Monday, November 30, 2009

Lady Washington Part 4

While we waited for Dash to begin the training, Beth showed me the courses, the clew lines, the bunting lines and the sheets for the mainmast. Forward, the same lines hung from the belaying
pins for the foremast.

“Now, if I have it correctly,” she said, “the sheets haul the sails back to cup the wind and the braces angle the yard to fill the sail in the best possible position.”

"What is that out there, is that the chains?"


“Okay,” I said, “What is this flat piece of wood called on top of the railing?”

“That is the cap rail.”

“So what is the gunwale?” I asked.

She stared at me.

“You know. The gunwale, like on—“

“How do you spell that?”

Now I stared at her. “G-U-N-W-A-L-E.”

She tossed her head back and smiled. “Oh, you mean the gunnel.”


“Yes, it rhymes with funnel.”

I knew the forecastle was actually pronounced folks’l and the topgallant sails were pronounced t’gallents, and boatswain was pronounced bosun, but this one had escaped my research. I flipped open my notebook and wrote Gunwale = Gunnel, and jammed it into my pocket.

Dash sauntered down to the waist and signaled for us to gather around the mainmast (pronounced mainmast). He began showing us the proper way to drop the extra rope on the bunting lines and clews so the bitter end was against the deck. This was to assure it would not foul when needed.

“Dash,” came a call from the quarterdeck.

He looked up and nodded. “Excuse me,” he said and sprinted up the quarterdeck ladder. We waited on the waist, watching Dash and the captain, but I could not hear anything over the grumble of the engine. Dash nodded and both the captain and Dash glanced my way. Oh oh. Had I done something wrong? Was I to walk the plank? Was he instructing Dash to have the men assemble for a flogging?

I held my breath as Dash thundered down the steps. “You’re in luck,” he whispered to me. He raised his head and shouted out, “Hands aloft to loose tops’ls.”

My eyes flew to Jeremiah and it is embarrassing to admit, but I think I danced in place and clapped, excitement gushing out. It felt like a movie. I expected Horatio Hornblower to appear on the waist. Jeremiah smiled.

Daisy, Forest and Jesse scrambled up the shrouds. The rest of us took the t’gallant sheets off belay and went to the bowlines. The sails were loosed and the crew aloft went below.

“Sheet home.” The order clipped out. It was repeated by crew, as the sheets were hauled with the help of the passengers willing to assist. In my thrilled excitement, I forgot the hand-over-hand, but quickly remembered after the first haul. We kept hauling until we heard “Avast!”

We went from one line to the next and I lost track of what was happening. My notebook remained in my pocket and I was torn between wanting to participate or observing and recording to paper what was happening. In the end, I hauled away on whatever line they told me to haul and wrapped it around the belaying pin when told to do so. I’m not positive I have it right, what we did. I do clearly remember the “No, Melanie, clockwise, clockwise,” someone yelled. Dang. It is a curse to have a digital watch. I unwrapped the belay, careful not to give anything back, and redid it, clockwise, four turns and underneath.

“On the quarterdeck,” Sara yelled, “floating log one point off the starboard bow.”

“One point off starboard,” came the echoed reply.

“Hands to the main braces.”

I followed the crew to the braces and we hauled our starboard lines while the larboard crew gave slack.

“Starboard ease off three inches.”

“Easing off three inches.”

“On the quarterdeck, log is two points off starboard bow,” Sara informed the captain.

“Two points off.”

And so it went until there came a blessed silence. Ropes and lines and halyards and sheets all safely belayed, I glanced aloft to see the sails filled taut in the warm, golden sun and an exhilarating sense of peace settled over me. I smiled. It felt right, like I was home.

With only the tops’ls set, we glided along at about 2 knots, past freighters with fore and aft anchors set, past a tugboat pushing two barges along, past Frenchman’s Bar. We slipped by them all in magnificent, graceful silence, broken only by an occasional whisper of rigging.

The Lady Washington is a beautiful creature, and I fell in love with her.

All too soon the order was called to furl the sails. We repeated all we did earlier in reverse order. The railroad bridge opened for us. Then engine growled to life. Crew scrambled to haul out the fenders. Jesse grabbed a rope dangling from the rigging like a Tarzan vine and as we came along side the dock, he swung out over the water and dropped to the dock. Lines were thrown to him, first from amidships, which he wrapped around the post, then the others, fore and aft. The gangplank was rigged.

It was time to leave, and it was heartbreaking. I shook Jeremiah’s hand and thanked him. I went ashore with the other passengers, wishing we had another day, or a week left to the trip. It was over much too fast. Eight hours was only a blink.

The Lady Washington still has remnants of her acting roles, like a star has Oscars. She still carries the broken "H.M.S. Interceptor" name, from her role as the Interceptor in the Pirates of the Caribbean, The Black Pearl movie.

Her compass still steers a steady course above more modern equipment in the binnacle. And in front of her tiller is a patch where her "wheel" used to be as it steered the Interceptor under the hands of the antihero, Captain Jack Sparrow. It adds to the Lady's charm.

Bruce, Ryan, Nelson and I have already discussed another trip. We'd like to sail the Lady

Washington again, but this time on the ocean. Until we do, however, I’ve been busy planning my revenge. I think I have Ryan talked into setting up my “husband” Bruce’s home computer so whenever he logs on, it will pipe him aboard.

Many thanks to the captain and crew of the Lady Washington.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lady Washington Part 3

The engine rumbled and diesel fumes fouled the air. What happened to the briny scent of the sea and the whisper of wind in the rigging? (Okay, I knew we were on the Columbia, but I still expected some salt air.) Where were the gruff commands to hoist the mains’l, holystone the deck, loose the cannons? After forty-five minutes of rain, hail, rain, I'd had enough experience with the grim reality of bad weather. I scowled. The crew pattered about their tasks without regard to conditions. Shipboard life went on regardless of daylight, darkness, sun or rain. The five other passengers managed to amble topside with steaming cups of hot coffee.

