Finnegan, Do Your Thing

Week 36

Finnegan, Do Your Thing

Well, it’s my birthday come round again. The last year I can use the number “5” as the first digit, too. Weird feeling, being this age, with one “cyborg” knee and a generous netting of silver in my hair. I’m not even so sure there is still a young person inside me wondering what the hell happened. Some days it feels more like another old biddy with sagging breasts and a belly that won’t flatten, even with 100 sit-ups a day, wondering what the hell happened.

I had grandparents when I was a child, sure. I always knew on some level that people lived to “ripe old ages,” with white hair and wrinkles and a passion for prune juice. But I don’t believe I ever realized exactly what it could be to see first your children born, then grown to adulthood. At the same time, I turn around and see my parents ease (or rage) into their final years, knowing all too soon my sisters, husband and friends will all face being the senior generation in our families. Next ones over the cliff so to speak.

Or perhaps it’s knowing that two of my heroes, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, died this week. I’m still not entirely over losing Robin Williams and Roger Reese.

Anyway, hoping for the lighter side of death, as promised, I’m sharing the beginning of a piece I wrote this summer. It’s no threat to great literature, but it was fun to write. Well, most days, it was fun.

Hope it gives you at least one smile.

First Thoughts

Mothers in Pearls

You may have heard about the “Mothers in Pearls” riot in Syracuse last August.

It was on all the news channels. For a while. The local channels showed their community spirit and chewed the story for at least a week; but that’s understandable. The murder and drug-related crime had taken a break because it had rained a lot. The rain also kept even the house fires to a minimum, so it was a slow couple of news cycles for them.

The national news gave our little riot two and a half minutes one night. And the late night network and Internet comics got a few good jokes out of the riot, and a whole lot of tasteless ones as well.

But, then again, not everybody pays attention to the news.

So, in the event you’re not from the Finger Lakes area, or you missed it on the film-at-eleven broadcast, the riot boiled down to this: twenty-six women, from thirty to seventy-five years old, dressed in modest, pastel going-to-church dresses with white pumps (it was still three weeks before Labor Day,) and all wearing single-strand pearl necklaces, gathered one humid night in front of the Syracuse Law School Library on a hot Thursday evening around nine o’clock. They prayed for a few moments, shouted, “Amen!” and bashed away at the school windows with signs.

Now, these signs were hand-painted, rebar-reinforced particle board reading “Stop polluting our daughters!” and “We don’t need your education” and other similar notions. Some of the women went the time-honored route of screaming verses from Genesis, Colossians and First Timothy while they swung and shattered, but their point was unanimous: women did not need higher education, didn’t need equal rights and didn’t need to vote unless their husbands wanted them to vote.

The police responded to the panicked custodian’s call and arrived in an admirable and timely manner. However, they could not immediately disperse the women with verbal persuasion and they hesitated to get physical. “They’re our moms and grandmas,” one officer complained. “We can’t taze them, even if we wanted to.”

That reservation, however, went up in nervous cigarette smoke with a “Dammit, mom!” when one mother in a soft blue sheath and jacket caught her officer son smoking at one end of the line of police. She strode over grass and concrete and swatted him in the pants with the flat side of her broken, First Timothy-quoting sign. Her son took her down and applied the zip cuffs. Then his brothers in blue surged into the rest of the mob.

Reports summed up the damage: two first floor windows of the Law School smashed, six head injuries (including slapped faces, mostly among the police), twelve skinned knees, and twenty ruined pairs of pantyhose (all among the rioters). The police arrested twenty-five women. Every available cruiser, van and, in the end, a public transport bus got the call to “get these screamin’ meemies to the jail.”

And that’s where the national news and late night comedy attention dropped. Viewers tweeted and posted that they expected more coverage once the legal proceedings began. Somehow, though, the national news never got back to the story. Too many other natural and man-made disasters created more than enough sound bites, I suppose. What became our little “kerfuffle” stayed in the local news to this limited extent:

The twenty-five women were all found to have high levels of sugar in their blood, consistent with what they described as the “punch” they’d drunk at their church on Thursday before heading downtown. They also tested positive for a hallucinogenic drug of unknown origin.

Friday morning, the women woke in the holding cells with headaches, no memory of why they were in their Sunday best on a Thursday (so dirty and now their best pantyhose were ruined) or why they had been arrested. And they all had the same question for police, judge and public defenders who interviewed them:

“Where is Ambr’ Pembroke?”

