The Lockdown Lowdown

First, I stopped wearing my watch. Why not? I was home all day. I have a grandmother clock that bongs, I have clocks on my stove, TV, DVD player, laptop, and phone. Then, I stopped wearing shoes. I keep a pair handy, but mostly I’m in socks and slippers.

COVID-19 is turning my life into a modern-day version of LORD OF THE FLIES. The conventions I took for granted, and obeyed without question, are now suspect. And a little annoying. The thought of applying makeup seems a bridge too far.

Haircuts? Who needs ‘em? I do the occasional bang trim. I still want to see. At first, I was trying to trim the rest, but why?

I’m a little worried about what will go next, but excited at the same time. Shopping, dining out, and meeting friends for coffee resemble activities from another planet. Formerly an absolute Peet’s addict, I haven’t had a medium Macha Javiva with whipped cream since March. I don’t even know if the app on my phone still works.

I’m taking behavioral clues from my cats. Sleep—I looked it up— burns calories. I’ve become a professional napper. Which reminds me of another construct that is out the window. Bedtime. What the heck is that? I’ll read until 4:00 am, sleep until noon or 8 am, whichever works. Taking an hour nap after the evening torture known as “the news” is part of my trauma relief therapy.

So far, my clothes still match, and I do put on earrings because I like ‘em, not to look chic. I’m curious what comes (or goes) next. Underwear? Bra? Deodorant? Pants? After all, I only exist on Zoom from the waist up.

I’m hoping for a slow reopening. I can’t imagine putting all the pieces of normalcy back together in one day.

The Scene That Wasn’t

Cutting scenes with scissorsNOTE: The following scene from WHEN ALICE PLAYED THE LOTTERY just hit the editing room floor. It describes the main character, Alice, a widowed receptionist at a failing startup in Silicon Valley, meeting the new VP. She is a technology-challenged receptionist who runs the company lottery pool. But what high-tech worker hasn’t been here?

The board fired Marv the VP, who in Alice’s estimation was a real sweetheart. He used to work for Apple back in his ponytail days. (Marv was bald now.) In his place, the board brought in Lee Zappin, another partially balding man who, by his office décor, seemed to be into Eastern philosophy. His first day on the job, Alice noticed him doing yoga in his office on lunch hour. He also seemed to be a strict vegetarian. He asked her to order him a late lunch, then asked for strictly, vegan dishes.

Lee’s second day, he informed Alice that he wanted to meet privately with each person in the company. That number had dwindled from 53 to 29, ten of whom played the lottery with an almost religious fervor.

vice president's desk
Have a seat!

Alice watched each of her co-workers go into his office for 15 or 20 minutes and then walk out. It really surprised her when Lee called her in for a meeting too.

Nervous, mature woman named Alice
Alice. . . a little worried

“Have a seat, Alice,” Lee said with a forced friendliness. It sounded as if he was fresh out of a management-training course that told you how it important it was to call people by their names and look them (sincerely) in the eye. She looked around and expected to hear sitar music start at any minute. “How is your day going so far?”

“Fine.” Alice decided earlier that the less she said, the less that could be held against her.

“So, you have been here what? Two years?” He settled behind his desk, rocking back in his chair, and making a pyramid with his fingers.

Man with fingers steepled

“About,” she said. Close enough.

“And in that time, do you think that there have been things that could have been done differently?” he asked. The way he phrased the question, she felt as if she were on some imaginary witness stand.

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Well, you see a lot,” he said, leaning forward slightly. They say that once you can fake sincerity, you can fake anything. Was this guy that good, or did he earnestly want to know her opinion?

“Not really,” she answered. She could see by the way he cocked his head that he knew his current approach wasn’t succeeding. He switched tactics.

“Let me tell you why I’m asking,” he said, lowering his voice. “It’s been over a year since someone has offered me a job. I would like to keep this one for a while.”

Alice knew the truth when she heard it. In fact, she felt sorry for him. She didn’t want to tell him how bad his chances of staying employed really were.

Layoffs likely

“So, do you have any suggestions about what a new VP should do to put this company back on track?” Lee asked, and Alice laughed. “What’s so funny?”

“People in my position always know what people in your position should do. That’s why we aren’t in your position.”

Just this way

“And how would you change this company? What would make this company and all its co-workers succeed?”

