BELOW MY FEET

Flat on my back across the back seat of my car, I watch the passing scenery fly by, such as it is from this vantage point. Telephone wires, the light spring green tops of newly budding trees, a flag pole. Trucks look like freight cars on a passing train and seem much closer than they normally do from the driver’s seat or riding shotgun, sitting up. I am laying down, my feet propped up on a small suitcase with a couple of sweaters on top to make my footrest more comfortable.

“We’re in Providence already?” I ask my husband as I notice the Independent Man atop the dome of the Rhode Island State Capital. He represents Roger Williams, an early proponent of religious freedom, and separation of church and state. Banished by the Pilgrims in Massachusetts for his “dangerous opinions”, Williams founded Rhode Island in 1636 as a refuge for religious minorities. He was followed by Anne Hutchinson, a spiritual advisor, midwife, and mother of fifteen. After she was excommunicated from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Roger Williams encouraged Anne to come to Rhode Island where she and her followers established the colony of Portsmouth, a haven for religious freedom. And you wonder where my opinions come from? Such are the things Rhode Island school children learn at an early age.

Providence from car window

Hubby confirms our location. We are headed to my sister’s house in Warwick, along the Narragansett Bay, to visit her and my parents. They live on the Warwick side of Pawtuxet Village. Scenes from my second novel, Take Me Home, blur by the window. The gas tanks along the port, the Johnson and Wales harbor front campus, two and three story tenements. Gone is the large red rooster who stood on the sidewalk in front of Saltillo’s Liquor Store but the giant blue termite still sits atop New England Pest Control along Route 95 at the Thurbers Avenue exit.

Tenements and feet

There is a reason I am flat on my back in the backseat. It is one of those sudden twists of fate, or should we call it a twist of ankles. Yesterday afternoon we visited my oldest daughter in Boston. She is coaching lacrosse at a private school so we watched the practice, then had lunch on a rooftop deck in Cleveland Circle followed by a walk along the reservoir. On our way back to the car I stepped off the sidewalk into a pothole and sprained both my ankles. An X-ray I had the next morning was inconclusive. There could be a metatarsal tear. I can barely walk.

***

I wrote that a week ago. Since then we know it is a metatarsal tear on the left ankle and a slight fracture on the right. When I do something I never do it halfway. This time I really fucked it up. My luck and my timing are impeccable, but we are managing. We survived Memorial Day Weekend at the Inn. Our youngest daughter is arriving June 11th to spend the summer with us. She is a hospitality management major who just finished her junior year at Johnson & Wales Denver so in addition to missing her and looking forward to her arrival, she is a very welcome guest.

Despite my unfortunate accident we’re very busy learning the ropes. Making beds, making reservations, making breakfast. The cell phone connection is spotty as we move from room to room, which wouldn’t be a big deal if i could move easily from room to room without the boot on my right foot and the very attractive flat shoe on my left. The shoe is hard and has no give, the boot rocks. I’ve never been very coordinated. I get cranky when I need something in another room and hate asking my husband for the thousandth time if he could get me a glass of water, a glass of wine, my phone, my comb. His patience has been amazing.

Tweeting and Instagramming have slowed down a bit. And blogging. Yes, the blogging. I like to blog. I enjoy writing about my silly mishaps and daily observations, but blogging takes time. After all, it’s a taste of my writing for the new reader. An opportunity to entertain and possibly sell some books. It needs to be good. Witty. Edited. It takes time, and time is in short supply at the moment.

The biggest question right now is, does a blog sell a book? I don’t think it necessarily does, and with my writing time limited during these summer months of weddings, graduations, weekend getaways, and road trips to the Inn I need to set priorities. The books are the priority and as always, I am writing because I’ve been bitten by the bug. I am addicted to putting words on the page and telling stories.

I have an idea for not one but two books. One has three thousand words already. The other has pages of character notes.

The consensus on how to sell books is to back down on the social media and spend your time writing more books. My experience confirms the fact blogs don’t necessarily sell books. I would like to think they do but the numbers don’t confirm this.

I just returned from the doctor’s office. I have four more weeks of this misery. The other night the temperature dipped to thirty degrees. My husband had to rescue the hanging plants from the porches. This afternoon it is hot and muggy and my calf inside the boot is very itchy. Yes indeed, I am back in New England. To quote Mark Twain, if you don’t like the weather just wait a minute.

For the several weeks until I’m back on my feet (yes that is plural) I will be taking a break from blogging. If you really feel the need to read some of my silly, irreverent ramblings or you’d like to prove me wrong about blogging (Lord knows I am often wrong), the books make wonderful beach reads. Or hammock reads. Airplane reads. Poolside reads. It’s summer. It’s time to read a good book.

And please, be careful where you step. Pay attention to the earth beneath your feet.

An accidental photo taken minutes before my fall:

Foot Before The Fall

Foot Before The Fall

And yes, I know. As my husband said, “You should have been wearing sneakers.”

LONG MAY YOU RUN

Three Days on the Road

My car is repacked. We emptied it for the trip to New Orleans and left the boxes in our friend’s garage in Orlando. The ruptured brake line had been repaired but then we discovered the master cylinder needed replacing. Our man Clenard said he could get to it on Sunday so we hung around with our friends for one more weekend, cooking amazing dinners and relaxing. The guys got in a round of golf.

