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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Death of My Mother

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After the death of my father in 1980, discussed in a prior post, my mother, LeNore Whaley, moved to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, to live with my sister Mary Beth Colpitts, her husband Richard, and their daughter Cindy. That lasted for a number of years, and then there was some sort of discord (I stayed out of it), and in 1984 Mom called me with an interesting question. "If I moved to Columbus, Doug, how long do you think we'd get along?" I paused. She was not happy that I was both an atheist and a homosexual, but we were great friends and loved each other a lot. She wouldn't like it that I was now living with Jerry Bunge (who had just recently moved in) and that the only reason I hadn't been excommunicated was that Catholicism had apparently long ago ceased to care about my spiritual fate.

"About half an hour," was my reply, and that made her laugh.


Wedding Photo, 1941
"Then I think I'll move back to Jasper, Indiana," she told me, and that was a surprise too. She was a world traveler by this time, having left Jasper at age 23 to marry an Air Force officer, and, except for visits once or twice a year, had not been back a great deal to see her very large family (seven sisters, one brother, all Catholics). Jasper is a small and pleasant town, but it had long ago ceased to be her home. She asked for my help with some financial and legal matters, and I was glad to give it.


Dummy Flies as Mom Feeds Clayton
So LeNore Whaley returned to the place she was born in southern Indiana (near Evansville). By this time she was suffering mightily with emphysema, meaning that she needed an oxygen mask to breathe, taking it off only to go to another room and have a cigarette. Both she and my father (who died of a heart attack five years before) had been heavy smokers all their lives—their parakeet Dummy learned to imitate their individual coughs.


Mom With Jasper Family
At first things in Jasper were good, and Mom was reunited with her sisters and other relatives, who did valiant work to keep her happy and as healthy as possible. I went down and visited her with my son Clayton in December of that year. Mom was living in a small house and had a female companion who looked after her. I offered to give Mom a new parakeet (Dummy having died himself of lung trouble), but she said she didn't want that. I left hoping this would work out, but Mom's condition deteriorated. She would collapse from lung trouble, an ambulance would be summoned, and off to Jasper Memorial Hospital she'd go. When this started happening more than once a week, Mom's sister Gerry LeMastus called me. "Doug," she said, "your mother can no longer live alone. She needs to go into a nursing home, and fast. We've all tried talking to her, but she won't listen. Can you come down here and convince her?" Not an easy task that, given that my mother had very definite ideas about what she would and would not do, but I agreed.

On Tuesday, March 26, 1985, I flew to Evansville, rented a car, and drove to Jasper. I arrived at Mom's house, but her companion told me that she had just been rushed by ambulance to the hospital, so I went there. I met Mom's doctor, who looked all of 20 years old, and he softly told me, "Your mother is coming to the end of her disease." Quite the euphemism that. I took it to be an awkward death announcement and numbly nodded my head. He showed me into the room where she was recovering, and she glanced at me, eyes widening. "You look a lot like my son!" she announced. "There'd be a reason for that," I confessed, "I am your son. I'm here to visit and I find you in the hospital." She was very pleased to see me, and I took her back to her home that evening.

Now came the hard part. I spent the two days explaining to her that she had to go into a nursing home. "NO! NO! NO!!!" was her response. "I'm happy here." "Mother, you can't be rushed to the hospital every other day. You can't afford it. They'll quit coming. So there's no other choice. I will make the arrangements immediately." "NO!" "There's no choice, Mom," I repeated. "Oh, yes, there is!" "What?" "I'll die!"

That stopped me. She meant it. And, Bible in hand, she went to her bedroom to pray.

I flew home (classes were going on), planning on making the arrangements, but Mom was rushed to the hospital again within a day, this time never to leave. My sister Mary Beth and her husband Rich, with daughter Cindy (then age 9), flew to Jasper on April 7th to be with our mother. By this time she was largely incoherent, but she did get to see her granddaughter one last time, and she told Mary Beth and Rich not only that she was dying, but invited them to go with her if they liked (her sense of humor being intact until the very end).

Mary Beth was with her for 72 hours. Towards the end the doctor told Mary Beth that Mom wouldn't live more than a few hours, but then when Mary Beth asked for pain pills the idiot said he was worried she'd become addicted! ("I thought about slapping him silly," Mary Beth later told me). Mom got the pills and died on Wednesday, April 10, 1985 at 3:33 a.m.

The funeral was held in Jasper two days later, and I flew in with my son Clayton, then age 12. At the funeral home (closed casket by family tradition—"I don't want people to last see me dead," Dad had always said), all the family and friends were there. So many rosaries were said loudly by the entire group that Clayton, with no religious training, managed to memorize the "Hail, Mary" by the end of the evening.


Mom was buried next to my father the following day at the Cox Cemetery outside Birdseye, Indiana, where many a Whaley, going back to the Civil War, is laid to rest. It is a beautiful little cemetery, on a hill, overlooking many trees. There were lots of tears.



Both of my parents died of cigarettes at relatively young ages. Dad was 61 and Mom 66—it's very sad to have lost these vibrant people that early in their lives. I spoke to my sister before writing this post, and Mary Beth and I agreed that it's almost impossible to believe they could have died at all. We both miss them very much.


Younger Days, Always Had Great Legs

But here's the thing I'm almost proud of her for doing: when she found herself in an intolerable situation, she controlled it. She decided to die, and then that's what she did. I wonder if I have that much courage.
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Related Posts:
"My Competitive Parents, January 20, 2010
"Goodbye to St. Paddy's Day," March 2, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“No Pennies In My Pocket,” July 30, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“The Death of Robert Whaley,” September 7, 2010
"My Missing Grandmother," December 26, 2010
"Bob Whaley Trapped in Panama," January 21, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay

Are you making a decision to start letting the world know you've found your sexual identity? Good for you! It's a major step to take, and I've a few words of advice, having done this myself and seen a good many others do it—some well, some not so well. I've divided the topic into parts.

