Thursday, December 31, 2009

Yorkshire Pudding has honored me with an award.

And not just any award either. Lord Yorkshire Pudding of Pudding Towers, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, has chosen me as the Top American Blogger of 2009, which recognition is accompanied by this tasteful portrait:

Am I lucky or what?

My absolute delight in having been chosen is tempered somewhat by the deep suspicion that I am quite possibly the only American blogger with whom Mr. Yorkshire Pudding is acquainted, except for Mr. Sam Gerhardstein of Columbus, Ohio, who won the Top Granddad Blogger award. I was also eligible for this award but somehow, inexplicably, was not chosen. Of course, I am much too modest to mention my six magnificent grandchildren over and over and over or show you their photographs repeatedly because, as Belle Watling once said to Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind in an entirely different context, “It wouldn’t be fitten.”

Mr. Pudding was on a roll.

My friend Katherine of The Last Visible Dog shared Top New Zealand Blogger honors with someone I don’t know. Very well done, Katherine!

My friend Ian, a.k.a. Silverback, of Retirement Rocks!, who divides his time between England and Sebring, Florida, received YP’s soon-to-be-coveted Susan Boyle Award and was named the Top Transatlantic Jet Set Blogger. I believe this is somewhat akin to receiving the Gene Hersholt award from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (Oscar to you) chiefly for being very old and decrepit and never having received an award in earlier years when you might actually have deserved one.

And my friend Daphne of Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom, whose blog is called My Dad's a Communist because, well, er, her dad (who unfortunately passed away about a year ago) was a communist, was named “Blogger of the Year 2009”. Huzzahs all around! Very well deserved! One difference between Americans and Brits is in the number of “hips” used to precede a “hurrah!” and so I do not know whether the cheer that should be used to congratulate dear Daphne properly is “hip, hip, hurrah:” or “hip, hip, hip, hurrah!” Until this international dispute is settled once and for all, please discuss amongst yourselves.

Since I am as gracious in victory as in defeat, I herewith include this link to Yorkshire Pudding’s blog so that not only can you read Lord Pudding's remarks at the awards ceremony and see a picture of grand-prize-winner Daphne, resplendent in her matching turquoise T-shirt and eyeglasses, but also you can learn who received the rest of the awards.

Happy surfing! Or as we Americans say, knock yourselves out!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It’s that time of year again

Yes, the old clock on the wall tells us it is once again time to torture ourselves with listen to an annual musical recital by the one and only Anna Russell. Miss Russell died in 2006 just a couple of months shy of her 95th birthday, and one can only wonder whether these recordings were made before or after her demise.

Anna Russell sings “Canto dolciamente pippo” from the opera "La Cantatrice Squelante" by the Italian composer Michelangelo Occupinti (8:16)

Anna Russell sings “O How I Love the Spring” and “Da, Nyet” (6:37)

Anna Russell sings “ “Ah, Lover” from the operetta The Prince of Philadelphia (3:45)

Anna Russell sings “Schlumph” and “Je N’ai Pas la Plume de Ma Tante” (5:50)

Anna Russell sings “Schreechenrauf” (6:52)

Those of you previously unacquainted with Miss Russell cannot say that any more. And those of you who overindulge in alcoholic beverages on New Year’s Eve will discover that listening to Miss Russell sing has the added benefit of making you forget all about your hangover as you rush out to buy a good set of earplugs.

Finally, Anna Russell tells you How to Become a Singer (5:24)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

You win some, you lose some

The course of true love never did run smooth.*

CLICK HERE for a timely example of what I’m talking about.

If you couldn't understand what the singers were saying, here are the lyrics. The author is a man named Frederick Silver:

The first day after Christmas my true love and I had a fight
And so I chopped the pear tree down and burned it just for spite.
Then with a single cartridge, I shot that blasted partridge
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The second day after Christmas, I pulled on the old rubber gloves
And very gently wrung the necks of both the turtle doves
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The third day after Christmas, my mother caught the croup;
I had to use the three French hens to make some chicken soup.

The four calling birds were a big mistake, for their language was obscene;
The five gold rings were completely fake and they turned my fingers green.

The sixth day after Christmas, the six laying geese wouldn't lay;
I gave the whole darn gaggle to the A.S.P.C.A.

On the seventh day what a mess I found,
All seven of the swimming swans had drowned
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The eighth day after Christmas, before they could suspect,
I bundled up the
Eight maids a milking,
Nine pipers piping,
Ten ladies dancing,
Eleven lords a leaping,
Twelve drummers drumming
(Well, actually, I kept one of the drummers)
and sent them back collect.

