Whealton. 12

Turning Left by Peggy Ellis. 13

XVIII by Steven Crane. 15

A Recipe for Disappointment by Howard A. Goodman. 16

Awakening by Sybil Austin Skakle. 17

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Rita Berman. 17

The Friendship Ring That Failed by Kevin Cadigan. 18

I Remember by Diana Goldsmith. 20

The Little Car Loaded With Beer Crosses the Border by John Burns. 21

Remembering Her by Howard A. Goodman. 24

Fish Song by Sybil Austin Skakle. 27

Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver. 27

Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen – Serialized Book. 29

Buenos Aires, Argentina by Sybil Austin Skakle. 39

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 41

Twilight for the Gods - Serialized Story. 43

Contributors. 47

 

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good. Samuel Johnson

 

Dancing To the Sound of Laughter

Laura Alston

 

The woman whirled and twirled to the sound of laughter

That seemed to fill the entire world.

The laughter started deep within her,

Then it erupted into the air.

 

Such laughter drove away the darkness

That she had long ago grown accustomed to.

Suddenly, everything shone brighter,

And there was lightness in her feet.

 

Released from the inertia of hopelessness,

She danced and laughed and danced.

But as she twirled, she was still aware

That laughter, like tears, is only a transient thing.

 

Crossing the River

E. B. Alston

 

I think of Homer and his stories of the Trojan War as history. Both stories have undoubtedly been altered by many retellings and countless translations but I believe those stories are based on real events. I say that because nobody could have made that stuff up.

Conventional wisdom says that fiction, to be believable, must be logical and predictable and much of what Homer wrote was utterly illogical and unpredictable. His characters behaved like real people, that is to say, unpredictably.

In the ancient world, the Spartans were the toughest of the tough and revenge for the slightest insult was their by-word. Yet Paris, while on a diplomatic mission to improve relations between Troy and Greece, unpredictably lured the Spartan Queen, Helen, away from her husband and took her with him back to Troy.

The Greeks waged a long war to rescue the gorgeous Helen. Her husband, Menelaus, was not the only Greek interested in "rescuing" that famous beauty. About sixty of the Greek commanders considered themselves suitors of Helen if "something happened" to Helen’s husband.

We go to war for dumb stuff like promoting democracy to people who don’t want it, or to insure our supply of oil. Those ancients knew what was worth fighting for. It would make a lot more sense to me if we went to war to rescue Catherine Zeta-Jones from some Arab sheik.

Even the Gods got involved back then. When things were going bad for the Greeks, Odysseus prayed to the Goddess Athena for help. She was having a bad day herself because she made fun of him, the Greeks and all of mankind saying that men were only good for using up natural resources and killing. "Kill!’ she screamed at him, "You can’t create anything. All you are good for is killing. So kill, kill for me!"

Odysseus went back to the old drawing board and came up with a Trojan Horse. You know the rest.

After the war was over, Odysseus took a long time finding his way back to Ithaca. While he was gone, his wife, Penelope, spent most of her time fending off suitors who kept telling her Odysseus wasn’t coming home. Telemachus was their son and he went to visit Menelaus and Helen in their palace after they got back home from Troy.

For us who read all that bad stuff about the war, it is disconcerting to see Helen and Menelaus obviously reconciled and acting like Ward and June Cleaver. Telemachus’ visit was folksy, down-home and touching. When he was leaving, Helen told him she hoped his father returned safely and gave him a nice robe to wear so he would stay warm on that long journey back to Ithaca.

The Roman writer, Virgil, was commissioned by Augustus to write a sequel to Homer’s work that celebrated the exploits of Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome. Virgil performed prodigious research and spent ten years writing while Augustus prodded him to finish it. Virgil hated the assignment and put him off as long as he could but finally delivered the second, fourth and sixth books. Mark Anthony’s widow, Octavia, fainted when she read the passage describing her recently dead son, Marcellus.

The Aeneid was never completed. Virgil died in 19 AD after visiting Athens. On his deathbed he begged his friends to destroy the unfinished manuscript but Augustus forbade them. The fragments are a masterpiece.

Virgil was the ultimate wordsmith. In his description of the fall of Troy, the Greeks were raping, looting, burning and killing everyone in sight. Aeneas and his companions, who had been allies of the Trojans, were in hiding while they waited for nightfall to try to escape from the fallen city. I would have described the end of that awful day as "when night fell," or, "when it got dark." Not Virgil. In his masterful style he wrote how "Sable night enclosed them in its hollow shell."

The Roman writer, Lucian, was skeptical of such brilliance. He wrote in one of his Dialogues of the Dead that Charon, the ferryman who took souls across the river Styx to the domain of the God, Hades, commanded a rhetorician whom he is ferrying to the other world to "strip off that boundless length of sentences that is wrapped around you, and those antitheses and balanced clauses or the boat will surely sink."

My thoughts exactly.

 

 

 

Vita Sackville-West

Poet, free spirit, and garden designer

By Rita Berman

 

 Vita-Sackville-West, was a post-Victorian writer who practiced open marriage after she married Harold Nicolson a diplomat. Both of them had same-sex relationships before and during their marriage, as did some of the Bloomsbury Group of writers and artists, with whom they had connections.

 She was born on March 9, 1892, christened Victoria Mary Sackville-West but known through her life as “Vita” to distinguish her from her mother who was also called Victoria.  Her parents, Victoria Sackville-West and Lionel Sackville-West were cousins.  She was born in Knole, in Kent, a property given to Thomas Sackville by Queen Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century.

Her mother, raised in a Parisian convent, was the illegitimate daughter of the 2nd Baron Sackville and a Spanish dancer known as Pepita.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6a/Vita_sackville-west.jpg/170px-Vita_sackville-west.jpgAs a child Vita was home-schooled by governesses and later attended Helen Wolff’s school  for girls, an exclusive day school in Mayfair, London. She found it hard to make friends at school or locally. During the years 1906-1910 she is said to have written eight full-length unpublished novels, ballads, and many plays, some in French.

Her debut in society was in 1910 and she had various upper class male suitors. Rosamund Grosvenor, whom she met when at school, became her lover and stayed with the family at their villa in Monte Carlo, as well as Knole House, and other locations. The relationship ended when Vita married Harold Nicolson. Violet Keppel had been another of her early lovers from Helen Wolff’s school. Later Violet became a writer and like Vita got married.

In 1913 Vita married Harold Nicolson although her parents were opposed to the marriage on the grounds that he was penniless.  At that time he was a diplomat with an annual income of only $250. Although a diplomatic career was an honorable and prestigious one in Edwardian Britain, Sackville-West’s parents were aristocrats who wanted their daughter to marry a fellow aristocrat from an old noble family. (ref:Wikipedia.org)   

At first she lived with him in Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. She loved the location but not the duties of a diplomat’s wife.  When she became pregnant with her first son Benedict, they returned to England so that she could give birth in a British hospital. Because of the British declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire in November 1914 they did not return to Istanbul.

Harold was often posted abroad to Teheran, Berlin, Paris – but she did not accompany him to these posts. A second son was born in 1917, named Nigel, who became a well-known editor, politician and writer. 

In 1917 Harold and Vita agreed to give up the sexual side of their marriage. They made a pact to conduct their sexual lives outside the home. He would have what Vita called, “your fun,” she would take lovers but would avoid, he urged, getting into a “muddle.” 

Violet Keppel stayed in touch with Vita and wrote of her impending engagement to Major Trefusis. Keppel was under pressure from her mother to marry. Keppel and Vita went on holiday together several times, mostly in France.

In 1922 Vita met Virginia Woolf at a dinner party in London. Woolf knew about Vita’s Sackville-West’s relationship with Violet Keppel and was impressed by her free spirit. Sackville-West greatly admired Woolf’s writings, considering her to be the better author. She told Woolf in a letter that “I contrast my illiterate writing with your scholarly one, and I am ashamed.” Woolf believed that Vita wrote too much in haste. The relationship between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West lasted some ten years and ended in 1935. During that time they had a positive influence on each other’s writing.  Sackville-West was the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, published in 1928.     

To help the Woolfs, Vita chose their Hogarth Press to be her publisher. The first novel they published, Seducers in Ecuador, sold only 1,500 copies in its first year.  The Edwardians, published next, sold 30,000 copies in its first six months and is one of her books still offered for sale on Amazon.com today.

Vita had a passionate affair in October 1923 with historian Geoffrey Scott that is said to have destroyed his marriage.  Harold had many affairs with men and sometimes his letters to Vita mentioned them.

Harold Nicolson lived in Tehran from 1925 to 1927 and Vita often visited him. Her book, A Passenger to Tehran recounts her time there. In December 1929 Nicolson left the diplomatic service and returned to London. He started a new career as a journalist, broadcaster, lecturer, writer and politician.

In 1930 Vita and Harold bought a decayed castle, Sissinghurst, that had once been owned by Vita’s ancestors, and set about restoring it. The creation of the gardens took many decades using Vita’s ideas. It is considered one of the finest in England and was opened to the public in 1938. Most of the time Harold Nicolson lived in London, going down to Sissinghurst in Kent, on weekends.  

In the early 1920s Vita wrote a memoir of her relationships attempting to explain her sexuality. This memoir, Portrait of a Marriage was published by her son Nigel Nicolson in 1973. It was dramatized by the BBC and PBS in North America in 1990.

While most of Sackville-West’s novels were an immediate success, only The Edwardians and All Passion Spent are best-known today. By the 1940s she was often dismissed as a dated writer. However, Wikipedia.org describes many of her novels in detail. She had 12 collections of poetry published, 17 novels, and 8 biographies and non-fiction books published.  

No Signposts in the Sea is a book published in the year before her death. It was the last book she wrote. She died at Sissinghurst in June 1962, aged 70 from abdominal cancer.

Her son Nigel Nicolson lived in Sissinghurst after her death and following his death in 2004 his own son Adam Nicolson, Baron Carnock moved there with his family. With his wife, the horticulturist Sarah Raven, they committed to restore the mixed working farm and growing food on the property for residents and visitors.  The property is owned by the National Trust.

 

 

The Cologne Cathedral, World War II

Peggy Lovelace Ellis

 

Cologne, Germany, has the distinction of being built according to the end of the Biblical Book of Revelation: a walled city, 12 churches, and 12 gates. Not all gates would open but that didn’t matter because they were in place. The bishops believed this meant that, at the second coming of the Christ, these people would be gathered into heaven first.

Today, Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and is one of the key inland ports of Europe, but its roots go back almost 2000 years when it was a Roman fort. The 12th and 13th centuries were the golden years of Cologne. In 1288, it gained its independence from the archbishops and became a free city, belonging to no nation. However, the city underwent several occupations by the French and the British until the final occupation by the British in 1926.

Cologne lost its status as a free city during the French period. According to the 1801 Peace Treaty of Lunéville, all the territories of the Holy Roman Empire on the left bank of the Rhine were officially incorporated into the French Republic. Finally, in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, Cologne became part of the Kingdom of Prussia, which brings us to the current era.

During World War II, Cologne was a Military Area Command Headquarters. The city was bombed in 262 separate air raids by the Allies, all by the British Royal Air Force except for a single failed post-capture test of a guided missile by the United States Army Air Forces. The RAF dropped a total of 34,711 long tons of bombs on the city. Although air raid alarms had gone off in the winter/spring of 1940 as British bombers passed overhead, the first bombing took place on May 12, 1940. The RAF continued bombing until the first of March 1945. On March 6, 1945, United States troops captured Cologne.

In 1945, an urban planner described Cologne as the “world’s greatest heap of rubble” and with good reason.

WWII destroyed the city center except The Cathedral, the common name for the St. Peter and Mary Cathedral, Germany’s largest church. The first foundation stone for the Gothic cathedral we see today was laid in August 1248. Lack of money meant construction was only completed in 1880, 632 years later. The completion was celebrated as a national event on August 14, 1880.

The cathedral suffered 14 aerial bomb hits and more than 70 firebomb hits. Badly damaged, it nevertheless remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. The twin spires were an easily recognizable navigational landmark for Allied aircraft bombing. Many people then, and now, believe the Allies did not destroy the cathedral completely because it served as an easily recognizable landmark for pilots. Another belief is the building remained standing by an act of God protecting a certain treasure. Still another is that the lack of complete destruction had nothing to do with religion because other churches were destroyed. In any event, it remained standing, thereby aiding the Allies.

Our guide told us that authorities ordered some sections left unrepaired as a memorial to the war damage. Otherwise, repairs to the cathedral were completed in 1956. In 2005, authorities decided to restore the still damaged sections to their original appearance.

Some scholars believe it’s because of the Three Kings, or Wise Men, that Cologne exists at all in the modern world. The Shrine of the Three Kings, said to contain the bones of the three Wise Men from the Bible, brought pilgrims to the town in the Middle Ages and continuing today. Every January 6 (Epiphany in the church calendar), members of the public can walk alongside the ossuary (bone box) and pay their respects. The shrine is a large gilded and decorated triple sarcophagus placed above and behind the high altar of the cathedral. It’s considered to be the largest reliquary in the western world. In December 2007, we could admire it only from a distance, but we could see there were carvings although we couldn’t identify them.

There are various legends on the subject, but the one the powers-that-be in Cologne declare official is as follows.

The relics of the three Magi were originally situated at Constantinople but brought to Milan in 314. Eight centuries later in 1164, a Holy Roman Emperor gave them to the Archbishop of Cologne. In 1164 under questionable circumstances, he brought the bones to Cologne. He was unimpressed with the old cathedral and planned a new one that would be grand enough to house the relics. From then on, every German king would make a pilgrimage after his coronation to present gifts to the remains. They believed that Christ would thus recognize them as monarch, as He had done with the Three Kings themselves.

Naturally, there is controversy. The scholar Patrick Geary has claimed there was no cult of the Magi in Milan before 1164. The three skeletons taken by the archbishop were unidentified. On his way from Milan back to Cologne, he invented the history of the cult of the Magi and identified the relics as those of the Three Wise Men. His reason was to establish the city of Cologne as the equal of Oxen, the seat of the Emperor, by developing a cult equal to that of Charlemagne, and, by this means, to secure the independence and status of the archbishops of Cologne.

Neither our local guide, nor my internet research, answered two important questions. Did the World War II bombing damage the Shrine of the Three Kings, or had someone hidden it away at the beginning of the war in Germany? If so, where was there a safe place?

