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The Lonesome Lighthouse

The Lonesome Lighthouse – Book Five

If you haven’t caught up with the series, please do so now!  The Lonesome Lighthouse, book five of six of the McShane series is live on Amazon!! For fair warning, chapter five, Officer Robert Jones, made three out of four beta readers cry. Don’t hate me.

Thanks to all of my family and friends for bearing with me. It’s only been two years since I posted the last mini-mystery for grown ups. All of these tales are meant to be quick, intense reads for people as they wait for the bus, or at the doctor’s office, or wherever you find yourself idle.

I hope you enjoy this next-to-last installment of the McShane series. And again, don’t hate me. Thanks for reading.

Sneak Peek – Chapter One

 

Hi everyone! Welcome to the sneak peek of Book Five, Chapter One of The Lonesome Lighthouse. If you’d like to read the other stories, you can find them here.

Since you are a reader of my blog, you get a first glimpse of the first chapter. Well, most of the first chapter. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers.

Thanks for reading.

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Chapter One

Park at the Mark

 

In the dimming light of the setting sun, the Lonesome Lighthouse’s long shadow pointed to the sea. Built as a replica in 1980, the once iconic symbol of the SeaMark Resort had been abandoned for more than a decade. The crumbling fifty-foot cylindrical walls, wearing ivy tendrils reaching for its height, left an eerie sensation to the aptly named tower. Constructed in the most northern point of the SeaMark property, the Park at the Mark, the tower bordered a heavily wooded beach-side wildlife conservation area stretching north for two more miles along the coast.

Sam already knew a lot of the history of the SeaMark Resort, but never gave much thought for the abandoned fake lighthouse. When Sasha first asked about it, they did a little research together. Because it bordered a seaside conservation area, the permits became difficult to obtain. They learned that the owners gave up on the cost and the ceaseless administrative battles held with the city and county authorities every time the chemicals required for upkeep needed to be used. Since that surrender, the building had been claimed by the ever-encroaching tendrils of Mother Nature. And vandals with spray paint.

As Sasha bounced with delight next to her, Sam eyed the dilapidated structure with a level of concern. She did not understand Sasha’s fascination for the eyesore. It should have been demolished before someone got hurt. Sasha always had a heart for the underdogs. After all, they met in college at a rally organized to save the old library. Sam did not know of Sasha’s romantic interest in her until years later. Still, they were different people back then. When they reconnected at the beach party that left Chef Walters dead, her old college classmate became her staunchest ally. She helped Sam cope with the loss, and helped ease the ache for Tina. For that, Sam would always be grateful.

Sasha had asked Sam to come here, just the two of them, for a romantic lunchtime picnic. Cynthia Ramirez, ever the pragmatic bodyguard, denied the request. After an hours-long disagreement, Cynthia came here and got the lay of the land. After that, Cynthia allowed the two of them to come out here alone, but only if they promised to be back before nine.

Sasha squeezed Sam’s hand. “Come on, Summer! Let’s go inside!”

Sam pulled back. Her instincts said not to go inside. “Um.” The large oak double doors, covered in graffiti, did not appear inviting.

“Oh, come on,” Sasha said with a giggle. “How often do we get away from the she-dragon?”

Sam scowled. “I’ve asked you not to call Cynthia that.”

“You’ve also asked me not to call you Summer. If I promise to never use ‘she-dragon’ or ‘Summer’ again, will you come inside with me?” Sasha’s dark eyes and wide smile were Sam’s Achilles heel. The woman was hard to resist.

Sam sighed. “I’m pretty sure the door’s bolted.”

“Let’s find out!” Sasha pulled Sam in the direction of the front doors.

Their research showed the lowest level held a lounge for special guests of SeaMark. There should be bathroom facilities in the back, and a curved bar along the wall. Sam imagined the wealthy coastal elite sipping Mai Tai’s while discussing Reagan’s trickle-down economics.

The two women stepped through the palmetto shrubs and sandspurs toward the base of the lighthouse. The ornate, heavy oaken doors spoke of true quality, despite graffiti artist’s attempts to cover every inch of the wood.

Sasha opened the door with a gentle push. She stepped in and moved aside for Sam to enter.

A rusty, wrought-iron staircase leading to the observation deck four levels up dominated the room. The fixtures and the bar along the wall, with broken glass swept to the side, gleamed in the dim light. Sam realized there were no hanging cobwebs or clouds of swirling dust. The room appeared clean and ready for business.

“Okay,” Sam said, folding her arms. “How long have you been planning this?”

“Planning what?” Sasha asked with an affected tone.

“Why not just tell me you’d set this up?”

