England Swings

“England swings like a pendulum do. Bobbies on bicycles two by two…” – Roger Miller

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let’s face it. I’m a sucker for a big city. Perhaps I should hedge my bets on that statement though, since I’ve not been to them all. But cities such as New York, Paris, and now, London are all ticked off, and I am a happy boy to have had the pleasure to see them. Actually, even more to truly experience them. Not as a native though, I’m sure my exuberance would be tempered were I to have to commute by the Tube — or Metro, or Subway — to work every day. As a tourist, I try to avoid the Tube during rush hour. It’s a do unto others sort of thing.

London. Oh my, it’s all I can do to keep from using cliché British phrases whilst writing this (Oops). But back to London. A place I’ve known existed since I was a child. Being an avid reader — thanks mom and granny — I’ve had many an adventure in England, London, and a whole slew of other places. “The game is afoot”, Holmes said to a young Marvin, and in wide-eyed amazement I followed the great sleuth, even to his mysterious end. During this week, the legendary, and mysterious, city of London became much more real to me.

Me and the Tower Bridge

The places I’ve seen in my mind, or perhaps on the silver screen, came alive. Admiral Horatio Nelson in all his one-armed and one-eyed glory stood tall and proud in Trafalgar Square. Having read some of the Aubrey-Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian, anything sea related from that period had such a romantic stir. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen Master and Commander with Russell Crowe. Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde was another relic, though a replica, of another famous ship sailing out of my imagination. As a fellow who has himself been deemed worthy of the Order of Magellan, these figures loom large to me. Sadly you’ll have noticed that I digress much too often. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

On pomp and circumstance. The changing of the guard. When I was serving in the Navy, at first I actually liked all the marching and standing tall and such. But, when you get down to doing the job — a job sometimes entailing being up for thirty-six hours — and then having to pomp and circumstance, I grew weary of it. Looking back now I respect those things. There’s a stirring of the soul with much of this ceremony. And I felt it when I saw a couple of changing of the guard ceremonies. Wonderful. As a quick aside, much of this I saw whilst taking a walking tour arranged through AirBnB. Caroline’s Walking Tour of Central London. Alex was our guide, and what a guide he was. A Shakespearean actor, Alex spoke with directness and projected such an air of confidence and authenticity. It was lovely. During the changing of the horse guards, Alex told us the story of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, and subsequently Charles II and the forming of this changing of the guard ceremony. The pomp and circumstance was alive and well, and wonderful. And the experience of London continues.

One of the Life Guard

As a quick aside, when I first met Alex, and the rest of the group, at Covent Garden, he started introducing us to a bit of English history. He showed us a picture of a rotund regal fellow, and asked, “do you know who this is?” I immediately sang a refrain from “Henry the VIII” by Herman’s Hermits. Everyone just looked at me, Alex saint, “uhhh, yes.”. Sigh. I’m old.

A “foolish consistency” may be a hobgoblin, but a routine is, to me, a calming ritual. I can’t speak for everyone — though I sometimes try to — but I seem to naturally seek and settle into routines. Especially morning routines. Keeps me from having to think too much… perhaps this is the hobgoblin of simple minds Emerson was speaking of, but it sure helps me ease into the day. My London trip routine was based on morning visits to Pret-A-Manger. A chain, yes. But the food offerings had a decidedly British bent. And in a recently watched Jame Acaster special on Netflix, which included a Pret-A-Manger theme, I felt no qualms heading here for my morning repast. And here serendipity struck again. The crew each morning were wonderful, helpful for the silly American (who just couldn’t quickly count the coins) they were patient, friendly, and so very helpful. On my last full day in London, after I mentioned I was flying back the next day, two of the baristas gave me my routine coffee free of charge. (Even after explaining on the offer of the second free coffee that I’d already had a free one, I got, “well, not from me.”) It’s simple acts like this that restore my respect for humanity.

My new “Pretty-A-Manger” friends.

And speaking of humanity, even in the mass of humanity that is central London, sometimes individuals stand out. Take Yeu-ing for example. On my first full day in London, as I headed out for a recon mission in fixing my new surroundings into my hippocampus, I met a lovely woman walking her dog. Wolfgang. Well, Wolfgang is the dog, Yeu-ing is the woman. And a friendly woman she was. She talked with me, and walked with me. Showing me the way to Waterloo station, and all the cool things thereabouts. The Hole in the Wall pub (which I tried to go back to once, but it was packed), among so much more.

Yeu-ing & Wolfgang

When I mentioned to Yeu-ing that I wanted to try so much of the delicious British foods, like the must-have fish & chips, she recommended the Fishcoteque, a great and traditional fish place. Which I visited for lunch that day. And delicious it was.

