My Life of Crime

Browsing through a favorite book, published for writers, and entitled  “642 Things To Write About, ” I came across one suggestion that presented a really intriguing challenge.

“You are a customer lying face down on the floor, observing a bank robbery. Describe the robbery from this vantage point.”

Who could resist a dare like that?  It took some thinking before I finally came up with a scenario I liked. See what you think:

“Here I am, floating face down in a warm, ever widening puddle.  If only these hard tiles were covered with soft, plush carpeting,  that might soak up some of this puddle before I drown in it. How can one human bladder hold so much liquid? Stark fear will do that to you.

“This was supposed to be a quick errand, a brief dash into my bank to cash a check. I was wearing some old sweats and a cap pulled down over my dark glasses. I’ll admit I may have looked a bit sinister.

“I carried a pouchy  “Save-At-Sam’s” tote bag in one hand and my checkbook in the other.  The tote bag was just in case there was enough money left in my dwindling account to do a bit of shopping afterward.  Having succumbed to AMAZON PRIME’s online lures too many times, my financial situation was looking pretty grim.

“Just then the man at the counter ahead of me whirled around, shoved something down into my  “Save-At-Sam’s” tote and gave me a mighty push. So, here I am, flat on my face, handcuffed, on the verge of drowning, lying on top off my tote bag and staring up at a circle of black boots, black pant legs and drawn guns.  A hard, metallic- feeling object is digging into my ribs and I can only think “It’s a gun! I’ll be shot in the gullet before I drown! Which would be worst?”

“I’m jerked roughly to my feet, dripping wet and stinky, thrown in the back of a police car and  hauled off to the poky. The interrogation is not nice. My squishy appearance, my smell, the cocked gun and the poorly printed note pulled out of my tote don’t help my case. I keep insisting  “I know how to spell, I would never spell MONEY like that! I know how to spell MONEY, it has an E in it, it’s not MONY.”

“They finally buy my story when they find no  MONY on me, and a transient is apprehended while running madly through traffic, carrying a bank bag stuffed full of MONY.

“And so ends my life of crime, with me reeking of urine, shaking in my boots and vowing  to do all my banking on line in the future.

“Oh Yes, I’ll cut back on my AMAZON PRIME orders too so I don’t get that broke again.  For a brief moment there, I’ll admit, I was tempted to use the note and the gun for my own benefit.”

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Summer’s Favorite Foods, Fresh and Tasty

As a child, I spent most of my summers with my grandparents on   a small acreage near a very small town in northern Iowa. By the time I arrived the gardens were already producing their scrumptious goodies and I was ready for all my hot weather favorites.

Fresh strawberries were usually the first fruits of the summer to appear and in my memory they were bigger, redder and sweeter than any berries since.  Served over hot, crusty biscuits with frothy, fresh cream, or sliced atop my morning oatmeal, they were heavenly.

There was no electricity or refrigeration on the little farm so fresh foods were keep in the old fashioned storm cellar where it was always cool. My chore was to go down at mealtime and bring up the milk, cheese, butter or other foods needed for each meal. That smooth dirt floor felt wonderful on bare feet.  I always took a minute to admire the jars of jewel-like fruits, jams and relishes beginning to fill the shelves, as canning season was already underway.

As the radishes, green onions and lettuces began to pop up, we would pick those and enjoy them every day.  Grandma prepared salads of wilted lettuce, simply made by piling a mound of fresh crispy greens in a bowl, frying out some bacon bits, grease and all, adding a little vinegar,   and a dash of sugar, and pouring this over the lettuces at the last minute. UMMMM!, better than any salads since then.

I loved the new carrots right out of the ground,  not even bothering to wash them off. A quick brush with a grubby hand and they were crunched down.  What was a little good honest dirt to a hungry kid? New baby potatoes creamed with new peas was another mouth-watering dish.

