If we were having coffee today I’d admit I didn’t have much to talk about today until I read the lead-in WeekendCoffeeShare posting from EclecticAli.
Her 80’s Mystery Party reminded me of something. I always think of my first published novel this time of year. Virtually all of the action takes place from October through December, and it is set in 1980. I liked writing in the 80s. All this fancy technology we enjoy today was still in an infant state back then; things were simpler. It is an easy era for me because, well, because I lived in it. I just have to reflect on my own experiences as I allow my characters to do whatever it is they do.
A writer can’t help but add a little autobiographical info into anything they write, but writing in the recent past allows for a bit of mundane reflection. If I wrote in, say, the 1860s, I would have to do a tremendous amount of research. Writing in the 80’s, I’ve already done that research. When my character found themselves in an ice storm in the middle of nowhere with a non-functioning heater in the car, I can draw on my experience because, yes, that happened to me. (I had one reader tell me she had to get up and put on a sweater while she was reading that section — high praise indeed). It’s what I call “writing with a slice of life.”
Anyway, it’s fall, and I am once again thinking about my novel, The Fever as the season progresses. This weekend would easily match the late-October setting in the opening of the novel. It’s an adventure and a time machine.
If we were having coffee today I’d tell you that I found out this week that my darling bride Gretchen had not been very truthful to me recently. After she told me the details I was not mad. I understood her reasons.
When she first told me she had found a lump in her breast, we initiated a series of diagnostic actions that culminated in a cancer diagnosis and major surgery. She’s doing well now, thank you. She still has significant bouts of pain but she came out of the ordeal with no chemo, no radiation, and, so far at least, no cancer.
Ah, but this week she told me it wasn’t as simple as “she found a lump.” In reality, she had hundreds of lumps and nodes. This was the main reason she had a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy. Every nodule and papilloma was a potential cancer bomb and she was looking at a lifetime of biopsies and surgeries.
So if she hadn’t found a lump, what was it?
She heard a voice.
It wasn’t a physical manifestation but it was just as real as if she had heard it with her ears. Somewhere deep within her soul a voice emerged in early January and said, “You have cancer.”
It unnerved her. I could tell she was more than just concerned, she was visibly upset when she told me she had found a lump. I later wondered to myself how she managed to find one cancerous lump amongst the hundreds of targets in her breasts. I attributed it to luck. Obviously, it was much more.
We’re human. It’s easy to assume others won’t understand if you say you heard a voice. Now, voices, the potential for a deeper problem exists there. But I find the notion of a prophetic warning to be quite acceptable. I cover such things in several of my novels, both published and unpublished. I believe in ghost stories too and I don’t discount many other prophetic happenings.
Whose voice was it? Does it matter? If could have been the massive supercomputer we call the subconscious brain. That’s a clinical answer. Myself, I prefer a more spiritual explanation. The voice of God? Perhaps. Or maybe what people call a guardian angel. Sure, that works for me too. It could have been the spirit of a loved one, like her mother or her grandmother. Heck, my mother passed away in the last year, it might have been her.
It doesn’t matter who said it. Not really. The real point is: she listened.
There are many things in this world that are far beyond our understanding. I think it is best not to question the good things. Miracles? Who am I to say?
Here’s a fun thing: Gretchen has a notion that I really like. When she finds a random penny on the ground, she considers it a reminder that her late mother is watching over her and she picks it up because she considers it to be a gift from her mother. I do it too. Hey, it means someone is looking out for you. Besides, this notion is much better than that “see a penny, pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck” saying.
Have you had similar experiences or do you know someone who has?
If it happens to you, my advice is to LISTEN.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. There are prophetic and otherworldly glimmerings in both of his published novels too: http://thefensk.com
If we were having coffee today I’ll tell you that so much has been happening since our last meeting, I can’t tell it all. I’m actually going to leave a bunch of stuff for later, maybe next week, but probably the week after.
What I thought I’d talk about today though, is how much I enjoy these little chats over coffee. Weekend Coffee Share is such a great idea, I am totally shocked more people don’t do it.
In simple terms, it is a blog share. The only requirement is that one add a qualifier to the text … giving a personal introduction to your good blog friends, both new and old, as if we were sitting down and talking over coffee. Oh, and you need to add the hashtag #weekendcoffeeshare too it.