With hands on hips, Sasha said, “And spoil the surprise? What kind of girlfriend would that make me?”

Arms still folded, Sam made no response.

“Fine! I set it up!” Sasha said, throwing her arms in the air. She sighed and said, “When Cynthia came out here this afternoon to make sure there were no hidden dangers,” she used air quotes on ‘hidden dangers’ to mock the bodyguard, “I begged her not to say anything. But that’s when I had to agree on the 9 o’clock curfew.

Sasha grabbed Sam’s hand. “Come on, the best part’s up here,” she said, leading Sam to the foot of the stairs.

Their footsteps echoed in the chamber as they climbed from the first-floor lounge onto the second level. A door, heavy and carved to duplicate the front entrance, stood partially open to a room once used for storage. Sam peeked in. A sour aroma made her wince. A thin cut out in the stone made to resemble an arrow slit offered a small amount of light and exposure to the outside air. Since there was nothing else in the room, she decided it must have been emptied by staff or vandals.

Back to the stairs, they ascended to the third level. Vandals and trespassers seemed to have found this open floorplan most useful, as the stench of dried urine and vomit assaulted the senses. The odor would have been overpowering if not for the open shaft towering up to the trapdoor of the observation deck. Small slits in the concave wall served as windows for additional ventilation and light.

“Over here,” Sasha said, pointing to a built-in concrete display table that Sam hadn’t noticed. Sasha pulled a flashlight from her pocket and shined it on the drawings chiseled into the surface which boasted of the effort taken to erect this structure.

Sam mumbled, “Huh. I didn’t see this in the archives.”

“I know!” squealed Sasha. “Wait till you see the top deck. The view is spectacular!”

“We’ve already got a spectacular view from the penthouse.” For Sam, the darkening tower escalated the anxiety and suspiciousness of the moment, not enthusiasm.

“Don’t be like that!” Sasha said with a pout. “This is my discovery! I want to share it with you.”

Sam shook her head, her gut feeling telling her she should say no. Instead, “Lead the way,” came out of her mouth.

Sasha spun back to the stairs. The flashlight barely illuminated the fifteen feet of steps leading up to a trap door. Then the light faded out to nothing.

“Dammit!” Sasha exclaimed.

Sam said, “We can use the flashlight on my phone,” Sam offered, pulling it from her pocket. A few taps and the bright light created a lattice-work shadow of the stairs onto the circular wall.

Sasha stepped closer to Sam. “Freaky. I want a picture of this.” She pulled out her own phone and snapped a shot. The two laughed as the camera’s flash obliterated the effect, as well as blinding them for a moment.

Sam suggested she turn the flash off.

Sasha said, “I’m not sure how. You’re good with this stuff. Let’s trade phones.”

“Fine.”

“Cool,” Sasha said. “Yours takes better pics in the dark.”

Sam gave over the device, and Sasha used the camera for pics of the stairwell, the table, and Sam’s face, looking quite irritated.

“You’re not having as much fun as I’d hoped,” Sasha said, pouting again.

“No. I’m not having any fun right now. I did get your flash turned off, though.”

“Cool. Let’s go to the top. It’ll brighten your mood.”

“Give me my phone.”

“I’ll hold it for another minute. I want to take a picture of you outside in the moonlight.”

They climbed up to the trapdoor, with Sasha leading the way. The metal covering clanged as the door swung outward with a shoulder shove. Handrails extended to the landing. As the two emerged, a gust of wind pushed them back and whipped their hair into their faces.

Sasha pointed to the east, where the final rays of sunlight from the west reflected in the vast expanse of the open sea. Sam agreed the beauty was spectacular.

Sasha said, “We can see the beach now thanks to the last hurricane that came through. It cleared a lot of the overgrowth.”

Sam nodded. “That was Hurricane Helen. The storm did a lot more damage than to the overgrowth.”

A man with a distinctive hiss said, “There’s an understatement.”

Sam spun to find Reginald Palmer standing on the opposite side of the lookout.

Shocked, doubting her own senses that her murderous enemy was really there, she stared, dumbfounded. The sadistic smile on his face was all too real as he stepped toward the women.

Sam heard herself scream, “Sasha! Run!” as she pushed her lover to the open trap door.

***

Palms slick with blood and sweat, heart racing, breath coming in gasps, Sam stumbled in the darkness down the final steps to the third landing of the lighthouse.

From the observation deck above, Reginald Palmer screamed curses from the pain of his broken hand. She’d managed to slam down the metal trapdoor as he held the frame. That gave her time to slip through the opening and reach the third landing.

