Shootings change the look of everything

What a difference a week makes. Last week I posted about binge-watching comforting TV shows to get away from the real world. I had no idea how much more frightening the world would become. Three mass shootings in eight days. Thirty-two dead, many more wounded. I’m afraid to type this for fear another shooting will happen today. I’m starting to feel like our nation is at war with itself. People are afraid to express their views for fear the people they’re talking to are on the other side of the red-blue divide. We never know where some young man with an assault rifle will start shooting random people. Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton. Where next? I’m drawn to the news reports, yet I know I need to stop listening. I can’t sleep. How about you?

While the latest shootings happened, I was at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland. It was a great chance to hang out with writer friends, buy each other’s books, and learn about writing and publishing. And wow, the pastries the Airport Sheraton puts out. We tried to stay in our writer bubble as long as possible before tuning in to the constant news reports listing the numbers of dead and wounded. On the way home, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe in my car I was safe because I was not standing in a crowd. Would I be safe if I stopped at the mall? Even as we keep praying that the shootings stop and that stronger gun laws will be passed so deluded kids can’t get assault rifles, we can’t forget the sound of the gunshots from the videos played repeatedly on the TV news.

The shooters were mentally ill, the president says. I think they have been brainwashed to believe that certain kinds of people deserve to die, that a brown mother, father or child is less deserving of life than a white one. What makes people cross the line? Social media, violent games and movies, the president’s rhetoric? I don’t know. Something makes the shooters decide it’s okay to kill people. It’s horrifying. Please God, let it stop.

I will not talk politics here. It doesn’t feel safe, and I like to keep a happy blog. Instead, I will share this poem I wrote after the Gilroy shootings a week ago. Gilroy, named after one of my ancestors, John Gilroy, is close to my heart. About 30 miles south of San Jose, it’s where I had my first full-time newspaper job, and it’s close enough to home that any of my loved ones might have been there.

THIS TIME IT’S GILROY

Little boy licking an ice cream cone,
Mom trying on a crocheted hat,
old lady fanning herself with her program.

The summer air reeks of garlic
grown in the nearby fields,
chopped, minced, bottled, sold.

Why not hold a festival,
sell garlic hats, garlic bread,
garlic cookies, garlic pie?

Everybody comes. Why not?
Something to do in late July.
Safe. They scan you coming in.

And then they hear the shots.
Firecrackers, someone says
before they see the blood, the boy

killed, ice cream melting in the dirt.
People falling, screaming, running.
Rides stilled, music stopped.

Cops take the shooter down.
We can never ask him why
he cut through the chain link fence.

News cameras, press conference:
Mayor, police chief, the haggard guy
who organized the festival.

Behind them, Christmas Hill park
waits to be cleared of litter, bullets, blood
while the stink of garlic lingers on.

Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019

 

 

 

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Online series save us from the real world

Mcleod's_daughters_screenshotWhen you find yourself praying for the well-being of a TV character on a show that ended 10 years ago, you might be having a problem with reality. As you wander through your real life, in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “I wish Alex would come home” or “Lord, don’t let Tess lose the baby.” Yeah, yeah, they’re fictional. The actor playing Alex is not really in Argentina, and the actress playing Tess is not really pregnant. But their world is so real!

What am I talking about? This time it’s “McLeod’s Daughters,” an Australian series that aired in the early 2000s. It was quite popular there, and now it’s available on Amazon Prime. The story takes place on a cattle and sheep ranch called Drover’s Run in the Australian Outback. A feminist “Bonanza,” one writer called it. Owner Jack McLeod having died, it is run by his daughter Claire. Soon her half-sister Tess, who grew up elsewhere, moves in. Along with workers Meg, Jody and Becky, the women run the ranch and get into all kinds of adventures and romances. The scenery is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the horses are beautiful. What’s not to love?

Next door to Drover’s Run is the Killarney ranch, where the handsome Ryan brothers Nick and Alex live with their irascible father and society maven mother. They have an assortment of handsome employees, too. The folks from the two ranches are always visiting, borrowing things, helping each other, and getting together at the Gungellan Pub. They also do cattle drives, shear sheep, and fix a lot of fences. They deal with thieves, droughts, sick cattle, and a shortage of money, but they always come out all right. And of course, the men and women fall in love.

The series lasted eight seasons, with 32 episodes per season. That’s a lot of video to watch. Over the years, characters left and new ones came in. Rodeo queen Stevie moved in to take Claire’s place. Tess and Nick moved to Argentina. Cousins Grace, Jaz and Regan moved in and out and back in again. Meg went off to write a book; Moira moved in. Toward the end, viewers complained that it was too much of a soap opera. Agreed. But by then I was so hooked, I took a morning off to watch the last two episodes. I couldn’t wait all day.

