This Site is Like a House That’s Been Closed Up for Too Many Winters

Furniture crouches, hidden, beneath white sheets, covered in a layer of dust fine as sifted flour. Overhead lights hang flocked with cobwebs ragged as Miss Havisham’s rotted wedding lace. The air is chill and gray, mote-ridden in the faint gleam of light that seeps around the edges of drawn curtains. No one has lived here in eight months, but it feels longer somehow. Any noise is swallowed up immediately, as if sound is not allowed.

I cross the room and, two-handed, thrust back the curtains, letting in a spill of watery sunlight to mark the tracks of my boots across the floor. Time for a shake-out, a deep clean before winter closes in and–cavelike, bearlike–seals this place shut against the cold.

*****

Hello, there. When last we met, I’d just returned from Oregon after a momentously successful launch of my book Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd. We left Portland for home on Sunday, March 8, ignorantly unaware that the state was about to shut down in response to the steady advance of COVID-19. By the end of that week, we were in our own lock-down in Connecticut. (I thank whatever miracle worked in our favor that we returned unscathed and uninfected after a week of glad-handing and hugs.)

It’s eight months later and so many life-changing experiences have occurred, not just worldwide, but personally as well. My husband’s job underwent transformation, and we decided to move to Ohio. Our house went on the market on a Friday, a price-war commenced the very next day, and the house was sold by Monday, which of course meant a mad dash to begin packing and start the hunt for a new place to live. We lifted, hoisted, broke-down…and sprang arms, backs, and shoulders in the effort. (A shout-out to the fine folks at Buy Nothing Hebron who generously gave us their empty boxes to save us the expense of buying new.) Ed traveled alone to Ohio to meet with a realtor and look at houses we’d chosen on realtor.com; a depressing experience for both of us, having forgotten how rare it is for a house’s listing and the actual structure to coincide.

In the midst of all this, our most-beloved dog Holly–eleven years of age and medically fragile–decided it was best to die rather than endure the stress of a move. She departed in the space of a few sudden hours, leaving us devastated, empty, and stepping around the dog-shaped space on the kitchen floor as if she yet lay there.

We split the move into two days for sanity’s sake, and the cat, Ruby, sang me the song of her people for five hours until, exhausted and confused, she passed into sleep with her head on my fingers, stuck through the bars of her carrier. For two weeks, we lived in a spare bedroom belonging to our eldest and her husband, walking on proverbial tenterhooks so as not to make them wish we’d chosen an hotel or short-lease apartment, as we waited for the purchase of our new home to go through. Not long after we moved in, we learned that my mother-in-law, living in a care facility and largely uncommunicative, had died of COVID.

Back at the end of June.

This was September.

And no one had thought fit to tell my husband.

Now here we are with Thanksgiving behind us, Christmas before us, and little sense of our place in the world anymore, our main focus being to keep to ourselves and stay healthy.

And how have YOU been?

*****

A Word On What Comes Next

The story you’re about to read, “The Last Zoo Keeper,” was written in 2017 and published that same year in Wild Musette Journal #1702, long before any of us regular Joes had heard about COVID-19, much less experienced its depredations. In a twist of irony, it’s a tale of pandemic and what comes afterward, how we are smelted and redefined. I wrote it in honor of my dear friend Roger Henneous. I hope you enjoy it. (And, yes, I engaged in a tiny bit of editing.)

THE LAST ZOO KEEPER

After the pandemic had killed everyone but him, Emerson left the city and wandered without purpose, a shambling thing half-dead with grief. He longed to lie down and die as well, but a hot kernel of regret kept him walking; guilt for having failed Imogen.

He slept wherever exhaustion claimed him, sometimes falling to the ground between one step and the next, and ate little when he remembered to eat at all. Haggard and filthy, he broke into houses and took away whatever he fancied. He lay on dead people’s couches—but never in their beds—and found damnation rather than salvation in his unlikely survival. For all he knew, he was the sole human alive on the planet. Certainly nothing in the wider world suggested otherwise.

One night, he discovered a baby grand piano in the living room of a suburban home. He stared at it for a long time, then slowly approached; hesitant, as if it might bite. He ran his hand along the lid, disturbing months of dust, then sat on the bench, wiped his palms against his pants, and laid his fingertips on the ivory keys. The opening chords of Moonlight Serenade conjured Imogen—the swirl of her favorite purple dress as she swayed to the music, the shift of long dark hair against her back, her smile. He played to the end, and then cried until he vomited.