I didn’t get anything to drink. I’d made that mistake in the Caribbean. On a trimaran we’d been issued rum punch along with our life jackets. High winds and huge waves drove most passengers aft to hang over the rail and retch. The rest of us clung to the ropes on the outer hulls to keep from being swept into a pile of wreathing arms and legs in the center netting. With my

free hand, I brought my cup of rum punch to my lips. Blaaak. Salt water with just a hint of fruit nectar and rum. I wouldn't make that mistake again.

No way did I want hot coffee with chunks of hail and diesel dust.

But wait, what was that?

A rainbow off the stern chaser?

Rays of warm sunshine? The sky lightened. My heart sang. A reprieve.

The crew scampered to the brightwork, polishing the brass to a spotless sheen. Daisy, the gunner, worked on the ship’s bell.

Dash, the first mate, polished the runners of the after cabin hatch. Forest climbed into the rigging to check lines.

This was more like it. Every move they made I quietly committed to memory (okay, yes it is merely ram until I commit it to my hard-drive notebook with a pen), still leaning against the belaying pins on the quarterdeck. And then I heard Bruce talking to the captain, Jeremiah.

And it was about me.

I’ve been sailing on a 42' Catalina in the San Juans off the coast of Washington with Bruce as the captain. Ryan had captained a 42' Beneteau. Nelson, like me, crewed. Before we boarded the Lady Washington I told them I wanted to remain anonymous. An invisible observer. "Okay," they said, nodding their heads and eying me like I was crazy to think it would be otherwise. They seemed to understand my request.

But now I heard my name. I inched aft.

“And then Melanie,” Bruce pointed to me, “brought a whistle with her. Ryan captained the Kipper Kite and I captained the Raven. Whenever I left and reboarded, she would blow the whistle.”

“Blow the whistle?” Jeremiah asked. His brow knit and he glanced at me, his mouth dropping open like he’d just discovered he had a fugitive aboard.

“It was a bosun’s whistle,” Ryan confirmed. “She was piping the captain aboard.”

“Every single time,” Bruce complained. “I’d jump to the dock and grab my duffel and my charts, she’d pipe me aboard again, And when we moored that first night we were stern to stern in a quiet little bay so we could walk back and forth between the Raven and Kipper Kite.”

“And she’d not only pipe him aboard, but she’d pipe me aboard, too,” Ryan added.

Jeremiah gaped at them. I thought I’d better defend myself. “It was a sign of respect,” I explained.

“And then another boat, the Dream Catcher, came in beside us. We knew her captain, Phil.” Bruce shook his head and sighed as if I had murdered the man and tossed his body overboard.

It vexed me.

“She piped him aboard, too,” Nelson chimed in.

Jeremiah’s eyes flicked to me and back to Ryan and Bruce. “Well, at least she doesn’t have the whistle this time.” Although he said it as a statement, it was oh so much a question. Poor man.

“N-no, I don’t have it,” I stammered. I had been conducting research aboard the Raven, for crying out loud. Research is okay, isn’t it?

Nelson paused beside me and raised his knuckled hand. A bosun’s brass and copper whistle dropped down from the chain wrapped around Nelson’s fingers and swiveled in the breeze.

Jeremiah’s eyes widened and Bruce and Ryan stiffened. My shoulders dropped. Oh dear lord. “Noooo,” I squeaked. “I’m not going to blow that.” Sheeez. So much for remaining anonymous. I gave them a weak smile and lowered myself down the ladder to the waist, hoping to lose myself in the activity amidships. I watched Beth for a few minutes and asked her a couple of questions. I whipped out my little pad of paper and pen and asked a few more. She answered them with a bubbling excitement, a broad smile flashing through the dripping rigging.

Some of the crew began a training session, tying knots and working with rope ends, under the direction of Dash.

Forest swung up the main mast.

Sara perched in the bow, watching for obstacles.

Laura, the cook, climbed up the gangway. “Main course is served. Main course is served,” she shouted.

The six passengers nodded politely and remained where we were. Laura knew how to handle a crew. “And, I must tell you, our crew is hungry. But they cannot eat until after the passengers eat, so please come below now. We have a thick corn chowder and homemade bread, all vegetarian, but I’ve also set out lunch meats if you prefer meat. There are also fresh cookies.”

We straggled down the gangway (no easy task for my torn unmentionable muscle) and filled our bowls with a hot chili pepper corn chowder to die for and bread still steaming from the galley stove. Laura waited until we found places to sit on the benches before she called the crew. They trampled down much quicker than we had.

After the midday meal we returned topside. Steam rose from the deck in the early afternoon sun. Beth sat on the forecastle hatch and motioned me over. “Since you’re writing a book, you might want to join us for our afternoon training.”

My jaw dropped. “How did you know I’m writing a book?”

She leaned back. “Well, your husband said so.” Her eyes floated up to the quarterdeck.

My shoulders slumped and I cranked my head toward the stern. What part of anonymous did men not understand? “Which one is my husband?"

She pointed to Bruce.

I’d make Bruce pay later, the rapscallion. “Yeeeaaah. No. He’s not my husband.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Her cheeks turned pink and she hunched her shoulders.

I sighed. “It’s fine. Yes, I’d love to hang out for your training.”

Part 4 to follow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lady Washington Part 2

“Permission to board?” I called.

No answer.

