Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In Which There Is No Socially Redeeming Value *as per usual

This persistent little red-headed bastard?  He has nothing to do with this blog post.  I just wanted you to know that he is determined to perforate the aluminum housing on the security light just outside my back fence.  Morning, noon and night, he works on it.  

Go ahead, count the holes he's made.  Count 'em.

Yeah.  None.

I hate this bird.  And, yet...


We are back in court, people!  

Court hearings screw with my productivity.  I don't have time to traipse all over the country-side to sit for three or four hours in a sparsely populated courtroom,  and/or barn, to do my bit for the traveling dog and pony show that is Provincial Jurisprudence.  

However, it is also my favorite part of the job, so I don't actually complain. 

Court hearings were few and far between for the last six months or so because the retiring District Attorney was winding down her cases and not starting much of anything new so as to give the new guy a fresh start.  

So far, his start has been pretty good.  I've enjoyed getting to know Ford, the new guy, and I was thrilled to learn that he's got an extremely dry sense of humor.  He's one of those people that will quietly slip a perfectly worded verbal stiletto between the ribs of conversation, then twist ever so slightly. That's my favorite kind of humor.

Of course being in court more often means more fun stuff going on.  This week's round of motions and pleas had it's fair share.  

Monday was our scheduled court day.  Various lawyers, deputies, and questionable characters filtered through the doors into the cavernous courtroom.  

One of the defense attorneys corralled the DA and I as we settled into our seats.   "Since you're both here," he said, "can we talk about the Morris case?"  He pulled the motion asking to have Morris' probation revoked from his briefcase.  

"I know you're wanting him to go to prison," he told me, "But you don't really have anything on him since he got out of that long-term treatment other than his drug use that one time," he said, ignoring the other allegations in the motion - failure to do lots of things, like attending counseling and after-care meetings.  

"He used a LOT of drugs that one time," I said.  

"Well, yeah," the attorney agreed, "but he tells me he wasn't using just for recreation, he was trying to kill himself."

"He almost made a success of that!" 

"Let's just wait and see how this all plays out," Ford said. "The hearing is scheduled for next month. We'll present the evidence then and see what the Judge wants to do."

The lawyer stuffed the motion back in his briefcase and moved on.  Ford shook his head.  "He wasn't using for fun?!  Only a defense attorney would try to turn a suicide attempt into a positive!"

The first several hearings that morning were pretrial motions, continuances and guilty pleas for prison time - things that I did not have any direct interest in.  When court is in session, a probation officer sits at the prosecution table with the District Attorney in most jurisdictions.  The officer keeps a written record of and is witness to the proceedings so that we are available to testify, if needed, to details like whether the defendant in a future hearing is "one and the same" person that participated in this hearing.  We also answer questions that the Court or the attorneys may have about probation or Interstate Compact regulations or some other area of [perceived] expertise.  

So, for the first half of the day, I didn't have much to do except listen to the hearings and banter with people in between.  Naturally, I doodled on my docket sheet while court was in session.

I noticed Ford kept glancing over at my drawing.  He chuckled once or twice.  Eventually the Judge called a recess to allow a defense attorney to confer with his client.

As soon as the defendant was out of the courtroom, the DA addressed the court:  "I just don't know what to think about her," he said, jabbing an accusatory thumb in my direction.  The Judge cocked an eyebrow at him. "She's over here all smiling and acting nice and then I look down and she's drawing skulls and crossbones all over everything!"  He looked over at me, "Where did that come from?"

I grinned.

"I know what you mean," the Judge said with a heavy sigh.  "I keep expecting her to come in here with black hair and fingernails.  She's just the happiest goth you've ever seen."

I pointed out that I had, in fact, come to work with black nails once and no one noticed.  Or, at least, no one commented.  We all agreed that although my skin tone was sufficiently Wednesday Addams, we didn't think the coal black hair thing would really work for me.  Because freckles.

