22 July 2012

Happy New Year! Now go to bed.

When my kids were 5 or 6, they wanted to stay up until midnight on New Year's Eve.  But we'd seen them before when they'd been up long past bedtime. No thanks. 

So rather than crushing their New Year experience I started bumping the clocks ahead a half hour at a time on New Year's Eve.

The clock said it was after 11 when I pointed out how close we were. At 10 seconds 'til "midnight," we started the countdown . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

Yay, Happy New Year!, we'd shout and whoop. Little hats and horns, confetti, poppers, a toast with sparkling apple juice! Yay! Yay! We stayed up 'til New Year's! 

Each year, they'd start early reminding us that they had stayed up the last year. Yes, yes, you can do that again this year. In a few years, of course, they could not be so easily fooled so we started letting them stay up for the real midnight. Finally, when they were about 11 or 12, I told them our trick.

They were far more incredulous than I thought they'd be. (They underestimate me.) They might have been a little miffed, too. You know kids. . . .

Not really tapu's kids,
but their expressions serve.

10 July 2012

Turns out, April really IS the cruelest month.

Adolph Hitler as a baby.
I can't remember when I first learned that I shared Adolf Hitler's birthday. My birthday always seemed so special to me because . . . well, because it was in April and it had a 20 in it. I thought that was a pretty nifty month and number.

But yes, as I found out, my birthday was Hitler's birthday. That tarnished it for me.

As I went through life, it would sometimes come up. I was always a little wary of the person who, upon learning that my birthday was April 20, said, "Isn't that Hitler's birthday, too?" Um, yes, yes it is . . . Person Who Knows Hitler's Birthday.

Fidel Castro at the time
of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
When I was in elementary school, my dad told me one day that April 20, 1961, was the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Oh, okay, Dad. I didn't really know what that was, but it had failure, pigs, and invasion in it. Didn't sound good. . . .

Kennedy and Eisenhower
as the invasion fell apart.

Waiting them out was taking too long?

In 1993, the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, TX, was destroyed over April 19–20. When the ashes settled, 83 Branch Davidians (including 20 children) and four ATF agents were dead.

People were outraged that the government had let it get so out of control that none of these people could be rescued. It was seen as an ill-advised and brutal raid on our own citizens.

That event triggered an unprecedented build-up of anti-government militia movements in the U.S.

For my birthday in 1995, I met some friends at a movie. Someone walked up and said, "There was a bombing in Oklahoma City. They blew up a federal building—at least a hundred people are dead!"

That became 163 people—19 of them under the age of six—and the largest mass terrorist killing in the U.S. before September 11.

The person directly responsible was borne of the post-Waco militia movement. He explicitly connected his heinous act to the anniversary of the siege at Waco. The concept of the "domestic terrorist" came into the zeitgeist.

In 1999, I had a baby boy on March 11. So in April, on my 40th birthday, I was lovingly breastfeeding my one-month-old. I turned on the TV—and saw the shootings at Columbine going down. Children, really, shooting other children. I rocked the baby in front of the television all day long, and wept.

It was suggested later that the shooters had chosen the date because it was Hitler's birthday.

We watched this unfold in real-time. My god, my god.

By this point, I had gotten the drift. I'm not superstitious, but for practical reasons I stopped checking the news until after I'd celebrated my birthday. There was a lull during that time anyway, although several bombing and other terroristic plots were foiled on the date. But who recalls those?

In 2010, I mentioned to a friend that nothing terrible had happened on my birthday, and she pointed out that on April 20 of that year, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. It was the second-worst environmental disaster in history, after the Dust Bowl.

Now, I don't mean to imply—nor do I believe—that there is meaning in my birthday being the date of these disastrous events. That would be a bit solipsistic.

It's all a little strange, though. I still put headline news on hold every April 20. Even though, again, I'm not in the least superstitious.

Rabbits, rabbits.

03 July 2012

I walked right out of a movie once.

It was over . . .  <ba dump bump>

I really did walk out of Looking for Mr. Goodbar. In—what?—'78. And sure, it was over. But I made a good show of how displeased I was. That movie was anti-women and anti-gay. Diane Keaton, how could you??


02 July 2012

Overheard on the Golden Gate Bridge

MAMA:  Do you think you're going to want kids someday?

ASA:  Yeah, but I don't want to have sex!

The Pottses—Murder in the Hills

Part 3

(parts 1 and 2 appear below)

July 1987. Interlude.

My mother calls me to talk about this and that. At some point, we get onto Mrs. Potts: You know, honey, something just don't seem right down there. She's at that house just going about like nothing ever happened. She rides around the yard on that old mower like she don't have a care in the world. And she's there all alone in that house at night. Now wouldn't you be scared after what happened?

Hmm. Well, Mary Belle always was up for a good story and—I don't know—how are you supposed to act if your husband was murdered and now you were alone in the house? Back there, people aren't too keen on jumping up and leaving a house they've lived in their whole lives, no matter what. It doesn't much occur to them.

