About mildredmoss

Editor and Writer

LISTENING TO A DISRESPECTFUL INNER CHILD

This one was written about 15 years ago. When I wrote it, I promised myself I would never do it again, but who knew I would live this long?

Trouble is, I’m in the throes of home re-decorating. The project keeps me pre-occupied and turns me into a raging bore. Unless you want to discuss track lighting or the advantages of berber carpet over plush, don’t talk to me.

Between the newspaper and my grandchildren, I don’t have a lot of time to devote to the re-do of the “flat house.” My grandson, accustomed as he is to the tall village houses of Granville, christened my new abode the “flat house,” and the name kind of stuck. It’s really a 60s ranch on a lot of flat land. The lady who lived here before me left the house in perfect, spic and span condition. That was 10 months ago; sadly, the same cannot be said of its condition as of even date. It’s now strewn with paint chips, ladders, uninstalled fixtures, and the remains of a life put on hold while the place is re-done.

The how-to books say you’re best off sitting in a house for at least a year before you jump into redecorating. Although not quite a year, I mulled it over as long as I thought necessary before I climbed the ladder and starting stripping wallpaper.

During the mulling time, I noticed that the previous owner had everything set up for low maintenance. The whole place is carpeted, even the kitchen and bathrooms, in a color that doesn’t show dirt. The walls are off-white and the woodwork is non-paneled and natural.

There’s an industrial strength air filter. It’s the only house I ever lived in that won’t get dirty. One can clutter it up to a faretheewell, but it will stay dust-free no matter what. So, my primary dilemma was this: do I want to pull up and replace ugly-color-but-non-dirt-showing carpet and cover the plain-jane-but-disappearing walls with fragile wallpaper? Why do I want to make work for myself? What’s wrong with me?

I spent the entire month of January while I was sick with bronchitis thinking about it. By February I knew what I had to do. The ultra conservative decoration had to go. It just wasn’t any fun. My Inner Child was screaming at me the entire time. It’s her fault that I don’t seem to be able to do anything unless she thinks it’s fun. The blandness of our new surroundings is anything but.
Cautiously pulling up a corner of the ugly carpet I found, to my surprise, genuine oak parquet flooring. Pulling it up in one of the bathrooms, I found lovely white tile.

“We’re having some fun now,” shouted Inner Child at the discovery.
My fear-of-upkeep protestations caused her to pout and chide me, “Just as I suspected. You’re a closet conservative!”

To appease her, I started stripping the patternless beige wallpaper in the foyer and hallway. The house was built in 1965 and the paper has been there since. There’s bare wallboard underneath. “Probably would have lasted another 35 years,” I grumbled to Inner Child.

She ignored me.

Now, after six weeks, the hall and foyer walls are finished. I told you I can’t spend all my time on it. Where once there was forgettable but easy-care wallpaper, there is now pewter and bronze-sponged green paint. At the ceiling line there is a border of my favorite flower, the Iris (Tennessee’s state flower), done in green, salmon, and metallic trim.

This week I hope to get around to removing the carpet and refinishing the parquet flooring. Maybe I’ll even stain it to match the reddish woodwork.
There’s one difficulty I might have to deal with. Inner Child is easily bored. She’s already accusing me of taking too long to finish the job.

“Do you plan to make this hallway your life’s work? We’ve a whole house to redecorate. Get on with it!”

Now, she’s pestering me about lingering over this column. She says it stopped being fun three paragraphs back. Guess I’d better end it and move on to something else.

When Freud discovered our Inner Children, I wish he had figured out a way to shut them up.

The Imperfect Storm

Can’t say I’d want to redo any of my lives. You probably figured that out already. The very fact I’m not living them any more is the first clue.

The sailboat life, albeit short – about a year – is the one I wouldn’t like to revisit the most. You’d think people who took to the high seas as a way of life would be inherently interesting as the teller of fascinating tales. If you think that, you would be wrong. In ports from Canada to Florida, I’ve listened to the hotly debated issue of whether Softscrub with or without bleach is the better product for scrubbing the decks. I bought both to indicate I was on the fence about that one and didn’t have an opinion either way.

Sometimes the conversational gambit switched to the only other issue our dockside companions were interested in. It was called “Storms I have known,” and a few of those were fairly provocative, but most were confined to, “All of a sudden this storm blew up, and we had to skedaddle out of there.” Not much better than the Softscrub debate. Having now dissed all my former dock mates for telling storm stories that were boring at best and stultifyingly boring at worst, I will proceed to tell you about a storm I knew.

But first, I’ll tell you about one aspect of our homeport, Sackett’s Harbor, NY, that I found very interesting. A big battle of the War of 1812 happened there. Right across the dock where our sailboat was tied up was a sunken 1812 warship. When the sun was at just the right angle, we could see the barnacle–covered bones of the wreck below the surface. Photographers from “National Geographic,” were on the dock, under the water, and all over the place in the summer we were there. They did a huge spread on the town and the sunken ship the next year.

There were 50 or so unsunk sailboats at our marina, but we were the only people who were there every day. The rest of the sailors showed up mostly on weekends. John had a great bit of sailing experience, and I had none at all.

We sold our house and moved onboard in May, planning to spend the summer practicing in preparation for sailing to Florida in August via the Intercoastal Waterway. Our practice field was Lake Ontario, the contrariest body of water outside the Bermuda Triangle on the planet. Many mornings we set out under sunny skies and calm winds only to run into an unpredicted and vicious gale five miles out. I guess it was good practice, but believe me, sometimes it was scary as “all git-out.” (That’s a down home Southernism.)

Down the dock from us was a 36-foot sloop owned by a retired engineer. He raced his boat in many weekend regattas and often came down during the week to take her out for a spin. Last Husband crewed for him for several races. Sometimes he invited us to come along to crew for a mid-week outing. We went gladly as the excursions offered valuable sailing experience. He always wanted me to take the helm while he and John hoisted the sail. I hated that part because the boat had a tiller rather than the more civilized wheel, with which our boat was equipped. Because of my right/left disability, I was always pushing or pulling the tiller the wrong way.

The retired engineer’s nickname was “Skip,” of course. He was in his late 70s, and fit as a man half his age. He was proud of this fitness and strutted about like a banty rooster when it was remarked upon by his fellow sailors.

One morning Skip showed up as we were eating breakfast in our boat’s cockpit. He bounced down the rattling planks of the deck to our boat. Following nowhere nearly close to him was an old guy who looked as though he may be on his last legs.

“How’d you like to go sailing this fine morning?” shouted Skip.

“Well,” I said, hesitating, “I don’t like the looks of those puffy clouds on the horizon.” I pointed toward Canada. Lake Ontario was bad enough under blue skies, but no one went out if there were even the tiniest clouds in sight.

“We’ll be just fine,” said Skip.

By this time the old guy had caught up with him and was humped over standing beside him on the narrower strip of planks separating the boats. He peered into the water behind him and inched his toes closer to the front edge.

“This is my old school buddy, Raymond Shelby,” said Skip, slapping the frail old guy on the back, causing him to lurch dangerously forward. “Actually, I should have said the Reverend Shelby,” he went on. “He’s a retired minister.” It was then I noticed the clerical collar underneath Rev. Shelby’s jacket. I couldn’t believe the two were contemporaries. There was Skip, as robust and “hail fellow well met,” as you’d ever want to see, and there was the reverend, bent and sallow, looking as though he’d rather be anywhere else as long as it was indoors.

“He’s never sailed before, and I’d like to take him out. I thought we’d have a picnic lunch on the island,” said Skip, holding up a picnic basket. “Come along and crew for me .”The island to which he referred was a good three hours out in medium winds. It was also situated directly under those puffy clouds on the distant horizon. Not wishing to be taken for wooses, we said we would come along.

“Great,” shouted Skip, as he dragged Rev. Shelby down the dock to “Black Pearl,” his sleek racing sloop. Before we followed them, we went below and gathered up our yellow storm gear, just in case.

“If it were anybody but Skip, I wouldn’t leave the dock today,” I said to John. He agreed. We wouldn’t have tried it on our own, but we felt confident a sailor with Skip’s experience could get us out of any trouble in which we might find ourselves.

