“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.

 

“You want me to do what?”

High School Year Book Pic

See that last line from my high school yearbook? “This is your local sports announcer.”

I wanted to be a sportscaster from the time I was a teenager. And that is exactly what I eventually got to do. But back in those nascent days, I thought I understood the requirements of the job. However, I would learn that I did not.

While sportscasting requires the skills one might expect – being able to ask concise, relevant questions, having a good eye for B-roll, the ability to tell a good story, and the adept application of make-up – Yes, I’m a chick, so that too mattered! – there were other obligations about which no one informed me.

Take, for example, the day I was called to my boss’s office when I was working for a station in Rochester, New York.

“Go to the race track.” My news director – a man of few words, many of which were loud and angry – directed.

I considered whether I should ask why, but just said, “Sure!”

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The fact that I was being asked to race an ostriche came as a big surprise.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the horse track, where I generally expected to see horses, only to find a flock of ostriches. I noted that all the other local sportscasters were there, as well.

“What are we doing?” I asked the assemblage of on-camera sports folks.

“Racing ostriches,” someone called out.

“What?” I was flummoxed. Then I saw a harness and sulky being attached to a giant bird. I’d spent some time around standard bred race horses, so I was familiar with the get up and had, in fact, previously had the opportunity to warm up a racehorse on a track. But now I was looking at a nine-foot bird that looked none to happy about being strapped to the two-wheeled cart.

Still, after donning a helmet and easing myself into the seat, I, along with my sportscasting brethren, did indeed race those big, feathered beasts and lived to tell about it.

At a station in Phoenix, I received another summons. “Go to the state fair!”

“Aye Aye, Cap’n.” That was in my head. I did not address the news director in such fashion. It was probably more like, “Yes, Great Leader!”

My cameraman and I arrived at the state fairgrounds where we walked past myriad stands selling all things fried. Oreos, Twinkies, Bananas, Corn Dogs, and Indian Fry Bread. (Mercifully, this was before they started serving fried butter, a “delicacy” I have never been able to wrap my head around.)

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Yep! That goat needs milking. And I was called on to perform the task.

We were escorted to a barn-like shed, which was, in fact, I big-ass barn. Farm animals bleated and squealed and mooed, as we walked by. We stopped in front of a pen filled with goats. I stared at the multi-colored beasts and they stared back. “Are we here to watch them race,” I asked, wondering how such an event might play on my evening sportscast.

As it turned out, there would be no goat racing, because I was there to milk a goat, a competitive event that pitted me against others of my ilk. Now, I don’t like milk unless it comes in the form of cheese or ice cream, so the idea of eliciting warm milk from a goat udder made me a bit queasy. And, the fact that I was supposed to perform said act on camera – looking fabulous, makeup perfect, hair in place – was something else entirely.

Did I milk the goat? Yes. Do I have any desire to touch those velvety teats ever again? Not in the slightest.

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Too fast! Much too fast! Please stop!

Another time I was directed to a drag strip. There, I was positioned in the front seat of a fast car and told to drive … fast. “Put the pedal to the metal when the green light flashes.” I was instructed.

My cameraman in the backseat looked dubious. I’m not really into speed, but I did as I was told and was shocked at how quickly the end of the track came into view. Terrified, I slammed on the brakes, a little too early perhaps. But we didn’t die. And no, like milking the goat, I never want to do that again either.

Over the course of my sportscasting career, as one might expect, I reported on sports. But I also took a horse through a jumping course, ice danced, and played an awkward match of polo. I guess all those extracurriculars are just part of the playbook. Still, I wish someone had told me ahead of time.

Perhaps I might have been more prepared.

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.

 

 

 

Losing my school newspaper: The mermaid conundrum

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After 65 years, our school newspaper is no more.

When I head back to school this year, something will be different. South Mountain High School, where I have been teaching for almost two decades, will no longer have a student newspaper. The Southwinds journalism classes, which have been in existence since the school was founded back in 1954, have been cancelled.

