Jack Cowherd (NOT Cow-erd) has just been elected Governor of Texas when he learns that Texas is no longer part of the United States—it happened fast, and not the way you think—and he’s actually President of the brand new Second Republic of Texas. After a ceremony at the State Capitol, Jack, his wife Nadine (well endowed, but not with brains), his chief of staff Tasha Longoria (overqualified in both brains and common sense), newly dug-up chauffeur Rusty. and “fuzzy-cheeked” aide Shane arrive Austin’s Camp Mabry to inspect the Texas Freedom Militia. When you don’t have an official military, you go with what you’ve got.
They arrived at Camp Mabry, once home to the Texas National Guard; now occupied by the Texas Freedom Militia. Rusty slowed the Lincoln and turned into the main entry drive. Two camo-clad militia members immediately stepped out of a small booth in front of the gate. One held up his hand. Rusty braked to a stop.
The militiaman with his hand up ambled over to the driver’s window. Rusty lowered it and stuck his head out. “We’re here for the inspection,” he said.
The militiaman said, “May I see your papers, please?”
“We don’t have any papers,” said Rusty. “We’re not with the militia.”
“I know that, sir. That’s why I need to see some identification.”
Rusty smiled. “Oh, why didn’t you say so?” He handed over a card from his wallet.
The militiaman scrutinized the plastic card. “This is your Costco membership, sir. I need your driver’s license.”
“Uh, the thing is, I don’t have it on me.”
“What?” said Tasha. “You’re the driver and you don’t have a license?”
“I have a license. I just don’t have it here, is all.”
“Well, where is it?”
Rusty furrowed his brow. “You know, I think I left it at the bowling alley last night when I rented these shoes.” He pulled a foot onto the seat to show Shane. “See, I’m still wearing them.”
Shane said, “He’s right, ma’am. Those are bowling shoes.”
The militiaman leaned in toward Rusty. “I can’t let you in wearing bowling shoes, sir.”
“What difference does it make what shoes I’m wearing?”
“What I mean is, you can’t come in without identification.”
Tasha opened her door and stepped out of the car. The second militiaman jumped back, whipped out a Glock pistol, and pointed it at her. “Get back in the car right now!”
Tasha glared at him. “Or what, you’ll shoot the president’s chief of staff?”
The militiaman lowered the gun in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“Look in the back seat. That’s Jack Cowherd, president of the Republic of Texas.”
The man peered into the car. “Shit, Lonnie, she’s right. They could have told us.”
“Well I’ll be goddamned,” said the man called Lonnie. “What brings you to Camp Mabry, sir?”
Jack got out of the car. “General Cummings invited me to inspect the troops You boys don’t want to keep him waiting, do you?”
“No, sir!” said Lonnie, saluting. “Nate, put that gun away.”
Nate quickly holstered the pistol. “Sorry, sir . . . ma’am. Just trying to be safe, you know. Just last week they caught a Muslim terrorist over in Copperas Cove.”
“That wasn’t no terrorist,” said Lonnie. “That was a Mexican woman at the swimming pool with a towel on her head.”
“Yeah, but they didn’t know that until they pulled it off and she yelled something in Spanish.”
Tasha said, “I’ll bet it was ‘Give me my towel back, you idiot.”
“No, I think it had more cuss words.”
“Excuse me, boys,” said Jack, “y’all are doing a fine job but I wonder if we could go meet the general now.”
“Yes, sir!” the militiamen shouted in unison. They stepped away from the car and raised the gate.
Jack and Tasha got back in the Lincoln. As the car rolled trough the gate Tasha noticed both guards snapping iPhone pictures of the vehicle. Rusty said, “Damn, I’ll sleep better tonight knowing they caught that Isis woman in Copperas Cove.”
Says the author, “The Republic of Jack is a whimsical imagining of a world in which modern Texas secessionists get their way, only to learn that Aesop was right so many years when he wrote, ‘Be careful what you wish for.'”
I purchased the ones I’m wearing three years ago, about a year after completing several months of chemotherapy. I’m not surprised that my vision has changed since then. I am surprised that distance vision has improved.
I take my glasses off when I drive, a no-no in the sight of the law. If the DMV ever opens again, I’m going to run right down, take the test, and get the corrective lenses restriction taken off my license.