I didn’t want to risk finding out what was going to happen until I had seen it all. Early on, I looked up one of the actors and found out something terrible was going to happen. No! I don’t want to know these things in advance. So yesterday, after I watched the end, clutching my dog for fear the good guys would be killed at the last minute, I prowled the net looking things up. I learned that most of the cast changes happened because the actors decided to leave. I learned that the show waned in popularity the last two seasons. The “where are they now” features were unsettling. Everybody looked different. Wait, is that Stevie on an episode of Baywatch? Where’s her cowboy hat and red hair?

I had it bad. It was not the first time. Ask me about “Downton Abbey” or the “Gilmore Girls.” Or “Offspring,” another Aussie series.

I don’t have a “smart” TV. I watch these things on my Kindle Fire tablet. Yeah, it’s small. I forget that after a few minutes. Annie and I curl up on the love seat, and the hours go by. Unlike dramas on the broadcast networks, where you watch one episode and then wait a week for the next, I can watch one after another. There are no commercials. If I need a break, I can pause the video. But I don’t want to.

Am I addicted? Probably. But my doctor says I can’t drink, I don’t want to do drugs, and I don’t have much of a social life, so it’s a safe outlet.

Things have been crazy in my real life lately. My father’s condition is getting worse by the day. After trying to talk with him on the phone every night, I’m usually frustrated because his hearing is so bad he misses most of what I say, and there’s not much I can do. I can’t fix his legs that don’t work anymore. I can’t improve the care or the food or heal his wounds. Nor can I be with him every day. I’ll be heading back to San Jose next week. Meanwhile, I send myself to Drover’s Run, where no one is ever alone, help is always on the way, and you can always count on your “mates.”

When trouble at work is keeping me awake, I send my mind off to Stevie and Alex’s wedding. The horses, the gowns, the vows; was there ever anything so beautiful? When I despair of getting enough pre-orders for my upcoming book (Gravel Road Ahead, order here), I think about how Meg’s book got published so easily. Soon she was signing copies all over the country. I can be like Meg.

Fiction.

Thank God for made-up stories that make us feel better. What makes the TV networks think we want to watch game shows and reality shows all summer? We don’t. Please, take us away from reality for a while.

When I write fiction, it takes me away. I can create my own Oregonian version of Drover’s Run. I guess I did that with my novel Up Beaver Creek. And now that I have left Drover’s Run, I think maybe my time was not wasted. I have some new ideas for PD and her friends.

I need to take a break from the videos for a while to clear my head and write my own stories, but I know I’ll get hooked on another series.

What about you? What shows do you binge-watch? Can you watch one episode and move on? Is it okay to escape reality this way for a while? Come on, share your guilty video pleasure.

 

Don’t Forget Your Hat and White Gloves

mckees,souzas 1960

Times have certainly changed. Check out this photo from 1960. I found it while going through my parents’ old photo albums—black and white shots attached to black pages with sticky fasteners on the corners. It was taken at my Uncle Bob Avina’s wedding reception at St. Lucy’s Church in Campbell, California.

I was eight years old, awed by all the glamour of the gowns and tuxedos that day. Somewhere in that church hall, I sat primly with my parents, wearing a dress, hat, and buckled-on shoes with lacy white socks. My little brother, with his spiky crew cut, black slacks and white shirt, would have been looking for trouble with the younger male cousins. To me, the older people were just . . . old people. My grandmother was one of seven siblings, so there were a lot of aunts and uncles, plus their spouses and their offspring, who also seemed old to me.

Pictured here in the front row are, from left to right, Uncle Ollie and Aunt Nellie (Souza) McKee, Aunt Mamie and Uncle Ted Souza, and Aunt Edna Souza. That’s probably Uncle Tony next to her. In the back row, I can see my mother’s cousin Lorraine and her sister Addie.

I note Uncle Ted’s happy-to-pose expression and Aunt Mamie’s I-do-not-like-having-my-picture-taken face. But I’m especially impressed by the way they’re dressed. When we think of the ’60s, we think of love beads and mini-skirts, but in 1960, the grownups, at least the working class Portuguese American ones I grew up around, dressed up like this. Ladies always wore modest dresses, girdles and nylons, and high-heeled dress shoes. In this case, the shoes all have a little opening for the toes. Those were bloody uncomfortable, I can testify.

