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Just Begging for an Accident

Posted by cdonegal on September 14, 2013 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

My consideration of the panhandling issue was prompted by a recent action by Maryland's Montgomery County officials to discourage panhandling, a remarkably rare phenomenon in that affluent community. The plan called “Give a Hand Up, Not a Hand-out” encourages drivers to contribute directly to charities that help the underprivileged instead of contributing to the safety and conscience issues cause by panhandlers in the street. This action results directly from the death of a panhandler earlier this year, when a car jumped the curb onto the traffic island where she stood. In another incident, reported by the Washington Post (September 11, 2013) the executive director of a charity that works with the homeless recognized a man holding a cardboard sign that claimed he was homeless as someone for whom she had provided housing.

The Montgomery County program provides for givers to text SHARE to the Community Foundation for Montgomery County. Of course, not all panhandlers would avail themselves of this charity, and the program never will work unless all drivers band together to withhold donations that encourage panhandlers to continue.

To resolve that issue, I suggest that charities also sell bumper stickers that say “SHARE,” and that the proceeds be allocated to helping the homeless even as they give the message that this driver is helping, but will not contribute to endangering the community and encouraging panhandling by givingh money to people in the street.

Pedestrians might purchase a book of tickets that say SHARE, perhaps with an address for panhandlers to seek assistance. Rather than cash, the donor hands a SHARE ticket to the panhandler.

Let us hope that this sort of plan—possibly refined—will increase assistance to those who need it as it reduces the dangers, moral dilemmas, and pangs of conscience associated with panhandlers accosting drivers and pedestrians.

Who knows what we can do about the firefighters and their boots?



Friends of Homeless Animals to the Rescue

Posted by cdonegal on September 10, 2013 at 10:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Barktoberfest is a day to celebrate the human-animal bond while supporting Friends of Homeless Animals mission of saving abused, abandoned and neglected cats and dogs that have found sanctuary with Friends of Homeless Animals while they await permanent homes.

We adopted Ajax, our AmStaf from Friends of Homeless Animals ten years ago October 4. He has been an amazingly sweet and loyal companion. Recently he had developed several external tumors, not atypical for the breed. Just over a week ago one of them suddenly grew to many times its size the previous day and developed an infection. Within days, this powerful dog was so weak that he had trouble walking down a few stairs. Office visits and the medication necessary to prepare him for surgery cost about $600. The surgical procedure would be another $1,000. As I now rely solely on Social Security—not the windfall some would have it—the expense was frightening. The alternative was to euthanize him, but he was otherwise healthy and neither of us was ready for him to go.

When I reported out plight to the president of Friends of Homeless Animals, she talked with our vet and arranged to pay half the cost. Not only had FOHA provided me a wonderful pet, but the organization would also make it possible to save his life ten years later.

Obviously, I am indebted to the organization on both counts. The expense was more than I could comfortably afford, but FOHA made it happen.

Ajax is now recovering well and less than a week after the operation, he has a couple of scars, one about ten inches long and stitched with super-strength ligatures, and he has learned to wield the cone of humiliation as a bull dozer. He also has a sparkle in his eye again and is teasing me for treats.

I have been sleeping on the first floor with him, both because I need to keep an eye on him and because he wants to be near me. In truth, we want to be close to each other.

Read maudlin thoughts here, but I am grateful to still have him with me, healthy and happy and looking forward to being together for years to come, a quality of life that has been much improved, thanks to excellent medical care and the commitment of Friends of Homeless Animals.

Within the past week, I have found it necessary to part ways with the people I was working with on a long-term project for which I had surrendered some contract work (writing and public affairs, if you know anyone….) so I don’t see my financial situation improving. Although I don’t have the luxury of money to give FOHA, I do want to spread the word in the hopes that other animal lovers in Northern Virginia and beyond might be able to provide some financial support to Friends of Homeless Animals, either directly (, or through the organization’s annual Barktoberfest (

On September 28, hundreds of dogs and their families are expected to participate in FOHA’s annual fundraiser Barktoberfest, presented by The Life Centre, at the Loudoun County Fairgrounds.