Tasty fish & chips

Having a guide, especially an impromptu freelance one, was wonderful. Walking with Yeu-ing I learned much about London proper. That is to say modern London with all its glorious and grimy bits. Along the way we sam a great many cool things. Take the Leake Street Arches for instance. Graffiti is illegal in London, Yeu-ing saying that it is taken quite seriously. But there is one place (at least) where graffiti is allowed. And this opportunity is certainly taken advantage of by the local creatives.

Entryway to cool art
Expression of creativity
Absolutely stunning

I met with Yeu-ing one more time, at the Kings Arms pub, where she gave me a book of poetry and works, and we chatted about England. An enlightening discussion where I learned so much of the ups and downs of London life.

At the King’s Arms

To recap, my London trip was totally satisfying. The Anglophile in me was more than content. And, as with every cool place I visit, my mind immediately went to, “now how can I manage to move here?!” Sigh. I always do this. After the discussion with Yeu-ing (remember the ups and downs) I harkened back to a quote from the mini-series Lonesome Dove. When Diane Lane’s character is waxing poetic about how great life is going to be when she gets to San Francisco, Robert Duval’s character responds, “Lorie darlin’, life in San Francisco, you see, is still just life. If you want any one thing too badly, it’s likely to turn out to be a disappointment.” There are too many things I want to see and experience in life. The wanderlust in me is strong, but oddly when wandering, the desire to set down roots, no matter how temporary, emerges. Who knows. Maybe one day those roots will actually take hold. But no matter, I will try to focus on the remainder of Robert Duval’s character’s quote, “The only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things, like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a feisty gentleman like myself”.

Peace and love. (And a little wanderlust as well)


Tin Soldiers

“Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours.”

Marcus Aurelius

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.”

Robert Herrick

“Poetry begins with a lump in the throat.” Yet life, the reality, typically ends this way. And always alone.

Robert Frost (with an addition by me)

This week was a long week, and I had gotten up pretty early Friday morning. As with most days, I had all sorts of ideas of what I’d do in the moments between end of work and lights out. Yet by around eight-thirty or so the siren call of sleep overtook me and I went to bed. Sleep came quickly, but then so did the racket. A little after ten, I awoke to a loud crash. I think residual parental instincts kicked in, and clad only in my boxers, I hurried into the main room of the house, which was decidedly dark, to find a person lying on the floor. Sleep continued to befuddle me, and at first I thought it was my son. But as I approached the person, I realized it… he… was too much too large to be my son. I said, loudly, “who are you!” Simultaneously, my son came rushing in the front door and shouted, “who the f**k are you!” Now really confused, but clearer thoughts starting coalesce all instincts fled. Finally. I realized I had an intruder!

My son and I are continuing to ask who this person is, a mumbled response of something sounding like “I’m Thomas”. Finally I started to come alive and turned on an overhead light to find an elderly man, apparently stone cold drunk, lying on my floor.And looking around I realized what the crash was. I have two glass shelves on each side of a low entertainment center on which I have some memorabilia. One shelf was leaning precariously on the furniture piece, resting against my wall-mounted TV. The knick knacks scattered to hell and gone. A cantaloupe sized piece of antler coral was now about orange sized with the rather prickly shards scattered about.

My elderly ‘guest’ was slowly rolling around on the floor, but not making much noise. My son had had the wherewithal to call 911, and I heard the conversation. Confusing. I’ve always heard, via documentaries and such, that emergency call centers keep the caller on the line purposely. I think this is a way to keep some control over the situation. And probably try to assess the actual details of the situation. One-sided snippets of the conversation seemed to be leading nowhere, “no we don’t know him. No, he doesn’t live here. No, we don’t know who he is.” My eyes were on the fellow on the floor, but my ears perked up when my son said, “yes, he’s wearing a red polo shirt, how did you know that?” What the hell is going on I thought!

Finally a police officer showed up. A very professional fellow. Our ‘guest’ still hadn’t revealed much. The policeman started asking questions. Good questions. “Good evening sir. Do you know where you are? What is your name? Where do you live? What year is it? Do you know who the president is?” All I had been able to come up with was a repeated, “who are you.” Yet the man, without hesitation, reeled off the answers. Including his address. Not really a spoiler, but his home and current location sure didn’t match.

