Celebrating imagination

I was not a horribly bright kid. A low level of dyslexia scrambled my brain just enough to make me hate reading, struggle in math, and earn disapproving looks from my highly-educated parents.

However, what I lacked in classroom smarts, I made up for with imagination. Today, parents are called on to celebrate that creative spark, but I don’t think my mom or dad got that particular message.

How I wish they’d listened to Albert Einstein. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

I know for a fact that lots of kids had imagination when I was growing up. After all, we had no cellphones or video games. Nor did we adhere to rigorous schedules filled with sports and hobbies and playdates, all under the watchful eyes of parents who might swoop in should there be the slightest hint we might get our feelings hurt.

Mostly we played. Outdoors. We made up games and managed to keep ourselves occupied for hours without fancy toys. A ball. A bat. And, everyone’s favorite, a big cardboard box. Remember the day mom and dad unwrapped the new refrigerator and tossed that giant carton in the backyard? We’d play with that box until it drooped from the strain of having to double as a neighborhood fort.

One time, however, my imagination got me into a bit of a pickle. If memory serves, my problem began with a TV show about a discovery in France. The Lascaux Caves were found in 1940 when a teenager was walking his dog and the animal fell down a hole. The boy returned later with three friends to explore the depression, only to find fabulous paintings of creatures – stags and horses, bison and birds – as well as humans and abstract symbols. Two-thousand figures adorned the cave walls, artwork estimated to be up to 20,000-years-old.

I was captivated. My 12-year-old brain whirled with questions about the ancient people who created the art. I then realized we had paintings on our walls at home, as well. Ipso facto, I determined that prehistoric people had probably lived in my house.

Stop laughing. The whole idea seemed quite plausible. But I needed proof. So, I went out to our suburban New Jersey garage and stared intently at those whitish walls. My dad’s fly-fishing waders – which resembled the bottom half of a booted, rubber corpse – hung on a piece of pegboard and lent just the right degree of gravity.

While it’s true there was no artwork decorating those walls, there was an interesting hollow sound when I thumped my hand in certain spots. It was then that I considered the possibility that ancient artifacts might be buried inside the walls.

I located my dad’s hammer and a screwdriver and, without the slightest hesitation, I began my excavation. It was quite thrilling digging into the wall, looking into the dark space inside, my expectations high as I considered the treasures I might find.

It wasn’t until I heard a car pull into the driveway that I thought I might have erred. I watched my mother step out of our wood-paneled station wagon and stare from behind black, cat-eye glasses.

Did I try to explain? No! I dropped those tools and ran.

It’s funny, I don’t recall my punishment for ruining the garage wall, but I do remember my dad spending the weekend immersed in metal mesh and spackle, mumbling under his breath.

Back then, my nascent attempts at archaeology were considered just plain dumb. But today, I’m pretty sure they’d declare me gifted and put me in a class with other remarkable children.

I think Einstein would have been proud.

Einstein

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.

https://www.changinghands.com/event/november2018/anne-montgomery-light-desert

What are you afraid of?

The first lesson my freshman students are task with is one that horrifies them. Public speaking, which usually ranks right up there with death and pain and failure as something people fear most.

Even though I explain that, like anything else, they will improve with practice, many just shake their heads, finding the thought of speaking before a group terrifying.

“You will get better and be more at ease, if you just keep trying,” I explain.

A hand goes up. “Hey, Ms. M, what are you afraid of?”

I have promised my students that they can ask me anything and that I will always tell them the truth, no matter how awkward the answer. I stare at my shoes for a moment and then face them.

“Line drives.”

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I umpired baseball for about 25 years: mostly youth and adult leagues and high school games. I also worked a few college scrimmages and a New York Mets inter-squad Spring Training match while attending umpire school. I even had the opportunity to work a televised exhibition game between the San Francisco Giants and the AAA Phoenix Firebirds, where I called balls and strikes and accepted a line-up card from skipper Dusty Baker.