Activities for FOHA’s biggest fundraiser of the year get underway with the Mutt Strut at 9:15 a.m. Register here and join walkers for the one mile Strut to support Friends of Homeless Animals, a no-kill shelter that has saved more than 15,000 dogs and cats since 1973.

Other activities throughout the day include agility and training demonstrations, live music performed by a number of bands, kids games, vendors selling their unique wares, opportunities to “ask the vet” and “ask the trainer,” contests that include pet costumes and best tail-wagging, raffles, an auction, the canine belly rub hub and a range of other activities for family and pet-oriented fun, all for a donation of only $5 for each adult. Kids and dogs are admitted free.

Here is your chance to watch a parade of dogs in need of a good home, while other pets in need of adoption will mingle with supporters and enjoy the many activities in their honor.

Register to Strut and find further information, including a schedule of activities, online at Barktoberfest is a wonderful opportunity to meet the pet that is waiting to meet you.

Tell them Ajax sent you.

Re:Post Ri-Post #2 --Whistle-blowers and Sodomy (i.e, non whistle-blowers): Not in my house, Virginia!

Posted by cdonegal on June 26, 2013 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Of Rants ad Tyrants

Images, Whistle-blowers and Sodomy (i.e, non whistle-blowers): Not in my house, Virginia!


First, a shout-out to Matt McClain and the WP editors who chose to print his image of a seven-year-old boy playing in a waterfall at Yards Park in the District. It captured the essence of summer and the delight of the child in a shot that captured the beauty of the falling water.


And now, in my continuing quest to take cheap shots in brief to what I read in The Washington Post:

The Snowden Saga (AKA “Where’s Edward” has taken us to Moscow, one of the Axis of Democracy country’s courageous enough to defend revealing state secrets. As long as the state is not the Russian Federation.

Joining its brothers in fighting human rights violations—China, Cuba, and Ecuador—Russia is allowing Snowden to hide out in a secure section of the airport, probably disguised as Robin Williams. According to Colum Lynch’s front page article, the Russian foreign minister said, “We have nothing to do with Mr. Snowden or his movements around the world. He chose the route himself.” (We provided only the airplane and the hideout.)

Apparently, if you embarrass the United States government, entering Russia without a passport is not illegal. Mr. Snowden’s was revoked June 23.

Ever the philosopher and pacifist activist, Russian president Vladimir Putin, former chief of the Russian Boys Scouts, usually called the KGB, said, “Ask yourself: should such people be extradited to be jailed or not?”

Well, yes.

Should Pussy Riot be imprisoned for a brief cheeky but peaceful protest against—what was it now? Oh yes—the violation of basic human rights in Russia?

Well, sure, but that was Russia, not the United States.

Not only is it preposterous that Snowden’s quest for safe haven takes him on a tour of to the most egregious violators of human rights, but defending him as a whistleblower also defies logic. Snowden has admitted that he had specifically sought employment that would provide him access to the classified information he revealed.

In the interest of full-frontal disclosure, let me confess that I began my adult working life as counter-intelligence agent. That was a long time ago in years and even longer when measured in terms of public attitude. Those of us working in the field took seriously the responsibilities that came with at least a Top Secret clearance, and some of our more seasoned readers might recall that our sojourn in Southeast Asia at that time had detractors.

I recall a telephone call on a non-secure line when I mentioned to colleague that The Post (We have history.) had a front page story about a purported and classified Phượng Hoàng (Phoenix) program, and although I neither confirmed nor denied the existence of the program in that conversation, I was chastised for saying the name of an operation I knew to be classified on an open line. I felt embarrassed and justly rebuked at the lapse.

It was a different time. As smarmy as it sounds, we believed in keeping our word. We believed in honor and integrity.

Even from my vantage point some 40 years later, I can’t imagine the men I worked with not being grievously offended at the thought of exposing classified information. We believed in that we were doing; we took seriously our charge of protecting U.S. secrets.

