On Domestic Tranquility

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A lot of fond memories in this house, but not of the neighbor in the back.

What do you do when you suspect spousal abuse? This isn’t exactly a rhetorical question, but a very real situation. At least I think it’s a real situation. I usually use this space for attempts at humor or to register a complaint, but I’m very serious this time. What does one do when you suspect spousal abuse? I’m going to lay the facts out over the next two blog posts, and perhaps a light will dawn.

In the case of recognizing child abuse, I have some experience, which is the reason I’m unsure how to deal with suspected spousal abuse. About 25 years ago I rented a house with my best friend. One of the house’s several perks was a patio on two levels off the breakfast room. I remember the first night after unpacking. He made a chicken dinner, and I made a pineapple upside down cake. We had a set of double ovens and couldn’t wait to use them both at once.

As we dined on the patio and exclaimed how we couldn’t remember back to a time when we had only one oven to prepare a meal (five days earlier), the peaceful air, perfumed with night-blooming jasmine, was shredded by the rage of a male neighbor over the back fence. My roommate and I were stunned into silence while we exchanged concerned glances. Who was yelling, who was being yelled at, and what could possibly warrant all that vitriol?

As we listened, we were able to determine a few sentences. One that stood out was “How many times have I told you that when the little hand is on the six and the big hand is on the five that it is SIX TWENTY-FIVE?” The question was accompanied by a crash. We sat frozen, hoping that it was an inanimate object being thrown at a wall and not at a tiny child learning to tell time.

The child turned out to be a she, and I saw her a few weeks later when she came roller-blading down the sidewalk and started a conversation with me about my dog. She was missing her front teeth because she was at that age (I hoped), and she was so charming. When I figured out where she lived, I tried to get some information. She spoke of both parents in glowing terms, and she appeared to be a well-adjusted kid with an outgoing personality. She was nothing like the stereotype of a battered child as far as movies and TV had shown me.

Months passed without any further outbursts, and as we settled in and met the neighbors, we came to realize that we were living right next door to the homeowners’ association chairwoman who had proven before we moved in that she knew all the details about anyone and any household that had details to be known. She became close to us by way of proximity, but we enjoyed her company when she dropped by. Soon after the next screaming incident, my roommate took an opportunity to ask her about the family over the back fence.

She reluctantly admitted that she had heard “things.” We barely made any noise by comparison, and she could almost always identify the number and gender of any guests we had who made it into our backyard, but she couldn’t seem to recall hearing anything over the back fence.

She eventually admitted that since she was home during the day, she had been hearing arguments when we had been at work. She didn’t consider them to be fits of rage, but agreed that the man had “something of a temper.” She felt that everything was under control, and there was no need to worry.

My bedroom was at the back of the house, and the Southern California climate allowed us to keep the windows open much earlier in the year. I started to hear more and more coming from the house beyond the fence, and my roommate and I discussed the situation more frequently.

About that time we had new neighbors across the street, and they loved yard work. They were the type of neighbors you really want if you’re concerned about property values, but they weren’t the kind of neighbors you want if you plan to sleep past 8:00 on Sunday morning. Having my room in the back, I missed the heated exchange in the front, but my roommate related everything to me that he could understand. The man over the back fence had become so enraged by the leaf-blower that he had left his house, marched around to our block, and hostilely confronted the leaf-blowing woman who lived across our street.

She was about 6’ tall and flew a helicopter for a living. She drove a giant Ford pickup with a tool chest across the bed. She wore heavy boots most of the time, but the point is that she was having none of this angry man’s tantrum. Avoiding anything physical, she managed to shut down his hate speech and threatened to report him to the police. The scene was most unfortunate for our tidy neighbor, but at least she stood her ground and put him on notice. We assumed that no woman had ever stood up to him.

Regrettably, the consequence of this run-in was that the raging man over the fence began to yell at his kids more and more. Other unseen objects shattered, and there was very little peace. It seemed my roommate and I discussed the situation daily, and we brought the subject of child abuse up with friends and with the next-door neighbor. Everyone except our neighbor insisted that we must get involved because a child needs an advocate. However, we didn’t want to give our names and address after witnessing his reaction to an early morning leaf-blower.

