Fine and Dandi

Two sisters.

One, the oldest, as pretty as a model, blonde hair, blue eyes, a killer of a smile, a waist that never puts on weight. She was the smart one, and the one who never talked ‘cause she was shy. Her thing was music. She ate, drank, slept music. She played a kick-butt cello. Her name was Anna Belle. Everybody called her Fine.

Her sister, two years younger, was Mary Belle, but she was known as Dandi. She was the popular one, a little bit on the chunky side and long, stringy hair, a washed-out blonde. She had no particular bent for any of the arts. She liked people and people liked her. She had such an infectious laugh. And she could tell a joke that would have the listener rolling on the floor.

Fine and Dandi were inseparable. As the two grew up, no one could remember them having a disagreement. If a guy wanted to date Dandi, he had to find a friend for Fine. The guys didn’t mind. After all, she was the attractive one. But her attitude toward them made them conclude she was stuck up. She just didn’t reciprocate their affection while Dandi did. So there came a time when Dandi no longer was asked out. The guy couldn’t find a date for Fine.

Fine waited to go off to college until Dandi graduated high school. During the two-year interval between high school and college, she gave cello lessons to bring in some money to pay for the rent her mother charged. “It’s time you paid your way,” she told her daughter. “Can’t stay around here and twiddle your thumbs.”

Dandi managed to get through high school with a B average with her sister’s help. But it was just barely a B. Then she and her sister took off to college. They had a dorm room together. They went to the same classes. Decided they would become teachers. They both liked kids.

Soon they had their degrees and were interning at one of the local elementary schools. Both waitressed at the same restaurant and made enough in tips to keep a roof over their heads. They moved several hundred miles away from the college and found jobs as teachers at the same elementary school. They found a two-story house and renovated it over the next three years.

When the sisters went home for Christmas, their parents noticed the two were looking more and more like each other. Fine had long, stringy hair, a washed out blonde. She gave up the cello. Now she played guitar. Dandi lost weight and now strummed a guitar. Both had become shy but they had Dandi’s infectious laugh.

Then there was something else. When Fine left a room, Dandi worried that she wouldn’t return. When Dandi went off to the store to pick up some groceries, Fine kept looking out the window. It was as if each expected something bad to happen to her sister.

Sure they had always been close, but this was ridiculous. At least, that was what the parents said to each other. “We’ve got to do something,” their mother said to their father as they laid in bed, worrying. “But what?” their father wanted to know. He’d always been a man in control, except when it came to his daughters. So the parents conspired. The parents decided that the closeness was unnatural. It reminded them of people in a cult. What they needed to do was an intervention.

The holidays came to an end and the girls returned to their life in the town three towns away from their parents’ home. Their mother went on the internet and found exactly what she was looking for. It was a Saturday when the de-programmer showed up on her porch. The mother invited him in, told him what she had in mind.

“You sure you want to do this?” he asked the parents. “Once we start on this road, there is no turning back.” He told several stories of what happened when parents backed down after the process began. It wasn’t pretty. “This is what we want,” both parents agreed.

The next Friday night, two men sat in a van across from the sisters’ house. They watched. Saturday passed and both the girls stayed indoors. And the same for Sunday. On Monday evening they came home from work and began their usual vegetarian dinner. While Dandi cooked in the kitchen, Fine set the table.

The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Fine called out to her sister, happiness in her voice.

She opened the door. A man in a dark blue suit threw a hood over her head. She screamed but it was too late. The two men had her in their van and they were down the road.

Behind the van, Dandi in the sisters’ red mustang was a block away and gaining. On the seat beside her lay the .38 the girls kept in the house for protection. Just as she came up behind the van, it started to rain. She almost touched the van’s bumper. Crying, she tried to think of what to do. Then it came to her. She pulled around to the side of the van and slammed into it. The rain was pouring. She pushed harder against the van with her car. The van hit a telephone pole. Dandi stopped her car and jumped out and ran over to the van.

The driver opened the van door. He looked stunned. The other man was slumped over in his seat, unconscious.

“Get out.”

The driver crawled out of the vehicle.

“Now where’s my sister.”

He pointed at the back of the van.

