Frugal Woman Searching For Irony Finds Treasure

Hubby and I celebrated our 16th anniversary the same way we’ve celebrated for the past nine years. We spent the day at The Big Chicken Barn Books & Antiques mall. It’s just what it sounds like: an old chicken barn that’s been converted into an antique mall. The bottom floor is like a huge indoor flea market, and the top floor is nothing but books, books, books. And comic books. And old magazines. If you’re ever in Maine, you should absolutely stop in. It’s right on Route 1…either in Ellsworth or Bucksport…I’m not sure which…but either way, you can’t miss it. I mean, it’s a big chicken barn, with a sign and everything.

Anyway, having already completed my three hour downstairs shopping spree (result: a 19 x 24 antique picture frame and a rainbow clown wig…yes, you heard me; a rainbow clown wig!), I made my way upstairs. I happened almost immediately upon a hardcover book I just knew I had to have. I’d never heard of it before, nor of its author (Charles Mergendahl), and I tucked it under my arm without bothering to read the synopsis on the inside jacket. What was the reason? Get a load of the title:

Don’t Wait Up For Spring.

That’s right, not only did I not know what the book was about, at that moment I didn’t care. All that mattered–at that moment–was the ironic image that immediately popped into my head of seeing it displayed in my bookshelf right next to Waiting For Spring. Call me silly, but I really dig irony.

I think I should mention–in case you hadn’t already noticed–that I also didn’t bother to look at the price of the book. I wasn’t really all that concerned about it–at that moment–to be honest. The average Chicken Barn price range for a regular sized hardcover book (ie: not a coffee table book) is $2 – $5. I had reason to believe this particular book would hover closer to two bucks than five. It was obviously quite old, not in what you would call mint condition, and I’d never heard of it before. Who, other than a weird lady aching for a little irony on her bookshelf, could possibly interested in this book?

Imagine my astonishment, therefore, when (well over three hours later) the cash register informed me that the thing cost $15.

I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. I’m not cheap. Okay, well maybe I am a little cheap–although perhaps frugal would be a better word. But when it comes to books I’m neither of those things. Remember, I’m the geek who paid almost fifty bucks to have Luke Davies’ God Of Speed shipped to her house all the way from Australia. (It was worth every penny, by the way. The man is a genius.) It’s just that fifteen dollars is a lot of money to pay for Irony. Still, if I gave voice to the “What the hell????????” that was running through my mind and declined to fork over the dough, the clerk–who had no knowledge of my Australian extravaganza–might have gotten the impression that I was either Cheap or Frugal. And I couldn’t have that. Because something else I am is Vain. So, I ignored Hubby’s “WTF?????????” look (his total: $19 for seven hardcover books, $3 for a tie pin) and forked over the dough.

As you can imagine, I was itching to find out just why this book had cost me more than two bucks. As soon as we got to the car I read the inside flap. I had purchased a love story set during World War 2, a touching and passionate story of young people in love in war time, of young men at war when they should have been just in love.

“Touching and passionate is good,” I said to Hubby. He just grunted and flipped through one of his new Robert Ludlums. Then I noticed something on the opposite page. “Hey, look! The author signed it!”

Hubby perked up a little. “Signed by the author is good. But is it fifteen dollars worth of good?” (This might be a good time to mention that Hubby is a little cheap.) “I mean, who is this Mergen…Mergen…Mergen-whoever guy, anyway?”

“Well, he’s obviously no Robert Ludlum.”

I investigated a little further. The front flap informed me that Lieutenant Charles Mergendahl wrote this story between engagements at North Africa, Tarawa, the Marshalls and elsewhere. As his book is being published, he is still in active service in the U.S. Navy.

As you may or may not know, I am an avid student of American history. Even if I wasn’t, I’d be aware of the fact that World War 2 has been over with for quite some time. At least, I hope I would have. So the still in active service bit let me know I had something kinda hot in my hands. I checked the publication date. 1944 was the only date listed; fourth printing. Then I noticed something unusual on the back flap:

The format of this book is designed to save paper, which is now rationed…

And, at the very bottom:


Hubby and I both conceded that my fifteen bucks was well spent.

Bonus: I started reading the book when I got home. It’s very good. Worth every penny.


Hubby and I overheard the following conversation during the downstairs portion of our Chicken Barn visit:

Husband: What do you mean you don’t like it? It’s art! You like art.

Wife: Just because there’s a naked lady in the painting, it doesn’t mean it’s art.

