February 29, 2008

A “Now” Fangled Story

When starting a work of fiction, a writer must understand that when it is completed, it is going to be a different piece of work than when initially begun. Writers mature a bit more as story tellers and practitioners of their craft with each project undertaken. When editing a first draft of a manuscript, authors may notice changes in the voice, tone, and timbre of their tale as it progresses. The characters may even speak differently. A large part of the editing and rewriting process involves searching for errors and improving the sentence structure, etc. However, authors sometimes make the mistake of not looking for anachronisms.

My first novel took me five years to write and about two years to edit. Since I wrote this tale about a man traveling into his past, I didn't have to worry much about items being out of date. It took four months to write the first draft of my latest work. Yet, I have been re-writing and editing it for the past two years. Society and technology haven't been altered dramatically in that brief time span; but, there are subtle changes which may leave the reader wondering.

This story takes place in contemporary times. Small details such as talking on a cell phone in a hospital need to be addressed. When I first wrote a chapter with my protagonist having life saving surgery, my mother was hospitalized, and using a cell phone in a hospital was forbidden. Now, I am almost done with my editing, and I've noticed that it does not matter if you chat on your cell phone in a hospital anymore. Without any reference to the year in which the action is taking place, technical gaffes like that can cause the reader to doubt the story's accuracy. My style of writing is such that I do not want the reader to know that they are in fact "reading." With that said, I do not wish to risk losing even one member of my audience to carelessness.

A few years back, I started reading a novel by a well known author who shall remain nameless in this article. The reason for not mentioning this writer’s name is because I loathe to speak ill of an author’s work if he or she has been published by traditional media and I have not. Still, from a reader’s view, the point I have is valid. The novel in question is about an attorney who gets the bulk of his cases from a much larger law firm which sends clients with dicey or unseemly problems to him. The lawyer-protagonist winds up investigating a string of homicides. My problem was not with the plot, but with the police tactics.

As a former police officer, I retreat quickly when it comes to watching police dramas on television and in the movies. Nor do I run to the bookstore when the latest police procedural is published. Often times, I find such huge inaccuracies in the methods employed by the fictional police officers that I can’t watch or even read about them. I’ve seen movies where the officer gets into several shootouts a day and they never have to fill out a single report much less testify at a grand jury. The Constitution is non-existent as they burst through doors without warrants, arrest people on the flimsiest suspicion, use excessive force, and the list goes on. That is why I found it odious when I read the book based on my father's recommendation.

What concerned me was that whenever the main character had interaction with the members of the New York City Police Department, the cops always had to use a pay phone to call “headquarters.” One scene depicts a shootout with one of the officers fumbling for change in his pocket to call for backup. This book was written in the middle 1980’s. For the record, I was an NYPD officer during that era and we employed curious devices called “radios.” In addition, street cops do not call “headquarters,” which is actually known as “One Police Plaza” to rank and file “members of the service.” If anyone does call “1PP,” it would be someone far up the chain of command, and only after several other events happened, and only after a string of procedures was implemented.

Those are major holes in the story which as a reader I could not handle. The unfortunate result was that I had to put the book down. It wasn't the quality of the writing which turned me off, but a credibility gap created by the imprecision of plot details which canceled any suspension of disbelief for me. Was I being too technical? Could have I dismissed that the fact there were no portable radios were issued to uniformed patrol units? I don’t think so. Those are important components. While only police officers are likely to have noticed the error, authors should be unwilling to part with anyone in their audience for the lack of research or insufficient editing.

With regard to my story, I do not believe I would have caused anyone consternation if my characters had to go outside the hospital to call someone on a cell phone; still, I repaired that point. But, I am still wary as it is now three years sine I wrote this story and more anachronisms may pop up when, and if, I ever do have it published. My older works of fiction may not need any such tweaking as if by some miracle they ever see the inside of a publishing house, it would be obvious the story’s setting was decades earlier.

My lesson is to remember that the novel I set out to write today is going to be very different when I finish it tomorrow. Reading for mistakes is obvious; but making sure your story details are still relevant to the time period is not as apparent. Now I’m off to finish my current project which is taking me ages to complete. It’s a contemporary novel about a young man who needs money to buy a new boom box so he can listen to his audio cassette tapes and practice the singing and become a rock and roll star. Oh wait; they have iPods now, don’t they?

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February 27, 2008

A Re-Statement of Purpose

What I wish to do here is find that voice in my head which told me stories when I was bored. I need to share, and to find acceptance, and gain stature with my words. That is the goal for numerous with blogs out there. Many are much more inventive than I can ever hope to be. Today, I wonder where I have landed. I feel as though I’ve reached a milestone; but the paradox for me is exactly where on the map does this place me as I did not know where I would go when I created this blog?