Dandi stuck her gun into his gut and said, “Open the back door.” He unlocked the door.

Fine was on the floor, tied up. “Untie her,” Dandi urged.

The man did as he was told. Fine crawled out of the van.

“Now turn around.”

The man did as he was told.

Dandi said, “Hands behind you.” The man’s large hands went behind his body. “Get into the van and lay face down.” He did as he was told. Dandi handed the gun to her sister, then tied his feet and hands together with his belt. She slammed the door, went to the driver’s seat and took the keys and threw them over into a nearby yard. Down the street came a police car with a flashing light.

Fine and Dandi got into their car and slowly drove away. Dandi left the lights off the car and the police did not follow.

Their car disappeared into the night. That was the last anyone saw them. Ever.

In ancient Greece, there was a story of two brothers, Castor and Pollux. When Castor died, Pollux prayed to Zeus, the king of the gods, to let his twin share his divinity, so that they would never be separated. Zeus agreed and they were made into the constellation Gemini. Perhaps the next time you look up to the heavens with your telescope and see Gemini, you will think of Fine and Dandi. I know I do.

Nine New Gadgets You Don’t Want to Miss

There was a time when the only mail was snail mail. If you wanted to listen to music, you had to have a turntable. No .mp3s or .wavs. Apples were things you ate. If you said google, people thought you were talking about goggles you wear on your face. There was definitely no way you could surf a net. You could fish with one but no surfing. And everybody thought that a tablet was the thing Moses brought down from Mount Sinai with the Big Ten on it.

It’s amazing the technological advances we’ve seen in the last fifty years. In Uncle Bardie’s lifetime, I have seen a man land on the moon. I have seen the personal computer blossom. I have seen the internet spring from nothing and give the consumer the shopping experience of a lifetime. I have seen the smart phone, the iPod and the iPhone.

So it is with some excitement Uncle Bardie reports on some wonderful new gadgets about to be revealed to the public. I think you will agree these gadgets will transform our lives.

1.iWipes for the pooper in all of us. Its motto: “A little dab’ll do you.

2.And to compliment this accessory the iFlush for those of us who don’t have the time to flush our waste down the pipes.

3.iSmile for those days you don’t want to turn that frown upside-down.

4.iGesundheit: You never have to worry about getting a gesundheit no matter where you are. You could be alone in Antartica and you will get a gesundheit.

5.And its companion, the iSneeze. Just in case you need a gesundheit to pep up your day. Maybe you feel like you’ve earned a gesundheit and nobody seems to care.

6.iLawn will mow itself.

7.iHouse is that house you will never have to clean again. In fact, it may be cleaning you if you aren’t careful. That is an extra little feature the designers feel is the icing on the cake.

8.iFood for the finicky eater or the gourmand.

9.iPet. You can walk him and you don’t have to scoop up his poop. Or if you choose the kitty version, it even sings “Oops there goes another rubber tree plant” each time it eliminates those pesky little vermin. And each of these comes in an assortment of colors.

One little note of caution here: Make sure you purchase the super dooper security package. You don’t want iHackers to spread an iVirus in your iGadgets. Just imagine what that might do to your iPet. It could end up with iRabies and you certainly won’t look attractive with an iFoam around the mouth.

Uncle Buddwin

“Damn,” my mother said. “Your uncle writes and all he has to say is that he wants you to come to see him. That’s it.”

She handed me the letter. I read its two paragraphs, one asking me to come to see him, one with directions. She continued, “I haven’t heard from my brother at all for seventeen years. He doesn’t have the courtesy to tell me how he’s been. Who the hell does he think he is?”

I had only met her brother once. He had come to stay with us when I was ten years old. All I could remember of that time was the arguments he and my mother had. When he left, Mom’s last words on the subject were “good riddance.” And that had been that. Until the letter.

I reread the letter. What it said was that it was time to get to know his nephew. I didn’t know what was expected of me.

“You’d better go,” she said. “Find out what he wants. You can take the truck. Otherwise you won’t be able to drive out to where he lives. It’s way off in the backwoods.”

