Drunkenness: probably NOT a contradiction to despair

It’s quarter after 3 and there’s no one in the place
‘cept you and me
So set ’em Joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know….. (Harold Arlen/Johney Mercer)

(Frank Sinatra,melancholy, on a bar stool -the apotheosis of melancholy, too romantic to be despair. Tears in my beers).

It was quarter to 4, when I woke up. It’s inching toward 5:15 dawn now. No big deal. A friend of mine hasn’t really slept for six months. I just logged 4 hours. She sometimes gets only 2, although there are signs she’s moving out of Winston Churchill territory. Five hours seems doable to her now.

What better time than the tail-end of the night to contemplate drunkenness.

For the past few days of global chaos, I have been reading Ken Bruen’s last two Jack Taylor crime novels, The Emerald Lie and The Ghosts of Galway. When I say ‘last’, I mean adieu Jacko, at least that’s what the author has implied in interviews. From the condition of the man, it’s no wonder. He has suffered so many vicious attacks as a Guard and a private eye that he is a physical wreck -lame, deaf, with mutilated fingers, and a heart full of grief. All of his friends and even his dogs meet dreadful ends because of him. Well, not even Bruen is heartless enough to eliminate every last one. Maybe there is a short story that will clear up the oversight. Jack drinks! He likes a Guinness and a Jameson chaser. He likes the Guinness built just right. In the right mood, he can lose months of his life to these libations and then months more to the aftermath.

He can’t go into a bar without someone, usually a woman, with a wad of cash, sidling up to him and saying, “You’re Jack Taylor.” It may be a simple job, like ‘find my lost brother’ -who is entirely fictional, but more often as time has gone on, it has been ‘Look what this bastard did to my girl. Get me some payback.” Payback gets gotten, although not always by Jack. Jack’s a hurley stick man, but others in his orbit use more lethal means.

Jack is a good man, his landlady says early on and his good friend, the outside nun, later on. He is a keen man for justice, humanized by reading and music and his love of dogs and swans. He has been hardened by his “walking bitch of a mother with her tame priest”, by the corruption of the church and  the government, by the miserable poverty attendant on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and, perhaps most of all, by the water tax.

Suffice to say Bruen knows from PTSD.

The Irish have a reputation for enjoying a drop. I do not say drunkenness. Who am I to judge? I lived with Connor for many years. He gave up martinis every Lent. I lived in hell for 40 days each spring. I have a beloved relative, Colin, who is more sensible and less church-ridden. He says of his year-round habit, “Mostly ice,” as he pours his Bombay Gin. Vermouth doesn’t even get to breathe on the glass. Both get loquacious, even argumentative. I got many a cooking lesson in front of guests from Connor. Neither fall down or pass out or miss work.

I find it hard to read the Joe Nesbo books where Harry Hole descends into drunkenness and heroin. But then some experiences have to be first hand: sex is another one. And Harry is needed sober and strong back in Norway.

College binge drinking lost its glow for me before I got out of high school. Just that one, totally horrible, unable-to-feel-appendages experience put me right off. The stag and doe parties that I see depicted on Brit telly and which apparently happen here as well are not my cup of booze. I also had a terrible experience with a brownie on my niece’s 50th. That  limited my appreciation of getting high for good and all.

I know I drink too much wine for a person of my age and constitution. A 6-oz-glass puts me in legal jeopardy, although drinking in solves that problem. Drinking alone? Get real.

(A librarian once told my daughter never to eat while reading. My daughter was outraged, “You have to eat, you know.)

So the flaming world is falling apart. The leader of the free part is tailoring his actions to please 30% of his country. They don’t seem to be terribly well-informed about historical precedent. They don’t seem to know much geography and certainly even less economic theory than the rest of us. Which is saying something! They can’t tell a good guy (Canada) from a bad guy ( Russia). They claim to be helpless to prevent child massacres on their home soil. To them, children separated from parents and locked in what sure do look like kennels if not cages, brought that on themselves, and can damn well show up in court to coo or babble their own defense – in Spanish.

Who wouldn’t drink?

The most drunken person I ever met was my Aunt Mae. She was drunk on the love of Jesus, and joyfully swept all and sundry up in her ecstasy. Also she wouldn’t say no to a nip of brandy.

Jesus and I fell out one time.

Yet I know that what woke me up this night and what is keeping me awake is fear and self-restraint and that the answer is release.

Coleman Barks organizes some of Rumi’s poems into ‘Tavern Madness’ in Rumi: the Book of Love. The tavern is a place where passion breaks loose, an excited place where one is out of one’s mind, with others.There is the shared sense of the presence flowing through. We are connected. We are one, present and absent at the same time. I love the poem that says
I didn’t come here of my own accord
And I can’t leave that way
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.


It reminds me that something has charge over me. Whatever that is will see me safe home.When I read that, I remember I am not alone in passion or rage or goodness or hope or despair or terror. Whether what holds us together is DNA or Soul, it is universal and wise enough, drunken enough, to triumph.