If you can answer that, please tell me!

 

 

Why the Greeks?

Randy Bittle

 

            The ancient Greeks were self-reliant people within a cultural framework that supported and reinforced individual achievement in cohesive community settings.  Athenians thrived in this environment.  They established the classical civilization between 500 BC and 330 BC that became the foundation of modern Western Civilization.  Writing ensured that the legacy endured for thousands of years, but you must keep in mind that the Greeks were first and foremost a speaking society.  Spoken poetry, lyrics, speeches, and conversations enriched the lives of the people who forged the origins of Western tradition.

Every mind that heard these vocal recitations interpreted them individually and discussed them with friends.  It was a fertile environment for the growth of new ideas in the context of customary ritual and culture.  Civic responsibility, inspired by the democratic form of government, promoted individual participation and self-reliance that led to a mature society of creative, interactive people.  This differed from the formal, striated, and top-down controlled civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Greek religion also differed from Egyptian and Mesopotamian theologies.  The latter was closely run by castes of priests who allowed for little self-interpretation by common people.  Greek theology, on the other hand, fostered understanding and implementation by ordinary citizens.  The Oracle at Delphi exemplifies the personalized relationship between a citizen and the gods.  Members of city-states all over Greece would travel to Delphi to get insight from the god Apollo on how to deal with problems in their daily lives.  The priestess would chant out an answer unique to each question.  To further emphasize active participation of citizens with the supernatural gods, the answer from the priestess had to be self-interpreted and appropriately applied to each situation.

Variations in lifestyles and administrations among the city-states added to the rich cultural heritage that gave birth to Western Tradition.  Miletus was a colony city-state on the Western coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey).  Ideologies collided as the Greek culture was exposed to Middle East influences.  Around 600 BC, the first philosophers spoke and taught in the streets of Miletus.  A theory is that the open exchange of ideas in the colony led to the birth of philosophy, but it wouldn’t have happened without the independent initiatives of Thales and Anaximander, the first two known philosophers.  Croton, another colony city-state located in Italy, was the home of the Pythagorean sect in the late sixth-century BC.  Croton’s government tolerated the Pythagorean cult that greatly influenced the intellectual development of Greece including Plato’s ideas.

On the mainland, city-states also differed.  Sparta’s society was oriented around fighting wars.  Their children were trained to fight before they were old enough to join the army.  Sparta generated limited architecture, drama, poetry, written histories, artwork, and philosophy.  On the other hand, Athens encouraged these activities and created lasting works that changed the world.  Sophocles, Herodotus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are all familiar names to educated people today, twenty-five centuries later.

In a collection of independent city-states with different lifestyles but a common heritage, tolerant of new ideas and pro-education, a few geniuses lived and wrote the classic poetry, drama, history, and philosophy that endures millennia afterwards.  No single magic miracle occurred.  It was the combination of factors unique to Ancient Greece that forged the birth of Western Tradition.  Alexander the Great distributed that solid foundation to the world when he conquered it in the 330’s BC.

 

 

There is No Senior Discount for Reading This!!!


Lying around, pondering the problems of the world, I realized that, at my age, I don't really care anymore.


If walking is good for your health, the mailman would be immortal.


A whale swims all day, only eats fish, and drinks water, but is still fat.


A rabbit runs, and hops, and only lives 15 years, while a tortoise doesn't run, and does mostly nothing, yet it lives for 150 years. And they tell us to exercise? I don't think so.

 

Now that I'm older, here's what I've discovered:

 

1. I started out with nothing, and I still have most of it.

 

2. My wild oats are mostly enjoyed with prunes and all-bran.


3. Funny, I don't remember being absent-minded.


4. Funny, I don't remember being absent-minded.


5. If all is not lost, then where the hell is it?


6. It was a whole lot easier to get older, than it was to get wiser.


7. Some days, you're the top dog, some days you're the hydrant.


8. I wish the buck really did stop here; I sure could use a few of them.

9. Kids in the back seat cause accidents.


10. Accidents in the back seat cause kids.


11. It is hard to make a comeback when you haven't been anywhere.


12. The world only beats a path to your door when you're in the bathroom.

 

13. If God wanted me to touch my toes, he'd have put them on my knees..


14. When I'm finally holding all the right cards, everyone wants to play chess.


15. It is not hard to meet expenses . . . They're everywhere.

 

 

A Precious Friendship

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

The invitation came early in the year to attend the World of Poetry Convention in San Francisco, September 1992. I had extra airline tickets my husband Lee and I bought in anticipation of our trip to Hawaii in January 1992. We made that trip, but came home early, because his cancer condition had progressed so much and he died in February. Alone, adapting to what was, I thought: Why not go and use the tickets I already own?

When I arrived in San Francisco, by way of Miami, Florida, after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew, I disembarked from the bus at the hotel. Two people, who immediately became my friends, stood there, as though waiting for me.  Helen and Harry Hoddikoff of Castlegar, B.C. Canada welcomed me, a woman alone on her own, as though they expected me.

Harry was the poet; Helen was his staunchest supporter. We were there with more than 1600 others, from 47 different countries, to immerse ourselves in poetry discussion, everything from style and subject matter to where to publish.

Harry and Helen, of Russian descent, gave me such wonderful support. They explained that this was their very first vacation. They were excited and Harry, far more so than I. He expected much more of the convention than I did. This convention promised Harry and me a chance to read our chosen poem and to compete for the ten thousand dollar prize. Besides, there was the entertainment and chance to meet celebrities from Hollywood, but it was poetry which drew us from our distant homes to California.

It was exciting, the food was good, and our entertainment was excellent. We neither won the prize. We were somewhat disconcerted that we read not to the whole assembled group, but to smaller ones. Harry and I were not even in the same group.  Each of us was presented with an award, a trophy-like prize to sit on our book shelves at home, a 1992 Golden Poet Award.

A side-benefit for me was that it enabled me to connect with relatives of Lee Stanley’s, whom I had corresponded with but never met. They came to the hotel to see me and we shared a meal together. Another plus for me was the bus tour of San Francisco with many others from the group, but not the Hoddikoffs, before I flew home to North Carolina. Harry wrote that he had newspaper coverage in his local paper about his adventure and award.

The following year we were invited to another convention in Hollywood. I did not have tickets to use and had been somewhat disillusioned by the other and did not go. Harry and Helen did go, but found it less satisfying than the one we shared. Harry wrote that he wished he had not spent their hard earned dollars to go.

For years afterwards Harry and Helen and I exchanged letters and Christmas greetings and I learned more about the two angels who rescued me in San Francisco. They were a farming couple, who raised a family, two sons and two daughters, to whom they were devoted. They loved God. 

When Helen died, Harry wrote me of his grief. When I did not hear from him one Christmas, I thought that perhaps my old friend had gone to be with Helen and would surely receive the reward God had for the good man, who trusted His provision for him. And, I know that that welcome and what followed were not a disappointment to Harry and those awaiting him.

 

 

Do You Remember When

Marry Williamson

 

Once a week on Wednesday mornings Ruth meets up with her old friends in the Butterfly Cafe in the High Street of the little Cotswold village. Ruth was looking forward to these Wednesday mornings until recently. Just lately it is getting to be a bit of a struggle. So far she has been able to dodge awkward questions but things are becoming more tricky.

Ruth and her friends have known each other since childhood. They went to the village primary school together. They drifted apart in their teens. June married early, had four kids in quick succession and stayed in the village. Rose’s family moved away to Liverpool and Kathy went to the local High School, achieved three A levels and landed a good job in Manchester. Ruth herself, being very clever, won a scholarship to the grammar school in Gloucester and achieved a place at Oxford after which she got a job at the prestigious Magdalen College which eventually led to a professorship.

Now, all four are in their eighties and widowed. Their children have all grown up and have busy lives and families of their own. All four have migrated back to their childhood village. Their conversations in the Butterfly Cafe invariable start with the words: “Do you remember when……” But lately Ruth has started to fear these words because she increasingly does not remember. She is worried that she is succumbing to the dreaded Alzheimers.

June is holding forth at the moment. “Remember that time when we put worms down little Jimmy’s T-shirt?” Rose and Kathy look at one another and start to laugh. “Yes, yes” they nod “he started yelling and ran home crying.” Ruth has absolutely no recollection of this event but thinks that it was extremely unkind and could not imagine that she had ever played a part in such a nasty prank. She says something non-committal and takes a forkful of her lemon drizzle cake. The other three giggle and June says: “you don’t really remember, do you, Ruth?” Ruth swallows her cake and takes a sip of her coffee. “Mmm, no not really. Seems quite horrible, though.  Can’t think I was ever brave enough to even pick up a worm.” The other three dissolve in laughter.

Over the next few weeks some more pranks are being dragged up and smirked over, like ringing Miss Chalmer’s doorbell, sticking a pin in it so it kept ringing and then running away or scattering confetti in old Mr. Pugh’s vegetable patch, so he had to spend an entire afternoon on his knees picking up the bits one by one by hand. Ruth does not recollect any of these incidents and apart from thinking what horrible nasty girls they were begins to seriously worry about her memory and is making a mental note to see her doctor.

This particular Wednesday is a beautiful day. Winter is finally over and Spring seems round the corner. The daffodils and crocuses in the park are out and the tulips are poking their heads up out of the soil and Ruth has been dallying in the park and consequently she is late for the now dreaded Wednesday session. The other three are already well into their coffees and cakes. They are so distracted that they don’t hear her come in. Kathy is talking. “Rose has thought up some more memories to confuse Ruth with. She uses her fingers to make two signs round the word “memories”. “She will definitely be thinking that she is losing the plot. Serves her right. Clever clogs, grammar school, Oxford and her high faluting job. Listen to this.  She found this “memory” in a magazine.” There is a bit of whispering and then raucous laughter. Ruth is standing stock still. Her heart sinks into her shoes. She has no idea that they are jealous, resent her success and have done so all this time. At the same time she is also mightily relieved that she is not losing her mind and going ga-ga. She steps up to the trio and says: “Remember when we were all kids and we were nice to each other? No, I believe none of you remember that.” She turns on her heel and walks out of the cafe. She does not look round and closes the door very softly behind her.

The very next week her cottage is up for sale and she is busy looking for a flat in Oxford. She is not answering any phone calls from her three erstwhile friends or answers the door when they come calling, deletes their e-mails and returns their letters. She has had it with this village life.

 

The Big Lie

Tim Whealton

 

I need to do something. How many times have you said it? You see things happening, see things that need to be done but for whatever reason you just don’t. Maybe our complicated lifestyles have robbed us of the pursuit of anything more. Do you ever feel like you overloaded your life with the wrong things? Things you put so much effort in that didn’t pay any dividend? Well you are not alone and don’t get depressed. You are going to feel better.

You have reached the age of enlightenment. If you are realizing this you can improve it. It’s not too late to make a few well-placed changes. Probably you only need to change one thing. Your point of view. Attitude can make you happy or miserable, and it’s totally up to you. The big lie is “I can’t help the way I feel.” It’s your mind, you programmed it and you can reprogram it. Now the good news, you don’t have to blow out the old one to do this!  It might get a little painful and take some work but since when has better ever been easier.

Step one- Know this well, comparison is the thief of joy. We all do it. We look at others to decide if we are winning. If mine is better I’m doing better. Doesn’t matter if it’s a house, car, boat, gun, or paycheck. Judge it on its own. For over thirty years I was a phone man. Nothing fancy, just the guy who put in your phone or fixed it. Every day I went from home to home. Some were in the ghetto and some were in the country club. I finally realized it was the attitude of the people inside that determined if they were happy. It was all about how they saw it. Some beautiful homes on the river were nothing more than hate boxes. Filled with miserable people because they were looking at a bigger home across the river and that one had a dock with a yacht. They failed to see they had more than 99.9% because they were looking at the .1% that had more.

The happy homes had people that looked at their stuff and just asked “Is this good enough? This way of looking at things made a difference. That’s because the answer is usually yes. Once you can start to do that you get some room to breathe. You don’t need to upgrade, you just need to start enjoying what you have. It’s liberating and brings you to step two.

Step two- Stuff doesn’t make you happy. You think stuff will but it just leads to a focus that blinds you. You give up your life to get stuff. Sure you need stuff but it goes too far. Your stuff starts to rob you. You need to store it, clean it, upgrade it, protect it, and you have so much you can’t keep up. Think back about the happiest times in your life. It wasn’t about the time you got something. It was about the time you did something!

Step three- Do something. You were created to do things. Your mind loves it. You were not only built to do things, you were built to do things with others. Now the really good news, it doesn’t have to be big. Might even be as small as just a call or a visit. You know people that just need to talk or see someone show up. Sixty percent of nursing home patients never have a visitor. That’s never! Opportunities are endless and the payback is priceless. You already know this is true. You just need to quit looking at stuff and see something better! You have what will bring you joy! You had it all along but you might have lost your focus. It’s love. It’s not a feeling, it’s not romance, it’s a verb. You do something that makes someone else know somebody cares. You will learn that you are much better at it than you expected.

Speaking of doing something, it is time to bust some peanuts. I’m talking about the 4th annual peanut shoot. A chance to get out, shoot your gun, make friends and have a good time. You can even use my gun if you want. I don’t shoot in my own match because I’m too busy. Most people bring their own. It’s only 6 shots and you can shoot off the bench or ground. You shoot 5 shots on a target for possible 50 points and then one shot at a peanut at 300 yards. If you hit the peanut you can brag for the rest of your life. Its March 28th this year at my range in Cove City. It costs $20 and we give it to the fire department. Last year we had 50 shooters and two peanut shooters made high speed peanut butter. If you miss you will still be in good company. Reach me at atlanticshootingschool@gmail.com

 

Tim Whealton

Spring is on the way!

 

 

Note: Many writers won’t share their ideas for stories because they fear an established writer will “steal” their idea and make millions on it. In 2005, a group of writers decided to prove that a single idea can launch a thousand stories. They published a book, “What The Wind Picked Up” (iUniverse, 21 stories,), using five criteria: The first line: The wind was picking up; Mistaken identity; Pursuit at a noted landmark; Unusual form of transportation; and the last line: So that’s exactly what she did. I enjoyed their wide spectrum of stories so much, that I decided a few years later to use their idea as a writing challenge.