In the end, we placed an anonymous call. In our naivety we foolishly assumed that a professional would show up, find evidence of abuse, and haul the guy away in cuffs. The children in his life would be safe, the spouse would be relieved, and they would say silent prayers of thanks because someone out there had taken pity on their suffering.

In our twenties and unfamiliar with abuse and the systems that deal with it, the thought never occurred to us that children love their parents even when the adults are horrid, that spouses remain in some of the worst circumstances for a variety of reasons, and that an abuser can be as charming as he is violent. Of course he can be charming because he managed to charm someone into his life and keep her under his spell unless his violence had intimidated her into staying. Either way, an abuser possesses charisma.

Proud of ourselves, my roommate and I stood on the patio for several evenings listening for the sounds of joy as the occupants over the fence celebrated their freedom. We never heard celebrating. About two weeks later there came a slam as if a body had been shoved into a wall. “You called them, didn’t you? YOU CALLED!”

We heard a weakened, tearful protest that she didn’t call. He continued to accuse her. There was more noise as he repeatedly demanded to know who’d called. We could imagine him suddenly believing her and realizing that outsiders had gotten involved. We expected him to come storming out his back door and look our way. We scrambled into the house, closed the doors, and drew the floor-length curtains before the angry neighbor over the fence realized that his voice had carried like the leaf-blower, and that we had turned him in.

The nights were eventually peaceful. The family moved, and 25 years later I have no idea what became of them. I’ll explain further in my next post about why I suspect spousal abuse in a particular situation, but you can understand now why I’m uncertain—reluctant—to get involved.

© 2019 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

Don’t Tell Me How You Feel

I’ve sadly neglected my blog space for the past few months, but I assure you that I have been writing. The third book in the Maggie Lyon Mystery series will soon be available, and a few other projects are expected to see the light of day. In addition to working on novels and plays—some fun, some more challenging—I’ve done quite a bit of reading. I’ve also been observing global events and wondering where all of this business will lead.

It seems several conversations and interactions with people these days include comments and concerns, and among some of the most frustrating, which have me rolling my eyes, I am reminded of a 2017 book I read recently called The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols.

On page 143 he writes: “This fusing of entertainment, news, punditry, and citizen participation is a chaotic mess that does not inform people so much as it creates the illusion of being informed. Just as clicking through endless Internet pages makes people think they’re learning new things, watching countless hours of television and scrolling through hundreds of headlines is producing laypeople who believe—erroneously—that they understand the news. Worse, their daily interaction with so much media makes them resistant to learning anything more that takes too long or isn’t entertaining enough.”

How appropriate for our times, but the book’s purpose goes even further. Nichols writes extensively about facts versus opinions. In one chapter, he relates one of my favorite stories of a college freshman standing up to a professor with decades of experience, and when the novice ends his argument with, “Well, my guess is as good as yours,” the professor responds, “No, it isn’t. My guess is much better than yours.”

I’m not millennial-bashing by the way. On the contrary, I know several extremely gifted people who fall into that age range, and they are the hope of the future. I also know a few people whose opinions I once respected who seem to have given up on experts in favor of declaring that their beliefs somehow hold as much weight as someone who has spent decades searching for the facts in a scholarly manner.

Nichols writes that so-called experts occasionally get it wrong, and in the fields of science and medicine, new discoveries come along often enough to disprove old ideas, which makes it seem like the experts were wrong more often than they were. And then we mustn’t forget the biased studies and “alternative facts” presented to us through various media outlets. In the end, I occasionally find myself in situations where the conversations begin, “I feel…” or “I believe…” or “I think that…”

Someday I’m going to have the courage to say, “I don’t care what you feel, believe, or think about…” but at the moment I still enjoy having friends.

© 2019 by Patrick Brown

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

 

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

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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