Monthly Archives: March 2015

My First Flight

Companies don’t do this anymore, but a Tennessee newspaper flew me up from Texas for a job interview in 1970. The job only paid $135 a week. At the time I was making $125 a week at the Paris News. This was the first time I ever flew on an airliner.
A buddy in college had taken me up in a Piper Cub one time. We flew around the campus and to the next town. At one point he handed the steering column over to me. It was kinda neat and not too scary. As long as I could see the cows in the fields below me I knew I wasn’t really that high up.
I had to work until midnight Saturday, had Sunday off and then worked Monday morning then had the afternoon off. I asked to switch it to Monday afternoon without explanation, and my boss was nice enough not to ask any questions.
Sunday morning I drove out to tiny Paris airfield, climbed the steps to a commuter plane that didn’t look much bigger than the Piper Cub and took off, following the highways, to Dallas Love Field. I got a slightly larger plane and connected to Nashville then to Tri-Cities Airport located in the middle of Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson City, Tennessee.
The managing editor picked me up and drove me to the newspaper office. It was a second story rat hole, but he said a new, ultramodern building was under construction.
Then he mentioned my letter to him in which I mentioned I had never flown commercially so I didn’t know if the plane ticket was in the right price range. Instead of being impressed with my concern to save the newspaper money, he lectured me on being too honest about my naiveté. Never let anyone know how inexperienced I was in the ways of the world, he said. If anyone asks you if you’ve traveled much, lie, he continued, and say you’ve been around the globe.
It should have been a warning sign that the man who was about to hire me to report the facts was urging me to lie. But what did I know? I was just a country kid from Texas.
He impressed me with a dinner at the Holiday Inn and then sent me back to my motel. Like I said I was just a country kid from Texas and easily impressed.
I flew out Monday morning. At one of the airports going back one of the two flight attendants stopped me at the front door to the plane, saying I had not gotten the proper boarding pass. The engines were revving up and I didn’t have time to return to the terminal. I wasn’t going to make it back to the Paris News by one o’clock so I’d lose my job. The Kingsport paper would decide not to hire me because I was too naïve, and I would be unemployed.
The other flight attendant said, “What difference does it make? Let him on the plane.”
So I took my seat on the plane, arrived back at the newspaper on time and in a couple of weeks received a call that I was hired in Tennessee.
First time to do things is fun. You get an adrenaline rush. You get challenged over the way you think about the world. You get scared to death. You sigh with relief and tell yourself, “Well, I lived through that.”
I still look forward to doing things for the first time. I need the excitement to keep my hearting pumping.

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Lord Andrew Taylor entered with a flourish from the ballroom dressed in satin, velvet and ruffles. With mincing steps he minced his way to Cecelia, blowing air kisses all about her cheeks and lips. “Lady Snob-Johnson!” he exclaimed before exploding into verse.

Greetings, greetings one and all.
Andy Taylor’s at the ball.
I lived too many years in dreary old Wales
But now I’m back and into sales!
I do it all, design, cut and sew,
Dress designer, young man on the go!
Andy’s back in town and selling gowns!
He’s turning London upside down!
A shop in Soho and sales are so so.
But I’ve only begun ‘cause there’s money to be won.
My dad is proud. I lead the crowd.
Mommy’s impressed. I made her a dress!
Andy’s a dandy ever so randy!
I want a giggle so watch my tush wiggle!

Cecelia could not believe her eyes, nor her ears. How could an evening filled with such high society promise go down the toilet so quickly. She stuck the tray of liver goo in Andy’s face. “Canapés, canapés. No one will eat my canapés. Come on and be a sport. Eat one of my canapés.”

Andy turned to take a dramatic pose by the fireplace. “You know, historically we Taylors have always made dresses. That’s how we got our name and entered nobility. My ancestor was the dressmaker to the great queen herself.”

Millicent stepped forward. “You mean he was—“

“Yes,” Andy went straight to the punchline. “Elizabeth’s tailor.”

With a canapé gracefully tucked between her thumb and forefinger, Cecelia entreated Andy, “Come on and be a sport. Eat one of my canapés.”

“Thanks just bunches, but mumsey, daddums and I just had the yummiest din-din. I couldn’t eat a thing.” He raised his palm just in the nick of time to avoid getting lump crammed down his throat.”

“If you’ve just had a large dinner, you must feel a tremendous need to burp—“

“Mother!” Millicent tapped Cecelia’s shoulder. “Don’t be ridiculous!”

“You think I’m the ridiculous one?” She started nodding in Andy’s direction. “Take a look at –“

“And stop pushing those canapés on your guests!” Millicent swung her around by her elbow. “Get rid of them!”

“But where?”

“I don’t care!” she said in exasperation. “Put them on the floor behind the screen.”
While Cecelia hid the tray of canapés behind the oriental screen, Millicent took Tent by the arm and displayed her best Snob smile, inherited from her famed grandfather.

“Chief inspector, you might want to meet some of our guests,” she cooed. “I’m sure you’ll find them quite fascinating.”

“I don’t know,” he replied grinning at the cast of characters in the library. “I’m rather enjoying the show in here.”

“I said, move it!” Millicent lost her charm in a flash. “You too, Mother!”

Millicent tightened her grip on Tent’s arm and grabbed Cecelia by the hand and forced both of them out the door. In the meantime, Andy drifted over to the oriental screen, extracted a monocle on a silver stick and bent over to examine the flub dub more closely. With uncertain steps Bedelia approached Andy, only to find herself talking to his extended posterior.

“Andy, I can’t believe it’s you.”

“Bedelia, darling! It’s just been oodles and oodles of time since we last met.” Evidently he was so captivated by the screen that he kept his backside to her.

“Yes, when you left for Wales with your family.” Bedelia was not used to seeing this side of Andy’s personality, yet she could not draw herself away.

“We did have jolly good times back then, didn’t we?” He took a step closer to the object d’art. “Oh, what a divine oriental screen! Japanese or Chinese, which do you think?”

