Grousing


It needs a bird, but none of them cooperated.

 

Yesterday, I stayed home from a Sisters in Crime meeting because my husband, Handy Harry Homeowner, meant to spare me the noise and commotion of fixing the deck. He’d arranged to do the loud work while I was away for the morning. Ever-confident, he planned to surgically remove a ruined plank from the back deck using an electric saw to dismember the plank instead of prying it out. Handy Homeowners of greater-than-spring-chicken-age need to work smarter, not harder.

I meant to attend our Border Crimes chapter first-Saturday-of-the-month meeting. However, while scrambling to eat my eggs, the maniacal whine of the saw taunted me. I tensed when it slowed to a growl as it bit into the plank’s thickness. My mind, fiction-trained through years of reading how-to-write books (conflict! conflict! conflict!) and conditioned to think of fictional disasters with which to plague characters, could imagine Chekhov’s saw. Don’t show the weapon if you’re not going to use it. One slip and blood would be everywhere. With Handy Harry home alone, I couldn’t chance it. So I stayed.

For an hour, the saw screamed at the plank as if taking revenge for insults to its mother. Handy Harry pulled and pounded with the crowbar — no bit of decking would defeat him. Plank body parts accumulated on the top rail of the deck with rusty nails protruding from them like dragon’s teeth. They looked as if they were waiting to sink into the pink flesh of a carelessly-placed hand. A gap between the remaining planks lay in wait for just one misstep, just one. Sipping tea while working on a story draft (conflict!), I remained watchful.

After Harry had the plank pieces out, of course I needed to create a photo-documentary of his work — that’s how we keep track of which home repairs have happened, and when. Carrying my small camera for the snapshots, I opened the porch door as I’ve done thousands of times over the years. I stepped out, my mind on lens and shutter settings. My foot hit the doormat and, quicker than thought, my left leg shot forward. My right leg remained planted inside the doorway but didn’t support me and bent. My right knee slammed into the porch planks. The doormat had slid when I stepped on it.

(Why is it always the knees? Why? Ever since high school basketball, it’s been the _knees_.)

Harry was engrossed. He noticed nothing. I’d have thought that me cannonballing into the wooden porch would generate a significant boom, but Harry has laser-focus. I wanted tea and sympathy and cries of oh-my-poor-dear, if not a call to 911, but if I sat there in the open door I knew a cat, or two or three, was bound to amble out to the screened-porch. Seeing me-on-the-floor, and being clever, they’d know I couldn’t run interference. The open door would beckon and he, she, or they, would make a break. Waiting for the unlikely event of spousal concern, probably couched as, “What the hell are you doing down there?”, or the likely event of a cat escape that would have me limping after a frisky feline in an OJ Simpson/Bronco highway chase around the backyard, left me with no choice. I had to get up — but not before I took a picture.

 

Beware the treachery of doormats.
I’d have dressed better if I’d known I’d be blog-worthy.

As a result of the porch-capades, I’m the bearer of a silver-dollar-sized scrape & bruise on my previously-not-injured knee. (the story about the other knee — injured a few months ago — is less interesting than the story of this knee; even doctors yawn and ask if that’s all for now) The camera sustained nothing more than a slight bout of ‘we hit an air-pocket!’ as I descended.

My good deed of missing my meeting just in case a home maintenance project turned into a horror novel wound up with me sporting an ice pack on my knee and acting as the complaint desk for various muscle groups up and down the body. The ribs were annoyed at that twist in the story. The lower back objected to me having followed the clue that the project was wrapping up and needed documenting. The injured knee felt frail and needed hearty applications of the aforementioned tea and sympathy. The other knee whined that life isn’t fair and it wanted a happy ending.

Handy Harry was fine and proceeded to pound nails into the new plank (from the sounds, he and the weighted mallet were working out issues!). The deck looks much better. I, though, was left looking forward to an Epsom salts bath. The cats never showed any interest.

 

Harry Homeowner’s handiwork

For years I’ve had one of Colin Dexter’s paperbacks floating around my bookshelves: The Secret of Annexe 3. The printing date is 1998, so I’ve had it a while.  During those years, I’d often look through my bookshelves at bedtime for a book to re-read. I prefer easy books when I’m trying to go to sleep. I’d look at Annexe 3, but always skipped over it because I knew that I hadn’t ‘got’ the story the first time around. Still, the book was an Inspector Morse story, so I never got rid of it.