White gloves were a necessary accessory, along with the clutch purse. All the women wore hats. We weren’t allowed to walk into a Catholic church without one. Aunt Nellie, the youngest and most stylish of the Souza siblings, went big with her hat, and, if you look closely, on her lap, she’s got a mink stole, which if I remember correctly, had little heads and feet attached. Gross!

In most cases, the curly hair came from a home perm. Anybody remember the Toni home perm?  What a stinky mess. Between perms, I wore curlers to bed every night until I rebelled in my teens. Somehow curly hair was good; straight hair was bad.

I am sure some of the aunts needed glasses but wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them in public. Ah, vanity. Many years later, when I married my first husband at St. Martin’s in San Jose, I handed my glasses to Aunt Nellie at the last minute before the ceremony. I had a heck of a time getting them back from her afterward. She didn’t understand that it was more important to me to see than to look good.

You can’t see it in the photo, but I’m sure the air was rich with the women’s perfume and the men’s aftershave. One didn’t go out unscented in those days. Now everyone, including me, screams “allergies!”

Do you wear perfume or cologne?

Except for the little girl whose barrette you can see in the center of the back row, everyone in that photo has passed away. Aunt Edna on the right made it to 100 years old. Like me, she was a widow for a long time, and she never had children. I wish I had gotten to know all of them better, but back then, they were old people, and I was a child. If only I could assemble the crowd at that wedding and talk to them grownup-to-grownup. I did interview Aunt Nellie and Aunt Edna for my book about Portuguese women, Stories Grandma Never Told, but I know so much more about life now.

If the wedding were taking place today, we’d see women in slacks or maybe in dresses but with no girdles, no stockings, no gloves, no hats, no home perms, and no real fur stoles. The older men would drag out their suits, but the younger ones might not bother. In fact, there might be people of both genders wearing jeans. We’re more inclined to comfort these days, but back in the olden days when we dressed up, we DRESSED UP.

Please share your thoughts and memories in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

Look for Me Sitting on the Piano Bench

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Dear friends,

I have been AWOL here at the blog for a couple weeks. Another trip to California. Upcoming books to promote, music to play, dog to walk, bla, bla, bla. I have been working through some poems from a few years ago and would like to share this one with you today. Most of it is true. There are moments when I see myself sitting at the piano at Sacred Heart playing songs I learned in my childhood and I’m amazed. Without lessons or encouragement, I never stopped learning to play those 88 keys. I’m still learning a little more every day and grateful for the privilege.

HER CALLING

Her mother says, “Go change your clothes,”
but instead she runs to the piano.
Climbing up on the stool, feet swinging
in her Oxford shoes with lace-trimmed socks,
she picks out the notes of the hymns
the sisters sang at catechism class.
“Ave, ave, ave Maria.”
“Holy God, we praise thy name.”
Her fingers half the size of the keys,
she finds the tunes and sings along,
grinning through the gap in her teeth.
“Stop that noise,” her father says,
turning on the baseball game.

But she cannot stop. She plays anything
that makes a noise—toy xylophones
and saxophones, plastic ukuleles—
and sneaks minutes at the piano when
her dad goes out to mow the lawn
or her mother leaves for the grocery store.
From a yellowed old instruction book,
she learns to clap out time and beats,
four-four, three-four, six eight,
quarter notes, half notes, whole notes
allegretto, andante, pianissimo.
Blocked by the family photographs,
she moves them to expose the keys.

At school, she finds the practice rooms,
a bench, a piano, an unlocked door.
But still she has to sneak. She’s
never had proper lessons, isn’t
authorized to be there, but
she’s drawn to it like a lover
she meets secretly at lunch,
then runs, breathless, to her English class.
One day, outside, a young man hears.
She blushes as he claps his hands.
When they marry, he buys a Wurlitzer
spinet, all 88 keys just for her.
He never tells her to hush, not once.

She’s widowed nearly a decade now,
but her wedding band shines in the light
as her wrinkled fingers dance,
playing the notes of the “Gloria.”
Her right foot pedals, beating time.
Behind her, the congregation sings,
one man in the back especially loud
and half a beat or so behind.
Leading the choir with nods and waves,
she smiles up at Jesus on the cross,
remembers that child with tiny hands
sneaking songs so many years ago,
because The Almighty told her to.

