Inconceivable Concept

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When houses are this open, there’s nowhere for me to hide. 

I hate getting sick, and I especially hate getting a cold in the summer when I should be outside enjoying the sun now that it’s decided to shine in the Pacific Northwest. One minute I was taking my morning walks through the countryside, and the next I was in bed with swollen sinuses and the accompanying pressure.

When I could stand it, I read, and then I’d take a break and work a crossword puzzle. One of my biggest fears at this stage of life is finding myself trapped in front of a television during the day. One day could lead to two, the third day might not seem so bad, but watching Drew Carey a week later as he gives the actual retail price of some unnecessary item would indicate that a new routine has set in. I might atrophy by winter!

At some point, however, you need a break from reading and improving your brain. You simply want to sit back and be passively entertained. Thankfully I had some things recorded, but what was I to do after I watched it all? There’s rarely anything on the Food Network. I don’t care for competition shows where the cooks are told to create a four-star dish using a veal shank, a radish, and a package of Laffy Taffy.

I flipped over to HGTV to see if there were any new trends in home renovations. A very tanned blond woman who held her hair back with gilded sunglasses was pushing for subway tiles and white cabinets in three separate kitchens that she didn’t intend to keep, and a contractor on another show ripped down a dining room wall in a Victorian manse to “give it that open feeling.” The makeover resulted in guests being able to see one’s refrigerator from the front door, which is surely what every Victorian architect fully intended but never got around to.

The reoccurring theme, I found, was “open concept.” It could have been the sinus pressure, but I wanted to call the satellite company and cancel the subscription—or perhaps toss the TV off the deck—if I heard “open concept” once more.

I get the idea that we want to feel less cramped in our spaces, and in this era where one no longer employs a cook to toil away behind a swinging door, we run the risk of missing something witty our guests might say while we check the lamb. Even though I live in that open concept plan, I still cringe at the thought of my guests having to stare at a dirty kitchen while eating on the good plates.

To me, open concept means extra work because I have to clean the kitchen before the meal is finished cooking. I have everything put away before the people arrive so that my workspace appears as tidy as some 1950s sit-com kitchen. The food looks as though house elves prepared it and it appeared out of nowhere by magic.

After the third house-buying show, I realized a familiar theme in the open concept clamoring. The cries came from parents of small children who have not yet learned that their babies are going to grow up one day.

“Oooooh! I really like this open concept floor plan!” said the mother of a five- and three-year old. “That way I can keep an eye on the kids while I’m in the kitchen, and then they can do crafts over there as I make dinner.” Somehow, while I was doing whatever I’ve been doing for the past generation, it seems that children now require constant supervision lest they wander off to another room and fall prey to any number of household dangers.

“Oh, I don’t like those stairs!” the mother exclaimed. “Clara Makayla might get her head stuck in that four-inch space between the railings, snap it off and come tumbling down to the first floor and mess up the white carpet. Oh! I don’t like that white carpet either. We’d have to take that out.”

Time after time I kept hearing from these parents who wanted massive amounts of space in their new houses, but were afraid for anyone to have a minute alone in any of the rooms. Growing up, we had one of those 1970s kitchens for the liberated woman who went to work and didn’t want to be crowded when she got home and heated everything up in the microwave. We had a den off the kitchen, but I was encouraged to go outside and play with the dog. As long as I didn’t take any crazy risks, no one expected to see me until the appointed hour.

Why do young contemporary parents think that their kids are going to jump over the second floor railings, take a nap in the dryer, or crash through the patio doors if someone isn’t there to prevent it? Have they forgotten that they had a little sense at a young age? There are early childhood studies that have proven for decades that kids aren’t going to step off the top step and think that the floor continues level in front of them.

“I just want to be with my kids when I’m cooking.” The last time that happened in America was in the days of the one-room house where children remained close at hand because they were stand-ins for modern labor saving devices. Fetching water was replaced by the faucet, stoking the fire was replaced by a knob, and poultry comes featherless from the grocery store. You no longer have to rely on child labor to get dinner on the table, so let them go off on their own and put those walls back up.

