The Courier by Dorothy Macchio critiqued

Roger Storkamp’s comments of The Courier by Dorothy Macchio

The Courier is an ambitious project threading a family trust of international curriers through four and a half centuries of European intrigue and weaving a network of cousins struggling to continue the tradition thrust upon them. Bernice Wheeler San Giacomo, a mirror image of the family trust she represents, is being shuffled into retirement after a final assignment. Irony, a common theme of youth rejuvenating an enterprise, in this case, elder women replacing elder-elder women. The solution, as in most family corporations, Patriarch or matriarch forced to join the board of directors.

Origin of the family trust, introduced in the prologue, develops as cousins piece together parts of family lore, filling in gaps either designed or a natural result of any clandestine operation. Setting (time and place) is skillfully recreated for the reader. History reads like a Wikipedia search and sitting rooms, bedrooms, and libraries are described with vivid detail to enhance the environment in which characters interact.

The flaw, if any, is with Dorothy’s portrayal of characters. How they look and what they do and think are artfully described, but similar to her description of setting. Places and things rely totally on the author’s skill with language; characters need to interact independent of the author creating them. Dorothy’s dialogue is realistic, however, points of view flips from one character to another, never giving depth to any of them.

Conversation Between Two Women

by Mort Harris

Joan: A man was following me on the way to your house just now.
Lisa: Are you sure you were being followed?
Joan: Well, I didn’t stop to ask! He certainly frightened me.
Lisa: That’s funny; it’s usually the other way around.
Joan: Think we should call the Police?
Lisa: Don’t bother; by the time the Police get here they will be tearing the neighborhood down for urban renewal.
Joan: He could have been a rapist or a child molester, or something.
Lisa: I’d cross out child molester. You should be flattered someone might have found you interesting!
Joan: Maybe I haven’t lost it yet!
Lisa: Dearie, not only have you lost it, you should send out a reward for it. The years haven’t been too kind to you.
Joan: You should talk! I see you’ve been through some nasty years yourself.
Lisa: Now that we’re through complimenting each other, what is the great news you have for me?
Joan: Well, you know Betty Furman.
Lisa: The one with the big bust and small brain?
Joan: That’s the one.
Lisa: She’d give anyone the shirt off her back.
Joan: Yes, she usually did. She’s getting married.
Lisa: How did that happen?
Joan: She tripped over this guy’s walker and it was love at first sight. Well, her first sight anyway. He has cataracts.
Lisa: How old is he?
Joan: Close to 90.
Lisa: What can she see in him?
Joan: She wants to comfort him in his golden years.
Lisa: How much gold are we talking about?
Joan: He’s rich.
Lisa: I wish I was so lucky.
Joan: You can start by hanging around the Geriatric Ward. You know you can’t be too particular these days. Men don’t grow on trees.
Lisa: I’ve had some dates that look like they dropped out of trees. Speaking of apes, how is your boyfriend, Bill?
Joan: Oh, I hate him! I invited him up for a home cooked dinner and he said “I’m not suicidal yet.”
Lisa: That’s because the last time you cooked for him you burnt everything. He went around telling everybody you used the smoke alarm for a timer.
Joan: Well, he doesn’t have to be suicidal, I’ll just kill him.
Lisa: He has a sort of mean streak.
Joan: If he didn’t have a mean streak, he’d have no personality at all. You look exhausted.
Lisa: I’ve been cleaning all morning, dusting, washing the floors, scrubbing the bathroom.
Joan: I thought the Cleaning Lady was coming today?
Lisa: Yes, she is, but you don’t want her to think I’m a slob, do you?
Joan: How are things going with Larry?
Lisa: My boyfriend, great!
Joan: What does he do?
Lisa: He’s a Traffic Manager for a construction company. He stands in the street holding a red flag and tells the traffic to ‘STOP’ or to “GO.”
Joan: Is it serious?
Lisa: Yes, it is.
Joan: Do you think he’ll be popping the question?
Lisa: I’m sure he will. He’s been hinting a lot.
Joan: When, when?
Lisa: As soon as he gets his divorce.
Joan: Have you talked to Lilly lately?
Lisa: Yes, we were on the phone this morning. She’s very upset about her job.
Joan: Is her Cook patting her on the rear end again?
Lisa: That’s the problem, since they hired a new waitress, he hasn’t looked at her.
Joan: You know the food is terrible there.
Lisa: I know, Lilly told me the food is so bad she spotted a roach retching in the corner. Even the cook brings his own lunch.
Joan: I once found a mouse under my table there.
Lisa: Did you say anything?
Joan: I don’t talk to mice.
Lisa: Have you tried that new place, “The Dilly Deli?”
Joan: Yes, the food isn’t bad but the service takes forever. I was there over an hour and the waitress said “what’s your hurry”“I said “I’d like you to take my order before the prices go up.” The service is so slow I wouldn’t recommend it to a senior citizen.