“You were the first boy I ever kissed.” Her tone was tinged with romantic melancholy.

“Siamese, I’ll wager.”

The moment was ripe for another round of poetry, and Bedelia went for it.
I never will forget your touch one sultry summer day.
The mem’ry of you gentle hand will never fade away.

Andy finally took an erect posture, turned and fashioned an icy glare.

Why no I don’t recall that July day, the lilacs in the air I don’t recall
And how the sun shone in your hair, I don’t recall at all.

Bedelia would not be put off by his air of indifference.

I fell in love. You were my hero so serious and grave,
But now you seem so changed; in fact you seem so—

Andy stepped away, stopping her in mid-couplet in a vain effort to break the burgeoning romantic atmosphere.

But you’ve changed too, my dear. You’ve started to wear pants.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ve grown so strong, so butch perchance.

Bedelia pursued him like a starving man at a buffet. “You don’t remember?”

Andy made a break for the other side of the room. “You stir my embers.”

“What did you say?” She stayed right on his heels. “You do recall that day!”

Andy swirled and said in the most light-hearted manner, “No no, my dear, no memories at all.” After a pause, he stepped forward, ready for another round of terse verse.

Are you engaged? A gorgeous man has swept you off your feet?
Please tell me details, like where and when did you meet.

Bedelia moved so close she felt his breath.

I loved a man once long ago and that is quite enough
For any woman’s life. It makes existence rough.

Andy held his ground, looking deep into her brown eyes.

So are you saying that your life is empty now? Tres triste. How sad.
But think of this, my dear. No man can break your heart. Be glad.

If they got any closer, they’d bump noses. Bedelia stood fast, not being the first to move away

Oh don’t you see I love a man who is so brave and true?
Please, Andy, dear, why don’t you know, it’s you, it’s you, it’s you?

Andy unperceptively shook his head, “I don’t recall.”

“No, not at all?” Her voice quivered.

“But if I did—“

“I wish you did—“

This was said in perfect unison which was quite remarkable because neither thought they’d ever be saying such words again.

Unfortunately the passionate spell was broken when Cecelia charged through the door with Millicent on her heels.
“Do you feel that burp coming on yet?”

“Mother’s humor has evolved into something quite bizarre lately. You must forgive her.” Millicent motioned to the liquor cabinet. “Andy, would you care for a drink?”

Turning from his close proximity to Bedelia, he clapped his hands as though his mother had just offered him ice cream. “Ooh, I want something with lots and lots of grenadine.”

Cecelia, stuck in the middle of the room with Bedelia, kept reminding herself she must be a cordial hostess even though she was totally mystified by the young lady standing in front of her. The only comment that came to her mind was about Andy.

“I simply cannot believe the change in Lord Taylor.”

“Neither can I.”

Cecelia realized that conversation was going nowhere fast so she appraised Bedelia’s attire. “Well, you must be an accomplished horsewoman.”

“Oh, I don’t ride.” She blushed. “I’m afraid of horses, actually. No, I wear these clothes because I think they look smashing on me. Don’t you think? And mother is so pleased to see me in pants.

Cecelia, who was a champion in small talk, decided to throw in the towel on this conversation. As she walked away to nowhere in particular, Cecelia threw over her should, “She would.”

Bedelia, though beautiful, could be dense at times. Not realizing she was being sloughed off, she followed Cecelia across the room. “And I love this riding crop. I can crack it on my pants any time—you know it really doesn’t hurt—to emphasize a point in a conversation. See, like this.” She slapped her smart mauve riding pants with the crop.

“You ninny.” Cecelia rolled her eyes.

“Oh no. I’d never take a position caring for other people’s children.” Bedelia shook her head with a laugh. “I don’t know yet what I want to have as a profession, but I would never—“

“I said ninny, not nanny, you ninny!” After giving Bedelia an appropriately haughty glare, Cecelia swirled around and went into the ballroom.
Bedelia collapsed on the lounge and melted into tears. Across the room, Millicent finished concocting Andy’s cocktail which, per his instructions, had lots and lots of grenadine in it. She handed it to him and excused herself. “Poor Bedelia. I’ll be back in a minute, Andy.”

“Of course,” he replied, sipping his drink. Immediately Andy grimaced, spit the contents back in the glass, put it on the cabinet, wandered back to the oriental screen and pulled out his monocle on a stick for another inspection.

“Bedelia, please don’t let mother upset you.” Millicent sat next to her and patted her hand.

“I try so hard to be nice to her. Why doesn’t she like me?”

“Sometimes, dear, it’s not so smart to be smart.” She paused to give a knowing little smile. “Or, shall I say, a Smart?”

