Thursday, April 19, 2018

When life gives you Peeps...

It's been nearly three weeks since Easter, and if you can find leftover Easter candy on sale at this point you may notice that it is SUPER CHEAP. At least that's what I noticed today.

This is just a small part of today's trove of cheap sugary goodness.
Only 15 cents aPeeps, erm, apiece. Not too shabby.

And, as often occurs to me when chocolate and other goodies start getting marked down to 90%+ off their original retail price, my marshmallow fudge recipe doesn't care whether the necessary 16 oz. of chocolate comes in chocolate chip form or cut-up solid chocolate Easter bunny form. Likewise, a cup of marshmallow creme equals a cup of mini-marshmallows equals a cup of cut-up Easter Peeps. (That's really all Peeps are -- specialty-shaped marshmallows dusted with food coloring -- so you can use them in almost any recipe that calls for marshmallows. Peep S'mores are especially satisfying to make, because you first roast and then squish that Peep. Muahahaha.)

So when life gives you cheap Peeps, make marshmallow fudge. It's what I'd do.

In fact, I think I'll go do it right now. TTFN!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Shelf physics

I've long said that there needs to be a separate branch of physics that deals solely with bookshelves. Namely, their complete inability to hold a given quantity of books, regardless of the shelf's size. CM and I just went through the science fiction/fantasy section of our library, dusting and re-alphabetizing and so forth, because it's been a while and quite a few books were teetering precariously on the upper shelves. We pruned an entire shelf's worth of books from the library, moved several others to the YA Fiction and Folk & Fairy Tales sections, AND STILL THERE WAS NOT ENOUGH ROOM FOR OUR BOOKS ON THE SHELVES.

IT BOGGLES THE MIND!

And how can this be? (Weird little girlie: "For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!") Honestly, nobody knows. My theory: books twist space and time in ways not currently grokked by mankind. I think I've got to write a petition for a government grant to give this phenomenon further study. We would use this money to create a library big enough to hold all the books we want, and study whether the books swell to fit more than the available space.

It might need to be a rather sizable grant.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Fiction: Moving House

[A little something ginned up from a writing prompt.]

"Well, I'm headed to bed. You all right there, girlie?"

I was almost through the transcription batch, but Helen was growing deafer; she wouldn't hear unless I yelled -- and she wouldn't settle down until I responded. So I rose from the tablet phone, running from the study through the living room to the front door.

Opening up and leaning out, I hollered, "I'm just fine, Helen! You sleep well!"

"Thanks, Paula dear," she replied. "Don't stay up too late now."

I smirked. My neighbor had forgotten, or didn't care to remember, that we -- that I -- was usually active at night and slept all day. But I could forgive her a few memory lapses. Mom and Dad had taught me that we owed everything to Helen -- our home and its comfortable safety, our access to food and clothes, our ability to stay healthy and mostly self-reliant -- and that I was never to be rude to her.

When the illness came, Dad succumbed first, then Mom a few days later. Helen had done everything in her power to save them, and when I fell ill she feared terribly that I would die too. But she dosed me with antibiotics and hovered over me, and I recovered. For the first few months after my illness, she checked on me multiple times a day, bringing little gifts or stories from her errand-running, just to make sure I was all right. I appreciated her concern, but I wasn't comfortable with the frequency of her visits, so I was relieved when she settled into a little ritual of checking in with me once in the morning and once before she went to bed. While Helen could be a bit of a mother hen, I had to admit that the sound of her voice helped me feel a little less lonely. I suppose she felt the same way.

I closed the door, heading back to work. As Dad used to say, another day, another dime.

Helen had bought the phone for Dad. He'd tried to refuse -- it was so expensive! -- but she'd insisted, showing him all the ways being wired could improve our lives. "My grandson got one for me," she'd said, "and I don't know how I managed without it."

The phone was our initiation into a larger world. Once we'd figured out how to open a bank account online, how to make money online, how to buy things online, we didn't have to rely on our old survival methods. We could buy proper furnishings, handmade clothes and food, and have them all delivered to Helen's address. We could even stream new movies, and I could talk to people online about them. I was almost starting to feel like a typical person when Dad got sick.