If the ophthalomologist ever opens again, I’m going to run right down and get a new prescription—clear glass (polycarbonate?), with a near vision bifocal.
Although, who knows? Given enough time, maybe the near vision will straighten itself out, too.
Regarding victims: I’m not one.
I’m sitting in my living room with husband and cats, a view of trees and grass, occasionally a dog leashed to its walker, squirrels skittering by. TV, laptop, e-reader, wi-fi. Food on the shelf and on order, retailers ready to ship or deliver. Taking care of myself, being taken care of.
I’m not having the time of my life. I miss sitting in a coffee shop with my critique group, attending Sisters in Crime meetings, wandering through bookstores, going to movies, doing what I want, when I want. I need a haircut and some new clothes, or I would need new clothes if I were going anywhere.
I’m classed as high-risk, so venturing out can be scary. I’m sad. I’m worried. Some days I’m depressed. I can’t imagine a future any different from today.
I’m angry at government corruption and mismanagement and negligence in the face of the pandemic. I’m angry at ignorance and stupidity and selfishness and cruelty displayed by people old enough and smart enough to do better. I’m angry at the arrogance of Rugged Individualists who proclaim that the government has no responsibility at all in this crisis, that each person is responsible for his own survival, period.
In fact, I’m a lot of things.
But so what?
I haven’t lost my job. I’m not waiting for an overdue unemployment check or worrying that my business will fail. I’m not a single parent homeschooling my children while working from home, or while not working at all.
I’m not a doctor or nurse or respiratory therapist. I don’t clean hospital rooms or keep the A/C operating. I don’t do other essential work and wonder if my mask and gloves are protecting me, and whom I need protection against.
A friend’s mother has died of COVID-19. A former student, now a medical doctor, has COVID. A cousin can’t visit her husband at the nursing home where he lives; they’ve been married more than sixty years, and she can’t visit him.
I haven’t lost someone I love. I haven’t been barred from seeing someone I love.
My husband is here with me and he’s well.
I’m bored, and I need a haircut.
If I want to be a victim, I’ll have to come up with a lot better excuse than that.
Regarding videos: Laughter may not be the best medicine, but it’s good for the immune system and the emotions and can be an effective painkiller, and a movie that makes you laugh is a joy forever.
I went in for a regular infusion appointment today. In place of a purse, I took a large zip-lock bag containing driver’s license, insurance cards, phone, cash, two pens, three sheets of copy paper (used to be typing paper), a package of Kleenex, keys, and hand sanitizer; and a blue pillowcase containing Chromebook, mouse, and Kindle.
The zip-lock bag is my new washable purse. The pillowcase is my new washable tote. They make me feel a bit like Little Orphan Annie.
I also took my cane. Just in case.
After passing the temperature check in the foyer, I tripped over my cane three times getting to the waiting room fifteen feet away, signed in, sat down, and put the zip-lock bag into the pillowcase. It’s easier not to trip over your cane when possessions are consolidated into one faux handbag.
Three hours later, back at home, I tossed my clothes and the pillowcase into the washer and myself into the shower. I used an alcohol wipe on Chromebook, Kindle, mouse, phone, Kleenex, keys, pens, zip-lock bag, and hand sanitizer. I trashed the copy paper. I disinfected cane, door knobs, light switches, and bathroom. I dumped driver’s license, insurance cards, and cash into a drawer rarely opened, where they’ll be quarantined until I need them, probably three weeks from today, when I go back for another round of drugs.
Here’s the thing:
It’s like, once upon a time, people took a shower and then went to the doctor.
Now, they take a shower and go to the doctor, and then go home and take a shower.
The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!
~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet,
Act I. scene v.
Today I had a temper fit.
It had been building. In fact, it’s a wonder I didn’t lose my equanimity months ago.
The catalyst: I read a bit of non-faux journalism that suggests certain of the Powers That Be don’t think I’m—how shall I put it?—too big to fail.
And it didn’t set well. Hence the fit.
Let me be clear: It was not a major fit. No yelling, no screeching, no smashing of Waterford or Royal Doulton with Hand-painted Periwinkles.
Lobbing china at the hearth might be therapetic, as Barney Fife used to say, but it also ends with a lot of sweeping and mopping, and, if the S&M aren’t done properly, the tweezing of tiny participles* out of the soles of one’s feet.