And yet, despite all that time on the diamond, I still fear line drives.

When I mentioned this to an old friend, he seemed a bit disappointed in me. He’d been a pitcher in high school, his wild hair and mustache scaring opponents perhaps more than his fastball. I sensed I’d slipped a notch on the tough-girl scale.

Why am I afraid of line drives? The easy answer is … they hurt. A lot. But it’s more than that, because I’ve been hit by foul balls probably hundreds of times, yet they are much less menacing.

Umpires are usually whacked by foul balls and the occasional pitch when working the plate, a time during which one is mostly encased in protective gear. These hits generally cause no lasting damage, though I did periodically long for a chest protector made with a woman in mind. Balls that ricochet off exposed body parts – arms and thighs for example – can leave one severely bruised. Occasionally, boney parts get thumped – an elbow or collar bone – which for a while feels reminiscent of a root canal. And yet, I did not actively fear these hits.

Me Umpiring 2 300

A line drive is different for two reasons. One is that, unlike my pitcher friend, I had no glove with which to defend myself. Even if I did, an umpire in the field is not permitted to touch a live ball. The other issue is that we can see a line drive coming. I know what you’re thinking. Just get out of the way. But that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

A case in point: I was working a men’s league game one evening on a field that was already poorly lit when a dust storm came in. I had the bases with runners at first and second, so I was positioned in the infield between second and third. As the pitcher came set, I leaned forward and placed my hands on my thighs. He delivered the pitch and the batter smacked a rocket right at me. Did I lose it in the red haze? I don’t know. But the ball thunked off the inside of my right thigh. I was surprised when two players rushed over to assist me, since there is not often much sympathy for us folks in blue. I waved them away, both hurt and embarrassed, and limped through the rest of the game. I wore that bruise for weeks, and watched it morph through a kaleidoscope of colors: black and purple, green and sickly yellow.

Though I suffered only a few line-drive smacks over the years, those hits permanently etch my brain. Other than the bruises themselves, it was the reactions they sometimes elicited from strangers that I remember most.

Once, a woman watched me limping around off the field. “Oh, honey,” she said, placing her hand on my shoulder. “Let’s get the bastard.”

“Oh, no! You see, I’m an umpire. I got hit with a baseball. A line drive.”

“You don’t have to lie.”

“I’m not! I can show you the seams.”

But she just shook her head and walked away.

Sometimes, I miss umpiring baseball. My gear remains, having survived myriad household attempts at downsizing. Yet, if I’m being honest, I have to admit I still fear line drives.

All I can say is … you pick your monsters, I’ll pick mine.

What are you afraid of?

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.

https://www.changinghands.com/event/november2018/anne-montgomery-light-desert

 

 

 

Falling out of love … with stuff

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Is our obsession for ever-bigger houses connected to our constant need for more possessions?

Recently, I was waiting to get a haircut when I reached toward a glossy stack of magazines. Some were pretty-people publications chock full of what I assumed were famous younger folks. Had anyone nearby inquired, I would have had to admit that I didn’t recognize any of them and had no idea from their pouty expressions just what they might be famous for.

I thumbed my way through the periodicals and discovered that the vast majority were not about pretty people but pretty houses. I used to love home and garden-type magazines. I even had a few of them delivered over the years. Excitement stirred when looking at the gorgeous residences with their incredible landscaping often situated in exotic locales.

fancy home

Lovely yes, but could one not find happiness with less?

I did not purchase a home until I was 50, having spent a few decades bouncing around the country chasing job opportunities. So, gazing at those spectacular edifices fueled a fantasy.

But somewhere along the way, something happened to that dream. A case in point: When the magazine I was holding opened to a long shot of a featured domicile, I laughed. True, it was fabulous. But at 15,000 square feet it more resembled a resort than a home. A dozen shiny pages showcased the indoor pool, vaulted wine cellar, eight bedrooms, eight-and-a-half baths, perfect plantings, and spectacular wrap-around views. The writer described the abode breathlessly – stunning, superb, magnificent, striking, exquisite. Tasteful seemed a bit of an afterthought.