Brilliant red beets, greens and all, were served hot and buttery, or sometimes pickled.  Nothing better! And who hasn’t loved picking a fresh tomato right off the vine? They had a flavor you never get today.  Warm, red and juicy, I often sat down right next to a plant and stuffed myself. Cabbages were crispier, sweet corn was sweeter  and green beans were snappier back then. Northern Iowa didn’t have a long growing season but canning season lasted all summer.

When the local grocer advertised fresh peaches, Grandpa would be sent off to buy a few lugs. Grandma would remind him not to ever bring home the Clingstones, they were much too much work  for the poor results. Unfortunately there came a summer when Grandpa’s thrifty ways and hard times combined to overcome common sense and he brought home several lugs of Clingstones. Talk about a role reversal!  My stern, autocratic Grandpa was cowed as my sweet, soft spoken Grandma blistered his ears. He tippy-toed around for the rest of the day, avoiding the kitchen, but she managed to do her usual good job.

Sitting on the back porch with Grandma and any aunts or older cousins who had come to help her shell peas was such fun. My system was a handful of fresh peas for my mouth and a handful for the pan.

Sundays were family days when carloads of relatives would swing into the yard, honking and waving. Grandpa and Grandma were always up before dawn and he would hurry through the  chores and help her chase down 3 or 4 squawking, scattering chickens. They were be-headed and de-feathered in no time and Grandma had them floured and seasoned, ready for the frying pan by the time the cars were unloaded and dishes of wonderful  good smelling foods were brought in.

Fragrant pies oozing juices, and at least one cake from my cake-baking aunt would fill up the kitchen.  Good natured joshing went back and forth between those who put mustard in their potato salad and those who didn’t. Jellos were popular but with no refrigeration they had to be whisked down into the cellar and then whisked back up to the groaning table at the last minute.

Hot yeast rolls and the old brown pottery bean pot, simmering and fragrant,  were taken out of the oven of the cast iron cook stove at the last minute. Lemonade was poured and everyone sat down and gave hasty thanks for Nature’s bounty.

No BBQs in those days, no steaks, burgers or hot dogs, just mounds of crisp fried chicken and platters of ham or meat loaf.  Home-churned ice cream and watermelon rounded out the meal for those who had a little room left in their tummies.

After the feast the men would adjourn to cigars and politics in the backyard while the women tidied up and we children ran wild, tearing  around with our cousins. Maybe those were the good old days, but some things never seem to change.

We were all guaranteed a good night’s sleep after one of those wonderful Sundays.  Even our dreams were sweeter.

Making Conversation

Is there anything more trying than trying to make conversation?  What do you say when you don’t know what to say? How do you converse with someone when you’re stuck in an awkward situation?

Say you’re strolling down the street with a good friend.  You run into a friend of hers whom she greets effusively. Just as she begins the introductions, her phone rings.  She excuses herself to take the call, leaving you staring at the stranger who is staring back at you. What to say?

“Um-Uh, nice day, isn’t it?”  “Yes, isn’t it?” “Er-Ah, Yesterday was nice too.”  “Yes, wasn’t it?” “Ah-Uh, I hear it might rain tomorrow.”  “Yes, it might.”

And so it goes until your friend mercifully finishes her long-winded call and returns to her friend and you. After all that,  it turns out she’s mistaken a total stranger for someone she thought she knew, excuses are made and the stranger walks away, shaking her head.  You glare at your friend, finding quite a lot to say to her.

Or maybe you’re at a reception, standing alone.  A very attractive older gentleman, silver hair neatly gleaming , has been eyeing you.  He approaches with the tired old line, “Haven’t we met before?” He looks harmless and interesting so you rather daringly flutter your lashes and simper  “Perhaps.”

He replies,  “Let me ask my wife. She’s right over here and she remembers everyone.”  and he calls a lovely blonde over, explains the situation and disappears, leaving you floundering.

“Um-Ah, Nice day, isn’t it?”  etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Maybe you run into your very first boyfriend on a trip back to your old hometown.  You stare at each other in disbelief, meanwhile both thinking the same thought, “Yuck! I might have married that  weirdo.” There seems to be nothing to say. “Um. Uh, Hi there. Nice day isn’t it?” “Yeah, Hi to you too. Ah, er,  yes, very nice day.” ‘‘Blah, blah, blah. “ Another total impasse.