I’m more of a venter than a lobber. The disadvantage of venting is that ventees think I’m either (a) complaining (not so, just saying how it is), or (b) wanting them to fix it (not so, just saying how it is).
But today venting seemed appropriate, so I engineered a venting fit. First, I cooled down. Active anger results in tangled thoughts and words. So I centered.
Then I emailed two of my elected representatives, stated my concern, and asked what they think about the issue. Next, I told them what I think and, in measured but no uncertain terms, advised them they’d better agree with me and act accordingly.
I do not expect them to agree or to act accordingly.
I do expect to receive, via email, replies so patronizingly and condescendingly irritating that I’ll be tempted to lob hand-painted periwinkles at the hearth.
But I shall not lob. I shall engineer another venting fit.
I do not expect to set everything right—after all, if Hamlet, who was a lot savvier than I, was unsuccessful at rooting out corruption in government, I doubt my paltry efforts would have much effect.
But I will use my time wisely. I will exercise my Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech.
I will email the Powers That Be.
And if the PTB find those emails patronizing, condescending, and irritating, I’ll have done what I set out to do.
A Facebook friend asks what we’ve accomplished during this week of sheltering in place.
On Sunday, I wore matching socks.
Things have gone downhill since.
Sleep deprivation takes its toll. Reasons are varied and fixes limited. And unpleasant. I don’t mind meditating, but I do mind turning off screens an hour before bedtime so my “overly sensitive” pineal glad isn’t exposed to too much blue light.
I also mind not being able to write at night, which is my most creative time.
I’ll do what I’m supposed to, but I won’t like it.
Last night, dead tired after three wakeful nights, I fell into bed, certain I would immediately pass out. Instead, before Morpheus overtook me, I thought about Donny. He’s a fifteen-year-old boy, lives on a South Texas ranch, and has raised a Brahman bull from an orphan calf. He’s having trouble letting go of his friend, and more trouble avoiding a no-account ranch hand who’s taken a dislike to them both.
Donny is a sweet boy. I’ve known him since I created him four years ago. Our relationship was difficult at times until I backed off and let him figure out how to solve his own problems. But he’s done well. Now it’s my turn.
Consequently, he’s been on my mind a lot lately, and last night when the thought of him floated through, my brain switched on, and the revising began: In the first scene, Donny says this—should he say that instead? Or should he say nothing at all?
And so it went, and so it goes.
Again, night has fallen, and after a day of feeling ratty from lack of sleep, I’ve suddenly revived. I want to write.
I’ve yielded to temptation: The laptop should have been turned off three hours ago, but I’m still writing. I feel better now than I did when I began this post, right after dinner. Chances are when I get to bed, I’ll still be thinking about Donny.
This has to stop. When I don’t get enough sleep at night, I can’t work during the day. I must write.
When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before;
you see more in you than was there before. ~ Clifton Fadiman
The first years I studied Romeo and Juliet with my high school freshmen, when I was in my early twenties, I followed the Star-Cross’d Lovers school of literary criticism: Romeo and Juliet, two innocents, their eyes meeting across a crowded room, she teaches the torches to burn bright, he’s the god of her idolatry, he wants to be a glove upon her hand, she wants to cut him out in little stars—but the cruel world conspires to bring them down.
The way Juliet’s father tells her to thank him no thankings nor proud him no prouds but get to that church on Thursday and marry Paris or he’ll drag her thither on a hurdle—what kind of father says that to a thirteen-year-old girl? Parents don’t understand. They don’t listen.
The kids might be a little quick to act, and goodness knows Romeo should have waited to talk to Friar Laurence before buying that poison. But who can expect patience of teenagers in love?
When I hit thirty, and had several years of teaching under my belt, I shifted to the What Can You Expect When Teenagers Behave Like Brats? philosophy: Romeo and Juliet, a couple of kids in a hurry. He doesn’t even bother to drop in on his family, just runs off to crash Capulet’s party, proposes to a girl before the first date, insists on a jumped-up wedding, then gets himself kicked out of the city, and he still hasn’t been home for dinner.
She mouths off to her father, tells him what she will and will not do, and he’s just told her what a nice husband he’s picked out for her. It’s no wonder he tells her to fettle her fine joints or he’ll drag her to church on a hurdle. I mean, if you were a parent and your daughter spoke to you in that tone of voice, would you pat her hand and ask what’s wrong, or would you remind her who’s boss here?