In the meanwhile raise a glass – soda water with or without lemon will do. Drunkenness, O Necessarily Sober One, is fundamentally not about alcohol.

(Full disclosure: my biological grandfather, who hailed from the Emerald Isle, died syphilitic  in New Hampshire madhouse. But may have been teetotal.)

 

 

 

 

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Hope: contradiction to despair #7

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings…

Emily Dickensen

It took me a while to find this poem because I thought it said, Hope is a thing with a broken wing. A Freudian slip to be sure.

I started thinking about hope when Ian Tyson’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow came up on shuffle as I pulled into the No Frills parking lot. I first heard that song at age 6 when I saw The Wizard of Oz in 1942.

We Quebec children were not usually permitted to go to movies, ostensibly because of a fatal movie theater fire, but more likely because the Catholic Church held sway over the province’s morals and saw movies as corrupt. An exception must have been made in this case.

I was already enthralled by the black and white footage of the coming storm when Dorothy arrived in the Land of Oz and things burst into color. And then the music began.

I had found my answer.

The tornado of my home life offered no escape, no shelter. The cellar was just another place of danger. But now I knew that over the rainbow, there was hope and someday, like the bluebird, I would fly there.

It worked. More or less.

Much later, I learned that those who had five or even ten year goals were more likely to be happy and successful. At crucial points in my career, my personal life and my health care, I was asked about such goals. In other words, ‘Articulate your hopes.’ My instant response was “Beats me’, but, of course, I repressed that and made shit up.

So now I am old, not old old. I won’t be old old for 7 or 8 years, not even middle old, which I will be in 3 years. But old nevertheless. What are the possible goals of a hopeful 82-year-old? My immediate response, ‘Living to be 83’.

Until recently, I harbored a broken-winged hope that the world was evolving and becoming a better place, little by little. And that I had played a part in that.

Look what happened.

Now I’m reduced to the idea that life on this planet of pain is pendulum in nature – two steps forward, one step back. Or is it the other way around?

Really, this blog post is falsely advertised. It’s the old bait and switch. I have no faith that there is hope nor that it contradicts despair. In fact, hope of the over-the-rainbow kind is too broken to hold in hand. Yet I get up, stand up and go on, with no expectation of reward. Is it from some old hopeful habit or just an obstinate refusal to give in?

Wishful metaphors make fine poetry, but hope is a 4-letter word – patient, resolute, strong and defiant in the face of darkness.

 

 

 

Wine, Women and Song: contradiction to despair #6

So Apollo and Bacchus walked into a bar….

Well, actually, I walked into a bar. I was fleeing despair.

This particular stumble into the abyss was occasioned by a lost load of laundry. I hadn’t realized it was lost for a week. When I inquired about Lost and Found, I discovered my apartment building didn’t have one, but I might find my clothes in the laundry room garbage container. That’s where they were, down at the bottom of a bin big enough to hide my entire body. And half full of lint, empty detergent bottles and other nasty bits. I leaned in and liberated the garments, one by one, bare-handed.

I have owned three washers in my life and just as many dryers, I suppose. No longer. Another proof that I can not now count myself among the middle class. So what? So – the lower classes live at the behest of others, especially landlords and their agents, the dreaded resident Superintendent couple.

So I took myself to Shoeless Joe’s, my local franchised watering hole. I ordered a glass of white and a burger with salad, and opened Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing. A certain kind of poetry can bring me out of a funk if I persist at it. Leonard published this book in 2007 after he came down from Mount Baldi and gave up his munkish pursuit of enlightenment. Around this time, he discovered he had been robbed blind, although I doubt he found himself losing a load of wash in a laundry room. Or failing to realize that for a week.

So Apollo, Greek God of poetry sat beside me, in the guise of my friend Leonard. (See https://115journals.com/2018/03/08/leonard-and-i/ ‎) A dear friend had bought me this book at Shakespeare and Company across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I started reading again from the beginning.

When I drink
the $300 scotch
with Roshi
it quenches every thirst
a woman lies down with me

A high-pitched shriek breaks in. It is a sports bar. The world cup of soccer, FIFA, is happening in Europe. No, all visible screens are showing golf – a guy putting a ball not very close to a hole. A NASCAR interview. What must be a hockey replay.

I try another poem:

You’d sing too
if you found yourself
in a place like this
….

Several screams of delight, not all female. The bar itself is rectangular. I am sitting at a two-person booth at one corner. The screamers must have their backs to me. Suddenly, a woman in a tight white dress showing a lot of back skin, throws both arms straight up and utters another bacchanalian shout of joy. What!!! She turns and throws her arms around the guy on her right, kisses his neck and says, “I love you.”

My food arrives. I let the book fall shut as I begin to eat. I observe the crowd. On the left of the woman is a thin man in his late 50s with a moustache. Beside him is a First Nations fellow wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt, sleeves cut to show off his muscles and tats. Closer to me is another thin, late 50s man with a grey moustache, who could be a twin to the one on the left. Around the corner is a guy, who doesn’t look like the shrieking type with his buxom lady. There are 3 or 4 more, apparently all part of the same constellation.