And occasionally there’s the reverse, where you’re trying not to make conversation.  You’re on a plane preparing for a long flight. You’re seated between 2 ladies who immediately set up a “let’s get acquainted”  chat over your head. All you want to do is find out who really done it in the last 100 pages of a gripping Whodunit. but they seem determined to be sociable and to include you in their visit.

Before you know it you’re confiding the ages  of your children, and sharing the horrors of childbirth with 2 people you’ve never seen before and will never see again.  Enough! Much better to be stuck searching for words than babbling on about your most personal life.

And then there are those thankfully few occasions when you make too much conversation, as in foot-in-mouth,  where no amount of apology will get rid of the humiliation of something you just blurted out, causing hurt feelings and dirty looks.

I still cringe when I recall bending over my neighbor’s baby, gurgling and cooing in her crib.  What I thought I was saying was, “What an adorable looking baby!” and what came out was “What a deplorable looking baby!”  Now, how do you un-say that? My neighbor still isn’t speaking to me.

So, yes, you can make too much conversation.  Better that we stick to commenting on the weather, no matter how boring it may be.

Downsizing

I think I’ve owned at least one of everything ever made at least once in my life. Looking back over countless moves through the years, I realise I’ve downsized every time, tossing out or donating boxes and bags of STUFF with each move, then ending up having to replace most of it as I settle into my new location.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? My reasoning? Always aiming towards simplifying my life by paring my belongings back to basics, yearning for that elusive feeling of not being owned by things.

Take for example a simple item like a shoe horn. Does anyone even own shoe horns anymore? With the popularity of velcro straps, loafers, tennies and flip flops, who needs shoe horns in today’s world? Apparently I do.

I came across two while packing for my most recent move (which happened to be the 39th move of my adult life). This discovery brought me to a halt while I dithered over those shoe horns. At least one had to go, if not both. I pondered. So did I dump them both into the nearest trash can? Well, no, not exactly.

That old bugaboo, “what if?” or “just in case” crept into my thinking. Let’s see now, I’m getting older. It’s getting harder to reach my feet. I may find a need for orthopedic type shoes in the near future. “What if” I suddenly needed a shoe horn and couldn’t find one? After all, they don’t take up much space. I’d better keep one “just in case.”

Then the next big decision – which one? – the handy little plastic one or the longer metal one?

Well, you guessed it. As I’m unpacking my belongings in my new home, there they are, both shoe horns, ready to use, “just in case.”

No wonder my downsizing efforts never work very well. When you multiply two tiny shoe horns by the many things it takes to run one of today’s households, you soon develop a real problem.

How many people do you know who own two refrigerators, one in the kitchen and one in the garage for the sodas and beer? Plus a freezer! This is in spite of the fact that no one is ever more than ten minutes away from a Mini-mart, a Quickee-mart or a Super-mart? At least I’ve never owned two refrigerators at the same time, not yet.

I’ve finally had to face the fact that the more things I get rid of, the more I replace. My feeble attempts at downsizing are doomed from the start. No wonder the landfills are overflowing.

I still long for a simpler life. Maybe someday I’ll get there, just as soon as I can get rid of those two shoe horns.

Creative Writing

My brother recently gave me a book entitled “642 Things To Write About.” As he handed it to me he commented,  “Here’s how to make a success of your writing. Just write about writing.” Simple! That made me think of all the  “How To For Dummies” books out there, and the endless supply of advice about beating the stock market and other Get-Rich-Quick schemes.  “How To Become A Millionaire Overnight,” now that’s always a winner. Advice is so easy to hand out but somehow so hard to put to use.

Scanning my gift  book, I’m soon bursting with new ideas, not 642 of them, but I do find lots of suggestions.  Some are challenging, some frivolous and some impossible. A lot of them leave me wondering “Why?” or “How?”