We locked the cabin door on our boat and scooted down to Skip’s boat. The engine was already idling and Rev. Shelby sat in the cockpit, his hands clasped on his knees. He looked as though he were about to be fed to the lions.

We stowed our storm gear below deck and Skip backed Black Pearl out of her slip. The waters were calm under blue skies as we moved into the bay, the engine purring contentedly.The Rev. Raymond Shelby sat on the cockpit bench still looking uncomfortable.
The bay gave way to the open waters of Lake Ontario. I steered into the wind as Last Husband and Skip pulled the lines that raised first the mainsail and then the jib (the smaller sail).

“Cut the engine, Millie, and fall off to starboard,” shouted Skip. I turned the boat to starboard as the sails filled and the boat immediately heeled over, its portside raised slightly out of the water.
In case you aren’t familiar with sailing jargon, when a sailboat “heels,” it turns on its side. That’s what makes it go.
Passengers usually sit on the high side of the boat to help balance things out.
Skip had neglected to inform Rev. Shelby of this phenomenon. Seated on the port side, he was immediately dumped forward to the other side. I grabbed for him and apologized for not warning him as Skip laughed and told him he’d get used to it.
“Better hold on to the rail,” I said. We’ll tell you when we change tacks.”

“What?” asked Rev. Shelby, weakly.

Very soon after our first near-calamity, the water took on a definite chop. There were tiny whitecaps all around us. I didn’t like the look of it. We tacked several times. Skip yelled, “ready about,” before we did so, but poor old Raymond hadn’t got his sea legs yet, and he flopped about the cockpit piteously.

“This is the life, eh, Ray?” yelled Skip as robustly as he could. Rev. Shelby didn’t answer. Before long, the waves got bigger, the winds grew stronger and I had to keep heading into the wind to keep from heeling over too far. Next to splitting in two or being dismasted, the worst thing that can happen to a sailboat is to suffer a knockdown. The dreaded knockdown occurs when one has too much sail up for the prevailing wind conditions. The boat flops over on its side and the sail goes flat against the water. It’s not something you want to experience, believe me. Conditions were becoming way too severe for my comfort level, but Skip was loving it.

“If you don’t mind, Chester — er Skip — I think I’ll go downstairs for a bit. I have a nervous stomach, you know.” began Rev. Shelby.

“Sure,” said Skip, “go below and have one of those sandwiches in the picnic basket. It’ll make you feel better.”
It was a suggestion we were all to regret. Poor Raymond lurched from side to side as he made his way to the cabin ladder.
He was no sooner “downstairs,” than the skies opened up and dumped on us. Jagged lightning shot from the once puffy white clouds. They were now black and ominous; the thunder was deafening.

“I’m going below to get our storm gear,” I yelled as I began the trek toward the ladder. I reached the hatch and looked down. What I saw caused me to change my mind about going below. The Rev. Mr. Shelby was lying on his back on the cabin floor. Under him, around him, and over him was the undeniable evidence of mal de mer in the extreme. The man had managed to barf on every square inch of the cabin, including our storm gear.

“Never mind,” I said, “I’m already wet.”

“What’s going on?” asked Skip. “I think you’d better see to your friend,” I answered. “He’s pretty sick.”

Skip went below and I grabbed John by his shirt collar. “We’ve got to get out of here,” I said. “We’re way over our skill limit and poor Raymond is so seasick he’s going to die!”

Skip returned on deck. “He’s okay,” he reported jovially. “He’ll feel better now that he’s thrown up.”
Indeed, before long Raymond returned to the cockpit. But he definitely didn’t feel better. At least he didn’t look better. You know the thing about someone being so sick he or she is green? Well, I’m here to tell you it really happens. The Rev. Mr. Shelby was the color of split pea soup.
He joined me on the high side of the boat. I had a port rail in the crook of each elbow and I was hanging on for dear life. The starboard rails were not visible, being by now way under water.
“Maybe we’ll trim the sail a bit,” said Skip.
Last Husband wedged himself between the cockpit sides to help with the sail trimming. His ear was near enough to my mouth for me to speak into it without the others hearing.
“Tell that maniac to take those sails totally down, turn on the engine and get us the hell out of here,” I stage whispered.
“I can’t,” he answered back. “It’s his boat. He. . .”
I have no idea what else he was going to say. At that instant, a mighty gust of wind hit us and we went over. I watched in horror as the sail skimmed through the vicious waves. Even the mast rode on and under the water for what seemed like an eternity.
I got some kind of toe-hold around Rev. Shelby. My arms were clasped together around the rail. I knew if I let go, both of us would go into the water. Skip later told our dockmates the whole knockdown lasted for only a matter of seconds, but even today I would swear it was more like a couple of minutes.

At last the boat righted itself and by some miracle all of us were still aboard. While I was waiting to breathe again and while still hanging onto the rail, I realized that if we were to survive this disaster, it was I who was going to have to speak up.
Poor Ray was about as rational as a half-drowned rat, and the other two men sailors were as full of ego as they were full of water.

“Now, hear this,” I said, sailor-like. “Skip, take that sail down right now, turn on the engine, and get us out of here.”

“It’s just a little storm. We’ll be okay. Just. . .”

“No, we’re not okay,” I shouted. “You’re going to kill us just so you can show your old school chum what a big man you are. ”I let myself fall in the direction of the stern, and I switched on the engine. “Get that sail down. Now!”

“Really, Millie, I don’t think. . .” began Last Husband.

“Shut up!” I screamed. “Help Skip get that sail down. We’re going back.”

Raymond whimpered softly and gazed up at me gratefully. If Jesus had saved his soul, I had saved his body. “We motored back to Sackett’s Harbor in silence. I turned the tiller over to Skip, who never spoke to me again after that but once.
After we docked and we were leaving the boat, he said, “Don’t forget your storm gear.”
“No thanks,” I said, smiling. “Keep it as a souvenir, so you’ll have something to remember this wonderful day of sailing and picnicking.”

“Millie!” whispered John.

“Shut up!” I snarled back.

I climbed onto the dock and headed for the safety of our own boat. It sat bobbing gently in the water. “I could have told you so. But did you ask me? No-o-o-o.”

Who said that? Was that a grin on Bosky Dell’s stern? Was she giving me attitude? Maybe so. Worse things than that had already happened that day.

Hurricanes I Have Known

The autumn of 1988 brought with it hurricanes that literally tore up Florida, where we were headed in our maiden voyage aboard our 32-foot Freedom Sailboat, Bosky Dell. I have great personal knowledge of hurricanes, but they are nonetheless frightening. Charley 2004 is tied for scariest with Donna 1960. Hurricane Keith 1988, although potentially the most dangerous, turned out to be a pussycat as we rode it out in the boat.

I can’t help but think of all the Sunday sailors heading south whose boats are being blown into plate glass windows on the main streets of coastal towns.
When we spent our time on the bounding main, we learned a great deal about anchoring and tying up. We had to take tides into consideration, figure out the prevailing winds, and calculate which anchor (we had a choice of four) to use given the conditions.

Many an hour was spent leaning against a docked boat discussing ground tackle (that’s “anchors” to you landlubbers).

Last Husband spent weeks learning how to sail safely in treacherous waters, and the proper procedure to follow during a hurricane. Though he had his faults as a husband, John was a wonderful sailor who believed in safety first no matter what.

Much to our surprise most of our fellow sailors didn’t worry themselves with such boring book-learning. Many didn’t even own a tides directory. How they dared tie up or anchor without one was a mystery to us.

The tides near New Jersey can reach 12 feet every 12 hours. That means if you throw a short line over a dock post at high tide and go to your bunk, by morning your boat will be on its side and so will you.

Even more alarming, many first-time live-aboards didn’t even own a set of charts. They had no idea how much water was under them until it was too late.

“We’re hard aground,” we would hear them frantically shout to the Coast Guard over the radio. Really? Imagine that. That’s what usually happens if you run your boat with a five-foot rudder through water that is only three feet deep. Of course, not having a chart, you don’t know that.

As for hurricanes, the method was pretty straightforward. If you had time, you were supposed to find a protected creek narrow enough to securely tie the boat to large trees on either side. You were then to drop an appropriate anchor taking the bottom of the creek into consideration. Here again, without a chart you had no idea what was on the bottom. The anchor should be heavy enough to hold the boat in strong winds.