The dim outline of the display table against the wall gave her a twinge of reckless hope. She spun for the cover. Her foot tripped on something unseen. Falling, her head hit the concrete table’s edge, hard. Ears ringing, she managed to pull herself into as small an object as possible to hide in the deeper shadow under the table. Perhaps he’ll run by. Then, I could lock myself on the upper deck and scream for help.

The trapdoor above opened with a clang.

From the first level lounge, a woman called up the staircase. “Reginald, are you alright? Shall I come up to help?”

Sam knew that voice. Constance Patterson, Palmer’s partner in real estate crime.

“No!” Palmer shouted.

“Alright, but be careful. Remember, she’s quick.”

“Thank you. I might’ve forgotten,” Palmer retorted. “No worries, I’ve got her knife, now.” He took a deep, audible breath.

Their conversation, including his sigh, carried well in the dark, empty tower.

“Sam!” Palmer called in his signature hiss while descending the iron stairs. “You can’t believe you’ll get away. Especially when you’ve made so much noise.”

Sam’s terror-filled brain spiraled. She didn’t dare breathe. Dear God, I pray Sasha got away.

“Damn it!” Palmer cried out again. Sam hoped it was from pain. He should be weakened from all of the slices she gave him before he managed to take her prized knife. She clenched her fist, angry at the memory of her knife being snatched out of her sweaty, clumsy grip. Then receiving a few cuts from Palmer’s inexperienced hand before she got away. The worst of it was a cut on the back of her hand, still dribbling blood.

Constance called from below, “Shall I come up and help?”

“No! You stop her if she gets that far,” Palmer growled, “But she won’t.”

Sam’s heart clenched at the woman’s voice. Constance Patterson. Her one-time friend, who had become her enemy. Partnered with the madman above, the two killed more people than they were convicted of. Their favored method of execution involved poison tea. At least she had the chance of a fight here, rather than suffering their deceitful smiles as she died from poison. Sam hated this pair nearly as much as they hated her.

But why aren’t they still in jail? Neal Rappaport, her lawyer and friend, once Tina’s closest adviser, must have known they’d been released. Why wouldn’t he warn me? She tried not to let fear rule her, but this couple terrified her. If jail couldn’t defeat them, how could she?

Reginald Palmer, the psychotic serial murderer, was on the stairs coming down to the landing where she hid. In a panic, Sam rethought her hiding place. He’ll have me as soon as he reaches the landing! She sprang from her spot under the display table and leaped for the stairs. A warm liquid oozed down her neck. The gash on her head from the table throbbed and hurt like hell, but she hadn’t realized it bled.

The small turret window on the second level cast the soft glow of moonlight on the last few steps. To the left, the door to the storage room still stood ajar. Sam slipped into that opening.

There was nothing in this room but stench and graffiti. She pressed herself against the wall behind the door as Palmer came off the last step.

Sam worried he might hear the terrified pounding of her heart. Perhaps this wasn’t the plan she needed. She drew in a long, slow breath through her nose. Mona Malone’s lesson recalled, Breathe in. Stay calm. Stay focused. Breathe out. The lesson from her mother did bring a small measure of calm.

A touch on her shoulder shattered focus. It was only liquid, Sam’s inner voice consoled. Either she dripped sweat, or the blood flow had increased.

She mentally flailed to find her mother’s calming lessons once again.  Breathe in. Stay calm. Stay focused. Breathe out. It wasn’t working. Palmer’s steps echoed as he searched for her. In the height of her wide-eyed terror, she remained paralyzed, now holding her breath, hidden behind the door.

Then she heard Palmer’s steps pass her and go back to the stairs.

Run now, her brain commanded. In her panic state, her legs refused to obey.

“Constance?” she heard him call. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” she replied. With irritation in her voice, she added, “How did you lose her? I know she’s fast – ”

“Not that fast. Stay there.”

Slow, heavy footfalls, coming back up the steps, then stopped at her doorway.

“Sam,” came the hiss. “Let’s stop this game. There is no other way out of that room, and I’m not stupid enough to come in there with a broken hand to fight a caged animal. Instead, I can stay here and wait for you to come out. You recall I’m a patient man.” He chuckled at his own gallows humor. “However, you might consider my offer of amnesty now, and come out quietly. Someone wants to see you, and I’ve been hired to bring you to them.”

Who the fuck would send this maniac to get me? Obviously, he was lying. She weighed her very limited options. In a flash of hindsight, now that she’s trapped like a rat, she realized this room was a very stupid place to hide.

Sam took a deep breath. Trying to sound calm, she called out, “Sasha knows I’m here. She’ll bring help.”

“I’m afraid not,” Palmer said. “Oh, Constance dear. Is your company still with you?”

Connie responded, “Sasha, tell your little red-headed lover you’re here.”