I Had to Laugh My Ass Off

My life had been reduced to a simple awareness that I still exist, or the unlikely reversal, an existence developed out of nothing. A sequence of impulses had been the only proof I am alive. They became a comfort as sensations either return or the alternative, were entirely new.

Experiencing physical pressure, the first of these sensations. The impulses became an annoying thump-thump-thumping, probably necessary for my continued existence. As I became more aware of my physical self, a pulsating echo developed within what I have since claimed, or reclaimed, as my body.

In my conscious moments, I use these out-of-sync markers by which to measure the passing of time. Occasionally they form pleasurable harmonics that lull me to sleep. Sharp vibrations will startle me back to consciousness and quicken the pace of my internal thumping.

Through movement, I maintain a slight degree of control over the echo, but the external machinery beats at its own unpredictable pace. Movement has also allowed me to sense pressure points around my body, some I can anticipate by way of concentration, and others only through random banging and bumping when moving or being moved.

However, movement is the force of my immediate concern. The pressure exceeds that of a gentle nudge of push from an outside force, and it far exceeds any of my feeble efforts to explore various portions of my body. I am being moved and squeezed, and the effects are unpleasant.

I cloak my apprehension in a veil of memory, stretching its limits to my first awareness of the rhythmic thudding that gradually inched into my existence. Out of nowhere? What was I before that moment, or was that the moment of my creation? Had I been denied a previous life, or—I revel in the thought—a preparation for some new adventure.

I stretch and touch and tumble in protest to the falling sensation, creating a renewed force on my mid section. I withhold my touch, yet the sensation of being pushed and shoved reaches areas of my body as of yet unexplored. Nearly unbearable pressure as if the space I’d come to believe as mine forever, became restricted beyond the area my physical being required.

And then released until I felt my parts would fly apart. Most disconcerting, the thuds by which I measured time had stopped beating, while the inner ones raced almost uncontrollably. A sensation of rapid movement as if my universe had come undone and a severe and sudden pressure in the lower extremity of my body that I had yet accept as a part of me.

Amidst the myriad of totally unpleasant sensations, two overwhelm my entire being, the first envelopes with freedom of movement and the other concentrates on a point I’d previously explored but never felt anything out of the ordinary, a percussion at my extremity. Nothing physical to that point could compare to the impact against the area of my body I could only assume was mine.

My inside pushed out my opposite end. I pulled it back and my expanded inner space filled with nothing. I reveled in my new found control. I blasted the nothingness back out and creating harsh vibrations void of pleasant harmonics but full of power and majesty.

I smile. I giggle. I laugh my ass off.

A voice introduces me to my new world. “Now that’s strange. Newborns are supposed to cry when I slap their butts.

