Saturday, August 27, 2022

Everyone Has A Story - The Tough Part is Getting It Out


Memoirs & Other Tall Tales, Peggy Cole

Coming soon to Amazon on eBook and in Paperback

It's been a long, hot summer and my muse has been mostly on vacation until this week. My recent desire to work on my latest book is a welcome change to previous neglect. I find that posting about my progress (or lack of it) makes me work harder either out of guilt or shame. Who knows?

I've passed the halfway point of putting together this collection of stories, some old, some new, some familiar to those who know me from other writing sites. I hope that these stories have been improved by all the time I've spent editing stuff that's already written. That has to be the worst part of writing a book, but a necessary part. 

Years of gathering information from family members, friends, even adversaries, indicates that everybody has a story to tell. The hard part is making the effort to write it down. And then, properly changing the names of the guilty (fictional characters) before publishing.

So I'm off to my battered keyboard which bears signs of my abuse. My ballpein-hammer style of typing is a gift learned during the old manual typewriter days of my youth.

This prototype cover, designed and created by Michael Friedman, is printed out and tacked to the wall in clear view of my laptop in hopes it will inspire or guilt me into working on my story. Over and out for this post and back to work. 

Happy writing to all aspiring and actual writers. All hands on deck, fellow authors!

Thursday's word count: 38,047 at 207 pages 8/25/2022

Saturday's word count: 42,056 at 225 pages 8/27/2022

Tuesday's word count: 48,020 at 240 pages 8/30/2022 

Friday's word count: 50,957 9/8/2022

Monday, August 22, 2022

An Ax To Grind by Frank Atanacio, A Book Review

In this fantasy fiction Novel by Frank Atanacio, Nick P.T. Barnum, a crime solving private detective works his magic to solve a case about murder, revenge and copy-cat killers.

This story features courtroom drama and reveals loopholes that criminals use to exploit the system with the aid of legal counsel.

No one likes it when a crook is set free because of a legal technicality, except for the criminal. 

"Even the best, most respected lawyers will defend someone as sick and twisted as Willie the Greek for the right price."

The author expertly sets a scene where drug dealers are waiting to secure their supply source when a dispute breaks out and a stray bullet hits an unintended victim. The aftermath of that unintentional murder is the basis for this murder mystery featuring the quirky and likable detective, Nick P.T. Barnum.

For those unfamiliar with the idiom, "An Ax to Grind," the UK definition suggests that it refers to a person that holds a grudge or a beef against someone with a private end to serve. The phrase likely comes from the act of sharpening an ax with the intention of using it to take revenge. Quora defines it as "To have a grievance with someone, especially where one feels the need to seek damaging retribution."

Revenge is the motive for a string of murders perpetrated by the primary suspect, Gary Manda, in the case after his young child is slain. Gary is the son of virtuous, well-respected, and God fearing matriarch, Mable Manda, who is torn between her desire for retribution of her grandchild's murder and her strong Biblical beliefs.

Private detective, Nick Barnum, walks a thin line between sympathy for his friend, Mable's loss, and the compelling desire to hunt down and find a serial murderer.

Atanacio is well equipped to serve up portions of suspense, humor, camaraderie, justice and reality in this fast-paced fiction story where many of the characters are familiar from his previous novels. Between Willie the Greek and his Bridgeport Police Department companions, the author spins a web of intrigue and mystery that puts P.T. Barnum to task in solving the case. The detective's sense of humor and self deprecatory nature is endearing often revealed in his "boy bashing" meals shared with other agents of the law.

The author mixes playful, flirtatious banter into the interactions between police officers, office staff, and restaurant servers inviting the reader into the scene with the natural flow of colorful characters.

Set in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the story takes the reader on an adventure that incorporates elements of the legal system, the criminal mind, a hint of romance for a not-so-perfect aging detective and realistic portrayals of characters in their station of life.

Barnum's office assistant is a sassy, young, adept and impressionable character whose full story is not revealed, leaving the reader to form certain conclusions as to her true nature and desires. She holds her own against the detective who can dish it out as well as take it on the chin. Their playful banter and casual working relationship is an enjoyable sideline to the story.