The police officer was handling things pretty well. Lots of communication, conversations with dispatch, question the person on the floor. All done expertly. At one point the policeman requested a “forty-seven”, which I came to understand was an ambulance, or paramedic request. Then he turned to us. Now I was hearing a bit more. With each revelation from my son, I recalled hearing it during his 911 call. My son had arrived home about ten minutes before the crash that woke me, but hadn’t come inside yet. Because he was outside trying to put together a puzzling collection of evidence. Firstly there was a Prius out front (across the street) brights on, windows rolled down but air conditioner running full blast, and the car was beeping to hell and gone. Then really puzzling items. One of the lights lining my short driveway was broken and in the yard. And there were some artifacts on our front step. A hat, and one shoe. “I heard a crash, and thought oh no, someone is in the house!” My son told the police officer. “I then added, and it was the crash that woke me and I came into the living room.” Putting the pieces together didn’t really begin to solve anything. A puzzling mess. But most puzzles finally reach a solution.

Come to find out the police had already gotten a 911 call from a person about ten minutes before my son came home. Someone had found this man lying in our front yard. The man told the person that he lived here. So the person, no fault to her own, helped him inside. Now here is where you, or any other sane person would stop me and say… “umm. Marv. Didn’t you lock the door?” To which I would sheepishly reply. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, yes. But apparently thinking my son would be home soon, and just being dog tired I neglected to lock the door.” So. Yeah.

There is a fire station less than a mile from my house, so the paramedics showed up rather quickly. The questions started again. Including the “have you been drinking” question. The man constantly replied that he did not drink. He reeled off his address, his name, his birthdate. But when asked recent things, like “how the hell did you get here!” (emphasis mine) he stammered and couldn’t reply. The man did state that he was eighty-five years old. And now I know exactly what you’re thinking. I was beginning to think this too. Stroke.

At this point, EMS arrived and started attending to him. This was officially the most people who’ve ever been in my house. The policeman kept asking him questions. Turns out, and now is where the story turns sad, he was eighty-five, and when asked if he lived with anyone he replied that his wife of sixty-one years had died just three weeks ago. His daughter had just gone back to her home out-of-state to return to school. This poor man was now, for the first time, alone.

A gurney was brought in, and one of the paramedics slowly, and letting the man know before each step, sat him up. One of the EMTs then said, “my god this man is burning up!” Hard to imagine but they all got even more serious at this point. They gently put him on the gurney, graciously putting his one shoe and hat underneath. With a farewell, “well you’ve had an exciting Friday night,” the paramedics and EMS took the man out.

A few minutes later, the policemen and another who had joined him, came back in to complete the story. First though, they said that the lead EMT reported that the man had a temperature of a hundred and three! For an adult, this is, as most know, life threatening.

Finally time for the damage report. My knick knacks on the toppled shelf were mostly sea shells, fossils and minerals. (“Jesus, Marie, they’re minerals!”) The antler coral, as I mentioned earlier was badly damaged, but the disheartening damage was to my beloved TV. I’m a movie junkie. I have a wonderful sixty-five inch LG TV. When the shelf fell over, it cracked the TV screen. Ruined.

But by this point I was more concerned by the gentleman who had been on my floor. See, I noticed something when he was there. A big fat gold ring on one of his fingers. I recognized that ring from a distance. A military academy ring. That stuck in my head.

After everyone was gone, as you can imagine, I couldn’t sleep.So I searched for our interloper on the internet, he had been kind enough to give us all three of his names. The first thing I found was the obituary of his late wife. She had died in late July. Her survivors included her husband. A retired Captain of the USN.

It is not inconceivable that I could have met this man when I was a young whippersnapper in the Navy. Unlikely, but the time frames could have matched. But no matter. He had been vibrant. He, and his late wife, were most like a force to have been reckoned with. And yet he wound up writhing on my living room floor.

Yeah, I’m sad for the loss of my really cool TV. But it was this fellow lying on the floor. Everyone thinking of him as a damn drunk at first. I think the proper word is perspective. It’s about life. And as someone who has intentionally tried to take the “local” train through life, avoiding the express, I am startled to see the culmination we all have in our futures. This man had a high-grade fever. This affects the brain. The brain is the kernel of who and what we are. Our perceptions of, and realization of… well, reality are seated in this lump of gray matter. I believe, in the end, it’s inside this windowless room which is our skull where we exit. And we do so alone.

We human beings are an enigma. We can stand strong for a season and then we wither.

Peace and Love

New York, New York…

“We got rats on the west side, bed bugs uptown.” “Go ahead, bite the big apple, don’t mind the maggots,” and yet Jagger sums it up: “Pile it up, pile it up/pile it high on the platter.”

Shattered, Mick Jagger

“I love New York. You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.”

Rick Riordan

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”

Tom Wolfe

“What’s the use of a great city having temptations if fellows don’t yield to them?”

