Friday, December 29, 2017

Goodbye, Friend

Today, I heard that Sue Grafton died. I enjoyed her "Alphabet Series" so much! Her writing was crisp and smart. I admired her savvy in handling this franchise (refusing to allow made-for-tv movies, keeping it set in the 1970s). I loved her characters, especially Kinsey and Henry. Her last book, Y Is for Yesterday, is currently on the best seller list and was one of the books I just picked up this past week.

Sue Grafton mattered to me. So, in tribute, I'm reposting a Thursday Thirteen from 2008.


Kinsey Milhone is Sue Grafton’s creation, the heroine of the popular “Alphabet Mysteries.” So I realize Kinsey is fictional, even though she seems like a buddy. After all, we’ve gone from A Is for Alibi through T Is for Trespass together.

Earlier this year, I did a TT on Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, the bigger-than-life, this-close-to-perfect doctor/lawyer/gourmand. While Kay is the kind of woman I hopelessly aspire to be, Kinsey is far, far more accessible. There’s nothing intimidating about my buddy Kinsey. Down-to-earth, no-nonsense, fabulously flawed and very funny, she’s as comfortable as a pair of old running shoes (her favorite footwear).

1. When she was 5 years old, she and her parents were in a car accident. Kinsey was the only survivor. While she grew up to be a successful and self-sufficient woman, Kinsey has intimacy and abandonment issues, and it’s not hard to see why.

2. She was raised by her Aunt Gin. A contented and single woman living in Santa Theresa, California, Aunt Gin did the best she could. But she never planned on having a family, and didn’t quite know what to do with a traumatized little girl. So while these two lived in the same house, we really don’t imagine them together very much.

3. Her career at Santa Theresa High seems to have been devoted to smoking pot, cussing, and doing only what was necessary to not flunk. After graduation, Kinsey joined her aunt at California Fidelity Insurance, working as a receptionist and hating it, until she was old enough to try her hand at police work.

4. It was joining the Santa Theresa Police Department that straightened our girl out. While she had big problems with the regimentation that went with being a cop – she left the force after just two years – she discovered she had a passion for investigating and protecting the good guys from the bad ones.

5. Kinsey endured two short, unsuccessful marriages. The first, to Mickey, occurred after she left the force, when her Aunt Gin died and she was emotionally adrift. Her second husband was a musician named Daniel. Since they each turn up in books, and so as not to be a spoiler, I shall say no more. Of her husbands, Kinsey has said, “I dumped the first and the second dumped me.”

6. She’s had a few lovers throughout the alphabet – Charlie, Jonah, Dietz (my favorite) and Cheyney. None of these relationships have lasted because we all know her great love is really …

7. Henry Pitts, her landlord and best friend. He’s in his 80s, but that doesn’t stop her from completely adoring him. She mentions his blue eyes often. He bakes for her, shares Happy Hour with her (he has Jack Daniels on ice, she has her wine), celebrates Christmas and birthdays with her.

8. Rosie runs Rosie’s Tavern, Kinsey’s favorite restaurant. Rosie has brightly dyed hair and wears print muumuus and annoys Kinsey no end. She is also a fabulous cook, and her tavern is Kinsey’s refuge after even the most dangerous “day at the office.” Rosie, Henry, and Henry's various siblings make up Kinsey's surrogate family.

9. Kinsey has some unconventional talents, which come in very handy in her chosen profession: lying, picking locks and snooping. She enjoys all three equally (which is to say she enjoys them all a great deal).

10. She’s not a fitness nut, but she understands that being in shape is as important to her job as a good set of picklocks. So she jogs 3 miles every day. Sometimes she enjoys it, oftentimes not.

11. She owns a single, all-purpose black dress, doesn’t wear makeup and has been known to hack at her curly hair with nail scissors.

12. She drinks lots of coffee and loves McDonald’s. Especially Q-Ps with cheese and Egg McMuffins. She has referred to fats and carbs as “nature’s antidepressants.”