No one is watching television, yet every so often one or another erupts in a shriek, although only the woman in white throws up her arms in true I’m-having-a-G.D.-good-time fashion. When she does, she shows off her little pot belly.

I’m a proponent of non-age-appropriate clothes. At my advanced age, I am wearing an Alice-in-Wonderland straw hat. In a bar. Wear what you can get away with. This girl is pushing the limit, sartorially and otherwise.

It is a fluid group. Women go out to the patio, leaving their purses hanging on the back of the bar stools. Guys wander over to other guys, clasp them in fond embraces, assure each other of their love and exchange neck smooches.

Wait a minute! I’m in Meadowvale. I am in one of the squarest suburbs in the square city of Mississauga on the western edge of Toronto, which is not square only on Pride Weekend, which has come and gone.

The non-shrieking guy collects one of the abandoned purses and hangs it over his own shoulder. The woman in white sails in from the patio and spots a pair pushing a wheelchair-bound newcomer. Screaming in delight. she stands so close to me that we are almost touching. All four catch up at the top of their lungs.

I pick up my book and my tumbler of Chardonnay.

Slipping down into the pure land
into the Awakened State of Drunk
into the furnace blue Heart of the
one one one true Allah the Beloved
Companion of Dangerous Moods

“How is everything?” the tattooed waitress, with the extremely interesting cleavage, asks.

“Fine,” I reply, with only a slight eye roll. I set to on the salad.

They are still singing down at Dusko’s
sitting under the ancient pine tree,
in the deep night of fixed and falling stars.
If you go to your window you can hear them.
It is the end of someone’s wedding,
or perhaps a boy is leaving on a boat in the morning.

Cohen wrote this in 1967 on one of his Greek islands. I didn’t follow him to Greece for 7 years, and, even so, I didn’t get to the islands. Still I have heard singing on a beach across the gulf from Delphi. And eaten the small fish fresh from the sea. And found unsuitable love.

“Everything good?” asks the male manager.

“Yes,” I reply. “Everything is good.”

Bacchus, god of wine, wild reckless leader-astray of besotted followers has just paid a tangential visit to help his bro Apollo lift this despondent old girl out of her misery.

 

 

 

 

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Loose Lips: contradiction to despair #5

Despair like the mafia, my father and bullies in general demand silence. “You can’t do anything to stop me and if you do, I’ll kill you. Anyway, it’s your fault.” (See Never Tell, my memoir of childhood joycehowe.com) Convinced of the hopelessness of speaking, we fall silent.

Quite the opposite is true. Loose lips, where depression is concerned, sinks the ship of despair.

Talking is just a riff on union with the divine or connection, assuming a more earthly contact. A phone is a useful tool.

The listener needs no training, except in the art of silence and the odd encouraging remark – how do you feel about that. While it’s hard listening to an hour of weeping and absolute despair, -wine helps, or half an Atavan – it is rewarding because the speaker eventually runs down and may even say she feels better.

The depressed person is only required to voice her conviction that life is totally meaningless, unfair, unbearable and not to be endured, with specific examples drawn from the present at first and then from the dismal past.

There is one essential question: are you suicidal?, followed by what plan have you made? Once this is on the table, strategies can be developed. Such strategies do not involve, “You can’t do that!” They need to be practical and effective. Once a Salvation Army officer sat with me far into the night until I was too tired for self-harm.

In those days, I was too far gone for my immediate family, but suicide hotlines were there 24/7.

In less exigent circumstances, your best friend is your journal. “Dear Constance”, one of my creative writing students began each of her mandatory journal entries. I didn’t actually read these entries, although, as I recorded journal completed, I noted the salutation. I have a 6-ft-high bookcase filled with 159 journals, written between phone calls. After many years, I write less, call less and listen more.

Life’s a bitch. But hang on. Lean on me. Lean on you. Let’s make it through.

Serendipity: contradicting despair #3

Serendipity: the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident

I’m back in the mountain village in South Cal that I write about in these blog posts and in my mystery Hour of the Hawk. joycehowe.com

When I arrive, I usually stay at the house in the pines for the first few nights, before moving to the other mother’s house. The house in the pines is the abode of our children. We are the mothers or the mother-in-laws. They are happily married and my moving after a few days enables them to stay that way.

In the house in the pines, I sleep on a mattress on the floor for the sake of my back. Last night, I was reading Masaryk Station by David Downing, rereading really, but that’s neither here nor there, when a tiny black shape scuttled under the door and flattened itself against the wall.

I processed this information, fixing it with my gimlet eye.

We knew we had a mouse and, apparently, one that could spring a trap and escape. I had mouse experience, although not recently. Mice don’t  seem to climb 14 floors. I knew mice of old as long and narrow, fast moving critters that induced shudders. This mouse was not like that. Sitting, it was more of a triangle with large rounded ears. Cute as all get out.