P.G. Wodehouse, Carry on, Jeeves

What’s that? You’ve never had a dirty dog? What sort of plebe are you? I suppose we all remember our first. I certainly do. And it was terrific. Sorry, sort of turned down a blind alleyway off memory lane. But New York was one of those fantastic places I had heard of; a place that existed in books. How could such a place exist. Surely it must be down the same ethereal street as Shangri-La, El Dorado, or gasp Camelot. These places have loomed large in my mind since childhood. Peter Maas’ Frank Serpico described living in Brooklyn in such glorious detail, I could taste the fresh mozzarella. It was a place of magic as well. I mean why else would a sea of humanity cram itself out in the freezing cold just to count down to an arbitrary division of time?

These fantasy cities are similar, as memories, they are often disjointed, discreet, pieces of wildly vivid, and familiar, sights, sounds, and importance. Lady Liberty facing the sea, welcoming all. What a wondrous thing to exist. “Can I sell you a bridge?” Ahh, the Brooklyn Bridge. Say no more. (Yet I will.) The first time you went to the top of the Empire State Building has to be a place fixed in multitudes of memories. Or, and this is one of my favorites, watching the face of a Times Square virgin as they come up out of the subway and see the extravagant splendor of a veritable day at night. I’m afraid this post would be much to long-winded if I were to name all these landmarks, but suffice it say, just as with all the mythical places. And indeed the landmarks are fixed places in space and time. Or so it seems. A somber visit to the World Trade Center memorial helps to bring reality home. Unlike true fantasy cities, this city is real. And what makes it real is the tendrils of reality interwoven between them. The seedy sides, the soft sides, the thriving humanity that truly makes this city.

By the glistening bicep of Thor! Yes, Thor’s bicep is indeed glorious, yet it’s nothing without the sinews and ligaments holding it in place, and allowing it to do its superheroing. And as such, how could anyone write about New York without mentioning the sinew that holds it together? The connecting ligaments which give it the strength to do its superheroing? The MTA. The Subway. Is it a blessing, or is it just something to put up with? “The ‘R’, or ‘Rarely’,” every New Yorker has a phrase to sum up his or her love/hate relationship with the subway. “What is this, a local?” Kenneth’s quip had meaning on that elevator, and this aspect of the city follows you everywhere. I have to admit, my visits to the city are infrequent enough that I tend to forget all the little lessons and shortcuts of subway travel. But then that sort of makes the refreshing of the layout even more fun. The subway may be packed, may be smelly (on occasion), and the hawkers can be quaint until they get a little too pushy. But I love it enough to wish this curse on my city. My god if there were a subway, or light-rail, in Nashville, I would definitely make a trip up there frequently. Who knows… it might even be magical.

I’d guess I should just say… it’s my kind of town.

Writing… winnowing out the packing peanuts

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
“So many large words, as though syllables will hide the truth” Sharon Mock, She Walks in Shadows
“Vigorous writing is concise.” Walter Strunk Jr.
As a software person, I try to keep aware of the technologies available to me. Whether I choose to use them or not. Part of my awareness program is reading articles and white papers. One issue I find, more often than not, is superfluous and, often, hyperbolic text jammed around the meat of what I need to consume. For instance, I am reading more and more about something called NoSQL databases. I am aware of what they are, and generally enough of how they work. But I’m trying to make clear to myself when and where one would choose this form of database. Almost every article I read has so much fluff surrounding the core thesis, it makes it difficult to find the “bullet points” I need. Things such as, “in response to the voluminous rise of chaotic data”, or “the original design of relational databases do not meet the exponentially growing needs of scaling and agility of modern applications.” I have purposefully altered the text so no one source will stand out. It is often exasperating to try to find the information inside all this hyperbolic jargon. And yet, I am guilty of the same thing.
When I write for pleasure, mostly fiction, I find quite often my eyes straying to the word count. “Cool, almost a thousand words so far in my short story!” Yet after allowing my fevered brain to cool off a bit and re-read the story, I typically find no single thread of my original plot line, and so many tangental strays it’s hard to count them. My dilemma then is, do I just command-a and delete, or spend the time trying to sort the whole mess out. The former is usually the best choice. Hemingway said, “write drunk, and edit sober.” Sadly my sober writing self makes my editor self need a drink.
Writers write. Or so my lizard brain tends to think. Therefore if I want to be a writer, then by god I need to write. Words. Lots of them. That there is writing wouldn’t ya’ say? Hmmm. Maybe not. Think of when you get that couch-sized box delivered, and after tearing into it you find a single pen you’ve ordered… buried somewhere in millions of packing peanuts. And you think, *jeez, what a total waste.* That’s the fluff. That’s the purple prose. That’s the useless crap that gets in the way of what you really need. And if I can just sit back for a minute and sip a mint julep (well Ernest, I guess I won’t be editing now) and just remember what it is I love, and have so loved, about reading, I’ll most likely notice it is the “S” word. The story. Oh yeah, I’ve heard of those. Tolkien drew me into a wonderful fantasy world filled with darkness, but then pulled back a curtain to show the spark of joy and hope that can be gleaned from even the darkest of nights. Bradbury, Clark, Heinlein, and so many others blew my mind out of the stratosphere, and showed me the marvels of the universe. And the universe’s perils. Donaldson tripped my brain on other worlds where everything I thought I knew was turned on its head. And a protagonist who often acted as the converse. “Why?!” I’d shout in my head as Halfhand did some other horrible thing. The more words the better? No, not really. Yep, it’s the stories, not the words. Well, sort of. Words are the communication medium writers use to give us the story. But the greatest writers, the ones we want to read anyway, are the ones who tune these worded stories to a razor’s edge (another great story) to slip us into his or her vision. It’s like a radio signal to our brain, and no static at all. So all you writers (including tech writers), take note. Leave out the fluff, tune us in, and we’ll tap our foot to your tune with no static. At all.
Peace, love, and light.

