Mamma Mia! This is so much better than the news!

About a year ago, I tried out for a play. I hadn’t been on stage – except for a bit part in a production of Footloose at the high school where I teach – in over forty years.

I wrote about the terror of the auditions and the weirdness of having to acquire tap shoes and actually wear them. I recall the moments of apprehension back stage waiting for my cue, forgetting lines and dance steps, learning to smoke fake cigarettes that only emitted chalk dust if I breathed out – not so easy, I learned – trying to sing after  accidentally swallowing an ice cube, and the location of the dead spot on stage where our mics would mysteriously cause ear-shattering feedback.

It was terrifying. And yet … I plan to audition again.

Why, you ask? That’s a good question. And the answer might surprise you.

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I’d be the old lady in the green dress playing Joanne in the Starlight Community Theater staging of Company which ran last summer. https://www.starlightcommunitytheater.com/

Starlight Community Theater in Phoenix, which produced Company last year, the musical in which I played Joanne – an aging New Yorker who smoked and drank and was generally disagreeable – is now staging Mamma Mia.

I had never seen the show, but the idea that Meryl Streep stared in the film was appealing. Still, six months would pass before I considered that I might give it another shot.

My epiphany happened in February, a few months before auditions were scheduled, and I blame the folks in media.

Here’s the thing. I’m a news junkie. I watch the TV news when I eat my breakfast. I listen to NPR and talk radio on the way to work. I read the newspaper at lunch time. Then I listened to NPR and talk radio on the way home.

While I don’t remember exactly which news story pushed me over the edge, one day I just couldn’t take it anymore. Something made me punch the button on the radio, leaving me with silence in the car and a bruised finger. The news was just too damn depressing. As a former journalist the confession rankles, but there you have it.

My drive to work is only about 20 minutes, still the day I swore off the in-the-car news – Hey! I wasn’t going to quit the whole thing! – I realized I needed another option.

Regular music radio was out, since Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBONOW have destroyed my ability to digest commercials. And I couldn’t bring myself to pony up the cash for Sirius radio, since all those video-streaming services are already sucking up my salary.

Mamma Mia Banner

So, what did I do? I went old school. Which brings me back to Mamma Mia. I got the CD. For the past two months, I’ve been driving to and from work, belting out “Money, Money, Money” and “Does Your Mother Know” and, of course, “Mamma Mia,” singing along with Streep and the rest of her silly gang. And I don’t care if people stare, because it’s so much more fun than listening to the news.

Then one evening, I got a sign. On a pizza run, my youngest son and my sweetie pie – an old-time, head-bangin’ rocker – joined in on “Dancing Queen”.  Who knew the big guy could sing every word?

So, I will try out next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In any case … I do feel better.

Maybe I’ll give up reading the newspaper too.

 

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.

 

 

 

“This is a fascinating story that took me along with the flow”

My thanks to Susan Hampson at Books From Dusk Till Dawn for reviewing my novel A Light in the Desert.

“All of the main characters in the story have major issues with their lives and find it hard to be accepted into society … One of them wanted to be forgotten for what he had done, one wanted to be remembered for what he would do and the other just wanted acceptance for who she was.”                       Susan Hampson  Books From Dusk Till Dawn

A Light in the Desert by Anne Montgomery @amontgomery8 #BookReview #ALightInTheDesert

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 cassowary: Why we should care

It’s estimated that nearly 500 animal species have become extinct since the beginning of the 20th century. Among them the Passenger Pigeon, Japanese Sea Lion, Western Black Rhinoceros, Golden Toad, Caribbean Monk Seal, and Mexican Grizzly Bear, now gone forever.

And yet, for most of us, the absence of these creatures makes no difference in our daily lives. Perhaps that’s why some people roll their eyes when they hear about saving the tiny Snail Darter or the Polar Bear or the Gray Wolf.

But what if a creature existed that could change lives with its passing? And I mean change in a big way.

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Meet the cassowary.

