Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wealthy Town Vs. Average Town

Thanks to Maricopa College for the great image.

For twenty years we lived in Wealthy Town, with chic shopping, good doctors, dentists, hairdressers, nice neighbors, super schools, a great library, a duck pond, and a fabulous RDF (Recycling Disposal Facility) where one could see captains of industry unloading the recyclables from their Mercedes'. Everything was recyclable in Wealthy Town, right down to old batteries and eyeglasses.  There was a book drop. Someone once found a thousand dollars in a left book.  No owner ever came forward.  It was that kind of place.  On another occasion, a new sink and bathtub were dumped.  When an onlooker asked the owner why he was getting rid of new stuff, he said, "It was the wrong color."  Wealthy. Town, oh, Wealthy Town! 

So, although everything was wonderful in Wealthy Town, housing had become very expensive, only for the truly wealthy. We were ready to retire and sold the too-big house, paid off the mortgage, and said, "Now what?"  Condos in wealthy town cost as much as houses, maybe more.  Not much to downsize into. Alas, Wealthy town. Adieu, Wealthy town.

We looked at condos in Other Towns, and nothing was quite right until and one day our realtor found our dream condo, fabulous and affordable in . . . Average Town! We had nothing against Average Town. It had no shopping to speak of, but suburbia is full of stores and malls and so we would have to drive somewhere to shop.  No good restaurants, either, but hey, the city and the burbs are also full of restaurants.

But Average Town, unfortunately, had no recycling, being, well, Average Town.  For four guilt-ridden years we put everything into the trash for pick up.  Feeling like despoilers of the earth, we looked around for alternatives.  There was a place to take newspapers and junk mail.  But all the plastic, the bottles, the cans, the cardboard, and box board and went into the trash. We found a small herd of Highland Scottish Cattle who relished our vegan scraps, mostly fruits and vegetables with the occasional slice of stale bread. 

One day, we had a discussion and decided it would be all right to return to the RDF in Wealthy Town.  We had our own trash pickup, so we would not be "dumping" an iota of garbage; we would be recycling, and making their graph of how much was recycled this year climb even higher.
So, we began to recycle everything again.  Cans, bottles, green glass, brown class, plastics, eyeglasses, cell phone, old batteries, crutches, and books to the book drop.

 In our absence, something had been added:  the Take and Leave where useful stuff that one did not want anymore, or leftovers from a garage sale could be deposited.  And acquired.  Kitchen ware, old flowerpots, children's books, fabrics, picture frames, furniture, you name it.  Now, the Take and Leave had a cadre of takers who hung around all day like vultures, always taking, never leaving.  Despite signs saying, "one-half hour limit for browsing, the vultures, were, after all, vultures.

 For ten (10) years we left our recyclables at the Wealthy Town RDF.  Sometimes I tried to imagine the size of the pile of our stuff that did not clog up a  landfill, and I had a warm feeling, just like when I fed the cows banana peels, old lettuce and broccoli stems.

And then, a bit late for April Fool, but surely in keeping, we got a letter from Wealthy Town, a No Trespass Notice!  Our humble vehicle "was observed in the RDF." And we did not have a permit to use the RDF.  If we entered the RDF again, the police would be notified.   Charges  could be filed in district court.  Copy of letter sent to police. The police were already notifiedWe were recycling criminals!!

 If was like Alice's Restaurant in reverse.  We were threatened with fines for recycling, not dumping. And since late fall I had been collecting nice stuff. to drop off at the Take and Leave.  Toys, books, electronics. Good flower pots.

Now, let's face it: the Take and Leave did not have status Wealthy Town women with Louie Vuitton handbags perusing the merchandise.  Ordinary people "shopped" there: old folks, students, and probably other illegals with a yen for "picking."  I saw quite a few people who looked like immigrants. Maybe the needy came, even in Wealthy Town.  I can just see the merchandise piling higher and higher as the locals leave and there's nobody left to take.  The vultures, of course, will also be out of luck. We are all out of luck.

And I am also sad, losing the ability to recycle everything on one of those visits to Wealthy Town's dentists and hairdressers and nice little stores not found in Average Town. I will miss the familiar ambiance of the RDF. But I have found a recycler who picks up weekly and takes the recyclables (all together with no separation of paper, etc., from glass and cans) to a "sub-station" where machines separate everything and the recyclables are then shipped off to whatever fate is in store for them.  We figure the cost of this service is about the same as the cost of the gas to get to and from Wealthy Town.  So Average Town has come through for us.