It wasn’t that I disagreed with all those superlatives, it’s just that they had me thinking about who would need such abundance. The fact that the owners spent only six months each year at the home had me wondering what their other residence might be like. Perhaps this was their summer “cottage.”

I glanced at the art-like photographs, rooms filled with perfectly-positioned treasures, every pillow in place, and not a lamp cord in sight. I flashed on my brown couch where, no doubt, a large cattle dog now splayed, shedding black and white fur, scrunching worn pillows beneath her. I looked closely at the furniture and floors in those pictures. No pets. No kids. Not possible.

You are correct in thinking that people have a right to spend their earnings any way they see fit. I will not argue with that. But how have we come to believe that these massive houses are desirable? Statistics show that the average home in the U.S. has nearly tripled in size over the last 50 years, yet the average family has shrunk considerably.

Perhaps we need the space because, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times, there are 300,000 items in the average American home. So, clearly, we love our stuff and need a big place to keep it. And yet, when on a whim, I typed downsizing into my search engine, over 91 million results popped up. Maybe we don’t want so many things after all.

I have written before about the fact that humans perhaps survived early extinction because of their ability to hunt and gather objects of value, whether for consumption or trade. And that, today, we might all carry a gene bequeathed to us from those ancient forbearers, one that compels us to find and hold on to items that might get us through lean times. But I don’t think that completely explains our unending desire for stuff.

closet clutter

My closet calls for help.

I admit, it’s hard to get off this particular train. But I know I’m not alone. That’s why Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is all the rage. Maybe I’ll get her book.

But first I’ll tackle the closet.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sign here

sign here 2

I recently had surgery.

In fact, I’m recovering at this very moment from a procedure to remove a few girl bits, parts I was initially assured were no longer of use to me, but which I still miss. I mean … we’d been together a long time.

I’ve had a number of operations over the years, and this latest one had me thinking about what is surely the strangest of the pre-operative protocols. It generally goes like this: An overly-cheerful medical professional appears and supplies the patient with myriad papers and a writing utensil.

“These are your consent forms. Let’s go over them.”

At that point, the patient is informed of each and every horrendous thing that might happen during surgery and asked to sign a waiver saying they understand what could occur and that, well, no worries: caveat emptor.

A while back I had some weird anaerobic creatures growing in my sinus cavity – rather icky and dangerous – and so I faced said cheerful medical professional who proffered three forms.

“This one says you might suffer brain damage.”

I signed.

“This one says you might lose your left eye.”

I signed.

“This one says your voice might change.”

“What?”

“Your voice might change.”

“How?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

I like my voice. When I was a TV sports reporter my pipes paid my bills. I also enjoy singing. So I gripped that pen and considered the possibilities. Fran Dresher stuck in my head. “I can’t agree to that.”

Of course, after much consternation, I did sign.  And, when I woke up following the roto-rooting of my head, discovering no discernible vocal changes, I celebrated dodging that particular bullet.

Prior to my recent operation, I faced a few more perilous possibilities.

“You might need a blood transfusion,” the surgeon who would soon be probing my interior explained. “Just initial here.” She smiled sweetly.

I complied. As I did when she mentioned internal-organ damage, infection, and an overabundance of scar tissue. Then she pointed at the last box.

“When you sign here, it means you understand that, since we’re removing your ovaries, you might experience hot flashes.”

I squinted. “No! I went through menopause years ago.”

Yes, but we don’t know if your ovaries are still providing you with hormones.” She shrugged. “You might get hot flashes.”

I paused and considered that I hadn’t suffered greatly during menopause, had remained my normal cheery self throughout. Then I recalled a family dinner when my siblings and I were twenty-somethings. Out of nowhere my mother said, “I had no problems at all during menopause.”