Some bloggers take this them quite literally, using this time to update us all on their lives and the happenings of that week. This is fine and informative. We all get to know each other. I join a few other bloggers in using the forum to blog about whatever strikes my fancy, but I still follow the protocol. It works for me because if you know me, I’ll tend to talk about *whatever* anyway, over coffee or calzone or cupcakes, coffee, tea, chocolate shakes … you name it.
It gets me blogging when I might otherwise just let it slide. Like today. I’m busting at the seams to tell you a whole lot of stuff, but there are reasons I want to let things percolate just a little longer. But I haven’t updated my blog in a while and here it is Saturday, and I’m drinking coffee and I figured, what the hell?
So, if you created that blog two weeks ago, or two years ago, or … whenever, and you haven’t updated it in a while and you feel all guilty about never updating it, here’s your chance. Just grab a cup, and sit down and start sharing. We are more interested than you think.
You need to know one more thing about it. The share is hosted by “eclecticali” at WordPress, who posts an intro and reminder every week along with the share link. It isn’t totally required to click that and add your blog, just the hashtag will generally suffice, but it definitely adds to the sense of community and fun. if you follow the blog you can also subscribe to email updates … this helps remind me to fire up my guilt-trip generator. Here is this week’s intro, blog, and linkup:
If we were having coffee today I’d again be waxing all nostalgic on you. I saw this picture in the Spring 2018 University of Houston Magazine. Wow, what a flash from the past. I see from the banner that this dates from the campaign days of 1976. I could so easily be in this picture as during those years I went up and down those stairs countless times. I was even grabbed by a Secret Service agent on the bottom of the stair case on the left when I attempted the go up the stairs while President Ford’s son was getting ready to speak on the upper landing during the 1976 campaign.
I got nostalgic seeing this picture because I have very deep roots to this building and most of my experiences there went way beyond just being a student. For over two years I was employed there with two different jobs. At that time the building comprised of two sections, the three story primary structure (well, basement and two upper levels) and an adjacent one story underground structure. Just behind and below those stairs is where the entrance tunnel to the underground section was. My first job was in an office down there and I was heading to class from work when the Secret Service grabbed me.
I worked for what was then called the “Campus Activities Department” and they provided support and advisors for all on-campus organizations like clubs, honor societies, student government, campus programming, fraternities, and sororities. This service center took up the major portion of the underground portion of the building. One of the services was called the Organization’s Bank, and it allowed qualified groups from all aspects of campus life to have an “account” for their treasuries, all managed through a central Campus Activites bank account. I first encountered this when I volunteered in the campus programming board, then called Program Council. The woman who ran this bank was very friendly and pleasant so I’d drop by and visit from time to time just to say “Hi.”
In early 1975 she needed a new assistant and offered me the part-time office job. It was convenient working on-campus and it helped draw me into the mainstream of virtually all of campus life. This was long before mass computerization so all the transactions were handled manually via an even-then ancient Burroughs automatic posting machine with individual ledger cards for each account. Young people are always amazed that we were able to use tools such as this in those pre-computer days but the machines and the procedures worked quite well. I worked there for over a year and quite enjoyed my time there. The office was down a back hallway and I was working once when a fire occurred in one of the maintenance closets on the far edge of the building. They evacuated both buildings as a precaution and that office was so out of the way, I was found happily working away by someone making a last pass through the building. It was news to me. Of course, they had suppressed the alarms. So much for fire drills, right?
I could have worked in that office for another year until graduation, but through contacts in the building I became aware of a job in the maintenance department of the same building, as a student assistant to the building mechanics. Office work was okay, but this job provided the opportunity for more hours and an even more flexible schedule. My hours were quite limited in the office job but in this role, I could work evenings and even weekends and pretty much set my own schedule. There was *always* something to do. Some weeks I could almost work full-time if the evening mechanic was sick. On a student economy, more hours was always a plus.