#

When at last the thought of another day spent walking became more than he could bear, Emerson settled on a small abandoned zoo as his refuge. The reasons for this were visceral as well as conscious—the place had an air of safety, like a fortress, and Imogen had loved the children’s zoo near their apartment.

He spent several days exploring, salvaging anything of use—tools, medicine, pre-packaged food and plastic bins to store it, a rifle and ammunition, books to pass the time. His footsteps echoed in the empty caverns of the bear grotto, the elephant barn, and the cement building where big cats once prowled in shoulder-rolling silence. Overgrown grass whispered against his boots as he wandered the empty paddocks. In the ape house, swings and climbing ropes hung motionless.

There were bones everywhere.

It was easy to imagine how events had played out. The pandemic had struck with such unexpected speed and violence that no one remained to care for the animals. Open cages attested that many of the smaller creatures had been set free, but not the larger beasts or predators. Tooth and claws marks scarred the walls and doors of their enclosures, evidence of their desperate struggle to escape. Emerson tried not to dwell on the gut-twisting hunger and burning thirst they must have suffered; the confusion and terror when, day after day, no one came to tend them.

#

Spring turned to summer. Emerson kept himself occupied by tidying up the place, moving from office to laboratory, clinic to nursery, anything to keep from thinking too deeply. With a vague sense of winter lurking somewhere in the months ahead, he foraged for wood, chopping and stacking with diligence. Never a muscular man, he grew lean and hard on the strenuous labor and meager diet, portioning his food like a miser dispensing alms. The work toughened him, but its real blessing lay in sleep without dreams, free of the violence of Imogen’s final seizure.

He carried the rifle everywhere, not as protection—what was there to defend against?—but as insurance. If he meant to survive, he’d need to learn to hunt before the easy food ran out, but the prospect of killing filled him with an oily cold he couldn’t shake. If he were honest, he might have acknowledged the weapon also granted him a sense of control. It represented possibilities, should life without Imogen prove too arduous to contemplate.

#

One sultry night, he woke to sound. Fearful, he lay without moving, listening. This was no fox or raccoon; he’d learned to identify their noises in the night. This was different, something exotic. Rising, he shoved his feet into boots, took up the gun, and hurried outside.

 The zoo was full of animals.

Emerson rubbed his eyes, positive he must be dreaming. He pinched his wrist hard enough to raise a welt, but the creatures remained. Translucent as fog and glowing with moonlight, the phantom beasts tread familiar paths, weaving among their bones, colorless eyes bright with a sense of soul. They saw him, and responded to his presence with strident demands for food and water.

“Go away,” he commanded harshly. “You’re dead.” He fled back to his den and locked the door behind him. Throughout the night the animals trumpeted and howled their misery, making sleep impossible. Only as the eastern sky grew pale with impending dawn did their cries lessen, weakening as each once again relinquished hope and lay down to die. As the last faint wail shredded on the morning breeze, Emerson slept.

The next night, and every night after, bedlam rang in the zoo’s caverns and corridors. The noise settled at the center of Emerson’s skull, denying him rest. He became largely nocturnal, napping only when daylight silenced the cries.

The sensible thing was to leave this place; walk on in any direction until he found a house with a fireplace, a soft couch, and no noise. But the thought left him queasy. He couldn’t abandon the animals as their keepers had done, even if that betrayal had been unintentional, but what could he possibly do for them if he stayed?

#

Long ago, he’d read somewhere that ghosts were nothing more than troubled spirits unaware of their own death. To lay them to rest, one need only convince them of their demise. Emerson spent an entire night walking the zoo grounds, chanting, “You’re dead. Move on.” The animals watched him with bleak, begging eyes and cried their hunger, growing gaunt as the dark hours waned. The sight of bones pressed in stark relief beneath their ghostly hides made him weep with despair, as he’d wept over Imogen.

He staggered to bed in the predawn hours, the sun a faint pearlescent glimmer in the east. Animal moans dwindled in his ears as he plunged into a dream in which he entered a familiar sickroom bearing a bowl of soup on a tray.

“Lunch, dearest,” he announced softly to the woman in the bed.