This lead to the inevitable discussion of Munsters Vs. Addams Family. The Judge and DA were both in the Munsters camp.  The court reporter and I were Team Addams.  The 27 year old deputy/bailiff stood silent at his post, looking confused. This was followed by Bewitched vs. Jeannie.  We were all agreed I Dream of Jeannie was the better show.  Darren and the nose-twitching on Bewitched were just plain irritating.

Just as things were getting interesting and the Judge was warming up a diatribe about how both Darren and Major Whatshisname on Jeannie were two of the most stupid people ever, the defense attorney re-entered the courtroom, client in tow.

This particular plea bargain was for probation, so I straightened in my chair and put what I hoped was a more professional expression on my face.  I had my paperwork lined up in front of me so I could accurately record the Court's orders during the hearing, and maybe surreptitiously add bit of shading to my skull drawing.

The hearing started innocently and progressed smoothly.  The laughter lingered in the air and we were all smiles.  The defendant made his plea of guilty. The Judge questioned him briefly and his attorney attested to his competency.  The DA presented the terms of the plea bargain.

The Judge then began his ruling:

"The Court, finding nothing in bar as to why sentence should not now be pronounced, hereby sentences you to a term of six years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, probated for a term of eight years -"

Both attorneys leapt to their feet.    Ford spoke first.  "Uh, Your Honor, the plea bargain was for six years of probation, not eight."

The Judge glanced down at the file, "I'm sorry.  You're right."  He looked back at the defendant.  "I'm sentencing you to six years of probation."  A pause.  "Unless you want another two years."  He gestured vaguely in my direction.  "I mean, look at her.  Don't you want a chance to come see the probation officer for another two years?"

The air sucked out of the room.

Eyes widened en mass as we were all - the Judge included - struck by the blatant sexism of that comment.  I wasn't particularly offended, just surprised.  The Judge vacillated momentarily between out-right apology and/or mute shock at his poor choice of words.  For a moment, a long tense moment, the entire room paused, intent on his next utterance.

It was then that an as yet unheard voice spoke timidly from the far side of the defense table.

"Uh, I'm legally blind, Your Honor.  I can't see her."


He's only gonna do six years.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Those Aren't Bees You're Hearing

First thing Monday morning --

(Has anything good ever come from a story that begins that way?  Probably not.)

First thing Monday morning, I got a text message from my boss.

(Again.  Nothing good ever comes of this. Nothing.)

The message was as follows:

"What is the highest criminogenic domain for each of our counties?"

See what I mean?  Not good.

I work for a state district judge.  Sort of.  He's technically only the boss in that he can hire or fire me. Other than that, I am the boss of me.

(A bit of trivia for you:  District Judges used to have day to day oversight of probation departments.  Until one day when one of them got named in a law suit against a department.  The Judge pleaded Judicial Immunity, but the Court said it didn't apply when it comes to oversight of the probation department operations.  At their next policy meeting, they immediately drafted legislation resigning all control over their probation departments, other than hiring the directors.)

Like all government agencies, probation loves jargon.  Loves it.  We feast on buzzwords and live and die by acronyms.  I hate jargon, yet there is no way to escape it and my conversation is often sprinkled with terms that make no sense to anyone else.  For example, we don't call it probation any longer.  Too self-explanatory, I guess.  The correct term is Community Supervision and Corrections Departments, which is always shortened to CSCD.  See what I mean?

Criminogenic is the latest buzzword in probation circles.  Most especially "criminogenic risk factors".  I'm sure there's an acronym for that, too.  It means "reasons people do bad stuff".  Your tax dollars are being funneled into research on identifying and treating these factors.  That's not a bad thing.

It's also not a new thing.  Buzzwords come and go. Policy changes and stratagems are devised.  When I took over this department, five(ish) years ago, I had a part-time officer.  She was older than my mother.  By at least one decade.  During a discussion of the buzzword of the week and it's accompanying requirements, she told me something she'd heard from another veteran officer years earlier.

"All you need to be an effective probation officer is a legal pad and a good pen."