Frank's use of the common vernacular of the different characters is authentic and believable, leading the reader to assume the author knows these characters in person. He doesn't shy away from uncomfortable or politically incorrect slang that makes the dialogue flow smoothly as if spoken on the street.

He can effectively capture the stirrings of young love and the angst of a young man who has feelings for his first crush. The author's mastery of the characters brings them to life allowing the reader to empathize or despise as necessary based on their actions.

As the pivotal scene occurs in the playground, the narrative inches the story into the next dimension between life and death.

"He knew something was happening, but he could not tell what it was. The commotion was simply not registering in his head. . .Suddenly, he saw a bright light pass before him. It was almost blinding as he tried to adjust his eyes to it."

From that moment, everything in the story takes a new turn.

For readers hooked on murder mysteries like Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, Live PD, Snapped, The Homicide Hunter, Dateline, First 48, I Almost Got Away With It, and other reality TV drama, this story was a compelling and enjoyable read written by one of the best.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

People Watching in the Waiting Room

One thing that ties people together is time spent in a doctor's waiting room. The setting is familiar no matter what kind of doctor. There are the stiff, upright chairs, bright overhead lights, people behind glass panes, and often, an elevator that dings in the background.

Attendants in scrubs call out patient names while each new arrival is questioned about birthdate, insurance and changes since the last visit. They're told to take a seat and wait.

Last week's journey took me to the Eye Institute Surgical Center where folks of a certain age gathered, hopeful for improvement in their eyesight. Arrival time was nine am with instructions to be upstairs by that time after a night of fasting and no coffee or liquids of any kind. Most sat stiffly, bringing along a solid case of anxiety. To have someone cut on your eyes is scary. A couple of dozen other people and I waited to hear our names with little to do besides fidget and observe.

My driver and I chose seats in a tight corner across from a trio of women, two staring at their phones while a third sat, stony-faced, waiting her turn. Once she'd been called to the back, her companions left in search of food. They were replaced by a man who sought a chair to fit his linebacker girth. The tiny chairs were no match and as he lowered himself into it, the chair emitted a painful squeal.

It was a good time to study traffic patterns from the 4th story view of Central Expressway, busy any time, day or night. Cars sped by, coming and going to important places, their occupants unaware of our room full of tense, clean-scrubbed, lotion-less patients praying for a miracle.

Names were called to come to the room where forms were to be signed absolving the facility of responsibility for injury or death at their hand. A photo was taken to confirm our identity and add to our permanent record. Time ticked by at a snail's pace.

We maintained social distances, adorned with itchy face masks enhancing our discomfort. It was impossible not to stare as one frail woman dozed off in her wheelchair, bent forward, head down, those nearby praying she didn't nose-dive off onto the spotless tile floor. She woke with a start, and in near-blindness, demanded to know her whereabouts. Her son had "dropped me off here without a word." His booming voice, like a beacon in the cold silence echoed from the tiny registration room where her wheelchair wouldn't fit.

Finally, around 11:00 am, my name was called and I trudged back to the frigid pre-op room, changed into a gown and hair net, was hooked up to an IV and oxygen and drifted off into the land of the oblivious. Thirty minutes later I was in the post-op area drinking apple juice and waiting for my ride home; home sweet home. The cataract surgery was a success and now I await scheduling for the other eye.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

People from the 1880s - CD and Eula

When I was barely a teen, I met a couple at church who were in their 80s. C.D. and Eula Walker. I was enamored by their old fashioned way of talking, their infallible courtesy, their acceptance of our family as their own.

They had an after-church gathering at their house one Sunday and I was fascinated by the way the food was presented in fancy dishes and served buffet style from a sideboard. I remember someone asking Mrs. Walker where her husband had gotten off to. 

"He's probably at the buffet building sideboards on his plate," she answered. I wasn't sure what that meant so my dad later explained it was like having a wagon with wood rails along the side so you could pile things higher. 