There really isn’t much you can do about life’s mishaps. It’s called the middle class squeeze. Here we are embarking on a new way of life. We’ve reduced our monthly nut once again. We will be living at the inn in a five bedroom house attached to the main house. There will be no rent to pay, no utilities, no drive to work. All that’s left are automobiles, health insurance, one more year of our younger daughter’s college tuition, food, and other miscellaneous items, but before we can even get there we’re hit with a five hundred fifty dollar auto repair bill. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

The vehicles are old. My car will join the 200,000 Mile Club somewhere north of the Mason/Dixon line. The shocks are gone. The car bounces and squeaks as it carries a heavy load. Let’s hope she makes it. I never gave this car a name and she’s so reliable I wish I had, but it seems beside the point now.

My very first car named himself. It was a blue Toyota Corolla I bought from McGee Pontiac Toyota in Hanover, MA, a client of the public accountant I worked for in Boston who gave me a good price on last year’s model. For some reason I can no longer remember, I registered the car in Rhode Island using my parents’ address. My license plate was ED 937. Ed McGee. Ed was one of those guys you always call by their full name. We have several friends like that. Dave Stott. Jim Green. Mike Mills.

Ed McGee at Daytona Beach 1982

Ed McGee at Daytona Beach 1982

Ed traveled cross country twice. My current car, the Hyundai, has traveled up and down the East coast, spent a lot of time at lacrosse fields in the Mid-Atlantic, and commuted forty-five minutes both ways from Exeter, NH to Ipswich, MA five days a week, fifty weeks a year, for four years. The miles added up quickly but she has required little maintenance other than oil changes which were not as often as they should have been because how do you find the time to change the oil when you’re always driving the car? But she never complained, she just got the job done. Let’s hope she and I make this last trip without incident.

Day One

I packed a bag of music for each vehicle. Day One I am listening to Van Morrison, Neil Young, Dire Straits, David Gray, and Tori Amos. I play the music really loud and sing along so as not to hear anything worrisome from the car. If I can’t hear it, it’s not happening is my philosophy. I know my reasoning is faulty but to use an expression my husband despises, it is what it is.

Our goal is to drive roughly four hundred fifty miles a day. Today’s destination is Florence, South Carolina. On a long trip like this I become one with the road, the passing scenery, the names of towns, and the geography. So many of the names I see recall scenes from American history. (In case you’ve forgotten, I am the daughter of a U.S. History teacher.) I love the names of the bodies of water I cross-the Rappahonock, the Allegheny, the Chesapeake, the Susquehana.

My husband and I are not caravanning. He keeps an average speed of sixty-five miles per hour because of the weight of his load. I’m traveling between sixty-five and seventy. I report my border crossings. He calls in for a gas station pit stop up ahead or a lunch break. We speak in terms of corridors (the I-4 and the Northeast), beltways, route numbers, and mile markers.

Le

Leaving Orlando

We stay pretty close until the end of the day when I get well out ahead of him and beat him to hotel number one-a Fairfield Inn in Florence right off Route 95. Of course I think of Sam Ryder, the protagonist in my latest novel Life Is All This, writing his novels and blogs at the Fairfield Inn in South Florida. I decide Sam Ryder would be another one of those guys whose friends would refer to him by his full name.

We have dinner at the restaurant next door that looks like a chain but is actually a local place called Percy & Willy’s where we have the best French Dip sandwich we have ever eaten.

Day Two

After the free breakfast at the hotel, we’re back on the road. My music line-up for the day is the Talking Heads, Sting, J.J. Cale, Dave Matthews Band, and Natalie Merchant. A guy from Georgia with a bumper hitch towing a wheelchair with a pillow flopping off the side passes me on the left. I saw this guy yesterday. I wonder if he too stayed at the Fairfield Inn in Florence.

I pass a woman from Florida driving a truck with large lettering on her rear window. A Woman and Her Truck Are A Beautiful Thing. She is also driving solo and hauling a trailer. She looks to be in her mid-sixties. I wonder where she’s headed. There are lots of snowbirds on the road north, driving trailers towing cars with bikes attached to the rear bumper.

Somewhere in Virginia

Somewhere in Virginia

The medians of North Carolina are covered with wildflowers. Red poppies. Yellow black eyed Susan. Something pink I can’t identify at 70 m.p.h. I am on speaker phone with my friend from Rhode Island who shared this ride with me two years ago when I moved to Florida. We discuss Lady Bird Johnson, agreeing the Highway Beautification Project was a great First Lady kind of thing to do and shake our heads at the the thought that something like that could never get passed through Congress in this day and age of crumbling highways and falling bridges. Although I do acknowledge the road has narrowed down to one lane quite frequently on this trip, as I have crossed several bridges that are finally being repaired.

Arriving at our destination together, we pull into the Courtyard hotel in Annapolis at 6 p.m. On the road into town for dinner, we are stopped by a lineup of a dozen cops who ask us where we are from, where are we going, and have we had a drink this evening. “Yes, we had one an hour ago at our hotel.”

“Well, we’re running this DUI checkpoint all night so if you have another one, you will be taking a breathalyzer and you will be over the legal limit.” Oh, really? My husband orders ice tea with his dinner and our waiter tells us the roadblocks are really killing business. It is Cinco de Mayo and we are the only customers at Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs, seated in a large dining hall with a full buffet of raw oysters, crawfish, catfish, and seafood pasta salads. I ate here years ago when my daughter played lacrosse tournaments and college games throughout the mid-Atlantic.

My younger daughter recently asked me, “Do you remember that weird time in our lives when we were lacrosse people?” Yes, of course I do. I made potluck portions of pulled pork that I reheated in a traveling crockpot, or the Barefoot Contessa’s Shrimp and Orzo salad which blew everyone away. I always planned some sightseeing; a trip to Teddy Roosevelt’s house in Oyster Bay, N.Y., a stop at my cousin’s in Bethesda where we took the metro into D.C. and visited the monuments and museums, a visit to the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy, a walk through Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. Hey, we drove all the way down here, we might as well see something.

