YELLOWDOG

YELLOWDOG

I can’t remember when he (though how I knew it was I “he” I’ll never know) came into my life. I must have been very little, because Yellowdog was an integral part of childhood for as long as I can remember. In fact, he grew up with me, morphed from “blankie” (dragged after me everywhere I went by one ear), to toy, to bed adornment, (snuggled among the more reputable looking dolls, which I admired, but with which I seldom played) to pillow while I lay on my black fuzzy rug reading homework. I finally left him behind when I got my first job and moved to Chicago, but only because I couldn’t make even his soft, lumpy body fit into one of the 2 suitcases I could take on the plane, and my mother absolutely refused to spend postage on him to send him to me. I lost track of him, and suspect he went to toy heaven, where all good toys go.

As his name suggests, he was yellow, well, sort of, though he had a tinge of orange, too, that made him look anything but lifelike. He was made lying down, and there was no way he could stand, though I sometimes made a project of trying. He had a black nose and eyes, and long floppy ears that did duty as leashes more than once. By my teen years, he was thoroughly disreputable, with fur that stuck up in some places, was sticky finger matted in others, and rubbed into nonexistence in others. His ears were ragged around the edges, and one had tooth marks in it, because my flesh and blood dog missed me so much once when I was at camp she chewed on him for comfort. I never chewed him, but when things got tough, I’d curl up around him, wrap my arms around tight enough to throttle any breath there ever might have been in him, and add to the dishabille of his poor coat with copious tears.

Yellowdog was many things, though I doubt he could have been considered “pretty” even when on a store shelf somewhere. He was ungainly, big, squishy, lumpy, and soft. Mostly, though he was very dearly loved, and the only one to know each and every secret thought I ever had.

MENTAL VACATION DESTINATIONS

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books and reading. When I was tiny, my Grandmother was almost always available to read to me, sometimes from the little children’s books that predominated in my toy chest, but sometimes, she would read things that were supposed to be beyond my comprehension level. She never pushed me, but made such reaching out a grand adventure, which we shared. Then I learned Braille, and *then* I discovered my school library, realized that between the covers of every book in that seemingly huge room adventures lay in wait, just for me, and I’ve been an avid explorer ever since. Each book I read leaves me with gifts. Some books broaden my knowledge base in areas of interest, or even create new interests. Some books challenge my assumptions or let me see things from a very different perspective. Some books are so beautifully written that they leave me breathless and mentally dazzled, and a very few books do all these things. A few books (and I never know beforehand which they will be) strike a chord so deep within me that they change me at my core. Any book, even the most frivolous, can set a train of thought in motion, though. There is another kind of book I enjoy, not for its depth, but because it lets me take a mental vacation. The Dirk Pitt novels by Clive Cussler delight me in this way. The plots stretch suspension of disbelief to the absolute limit. Some of the characters are either under or over developed. Both Dirk Pitt and his son are almost (but not quite) typical super heroes, who can do anything, beat any villain in a fight, and always get the “girl”, but they suffer just enough to be endearing: yet these books work, and work well, partly because the stories are so incredible that I just *have* to find out what happens next, and they contain the kind of drama and excitement of “thriller opera” at its best, and partly because the books are very well written. Mr. Cussler is wise enough not to make the romantic interests of either Pitt lovely but brainless; in fact, the ladies of these books are true equals of both father and son, have their own careers, and can definitely hold their own. Are these books shallow? Absolutely. Are these books good reads? You bet they are! Reading them is like watching Star Wars, and they appeal to me for many of the same reasons. They are very high quality mind candy, and everyone benefits from a healthy serving of mind candy, from time to time, I think.

MONDAY MORNING SURPRISE (flash fiction fantasy)

IT HAPPENED ON PEACHTREE STREET

Morning rush hour, and Peachtree street was empty. No people, no cars, no noise. A landscape of unbroken white, 6 inches of snow, unmarred by footprints. No borders between sidewalk and street. The busiest street in Atlanta had become, overnight, a snowbound country lane .

Sun broke through the piled snow-heavy clouds, magicking the landscape into a fantasy of crystal rainbow sparkles. I had to go outside before the next onslaught. Hovering flecks of snow crystal met my face as I opened the heavy door, and I stepped into an alien landscape. That first footprint broke the spell. A clutch of children pelted around the corner, shrieking gleefully. They ran straight for the center of what should have been a traffic filled street, and I took a breath to call them back, then shrugged. Even the snow plows weren’t moving today.

