The Inherent Indignity of Flying

I guess I should subtitle this as my politically incorrect musings on the trials of modern air travel. In my part time job working for an accreditation agency I fly frequently. In years when I manage one survey per month that’s twelve trips. There and back means I’m in the air 24 times. Since you can’t get many places directly from RDU, most of my trips involve a layover. Add in ski trips and cruises and I guess it’s safe to say I’m in the air over 40 times a year. So, I know whereof I speak.

I tend to avoid United. I’ve got nothing against them other than they seem to have purchased their fleet from a third world country.

And I never really liked Southwest’s festival seating. If I buy a ticket, that should be the end of it. You have to call early to get a good number. They entice you to pay $15 extra so you can call in 36 hours before the flight rather than 24. So, I did. I still got a C number. C stands for crappy seat; probably between two wrestlers with 3 ft wide shoulders. But for another $35 they can guarantee an A placement. How is this different than simple bribery?

American Airlines is annoying for several reasons. Any airmiles I’ve earned during the year they decide to ditch at the end of the year. Or I can “redeem” them for magazines no one wants. Golf Digest? Cigars? Really? And can you believe there is actually a magazine for pipe smokers? The other issue is their handling of irregular situations. I was trying to get home from Tucson last spring. There was an ice storm in Chicago that cascaded to bring the entire nation to a standstill. I arrived at the airport about 9 am, the requisite 2 hours before my flight. Check in was a nightmare. I was having back problems at that time and couldn’t stand more than a few minutes. I ended up sitting down in the line. Eventually I saw a wheelchair person walking by and flagged them down. Me and my wheelchair lady then waited in line for another hour. Then we had to get through security. Once past security my flight kept getting pushed further and further back. I admire the counter personnel for not fighting back at the people who were shouting at them, but they did keep us in the dark about what was going on. We apparently were in a satellite terminal and couldn’t leave. By early evening the terminal ran out of food. A hundred stranded, frustrated people were getting hungry. I feared it would get ugly. By ten that night they said they had booked me on a midnight flight to Dallas. At least that was part of the way home. I landed in Dallas about 2 am. The airlines then said they had a 7 am flight to RDU. I figured I could get about 4 hours of sleep if I went to a hotel. Plus, I’d only had one meal that day (a cheese quesadilla with no cheese because they ran out of cheese, but not quesadilla). I grabbed an airport hotel (with no food other than a vending machine). I think I ended up getting about 3 hours of sleep. Back at the airport the next morning and my flight was delayed. And delayed. I finally got home about 6 pm. I tried to get some compensation from American. I had been a hungry, sleep deprived guest of theirs for 33 hours. They refused to pay for my cheeseless quesadilla. They said I should have used a meal voucher from the American counter. I explained that the American counter didn’t have any vouchers. No. I should have used the meal voucher available at the American counter. Well, how about the hotel bill? They would pay part of it. They would short me about $40 because it was over the amount they allowed. I got really steamed over this. It was not a luxury hotel and was right by the airport. In fact, the morning of my flight I rode in the shuttle with three American employees who’d spent the night in the same hotel. Am I not as good as their employees? I never could escalate my claim past “Jason” whom I could tell from his stuttering answers was a pimply faced kid. I finally filed a written grievance, but it was denied. So, I don’t fly American.

I like Delta. I fly them a lot and have a lot of skymiles. I even have silver elite status. That means I get to walk on the right side of the post when boarding the plane rather than the left side with the unwashed masses. I have actually been bumped up to first class a few times.

Getting to the gate has been problematic in the past year. As mentioned earlier, I have been experiencing back issues that make walking long distances painful. The airports mostly have wheelchair service to help with that. But you have to request it when you check in online. If you show up at the airport looking for a chair, you’re gonna wait.

On many trips I use a rental car. I still haven’t worked out getting my luggage and me from the car rental place to the airport painlessly. Sometimes there’s a shuttle. That usually works. But some smaller airports require you to walk (with your luggage) from the rental place to the airport. In some airports (I’m thinking of one in Rhode Island) that could be a long haul.

I like riding the wheelchair. You get some special treatment, such as being allowed to break line. The pushers are all very nice and usually young. And overwhelmingly Arabic. Just this weekend I was pushed in various airports by Ahmed, Abdul and Mohammed. One anomaly was at an airport last year when I was waiting at a counter. The counter attendant asked if I needed help. I said I was waiting for a chair. He said he’d take care of it. After a few minutes on the phone he told me Jimmy was on his way. A few minutes later he said, “Here’s Jimmy, now.” Jimmy came limping up and I’m pretty sure he was on the high side of 70. The way he was limping I wanted to get up and let him ride. But huffing and puffing he got me to the gate. He said he was limping from his recent knee replacement. I felt like a bad person making him push me.