Our biggest anchor was called a “Luke.” We would only use that if the hurricane expected was a level three. This was a big trade-off. There was no problem getting the Luke over the side. Getting it back on board was something else again. It had to be hauled out hand-over-hand; it was much too big to be stored in the bow anchor compartment with the other three.

Fortunately, by the time Hurricane Keith reached us it was a tropical storm, so we didn’t think it was necessary to throw over the Luke.

We did use the third heaviest, the name of which I have long since forgotten. To be on the safe side, we lugged the Luke to the cockpit and had it ready just in case Keith grew stronger.

We were anchored between a row of condominiums and a mangrove mound at New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Having prepared for the hurricane most of the day we were dead tired when darkness fell. Feeling fairly safe, we decided to turn in.

There were three or four sailboats in our anchorage and just as we were about to go below we discovered that one of them was floating aimlessly in the freshening wind. Its owner had abandoned it earlier in the day without leaving it properly anchored.

One of us had to stay up and fend it off when it came too close to our boat. Mother Nature didn’t pose much of a problem with her hurricane that night, but a careless sailor certainly did.

I couldn’t wait to give him an earful the next morning, but we pulled out before he arrived. Too bad. I had developed and practiced a really expressive salty vocabulary. I never got to use it.

I do have a funny story about anchoring. It wasn’t funny to me when it happened, but in the fullness of time it gave me a bit of a chuckle.

The first night we anchored was our fourth night away from our homeport in Sackett’s Harbor, New York. John studied the books for hours before we approached a rather large stream feeding into the Erie Canal. It was to be our anchorage.

Carefully maneuvering the boat into position, we dropped the correct anchor and fell exhausted into our bunks. Somewhere in the books I read that when anchoring, one should pick an easily visible spot on the shore and line it up with a spot on the boat. Reason being if one happened to look out one’s porthole during the night, one could easily ascertain whether or not the anchor was holding. If the two spots lined up, all was well. My shore spot was a V-shaped tree. It being my first night at anchor, I put enough pillows around me to be in a position to just open my eyes and peer out the porthole. I hardly slept at all.

Just before dawn after 7,000 position checks I fell sound asleep. As the sun rose directly into my eyes, I suddenly woke up. Horrified, I immediately looked out the porthole to line up my two points. The V-shaped tree was gone. In fact, the shore was changed completely. The horizon was different, the water’s edge was in a different place; everything was out of place.

I screamed into John’s ear, “Wake up, we drifted, we’re probably back out in the canal, we’re going to be run over by a barge, get up!” He jumped up and dashed into the cockpit where he immediately sat down and buried his head in his hands.

“What? What?” I shouted.

“I forgot to tell you the boat turns completely around when the tide runs the other way. I thought you knew that. We’re just fine.”

And we were. The V-shaped tree, formerly on the port side of the boat was now on the starboard side. I figure that experience took a few months off my normal lifespan, but that’s nothing compared to the years the entire boating life took away from me.

So, with Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jean, et al, beating up on all the boats headed south right then, I’m happy to be here on dry land. Our ornery midwestern weather is a light breeze compared to winds with names.

Thank Goodness for that.

WELCOME TO THE MERRY MONK

The best Pizza in Long Beach
Featuring Millie and her guitar
This week, 9 pm to 1 am.

The above was a large, lighted sign out by the street in front of the establishment, where I worked. It had a cartoon rendering of a monk in his brown monk outfit with a rope tied around his middle. Both hands led the way into the parking lot in front of the The Merry Monk. The owner was going to post both my first name and my last name, but there were not enough Ms in his box of letters, so I was just “Millie.”

I wondered and I do so to this day if I fall into ruminating mode, if no one in the entire State of California ever met anyone with a southern accent. There is a huge naval base there, and it’s impossible that all the sailors were Yankees. But from the reaction of my folk club audiences in the four places where I worked over a period of two years’ time, you would have thought I was not only southern, but a visitor from South Mars or from the southernmost ring of Saturn or maybe from the south of the moon.

“Don’t sing any more, Darlin.’ Jest sat up thar and talk to us.” There would then be hearty laughter as I blushed and prayed for a hole to open in the floor and swallow me. If it got too loud and raucous, the manager would come onstage and say, “Okay, that’s enough. We paid this little lady a hefty sum to play her guitar and sing, and that’s what she’s gonna do. Ignore them, Millie. Go ahead and sing.”

The hefty sum he paid was the going rate for folk singer newbies anywhere from Los Angeles to San Diego: For a 45 minute set, we collected $5.00 and all the beer we could drink, plus dinner if the place served it.  When I was the only performer, I brought home a total of $20 as payment for four sets. I hated beer (still do) so that made me a slightly less expensive entertainer than the norm. I sang 12 songs per set. They were listed on a cheat sheet taped to the top of my guitar. I sang three sets and then repeated the first set for the fourth set. Most of the time, the clientele had changed, as we almost never had the same people there from 9 pm till midnight.

It was boring at best and downright dangerous at worst. The first place I worked after auditioning and being hired to begin that same evening was noisy and rude. They did the usual about the adorable southern accent. When I complained to the manager, during my first break, he told me if I didn’t like it to quit. The only food the place served was peanuts in the shell. If the audience didn’t approve of the singer, they threw peanut shells at him or her. The guy who came on before me asked the crowd to be careful not to hit his guitar. They took more careful aim then. That’s more careful aim AT the guitar. At the end of his set, he told the manager he was quitting.

“Sure, quit, but you had one more set to do, so I won’t be paying you for it,” the manager told him. “I also won’t be paying you for the set you just finished.” This creep was terrible. I was going to quit as well, but I desperately needed the ten bucks for two sets. It was my intention to see if I could get some work at a place down the street called “The Other Place.” I’d heard they were hiring. I also heard they treated their singers with a little more courtesy.

I had hung out at all kinds of places that hired guitar players. I knew what to expect. Unless it was an actual folk club, nobody listened to the singer. Some were better than others, but I knew not to take it personally when nobody listened to me. I played the guitar poorly, and that’s the best thing I can say about it. My children and I had no place to live. We stayed with Howie, whom I had met in Nashville. Howie and I were sure we were made for each other. Maybe we were. Maybe we’ll never know. But at any rate the story is too long and too sad to tell here. I’ll save it for the book.

Someone beat me to The Other Place, so I had no choice but to go back to work at the peanut-throwing emporium. I went back for a three-set night. “By the way,” said Mean Manager Man. “When a customer buys you a beer, you’re supposed to drink it. It looks bad when the beers are lined up on the edge of the stage.”

That did it. I had as much guff from this mouth-breathing bottom feeder as I felt necessary.

“Well, that’s just too bad,” I said. “You drink it or I’ll pour it out for you. If I drink it, you’ll find your high-class peanut chuckers covered in puke, to put it as genteel as I can. No offense.” Whereupon I switched on the voice mike and welcomed the scruffy crowd, promising them a bawdy good time. I switched on the guitar mike and broke into a too-loud, way-too-fast chorus of “This Land is My Land.” The audience stomped their feet and yelled. They loved it. Being quick learners, they picked up the lyrics and sang along with me. A lot of them got up and danced and a few tried to jump up on the stage with me. Even that was too rowdy for this place. The bartender grabbed them by the back of their collars and dumped them on the floor.

This was not my first professional gig. Howie and I went to New York the previous summer. Howie wanted me to sing in Greenwich Village. He was sure as soon as someone heard me, I would be offered a month-long gig and a recording contract. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. You couldn’t take a walk in the Village without stepping on a guitar player. Everybody wrote their own songs, sang quite nicely, and played the guitar like an angel. The only thing I had going for me was a voice, which I couldn’t even take credit for. I inherited it from my father, or Daddy, as I called him throughout his life.

Daddy taught me to sing and to harmonize on road trips. I hung my head on the back of his seat and sang. If I missed a note, we came to a full stop, and he made me practice until I sang whatever I missed correctly. I could harmonize by thirds when I was 4 years old. Daddy had a beautiful Irish tenor voice. I loved to sing with him.

