Monday, May 18, 2015

Day Shift by Charlaine Harris

Okay, I admit it, I'm prejudiced when it comes to Charlaine Harris, add me to her legion of fans.  I love her new series about the mythical Texas town of Midnight. Just like I loved the Sookie Stackhouse books that came before. I loved her irreverent take on supernatural beings ("supes" as they were known in Bon Temps) coming out into mainstream America.

Midnight Crossroad was her first book in the trilogy set in this mythical little town somewhere in the middle of the Lone Star State.  The town is basically a crossroad with a few occupied buildings and several boarded up ones.

There is only a handful of residents in this tiny place.  There is a pawn shop (open all night for the convenience of some of its patrons), a combo gas station/convenience store, a combo antique store/nail salon run by two unusual openly gay men, one restaurant run by a pistol-packing mama who lives in the double-wide out back of the restaurant with her husband and infant son, there is the resident benevolent witch who holds classes and sells herbal products in her home, a small chapel and pet cemetery run by the taciturn Reverend, and the home of the resident telephone psychic (who really has talent though it comes only sporadically) he gives in-person readings, scheduling them over the weekend in an elegant Dallas hotel suite which he books for that purpose.

The folks who run these establishments have many secrets.  We haven't learned them all yet.  There is still one more book to go in the proposed trilogy. But Day Shift gives us tantalizing glimpses of mysteries yet to be solved. As an animal lover, there is one character I dearly love, but you'll have to read the books.  I'm not going to spoil the surprise.

There's something so appealing to me about Ms. Harris' work that I read the latest edition twice back to back.

If you loved Sookie Stackhouse and her world of Bon Temps, La, check out the Midnight, Texas series.

Even though everything isn't coming up roses in Midnight, this book will make you laugh, smile, and feel for these likeable folks who may or may not be human.  The jury is still out on some of them.

As for me, I may just move to Midnight.

Check out these wonderful books.  They're great reads.

Until next time...

Friday, May 15, 2015

ABC's American Crime

Honestly, I don't watch much on ABC these days.  In the last year or so I've gotten hooked on a few of their series - anything from the Marvel franchise, Forever, How to Get Away With Murder, and American Crime.

The latter concluded its first season last night. This series is like none other.  It started with a horrible crime and spread through the families involved with an astonishing ripple effect.  The plotline was incredibly relevant to our day and time.

The series started with an attractive young Anglo couple attacked in their home.  The husband was killed. The wife was beaten, raped, shot in the head, but survived with no memory of the event, or notion of who she had been. The families of each of the victims came together and dealt with the horror in different ways.

A young Mexican-American teen-ager became involved because he had rented a car of his father's to the first primary suspect in the attacks. Police suspected it was used to go to the crime scene. Their first suspect was the Mexican gang member who rented the car.

The real culprits of the crime turned out to be an African-American man and his drugged-out Anglo girlfriend. For all their dependence on chemical coping, the couple was very much in love, a bit of poignancy added to the mix.

By looking at the people involved in the crime, you can guess the kinds of tension that built and exploded during the season.

The storyline, riveting and timely, descended into a racial conflict which threatened to boil over into more violence.

Each episode of the series grabbed my interest immediately and made me come back the next week, even though the ugliness of parts of the story repelled me.

Filmed in California (it supposedly took place in Modesto), the outdoor scenes were filmed on the dusty, drought damaged yards and streets. The bleakness of the grounds added to the atmosphere of the story.

An exceptional group of actors at the top of their games filled the cast.  Felicity Huffman in a role in which she was almost unrecognizable did a superb job as the mother of the murdered young man.  Her character was filled with long repressed emotions coming to the top.  I hated the character at times but always understood her. I will not forget her in this part. She was as bleak and unforgiving as the dry ground around her.

Timothy Hutton  played her ex-husband, a reformed alcoholic/gambling addict, now a shuffling, ineffective man destroyed by his cold wife and his own failure to be the father his children needed. He is a pitiful character not quite part of the events, shunned by his ex and his remaining son, desperate to be part of the family once more. Desperate to atone. I'm used to Hutton playing the clever wise-cracking role.  To see him in this role was shattering.

The versatile Regina Taylor played the sister of the man suspected of committing the crime.  The character was an African-American woman who was a Muslim.  She was a super strong woman in her faith in her religion and her brother. She was a righteous woman who did whatever necessary to support her brother. She created a memorable character.

As a writer, I was fascinated by the scripts for each episode.  The progression of the story was established well as the audience learned more about the crime, the victims, the suspects, and their community.