I had an unpleasant experience with wheelchairs last year, I believe it was somewhere out west. I deplaned at the airport late at night. We were at the next to last gate down a long terminal hallway. I asked the gate attendant as I arrived if they had called ahead for the wheelchair since I didn’t see it. She said they had not. I thought that odd since I asked the people at the airport, I was flying from to call ahead for the chair. You’re not supposed to have to do that, but I do from experience. She called for the chair. I sat and waited about half an hour. I asked her to check on it, so she called again. After more waiting I noticed a house phone on the wall. It said it was for emergencies only. I considered this an emergency, so I picked up the phone. It didn’t work. I noticed another one about 50 ft. down the terminal. So, I went to that one. The guy who answered was nice and said he’d send a wheelchair right away. While using that phone I noticed a cache of wheelchairs in the corner. Most of them had the 4 small wheels, but one was a more traditional one with the large wheels so the sitter could push himself. Rather than walk the distance back to the counter, I got in and rode back to the waiting area. The wheels weren’t as large as usual chairs, so I had to really stretch to reach them. But I managed. The counter lady said I wasn’t supposed to use the airport chairs without an attendant. I have to admit I just looked at her and stayed in my chair. And still no attendant to push me. I had been waiting for about an hour now. I reasoned, I got me a chair. Let’s go. So, I put my carry-on in my lap and started pushing myself toward baggage claim. Totally against all airport regs, but the terminal was deserted. I’d have welcomed security personnel wanting to correct me. After a few hundred feet the counter lady caught up to me. She said she was getting off and this part of the terminal was shutting down for the night. She said she couldn’t just leave me, so she pushed me down to baggage claim. She shouldn’t have had to do that. Something went very wrong.

One of the so-called perks of being injured is that you are allowed to get on the planes before the others. If you have flown recently you know that the width of the aisle is now about 16-18 inches. Since I usually have an aisle seat, getting on early allows me to be banged over and over as people come in with their oversized carry-ons and the inevitable backpack. Someone speaks to them and they turn, oblivious of the backpack and it whacks me upside the head. And the average American person is more than 18 inches wide. So, they are squeezing down the aisle, snagging people who are already sitting and dragging us along.

And speaking of squeezing, flight attendants are no longer the Ken and Barbie dolls of yesteryear. They come in all shapes and sizes. I recently flew with one who may want to reconsider her career choice. She was on the plump side. She turned sideways to squeeze down the aisle, but she was as thick as she was wide. She exceeded the 18-inch barrier in all directions. It was a struggle for her coming and going. And on a flight this weekend the attendant had a full beard. I have never liked beards. I think they are creepy. You don’t what might be nesting in there. It was an evening flight and when Duck Dynasty suddenly loomed up out of the dark I nearly jumped out of my skin. I don’t do beards.

Dealing with fellow travelers can be a joy, sometimes. Then there are other times. Like the lady who I swear must have bathed in cheap perfume. I hope I never smell “Charley!” again. And the guy who may have had a bath in the past month, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Or the chatty conservative Christian lady who led to me putting on my headphones and turning up the music mid-sentence. The seat may be saved, but I’m not. And children can be the worst. I question the need to bring a newborn onto a plane. It can be painful to their ears and inevitably causes crying. If grandma just has to see Junior, send her a ticket. I was on a cross country flight with three babies on board. I think they fed off each other, wailing in sychronicity and three-part harmony.

Apparently parenting has gone out of style. Take the case of Little Leo whom I encountered last year. Little Leo and Mommy were sitting behind me. Little Leo was about 4. He started kicking my seat. I could barely feel it, so I didn’t complain. Still Mommy tried to stop him. She explained all about how it was bad manners and yadda yadda. Leo couldn’t care less. He just kept on kicking. And Mommy kept trying to convince him to stop. We hit turbulence so the captain said all tray tables should be up. Leo was having no part of this. Whenever Mommy tried to put up his tray he screamed. And apparently fought. Daddy who was sitting across the aisle told him Mommy doesn’t like it when you pull her hair and then, Mommy doesn’t like it when you hit her. WTF? Don’t they know you can’t reason with a four-year-old? He’s obviously running the show and turning into a little monster. As we stood up to deplane Mommy apologized to me. I just said, “no problem” and left, glad to be free from her constantly redirecting Leo. As I headed up the jetway I heard a sudden blood curdling scream. I looked back and little Leo had thrown himself on the floor at the entrance to the plane having a full-blown old-fashioned tantrum. I feel sorry for little Leo. It’s not his fault. But he will one day have a rude awakening. Maybe people should have to get a license to have a kid. Small children are nothing but id. The Lord of the Flies demonstrated what happens when left to their own devices. Our job is to civilize them. A long time ago in a rom-com with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore (a very long time ago) her best friend was a kindergarten teacher. She said, “My job is to break their spirit.” Pretty strong but not far from the truth.

Bon voyage!

The Accidental Novel

Hey, folks. Good news. For me at least. I now have seven stories that have been accepted for publishing in magazines. One is in this month’s Scarlet Leaf. You can find it online. In the meantime, take a look at this.

The Accidental Novel

            I never meant to write a novel. I never even wanted to write a novel. Novels are long and intricate and take a sustained effort. Much longer than I could ever maintain. Novels are written by smart people or people with something to say. What could I possibly say that would interest someone for 250 to 300 pages?