Well, no point in dwelling on that. At least I had my neighbor, and I had the tablet phone.

I'd settled down and was just about to resume transcribing when I heard a soft cry and felt a shock run through the house -- a sudden hard THUMP, like a miniature earthquake. That couldn't be good. A horrible sick feeling spread out from my stomach.

"Helen?" I yelled. Then, in a panic, "HELEN?!" No reply.

She must have fallen. And if she wasn't responding, she was probably unconscious. She might have had a stroke or a heart attack. I had to get help right away.

Well, that's what the phone was for.

"911 operator, please state the nature of your emergency."

I tried to keep my head clear, not to say anything that would give me away. "My neighbor Helen had a fall and she isn't responding when I call her. I think she's had a stroke. I can't do any CPR and I need a doctor."

"Could I get your name and address, please?"

The place where we sent the packages. "Oh. Yes. The address is for Helen Pratt, 134 Northeast 29th Street."

"Helen is the woman who you believe had the stroke, correct?"

"Yes, that's right. Please come quickly."

"And could I get your name, please?"

I hung up, shut the phone down, ran upstairs, climbed into the wardrobe in my parents' room and, hands shaking, shut it tight after me. Everything I'd seen and read about 911 services told me that they checked up on every call, even false alarms, so someone would arrive soon to check on Helen. And I couldn't let them see me.

I stayed there, still shaking and trying not to throw up, as the paramedics arrived. I heard them working on Helen, talking about what to do next. I listened as they loaded her onto a stretcher and ushered her out of the house. And I wanted to wail as the noise of the sirens drifted away.

Mom and Dad were right. We owed everything to Helen. If she died, how would I survive?

* * *

I heard nothing from my neighbor for four days. Even though I tried to keep calm and stick to routine, it was pretty much impossible. I paced, tried to eat, threw up, binged on Netflix, slept an hour or two at a time at most. Every little noise had me on high alert.

And then, on the morning of the fifth day, while I was just getting into bed, I heard the sound of Helen's front door opening.

I thought it was her. I honestly thought it was her. That's the only way I can explain why I did what I did. Because I raced downstairs to the front door, opened it up without thinking and sang out, "Helen! Is that you?"

And that's how I came face to face with Helen's grandson.

He was huge -- six feet if he was an inch -- with messy brown hair, a stubbly chin and dark eyes that stared down at me in absolute astonishment. I stared back up at him, too shocked to retreat.

At least he didn't try to grab me. Instead he fumbled for a chair, dragged it toward him, sat down heavily in it, still staring at my house and at me standing in the doorway.

"Are... are you Paula?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Uh. OK. Um. Grandma, uh, Helen says to tell you thanks, first of all. I guess you called 911 and it saved her life. They had to do emergency heart surgery..."

"Is she going to be all right?" I burst out, and he twitched -- surprised I could talk, I supposed.

"Yeah, I think so. Surgeon thinks she'll get through this fine. But, uh, she wanted me to come talk to you. She was worried about you."

"I'm fine," I lied. "As long as Helen's all right. When is she coming home?"

I couldn't read his expression. "Well, that's what she wanted me to talk to you about. She wants to come back here, but her surgeon wants her in assisted living now. And she said she couldn't move, that this was her home and that you needed her here."

My legs were wobbling. I hung onto the doorknob for stability. "What -- what's assisted living?"

"It's like an apartment where you have doctors and nurses to check up on you."

"Helen's already a nurse," I protested, feeling tears well up. "And this is her home." And it's my home too, I thought but didn't say.

He nodded. "I know, but she's going to need extra care after this. She can't live alone any more."

"She doesn't live alone! She has me!"

What he said next I already knew, but it still hurt miserably to hear. "How are you gonna take care of her when you're so tiny?" And the moment he said it, I could see he wished he hadn't.