Now my family was always rather lacking in any outward displays of humor, so Mom’s pronouncement was met with only stunned silence. However, I sensed that, internally, we were all laughing so hard food was coming out of our noses.

As I held that pen poised over the form, I reexamined my memories of my own life change. I considered contacting my sweetie pie to ask him his thoughts on that time.

But the surgeon was waiting.

I guess we’ll just have to see how it goes.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

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.

 

 

 

Looking for a job when I had one all along

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Anyone who has ever been unhappily unemployed – even for a short time – can testify to the damaging array of emotions that come with that particular package. So much of who we are is wrapped up in what we do.

After I aged out of TV reporting, I often found myself lerry of running into acquaintances: the thought of addressing my lack of a fulltime job enough to make me queasy.

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, a financial meltdown that saw the nation’s unemployment rate rocket to 10%, there were so many unemployed people that support groups were formed. The unemployed could meet and chat and prop one another up amidst their hunt for a paycheck. Being on an extended job search became so common that, I’d like to think, the stigma of unemployment vanished to a certain extent.

When I was without work, there was no one with whom to share my pain. Still married at the time, my now ex was frustrated that I no longer brought home a big paycheck.  I spent my days alone while the world went on without me. I was left wallowing in my own self-pity, which, as anyone who has ever lingered in that neighborhood can tell you, can become an awfully lonely outpost.

One afternoon, I returned home from yet another “thanks, but no thanks” interview, this time with a sports bar manager who had not too subtly appraised my buxomness quotient, multiplied it by my age, and deemed me unworthy, despite my skills with a shaker, my ability to pour a perfect shot every time, and in-depth knowledge of sports that would have kept even sober patrons entertained.

Shortly after that, I found a phone message from a temp agency. They’d gotten me a gig working on the assembly line at a Revlon plant in South Phoenix. I was to report early the next morning.

Now, I had always thought I was a tough girl. But I must be honest here. As I pictured myself Lucy-like – product slipping by on a conveyer belt too fast to handle – I cried. And, unlike that famous red head, I wouldn’t be able to eat my way out of the problem.

Full-time employment would evade me for several years, a time during which the only thing that sustained me was a skill that I had always considered just a means to an end. The fact that officiating amateur sports – an avocation I practiced in order to get my foot in the door in the sports-reporting business – would put food on my table was something I had never considered. And yet, it was the one place that felt normal, that I still had some semblance of control. The one place I felt like me.

Me and Don Baseball

The only place I felt comfortable those years I was without a fulltime job was on the field, especially with my longtime baseball umpiring partner Don Clarkson.

There was a rhythm to my world on the field that, no matter what was happening outside those lines, remained constant. Perhaps it was the need for punctuality, the ritual of donning the uniform, or the customary procedures in regard to game management. Maybe it was the camaraderie: players, coaches, fans, and fellow officials all involved in an endeavor that mattered to them. Or maybe it was that feeling after the game – whether the contest went smoothly or not – that I had done my best and learned from my mistakes.

Funny, it sounds like a job.

I wish I’d thought so at the time.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

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.

 

Mom’s bra and a football bottle opener

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I followed my 93-year-old mother into a lingerie shop and immediately squared off with mannequins wearing skimpy multi-hued teddies. I squinted at the plastic bodies, mentally evaluating my ability to squeeze into such delicate and reveling apparel, and had to stop myself from laughing out loud.

As my mom approached the counter, I considered the last time I’d ventured into a store of this type, and, quite frankly, could not remember. As a child of the 60’s, I grew up in a time when women were burning their bras, so it didn’t seem strange that, at 16, I decided I could do without that particular piece of apparel.

Of course, I have worn bras over the years, but have always found them horribly uncomfortable, even those that had been “expertly” fit.  And I have certainly donned a few that were no doubt designed by serious architects on those special occasions when one must put one’s best breast … um foot … forward.

