Category Archives: Louise Ure

The First of Many

 

By Louise Ure

 

Welcome back from your long holiday weekend, ‘Rati. (Well, the long holiday weekend for you American ‘Rati, anyway.) I hope your weather was as gorgeously lazy and blue as it was here in San Francisco. I did nothing particularly patriotic or unusual … dinner out with several friends, a remarkable barbeque on Monday, a day weeding on the roofdeck-garden which has left my muscles in a state of contrition … but it was good.

Oh, and I bought a car.

I’ve been on a car selling-binge for the last year, auctioning off Bruce’s racecars, the tow vehicle and trailer, but I still had two cars to go.

 

The first was a 1971 Mercedes 280SL that I bought back in the 80’s. I’ve loved that car for over a quarter of a century, using it as a daily driver, a Sunday treat, or a long haul Thelma and Louise touring car riding from Montana to Arizona and back again. That car has seen me at more cowboy bars and roadside motels than it has grocery stores and libraries.

But she’s aged better than I have, and my knees no longer make it easy or graceful to get in and out of that plush leather bucket seat. It was time to say goodbye.

I had a collector over to look at it a couple of months ago and he low-balled an offer I wasn’t interested in. “For that price, I’ll just use it as a Barcalounger in the garage.”

He kept calling back, notching the offer up a couple of thousand every few weeks. Finally, when he reached a price that was three times what I’d paid for it 28 years ago, I said yes.

  

 

The second car, a 2000 Mercedes SUV, reflected the wife, business owner, middle aged woman and dog transporter I’ve become in the last quarter of a century. It’s another car I’ve loved and I could happily keep driving it for another twenty years without a second thought.

With this car, it wasn’t my knees that betrayed me, but technology. As wonderful as that Mercedes was – navigation unit and all – it was still twelve years old and technology has outpaced car design by a long stretch.

I was tired of wearing a Bluetooth headset as my only means of answering a phone call while driving. I wanted easy access to my whole iPod music library and not just a lousy 6-CD changer in the trunk. I wanted a rear view camera to keep me from scraping my bumper on that stubby concrete post at the grocery store. Oh, and a little better gas mileage wouldn’t go astray, either.

So this weekend, I did a little research, found something I liked coming off a lease, and went north to a Marin county dealership and bought myself a car.

I make that sound easy, and it probably would be for most of you. But let me put this in perspective.

I am sixty years old and I have never shopped for and purchased a car by myself before. I inherited my first car through a death in the family. My mother went with me to buy the next car, and my brother fulfilled that function for the third.

By the fourth or fifth car in my auto-resume, Bruce was there, asking mechanical questions I didn’t even understand the answer to, and negotiating deals I thought we had no chance of winning. And I certainly didn’t have a clue about how to value or negotiate a trade in.

So I got internet smart, reading Kelley Bluebook quotes and checking out used car prices at lots all over town. I investigated recommended negotiating techniques and used car dealer tricks. (As my brother Jim reminded me on the phone yesterday, when he and his wife last went in to by a car, the saleman left them alone in his office and then listened in on their negotiation conversation through an open intercom.) I read Edmunds and Car and Driver reviews of various years’ performance. Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?

The upshot, after a full five hours of negotiation (“Don’t worry about me, take your time, I’ve got my iPad to keep me busy, you take just as long as you need to figure out how to get to this number.”) they came down a few thousand on price, they came up a few thousand on the trade in, they threw in a bunch of extras like an extended warranty and handed me a few hundred bucks more I found lying in the weeds, and I got my car.

I think I’m going to like it. It’s a different brand than I’ve ever tried before and it will take some time to get to know all these flashy new hi tech toys, but it looks good in the garage and I smile when I drive it. (Forgive me for not picturing it here, but author/police officer Robin Burcell told me years ago about the dangers of showing our actual houses, cars or license plates online. I have enough stalkers in my life, thanks.)

And I think that what I’m really smiling about is that it’s yet another first. Another thing I’ve successfully done by myself. Many of my other “firsts” this year have been sad ones. The first Christmas without Bruce. The first road trip alone to Seattle to take care of his father.

Here’s to more happy “firsts” ahead. 

And how about you guys? What is your most recent “first”? Or what “first” would you like to accomplish? It doesn’t have to be a Bucket List kind of thing. It can be tiny. 

I think I’d like to make my first ever squirrel pot pie.

  

 

 

 

Small Triggers and the Slinky Life

 

By Louise Ure

 

 

I have been so enchanted with the depth and breadth of writing in recent Murderati columns: David’s Ode to the Female P.I., Zoe’s looking back and looking forward in planning her writing life. Tess’ review of a Canadian conference, and Stephen’s paean to Peter Pan and an author’s magical thinking. They are all part of the writing life; an appreciation of the job, the output, and the mystery of making it all work.

I am not centered on the writing life right now, and because of that I sometimes find it hard to leave a relevant or thoughtful comment on my fellow bloggers’ posts. Everyone seems to have more insight than I do these days.

But here’s a tiny insight I found this week that is possibly a small trigger for better days ahead.

We all have those harbingers that we — jokingly or not — claim that blue skies and lucky days are ahead. The visit of a humming bird, the discovery of a penny on the sidewalk (especially if it’s heads). My new harbinger is: purses.

Yeah, purses.

Most of you know about my love affair with shoes. For most of my life, I’ve had at least a hundred pairs of shoes at a time. Bruce was gracious about it, but about ten years ago ruled that if a new pair came in, an old pair had to go out. More than fair.

