A Christmas story for you

Published December 7, 2017 by The Merida Review

I am between books right now, so experimenting with different characters and situations, looking for the “big” one. The one I want to spend a year or so with. The one I can develop into something. Anyhow, that’s where this comes from:

 

A Christmas Story, sort of

Indian music is stuck in my head, relentless, bouncy, synthesized. This is from watching youtube videos. I’m learning how to make woven paper things from how-to videos that are either Russian or Indian. The Russian lady isn’t easy to understand (even with a translator) but there is one Indian lady who is brilliant at breaking the process down and showing you plainly step by step how to make these fantastic sculptures out of newspaper and cardboard and glue. All things I have laying around my house.

This is going to be Christmas this year. I was worried about Christmas – Christmas is important to me and I don’t want to let people down, they’ve come to expect a certain amount of exuberance – excess, even – from me, which is rather harder to do when you’re broke. But now I’ve got these videos and, admittedly, not much time to master the art, but I will just replace that with optimism and hey ho.

I think Christmas dinner is taken care of. I picked up a few hours at a shop downtown – the owner is always slow at paying me so I figure that money will come right about the week before Christmas. In fact, I’m hoping it does. If it comes sooner I may not be able to hang on to it. As a backup, though, I do have a jar of change. I was saving it to buy a tree – a real Christmas tree – but I’m not going to do that when I’m this skint. I have two fake Christmas trees which will have to do for another year. In fact it’s probably time they were up – the neighbors are already in full regalia and I’m sure they’re wondering about me. I was lagging behind because of the lack of presents to wrap up and put underneath. When you have the tree up, that space underneath looms large and empty and the grandkids like to check and make sure there are packages with their names on them, and I was rather dreading having a tree up with nothing underneath.

You think I exaggerate? Three weeks ago I had $40 in my purse and I’m still living off that $40, although the other day I cracked into the $20 bill. I need milk and spaghetti sauce, so it’ll be gone soon. You have no idea how frugal you can be until you’re called to do so. But don’t feel sorry for me, things will get better – I just need to get from here to there. One day at a time – like an alcoholic, hey?

I have two craft shows coming up and whatever I make at them will get me through December. It’ll have to.

I’ve become very selfish in my poverty; my world has grown very small. It’s hard for me to focus on things other than what I’ve come to think of as my Big 5: 1) rent, 2) heat, 3) electric, 4) water, 5) sewer. They loom large in my little life. They are all encompassing.

Which actually makes it quite nice to focus on Christmas, making things for other people. Yes. This is pleasant.

When I zeroed in on the one project I decided to start with, I watched that particular video over and over again. The lady doesn’t talk – she shows – you only see her hands (I’ve seen her hands in so many videos I recognize them – isn’t that funny?), accompanied by bouncy upbeat club music. When she tears up newspapers, the print is exotic; I assume Indian, but it could be one of those other exotic countries – my geography skills don’t amount to much, but it doesn’t matter. I am just awed by the fact that a lady from the other side of the world is showing me how to do this. I had to laugh this morning when I woke up with the music bouncing around in my head. Music from the other side of the world that I don’t even know, except from her video.

I’ve divided up the amount of time I have by the number of people I have to give gifts to and I can devote 3 days to each person. I think that’s the best way to deal with situations, concentrate on one aspect at a time. It’s the simplest way to be organized. I’ll be busy a couple of those days (ie, craft shows) but I’ll just have to work around those situations as they arise. Some people are easier than others and it’s not like I haven’t picked up any gifts at all. I thought it would be a normal (albeit thrifty) Christmas – I was taken rather by surprise at my lack of funds. I have things I generally do for Christmas; for instance I make the kids pajamas every year, but this year I couldn’t afford the fabric. I kept thinking I would, but it didn’t happen, so when I finally had to face up to it – well, this is the best I can come up with and the stuff is really cool, so I think people will like it.

And there’s always next year. Which will be better! I’m sure of it. And what kid really likes getting pajamas for Christmas, anyways? Honestly.