“Sam?” Sasha’s quavering voice stabbed Sam’s heart.

Her thoughts spun as the worry for Sasha overcame all else. “Sasha?” she shouted. “Are you okay?”

Connie said, “I’m sorry. Sasha is done speaking with you.”

Palpable silence. Sam couldn’t make herself move. Nowhere to move to, or even a chance in hell of running past Palmer to help Sasha.

“Sam,” he whispered, pain etched in his hiss. “What are you going to do?”

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JL Mo is a mother of two full grown geeks, and Nana to their geeks-in-training. She is also the author of the McShane Mini-Mystery series, and has had a number of stories published in various anthologies which can be accessed on her Amazon Author Page.

 

McShane Update

For everyone who follows my McShane series, I’ve just fixed a MAJOR plot hole (big enough to drive a truck through) in the upcoming book five. What does that mean, you might ask? Well, it means that book 5, The Lonesome Lighthouse, will be ready to send to my editor by the end of February. Which, in real time, means Amazon will see my latest installment before the end of March! I’m so excited!

If you’ve not read the Mini-Mystery books one through four, I would NOT recommend starting with book five. There are a lot of characters pulled from those previous incarnations and you might get a little lost if your unfamiliar. Each story should take a little under an hour of uninterrupted reading. You’ll find links for them at the top tab of this page marked McShane Mini-Mystery, along with a small excerpt of the work in progress (You’re welcome).

As an aside to those following the bi-sexual, billionaire redhead, you may want to brush up on the previous tales before publication.

This promises to be one of the most exciting adventures for Summer Autumn Malone McShane. One thing is certain. McShane will never be the same.

Gratitude

 

Gratitude is an internalized emotion, which does nothing until externalized.

 

A birthday for a young nephew came around, but my husband and I live in a different city. As it was a ‘big’ birthday, we shipped him a special present. After several weeks, we’d not heard anything as to whether the item was appreciated, or even received.

When I spoke to my sister about the present, it was apparent I’d hit a nerve.

“Yes. He got it.”

“Did he like it?”

“Yes.”

Long pause. Then she said, “Didn’t you track the package? It would have shown we got it.”

“Yes.” Then I sighed. “I had hoped to speak to my nephew. Maybe hear that he liked it.”

“You mean, ‘thank you’? Is that why you sent it? You wanted to hear thank you?”

Stunned, I didn’t know how to respond. Needless to say, the conversation ended on a sour note.

I recall this exchange thanks to Hurricane Irma. She rattled our home, snapped our elm tree that fell across the driveway, and disconnected us from the grid. It was a rough night. But, we woke the next morning whole, and with a roof still over our heads. Thank you, God!

Without power, we faced the option of (what we now know to be) seven days of no air conditioning, refrigerator, stove, etc. Of our two sons and their families, only one had power. We all went there. With four children under the age of four and six adults under one roof, we had to find a way to make it work. “Please” and “thank you” were expressed by the adults to encourage the children as well as one another.

Irma wreaked havoc on our state. My family was richly blessed. The worst of it was the loss of power. So many others lost so much more. We are grateful beyond the pale, and expressed it several times each day.

My daughter-in-law, whose home we commandeered, is an amazing woman. During the time we were there, with all of the commotion and activity, she received a phone call. A woman from her church asked if she could come that evening and help with distribution of hot meals. Not only did she agree, but she made cupcakes and cookies to add to the meals. Then she took one of the four kids to the church with her, so that they could see gratitude in action. (Do you think the angel wings tucked into her shirt makes her itchy?)

When we express gratitude, it not only encourages those who give, but it connects you to that person on a spiritual level. By making cupcakes, or helping clear debris, being a nurse, working at the shelters, the doctors, firemen, police, these people understand that their work is satisfaction enough. But to hear and see the gratitude of the person for whom you do these things is to form an emotional connection. Sure, whine a little. Pout and/or cry for the tangible things lost. Even if all of your possessions remain undamaged, a traumatic experience such as surviving a hurricane is a legitimate reason for shock. Just don’t drone on for too long. Those around you trying to help will begin to feel frustrated that their assistance is unappreciated.

Gratitude feeds the giving spirit.

One moment you are in the position of giver. In the next moment you might be the receiver. To offer gratitude in action or word is to complete that circle.

Even if it’s nothing more than saying thank you.

 

****

JL Mo is a mother of two full grown geeks, and Nana to their geeks-in-training. She is also the author of the McShane Mini-Mystery series, and has had a number of stories published in various anthologies which can be accessed on her Amazon Author Page.

 

Fearmongers

Fearmonger (a/k/a: scaremonger): Definition:

Psychological manipulation that uses fear-based tactics (scare tactics) including exaggeration and usually repetition to influence the public in order to achieve a desired outcome.

