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September 11, 2006

MICROPHONE LADY

By Harley

Coming out of Deadline Mode is like coming back from a foreign country, hospital, or penal institution. You blink your eyes, astonished to be in sunlight again. You cook a dinner. Read the paper. The faces of your loved ones, even grumpy, are beautiful. Colors are brighter, roses are smellier, and you sleep without dreaming about Chapter 22. Physically you’re a wreck, but nothing a facelift and a few years in the gym won’t fix.

In my case, there was also a loss of five pounds, as I let go of that thing velcroed to me: my laptop.

I wrote DEAD EX, my third novel, during road trips, weddings, and jury duty. I blogged about my To Do List (big thanks to all who helped with that). And I got a lot done during Carpool.

Afternoon pick-up at my Kindergartener’s school was a great half hour of writing time. Tricky, because the steering wheel gets in the way, so I’d balance the laptop on the center console as the car inched forward; but good, because Carpool has a chain-gang-like appeal: no distractions, no cell phone reception, no loud music. No conversation.

I’d hit "SAVE" and "SLEEP" when I reached the Lady with the Microphone. She’s the one who calls the name of students who are to move to the Point of Pick-up, keeping the line of SUVs and minivans moving. After the first week, she’d see me and rattle off not only my daughter’s name, but her carpool mates. I, consumed with the details of my plot, never knew her name, but I liked her style. Middle-aged. Happy. Relaxed.

The last week of school, Microphone Lady flagged me down. She’d discovered I was a novelist, and Carpool stopped while we discussed mysteries. The next day, after learning her name from my daughter, I inscribed a pair of books to "Mrs. Gailen." When I handed them to her, Carpool came to a stop again, while Mrs. Gailen made me get out of the car so she could give me a hug.

She wrote me a thank-you note a few weeks later, saying how lucky I am to spend a life doing something that’s so much fun and gives others so much pleasure. The next week, a letter from the school came, regretfully informing parents that Mrs. Gailen, the "voice of carpool" had died in her sleep on the 4th of July. The cause of death was not discussed.

My 6-year old came home from day camp with the explanation. "Mrs. Adelman," she said, "told us that Mrs. Gailen just needed a break from life."

I suspect that Mrs. Adelman did not put it quite like that, but as explanations go, it’s not bad. I like thinking that those who’ve died, those we loved, those we mourn even though it took us a year to ask their names, are just on a break. Stepping out for a cappuccino, a phone call, a cigarette. After which they’ll be back among us, maybe looking like the neighbor’s newborn baby. I don’t know if that’s how it works, but it comforts me to think so.

Friday I did Carpool without my laptop. There was a new microphone lady and I had to repeat my new First-grader’s name twice before she got it, maybe because I was crying as I said it, maybe because it takes time—and talent—to learn the names of a few hundred kids, and match them to their moms’ faces, and know their carpool buddies. This week I’ll ask the new microphone lady her name. And if I’m writing Book #4, I’ll shut down the laptop a few feet sooner and say hi. Ask how she’s doing.

Happy Monday.

Harley

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Comments

What a beautiful blog for today. Thank you Harley!

Authors like the Tarts really do have and confer great gifts. Short of taking the untimate break from life, good books offer a safe and secure way to escape from life's pressures and pain.

And now that I'm already weepy, I'll suggest that the next time you want to comfort someone, or cheer them up, consider a book. It lasts longer than flowers or candy, it won't give you a headache if you consume it all at one sitting, like wine, and you can actually hold it in your hands as a physical reminder that someone cares about you.

My family has several family members and friends in our military overseas. All politics aside, we support them. When we send boxes, one thing they love is books - paperbacks, so they can pass them around. If you'd like more information, or an address, please e-mail me directly.

What a memorial to Mrs. Gailen,
especially given this particular date and national grief. Well written Harley!

Thanks, Harley -- there's really not much more to say than that.

Brilliant blog for today, Harley. Big hugs from me.

I never really understood Veteran's Day and how it could affect people year after year on such an emotional level -- old people, usually. Now I think Sept. 11 is our own Veteran's Day . . .

What a fitting post for today as we all take time to think about those who give themselves in service for others, whether it's the microphone lady or the kid next door who's in some desert bunker. After I lost my dad last year, I looked for a piece to read at his memorial service and found a wonderful piece written in the 19th century titled All is Well. My dad is just around the corner, out of sight but not of mind. I have the feeling Mrs. Gallen is as well.
And Harley, I agree. September 11 is indeed our Veteran's (and Patriots') Day.