It was in the right house.  MIckey had been the founder of the feast. MIckey Mouse artifacts and High School Musical Awards adorned the place. Walt Disney’s cute little guy and his immense studio had been in at the rise (and fall) of family fortunes.

I don’t shriek when I see a mouse. Well obviously. Yet I knew that health and safety were at issue. Is there Hunta Virus in Kern County? I knew I had to stop staring into its -oh, what the hell – his eyes. It was not clear who was hypnotizing whom.

“Mouse, mouse,” I cried.

Then as quiet fell, the mouse and I went back to gazing at each other.

My daughter eventually appeared, put her head in and looked down. My son-in-law followed in due course. The mouse sat staring at me.

We talked it over. I didn’t move. We decided to try the spider rescue trick: cover it with a bowl, slip cardboard underneath, carry it outside.

The mouse and I were motionless still. Son-in-law returned with pan and swooped down. Mouse made for the closet, slipping underneath the door. The closet floor is stuffed with laundry baskets, shoes, yoga stuff and more. I asked son-in-law to bang on the door and assumed my tiny friend had scarpered.

Half an hour later, as I returned from tooth brushing, he sallied across the room and back to the closet. Fifteen minutes after that, he re-emerged running toward me. He stopped eight inches away and stared into my eyes.

“You cannot be here,” I told him. He sat listening. “You have to go away, back out to your field.” He didn’t move.

My daughter, who had clearly just woken up, opened the door. The mouse retreated to the portable heater, where he sat in plain view, convinced we could no longer see him.

I gathered my quilt and my pillow and carried them to the living room where I cocooned myself on the suede sofa. I slept like a log and woke up stiff as one.

I was changed of course.

And so good morrow to our waking souls
That watch not one another out of fear (John Donne)

 

 

Ecstasy: contradicting despair #2

Good sex and union with the divine are two reliable ways to achieve ecstasy. Or maybe just one, when you think about it.

Some people seem to be born ecstatics. They make good poets. I had a friend like that, but western pharmaceuticals were able to cure it.

(Sorry, I slipped momentarily into one of the other great contradictions of despair – bitter humor.)

I’m taking it for granted here that I don’t have to explain despair, why, for example, W.B. Yeats wrote, The world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Leave a comment below if you feel I am wrong in this assumption. I will be glad to explain  human suffering, personal and social. That will mean a personal sacrifice because I am writing about these contradictions in order to avoid doing that.

The Sufis whirl in prayerful adoration of God. The 13th century poet, Rumi, born in Afghanistan, was a Sufi. His poetry has become widely known lately through modern translations like those by Coleman Barks. When the Black Dog of depression is shaking me by the back of my neck, I prescribe myself the rereading of Rumi: The Book of Love, to be taken 3 nights in a row at bedtime. I say 3 because I find, if I follow my advice, I forget to be miserable by the 4th.

Come to the orchard in spring
There is light and wine and sweethearts
In the pomegranate flowers

If you do not come, these do not matter
If you do come, these do not matter. 

Who comes or does not come, I cannot say. And yet …

Some of the Romantic poets have moments of ecstasy – Coleridge’s drug induced, Wordsworth’s more daffodill-ian. – but their broken hearts peek through in spite of resolute cries of Joy at that dawn it was to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven.

Others are flat out euphoric.

John Donne greets his wife, “And so good morrow to our waking souls/ That greet not one another out of fear. William Blake says, I love to rise on a summer morn. Emily Dickensen, I started early -Took my dog/ And visited the sea –

Teresa of Avila, a mystic who was canonized after her death in 1582, described the Devotion on Ecstasy as being where consciousness of the body disappears.

Leonard Cohen got the picture:
And so my friends, be not afraid
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love we disappear.

Further contradictions to despair will follow.

 

 

What Kind of Fish Have I Caught?

Now What Am I Going to Do?  by Sheila Maloney

Why did I decide to write a mystery? Let me see.

I was living half way up a mountain, suffering from a serious lack of sensory deprivation. I was surrounded by extraordinary beauty and bored out of my skull. I had read every mystery available in the Kern County Library down the hill. I couldn’t afford anymore Kindle e-books. And I wasn’t aware of digital loans. I could watch TV only if I crashed in somebody else’s living room. Internet connection could be found only at a cafe, which still wasn’t licensed to serve. Anything. Besides the connection was so slow, it took hours just to buffer.

So not a serious writer. Not driven. Just bored.

On the other hand, I had built my long life around narrative, survived by it, studied it, taught it, got withdrawal if I ran out of it. So why not?

My friends in the mountain village, fearing for my mental health, brainstormed the underlying idea – eco-terrorism. Well meaning ecologists driven over the line by ideology. Or not. Three and a half years and eight rewrites later, back home in Toronto, I published Hour of the Hawk, independently as an e-book and POD (print on demand) on Amazon.

Six months later, 300 e-books have been downloaded. Free e-books. Twenty five paperbacks have been sold, 20 to the author, the others to her friends.

So marketing?