I recall another time when I happened upon a practice that violated civilians’ privacy. I understood (and probably even approved) of the aim and rationale of the practice, but I was not happy or comfortable about it, so I reported my concerns to the special agent in charge of my office. I remember that he dismissed my concern, an unsatisfactory response, but I had followed procedure and followed the chain of command and allowed myself to believe that that was the extent of my duty.

Never did it occur to me to—I would have been scandalized if anyone had hinted that I should—expose the practice to the public and violate my oath and position of trust and responsibility. Indeed, I have no doubt that I would have reported anyone who suggested that I do so.

Did that make me a good little Nazi who only followed orders?


I believed (and do believe) in our country; I believed that what we were doing was important. I believed that our reasons for impinging on privacy under certain conditions, when our national interests were involved were valid if not technically entirely legal.

Do we cry national interest more easily now? Do we toss the phrase out like so much chaff to distract from or defend anything we want to do?


But I believe that revealing national secrets you have sworn to keep is dishonorable and should have serious consequences. If I could whisper to a drone where to find Mr. Snowden, my coffee would not have time to cool before I put in the call.

Does that mean that I think it is not wrong for the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct wholesale electronic surveillance on our emails and phone calls?

It kind of does.

No, it certainly does.

Does anyone seriously believe that the NSA is capable of—or interested in— actually reading every email or listening in on each of the millions of phones calls we engage in every day?

Of course not.

The agency seeks key words and trends and addresses, and if they’re not doing so resulting in a terrorist attack or other atrocity, who could stop the rains of criticisms and the tides of public opinion that quickly would turn against the government that had not taken every measure to prevent it?

The outrage in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings demonstrates the kind of rage that flows from not being aware of a threat. If the intelligence community had picked up on the brothers’ communications, lives could well have been saved. Given what we now about the notice that intelligence agencies had received raises another question, but our egos are far bigger than the capacity or interest of the NSA to know what you and Grandma are gossiping about.

We used to say, “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to read about on the front page.” That is true also of what you say: Remember the monkeys! (That probably will never catch on as a battle cry.)

If only the sense of honor that was as prevalent as it was profound 40 years ago were common today, we would all be better off. Not the sense of honor that calls for murdering a daughter or sister who is found alone with a male who is not a close relative, but the kind of honor demonstrated by the likes of Thomas More or Thomas Beckett, men of character and strength, who shunned expediency and stood by their convictions to the death.

Edward Snowden has harmed his country and deserves to pay the price for that.


And now for something completely different:

Virginia Attorney General (and Governor “Diamond Bob” McDonnell’s sometimes henchman) Ken Cuccinelli wants to turn the Supreme Court’s sodomy decision on its head…if you will. The Republican nominee to succeed McDonnell as governor—or as the current governor appears to perceive his role: designated expensive gift recipient—has decided to suspend his fight against global warning evidence to battle the vicious crime of sodomy between two consenting adults.

On Tuesday, the morals mouthpiece filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to preserve Virginia's anti-sodomy law as a result of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' March decision to overturn a 2005 conviction involving oral sex, saying that sodomy statutes cannot criminalize sexual activity between consenting adults.

(At last, you know whose eyeballs those are peeping in your bedroom.)

I wonder whether he would have assumed that position if he had the...ummm---guts to say no to his wife.


Craig Lancto

June 26, 2013

Throw Momma from the Train--RiPost #1

Posted by cdonegal on June 20, 2013 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Re: Post RiPosts #1 


Throw Momma from the Train (a kiss)

Actually the title of a 1956 Patti Page song before the DeVito film appropriated it.

   I confess that my sole source of printed news is the Washington Post. Although I watch television news and read it on the Internet (I am not, after all, a barbarian.) I read the Post front to back (other than the financial section which seems only to mock me) every day. When I am out of the country, I read whatever I can find, often the International Herald, more often Nice Matin.

   As an erstwhile columnist, I often have the urge to write about an issue, event, or situation. I have done so under more than one byline, but often I just want to make a quick response without a full-length 800-word essay. That is how the idea of RiPost, a title of which I am smugly proud, a rapid response to something that struck a nerve but didn’t merit a full-blown response. (That adjective always struck me as especially unfortunate when applied, as it often was to AIDS.) Now that I am in my dotage and have returned to freelance writing in addition to public affairs consultation, I find that I am inclined to jealously guard the time writing a perfectly composed column or blog would require. Time has literally become money again.

