LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WILLS FAMILY THROUGH MARALYS' MEMOIRS: A CIRCUS WITHOUT ELEPHANTS AND A CLOWN IN THE TRUNK

Friday, December 29, 2017

LATE AT NIGHT--AND "UNDER ATTACK"





Now that the days have gotten short, my late-day walks keep happening in the dark. Though I’m only out for twenty minutes and only on my own cul-de-sac, somehow those jaunts have stopped feeling perfectly safe.

To see where I’m going and also to ward off speeding drivers, kidnappers, and coyotes, I carry a small flashlight, which I wave in circles. Still, it occurred to me recently that I ought to have some kind of reflective vest to make more of me visible. With that, I sent out a Christmas Wish List, and the resulting gift far exceeded anything I could have imagined. 

Christmas day, my son Chris and wife Betty-Jo, could hardly contain themselves as I ripped open the package. Inside was a light-weight, vivid orange vest, which prompted one of the eleven-year-olds to comment, “Oh . . . you’re gonna be a crossing guard!”

But no crossing guard ever wore anything like this. Once the thing was velcroed into place, Chris reached to my waist and pressed a button. Immediately I lit up. Up and down my chest–one row down from each shoulder—ran a string of bright red lights. Chris pressed the button again. With that, the lights began pulsing, going on and off in some kind of mysterious rhythm. Though I couldn’t see them, two similar rows flickered up and down my back.

Again one of the kids commented. “Grandma, you’re begging someone to come steal you!”  Well, that was one viewpoint.  

Two days later, I couldn’t resist giving the vest a try. But we’d lingered late at Chris’,  so by the time I actually went walking it was past 9:30.  But hey, I was “lit up,” so surely no harm lay in wait.  Augmented by my waving flashlight, I did two laps. The only noticeable change was a lightly-pulsating stop sign at the top end of our street. Fascinated, I stood and watched. I’d never before seen that sign doing anything. Which is when I realized it wasn’t the sign flashing, it was ME!

The next day my neighbor called. “Late last night, two very thin men were walking down the street,” she said. “I looked at the clock, it was nearly ten. They stopped at your driveway and turned off their flashlight. I was afraid you might get hurt. I said to my husband, ‘I’m calling the cops,’ but he talked me out of it. I’m just checking to see if you’re okay.”

“Yeah, we’re okay.” For a second I was baffled. Two thin men?  Stopping at our driveway? Ready to attack?

Suddenly the scenario became clear. “That was me!” I said.

“You?”

“I’ve got this vest. It lights up.” 

“But it was so late!” she said.  “And I saw TWO guys. Both very skinny.”

“I left around 9:40,” I said. “And the vest has two sets of vertical lights—one on each side of my chest. And I did turn off the flashlight at our driveway.” 

“Really!” she said. “I’m so relieved.” 

For some reason, neither of us laughed.

But that was then.  Within minutes, I reported back to Chris, and hilarity ensued.   

Later I thought, If my new vest turns me into two people, so much the better!  Safety in numbers, and all that.   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

THE $25,000 BREAKFAST





Sometimes a trip can be too good to be interesting . . . at least to anyone else.

Which is what happened on our recent, 11-day excursion to Scotland with our granddaughter, Lauren,* and her husband, Dan.  Describing it later becomes a problem.

Prior trips were easier: On this one we never saw an old, drunken Brit stumble into the street, spilling all his coins, while all the kindly souls around him scrambled to pick them up.  We never raced across an airport or train station, barely catching the conveyance before it left. We never re-visited the old Yorkshire Moors lady who lived in a desolate house near a deserted train station. In a trembly voice she asked about California. “Have ye got heather?” she asked, and we said No. “Have you got bracken?” No again. “If ye haven’t got heather,” she complained, “and ye haven’t got bracken, what do ye have?” 

We never sat in a British pub listening to a World War II pilot, Wilford Wise,
and his brother regale us with hilarious tales of local drunken drivers—especially the one whose auto careened off the road and finished with its nose poking into a stream . . . whereupon the portly driver simply lay there until morning, sleeping it off.    

