Thursday, July 21, 2016

My Mother's Funeral

Life likes its curve balls. When I did my trip through Florida, culminating in the wonderful Key West Mystery Fest, I came home for about a week and a half, and then I heard my mother had collapsed. My little sister called with the news. I'm not sure how she found out because my other sister and my brother have made themselves the only kids that count. When my father died my wife called Isa because the other two couldn't be bothered.

I called the hospital immediately. For some damn reason they gave me to the Queen sister, who asked me three times, "How did you find out?" as though her efforts to keep the news from me had failed. When my little sister told the busybody one that I would be there in the morning--living up in northern New Hampshire makes it difficult to get anywhere quickly--she said that I didn't even need to come.

There's a lot more in that particular story, none of it reflecting well on the one sister and my brother, and my father would have rolled over in his grave. Again, as he would have done it during his first funeral, when the busybody and my brother denied my younger sister a seat with the family. How was that communicated? With choice four-letter words, of course.

My mother's funeral was two nights ago. After I flew to see her in Minneapolis, I came home after the MRI proved that her brain had been destroyed, was home for a day, then drove to Manhattan for ThrillerFest. Then I stayed an extra day for a Noir @ the Bar reading (I need to put up that poster on my website) and drove home the next day. Two days later I was headed for the Public Saftey Writers Association conference in Las Vegas. I'd been invited, appeared on three panels, and got to enjoy the constant second-hand smoke that makes up Las Vegas's breathing spaces. Right now I'm jet-lagged off my rear end but I could have flown directly from Vegas to Minneapolis for my mother's funeral.

But I didn't.

It was very difficult to get any information from my brother but as he denied or lied about everything that happened at my father's service in regards to my little sister, I decided I couldn't tacitly support their untrue version of what they had done.

People not related to anyone were seated in the family row. We had to pull up an extra chair so my wife and I could both sit. I had no idea until later that they wouldn't allow my sister a seat. Plenty of people saw it, including my wife and a very good friend from high school. At the end of it, when I had just been told, my mother tried to get us to go over to my brother's house. Shocked and appalled I told her we weren't going to do that. We seemed to have parted on good terms. I wasn't going to make a scene.

When my brother deigned to answer my e-mails, he denied any of what happened with my sister was real. I had told him that that couldn't happen again, that when the officiator read her bio that Mom had eleven grand-children, instead of the four that came from my busybody sister. I told him that all of us should sit in the family row, as it should have happened at my Dad's funeral. I told him that all of us should be allowed to speak.

He told me in no uncertain terms that none of what had happened at my Dad's funeral had actually happened, despite all the people that saw it, and that I would not be allowed to speak.

In other words, it was their way or the highway. They have done so much over the years to splinter the family. My parents moved down to Florida to be near my wife and I. My Dad taught my son to play golf. We were together every Thanksgiving. I'd drive my dad's car and he'd drive my Jeep. I helped him out in his house, crimping and connecting the cable outlets in the ceiling of his house, helping clean up after a hurricane, and so on.

Apparently my older sister and younger brother thought they knew best. They tried to make me an outcast. I didn't allow it at my father's service but they toughened up for my mother's and forced me into a choice: attend not as my mother's son but at their tolerance, or be satisfied with the goodbyes I'd said to my mother at the hospital.

They kept her plugged in for a couple of extra days so people who had gone on vacation for the Fourth could come back. They left after my Mom had collapsed and went anyway. When they finally unplugged her, they didn't make the effort to even let me know.

When I was younger, I rode my bike to the hospital where my dad's mother was dying of lung cancer. I remember going into this big empty room expecting to spend some nice time with my grandmother--I used to drop by on her and her husband at random times at their house--and was shocked when she couldn't kick me out of there fast enough. "I don't want anyone to see me like this!" she said.

I don't believe my mother would have like to have been kept alive artificially so people could come and see her. That's just my opinion, but it seemed so unnecessary and absent of dignity (and my mother wasn't exactly devoid of being vain), that it was painful for me to see. At least one of my relatives came to that conclusion on his own and I salute him for it.

So I didn't go. I assume I could have changed flights and got there on time but for what? To be shunned by two people who had no business shunning any family member? To legitimize their inane and disingenuous claims?

I didn't go because they were lying about essentially everything, their keeping her artificially breathing against the terms of her living will, and their continued denial of their misdeeds kept me away. I've always been above those family dynamics. I moved away from those people after college and never went back. There are reasons.

I suppose I will always be the son that didn't care enough, but that's not the truth. I'm the son that was done being talked down behind his back by tiny, insignificant people. My wife went, and took the kids, and later when she told me how she and my busybody sister had an unpleasant conversation, my sister said that she hadn't "a mean bone in her body." Then she must be a squid. My wife told her that she'd seen it and that essentially ended the conversation. My wife's take? When my sister thinks no one's looking, that's when she's doing her dirty work. And I'm sure she's write. What she does is fairly apparent.