13. Unlike other fictional crimefighters (like Scarpetta or Robert Parker's Spenser), Kinsey often has to resort to markedly unglamorous tasks to pay the rent. She’s served subpoenas, investigated car insurance claims and taken jobs with clients she hasn’t really cared for. Seeing her in workaday situations makes her seem more real to me.

I know that since she's already on "T," Sue Grafton will reach the end of the alphabet, and this series, soon. Too soon for my taste. I'll miss Kinsey: she who writes clues down on index cards and arranges and rearranges them, trying to solve the crime; she who cleans compulsively and never leaves home without a paperback in her purse; she who has a strict personal code and lives by it. I've enjoyed every moment I've spent with her.

Not with a bang, but with a series of whimpers

2017 wasn't a bad year for me, but it ends on uncomfortably because I have to slather myself with a prescription corticosteroid every few hours (see post below). But it seems so many people around me are suffering.

Joanna. First, she came down with a terrible chest cold that just won't let her go, and caused her to cancel her year-end visit to New Orleans (and miss her niece's wedding). Then she had to put her beloved black girlcat to sleep. Now she's had to beg out on our year-end celebration because of that tenacious cough and now a toothache. Because I'm still scratching and clawing, I'm just as happy to stay home in my pajamas and ointment. But still, I feel bad for her.

My coworker. I can't believe how her Christmas has unfolded. First her father went from California to Texas for the holidays with one of his daughters, and was promptly hospitalized with a heart attack. Then, on December 23, her mother -- long in custodial care in Los Angeles -- died. Mom's been cremated, but there has been no service because dad isn't strong enough to make the decisions. I can't imagine what this is like for her.

My oldest friend. She can no longer afford her apartment and is moving in with her cousin. I think this is a wonderful, because my friend moved from Chicagoland to California to be near her. She, however, seems to view it as yet another indication of her failure to make her life work out there.

Somehow, my itchy skin doesn't seem so bad.

Doctors and movies

My Thursday began with a trip to the vet. Reynaldo needed bloodwork as part of his six-month exam. He was a real trooper, which was a relief because fasting for bloodwork can leave Rey feisty. His preliminary tests came back A-OK, and now we just have to schedule him for dental work in January.

Then I went to immediate care about all my scratching and clawing. Really, these bites are making me crazy! I got prescription strength ointment: triamcinolone acetonide. Hopefully it will make me feel better today, after 24 hours of use. (Please, God!)

While waiting for the doctor, I checked my phone and found that the water in my building had been turned off. Well, hell! I wasn't about to go cocoon anywhere that doesn't have a flushable toilet! So I impulsively went to the movies.

I was curious about All The Money in the World because of current events. Kevin Spacey had already completed his performance as J. Paul Getty when word of his certainly unsavory and perhaps illegal conduct came to light. Rather than risk backlash at the box office, director Ridley Scott decided to reshoot scenes of the movie with Christopher Plummer in the supporting but pivotal role. Scott had less than a month to do it. A daunting task, a prohibitive timeline. And yet he, and his cast, accomplished it seamlessly.

I'm old enough to remember the story of the Paul Getty kidnapping in real time. So I knew when to look away during a critical scene. I also knew how the movie would end. I wasn't aware of the conspiracy involved in his kidnapping, and I was impressed by both Plummer and Michelle Williams. Oh yeah, and I remain a little in love with Mark Wahlberg. (Note to self: watch more Mark Wahlberg movies in 2018.)

Christmas Eve, Christmas Day

Christmas Eve. Church and Dinner. Went to a very choral service in Key West. Their long-time musical director is retiring on December 31, and so the pastor virtually handed the service over to him. I would have preferred a bit more sermon, but Henry loved it. Since the only time he goes to church is on Christmas Eve with me, I suppose it's a good thing that he had such a wonderful time.