I wrote my true love, “We are through, love,”
and I said in so many words,
“Furthermore your Christmas gifts were for the birds!”

* A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 1, scene 1
** American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The sounds of Christmas

Here are two of my favorite choral groups, the King's College Choir of Cambridge University in England led by Stephen Cleobury and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus led by the late Robert Shaw, singing some of the great music of Christmas in an excellent fashion:

Sussex Carol (1:32)

Ding Dong! Merrily On High! (2:03)

Coventry Carol (2:56)

O Tannenbaum (2:04)

Carol of the Bells (1:21)

Angels We Have Heard On High (2:06)

In the Bleak Midwinter (3:42)

O Come All Ye Faithful (4:09)

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (2:06)

Jesus Christ The Apple Tree (2:47)

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (1:06)

Gloria in Excelsis Deo! (2:33)

And from my house to yours, a very merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know about “O Holy Night!” but were afraid to ask.

News flash: I’m beginning to come out of my “Bah, Humbug!” phase. It happens every year about this time. Just when I think I can’t stand one more minute of Madison Avenue’s infuriating commercials and the incessant attempts by Macy’s and Walmart and Target and Best Buy and Sears and Penney’s and Kohl’s to relieve me of all the money in my bank account, wonder of wonders, just in time for Christmas, I begin to get the Christmas spirit.

Christmas Eve is still four days away, but already “O Holy Night” is running through my head.

According to our old friend Wikipedia, this well-known Christmas carol was composed in 1847 by Adolphe Adam (pronounced uh-DAWLF uh-DAHNHHH in French) as “Cantique de Noël” (Song of Christmas) using the words of the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by the poet Placide Cappeau.

See, you already know more about this subject than the average bear. Wait, here’s more:

It was translated into English by Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight in Dwight’s Journal of Music in 1855. Also, when Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden broadcast the first AM radio program on December 24, 1906, the program included him playing “O Holy Night” on the violin, so the carol appears to have been the first piece of music to be broadcast on radio.

There’s still more.

Popular versions on records or CDs include Enrico Caruso (1912), Julius LaRosa (1953), Michael Crawford (1993), Céline Dion (1998), and Josh Groban (2002). There are dozens, if not hundreds of recordings of this song, including ones by Charlotte Church, Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, and Harry Connick Jr., just to name a few people whose last names begin with the third letter of the alphabet. But my favorite version, even though it is perhaps a tad theatrical, is this one recorded in 2001 by David Phelps.

To make your excursion complete around this traditional favorite, you should know that there are at least two English versions of the lyrics, and that neither one is a direct translation from the French.

Here is version 1:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
’Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us Praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Here is version 2:

O! Holy night! The stars, their gleams prolonging,
Watch o’er the eve of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error, longing
For His appearance, then the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was Born;
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts we stand by the Babe adored.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
And come now, Shepherds, from your flocks unboard.
The Son of God lay thus w’thin lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our Lord.

He knows our need, our weakness never lasting,
Behold your King! By Him, let Earth accord!
Behold your King! By Him, let Earth accord!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Long live His truth, and may it last forever,
For in His name all discordant noise shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Here are the original French words:

Minuit, chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle,
Où l’Homme-Dieu descendit jusqu’à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d’espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.

Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance.
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur!

De notre foi que la lumière ardente
Nous guide tous au berceau de l’Enfant,
Comme autrefois une étoile brillante
Y conduisit les chefs de l’Orient.
Le Roi des rois naît dans une humble crèche:
Puissants du jour, fiers de votre grandeur,

A votre orgueil, c’est de là que Dieu prêche.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.

Le Rédempteur a brisé toute entrave:
La terre est libre, et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n’était qu’un esclave,
L'amour unit ceux qu’enchaînait le fer.
Qui Lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C'est pour nous tous qu’Il naît, qu’Il souffre et meurt.

Peuple debout! Chante ta délivrance,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur!

And here is a translation of the French:

Midnight, Christians, it’s the solemn hour,
When God-man descended to us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

The ardent light of our Faith,
Guides us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Conducted the Magi there from the orient.
The King of kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your grandeur,

It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
It’s for all of us that He is born,
That He suffers and dies.

People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

I think I like that version best of all.

P.S. -- “uh-DAWLF uh-DAHNHHH” is my own attempt at reproducing the French pronunciation of Adolphe Adam; Wikipedia had nothing to do with it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I vote for...(hold that thought)

It’s that time of year again. You know, the time of year when people make lists about the year because it is drawing to a close.

