15 September 2014

Library Appeal

Hello, Olneyites!

Back in July, Don Mason generated 366 Likes and 127 comments with his post about the Greater Olney Library.

Since then, we've been toying with this idea: Our group – the 4,233 listed members on the Olney page, could be a positive force for Olney, by making a meaningful donation to the Olney branch library.

We are asking you to make a donation to the Olney Branch Library.

Any amount would be helpful. Our combined donations could easily add up to a generous gift.

It’s easy to donate.
Go to https://libwww.freelibrary.org/donate/giving.cfm
Go to “Direct Your Gift.”
Select “My Neighborhood Library.”
Scroll down and select the Greater Olney Branch.

All of your donation will go directly to the Greater Olney Branch Library. Your gift will be confidential, seen only by the library staff.

We realize that there are many deserving causes in the Olney/Philadelphia area. Don’s post showed us that helping the Olney Library is a good place to start.

The library was there for us, let's help it be there for others.

Maureen Kerwin Drinkard and Ken McFarlane    

23 July 2014

A confession

One of the consequences of being reflexively oppositional is gaps in my reading. One of the books I've avoided because I've been told so often I must read it is "To Kill A Mockingbird." I finally read it over the past few days. Twice. I will read it many more times. I'd even join a book club, if an intelligent group of people agreed to discuss it. Ok, I probably wouldn't join the book club, but will read it many times, think about it often, and try to write a sentence or two worthy of it. I guess "Catcher in the Rye" is next.

The hero of "To Kill a Mockingbird"

I'm toying with the idea that the hero(s) of "To Kill a Mockingbird" is not Atticus Finch, but Boo and Sheriff Heck Tate. Boo strikes down Bob Ewell and Tate, over Atticus' objections, shapes the story of the killing to protect Boo. The evil, represented by Ewell, is untouched by Atticus' nobility and social conscience. It takes the recluse, the damaged man living outside society, and Sheriff Tate (who admits to Atticus that he "is not a good man" to kill and bury Ewell. Atticus' virtues can only protect the town and his children from the first mad dog.

More on "To Kill a Mockingbird"

The heart of the story is the realization that law and rationality is powerless against "the rigid and time honored codes of our society." 

"Tom had been given due process of the law to the day of his death; he had been tried openly and convicted by twelve good men and true; my father had fought for him all the way. Then Mr. Underwood's meaning became clear: Atticus had used every tool available to a free man to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed."

02 March 2014

The cat Whisperer and Kumquats from Tangiers

So I go to the pet store, park next to the owner’s Jaguar my monthly cat food and treats bill is paying for, and I ask about Purina Kumquat and Quiona cat food. He says he’s got some in the back. A few minutes later he comes out with a 20 pound bag of Purina Cat Chow. Written in red marker is   “Kumquat and Quinoa.”
       “How many do you need?” he asks.
          I tell him I need three, but that’s not the issue right now. “Why is Kumquat and Quiona written in red on a regular Purina Cat Chow bag?”
       “What’d you mean?” he says.
        I said,”Look at it. Somebody wrote ‘Kumquat and Quiona’ on that Purina Cat Chow bag.”
       So he looked at the bag and said, “Well, sure. At the plant. It’s somebody’s job. This is a special order mix.They use regular bags and write ‘Kumquat and Quiona’ on the bag. It’s a special order. From Tangiers. Best Kumquats in the world are from Tangiers. What? You need three?”
         Now I’m intrigued. “What about the Quiona?” I ask.
       “I’ll be honest with you,” he says. “It’s only so-so. But the Kumquats make up for it. Best Kumquats in the world are from Tangiers.”
       Then I notice that the price of $29.75 is crossed out and $43.50 in written in red marker. “Whoa. Hold on there,” I said. “Why is this stuff so expensive?” 
      “Well, you know, it’s a special order. Kumquat and Quiona. Kumquat’s from Tangiers. Best in the world.”
      “I guess,” I said, “but it still seems kinda high.”
       “Well, I mean, Tangiers is way, um, way over, ahh, you know, there.” He waved two fingers in a direction I think was NorthWest. 
        “But the price printed on the bag is crossed out and the higher price is written over in red marker.”
        “Like I said, it’s a special order. That’s the Purina special order pricing system.”
        “A red marker?”
         “Or blue sometimes, yeah. I’m almost positive these bags are hand-labelled in Tangiers by Tangerines. Very rare these bags. You can sell the empty bags on eBay to Purina collectors.”
          So what could I do? The cats had allergies and this was the food they needed. While the owner went to get two more bags, I used my phone to transfer some money into my checking account from my mom’s nursing home account. Then I made a note to transfer her to a cheaper place. I'm sure they've fixed up that one that was on the news last year.