 

If you’ve been following me in any way, you already know that I am a fourth-generation Floridian. South Florida was my home for the first twenty years of my life. For the next thirty-six years, Orlando has been home. Florida is a wonderful place to grow and live. Our state motto should be: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

 

A few hurricanes have hit my home state in my lifetime. Prior to the ‘net, we depended on the three available TV channels for updates. My dad became so frustrated with the talking heads of the time he turned it off and told us to go outside if we wanted to know what the weather was doing. Wise man.

 

Today, Hurricane Irma is making a beeline for us, after leaving a trail of devastation across the islands as a Cat 5. The warnings issued would have the entire state evacuated. But, hold on a sec. If there is any concrete fact about hurricanes and the direction they take it is this, we just don’t know. Sure, there are more than a few educated guesses. But there’s a reason it’s called a “projected path” and that’s because we just don’t know.

 

One of the forecasts now show a decrease in strength to a Cat 2 as it reaches Central Florida. At the risk of offending every hurricane-fearing reader out there I’ll quote an old saying. “Don’t wake me if it’s under a Cat 3. That’s damn good sleeping weather.”

 

Now, for the scaremongers. Look back at the beginning of this post and re-read the definition.

 

The first part is the most important to understand. Psychological manipulation. They work to keep you afraid. Why would the powers-that-be do this? To keep the general populace tuned-in, and look to the government for assurance. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but certain individuals may indeed benefit from your fear. How much money have you spent over the last week prepping? Yes, there is a genuine danger. Look at the islands that Irma crashed. But they do not know any more than can be guessed. A theory is an educated guess, and that is what we are seeing on screen.

 

The second part of the definition is fear-based tactics (scare tactics) including exaggeration. Not one to point fingers, but come on. Tuesday saw the forecast as Irma shredding the East Coast of Florida as a Cat 5. Did that drive you to collect all things hurricane related? Of course it did. What sane human (who has never been through this) wouldn’t? Yes, have a disaster package ready. At all times. Put up shutters when the storm turns in your direction. But mindless panic of buying every bottled water on the shelf is a bit extreme.

 

Now, for the media. The part of the definition that makes the biggest impact on our lives is, repetition to influence the public. In no way, shape, or form would I consider the genuine warnings of an oncoming hurricane fake news. However, there are those who allow anxiety-driven newscasts to become a part of their minute-by-minute lives. Compelled by fear, their anxiety is amped up to the point of not realizing what they are doing to those around them. Loved ones look on in dread, not knowing how to communicate with that terror-filled family member.

 

If this is you, please, stop. Step back. Take a deep breath. Look around at the faces of those who love you. Including your pets. Anxiety is unintentionally shared. Do you want to see everyone around you becoming bat-shit crazy as well? No? Then turn off the hurricane updates for an hour. Your nerves will thank you. Your family will thank you. Your four-legged friends (read: pets) will thank you.

 

Yes, Irma is to be feared. But, if you have done everything in your power to protect what is yours, no amount of fear or worry will change anything. So, take a minute to relax and appreciate the camaraderie that a storm like this can bring to the general public. Do not allow Irma to tear apart relationships, as well as property.

 

As for me and my family, we are prepared. thanks to plenty of advanced warning from The Weather Channel app, MyRadar app, and The Orlando Sentinel. The people in tornado-ally don’t get near as much warning as hurricane-prone states. An earthquake in Mexico struck with no warning, and has left dozens dead. In that light, we should consider ourselves fortunate.

 

I’ll write another post once Irma passes through. It’s now projected to come right on top of us. Most know that once a hurricane is over land, it quickly decreases in strength, not increases. But, whether a Cat 1 or 5, there is nothing more we can do.

 

Just so you don’t think I’m completely cavalier about Irma, I’ll close with this:

 

Hold on tight, folks. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Different. Just Like You.

 

I'm different
Summer’s first day 2017

 

The sunrise on the first day of summer 2017 was spectacular. At first rose colored, then transitioning into a palette of blues, with a grand finale in golds and yellows. Breathtaking.

Being a Floridian, I have seen more than my fair share of sunrises over the ocean. They are all similar in that they begin with the dark sky giving way to the growing light. For a few brief moments, the twinkling stars and shining moon are backlit in a series of blues ranging from indigo, to azure, to cobalt.

Once the sun nears the horizon, everything changes, every time. The radiant colors might be splashed across multi-layered clouds. Or there may be a complete absence of cloud coverage, allowing the sun its dramatic solitary show. The pelicans might be flying in formation over a barely ruffled surface, or they may be swooping down between the troughs of the waves. Spectacular.