David Gaughran who generously shares his experience in independent publishing, helped me – virtually – to publish my first book, a memoir of childhood, Never Tell with his free book, Let’s Get Digital in 2012. Now I turned to his book Amazon Decoded for finer points on accessing Amazon’s best seller’s lists and his newest Strangers into Superfans. Reading and rereading, I slowly began to refine my idea of my ideal reader.

OMG!

She was a cozy mystery reader!

➤ COZY: One of the ironic strengths of this subgenre is the fact that, by creating a world in which violence is rare, a bloody act resonates far more viscerally than it would in a more urban or disordered setting. READER EXPECTATION:
A unique and engaging protagonist: Father Brown, Miss Marple, Kinsey Millhone. The crime should be clever, requiring ingenuity or even brilliance on the hero’s part to solve. Secondary characters can be coarse, but never the hero—or the author. Justice triumphs in the end, and the world returns to its original tranquility.
Writer’s Digest Oct, 2015

A world where violence is rare -Bear Mountain Place, a remote village in Southern California – check
a unique and engaging protagonist –  Joanna, a 78-yr-old who has trouble recognizing faces, Clara, an 85-yr-old who has trouble seeing and hearing, set out to solve the mystery -check
a clever, ingenious even brilliant resolution by the protagonistadd visionary – check
Justice triumphs, order is restored – of course, with two such sleuths on the case – check

So what’s the problem?

In order to find my narrative voice, I had a number of portraits taken and this is what my narrator looked like. (Phillipa C., Dundas W. Toronto)

Not cozy. Smart-mouthed. Occasionally profane. Prone to black thoughts. Convinced of Samuel Beckett’s rule, ‘Despair young and never look back’.

Gaughran told me to look at “Also Boughts’. (In my case, the term ‘bought’ has to be used loosely.) These included several cozy series including the Cupcake Series, (cozy mysteries often include recipes), several historical mysteries like Mona Lisa’s Secret by Phil Phillips, the Undertaker Series (sounds promising) and Everett by Jennifer Buff, a dark psychological suspense novel.

Oh, come on, Joyce, you did include a detailed description of a birthday dinner preparation in Hour of the Hawk. And it’s true  Clara has six cats, named Jazz, Poirot, Tennison, Sherlock and Columbo. It’s also true that Joanna, who is living with her, is allergic to cats and endures a sequence of 27 sneezes early in the book.

You, Joyce, are a terrible snob. Like most English Majors. Look how long it took you to lower yourself to reading mysteries. You were 67 when your friend Anna said she was reading Donna Leone’s Detective Brunetti series set in Venice. (A lot of Italian cooking there) Only then did you admit a reader could not live by Booker Prize alone. Since then you have devoured P.D. James, Ruth Rendall/Barbara Vine, Elizabeth George, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, all of the Scandanavian mysteries – even Jo Nesbo, as well as Icelandic, Michael Connelly, Lee Child. Etc. Now you have had to branch out to espionage novels. You have had repeated escapes from truly awful cliched books, some of which you actually undertook to review. Get over yourself. Admit you wrote a cozy mystery.

“Can I still keep the cover? (Jeremy Von Caulert, BLack Sunset) I love the cover. I’ll have to rewrite the blurbs. Okay, Okay, but only if I can call it a cozy mystery, plus.”

Hour of the Hawk  Chapter One: Too Many Bears

The bear came down from the mountain in late afternoon. She wasn’t hungry. She had eaten well, but she was missing the cub.

She turned at the bottom along the well-worn path, picking up the scent of honey in the distance, and closer up, traces of many other bears, including the cub. The cub was old enough to manage on her own now. There would be a new cub in winter. She was almost there when another darker smell stopped her in her tracks. Blood. Bear blood. She took it in. Not just any bear blood, her cub’s blood.

The man got home from work early. He was the boss. He could leave when he wanted. This bear thing had him all upset. All he had wanted to do was help his fellow creatures. They were hungry and starving in this four-year drought.

To continue reading sample https://www.facebook.com/joyce.howe.75

joycehowe.com

 

 

 

 

 

‘Am I in your book?” – The Worst Kind of Thief

The mountain village of PMC in Kern County California, which served as the prototype for Bear Mountain Place.

Awake, I lack imagination. Asleep, I dream whole new worlds. Unfortunately, I do my writing awake. And so, I identify with Sheryl Crowe’s ‘worst kind of thief’.

In her song, The Book, Sheryl Crowe (from her 1996 self-titled album) sings that she read the book and discovered she knew that girl in it ‘a little too well’. She’ll always remember three days in Rome. She got “written down, sliced around, passed down among strangers’ hands”. She ‘laid her heart out, laid her soul down’. She learned that ‘the love you once made/can’t be undone’. ‘Will I get revenge?’ Well yes. By writing this song.

I longed to find proof that this was autobiographical. It seems too heartfelt to be fiction. But I didn’t.

Why do I care? I “carry a pen and a paper” and “no words I waste”.

I started writing my mystery Hour of the Hawk, when I spent several months in a California mountain village waiting out a family problem. My amateur detectives are two elderly women who set about finding out who is terrifying the town with acts of ecological terrorism, which steadily grow more deadly. I modeled one of them on a friend.