But I mourn the Book Drop and the Take and Leave and the physical act of separating the brown and green and the clear glass.  I will never think of Wealthy Town in the same way again. Farewell, Wealthy Town RDF.  Hope you don't keep the local police too busy pursuing criminal recyclers to tend to whatever crimes the denizens of Wealthy Town commit.  Probably white-collar crimes, or (pedigreed) dogs running lose.  I don't know.  I don't care. Farewell.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Characters We Create or Steal and Can They Teach Us Something?

Many thanks to Rhobin  for another probing topic. 

The Meth House by Judith Copek

This week I published the novelette, (shorter than a novella, longer than a long short story) The Meth House for  Amazon's Kindle.  By the way, are you aware that you do not actually need a Kindle to read Kindle publications?  On the  page where the book is sold, there is a link to get the FREE app for reading on other devices.  Once you. have the app, you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required. This has been a free public service  announcement.

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This month our blog roll has returned to the ever-fruitful topic of characters. Do they come from our minds? Have we perhaps met them before? And what do our characters reveal (if anything) about ourselves.  Can they teach us something?

I will use examples from The Meth House. I lived in Colorado from first grade through high school and in the summers while at college.  This story was inspired by a newspaper article about homeless living in the state forests, and how one of then had set the forest on fire (accidentally).  I don't have a fire in my novelette, but but I have an old, abandoned cabin (maybe once a meth house), where my protagonist comes upon a little girl, dirty, scared and abandoned.  My main character is a reformed alcoholic who lived on the street for many years, sobered up with the help of AA, and became a social worker.  She has seen a lot, and experienced a lot.  Bad stuff happens at the cabin and then the locale moves to Boulder,  Estes Park, and finally out to the plains and beet fields of Northeastern Colorado where more bad stuff happens. You read the newspaper, you get ideas, you write the story.

The only characters I "stole" were the Moos brothers, the baddest of the bad.  I knew of these twins (always innately bad) from my days in grade school.  They must have been born with evil genes.  The little girl, Lina, came out of my head, as did Hattie Pullen,  her lawyer friend and Mr. Ed.  The deceitful uncle, Ferguson, the child predator: anyone's guess where he came from. But these people were all somehow inspired by the settings in Colorado,  the state forests, Boulder, Estes Park and the sugar beet growing towns of Northeastern Colorado. My husband and I once drove through the town I named "Beetville." There were places almost as decrepit as the meth house.  As a teenager, my pals and I used to drink at the  unnamed bar.

Meth has been a problem in rural areas for a long time.  Little towns lose population and jobs and  the young people feel trapped.  Drugs are a tempting outlet for despair and even boredom. For years, I collected newspaper clipping about meth, thinking I would write a novel sometime.  But The Meth House is not really about meth.
Unlike me, Hattie has seen a lot of life, as an alcoholic living on the street for years.  She got sober and become a social worker.  Lina?  Lina is every  frightened child who has ever been abandoned in a scary place.  If you were ever scared witless as a kid, you can understand Lina.  If you've eve been down on your luck and come out of your tailspin, you can identify with Hattie.  If you've ever known a starchy upright man who can entertain little kids with his antics, you've met Archer.

So the answer is yes, we have met all these characters in various guises before.   We know them.  Maybe they are even archetypes.  But what do they reveal about us?  Our fears, our worries, our knowledge, our hopes.  And who wouldn't want to grab a handful of cash out of an abandoned suitcase stuffed with money?  Hey, I wouldn't mind.  Hattie didn't either, but she used it for good.

Can our characters teach us something?  Yes, they can teach us bravery, compassion, a longing for justice.  They can teach us empathy for others. They can teach us love.  But the purpose of writing is to entertain, and characters who are ordinary, but courageous and stubborn, like Hattie, can  both teach and entertain.

Check out what other writers have to say about this fascinating topic.   

Skye Taylor
A.J. Maguire
Marci Baun
Marie Laval
Dr. Bob Rich
Rachael Kosinski
Beverley Bateman
Rhobin L Courtright

Fiona McGier

Connie Vines