Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ain't No Hobby

Summertime often gives us the chance to get together with friends and family for picnics, graduation parties or celebrations in one form or another. If you’re hosting it, there’s a lot of work involved, getting the place ready, cooking the food and the inevitable cleanup afterwards. Been there, done that, more times than I care to remember. But along with everything else, there are usually some interesting conversations that take place. Like this one.

Someone approached me and asked, “So, how’s your hobby doing?”

“What hobby?” I asked.

“You know, the writing hobby.”

My first reaction was snap back with a witty retort that one of my characters would be proud of.  I can think of many things that could be considered hobbies. Collecting ceramic kittens or spoons from each state would qualify. Gardening can be a hobby. Having a woodworking shop where you can make things and sell at an art bazaar would be another. But writing? Seriously, I wanted to grab a nearby copy of Webster’s Dictionary and slap them with it. But I didn’t. I bit my lip, took a healthy sip of wine and gave them my answer.

“My writing is not a hobby. Writing is a passion. To be able to create characters, put them in challenging situations and tell a story that will entertain, enlighten or maybe even educate the reader takes a lot of hard work. When you can draw a reader in so they experience the chill of winter when your story is taking place, and they’re basking in the heat of a Georgia summer, that’s a sign of talent. It’s usually done alone. Writers can slave over one scene for hours, tweaking it here or there to get it just right. It takes patience, perseverance and creativity. For me, it’s not a hobby. It’s part of life.”

This same topic came up with my writer’s group this week. When I asked for their reactions, almost everyone at the table felt the same way. It’s a passion.  So no matter what the genre, most writers recognize it’s for what it is. Or as one of the group said ' It ain't no hobby!"
To illustrate my point, here’s a scene from the sequel for “Why 319?” that I’m working on.  The story is once again told from Sergeant Jefferson Chene’s point of view.  Enjoy.

It was six o’clock Thursday evening. Cantrell had been updated. He’d kicked us loose. We all needed to step away from the case for a few hours. I dug out my phone and made the call.
“Hello, stranger.”
“Hi. I know this is short notice, but are you free for dinner?”
Simone laughed lightly. “That’s not short notice. That’s no notice.”
“It happens. So is that yes or no?”
“When and where?”
“Now. I’m on the west side but can be in Royal Oak is fifteen minutes.”
“Fifteen minutes!”
“I’m stopping at Little Tree. It’s been a while since I’ve had sushi.”
She made a derogatory noise. “I’ll meet you there.” She clicked off without another word.

I didn’t know if she was angry or not. But it wasn’t long before I’d find out. I swung off the I-696 freeway at Woodward Avenue and worked my way over to Main Street.  I lucked into a parking spot in the lot behind the restaurant. The place was three quarters full as I was guided to a small table near the windows. I sat with my back to the wall and was glancing at the menu when Simone came in. Getting to my feet, I tried to get a read on her. She pushed her sunglasses up into her hair and gave her head a gentle shake as she got close. Simone leaned in and gave me a brief kiss. She felt tense.

“You okay?”
“Fine.” She rolled her eyes.
I said nothing. She struggled to maintain a stern expression.

“You really don’t get it, do you?” Simone propped her left elbow on the table and cupped her chin in the palm of her hand. The waitress appeared. I ordered a glass of wine for each of us.
“What don’t I get?” I asked when we were alone.

“You call a woman about dinner, but you give her no time to get ready. You invite her to the same restaurant that was where you had your first date. And you don’t even think it’s a big deal.”
“You don’t need time to get ready. You’re beautiful.”
She waved away the compliment with her free hand. “Is that so?”

“Yes, it is so. And if you needed more time to get ready, you could have told me. It’s just that this place was close by for both of us and I’m hungry. It’s been a long time since breakfast.”
“Really. So it was just convenient?”
I nodded. “I haven’t seen you since Sunday night. It’s tough when we’re in the middle of a complicated case. I just thought it would be nice to have dinner.”

“So you’re saying you missed me?”
This was unfamiliar territory for me. But I sensed there was only one right answer. “Yes. I miss you.”
She relaxed a bit and rolled her eyes again. “That’s nice to hear. But would it have killed you to call me earlier?”

The waitress returned with our wine. Simone took a quick glance at the menu, then closed it and looked at me. I ordered sushi dinners for both of us.
“That’s what we had last time,” she said quietly.

“I remember. And for the record, I didn’t think that was a date.”
She shook her head and gave a little laugh. “You bought me a nice dinner and a glass of wine. We sat over on the other side of the room. We talked for a while. I learned about your background, you learned about mine. That was a date.”
“Okay. It was a date.”
“Our first date. You being a detective and all, I thought you’d remember.”

I took a sip of wine. “I do remember. It was mid-March. I remember the conversation, the wine and the meal. You were wearing a yellow blouse with a gray wool skirt and a gray leather jacket. And it was my first chance to check out your legs.”
She smiled. “So observant. But you gave me more than fifteen minutes to get ready that night.”
“You could have said no tonight.”

“Chene, for such a smart guy, you can be kind of dumb when it comes to women and dating.”
“So I’ve been told. What exactly did I do wrong?”
She laughed and shook her head again.  After another sip of wine, she put her chin back in her palm and stared at me for a moment. Her eyes were sparkling now. Apparently whatever gaffe I’d made I was about to be forgiven for.

“What am I wearing? Don’t peek, Mr. Detective, just tell me what I’m wearing.”
I looked her right in the eye. “Black high heels with open toes. Navy blue slacks, tailored to fit your shape. A white linen blouse with very fine blue and red stripes. One thin gold necklace and a pair of gold earrings that dangle. Another pair of diamond stud earrings. No watch, no rings, no bracelets.”