It's absolutely true.  Good probation officers are about people.  Learning about people, educating people, understanding people's situations.  You need to be able to listen.  And then point people in the right direction.  It's really very simple.

But we have to justify our funding.  So we rock along with the latest research, the latest scheme for reducing recidivism and -- oh, sorry.  See?  I can't help it!

I'm not opposed to research.  Or new ideas.  And I could certainly stand to learn a few new tricks along the way.  But when the Judge texts you first thing Monday morning to ask about how the current state policy-speak applies to our local jurisdiction you know that means more work, more data collection, more strategic planning and more, more, more documentation.

I looked at my phone and sighed before typing a reply:

"Anecdotally speaking, employment, or the lack thereof, is probably our highest risk factor locally."

I was staring accusingly at the huge binder labeled "2017-18 Strategic Plan and Grant Application" when he texted me back.

"Oh.  I'm in a class.  I have no idea what the instructor is saying.  Just threw that question out there to show that I'm obviously in class."

My reply was swift:

"You SUCK!"

He laughed.  I'm still employed.  And I have plenty of legal pads and one very good pen.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Friday, February 03, 2017

Well, that was fun.

Last night Mindy and I both drove an hour, coming from opposite directions, and met up in the big city where we participated in our very first ever in-person-with-a-sign protest. It was a No Ban/No Wall protest.  (Check out Mindy's take on this here.)

The travel ban, temporary or not, is a travesty and the wall is idiocy with a checkbook.  That being said, I'm conflicted about how we are reacting to our government and these sorts of polices. Every time I see a post or a comment or hear someone talk about how horrible the current situation makes them feel, I am reminded of people I know who felt the exact same way, eight years ago. Those people believed that Obama was some sort of Islamic infiltrator and he would take their guns, take their freedoms, take their paychecks, and then force their mamas to participate in orgies and stuff. They were, of course, wrong. And frequently stupid.  But that doesn't mean they didn't feel the exact same frustration and fear that so many of my liberal friends feel now.

And the way they reacted eight years ago? I see that mirrored again and again in progressives.

Remember when we shouted about how George W. was "Not My President"? Then we were appalled when the right wing yelled that Obama was not theirs.

Remember when the Democrats instituted the 'nuclear option' when in control of the Senate and there were some controversial Bush appointments up for confirmation? Remember when the constitutional scholars hemmed and hawed and told us that was a bad, bad idea? Remember? Now the Republicans are replicating that same behavior and more.

We started a lot of this. Not all of it, by any means, but we sure did our part. I don't want to be a part of continuing the reactionary one-upmanship. But I also don't want to be one of those people Bonhoeffer talked about; the ones who said nothing and did nothing until nothing was all that remained.

I work for Republican politicians. I also have many conservative friends whom I value and care for. Despite our political differences, they are good people and we agree much more than we disagree. So I don't wear my political opinions on my t-shirt. Most of the time.

I was at the 'gym' Tuesday morning when a news story about the planned protest aired and it piqued my interest. There I was, on a treadmill in the dingy physical therapy department of a small country hospital, (That's an anachronism, isn't it? Small country hospital? There are, like, twelve of those left in America.) in front of a 13 inch color TV that was telling me about an opportunity to be a part of something good.

No matter how good an opportunity, I wasn't remotely excited about showing up on my own. I texted Mindy at that ungodly hour of the morning and told her what I wanted to do. I asked her to come. At first she said she'd like to, and she'd see what she could move around on her schedule and let me know in a few hours. I totally understood that.

Then she texted me back and said, basically, 'screw it'. She wanted to do it, needed to do it, and she would make it happen. Rest of the world be damned. (Do not ever stand in front of Mindy when she makes up her mind to do something. She will throw glitter into your unprotected eyes and while you're clawing at it, she'll sidestep you and do what she wants.) By lunch time she'd acquired a change of clothes, walking shoes, and poster board for signs.