We Need to Talk

“Hey, brain, what do you think of that little cutie walking down the street?”
“I don’t think anything about her at all, heart. I’m happily married. And so are you. Or have you forgotten?”
“Of course, I forget all the time. I’m the heart. I can’t remember nothing. You’re the brain, Mr. Smartypants. You don’t forget nothing.”
“Don’t forget anything. Your grammar really makes my blood boil.”
“And it ain’t your blood, genius. It’s my blood, because I’m the one who pumps it.”
“Could you two keep it down up there? I’m trying to digest some food here, and that hamburger ain’t gonna metabolize itself, you know.”
“You ate another hamburger? Stomach, don’t you remember what our doctor said?”
“You’re the brain. You’re supposed to remember those things for all us.”
“Yeah, meathead. All this is your fault.”
“That’s right, heart.”
“That’s right, heart.”
“Thank you, stomach.”
“I’ve been meaning to have a talk with you guys. Liver, lungs, you better listen up too.”
“I know I’ve caused us to cough too much lately. So get off my back.”
“And I—I wanna know who’s responsible for all that cheap gin? You’re wearing out this old liver.”
“That’s just it, my fellow organs. We’re all wearing out. I don’t know if you realize it, but we’re 67 years old. Now, that’s not scary old, but it’s getting on up there. We need to take care of ourselves better. I’m beginning to forget things, and I’m just too tired to keep reminding everyone to do his job.”
“You’re going to replace me with a younger heart, aren’t you? That’s what this is all about. You’re going to rip me out of my home and give it to some stronger, sexier heart. After all these years of faithful service, and this is what I get.”
“There you go, pumping yourself into another fit. That’s why I got ulcers. You and your fits.”
“Nobody loves me anymore. That’s all that a heart lives for is love, and you all hate me.”
“Whattaya mean? You’re the center of our lives! Whoever thinks of a liver? Nobody. I’m supposed to shut up and keep on working. I don’t even know what I do, but I keep on doing it so we can all live.”
“Brain, could we move this conversation elsewhere? That guy next to us is smoking a cigar, and I’m about to break out in another coughing attack. I know that shakes everybody up.”
“Hey, this walking around feels kinda good.”
“Watch out. I just processed some excess gas, and it’s makin’ its way through the large intestine.”
“Thank you, stomach. That’s very considerate of you. You know what I think?”
“There he goes again. The brain is gonna tell us what to think.”
“Can it, heart. I’ve got a cough coming on, and it’ll make you feel even worse. We don’t need that.”
“All I wanted to say was, buddies, we’ve been working together for a long time, and I just want you to know it’s been an honor, a real honor.”
“Now that’s something the heart should say. Nobody ever lets me say the good stuff.”
“Shut up, heart. You’re makin’ my ulcers act up.”

Man in Red Underwear Chapter Two

Chapter Two
Malcolm Tent finally untangled himself from the cape with the sewn-in hump. Taking a moment he looked under the fabric to find a stuffed turtle, which had created the illusion of a hump. How infantile. Tent stood and stomped around the chaise lounge, obviously furious that his dignity had been defiled. Cecelia was not intimidated.

“And now, Chief Inspector Malcontent—“

“That’s Malcolm Tent,” he corrected her with irritation. It was one thing to be pushed down on his rump and be covered by a cape with a fake hump, but quite another to have his name repeatedly mispronounced.

“I must request you leave my home immediately.”

“I will not! I’m expecting to receive—“The inspector stopped abruptly. He stammered about a bit, leaving an unbiased observer to assume he was about to let the cat out of the bag about something either highly unethical or socially irredeemable or both. “I’m expecting to receive all the respect and hospitality due my office.”

“And why should I do that?” Cecelia held both of her chins as high as possible.

“Because if you throw me out I’ll tell everyone you’re nothing but an old gossip!”

“Very well. You may remain.” She wagged a bejeweled finger in his face. “But don’t expect me to be very nice.”

Millicent entered from the ballroom with a tray of canapés. Cecelia immediately put her finger away and turned to smile innocently at her daughter.

“All the guests have arrived,” Millicent announced, looking down at the tray with a disdain that should be reserved for pigs in a blanket. “The canapés are rotten, as usual.”

Her mixture of dismay, disappointment and frustration launched her into another soliloquy.

What can I say? I make some really lousy canapés.
The word around town, you can’t keep those things down.
The recipe has anchovies and nice sharp cheddar
And chicken liver, just a sliver so thin. I make it just to please.
No matter what I do, my guests still claim they taste like poo.
I must find ways to make much better trays of canapés.

Tent tried to escape back into the ballroom. “I swear you make me pull out my hair. I don’t care! I just care about the lair of the Man in the Red Underwear!”

Cecelia placed herself in front of the doorknob.

I still remember it made my day when Lily Langtry stopped by to say,
“Cecelia dear don’t be so sad. These canapés can’t be all that bad.”
And she ate two right away but turned an awful shade of gray.
And then in a poof my friend went woof which through the roof.
She said just give the rest to me and off she flew in a hustle
To force feed them to that man trap slut, her enemy Lillian Russell.
Canapés, canapés, they won’t eat any of my canapés.
Come on and be a good sport. Eat one of my canapés.

“No, thank you.”

“No, I insist.” She took one of the canapés from the tray and crammed it into the inspector’s mouth before he could make another protest.

While Tent made a valiant effort to masticate the inedible glob, Millicent handed the tray to her mother.

“Here, Mother. No one in the ballroom wants one.”

“Are you sure?”

“Most of them were at Lily Langtry’s last week and –“

“Never mind,” her ladyship said with a sigh.

Bedelia Smart-Astin, the daughter of same Hardesty Astin, whom Cecelia had disdained only moments earlier, entered from the ballroom and took a jaunty stance, displaying her nifty riding outfit, the pants a flattering shade of mauve. “Millicent!” She waved her crop proudly over her tightly woven chestnut colored hair.

Millicent rushed to her and hugged her. “Bedelia, darling!”

Cecelia was clearly displeased to have a relative of one of her gossip victims invading her social event of the season and marched over, sticking the tray of liver drops under Bedelia’s nose. “Canapé, my dear?”

“How sweet of you, Lady Snob-Johnson, but I’m watching my figure.”

“Too bad.” Cecelia receded to the chaise lounge where she considered for the briefest of moments eating one of her concoctions herself.

Millicent took Bedelia by the elbow to guide her to the chief inspector. “Bedelia, let me introduce you to—“

“Of course! Malcolm Tent! We’re old friends!” She thrust her hand toward him.

“We are?”

“Don’t you remember me?” she said and then, by the sheerest of coincidences, broke into rhymed iambic-pentameter also. There must have been something in the air.

Mom didn’t marry Dad and that’s okay with me.
She had the cause, whatever it was, but she loved me.
She told me always to wear pants and never heed those who say can’t.
I’m better than boys so I treat them just like they’re toys.

“I don’t care, ma’am,” Tent muttered. “Give a damn, ma’am! Ticker’s dam, ma’am!”

His protestations did not deter her at all.
Now Daddy dear married last year a girl named Dumb.
I think Marie is not too bright but sweet as a plum.
My Mom decided from the start to keep the family name of Smart.
So Marie decided that she would do the same thing too.