It is my sincerest desire that when these kids become adults that they turn out to be introverted loners who see the value in fine old homes with kitchens hidden away from the casual observer (if there are any still left by then). They’ll also need antiques to fill these houses, and I’ll be ready to sell my stuff at that point and make a fortune.

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

Mine Is a Cautionary Tale

09-11-2005 08;54;22PM

Innocent and dressed for church (center), I still knew all the popular catch-phrases on  NBC’s Laugh-In.

When you read the next few paragraphs, you’ll question my upbringing, but I promise that I wasn’t the least bit neglected. It’s just that I was the youngest child, and parents are more relaxed when they see that their earlier experiments turned out so well. In my case, there was more on TV than when my sister was the same age, and what the networks allowed in Prime Time was much different when I was in pre-school.

Without giving away our ages too quickly, my sister was probably watching Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Ed Sullivan and Beaver Cleaver. Television then got a little wilder for the next few years. Gone were the longer skirts of Mrs. Cleaver to be replaced by the mini of Marlo Thomas. It was recently brought to my attention that Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, while undoubtedly the most wholesome television show ever produced, premiered the same year as Laugh-In.

 In those days, the state of public television in my neck of the woods was sorely lacking, and I didn’t even know about Mr. Rogers until I had outgrown his target audience. No one that I knew ever talked about him, but I was such a regular viewer of the questionable comedy show airing on Monday nights that I knew all the catch-phrases: “Verrrry interesting,” “Here comes the judge,” “That’s the truth,” and “Sock it to me!”

I was intrigued by the joke wall and often wondered how I might empty out lower kitchen cupboards and hide behind doors so that I could pop out and be funny. This colorful world of miniskirts, go-go dancing, and short comedy bits held my attention even though for years I didn’t understand most of the jokes, and kids my age didn’t even understand what I was referencing in our play.

I lived for the moment when I could fill a bucket with water to toss on my cousin after convincing her to say “Sock it to me!” but she would never take my stage directions properly. She seemed to be avoiding my cue while suspecting that I was up to no good with that suspicious looking garden hose.

I’m still not all that familiar with Mr. Rogers. I know there were sweet songs, puppets that didn’t move their mouths, a message about acceptance and respect, and the changing of shoes and sweaters. The truth is that I spent my time thinking about Gary Owens with his hand over his ear, that Lily Tomlin was both a little girl in a rocking chair and a telephone operator, and I lived to watch Joanne Worley wearing feathers and beads during the latest “The Party” sketch. Her punch-lines were incomparable, and something to the effect of, “If you like downtown Burbank, you’re going to LOOOOVE Paris!”

Television was such an influence on my life, and I still retain so much of what I saw back then. We had a lot of westerns playing in our house, but I was always more attuned to the background than what was happening with the plot. One morning when my mother was working in the kitchen, I was about four and pulling bottles from one of the lower cabinets. I had aligned unopened bottles of catsup, Worcestershire sauce, a steak sauce and a couple of soda bottles. She was stirring something (it may have been the summer that she made peach jam) and glanced over: “What are you doing?” she asked. I can’t imagine what she thought I was doing with my imagination. Aligning rockets since it was the Space Age? Without looking up and very matter-of-factly, I replied, “Playing saloon.”

Even that response didn’t seem to affect my viewing habits, but I’m sure it raised her eyebrows. Even if my favorite shows had been suddenly banned, I would probably have tried finding a way to watch. I couldn’t un-see what I’d already seen, and even though I wouldn’t know the joke behind Tyrone Horneigh (pronounced “hor-NIGH”) for years and years, there seemed nothing wrong with watching Ruth Buzzi in a hairnet beating him over the head with her purse week after week. At age four I could understand that he was a masher even though I didn’t comprehend what being a masher meant. Nor could I have understood the complexities of the future #MeToo movement and why women needed to defend themselves in the first place.