Imogen’s eyes, enormous in the wasted planes of her face, tracked away from the ceiling to look at him. “Thank you,” she murmured without energy or emotion, drained of everything except disease. Her body, withered and twisted, barely disturbed the covers.

He placed the tray on the bedside table and drew up a chair. Snapping open a napkin with a flourish, he tucked it beneath her chin. “On today’s menu,” he said, adopting the ostentatious tones of a maitre d’, “we have Dr. Emerson’s Super-Duper Beef Barley Soup, guaranteed to cure what ails you.” It was a name he’d made up, same as Grandma Charlotte’s Really Good Grilled Cheese, Uncle Harry’s Penicillin Pumpkin Pie, and half-a-dozen others in an ongoing attempt to stimulate his wife’s flagging appetite and make her smile.

Imogen offered what passed for one these days. “Mmm, sounds delicious.” But when he lifted the spoon to her mouth, she grimaced and turned her face away. “Sorry, darling.” Her eyes begged him to understand, to not see her refusal as rejection of him. “Guess I’m not as hungry as I thought.”

“Perhaps later, then.” Heartbroken and hopeless, Emerson set the bowl aside and folded his hands together between his thighs. He stared at the clock, the lamp, the half-drawn window shade and the bright day beyond without really seeing them. These days, he made it a point not to look closely at things, afraid of what he might find lurking in the shadows, waiting.       

Imogen sighed. In that sound was all the misery of the world they shared; the small one confined by these few walls, and the greater one beyond their apartment where countless had died and more lay dying, lips bubbled with pustules, internal organs dissolving into mush.

“Dearest,” he said into the silence, “if you could have anything to eat, anything at all in the whole wide world, what would it be?”

“Strawberry shortcake.” Her reply came with a surprising lack of hesitation, almost as if she’d been expecting the question and held the answer ready. “The kind my grandmother used to make, with sweet biscuits and clouds of whipped cream.” Enthusiasm he hadn’t seen in weeks animated her face, filling her eyes with light. “We picked wild field berries as small as the nail on your pinkie. They smelled like warm wine and tasted of sunshine.”

Emerson touched a finger to his lips in thought, and then made a cup of one palm as if holding a small bowl. He imagined it full to the brim with the sweet goodness she’d described. “You know, darling, it just so happens that your grandmother’s recipe has come down through the ages, written on papyrus and delivered by a wee sparrow this very day for madam’s pleasure.”

He saw at once that she understood what he was doing, that this game of pretend was not only for her amusement, but might also encourage her to take a few useless mouthfuls of soup. Her chin dipped in a barely perceptible nod. She focused on his empty hand. “More whipped cream,” she whispered.

#

He woke, sobbing and grateful. “Thank you, darling,” he said, palming tears from his eyes like a child as he sat up. “Oh, thank you!” Pushing to his feet, he scrubbed his hands through his greasy hair. Taking a chocolate bar and a small bag of corn chips from his stores for breakfast, he spent the day riffling through file cabinets for information on what the animals had eaten, scribbling notes on quantity and serving method in a barely-used steno pad. In the feed rooms and prep areas, he located buckets and pans, cleavers and knives, everything necessary for his pantomime.

Physical props were helpful, but Emerson understood that the chief element to success lay not in creation, but in his ability to make the animals believe. For three days, he hardly slept; rehearsing until the motions became fluid and the images fixed in his mind—a barrel of fragrant yellow grain, fronds of leafy green bamboo, cold water gushing from a bone-dry hose.

On the day of his premiere, he went to bed at first light, slept deeply, and woke refreshed. Stripping off his rank clothing for the first time in months, he bathed in a bucket of cold rainwater, making a ceremony of it. He trimmed his hair and beard with surgical scissors, and dressed in a too-big keeper’s uniform taken from a locker.

He emerged from his den as the first sounds from the rousing animals reached him like the opening chords of an overture. Pushing a variety of tools in a wheelbarrow, he went first to the tiger because its cries were the most strident and pathetic. Beneath the animal’s intent, colorless gaze, he brought out a cleaver, hacked at an invisible joint of horsemeat, and tossed a chunk past the bars. The cat stared at him and cried, seeing nothing. Emerson swore and clenched his eyes tight, drawing up the images he’d practiced so assiduously. The cleaver’s sharp edge caught the moonlight as he raised it high, paused, and brought it slashing down. It bit into flesh—he felt it!—and severed the haunch at the joint, revealing gristle and a bright circle of bone surrounding the marrow.