            Sure, like everyone the thought has flitted through my brain “I should write a book” and just as quickly flitted out again. I had lots of ideas even, but again I thought, how could I sustain them to novel length? It never even occurred to me that I could write a short story. I don’t know why. I enjoy reading short stories. It should have been obvious to me. But there are many things that should have been obvious to which I was oblivious. But that’s for another time and another story.

            It all began with my love of ballroom dancing. I’ve been dancing for nearly 40 years. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I dabble as a hobby rather than make it a focus. To become really good, I would have to work at it. Then it wouldn’t be fun anymore. I want to keep it fun. An outgrowth of this is my enjoyment of Dancing With The Stars. I don’t really watch much TV. I don’t have a favorite show or anything like that. If I turn on the TV, it’s usually to watch a movie. But I make a point to watch every episode of DWTS. It’s frequently campy and awful, but always entertaining. Since I have a decent knowledge of ballroom dancing and definite opinions about DWTS, about five years ago, maybe more, I started writing a little critique of each show. These were very tongue in cheek, little about the actual dancing but more my opinions on the format, the performers, anything that came to mind that was related. If you want an example of what I wrote, check it under DWTS on the blog.

            I sent out these reviews by email to friends who also watched the show and would understand. People seemed to enjoy them. I got favorable comments. One lady said she had to stop reading my posts at the library because it made her laugh out loud. She was also the one who kept telling me I should start a blog. I kept telling her I had no interest in a blog.

            Short stories weren’t totally foreign to me. I wrote a few in high school as English assignments. In college I took a creative writing class for which I had to write a 5 page plus story. I was not quite satisfied with my result, but the teacher thought it was excellent. I got an A. That story has since been lost in the sands of time. But about three years ago I had a dream. The protagonist of my college story came to me and complained that I had gotten his story wrong. He proceeded to tell me the correct story. I woke up and was amazed at the detail of the dream. I got up in the middle of the night and wrote down everything he told me. That became the story “It Went Down Like This.” It’s on my blog. I’ve shown it to “People Who Know These Things” and gotten favorable comments such as “breezy” and “delightful”. You know, nice things. It became for several years a little noticed file in my computer.

            My father had died shortly before that. As I cleared out his house, I went through all his souvenirs and mementos. Many were meaningless to me, so I threw them out. But I also got a chance to review his photo albums again. The pictures brought back such nice memories. It was a very life affirming experience. I also found a bundle of letters to him from Mom when he was in the Army. There were about twenty letters covering his first three months in service. I don’t know why he saved these and no others. I was unsure if I should read them. On the one hand, they were private correspondence. But on the other, both were dead, so I didn’t feel like I was violating privacy. I’m glad I read them. I got a glimpse of my parents as two young people in love. The letters were endearing, sometimes annoying, a few times even heart breaking.

            My folks had told stories as I was growing up about their courtship. I had lots of family all around who kept the family history alive. Those people are now gone or scattered. I hated to think of such a nice love story being forgotten. So, I wrote “A Love Story”, also on my blog, using the oral traditions and the letters. I meant to send it to family members on Facebook. As usually happens when I get on Facebook, things when awry. I accidentally posted the story to everyone I know. I got lots of feedback on what a “lovely story” it was. I was encouraged to write more. A friend said I should send stories like that to magazines. The thought had never crossed my mind. But I was intrigued. Write short stories? Maybe it was a possibility. I did have a few ideas. But what do I know about writing? Would I be any good?

            Well, sixty stories later I still don’t know if I’m any good, but I’m having a great time. And that’s the point. I don’t care if I’m the next Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King. I write stories for my own pleasure. Since I’m not trying to support myself by writing it’s not a problem. I’ll do it as long as it’s fun.

            One of my early stories was “Best Summer Ever”. It was a kind of coming of age, teenage summer love story. It was from an idea I had as a teenager spending frequent weekends at Atlantic Beach, NC. That’s where the story is set. It’s just the latest iteration of an old trope. I didn’t explore any new ground or new ways of looking at it. I just wanted to add my version. I am happy with the story and it’s on my blog, I think.

            I have a good friend who reads my stories and helps with editing. She has made me follow the rules of paragraphs, hyphens and Oxford commas. I also value her opinions of my work. In discussing the story one day, she offered that she wondered about the background of the female protagonist of “Best Summer Ever”. I reviewed what little background I put in the story. She said she just wondered if there were more. I said that I could write a story about her, but that would require me to channel a 15-year-old girl and I didn’t think I could do that. She replied that I probably couldn’t. Well, that sounded like a challenge. So, I wrote a prequel to BSE. I named it “A Pretty Girl”. The two stories fit together well, and it gave me the idea of coming back and revisiting favorite characters. That led to the two Duchessa stories and the two Escape stories.