This job was great, and because of it I eventually came to know almost every inch of the building complex. I’m talking every office, every mechanical room, every deep dark cranny, even disgusting places you don’t want to know exist. Those steps in the picture? I painted those once, with a non-skid coating. I regularly had to go onto the roof of the building too. One of the main duties was to go on rounds and make sure there were no problems like squeaky belts or grinding motor bearings (remember that fire I mentioned). Once, while working over the holidays, I found a large amount of water pooling in the corridor between the main building and the underground offices and checked outside on the ground above that corridor. It was obviously a major water main leak. University repair crews had to be called in for an emergency repair even though it was Christmas Day.
The building was extensively renovated a few years ago and I’m sure when they were doing that, they found my scrawl on any of the older breaker boxes that had survived 35+ years in the building. Once, some electricians were working in the ceiling above a dining room of what was called the old Cougar Den on the bottom level. The workers found they needed to flip an unmarked breaker and this unfortunately cut power to the cash registers in the main dining area one floor above. This happened in the middle of the lunch rush. Nobody realized that during some past construction work power had been tapped below the floor to a circuit in the Cougar Den to facilitate installation of new outlets for a cash register station that had no other access to power. It took a frustratingly long time to locate the problem because no one thought to relate the work on the lower floor to this problem. After that, another student worker and I spent a weekend mapping all the breakers in the building.
That particular work came in handy too because not long afterwards, we had been called in to help the short-staffed custodial group to do a rather large banquet reset in the third level ballroom late one Saturday night. When we were almost done I was in the hallway outside the ballroom and detected a faint whiff of burned tar, which I knew was most likely the tell-tale odor of a fluorescent light ballast shorting out.
Sure enough, a quick survey discovered a nearby display case just beginning to fill with smoke. We immediately ran to shut off power at one of the recently audited breaker-boxes down the hall. My boss found a key to the case, which was thankfully almost empty and I removed the bulbs which rendered that fixture totally inoperative. I replaced the ballast the next Monday morning and found it had suffered primary short that had already burned a hole in the ballast case (sometimes they just get hot and stop working) — this would have definitely continued into a bad fire and would have caused a lot of damage. It was just pure luck we were there (hey, it was a chance to grab a couple of extra hours pay, right?) and we knew the smell and immediately went hunting for the source. A hot ballast can not be ignored.
Ah the anonymous life of the Unsung Heroes.
I checked every maintenance closet and machine room every day I worked, mostly for just that sort of thing. Problems were always cropping up on equipment that ran 24/7 (I return again to the fire, even though that pre-dated my maintenance work). I had other regular duties too, for instance I changed all the air filters in the building every month or so. I also changed uncounted numbers of light bulbs in every section of that building. To this day I still find myself instinctively scanning ceilings in big buildings and secretly noting the lights that are burned out. I worked on plumbing repairs, helped with repair work on the food service equipment, and was involved in really unusual stuff too.
Once, one of the sewage sump pumps (one of those disgusting areas I mentioned earlier) jammed and bent the long drive shaft. It needed to be machined but most machine shops around the area could not handle a shaft that long; it was at least ten feet. Somehow my boss heard about a super machine shop in the Physics Department, which even back in 1977 was an amazing facility. We both carried this disgusting, mumblemumble-encrusted hunk of metal by hand far across campus to that shop in one of the science buildings and they machined it. It barely fit in the service elevator, which opened directly into the machine shop floor.
The curious thing about working in that building was that, as it turned out, both jobs were unplanned extensions to my education. The office and bookkeeping skills I learned in the Organization’s Bank were a huge help in every job I held later. Note: computer business processes were all built on the models of the tried and true manual process. In he next job, by doing the varied maintenance work I gained invaluable on the job experience in electrical, plumbing, and carpentry repair. These are things I still use to this day.
The other great part about the maintenance job was that it was a blast most of the time. The two senior mechanics were WWII veterans, one was a marine in the pacific and the other one had been with the Flying Tigers and was later a B29 mechanic in India, working on the bombers that flew over the Himalayas, so the stories I heard were personal and insightful. Truly they were part of the greatest generation. Once that B29 mechanic and I had to make a long excursion across campus in the underground tunnels that snake under most campuses. (Maybe I’ll share that story another time.)
I had other duties too. I served as projectionist for campus-run movies and there were times I ran the sound and lights in the ballroom for dances and other events held there. As I previously said, there were also times we helped out the custodial staff for banquet setups.