We met in the parking lot of an Episcopal student ministry building near the protest site. Mindy brought me not only a foam board (yay!) but the MAGNUM Sharpie Marker. Oh HELL yeah! I love those things. I love them more than the brain cells I've threatened by inhaling deeply and purposefully the Magnums' awesome ethylene-glycolic aroma whenever I've used them.

As the sun set behind us, we bent over the hood of my pick-up, scrawling slogans on pristine poster board. We'd each picked a pithy phrase for our signs. Hers protested for freedom; mine, against fear. And then we wrote on the backs of the signs.

The wildest part of the whole evening was crossing the street. Turns out, they hold protests at major intersections. During rush hour. Who wouldda guessed? (Y'all remember we don't even have stoplights in my town, right?  More on stoplights later...)

The group wasn't especially large, but a couple hundred of us filled the small memorial park on a corner of the intersection. This is West Texas, so it was a very friendly protest. Even the counter protesters were content to merely drive by and shout suggestions, punctuated with a few aggressive horn honks. For the most part they confined their remarks to subject matter that wouldn't make their mamas blush.

We tried real hard to chant, but I'm pretty sure some of the folks were Baptist and they were on a totally different rhythm than the Presbyterians. At least, that's what I'm assuming the problem was. We got better as the evening wore on, but not a lot better.

It was a fantastic spot for people watching. Grey hair next to dreadlocks next to bald babies and tow-headed toddlers. The t-shirts and tattoos were especially entertaining. And of course the signs.

Given the small size of the space, the protest was mostly stationary, to our mutual chagrin. Mindy was miffed that there wasn't actual marching, what with her having worn comfortable shoes and all. And there are two things I've not been able to do since my back broke. Standing still is one of those.

The other is holding my hands up over my head, which is why I haven't robbed a bank or fixed my garage door opener. It's also why I will make sure my sign has a dang stick to hold it up with next time.  We noticed people behind us pointing to our signs and grinning or sneaking photos. Finally, someone asked permission to take our picture, We said sure, as long as she'd snap one for us as well!

While wandering back and forth among the stationary marchers, we saw a space open up at the center of the crowd. A dozen or so men, women and children spread rugs on the ground and bowed, face down, again and again, to pray.

It was beautiful.

The sun had long set when we left the park. We recruited a college girl to help us cross the street. Since we were in the self-styled 'Friendliest City in America', she didn't flinch or run when accosted by two butch, trucker-looking dames making demands on her jay-walking skills. Instead she grinned and played along.

The city lights brightened the night sky unnaturally, but the moon and Venus (or was that Mars?) shined down on us. When we got back to the parking lot, we sat on the tailgate of my truck, waiting on a friend to join us for dinner. "I am so glad we did this," Mindy said, gazing up at the sky. Or maybe I said it. Or, more likely, we both said it. Several times. 
Mindy and I will be out there again. And we will call our legislators. And we will love the people we encounter every day. And that lady in the burka? We sure don't see her every day. We love her, too.

Silence is complicity.

But vengefulness eats away at our humanity.

I hope, for the next four years and beyond. that life inspires us to do an insane amount of good for each other. I see people stepping out of their comfort zones and being the voice and the hands of hospitality and generosity.  I see people who've otherwise been silent speaking up for what's right.  If it weren't for the shitty state of affairs in our country, I would never drive an hour out of my way, on a school night, to stand around with a bunch of strangers and demand something better.  It was good for me.

A couple of weeks ago the lectionary reading included Psalm 27. (I wish I could remember what the priest said about it in her sermon. What I do remember was thinking "How cool. I really like that. I'm gonna remember what she said!") The 27th Psalm is one that reminds us that God is light, God is salvation, and it is ridiculous for us to be afraid with that kind of protection.

I hope I don't forget that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The T-Shirt Was Cool

On January 20th I decided to celebrate the American version of democracy in a very low key, personal sort of a way.