Now, I faced the long wall displaying bras of every conceivable color, shape, and size. Pink, purple, black, and white, they dangled from hangers. Satiny bras, ones with buttons and hooks, wee trainer-types and others that could hold a basketball in each cup.

“Here, I brought them with me,” I heard my mother say. I watched her retrieve two crumpled clumps of fabric from a red cloth bag. “I’ve had this one twelve years.”

“Geez, Mom!”

She ignored me.

“They’re not comfortable.” She blinked at the young lady behind the counter.

“Mom, why don’t you try a camisole? That’s what I wear. Just pull it over your head.” I pointed to a nearby rack where several were displayed.

Both my mother and the saleswoman stared as if I’d suggested something quite ridiculous.

“I never wear a bra.”

The sudden silence in the little shop was overwhelming. I thought I should backtrack my statement and inform them that I did wear sports bras when I worked out, but after quick consideration I wasn’t sure that particular revelation would help.

The buzz of women perusing bras started up again and when my mother was led to a dressing room, I was left alone with the dainty attire. Frilly white garters were displayed with thigh high stockings. Countless little bows popped up everywhere, making me wonder who had tied those tiny decorations.

Then, my eyes were drawn to a Kelly-green rectangle tied with a white shoelace. Intrigued, I walked over. I was astonished to find dishtowel displaying three black-and-white-clad figures, football officials signaling an illegal block, time out, and personal foul. A football-shaped bottle opener was attached.

football dishtowel 2

Sometimes, when I’m dreaming, things that don’t belong in a particular setting periodically appear, but I was certainly awake. I wondered at the appearance of these football-themed objects, so out of place in a store awash in delicate female finery, and felt an instant kinship.

Then I heard my name. My mother appeared from the dressing room. Five feet tall, white hair, facing 94 in July.

“What do you think? I’m wearing the camisole.”

“It looks fine, Mom.”

She gazed down at her chest. “I think … it makes me look old.”

Often, in my life, I have blurted out my thoughts without thinking. “You are old, Mom.” Tickled my tongue. “Ancient, in fact. No one is looking at your boobs.” But you’d be proud of me, because I just nodded.

Later, my mother paid for her purchase. Not the camisole.

And, of course, I had to buy the dishtowel and football bottle opener.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

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.

 

 

 

A chance encounter that changed my life

hockey puck and stripes

It’s strange how life throws seemingly inconsequential little decisions at us that, in retrospect, change everything so momentously it almost takes your breath away.

“I’ve got some tickets to see the Caps play tonight. Do you wanna go?” My crazy aunt, who I lived with in Washington, D.C., waved an envelope at me. She was my mother’s sister, and while she also bore the signature red-hair that coursed through that side of the family, the 14-year difference in their ages might as well have been 50.

“Well?  Judy unwrapped the white towel on her head and began drying her hair. “Come on. You love hockey.”

She was right. I’d grown up in an ice arena: had earned a not-very-impressive-in-the-skating-world bronze medal in ice dancing from the United States Figure Skating Association. The best part of skating was that there were always hockey players hanging around. There was something so endearing about the way they waddled about in their padded shorts and big sweaters, and how that awkward stride disappeared once they streaked onto the ice. Not surprisingly, most of my early beaus were hockey players.

Later that night, Judy and I sat with her friend Richard. We watched the woefully pitiful Washington Capitals lose, something they did often and with singularly pathetic style. As we were leaving the Cap Center, he offhandedly mentioned that he was an amateur hockey referee and bemoaned the fact that there just weren’t enough hockey officials to go around.

“Hey, Annie skates!” My aunt grabbed my arm.

“Wanna be a referee?” Richard asked.

“Sure.”

A few weeks later, I dutifully completed the paperwork, wrote out a check, and applied to become a referee with the Southern Hockey Officials Association. And then I waited.

And then a year went by.

