Me and the Boys and that Fun Trip to New Orleans

I recently saw a bunch of cute jokes about New Orleans on Facebook. They immediately made me remember one of my own wild experiences there. This essay was originally published in:

Me and the Boys and that Fun Trip to New Orleans, Dirty Chai, Issue 2, Adventureland, March 2014, http://issuu.com/dirtychaimag/docs/dirtychaiadventurelandpdf

Me and the Boys and that Fun Trip to New Orleans

Many years ago, at the invitation of a recently returned Marine vet named James, my boyfriend, Rick, and I decided to hitchhike from Gainesville, Florida to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  In those pre-Katrina days, New Orleans was a dream destination.  We left straight from work on a Friday, me, a 17-year-old college student, Rick my jealous, live-in lover, and James who was older and cooler, the calm to our storm.  We stood on the side of I10 waiting for rides, while a full moon cast mournful shadows all around.  James told us about the war, about the terrible things he’d seen and done.  As he talked, my sense of dread became palpable.

The people who gave us rides were strange.  We were used to hitch-hiking, but this trip, we seemed to get all the weirdos in one fell swoop.  One girl wanted to give me a foot massage.  One man wanted to check my lifeline.  On another ride, a girl tried to get James to climb in the “way back” with her for a little fun.  We sat stoically in the middle of multiple vans, trying not to make eye contact with the strange characters who transported us.  Finally, outside Biloxi, we got a ride with a group of neo-hippies who drove us to our destination, fueling our adrenaline with strong pot and rock and roll so loud conversation wasn’t possible.

As we pulled into the Big Easy, we crackled with excitement. My traveling companions had decided that I should hold all the money in case we got separated.  We tried to find a hotel room, but surprisingly – after all, this was only Mardis Gras, the biggest party in the south – nothing was available.  That first night, feeling like fools for not having made reservations, we slept on the banks of the lower Mississippi, in a misty, fog-like soup, with no sleeping bags, no blankets, no tent, plenty of money but no place to go.

To protect and keep me warm, James suggested that he and Rick sleep on either side of me.  “No way,” Rick said.  “Keep your hands off.” 

“Grow up,” James snapped, the only time on this trip so far I’d heard him get irritable. “I’m not going to touch your girlfriend.” James pointed out that at 120 pounds and with flimsy clothes (hey – what else would you wear to New Orleans in February but a tank top and blue jeans? Duh!), I could freeze to death by morning. 

Along with hundreds of others, we spent the night huddled in small clumps on the edge of the river.  Every few hours, policemen came through and poked us with nightsticks, making us move to another section of the riverbank.  In the early morning before dawn, we woke to sounds of screaming and a crowd rushed past.  James leaned over and whispered, “If we get separated, get your ass on a bus and go home.  Take the money and go.”  I nodded in the darkness.   

That morning we trudged from place to place trying to find a room, but no luck.  We stopped in a few bars on Bourbon Street and I got a taste of what life was like for those who made their living on the edge of the world. Imagine dancing topless for a bunch of hung-over drunks at 10 o’clock in the morning?  When James refused to tip one of the girls who draped her naked body over his lap, she brained him with her drink tray!  He just shrugged.  “I’m still not going to tip you,” he said.

The day dragged on.  Everywhere the party was in full swing.  People staggered, drunk, screaming, laughing.  On the streets, people marched around with saxophones, trumpets and harmonicas, playing for the crowds.  On every corner someone strummed guitar and sang.  And of course, the blues in the bars perfectly suited my increasingly gloomy mood.

As night fell, I started to panic.  The wind picked up and so did the mist from the river.  We’d tried every hotel within walking distance and no one had a single available room. Though I was ashamed to be such a wimp, I couldn’t stand the thought of another night outdoors.   I cried, “I can’t sleep on the ground again.” 

Someone in the crowd overheard and said, “There’s an old church just off St. Anne’s. They’ll let you sleep on the floor.”  We started walking through the back alleys off Bourbon Street, trying to find an old white church.  Sunlight faded from the sky and the glare of fluorescent lights diminished as we retreated from the hub of New Orleans’ nightlife. 

On a side street, we saw two men standing in front of the metal door of a car repair shop.  The men didn’t notice us.  Suddenly, the taller of the two, a dark figure wearing a porkpie hat, lunged at his companion, pinning him to the door.  We saw a flash of silver and realized that the dark man had drawn a knife and was holding it to the other man’s throat. 

I knew even before they turned towards the violence that Rick and James were fundamentally incapable of ignoring the scene, of pretending it didn’t impact them.  I stood back, terrified, as they approached the attacker and his captive.

James crouched down, and Rick did his best Clint Eastwood imitation – shoulders tall, mouth firm, eyes narrowed.  James barked, “Put the knife down, Dude.”  The guy turned to him, waving his weapon.  The captive, afraid to move, hung like a doll pinned to the door.  “You boys come on,” the knife-holder demanded.  “Just come on over here.”

Rick barked, “Hey, stupid, it’s three against one.”

“I got a knife,” dark one said.

James sighed, then exploded with anger.  “Man, you know what?” he yelled, “I’m fucking cold and tired and I haven’t slept in a bed in two days and I’m in a really, really pissy mood.  So you’ve got a choice here.  You can either stick around and let me take out my anger on you, or you can get the fuck gone.”

The dark man looked at the skull and crossbones and the USMC tattooed on James’ arm, then at Rick’s wildly glittering eyes.  “Sempi  fi, motherfucker,” he hissed, and ran off.  The captive sank to his knees, effusive in his relief.  He walked us to the church we were looking for.

