Thursday, April 30, 2020

My Own Private Iceland #3

This is the third in a series of posts imagining what my scheduled trip to Iceland would have been like…

Today is the day I go on a tour of the countryside with fellow attendees of the Writers Retreat. I’ve seen most of this before, but it is always fun to exchange impressions, especially with first-timers. Even the junky boats are somehow “Icelandic” in character.

Roads in the U.S. tend to be lines, especially in the Midwest and West, roads in Iceland tend toward being circles: the Ring road, Snæfellsness, The Golden Circle, Hvalfjörður (tunnel video below.)

Ísland island geography. No matter how far you go, there you are. Of course the biggest ring is the earth itself: no exit, despite what the wall-builders would have you believe.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

My Own Private Iceland #2

This is the second in a series of posts imagining what my scheduled trip to Iceland would have been like…

Natural wonders and architectural masterpieces are all well and good, but how can they possibly compete with consumer culture? Drekkin is one of the few remaining small grocery stores in the city. It is a work of pop art. Abandon all restraint, ye who enter here. Anyone for a Coke™? My cola of choice is Pepsi Max, only indulged in when night-clubbing.

The seminars started today, bright and early. The last class I ever took was at a community college 40 years ago. I dropped out. These meetings are more personal; the authors are lively; the other attendees are alert and aware; what’s not to like? I’m not going to become a better writer but I might feel better about the writing I do.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

My Own Private Iceland #1

This is the first in a series of digressive posts imagining what my scheduled trip to Iceland would have been like…


For me it is a novelty to arrive in Keflavík, Iceland’s international airport, in the daylight. I have never been here after the vernal equinox, nor before that of the autumnal. After the whirlwind of deplaning, passport control, and duty-free, my flight-fog begins to lift. I settle into the Flybus for the 50 minute trip to the BSÍ terminal in central Reykjavík. Heading east on Highway 41, I slip into a reverie about the first time I came here:
It was the year 2000, an infinitely simpler time—we even had paper tickets for the flight—and 9/11 was just another date on the calendar. The most notable recent date had been January first, the much-feared Y2K. The world managed to survive, and when I saw an offer for a “mid-week madness” trip to Reykjavík in The New Yorker, an offer that coincided with The Weaver’s spring break from her job. That was the start of my infatuation and even before the trip was over I knew that I would be coming back.

When the Flybus reaches the BSÍ terminal, I get off and make the short trek skirting Vatnsmyrin, the restored swamp next to Norræna Husðid, to The Raddison Blu Saga Hotel, the hosting venue for the Iceland Writers Retreat. My lungs take in the sub-arctic air, 7° Celsius; dizzying in its freshness. It’s a heat wave. Dropping off my bags at the hotel, I then go west to Vesturbæjarlaug, the neighborhood pool. Walking through the residential district—the morning stirrings of its inhabitants around me made me feel as if I had lived here my entire life. On the corner of Melhagi and Hofsvallagata is the Kaffehuís Vesturbæjar; the scent of fresh baked pastries is too powerful to resist. 

I belong here.

To be continued…

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Waiting to Board

Time spent in airports is a form of purgatory.

A purification ritual; waiting for Godot; lost time is not found again.

I have undergone this routine seven times before going to Iceland.

Today was to have been the eighth—on the way to a writers retreat—a new chapter in my Icelandic Saga.

Tomorrow FITK will “land” in Iceland, a chronicle of an imaginary trip instead of the real one which would be happening now if there had been no Covid-19 pandemic.

To be continued…

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Jo’s Choice

This is Chapter 18 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Friday Morning, July 17, 2020, Seattle
… the same dream again… running in the rain in night-time Reykjavík… knowing that when he stopped he would be killed…  the idea of dying started to be a viable option… he was so tired of running… always only a step ahead of his pursuers… he made up his mind to stop running and face the inevitable… he turned and saw a car heading toward him at great speed-almost on top of him…

The slam of a car door woke Sean from his uneasy slumber. It was followed by the sound of an engine coming to life and then the crunchy noise of tires on gravel. He rolled over and noted the time: 5 a.m.. Beside him, Mary was still asleep. He got up and went to check on Mareka. She was in her bed, sleeping peacefully. He went into the kitchen and picked up his phone. There was a notification from Jo:

Hi all im gone to spokane to see mom.
I know risky but could never forgive myself if she died alone.
Will call tonite and let u know whats up.