We sat in their parlor on red velveteen couches with carved legs and arms. Crystal chandeliers twinkled in the dim lighting of the room as we ate our food and communed with one another.

Their house was filled with family heirlooms that looked to be from the "roaring 20s" and treasures from their travels abroad. Things they had collected mid-life when they were around 40. Mr. Walker took us on a tour of his garage where, hanging on the wall was a helmet from World War I and other mementos of days gone by. They would have been born in the 1800s around the same time as my own grandparents who lived out of state and we saw rarely. The Walkers had no children so they adopted us as a surrogate family.

I had foolishly worn my watch out to play and the band broke off. C.D. repaired it so that I could wear it like a pin attaching it to a gold Fleur de Lis broach. He presented it to me as a gift one Sunday at church. Having lived through the Great Depression, they learned to repurpose and reuse everything. Nothing was wasted.

How I wish I had thought to ask them about their lives, their travels, their experiences before it was too late.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Part of the Gang

If I ever felt like I belonged it would have been during the days we camped at the F.O. Ranch. We could do whatever we wanted at the moment, whether it was to seek solitude, read, explore or sit by the campfire. If we wanted to have a wine cooler for breakfast, no one judged. No one was offended. There were no outcasts.

We came from different walks of life, whether college student, teacher, scientist, maintenance worker or hair stylist, when we were together, we had harmony and acceptance. We knew how to appreciate freedom from structure. Each person was accepted as is, flaws and all.

Ron cooking breakfast over the campfire.
I often wonder what became of these friends from my young adulthood. Where are they now? What are they doing? Would they remember or even recognize me all these years later?

What has changed? What limits the openness I once shared with these folks who became friends because we lived near one another? Our apartments shared a communal porch where we would hang out between camping trips, planning and counting the days until our next gathering at the campsite.

The campsite, owned by the parents of one of the campers, had an ancient, one-room cabin with a small kitchen where we kept the food. No refrigerator, just a collection of ice chests to keep the perishables and the drinks. In the tiny bedroom was a toilet, partially exposed behind a half wall. Campers were welcome to use it during the day, provided they brought a bucket of water for flushing purposes. There was no running water, just a hand pump outside.

But we made it work.

 Cindy with Snowball and Precious at the Old Cabin

The campfire was kept burning all hours of the day, replenished through treks in the woods to gather deadwood as we explored our surroundings. During one of those treks, we discovered a sinkhole that must have been fifty-feet deep.

By now, a subdivision of tract homes has likely replaced our old stomping grounds.

Yet the lake must surely remain, in all its glory and seclusion, the water on which many of us learned to ski, took our baths, fished and sat together on the creaky and rickety dock. How can so many years have passed and I still fondly recall the sights and smells of those times?

Me and Marsha on the Dock

There were few distractions. There were no cell phones. No i Pods, no laptops or tablets. We had a collection of paperback books which we read by firelight or lantern if the night grew quiet. Otherwise, we circled the campfire and told stories or sang when anyone who could play brought their guitar. No one cared if we forgot the words or missed a note.

How I long for those days that always passed too quickly, before Sunday night came and we gathered the tents, loaded up the small boat with equipment before hooking it to the trailer and heading back to the real world where Monday awaited and our daily work stood ready to greet us the next day.

The Triple FO

Sunburn and bug bites aside, those were some of the best days of my life. And not just for me. Romances bloomed, couples grew together and apart. The saga of life played out with each adventure. Like the time I showed up unexpectedly to find someone else in my boyfriend's tent. That was a night to remember.

This is chapter one of an ongoing tale soon to be published in a collection of stories called, Memoirs and Other Tall Tales by the author.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Father's Day 2019

On Father's day I fondly recall the many things my dad taught his three children like how to catch fish, the value of hard work and the joy of learning to do things ourselves. He was big on discipline like postponing gratification and held up the importance of an enduring faith. As a Sunday School Teacher he brought the Bible to life with his well-prepared lessons.