I can suppose that I may have touched a few folks with my writing. My responses from readers have been overwhelmingly positive. This makes me wonder when my dreadful post is coming. There is no way I am that good, I ponder. This notion gnaws at me, controls my lively fingers as they tap away at my keyboard while I fashion another essay or story for posting in this space. I’ll simply do what I am able to, the best I can muster, and hope that I am hearing the correct outcome; that I never determine that I have reached any sort of summit. My objective is and always was to publish my novels, and perhaps I’ve drifted off the trail which can lead me in that direction. The blogging world proffers a brilliant audience, benevolent, and kind, in their feedback. May I never betray you and always be gracious for your attention.

What I need to do is refocus my energy on my larger writing projects. I’ve strayed from this intention and have been relying too heavily on telling personal anecdotes and mining the depths of my sorrow over the deaths of friends and loved ones. I need explore my writing methods and only occasionally invite my readers into my private thoughts with a tale from my past. These stories and other odd posts serve as practice for me, and I need to remember that. I’ve put the cart before horse and it is necessary to back up and reassess my stated purpose; yet, always, yes always, bear in mind that my readers are important to my improvement, and that they deserve the best I have to offer. This is a delicate balance, but one which I need to challenge myself to achieve. My project is clearer now: remain loyal to my idea, explore my craft’s boundaries, be diligent in its practice, and realize that I can always do better. I owe this to myself, and to my wonderful, discerning, and charitable readers. Thank you.

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February 25, 2008

Introducing: The Midnight Wanderers

The recreation of my blog back in September of 2007 was important to me in more ways that I imagined. This forum, the writing experience in this space, has improved my life. I’ve been able to express myself with more clarity using the written word than I ever have before. My past efforts have focused more on my novels and short stories. Here, I have authored essays, articles, and stories based on my personal life which helped me to edify my soul, if you will.

There have been blessings, as well. In this giant world full of folks with different lifestyles and ideas, I have formed bonds with many who live in all parts of the globe. Some of these relationships have been fleeting, others more enduring, and some more important to me in terms of partnership than others. I value all of my readers, friends, and acquaintances here in the blogging cosmos. Yet, there is one blogger with whom I’ve forged a writing venture with and he has created an entity which I am honored to belong to. This is a group where he has dubbed me as one of the founding members. The writer of whom I speak is JD, author of The Uneasy Supplicant, and I am a proud member of the Midnight Wanderers.

Those of you who visit my website regularly may have noticed the emblem of the crow with the red “MW” emblazoned on it in the upper, right hand corner (image is shown in this post). This icon was created by the talented JD (as well as the idea for the Midnight Wanderers), and inspired by the notion that writers often have their best ideas at night, even at “two in the morning” as we often jest. This badge assumes that the person with this image on their blog has the necessary skills, drive, creativity, and dedication to advance and improve the craft of writing. I’ve been corresponding with JD for many months now, and we share the common objective of creating fine fiction, essays, poems, and articles. We proudly call ourselves writers, and we wish to bring others into our circle. The rules are simple and are posted here and on JD’s blog, The Uneasy Supplicant.

This is a proud moment for me and for JD. It is more than a badge of honor; it is a promise to always work toward writing excellence. This was the original purpose of my blog, and I consider this momentous occasion a launching point to refocus my efforts and to write as well as my abilities allow. In due time, in conjunction with JD, I wish to bring others into The Midnight Wanderers. Thank you all for reading Mr. Grudge and The Uneasy Supplicant.

The Rules of the Midnight Wanderers:

Everyone will have the designation of Official Member. New members may suggest another blogger for membership; but in order to maintain the true spirit of The Midnight Wanderers, the founding members must review them for admission.

If someone is offered the badge and refuses to display it, that is their right; however, they will not be able to call themselves a member of the Midnight Wanderers. If they change their mind and want to join after a refusal, they can be inducted after writing an essay proving their value to the founding members. The essay’s length and subject matter is to be determined by the founding members, will be tailored to the abilities of the blogger in question, and will be posted on their blog for a three day period.

Membership of any new member may be revoked at any time by a consensus vote of the founding members for any conduct, which calls into suspicion their dedication the cause of the Midnight Wanderers, degrades the group, or demeans another member of the Midnight Wanderers, or if that member engages in hate speech demeaning another’s race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.

All members of the Midnight Wanderers will exhibit high standards for writing, a dedication to their craft, and continue to promote the craft of the written word with their unique styles and literary voice. That is the mission of the Midnight Wanderers.

*If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me, or contact JD over at The Uneasy Supplicant. Thank you all.

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February 20, 2008

What Not To Mention

As this blog becomes more and more popular, it illustrates a paradox between my alter ego, Mr. Grudge, and the real me. Here, I write articles, stories, and personal essays, and no one seems to get too rankled by the content of any subject I broach. Contrast that with my social life, and the differences are glaring.

You may be surprised to learn that I have the unerring ability to stick my foot in my mouth in any social situation. It’s not my fault as I am being chastised by unseen forces in the universe which are out to get me. When my wife and I are with people we are meeting for the first time, or with family, or even close friends, predictably, I'll say something which should have been left off the table, if you will. It’s not that I want to hurt anyone’s feelings; it’s because I’m a bit of a social oaf. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy meeting others and having a good laugh with friends, but my mouth often operates before my brain has a chance to put itself into gear. As a result, I’ve had some awkward moments.