            I had left BSE with the comment that the next school year was going to be interesting. Re-reading the story one day I wondered what was going to happen next. Some of my stories I consciously create, building on a template of what I want it to be. Other stories, the ones I enjoy most, are from my subconscious. I tap into it and it pours out on the page, often surprising me. This was to be one of those times. I pulled up a blank page, wrote that Robbie was entering the school and then I opened up and let go. As promised, “Gordo” was a wild ride. Suddenly I had a trilogy. Now I had two stories from the male viewpoint and one from the female. I felt like the ladies should have equal say and “Gordo” only covered half the school year, so I finished out the school year with “Heroes” from the female viewpoint.

            My editing friend said I may have a YA novel on my hands. I reminded her that four short stories are not a novel and I had no desire to write a novel. I intended to leave it at that.

            My touch of OCD kicked in as I realized I had an outcome left hanging in the previous stories. Robbie’s relationship with his brother was not worked out. I wrote a story to reconcile them. As I neared the end of the story, I found that Robbie was not ready to forgive his brother and I couldn’t force it and be true to the story I was writing. The story became “Unforgiven”. I continued trying with another story which became “Finding Forgiveness” and the brothers found a way to co-exist.

            My friend then asked me what’s the deal with Kylie? He’s just background setting, like a lifeless prop. Does he have a story? So that led to “Survivor”. Then I wrote about Robbie finding the girl who would be the love of his life in the midst of a school shooting. That became “Love Among the Ruins”. By this time, I was eight stories in with this group of kids. I had to admit that my friend was right. It was looking like a YA novel.

            So, I kept going. There was “Requiem” as the group held a memorial service for one of their number who committed suicide. Then “Wedding Bells” as a couple got married. Then I backed up and wrote “Senior Year” to fill in a gap. Then there was “Act of Mercy”, the first few pages of which are autobiographical. Then “Kylie and the Spooks” and would it up with “This Perfect Moment” in which 32-year-old Robbie looks back over the past sixteen years and assesses how good his life has been. Looking over it I realized I had left out one important story. It was the hardest to write but I pushed through. It was the story of a character’s suicide. I wrote it first person present tense, so I was inside his head. As I mentioned, it was difficult. I call it “Fade to Black”.

            So now I have sixteen chapters and nearly 100,000 words. Yep, it’s a novel. I’ve entitled it “I Guess It’s Called Growing Up”. That is a comment someone makes in the last chapter. When it poured out on the page I immediately knew it as the title of the book. I’ve shown it to “People Who Know These Things” and gotten favorable reviews and urges to send it to publishers. I’m still editing it, but maybe one day it will find a home with a publisher. It would be cool to have a book, but that’s the last one. I have no intention of writing another novel.

Remember Me?

After a long hiatus I am back. Remember me? No new stories for you yet. I’ve got a few put back for a rainy day, but I’m not ready to bring them out yet. I’ve mostly been working on editing my novel. I just revised an entire chapter going in another direction. Now I have to go through and find places where the events of that chapter were remembered and fix them.

I’m also a fair-weather writer. When in don’t feel well I just cannot write. I’m now in the midst of a chemical peel of my entire face. It either hurts, aches, itches or stings all the time. I began on January 2 under order from my dermatologist. This week has been the worst. I thought about posting a picture but decided against it. Just think zombie movie. That’s why this post is going to be short. I can’t keep focused when all I want to do is rip off my face.

Good news. A magazine accepted four submissions (I withdrew one for personal reasons). They wanted them for different issues. The anniversary issue is out today. You can see it at  www.scarletleafreview.com. I’m the second story after the opening interview with a poet. Just after the story about stray cats.

I’m going to go now. And try not to rip off my face. Until next time.

Third Time's a Charm

This will be the last story for a while for a variety of reasons. I will be traveling out of the country starting this Friday. I’ll have no internet connection for most of the time. Yes, I expect withdrawal symptoms. My birthday occurs during that time (Dec 11). Feel free to send me birthday wishes. I’ll be back just before Christmas, but have things I have to do. What, you think I live for this blog? After Christmas I will be traveling again until the beginning of January. Also, the quiver of stories is getting low. I still have some and a few I’m still working on. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my novel. I just added a new chapter. That thing has become such a timesuck.

I’ve got articles and books I need to read on how to write a short story. There are some online courses and local college courses I thought about taking. But, all hubris aside, I like how I write. I don’t want to change that. Only enhance it.

And an article I read said that writers should read a lot to keep their minds fresh with ideas. So when am I supposed to find time for that? I plan an operation in March that will leave me bedridden for several weeks. Maybe I can catch up on my life then. Who ever thought I’d be looking forward to being an invalid?

In the meantime, happy Christmas, New Year and/or whatever celebrations you have this time of year. I find it interesting that all religions have some sort of holiday around the winter solstice.

I mentioned here before that I got a professional review of Do This One Thing. Following the reviewer’s comments resulted in losing a good bulk of the story, but I understood. I was confusing two stories as one. However, the review said I had “hit a homerun” in my description setting the place. I hated to lose that homerun, but it didn’t factor into the story I wanted to tell. I have decided to toss out some of his notions. Even though it is primarily a ghost story, it doesn’t hurt to set the scene of who is telling it. Does the interplay of Peter Falk and Fred Savage detract from the pleasure of The Princess Bride? Does the first half of The Wizard of Oz movie cause problems with the second half? Scene setting is important. With this in mind, I resurrected my original and took the parts I liked and tacked it onto the severely cut version. The resulting story probably suits no one but me. I don’t care. I like it. And the title always seemed kind of clunky to me, so I changed that also. I decided to use a word that my granddaddy would use. The new title is a better clue to what the story is about.