If you’re thinking here that I didn’t pursue hockey officiating with any great zeal, you’d be right. While I dreamed of becoming a sportscaster, I’d been supporting myself by working as a waitress at a tony Georgetown restaurant called the Foundry, a place packed with beautiful people, actors, and professional athletes, where sleep generally came somewhere around dawn and copious amounts of alcohol lulled me into the habit of rising by midafternoon. The place was like working in a candy store and it kept me quite entertained.  So much so that my parents practically wept at my lack of interest in acquiring a real job, lamenting that “We put you through college for this?

Then one day I received a phone call.  My application had been found. The man asked if I still wanted to be a hockey referee.

In retrospect – and considering the training I would later receive in other sports – the requirements for becoming a hockey official were ridiculously simple. There was only a short classroom rules clinic and a written test. No one even asked if I could skate. Had they, I would have replied “of course,” without even thinking about the fact that figure skates and hockey skates are rather fundamentally different. I would learn this – to my everlasting embarrassment – when I took the ice for my first game.

I smoothed my long-sleeve black-and-white striped shirt with the freshly sown on patch proclaiming me a member of AHAUS: the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States. My hockey skates felt unnaturally lose. Figure skates, by comparison, reach higher up the ankle and are purchased a size smaller than a skater’s feet, which requires a breaking-in period of extreme discomfort, but which ensures a tight fit.

Gingerly, I stepped onto the ice and a thigh-high child almost knocked me over. The rink was teeming with tiny people – wee boys so small their jerseys almost touched their ankles, and while some zoomed about confident in their skating ability, others leaned heavily on those sawed-off sticks in order to keep their balance.

I grabbed a frozen puck from a bucket near the gate and blew my whistle, feeling a bit embarrassed when the parents on hand turned and gazed at me. If they were surprised I was a woman – a look I would get to know well – they didn’t show it. Perhaps it was because the players were so little. These were kids who would sit on the ice when they were tired and cried when they fell down, so a mom-type skating around with them probably didn’t seem all that strange.

When I’d lined the players up – helmets tilting rakishly on tiny heads – I grasped the puck between my thumb and index finger. The trick was to drop the disc flat on the ice so it wouldn’t roll away.

As it turned out, no one paid any attention to my first attempt at a face-off. That’s because, as I leaned over, I discovered there was something else that made hockey skates vastly different from figure skates: toe picks. As in, there aren’t any on hockey skates. Yes, I knew this. But I had never considered just how much I’d counted on those pointy projections all my life. Intended to help figure skaters take off and land jumps, sloppy skaters like me leaned on them when lazy. So, as I bent over to drop the puck, there were no toe picks to keep me upright.

My next view was of little boys’ quizzical faces staring down at me. And that was not the worst of it. Toe picks had always provided an easy way to get up from a fall. So, I rolled over, got on my knees, and without thinking jammed the front of my blade into the ice.

I went down again.

And again.

I finally did get up and stay up, but I don’t remember much else about that first game. Still, something momentous happened, despite my inauspicious start in officiating.

On the drive home, the idea began to form in my brain. What if I could officiate all those team sports I had never been able to play: football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball? What if I could learn the rules well enough to convince all those naysayers who insisted a woman could never be a competent sportscaster that they were wrong?

I would spend the next five years officiating amateur sports, working games in between my waitress shifts, believing that somewhere there was a TV news director who might take a chance on a woman who understood the games from an officiating perspective.

And that is exactly what happened.

Anne Montgomery Referee copy

 

But what I never expected is that forty years later I’d still be out on the field.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

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.

 

 

“Take a leap of faith with me that everyone will love this story”

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A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

“Clever, compelling, readable and realistic Within a few pages, I was hooked.” Shay Cox – Reviewer Chezshayonline

My thanks to Shay Cox at the book review blog Chezshayonline for taking the time to read and review my novel A Light in the Desert. Find the review here: http://www.chezshay.online/2018/12/24/a-light-in-the-desert-a-novel/

A Light in the Desert

Mystery/Suspense

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 problem with pretty

 

Montgomery TV .75

Every woman who plies her trade in front of a camera has a shelf life stamped on her forehead. Mine expired when I was nearing forty.

