Friday, April 10, 2020

Lake City Way

Thursday evening, July 16, 2020

Out of force of habit Special Agent Marchal parked his car a few blocks away from the Russian-themed Khorosho Tavern, located on Northeast Lake City Way. He wasn’t particularly concerned about being seen there, but he knew that routine street surveillance was being conducted in the area and he didn’t want to have to explain why his car license turned up in some obscure crime-watch database. The tavern had weathered the ‘shelter-in-place’ directives of the previous spring by doing take-out and had actually found that, while they couldn’t offer dining, their presence in the community had actually grown from an influx of people looking to break the monotony of their diet. He knew one of the women who ran it well; he was a regular customer.

“Hi, Nadia,” said Agent Marchal going up to the bar after he entered, “What’s good tonight?”

“Ah! It’s all good,” said Nadia, wiping her hands on a dishcloth, “What brings you here? It’s been a while.”

“Long time, no borscht,” said Marchal, “It’s been a strange couple of months. Is my regular booth open?”

“Da, you be wanting the usual?”

“Borscht, of course, and a word with you if you’ve got a minute.”

His favorite seat was in a booth next to a vintage Russian Tetris arcade game. It gave him a good view of the bar and the option of being able to hide in the shadows.

“So. Here’s your borscht, and I’ve got a minute to talk,” said Nadia, as she handed him his soup and sat down in the booth across from him, “You want to talk about the riot, no?”

“Mmm… delicious as always,” said Marchal as he sipped the blood-red broth, “About the riots. What have you heard about them, who was behind it?”

“Ah, what would I know, I’m just a waitress in a greasy spoon,” said Nadia with a smile.

“I came here because some of the protestors are regulars at here,” said Marchal, “We’ve got good footage of them of the riot.”

“You never heard what I’m going to say,” said Nadia, “But there is rumor of a… what do you call it… a ‘cell’ in town, just some trouble-makers that want the police to look bad.”

“Not witch hunters, then?”

“Probably not but who knows? The guys who were actually in the riot just did it for some pocket money—it has been tough four months for everyone. You aren’t going to bust them over a little demonstration are you?”

“I don’t care about it one way or the other, but let’s just say that if any of them step out of line again their next demonstration will be in front of a judge.”

“I’ll pass the word,” said Nadia, standing up to leave, “Thanks for letting me know.”

“You aren’t eating your Tater-Tots?“ said Mary to her daughter Mareka who had left the table and was rummaging through the cupboards.

“Where can I find a little plate?” said Mareka, “I want to give Mister Bright Eyes some of my food. You said he liked Tater-Tots.”

“Let’s have a little discussion about that,” said Sean, “Raccoons can be pests and do a lot of damage.”

“But he’s so cute. He wouldn’t hurt me, would he?” said Mareka.

“Let me ‘talk’ with him first,” said Mary, “I think we can come to an understanding.”

Andrew Stevenson didn’t recognize the sender’s name in his email inbox. It was his private account, not the one for his YouTube sermons, and he wondered where ‘Barbara Merritt’ had gotten the address. He opened it and read:

Dear Reverend, my name is Barbara Merritt, and I am an investigative journalist doing research for a book about Mary Robinson and Sean Carroll, two people that I have evidence of engaging in criminal activities, including conspiracy, fraud and murder. In one of your recent sermons you mentioned Mary Robinson’s internet spell app as “deluding innocents.” I have much more information on Robinson, including photos of
her husband consorting with a known killer (attached.) If it is in your interest, I would like to share this information with you and I would be interested in what information you have gathered as well.


Barbara Merritt

Stevenson smiled. He knew that he didn’t have any real information on the couple, but he thought that Barbara Merritt’s research could be useful to him.

He clicked on ‘reply.’

Agent Marchal finished his meal and left the restaurant, thinking about what Nadia had told him. The existence of a Russian ‘sleeper cell’ in Seattle had been suspected by the FBI for some time, the matter had been referred to Immigration as well as Homeland Security, which was the equivalent of throwing it in a garbage can, he thought. He was about halfway to his car when a large raccoon ran across the sidewalk in front of him, followed by three smaller ones.

“Another group intent on taking over,” he thought, with a smile.