Café Culture – The Reminiscence


Geneva 2013 Pub

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” Thomas Jefferson

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

It’s been five years since I’ve set foot on the European continent. And I miss it more and more every second of every day. My first trip to Europe, France in 2011, was momentous, mesmerizing, and eye-opening. When I came home to the states, a friend stopped me on the street and marveled at how I’d changed. And I had. The old country of Europe had left its mark on me.

French Farmers Market

I recall marveling at the daily (or at least frequent during my visit) fresh farmers’ markets on the streets of Paris, where folks would by today’s meal. I think it’s funny how in the past decade farmer’s markets have become the “thing” here in the states. But has been a regular thing in Europe. I recall eating something in the airport when I first returned to the states, and I felt ill afterwards. Probably psychosomatic, but I felt it nonetheless. France is known for its culinary prowess, but I feel that extends beyond the “haute cuisine” restaurants, and filters into everyday people’s lives. One of the reasons for my visit to France was to visit my son, who was studying at the Université d’Orléans as part of his French degree. Whilst there he stayed with a host family, and I was privileged enough to be able to stay with them. Meeting his host family was one of the greatest events in my life. I have since remained friends with them, and look forward to visiting them again someday. But during my initial visit, one thing which struck me was the common trend of fresh foods and the “event” of the meal. Several times, we had dinner events which included the quintessential multiple courses, with drink appropriate for each course, including German beer for the sausage and kraut course. This has stayed with me ever since. And though I don’t practice this, it remains such a prominent memory.

I’m a weird cat, in more ways than one, but for each of my visits to France, I’ve focused more on the beers than the wines. Yeah, I know… a missed opportunity. Well, I look at it as a reason to return. But the beers. My beer of choice these days is Stella, and this could possibly stem from my France visits. Beer and coffee, two of my favorite drinks to enjoy as I enjoyed all the France had to offer. You may have thought I’d gotten off topic, and you’re actually right… I did digress a bit with French foods, but here we are. Sipping a nice drink outside a typical French brasserie as I watched life go by was wonderful. And knowing I had the options of delicious French foods waiting was the reason for my digression. And I will not apologize! As I’m typing this missive, I’ve had a gentle epiphany. I’m really a simple fella. I do like haute cuisine, but the basics are more than enough for me. Give me a beer and something like the common French café and brasserie treat of  “steak frites” and I’m happy.

Steak frites Paris

What is it I like about the café culture? Mostly what is missing here in the states. Though there are instances of sidewalk cafés here, they are the exception more than the rule. One exception is a cigar bar here in Murfreesboro, unbelievably they are allowed to have beer and cigars right there on the sidewalk! And I can sit there and watch the small world of Murfreesboro go by. Quite enjoyable. These exceptions here though, are the rule in France/Europe (the parts of Europe I’ve visited). And one of the main reasons I go there.

1664 in Paris

À votre santé!

Paix et aime mes amis !!

The Sun Also Rises

“You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch.”
It’s sort of what we have instead of God.”
“Some people have God,” I said. “Quite a lot.”
“He never worked very well with me.”
“Should we have another martini?” – Lady Ashley and Jake Barnes.

A novel by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s “roman à clef” of his post-war years in Paris. Where he mixed with his fellow members of the Lost Generation. I feel Hemingway was juxtaposing the romanticized lifestyle of himself and his fellow expatriates. A wafting energy against the immutable landscape of Europe. A Europe which seemed to be the very picture of the unchanging earth. The fiesta in Spain with its annual celebrants, risking, and sometimes realizing, death for sport in the running of the bulls. Immersed in everlasting tradition, this little group of lost souls, lost to the scene around them and lost to each other, with Jake Barnes being one who can see a bit of both.