Each one breathtakingly the same. Each one spectacularly different.

Just like us.

In the 50+ years I’ve been allowed on this earth, a number of diverse philosophies have been embraced by society. One trend that failed to truly resonate with me is the thought that we are all the same. Flesh encased skeletons. Carbon units with a built-in survival instinct. An astounding biological unit, to be sure. Each having their own identifying human prints. Breathtaking to consider.

There, for me, the similarities end. From birth we walk our own path, make our own decisions (for better and for worse), and we march to the drummer in our own heads. The nationality decreed on us when we take that first, tantalizing breath holds great sway on our development, as well. Which is another way of marking our uniqueness. Each individual is strikingly different.

We become who and what we are by the series of decisions made on a moment by moment basis. Each experience, and it’s accompanied consequences, impact our next decision. From “I’ll never do that again” to “Okay, next time, I’ll…”

Which is why I fail to understand why people become so upset if not agreed with completely. For example, some individuals enjoy eating liver and onions. I, however, HATE liver and onions. Can’t we have dinner together anyway? The differences between us should be celebrated, not stifled. Even for people who eat liver.

Age. Race. Gender. Money. Nationality. Religion. Politics. Employment. Children. Technology. Each of these subjects might serve as a divider, but they shouldn’t. They are samples of what makes individuals different and more interesting, creating subjects for joyous conversation, not hate-filled exclusion.

How boring would this world be if everyone was a 50+ white female middle class American protestant without party affiliation who is a writer with grandchildren and no fear of computers? Thank God we are different in so many ways, on so many levels.

I’m different. Just like you.

Each one breathtakingly the same. Each one spectacularly different.

 

Breakfast

 

The sound of songbirds outside the window woke me just before seven. Realizing my hunger, I went downstairs to the kitchen and prepared my morning coffee. As it began to brew, I rummaged through the cabinets and fridge, looking for something to eat. However, nothing called to me before coffee. So, I went to the sliding glass door leading to the screened-in back porch. The morning was a lovely, late spring day in Florida. Sliding open the door, I leaned on the frame. Might as well enjoy the scenery while waiting.

 

I am exceedingly grateful that the porch is screened. Here in Florida, there are bloodsucking insects, stinging bugs, and other various wildlife which are thwarted by nothing more than a screen. Adding to that, all sorts of critters are lured to the property by the three fruit trees in the back yard. While I’m not a fan of squirrels, one made me laugh out loud as it hung upside down from a branch while eating a sapodilla it had just plucked from the tree for its own breakfast.

 

Under the shaded canopy of the larger tree sat an old birdbath. A dragonfly landed on the edge, bringing to my attention that the water level was low in the bowl and would need refilling. But it could wait until after I had my coffee. My mind wandered to the life of a dragonfly. I don’t know much about them at all, but a friend told me that they are believed to be a sign of good luck. I smiled. My stomach growled.

 

Then, the dragonfly took flight. It flew straight up with a suddenness that startled me, and then flashed toward the porch where it bounced against the screen. It backed up and flew a second time into the screen. Movement from the left caught my eye. A blue jay dropped from the top of the porch and banked with lightning speed around the corner, toward the bouncing dragonfly. The insect dove for the amaryllis, no doubt hoping to hide among the fronds, but not fast enough to keep the jay from having its in-flight breakfast.

 

With a loss of appetite, I closed the door.

 

Breakfast is for the birds.

 

One Night in the Life

 

Allow me to share with you a little slice of life from the tourist Mecca that is Orlando.

It starts when we go downtown on a Wednesday night to meet up with some friends. The Doobie Brothers were playing at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Located in the heart of downtown. While not as big as the arena, it gives a more intimate venue for a new star rising, or old stars still rocking.

It seems forever since I’ve been down here. The atmosphere hasn’t changed much. We drive past the bar that’s ‘the place to be’ although I couldn’t tell you the name. The evidence is clear it’s the latest hotspot by the line that wraps around the building. On a Wednesday night. Also, there’s no one over 30 in the line. Dead giveaway of the place to be.

Since the four of us are all over thirty (ahem), we opt for a little less crowd and pull up stools at the more established watering hole for a pre-concert adult beverage.

After ordering the first round, my friend Chris asked why I brought my purse. Security will need to go through it, which means a longer line. Good point. I decide to take it back to the car, and tell my husband and friends that it’s just a block away, and I’d be right back. Out into the cool night air, the city is bustling for a Wednesday night.

Orlando is my home town. The people are as diverse a population as you could imagine. An older Asian couple passes me, arm in arm and chatting quietly in a language I don’t understand. The woman, wearing a tailored fur lined jacket looks up at me and smiles, which I return. The man nods a greeting as they pass.