Twist on an Old Story

Twist on an Old Story

On my way through the forest, I encountered a young wolf.
“Where are you going?”
“To grandma’s ginger bread house.”
“Little Red Ridinghood’s grandma?”
“An old story. After they got rescued and my father got axed, the shoe lady with a herd of kids moved in.”
“She’ not a Grandma.”
“Will be many times over. Just didn’t bother to change the sign at the gate.”
“Ginger bread?”
“I just threw that in ’caus I’m hungry. Besides, with all them kids one or the other is likely named Hansel or Gretle.”
“And your business with Shoe Lady?”
“I make an annual visit in honor of my father’s untimely death. One of these years I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow their house down. It’s just a pig sty anyhow.”
“And send the family back to the Shoe?”
“No room. A woman with three unmarried daughters took possession. Raised pumpkins to make the payments. She removed the second floor and turned the toe into a solarium like an all-glass slipper. Forced her daughters to undress in the basement, especially the pretty one.”
“That’s sad.”
“Not really. A king known for the size of his balls presented one to the public hoping a proper lady would arrive for his son, Prince Uncharming, to marry.”
“I believe the prince was charming.”
“Why would he need one of his father’s balls to attract a wife?”
“Good point. Then he could use his own balls.” I chuckled. “Restore the Old Woman’s shoe to full size for his wife and family.”
“Not quite. He had only one daughter. A beauty with long blond hair. Kept her from public scrutiny. But word got out; daughter of a wealthy king—”
“Yes. Seems everything he touched turned to gold. Even ordered a golden set of clothes.”
“How did that turn out?”
“He got conned. Shammed. Ponzzied. Lost his shirt—and pants—on the deal. Laughing stock of the peasants. And to top it all, his daughter, with the help of an aide, made an attempted escape. Lost her hair in the process, but still much too beautiful to suit her father. He commissioned a hag to turn her into a frog to deter suitors.”
“Wait a minute. Wasn’t the frog a prince, not a princess?”
“A princess is merely a prince without—”
“Please, let’s not go there.”
The wolf howled. “Balls, cried the queen. If I had two, I’d be king.” Saliva dripping off fangs. “See you around. I can already taste the gingerbread.”
“Talk about a Grimm ending.”

Pvt. Richard Lee Leslie Musters out of Army: Three excerpts follow.

Pvt. Richard Lee Leslie musters out of the army after WWII

Taken from Richard’s memoir posted on this site by that name.
(Author’s note: After Surviving 18 months in an active combat zone in the Philippines, Pvt. Richard Leslie and six buddies walked into a booby-trapped bunker. His buddies were killed and Richard returned to the US under sedation aboard a hospital ship.)

