Monday, November 30, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Like a lot of folks, I went home for Thanksgiving. I've lived in Greenville for a while now--we won't go into how long, as that brings up troubling math problems related to my age. But somehow, the little town in North Carolina where I grew up will always be home.

Mom did what she always does--she made enough food to feed a small country. While we stuffed ourselves silly, we caught up on the ins and outs of each other's lives... Dad's acid reflux problem, my niece's ear tubes, my uncle's new red El Camino with the orange Firebird-looking thing on the hood...

And the latest on the group of women who bought my grandmother's civil-war-era farmhouse.

My maternal grandmother passed away a little over two years ago. My grandfather had been waiting for her at the Pearly Gates for years, so their six-thousand-square-foot house was empty. It's a gorgeous home, and it had been lovingly cared for. Our family had many years of happy memories there. It was an emotional thing, is what I'm saying. No one wanted to sell, but it was the only practical thing to be done. None of us needed a house just then, especially one that size. Though everyone hated to see it pass out of the family, my mother, aunt, and uncles decided to sell.

After a year or so, a group of women bought the house. My understanding was that they planned to use it as a shelter for abused women. Now, to say that this home (on six plus acres) in a rural part of a county that's a hundred miles east of nowhere is an unusual place for a shelter would be an understatement. Whatever. They bought the place.

What The Shelter Women did not purchase, was my uncle's house, which is next door and shares a driveway. We'll call my uncle Harley, because he would not appreciate having his actual name on the Internet. The government, and all that.

The Shelter Women want Harley to leave.

They have told him, multiple times, that he cannot stay there, as the women who will be given shelter have been traumatized, and will not like having a strange man so close by--I'm paraphrasing, but this was the gist of it. Harley would be happy to leave if the Shelter Women would buy him out. They just want him to leave.

The Shelter Women have never moved into the house, but periodically they come by. I think my uncle watches for them, and maybe goes outside and acts extra crazy just for fun--maybe shoots something. (He once took out two squirrels with one shot.)

So, The Shelter Women showed up a few weeks back with a minister of undetermined theology. He didn't speak English, and my uncle didn't recognize whatever language he was speaking, but the minister's mission that day was to exorcise the property.

Recently, The Shelter Women have become upset that my family didn't tell them the house was haunted. Listen, my grandparents lived in that house for thirty years. My grandmother lived there for seven years by herself. There were no ghosts. (At least if there were, they were well-mannered and quiet.)

But the minister, nevertheless, went into the house with a bottle of what was presumably holy water.

Then, he walked all over the yard sprinkling and chanting.

Then they--The Shelter Women and the minister--came next door and asked if they could sprinkle Harley's yard. He's an easy-going guy, so he said, "Sure, why not?"

Then, they wanted to sprinkle Harley.

I think they settled for rubbing his head with some of the water in the bottle. What the minister was chanting is anyone's guess. Hey, they can sprinkle Harley with whatever they want to, but unless they come up with some money, he's not moving.

Poor Dad. With drama like this, his acid reflux got no attention whatsoever.

I really need to go home more often. And take a tape recorder. You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beat the Reaper is Hilarious, Profane, Graphic, and Occasionally Poetic

So, I finished reading Josh Bazell's debut novel, Beat the Reaper. I know, everyone else read this back in January or whenever. It was a bestseller, but somehow I missed it. Then, at Bouchercon, authors on several panels raved about this book. I rushed right out and bought it, and added it to my to-be-read stack.

Aside from the cover blurbs, there are five pages of praise, excerpts of reviews, etc., in the front of the book. This alone is impressive, especially when you look at the names: Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Hallie Ephron and others, along with virtually every newspaper and magazine that still reviews books.

The premise of the book (if you've been on a desert island all year, or, like me, were spending your days in an alternate reality), is this: Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at a nightmare of a hospital in Manhattan. Dr. Brown is also in the Witness Protection Program, his previous occupation mob hit man. He stumbles on a terminally ill patient from his mob days, and spends most of the book trying to stay alive while still taking care of his patients.