In New York, Howie dragged me into The Bitter End on Bleeker Street. I was so impressed I could hardly speak. The Bitter End! I couldn’t believe it. I was hired for the night and I sat on the stool my idol, Mary Travers, had sat on to have my all-time favorite singers, Peter, Paul and Mary, photographed for their album cover. I was in heaven. In those days, the folk clubs didn’t serve alcohol. All you could order was Cokes and ice cream. So there were no disgusting drunks to deal with. I sang a song Paul wrote and Mary sang called “No Other Name.” It became my theme song. I must have sung that beautiful song and played my guitar badly to accompany myself thousands of times before it was all over. I also sang, “Come to my Bedside,” which is an ultra sexy song written by another folk singer, Eric Andersen. I had just learned “Gentle on my Mind,” written by my dear friend, John Hartford, who taught me to play it. There were some others, but they are lost somewhere in my memory weeds.

But that was New York, and we’re now in Long Beach, California. Too bad. I would have stayed in Greenwich Village for the rest of my life.

One night a big guy named Jerry came into the place where I was singing. Everyone seemed to know him. He walked up to the stage dodging the peanuts and said he wanted to talk to me at my next break. When it came I sat down at a table with him, and he said Mike, the owner of The Merry Monk had heard about me and wondered if I wanted to sing at the place. Yes, sir, I did. Even the money was better. A big $8 per set. Yowzee! Jerry said I could start the next night, and I told him I would be there. When I finished my next set, I had the wonderful pleasure of telling Mean Manager Man I quit. He was quite surprised and said everyone seemed to like me. If they did you’d never know it. I had peanut shells in my hair to prove it.

So, I came to The Merry Monk. It was a big place. They served pizza and the usual beer and other libations. Jerry was the bartender and the manager. Mike, the owner, wasn’t there all the time. I met him the first night and he said he had heard we had no place to live. He said he was living with his girlfriend, and he had an apartment near The Monk, and I was welcome to it, because everything he owned was at his girlfriend’s.

Life was looking up. I had a better place to work and the girls and I had a genuine furnished apartment to live in. The crowd at The Monk was way more polite. Lots of times they even listened to me. Some of them came to have favorites, which they would request, and I sang them. It played havoc with my scheduled songs, but I didn’t care. Sometimes I alternated sets with a boy and girl duet that were really good. There was also a stoner named Milo, whom I also liked. He did a solo and played the washboard. One night when he was really high, he played his entire set on the washboard. Before he finished, everyone was booing and Mike told him not to do that again.

Things went along swimmingly. The crowds grew and we all had a good time. One night, I noticed everyone was listening to me. The place was packed and the audience was quiet and most appreciative. Sometimes they requested a song, and they sang along with me. During my break, a large group of people at the biggest booth asked me to come sit with them. They were very nice and told me how much they liked my singing. It felt wonderful. About halfway through the second set, Jerry came on stage. He just stood by me till I finished a song. Then he came closer and whispered to me, “Mike wants to see you.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll go see him in his office when I finish this set.”

“No,” said Jerry. “He wants to see you now, right now.”

“Before I finish this set,” I asked.

“Yes,” said Jerry. “Right now.”

I was mystified. I told the audience I would be right back, and followed Jerry off the stage.

Mike was seated at his desk.

“What’s going on, Mike,” I asked.

“Millie, you are a wonderful singer, and your audience is very attentive, but do you know why we’re in business,” he said.

“Sure,” I answered. “Same as any business. To make money.”

“Right,” he said, “Do you know how much money we’ve made during your two sets tonight?”

He didn’t give me time to answer.

“None,” he said. “Zero. It’s a great compliment to you, but Millie, you’re bad for business.”

“Do you mean I’m fired, because people are listening to me?”

“Exactly,” he said.

I was thunderstruck and speechless.

“Business has been falling off ever since we hired you and tonight the only money we’ve taken in is during your break. I’m sorry. I know you need the job, so I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m not happy with the pizza cook, so I’m going to fire him and I’ll give you his job.”

“But Mike,” I said, “I don’t know how to make pizzas.”

“Sure you do. It’s easy. I’ll show you, and I’ll also pay you minimum wage. You’ll make more money.

So, he showed me. He was right. It was easy. And I made more money.

My folk-singing career in Long Beach was finished, and my pizza cooking life began. Two months later I left for Los Angeles and did some brief stints at the folk clubs there.

And that, dear reader, is how I was fired at the height of my success. I never held a crowd like the audience at The Merry Monk ever again.

So, I left home a folk singer and came home a pizza cook. Go figure.

Happy Easter! Here’s Hoping You Have an Egg Cracked on Your Head!

We spent four Easters in Mexico, all of them in San Miguel de Allende and all of them unforgettable.

What a festival! The weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter morning are a whirlwind of ancient Indian activities and Christian traditions. It makes for an incongruity that is typically Mexican.

While ladies in mantillas are filing into the cathedral for the many masses said during the season, they may weave their way through a parade of half-naked Indians carrying platters of food for the gods. Everything quiets down on Good Friday for a while anyway. The townspeople go home to welcome visitors.The typical Mexican home is attached to the adjoining buildings on either side. It fronts directly on the sidewalk, just as city buildings do in this country. There is a heavy wooden door and maybe a window or two.Go through the door and you’re in an outdoor entryway leading to an open courtyard with each room of the home opening onto it.

The retired gringos have very elaborate settings, but the locals have much smaller courtyards and the rooms are either slept in or cooked in. No space, time, or money for rooms that don’t have a specific purpose.

I love the Mexican houses, especially the homes in the colonial towns. If you think it’s hard to get a building permit in your town, you should ask for one in San Miguel. The answer is no. Always, no.

A building permit can be had if you can replace crumbling stone with crumbling stone, but that’s about it. The city planners (there’s really no such thing) don’t care much what you do to the inside of your courtyard or your house, but if you’re going to make repairs to anything that shows from the street, you have to make them with identical materials. As the town has been there just as it looks today since the 17th century, that’s a pretty tall order.

Anyway, back to Easter.

About sunset on Good Friday, the homes are open to anyone who wants to stop by. The family decorates the entryway with an Easter scene and they offer refreshments to guests.

If it’s a very poor family (and that’s the norm) the flowers in the decorations are made of dirty plastic, the figurine of Christ is chipped and faded, and the candles are burned down to the point where they will hardly stay lit. The family is all there, dressed in their best bibs and tuckers and they are so gracious it breaks your heart.

“Welcome. Please have some water,” one of the children will say, offering a plastic cup of deadly E-coli.

“No, gracias,” we answer in our fractured Spanish. “Su casa est mui bella.”

The family smiles at us even though they have no idea what we are saying in our odd combination of Spanish, French, and Italian.

Every year we stopped at three of four houses and that’s all we could take. We were afraid we would hurt their feelings not accepting their “refreshments.”

When it gets dark, the kids are let loose from their home duties and everyone heads to the square, which in San Miguel is called the “jardin,” because it is truly a garden.

It sits across the street from one of the most curious cathedrals in the world where heroes of the revolution were baptized as infants. Its architecture is ludicrous, fashioned from French postcards, picturing the famous cathedrals of Paris. It’s also beautiful as the spires loom above the jardin.

The trees in the jardin are carefully shaved every month by men with hand clippers atop tall ladders. It takes three or four days to accomplish the job, but when the clippers come down from the ladders, the trees are shaped like huge hockey pucks.

The jardin is lined with iron benches beneath the green hockey pucks where no one sits at sundown because the trees fill with large grackles. The birds flood the town square with their squawks and the benches with their poop.

When the kids come to the jardin after Good Friday visiting, they come armed with colored eggshells filled with confetti. They all race about the square cracking the eggs over each other’s heads.

It’s considered a high honor for a gringo to have an egg cracked on his head. The Mexicans avoid any social contact with their neighbors north of the border, and the egg cracking custom is never bestowed on a gringo unless he has earned the trust of the Mexican kids. We gringas never ever get eggs cracked on our heads. It’s just not done to ladies.

Easter Sunday is a solemn occasion. Everybody goes to church, of course. Actually, most Mexican women to church everyday. There they are at 8 o’clock mass every morning answering the peal of the church bells.

Out on the ancient steps of the church, children and old women sell crosses made from palm fronds. All the shops are closed and there isn’t a sound all over town. Only when the grackles come at sundown is the silence penetrated.