Inside, we were greeted by a charming, choir-boy type, with long blonde hair and a sincere smile.  “Women over there, men over there,” the bot instructed, waving his thumbs in two different directions.

“Wait a minute,” I objected.  “I’m not leaving them.”

“Have to.  Women that way.”  He pointed down the hall.

“No way,” I said, “I’m not sleeping by myself.”

“Well, we can’t have you fucking on the floor.”

So, yes, I lost it.  I shrieked, “What is wrong with you?  This is a church, for God’s sake.  How dare you say that to me!”  The choir boy stared at me in surprise, then said nonchalantly, “Okay, fine, sleep over there in the hall by the water fountain.”

Oh, the guys were really grateful to me for keeping us all together, let me tell you.  They mentioned this often as we huddled on the floor beneath the water fountain, while parades of people came through, splashing water on us, gurgling, drooling, laughing as they climbed over our inert bodies in the dark church hallway.

The next day was a little better.  We heard more fantastic music, had some great food, and found classier bars where no one draped their naked bodies over my escorts.  But we were ready to go home.  Do not ask me why, with a bra full of cash, I didn’t suggest we take a bus, or maybe even a jet, back to Gainesville.  Who thought hitch-hiking was a great way to get around the country?  Jack Kerouac’s tales of traveling by thumb had infiltrated our little pot-fuddled brains and we never thought to travel another way.  But jeez, mostly Jack drove!

By the time we got back to Gainesville, we were so tired we could barely move.  We trudged off Interstate 75, up the on ramp, planning to call a taxi to take us the last leg of the journey.  Suddenly a couple of police cars pulled up, lights on, sirens roaring. Four officers jumped out with their guns drawn, and yelled, “Put your hands on the car, now.”  Confused, I put my palms down on the police cruiser.  James and Rick had obviously been through this drill before.  They prostrated themselves on the hood of the car.  One police officer picked up his radio and called something in.  As he stood by his vehicle, radio in hand, I burst into tears.  “I want to go home,” I cried.

“Shut up,” the cop closest to me said.

“Don’t talk to me like that!”

“Kid, do you want me to cuff you now?”

“We didn’t do anything wrong!”

“Shut up, I said!”

But I couldn’t.  I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I was within walking distance of my house and by God, I was going home.  Enough of this craziness.  “Arrest me then,” I snapped, and started walking up the ramp again.

The policeman who had been on the phone came back to the group and called to me, “Wait, hang on.  Hey, listen – ”  I stopped.  And he apologized!  It seems that originally we were stopped because two men and a woman had just robbed a convenience store nearby.  However, the two men had short hair and were clean cut, and the woman was a brunette.  Freed by my blonde hair!

The rude policeman offered us a ride home.  To my horror, Rick and James agreed.  “Hey, he’s trying to be nice,” Rick said.

“Too late,” I answered, but at their insistence I let the policeman drive us home. I even felt kind of calm, sitting in that police car.

Rick and I broke up soon after. Sometimes when you have a terrible trip, you find the freedom you’ve been looking for.  I was glad to be freed from his jealousy and possessiveness. But I did miss his adventurous spirit.  Nobody else I knew seemed willing to stick out a thumb and take off across the country on a whim.

Still, initially after our breakup, I hovered around my new apartment, enjoying the comfort of walls, windows, safety.  I went through the place touching my possessions.  I took obsessively long showers and changed my clothes frequently. 

After a while though, I remembered the trip with fondness.  The craziness began to fade and I recalled only the music, the excitement of turning a corner and finding a street band, the joy of horns blasting through the night air, highlighting the laughter.  I still remember the beauty of those street corner musicians.  And even the beauty of the Mississippi shining in the moonlight. 

Thank you to Patrick Black Jr. for the use of this photo.

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Getting Closer

The grandkids celebrating being outside.

The end is in sight in so many ways. The school year is coming to an end. (I’ve been homeschooling my grandkids which has been a challenge – I believe teachers should be put up for sainthood). The pandemic seems to be ending, although we in Gainesville, Florida, a college town where lots of kids come in and out from all over the world, still wear our masks. Spring is coming to an end. Ninety degree days are on the horizon.

But I’m still disappointed that I didn’t get enough work done during the covid pandemic, when I should have had plenty of time. Theoretically, I should have finished the novel I was working on, the screenplay I was working on. Theoretically, I should have edited the complete but heavily in need of edits mystery novel that I want to add to my Bear-Trapped series. You always think you have more time than you actually do.

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit ADHD. Being stuck inside for so long, I’ve had trouble keeping anything in focus. My brain careens around the room, fascinated by this (the new puppies), that (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon), and the other (whatever my husband is doing outside). I am supposed to be working regularly as an editor, but work slowed some during the pandemic. Now it’s starting to roar back in – a good problem to have now that we can actually get out again. Travel is expensive. Gas is expensive. Food is expensive.

I’ve had the virus. It is not the flu. It was a nightmare to recover from. My husband and I both lost over twenty pounds in two weeks, a diet I would recommend not trying. I had lots of days of struggling to breathe, lots of days of not being able to keep food in, lots of days of total exhaustion – and that went on for months after I was theoretically over the virus. My hair shredded. My teeth cracked. My feet hurt. I have since read that all these symptoms are common in people who had the virus.

The first vaccine shot made me feel awful, exhausted, deathly ill. The second shot flattened me for two weeks. But then, I felt like I could get outside again, listen to music, go for walks without fearing that someone would spit on me. I could fill up my gas tank without worrying about the germs on the gas pump. I still wear my mask, but I don’t shift away from people who are maskless – I don’t care if they’re vaccinated or not. I don’t have to worry about it anymore. Theoretically, they can’t infect me, and I can’t infect them.

