Facing our fears: Once was enough

download-1Most people are afraid of something. For me it’s tight spaces. I’m not sure when I first fell victim to this phobia, but it might have been on a high school Friday night when a bunch of us were going to a drive-in movie. (Remember those?) I was encouraged to get into the trunk of a car before we drove through the gates – something about too many kids in a car. In any case, I freaked, and clawed the underside of the hood and yelled until they let me out.

So, I’m claustrophobic, a malady that smacked me in the head one day when I was one hundred feet below the surface of the sea staring at a hole in the ocean floor.

I’d been told about the lava tube we would encounter. I glimpsed the small opening as another diver’s fins disappeared into the darkness. I paused, sizing up the mouth of the cave. It was not much wider than my wingspan and perhaps three-feet tall.

I  turned to my sweetie pie, who was hovering by a woman who was uncomfortable diving. I pointed to the mouth of the cave and he shook his head. Then he took the woman by the hand and helped her swim above the tube.

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I’d take a shark anytime over a narrow underwater cave.

I stared at that hole and wanted nothing to do with it. It looked so small and dark, but then I saw a light flickering inside and, without thinking, I swam to the opening and ducked inside. White sand flowed along the cave floor. I saw fins in front of me and followed. Then, suddenly, the fins and the light vanished, leaving me in total darkness.

I stopped abruptly. Then panicked and considered backing out, but turning around in that narrow space in complete darkness was problematic. The back of my tank caught on the top of the tube. The contact was slight, but was enough to make me sick to my stomach. I dropped to the floor and dug my hands into the sand in an effort to calm myself. I started sucking air, which was bad. The compressed air in a scuba tank is used up quickly on a deep dive. I had to move forward soon, but was frozen.

I raised my head and stared into the darkness. I held one hand before me but could see nothing. I dug my free hand into the sand and lifted the other, pulling myself forward, gripping the sand so hard my hands hurt. Slowly, I moved forward and down. The tube descended beneath the sea floor, angling deeper as I went.

Why had I not brought a light? And why had I been dumb enough to go in without such an important piece of equipment? I continued inching forward. How long was the tunnel? Why had I not asked? The questions swirled.  I was tempted to reach to the side to see how wide the tube was, but was afraid to know the truth.

Sometime later, I caught a glimmer piercing the top of the tube, a broken spot in the ceiling that glowed with soothing blue light. I rounded a bend and was graced with an opening. Dim light flooded the the cave, illuminating walls that were startling close. I kicked hard and exited. My sweetie pie was overhead. He knew how I felt about small places, so he was concerned.

Later, after a hot shower and a strong, grown-up beverage, we talked about that deep, dark, watery hole.

Yes, I’m glad I tried to conquer my fear, still I don’t think I’ll do anything like that ever again.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

Roadkill

First, let me say that I love animals of all kinds. I am a dog and cat rescuer and even take great care when I transport house-bound spiders outside. My sobriquet – Eco Annie – was earned, in part, because I wholly believe in saving the Earth’s endangered species.

That said, I’ve occasionally had situations with wild creatures that didn’t end well. For them.

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Some seagulls are smarter than others.

Take, for example, the issue of the not-so-bright seagull, a creature I met dramatically on a lonely road along the Lake Ontario coastline. I came upon a whole flock of seagulls lounging on the tarmac. As I sped toward them, I watched the birds lift into the sky. Then I spied a single gull that remained on the blacktop. By the time he lifted languidly into the air, it was too late. He hit the windshield beak first and splatted, feathers flying.

I felt bad. Really bad.

Just down the road, a string of rocks appeared before me. Since my car was still shedding feathers, I slowed way down. To my surprise the rocks were moving, a long string of turtles, migrating from one side of the road to the other. Lovers of these sweet shelled beasts, be comforted. I waited patiently as the last turtle crossed the road, making it safely to the other side. So I was 1 and 1 on the kindness-to-wildlife scale.