Instead, thanks to the ministrations of our nurse, Lauren . . . “Everybody needs to travel with a nurse,” she said, (meaning people our age), and the strength and helpfulness of our restaurant manager, Dan, we were treated to nearly luggage-free strolls across airports, train stations, and along tourist-heavy Inverness and Edinburgh streets. Between them, the “kids” pushed (and carried up stairs), three double-decker sets of luggage, leaving Rob and me to navigate with our canes—though occasionally, as we traversed the miles-long underground catacombs of Heathrow airport, they plopped us into wheelchairs.  

Most evenings we sat in one hotel room or another and played “99”, a tricky card game.

It all began with the morning we invited Dan and Lauren to join us for breakfast at Tustin’s Spires Restaurant. Somehow the subject of Scotland came up, and before the meal was over, Rob’s surprise that the two had never been there, turned into something like, “When do you want to go?” 

“No, not next year,” he added quickly. “I don’t measure my life in years anymore, just months.”  Which became a trip planned for late October. As we drove home afterwards, Rob said, “Well that was certainly an expensive breakfast.”

Just because the Scotland trip was smooth, doesn’t mean it lacked amazing episodes. Thanks to our friendship with “Lou,” who lives in Tustin and distributes fine liquors, we were treated to an all-day trip to the Glenfarclas Distillery near Inverness.

To our surprise, the CEO himself met our train in Elgin--and in his Range Rover drove us at lusty speeds past numerous distilleries in the Scottish countryside. Afterwards, his tall, exceedingly handsome associate from New Zealand took us through the Glenfarclas Distillery itself. There we saw the clear mountain brook, the giant copper stills, and the barley grain that eventually becomes fine liquor.  The tour ended in a cool, dank warehouse, where we marveled at wooden barrels, lying on their sides in endless stacks, all full of expensive Scotch, some dating back to the 1950s. 

I asked, “What would it cost to buy a bottle filled from a 1950s barrel?”    

Our guide smiled.  “We don’t get many orders. Such a bottle would cost thousands.”  

Our tour ended with dated, printed menus for a luncheon on the property . . . which began with hors d’oeuvres with the CEO, the CFO and 2 other staff members, plus small, powerful shots of expensive Scotch. When my first swallow sent a burning trail down my throat, I set the glass aside.

The 5-course luncheon menu described appetizers, soup, salad, lamb cutlets and a chocolaty dessert. You would have thought we four innocents were either celebrities or major distributors of Scotch whiskey. 

Outstanding as well was the Sunday afternoon Evensong at the Yorkminster Cathedral in York, England. With what clarion voices the all-male choir, augmented by an organ, filled the vast cathedral halls with harmony. The voices ranged from deep, dark masculine to those of mere children--who yet sounded like sweet sopranos. Occasionally, to our amazement, one of those very young boys would sing an ethereal, unaccompanied solo.  Rob and I studied the white-robed choir: one boy was so small his dark hair was barely visible over the railing.     

A highlight for us were the reunions with two sets of English friends—Amanda Case and her chum, Joyce, in York, with whom we’ve been close personal friends for 45 years. And in London, Peter Dobbs and wife Michelle. Peter, then a British army officer, was present when our son, Bobby, won the British hang gliding championships in 1975—at which time we stayed in the Dobbs’ home.

Back then, Peter’s mother, Marie, gave me her fascinating novel The Listener,(using the pseudonym, Anne Telscombe), about the family’s tour in Russia, (with four mischievous sons),  when her husband was the English ambassador. Marie eventually became famous in Britain for having finished a novel by Jane Austin.

Equally amazing: Peter’s recent job of rescuing CEOs, kidnapped by foreigners and held for ransom, was the subject of a movie, Proof of Life, with Peter’s role depicted by actor Russell Crowe.  

Both Peter and Amanda have visited us in America. 

If ever our contemporaries travel to foreign lands, I suggest they take willing grandchildren, who can turn an otherwise-grueling trip into a hassle-free, and yes, delightful excursion.


* (Lauren is also the nurse who, on a cold night last January, organized bystanders and saved the lives of two potentially hypo-thermic passengers whose car went off a winding mountain road and landed in a river.)   

Thursday, November 23, 2017

MY THANKSGIVING SURPRISE






I couldn’t have been more surprised if a turkey suddenly appeared on our patio and begged to come in.

Because I’m not cooking this Thanksgiving, my perusal of the Los Angeles Times was slow and leisurely.  When I finally arrived at The Opinion pages,  I was still in low flame mode--especially since my favorite section has always been Opinion.  I relish getting the extra, underplayed “facts” attached to a passionate point of view.   