Grasping the meat in both hands, he swung and launched, putting his shoulders into the effort. The tiger bounded after the rolling lump of meat like a kitten pursuing a toy and fell on it in a frenzy of hunger. Elated, Emerson turned on the empty hose, filled the drinking bowl with water that existed only in his mind, and moved to the next enclosure.

Hours later, as the sun stroked its first pale fingers of light across the ground, he watched the animals fade one by one. Wishing them well, confident that their spirits had been laid to rest, he barely made it to bed before falling unconscious.

Their cries woke him at sunset.

Emerson sat up, bewildered and disappointed. He’d seen to their needs and watched them consume their ghostly meals with vigor, yet they remained. What had he done wrong?

There was no time to ponder the question; animals were waiting to be fed. The dispensing of grain, meat, hay—like a sacrament to the sinner’s soul—now bound him to the beasts, made him theirs. So he rose, splashed water on his face, and went to work.

His chores became first routine, and then habit, as weeks passed and he grew more adept. Like any muscle, his imagination strengthened with use. In his care, the animals began to flesh out again, pale hides shining with robust health. Their panic at being abandoned waned, and they began to greet him as well as the bounty he provided. The tiger—Joe, according to its file, a stupid moniker for such a magnificent beast—rubbed its chin against the bars at his approach. One night a chimp—Bella—caught his sleeve as he passed her a banana. She pressed the back of her hand against his and drew him into a brief embrace as Emerson wept.  

#

The pythons were the first to vanish. He arrived at the reptile house with his ephemeral dead chickens to find nothing in the glass-fronted enclosure except old bones and desiccated skin. Rather than being elated by their departure—here was proof that his idea did work!—he felt grief at the loss. But perhaps that was right and proper. Now that they were truly gone, their excitable shades laid to rest, sorrow was the next logical step.

A few nights later, the zebra was absent, and then the gazelle. After that, the process sped up, taking at least one species a night, sometimes more. He watched Bella fade before his eyes, and hurried to unfasten and swing wide the cage door before she departed entirely. He did the same with Joe. The big cat strolled through the open doorway like a king, paused to rub its head against Emerson’s thigh, and evaporated into moonlight.

The Asian elephants—Sundar and Thoda—remained, standing together at the cage bars, rocking slightly on massive feet, trunks coiling ghostly fodder into their mouths. “What are you waiting for?” he asked. “All the others have gone.” They met his gaze with placid, enigmatic eyes and flicked their ears in response.

Because they were the last, he spent most of his time in their company—standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the moonlight, or sitting on the floor with his back against the stout pillar of a leg as the first chill of autumn crept from the cement. By day, he pored over every file in the elephant keeper’s office, seeking to better understand the animals. As incentive to leave, he propped open their cage door. They moved through it willingly, and often followed him on strolls about the grounds, but seemed content to remain in his company.

Until one evening.

He was leaving the cage, having laid out a small mountain of food in front of each elephant, when Thoda suddenly abandoned her meal, pushed rudely past him, grabbed the cage door with her trunk, and slammed it closed in his face. Instinctively, he cringed back and quickly slid through the man-width space between the bars as if that might make a difference. She met his gaze with intensity never before displayed, then eased open the door and slammed it again.

“All right!” he said loudly over the clangor as she repeated the motion a third time. “You have my attention. What is it?”

Sundar moved up beside her and the two elephant cows looked down at him. To Emerson, small in their presence, it felt like being regarded by the eye of a god. From his reading, he’d learned that elephants were widely regarded as a “keystone species,” one capable of modifying its habitat to the benefit of others. He knew also they existed within a web of family experience that stretched both backward and forward through time, using infrasound broadcast in the bone and through the ground across countless miles to bridge the distance between herds. In this way, each elephant knew the location of every other.

Emerson put a hand to his mouth, breathless with sudden understanding. If this zoo could hold the spirits of the animals that died here, then so could every other. How many shades haunted those places, bound by starvation, unable to move on? How many needed him to set them free?

The elephants dogged him with long-legged strides as he ran to the office. They waited patiently outside as he tore through every file, searching for something he knew he’d seen, but could not remember where. Finally, he found the booklet containing a list of every zoo in America. Maybe not the small road-side attractions, the ones he now knew were called “mud shows,” but he’d find them as best he could, and the elephants would help because elephants know.

