Mind the Bollocks

Accidentally shooting yourself in the crotch is becoming a thing, so here’s the beginning of a new list.

Yet another late-breaking update

 

Man accidentally shoots self in groin inside Buckeye Walmart

Florida man sits on gun, shoots self in groin, police say

Marion police respond after man accidentally shoots self in genitals

[Wichita] Man seriously hurt after accidentally shoots self in groin

[Nevada] Man Accidentally Shoots Himself In The Groin After Loading Gun

Colorado Football Mascot Chip Shoots Self In Groin With T-Shirt Cannon

[Zion Grove, Tennessee] Man facing charges after shooting himself in groin

[San Antonio] Man apparently shoots self in groin while trying to help woman on Loop 410

Man rushed to hospital after shooting himself in the groin with a home-made gun stuffed down the front of his pants

Police: Wanted Felon Arrested After Shooting Himself in the Groin

Police say NYC officer accidentally shoots self in groin

Man Accidentally Shoots Himself in Groin at Gun Club

Worcester man facing charges after accidentally shooting self in groin on Christmas morning

Watch Kevin Owens Shoot Himself In The Crotch In Bizarre New Year’s Accident [VIDEO]

Providence man accidentally shoots himself in crotch while sitting in bed

Man allegedly hiding drugs in butt accidentally shoots himself in testicles

Oregon man shoots self in groin while showing off gun in supermarket checkout

Omaha man shoots himself in the groin while putting handgun away

Gun Enthusiasts Celebrate Man Who Shot Himself in the Balls as Their King*

Trump Supporter Shoots Self Through the Groin in Attempt to “Trigger Liberals”


*“The reason we are calling him king is partially because the poor guy already shot himself, don’t think he needs to be chastised as well… I’m quite sure he’s learned his lesson without the entire world calling him an idiot.”

Here’s a fragment from my upcoming novel

(at the moment called Amy Among the Serial Killers)

 

Amy was at the eastern edge of old age and death was ever present in her thoughts, though not yet in a frightening way.  She found herself tidying up a lot, tossing out old clothes and mismatched plates and teacups, painting and otherwise sprucing up the inner and outer walls of her house , her penultimate resting place.  Once every couple of months she brought to the Good Will a cardboard box loaded with videotapes, kitchen gadgets, small appliances she had not used more than once, and uncracked hardbacks foisted upon her by blurb-seeking agents.  Her impulse not to leave a mess was odd, since when she died she would also leave no survivors.   Still, there it was, and she honored it.

 

Amy centered “Leaving a Mess” at the top of the blank page and double-spaced twice.

 