Opening my new book to the very first challenge on the very first page I read  “What can happen in a second?” Well, that’s easy, “Almost Anything,” I answer. Peeking ahead to the last challenge on the last page, my eyes pop as I read “Write your obituary.”  Now that one will take a little thought. In between, I scan page after page, amazed at the myriad possibilities.

Here’s a good one, “An argument at a Sunday dinner.”  My response, “I’m not carving today. Since Uncle Fred cut off both thumbs over the Thanksgiving turkey, someone else has to, not me.  I just paid $50 for a manicure. That’s $5 a nail and I can’t afford to lose one.”

Next comes “You’re in the interviewing stage of the Miss America contest. Besides your desire for world peace, what will you tell the judge?”  I answer, “My curves may have shifted a little over the years but they’re still there, plus a few more. And grey is a color, if you’re wondering about my hair.  Don’t be an ageist.”

Suggestion – “A perfect meal.”  My reply, “Any that ends with a chocolate frosted brownie.”

This is fun.   I rush on:

“Two guys walk into a bar.”  I scoff at this one: “Oh, Please! Not those same two guys again. They’ve been walking into that bar through at least 50 old jokes. They never do get far enough inside to get a decent  drink. Give ‘em a break.”

“What you won’t touch with a 10 foot pole.  Why?” I wrote, “My toes. I’m too short.”

“The corpse you saw in the undertaker’s window.”   “It winked at me. When I winked back it sat up and whistled. I should have stayed home and handed out Halloween candy but I wanted to see the decorations around town.”

Another suggestion,  “You forgot to pay your credit card bill.”  I come up with the following explanation: “Well, it was like this,  I was headed for my desk, checkbook in hand, when the phone and the doorbell rang at the same time. I answered the phone as I headed for the door. It was my bank.  A very nasty voice began ranting at me about my overdrawn checking account. I tried to explain but they wouldn’t listen so I slammed the phone shut. Sheesh, no sense of humor at all.  Meanwhile the doorbell kept ringing and in my rush to open it I tripped and fell, spraining both ankles and my right wrist. I dragged myself to the door, managed to open it with my left hand and looked up from the floor into the really angry face of a process server who jammed a sheaf of papers into my good hand and stomped off.

In my pain I had to call out to my neighbor for help as my family has deserted me and my friends no longer come around.  He called an ambulance and he’s texting this message to you for me, dear, sweet, friendly credit card people. Just as soon as I can swing a loan I’ll settle with the bank, the utilities, and a few other little obligations, then I promise I’ll pay your bill. Meanwhile just ignore the $380 I spent this morning at the BonTon Boutique, I’ll get to that later.”

Hey, I’m getting to like these writing ideas. I’m quite proud of that  last excuse. Let’s go for another idea. O.K, how’s this? “Write an X-rated Disney scenario.”  I write, “Mickey and Porky Tell All! Reveal details of their secret lives and show their private photo collections!”

Next one, “Summarize your dog’s life in less than 4 paragraphs.”  Do they mean my precious widdow FluffyBelle’s life? I could never do that in 4 paragraphs.  Or do they mean the dog’s life I led for 5 years before I finally threw my deadbeat 3d husband out?  Or was it the 4th?

Here’s a fun one,  “Write a poem about a tomato.”  I can do better than that, I’ll write a song, to the tune of The Girl From Ipanema.   “Short and round and soft and squishy, The red tomato goes rolling by. And when it rolls, each one who sees it goes  A-A-H.”

“Write about your worries 5 years from now,  10 years, 30 years.” Are they kidding? I’m in my nineties, I’m worried about the  next 5 minutes! 5 years from now I’ll be just a memory, 10 years and I’ll be a distant memory, and in 30 years they’ll be doing rubbings off my gravestone trying to decipher the dates.”

“Toto, if we’re not in Kansas anymore where are we?”   “Another darned tornado messed up my GPS.”

“Those men your mother always warned you about.”  “I married one. Mother was right.”

“Write a story using 4  L words: Lipstick, Lust, Loss and Locked.”   “My Lust for that Lipstick would create a huge Loss in my disposable income, so I Locked my wallet away, licked my lips and lost my Lust.”