Friday morning I went to the city for various boob squishing procedures.  The radiologists always have trouble reading my pics, so I make multiple visits and this time finally concluded with a squooshy sonogram.  Thankfully the imaging center I frequent is one of those that go to almost creepy lengths to make you feel all special and cared for.  (Why do I keep turning down their offer of a warm robe?  Is it some sort of left-over puritanical, Protestant distrust of things that feel good?  Or is it because it sounds like how you might be greeted at the Playboy Mansion?  Or both?)  Even though I spent triple the time there that I'd intended, I still felt up to pursuing my Celebration of Democracy.

I drove across town to the blood donation center. 

I donate blood on a fairly regular basis, but it's always, every single time, been at a mobile blood drive.  A drive with an actual driver.  In an RV. 

I have one of those semi-rare blood types, so they normally ask me to do one of the oil change donations where they siphon out a lot of blood, strip it of the good parts, then squeeze it back in.  It usually takes about 45 minutes, start to finish. 

This time I was going to the headquarters building in the city.  It's a really nice place!  Lots of lushly comfortable recliners, flat screen TVs mounted high on the walls, buckets of snack food and pyramids of juice boxes and water.  (Only one of the televisions was tuned to a news channel.  And that was not Fox.  And they were all muted.) I'd even received a text message directing me to complete a preliminary health screening online so I could save 20 minutes during the on-site screening process.  (I'd also avoid that litany of "No.    No.    No.    No.    No." to all those questions about my sexual and travel history.)  

While waiting in the screener's office, I noticed a sign with info on platelet donation.  I asked her about it.  "Oh!  I was just about to suggested that," she said, after verifying my blood type.  "Do you have some time?  It takes a little longer, but we're experiencing a shortage of platelets and it would really help us out if you can do it."

"I've got lots of time.  Why not?"

Before long I was ensconced in one of those comfy chairs, feet up, swaddled in warm blankets and squeezing a liquid heat pack because I was sitting next to the air conditioner vent and my delicate digits might get chilled.  I was happy.

I stayed happy for the next three hours. 

The vampires were all atwitter about my ridiculously high platelet count and wired me up for a triple donation.  "It will take a little longer," they warned.  I had no where to be.  I said ok.  I did jus fine except for that bit when my feet started cramping.  They gave me some calcium and put my feet down so I could work the cramps out.  Then I almost fainted, so they put my feet back up. 

And then brought me more juice boxes.  And snacks.  And told me what a good person I was. 

It was like being in kindergarten again.  In a good way.  I am all but sure there is a gold star beside my name in their database.  I'm hoping to show it to my mom at "Meet The Phlebotomist" night.

At one point during the process, an administrator and the tech who did my paperwork held a low-voiced conference within earshot.  "They wanted us to get at least six platelets today.  With the four we have coming in later and the one you turned," a head nod in my direction "we're going to hit the goal.  Good job!"

"The one you turned."

I'm the one she turned. 

Wow.  I'd been turned and I hadn't even realized it.  Emperor Palpatine would not have been impressed.  He would find my lack of resistance...disturbing.

But then I looked down at the snack in my hand, and laughed.

The dark side really DOES have cookies!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Monte Rachel Just Didn't Sound Right

Today is my birthday!  Earlier this month, I splurged and bought myself a drafting table that I'd had my eye on for a year.  Called it an early birthday present to myself.  Every day since, I've sat down there after supper and drawn or colored to my heart's content.  My dogs are completely unimpressed with it, as this severely limits the amount of time they can use me as a human heating pad for their epic couch layabouts.

Plus, they are hopelessly gauche in their artistic sensibilities.

I'd be sitting there now, but I've wanted to write all week, just couldn't think of a thing to say.  Not being one to let that stop me, I've promised myself I'd at least do a first draft of a blog post before sitting down to my inking tonight.

This has been a good week, so far.  I've learned a couple of things:

The first thing was the discovery of my new sandwich, which I expect to patent forthwith.  Can one patent a sandwich?  I've been bemoaning my food options of late.  Or the lack thereof.  I bought one of those chopped salad kits the other day.  I used to buy them a lot, but of course that burned me out on them. For the past week or so I'd been craving vegetables, because, truthfully, I hadn't eaten any for quite some time.  On Sunday night I made a smashing roast beef sandwich and half the salad.