When I glanced at the featured “letter” (nicely placed under a full-color picture), I suddenly remembered I’d sent the paper my own version/opinion of a recent article.  I began reading . . .  then jumped to the bottom. 

Oh my Lord, the letter-writer was me!  

Rob said, “Why the sudden shriek?” 

Well. Mainly because The Times promises they’ll “let you know” if you’re being published. But four times, now, I’ve simply been surprised.  When I sent my email, I knew it was too long . . . yet here I was. Meaning relevance outranks length.  

Here’s how it appeared:   DEBATING CHILDBIRTH: re “Is ‘natural motherhood’ really more feminist?” Opinion, Nov. 19.    Then—my letter: 

        In 1950, pregnant with my first child, I read Grantly Dick-Read’s “Childbirth Without Fear.” I urged my respected obstetrician to let me deliver “naturally,” or drug-free. His astonishment was obvious.

        In those days, that meant no husband present either. For five hours, alone, I suffered a rising river of pain. Finally, no longer able to stand it, I begged for relief. The “shot” put me under—so deep I was still unconscious when my 11-pound, 3-ounce baby boy was born. Subsequently, with five more births, only one was exactly as Dick-Read described—relatively fast and mostly pain free.

        Since then I’ve seen a daughter and daughter-in-law give birth, one with no drugs, the other with an epidural. Both scenarios came out great.

        My point? Childbirth pain is neither ennobling nor necessary, and nothing is gained by being a “martyr.”  Women should feel free to follow their own inclinations.  

Today I phoned a few people for copies to send East. Then discovered “copies" aren’t available when you get your news on a phone.  Oh, well. It’s still a good surprise.

Monday, November 13, 2017

WITH TRUMP, EVERY DAY IT'S SOMETHING NEW






Today I couldn’t get past the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

There he is, top of the page (above the fold), clasping the hand, patting the back, and gazing into the face of a known killer—Rodrigo Duterte, leader of the Philippines. Weeks earlier, he’d praised Duterte for “taking care of” the drug problem.  Oh, yes, the man really takes care of it . . . Never bothering with the nicety of trials, his henchmen have murdered thousands—literally—of Philippinos who were dealers, or even suspected users, of drugs.  You kill enough people, the problem is solved. 

Along with Russia’s Putin, Trump makes it clear he admires men who are “into” murder.       

Worse, for citizens of the United States, was today’s headline: GOP’S rush to approve young judges.  Brett J. Talley, Trump’s latest appointment, according to the Times, “was unanimously rated ‘not qualified’ by the American Bar Association’s judicial rating committee.”  Appointed as a  lifetime Federal Judge in Alabama, he’s practiced law only three years, has never tried a case, blogged about “Hillary Rotten Clinton,” and has pledged his support of the NRA. As Trump says about Talley, only 36, “When you think of it, (his youth) has consequences . . . 40 years out.” 

I’m not alone in fearing the worst from our leader. A group of 27 psychiatrists, who ordinarily refrain from diagnosing public figures they’ve never personally met, could no longer remain silent about what they see as a threat to the country.  Early this year, as a group, they felt compelled to speak out. Together, they’ve written a book called,       THE DANGEROUS CASE OF DONALD TRUMP.  The subtitle: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.  

The book is now # 7 on the New York Times best-seller list.

I’ve read it, and found so much quotable material I could never produce enough blogs to do the book justice. Gail Sheehy, PhD, writes, “Beneath the grandiose behavior of every narcissist lies the pit of fragile self esteem; more than anything, Trump lacks trust in himself, which may lead him to take drastic actions to prove himself to himself and to the world.”

Lance Dodes, M.D. adds, “ . . . someone who cons others, lies, cheats, and manipulates to get what he wants, and who doesn’t care whom he hurts, may be not just repetitively immoral but also severely impaired, as sociopaths lack a central human characteristic,  empathy.” 

Michal Tansey, PhD, expresses the ultimate in scariness:  “ . . . even more frightening are Trump’s attraction to brutal tyrants, and also the prospect of nuclear war.” 

Like thousands of others, I’m waiting for everyone to recognize that our country is in the hands of a recognizably sick and truly dangerous man.    


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A PRESIDENT WHO LIVES TO CREATE RAGE



A PRESIDENT WHO LIVES TO CREATE RAGE



America is suddenly on a perilous path.