Then there was the evening on another lonely road, this one in Western Australia. We were mining in the Outback – I’m an avid mineral collector – and as we left our campsite for the delicious promise of an actual bed and a warm meal, we were warned.

“The kangaroos will be out at dusk, so be careful,” our new Aussie friends explained.

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Many vehicles in Australia, cars and trucks alike, boast roo bars because of collisions with kangaroos.

The idea of a shower and a cold grown-up beverage had us ready to roll. Perhaps, it might have been advantageous had we actually considered  those massive metal contraptions that were mounted on the front of many of the vehicles we passed, quaintly referred to as “roo bars”.

“OK! You keep an eye out and yell if you see a kangaroo,” my sweetie pie said.

“Roger that!” I squinted through the windshield at the wild desert land that was quickly vanishing with the light. I surveyed the area, knowing that kangaroos love to nibble on the grasses that sprouted beside the road.

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I don’t think even Dr. Chris could have helped poor Skippy.

Suddenly, a head popped into view. “Kanga …” But before I had time to utter “roo” we’d smashed into that beast, spinning it up into the air and off into the shrubs. We skidded to a halt. I jumped out and looked for the animal. Today, after all those episodes Dr. Chris Pet Vet  – which, of course, I watched only to learn about veterinary care – I wonder if I might have been able to help an injured kangaroo. But I was unable to find the poor creature. (Now, if only I could locate Dr. Chris. But I digress.)

Ryan checked the front of the rental, examining the crushed-in hood that would, in the end, cost us a cool thousand bucks. Luckily, the car was drivable. As for Mr. Skippy, I doubt he fared as well as the vehicle.

The next day, on the road back to Perth, I was in for a bit of deja vu, for there in the middle of the road was a flock of birds. Not seagulls this time, but flamboyant mccaws, big birds with long blue and gold feathers.

“Wow! Look at that, Ryan said as we approached.

“They’re beautiful!”

As before, the flock took flight. And, as before, one stayed behind.

“Crap!” Ryan applied the brake, but the bird disintegrated in an explosion of pretty feathers, bits I later picked out of the grill.

I stared at my sweetie pie. He looked despondent. In less than twenty-four hours, he’d taken out a kangaroo and a mccaw. I patted his arm. “It’s OK. You didn’t mean to do it.”

He started the car and cautiously eased onto the road, carefully surveying the view in front of us.

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The thought of hitting a cuddly koala had Ryan driving slower than usual.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“A koala bear.”

“Geez! You don’t want to hit one of them!” Visions of koala meat sticking to the car made me shiver.

It took us a little longer to get back to our hotel than it should have, but, luckily, there were no koala parts to remove from the grill.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

“The goddamned family vacation”

I grew up in northern New Jersey, a suburb of New York City, graced with the big-city extras that location entails. I thought all kids got to see Broadway plays, peruse exhibits at the Museum of Natural History , and eat at fabulous restaurants in Little Italy. It wasn’t until I attended college that I discovered other places in the country were … different.

“Let’s go to the city,” a friend said one weekend.

So we hoped in the car and headed for Cincinnati. Upon my arrival at the spot where the Ohio and Licking rivers meet, I said, “So where’s the city?”

However, it’s not as if I was completely unfamiliar with the rural world. In fact, in the summer, my parents would load me and my two siblings into the station wagon for what my father once referred to as “the goddamned family vacation.”

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Like Eddie Albert and Zsa Zsa Gabor in Green Acres, my grandparents played at being farmers.

Our destination? My grandparents farm in Zanesville, Ohio. While they had not lived full time on those 325 hilly acres since the Great Depression, they would spend their summers at that broken-down house where my grandmother tended a large kitchen garden and my grandfather did his Green Acres bit, playing at being a farmer, riding around on a tractor and telling us to keep away from the bull, since one did not want to make the big guy mad.