I first became aware of the giant, Australian bird that vaguely resembles an ostrich, but which sports a fabulously-colored keratin casque, while walking in the Daintree Rainforest – a UNESCO site like the Great Barrier Reef over which it hovers – that has one of the most complex ecosystems on Earth, hosting species whose ancestors date back 110 million years.

“The cassowary is extremely important,” our guide explained. “Without the bird, the forest would not exist.”

 

 

Daintree is primordial. Giant strangler figs crawl across the forest floor. Dappled sunlight sneaks though a thick green canopy. Massive ferns sprout from leaf-littered soil. The outside world is muted and the sight of a dinosaur might not seem strange.

I learned the cassowary is a one-bird master gardener, a creature that combs the forest floor eating fallen fruits, even gobbling up plants that are toxic to other creatures. The bird consumes up to 150 different types of fruits. The existence of 70 to 100 plant species depends on the cassowary pooping out their seeds in a pile of protective, compost-like dung, the smell of which repels seed predators. The cassowary is a “keystone” species, which means a species on which others in an ecosystem largely depend, one that, if removed, would cause the ecosystem to change drastically.

downloadSo, no cassowary, no rainforest. But there’s more. Below Daintree are mangroves, a mucky area rich in bio-matter that filters down from the forest. All types of young creatures  – crabs, jellyfish, snappers, jacks, red drums, sea trout, tarpon, sea bass, and even juvenile sharks – thrive in the protection of the fertile water of the mangroves.

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Off shore, the Great Barrier Reef follows  Australia’s eastern coast. There, too, the nutrients from the forest help feed the tiny creatures that build the reefs. This fertilizer promotes the growth of phytoplankton which nourishes the zooplankton on which the coral polyps dine. Without this sustenance the coral dies, losing the ability to protect the shoreline from waves, storms, and flooding, which leads to loss of human life and property.

Also consider that roughly 25% of the world’s fish species spend part of their lives on the reefs. If the Great Barrier Reef dies – note that half of the more than 1,400-mile structure has already perished – vast fisheries could collapse leading to starvation that could ultimately affect billions of people.

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Which brings me back to the cassowary. It’s estimated that only 12,000 to 15,000 of the birds remain in the wild. Loss of habitat is decreasing their numbers, as are attacks by dogs.  Another problem is humans driving too fast.

Why should we care?

I think the cassowary is but one example of the interconnectedness of life. Perhaps that’s something we should think about.

 

 

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.

On air with Kevin Mccabe

For those of you who missed the program, here’s a podcast of yesterday’s Arizona Preps Live radio show. My thanks to Kevin Mccabe for inviting me to join him.

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http://arizonasports.com/category/podcast_player/…

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Stranger Danger: Let’s banish the phrase

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The chances of a child being abducted by a stranger are not much higher than you running into Bigfoot.

“You have to be here on time,” I say to one of my students for the thousandth time. “It’s important.”

She bobs her head. “I know, but my mom was late.”

“Why don’t you take the bus?”

“I’m not allowed.”

“You’re fifteen. Certainly, old enough to figure out how to get yourself to school on time.”

But I know better than to pursue the conversation. I understand the problem. Stranger Danger!

The term, which was popularized in the 1960s, backfired big time. Not only did it make parents believe the chances of their child being spirited away by a stranger were astronomical, it gave children the unfounded belief that all the people they knew were safe.

Simple fact checking proves that the chances of a stranger disappearing with a child are almost ridiculously rare.

According to David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, “Children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent one hundredth of one percent of all missing children.” In other words: This is not your primary concern. This might not even be your secondary or tertiary concern. On your totem pole of concerns, this is buried hundreds of feet below the earth.”

As a teacher of almost two decades, I often find myself interacting with children I meet outside the classroom. That parents believe I might have nefarious intentions breaks my heart.

A perfect example happened one day when I was attending a rugby game. A friend was playing, so I leashed my sweet new puppy and went to the game. For those unfamiliar with rugby, let me say here there is no experience quite like it in sports. The players knock the snot out of each other, then do a lot of group hugging and head to the nearest bar, where they share a meal and some bubbly grown-up beverages and then settle in for a sing-along.  I mention this because rugby is a family-friendly affair.