I tottered up the gangplank dragging my duffel and peeked over the cap rail. He had been there a moment ago when Bruce and Ryan climbed aboard. I shrugged, happy to be able to clamber onto the deck without an audience just in case I tripped over the rail and landed with a splat. It takes a while to gain my sea legs, like maybe a week, or a month. I picked my way across the rain soaked deck and peered down the gangway. A tall, thin man with graying whiskers stuck his head through the opening. He smiled.

“Welcome aboard the Lady Washington.” He stuck out his hand and grasped mine in a firm shake. “I’m John Paul, the steward. May I take your bag?” He hefted the dunnage below as he called out, “You’re welcome to come below. We have coffee and hot cider.”

“No, thanks,” I said. We were in intermission. I whipped out my camera and shot pictures before the rain’s act two began. Crew appeared from the forward hatch, the after hatch, up the gangway, all busy performing chores. Tiller, the terrier mix, went ashore with Sara, the boatswain. Nelson and his daughter, Amy and granddaughter, Maddie boarded and John Paul guided them below.

The captain, Jeremiah, appeared on the quarterdeck and the order was given to get underway. Crew jumped to action, hauling in the gangplank, calling out positions, preparing to take in fenders and untying the lines. The big diesel engine sprang to life and we began to inch away from the dock. Jesse, a young man in a plaid flannel shirt swung up from the dock, clearing the bulwark and landing lithely on deck.

“Rain’s coming.” Beth, the purser’s mate said.

I glanced up, flipping open my case and stuffing the camera inside. Light gray clouds with intermittent patches of blue drifted overhead. “Where?”

She shrugged. “Astern.”

Behind us black clouds shed a wall of hazy liquid over the water. I shivered. We zipped against the current of the Columbia River at a pretty good speed. “Do you think we’ll outrun it?”

Beth squinted aft, swung her eyes up the mast to the flags and dropped them to me. “No.”

Dear lord. I put up my hood.

Within a few minutes sheets of rain hammered the deck. Crew flipped open hatches and dropped below, reappearing in rain gear. Amy and Maddie clutched their hoods at their necks and inched toward the gangway on the wet deck. I leaned against the belaying pins on the quarterdeck while the wind whipped through my trousers. The captain held steady, dressed in an olive drab rain slicker and fur-lined hat. On the flaps covering his ears a skull and crossbones warned.

“Do you want to go below?” one of the crew asked.

“No, I’m fine. This isn’t bad.” My gloves--purchased the day before at a sporting goods store--kept my hands warm and dry and my rain boots performed their task admirably. This wasn’t so bad. Back in 1805, the sailors would have been fine if they’d had the right clothing. But then frigid wind gusted and icy white balls pelted my jacket and danced across the deck. My scarf edged up over my ears and my gloved hands jammed into my pockets. I glanced down and watched rain run out of the scuppers like gutter water out of a drain.

Stop by again for Part 3

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Lady Washington Part 1

Something woke me. My eyes flew to the clock to make sure I didn't oversleep the 4:45am alarm. The dial screamed black void. It wasn't the clock alarm beeping, it was the alarm system shouting out a warning that the electricity was off. Beep, once, twice, three times. I shot out of bed and tripped over the rain boots. Forgot they were in the spot usually reserved for clear passage to the bathroom. I groped my way to the sink and patted the counter until my fingers closed over the cold metal of the watchband. The face blinked blue and read 2:30.

The wind howled outside and rain pelted the windows. The hundred foot Douglas firs
surrounding my house strained and creaked not more than 40 feet away. I cringed. Windstorms wreak havoc on my nerves. Two months after moving here a hundred footer fell across the driveway, trapping me in until my ex came over with a chainsaw. The electricity went off then, too. For five days.

Thoughts of a nice, hot shower before going to sea left me miserable. I'm out in the country. Without electricity, the well pump quits working. No water for showers. No water after the first flush. I lit a couple candles, pulled up the lever on the sink and filled the sink with hot water before it had a chance to cool. When it was gone, no more water. With the aid of a plastic cup I washed my hair and shivered in the dropping temperature. Dang. No blow dryer.

So my day started out wet, two hours earlier than anticipated. There is an old sailor saying, "Get wet, stay wet." Perhaps an omen? I got dressed by yellow candlelight and dragged my duffel with the extra clothing and rain jacket out to the car. Back inside I blew out the candles and grabbed my keys, stepping into the garage again. I screeched to a halt. No electricity. Power door. Stuck.

The trunk provided a flashlight and the top of my convertible came down so I could stand in the car and grab the dangling rope to disengage the garage door opener. When that was done I put the top back up and trotted to the double door.

Perhaps this is the time to admit I strained a muscle in an unmentionable place while lunging with a sword. (Yeah, yeah, I know.) The garage door is extremely heavy. Heavier than any other garage door I've ever become acquainted with in my very long life. When I heaved, the muscle blathered out its protest.


On the way to the Red Lion Inn at the Quay, the road was littered with tree branches in the pitch black. My headlights didn't seem to light the road well in the driving rain. I did manage to make it to the meeting place where we left our cars and piled into Nelson's camper. Bruce, Ryan and I squeezed into the front and Mattie and Amy snuggled into the back to sleep the hour to
Rainier, Oregon. As we crossed the Lewis and Clark bridge the rain let up a little and we scanned the shoreline for the Lady Washington. She floated, hugged up against the dock, in all her magnificent beauty, waiting to get out and run.

Part 2 tomorrow.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Preparing for Battle

Okay, I've got my gloves, my hat, my poncho, my jacket, my windbreaker, my overshirt, my undershirt, pants, three pairs of socks, Doc Martin shoes, an extra change of clothing and a silver flask.

I know how to handle a sword, so I'm ready to take on the pirates and defend the captain. I've got my camera and extra batteries and my notebook and two pens and a pocket knife (which I've used to cut tape for packing boxes, but I'm
sure it is still good). Regular glasses, sunglasses (who am I kidding?), an energy bar, my ID and hush money. I got air in my tires and ibuprofen in my blood.


Windy. A

steady rain in

the morning, with showers

continuing in the afternoon. High 47F. Winds W at

20 to 30 mph. Chance

of rain 90%. Rainfall

around a quarter of an inch.

I hope there is a nice place to plug in my computer and perhaps some wifi. And do they have, I don't know...flight attendants or something? And it would be nice if they added some "all you can drink rum punch" like they do in the Caribbean. And, it isn't as if I'm making my poor characters go around the horn, you know. They are in a nice, warm Caribbean sea, so I don't think the rum punch is asking too much.

I'll have to chat with the captain about this as soon as I'm aboard.

I think I'm ready. At least I thought I was until I read the forecast.

When my ship comes in, I'm on it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lewis and Clark Bridge

Around here, Lewis and Clark are big names. The Longview Bridge was built in the 1930s and was later purchased by the state of Washington and the name changed to Lewis and Clark Bridge. It spans the Columbia River from Longview, WA into Rainier, Oregon. Many people confuse Rainier, OR with Mt. Rainier. Maybe from the top of the bridge on a clear day (there was one back in '62) one can catch a glimpse of Mt. Rainier, but that is it. I've been across this bridge only twice, but it is a nice bridge.

Sunday is supposed to have a high of 45 degrees with only a 60% chance of rain. Sounds like a fabulous day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sea Adventures

The original Lady Washington was built in Massachusetts while it was still a British colony. The pretty little brig hauled freight up and down the colonial ports from 1750 until American Revolutionary War, when she became an American privateer. I can just imagine the nimble little brig clawing her way in and out of ports, delivering cargo in defiance of the British blockade, putting herself in constant danger. But she eluded British capture and in 1787, after the war, she won favor by an unprecedented trading voyage around Cape Horn. In 1788, she became the first American vessel to make landfall on the west coast of North America.

Her career included trade to Honolulu, Hong Kong and Japan. Lady Washington opened the black pearl and sandalwood trade between Hawaii and the Orient. Only 67 feet long on deck (112 feet overall) this little brig would have been just a speck on the vast blue ocean, but she managed to make a big name for herself.

In 1989 this new carefully researched and constructed Lady Washington celebrated her launch and calls Grays Harbor, Washington her home. She spends her time providing sail training for seamen (and seawomen?) and even spent a short time acting in a movie filmed in the Caribbean. She sails with a crew of 12, can carry up to 48 passengers and boasts two, three pounders, and two swivel guns.

Would she have made a stand and fought an enemy ship when she was a privateer? Heck no. She would have run for her life.

I visited her a couple years ago at the Rose Festival in Portland. Her crew cheerfully and knowledgeably answered all my dozens of questions. My thanks to the many people who make the Lady Washington possible and accessible.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Six Days to More Research

I've been checking the weather forecasts for Sunday. Rain. On a positive note, there might be a couple of sunbreaks. I've got to find a hat, like the kind the Groton's fisherman wears. What is it called, a noreaster? Souwester?

Nine hours out in the rain. I'm so looking forward to this research. I'm pretty sure I have a poncho somewhere in the house.

I find it difficult to work at home. Some people are bothered by their children but I'm bothered by Hobiecat and Schooner. They bother me if they are sleeping because...okay, fine. They are kind of cute. But if I manage to ignore them and work, one or the other of them will smack me on the arm until I whisper little kitty sweet nothings into their ears. Sheeeez. That is my arm his paw is on.
Six more days.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lunge and Thrust

Being a writer is hard work. When I began to write a book several years ago, I thought the hardest part would be the typing. It wasn't until I took classes it became clear how little I knew. It isn't just plundering the page with words. It isn't just following the rules of language. It isn't just the ability to use a thesaurus. It is a craft one works to master.

There are those who can slough down a slew of scuttlebutt in seconds and have very little revision. And then there is me. It may take me four hours to heave some hearsay onto the herald and then another four hours to come up with a page of prose worth keeping.

In college I never would have thought the research could be one of the best parts.

It is so fun.

For two years I wrote a little and researched a lot. Friends and family can attest to my excitement and exhilaration during that time. Conversations began with "Did you know..." and my friends eyes would glass over.

Today I conducted more research. My critique friend, Peggy, and I had a private lesson with David Cogley in Camas. He kindly brought a French cavalry sabre and a weapon similar to a small sword which would have been used by the officers aboard a Royal Navy ship. We started out with a foil and graduated up to a fencing sabre. We lunged, we parried, we engaged, we disengaged, we thrust and parried and followed with a riposte. We advanced, we recovered. And most thrilling of all, we ran him through. And then we apologized.
It is hard to thrust a blade into someone, especially when he has velvety brown eyes and an equally silky voice. The mask helps though. One can imagine it is someone who left their blinker flashing for three miles, going 30 in a 55 and talking on their cell phone. (Not that I ever entertained the idea of jumping out of my car, hauling the culprit out of his and engaging in a duel, or anything.)

Friday, November 13, 2009


So is it Paraskevidekatriaphobia or triskaidekaphobia?

Fear of the number 13 has been traced back to medieval times, although triskaidekaphobia is a word only in existence since the early 1900’s. Some say it is because there were thirteen at the last supper.