“Sit with me quietly,” said Mary,sitting on the patio with her daughter, who held a plate of Tater-Tots. Sean was inside, cleaning up; Jo had returned to the guest house, “I am going to use a ‘power’ to try to communicate with the raccoon. Don’t speak, but when I nod you can slowly walk down and leave your plate. Open your hands so he can see that you don’t have a weapon. Don’t touch the animal. Don't smile or let him see your teeth, but do look him in the eyes, but just for a few seconds. Then walk back here. Do you understand?”

“Yes, mother.”

“Now, we wait.”

Next chapter: Mareka’s Lessons

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Ghost Town Reykjavík

Valur and his canine co-host Pollý take you on a tour of a nearly deserted downtown Reykjavík while updating the Covid-19 crisis news.

Where are all the people?

Some of them are here:

The trio heading Iceland’s COVID-19 response, Chief of Police Víðir Reynis­son, Surgeon General Alma D. Möller and Head Epidemiologist, Þór­ólfur Guðna­son, has teamed up with several well-known Icelandic musicians to deliver some public health advice in the form of song. The social-distancing anthem, ‘Travel Indoors’, was released on YouTube last night.
Click through for translated lyrics (in comments)

UPDATE: Hannah Jane takes us on a video tour of noted Icelandic tourist spots without all the tourists:

~via Reykjavík Grapevine

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Monday, April 06, 2020

Covid Confinement Companion #1

Kate the Great

This is the first of a series of informative posts on FITK offered with the intent of giving those who are house-bound some intelligent diversions during their period of isolation.

Kate Wagner is a critic/writer who first came to my attention with her acerbic (and hilarious) dissections of dissertations on the hideousness of modern residential housing at her website McMansion Hell. She still posts there from time to time but has also blossomed into a prolific pundit, featured on several forums, where she dissects modern culture in myriad ways. She also has a somewhat chaotic Twitter feed. Like most Twitter accounts, it is full of things that I don’t understand or couldn't care less about but, when she gets on a roll, is fantastic.

Here are links to some of her “greatest hits”:


The Baffler

Architectural Digest

The New Republic

City Lab



The Atlantic

The Nation 

She has also started writing enigmatic short fiction as well.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Friday, April 03, 2020

Returned to Sender

This is Chapter 15 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK. 

Early morning, Thursday, July 16, 2020.

“Help me… help me…“

Sean awoke to the sounds of Mary, his wife, murmuring in her sleep. He gently patted her bottom and she settled down and resumed her regular breathing. Sean had thought her sleeping patterns had been noticeably erratic since they returned from Iowa and the stress of the riot didn’t help any. He got up, put on a robe, and went out to the hall, walking down to the door of Mareka’s room. Sean could hear light snores from his daughter so he continued down the hall and then went into the kitchen for a drink of water. The window over the sink looked out over the back yard with the guest house visible at the rear of the lot.

Jo must be up,” Sean thought; he could see a moving shadow on the shade in her bedroom window. “I’ll give her a text and see if she’s OK.” Stepping outside, Sean noticed that the night air was, if not exactly warm, ‘warmish’ for Seattle. He sat down on one of the patio chairs, took the phone out of his robe’s pocket and messaged Jo.

Saw your lite is everything ok 

Yeah just restless first night new place Y U up

Mary was restless n woke me im ok

Ok nite

Sean put the phone in his pocket and sat quietly, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood. He could hear an occasional vehicle would go by on nearby Roosevelt Way as well as fainter traffic noises emenating from Northgate Way, a few blocks further distant. As he became more attuned to his environment, he began to hear the creek in the west and the sounds of the raccoons scurrying along its dark banks. He could smell the neighbor’s laurel hedge on the south side of the lot and the flinty aroma exuded by the giant rock on the north side. Above him the sky was beginning to lighten. Jo’s bedroom light switched off. Sean got up and went back inside. He felt at home.

Thursday morning, July 16, 2020

Barbara Merritt looked at the people shown in the image files shot by her brother seven years ago. They were unmistakably Sean Carroll with a woman, ‘Jo Sanford’, the woman that Barbara had captured on her phone at the riot and in the Motif hotel lobby.  Evidently, this relationship had been going on a long time. Barbara still didn’t know what it meant, but she knew who to call to get things rolling. She prepared an email to Andrew Stevenson, the television pastor (whose preaching against Mary help instigate the riot) with a brief summation of what she knew and a longer spiel of what she suspected. She attached the image files and hit SEND.

“Good morning, recovered from your nightmare yet?” said Sean to Mary as she walked into the kitchen.