Clara was a disarming little old lady, cute, with flashing blue eyes and a lovely smile.  She had a great schtick. She could seem charmingly helpless-a girl just out in the world, or alternately, a slightly confused elder. The first week she was in Bear Mountain Place, a woman stuck $10 in her purse and told her to buy herself a decent meal.
“Why did she do that?” Clara asked me.
“Generosity,” I said. “But next time tell her you need $20 for a decent meal up here.”

I shamelessly stole other identities as well. Two of these people read the manuscript, and, although they both offered advice, neither objected to the theft. ‘Clara’ still had not read the book when I published it as an e-book on Amazon. Since she didn’t have a tablet, she still couldn’t. Then in February, I published Hour of the Hawk through Amazon’s Print on Demand. Now she could read it.

I’m such a coward that I tried the indirect approach. None of her close relatives would hazard a guess about how she’d react. Fictional Clara is hard of hearing and sight, so much so that the villain of the piece – or one of them at any rate – is able to sneak past here while she is watching television. Real Clara has had her vision corrected, but has also fore-sworn her hearing aids on the grounds that elderly fingers can’t handle tiny, tiny batteries. Would my friend resent these handicaps being used for humor?

The other amateur sleuth, Joanna Hunter, can’t recognize faces, a disability I am familiar with.

So I found my courage and wrote Clara a long letter, explaining my concern and enclosing a sample or two.

Then Jesus, the cable guy, arrived.
His card read Jesus Morales, Direct T.V. He pronounced it for me, Hesus.
“Hesus, Hesus,” I kept repeating to myself. I wasn’t used to Jesus as an ordinary name. I wasn’t used to Hispanic accents. I could understand Chinese or West Indian accents, and, of course, South Asian, but not Spanish.
He wasn’t used to Canadian accents. He didn’t understand ‘rooof’, so I had to say ‘ruf’. We kept asking each other to repeat. I held the record. I just didn’t get Hesus.
“Sit down. Why don’t you sit down?” Reg/Doug called to me.
Clara could tear herself away from them only for a moment. “Joanna can show you whatever you need,” she told Hesus.
He turned on the new 70-inch television set. It hung on the wall in front of the couch where Clara and her company sat. We were all jammed into a ten-foot wide space, crowded with unpacked boxes. When the sound came on, Clara cried out, “I’ll never be able to hear that.” So Jesus turned the volume up and up, until Clara was satisfied. The screen told us the volume was 87. Then she and the ‘boys’ resumed shouting.
Jesus showed me his work sheet, and began to ask questions. A bald guy on the screen was yelling about the shoddy workmanship on a renovation. Jesus was shouting questions at me. The boys and Clara were splitting their sides at some long ago anecdote. I grabbed the remote control, and turned down the volume.
“It says one box here,” said Jesus.
“No, no. We were promised two,” I said. “There’s another set in a bedroom. Colin talked to the company several times. There are to be two boxes.”
Then I moved Jesus over near the utility room, so I had access to the landline.
“Oh, Jesus-with a J-God, I’m going to lose my mind,” I thought.
Once I’d got hold of Colin, I handed the handset to Jesus, and locked myself in my bathroom.
It didn’t work. I had to come back out into the din. Jesus called.
When I came out, he assured me everything was all right now. The bedroom set was working as well. I dragged Clara away from the boys, explained what had been done, and asked her to sign her name. Suddenly, she decided she should take charge, and began to ask questions that had been answered an hour ago. Jesus tended to mutter in his thick accent.
“Do I have two boxes? Colin said I would get two boxes.” She went into my bedroom and came out. “There’s just this tiny thing in there, no real box.”
Jesus began to reassure her that both sets worked, independently of each other
“You’ll have to speak louder,” I told him.
He started shouting. I searched frantically for the remote control, found it at last on top of a pile of boxes and pushed mute. I gestured at the boys who were laughing with each other. Now there were only two voices shouting.

It took a week for the letter to escape the confines of Canada Post and the U.S. Mail and end up being released into Clara’s California post office box. Yes, she wanted to read it, I heard. A mutual friend handed her a print copy. I waited for her verdict.

“I’m so flattered,” she said when she called.

I have started writing the second Joanna Hunter mystery and Clara, who will soon be 90, will be part of it.

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The e-book version of Hour of the Hawk is free to download on Mother’s Day May 13/18 and May 14/18. If you decide to read it, please leave a review on Amazon. The print edition is also for sale.

 

 

On Turning 82

This was my thirtieth year to heaven, Dylan Thomas wrote in 1944 in his lyrical and joyful way. I was 30 when I fell in love with that line. That was a good year for me, 1967. It was the year we moved our young family to the house under the hill, where pheasants called in the copse above, where we planted rock gardens and shrub gardens and put up a martin house and built a dry stone wall around a pool. It was the year I got a job as assistant English head at the school down the street, where my husband was head of math. It was the year Canada turned 100. Everything was going to be fine.

