Saturday, July 29, 2006


Man finds valuable Bible in trash dump.

see also... confessions of a bin dumper.

There is an update on the box o' Bibles, which I will report as soon as I have completed the task.
But it is this.

Stay cool, everyone. It is too hot to be in the book bin. I know because I was there this morning:
(1) New Testament
(1) Sportin' Ladies (1975 1st edition, no value) - tales of sports groupies, written by a man. With a delicious round lower case font cover.
(1) Anglo-Saxon Reader. Includes instructions for applying wolf-bane: "Gif mon bung ete, apege buteran ond drince; se pung gewit on ba buteran."

One of my favorite townie-horders was there, chatting with another one about how much stuff they have in their houses and how their wives don't know they are there. And what they would save if the house burned down.

Which reminded me I should go home and put some stuff away.

Monday, July 24, 2006

One Last Canada Story

From The War of 1812 Against the United States (see nightstand list), a collection of story/legends in the Betsy Ross/Paul Revere vein.

Canadian militia leader James Fitzgibbon literally stumbles onto 2 American raiders outside a taven. I quote now: of them levelled a rifle at him. The brash Fitzgibbon extended a hand to the American and moved toward him in a friendly manner, as if he had recognized him as an acquaintance. This action confused the American for just long enough to allow Fitzgibbon to seize the rifle and order him to surrender.

Americans befuddled by Canadian friendliness? Suburbia might refer to this as our petard.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Crossing the Border with Contraband Fruit

PORTLAND, ME - July 15
Anything to declare? Food, produce, meat? Yes.
We crossed into Canada with 4 large oranges. We also had 2 boxes of cheese crackers, 2 bags of cookies, and 2 boxes of granola bars (as more proof that my travelling companion and I are actually the same person, we bought the same car snacks). But Dr. A brought the oranges to put up a front that we might eat something healthy in the course of the week.

Canadian customs was uninterested. They were more suspicious that 2 New Englanders were not carrying firearms, tax-free acohol, and wads of cash.

"Do you have any firearms with you today?"
"No sir," I replied. He had just questioned my citizenship, so I thought I should play safe.
"What did you bring to protect yourself while you're here, from say... dogs? Or men."
(Is Canada suddenly dangerous?) I wondered, but just said, "Nothing." Please ask more loudly, so those bikers can hear you.
"No Mace, pepper spray, not'in like that?"

He waved us through.

We ate 1 orange on the boat. Oh, glorious Florida orange that I could not buy on Sunday in Nova Scotia and which would have cost me 5 guineas haypence hectare...

We ate another orange days later. The fruit was starting to lose its glory -- very wet without being at all juicy. But it didn't melt in the car, so it was the most appetizing choice.

YARMOUTH, NS - July 20
Waiting in the ferry line to board, we complete our US customs forms while Canadian officials half-heartedly inspect our vehicle. One of them is drinking a coolatta while he does it.

Anything to declare? says the form.
The US form breaks food into fruits, vegetables, plants, food, insects.
"Meat" is on the next line, next to "animals." ("Is that rabbit pet or meat, sir?")

We hesitate - are we declaring these oranges? We brought them in. If they weren't purchased, are they being "exported"? Do they have dollar value?
Dr. A says, "What if we eat them on the boat?" Aah, international waters! "I'm not checking the box if we don't have them when we get off."

I trust the woman who has lived in Laos.
We don't eat them; we do check the box during the next line wait.

Offcier Sanchez ( I promise) stoops to see us both in the window frame, asks me if I won the jackpot on the slots. He has no idea. But he is friendly and respectful as he asks to see our guns, which we assure him we do not have.

He reads my companion's form. "Fruits and vegetables?"
We say together, "Two oranges." Smooth.
Sanchez looks away, reflecting us in his federale shades. "Yeh, I'm going to need those."

The taint of Canada clings to your Florida oranges like hanging chads. Please do not bring them in to freedom-loving Maine.

Everyone who hears this story wonders what the border guards do with confiscated food. We all agree they eat it. We started to advise Sanchez they were no good anymore, but then we thought that would sound suspicious, and we didn't have any time to waste.