***

Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019

 

 

New book features stories about diners

Big Guy's DinerRemember the Big Guy’s Diner? I do. Located in Newport, Oregon, it was a block of white bricks with red window trim. A bell rang when you entered the door. Often the big guy himself, owner Mark Jones, was cooking at the grill. You could sit anywhere. It was casual, and if the plasticized menus were a little sticky and the bathrooms slightly disgusting, so what? You could get a milkshake there that would cure just about anything, and the Monte Cristo sandwiches were heavenly. Although some of our friends decided The Big Guy’s was not up to their standards, Fred and I went there a lot. He was a fan of the two-two-two breakfast: two eggs, two slices of bacon, two pancakes. My order depended on my mood. Feeling virtuous: a BLT and soup or salad with iced tea. Just don’t care anymore: the Monte Cristo with fries and a vanilla milkshake.

After Fred’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, I attended support group meetings in an office across the street in the Sea Towne shopping center. Fred would meet me afterward at the Big Guy’s. It was like a date. I’d park my Honda next to his blue pickup, and we’d say hello as if we were surprised and delighted to run into each other.

Alas, when Fred couldn’t drive anymore, our Big Guy’s dates ended. Soon after that, the restaurant closed. The property sat vacant for years, but finally the old building was razed, and O’Reilly Auto Parts moved in. Fishtails in South Beach became our regular lunch spot.

Dine_Cover_Front_Only_For_Web_06.20Searching through old posts, I’m surprised I didn’t write anything about the Big Guy’s Diner here before. Now I don’t want to say too much because my essay about that piece of Newport history is soon to be published by Hippocampus Press in a new anthology of true stories called Dine. Imagine a whole book devoted to our favorite “greasy spoon” restaurants. They shared the cover last week. Preorders begin in August, with publication Oct. 1. Read more about the book here.

That means I will be promoting two books in October, Dine and my poetry chapbook Gravel Road Ahead. The chapbook is a collection of poems about being the wife of a person with Alzheimer’s disease, from diagnosis to the inevitable end. Preorders for that book are being taken now. I need my friends to order lots of copies to ensure a full press run. Click here, order, tell your friends. If you want an autographed copy or just don’t want to mess with the publisher’s forms, contact me directly at sufalick@gmail.com to let me know how many copies you want, and I’ll put you on the list.

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMI also have a piece on sex (gasp!) about to appear in Creative Nonfiction magazine, and a second chapbook, Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic, is coming out from The Poetry Box next March. I have already had poems appear this year in Rattle and Atticus Review. Although 2019 has been the pits personally—all the Dad drama, Annie’s surgery, and certain personal ailments I don’t care to discuss, professionally it has been amazing. Odd-numbered years seem to be good for my writer self.

I feel a little guilty about all this advertising and bragging, but when a friend asked yesterday what I was writing, all I could think of was promotional material for all of these publications. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work for every book that comes out.

So, who remembers the Big Guy’s? Now that it’s gone, do you have any suggestions for Oregon diners that would be good for book-signing parties? I can’t think of a better combination than crisp, salty French fries and a good book.

 

 

Are You Sure There’s Nobody Else at Your House?

I just completed a U.S. Census Bureau test questionnaire. The paper I got in the mail said it was required by law. Online. I don’t know how they expect people who don’t have computers—and some don’t—to get this done. But me, I’d rather take a quiz than work, so I logged in.

It didn’t take long. The first part was frustrating because it didn’t seem to believe me when I said I was the only human living in this house. It kept coming back in different ways. Is there another person living there? Is someone else staying with you? Are you sure there’s nobody else there? Maybe I should look in all the closets and under the beds. Should I count my dog? A quarter of U.S. homes are occupied by one human person. Get with the program, Census.

Other than that, they were obsessed with my nationality. I always stumble over this because I’m white AND Hispanic, not white OR Hispanic. I’m a California hybrid of Portuguese, Spanish, Basque, French, and German. There’s no box to check for that. They also wanted to know if I own or rent my home. Sure, I own it, along with whatever mortgage company is handling my loan this week.

When you think about it, my situation would seem extraordinary to someone from a hundred years ago. A woman living alone in a big house in the woods? No husband? No children? Is she a witch? Should we take her into our home and care for her until she recovers her senses? (senses, census, hah) Who will bring in wood for the fire? Who will pay the bills? Who will protect her from bears, wolves, and bad people? Surely she will be raped, robbed and murdered.

Balderdash. She will eat bagels for breakfast, lunch and dinner if she chooses and play the piano in the middle of the night. She will greet rabbits and robins in the morning and crow back to the neighbor’s rooster. She will sit on her deck and survey her estate and thank God it’s 2019.

The controversial citizenship question did not appear on the version of the census questionnaire that I received. In this test version, some respondents get that question while others don’t. It will be interesting to see whether it shows up on later versions. What do you think? Does the Census need to know one’s citizenship status? Could answering that question be dangerous for those who answer that they are not citizens?