Three days later, on an evening whose sky bled with an extraordinary sunset, Emerson shouldered the rifle and a heavy pack and stepped through the zoo’s front gate. Heart beating strongly in his chest, he set his feet on the road south.

And the elephants walked with him.

__________________
Copyright 2017, Melissa Crandall

Roger Henneous in 1998. Stephanie Yao Long/Staff

Serendipity

little-meYesterday I wrote about the house I grew up in and I mentioned a childhood friend, David Micklas. While working on that piece, I went online to do a bit of research to see if I could find out something about the old house.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, but in the course of my search I discovered an obituary for David’s mother, Theresa. It saddened me because she was a nice woman who (unlike her husband) tolerated her son having a girl for a best friend. In some ways, she was a second mother to me, and I always felt welcome in her home.

Finding this obituary right on the heels of having mentioned David for the first time in, well, forever, felt like a tap on the shoulder from Theresa because contained within the heartfelt tribute was mention of her three sons (Tom, Bob, Dave), their families, and where they live.

A further bit of searching brought me David’s street address. Last night I sat down and penned a letter to my old friend, reaching out through better than…well, I’m guessing here, but I think it’s been close to 50 years since we last spoke. I acknowledged that this would be a surprise (hopefully not an unpleasant one), and offered my condolences on his mother’s death. I briefly caught him up on my life, but mostly I wrote to let him know that he was on my mind and remembered most fondly, that I cherished our time together as friends.

I’m curious to see if I’ll get a response, and if so what sort. Stay tuned.

These Things Take Time

I usually drink my first cup of morning tea working at my desk. I’m most productive first thing and have always been an early riser, a bane to mother, who’d have stayed up late and slept in until ten every day had the choice been hers. I save checking email and Facebook until the day’s work is done, unwilling to sacrifice creative energy to those mundane chores.

IMG_2638This morning, however, I’m distracted by the appearance in our front yard of Barry White and his harem. Barry is our resident turkey cock, a massive and handsome fellow who puffs his chest feathers and spreads that Thanksgiving bird tail as he sweet-talks his ladies.  Ooh, baby, ooh, baby. The hens alternately ignore him and egg him on flirtatiously. Yesterday, I inadvertently interrupted him and a lady-friend carnally engaged in the bushes. Oops! Sorry about that. They both gave me offended looks. Move along, pervert. Don’t you know these things take time?

It’s July, so of course people have begun to talk about winter, how it’ll be here before we know it. I give less conscious thought to it, but see indications every day when Holly and I walk the Airline Trail or meander around the yard. Day lilies are producing like mad, each bloom good for one cycle of the sun before they wither and drop. The bleeding hearts have gone to seed, the pods bursting to enrich the ground with what will become next year’s seedlings. (Anyone want plants? I’ve lots.) The hosta are in bloom, remarkably untouched by deer so far. Perhaps they’re put off by the astilbe, which they don’t care for. Grass seed is coming in on bare patches of soil, remnants of the work we had done to put a curtain drain in the back yard. My husband’s garden of potted plants–born of a whim to plant five-year-old packets of tomato, basil, and chard seed–have miraculously sprouted and are growing like the blue blazes with what little sun manages to get through the leaf cover on our south side.  Days are hot and the evenings blessedly cool, without hint (yet) of autumn. These things, too, take time.

img_1847Holly is 10 1/2 years old. On the downhill side, as they say. So far, she’s managed to hold traction on that slope, but I wonder for how long. Last week, she became very ill with vomiting, diarrhea, fever, pain. We ended up taking her to the veterinary ER and they kept her for two days. We brought her home with meds and orders for a bland diet, which she’s still on as we work to erase all sign of illness. Diagnosis was gastroenteritis, ie, stomach ache. What’d she eat to upset her? Who knows. Could be wildlife excrement, dirt, or something from the garbage. (I blame the cat for that. Rudy taught Holly the joys of garbage surfing, so we’ve had to child-proof the cabinet door. As for eating poop, that one I lay at the feet of Holly’s former next-door neighbor boyfriend, Randy. She was the perfect dog before he got his paws on her.) It’s hard watching her get old, turn gray around the eyes and muzzle. When we left her at the vet’s last week, I honestly thought she was done. She looked ancient, worn out, used up. Not so, as it turns out. But I can see her wending her way toward the path that leads to the next great adventure. Please, I think. Take your time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time’s swift feet and good news

IMG_6664You’ve experienced the phenomenon – that fleet passage of time that makes no sense. One minute it’s July, and in the next  you’re pulling on a sweater to go holiday shopping. Blink and it’s gone. Where did it go?