"Oh man, I'm sorry. I'm really sorry, Paula. This has got to be so hard for you. It's hard for me too. I thought Grandma was crazy when she told me there was someone living in her dollhouse. I mean, who wouldn't? But she was so worried and she kept telling me I should check on you, and... whoa, are you all right?"

And that was the last I heard from him for a while, because that's when I blacked out.

[This was surprisingly fun to do. I'll write more if there's any interest.]

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Telling myself stories

H
AVE you ever wondered how a writer's brain works?

Probably not, but I'mma tell you anyway.

So today I was on Twitter and I came across this here Moment. (For those who don't do links: a gang of six guys on four mopeds robbed an Oxford Street high-end watch store in London, in broad daylight, using axes, machetes and hammers to do the dirty deed. Since this all went down on a Saturday morning, lots of people got footage of the robbery on their phones. You can't make stuff like this up.)

As I read more of the story, I thought, "Hmm, that's odd." Because a different branch of the same high-end watch store got robbed by a moped gang several weeks ago -- again, right in the middle of the day, only this time they were armed with sledgehammers and A FRICKIN' SAMURAI SWORD. That is not in any way a normal heist.

So, as often happens when I come across something a little off normal, my brain started spinning up a story. Goes like this:

Imagine you're the owner of a chain of high-end watch stores in and around London. You do business with a number of people of considerable wealth and influence, selling them Rolexes and Cartiers and other expensive, quality timepieces.

But you have a problem. You've just discovered that the deal you cut with a supplier really was too good to be true, and now some of your inventory is made up of fake watches. They're cleverly-made fakes, to be sure, but not clever enough to fool a professional. You can't sell these; sooner or later someone will figure out that you charged them top dollar for a knock-off watch. You can't get your money back without taking the suppliers to court, thereby losing face with your peers and clientele. How do you unload the fake watches without losing your reputation or a buttload of money?

Well, you quietly hire some folks to steal the problematic inventory, in the flashiest way possible. (Anyone can knock over a store with guns in the dead of night. Bring in machetes or a samurai sword, in broad daylight, and you've got yourself some showmanship!) That way, when you file an insurance claim for the stolen articles, you'll have no end of people who "saw the whole thing" and documented it on their cell phones -- providing reams of proof that it happened. And the insurance company will likely compensate you for the cost of actual Rolexes, not the fake ones that your fake thieves stole. You get to keep your reputation, the thieves get to keep their stolen goods and sell fake Rolexes out of the back of a camper van somewhere, and you all get to make some money. Win-win, except for the insurance agency.

I doubt it really happened like this. But most of the time, that's how my brain works. It sees something a little off or unusual, and immediately it shifts into Story Mode, trying to determine what sort of event or events occurred to bring this unusual something into being.

Does your brain tell you stories? Have you written down some of the more entertaining ones?

Friday, April 06, 2018

On taking chances

W
HEN I was young -- too young to have to deal with this stuff, frankly -- a very wrong person told me that he found me irresistible. He used this "irresistible" argument whenever he was being creepy to me, claiming that he simply couldn't help himself; I was just too attractive for my own good.

For years after that, I did everything I could not to be attractive. I made no effort to exercise. I ate whatever I wanted, for comfort, to calm down, for reasons that had nothing to do with actual hunger, because I knew that same wrong person didn't like fat girls. After someone made a positive comment about my long hair, I had it cut short. When I went past a C cup in high school, I started wearing a minimizer bra so boys wouldn't notice my growing chest. I wore so little makeup that my mom started to tease me gently: "Young lady, you march right back in this house and put some mascara on!" I sat in the back, or to one side, of every classroom, never front and center. When I was called on in class, I couldn't get half a dozen quiet words out before someone yelled, "SPEAK UP!" and so I stopped raising my hand.

I wanted to be invisible, a non-entity, to all but my immediate family and the very few people I had come to trust. My formative experiences had led me to believe that the world was filled with Wrong People who would take advantage of me and then tell me it was my fault, unless I kept my head down and actively worked at being unnoticeable.