So my mother's gone. I suppose with luck I never have to see two of my three siblings again. And I won't miss them. I have always had an almost pathological disdain of dishonesty, of lying, and there's a taint that stains any dealing with these people.

I tried once to get on better terms with my sister. My dad asked me to, and I invited her to my wedding. I really would have tried. She sent a note saying she didn't think I was sincere enough in wanting her to come, so she was going to decline. So much for that effort.

Bottom line, they don't know the relationship I had with my parents any more than I knew theirs. We were in Florida, they were in Minnesota. The point is that they presume to know and to shape their own reality based on their twisted little partnership. That's up to them, and they're welcome to it, but it's a shame and pity they had to carry it over first to my dad's funeral, and then to my mother's.

Shame on them.

Whatever they do, though, doesn't change any facts. Oh, they can convince their friends of anything they want to, and more power to them. Talking behind people's backs is how they've gotten to where they are. There's nothing anyone could do about it if they tried.

So congratulations, you two. You kept me out of Mom's funeral. I can only hope that I'm more at peace with that decision than they can be with theirs, but I'm sure that's a forlorn hope.

Good night, Mom. I miss you.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Short review, more stuff soon

I've been out of town forEVER, my mother passed away suddenly, and when I cure my own zombie-ism, I will write a longer blog. Right now, here's a brief review of a book I finished on a loooong plane ride to Vegas for the PSWA conference.

"The Apache Wars" by Paul Andrew Hutton
4.5 stars
Very readable, very entertaining history of the struggles of American expansion into Apache territory in the years following the Civil War. Treachery and betrayal on all sides--American, Apache and Mexican--highlight the violence and ultimate conquest of the region. The cast of characters is large, and the book does a wonderful job of showing how the personalities and policies of Washington, including the greed for gold and silver, collide with the torture and cruelty of a people that at times showed willingness to live together with the white man. When thing broke down, the degree of murder and cruelty are horrifying. Excellent history. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Nine Days, Nine Cities, Nine Hotel Rooms

Almost like the heading says, I am now in my eighth different hotel room in my eighth different city on the eighth consecutive day. Right now I'm in Fort Myers and after a convoluted sequence of events (drove down from Sarasota, went to a bookstore on Sanibel to talk about a signing, then to Fort Myers to talk to the ferry people, on to the hotel, then to a grocery store, back to the hotel, then to the airport to return the rental car, and a taxi back. Phwew.)

My cab driver turned out to be British (American now) and we were talking about the June 23rd vote on breaking up the British empire, and how immigration without assimilation is invasion. The melting pot vs. diversity argument, which, I think, is an interesting one.

Anyway, it turns out he used to coach the professional soccer team I grew up watching in Minnesota. Small damn world.

But I feel like I've been on the road for four years and I hope that when the Key West Mystery Fest conference kicks in on Friday, I will be conscious enough to enjoy it. I don't know how people take this glamorous life.

Saw Lisa Unger last night in Sarasota. As I got to the front of the line to get my book signed, she looks up and says, "I know you!" I haven't seen her or her husband for maybe twenty years when she was newly published and I was not (and before I was struck down by illness). Then when I reminded her that I was the editor of the BLOOD WORK anthology I'm editing in honor of the late Gary Shulze, she yells, "You're Rick!"

So she got me by sight, which is probably even more impressive after all that time had she recognized my name.

Again, small world, and at times a beautiful one.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Richard Russo

Drove down to Concord last night to meet Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Russo, get some books signed (I'm a very occasional fan boy), and sit in the front row of an interview taped for NPR. If you listen to this, the inappropriately loud-laughing woman you may hear was seated to my immediate left. That person is always seated to my immediate left.

Russo was a charming guy, two weeks into a three week tour, so he was working. We have the same name and we both go by Rick. I told him my father, who went by "Dick," used to be bothered to no end by my nickname, saying it wasn't my real name. Then one day I pointed out that it was as much a derivative of "Richard" as was "Dick." And that was sort of the end of it, though for the rest of his days his mouth seemed to marble up like Stonewall Jackson eating a lemon when he actually used it.

Rick Russo said he had a theory: Richards born before sometime in the early forties were always known as "Dick," later we were always known as "Rick." Unscientific, I'm sure, but I told him we were both fortunate come down on the right side of that line and not be "Dicks."

"The other kids," whomever that group describes, must have been more tolerant--at least in that regard--back in the old days.

Anyway, if you care to look it up, he had some interesting things to say about his works, and the movies, and people who look like Paul Newman (my dad actually looked a lot like Paul Newman when he was younger; he told me when he first asked my mother out he asked her if she wanted to have dinner with someone who looked like Paul Newman. He finished the story with how surprised she was when it was my dad that showed up).