Turning Left

Peggy Lovelace Ellis

 

The wind was picking up. Sarah shivered. It was gusting now as if it knew it was irritating her. Gleeful, that’s what it was as it swirled leaves around the car windows.

She peered through the windshield at a huge black cloud hanging over this poor excuse of transportation. She had borrowed it, of course, because she had better sense than to buy a car that would shake, rattle, and roll like that old song. Why did anybody want to drive something not much bigger than a refrigerator? A hard rain would wash it right off the road, sure as old Jud’s rheumatics was acting up right this very minute. He could always forecast the weather that way. It never failed him, even that time he was drunker than a lord and passed out under the haystack, his legs twitching like crazy.

Sarah hadn’t had a choice, though. She had to get into Asheville first thing this morning otherwise the judge would send somebody after her, all because she had run into a newspaper box, which shouldn’t have been there anyway. Her faithful old Betsy had conked out and was now residing in solitary splendor in one bay at the car repair shop where Joe Metcalf had scratched his head over the sight of a 1960 four-door Buick.

“Miz Sarah,” he’d said to her late yesterday, “I never even saw one of these before. How am I supposed to know what to do with it?”

“Well, young man, you can learn, can’t you? Ask somebody who’s old enough to be dry behind the ears.”

“Yes’um, I reckon I can do that.”

Being in the desperate hurry that she was, Sarah had called her old friend Justine to bum a ride into town. Wouldn’t you know it? Justine had to mind her grandbabies and couldn’t go, but she insisted that Sarah drive her Rabbit.

Rabbit, indeed, Sarah scoffed as she left Black Mountain and eased onto I-40 before good daylight. It wasn’t much bigger than one, that’s for sure.

The first large drops of rain splattered the windshield just as a larger car came right up on her bumper, bright lights nearly blinding her through the rear-view mirror. The maniac would hit her as sure as God made little green apples. Sarah gripped the steering wheel and tensed her shoulders for the impact. At the last minute, the car swerved around her and sped away.

Whew! That was a close call. Sarah sank back against the seat and drove on at her usual sedate speed. People ought to leave early enough to get where they were going without speeding around like racecar drivers. Any dumb fool ought to know that the highway was not that place down in Alabama where men drove round and round, never going anywhere. Didn’t they have anything better to do?

Sakes alive, why was That Idiot driving right alongside her? Sarah chanced taking her eyes off the road for a quick look. He was staring at her, waving like crazy. If she ignored him, maybe he’d go away. He didn’t. She speeded up, watching the needle reach twenty and then twenty-five. She thought for sure this little box on wheels would start flying instead of hopping like any decent rabbit should.

Ignoring That Idiot driving beside her, Sarah took the Charlotte Street exit and turned left then right onto College Street. That Idiot dropped behind her but stayed right on her bumper. Would you believe it? He was talking on one of those tiny telephones, driving one-handed, not even looking at the road. There ought to be a law about that. The driving book said to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes forward. Well, it did when she learned to drive more than 60 years ago, and what was right then ought to be just as right now.

He stayed on her bumper when she turned around the pointy end of Pritchard Park and started up Patton Avenue to the parking lot. Belk’s used to stand here, she recalled. She’d bought many a dress in there before they moved out to the mall.

When she locked the little Rabbit, she saw That Idiot park his car farther down the lane. Sakes alive, he was coming after her! She scrabbled in her big satchel where she’d dropped the car keys, but couldn’t get her hand on them.

Spying a moped a few yards away, Sarah ran toward it as fast as her legs could carry her, which was not as speedy as when she ran from the neighbor’s bull dog when she was a little tyke, screaming for her momma. I’m not stealing the moped, she assured herself, just appropriating it in an emergency. She’d seen the younger generations riding these things 40 years ago. Goodness, she had never been able to ride an ordinary bike, and she thought she could handle this thing at her age? Well, if Gerald Ford could jump out of airplanes at 90, she could certainly muster enough courage to get on this little thing at 80. At least it stays on the ground. She hoisted herself onto the tiny seat. Sakes alive, she could do herself some damage if she wasn’t careful. She punched and pushed buttons and levers until the moped roared to life, shaking like old Jud’s bull when he spied a heifer.

Turning right onto Patton Avenue, she figured she could get safely inside the courthouse on ’tother side of Pack Square before That Idiot could catch her. Sakes alive! What’s wrong with the steering? She’d reached Pack Square when the moped started turning left and nothing she could do would make it go any other way. Her old Buick never did this. Had better manners, it did, waited to be told what to do.

With hairpins flying, long hair fluttering around her face, skirt billowing around her like laundry drying on the line in heavy wind, there she went, round and round the Zebulon Vance Monument. If she lived to get off this infernal machine, she’d bob her hair for sure.

Round and round she went, That Idiot running after her. Yelling voices dimly reached her, but she was so busy clinging to the handlebars that she paid no attention. She remembered that, back in the halcyon days of childhood, her brothers stopped their bikes by putting their feet on the ground and sliding. Okay, she could do that. Oops! There went one shoe flying, then the other. She heard a muffled oath but didn’t dare turn around to see who got hit.

Oh no! She’d run smack dab into a man. Not just any man, you understand, but a policeman, a policeman who reached across the handlebars and pushed a button. The moped stopped turning left. It stopped altogether. Praise be. Why hadn’t she thought of that? She looked up and further up until she could see his face. A nice face, or it would be if it were not frowning so.

Well, he shouldn’t have been standing in the way as she informed her son when he walked into the police station waiting room an hour later. All she was doing was trying to get away from That Idiot who was chasing her.

“Mom, he isn’t an idiot. That’s your friend Justine’s grandson, and he thought you had stolen her car.”

“Oh.” How was she supposed to have known that?

Her stick-in-the-mud son, the fraidy cat, shook his head at her. “Riding a moped at your age! The next thing we know, you’ll take up hang gliding.”

“Fly like a bird?” Sarah asked. Great idea!

So that’s exactly what she did.

 

 

XVIII

Steven Crane (1871-1900)

 

In the night

Grey heavy clouds muffled the valleys,

And the peaks looked toward God alone.

“O Master that movest the wing with a finger,

Humble, idle peaks are we.

Grand that we mar run swiftly across the world

To huddle in worship at Thy feet.”

In the morning

A noise of men at work came the clear blue miles,

And the little black cities were apparent.

  “O Master that knowest the meaning of raindrops,

Humble, idle, futile peaks are we.

Give voice to us, we pray, O Lord,

That we may sing Thy goodness to the sun.”

 

In the evening

The far valleys were sprinkled with tiny lights.

“O Master,

Thou knowest the value of kings and birds,

Thou hast made us humble, idle, futile peaks.

Thou only needest eternal patience;

We bow to thy wisdom, O Lord-

Humble, idle, futile peaks.”

 

A Recipe for Disappointment

Editorial by Howard A. Goodman

(Originally written May 24, 2012)

 

Last Sunday, to celebrate our wedding anniversary my wife and I went out to dinner. I had already made a reservation at a well-known (and pricy) steak house in Raleigh, but my wife insisted we dine more economically at one of the corporate ‘chains.’ To be sure, the atmosphere of the corporate restaurant was warm and pleasant enough, once we settled into our booth after recovering from the sting of our server's greeting: "Hey, you guys!"

I had my heart set on ordering prime rib at the local steak house. Since it appeared on the menu here, I decided, "Why not?" Our food and beverage orders were quickly taken, and our meals arrived promptly, perhaps a bit too promptly, as I was in the middle of nursing a beer.

After our server left I glanced down at my plate. What should have looked like a slice of prime rib—whose top and bottom surfaces had never seen the light of day until just a few minutes ago—instead appeared as a ribeye steak, very much like the one on my wife's plate. The only distinguishing differences were the plastic containers of au jus gravy and horseradish sauce that accompanied mine.

My understanding is that prime rib and ribeye steak originate from the very same cut of beef. The difference between the finished products lies in how they are prepared. Ribeye steak is individually cut and “braised” at a high temperature. The resulting product is, well, a steak. A serving of prime rib emanates from a rack of ribeye, which has been roasted slowly at a considerably lower temperature. The resulting serving is then carved from the rack, tender and juicy, as compared to steak. Bottom line: mine was anything but.

My real regret in all of this is that there are increasing numbers of people who will never know the superior taste of slow roasted prime rib. Or the flavor and texture of bagels that are actually water-boiled before they are baked. Or the delectable flavor of Coca Cola as it tasted until the mid-Sixties, when corporate meddling and cost-cutting began to place allegiance to their shareholders above the fidelity of their products. Instead, today's consumers (I despise that word) will accept the foods they experience as having always tasted the way they do now. Luckily but sadly, I'm old enough to know better.

I've finally learned it's better to bring half a meal home than consume it all at the restaurant and feel miserable for hours afterward. So that's what I did with the substantial remainder of my ‘prime ribeye.’ It's been three days since I introduced the take-out container to the inside of my fridge. Each evening since, I open the door, and the white container stares out at me. But I'm just not motivated enough to take it out.

 

 

Awakening

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

Awaiting Dawn's arrival

Sentinels guard the way

Sun's laid a rosy carpet

For Dawn’s walk to Day

 

Flowers wait in masses

Silent heralds stare

Interludes of bird song

Employ the morning air.

 

 

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

By Rita Berman

 

Sixty-five years ago an elderly woman set out to walk some two thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail alone and ill-equipped by today’s standards. No cell phone, no hiking boots she wore tennis shoes, Keds, had made her own back pack, carried a blanket, raincoat and a plastic curtain, and little food. Yet she succeeded. She was the first woman to hike the trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine solo. 

 Her story as told by Ben Montgomery, published in 2014 by the Chicago Review Press,  is what he calls narrative journalism, for it tells about her actions and what was happening in the country at that time. He heard about Grandma Gatewood from his mother and then interviewed some of Gatewood’s children, walked part of the trail himself, met some of the people who lived there and talked to librarians in the small towns along the way.  This was her second attempt to walk the trail for she had tried in July 1954 but was even less prepared that time. 

 In the various chapters Montgomery wove in the back story, who was Emma Gatewood, (nee Caldwell) born October, 1887, what kind of life had she led, marriage at the age of 19 to an abusive husband who beat her and had her jailed when she fought back.  She had eleven children and it wasn’t until one of her sons threatened his father that the marriage finally ended, and she divorced P. C. Gatewood in 1940.

 During her walk she met other hikers, slept rough, and depended on the kindness of strangers, some of whom turned her away. Her feet were in bad shape, but she was strong physically and determined. Her story of her walk from May 2, 1955 until September 25, 1955 is inspiring and almost unbelievable. It didn’t surprise her children though. And then she did it again in 1960 and in 1963 when she was 75 years old. She was credited with being the oldest female thru-hiker by the Appalachian Trail Conference.

She died in 1973, at 85. Surviving her were 24 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild. 

Ben Montgomery did more than retell Gatewood’s story, he told us about the changes that had taken place in the States in the following years.  And he walked on the Appalachian Trail with his wife in September 2012, retracing the steps up Katahdin.  Five months earlier he had been in Georgia on Mount Oglethorpe. The trail is now better maintained and thousands of people hike on it. In January 2013 Montgomery and Gatewood’s daughter Louise who was 86 years old, walked on the six-mile trail that is dedicated to Grandma Gatewood. Later Montgomery learned that more than four thousand people hiked the trail that day.  All because one woman took a walk.        

End

 

 

The Friendship Ring That Failed

by Kevin Cadigan

 

"Take your hand away. I'm not doing that," said Carol Topping. By "that" she meant holding hands. We were both twelve and had gone to the movies, the Saturday afternoon matinee. Carol, with blonde pigtails and barely-budding breasts, had managed to improve herself considerably since the sixth grade.

She elaborated. "I'm not doing that until you get me a ring."

On this particular Saturday Carol had already cost me thirty cents for her ticket and a Baby Ruth candy-bar as big as her fist. I knew what ring she meant. Ralph's jewelry store down the street sold Friendship Rings. Billed as sterling silver and costing the immense sum of $5.00, they were powerful status symbols. And now Carol Topping wanted one. And I was determined to get her one.

My fifty-cent weekly allowance barely covered popcorn, candy and the movies. Chores were available, but that was work, lowly-paid and unlikely to produce $5.00 fast enough to solve the problem. The Ring I wanted now, and the work I wanted never, which meant stealing on a grand scale. For the next four weeks I raided the wallets of both parents.

Carol, disappointingly, did not seem very grateful for her Ring. She wouldn't wear it like a normal girl, on her finger. She put it on a chain around her neck. Most importantly, the hand-holding-in-the-movies enterprise went downhill. I was permitted to hold Carol's hand, but only while the cartoons were playing. Once Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny were done, she jerked it away for the hour-and-a-half feature film.

Carol, I decided, was a pretty bad investment. I couldn't do much about that, but I could get my Ring back. I'd get it back and give it to another classmate, Bonnie Moxey. She wasn't any better-looking than Carol, but she laughed at my jokes and was clearly a better candidate for a $5.00 Friendship Ring.

There was a problem, though. Was it my Ring? Carol Topping didn't think so. "You're a pretty dumb friend," she said. "It's my ring and I'm keeping it and I'm not holding hands any more, not even for a short cartoon, not even for the shortest cartoon ever made." And keep it she did, even though she stopped wearing it around her neck or anywhere else.

I liked Bonnie more every day and every day wanted my Ring back more. Honorable solutions were not much in evidence. I went to my mother, admitted everything but theft, and asked for help. "I don't suppose you'd want me to go see Carol's mother," she said, "and see if she would make Carol give it back. Would it bother you if I did that?"

"Not at all," I said, brightening up a bit. "You'd better hurry over there right now. Go get my Ring and tell her that I'm pretty sick of her daughter and wouldn't hold her old hand again if she begged me." I thought about Bonnie, about where the Ring was going next. "There's a first-rate little box it came in," I said. "Make her give that back too."

It was a couple of hours before Mother got back. She had my Ring but didn't seem very happy. She had on her mad face, her mad-at-me face, and didn't seem to be appreciating the service opportunity I'd provided. "I am never, never, never going to do that again," she said, and put the Ring back in her pocket. "You can have it back when you get married, maybe." She thought for a moment and said, "Where in the world did you ever get $5.00?"