A few paces behind them walks a rather large black man. He stands at least 6’3 and wears neon orange sneakers, black pants and a black tee shirt emblazoned in neon orange lettering urging those who read it to “Boycott Beyoncé.” Part of me wanted to ask why we should boycott her, but he didn’t make eye contact, and the ear buds he wore spoke of not wanting to be bothered. So, I walked on.

The purse task complete, I head back to my group. On the way, I notice what looks like an empty bar. The glass walls offer a peek into a western-themed saloon, and the name of the place is “Stagger Inn”. There’s a cowboy hat icon above the cattle-brand-font of the name. Cute.

I decide that it must shut down mid-week due to a lack of patrons. When I reach the front door, I find I am wrong for why it was closed.

Taped on the heavy oak-framed glass door are sheets of paper with handwritten notification of being closed for the evening due to “(name removed for privacy)’s Gender Reassignment Surgery.” The writer goes on to thank all of the patrons for their support during this person’s time of transition. They should reopen in the next day or two.

Two white millennial’s walk by, their gender near-unidentifiable. Wearing scarves, Levi skinny jeans, and Nikes, their young faces lit by the soft glow of their smartphones. They furiously work their thumbs across the screens as they walk.

The door to my destination is now blocked by three young men of various ethnicity. They’re vaping while one shares a story about what happened at work that day. They step aside as I approach, with appropriate mumbles of apology for being in the way, and one holds the door open for me.

I love my home town.

After the oldies concert, the four of us head outside. The full moon is gorgeous, and as we pass a wide expanse of grass I decide to take a picture.

Except I left my phone back on the seat.

The staff directed me to the information desk, where some wonderful soul (God bless you!) turned in an iPhone. The man behind the counter, wanting to be certain it was mine, asked me what the screen shot on the phone was.

I couldn’t recall. “Sunrise, I think?” Then remembering what I’d done the last time I lost my phone (yes, I’ve lost my phone before in Downtown Orlando), I said, “More importantly, I know the code to unlock it.”

He quirked a smile and handed it to me. My heart soared at the sight of my phone.

I entered the four digit code and flashed the now open screen to him. His smile was so warm.

I left the building floating on an emotional high. My husband and I tried to take a selfie with the full moon in the background. It wasn’t going well.

“Hey!” shouted one of the four Hispanic women walking past. “Selfies suck! Let me take it for you.”

She took the phone and stepped back a few paces. Aiming it at us, she seems seriously intent on the screen. Then she looks at us and shouts, “Love the camera!” Then she crouches, twirls and twists, dancing around while aiming the camera at us.

Her friend, laughing, said, “All right, Cecil B. DeMille, just take the picture!”

Of course, we obliged the photographer’s call to love the camera and so began posing like sexy fashionistas on the runway. I’m sure you could hear the laughter of the gathered crowd six blocks away.

What a fabulous life this is. I am so grateful to live in a place that is so diverse, so vibrant.

So Orlando.

Disconnected

 

Living in Florida, one is never too far away from the water. Ocean, gulf, lakes, anything you could want. For saltwater aficionado’s, it is a fabulous place to live.

Please note that I say this during a breezy, cool, fall day, and that this would be after the skin-blistering, drought-threatened, and then hurricane-ravaged summer.

Ahem. Anyway.

Today, while babysitting my three-year-old grandson Malcolm, he asked if I would take him to the beach. Here in Orlando, it’s an hour and a half drive east (2 hours west), and you’ll be standing on beachfront.

I packed all of the essentials for a day at the beach. Swimsuits, towels, sunblock, cooler. Everything one might need, including beach chairs, and an umbrella to sit under.

Yes, I’d forgotten it was fall. Florida fall weather can be fickle.

Malcolm happily chatted away in the back seat as I drove toward sunrise. We were about twenty minutes from the coastline, when I spotted a rainbow in a cloud, shimmering high above. As we came to a stop light, I reached for my phone to take a picture.

Turns out, I would have a long way to reach. It was still laying on an end table back in Orlando.

Moment of truth; I seriously considered turning back. I mean, after the Trip of A Lifetime, I did not want to be away from my phone.

Dismissing the immediate thought, I drove on toward the beach.

It is (almost) embarrassing to tell you that I have 3500 various pictures and videos stored on my phone. I simply haven’t had time to transfer them from the phone to an external hard drive. For the last three years.

Don’t judge me.

So today, no camera. I mean, no phone. Honestly, the phone thing didn’t bother me as much as the lack of a camera. I grew up without a phone in my pocket, thank you very much. I can cope. But the camera. Damn. I’m not even gonna miss Google as much as the camera.