Before we go to a party or dinner with other couples, my darling spouse covers a list of things I probably shouldn’t mention since it may cause a bit of an uncomfortable situation with those who will be present. She’ll say things like “Gary lost his job so don’t ask him about work, John and Teresa are getting divorced so don't ask if they are going to have kids, and the doctors have no idea what that hairy, bulbous thing is growing our of Ron's forehead so don't stare at it, and God help you if you point to him and ask him what he's going to do about that.” You get the idea. Do you think I get the hint? Most of the time; but, there are always items which slip past even my wife who spends an awful lot of time compiling her list of “don’t say that’s” before we go to a social event.

Long ago, when we were planning our wedding, my “then fiancĂ©” and I were at a diner with friends discussing our plans. The couple we were with, Millie and Ted, knew my wife long before the two of us met. In fact, the girlfriend, Millie, and my wife went to high school together. This couple was with my wife on the night we met for the first time. It is also important to note that we attended their wedding.

I hated Millie and Ted’s wedding. The party was such a crashing bore that I counted fire extinguishers, ceiling tiles, and checked out the cute, young women in the crowd to entertain myself. I even played my favorite wedding game “spot the old bridesmaids dress” where I look at a female guest and determine if the gown she is wearing was in fact a recycled bridesmaids evening dress she wore at another nuptial as a member of the bridal party.

You know what I am talking about. These are dresses fashioned out of material which Hollywood uses for space traveler costumes in low budget science fiction films. Many of these garments have an enormous bow, which for some reason designers place on the back of each dress just above the buttocks making it difficult for the woman to sit. I guess they figure that any girl in the bridal party is going to be whooping it up on the dance floor all night and they won’t need a chair. Also, the colors these dresses come in disregard God’s natural rainbow with a defiant fist, as they are never used for any other type of clothing. They include: Burnt Orange, Apricot, Chianti, Buttercup, Dusty Lavender, Kiwi, and my favorite, Lipstick. Only a friend would wear these colors out in public for another friend. And, I don’t blame a woman for wanting to get more mileage out of a few yards of satin that she shelled out $350 for just to wear for a few hours. But, I digress.

Their wedding was so bad that even the Dee Jay they hired was appalling enough to make one uncomfortable. He was an older gentleman who not only played music from the 1940’s most of the evening; his mixing console used cassette tapes. Not CDs, not vinyl records, but cassette tapes. He’d speak into his Omni directional microphone to announce a tune, and if his head veered an inch to the right or left you couldn’t hear him. What you could hear was the sound of him plopping in the tape over the P.A. system, and then the sibilant hiss of the tape winding across the tape heads before the song played. It was appalling.

I was seated at a table with my wife and all of her friends from high school and I didn’t know a single one of them. They didn’t even want to talk to me as they laughed and giggled about their "rebellious" teenaged exploits such as when in the tenth grade they all jumped into Bobby Johnson’s father’s station wagon and went to the barn dance and drank beer in the parking lot. What a truckload of dorks. It was stories like that one which made me rethink our engagement. Nevertheless, I was absolutely writhing in boredom. My eyes held a morbid curiosity with the fumbling, unskilled, Dee Jay as he whipped out another timeless classic from "The Andrews Sisters." Incredulous, I turned to the young lady next to me, pointed to the man with my thumb and chuckled “Do you believe this guy?” Suggesting that he was some sort of clown. She leaned towards me and said, “Yeah, he’s my uncle.”

What are the chances of me choosing his niece out of an auditorium full of two hundred people to make that comment to? If I had those types of odds playing in my favor while playing the lottery, I wouldn’t be blogging right now; I’d have servants doing it.

That brings me back to two years after Millie and Ted’s dreadful wedding. The four of us were in the diner discussing our wedding plans. By coincidence, and after investigating dozens of wedding halls, my wife and I settled on the same venue where Millie and Ted had their reception. There were two options for a cocktail hour. You can host one indoors with a small band and a bar. Or, you can have the cocktail hour outside under a large awning on the side of the building. Millie lobbied hard for us to host the cocktail hour outdoors.

“Are you kidding?” my mouth said. “Like I want to sit outside under a converted car port, next to the chain link fence where the valets park the guests’ cars on the other side, and have exhaust fumes seeping into the hors dourves, and then everyone can marvel at the portable, electric, plastic, fountain which they wheel out on a drink cart and place next to the waxy, yellow, cheese dish.”

I sat back and watched Millie squirm. My wife’s head hanged low. Then Millie spoke. “We had the cocktail hour outside and it was nice.”

Oops, I forgot. I had completely erased their wedding from my memory. Lucky for me Millie brushed my comment off. She was more accommodating than perhaps I would have been if I were on the receiving end of such an ill-mannered remark.