*****

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMWe are one week into the advance sales period for my upcoming poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead. This is a collection of poems that follow my journey with Fred through Alzheimer’s disease. Early readers report that they laughed and cried and certain lines have stuck with them. The print run depends on selling enough pre-publication copies. Please click here and order a copy today. My offer from last week stands. If you can get yourself to Lincoln County, Oregon and show that you purchased a pre-pub copy, I will take you out to lunch anywhere from Lincoln City to Yachats for an equivalent price. I’m serious. So click here and start thinking about where you want to eat.

Also, if you want to order directly from me and work out payment and delivery later, just email me at sufalick@gmail.com and let me know how many copies you want me to set aside for you.

P.S. I hate advertising my work. I’d much rather be writing, but this is part of the deal these days. I wonder if Mark Twain ever did this. I just read yesterday in the Writer’s Almanac that Twain was the first writer to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher. It was Life on the Mississippi, submitted in 1883. I suppose shortly after the typewriter was patented in 1868, the first “typo” was invented. Followed by the eraser and “Wite-Out.”

Have a great week. Buy my book. Check under the bed for people hiding from the Census.

 

 

Gravel Road Ahead pre-pub sales begin

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMIn last week’s post, I talked about how I became a poet, and I told you about my first poetry chapbook, coming out later this year. This week, “pre-sales” for Gravel Road Ahead begin. Some of you will be receiving postcards in the mail very soon.

I have just gotten my first look at a mockup of the cover photo which will appear on the postcards. It may change a little in the final version, but it’s one more step forward. Thank God I don’t hate it. That’s my photo of one of the places Annie and I go walking. Before Annie, I walked it with Fred and Sadie. The gravel road is hard on shoes and the feet inside them, but worth it for where it takes you.

You’d think once you write the book and get it accepted, you could celebrate with a glass of champagne and relax. Nope. Now it’s time to promote and sell the book. Pre-publication sales are critical. In order to guarantee a full press run, I need to sell 55 copies in advance. I’m hoping my friends will help with this. The price, $14.99, seems a little steep, but if you think about it as paying 50 cents a poem, it’s not bad.

Sorry, it’s not available as an ebook. And it will not be available at Amazon.com until the book is published Oct. 11.

After Gravel Road Ahead is published in October, I will be looking for places to do readings, and I will have copies to sell then, but I would love it if you would pre-order a copy.

Order your copy by sending $14.99 plus $2.99 shipping (check or money order made out to “Finishing Line Press”) to Finishing Line Press, P.O. Box 1626, Georgetown, KY 40324. You can also order online at www.finishinglinepress.com. Here is the direct link to the book. Credit card orders will be processed through PayPal. Preordered copies ship Oct. 11, 2019.

How about this? If you preorder a copy, I will buy you lunch for an equivalent price if you can arrange to be here on the central Oregon coast. Ocean view and everything. I’m serious. Aside from writing poetry, going out to lunch is my favorite thing. And when I can do both at the same time, oh boy, life is good.

And if you don’t want to mess with the publisher, just tell me at sufalick@gmail.com how many copies you want and we’ll worry about payment and deliver later.

Here’s the title poem to whet your appetite:

GRAVEL ROAD AHEAD

Where my husband lives now, I don’t.
Each day he forgets more
details from the house we bought
with his VA loan. I don’t. I tend them,
sort his papers, pay his bills,
dust his antique rolltop desk.

I linger in his swivel chair,
wearing his red plaid shirt, staring
at my small hands peeking out
from frayed cuffs with missing buttons,
toying with his ballpoint pen.

I straighten his paper clips, delaying
my drive up the steep winding road
to where my husband lives now
in a numbered room with an ocean view,
where the pavement ends, and I don’t.

***

Family update: I have just returned from another trip to San Jose. My father moved from a skilled nursing facility to Somerset Senior Living, where he stayed for a few months after he broke his leg in 2017. It’s a very nice and very expensive place, located in a former convent. He’s settling in, still hoping to get back on his feet and resume his independent life. His biggest problem right now, besides not being able to stand up without help, is boredom, so if anyone can call or visit, that would be great. Email or Facebook message me for his address and phone number.

Annie spent a lovely week with the Cramer family while I was gone. She went to work with Sandy and played with David and the kids at home. She was still healing from her surgery for a growth on her leg that turned out to be benign, praise God. She’ll have a gnarly scar, but we’re done with the protective collar and she’s running around like nothing happened.

Have a great week. Help an author. Buy a book.