It was during the early sixties he seated a person in the front rows at our church, someone who by policy was only allowed to sit at the back of the congregation. Dad disregarded tradition one Sunday morning when he served as an usher and for a time, we were not welcome at that church. He carried on anyway, teaching the Bible in our living room every Sunday morning until that preacher left for another church in the Deep South. Times were different back then.
The Only Church in Town
Dad was a great story teller and shared many of the stories about his own father who was born in 1880, who raised six children as a single parent while working on the railroad as a mail-carrier and who later worked as a sharecropper.

Stern and strict at times, Dad believed that "sparing the rod" spoiled the child. But he also could be funny and witty. He was a good singer and liked to play the guitar and sing, "You are My Sunshine" and "Red River Valley."

He had a great smile and an enduring love for animals. He taught us that all life was valuable. I'm grateful that he stuck around to raise us after a trial separation before I was born. My older sister and brother were small children when Mom moved back home to Grandmother's house in Texas. He followed his own father's advice and did the right thing staying around to see the children he brought into the world all graduate high school and leave home before he and Mom parted ways.

He's been gone from this world since 2005 but I will always remember him fondly and often replay in my head that last time he told me, "I love you, my darling."

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Easy Crock Pot Pork Roast

Looking for an economical, easy, delicious way to feed the family? This meal cooks while you're doing other things and can be served many ways.

It's easy to prepare pulled pork roast for sandwiches or burritos. Slice off a 1 - 1 1/2 inch portion of the cooked roast and use two forks to shred the meat. Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, diced tomatoes on a warmed tortilla or sandwich bun.

Choose a nice, lean sirloin tip pork roast like the ones from Costco priced about $16.00 for a 4-pack. Each roast makes a nice family meal for around $4.00. Use one fresh and freeze the other three for future meals. Add some rice, corn, potato or a salad and you've got a hearty meal.

Season the outside of the roast with garlic salt, paprika, black pepper or any dry rub or spices you like. Lightly brown the outside edges of the roast in a heated frying pan with some olive oil and minced garlic.

Brown the outside edges to seal in the flavor.
It only takes about a minute to brown the top and a minute on the bottom.

Use kitchen tongs to brown the sides and ends of the roast to seal in the flavors.

Use tongs to hold the roast and brown the edges.
Transfer the browned roast into the crock pot. Turn it on High. Add about 1/2 cup of water to the frying pan to make a seasoned liquid and pour it over the roast in the Crock Pot.

Cover and cook the roast on High for 5 to 6 hours. During the last hour reduce the heat to Low. Or cook the roast on Low for 7 to 8 hours while you're away.

Pulled pork burritos are a big hit with our family. Other times, this entree goes well with corn on the cob and a salad.
Pulled Pork Burrito with Corn on the Cob
Served on sandwich buns it makes a delicious barbecue pork sandwich. Or use cubed chunks of leftover pork roast to make pork fried rice. Easy, economical, and delicious, this meal will delight your family and fill your hearty appetite with very little effort.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Carriage Driver 2 - Book Review

This imaginative collection of short stories offers the reader a hopeful glimpse into the transition after death. Mike Friedman, creator of the Emerald Wells CafĂ© series, The Quinn Moosebroker Mysteries and Braids - Angel’s Field is an award-winning fiction writer and artist.
The Carriage Driver2 is the second release in a collection of stories about the afterlife. Rich in detail and empathy, the characters include a variety of people, some who’ve experienced a continuous struggle for survival and others who seem to have had it all.
Their next journey after they meet their inevitable fate begins with a ride in a beautiful horse-drawn carriage pulled by a white steed. Once their name appears in the book, the dearly departed are asked to decide on a destination where they wish to go. During the ride, questions are asked and answered, options are offered and life begins anew with an infinite number of possibilities based on their tastes, talents and deepest desires.
Knocking on Heaven's Door