Laugh-In is tame by today’s standards, but for some who watched it, they felt like they were getting away with something. Though I did not see Mr. Rogers during my formative years, I don’t think I turned out too depraved. I try to use good manners and remember the importance of every individual (even though I have to be honest that this notion is more difficult with certain individuals). However, PBS really should have me on during funding drives and testifying before Congress during budget talks on educational television for I am a cautionary tale.

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

I Prefer a Thief With Good Taste

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Pennington’s Hoax is available at Amazon or directly from W&B Publishers

Even if you had my address you might not be able to find the house. After winding around a state highway for several miles out of town, one must eventually leave the main road for a series of country roads that eventually lead to a curving path. Provided that one’s GPS is still getting a signal, there is still a ways to go. If one doesn’t miss the turn, which is almost as obscure as the one leading to the Bat Cave, the gravel path that seemingly leads to nowhere gives normal people pause.

There are only four visible houses at that point, and none of them are mine. The gravel path descends and rises beneath a double row of looming trees until one reaches the fork. GPS has surely gone out at this point, so does one take the direction posted with signs warning about the consequences of heading any further in that direction, or does one choose the other path with the gate and more signs about prosecuting trespassers? Those who continue on the correct path will wind through more foreboding forest while trying not to imagine the various creatures that lurk in camouflage.

My office window is on the front of the house, and a year ago I was typing away on Pennington’s Hoax and promoting Murdered Justice when two suspicious cars emerged from the last part of the wooded driveway and stopped at the garage as if they owned the place. They were foolish, if you ask me. This area is very pro-Second Amendment, and I hear gunshots on a regular basis. The wise person assumes that every household is heavily armed.

After a few minutes, the trespassers got a clear indication that people were home, so they drove away casually; too casually for someone who had made an honest mistake.

Until that point, I had let my guard down. I had abandoned my city ways of staying alert, being aware of anyone who might be watching my movements, and checking doors when leaving the house for even the briefest errand. My assumptions about spooky driveways and menacing signs as deterrents to unwanted visitors had been wrong! I dragged out all the security tools, put more items in the safe, inquired about security monitoring, made a list of potential house sitters, and devised escape routes should the house actually become invaded.

After that, I no longer left electronics on the kitchen table when going to the store or even going outside for more than a few minutes. I secured any documents that shouldn’t be in the wrong hands, and filed a sheriff’s report after alerting the neighbors. No one has come back in a year, but I was reminded of the incident when going through some papers and saw a reference number for the sheriff’s case that I filed.

If someone broke in, I have lately realized that they wouldn’t want what they would find. There are bigger and newer televisions in other houses, newer electronics elsewhere, and not much that would fetch more than a few pennies wherever they might take their plunder. I recently read a short article entitled “A Burglar’s Goal is Your Bedroom.” Supposedly thieves are looking for our cash, jewelry, and firearms.

I considered the article’s advice and began to wonder about the motivation of thieves. Jean Valjean took bread. When I was a little kid, someone broke into our house and stole our washer filled with laundry while we were at church. That particular theft was so odd that one wonders if the thieves might not have been innocent people told to drop by and pick up an old washer. Finding no one at home at the wrong address, they broke a window, climbed in and wheeled the old Norge out the door. Breaking the window was not the act of an honest person, but a washer? Who steals a washer—and an old one at that? The robber was surely someone who had grown so tired of using a Laundromat that they would beg, borrow, or steal to avoid one.

Loaves of bread, old appliances, electronics, and firearms all lack the elegance of an art thief. Jewel thieves, for that matter, are much more chic in books and films like To Catch a Thief because they are after some gaudy necklace or a specific stone. Whether art or expensive jewels, the thieves must love what they have stolen so much because they can never sell it, share it, or show it to anyone. Demanding a ransom is their only course of action, but laying aside their motivation, art thievery requires a level of appreciation and a clever mind to pull off a heist.

It’s difficult to imagine a modern thief scaling a tiled roof like Carey Grant in the pursuit of something exquisite. I once knew a private art dealer who never watched television, but decided to break down and buy one. He’d had it three weeks, and it was still in the box when the thieves slipped into the garage one night before he could close the door after pulling his car inside. They forced their way into the house at gunpoint, eyed the art hanging on every surface of the house, took the TV and ran. I saw him after insurance paid his claim. He used the money to buy another nice piece and never replaced the TV.