Ok, which person first? – oh please, not one of the hard ones! Names on slips of paper pulled out of a hat? What if one of the hard ones comes out first? Let’s do what we normally do, start with the simplest and work our way up and hope an idea strikes between now and then.

You know, I used to think I knew the meaning of Christmas. I was clueless. Absolutely clueless.

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a letter to Gabriel

Published October 28, 2017 by The Merida Review

Gabriel,

A) I hate facebook. I hate writing messages on facebook. Do you use email? Cause that would be way better for me.

B) My computer has been acting weird. The curser jumps around when you’re trying to type. I will look up and can’t find where I’ve been typing at. I have to stare at it all the time. Sometimes it erases whole paragraphs before I can stop my fingers. It’s maddening, and it has slowed down everything I do.

C) And we (I have a partner in this) are starting business #3 so I’ve been crazy busy and way stressed out. (I sure could use you around to sit and drink wine with. It would be heaven.) Business #1 is writing books, but that doesn’t make any money. Or very little money. Business #2 is selling used books, which is going well, really, but it hasn’t been long enough to really make money at it. I am at the breaking even point. Give me a year or two. I just need to hang in there till it starts making enough profit to support me. And so, Business #3. Krystal, who is my granddaughter, suggested that we start an Etsy business. I sew and she does crafts. She makes refrigerator magnets. Do you know Etsy? It’s a site where people sell stuff they make, or that’s what it’s supposed to be. I’ve been making purses, experimenting with different kinds. I don’t know how it’s going to go. We haven’t actually started an Etsy page yet, we’ve been selling to friends and we’ve signed up to do a craft show the beginning of December, so I’ve been sewing and sewing, trying to get enough stuff to fill up a table at the craft show.

One thing I’ve discovered is that when you’re making things to sell, you pay WAY more attention to details. My topstitching has gotten really good, I am way more precise than I was. I see things I didn’t see before. So if nothing else, my sewing has gotten WAY better. And I’ve learned how to make all sorts of things I wouldn’t have, I’m experimenting with techniques and doing things over and over till I get them right.

But I don’t know how to price things. I’ve been doubling what my expenses are, the fabric and the zippers or magnetic snaps, and the interfacing. I try to add up everything that goes into a project and then double it for my price. So things that are hard (I love smocking! But it takes forever!) I’m not making any more money for. I guess I need to start selling things before I worry about how much I get for them. I’d like to make dolls to sell, but I take so long with the dolls. I only make them for me.

So that’s what I’ve been doing lately. Well there’s the band, too. We’re getting ready to record again, so I’m trying to come up with some songs. Finish up all the half written things. We’re supposed to play at an outdoor festival tonight and I found a costume at a charity shop, it’s an Indian outfit (not cowboys and indians, but India Indian), but it’s too cold out to wear it. We’re supposed to dress up since it’s Halloween. I walked the dogs this morning and it was rainy and cold and YUCK. My fingers were too cold to play guitar by the time I got home again. I don’t have high hopes for this festival. The things we do for art.

Gosh, I almost cried when I heard your voice. I miss you so much! I miss the whole gang. You must think I’m a real loser because I didn’t write back for so long. I kept wanting to have a lot of time so I could write everything I’m thinking and I never have much time, so I finally decided it was time to sit down and do it anyways now.

I am fine. The dogs are fine. The cat is a little devil (I mean she’s fine, too). Xtobo is starting to show her age. Sometimes she’s cranky for no reason, so I assume she doesn’t feel good. Lucy is her little happy self. She sleeps a lot. She’s NEVER cranky. And I have a new dog you’ve never seen. He’s a pug mix and his name is Archie Goodwin, for a character in a mystery series I like. Of course I only call him Archie Goodwin when he’s in trouble. He’s just Archie the rest of the time. He’s still a puppy, really, maybe about a year old. Someone was moving, a friend of a friend, and they couldn’t take their dog and somehow I ended up with it. You know how that goes. He’s a really nice dog, though, so I’m not sorry.

I haven’t been writing very much lately because I’ve been sewing so much. I’m not sure how much I like that. I enjoy sewing, but I don’t want it to take over my life. On the other hand, though, if it keeps me from having to work at Walmart, I’d much rather sew.