I don’t know if I’ll change. At my age, maybe I don’t want to. After writing this post, I can make the argument that I am merely creating material for my novels and for this blog. But, we’re still friends with Millie and Ted. I’m just not allowed to mention their reception with them around. In fact all weddings are off limits. And, if I ever embarrass my wife like that ever again, she told me that I'd find myself eligible to marry some other woman who may be willing to put up with my constant slip-ups. That’s okay, as long as we don’t have the cocktail hour outdoors.

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February 19, 2008

An Apology for the Dead

As a rookie cop working in Harlem in the early 1990’s, I was introduced to death at a rate which illustrated the horrors life on a grand scale. Prior to being assigned there to work, my relatively sheltered existence only saw death through the rosy prism of a half-opened coffin and heavily applied post-mortem cosmetics. The deceased I encountered were relatives, neighbors, and even a best friend; all of them expired quietly and “naturally” and looked peaceful in their repose.

On the job, and not just in Harlem but everywhere I worked as a police officer, death has an unkind visage. Only those who experience the malodorous wretchedness of a lifeless body which has been exposed for a while can appreciate how vile it is. The mere memory of such a putrid stench causes anti-peristalsis. The stink never leaves the olfactory nerves. It’s a haunting odor, destined to return after one’s own death.

A sergeant of mine was ridiculed once for praying over a dead body at crime scene. The family of the victim was not present and he and his squad were awaiting for the coroner to arrive. Harmless enough, he thought to pay respects to this fallen person. Callous though, were the restless officers in his charge who’d seen too much and thought his actions ostentatious.

My own eyes grew weary of the abundance of death which is the reality of a big city such as New York. Eight million people live there, and a million or more commute to Manhattan and the other boroughs every day to work. There are murders, accidents, suicides, and natural deaths in numbers which are sobering to the uninitiated. Death does brisk business in Gotham City. It is easy for the morgue workers, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, and even police officers who see unabashed death scenes long before a funeral director casts a magic wand over the deceased, to become as cold and distant as are also the eyes of the departed.

That is why the praying sergeant was mocked. It was not his faith they expressed amusement at; it as the gesture of dignity which he gave to a person whom others, in their defense, regarded as a mere object. Self protection against guts and gore often means removing reality from the details. It is not a dead person, but a cadaver; an object to be investigated and removed to a place where folks with ice water running through their veins do even more dirty work: an autopsy, a dissection, and examinations in all those places where maggots and vermin thrive. Pray over that? To do so is a reminder of what awaits steely eyed cops no matter how much they are told they are super heroes; and that is their own demise.

For myself, I remained civil with those whom I handled. There are faces, limbs, babies, and teenagers who glance at me from the corners of my paradoxical sleep while I am in bed. One particular night, we were called to a small apartment where the folks who lived there had a tenant. It is not uncommon for families in the city to rent rooms for extra money, and in this case the couple who lived there went through pains to respect the privacy of the young, thirty something year old woman who took up residence in their spare room down the hall. This tenant was diabetic. Health care is often unaffordable, and in her case, not available. Her insulin was scarce and she had meager means to obtain this necessary medication. After missing their house guest for about a day or so, the husband and wife made the decision to open her door and check on her. To their horror, the woman lay dead on her sofa bed. When we arrived, details became clear that this poor young lady slipped into a coma and passed away.

My squad sergeant assigned various tasks to the officers on the scene to expedite the investigation. With the husband present, we took inventory of the small room and began the tedious process of cataloging and vouchering her valuables which were few. It was my duty to remove her jewelry as the medical examiner will not collect a body with necklaces, rings, watches, and the like as they do not want to be accused of theft and these items are to be submitted to the probate courts.

The young woman had many body piercings, several in each ear, and she had dozens of bangles on each wrist. Removing these proved difficult as rigor mortis had set in and I needed to move her several times to take these items off her. Then, I had to slip off her rings. The best way to do that was to lubricate her fingers. The landlord offered us a small tub of soap and water. I took my time until my sergeant began to hurry me along.

I stopped what I was doing and told him that I was taking care of this as best as I could. He snapped at me again as he believed the coroner had arrived and he was anxious to leave the apartment. I told him once more, in no uncertain terms, that I was doing the best I could and short of using wire cutters, the rings wouldn’t come off any faster. He was miffed, but what could he do? I wasn’t lazy, and there is no special training for handling dead bodies. Trust me, I would have asked him to do it if I had the authority; but I didn’t. The sergeant was forced to wait.

Getting back to my unpleasant task, I washed this woman’s fingers in the warm, soapy water supplied by her friend, the landlord. She surrendered her rings to me. Then, I placed her hands gently on her chest after pulling her blanket up much the same way her mom or dad may have tucked her in at night when she was a young girl.

“I’m sorry, dear.” I remember saying. She deserved at least that much. It was her death, her final repose, that poor young woman; and like my other sergeant who openly prayed for the dead, I was remorseful.