But on this trip north we’re all business. We are anxious to start our new life and get this drive in our old vehicles behind us. We get lost driving back to the hotel and miss the DUI checkpoint. Back in our room, we catch the Teddy Roosevelt episode of a Ken Burns NPR documentary.

Day Three

We leave Annapolis just after sunrise. Today’s music lineup is Mumford and Sons, Allman Brothers, Miles Davis, and Enya. The day starts peacefully. A drive through the farms of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Heavenly sunlight shines through puffy white clouds onto freshly planted fields. We chose this route because my husband wanted to avoid the beltway around D.C. But the Northeast Corridor lies ahead, always a difficult drive on the last leg of the journey home to New England.

heavenly sunrise

We cross the Delaware bridge onto the New Jersey Turnpike to Route 95. The potholes are getting larger. The highways wear the battle scars of a long Northeast winter. The shocks are no longer absorbing the potholes and there are no breakdown lanes. My car bounces like a trampoline. Squeak, Squeak. I forgot to buy more Velcro to attach my EZ Pass to my windshield as we drive through the tolls that began in Maryland. Leaning forward to hold the EZ pass up to the window as I approach the toll booth for the George Washington bridge, I notice the giant pothole too late. Clunk. Groan. Oh shit.

My nameless girl creaks and wobbles a bit, complaining about why at her age am I making her drive with all these boxes on her seats and in her trunk. Where are we going and what are we doing? Haven’t I worked hard all my life? How many more miles must I travel?

I lost sight of my husband back on the Jersey turnpike while I was driving in the car lanes and he was over with the semis and RV’s but as we reach the crest of the bridge with Manhattan over my right shoulder and rain beginning to fall, we catch sight of him up ahead. Enya is singing a soothing song. I relax into the Orinoco Flow and the comfort we feel when we see my hubby just up ahead calms my jangled nerves. My nameless girl’s chrome heart still beats. She keeps driving the road ahead. The only road we know. We are headed in the right direction.

Crossing the George Washington Bridge

Crossing the George Washington Bridge

VISIT NEW ORLEANS BEFORE YOU DIE

“I am not going to lay down in words the lure of this place. Every writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short. It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of south Louisiana in words and to try is to roll down a road of cliches, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is. It is home.” ~ Chris Rose, 1 Death in Attic: Post-Katrina Stories

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, you need to visit before you die. It is a quirky, fascinating, exotic place full of life and you are going to be dead for a long time as Bob Dylan once said, so hop in your car or buy a plane ticket and visit this urban city with the hometown feel. It is full of gourmet food, fine music, amazing architecture, and city parks that are exemplary oases of urban planning at its finest, and despite all those delights it is the people of New Orleans that are the city’s greatest asset.

Lafayette Cemetery

Both beautiful and decadent, everywhere you turn are signs of poverty residing alongside Southern elegance; from the homeless sleeping beneath the overpass by the exit ramp that first leads us into the city streets, to the lovely homes in the Garden District where we took a four mile stroll from our hotel to the Tulane campus, to the panhandlers waiting outside the door of the convenience store where we bought bagels, to the Carousel Bar in the very elegant Hotel Monteleone where we had a drink while waiting for a downpour to pass through.

Rainy French Quarter

On the rain soaked streets of the French Quarter we dodged the showers by ducking into shops along Royal Street, and yes a bar or two in-between because after all, this is The Big Easy and we do enjoy our cocktails. We avoided crowded, drunken Bourbon Street like the plague but enjoyed the ever popular Acme Oyster House around the corner on Iberville where we shared a dozen raw oysters shucked and another dozen char-broiled.

Acme Oyster

There was a TV in our hotel room but we only turned it on to check the weather while we drank strong chicory coffee and ate yet another bagel from the six pack we bought at the convenience store. Our accommodations had a small kitchen but other than breakfast we dined out in this city of gumbo, étouffée, oysters (we have consumed several dozen), and boudin.

On one of our walks, I was drawn to a brick building that looked more like an alley lined with flickering gaslights, and it was here that we met Nate, a young man working the age old craft of making hand riveted copper lanterns. I had accidentally stumbled upon a young daydream believer so I asked him how he chose this profession. He explained that after college he ended up working for an architectural company where he became interested in lighting and found his way to an apprenticeship with a coppersmith. “I majored in history and I guess you could say, in a way I am using my education by making historical lighting.” He is one of the lucky ones, finding his passion early in life and a way to make a living doing it in a city where gaslights flicker day and night.

Gas lanterns-Bevelo

On another night, eating another two dozen oysters at fifty cents a piece during the Redfish Grill happy hour, we chatted with our bartender Glenn, a man in his early sixties who moved from Burlington, Vermont to New Orleans in 2005. He and his partner were tired of the corporate nine to five life and decided to move here to try their hand at bar-tending.

“We had no experience in a city where restaurants are serious business and it unfortunately took a terrible storm for us to land a job. So many people had left the city after Katrina and the work force was at an all time low, so we finally landed good jobs, stuck it out in the aftermath of the storm, and fell in love with our new city during some very hard times.”

Now they’ll never leave, he told us. “I don’t think I could handle the cold anymore and summer is so damn short up there in New England.”

“Yes, I’m worried about that,” I admitted, as we tell him how after Jazz Fest we are heading north to begin our adventures in inn keeping.

Everyone in New Orleans has a story, including the tourists. Something about this city turns just about everyone into an extrovert. On another rainy night we visited Frenchman Street where the sound of jazz spilled onto the streets as soon as we crossed Esplanade and turned the corner onto this vibrant, bustling street. Waiting in line for the doors to open to the Blue Nile where we had will call tickets to a James Booker tribute, we struck up a conversation with a man from Montana who was here for Jazz Fest with his childhood friend from California. This was their tenth year attending the festival together. For a half hour we traded stories while listening to the music in the bar next door, and across the street, along with the guy on the corner playing his trumpet for tips. A harmonious symphony providing the beats to our conversation. Where was the last Grateful Dead show you saw? Were the Allman Brothers ever the same after Dickie Betts left the band? What do you think of Trey Anastasia and Phish? And of course I had to share my story from thirty-five years ago about the time I was here during Mardi Gras when Etta James walked onto the stage at Tipitina’s at three in the morning.

Tourists are a big part of this city and yes, some are stumble down drunk but most are here to enjoy the sights and sounds of NOLA, as the locals call it. I don’t know how many thousands of people were at Jazz Fest the day we attended. They came from just about every state in the union and various foreign countries too, many of them repeat visitors. The fields were soaked and muddy but everyone shared dry space or room on the blue tarps the seasoned veterans brought along with them. There was no violence that day, no fist fights, no angry mobs. From the gospel tents to the corporate sponsored Acura stage (for everything is corporate sponsored these days) people danced and sang, shared their music stories, drank beer, and ate good food. If you ever make it here, I highly recommend the Trout Baquet from Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe. 

Just before we left for New Orleans, on the day we moved out of our apartment in Boynton Beach, a neighbor told my husband he had worked for the DEA and warned him about the dangers of New Orleans. “Make sure to bring your gun, and watch your every move. People get killed there all the time.” But as my boss once said to me, when he was warning me of other dangers in Miami, “Oh, that’s right, you guys aren’t gun people, are you?”

Gun people. No, we’re not. Apparently there are two kinds of people in America. We are the No Gun people. Other than hunters, I don’t understand the gun people and how they live their paranoid lives. I know for sure they don’t understand me. I like to dine in restaurants and shop at Walmart without a pistol in my purse, sleep in my bed at night without a gun in the night table drawer, and I wish I lived in a world where most people felt the same way. I understand bad things happen but it is not in my DNA to constantly live in fear of the the worst case scenario. I prefer to live my life expecting to find the better angels among us.

Cable news and talk radio have divided and conquered for many years now. Shouting talking heads focus on the negative. The loudest voices in the room get the most airspace. In the meantime, average Americans go about their days; working long hours, paying the bills, helping their neighbors, enjoying good food and music. We are better than the news the media chooses to focus on. I trust the majority of people are good and kind and on the fifth day of my vacation my faith was confirmed.

At a place called Coulis, we met Sharon at lunch after wandering through Lafayette Cemetery en route to Tulane. The neighborhood restaurant filled with hospital workers and local moms with their kids in tow caught our eye, so we ducked in for a quick bite to eat, which because we were in New Orleans ended up being an extraordinary meal. Shrimp and grits for me, huevos rancheros served atop pulled pork for my husband.

Sharon was helping her niece during Jazz Fest and told us about their other restaurant near Tipitina’s. We promised to check it out, so later that night we took the St. Charles trolley to Napoleon and walked the five blocks to Dick and Jenny’s, passing through another one of New Orleans lovely, livable neighborhoods lined with inviting front porches and crooked sidewalks that easily trip you up if you don’t watch your step. Sharon greeted us at the door, excited to see us once again. This time we dined on chicken and andouille gumbo, buffalo frog’s legs, and flounder in a basil cream sauce, finishing the feast with creme brûlée and lemon meringue pie atop fresh blueberry sauce.

Dick & Jenny's

Sharon happened to finish her hostessing shift just as we were leaving the restaurant. The three of stood on the crooked sidewalk chatting for awhile and we thanked her for feeding us delicious food all day long.

“How are you getting home?” she asked.

“We took the St. Charles trolley.”

“You’re walking all the way to the trolley? Forget it, I’ll drive you back.”

So we hopped in her car and on the drive to the hotel, she pointed to the house she used to own before Katrina. She and her husband left for Tennessee after the hurricane, tired of the storms and the chaos and hard times that were the aftermath of Mother Nature’s wrath. “But we got bored and decided to come back,” she said.

Shortly after they returned, her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In a few weeks, because he is still feeling healthy, they are embarking on a cross country trip to see the places they’ve always wanted to visit. Her husband is receiving some type of injection every two weeks and the doctors’ in New Orleans have helped arrange this treatment along the route they are planning to travel from Arizona to California and back along the road East.

streetcar

As I listened to her story, I knew she was a fellow wanderer who believed in living every day on her own terms. She knew that life was short and on this journey nothing goes as planned and often things get difficult. Violent storms disrupt your life, jobs come and go, bad things happen, so it is better to approach life with an open heart and mind. To accept the ups and downs and other people’s quirkiness and differences. There are no right or wrong answers. We all have our own story to live.

We are now on our way to Orlando to get the truck and the trailer loaded with all our worldly possessions. The ruptured brake line has been fixed by the neighbor of our friend – a kind stranger who took care of things while we vacationed. I am writing this blog from the passenger seat as we pass dozens of billboards along Route 10 shouting at us about the Narrow Road to heaven and to Call 1-555-For-Truth.

Hell…I forgot about that.
Read the bible…it will scare the hell out of you.
Jesus is the only way to God.

As always I feel uncomfortable with this self-righteous certainty, but somewhere near the Mississippi/Louisiana border I notice a sign tucked behind some overgrown trees offering a sly rebuttal.

That Love Thy Neighbor Thing. I Meant It. – God.

During my last couple of days in the Big Easy, a skywriter was sharing messages of love and hope in response to the events taking place in Baltimore, reminding us we are all in this together. The disturbing news out of Baltimore is about everything America promised and some of the things it hasn’t delivered.

skywriting

America is a place filled with resilience and hope and the opportunity to keep improving. We are all neighbors sharing the same planet. During my week in New Orleans, I experienced days of music, food, new friends and kindness, and I will most certainly return to this complicated, enticing, vibrant city where I met a stranger at lunch who told me to visit her family’s other restaurant for dinner. Late at night, she invited two perfect strangers into her car and shared her story of sadness and optimism. At the curb in front of our hotel, I gave her my card and a big hug and told her if she happened to pass through New England on her road trip with her husband, she needed to stop by and visit us. I promised there would be a room for them at the inn.

LOVE-Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Other places we visited:

Sylvain’s for mouthwatering pork shoulder, grits and greens, and the best papparedelle bolognese I have ever eaten.

Avenue Pub for the largest selection of draft and bottled beer I have ever seen.

Cafe Amelie for the prettiest courtyard dining in New Orleans. If only it hadn’t been raining. I will be back.

Audubon Park for a picnic by the Mississippi.

City Park for the Besthoff Sculpture Garden and the Botanical Garden.

Cafe du Monde just because you have to have the chicory coffee and beignets, and you have to be a tourist some of the time.

Cochon Butcher where the homemade boudin is to die for and sandwiches are brought to a whole new level.

Jazz Fest is held each year from the last weekend in April through the 1st weekend in May.

Don’t Punch Your Sister and Other Life Lessons

Considering the small amount of possessions we now own, it was hard to explain what took so long on moving day. Of course, there was the very large issue of my husband’s closet, which was still not empty. There are times in a marriage when you ask how the hell did I end up with this guy, but over the years you learn to bite your tongue and keep the peace. And then there are those times when you can’t control yourself.

“What the fuck is going on in this closet? And you wonder why the hell I bitch?” I know, it was a little harsh but I had packed 97% of the boxes over the course of a week.

He made lame excuses and argued with me about the toaster still sitting on the counter. The toaster? Really??

I ignored him and finally, four hours later, the rooms were empty. Almost.

empty apartment

That morning he brought me two boxes from his storage trailer. The trailer that is now carrying our meager collection of furniture. They contained a collection of our daughters’ childhood mementoes. One box for each daughter. He wanted me to consolidate them.

“You couldn’t bring this to me two weeks ago?” I asked, trying to keep the exasperated tone out of my voice. In all honesty, I wasn’t trying too hard. I was exasperated and losing patience. But those boxes. Oh my.

chelsea and michelle cahoons hollow

Little essays written with crooked, backwards letters. My cat Jenny. My sister and Me. All About My Mom. And books we had made together. We made books! I forgot all about that.

photo-4

The funniest thing I found was a book made by my younger daughter Michelle’s 2nd or 3rd grade teacher. It was titled Things Not To Do. Apparently the assignment was to use something from a story the class had read together because there was a lot of advice about never kissing alligators and don’t ever look under the bed. Michelle seemed to think she was supposed to offer her own advice, and hey why not? As the offspring of parents who always take the road less traveled and believe detours are not something to be avoided but an opportunity for an adventure, why would she follow directions?

dont punch your sister

Don’t punch your sister or you will get in trouble. She will tell your mother. ~ Michelle B.

I laughed out loud, powered on, and with a smile ripped my last strip of packing tape across the box of childhood memories. I consolidated nothing. There was no way I was throwing away any of these precious archives. This is the stuff life is made of.

Despite my aching back, tired legs, and no where to sit to rest my weary bones, by two o’clock we were in the management office returning the keys, out the gates of our gated community, and on the road again . Mumford and Sons playing on my car stereo, my husband in front of me, six ladders riding on the roof of the overloaded trailer he was towing. We took the right onto the big curving ramp at the intersection of Woolbright and Interstate 95, heading north, the rising crescendo of drums and guitars and the howl of Marcus Mumford, oh how I love Marcus Mumford, sealing this moment in time. One of those symbolic turning points I will hold in my mind’s eye as The Day We Left Florida.

Put me behind the wheel of a car with good music playing and my brain is cruising with grand stories. I am writing novels and making movies.

Homesteader

***

Seven a.m. Clermont, Florida, just north of Orlando. We sip coffee in a jasmine scented backyard with hot air balloons floating in the distance. We woke to bad news. The truck has a ruptured brake line my husband discovered when he and Pete were juggling the vehicles in the driveway. My husband’s good friend is on the case. A guy in the neighborhood is a mechanic. Another guy across the street knows this guy the mechanic and gives Pete his phone number. This neighbor across the street used to live in Portsmouth, N.H. where we used to live before we got married. His wife grew up in a town not far from the Inn we are moving to. You cannot make this shit up.

Because this is our story, the imperfect union of two very different minds who somehow agree to never do things the way “other people” do, we planned to take a detour west before we headed north. Our life is in transition. We are homeless at the moment, returning to the northeast to run a B&B, something we’ve never done before but we are confident we can do it well and enjoy doing it, so we are taking the vacation we planned before we got the job offer, bound for Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Great music, great food, a great American city.

Life is short. The truck can wait. We have until the 6th, give or take a few days, to get to the Inn. We leave the keys in the truck. Pete’s neighbor has agreed to pick it up later that day. Shit happens but why let that ruin a perfectly good road trip.

My husband called it a fortunate misfortune. No one got hurt. The brake ruptured in the driveway. I don’t know how this relates to Don’t Punch Your Sister except to say, we are who we are. The eternal optimism may be one of the big reasons I ended up with this guy.

