Monthly Archives: February 2014

Brain Clouds and Other Winter Phenomena

I went in to work three hours early today for no other reason than the schedule I had on my calendar was wrong. Not the first brain cloud of this winter, but certainly one that made me feel rather foolish. For a minute, that is. After all, I did get the morning essentials….shower, shampoo, work clothes and breakfast….out of the way. And I stopped on the way home for a triple berry scone to enjoy with my chai latte. I still have to get back in my car and drive the roads, but even now the sun and warmer temps are un-crunching those same streets on which I had to tread carefully just a few hours ago. And the parking lot at my store will NOT be icy, just slushy. I am prepared.
It should always be so easy to make positives out of negatives. I don’t know about anyone else, but these first two months of 2014 have produced more negatives then I find acceptable. I’m not just talking about the temperatures, although according to my memory this is the second coldest winter I remember in this city I call home. I’m sure my childhood had zero and below zero days, possibly even weeks, but as a kid you let your parents worry about that. Snow days? Really? I don’t remember any school EVER closing. Here comes that “I had to walk to school in the snow uphill BOTH ways when I was your age” cliché. But you know, I did. We lived at the bottom of one hill in my suburb and the senior high school was at the bottom of another hill on the other side of town. I missed being “bus eligible” by two blocks, so up AND down those inclines I went twice a day. Of course in the olden days, none of my friends had cars, and the school dress code was skirts or dresses for girls. No slacks. No matter. My coat was long and wool. The positive side? Extra time to spend with friends before and after classes…no bus fumes, and a chance to enjoy the local park on the way home. But I’m getting off track here.
Winter. Too little of it and we’re spoiled. No snow on Christmas? But I wanted a white one. Just a dusting really. Too much and we’re cranky. Snow days? One or two, not that bad. Especially since a lot of students around here rely on buses. Country roads can be hazardous even when city streets are not. Nine? TEN????? Even the kids get antsy, especially if the wind chills are minus fifteen and no amount of wrapping up can prevent the cold from seeping through to little bodies. Ice. Worse than snow in a lot of cases. There is NO traction on ice unless you have cleats on your shoes and studs on your tires (illegal most places, so let’s say “chains” instead). Bumps, bruises, breaks, traction but, in the same breath, ice skating on ponds that often don’t freeze. We had Thunder Snow yesterday…and lightning…and sleet. Snow fog happens as well although not to the extent it has in Sochi lately…poor skiers. Gotta love winter phenomena. But again, I’m sliding off course.
We’re all subject to brain clouds, to forgetting things we normally wouldn’t. Yes, even WITH a day planner. We’re more easily distracted in the winter. Blame it on recycled air in stores, the lack of humidity in the house, or the fact that we have to lug around more clothing and heavier boots. I can’t speak for those in warmer places, but I do know that an unexpected cold snap can throw them into a dither….no evenings on the lanai. It’s 40 degrees out! Walkers wear their down coats and woolen hats. And, freezing rain can do more damage to their cities than snow! We’re stressed. All of us. But….
The nice thing about Winter is that it leads to Spring. Green leaves, daffodils, April showers, and warmer temps. Brain clouds? Still there of course, but in much more pleasant surroundings.
Ah…time to go to work for real this time. Hope you have sun and warmth in your day.

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I Am A Verb

“To be or not to be”, said Hamlet as he contemplated the slings and arrows of his destiny. In the end he chose not to simply let things happen to him but to act on his own. Not wisely as it turned out with only Laertes left to mourn him, but he acted.
Ulysses S. Grant actually said the words, “I am a verb” to tell people he took action rather than have someone else act for him. He commanded The Army of the Republic, but his acts of decision and strategy as well as his presence in the field were what gave him his reputation. You may argue for or against his greatness but he was not passive. He didn’t choose only ‘to be’.
If we explore history, read the daily papers, watch the evening newscasts or simply talk to our neighbors, we can all discover at least one person who is a ‘verb’; not just an observer but a doer. Sometimes we call them volunteers, first responders, soldiers, teachers, nurses, and applaud and thank them for their services to us and to those we cherish. There are those we do not applaud; rioters, protestors, those who make us uncomfortable by their words. They are ‘verbs’ too. The commonality here is simple. Neither sits and waits for someone else to do what he or she believes needs doing.
Being a verb isn’t always so cut and dried. How many times has each of us put off doing something because we’re not “in the mood” or don’t “have the energy” or because it won’t be fun, comfortable or easy? More than we’d admit, I’ll bet. I know I’ve done just that by saying the simple phrase, “I’ll do it after….dinner, church, grocery shopping…the choices are endless. There are days when I look at a blank piece of paper and think of other things I really need (?) to do. There are weekends that fly by leaving me to wonder exactly what I accomplished. On cold snowy windblown days I could easily opt to stay in bed. Sometimes my own insecurities prompt me to pass an opportunity by just in case it doesn’t work out. Winter doesn’t help with her mantra of “stay inside, stay warm, keep out of the cold”.
In the long run, being a verb is the only way to live life to whatever limit we choose. We’ve been given the power to make choices, take action, laugh, love, and simply DO. One person who understands this power to the max is our friend Mae. She chose to be a verb the day she decided to set out after Drummond, and she hasn’t stopped making choices or doing what she thinks needs to be done since that day.