As an aside, I got a professional appraisal of another story. I asked him to take a look at It Went Down Like This. His review opened with: “This is a wonderfully entertaining story. The voice is a fun, familiar noir-style narration and the plot plays out at a mostly smooth and steady pace.” He goes on with some suggestions. I’m still working on them. That’s the kind of review I like. If you haven’t read the story yet, it’s in the archives. Go take a look. I have it on good authority it’s ‘wonderfully entertaining’.

The Haint

I remember sitting on Granddaddy’s porch when I was a child listening to the adults talking. I remember in particular a Saturday evening in summer in the mid nineteen-sixties. Granddaddy’s house sat on the top of a low hill, the highest land in the area. From his front porch we could see the entire community for a half mile or more in every direction. It was twilight, what Grandma always called the gloaming. The heat of the day had dissipated, and we were outside to catch any cool breezes that might float by. The front lawn twinkled with constellations of lightning bugs providing us with our own private light show. It was a large lawn, stretching about a hundred yards down to the main highway. Granddaddy always called his lawn the avenue. His avenue was dotted with cedars, catalpas and large hardwoods.

            A couple of my cousins and I were on the steps that evening. Mama and Daddy and my cousins’ parents had gone to the city to dinner and Grandma always watched us for them. So, we sat on the porch, watching the sky turn purple, the insect light show, munching on popcorn Grandma had just popped, and experiencing the joy of being a family. As sometimes happens in these types of gatherings the conversation turned to ghost stories.  

            Granddaddy said he remembered one from when he was a young man. Grandma said, “Good Lord, don’t tell that story again, honey. You dreamed it.”

“Dang if I did,” Granddaddy declared. “I know what I saw.”
“What?” we all wanted to know. He had us then. We were spellbound.

            I pulled off my straw hat and mopped my face with my damp bandana. Squinting, I looked up. The bright August sun appeared to be nearly directly overhead. Near enough to take our lunch break, anyway.

            “Time,” I said loud enough for both Sam and Lonnie to hear. They were both within a few yards, chopping cotton like me. We were in the big field north of the Bass Woods. Off to the south, just beyond the hedgerow was Sam’s house. We could have gone there to eat, but we saw no sense in walking all that way. Closer by was Miss Alice’s home, the old Garris place. While a simple two-story farmhouse, it boasted details that made it stand out among its peers. Things like delicate curlicues on the porch columns, fresh painted clapboards and shutters, a clipped privet hedge surrounding the front yard. Old Miss Garris didn’t get around much anymore, but she made sure her home reflected the style she had always embodied. It was near sixty years after the Great War and a couple after what they were calling a World War, but Miss Garris was still the lady of the manor, ready to serve tea on the verandah. Surely, she wouldn’t mind the three of us stopping to eat lunch under the shade of one of her elms. I figured I should ask before we drew water from her well, just to be polite.

            Lonnie, my wife’s Uncle Lonnie, trudged over to sit under the shade of a tree at the edge of the yard. At 40, he was getting too old to work in the fields all day. My cousin Sam and I, both in our 20s, each did twice the work of Lonnie, but he needed to feel useful. Sam sat beside Lonnie.

            “Let me pay our respects to Miss Alice before we pump the water,” I said to them as I headed up the back-porch steps. 

Getting no reply to several raps on the door, I was unsure if I should look in. Miss Garris was a little hard of hearing and I didn’t want to alarm her. Or if she was on the chamber pot, it would be embarrassing. But she was very old and might have fallen and need some help. I knew a colored girl comes in about once a week to help with cleaning but wasn’t sure when that was.

Lonnie and Sam were near enough that I could talk to them from the porch without shouting.

“When’s the last time you saw Miss Garris?” I asked them.

“She won’t at church on Sunday,” Sam said. “Somebody said she was feeling poorly.” For some reason I suddenly felt a shiver run down my spine.

“Reckon we ought to go in and look,” I said. There are no locked doors in our

neighborhood. We all trust each other. I opened the door a crack and spoke into it.

“Miss Garris. Can you hear me? You all right?” After a few minutes with no answer, I pushed the door open wider. As soon as I got the door open, I ran back into the yard and threw up. She was definitely dead and after several days in the August heat she was smelling. As I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, I heard Lonnie and Sam muttering to each other. 

Dammit, I thought. I’m sorry old Miss Garris died, but it would also make us lose a day of work.

“I guess one of us needs to go fetch either the doc or Sheriff Stephenson,” I said, rejoining them under the elm. 

“Why break off work? Let’s finish the field and then go get the doc. The old lady ain’t going nowhere.” Sam’s comment was practical if cold hearted.