Tent could see this coming a mile away. “So she’s called—“

Marie Dumb-Astin.
Marie’s hyphenated name won such acclaim that I
have done the same to show the world my family pride.
Which I know will be long lastin’ and I became Bedelia Smart-Astin!

Cecelia swept over to her daughter to whisper in her ear. “Why did you invite her to my party?”

“I invited Bedelia because Lord Andrew Taylor wanted to see her,” Millicent replied.

“Andy’s back in town?” Pleasure erupted across Cecelia’s face. Now she had a genuine social elite attending her party. “I approve of the Taylors. Andy was such a charming, athletic, handsome young man when his family moved to their estate in Wales.

“I must warn you,” Millicent cautioned her mother. “Andy has changed quite drastically.”

Inoculations Against Fears

All of this debate about measles inoculations recently brings back memories from about 55 years ago. If there was a shot available I got it. My eldest brother had died of who knows what six years before I was born, so my mother wasn’t taking any chances.
Back then we even got shots at school for polio. They lined us up in the cafeteria and stuck all of us with the same old dull needle, but it was all right because we got ice cream afterwards. Some years later Dr. Sabin came out with polio vaccine on a sugar cube. This time they just said anyone who wanted it could get it for free at the local community center. Yep, I took that one too.
Nobody got more disturbed about small children catching a disease that could kill them than me. I don’t like to watch Little Women because Margaret O’Brian dies after visiting a sick friend. This latest round of debate has me totally confused. One group will swear that children who got measles inoculations ended up dying or developing something terrible like autism. The other side swears that inoculated children caught the measles from uninoculated kids. That’s a lot of swearing going around, and it makes me nervous because I can’t decide which side is right. Maybe they’re both wrong or both right.
I have a sneaking suspicion that all the preservatives and chemicals our children ingest everyday might have an adverse reaction to all those serums and antibiotics doctors prescribe. My paranoid side whispers to me that corporations which buy elections for our representatives control what government eventually will decide which side is right. There’s a lot of money riding on that decision. Don’t pay any attention to me. I’m just a guy who likes to go out on the street and tell stories to anybody who stops to listen.
I do have to chuckle a bit that we Americans were all in a dither about a month or two ago about ebola killing everyone. Well, it didn’t and we have a new disease to worry about. Be patient. By this time next month we’ll be biting our fingernails over another disease which we absolutely have no idea how to control.
Perhaps that is the real issue here. We do have the ability to address issues like poisoning our water supply, proper labelling for our factory processed food, and proper preventive health care for all our children, no matter what their parents have done to provide for them. Let’s stop the war between religion and science. It doesn’t get us anywhere.
Maybe we could follow the example of Republican President Dwight David Eisenhower who started free lunches for our poorest children. He discovered that many of the young men enlisting to fight in World War II were malnourished. He instigated the interstate highway system to provide easy and fast routes for the transfer of the properly nourished soldiers. Incidental to his initial reason for better highways was the boon to the transportation of goods around the country. By the way, Eisenhower oversaw the desegregation of schools and was the reason all of us kids got stuck by those dull needles.
Perhaps it’s too scary to discuss of projects for the greater good of all citizens which eventually enhance the quality of the United States as a whole. It’s easier to worry about the disease of the month.

About The Man in the Red Underwear

The Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry satirizing the Scarlet Pimpernel/Zorro concept of the hero masquerading as a fop as he foils the dastardly deeds of the villain. In truth, it was originally written as a musical comedy. When I couldn’t find anyone to write music to my lyrics I changed it to a novella. It’s like life–don’t take it seriously.

The Man in the Red Underwear Chapter One

Chapter One
In the waning years of Queen Victoria’s reign—let’s face it—the party scene was a big bore. What could you expect? The old broad was still wearing black fifty years after her husband Prince Albert died. She could have at least gone to purple. Nothing seemed to amuse her, so it was left to her subjects to take up the slack and cut a few rugs, so to speak. Lady Cecelia Snob-Johnson did her part by throwing a fling-a-wing-ding every year at her brownstone in a semi-elegant section of London.
Now no one exactly knows how Cecelia managed to get the title of lady. She didn’t come from the best of families. Her father, JohnBob Snob, held sway in the theatrical West End of town for years, and rumor had it that Victoria knighted him after one particularly lascivious production of Romeo and Juliet. This was, of course, before Albert kicked the bucket. So if JohnBob was a lord, his daughter had to be a lady, a lady without any money but a lady nonetheless.
The financial situation brightened appreciably when Cecelia caught the eye of coal magnate Sampson Elias Johnson. She got a twofer with old Sampson Elias. He was rich and built like his biblical namesake. In fact, Cecelia couldn’t keep her hands off him and by their first wedding anniversary she gave birth to her beautiful daughter Millicent. However, Sampson Elias believed in not asking his employees to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. So he hacked and hewed right alongside his miners. He dropped dead from some nasty lung ailment before he could sire any more children. This left Cecelia wealthy but no love life and no social standing. High muckety-mucks never forgave poor Sampson Elias for having coal stained hands as he lay in state at Winchester Cathedral.

Nevertheless, Lady Cecelia Snob-Johnson never gave up hope that her annual gala would bring the social acceptance she so craved. Everything had to be spit-polished and dusted. Her ballroom glistened, and her library was impeccable. It was in the library where she hoped she could bring her immense power to seduce her detractors to its full potential. The guests slowly arrived, and the orchestra began warming up. No matter what else anyone could say about Cecelia, she put out the bucks to buy the best musicians in town, for at least one night.