I trailed my six-month old, black and white puppy through a maze of colorful blankets spread beside the pitch. Fans cheered from folding chairs as they nibbled on chips and fried chicken, while sipping cool drinks.

Suddenly, a little girl appeared. She was maybe three. Crouching on stubby legs, she cooed at my pup, then giggled in delight. For reasons I can’t quite recall, I handed the child the leash and she walked my dog about a dozen feet.

Out of nowhere, a woman emerged from the crowd and yanked the child by the arm.

“Does Mommy know this person?” she shrieked and pointed a finger at me.

Heads turned.

“Does she?”

The child looked at her mother, turned a bright shade of crimson, and started to wail.

“This is a stranger!”

I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out. More people turned to watch. I wanted to say, “Ma’am, I would never hurt your child. She only wanted to pet the puppy.” But I just stood there mute.

The woman dragged the child away. I picked up my dog’s leash, feeling the stares from those who had witnessed the moment, and wished I could just disappear.

What did that mother achieve? She taught her child to fear everyone, except perhaps the family members, neighbors, and acquaintances who, statistics show, are most likely to harm her.

Clearly, the idea of stranger danger needs to go. KidsSmartz, a child safety program that educates families about preventing abduction and empowers kids in grades K-5 to practice safer behaviors, offers the following options.

Don’t say: Never talk to strangers. 

Say: You should not approach just anyone. If you need help, look for a uniformed police officer, a store clerk with a name tag, or a parent with children.

Don’t say: Stay away from people you don’t know. 

Say: It’s important for you to get my permission before going anywhere with anyone.

Don’t say: You can tell someone is bad just by looking at them. 

Say: Pay attention to what people do. Tell me right away if anyone asks you to keep a secret, makes you feel uncomfortable, or tries to get you to go with them.

Now, let’s banish the term stranger danger once and for all.

 

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.

 

 

Naked in the locker room – a warning, some might find this content disturbing

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I’ve worked out most of my life. Swimming laps and spending time on the treadmill are not things I enjoy. As I often tell the folks at the front desk of the health club where I spend time each week, the best part about being there is leaving. Because, I feel good when I’m done.

As you might expect, my gym has a locker room where I shower and dress. It has always been my understanding that this was a sanctuary, of sorts. But sometimes, not so much.

Before I get to my biggest gripe about the locker room, let’s talk about the parents that bring their children into that inner sanctum. As sometimes not-so-wee children stare at me during my post-shower dry off, I want to say, “Ma’am, I hope your offspring will not be permanently damaged and perhaps in need of psychological counseling after gazing upon my nakedness. After all, I’ve past six decades and well, as you can see …”

Generally, my mind stops at that point, realizing that such a parent would, no doubt, ignore me or spout some piffle about protecting her kids from stranger-danger. There is, after all, a child care center at my health club. So, it’s not as if they have no options. The good news is there is now a sign posted asking parents to refrain from dragging their progeny into the locker rooms and most parents actually take heed.

The other problem is the abundance of mirrors. We older naked folks generally try not to look at our reflections as we move to our lockers. We know better than to gaze too long in that brightly-lit environment. The problem emanates from young women, many of whom have decided the locker room is the perfect spot to take rear-end selfies. The first time I watched a twenty-something posing between two mirrors, turning her backside this way and that, snapping picture after picture, I was bemused. I surreptitiously watched her, amazed at the number of photos she was taking and the contortions she subjected her body to. It seems selfies are a lot of work.

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Recently, yet another young woman posed between the mirrors clicking away. I assumed she planned to post the pics on social media. Then I wondered what said selfies might say about her. Would men want to date her? Or would they flee in fear that her self-absorption might envelop them.

I paused and then, with clear intentions, walked my almost 64-year-old naked self between her and the back mirror. I pictured her aghast as she swiped though her pics later on. I wanted to say, “You know, someday, you’ll look just like me.”

