Friday, May 22, 2020

Personal Marginalia

     Yesterday was a difficult day. I was grateful for the two meaty contributions from Linda and Margaret, as they freed me from feeling an obligation to write anything for this site. However, in looking back on the day, it has occurred to me that bits of it might be at least slightly amusing to the Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch. Besides, I’m in no mood to blather about current events, so here goes.

     We keep a rather unusual schedule here at the Fortress. Most Americans would find it uncongenial. We’re normally in bed at around 8:00 PM and out of bed at or before 4:00 AM. That’s the product of many years commuting in Long Island’s legendary traffic. The habits formed during those years have proved impossible to break, so far.

     One consequence of that schedule is that when one of us has a hard time sleeping, it’s normal for both of us to sack out even earlier the following evening. Nothing unusual there, eh? Everyone needs to get enough sleep. But the problem is stiff, as it’s very difficult to sleep when the sun is shining, no matter how dark and dense your bedroom drapes might be. For that reason and others, completely sleepless nights are not uncommon here.

     Yesterday, because I’d suffered a series of such bad nights, I didn’t awaken until the unGodly hour of 5:20 AM. When my eyelids finally rolled back and I noted the time, I felt like some kind of degenerate. I stumbled out of bed, robed, and scurried to the kitchen for some cardiac starter fluid coffee, and found the C.S.O. perched before her computer. She was already at her day’s work.

     She gave me the proverbial gimlet eye and drawled “Well! Good morning, sleepyhead.” At 5:25 AM Eastern Daylight-Savings Time.

     Perhaps this happens in the households of dairy farmers. I wouldn’t know.

     We have a cleaning lady who comes in on alternate Thursdays. She spares us having to do the “heavy” cleaning that’s tough on old backs and joints. I’m grateful that we can afford such a service, and would not think to complain about any inconveniences involved...usually. But with New York not yet “open for business,” there are extra difficulties involved.

     You see, every cleaning lady – in my experience at least – comes with one or more eccentricities. I had one, back when I was “between wives,” who saw me as in need of her matchmaking services. (“I have this really nice friend, Fran...”) Shortly after her, I had one who wanted to rearrange my furniture and could not be dissuaded from doing so. Her successor had very definite ideas about what constitutes trash, and acted on them despite my repeated pleas not to throw stuff out just because she thought I no longer needed it. I’ve striven to adjust to such foibles for the sake of a clean home.

     Our current cleaning lady – I’ll call her Jane, which is not her name – is a talker. She’s from my parish and always has something to chat about that she’s certain I’ll find interesting. That’s not a serious problem under normal circumstances. However, currently the C.S.O. must work from home, her little office is near to the geometric center of the house, and she can’t stand to hear Jane gabble. So keeping Jane and the C.S.O. from clashing is part of my job – and just now, it’s four hours of hell every other Thursday.

     Yesterday was particularly trying. Jane really wanted to talk, and whenever I was within earshot she’d start to regale me with all manner of tidbits about the parish, her health, her other customers, the cleaning products she uses (she strongly prefers unscented Mr. Clean®) and how she uses them, and whatever else came to mind.

     After an hour of this, the C.S.O. grabbed me and said “Stay away from her! She won’t talk if you’re not nearby.” And so began a three-hour game of Yar’s Cleaning Lady’s Revenge, in which my goal was to stay as far from Jane as possible at all times – in a longline ranch in which Jane was moving erratically from one end to the other.

     I have seldom been as frazzled as I was when Jane finally departed.

     Writers’ problems aren’t usually of interest to non-writers, but this one might prove an exception.

     Shortly after Jane (see previous segment) departed, I sat to my computer fully intending to get back to my own work. At present I’m writing a romance, somewhat along the lines of my little novel Love in the Time of Cinema, whose working title is Love in the Time of Capitalism. Now, romances don’t often involve science-fiction least they didn’t until fairly recently. This one isn’t intended to involve any such...uh, make that wasn’t intended to do so, until yesterday.

     A writer friend – I’ll call him John, which is not his name – rang me up before I could get started on my book. John wanted to talk: about my recent near-future science-fiction novels, the characters and scientific / technological motifs in them, whether I had more uses in mind for them, and whether I would mind if he were to borrow a couple of them. When John gets charged up about a subject, he can keep you going for hours. And of course, as we were talking about my books and how they might help him with his latest project, I was willing to listen as he spun out idea after idea.

     When John and I finally rang off and I returned to my romance novel, I found myself conceiving of the two entirely mundane protagonists of what was supposed to be a fairly ordinary romance – one an aging singer, the other a venture capitalist – enmeshed in all manner of bizarre adventures. I imagined them involved with dangerous new technologies, an orbital habitat, a high-tech presidential assassination, and a brief, bloody war in space. No matter how hard I tried to pull my thoughts back to my original plot line, it eluded me maddeningly.

     There are days I’m strongly tempted to pull the phone out of the wall. Lately they’ve been in the majority.

     The day ended fairly normally: the two of us perched on the sofa with our dogs and cats clustered around us. I tried to read a competitor’s most recent novel – it’s not up to his usual standard, so I won’t besmirch his reputation by telling you more about it – while the TV droned some inane British mystery to which the C.S.O. likes to sleep.

     I’d had the dogs out for their last yard visit of the evening and was about to drag the C.S.O. off to bed when a phone rang: a smartphone I acquired recently out of sheer necessity, and which I keep forgetting to turn off. I hurried to where I’d left it, snatched it up, answered it and said “Hello?”

     There was a moment of ominous silence. Then a deep voice said, “Who is this?” in a tone of menace.

     “Hey, you called me,” I replied. “Who the hell are you?”

     “Never mind that,” my distant interlocutor snapped. “How did you get this number?”

     I was thoroughly befuddled by then. “What are you talking about?”

     “Damn it all!” he shouted. “You’ve ruined everything!” And he hung up.

     I looked at the screen. “Private Caller,” was all it said.

     Maybe I’ll find a use for it in a novel.



That call is disturbing on a number of levels.

In parallel, I read somewhere that a technique used by scammers is to ask "Can you hear me?" in an effort to get you to say YES. They then use that recorded YES as a way to scam you by "proving" they have your consent.

So if someone asks "Can you hear me?" answer ONLY "I hear you fine. What do you want?"

Linda Fox said...

Hadn't heard about that dodge. I'll remember it.

Two thoughts, Fran.

1) As soon as your lovely comes, take her into your confidence. "I have to run some urgent errands. The CSO is cranky and on deadline. Could you be extra careful to not talk to her - it breaks her concentration. Thanks so much. We'll catch up next time." Stay away until after she leaves.

2) Re-read the Cinema book. It will get you into the mood. And, banish the freaky space thoughts.