The Rose Garden Massacre

This is what happens when a person with absolutely no taste is permitted to be in charge of a national treasure!

Of the many things that upset me about the past four years under the Trump administration (and they were divers, from the 600-some infants and children torn from their mother’s arms at the border to the fascist statement that the American press is “the enemy of the people”), few had such a visceral effect upon me as The Rose Garden Massacre.

I adore roses.  I’m complete crap at gardening, but for some reason, roses forgive me for my ineptitude, and grow for me.  They grow despite black spot and Japanese beetle and aphids and sudden spring freezes; despite too much rain and too little.  They grow despite my own incompetence at pruning and fertilizing and nurturing.  Roses, it seems, love me back.

So, because of my own love of roses and success with them, I had always taken exquisite pride in the White House rose garden.  Every spring I sought out photos of the flowering crab apple trees beginning to blossom.  I don’t really even like tulips, which I consider to be the most boring of flowers, yet I enjoyed the spring riot of color as the tulips beneath the crab apples began to cast their slender faces upward toward the sun.  It just pleased me, somehow, that what is essentially a business-place, one devoted to the running of an entire country, could possess such a garden, and such a concession to beauty; to green and growing things.

So it was with consternation and horror that I read, on August 22, 2020, of the rose garden renovations.  I sat in front of my computer, scanning the news stories, and gazing in horrified disbelief at the massacre of the nation’s well-loved rose garden.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I was well aware that, to accommodate those with disabilities (and the ridiculous stilettos worn by certain idiot females), new, wide walkways were needed in the White House rose garden; and that, although not actually visible in the restorations, access to higher tech was required.  These things were necessary in order to move the rose garden—site of so many gatherings and press briefings—into the 21st century.

But this—this devastation—was not.

Rose Garden

The flowering crab apple trees, so lovingly planted by Jacqueline Kennedy, were missing, perhaps slaughtered.  I read claims that these trees had been transplanted, not merely cut down, but (perhaps due to my lack of knowledge about horticulture), I dismissed the idea; how does one transplant a 60-year-old tree? Is that even possible?  The renovations had been announced in August; were the tulip bulbs still gently hidden in their hibernation, waiting until spring to once more toss riotous, dancing color to the sky?  Again, I doubted.  And the roses themselves—the lovely, richly colored, beautiful roses, where were they?  A swath of ghostly pale blossoms lined those new walkways against the clearly-revealed, garish white of the colonnade.

I could not understand any of it.  The trees, I read, had been overgrown, casting too much shade, and so had to be removed.  How strange!  I’d always believed one pruned trees regularly, to prevent their becoming overgrown.  But the missing color—the glorious, wild, rambunctious color of the rose garden—why had it been dimmed, diminished, banished?

Of course, this is what happens when one allows an individual whose prior claims to fame, before acquiring certified gold digger status for her marriage to a wealthy man, had been producing full-frontal nudity and lesbian porn photos, to be in charge of a national treasure. (No, much as I despise the woman, I will not provide a link; if you want to see those vulgar pictures, you can look them up.)  Even setting aside her infamous pornographic photos,  Melania Knauss Trump had already proven, numerous times, that taste was not a word in her lexicon.  Consider her frightening and much-maligned White House Christmas décor, her notorious “I Don’t Care” shirt, or the mangled grammar of her anti-cyber-bullying initiative, which proved conclusively that she had no idea to whom she was married.

Hence, her transformation of the well-loved White House rose garden into an eerie diminutive of the Russian Gorky Park.

The day after the President Biden took office, I looked for and signed one of numerous petitions begging our new First Lady to take in hand the restoration of this beloved icon of America.  As I remarked to several friends, beyond passing the hat at the office to purchase cards and flowers for coworkers, I have absolutely no experience whatever of fundraising, but I would gladly delve into the necessary work to assemble whatever money was needed for the project.

Erasing fascism, racism, cult-behavior, xenophobia, sedition, vicious rhetoric and name-calling from the American government will, no doubt, be an overwhelming challenge for the new administration.  But planting ten crab apple trees and some tulips, along with roses bursting with color in every shade and variety, should be almost effortless by comparison. And it might just help, in one tiny way, to bind up the wounds and restore the damaged soul of  our Nation.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also find you like “Cathy’s Roses”, from July 24, 2018, or “A Memory Walk”, posted September 11, 2019.  Both essays can be found in the Archives.

Belladonna Night Moon

I invite everyone reading this essay to tell me, in the Comments section, about their own very best pet ever…because our beloved fur friends deserve to be remembered.

On a wall of my upstairs hallway hangs a framed poster from the 57th Annual Halloween Festival in Irvington, Indiana.