“Seriously?” she asked.


“I can only think of one thing,” she said, trying to smile. He waited. “Win the lottery.”

book cover

Thanks for the Smile


Today, I stood in a long line outside the grocery store, each person heeding the marks to stay six feet apart as they waited to enter. A very old man stood in front of me. May 85 or so, bent forward from age and pulling a rolling cart behind him. A much younger man stood in front of him. All of us wore masks.

Stuffed Panda with Mask

The younger man told the older man to go in front him. It started a chain reaction, where each subsequent person in line told the older man to go in front of them. The younger man, now in front of me, looked back at me. I smiled at what he had done, but with my mask, I doubted he could tell. (I was also grateful he didn’t tell me to go in front of him because I don’t feel that old yet.)

Respecting Social Distances in Line

After we finished shopping, our cars were parked side by side as we loaded our groceries into our respective trunks. We had pulled off our face masks at that point.

He turned to me and said, (from a safe distance) “We made it! We got our stuff!”

“Yes, we did,” I said.

There was a sense of triumph, a minor victory in the grand scheme of things. Also a feeling of camaraderie I don’t often sense in a big city.

“Happy Easter. Be safe!” he added.

“You too,” I said as we both got in our cars to go back to the safety of our dwellings.

Last Pack of Toilet Paper
Last Pack of Toilet Paper

He made my day, but it doesn’t take much anymore to be ecstatic. I found toilet paper the other day and I felt like the luckiest person in the world. I saw two little girls in pretty Easter dresses, carrying baskets with eggs, delivering them to the house of two other girls. I melted.

Girls in Easter Dresses

As overwhelmed as I am by the news, I’m equally overwhelmed by the goodness that this slowdown has instilled. An unbridled kindness that is now acceptable because we are all in this together. Just a wave and smile to a stranger, a gesture that makes someone else’s day more tolerable and, in a way, says let me make your life less painful. Let me help.

Adventures in Publishing

So, you managed to write a book. You managed to get it published. You managed to make it available to the general public. Soar, little story, soar!

A novel in hiding

Not so fast.

You gotta promote it.

OK, all my friends know. Even my acquaintances know. In fact, I think they’re sorry they know. I really don’t want to bug them anymore.

Shouldn’t the publisher promote the book? Yeah, that went the way of the full-service gas station. It’s a self-service world, honey. If you want to make bank, or even just get the word out, you get out there and sell, sell, sell.

As a kid, I used to sell Christmas cards in summer in hopes of getting enough points for a new bike. I would knock on my neighbors’ doors and, in the heat of August, ask them to choose a wintry card style from my display book, and then get a box or two imprinted with the names of their family members. (The more text, the more $$$.) I did sell some cards, but never enough to earn the bicycle.

So, with that sales experience under my belt—and a few seasons of Camp Fire Girls cookies as the master class—I am thrust into the cold world of publicity. Me—the one more comfortable in front of a keyboard than behind a microphone—now needs to stand up and promote a book.

My first effort was a bust. I sat behind a table for local authors just inside the entrance of Barnes and Noble, smiling at possible purchasers. Heck, I would avoid me in that situation. I even attempted a short reading, my mic-less voice evaporating in the open, two-story building. I cut my losses and tried to learn what I could from the experience. I found that Silicon Valley residents, who come from all over the world, aren’t familiar with the setting of the Salinas Valley. They nodded and smiled and walked away. Even the mention of Steinbeck didn’t ring a bell. Some had never heard of cropdusters. I was starting at less than ground zero. Ground negative 25.

My next attempt was a public reading (with no sales involved) at a local Starbucks. The selection I chose came at the suggestion of my husband. Not trusting myself to be impartial, since I think the whole book is great, I took his advice. As a former pilot, his favorite scene involved flying, WWII, and an airport bar. Two paragraphs in, I could literally see my audience falling asleep before my eyes.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I didn’t give up. I mean, I gave up being serious. I just got up and decided to have fun. When all the readers had finished, the folks managing the reading asked if anyone would like to read again. My hand shot up.

I stood at the microphone again and talked like I was talking to my best friend. “The main character in my book has a real problem with commitment. I think you’ll understand why after I read this scene.”