Old fashioned

About a year ago, I cancelled my subscription to my beloved Bangor Daily News. Heating oil was on the rise, it seemed prudent to cut corners anyway we could, and since BDN has a website where I could get my news for free, I figured that corner was an easy one to cut. Besides, I could pat myself on the back for being Green. Saving a tree or two. That sort of thing.

This week, however–trees be damned–I started my subscription back up again. Why?

“Reader comments.”

As a writer, I have very strong feelings about the First Amendment. Freedom of speech and all of that. But the bickering and flaming that goes on in too many of these articles’ comments sections makes me wonder whether or not some sort of intelligence test should be administered before allowing individuals to post. Or at the very least that there should be some sort of moderation on these pages.

What finally did me in was an article that was posted on Wednesday, August 13. Last weekend, a young man was stabbed and killed by his apparently mentally ill brother who “thought he and his brother were romantically involved with the same woman.” The article went on to describe how the woman in question, a nurse, tried unsuccessfully to revive her friend by using CPR. I don’t think most of us can begin to imagine what she, and the members of this family and their friends, could possibly be going through right now. And, it seems, many people don’t care, because it took about five minutes from the time this story was posted for the bullshit to start in the comments section; beginning with this gem from a New Yorker:

And here I’ve been thinking that the dating scene in Manhattan is desperate!

Um…rimshot? I mean, seriously, what the hell was this shithead thinking? Perhaps it’s because this is only the latest in a record setting year of domestic violence homicides in Maine that I’m a wee bit oversensitive to this type of comment. Or perhaps it’s because I witnessed a young man who knew both of these young men breaking down in the store on Monday morning when he discovered the news by reading it on the front page of the paper. Or maybe, you know, it’s because I have a fucking heart and a soul and more than a little bit of sympathy and compassion for the family and friends of these men who are suffering a kind of loss I hope I never know, and who will undoubtably have read this idiotic remark.

All I know is that I’ve had enough of it. And so I’ll get my news the old fashioned way. Without a peanut gallery.

A Tale of Two Winners

Ah…the lottery. Here in Maine we sure do love it: Megabucks, Powerball, Paycheck, Pick 3/Pick 4…and, of course, scratch tickets. To say that the majority of lottery tickets are purchased by people who can ill afford them–and would be better off stuffing the money they spend on them in a sock (or in an interest accruing savings account)–is like saying the sky is blue. A big fat “duh.” So I’ll spare that lecture. Instead I’ll give you a personal glimpse into what I consider a big fat problem.

Winner #1:
Twenty-eight year old single mother of three. She works as a waitress in a restaurant one town over. Every night she uses $20 of her tip money to buy a scratch ticket. Yes, you read that right: one 20 dollar ticket. A few weeks ago she was fortunate enough to win $100. I was pretty excited for her, even though I know she spends more than that every week on the damned things. At least this week she’d make some of her money back. And what did she do with her winnings? Yep, you guessed it: she spent it all–that’s right…100 bucks!–on scratch tickets. Five 20 dollar tickets. And, of course, she won nothing. She blew $120 in one night for a big fat nothing. Then she bought milk and bread for her kids’ breakfast. With her food stamp card.

Winner #2:
Picture Steve Perry circa “Oh Sherry” with no top teeth, covered with tattoos and wearing biker clothes; that’s Winner #2. Every day he buys a twelve pack of Miller High Life, three packs of Mavericks, and a five dollar scrach ticket. Last Saturday he won $1000, which is pretty cool. There was a problem, though. I can’t cash a ticket that high. He had to go into Augusta to claim the money.

“Oh…the state has to get involved?”

“Well, yeah.”

“That won’t work. I owe child support and they’d take it all for that.”

I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was: Good for them, you cheap, selfish bastard. I just nodded.

“But,” he continued, “you could always go down there and turn it in for me.”

“No I couldn’t.”

“Sure you could. I’ll give you a hundred bucks.”


“Plus gas money.”


“Two hundred?”


“Fine.” Then he walked out the door. In a huff.

I worked yesterday morning (in addition to my overnight shifts, I now work Saturday mornings as well) and Winner #2 came in. He hauled four twelve packs of Michelob Light over to the counter and asked for five cartons of Marlboro. Then he brought out his wallet, which was filled with a huge wad of twenty dollar bills.

“Someone cashed your ticket in for you?” I asked.


“How much did you have to give them.”

He scowled before he admitted: “Half.”

And there he was, spending it on cigarettes and beer while his ex-wife struggled to get child support from the asshole. Oh, and he bought a five dollar scratch ticket. It wasn’t a winner.