Irvington is a most unusual place.  Named for writer Washington Irving, author of  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, the entire town is one large historical district.  Among its many claims to fame are the home where Sojourner Truth once spent a week as a guest; the building that housed a pharmacy which John Dillinger robbed; a stop along the route of the Lincoln Ghost Train; and the house where America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, dismembered and buried a 10-year-old child.

With these and a dozen other tales of ghosts and fame and antiquities, Irvington, with some justification, goes a little bit nuts at Halloween.  Even during pandemic, Irvington’s famed Ghost Walks were held—somewhat subdued, but ending, as always, at the Lincoln Ghost Train corner.  And each year the festival sponsors a contest for artists to design the official Halloween poster.

Before it, regrettably, became a banal chain pancake house, I’d eaten at Dufours, the Dillinger-robbed-pharmacy-turned-café, and seen these Halloween posters adorning the walls.  All were marvelous, but my unquestioned favorite was the almost-photographic likeness of a black cat peering out from a background of orange-red sky and leafless black trees. Poster (3) It caught my attention because my own cat, Belladonna Night Moon, might have modeled for the painting, so much did she resemble the cat in the poster.  I yearned to own it, but the Halloween poster prints were always of a very limited run, expensive and rarely available.

But one spring my sister-in-law declared her preference for a birthday afternoon spent combing the fascinating small shops of Irvington.  In the midst of that expedition, I came across one of the last framed posters of the black cat.  With some trepidation, I asked the price.  Forty dollars.  Forty dollars?!  How could I justify spending that much money? I didn’t even have a place to hang it! But…it looked just like Bella.  My precious Bella, my best cat ever.  And the poster was a collector’s item.  How could I not buy it?  Fighting a swiftly-losing battle with the remnants of my common sense, I slapped down my credit card.

Hauling my prize home, I discovered the perfect space waiting in my upstairs hallway, and proudly hung what I now thought of as Bella’s portrait.

The real Belladonna Night Moon had come to me as a porch rescue: a half-starved, lost kitten found by a friend one cold November night.  After some minimal arm-twisting, I agreed to take the kitten.  It was a decision I would never regret.  Although not the brightest bulb in the shedBellMimi (2) (“The only thing she knows is, My name is Bella,” my daughter joked), Bella brimmed with good nature and sweetness…unless she was angry with me.  Then she would jump up on her back feet, and, displaying ‘jazz hands’, smack me on either side of my knee and run like hell.

She was a cat who came when called; who saw me to the door in the mornings and met me there when I came home at night.  When I could not sleep, she would lay stretched out beside me, my hand gently stroking her fat little tummy, until we both drifted off to dreams.  Despite her lack of brainpower, she ruled my other three cats as alpha, and they all but bowed to her.

But as time went on, it was obvious my little black cat wasn’t completely well.  Repeated bouts of respiratory infection and pneumonia robbed her of her meow; “Gak!” was the best she could manage.  Eye infections followed, and anorexia.  At last I received a diagnosis: FHV.  Feline herpes virus.  A disease which would flare any time the animal was stressed.  A disease for which there was no treatment, and no cure.

But I was not about to give up on my best baby cat, not without a fight.  Nursing her through repeated bouts of the virus, tempting her with exotic foods for the anorexia, we struggled on together for close to 18 years.  But thyroid disease and renal failure compounded her ailments.  Time after time in the final two years of her existence, I was sure that I had lost her.  Each time, valiant, determined, she rallied to experience months, then weeks, and finally days, of seeming wellness.  But at last, her strength failing, I knew it was time to give my sweet little friend rest.

I knelt beside her as, at the hands of an experienced and kind veterinarian, Bella went ever so gently across the Bridge. To the Ancient Egyptian afterworld of Amenti, I whispered to her, stroking her mink-soft fur; to the great Golden City of the Cats, Bubastis, where she would rest at the feet of the Goddess Bastet.

The next morning, heartbroken, I stood before my familiar Irvington Halloween poster and, perhaps for the first time, noted the date at the bottom of the print.  October 25, 2003.  Fifteen days before a starving kitten struggled onto a friend’s porch, and so into my life.  Perhaps the very day that she became lost—or went in search of me.

For any animal lover, there is always that one special pet who holds our heart cupped within their little paws.  On my wall, then, painted by the hand of an artist who never knew her, hangs a portrait of my little soul-mate cat, Bella.  Belladonna Night Moon, who sits at the feet of Goddess Bastet in the everlasting grainfields of Amenti.

Belladonna Night Moon
2003 – 2020

Again, I invite you to tell me in the Comments about YOUR best pet ever.  And if you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Cat Who Thinks He Is a Dog”, which can be found in the archives from June 15, 2018.