The local news claimed to be digging into Ambr’ Pembroke’s whereabouts and why these church ladies would commit such unprovoked violence. They speculated on who she was. One station offered five-minute editorial spots on why this newest domestic terrorist spelled her name in such a distinct manner (Please note: the real answer to that question has two possible, very unflattering stories to explain the spelling. Both of them involve her father and more than enough liquor to steady his nerves through the labor that resulted in Ambr’s birth).

As time and days since the riot passed, reporters with increasingly lower status dug and dug and would have hit a gas main before they found any answers. After a week and a half, the locals had talked themselves away from the whole thing.

The police put the BOLO for Ambr’ Pembroke on the proverbial back burner, too. To the public, they insisted for that ten-day period that they were keeping out a watch for her. That is, if anyone asked them.

Which no one has for a few months now. It’s nearing the end of December as I write this, and not a living soul in Onondaga County has found her. I’m more than 99% sure that they never will.

Why? It’s not because of the knee-deep snow we have this time of the year. No, it is because no one of them will think to look six miles southeast of Syracuse in the Sayresville Cemetery Foundation’s Memorial Cemetery and Potter’s Field. They won’t go to Section E and the badly-labeled Pembroke mausoleum, which looks more and more like a squared-up leaning tower in Italy and for the same reasons.

The searchers won’t go in through the gate that groans on opening like Godzilla in a snit, and they won’t step down the slick, worn steps into the heavily-vined, dimly-lit family gallery. They won’t turn sharply to the right, then dodge the cutting edge of a stone sarcophagus.

And finally, they won’t muster the strength of muscle or conviction to shove aside the lid of the sarcophagus and find her: Ambr’ Pembroke, in her open coffin, staked through the heart. And most likely in a foul mood.

So, that probably raises a couple of questions. One: yes, Ambr’ is a vampire; a white-blonde, doe-eyed and leggy vampire. Two, no, she is not dead, dried up and blown away. She is still very much undead.

That said, I know I’ve raised a few eyebrows and a few more questions. Mention “vampire” along with “stake,” and the popular picture is the same to the majority of those living today: the wood or silver stake driving into undead flesh, with lots of shrieking and fountains of the blood-sucker’s, well, sucked blood spraying the whole room and everyone in it, followed by the vampire drying up and blowing away.

We all know it and have seen it or read it dozens to hundreds of times ever since Polidori started the vampire story mania two centuries ago. And we all “know how it has to end.” Why? Because readers of that particular genre from the Age of Reason (or Not) up to today like their stories with a righteous and sure vengeance. Stake the evil blood sucker, gore and dust in your eye and it’s happily ever after all around.

If you read history, however, you’ll find a slightly different story.

When the Dark Ages people came to understood that there were undead among them, the living didn’t try to re-kill them outright. These illiterate farmers still had scruples about committing murder, despite the fact that the malefactors were already dead. No, the living dealt with the infestation by going in the day time to a grave, digging up the body and the staking it in the ground or coffin to keep him or her down in the grave. Then the living reburied the body and allowed the vampire to slowly starve to death. The solution proved simple and effective, and the hands of the Dark Age living were as clean as hands at that time in history could be.

It took more Enlightened minds to decide beheading was also a good idea.

And the garlic? I have found very little that makes sense in the way of explaining that. Perhaps someone was merely trying to cover his own bad breath. Folks back then were not into brushing their teeth, you know.

Back to the vampire at hand. So to speak.

I will tell you that Ambr’ did bleed a little when I drove the cherry wood stake through her ribs. No fountains, but enough to ruin her sleeveless A-line sundress. I am not sure to this day which infuriated her more, the staking or the stain on her dress. But she is still as alive is the undead get. And she’s completely dependent on her fellow vampires to slip her a rat every other day; on holidays, I understand she gets a possum or raccoon.

Another question you’re asking: No, I am not a professional vampire hunter. My name is Grace Farmer. I am the eighth-generation caretaker and business manager of the Sayresville Cemetery Foundation’s Memorial Cemetery and Potter’s Field. We locals call it the CPF. I have lived with vampires, ghosts and the dead since the day I was born. I know them and they know me. That includes Ambr’.

One final question before I start the “real story.” No, I don’t like Ambr’ and she hates me, but that was not the reason I staked her on that sunny August morning. I did not want to stake her at all, if you want to know the truth.

But I had no choice. I was in love.

And I was stupid.


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