The Weathervane is a favorite from this collection in which an elderly woman is living in a rest home when she begins her journey after a few brief moments to decide where she wants to begin spending eternity.
As she steps out of the carriage, she’s transformed into the younger self that has resided for years only within her memories. She finds herself wearing a favorite floral print summer dress, standing on a beach with swaying palms, warm tropical breezes and the familiar cries of drifting sea gulls. There she reunites with and is wrapped in the loving arms of her long since dearly departed husband where, once again, they share a world of their former happiness. It’s a story that gives the surviving family hope that their loved one spends future days in true care-free bliss.
The Gutter Boy's main character, Dylan finds that life isn’t always filled with abuse and disrespect after he meets two kind doctors, a husband and wife team. He discovers that his time to move into the next world has not yet arrived, experiencing only a change in his circumstance through which he’s destined to lead a richer way of life and repay his debt with future acts of kindness.
Many other stories are included in the collection with each story offering subtle clues about life lessons. Each character has a chance to interact with Captain Griffin Chaffey, a veteran of the War Between the States who, after losing his own life, remained in the battlefield to help others find their way onward. He accepts his assignments cheerfully accompanied by Nuelle, a white horse whose intuition and spirit shines throughout as she munches on shared apples and trots to their destinations. Sometimes, she enjoys a romp in the surf as part of her reward for a job well done. Other times, she must face the uncertainties of strange and frightening places where darkness and despair lurk.

The Man Unseen introduces a young man whose difficulties began early in life. The victim of school chums who taunted and took advantage of the special needs child, his troubles are multiplied when his mother passes away and he's cheated out of his rightful home. He lives out his remaining days on the street in constant peril, yet his wisdom shines when he shares his observations with Captain Chaney.

"There ought to be rules for men to live by," he remarks. It comes as no surprise that he chooses an afterlife of spreading generosity toward others who suffer as he once did.

In Sister Sarah's Miracle we meet Sister Sarah, an empathetic and generous worker of miracles whose hands-on ministry is directed toward the less fortunate. In the story, she visits a young girl, a cancer victim who resides in Mass General Hospital.
Sister Sarah gives of herself to the point of depleting her supply of healing power. When she meets Captain Griffin, her strength returns and she is able to continue her valuable work on this earth. Fortunately, The Carriage Driver and Nuelle know how to keep a secret.
Nuelle and the captain operate their carriage out of Boston, but the reader is assured that across all cities, towns, boroughs and villages, others carry on the same legacy driving the recently deceased to their choice destination where they begin the next life. Or, if they choose to wait for a spouse, a child or a loved one, “there is a castle in the sky whose spires puncture Heaven to accommodate them.”
These heartwarming tales lend to second and third readings with revisits inspired by the depth of the subtleties of deeper meaning within. Great for late-night reading when the troubles of the world interrupt the peace and quiet of sleep, these stories restore a sense of calm in a world of turmoil.
As a bonus, the book contains a short stand-alone story titled, “Walking to Goleta,” a tale of companionship, compassion, generosity, ingenuity, and a heartwarming miracle in a Christmas setting.
The Carriage Driver is your liaison to the heaven of your own choosing.” Don’t be fooled by the free ride. Those who climb on board have paid in advance.”

Monday, November 19, 2018

Cruise Ship Fun

There were a number of reasons I refused to go on a cruise. That was, until last October when I found out about a themed cruise with one of my favorite TV show actors. Now that we're back from our first voyage to Cabo San Lucas, it's certain we'll be taking another one.

There was never a dull moment during our 6 day, 5 night trip. We walked the decks from one end of the ship to the other. Whenever we could, we took the stairs to burn off calories from the delicious meals in the Horizon Court, The Crown Grill - an upscale steakhouse and the Botticelli Dining Room. We visited the casino, Club Fusion for a frozen Margarita, dropped by the International Cafe to try some dreamy chocolate mousse, watched line dancing on the Lido Deck, and Zumba exercise classes at the pool. At the port, we boarded the tender ship to Cabo where we shopped for souvenirs in the quaint Mexican village.

The star of the Investigation Discovery TV Series, Homicide Hunter, Joe Kenda was featured at a number of events where he patiently greeted fans and signed autographs for his book, I Will Find You. For the Kenda Cruiser group, there were question and answer sessions with prizes, an off-shore lunch excursion in Cabo, and other activities aboard the ship.