Beat the Reaper is roughly half flashback to why and how Peter became involved with the mafia, and how he came to be in WITSEC.

It's a thoroughly entertaining read, and it lived up to all its best blurbs. My personal favorite is from The Journal of the American Medical Association: "Bazell's thriller is brutal and vulgar but at the same time hilarious and unflinching." Hmm... a group of doctors thinks it's unflinching.

Look, this book is not for hypochondriacs. In fact, I shouldn't have read it myself, as I am nothing if not a hypochondriac. I'll likely never go within a hundred yards of another hospital. May as well cancel my health insurance right now.

I also would not recommend this book to my mother, or anyone else who has an aversion to that four-letter word that rhymes with duck. No, I am not a prude. I've been know to use that particular obscenity myself. (My mother never reads my blog.) In fact, it appears in my own internal monologue far more often than those close to me would ever imagine. But not every reader is comfortable with such generous use of the many variations on that particular word.

I don't personally know any mobsters, but this language feels real, so it works for me. How are hit men supposed to talk?

Juxtaposed to the hilarity, the flashbacks of Peter's visit to the Holocaust camps in Poland are hauntingly dark, his childhood tragic. Bazell makes us empathize with his conflicted and complex killer, who only kills "killers whose deaths would improve the world."

Peter Brown is also a deep hit man. My favorite quote from the book is: "Ah, youth. It's like heroin you've smoked instead of snorted. Gone so fast you can't believe you still have to pay for it." Indeed.

I'll be first in line to buy the next Peter Brown book. But don't tell my mother. She'd no doubt worry for my soul.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Been Monday All Day

This is the best excuse I have for not going to Jazzercise. I'm just not feeling it. It's Monday. Also, The Husband is home. He's off this week, which I'm really, really, really SO HAPPY about.

But, when he's home my routine heads south on a 747. I have to send him out on LONG errands just to get some writing in. Today's actually been pretty good because he's fascinated by that super-load generator  traveling through South Carolina right now. Something about the size... (It's so big it takes four tractor trucks to pull/push it around.) Whatever. It's a guy thing. He's been out with his brother looking at it for hours. They probably did a few other equally guy things. Hey, as long as they stayed out of nudie bars, I'm fine with it.

I'm going to turn on some music and dance around the house for a while. Maybe that'll burn enough calories to keep a pound or two at bay. If I sit still too long, weight jumps onto certain areas of my VOLUPTOUS frame and clings for dear life.

Who am I kidding? This is Thanksgiving week. No matter what, I'll gain five pounds. Maybe I'll just relax and enjoy it. Where are those Lindor truffles?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Top Ten Motivational Tidbits I Heard at Jazzercise Today

So, I drug myself into Jazzercise today. This was a challenge, as by nature I am a lethargic sort. I like to dance (once I'm there). But I was home. I had books, food, wine--no pulsating need to go out. Not to mention I had work to do. My main character woke me up at 3 a.m. pitching a huge fit about wanting to ride a jet ski. I digress.

Precariously Perky Julie was onstage. The workout came complete with lots of Russian ballet moves--or possibly curse words--and her favorite, dramatic final poses. Maybe it was my imagination, but PPJ seemed a bit tense. Her words of wisdom and inspiration from the stage were very nearly worthy of The Queen of Pain. Here's what PPJ had to allow (minus the stuff in Russian):

 10. You haven't heard this song? You're not hip, (This from the girl who included King of the Road in her set. Not that I have anything against Roger Miller, or songs written in 1965. I'm just saying.)
  9. And here we'll just let our abs hang out. Not! Suck those in.
  8. I've got my eye on you.
  7. I hate to burst your ball-bubble, but we're not sitting on those balls.
  6. No extraneous shaking. (Seriously, if we could pull that off would we need her?)
  5. The shirts for the Christmas parade come in a generous fit. (I'm buying a shirt, but I marched in my last parade in high school.)
  4. They hang long.
  3.  Do not snarl at me during this song. I like it. (It was my trying-not-to-fall-out look. I promise.)
  2.  Try not to let your legs just come careening down.
  1.  Engage the muscle--don't let it flap all over the place. (See #6)

Like a pro, PPJ maintained her perkiness all during class. But I think her sunny disposition may be waning. This, I fear, is my fault. I am a challenge to PPJ. She likes people to smile while they sweat. That is SO not in my nature. I stand right in front of her.

