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

 

Headline Overload

I had a post in mind for this week, but with so much going on in the news I decided that I would save the article for another time. Like many people, the continuous news cycle has drained me, and I find myself stopping short of a complete self-imposed media blackout. I know enough to stay informed and involved, but I will not give parts of myself away as the networks chip at my soul in an attempt to leave me shouting at the television like a curmudgeonly shut-in.

I’m not advocating for a media blackout, as I got an up-close look at such an approach when two of our summer visitors were unaware of a single current event, as if cultural ignorance is a good thing. I doubt that either will ever read this so I can write without worrying I’ve offended them, but if they do, then I’m thrilled they’re finally poking their heads out. Becoming aware of federal investigations, hurricanes and all the other recent tragedies will make them seem less like they’ve just emerged from a bunker.

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Murdered Justice by Patrick Brown is available from W&B Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In Murdered Justice, Maggie writes about her frustration with the media, and in her next adventure due in early 2018, she’ll say even more about the news in Pennington’s Hoax.

I’m not sure that Maggie can help us, but what we need from the press is accurate information while we apply our critical thinking skills to the facts. That would be our own critical thinking skills, not some pundit’s idea after being processed by pollsters and propagandists. Figure out what’s going on and return to civil discourse. Many of us will never agree, and it’s a myth to think that Americans ever have. In spite of our differences, we once had respect, but I see very little evidence of it today. Our best bet is to turn off the TV and give the networks no incentive to shout at each other while the same footage plays repeatedly in the background.

Once I stop reeling from the headlines, I’ll be back with something more entertaining for you to read.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

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

The Cultural Cliff

I recently went out early one Saturday morning to attend a community parade. People from various locations in the area had set up their lawn chairs along the route and were awaiting the various entries. Local leaders, school bands and other organizations came down the street, and everyone shouted their support. Then came a group of young girls who were supposed to be cheerleaders. I don’t know that they actually had a team somewhere to cheer for, but it seems that they are enrolled in an organization that teaches them how to be cheerleaders.

While I always thought that students with significant school spirit simply tried out for cheerleader, and those who didn’t make the squad became pep-club members, I’m surprised to find out that girls can start cheering at a young age without any school affiliation. I suppose that when they get certified, they might become a sort of adolescent soldier-of-fortune where they support the team who pays the highest price.

Loose ranks in the parade.

Loose ranks in the parade.

I really don’t know the purpose of all this extra-curricular cheering, but if you’re going to walk in a community parade with a banner that identifies you as a cheerleader, I’d expect at least two or three out of the dozen girls to actually perform a cheer. At the very least, raise your voice above a whisper and give us the impression that you’re enjoying yourself.

Instead, these surly girls meandered about aimlessly, not holding any sort of line or maintaining a uniform distance while a couple of adults, one assumes spirit-filled moms, occasionally shouted “Woo-hoo! Wooooo-hooo!!!” while the girls frowned or looked down at the ground.

Moms screaming "Woo-hoo!" every few feet does not convince me that these girls are great at cheering.

Moms screaming “Woo-hoo!” every few feet does not convince me that these girls are great at cheering.

I could imagine them gathering at the end of the parade route. There would be no admonitions of how they could’ve been better. Perhaps one mother alone with her daughter in the car would mention something about how she’s wasting her money and her time getting the next top cheerleader to those classes, but somehow, it seems that shouting “Woo-hoo! Great job!” excuses a poor showing.

While enjoying a live performance one evening, a promising young artist was invited to the stage. We were told that he was very creative, had written a number of his own songs and was poised for discovery because he was all set to take off on an amazing musical career. Who told us this? The promising young artist himself. I will say that he did things with a guitar that I never thought possible. I could bear it only because I stopped listening and was concentrating on coming up with something nice to say when he finally got off the stage.

I don’t know how long he played, but it finally ended. One very kind person said, “Well, he tried, and I give him all the credit for having the courage to get up there.” Perhaps it was courage; perhaps it was foolishness. It seems I was the only one willing to admit that he’d unleashed something terrible through his incessant strumming.

There have been other times recently when I’ve experienced less than stellar performances. A standup comedian who’s performed on television got on stage at a world-famous comedy club to read jokes from a sheet of paper. This wasn’t even new material, as I’d heard 90% of it performed six weeks earlier from the same sheet of paper. How hard is it to memorize a seven-minute routine that you wrote and have been performing every week for two months? You’re lucky enough to have landed such a great venue, and you owe it to your paying audience to show up prepared.

I get requests to read manuscripts and writing samples from time to time, and I really enjoy the opportunity to be among the first people to see what creative individuals are doing. However, one thing that really bothers me is when I read a first chapter of a published e-book or begin to read a blog that’s been posted only to be stopped in my tracks by blatant misspellings or words used mistakenly because of the writer’s haste.

The spelling is sometimes the worst part, and it’s the thing that stands out before I even get to the rest of my concerns such as sentence fragments and one-word sentences that make me feel as though I’m riding in a car where the driver is slamming on the brakes every few feet. I’m not a fan of stories that begin like this:

As the sun was rising that winters morning Chance Harding had already admited to himself one thing. It was going to be a long ride. A very long ride. A long ride so long that would mak for a very long day. He loked across to the epassngers seat and said to Mona. “Mona, its going to be a very long day, and the day is only getting startd.”

This is not to say that there’s not a good story in there somewhere, but a good amount of re-reading, polish and the advice of another person, if not a professional editor, is always helpful. This is especially true of writers who are somewhat out of practice.

A writing sample recently came my way via social media. I stopped reading in the fifth paragraph when the writer used “irregardless.” Since I knew the author, I sent a note suggesting that she correct the typo before someone made an issue of it publicly. I haven’t gone back to check because I’m afraid that she’s left it alone, and I’ll be tempted to be the one to make a public issue of it. I can only be so strong.

I’ve noticed that the lackadaisical approach isn’t confined to the amateur musicians, the beginning writers or the as yet undiscovered comedians. We see it every day in the singing sensations that don’t bother to sing with consonants (and I’m speaking to you Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas) or to people on reality shows that have no specific talent for entertainment purposes. They often command attention by being really unpleasant people, but as long as they perfect their looks and create newsworthy sensations, it doesn’t seem to matter that they don’t actually do anything worthy of paying them any attention.

Jumping into the spotlight and wasting our time shouldn’t be enough, and screaming “Woo-hoo!” a thousand times doesn’t make a performance, a story or an exhibition better. Nor is unpolished work ready for our attention. Culturally, we’re headed for a cliff if, in fact, we’ve not already gone over it. As music lovers, readers, audience members and generally good people, let’s give our time and attention to those who have worked really hard at their craft, and soon those who plainly refuse to do so will fade from the cultural stage and reflect quietly that their fifteen minutes is over.

© 2015 by Patrick Brown

Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”