I confessed and was grounded. I lost all my privileges, including ones I didn't even know I had. No movies with Bonnie or anybody else. Not for three months. On the long hot Saturdays that followed, I worked. I washed windows, mowed grass, walked dogs and babysat the little kid next door. I even collected used coke bottles from neighbors too lazy to recycle them for a penny apiece back at the Acme grocery store. I paid my parents their $5.00 and they extended a dollop of mercy by dropping the 50 cent stealing charge.

 

Epilogue

 

Time passed and I grew up, sort of. I did not go to jail, become a professional criminal, or even an amateur one. I had learned a lesson. Robbery for anything, even rings and pretty things, wasn't a very good idea, not in any house where Mother was living, anyway. My Friendship Ring vanished and I didn't see it again for fifteen years. It reappeared in 1965, fifteen minutes after I had gotten married. Mother brought it out, showed it to me, and tucked it away again. "Somehow," she said, "every time I think about returning this, my stomach starts to hurt. So I'm not going to do it."

And she didn't.

 

Kevin Cadigan:  College professor taught British history, University administrator, Temple University, Philadelphia. Married, two children, a grandson, have lived most of  my life in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania and in Los Osos , California. Now living in a retirement community

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina

 

 

This Reminds Me

 

Q...How do you keep your car from being stolen ?

A...Buy a standard shift model.

 

Q...How do you send a message in code?

A...Write in cursive

 

 ____________________________________________________________________________________________

I Remember

Diana Goldsmith

 

When I  have seventy years of memories I need to be able to put in a subject and press the search button! Memories don't work like that. I need a trigger, a word or sound or picture even a smell or a touch can provoke one. Some memories are very clear others I need to dig down to find and bring one to the surface.

One of my earliest ones was of myself being pushed in a pram. I wasn't a baby but can see myself in a red woollen coat and hood sitting in an empty pram being pushed by a  male relative. Another very early one was of the time I went into our cottage hospital to have my tonsils and adenoids removed

 I know I was four at the time as my mum  wanted those tonsils out before I went to school!

There were only  three wards in the hospital.

The children's ward was full - it only having two beds so I had to go into the women's ward. There was a really nice lady in the next bed and she gave me paper and pencils so I could draw. I remember being taken down for surgery. The anaesthetist put a mask over my face (it was ether in those days!) and said I should count to ten. I was out after three or four. When I came round I was asked if I wanted some jelly and ice cream. I said yes but I brought it back together with blood clots! My parents were told they could take me home and I was carried still in my nightie and dressing gown to the car.

It didn't seem to affect me though which is a good thing as far as medical things go.Later I have worked in Pharmaceuticals.

I also got bitten by a dog and had iodine poured into the wound but still love dogs.

Following an infected ingrowing toe nail my parents made me put my toe in near boiling water to draw out the pus and dad stood over me with the cane!! My parents really loved me and I them but reading it now I'm glad no one saw us as I might have been removed by a social worker because of child cruelty!!

The treatment worked. We probably didn't have antibiotics then! Perhaps that's where the saying "you have to be cruel to be kind " could apply.

Let me share some happier memories. We used to love to play games as a family. In the evenings we would go into the lounge and sit around a green baize topped card table and play Chinese chequers and dominoes when I was very young and then Monopoly when I was older. I have an older brother by nearly five years and of course he joined in. We were quite competitive. I also vaguely remember playing Mahjong with a boy who lived a few doors up from us. I was fascinated by the winds and the walls. Interestingly I have just taken it up again after sixty plus years!

At home in the cold winter evenings we would sit in front of the fire and eat hot buttered crumpets which we toasted on it.

In summer when we had a car we drove down to a sandy beach called West Wittering near Portsmouth. We used to picnic and I loved those sandwiches except for the sand which inevitably got inside them! Is that why they are called sand which! (Actually I believe that the Earl of Sandwich had something to do with name).

We lived in a small town about thirty miles from London and before we had a car used to travel to see relatives on the Capital. We travelled on the steam train always stopping to admire the locomotive engine first at the station before we boarded.

As children my parents were very keen on an all round education and we became members of the I-Spy club. We had little work booklets on various subjects and learnt facts and answered questions on subjects like history, architecture, wildlife.

We also used to get the Children's Newspaper which was  weekly and helped us understand the news from a child's perspective.

Our parents used to take us to museums and art galleries and on our annual holiday would take us to different churches, gardens and famous houses in or near our holiday destinations.

I am so grateful for the knowledge I acquired as a child.

My father used to attend talks which were open to families where he worked. He was a scientist. These were fascinating and I can recollect one given by a forensic pathologist. He told us about a case where a murderer had dissolved a body in acid but the gall stones didn't dissolve and even though he poured it out on a gravel path they discovered those gall stones!!

I still have a fascination for murder stories and there again my father read them too and now my brother also.

These are just a few of  the memories from my early childhood. Perhaps it will stimulate yours as well.

 

 

The Little Car Loaded With Beer Crosses the Border

Or

When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go

John Burns

 

We pulled out of Moose after work on a Friday evening, Bencini driving, D-D-D-Don sitting shotgun, and me folded into the back seat of the little car. Only stop before leaving Jackson Hole was Dornan’s trading post. To gas up, to eat a quick burger, and to buy beer. Lots and lots of beer.  And not just any beer. Coor’s beer. Not that we liked the stuff, Good Lord no! Nobody in Wyoming liked the stuff, but it had Buzz. Especially Back East, Up North, and beyond to the edge of the earth. You see, it was impossible to get Back East, Up North, and beyond to the edge of the earth. And people wanted it. Because somebody said that it was cool. Status. Hipness. The IT beer of the summer.

So there we were at the trading post, car gassed, bellies full, buying every can of Coors that we could possibly stuff into the little car. Hot beer, cold beer, just as long as it was Coors. And we filled up the little car with an impossible quantity of beer. Beer in our backpacks with the dirty laundry, loose cans under the seats and in the spare tire well. A can or two in the glove box. The rear seat was so full that it was almost impossible to sit there. Beer, beer, beer, beer, beer. We were going to make a fortune.

You see, people with more money than brains were willing to pay Extra For Coors. A lot extra. Five dollars a can maybe. It was $1.25 a six pack at Dornan’s . Which was cheap even for cheap beer. But we had plans. Plans to sell it to Yankees out at the edge of the world on Nantucket Island, the destination of the little car. Going to see The Girl Friend. Bencini’s Girl Friend. Out there beyond the pale of Golden Colorado. Beyond, well beyond, the last delivery stop of their beer trucks. To the edge of the earth.

Gassed up. Loaded up. Off we go into the night across Wyoming on a non-stop, lickety-split beer delivery.  Non-stop except for the necessaries. We drove like demons. Men possessed by a lust for profit. And also a little glee at the knowledge we would be fooling those Ivy League smarties there at the edge of civilization into buying marmot piss while making them feel smug about themselves. The IT BEER.  The Ivy Leaguer’s dream.

Non-stop across Wyoming into the dark in a little car. Across South Dakota. Down to Iowa and east to Illinois. A full day and a half of Highway, the three of us crammed into the little car. Seeing the USA with the beer. On and on and on into a second night. Skirting Chicago. Hauling beer. Somewhere along that line I look at a map, I look at the traffic around us noticing just how many damn cars were now on the road. I was freaked. Wyoming was clean. It was pure. It had no traffic.  So I look at the map and make The Suggestion.

Why don’t we save some driving time.  Go to Detroit, cut across lower Ontario to Buffalo. Avoid traffic.

D-D-D-Don’s okay with that. Bencini’s okay with that. He’s thinking about The Girl Friend. So off we go. Lickety-split. On into the darkness. Little car straining under the load.

We pulled into Motor City sometime in the earliest morning hours. Detroit looked ominous. Damned. Like a beast. We didn’t stop, we just drove right across that Ambassador Bridge into Canada and the promised short-cut.

This was a long time ago, in the last century, when you could just drive your little car filled with beer and three totally wired people into Canada. Or so we thought.

Naturally, Canadian border officials sat there wondering why three Hippies are trying to get INTO Canada with a car load of beer when they make some pretty good beer themselves. A puzzle. A quandry. So they stop us, haul us out of the little car for some fresh air and a bit of Q&A. And there we are standing around blinking under the serious glare of a million lights, it’s something like one a.m. Sunday morning, thirty odd hours out of Moose, trying our best to make some rational explanation for our entry into Canada driving a little car filled with beer.  I am totally spaced.

And all’s going well, Then, I have to pee. I Have to Pee. Really, really bad. So I ask one of the uniforms there in Windsor, Ontario, under all the glaring lights, right at the end of the Ambassador Bridge, where in Canada is a bathroom. Innocent question.

I might as well shouted, “F--- the Queen You Bloody Sods!”

Boy did they get excited. Suddenly, and much to the surprise of my addled brain I saw 90 or 100 uniformed ants pour out of some hidden ant hill somewhere and immediately swarm over the little car where they began pulling out EVERYTHING that was in it. And there was a lot of beer there. And backpacks filled with dirty laundry and beer. And more beer.

Well, the Ants had a field day stacking beer, gleefully searching through dirty laundry which they examined piece by dirty piece. Me, I’m standing there going, “I’ve got to pee. I’ve got to pee!” Doing a great pee-pee dance I’m sure. D-D-D-Don is standing there t-t-t-trying to explain how there aren’t any drugs in the little car despite the presence of three Hippies, and Bencini has his camera out taking pictures of the whole circus. Damn, only beer. And some really grotty laundry. And some more beer. And some beer.

I was in pain, I tell you. Real pain. And finally, oh thank you sir, I prevailed upon one of the uniformed Ants, the only one NOT holding a six-pack of beer, with the urgent idea that I really, really had to go. So he escorted me to the toilet and WATCHED me pee. It took me an eternity to start with that guy staring at me, watching me, alert to any sneaky attempt to flush away drugs, but boy did I feel better afterwards. Much better. Much, much better.

By the time we returned, with no drugs flushed down the toilet mind you, to the little car, the swarm of Ants had totally emptied it of beer and were standing around scratching their heads, talking among themselves, and wondering why they didn’t find any drugs. Damn it, only beer. And lots of it. Coors beer. Who’d want to drink that crap? Truthfully, there was a lot of beer in the little car.

So they’ve unloaded the little car. Beer is piled in great heaps on the road, some loose cans are rolling back over the bridge toward Detroit, some well on their way to Windsor. And we, D-D-D-Don, Bencini and I are wondering to ourselves just how the Hell we got so much beer into that little car. Oh, I forgot to mention that some of the beer, a miniscule percentage, was actually Olympia Beer, truly some of the worst beer made in America, which we ultimately convinced a few Boston Smarties on Nantucket was the new Coors and even more cool, and hence more valuable. But I digress.

We are standing there wondering if the Swarm of Ants is going to be able to get all of that beer back into the little car when the Chief of Ants says, “You can’t bring that much beer into Canada.” Well, she-it! News to us!

We start groveling. All we wanna do is drive straight through to Buffalo. Non-stop. Lickety-split. Please let us go, we’ve come so far. From distant Wyoming. Out West. We promise not to stop. Not even to pee. A little subservience dance, some shuffling, kowtowing, and the Chief of Ants says, “Okay, but don’t you stop.” The power of a great grovel revealed.

And they make us load the beer back into the little car while they watched. Load the dirty laundry. And we drove off into the darkness.                                                     

We were spent, we were wired, and we still had a way to go.

Onward. Me driving, it was my idea. My penance. Another five or six hours, jazzed, tired as a stone, on a mission. To Buffalo and right up to another border crossing. I’m driving. It was my shortcut. The little car.  The beer. Pulling up to the border, this time the Peace Bridge, the Niagara River. Sun’s been up just a couple of hours. We’re the only car there. Bencini snoozing in shotgun, D-D-D-Don dead to the world with a six-pack or two for a pillow in the back. The lonely man at the crossing leans out of his window, stops us, says good morning. Q & A time again. What’s your business? Where you headed? Are you US citizens? Yes? Let’s see some ID. I handed him my license, nudged Bencini, awake by now, who passed over his license. In the back, head propped up on our soon to be fortune, D-D-D-Don is dead, dead to the world. Thirty odd hours crammed into the little car had finally gotten to him, hard.  Very hard.

Man says, pointing in the back of the little car, “ I need to see his ID” So Bencini starts poking Sleeping Beauty in the leg telling him to wake up wake up. It was a scene, though a minor one, Bencini telling him to wake up, D-D-D-Don, pretty much still asleep, telling Bencini to “go f--- yourself”.  Bencini yelling “Man at the border wants to see your ID.” “Tell Him to go f--- himself.” Ooops!

But the guy in the window let it pass. He let us pass. Said nothing about the beer, nothing about the attitude. He let the little car pass. It was Sunday morning.

Again more, many more, road hours behind us, we pulled into the ferry terminal absolutely wired to the max, stretched tight and travel stupid, two non-stop days, 2400 miles, in the little car.  Parked the little car. Dragged bag after bag of beer onto the ferry and set sail to the end of the earth. Out there in the blue, blue ocean.

CODA:

Oh yes, the beer. The little car full of beer. Wow. You’d be surprised at just how gullible ostensibly educated people can be when it comes to their image. Cheap, really cheap, less than desirable beer was sold, each and every can – even the much despised Olies – at Great Profit. Great Profit. It sold itself. Word of mouth. Gone in a flash. We probably could have asked more, but we were stunned at what people,  presumably intelligent, sophisticated, Yankee people, would pay for bad beer. Just to be cool. The IT beer of the summer. Preppie fuel.

 

Remembering Her

Fiction by Howard A. Goodman

 

Breslau arrived at twenty minutes past four, having bucked the mounting traffic spilling out of Research Triangle Park. He could have come earlier in the day but chose late afternoon because he knew very few others would still be at their desks. The parking lot outside of Building 307 yielded numerous premium spaces, one in the front row. He made his way toward the main entrance, hoping to God he wouldn’t run into anyone he knew. All he wanted to do was get in, collect the remainder of his personal stuff, and get out without being confronted or delayed.

The outside door to the small lobby at the northwest corner of Building 307 was not equipped with a badge lock. Inside, the receptionist’s area behind the veneered counter was unattended, the 3270 “dumb” terminal switched off.