“The biggest lie anyone ever told you.”   “Of course I’ll marry you, just as soon as I get back from my  honeymoon.”

And on we go: “Write the lyrics for a catchy jingle for a plumbing service.”   “Plunge in and Flush Away, Flush Away, Flush Away All.”

“You’re a Nigerian e-mail scammer. Write an e-mail that will convince the recipient to send you $200.”  I write “Please help me. I’m an American stranded in Nigeria, being held for ransom. They’re asking for 2 million dollars but will settle for  $200 if you hurry. p.s. Don’t use bitcoins.”

And last but not least:  “Describe your grandfather’s girlfriend.”   “What! Ick! Gross! Never!! He’s ancient, at least 70!  What’s this? You saw him with a curvaceous blonde bimbo in stilettos? What on earth would he do with somebody like that? And what would she want with a dried up old man like him?  Of course, he is a millionaire.”

Well, there you have it, a few samples of things to write about.  Only 600 and some to go and I can publish my book. I’ll call it “Writing For Dummies.”  Then I can sit back and wait for my success.

I wonder just how many copies of “642 Things To Write” actually sold.

Oh, yes, I really did write my own obituary a while back. I didn’t come out of it too well.  It was terribly hot down there and all my papers burned.

Off to the Land of Oz, Part 4 of 4 (from my memoir)

Aboard our plane, a 747,  landing in Tahiti was definitely white knuckle. We dropped lower and lower on our approach, tossing and wobbling in a violent thunderstorm, and there was nothing to be seen out either side of the plane but turbulent waves. Somehow, what seemed like hours later, a very capable pilot found the landing strip, surely the narrowest landing strip on this planet, and all was well except my nerves, which took quite a while to settle.

Papeete looked just like it should look, a little shabby, lots of colonial structures, no high rises except for a few hotels, flowers everywhere, with everything damp.  The atmosphere was definitely tropical, muted sunlight, deep blues and greens of the ocean, and gaudily colored plants and flowers smelling rich and slightly musky, There was no harbor;  numbers of sailboats were anchored offshore along a long narrow beach, and commercial docks were small and scarce. In fact, the entire country looked just like a Gauguin painting with deep, shadowed jungle and high, narrow waterfalls like shimmering ribbons and riotous flowers.

French is, of course, the language spoken and my one year of high school French didn’t get us very far. English was fairly common so there was no real problem. With boats from around the world in the anchorage,  every imaginable language was heard. Having had a Tahitian friend some years earlier I had grown used to her sweet, languid approach to life, typical of her Polynesian countrymen.

We spent a few days exploring, meanwhile  deploring the outrageous price of everything.  Fresh seafood was wonderful, as to be expected, as was the fresh produce, but a decent meal cost a small fortune and salad greens, being imported, were very dear.

We took a bus tour around the island, being very eager to visit the Paul Gauguin museum on the back side. It was disappointingly small, with only one of the master’s works on display. It had been painted during his early period in Normandy, a preview of his great talent, but a far cry from his glorious Tahitian works.

A short trip by motor launch took us to the nearby island of Moorea, 10 miles out. Our hotel was brand new, right on the beach and very comfortable and I got the worst sunburn of my life. Having lived in the tropics for 12 years, I knew I was breaking all the rules about sunning, but I had a hard time staying inside. Lynn had a voyeur’s holiday with all the French mademoiselles lounging around topless.

W arranged a tour around the island the first morning. I was waiting in the lobby wondering where he’d disappeared to when he came dashing in waving his arms. “Cancel the tour! I’ve rented a motorbike!”

My heart sank; I remembered one disastrous trip on a bike with him some years back, but realizing how small the island was, how could we get in trouble?  I hopped on the back and we putted off. It was fun, stopping to beachcomb, chat with passersby, and explore coves and inlets. The road was level and skirted the beach, the inland being mountainous. Suddenly Lynn veered off on a gravel side road and we began to climb. A sharp turn ahead, too much speed and I was dumped off the rear end as the bike went down.