About a week ago I was again browsing through my bookshelves and I decided to give Annexe 3 another try.  How hard could it be?

Eighty-eight pages into the story I found out why I had no clear recollection of the story: the page after 88 was 25 — the very same page-25 I’d already read.  I flipped through the following pages to see if this second page-25 was an anomaly, but it wasn’t.  The repeat pages didn’t end until page 56, and then they skipped to page 121.

Page 88 - 25 of The Secret of Annexe 3

Page 88 – 25 of The Secret of Annexe 3

 

Pages 56 - 121 of The Secret of Annexe 3

Pages 56 – 121 of The Secret of Annexe 3

 

I’m assuming I don’t need to point out that this goof-up severely interrupted my understanding of the story line. Don’t ask me why I kept this copy. Any memory of that reason is long gone.

In recent years I’ve complained to myself about the decline in the quality of recently-published books. Most complaints have to do with typographical gremlins that crept in, or story lines that don’t track well. Given this blooper from the last century, I’ll probably have to cut newer volumes a lot more slack.

I would be interested in reading the complete book, but I just checked and the library I use doesn’t have this volume. I’m leery of buying another Annexe 3 because the book shown at Amazon has the same cover as mine. I didn’t see any complaints about an entire section having been mis-inserted into any of the books that were reviewed, but it would be just my luck to get another from the same batch.  I think my next bedtime book will be one from my collection of Agatha’s books.

For the most part, I spare this blog any political outbursts.  The uproar in Texas over the Jade Helm military exercise for 2015 changed that.

As any reader of this blog may have gathered, I’m “military,” although I haven’t served on active duty since the late-1960s. Despite the span of time since then, my “people” are “the military.” I was born in an Air Force hospital to a former WAC and my dad didn’t retire from the Air Force until two years before I joined the Army myself, which was about four years before my brother joined the Navy, and about six years before my sister joined the Air Force. For us, “the military” was the family business.

I served on active duty and married another soldier whose career with the Army didn’t end until 1999. I knew about civilian activities, of course, but the important stuff (pay, housing, kids’ schools, where I bought food, most of my friends) was all “military.” When I was 50, I was living at my 50th change of address, a coincidence which is oddly satisfying.

Because of this background, when someone starts making charges about the danger of “the military,” I perk up. It’s like when someone from a rival school badmouths a teacher you don’t even like.  You can crab and complain about Coach Hatchetface, but you don’t like it when a rival does.

Usually my bristling about uninformed complaints about “the military” fades, but when the charges are about how “the military” is going to start rounding up civilians and locking them in WalMarts (seriously?!?) — and a governor says he’ll send state troops to keep an eye on the federal ones — then the smack-talking is out of control.

Yes, crap happens concerning “the military.” Statistically, it can’t help but happen, especially in such a large organization. Sometimes, the reports about crap happening are accurate and the crap gets fixed (so we hope). Sometimes the reports have kernels of truth surrounded by embellishment and the incident goes back and forth for a while. This time, concerning the Jade Helm exercise, the reports are off-the-rails nuts from people who seem to be actually believing their own propaganda and not just posturing politically.

Yes, I’ve read rational explanations about why some of the people who will be near the exercises are concerned:

  • worry about property damage or poor fire safety precautions
  • worry about noise
  • worry about gates being left open (presumably near livestock)

Those are normal, reasonable concerns. They’re the same ones that West German farmers and landowners had (click on PDF URL; see top of document-page 2) concerning Reforger (REturn of FORces to GERmany — and watch out for Fogarty blasting from that site), an annual joint military exercise in Europe during the Cold War that was sometimes referred to as Autumn Forge.

But the wild-eyed fears about Jade Helm aren’t about reasonable concerns. The fears around Jade Helm are about some kind of invasion of Texas by the same servicemembers that we’ve spent the last decade or so applauding and telling how much we appreciate their service. Everyone goes dewey-eyed over servicemembers walking through airports, but, apparently, God forbid those same servicemembers stop and hang around for a while.

Another training situation besides Reforger used to involve “Trigon Circle.” Catchy name, no?

Trigon Circle was the name for the aggressor-force during war games used for training. The unit of currency used as a prop was called the “fralmato.” Really. This 50 fralmato ‘bill’ is our sole souvenir of my husband’s Trigon Circle days.

Fifty fralmatos. The  really poor-quality photocopy picture on the reverse was of "Comrade Marya."

Fifty fralmatos. The really poor-quality photocopy picture on the reverse was of “Comrade Marya.”

 

The Circle Trigonists (Aggressors)

These Field Manuals offer the aspiring alt-hist writer a treasure trove of information on a totalitarian state’s military circa 1947-1959, with detailed descriptions of tables of organization, ranks, medals, divisional histories, and doctrine.

All this was to support the U.S. Army’s Aggressor Force (aka Manouver Enemy) which was an asymmetrical opponent training program that ran from November 1946 to 1978, when the Circle Trigonists were retired in favor of an openly Soviet-Style OPFOR known as the Krasnovians.

One of the most memorable Trigonist operations was Operation LONGHORN in March/April 1952, when Lampasas County, Texas was used to stage a huge mock battle between the Aggressor Forces played by the 82nd Airborne and liberating US Forces played by units from nearby Fort Hood.

[see page for other links, plus photographs of the exercise from Life magazine]

 Hell, as far as “the military” loving field training exercises goes, I remember at Ellsworth AFB when I was five that the entire housing area was evacuated as a drill. After the alert sirens went off, the dads stayed at their duty stations while the moms loaded all us kids into cars and drove into the Black Hills where we stayed all day. We now know that this would have been completely irrelevant to any survival of a nuclear attack, but in the mid-1950s it was considered a strategy. That drill was a mess — can you imagine an entire housing area worth of babies and kids loose in the woods without anything constructive to do and only some outhouses and a few picnic tables? Those poor moms.

The evacuation drill was never repeated.

In the spirit of people learning from their mistakes, I hope this nutsy-cuckoo reaction to Jade Helm is never repeated, either.

The upshot of this blog post is that military exercises are nothing new.  My dad recounted stories of his cavalry troop riding their horses around the hills around Monterey, California and Fort Ord, probably the last of the horse cavalry in the late-1930s.

 

1939  Dad on Warwhoop at the Presidio of Monterey.

1939 Dad on Warwhoop at the Presidio of Monterey.

 

These exercises are what the taxpayers pay “the military” to do when “the military” isn’t actively fighting. It’s not all peeling potatoes and painting rocks. The work done during these exercises is how skills stay sharp. It’s how new techniques are integrated into what servicemembers already know. It’s how new equipment is tested.

If you want to read a thorough, if profane, explanation by someone who speaks in the voice of my people of why the nonsense-hyperventilation about Jade Helm is irresponsible pot-stirring,  hop over to Stonekettle Station. I can’t improve on Mr. Wright’s rant.

So, what virus have you had?  You must have because everyone I’ve run into lately has a virus-story.  I swear it’s a biological smorgasbord out there.

I could understand catching more than one bug per season if I worked in a school, or if I regularly met the general public, but I don’t.  I sit in a room, typing, usually with the door shut to keep out the cats, well, one cat in particular.  He’s a jerk and so’s his sister.  Thank goodness she lives with her foster-mom. Two of them would be too trying.

But back to disease. I’m a virtual recluse, so how do the blasted germs get in?

Not only am I a recluse, but I have a thing about my hands (not OCD, but enough so that a son-in-law noticed).  Anything gets on the digits and they get a tubbing, then a massage with lotion or cream.  I’m not weird about it, or anything, just …, well, just reliable.  You can safely shake hands with me (and I won’t even immediately adjourn to a wash-basin.  I wait at least a couple of moments.)

I’m surprised that my hands don’t look like they belong to the Pillsbury Dough Boy because they’ve absorbed at least a metric ton of moisturizer.  I discovered Jergens hand lotion when I was 10 — I remember the event** — and I haven’t (voluntarily) been without hand cream since.

But back to disease.

I have a theory on how germs spread so easily — they’re like honey.  The moment you touch honey, even if it’s not obvious that your finger touched it, it’s all over the place.  On the handle of the knife.  Then on the handle of the fork. Then on your sleeve.  The stuff’s a mess.  (tasty, but a mess) Germs are like that — sticking onto everything.

But, how do they get into my sanctum sanctorum, the back room?  My daughter even noticed our special status because she came down with the most recent bug the very day before I did.  Given incubation periods, we had to be simultaneously exposed, but we don’t frequent the same places.  She goes out in the world, but she’s even more fussy about her hands, especially during germ-season, but she comes by it professionally: she’s a doctor, a veterinary surgeon. Scrubbing-up is second nature to her and she (and I) are not huggers or touchers. We stay here, you stay there, everyone’s happy (except her huggy sister & aunt/my huggy daughter & sister, but they’re used to us).