I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, professional publications all over the country are folding under the weight of the Internet, where social media “reporters” can post anything anonymously and without regard for reliable sources and veracity. As a former journalist, the thought is almost physically painful.

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In my journalism classes, I taught my students how to determine whether a story was true or a fabrication.

I will now show my age by saying that when I was a reporter one had to verify facts by obtaining three separate sources who would agree that the information was accurate. (Imagine that!) It was also necessary to write a balanced story, meaning that those with opposing viewpoints needed to be given equal time. Reporters did not take sides, except in instances where stories were clearly labeled as commentary.

Today, the networks force reporters to opine in order to fill commercial slots and to make sure their listeners hear only what they already believe to be true. We wouldn’t want folks to make their own decisions based on fair and balanced reporting, now would we?

But back to the demise of school newspapers. Note that I am not blaming my school administrators. They have allowed my journalism classes to exists for years with just a small number of students. Unfortunately, the word journalism implies that students must write and, sadly, most have no interest. I suppose I should be grateful that the Southwinds has managed to survive this long.

Still, while I realize I am biased, I can think of nothing more valuable than producing well-rounded adults who can think for themselves. What that requires is the ability to discern whether a story is true or a fabrication. My journalism classes did just that: identify a source, determine their bias by reading their mission statement or biography, and read their comments carefully before deciding if they are worthy of your trust. My motto in regard to using sources in stories is, “When in doubt, leave them out.”

But, perhaps, my time has passed. Maybe people are more comfortable thinking that whatever they already believe is right. And that, conversely, everyone else must be wrong. Certainly, the networks have determined that this is an extremely profitable methodology. So, why mess with success.

Oh, wait! If no one is willing to change their opinion based on truth, where are we headed? If that idea doesn’t give you an uncomfortable chill down your spine, I don’t know what will. But I am afraid for our future.

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Sadly, I always have students who believe in mermaids, because they’ve “seen” them on the Internet.

I’ll give you an example. My classes often begin with a discussion on what’s happening in the news. No subject is out of bounds. Every year the same topic emerges. Mermaids. I am not kidding here. I always have numerous students who argue with me claiming half-human/half fish creatures exist. I then provide the facts: Even warm sea water is too cold for humans.  They would die of hypothermia. Our skin would slough off after being in the water too long. Why are there no mermaid remains?

Yet, invariably, they smile and shake their Disney fairytale-infested heads. “But I saw one on the Internet, Ms. Montgomery.”

Eiee! Even when I explain that I’m a scuba diver and have spent a great deal of time searching for sea life around the world and have witnessed nary a sign of a mermaid, they disagree. Because they want to believe in mermaids, they do. Facts don’t matter. Not even when I point out the obvious fakery in their YouTube mermaid videos.

However, by the end of the school year, after pounding them on their sweet heads about verifying sources and having a healthy dose of skepticism when faced with dubious news stories, many do come into the light.

But my journalism classes are done. Who will teach them about truth now?

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

My interview with The Cosy Dragon

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The stories behind the books. Recruiting beta readers. Authors and social media. And some quirky facts about me. These topics and more are discussed in my interview with the folks at The Cosy Dragon book blog.

Take a look.

Interview with Anne Montgomery

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 day I saw a spaceship

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Yes! I do believe in aliens.

 

“Ms. Montgomery, do you believe in aliens?”

Every year, at least one of my high school students asks the question.

“Of course, I do!” I say as if there could be no other reasonable response.

That confession is generally followed by giggles and a few nods here and there, confirming that I am not the only one who believes we are not alone.  I mean, come on, I grew up on the original Star Trek, enthralled by Captain Kirk and his pals, never noticing the cheesy effects and reveling in the idea that fascinating worlds exist “out there.”

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In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ray Neary willingly walked into an alien spacecraft. I always thought I would do the same.

Sometimes, I tell my students that if I were to see an interstellar alien craft I would wave my arms and shout, “Take me! Take me!” all the while recalling that long walk Richard Dreyfus took as Ray Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when he stepped up the ramp and into a strange new future escorted by wee, big- headed creatures.