This past weekend, my wonderful kids rented a huge house in Orlando with a pool and a beautiful view. My son and his wife came in from New York City, my daughter and her husband came in from a nearby city with the grandkids, and we all spent the weekend together in paradise. It was incredible. So nice to be there. I had my first swim in over a year. I haven’t gone that long without swimming since I was four years old. And as an introvert, I didn’t realize how badly I needed time with other people. Particularly my people. The ones who get my jokes. Who don’t mind me taking a nap or hanging out on my computer. The ones I can never get enough of.

Today I started putting together some stories to enter a new chapbook competition. I originally named it Animal Crackers, but it turned out there were a lot of books with that name. The chapbook will start out with a story that will soon be published in a local book of stories about the pandemic. My story is called “This Car Wreck of a Year,” because my pandemic started out with a teenager driving his car into my van. I thought that was a tough way to begin a new year, but guess what? It all went downhill from there.

But whenever things get tough, I try to remember – I’ve been through tough times before. And there’s a little mantra I like to repeat. I know it sounds like a Hallmark card and I don’t EVER say this to anyone else because I don’t want to seem like I’m diminishing their pain with a facile phrase. But things will get better. Hang in there.

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Too many projects, not enough time

If anyone had told me a year ago that I’d have written so little during a time when everything seemed to come to an end, I’d have laughed. I thought if I had a year to write, I’d come up with all kinds of stuff. I always pictured myself getting some kind of year-long fellowship somewhere in the snow where I wouldn’t come out because it was too damn cold. And at the end of the fellowship, I’d fall out of my little mountain cabin with a thousand page book clutched in my crippled hands.

But no, that’s not how it went. Somehow, even though the days dragged by as if they were in slow motion, I didn’t do nearly what I thought I would do if the world stopped for a year. Frankly, I kind of felt like I was trapped in the movie Groundhog Day, where every day was the same. Wake up, make breakfast, work, make lunch, work, make dinner, work, watch TV all night long.

Oh, there were certainly some interesting moments. I edited six dissertations, three books, and taught a community ed class at Santa Fe College. I home-schooled my grandkids for two months. I helped my husband recover from his mild stroke and alas, took over the cooking chores he used to love. We both caught the covid virus and spent weeks in bed. Thanks to that momentous occasion, I learned to use Publix instacart :). And I adopted two husky mix pups who are now six-month-old out-of-control fifty pound dogs with endless energy and adorable faces.

To be fair, I did get a lot done this year. I wrote four new stories. I finished a screenplay and entered it into a contest. I started a new novel, and started a second screenplay.

But somehow I thought, with everything sort of on hold, I would write a lot more than I actually did. There’s really no excuse. Put down the phone, close the Facebook page, turn off the latest episode of Brothers and Sisters and get going.

Today is my birthday. Today is a good day to dedicate myself to the novel and the screenplay I should have finished this year. This time next year, I hope I won’t be quoting that old line about the road to hell. Yes, folks, today my intentions are good!

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My Amazon Web site: https://www.amazon.com/Wendy-Thornton/e/B0055PQND8?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000

Wendy Thornton

Bio:
Wendy Thornton is a freelance writer and editor who has been published in Riverteeth, Epiphany, MacGuffin and many other literary journals and books. Her memoir, Dear Oprah Or How I Beat Cancer and Learned to Love Daytime TV, Memoir, was published in July 2013 and is available on Amazon and Kindle. Her mystery, Bear-Trapped: In a Trashy Hollywood Novel, was published in February 2016 and is available on Amazon and Kindle. She has won many awards for her work. Her book, Animal Crackers, consists of a series of humorous essays about her dis(fun)ctional family, crazy relationships and everlasting pet love. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has been Editor’s Pick on Salon.com multiple times. She was the organizer and first president of the Writers Alliance (www.writersalliance.org). Her work is published in England, Scotland, Australia and India.

Here’s my blog:

https://floridawendy.com/


And some recent humorous essays:

http://wraparoundsouth.org/winter-2015/essays/out-in-the-country-by-wendy-thorton/

http://www.diversevoicesquarterly.com/the-queen-victoria-syndrome/

And some recent serious essays:

http://www.hippocampusmagazine.com/2014/06/affairs-of-dragons-by-wendy-thornton/

http://www.vagabondagepress.com/01201/V3I3FF2.html

And some recent poetry and fiction 🙂 :

http://bluelakereview.weebly.com/inside-voices.html

http://blueheronreview.com/blue-heron-review-issue-3-winter2015/

http://www.halfwaydownthestairs.net/index.php?action=view&id=365

http://www.amazon.com/Moon-White-Literary-Magazine-Volume/dp/1496167910/ref=sr_1_14?ie=UTF8&qid=1403282287&sr=8-14&keywords=Wendy+Thornton

Read less

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Seven Sides of Shakespeare:

A Movie for Today’s Tempest

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

                              William Shakespeare                                    

Yesterday, I got invited to a preview of a movie called Seven Sides of Shakespeare. I saw this originally as a play last year. The performer of the play, a local writer, actor, and former schoolteacher named Shamrock McShane, created a seven-part one-man play using examples of his performances in Shakespearean plays over the years.

Local creator Tom Miller, a very talented artist writer musician etc. decided to make a movie of Shamrock’s play. Tom incorporated music and graphics into the play, everything from old-timey cinema scenes to the magic of ecology. He’s created a movie in seven separate parts that documented the art that Shakespeare always saw. Only this time, the art was in the life of Shamrock McShane.