Holy Moses, that was the best salad ever.

On Monday night I had the same thing again with the other half of the salad.  Heaven, revisited.

On Tuesday night I was (a.) out of vegetables and (b.) craving something different.  So, after a good ten minutes spent shuffling between cabinet and fridge, expecting to have something edible jump out at me, I invented a new sandwich.

I call it the Rachel Christo.

Peanut butter, jelly and ham.

It was not at all bad.  Not at all.  Try it yourself.

The second thing I learned was much more inconsequential, but it made me feel all superior and stuff, so I have to tell you about it.

Tonight I learned I can use chopsticks with my left hand.

I've used them right-handedly for decades.  After leaving the courthouse, I decided to drive into Fake Cow City for Chinese food.  The waitress seated me in a newly reupholstered booth in a corner far enough from the blaring flat screen TV so as not to interfere with my reading.  After arranging my dining space to the perfect configuration for both culinary and Kindle enjoyment, I discovered my sushi plate was on the left side and my soup bowl on the right.  So, I tried the chopsticks left-handed.

It worked. Score one for me.

The third thing I've learned this week was the discovery of the object of the rest of my life.

I turned on the TV last night and caught the last couple of minutes of PBS Newshour.  They mentioned a poem.  This poem:


The title piqued my interest, what with having had several Jennifers play roles in my life, both pivotal and the occasionally beslubbered. But the first line of the article following the poem really caught my attention.  The poet had a friend who described her work as "First you are laughing.  Then there is a knife."

Holy Mary, Mother of Pearl.  That's it -- that's the whole object of my writing!  That right there is what I'm aiming for.  I think I'm pretty decent with the first part.  There is a lot of work to do on the second part.

And that's ok. I'm only 46.  I still have lots of time to work on it.

What are you working on?

(You owe me, Janet.  I did in fact manage to work your favorite Shakespearean insult into this post. It was clumsy, but it's there!)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Reports of My Death Wish Were Greatly Exaggerated

The holidays are tough.

They're tough for us all in one way or another.  That idyllic picture of the loving family gathered around a cozy fire without a care in the world, other than for each other, isn't true and never has been.  Not that I've ever observed.  And I'm an observer.  I see shit.  I know stuff.  It's just not true.

Most of us celebrate with some sort of amalgam of tradition and insanity that somehow or another generally works.  Good on ya, however you do it.

I sort of expected to be stuck with some variation of holiday blues this year.  It's supposed to be a thing for the relatively recently divorced, they tell me.  Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Certainly things are not perfect, i.e. no cozy fire or idyllic family, but still.  Not so bad.

Christmas started with a spur of the moment field trip to the city to look at Christmas lights and hang out with a friend.  I took my dogs with me, for the first time.  She lives in an a small bungalow.  With the addition of my two monsters, there were six dogs and three cats spending the night in that space.  The real miracle of Christmas this year was the fact that there were no fights, canine nor feline.  Nor did Jay and I come to blows, if we're going to be precise.

On Christmas Eve I went to church where, for the first time, I was the acolyte all by my grown up self without benefit of the Jedi Master.  It didn't go perfectly, but there weren't any flubs that couldn't be easily covered by the priest.  And most importantly, I didn't spill anything.

The best part of the service was that my father, as well as my ex-husband's brother and his family were able to be there.  The bell tolled while the priest and I waited at the rear (or is that the front?) of the church to begin the two person procession. I explained who this group was that had effectively doubled the size of the congregation.  I could see she hadn't quite wrapped her head around my ex's family showing up to spend Christmas Eve with me.  "They got custody of me in the divorce," I explained.  

After the service I went home with the ex-in-laws for food and presents.  We had fun, we ate well, and we all agreed that the life-sized singing Santa my sister-in-law got on sale at the last minute was the creepiest thing we'd seen since her Halloween haunted house extravaganza.