Unlike my first selection, there were only two characters in the scene, not five. That seemed to score points. The scene included humor and a motorcycle accident, which oddly resonated with my latte-sipping audience. After I sat down, the other writers in the audience asked if I would be willing to give a talk at a local bookstore where I could sell books. I accepted.

I have no clue what I’ll say. But I’m game and hard to embarrass at my age.

My next step will be to create a talk about how I wrote FLYING BLIND, A Cropduster’s Story. I think I’ll start with, “Write what you know.”

Overheard on a Train


The couple managed to squeeze into a small seat on the train just inside the door beneath the fire extinguisher. Across from them sat older three ladies, returning home from a day’s shopping in Portsmouth. Their numerous, multicolored bags crowded the overhead rack. They contained the day’s bounty and proclaimed the various merchants patronized.

Crowded train from Portsmouth to London

David and Lyn sat with their backs to the wall nearest the coupling, unable to stuff their suitcases beneath the seat. Lack of space forced them to ride with their legs twisted on top of their luggage. The three ladies facing them droned on in high-pitched tones about their dreadful shopping excursion. Each complained more dramatically than the next.

“Everything is so pricey.”
“Too dear for most people, don’t you think?”
“And the crowds. Every queue is a mile long.”
“It was never that way when my Albert was alive. It was all so much more peaceful then,” said the lady in the middle. Her gray curls looked frazzled. She wore clear rubber rain boots secured with a strap over one button, protecting her thick black pumps from dampness. “Back then, it was like a holiday for us, you know. Now, it’s all so harried; not at all what it once was.”
“I remember coming down as a young girl,” sang the pudgy, white-haired dear on the right. Her tweed coat was beaded with raindrops while her ankles swelled above her laced, navy blue shoes. “The town was virtually desolate then, apart from sailors of course. But then one expects a port town to be cluttered with young men in uniforms. We rather fancied them, all clean and well-dressed, tipping their hats and holding the door for a lady. Now, it’s all chocked full of out-of-towners, isn’t it?” she asked in a condescending tone. Her friends assured her she was correct, never thinking of themselves as the offenders as they rode home on the train.

Older laides on a train

“Once the ferry docks, one never knows what arrives from across the channel, does one?” chimed the third and youngest. David and Lyn exchanged guilty looks. The speaker’s hair dyed honey blonde was ill suited to her years. Her soft white skin flushed red in blotches from the close quarters. Operatically, she continued. “Dear me, I’ve lived here all my life and now I feel as if I am being driven off. It is all rather frightening. It was never like this before the war. Oh, no . . . Back then, people were more content with a simple life. Bangers and mash for dinner; maybe gooseberry pie and cream for those special days. Not today though. Oh, no . . . People are eating food they can scarcely pronounce.”
“Or spell,” said the lady with the swollen ankles.
“And they way they dress. It’s as if the whole country has run amuck.”
“Oh, yes . . .” added the other two in harmony. They all agreed the strange eating habits of an oddly dressed few always preceded social collapse.

David and Lyn sat quietly for most of the ride, their legs cramped as they listened by default. They both smirked as the ladies lamented their sing-song woes. Complete with luggage and straight off the ferry, they were no doubt among the very people who frightened the sweet old dears.
Bright stations flashed past in the early November darkness. In the overcast evening, the landscape faded to twinkling lights on either side of them. Overhead, the moon raced them to Crosham, shining through a fuzzy web of angel hair clouds.

The Old Wooden Bench

There used to be an old wooden bench by the side of the road near Greenfield, California. Behind it lay a field of lettuce with head after head of leafy green pearls strung in perfectly straight strands. The rows spread wide at the road, like an open fan, and joined at a point in the distant foothills. A small, white house sat beside the field, and I passed it each day as I commuted up the highway splitting the Salinas Valley.
Some mornings, the fog barely lifted to the tops of the eucalyptus trees that stood like bristled hairs on the flat landscape. Those mornings, the bench was not occupied. Other mornings were bright, especially after a crisp spring rain. The air buzzed with cropdusters and rainbows arched from the hills to the valley floor.

On those good mornings, a man and a woman would come to the bench. The walked slowly as their age dictated. He was a large man, wearing a faded brown jacket and a hat with a sweat-stained band. He walked surely, even with a cane. Staring straight ahead behind beneath the shadow of his hat’s brim, his eyes remained fixed on his destination.