Friday, May 20, 2016

Excellent review in the new issue of "Deadly Pleaures" magazine

Stark House is mostly known for its reprints of classic crime novels--sometimes in a bargain, two-novel format like the Ace Doubles of old. But apparently it comes out with a paperback original.

TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS by Rick Ollerman, Rating A-

Jeff Prentiss wants to be a good cop, but his bad temper and his willingness to bend the rules often land him in trouble. Transferred from Tampa to St. Petersburg, Jeff finds himself a pariah among his fellow detectives, except for his partner. Luckily, for the time being, the have a "good" case--the murder of a well-known thief with connections to a prominent businessman.

Jeff's personal life is also a mess. His wife Lori and daughter have left him for places unknown. Lori's ex-husband, recently released from prison, began stalking her. Then he disappears and Lori thinks Jeff may have something to do with that disappearance. Questions are starting to be asked and Jeff is able to deflect them for awhile.

I came to this noirish novel with no preconceived expectations and left it with high respect and admiration for the writer's talent. This is definitely not an "everything works out in the end" kind of tale. Good people are killed and maimed and Jeff may be worse off at the end than he was at the beginning. What makes this novel a winner is Ollerman's storytelling chops and his vividly memorable characters. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 22, 2016


We went to the same junior high school in north Minneapolis, although separated by about four years. Later, I went to high school with his future bass player, Mark Brown, who played in a band called Fantasy that wowed at Washburn High's talent show.

When I was in college, I made a lot of the party tapes for my fraternity. At one point, one of my fellow Phi Psis ripped a cassette of Prince's "Dirty Mind" from the tape deck and threw it under the refrigerator. I was funk and R&B, he was San Francisco alt rock in the days before Prince found a way to fit his music in to anywhere.

Later I was an extra in his first move, Purple Rain. The girl I'd taken to the premiere shouted out, "That's you!" at a point where the camera had me full screen dancing to the music of The Time, guys that really were my favorite (I played basketball with some of them), but at the time I wasn't sure (we were too far back in a sold out Skyway Theater).

I met Apollonia there, introduced myself and brought her over to a friend who was involved in a touchathon, one of those things where the last person touching the car got to take it home. (He won eventually, a yellow Le Car if I remember right, and I'm sure it was due partially to the fact that I brought over a celebrity at two in the morning during a break in filming and introduced them).

Even before that, I'd see Prince out at the local clubs usually with his then girlfriend, Vanity, who also recently passed away. The last time I saw both of them, together or separately, was at an Alexander O'Neal show at an upstairs club whose name I no longer remember, a club where I saw a girl I'd once crushed on in high school. At this point though, I'd become too cool to ask for her number.

I could go on, but this isn't about me or the memories and stories I have of the time or the movie or the music. Prince died and although truthfully I wasn't a fan of much of his music, he picked up Minneapolis and put it on the national music scene, borne by the strength of his innovation and incredible guitar skills.

I'm reading this morning he may have had an issue with prescription opiates that may have had something to do with his death. This would just make it sadder, like Robin Williams' suicide (or anyone else's). In other words, if someone were around these talented people that recognized that they needed help outside themselves, perhaps they could have gotten it, and perhaps they'd still be with us.

Rest in peace, Prince. You made a mark on my early life and I will never forget.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review - "The Travelers" by Chris Pavone

I really need to dig out from beneath every damn thing since last week's trip for a signing to Minneapolis but I'm not there yet. I am trying, though, very hard. In the meantime, I agreed to do a book review and as a way of clearing that off my plate, here it is:

"The Travelers" by Chris Pavone

The good news is, I enjoyed the book itself a lot. The bad news is, I didn't enjoy reading it as much as I'd hoped. This is the first book I've read by Chris Pavone, and I'll probably try another, but what got me was that the present tense scenes are all very choppy, like it was targeted for readers with short attention spans. The sections can be quite short and usually end abruptly in places like, "Then the door opened." A new section is started and we have to wait to see who opened the door.

This in itself is not a bad thing. The problem here is the frequency in which it happens, which is just about through the entire book. It's a bit like watching a network TV show where more than a third of the show's time is allocated for commercials. As soon as my mind gets into the show, it's jerked out of the story by a commercial break. The show resumes, my mind is jerked out again.

The writing is okay; there's not a lot of flair in the language though there are a few witty metaphors. The dialogue is nothing special. It's the plot that keeps you interested, even though you'll probably figure out most of it in advance of the story. There are two cases where the manner in which the characters figures things out strain credulity--just thinking about something for a few seconds probably isn't enough--but the rest of the book worked much better.

So if you can put up with the short, very chopped up sections of the book, what you'll find is a mostly very enjoyable though slightly difficult to believe story that despite its faults, you'll often find difficult to put down.