After Sean made coffee he poured a cup and took it out to the patio. The sky was getting bright with the imminent arrival of dawn and the crows were in their full rush hour mode. Coming from the North Creek Wetlands in Bothell, they weren’t in a focused stream like the evening commute, but the sight was still impressive. Occasionally small groups would peel off the mass and drift down into the neighborhood. One corvid landed on the large boulder in the yard, boldly eyeing Sean.

“Craak, Craak,” said the crow.

“Craak, Craak,” replied Mareka, who had just come out of the kitchen.

The crow on the boulder flew over to the patio railing.

“Craak, Craak,” repeated the crow, “Craw, craak, caw.”

“Craw, Craak, caw, craw,” replied Mareka.

“What are you two talking about?” said Sean.

“Greet dawn, embrace life,” said Mareka, “It’s the crows’ morning greeting.”

"You had a good dream lesson, I see,” said Mary, who joined them on the patio, “and you have found a new friend.”

Their meeting with the crow ended abruptly when the bird took flight.

“He was a scout, ” said Mary, “He’ll spread the word about us, that there are two humans living here who can talk ‘crow.’ That may come in handy someday, for us, and for him.” 

Traveling east on I-90, Jo had just passed Issaquah on her way to Spokane. She left early in the hope of avoiding a travel checkpoint. Although she had a legitimate travel excuse one never knew how the travel restrictions would be enforced when going from one part of the state to the other. She set the cruise control for the speed limit +1, timing it so she would arrive at her mother Janet’s house at about 9 a.m..

It had always been hard for Jo to connect with her mother. When everything is grand drama, nothing is. Now, however, Jo had sensed an urgency—something in her mother’s voice—that gave her the impression that this time Janet’s suffering was real. Years of smoking had given her mother a raspy voice—‘the bronchitis’—was what she always said. But when Jo had talked to her the previous day the rasp had become a wheeze. Her mother had also told Jo that with so many older people dead from the Covid-19 for her it was only a matter of ‘when, not if.’

“Where’s Jo today?” asked Mareka as she at the kitchen table with her parents, eating breakfast.

“I got a text from Jo, her mother is very sick so she went to see her,” said Sean, “Toast for you, Kiddo?”

“Mmm, yeah, I’m hungry,” said Mareka, “When will she be back?”

“That’s something we can’t say for sure, ” said Mary, “Probably next week sometime. This isn’t the kind of thing that you can say for sure.”

“Is Jo’s mom going to die?” said Mareka.

“She might. She is very sick,” said Mary, “Jo thinks it’s Covid-19, there are still people dying from it. Not as many as there were last spring, but there are still some.”

Jo drove up to a small frame house situated on the south side of Spokane. Her mother had lived there alone since Jo’s father had died ten years earlier. It seemed so small to Jo now but when she was a young child it was her whole world. When she was living with her abusive ex-boyfriend, it was her refuge. Then came the rainy night eight years ago when her mother, terrified of Jo’s boyfriend, turned Jo out. Jo had walked the couple of blocks to US 195 and put out her thumb and was, by chance, picked up by Mary and Sean. She hadn’t been home since. Jo still had her house key, though, and she let herself in.

“Mother… ?” said Jo, “I’m home.”

Next chapter: Art School

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Covid Confinement Companion #6

This is the sixth and final post in a series on FITK offered with the intent of giving those who are house-bound some intelligent diversions during their period of isolation.

Feeling Good

For today’s companion I’m posting some videos that made me smile and/or laugh.

Please don’t hold the Jerry Lewis interview against me.

Special bonus vid

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Covid Confinement Companion #5

Páll Óskar

This is the fifth in 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.