And so it’s been with me.  I get caught up in the day-to-day, the things that need attending to, NOW and those other things that need attending to now fall by the wayside, gathering in little leaf-ridden heaps swept into corners.

I’ve been working all that time, beavering away on the book, and this week turned in the final edits on the manuscript. Gotta say that paging through it, seeing the copyright page for the first time, made me pause. Holy Cats, this is actually happening! I’m so proud of how far this book has come from its nebulous days back in February 2015. Kudos to the team at Ooligan Press, who have worked so diligently to hammer my words into the best shape they can be. Ongoing thanks to Roger Henneous and his family for showing unflagging support and enthusiasm for this project, no matter how many times I ask the same questions.

And, of course, life balances good with not-so-good. There’ve been worries – a bout of lingering illness for our dog  Holly that only serves to underscore that she’s 10 1/2 and won’t live forever no matter how much we wish it. The chronic and debilitating illness of a nephew, as well as that of a good friend I’ve never met, but love nonetheless. They are both such warriors. My niece, mother of the nephew, who battles fear and heartache every day and somehow keeps going. Another friend, extremely near and dear, who had a minor stroke a few weeks ago, reminding me that he ain’t no Spring Chicken anymore.

And so it goes.

Christmas Memories

When I was a child, I believed our Christmas tree ornaments were alive. When we packed them away in January–each swaddled in its separate wrapping of tissue paper and tucked into a box marked “Special Ornaments;” a visual history of our family or, at least, of my childhood–I believed they settled down for that “long winter’s nap” Clement Clarke Moore wrote of in A Visiting from St. Nicholas. 

I imagined them shifting to get comfortable, snuggling down one against the other before drifting off to sleep.

I believed that the roll of our year seemed but one long night to them. When my dad carried the boxes down from the attic the following December, I’d gently open each lid and whisper, “Good morning. Merry Christmas. It’s time to get up.” They would stir … stretch … yawn … and greet me with excitement, as happy as I was that we were reunited for another holiday.

I’m fast approaching my 61st birthday, and I still believe. Each year when I carry out the plastic bins that hold our collection of (“way too many” according to some friends) ornaments and open the lids, I sense their vitality and that thrum of excitement. Time to wake up! Time to hang on the tree!

The first year my husband and I wound up with a smaller tree than usual, it was clear right from the beginning that we couldn’t possibly fit every ornament. His solution was simple and logical: choose our favorites and leave the rest packed.

I was horrified. “You can’t do that! They wait all year for this moment!”

To his credit, he didn’t look at me as if I’d grown another head. “Well, what are we supposed to do? Get a second tree?”

BINGO! I found a table-top artificial tree at Goodwill, put in on our back porch, and decorated it. It was lovely.

This year, we ran into the same situation. The narrow tree fits our living room beautifully, but–alas–it’s too small to hold all the ornaments. We also own a full-size artificial tree we purchased a few years back. Up it came from the basement and now it stands in our dining room, bedecked and bejeweled. I know some visitors will find us odd to have two trees but, really, if they’re friends, they already know we’re odd and they love us anyway.

And, boy, are those trees beautiful!

2017-12-10 18.37.30

Tree #1

2017-12-11 16.59.34

Tree #2

Resource for Free Photos

victoryBloggers like to include pictures to illustrate what they write, but often don’t have something at hand. Visual Hunt takes the pain out of searching for that perfect photograph. With over 300,000,000 images to choose from, there’s something for everyone.

According to their site, “High quality free photos in one place. We hunt for best free images from many online sources and pull them all together in one spot. Most of our photos are CC0 license (do whatever you want). Additionally we offer all Creative Commons and Public Domain photos from sources like Flickr and make it possible to embed them directly from our website.”

Happy browsing!

 

RIP Len Wein

Len

Len, looking as he did when we first met

I can’t say I knew Len Wein, not at all. Harlan Ellison introduced us during a convention on Long Island (and we shared a truly memorable ride back to NYC in a friend’s van with–God help us–Harlan driving, excoriating the other drivers as we shot along the LI Expressway at roughly the speed of light). Fate threw us together at one other convention long enough to say “hi, yes I remember you, how’s things” before we went our separate ways and never saw each other again.