But what you probably don’t know is that for all those same years … with a hundred pairs of shoes at my beck and call … I only had one purse.

Granted, it was a very special purse. Brown leather and lattigo, with snakeskin and turquoise inlaid on the sides. It was created by a magical artisan named Toyo at his shop, Dark Star Leather, in Tucson. With that kind of bag, what on earth would I want with another?

But this last couple of weeks I’ve gone into a purse buying frenzy.

Bulgy pewter ones that can fit as easily over your arm as over your shoulder.

Lime green bags that go with absolutely nothing in my wardrobe but make an aqua sweater realize that she’d better rub the sleep out of her eyes and comb her hair.

Bright orange asymmetrical bags with enough ruffles and bows to contend with the hats at a royal wedding.

(This blog post was to have been replete with images. I worked like a dog to get all these new bags properly lit, propped and photographed, only to have Squarespace bamboozle me once again. Use your imagination on all those images, please.)

The only thing these bags have in common is that they are all big enough to carry an iPad as well as all of my usual junk. Oh, and they work like a bullfighter’s capewhen you see me coming down the street. There’s nothing subtle about these purses.

Shoes have always been a very private purchase for me. I can wear them at home, or just to the grocery store or taking the trash cans out to the curb. Shoes do not require you to commit to a job interview, a dinner with friends or a trip. The best shoes put no pressure on you to perform.

Purses, on the other hand, are extraverts, hob-nobbers and loud mouths. My person, they say, is so important that she has to have room for THREE PDA devices with her at all times. My person is so on the go that she has to have the ability to have her hands free at a moment’s notice. My person is so cool that she can wear something bright and big that bears no relation to anything else she has on. She’s sure of herself and she’s stepping out.

You truly can’t enjoy a purse unless you go out somewhere. Carrying it from room to room at home will do nothing but occasion snickers from the closet.

Purses demand a committment that you will go out and get involved with life. And that’s a far cry from what I’ve been doing for the last several months.

But maybe purses are the harbinger — my shiny penny, my first robin of spring — that says I’m ready to start.

 

A P.S. from here in Seattle: Things with my father-in-law are going well. His caregiver team is terrific (although he calls both young men from Ghana and Gambia “Barack,” because their names contain a “B” and because he calls all accomplished young black men Barack. They smile back). His appetite, his strength and his interest in life have all improved dramatically.
“Sure, he’s dying,” wrote Gillian Roberts, “at a rate just about the same as the rest of us.”

She’s right. For the moment, he’s comfortable, safe and clean. And we’re heading to the Indian casinos this week to see if he can add to my inheritance.

I see his strength and envision one of those slinky toys, motoring along under its own power, doing what it can do. But then I remember that a slinky can only maintain that momentum while it’s going downhill.

Well, maybe that’s true for all of us.

Here’s to the slinky life. And purses.

 

Do you all have any lucky signs that you treat as omens?

The Suicide Blog

By Louise Ure

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about suicide this week.

No, don’t worry. I’m not thinking of taking my own life.

But look at all the ways that suicide featured prominently in the news this week.

First, the stories that say, “I am willing to end my life to save another.”

How about the Suicide Team of elders in Japan who have offered to go clean up the nuclear power plants at Fukushima? More than 200 pensioners from the Skilled Veterans Corps have made that offer, stating that, as the cancers they might contract are slower growing in the elderly, they would prefer to do this service for their country, sparing the younger workers to live on.

Or all the stories about heroism coming out of tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri? Stories of convenience store managers who gave their lives in order to protect a ragtag band of employees and shoppers who had taken refuge in the store. Parents who fought to protect the life of their child or a stranger, only to sacrifice their own.

They may not be suicides in the way we normally think of them. We often call them heroes.

And it’s this kind of suicide that we crime fiction writers often focus on. The hero. The risk taker. The brave one. The Paladin. The Samurai.

We love the fact that he’s willing to risk his life for another, but we desperately don’t want him to have to deliver on that promise. (Otherwise, what on earth do we do in Book Two of the series?)

But there’s another kind of suicide in the news this week, and it’s the kind we don’t often deal with in our writing. The kind that says, “I am willing to help someone else die.”

Jack Kevorkian – aka Dr. Death – died of natural causes at the age of 83. He had more than a month of knowledge of his own imminent demise. Did he just wait too long and was then too weak to take his own advice about assisted suicide? Did he not have a doctor or relative who was willing to help?

Or did he just change his mind at the last minute and decide that today was not a good day to die?

And then there’s the third kind of suicide in my life right now, the kind that says, “I am willing to end my life.”

I’m in Seattle right now, taking care of my father-in-law during his last days. We are blessed by the fact that Washington State, like Oregon and Montana, is a Right to Die state, a place where death with dignity is possible. He has not asked me to help with a suicide — at least not yet — but he has been very proactive about making final plans, and wonderfully articulate about what he wants from me. No doctors, no hospitalization, no respiration aid or nutrition or hydration. It will kill me to watch him die and be able to offer nothing but comfort, but I will do it because he asked me to.

(if you have not yet done so, I hope you can watch HBO’s brilliant documentary “How to Die in Oregon.” You probably won’t be able to watch it all in one go — it is just that sad. But it’s also a truly compelling and important story that needs to be told.)

That final day is not here yet for Adolph. Yesterday he wanted fresh Dungeness crab and I made a salad to go along with it just the way his wife used to. Catalina dressing and all.

I am cherishing this time with him. And I think he is cherishing his final days.

But enough about sad thoughts and suicide. It has been 75 degrees and sunny here in Seattle for days … weather so beautiful that you might be tempted to believe that we all got Raptured after all, and this is the afterlife they’ve always talked about.