To calm her nerves, Cecelia dashed from the ballroom for one last inspection of the library. She ran her fingers across the mantel and pleasantly found no dust. Looking up, she made sure her daddy’s fencing swords—believed to have been the very weapons from the production of Romeo and Juliet which prompted the Queen to knight him—were securely affixed above the mantel. In the middle of said mantel was a small framed photograph of Lily Langtry, the only person of high society who liked her. Cecelia gave the picture a quick kiss for good luck. Next she went to the far corner where an ornate oriental screen stood. Cecelia was particularly fond of the expensive flubdub because it was the last thing Sampson Elias Johnson bought her before dropping dead. He may have had dirty fingernails but he knew how to treat a dame right.
In front of the screen was a chaise lounge, large enough to accommodate a seductress and her victim. After fluffing the pillows on the lounge, she decided a small libation to stiffen her resolve so she went across the room where she poured herself a drink from the stylish cabinet suitably equipped with her ladyship’s favorite liquors. She turned to look at Lily Langtry’s photograph and toasted her in anticipation of a successful evening. Cecelia then decided to break out in a soliloquy in rhymed iambic pentameter, a habit she had inherited from her father.

Each year I give a party for the people of great wealth and world renown.
They’re kings and queens and dukes and earls and ladies in their gowns.
Oh hell, I might as well get real—those snooty types, they always turn me down.
I love the party life, it fills me with delight, the razz and the matazz.
I want to prove I have more charm than any of those high class rotters has.
This year I asked Prime Minister Lloyd George who rudely had the flu.
Instead I got Scotland Yard’s Sir Malcolm Tent so I am truly blue.
My daughter Millicent invited Victoria’s grandson so he’s a prince.
He should be quite a catch for any gala’s list, but he is dull and really dense.
I love the party life, excitement and romantic light.
I want to fall in love at least for just one night.

Invigorated by her pitiful attempt at poetry, Cecelia returned to her ballroom, a large space bedecked with gold, crystal and mirrors which looked quite sad because so few people were in it. Her daughter Millicent, wearing a brilliant blue satin gown with startling décolletage, worked the crowd, smiling and offering a tray of canapés. The social pickings were so slim that the arrival of Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard Malcolm Tent made her heart flutter for a moment. But only for a moment because he was dressed in a drab black suit worn around the edges. He also lacked an aptitude in personal ablutions. He needed to decide whether he wanted a beard or to be clean shaven. In his current condition he was neither. Cecelia breathed deeply and swept across the dance floor and locked arms with the inspector.

“Oh, chief inspector, I am so pleased you could attend my annual gala,” she gushed. “It’s the highlight of the social season for the poshest inner circles of London upper class.”

“I don’t care,” he muttered.

Cecelia leaned in to catch what he said. “Pardon?”

“I don’t pardon.” Tent appraised her in askance. “The Queen pardons. I merely arrest.”

“No, I mean, I was asking what you said, Sir Malcontent,” she clarified.

“My name is Malcolm Tent,” he clearly articulated. And I’m not a sir. More’s the pity. Anyway, I said I don’t care. Forgive my bluntness. I’m obsessed over the shop robberies in Soho.”

Cecelia’s eyes lit with excitement. “They are quite bizarre. According to reports in the Times, a man in disguises exposes himself in—oh, dare I say it—in red underwear!”

“An exhibitionist, quite obviously.

“And then he commits robbery!” Her breathing became quite labored, as though she were reading aloud a penny dreadful novel. “And he’s so handsome, according to reports. And evidently well bred, by the cut of his tights. Aristocratic. How could anyone so high be so low in Soho?” Cecelia realized the dozen or so other guests in the ballroom had stopped milling around to listen in on their conversation. This sense of sudden importance made her cheeks flush. She was sure she was on her way to social acceptability. She raised her voice so all around her could hear. “How is the investigation going?”

“So so.”

“Exactly how much has he stolen?”

“And exactly why are you asking so many questions?” Tent matched her volume decibel for decibel.

The mood of the guests noticeably changed. She could decipher some of the mumblings as, “Yeah, why does the old busybody want to know so much?” and “Who does she think she is, interfering with Scotland Yard?” Cecelia realized she needed to gain the confidence of Inspector Tent in privacy so she gently pushed him toward the library door.

“Inspector, you must see my photograph of Lilly Langtry in the library. She autographed it herself. It’s quite fascinating.” Once she had him alone behind closed doors, Cecelia began her confession, which because she was unusually nervous, came out in iambic pentameter.

You know I love the party life, but one thing I adore.
Some juicy gossip makes me want to roar. Tell me more!
You got dirt on the upper class? You bet your ass
I want to know who’s doing what to you know who.
Who’s spending money faster than they make it on the job
And I’ll tell you which royal prince is nothing but a slob!

Tent headed for the door.

I swear you make me pull out my hair! I don’t care!
I just care about the lair of the man in the red underwear!

The inspector shook his head in amazement that he had been drawn into the world of iambic pentameter. He hated poetry. It was his worst subject in school. Before he knew it Cecelia stood between him and his escape.

I love gossip! Steamy gossip! Dirty gossip!
Gimme gossip! Live for gossip! I truly crave gossip!
Old Hardesty Astin was such a bastion of the law,
Was chief inspector of Scotland Yard, retired without a flaw.
He’s dumb as a stump and lives in a dump. They say he’s a chump.
Fatima his mom knew all the right johns so he got raised to the top
Fat Astin and her baby boy, first family of all the cops!

Hardesty Astin was a touchy subject with Malcolm Tent. He turned away, looking for another door out of the library. Cecelia, however, diligently tailed him.

“Gimme gossip!” She grabbed his lapels and wouldn’t let go.

“I don’t care, ma’am!” Tent tried to shove her away, but she was a strong old broad.

“Steamy gossip!”

The inspector pivoted, making an end run for the door to the ballroom. “Don’t give a damn, ma’am!”

“I love gossip!” Cecelia grabbed him around the waist and refused to let go.

“Very well! I’ll tell you everything if you promised never to put your arms around me again!”

“As you wish.” She released him and went to the chaise lounge and sat. “So, what are the shopkeepers saying?”

“The shopkeepers are saying….” Tent’s voice trailed off as he organized his thoughts. “They’re saying…good citizens—that’s right, good citizens doing their civic duty– are thwarting this man in red underwear before he actually takes any money.”