I thought about actually writing you a letter and sticking it in the mail, but I know how you hate trying to read my handwriting. And it would take forever to get to you in Mexico. So I hope this is ok.

I miss you! I miss you! I miss you! I miss you!!!!!

Cher

Frankly, if you’re not a book collector, you will find this post boring

Published August 4, 2017 by The Merida Review

There is nothing more exciting than a new empty bookshelf. You can just look at it and imagine all the great books you’re going to fill it with. Right?

Well, it’s raining bookshelves around here!

I have both my personal book collection which are mostly downstairs, and the books I sell, those live upstairs in one of the (former) bedrooms. (I hate to think if I ever move!). My personal books have been out of space for a while, I have piles on the floor. The books for sale I have shelved, in alphabetical order by author, cause I have to be able to find them asap if someone has a question or if one sells, and I was nearly out of space so I was on the lookout for cheap shelves. I’ve been buying the old metal shelves people keep in their garages or workshops, cause they go really cheap and – if you get the old ones – they’re really sturdy and can handle books.

I usually wait till I need one before I buy one, one usually turns up when needed, or maybe I’m just not paying attention and miss them when I’m not looking to buy them. Maybe they are always there! Whatever. I was helping my kids sort out stuff for an auction (a relative’s estate auction) and spotted some shelves in the garage and promised them they’d be coming home with me, but only if they could look tired and rusty and sell for cheap. I was only going to buy one, but ended up with 3. I had to rearrange the book room to fit them in and it’s looking quite impressive, or at least I think so. I showed my son and he seemed to think my motley collection of shelves looked rather pathetic, but he wasn’t imagining them with books on them. I’ve been on a buying streak lately, I think I’ve already got enough to fill one. They just need to be typed into the database, which is rather slow going.

Then I was walking dogs and someone had tossed an old wood shelf in the trash. Really. I mean oak. Gees. I hollered over and asked if it was ok if I took it and they said sure, so I hustled home and got the car. You can’t get cheaper than free! And then my son showed up with one of those pressboard Ameriwood shelves that someone had abandoned at the auction (you know, you buy a whole row of stuff to get one thing and just take the one thing and leave the rest for vultures….).

So, five. I have five empty bookshelves scattered around my house right now. Whatever shall I do? Heh, heh.

* * *

The other night I was at a library book sale at a small town library, and the only scanner people there was an older couple, quite old – I think they were new at it, cause they were discreetly carrying a few books at a time over to the corner where the Mr would scan them. I could’ve offered them some ideas as to technique (from observation, not personal experience), but that didn’t occur to me till later. I was really struck by the idea of this older couple getting into the book scanning business. It seemed all wrong. I wondered if they were taken in by one of the “You can make XXX dollars a week!” ads, and invested big bucks into a class and the scanner and the service that does pricing. I wonder what future they have. I mean, if nothing else, carrying books! The scanner people I’ve rubbed up against do huge amounts of traveling to go to various charity sales. They’re aggressive! And this was a polite quiet older couple. When I left, the Mrs was standing by the curb with a couple cloth shopping bags of books while the Mr went to fetch the car. My heart went out to them.

I will probably never see them again. I don’t know exactly how the scanner business works, it’s supposed to be way easier than what I do, and faster returns. I spent some time investigating it when I moved back to the states and decided to get back into bookselling. In the end, I realized that you couldn’t do both, deal in antiquarian and first edition books AND run your little scanner thing. They are two different mindsets. Plus it’s expensive to get started because you need the equipment and the subscription to the pricing program. I couldn’t picture me driving all over Ohio to go to library sales, really. I go to a few. My kind of bookselling takes a lot of knowledge, experience; you gradually get a feel for books. And I’m slowly building up for the future. The more books I get now, the better off I’ll be then. That couple didn’t have the time to wait. They’ll be lucky to have 10 more healthy years (call me cynical). Say five. That’s not much time to learn the ropes. I just don’t know.

But oh well. They’re total strangers. What can I do?