She was tiny and wore all manner of garments, usually at the same time. Several pairs of socks, sensible dark shoes that laced, and a dress that changed only in the color of its small flower print. She wore one or two sweaters, occasionally topped with a coat.
She always carried the same size brown paper bag. I imagined she saved it after each use, smoothing its wrinkles with matching hands and refolding it. No need to waste it. Depression era habits die hard.

They were never early, but I was often late. When I was, they would already be seated on the bench. He, always on the left, she on the right. He stared straight ahead with his hands crossed on his cane, probably guessing the makes of cars that sailed past on Highway 101. She sat dwarfed at his side, chatting away or reaching into the bag and offering him something to eat. Probably a homemade tidbit that had made their kitchen smell of cinnamon and butter.

Each day, they were there, weather permitting. Then, one day, they weren’t. Vacation, I wondered? Vacation, I hoped. Then they were back, and I smiled and waved like a fool. They never waved back.

Two weeks later, they disappeared again, and I tried to be impartial. It’s their life. None of my business. Day after day, the empty wooden bench waited in front of the row crops which were nearly ready for harvest. I tried not to care, but I did.

Another week passed before I saw him, alone, standing at the gate of the white house. Maybe she had a cold. The next day, he was alone again, venturing as far as the end of their white picket fence. The third day, I was late, and he was seated on the old wooden bench. Alone.

Too many days passed, and he was still without her. He gave me no clues, still staring straight ahead. The long summer had changed the velvet green hills to long blond grasses with rusty weeds. As autumn approached, the field behind the bench was disked into naked rows that looked like brown corduroy.

One day, he sat with a small bag in his lap. As I passed, he pulled something out and turned to his left, as if to offer something to someone who wasn’t there. I never saw him again. Weeds grew tall in front of their small white house, and the bench was eventually knocked over. It made me think of my husband and our time together. It was time to quit commuting and go home.

Between Corduroy and Tourmaline – A Short Story

     In its long journey up from the center of the Earth, the gemstone tourmaline passes over a rainbow, assumes its colors, and creates the Aurora Borealis, or so the legend says. Outside a pub near Donegal Square in downtown Belfast, Liam looked up at the sky and waited for the legend to manifest. The Northern Lights were supposed to put on a show that night, but with city lights all around him he could easily miss it.

     The bus ride from the pub to Liam’s mother’s house took only ten minutes. He knew the route like his own heartbeat. It wandered through the downtown streets and passed over a bridge. There, the Statue of William of Orange, his brass horse tarnished green, guarded an intersection. The street narrowed and made a curve. Tall homes stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the edge of the road. Their upper stories leaned toward the top level of the double-decker bus where Liam sat.

     Liam stood as his stop approached, maintaining his balance like a sailor onboard a ship. His height, dark hair, and love of the drink came from his father, but his blue eyes, tart humor, and kind nature were all from his mother. He moved down the stairs toward the driver and waited, grabbing a pole in anticipation of an abrupt stop.

     “I’ll be leaving here, Patsy,” Liam said, calling the driver by his nickname.

     “And wouldn’t I know it now?” Patsy answered, gliding toward Liam’s stop and opening the doors with a whoosh. “Haven’t I let you off here every evening for the last five years?”

     “Aye, but you aren’t getting any younger, man,” Liam teased. “You could forget and take me to the end of the line. And me with no coat tonight.”

     “I’d toss you off before the end of the line,” Patsy answered. “There’s a beautiful lass waiting for me there, and I won’t have you stealing her.”

     “Would I?” Liam asked, heading for the door.

     “It wouldn’t be the first time now, would it?”

     “Ta,” Liam answered, hopping from the bus and heading down the street to his mother’s house. The early spring evening was crisp and, at half past six, dark out. It wasn’t like summer, when the day seemed to hang on to the sunlight, keeping it late and bringing it early.

     Liam took the long way home through a park with a view of the Ardoyne Cathedral. To the north, the cliffs of Cavehill towered over the city limits. He couldn’t look at them without thinking of the treasure his ancestor buried there—or so the family story went.