The children scooped up handfuls of snow, and snowballs whizzed everywhere, one finding me. Without thought, I bent, scooped, shaped, tossed, and missed; but I had just introduced myself, and had been accepted. Someone suggested building a snow man, so we started, decided to put him somewhere near where the lane lines should be. Snow flew, shrieks and laughter replaced traffic noise, and we gathered and shaped. When I looked around again, we had been joined by both Priests from the Catholic church next door, as well as the Methodist minister, his wife and twin boys from across the street. The construction grew, as did our company, adding a few neighbors, one with dog in tow, a construction worker in hard hat, a couple of homeless guys, and a beat cop. Friendly shouts and laughter bounced off the quiet buildings on both sides of the street; a few windows came up, and encouragement rained down. Eventually, he was complete. Someone put sun glasses on him, someone sculpted him a nose worthy of Cyrano De Bergerac, I donated the scarf I’d just finished crocheting, a little girl offered her wool hat that matched perfectly, and the beat cop proclaimed him “traffic officer of Peachtree Street.” For a moment, we all just stood back to admire and enjoy, knowing that he couldn’t last, but that the magic of his making would.

THE EVIL BEHIND THE MASK

In The Garden Of Beasts: love, terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Berlin
By Erik Larson.
ISBN: 0307408841, Recorded from:, New York : Crown, c2011.

In some ways, this is one of the most horrific, most well written, most terrifying books I’ve ever read. It is an intimate look at a very specific period in history, and we know a great deal about that era. What makes this book so effective is the events it chronicles, yes, but also the context in which those events unfolded, and the lingering echoes that demonstrate that given even similar circumstances, the whole terrible scenario could repeat itself. I remember reading, a very long time ago, a story (in translation) by Thomas Mann about a pair of darkly twisted, but beautiful and glittering twins. These twins were symbols of Germany between the World wars …frenetic, gorgeous, but underneath hollow and filled with poison. At first glance, the trappings of society effervesced and sparkled, especially the social life in Berlin, but even here, there was an essential brittleness, a need to drink harder, dance more, outshine everyone else, lest the diamond (paste gem, actually) develop cracks and fall apart. The cracks were already there, though, and it was only a matter of time, and the determination of a few men that let all the poison out. One reads about nightclubs with 30 different rooms, and wonders …how long can this last? Against this terrible, gaudy setting the story of an American family evolves. Watching as each is first taken in by, and then utterly revolted by, what is happening is at the very least, educational. An entire country was being hijacked and perverted, and no one seemed to care, or even be watching. I can’t talk sensibly about this book without speaking, if only a bit, about one of the factors that contributed enormously to the Nazi party’s success and the unwillingness of the European (and I include America in this) community to act more quickly and with more force. Had they done so, it is possible that they might have prevented the second World War, although there were other factors that might have still led to that war. But there was a tacit if not active acceptance of anti Semitic bigotry, even in the highest places in Government. Anti Semitism has a long and brutal history in Europe, and while its effects are less visible, still exists, on both sides of the Atlantic. Like all forms of bigotry, these attitudes produce nothing but destruction, and its results are well known. I strongly suspect that, had the repression of the Nazis been aimed at another segment of society, or even another group, say Protestants, the reaction would have been very different. The family at the center of this story consists of the new Ambassador to Germany, his wife, son and daughter. Ambassador Dodd was an anomaly in the Diplomatic corps. He wasn’t independently wealthy. He was an academic, and a self styled Jeffersonian democrat. He was diplomatically and politically naïve, which destroyed him in the long term, but he was also honest, and one of the first to see what was happening in Germany with clarity. However, like Cassandra, he spoke the truth, and no one (or very few) believed him. The other main character, his daughter, first fell in “love” with what she saw, and was completely taken in by the show the Nazis presented to the world at large. She entered wholeheartedly into the nightlife and the intellectual society of Berlin, enjoyed popularity and several affairs, and only later, when the “corner” had been turned and the Nazi hierarchy came out from behind its curtain of illusion, did she realize that she had bought into a false dream. The book itself tells this terrible story quietly, ruthlessly shining a light on that world and that time. Reading it was a wrenching experience for me, both because of what happened, and even more because, while tracking those events, I could see, without much effort, how it could happen again, and how likely it would be that the people living through the events could again be deceived and fail to react in time.

MARCIA CLARK, MYSTERY WRITER?

Guilt by association: a novel DB 73529
Clark, Marcia. some violence. 2011.

My usual instinct when I encounter books written by famous people, especially in the entertainment industry, is to give them an extremely wide berth. Either they are “told to” a ghost writer, or so heavily edited that I am reading the editor’s not the author’s writing. There have been a few exceptions, of course, but most of these have been authors who became famous in other than the entertainment industry. I often read books by famous (or sometimes infamous) politicians because they can give me insight into events and the motivations and actions that created them.

For some reason, many famous people like to try their hands at writing mysteries, and a few have done it extremely well. Margaret Truman and Elliott Roosevelt come to mind. Marcia Clark, who made her name nationally as the prosecutor in one of the most famous court cases of the ‘90s, has turned her attention to writing mysteries, and I approached her first book in her Rachel Knight series with more than a little trepidation, because I had no desire to either read a lightly fictionalized reprise of the OJ Simpson case, nor an apologetic in fictional form for its outcome. However, as it was recommended by a friend, I took a deep breath, and dived in. I didn’t surface until I’d read all 3 books, and to put it mildly, I am seriously impressed.