Last week, Barbara Walters made a list of “The Ten Most Fascinating People of 2009” according to her and then -- how convenient -- produced and hosted an hour-long ABC-TV special about them, interviewing each one in turn. Here are her choices:

1. Lady Gaga
2. Glenn Beck
3. Tyler Perry
4. Kate Gosselin
5. Adam Lambert
6. Sarah Palin
7. Brett Favre
8. Jenny Sanford
9. Michael Jackson’s three children

and the most fascinating person of 2009 according to Barbara Walters:

10. Michelle Obama

Actually, that’s 12. She said she didn”t choose Michael Jackson himself because he is dead and only living people can qualify for her list, which only goes to prove her version of the Golden Rule. You know, them what has the gold makes the rules. I have not linked to any of these people. If you want to know more about them, you can go look them up all by yourself.

I disagree with her choices, by the way. Barbara can’t help it, really. Being both bi-coastal and a member of the main-stream-media elite in this country, she is somewhat limited and provincial in her outlook by the circles in which she, er, circulates.

The person I think is the most fascinating person of 2009 didn’t even make it into Barbara’s top ten. Boy, is she out of touch.

Yesterday, Time magazine named its “Person of the Year” for 2009 and once again my choice was passed over. Time in its wisdom picked Ben Bernanke, the man who succeeded Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

How unimaginative.

Today, People magazine did include my choice as one of their “25 most intriguing people of 2009.” It’s about time.

Here’s my choice. I think she’s far more fascinating and intriguing than Ben Bernanke or Lady Gaga or Michelle Obama.

If you don't recognize her, you must have just arrived from another planet.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag, Ludwig!*

(Charles Schulz, Peanuts, March 20, 1969)

(First page of music of the Pathetique Sonata in C Minor, reprint of the first edition of 1799, The Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San Jose State University, San Jose, California, USA)

*Happy birthday, Ludwig!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ze car, she is vorking vunce again

Turned out to be mainly a matter of replacing the spark plugs and wires, although they also cleaned the throttle body and fuel injectors. Says so right on the receipt. I returned the loaner to Camille and Bob G. with a full tank of gas. And I found a new mechanic, a good one, in the bargain.

As Robert Browning once said, “God’s in His heaven; all’s right with the world.”

All’s well that ends well.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

God bless Camille and Bob G.

The nice young man who made the initial diagnosis of cylinders misfiring on my trusty steed with his computer equipment never returned with spark plugs or anything else. After a few fruitless rounds of phone tag, I decided to pursue another path to remedy our Toyota Camry’s problems. Either my dilemma didn’t register on his radar or his own life happens to be extremely busy and we are way down his list of priorities.

With very little wherewithal in my checking account for a few more days, however, we were reduced to doing nothing. Mrs. RWP, who usually hears more clearly that I do in matters spiritual, related that she was hearing “Be still and know that I am God.” So we decided to embrace the stillness (as if we had a choice). Our round of appointments with doctors was over and our pantry was fairly well stocked. We said, “Thank you, Lord, that our car isn’t working. Thank you that it is sitting in our garage. Thank you that we are staying at home for a while. You know what we need, Lord, and You are in charge.” We waited.

Some of you may be saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Really? I hasten to remind you that that is a quotation from Benjamin Franklin ( in Poor Richard's Almanac), not from the Bible. But God also is still on the throne, never late, and always right on time.

On Friday I mentioned on Facebook that we were temporarily without wheels. Camille and Bob G., some friends who live about a mile away, sent an e-mail on Saturday offering us the use of an extra car they have. So now, after six days of wondering and waiting, waiting and wondering, we have alternate transportation available. We were able to go to the grocery store and to church. Thanks be to God.

Tomorrow my son is driving over from a town some distance away to follow me in his vehicle as I nurse mine into a local independent mechanic’s shop that Bob G. highly recommended. My car hasn’t moved at all since last Monday afternoon when its Check Engine light flashed on and off as I was driving home from 17 miles away. A telephone call to another friend, Gary P. at the local Toyota dealer’s service department, has set my mind somewhat more at ease; he told me that since the indicator was flashing it might mean the problem is with the fuel and that it is probably safe to drive my car the three miles to the mechanic.

Tomorrow I shall learn more about the source of the problem from the mechanic. On Wednesday the monthly Social Security check will find its way into our account.