He reached for the handset of the phone on the counter, punched in the five digits of his former manager’s extension. After the second ring, Bill DeGroot picked up. Amazing, he’s not off somewhere or in a meeting, Breslau mused, letting Bill know he was waiting in the lobby. He drifted beyond the receptionist’s desk to an interior doorway, one of two used to gain entrance to different “cabins” of the office area. Stripped of his security badge, he could venture no farther than the lobby. All employees had been drilled countless times not to badge in others, even if they knew them.

His mood was a mix of agitation and inconvenience, with lingering traces of passive shock. Only two days had passed and already he felt cut off from his workplace, his status reduced to that of a visitor without the freedom to come and go as he pleased.

Bill DeGroot's imposing stature nearly filled the glass of the aluminum framed door. Breslau stood passively as Bill pressed on the bar, urging the door effortlessly open against the resistance of the commercial pneumatic regulator, greeting Gary with the obligatory, “How are you doing?”

“Pretty good, actually,” Breslau replied. “I spent all day yesterday at the outplacement service getting acquainted with their assistance programs.”

“Good. Well, come on in.”

The door hissed slowly closed behind them, punctuated soon afterward by the clack of the engaging security lock. Neat, orthogonal rows of cubicles rushed past like intersections in some sterile planned community as Breslau pumped his legs to keep up with Bill’s pace. As he had predicted, very few others appeared to be still at work. He figured most had either left before he’d arrived or had logged enough hours earlier in the week to earn the privilege of “flexing out” at noon.

“I just need a little quiet time to collect the remainder of my personal belongings,” Breslau stated,

reiterating the terms of the hasty agreement they’d made two days prior. “I hope I’m not keeping you from anything. I shouldn’t be very long.” He refrained from mentioning anything about cleaning up his electronic files so as not to give Bill cause for concern.

“Take all the time you need,” Bill replied. “When you’re finished, swing by my office. I’ll need you to give me your system password before you leave.”

Breslau interpreted Bill’s response to mean he would still be allowed access to his Personal Office

System virtual workspace. Alone in his cube for the last time, he began to comb methodically through the overhead compartments, then the two drawers of his desk. He gathered the few remaining things—a couple of user manuals, more memorabilia, a glamour photo of Anita he’d tucked away after he’d lost her. He had neither the inclination nor the means to take them with him two days ago, when Bill had called him in to inform him he was being involuntarily separated.

The steps he began to follow came not from an exit plan dictated by HR but rather one of his own design, outlined the evening before on a yellow post-it note. He slipped the desk key from his ring, retiring it into one of the drawer locks. Grabbing the telephone handset, he punched in a five-digit extension, his password, then a sequence of numbers to access his voice mail options. The recorded female voice prompted, “To change your greeting, press 1.”

He reached for the keypad with his index finger. “After the beep, you may begin recording. When you have finished, press star and pound.” He picked up the post-it slip, glimpsed the words he’d carefully penned to explain to any caller his new situation in terms that would be unambiguous to them, and the least humiliating for him.

“Please listen carefully to this message. Effective today, April 5th, I will no longer be available at this number. Please refer any business related matters to Bill DeGroot, at extension 6-5357. Matters of a personal nature should be directed to my home phone. That number is 555-2161. Thank you.”

Breslau pressed the two keys to end the recording. Then he punched in another sequence of numbers to block his extension from accepting incoming messages. He reached under his desk and powered on his PC, consulting his exit plan while waiting for it to boot up. The fan in the power supply filled the cube with a quiet, monotone rush.

He toggled to a mainframe session, logging in. Once the POS welcome screen displayed, he entered his FileList. Each entry that was either of a personal nature or of no use to anyone else in the company, he marked for deletion. My personal message log! Mustn’t forget to print off a copy to take with me. He stood up, ambled toward the printer room, fortunately not more than fifty feet from his cube. Slim chance someone would ever snoop into my files. Not aware it’s ever happened before. Only the system administrator has access to make weekly backups. Three more months, backup tapes will be written over, my files wiped out forever.

The hardcopy of his personal message log—a dozen sheets containing electronic mail of a non-business nature—rested in the printer’s output bin, blanketed by a pale blue separator sheet. On the way out he appropriated an empty paper carton to stow the remainder of his personal belongings. Damn! Of the few things I’m gonna to miss about this place, Personal Office System has got to be near the top of the list. Don’t think office applications in a client-server environment are ever going to be as reliable as on the mainframe.

Back in his cube, Breslau toggled over to his PC session, began to delete all programs and files he had installed on the hard drive. Vindictive, I suppose, but there's no way I'm letting someone else grab the configuration I created, customized myself. His lips curled in a grin of satisfaction. There. Only generic files left now.

He toggled back to POS, pressed F2 to check his in-basket. The first three notes were highlighted, new and not previously opened. He quickly scanned the subject lines. All business related. No need to deal with these anymore.

“Hey, Breslau!”

Breslau twisted in his chair, startled. Carl Ruzicki stood just outside his cubicle, mid-height, fifty-five or so, still dark-haired although he suspected the uniform coloring came from a bottle. Carl’s temperament always leaned toward the feisty side; he was often given to irrational outbursts. Breslau stood up reflexively, positioning himself in the opening to his cube, as though to defend his turf.

“Sorry to hear you got canned.” Carl’s demeanor was gentler than Breslau had ever known before. “Thanks, Carl,” he replied, letting down his guard.

“I just want to say… it’s been real good working with you. This is every bit the company’s loss. Well, gotta get back and finish up. Weekend’s almost here.”

Breslau found Carl’s inarticulateness nearly charming. He offered his hand, then looked on as his now former colleague receded down the aisle and disappeared back into his own cube. He remained standing, basking momentarily in the blanket of hush. The only sound was a slight booming of the air handling system modulated by an occasional shard of conversation reflected down from the acoustic tile ceiling.

His exit plan now complete, Breslau breathed a sigh. Though he didn’t even begin to comprehend how, he realized he would get through this as he had for the past six months after losing Anita. Before letting Bill know he was ready to leave, he paged through the copy of his message log, skimming his collection of personal emails. As he flipped to page 3 he felt a pang shoot through him, then a lump come to his throat.

Once across Miami Boulevard from “The Park,” Breslau pulled onto the shoulder along TW Alexander Drive. He flipped on the blinkers, then turned to the passenger seat. His personal message log rested face-down. He picked it up. Oblivious to the traffic flying past he began flipping through its pages until he arrived again at the ones she had sent him. Linda. He gazed at the words her fingers had typed, the words his eyes had scanned dozens of times. Nothing intimate; just business-related exchanges. But they were her words, written to him. Then subconscious rear-ended conscious and he felt the full pain of what he was going to miss most of all.

Breslau forced himself to focus, to visualize again every detail he could conjure—her intriguing nose, pencil straight, suddenly angling out near the very tip, cheekbones high and full, her hazel eyes set with laughter. The gentle waves of dark blond hair falling just below her shoulders. And those barrettes! Then he pictured her calves, at least those portions not concealed beneath her dress, shapely and athletic, how they knotted up when she walked in heels.

Even the mystique of her daily habits he had found alluring. Often, it seemed to him that Linda was unapproachable, tending not to invite the attention of others, instead focusing completely on her work. There were seldom any visitors to her office. She preferred to dine alone, to purchase lunch at the cafeteria but return to the seclusion of her desk to eat. Perhaps she was just shy. He shook his head. Whatever the reason he had been hopelessly captivated.

He recalled the way Linda always skipped salutations, immediately getting to the point of what she wanted to say; that she had not stopped by to console him after he had returned to work a week after burying his wife. Or six months later when he was driven from the engineering lab into the involuntary assignment in manufacturing. He smiled demurely when he recalled he had managed to capture Linda’s undivided attention, at least for several delightful minutes, during the recognition reception for his thirtieth service anniversary.

The refracting blare of a passing motorist's horn eradicated his visions. Breslau looked up from his message log, casting it back onto the passenger seat. Pulling back onto the highway, he agonized over where he could gather the courage to seek her out, away from the sanctuary that was still her weekday home but could no longer be his; beyond the company walls or Research Triangle Park, free of the encumbrances of the workplace, to finally reveal to her the unrelenting feelings he had kept hidden.

Yet at the same time Breslau feared the awful ache of rejection, that this would be all he would ever have of Linda; that he would never see her again.

 

 

Fish Song

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

O, Ichtys, divine fish,

You swim the ocean

my son fishes.

Strengthen his heart

Gladden his soul

Feed his body with yours

Recreate my son

by baptism water

into God’s fullness

 

 

Moccasin Gap

 March

Brad Carver

 

Greetings from Moccasin Gap where the men are healthy, the women are pretty and the children are just simply adorable, except Martha Cromwell’s two boys. They are Ugleee.

Last night the entire family went to Jasper’s place. Jasper lives up the road from the grandparents. He built a garage-type building next to his house and every other Friday we all show up for a social. Everybody knows everybody else; they have the best pinto beans with ham hocks and corn bread you’ve ever tasted. And there is always a cobbler or two. Everybody brings something to eat.

And there’s music too, supplied by whoever shows up with an instrument. They never rehearse, so on each song, every musician ends on a different note and nobody in the band can sing. It’s grueling to sit through a set, and they play the same songs every time. You would think that at least one of them would learn something new. But we don’t care, we’re just glad to be all together laughing, singing, and of course, gossiping.

In Moccasin Gap gossiping is more than a recreation; it’s a way of life. We can’t believe what the newspaper says, but we do believe what Cousin Mable says, and Aunt Lena and Aretha and all the other old biddies.

They know everything about everybody and if they don’t know anything, they make up something. In Moccasin Gap your reputation has more fun than you. My Aunt Elsie has a degree in gossip, a BS. You figure it out.

My two boys love it at Jasper’s. It’s in the country, they can run outside and play and can play inside and walk, everybody knows them and they all say the same thing when either one of them do something wrong, “He takes after his daddy.”

 Why is that? Why does their mean side have to be from their daddy? Maybe their mother is a distant cousin of Bonnie & Clyde. I was a quiet little kid, my dad was quiet. I never got into trouble. I wasn’t the class clown in school. The class clown is the one who runs across the football field naked during homecoming. I was the one who talked him into it.

I never got in trouble when I was a kid. Not like Miss Velvet’s three little knaves. They once set a building on fire and then helped the fire department put it out. They ain’t wrapped too tight, I’m tellin’ ya’.

Her boys were there too and they run with my two boys and I don’t like that, because I want my two boys to grow up and be respectable citizens. Her three boys, I’m afraid, are going to grow up behind bars.

The guys always go outside and drink to show respect for the ladies in the house. Of course, every time they go outside the ladies are already out there drinking, showing no respect at all for the men.

Everybody at one time or another goes outside for a drink; men women, even ol’ lady Estelle takes a snort every once in awhile and she plays organ in church and is leader of the choir.  Everybody goes outside at Jacob’s Place and some of them even come back in. I don’t drink anymore, so I just sit in the rocking chair listening to the awful music. Maybe that’s why they drink. It makes the music sound better.

These are good folks. They eat right, they socialize right and they treat each other right. They’re the kind of folks you want your children to grow up around. Every woman there is Grandma, Aunt, or Cousin somebody, even if they’re not related.

I’m glad it’s that way because I overheard my oldest boy telling Aunt Gladys that, “Daddy farts a lot.” Now I know why some animals eat their young.

I left this town twenty-five years ago and these people are the reason I left. Whoever thought they would be the reason I came back. This is my little piece of heaven now.

That’s life in Moccasin Gap. Ya’ll come see us, you hear. We’re about 25-miles from the Virginia state line in the middle of nowhere, NC. If ya’ can’t find us, you don’t need to be here.

 

 

The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

 

Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.  Thomas Aquinas

 

Beauty makes idiots sad and wise men merry. George Jean Nathan

 

Great art is as irrational as great music. It is mad with its own loveliness.

George Jean Nathan

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen

E. B. Alston

 

Chapter Five

Jack and Clare’s flight arrived at the Perth Airport on Wednesday two p.m. local time. This was the main commercial airport serving Western Australia. The airport was located in the town of Guildford. The international terminal was on the opposite side of the runways from the domestic flight terminal, making the route to Perth longer for international arrivals.

Construction was underway at both terminals. A sign warning passengers to “Watch your step” apologized for the inconvenience, and said the redevelopment work was necessary because of recent growth in passengers visiting the area. Airlines from many nations served the airport.

 After passing through customs and picking up their luggage, Jack hailed a cab. It left the airport on Horrie Miller Drive and turned onto Tonkin Highway, which took them to the Great Eastern Highway. The driver exited the Great Eastern Highway onto Shepperton Road, then onto Riverside Drive and finally a roundabout onto Mounts Bay Road.

Mounts Bay Waters Apartment Hotel was located close to Perth's two tourist attractions, the Swan River and Kings Park. It was also close to the Perth central business district and shopping precinct.

After checking in as Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Council, Jr., they were escorted to a luxurious penthouse suite on the top floor of the hotel. The living room window gave them a spectacular view of Kings Park. Clare was pleased with the big living room and picture windows with panoramic views of the city.

When they asked the concierge to suggest a good place for dinner, he called the shuttle and dispatched them to Lamont's East Perth Restaurant on Brown Street. The sign said they specialized in Australian cuisine.

After they were seated, Clare asked Jack, “What is ‘Australian cuisine’?”

“Cold beer, grilled steak, cooked well done with lots of ketchup, fried potatoes and bread.”

“Sounds okay,” Clare replied.

“Then you are going to get along very well in Australia.”

After they ordered their meals, Clare asked, “Have you been to Australia before?”

“Naw, this is my first trip.”

“Then how do you know so much about Australian cuisine?”

“I know a few Aussies.”

“Maybe the ones you know weren’t typical.”

“They were my kinda folks.”

This reminded Jack how annoying Clare was during the Merchants of Death case.

“You’re not a typical American. What you like and what most American’s like is quite different. You form opinions without knowing what you are talking about.”

“See if you can make that statement after we leave.”

The waiter brought their meals and they began to eat.

“The steak is excellent,” Clare said.

“Nothing but the best for my Cornelia,” Jack replied with a grin.

“Why, thank you, Cecil,” she replied with a laugh.

“What do you think will happen tomorrow?” Clare asked.