It is also linked to Norse mythology where the god Odin invited eleven of his buddies to a brouhaha at his condo in Valhalla (probably connected with football or a poker game, but no one at my source seemed to want to say. I don't know a lot about Norse mythology, but it sounds to me as though a keg were involved). Loki, the god of evil and turmoil, never got his invitation and crashed the party. This made thirteen and the dinner and snacks were only enough for twelve. The god, Balder, always the hero and therefore beloved by all (and who looked surprisingly like Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Arc) decided to toss the intruder out. I mean, who wants to share their pickled herring? So Balder and Loki got into a brawl with fists flying and crashing chairs over each other’s heads, but Loki didn’t fight fair. He could have smacked a bottle over Balder’s head, like any decent brawler, but noooo. Loki shot Balder with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, felling him like a moth with wings aflame. I hate those danged mistletoe-tipped arrows. No good ever comes of them. And don’t give me the rhetoric about mistletoe-tipped arrows don’t kill people. People kill people. These were Norse gods, for crying out loud. It was the arrow, okay?

So, here in the U.S., we have a general fear of the number thirteen. It is part of being a good citizen. We go so far as to skip the thirteenth floor of high-rise buildings. There is the eleventh, twelfth, and fourteenth floors but no thirteenth. Maybe it is just me, but when I step onto a high-rise elevator and notice no “13” button, I always feel secure, like nothing could possibly harm me.

But then enters Friday. Not content with our triskaidekaphobia, we decided to throw in a fear of Friday. At first I couldn’t imagine fearing Friday. After all, at 5pm it is the beginning of the weekend and how could anyone have a problem with that. But then I remember the stock market crash in 1929, beginning the big depression. F-R-I-D-A-Y. Also, “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving) strikes terror in my heart since reports of throngs of shoppers trampling security guards to death so they can snatch one of five items at a super great price hit the papers. So, yes, Friday can be pretty scary.

Hence the relatively new term, Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.

Seriously, don’t try to do anything new on a Friday the 13th, like start a journey or have a baby. Postpone it until the 14th, please. In my early 20's I got laid-off in the afternoon of Friday the 13th, but it only lasted through the weekend. By Monday morning they wanted me to get back to work at my regular time. Yeah, don’t ask. I don’t know.

To avoid making this a completely dire blog, I’ve decided to add some hope. For some people, Friday the 13th is really good luck. My mother was 13 on Friday the 13th and she has had some fabulous luck. I mean, she had me, didn’t she? Right?

Tap, tap tap.


Monday, November 9, 2009

The Circumtheory of Revolution

I freaked myself out.

My last post has plagued me since I published it. It hovers overhead like a cloud filled with thunder claps. It haunts me, taunts me, threatens to overcome me, and I have given in to the fear.

In high school I learned an important lesson. Beware what you say in jest. As sure as thunder follows lightening, it will boomerang back to you.

It happened to me. Flirting with a cute guy--Pat, the brother of one of my best friends, no less--I scored an invitation to his senior prom, still three months away. I accepted, of course, flattered he asked.

But then the unthinkable happened. A week or two later, a boy to whom I'd been attracted for a year acknowledged my existence. What joy. A blazing shaft of happiness lit my world. He showed up at my school (he had graduated the year before) and we talked. We phoned. We sent notes. A couple weeks went by and the infatuation grew. He asked me out. I accepted. We set it up for the following week.

My friend reminded me of her brother. His prom was in six weeks. He'd already bought the tickets. I no longer wanted to go and in my diary that night I whined and complained, but I knew I could not disappoint my friend's brother. I had to go. "Maybe I'll break a leg," I wrote in jest, figuring that would be the only way I could get out of going. It wasn't as if I didn't like Pat. He was a sweet, nice boy, but when a sixteen-year-old is in the throes of new love, she wants to spend every waking moment with the heartthrob.

The day before my date with the heartthrob, I broke my foot.

It is more than the Circumtheory of Revolution (what goes around, comes around), it is irony at its best. And it is warning. I hobbled on crutches and cast to my date with cutie-patootti, but the cast came off a week before Pat's prom and I was in tip-top shape for it. Pat must have known about the other boy, but he was a gentleman. We contented ourselves with just being friends and having a good time. (At least that is my version. I have no idea if he has a different version.)

So this long-ago incident has weighed heavy on my mind for the last couple days. In my last entry I said I wouldn't help someone drowning in a river. It was written in jest. That means I was joking. It was a sham, a farce, not to be taken seriously. Of course I'd stop, dang it. And I'd do everything I could to help. But now I keep thinking of the "Maybe I'll break a foot," entry in my high school diary and within a week my foot broke.

I've put a blanket and a coil of rope in my trunk. If I see someone in the river I'm throwing a line. When I haul them in, I'm wrapping them up in the blanket and driving them to the nearest hospital.

Do you hear that, fates? I WILL stop. I WILL help. And I'll help the old, crippled blind woman cross the dang street too. Okay?

Now leave me alone. And get a sense of humor, will you? Sheeeez.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Training for Halloween, Part Three

What made me get involved in this saga? Wasn’t acting as “Vancouver, USA, Visitor’s Welcome” enough? What drove me to immerse myself in the continuing drama? Was it a desire to dispel the Ugly American perception so my brother-in-law could hold his head up when visiting his homeland? Paaleeeez. I love my brother-in-law like a brother, but I'm not that noble.

Was it heroics? A desire to save the pig-tailed, freckle-faced buckaroo from the worst Halloween of her life? Phffffft. I haven’t a heroic bone in my body. I once saw an old lady hunched over a walker, flailing a white cane with a red tip trying to cross a busy street in rush hour traffic. Did I stop to help her? Well, okay, I just made that up, but if I really did see that, I’d probably drive by and whisper, “Bummer.”

Was it an inability to keep my nose out of other people’s lives? Geeez, we might be getting closer to the truth on this one. Except, I’m pretty darned sure I could keep my nose out if I saw someone screaming for help in the middle of an icy, raging river. Oh sure, I might flip open my cell phone and mention it to the police if I hadn’t used all my minutes, but I probably wouldn’t even slow down.