In the meantime, as I said, God bless Camille and Bob G.

Update, Mon., Dec. 14th: The new mechanic recommended by Bob G. told me just the opposite of Gary P., that a flashing indicator can mean the problem is more severe. While he examines the patient, the only thing we can do, still, is wait.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A car! A car! My kingdom for a car!

I know how Richard III felt. It’s a real bummer not to have transportation.

We used to have two cars, but after Mrs. RWP retired from her nursing career in 1997 we decided to save some money and cut back to one vehicle. Way back in the mid-1980s our second son worked for a few months at a local Toyota dealership, and ever since then we have owned nothing but Toyotas. After experiencing the Corolla and the Tercel and the Celica and drooling over an Avalon, we settled on driving Camrys. We leased for a few years, first a blue one, then a champagne one, then a burgundy one. We decided to buy the burgundy one at the end of the lease. Two months later, we were sitting at a traffic signal one Wednesday evening in the year 2000, waiting for the light to change from red to green, when BAM!!, we were hit from behind at full speed by a drunk driver who never saw the traffic signal, never saw our car, and never put his foot on the brake. Our burgundy Camry was totaled (totalled?) and that is how we acquired our current vehicle, a silver-colored 2000 Camry.

For nearly ten years it has run like a top except for a few minor glitches here and there. I have always had its tires rotated and its oil and filters changed according to the recommended maintenance schedule. With over 240,000 miles under its belt, this week it suddenly decided to sputter and spurt and jerk along and flash its “check engine light” at us. With precious little spare money for car repairs at the moment, it is sitting in our garage. My son’s friend who has always done a good job on his car (he had his own repair shop for a while) came by yesterday and took a look with his diagnostic equipment. It seems one of the cylinders is misfiring badly. It may be just spark plugs and wires. It may be the coil pack. It may be the catalytic converter. We don’t know yet. When we do know, I may not be able to afford to have the car repaired. We are hoping he has time to pick up some parts today and do some work, but he is fitting us into his schedule as he can (he now has his own insulation business), so we are currently without wheels. Fortunately, our cupboards are not bare and we have not yet had to send up flares.

But, as I said at the top, it’s a real bummer not to have transportation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winding down?

I began this blog on September 28, 2007, and by the end of that year I had written 43 posts. During all of 2008 I posted 228 times. I see by the old clock on the wall that 2009 will be drawing to a close soon. This post, if it sees the light of day, will be number 197 for this year. The possibility that I will create 32 more posts before New Year’s Day and exceed last year’s total is at this point, like the emperor of Ethiopia, Highly Unlikely. So maybe the great winding down has begun.

I wonder if the universe will end in a similar fashion, winding down a little at a time. One year the Earth will take 368 days to orbit the sun, then 375, then 392, and before you can say “Jack Robinson!” Life As We Know It will just grind to a complete halt and nothing short of another Big Bang (not that I believe in the Big Bang) will get it going again. I’m amazed at the whole orbiting phenomenon, how we keep circling the sun year after year without falling out of the sky into the trackless void. I mean, tiny atoms are whirling at some ungodly fast speed all the time, but the Macro-atom that is our solar system -- with the planets as its electrons -- manages to stay in place even though it is moving, by our perception, veeerrry sloooowwwwly. Compared to how long eternity is, however, the whole shebang may appear to the heavenly host to be whirling rapidly, just like its tiny counterparts.

Or maybe Earth’s whole axis tilt thing will return ever so slowly to its upright position of zero degrees off vertical. Then we’d have real climate change, let me tell you. Or the speed of light could slow down bit by bit until it moves at such a sluggish pace that light leaving the sun today wouldn’t reach us until a week from next Tuesday. Where would we be then?

Or maybe I’ll get busy and blog like crazy over the next three weeks and break last year’s record.

There are eight million posts in the naked blogosphere. This has been one of them.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In which the author, trying to write fiction, runs into a brick wall

I need your help. But first, read this:

Chapter 1

The regular scoutmaster had to go out of town on a business trip unexpectedly, so the assistant scout-master, Vernon Tutwiler, ended up having to take the troop of twelve Boy Scouts on the all-day hike and overnight camping trip by himself. He had packed his gear carefully the night before, reviewed various first aid procedures in case somebody got hurt, made sure his cell phone recharger was plugged into the wall, and set his alarm for four-thirty. Crawling into bed next to his waiting wife, Darla Sue, he dreaded the prospect of spending two days with teenaged boys. Darla Sue quickly made him forget all about teenaged boys.