 

PS: I can’t help myself. One more random thought about suicide: Have you ever heard of a suicide note written in the third person? The closest thing I can come to it are the lyrics from “Miss Otis Regrets,” although that may not count, because she was hung by a mob rather than killing herself. 

So what would a third person suicide note look like? Would it be written in the past tense? And what would it indicate? A massive ego? An assisted suicide? A murder?

Now go play.

Reading Outside the Genre

 

By Louise Ure

 

By now, most of you know that I shelve my books in a rather esoteric fashion – one that puts me at odds with the vast majority of collectors, librarians and booksellers. You see, I categorize them not by author, but by geography. Specifically, where the murder took place.

Dana Stabenow is up there on the Alaska shelf. Craig Johnson practically owns Wyoming. The San Francisco shelf is huge, with writers like Joe Gores, Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. The Florida shelf is giving San Francisco a run for its money. And the international crime fiction collection on the north wall now outnumbers the Southern mysteries in the room.

I’ve been known to walk into bookstores and say, “I’m a little light on rural Illinois. What have you got?”

The writers who plagued me the most in my shelving were those inconsiderate travelers, Martin Cruz Smith, Lee Child, Nevada Barr and our own Zoe Sharp and Cornelia Read.

I was pleased to discover the other day that there is at least one bookstore that agrees with my cataloguing: Daunt Books in London, where the offerings are arranged by country.

My decision to sort geographically was probably easier than theirs. First of all, I find a strong sense of place to be one of the most compelling parts of mystery fiction. And secondly, since I only collected crime fiction, I didn’t have to also plan on where to put all other kinds of literature.

But all that may have to change, as I’ve now discovered (or rediscovered, I suppose) the joys of reading outside the genre. 

I consider myself fairly well rounded and certainly well educated in the classics, but when I started reading purely for pleasure, I dove headfirst into crime fiction and didn’t come up for air. After all, the genre — with all its degrees of lightness and darkness, fantasy and reality, hopefulness and despair – is a big enough canvas to satisfy any reading tastes.

And yet, for some reason, few mysteries have held my interest in the past couple of months and I’ve ventured outside the genre for that spark.

Here are three recent reads that held me captive in that big leather chair in the front room for hours at a stretch:

 

  

 

In an extraordinary tale spanning almost seven decades, “The Warmth of Other Suns” describes the migration of over six million blacks from the South to the cities of the North and West. Wilkerson brings the migration to life with the revolving stories of three of those travelers: Ida Mae Gladney who was compelled to leave Mississippi for Chicago, George Starling who had to flee Florida for New York, and Robert Foster, a doctor from Louisiana who found success in California. If all non-fiction was as beautifully and evocatively written as Wilkerson’s book, it would be all I need.

 

  

 

I told you a couple of weeks ago that I had a chance to have dinner with this US Poet Laureate. This last two weeks I’ve gotten to know her better as I had more of a chance to read her work. Like Isabel Wilkerson (who won in journalism), Kay Ryan is also a Pulitzer Prize winner, and she did it with this book: “The Best of It”.

One particular favorite of mine is “After Zeno,” a poem she wrote at the age of 19, when her father died:

 

When he was

I was

But I still am

and he is still.

 

Where is is

when is is was?

I have an is

but where is his?

 

Now here –

no where:

such a little

fatal pause.

 

There’s no sense

in past tense.

 

(And I’ve forgiven her for her barb that night – “I love reading murder mysteries. They generate such an empty mind.” – She’s a better poet than she is a comedian.)

 

 

 

 

“The Sisters Brothers” is a western. And I love westerns of all stripes, from Zane Grey and Elmore Leonard to more recent cousins like Steve Hockensmith and his characters Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer.

But “The Sisters Brothers” is also the anti-western. Charlie and Eli Sisters, two killers for hire, are contracted to kill Hermann Kermit Warm. This is their story. It is droll and grotesque and very human and very funny. In some ways it reminds me of Rabelais’ “The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel” which had an equally gay and whimsical approach to violence and crudity.

One reviewer said that “if Cormac McCarthy had a sense of humor” this would be the book he would write. Another called deWitt “a character conjurer.” They are both right: the voice and the characters are pure magic. 

Give yourself a treat this week and go buy “The Sisters Brothers.”

I’ll be traveling again for the next month or so and will have lots of time to read. My question to you today, my ‘Rati pals, is: what should I be reading next? Any genre. I’m probably ready for more mysteries, too. Do tell. My download trigger-finger is getting itchy.

 

 

Reprise (or Reprieve)

 

By Louise Ure

 Oh, man, this has never happened to me before. Here it is, my Tuesday, and I got nothing for you. In 117 separate blog postings, I’ve never been so empty of ideas. Maybe it’s because I just had dinner tonight with Pulitzer prize winner and US Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan, and a small group of truly creative, curious and gregarious friends of hers. It only lasted a couple of hours; we had to hurry to the Herbst Theater where she was to be interviewed for NPR’s City Arts & Lectures series.

Ryan is a self-deprecating wit … a woman in love with cadence and word sounds, but whose work is closer to Robert Frost than Emily Dickinson. “I love reading murder mysteries,” Ryan told me with a wink. “They generate such an empty mind.”

It’s nice to know that there are still fascinating, witty and kind people out there. It’s just that today I’m not one of them.