But I didn’t. I think she’ll get the point.

 

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 I’m sixty-four

Paul McCartney was 16 when he wrote the lyrics to “When I’m Sixty-Four”.
When the Beatles released the song in 1967, I was 12.
Then, I blinked.
Today is my birthday. And yes, I’m 64.
With that in mind, I am wondering about my sweetie pie.
Dododododododododo…
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When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Actually, that would be today.
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Probably not. We’ve sworn off those overly-commercial holidays.
Birthday greetings bottle of wine
You betcha’! Stop the wine and this thing ends! Right here! Right now!
If I’d been out till quarter to three
That’s hysterical. When was the last time either of us was out past nine? Go ahead, think about it.
Would you lock the door
Why bother when we both have keys.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four
Ry in glasses cooking
You, my sweetie pie, love cooking almost as much as you love me, so yeah, I’m guessing the cuisine will keep coming in all it’s scrumptious splendor.
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
Nope. I have many useful talents, but playing successfully with electricity is not one of them.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
No, again. I don’t think you’ve been hiding those knitting skills from me all these years and we live in the desert, where sitting by the fireside is a rather redundant activity.
Sunday mornings go for a ride
Now here’s something we could do.
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Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Remember when you were trying to whoo me and you lifted those giant boulders in the yard? That was sweet. Now, you look at me and say, “Pay someone to do it.” Where has the romance gone?
Who could ask for more
I could, but I won’t. As I have so much, it would just seem greedy.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four
I’m hoping you will.
I guess we’ll find out.
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 best-laid plans

White Mountains Greer

A chance encounter in Arizona’s White Mountains tested my wilderness skills … and I failed.

With my love of rock collecting, camping, and scuba diving, I have spent a great deal of time in the wilderness. I have always prided myself on knowing what to do in case of an emergency. Of course, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. One day in Greer, Arizona, my outdoor skills were seriously tested, and I failed miserably.

What was I doing in the tiny town that perches 8,300 feet above sea level in the heart of the White Mountains? It started with my now ex-husband Higgs, who, at the time, was the chef and manager at the iconic Greer Lodge.

“How’d you like to go stay at the inn from Sunday night through Thursday morning?” he said.

“Why?”

“I can’t stand being there all week?”

Ah. I understood. Higgs was a city boy from Detroit who had no love for wild places. The quiet of the mountains and high meadows drove him crazy.

“What would I have to do?”

“I need you to train the waitstaff. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

I had spent five years working in a restaurant in Washington D.C., both as a server and a bartender, so I had those skills.

“And, I’d like you to eat three meals a day and critique the food.”

That sounded delightful, but still I held out.

“You can stay in a nice room at the lodge. I’ll pay you $125 a day.”

As I was unemployed at the time, the idea was starting to intrigue me.

“And, you can bring Georgie with you.”

“I’ll do it!” I said delighted that I could have my sweet dog with me.”

And so, I began my weekly treks from Phoenix – where the temperature hovered around 110 degrees – to the cool green pines of the Arizona’s White Mountains.

Greer Lodge Back Porch

The Little Colorado River flows placidly behind the Greer Lodge, where I worked one summer.

The Greer Lodge was a rustic, two-story, pine-log building that had eight rooms, a back porch fronting the Little Colorado River, and a restaurant. I did my best to organize and instruct the servers, local young people who didn’t appreciate my efforts. They called me a low-lander behind my back, and mostly ignored my efforts to teach them how to properly open and serve wine, deliver orders, and clear tables. I did however, enjoy the food. My ex was an superb chef, and the people in the kitchen followed his recipes well.

The best part of being in Greer was that, between meals, I was free to do anything I wanted. Which for me meant exploring the forests and streams with my dog by my side. Georgie was a small black and white collie who had chosen me on a trip to Georgia. We first met when I was visiting a friend who had instructed me to go next door to borrow a hammer. When I crossed into the neighbor’s yard, two giant Rottweilers hurled themselves at a chain-link fence, scaring the crap out of me. Then, a little pup appeared, barking frantically at the big dogs, placing herself between me and them. Fearing for her safety, I scooped her up.