There were plot twists and surprises with the ultimate surprise being the ending.

It was announced last night that the series will return next year.  Undoubtedly it will be a new story as this one concluded.

If you like drama that will grab you and keep your interest and bring insight to our own current events, catch American Crime on demand or when it comes out on video.

I predict there will be Emmy nominations for some of the cast members, and probably Golden Globes.

The series was hard-hitting, but like witnessing a crime in front of me, I could not look away.

Until next time...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Garland vs. Jihad

Okay, I'll admit it.  I grew up in Garland, Texas.  If you've seen the movie Zombieland, you might understand why I don't admit it very often.  If you haven't seen the film, you should - it's absolutely hysterical, but that's the Pop Culture Diva talking and as usual, I digress.

Actually, Garland was a great place to live.  It's a suburb of Dallas, close to all the action of that dynamic city, but far enough removed (at least in those days) from big city life to make the pace of life pleasant, to make the residents feel safe and secure.  I went from the 4th grade through 12th in Garland schools.  I was a Dashing Deb - that was the drill team for Garland High School.  (I was younger and much smaller then.) On Friday nights, until my junior year, lots of the townsfolk went to the old wooden Williams Stadium to root for the Garland Owl football team.  When the team played away games, the good citizens trekked in caravan fashion to the opponents' stadium, their headlights shining in the Autumn darkness.  It was like a scene from the movie Hoosiers. But prior to the start of my junior year, a second high school opened and the magic of those Friday Night Lights was consigned to history.

Oh and by the way, Garland High School defeated Odessa Permian (the subject of Friday Night Lights) on the way to winning the state football championship back in the day.

I could have told anybody planning mischief in Garland, even the much larger more sophisticated town that it is today, miscreants would not be given a warning.  They would likely be shot.  It's Texas, for heaven's sake, proud proponent of the old west gun culture, where the good citizens were packing long before it was legal to do so.

Last night I was watching entertainment television (Marvel's Thor) when my iPhone chimed with an email notice.  My best friend-girl (don't ask) in Dallas wrote to ask if I was watching Fox News or CNN because there had been a terrorist attack in Garland. So I left the mighty Thor (later, Chris) in favor of CNN.

To say I grew more livid by the minute as I watched the coverage is an understatement. I was horrified that a group called a "hate group" by some watchdog agencies staged an exhibit of images of the prophet Mohammed, including a cartoon contest anywhere at all, but they chose my hometown.  The keynote speaker was a Dutch politician known for lambasting all Muslims and denigrating the Koran.  What, is he related to the yeahoo preacher from down the road here in Florida?!!

According to CNN last night, members of the Tea Party were out front protesting against the exhibit.  What does that tell you?

Didn't they learn anything from Paris? No, apparently not - the organizers had to tweak the nose of Jihadists everywhere, publicizing the event in all forms of media.  Might as well have said, "here we are, come and get us, nyah, nyah, nyah..." Why don 't you paint a bullseye on your backs?

First before you get on your high horse, I want to say I totally support Freedom of Speech and all the other freedoms we enjoy in our great country. It is our birthright and one I will support with my life if need be.

What I won't do is offer the lives of innocent people.  I'm grateful last night's attack resulted only in the attackers' deaths.  It could have been, and has been elsewhere, much worse.

The developer of the art exhibit and contest was on CNN this morning, spewing hatred for Jihadists and daring them once more.  She turned everything the CNN reporter said back to the reporter in a loud, strident voice, (an old debater's technique, one which attorneys are taught in law school).  She complained she had to put up $50,000 for security.  She's lucky it wasn't considerably more given the controversial nature of the exhibit. If you play, you pay, Sweetcheeks.

I have to wonder if the real purpose of this event was to cause an attack to keep the dialogue of hate moving forward...

Sorry, I'm cynical, I am a child of the 1960s.

So what lesson was reinforced for me by last night's events? If you want to risk your own life, that's okay.  It's your right and privilege.  If you don't care about the other lives you risk, you're committing a criminal act, aka known in legal circles as "depraved indifference."

Oh, and the final lesson?


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Grab the tinfoil, Mable, them aliens are a' comin!

In my smug, I-was-a-social-worker mind, when I decided to move across the country and look after my aging parent, I thought I was prepared for every situation that could arise. I spent seven years in the field dealing with the elderly and their unique problems.  Later I moved into the administration of contracts which provided services for the clients.

I thought if I hadn't seen it all up close and personal, I surely heard about it all when my cohorts and I vented our stories to each other for the sake of our own sanity.