If Romeo had just gone home in the first place, like any decent boy would, instead of running off with his friends, this mess wouldn’t have occurred.
In fact, since Old Montague and Old Capulet had that very afternoon been sworn to keep the peace, they might have arranged a marriage between Romeo and Juliet—formed an alliance that way—and the whole of Verona would have lived happily ever after, and Montague would have been spared the expense of a gold Juliet statue. Paris might have been a little put out at being jilted, but he’d have gotten over it. Kids! They don’t think.
When I hit forty, however, I developed the dogma of the Meddlesome Priest. Friar Laurence has no business performing a secret marriage between two minors without parental consent. He says he wants to promote peace, but he isn’t a diplomat. His field is pharmacology.
Furthermore, when Juliet informs him she’s about to acquire an extra husband, why doesn’t he go right then to her father and tell the man she’s married? Capulet wouldn’t have been pleased, but he’d have gotten over it.
Instead, the Friar gives Juliet a sedative and stuffs her into a tomb with a passel of her relatives in varying stages of disrepair.
The man appears to mean well, but it’s also possible he intends to take credit for being the brains behind the peace accords.
Bunglesome or corrupt—the end is the same. With role models like this, are we surprised that children run amok?
Soon after the last epiphany, I ended my stint as a classroom teacher. I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d continued studying Romeo and Juliet with students year after year.
Would I have had new insights? Developed new interpretations? Uncovered new layers of meaning?
How much more would I have shared with my students? Would I have continued to teach them respect and reverence? Would I have led them down the primrose path of dalliance and left them mired in levity?
How much more would I have seen in myself?
This post first appeared on Telling the Truth, Mainly on April 22, 2019, under the title “T Is for Time: #atozchallenge.”
Remarkable how a stolid, stick-like, straightforward
can, in a only a year, evolve into a curving, curling, growling dog’s name.***
Ah, mocker! that’s the dog’s name. R is for the dog: no; I
know it begins with some other letter:–and she hath the
prettiest sententious of it, of you and rosemary, that it would
do you good to hear it.
From William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene iv
MERCUTIO: O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone
On the forefinger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Over men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers;
Her traces, of the smallest spider web;
Her collars, of the moonshine’s wat’ry beams;
Her whip, of cricket’s bone; the lash, of film;
Her wagoner, a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut,
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on curtsies straight;
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees;
O’er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.
Sometimes she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometimes comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as ‘a lies asleep,
Then dreams he of another benefice.
Sometimes she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled much misfortune bodes.
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.
This is she!
which sounds like something I might have ended up with when I disinfected my eye
pachycephalosaurus – A large herbivorous dinosaur of the genus Pachycephalosaurus of the late Cretaceous Period. It grew to about 7.6 m (25 ft) long and had a domed skull up to 25.4 cm (10 inches) thick that was lined with small bumps and spikes. The thick skull may have been used for head-butting during mating displays
pachychromatic – having coarse chromatin threads [not thick musical scales]
I figured out pachycephalosaurus and pachydactyly before looking them up, I’m pleased to say, since it means I haven’t forgotten all my Greek roots.
I then thought about random thought, and so googled “random brain,” and found an article (Cosmos, May 18 2017) describing a study in which
Neuroscientists at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU) in Lisbon, Portugal, reveal the unexpected finding in a report that aims to unpack how humans and other animals decide how and when to act.
Neuroscientists have long accepted that even in strictly controlled laboratory conditions, the exact moment when a subject will decide to act is impossible to predict.
In short, the scientists found that “‘[t]he brain’s prefrontal cortex – the seat of decision-making – has no input into the timing of random actions,'” but that
“‘[t]he medial prefrontal cortex appears to keep track of the ideal waiting time based on experience. The secondary motor cortex also keeps track of the ideal timing but in addition shows variability that renders individual decisions unpredictable.'”
The researchers were surprised at discovering the “‘not-well-appreciated “separation of powers” within the brain.'”
Personal observation underscores the finding: It’s four p.m., and William and Ernest are lying in the kitchen, watching David prepare their dinner and insulin injections. Several times a day they watch David go to the kitchen but at four o’clock they follow him. Their actions must be based on experience; hence the medial prefrontal cortex determines their action, and David’s as well. Human experience shows that if dinnertime is random, cats chew the carpet, a consummation devoutly not to be wished.