Another Kenda Cruise is planned for next October from NY to Halifax Canada. Search #KendaCruise and Jim Seeley of VIP Tours Cruises and events on Facebook for details.

Beyond the celebrity events there were fun things to do like watch the theater production, Magic To Do, a delightful live musical. Grease and The Incredibles 2 movies were playing on the big screen under the stars. With all the food and exercise, we found ourselves too exhausted to stay up late enough to attend the disco party and costume party events.

To remain safe from illness, observe safe health standards such as disinfecting often touched objects like door handles, TV remotes, room telephones and bathroom shelves. Doing this provides an excellent chance of remaining healthy while cruising. Packets of disposable wipes and are highly recommended for frequent use as you travel about the ship. Or seek out the Purell dispensers when visiting at the buffet.

The food was amazing, the soft motion of the ship en route was calming, the entertainment and the joy of having cell phones off provided a much-needed break from workplace stress.

We truly came back refreshed and new again. We're already signed up for a future trip! Bon Voyage.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

For the Good Times

The heartbreak isn't over but I'm beginning to see the light. I've never lost a best friend before. 

Yesterday I was measuring the refrigerator for a replacement. After eighteen years, the old one has finally given up on making things cold. All of a sudden, a magnet jumped off the side wall. When I fished it out from the narrow space between the counter and the appliance, I realized it was the magnet my best friend gave me many years ago. It seemed like a sign to me that she's still with me. I smiled for the first time since Friday when she passed away.

The magnet reminded me of the time at her house when I was raiding her refrigerator and slammed the door too hard. Her little ceramic angel magnet fell off and broke in two. The head rolled underneath and was lost in the dark kingdom of dust bunnies. She'd had to leave town unexpectedly, following the loss of her grandmother and my return flight was not changeable, so I waited alone to go home. I wrote her a short, sorrowful note of apology with an offer to buy her a new magnet to replace the one I ruined. She forgave me with no hesitation and the matter was closed.

My next trip to her house, I was amazed to find the angel magnet hanging proudly on the front of the refrigerator door. She'd found the lost piece and glued it back together. I carefully closed the door on the cold realm of leftovers and sodas and smiled.

My friend will never call me again. We will never walk on the beach looking for shells. Or watch the glorious beauty of sunset we like did so many times on our vacations together. Somehow, I cling to the hope that we are still together, even if separated by life and death, and that one day we will again walk along the shore in awe of God's handiwork.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Banana Pudding with Homemade Custard

Sometimes I crave something that reminds me of summer and childhood. Years ago, we made this recipe with Nabisco Vanilla Wafers and Instant Banana Pudding.

These days, I prefer the taste of the homemade custard that takes only minutes to cook and the flavor alone makes up for the time invested. It's also easy cleanup as only one medium saucepan is needed.

There are 5 main ingredients needed other than bananas and vanilla wafers. Most of these items I keep on hand in my pantry.

Ingredients for the Custard

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar - or use 12 packets of Stevia sweetener or Sucralose
  • 4 Tablespoons of powdered corn starch
  • 1/4 cup of Karo corn syrup
  • 2 egg yolks - It's easy to separate the yolks from the whites. See below.
  • 2 cups of whole milk - You can also substitute 2% milk.

After the pudding thickens add:

  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract or sometimes I use banana extract if I have it.
To prepare the dish you'll need

  • Vanilla wafers and two bananas.
The key to making delicious pudding or custard is in the attention to stirring. Plan to dedicate 15 minutes of your undivided attention to this. Constant stirring eliminates the need for a double boiler and keeps the pudding from scorching and sticking to the pan.

Start with a heavy duty medium sized pan.

Measure out the sugar or sweetener right into the cold pan.

Add the corn starch and Karo syrup.

Separate the egg whites from the yolks by using a knife to crack the egg or strike it gently on a the edge of the counter.

Over a separate container, allow the egg white to drip through half of the shell.