Meanwhile, I’ve been going up and sitting in the bookroom – it looks amazing with stuff rearranged and one new wall of shelves waiting to be filled. It cheers me up. I’m tired of being broke, but eventually I’ll be really glad I stuck it out. This starting a business thing can be a bit tedious sometimes. I have a really long list of things I’m going to buy whenever it is that I start taking more in than I’m spending. When I sit in there, it reminds me that I did it before, I can do it again, I just have to be patient. Books are out there waiting for me. This will work!

Then again, there are probably people looking at me and thinking how old I am and wondering why the heck I am trying to get a new business going and thinking I don’t have enough time left in me to reap the benefits.

Gosh, that’s a rather sobering thought. I guess I should take back everything I said about that older couple and just wish them the best.

You go, guys! I hope you find lots of books!!! I hope you make lots of money! I hope you show all those skeptics what’s what.

Yeah.

Heaps of books around here

Published July 24, 2017 by The Merida Review

I bought a bunch of books a couple weeks ago at two charity rummage sales (two! two charity sales in one weekend!). I don’t usually find much at this kind of sale, but I did that weekend. Children’s books at the one; since I am relearning the business, I am buying things I’m not familiar with, taking chances, so newer children’s books than I would normally buy, paperbacks, even. The other sale had a mass of old fiction, from the late 40s and early 50s – a period I’m not very familiar with, really. I don’t tend to like the writing from the 50s. Too terse, too clinical. Kind of rapid fire. I like older stuff, long lush rambling sentences, lazy deep unfolding characters. But I am in bookseller mode here, the I will buy anything I think I can sell for more than I buy it for mode and lots of people like that period. I think. Someone must.

It wasn’t only fiction, it was fiction in hardcover in pretty decent condition with fairly nice dust jackets. It wasn’t book club – well, some were – and there were lots of first editions.

Honestly it looked like someone else had bought the lot, pulled out the things they thought were worth something (I wonder what those were?) and donated these. Whoever it is, however, didn’t know how to tell first editions. I don’t, off the top of my head, I know a few publishers, but I generally try to carry a little first edition guide with me. I didn’t have it that day, however, so I bought a few and went back the next day with my guide. G P Putnam’s Sons, for instance, a first edition isn’t marked, but later ones are. So if it says nothing, it’s a first. Oops, I just let out a trade secret.

If you look on ABE, you’ll notice a dearth of first editions by authors published by Putnam. Because the new breed of book dealer doesn’t know, doesn’t care to invest in a guide, or because they are so busy scanning books with their scanners? Famous authors are different! But there are authors who have a small following, people who want to collect firsts by them because they believe in them. Someone might make a movie of one of their books. Or they might be republished with a big fanfare and then people will be scrambling for firsts. Or perhaps they just like them.

People like me, who are nickel and diming it, while I’m trying to get the business going, look for areas that fall between the cracks. Not popular enough for the established dealers to know about and nothing that the scanner dealers would take a chance on. You want to get in at the beginning, when it’s a rising trend just beginning to happen. Once other dealers know about it…

However, popular enough that it sells.

I think my fiction is going to be a real SLOW sell. But I got it cheap, so good investment, I think. Those 70 year old books aren’t getting any younger, you know, and the condition is pretty nice.

I am glad I’m almost done working with them, though. It soon became apparent that the former owner smoked. I didn’t notice the first couple of days – is my nose dead? – but after a few, I did, and now all I have to do is picture the books and I smell it.

Something else about the 50s! The incessant smoking!

One of my friends said Wouldn’t it be great if your books (meaning the books I write) would sell enough so you didn’t have to do anything else (to make a living)? and I’ve been thinking about that. I can’t even picture it. Me making enough money from writing books to live on? You’ve gotta be kidding. Right now I’m at the stage where I’m looking forward to the time when my used book business generates enough so I can just do that and write my own books. And not have to do all the crazy side jobs.

I really love bookselling. I love the thrill of the hunt, the high when you find a really good book (and yes, there was one gem in that collection). I don’t usually love putting on the dust jacket covers, but I do with these, because they are so old and so rare and the djs are in such nice shape. Once they get in their covers then they’re preserved, will stay that way. And I love the way they look on the shelves. I love old fiction. I wish they were older, of course, from a period where I really love the writing! But hey, church rummage sale, cheap, starting my life over again, I’ll take what I get.