1. Teenagers Coming Out

This is the hard decision. No matter who you tell, the news that you are gay or lesbian is so juicy that in spite of solemn promises of confidentiality, it will spread and reach the ears of unsympathetic homophobes. Bullying is likely, even violence in some situations. Some gay people have body types or personalities that are stereotypical, they have no choice but to be out to everyone. Others can hide with varying degrees of success. If you're in this situation, go immediately to "It Gets Better" at http://www.itgetsbetter.org/, the Dan Savage organization designed to give guidance to teenagers dealing with bullying (there is a book of this same name by Dan Savage and Terry Miller). What you will find there is true. It does get better, and you will get stronger. If you bravely come out, first of all be proud of yourself for your courage. What a step! Know also that, as explained below, you are helping so many others by this daring action. I cannot tell you how much I admire you, having hidden myself when in high school (granted it was the 60s).

2. Telling Yourself You're Gay

I've posted about my own journey where the biggest step was getting over the idea that because I could have successful and enjoyable sex with women that meant I was straight. Never mind that all my dreams were about sex with men, I was STRAIGHT, damn it! See my post "How To Tell If You're Gay," August 31, 2010, for more on this topic. But let me add that every moment you waste in pretense means you are postponing the life you should leading, a life that will be very rewarding if you can finally talk truth to yourself.

3. Telling Your Parents and Family

This is hard too, but a necessary step. First of all, on some level they already know. Parents watch their children very carefully just for this sort of issue. If you've shown little or no interest in the opposite sex, they've noticed that even if they haven't said a word to each other. My father told me late in his life that when I got married, "Both your mother and I breathed a sigh of relief." When I did tell them, at Christmas 1976, I made them sit down, hold hands, and then said, "It's time I told you that I have always been, am now, and will always be a homosexual." I thought Mom would squeeze Dad's hand off. I had brought with me books to give them about being the parents of homosexuals and, to their credit, they both read all three of them (but when they put them on their bookshelf in the closet they turned the spines to the wall!). Dad told my sister if was just a "phase," and he died before I became heavily involved in gay civil rights in Ohio. I like to think that if both of them could see everything that eventually happened they'd be very pleased with me.

But you know your own parents. What's likely to occur? Acceptance? Ostracization? As far as books to give parents, go see http://www.gayfamilysupport.com/ for a list of good ones. That site will also direct you to PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a wonderful organization for parents of gays, and having support groups all over the globe.

Siblings tend to be easier to reveal your sexual orientation to, but you also know them. If you have more than one sibling, tell the easiest one first and enlist his/her help with parents and others.

Finally, tell your family that difficult as this all is, coming out is ultimately an act of love. If you had decided not to tell them, then you've also decided to cut them out of a major portion of who you really are, and lie to them steadily about your life. What family would think that a good thing? One other blessing is this: when it spreads throughout the entire family (grandma, cousins, Uncle Louie) the homophobes among them will likely go silent or be condemned by the rest of the tribe.

4. Telling Your Friends

This is the fun part. In the beginning when you first tell a friend it will be scary. But friends are friends for a reason. Like family they may already suspect, and, in any event, if they're truly friends it won't make any difference. If they can't handle it, who wants a friend like that? The line I learned to use is this: "We are such good friends that I have to tell you something important. A number of people who I don't like half as well as you, know that I'm gay, and it's time you knew it as well." Be prepared for questions. Make sure this person knows you are not coming on to him/her.

5. Homophobes

Homophobic people usually react badly because they are terrified of their own homosexual desires. Remember that. If brave enough, you might ask, "Why does this bother you so much?" See my post, "Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory," April 25, 2010, for more on this.

6. Euphoria

When my partner Jerry and I moved in together he was in the closet to everyone who knew him (though he'd had great many sexual encounters in his 26 years). First I made him come out to his parents (quite a story there—his mother thought I had made him gay, which was wrong, but she and I straightened that out), and then I sent him into the world to tell others. The first time he told a friend he came home all enthused. The woman he'd chosen had welcomed the news. Jerry found that incredibly liberating, a reaction he hadn't expected. So then he told someone else and then someone else and then someone else, selecting what he called "the victim of the day." He was thrilled. Jerry was suddenly free to be Jerry.

These days everyone who knows me is aware I'm gay (including thousands of my former law students), and I no longer deal with the issue of coming out except with strangers. I don't bring it up, but if the fact I'm gay is relevant (and the situation safe, say talking to someone sitting next to me on an airplane) I'll casually mentioned it. Most people have no reaction, but if it's an issue for them, what do I care? It's not my problem if they're bigots.

Coming out is important. It's important not just so you can live your life freely (no small reason), but also because as we do this singly, by the tens, hundreds, millions, we've forced society to change and look at us anew. All over the globe—in a breathtakingly short period of time—homosexuals have gone from being pariahs to constituting just another component of the human experience. When you come out you're advancing this movement, doing your share. You will silence some homophobes, you will cause people who didn't think about homosexuals as people to finally do so, and you will put a face on the topic that won't be ignored when these same friends notice others being homophobic and, indignant, speak up.


So that's my advice for you, blog reader: Come out and help make the world a better place. ________________________________________
Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
"Disowning Your Gay Children," October 9, 2013
"Republican Politicians: Reluctant Homophobes?" November 26, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,”       February 14, 2014
“Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?” March 19, 2014
“Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?” June 29, 2014
“Are Gays Really Just 1.6% of the U.S. Population?” July 22, 2014

“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/03/a-gay-hoosier-lawyer-looks-at-indianas.html
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Naming My Heart

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When I first received my heart transplant in November of 2009, I had no idea who the donor was. It's important that the mind/body connection be favorable to the new heart since rejection is a major issue with all transplants. One doctor told me some of his patients were afraid of their new hearts, and that's a bad. I developed a new mantra then that went "I don't know whose heart it was, but it's my heart now." The heart itself was wonderful: strong steady beat, constantly in the 90s (which is just what the doctors wanted).