So the doctor and recluse both get the tummy-bug, and we’re damned irritated about it.  The only up-side I can see is that it gave me a subject for a blog post, but only after way-laying me so that I sat here for the entire month of January, often staring at the blog, but not wanting to type anything at all. So I got a blog post out of it.  Whoop.  Make that a Big Whoop.

I can’t wait for these blasted bugs to go away.

 

** Meeting Jergens Lotion: Ladies’ room of the Family Services office where my mother volunteered.  Pink walls and ceiling decorated with painted black poodles.  Very 1950s chic.  For me, the lotion was love at first sniff & touch.

Beware the revenge of writers.  We might (eventually) make a profit off your incivility.

One woman considers breaking the laws of 'victimless' crimes to be something from which she can benefit.  Another woman is merely a thoughtless twit.  When they meet, it can't end well.

One woman considers breaking the laws of ‘victimless’ crimes to be something from which she can benefit. Another woman is merely a thoughtless twit. When they meet, it can’t end well.

Click cover to open file.

One of my pet peeves is stories, whether written or performed, that have incorrect military information.  Some of the wrong information is simple, such as my current peeve, and some of it is illogical made-up-stuff.

Tonight’s irritation is with an episode of “Unforgettable.”  In the story, a Veterans Administration doctor has been asked by Unforgettable’s main character about a veteran who is a person of interest in a murder (the Crazed Veteran is always a popular character if you need a military person in your story).   The veteran in question would be fluent in Pashto, a language in Afghanistan.  The doctor replied to the detective that it would take several tours in Afghanistan for a soldier to become fluent in Pashto, and then says that she does have a client in counseling who fits the description — a corporal.

Insert rant about ‘if you plan on writing about something, learn the basic information about it.’

In the Army, a corporal is an E4, a junior enlisted rank.  If this person were a corporal he wouldn’t have had enough time in service to easily become fluent in Pashto, unless he’d been demoted multiple times.  Pashto is a language that the Foreign Service Institute rates as a level 2 or 3 language, levels that take between 34 – 48 weeks of full-time study for basic proficiency. Unless a person were being trained as a linguist, it is unlikely that the Army would invest the time for the training.

Which brings us to another point.  The photo of the uniformed ‘person of interest’ shows a relatively long-haired white-bread man (for today’s military) in an Army uniform, wearing infantry brass backed by a light blue disc.  An infantryman in Afghanistan is not surprising, however, an infantryman wouldn’t have linguistic training.  If an infantryman had acquired fluency in Pashto — either from multiple tours in Afghanistan or from language training — he would have been in the Army long enough to be more than a corporal.  Still, for story-purposes, a Pashto-spouting bad guy is more menacing than your average veteran.

Then there’s the fiction that he’s a corporal.  In today’s Army, very few military occupational specialties (MOSes — ie, ‘jobs’) use the rank of corporal.  An E4 in the infantry would be a specialist unless he were filling a leadership position.

Specialist is a designation retained from when the Army had ranks from Specialist Fourth Class up to Specialist Seventh Class alongside the NCO ranks of the same pay grades.  In today’s Army, and of the specialist ranks, only the E4-Specialist rank remains.  I’d say this story character wouldn’t be a corporal because, as I said before, if he’d been in the Army long enough to be fluent in Pashto, he was probably demoted more than once and wouldn’t be leader material.

Now if this service member were a Marine, then the corporal rank is appropriate — although, as a Pashto-speaking-E4, he still would be suffering from the time-in-service problem concerning the language fluency.

The holes in this one story point are large enough to drive a truck through.

Writers — and producers and directors — if you’re going to use the Crazed Veteran character in your stories, at least do the poor guy the honor of getting his backstory straight.

Breakfast again on the road (well, in the hotel prior to getting back on the road after Bouchercon) and I have to wonder why toast is not an integral component of egg breakfasts. Nut bread is the standard accompaniment at this hotel.

I’m used to the Americans not providing milk with tea (coffee creamer with tea is gross) and plunking down lemon wedges and honey, willy nilly, but no place we’ve eaten automatically offers toast to go with eggs. This makes me wonder if we’re the weird ones for expecting toast or if “it’s them“?

Do you expect toast with eggs?

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