Stranger Than Fiction

August 30, 2011

Here’s the story. At the end, you can vote in the comments on what you think actually happened.

I awoke early from, of all things, a college dorm room. and decided to go for a walk. It was a few hours before my daughter’s soccer game that morning A bike path bordering a wildlife reserve provided a scenic backdrop for my jaunt. Moments later, a sheriff’s car passed by at a crawl. The officer slowed and then came to a full stop. I pressed on catching up to the car and all the while wondering if he was looking for a missing student who’d had too much to drink, and perhaps got lost on their way home.

“Excuse me,” the officer called as I approached, “can I ask you a favor?”

“Sure,” I said.

I mean really, who says “no” to a cop? He was thirty-something with a pleasant face complete with ruddy cheeks and a burly physique.  No partner with him.  I found I wanted to help him, uniform or not.

“Since you are walking, can you keep your eye out for a bloody butterfly knife? Do you know what that looks like?”

It took me a moment to process the idea of a bloody knife.  This was no lost student.  Had someone died?  I had never heard of a butterfly knife.  I shook my head in the negative. He proceeded to describe a double-bladed knife with holes in the handle. It sounded like a scary weapon.

“If you find it, stay put, and call 911.”

I nodded, still shocked that I may have been enlisted to assist in a murder investigation.    Needless to say, my pleasant morning walk had taken on a whole new tone. Was I about to discover a murder weapon? If I did, would I have to testify in a murder trial?

The following options tell the potential outcomes to the whole story.

Option 1. The above never happened, it is the premise I thought of for a new murder mystery novel.

Option 2. As I ambled along after the patrol car left, I spotted a Lincoln’s sparrow. The bird startled and as I tracked its progress into the weeds, I saw a flash of silver. I called 911, waited as instructed, and missed my daughter’s soccer game, while the police questioned me and collected evidence.

Option 3. I kept my eyes peeled for the weapon as requested. The thick vegetation went on and on. Looking for this knife was equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack. The reserve came to an abrupt end at the next intersection. At the stoplight, to my relief, I hadn’t found the knife. I turnfinished my walk and went on to my daughter’s soccer game with a new appreciation how difficult it is to gather evidence and find a murder weapon.

Option 4. I walked down the path next to the reserve without seeing anything. At the stoplight, I opted to go straight and avoid the southern border of the wildlife area preserve, thinking the landscaped business center would be a stupid place to toss a murder weapon. Too many gory images had filled my mind ever since the sheriff had left.  I stopped at an urban creek about midway to the next intersection looking to spot a vocalizing song sparrow.  At the bottom of the flowing creek, I spotted the knife.  No blood though, the creek had washed all traces away.  Still, I recoiled, my heart thudding. A quick glance in both directions confirmed the sheriff had not returned, but also that no one watched my movements. I called 911 as instructed and gave my location. After I hung up, I hazarded a second look and to my horror, what I’d seen as a knife, was actually the crossed leaves of a eucalyptus branch.  My imagination had gotten the best of me.  I was forced to wait for the cops to arrive and apologize for my foolish mistake.

Option 5. I continued on with my walk without incident, but after turning around I noticed a man carrying a model airplane under one arm and a thin branch in the other. He periodically stopped and searched through the bushes with his psuedo walking stick. As I drew closer the man stopped whacking at the vegetation and studied me. He had the weathered, wrinkled skin if a hard drinker. I averted my gaze and kept walking.  I waited until he was out of earshot before calling 911. Moments later, the sheriff appeared seemingly out of no where. The man was apprehended, frisked and cuffed. I got a friendly wave from the officer, but whether or not the man was a murderer, I’ll never know.

Which option did you choose? Why? What made it seem reasonable? Other than option 1, each of the other options do have an element of truth and option 3 was what really happened.  However, I did see a Lincoln’s sparrow in the preserve, a singing song sparrow caused me to pause along an urban creek south of the preserve, and I did see a eucalyptus branch in the stream, there was even a creepy looking man carrying a model airplane and whacking at vegetation near where the sheriff had stopped me. The rest is all my imagination.

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San Fermines Part 2: Post Run Celebrations

August 1, 2011

After the bull run, we gathered our belongings and made the short descent down the apartment stairs to the main street. Right before the run, Carlos had mentioned the apartment across the way was owned by a Tour de France winner who had bought the place only to enjoy the San Fermines festival. We exited onto the freshly washed street and headed toward the bull release point. As we walked down the cobbled stone, I noticed the short distance of the run (825 meters).  That we had viewed the event from a second floor was a privilege and an honor.

After visiting the now-empty corral where the bulls had slept the night before, we headed to a “casino” where we partook of a traditional post-run breakfast of hot chocolate with churros. The “cocoa” which our host grumbled was not hot (and it wasn’t) was nonetheless delicious. Just imagine drinking smooth liquid milk chocolate, accompanied with a doughy cinnamon stick. Carlos told us that a firmer stick was more traditional, but I was happy with the soft form.