As I waited to be sent into oblivion at the edge of that train platform, it never occurred to me I could have been sitting quietly in the station, reading a book. The only thoughts in my head centered around getting the trained stopped so the cowpuncher could get back to riding fence.

The little lights blinked on beside the doors of the car and metal wheels screeched against metal rail like fingernails down a chalkboard. The agent and the woman drooped against each other. I bent at the waist and panted into my knees. The very last door was all that remained at the platform while the rest of the train shivered to a stop down the track.

A conductor jumped down from the car and jogged toward us. Before he reached us, he heard the young mother pounding on the door, barking, "Let me off, let me off!" He set his jaw and his eyes flashed in the dim light. With a growl, he jumped back onto the train, yelled for her to come to the open door and leaped back to the platform to put the stool down. The young woman clutched a small baby and diaper bag in one arm, a large suitcase and dangling purse in the other. Her hair hung half out of a bun and her mascara ran down her cheeks. He wrestled the suitcase away from her and tossed it to the ground, his breathing hard and his lips compressed. As soon as the mother’s feet touched the cement the cowgirl launched herself into her mother's legs, wailing.

“Next time pay attention to what doors will open,” he reprimanded. He ripped his walkie-talkie out of his holster and snarled out a command, scooping up the stool and hopping back onto the train. He glared and slammed the door, throwing the lock.

The little lights blinked off and far into the dark the engine bellowed its frustration as it strained toward its destination, five hours late.

The family snuffled and shuffled off and I pressed a hand to my chest. Back in the station, I slumped onto a bench, exhausted. The station agent came in a side door with some suitcases on a cart. His eyes skimmed the counter where the blonde had been standing and cut to me. "Where's the woman that was over there," he roared.

At the same time, the front door opened and a cab driver strode in. “Who called for the cab?”

"She got on the train," I said to the agent.

The agent’s eyes widened. "She got on the train?"

"She got on the train?" the cab driver echoed.

I glanced at the cabby. “No,” I said to him. I had no idea who had called him.

“She didn’t get on the train?” the agent clipped.

“Yes. She got on the train,” I said to the agent.

"So, she did get on the train?" the cab driver sent the agent a narrowed-eyed glare and returned his gaze to me. The station agent shrugged his shoulders and began stacking the luggage.

“No, the woman who was here got on the train.” I didn’t want to appear rude to the cab driver, so I tried to explain. "She thought she was in Vancouver, Canada."

"What?" Both the agent and the driver asked together.

"She bought a ticket to Vancouver, B.C. in Seattle, but she got on the wrong train. She thought she was in Canada." I explained. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and pretended I believed her story.

The agent’s hands balled into fists and bright red color rose up his neck into his face. He fixed his eyes on me. “She thought she was in Canada?”

“Y-yes,” I stammered, shrinking back on the bench.

The driver picked up his radio and gritted out, "I'm clear. My passenger thought she was in Canada. She got back on the train." He shoved the door open and stormed out. The agent slammed a suitcase onto the counter. “I told her friend on the phone the station was in Vancouver, Washington and not Portland, Oregon. I made that clear. She accused me of giving her friend bad directions.”

I decided not the remind him they never could have found the station using his directions. “Yes, well, she didn’t want coffee, either,” I commiserated.

He snorted and tossed a few more bags onto the floor from the cart.

I tucked my feet under me and slouched on the bench, trying to be invisible. Ten minutes later my daughter’s train arrived. She got off, we sauntered over to my car and climbed in. I put the car in gear and eased out of the lot, driving to the nearest Starbucks where people are sane, most of them are friendly and you can get a decent cup of coffee.

I'm not cut out to be the ambassador for the abolishment of the "Ugly American" stereotype. It is hard work and I don’t think my heart can take it. My poor brother-in-law will have to do it on his own. With his French accent and sweet disposition, maybe he is just the one to win over the world. Wish him luck. Do it for America.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Training for Halloween Part Two

As I sat in the little train station, my mind wandered to the lady-from-Georgia’s friends in Canada. I could just imagine them following the station agent’s directions from Fifth and Main. They must be frantic. Having been to the Vancouver B.C. station, the only similarities are the train tracks.

For years I commuted on C-Tran/TriMet to Portland and forced myself to stay awake. Sleeping through my stop presented an unreasonable fear. Other people’s heads nodded forward, jerked back, nodded forward, but not mine. On top of being afraid of ending up in Lake Oswego, what if I drooled? These types of baseless fears are nothing to brag about, but then, are they unjustified? What about this woman who ended up in Vancouver, Washington and not Vancouver, B.C.? What about the two pilots that overshot their destination by 150 miles? If those pilots had been flying from Vancouver (not B.C.) to Seattle and overshot their destination, they would have ended up in Vancouver (yes B.C). Without me, would they have realized they were in the wrong country?

So I got to thinking of the ugly American thing and decided to offer to buy her a cup of coffee. If I ended up in the wrong country I’d appreciate anyone who tried to be kind and I wanted her to have a good impression of the Pacific Northwest and our little city in particular.

“May I buy you a cup of coffee?”

"I don't drink coffee", she snapped and began a diatribe into the cell phone, emphasizing she told the agent in Seattle that she wanted Vancouver, Canada. If I had offered her Starbucks, I would have been insulted at her snub, but one cannot blame someone for turning down vending machine coffee.

Our agent stuck his head in the door and announced the train, darting back outside. He didn't mention which train, northbound or southbound. As it pulled up, heading north, the older couple let out a sigh of relief, "Finally." It rumbled to a stop and the doors slid open, spilling out passengers with suitcases and briefcases and backpacks.