The original working title for the story was Fiesta, but after consideration, Hemingway changed the title to The Sun Also Rises, based on a quotation from Ecclesiastes: “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”

For my part, there was a feeling of melancholy while reading this book. Many of the characters seemed to act out, but I felt they were doing so because they were indeed trying to find a path. Lost, but for a myriad of reasons. And when they came together there was almost this continual scraping of the veneer of social graces… revealing the true nature beneath.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book. Hemingway has a way of showing us real people; without all the trappings of normalcy, but rather who these people really are.


“Police work wouldn’t be possible without coffee,” Wallander said.
“No work would be possible without coffee.”
They pondered the importance of coffee in silence.”
– Henning Mankell, One Step Behind

“People always leave traces. No person is without a shadow.”
– Henning Mankell, The Troubled Man

“‎Not having time for a person, not being able to sit in silence together with somebody, that’s the same as rejecting them, as being scornful about them.”
– Henning Mankell, The White Lioness

“The stories I create are never as awful as reality.”
– Henning Mankell

I have been watching the Wallander series for several years now. I recall, whilst on a British crime drama bent, finding this series, and becoming so enraptured with Kenneth Branagh’s performance as a middle-aged (+) Swedish detective, with whom I could do easily relate. After the first couple of shows, I looked up the  writer, and started reading, voraciously I might add, all of his work. Well, the Wallander work. I was not disappointed by either the novels, nor the BBC’s depictions of the the novels.

One funny thing about the BBC production I noticed is that instead of trying to adapt the production to Sweden, or the setting of the stories to Britain, the production simply compromised: Set in Sweden, but totally in a British language and accent. Yet the signs, newspapers, and documents are in Swedish. I kind of like that.

When I first started the series, it was after I had watched Marvel’s Thor movies, and Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki in the Thor movies, is in the first few series of this show. As a fan of Loki/Hiddleston, that did help to draw me in. Another thing is that since this is a BBC production, there are several British actors whom I see in this. Such as Nicholas Hoult, and more. Much fun to see them in this series.

But to the point, Wallander is a character I can relate to. He is at a point in his life where he has achieved some modicum of success. But he is keenly aware of his faults. His failures. He’s aging, and feeling it, yet he still has the intuition which has guided him in his life. He’s no spring chicken, but he’s certainly not out of the game. An interesting thing with the show is Wallander’s ring tone on his “flip phone”.  In the internet age, it’s a definite throwback. A man struggling to embrace the future, but hanging on the past. In one episode his daughter creates an online dating profile for him, but it seems the best he can do is check the email that comes in. Wallander is a force of nature, yet an anachronism. But, in true dramatic fashion, Wallander finds the way. Wallander solves the  crime. Often haltingly, and definitely not in an elegant fashion, but he does solve the crime. And that… I like.

Series one through three are amazing. I’ve just started series four, and the one episode I’ve seen was good, but I believe there is something missing. I’ll report back my later findings.

Peace and love.


The Mind’s Eye

The Mind’s Eye

Kathy turned the eye of the stove on, its blood red coil searing the events of the evening into her mind, dulling her disturbed emotions. Hands shaking, she poured the peeled tomatoes into a saucepan, and added the dried noodles. These are Teddy’s favorites, Kathy thought glancing into the living room as she walked to the rubbish bin, Kathy could just see the edge of Ted’s slippers resting on the floor in front of the couch. God, he would watch that idiot box all day and night if he could, Kathy thought.

Outside, a storm that earlier had moved in with a shrug was now growing restless. Flickers of lightning cast shadows through the kitchen window. A brilliant flash startled Kathy.

“Teddy darling, you really should turn that TV off. The lightning is going to burn it out.”

 Oh Teddy, I’m always taking care of you, and Lord knows you need it. Kathy’s mind wandered down familiar paths. You and your fanciful dreams Teddy, you have no idea how many times I’ve saved you from hurt. Kathy remembered so many times when Ted would bound up the stairs with some new – foolish in her mind – idea. The camper for instance, seriously Teddy, don’t you think things through?

“Kathy! What if we bought a camper! We could take some of our friends and tour the campgrounds in the state. I’ve got some brochures here; let’s take a look at them!” Ted said. The excitement lighting his typically dull eyes.

“Well Teddy that is quite an idea. How much do campers cost?”

“Well, we have a few options. I could rig up a hitch on our station wagon and get a little camper to pull behind it. I asked a fellow at the auto parts store, and he said our wagon could handle a nice little airstream.”