The next afternon, after hiking for hours, Vernon had to admit that he was enjoying the outing even though his feet were aching and he was beginning to get a blister on his left heel. Just before sundown, the boys stopped hiking and erected their tents and dug their latrine and built their campfire and cooked their supper and settled in for the night in a small clearing above Bridal Veil Falls. They had pitched camp near a place where Vernon’s map showed three small waterways, Lowdown Creek and Nogood Creek and Fourflusher Creek, converged. The names of the creeks reminded Vernon of how cowboys talked in the old black-and-white Western movies he used to see every Saturday afternoon in the balcony of the Farr-Best Theater in Gastonia when he was a kid. He smiled remembering the insults cowboys hurled at one another when they had ridden into town hoping to hook up with dance-hall girls for an evening of pleasure but instead got rip-roaring drunk in the saloon and accused someone of cheating at poker and started a fistfight and shot up the place with their trusty six-shooters and got tossed in the hoosegow for the night by the sheriff to cool off and sober up before returning the next day to their thankless jobs of herding three thousand head of Hereford cattle north to the railroad hub in Abilene and loading them into boxcars destined for slaughter-houses in Omaha and Kansas City so that businessmen in cities back east could take their wives out to eat steak in fancy restaurants. Vernon was always thinking things like that; he considered himself to be a deep thinker.

Darla Sue, on the other hand, thought Vernon wasted far too much time thinking instead of what he ought to be doing, such as mowing the lawn or taking out the garbage or getting the oil changed in their Pontiac sedan. It was her only real complaint about him. Her mother, Virgie Perkins Hobgood Dickerson, who lived with Darla Sue and Vernon, thought her son-in-law was a lollygagger and a daydreamer and told her daughter so on more than one occasion. “Darla Sue,” Virgie would say, “I know you love him and all but I think Vernon is a lollygagger and a daydreamer.”

Virgie had moved in with Darla and Vernon two years ago after her third husband, Claude Dickerson, the best of the lot, God rest his soul, died of emphysema because he couldn’t or wouldn’t give up his two-packs-a-day cigarette habit even though she was a good wife and had begged him for five solid years to stop. She had also told her daughter many times that Vernon was nothing but a lazy bum. Virgie was convinced that in the husband department Darla Sue could have done a whole lot better than Vernon Algernon Tutwiler. Darla Sue would just smile at her mother and say nothing because Vernon Algernon Tutwiler did just fine where it counted in the husband department, thank you very much. Behind closed bedroom doors he and Darla Sue did many things that would have shocked both of their mothers but daydreaming and lollygagging were not among them, no, indeed.

The main reason Vernon had agreed to become an assistant scoutmaster was to spend one evening a week away from the grating voice of Virgie Perkins Hobgood Dickerson. The occasional hikes and overnight camping trips that came with the job had turned out to be a mixed blessing: more time away from his mother-in-law also meant more time away from his sweet Darla Sue. According to Vernon’s map, the larger waterway formed by the convergence of the creeks was called Dead Man’s Creek but no one in town knew why. Nobody had ever died there that anyone was aware of. After splashing over the waterfall, Dead Man’s Creek widened into a respectable river that meandered through a few miles of shaded woods and open fields, then snaked between a few scattered farms before finally emptying into Princess Lake just above the town of Mount Pisgah, sixteen miles from the clearing where the twelve boys of Troop 378 and their assistant scoutmaster spent a quiet night.

Vernon awoke with a start just as the sun was coming over the horizon, and he reached for Darla Sue before he realized where he was. He opened his eyes, sat up, stretched his arms, and yawned. He felt a bit stiff from having to sleep on the ground with only a blanket around him; somehow he had neglected to bring a sleeping bag or an inflatable air mattress. The day before had been a good day of hiking and the new day promised to be even better: the sun was shining and the dogwood trees were in blossom. In the big oaks at the edge of the clearing, some mockingbirds were singing their hearts out. It was a gorgeous day and Vernon was certain that, in spite of no sleeping bag and no Darla Sue, God was in His heaven and all was right with the world.

Vernon looked at the calendar watch on his wrist. It was seven-fifteen a.m., Sunday, the twenty-fourth of April. The boys were all still sleeping. He had to pee but he knew better than to use the boys’ latrine. He wasn’t the smartest cookie in the jar but he was smart enough to know that the world had slowly changed since he was a kid and he didn’t want some hysterical mother accusing him of exposing himself to her little darling. Vernon folded up his olive-drab army blanket, pulled his khaki pants on over his gray boxer briefs, slipped his feet into his hiking shoes, and walked a short way into the woods to relieve himself. He was just zipping his pants up when a rustling in the grass a few yards to his left caught his attention. He glanced to the side thinking it might be a deer or a raccoon or maybe even a snake.