Fortunately, this way of thinking didn't last forever. As I got further into high school and college (and, not coincidentally, away from the creeper), I cautiously started participating more: on the swim team, in drama class, in poetry competitions, read-a-thons, essay writing and Spanish language studies. My life became less and less about who or what I was to others, and more and more about what I could make or do or try. And as I tried things that interested me, I also started meeting people with those same interests, and getting to know them. (This process was, for instance, how I met two of my very best friends, Carrie and Fen -- Carrie through participating in college drama productions, Fen through calling up and leaving messages on local BBSes.)

At some point -- I'm not sure exactly when -- I decided I was done trying to be invisible. As I got to know more and more people, I had realized that some 90 percent of the folks I met were worth talking to; a smaller but still generous portion of those were actively delightful to be around. It didn't make statistical sense to keep camouflaging myself for fear of unwanted attention, just because the remaining 10 percent were potential creepers. It was like huddling under a huge black umbrella all day because there was a 10 percent chance of rain.

"You're irresistible," the phrase that had haunted me for so long, just wasn't true. It had never been true. It was only a flimsy attempt to excuse inexcusable behavior, by an adult who certainly knew better but who still decided to let a child bear the burden of a lie.

I suspect that many people who grow up dealing with addicts, abusers, narcissists and the like -- the 10 percent of society you really don't want to know -- develop an overinflated sense of risk aversion. They already know there are creeps and bullies in the world, so they stay quiet and keep their heads down because the person sitting next to them, or the person who came over to talk to them at lunch, or the person who tries to start a conversation at work, Might Be One Of Them. And while it's true that anyone might be part of that dreaded 10 percent, chances are much, MUCH greater that any one person with whom you come in contact is part of the harmless majority. Some will be fun to talk to. A few will be wonderful. One in particular might be perfectly simpático. But you'll never know unless you remove the camouflage, reveal a bit of your true self, and take a chance on another person.

(Oh yeah, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, but you notice someone at school or work who keeps to herself a lot? Go over and say hi. Be patient. Don't tease in a mean way or push too hard. Find the things you have in common. It takes a while for people who have been hurt to open up, but trust me: you'll want to be there when she finally blooms.)

Monday, April 02, 2018

William Everett "Bud" Luckey, 1934-2018

I just found this out today, but near the end of February, Bud Luckey passed away.

He wasn't necessarily a household name (though he certainly was in this household), but if you were born sometime from the late '60s onward, I can guarantee you've seen his work. Whether it was the in-betweener cartoons he created for Sesame Street, the work he did on animated films The Mouse and His Child or The Secret of NIMH, or all the later voice and animation work he did for Pixar, Luckey had an easily recognizable style and a singularly graceful way of making a point in his stories.

If Pixar could do one perfect thing as a tribute to their friend and colleague, it would be to create a new version of this gem-like, Luckey-animated short, first seen on Sesame Street and titled "Infinity":

(You can really see the influence of his character designs on A Bug's Life, can't you?)

It'd be nice to see a reworked version of this short as the intro to The Incredibles 2 this summer, but realistically that would require a rush production, and any tribute to Bud Luckey needs to be done right.

Godspeed, mister. You enriched the childhood of so many people. Well done.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Dreamless

Elanor has never dreamed.

Instead, every time she falls asleep, she experiences the life of another person -- a boy named Takashi. And whenever Takashi falls asleep, he experiences her life in return.

Image copyrighted by Sarah Ellerton
This is the basic conceit of Dreamless, a graphic novel first published in 2009. I know I've mentioned this fantasy/historical fiction/romance tale to at least a few of you. In fact, I'd lend you my paper copy to read, but you know what? It's gone out of print, and used copies on Amazon sell for insane prices. Further, whenever my only copy of a rare book leaves the house, I get antsy.

So you'll just have to read it online, the way I first did.

I'd love to see this story made into a movie some day. AND I WANT TO SEE MORE OF IT, BOBBY CROSBY AND SARAH ELLERTON. (Spoiler alert: they don't choose to end it at the most ideal spot in the story. Still worth reading.)