Just when I began to feel healthy and eager to return to duty, I was summoned to the paymaster’s office where a sergeant who considered himself an officer sat behind a desk.
“Private Leslie.” He glanced up at me and immediately broke eye contact. Shuffling some papers, he said, “When were you last paid?” More paper shuffling. “I see you took a cash advance back a Camp Hon.”
“I can’t remember. Some time back in Negros Island, I guess.”
“Looks like you got three month’s pay coming.” He pinched his pencil tight and pressed it so hard to the note pad I was sure the lead would break. “Of course, none of that would be combat pay because the war had ended.”
“Like hell, I’m still in combat.”
“You aren’t even in a combat zone, if one still existed.”
“I was injured and brought to this hospital as a war casualty.”
He looked up and peered at me from over his nose. “You appear to be recovered from your injuries.” His attention back to his papers. “But that’s beside the point. It’s my duty to bring your pay status up to date.” He mumbled as he scribbled some numbers on the pad, “Three month’s regular Private’s pay.”
“Hey, I get jump pay. I’m a paratrooper.”
“According to your record, you’ve done only one practice jump since Corregidor.”
“Are you suggesting Corregidor was nothing more than a practice jump?”
“They’re all the same to me. I have to exclude your jump pay any month a jump wasn’t made.”
“That rule is overlooked during combat when practice jumps aren’t possible.”
“I can grant you that, but combat ended three months ago. The Japanese surrendered if you recall.”
Sarcastic remarks are tolerable from officers who need to assert their authority, but I was not about to allow a sergeant to get by with it.
“I want to see an officer.”
“My rank is the best you’re going to get, Private.”
“I have a right to get higher authority, Sergeant.”
“Watch that attitude, Soldier, or I will have to write you up. Then you’ll get your officer at your court martial.”
“In combat I’ve taken over squads where our sergeant in charge got shot.”
“Are you threatening me?”
My mind flashed back to a drill sergeant during training that I threatened and he backed down. However, this was different and I had to walk a fine line. “I refuse to sign any pay voucher that doesn’t include combat and jump pay.”
“We’ll see about that.”
He got up and left the room with me still standing in front of a vacant desk. Soon he returned with a lieutenant. He returned my salute, and he told me to sit down while he did some calculating. Something did not smell right.
“I see you haven’t jumped since the war ended.”
“No, Sir, I haven’t had the chance. But I am ready to jump right now if you will get me to an airport.”
“I don’t think you are in any condition to jump.”
He was right but I began a protest. “With all due respect, Sir…”
“No need for that. We can overlook that little detail.” He glanced at the sergeant and said, “I think $3000.00 would round off quite nicely.”
The sergeant nodded his approval and even started to grin. Something was up.
“Three month’s combat pay with jump pay added to mustering out pay. Three thousand dollars sounds pretty good, don’t you think?”
“Sir, I’m not mustering out.”
“Those are the orders. When we are finished with this transaction, you are a free citizen again.”
“Sir, under military code, I am making a charge against you.”
“Hold on soldier. You are not a civilian just yet. You will respect the uniform.”
“I am respecting the uniform. The charge I am making under combat rules is against you as a person. I am still in combat as the pay voucher you just signed proves.” I felt I had him at his own game.
“I cannot accept such a charge from a lowly private.”
“Are you hiding behind your rank or just afraid to face a combat veteran in a fist fight?”
“That wouldn’t be a fair fight. Wait right here. I will be right back.” He glanced at the sergeant now forcing a grin off his face. “Be prepared to include all the details of this conversation in your report.”
When a Lieutenant Colonel wearing an airborne uniform stepped into the room, I shot to my feet and saluted. All I could think of was Col. Jones.
He gestured for me and the sergeant to an as-you-were. “You just made a charge against an officer under combat code.”
“No, Sir. Not the officer. Just the person wearing the uniform.”
“Well, I can inform you that the officer has rejected your charge.”
“Does that mean I won my point?”
“You have beaten him, and he now must answer to a reprimand, probably a loss of rank.”
Such a swift decision in the military was unheard of, and I smelled a rat.
I stammered my confusion. “I, I…”
“You won your point, soldier, and with it comes an immediate but honorable discharge.” He added, “According to the code of combat.”
He beat me at my own game, I think, and I did not have the resources to research the code. Maybe none of it existed and this officer knew it. I tried reasoning with him. “I don’t want to be discharged. I need to stay in. It’s the only home I got.”
“You’ll do well as a civilian. You’ve shown great courage as a paratrooper, and now you deserve a bit of the quiet life.”
“I demand you allow me to stay. My time isn’t up, and I don’t have enough points to be discharged.”
“It’s all part of the code of combat. You won, the officer you charged lost, and you are free to go.”
“I won but I lost. It doesn’t make sense.”
“If the officer counter charged you, the case could go to a court martial with a possible dishonorable discharge and forget about the $3000.”
He reached to shake my hand. “You’ve distinguished yourself in battle. Wear your medals with pride, you earned them.” He left the room leaving me standing and the sergeant busy shuffling papers.

Excerpt from Pvt. Richard Lee Leslie

In honor of my Father-in-law on Veteran’s Day 2018
“Back at State Side”