On the off-chance some of you reading this don’t recognize his name or know who he was–was; I had a  hard time writing that word–let me tell you just t his little bit: He was a writer of great heart and soul. He co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing, and revived X-Men with artist Dave Cockrum. He was a legend.

More than that, he was kind, a gentleman, funny as hell, and possessed an incandescent smile. We weren’t friends. We didn’t hang out or call or email. But I liked him, admired him, knew he was out there somewhere in the world, and that was a good thing to know.

And now he’s gone. And we can talk about Heaven, or the Universe, or the Cosmos, or how there’s another star in the night sky, but the truth is, it hurts. And it stinks. And I’m angry because he was taken way too soon.

RIP, Len. Thanks for the laughter on that long-ago ride. Thanks for being kind and gentle toward a newbie fan who could barely get her head out of her ass. Thank you for all the great stories. You’ll be missed.

Len3

WTF?

confused-2681507_1920It’s the weirdest damn thing.

I have this blog, see, but I also have the “The Man Who Loved Elephants” site where I speak–or write, rather–more directly to that particular book, what brought it about, and offer stories about Roger and the elephants.

Great, right? Yeah, it is. And the response has been really encouraging and I thank all of you who have checked it out and chosen to follow it.

But what’s strange is the number of “likes” I get that, when I go to check them out–as I invariably do because I’d like to offer a personal thank you–turn out to be porn-related sites.

??!!??

Not sure where they’re coming from, unless they think “elephant” is a euphemism for … something. Or maybe these people just randomly “like” sites? Or maybe these sites are actually robots? To what point and purpose? I know there are those of you out there who are way, WAY more computer-savvy than I am. Isn’t life confusing enough?

Or maybe there’s some other connection?

I’m afraid to ask.

A Hill Runs Through It

A certain hill looms large in my memories, although it wasn’t particularly large itself.

The yard behind the house in Clifton Park, NY where I grew up (we had yards back then, rather than manicured lawns) was wide enough to contain a swing-set and a clothesline before it sloped down toward our elderly neighbor’s garden plot at about a 45-degree angle. It wasn’t a large area, but to child-me, it was the world.

In summer, clad in shorts and a sleeveless top, my mother would lounge on an ugly gray blanket and work on her tan, one eye on me and one on the mystery novel she was reading, ears tuned to the ballgame playing on the portable radio. (Go, Yankees!) My bedroom window looked out onto that hill and when my father mowed it, sheering the grass in long rows, the heavenly fragrance graced my dreams. My friends and I flung ourselves down on the crest of that  hill and, arms tucked tight, rolled to the bottom, then sat up and laughed as the world whirligig’d around us.

In fall, we did the same, the only difference being the vast pile of leaves raked into a heap at the bottom to catch us, because what’s the point of fallen eaves if you don’t jump into them? As the days grew shorter, we did our best to stretch the  hours lingering on the hill as late as possible, darting in and out of shadows, dancing in the light from the big bulb above the back door.

In winter–ah, winter!–the heavy snows packed and froze, then melted a bit and refroze, growing a crust thick enough to support my weight. In what I once thought was a bid to do me in, my mom waxed the bottom of my aluminum saucer with Pledge furniture polish and I careened down the hill, my heart in my throat, hanging on for dear life, laughing breathlessly, spinning in circlescirclescircles as I shot past the dead stalks in the neighbor’s garden and halfway up the distant embankment which, if breasted, would have landed me in the middle of Route 146. I never made it that far, the angle of the second hill being enough to turn me back the way I’d come, but it always seemed a close thing.

Spring was the hill’s quiet time, a sedate emergence from winter as brown grass slowly put out bright green shoots to match the budding iris in my dad’s flowerbeds. Games of pretend made us cowboys and Indians, and gave us horses our parents wouldn’t let us have in reality. As the evenings grew warmer, we sat on the brow of the hill, we kids, and counted the stars, pointing out the Big Dipper, the only constellation we knew at the time.

The hill is gone now, flattened in the wake of the property being sold and the house demolished. There’s a Stewart’s store where my home once stood, gas pumps where poppies grew. A few trees remain–old friends still–but nothing remains of the hill except for a ghostly outline only I can see, and the distant laughter of children.