Even though we were avid campers, this change of venue was astonishing for us suburban kids. There was no plumbing at the farm. We pumped water from a well that stood in the yard. There were no toilets. One had to trek over the hill where an outhouse provided a splintery seat where one might hear strange creatures scrabbling about underneath. And, because no one wanted to make that trek in the dark, we sometimes resorted to a quaint tin pot that rested under the bed. Baths were in a big metal tub that we lugged into the kitchen. A black, pot-bellied stove had a prominent spot in the living room. You could not step anywhere in that old farm house without hearing floorboards groan. The front porch sagged, proof that the dwelling’s best days had long since passed.

But what the farm lacked in amenities, it made up for with untamed beauty. Much of the land was forest, though there were fields that were rented to local cattle ranchers, where placid cows spent their days on pretty hillsides. There was a stream and ponds where my dad taught us to fish, showing us how to bait a hook and gently remove our sunfish from the line before returning them to their watery world. I saw my first quails perched on fenceposts, swimming copperheads, and a massive snapping turtle whose jaws were as big as my fist.

Some farm kids lived down the road and my brother, sister, and I found their accents peculiar. (In hindsight, I wonder what they thought of our New Jersey diction.) They let us ride their horse. All these years later, I still remember them laughing hysterically when said beast bolted with me on board, giving me a permanently bruised tailbone to remember them by.

All along the fence wild blackberries and raspberries boasted masses of sweet fruit. One day, I stuffed my pockets with those berries and – just for the joy of it – I ran up the hill to the house. On the way, I tripped and splatted on that one-lane road where the rare passage of a vehicle prompted people to stop what they were doing and wave. When I stood, all those smashed berries oozed from my pockets like jam.

After a week, my parents would pack us in the car and head back to Jersey. I’d watch the old farm house disappear and the one-lane road vanish between the hills. All the way home my siblings and I squabbled in the back of the station wagon, too far away for our parents to swat for misbehaving. While my dad loved the farm, I know it was the one-thousand mile round trip to that old house that earned our yearly trek the title “the goddamned family vacation”.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

The assault on silence

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What’s with all the noise?

What’s wrong with silence? It seems, of late, there is an all-out assault on quiet.

Take for example my recent trip to the dentist where I was excited to get a crown. (Nothing like grinding away at a damaged tooth to brighten your day.) In any case, I selected a magazine – that is an archaic news-delivery device  – and sat down to read.

There were several other dental patients waiting, all with heads firmly planted in the cellphone screens. And, yet, a TV blared reruns from the Home& Garden network. Now, I love a good international house hunt where Americans insist that they need five bedrooms and five baths on the chance that someone may come to visit. (Have they not heard of hotels?) Still, no one was paying the least attention to the TV. It was just making noise. So, I considered asking that the volume be turned off, but wondered if I might upset the fragile dental waiting-room applecart with such a request. Luckily, my name was called and I was off for an hour of hearing nothing but drilling.

Later, I headed to my health club for a swim and a steam, which would surely make me feel superior – Hey, I worked out! – and pleasantly relaxed. But no. I had to listen to some guy’s music which boomed from his headphones in that steamy environment. I wondered if he was hard of hearing. Clearly, if I waited long enough, he would be.

gas pump

Do we really need to hear commercials at the gas pump?

Then, I went to put gas in my car. Imagine my surprise when the pump called to me. I punched the button for Regular and jumped when an anchor-type woman – all coifed and pretty – started telling me about products I just had to have. I wanted to say, “Honey, was this your dream? Did you aspire to talk to people from a screen on a gas pump?”  Later, I looked up gas-station advertising and found this: Advertising at a fuel station is a great way to reach drivers in a captive setting. And that is exactly what I felt like: a captive, an animal in a zoo. It’s not like I could leave without filling my tank. I was trapped.