Complete memoir to be posted on this site, additional segment each month

Needless to say, a part of me died in the Philippines, and the part that survived sustained damage.
Other than realizing I was restrained to a bed on hospital ship, I have no memory of that journey or how and when we docked or how I arrived at Camp Hon, California. The two-week quarantine holds a shadowy spot in my brain. I understood they needed to see if I brought home any ugly microscopic creatures, and I was a bit curious myself. I had escaped malaria, typhus, jungle rot and the clap, but what might be floating throughout my blood system did concern me.
I agreed to remain isolated, but I did not accept it with any degree of patience. I wandered to the PX and gazed at all the items that would have been luxuries on the islands or totally unavailable.
When the girl behind the counter asked what I wanted—my stupid gaze must have exposed my confusion—I asked, “Do you have milk?”
“Yes. Would you like a glass?”
Of all the commodities I handled overseas, I don’t recall ever having access to good old cow’s milk. I must have ordered half a dozen glasses of it from that astounded server.
I recall being annoyed with nearly everyone who seemed to be in my way, but I don’t think I got into any fights. That came later.
After quarantine, I requested a day pass to go to Riverside, curious if they trusted me to be on my own. I got the pass without reservation, and I didn’t think anyone followed me.
If they realized how shaky I was, MP’s would have escorted me, as they soon discovered were necessary.
I boarded the bus to Riverside directly to the bus stop near the bar where I had some business complete.
“I need to see the manager.” The bartender hesitated as if to say, who the hell are you? However, he called his boss from the back room. “Do you remember me?” I asked as the manager crinkled his face into a frown.
“Can’t say that I do.”
“About two years ago seven of us bought some Champaign.”
“I remember. If you still have your chit, I will bring out a bottle?” He cast a curious but sympathetic glance and repeated. “Chits? Seven of them, if I recall.”
“Yes. I have all seven of them.”
He faced the bartender. “On the shelf behind my desk are seven bottles of Champaign. Bring them out here.”
Silence until the bottles were lined up in front of me. The manager stammered, “All six of your buddies?”
“Yeah, every one of them.” More silence. “Can I have your bar hammer?”
He handed me a wooden mallet used to break blocks of ice and stood back.
“Hey are you crazy?” The bartender stepped forward, but the manager held out his hand.
“Let him do what he has to do.” Bang, one of the bottles exploded. “We’ll clean up the mess when he’s done.”
Shattered glass and foamy liquid spread across the bar and splattered onto my uniform and the manager’s shirt. The manager pulled one bottle from my final aim and said, “We have to drink this one.” He popped the cork and filled two glasses.
I raised mine and said, “To all of us who tried.”
We drank and he said, “You have honored their memories. Now you have to look out for yourself.” I set my half-full glass on the bar. “You can keep this last bottle. I’m sorry about the mess.” I left the bar and caught the bus back to Camp Hon.
The nurse on my ward took my damp jacket that smelled like booze and said, “I didn’t expect you until tonight.”
I muttered, “I can’t take it,” and flopped onto the bed. She respected my privacy.
A few days later I tried another day pass. I stopped at the bar to apologize for making the mess, but a different bartender told me the manager was out. I asked to use the phone to call a cab.
My sister had written me the address of my paternal grandmother in Whittier whom I had never met. Parked in front of her door, I told the cab driver to wait until I return or flag him off. A good thing I did.
A woman wearing a white tunic answered the door. “Yes.”
“I’m here to see Mrs. Leslie. She’s my grandmother.”
Still blocking the door she turned and yelled, “Your son is here to see you.”
“I don’t have a son.”
I interjected, “I’m her grandson.”
“It’s your grandson.”
“I don’t have a grandson.”
Rejected, I returned to the cab and asked how much to take me directly to Camp Hon. I couldn’t bear to ride that noisy bus back to camp. I lucked out by getting the same cab driver who took us to Coney Island in New York, or one just like him.
“Five dollars to get back to the bar where I picked you up. The additional miles on me.”
How I wished that cabby were my grandparent rather than the one I just about met.