     Away from the city lights, cameras atop the police station operated 24 hours a day. They filmed the area around the murals, which depicted stories of “The Troubles” from both sides, Catholic and Protestant. Politicians said The Troubles were in the past, but the camera told a different story. So did the subtle signs of the divided neighborhoods. A Union Jack at the corner marked where a Loyalists section began. The Irish flag down the street hung at the edge of an invisible line where the neighborhood’s sympathies changed.

     Such was the place where Liam lived now, different enough from the past. The change allowed a Catholic like himself to be out at night, but old habits die hard. He kept watch over his shoulder, glad he still had a good arm for flinging the odd rock. Liam waited at the edge of the park, hoping to catch the nighttime show of lights. From there, he spied the silhouette of someone near the playground equipment.

     The swings and the play structures stood like black wire frames against the fading twilight. The person beyond them ran back and forth along the edge of a precipice, chasing a big dog. A man? a woman? Liam couldn’t tell. He started to walk on but stopped when he heard the person calling the dog’s name.

     “Patch,” a man’s voice called. His form followed the big dog’s silhouette. “Come, Patch.”

     Liam watched for a few more seconds, and then realized the owner was limping, his ragged gait no match for the dog’s long, easy strides. The animal looked like a cross between an Irish Wolfhound and a horse.

     Liam started toward them, hoping to help corral the animal. It was just his nature to be helpful. It was why he still lived with his mum. His father’s passing had left her a widow. She, along with his three aunts, all unmarried, needed a man around to help with their three separate households. It wasn’t how he had envisioned his life, but they were always quick with a warm cup of tea on a cold night, and plenty of encouragement, no matter what he faced in life. Others had it much worse.

     Beyond the park, Liam could just see the Lower Ardoyne in the fading light. He knew it well. The peaked roofs of identical houses lined up block after block, forming straight lines like brown corduroy fabric. Lights from the streets below began flickering on one by one. All the little chimneys poked the night sky, each like lit pipes, spewing smoke from peat fires. As Liam drew closer to the edge, he recognized the familiar face of the limping man. He was the postman who delivered at his mother’s house each day. He was the same man who used to make his mother’s dog bark. The man who was part of a running joke.

     “Go ahead and bark, Grouser,” his mother used to say to the overgrown mutt. “He’s a Protestant.” The big black dog had almost seemed to smile and then he had barked more.

     In fact, when Liam realized who he was going to help, his progress toward the runaway dog slowed. The limping man had nearly given up.
“Patch, come back,” the Protestant postman called, a broken leash dangling from one hand.

     Liam pushed aside the thoughts of prejudice and started to sprint in the dog’s direction. Oddly enough, it was against his teachings, but not his nature. Life was changing so much all over Northern Ireland. He could remember being searched before entering downtown area—the same area he had just left without seeing a copper for miles.

     When peace was first announced several years ago, people entered the shopping area with caution. There were still the odd Protestant marches down the main street toward the city hall in Donegal Square in the heart of Belfast. The Orangemen always seemed to pick a route through a Catholic neighborhood. But more and more, the participants were growing older, and the next generation was more interested in the goods in H & M or Boots or the food court at the new mall. Even the wee ones, whose grandfathers told them to march with the old men, looked over their shoulders at the abundant temptations shining in the store windows.

     The dog came loping toward Liam. He extended both of his strong, rock-throwing arms and did his best to herd the dog back toward its owner. Instead of turning away from Liam, the dog jumped into his arms, landing Liam flat on his back.

     “No, Patch,” the postman called, trying to quicken his hobbling pace.

     Liam was able to get a hand under the dog’s collar, hoping he was a friendly old boy. Only last week, Liam’s mother’s dog, Grouser, the Protestant alarm, had passed on. Liam had lifted him from the floor in the entry way, loaded him into the back of his car, and driven him out to the old family farm for a proper burial. Yet another of many changes.

     “I’m so sorry,” the out-of-breath postman said when he drew closer.

     Not only was Patch friendly, he was downright affectionate, licking Liam’s face. Apparently, the Protestant dog didn’t know Liam was Catholic. Albeit not a good Catholic, more of a genetic Catholic, inherited from the generations before him. Though Liam rarely attended mass, he could say Hail Marys in his sleep and made the sign of the cross every time he came up to bat in a game of hurling.

     “Good boy,” Liam was saying as he tried to push the dog to one side and stand up. He kept one hand on his collar, while the owner tied the broken leash to it. The dog seemed happy to see Liam, as if they were old friends.