The True Spirit of the Season

§   This year, my tradition of personally-created holiday cards was exceptionally difficult, as I tried to create something pertinent to the difficult reality of a Pandemic Christmas.  But I happily share that card now, not just with close friends and family, but with everyone who chooses to enjoy this blog. §

I’ve made my own Christmas cards for nearly three decades now, each year selecting a special photograph, graphic, or theme as my holiday greeting to family and friends.  And each year, as I do so, I remind myself that the true spirit of the season—genuine loving kindness—should continue not just until the last greeting card is tossed out with the wrapping paper, but throughout the year, and beyond. 

Whatever holiday you celebrate–Soyaluna, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, The Return of the Wandering Goddess, or the thousand others of which I know nothing–may it be blessed.

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Families, Holidays, and Chaos

§  In this perhaps the most divisive of years in America since our Civil War, I turn again to this essay, originally posted in 2017, and its theme of tolerance, kindness and courtesy–for what better behavior can we ever display?  §

Several years ago I stumbled across Dar William’s humorous and touching holiday song, “The Christians and the Pagans”. It was a good-natured glimpse into the utter chaos experienced by a  family of very dissimilar individuals, all trying to navigate their way through the minefield of a Christmas dinner without triggering nuclear meltdown.

I found it so delightful and thought-provoking that I forwarded the YouTube video link to most of my contacts. A few of them had encountered the song previously, but were glad to enjoy it again.  To others, as it had been to me, it was a revelation: a couple of laugh-out-loud verses woven into an authentic description of the bedlam relatives endure as they try to practice acceptance and caring for the sake of family at the holidays.

But, to my dismay, a couple of my contacts found the song very offensive. To say that I was bewildered at their reaction is an understatement.  This was a song about tolerance—about the triumph of love over personal differences—about the curiosity of children, as well as their inability to lie for the sake of tact (“The Emperor has no clothes!”)—about finding common ground in the midst of seeming contradictions.

Eventually it became clear to me that, for those who found the song distasteful, their rejection of it lay in the very fact that the song was, indeed, about tolerance: about a Christian family struggling to accept and love their non-Christian and unconventional relatives (it is implied, though never outright stated in the lyrics, that the young niece is in a lesbian partnership) at Christmastime. To some of my acquaintances, this concept—that Christians would willingly welcome the company of their non-Christian relatives at Christmas—was anathema.

It is a mindset that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I glory in the traditions of other cultures, so many of which celebrate a religious or secular holiday near the winter solstice.  Soyaluna, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, The Return of the Wandering Goddess…to me, they are all beautiful traditions, evocative of the universality of the human spirit reaching out to the Divine.  To reject loved ones because they have chosen a different faith (or even no faith at all) is, to my way of thinking, so far from the genuine practice of Christianity, as I understand it, that it boggles the mind.

I was simply stunned to learn that some of my Christian acquaintances thought that their non-Christian counterparts would be encouraged to “find Jesus” if they were cast out and treated as lepers; that they believed children should be shielded from the spiritual differences of those they encounter, instead of simply receiving an explanation as to why the family believes other faiths to be in error. I could not comprehend their feeling that families should not at least try to join together in love and caring at the holidays, no matter what their dissimilarities.

It’s always seemed to me that the surest way to draw others into one’s own belief system is to demonstrate, by the very life one lives, that it is a faith worth emulating. How, I found myself asking, how could shunning loved ones, subjecting them to rejection and disgust and dislike—how could that in any way inspire them to accept the faith of those who cast them out?  Wouldn’t such behavior just convince them that their own spiritual path was the more noble choice?

In a question between my own belief system of that of others, I will always choose the path of learning; never relying on rumor or medieval bad press or intentional misinformation, but seeking to know the genuine principles surrounding a belief system (or even atheism) in order to find the thread of commonality woven into all that is the human spirit.

But, no matter what they do or do not believe, all those who demonstrate love, acceptance, kindness, courtesy and tolerance will always be welcomed to a seat at my holiday table.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Apples of Gold”, which may be found in the Archives dated November 20, 2019.

When the Universe Says, “Let’s Kick ’em When They’re Down!”

§   When life is going well, it’s usually going very well indeed.  And then it all crashes and burns.  §

I read an article once which claimed a mathematical probability to “streaks” of good or bad luck.

And while I was definitely cutting class on the day God handed out the math brains, it doesn’t take a numerical genius to see that this is undeniably correct.

I’ve watched the Streak Effect time and again: in my own life, in the lives of relatives, in the lives of friends. When one’s days are going well, they are usually going very well indeed. It’s as though a benevolent Deity has bent down, placed a crown of stars upon one’s head, and whispered, “Life is good!”

And then it all crashes and burns. The snowball rolls downhill, becoming an avalanche. Everything that can possibly go wrong—as well as a few things that could not possibly go wrong—well, they go totally, absolutely, completely, unutterably wrong—and with a vengeance. We are left to wonder just what in the hell we’ve done to piss off God.