Far from becoming “Great Again,” this nation is ripping apart internally . . . with an ever- widening rift the size of the Grand Canyon. Thanks to the vitriol spewing from the White House, we are now all turning against each other: spectators against knee-bending athletes, legal citizens against productive illegals, poor against de-regulated rich, Christians against Muslims, Democrats against Republicans, the still-simmering Confederate South against blacks, healthy tax-payers against insurance-needy sick.   

We should have seen this coming: Way back when, Trump declared that Vietnam hero John McCain was not a hero; he railed against the Kahn family who lost a son in Iraq; he bragged that because he was famous, women would allow him to grab them . . . well, anywhere; he threatened protestors—“I’d like to punch him in the face!”; he inspired campaign mobs to scream, “Lock her up!”    

Since then, Trump has given voice to every American who has a grievance against anyone. Like never before, in every state acts of venom are on daily display.

Internationally, it’s worse; even our closest allies no longer trust us. They simply don’t believe that America will keep its word . . .  on global warming, on immigration policies, on United Nations support, on the Iranian agreement, or anything else.   

Scarier still, the nation that once feared or quietly disliked us, is now inspired to rise up and yes—go to war. Because of Trump’s big, raging mouth, we’ve never been so close to a war with North Korea.  Meaning the horror of nuclear weapons is suddenly a possibility.

There must be a way, legally, to rid America of its terrifying leader.

If not . . . What will become of our country?




Monday, August 28, 2017

ONE THUG PARDENS ANOTHER





For 17 years I’ve been following the career of Joe Arpaio.

In 1999, I was writing a book about addiction, (SAVE MY SON). Having visited more than a dozen correctional facilities in Virginia, Colorado, Arizona, and California, I learned from most sources that harsh prison and jail treatment not only does nothing to help rid inmates of their addictions, it tends to make embittered addicts worse.

Among the names that kept coming up was Arizona’s sheriff, Joe Arpaio. His treatment of prisoners was legion, famous among professionals in all areas of law enforcement, but especially among those treating addicts.

It wasn’t enough that Arpaio humiliated male prisoners by forcing them to wear pink underwear, he also brutalized them physically—in so many ways he became a lightning rod for lectures on how NOT to treat convicts. He re-instituted chain gangs, he kept Latinos (exclusively Latinos) in tents whose summer temperatures rose to 120.  He brutalized pregnant Latinas, ensuring that none who gave birth within his jails had infants who survived. In various ways, his staff regularly tortured their inmates.  Contrary to his claims, his recidivism rate was terrible.  

To no one’s surprise, Arpaio labeled his own jail a “concentration camp.” To keep it full, his deputies routinely stopped Latino drivers for no reason except to quiz them about their immigration status. When a judge demanded he stop this practice, Arpaio tried, surreptitiously, to get the judge’s wife in legal trouble. But his deputies never ceased their illegal traffic stops.

I tried to include Arpaio’s record in my book, but my co-author refused, fearing he’d lose conservative votes as he, himself, ran for sheriff. 

Eventually, as we all know, Arpaio was convicted of defying court orders—and faced jail time. But now this horrible man has been pardoned by another horrible man.

None of us need reminding of our president’s own past sins—groping women, cheating workers on construction sites, refusing to rent apartments to blacks. Neither he nor Arpaio  will ever do anything to make the world proud. But at least they have each other.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

I BLINKED, AND THE COOKIE WAS GONE



Our great grandkids weren’t the main attraction of our recent visit to Norfolk, Virginia.  Yet in a way, they were.  Knox, 3 ½, and baby sister Harper, two-ish,  were like low-flying hummingbirds, darting in and out of every scene.  

When Rob and I flew East to Norfolk, we’d come to witness a momentous event: Marine Sergeant Christian Carpenter, (husband of our granddaughter, Erica), was about to become a 2nd Lieutenant.  Erica’s parents, Melanie and our son, Ken, had invited us to stay with them and be part of the festivities.

The event was scheduled for a Monday at precisely ten a.m., to be officiated by Christian’s battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel down from Quantico.  Because Christian had just graduated from Old Dominion University, ODU allowed him to be commissioned on a central quad--in front of three stately flagpoles.