I am sorry, border guards of all nations, that I had nothing more interesting for you to do. I know you wait all day for some excitement. I tell my doctor the same thing.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Eleven Canadian Peculiarities

A valentine to 5 days spent in Canada

why eleven? Because it is how many I thought of. Think of it as a 1.08 exchange rate.

And at that rate, I can open with...

11. the bacon
It's a cheap and obvious start. And not very fair, when you consider what we are comparing it to.

At least it's meat (in the way that bologna is meat). Consider this the opening metaphor of things we could stand to learn from our neighbors: one oz canadian bacon = 50 calories and 2 g of fat. 1 oz strip bacon = 160 calories and 13 g of fat. Of course, you wouldn't measure canadian bacon in ounces.

10. gas by the litre
Speaking of the metric system... It is not true that Canada sells gasoline by the litre to hide the high price of gas. (get over yourself) They sell it by the litre because the next size is a decalitre...and we would just make fun of that too. The going rate last week in Nova Scotia was $C 1.19/L. $53 to fill the tank. Holy Macanoly.

Sidebar metric story: I heard a man near us at dinner ask for a pint of beer. The waitress promised she had never in her waitress life heard someone order a beer by the pint. Take that, English ancestry.

9. all fish is haddock
It's a perfectly good catch and makes a dependable fish-n-chips. We didn’t find many other menu options during our stay. The one time halibut was available, it was blackened in celebration of Jazz Week. I am not complaining about the haddock. It is local, plentiful, nutritious, and an actual species (unlike scrod).

8. where is everybody?
Of the nearly 1 million residents of Nova Scotia, 1/3 live in the capital. We became accustomed to empty galleries and exhibit halls, open road, the best table, free rein of the sparkly teen information centre staff. I think if I lived along the scenic route, I would take the summer off.

7. punny shoppe names
Those who do not take the summers off open the awnings of their roadside craft shoppes and brush the winter dirt from their signs to reveal the whimsy of “The Boot Legger,” “Just in Thyme,” and “Sodalicious.” (full disclosure: nearly every store on the US side features a play on the word “mainly.”)

I enjoyed re-enacting the licensing board meeting where the local representatives debate whether Clyde Parker’s registered business name is “punny” enough. I enjoyed re-enacting a lot of scenes. You can imagine how fun I am in a 7 day car ride.

6. GST
Goods and Services tax. For me, this translated as Massachusetts x 3. For my New Hampshire-based travelling companion, it was a fascinating system worth beating.
I am recommending this site here just so you can play with the cursor toy.

The refund rules read like a software design document:
Each recepit must be at least $50 AND
All receipts must total at least $200 AND
You must not be a resident of Canada AND
Your receipts must be properly validated UNLESS
They are for hotel accommodations, ELSE…
No else really. Just follow the directions. Because Americans are so good at that and love to be inconvenienced with math that they will eagerly fill out the forms.

I had one receipt that I promise you was $49.94. Curse you, Anglo-American war texts…

5. "1 check or 2?"
Every waitress opened with this. We talked often about testing it out. Was there something to be gained by the 2 checks? Something tax related? Whose gain is it? Do they ask mixed couples? Do boys ever wait tables? Are they all at sea? Does anyone order the escargot?

We always asked for the single check. And we always wondered.

4. the freakish niceness
These people are truly nice. Not a “what are you selling” nice, or a “thanks, I have my own church” nice. An Up With People Nice. I learned to recognize the Canadian expression – a wide-eyed, open-faced eagerness to hear how, in fact, you are.

When you are wondering how people know you are American, it was because you look so miserable.

3. the $2 coin
Speaking of jaded Americans, some say the $2 coin has been successful in Canada because the dollar has no value. (rim shot) Define "value," I say. We horde US quarters because machines run on them. After 2 days in Canada, we were setting aside the “twoonie” (a term I never once heard anyone use and only learned of when I downloaded this picture of one) for tolls, ferries, and washing machines, and chastising ourselves for forgetting to spend them instead of breaking our twenties and tens.

2. the Anglo-American War
You learned it as the War of 1812 (though it lasted until 1815). And chances are you didn’t learn much: Dolly Madison, Francis Scott Key, Battle of New Orleans. You may have special understanding of impressment and piracy if you are Mary. You probably didn’t learn that Thomas Jefferson considered acquiring Canada to be “a mere matter of marching.”