On the other hand, I crossed a busy street today without noticing the red light and almost got run down. I couldn’t answer the guy who asked me what time it was because I had forgotten that iPhones have the time on them as well as everything else. And I slid the deposit envelope in at the bank before realizing I hadn’t put any checks in it. Just spacy, I guess.

In recognition of that (and the fact that it’s already midnight and I don’t have a blog post for you) I’m reprising a post from four years ago that meant a lot to me. Hope there are some newbies here who haven’t seen it yet.

 

My First Dead Body

I came across my first dead body when I was sixteen. I don’t remember his name and I’m sorry about that. Especially because I had so much to do with killing him.

I was cheerleader-fit that summer, and as callous and superficial as only a teenage girl can be. My mind was on high dives and bikini lines. Kevin and Eldon and Keith.  Not on the job at hand.

I was the rent collector at my mother’s rooming house and I wasn’t happy about it.

The boarding house had a proud past and a dissolute future. It was built in 1888 to house the engineers, conductors and brakemen from the new transcontinental railroad that had just reached territorial Arizona, and was both the first-built and the last-standing two-story adobe building in Tucson.

By 1967, the time of my story, its decline was complete. The two-foot thick adobe walls were crumbling. Mice and mosquitoes used the sliced screen doors as grand promenades. There were only three hallway bathrooms left to service the twenty-eight guest rooms.

The clientele was in similar decline. We now catered only to the drunk, the sad, and the desperate. Sometimes they were the same person.

Friday was always a good day for collections. I took in thirty-five one-dollar bills from the Indian in room fourteen, keeping a wary eye on the knife handle sticking out from under his mattress. Lucy, my longest guest-in-residence in number twenty-three, wore only a polyester slip and painted on eyebrows. She had an open bottle of vodka on the bedside table. No glass in sight.

The character in room seven was my biggest problem. A thin, wild-eyed Latino, he’d arrived only two weeks before but was already behind on the rent.

“I have one room left,” I’d told him. “Top of the stairs at the front of the building.”

My brother and I had used plywood and discarded railroad ties to cobble together another two rooms out of the grand old wooden balcony on the second floor.

The man had no luggage — that wasn’t unusual for my clientele — but when I opened the door to the porch room, he recoiled.

“It’s wood!”

“Yes, and it’s thirty five-dollars a week.”

“But I cannot …”

“You don’t want the room?”

“It’s the splinters.”

He was haunted by splinters from New Mexico, he said. They swarmed around him and prevented him from leaving town. They even kept him from going to see his daughter for help.

“They attack. They jab like knives. They try to blind me.”

“Take it or leave it.”

He’d steeled himself and swallowed hard. I handed him the key, but he was still standing in the hallway when I started back down the stairs.

Crazy fucker.

I did have one other room, but it hadn’t been cleaned and I wasn’t about to do that when it was a hundred and ten degrees out. And what the hell, it had a wooden ceiling too.

He’d paid for the first week, but I hadn’t seen him since. I’d squinted through the screen door when I’d come by on Wednesday. He was asleep on the bed and no amount of pounding or yelling could rouse him.

I wouldn’t go away empty handed today. I was hot and tired and angry about having to be a slumlord-cheerleader. I felt almost justified in having sentenced Mr. Cabeza Loca to a windowless, all-wooden room for the week.

But something was different today. The air was not just hot but fetid. There was a thickness to the smell, something that clung to the back of my throat like sewage.

He was on the bed. Dirty gray boxers and yellow toenails. One hand flung sideways off the mattress.

This time there was no rise and fall of his chest. No thin wheeze of restless sleep.

And his fingers were covered in a dark red tint.

The paramedics didn’t arrive very quickly. It was August, after all, and they had lots of dead bodies to attend to in this heat. When they did get there, I heard one paramedic tell his partner, “Did you see his fingers? He tried to claw his way out of there.”

I do not take death lightly now. Not in life and not in literature.

It is never pretty. It is rarely peaceful. And it can be soul rending to those left behind.

And I can’t read crime fiction that devalues that experience. I don’t care if you’re writing about an amateur sleuth who keeps tripping over bodies or the police detective who has to deal with them every day. Don’t make a joke of it. Or, if you do, show me that humor is the only way the character can deal with the death, because his heart is breaking.

Ken Bruen reminded us several weeks ago about the Bossuet quote:

“One must know oneself,

to the point of being horrified.” 

I do, and this nameless man on a Friday in August, 1967, is part of it.

We’re all carrying splinters from New Mexico somewhere in our past.

I the Jury (Not)

By Louise Ure

  

 

 

Today I am not the jury. But that wasn’t the case four weeks ago. At the end of March, I appeared for a jury summons and joined about three hundred of my fellow San Franciscans in a massive effort to lie, cheat or steal our way out of doing our public service.

We were told that this would be a long case — two and a half to four months — and that the only excuses for hardship were:

  • taking care of a child or elderly relative at home
  • being a student with a daytime class schedule
  • having vacation plans in place for which you could show that you already had purchased nonrefundable tickets

About fifty people said they were free to serve and were released for the day and told to return in two weeks. The rest of us — poor schmucks who thought that not being able to make a living for four months was hardship — remained in place to plead our case. The Court Clerk dispensed with our excuses at a dizzying pace. “That’s not a hardship, that’s an inconvenience.” “Sorry, your employer is on record as paying your salary during jury service.” “Taking care of a sick dog at home is not a medical emergency.”

Almost two hundred of us were told to return to the courtroom in two weeks time. I wasn’t worried. What were the odds my name would be called? One in fifteen? And what were the odds that the lawyers would then want a mystery writer on the jury? One in a hundred?