Oh, how I do miss Mexico. It’s a country of heart-stopping extremes. I’ve seen things so horrible they’re etched on my memory forever. I’ve also seen sights so beautiful I wonder sometimes if I’m not unconsciously embellishing them. I hope not.

If you observe Easter, I hope you have a joyous one. I also hope you’re the kind of person who would be likely to have an egg cracked on your head by a Mexican child.

WARNING: CABIN FEVER CAN CAUSE DANGEROUS BEHAVIOR

As the calendar creeps through March I try to prepare myself for the inevitable onset of Cabin Fever.

Here in Ohio, the snowdrops poke out of the ground, and the willow branches take on their amber hue. But that’s about it for tried and true harbingers of spring.

Back home in Tennessee, daffodils are already up and running. Of course, they’re not called daffodils there. We Southerners prefer to call them “buttercups.” Never mind there is a waxy little yellow wildflower properly called buttercups. We are set in our ways about lots of things and referring to daffodils as buttercups is one about which we are devout.

Considering my long sojourn here in the “Nawth,” it seems I would be more accepting of its weather patterns. But it has never been so. March should take seriously the vernal equinox instead of continuing to languish in the winter doldrums. I can remember the first winter I spent in Upstate New York. It just kept on snowing. The “survivors,” as the natives liked to call themselves, had already warned me about the snow starting in November or earlier and continuing for an indefinite time. I was then prepared for a thick blanket of snow from Thanksgiving through February, but March and part of April came and went and it was still snowing.

I very nearly lost my mind. Some say I did lose it. Some say it’s still lost. It’s just that it seems somehow immoral that winter clings on so long. I have to admit it makes me a little crazy. Not as crazy as my family thinks I’m crazy, but enough to make me occasionally wonder why I do what I do. I mean, sometimes I surprise myself.

During one especially worrisome episode of Cabin Fever a while back, I decided to build a solarium on the back of the house and move the kitchen into it; I ordered books on glass painting, commodity trading, polymer clay, and Zen; I made a commitment to learn “Pancho & Lefty” on the guitar, mainly because I only recently discovered its composer, Townes Van Zandt; I bought a 12-piece setting of gold-plated silverware in a faux mahogany box; and I toured the craggy hills of Central Ohio looking for a place to build a log cabin.

I resolved to exercise and train for the U.S. Open Senior Tennis championship. Martina was thereby served notice. It is I who would be kissing the trophy while she must be contented to hold the runner-up’s silver platter.

My daughter wanted to know if I had bought a book on “How to Perform Your Own Tummy Tuck with Hedge Clippers and Super Glue.” Well, perhaps an instrument less cumbersome than hedge clippers but. . .

It was during one of the Cabin Fever episodes that I went to Nashville to visit Best Friend Robert. We went out to see our buddies, Don and Jimmy, in the country. The boys raise those cute little Shih Tzu dogs. I had decided I wanted a dog. Mind you, I don’t even like dogs, but I had to have one.

As we watched the puppies romp and play in Jimmy’s and Don’s living room, I once again surprised myself when I withdrew my checkbook and wrote a check for $500. I bought two! I named them Shotzi and Maxi.

Daughter and family were shocked, but not nearly as much as I was. When this mood strikes me, it’s as though I step out of my body and fly around near the ceiling watching myself do the most outrageous things. As soon as I had the puppies in the house, there I was up there again watching in wonder.

“What the. . .she’s really done it this time,” I said to me. I always refer to myself in the third person when in shock mode, and sometimes I pretend I don’t know me at all.

The cute little dogs got right to work making me even crazier. They chewed, ripped, and tore up everything they could reach. They pooped on every floor in every room. They barked at me by dawn’s early light every morning. They wanted to go out, though God knows why; they always waited to come back in the house to do their business.

The crazy woman had made a big mistake.

The day I came home and found they had unraveled a two-inch strip of my brand new Berber carpet pushed me over the edge. As I stood looking at the ruined carpet I realized I liked the carpet more than I liked the little dogs. When I found in the bedroom my Italian leather boots in shreds, that did it. I gave the cute little dogs away.

John’s friend, Larry, said after the first forsythia blooms, there would be only three more snows. He had seen its yellow blossoms that very day. At this point, March 29, there have been two snows since Larry spied a blooming forsythia. Neither snow amounted to much. The first was about an inch and the second barely covered the hopeful green grass.

I will leave my snow boots at the bottom of the steps just inside the front door, where they have been since Thanksgiving.

After the next (third) snow, I will take the boots upstairs and put them in the back of the closet. Should there be another (No. 4) snow, I will go upstairs to retrieve the boots. I will put them on and wear them to Larry’s house. When I see Larry, I will take off one of the boots and use it to beat him severely about the head and shoulders until he begs for mercy.

Should Larry think I am kidding, I can direct him to several erstwhile friends who can attest to my sincerity when speaking about the duress under which I place people who play fast and loose with snow prognostications.

One must be careful about weather predictions. Don’t go looking up at the sky and saying it looks like it may be clearing. Don’t, under any circumstances, put away the snow shovel. Don’t even think winter has done its worst.

Oh, yes, there is one other thing. If you see my neighbor, Richard, bring out his golf clubs, rush to the IGA and buy every loaf of bread and bottle of milk you can find. Run home and batten down the hatches. Believe me when I tell you:  we’re in for a real nor’easter!

 

CONFESSIONS OF A COUNTRY COURT REPORTER yt? u7 hi

As it is for most people, the time comes when one has to make a living all by one’s self. Mine came when I was first a grass widow. That’s a very old-fashioned term meaning a divorcee.  I did so for the most part “working for the man,” as it was called back in the day. When First Husband took off to build his love nest in another tree, my only skill was typing. Given a typing test as part of the application, I almost always secured the job by typing so fast my fingers were a blur. My average speed was 100 words per minute, no errors. Needless to say the job for which I was applying was mine for the asking. The problem was the job never paid a living wage and First Husband only paid child support when it suited him to do so. It never occurred to me he would not pay the amount we agreed upon: $150/month).

When my lawyer suggested I set the agreement up so that the child support would be paid to me through the court, I refused. First Husband adored his sweet little girls, and he was gainfully employed, as was his new wife. I did not wish to insult him by forcing him to pay support through the courts. Ha! What an idiot I was. The ink wasn’t dry on the divorce decree before he just couldn’t make it this month, and he would get caught up next month, and on and on. The answer was obvious: I had to get married again. And thereby hangs a tale for another telling.

The most money I made was working in my own business: court reporting. It was also the most fun I had while making a living at the time. John and I had married, and we moved back to his hometown, Watertown, New York. I had become interested in court reporting after typing transcripts for the Grand Jury reporter in Nashville. After researching court reporting I found, to my surprise, there was no license needed. There was no skill required except an ability to quickly take down every word uttered and then transcribe the testimony neatly and efficiently. Most reporters who worked in actual trial cases used a transcription machine, which took at least three years to learn in a special school. There was only one requirement to become a court reporter: one had to be a Notary Public. The testimony was not acceptable unless the witness had been sworn in by a genuine Notary Public. The testimony had to be signed and stamped by the N.P., before it was legal. That’s all it took to become a court reporter. Easy Peasy.

Among my possessions was a tape recorder operated by a foot pedal or a button on top of the machine. I also had two high-quality microphones on stands that my electronic genius buddy hooked up to my fancy recorder. To be on the safe side I had a plain-Jane tape recorder to use as a back-up. I could also write faster than the speed of light using my own bastardized version of shorthand. I applied for a Notary Public stamp, which soon arrived in the mail, and I was in business.

No one had ever seen all this paraphernalia spread out in a courtroom. I therefore opted to make myself available only for private depositions. It had never been seen in those proceedings either, but I felt it would be easier to pull off among less legal surroundings. I did trial runs casting friends and family as attorneys and defendants and plaintiffs. My only stumbling block was reading back testimony, as was often required. Most of the time, I could do it from my short hand, but sometimes if it were long, I had to run the tape back and hope I guessed correctly where it was. Most of the time I hit it with no problem.

There were still a couple things I absolutely had to have to be able to pull it off. I had used them before, and found them to be reliable and in good working order, but I had never called on them to see me through anything as bodacious as this. I don’t know how to put it delicately, so I will only tell you it takes a pair of them, if you get my meaning.