The blonde on the cell phone straightened up, gazed out the window and whirled her head toward me. "Is that train going north?"

"Yes," I answered. She flipped her phone shut and stuffed all her paperwork into her purse. "Are you going to take it?"

"You bet I am! They are going to have to take me back to Seattle." She grabbed her purse, her cell phone, and suitcase and raced for the door. I held it open and trotted along beside her through the dark, dodging a small crowd of passengers heading for the parking lot and station. A conductor hefted the stool back onto the train and both the woman and I yelled, "Stop! Don't close the door. There is another passenger." We sprinted the last few yards and I helped her toss her bag onto the train, while the conductor put the stool back on the pavement. The woman started to climb up.

"But you don't have a ticket to Seattle," I whispered.

"That'll be their problem," she jeered and vaulted into the train.

"Good-bye. Good luck," I called and waved with the vague hope she’d remember our Vancouver as pleasant.

I walked back to the station and the older couple and the cowgirl stood in the doorway, waiting. I stopped, turned back and scanned the dark, empty platform, “Wasn't this the train you were waiting for?"

They nodded. The woman’s knuckles were white as she gripped her purse. The man’s eyebrows met in the middle. His eyes floated back and forth over the platform.

I gulped and nodded at the little girl. "Sooo, where is her mom?"

"I don't know," the woman's voice cracked as she eyed me.

"There she is!" the little girl’s excited cry pierced the air and she jumped up and down.

My gaze skimmed the pavement. Deserted. "Where?"

"There," the girl bounced and pointed. All three of us followed the cowgirl’s finger toward the doorway of the train.

A woman flailed an arm and pounded on the glass in the closed door. “Help, help, I can't get the door open. I need help," came a faint cry through the dark. At that precise moment, the train jerked forward, its big engines snarling. It began to roll north.

“Stop,” I screamed. I slammed out to the platform. "Stop, stop, stop."

A shadowy shape loomed ahead and the old woman, who pounded right behind me, veered off toward it. It was the errant station agent, driving a cart filled with luggage.

The cowgirl began to scream. I glanced back. The grandfather, rooted to the spot, stared helplessly and patted the Stetson.

"My daughter is still on the train!” the woman shrieked.

The agent’s jaw dropped open.

"She couldn't get the door open. She is still on the train." I shouted as I dashed past him. My footsteps smacked the pavement as I loped north on the platform, my arms oscillating in frenzied motion.

"Stop the train, stop the train,” the agent yelped into his walkie-talkie. “You’ve got one of our passengers."

The train kept moving.

My arms pumped, my feet pounded and my heart thundered. Someone wheezed right behind me.

The agent screeched into the radio again. The growing clatter on the rails did not drown out the desperate keening of the cowpoke.

I glanced back. The white-haired woman and the agent were hot on my heels, shouting and waving. "It will be okay. They’ll stop the train,” I shouted to the girl.

The train picked up speed.

The piteous wails of the freckled girl picked up volume.

Panicked, I steamed after the train as if I could catch up to the engine and pull it to a stop. In the dim light of a streetlamp, the dark gray pavement turned abruptly into a dark void. Labored breathing behind me raised the hair on my neck. I squealed to a stop at the end of the platform and hunched my shoulders, waiting for the runners behind to crash into me and send us all hurling into the black abyss. The last car hurtled toward the end of the platform.

(Part Three of Training for Halloween tomorrow)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Training for Halloween, Part One

My brother-in-law, Laurent, is French. I’m not talking about being of French descent. I’m talking about being born and raised there, complete with accent. A few years ago he became an American citizen. There was a big party and he made us all take the test he’d taken. Most of us flunked. He worked hard to become an “Ugly American”. When he travels home, do the French people frown at him? Are Americans still considered “ugly”?

A few years ago, on a Halloween night, I drove to the Vancouver train station. My daughter was coming home from college for the weekend. I was excited to see her and arrived just before eight, nearly half an hour early. I mean, you never know. Maybe trains can be early, right? They could have caught a tailwind, right? Or perhaps a good following sea may have pushed them ahead of schedule.

As I entered the station, the agent behind the counter hollered, "And next time find your own ride!" He flipped open the counter and flung the door wide. A middle aged blonde woman glanced up as she dug through paperwork on the counter, a cell phone balanced between one ear and a hunched shoulder. She glowered at his departing back and pounded the counter with her free hand.

"I can't believe you are being so obnoxious. What kind of a welcome to Canada is this?"

The station agent stopped and sent her a glare hard enough to stop a speeding bullet. He turned and stomped out the door, letting it slam behind him.

I glanced around the station which consisted of the agent’s counter, a baggage counter, a few vending machines and four or five smooth wooden benches similar to church pews. An older couple sat at the end of one of the benches; the woman clutching her purse on her lap and the man hunched over his folded hands. Both warily watched as the woman at the counter ranted into her cell phone in an “outside” voice. The only other occupant in the small station was a young cowgirl, wearing a light blue fringed skirt, matching fringed shirt, a white Stetson with a light blue hat band and white cowgirl boots. A number of large black freckles adorned her face and her hair hung in perky pig tails.

I sneaked past the bellowing blonde at the counter and approached the older couple. “Did I come at a bad time?”

The man gave me a wilted smile and the older woman shrugged. “This has been going on for hours. Her friends can’t find the station to pick her up and she is accusing the station agent of giving them bad directions,” the woman whispered.

“Oh.” I lowered myself to the bench beside them. Perhaps I had come in at the climax of the story. My eyes roved over the nearly empty station. “Well, are you waiting for the southbound train?”