Christmas day was spent at home with my family.  I don't cook, so we ate tamales and nachos.  Traditional Christmas fare, for sure.  The only grandchild kicked my butt in a game of dominoes.   She is a quirky young woman whose company and fashion sense I enjoy.  She seems to enjoy my quikiness, too.  I hope that lasts, because she may get stuck picking my nursing home and I'd like to stay on her good side.

My step-daughter came by for a while Christmas night, then we met for breakfast the next morning before she returned to the Big-Ass Cities.  We don't have a whole lot to talk about these days, what with the two of us being terribly polite to each other and all.  But we'll keep at it.  Maybe she'll help my niece with the nursing home selection.

Christmas was good.  Last year wasn't too bad, either, except for my almost, accidental, suicide.

By the time Christmas Eve arrived last year I was completely done with the holidays.  My family wasn't getting together until New Year's.  That's how we'd done it for years, but the waiting is like those days between a death and a funeral.  You're at loose ends until it's all over and done with.  This time, I was done on the 24th.

I wanted my tree gone and I wanted the space back that it was occupying in my den.  I was in a re-arranging mood and wanted to put furniture there.  So, I took that sucker the hell down.

The tree spends eleven months of the year in a wooden coffin, in my garage.  Because, well, because it fits and what else would you put in the coffin, really?  I don't think I will ever embrace the high church idea of leaving the decorations up until Epiphany.  I can't stomach the sight of them by the morning of the 26th on a normal year.  And this was not a normal year.

On the night of December 24th, after a few months of separation and exactly seven days before my divorce would be final, I opened the kitchen door leading to the garage and went out to open the coffin. While I was at it, I decided I should really start my motorcycle and let it run a bit.  I'd not winterized it, but was starting it every few weeks and keeping the gas moving through the fuel lines and such.  Being a good bike, it roared into life at the first touch of the starter.

The coffin was ready to receive it's yearly cargo, and I went back inside to start packing ornaments and such.  Then I remembered something I needed in one of the back rooms of the house. I can't remember what it was that I wanted so suddenly, but I spent several long minutes looking for it.

I'd left the kitchen door open.  I did not, however, remember to open the garage door.

When I returned to that end of the house, I choked. The exhaust fumes were already thick in my kitchen and den and were collecting in the living room before moving down the hall towards the bedrooms.   It was bad.

I ran out to the garage and shut off the bike.

Even though by this time it was almost midnight and baby it is/was cold outside, I threw open every door and window in the house.  The ceiling fans did pretty much nothing to move the fumes out and would you believe that this was one of the few times that the wind wasn't really blowing in West Texas?  I grabbed a blanket and sat out on the patio for a bit until the air cleared.  As I shivered under the cotton cover and the questioning eyes of two nasally affronted dogs, I had to laugh at myself.  And at everyone I've ever known.

Had I, through some sort of epic fit of ineptitude, managed to succumb to the fumes no one - NO ONE - would believe that I hadn't committed suicide, at home, alone, on Christmas Eve, amidst the detritus of an unappreciated holiday tree and a life that had recently twisted off onto a new path that I hadn't even remotely anticipated.  Given the circumstances, even those who know me best would believe I'd offed myself.  You would have been shocked and surprised, but you would have believed it.  My co-workers admitted that they would've stood in quiet clusters in various offices, wiping away surreptitious tears and commenting on how they had no idea things were that bad; that I'd hidden my true feelings well.  I might've even believed if of myself at that point!

So this is your warning: if I ever turn up dead seemingly by my own hand, don't buy it for a second.  Nothing is that bad.  In fact, things are pretty good.  If I'm dead it's because somebody did me in and I will expect you put your collective smarts to the task of determining whodunit.

This year I have mothballed the bike for the winter.  It sits silently in the garage, hooked to a battery tender, with fuel stabilizer floating in the tank.  I've no need to start it.

And I didn't put the tree up at all.