     “Are you hurt?” the owner asked Liam, standing over him with his dog now in tow.

     “A bit wet,” Liam said, wiping the slobber from his cheek and looking up.

     “I wouldn’t have caught him without your help,” the postman said, offering Liam a hand. “I’ve buggered up my knee chasing this beast. 54 Duneden Park, right?”

     Liam stood with the postman’s assist, nodded, and brushed the grass from his pants.

     “You’ve got the cheek of the devil,” Liam said, giving the dog a pat and turning to walk away. It shouldn’t have unnerved Liam that the man knew his address. He was the postman after all. They had spoken on occasion, if a package came when his mum wasn’t home. When the postage wasn’t right. When they were forced to.

     “The leash gave out,” said the postman, following him. “You’re Liam, right?” Liam only nodded. “Peter Mahoney,” the postman said, introducing himself. “And this bad fellow is Patch.”

     “We’ve met,” Liam said with a smile. It seemed odd then after all these years, he had never known the postman’s name. “Just a lark that I was out to catch him,” Liam continued, a little uneasy that the postman was walking beside him. Liam paused at the edge of the park and looked toward Cavehill. “I was hoping to see the Northern Lights.”

     “As was I,” Peter said, also facing Cavehill. “At least until the leash broke. Do you think we’ve missed—”

     His sentence was still hanging between them when the green and yellow flashing began over the mountains at the edge of town. They both watched, wordless. Patch laid down between them, seeming to enjoy the show as well. It was a grand display, lighting up the night like reflections off heavenly tourmaline stones.

     “Ah, ‘tis grand indeed,” Liam said, smiling at the postman.

     “Will you look there?” Peter said, pointing to the horizon. “It’s a bloody miracle. Lucky it is we weren’t still chasing the mutt and having our backs turned to it.”

     “Aye,” Liam agreed, surprised that he was enjoying the postman’s company. Liam looked over his shoulder, thinking maybe someone would see them together and believe they were up to no good. Peter saw his gesture and stepped away. It was an unintended affront on Liam’s part—a habit picked up for survival during The Troubles.

     “It’s grander still to point at it, and have someone else to see it,” Liam added, hoping to erase his inappropriate behavior. All the rules were new now. It would take time.

     “Indeed,” Peter said, adjusting the short leash in his hand. The lights subsided on the horizon, and they both knew the show was over. They shared an awkward silence before a soft rain began and broke the spell.

     “Best be off for home,” Peter said.

     “True, true,” Liam agreed, nodding and starting his walk home.

     “Thanks again,” Peter said, nodding at Patch.

     “Not a problem,” Liam said, pausing and looking back at Peter. “Would you care—” He started, and then stopped himself. There was a pub at the corner, but that was a Protestant pub. There was one a block beyond that, but it was for Catholics. There was beer at the Chinese take-away, but there was nowhere to sit down. Peter was waiting for him to finish his sentence. “I will see you later,” Liam said, giving a faint wave.

     “Yes, sure,” Peter said with a smile. “Give my best to your mum.”

     “That I will,” Liam said. “That I will.”

FLYING BLIND – Chapter 1

      Life made sense when Tony was alone in the cockpit. He slowed the plane on approach. His gloved hand nudged the stick, he pressed the rudder pedal with his boot, and the plane banked. He cocked his head to follow the horizon. The plane leveled out, and he straightened his neck. The narrow airstrip centered in his windscreen had a single hangar at the far end.

Weatherly Dash

      The shadow of the plane passed over the boss’s pickup. It was racing up the dirt road that connected the airstrip to a singlewide mobile home. Seeing the pickup surprised Tony. Velma Lee had told him that R.J. wasn’t supposed to be back from Dallas until tonight. Tony tapped his shirt pocket, then remembered his pack of Kools on R.J.’s nightstand.

      “Shit,” he muttered. He hoped Velma Lee had thrown them out with the vodka bottles and the Polaroids. He pushed those thoughts aside. He knew distractions and landings didn’t mix.

      Tony picked out his touchdown spot. It was halfway down the airstrip, near the company sign that boasted: “R.J.’s Cropdusters, Beaumont, TX — Two planes to serve you better.” Only 10:00 a.m. and he had polished off the last load on a 600-acre rice job. That was almost $250. In 1972, at 28, that felt like getting rich. Should he get a new car? A round waterbed? At least some expensive booze. He brought the Weatherly in for a picture-perfect landing.