I had done some legal typing for a court reporter in Watertown, New York. She mentioned to me she had so much actual trial work she was swamped. I had typed some testimony for the grand jury stenographer in Nashville. I told her I felt confident I could handle some easy court reporting. I didn’t tell her how I planned to go about it, but I don’t think it would have mattered. She was eager to unload it.

In a few days, she called me and asked if I could go down to the jail and take testimony on a parole violation hearing. Sure. No Problem. I would be glad to help her out.

On the appointed day, I found my way to the jail and told the policeman on duty I was there to take testimony for a parole hearing. I was a half hour early, but I was hoping I would have time to scope out the landscape and set up my equipment well ahead of schedule. The cop led me down a hallway and unlocked a door for me. I went in and he locked the door behind me. There was a long table at one end of the room. At the other end was a closed metal door with a barred window in the top. On the other side of the door there were sounds the like of which I had never heard. I’m no babe in the woods, mind you, but I heard some phrases the definition of which was and still is a mystery to me.

I set up my equipment and before long a man came in. On his hip was a holster and a large pistol.

“Damn, I forgot,” he said, as he smiled at me. “Take this for me,” he said to the cop who had let him in, as he drew the gun and handed it to him. “I’m not supposed to be armed for the hearings,” he said to me, apologetically. He introduced himself to me and asked where the usual court reporter was. I told him I was standing in for her. I said she was not feeling well. I didn’t see any reason to tell him she was eager to unload this particular job, because her actual court work paid more money, and she didn’t want to give any more of it up in order to run down to the jail to preside over parole hearings.

He insisted I call him by his first name, which was fine with me. We talked a bit, and he asked about all the microphones. I told him about my system, and asked about where everyone was to be seated. I wanted to place my microphones to best pick up the various voices. He gave me the information I sought, and said he had never seen a system such as mine, but it looked okay to him.

So far so good.

In a few minutes, another man came into the room. He was very tall, quite distinguished, and impeccably dressed. Tom, the parole officer, introduced me and told Mr. Tolino, who turned out to be a representative of the New York State Board of Parole in Albany about my recording system. It was okay with Mr. Tolino as well. Great!

“Well, let’s get started,” said Mr. Tolino. “Let’s have the first parolee.” Tom went to the door through which all the noise had been heard and yelled a name. In a few minutes, a young man came in accompanied by an older guy whom I knew to be a Watertown attorney.

I swore in Tom, the parolee, and the attorney. It seemed the young man had violated his parolee by fighting in a bar after drinking copious amounts of vodka. Tom told the story, and the attorney asked for leniency, given the fact that it was the youngster’s first parole violation. Mr. Tolino asked the parolee if the story Tom told was true, and the young man said yes, but he didn’t start the fight, and this other guy pissed him off, and…”

Mr. Tolino interrupted him. “I asked you if what your parole officer said is true.”

“Yes, sir, but…” he started.

“Thank you,” said Mr. Tolino. I will present the evidence in the form of this young lady’s transcript (with a nod toward me – making him my hero forever and ever) to the parole board, and you will receive their decision by mail. Next, please.”

The scene was repeated almost word-for-word with the next parolee, who had been involved in a drunken brawl, but he didn’t start it, and so on.

This time when Mr. Tolino said, “Next, please,” Tom told him that was it. There were no more parole violators.

“Do you mean I drove all the way up here from Albany for only two cases,” asked Mr. Tolino, incredulously.

“Well, yes,” said Tom. I thought there would be more by now, but if I had delayed these two hearings, those guys could have walked. The deadline for their hearings was this week.”

Mr. Tolino packed up his belongings and left, with the long trek back to Albany ahead of him. Tom explained to me that when a parolee is arrested for violating the terms of his parole, his hearing before a rep from the board has to take place within six weeks. If it happen in that time period, the parolee must be released. As I came to know Tom better in the four years I took testimony for the Board of Parole, I found he preferred to have his parolees in jail or better yet, prison. They were a lot less trouble to him. If he caught one of his guys so much as spitting on the sidewalk, out came the cuff links, and Tom fetched the nearest cop to accompany the miscreant to jail.

I had one or two interesting cases, but they were mostly arrested for drunk and disorderly, neither one of which was the guy’s fault, of course. I remember on one occasion after we had heard four or five of the same tired old stories, Mr. Tolino said, “I swear if one of them walked in here and said, ‘Yes, I did it myself with no help or instigation from anybody. It was all my fault,’ I’d let him go right then and there.” But no one ever said anything even close to it. It was never their fault.

Ant that’s how I became the official stenographer for the New York State Board of Parole. John always got such a kick when my check came in the mail. He loved it when one of the neighbors was nearby. He’d take the envelope plainly marked with our address and the Parole Board’s return address out of the mailbox and say, “Oh, oh, Millie has another letter from her parole board. I hope they’re not going to send her back to jail.”

There were big yuks all around. Everybody in town knew what I was doing, but they laughed anyway. It was a very small town.

I suppose if you’ve stuck with me this long, I should give you a story. The story I shall tell you has another part, which I’ll leave for another time, or maybe it will just be in the book.

After I had worked for the Parole Board for about a year, Tom called and asked if I might be available for a certain date. I was, and as I wrote it down on my calendar, he said, “This one is not your garden variety parole violation. The guy is nuts, and has violated his parole three times before. He’s violent, and, as you know, we’re not allowed to have a guard or a weapon in the hearing room.” I noticed an evil chuckle in Tom’s voice. “You’re likely to have an experience you won’t forget.”

“All right, Tom, if you’re trying to scare me, it’s not working,” I told him, with a chuckle of my own.”

“Fine,” he answered. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” and he rang off.

On the appointed day, I arrived at the jail, just as Tom was disarming himself. As I spoke to the cop on duty at the dispatcher’s desk, I saw Tom take out his gun and put it in a locker.

“You sure you won’t need that this time?” asked the dispatcher with a laugh. Tom turned to respond and saw me.

“Hey, don’t scare Millie like that,” he said, still chuckling. “Let her draw her own conclusions.” I hadn’t the slightest notion what they were talking about.

The dispatcher took me to the hearing room as usual and unlocked the door. I thanked him and entered the room. There, much to my surprise, was a state trooper with the biggest German Shepherd dog I ever saw. Now, I don’t like everybody to know this, but I’m scared of big dogs. It goes back to my childhood and is explained fully elsewhere in the book.  Mr. Tolino was also already there and we were soon joined by an unarmed Tom and yet another policeman.

Tom explained to the hearing officer that the parolee we were to hear today was Greg Compland. He went on to say the guy was a wild man. The prison psychiatrist diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic. He was violent and spent long hours misreading the law books in the prison library. Always serving as his own attorney, he had violated his parole numerous times and after each violation hearing he sued most everyone present. Compland had already told Tom if things didn’t go well for him, he was going to sue everyone this time, including the dog.

I didn’t know what to expect, but when he was finally led in I realized the dog was a mere pussycat next to this guy. He was huge. Not fat huge but tall, powerful huge. His eyes were wild, and he was gritting his teeth. In the past, the parole violators simply entered the room from the cellblock door and sat down at the table. Compland, however, was handcuffed and escorted by a guard. The guard uncuffed him and Compland sat down at the conference table. Because the rules stated that no guard could remain in the hearing room, this one went back into the cellblock. Tom walked back to the door with him and I heard him whisper, “Stay close.”

“Before we get started,” Compland said suddenly, “I want a copy of this transcript.” He glared at me.

“Well, I don’t know,” I mumbled. “The parole board pays for one transcript.”

His fist crashed down on the table. “And they’ll pay for mine, too,” he yelled at me. The hearing officer held up a calming hand. “We’ll pay for your copy, Mr. Compland, and it will be delivered to you at the jail.” And then turning to me, “Bill us for two transcripts, Mrs. Entrekin, and deliver Mr. Compland’s copy to him at the jail.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, thinking to myself if Compland waited for the transcript to be delivered personally to his cell, he’d better learn a little patience. I’d take it as far as the dispatcher, but that was it.

Mr. Tolino, the hearing officer told Compland he was entitled to an attorney, and if he could not afford. . .

“I’m my own attorney,” Compland thundered.

“Fine,” said Mr. Tolino. How do you plead?