Tom Miller and his studio –

The resulting movie is incredible. The use of music, special effects (Shamrock talking through the animated statue of Julius Caesar, pulling away in shock as he realizes he’s been co-opted by clay), the owl accompanying Scene IV, the old-timey Shakespearean movie scenes that just act to cement the permanence of Shakespeares words – well, I could go on and on but hopefully you’ll be able to see the movie someday soon.  The entire thing was shot on an iPad in various places around Gainesville and North Florida. You see Shamrock walking through incredible green woodlands, praising the virtues of Shakespeare’s words, while extolling the manner in which those plays intersected with his own life.

The movie is a tribute to local theater, too, as it has evolved over the years in Gainesville and probably in other places too. You know, those small venues where this person collided with that person.  And that one got another part and this one quit in anger and that one moved elsewhere and – well you get the idea. The resulting art might actually be all the better because of the chaos involved in its creation.

But more than that, Tom and Shamrock illustrated the beauty of ecology and the starkness of our current pandemic moment. For instance, after scenes of ecological beauty, we see Shamrock walking across the Bo Diddley Plaza in the middle of town, a place which is normally used for concerts and yoga instructions and sales of the creations of local artists. Now, the plaza is empty, with signs saying, “Wear a mask, socially distance,” but there is no one there to obey these signs. Only a Shakespearean scholar walking through an empty plaza.

And Shamrock transforms throughout the movie as well. The beard grows longer and shaggier, the clothes become less restrictive, the pandemic and the final stages of life take their toll. He is a child (played by his own adorable son) walking and playing with a stick, and then he is an old man, leaning on that stick, traveling the same pathways, but slower.

Shamrock on Shore

And yet, as we get to the end of the movie, the end of the seven ages of man per Shakespeare, when all should be depressing and sad, the screen becomes a homage to beauty, to grace, to the continuance of life.  There is a beautiful, amazing scene in Cedar Key on Florida’s West Coast, where thousands of ocean birds fly up and away from a small island, while Shamrock stands on the shore, a small and small and smaller being, standing his ground as the camera glides away. As the tide rolls in.

According to Tom Miller, that shot with the birds was just a magic moment where they happened to be in the right place at the right time. How do you get that lucky? And I thought Shamrock was lucky to have been able to continue with his artistic loves while he actually made a living.

But then I remember. It wasn’t luck. It was hard work. It was the importance of continuing with your art regardless of the problems that occur around you. It was the necessity of creating even when creating is so difficult it seems impossible. Thank you, shamrock and Tom, for inspiring me. I hope this movie is picked up and becomes an indie sensation. It well deserves it.

Check out these amazing previews of the upcoming movie:

The Seven Sides of Shakespeare – Tempest Preview

The Seven Sides of Shakespeare – Teaser II

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9U3ZBl-pAc

Producers and Directors and Star[s]

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Imagine – John Lennon Takes Me Home

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.
Beautiful Boy, from Double Fantasy, John Lennon


When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream.
John Lennon

When I was 23 years old, I found myself a single college drop-out, with a new baby, no job skills, and no money. After I left my ex-husband George, for a while I tried to make it on my own in the college town of Gainesville, Florida. I took two waitress jobs, had friends keep the baby, and tried my best to stay in the place I felt was more like home than any I’d ever lived in. But George wouldn’t/couldn’t pay child support, and being a single mother with an infant was just too damn hard.

The day I moved back in with Mom and Dad, I went out and got a waitress job, even though my father told me to take some time and think things over. Determined to finish my education, I immediately enrolled in the University of Alabama in Birmingham. For a whole year, between raising a child, working full time and going to school full time, I was too busy to miss my old hometown. Much.

That is, until Dec. 8, 1980. The day John Lennon was shot and I had no one to talk to. It wasn’t that people in Birmingham weren’t sad. But this was the disco era, and for most of them, the Beatles were so over. Not for me. John Lennon had been my hero since I was ten years old and my cousin, Cathy Ihnen, gave me my first record, a 45 RPM Beatles record. Cathy had actually been to see the Beatles in the early sixties, but I was too young back then to go to rock and roll concerts. When she gave me the record, I didn’t even know there was an A side. I fell in love with the B side, “I’ll Get You.”

Imagine I’m in love with you/it’s easy ‘cause I know/
I’ve imagined I’m in love with you/Many, many times before.

I knew John Lennon wrote that song. Not only was he funny, smart and talented, but he said things and did things that made people sit up and take notice. He wasn’t shy, like me. He was fearless.

During the sixties, there was a theory that you could tell a lot about people based on which Beatle they liked. If you were a fan of Paul McCartney, you were upbeat, fun-loving, probably attractive. If you were a fan of George Harrison, you were serious, soulful, possibly religious. If you idolized Ringo, you were full-speed ahead, outrageous, humorous. And if you adored John Lennon, you were snarky, sarcastic, maybe a bit too much of a smarty-pants for your own good.

When we were kids, we would pretend to be the Beatles. We’d play air guitar (before we had a name for it). I was always John. I could sing his parts, imitate his movements, even though I hardly ever saw him on television and certainly never saw him in person. We didn’t have posters, we didn’t see the Beatles everywhere we looked, the way kids do with pop singers nowadays. But somehow Lennon’s image, burned into my brain, was part of my life.