What he saw shocked him, and he said, “Holy Christ!” out loud. A gray squirrel was scurrying away from a scene he was not expecting to see: two people, a man and a woman, were lying next to one another a few yards away. The man was lying face down and the woman was lying face up and the man’s right arm was stretched across the woman’s belly. They were both naked. Vernon almost felt like a Peeping Tom peeking into someone’s bedroom window at a couple sleeping in their bed, except there was no window and no bed and it was very clear they were not sleeping because their heads and hands and feet were missing. He moved a little closer to get a better look. On the upper part of the man’s right arm between his elbow and his shoulder was a tattoo of a rose with leaves and thorns, and over the rose the name “Shirley” was written in fancy script. On the man’s lower back just above his round, bare behind was another tattoo, a blue anchor with the words SEMPER FI under it in blue block letters. The woman didn’t have any tattoos that Vernon could see. The bodies couldn’t have been there very long because there was no odor and they had not yet begun to decay.

Vernon pulled his cell phone out of his pants pocket and called the sheriff’s office in Mount Pisgah. The sheriff was his brother-in-law, Royce Perkins. After a brief conversation with Royce, Vernon left the woods and walked back to the clearing. He began waking the boys by calling out, “Rise and shine, it’s daylight in the swamps,” the same way his father used to. “Oh, and fellas,” he said as he roused them, “as soon as breakfast is over, start breaking camp and packing your gear. We need to start heading home.” It was less than a mile from the campsite to the paved road where he had arranged for Darla Sue to meet them around nine o’clock. She would be picking them up in the fifteen-passenger van he had borrowed from the New Hope Baptist Church to take them all back to town. Except for forgetting his sleeping bag, Vernon had planned well. He called Darla Sue and asked her if she could try to be at the meeting place by eight-thirty. When she arrived, Darla was surprised to see her brother Royce’s car. When the boys were all safely in the van and on the road back to Mt. Pisgah, Vernon told her what he had discovered. The only thing Darla Sue managed to say was, “Oh, my God!” She said it several times as they drove the boys back home.

In town there was panic at the news; several mothers vowed they would never let their sons go on another overnight camping trip. By Sunday afternoon the editor of the Morgan County Weekly Bugle, Marlene McLeroy, was toying with the idea of running a headline that said “DEAD MAN’S CREEK LIVES UP TO ITS NAME” in the next issue, but she was overcome by a rare wave of good taste and decided against it. Under the circumstances, she told herself, any attempt to be humorous was clearly inappropriate. She settled instead on the plain facts, “2 BODIES FOUND IN WOODS” in large type, and in a smaller font, centered below the main headline, a sub-headline that said “Decapitated Victims Not Yet Identified.” The article itself contained all the grisly details she could pry out of Vernon Tutwiler and Sheriff Royce Perkins and his deputy, Eddie Harper. Royce and Eddie had arrived at the murder scene as soon as they could get there after Vernon’s call. They had put yellow tape that said “Crime Scene – Do Not Enter” around a circle of trees, and they had taken the two corpses back to the county morgue in a hearse that Eddie had been quick-thinking enough to borrow from his uncle, Talmadge Fairchild, who owned the Morgan-Fairchild Funeral Home in Mt. Pisgah.

“Take me out there, Eddie,” Marlene pleaded the next day, “I want to get a picture of the crime scene for the paper.” He drove her to within a mile of the place in his big Buick and walked her in the rest of the way. He figured she would owe him big-time and he planned to call in the favor when the time was right, like maybe in the back seat of the Buick next Friday night out at Princess Lake. Marlene was thirty-three years old and not bad-looking. Eddie was twenty-six and preferred dating high school cheerleaders when he could get them, but he thought Marlene was worth a shot. “What the heck,” he said to himself, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Marlene took her photo and Eddie smiled all week long until Friday afternoon when he called Marlene and she told him in no uncertain terms, “Not on your life, no way in Hell.” Eddie made a mental note not to be so quick to help people out in the future. He tried to soothe his hurt feelings by telling himself things his mother would have said if she were still alive, like “There are plenty more fish in the sea” and “She’s not the only pebble on the beach,” but looking around town in the cold light of day, Eddie had to admit that there really weren’t that many fish in Mount Pisgah and Marlene was actually one of very few pebbles on this particular beach.