“Naw, that ain’t right,” I told him. “That old lady deserves more respect than that. Plus, I don’t think I could work knowing a dead body was just a few yards away.” Lonnie nodded his agreement. He and Sam gathered our tools to take back to my barn. I headed off to Gumberry. It was only a mile or so through the woods and there was a telephone at the general store.

            They had her funeral the very next day. The preacher told me she had been dead at least three days and was far gone. He said he didn’t know if they would ever get the smell out of the house. They even had the funeral out by the graveside instead of inside the church. Prim old lady that she was, I know she’d have been embarrassed by all the mess.

***

            That night was hotter than ever. Mollie and I didn’t have any covers on the bed and all the windows were open. We even had the front door propped open to catch any breeze it could. Mollie had insisted that I install screens in the windows and a screen door at the front of our cabin so we could open it up at night without letting in mosquitos and other varmints. On nights like this I was happy I had listened to her. 

From where I was lying in bed, I could look through the door and down the long lane to the main road. I could see low-lying mist down by the end of the lane. It just drifted back and forth with whatever breeze caught it. After a bit it seemed the mist was drifting toward the house. As I watched it, it seemed to get thicker. Suddenly it took form and I could see it was a woman in a white dress standing outside the house. I froze in terror. I saw her put her hand on the doorjamb, lift her skirt and step into the house, walking through the screen door as if it weren’t there. I immediately recognized it as old Miss Garris.

            She stood there looking at me a minute. Then she walked over to the bed and reached down and touched my hand. Her hand was so cold. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t move or make no sound. She said, “Lloyd, they didn’t find my will. It’s in the Bible in my study. You need to tell them. Do this and you won’t ever see me again. You don’t do it, I’ll be back. I’ll haint you.” She disappeared suddenly, and it released me. I set to squalling.

            Mollie said I liked to have scared her out of ten year’s growth. She said I was yelling and wrenching around; raving about ghosts. She soothed me, saying I just dreamed it.

“There ain’t no such thing as ghosts, sugar,” she murmured to me, stroking my brow as she held me. Even drenched with sweat in the hot August night, I still shivered in fear.

“But it was so real.”

“Dreams usually are, honey. Just go back to sleep. I’m here and won’t let nothing happen. You’ll see. In the morning, it’ll all be gone.”

            “But she said she’d come back and haint me,” I whimpered.

            “Shh, honey. Mollie’s here. Go to sleep.”

***

The next day, I went to the general store, and Doc Moore happened to be there. I told him a lie. I said Miss Garris told me before she died that her will was stuck in a Bible in her study. I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I said her ghost told me. It turned out there was a second will in a Bible in her study. And like she promised, I’ve never seen her again. And I want to keep it that way.

DWTS Finale

DWTS’ messiest season finally came limping down the home stretch. It was more of a Finally than Finale. Still, like all seasons it had moments of greatness and moments of what the hell? And the Finale seemed to sum it all up nicely. Moments of greatness and moments of, well, you know.

Three editorial comments.

1 I want Bruno’s jacket! It totally rocked.

2 I miss Cher’s original nose. It gave her character. It looked like they rolled in the wax mannequin from Madame Tussaud’s. I know she’s had some work done, but she’s approaching Michael Jackson creepiness. I saw Cher some years back, twice. The first one was actually a man. Well, both were men. I was on a ski trip to Tahoe with a local ski group. They had us all on the same floor in rooms beside each other. Me and the guy I was rooming with were at the end. It turned out we had no hot water in the room. Management couldn’t fix the problem, so they offered to move us to another floor. Just us. No. I wanted to be with my friends. Across the street was an award-winning spa. They gave the two of us access to the spa. We went there every day after skiing for relaxing and then cleaning up. Not so bad. The management also gave my roommate and I passes to the hotel show. I hadn’t paid any attention to stuff like that, but we went. Not until we got in line did we notice it was a drag review. Got to admit I laughed my ass off. Great show. The only problem with this Cher is that she was too thick. Think Cher built like a tank. Original nose, though. The other sighting was on a cruise, over Halloween, with 250 gay men. No, I was not part of the 250 gay men. I was on a dance cruise. We just happened to be joined by the Friends of Dorothy. If you want a rocking party, put 250 gay men on a boat on Halloween. Late that night I was in the disco with a few of our ladies. The lights were low, and a slow ballad was playing. Looking out over the floor there were mixed sex couples and same sex couples, all embracing on the dance floor. The thought occurred to me that no one cared. We were all there to dance. Maybe dancers should run the world. It might be a better place.

3 I generally like Erin. She seems to actually have a brain, unlike Tom’s two former pals. However, last night her mouth seemed to be on autopilot, and she made a few howlers.

  • “Tonight, the judges don’t count”. I took that to mean that the judges wouldn’t be giving scores. I would have missed that, although at this stage it’s mostly pro forma 10s.
  • “Pitbull is a multi-grammar winning artist”. I’ve listened to Pitbull’s rap and grammar does not seem to be his strong point.
  • Kel’s last dance “was the best freestyle I’ve ever seen”. Say what? What has she been smoking?