But, as it turns out, I was all wrong. Because one day I was in just such a situation, and let’s just say I did not react the way I had always envisioned.

Here’s my story.

One sunny afternoon in Phoenix, I returned home from school. I got out of my truck, closed the door, and happened to glance up at the sky. And there it was. The flat black object hovered in the distance. I watched for a few moments, trying to discern what I was seeing. Then my mouth fell open. I turned, looking for other people, but I was alone. I watched the object move silently,  looking unlike any conventional flying machine.

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The 1997 Phoenix Lights incident has never been fully explained.

Remember now that my city is famous for the Phoenix Lights, the 1997 UFO incident witnessed by thousands of people, perhaps the largest mass sighting of such an event in history, an occurrence that has never had a creditable explanation.

I was unable to move as the object traveled slowly toward me, getting larger as it approached. I half expected fighter jets to appear, but the sky was otherwise empty, save for some puffy white clouds.

Soon, I thought, I would have my moment. I might be offered the opportunity  “to go where no man has gone before.” Then I considered the alternative. Perhaps the aeronauts of said craft might just be hungry and grilled, red-headed human might be their favorite repast.

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I always believed traveling the universe with Spock and Kirk would be a blast, but maybe not.

I am appalled to tell the truth here, but as a former reporter I find I must. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and in the immortal words of King Arthur in Monte Python and the Holy Grail my brain screamed, “Run away! Run Away!”

Despite the fact that I was never blessed with running skills — ask anyone who knows me — I was poised to sprint faster than the aptly-named Usain Bolt. Then, the “alien ship” drifted down.

A black plastic bag blowing in the wind.

Later, after analyzing my response to this optical illusion, I was horrified by my cowardice. I wonder if Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock would ever forgive me?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When my life passes before my eyes, I will see dolphins

The expression “I saw my life pass before my eyes,” is generally used by someone who has had a near-death experience. While I have no idea what may occur when the end nears, I have always liked that thought, as long as one only has to recall the pleasant events.

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Once, off St. Kitts, I witnessed four tiny juvenile  drum fish dancing  in a row before a reef

Sometimes, I consider scenes that might appear in my head when my time comes, and I find it is a rather Forrest Gump-esque list: The night at Girl Scout camp on an island in Upstate New York, snuggled in my sleeping bag, a cool breeze wafting through the pines, and lake water brushing up against the rocks. An elk in Colorado, maybe ten yards between us, his majestic antlered head and dark brown eyes freezing me in place, before he turned and disappeared silently into the forest. A dive in St. Kitts where I witnessed four tiny spotted drum fish, each no bigger than a thumbnail, long black and white fins waving as they danced in a row before a reef.

And now, I have a new vision to carry with me.  A few days ago in the sea off the north shore of St. Croix, we spotted three bottlenose dolphins from our dive boat. We quickly donned our scuba gear and descended to a shallow area white with sand. We knelt on the bottom and waited.

And waited.

Thirty minutes later, chilled from inactivity, we gave up, and swam away, perusing a group of coral heads down over the edge of the sand. Cold and tired we headed back toward the boat. The dive master, E.T., and I were the last in the water. We waited below the boat as other divers ascended.

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While diving in St. Croix we spotted three bottlenose dolphins from our boat, so we donned our scuba gear and dropped in to join them.

Then, E.T. grunted to get my attention. She pointed at three dolphins that swam directly toward us, their snouts dipping with each gentle push of their tails. The largest, a female perhaps eight-feet long, silvery-gray with a white belly, was escorted by two smaller males. The female eyed me and guided the others over my head. I could have reached up and touched her as they glided past. Then, she dove to the bottom and stuck her nose in the sand. She stirred up a white cloud, rolled onto her back and lay on the bottom, while the males playfully nudged her. Soon, she twisted, launched herself off the sand, and they disappeared.