“That was a dilly, the Russians were in it, wearing masks,” she replied, “Thanks for rescuing me. Where’s Mareka?”

“She’s already outside on ‘her rock’ I think she’s going really enjoy having a yard of her own.”

“Have you seen Jo?”

“No, I think she had a bad night, too,” said Sean, “I got up after your dream and saw that her light was on. I texted her to see if she was alright and she said she was OK… that was about 4 a.m.”

“She always seems happy, but I know that some of this stuff bothers her,” said Mary, “This is just as big a change for her as it is for us. What’s on your calendar for today?”

“I've already heard from the shipping company, they’ll be here soon with Emily’s canvases.”

“That’s the end of the exhibitions, right?” said Mary, “Are you going to store the canvases here?”

“Yes, at least for now,“ he said, “I’ll put up some racks and install a climate control system.”

“You aren’t worried about them being stolen?”

“They’d be hard to fence—they are all cataloged and pictured in a best-selling book. The market for modernist fine art is down now, it might be years before they are worth anything. Our security system is good, and the storeroom in the basement is sturdy enough. We’ll put some of the canvases on the walls; it will be nice to have Emily with us again.” Sean took a sip of his coffee. “I think I hear the truck now.”

Sean went out to the front of the house and greeted the movers. Emily’s canvases were in two large wooden crates painted green. After examining the seals, Sean had the men put the crates into the garage where he could deal with them later.

“Hey pops! What’s in the boxes?” said Mareka, who had just walked into the garage.

“Your great-grandmother’s paintings,” said Sean, “We can look at them tomorrow when I unpack them. They have been moving around the country, in museums, since you were little. You can help us pick out some nice ones to put on the walls.”

In the kitchen, Jo had just walked in from the patio.

“Sean told me that you were up late last night,” said Mary, “Is everything OK?”

“I talked with my mom last night, she tested positive for the Covid-19 virus,” said Jo, “She’s really sick.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I just don’t know,“ said Jo, “I want to go to her but I don’t know if they will let me see her.”

“You’d go back to Spokane, with your ex still there?”

“I don’t know… That's a thing… ”

“Yeah… that’s definitely a thing.”

Next Chapter: Lake City Way

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Jono’s Letter from Grand Marais

As the Great White North turns into the brown and white north with the advent of spring we find ourselves staying indoors a bit more than we wish. While the daily temperatures creep above freezing and we are expecting between half an inch of rain or six inches of snow which would normally get us all out to complain to each other about the weather we are pursuing a different course. The Covid-19 virus seems to have us all in adaptation mode. People are out walking even more than usual as we are not used to confinement and, after being indoors for much of the winter, we want out! The good thing is that in a small town where most of the streets are paved we are surrounded by Superior National Forest on land and Lake Superior for those who prefer water.

This is a tourist based economic area and now we would be going into our shoulder season where we wouldn’t be expecting a lot of visitors until about the time of the Fishing Opener which is often considered a high holiday in these parts. That is the 9th of May this year. Things really get rolling about June, though, as kids get out of school for the year. This year is different. The little buggers are home now for their spring break, but they started couple of days early and will not be going back this year by the looks of it. The teachers are working on lesson plans for the kids to do at home in order to make headway in achieving the knowledge they are expected to have by the end of the school year.

The biggest down side is that many folks are without an income at the moment. Thank goodness for unemployment insurance, but many up here are small and/or independent businesses who only get paid when they work and aren’t covered. Many people are about one paycheck from financial disaster. In this county we are at least 25% aged 65 and older and many of us in that age group still work. Fortunately for me, I am in an “essential” business so I still can. It is normally a quiet time of year for us in the building supply business, but things are still going on. We are small businesses (only 7 where I work) and many of our builders work alone or with one or two other people. It is easy to keep our distance from each other. For introverts like me this isn’t too much of a lifestyle change. I think what gets to people is the uncertainty. If this goes on for more than a couple of months it could get really painful.

One of the bright spots in this for our little community is that we seem to have more people that want to do something to help out their fellow residents. The grocery stores have needed help in order to get food out to all their customers, but also need to stay safe and keep personnel safe in what is now referred to as “social distancing.” Volunteers are pushing shopping carts around in the stores gathering orders that have been phoned or emailed into the stores and greeters are outside dropping off grocery bags to the waiting vehicles (or bikes or pedestrians) when they arrive to pick up their food. Amazingly, the system is starting to smooth out and folks seem to be getting the hang of it. I have even started volunteering a couple of times a week to grocery shop for people. From what I see on the signup sheets there are enough folks to do what needs to be done. 