I recall a long-ago coworker who experienced what was, at the time, the very worst Bad Streak Effect I had ever witnessed: Her mother passed away, she was diagnosed with a serious illness, her spouse walked out, she was audited by the IRS, and her house caught fire—all in the space of a couple of months. Showing more strength of spirit and resilience than I could ever hope to find within myself, she not only survived the onslaught but eventually reached the other end of her dark tunnel, head unbowed and victorious.  She mourned her mother, got well, dusted her hands together saying, “Good riddance!” to her unsatisfactory spouse, got money back from the IRS after the audit, and used the insurance settlement to nicely remodel her somewhat substandard kitchen.  I heard someone ask this undaunted woman if her faith had gotten her through that dreadful time.  “Faith-schmaith!” she scoffed in reply. “It was sheer stubborn determination that none of this was going to take me out!”

I later related this story to a relative who was experiencing her own horrendous Bad Streak Effect: her oldest cat died, the youngest animal was diagnosed with incurable FIV, and the third required an expensive antibiotic; a storm brought down a truck-sized branch from her old oak tree, necessitating an expensive tree removal service; thugs invaded her garage, taking her lawn mower, and kicked in her front door to steal her jewelry armoire, letting her indoor-only pets escape through the open door; one cat, terrified, refused to come out from beneath the house for three days.  To add insult to injury, the stolen jewelry was, all of it, actually pieces that  had been given her to replace the theft of all her jewelry a few years earlier!

A Very Bad Streak.

More commonly, though, the Bad Streak Effect is just a compilation of worrisome, niggling, bothersome daily problems. Taken one by one, they would each be minor difficulties; irritating, but simple to solve. But when they crumble downward like the Twin Towers collapsing, it becomes almost impossible to dig oneself out from under the rubble of life. You break a tooth while chewing the unlikely culprit of a fettuccine noodle. Your regular dentist is on vacation. The emergency oral surgeon butchers your mouth. The surgeon’s office assistant miscodes the procedure, so your insurance denies the claim. Meanwhile, the site of the extracted tooth becomes infected. The one antibiotic to which you are not allergic is unavailable due to a shortage. And on and on….

Stranger still, it seems that one’s friends and family are often experiencing various stages of the Bad Streak Effect all at the same time. The people to whom one would usually turn for sympathy and support are unable to provide much of it because their own lives are a complete shambles. Conversely, though, there is always that one person in the group who is not only not enduring the Bad Streak Effect, but seems to be (for the moment, at least) Heaven’s Darling. This generally turns out to be the sole individual of one’s acquaintance who is completely self-involved and totally lacking in empathy, so that turning to them with a litany of woes essentially results in a metaphorical slap in the face and a long conversation about all the wonderful things happening in their own narcissistic little existence. (Take heart: The Good Streak Effect NEVER lasts. Their time is coming! And when the Bad Streak effect eventually wallops Heaven’s Darling, you can sit back, nodding and handing off tissues while they weep, all the while smiling secretly and evilly to yourself.)

I suppose the real point of all my rambling about The Streak Effect, though, is to acknowledge the fact that, Good Streak or Bad, the events never last. And while reminding oneself of this during a Good Streak can prove a cautionary tale, keeping it firmly in mind during a Bad Streak can help us keep calm and carry on—even when doing so feels like clawing one’s fingers into cracks in a perpendicular surface, hanging on for very dear life.

Because, no matter how bad the Bad Streak may be, it is, despite everything, a dear and special life.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Best Revenge, Part 2”, in the Archives from August 5, 2020.

The Dot Principle

Having survived the past four years in this nation, I will never again underestimate the power of The Dot Principle!

In June, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States issued its landmark decision regarding the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry.  This event was a hot topic of conversation the next day at the office where I worked.  At the time, I participated in a walking group; we spent our breaks and sometimes part of our lunch hours getting a bit of exercise by striding briskly through the wide halls and many stairwells of the Indiana state office building, happily (and noisily, according to my boss) gossiping as we did so.

On the morning in question, as it happened, only two of us were walking.  Turning to me with a bewildered look on her face, my walking partner—let’s call her Dot–remarked, “They said on the news last night that gay marriage is now the law in all 50 states.  But what about the other two?”

I was, of course, confused.  “The other two what?” 

“States.”

I’m certain my face  must have done that “eyes-rolling-to one side-lips-twisting” thing which indicates complete incredulity.  “Uh, Dot, there are only 50 states.  Forty-eight contiguous states, and Alaska and Hawaii.”

“But I’ve always heard there are 52,” she persisted.

“Uh, no.”  At her look of skepticism, I continued, “There’s the District of Columbia—DC,” I explained. “It is separate from the States. But not a state.  And there are possessions and territories. Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands…”  I trailed off as she continued to look disbelieving.  “There are 50 stars on the flag, one for each State,” I persevered bravely, finally surrendering as Dot just shrugged.