      “I can’t get no sat-is-fac-tion,” Tony sang and flared out the plane to slow it down. “I can’t get no girlie action. But I try, and I try, and I try, and I try.”

      The wheels of the low-winged monoplane kissed the ground. Landing was bittersweet. He liked doing it well. He hated returning to earth. The tailwheel touched down, the horizon disappeared behind the engine, and he began the familiar bumpy roll down the runway.

      “I can’t get no-oh-no—”

      The right rudder pedal wilted beneath his foot. No brake.

      “Oh shit!”

      Tony steered using the tailwheel while he had speed. The aircraft slowed and he jabbed at the dead brake pedal over and over. The end of the runway was approaching in slow motion.

      “Not the fucking hangar,” Tony groaned. The tin structure and the plane parked beside it grew larger.

      Tony sucked on his dark, thick mustache with his lower lip and rolled on helplessly at five miles per hour. The plane was a breath away from the building and he was just along for the ride. The landing gear hit a small rut. The craft veered left. The wingtip snagged the corner of the hangar and turned the plane.

      R.J.’s other plane was now dead ahead. Tony’s spinning prop chewed into the wing of the other plane with the noise and fury of a giant can opener. Tony listened and winced. Seconds later, finally at a standstill, he scowled at the pool of brake fluid on the cockpit floor. He unlatched his seat belt, and the clicking sound broke the menacing silence.

      Tony popped open the canopy, pulled his long body out of the plane, and climbed out to stand on the wing. The pungent smell of gas hit his nose and crawled down his spine like electricity. Was there fire? It was always his first thought after a sudden stop. But there was no smoke, no open flame. The fumes rose from the severed gas tank in the shredded wing of the other plane.

      He exhaled, snagged the helmet from his mop of black curls, and shielded his blue eyes from the sun. R.J. wouldn’t be happy. The curled propeller blades were tangled in the half-eaten wing of the other plane.

      “These two are history,” he said. He wanted to brush it off or fix it. He couldn’t stand the sight of a plane that couldn’t fly.

      Trembling spread through his body to his fingertips and toes. He threw his scuffed white helmet halfway to his ragtop ’68 Mercury Monterrey. Twenty minutes ago, sulfur dust had swirled behind the single-seat Weatherly. The landing gear had skimmed over shuddering blades of rice. Tony had felt safe in the yellow plane, even flying fence high at 100 mph.

      R.J. always assigned the worst fields to Tony. The one he just finished had been a damn obstacle course. Trees, stand pipes, a shed, barbed wire fence, power lines. For Tony’s first day on the job, R. J. had made him fly that field. Later, R.J. had slapped him on the back and called him “a pilot’s pilot.” R.J. had even admitted he couldn’t put the plane under the low wire on the south end. R.J. probably wouldn’t remember that now. Tony just hoped he would remember that pranged aircraft were part of cropdusting.

      Tony stood on the wing and looked back at the tangled mess. This would come out of his paycheck. Hell, it was an accident. The only thing that could make it worse would be if R.J. found out Tony was doing his wife. The sound of rubber squealing against asphalt made him look over his shoulder. The quick stop of R.J.’s pickup caused a cloud of dust to envelop Tony’s boss’s truck. R.J. threw open the driver’s door.

      Maybe R.J. wouldn’t call the NTSB. Tony didn’t want to deal with the National Transportation and Safety Board again if he could avoid it. They could separate the two planes, and Tony would offer to work on the mangled wing for free, just to keep it all off his record. He raised his hand over his head, signaling to R.J. that he was okay. The next thing he knew, R.J. had a shotgun propped on the truck door’s open window. Both barrels were aimed at him.

Shot gun pellets peppered the fuselage. Holy shit! Tony jumped from the wing and ran behind the hangar. He kept his back pasted to the hot, corrugated tin building. Two seconds of silence prompted him to peek around the corner. He saw R.J. break open the weapon and empty a box of shells on the front seat of his pick-up.     Damn, he was reloading.

      “It was an accident, R.J.,” Tony yelled, venturing from behind the building, but not far. “Fluid leaked from the cylinder. I didn’t have any right brake.”