In my repertoire of personally experienced situations, I encountered several clients of varying ages and both genders, with a definite predilection for housewares as millinery. Read that, people who put metal colanders and the occasional lampshade on their heads for protection.  I only saw a couple of  lampshades, the upside-down colanders were clearly the front-runners for the stylish.

For some reason, a few dementia patients like to invert the metal colanders on their heads usually to block the signals or rays sent out by the bad guys, the government, or the aliens for the imaginative among the delusional.  Those truly serious about protection have been known to make antennae out of tinfoil, wrapping it around and extending upward from the feet of the colander, the better to pick up "the signals" dontchaknow. This is a true story, I personally witnessed on more than one occasion.

Others even more protective of their privacy cover all their windows in tinfoil, which makes firing guns out of them a logistic nightmare.  If you fire through the tinfoil, you've left a hole the aliens may use.  If you take the time to move the tinfoil, they might get you before you can fire. Like I said a logistical dilemma of the first order. There is no win-win situation.

I also learned never to wear red, or at least wear it with the knowledge it might get me in trouble.  Once I was called out by the police to see a man who was having a psychotic episode.  He had been shooting out his window at the Communists who were trying to attack him. Nobody shared that bit of info with me. Naturally, I showed up wearing a dark red shirt.  With the police present, I talked to the man for a few minutes, then he ran to the bedroom, supposedly to get his gun.

Some of the officers followed him, while two more literally carried me out of the apartment (no small feat) and deposited me behind a police cruiser. They managed to subdue the poor man without injuring him or suffering any injuries themselves.  He was taken for psychiatric evaluation and ultimately committed.  Later the admitting psychiatrist called me to tell me the man had fixated on me so another social worker should be assigned to his case when it was time for his release.  The reason? The man thought I was a KGB agent because I wore a red shirt and everybody knows that's how you recognize them. Poor guy was a wounded vet from the Vietnam war, no telling what he had seen.

The most common delusion I encountered was the world is operating in the hands of a global conspiracy in which "they" make the rules and decide everybody's fate. "They" are always omnipotent, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, hear all our personal conversations, and listen in to our private thoughts for the really dedicated members of the demented. We poor sods can do very little to protect ourselves in such situations except guard our words and our thoughts.

Again, these are real situations I have experienced many times in person. There are lots of folks out there who exhibit these symptoms - At least there were in Dallas when I worked in the field there.  Texas is unique in many ways, but such delusions are exhibited all over our country and probably all over the world.

Read any relevant websites or watched any "prepper" television lately? I rest my case on that one.

By the way, I don't care what anybody says, I'm not storing my iPhone in the microwave so "they" can't listen to my conversation. I blew up a 7/11 microwave years ago when I ignorantly put in one of their hotdogs wrapped in tinfoil...I'm not repeating that with expensive Apple equipment.

Besides, I watch enough movies to know how strong directional microphones, spy satellites, and those sneaky little drones are these days!

The other day I was with my father and he started in on his favorite theme, the corporation from which he retired after working for them 42 years is running everything now, stealing his money, his investments, and the contents of his safe deposit box. When I tried to dissuade him of this notion (hoping I could make him see reason...fat chance, Girly-Girl) he looked at me with pity in his eyes and said "Sharon don't you know who really runs this country?"

Like any good 1960s-1970s educated liberal, I answered "Yes, the military/industrial complex." That's not original with me.  President Eisenhower warned the country about those folks in his final speech to the nation. I mean, he was a General and if anybody should know, he should.

Dad shook his head in pity at my ignorance.  After a moment I distracted him and we moved on to a more benign conversation.

That's when I knew for certain and for all time, my father is not with me anymore. The once brilliant man, known for his management skill on an international level, has not only left the building, he's left this world.

In his place is an alien entity, implanted with some of his long-term memories and none of his short-term ones.

I guess I'd better stock up on the tinfoil.

In all seriousness, it's one thing to deal with clients in this condition, it's quite another when it's someone you love. I usually gunny-sack my emotions when I'm with him and cry later when I'm alone. It tears me apart to see him like this. My dad is an alien stranger who no longer remembers my mother died holding his hand.  He tells people he divorced her and snickers when he says it.

That one really hurts.

So, if you are a caregiver laugh when you can.  It helps release some of the pain.  If you are close to a caregiver make them laugh.  They'll be grateful even if you never hear them say it.

Remember the Lord Byron quote -

And if I laugh at any mortal thing, tis that I may not weep.

Brighten someone's day, okay?