All I need is for the stuff to start selling. Hey, people, anybody want to read some Peter Bourne? Pamela Hill? Mika Waltari? I’ve got em here! Nice copies, too. Just a little smelly. Which should go away, eventually.

Pizza dough, bubbling away. Guilt rising, but it won’t stop me.

Published May 30, 2017 by The Merida Review

I have pizza dough sitting on my counter with a faint tinge of guilt staining it. I am forever trying to lose weight. I look better when I’m thin. Face it. I guess there are also health benefits, or that’s what they say. But I’ve been trying to lose weight for so long that I have an automatic guilt-o-meter in my head that weighs every bit of food I put into my mouth. (It doesn’t stop me from eating it, mind. Just makes me feel guilty about it.)

I had dabbled in pizza making in the past, but it’s so much easier to pick up the phone and order, isn’t it? When I moved to Mexico, however, I had to learn how to make my own pizza in self defense. Pizza down there (in Merida, anyways) is pretty bad. No, not pretty bad. Really bad. Awful. Horrible. I spent 10 years trying to recreate pizzas from home, and got pretty good at it. I also figured out that it’s a really cheap food to feed friends when you invite them over, as long as you have the kind of friends who bring along the booze, so I could afford to entertain on a poet’s salary. We had many a pizza night. Fond memories.

When I moved back to Ohio, I really looked forward to hanging up my pizza apron, and exercising my dialing finger again, but something has happened. I haven’t had one delivery pizza that’s as good as what I make myself. I even ordered from my old favorite place (granted, I was gone for 10 years) and the flavor was there, but it was underdone. Limp, soggy crust. Damn. What’s happened to the world?

And then Serious Eats came along. Or rather, I stumbled over their recipe for a deep dish pizza, which had been out there in the world for a couple years, but I didn’t know it. Here’s a link, if you’re curious:

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/01/foolproof-pan-pizza-recipe.html

I went out and bought a cast iron skillet at the flea market, just to try the recipe. I think it was because the photo looked so good. I am vegetarian, so instead of pepperoni, I like onion, black olive and banana peppers. And there’s only me. The pizza is best when it’s hot from the oven, the crust has a texture then that’s so good. So I (without any math skills whatsoever) guessed my way down to a one meal and a piece or two leftover recipe, basically it’s 3/4 of the dough recipe, and I cut that in half, and make 2 pizzas on 2 different days. It fits my little 8 inch skillet (it says 8 inch on the bottom of the pan, I didn’t measure it) and would probably feed two if I didn’t eat with such wild abandon.

But it still doesn’t fit into my diet. I gain weight every time I make it. (I am a compulsive weigher.)

Let me add in here that I live 2 blocks away from an ice cream place and I haven’t allowed myself to eat any ice cream from it in a year and a half. Is this any way to live? Gees.

Yesterday morning, however, I decided I deserved some pizza and I whipped out the bowl and the flour and yeast before I could talk myself out of it. And it’s right there. It’s doubled in size. Pizza for breakfast maybe? No, lunch would be better (the dough has to rise in the skillet for 2 hours, so duh).

You just don’t want to be around tomorrow morning to listen to me whine about gaining weight. What a crazy society we live in! Why couldn’t I have been born in an age where fat was appreciated, hey? I could do that one really well, I’m sure. I mean, if the admired physique was short and dumpy, I would have it made!

Yeah. I am eating pizza today. Just saying.

An ode to my dog Lucy

Published May 21, 2017 by The Merida Review

A few years ago (it’s a long story), I ended up adopting this decrepit looking elderly miniature poodle. The vet knew how to push my buttons, it was me adopting her, or her getting put to sleep. I didn’t realize then that most of her teeth were missing. I wondered why she wasn’t eating anything for a few days, and then I managed to look inside her mouth. Oops. Emergency canned cat food and a few google searches later (what do you feed a dog with no teeth?) and we managed to work out our system, dry dog food soaked till it’s mushy, it’s what she seems to prefer over everything else I’ve tried. Starving your dog for a few days is not among any hints I’ve ever seen for adopting a new pet, but she forgave me. Embarrassingly quickly.