But then the odds all went wobbly. They called my name and for the next four days I was potential juror number five in a cold case murder trial from 1984.

The seats emptied and refilled around me. They got rid of the homeless guy who lived in Golden Gate Park and the San Quentin prison guard. They replaced them with an Asian retiree who spoke English so badly that he just answered “yes” to everything, and an ex-District Attorney. They booted the Catholic priest who said he could never sit in judgement of anyone (huh? I thought that’s what they did for a living) but they kept the  mystery writer in the back row.

They had lots of questions for me, of course. “Do your books focus on a particular crime?” the judge asked. “Murders,” I said, sure that that was the super-secret Abracadabra word to get me off the jury. She simply nodded.

“Can you tell the difference between what goes on here in the courtroom and what you write when you go home?” the prosecuting attorney asked. “Can you tell the difference between what you do in the courtroom all day and when you go home to watch Law & Order?” I answered.

They wanted to know how I did research. I told them about field trips and expert advisors and learning about DNA and blood spatters and bullet wounds and fingerprints and police procedures. For some ungodly reason, they still thought I was the ideal juror.

Now, I’m not entirely against jury service. I’ve done it four times before and would do it again, but this time it felt like a big ask. I’m already avoiding writing. Why would I want to take on a four month full time job, pay ten dollars a day for parking and have to buy lunch out — all for the princely sum of $11.66 a day in jury service fees? It felt like an unnecessary delay in getting on with the rest of my life.

But it was truly an interesting case; one I think I would have been pretty good at understanding and evaluating. (I looked up the details online days later.) A 27-year old murder case. Matching DNA and blood data found in 2006. A scandal plagued criminalist who had been given immunity to testify. What’s not to like?

What finally got me off the jury? Jan Burke and the Crime Lab Project.

“Are you a member of any law and order or justice related group?” the judge asked. “The ACLU,” juror number four said. “Neighborhood Watch,” number eleven replied.

“The Crime Lab Project,” I said, telling them about the nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of the problems facing public forensic science. We fight for better forensic science — for funding, for education, for responsibility and honor among criminalists. (If you aren’t already a member of CLP, I urge you to join immediately. Not only is it a worthy cause, but Jan’s summary emails with forensic news are the best “idea starters” in the world.)

Now, just imagine that a person who belongs to the Crime Lab Project organization is going to be evaluating a case where a disreputable forensic specialist who was convicted of stealing cocaine was going to testify. It was like clicking my heels three times and saying, “There’s no place like home.” In the blink of an eye, the prosecuting attorney stood and said, “Juror number five is thanked and excused.”

Thank you, Jan!

But my ‘Rati pals … what would you have done? Would you have wanted to be on that jury?

A Ken Bruen Tribute to Murderati

By Louise Ure

 

Last week I received a gloriously sad, thoughtful and marrow-warming note from Ken Bruen. What else would you expect from the Irish King of the Cast Out Angels? It is a love note, of course, to all of us here at Murderati, full of memories from our past years together — an accounting of both our joy and our losses.

 

He’s given me permission to reprint it here.

 

Welcome back, my Tuesday friend. I hope the sun in Algeciras is kind to you.

 

L-

 

 

TA SE AN RUD IS EH.’
(IT IS WHAT IT IS)

 By KEN BRUEN
 ALGECIRAS, APRIL 6TH, 2011.
 FOR JIM CRUMLEY, LEGEND, FRIEND, ANAM CARA.

Seems a time ago, Le Temps, if not Perdue, at least so mourned.
I was happy then.
Being a member of Murderati, what was not to love?
Pari minding the crew, Dusty extolling on politics in a way that stirred the grand days of TS O’Rourke, being blog buddies with Louise, Alex having me back, always, and icing on the cake, Murderati was nominated for The Anthony. Plus, Toni Causey and Brett, turning out dark gold.
Heady lovely days.
Barack was the real whisper in the wind and hope was tangible.
I wanted this post to mark the best and the brightest then, for me.

I remember Louise’s post on her late brother, one if the most compelling pieces I ever read, cross me bedraggled heart.
My friend Jerry Rodriguez, his death un-ravelled me in ways I didn’t know.
As would so many to come.
Codlamh samh  … means ‘sleep well my loved ones.’
Louise’s beloved Bruce
And oh Sweet Jesus, Elaine Flinn
Robert Parker
Ed
Joe Gores
Oh Lord, so many, I can’t name them all.
But didn’t know.
Then.
So wrote as If all were indeed possible
Edgars
Movies
The whole espero-que-si scenario.

I’m sitting on the sea front at Algeciras as I write this tribute to the best and brightest. There is a ship for Algiers at 7.00 in the morning.
Tangiers, that ferry sails at 7.00. I’m seriously uncertain. After my graduation, going to try and find Paul Bowles with Irini.
The web, never take the bollix for granted, I shit thee not, on Amazon, in German, a bio of me and my marriage at 21 to a Greek Millionaire’s daughter.
I would have sworn, Mathair An Dia, ( Mother of God) that would never surface.
Me mother would have killed me.

I don’t know.
Peut-etre?
Remembering my languages but eerily, only the terms of ambiguity.
Photos?
Oh yeah, snapshots of the torn mind.
One of my used-to-be favourites, a beach in Galway.
See, the two stick figures, like Zorba, clearly dancing.
She’s gone now.
My wife took that photo, in days when I think she liked me, a bit anyway.
Or Aine, late to my life, a photo, rare as we had little time,
On that promenade in Spiddal, dancing, again! Me? Like seals who didn’t know predators are attracted to motion, especially happy tide.
Emotional chum in the water, frenzy freely.