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February 15, 2008

You’re as Young as You Aren’t

In spite of all of the gleeful optimism about youth and feeling young, no one accounts for emotions changing with age. The way one thinks is often directly hard wired to the body whether we accept that or not. Now in my forties (gulp) I no longer hop out of bed and begin my day with a reasonable amount of energy. I find myself opting for a quiet evening alone with my family rather than a jubilant night out partying with my wife and our friends. My body aches the next day after doing a lot of yard work, and that is after taking huge steps over the last year to get healthy and thin again. My point? You can’t stop aging and time.

You’re never as young as you think you are. I sailed through my twenties like a person who never had to look at his watch. My thirties brought huge change in my life as I became a family man. One marriage and two children later, I am a guy who was at the pointed end of a remark made by a co-worker the other day who observed: “Wow, you’re going gray.” That’s it. I’m officially middle aged. Not that I am surprised; it was bound to happen if I lived long enough. But, I no longer believe that “you’re as young as you feel.” If a ninety year old man feels like a seventeen year old, does that make him a teenager? How long does that last when he has the heart of a young adult but the prostate of a man almost a century old? My new philosophy is you’re as old as you are. There’s nothing wrong with that; but it took me almost four years to stop panicking about it, yet I can’t say I am entirely comfortable either.

Some guys go off the deep end when they have their mid-life crisis. They have affairs, buy sports cars, go on safaris and take up sky diving. I never did any of that; but I did have a bit of a crisis of identity. What have I accomplished? Where did I fail in life that I am not wealthy and don’t have homes all over the country? Perhaps these questions were immature, or silly; but, there are rich people in the world with houses in exotic locales. I'm just not one of them. In the end, I know what I did or did not do to get where I am; or, from the other side of the spectrum, to where I am not. My focus has shifted now to my children as they mature and need guidance in their futures. It’s no longer about me, and I cannot feel selfish anymore and lament about getting old. Am I as young as I feel? Do I really need to be twenty five years old again? What I need to do is grow up, if I haven’t done so already.

A while back, my wife and I took the kids to a family restaurant near our home. This is a barbeque style place with big plates of food and a gimmick where everyone can choose to watch different, big screen televisions hanging on the walls. The scheme is aimed at entertaining the kids, and we decided to go along with the idea for the night because our children asked to go there. It was fun, and settling into my accepted daddy role, I enjoyed eating with the family and I had no urge to go mountain climbing or ride all-terrain vehicles cross country.

We finished dinner and then climbed into the family car to pick up ice cream and then go home. A brand new Ford Mustang pulled into the spot next to us and a couple the same age as my wife and I stepped out. The man had a full head of gray hair, was wearing a sporty leather jacket, and looked like he was sucking in his gut. Along for the ride were two teenagers struggling to emerge from the backseat of the two door vehicle. We both watched as I had to wait for the kids to be clear of my car before I could pull out.

“Somebody’s having a midlife crisis,” I said, with a discreet finger aimed at the husband. “Look at that car.”

“I would say so,” my wife replied. “You’d think he’d at least get something with four doors.”

We both laughed, and I was finally able to put our sedan in reverse and then out of the parking lot to the main road.

“Think of the money he spent on that Mustang, and it looks like his children will be going to college soon.” I said. Then I turned to my wife. “You know, I had a midlife crisis, and all I bought were some stereo speakers and a new DVD player for the den.”

She looked at me and smiled. “At those prices, you can have one once a month, honey.”

You know, I’ve felt fine since then. I haven’t had a midlife crisis once a month as she jokingly allowed me to that evening. But, it’d be a nice excuse as my laptop is getting a bit slow and I need a reason to blow a wad of cash on a new one. But, I’m older and more mature now, less impulsive, and I can’t afford a Mustang. Not with two kids who will go away to college soon.

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February 13, 2008

The Birthday Boy and the Moon Man

We all know the date and time when the first men landed on the moon, and the name of the first astronaut to set foot there; but very few outside of my family are aware that this event happened on my birthday. That’s not a matter for historians to consider; but to me, it is a big deal. In fact, the moon has had a special place in my heart ever since I was six years old and watched the grainy, black and white footage of Neil Armstrong hopping off a ladder on the side of the lunar module.

That day wasn't a typical birthday scene with my family seated around the dining room table waiting for me to blow out the candles on my birthday cake. I remember having one of those conical, cardboard hats on with a rubber band chinstrap digging into my skin. Yet, there was a distraction in the form of a television broadcast repeating this momentous event for the world to see. The landing was a technological miracle, if you will, and knockout punch to the Russians who led the U.S.A. in the space race up until then. Every American shared a sense of pride in this accomplishment, especially Long Islanders, as the Grumman Corporation made the lunar module. However, I was just a kid; and as much as I wanted to be thrilled about this new world of space travel and astronauts walking on the lunar surface, I was a bit angry at Mr. Armstrong for ruining my party with his spectacular interruption.

I got over my annoyance quickly, however, as the allure of all things related to the cosmos caught up with me during those exciting times when we all watched men in space suits bounce around in the light gravity on our closest heavenly neighbor.