* And now, as a bonus–and because I don’t want you to think that all Mainers are ignorant hicks–allow me to present:

Winner #3
A family of three. Hubby and wife are in their late twenties, the kid is about four. Both parents have decent paying jobs but still struggle to make ends meet. A few weekends ago, the family was out together and popped into the store to buy a bottle of Bug Juice for the kid. He looked up with eager eyes at the scratch tickets in front of him. He was particularly enthralled with Mustang Money, a five dollar ticket.

“Mommy, can you buy the car ticket?”

“No. I don’t waste money on scratch tickets.”

“Please? Please, please, please??”

This went on for a few moments before she finally capitulated. She even let him do the scratching. We all smiled when he won five dollars.

“Another one!” he said.

“No. You should save this money.”

“Please? Please, please, please??”

“Tell you what,” Dad said. “You save two dollars and spend the rest on that ticket right there.”

He pointed to Tic Tac Toe, a three dollar ticket. The kid could see the logic in this, so he agreed. He scratched his brand new ticket…and won $300. Naturally, he wanted another ticket. Fortunately his parents knew when to say when. They gave the kid fifty bucks to spend on toys at Walmart, and set up a savings account for him with the rest. Hurrah for small miracles.


If you’re interested in reading about Mainers of the fictional variety, head over to Readers and Writers Blog for Chapter 15 of Waiting for Spring. Also new there today is Chapter 27: Sutro Heights of Gerard Jones’ Ginny Good. This chapter made me cry. Poor Melanie…

Stuff and nonsense

I’ve been neglecting this place all week long and I feel kinda bad about it. To be honest there hasn’t been a whole lot going on worth blogging about, and I’m not going to bore you with any “So, I was clipping my toenails last night…” type of posts. Even though I really did clip my toenails last night.

I’ve also been working like a crazy woman on a new screenplay this week. My muse has been very generous and my internal editor has been mercifully silent, which almost never happens at the same time. I’m too superstitious (and a bit gun-shy, after the recent attempted plagiarism of “No Pants Lady”) to share any details on my work-in-progress, so that–to quote Forest Gump–is all I have to say about that. At least for the time being.

So, my three reasons for posting tonight are:

(1.) To remind you guys that Chapter Four of Waiting for Spring has been posted at Readers and Writers Blog, (along with a new short story by James Fox–Cross Roads–and Chapter 16 of Ginny Good). I had a lot of fun writing this particular chapter, as it introduces eight-year-old Cassidy Burke, who–truth be told–is my favorite character.

(2.) To ask if there are any HTML geeks in the house? I need a tutorial in how to post spoiler tags here in my blog, and by “tutorial” I mean “explain it in language a 37-year-old HTML illiterate woman can understand.” I’ve had a few Waiting for Spring questions emailed to me this week that I’d love to answer, but they’re all rather spoilery.

(3.) To say I hope everyone has a great weekend. I’ll be in Portland for the Old Port Festival on Sunday. Check it out if you’re in the area. If you see a super-hot chick with rock-hard abs and flowing raven locks…well, it won’t be me. I’ll be the dowdy mom in an old Red Sox t-shirt and

even older jeans, stuffing her face with whatever food isn’t tied down while dancing very badly.

Cure for writer’s block: get a haircut* and get a real job.

Last week a friend of mine, who is the assistant manager at the convenience store down the road, visited me, begging me to go to work for her. Two nights a week, the overnight shift. Apparently they’re pretty desperate for employees who aren’t afraid of mops and don’t think “free” cigarettes are a benefit of punching the timeclock. Since free coffee–on and off the clock–is a benefit, along with a discount on heating oil next winter, I said, “Sure, sign me up.”

This is the second smartest thing I’ve ever done. An unadvertised benefit of working graveyard shift at a small town convenience store: an unending supply of fodder for fiction. Not to make light of misery, but drunk, stoned, lonely people will say and do pretty much anything, and between the hours 11pm-1am (the hour at which Mainers can no longer buy Allen’s Coffee Brandy), the store is full of them. And once my cleaning and stocking is done, I have about 4 hours of nothing-to-do. Since my muse is most active in the middle of the night, and with no internet to distract me, I’ve been getting lots of writing done on book number four.

Inspiration or exploitation? You tell me.

*haircut optional

This old house…

This house stands (if you can call what this house is doing “standing”) just down the road from where I live. It’s old and rotting away…and I love it. It’s got so much character. It’s been condemned for years and years but, for whatever reason, no one has ever torn it down.

I’m posting these pictures (taken in March 2007 and October 2007 respectively) for my buddies who’ve already read my as-yet-unpublished novel, Waiting for Spring. This is the house my main characters live in. Well, sort of. The fictional version isn’t quite so run down. Almost, but not quite.