Neither one of these jobs were college “work-study” positions, they were considered regular employment; part-time jobs that added to my seniority when I later held a position at another state institution. But just like any work-study job, it was a great convenience to work on campus.
Heck, I even had a master key to the building, something I needed to use while doing my general rounds. Even custodial staff with many years employment there didn’t have a master key. If I had to work on Saturday/Sunday mornings, I had to be on-time because I was the guy with the key!
Who knew what a flood of memories would come from that simple picture.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. He’d like to say he was a product of the famed writing program at the University of Houston but sadly, that program came into existence the year after he graduated. Missed it by *that* much.
If we were having coffee today I’d admit I’m worried about Dobie’s health. One of our many cats, Dobie has had the hardest time of it. MasterCat First-Class Bailey had a serious knee injury and surgery about 10 years ago but he recovered nicely. A few others have been to the vet for minor problems over the years. Ah, but Dobie has had chronic issues since a very young age. He is prone to urinary tract issues. This happens with neutered male cats sometimes. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting the symptoms.
The real problem is the fact that we have many cats and a dog. It is almost impossible to keep him on the straight and narrow, food-wise. His biggest problem is also his greatest love … dry food. He just can’t eat it without eventually going over the edge. To the other cats’ dismay, their dry food intake is limited as well. I don’t know why, but cats really seem to like dry food. I think it is the crunch.
Anyway, I look for the symptoms. If I see him licking “himself” a lot, notice him straining in the cat box, or even worse, straining just about anywhere, I know he’s heading down the road to bad things. It doesn’t take too long before you can see he is just not feeling well at all and sometimes he will begin to vocalize his pain. Usually, it is a combination.
The worst case is a total blockage. It is a serious medical situation and can result in renal failure and death. It’s not an immediate problem, but once blocked the clock is ticking and it doesn’t take more than a couple of days. Of course even if it isn’t an emergency, if he is so uncomfortable he’s making painful noises, it is high time to get him some relief.
The day to day routine is wet food only, plus a regular dose with a type of cat-treat with various compounds including cranberry to acidify his urine to prevent the formation of the crystals that tend to form in his bladder. I’ve tried to keep him on premium cat food but it gets expensive and he doesn’t like most premium cat foods. The few brands he craves are available at only a few stores around here and they are not particularly convenient. Cost should be no object since sometimes the vet bills can be enormous.
Still, with so many animals, poor Dobie gets tired of his own routine and that is a hard thing to police. I’ve even seen him crunching down on dry dog food if I let my guard down. Often, he just balks at his special “treats” and the other cats go on alert when they see him getting individualized treatment. Of course, they all love those treats and will gobble then down whole. I usually have to break them down into smaller chunks to get him to eat them.
I had a hunch he was developing a problem last Thursday and was watching him closely. Yesterday the “licking” began and last night I noticed him take “the position” and yep, that was on the bed and I wasn’t fast enough. Luckily his mood was still good and he still had a good appetite. He also got quite a bit out. Not great for the linens, but great that he wasn’t totally blocked. I got his treats down him at the full dose level and gave him some anxiety medication that helps ease the stress that makes it worse (if he can’t go he gets frantic and tries harder and harder). So he’s at the vet today, and will hopefully provide a urine sample before they close. There are prescription foods that actually break down the crystals (which he hates but he will at least eat the dry food). The urine sample would also indicate not only crystals but also infection. About half the time there’s been an infection, so we’ll see if he needs antibiotics.
So, slurp down your coffee, I need to be ready for when the vet calls.
If we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the lost dog. It belongs to my son’s family, slipped out a week ago when a gate was apparently left ajar.
Sadly, Bert is a bit long in the tooth, an older dog with a variety of mild illnesses. Partially blind, not too worldly. Poof. Gone.
We’ve joined the search, but I’ve been here before and it is harder than trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. We’ve all done all the usual things. It is just amazing how completely they can disappear in such a short period of time. I half-expect them to show up on the island of odd socks or the valley of the missing coat-hangers. They disappear that completely.
They live three towns west of us, and the shelter for that county/town is on the eastern side of town; it is actually closer to us than it is to them. So, we’ve been going to the shelter. There are no happy dogs or cats at the shelter. Excited, yes. Running the gauntlet in the hall of the German Shepherds is evidence of that. There was no Bert, either.