This one might be a bit of a stretch for many: a performer who is nearly unknown in the United States, who usually sings in Icelandic, whose biggest hits have been in disco/EDM/techno styles, who is an outspoken advocate of human rights, and who is flamboyantly and unapologetically gay.

Are you still with me? Good.

I’ve mentioned him here on FITK, seen him in person (twice!) and even had an email from him once concerning a post I wrote for I Heart Reykjavík! Here are some various videos that feature this wonderful human being:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Covid Confinement Companion #4

Five Star Reviews

This is the fourth in 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.

More musical musings, this time on female performers, each of whom have made a difference in my life. I thought it would be an interesting idea to showcase one from each decade of my existence, but I found that the 1980s were problematic (i.e., Pat Benatar, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Madonna—fine artists all but not in the same category as the rest, IMHO.) Here’s my list, with the some added comments and an essential album for each:

The 1950s saw the emerging of my musical consciousness as well as certain stirrings that were not yet defined. Julie London definitely stirred that pot. In 1956 she had a hit with the ultimate breakup/putdown song Cry Me A River, which remains the definitive version. She wasn’t a songwriter but she was a great musician, accepted as an equal by the best jazz players of the day. Around Midnight, one of her best albums, is a collection of forlorn jazz standards that features sensitive interpretations of the best songwriters of the day. The track In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning is a great example of her intimate style.

Dusty Springfield was actually a precursor to the British Invasion of 1964 with hits with her brother in the folk group The Springfields. Dusty then became a star in her own right and was a true icon in England where she hosted her own variety show. By 1967, however, this bombastic style of orchestrated pop had fallen out of favor so she moved on to a more R&B approach with her later recordings.  
Where Am I Going is her last hurrah in the old-school style, with first-rate orchestrations of well-crafted songs. Her impeccable singing style reached its climax on the album’s title tune Where Am I Going.

Obviously, Joni Mitchell has to be on this list. Her 1971 album Blue is the standard by which all deeply personal songs are measured.

There is nothing meaningful I can add to the praise this album has received so I’ll link to some other voices:
An interview with David Bazan, Seattle singer-songwriter sharing his reactions to hearing Blue for the first time, Nathan Rabin gets Blue, and Christopher Y’s Colour of Melancholy essay. If you need any further proof of Joni’s brilliance in Blue, here is Prince’s cover of River.

If the 80s were a bust, the 90s were a boom time for female artists and none made as a defiant and shattering debut as Liz Phair in her 1993 Exile in Guyville album. Liz examines gender power games with an unflinching gaze. This is hard-edged music, crude at times, but effective. You can’t sit back and have an “easy listen”, you have to work to get it. Here is an excellent extended interview with her that gives good look at the way she deals with the darker side of fame. Take a look at a great 2010 live version of Flower, performed with an audience member. Fiona Apple is carrying the torch that Liz lit.

Björk recorded her first album in the seventies (as a child) and became famous in the 1990s with the Sugarcubes and her own career. In the 2001 album Vespertine, Björk turned inward with an album that was just as introspective as Joni’s Blue. If Liz Phair is somewhat difficult, Björk is exponentially more so. Written in the emotional rush of a new love affair, this album is a defining point in her career,  a apex beyond which her music became really weird.

I have followed her career since then and she hasn’t made as a coherent album since. These songs are on YouTube, some are NSFW.

JFDR, as the youngest of these women—still at the beginning of her career—already has a long discography with many different musicians. She got her start with twee folk-songs in Pascal Pinon, then made poetic electronica with Samaris. Her later releases are more on the art-song side with her new solo album New Dreams the most experimental yet. She certainly has enough exceptional songs for a greatest hits album but her muse is fickle—she wants to do it all—and her output is not always consistent.  When I finally do get her latest release (still in Amazon’s Covid-19 quarantine) I’ll post an update. An artist to watch.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Mareka’s Lesson

This is Chapter 17 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Thursday Evening, July 16, 2020, Seattle

Mareka and Mary were talking in the kitchen.

“What did you learn tonight?” asked Mary, as she washed the plate that Mareka had used to feed ‘Mr. Bright Eyes’, the raccoon who lived in the creek beyond the back yard.