Okay, so he wasn’t always appropriate. The people who burned his albums and protested some ill-advised statements were proof of that. Even I had trouble with his “bed in.” Protesting the Viet Nam war by going to bed? Huh? But I have to admit, he got a lot of publicity for the anti-war movement. Here was a man who said what he believed, did what he wanted, followed his heart, damn the consequences. I respected that.

Though Lennon stirred political activism for many years, in his final years he basically became a house-husband, taking care of his young son, Sean. Again, I related to him, since I too had become a parent.

Somehow I just thought he’d be around forever. I thought I’d one day be an old lady listening to that British accent—John Lennon making some outrageous statement about old age that pissed half the people off but made me half laugh hysterically.

When my mother came into my bedroom that Dec. 8 to tell me I needed to turn the news on, I could not believe what I was hearing. Part of the horror was that I had already been through so many assassinations – the death of John Kennedy; the murder of my hero, Robert Kennedy; the shooting of Martin Luther King. But an artist? Why? I kept saying to my family, “But he’s a singer. Why would anyone want to kill a singer?”

He was forty years old. He had straightened out his life – stopped the drugging and drinking, found a place where he could be anonymous and raise his child. But not anonymous enough. His death convinced me – there are always crazy people. And it convinced me of one other thing – your world can change in a moment.
I had no one to talk to. My parents were wonderful – kind, warm, sympathetic. They encouraged me to talk about my sadness. But it wasn’t enough. They hadn’t been through the hero-worship my generation had for the Beatles. No one in my classes or at work seemed affected by his death. I told a man I was dating that I was sad about Lennon’s assassination and he said, “Well, I’m not really a Beatles fan.” I didn’t go out with him again.

I became depressed when I heard from friends in Gainesville that there were spontaneous gatherings of people there celebrating Lennon’s life and music. I felt old and sad and isolated. I was a quarter of a century in age (notice – not 25 – but a quarter of a century), divorced, living with my parents, supporting a small child, with no education, nothing to look forward to. Life could change in an instant. Or, maybe, mine would drag on like this forever – work, school, parenting, small amount of sleep, work school parenting, small amount of sleep…

For the first time in my life, I went to a psychologist and told him I was depressed. He told me to go home that night and do one thing I really wanted to do. I went home and thought about it. What did I really want to do? I reflected on the suggestions he’d made. Go out on a date? Go to a movie? Go to dinner?
Couldn’t think of a thing.

Well, yes, actually, there was one thing I wanted to do. The only thing I really wanted was to go home to Gainesville where my friends loved and appreciated the same things I did. My mother strongly objected. “I’m sure that’s not what your counselor meant.” But I didn’t care. I literally left for Florida that night. I drove all through the night, music blaring on the car radio, to get to a friend’s house. Within weeks I had a new job and a new home and was back in college working on my English degree.

I wonder if I would have had the courage to come back here to the place I consider home if it hadn’t been for the tragedy of that horrible December night. I wouldn’t have met my present husband, wouldn’t have my son, Bryan Sean (Sean which is the Irish spelling of John, the Celtic/Gaelic name meaning “God is gracious”). I wouldn’t have the friends I have, the vibrant life I have, the blessings I count every day. Today someone played the song “Imagine,” as a tribute, and it brought me to tears. Surprised me, too. After all, it’s been so long.

A few years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I went to a concert downtown, provided free by the city of Gainesville. A group of musicians sang Beatles songs, and the entire crowd joined in. I looked around and here were all these young college kids singing along to the Beatles’ songs. They knew every word, every note. John Lennon would have been proud. Probably would have made some snarky comment about living forever…

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Book cover for Kindle

Bear Trapped: Blowback

The only good thing about this stupid pandemic (or panda-menic as my little sister describes it 🙂 ) is that I finally finished one of my books. I’m working on three more and a screenplay. But this second book in my mystery series was reviewed by some very wonderful friends who found mistakes I could NOT believe I’d missed.  Folks, if you’re a writer, even if you think you’re the best editor in the world, do NOT edit your own work. You will miss stupid mistakes and look like an idiot.

My beta readers were so specific and did such a wonderful job.  The story of this series is rather strange. I originally wrote a number of different mystery stories with various main characters. Then it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to create one character (slightly damaged of course) that could lead to a resolution in all the stories.  So I created Bear, who is smart, funny, and has some major issues. But he’s basically a good guy. And a little conservative as opposed to his hippy sister who has few boundaries.

I originally set my first Bear book in Los Angeles because – why not? So many books are set in L.A. Where I have never been… Duh. A friend of mine, Joan Carter, pointed out so many mistakes in my L.A. book (she lived there), that I realized I had to find a reason to move Bear to my home state of Florida because I couldn’t keep writing about Los Angeles unless I planned to spend a lot of time there. And, as someone who is not overly fond of big cities, I realized that would never happen.

So now, the big city cop has retired at an early age and moved to Florida where he thinks he’ll be able to live peaceably and relax. Maybe learn to fish. Maybe buy a boat. But no, there will be lots of things happening in Florida that will keep him busy. One of my favorite TV shows is the show The Glades, which is about a Chicago cop who moves to the Everglades and joins the state police. I read some of the reviews and some people said the characters were not always realistic – that they were too crazy. I will presume that these people have never been in Florida if they think the show is unrealistic.

Anyway, I’m so glad it’s done. Now all I have to do is finish my latest book of poems, rewrite some of the short stories in my book of short stories, finish my literary novel and my novel on catfishing, and I’ll be caught up. No problem.  I’m going to start working on those books real soon, right after I catch up on the latest episodes of Grace and Frankie, Space Force, Hollywood, etc. etc. etc…. Welcome to the world of the panda-menic.