“Do you really feel comfortable putting all these people in danger with your ‘rigging’ of a hitch?” Kathy warned icily. “And this sounds awfully expensive, remember we have to prepare for our retirement, you know how these politicians are, they are already spending our social security money.”

“Oh I know that Kathy,” Ted countered. “And I know we have to take care of ourselves, no one else will! But I feel like I need to live a little now, not just put it all off until I retire. I sometimes wonder if I’ll make it that long.”

“Oh don’t be silly Teddy, I take good care of you, and if you will listen to me, you will stay healthy as a horse.”

“I’ve seen some sick old nags.” Ted said as he grumbled back to the stairs. “And don’t call me Teddy.”

“What was that Teddy?” Kathy said without even a glance in Ted’s direction.

“Nothing dear.”

Kathy’s attention was drawn back to the present. Like little pulsing hearts, the veined-tomatoes began to writhe in the heat. With this movement, Kathy gave the concoction another stir, placed the lid on the pot and began the simmer. At the same time as the lid clinked onto the pan, a single dark red drop formed on the fabric of the couch behind Ted’s head. The drop coalesced and dropped to the floor deepening the stain on the carpet.

Kathy busied herself around the kitchen. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, was Kathy’s motto. Kathy had a never-ending supply of mottos to apply to those around her… and occasionally even to herself. Just take the time Teddy got it into his head that he should get a job with the National Park Service. Oh there had been quite a row with that one! Teddy had really gotten himself worked up until he finally the merits of staying with the company he had been with for fifteen years already. 

“You’re building equity in yourself.” Kathy had asserted.

“Actually I’m building equity in a company and group of executives who don’t care about anything other than their bottom line!” Ted said bordering on insolence. “They certainly don’t care about my bottom line.”

That was so like my Teddy, really just a boy at heart, and he does so need a mum, my little Teddy boy.

Ted continued, “My equity is in myself, and my abilities, and in my heart. Kathy honey, nothing makes my heart beat stronger than to be out in the boundless beauty of nature!”

“Oh Teddy darling, I know you think that’s what you want, and I’m sure you’ve convinced yourself of that. You are very convincing you know, and I love it when you stand up for what you think you believe in. But, you know how valuable you are to your company. You know how much they need you. You do have an obligation to them and honestly to me to be a faithful employee, and a faithful provider. “

Ted winced when Kathy uttered the word ‘but’, then turned and walked away calling over his shoulder, “Don’t call me Teddy.” Kathy just smiled; this was how she knew that he was seeing reason.

The storm outside blew tiny raindrops against the window causing a subtle ‘swish’ like a broom brushing against the pane. Kathy glanced into the living room, her eyes slowly moving to the television, its warm glow framing the scene. Ted sitting on the couch, his head lolled to the side, the shadowy trail of blood from the hole in his temple gleamed in the ethereal light. A car commercial ended, and the local news came on with a recap of an earlier silly story about another company filing bankruptcy. Oh big news, Kathy thought. She had told Ted that this would pass. Kathy had even considered calling down there to the news station and giving them a piece of her mind. “This is just fear-mongering,” Kathy would tell them flatly! Kathy’s reverie was interrupted by the dancing ‘tink’ of the lid on the pan. The smell of the torrent of tomatoes writhing among the pasta made Kathy feel grounded. A quick stir with a wooden spoon, and then Kathy’s favorite part: Popping the fleshy veined hearts, halving them so the pasta could soak up all that good juice. Oh Teddy will just love this.

Lonnie Stokes

“You ripped my scab you shithead.”

Lonnie held his arm up to my face, “I ought to make you eat it Harmon.”

“You did it L-Lonnie.” I said. “You di- did it trying to take my lunch box.” My voice hitching as I barely held back the tears.

“Only a queer would have a Scooby-Do lunch box Harmon. And you’re a damned queer if I ever saw one.”

It was an understatement that Lonnie Stokes was the bane of my existence on my bus rides home. I watched as Lonnie picked at the scab — one of three perfect little circles on his left arm. His hair stuck out every which way; especially the hair around his ears, swooping up to the skies, making his John Deere hat look like a bird about to take flight. His t-shirt had a rip under the right sleeve, and I could see a purplish bruise with yellow edges.

“What are you lookin’ at Harmon? You got some kind of problem?”

“I ain’t looking at nothin’ Lonnie.” I said as I looked away quickly. I remember what he did to Randy Stanley, and it made that bruise look pleasant.