Dot, a few years older than I (and I was nearing retirement), had, I believe, a couple of years of college under her belt; an Associates Degree, as opposed to my high school-only education.  She’d been born a citizen of the United States.  English was her natal language.

But she didn’t know how many States comprise the union.

I’ve looked back on that rather terrifying conversation many times in the past four years, realizing, “Not only do they walk among us, but they vote!”

I now apply “The Dot Principle” to about 75% of the comments I torture myself by reading at the close of articles when I check the news each morning.  (Do NOT ask me why I put myself through this.  I can only surmise that I am a masochist.)   In any case, I usually peruse the comments.  While doing so,  I remind myself that, not only are the Dots of this nation supremely ignorant, but they are astoundingly unafraid in displaying that ignorance to a cringing populace.  They are utterly confident in the correctness of their outrageous assertions.  No matter what facts are presented, the Dots will not be budged from their convictions, preferring their “alternative facts”.  Ill-spelled, and displaying mangled grammar and mutilated sentence structure, riddled with hateful name-calling and, above all, a dearth of knowledge and factual information, and inevitably peppered with ALL CAPS BECAUSE I’M SHOUTING AT YOU SINCE THAT WILL MAKE YOU BELIEVE ME, they troll the pathways of the Comments sections, providing cheap entertainment when one is not too aghast at the remarks to enjoy the show. 

The Dot Principle provided me just a smidgen of reassurance when I read, shocked and appalled, about the Q-Anon Conspiracy. As much as I enjoy a good conspiracy theory–and I really do enjoy them; some are quite masterful in their depositions, and nearly convincing–as much as I admire the enormous work that goes into constructing these mangled theories that fly in the face of reality and plain old common sense, I don’t genuinely find myself being sucked in.  I tell myself this means I am not a Dot; that I still have a few neurons firing, if not so many as I once had when young.

Having been in ascension for four long, painful years, the Dots of this nation are now stunned, brimming with new conspiracy theories, furious and disbelieving that their construct of reality has somehow crumbled, as that nail-biter of an election finally concluded with the overwhelming popular vote and electoral college selection of Joe Biden as 46th President of the United States of America.  Nevertheless, as I pointed out to a fuming and incredulous acquaintance, one could consider this just the swing of the pendulum.  “Give it four years, and, who knows—maybe you can elect Jared Kushner or Trump Jr. or Eric Trump or even, saints preserve us, Ivanka,” I suggested.  (On the other hand, maybe not, since I devoutly hope and expect that most of that crew of con men/women, slum lords, Hatch Act violators, and tax evaders will be languishing in prison.)

But having lived through the last four years in this nation, I will never again underestimate the power of The Dot Principle.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy the essay, “The Benefit of the Doubt”, which you can locate in the Archives from July 31, 2019.

 

 

 

The Savage Reviewer, Part 2 (or, Revenge Isn’t So Sweet!)

§ Revenge isn’t always so sweet, Author Who Cannot Spell! §

As I mentioned in the post “The Savage Reviewer”, I depend heavily on reviews when selecting the books I read, and return the favor by writing reviews. I was a lot more hesitant to criticize—much kinder, and certainly far more generous with praise–when I was initially writing book reviews. Now, having gotten into the swing of the game, I’ve become far more critical…and a lot more honest.

This all came to mind a few weeks ago as I was clearing out spam from the Comments section of this blog. I admit it with wholehearted shame: I am really, really bad about checking the Spam section and removing comments that have been diverted there! I’m far too trusting of WordPress’s excellent spam filters, which seem to catch most problems. Regular comments arrive in a notification to my e-mail, with a request that they be approved—or not. I rarely fail to approve a comment, since most of my few followers are friends and family members who are actually quite crazy enough to enjoy reading my weekly maunderings.

But an occasional genuine comment gets diverted to the Spam section that I am so dilatory about monitoring. And so it was that a few weeks ago, as I ran a “search and destroy” on the multi-car pileup in that folder, I came across a rather snide remark responding to an older post.

The commenter observed that my essays were “so rife with misspellings that it made what should have been a pleasure into an ordeal”.

Hmmm.

Now, while I’m not precisely spelling bee championship material, I’m can say, in all honesty, that I am “knot to bad” (pathetically poor humor, yes) at spelling. During elementary school, I usually received an “A” in that category on the majority of my report cards. And while my abilities have declined a bit since that long-ago era, I am wise enough to NOT trust the spell-checker. Oh, I rely on it—I just don’t trust the darned thing. I’ve never forgotten that brilliant little poem, Candidate for a Pullet Surprise, by Dr. Jerrold H. Zar, that circulated so constantly several years ago:

I have a spelling checker
It came with my pea sea.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
I ran this poem thru it
I’m sure your pleased to no
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh
My checker told me sew.