In the course of my mental ramblings, I thought of other things: Miss Petunia, an old neighbor well worth two or three posts, and more appropriate to the day, but better left to my putative novel.
Then there was my misuse of since in the paragraph following pachydactyly, because since means because, which I just used properly.
I also thought of stories about Mr. F., Mr. J., and Miss Fl., also not the best post material. To get them out of my system, I just put them in an email to a friend who has long suffered random thoughts I can’t make post-public.
I thought about changing the appearance of my blog, because I’m tired of looking at it, but how would I display my photographs so prominently?
Again I am reduced to browsing through the Os in the dictionary to come up with a topic. Maybe it’s isolation, maybe it’s inactivity, maybe it’s too much original Law & Order, maybe it’s general cussedness, but whatever it is—I will not dignify it by calling it writer’s block—I’m grateful to Dr. Samuel Johnson and his literary descendants for aiding in the A to Z endeavor.
Disclaimer: Anything in this post that sounds like science only scratches the surface. Don’t believe it.
The first thing that jumps out on the O page is names:
The second thing that jumps out is that although the lexicographer included the name of a Supreme Court justice, an artist, a playwright, and a fictional character, he didn’t include Peter O’Toole. That’s a great failing. Surely Peter O’Toole deserves as much attention as Scarlett O’Hara.
The phrase has been stuck in my brain since 1976, when I took a summer course in microbiology. I’d gotten my degree three years before but thought spending several hours a day in lecture and lab, growing and observing little dots under a microscope for five weeks, would be fun. That says something about my concept of fun.
Obligate parasite stands out because of the professor’s indignation over the misuse of the word mildew—in TV commercials, for example, advertising detergent to wash mildew out of clothing.
“It’s not mildew,” he said. “It’s mold. Mildew is an obligate parasite!” He said it several times during the semester.
Since 1976, every time I’ve come across the word mildew, I’ve thought obligate parasite.
Wandering around the ‘net, I came across claims that mildew can grow on some natural fabrics, such as cotton. I’m not qualified to speak to that. I’ll stick with what I learned in the micro course, most of which wasn’t about mold and mildew. I also noticed authors often use mildew and mold interchangeably.
I’ve always wondered, though, about the phrase obligate parasite. It sounds redundant. Doesn’t the word parasite mean that it’s obligated to a host?
With the world at my fingertips, I googled and discovered that there’s also a facultative parasite.
Obligate parasites can survive only with the presence of a host. Facultative parasites can pass important stages of their lives without a host.
A virus is an obligate parasite.
Which brings us back to where we’d rather not go but can’t get away from.
I looked at pictures of parasites but decided to post one of Peter O’Toole instead.
Ernest wanted a share of the chili I had for dinner. I was not into sharing.
He’s never had people food and thus has no concept of tummy ache. He also has no concept of, “It would burn your mouth.” Or, “You wouldn’t eat it. After you get one sniff, you’ll walk away.”
Or, “I don’t eat your food, so you’re not going to eat mine.”
Truth to tell, I wasn’t crazy about it myself. It came from a can. Thinking canned chili appropriate for sheltering in place, which I assumed would be like spending several years in an underground bomb shelter, I bought two cans. After a month inside I gave in and opened one.
When I say I wasn’t crazy about it, I mean it it’s okay, but it doesn’t measure up to my mother’s. Well, what does?
She didn’t use as much chili powder as the factory does. She sautéd onions, browned ground meat, and added Chili Quick. She might have used a little chili powder, but not much. Chili Quick did the job. No catsup, no tomatoes, no jalapeños. Sometimes we spooned chili over rice, but the two were never combined at the stove. Like rice, pinto beans were served on the side.
She usually delighted my father by making it for the first cold snap.
“Oh, I can’t cook,” she often said. When I disputed that, she said she didn’t cook exotic or complicated dishes. I told her she was a plain cook. For the most part, she made what my father liked, which meant she cooked what his grandmother had (for example, fried chicken unencumbered with layers of crust, homemade peach ice cream, meringue pies). There was one exception: She served only one kind of meat dish per meal. The Waller women put three meats on the table (for example, roast beef, ham, fried steak); his aunts apologized if they served only two.