It’s all right. I can do this.

We reach the beach, and Malcolm runs ahead to check out the scene. I come trailing up behind, to find him speaking to a young man and woman. She is cradling something that is resting on a bed of seaweed in her hand. I come closer to see she is holding a baby sea turtle.

Of course, the first thing I think is, damn tourist! You can be arrested for touching such a vulnerable creature. But before my righteous indignation is unleashed, she explains to Malcolm that the sea is so rough, the little guy kept getting washed back up on shore. They said they were taking it to the Brevard County Sea Turtle Rescue, where it would be cared for.

Never heard of such an organization, and I didn’t want to challenge them.

However, Malcolm was mesmerized. He leaned in a little closer, until it was no more than 10 inches from his face. I put my hand on his shoulder to stop any more forward lean-in. He glanced up at me, the wonder still on his face, with the little turtle on its bed of seaweed in the background.

That would have made a great pic.

But, I might have gotten the lady in a whole lotta trouble.

Down at the beach, the wind had turned the waves chaotic. The sand became stinging nettles, as the sea foam washed on the shore. I was concerned the weather might put a damper on his spirits. To my surprise, we had so much fun scooping up sea foam, throwing our arms high in the air so the wind could blow the froth like bubbles from our fingertips.

It would have made a great video.

But, I would’ve been too busy with the phone to enjoy the foam.

The beach did not lend itself to a long-term stay, so we did what any other All-American Nana and Grandson would do in such a situation.

We went shopping.

A lot of people bad-mouth my favorite low-cost department store, and sometimes for very good reasons. However, it is still ‘low-cost’ enough for me to pop in when the time is right. And now was just right. We got out of the wind, enjoyed the air-conditioning, and I let him pick out a toy. It killed an hour or so, and then it was lunch-time.

We head for the diner/ice-cream shop across the parking lot. It used to be a popular chain, but now is only found in a handful of places. Friendly’s is a restaurant that I used to take my own boys to when they were young and had earned a special treat.

I was more than a little bummed that I didn’t have my phone to do a check in, because sharing this moment with my now-adult sons would’ve given me such a delight.

But then I might have been too distracted trying to share the moment rather than play connect the dots with Malcolm, or to color in the milk shake as he colored the sundae on the gigantic paper place mat. Seriously, the thing nearly covered the entire table.

The true reality of not having a phone hit me on the drive home. Well, not literally thank God.

Once upon a time there were roadside call boxes for emergencies. I knew they were there, but I took them for granted. Now, if anything should happen, I would have to depend on the kindness of strangers for some help on the side of the road.

Oh. Right. That’s how it used to be.

Maybe being disconnected isn’t all that bad.

 

 

A black eye for Orlando

A friend told me about an experience that happened earlier today. I’m relating it through his eyes.

***

Orlando suffered a recent attack that left too many dead, injured, and frightened. For a shining moment in time, we joined together. Fear would not tear us down!

But impatience, well, that’s another issue.

While driving down a major, busy highway in town, I came upon a traffic jam. Nothing new, and we city-dwellers are pretty used to it. Eventually, I came up to the reason for the slow down. It was a disabled car half-blocking a lane. Other cars veered around it, some cussing, others sounding their horns. The male driver, wearing standard Florida casual attire of shorts and a t-shirt, looked anxious.

I hold no special citations or mechanical know-how, but I’ve certainly been broken down on the side of the road before. So, pulling over, I asked if there was something he might need. Gratitude shined through his expression. He told of how his car ran out of gas, and he needed help getting to the station, as his prosthetic leg was ill equipped for such a hike.

Admittedly, I had noticed his one bum leg, but until he said something, I didn’t feel it necessary to mention. Since he did, I asked how it happened. His description was brief, almost curt. He told me he was a military veteran, and lost his leg when his convoy hit an IED. That choked me up, but I just nodded.

I took his gas can and drove to the station and filled it. Returning to the car, he tried to give me money, which I refused. He tried to take the job of pouring the gasoline into the car. I refused that as well.

As I put the gas in the car, several cars honked their displeasure at the inconvenience of having to slow down, or heaven forbid, stop. With each beep I became angrier. I tried to wave the morons around, but my gestures became somewhat erratic from my hostility. A finger might have been raised. I can’t be sure. So much for #Orlandostrong.

His car started up after a few tries. He waved his thanks as we drove our separate ways. How long he had been stranded by the side of the road, and how much anger he had to suffer at the hands of his fellow citizens that he lost his leg to protect, I couldn’t say. But it made me even sadder. I drove another block and pulled into a parking lot. It was hard to drive blinded by tears.