An old woman, Lucy, watches television at night when her eyesight is blurry from reading. She mostly watches old CSIs and true crime reenactments, but one evening she chances upon a program about hoarders being buried alive.  She sees another old woman living in spectacular squalor, surrounded by objects with which she refuses to part. She nests beyond mountains of Chinese take-out cartons, newspapers, dirty clothes, boxed dress shirts, glass bottles, bicycle parts, radios, pizza  boxes, pizza, open bags of cat food, Hummel figurines, plastic Christmas trees, six mummified cats, and a three-quarter ton of National Geographics.  When asked about this or that hoarded object, the old woman explains its purpose in detail.  The pizza, for example, is still edible if warmed in her microwave, which abides beneath an eight-foot mound of souvenir throw pillows. She is led protesting offscreen by a posse of TV people, disaffected daughters, therapists, and moonlighting crime-scene technicians, all of whom stage-whisper about rat feces and stench.  Lucy shuts off the program and inventories her house.  Since she can easily move from room to room without displacing mounds of garbage, she must not be a hoarder.  In fact, the rooms look neater than they did when she was younger. But she does have a lot of books.  Every room contains bookcases, all overflowing, unshelved books piled in front of the shelved ones due to lack of space. She remembers a CSI where somebody was killed by falling bookcases, but this was not likely here, since none were freestanding.  Still, she does not want to leave a mess.  The following afternoon, seeking Good Will donations, she begins with her reference books, starting with her great-grandfather’s Farmer’s Almanacs from 1847. She bundles these along with her husband’s books on structural steelwork and carpentry and volumes K, M, N, and XYZ from the 1964 World Book Encyclopedia.  Loading one box so fast fills her with optimism, but the task soon becomes daunting. For every book she lays to rest, she finds herself leafing through another, boxing it, changing her mind, taking it out, reading some more.  How had she come into The Moldavian Book of Root Medicines?  The handwritten inscription on the inside cover uses an alphabet unknown to her.  She can remember noticing the book from time to time; it seemed always to have stood there on the middle bottom shelf in the hall. Here is The Short History of the World by H.G. Wells: She does recall buying that second-hand  since it was short and cheap and by H.G. Wells, but his history stopped with the formation of the League of Nations, which happened long before Lucy was born, so she hasn’t yet got around to it.  She shelves it between Birds of the Northern Plains and the Physician’s Desk Reference she bought when her husband was dying.  Which is of course outdated and useless and would not again be opened but apparently functions as some sort of monument, or else she would be able to toss it out now.  Frowning, she places it beside her on the floor.  It becomes the foundation of a pile of other curiosities, books she should discard but can’t quite.  Orange sunset deepens to crimson all about as she explores shelf after shelf, book after book, and by moonlight the shelves are half-empty with more than enough room for Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Lardner and Woolf and all the other respectables, and she sits amid stacks higher than her head, mountain ranges of etiquette manuals, idiot’s guides, ghost stories, Yiddish folktales, biographies of Mary Astor, Petroleum V. Nasby, Horatio Nelson, and  Davy Crockett, How to Avoid Probate, Girl of the Limberlost, Fun with Stunts.  Is she a hoarder? She thinks not.  If anyone asked the purpose of keeping The Wonderful World of Salt, she would, unlike the crazy old woman on that show, have no answer.  She found this comforting. Rising, she surveys a mess of piles and boxes and admits that the whole project was ill-advised without a game plan. She’d return to it later.  Sighing, she reshelves everything except for the oldest Farmer’s Almanac, which she takes it to bed…

 

[A couple of chapters later, Amy’s working on the title “Empty House” and coming up with no story ideas, so she goes back to “Leaving a Mess”]

–Maybe Lucy, the old book hoarder!  She’d never finished that one.

 

“Leaving a Mess”

 

…Lucy goes to bed with the October 1847 Farmer’s Almanac and starts to read.

 

Amy searched fruitlessly online for text from the 1847 Almanacs.

 