“Probably not much. I may be wrong, but a man named ‘Swede’ doesn’t inspire high intellectual expectations. This whole exercise reeks of smoke and mirrors.

“Everything Loflin talked about was worst case scenario,” Clare agreed.

“My gut tells me this whole farce is based on unsubstantiated rumors acted upon by politicians afraid of being accused in the press of not taking rumors seriously.” Jack paused and changed the subject. “Cornelia, I haven’t seen you when you weren’t in jeans dressed like a guy. I’m pleasantly surprised to see how pretty you are when you’re fixed up.”

“Thank you, Cecil. In spite of acting and dressing like a tomboy most of the time, I enjoy dressing up in frilly clothes.”

“You look good.”

“I modeled some for a local department store when I was in college and the agent told me I could have a future as a fashion model.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I wasn’t interested. I don’t know how Alonia stands it. Especially when she’s smart and talented enough to do anything she wants to do.”

“Hammer said she was thinking about getting out of the business.”

“Is that because of Hammer, or is it because she’s sick of doing it?”

“Hammer hasn’t suggested anything to her, but I think she’s influenced by him.”

“Alonia sets the bar pretty high beauty-wise, but she’s also the most intelligent woman I have ever met.”

“Her whole family’s sharp. You’ve met Phoebus and Reginald. Her sister, Minerva, is just like them but she’s more businesslike.”

“Is she pretty, too?”

“Yeah, she’s as pretty as Alonia but she’s taller than I am.”

Clare laughed. “Over six feet?”

“She’s half a head taller than I am.”

“Wow!”

“Yeah, wow is right. There is one thing about your new look. Your green eyes look odd with your black hair. I’ve never seen a green-eyed brunette.”

“I thought about that but Loflin was emphatic about it and I don’t care.”

“I expect you’ll impress Messrs. Fox and Wasielewski in any case.”

“I hope I can pull it off.”

“You’ll do fine, Cornelia.”

 

▲▼▲▼▲

 

Chapter Six

 

They met Swede Fox and Thaddeus F. Wasielewski at Duncan’s restaurant on George Street. The two revolutionaries were an exceedingly mismatched pair of characters.

Swede resembled the western movie star, Clint Walker, with big broad shoulders, an innocent grin, and a deep Australian accent.

Thaddeus could have been Mel Brooks in a Maurice Sedwell suit and a pair of $1500.00 A. Testoni shoes. Dapper did not come close to describing Thaddeus F. Wasielewski. Clare laughed to herself when she saw him.

Jack and Clare rose to meet the two men as they approached their table.

Jack extended his hand to Swede. “Cecil Council,” he said. “And this is my wife, Cornelia.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Swede replied and shook Jack’s hand. Then he shook hands with Clare and said, “Pleased to meet you, too, Mrs. Council.”

Then Swede introduced Thaddeus who in turn shook Jack’s hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

Then with his best smile, revealing a gold tooth, he took Clare’s hand and kissed it. “It is a blessed day when I meet such a lovely lady as your Cornelia, Mr. Council. I have never seen such beautiful emerald eyes.”

“Why thank you,” Clare replied with a tantalizing smile.

Thaddeus misinterpreted mirth as appreciating his compliment. Jack motioned for them to take their seats at the table.

“How was your trip?” Swede asked.

“Long and boring,” Jack replied.

“How could one be bored when accompanied by such loveliness as your Cornelia?” Thaddeus asked, while attempting to catch Clare’s eye.

Jack’s menacing look cooled Thaddeus’s ardor, but only momentarily.

“I only meant to compliment Cornelia, Mr. Council,” he lied defensively.

“Pay no attention to him,” Swede said. “He’s all talk.”

“Good,” Jack replied coldly while Clare made eye contact with Thaddeus.

The waiter came and they ordered. Thaddeus complained about the absence of continental dishes and ordered the spiced swordfish with a slice of lamington cake. Swede ordered the Murray red kangaroo.  Clare ordered red curry scallops while Jack followed Swede’s lead and ordered the kangaroo.

“What’s the plan?” Jack asked while they waited for their meals.

“What do you mean?” Swede asked. “We expected you to have a plan.”

“You asked us to come,” Jack replied testily. “You must have had something in mind.”

“Lord Phillip ordered us to come up with a way to reduce the world’s food supply,” Swede replied.

“Who is Lord Phillip?”

Thaddeus answered. “Lord Phillip is the head of the Four Horsemen organization. He assigned us to devise ways to reduce the world’s food supply.”

“How does he plan to do that?” Clare asked.

“He didn’t tell us how,” Swede replied. “He told us to do it.”

“That’s it?” Jack asked skeptically.

“Lord Phillip ordered us to get it done and to kill anybody that stood in our way,” Thaddeus added.

Clare laughed out loud.

The waiter arrived with their meals and their discussion continued while they ate.

“So this English Lord gave you the right to kill people?” Jack asked in a tone laced with skepticism.

“He ordered us to,” Swede replied.

“And he meant it,” Thaddeus agreed. “Lord Phillip is the cruelest man I have ever met.”

“But Lord Phillip didn’t give you any instructions about how to do it?” Jack asked, thinking how incredulous this was.

“He made a long and complicated speech about how evil men are and how they just keep spending money and killing each other.”

“Yeah,” Swede added. “And we’re gonna ‘break that cycle’.”

“But he didn’t give you any instructions about what part you are responsible for and what methods to use?” Jack asked.

“No,” Thaddeus replied. “He just said we were responsible to bring famine over all the earth. How we did it was up to us.”

Yeah, right, Jack thought to himself.

Clare laughed again.

Thaddeus was captivated by “Cornelia’s” laughter.

After they finished their meals and the time came to pay, neither Swede nor Thaddeus offered to pick up the check, so Jack paid for their lunches.

“Have you set up some kind of conference room?” Jack asked.

“We thought we’d meet in your room,” Thaddeus replied.

They rode the bus back to the hotel and went up to the penthouse suite. During the ride on the bus, Thaddeus watched Clare and was pleased to see that she was a serious woman with a sense of humor, a mysterious smile and an intelligent air. It didn’t occur to him that she was laughing inside at him and Swede.

When they entered the suite, Thaddeus’s heart leapt for joy when he noticed that Cecil and Cornelia slept in separate rooms.

The suite had a dining area so Jack ordered coffee from room service and they took their places around the dining table.

“Tell me what you expect from us,” Jack said.

Swede launched into a ten-minute diatribe, spouting every revolutionary theme he had heard on television news.

After Swede finished, Thaddeus added, “We want you to develop a plan to start a worldwide famine.”

“Are there other members of your team working on other ways to reduce the food supply?” Clare asked.

“You are the first people we have contacted,” Swede said.

“How many people are you looking for?” Jack asked.

“We don’t know,” Swede replied.

“When is our part of the plan supposed to be ready?” Jack asked.

“In about three months,” Thaddeus replied.

“That’s not much time,” Clare observed.

“We must have something to present to Lord Phillip. We can work out the details after he approves our plan,” Thaddeus said.

“When will operations intended to cause worldwide famine begin?” Jack asked.

“I guess as soon as we get approval and work out the details,” Swede said.

“Which food producing countries will we target?” Clare asked.

“The U.S., and maybe Argentina and Brazil,” Thaddeus said.

“How about China and Southeast Asia?” Jack asked.

“Them too,” Swede replied.

“Australia and New Zealand?” Jack added. “And South Africa?”

“Those too,” Swede agreed.

“So you want to reduce wheat and rice crop production worldwide,” Clare surmised.

“That ought to be easy,” Jack observed.

“That is a marvelous analysis,” Thaddeus exclaimed. “You two are a fantastic team.” He paused. “This is why you are so famous.”

Jack grunted something unintelligible. Clare smiled.

“We should be able to come up with something,” Jack said. “We’ll need to make a few inquiries and meet back here in a week.”

“You two are not what we expected after reading your Facebook page,” Thaddeus remarked.

“What are you getting at?” Jack asked guardedly.

“We expected two raving firebrands, preaching about how rotten the West is and how you couldn’t wait until the whole world was in ashes.”

Clare laughed. “That’s our cover. Radical blowhards tend to be ignored because there are so many. We don’t want it to become known that we actually know what we are doing.”

Quick thinking, Clare, Jack thought.

Thaddeus clapped his hands in delight.

Swede spoke up. “So, it’s settled. You two will come up with a way to reduce cereal production worldwide.”

“There is one other matter we haven’t discussed,” Jack said.

“What is that?” Thaddeus asked.

“All of this costs money. We traveled here on our own nickel. We need to cover our expenses plus we will need to offer some kind of compensation for the information you asked us to gather.”

“We have no operating funds at the present time,” Swede admitted. “Can you operate on promises to pay your contacts later?”

Jack looked disappointed. “Changing the world costs money. The kind of change you’re talking about costs lots of money. Where will it come from?”

“We’re working on it,” Thaddeus replied unconvincingly. “Lord Phillip has many contacts. He will help us finance your efforts.”

“We’ll use our contacts within the agricultural industry for now,” Jack said. “But the quality of our product will suffer.”

“At the present time, that cannot be helped,” Swede replied. “We’re just getting our feet on the ground. Funding will be a high priority.”

“Have you contacted the Chinese or the North Koreans? They ought to jump at the chance to support a project like this,” Clare suggested.

“Don’t forget the Arab world,” Jack added. “They’re at war with the West now and they have lots of money.”

“We’ll begin the process right away,” Swede said.

“And we will recruit other accomplices to assist in implementing the operation,” Thaddeus added.

“Be careful who you choose,” Jack cautioned. “One careless fool can wreck the whole plan.”

“Or one traitor,” Thaddeus added.

“We are the traitors,” Jack corrected him. “You must recruit reliable traitors. Do not forget that.”

“So, we’re looking for reliable bad men,” Swede said.

“Yeah,” Jack agreed. “Great men are always bad men.”

“Well said,” Thaddeus agreed.

Jack rose and dismissed them. “If you gentlemen will excuse us, Cornelia and I have a lot of work to do.”

Swede and Thaddeus rose and departed, elated that their first recruits had proven to be dedicated and competent people.

Thaddeus knew for the next seven days he would have tantalizing dreams of lovely Cornelia.

 

 

“What do you think?” Swede asked, after he and Thaddeus left the Council’s suite.

“I was surprised how intelligent and capable they seemed,” Thaddeus replied.

“I figured they’d be two nutcases from what I read on their internet page.”

“I couldn’t take my eyes off Cornelia.”

“Yeah, and it showed. Cecil looks like a man who could clean your lecherous clock if you touched his woman in the wrong place.”

“Ah, yes. But with Cornelia, it might be worth it. Did you notice that they slept in separate bedrooms?”

“No. So what?”

“It could be that the bloom is off their relationship.”

“Or, maybe he snores. Don’t let your interest in her mess this up. These two are our only chance to have something to talk about in Casablanca.”

“Casablanca. How appropriate. It’ll be like the movie and Cornelia could be my Ingrid Bergman.”

“They ain’t going to Casablanca.”

“We could take them as subject-matter experts. I’m sure they would impress Lord Phillip.”

“You’re thinking with the wrong part of your anatomy.”

“If we could take Cornelia with us, the whole room would listen with rapt attention to anything she had to say.”

“I doubt if Cecil would let her go without him.”

“If we played our cards right, he might.”

“I don’t care one way or the other. If you can work it out, have at it, but you had better not mess this up.”

“Oh, I will not do anything to jeopardize our mission.”

“You better not. If you foul this up over Cornelia, Lord Phillip won’t have much to deal with after I finish with you.”

 

 

Jack got on the phone to Loflin as soon as the two conspirators left their suite.

After giving a brief report, Jack observed, “These two are not what I would call serious threats to anybody. There’s a lot about espionage that these two don’t know.”

“My orders are to assume that this is a valid threat,” Loflin replied curtly. “You and Miss Davis must remember this and act accordingly. What are your chances of infiltrating their branch of the organization?”

“We’re already in.”

“Excellent. The man called Swede must have been influenced by Miss Davis to accept you as members of his cell?”

“Naw, not quite. It was Wasielewski who sold his soul to be in Cornelia’s shadow. He’s a goofy, pompous, little shrimp. Swede was actually the most business-like of the two.”

“Wasielewski?”

“Yeah. He wants to make Cornelia his Polack Princess.”

Loflin laughed. “How did Clare respond?”

“You would have been impressed. She handled herself well. She didn’t laugh in his face and she didn’t say no.”

“I knew Miss Davis would conduct herself appropriately in any circumstance. What is our next step?”

“We need a fake, but believable, agricultural document about a failed genetic experiment that dramatically reduced rice and wheat yields.”

“Suppose I furnished you the real thing?”

“I’d hate to put something actually damaging into their hands.”

“Why? You said they were incompetent.”

“We can’t assume everybody in the organization is incompetent.”

“Quite true. I’ll see what we can come up with. When do you need it?”

“Next Thursday.”

“I’m sure we can get you something before then. Anything else?”

“No.”

“Then you and Clare have a nice evening,” Loflin said as he hung up the phone.

“Well, Cornelia,” Jack said with a grin after he laid the phone down, “what say we go to dinner?”

“Where do you propose we go?”

“Swede recommended the Perth Roadhouse & Restaurant on Main Road. He said it was the kind of place you’d like.”

“Why would he say that?”

“He knows you don’t like Thaddeus.”

“So Swede is not as stupid as he seems.”

“Nope. I believe it will be hard to fool Swede. I hope Loflin gets us something good.”

They took the bus to the restaurant and found it to be congenial, inexpensive, clean, crowded and the service was professional. Jack dined on steak and lobster while Clare had stuffed shrimp.

While they were eating, Clare noticed a man who appeared to be watching them. He kept his eyes on Jack while he made a call on his cell phone.

“We have company,” Clare said as she took a sip of wine.

“Man or woman?”

“Man. Thin, pale, geeky looking, about five nine, blonde, wavy hair.”

“Is he packing heat?”

“If he is, it’s little. He’s dressed in golf clothes.”

“We’ll give him a little test when we leave here.”

Jack took out a city map he brought from their suite, opened it and pointed to another restaurant around the corner a half block away.“We’ll leave here and saunter in that direction as if we have all the time in the world. After we pass the corner, we’ll speed up, but not too much, because we don’t want to get anybody’s attention. We’ll duck into that restaurant and see if he follows us.”