We waited. And they returned, over and over playing before us. Then, the female stopped, touched her tail to the sand and straightened. I had always thought of dolphins as curved creatures, but she now stood perfectly straight, snout pointed toward the sky, fins out, a signal perhaps to the males who approached and straightened as well, clinging to her sides, motionless.

They appeared as a marble statue, majestic, magical, holding the pose above the sand, her bearing that of an empress. Then she twirled and the males followed. What came next can only be described in one way: dolphin sex. I felt like a voyeur but could not turn away. I will let you fill in the rest.

At one point, overwhelmed by the beauty, this gift I’d been given by the sea, I touched my hand to my heart. When I gazed at E.T., she had done the same. We stared at one another, knowing we had shared something special.

When we finally ascended, I was speechless. Those who know me would be astounded at the idea. And I am still unsure my words here do the experience justice.

downloadOn the boat, I hugged the dive master, a woman I had met just a few hours earlier.

“E.T., when I’m dying, I will remember this,” I said.

It was only then that I noticed the elegant tattoo she bore on her right hip: a dolphin.

 

The view my dolphin video click here: https://www.facebook.com/simeon.tolar/videos/10156002467296076/

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

My introduction to professional wrestling: “Does this look real to you, honey?”

Seeing a woman in the early 1980’s reporting sports on television was akin to spotting a unicorn. So, when a station in Columbus, Georgia offered me the sports director’s job, I jumped at it. That I had no idea where Columbus was mattered little. That I had never done live TV nor written a professional sportscast did not enter my mind.

Channel 3 News

My dear partner Dan Lynn steered me through some tough times in my first TV sportscasting job.

I know what you’re thinking. Why did they hire me? Not only was I a woman, but my only TV experience was taped reports back in college. I’d like to think WRBL-TV went out on a limb because I’d been an amateur sports official in football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball, which, one might assume, would make me fairly adept at discussing sports. Or that I’d read every sports page I could find and every issue of Sports Illustrated for the previous six years. But, as it turned out, the reason was actually quite simple. WRBL was the lowest-rated TV station in the market and they needed something different to grab a few ratings points.

Enter moi.

After stuffing my stuff into a small U-Haul, I collected my calico cat and drove from Washington D.C. – the center of the universe – to Columbus, Georgia – which was something else entirely. I arrived on a Monday.

“You’ll start on the air Wednesday night,” the news director said. He dismissed me and I stood alone in the newsroom and wondered what exactly I should do. I was lucky that kind people helped me along the way, especially my reporting partner Dan Lynn. Still, I was grateful that I was a thousand miles from anyone I knew. Let’s just say my early broadcasts were rather rocky.

And it wasn’t just the live anchoring that was problematic. Sometimes, it was covering the sports themselves. Because as much as I’d studied the games, some athletic endeavors were out of my realm.

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Hulk Hogan was one of the most famous competitors in the history of the World Wrestling Federation.

“The WWF is in town. Go down and do a story,” my boss said.

“The who?”

“The wrestlers,” Dan explained.

“Olympic wrestlers?”

“No, professional wrestlers. Let’s go.” Dan walked over to the rack of cameras.

“You cover them? On the news? But, Dan, we cover real sports!” I followed him to the news car. “Those guys are just actors.”

We arrived at the Municipal Auditorium and walked inside. We were directed to a gray hallway that boasted not a single sign or decoration and asked to wait. Dan set up the tripod and camera while I struggled to come up with questions to ask.

Then, a giant with long, scraggly wet hair appeared. Dressed in workout clothes, he was maybe in his late twenties. I introduced myself. He did not speak. I waited as Dan fiddled with the camera.

“It’ll just be a moment.” I gave him my prettiest smile, but the man did not smile back nor make any attempt at small talk. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself.

“OK. We’re good.” Dan flicked on the camera.

I lifted the microphone. Then I froze. I could not think of a single question to ask this professional wrestler, who was not an athlete in my eyes. As far as I was concerned, a clown might have better described his profession.