My father ate everything my mom cooked, even fried liver, which he hated, but he never complained. When he wasn’t home, she cooked creamed chicken on toast. Home from World War II, he had banned creamed everything, Irish potatoes, and Spam. He got over the Irish potato phobia but not the other. My first week in second grade at a new school, I reported that the cafeteria offered a choice of ham or something else that was flat and sort of pinkish. I’d never heard of Spam.
I understand I’m not the only Baby Boomer unfamiliar with that delicacy.
Having been stationed for several months in Scotland and England, my dad also banned mutton. For a while after the war, mutton was the only meat my mom could get. She pretended it was beef.
Casseroles were not a favorite so we didn’t often have them. Once, when I was in high school—a good twenty years after D-Day—my mom came home from work with a new recipe for tuna casserole and said she liked it and was going to make it, so there. It was terrible. We ate peanut butter sandwiches and gave the casserole Desiree, our Collie. Desiree looked at it and walked away. Randy, the enormous yellow dog who lived next door, came over and finished it off. How he managed to gobble up every scrap, even soupy white sauce, and leave the asparagus I don’t know. I guess it’s a dog thing.
Back to Ernest. He was interested in the chili but ignored the green beans. Also canned. I sympathized. I love fresh green beans. The green pintos that came from my great-uncle’s Maurice’s garden on the farm were delicious. So were the mature pintos.
I’ve picked rows and rows of those, then sat at home in the air conditioning, shelling same. Most went into the freezer, as did black-eyed peas. Cream peas, rarely planted, we’re exquisite.
Uncle Maurice was generous with his produce, but gathering it could be hazardous. Once when a group of women were picking beans and peas for a Methodist Church dinner, one of them came upon a rattlesnake. The story goes that she ran but her shoes stayed put.
One year, Dick Ward, of nickel ice cream fame, stopped my father outside the ice cream parlor, then went back inside and brought out a paper sack of dried cream peas and asked my dad to plant them on his farm, where Dick had once lived. At the end of the season, my dad delivered to Dick the entire crop—one pea. The seeds were either old or passive aggressive.
Back to Ernest again. As I said, he wouldn’t have eaten the chili. But he would have snuffled it, and eating chili that’s been cat snuffled is almost as bad as eating chili that’s been cat licked. I’ve caught him licking cream cheese off English muffins I’ve carelessly set on the table beside my recliner and walked away from. I can’t be sure he won’t branch out, and that would be a certain recipe for tummy ache.
And, most important of all, I’m Ernest’s mother. I should do as well by him as mine did by me.
Yesterday I loved Nancy Drew. Today I love washing machines.
The latest model is a year old, and it’s still a minor miracle. It balances the load, pours in about a teacup of water, goes swish . . . swish . . . swish . . . and, when it’s finished, plays Schubert’s “The Trout.”
I intended to write more about washing machines, but I’ve decided instead to address a misconception related to my novel in progress: the use of the title Miss.
One of my characters, Miss Emma, is what used to be called a little old lady. She’s a widow with a forty-year-old son.
Two editors who’ve critiqued the early chapters have the character should be called Mrs. Emma, because Miss is reserved for unmarried women.
Miss is an all-purpose title. I understand the issue can be confusing, but I know whereof I speak:
Miss Ethel, Miss Edna, Miss Pearl, Miss Beulah, Miss Louise, and Miss Bessie were spinsters.
Miss Blanche, Miss Gladys, Miss Minnie, Miss Mamie, and Miss Cora were widows.
Miss Jessie, Miss Bettie, Miss Katie Maude, Miss Sammie, Miss Polly, Miss Carmen, Miss Essie, Miss Janie, Miss Lily, and Miss Sallie were married.
For my eighth Christmas, my grandmother gave me two Nancy Drew Mysteries: The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase.
And I fell in love.
Nancy Drew was so lucky. She was eighteen years old and had a housekeeper, a steady boyfriend, two best girlfriends, and a blue convertible. The convertible seemed to have a perpetually full tank of gasoline. She was also a blonde, which meant she had fun.*
Her father, prominent River Heights lawyer Carson Drew, was not the average parent. He rarely, if ever, asked where she’d been all day, and when he found out, he never said anything like, “Nancy, the next time you climb into a moving van driven by thugs and hide under a rug, you’ll be grounded till you’re thirty.” Or, for that matter, “Time to get serious, Nancy. Either enroll in Emerson College and start working on a degree, or find yourself a job. You can’t play detective for the rest of your life.”