I’ve been a teacher in an inner-city Phoenix high school for almost two decades and still I get the same question every year.

“You had a big-time job on TV. You worked for ESPN and now you’re here?” Ruben had a smirk on his face, one that at other times was almost angelic, green-eyed and dark-skinned. “Why didn’t you stay on TV?”

I noticed several nods from around the room, my students’ natural skepticism taking hold, once again leading them to doubt the stories about my sportscasting past.

Chris leaned his bulky body sideways on the hard-bottomed classroom chair, a piece of furniture more suited for someone half his size. “Yeah, Ms. M., what’s the deal?”

They would never know just how long and often I had pondered that question. For almost ten years, I did nothing but move up to larger TV markets, garnering the exponential paychecks and ego-infusing attention that went along with my rise.

Then, one day, it ended.

“I wasn’t pretty enough anymore,” I finally answered.

My freshmen students were silent for a moment, for though they were often difficult to deal with on myriad levels, most were not, by nature, cruel.

It was Monique, with thick blue-black hair, almond-shaped brown eyes, and perfect skin, who finally raised her hand. “What do you mean, not pretty enough?”

The explanation was really quite simple. I was a female sportscaster. The target audience for sports encompasses 18-to-34-year-old males. The thinking at the time was that once a woman advanced beyond that age group, she would no longer be of interest to that demographic. Since I did not acquire my first sportscasting job until I was at the relatively advanced age of 28, I actually survived on-camera a few years after my television shelf life had expired.

“No one gets to stay pretty forever, Monique,” I said gently. I watched as she creased her brow, considering what she probably viewed as a depressing future. “Is it really that important?”

“Nobody wants to date a dog,” Eric chirped up, then bumped knuckles with Martin, who was sitting beside him.

“Why didn’t you get plastic surgery? You know, that would probably make you prettier.” Monique examined my face.

“You might be right.” I perched on the edge of my desk. “But eventually they wouldn’t have wanted me anymore. It would have just delayed the inevitable.”

In … what?”

“Inevitable. That means a situation that is impossible to avoid. It’s certain to happen. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” Monique twisted one of the many silver rings that sparkled on her slender fingers.

“How many of you only want to date people who are beautiful?”

Almost all of my students raised their hands.

“Oh, my. That’s very sad.”

“Why is it sad?” Eric asked. “Hot chicks are … well, hot!”

Boys from around the room whooped their agreement.

“But think about this,” I called out above the clamor. “How many of you hope to marry some day? And, of course, I mean long after you’ve finished school and have a good job so you can support yourselves.”

All hands went up.

“My point is that eventually you will lose your looks. What happens then? Here you are, married to someone because they were attractive, and now, years later, they’re not  so pretty anymore.”

“It’s in-evitable,” Monique said thoughtfully.

“It is. So while beauty is nice, it shouldn’t be the only reason you go out with someone. I want you to find mates who share your interests. Who you enjoy being with. Who make you laugh. Who will love you even when you’re old and wrinkled.”

“Ewwww.” Terrence grimaced.

“You will miss out on so many fabulous people if you only judge others by their looks.”

Way back in the corner of the room, short, plain Becky was smiling.

Headshot book signing 2018

It took a while, but finally, at 63, I’ve come to terms with my expired shelf life.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

 

Mystery/Suspense

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.

Fighting about fouls at ESPN

 

ESPN_logos

In a perfect world, sportscasters would get long leisurely looks at the highlights they use in their live broadcasts. They’d get to rehearse a few times, using their own verbiage to describe a sweet double play or a long touchdown run.