Enough of the digression. On with the show. We finally were rewarded with a glitzy opening number. I missed the JV dancers. Nice to see them again.

It’s Freestyle night and my expectations are different. With four dancers I expect to see four incredible exhibitions of the art of ballroom dancing and four glamorama, Busby Berkley extravaganzas, with maybe a wee bit of ballroom content. Well, three out of four on both isn’t too bad.

Ally (aka Tina) and Sasha. This jive was one of my faves the first time around and still maybe my favorite dance of the season. No one channels the Tina like Ally. Sell it, girl. Like Bruno said, a full diva turn. I give it a 10 paddle and maybe the rare 4 paddle added on.

Lauren and Gleb had an oh so floaty foxtrot. Done the way it should be. I love that Dolly Parton song with all its dark inferences. She embodied it, just drew me in. Even had shaping. We saw a whiff of Gleb’s chest. No waxing. Good on ‘im. Rotten eggs to all the judges. A solid 10.

Kel and Witney. JAZZ IS NOT BALLROOM. Nevertheless, they weren’t together on the synchronized moves and that had to be some of the worst break dancing ever. Reminded me of grandpa at the wedding reception showing that he still has it. Usually ends up in the emergency room. Disqualified. No score.

Hannah and Alan’s VW was perfection. I loved it. Light and airy. At times it seemed a bit rushed but that may have just been the music. It was kind of fast. I like Alan on smooth dances. 10

Okay, after that we were ‘treated’ to a promo for the Bachelor. Now, I have never seen an actual scene from any Bachelor or Bachelorette season. I believe it is an insult to personal relationships. The promo showed people in a shower and rolling around in bed among other things. It implied that a lot of sex was going on. Correct me if I’m wrong but people having sex in front of cameras is kinda the definition of pornography. And this is prime time viewing? And we wonder why our kids are whacked?

Then there was some guy singing something about criss cross and Pitbull rapping about something. I liked the latin music part. Hated the rap. I liked Pitbull much better as a judge than as a performer. I hesitate to call him a singer because I have never heard him sing, only chant. Interesting that the house dancers only came on stage for the actual singing part. Evidence that you cannot dance to rap, therefore, it is not music.

Freestyle

What happened to the giant posters of the celebrities dancing through the season? That’s like a staple. If I were a contestant and I came in the practice room on the last day and there were no posters I’d feel cheated. Man, what a rip off, I’d say. I loved the giant posters.

Ally and Sasha. I liked the salsa and samba parts, the tribal parts, not so much. The lift dismounts were awkward. Not Sasha’s best effort. I expected more from him with such a talented partner. He blew it. 8

Lauren and Gleb. Loved it, loved it, loved it! Country is my thing and loved the country gal in her element. It was like a memory of a night at the Longbranch, our long-lost saloon. 10.

Hannah and Alan. He definitely brought his A game. Chills ran down my body when the three tango dancers checked in sequence to the three drumbeats during the opening. Super tango section. Wild, no holds (or lifts) barred. And the dismounts from the lifts were so smooth and liquid. Earlier in the season, especially in her faceoff with Lauren, I found her to be stiff. No stiffness here. Definitely the best of the night and probably in the top ten of the twenty-six or so predecessors. I give it a 10 paddle and add on a 6.

Kel and Witney. Really? That’s all they had? A total waste of my time. As an old white guy, I didn’t relate to the song and definitely did not relate to their jumping around. I can’t call it dance. And even then, he wasn’t keeping up with the extras they brought in. They were all outshining him. Once again, grandpa at the wedding reception. Carrie Ann’s attempt at black slang was disgusting and patronizing. And again, Erin thought it was the best in history? I must be totally out of touch. Just put me in the old fogey’s home with Len. He was the only one with the guts to say the emperor had no clothes. He called it right. 5 (and that is generous)

I’m satisfied that we are back on the right track of awarding the trophy to the dancer who showed the best stuff and danced her heart out. No more stumblebums, please.

DWTS 10

First off, my heart goes out to James van der Beek and his family. The loss of a child is devastating to any family and he has my deepest sympathy.

As for the show:

They wasted their budget this week on the sleazy commercial instead of a snazzy dance number for the opening. All those dancers on budget just standing around. Nothing to do. Maybe a little bit of dance? And apparently despite efforts to the contrary this became the unintentional My Most Miserable Moment episode. I know, weeping sells only second to sex, but I thought we might be spared this season.

On the upside, without Stumblebum Spicer, the dancing was great, without a missed heel turn in sight. The first six dances were all my favorites until they came to a jarring stop. Three disqualifications this week for not dancing ballroom. Can I have about five minutes alone in a room with the weasel that does this each week? Just five minutes. That’s all I need. This was my last night to see great ballroom. Next week they’ll all be doing some ignominious mishmash jumping around like escaped lunatics. Yes, the Freestyle. Although I think they give the dancers to redo their favorite one. That’s always a treat.