All my life I’ve been a night person. There is a mystery to the evening sky which draws my eye to its inky shores sparkling with celestial jewels. Throughout history the moon, planets, and stars have beguiled both kings and paupers alike. My own life takes a turn now and then, and the moon offers solace; it’s gentle face beckoning in its resolve to always be there.

My friend, this moon which poets and scholars often describe, searches for me whenever I am at my bedroom window during the early hours. Sometimes full, other times partially shrouded, it hides among the clouds when the weather denies us our conversations. My bond with this rocky creature, which can be described as alive if one believes in its power as I do, is unshakable as I look away from time to time only to be cosmically nudged back into its embrace.

Perhaps I was a part of the moon, once. We are all constructed of particles which existed in some form or another over time. I feel echoes of its creation whenever I am driving home and the car radio lulls my ears and allows my eyes to focus ahead on the road glistening with rich, reflected sunlight. That the moon does not radiate its own energy is a myth; the sun merely highlights it. The moon winks at me when I deny I am a follower.

It knows my secrets, and I confide in the sky during my moments of hardship. Those moments of fear, doubt, sorrow, and anxiety; hours and hours of sleeplessness where the window acts like a portal to the only object which has seen it all from the beginning. It knows my faith in God, hears my struggle with mortality, seeks to assuage my guilt for sins, and sins again, for which my fault seems eternal.

Not long ago, a boy was captivated by a bright, orbiting vehicle in the night sky. He was drawn to it, and never will see it up close, not while he remains on this planet, and not while he is alive. On a dark night, maybe a few short decades from now, God willing, there will be a window nearby through which he can peek at his friend and say hello, just before he begins his journey to the surface of the moon.

Dear Readers: My friends JD, author of The Uneasy Supplicant, and fellow Midnight Wanderer, and Bob Johnson, author of Black Holes and Astrostuff, were the inspirations for this post. Thank you, gentleman, for your fine writing and for your blogging friendship. Please visit their blogs and be educated.

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February 10, 2008

GO! Smell the Flowers! Flower Smeller Award!

When Mr. Grudge was created back in October of 2006, the original concept was that of a baseball blog. For almost a year, Mr. Grudge was a lonely place, visited by almost fifty people on the eleven month period of time. This was the case in spite of the fact that the Editor of a baseball magazine, Gotham Baseball, generously published some of my blog posts on their website. In desperation, I closed Mr. Grudge in June of 2006, and let it sit until September of that year.

When I decided to return to the blogging world I reinvented Mr. Grudge into what it is today; and that is a writer’s blog. You see, baseball is a passion, but writing is my life. The results are conclusive, and I am humbled by the response from you, my wonderful readers. In fact, receiving comments on my posts hasn’t been the only gratifying aspect of my return to blogging, the recognition I receive from other established writers and bloggers is humbling. I’ve been honored so many times by so many terrific writers that it would be immodest to account for all of the fine awards I’ve been blessed with here. But, I cherish all of them.

Yesterday, I was awarded as one of the first five people to be presented with the brand new “Flower Smellers” banner from the fine folks who author “Go! Smell the Flowers!” I was introduced to this fun and informative community blog through my buddy, Mike French, who authors “The View from Here” and “Tales from the Tree.” I was welcomed by both Mike and the rest of the bloggers at "Go! Smell the Flowers!" (all twenty of them!) and immediately felt that I belonged. This is more than a blog; it is an interactive community, a township, if you will. That is why the created this award, and it is my honor to receive this special banner to place on my blog as one of the first five people to be offered this recognition.

It is my pleasure, as a newly welcomed member of the Flowers community, to present five of my fellow bloggers with the “Flower Smellers” badge and invite them to join this growing and dynamic blogging neighborhood. They are as flows:

J.D. Beaudoin, author of “The Uneasy Supplicant." J.D. is my blogging friend who endures the joys and agonies of writing and blogging with me. He has been with Mr. Grudge from the very beginning, and his I look forward to his comments on my blog whenever I post anything new. His keen insights into my writing often surprise me as I realize that “that’s what I was trying to say.” J.D. is a powerful writer, and a first class gentleman. I am proud to present him with this fine award and banner. Welcome to the Flower Smellers, J.D.

Andrew Ruth, author of "Andrew Ruth, the Blog." I may never meet anyone as creative and prolific as Andrew. His blog is feverishly updated with stories which take one from their cozy living rooms and dens to the edge of reality and beyond. I’ll visit his blog often twice in one day just to read a particular story again and gain a fresh perspective on it. Andrew also has been with me from the “reinvention” of Mr. Grudge. He captivated me with his “White Room” series, and flattered me with a story he wrote which was inspired by one of my posts. Andrew is one of my blogging buddies, and I am pleased to present Andrew with this award and invitation to the Flowers community. Welcome to the "Flower Smellers," Andrew.