…Lucy goes to bed with a collection of classic ghost stories and starts to read. She settles in with an old English one set on the windswept moors.  Nine-year-old twin sisters share a room containing a locked teakwood armoire with a missing key, and they spend idle hours alternately trying to pick the lock and outdo each other with predictions about its grisly contents .  One of them goes mad and murders the other. In another story, a widow is haunted by her husband’s shade, which keeps popping up in his favorite armchair, on the front lawn viewed through her picture window, at her bedside in the dead of night.  Lucy shuts the book.  Lucy would not care what was in that armoire even if it were right here beside her and her house had a history of homicidal lunacy. She cannot imagine malevolence, or for that matter benevolence, attaching to a physical object, nor can she imagine being spooked by visions of dead people.  How would she respond if she turned on her left side and found her husband stretched out beside her, his head inches from hers on the pillow?  She tries a thought experiment.  There he is, his hair is mussed, he’s wearing his favorite  L.L. Bean pajamas.  She can see his fine gray hair and starched striped pajamas, but his face is wholly obscured by fog.  In words, she can describe each feature in detail, and she tries this now, but no matter how exhaustive her description, his face remains hidden from her. His image, such as it is, is neither frightening nor reassuring, and when she blinks it away, it leaves nothing behind.   Lucy can recall his voice, hear it clear in her inner ear whenever she likes, which is often, but the sight of him began to evaporate almost immediately upon his death.  If there are ghosts, which of course there are not, they must feed on visual memory.  How shallow of them! With that thought she sleeps, and, as sometimes happens, she does not wake up.  After her grandnephew has flown in to deal with the settling of her estate, he stands alone in her house, having completed almost all the necessary preparation for sale.  His great-aunt was a hermit; her body lay undiscovered for weeks, and he’s had to hire professionals to deal with what was evidently a mess, but none of that remains.  As her only heir he has claimed the best pieces of furniture for himself and dealt with the rest, so that nothing is left but these large bookcases, eight of them, each shelf so tightly packed that books need to be pried loose.   A conscientious man, a family man, he takes a moment now to summon up some memorial reflection, some childhood memory of her, but all he can recall is her face in the family albums, and he never really knew that woman, let alone the old one who died here.  He wanders through the empty house, its bare walls and floors hollowing the sounds of his footsteps, trying to work up energy to pore through a thousand books to see which are worth keeping.  Sighing, he begins.   He carries in Good Will boxes and starts packing one with useless reference books, setting aside the occasional  curiosity, like the ancient Farmer’s Almanacs.  He fills that box in good time; he should be able to finish up today. But as he proceeds, the pile of keepers grows, topples, so he has to make a second pile, and then a third.  Some books he sets aside because they look valuable, but most for reasons unclear to him.  Why did she keep a Moldavian study of root medicines?  Why doesn’t he want to give it up now?  What is he going to do with a biography of Mary Astor?  The day lengthens, the sunlight deepens through uncurtained windows, the bookcases slowly surrender their burden, some of the boxes fill, but the keepers pile up around him, he won’t finish today, he may never finish at all, and with this thought he stands and walks around to clear his head, and now he hears that his footsteps are no longer hollow.  The house is no longer empty.  He summons the will to pack up those mountains of keepers and empty the house; he knows he can and must do this.  But before he does, he stands among the books and remembers her.

 

 

 

Respect That Mechanism (Covid Post 2)

Many years ago, the Russians invaded Afghanistan and I almost lost my mind.*  All around me, people were going about their lives, oblivious to the impending nuclear holocaust.  I spent my days lurking around newsstands (there was no Internet then), listening to news radio, shaking, and looking out my window, scanning the sky for that white light.  I slept one or two hours a night; my muscles ached from constant tension.  I envied  old people because they had lived complete lives. This went on for five weeks.  Then it stopped.  I woke up one morning and it was like that moment in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opened the door and the world had color.  My colors were back.

This never happened to me again.  I’m not confident it couldn’t (even a brief bout of mental illness is permanently humbling), but I don’t worry about it.

I don’t worry about it because it’s not something I can control anyway.

What I remember most clearly about this episode is my profound bewilderment when people (the few in whom I confided) said “Look, there’s no point in worrying about stuff you can’t control.”  I thought they were insane.

Denial is a wonderful human strategy.  It makes happiness possible. I’m sure we’re not the only animal that knows we’re mortal, but other animals don’t need denial because they’re too busy surviving.  To deny, and to need to deny, you need top-of-the-food-chain-leisure time.  Anyway, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, my denial mechanism crashed, and there I was in the howling void where anything can happen and tomorrow is hypothetical.

I’m not much of a sharer except in fiction, but I’m sharing this today because all around me I see good people worrying about stuff they can’t control, and I wish I could help them, and I probably can’t, because all I can do is tell them to stop it, and I remember how useless that advice was when the Russians invaded Afghanistan.

We hang by a thread.  We always have and we always will.  Sometimes a thing will happen and we glimpse that thread, which is just a metaphor but metaphors are all we can access because the void itself is unimaginable, and the metaphorical curtain parts and confronts us with what we’ve been blithely denying.