My question is whatever happened to quiet? When did silence become the enemy? When did it become a good idea to fill every waking moment with man-made sound? Perhaps, if the trend continues, we might someday be unable to abide silence.

I worry about that.

Is there a solution? I actually found a product that says it will solve the noise problem. You can order a DVD for $29.95. It’s silent. All you have to do is “turn the volume all the way up to drown out all that extraneous noise.”

I’ve got to think about that for a while. Now, if I could only find a quiet place to ruminate.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

The power of the press

A while back, I needed my shower fixed. I hired a contractor and, while reinstalling the decorative panels, the glass broke, shattering in thousands of sparkling pieces. I was not a happy girl when I found the box of glittery bits and was less enthused when I realized I could not take a shower.

I notified the contractor and asked that the requisite repairs be made, but when that did not occur in a timely fashion, I stopped payment on the fifteen-hundred-dollar check.

End of story? Not so fast. Six months later, a fifteen-hundred-dollar withdrawal was made from my account by said contractor, an unexpected deduction that sent me into a tailspin. By the time I understood what was happening, I’d bounced some checks and was understandably horrified.

So, I contacted the bank, explaining that they had made some kind of accounting error.

download“No, there’s no mistake,” a bank employee explained breezily. “The fifteen-hundred-dollar check went through two weeks ago.”

“But … I put a stop on that check! He’s not allowed to cash it!”

“Well, yes … he can.”

“How is that possible?”

She sighed. “A check hold is only good for six months.”

“That doesn’t even make sense!” I’m sure I said calmly. “You’re telling me that, for the rest of my life, I have to keep renewing my hold on that check every six months?” There was a slight pause, so perhaps I wasn’t as calm as I thought.

“Yes.”

“I want my money back.”

“I’m sorry, that is our policy.”

Back when this happened, I was still a new teacher, making new-teacher pay. So, fifteen-hundred dollars was a ton of money. I asked to speak to a manager. When I got the same answer from him, I asked to see the bank president. As you might expect, he was busy. In fact, every time I tried to get in touch, he was unavailable.

“What are you going to do?” My sweetie-pie asked.

“I don’t know.” I frowned. “There are no options.”

“Are you sure?”

th-2“You know, if I was still a member of the media, I’d march right in and …” That’s when the lightbulb went off.

I called the editor of a paper I used to write for and asked if I could borrow my old reporter cap for a few days. I explained my plan and he agreed.

I called the bank and told the president’s secretary that I was a reporter doing a story on bank regulations and policies. Would her boss mind being interviewed for my piece? (Here’s what I know about most people. They like being interviewed. Are impressed that someone might be interested in their thoughts and opinions.)

After placing me on hold, she said, “Yes! He would love to have you come in.”

Bingo!

I was escorted to the big guy’s office, introduced myself, and sat in a plush chair. I smiled and asked him to discuss the policy involving stopped checks being just temporary.

Without skipping a beat, he launched into the spiel I had already heard several times.

“Do you think that’s fair?” I asked.

He spread both hands. “That is our policy.” Then he squinted, perhaps suddenly aware that reporters report on things publicly.

downloadI made a point of adjusting my recorder. “So, what would you say to people who have lost money in this way?

“Um …”

“In fact, what would you say to me, since I’m out fifteen-hundred dollars because of your policy?”

He froze. Our eyes met across his desk. Slowly, he picked up the phone. After a long conversation, he hung up. Then he described the very convoluted journey my money had taken through another bank and the difficulties involved in getting it back.

I folded my hands in my lap and waited.

“I’m not sure there’s anything we can do.” Now he looked nervous. The recorder kept whirring.

Perhaps it will come as no surprise that, relatively quickly, my fifteen-hundred dollars magically reappeared in my account. Would I have received a refund had I not been a reporter? I think not. As a bonus, my editor ran the story in which I advised those who place holds on checks to make sure they read the fine print.

So – all together now – let’s hear it for the power of the press! Hip hip hooray!

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.