Pvt Richard Lee Leslie Excerpt Continued

Bushnell Military Hospital in Brigham City, Utah

After numerous consultations with doctors, and I suppose with psychiatrists, I went to Bushnell Military Hospital in Brigham City, Utah, where wounded veterans from the Philippines were cared for, many of them amputees. I hadn’t any missing body parts, but some of my mind had left me. I have no recollection of how I got there but most likely by rail with an MP escort. I can only guess at the interval between August 15, 1945 when Col. Jones announced the end of the war and Christmas Eve, 1945. Between those dates, I more or less estimate the sequence as follows:
Two months collecting prisoners and tending prisoners near Dumaguete while awaiting orders, a month aboard the hospital ship, and a month at Fort Hon, California. I must have been under close observation after arriving at Bushnell, but I can pin point my activity that Christmas Eve. I was staying at a hotel in Brigham City, probably experimenting with a two or three day pass. One snowy evening I met a girl a few years older than me as I wandered aimlessly around the town. Our conversation went something like this.
“Are you lost, Soldier?”
“I can find my way back to my hotel, if that’s what you mean?”
“I was wondering where you were headed and if you’d like company.”
“I’d kind of like to be left alone.”
“Not on Christmas Eve. Come with me.”
I obediently followed, or was towed by her arm down a snowy path to a church, its windows aglow with multi colored light. I wanted to run as the memory of a deadly church in Negros brought on a rush of guilt, but this girl clung to me.
“I’m taking you to Midnight Mass.” She drew me inside the doorway, but I refused to advance beyond the back pew. Harmonic voices backed by an organ, candles flickering, and incense smoke rising put me into a sort of trance. The ritual performed by vested men and boys in front of the altar added to the effect. It was the most beautiful experience of my life.
When the performance ended and we stepped back into the snowy night, she said, “I want to go to your hotel with you.”
As we walked a few blocks, I felt a wave of anxiety. At the lobby of hotel I said, “I can’t do this.”
“If you want me to go, I will.”
“I have to go home.”
“The hospital.”
She must have been frightened for me, because she helped me pack my duffel bag, check out at the front desk, and flag a cab. She gave the driver instructions and offered to pay the fare.
“I’ve got money.” I stammered. “I’m sorry.”
“So am I, Soldier.” She held open the door to the cab. “So am I.”
I mumbled, “Thank you,” as she shut the door and the cab drove off. “For that wonderful experience.”
Back at the hospital the nurse asked, “How come you’re back so soon?”
“I just couldn’t stay away.” I curled into a fetal position on the bed and pulled the covers over my head. Like that night after my grandmother rejected me, I cried myself to sleep.
My doctors must have considered this episode a setback to my recovery, and I didn’t offer much help by answering their questions with a “Yes, Sir,” or “No, Sir,” or the shortest possible answers. Their wearing uniforms did not encourage me to open up. I was locked inside myself, and I refused to show any feeling except anger, and even that was kept in check at the hospital.

If Walls Could Talk

If Walls Could Talk

Walls can’t speak but they state their message stronger than any vocal medium could convey, either “Stay in,” as with the Berlin Wall, or “Keep out,” Trump’s proposed border wall. Nothing new, the Great China Wall dates back centuries, and prisons have layers of walls in case one or more is breached. A variation of a wall, Robert Frost’s Fences that keep out neighbors and his Roads not Taken regretting we cannot be at two places at the same time.
Walls will always exist, either as an innie or an outtie.
Certain walls have a limited length which would be easy for an adversary to circumvent. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem encompasses the heart of the Jewish faith, hope and loss, keeping no one in or out. Some walls are abstract like a stonewall which is neither stone nor a wall but a declaration of defiance.
How about a wall created by a self confined prisoner as in the 1997 Pink Floyd rock opera:
I’ve got wild staring eyes
And I’ve got a strong urge to fly,
But I got nowhere to fly to.
Ooooh, babe, when I pick up the phone
(Surprise, surprise, surprise)
There’s still nobody home.

More tragically still, the autistic child whose mind walls out the entire outside world, an extreme barrier that most parents experience between themselves and their teenagers, a problem that will dissolve into nothingness a generation later.
How many walls do each of us encounter every day, barriers of guilt, tradition, fear, and what could be perceived as the granddaddy-of-all-walls—death. To the religious, it is a passage, to the agnostic, an answer, and to the atheist, an exit. Not a wall at all.