On Saturday morning, the day Marlene’s headline screamed the news that everyone already knew, Sheriff Royce Perkins leaned back in his chair, scratched his head, and reviewed the facts. There were very few clues. No facial characteristics because there were no faces, no fingerprints because there were no hands, and no footprints because there were no feet. The only footprints at the crime scene had belonged to his brother-in-law, Vernon Tutwiler. The county coroner, old Doc Williams, had performed his autopsies and determined that both victims had been about thirty years old before their untimely end, and he had sent off some of their pubic hair to the state lab in Raleigh so that the forensic scientists could get samples of their DNA. All Royce really knew, thanks to a couple of tattoos, was that he had a male victim who was probably a Marine or an ex-Marine, and a female victim who may or may not have been named Shirley. Nobody had been reported missing in the entire state. This one was going to be difficult.


Vernon Tutwiler awoke with a start and sat up in his bed in a cold sweat. Darla Sue was snoring softly into her pillow. The clock said it was five after three, so he let her sleep; his mind was not on middle-of-the-night delight just now. He had had the nightmare again. He had been dreaming that the year was 4735 and he was at his three hundred and ninety-second birthday party. He lived in a thirty-room mansion in the desert with his fourteen wives and nearly two hundred descendants. Someone had handed him a telegram from the president that the returning space shuttle needed to have its landing area illuminated, and he had tried several times to leave the birthday party to go back across the wide Missouri and make sure the lighthouse in York Harbor, Maine, was operating properly, but every time he tried to sneak away from the party, a woman behind him who sounded a lot like Judy Garland would stand up and sing “How can I ignore the boy next door? I love him more than I can say” accompanied by a twenty-piece orchestra. He had turned to get a better look at the singer because even in his dream he knew that Judy Garland was dead, and he realized with a shock that the person singing was none other than his mother-in-law, Virgie Perkins Hobgood Dickerson. What struck Vernon as strange was not that she was dressed in army fatigues, carrying an assault rifle, and walking two Bengal tigers on a diamond-studded leash, but that she sounded so much like Judy Garland. It was at this point in his dream that Vernon found himself awake, sitting up in bed, and sweating profusely.

(To be continued, or not)

So, dear readers, you see my dilemma. Not who killed Shirley and the tattooed marine -- I already know that -- but, more important, how did their dead bodies wind up in those particular woods? I don’t want to impose some implausible deus ex machina solution and I don’t want to introduce aliens or vampires. I prefer an explanation without gimmicks.

Maybe an outline would have been nice, laying it all out in advance as it were, but I don’t tend to write that way. My way is to think for a while (like Vernon Tutwiler), let ’er rip, and see what happens. This method may not satisfy the English teachers but it was good enough on at least one occasion for the great Flannery O’Connor, who revealed that (alert: spoiler ahead) the reason it comes as such a shock to readers of her story,
Good Country People, when the Bible salesman steals Hulga’s wooden leg is that it had also come as a shock to the writer. And the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy had its beginnings in a single sentence that occurred to J.R.R. Tolkien: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

So do you think this story has any possibilities? And do you have any ideas about how those two bodies wound up in the woods?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

In which the author reassesses his place in the blogosphere

My blogger friend Silverback, a.k.a. Ian, of Leeds in the UK and Sebring, Florida, in the US (he divides his time about equally between both places), said a couple of days ago that his blog has had visitors from 84 countries.

So I thought I would check mine (it’s a guy thing). Since the Live Traffic Feed thingy over there in the left margin shows only the last ten visitors when it is not expanded and only the last fifty when it is (by clicking on “Watch in Real Time”), what I do is I right-click on any new flag I see when the thingy is in expanded mode and then save the flag in a file in a folder. If there is a better or easier way to do it, I don’t know what it is. (I know I could put an actual Flag Counter on the blog -- I’m not a complete idiot -- but I don’t particularly like the way it looks or how much space it consumes. Call me an odd duck. On second thought, don’t.)

Anyway, I counted the flag files in my flag folder and there are 104!