“I could hear him, in my thoughts, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.”

“I could too, it wasn’t language like we use, but it can be understood if you have the proper training.”

“How can I learn it?” said Mareka, “It just sounded like a bunch of jibber-jabber. What did he say?”

“Animals minds work quickly, faster than humans can understand. With your powers and some practice, you’ll be able to understand,” said Mary, “They have lives of their own, far removed from humans. And, by the way, Mr. Bright Eyes is actually a she. She thanked us for the food. I told her, through my thoughts, that we will not harm her, that the food is an offering to show that we respect her and her territory. We will leave her and her children alone. She will respect us and leave us alone as well. I also told her not to expect any more food.”

“Mr. Bright eyes is a she?” said Mareka, “She has a family?”

“Oh yes, and there are other raccoons in the neighborhood as well. I get a sense of them being all around us.”

“Will they hurt us?”

“No, not as long as we leave them be. They like to stay hidden, but they will defend themselves if they feel threatened,” Mary said, putting the plate away, “Okay, it’s time to get ready for bed.”

“I want to know more,” said Mareka, “I want to talk with the animals.”

“When you sleep tonight, dream about what you experienced tonight. The secret language of the animals will come to you, slowly at first, but then very fast. You better get started and and go to bed and get to sleep.”

The chime of a notification from her email inbox interrupted Barbara Merrit from her work on her exposé of Mary Robinson and Sean Carroll. She had been anticipating a reply from the preacher Andrew Stevenson from a previous email but the header in the inbox was from someone she didn’t know:
Marcel DuPage     Re: Sean Carroll

Hello! I recently learned of your research on Sean Carroll and Mary Robinson from an associate. Seven years ago they attended one of my ballroom dance events. At the time I didn’t know who they were but I remembered them well when I saw Sean on television in regards to the artwork of Emily Carroll, his ‘grandmother.’ I have some information about them that I think you might find interesting. Let me know if you are interested. You can come to my office or we can meet in a neutral location of your choice.
The mention of Sean’s grandmother piqued Merrit’s interest. She was well aware of Emily Carroll, the buzz that had been made over her ‘rediscovery’ was one of the things that Merrit had thought ‘fishy’ about Sean and Mary in the first place. She had assumed that Emily Carroll was ancient history. Barbara was intrigued. She hit ‘reply’ and began to type.

“What were you and Mareka talking about?” said Sean, slipping under the sheets beside Mary, “I’ve never seen her so eager to go to bed.”

“She was excited about our encounter with the raccoon,” said Mary, “She definitely picked up on what ‘Ms Bright-Eyes’ was thinking, although it didn’t make any sense to her—she thought it was ‘jibber-jabber’—where does she pick up such arcane words?”

“She has also started calling me ‘Pops’! Jo thinks she gets it from all the old movies they watched during the confinement last spring,” said Sean, “Ms Bright-Eyes?”

He is definitely a she. I told Mareka that she could learn how to understand the language of the animals as she dreamt of them. It worked for me; remember how much I would sleep when I first became aware of my powers?”

Sean smiled. Some of his most cherished memories were of watching Mary sleep in those early days of their relationship, how she would crave his body as she slept, moving closer and closer until she almost pushed him off the bed. And then, as her belly grew along with her powers, she blossomed into a virtual archetype of the mother-goddess.

“I remember it well,” he said, “Outside of being stabbed… and the FBI strong-arm tactics with Molly… and the Brotherhood… Russian assassins… it was a good time.”

“I miss Emily,” said Mary, “Her only wish was to live to see her granddaughter.”

“I think there is a lot of her in Mareka,” said Sean.

“What are we going to do with her? She’s growing up so fast.”

"Well, tomorrow she’s going to help me sort through Emily’s paintings,” said Sean, “I’ll show her what we’ve got—I’m really interested in seeing what she likes.”

“Show me what you’ve got, lover,” purred Mary, “And I’ll show you what I like.”