Canadians learn they kicked the United States from one side of the Lakes to the other, thanks in large part to the help of Black Loyalists and native warriors. When President Madison declared war (previous posts on Manifest Destiny right here), the head of the Canadian militia decided to throw the first punch by boarding the next American schooner that sailed by and taking all on board as prisoners of war.

Cut to Madison scowling at a breathless runner: “who the what now?”

1. restaurants run out of food
This is the next item in the waitress routine, after establishing the check needs. “I have everything tonight but…” This does not only refer to specials (only one rappie pie left) but to the possibility that you are too late to order sausage with breakfast, we are down to one juice, and the only dessert left is the bread pudding. I had never seen this in our land of plenty (read: gluttony), but it was common enough that it happened nearly every meal. One hears that, then the specials, then gets a few minutes to think before ordering.

Let me close this over-long post with a call to Canadian readers to please comment, and to accept that my use of the word “peculiar” is a literal one. Its connotation has come to mean “strange,” or “odd,” but it originates from peculium, private property. I am affirmed that dictionary. com specificially uses the example phrase “an expression peculiar to Canadians.”

Please also note that not once did I discuss “eh,” which is no better or worse (only shorter) than Americans’ use of “you know what I mean” or the New Englander’s “Ooooo…haaaah?!”

A great week. Cheers, thanks a lot.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It's Better When you Don't have to Make it Up

The US State Department offers advice on deconstructing news stories to separate "conspiracy theory" from journalism.
Does the story claim that vast, powerful, evil forces are secretly manipulating events? If so, this fits the profile of a conspiracy theory.


The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Smallpox Free Since 1968

On my drive home last night, I encountered Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” program out of BU radio (right here if you want to hear the whole thing). I usually can’t take a full hour of Tom Ashbrook (now strategically placed opposite Christopher Lydon on ‘GBH, so you can flip between them until you can’t tell them apart anymore…) because he interrupts people and has an affinity for talking about Iraq.

But last night he discussed HPV vaccines with the CDC, O Magazine, Focus on the Family, and a columnist for The Nation who at one point declared everyone’s fear of sex as “deeply disturbing.”

Overview: Merck has approval for an HPV vaccine, tested only on girls, which they are recommending be given to all females 11-26. It is shown to be effective against 70% of strains which cause cervical cancer.

I do not know how they tested this, or which lucky gals got to QA it. One assumes they were over 18.

And I have decided to subject the Readership to what I think about the whole thing. In outline form. Lucky you, Readership.

Should vaccines be mandatory?
I vote No.

The CDC rep reminded us many times that vaccines are not actually mandatory, and that the federal government has no authority to mandate public health in that manner, and apparently never did. Ashbrook pushed for someone to come out in favor of that – one caller actually said make it mandatory, only you can opt out. Which, caller, means “optional.”

I have a smallpox scar, and so do many of you. I also ate the Salk sugar cube, (and have a distinct memory of confusing it in my child’s Summer of Love brain with dropping acid, so if you’re wondering how much children pick up from TV when it is on… a lot.) I had always felt secure about being smallpox free, until after smallpox was eradicated and the CDC now tells me that I probably am not immune anymore.

We like to think of long lines of citizens waiting in high school gyms to share a needle gun with each other in the name of public health. We did not really have that kind of a government as much as we were that kind of society.

As one of the panelists commented, children should be immunized against things they can catch from other children in crowded classrooms. HPV is not one of them.

Would you have your daughter immunized?
Again, no.

My reasons are simple. They are named DES and Thalidomide.
I also don’t have a daughter, so I speak in such absolutes. I acknowledge that this is a harder debate if you do.

Merck brought us Ecstasy and Vioxx. And they write veterinary manuals.
They also own the domain
I don’t say they are in it for the money, but they do have a $253 Million settlement to pay.

Incidentally, is owned by Digene. DrawingIn recommends

Does immunization send a message that it is ok to have sex now?

But Ashbrook was hell-bent to get someone to say so. Even Focus on the Family wouldn’t go that far, though their rep did refer to a caller with cervical cancer as having “made bad choices.”

Teenage girls do not avoid sex out of fear of HPV. They are only marginally worried about pregnancy, and mostly worried about “looking slutty,” but they have sex anyway.