But, spell checker or not, since I am editing my own material, an occasional error does slip through. Nevertheless, I felt that “rife” was pushing matters just a bit. So I began to comb through recent posts, coming across a mistake or two here and there, most of them more in the form of a typing mis-stroke than an actual spelling error. I checked with some friends, also, who read my blog posts regularly; they claimed to have rarely found spelling errors. Having satisfied myself in this regard, then, I deleted the obnoxious comment.

Yet something about the remark still bothered me. I finally put my finger on the problem: They were my own words.

You see, the site where I post most of my book reviews has a Profile section. And that profile mentions that I am a blogger and states the title of this blog. Any author whom I disparage–or praise–can run a quick search and locate my blog.

That comment was lifted, word for word, from one of my own reviews–a rather negative review that I had posted about a book I’d tried to read—tried to read, and found painfully unreadable, due to the fact that it was, indeed, rife with errors in spelling and grammar.

I began to regret having blithely deleted the unkind comment without noting the name of the person who’d attempted to post it. As I have, in years of writing them, placed several hundred book reviews on the site, I realized that it would be a complete waste of time and effort to scroll through all of them attempting to discover the author whose work I’d so disparaged.

But I had to admit to a sensation of evil glee as I realized how bitterly furious the resentful author must have felt when the attempt to turn my own (honest) words back upon me failed so completely. Even had their comment survived the Spam filter to land in my in-box, awaiting approval, I would never have permitted it to be posted. By ending up as Spam, though, it caused me to dig a bit deeper, and to come up laughing with snide delight at the failure of the maligned author to troll me.

Revenge isn’t always so sweet, Author Who Cannot Spell. But I’m just rotten enough to admit that having the last laugh surely is!

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to check the archives for “The Savage Reviewer”, posted on 09/02/2020; “Book Reports: Do Kids Still Have to Write Them?, from 09/23/2020, or “To Review or Not Review”, posted 12/13/2017.)

Scrubbing the Sunbeam

§   My favorite of all Grandma’s stories was The White Spot  §

My Grandmother Marie lived in the same red brick house on Southern Avenue in Indianapolis from the time she married in 1928 until her death in 1989.  Despite financial difficulties, she and my Grandfather, Charles Sr., managed to retain their home during the Great Depression solely due to the kindness—or perhaps pragmatism!–of a local bank official.  As Grandma told the story, when “Pop” accidentally met the bank officer on the street one day, he confessed miserably that it was unlikely they could continue making their mortgage payments.  The banker first asked Pop how much he could afford to pay, and then asked him to hand over the passbook that recorded their payments. A bit bewildered, Pop duly handed over his passbook.  Glancing at the payment amount, the bank official inked a line through it, wrote in the affordable amount, and, initialing the change, handed the passbook back to Pop.  I’m sure the bank did not need one more foreclosed home during the Great Depression, but it was a kind act, nonetheless.  So it was that the little red brick house stayed in the family.

The story of The Mortgage was just one of the dozens of tales my Grandmother had to tell me: The Smoke Alarm In Her PurseThe Brains On the Asphalt.  The Irish Catholic Nun Who Hated WopsThe Silk Parachute.  The Clock With Sparklers on the Front Porch. My favorite of them, though, was always the story of The White Spot.

Passionately house-proud to the day she died, Grandma’s home was always beautifully kept: polished, swept, dusted and scrubbed.  So as a young bride, it drove her simply nuts one afternoon to find a white spot on the living room carpet.  She had no idea what it was—flour, perhaps?—but she moistened a clean rag and scrubbed at the spot until it disappeared.

The next day, though, the spot was back.  And the next, and the next.  Like Lady Macbeth bemoaning the blood on her hands, Grandma scrubbed daily at that mark on her carpet:  “Out, damned spot!  Out!”   Frustrated, she could not for the life of her figure out what was being spilt in the same place on the carpet every single day!–until the afternoon she realized that The White Spot was actually a tiny, stray sunbeam, slanted onto the carpet from a miniscule hole in the Venetian blinds covering the window.

That’s right.  Every day Grandma had been “scrubbing” a sunbeam out of her carpet. It disappeared under both the onslaught of moisture that darkened the carpet temporarily and the movement of the afternoon sun.

I never failed to chuckle at this story, told in my Grandmother’s expressive Italian manner, complete with hand gestures, of course.  I’m giggling now, remembering it.

Then one Sunday afternoon at a church service, I listened as a visiting minister from Germany related his own, similar tale.  He called it The Phenomenon of the Black Spot.

Quite a dandy, the minister, Peter, liked to dress well, and he favored white ties with his well-cut suits.  Those ties, though, were sometimes the utter bane of his existence, for he occasionally spilled something—food, ink, dirt—on his tie and had to wear it the rest of the day, stained. And it was inevitable, as he related to us during that Sunday lesson, that at some point during the day a helpful person would say to him, “Peter, did you know you have a spot on your tie?”