This is not fun.  Still, it isn’t unbearably scary if you’ve learned your lesson about the limitations of your own anxious mind.  All we have is now.  It’s all we’ve ever had and all we ever will.

This is one of those profound truths that you can “know” without really knowing.  Real knowledge sinks deep.  Millions of people know already, some of them so eminently sensible that they never thought otherwise, others having learned through experience.  Also, it really helps to be old.  But I do worry about the people who can’t sleep.

If you’re one of them or worried  that you might be, this is all I have to offer, and forgive my presumption:

Look after your colors and lean into the now.

 

*Not funny at the time, but that is a funny line.

A Brief Lecture on Sentence Structure

My literary idols include the great humorists of the first half of the twentieth century.  They continue to entertain me when I read and inspire me as I write.  They knew how to craft a sentence.

They sometimes began their pieces with a quote they found especially ridiculous and proceeded to use it as a writing prompt.  For example, Perelman had a field day with Diana Vreeland’s Why don’t you rinse your blond child’s hair in dead champagne to keep it gold, as they do in France?

James Thurber begins “Something to Say” with a quote from a thing called “Memoirs of a Polyglot” by William Gerhardt.*

Hugh Kingsmill and I stimulated each other to such a pitch that after the first meeting he had a brain storm and I lay sleepless all night and in the morning was on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

After that, Thurber is off and running. His fictional narrator recollects his experiences with the spectacularly obnoxious Elliot Vereker and explains why he was “the only man who ever continuously stimulated me to the brink of a nervous breakdown.”

This is one of my favorite Thurber pieces, and one which still sticks in my mind not just because it is funny but because of the structure of a single sentence.  Thurber was a rewriter—every piece went through multiple drafts—so you know that the published sentences were structured exactly as intended.

That single sentence appears within:

“…Vereker always liked to have an electric fan going while he talked and he would stick a folded newspaper into the fan so that the revolving blades scuttered against it, making a noise like the rattle of machinegun fire. This exhilarated him and exhilarated me, too, but I suppose it exhilarated him more than it did me.  He seemed, at any rate, to get something out of it that I missed. He would raise his voice so that I could hear him above the racket. Sometimes, even then, I couldn’t make out what he was saying. “What?” I would shout. “You heard me!!” he would yell, his good humor disappearing in an instant.

I had, of course, not heard him at all.  There was no reasoning with him, no convincing him. I can still hear the musketry of those fans in my ears. They have done, I think, something to me.”

Note the odd structure of that last sentence.  Most of us would have worded it

I think they have done something to me.

Thurber interrupts the sentence, sticking “I think” in the middle, creating an awkward rhythm.  If you try reading the piece aloud, you are likely to trip on “I think.” The narrator himself stops here, still grappling with what that “something” was. The structure of this sentence conveys the damage done to the poor man. It’s brilliant.

That’s the thing about the great American humorists of the last century: They weren’t just funny—they were wonderful stylists. We can learn from them.

Writers and their critics often focus on word choices, and of course they’re important, but they’re not enough.  Mechanics and syntax are equally crucial.  As we write, and as we rewrite, we must honor the rhythm of our sentences.

 

*To make sure that “Memoirs of a Polyglot” was an actual publication, I searched the web, and it was.  His name is listed as William Gerhardie, and he apparently wrote lots of books, including God’s Fifth Column and The Memoirs of Satan. 

 

 

Enough with the Plague, Write a Limerick (Covid Post 1)

 

 

I remember when amusing yourself was not internet-dependent.  For example, my husband and I used to write limericks.  They’re not particularly good, but, unlike whatever Netflix thing I watched last night, they survive.