Then we stopped and had a light dinner at the restaurant where their friend Patrick is now working. I had a bowl of butternut squash/coconut soup, and Henry munched on the charcuterie. Got back to my room and found this lovely gift from hotel management.

My Christmas Day dawned and I welcomed it by munching on the gingerbread man the hotel gave me. Then I went for a dip in the pool.

Then I went for a walk. First stop was the beach. This is literally the southernmost spot in the contiguous United States. Next piece of land after this is Cuba.

Then I went shopping, picking up some Tahitian vanilla ice cream for dessert after our ham dinner, cooked by Reg (who keeps trying to get me like rutabaga).

Christmas 2017 is now documented!

I must be a lady of letters, part 3

Key West now has a Tennessee Williams Museum. It just reopened on December 15, a week before I arrived. It's not very big, but it's very sweet. So lovingly done. And, truth to tell, I've always enjoyed Williams' work better than I have Hemingway's, so I had a lovely time.

Williams finished Streetcar in Key West

I must be a lady of letters, part 2

I love cats. I appreciate Ernest Hemingway. So I always enjoy visiting The Hemingway House in Key West. I don't go every year, as it's one of those touristy things my Conch friends have done to death, but this year I made a point of it. So much of CNN's Hurricane Irma coverage centered around The Hemingway House, and I wanted to see for myself that the building and its feline residents are OK.

They are! It's always a kick to watch the Hemingway cats. There are at least 50 who live there. It's one of the provisions -- if the house is to be used as an attraction, that's fine, but Papa's cats and their descendants all have to remain welcome. Being cats, they make themselves comfortable throughout the house. Even on the old man's bed. The signs say we mere humans are not allowed to touch the furniture. But cats know they are descended from Egyptian Gods, and therefore are entitled to plant themselves wherever they wish.

Tour or no tour, it's nap time on Hemingway's bed
Naptime in Hemingway's bathroom

No cats (at the moment), but still my favorite room. This loft is the room where it happened, the studio is where Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Sun Also Rises.

I must be a lady of letters, part 1

There's a bookstore in Key West run by a dear friend of my friends. Before she took over the bookstore, she was a bartender with Reg. Then, when she was just getting started as an entrepreneur and Henry was unemployed, she gave him a job in the bookstore, shelving volumes and working the register.

I know how much she means to them, so when I saw that the store sustained considerable damaged during Hurricane Irma, I called and bought a $15 gift certificate for Henry. That was September and his birthday isn't until December, but September is when she was cash-strapped. She promised to keep it in the register until I came down for Henry's birthday/Christmas.

Unbeknownst to me, Henry was thinking the very same thing, and I got a $100 gift certificate for my birthday from the same bookstore. While the dollar amount made my eyes pop, it's really not as extravagant as it looks. The bookstore has a used book section, and now that Henry works at the local library, he keeps it stocked for his friend. He rescues the books that the library removes from the shelves, buying them for 25¢ or 50¢ each.* She insists on paying him, just as she would anyone else she buys used books from. Since Irma, he has collected a lot of store credit, and rather than having her open the register and pay him, he gave it to me as a gift certificate.

And so, on my first day in Key West, we had a shopping spree. Here's my $100 haul. It was a delight to walk through the shelves and say, "Wrap it up! I'll take it!"

Henry used his birthday present/gift certificate from me on a self-help book for his friend, Patrick. A head waiter at a popular restaurant in Maine, Patrick knows he won't make much money at home during these exceptionally snowy months and took a leave of absence. He's staying with Henry and Reg for the winter and working at a Key West restaurant because he is, in his own words, "poor as a church mouse." They'd agreed not to exchange gifts because the whole point of this trip was for Patrick to make money. But, since it was purchased with a gift certificate, Henry didn't think Patrick would mind. (And who doesn't want a gift under the tree?)

*I believe that's what he said he paid. I don't remember exactly (I'm so bad with numbers). I just recall it was a small amount.