One of those reality shows with dancing comes on tonight. That'll cheer her up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Muse Loves Chocolate

Whenever I get stuck, I reach for one of the Big Three: Dove, Lindt, or, in a real crisis, Godiva chocolate. Before long, words are spilling out of my head onto the page. My muse loves chocolate. Pasta is good, too. And wine. My muse may be a lush, actually.

Today I'm polishing off the leftover Halloween candy because it's Wednesday. I'm not blocked at all, but this is a preventative measure. Typically, my work week starts on Monday morning. I'm SO a creature of habit, and sometimes if I have an appointment or whatever on Monday, my week gets off track.

Both Monday and Tuesday this week were filled with necessary chores and errands. Well, okay, and brunch with friends. Anyway, to make sure my muse didn't balk today, I started eating chocolate right after breakfast. Just to be safe I had pasta for lunch, and I'm thinking a glass of wine might not be a bad idea.

Of course, if I do that, I may not make it to 5:40 Jazzercise...

I have to keep my priorities straight. The Muse comes first.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Nobody Leaves Here Pretty

The voices in my head are singing Be as You Are by Kenny Chesney

What I'm reading: For Better, For Murder by Lisa Bork

First, the book. I met Lisa at Bouchercon at a Sisters in Crime lunch. She's a very warm and gracious person, so I was predisposed to like the first book in the Broken Vows series. I would have loved it anyway--she had me when the dead body flopped out of a Ferrari in the showroom on page three.

So, Precariously Perky Julie tried to kill me at Jazzercise today. I think she might have been trying to commit a suicide dance, because at one point I heard her mutter something about a having a coronary herself. She had chocolate over the weekend--Halloween and all, so we had to pay.

PPJ is a sweet spirit. She's always smiling--bubbling, actually--even as she pushes us ever closer to a synchronized cardiac incident. (She did growl at me one day last week because I wasn't sweating enough, but that's unusual.)

But PPJ has the soul of a dancer. She knows all the real ballet names for the moves we do--in some foreign ballet language. Maybe Russian. Anyway, she's serious about her dancing. She always picks the songs with the most intricate footwork for her sets. The ones where you change what you're doing every four beats.

None of that dancing on autopilot while I zone out and dream of Mega Moo Mocha Moolattes. No. I have to PAY ATTENTION. I have to listen to her cuing. This is stressful.

She is also serious about the sweating. Today, someone in the back wasn't disheveled enough to suit her towards the end of class. That caused her to drop the bubbling and growl. "Hey," she yelled, "nobody leaves here pretty." That's never a problem with me.

I do vex PPJ, though, I think. She seems to hold the opinion that I am sandbagging. She keeps trying to sell me a Polar watch to make sure my heart rate is high enough. There's an alarm on those things for when your heart rate gets too high. I tried to tell her that fool alarm would be going off all during class, on account of I'm always in the blue on the perceived exertion chart--that's the border color across the top, just above the maximum exertion before passing out.

Do you know what she said? "Oh, we'll just turn that off. That's what I did with mine." It's nice to know she cares.

The rumor is the Queen of Pain will soon be back from her Alien Birthing Ritual--actually, it's not a rumor, she told me that herself. It was either a warning or a threat, I'm not sure which.

Meanwhile, I continue to test Precariously Perky Julie's sunny disposition in my quest to become less VOLUPTUOUS while not needing EMTs to cart me out of there on a stretcher.

Peace, out...