Pour the egg yolk into the pan with the dry ingredients.

Pour about half a cup of the milk into the ingredients and stir with a whisk to form a paste.

Add the remaining milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.

Set a timer for about 20 minutes. Depending on your stove, it takes from 15 - 20 minutes for the mixture to come to a boil. At the first sign of boiling, remove the pan from the heat and add the pat of butter and vanilla extract. Stir and allow to cool a bit while you prepare the dish.

Line a casserole dish with a layer of Vanilla Wafers. 
Slice the bananas over the wafers.
Pour the cooked pudding custard over the top.
End with another layer of bananas and finish with the custard. Sometimes I crumble a few Vanilla wafers over the top. 

Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours and serve with whipped cream.

I hope you enjoy this family favorite dessert.

Monday, July 10, 2017

5 Hours in the Emergency Room

Sitting in the ER on the day before a holiday can be frustrating. Truth is, it can be frustrating anytime, any day. A visitor tends to notice the small, bothersome things, like debris on the floor or black scuff marks on the wheels of the gurney. The patient, on the other hand, notices only the delay in getting the proper care or pain medication that they are screaming for at the moment.

The constant bleeping noise of the blood pressure monitor, left running while the patient is taken to some mysterious location for CT Scans and Sonograms becomes the heartbeat of the room.

The wail of other emergency transport vehicles sounds loud as they echo down the deserted hallways, first a siren, later only flashing red and blue lights before the transport team makes their way past us to one of eighty rooms in the ER.

A lonely housekeeper pushes the hospital equivalent of a Swiffer down the linoleum tile. I almost asked when our room will be swabbed as well, but I didn't. Instead, I concentrated on the blaring volume of the TV where the soap opera plays its own version of drama. My companion, the patient's mother, stares without blinking at the screen catching up on her stories so she can relay updates to her daughter when she returns.

Minutes tick by on the clock in the room, the hands moving ever so slowly as we wait for some sort of results or decisions. After an hour, I go out in search of my missing friend.

"They said she'd only be gone a few minutes," I tell someone kind enough to stop.

"Oh, the techs have no idea how long it takes," the radiologist informs me as I'm pacing the halls under the x-ray sign. "I'll find out what happened to her." He asks her name again. I tell him.

At that moment, a door opens and they roll her back to the same location on the dirty floor of the ER room where it rested before. Someone else comes in the room with the same questions that have been answered a number of times. I wonder what is the point of entering data into the computer when no one can find it again.

The doctor on staff, who's substituting for the regular doctor who's on holiday, who is filling in for the patient's primary care physician, asks if my friend has an Advanced Directive and a Living Will. Although expected, this brings to light the severity of the situation and the possibilities of the outcome.

Five hours of staring at the photo on the wall opposite the ER room, the nurse finally tells us that a room assignment has been made. They roll the patient down the hall, with a brief stop in front of the nurses' station to add Dilaudid to the IV drip We follow the gurney through two buildings and up an elevator to the south wing on the fourth floor where we settle into an ice cold room, thankfully, a private room with a window, where the questions resume with a familiarity that is unnerving and redundant.

"What is your name and date of birth?"
"Do you have an Advanced Directive? A Living will?"
"What is your level of pain on a scale of one to ten. A ten?"
"What prescription pain medications do you take at home?"

An hour later, the shift changes and the night nurse comes in with the same list of questions. By now, we're preparing flash cards with the answers to save energy.

My friend is in Stage IV of Pancreatic cancer, unable to eat, barely able to walk, and each question answered requires serious effort at speaking. We turn the air conditioner setting warmer from 65 to a more pleasant 75 degrees, take our positions on the hard folding chairs provided and wait.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Beach Therapy Please

Tomorrow my best friend will face the hardest day of her life. She's scheduled for an appointment at the cancer center to find out what options she has.

Our days go way back in time, way back to working in a hair salon, sitting for our real estate exams, climbing the corporate ladder, each trying to be a good step-mother to our ex's only child. We've faced hardship and joy together over the decades and now, she faces the hardest times ahead.