Kristyn Marie, author of “Ya Don’t Say.” Kristyn is a heartfelt writer who chronicles her life on her blog and creates a close connection with her readers. I was first introduced to Kristyn during my blog “re-opening” back in September of 2007 when I posted a brief story about living as a middle class family man in a wealthy neighborhood. In that post, I made mention of “Hearst Castle.” Kristyn not only knew of this place, she visited there many times. In her own unique voice with allows readers to bond with her, she filled me in on fascinating details of Hearst Castle and I followed her to her blogs where I still visit for her fresh and intelligent view of the world. I want to thank Kristyn for her support in my writing endeavors, present her with the “Flower Smellers” banner, and invite her to join this wonderful community. Thank you for being a blogging friend, Kristyn.

Lisa McGlaun, author of “LifePrints – Good news for a More Compassionate World.” The name of her blog says all that one needs to know about Lisa. She writes because she believes in the power of good, and her thoughtful and intellectual writing gives breadth and meaning to subjects which many of us overlook in our busy lives. Lisa has been a supporter of mine since the beginning as well, and I wish to thank her for her blogging friendship. It is my honor to present Lisa with this award and to invite her to the “Flower Smellers” community. Thank you Lisa.

Kathy Frederick, author of "The Junk Drawer” blog. I discovered Kathy’s very funny blog several months ago and I am addicted. Besides being a writer (she does not consider herself a writer, but in spite of that, she is a terrific writer) she is a smart observer of the world around her and is able to record the silly events and in her life and deliver humility, suspense, drama, and a solid punch line which is essential to humor writing. Folks who visit her often compliment my story telling, and Kathy does as well. As flattering as it is to have my readers tell me that they loved one of my stories, I envy Kathy’s ability to make people laugh. "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." The source of that quote is a bit murky, but it is the truth. To write as consistently as Kathy does and draw in the sizable audience as she has takes talent. Take a bow, Kathy, and allow me to present you with this fine award. You're a "Flower Smeller!"

I want to thank all of the bloggers at "Go! Smell the Flowers!" once again, for making me a member of their wonderful community on the internet. To all of my readers who have flattered me with their comments and who have introduced themselves to me over the past several months, you are not overlooked as the will be more banners to hand out to new "Flower Smellers" from now on. For my friends here, I want to say to you Go! Smell the Flowers! Be a proud “Flower Smeller," and pay this award forward. Thank you for being a friend of Mr. Grudge.

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February 7, 2008

This One is Called "Marie"

Each event in our lives is treated like a single occurrence. We all conceptualize them differently and look deep within each vignette for meaning. I have an example of what I am trying to say. This was a powerful episode in my life; one I will never forget. However, in all of the pain and anguish I experienced then, there were poetic and heartfelt moments which make the suffering bearable.

Some background information is necessary here. My mother was a fighter. Not in the physical sense. She had to endure pain for most of her adult existence. She battled problems with her back which necessitated at least two surgeries which I can remember; one of them was to fuse her spine. Her numerous ailments over the years loomed ominous and were treated individually by specialist after specialist until the name Systemic Lupus took over and she was treated correctly.

Then there was cancer. She braved chemotherapy and three enormous operations to save her life over the span of ten years. One of her care givers, a physician's assistant told me on the side after her surgery: “Your mother is one brave and tough woman. Really, I’ve never seen anyone fight so hard.

Her last fight came in the hospital following a life saving surgery to remove one of the tumors blocking her small intestine. The danger was she would die during the procedure. The alternative was she would starve to death. Her choice was to have the operation and come out alive.

During recovery, things never looked so grim. On a respirator, she would greet her family with a drowsy nod. We comforted her, staving off the notion that these were her last days. With the fanfare of a minor miracle, she was taken off the respirator the next morning and moved to intensive care. And, with her spirits raised, she proved everyone wrong and was transported to a step-down unit after a week; and then, ultimately, home.

Hospice workers are extraordinary people. Morphine, palliative care, and sun-setting, were all like odd pieces of furniture in our collective family vernacular until we saw them put into practice. Without the compassionate souls from Hospice, our mom would never have had the opportunity to view her garden from her living room window during those last days. We placed the bed there because there was no room in the house put it anywhere else. There had to be space for all of us to move in and about, taking turns at her side, caring for her wants and needs, and ultimately, consoling her. It was the perfect spot, because many of our relatives and friends made the sad journey from all over the country to visit her as she faded.

One scene which sticks out in my mind, which causes me both heartache and a curious sense of emotional gratification, is when our mother’s lifelong friend came to visit her. Two days before mom passed, she was drifting in and out of consciousness. Phone calls were made by all of us to those concerned for her to “get here.” All the way from Nevada, came my mother’s best friend. Mom knew Marie since they were both five years old. We kids called her “Aunt Marie,” and her children were our “cousins.” They shared everything, and were close for as long as each of them could remember. Mom and Marie went from Kindergarten through high school together, got married around the same time, had children, watched their parents die, and became grandparents. All the while their bond never faltered. When Marie moved across the country to be close to her children, they did not lose touch, and they were always on the phone together. The news of mom’s latest situation brought Marie out in a hurry.