 

A silly old bag from Loch Lomond

Believed in a terrible omen

With chattering teeth

She fled o’er the heath

And stumbled and drowned in the gloaming

 

A near-sighted harpy from Wells

Confused all her magic and spells

She mixed up a potion

With Calamine lotion

Because of her love for the smells

 

A middle-aged woman from Guam

Sat down on a hydrogen bomb

Her feet and her face

Were completely erased

But her ass remained perfectly calm

 

[alternate ending:

 

Causing condition

Of nuclear fission

Depriving her bairn of their mom]

 

A grotty old guy from Vancouver

Employed as a furniture mover

Got horny one day

In a violent way

And made love to a customer’s Hoover

 

There was an old man in Dobb’s Ferry

Who went to the public library

He took, as his choice,

The works of James Joyce

To paper his new apiary

 

There was an old man from Rangoon

Who ate with a runcible spoon

He used his bread knife

To butter his wife

And fed her to his pet baboon

 

There was a young lady from Nimes

Who slathered herself with whipped cream

And traveled to Thierry

Dressed as a strawberry

Rendezvoused with a shortcake intime.

 

A tidy old broad from Spokane

Once fell face-first into a fan

But she was so neat

And so fast on her feet

That she caught the whole mess in a pan

 

Go ahead and write one.  It will improve your day.

My Mother; or Watching Out for Tests

My mother was my hero, and here is why.

Back in the 1950s, she was active in Sweet Adelines, the women’s equivalent of SPEBSQSA (both international barbershop singing organizations). After Brown v. Board of Education, both organizations inserted the word “white” into their bylaws to keep African-Americans from participating in championship competition.

Lots of individual chapters protested, but in the end only a handful did so in a meaningful way, by challenging the change in the by-laws and, according to Sweet Adelines, generally being “troublemakers.” My mother was president of the Providence chapter; when Providence put the issue up for a vote, its members voted unanimously to withdraw. Theirs was the first chapter to do so; they were followed by Massachusetts chapters in North Attleboro, Scituate, New Bedford, and a Canadian chapter in Orillia. This small group started its own organization—Harmony, Inc.—which has since grown internationally and continues to thrive. (Both Sweet Adelines and SPEBSQSA discreetly deleted “white” at some point.)

Barbershop music comes across to many as square and very, very white (although its origins are anything but; I grew up listening to records of the Golden Gate Quartet), so all this may seem rather quaint and inconsequential. It wasn’t. This was the Fifties: These women were housewives, file clerks, factory workers, and once a week they got to sing, and once a year they went to international conventions and sang themselves hoarse for three days straight. Singing was their passion, and giving it up was a meaningful sacrifice. And the moral courage it took to buck the system was something I witnessed as a child and never forgot.

My mother went into the fight a young, idealistic, optimistic woman; she went in expecting that of course the right would prevail, the international board would see the light, or if not, then there would be a wholesale exodus of outraged members. She learned a lot about human nature, and so did I, from watching her.

Daughters watch their mothers very closely. Once she said to me, “In life there are tests. If you’re lucky, you’ll never get one, but if you do, you may not recognize it for what it is. Always watch out for tests.” I do.

In memory of Joanne Willett, 1925-2019.

 

 

 

Balloon Epiphany

Epiphanies are not just fodder for writing fiction, although of course they do a lot of heavy work in our stories. But epiphanies are real.  We all have them.  I have not had many true epiphanies for a person my age (74), and I’m wondering if that’s unusual.   Anyway, I invite you to share your favorite epiphany here in a comment.  Here is mine.

 

I was 22 or so and living in an apartment with a roommate.  One evening we sat around with our dates and played with a balloon.  This was one of those huge thick-skinned balloons with big rubber bands attached, you could buy them at a drug store and bat them around with your fist, sort of like paddleballs.  We were also drinking.  At one point, we stopped fooling around with the balloon and rested it on the coffee table.  Sometime later, the balloon lifted off by itself and swanned around the room, making a prolonged farting noise and knocking pictures off the walls, before deflating and coming to rest on the floor.  We all found this so hilarious that we blew up the balloon again and again, just to watch its comic antics.  There was no Internet then.