Next we entered a giant room where a band played traditional music. Everyone joined a chain by placing hands upon the shoulders of those in front of them. Soon we left the room in a caterpillar formation, only to circle back inside. Later, a mix of other songs had our toes tapping and hips swinging. Though I couldn’t understand the verses, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, particularly one silly song, much like the “chicken dance” here in the States, except the dancers imitated the playing of various instruments like the flute and the violin.

From here, we hit the street to enjoy a tradition begun in the 16th century – the parade of “gigantes.” These giant characters are a source of amusement (and sometimes great fear for the children). These characatures represent authorities that carry a stick and a sponge. The idea is for the child to run up and tag the character while calling out for the giant to use the sponge for punishment.

Our meanderings then lead us to a two-man magic act. My daughter, Lindsay, got asked to assist on a card trick. Later, our host, Carlos became the helper on another act. We happily doled out coins for the show and moved on.

All around us, people played drums and live bands performed. Despite heavy drinking and smoking, everyone seemed to get along. We stopped for a snack off and on, visited the old and new city sections, popped into shops to buy souvenirs, and navigated crowds. When we visited Carlos’ friend’s tavern, the man who had arranged our balcony space with another woman restaurant owner, several “politicos” arrived and we ate tapas in their midst.

Lunch in Spain is typically the main meal of the day. Carlos had darted into restaurants periodically throughout the morning to find a place that could accommodate our party of seven around that time with no luck. At around 1:45 pm, he led us to an Italian restaurant. He whispered something in the greeter’s ear and in moments our party was seated at a large table.

The food was fabulous. Later, he admitted that he had name-dropped to secure our table. He had told the greeter that his friend’s “politicos” had indicated that this Italian place was the best restaurant in town and that Carlos should take his American guests here. Hence, the available table.

After a long, leisurely lunch, Carlos escorted us to the area where the “clubs” gather to parade into the bull ring. A giant procession of strangely clad groups navigated the narrow streets. Each group had a signature. Some dressed like Egyptians, others wore big yellow hats reminiscent of Philly cheeseheads. As we stood watching, I told Carlos how disappointed I was in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I had no clue that San Fermines was so much more than a bull run. Then, Carlos exclaimed and hugged another spectator that was passing by. A flurry of Spanish and cheek-kissing ensued between Carlos and his family and this elder gentleman. Then he turned to me and introduced me to his uncle – a man who had on occasion sat and smoked and conversed with none other than Hemingway. I would have liked to ask the gentleman questions about the famous author, but between the language barrier and the obvious joyous interchange going on within the family, I chose not to intrude. Watching this impromptu family reunion seemed a fitting end to a day that had been rich in timeless Spanish culture and tradition.


Clothing for a Writing Retreat

August 1, 2011

I haven’t lived in Texas since January 1971.  However, Texas rules regarding dress requirements are so engrained in me that they still rule my life.  How else would I know if I were “Dressed to the Nines,” or not?

Yes, I still pack away my heavier winter clothes in the spring, even though I could wear the majority of them all year round here in Northern California.  However, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing suede shoes after Valentine’s Day, or dark velour anything after Easter.  My lighter weight and lighter color clothes just would not do during winter months.  No, I don’t wear white shoes after Labor Day.  Tennis shoes do not apply to this exclusion.

The members of Writers on the Journey, my writing critique group, have put together a three-day writing retreat for August.  Meals prepared for us, and all cell phones on self enforced mute.  Three glorious days for me to work, uninterrupted, on my book, Maracaibo Oil Brat.  Naturally, my first concern was:  What Does One Wear to a Write-a-Thon?

I could find no fashion precedence for a writing retreat.  I resorted to What Would a Reasonable Female Person, Like Me, Wear?  I analyzed what I wore when I produced the most writing.  The answer?  Comfortable stuff.  With that in mind, I scoured my dresser and closets for such clothing to fill the bill.

Thus far, I’ve selected three tee shirts for specific reasons:  all are stained or faded beyond all usefulness.  I’ll bring my San Marcos Academy 2000 Reunion shirt,  My Oakland Ski Club shirt that I accidentally tossed into the washer with a new pair of jeans and now it has an irregular blue pattern throughout, and a Las Vegas Treasure Hunt shirt I won at Harrah’s in South Lake Tahoe.  I may throw in my long-sleeved Willie Nelson shirt if the weather station predicts cool weather.  My Texas Christian University hoodie will keep me warm in the evenings.  I’ll also bring two pair of jeans not fit for anything dressier than gardening, both with discreet holes at the knees and over-washed to death.   If the weather is warm, I’ll pack my ancient pair of $2.00 Salvation Army shorts, embellished with a paint blob.  I’ll wear my gardening tennis shoes, which are one step away from a toss into the blue garbage can.  My retreat clothing ensembles are in such decrepit state that Goodwill wouldn’t  take them.

Clothing and foot wear done.  What about jewelry?  Only the essentials.  I’ll wear my fake Mexican Rolex (don’t want to be late for meals), plain gold earrings, and my wedding ring.  No need for bracelets, necklaces or matched-to-the outfit rings since the retreat is not held at a resort or on a cruise ship.

Will I commit a fashion faux pas by letting comfort dictate my clothing choices?  I think not.  Might even make fashion history as the tackiest dressed writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

S.Mc.