One of my favourite books, ‘A Movable Feast’, and Hem talking of his delighted love for Mary, says:
‘There was wood all around, I never touched it.’
I’m sure around me, there all kinds of driftwood, in my ignorance, I didn’t touch it either.

Telling some of these tales to David Thompson, ridiculously young and brilliant. Oh Sweet Mother of God, the most get-go publisher I ever had the grace to know.
On tour with Jason ( Starr) in Germany last Sept, we get the call, he is gone.
No.
No
No
Fuckit-dammit-no.

I was 60 on the third of Jan, finally free I hope, espero que si, of cigs but the rest? Jesus wept.
In the blessed nigh on nine years I’ve been part of The Mystery Family, it’s been bliss. I stop here, un momento and sure enough, a guy approaches, goes:
‘Amigo mio, que passé?’
He truly doesn’t want to know so I give him some dinero, he goes:
‘Hoy, el muy bueno hermano.’
Like fook.
I lost my only brother ten years ago.

In my wallet is a photo, I never, ever look at. She’s there, smiling, shite, I know that and who knows, I might have been too but I forget. Thank Christ. I do know she has an expression of such longing, yearning even, but now, I still wonder, for what?
You believe it?
I never asked.
Swear to the God whom I amuse so highly, I never did, lest she tell me and I couldn’t deliver.
I should have asked.
You think?

My Dad, always (siempre) had a look in his eyes, one that defied:
‘Take your best shot.’
Me, the photos, I look like the best shots were already over the day I thought I could live in the world.
In Delaware, Princess died.
And I go:
‘Enough already.’
Well, not really, I’m too nice, Jesus, to utter that but I feel it.

I stand up, think:
‘I really should pay tribute to those I love and respect.’
Murderati
Craig
Jay
Lou
Louise
And the list is endless.

As Paul Brady sang in The Island:
‘Hey, this was never meant to be no sad song.’

I think of the wondrous blogs:
Peter and The Rap Sheet
Ali, of course
Duane (go win that Edgar buddy)
Crime Always Pays
Paul Brazil
Derek Haas
Jen’s Books Thoughts
Spinetingler
Mulholland

The lady I’m with approaches, she’s French so melancholy is not that much of a mystery, she goes:
‘K, there’s a party for your award in like, half an hour.’
I give her me best smile, the one that leaks
Compassion
Empathy
And no humour
None.
I know, I got to practice it a lot at all the funerals.

I start up the incline to the villa provided by the publishers and she asks, slight frown, as me quiet is not common, asks:
A gra, OK?’
Sorry, I’ve been teaching her Irish, saved me from talking about the friends I’d so wish to Christ she’d known.

I nearly smile, say:
‘No, I’ve been doing some stuff on the laptop.’
She stops, never … no matter how in the wind they are … underestimate the intuition of a lady who cares for you, she asks:
‘Tom? ( Piccirilli) Lukas? Philip?’
Then she lights up, gets it, says:
‘Jason…. Jason Starr.’
Right.

I have 2 new books near completion but I haven’t written for 2 days.
That’s it, the freaking reason I’m out of sorts.

Man U play Chelsea later and the bar will be full, giving me support for me team and all good stuff, as Lukas (Ortiz) says,
‘It’s all good amigo.’
I drink the equivalent of maybe three Buds (light). God be with the days, yada, but come morning, I’m sitting on our balcony and she, God Bless her, moves right in beside me and you have to know me God-forgive-em moods, to come that close in the morning, she hands me a café con leche, her  arm round my shoulder, casually, like we’ve doing it for twenty years:
‘Yeah… right, I know.’
I think, say:
‘Alanna, what I’m writing is, Je pense, mais no, un cri de coeur.’
Gives me that rare to rarest look, of someone who gives a tinker’s cuss as to what I really think, I know at home in Ireland, cri de coeur is simply, whining … worse, what they call, off-white whining.
She looks out at that Ocean, stretching to Africa, she  still doesn’t know if we’re travelling, asks:
Que pense, Kay?
Tempted to go Galway, channel Charlie Stella.
‘Fug-ed.about.it, Kay.’
But I uncharacteristically tell the truth, say:
‘I’m thinking … ti kema, quelle dommage … of Murderati, of the crew of damn nigh Cowboy-angels there.’
And she laughs.
The French laughing is nigh on as wonderful as the Irish telling the truth. She hugs real close and, God forgive me, the warmth makes me afraid, afraid I’ll get used to it. She misinterprets my shudder, asks:
Andiamo, diga me?’
Our slumming in about five different languages is one of her main appeals for me, plus, she never …like seriously … judges me. WTF.
I truly tell the truth, tell:
‘It
      Is
           What
                     It
                          Is.’
Ken Bruen.

 

PS from Louise: I’m on jury duty again and will check in during the day as we get breaks.

The New Normal

 

By Louise Ure

  

Bruce Goronsky and his mother, 1951

 

Today, March 29, is the one year anniversary of my husband Bruce’s death. It seems so much shorter than that. But so much longer at the same time.

I’m finally back from all my travels to Australia, Arizona and Seattle and maybe … just maybe … ready to think about the next steps.

Six months ago, my brother, Jim, asked me if I was getting back to normal. “What is that? What does that look like?” I replied. There was nothing normal about my days and my future would be different than I ever imagined. I would never be normal again, but somehow … just maybe .. there might be some kind of New Normal ahead.