“Here’s the thing, I have to be honest,” I said breezily. “I don’t know what to ask you, since this isn’t real.”

“What isn’t real?” He glared.

“Professional wrestling. It’s just, you know, a show.”

“It isn’t real!” He roared.

I stepped back.

Then he pulled down the collar of his shirt revealing a ragged scar on his shoulder. “Does that look real to you?” He didn’t give me a chance to answer. “How about this one, honey?” He pulled up his pant leg and displayed a similarly gruesome set of stitches on his knee. “Or this one?”

I could not look away as he continued to reveal his scars.

Big John Stud

John William Minton, better known as Big John Stud, fought Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant in the mid 1980s, some of the greatest WWF matches of that era.

Of course, I was wrong. That the man was an athlete was clear. Because I didn’t believe his vocation was a sport, did not make him any less of a competitor. I would like to tell you that I remember who that wrestler was, but I do not. (If I did, I might hunt him down and apologize.) But I cannot forget what he showed me that day.

Ironically, I would cover other professional wrestling bouts over the years and would become friends with a man who also made his living in that field. The late John William Minton might be better known to his fans as Big John Stud. Despite his crazed performances in the ring, he was a kind and thoughtful man who worked hard, loved his wife and children, and enjoyed discussing history.

I’m glad that first wrestler taught me a lesson. At six-foot-ten and 364 pounds, I would have hated to have John mad at me.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Chernobyl: The horror!

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The horror of the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl is depicted in graffiti on a wall at the ruptured power plant.

My high school students love horror movies. They are, of course, the target audience for the genre, films that require little in the way of acting skills, or fancy special effects, or well-written scripts, since the same plot tends to get ripped off time after time. Think the Halloween series – the eleventh version of which came out last fall – which repeatedly tells the same tale of deranged serial killer Michael Meyers doing his masked shtick, while dopey kids insist on going into dark places alone.

Hey! Call 911! Run away!

I have learned that teenage males are the main lovers of horror films mostly because the protagonists in these movies also tend to be young men. Which brings me to my point. I just watched the most frightening program I have ever seen, complete with unbearable tension, jump-in-your-seat fear, and the compulsion to hide behind your hands, because what’s on the screen is too awful to bear.

I’m talking about the HBO mini-series Chernobyl, the true story of the 1986 rupture of a Soviet nuclear power plant that spewed a radioactive release that was ten times larger than the fallout produced by the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. The accident – a combination of hubris and incompetence – caused 350,000 people to be evacuated from their homes. Today, the town of Pripyat, Ukraine stands abandoned, and the 19-mile radius around the reactor and the city – called the Exclusion Zone – could remain uninhabitable by humans for an estimated 100 thousand years.

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The 19-mile radius around the remains of Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor may remain uninhabitable by humans for 100 thousand years.

Shockingly, it could have been so much worse. Sixty-million people might have died as a result of air-born radiation and contaminated ground water, had thousands of mostly young men not converged on the burning reactor, many giving their lives to contain the release. There are horrifying scenes of firefighters trying to put out the poisonous blaze, miners digging under the burning reactor in an effort to seal it off, and baby-faced boys given 90-seconds on the building’s rooftop to find radioactive lumps of graphite and dump them over the side.

Then there was the cover up. The Soviet hierarchy was so determined not to lose face in the international community that it lied repeatedly and refused to ask for help, leaving an estimated ten thousand of their own people to die miserable deaths. (Note that the actual death toll is hard to determine, as many who toiled at Chernobyl did not die until later, the victims of radiation-caused cancers.)

What will I tell my students? I will recommend they watch Chernobyl, should they want true horror. I will advise them to pay close attention to the hospital scenes where young men writhe as they die from the ghastly effects of radiation poisoning. And I will remind them that they live in a world of weaponized nuclear power, and that, sadly, there could be real-life sequels in the future.

Let’s see how scared they are then.

When compared to Chernobyl, Michael Myers might seem more like Mary Poppins.

 

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.