The HPV vaccine won’t protect her from STDs, or from cancer. It will protect her from 4 strains of a virus as common as the cold, which is transmited sexually, and in about 10,000 women per year, leads to a specific type of cancer. So she’ll still need a pap smear. Sorry.

Best comment of the night was the caller who suggested that parents do not avoid the tetanus shot out of fear that their children will now run through fields of rusty nails. I wish I'd said that.

side effects?
Well sure. But no more than the usual injected vaccine. So theyve got that going for them.
More interesting for you might be that it is over $300 per shot, and you need 3 of them in one year.

how long does it last?
Get… this.
The longest trial so far is 4 years. Let’s say that’s as long as the protection lasted. The vaccinated 11 year old may be vulnerable again just in time for the Prom.

What about the boys?
Still testing. As usual, ladies, take care of the public health concerns while we invent ways for erections to last longer. We’ll get back to you.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Obituary of an Unfamous Man (in 2 parts)


The day they buried Chris O’Halleran, he wore a brown three-piece suit, white dress shirt, and a striped tie with a silver-plated tack that made him look about fifty years old. In fact, he was 35, and had never worn his hair the way they parted it. He had never been so clean-shaven. Chris’s heavy beard had shadowed over by the hour, yet he lay there now like Young Mr. Lincoln. Most of his visitors gave him a kind of curious stare as they passed by.

For Allison Roberts – once his sweetheart, very nearly his wife – all of her energy in the past two days had been focused only on getting to the cemetery on time. When the moment had finally arrived, and a second later had passed, there was no next step for her to address. Allison sat beneath the high brick archway until someone behind her beeped, and she had to pull inside. Pressing on the brake, she rested her arms on the steering wheel and cocked her head expectantly. Her chest filled with a heavy breath that never exhaled fully.

The high sun was obscured behind a canvas-white sky, which glared without being at all bright. Some distance up a hill, she could make out a gathering folks, then noticed the line of cars moving toward the chapel. It wasn’t difficult to make out in this memorial garden without headstones and monuments, and without any plants and flowers either. She yanked the steering wheel hand-over-hand to bend up a curve and into line with the others, far behind the car that had beeped.

Beyond the chapel, the gravesite was set up, on tops of draped grass-green carpet. Allison thought she could make out Chris’s wife seated beneath the canopy, arms linked through a younger man’s. But she didn’t know Connie very well – could only remember seeing her socially once or twice. The pictures from their wedding were in a box, inside a bigger box, moved a couple of times since she had seen them married off.

Allison had stood right up there in the photo beside the bridesmaids. Though she hadn’t known the bride at all, she had heard loud and clear how “inappropriate” Connie thought it was for Allison to be in the wedding. Everyone who told her the story was clear to choose that word, often adding a cocked brow, rolled eyes, or hooked quotation mark fingers that let Allison know it was Connie’s word, not theirs. Chris had put up a fuss, which only made everything worse. Allison didn’t want to be in the wedding anyway. It probably was inappropriate – or something. In the end, she had read a poem from the pulpit, her dry tongue ticking into the microphone. My voice sounds like a duck’s, was all she thought the entire time she was reading, not looking at the bride, and certainly not looking at Christopher.

She had cried like a dope at the reception, having been moved by a single tear she had seen roll down Chris’s cheek as he murmured, “I do.” She gasped with wonder from her seat in the front pew. She never told Chris how much that had affected her, so he had never clarified that the drop was sweat that had trickled for an hour through his eyebrow. He knew if he wiped it, it would be captured forever on video.

Allison started on foot across the grass toward the gravesite canopy, thinking of something to say to Connie when their eyes met. Connie wore a white angora sweater and a head full of hair. She patted the hand of the boy, (Allison now saw as she tread closer) was a teenager. They sat in the first row of family chairs, in front of the crane that would lower her husband into the ground. Allison licked her dry lips, the abruptly stopped walking. That wasn’t Connie at all, but some woman Allison had never met. Vulnerable now on the open lawn, with nothing at hand she could pretend to be walking to, Allison took a deep breath and hitched up the waistband of her ride-wrinkled skirt.