Mae (in the Quarter) 2

A Few Days Later, still in New Orleans

Of course, being the person I am, I took him up on the challenge. No, I didn’t lose my caution, or my street smarts in this, I just wanted that coin. It was an omen, remember? A sign that Drum would be safe somewhere until I could find him or he’d find me. And it belonged in my pocket. I took my eyes off that coin long enough to notice my adversary though. Like I said…I still had my senses.
The very first thing I saw was a pair of faded brown work boots, leather cracked and spotty, but still serviceable. I’ve always noticed shoes, which actually helped a Charles City detective track down a killer not far back. They can reveal quite a lot about a person if you know how to look. Just then a bronzed hand with long tapering fingers reached in, plucked that coin off the sidewalk and offered it to me.
“You flip, I’ll call,” said the voice. So I did. “Heads,” he called as the coin hit my palm.
“Tails, then” I answered as I stared at the back of the metal disc, a bird with folded wings. “I win.”
“You surely do, ma’am.”
Ma’am? I dropped the coin in my pocket and looked up into the dark brown eyes of…
“Sylvain Lionel at your service,” my betting partner said with a smile, his even white teeth gleaming in his tanned face. “It’s a lovely day in the Quarter, no? May I share your bench?”
“No permission needed. Public bench.” I was trying to get a read on this one. He didn’t look dangerous, unless charm can be so, and he carried himself far straighter than any of the homeless or unfortunates that Drum and I have seen in our travels. I was curious. So I moved to one side and gestured for him to sit.
“May I have the honor of your acquaintance, Miss…” he raised one eyebrow as he settled next to me, inviting me to share my own name.
“Seel-vane Lee o NELL?” I sounded out his name back to him instead. “French?”
“Creole. My family has been here since…a very long and boring story, I’m afraid. Not as interestin’ as yours.” There was that charm again.
“You can call me Mae,” I relented. “Scottish by birth, here because…” I stopped to make a choice here. Charm and smiles were all good and well on attractive strangers but they didn’t buy trust in my experience. Aw hell. “Here because me brother Drummond cannot take the cold of the northern winters these days. I’m waiting for him.”
I watched my new companion scan Jackson Square as though he knew exactly who to look for. Tourists with bags from shops that rimmed the Square, one or two business men speaking to no one through some gadget in their ears, even some musicians carrying horn cases walked past us. Of course he didn’t see Drum. I’d already looked. In as many places in the Quarter as I could.
“It appears waiting is doing us no good, Mae.”
“Well I didn’t ask you to wait now, did I? In fact, I didn’t ask you for…” I felt his hand touch my arm. “I’ll be going now,” I declared as I brushed his hand off and stood. “I believe I got me signals crossed with Drummond, and I was to be the one meetin’ him at the…”
“Drummond’s not at Our Lady, Mae. That’s one of the first places I looked. For both of you.” The sparkle in Sylvain’s eyes was replaced by a look so serious I sat back down again.
“And why would you be lookin’ for Drum and how did you go about knowin’ my face? Tis no one we’re acquainted with in this part of the country and we’ve done nothing outside the law.” My eyes stared straight into his, as hard and defiant as I could make them. I was taking no guff from a sweet talker from Creole country. “So?” To my surprise, he managed another dazzling smile.
“He warned me you were a firecracker. Maybe he said ‘spitfire’. And smart, sometimes too smart. Sylvain,” he said, “Mae McEwan is one of the most irritating women I’ve ever met. She doesn’t give up on whatever, or whoever, she believes in. You’d do worse than to find her and talk to her…”
“Who warned you? And talk to me about what? I swear if you don’t stop yer jabberin’ and tell me, I’ll…” My words faded away as I saw his smile morph into a huge grin, laughter not far behind.