Hair Dyed White (sigh) I Look 89
Then, through a process already described in this blog (see "My Heart Belonged to Andrew," February 27, 2010), I learned that my 27 year-old heart was that of a man named Andrew.  I met his mother and step-father, and we've since become friends—indeed, they just came to see me playing the part of furniture dealer Gregory Solomon in a local production of Arthur Miller's play "The Price" (see "I Am an 89 Year-Old Russian Jew," January 31, 2011). Now that I had a name for the heart donor I could think of my heart as Andrew's. That was very useful because I could pass all my actions through this kind of thought: would Andrew want me subjecting his heart to a greasy cheeseburger? It was sort of like having Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder, telling you smart things to do.

I've explained in prior posts that the doctors have been routinely performing biopsies on my heart in which they run a tube through a vein into the heart (via my neck), and take four little snips of the heart, which are then tested for rejection. The scale runs from zero rejection—excellent—up to the number four—very bad. Originally after the transplant I was having a biopsy every week, but then I went to every two weeks, and for most of last year it was once a month. I've had around twenty of these and while there was one "2" in there and a couple of "1A"s, all the others have been zeros.

This past November was the one year anniversary of the transplant, and it called for major tests of all sorts to see how things were going, including a biopsy (zero). One of the tests involved flooding my circulatory system with dye to check for blockage, and a minor amount was found in two arteries. The doctor assured me that this could be handled with a change in medication, so she took down some of the rejection drugs when this new treatment started. I was told I would now be on a once-every-three-months biopsy schedule, so my next would be in February. Actually, that bothered me. They're changing my medication in a significant way, but not testing how it's going for three months? That didn't sound right, but I'm in law, not medicine, and I do what the doctors tell me.

The February biopsy was a 3! Yikes! With no symptoms of any kind (and, indeed, still doing my hard workout of 30 pushups, 30 sit-ups, 30 minutes on the exercise bike, and 45 minutes lifting weights every other day), I was put back in the hospital for two days for observation. A seeming completely healthy man trapped in a hospital when he has a deadline for writing one of his casebooks used to teach law nationwide is not a pretty sight. My doctor told me she shouldn't have lowered the rejection medication so much, and immediately she started me back on bigger doses, huge amounts of steroids (causing pimples, cramped hands, inability to sleep, weight loss, and more), and other new medications. I'm currently taking around 70 pills a day. A new biopsy was scheduled two weeks after the latest, and while it showed my rejection level was down to a 2, and therefore headed in the right direction, there was a complication.





My original heart disease, first manifested in 1999, was atrial fibrillation ("A-fib"), meaning that the upper chamber of the heart begins beating too fast (see "1999-2000: A Dramatic Story," December 15, 2010). During the March biopsy, my heart went into A-fib (not a great amount, only 130 beats a minute), causing the doctor to have to settle for taking only two snips. Andrew's heart has never liked biopsies (and that is usual for all patients), jumping around when so insulted, but now my heart was beating irregularly, and the only way to get it back into normal rhythm was to put me out (fortunately a tube in my neck made that easy), hit me with the paddles ("CLEAR!"), and then wake me back up. It's an interesting experience, which I've been through before. The amazing part is that from my point of view I don't seem to pass out. I can feel the drug starting to work but immediately the doctor says something, to which I respond, "When are you going to put me out?" The answer is always that it has already happened, and, I notice, my heart is beating normally. "Wow! I was out and it's over?" The doctor smiled and added, "You should have seen how high you jumped."

"CLEAR!"

The Cast of "The Price"
There have been some irregular heartbeats since then, but nothing that concerns the doctors much, and I confess I'm afraid that the heart is going to go into A-fib during the biopsy that's scheduled for early April. On the other hand the doctors themselves don't seem much worried about anything, so we'll see what happens. I remain in great health otherwise and am still working out. Yet, all this has apparently bothered me more than I thought, though I've often come close to death in my life and don't dwell on that. I had a dream while taking a nap last Saturday prior to the last performance of the play, and in the dream my heart suddenly malfunctioned and I started falling to the floor. Interestingly (because it says something screwy about my priorities) the only thought I had as I fell was "I wonder who'll they'll get to play Solomon tonight?" It was a good dream to wake from, and I gave one hell of good final performance.

But I'd reached a point where I decided I had to stop thinking of my heart as Andrew's. It's my heart now, and I must fully embrace it and treasure it and care for it. As time passes, my body is replacing all of its cells with ones I've generated, though I'm fully aware that if I ever in my life stop taking rejection medication, the heart would fail. However, I also want to honor Andrew and his tragic sacrifice, and it would be wrong to strip his heart of his name. So I created a compromise.

After some thought, I settled on naming my heart "Dougdrew," two syllables that recognize its dual nature in a way my mind can comfortably accept. Andrew himself, I'm told by those who knew him, was a thoughtful man with whom I'd have gotten along splendidly. I like to think that if he had had a part in this decision, he'd approve.
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Related Posts:
"About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010
"My Heart Belonged to Andrew," February 17, 2010
"Another Letter to Andrew's Parents," March 10, 2010
"A Toast to Andrew," May 2, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"The First time I Nearly Died," August 3, 2010
"Rehabilitating Doug," June 12, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"1999-2001: A Dramatic Story, " December 15, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Five Movies I Watch Again and Again

Some movies stay with you all your life, and you revisit them, like old friends. I particularly delight in introducing them to others, hence this list. What follows are not the classics that everyone who loves movies will likely know (Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, etc.), but lesser-known movies that are favorites of mine. It was very hard limiting myself to just five, so at the very end I've added a "Runners Up" list of some other films you might want to explore if you like the ones I've selected for the top five.