“Perhaps I could help.” Cecelia stood, taking a step toward the inspector.

“You could?” Tent took a step back.

“Of course, as I just revealed to you, I know all the best gossip.”

“Lady Snob-Johnson, if you know the identity of this villain, it is your duty to reveal it.” Tent sounded extremely menacing, even though he did keep his distance.

“I made it sound like I know but I don’t,” she demurred.

“I think you are lying.” Tent walked to the fireplace and touched the photograph frame. “I suspect your most valued possession is this picture of Lily Langtry. You wouldn’t want to lose it, would you?”

“You wouldn’t take my picture of Lily, would you?”

“Oh no, not I. But my assistant would.” Tent dramatically pulled out a police whistle and blew it.

The door to the ballroom opened and a bent-over man in a long, flowing black hooded robe entered and dashed to the inspector’s side. “Yes, master?”

“Oh, you must be kidding,” Cecelia exclaimed in disbelief. “How did he get past the doorman? My guest list was a bit dodgy, but this is ridiculous.”

“You’re right.” Tent eyed the man with suspicion. “You’re not my usual henchman. Thug-R-Us usually send Igor. You’re not Igor. Why didn’t they send Igor?”

“He has a special out-of-town assignment, master. A Dr. Frankenstein asked for him.”

“That quack?” The inspector curled his lips in disdain. “Why didn’t he dig someone else up?”

“I think he’s planning to, master.”

“Please don’t take my picture of Lily!” Cecelia reached out in supplication to the creepy guy. She could usually get creepy guys to do anything she wanted.

“Your only chance to save your treasured picture of Lily Langtry is to tell me who the man in the red underwear is!” Tent demanded.


“Yes, what is it?” he asked impatiently.
“I can tell you who the man in the red underwear is.”

“Oh you can, can you?” Tent had that icky tone of contempt to his voice.

The man stood at his full height, flung the cape over Tent and pushed him over the chaise lounge. It was the Man in the Red Underwear, all arrayed in red attire, a blousy shirt opened to his bellybutton, outrageously tight pants and a mask covering precious little of his chiseled good looks. He takes the picture of Lily Langtry from the mantle.

“Oh please, I know you’re a thief—an incredibly gorgeous thief—but don’t take my picture of Lily!” Cecelia implored.

“Don’t fear, dear lady. I take this treasured item only to save it from the hands of Malcolm Tent. When all danger has passed, I will return it to you. On my honor as a gentleman.”

“And you are a gentleman,” she responded coyly. “I can tell by the cut of your tights.”

“Until later.” He took her hand and kissed it.

“How gallant!”

“I know!” The Man in the Red Underwear swept across the library, raised a window and disappeared into the night.

The Ides of March

Beware, the ides of March are upon you.
Jeff awoke from a deep sleep and looked around his dark bedroom. He squinted, prying into every corner and the folds of each curtain.
All the live long day.
Shaking his head, Jeff realized the voice was actually singing in deep, sonorous tones. He turned to his wife to find her breathing peacefully, hardly making any sound at all.
You cannot get away.
Now Jeff shook to his inner core. What could this voice be? Its implication was ominous.
Oh don’t you hearing the whistle blowing?
Whistle, what whistle? Jeff didn’t hear any whistle. Leaning closer to his wife he put his ear next to her mouth. Nothing but soft breathing. The faint aroma of roasted peanuts. She hadn’t brushed her teeth again before coming to bed, that that still didn’t account for the foreboding tune.
Dinah, blow your horn.
He didn’t know a Dinah. His wife’s name was Susie, and she didn’t know how to blow a horn.
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah.
There better not be anyone in the kitchen with Susie or else somebody was going to get shot. Jeff had serious jealousy and anger management. That was why nobody ever came over for dinner anymore. No one wanted to be found dead in the kitchen with Susie.
Someone’s in the kitchen I know I know.
I wish Dinah would get out of my kitchen, Jeff muttered, and take her friend with her.
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, strumming on the old banjo.
Okay, dammit, Jeff fumed, I want these people to get the hell out of my house right now! He jumped from the bed and stormed into the kitchen. No one was there. The soft light of morning filtered through the slightly grungy windows. Susie hadn’t cleaned the windows in two months now. Maybe he would be better off with Dinah. There’s a good chance she’d keep a cleaner house than Susie did, but Jeff decided he couldn’t put up with that horn blowing through the night. Jeff jumped when he heard footsteps behind him.
“What are you doing up so early?” Susie asked while trying to stifle a yawn.
Jeff pointed to the kitchen windows. “I thought you were going to clean those damn windows.”
“Not in the damn middle of the night. Do you want some coffee?”
“Not if the pot is as dirty as the windows.”
“Have it your own way. I’m going back to bed.” Susie turned back to the bedroom. “And clean the damn windows yourself. Hell, you’re worse than an old woman.”
Beware, the ides of March are upon you.
Shit, there goes that voice again.
All the live long day.
The noise pushed Jeff to the brink. “Stop that damn singing!”
“Nobody’s singing, Jeff! Nobody’s making a sound except for you, and you’re a certified lunatic!” Susie screamed from the bedroom.
You cannot get away.
Like hell, I can’t get away! Jeff stomped to the hall closet, took out his shotgun, loaded it, and marched to the bedroom. Taking careful aim he unloaded both chambers into Susie’s back. The next thing Jeff noticed was someone on a bullhorn just outside the kitchen door.
“Put your weapon down, place your hands on your head and slowly come out!”
Jeff frowned. It was a woman’s voice.
“Neighbors called about a gunshot blast. Come out with your hands on your head. This is Officer Dinah Smith. Come out now.”
Jeff carefully put the rifle on the floor and walked back to the kitchen. He stopped at the kitchen door. “I can’t come out. I’m naked.”
“Put your hands on the kitchen table,” Officer Smith instructed him.
The door creaked open, and Jeff heard the footsteps of a woman wearing boots. There was another noise, like a paw scratching on the wooden floor. Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, Jeff thought. He wondered who it was.
“Okay, Banjo. Go see what you can find,” Dinah said.
Jeff lifted his head to see a large German Shepherd loping toward the bedroom. He could tell when the dog stopped, sniffed and scratch at the rifle on the floor. Banjo whined.
“What’s going on here, sir?” Dinah asked.
“I shot my wife for singing,” Jeff muttered, “but she wasn’t really singing. It was all in my head.” He felt Dinah’s rough hands grab his wrists and pull them behind him.
You cannot get away.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Dinah began reading him his rights in a monotone voice.
Jeff heard the kitchen door open and another pair of footsteps.
“Damn, Dinah. Why don’t you let the man have a little dignity and let him put some trousers on?”
“He just killed his wife,” Dinah snapped. “I don’t care if he freeze his skinny ass off.”
“You don’t mind if get him some clothes, do you?” the other officer asked.
“I’m busy with this report. You can do anything you want. The bedroom’s through that door.”
The other officer took a few steps, then Dinah called out, “By the way, what is today’s date?”
The officer replied, “March fifteenth.”
I told you, beware the ides of March.