Hannah Gruen cooked and cleaned, so Nancy did no chores. Boyfriend Ned Nickerson escorted her to dances when appropriate but otherwise stayed busy at Emerson College and didn’t get underfoot. Friends—tomboy George, whose pet phrase was, in 1959, an anachronistic “Hypers! You slay me!”; and George’s “plump” cousin Bess—provided companionship as well as help with investigations.
What was there not to love? Well, Nancy herself wasn’t perfect. She teased Bess about being plump; I didn’t like that. And her unfailing self-confidence sometimes grated; I’d have been happier if she’d expressed self-doubt now and then.
But she was eighteen and could take off in her convertible, wind blowing through her hair, seeking and finding adventure, solving mysteries along the way. To an eight-year-old convinced she’ll never be old enough for a driver’s license, much less a car, Nancy’s freedom sounded like heaven.
But Nancy wasn’t a party girl; she took detective work seriously. She solved mysteries because she wanted to help people.
In The Clue of the Tapping Heels, for example, she helped restore a child’s trust fund. In The Secret of the Wooden Lady, she found the lost figurehead belonging to a historic clipper and helped the captain establish clear title to the ship. In The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, while looking for a valuable Chinese vase she stumbled upon a gang using immigrants as slave labor. In The Secret in the Jewel Box, she reunited Madame Alexandra with her long-lost grandson, a prince.
In addition to enjoying the stories, I picked up some interesting bits of information. From The Clue of the Black Keys, I learned about obsidian; from The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, about kaolin.
And Madame Alexandra, her long-lost grandson, and Mr. Faber, the jeweler who created the ornate jewel box, took on new meaning when I later read about the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, Tsarevitch Alexei, and the Faberge eggs.
I said earlier that I fell in love with Nancy Drew mysteries, but I could just as well have said I was hooked. Two years after I read the first ones, I was penciling, in my neatest handwriting, letters to Joske’s Department Store:
Please send me the following books:
1 copy of The Secret in the Old Attic $2.00 1 copy of The Clue of the Tapping Heels $2.00
Please charge my account.
My mother signed them. It was, after all, her account.
By my eleventh birthday, I’d moved along, fallen in love with Zane Grey’s westerns—society ladies from the East meeting up with cowboys down on the Mexican border, very romantic—and was writing to Joske’s about those.
But even though I no longer read Nancy Drews, I’m still hooked—on mysteries. Every time I pick up an Agatha Christie, a P. D. James, a Ruth Rendell, an Elizabeth George, a Martha Grimes, a Tana French, a Donna Leon, a . . . as I said, I’m hooked.
Nancy Drew made me a mystery reader. And Nancy is the reason I write mysteries.
From what my friends tell me, a lot of them are in the same boat.
That Nancy Drew has a lot to answer for.
How did we know blondes have more fun? Television told us so.
kangaroo: on a multiple choice test, an answer that is so obviously incorrect that no examinee with the sense God promised a monkey would ever select it
I learned about kangaroos in a senior level education course. There were two professors, one who taught testing and measurement and another who taught what I think of as the softer side of counseling. The info about kangaroos came from the T&M prof. He frowned upon them.
After a test covering the softer side, a student informed the SS prof that he’d included several kangaroos. He’d never heard the term. He also didn’t appear concerned.
Concern. Sometime I’ve got it. Sometimes I don’t.
If I were concerned about sincerity, truth, design; about beauty and art; about, to quote the Duke, preserving the unities, I would end, as I began, with kangaroos.
But I have nothing more to say about them. And the videos I’ve examined don’t do a thing for me.
So for kangaroos, substitute kittens.
“Now,” says the duke, “after to-night we can run in the daytime if we want to. Whenever we see anybody coming we can tie Jim hand and foot with a rope, and lay him in the wigwam and show this handbill and say we captured him up the river, and were too poor to travel on a steamboat, so we got this little raft on credit from our friends and are going down to get the reward. Handcuffs and chains would look still better on Jim, but it wouldn’t go well with the story of us being so poor. Too much like jewelry. Ropes are the correct thing—we must preserve the unities, as we say on the boards.” ~ Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn