Is This Really Useful?

I watched a very interesting documentary about minimalism, a mix of stories of those who’ve carved their lives to the bone and video excerpts of people grabbing for MORE. More phones, more cheaply made goods, better cars. Just MORE.

What used to make the products built in America great was their durability. You bought a tractor, a refrigerator, a car or radio and you expected it to last at least twenty years. Until it broke down you didn’t buy another one. Now what’s on the shelves is largely made overseas and there are many explanations for why stuff is so cheap.

Cheap being the operative word. In 1985 a pair of Air Jordans cost $65. In 2000 the price had gone up to $115. Nike was founded in the US but today we hardly make any of their products here. Most are manufactured in Asia.

How long does the average pair of sneakers last you? Ask yourself that. I bought a pair for less than twenty dollars at Wal Mart last year and have worn the soles out of them. I wouldn’t know how long a $200 pair of shoes would last because I can’t pay that much for a pair of shoes. If I could I’d expect those puppies to give me faithful service for about four to five years.

In 2017 the tonnage of waste was 267 million, with 139 million of that going to the landfill. How much of that was things people no longer wanted, as opposed to things that no longer worked? I wonder. My son is convinced that the cell phones that get recycled are refurbished, repackaged and sold for cheaper as new. And less than a year later they’re no longer functioning or the consumer wants an upgrade. So they get recycled, repackaged….

Do you ever ask yourself if you really, really need that latest model gadget? Wouldn’t the car you now own outright be okay? Do you really need to get yourself in debt by taking out a second mortgage in order to have that vacation cabin? Maybe you should sell your McMansion, downsize to the cabin and opt out of your lavish consumer-based lifestyle.

This is the basis for Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. And what are the important things? Certainly not that thirtieth pair of shoes that you might only wear three or four times a year. It’s about having five good quality pair that you wear all the time. It’s about not cluttering your life with things you don’t use and bowing down to the god of Advertising or falling for the trap of spending your money on things just because that’s what you think life’s all about: getting the latest model or dressing with the newest trend.

Look at those news feeds of people on Black Friday knocking their fellow man to the floor in the rush to be the first in line. Fighting with each other so they can have three PlayStations instead of one. Spending themselves into the future at a fourteen percent interest rate per month. Are they really happy? Or are they only happy until they learn that what they bought last month is oh-so-last-month?

If you are working more to buy more, you have no time for Grandma or the kids. If you aren’t donating your used clothing to Goodwill, you’re adding to the landfill. If you can’t be happy with what you have, you’re contributing to the pockets of those dependent upon shopaholics. That, in turn, makes them advertise more to make you miserable with what is perfectly serviceable. Just because it’s last year’s model doesn’t mean it’s no good! Therein lies the trap. Things aren’t made to last twenty years because no one’s making any money if the consumer isn’t buying a new one every year or two! Products are actually designed to break down so you’ll have to go out and get a new one.

And we’re falling for it, folks.

Lots of people have found true happiness is in having less, which translates into more time together and more focus on community and environment. Contentment can be found in tiny houses. It is possible to travel for an extended time with only two bags of necessities. One can dress for success with only thirty-three articles of clothing. The first requirement is to not care any longer what the consumer-driven social norm is. We don’t have to be that beautiful, perfect face in the magazine or bankrupt ourselves dressing like them. We don’t have to have a new car every year. Screw the Joneses. Who said you have to keep up with them? The only person you have to please is yourself.

A startling fact that caught my attention was how advertising was geared toward our children. A certain amount always has been, from cereal ads on Saturday morning to the catalog toy section showing those lines of shiny, new bicycles. In 1983 $100m advertising dollars were aimed toward children. By 2006 it had risen to seventeen billion. Half the world doesn’t run on that per capita.

What’s wrong with us?

Halfway through this eye-opening one hour and eighteen minutes it occurred to me I was already there. Well, maybe not my clothes rack. I have stuff in there I haven’t worn in over two years but can’t make myself get rid of. My niece got married five years or so ago but I might need that frouffy party dress for a special occasion. If I do, I just need to poke it in the washer to remove the nicotine stains across the shoulders. It’s not really age-appropriate but I’ve never been one to bow down to that crap anyway. I have five pairs of shoes, not including the $7 house slippers, six purses and one wallet.

I live in the same eight hundred square foot house I moved into in 1987. It’s mine. So is my 2003 Cadillac. I have no credit card debt and my rating is hovering around 700. Cool. I am a minimalist by nature because my income has deemed it so. What if I had a six figure income? Would I still live here and drive that same car? Doubt it, but I wouldn’t be tempted to live beyond my means. Nowadays I have my eye on what’s going to happen to me in my old years.

That, as they say, is a story for another time.

We’re All Shameless For Watching This

I often do reviews on here of shows I deem to have especially good writing, teleplays that not only entertain but make you think, laugh, cry and feel something for the people brought to life by great acting. If you’ve been watching Shameless, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. I am. And I can’t quit laughing.

This Showtime series is based on Paul Abbot’s British show of the same name, developed by John Wells for America. It would be easier to give you the Wiki link (I’ll post it at the end) if you want to read about the ratings, list of actors and other pertinent information.

Seldom has poverty been so richly depicted as it is here. Wells fought, and won, his battle to keep the setting out of a trailer park or the projects. He wanted to keep them in a low-class city setting, a family home on the south side of Chicago. Among the awards given to this show, one is the PRISM award for its accuracy in portraying substance abuse. What’s a PRISM award? The Entertainment Industries Council is a non-profit group dedicated to keeping an eye out for legit examples of health and social issues in film, book, music, etc. William H. Macy also won their award that same year for his portrayal of Frank Gallagher.

Gallagher is an equal-opportunity abuser of drugs and alcohol. We routinely find him passed out in all kinds of weather and different locations around his house. His six kids just step over him and keep going about their business. When someone around here says they’re going to work, rest assured it’s probably not a job where they hold out taxes and pay into Social Security. Frank is hoping to draw disability but is so stoned he gets in the way of his own efforts. Watching him run from the investigator and jump fences is amusing. He occasionally attempts to work, hoping he’ll get injured on the clock and be awarded a settlement. More often he’s conniving to bilk someone of their loved ones’ death insurance check.

Left largely on their own, the children have been forced to supplement their state and federal social benefits with schemes of their own. Clothing for a special event will be going back the following day for a refund. The electrical service tech is constantly giving them another day to sweep the floor and rattle the dryer for change or pull a scam so they can pay the bill. Only two of them are gainfully employed. The youngest are clever finaglers because life has forced them to be.

Some of the most hilarious moments are built around these scenarios of sheer desperation. Trying to save Frank from loan sharks, they roofie dad and pull a great con to borrow a coffin for a home wake and a hearse to load it in, now filled with rancid meat scraps from the dumpster behind the butcher shop. The thugs fall for it and just in time. House now empty of “mourners”, the closet latch fails and out falls Frank.

I’ve never seen Macy play a character like this but he makes Frank Gallagher very believable. Usually he portrays an Everyman kind of guy. I first saw him in Pleasantville in 1998 and can’t credit that this is the same guy. He’s won numerous awards and has been nominated for many more.

Emmy Rossum, as Fiona, the oldest child, is perfect as the sister who just won’t give up on those she loves and has been primarily responsible for all her life. She’s given more than one chance to throw up her hands and walk away but she doesn’t. Rossum’s Fiona is no doubt the embodiment of countless put-upon elder siblings in American society that took over the reins to raise the kids because mom or dad, or both, are incapable. Fiona tries so hard and when we see her come home from a dead-end job to a messy kitchen, we want to cry with her.

This show is full of drugs and crime. Stalwart, salt of the earth Americans have probably refused to watch it because of the explicit scenes of sex and substance abuse. I do find it nauseating that teenage girls on here are most often promiscuous little predators using their bodies to make their way through life. The grim reality is this is probably how it really is. Without guidance youth will end up making themselves prey to their own hormone-driven lust for excitement. The scripts for Shameless put these kids in situations they’re forced to navigate their way through using their own misguided wits and the young actors portraying them do it with skill. The outcomes are chilling even as we laugh because we know that’s just what a kid might do if dropped into this little hellhole of an exsistence.

I’ll give you an example. Karen Jackson (Laura Slade Wiggins) is a girl being tutored by one of the Gallagher boys, Lip (Jeremy Allen White). We see her progress from her introductory scene, crawling under the table to give Carl a blow job, to her attendance in sex addict therapy to married woman. Her father, Eddie Jackson (Joel Murray), is a religious man who convinces her to give chastity a try and takes her to a church-sponsored father-daughter event. Karen is in a dress fit for prom night, her hair styled and so proud to have her dad’s approval. When the girls are urged to get up and tell their personal stories of overcoming temptation, well, it doesn’t go well for Karen. To her credit, the kid was told to give a true account but it so horrifies Eddie that he leaps up and calls her a whore in front of God and everybody. Poor Karen is so mortified she gets a tattoo of that ugly word in a fit of self-loathing and hatred of her despicable father. Eddie commits suicide and Karen pulls up her skirt in the cemetery and…yep, you get the idea.

Shameless is so shocking you may not like it. It’s sad even though you’re laughing your ass off. The writer’s scripts make no judgements of how low or immoral their characters can be. Life is hilarious, no matter your income level. When you’re poor you have to laugh at how ridiculous it can be and what you have to do just to survive.

If you’re the straight and narrow type, don’t bother to watch this enormously offensive series. You’ll no doubt be shocked right out of your comfort zone. For those of you who’ve been arrested, doped out of your mind, lived in a rough neighborhood or spent time in a seedy corner dive, this show is for you. You’ll see people you recognize. Maybe even yourself.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Let me start off by saying you mustn’t gush over your own writing. Were a publisher, agent or editor to come across your work and see “This is the greatest epic since Game of Thrones”—and it’s not? Do you know what they’re going to think, besides knowing you’re seriously deluded? That you’re going to be difficult to work with. And humble writer is more likely to take criticism and direction from an editor than someone who things they’re the next Toni Morrison.

By shameless self-promotion I mean get yourself out there as often and in as many places as you can find.

Then I realized I’d forgotten to promote myself! Here! On the very spot where my author platform began. I don’t think my fiction is going to take the literary world by storm. I doubt I’ll ever have millions of readers but that’s no reason to not go as far as possible and it’s easier to get your name, your brand as they say now, before the reading public in this digital age. Everyone and their dog has a book on Kindle and Amazon now.

Don’t ask me how to get yours on there. I’m not sure I want to go the route of self-publishing. It’s not where the money is, honestly. I’ve already spent enough time getting paid minimally or not at all. If I can get my butt in gear and actually finish a novel, I’ll tell you how I got it noticed by an agent/editor/publisher if and when that happens. Right now I’m still getting my feet wet and getting published when a submission call hits me with a story idea and I realize that story will belong nowhere else, even if I don’t get paid for it. It still will have been published and that’s the name of the game.

That being said, here are the places I’m promoting myself. Check me out and leave a comment and I’ll be more than happy to go see what you’re doing and comment on it. That’s how it works. All of us have an itchy back and it feels great when a fellow writer scratches it.

This is the link to my Facebook writer page. It’s been moderately successful and I had no idea of what I was doing when I created it. Wasn’t very hard to do and you can make one of your own with a little time and teeth gritting.

That’s my Twitter page. I really don’t know my way around Twitter yet but I’m trying.

Their Own Little World is my favorite. I’ve been doing this Facebook group for years and it has nothing to do with writing. This is for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s/dementia. It has advice, information, government contact numbers and good old-fashioned commiseration for those doing a difficult, but often rewarding, job.

I believe I’ve posted about Mandatory Midnight here already but seeing as how it’s the only place to have published one of my novellas in serial form, I may as well include it. Who knows? You might want to read The Changed. I got this opportunity through one of my writing groups when David Harris asked if I’d like to do a series. Sure. Why not?

So, that ‘s my self-promotion. Don’t be afraid to post yours as often as as disparately as possible. This is what will get you noticed. And, please, visit mine and invite me to yours. Let’s support each other. If nothing else, each time you visit one of your sites you click yourself another point. If you don’t promote yourself most of all, who will?

The Blacklist Review

There’s an old argument that goes like this: does media reflect life or life media? How does what we see and read affect how we think and behave? Do we act accordingly with what we believe is the norm based on movies and television?

God, I hope not. At the same time I fear the depersonalization of suffering by fictional account has been translated into rising rates of murder, assault and theft. It’s not a new concept. Psychologists have warned for some time now that the images depicting acts deviating from societal norms has led to seeing victims as sub-human. To the perpetrators of these horrific acts, the victims are fodder. Sociopaths have always seen targets as not worthy of compassion because they’re not as intelligent or not as worthy as the perpetrator or, perhaps, they just got in the way. Compassion has no place in their world. They’re comfortable with televised deeds of mayhem because it fits their world view. People enamored with torture and death may have become inured to it because it doesn’t seem real to them, just as it isn’t onscreen. Have gruesomely atrocious crimes become more common due to what’s offered onscreen and in books?

Even the best of us can get dragged into the mud and wallow in it as content as pigs. What I mean by this is our fascination with The Blacklist. As a writer I’m intrigued by printed words as well as those spoken in television shows and movies. For the past few weeks I’ve been spellbound by this NBC offering, and bingeing via Netflix. The ingeniously crafted story lines and character arcs are undeniably intriguing. When I should be doing other things I’ve found myself glued to this morally ambiguous teleplay.

Here’s the basic plot: Raymond Reddinton, FBI’s most wanted criminal for over twenty years, suddenly turns himself in. He’ll help catch underworld figures no one in the upper echelons of law enforcement have even heard of. All he asks in return is the task force organized for this purpose include a rookie profiler named Elizabeth Keen.

Elizabeth can’t figure out what his game is but she agrees to play along. It’s going to be a feather in her professional cap. Any investigator has to love a mystery and Reddington is all about that. Soon it begins to take its toll on her private life and demands more of her time. She’s been married to Tom Keen, a fourth grade teacher, for two years and they’ve been talking about adopting a child. Her inclusion in the task force shoots all this to hell and gone. Planned activities go to the wayside in favor of chasing bad guys. Dinners cooked go uneaten.

Case by case we get pulled deeper into the enigma that is Reddington. He was a naval officer on the fast track toward admiralty until he was suspected of treason and fell off the map only to resurface as The Concierge of Crime. Building a fortune as vast as his network of associates, he managed to elude capture. With his aid, a plethora of dangerous men and women are captured but soon it becomes evident that Raymond is doing this to winnow out competitors and get rid of enemies. It’s all part of a larger plan so diabolically clever even the FBI can’t resist this charming con man.

Each episode links to the next, or perhaps the one after that, and every malefactor that goes down is tied somehow to one before. Sometimes the FBI gets their man and, almost as often, Reddington gets there first, either dispatching them with a bullet or helping them into a new life off-grid. If it’s the latter, you can be sure the lucky son of a gun will owe Raymond a favor one day. Yes, he’s charming but it’s a veneer over the real wood. Reddington is clearing the field.
Or is he? As the writers of this incredible series take us down a dark path, they trim the layers of their creation away and sow seeds of wondrous doubt in the viewer’s mind. To start with, what’s his relationship to Elizabeth Keen? Is he even who he says he is or is this an elaborate game designed to fool the FBI and us?

James Spader, as Raymond Reddington, would have a hard time finding a more memorable role. He was a staple of late eighties movies like Pretty in Pink, Less Than Zero and Sex, Lies and Videotape. He went on to star in The Watcher, Crash and Avengers: The Age of Ultron and on network staples like The Office and Boston Legal. He portrays Reddington with humor and sartorial panache, managing to alternately attract us to his sheer bonhommie and horrify with his alter ego’s deadpan ability to gun down people we thought worthy of forgiveness.

And that’s the hook. Right there. We don’t root for Raymond because he’s good. We’re behind him because he’s an avenging angel with no aspirations of heroism. He knows he’s naughty and we’re still drawn to him. The scriptwriters do it with flair and talent I’ve not seen anywhere since Game Of Thrones.

You think I’m deluded, don’t you? The Winds of Winter series, as enthralling as it was, follows the same formula as The Blacklist. There are heroes and villains in both. No matter the arc of their character, every one of the people in these stories find themselves walking across the line to become what they’re normally not. Well, not Ramsay Bolton. Played brilliantly by Iwan Rheon, he was an incorrigible shit we were very happy to see consumed by the very hunting dogs he’d set on innocents. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) walks such a long, hard road to the end we can scarcely recognize the sweet innocent she was in the beginning. Only Jon Snow stuck to his guns and got exiled beyond T he Wall for his trouble.

That’s as it should be. How interesting would a story, or a show, be if there was no character development? Nowadays viewers require more strenuous ethical gymnastics from those inhabiting their fantasy worlds. C.S. Lewis’ novels have been made into movies for young adults. Tolkien’s world was wildly popular among those of the boomer generation that toked pot and dropped acid and probably bought the bulk of box office tickets. It helped that these franchises were lovingly produced by true believers and we weren’t given the villain’s motivation. Sauron was bad because he was inherently evil.

We haven’t discovered Raymond’s motivation yet but we have seen how the special agents have, one by one, been corrupted by his influence. They’ve become so enthralled with the success of their task force they’re willing to accept the consequences in the name of greater good. Often they get their foot caught in the crack due to Reddington’s machinations and, when they do, choose to save their skin and career. Raymond is only too happy to pull their foot out.

What is disturbing is the steepening curve of the “good guys” making decisions society would have considered wrong twenty years ago and it would not have been okay to portray these scenarios for public consumption. Looking the other way while Raymond knocks off the very criminals the FBI was pursuing and wanted to incarcerate used to be something that didn’t happen. At least, not very often and you could be sure that the federal agent that had been turned to the dark side would be taken down himself in a few episodes. Not here.

So why did Raymond Reddington turn himself in? He had successfully eluded capture for decades and become quite wealthy in the bargain. The massive ego this man displays had to have been well-stroked over the years. Why do it, then?

That’s part of the mystery viewers want to solve. I continue to watch because I find Raymond to be hilarious in spite of his wicked, wicked ways. The series is so well-written and twists like one of those theme park rollercoasters I’d never deign to get on. I want to find out who Red really is. Is he, in truth, the read Raymond Reddington or the clever construct of a genius villain? Why is Elizabeth Keen so important to his plans?

If you haven’t seen this television gem you can catch the first seven seasons on Netflix, but I urge you to watch it before season eight begins soon on NBC. COVID shut down production but I understand filming has resumed, which means the return to network viewing can’t be far away. Hurry! Each season is roughly 21-23 episodes long so you have a lot of catching up to do.

Before I Am Old

I hope I die before I am old,

Before I dodder and my bones get cold,

A little dignity remaining in my core

And autumn still outside the door.

My eyes vacant and milky,

Hair like straw that once was silky,

So few surprises, mysteries, games of chance,

Only vaguely aware of having shit my pants.

Will someone kindly return me to dust

Under the wheels of a speeding bus?

I doubt I’ll draw such a merciful fate

Or a first-class ticket to the final gate.

Rather, I will slowly linger,

Only enough strength to raise my middle finger,

Or a drooling, senile old fool

Who can’t tell a teaspoon from an indoor pool

Do any of us deserve a quick death?

Is it a crapshoot? You get what you get?

I’ve been saluted by those about to die

And there but for grace will go I,

But if I be not too bold

Let me die, Lord, before I get old.

If not, let me at least recall this:

It’s no shame to be wiped clean of piss.

Remember, nature’s first green is gold.

Please let me die before I’m old.

Success Is More Than Just Money

Well, money would be nice, too.

I’ve been semi-serious about promoting my writing for only two years now. A younger person with less knowledge of how the universe works would have probably chewed their bit in two by now. A younger person, though, has more energy and a greater understanding of the online world than I do, having grown up on the WWW. They know what all those acronyms mean. I frequently have to look up the definition of publishing terms that are quite common now.

In short, I’m lazy. I need to quit hammering the keyboard and get with the times. You won’t make jack if you can’t paddle your own boat.

One thing I have done right is join writer’s groups and network with writers of different genres. I got asked to write a serial for a dark fiction ezine called Mandatory Midnight that has turned out marvelously well. David Paul Harris is dedicated to helping unknown and little-known authors and artists get their work noticed so it can attract attention and possibly lead to a book contract or other monetary gain. It’s not a paying gig but money isn’t everything in the publishing world. Getting your name out there is.

The Changed -- Chapter Nine -- by Dee Caples

David Paul does the art work on each chapter in digital format. The picture above is for Chapter Nine. If the work were ever optioned by a paying publisher, he agrees that the art goes with the story. See how it works? I scratch his back, he scratches mine and we both get recognized for what we’ve created. That’s what Manadatory Midnight is all about, getting art and short stories seen and read. My story The Changed has attracted over three thousand readers and I am thrilled about that!

Go to to check out Mandatory Midnight. He also has reviews on well-known authors like Ray Bradbury and interviews with writers and film makers. Stay and browse the art. Or, better yet, go to the submissions page and send in something of your own.

#MandatoryMidnight, #uneasywriter



Lila woke up and wondered where she was. This wasn’t home. It kind of was but certainly not the home she lived in most of the time. Her bed had been…no, not an ace. Not a king. Oh, well. Whatever kind it was this wasn’t supposed to happen. She’d have to tell Arthur to call someone. The roof was leaking. Had it rained last night? Must have and now her gown was wet.

“Arthur?” she called out. He didn’t answer. Where was that man? She padded into the hall and then the den. Her daughter, Jean, rose from the breakfast table, just visible past the half wall. Having coffee with her was…was…

She couldn’t remember. The man Jean had married. What’s-his-name. “Mother?” Jean asked.

“Where’s your father? The roof is leaking. It got me and my bed all wet.”

Jean came to her and put an arm around her shoulders, turning her back the way she’d come. “You’ve wet the bed again, that’s all.”

“I did not!”

“It’s ok, Mother. Let me help you get cleaned up and dressed.”

Lila went into the bath next to the room she’d come out of. Jean turned the water on to warm it and fetched a washrag and that stuff that smelled so good. It was kind of vanilla-y. “You don’t have to baby me,” she groused. “I can do it.”

“Okay. I’ll strip the bed and start the washer. Put your gown and underwear outside the door.”

Jean gathered up the wash and went to the laundry room, smiling at Joe as she passed the table. “Maybe it’s time for the adult pull ups,” he suggested.

“I guess so,” Jean sighed, a little piece of her heart breaking off. She knocked on the bathroom door. “Mom? Have you washed up?”

From behind the door came a scared voice. “Come in here, Jeannie.”

She entered the bathroom and stood behind her mother, looking at their reflections. Mother smelled a little fresher but it was definitely shower day. Pointing at the mirror, Lila asked, “Is that me or someone else?”

“It’s you, Mother. It’s just time for a dye job and a perm.”

“I’ll say.”

Jean held out the robe. “Put this on and come pick out what you want to wear.”

Lila moved the hangers around, looking for…”Here it is! I just love this dress!”

Jean crossed her arms. “It’s too cold for that. How about that pretty peach sweater and the white slacks?”

“Oh, I guess so,” she grumbled. “It doesn’t feel that cold to me.”

“That’s because we’re inside where it’s warm. This afternoon we can go for a walk if you want.”


She followed Jean to the table. Carefully, she examined the flatware for spots and made an appreciative noise when a cup of coffee was put in front of her. The husband stood up and kissed Jean, folding the paper and putting it under his arm. He bent and planted a kiss on top of Lila’s head. “Behave yourself,” he told her.

Lila smiled. “Have a good day, Gerald.” She caught the look that passed between them. “What?”

Gerald shook his head and walked to the door. Jean sat and looked at her with thin lips. “His name is Joe. Gerald was the boy I dated in high school.”


“How about some eggs and toast?”

“That’ll be fine.” She’d really wanted pancakes but decided to not make a fuss. Maybe she’d make pancakes for everyone for supper tonight. “Where’s your father?”

Jean’s mouth made an O as she brought the plate to her. “Don’t you remember? Daddy’s gone.”

“Yes, but where?” Lila frowned and picked up the pepper shaker. “I suppose he’s off with that little tramp of his.”

Jean patted her hand. “No, Mother. I mean Daddy passed on. He’s been dead for six years now.”

“He has not!” Lila exclaimed indignantly.

Jean clamped her lips shut. Perhaps it helped her to cope, thinking he was catting around instead of in the ground. “Do you know what today is?”

Lila bit off a corner of her toast. “Veterans Day?”

“No. It’s Leta’s birthday.”

Smiling warmly, she chuckled. “My sweet little Leta. She’s ten this year, isn’t she?” Jean looked so crestfallen Lila got embarrassed. Maybe she was eleven. Or was it nine?

“Sweetie, Leta’s a sophmore in college.”

“Is she?” Lila forked up some eggs to cover her blunder. “How time flies.”

“Do you know what day of the week it is?”

“It’s not Sunday or Gerald—I mean Joe, wouldn’t be leaving for work. Is it Friday?”

“No. It’s Wednesday. Can you look at the clock and tell me what time it is?”

Lila dropped the fork on the plate and threw her napkin across the table. “What is it with all these questions? Why do you want me to tell you what time it is? You have a perfectly good watch on your wrist.”

Jean leaned over and retrieved the napkin. She wouldn’t look Lila in the face. Small wonder. She was acting funny. “I’m just checking something.”


“Never mind. I’m sorry if I upset you.” She got up and cleared the plates while Lila finished her food. Once the dishes were in the dishwasher and the skillet had been washed she looked to see if her mother was done. To her dismay Lila was pouring coffee over her toast. “Mother, what are you doing?”

Lila looked down at the plate then into her coffee cup. “I could’ve sworn this was syrup. Guess it’s because I woke up with a taste for pancakes.” Her bottom lip quivered and she looked up at Jean like a confused child. “I made a mess, didn’t I?”

She barely heard Jean’s soothing and recoiled just a little when she hugged her. It had seemed all right at the time but now that she’d done it Lila was surprised. And scared. She’d never had coffee on toast before. Why had she thought she’d like it this morning? “I’m full, Jeannie.”

Jean opened the sliding glass door to the patio and handed her the leftover piece of toast. Lila remembered what to do with it. Crumbles for the birds. She scattered the little balls she made of the bread then took an out of the way seat to watch. “Hey, Mr. Bluebird,” she sang softly. And to the robin red-breast, “When the red, red robin comes nob, nob, nobbing along.” She couldn’t remember what the smaller birds were called but a gospel song went with them.

She poked around the rose bushes and made spluttering noises over what a shame it was that someone hadn’t watered them. Not a bloom one! She uncoiled the water hose and proceeded to give them a good drink. Just as she was getting something done Jean came out and made her jump when she cried out. “Mother! You’ve gotten your feet wet. Come in and change your shoes or you’ll catch cold.”

Lila dropped the hose, couldn’t remember what to do with it now. Jean stalked past her and now it came back to her. You had to turn the water off. Chastised, she followed her daughter inside after pulling the muddy shoes and socks off. She’d done it again.

But she hadn’t meant to do anything bad. “Don’t be mad at me, Jeannie.”

That got her a nice hug and smile. “What were you doing with the water hose?”

Lila blinked back her tears. “The roses are dying. No one’s watered them.”

Now it looked like Jean might cry, too. “It’s winter, Mother. They’re supposed to look like that.”

“Are they?” Lila ruminated on it for a minute. “Are the lilies dead, too?”

“They’ll all be back in the springtime.”

“Oh, that’s good.” She took the socks from Jean and pulled them on. “Just like that?”

“Just like that. We won’t have to do anything. It’s a kind of magic.”

“Awww.” She put on her lace up booties and bent to tie them but must not have done it right because Jean shooed her hands away and did it slowly, explaining each step. At one time she known this, hadn’t she?

Jean turned on the t.v. to a cooking channel and after a minute Lila got tired of it and went to the cabinets beneath the bookshelves. It was like finding old friends, all that junk in there. She pulled out a red handbag. The only thing in it was aa wadded up handkerchief. Way in the back was a pair of dress shoes with those skinny heels. Lila hadn’t seen them in ages.

Sitting on the couch, she removed her booties and slipped the heels on. When she stood and walked around to get the feel of them she began to teeter. Her legs wobbled and her ankles bowed then she fell right on her rump. It scared her more than it hurt. When Jean came running and cried out it scared Lila even more. “What on earth! Are you all right?” She knelt down and took the shoes off her and wiggled her feet. “Does that hurt? Did you twist your ankle?”

“No. I’m not hurt. I landed on my pillow.”

Jean laughed with relief. “Sweetie, we talked about not trying to wear heels, don’t you remember? No? Never mind. Let’s get you off the floor.”

Lila did as she was told and put her arms around Jean’s neck. Jean grabbed her by the waistband of her pants and lifted her, setting her into the rocker. It made her mad at herself. She didn’t know she was doing something stupid until it backfired. “I’m so much trouble, Jeannie. Maybe it’s time I went home so you don’t have to be bothered.”

“That’s not a good idea, Mother. If you’d fallen at home who’d have gotten you up?”

“Your father, of course.”

Jean clamped her lips shut and put the booties back on her feet. “Do you remember catching the stove on fire?”

“I did that?”

“Yep. You, Joe and me sat down and discussed why you shouldn’t live alone.”

“But this is putting an awful lot on you,” she pointed out.

Jean took her face in her hands and looked deep in Lila’s eyes. “No, it’s not. I want you here and so does Joe. It’s my turn to take care of you, okay? Just as you took care of me when I was little.”

“But mothers are supposed to take care of their kids.”

“Yes. And it’s perfectly fine for daughters to take care of their mothers when they can’t do it anymore.”

Lila’s heart melted. She had raised a wonderful girl. “I love you so much, Jeannie.”

“I love you, too, Mother.”


“And forever.”

Lila felt agitation rising and she clutched Jean’s arms. “Please don’t put me in a nursing home. I’ll stop wearing high shoes. Tell me what not to do and I won’t do it.”

Jean swallowed the lump in her throat and sniffed. “I’m not going to put you in a nursing home. Cross my heart and hope to die.” She stood up and took her mother’s hand. “How about we get out for a while?”

“Can we go to the flea market? Maybe get ice cream?”

“Why not?”

After the first five minutes of browsing through the stalls Jean knew she’d have to keep an eye on Lila. So many things about her behavior had reverted to the age of five. More than once she had to tell her mother not to put things in her pocket without paying first.

Lila was having the time of her life. It was good to get out of the house once in a while and if you could see old friends at the same time, all the better. Judging from the way many of her acquaintances didn’t seem to remember her, a trip to the salon needed to happen this week. She argued with the vendors and talked them down a little on the price and was, on the whole, pleased with her purchases. And Jean didn’t need to know about the little ceramic dog in her pocket. She’d worried her daughter enough for one day.

After ice cream they headed over to a neighborhood she thought looked familiar. When Jean pointed out the church she and Arthur had attended all through Jean’s childhood she was excited. “Oh, I want to go this Sunday! Do you think they’d let me play the organ again?”

“They might.” Jean went into the cemetery and they got out. She led the way to her father’s grave. “Look, Mother. Who’s name is that on the headstone?”

“Arthur McLellan.” Her head popped up, eyes wide with surprise. “What do you know? Just like your daddy.”

Jean hid her smile. “No, this is Daddy’s grave. And on the other side of the stone is your name and birth date. When you’re laid to rest beside him we’ll add the date of your death.”

“Are you sure it’s not some other Arthur?”

“Yes. Positive. There couldn’t possibly be two Arthur McLellans with the same date of birth with a wife that has your name and birth date.”

“I suppose not.”

“So do you see now that daddy’s not running around on you with another woman? He didn’t leave you, he died.”

Lila burst into tears. “Why did you show me this? It was easier thinking he was out there being naughty but would come home when he got tired of it. Now he’s dead and he won’t ever come back.”

Jean hugged her mother and let her cry. “I’m so sorry. It worried me that you couldn’t remember he was gone. That’s something I didn’t think you could ever forget. And I didn’t want Daddy’s good name besmirched, even by you.”

Lila took the tissue Jean offered and blew her nose. “I guess it’s better that he’s dead than fooling around on me. Thinking that just about killed me.”

They drove home and had lunch. Jean got out the calender her mother marked on and gave her a pen and her address book. Lila stared at the squares and tried to recall what they meant. This was her handwriting but what had she written? Jean glanced over her shoulder now and then. It cut to the bone to see how much her mother’s dementia had progressed in just a year. The notations for birthdays and hair appointments and small daily plans had become a string of letters and numbers or untidy scrawls.

“What did you say today is?”

Jean answered, “Wednesday. December the second.”

“All right. Next Tuesday is when the girls come over to play cards.”

“Yes. Tuesday is rummy day.”

Lila wrote it down. “I think I’ll serve…those things. You know, those things. The serving dish looks like a parfait glass and you put shrimp in them and that red stuff.” She stopped and stared at the wall for a moment. “I forget what else.”

“You mean shrimp cocktail.”

“Well, it’s not something you drink, you know.”

“I know. That’s just what they call it. The only thing you forgot is the lemon slice.”

“Do we have those kind of bowl glasses?”

“If we don’t I think we can make do. The girls won’t care.” She set a tuna salad sandwich and a glass of tea in front of her mother. Getting her own sandwich she sat across from Lila and watched somberly as she planned a card game that wasn’t going to happen. One of the foursome was in worse shape than Lila. Two had died and the other was in an assisted living facility.

Well, now, hold on a minute, Jean thought. Why not have a rummy game on Tuesday night? She and Joe and Mother. It would be good for her and she could serve shrimp cocktail. The game would in no way resemble gin rummy but what did that matter? The important thing was to let her do what she could for as long as she could. Keeping the brain active is a must, the doctor said.

Lila flipped through the address and phone book and wrote down her friends’ numbers because she couldn’t keep them straight anymore. What fun, what fun! Lots of gossip and reminiscing.

Jean said a prayer of thanks for each day her mother held on and brushed back tears for the woman she would be no more. It hadn’t been easy moving her into their home and giving up the job she loved to care for Lila full time. Would she regret it later? No. The only regrets she could imagine were those she’d have if she didn’t take this fragile, broken time and cherish every sweet, exasperating moment.

She pushed her sandwich plate away and leaned over toward her mother. “Hey, Lila Belle.”

The face that still held traces of the young bride she’d once been lifted when she heard her name. Soft blue eyes looked at her with the web of smile lines around them. Lila knew those wrinkled cheeks were as soft as a little girl’s. Her sweet mama. She hoped this second childhood was as happy as the first. “I love you,” she said, reaching for Lila’s hand.

A beautiful smile lit up the young-old face. “I love you, too, baby.” Lila squeezed her hand then let it go and picked her pen back up. “When you’re not being a bitch.”

Jean burst out laughing and couldn’t stop until tears were rolling down and her belly hurt.

I Smoke Too Much

by Dee Caples

Even immortal gatherings after a departure are comprised of guests holding plates of delicacies and vying for the too-few seats. Ops makes an unfortunate choice when she perches on an antique three-legged stool and breaks it to pieces. With a shriek she goes down, splattering red punch all over her lacy pink dress. Roaring with laughter, Shango pulls her to her feet. “Guess you didn’t go on that diet soon enough.”

I move my feet to make way in the crowd as Pan comes by, balancing a platter of grass and ranch dressing on his front hooves, the rear ones clicking delicately on the hardwood floor. I scoot over on the divan but he shakes his head. “No, thanks, I’ll stand.” Trying not to feel hurt, I smolder.

Aphrodite, my wife, glides into the spot, her lean thigh pressing close to me on the right side. That prompts Mut, on my left, to lean forward and give her a big smile. “Hello, my dear. It’s been ages since I saw you.”

Lovely, red lips smile and she politely swallows her bite of fruit before speaking. “It sure has. You don’t look a day over two thousand. How do you do it?” Aphrodite reaches up and brushes a strand of silver hair back. She complains about it but to me there’s no one more beautiful. I’m a lucky god.

Mut sighs. “I’m just sorry we had to meet again under these circumstances.”

“I’m going to miss Athena terribly,” I blubber. “After so many eons, who’d have known she’d decide to join the Starry Host? In an effort to get a grip, I blink and look across the room at Ambrogio, the vampire god, reclining with the grandchildren on his lap.

I listen to the little ones’ chirping voices but it doesn’t do the trick. See, I can’t cry. When I’m upset I put everyone around me in danger. My feet are getting very warm and despite all effort, heat spreads up my legs. Aphrodite pats my thigh. “Hephaestus, you gave me your word.”

Pan’s jaw grinds side to side, chewing his cud. “You need a glass of iced tea?”

Mut rolls her eyes and Aphrodite shoots him a look of censure. A shudder ripples through my body. “No! I’ll be fine!” I smile at my wife and put an arm around her back. “I’ll be fine.”

“Come on, Poppy! Do it!” the female grandchild urges Ambrogio. Her brother echoes the plea but, thankfully, he shakes his head. Surely this isn’t the day for performing magic tricks, even to amuse one’s grandkids. Great entertainment aside, this is hardly the proper venue.

Or is it? Am I the only one mourning Athena? Chipper conversation floats through the air, punctuated by laughter. Old friends hug with the joy of standing in the company of friends unseen for centuries. Hands are being pumped and wings unfurled in a show of unbridled happiness. Does no one care we won’t see Athena until night, and only in spring, at that?

A buzzing figure lands behind me on the back of the couch. One of Aphrodite’s erotes sips her tumbler of moonbeams then rubs her nose and takes flight again. “Careful, old boy,” Mut warns, leaning closer even though smoke is rising from my suit coat. “Osiris won’t thank you if you singe his couch.”

From the direction of the recliner come peals of laughter from the children. Ambrogio has given in and rotted. Quickly forming again, he grimaces a little and raises his foot to reveal a large, gooey spot he’s failed to reincorporate. A couple of deities applaud. “Oh, but that’s okay, huh?” I snort.

The smoke is getting thicker and drawing attention. Aphrodite hands her bowl over and gives me a little push. “Take this to the kitchen. Walk it off.”

I huff and ignore Quetzalcoatl, raising a hand to cover his mouth as I pass. Ganesha gives me a comforting pat on the arm with his trunk and asks, “You all right, buddy?” The bastard thinks I don’t see him wink at Bhudda. I have to get myself under control. It really steams me that immortals are becoming as self-righteous as humans about smoking. It’s not like I can, or should be, expected to hold back. Fire is my power, my strength. I hadn’t asked for this!

Taking a deep, calming breath, I put Aphrodite’s bowl in the sink. The low purr of a classic muscle car approaches the house and blats one more rack of dual pipes before the motor is cut.

A few nymphets and a couple of matronly goddesses squeal like sprites at the feet of Apollo. “He’s here!” Hera trumpets, waving her hands as she runs to the parlor.

I know the sound of that GTO engine and grind my teeth. A cherub floats down, picking a soothing tune on his harp. “Chill out, man,” he advises.

Too late for that. I hurry to the porch and sit on the swing, panting, tasting brimstone on my tongue. Closing my eyes, I listen, my temperature rising. It’s Loki, the last person I want to see. He has no conception of solemnity. My disgust is compounded by hearing the women vie for his attention like he’s some kind of rock star. Worse yet, he’s taken to disguising himself as Tom Hiddleston since the movie Thor came out.

My hair begins to dance with tiny pinpricks of embers the closer he gets. I hear Aphrodite beg him to not start anything. “It’s cool,” he jokes as the screen door squeaks open. I force myself to look at his handsome, grinning face. “Hephaestus! How’s it shaking?”

I scowl. “How do you think? Athena’s gone.”

Loki tries his best to hold a straight face but I can see the corners of his lips quivering. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I know how close the two of you were.” He lifts his long necked bottle of Corona and takes a healthy swig, distilling trails of sweat running down to his fingers.

Lifting a mocking brow, he points back to the kitchen. “Would you like me to get you one?” Faking dismay, he slaps his forehead then puts a hand over his heart. “I’m sorry. That was thoughtless of me.”

Flames rise from my shoes and shirt cuffs and I can’t hold back a growl of anger. This guy really knows how to get me hot under the collar.

His mouth falls open with amusement. “You’re still holding a grudge, aren’t you? It was just bocce ball, dude.” He snaps his fingers, ego oozing from his pores. “I know. Let’s settle it over a game of badminton.”

That does it. I roar in fury and combust. Running off the porch into the yard doesn’t cut it. The damage is done. From inside the house comes a shout of “Fire!”and thumping feet. Atalanta runs around the corner of the house, carrying her basket of golden apples. She doubles over, giggling. My embarrassment is complete now. You have no idea of how devastating it can be to have a pretty blond catch you with your clothes burned away. I stand there, mortified, wishing I could die.

Mercury speeds to the rescue, grabbing the water hose to put out the porch roof and swing. My wife pulls me to a safer location. “Can we go now?” I ask. Gods! I sound so whiny!

On the porch Artemis and Poseidon are leading the Greek chorus of merriment at my expense. Aphrodite crosses her arms and glares at me. “I can’t take you anywhere.”

When Eras Collide

Not until after World War II did women truly come into their own. Prior to that we were still mostly wives and daughters. When the men went to war, we went to work and just like the song, how were they to be kept on the farm after that? The song was about soldiers and the coming vision of an urban world tempting them to leave their small farming towns. It was also about the work force that had been made up of Rosie The Riveter and the satisfaction women got from keeping the home front going and helping their men overseas by turning out war machines. Not for much longer would we be content to do the laundry and rear the kids. We wanted to learn to drive and earn the money for our own damn bank account.

But that’s not really where it started, is it? One could say it began with Mary Shelley writing ‘Frankenstein’, a real departure from the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. Or maybe it began with the women’s suffragist movement and gaining the vote. Women have always been nurses and healers and midwives but in the late eighteen hundreds they began to fill secretarial positions that had once been the milieu of men.

Other occupations were sought by women and they had to begin somewhere, right? In ‘The Alienist’ we see the female lead, Sara Howard, appointed as the first female in the New York City police department. Of course, she’s in a secretarial position but it’s as the assistant to the newly appointed police commissioner, Teddy Roosevelt. Not bad, Sara. In this touted role, and under the auspices of a tolerant but often exasperated boss, our girl throws herself into what she really wants: a detective’s job.

Let me say first that the people who designed the sets and man the cameras for this TNT television masterpiece have done a bang-up job of recreating NYC just prior to the year of 1900. Its roads are only slightly less clogged, but this time it’s with horse drawn carriages. Crowded tenements are criss-crossed with outdoor clothes lines and chickens and pigs roam the streets freely. If the dingy streets are illuminated at all it’s with gas lights and often the colors are washed out completely to give that nice, eerie black and white touch. Sitting in your easy chair in front of the tv you can feel the cold fingers of the soupy fog.

The story is a mix of genres. Thriller, detective mystery and horror with a little romance thrown in for spice. Mix it all up and you have a show that’s hard to watch at times. Season one’s plot was centered around the murders of boy child prostitutes. This was not the New York of modern times where we find such things to be shocking but, honestly, it’s probably no less prevalent today nor is the plight of homeless children. We’d like to think so because it’s become a cause celebrated by famous people and the stuff of headlines, movies and television but it’s still going on. Social programs haven’t fixed the larger problem.

The Alienist shows us a John Q. Public who turns a blind eye to these horrid happenings because they aren’t deemed edible by a polite society. A matron might contribute her time and money to found a charity but she wasn’t about to make a trip to the Bowery and get her hands dirty. Men adopted a laissez-faire attitude and left it to the police.

Not Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), Dr. Laszlo Kreisler (Daniel Bruhl) or New York Times reporter John Moore (Luke Evans). Together with the emerging men of forensic science, Marcus Isaacson (Douglas Smith) and his brother Lucius (Matthew Shear), they plunge headlong into hot water with the police force, often run by corrupt officers who are getting fat off graft and their association with the criminal element preying on these exploited children.

I wondered what an alienist was when I heard the commercials for the show. To my surprise I turned around and saw it was a period piece and not some new sci fi offering. Okay. Then I found out it was the early term for psychiatrist, that people who were mentally ill were thought to be “alienated” from their true nature, therefore, a doctor of the mind was an “alienist.” Oh.

Dr. Kreisler, the alienist, is a man with compassion rather than a compulsion to lock away insane people. His approach is to find out what trauma resulted in a sane person committing an act deemed to be the result of insanity or outright brutality. He champions their cause and testifies in court for a more humane approach in dealing with pathological criminals.

John Moore scoops every other reporter by his willingness to walk the mean streets and fight for his shocking articles to make the front page. He’s a dark horse in the newspaper business and doesn’t hesitate to use his skill to follow a lead, right into the very mouth of madness.

The forensic detectives are the beginning of what will eventually become pathologists and CSI technicians. We get to see them try out a new idea that will become fingerprinting and cheerfully, but with all due respect, cut into the bodies of victims and discover cause of death. They’re invaluable members of the team and the forerunners of scientific police methods.

Sara Howard is respectable and moves in the upper echelons of New York society but she doesn’t hesitate to use her position to further her ambition or cram well-crafted insults down the throat of her detractors. She smokes, drinks bourbon straight and is a crack shot with a pistol. She’s also generous of heart and fearless in her determination to bring justice to the helpless and downtrodden.

So, here’s to you, Sara (and Ms. Fanning). It had to start somewhere. Probably with a true-to-life woman a lot like you.

What Makes Dennis LeHane Worth Reading

Most of what I read is crime fiction. We can taste the grit of Los Angeles in the writing of Michael Connelly. Lehane grinds Boston into the enamel. Whether it’s Dorchester or the fictional setting of Shutter Island, we get dropped just a little too close for comfort into the setting of his novels. Streets and parks and triple-layer apartments, he encourages us to hold the hand of the characters and walk with them, see what they see. We don’t mind being led around by the nose because he does it so well. The spiritual questions his people ask are never answered because they’re the same things men and women have been wondering about since the dawn of time. How can people be so evil? Where is God when unspeakable things happen? When was the last time you heard a satisfying reply to the truly hard matters? LeHane and his characters have nothing they can tell you. They’re slogging through the morass, too.

This past month I’ve read three books by him, having already seen the movie adaptations. It’s no wonder they chose his books to bring to film and the screenwriters were faithful to his work. First I read Mystic River, a novel about three friends whose lives are indelibly stamped by the abduction and molestation of Dave. Tim Robbins flat-out earned his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for portraying the adult Dave. The book fleshes out the man trying to overcome his childhood tragedy and live up to Wolf Boy, his alter ego that bravely, narrowly, escaped from his tormentors. What makes him such a haunting character is: How has Dave managed to not get sucked in the maelstrom and become the very thing he hates? Sean Penn won Best Actor for playing Jimmy Markum, neighborhood bad boy who turns his life around (mostly) after the birth of his daughter that is later murdered. Rounding out the trio is Sean Devine (played by Kevin Bacon), the homicide cop investigating the killing, pulled between two loyalties and memories of growing up with the boys of this rough neighborhood.

Next came Shutter Island. LeHane said the location is based on a Massachusetts mental institution he visited as a child. You can feel the moisture dripping from the stone walls. There’s less hope of escaping this forbidding island than Alcatraz. It’s unnerving when the federal marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) begin interviewing inmates and the people responsible for their care because some of the patients, at least at first, don’t seem all that insane and not all the wardens are particularly sound of mind, either. While hunting for an escaped patient, there’s the twin threat of a hurricane and downed power lines that open the electric cell doors. It has a whopper of a surprise ending I wouldn’t give away for anything. Read the book first if you haven’t seen the movie.

A few hours ago I finished Gone, Baby, Gone. This thriller about a kidnapped child has as many sharp turns as a mountain road. The characters, a pair of private detectives and several morally challenged cops, are more complicated in their depiction than any I’ve read in quite some time. Especially in these ambiguous times, it’s hard to fault the bad guys for what they’ve done when LeHane makes his argument here against the nauseating abusers of children. Patrick Kinsey (Casey Affleck, brother of director Ben Affleck), the narrator, and his partner Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) take the job of finding the lost little girl even though they know it’s not going to go well, never dreaming it will end the way it does. Neither does the reader/viewer. Does Patrick do the right thing? It doesn’t matter, in his opinion. He questions only the outcome. Never in his own mind does he doubt himself until it’s too late. In the movie he finishes the job he was hired to do in a manner never predicted. Again, I’m not going to be a spoiler here.

What makes Dennis LeHane worth reading is his ability to draw you in. You can imagine life in a grimy Southie apartments, listening to the neighbors quarrel. You envision the poor living conditions of those unfortunate bastards in C block on Shutter Island. Enter the impoverished quarters of an evil child molester and you want to shoot him, too. Smell the garbage and unwashed bodies. Make your feet move faster to exit the bar before you get a pool cue upside your head.

Mr. LeHane’s Boston is grim and dirty and stricken of hope as it is of money. Drink and drugs are waiting to drag the citizens down as surely as one generation is likely to follow the next in a low-paying job, probably raising a family in the same house they grew up in. The outlook is stark, bleak and humorless. Then, one of his clever people crack a joke ringing with the same irony cops and doctors use in order to do their harrowing jobs and maintain a bit of reserve. You have to laugh, too, because it’s not funny. It’s painfully true to life. Neighbors come together to face tragedy and roast hot dogs while the minimum wage dads crack open a beer, maybe get into a fistfight. Pull a chair onto that sagging front porch of an evening, wave to folks unafraid to take a walk because they’re just as tough as the streets they come from. This is Dorchester.