An excellent speaker, Minister Peter was able to spin this story into a significant lesson about our human habit of focusing on the tiniest of problems rather than the bigger picture.  While taking the theme of his sermon to heart, I could not help but laugh quietly to myself, linking it to Grandma’s story of zealously scrubbing that damned non-existent White Spot.

I sometimes now look back on both these stories, finding that they remind me to concentrate on the important problems that I encounter, and not, as my obsessive-compulsive personality tends to do, on the minor, easily correctable situations.   But the tales of White Spot and Black Spot came home to me just the other day when I happened to look across my living room to the area rug that rests beneath the long hassock.  Mahogany and cranberry-colored flowers and dark green vines twine across a pale ivory-green background—but the area where my attention focused appeared to have been spotted with fresh blood!  I glanced in consternation at my bare feet, but there was no wound.  Then I jumped up, prepared to check the paws of each of my cats, when the truth came rushing in on a flash of inspired memory, making me laugh aloud.

A ray of afternoon sunlight was slanting between the blinds onto the carpet, turning the cranberry flowers blood red.

I’m sure, Grandma, very sure, that you were laughing, too.

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “And Speaking of Prejudice”, in the Archives from 01/18/2018, and reprinted as “Racism Knows No Logic,” 06/10/2020)   

The Savage Reviewer

§   I depend heavily on reviews when selecting the books I read, and return the favor by writing reviews.  §

The ability to read online book reviews written by everyday readers instead of some pompous newspaper critic has been, I find, a marvelous advancement of the digital age. I depend heavily on reviews when selecting the books I read, and return the favor by writing reviews of every book that I finish (as well as a few books so bad that I do not finish them!)

Recently, I scrolled through the site where I post my reviews, re-reading some I’d submitted when I first began writing them a few years ago. It occurred to me as I perused my earlier reviews that I was a lot more hesitant to criticize—much kinder, and certainly far more generous–when I was initially writing book reviews. Now, having gotten into the swing of the game, I’ve become far more critical…and a lot more honest.

All this was running through my thoughts a few months ago as I reviewed a book I’d selected due to an intriguing plot summary. The novel, the very first by brand-new author, had only 10 reviews, all of them 5-Star ratings. Not being a complete moron, I knew that meant that the book had been reviewed only by loving family and non-critical friends. Nevertheless, the book sounded interesting, so I took a chance. And at first it seemed my gamble was justified; I liked the opening paragraphs; the tale seemed to be well-written–a rarity in these days of self-publishing–and the main character was a likeable woman. (There are few things worse than slogging through an interesting novel in which the main character is an irritating, self-serving asshole.)

Unfortunately, everything went downhill from there. I finished reading the whole the novel, although I have to say in all honesty that I did so only because I need to remark upon ALL the book’s failings, not just those found at the halfway point where I really gave up. No, I tortured myself all the way through the book, feeling I should provide multiple facts to counteract all those glowing 5-star reviews. Yet even as I typed the 2-Star review that I eventually submitted, I felt a current of guilt. Although not so much savage as straightforward, my words were bound to make the inexperienced author cringe, perhaps even cry. I sighed and reminded myself that I was attempting to save other readers from wasting their hard-earned money on this schlock. And, I consoled myself, who knew? If the author took my criticisms to heart, perhaps my honest, unflattering remarks might help her get to her next, much better, book–or even a revised edition of this sad attempt. Or so I told myself.

I was far less plagued by guilt over another very unflattering review I wrote for a novel which, despite yet one more promising plot summary and multiple flattering reviews, turned out to be unreadable. Simply unreadable. And that was a tragedy, because, with appropriate assistance—and if some of those flattering reviewers could have been honest—the book might have been great.

But the novel, a mystery, had been written in English by someone for whom English was quite obviously a second language. And while, technically, the author’s grasp of the language was excellent, well, God is in the details. And the details sucked.

The story began in a snowstorm. I think I finally gave up on the book about the third time I read the repetitive sentence, “The snow was hailing…”. Hailing?  What? Was the snow calling for a taxi? As I pointed out in my review, snow can fall. Hail can fall. It can be snowing. It can be hailing. But the snow can’t hail.

Then there was the fact that the car, a Rolls Royce, was constantly referred to as a Royce. Uh, nope. The casual reference is a Rolls. This minor but irritating error continued for page after page, setting my teeth on edge.

But the crowning blow was the sentence remarking that the only thing the characters could see was a “giant pile of snow blocking the road thanks to the car’s headlights.”

Oh, dear. A host of teachers from my distant past, probably all now long dead, rose up in protest.