I didn’t want to go, but Mom insisted. I said, “Oh, well,” and the next morning, drove the forty miles or so out into the country. Turned off onto the dirt road he’d given me and went another five miles or so through brush and trees on a road that could only be described as a trail, and barely one at that. Just when I was about to give up and back my way out, I came to what some might call a clearing. Mostly it was a break in the overgrowth I had been working my way through. Beside the dump of a shanty was an old, beat-up Harley. If nowhere had been a place, it would have been that shack of his.

I pushed the door of the truck open and got out and made my way through the bushes. I knocked on the door of the shanty several times, each time calling out, “Uncle Buddwin.” The door about fell off when I pulled on it. I went inside the one-room shanty

In the middle of the room was a wood burning stove. It wasn’t lit. The windows were broken, the glass held on by tape or replaced by a sheet or quilt. Over to the side was a chair and a table, then a small bed. Straight across from the door was what looked like a sink. It had no faucet. Then a wooden cabinet.

I thought to myself that whoever lived here must be a wretch. Certainly not my uncle. No one in my family would choose to live this way. We were too well-off. Though we weren’t rich, we did ourselves proud in the money department.

I went to leave. Standing in front of the door was a short man, bearded with long curly hair, and wearing a blue flannel shirt, dirty jeans and boots.

“Charles?” the man’s soft voice asked.

“Yes. You can call me Charlie, Uncle. Everybody does.”

He looked me up and down for a minute or so. “Charles.” He insisted on calling me Charles. “It’s good to see you.” He put out his hand, I took it, we shook. “Welcome to home sweet home.” Then, “Let me make you some coffee. You do drink coffee, don’t you? If not, I think I’ve got some other stuff around here you might like. One of my neighbors makes it.”

“Coffee will be fine.”

He offered me the chair by the table, threw some wood into the stove and got a fire going, then set a kettle of water on the stove. Soon he had both of us a mug of instant coffee. He took a seat on the floor and crossed his legs. He was ready to talk.

“Guess you want to know why I asked you to come out this way.”

“I’d like to know, yes.” I sipped my coffee.

“I’ve been thinking some. Thinking real hard about it. And for quite some time too.”

“About what?”

“About your mother and all. All the family.”

I let out my frustration. “Why did you disappear like you did?”

“Oh, that’s a long story.” His fingers stroked his beard.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“You ever wonder about me? About what happened to me?”

“The family never says. I assumed that it was because you disappeared. Because you treated everybody in the family badly, so they would just as well not talk about you.”

“You assumed that, did you?” He did not raise his voice but there seemed to be an anger to his words. “It wasn’t that. The real reason is that I am plain bad luck. At least, that’s what they believe. And maybe I was once upon a time. But not anymore.”

Now there was a quizzical look on my face. Even in the dark of the room, he could tell. Finally I asked, “Bad luck?”

“Yep, bad luck. The kind of bad luck that led me to have three failed marriages. The kind of bad luck that cost my third wife to lose a child. The kind of bad luck that almost killed your Uncle Jamie. Didn’t matter that he’d been drinking that night he rammed into a tree and I tried to stop him from driving. I still got the blame. So much so that I believed a long time that I was responsible for everything bad that happened to any in the family, anyone close to me.”

It was like a dam bursting to hear his grief in the words he spoke. Seemed like those words had been waiting for years to break free. Words that revealed a lot of hurt and loneliness. “You know, any excuse my family had to hate me, they used it, Charles.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“They never talk about me. Your parents or your Uncle Jamie or your grandparents? Do they?”

“No, they don’t.”

“I used to wonder why I had such rotten luck myself. I was such a jinx. Just couldn’t figure it out. When you grow up and everybody is telling you that you’re no good, you tend to be no good. Didn’t want to be no good. But somehow I couldn’t stay out of trouble. Somehow I couldn’t figure out why they hated me so. Around the age of thirty, ‘bout the time I saw you last, I found out what it was.”

The darkness of the night outside was filling the room. But even in that darkness I could see my uncle’s face clear. I had finished off my coffee, but I wasn’t about to ask him for another cup. I was anxious to hear his story.

“I see you need another coffee.”

“Don’t go to any trouble.”