Marriage is hard work. Marriage is a commitment. A promise to have and to hold, For better or worse. LIFE IS ALL THIS is a story about a marriage. It is a story about people like you and me. It’s available on Amazon. Check it out and please Buy the Book.

And here’s one of my favorite guys, Mark Knopfler, singing one of my favorite songs with Emmy Lou Harris. I just realized if I ever get a movie deal for Life Is All This, this could be the soundtrack.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ey9kdeOjT3o

IF IT HAS TIRES OR TESTICLES YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TROUBLE WITH IT

At no time is this more true than when I am packing with my husband to move once again. I am of the philosophy of let’s get this done, start packing now. He on the other hand believes why do today what you can do an hour before you leave?

The walls in the apartment are closing in, the stacks of boxes are growing taller. Ninety seven percent of these boxes have been packed by me. This morning I bent to lift an accordion folder full of medical records, insurance policies, and automobile information, tweaking my lower back. Work came to a screeching halt, and of course I started nagging. My husband sat in the recliner watching Aerial America.

After much arguing I got him up and into the guest bedroom. In our old house in New Hampshire, the closets were scarce and small. In Florida, we each have our own large walk-in-closet with built-in shelves. His closet is in the guest room.

My husband is a pack rat. Nothing gets thrown away. New T-shirts become work shirts become paint rags. If there is a place called heaven and taking care of Mother Earth by leaving a small carbon footprint is one of the criteria for getting in, my husband is guaranteed admission. He recycles everything and throws nothing away.

My mother was visiting us in New Hampshire one summer and despite my better instincts I brought her out to the barn to show her the kittens. One of two cats we inherited when we bought the house, out of the thirteen the former owner left behind, gave birth to two kittens snuggled in a nest she made at the back of the barn. We named her One Eyed Jack. She had a cloudy left eye and we thought She was a He. When I found her nursing the kittens we changed her name to One Eyed Jackie. The father was clearly Keeper, the sweetest cat out of the feral bunch we inherited. The rest of the brood ended up at the SCPA down the road. We were down to two, then there were four.

My mother grew up in Pawtucket, R.I. across the street from a family named LaForte. Mr Laforte made his living selling things from the ever growing junkyard that was his side yard. Just the sight of it drove my grandparents crazy.

Our barn was full of the detritus of leftovers from remodeling jobs my husband had worked on in wealthy homes near the ocean in Rye, N.H. Bathroom sinks, toilets, kitchen cabinets, a piece of marble from a countertop. “We could use this in our house,” he would say, but we rarely did.

There were three tractors and two snow blowers that cobbled together barely mowed the two acres of lawn and kept the driveway clear of snow without breaking down halfway through the job. A thousand pound spiral, cast-iron staircase from a restaurant basement renovation on Bolyston Street in Boston back from the days when we lived there in our twenties rested in a back corner of the barn near the kittens.

My mother looked around at this mess of a barn and shook her head sadly. “Oh, Sheila,” she said, with a true sense of compassion and worry, “you married a LaForte.”

Now I find myself flat on my back on the guest bed trying to manage the chaos that is my husband packing up his closet.

Something is wrong with this picture. He has three times as many clothes as I do. “If you somehow smuggled your Uncle Rob’s sweater down here in the last move, I am going to kill you,” I say. I never met Uncle Rob, he passed away before I met my husband thirty four years ago. I truly will kill him if I see that sweater coming out of the closet.

“I’m going to have a whole new look up there. The blazer look. Wide whale corduroy.”

“Oh, really?” Who does he think he is? Bob Newhart? “How about the patches on the elbows?” I ask.

“Suede patches? Those are cool. People are going to ask, do you sail? I could have sworn you sailed.” He looks at the growing pile of clothes on the bed. “I could go for two months without wearing the same thing twice. I’m gonna be the smoothest guy in town.”

He’s piling things on the bed by my feet. Every other item he takes from the closet receives this comment from me: “Get rid of it.” I notice a shirt I bought him twenty birthdays ago. “That definitely has to go.”

“Aww, it’s my favorite. That’s never gonna go. I’ll wear that to my grave.”

He does agree the faded, yellowing souvenir bathrobe from the Red Rocks casino in Vegas needs to go but he keeps the belt because he uses it for the leg stretches he does for his back.

He wipes his brow. “Phew. I need to take a break. I’m spent.” He reassesses the trash pile, grabs a flannel shirt, and slips it into the bulging duffel bag that belonged to his father. When he notices I noticed, he says, “We’re throwing away perfectly good shirts and we’re keeping this shower curtain?”

I did tell him to keep the shower curtain he was folding but it is covered with surfboards and woody station wagons and is sort of ugly so I’m rethinking my decision to keep it, however I am not giving ground until he gets rid of the flannel shirt.

Tucked in the back corner of the closet are old family slides that no longer have a slide projector to load them into. None of his eight siblings wanted them. “I have to do something with these some day,” he says. He also finds receipts that I needed for the 2010 tax return. “Do you want these?” he asks.

“There’s nothing I can do with those now, the tax return’s been filed.”

“Is it a rule that I have to throw out any clothes my mother bought me?” he asks. His mother passed away in 2001. He holds up an old, faded pair of swim trunks. “I could wear these around the house.”

“Yes, that is a major rule. Those swim trunks don’t even fit anymore, do they? You’re working at an inn. Guests could arrive unexpectedly. You can’t greet them in your bathing suit.”

“They could go with my blazer.”

I have a long three days ahead of me.

***If you enjoy my blogs, you will enjoy the books. Help keep a starving artist writing. Life Is All This is now available on Amazon.

Last Days of Sunshine and Palm Trees

Boca palms These days are filled with work. Late days crunching numbers for 8-9 hours. Everyone is replaceable in these types of jobs but personalities are harder to replace. Apparently I am a personality. Easy to get along with, the purveyor of entertaining tales. The bookkeeper who writes books. The woman with the funny stories and the easy-going personality. The woman who is escaping the mundane.

“I wish I was going with you,” is something I’ve heard more than once.

The heat has arrived in South Florida early this year. Only mid-April and the mornings are muggy. My husband, who is packing his sweaters and ski goggles with a certain joie de vivre, says, “You know what? There is no such thing as fresh air in Florida. It’s all stale and dank.”

I don’t necessarily agree with this sentiment. I know I suffer from that lack of sunshine deficiency, whatever they call it, and I am aware of the fact no one lives in New England for the weather. But other than that I am as excited as he is for the move.

Most nights after work we dine by the pool, facing the Intracoastal, the sunset at our backs but still coloring the eastern shoreline. The Florida sky is as big as the Montana sky because the landscape is flat. Violent reds and oranges light up the night. Bugs are never a concern, no black flies or mosquitos, and the breeze is the same temperature as my skin. “This is perfect weather,” I say.

“Yes it is,” he agrees, because how could he not.

A friend visits. He brings perfect packing boxes from his workplace. The corners of the apartment close in, piled high with boxes but the closets and cupboards empty quickly. We downsized when we moved from New Hampshire. This move will be relatively easy.

We leave the muffin and bread pans out, and the omelet pan. We are practicing the breakfast part of B&B for our new job. Yesterday’s egg and avocado crostini was a hit.

We visit our favorite haunts. The Old Key Lime House where Hemingway once pissed and my character, Josie Wolcott in Take Me Home, hung out and enjoyed the wisdom painted on the walls in the ladies room. A Woman’s Rule of Thumb: If it has tires or testicles you’re going to have trouble with it. Woman's Rule of Thumb We make a point of visiting my favorite bartender Matt Swig aka Swigaliscious at the Sundy House. He mixes me a free drink, his latest concoction, because I promote him on Instagram. My last swigalicious drink is made with lemon, lime, and an exotic fruit called Budddha’s Hand, the intense citrus flavor cut with vanilla sugar and aged for six months.  He is a master mixologist. We are talking about having him send some of his infusions to our Inn for the cocktail hour. Buddha's Hand I will miss al fresco dining anytime of year. I will miss palm trees reflected in storefront windows or tall blue glass office buildings. Shadows of palm trees on sidewalks, created by sunlight or streetlight. Walks on the beach. Dinner on the beach. Cocktails on the beach. Anytime of year.

I will not miss the traffic. The population density. The thick, heavy stagnant air of summer. The lines at the supermarket, the gas station, the registry of motor vehicles, the bank.

I will miss the variety of food. The beautiful, bountiful supermarkets and farmers markets. The cheap drinks and half price gourmet food items at happy hour. Palm trees. The friends I have made while I was here. Sunshine. Never having to think about the weather. Wearing sandals anytime of year. My hairdresser Natalie. Street art and graffiti.

I am looking forward to community. A small town atmosphere. Family and friends. Pine cones, blueberries, and lilacs. Reading a book by the fire. Sweaters. Work that I enjoy.

I’ve been listening to Jackson Browne a lot lately. He was there when I was writing Life Is All This. He’s been on the CD rotation in my car for a month now. There’s a lyric from Colors of the Sun on the For Everyman album that resonates:

Oh, leave me where I am

For I am not losing

If I am choosing not to plan my life

If you enjoy my blogs, you will love my books. Life is All This is now available on Amazon. Life-Is-All-This

DAYDREAM BELIEVER: Raymond Cothern, Swimming Underwater

*** This is the 4th blog in a series of interviews with baby boomers who are pursuing their dreams.

I met Raymond Cothern on another writer’s Facebook page. The writer was also someone I don’t really know, not in the old-fashioned face to face, I met you in college or at the school our kids attend or at the office kind of way. Raymond and I had both commented on the same post.

As a self-published author trying to sell books I’ve been working on growing my Friends list on Facebook. So I checked Raymond out, or as my daughters call it, I creeped on him. What immediately grabbed me when I read his bio was that he is a Louisiana native and studied at LSU with Walker Percy. Years ago, a guy I was dating introduced me to Percy’s The Moviegoer and I loved the daydreaming character Binx Bolling, his boredom with his mundane days and his search for meaning in the everydayness of life. I thought Raymond and I might have a few things in common along the lines of Binx Bolling’s famous quote: “What is the nature of the search? The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”

You have quite an impressive resume, Raymond. The plays you’ve written have won numerous awards including the Deep South Writers Conference and the St. Tammany National One-Act Play Festival. The Long Hymn of Dilemma was produced in New York and The Pallbearer’s Social was a finalist in the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference. Did you actually get to see the production of your plays? What was it like, seeing your words interpreted and acted out on the stage?

I have seen some readings and productions of my plays. Two shorter plays done more recently in festivals in New York City—The Long Hymn of Dilemma as part of the DTE New Play Festival, and Fat Girl From Texas in the Distilled Theatre Company Short Play Festival—I did not attend for various reasons. Funny, after living there early in my youth and thinking I wanted to act, and then after discovering writing was really what I was driven to do, I would have killed to hear my words in any theatre in that city. Like so many dreams, when actually realized they are not quite as you imagined them. They are always different in most respects. Hearing words you wrote spoken by others is always a thrill. And I happen to think reading a story out loud is a good way to see if it flows. If you can’t read it aloud and keep the meaning going, if there are long and complicated sentences then most probably more editing needs to be done.

You have had your fiction published in numerous literary magazines and you also had an essay, Food & Photographs, included in the book Meanwhile Back at the Cafe Du Monde. As the self-published author of three novels now, I know it’s close to impossible to pay the bills on writing alone. In the piece you posted on your blog on the one year anniversary of your heart attack you mention you initially ignored your symptoms and passed them off as discomfort brought on by the stress of financial concerns in retirement. What was your day job and did you enjoy it or like me, were you always thinking about writing?

Well, I wasn’t sure why I was feeling discomfort in my chest. Shortfall in retirement funds definitely caused stress in my life. I was lucky, feeling the discomfort, and then doing what they tell you not to do: drive yourself to the hospital. In one of those things I will think about the rest of my life—some form of survivor’s guilt, I guess—I will always remember my father dying one afternoon at age 58 and me driving myself to the hospital at age 69, stopping at red lights, and surviving to live longer. At the time I had retired from a job that began with hurricane recovery for Katrina that morphed into housing for the disadvantage. I also had retired from managing the general interest part of the LSU Bookstore for 23 years. Most of my adult life has been spent as a bookseller, and, yes, I have written stories and such and thought seriously about writing since I was in the 8th grade.

If it makes you feel any better, my Dad also drove himself to a walk-in clinic thinking he had the flu when he was really having a heart attack. The name of your blog is Swimming Underwater which is also the title of your recently completed memoir. Can you tell us a bit about that?

The blog started as a place to post some of the memoir—Swimming Underwater—which is about growing up in Louisiana and framed by the story of the devastating effects of viral encephalitis on my daughter and of her triumph in achieving a normal life. The blog then evolved into writing about other things as well, heart attacks, aging, as well as dealing with an aging parent, all those fun things in life. The title of the memoir and the blog comes from the hospital experience and living in general, wanting things done in a timely manner which rarely happens. The feeling of swimming while submerged and the resistance against you and holding your breath and struggling to get to the end of something and the feeling of desperately needing air before you get there.

When I was reading your flash fiction story Amanda I was struck by how much you and I think alike at times. You wrote: “What depresses the hell out of me—is that the onset of crippling arthritis is the heredity factors made manifest, the visible proof there is no escaping family, the predisposition for diseases of body and spirit never avoided.” And in my latest novel, Life Is All This, I wrote: “This was his fault. He was the one with the weak genes, the addiction problems, and the lack of willpower. His DNA carried his vices and bad habits. It was hard enough protecting your kids from the outside world, but what could you do about genetic codes and inherited predispositions?” I knew when I read that you were a kindred spirit, and I also read you are a fan of Hemingway’s brevity. I have steered away from a memoir because one, I don’t think anything out of the ordinary has ever happened to me and two, the critics of my first novel caused me to shy away from telling too much of my story. I prefer to put my feelings into fictional characters and their stories. What led you to the memoir? In your fiction do you write what you know? What other influences find their way into your writing?

Yes, there’s not much to be done about passing physical diseases on to your children or their children down the road. But I’ve always been particularly sensitive about how people treat other people, what less than desirable messages and lessons get conveyed by parents to their children. Seeing my youngest daughter develop rheumatoid arthritis—a disease I’ve suffered from more than half my life—seeing that after the devastation of encephalitis was tremendously discouraging and a reminder the physical is just one aspect of the spirits we pass on. I came to the memoir because I kept a journal about what was happening to my daughter, Jennifer, and what I was feeling. It took me years to really begin to work on it—it raised such anxiety in me—but the more I shaped the material the easier it became to deal with all that had happened. It was therapy. Since I could see from the hospital window the neighborhood where I grew up, where Dee and I raised Laurie and Jennifer for a few years, the memoir incorporated more than just a story of illness and recovery. I think all writers use the material of their lives in their fiction. Come on, really, what else do they have to draw from? Oh, the material gets mashed and shaped and comes out so differently from some known experience, but there is always some footprint or DNA from the original author source. I think any hiding done behind characters—fictional or otherwise—can eventually become a weakness. Writing the memoir, getting to the core of how I felt about all things, getting to the point (as some writer said) where I knew I would have to learn to forgive myself for the life I led, all that digging and revealing and the angst it brought has made me such a better writer. That is what has influenced me more than anything.

Yes, I like that. The footprints are always there. So now that you’re retired, are you devoting more time to your writing? What are your plans for Swimming Underwater? Have you considered self-publishing?

I continue sending out query letters to agents about Swimming Underwater—but not as much as I used to—and I continue submitting the manuscript to various competitions I think are worthwhile. Occasionally I have excerpts from it published in various literary magazines. Submitting fiction is an ongoing thing. A story published in North American Review was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Sometimes to get away from prose, I do some work on a few plays and send them around. As far as self-publishing, I haven’t decided to go that route yet, but I know plenty of writers—some well-known—who have become frustrated by the publishing scene nowadays and have decided to get new material out by themselves. Look at The Martian by Andy Weir. Originally published by him as an ebook, picked up by Crown Publishing, and now the screen rights have sold. So success can happen but I think it is rare.

It is certainly hard getting the book to the readers. I can attest to that. So after all the years and all the miles, I reread The Moviegoer recently and realized although I have learned a lot along the way, I still struggle with the everydayness of life. It was something I wanted to explore in Life Is All This. Having studied with Walker Percy, did you gain any insider insight into the nature of the search? How do you feel about it all?

No, I wish Walker Percy had given me tips on the search and successfully finding what all this living means. What he gave me was more concrete. He told me I was a good writer, and he told me writers make up their own rules. One gave me the confidence to continue on in a horribly difficult life endeavor and the other made me less fearful about constructing my own paths while involved in the search. Raymond