When we first arrived, there was a woman there with a quiet dog sitting patiently by her side. I thought she was perhaps in the midst of adopting. Quite the opposite.
As we returned we witnessed her handing over the leash and walking out the door. The dog moved to follow her, was stopped by the leash, looked back and then forward at the closing door, a look of total confusion on her face. Then we could see a distinct look of realization and resignation flash over her face. Welcome to the shelter, right?
We just lost a dog last July, by natural causes. We have ten cats. We are overrun. But we were sorely tempted by this dog, Daisy.
We followed up on Daisy’s status. She was almost immediately adopted. We’re both happy for her, but we’re also just a little sad. We got totally involved and invested in that few seconds. But we’re both hopeful that she found her forever home.
Bert’s still missing. We’re checking the shelter online now. They update their webpage hourly, which we know for sure now.
You can find out more about Thomas Fenske at http://thefensk.com … the Kindle version of his novel THE FEVER is on sale for $1.99 for the rest of February.
If we were having coffee today I’d apologize and lament my several month’s absence. I’m not quite sure what happened. The WeekendCoffeeShare is sometimes a bit like a meandering river, changing course with little to no notice. Plus, I was fairly diverted through the second half of 2017. The major events were my dog dying in July and my mom passing away in October. At some point I expected I would do a post about the latter (I think I did in fact post about the former), but I never felt quite ready. I still don’t.
Then after a deep sip, I’d go into more recent events.
I had a nasty case of this awful flu that is going around. My lovely bride got it much much worse than me. I hardly ever get sick. I had the flu once in the early eighties. I remember that mostly because of my cat. At some point I had dragged my sorry carcass out of bed to let her in and she came in limping on three legs and bleeding. I remember taking her to the vet and the doctor asking which one was the patient. I must have looked awful. That’s the last time I remember catching the flu.
Oh, there have been other things. I had pertussis in 1999. That’s right. Whooping Cough. I’ll take a bad case of the flu over that. I have no idea where I got it. Luckily, somehow, nobody else in the house got it. It was not confirmed. I went to the doctor with a bad cough. No tests. Got a prescription. But at some point I read up on the symptoms and more than that, heard audio of the resulting coughing spells. THAT is what I had, I have no doubt. Drop to the floor, piss all over yourself, almost suffocate, making that gawd-awful whooping sound as you gag for air … yep.
Had a bout of pneumonia in 2013 too. No cough, no fever, I just couldn’t breath. I work in a 24/7 industry and was working with a team on a worldwide conference call. It was as scheduled software installation project at 2 AM one Sunday. We were behind schedule because a developer was uploading a last minute revised program for me to install on a series of servers. I had felt a little off that day, but with no real symptoms. I felt about the same when I joined the call. Then, while waiting, I simply could not catch my breath. I didn’t have chest pains but that was the first thing I thought of. I went downstairs from my home office and took a full-strength aspirin. I struggled to get back up the stairs and sent the project manager a quick note: “I have to leave.”
I quickly explained the situation. Protocol usually means I need to find my own replacement or call my supervisor. She would have none of that and said, “we’ll cancel and reschedule …. go wake up your wife right this minute and go to the hospital.”
When we got to the ER, they put me on a heart monitor but the ER doctor pretty quickly decided on a chest X-Ray. They were going to give me an aspirin too. I told them I already took one. “A baby aspirin isn’t going to do it, you need a full aspirin.”
“I took a full aspirin!”
The doctor was impressed. I remember thinking, “what, they think they’re playing with kids?”
The X-Ray showed a pretty significant chest blockage, confirming pneumonia. I responded pretty well to whatever antibiotics they gave me and went home the next day. After waiting all day to take a treadmill test (they just wouldn’t let up on the heart thing). That was the first time I had stayed overnight in the hospital since … well, I remember the premier of Bewitched was on TV the last time. Seriously.
Anyway, we are both on the mend … and I’m happy to be back.
I was just thinking to myself … dang, it’s still January. Is it just me or do November and December seem to fly past and after New Year’s Day, January just creeps along. Maybe it is just anti-climatic or something … after all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, maybe we just hunker down.