“No trouble.” He was up and putting the kettle onto the stove. I waited but the minutes ticked off as slow as could be. He took my mug, dunked a spoonful of instant into it, poured the hot water and stirred, then he handed it back to me. Then he was back on the floor, not looking at me but staring into the dark as if there was no one else in the room.

“I always thought I was living someone else’s life. It wasn’t like I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I did. But it was like I was living a life I had no control over. Then I found out.”

“What?” I asked anxiously.

“One night I was at my parents. Your mother and your Uncle Jamie were there. There was a lot of yelling and screaming. You’ve heard the phrase knock-down-drag-out. That was it that night. I told them I was tired of being treated the awful way they had treated me as long as I could remember.

“My father turned to me, ‘I’m sorry you were the one that lived.’ It stopped me cold. ‘What?’

“‘No,’ my mother said, trying to get my father from saying what he was about to say.

“It didn’t stop my father. ‘Your older twin brother, Edwin, died. Or should I say you murdered him.’

“‘Don’t say that,’ my mother said. ‘It wasn’t his fault. You know that.’

“‘That’s not what the doctor said. He called it murder. While you both were in the womb.’

“That was when I realized I had been living Edwin’s life. The only way I could end that and live my own life was to get the hell out of there, leave the family for good. So that’s what I did. I moved out here and have been here since. Hidden from my family.”

Everything went quiet. The night. Uncle Buddwin’s breathing. My breathing.

Finally I said, “So what do you want of me?”

“Before it’s too late, I want you to find out where Edwin’s grave is. I know they buried the fetus. They are the kind of people what would bury a fetus. I just don’t know where. ”

It was true. My grandparents were very religious. They would not have just flushed the fetus down the toilet and let that be that. They would have buried Edwin.

“They’re not going to tell me,” I said, pretty sure that it was true.

“Oh, yes they will. I know they will.”

“And if they tell me?” I asked. My coffee was getting cold but I didn’t move.

“I have something for you to take to the graveside.” Uncle Buddwin got up and walked over to the wardrobe where he kept his clothes. He opened it and took out a small bag. Then he handed it to me.

“This,” he said.

I looked at the small bag in the palm of my hand. “What is it?”

“Let’s just say he will know. And don’t you open it up. I will know.”

“Why are you trusting me with this?”

“I don’t have any choice. You’re the only one I can trust that I know will find out from my parents.”

I agreed to his demand. We shook hands and I left. It took me a month to get the place where the grave was. My grandmother let it out like it was some long, dark secret. Once she had, it looked like a great weight had dropped off her shoulders. I followed my uncle’s instruction to the letter.

The day after I visited Edwin’s gravesite, I drove out to see Uncle Buddwing. I couldn’t find his shack. It had disappeared. Now once a year I visit Edwin’s gravesite to make sure he isn’t forgotten. On my last visit there, I saw someone leaving as I got to the cemetery. I could have sworn that it was my uncle. When I tried to chase him down, he had disappeared.

Paris

I’ve had my mind on Paris lately. And not just any Paris but The Paris in France. You see, I am writing a novel. My protagonist is an artist who travels to Paris to study art. This lyric came out of that.

Let’s go, let’s go to Paris
Adam said to Eve
One bite of the apple
Now we have to leave

We’ll see the hanging gardens
In old Babylon
We’ll pray, facing Mecca
And Jerusalem

We’ll climb to the mountain peak
Mount Fujiyama
We’ll sit at the great stone feet
Of Buddah Gautama

The pyramids and the sphinx
We’ll see from the Nile
Dance ”round the stones of Stonehenge
For a little while.

We will wash our bodies clean
In River Ganges
At the Machu Picchu
We’ll  watch the sun rise.

And we’ll sample the pastry
That is the City
Of light, flowers and perfume
And l’amour Paree

On a Sunday afternoon
Bread and cheese and wine
On the banks of the Seine
And chocolat sublime

We’ll tour the Eiffel Tower
And Mona Lisa smiles
We’ll eat ratatouille
And stroll Parisian style

Visit the Sorbonne and Versailles
The Left Bank and the Right
The culture and the fashion
And lovely Paris at night.