They took their time over dessert and remained at their table sipping wine after Jack paid their bill. Then Clare collected her purse and took out her compact as if to check her makeup.

“He’s getting ready to follow us,” she said.

They left the restaurant as planned, walked faster after turning the corner and were inside the restaurant at a table by the window when the sallow-looking guy rushed by. He stopped beside the restaurant, looking around in a panicky way. When he glanced toward the window, he spotted Jack and their eyes met. The man turned away and walked swiftly across the street, stopped beside a fire hydrant and made another telephone call. Then he quickly walked away and disappeared into the crowd.

“This might be more serious than we thought,” Jack observed.

“I should have brought my 45,” Clare replied.

 

Chapter Seven

 

When they came down to breakfast the next morning, Jack spotted the pale, skinny guy in the corner of the lobby area.

“He’s waiting for us,” he whispered to Clare.

Without turning her head, Clare whispered, “What should we do?”

“Let’s ignore him and see what happens.”

They went outside and boarded the bus to the Coffee Club on Riseley Street. They noticed that their shadow slipped onto the bus through the rear doors at the last second before the bus pulled away from the hotel. When they got off, he slipped off unobtrusively through the rear door and followed them inside the restaurant. He waited until they were seated and chose a table where he could face away from them but watch their reflection in the window.

“If he wasn’t so obvious, I might think he was a pro,” Jack muttered under his breath.

After finishing breakfast and taking their time over coffee, Jack suggested that they take a guided tour of the city in order to kill some time.

So, for the rest of the day, Jack and Clare were tourists, viewing the sights of Perth. They toured all the museums, had lunch at Duncan’s again, and completed their tour in time for dinner at the Roadhouse.

“We’ll be creatures of habit for a day or two, then we’ll give the little sneak an unpleasant surprise,” Jack whispered after they had taken their places in the big dining room.

Their shadow rode the bus when they went back to the hotel for the evening.

“We might as well invite him to join us,” Clare observed dryly.

“It’s getting creepy,” Jack agreed, as they watched their shadow make a call on his cell phone.

The next day they took a tour of the biggest cattle station in the area, and the day after, they took a long boat tour of the shoreline. Their shadow stayed un-obtrusively with them both days. When they entered the elevator to go up to their suite, he was at his accustomed spot in the lobby where he waited every morning. By this time, Clare and Jack had become very annoyed.

The next morning, they came down the stairs instead of the elevator. Before they slipped out the back entrance, Jack, hidden by a plant, spotted their shadow in his accustomed spot, attentively watching the elevator door.

They took another all-day tour of the city and when they returned to the hotel their shadow still waited in his accustomed spot.

“This has gone on long enough,” Jack said.

He marched up to the thin man from behind and tapped him on the shoulder. When the man turned and saw Jack, he was startled and tried to pull away. Jack grabbed his arm and when the man tried to open his cell phone, Jack took it and handed it to Clare.

“Come with us,” Jack said under his breath as they made their way to the elevator.

After they were inside their suite, Jack shoved him into a chair and asked, “Why are you following us?”

“A man hired me to follow you everywhere you went,” the shadow stammered fearfully.

“Who was he?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell me who he was. He gave me some money and that cell phone and told me to call him every day with a report of your movements.”

“What did he look like?” Clare asked.

“I didn’t get a good look at him. He was in a dark alley behind a pile of trash.”

“That sounds made up to me,” Jack observed.

“It’s the truth, honest,” the man replied. “He tried to keep me from seeing what he looked like.”

“You are either lying or you are the stupidest Aussie alive,” Jack said.

Their captive didn’t respond.

“What did he say would happen if you just took his money and didn’t call him?” Jack asked.

“He said he would kill me.”

“Did he say why he wanted us followed?”

“He said you two were international spies and he wanted to know why you were in Perth.”

“Is he a member of Australian intelligence?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why don’t you think so?”

“Because he said he’d kill me if I went to the police, or any kind of law enforcement.”

“Cornelia, see if the cell phone has GPS.”

Clare did a quick menu check on the phone. “Yes, it does.”

“Did you know that this guy can track your movements?” Jack asked.

“No, I didn’t.”

“So,” Jack mused, “he’s using you and that cell phone to see where we go.”

Clare nodded in agreement.

“What is your name?” Jack asked.

“Chester Smith.”

“What do you think we should do, Cornelia?”

“He doesn’t seem dangerous,” Clare replied. “Why don’t we keep him with us and supervise his calls.”

“What do you say to that, Chester?”

“Please don’t tell him you are doing this,” Chester replied fearfully. “I don’t want to be killed.”

“Then we’ll promise not to harm you and we’ll help you with your reports. And when we leave, we’ll release you unharmed. Is this a deal, Chester?”

Chester thought about it a few seconds before he replied. “I will do as you say.”

“We’ll keep your cell phone,” Jack said sternly. “If you cause any trouble or try to run away, we’ll call the guy on your phone and tell him you double-crossed him and let him fix your wagon. Do you understand that I mean business?”

“Yes, sir,” Chester replied. “I will do as you say.”

“Cornelia and I will take turns watching you, so don’t even think of doing something stupid.”

“I won’t,” Chester assured him, seemingly thankful that they hadn’t hurt him.

“Tomorrow and for the next three days, we are going to take you to the strangest places we can find in Western Australia, and you will give a report of everywhere we take you.”

Chester nodded in agreement.

Then Jack made a note of the incoming and outgoing phone numbers on Chester’s cell phone, handed the phone to Clare and went into the other room where he called Loflin.

After he explained what was going on, Jack made a request. “We need a trusted agent to guard Chester while we have our meeting with Swede and Thaddeus next Thursday.”

“Why?” Loflin asked.

“We can’t leave him alone and if both of us don’t meet with them, it’ll raise a red flag.”

“Quite right,” Loflin agreed. “I’ll see to it.”

Then Jack gave Loflin Chester’s cell phone incoming and outgoing call history.

“I’ll get this checked out right away,” Loflin said and hung up.

When Jack returned to the room where Clare and Chester waited, he sent Chester into the spare bedroom. Then he took Chester’s cell phone into his room, placed it in the nightstand drawer and closed the door.

“This is getting complicated,” Jack said.

Clare agreed. “He might have made up the business about him being given a fistful of money by a total stranger he’s afraid of.”

“Yeah. He’s either a cunning conspirator, or a bumbling incompetent, but we don’t know which.”

“His phone might be bugged,” Clare suggested.

“It might be. That’s why I put it in a drawer in my bedroom.”

“What if they overheard us when we picked up Chester?”

“If they did, they’ll be here soon.”

“What do you think we ought to do?”

“I wish we could lock him up somewhere, but if we do and the stranger is watching him he’d be alerted and might send somebody else.”

“And his replacement might be more skillful,” Clare agreed. “Why don’t we refer to ourselves using different names when he’s away and the phone is listening?”

“Good idea. We can tour illogical sites for the next three days.”

“Yes, we could. It wouldn’t do for us to tour nuclear power plants and large water reservoirs. The stranger might be legitimate and get us arrested.” Clare laughed. “In conversations for the phone tap, let’s be Jim and Sue today, Jane and Bill tomorrow and Buster and Sybil the last day.”

Jack grinned. “Did you get your devilish streak from your mama or your daddy?”

“Mama was pretty devious, but she said my father could be very sneaky and disarming.”

“So your mother spoke of your father around you.”

“Not much, but sometimes late at night, when she was thinking of him, she’d tell me things. She always cried afterwards.” Clare paused and looked away sadly. “We could tour the Western Australian Museum tomorrow, then the Alexander Library Building we passed on the way to the Roadhouse restaurant and the wax museum on Wednesday,” she suggested.

“That ought to confuse anybody trying to figure out what we’re up to.”

“I’ll get Chester and we can work out the watch schedule.”

The spare bedroom was empty when Clare opened the door.

“Jack, he’s gone,” she exclaimed.

Jack came inside and they found one of the casement windows unlocked. When they looked outside the window, they saw a ledge that led to a fire escape ladder. Jack went out on the balcony and saw nothing but the crowds on the street below.

“I ought to have checked it out,” Jack mumbled. “Didn’t think the wimp had the gumption.”

“Now what?” Clare asked.

“That was a bad mistake on my part,” Jack said despondently. “He fooled us like rubes who had ridden into town on two mules.”

“We’ve still got his cell phone.”

Jack went to his bedroom to retrieve it. “Somebody called,” he said.

“Is it the same number that called before?”

“No, it’s a stateside number.”

“United States?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s odd.”

“Everything about this case is odd,” Jack replied. Then he called Loflin, told him what happened and gave him the new number.

So Cecil and Cornelia spent the next three days touring the museum, library and the wax museum, referring to themselves as Jim and Sue, Jane and Bill, and Buster and Sybil. Nobody else called. It wasn’t fun. They felt like children playing on a shark-infested beach, heedless of danger and it was their responsibility to keep from getting bitten.

Two days before they were to meet with Swede and Thaddeus, they received a package from the U.S. They spent the remainder of the time familiarizing themselves with arcane agricultural minutiae. 

Continued Next Month

 

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

Cliff and I travel October 26, 2000, his birthday.

Our destination: World Cup Tennis Tournament, 

To be played Tennis Club Argentina

Arrive at Buenos Aires, Argentina,

City of thirteen million people.

 

Veteran players, male and female, 

Ages thirty, forty, forty-five and fifty,

Would be there to seek world rankings,

My son Cliff one of them,   

 

At the hotel, Cliff arranges for a suite for

Himself, Bennett Sulzar of California, and me.

And we travel by foot to see the city.

We buy ice cream cones and 

Watch street artists paint sidewalks with

Puzzling dimensional drawings. Watch

colorfully costumed couple tango there.

 

Tournament hosts provide buses to travel

To and from the hotel to the club.

A taxi is engaged by stragglers,

I used one at least once.

One day I do a tour, buy postcards, stamps

And silver ring with two dolphins

For the only 20 dollars I have.  

 

Spring flowers, green lawns, palm trees.

Days vary from warm, sunny ones to

Chilly, cloudy day and I must shop for 

Something warm to wear.

Buy cable knit, peach wool sweater

With sleeves much too long.  

 

Elevated trestles, carry trains past the courts,

Airplanes flying past add to din

of spectators’ chatter and sound of 

tennis balls hitting taut strings.

Spectators exclaim, applaud.

Raquel, Mexican, World Women’s 35

Champion cheers: “Vamos, Cliff, Vamos!”

 

Between matches players scramble

For help to repair their bodies

And have rackets restrung

During lull, we eat and they talk

And strategize with partners.

 

Sitting, watching unidentified players,

I am surprised when a stranger

Comes over to me, bends down and

Kisses me first on one cheek and the other.

Language separates us.

So, I do not understand why.   

 

We seek food at various places

The cuisine is varied and good.

One evening at 6 o’clock

We seek Argentina steak and are

Told to wait until 10 o’clock. 

 

We enjoy the affectionate, happy

People who serve us everywhere. 

When Cliff, Bennett and I decide

To buy leather coats, the young attendant

Wears different colored leather pants

Each day we return and calls me “Mama,”

As she embraces me. 

 

Bennett and Cliff choose black, smooth,

Fortunately, no olive green, smooth available,

For my chartreuse suede, medium length

Continues to bring compliments to me.  

 

Women Championships finish first,

Raquel’s roommate leaves and

Our new friend joins us three,

In our hotel suite, which has four beds,

A curtain separates us from them. 

 

The sun grows warm and the hour, late.

Cliff and his partner, John Chatlak, are

Still in the tournament as the week ends.

Having advanced each round, they win

In their age division, third place doubles: 

ITF Medallion. 

 

 

Cauliflower Cheese Soup.jpgFrom the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza

 

Cauliflower Cheesy Soup

 

Ingredients:

4 thin slices bacon, cut into small bits

1 white onion, finely diced

1 head cauliflower, broken into small florets

1/2 teaspoon Cajun spice, or more to taste

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (I never use salt of any kind)

8 cups (2 quarts) low-sodium chicken broth

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk (I use skim)

1 cup half-and-half

3 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese, plus more for serving

1/4 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus more for serving

 

Instructions:

In a large pot, fry the bacon pieces over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain the bacon on a paper towel and set aside. Pour off the grease and return the pot to the stove.

Add the onions to the pot and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cauliflower, sprinkle with the Cajun spice and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cook, stirring, until the cauliflower starts turning golden brown, another 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture slightly, or all the way if you prefer. (Or use a regular blender; just don't fill too full.)

In a separate saucepan or skillet, melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to form a paste. Pour in the milk, then continue cooking until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the half-and-half.

Pour the white sauce into the soup. Turn the heat to medium high and bring back to a boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, stirring in the cheese and sour cream until the cheese is fully melted. Stir in the parsley.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with a little extra cheese, a sprinkle of bacon and a sprinkle of parsley.

 

 

Chunky Monkey Breakfast Bread

 

Chunky Monkey Bread.jpgIngredients:

2 pkg Crescent Rolls

1 cup Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips

2 Bananas

1 cup Light Brown Sugar

3 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1 cup Sweet Cream Butter – Quarters

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bunt pan.

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar and the cinnamon in a bowl. Slice the bananas in to 1/4 wheels. Set aside.

Remove the rolls from cans, slice each into 4 pieces, roll each piece in the cinnamon mixture. Place roll pieces into the bunt pan.

When you have a single layer of pieces of rolls sprinkle half of the chocolate chips and half of the bananas wheels over the rolls.

Repeat with remaining crescent roll pieces, bananas and chocolate chips. In microwave safe bowl melt the butter. Stir in the remaining cinnamon and sugar mixture and the remaining 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Pour over the rolls in the bunt pan.

Bake covered with foil for 30 min. Remove foil and continue baking for 25 minutes. Remove from oven allow to sit for 5 minutes. Flip on to a large plate. Slice or pull apart.

 

 

Strawberry Muffin Breakfast Cookies

 

Strawberry-Muffin-Breakfast-Cookies.jpgIngredients:

1 (7 oz) packet of Strawberry Quick Muffin Mix

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 (5.3 oz) container of Greek Strawberry Nonfat Yogurt (stir well as the fruit is on the bottom)

1 egg

 

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the muffin mix and oats. Add in the Greek yogurt and egg, and then mix well.