As her path steepened, she slowed her step to avoid looking awkward. Too purposeful a stride toward someone she didn’t know would only make the meeting more pointless. The woman in the sweater had noticed her and was standing. When Allison was within a respectable distance, the woman said, “Everyone’s meeting at the chapel.” She folded her hands in front of her, as if reciting a piece. “I needed some air.” Allison nodded soberly, and affected a stance of coming for air herself. “I’m Connie’s sister, Sherry?” the woman said, as if asking. “We met at the wedding?”

“Oh sure, I recognized you,” said Allison. “I had blanked out on your name. I’m sorry.”

“This is my son Wayne.”

The boy got older every time Allison looked at him. She finally took in that he was only thirteen or fourteen. He slurred something to his mother as he pointed down the hill, then walked away. Allison watched the fine hairs of Sherry’s sweater wave in a breeze so slight she couldn’t feel it herself. She said, “I’m Allison,” and Sherry nodded. “Did you want to be alone? I just came up to…” she let her voice trail.

“I think I would, yes. Thank you for understanding.”

It was a longer, steeper walk down.

Chris had grown up in this valley, with a love of the land and the stories of the people just passing through. Behind the counter of the Blueveil Bookstore, he had read about everyplace he could ever go, but his sketchbooks were filled with the people of Wytheville and views of the valley. Once, on campus, Allison had found him watching a group of guys playing some corrupt form of rugby on the athletic field. He was tracing the air with broad strokes of a ruddy-colored pencil, then repeating the moves on paper. When she walked down the bleachers behind him, she saw a rustic oak tree losing leave down the middle of his paper.

Driving down from Philadelphia today, Allison had veered from her direct route and that turn-off was what nearly made her late. But she needed to stop on campus before she could say good-bye to Chris. If there were wandering saints and spirits, she wanted to be with the ones who wandered there, and hoped to hear their voices. She had parked in the visitors’ lots by the Old Quad, where Admissions brought prospective students and their parents first. One hoped that the landscaping and neoclassic columns had enough Old Dominion appeal to draw them in, before they realized that most daily campus life happened on more modern grounds several acres away.

The smell of boxwoods and cut grass always took Allison back to Old Quad, and to a time when she simultaneously knew absolutely nothing and positively everything that mattered in her life. Sometimes, on certain streets in her ordinary travels, she was privileged to smell it again.

The Quad was deserted for the weekend, too chilly and damp to be a good study spot. The chapel doors, as always, were unlocked, and eased shut behind Allison with a whispery ssshhh. It would have surprised Chris that she chose this place for comfort, over all the others where they had spent more time. They had not come to chapel together, and Alison had barely come at all. She looked up at the long wooden cross, radiant with gold-painted beams, and tried to gather her breath. Speechless for prayer, she sat listening to the nervous growling of her belly, until it took on the tone of ghostly rattling chains. Then she left quickly.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Obituary of an Unfamous Man (II)

Obituary of an Unfamous Man – 2

One weekend, to celebrate an anniversary, they had booked a room near the lodge at Peaks of Otter. Near, because they couldn’t afford to stay at the resort itself, but they took their meals. Their hikes, and their views there. Watching an orange moon over the lake, Chris began to talk about this final year ahead of them. He looked at their linked fingers as he talked. “We need top be making some plans,” he said in a sober adult sort of voice. “And we need to decide if we are making them together.”

Allison wanted to flex her fingers, but he was holding them too tightly. Clearing her throat, she said, “I’m not much for making plans.”

He rubbed his palm against hers, chafing their fingerprints together. “This year is going to go by quickly and I don’t want to stand at the end of it with my bags packed and no place to go.” Allison watched a dragonfly hover in front of them, then skim past them over their heads. Chris kept talking. “I also don’t want to go off setting up my life and not realize I should be setting it up with you.”

“With you,” said an echo from across the lake.

Chris was a maker of lists. A sorter, stacker, alphabetizer. He liked to play a game called, “which would you rather?” He was interested to know what people valued. “Would you rather be blind or deaf,” he might ask. “Would you rather the world had Monet or Warhol?” Allison would exasperate him by making up corrupt versions of the game: “Oreo or Hydrox?” she would say with seriousness.

Once he’d asked her, “Would you rather be rich or famous?”

“Who’s poor and famous?”

“Ghandi was poor and famous,” he said. “Van Gogh. Jesus.”

“Look where it got them.”

He pressed her to answer: “Which?”

“Unrich and Unfamous,” she said, “I can’t take the pressure.”

Chris asked, “You’d rather live a life of quiet desperation?”

“Better than loud public desperation. Don’t you think?”

As Allison walked into the funeral chapel, she straightened her jacket and decided that Chris had probably known where he stood on this too. Whatever business he may have left unfinished, he had most certainly detailed instructions regarding his funeral. Outside the chapel, older people stood on the steps, discreetly smoking and talking low in their clipped mountain accents. They seemed experienced in these rituals as they waited obediently in the viewing line.

A yard ahead of Allison, the teenaged Wayne nearly danced in his spot. Restlessly, he looked at the open casket, then looked away, his forehead knotted and eyes forced open wide. Allison steeled herself and looked past Wayne to the altar, to where an old man with Vitalis in his hair lay in the coffin beside Chris’s family. Allison didn’t want to look, afraid she would see some unforgettable detail – a stitch in his eyelid, a scar from a drainage hole. Then, for a moment, it was all right to look, because it was so clearly not him that it no longer felt real. Except she knew that it was real, and she stared at his face a long time, trying to find him there. They’d given him a grandfatherly hairdo, and the tie tack was cheap. He skin fell back from his face as if it were too big for him. Allison leaned over and looked at his hands, which lay on either side of his belly, near the points of the outdated vest. The nails were buffed, and the fingers were ghostly gray, arranged stiffly in a wax museum pose. Allison felt punched in the chest; when she looked back at the body, she found Christopher.

Chris’s mother was heavily sedated. She stood, in spite of herself, at the head of the casket, and limply shook hands with visitors as they passed. Her gaze never flickered as one face changed to another. Chris’s stocky little father wrapped his bulging forearms around Allison and smothered her in Old Spice. “I’m so glad you came,” he whispered in a choked voice. “You always took such good care of Chris.” Allison grit her teeth and drew back. When she opened her eyes, she saw Connie in from of her. She held her two hands out to Allison, like girlhood playmates might do, and seemed not at all affected by what her father-in-law had just told the last girlfriend. Chris’s dad clung to an old man behind Allison in line. “I’m so glad you came,” he said, “You always took such good care of Chris.” Before Allison could open her mouth, Connie gave her hands a little squeeze, let them go, and turned her gaze to the next in line.

Allison found a seat far from the center aisle, where the line of visitors had gotten long and slow. People lingered there, sniffling into their hands. Couple clung to each other; old people told their stories of the last time they had spoken to him. Unable to focus ahead on Chris’s family, Allison watched the chapel as everyone recited the Lord’s prayer. Her face draw tight, she listened to them hiss through the line about trespasses, as they closed the lid on Chris.

Their first year out had begun living on the cheap near downtown Roanoke. Chris worked as a commercial artist, and Allison took a job in a bookstore chain. Though they were mostly playing house, they delighted in it. They made love like newlyweds, even falling into bed one night at seven and exhausting themselves to sleep. They didn’t wake again until 2:00am when they ate cereal in the darkened kitchen.

They tried to tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies with endearing smiles. Allison exasperated Chris by leaving her shoes in front of the toilet every night when she came home. She piled newspapers around, saying he was “almost done” with every one of them. Each one had a note or a special fold to the page so he could pick up where he left off. He liked to sit down anywhere in the apartment and have something to read at hand.

When they carried the casket up the hill to the grave, Allison stayed behind. Alone in the pew, she wondered if she owed it to Chris to witness the final act. Unable to resolve the question, she chose what she in the moment needed to do, and resolved to make her peace with it later. She stood outside, thinking she understood why people smoked, and watched a man slip a paper under the windshield wipers of the parked cars. When he got to hers, she leaned on the door as if she didn’t have the key, he handed her one. “Directions to Chris-and-Connie’s,” he said. “She’s inviting people over for fellowship.” Then he moved down the line.

Outside the brick post-war house, the man with the slips of paper now directed traffic, leading people into the driveways of other people’s homes, who seemed to have offered the space. As Allison stepped out of her car, a fortyish woman poked her head out of her bacdoor and called “Afternoon” to her.

This all right?” asked Allison, spread her accent on a little thickly.

“That’s fine, honey. Stay as long as you like.”