While there is very little vehicular traffic rolling around and the town has its moments of apparent desertion, you can detect the energy of things going on in homes and between friends and neighbors. Gasoline is down to $1.99 per gallon, but no one is buying it as there is nowhere to go. I was going to take a few days and go south to visit some friends, but will put that off until I know everyone is safe and healthy and this plague has gone by. They have closed the Canadian border so there is much less traffic crossing that. Just commercial traffic seems to still be moving to and from our northern neighbors.
In Iceland they have a phrase that is used often enough to be considered a national motto of sorts. “Þetta reddast”. It means something to the effect of it’ll all work out okay. In time everything seems to do just that.

“Jono” is a resident of Grand Marais, Minnesota (and a long-time follower of FITK); I have met him on a couple of occasions. I asked him to write to me, telling of the situation there. Grand Marais, at the beginning of the Gunflint Trail, is almost like a home-away-from-home for me—our family has been using it as a base of operations for summer excursions ever since the kids were little. We have rented a place near there for a weekend in July, but it is too soon to know how that will play out.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Monday, March 30, 2020

Hard Times in Ultima Thule

With favoring winds, o'er sunlit seas,
We sailed for the Hesperides,
The land where golden apples grow;
But that, ah! that was long ago.

How far, since then, the ocean streams
Have swept us from that land of dreams,
That land of fiction and of truth,
The lost Atlantis of our youth!

Whither, ah, whither? Are not these
The tempest-haunted Orcades,
Where sea-gulls scream, and breakers roar,
And wreck and sea-weed line the shore?

Ultima Thule! Utmost Isle!
Here in thy harbors for a while
We lower our sails; a while we rest
From the unending, endless quest.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, excerpt from Ultima Thule, 1880

Sixteen years ago, when I was researching Icelandic blogs for an upcoming trip to Iceland, I ‘discovered’ Auður Ösp; I’ve been following her ‘quest’ ever since. Her example was the prime inspiration for the starting of Flippism is the Key. We met in real life in 2006 and this year I had a ticket to return, intending to meet up with her again. You may have heard of something that happened that prevents that scenario from occurring. While my personal story (compared the billions of others in the world) isn’t that important I find hers to be compelling.

For me, Auður’s greatest appeal was always her writing. An effective and personable communicator—her latest post is about how the pandemic is affecting her and is no exception to that rule. Auður (and her partner Hrannar) run the I Heart Reykjavík website, offering tours, links and a wealth of information about all things Icelandic. I have mentioned it many times during last ten years as I watched it grow into the preeminent resource for tourists visiting the island. She has been the face of Iceland to the thousands of people who have taken her tour or otherwise used her services. More than that, she “pays it forward” with contributions to worthy causes, including raising money by holding dinners in her home.

Now, the Covid-19 crisis has caused her business to collapse. Completely. She is stoic about it—Icelanders have faced hardships many times before—but this is a crisis of an entirely different magnitude. If it goes on as long as experts predict it will be a catastrophe, not just for her, but for all of Iceland.

Read the post.

Notice the donation button.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Mister Bright Eyes

This is Chapter 14 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK. 

Wednesday afternoon, July 15, 2020

“No, I don’t see any Tater-Tots,” said Mary Robinson to her daughter Mareka, “Some things just sell out from time to time, but it isn’t as bad now as it was last spring.”

“Can we make them ourselves?” said Mareka. They were shopping for groceries for their first dinner in their new house.

“I don’t think so, but we can make hash browns, which are sort of like Tater-Tots. We’ve got potatoes and onions, and some oil and salt and pepper, that’s all we need.”

“I’ll do my best with what I have,” said Sean.

His mind wasn’t on dinner, however. The initial flurry of interest in his grandmother’s paintings had faded over the last six years—the last traveling exhibit of Emily’s work in Philadelphia had closed the previous winter—but its return shipment had been suspended when the museum had shut down due to Covid-19 virus. They had finally been shipped and were due to arrive tomorrow. Sean had been thinking about how he would store the canvases. Their new house had a large storeroom in the basement, not as secure as a dedicated vault, but there had been enough bankruptcies in the art world over the spring and summer to make Sean leery of using a commercial gallery storage facility.

After paying for their groceries, Sean and Mary and Mareka loaded the car and returned to their new house. Jo was in the kitchen where she was emptying the dishwasher.