I definitely award Lauren redemption on her Paso Doble. I got chills right out of the gate. Great side by side moves and I loved her PD face. Not angry, more like “I’m above all this.” And the dominatrix outfit must have been stolen from Peta’s closet. Do they even know what a dominatrix is in Alabama? Raspberries to Gleb for waxing.

I missed part of Kel and Witney’s dance because I was wiping the tears from my eyes from laughing so hard at those ugly wallpaper pants. What in God’s name was that about? Who thought it was a good idea? From what I saw of the dance, the judges were way off. They seem to go way too easy on Kel. Are they afraid of being racist for picking on the black guy? For his tango he seemed to take some classes at the Sean Spicer school of dance. He was marching around with his nose in the air like he was inspecting the troops. Not the level I expect to see in the semifinals. And what’s with all the weird faces? No redemption. Although the way Witney popped up after each sit spin was cool.

Ally on VW. OMFG! So many chills. I was totally transported. Sasha always delivers in the smooth. Not always so for short guys. But they floated around as if on air. Definitely achieved escape velocity and made it halfway to the moon. And what a great red dress. Redemption and Best Dance of the Night award.

Hannah in a beautiful rumba. It was wonderful. I love a rumba that’s more than just vertical sex. This was proper rumba and so, so sinuous. And just remember the first word in sinuous is sin. Kudos to Alan for saying no to the wax. Redemption achieved.

Last out was JVDB. My first thought was “could those pants be any tighter?” I would have preferred less line dancing and acrobatics and more cha cha. OMG, I sound like Len. I did like the disco vibe of the whole thing. It was like a flashback. Haven’t had one of those since the disco days. Sorry, like a Coke bottle: no redemption, no return.

I’m not sure what the theme of the second half was except to drive me nuts. Only 2 dances and 3 messes. Okay, I give the Charleston partial credit.

Lauren and Gleb led off with a floaty VW directly out of a fairy tale. She was dressed in a princess pink dress. All she needed was a tiara. Gleb on the other hand. What was that jacket? The last time I saw something like that there may have been some psychopharmaceuticals involved. At first, I thought it was shadows. Then maybe he grabbed it from a housefire and forgot to get the soot off. Only in full light did I realize it was totally LSD inspired. I think the costume designer needs to pee in a jar. However, the dance achieved orbit. I give it a 10.

Then the crap began. Kel kept looking questioningly at Witney as if asking “what’s next?” All his moves were heavy. He never achieved the lightness the dance needed. Oh, yeah, some good lifts, but we’ve seen all that. Move along, nothing to see here. BTW, CONTEMPORARY IS NOT A BALLROOM DANCE. I thought it was interesting that after the whatever it was, Erin said “Now, back to dancing.”

Ally and Sasha were ambushed. Sing Sing Sing is a QS. Everybody knows that. WTF? But they pulled it off with a Busby Berkley extravaganza. “Golddiggers of ‘19”. What Bruno said, a Hollywood musical. Very cute. NOT BALLROOM but at least a recognizable couple dance

JVDB had a great Foxtrot considering what he was going through. It was one of his better dances. Weird costuming, though. What was the look they were going for with him? Tails, collarless shirt and no tie.

Hannah and Alan. What a mess. The moves had no relation to the musical tempo mostly because there was hardly any music and no tempo. No harmony, no rhythm, just word salad. They made some beautiful shapes and acrobatics, but it would have been no different with the sound turned off. Maybe better. That “music” was awful. They were sabotaged. Whoever is the dickhead who picks the music and assigns the dances?

So, did I pick it or what? I said JVDB was on the way out. Going into the finals, it’s anyone’s to lose. Didn’t we use to have three people do the freestyle? I remember years ago when Laila Ali was one of the three finalists. Halfway through the final show they announced she was kicked out. Whoever Tom Bergeron’s puffball sidekick was stuck a microphone in Laila’s face and asked how she felt to be kicked off. Laila looked at her like she had lost her mind (Laila was the master of “the look”) and said, “Well, I’m pissed. How do you think I feel?” So why four this go around. Was it four last year?

My analysis is that it’s between Kel and Ally. He is the worst of the four dancers, but the judges keep giving it to him. It may not matter, though. I imagine as usual; all contestants will get 30 points. The judges seem to have lost all but their 10 paddles in recent years for the finale. That puts it totally up to the viewers. And that’s what may put Ally over the top. Hannah and Lauren stepped up last night but who can pull the most viewer votes. Gleb and Alan have large followings, and Lauren, Hannah and Ally pull very different demographics. Lauren pulls the country music fans but how many of them watch DWTS? Hannah pulls the Bachelorette fans. It boggles my mind that any of those people exist and that they can function in the real world. Ally is the girl band breakout and could really push the girl power thing but seems to be wilting on that point. However, IMO she is the best dancer among the four. Lauren tends to be stiff when unsure of herself. Hannah has moments of looking ungainly. Her Alabama butt is starting to fill in. And Kel’s just not that good.

I haven’t trusted the public to pick the better dancer on here or SYTYCD in years and doubt they will disappoint me. But I like Ally and Sasha needs a mirror ball.