Apparently we can leave the front door unlocked and a Rembrandt leaning against the wall next to it. It can sit there for two weeks, but if you try hiding your laptop in the underwear drawer while working in the garden, you may never see it again. As I continue to lament the decline of civilization, I have to ask where all the tasteful thieves have gone?

We must solve the opioid crisis, address wage inequality, and improve education at every level so that those who are going to steal can develop an aesthetic sense and go back to nicking nicer things.

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

Interviewing Maggie Lyon

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Pennington’s Hoax is available at Amazon or directly from W&B Publishers

In this blog space I usually write about what’s happening in my life if I’m not promoting my books, which are, by the way, available directly from the publisher or at Amazon. My latest two books feature investigative journalist Maggie Lyon, and this week she’s agreed to take a break from her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her cases, her personal life, and what’s in store after solving Pennington’s Hoax.

PB: Maggie, I want to thank you for taking the time for this interview, and since you’re on a schedule, I’ll simply jump right in if that’s okay.

ML: My pleasure.

PB: While working on Pennington’s Hoax, you spent a lot of time in New Orleans. Aside from getting to the bottom of the Ely Pennington mystery, what are your favorite parts of the Crescent City?

ML: I love the slower pace. People who are always on the run and expecting quick results may be a little disappointed in New Orleans, but I’ve learned to allow for the extra time it takes to get things done down there. And, of course, I love the people. The stories, the traditions, the fact that so much of the lifestyle has endured in spite of the disasters. It’s a city filled with music and food, and food is very important to me.

PB: Of course food is important to you. You’re a former food writer, and your husband is a Michelin-starred chef with a global reputation. What are your favorite restaurants in New Orleans?

ML: Mark-Mario would never forgive me if I failed to mention his restaurant.

PB: You say “his restaurant.” Isn’t it partly yours?

ML: [Laughs] Well, yes, of course. On paper. We share everything, but he’s the chef. He developed the concept, still approves the menu even when he’s not there for weeks at a time, and he made every decision from location down to the plates. I’ve really had nothing to do with the place except enjoy a fantastic meal there from time to time.

PB: Did you eat there every day during the Pennington case?

ML: No. I have my other favorites. In the book I talk about eating at Brennan’s—an old haunt that’s been around for ages, and I did eat at Mother’s for breakfast on several occasions. You can’t go to New Orleans without eating at Deanie’s, and having po’ boys on Magazine Street. I try new places whenever I’m down there, but I can’t abandon my old favorites. And, of course, you have to work out every day if you want to indulge.

PB: Pennington’s Hoax took you to New Orleans, but you seem to indicate in the book that it was almost by accident that this case fell into your lap. I seem to recall that your agent Rina Akin asked you for a favor, and the next thing you knew you were headed for the Garden District down there.

ML: I guess you could say that without Rina bringing Ely Pennington’s new book to my attention, I wouldn’t have had a case.

 PB: You went head to head with Rina several times in the book. How’s your relationship now?

ML: [Looks hesitant] Rina and I are good now. We’ve been friends for such a long time, and even though I messed up—and boy, did I mess up—we found our way back to each other. I tend to describe her in my books as fast-talking, brash, hard-as-nails, but she would do anything for me. I would do anything for her. We’re pals, and I expect that we’ll be working together for a long time.

PB: Did she mind how you portrayed her in the book? All those scenes, I mean. You abandoned her and left her hanging, and she reacted. In fact she might have overreacted. She seemed out of control much of the time, and I got the impression you wanted to avoid her. You described a very volatile woman. How did she feel about that?

ML: Rina is one of the strongest women I’ve ever known. She’s also one of the most brutally honest people I’ve ever met, and she expects honesty from everyone around her. While I don’t think she disputes the things I’ve written about her, she would be the first to say that the book is my story and I have to be true to my perceptions. I came to her for advice once about a person I was writing about. I was concerned that the subject wouldn’t appreciate my observations, and she said, “Listen kid. You stick to your guns and write how you see it. If somebody doesn’t like it, they can write their own $#!@% book!” She’s got a way with putting things colorfully.