Next chapter: Jo’s Choice

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Covid Confinement Companion #3


Sheila O’Malley

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

The role of a media critic in the internet age is drastically different than it was twenty-five years ago. Shelia O’Malley’s The Sheila Variations website is a stellar example of how to successfully adapt critical writing to the internet age. Her seemingly inexhaustible coverage of performing arts, literary arts, and pop culture is presented there in an extremely accessible form with sidebar links to: recent posts, categories, a writing archive, a viewing diary, actors, movies, as well as a search box and a chronological timeline going all the way back to 2002! Sheila’s acting background gives her reviews an added depth; her articles on actors and acting go far beyond the usual puff-pieces one sees on commercial sites. Her listening diaries are a multi-genre road trip across the American musical landscape.

Variations recycles a lot of its material (especially on the birth anniversaries of her cultural heroes), but that fact doesn’t diminish its effectiveness in the slightest. Updated almost daily, it is a great way to broaden your awareness; if you do miss a day there is a good chance you can catch it again next year, especially with the longer pieces. The site doesn’t have a whole lot of personal posts, but those it does have are often profound.

A good example of her literary biography is this piece about F. Scott Fitzgerald (with a guest appearance by yours truly in the comments.)

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Covid Confinement Companion #2

This is the second 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.

The Weight

Last year Playing for Change issued its version of Robbie Robertson’s seminal song, performed by soulful musicians from around the world united via some beautifully choreographed video editing. Here is that video, along with some insightful supplementary material as well as The Band’s Last Waltz version, followed by a live recording I made of The Explodo Boys, a group I worked with over forty years ago:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Lake City Way

This is Chapter 16 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Thursday evening, July 16, 2020, Seattle

Out of force of habit Special Agent Marchal parked his car a few blocks away from the Russian-themed Khorosho Tavern that was 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’s license plate had turned up in some obtuse 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 and 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 when 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 as well as 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, handing him his soup and sitting 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 those riots… what have you heard about them, who was behind it?”

“Ah, what would I know, I’m just a waitress in a greazy 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, okay?” said Nadia, nervously, “There is rumor of a… what do you call it… a ‘cell’ in town, just some trouble-makers that want to make 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 five months for everyone. You aren’t going to bust them over a little parade 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, Kiddo,” 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 Merrit’ had gotten the address. He opened it and read:

Dear Reverend, my name is Barbara Merrit, 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 Merrit

Stevenson smiled. He knew that he didn’t have any real information on the couple, but he thought that Barbara Merrit’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 to Homeland Security, which he thought was the equivalent of throwing it in a garbage can. 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, 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 only for a second. Then walk back here. Do you understand?”

“Yes, mother.”

“Now, we wait.”

Next chapter: Mareka’s Lesson

By Professor Batty

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. When she gets on a roll it’s 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, Seattle

“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 regular breathing. Sean had thought her sleeping patterns had been noticeably erratic since they returned from Iowa and the stress of the riot hadn’t helped any. He got up, put on his robe, and went out to the hall, walking down to the door of Mareka’s room. Sean could hear light snores emanating from his daughter so he continued down the hall and then to the kitchen for a drink of water. The window over the sink looked out over the back yard. The guest house was also 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 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 Merrit looked at the image files shot by her brother seven years ago. There were several that had shown, unmistakably, Sean Carroll with Jo Sanford, the couple who Barbara had also captured on her phone, both 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. Sean was drinking coffee and looking at his phone.

“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 might have 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 we are going through bothers her,” said Mary, “And 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 last of the exhibitions, right?” said Mary, “Are you going to keep 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’re all pictured in the catalog raisonné. The market for modernist fine art is down now, it might be years before they are worth any real money. Our security system is good, and the storeroom in the basement is sturdy enough. We can put a couple of the canvases in the living room—it will be nice to have Emily with us again.” Sean took another 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 that had been 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 don’t know… ” said Jo, “I want to go to her. She’s still at home but I don’t know if I will be able to see her.”

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

“I don’t know… That's another thing… ”

“Yeah… that’s definitely a thing.”

Next Chapter: Lake City Way

By Professor Batty

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

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