“Impressive. So what do you think?”
“I think I’m still confused as to why you’re upset.”
I was saved from further humiliation by the arrival of dinner. Simone graciously changed the subject. 

We talked about her work and the Morrissey case. I told her about the recent interviews and the goldmine of photos and notes I’d gotten earlier this week from Jamie Richmond, Malone’s girlfriend.  We worked our way through dinner and another glass of wine and kept the conversation light. It was only as we walked out that I had a chance. Recently, when we walked together, I’d taken to sliding an arm around her waist. That’s how we were as we stopped beside her car.
“Have you figured it out yet, Jeff?”
“Not a clue.”

She stepped away from me and put her hands on her hips. “When was the last time I work slacks when we went out?”
I thought about that for a moment. “I can’t recall you ever wearing slacks before.”
“Exactly. Do you know why I’m wearing slacks?”
“Not a clue,” I said again.

She huffed out a breath in frustration. “Because I haven’t shaved my legs in a few days and wasn’t expecting to see you tonight.”
“So if I’d given you more than fifteen minutes notice…”
“…I would have shaved my legs and worn a skirt.”

Simone was struggling to keep a disgusted look on her face. It wasn’t working. I reached over and took her hands and pulled her close.
“Next time, I’ll give you more notice.”

She hugged me tightly. “You’re still kind of dumb about women, Chene.”
“I know. But there is one thing you should keep in mind.”
Simone leaned back so she could look at me. “What’s that?”
“I would pay money to shave those legs.”

She burst out laughing. Pushing me away, she got in her car and started it up. I watched her pull out of the parking space and start to drive away. Then she stopped, backed up alongside me and lowered the window. Her eyes were dancing as she took a moment to look at me.
“One question,” she said.
“What’s that?”
“How much?”


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sharing Stories

Sharing Stories

There are times when the opportunity presents itself to share a story and it’s just too good to resist. Recently I was at a barbecue with some new friends. Turns out several of us had attended Catholic schools and we were regaling the group around the table with tales from our youth. Here’s mine.

Back in the day at the elementary school most of the teachers were nuns, who wore the full habit that only showed the face and hands. Think of Whoopi Goldberg in “Sister Act” and you get the idea.  There was a day when one of the few lay teachers in the sixth grade went home ill. I was in the class, chattering away with the other kids, when Sister Columbia entered. A diminutive person barely five feet tall, she was able to instill fear into the heart of any student.  When her demand for quiet went unheeded, Columbia thundered “I …said… quiet!” while slamming her fist against the blackboard. She cracked it from top to bottom. Silence ensued.

Image result for sister act photos

A year later, as the school year ended, I learned that my parents had invited all of the nuns up to our family cottage for a picnic. When the day arrived, it was overcast with a drizzling rain. Not ideal for a picnic with a bunch of penguins, as many of us referred to the nuns. But they arrived in good spirits and wandered about. I was trying to stay out of sight when Sister Columbia caught my arm.

“Let’s go for a ride in that little speedboat,” she said.

“It’s raining, Sister.”

“Water won’t hurt you.”

I saw the determined look in her face and knew it was hopeless to argue. So I grabbed a couple of life jackets. The speedboat she referred to was a miniature hydroplane, ten feet of fiberglass shaped like a tennis shoe, with a tiny bench seat in the rear and a forty horsepower outboard engine. After getting her settled in, I took the nylon line, still attached to the cleat on the bow, and handed it to her.

“What’s this for?”

“Hold onto that so you don’t fall out.”

She flashed me a look that suggested she didn’t believe me.  I shrugged and started the engine and putted down the canal. As we hit the main channel, a forty-five foot cabin cruiser headed upriver. I nudged the throttle higher and gave pursuit.

Most powerboats give off a wake that consists of three sets of waves, rolling off the stern on each side. The bigger the boat and the faster they are going, the bigger the wake. Experienced sailors will gauge the distance between the waves and guide their own boats through it where it will create the least amount of havoc. Cocky teenagers ignore such caution. I snuck at glance at the nun. Despite the steady rain, she was smiling thinly. I spun the wheel toward the cruiser’s wake and jammed the throttle wide open.

We crested the first roller. Rather than cut the speed to ease over the second one, I kept the throttle where it was.

“You are so going to hell,” an inner voice muttered.

We shot through the middle of the second roller. Gallons of cold water rushed over the bow, dumping into our laps in the little cockpit. We burst through the wave, raced up the third roller and went airborne for a moment or two before splashing back down.  I expected any number of reactions from Sister Columbia. Her hands wrapped around my neck, the wet nylon line lashing across my arms and face or even a solid hook to the ribcage all came to mind. But none of those greeted me as I looked at her.

Her face was split with the biggest smile I’d ever seen on her. “Do it again!”  She pointed at the next set of rollers. “Do it again!”

I was taught to obey the nuns at school. Even though school was out, I did what she asked. We spent the next half hour, chasing that cabin cruiser, jumping over some waves, running through others. You could have filled a kiddie pool with the water swirling around inside the cockpit. Eventually we headed back toward the cottage, where everyone else was warm and dry, getting ready for lunch. After tying up the boat, I helped the nun back onto dry land. She was still grinning and laughing.  My mom was at the back door, slowly shaking her head is dismay. She hustled Sister Columbia into a bathroom. 

Ten minutes later her nunnery outfit was tumbling through the dryer. Sister Columbia appeared, wrapped in a long thick bathrobe with a towel wound around her hair like a turban.  She took a seat at the bar and proceeded to throw back a shot of whiskey and chase it with a sip of beer. Sister Columbia shot me a wink and a nod. She kept that smile all day.

So that’s my story on Catholic schools. What’s yours?