“Not guilty,” the furious Mr. Compland answered.

“Proceed,” said Mr. Tolino.

“I call to the stand this K-9 officer here and his dog,” said Compland.

“We really can’t put the dog on the stand, Mr. Compland,” said the hearing officer.

“It’s necessary for my defense,” said Compland, glaring at all of us around the table.

“Very well,” was the answer, “but I’m sure you know I can’t swear it in.”

Tom muffled a giggle and I kept my eyes glued to my notebook, writing frantically as I did so. As soon as the K-9 officer was sworn in, Compland suddenly stood up and leapt at him. The dog sprang into action and threw a flying wedge between his master and Compland.

It took awhile to settle things down again. The dog responded immediately to an order from Norton (the K-9 officer) to cease and desist. The rest of us were considerably more ruffled.

“I rest my case,” said Compland, smugly. And then to Tom, “your witness.”

“Uh, what just happened here?” asked Tom to no one in particular.

“The dog is trained to defend me if I am threatened,” said Norton in an official-sounding voice. “It requires no voice command from me. All K-9 dogs are schooled in this manner.”

“Aha!” shouted Compland. “See, he admits it. That’s what he did that night!”

“What did he do that night”? asked Mr. Tolino. “I don’t think I understand.”

“Well, take a look at this, and then you’ll understand,” said Compland, taking from his lap a scuffed and beat-up leather jacket he had brought into the room with him. One sleeve was ripped at the elbow. And then to me, “This is Defendant’s Exhibit A.”

I dutifully took a sticker from my notebook, marked it “Exhibit A,” and handed it to Mr. Tolino. The court reporter is supposed to personally mark the exhibits, but I was reluctant to get close enough to Compland to stick anything on his precious jacket.

“That (expletive deleted) dog tore my new jacket,” continued the wild man, “because he thought I was going to attack this guy.” He indicated Norton.

“If I could explain, sir,” said Tom. “Mr Compland caused a disturbance outside a bar in Watertown. The bartender called the police. Two officers tried to subdue Mr. Compland. They called for backup and two more officers arrived on the scene. They were unable to reason with the parolee. The K-9 officer was on routine patrol. He saw the disturbance and stopped. The other policemen had succeeded in wrestling Mr. Compland to the ground.

“When he saw the dog and the K-9 officer, he freed himself from the officers’ grasp and went for Officer Norton. The dog intervened.”

“Do you have other witnesses?” Mr. Tolino asked Tom.

“Yes, sir,” said Tom. “Shall I bring them in?”

“Yes, one at a time, pl. . .”

“Oh, sure, you’re going to gang up on me with all these lies,” said Compland, jumping from his seat at the table. “Maybe you don’t know it, but I’m a paranoid schizophrenic, and there’s no telling what I’ll do!” He clenched one fist and grabbed Tom by his shirt front with the other hand. The dog pricked up his ears, but since it wasn’t Norton who was being menaced, he didn’t seem to care.

“Sit down, Mr. Compland,” ordered the hearing officer. In the meantime Tom reached for his gun and then remembered he took it off before he entered the hearing room. Compland continued to rant and rave and bounce off the walls.

I was frozen with fright. Suddenly, I heard myself asking quietly, “Is all this on the record?” Mr. Tolino looked at me with what I can only describe as a desperate expression.

“No, I don’t think so,” he whispered. I turned the machine off and put my hands in my lap.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” screamed Compland. “I want every single word of this in the transcript.” He was suddenly all over me, fumbling with the recorder trying to find the on/off switch. All reason having left me by this time, I tried to protect the recorder. It did, after all, cost me an arm and a leg. And now it seemed there was a clear and present danger I would lose an arm and/or a leg and the machine.

I leaned forward and covered it with my body. Compland continued to fight me. By now, everyone in the room was shouting and pulling at Compland. He was so strong he had no trouble fending them off. I was stiff as a board. If he managed to get the machine away from me, he would have to pick me up bodily and then pry it loose. I’ve never been so scared.

Over the melee, I heard Mr. Tolino shout, “The dog!” I guess Officer Norton gave the dog a command, but I didn’t hear it. The next thing I knew, Compland was on the floor and the dog was on top of him. Tom ran to the cellblock door and yelled for the guards. A dozen or so of them came and carried Compland, kicking and screaming, back into the jail.

It was over. We all sat and stared at each other for a long time. Mr. Tolino asked me if I was hurt and did I want to see the doctor. I told him I was ok. He then said to me, “Let’s go back on the record.” I turned on the machine and the hearing officer said a few well-chosen words about Mr. Compland indeed being guilty of violating his parole by his actions in the hearing room, and he would be sent back to prison forthwith. I was shaking so badly, one of the guards helped me gather up my equipment, and he carried it to my car. I assured him I was recovered enough to drive myself home, although I didn’t believe a word of it.

About a year later, Tom called and asked if I were available to serve as stenographer for a parole violation.

“Sure,” I said and began to write “parole hearing” in my daybook. “It’s an old friend of yours,” said Tom, with a wicked laugh. “His name is Greg Compland.”

“Oh, no, what must I be thinking,” I said, erasing the words from my book, “Here’s an entry I overlooked. I have a deposition that day. Rats!”

“Too bad,” said Tom. “I guess we’ll have to get somebody else.”

“Looks that way,” I said. “Sorry.”

By the way, Greg Compland is not this guy’s real name, and you can quote me. The next time I was at the jail taking testimony, Tom told me that I had missed a high ol’ time in the hearing room. Compland was even more violent and threatening. After that hearing, which also included the same K-9 unit, Compland sued the hearing officer, Tom, the county jail, the New York Board of Parole, and, best of all, Norton as the K-9 Officer and–wait for it–the DOG!

 

 

 

 

WE’RE ALL IRISH ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY

When I worked at the newspapers, my favorite journalistic thing to do was research, It still is. I think some of my best work is the result of plowing through reams of old magazines and microfilm to scribble notes, which later were compiled by way of midnight torture into a WORD document that was then rewritten at least a dozen times. I was never satisfied with it, but as I heard in an episode of Mr. Selfridge, “Nothing sharpens a journalist’s pencil or her wit like a deadline.” There were many occasions when an editor ripped my story from the printer and sent it to be pasted up, as I begged her to let me give it one last look. Ah, the bad ol’ days. I don’t miss them. The Internet is God’s gift to a features writer. I wrote the following little story at least 25 years ago. It did require research, but not hours and hours of wrenching hard work. In fact, if I remember correctly, I enjoyed doing it. I know I loved writing it. Hope you like it as well.

 

The banks and the post office won’t close for it, and most of us will have to trudge into work just like any other day, but never mind; this week gives us one of our favorite holidays. We’ll wear a bit o’ green on March 17 and celebrate, because we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

How we celebrate is strictly a personal matter, and will most likely have nothing to do with the patron saint of Ireland. The kindly and simple bishop who brought Christianity to that country would probably be amazed at our raucous remembrance of him on his day.

On the other hand, maybe he wouldn’t mind all our hoopla so much, for if ever there lived a saint to have his day shrouded in a jumble of myths, all firmly rooted in thin air, St. Patrick was the one.

For example, remember those snakes that he was supposed to have chased from the Irish countryside into the sea? Sorry. It just didn’t happen. Zoologists determined a long time ago there were no snakes in Ireland at the time St. Pat trod the shamrocks.

In fact, it may come as a surprise to learn that he wasn’t even Irish.

Patrick was actually British, or more accurately Roman, since Great Britain was part of the Roman Empire when he was born in 389 AD to Christian parents. When he was 16 years old, he was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland, then a wild pagan country, where he was sold into slavery. He escaped after six years and vowed never to return to Ireland.

But the future saint shouldn’t have been so sure. In a dream, an angel came to him and handed him a bundle of letters marked “from the Irish.” This most unlikely legend is probably true, for it is sketchily documented in “Confessions,” one of his two writings still surviving.

The letters begged him to come back to Ireland and to bring Christianity with him. Patrick decided to answer the call. His life constantly in danger, he traveled over the island preaching, and transformed the heathen land into a Roman Catholic country.

The most prevalent legend about St. Patrick’s ministry may or may not be true, but it makes a charming story. One day he was preaching to a great crowd assembled in a field. His listeners were having difficulty understanding the Trinity. In a flash of inspiration, Patrick bent over and plucked a trefoil shamrock.