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From Adelaide Magazine – Those Lovely Family Moments

I was updating my bio to send a couple of new pieces out. I finished a book of poetry and an essay recently – the good thing about being stuck at home during a pandemic.  I always liked this story, which is true… 🙂

 

Those Lovely Family Moments

Once when I was a single parent, I took my daughter camping. At the time, I was determined to do all the fun things I did when I was married to her father. My very opinionated three-year-old, Jessica, and I went into a sporting goods store where I bought a domed six-man tent with easy flexible poles, a Coleman stove and lantern, a high intensity flashlight, a banana chair in my size and a miniature version in hers. We ran into a slight snag when I tried to buy my prima donna a pair of jeans to walk the nature trails. She had never worn any article of clothing that didn’t have ruffles and lace. In the store, she shrieked, “Only boys wear jeans!” This was obviously refuted by my own apparel, a battered pair of Levi’s. We finally compromised on rhinestone studded designer Calvin’s for Kids which cost more than the tent. The giggling clerks in the store were delighted with her purchase.

Jessica was unhappy about leaving the comfortable home of her grandparents, but she was thrilled when I told her she would get to meet the mysterious father she had never really known. Jessica was a child of luxury. Hanging out with adults all the time, she was also very precocious. She never knew the Cracker house with the unvarnished wooden floors where she was born. She didn’t remember my double shifts as a waitress or my crying over my paltry tips. She thought I had always worn suits and stockings to work, and she thought every house came equipped with reverse-cycle temperatures and wall-to-wall carpeting. Being the guilty parent I was, I pitied my poor baby growing up without a father. I wanted her to be used to luxury. That’s why I had moved in with my parents.

But I also wanted her to experience adventure, to love the great outdoors. I wanted her to know the thrill of seeing a giant blue heron fly across the marsh, and I wanted her to shine a flashlight around the edge of the swamp and pick out the lights of alligator eyes. Just because we didn’t have a man around was no reason for her to be denied these natural delights.

I took off from work for a week and we drove to the town my ex-husband lived in. I stopped to introduce her to him. He’d been sending her birthday cards regularly, so I figured we owed him a visit. George worked at a drive-through beverage Mart, where part of his pay was in beer. By the time we arrived, he’d already had more than his fair share. “Hey,” he said to Jessica as we sat in the car, and he chucked her under the chin. “You’re beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I said acidly, claiming full credit. I’d left George two years earlier, on Jessica’s first birthday. That was the day he invited friends over for her birthday party, went out to get some firewood for our wood stove, and never came back all night. The following morning, I packed toys, clothes, cloth diapers, and crib, and left. I wasn’t going to have Jessica live with the disappointment that I’d experienced with her father. If he couldn’t show up for her first birthday, he wouldn’t show up for anything in her life. That’s what happens when you marry an alcoholic.

But Jessica was fascinated by him. She had been demanding we go see him every time she got a card. Now she put on her best act for him, rolling her eyes and giggling. He gave her a package of gum and some barbecue potato chips. “We’re going camping,” she said.

“Going out to the springs?” George asked me. This was where we had always gone, a wilderness camp in the middle of the scrub in Ocala National Forest.

“Yes,” I said curtly.

“Well, be careful out there. It’s hunting season. Hey, you ought to stop by and see my niece. She’d love to see the baby. And my mother’s living with her.”

“I might do that,” I said. I remembered his niece, Nancy, fondly. She was a sweet, shy girl, half his age (just as I was when I met them) with twice his sense of responsibility. It didn’t surprise me to find that he had pawned off his 80-year-old mother on her. Privately I fumed about our short visit. Three years, and the kid gets a chuck under the chin, a package of gum, and some chips. Typical George.

He gave me instructions on how to get to the trailer park where Nancy lived. I was only going to stop for a minute, to let Jessica meet her cousin and her paternal grandmother. The trailer park was a run-down depressing place on the edge of town with trailers of all sizes and shapes, from battered rentals to tiny silver Airstreams parked on minuscule lots. Nancy came running out to hug me, and she picked Jessica up out of the car like a baby, holding her as if she would never let go. “I’m so glad to see you,” she said and led the way to her small blue-and-white trailer.

Inside, I got the claustrophobia I always get from trailers no matter how lush they are, and this one wasn’t what you would call lavishly appointed. I was shocked to find that Nancy was supporting a whole cadre of relatives. Not only was she keeping her elderly grandmother but  her alcoholic mother, who had abandoned her when she was a baby, plus her younger brother, who couldn’t hold a job, and her older sister who came with two children. The trailer was like an Agatha Christie dream sequence with people sidling in and out of thin sliding doors and everyone talking at once. There was no room for any of us to sit down. But they were comfortable with each other, and Jessica was in her element. She loves people. I was the only one who was uncomfortable.

“Look,” said Nancy after we talked for a couple of hours. “It’s getting late. Why don’t you set up your tent in the front yard and go down to the Springs tomorrow?”

The thought of setting up my tent in the tiny space they called the yard was not really appealing. But it was getting late, and I thought it might be a good idea to try it out before I got to the woods. With Nancy’s help we set up our domed abode, but flexible poles turned out to be a bit of a misnomer. No doubt they were flexible if you were Charles Atlas, but Nancy and I had to struggle and pull to get the aluminum tipped ends into their aluminum holes. The fiberglass rods threatened to whip up and belt us in the face if either of us let go. Finally, we had it all set up. I pulled the banana chairs out of the car and set them up in the tent. Then Jessica and I took everyone out to dinner.