“All right Miss Mae, I admit I like to jabber as you say, but the truth is we have a mutual friend who said au revoir to you not too long ago. Seems he watched you get on that bus that dropped you off in Mid-City.” He stopped, waiting for me to make the connection. And I did.
“Morales.”
“Morales, indeed. We’ve been friends for a long time.”
“So you say,” I retorted. “Describe him.” Sylvain raised an eyebrow at that. “Go on,” I prodded.
“Well, seein’ as if I don’t you’ll get up and leave, I guess I will.” With a quick look around the Square, he lowered his voice. “No need to broadcast,” he said to my puzzled glance. Who was this man? “Alex Morales is a detective with the Charles City PD, last involved in murder cases of homeless men in the city’s Townsend-Nestor district. Thanks to your meddling, he managed to stop the killer.”
“So? That was in the papers…not my ‘meddling’ as you call it…but the rest of it. How do I know you weren’t somewhere close and heard the extra?”
“That killer almost killed your brother, Mae. But,” he fixed me squarely in a direct gaze, “Alex had men stationed undercover and got there first. Drum put up a bit of a fight I heard.”
Now he had my attention. Morales had kept Drum and me out of it as much as possible. We’re names in a report. Nothing more. But I don’t trust easily so…
“He’s dark-haired, dark eyed, wears tailored suits on duty but would rather be in a pair of jeans and a denim shirt,” Sylvain said. “Likes his coffee dark roasted and is fitter than I’ll ever be. Oh, and he thinks it’s nice that you like the way his jeans fit.” That last sentence was followed by the biggest grin yet.
“Fine,” I muttered, trying to keep my cheeks from flamin’ any redder than they already were. “So then how did you meet?” I figured to get him talking while I regained some dignity. “Here?”
“No, ma’am. We happened to be in DC at the same time, heading out to Langley. That’s where they do training in various…”
“Military. I read the papers and it’s not exactly a secret. But if you don’t mind, before we go anywhere else with this, I’d like to make a call to the detective myself. Just to confirm you aren’t some kind of grifter or layabout looking to get me into a situation.” I stood up and smoothed down my skirt. “I’ll be back after I find me a telephone.” Or not at all if I could help it.
“No need, Miss Mae.” Sylvain reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a well-worn iPhone. “Use mine. Look under ‘contacts’. M for Morales. But you know that.”
Damn the man, I thought. Too prepared for my tastes. Still, there was the name, with the number Morales had given me before we left Charles City. I pushed the ‘call’ on the screen and waited. Finally a familiar voice answered.
“It’s Mae,” I said.
“Something wrong?” Morales sounded rushed but worried too. “You and Drum…?”
“We’re holding up so far, not settled yet but soon. I got a question for ye, though.” Cut to the chase I always say. Besides, the man was busy and this was but a spot of inquiry on someone I half-trusted already. “I met me a man here in the French Quarter who tells me you gave him leave to find me and Drum. True?” Or should I be wary? I hoped he’d gotten that in my tone.
“You mean Sylvain?”
“No other,” I replied. “Found me on a bench he did.”
“I thought he would. He called me for some advice and I…” he broke off to say something away from the phone. “Sorry, Mae. Short answer? Yes. But watch your back, Mae. New Orleans is nothing like Charles City and…Sylvain can be…oh hell. Gotta run. Be careful. You know where I am.” And the call was over.
“He’s always been like that, you know.” Sylvain said as I handed him his cell phone. “Why walk when he can run? And so? May I count on you and your brother to aid me in solving my problem? In return I might be able to…”
“No half-promises, Mr. Lionel. They don’t always pan out and I don’t take kindly to that. But I’ll give you an ear as to what your ‘problem’ is, after we head back to the shelter. Drum is more than likely back from his wanderings.” And if he isn’t, we’ll find him was the thought I didn’t share. Yet. “If he’s to help, he’s to have a say in the yes or no of it.” I turned and headed back in the direction of our temporary home, leaving Sylvain Lionel to follow or not. Of course he did.

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