“Do you not see,” he asked the people, “how in this wildflower three leaves are united on one stalk, and will you not then believe that there are indeed three persons and yet one God?” Bingo! The assembly made the connection and the shamrock became the symbol of the Trinity as well as the national emblem of Ireland.

St. Patrick lived to the ripe old age of 72, a rare feat in those days. His death occurred suddenly on a day in early spring when the shamrocks had just barely greened the hillsides. Shocked, the people of Ireland went into a long period of mourning. When it was over, no one could remember whether the good man died on March 8 or March 9. Perplexed, they added the two numbers together and came up with March 17, probably another myth. When St. Patrick was canonized, the made-up day of his death became his feast day.

So, celebrate however you choose. If you’re thinking a night on the town might set your Irish eyes to smiling, many local watering holes turn into Irish pubs for a day. One of them might just be your cup of tea or, more likely, your stein of green beer.

If a boisterous night out doesn’t appeal to you, rent a video of “The Quiet Man,” stir up a rich Irish coffee, wrap yourself in a green afghan, and be an Irish couch potato for the evening.

St. Patrick stood up for his beliefs, and he won’t mind if you sit down for yours.

 

DREAMS OF MEXICO

At the very tip of the Yucatan peninsula is a beautiful hotel built along the lines of a Mayan structure. Its architecture is an homage to the people who lived in the area a thousand years ago. It is Dreams Cancun, and because of its location at the “end” of Mexico in the southwestern direction, it is surrounded by the turquoise Caribbean Sea. The sun has bleached the sand to a white powder. Everything is perfect on many levels. Honeymooners and retirees love it. But families, even those with small children, seem to have as much fun as anyone.

I was invited along with travel writers from around the world to attend the launch of Dreams Cancun’s “Delphinus” program. It was a chance to swim with the dolphins, and I happily accepted the invitation.

The month was June, and no doubt about it, Cancun is hot, hot, hot in the summertime. By the time I was shown to my room it was after lunchtime, and I had spent the last six hours either in one of three airports or waiting on the curb for the hotel van to pick me up. I was dripping with sweat. It was too much to civilize it by calling it perspiration. I realized I was also hungry. I was impressed with the Mayan-sculpted hotel, and had I not been so uncomfortable I would have dropped my belongings in my room and set out to explore the premises and find a restaurant. I was, however, reluctant to venture back out into the heat. My room was wonderfully icy, and the decision had to be made between cool and hungry or hot and well-fed.

The dilemma was solved by a soft knock on my door. It was a lady with a big bowl of fruit and a bottle of ice-cold champagne, along with a welcome note from the hotel management. I thanked her as she uncorked the champagne and set up table service for me. It was, in that instant, “comfort food.”

I wandered out to the balcony overlooking the dolphin pool to enjoy the champagne. The dolphins were at play, jumping in and out of the water as the trainers put them through their paces. The incessant heat washed over me again, and I realized I could see the dolphins almost as clearly from the comfort on the cool side of the glass doors to my room. The fruit was ripe and juicy and perfect as I washed it down with the champagne.

That evening, the writers gathered in a rooftop party room for introductions and more food. Martinis were the elixir of choice along with trays of hors d’oeuvres passed around by white-coated servers. I’m not a fan of martinis, but the server suggested I might like the chocolate version of a vodka martini. He seemed most unhappy to leave me as the only person in the room without a drink in her hand, so I accepted the mud-colored martini.

As I took a sip I noticed a Hershey’s kiss in the bottom of the glass. When no one was looking, I inched my way to the far edge of the crowd and turned my back. I quickly scooped the kiss out with one finger. It was the work of no more than two seconds to melt the kiss in my mouth, lick my finger and pour most of the drink into a potted palm. It’s a trick I learned years ago. One must be careful to keep some of the liquid in the glass when transferring the drink to a potted plant, thereby forestalling the waiter from offering another drink. It is sometimes difficult to retain one’s dignity during the maneuver; therefore, it must not be attempted without a high degree of confidence that comes with years of practice.

When all the writers were sufficiently inebriated, we were ushered into a delightful restaurant, where we enjoyed a steak dinner. I’m also not a steak fan, but I did not want to push my luck. I opted to eat whatever was set before me. We had a great and good time as we got to know one another. My dinner companion was a writer from Sports Illustrated. Trying to strike up a sports-oriented conversation, I told him I was devoted to world-class tennis, and I asked him his opinion of Andy Murray. He treated me to a blank stare and told me he didn’t know the name. After searching my memory bank for a topic in another sport, and coming up with nothing, I decided I would leave the conversation choice up to him. He didn’t seem the least bit undone by his failure at dinner table chit-chat, and I decided I shouldn’t let it bother me either. We spent the rest of the meal chewing our steaks.

After a sumptuous dessert (also chocolate-laced) we were off to the hotel’s nightclub to watch a dazzling performance by a Cuban band. Cuban music is very popular in all of Mexico. With the colored lights and salsa music, it was a fine way to top off the evening.

But the biggest thrill of all came the next morning. After a fantastic breakfast in a tent specially set up for the occasion, we heard some welcoming words and were instructed as to when it would be our time to swim with the dolphins.
Later, in a special room, we were divided into groups and given life jackets. We were shown a movie about dolphins, and an instructor told us what was considered proper visitor etiquette when we entered the dolphins’ domain.

He told us that under no circumstances were we to hold onto the dolphins’ dorsal fins. We were to stroke them as much as we liked, because they enjoyed it. He asked if any of us were pregnant or any of us were in a bad mood. No one owned up to either condition. He spoke of the dolphins’ acute sensitivity. They could tell if anyone was pregnant, mean-spirited or worse, both. The animals avoided anyone in either condition. He told us a story about the hotel’s employees being pressed into service as guests when the dolphins first came to the hotel. No one admitted to being pregnant. When they entered the pool, the dolphins avoided one girl, and she was very disappointed. That evening, she took a pregnancy test and surprise, surprise, she was indeed pregnant. The dolphins knew it before she did.

dolphins_over_line

As soon as we entered the Dolphinus pool, two very friendly dolphins greeted us. We had been told they loved to be stroked. The dolphins weaved around the seven of us as we ran our hands over their sleek backs. We enjoyed it as much as they seemed to like it.

The instructor told us to line up at one end of the pool and to shout a word (which I no longer remember). The dolphins were nowhere to be seen. As we yelled the word, the dolphins shot from the water behind us and soared over our heads to dive into the water once again. All I can say is it was thrilling.

We were in the water for about an hour as the trainer put both the dolphins and their visitors through exercises designed to delight all of us. The animals danced for us, waved to us, kissed us, and gave us a ride across the water as they pushed the bottoms of our feet with their snouts. It was an experience I will never forget, and one I highly recommend. There is a special children’s program that is a never-to-be-forgotten experience for kids 3 to 12 years old.

The hotel grounds and various buildings are beautiful, and it is all-inclusive. Eat, drink, play all you want for one price. My press trip included two nights at Dreams Cancun and two at Dreams Tulum if I wished. I could have spent four nights at Dreams Cancun. Because I am interested in the Maya culture and its history, I spent two nights at Dreams Tulum. It is a brand new property, and it is so beautiful. The hotel van took me down the road to Tulum and the next day, I went to the ruins left behind by the Maya.

It was this trip that gave me my fascination with Things Mayan. I have now read and studied the Maya with great interest. Many of their descendants live within a few miles of the temple ruins. The people who lived there in the early so long ago were sophisticated beyond their historic times. Their calendar is said to be more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. They were expert astronomers. The guide showed us the tiny holes in temple walls where on particular nights, the moon sends a single beam through the opening to illuminate a religious icon on the opposite wall.

I’ve been to Tulum several times. The last time I was there was in 2011. Previous to that time the temple ruins were closed at dark. They are now open until 11 p.m., and lit by colored lights. A guide is provided with each group.

Tulum at Night

It is quite a sight. As I said to my readers when I was a travel writer, of all the wonderful places I have been, Mexico is the best. And best of the best is the Yucatan, where the presence of the ancient Maya is still felt, and seems as real as their descendants who cherish their culture and willingly share it with interested visitors.