The following week I stopped off at my parents’ for a visit.  I brought the magical balloon to show them.  My mother was busy, but Dad was in the sunroom watching a football game.  I sat down next to him and asked him to turn the volume down for just a minute because I had something amazing to show him.  He smiled pleasantly and did as I asked.

He watched as I blew up the balloon.  This took a while, because it was huge.  When I got it almost to the point where I could demonstrate its farting, room-swanning powers, it exploded.   Not a pop, an explosion, because the skin was so thick. It sounded like a gunshot. Neither of us said anything.  Dad turned back to the TV, and I got up and left the room.

Here, then, was my epiphany:

You raise a daughter and she goes out in the world, and then she comes into your home and makes you watch her explode a huge balloon.  And so it goes.

From My Father on Memorial Day

My dad died a few years ago.  Here’s a letter he wrote to Paul Fussell, author of The Boys’ Crusade (I had given him this book with great trepidation because Dad didn’t talk about the war–combat vets don’t–but I knew that this book was about his group. I’m so glad I gave it to him.) Anyway…

“Dear Mr. Fussell:
 
“I am one of those “boy survivors, now around eighty.” When I first read “The Boys’ Crusade” I felt that I wanted to write to you. Now that I have completed the second reading I feel compelled to do so.
 
“…I did my ASTP stint at Providence College and then later joined the 26th (Yankee) Division on maneuvers in Tennessee. You know the rest of that story but there are a couple of things that I wanted to add. I wound up in the Second Squad of the First Platoon of Company “K” in the 328th Infantry Regiment, 26th Division, attached ultimately to Patton’s Third Army. When you itemized those items carried into combat by most infantrymen, there was an anomaly in our outfit of which you apparently were not aware. When it was announced that we were being committed to combat in some unknown place, we were ordered to line up with our raincoats and overshoes in hand and the told to throw the raincoats in one pile and the overshoes in the other pile. The rationale, we were told, is that we would not need these in combat. Well, we did go into combat and it rained, and it got cold, and colder, and it snowed, and the water in our slit trenches often froze over at night, and we were pinned down cold, wet, and miserable, scared to death, and for six weeks we did not change our clothes. At the end of that time, those that did not get killed or evacuated with wounds for the most part had severe trenchfoot and I was one of those. Through tender care and patience and a lot of luck, I did not require any amputations but I have been in trenchfoot centers crowded with kids my age with toes amputated and legs amputated to the upper thigh and always bilaterally. Would we have been better off with overshoes and raincoats? Those in command didn’t think so. [Note: I know, because Dad told me, that it turns out that trenchfoot can be avoided if you just take off your boots every night and massage your feet and legs, but the soldiers were never taught that. They were taught about brushing their teeth and avoiding VD, but not trenchfoot.]
 
“After being discharged, I attended Brown University to get my deferred education. While there I met and become very close to a professor of mathematics called Ray Gilman and when I read “An Operation Called Cobra” I recalled a conversation that I had with him. I had mentioned that I had driven through the rubble called St. Lo may times while on temporary duty on Patton’s Red Ball Express. He told me that he was involved with that in a way. He said that when Cobra was under consideration, the Allies realized that there would be many “friendly fire” casualties and, as a mathematician, he was called on to calculate the degree of those casualties given the terrain, the position of all troops, and the planned bombing patterns. He did so and came up with a number that, as I recall, was somewhat under three percent. On the basis of that estimate (and other things!!), Operation Cobra was carried out with the results that you so graphically described.
 
“Finally, before I read your book, there were certain bits of information about the war that I thought were known only by me. Thank you for erasing that burden from my mind. I am very grateful.
 
“Most sincerely,
 
“Ward C. Willett.”
And here is one of his V-Mails from France–I found it in a box full of photos and papers when I was cleaning up and organizing after his death.  He was very young.