Of course I knew that the poet had one last – joyful, I hope – alcoholic binge one November day in 1954 and never got to write This is my fortieth year to heaven, I also knew that he had admonished us not to go gentle into that good night, but to rage against the dying of the light. It seems as if Thomas had an ambivalent attitude to death. Or life. Like many of us.

This is my eighty second year to heaven. Too late to scan. I should have written this two years ago.

I want to say I never expected to live this long and then impress you with all the reasons why: murderous parents, malignancy, suicidal inclination, but it is truer to say I never intended to live this long. At least, the conscious part of me, presumably the part that writes, did not intend to.

I intended to get my siblings to live into adulthood. Then having recklessly brought two more souls into the world, I wanted to do the same for them. So forty two?

That brought me to 1978 and a dark time when I bought only the smallest quantities of pain killers and never looked at bridge abutments on the highway. The next thing I knew a persistent vision of a grandchild called me back. Another generation to get through childhood.

Would you believe that now there is yet another? I’m not in the front line any more, of course, and this little girl is a merry soul who faces no immediate threat.

Except the world as we know it.

My belief is that the real me always intended to grow old, She kept it a secret from me because I couldn’t deal with longevity. She was right.

This week, I did the driver retest mandated for the elderly here in my jurisdiction. It involved sitting in a room of mostly little, old people who found drawing a clock showing ten after eleven a challenge. The instructor pleaded with us to make a list of alternatives to driving which we would shortly have to use. As I merged into rush hour traffic at 100 k. an hour on the busiest highway in North America without breaking a sweat, I thought perhaps the rumor of my decline was premature.

Here’s what I loved: babies, apple orchards, cherry trees in blossom, the full moon over the Tioga Pass, the beach on the Gulf of Corinth, a bunch of pre-schoolers crazy playing by themselves, a teen-aged boy of a Raleigh Racer, his older self in a racing green MGB, the bridge on the Seine near Notre Dame, mountains, pine trees, blue birds, coming about on a sailboat in a good wind, a feather bed, a kite straining at its leash high above Myrtle Beach, mockingbirds, the trade wind through an open window at 2 p.m. on Maui, orange blossoms scented from high on a wall in Morocco, Venus seen from a farmhouse veranda, a brook running with thaw melt, bells rung for victory, the Warsaw Concerto, a big, old Gardenia tree, an enormous date palm, a bench in Bois Fort, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, sterling silver, barn owls, swallows, hawks. I have to stop here. There’s a party.

 

 

Three Day Blow: CO or not CO

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So we had this storm. It was hyped daily as it approached: heavy rain, ice pellets, freezing rain, snow and very high winds – ergo – power outages.

I don’t listen to the news, except about Trump, but everyone told me, even strangers in the elevator. I got in provisions. I checked the lantern’s batteries. Good to go. Or not go really. I’d hunker down inside out of respect for my old bones.

As the storm began, I was woken by a beeping alarm. I stood in little hallway where the CO alarm and the smoke detector were mounted, cheek by jowl, so to speak. No further information was forthcoming.

The next time I woke up,I had a headache or rather something inside my head was trying to get out though the top. Two swords were drilling into the bones there. I sat on the edge of the bed. Dizzy, nauseated. Action!

I opened the bedroom window, the outside right slider, the inside left. Air could get in, but not whatever was falling and hammering at the glass.

I turned on the exhaust fans, opened the other windows, tried to eat toast, drank water and tea, and went back to bed.

A little after noon, I woke up again. Beep. Pause. Long pause. Oh that’s okay. Beep. Long pause. Again I stood in that five foot long hallway, open on the east to the living room, with three other doors and great potential for echoes. Nothing. Except head pain.

I went to the fridge to read that all important magnet. I raised my right arm, then my left. I said, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickles peppers, Peter picked a peck of pickled…” I looked in the hall mirror. No mouth droop. No numbness. Lack of strength? Well, all I wanted to do was lie down. I turned to the stove and hefted the iron fry-pan. Okay, there. Was it the worst headache ever? No, actually, it was the second worst. The worst was over twenty years ago, and just as I was about to call an ambulance, it stopped.

What to do?

At that moment, 1 p.m., the alarm beeped 4 times in a row. I rushed back. Nothing.

I phoned Georgia. If you have a daughter, phone her. Mine was way far away. My sister listened to me as I enumerated the stroke signs.

“Which alarm is it?” she asked.

“I can’t say. It’s like a watched pot. It only sounds when I’m in another room.”

“Remember Daniel,” she said.

Daniel was my son, to whom I had given a carbon monoxide alarm for his birthday, one February. I was apologetic about it. It seemed to show a lack of imagination. A few weeks later, a hornlike noise woke him up. ”

“Stupid thing,” he said, unplugging it and throwing it across the room. He went back to bed, but just as a deep and permanent sleep began to claim him, he leapt back up, threw open every window, and rushed upstairs to wake the other two tenants. By the time, they were at their doors muttering, “What the hell?”, he had turned off the furnace. The furnace had last been cleaned 12 years before, it turned out. It also turned out that the girl on the second floor was the landlord’s step-daughter.