         I loaded up the food, tossed in a dozen catnip stuffed toy mice and nine batteries for the laser pointer. Mom will understand. She had three cats in a one bedroom apartment when she had me.

17 February 2014

Excepts from "Families," a novel available for free on iTunes.(First three chapters online, next five on the way.)

     Ten short excerpts from my novel, "Families," are on another blog "A ten-year-old in Olney, 1968."

08 February 2014

Winter Wonderland (Winter of 2014 version)

(To the tune of Winter Wonderland)

School is closed
Kids are twitching
In the street, cars are slipping
A miserable blight
Is upon us tonight
Bitching 'bout this frozen, snowy land

This is a real conundrum
who moved all our houses to the tundra?
This sub-zero cold
Is getting real old
Bitching 'bout this frozen, snowy land

In the city, there are ten foot snow drifts
You can't park your car when they're around
Your garage is covered
with more snow drifts
Leave you car in the street
Just shut it down

Power out
House is freezing
Frozen pipes will soon be leaking
It's warmer tonight
under Northern Lights
Bitching 'bout a frozen, snowy land.

In the yard, kids built a snowman
Looks just like our mailman, Mr. Brown
The kids said they didn't build a snowman
Come quick, we've got to save Mr. Brown

Some folks say
Snow is thrilling
They're the ones
Making a killing
Renting vacation homes
In warm weather zones
Bitching 'bout a frozen, snowy land
Bitching 'bout a frozen snowy land

25 January 2014

Baseball Cards from Heaven

Helen, Kate (Steven’s mother), and Steven (10 years old) are walking down Tabor on their way home from something or other. It’s a little after 9, late June 1968, not yet dark. 

     Helen was animatedly telling a story that had Kate laughing so hard she doubled up and had to stop walking. The story was about something that happened to Helen in High School, and Steven had lost interest. He was running a little way ahead, chasing the first fireflies of the summer, when a speeding car jerked to the curb and slammed to a stop. The smell of bubble gum crept over Steven, as three men in their late teens hopped out of the car. The men were laughing wilding, shoving and punching each other.

      “We showed that asshole, din’t we,” bellowed the tallest one.

       “He’s lucky we din’t lay him out,” roared a smaller, thick set man. “Him riding us like that all the time.”

       “That piece of shit think’s he’s God and that working on the line at Fleer’s is the best job ever,” said the third.

    “Yeah, well,” said the first guy. “He’s gonna have to work the damn line himself with us three quit.”

      Steven eased back toward Helen and Kate who stepped on either side of him and eyed the three men suspiciously. The men saw the women and stopped, the first one’s hand pulling the door of the Tabor Lounge half open. Music and loud voices spilled out of the bar. A sour beer smell mixed with the bubble gum aroma.  

    “You ladies like a drink?” asked the quietest of the three men. “The party’s on us.” 

    “Thanks anyway, boys,” said Kate. “We’re on our way home.”

      The thick set man stepped forward blocking the sidewalk. “Oh come on,” he said. “It’s early. A beer or two won’t kill you.”

     Helen stepped forward, her face clouded with anger. 

     Before she or the thick set man could speak, the other two men grabbed the man’s shoulders and shoved him into the bar.

     “He don’t mean nothing,” said the tall man, raising his palms toward Helen and stepping back to give her room. “We all just quit a really lousy job and we’re a little worked up. No harm done, right?”
Helen nodded agreement slowly, but was still angry. Kate and Steven had joined her and the three started to walk away.

    “Wait a minute,” cried the third man. They turned to see him reaching into the backseat of the car. He pulled out a large, flat rectangle of cardboard, about two by three feet. In the dim light, Steven could see that something was printed on the cardboard, but he could make out the details.