This puts me slightly ahead in the Blogs By Aging Male Cardiac Patients Who Have Crossed The Atlantic Ocean category, but it pales into insignificance when compared to someone like Ree Drummond, who is neither aging nor male nor a cardiac patient. Okay, full disclosure here: I have no idea whether she has ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Ree writes Confessions of a Pioneer Woman (Mrs. RWP’s favorite blog). Ree lives on a ranch in Oklahoma and gets hundreds and thousands of blog hits every single day and goes on book-signing tours to exotic places like Phoenix and St. Louis and Kansas City and Minneapolis and several other cities and has appeared on Bonnie Hunt’s television show on more than one occasion. Ree also writes about her four children and the herd of wild horses on her ranch and rounding up the cattle and regularly displays on her blog a close-up photo of her husband’s blue-jean-clad bottom. On top of that, Ree does a mean imitation of Ethel Merman singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Let’s face it, Ree is in a league of her own.

So while Ree receives the accolades of the adoring masses along with the royalties on her best-selling cookbook, and Silverback a.k.a Ian rides around his palm-tree-lined lake in Sebring, Florida, on a golf cart in the middle of December, I can only report that a frost two nights ago put an end to the blooming of our encore azaleas for another season and this morning when I took the dog out for his walk, big snowflakes were falling.

I ain’t displaying nobody’s blue-jean-clad bottom on my blog for no amount of money or readers.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What were we thinking?

A couple of months back, during a period of apparent insanity, we scheduled several appointments this week with various doctors.

On Monday Mrs. RWP saw Dr. H., her eye surgeon, because it was time for her second annual checkup after cataract surgery on both eyes. He was to have seen me on Tuesday for a regular ophthalmologic exam, but I canceled.

On Tuesday, Mrs. RWP got me in to see Dr. B., our regular family doctor, because of sinus congestion and a non-productive cough that has been cooking for a couple of weeks now. His diagnosis was “upper respiratory infection” and I was sent away with a prescription for an antibiotic.

On Wednesday, both Mrs. RWP and I were seen by Dr. R., our dentist. We had grown increasingly apprehensive in recent weeks but it turned out well. Instead of a root canal, Mrs. RWP received a filling. Instead of an extraction, I received two fillings. All systems are GO.

On Thursday, I saw Dr. M., my cardiologist, for my twenty-eighth regular semi-annual checkup, which I have been having, semi-annually, of course, ever since my heart attack back in January 1996. Back then, Dr. M. was the newest kid on the block in a rather large local practice. Now he is chief of cardiology at one of the largest hospitals in the area and his picture appears on billboards, in glossy magazines, and even on the side of a bus in Atlanta. It appears I am disgustingly healthy. My EKG was perfect. My blood pressure was 118 over 68. My cholesterol is very good, as my high-density lipoprotein (HDL) was just under 40 and my low-density liproprotein (LDL) was 134. I can never keep these straight. Apparently the goal is to keep the high one low and the low one high, and 134 is considered a low high and 40 is considered a high low. Got that? Me neither. I do know which is considered the “good” cholesterol and which is considered the “bad” cholesterol because way back when I was in cardiac rehab in 1996 (they let me out on good behavior) the therapist told us to think of the H in HDL as “Happy!” (smiley face) and the L in LDL as “lousy” (frowny face). The Happy/high, which is the lower number, should be as high as possible and the lousy/low, which is the higher number, should be as low as possible. Or maybe I have that backwards. But I do know one thing: It helps to eat a lot of peanut butter and it helps even more to cook with olive oil. And I have started taking Niacin once again to make the happy even happier.

Today, Friday, is an appointment-free zone. I suppose we could have tried to get Mrs. RWP in to see Dr. D, the orthopedic surgeon who repaired her torn rotator cuff and replaced both of her knees, just to make the week complete, but her appointment isn't for another three months.

A day without a doctor’s appointment is like a day without, I mean with sunshine.

Another plus: not one of those doctors asked me to turn my head and cough, drop my pants, or bend over.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

There goes my social calendar

Even though my name is Robert, not Roberta, and even though both my physician and my pharmacist seem to be able to recognize that I am male, the pharmacy’s computer system doesn’t have a clue. As they say, garbage in, garbage out. You want proof?

Yesterday I picked up a new prescription for an antibiotic because I am sufferig frob a code id da dose, and the following helpful “counseling message” was printed on the receipt:


Sure, I could just ignore information that obviously doesn’t apply to me. But then this post would never have seen the light of day, would it? And a man has to rant and rave about something, doesn’t he?

So I have tucked that piece of information away for future reference. Just in case I should ever need it, you understand. I can’t imagine when that might be, but these days a person can’t be too careful.

He ain't heavy, Father, he's my chicken

(Editor's note: The following meme is not original with me. It appeared for the umpteenth time today on Facebook so I decided to capt...