Inside, people clustered around furniture and held napkins beneath their iced tea glasses while they murmured their conversations. Allison walked in without knocking, as she had seen other guests do, and was grateful to see a minister there with his hands outstretched. She told him her name, instantly forgot his, then wandered into the living room.

Some middle-aged ladies with purses on their wrists were admiring a painting above a sideboard. It was boldly colored, of an abstract design, not Chris’s style at all. Still, it bore his signature, as did the one on the opposite wall. Orange shards, like lightning bolts, shot across the canvas and stabbed through giant spheres whose colors bled into the murky background.

Allison picked up a plate and spooned out some fruit salad. Looking busy at the buffet didn’t take as long as she’d hoped, so she strolled onto a sun porch adjoining the dining room, where some mismatched chairs had been set up. The oldest ladies were here, fanning themselves with folded paper plates and squeaking about whose boy marries whose girl, and when.

“That one went off to Richmond or someplace,” one was saying. “I don’t believe she has a one of ‘em home anymore.” Allison pirouetted on both toes and returned to the dining room.

On a tea table, between two unlit candles, stood a framed photo of Christopher. He was standing on a scenic overlook, leaning against the dull-grey guardrail, and holding his sunglasses in one hand. There was too much sky in the picture; it made him look curiously small. A shadow of the photographer jutted over Chris’s face. The pointy elbows of its silhouette were barely distinguishable.

Beside it was another frame, holding the obituary clipped from the morning paper. Allison hesitated, then picked it up. She’d read it completely before it was eye-level.

“Christopher O’Halleran, 35, of Perry Road, will be buried the afternoon at Woody Ridge Memorial Garden. Services will be conducted in the Woody Ridge Chapel at 11:00am, followed immediately by interment. O’Halleran is survived by his wife Connie, and by his parents Richard and Bertie O’Halleran of Wytheville. He was a graduate of Pulaski County Regional High School and the College of St Mark.”

“People often like to save them,” said the minister, unexpectedly at her ear.

“Yes,” she said dryly, and set the clipping down, showing it more reverence than the four dollar frame required. “It’s important to have. For family history.” She smelled the peachy fruit salad in her hand.

The minister sipped from his napkin-wrapped glass. “Not long ago we would have taken his picture. But people are more delicate about that nowadays.”

Allison felt her eyes flash, and tried to relax them. She had no idea was she was about to say. “I’m Allison.”

His gaze drifted past her; someone was waving him into another room. “I think I’m needed,” he said, and left her.

Allison abandoned her fork and plate on the buffet table and went in search of the bathroom. Inside it, the silence amplified the echo of blood behind her ears, the whine of the vanity lamp, and the squeak of her purse as she set it on the floor. She closed the gingham-skirted toilet seat and sat down. She looked at her watch, taking no notice of the time. For a while she stared glassy eyed at the end of the toilet paper roll fluttering in the intermittent breeze of the central air vent.

A basket of magazines next to the wall caught her eye. On top of Southern Living and Women’s Day sat a fat paperback, its pages folded and unfolded as page markers, some only a few pages apart. Allison recognized his exaggerated fold, as if marking something in a catalog. Not a simple corner-down dog-ear anyone would choose for a fat paperback, but a fully turned-in angle, manipulated in such a way that the bottom corner would olint to the proper line, perhaps the very word where he would pick up reading.

She thought of him rising sleepless in the middle of the night, folding straight this over creased page. His wide tan hands thumbing the edge of the paper. Shamelessly, Allison turned the book over and smelled its back cover, where it might have rested on his exposed lap. Unfolding the marking page, she read a line, which like everything else today, was meaningless. Closing the book, she put it in her purse.

Allison washed her face at the sink, and stiffly freshened her hair with Connie’s brush. A tightness grabbed her in the middle of the chest and she lunged for the doorknob. Back in the hallway, she nodded hello to a grandfatherly man – not Chris’s grandfather, who was long dead. He slipped past her into the bathroom and locked the door.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Blog Envy

If you take the time to read the blogs connected to this one (the blog-munity, Suburbia might say) and I hope that you do, you'll notice that they have been updating much more frequently than I have this month, and I am feeling some pressure to keep up. Jay and Brenda's roadtrip has reached an important turning point, and Jay has learned a new appreciation for iced coffee. There are new Liam photos, Karen is about to get her site assignment, and Patrick has some poignant observations on Independence Day.