“No,” the man spoke in a low tone, “The northbound. It is late. Four hours late.”

Whoa, I didn’t know a train could be that late. It isn’t as if it could be stuck in traffic. “Do they know why it is so late?”

“Forest fires in L.A.” He glanced at the little girl as she loped around the vending machines. “We’re waiting for her mom.”

The older woman pressed her lips together a moment. “That woman has been here the whole four hours we’ve been waiting. After waiting about two hours she became agitated. The agent suggested she call her friends on her cell phone but she didn’t want to do that because it would be long distance.”

If I had waited two hours for my friends to pick me up, I’d be dialing their number, long distance or not, and would have a few choice words to say. But that is just me--the personification of the impatient ugly American.

“Her friends finally called her and said they couldn’t find the station,” the woman went on. “She got the directions from the agent but they still couldn’t find it. After several phone calls, the agent got on the phone and talked to the friends himself. They were at Fifth and Main, so he gave them directions from there.”

“How long ago was that?”

“About an hour ago.”

I glanced up. They could have walked from Fifth and Main on crutches and still arrived by now, I thought. My eyes narrowed. The blonde seemed to have an American accent, but you never can tell if it might be a Canadian accent. I heaved a sigh and folded my arms, tapping my foot. "Um...when I came in, she said something about Canada. Is it possible she thinks she is in Vancouver, B.C.?"

They gave me blank stares.

So, which is worse: intruding in other people’s lives or not getting involved when someone needs help? I probably should have stayed out of it, but I tend to leap into the fire when I hear the snap and crackle of flames.

I hopped up and ambled over to the woman who still shouted into her cell phone. I cleared my throat. There was really no polite way to ask this question. "Excuse me. Do you think you are in Canada?"

The woman shot me with a glare, rolled her eyes and spoke slowly, like she was speaking to a dimwitted child. "I'm in Vancouver, Canada."

“Hmmm.” I schooled my features into a sympathetic expression, even though she'd just treated me like I was daft. "Well, that might be the problem then, because you are in Vancouver, Washington.”

She stared, the phone two inches from her ear.

“In the United States," I emphasized.

She blinked a few times and her mouth gaped open. "What?"

"You are in Vancouver, Washington, right across the river from Portland, Oregon." I repeated.

She turned back to the phone and her voice took on a caustic tone. "You are not going to believe this, but I've just been told I'm not in Canada at all. I'm in the United States…in Vancouver, Washington."

Her discussion became animated so I walked back and sat next to the older couple again. I gave them a bright smile and asked, "So, your train is way late."

"Yes", they whispered, giving the little girl with the painted freckles a compassionate grimace. "We had no idea we'd spend the whole evening here." The little girl strolled over to us, plopped down on the bench next to the older woman and let out a pitiful sigh. She clasped an empty orange trick-or-treat bag.

The blonde woman at the counter, apparently on hold, fixed her eyes on me. "They think this is my fault! I arrived at the Seattle train station fifteen minutes early, got my ticket to Vancouver B.C., ran out to the platform and asked the train guy which train was for Vancouver. He pointed it out and I got on it. Now here I am. I'm from Georgia. How was I to know?"

"Indeed," I said. "This must be awful for you.” I didn’t want to say anything, but I suspected she never mentioned B.C. to anyone. She probably just went up to the window, said “Gimme a ticket to Vancouver,” and jogged out to the platform. A lot of people don’t know there is a Vancouver, Washington.

"It is going to be more awful for them," she threatened.
(Part Two of Training for Halloween tomorrow.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Bellies

Halloween can be a lonely disappointment.

Here in the Northwest, we celebrate Halloween a little differently. Well, we do a lot of things differently, but it isn't our fault. Sometimes it isn't warm enough to trick-or-treat in just a costume. Sometimes a sweater or a light jacket must be worn. And, of course, a large umbrella is valuable. The larger the better. Somehow carrying a jaunty blue and white stripped golf umbrella seems to negate the sinister aspect of a witch or a mummy. You can forget about being a fairy or an angel. Have you ever tried to put a raincoat over wings? And children don't seem to enjoy trick-or-treating as much as they did when I was a child in California.

I remember taking my daughter out trick-or-treating and she whined the whole time.

"It's cold," she complained.

I leaned closer to hear her over ping, ping, ping, ping of the pelting rain on the umbrella.
"It isn't that cold. Button up your jacket."

"It's really cold," she moaned from under the fur-lined hood.

"Do you want to wade back to the car? Your costume is so cute, are you sure you don't want to go to a few more houses?"

"You can't see my costume, Mom. I'm wearing ski pants and a parka and rubber boots over it and I'm still cold."

I rolled my eyes and leaned back. A gush of water cascaded off the umbrella. Children exaggerate so. Exhilarating would have been a better description of the weather.
In the morning four inches of snow covered the ground.
My daughter has graduated from college and is working in downtown Portland. She still likes to dress up in costumes and belly dancing has given her reason to do so. For some reason she likes to be inside on Halloween, so she and her belly dancing friends staged a Halloween show. It was hard to tell audience from performers as nearly everyone was in costume, but when the music began there was no mistaking who was who.
Belly dancers of all sorts worked each muscle in independent motion and in the intermission coined belts, floaty scarves and feathered hair pieces could be purchased from vendors. It was a great place to spend Halloween night, and quite truthfully it was a relief not to be home.

For the last fifteen years I've sat at the door in a dim circle of light from the front porch, a mound of chocolaty candy in a bright orange pumpkin, and "Young Frankenstein" playing on the television, waiting and waiting for trick-or-treaters. I've not had any. Not even one. I wonder why. It could be because I live out in the country. I hope it has nothing to do with the yellow "Electric Fence" warning signs surrounding the property.