“She’s from across the street,” my friend said. “There was another puppy, but they let them run lose and it got hit by a car and died.”

I gazed at the little dog that had curled up next to me on the couch .

“Go tell them you want her.”

So, I walked across the street, where a bratty teenage girl greeted me at the door. “Oh!” She rolled her eyes. “It got out of its cage again.”

“It!” I clutched the dog. Her little head rested on my shoulder. The girl reached for the animal and I pulled back. “Do you want this dog?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think my aunt wants her either.”

“I’ll be staying over there for a few days.” I pointed at the house. “If you want her, come and get her.”

To my relief, they never appeared.

Georgie and I had been together a long time the day we found ourselves in a bit a jam on a mountain trail. It was a spectacular blue-sky, puffy-white-clouds kind of day. The sweet scent of pine and moist forest earth permeated the air. Then a noise made me stop and look uphill. I noticed that the thick vegetation was swaying. My first thought was an elk, but the foliage was not very tall, so an elk would have been visible. The plants continued moving back and forth as the hidden animal trudged toward me. I knew then it could only be a bear.

Black Bears 1

Black bears like these roam the mountains and some lowland areas of Arizona

I’d never meet a bear on foot in the wild.  My understanding was that I should make myself look as big as possible by raising my arms in the air and create a lot of noise. Most importantly, I should not run.

I thought about those things, but stood frozen. I glanced at Georgie, who sniffed the air beside me. Our eyes met. Then, she bolted back up the trail. My dog — who as a pup had so bravely defended  me — disappeared around a rocky bend. I looked back at the swaying shrubs trying to gage the size of the animal that was approaching. It was big.

Against all advice … I ran, skittering over loose stones, dodging roots and rocks. I thought about looking back, but was afraid of what I’d see. I ran until I doubled over, out of breath. Georgie was waiting for me on the trail. Other than the thumping of my heart, the woods were quiet, only a breeze pushing through the pines.

Later, Georgie and I made our way back to the lodge. Perhaps, because we were both embarrassed by our reactions, we never again spoke of our encounter with the bear.

 

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 dream of being an ice skater evaporated and I couldn’t be happier

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People always seem to key in on the same piece of information on my resume. The notation mentioning that I earned a bronze-medal in ice dancing from the United Stated Figure Skating Association always seems to impress, even though I go out of my way to explain the lowliness of that specific award.

My parents first took me to South Mountain Arena in West Orange, New Jersey when I was five and I quickly developed a dream of becoming an Olympic skater.

Later, as an overweight adolescent, the aspiration remained, and even though I had never seen any pudgy athletes waiting for a medal to be placed around their necks, I could still picture the event quite clearly in my mind.

However, I realized my world was nothing like that of the kids who were real competitors. Though my parents would schlep me to a rink several times each week, they refused to let me take the sport too seriously. In retrospect, they did me a favor, but it would be years before I understood their logic.

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I always admired elegant skaters when I was growing up and dreamed of being like them.

I loved the graceful, elegant figure skaters, and especially admired the pairs and dance couples who flew to reverberating orchestral music in perfect unison, on good days. Though, I was also on hand to see them collapse in screaming heaps on the hard ice, blaming one another for the error that had deposited them on their butts, teaching pros and parents encouraging them to calm down and get on with it, since each and every one of them harbored the hope – almost as wildly absurd as winning the Powerball Lottery – that they would one day find themselves staring down from an Olympic podium, gold medals shinning as the crowd sang the national anthem.

Because I was a not at the rink on a daily basis, most of these children rarely spoke to me. The pecking order was strictly set. Anybody who was not part of this elite group of Olympic hopefuls was often snubbed, though not because the serious skaters weren’t interested in mingling with those of us who were mere hobbyists. I didn’t understand until later the often-wistful looks I caught from some of these kids when they’d pass those of us who were skating just for fun.