Burly Chapter Twelve

Chapter Twelve
The old farmhouse outside of Cumby lapsed into disrepair as the years stretched into decades. An interstate highway drew traffic away from the narrow blacktop road that passed nearby until the only people to see it were neighboring farmers slowly going by on their tractors and their children walking home from school. Tales began to be spun about the mysterious old man who lived in the run-down house and who carried a burlap teddy bear with him everywhere he went. Children believed him to be some sort of evil ghoul who lured unsuspecting strangers into his barn where they met terrible deaths. Other children whispered the old man was simply out of his mind, someone to be teased for the awful crime of living too long.
Of course, their parents stopped them before they did anything harmful to old Mr. Horn. Feel sorry for him, the parents said. Once he had a fine farm but over the years he had to sell off bits and pieces until all he had left was the house, barn and five acres out back.
“But isn’t he mean or crazy or dumb?” two little boys asked their father as they rode past on their tractor.
“No,” Gerald Morgan replied. “I remember when he wasn’t considered a strange old man at all.”
“Really?” the young boy asked in awe.
“Yes. When I was about your age I remember how he was quite normal. He had a nice looking wife and three children.”
“You mean he smiled and laughed like anybody else?” the other boy asked, not quite believing this yarn their father was spinning.
Gerald Morgan chuckled. “Oh yes. I remember one time seeing him at a Toby show with his children. He had his youngest son on his shoulders, and he was smiling, laughing and eating popcorn.”
“What’s a Toby show, Dad?” the youngest boy asked.
He reached over to tousle his son’s hair. “That’s another story.” He paused and became very serious. “In fact, I think that night was the last time I ever saw Mr. Horn smile.”
“What happened to his family?” the older boy continued the questions.
“His wife died soon after that, and the daughter—she was older than me—went off to live with relatives in Houston. The oldest boy died in the war.”
“And the younger boy, what happened to him?”
Gerald Morgan had a faraway look in his eyes. “Herman Horn was one of my best friends in high school.”
“Did he die?”
Shaking his head Gerald just drove on and left the boy’s question unanswered. As the tractor putted on down the road away from the old farmhouse, the brothers looked back at it. They wondered what made it look so fearsome and so lonely. The boys didn’t know it but at that moment inside the old farmhouse, scary, mysterious, sad old Mr. Horn was clutching at his chest with one hand and with the other reaching for Burly Bear on the bed. He crumbled on the floor and lay there for the next three days.
Burly heard Woody collapse and the postman’s knock at the door three days later, but couldn’t do anything about it. He heard muffled whispers of neighbors who peeked in the door as the ambulance attendants carried the body out. He felt shattering numbness which befalls a house when no one will live in it again. A few days later the little bear heard the steps of a weary man enter the house. Burly was aware of a man’s lifting his little body.
“Oh Burly, I’m sorry I did this to you,” a grown Herman whispered. Fingering the worn burlap he confessed, “I should have never put you in that trunk. Forgive me.”
Burly heard Herman’s plea, but he didn’t know this tall, broad-shouldered man who was shaking and crying. At least he didn’t know him until the tears from Herman’s eyes landed on his head and magic happened again. Burly Bear blinked his button eyes at this man holding him and realized who it was.
“Excuse me, but are you Herman?” Burly asked politely.
Herman looked shocked, then smiled. “Yes, I’m Herman, your friend.”
Burly was confused. “But Herman is a little boy. Or he was a little boy. The last time I saw him he was a big teen-ager.”
Sniffing and wiping his eyes, Herman nodded. “That’s right. A very foolish teen-aged boy. But that was many years ago.”
“I remember. Don’t worry,” Burly said soothingly. He looked deep into Herman’s red eyes. “Yes, I can tell now. You are Herman.”
“Well, I’m not exactly the same little boy that you knew.”
Looking at his worn little body, Burly said, “I guess I’m not the bear I once was either.”
“Who cares if you’re a little frayed around the edges,” Herman said, tapping Burly’s arm. “I still love you.”
Burly felt warm inside. “I’m so glad you came back for me.”
“Actually I came back for my father’s funeral,” Herman told him. “I haven’t given you much thought the last few years until I walked in the door and then you were all I could think about.”
“At least we’re together again,” Burly offered.
“I wish I had had you with me all that time,” Herman said. “Without your advice I made a lot of mistakes.”
“Oh, but I’m sure you’ve done a lot of good things too. You were always so smart.”
Herman shrugged. “I did go to college and get a law degree.”
“Just as you said you would.” Burly leaned forward with anticipation. “Did you help the black people like you wanted?”
Herman looked away in shame. “I’m afraid not. Sometimes I forgot about important things like honesty and love along the way. You’re not disappointed in me, are you?”
“I could never be disappointed in you, Herman. You’re my friend.”
“Not a very good one, sticking you in that trunk like that. And I wasn’t a very good friend to Gerald Morgan.”
“He was one of the nicer boys who visited you,” Burly said, trying to remember.
“Yes. We said we would always be friends, even if we didn’t live in the same town. We would visit and write. But I never did. I always meant to but I didn’t.”
“Stop being so hard on yourself,” Burly told him. “Everyone makes mistakes. And mistakes can sometimes be undone.”
Herman smiled. “Yes. Gerald came to papa’s funeral and I apologized. I told him I would keep in touch and I really meant it this time.”
Burly looked down. “You know your father was very sad you never came to visit him.”
“I didn’t think he wanted to see me.”
“You know that wasn’t so,” Burly replied. “I told you many times how much he loved you.”
Herman hung his head. “I guess so.”
“In fact he loved you much more than I realized,” Burly continued.
Herman looked up. “Did he talk to you much? Gerald told me at the funeral papa had gotten into the habit of carrying a teddy bear with him.”
“He talked to me all the time. He didn’t understand why you didn’t answer his letters.”
“Did—did you talk to him?”
Burly shook his burlap head. “No. I didn’t think he’d understand how a teddy bear could talk.”
Herman wiped another tear from his eyes. “So he did love me.”
“And Tad and Callie too,” Burly added. “Look at the table by his bed—Tad’s hunting knife and Callie’s picture. You know, Callie wrote him all the time. She even invited him to visit her in Houston. Of course, he didn’t take me along.”
“Herman! Hurry up!” a woman’s voice called out from the kitchen.
“Who’s that?” Burly asked.
“Why, that’s Callie.”
“Really?” Burly replied. “She doesn’t happen to still have my mother?”
Herman winked. “You’d be surprised.” Herman stood and carried Burly toward the door. “And I have a surprise for you.”
“Well, you remember May Beth?”
“Oh, the girl Marvin married,” Burly replied.
“She left Marvin a couple of years after they were married. We met in Austin,” Herman told him.
“That’s where you were going to school.” Burly was so pleased more of his memory was returning.
“Yes, and we started dating again. This time I wasn’t dumb enough to let her slip away.”
“So May Beth is here?”
“Yes,” Herman replied. “And someone else whom I think will become as good a friend to you as I was. Better.”
Herman opened the bedroom door and brought out Burly who looked around the old farmhouse kitchen. He recognized Callie right off because she looked just like her mother. And beside her was a blonde-headed little girl holding Pearly Bear. Then he looked over to see a pretty dark-haired woman he assumed was May Beth since he had never met her. And next to her was a little boy. Burly caught his breath. The child looked just like Herman, maybe his hair was a bit darker. And there wasn’t that terrible sad look in his eyes that Herman had that first night his tears dropped on the burlap bear.
“You’re doing something right,” Burly whispered to Herman. “You’re a good father. I can tell by the happiness on your son’s face.
“Thank you,” Herman whispered back. He walked across the room and held out Burly to his son. “Bobby, I want you to meet an old friend of mine, Burly Bear.”
Bobby grabbed Burly and hugged him. “Thank you, daddy. He’s wonderful.”
Burly shivered with warmth, excitement and love.
Welcome back, Burly Bear.
(Author’s Note: I would appreciate any comments you may want to share about your encounter with Burly Bear and Herman. The first ten responses on my blog will receive free downloads of my CD The Storyteller Says Boo. The next novella to be serialized is The Man in the Red Underwear, a pastiche of prose and poetry.)