“Nothin’?” Lonnie twisted in his seat facing me directly, his farm-hardened body indenting the torn t-shirt. “You callin’ me nothin’?  I’m gonna give you what you’ve been asking for you queer son of a bitch. “

They say that in times of great stress time slows down. Now that I’m a neuroscientist I know that isn’t actually true, but I remember clearly seeing the minute details of that incoming fist; little white scars from hay bailers on a weathered canvas. The calluses on the knuckles were the last I remember though.

Lonnie got kicked off the bus for a week after that little incident. He didn’t come to school during that week. I heard his folks didn’t have a car, just their farm truck, and even there in East Tennessee it wasn’t street legal. The next time I saw Lonnie we were getting on the bus for the ride home, and I was a scared boy. He stared at me with a hatred I could feel. Palpable. I didn’t look long at him, but I did notice that his bruise now had a little brother, the purple hugging his eye and reaching across for his ear. For the rest of the year I made sure to get in the front of the line and take a seat at the front of the bus.

Those bus rides were a microcosm of the human experience, distilled down to its most visceral elements. I remember some good times talking and sharing football cards with the one or two friends who rode my route. But mostly I remember Lonnie. He dropped out his junior year, and I never heard from him again. Though he still foments fear in me, I think of him often, and I recognize now those little cigarette-sized circular scars as crop circles of perpetuated violence, and think about how sometimes our society does indeed eat its young.

Michael Park’s Summer Vacation

Michael jumped at the knock on the door; almost knocking the paint can off the stepladder.

“Coming.” Michael said as he wiped a little paint residue off his hands.

“Are you Mister Michael Parks?” The policeman said.

“Yes, I’m Michael Parks, my dad was the mister part though.” Michael said. smiling as he opened the door.

“Mister Parks, were you at Elm Springs Elementary School yesterday?”

“Yes I was, I was there with a couple of other teachers. We were finishing up the class records and archiving them to the county’s servers.”

“Mister Parks, I’m going to need you to come down to the station with me. We have a few questions for you.”

“Do we have to do this now? I’ve just started painting the kitchen and my wife will kill me if I don’t get it done today. My wife. Don’t make her angry, you wouldn’t like here when she’s angry.” Michael said trying hard to keep his hands from shaking.

“I’m afraid this can’t wait sir.” The policeman said.

Michael saw the serious look on the policeman’s face and decided to forego his next joke.

“I’ll be right with you, let me change shirts and wash my hands.”

Michael fumbled with the buttons on his shirt, anticipating what was in store. It was just a joke, just a bit of fun, and no one got hurt. Michael thought.

Michael had never ridden in the back of a police car before. He stared at the smooth plastic cover where a door handle would normally be. I guess it’s pretty obvious that they’d not want you to roll the windows down. Michael thought. Walking into the police station Michael saw the reason for his delightful ride; what comic books would call his arch nemesis: Dolores Wagner. Michael had taken no more than three steps into the station when Dolores stood and stabbed her finger in his direction.

“That’s him! He’s the one that vandalized the school. He’s the one who defaced and destroyed government property. He’s a terrorist and should be locked up.” Little flecks of foam stood in the corners of Dolores’ mouth as she spat each word at Michael.

“Oh come on Dolores. A few styrofoam peanuts in one of the teacher’s file cabinets, and some hand lotion on door knobs doth not terrorism make.”

“Again with the wise cracks. Hmmm Mister Parks?” Dolores face assumed it’s smug shape. Where Michael was concerned Dolores typically had only two looks: twisted with rage, or smug when those she pressured into action would come down on Michael.

“I suppose you have forgotten about car theft haven’t you Mister Parks?” The vein on the side of her neck throbbed in rhythm with her speech.”

“Oh Jesus Dolores, I just shuffled peoples cars around in the parking lot. It’s just a bit of fun to kick off the summer. I mean, you remember what it’s like to have fun don’t you Dolores? You just put your lips together and… well, you know the rest.” Michael said, not able to keep from bouncing his eyebrows a bit at the last part.

“You see officers. He can’t even take his crimes seriously.”

“Mister Parks, I would advise you to hold up until we have time to discuss the situation with you.” Sergeant Overton said, lightly placing his hand on Michael’s shoulder. A subtle glance in Dolores’ direction, and Overton’s face dropped with resignation. “I believe Ms. Wagner, as the director of Water County Schools is going to press charges. And Mister Parks, with this happening on government property this could be quite serious.” This does actually fall within the law.

“Are you serious?” Michael said, the surprise lifting his eyebrows as much as Overton’s had dropped.

“Serious Mister Parks. Deadly serious.” Dolores said coldly.

“Serious sir. Sadly.” Overton sighed.

And so began a most interesting summer vacation for Michael Parks, the former math and science teacher at Elm Springs Elementary School.