“That was the last load, everything in the kitchen has been washed. I put some of my things in the fridge, the one in the cottage wasn’t working. I’ll make supper tonight,” said Jo with a wink, “if you don’t mind being surprised.”

“Thanks, Jo,” said Mary, “What shape is the rest of the cottage in?”

“It’s good,” Jo said, “It is very masculine, however. But it will be nice to be able to look out my window and see some vegetation for a change.”

“I’ll take a look at that fridge,” said Sean, “Want to join me, Mareka?”

“Okay, pops!”

After Sean and Mareka left, Mary began laughing, “Where does she pick up that language?”

“I think we might have watched one too many Andy Hardy movies on the movie channel during the ‘shelter in place’ last spring,” said Jo, “I’m ready to spend some quality time in the garden.”

“Do you have have something planned for the yard?” asked Mary, “That might be a good thing for Mareka to get involved in, she’s crazy about that rock.”

“I’d like some color… perennials… if I get them started now they will be nice next spring,” said Jo, “The Center for Urban Horticulture is having a ‘plant event’ next week.”

“Is Jo going to live here forever?” asked Mareka, who was with her father in the kitchen of the guesthouse.

“That’s up to Jo,” said Sean as he began inching out the refrigerator from the wall in the guest house, “She’s going to be working for other people more, she is doing consulting for other small businesses, helping other people the way she has helped your mother and me. She will live here as long as she wants, so you will still see her. It’s nice that she cooks once in a while, it’s a welcome change from my cooking, I think. Aha! I think I see the problem with the fridge.” The duplex outlet that the refrigerator was plugged into had evidence of arcing. When Sean switched the plug to the other socket the appliance hummed to life. “That was an easy fix. I’ll get a new socket and plug tomorrow and make it like new.”

“You can fix anything, pops.

“Almost anything, kiddo.”

Special Agent Marchal read the executive order he had received from the director of the FBI:
Cease and desist all investigations into the so-called Seattle riot of Saturday, 11 July, 2020. No agency resources are to be spent on what is a matter for the local police. Forward all evidence and paperwork previously gathered to the National Headquarters in Washington D.C..

Fredrick Armann, adjunct to the director.
Marchal’s notion that the agitators had not been local was confirmed by the letter. If the agency was no longer on the case the matter would quickly fade away, but he knew that the matter was far from over. He also knew where he could find some answers, even if he had to do it on his own.

He had a sudden urge for Russian food.

Wednesday evening, July 15, 2020

Sean, Mary, Jo and Mareka sat down to dinner.

“Tonight’s menu features Chicken Alfredo Baked Ziti, Parmesan broccoli and, especially for Mareka, a pan of patata bambino piccolo,“ said Jo as she lifted the lid of a serving platter with a flourish.

“Tater-Tots!” said Mareka, “Thank you! How did you know that is what I wanted?”

“A good chef never reveals her secrets,” said Jo.

After they had finished, Jo said, “How about dessert on the patio?”

“Another surprise?” said Sean.

“Everybody out!” said Jo, “I’ll bring it to you.”

Outside, the sky was turning toward dusk. A river of crows passed overhead, going to their night roost. The patio faced the back of the lot, looking directly to where it sloped down past the guest house. The burble of Thorton Creek could be heard once the last of the crows had flown by. Jo slid the patio door open and brought out a tray with four dishes on it.

“Genuine cioccolato all’arancia!” said Jo.

“Genuine what?” said Mary.

“Gelato,” said Jo, “From Little Lago. Chocolate with orange.”

They ate their dessert in silence.

Finally, Mareka spoke up: “That was the best meal ever!”

“It was wonderful, Jo,” said Sean, “Although I noticed that you hardly touched your Tater-Tots.”

Everybody but Mareka laughed.

“What’s so funny about Tater-Tots?” said the child.

“I think we’re not alone,” said Mary, “Down by the creek, look.”

A surprisingly large raccoon had wandered up from the shadows in the underbrush near the creek.  Eyes shining, it carefully checked out the group on the patio.

“Bright eyes!” said Mareka, “I’m going to call him Mister Bright Eyes.”

“Welcome” said Mary, “But don’t expect a handout, Mister. Bright. Eyes.”

“What does he like to eat?” asked Mareka.

“Everything, but he especially likes Tater-Tots.”

Next chapter: Return to Sender

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2