Like any other endeavor I’ve ever approached, I tried to get as smart about widowhood as I could. I read countless tales of previously strong women bowed by the unexpected loss of a spouse. Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joyce Carol Oates’ “A Widow’s Story,” Genevieve Ginsburg’s “Widow to Widow.” They may have proved that I wasn’t crazy, but they also showed that I sure wasn’t handling this well.

So many people tried to help. My old advertising friends, Judy Hughes and Barbara Pauly, whose memories about losing their husbands haven’t faded over the years. David Corbett and his frequent emails giving me permission to handle this however I had to in order to preserve my sanity. Linda Ronstadt with her constant invitations to dinner, to a walk, to help around the house. Pat and Karen Scott who took the burdens of my in-laws in Seattle as their own. David and Sara Arnold next door who continue to feed me now just like they did when Bruce was sick.

Neighbors and cousins and email friends, you’ve all done your best.

But eight months into this new life I found myself not getting better, and only getting worse. I shuttered myself indoors and would not bathe or dress for days at a time. I quit answering the telephone. I wouldn’t leave the house if I ran out of food: a paucity of cigarettes, wine or toilet paper was about the only call to action.

I cried every Monday at 8:05 a.m., remembering the 36th Monday without him … then the 37th. Then the 38th. I cried yesterday, too, although I know that the rest of the world will call him gone a year today. What a world we live in where there are 52.14 Mondays in a year.

I broke down when the lady at the Mammography Center asked if Bruce Goronsky was still the emergency contact she should list on my medical forms.

I lashed out at acquaintances who asked if I was dating yet.

I have not been the model widow. Nor am I Mrs. Bruce Goronsky anymore.

But I’m not Louise Ure again yet, either.

Three people have brought me this far. Three people who never, never let me give up.

 Jude Greber

 

First, Jude Greber, who not only made me laugh the day we went to the mortuary to arrange for Bruce’s cremation, but whose constant, gentle support has carried me every day through Bruce’s illness and now through this new chrysalis of widowhood with emails, long visits and even more frequent meals. Her message: DON’T FORGET, YOU’RE A WRITER AND YOU HAVE FRIENDS.

 

Maggie Polling

 

Second, Maggie Polling, my old friend from Australia who opened her home and her life to me these last several months. She wanted to come take care of Bruce but I wouldn’t let her. Then she wanted to come for the funeral, but I thought that hosting an out-of-towner would be too grueling. She finally came to travel with me to the memorial car race the SCCA put on in Bruce’s honor; I couldn’t have attended without her. Then she taught me how to breathe again in Australia. She is closer to me than a sister. Her message: WE KNEW YOU AS LOUISE LONG BEFORE WE EVER KNEW BRUCE, BUT WE LOVED HIM, TOO.

  

Louise Ure and Brian Washington

 

And finally, my foster son, Brian Washington. How can I ever thank him? He sat by my side those long hours in the hospital. He took me home when Bruce’s last lap was run. He bought me a cookbook called “The Pleasure of Cooking for One.” He calls and comes by every week, offering love, lunch and a change of light bulbs if I need it. I could not ask for a better son if I had birthed him myself. His message: YOUR FAMILY IS HERE FOR YOU.

I can’t promise that I’m over this fever, but things have started to become more gray than black. I wake with plans for the day, even if those plans are sometimes just to make lunch or go to the post office.

I can still get caught short by the strangest, most unexpected sadnesses. I still have to mute the television when one of the Cancer Society’s “Happy Birthday” ads comes on. False advertising I call it, and rubbing salt in the wound. Bruce didn’t even get a quarter of a year.

Then just this week Bruce’s father asked if I would send him Bruce’s wallet as his own is well-worn and falling apart. I tried to do that and again broke down noting that Bruce’s credit cards had longer expiration dates than he did. And the wallet still holds the curve of his butt. I think I’ll send my father-in-law a different replacement wallet and hope he understands.

This anniversary, like so many other benchmarks I’ve passed this year, is neither completely happy nor sad. I’ve begun to remember the good times we had and not just the last hours in the hospital. I’ve even laughed a few times.

The Vietnamese lady who does my fingernails lost her father in the same hospital on the same week I lost Bruce. She told me yesterday that she and her family prepared his favorite foods on the anniversary of his death and added a plate for him in front of his picture at the head of the table. It’s a lovely idea. Maybe I’ll do the same, even though a bowl of chili with cornbread doesn’t sound all that festive.

But while I’m remembering Bruce today, I’m also remembering and loving each of you who have given me so much this year. You have my heart.

 

 

 

Love Letters

By Louise Ure

 

I told you two weeks ago about the rekindled relationship with my siblings and what a wonderful experience it was working with them to divide up my mother’s estate – a task that could have been fraught with angst and frustration.

The trip took longer than I expected and we accomplished less than I had hoped, but we got decisions made, experts resourced and a timetable in place. We plowed through closets and file cabinets and drawers stuffed with old papers, photos and mementos. We found my grandmother’s satin wedding shoes from 1898. My mother’s cape from nursing school when she graduated 74 years ago.

And those letters.

I don’t have many love letters from Bruce. Nor from earlier beaux. Our relationships were carried on in the days of easy phone access, dotted notes and emails. But my parents grew up in an era of diaries and long letters and longer absences. Thoughts and hopes and dreams left on the page for someone else to read and reread.

And that’s what I found.

A couple of years ago I posted a blog here about my father. He died when I was sixteen and I remember him only as a distant and cold man. He kept separate rooms in the house for himself and only dined with the family three times a year. He was a strong presence in my life, like that of a chilly draft in an otherwise warm room. I was always told that the war had changed him.