She’s named Lucy (she had an underbite – before she had to get the rest of her teeth pulled – and she looked kind of evil, so one of my friends suggested Lucy for Lucifer). The name Lucy fits her, she is the shyest, scaredest little thing. She follows me around about one inch behind me (she gets stepped on a lot). When I sit, she wants up beside me on the chair. She sleeps almost all the time. This is not a frisbee catching, playful dog. We guess she’s maybe 13, but who knows. My cat is bigger than Lucy (and picks on her).

People write inspiring things about adopting an older dog, this is my first older dog (I mean that I got her when she was already old) and we have developed quite a relationship, but it’s not your normal dog/owner relationship. She is so needy. I am always looking out for her, rescuing her, making sure she’s ok (which is easiest to do when she’s up on the chair beside me, frankly). She is so dependent on me. She can barely see, I stand outside and watch her when I let her out, because she can get turned around and go off in the wrong direction and get lost. She can barely hear, so calling her doesn’t do much good. I run after her and when I’m close enough to pick her up, I do it gently, trying not to startle her too much. When I lose her, I am calling at the top of my lungs, because she’s so hard of hearing. I’m sure the neighbors think I am angry at her all the time.

When guests come over she gets confused by all the feet she crashes into, so I usually end up just holding her on my lap. I’m sure people think I’m a crazy dog person. But she runs around trying to find me, and I feel guilty. We’re alone a lot, but I do like to have people over and feed them and Lucy doesn’t know what to do with all those strange feet in the house.

And she never wants to stay home. If I am taking Xtobo, my other dog, for a walk, Lucy wants to go, too, even though she’s got to run along at top speed to keep up with us (and we’re not walking fast!), and it’s not like she really needs the exercise – she’ll get tired and have to be carried home.

Of all the dogs I never imagined myself owning, poodles have to be number one. And a miniature. Sheesh. Are you crazy? I know nothing about her former life, except that she was used to sitting on laps, and used to being fed bits of people food whenever people eat. So, spoiled. Loved. I can’t help but wonder what happened to her former owners, how she ended up out on the street, unwanted.

She is sleeping right beside me now. I’ve grown quite used to it.

Euclid Beach Amusement Park

Published May 14, 2017 by The Merida Review

 

This photo fell out of a book about Euclid Beach Amusement Park that I recently bought at a library sale. It’s of course not labelled, but I assume it’s at Euclid Beach Park, because why else would someone have put it in the book? Unlabelled photos always make me kind of sad. I am very curious (some might call it nosey) by nature and I want to know all about the lives of these people, and all I have is one little moment snatched from time. So I’m filling in little details from my imagination. Mom doesn’t look very happy, either about having her photo taken, or about being there. Who knows? Maybe she’s just had words with her husband, who is the one taking the photo. Or maybe she’s increasingly embarrassed by how she looks in photos and doesn’t want to see another one. Note the string indicating that the kid has a balloon tied to his or her arm. A boy wouldn’t wear a hat like that, would he? Let’s assume it’s a girl. Do you think it was the girl who grew up and laid the photo of herself and her mom in the book? The little girl’s shoes and socks are in Mom’s lap. One can only imagine all the sand that’s going to have to be brushed off that little dress (and Mom’s dress, too) when they leave the beach. Oh, but it’s worth it, to sit in the sand with a pail and a shovel. (A pail that has the word “Island” written on it.) Mom’s pocketbook is laying in the sand beside them. I wish Mom could’ve taken her shoes and socks off and be wiggling her toes in the sand as well, but maybe it wasn’t appropriate at that time. Someone, folded over the top part of the photo, so that it wouldn’t show the boats and all the people standing on the dock (or I assume it’s a dock). Perhaps they thought it cluttered up the picture. Perhaps they wanted the moment in time to be all about the mother and child, and not the crowd of people and boats behind. Perhaps they wanted a simple memory. But whose memory? Who are these people? I will, obviously, never know.