So there I sat again, legs skinned and bleeding, mad as a wet hen. Apologies didn’t help; I’d known better than to get on that cursed machine. Being aware of that made me even madder. That dare-devil never could resist  the lure of a gravel road with twists and turns in it.

Between the major sunburn on the top and those raw, scraped legs, the rest of my time on Moorea was spent quietly. Warm sea water can be very healing so I basked in any shady cove I could find.

Strolling along the road near our hotel one morning, we met a couple from New Zealand carrying a bag of groceries from a tiny market nearby. They had won their trip to Moorea in a raffle, airfare and lodging for a week, but were leaving the next morning after only 2 days. Their problem? They couldn’t afford the food, were reduced to eating a few scanty snacks and were nearly broke. I guess it was a case of be careful what you wish for.

Our time and money were getting a little low too by then and we decided we’d been gone long enough; we were missing our family and it was time to get back to reality ourselves. The long trip back to Los Angeles was uneventful. I managed to cope with peeling skin and legs that didn’t want to bend, and we stepped off the plane after nearly 5 months of what had been truly the trip of a lifetime.

The Grand and Glorious Fourth!

If there was ever a dark and rainy 4th of July during the years of my childhood, I don’t remember it.  In my memory the 4th of July was always bright, sunny and hot. And how we looked forward to it! The 4th came around at the perfect time.  Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was known then, marked the end of the school year and the start of our long happy summers, and Labor Day meant back to school and other  serious pursuits.

But the 4th was the perfect holiday, a day everyone could revel in,  meaningful, colorful, noisy and loud. There were parades, family picnics, band concerts in the park at dusk, and firecrackers vying with fireflies to light up the evening.

In our town of 30,000 mid-westerners,  patriotism ran high, with the country caught between two major world wars and in the middle of a deep depression. Times were hard but the 4th seemed to help everyone forget their troubles for one glorious, fun-filled day.

We’d line up along the sidewalks early in the morning, waiting for the parade, sitting on the gritty curbs to get the best viewing spots. Every heart swelled with pride when the bands began to play and the American flag appeared in all its beauty, carried by a snappy color guard. Convertibles with local dignitaries, and floats decorated with crepe paper and pretty girls rolled past and we cheered them all.  Clowns rode funny cars and threw candy.

Everyone grew silent and respectful as the float filled with World War One veterans  rolled past. They always amazed me, they were so old! In the mid to late 1930s they were probably in their 40s but I thought they were ancient. The poor guys were stuffed into their old khaki wool uniforms, They had to be miserably hot but they smiled and waved cheerfully.

My favorite part of the parade was always the marching bands, led off by our high school band, The strutting drum major and the majorettes were spiffy in their red and black uniforms.  In later years it was such fun to look for one of our younger brothers, the smallest member of his middle school band with the biggest instrument, his tuba bobbing along above the crowd and nothing to be seen of him.

Those hot afternoons were often taken up with family picnics and visiting.  Fried chicken, potato salad and corn on the cob, with watermelon for dessert were always on the menu.  Fruit jars full of tart lemonade were soon emptied. My mother, wise woman that she was, always brought an extra fruit jar full of soapy water and a washcloth to keep sticky hands and faces clean as we tore around with the cousins.

Band concerts in the park rounded out the day and we listened to all the well-loved patriotic songs that we still enjoy.  Fireworks weren’t the big extravaganza they are today, but the boys saved up their coins to buy a few, and then couldn’t wait until dark to start setting them off.  I was terrified of them, they seemed so dangerous, but somehow there were never any serious accidents that I can recall.

At last bedtime would roll around and we exhausted kids were sometimes allowed to sleep outside on the cool green grass rather than in our stifling hot bedrooms, at least until the mosquitoes drove us inside.  Then we’d line up on the living room floor, hoping for a stray breeze to find us.

Our dreams were full of music, marching, good food, and the pop and bang of firecrackers.  Another 4th of July had passed, building up memories for us to look back on and remember with nostalgia.