    The man walked up to Steven and held the sheets toward him. “You collect baseball cards?” he asked.

    Steven nodded. 

    “Here you go,” the man said, and he pressed the cardboard into Steven’s hands.

    Steven tilted the cardboard toward the light of the Schaefer’s and Ballantine signs that hung in the bar’s window. He was stunned. Orange and blue neon light  played over uncut sheets of Fleer’s baseball cards. He stared at the two men who were smiling back at him, not so far removed from being ten-years-old boys that they couldn’t recognize the amazement Steven was feeling.

    “Thank you,” said Steven in a hushed voice, his eyes fixed on the sheets.

     “Enjoy them, kid,” said the tall man, turning to enter the bar.  He looked at Kate and said with a shrug, “They fell into our car when we quit that dump.”

      Kate put her arm around Steven and led him away toward home. Helen stayed for a moment, considering the two men who returned her frank look. “Watch out for your friend tonight,” she said. “He’s really wound up.”

     “We always do,” said quiet man. “Somebody has to.”

Going Victorian On You

      For some years, I thought about writing a novel, which makes me the one in my little group of one in four Americans. I'd read another book and thought once again that I could do as well, but I could never get past the fact that here was several hundred pages printed by a publishing company and sold to me by Amazon, and I was in my extra bedroom staring at a blank screen with the number one in the footer. A good writing day was deciding on center or right justify for the page number. (I'm still open to suggestions on this.) I never really started my novel, but I certainly stopped many, many times.
       In the midst of a long period of not writing, a strange confluence of events brought me to the point where I've made a good start and am working fairly regularly. The first is that I spent most of several pleasant summer days on my back porch plotting the entire book in a notebook using my favorite Lamy pen. I'd never gotten all of the pieces out of my head at one time and suddenly I could see that there was a book somewhere in all that mess. I've completed six chapters (about 150 pages), and my original notes are unrecognizable in the written story, but they provided a structure to get me started, to give me something to put on all those empty pages. 
      The second and third pieces were the result of the strange thinking that happens in my brain for which I cannot claim responsibility. I can only see the result and wonder how it happened. In this instance, I was browsing through the Apps Store, wondering what new strange, silly, and obsessively mundane little gems people had put together. I came across iBook, which I wrongly assumed was an app to help organize and structure novel writing. I downloaded it. I could have read the info about it, but then I would be a different person.
      I quickly discovered that iBook gave you access to publishing your book in the iTunes Bookstore. I played with it for a while, but, not having a completed novel, didn't publish anything. Then some synapses twisted in a new series of connections, there was a whiff of burnt cinnamon, and my brain spit out, "'The Moonstone' and all Dickens' novels were serialized. He and Wilkie would have loved iBooks. Write it, publish in the bookstore, write some more, publish a new version, repeat until completed." (It turned out that the burnt cinnamon was from a left over pecan roll I was heating up and forgot about, and had nothing to do with my brain. I was relieved by the discovery.) 
       So I stopped writing the silly adventure story I'd been playing with, and started "Families." I've now posted the first five chapters in the iBookstore and the sixth is nearly ready. About a dozen people have downloaded either "The Memoirs of Finn O'Brien" and/or "Families." They are, of course, family and friends, live and online, but knowing that someone has bothered to get them is motivation to continue. I'm not complaining, really I'm not, but it would be nice I heard from any of them about the book. I have chosen to assume that they have been overwhelmed by its brilliance and rendered speechless, as opposed to being appalled and embarrassed for me. 
       So that's it. Victorian weeklies or monthlies combined with iBooks and iTunes set me on way. My novel is expanding as I write. The characters don't always do what I want or they object to what their told. There is still a plan to guide these people to a conclusion, but that ending has already changed radically, so I wouldn't bet on what I have in my notes being the last word. Now I've procrastinated enough and need to get back to correcting chapter six. The phone call between Edward and Helen needs work.

22 January 2014

A fictional trip to the Universal Bookstore in Olney

This is a rough draft of a trip to the Universal Bookstore. It will probably go into Chapter 7. The Characters are:

Agnes: owner of apartments.
Helen: her niece, in her early twenties, starting Grad school at Penn
Kate: lives in apartment below Agnes and is very close to her,
Steven: Kate's 10 year old son, starting 5th grade at Morrison Elementary in the fall.
Tony: Friend of Steven

Summer, 1968

“Anybody want to go the bookstore?” called Helen through the open door of Kate’s apartment.