Thank you, Harley. Beautiful post!
And I, too, agree that September 11th is our Veteran's Day, especially for those of us who work with law enforcement. There has got to be a special place in heaven for not only the innocents who died that day, but for those who died trying to save others.

Oh, Harley, you need to listen to the song "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda," by Eric Bogle. If you scroll down a little on this page, there's a link so you can listen to it:

http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/parton/2/matilda.html

Let me know if your eyes are dry at the end.

Having trouble typing a reply through my tears. What a wonderful tribute to Mrs. Gailen.
Very touching blog, Harley

Josh, the mere words WALTZING MATILDA do heavy things to me. All that Tom Waits in my formative years . . .

Thank you Harley
We needed that.
mary alice

Now I am really crying - thanks to the readers - and writers - who e-mailed and volunteered to send books overseas. It will mean so much to the men and women serving so far away, not just to get a piece of home, but to know that someone is thinking about them.

Harley, this was a very moving tribute on a very appropriate day. To be remembered as "the voice of carpool" is, I think, pretty cool. It's nice of you to pal up to the new microphone lady right away, for your sake and hers. You can never have too many friends.

Since no one else has done it on TLC (and because someone mentioned Waltzing Matilda), I'm going to go off topic and bring up the Crocodile Hunter, as my reaction was the same there as here. To quote a bazillion other Internet users, I never knew how much I liked the guy, until he passed away.

Lovely, lovely tribute, Harley. :-)

I hardly even knew the Crocodile Hunter -- I'm about 7 years behind in my TV watching -- and it still stunned me to see he'd died. Do you suppose it's a sign of getting older, taking every death personally?

Snif, snif....crying now. Thanks for letting us know about Mrs. Gailen. I love the thought that she is on a well deserved break.....

Oh, man, tears here as well. Beautifully written, Harley. I love the "voice of carpool" -- and I'm glad she had your kindness there to focus on at the end.

Thanks, Toni, but do you think DATING DEAD MEN on the bedside table is really the last book title you'd want to see in this life?

Hey - I can think of worse books -

"How to Rid Your House of Killer Bees" would be one. "Surgery for Dummies" would be another.

Beautiful post today, Harley.

Ramona - crikey! Who'd have thought he'd go out with a Sting Ray, of all things. The local DJ's did a bit where, after the sad news hit the airwaves, someone spotted an old crocodile, with a fedora and a cigarette, paying off a sting ray. Sometimes, you've gotta laugh.

Harley - what a great Post, today or any day. And I can't think of any better books for a mystery love to have on her night stand.
Kathy, I tried to e-mail you to get some more info on sending books to military personnel (By the way... Bless you for that. When I was in the army, those care packages were the best. Paperbacks and Hershey's Golden Almond bars - almost Heaven) My computer won't let me e-mail you, so... where can I send some books ?

Do the soldiers want ANY books? Or are some genres more appreciated than others? And does the chocolate melt in those care packages?

Having been a former Social Science Teacher, I will make arrangements to send history books. One thing Dale Carnegie taught me, studying history helps relieve stress.

What a lovely post, Harley. I had no idea what was coming. I was just reading along, fondly remembering my own days of writing in a carpool line, when you hit us with the final chapter. (It was pre-laptop days for me. I propped a legal pad on the steering wheel and wrote in longhand. It's easier, I think!)How wonderful that you got to have that personal contact with her and she with you.

Thanks, Nancy. But Dave -- studying history helps relieve stress? Do you just leave out the wars?

Your blog just got me emotional. Let us just be happy where she is now.

The beauty of studying history is that every age has its own Armageddon, and yet mankind still finds a way to survive and prosper for over 10,000 years.

History helps put things into perspective. Until the Berlin Wall fell, most mainstream news agencies had the United States losing the space race to the U.S.S.R. after the Challenger disaster.

Five years ago, Mayor Giuliani took comfort by reading the words of Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britan.

Given that I have had family members who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam etc....the one common discussion and debate around the dinner table for these veterans was history, usually military history.

It has been my experience that people with a military background take comfort in reading about other people who have, "...been there, done that."

I, and most of my comrades, would read anything we could lay our hands on, although Heinlein, Web Griffin, and... uh...The Guy Who Wrote Jurassic Park (whats-his-name)were perennial favorites. I was stationed in Germany, so the chocolate usually arrived in tact. I'm not sure what the shiping conditions are like in Iraq right now, but Afghanistan would probably be okay.

"do you just leave out the wars?"

lol.

It was a nice tribute. I think that when people are doing day to day waht they enjoy it is meaning to them in thier life.

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