By then, mom had no strength. It was all she could do to keep her eyes open. Time was short, and the rest of us were coming to grips with the reality that we would end the week without a mother and her grandchildren would be without their loving grandma. Quietly, Marie and Uncle Bill entered through the front door. Knocking was a mere formality and they never had to do so before. Marie carried herself with a brave face. She put her pocket book on a chair, walked quietly over to mom who was asleep, and took her hand. I was seated on the couch, watching as this reunion was about to take place.

Marie?” Mom’s voice was weak, gravelly, her breathing tortured. “Marie …
Shhh. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here.

No one needed to be asked to leave the room. I retreated to the backyard and kept an eye on them through the large bay window mom was situated by. I saw them clutching each other, and sharing private words encoded in a secret language of over sixty years of friendship. There were tears, and I thought at one point I saw mom smile. I watched them. I was a voyeur. Maybe I was trespassing and I didn’t care. This was my mother, and for the last few moments of her life she was able to reconnect with all of us; to stay here for just enough time for her friend to arrive and they could be pals again, children holding hands in the school yard, talking about boys, marriage, children, grandchildren, and finally what Marie was there for.

For me memories are shaped like bubbles; and, from the moment I learned my mother was going to die and up until her last breath, I can pick out small shapes, recollections. Every once in a while I reach out and grasp one and gaze into it like a crystal ball. This one is called Marie.

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February 4, 2008

Wife, Mother, and Angel: Part II

My fear, after learning that my wife saved a little boy from choking to death, was that if circumstances were different and the boy died, we could have been sued. Also, my experiences as a police officer were often that things weren’t always as they seemed. She could have rolled onto the scene of a homicide attempt and been a victim herself. Granted, I usually assume the worst; but in this case, I was glad she stopped for that poor family and applied her skills. There’s a happy eleven your old kid running around today who may or may not be aware of my wife's extraordinary efforts to save his life.

That one event would have been enough for anyone. Simply save one person from death and you’re a hero. But, my wife recently found herself in another situation where she felt compelled to act. This past summer, in September, she was coming home from work along her usual route where the Northern State Parkway ends and merges with Route 347. This is a very dangerous and busy junction at any time of the day; but, at around 5:00pm, traffic is treacherous. Two main highways merge into one and accidents are abundant on these roads. As she drove along in the left lane which would take her out onto the center of route 347, she noticed a van parked precariously on the shoulder of the bypass. A woman was slouched against the driver’s door of the van. Once again, my wife was the only person out of hundreds who were passing by who noticed someone in distress. Stopping is not easy in that area, yet she kept a careful eye on the woman as she loomed in the rear view mirror. She made it into the right lane using her turning signal and the might and size of our large, Earth unfriendly, extended, Chevy Trailblazer (more on that vehicle in another post). She finally glided to a halt on the shoulder of the road about a hundred yards away from the imperiled woman and had to back up, rather dangerously to get to her.

By then, the woman had collapsed and was on all fours with her head exposed to speeding cars. My wife jumped from her vehicle and ran to her, calling out “Watch it, get out of the road!” as she sprinted over. There was a constant hum and whooshing of automobiles darting by and the woman was oblivious to the drama she faced. This stranger, apparently disorientated, was crawling into the middle of a busy highway. My wife reached her, and by some miracle she was able to guide her to the front of the woman's van for safety. The woman held her stomach and complained of intense pain. It is interesting to note that no other motorist found it necessary to stop or even call for help. My wife’s call to 911 on her cell phone was the only report of this lady needing an ambulance. After asking what was going on, the woman told her that she was in agony, and that she was trying to get home in time to get her young son off the school bus as no one was available to get him for her. Then, the she passed out, unconscious and unresponsive. My wife placed a second call into 911 to alert them of her worsening condition. Shortly thereafter, she heard sirens.

The woman awoke to tell her that her cell phone was on the dashboard of the van and she needed to call a neighbor to get her son off the school bus. She was frantic, yelping in pain, attempting to stand, and my wife had to calm her down. She entered this stranger’s van, retrieved the cell phone, and handed it to the woman who was again unconscious. The police arrived first. All Suffolk County police officers are trained emergency medical technicians and they showed up with medical gear. The police interviewed my wife who gave them a full description of what happened. They were able to talk to the woman who became conscious once again. An officer called a neighbor who agreed to get the child off the bus and a police sector car was dispatched to the bus stop to make sure the child was secure.

An ambulance arrived with urgency, just in time because the woman lapsed again into unconsciousness. She was taken to the nearest hospital, but unlike her involvement in the past incident with the baby choking on food a decade earlier, my wife went straight home. I heard her tale, hugged her, kissed her, and told her how special she was. My concern for her safety was overshadowed by her bravery. Heroism does not come without risk, and I wish she didn’t have to risk anything. Like my wife, I was frustrated that no one else stepped up to the plate and did so much as place a phone call to aid a stranger in public who was clearly in need of emergency assistance. This woman found help, and at the right time. Maybe one day they’ll meet again under better circumstances. But really, how many times in your life do you see an angel?

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