And I got nothin. Even the Finishing School has gone silent, since our Dean was delivered of a son.

I try not to write about work (I have to save it for the corporate tell-all) and that has been very much on my mind. I need more time to sort it through a big filter and turn it into Anyone's Workplace advice. And I want to comment on the Devil Wears Prada -- where it fits in the canon of great working woman films (see my all time list here...and here).

I had a couple of political rants going for a while, but that material becomes dated quickly if you don't use it. I had a minor success with a wireless speaker set-up that I somehow thought was interesting until I started to write about it.

I can usually count on the weekly read at Rec. for the Blind to turn on a synapse, but I skipped this week for dinner with dear friends. And that was a night which I will keep to myself .

Some times like this, I dig into the archive and post something quite old (to me, but which most people have not seen), and I will continue to do that, but not tonight. Tonight was spent (Friday night? yes, Friday night, because I want to enjoy the weekend) writing a self-assessment to use in a discussion with the outgoing Boss (as in departing, not vivacious) to help him understand my suspicion that the Company and I are all wrong for each other and staying together for the sake of the children serves no one. All readers who have been my boss... the Comment field is below.

But here we are on work again.

I will post this dull bit of transitional filler (when we were young Guiding Light fans, we neighborhood girls would call this "wednesday's show.") update the recommended film of the week, and go to bed. Read the linked blogs instead this week. They are on a roll.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Victoria's Secret

If you pay attention to the On the Nightstand section of this page, you'll notice that the Queen Victoria biography finally came off the nightstand. This does not signify that I finished it; it signifies that it lost my interest, and I would like to take a few minutees to ponder...

how could a biography of Queen Victoria lose my interest?

Not "someone's" interest, because plenty of the Readership find the Victoriana section of my brain completely uninteresting, and others (a minor few and honestly only tolerated by Miss Bender as hangers-on) probably wouldn't be caught dead carrying a book written by a woman, much less about one. But how did it lose mine?

I bought this book at the White Elephant, in beautiful seaside Essex, MA. Not the main one, but the 2nd one. It was 600 pages, $1, and subtitled "an intimate biography." What's not to like? I let it rest for years. First it was going to be the book that saw me through the next blizzard, then it was going to be a book I read for a summer.

If you are a girl who becomes Empress of Great Britian at the age of 18, after essentially never having left the house (because your family owns everything, and no one expected you to be sovereign anyway) and you rule for the next 60 years (and not just any 60 years, but those particular 60 years), and you kept a diary for every day of it....your life has got to be more interesting than Sidney Weintraub made it out to be.

All a big set-up for...

The page is a muted pink, with paper roses background and a watermark of the Order of The Thistle. The pink and red background overpowers the dark red, 8pt lettering, but what you can make out reads...

Female 26 years old
look around, I own it
Last Login: 7/3/1845

View My: portraits tableaux vivantes

Status: Married to my BFFL
Orientation: that's unspeakable
House of: Hanover
Body type: teapot
Ethnicity: German. but the English kind
Religion: C of E
Zodiac Sign: what sort of mesmerism is this?
Issue: 9
Occupation: Her Imperial Majesty The Queen-Empress

Alexandrina Victoria von Wettin
Birthday: may 24
Birthplace: Kinsington, natch
The Shoes You Wore Today: egg-blue velvet with some cunning beadwork
Your Weakness: ?
Your Fears: I think I'm going to get really fat in my old age
Your Perfect Pizza: mutton and plover, on a Tiffany tray
Goal You Would Like To Achieve This Year: teach Bertie English
Your Most Overused Phrase On an instant messenger: We R not Amuzed
Thoughts First Waking Up: who let the sun set?

Your Best Physical Feature: that's indecent
Pepsi or Coke: Camille tea infused with laudanum
Who I'd like to meet: PT Barnum
What Does Your Name Mean?: My parents were unimaginative
Pet names: Drina
Mrs. Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. we just laugh and laugh
Hobbies: riding, christening things, needlework, dodging assassins' bullets

Yr'Majesty's Friend Space
Yr'Majesty has 4 friends.
Albert {sigh}
the kids
good Lehzen
that hot stableman up at Balmoral. Must meet him.