Oh, my first thought was that she probably had a more than excellent editor, but her style is so consistently excellent and strong that I came to the conclusion that this lady can WRITE! The closest she comes to her famous case is in the 3rd book, and even then, that case shows itself only indirectly, since Ms. Clark seems to have focused on the effects of massive publicity on all involved in a high profile case, and the havoc that such publicity can cause, both publicly and personally.

In her other books (of which this is the first), her plotting is meticulous, and extremely well presented. I found myself right there with her, (seldom a step ahead), making discoveries along with her characters, and asking their questions, as well. Her sub plots, such as Rachel’s friendships and love interest were woven nicely into the main story, and held interest on their own.

The author is able to create and sustain well rounded, believable characters, and I soon felt I’d recognize some of them almost anywhere, and be able to drop into comfortable conversation with them, and more to the point, would want to do so. Rachel isn’t a holograph in words of Ms. Clark, she is her own person, and I found that one of the features in this series that garnered my very high respect.

Ms. Clark’s writing sparkles with wit and sensitivity, and she can make her chosen settings come into vibrant life quickly. Her dialog is well handled, also. Each of her characters, even the minor characters, have their own unique voices, and one hardly needs to be told who is speaking, which, to my mind, is the mark of a master of the writing art.

I hope we see a lot more from Marcia Clark, because her unique knowledge of the way the court system functions, and her abilities in all aspects of writing make her work a pleasure to read.

CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST

Christmas At The Mysterious Bookshop: “’tis the season to be deadly”: stories of mistletoe and mayhem from 17 masters of suspense; short stories collected by Otto Penzler. ISBN: 1593156170, New York : Vanguard Press, 2010.

The story of how this book came into being is as wonderful as this book. There is, it seems, a truly magical book shop in NY, and each Christmas, an especially commissioned short story is given to special customers as a holiday/thank you gift. The rules are simple. The story must take place during the Christmas season, and at least some of the action must take place in the book shop. Other than that, the authors are free to work their will, and oh, they do! This collection contains 17 stories. You probably won’t like all of them equally, you might not like some of them, but I’d be willing to bet my cat (if I had one) that there would be at least 1 (and probably more) that delight you. Most are light, some are truly funny, and one, once you see what the author is doing is so cleverly hilarious, both in language and plot, that I just had to read it twice! This collection features some of the best known names in detective fiction, and reading those contributions almost feels like a shared social occasion. Alan Westlake and Dortmunder are there, Ed McBane is there, as is Mary Higgins Clark (just a tease of names to whet your appetite), and her wonderful story actually got a tear from me ..of happiness, I might add. This book won’t change your life, or even tell you how to live it, but it could easily become, I think, one of your treasured holiday traditions …to be sampled at quiet moments during that hectic time, accompanied, of course, by a glass of well doctored eggnog, some Christmas cookies, or perhaps leftover snacks from the tree trimming party.

FROM ROME, WITH LOVE

Cats have been a part of my life for a very long time, and I have shared my home with many of them, though only a few at a time. I remember each of my cats with deep affection. Each of them was unique, with very definite personalities, and each of them changed my life in positive ways. When I moved to Atlanta, I could not bring my kitties with me, and for several reasons. I cannot have cats where I live now. However, I still love cats and I miss not having a kitty to share my home space with. Luckily for me, although she does not live with me, I now have a kitty! You see, I belong to a wonderful organization called nova Roma, Inc. One of our members takes regular trips to Rome, and he also loves cats. Whenever he goes, he visits a particular cat shelter in the city. That shelter has a policy which allows some of their cats to be adopted by long distance. These are the cats that are unlikely to find physical homes outside shelter, usually because of a handicap. I asked him to arrange for me to adopt one of their kitties, which he very kindly did. So I now have a Roman Cat. The shelter gave her the name of Raptus, but I have changed that name to Albina Pulchra. since she is mostly white, and Albina means white, that explains her first name. Pulchra means beautiful, and of course, she is the most beautiful little cat in the world! True, she only has three legs, but neither of us find that an impediment.

Below is a Poem I wrote to one of my dearest Friends, Amber. The poem is self-explanatory, but I will say that even though Amber died many years ago, I still grieve for her a little, and always will. She was my very special Kitty, and even though I may share space and love with other cats, she always will be.

In memoriam, for my cat, Amber

I will carry this of you, with me,
Sunlight setting your fur aglow,
Your warm body curled in my lap,
Your head in the cup of my curled hand,
While you sleep, purring. Your
Insistent pleas for food … the
way you could sail across a fence
As though it didn’t exist.

Now, as I stroke you for
the last time, I hope that,
if you can take anything with you
That you will take the memory of
my hand stroking your back, and
The sound of my voice, as I tell you
Again, and forever, “I love you, little cat.”

Copyright 05/18/12 Shoshana Hathaway