When Rob and I arrived, the spacious quad was mostly empty—except for half a dozen spectators and three lonely chairs, conspicuously facing the flagpoles. Rob and I quickly gleaned that Christian had provided the chairs . . . for the two of us, plus Melanie’s mother. Gradually, the crowd grew larger.    

As befits the military, at the appointed moment, Christian, in uniform, marched from somewhere behind us, did a precise left turn, and positioned himself smartly in front of the Colonel.  At that very moment, from the other direction, Knox came racing across the cement, and with a broad grin and loud voice, called out, “Hi, Daddy!” 

Fascinated, I saw that Christian’s expression never changed.  Somebody scooped up the little boy, and the ceremony went on.

A dramatic and unusual part of the commissioning was Christian’s father, a retired Air Force sergeant, in uniform, ceremoniously approaching now-Lieutenant Carpenter, and saluting him—to which Christian returned the salute.

The commissioning qualified as a Big Moment. Yet almost bigger for me, was a brief encounter between the two kids: Afterwards, I happened to notice Knox busily climbing up and down the few steps that led to an elevated cement area. From a distance, little Harper saw him too. Off she ran toward her brother, arms extended. At the last moment, Knox saw her coming, and turning, he drew her into an embrace. For a moment they hugged. Then Knox took Harper’s elbow and led her over to an adult. A photogenic moment.    

Later, Erica said, “Harper idolizes her brother—wants to do everything he does.” I thought, It seems to go in both directions.

During our three days there, Ken and Melanie provided no fewer than three feasts, the final—with 35 guests--to celebrate Christian’s new status. At the last minute, Melanie was dubious: in rainy Norfolk, an outdoors event seemed dicey. Though a few sprinkles accompanied the set-up, we all took a chance and settled into eating at four long tables. No rain at all. But just as the last person finished, a downpour began, slowly at first. I asked Melanie, “Did you pray about this?”  She smiled, leaving me unsure.  Then I thought, Well, it’s obvious you did.  

Whether Melanie has divine connections or not, she and Ken clearly share some kind of obscure--make that diabolical--ESP. To Rob’s disgust, and mine, they beat us soundly in Password.  But not like you’d expect, seldom with clues and answers that made sense. When Melanie began with the word “Mound” and Ken said, “Anthill,” Rob and I were flabbergasted. Later she said, “Tennis,” and Ken answered “Racquet,” which lacked all logic. And so it went.  As the points piled up against us, Ken admitted to other, similar triumphs. “One of our friends accused us of cheating. ‘You studied the cards in advance,’ they insisted. But how could we—with hundreds of words in the box?” 

Soon, as we kept playing and losing, Rob began blaming me.  Well, I’ll admit to some significant memory lapses. But I can also spot hopeless when I see it. In Password, you’re bound to lose to a pair who unfairly read each other’s minds.

Those three days were full of surprises—the most startling when I plunked down on a piece of plastic that covered their elegant living-room couch.  Suddenly my bottom was alive with pins and needles . . . as though I’d sat on Melanie’s famous “mound” -- meaning “anthill.”  I leaped up, demanding of Kenny, “What did I just sit on?” 

“Oh,” he said. “The plastic is electrified . . . to keep away the dog.” 

“Well, it certainly worked on me,” I said, and from then on I viewed that couch as Pavlov intended . . . with pre-programmed avoidance.

The nicest thing that Melanie did for me, personally, was invite her friends to a book signing—meaning we brought an extra suitcase filled with nothing but books.  She made it a 2-5 cocktail party, and her neighbors and pals graciously let me speak to them about the craft of writing, then bought some 32 books. 

As I sat autographing volumes, somebody brought me a couple of chocolate chip cookies.  Before I could eat the second one, I sensed that something had flashed by very close and continued on without pausing. I looked, and my cookie was gone. Yards away, I spotted my treasure, clutched in Knox’s hand.  Aware of her child’s thievery, Erica made him give it back.  And so I reclaimed my treat, now in two messy chunks. 

And there’s Knox for you, affectionate, supremely well-coordinated, and capable of fast and clever deception.  As we departed on the last day, Knox, who’d been up too late the night before, was so exhausted he was sobbing uncontrollably. Still, Erica made him hush long enough to hear us say, “We love you, Knox.”  Erica whispered in his ear. For a few seconds, Knox stopped his crying and said, “I love you too.”  And then he picked up where he left off, once more sobbing.  And so we departed, with a darling child waving at us through his tears.