They had planned to marry on August 17, 1941. On July 29 of that year, he was told to report to Kodiak Island in Alaska. My mother crossed off the August 17 date on the invitations and wrote in “August 1.” They married and hopped on a train for San Francisco. He got off in Los Angeles to report for duty and my mother continued on to San Francisco for a honeymoon alone. She didn’t see him again for five years.

What she didn’t tell me was that she kept the letters he sent home … hundreds of them … one every two days for five years. They are still in their little parchment envelopes, rimmed with blue and red stripes for airmail. Each one still has the censor’s initials and stamp of approval. The handwriting is strong but ornate, befitting one who was educated in the ways of penmanship.

And as I read, I met a new man. A man who used endearments. A man of wit and humor. A man who enjoyed gossip. A man who loved deeply and was loved in return.

“I hope that this letter will reach you in time to tell you that for the New Year I only wish that you should remain my very lovely and adorable wife. It seems that every little thought or action that I might have is linked so closely with you that I have no choice of my own. I love you so.”

This from a man who never called me by my name.

He also seemed introspective and unsure in the letters, traits I would not normally have credited him with.

“Tell me, dear, why do I make so few close friends? I know that I demand perfection in anything that is associated with me and I know that I can be sarcastic and over-bearing but why people fear me either in my judgments or opinions, I cannot guess. Can you tell me? It has bothered me so much since I have been here.”

He wrote with a strong sense of duty and honor:

“Granted it is unnecessary in a way and calls for some sacrifices and hardships but we can’t help looking on it as a duty or service and in some ways an opportunity. I can’t help but feel that out of this will come a better, fuller life for a greater number and that it is not the end of everything. It may have taken a war to bring to the world’s attention the conditions that brought about such bitter feelings – mainly the economic inequality among nations and individuals, the crowded distribution of population in some areas, and the age old hatred of races and nations. When we win, many of these things will be corrected and this old world will be set for a long productive, peaceful and plentiful era.”

And he was a hopeless optimist:

“I am not the least afraid of the future and look forward to the fun of living in it. Also the effect on the allied nations after the war will be great. England will become a democracy in fact rather than word. The U.S. will further consolidate social and labor reforms and government will retain strong control over business. And Russia will come out of its secrecy, double-dealing and distrust and become one of the world’s great powers along with us.”

My sister and I read from separate boxes of letters, sharing choice comments or sadnesses as we found them. “I spent the day in 1941,” I told her over a cocktail. “I was living in 1943,” she replied.

I’ve met a different man than the father I knew and I take great pleasure in making his acquaintance.

So tell me about love letters, ‘Ratini. Do you keep them? Do you need to burn them before your heirs go through them? And if you don’t have them any more, which is the love letter you would most like to have in hand?

Moving Clouds

 

By Louise Ure

 

Alafair was right yesterday … the weather does affect us in inestimable ways. It was 109 degrees when I left Sydney and it snowed here in Tucson Sunday, for the first time in decades. (Of course, it’s70 degrees here today, but why let a good whine go to waste?)

I’ve returned to Tucson to finally settle my mother’s estate. She died two years ago this week, but the whole family got caught up in other – and in my case, more dire – circumstances and we couldn’t get things settled until now.

It has been decades since I’ve been here for longer than the expected four day Christmas visit. This time, although it’s fraught with potential conflict, I have the time to see the whole extended family, to eat at all my favorite restaurants, and to drive up to the foothills to see the snow if I want to.

My family numbers in the hundreds here, although there are probably only six or seven surnames involved. (No jokes about white trash marrying cousins of the same name, please. We have lots of males in the family and they in turn married into big families and sired lots more males.) But it’s the women in the family that hold it together. The women who care for the generations before them and behind them, who safeguard the memories, who tell the stories, who dust off the pictures. I celebrate them all.

If I knew that the bombs would blast on a certain day, I would make sure to gather this whole extended clan of siblings and cousins and nephews and in-laws. Among us there is a farmer, a rancher, a chicken breeder, a scientist and a teacher. There’s also a judge, a bookkeeper, a house builder, a songwriter, and a couple of nurses. In going through all the old family papers these last couple of weeks, I see that I am not the only or even the best writer among us. Taken as a whole village, the people I am related to could recreate the world.

Of course, we’ve got our fair share of ne’er-do-wells and dope dealers and scalawags, but that’s what makes it interesting.

In all my visits these last few decades, I’ve stayed at hotels here and maintained a polite but friendly distance from my three siblings. They didn’t have room for us to stay, and it felt intrusive to me. This trip we’re all staying together. We rise together and go bed together. And in between, we eat too much and laugh at jokes both old and new.

I have rekindled my happiness in making calabasitas and chorizo in my mother’s kitchen. I have once again recognized how important my siblings are to me.

In the 1970’s, trying to describe my brothers and sisters, I wrote a short essay about how each of or them would react to a boulder in the road ahead of them. I wrote that my eldest brother, Bill, who died of cancer at 29, would not have noticed it, intent on an architectural challenge he was working out in his head. My only sister, the other half of the coin to my lack of empathy, would have placed hands on the rock to understand why it was there and try to love it out of the way. The middle brother, a scientist and thinker, would have fashioned a giant lever to move it aside. And the baby brother, faster with fists than with rationale, would have beat against it until both he and the boulder were depleted.

They have not changed since then, nor has my opinion.

But we’re laughing together again. And together, whether it’s with love or a lever, we’re going to get this god damn boulder out of the way.

Tell me a story about families, ‘Rati. Either the one you have or the one you wish you had.

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