* * *

October 1988. A year and eight months after Mr. Potts' murder.

Mary Belle calls. More news about the Pottses, she says. Last night, somebody came in the house again and killed Mrs. Potts this time!

Skin crawl.

Yeah, they chased her all over the house, stabbing her, and then they stuck a screwdriver right through her temple while she lay dying on the bedroom floor.

I learned later that there was a crucifix sticking halfway out of her chest. Who stabs an old woman with a screwdriver and a crucifix??

* * *

After that, there was gossip about Patty Potts and one or the other boyfriend and drugs. For a while, Patty was living there. That didn't sit right with a lot of people.

Some of the villagers suggested that bad men from Cleveland had come down I-77 and found the place the first time by accident, and then came back to "silence" Mrs. Potts. I think those bad men would have more pressing things to do, right there close to Cleveland.

Once when I told a friend about all this, as I finished she said, I think your mom did it. 

Good grief.

But here the story stretches into the distance, seemingly without end. There haven't been any leads in the case since. People stopped talking about it long ago. What do you think?

01 July 2012

The Pottses—Murder in the Hills

Part 2

February 1987. 

My mother calls with news about the Pottses. Did one of them pass away? I ask.
Sure did, says Mary Belle. Mr. Potts had been stabbed to death at 1:30 in the afternoon the day before, when he opened the door to . . . someone. They stabbed Mrs. Potts, too. She was in the hospital in "guarded condition" but she'd be okay.
My god.
Mr. and Mrs. Potts were in their late 70s at the time. It had been ten years since they'd opened the door to me the night I wrecked my Chevy.

* * *
There was some sketchy information, sources unclear; things never did seem to get any clearer either. Police described the attacker as a young white male. (Not much help. There are a lot of those in Appalachia. And saying "white" is unnecessary—nearly everyone is white. With a little Delaware or Cherokee in them.) 

Mrs. Potts had been lying on the couch when she heard a scuffle. She ran out front to see her husband being stabbed over and over on the porch. That's when they entered and stabbed her. Mrs. Potts didn't know how she had gotten clear back into the kitchen, but she called the closest neighbor (two miles away), saying, I need help. Hurry, come down! He's stabbing both of us!
It was reported a brown sedan had been seen in the driveway around noon. Mrs. Potts reported the attacker wanted money. No one knew why he had up and left with one dead, one alive, and no money. 

* * *

Eventually, people got to wondering. . . . Why would the guy leave off Mrs. Potts when she was alive and running for the phone? Why would he not have searched for money?

Where would this young male have come from? You had to drive miles off I-77 to get on that road. No one from outside went down it randomly. And if he did, why would he pick such a poor little home to go into for money? With a knife he was so willing and ready to use? Mr. Potts, at 79, wouldn't have given much of a fight. . . .

My mom told me that some people were saying Patty Potts was involved. Mrs. Potts' sister had had a baby when she was in her teens. A young Mr. and Mrs. Potts adopted Patty but in her teens she turned into a real piece of work. People said the Pottses were afraid of Patty. That she hated them. Patty was an adult now, living in Zanesville, and rumored to be into drugs and bad boyfriends—bad white males.

Time passed: one year and then getting onto another before there were new developments. . . . Astonishing new developments.

Part 3 (of 3)
. . . to come soon . . .

The Pottses—Murder in the Hills

Part 1

When I was 17–18 and still back in Upper Appalachia where I was born, I was driving home very late in the evening. We lived out this long, lonely country road. There was a fork in it; either direction would take me home. The left road went up over the mountain and was the quickest route to my house, but it was steep and covered in slag and we didn't usually drive it in bad weather. The right fork was level, safer to drive all around, but stretching out a long way before coming around to my house from the bottom.

At the very last moment, I decided to take the right fork instead of the left. It had started to snow.

* * *

I'd miscalculated the time and distance needed to make the switch and my car spun around and fell onto the driver's side into a deep ditch. I remember the radio still playing, the car not running but just . . . ticking. It was spooky.

Then I smelled gas. I can't remember how I got out, but it was fast. It took a moment for me to get my bearings, but then I headed down the road to the only house out there for a couple of miles in any direction.

Of course I'd passed this house a thousand times in my life. My dad and mom often referred to it as the Pottses' house when we talked about which fork and relative distances. The only other building in view in reasonable walking distance was a church up on the curve going into the fork. It was dark this late at night.

I walked the 1/4 mile to the house. The door opened up the second I knocked. An elderly man and woman stood there, lights blazing behind them. The Pottses.

* * *

They gazed at me in astonishment. I had blood running down the side of my mouth, and I must've looked pretty wild. But without hesitation, they brought me inside, cleaned me up, and called my dad, whom they knew. (Of course. Everyone knew my dad.) When Tice got there, he jollied up the Pottses a bit and then he and I went home.

Afterwards, I would think about the Pottses and their isolated little farmhouse whenever I rued the demise of my Chevy. . . .

Part 2
. . . to come soon . . .