As written, the sentence indicated that the snow was blocking the road because of the car’s headlights. I genuinely laughed out loud (sadly) reading that fractured sentence, correcting it in my mind to, “The only thing they could see, thanks to the car’s headlights, was the giant pile of snow…” (I shall I forbear even to mention that a “giant pile of snow” would generally be referred to as a snowdrift.)

Just before writing this essay, I reread my review of that novel. It was, as the title to this post implies, savage. Then, with equal honesty, I examined my own writing in this essay.

Yep, far from perfect.

But I was saved from abject embarrassment by two facts: First, I am not writing for publication, but for my own pleasure; and, second, I am not asking anyone to PAY for what I’ve written.

So as long as authors continue with those two objectives, well, I’ll just continue to style myself  The Savage Reviewer.

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “To Review or Not Review”,
which you may find in the archives on 12/13/2017.  You might also like the upcoming post, “Book Reports: Do Kids Still Have to Write Them?”, to be published soon.)

Folding the Laundry

§ If recognition, praise or approval are the reasons that we are working so hard for others, then we are lying to ourselves. §

A man I once dated was in dire straights. He’d been unemployed for quite a while following a series of life disasters (all, let it be said, of his own making), so he’d been forced to move into his sister’s home. Unable to pay rent to her, he took on (with, let it be noted, no little grumbling) all the household chores—cleaning, cooking, laundry, repairs, lawn care. His sister was working long hours of overtime at her retail job, so the arrangement suited them both. They barely saw one another, yet money was earned and necessary household work got done.

But one weekend Boyfriend needed to attend a meeting, one that he hoped might lead to a job. His sister would not be home, he explained, but his elderly cat was seriously ill and likely to pass soon. He did not want the animal to be alone, so he asked me to come out and look after the kitty for a few hours. I agreed.

Now, I am simply not one to sit idly. Even while watching TV, my hands are usually occupied with some chore—sewing, mending, crocheting, paying bills, or even just giving myself a manicure. So while I sat beside the poor sick little cat, stroking him occasionally and trying to convince him to drink or eat, I cast about for something to do. That was made fairly easy by the fact that several baskets of laundry were sitting there, clean but waiting to be folded.

And so I folded laundry, as I always do: carefully, precisely; sorting it all into categories so that it could be put away easily—socks here, towels and washcloths there, bedsheets and pillowcases in a separate stack. Shirts strung onto hangers with the top button fastened; jeans smoothed into a flat square so they could fit tidily into a drawer. I demolished those four baskets of laundry in no time and set them near the hall door so everything could be put away.

Arriving home in due course, Boyfriend noticed the baskets of finished laundry. He flung a “Oh, good!” in my general direction and grabbed them up to put the clothes away. (And if you’re thinking his behavior says something about the unhealthy quality of our relationship, you would be correct. But that’s a story for another blog post.)

I walked over, thinking I would help him store the clothes…and watched in disbelief and dismay as all my carefully, precisely, beautifully folded laundry was flung haphazardly onto shelves and pitched into drawers. The towels, washcloths, sheets and pillowcases were lobbed into a closet in which the linens were not even sorted by item, where nothing was folded at all, but simply wadded up in piles. The jeans were pitched into a pyramid at the bottom of the closet, and the shirts flung in the general direction of the rod, their hangers tangling together and dangling askew. The socks, neatly matched and sorted between dress and athletic socks, were tumbled together into a drawer atop a mess of other unmatched and unsorted footwear.

Worst of all, not even a word of genuine appreciation—something along the lines of, “It was nice of you to do this”—was spoken.

All my hard work was not only unappreciated, but totally for naught. Quietly fuming, I considered heaving the empty baskets across the room! Only the sight of the miserable kitty lying there on the couch kept me from doing so.

Putting my resentment on pause gave me a moment to reflect, though. I recalled that I hadn’t done this work for Boyfriend’s sake, but for my own, to keep my hands and mind occupied while I sat there sadly with his dying pet.

That incident was, I think now, a metaphor and a warning for all of us who are caretaker personalities; who continually go above and beyond for our loved ones, hoping, yearning for just a little recognition of our efforts, perhaps even a compliment. If recognition, praise or approval are the reasons that we are working so hard for others, then we are lying to ourselves. We are caring for our own needs, not theirs, and we need to acknowledge that fact; to pull back, and find a better way to take care of ourselves, before resentment and bitterness overcome us.

As for myself, I still fold laundry as I have always done, with precision and care. And in the years since my precious granddaughter was born, I have spent many an hour at my daughter’s home, not only folding the endless baskets of clean laundry as I watched over the little one, but washing dishes and sweeping floors; keeping my hands busy while helping my children, who suffer the overload of most modern parents. And each time they arrive home, seeing the baskets of neatly folded and carefully sorted and organized clean clothing, they inevitably say to me, “Mom, thank you so much for folding the laundry!”

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like
“The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Rose Up to Smite Me”,
which you may find in the archives on 10/27/2017)