1. TRUE ROMANCE (1993)
This may be my favorite movie of all. Yes, it's very violent, but it really is an amazing love story starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette (later TV's "Medium") as a young couple who fall in love at first sight and then must battle a drug mafia on their way to happiness. The Quentin Tarantino script is over-the-top and constantly shocks the viewer as to what will happen next. The film is filled with wonderful performances by everyone, particularly actors who were not famous when the movie was made, who therefore have small parts, but who nevertheless create great scenes together. James Gandofini (later the lead in TV's "The Sopranos") is a hit man who first plays a scene with a spaced-out Brad Pitt (only his second movie, but he has super time playing this druggie) and then a spectacular one in which he corners Patricia Arquette in a motel room. Gary Oldman is a wigged-out drug dealer and Samuel L. Jackson is one of his victims in an early scene. Bronson Pinchot almost steals the show in a comic turn as a snotty Hollywood executive.  And good fun is in store when Val Kilmer plays the ghost of Elvis!  The ending is one of the most fantastic shootout sequences ever put on film. But the best segment of the movie is a single scene between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in which they have a verbal interrogation battle that is an actor's tour-de-force, and, for all its terror, quite funny.

Brad Pitt, high

Someone once said that the goal of all entertainment is "surprise me." This movie does that, and if you can take the violence, I promise this is—as the title tells us—a true romance, well told.




2. THE COURT JESTER (1956)

I argue that The Court Jester is one of the very best comedies ever made. Danny Kaye, a very funny man, has never been better than in this medieval comedy. He plays a court jester involved in helping overthrow a kingdom, and he sings, dances, does multiple accents, switches roles in a nanosecond and back again, engages in complicated duels, and does it all effortlessly. The songs are all in the first part of the movie, but they are very clever—"Never Outfox the Fox" will stick with you a long time. Also on board for the fun is a very young Angela Landsbury, playing the King's daughter, Basil Rathbone as (of course) the villain, and Glynis Johns (later the mother in "Mary Poppins" and the first person ever to sing "Send in the Clowns" in Sondheim's "A Little Night Music") as our heroine. The "flagon with the dragon and vessel with the pestle" dialogue—quite the tongue-twister—and the "get it?/got it/good!" exchange entered the language as a result of this movie. In my marijuana days The Court Jester was the film of choice for absolute hilarity, but, trust me on this, it's every bit as funny with no pharmaceutical help whatsoever.

3. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Chrisoph Waltz
No movie I've ever seen has started so tensely and kept up that tension throughout like this brilliant film. Moreover it's beautifully thought-out, filmed, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, who's not afraid to do things no one else has tried. He'll show the audience maps, include a 30 second documentary on how film burns, and blatantly rewrite history to make sure the audience is grappled close to his chest as he plunges down one extraordinary rabbit hole after another. Nominally his star is Brad Pitt, a tough Tennessee Jew leading a military expedition against the Nazis in World War II, and Pitt has a good time with his role. When he has to say lines in Italian with a Tennessee accent, the fun is on. But the real star of the movie (who actually has more screen time than Pitt) is Christoph Waltz as a Nazi Colonel—and a more evil man has never been in a movie. Waltz, an Austrian by birth, is one of the best actors of all time, and here he easily switches from French, to English, to German, and finally Italian, all spoken fluently. Waltz was given the Best Supporting Actor Award for this role, but that's just Hollywood afraid of a new name—it should have been Best Actor. Interestingly, the longest scene in the movie takes place in a basement bar in Paris, and not one of the major actors does more than make a minor appearance in this incredible scene. Warning: the film is violent, but it's also beautiful (the red and white juxtaposition in the shootout in the film room is terrifyingly gorgeous) and moving and funny and much much more, working up to one of the great movie climaxes ever. Inglourious Basterds (deliberately misspelled as a joke) is a movie that stays with you a long time. It's quite a ride.


4. GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)


Let the Groundhog Drive
Groundhog Day is a puzzle of pure fun. Weatherman Bill Murray is trapped in reliving the same day, over and over until he can find a way to start time again and progress to tomorrow. Watching him start as a surly know-it-all and become humbled and then enlivened by his predicament is very entertaining. The movie is filled with inventive ideas, clever scenes, much humor, and a romance that develops in a very convincing way. But Murray is the star of this inventive and fascinating little movie.


5. THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006)

This German film won the 2007 Best Foreign Film Academy Award but in a fairer world would have won Best Picture. It is certainly one of the finest movies I've ever seen. It explores the transformation of an East German Stasi (the communist German Democratic Republic's secret police before that country's reunification with West Germany) officer who's running a Big Brother-type surveillance on the home of a playwright and his lover, trying to catch them in traitorous activities. The officer, played with very moving but incredible minimalism by German actor Ulrich Mȕhe (who, alas, died shortly after the movie won all its awards), discovers his own humanity as he listens in on the lives of these people and their friends, and his transformation is every bit as great as Bill Murray's in Groundhog Day, but much more poignant. The scene Mȕhe plays in an elevator with a small boy who asks him if he's really a spy ("My father says you are Stasi, is that true?") is a pivotal moment. The movie will astound you with its portrayal of how much like "1984" the East German police state had become, and overwhelm you to realize how hard it would have been for people to live this way. The last line of the movie will bring a broad smile to your face—it's a beaut.

Runners Up:

Comedies:

a. Lust in the Dust (1984)—84 minutes of pure madness in the Old Wild West as Tab Hunter, Lainie Kazan, and the famous drag queen Divine skewer every cliché of that genre and have a rollicking time doing it. Not for children, but for adults with a broad sense of over-the-fence humor.

b. Life of Brian (1979)—the famous Monty Python movie creating a parallel version of the life of Christ that supposedly was going on in Israel at the same time, but in the usual Pythonic nutty fashion. Irreverent and blasphemous, sure, but funny as funny gets.

c. Galaxy Quest (1999)—Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman star as the washed-up actors who used to be on a "Star Trek" TV show but now only sign autographs for hyper-fans at conventions. Their pitiful lives change dramatically when aliens kidnap them for help in an intergalactic battle. Great fun.


Drama:

a. Inherit the Wind (1960)—The famous 1925 Scopes trial brought to life in a fictional version, as the State of Tennessee bans the teaching of evolution in public schools, a teacher is prosecuted for doing this, and one of the greatest trials in American history occurs. Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly are superb in the lead roles. There is no finer production of this great work possible. Fascinating.

b. A History of Violence (2005)—Another contender for Best Picture, this movie rewards repeated viewings also. It's the tale of a violent man who changes his life, disguises his past, starts over, only to have the past catch up with him and his new family. Viggo Mortensen stars, but William Hurt steals the show at the end. He's only on for about fifteen minutes, but his turn as the hero's violent older brother earned him an Academy Award nomination. Warning: steamy sex and, as the title implies, much violence.

c. Brokeback Mountain (2005)—Though it makes my heart hurt to watch it, this haunting story of two gay men finding love in 1960 Wyoming is terrific. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver stellar performances. The whole movie is beautifully filmed and acted, and should have won Best Picture, damn it.

Horror:

Prophecy (1979)—One of the movies that's scared me most in my life.  Director John Frankenheimer takes us to the Maine woods where an ecological disaster has created large monsters.  The creatures terrify a doctor and his wife (Robert Foxworth and Talia Shire) in ways that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.  The scenes with the hunting dogs in the beginning, the terror of the tunnel under the Indian smokehouse, the camper trying to jump away in his sleeping bag, and other moments will stay with you a long time.  Like being scared?  This is the film.  [Don't confuse this unknown beauty of a thriller with the 1995 movie of the same name.]
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Related Posts:
"The Best of My Library," August 27, 2010
"Some Cartoons I've Saved," October 20, 2010
"Doug's Favorite Jokes," November 13, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Muslim Atheist



I try not to write about things I'm unacquainted with, so let me begin by confessing that on this one I don't know what I'm talking about. But, as an atheist, I found myself speculating on what I would do if I were born in a devoutly Muslim country, brought up in that religion, and one day came to the realization that I didn't believe in God.

When someone loses his/her faith, it's both difficult and liberating. On the one hand you're faced with a very different universe. In this one, your most basic support system is gone and you yourself must create the new rules with little help from others. Moreover, the path you've just stepped onto is neither popular nor well-traveled by those around you. Most people you know will very much disapprove of what you've decided, and think the worst of you for having made this terrible choice. On the other hand, all those years suspecting that religion was a sham and that huge numbers of people were settling for a dream instead of reality have finally come to fruition. Now a brave world—the real one—invites you to explore what's actually going on. And it's an exciting existence: one in which there are not necessarily definite answers ("God will reward you if you believe in Him and lead a good life, so even if things are awful when you're alive you'll be happy for all eternity"), but where the only true limits are what we can make for ourselves by our own wide-awake efforts, and the time in which we have to do it starts with the breath we're taking in and ends with the last one we'll let out.

When I speculate what this experience would be like in a Muslim country, I want to emphasize that I've chosen Islam as only an example of the same difficulty that would face anyone who lost belief in their religion if that that religion (be it Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or whatever) was extreme, in complete control of the local environment, apparently unquestioned by everyone, and containing severe penalties for theist doubt or outright apostasy.

For Muslims immersed in a Muslim country that would often be the case. Religion there isn't chosen, it's enforced. Freedom of religion, as a concept, is condemned, not praised or tolerated. While the Qur'an states Allah wills that apostates be severely punished, it doesn't specify the punishment. Most, though certainly not all, of the religion's scholars decree that death is the appropriate choice. Indeed, it's a statutory crime in some Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia, for example, where an apostate is imprisoned for three days to repent before being executed. But most apostates in the Muslim world who suffer death aren't killed by the state, but by their outraged family and neighbors or by religious authorities self-acting as Thought Police. Why this intense reaction? This extreme punishment for a mental attitude? Because, of course, not believing in the settled rules of a religion strikes at the very heart of society. This evil person is saying that everything we believe in is wrong!

Those who leave Islam for another religion (say, Christianity) can and have been condemned to death. But to leave it for no religion might strike the neighbors as greater madness. It's one thing to think that your friends are wasting much of their lives due to an ancient misunderstanding of the world, and another to believe that 90% of the population of the entire planet has this same unfortunate problem.

So what would I do if I abandoned a belief in an invisible God but was surrounded by people and institutions that made it impossible to talk about this?

I don't know for sure, but it would be a constant burden on me, and at times a crushing one. Once you start looking at religion objectively it becomes more and more offensive that it's forced on people, its good parts (charity) with the bad (eternal damnation) alike. It's spoon-fed to children, who, all over the world, tend to get their religion the same way they get the color of their hair: their parents. Moreover, being a Muslim takes up much time everyday: rituals are everywhere and five times each 24 hours one must kneel and make prayer, frequently in public (the salat, one of the Five Pillars of Wisdom required of all believers). One's conversation is expected to be sprinkled to with constant praise of Allah, and doing this while being a closet atheist would be hypocrisy in the extreme, burning on the lips, eating at the heart.

Summing it up: I'd be living a lie everyday for the rest of my life.

But, damn it, I think I'd have to do it. Unless I could escape to a situation where Islam couldn't follow, as long as I was to live in a world controlled by Islam I'd have to pretend to be a faithful follower. Doing otherwise would possibly be dangerous, but even at the least it would mean that I'd be devalued in every dealing I had with my fellows.

It might be possible—cautiously, carefully—to find other nonbelievers and relax in their company. One might build up a family of secret-keepers. But that would have its own dangers too: one disagreement and possibilities of blackmail and public exposure arise.

If anyone reading this is actually dealing with being an atheist in a tight religious society, I'd appreciate hearing from you as to how you do handle the dilemma. My email address is dglswhaley@aol.com. I would, I promise, keep your identity and location secret.

There are Muslim atheists who are working in their countries to change all this. In "Free Inquiry" magazine (published by the Counsel for Secular Humanism) I read about their efforts with wonder. They have to be among the most courageous people on earth, working to accomplish what appears to be a hopeless task. I don't think I could do what they do.

I'm not brave enough.
________________________________________
Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"Is Evolution True," July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Hatchet Murderer


[When I was in college I wrote this short story for a Creative Writing class. It amused the instructor, and I hope it will amuse you.  I've updated it so that it could possibly occur in the 21st century.]


The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Hatchet Murderer
by Douglas Whaley

A murder is strange in the way it can change the lives of everyone around it (especially the victim).  Several people moved out of the apartment building and the landlord nearly went crazy trying to rent the vacant rooms, in spite of the fact that there was a housing shortage in University City.  Nobody wanted anything to do with a recent hatchet murder.  Those of us who lived on the same floor as the victim became more careful now about locking our doors; the slightest sounds made us all freeze. Ginny Carlton, two rooms down from my apartment, got to screaming so much at her cat's sudden appearances that she finally gave the pet away.
Everyone knew that Shirley Ruthlington's sugar sweet stories suited her personality, so as far as I know there wasn't anyone who disliked her. Her books were short little pieces intended for the just-beginning age group, and they contained as their major characters a Thoreau-like woodsman and a beautiful wonderland fairy. If' you want to look her up online remember that she wrote under the endearing name of' “Shirley Sweetness.” During the last semester, she had discovered that I was planning on becoming a writer and had encouraged me from time to time by inviting me to her apartment for "tea and talk."
It had therefore come as quite a shock for us all when she was found in the middle of her living room rug last Monday, the victim of what appeared to be a rather brutal ax murder. The actual murder weapon was gone, and no clues were found except one cryptic note in her appointment book which simply stated that at eight o'clock "Al Pine" was to arrive.  It should be further noted that "Al Pine" was the name of her storybook woodsman.  Evidently he had arrived . . . and brought his ax.
The police surged over the apartment building like cockroaches, hanging around constantly and checking into the activities of us all.  They were particularly interested in the fact that I knew who "Al Pine" was, but disappointed to hear that he was a fictional character whose only ax had been created on a computer.   I explained that I was a student at the university, as were many of the people in the building, and that I knew Ms. Ruthlington only through our occasional literary discussions.  I must have been a suspect though, being one of her few friends, and because I spotted Lt. Ambrose (one of the heads of the investigation) immediately outside our building’s front door the next day, watching me as I headed to class.  My roommate, Pete Murdox, (one of the members of the swim team), informed me that me that he heard strange noises on our telephone suggested it was tapped or something.  It worried us all for awhile. 
Finally, about three days after the killing, I had the strangest dream.
Here I was in this little forest, next to a quiet brook, drinking from a jug of sweet wine and feeling very much like a character in something out of Omar Khayyam.  I didn't seem to mind that the trees were red and blue, or that the birds sang in English—all was right with the world.  After a bit, several tiny stars began to fall from nowhere (even though it was daylight) and they gathered in a group before me.  All of them had faces, and they danced about in a circle singing a nonsensical Gilbert and Sullivan verse, happy as puppies.
After a short buildup, they all cried excitedly, "Introducing Blue Gown Alice, the Sugar Plum Fairy!!!" and they suddenly were transmogrified into ornaments on a flowing ball gown on of a beautiful storybook fairy.  She was quite traditional . . . tiara, wand, wings, and all.  Her gown was indeed blue.  Still I took little more notice than to nod my head and rise up on my elbows.
"Got a minute?" she asked.
"Sure," I replied.  "You would be Blue Gown Alice?"
"Bet on it."  She waved her wand and rose into the air, trailing her gown behind her and twiddling her ballet slippers ecstatically; she was evidently happy over being herself.
"Look," she said, floating down to earth, suddenly serious.  "I've got to talk to you about poor Shirley Sweetness, but I can't do it here. Will you he1p me come to you?"
"Why not?"  I took another swallow of the wine.
"Good.  When you wake up, plop two gumdrops in a glass of pink lemonade.  Then recite the words 'Hans Christian Anderson' and I'll come to you and explain what further must be done."
I nodded solemnly, being certain this would work.  She bent over and kissed me on the forehead, and then vanished.  For a second the stars remained with stupid grins on their faces, and then they too departed, screaming, "Hey, Alice, wait for us!"  I awoke, this being the only thing left to do.
With a groan I rolled over and discovered I was in my bed.  I looked at my watch and found to my annoyance that it was three in the morning.  Once I wake I usually have a terrible time getting back to sleep, and tonight I needed sleep to clear my mind for a Journalism exam that very day.  Frowning, I went to the cabinet in the bathroom to find a sleeping pill, being careful not to wake Pete, who was snoring very soundly in the next room.
I jumped straight up in the air when I saw lipstick printed firmly on my forehead.
The next minute I was dressed and racing my car wildly down the street to Frank's all-night convenience store to buy gumdrops and lemonade.  Breaking speed laws a few minutes after that, I arrived back at the apartment, purchases in hand.  The lemonade was frozen solid, but assumed some semblance of liquidity I poured it into a bowl and gave it a brief stop in the microwave.  I dumped the whole soggy mess into a glass, plopped in two gumdrops as instructed, and waited.
Nothing.
Then, spurred by memory, I blurted out, "HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSON!" far too loudly.
Still nothing.
Then a little voice said quietly in my ear, "Pink lemonade, stupid."
I must admit I panicked for a second, but then I was off in another burst of speed, back to Frank's for some pink lemonade.  Frank looked at me strangely (dealing as he does with college students had made Frank an introspective man), but informed me that while he had no pink lemonade, the Kroger two blocks over probably would stock some.  That proved to be true, and after a quick return trip, I was home. 
I set up the experiment again, muttered "Hans Christian Anderson," and was immediately rewarded by a little "POOF" noise.  Blue Gown Alice was standing in front of me in the flesh, so to speak (perhaps gingerbread).
"I'm sorry I called you 'stupid'," she said gently.  "I thought that everyone had pink lemonade around the house."
"Who are you?" I asked, every bit as stupid as she'd said.
"She's Blue Gown Alice, the Sugar Plum Fairy," all of the little stars on her dress cried in unison.
"Hush, kiddies," Alice cautioned, and she turned to me.  "I'm here because the police are doing such a terrible job at finding the murderer of poor Shirley Sweetness.  Justice must be done, and I decided to do it myself.  Naturally, I immediately read up on all the great detectives, and if I'm going to be Sherlock Holmes I'll need a Warton."
"Watson," I corrected. "You mean you're going to solve this case?  And find the murderer?"
"Yes, by golly and you are going to help me do it!  Now I know that you have a lot of questions about me, humans always do, but I can't take time for them now.  I'll try to answer them as we go along. Enough said if you realize that I am the Sugar Plum Fairy and that I'm outraged that this horrible crime has taken place right under my wings, so to speak."
 "But this is an ax murder!  Do you know what could happen?"
"Yes.  Some ax murdered is going to jail. Come along, Warton."
            "Come along, Warton," the little stars echoed.
"Watson," I mumbled, and we exited into the hall.
Blue Gown Alice floated down to Miss Ruthlington' s room, which was covered with police warning signs, and waved her wand.  The door suddenly flew open.  The 1ittle stars all gave a sigh of amazement at her ease of entry, and my mouth dropped open.  Alice, however, took it in stride, and in we went.  I tried to point out that it was a crime to enter here, since the police had sealed the room, but Alice just frowned at me and began to look around.  Eventually she came to a sketchbook in one of Miss Ruthlington's files and opened it up with a flourish.  Inside was a drawing of a Sugar Plum Fairy but it didn't quite look like Blue Gown Alice, the face was completely different.  I asked her if Miss Ruthlington had known her.
"Only in her dreams or when she took a drink too many of the apple cider that she was so fond of.  Tell me, Warton, did she use a model for these drawings?  Do you know this girl?"
I took a closer look at the illustration for the children's book. After a pause I identified the girl as Ginny Carlton, who lived down the hall.  Blue Gown Alice said, "Ah ha!" to this and the five little stars echoed, "Ah ha!"  Alice quickly skimmed through the book, but all it contained were more drawings of Ginny in various poses, done up in chalk   Finally Alice snapped the book closed.