I called the resident manager, the superintendent. He was not pleased. We had had a round about a beeping alarm a few weeks before when I had awoken to smell someone else’s fire place. As did the alarm.

By now, my head was pounding so badly I couldn’t think and I was slurring my words. Super was not best pleased. He reset the CO alarm and turned to go.

“That’s not going to work,” I began as I flopped onto the couch.

“All right, all right, I’ll take it to the office to monitor it. Like I did last time….”

“Not going to work,” I said. “It won’t beep there.”

Things escalated. “I’m really ill,” I kept saying, but he just talked over me.

“And if you don’t like it here, you can leave.”

I found myself weeping head-down at the table. Apparently, this was the desired effect since he was still telling me to leave as he closed the door.

“Phone his boss,” said Georgia.

“He is the boss,” I replied.

“No he isn’t.”

“It’s Saturday, and there’s a new management company…”

“Have you met his wife?” she said. ” She’s the boss.”

I phoned his boss.

The lady super could have been vice-principal in a middle school. Indeed, she could have been the head warden in a maximum security prison, but she arrived the image of our Lady of Mercy. She sat down, took my hands, told me amusing tales of exasperating tenants, there was a hug in there somewhere. Anyway her husband said that to all the tenants. And she laughed, lightly.

“But I’m sick,” I said. “I think I need to go to a walk-in clinic. Maybe I have carbon monoxide poisoning.”

“Can you drive?” she wanted to know.

Clearly not. I could barely stand.

“Have you looked outside?” Georgia said. “I can’t go out in that. Open more windows.”

And she had a garage. She didn’t even have to scrape her windshield. Still from the 14th floor, I could see a car in a snowbank and the blue flashers of its rescuers. And no other movement, except whatever evil mixture was lashing diagonally in from the north-east.

As the afternoon wore on and the weather got worse -was this when the ice started building up on my windows? My head pain went down from 10/10 to 6/10. I was able to eat toast and even watch television. The wind was howling in under the door to the corridor and wrenching at the frames of the windows.

At 6 p.m., the beeps started up again. I reported this to Our Lady of Mercy, by phone.  At 9 p.m. beeps erupted from two directions, from the smoke alarm beside the bathroom door and the CO alarm, mine own, I had plugged in, in the kitchen as a stop gap. I unplugged the CO alarm. The Lady Super had put in the 12 Volt battery for me, but had not put on the cover. By now I was able actually to think. I put the cover on. The alarm sat silent.

REplying to my phone call, Mr. Super said he would be up in the morning to take down the smoke alarm, It was now beeping every twenty seconds. I thought I had read this was a ‘nuisance alarm’, but I wasn’t sure. I had spent the evening downloading user manuals. I closed the bedroom door, took a mg of Lorazepam and checked the windows. The outside slider was frozen in place. I turned up the electric base board heater, added a heavy wool blanket and slept like a log.

Next morning, Mr. Super  put back the CO alarm and removed the smoke alarm, all the while saying he had told me from the beginning it was a malfunctioning smoke alarm. Maybe so. It wasn’t the part I remembered.

“We have to order a new one. These are time sensitive.”

“Me too,” I thought.

Monday, the schools were closed, but only snow fell. I could see my iced up red Yaris in the parking lot. It wasn’t going anywhere.

Tuesday, I hauled my dirty clothes down to the laundry and set my iPhone timer. Thirty minutes later, two loads were ready to dry while one sat deep in water. An error message was flashing. Thank God, the assistant supers were on duty. Blissfully unaware of my unsuitability as a tenant, one of them climbed up on top of the washer and reached way down to unplug it. This was supposed to cause the water to drain. It didn’t, but it did unlock the door. I sloshed the soaking wet clothes into another washer, paid again and put newspaper down on the wet floor.

Around dinner time, I caught a bad smell in the bedroom. The carpet felt damp. Using two screw drivers, I reefed up the rug. The under padding squelched when I pressed down. It was clear that somehow water had got in at the floor line.

I lost it. How could I face yet another emergency call to the office. Georgia told me to buck up.

Fifteen minutes later assistant guy super showed up with a shop vac.

“Happened upstairs too,” he said as he got to work.

“Just keep the heat on high,” he added, as he left. Smiling kindly.

I had emailed my distant son who had once been a gas fitter. He did some research and got back to me, telling me how to get in touch with the gas inspector for my building and ruminating about how the 25 separate fire place chimneys that vented on the roof could react to such unusual weather. He talked about glass fronts being available but not effective.

Bad word! Bad word! I said to myself

The fire place damper had been open throughout!

Moral of the story: I may or may not have had a migraine brought on by low pressure. The alarms may or may not have actually been signalling danger. It may or may not be a good idea if you are a resident super to assume an alarm is a malfunction. It is definitely not a good idea to piss off an ex-high school teacher with an ex-middle school teacher for a sister. Next time – the full teacher voice in stereo – way worse than a resident super voice!