One special skater was Tommy, who my girlfriends and I would watch surreptitiously, transfixed by his skills on the ice and the abundance of sensuality he oozed. I was equally amazed by the way he fit into both skating worlds. On one hand, Tommy was an ice dancer who skated with his sisters when they needed a partner. But he wore no sparkling, billowy-sleeved costume. During practice sessions, Tommy often appeared in black jeans and a white T-shirt, sometimes with a pack of Marlboros rolled up in his sleeve. Then, he would swap out that attire for hockey gear.  He’d take the ice as a defender, popping and checking opponents into the boards, tough and illusive, his figure-skating skills making him almost impossible to catch or knock down.

One day at the start of a dance session, I was standing by the boards when the announcement came over the intercom that the opening dance would be a Dutch Waltz. As skaters were lining up at either end of the ice to begin the simple pattern of cross-overs and swing rolls, Tommy streaked by and grabbed my hand. As there was always a dearth of male skaters – most of the girls had to perform the patterns alone – I was delighted at the prospect of having a partner.

Tommy stood slightly behind me and to the left, placing his right hand solidly on my waist. I placed my right hand on top of his. Then he held his left hand out for me to take, as courteously as a medieval knight. When I grasped his hand in mine, he pulled me tightly to him, close enough that I could smell the warm scent of nicotine on his breath. In proper Kilian dance position there would have been a demure space between us, but Tommy held me as close to his body as our skates would allow.

The introduction to Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz with its deliberate 3/4 time echoed from the loudspeakers. All the skaters straightened up, preparing to launch themselves into the dance. Tommy and I pushed off. We turned and whirled and for the first time I paid no attention to my feet. Though the Dutch Waltz was the simplest of all the dances, I felt like I was flying.

I would get to know some of the other skaters, because Tommy introduced me to them. And I sensed that while I admired their world, they admired mine. I had something that none of them had: freedom. Skating was all they were allowed to do. They didn’t attend summer camp or participate in Scouts. They didn’t go to football games or act in plays or spend idle times just walking in the woods with the dog.  Some of them didn’t even go to school: their educations handled by private tutors who worked around their skating and ballet lessons and hours of ice time. They had no holidays. Some would tell me they practiced 365 days a year. For them skating was a prison, where they were constantly observed by parents and coaches.

I sensed a kinship with a girl who, one day, while under her mother’s watchful eye, still managed to slip some coins into a vending machine. She pushed a button behind her back, gathered up a Snickers bar that had dropped into the tray, unwrapped it, and shoved the entire snack into her mouth without her mother noticing.

Perhaps it’s hard to blame what today we would call helicopter parents for their vigilance. The financial investment in creating a world-class skater is astronomical, equivalent to an Ivy League education. Still, I wonder how many of those kids chose that life. Or, if given the chance, would have preferred something else.

As I got older, I finally appreciated not being part of that world. I would have missed out on so many things had I been forced to focus on skating alone. Perhaps I should thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to branch out.

Still, I have never quit admiring the beauty and grace of ice skating.

 

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.

 

 

A peek inside my inner-city classroom

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My students deal with myriad issues outside the classroom, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn.

I have taught in an inner-city high school in Phoenix for almost two decades, where children struggle differently than I did growing up in a middle-class suburb. Here’s a peek into my classroom from when I was a reading specialist.

“You can’t talk about God!” Rachel called from across the room. “You’re not allowed!” The 15-year-old smugly crossed her arms over her chest.

“Of course I can talk about the gods, Rachel.” My use of plural deities threw her off and for a moment she was speechless.

“There’s that church-and-state thing,” she shot back.

“What do you mean gods?” Berto, shy and quiet, got to his seat after arriving late. Again.

Earlier in my teaching career, I would have publicly chastised Berto for his tardiness, pointing out that he’d never, ever hold a job if he couldn’t be on time. But since discovering that the boy’s mother had recently died, that his 28-year-old father was in prison, and that he was pretty much homeless, I just didn’t have the heart.