"I've got to meet this Ginny," she announced, and looked slightly annoyed when I told her that Ginny would still be asleep (it being only four thirty).  I mentioned that I would see Ginny that morning at my Journalism exam and could ask her whatever Alice wanted to know.
"No, that won't do," she replied.  "Sherlock Holmes would not permit Warton to do the questioning, would he?  I'll see you tomorrow.  You get back to bed and get some rest for your exam."
The next thing I knew I was in bed, my alarm was ringing, and the sun was pouring in my window.  I yawned cautiously and stretched myself as I climbed out of bed.  The gumdrop mess was not where I'd 1eft it the night (morning?) before, and so, with some relief, I came to the conclusion that it had all been a rather wild dream.  Pete stuck his head in the bedroom and announced that I had better get up because the coffee was still hot and he was off to class.  To my surprise he handed over his share of the rent and back payments on the room and cheerfully departed for school.  This was a considerable change from the Pete I knew, who was always broke, and it sufficiently woke me up to the point where I dressed and ate breakfast in a semi-conscious state.
I had dismissed the whole incident from my mind, and in two hours was in Journalism class working on the exam, when I looked up and saw Blue Gown Alice sitting across the aisle from me!  She was dressed in a normal skirt, with a varsity sweater on, and she looked like a hunchback because of two lumps on her back which I took to be her wings, ill-disguised.  Five little stars were embroidered on the skirt, and to my horror one of them was yawning.  Beads of sweat popped out on my forehead and I looked guiltily around for Lt. Ambrose, who, happily, was not there.
Alice was completely absorbed with the exam, much like the other students (although I did notice her once peeking over the shoulder of the guy in front of her).  Soon she leaned over and whispered to me.
"You still have lipstick on your forehead," she hissed.  She nodded in satisfaction when I frantically wiped it off.  For some reason I couldn't get my mind back to the exam after this and when Alice got up to hand in her exam, I followed suit although my paper was blank. Outside I cornered her and marched her around the side of the building.
"Are you out of your mind?  What were you doing taking that exam?"  I was a little upset.
"Simply brushing up on my Journalism.  I graduated from Candycane  U,  you know.   Thought I'd forgotten it all, but It came back to me after a while."
"Sure, sure.  Now look here.  I don't know what you're up to, Sugar Plum Alice . . ."
"That's 'Blue Gown Alice'," corrected the little stars smugly.
"Shut up!" I answered viciously.
"Quit bickering, all of you," Alice urged.  "Here she comes!"
Before I could ask who, Alice had slipped past me, walked behind a bush, waved her wand (which was poorly disguised as an umbrella) and changed costumes again. Now she was dressed in an artist's smock, with the little stars posing as paint splotches; the wand had become a paint brush. She stopped Ginny Carlton as she came down the steps, and, pretending she was an art instructor, asked Ginny if' she had ever done any modeling.
Ginny paused for a second, and I thought she was, going to make a run for it, but in the end she decided that Alice was harmless.  Finally she replied that she'd done a little modeling for sketches in a children's book.
“In a costume like this?” Alice asked.  She waved her paint brush and was suddenly wearing her storybook attire.  Ginny smiled pleasantly.  "Yes, just like that," she said, and then fainted. 
Alice didn't pause a moment, but came straight around the building, pulling me by the arm, and, not heeding the cries of the little stars to slow down, we flew across the campus (literally).
My stomach was trying desperately to call attention to itself when we arrived safe but winded at the apartment building.  Alice paused only long enough to kiss my forehead again and then she disappeared.  I can only state that I was very upset, and, as I entered the apartment building, was looking peacefully forward to going up to my room and quietly indulging in a nervous breakdown.  Right inside the front door was Lt. Ambrose surrounded by a group of newspaper reporters who followed him wherever he went.  My heart leaped into my throat when I noticed that part of the gang was Blue Gown Alice, this time disguised as a newspaper woman in a trench coat, busy asking questions and taking notes on an iPad.
"Lieutenant!" she shouted over the cries of the others (and in the back of my mind I'm sure that I heard five little voices repeat, "Lieutenant!") is it true that Miss Ruthlington's cash box was found empty and covered with blood?"
"How did you know that?" he asked, surprised. "That information has not been given to the press. What paper are you from?"
"Candyville Courier.  Thank you, sir."  With this she disappeared down the hall.  Making sure to avoid the notice of the lieutenant, I slipped past him and followed her.  To my disappointment, she was nowhere around, and so I stepped into the elevator and punched the number of my floor.
It was a few seconds before I realized that (a) we had no elevator in the building, and that (b) there was someone else in the phantom elevator with me: none other than guess-who in another clever little guise, this time as a bag lady.  Also, now that I think about it, five voices in unison had commanded "Please punch two" when I got on.
"Warton," Alice said, "who here is young, dark-haired, well built, and in need of money?"
"Me?" I answered dubiously.  I have curly brown hair, am in fair shape, and always need money.
"No.  Better looking, stronger, with a wild streak.  Think."
"Well, I'd say my roommate Pete, except he doesn't need money.  He was able to pay the rent this morning.  Which was unusual, I admit.  You don't think . . ."
"I wouldn't accuse anyone without proof.  Does he own an ax?"
"Of course not!"
"Let see," she said.  Once again I felt this whirl in my stomach, and suddenly we were in my apartment in front of Pete's bedroom.  I knew he wasn't home because his coat wasn't hanging by the front door where he always left it on entering.  I mentioned to her that he'd been keeping his room locked recently, even though he'd allowed the police to search it.  Alice motioned me to be still and then waved her wand and the door bounced open.  She entered and began to walk slowly around the room, her wand extended, her eyes closed.  The little stars grew very excited and began to chant, "You're getting warm . .  . warmer . . . HOT!"  Alice had stopped by a trunk in one corner and now she waved her ever-handy wand and the 1id flew open.  Nothing was visible but clothes, but another flick of the wrist, and they, under their own power, climbed out of the trunk and arranged themselves in a neatly folded pile on the bed.  Then the trunk itself rolled over and the bottom fell out.  After a sufficiently dramatic pause, this was followed by a large woodsman's ax, covered with dried blood, that clattered to the floor.  The little stars gasped, and I myself felt a little strange.  I had actually been rooming with an ax murderer!
Alice began in a quiet voice.  “Shirley Sweetness needed someone to pose for 'Al Pine' as well as for me, and she must have hired him to model for the woodsman.  Doubtless she supplied the ax he killed her with.”
"But why?  Money?"
"Of course.  She probably pulled out the cash box to pay him and opened it in front of him. Greed (and here the five little stars all shivered) does strange things to those desperate for money. One swing of the ax . . . it was too simple."
I was suddenly shoved from behind, and as I stumbled1nto the room, I saw Pete grab the ax from the floor.  His eyes had a crazed look.  He had evidently walked up behind me and taken in the situation immediately.  With a cry he advanced toward the Sugar Plum Fairy.
She didn't look concerned at all, but merely waved her wand up and back down.  Pete flew straight up in the air with a great deal of speed, banged his head with a great thwack on the ceiling, and fell like a sandbag.  A second later he was wrapped up in coils of rope so thick that you could barely see him.
"That's it," Alice said.  "You take it from here, Warton."  And she kissed me one final time on the forehead and vanished.  The little stars blinked out with her, excitedly yelling goodbye.  It's the last I've seen of her, but I've heard her voice in my dreams, and also at parties, off by myself in the corner after too many drinks.  She always sounds like she’s on the other side of the room laughing and telling bawdy jokes.
I had a little difficulty explaining to the police not only how I captured Pete—they didn't believe his story—but also why I tied him up so thickly . . . or even where I got all that rope (it was later measured at fifty-two feet).   They finally were forced to accept my little blue lie and let me alone.  
The only additional thing I have to relate is in the form of an anticlimax.  Sitting at my computer a week later I suddenly received an email from BGA@candyland.com.  It said simply, "I received an A on the exam!  Yeah!  See you next case, Warton!"