But in the real world, there are times when sportscasters don’t get to view the video prior to a broadcast. Imagine trying to look pleasant, sound authoritative and knowledgeable, and having to describe a previously-unseen set of highlights, while someone is yelling in your ear. Now, try to do it when the highlights are poorly written.

At ESPN, there was a group of workers called PAs: production assistants who spent almost all their time observing games and picking plays for SportsCenter broadcasts. I’m sure to rabid sports fans the gig sounds like having one foot in heaven. A PA would be assigned a game, they’d sit back, watch, and pick three or four highlights. All they had to do was get the plays edited and write a script explaining what was happening in the shots they chose. A final score would then be added. That was it.

Generally, the PAs would appear at the anchor’s newsroom desk before the show and hand over their version of the script. I would always go view the video, make my own additions to the copy, and thank the PA. Beautiful.

However, sometimes there were late games that were still in progress during the SportsCenter broadcast. It was one of these contests and a subsequent set of highlights I received that got me into a bit of a pickle.

One evening, a sheet of game highlights was slipped onto my desk just as the crimson camera light blinked on. I smiled and read the intro. Then, as the video rolled, I eyed the script with my left eye and focused on my desk monitor with my right. (Not really, but it sort of feels that way.) And there it was, a screaming line drive hit into the first row seats, beaning a spectator squarely on the noggin. I read the script and immediately knew there’d been a mistake. The copy read that the fan had been hit by a foul tip. I knew this was impossible, but the next play quickly appeared and I had no time to right the wrong.

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All fouls are not created equal.

It wouldn’t be until the postmortem – the meeting that followed each show, a time during which errors were discussed by everyone involved in the broadcast – that I would get the chance to point out the obvious problem.

“Rich,” I said to the PA, who like all of his ilk was just out of college, sans any previous TV experience, and while they were sometimes treated like slave labor, were willing to do almost anything to get into the business. “Here,” I said, pushing the highlight sheet across the conference table. “Look at the first play.”

“The one where the guy gets hit with the foul tip?” He asked without looking at the page.

“That’s the one.” I smiled. “You don’t want to do that again.”

“Do what?” Rich squinted.

PAs lived in fear of making a mistake, knowing there was a long list of kids who’d do anything to get into ESPN. They worked without contracts for so little pay three or four of them often rented tiny apartments together, and they could be terminated without cause. Still, they lined up in droves to work at the network.

“It wasn’t a foul tip that hit the guy, Rich. It was a foul ball.”

“What’s the difference? The producer asked, palms up.

I looked around the table, finding it odd that no one else seemed to understand. “A foul ball is one that goes out of the playing area in foul territory. It’s a dead ball. Nothing can happen on the field. A foul tip, however, is a ball that generally goes directly from the bat to the catcher’s glove and is legally caught. A foul tip is always a strike and, unlike a foul ball, can result in strike three.”

“So?” Rich said defensively.

“A foul tip is a live ball.” I paused, waiting to see the light bulbs go off in the brains of my SportsCenter peers, but they just stared at me. “If there are runners on base, they can steal at their own risk,” I went on. “That makes it impossible for a fan to be hit with a foul tip. It was a foul ball.”

“It’s the same thing,” Rich insisted.

“No, it’s not.”

“Why do you care?” The PA said, sounding petulant now. “No one else does.”

I looked around the room. None of the other members of the crew had chimed in. Generally, in these meetings, everyone had an opinion and no one was timid about sharing.

“I care, Rich. I’m an umpire. And there are people out there who know that. It embarrasses me to make that kind of mistake.”

Rich’s face turned bright red. “You’re just being a picky bitch!” Then he got up and left the room.

The next day, I was called into my boss’s office. He had been apprised of my comments and insisted that I apologize to Rich.

“But he was wrong,” I said. “I never raised my voice or got defensive. I simply explained that he’d made a mistake.”

My boss was unswayed. That the young PA called me a bitch did not seem to matter. I was forced to apologize.

And all these years later, it still rankles.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

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.