When we got back to the trailer park, it was quite dark, and I told Jessica we had to go to bed. I read some stories to her by flashlight, but she was too keyed up to sleep. Finally, she went inside the trailer and watched television with her cousin while I fell asleep alone. I woke in the middle the night to the most awful sound I’d ever heard. It took me a moment to identify it, and during that moment, the thought of some wild creatures attacking passed through my mind. But the noise was only from cats, dozens of cats, running through the trailer park, clawing and snarling at each other, yelling as if they were dying. I was glad Jessica wasn’t in the tent. I went outside and looked in the window of the trailer. There was my little girl curled up on the couch with her cousin, snoring away, with the air-conditioner blowing and the television blaring. At least I didn’t have to worry about her listening to cats and neighbors fight. The cats jumped off the roof of Nancy’s trailer, sliding down the rounded walls of my tent as if it were a giant waterpark slide. I watched the walls shake, but somehow the tent stayed up. At dawn, the cats all quieted down, and I slept for a couple of hours.

Jessica came out about 9 a.m. and patted my cheek. “Wake up,” she said. “Nancy says come to breakfast.” She left as I groaned, but I managed to stagger into the trailer where Jessica now sat in front of the television watching Saturday morning cartoons. For some reason this enraged me, and I couldn’t eat. I had a cup of coffee, took down the tent, and packed our gear into the car.

“Come camping with us, Nancy,” I said.

“Are you kidding? It’s hot out there, and I hate the bugs,” Nancy answered with a shudder.

“We’ll swim, and I’ll bring insect repellent.”

“No, thanks. There are bears in those woods.”

Observing Jessica looking at me wide-eyed, I said, “Oh don’t be silly. We used to go camping out there all the time, and I never saw a bear.”

“Aren’t you scared to go by yourself?” Nancy asked. “There are snakes. You have to admit there are snakes. And crazy people in the woods. And all kinds of weird noises. I’d be terrified. Do you have a gun?”

“What? No, I don’t have a gun. Come on Jessica,” I said to my goggle-eyed daughter. “We’ve got to go.”

“I don’t want to go,” Jessica screamed.

“Why don’t you camp and Jessica can stay here with us?” said my ex-mother-in-law.

“No, Jessica and I are going to do this together. It’ll be fun.”

Just in case I didn’t get it the first time, my little girl screamed, “I don’t want to go!” I picked her up off the floor, and she began to kick and scream and cry. I tried to gather up her special blanket and the toys she’d brought inside but everything seemed to get away from me. The gang watched, but no one made any attempt to help. Jessica tried to push me away.

We finally got to the car and I promised to come back through town after the campout. Jessica kissed her relatives and cried as we drove away. I turned on the radio and sang a song she used to like.

“Stop that singing” she shrieked.

We drove in silence for a while until her sobs turned to sniffles. I tried to point out the countryside we passed through, the lakes and live oaks, interesting little yards with pink flamingo sculptures and limestone bordered gardens. She turned the full brunt of her scorn my way for the entire trip.

“You never let me talk to my daddy,” she commented as I drove. I bit my tongue. Literally.

When we got off the main road and turned onto the clay road that led to the springs, Jessica cheered up a little. The road was sandy and bumpy, like a roller coaster ride. I was afraid I’d get stuck. When we reached the edge of the lake she was almost cheerful. She even helped me unload some of her toys from the car. I put a bathing suit on her and let her wade into the lake while I dragged the tent and supplies out of the vehicle. This time the tent was even more of an ordeal. It was almost impossible for one person to set it up. The sun climbed into the sky and I was so hot that I left the tent in a forlorn circle on the ground. There were no other campers nearby. The bugs—homicidal horse flies, and murderous mosquitoes—swarmed around us.

I sat in the banana chair, trying to recuperate from the heat and the lack of sleep. Jessica came over and dropped a giant glob of mud onto my face. “What are you doing?” I sputtered and she danced away laughing.

“I’m hungry,” she said. I open the bottled spring water and cleaned the mud off both of us. I peeled her an orange while I tried to light the Coleman stove. The air filled with propane but nothing happened. By now, the sun should have gone down but it seemed to linger only because the horizon on the lake was long. I had to get that tent set up. I tried to get Jessica to hold a side but that was a joke. She was tired and hot. “I don’t like that tent anyway,” she said.

“If we don’t get it up we’ll have to sleep in the car,” I snapped.

“So? I like to sleep in the car.”

Huh? With clenched teeth, I said, “Mommy’s can’t sleep in the car.  Mommy’s too big.”

And my precious little toddler replied, “That’s Mommy’s problem.”

I weighed down one side of the tent with a log and managed to get the aluminum ends on the other side into their little holes. With a groan of satisfaction, I pulled the tent up right into its igloo shape, and as I did, I heard a ripping sound. I inspected the gaping hole in the tent. The sun was beginning to go down. “Why don’t you gather some sticks while mommy finishes the tent?”

“I’ll get dirty,” Jessica protested.

Okay, so I should be drummed out of the motherhood league because I said, “Jessica, if we don’t get a fire going, snakes and alligators will crawl around us. Is that what you want?”

I listened guiltily to her sniffles as we gathered wood. Thanks to her skinny sticks, we soon had a nice fire going and I felt better. This was good, because our flashlight died and the Coleman lantern was about as easy to light as the stove had been. An owl hooted and Jessica shivered. Some little animal screeched in its death throes and I shuddered. As darkness fell around us, the alligators began their chorus of grunts and groans and fish began to thrash in the water. The spring-fed lake, which only hours before had seemed like a peaceful paradise, began to assume the malevolent aspects of the swamp it really was.