      R.J. took aim again. Tony stepped back, spun around, and lunged behind the hangar just before R.J. started yelling.

      “Bang my wife.” KA-BOOM! “Wreck both my planes.” KA-BOOM! “I’ll kill you, Tony Damascus.” KA-BOOM! KA-BOOM!

      Tony dashed behind the conjoined planes, the blasts following him. He snagged his helmet from the ground and dove head first into the front seat of his car. The gear shift stabbed him in the ribs. Damn. A shot hit his windshield. Shit. Shit. Shit. He yanked off one glove and fought to remove his keys from his pants pocket. Another shot. He fumbled with his keys. His shaking hand struggled to make the key penetrate the ignition switch.

      “Come on, come on,” Tony urged the key.

Welcome to the Olympics of Incompetence

The word of the day is "incompetent."

Incompetent. . . can you say that?

Is it me?

I’m at the bank. My dad is with me. I want to be added as a legal signature to my dad’s trust account. We have a copy of the trust. We have the first and the second amendments of the trust. (Hey, people die.)

We both have two forms of ID. We have a notarized power of attorney for me over the trust. We have a reappraisal of the house, and my mom’s death certificate.

Four hours later, they can’t actually confirm that I have been added as a valid signature to the trust checking account. For heaven’s sake, I just want to be able to pay the heating bill if my dad can’t write a check.

Four days later, they are still checking the validity of the power of attorney. Seriously?

There isn’t one legal document they have asked for that we didn’t provide. We are related. We are citizens. We both have had accounts at that bank for 30 years. I can’t imagine how difficult this would be if one of us was from another country, if we were unrelated, or if we were, God forbid, unprepared.

Pulling a fast one

Plant me!


what do

they think

we are trying

to pull?

Incompetence has an attitude. It says: “Don’t ask questions. Don’t expect results. It’s not my fault. I just work here, sort of.”

No one is fooled

Are you questioning my authority?

Guess what? No one is believing your act. If you divide the world into learners and non-learners, I am running into all the non-learners. Some have college degrees. Some were raised by wolves. Some are too poor to pay attention. Some are too entitled to care.

Just do your damn job. Better yet, go get a job you can do. Ar-r-r-gh!

The Great Turtle Rescue of 2017

Everything I know about turtles, I learned from Alice Hoffman:

“People in Verity like to talk, but the one thing they neglect to mention to outsiders is that something is wrong with the month of May. It isn’t the humidity, or even the heat, which is so fierce and sudden it can make grown men cry. Every May, when the sea turtles begin their migration across West Main Street, mistaking the glow of the streetlights for the moon, people go a little crazy. At least one teenage boy comes close to slamming his car right into the gumbo-limbo tree that grows beside the Burger King. Girls run away from home, babies cry all night, ficus hedges explode in flame, and during one particularly awful May, half a dozen rattlesnakes set themselves up in the phone booth outside the 7-Eleven and refused to budge until June.
At this difficult time of the year, people who grew up in Verity often slip two aspirins into their cans of Coke; they wear sunglasses and avoid making any major decisions.”
– Alice Hoffman, Turtle Moon

So, it surprised me that my morning bike ride took me past newly posted “Turtle Crossing” signs along the perimeter road of my condo’s complex. Even more surprising were the number of folks pulling turtles out of the hedges and out of traffic. Our man-made pond contains almost 20 turtles, a good number of which are female. They took a clue from nature last night and made a beeline (turtleline?) away from the pond to nest. I found one next to the fire lane curb near the main road, a fair distance from the pond.

Have to say it was the closest I’ve come to seeing a look of confusion on the face of a turtle, unless you count Mitch McConnell.

Turtle facts: Beginning in late spring through summer, female turtles leave the safety of their ponds and creeks to find a dry spot to dig a nest. Nesting habitat is typically located on sparsely vegetated, typically south- and west-facing slopes at distances of up to 500 feet from the water’s edge. Ideal sites are free from artificial irrigation (sprinkler systems) because the western pond turtle’s hard egg shells can explode when wet. While most western pond turtles nest somewhat near water, they have been documented traveling long distances (more than 500 yards) to upland habitat to lay eggs.

At any rate, I was proud (and a little crazy) to be a part of the great turtle rescue of 2017.