Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Masquerade

Millard went to the grange that first warm Saturday of spring with murder on his mind. Calvin, a fellow ranch hand, had kissed Millard’s girl, and he was going to hell. Disguise was the key. Tingling in ecstasy as he rummaged his mother’s steamer, Millard imagined the blood splattering on her striped cotton pajama pants. Her swim cap, which lent her elegance that his father’s meager salary denied them all, would make a nice kufi. Beetle-shaped silver earrings – where did these come from? No matter. A bracelet on his wrist, and two over his taut biceps; perfect. From the wooden peg he’d tapped ever so gently into the wall above his sister’s sweet-smelling dresser, he stole the golden mask that had won her flitting favor with the mayor’s son. The silk sash he plundered from the textile museum two towns over, and which his girl had refused, felt lush against his torso. The vest ripped from his father’s closet smelled of failure. From the shed, he took a length of chain, making sure not to get any gold paint on the odd pieces of metal hanging from the links. The piece de resistance: a whimsical horsehair mustache.

Skimming the edges of town, Millard boiled with anticipation. His enemy’s manner with the ladies was as smooth as his ruddy cheeks. The last dance he performed would find him not with a pretty paramour, however, but alone, whirling and twirling as the blood spilled from the cross-shaped wound above his adulterous heart. From the grove of pine trees behind the grange, Millard could see the building was filled with revelers, so happy in the innocence of the moment. Quiet as a ghost, he snuck up to the back door. The smooth pattern and earthy smell of the clapboards warmed his demon soul. In a flash, he was in the kitchen, closer to the ruckus and revelry, his fist tight around a stainless steel knife. The band was raucous, loud enough to cover Calvin’s screams. Millard’s outlandish outfit would sow confusion. The dim lighting offered an easy getaway.

Like a diva taking the temperature of the room, Millard peeked through the window on the swinging kitchen door. In a near corner he spied the young schoolteacher, Miss Hartley, laughing through her nose at the minister’s dim wit. Behind them, under the Stars & Stripes stood his boss, Mister Peavey. “He’d never know me in this get-up,” Millard snickered. A conga line passed close to the door, arms flailing and legs sprawling to the crazy Caribbean beat. He recognized no one. A female pirate. A cowboy. A devil. A witch. A harlequin. “What the deuce? What is going on here?” The calendar pages flipped backward in his mind. He saw himself writing “Masq Ball” on Saturday, March 30. He intended to ask Dolores until he saw that scoundrel plant a kiss on her outstretched hand. Then he marked the last Saturday of March as “Murder Day” on his mental calendar. But where was the Cad? Which of the ladies in disguise was his favorite flower? He could hardly go ripping masks off the celebrants. Join them, he told himself. This will be fun. Murder can always wait.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Watching "Lou Grant" with My Dad

My dad passed away four weeks and a day after his 85th birthday. He would've been 86 today. He was a great man who donated time and/or money to countless organizations, from the YMCA to Springfield College, Simsbury ABC to soup kitchens in Hartford. He was a regular blood donor, helped coach my Little League team and was an officer for the retired men's organization in my hometown, Simsbury, CT.

He taught elementary school for 35 years, and after retiring at age 62, mentored and tutored students for many years. He also acted in countless plays over the course of his life. Through all of these activities, he received many honors and awards and various sorts of recognition. I was aware of all of these activities to some degree, but what I remember about him are the smaller moments.

In the fall of 1994, I moved back in to my parents' house for a few months, with my girlfriend (now wife), Beth. We had moved from Boston to Middletown, CT, in the fall of 1993 so Beth could complete a clerkship, after finishing law school. Our lease in Middletown ended in September of 1994, but she had a few more months of work to do before we made our planned move back to Boston.

Living with my parents was a bit strange -- when I moved to Dover, NH, in the summer of 1988 I didn't expect to be back for any reason other than visiting. But my parents are great people, and we all got along well. One of my fondest memories of this brief time comes to me just about every time I eat peanuts, one of my dad's favorite snacks.

I was working a temp job at Fleet Bank in East Hartford, CT. This was the only point in my life I used the bus to commute. One of my parents would pick me up at the stop, about a mile from their house. Beth drove herself to work and back, and worked later than I did, so I had time to kill each day before she got home.

My dad and I fell into a routine of watching "Lou Grant," a drama that was spun off from the incredibly popular sitcom, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." I was never a huge "MTM" fan, but I did like Mary's boss, the grumpy Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner. "Lou Grant" ran from 1977 to 1982, but I didn't watch it then.

Thank God for syndication. The show was right up my alley: it starred Asner as a character I already liked, although he was more hard-nosed in this show than he was in "MTM." Grant is an editor for an L.A. newspaper; I worked for my college newspaper while earning a B.A. in journalism, and then for my hometown paper after.

My dad had been a fan of "MTM," I believe, so he was obviously into checking out "Lou Grant." The show dealt with weighty issues, ranging from nuclear proliferation to mental illness, capital punishment to chemical pollution (thanks, Wikipedia). My dad cared about societal issues such as these, so the show was right up his alley, too.

I liked Grant, and identified with the two reporters, Rossi (played by Robert Walden) and Billie (Linda Kelsey), and got a kick out of staff photographer, Animal (Daryl Anderson).

I have no great recollection of specific episodes. I suspect the show stands the test of time, as it won 13 Emmys and two Golden Globes, among other honors.

What stands out in my mind about the show is that it brought my dad and me together. We would discuss the issues, laugh here and there, and just hang out in my parents' rec room. I would often load up a plate with some peanuts, and cheese and crackers, and often my dad would offer me a beer in a frosted mug.

In my head we did this every day for the few months Beth and I lived there. I'm sure that's not true,

I miss my dad, and the simple pleasures of watching TV, snacking and drinking beer together. I think of him when I eat peanuts, or tell my kids a corny joke like, "What time do you go to the dentist? Tooth-hurty!" or steal food off one of my kid's plates.

Today I'm driving to Connecticut to meet my mother, sister and a few other family members for lunch. I'm looking forward to hitting the open road, where my mind can wander to so many good memories of my father. At lunch, I'm sure we'll share stories about my dad and have some laughs. I wonder if Ruby Tuesday offers a cheese, cracker and peanut appetizer, with a Piels in a frosted mug to wash it all down?