I think of her comforting me during my darkest days and realize there's no comparison to what she must be going through. Even now, in these days of bad news, P.E.T. scans, emergency room visits, missed diagnoses and pain, she keeps reminding me that God is in control. She is assured that He will do what's best for her and help her get through whatever lies ahead.

The last time I saw her, I couldn't believe my eyes. She was thinner than I had ever seen her. She has always battled extra weight, up thirty pounds, down ten, up twenty, down five. Now, she tells me she weighs only a few pounds more than I do. Down a hundred.That's not necessarily a good thing.

We've shared a week together on the beach at her timeshare right on the Gulf nearly every September since 1988. The memories we made won't fit into any photo album. There are thousands of scenes in my mind, captured along the way. Seagulls soaring, dolphins swimming, surf roiling, Hurricane Gilbert, poolside chats, beach strolls, sangria toasts, apple strudel, Beach Boy Video and precious time together with no cell phone anywhere near.

We've spent thousands of hours sharing personal issues, dilemmas, new jobs, joy, unemployment, stories of our past lives and loves. She has truly been a sister to me and a genuine friend in thick and thin. Time for some beach therapy.

I'm thinking of her today and praying.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Corporate Obscurity

It was toward the end of a dozen years with a multi-billion dollar corporation that I found myself on a list of employees whose value to the company had come into question. The unfortunate group was assigned to a "special project," which may sound like something desirable that would distinguish or redeem us. Not so for the corporate professional whose contributing days had run their course.

Each of us knew this was a make or break situation. We were in the pool given a monumental task that we knew was destined for failure. There was minimal chance that when the task was completed that success would lead us to a new position within the company. We were living in limbo land.

There were participants from many departments of various levels, grades, and specialties, yet, despite our wins in the past, we now faced that dreaded outcome: "separation from the company" which would end our careers.
Still, most of us took on the responsibilities with chins held high, our stiff upper lips pursed into dogged expressions, and our noses planted firmly on the grindstone.

Our job was to inventory company assets scattered through the facilities of its outsourced transportation company and find discrepancies in the millions of dollars of equipment that had gone missing from the books. For the best part of five weeks, we traveled from city to city across the United States serving in the heat of blistering warehouses in Atlanta, Boston, New Jersey, Florida and other, more obscure towns.

The members of our team, for the most part, grew closer through our mutually shared yet unspoken knowledge of upcoming doom. Each of us hoped somehow to distinguish ourselves in some creative way and regain our misplaced importance to the corporate entity. Our futures depended on making the right impressions with those token "safe" employees who joined us from time to time to interject a sense of validity to our efforts. If only we could make the right connection, impress the holder of an open personnel requisition, perhaps befriend someone who could keep us afloat in a top-heavy, overburdened ship with excess cargo.

The rumors of upcoming layoffs floated among us in the evenings when we gathered for the dinner meal. Those were times when the most desperate tried their hardest to find a listening ear, to work out some deal to keep themselves on the payroll. Doomed alliances were pushed to the limit by intense competition for any safe place left within the organization.

As we toiled in our unaccustomed manual labor roles of the temporary assignment, we brushed elbows with Vice Presidents and departmental leaders whose objective during their brief tenure among us was assessment of team members.

As the hours, days and weeks passed, the stays at adequate but less than luxurious hotels continued. We sweated, washed our clothes in motel laundromats, ate take-out food, sang songs and whistled while we worked, and grew as close as our tenuous situation would allow. When we concluded our round-about inventory tour, our diverse team members returned to their respective home bases and awaited our fates.

To our immense surprise, the project was deemed an unqualified success. We located and documented millions of dollars of elusive inventory and turned our ill-fated mission around. Many were able to secure jobs in new areas within the company. Our assignment became a test of our adaptability to change. Those who were able to embrace the uncertainty and plow through were awarded a cash bonus and handed an engraved plaque of recognition by the Senior Vice President.

It was a memorable moment in the trial by fire of the corporate worker.