Well, the doldrums can get some help. I got knocked off my feet by this awful flu that is spreading around, then we were snow-bound for several days. My darling bride got the flu right after me (funny how that works, right?) and spent those snow days off her feet as well. And here, now, we’ve got another week of January left.
Most of you know I’m from Houston Texas. Suffice it to say, I didn’t grow up with snow. I found an old family picture a while back of a dog standing in the snow in front of my great-grandfather’s house. It wasn’t dated but other similar pictures were from the roaring twenties. I found a site that listed significant snowfalls in Houston. It wasn’t a very long list. I figured it was either December 1925 or January 1926. One of those unusual years where it snowed twice in a short time.
The point is, I never personally saw snow until 1960. Yeah, that one was on the list too … right before Valentine’s day. It was quite an event. I didn’t see snow again until 1973. It snowed an unprecedented three times that year.
I’ve lived in NC since the late 1980’s … it snows more here, but not that much more. We’re lucky to get a good snow every year or so. The snowfall last week was unusual … close to a foot. That is a lot of snow for this area. I know you northerners and mid-westerners scoff at that but understand this: we have minimal snow removal. Houston and Austin have almost none. When it snows, those places virtually shut down. We’re not much better, but we have maybe 10% more snow removal. They actually do a pretty good job on what are considered main roads. The problem is … 98% of the people don’t live on the main roads. Side streets and side streets of those side streets become icy wastelands. I lived for a couple of years just two hours north of here, in Virginia. They get even more snow and you get spoiled by all the extra snow removal they have there.
I actually do pretty well driving on ice and snow, but I dislike testing my skills. I don’t worry so much about going out of control myself, I worry about other drivers losing control and hitting me. Several times in my life, even when I lived in Texas, I’ve been in situations where I simply had to drive fairly long distances on snowy or icy roads. It is a white knuckle experience that is taxing physically and mentally. I even included a scene in my novel, THE FEVER, where the protagonist is dealing with exactly that situation. In that scene, the heat in the car was not working so it was further complicated by episodes of his windshield being covered in a sheet of ice every time a big truck passed him. Yeah, been there done that. Write what you know, right? Seriously, one reader even told me she had to get up and put on a sweater while she was reading that section.
Anyway I’ll take snow over ice any day. Our last ice storm knocked out our power for five days and dropped about ten pickup truck loads of branches and trees on our property. But that was in March and we were talking about January, right?
How did TS Eliot put it … April is the cruelest month?
Maybe. But January is probably the longest month.
There, I said it. I worked in publishing for over twenty-years, but not in marketing. Now I sort of wish I hadn’t generally ignored the marketing folks in my organizations. I sure could use their help these days.
I was in IT and I was awful to people sometimes. Oh, I did my job. I just evolved a bad bedside manner. I wasn’t alone in that. SNL had a series of skits about the bad IT guy. I was just like that character. “You need to hit tab, now enter, now up arrow … argggghhh, just get out of the way!” Before you think unkindly of me understand that it was an uphill climb most of the time. I mean, for example, I had a user who wrote correspondence in a spreadsheet. Letters, she wrote letters using a spreadsheet.
Anyway, I have been out of publishing for almost twenty years now, and now, I’m back in it. I’ve got two published books, several more in various stages of revision, and I’m bogged down trying to market my published books.
If you’ve ever been intimidated by the thought of actually writing a book, understand this: Writing an entire book is hard. Editing and revising that rough draft is harder. Marketing it? Well, forget about it. It continues to kick me in the ass every single day.
The heading of this post says “Missing the Obvious” … so here is a case in point. I noticed something while was working on a twitter post about my novel, THE FEVER.
A review quote I had added to my Amazon page suddenly hit my eye. It was there so I know I liked it enough in the past to include it on the page but the impact this time hit me like a ton of bricks. “You’ll feel like you’re LIVING IN THIS BOOK …”
I have a lot of enthusiastic reviews. It gratifies me as an author. And they’re not all friends and family either, I promise. But this statement, from an independent reviewer, well, that is the sort of thing that emboldens an author to continue on.
Then the old modesty gene kicks in. “Gee whiz, shucks, Y’all …”