The Trouble With Computers

I am the first to admit I am computer illiterate. I can point and click. I can use it like a typewriter and save simple documents, but that’s just about it.
I got my first computer more than 20 years ago. I could only see half of the page at a time which made it very inconvenient when composing a story, letter or a play. My short term memory has always been a bit chancy so at the beginning I back spaced a lot to see how I had started the sentence. Then there was the printer. It worked on some heat process which I never understood. I had to punch three keys—I don’t remember which ones—to send command to print. I could never get my fingers to hit them in the right cadence, like playing the piano, which I could never do either.
My next computer was easier to use and the printer was cooperative. I had to buy several different programs which were very expensive to make it worthwhile, and each one had its own peculiar way of working.
Then came the internet. I was first aware of the internet through these commercials of a little girl in a woolen coat and a beret of a matching color. She was standing on a rock in the middle of a stream and then instantly was on another rock and then another. She was talking about being here, there and everywhere all at the same time. It didn’t make much sense. But that is what the internet is, after all, being here, there and everywhere all at the same time.
The first time I connected to the internet I thought I had done something dreadfully wrong and the computer was about to explode—that awful screeching noise of dial up. I could imagine someone instantly popping the power button off before the contraption burst. There were certain evenings, Mondays and Tuesdays, when I couldn’t get a connection. Everyone, it seemed, didn’t have anything better to do on those nights than go online. Downloading sites took forever.
Now I’m spoiled. Instant connection and downloading and it’s fast. Where I used to have to go to libraries, order books from catalogues and go on field trips to learn background for my stories I now have access to every university library, every museum and every national historic site in the world. Of course, I had to learn some sites weren’t what they were cracked up to be. For instance, Flash Mountain is not the same as Splash Mountain at DisneyWorld.
My only fear now about computers and the internet is that all our knowledge is on line. On the one hand it’s very convenient, at least for those who have computers. We must realize we do live in a world where some people still can’t afford computers. That’s a perception gap that must be closed.
The real problem, however, is that all our knowledge is on computers, computers that are run by electricity. If, for whatever cataclysmic reason, the world loses its electrical power, there goes our knowledge. It’s in a computer that’s now an inert box. We are in a new Dark Ages.
One day, when we are gone and our cities are covered in vines, someone will find these little boxes and maybe figure out how to start them again. They will find the discs with a set amount of gigabytes of information on them. Perhaps they will decide that we were predicting the end of the world because the boxes held only a certain number of gigabytes.
It will be 2012 all over again.

This column originally appeared in the Tampa Bay Times Hernando section.