Something rustled in the bushes nearby. “I’m scared, Mommy,” said Jessica plaintively.

“Don’t be scared. I’m right here,” I said.

“You can’t protect me,” she said.

I stared at her little white face in the firelight, and my resolve stiffened along with my voice. “Yes, I can, Jessica. I will never let anything happen to you,” I lied.

“You can’t help it,” Jessica said her voice rising. “I want my daddy.”

“You don’t even know your daddy,” I said testily.

“Well, I want him anyway,” she shouted in her furious little voice. “I hate you!”

I grabbed her up out of her little chair and sat her in my lap. “That’s just too damn bad, Jessica. You’re stuck with me.” Height of maturity.

After a while, she stopped crying, put her arms around my neck, and leaned her head against my chest. I thought she had fallen asleep. But all of a sudden, she leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.

Oh guilt, what an emotion to bask in, an emotion to motivate. All night I stayed up listening to the tiny breaths of my baby in that tent. I stoked the fire and kept the ferocious animals at bay. I paced noisily around the tent in the dark, scaring away snakes and coons and armadillos that rustled in the bushes outside the circle of light. As morning broke, I rigged up a grill over the fire and cooked Jessica a huge breakfast of sausage, eggs, soggy toast, and tangerines. When she awoke, her exhausted, smoky, dirty mother was there to greet her with a picture-perfect meal fit for a princess.

As soon as she was content, I loaded everything into the car and drove to the fish camp on the edge of the woods where I called to make a reservation at a luxury hotel in Disney World. We’ll go camping again when she’s older, I thought to myself.

As we drove out of the woods, we saw a mother bear lead her cub across the road in front of our car. The bear looked at me as I slowed to let her waddling baby pass. I knew exactly how she felt.

http://adelaidemagazine.org/f_wendythornton.html

 

 

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Found an old Poem

I’m trying to put out two books of poetry to various writing contests. One has been submitted to a number of places and got some good feedback (and a lot of the poems in it have been published already).  That’s “Building a Fire.” The other is a book of poetry that has lots of new poems in it, “Physics as a Cure for Grief,” and yes, I used that title for an essay a couple of years ago.  It works for the poetry, too.

But I found this poem recently online, (on the Lake Literary Magazazine) that I forgot about.  Always liked this one.  It went to a lot of place before it got published 🙂

 

Measuring Light

Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

The Inuit hide beneath shaggy deer

                             throw rocks at the ripples of fire in the sky

                   trying to disguise their restless fear

          savage discontent with the celestial light show,

                             which rents the dark like a streetwalker’s candle,

                   whose never measured sound reverberates

                             across the ground and shakes

                                                the frozen landscape.

          Lately, life has been tough. The animals

                             hide, resisting their duty to become food,

                   relinquishing their lives only under duress

                                      and it seems there are less and less of them

                   to go around.  They are always bound for someplace else.

                                      Colder.

                             Men of science suddenly appear

                   frightening away the skittish deer,

                             Set up their gear and begin to tune their dials,

                                      lonely boys on a Saturday night.

                             After a while, they shrug and say

                                                We heard no sound in the sky today.

                                      We’ll try again tomorrow.

          The Inuit don’t like the science boys.

                   They fear the wrath of the creator of lights.

                             Who knows what magic their fiddling will bring?

                   An end to the false lights of men.

                                      Those who are sick will get sicker still

                             and the streets will darken in Montreal

                   because these boys and their instruments

                                      never get the station right at all.

                   The Inuit rub thumb and forefinger high

                             imagine the lights rising in the sky

                                      away from all those prying eyes

                                                and ears

and in the dark they plainly hear

                                      the sound of the lights,

stockings rubbing

celestial legs.

 

http://www.thelakepoetry.co.uk/poetry-archive/feb19a/

 

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Where Does the Time Go?

I haven’t put anything out on this site in ages. I have been doing an incredible amount of new writing, though. Unfortunately, I keep remember what someone one said to me about not marketing my own work – “Emily Dickinson’s been done.” I’m not a good self-marketer. But it’s that time again – I just finished a new book, Bear Trapped: Blowback. So I guess it’s time to get back into it.

Never has it been so strange to try to figure out how to market a book. I couldn’t even hand out proof copies to my beta readers. I had to put them into plastic bags and let them sit for two weeks, Then I had to drive them all over town, drop them off in mailboxes, or mail them if people were practicing careful social distancing. And three people told me they couldn’t read right away because they had electronically checked out library books which they would lose if they didn’t read them within a certain time. Uh – okay, I totally understand.

My second book in the Bear mystery series was great fun to write, even though it was about bullying and right-wing conspirators. I got to read a lot of very entertaining stories about how people addressed these issues. And because the story was set in St. Augustine, Florida, I got to spend a lot of time driving back and forth to the beach – you know, to do research. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I also have a third book in the queue and I’m going to start working on it soon. This one will be set in Gainesville, so I guess I will have to drive to the beach regularly just to get some perspective on my home town, right?

I am also submitting two books of poetry to various contests, a book of short stories to various contests, two independent short stories to various contests and – oh, yeah – I’m trying to finish my semi-autobiographical novel so I can submit that to various contests. It’s so comforting that to have multiple books in the pipeline. That’s the great thing about being a writer – we can adapt to whatever our present circumstances are. Quarantined for months? Good time to start something new. Can’t visit with friends? Good time to get them to read your latest work. Pandemic taking over the news? Put that in your next novel! All of this is so much easier than marketing my new book. Onward, through the fog!

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