Using a cookie scoop, drop generous 2 tablespoon mounds of the muffin cookie batter at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until baked through and the edges are slightly golden brown. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, & then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

These breakfast cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

 

 

Twilight for the Gods

E. B. Alston

Part 3

 

The presentations began at one-thirty. The presentation team was as professional as any I had ever seen and they had all the latest audio-visual equipment. Their delivery was everything one could expect.

But the audience wasn’t listening. Some were drunk, some were sleeping, and some were engaged in heavy petting with the unattached lovelies. Some talked among themselves and others just stared at the ceiling. It was a scene straight from Hogarth in a modern setting. Since it was my job, as described by Jorge, I may have been the only one who listened to the program. The president was not there. I guess he was too embarrassed. Jorge was not there because the whole exercise meant nothing to him. One would not expect Christina to attend something like this.

This was the last day of the conference and everybody would leave tomorrow after they sobered up and had lunch. Then the president’s staff and advisors would meet in the afternoon and leave for home after dinner.

When I went to my room to dress for dinner, Christina met me in the hallway.

“I haven’t seen you with any of the girls.”

“They’re not my type.”

She laughed. “Are all American men as prudish as you are?”

“I was brought here against my will on a promise that this was going to be the chance of a lifetime and all I’ve seen has been a drunken bacchanal.”

“You should make the most of every opportunity,” she advised. “Things are not always what they seem.”

“Yeah, I know. But it still looks like a big waste of time and money.”

She pinched my cheek, “Cheer up neighbor. The night is young and you are the president’s honored guest.”

“Thanks for reminding me,” I grumbled.

She opened the door to her room and gave me her sweetest smile. “See you later.”

I went into my room and sat in the chair thinking about this whole farce.

Christina was part of it. I thought about what she said about making the most of every opportunity. She certainly practiced what she preached. That first time the president had her for dinner in his room, which she remembered with such romantic nostalgia, was a perfect example. If she had not been receptive to his advances, he would have raped her. She knew that as well as I did, yet she made it seem as if it were the high point in her life. 

It is hard to like these people.

I got ready and reported to my assigned post at the appointed time. Christina was sitting beside the president. Sitting beside me was one of the scandalously dressed unattached lovelies, smiling her sweetest smile and leaning over at every opportunity to show me her cleavage. She was clearly under orders to please me in the oldest old-fashioned way. I thought, what the hell. I would get drunk and see what would happen.

 

 

The following morning I woke up in the bed not remembering when I got in it. I felt horrible. I looked around and saw I was not in my room again and wondered whose I was in this time. Then I turned over and saw that I was not alone in the bed. I saw a mass of blonde hair. My “date” the night before had been a brunette. When the woman in bed with me moved and rolled over, I saw that it was Christina! God help me! I partied all night and ended up in bed with the president’s mistress. Now I know I will be shot! She stirred and opened her eyes.

“Good morning, neighbor.” She smiled.

“I’m sorry Christina. I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay. Someone else was in your room when I came to bed. I knew I’d be safe with you.”

I was relieved to know I hadn’t violated my host’s trust. “I’m glad you feel that way about me.”

“You are a nice man.”

She got up and looked out the French doors that led to the balcony. She was wearing nothing but panties. When she turned to face me I realized that every square inch of Christina’s body was the epitome of perfection. Not one mole, not one dark or light spot. Her form was symmetrically perfect with a flawless creamy white complexion. No wonder she was famous.

She noticed me staring. “You can love me if you like.”

I was startled and dumbfounded and it must have showed.

“It’s okay. I do it for Carlos because I must. I do it for you because you are nice.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say. She came close and took my face in those lovely hands. “Don’t worry. It means nothing to me.”

I sat on the bed before her without moving. My face was inches away from her perfect bosom, looking up at her perfect lips and lovely blue eyes, struck dumb by such beauty and unable to frame a response.

She smiled, putting the best face on my non-response to her offer. “You must feel terrible. We’ll do it later when you feel better.”

She called downstairs and ordered the concierge to come up and evict the interloper from my room so I could get ready for breakfast. Then she kissed my lips and helped me up and into my pants. The phone rang and somebody told her my room was now vacant.

“Take a shower,” she said. “You’ll feel better. I’ll see you at breakfast.” Then she pushed me out of her room.

I went into my room and sat down. My mind was processing a thousand thoughts a minute. The vision of her standing before me was permanently etched into my brain. No wonder she was so captivating. She was in a class with Helen, Queen of Sparta, and Cleopatra. I couldn’t decide whether I was lucky to have been hung-over or terribly unlucky. I undressed, got into the shower and started to come out of my mental fog.

Christina smiled when I sat down across from her in the dining room. “Feel better?” she asked.

“Much better, thank you.”

“At least the guests will be gone this evening.”

“Yes, that’s good. I don’t think I could take another party night.”

“Did you like Maria?”

“Maria?”

“The girl sitting beside you last night.”

“Oh, yeah. She was nice.” Actually I remembered very little about Maria because I was in a drunken haze.

“She said you were a gentleman all evening.”

“I tried to be.” That was a lie. My brain was numb. It occurred to me that she might not have wanted me to be such a “gentleman.”

“She said you were polite and witty and she would like to get to know you under more civilized circumstances.” Christina paused.

“Maria is quite attractive.”

“I assigned her the seat beside you because she grew up next door to my parents’ home.” She paused again and put her hand on mine. “Maria deserves a break. She is good and she is honest. She would make a wonderful wife and companion for a nice American like you.”

So it was a setup. Christina had tried to fix me up with a neighborhood girl. Maria did have an excellent figure and a perfect complexion like Christina. “I don’t think they’ll allow me to stay in your country after this is over.”

“That is correct. Jorge will have you deported tomorrow.”

“So you know the plan?”

“Some of it. Today is your last day in our country.”

“That doesn’t leave me much time to get to know Maria, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t. But I can arrange for her to visit you in the United States if you like.”

“I’ll think about it.”

She pressed a piece of paper in my hand. “This has my private contact information and her name, address and telephone number. Will you call or write her after you get home as a personal favor to me?”

Christina’s eyes betrayed an unusual urgency and I thought I saw a tear. “Allen, please rescue Maria. In the name of heaven, please help her.” It was the first time Christina had called me by my name. “Call me if you decide and I will smooth her way on this end.”

“I’ll think about it,” I repeated.

Jorge joined us followed by the president. The two men must have had a disagreement before they arrived at our table because neither said anything during the meal. Christina chatted away about who did what and who wore what during the festivities. She knew everybody who attended and carried on a conversation about them during the meal. The only response she got from the president and Jorge was a few grunts and nods. Both of them were thinking about other matters. You could have cut the tension with a knife.

As required, I attended the afternoon session of the conference. The president was not pleased about the way things had gone. The party atmosphere ruined everything he said. He all but laid the blame on Jorge but stopped short of accusing him of sabotaging the conference. Jorge was conspicuously absent. The meeting adjourned at four so we could prepare to leave the next morning. We were told to meet in the small banquet room for dinner.

Since I didn’t bring anything, I didn’t have to pack. I took a short nap, after which I went out on the balcony.

I was enjoying the lovely scenery one last time when Christina came out wearing a tight-fitting red outfit. Christina was too beautiful to actually be sexy but in this dress she came close.

“That is a fetching outfit.” I observed.

She giggled, “Tell me Mr. American neighbor, exactly what does ‘fetching’ mean in English.”

“It means you’re unusually attractive and sexy.”

“Then I’ll tell Carlos tonight that I am ‘fetching’ for him. He bought this for me and it is his favorite thing for me to wear.”

“Then he ought to be pleased.”

“I was hoping you could sit beside Maria at dinner but they sent her home today.”

“Tough luck for me,” I answered laconically.

“Really for her. Maria is a very special person and she grew up in great poverty. I was hoping you two would like each other.”

“She’s very pretty. I’m sure somebody will rescue her.”

“I want you to rescue her. She deserves a man like you who is honest, kind and gentle.”

“I’ll think about it, Christina.”

“I want you to, as a personal favor to me.”

“I will think about it,” I repeated.

“Promise me.” She wasn’t going to let me off the hook.

“I promise,” I replied without enthusiasm. It was hard to say no to Christina.

She went back inside. I decided to take a walk over the grounds before dinner. I noticed she didn’t remind me about her promise to make love to me when I felt better. I was glad she didn’t. That would have broken the spell she had over me.

 

Continued Next month

 

 A woman and her 12-year-old son were riding in a taxi in Detroit.  It was raining and all the prostitutes were standing under awnings.

"Mom," said the boy, "what are all those women doing?"

"They're waiting for their husbands to get off work," she replied.

The taxi driver turns around and says, "Geez lady, why don't you tell him the truth?  They're hookers, boy!  They have sex with men for money."

The little boy's eyes get wide and he says, "Is that true Mom?"

His mother, glaring hard at the driver, answers "Yes."

After a few minutes the kid asks, "Mom, if those women have babies, what happens to them?"
She said, "Most of them become taxi drivers."

 

 Contributors

 

P.L. Almanza: From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza; lives in Hamlet, North Carolina. She has been writing stories since she was four years old. Her first book, The East Side Killers came out in April 2014. Her cookbook, Family Meals and Desserts, came out in the summer of 2015. She is currently working on two new cookbooks 

 

E. B. Alston: Author, columnist, literary critic, and sometimes poet. His work has been published in various newspapers, telecommunications trade magazines, and books. He is the Managing Editor of the magazine.

 

Laura A. Alston: Dancing to the Sound of Laughter lives and writes in Inez, North Carolina. Her first book, My Pet Rocky Renee, was published in June 2010. In addition she has published Too Many Goodbyes, You Gave me Wings and a book of her collected poems, From My Heart to Yours

 

Rita Berman: Vita Sackville-West and Grandma Gatewood’s Walk; was born in London, England and now lives in Mebane, N.C. Her business, travel, and writing advice articles have been published in more than 500 diverse newspapers and magazines in the United States and Gt. Britain. Her reference book, The A-Z of Writing and Selling,  was a Writer's Digest Book Club selection for September 1981.  Her other books, available on Amazon.com are Still Hopping, Still Hoping, (2012), The Dating Adventures of a Widow, (2013), The Key, (2014), Parallel Lives, (2016), Ariana Mangum's Books and Columns (2017),and Military Wives and Widows Tell Their Stories, (2018).

 

Randy Bittle: Why the Greeks; is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning.  He has two books, both collections of essays, available on Amazon.com. His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.

 

John Burns: The Little Car Loaded With Beer Crosses the Border; “As a graduate student I could not afford to run the electric baseboard heater furnished by my landlord. Fortunately, my death was never recorded and I was able to earn my degree once I thawed out.”

 

Kevin Cadigan: The Friendship Ring That Failed; Retired college professor, taught British history, University administrator, Temple University, Philadelphia. Married, two children, a grandson, have lived most of  his life in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania and in Los Osos , California. Now living in a retirement community In Chapel Hill, North Carolina

 

Stephen Crane (1871-1900): XVIII; was born in 1871 in Newark, New Jersey. He was educated at Lafayette College and Syracuse University. ... In 1895, Crane published his second novel, The Red Badge of Courage. It was a powerful and realistic psychological portrait of a young soldier fighting in the American Civil War.

 

Brad Carver: Moccasin Gap; was a regular columnist. His book, Daddyhood, was published in 2007. Brad was a humorist, and friend who lived in Semora, North Carolina.  This is a reprint from November 2012. He is now deceased and I still miss him.

 

Peggy Lovelace Ellis, The Cologne Cathedral, World War II and Turning Left, has been a freelance editor for 48 years, and a published author for considerably less. Over the past 25 years, she has published regularly in such magazines as Good Old Days, Reminisce, Reminisce Extra, Rock and Gem, Aquarium, True Story, Splickety, Woman’s World, Highlights, and Righter Monthly/Quarterly Review. She publishes in the Divine Moments series, Merry Christmas Moments (November 2017) and The Right Words at the Right Time (forthcoming). She has compiled and edited three anthologies for her writers’ group: Challenges on the Home Front World War II (Chapel Hill Press, 2004), Lest the Colors Fade (Righter Books, 2008), and A Beautiful Life and Other Stories (Righter Books, 2010). Each contains her short fiction, memoirs, and research.

 

Diana Goldsmith: I Remember; Diana has been attending and now runs a shared learner’s ‘Writing for pleasure’ group for the past 8 years.  She is an avid reader especially historical crime and loves Anne Perry’s books about Victorian England. She lives in Chard, Somerset, UK.

 

Howard A Goodman: A Recipe For Disappointment and Remembering Her: A veteran of corporate society his entire working life, Howard discovered his passion for writing—an occupation that had lurked subliminally in his subconscious—thanks to the grim reality of suddenly being forced to make a major mid-life career transition. Though he didn’t grow up in the South and is not particularly partial to grits, Howard considers himself a Southern author of sorts. In contrast to those who spin tales of being raised dirt-poor on a tobacco farm, Howard's focus is on the lives of corporate professionals and their families—the thousands who flocked to the upscale cities and towns surrounding North Carolina’s high-tech Research Triangle Park—the Neo-Southerners. Howard resides with his wife in Cary, North Carolina.

 

Sybil Austin Skakle: A Previous Friendship, Awakening, Fish Song, and Buenos Ares, Argentina; grew up in Hatteras, NC, born January 10, 1926, was a hospital pharmacist for 23 years, has published poetry, Searchings, 2001; a memoir, Confessions of an Outer Banks Filly, 2002; another memoir Valley of the Shadow, 2009. Her work has appeared in periodicals and numerous poetry and prose anthologies, four of which were published by The Chapel Hill Writers’ Discussion Group. She has been a member of Friday Noon Poets for more than thirty years.    

 

Marry Williamson: Do You Remember; lives in Chard, Somerset, England. She was born in the Netherlands and moved to Britain in 1966. She worked for an Anglo-Dutch company in London. In 1999, Marry and her husband retired and moved to Chard, Somerset. Her hobbies are writing, reading, bird watching, and exploring ancient monuments. She is a member of a local writers’ group in England.

 

Tim Whealton: The Big Lie: writes a regular column from New Bern, NC. He is a gunsmith whose shop is in Cove City, North Carolina. His book, Acc