“We’re busy with the slipcovers,” said Kate from the bedroom where she and Agnes had laid the fabric on the bed and were marking the pattern.

“Can I go?” asked Steven. He’d bought a few books on the Civil War at the Universal Bookstore on Fifth Street. He loved to wander through the narrow aisles and let his eyes play across the books until something caught his eye. 

“If it’s ok with your Mom,” said Helen.

“Go already,” said Kate. “He’s been wandering around looking for something to do, driving us crazy.”
Agnes called Steven into the bedroom and gave him a ten dollar bill. “Buy us a pizza for dinner,” she said, “and if there’s enough change, buy yourself a book.”

“What book are you going to get?” asked Steven, as they turned the corner past the Library and crossed Fifth. 

“I ordered two books from Germany. One is about Nineteenth century German women who came to America. The other is a history of the part of Germany my family comes from.”

Helen walked inside, but Steven stopped to scan the windows displays on either side of the door. There were neatly arranged stacks of “Airport,” “Testimony of Two Men,” and “Topaz” in one window. The other held smaller stacks of  “Couples,” “Myra Breckenridge,” “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” and “Tunc.” The brightly colored covers drew him back to the “Airport” display.

“That’s trash,” said a brusque, Germanic voice. “That window is for the trash I have to sell to keep food on my table. Come inside, Stefan, I remember you. The Civil War boy. Maybe I have something new for you.”

Steven was startled to be recognized and remembered. He blurted out, “I’m with Helen. She’s inside. I’m not doing anything.”

“It’s alright, boy, calm down. You’re fine. Let’s go inside. My coffee is getting cold.”

Steven opened the door and tripped the small brass bells that notified the owners whenever anyone entered or exited. Mr. Richter followed him into his shop.

“There he is,” said a heavy set woman with cat’s eye glasses and a pencil piercing her lopsided bun constructed from her long, thick, graying hair. “He went next door to the deli to get coffee an half hour ago, and he’s finally returned.” With this, she turned and retreated through a narrow door in the rear of the shop.

“I talk to people,” Mr. Richter said with a shrug. He took both of Helen’s hands in his. “My new friend. It is so nice to meet such an intelligent and beautiful young lady who is wise enough to read German books.”

Helen laughed, and thanked him for the speedy delivery.

“It wasn’t me,” he said, “I mailed the orders to the publisher's New York offices and the books were shipped from Germany. You should thank the Post Office.”

Steven had a difficult time following the conversation. Mr. Richter’s English was heavily accented. He and Helen also slipped into German occasionally. At one point, Steven noticed that he was standing near the nudist magazines. He quickly stepped away from the rack so that Helen wouldn’t think he was looking at them. The only other place he’d seen nudist magazines out the open was at the German butcher shop near the train station on Tabor. He wondered sometimes if Germans were all Nazi’s or nudists.

The conversation between Helen and Mr Richter had grown more intense and was now completely in German. Steven heard names and places he recognized, Nixon, Bobby Kennedy, Johnson, Viet Nam, Russia, and he began to wonder about things he’d heard about the Richters. Tony had said that they were Russian spies from East Germany. Steven had asked him why Russian spies would be in Olney.

“There’s lots of Germans in Olney to help them,” said Tony.

“Help them do what?” replied Steven.

“Be spies,” insisted Tony. “You know, like, kill important people. Like Kennedy was killed.”

“Spies didn’t kill Kennedy,” said Steven.

“My Uncle says Russian spies killed him,” said Tony, belligerently. 

“Steven, wake up. Mr. Richter is talking to you,” said Helen, rapping him on his skull with two fingers.”

Mr. Richter handed a book to Steven. It was about Sherman’s March to Sea. “Read this, and you will never think that war is glorious. It’s for adults, but you can make sense of it if Kate here helps you now and again.”

The book cost $1.75. Steven hesitated. He wasn’t sure he’d have enough left over to buy the pizza. Helen handed Mr. Richter two dollars and said, “My treat. Now let’s get the pizza, I’m hungry.”