I looked out over the faces in my freshmen reading class: a mixed group of mostly Hispanic and Black students, none of whom read at grade level. A few had such poor reading skills the tests couldn’t even register their abilities. At 15, some were considered pre-school readers. Others were close to the ninth-grade level, but the majority of my students’ reading abilities fell between third and sixth grade. A few of the children were Special Ed with behavioral issues and learning disabilities like dyslexia. One girl had been born a conjoined twin to a crack addict. Her eyes wandered and were set too far apart. Another girl was a cutter who contemplated suicide. A tall, muscular boy who had just been paroled from prison told me he had done “dirty things,” but did not elaborate. And then there were my African students: a thin, gangly Ethiopian boy with a constant smile who spoke four languages, but not a word of English. I’m not sure what language the tiny, frightened Nigerian girl spoke.  I later learned the West African nation boasts 510 living languages, but I could find no one who understood a word the child said.

Still, my job at South Mountain High School, the most inner-city school in Phoenix, Arizona, was to teach them all to read at grade level.

“There is only one God! Jesus, our Lord and Savior,” Rachel shouted, quite pleased with herself.

“I thought we weren’t allowed to talk about that!” Carlos squinted at Rachel.

She turned to him slowly and glared.

“We can certainly speak of the gods or God, if you like,” I said, butting in to avoid a confrontation. Carlos and Rachel were always arguing.

I checked the clock. I’d give the stragglers five more minutes. I hated starting a lesson with half the class yet to arrive. So, we’d begun with a story from the newspaper, an effort to stall for the latecomers and to boost the little bit of knowledge my students had about the world beyond the blighted blocks in which they lived.

This day, the class discussed Ancient Rome. As I recall, some fabulous new artifacts had recently been discovered in the city. I don’t remember how Jesus came up, but in a school that’s almost 75% Hispanic – a group that’s overwhelmingly Catholic – and 24% Black with an abundance of Southern Baptists, the fact that Jesus enters into discussions is not necessarily surprising.

I mentioned that we don’t really know what Jesus looked like, pointing out that the blond, blue-eyed version favored by Europeans is completely unlikely.

“Ms. Montgomery, of course we know what Jesus looked like!” Little Sophia, with the angel’s face and waist-length, blue-black hair, stared up at me,

Several heads nodded in agreement.

“No, Sophia. We can only guess. We have no idea what Jesus looked like.”

“But there are pictures!”

I paused and took a breath. “Photographs?”

She nodded her head.

“There were no cameras two thousand years ago, Sophia.”

The girl stared from her seat in the middle of the room. “But, Ms. Montgomery,” she said as if speaking to a confused child. “If there were no photographs, how did that guy paint the picture of the supper?”

“You can’t talk about that!” Rachel shook her head.

“Think about history,” I said.

“I hate history!” Rachel crossed her arms again.

“It’s so boring,” two students said almost simultaneously.

“Still, do you think it’s possible to teach history without ever mentioning religion? And if we mention religion, mustn’t we also speak of God?”

Rachel bit her lower lip.

“Remember learning about why the Pilgrims first came to the New World?”

“Freedom of religion,” Berto called out from his seat by the row of computers near the wall.

“Raise your hand, Berto.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You have all learned about the Pilgrims and how they came to the Americas so they could worship freely, yes?” But a quick glance around the room told me that some of them had no idea what I was talking about. “The point is, we must study religion if we are to understand our world. Religion has shaped our past and will shape your future. After 9/11, many of you might have discussed what it means to be a Muslim in your classrooms.” There were a few nods. “The thing a teacher cannot do, however, and this is where the separation of church and state comes in, is to try to convince you to convert to a particular religion. That is what is not allowed.”

“Oh, I get it.” Rachel nodded.

A number of other students seemed to understand, as well.  Though, from Big Travis, in the back corner of the room, there was no response. Exhausted from football practice and protecting his mother from an estranged, violent father, he snored quietly as his head sagged on his massive chest.

 

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.