PB: So I’ve noticed. The color is usually blue, if I’m not mistaken.

ML: Rina’s got a mouth on her, but she’s a good soul. I’m glad she’s in my life.

PB: In the book, you write about other complicated relationships, and one in particular is your marriage to Mark-Mario Van Heflin-Schröder. He’s a celebrity, and while we know certain things about him, you haven’t really offered anything much about your private life together other than you’re working on your estranged marriage.

ML: Let’s just say that we’re moving carefully. Our careers are now separate, and while he doesn’t go on TV to tell the world what we’re up to, I try to be just as discreet when it comes to writing. If our conversations are pertinent to the case or I feel that he bears mentioning at some point, I include him. But I’m not yet comfortable sharing every detail with my readers.

PB: But we’re dying to know how it’s all going to work out!

ML: So am I! Next question.

PB: Hey! I don’t think you’ve ever let one of your interview subjects get away with not answering.

ML: Maybe not, but I have a sense of boundaries when I’m the one being interviewed.

PB: Understood. So tell us what it’s like to spend so much time with the legendary Phoebe VanRyder?

ML: Oh, Phoebe! She’s like a favorite aunt!

PB: Well, she is Andrew Campton’s aunt, but you feel that close to her?

ML: I know people who don’t care for Phoebe or wouldn’t care for Phoebe, but I think they’re missing out. This is a woman who has been around for almost a century, and she’s vibrant with a great memory. If you’re polite and don’t interrupt her, she can tell you about any famous person that you can think of. She’s known every designer, playwright, musician, artist and—well, anyone worth knowing who’s lived in the last hundred years. From royalty to beggars. I’ve never met anyone else who’s had tea with Queen Mary and also started a charity to feed the homeless. She goes several times a year to work, but at her age you can’t expect her to be there every day.

PB: She’s been a newsmaker since she was a little girl, and I’m glad you’ve brought her back to our attention. You didn’t mention anything specific in the book about her charitable work—or having tea with Queen Mary.

ML: She just happened to mention the queen once; a footnote in a much longer story about the postwar era in London. None of it pertained to Ely Pennington or Garvin Canfield, so there was no point in my including it.

PB: Will Phoebe appear in any of your upcoming books?

ML: First of all, Patrick, you’re assuming there will be more books.

PB: Are you saying there won’t be another Maggie Lyon Mystery?

ML: Who knows the future? If another case falls in my lap or I get an interesting assignment from Andrew, then I’ll certainly write about it. If Rina’s still around to help me get it published, you may read about Phoebe—if she’s part of the story. She may not be part of what’s coming next.

PB: What is coming next?

ML: The last page of Pennington’s Hoax offers a clue. Readers will have to read the book and see if they can figure out what comes after my New Orleans adventure.

PB: Can you tell us more about John Benzonator? Is he still threatening you? Have you given more thought about investigating his shadowy connections and bringing them to light?

ML: As you’re aware, John and I spoke briefly in New Orleans, but I’ve heard nothing from him since. A man like that requires keeping a safe distance, and to maintain that, I’m staying away from that whole group.

PB: You mean the Prelature of St.—

ML: [Gasps] No! Don’t say it! They have people tracking all Internet mentions of their name or their members’ names and affiliations. If you post this interview and include anything about them, you’re putting me in danger!

PB: My mistake. I’m very sorry!

ML: I think we should probably wrap this up.

PB: Before you go, I’d like to ask you about the tight situations you get into. You don’t seem to panic. You have a pretty cool head where I’d end up freaking out.

ML: [Laughs] When you’re being held against your will, you just have to analyze the situation, weigh your options, and make your way to the nearest exit without being trapped. If you’re captor happens to be right in front of you, you have to be extra careful so that they don’t notice you trying to escape. Then you simply disappear… like this. §

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1