   So, although these pieces are not as beautifully composed as my columns in previous years, I hope that they entertain and inform—or at least prove cathartic for me. I hope that you will check in from time to time to see what I have to say so that I am not talking to myself in writing. Writing to myself. Be that as it may (I always have loved that archaic expression.) I humbly submit Re: Post RiPost #1:

   Yesterday, for example (I am writing this today.), I read a response from Carolyn Hax—whose regular feature apparently has no title but limps along only with her name and what seems to be an oddly leering mug shot.

   Ms Hax (Forgive me, I do not use a period after Ms because it is not an abbreviation.) was responding to a “Frustrated Father of the Bride” (Hereafter FF) who worried that his 84 year-old mum, whom he described as a “hard-core feminist and atheist” (I am in love already.) who “views religion as an oppressor of females….”

   As Gene Weingarten so eloquently doesn’t say:

   Well, for those who think I forgot to complete it, Weingarten leaves a blank for speechlessness.

   It loses something in the translation.

  FF relates that Mums hasn’t spoken to him since she had said that she would ‘walk out of the ceremony in protest” when the officiating clergyman read Bible passages, and he responded, “Then leave.”

  She also returned the cheapskate’s Mother’s Day Card unopened. He said. (Actually, I included the epithet, not he.)

  FF added that Mumsie also stopped speaking to his sister when she “tried to reason with her.” He said that even though Mommie Dearest has agreed to be civilized during the ceremony, he wants to exclude her to preclude drama that detracts from “the joy of the day.”

  P.S., then he adds that Herself suffers from poor health and depression, that she “seems determined to be unhappy and find things that offend her.”

  Oh, the setup took so long!

  Ms Hax responded by wondering what the writer would gain by excluding the old piranha.

   “Is the joy of the day so very fragile—and ceremonial perfection so important a goal—that it can’t withstand an act of generosity to an ailing family member?”

  She advises that FF apologize for getting angry and lashing out at the dear old soul.  She opined that he had missed his chance “to exercise restraint and good judgment” and advised him to “champion exclusion.”

  It took her well over 200 words to respond in a way that made me fume.

  All of this is mere prelude to my offering what my response to FF:

  Let the old bat stay home and wallow in her misery. Show her pictures if she decides to start speaking to you again and kill her with kindness in doses you can handle.

  Oh, that feels so much better!

(Haters may address their vitriol  to Clive Donegal at [email protected]. Compliments and kudos to [email protected])



Craig Lancto is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant.


Open House

Posted by cdonegal on December 22, 2012 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Gary braked to a stop in his driveway. He turned off the engine and headlights, but before the engine could tick more than twice, he turned his lights on once more. Something looked wrong. Possibly the subtle shift in shadows on his front door. Although one typically is not conscious of memorizing the smallest details, after years of pulling into the same driveway, his eyes had grown accustomed to the subtlest of changes. Now it looked different, but he couldn’t distinguish precisely how.

He doused the lights again and climbed slowly out of the car, sending his family across the street to stay with neighbors while he investigated. “Listen,” he said quietly, “Why don’t you all go over and wish the Dolans a Merry Christmas while I go in and turn the lights on.”

Eager to see what Santa brought, the children murmured dissent; their mother gave Gary a questioning look, but a tacit signal told her to do as he suggested.

Collecting his overnight bag from the floor of the backseat, he approached his house with caution.

The coach light at his door glowed softly in the misty evening. Inside, he could see the living room lamp that turned on automatically at the same time every evening. A second lamp in the den would turn itself on in about 45 minutes. A third, upstairs in the master bedroom, was scheduled to turn itself on and then off again after 45-minutes. He had staggered the lamps so that they did not look quite so automatic. The television was also set to turn on in time for the news, and then off two hours later. Gary believed that his preparations had been very clever. He slowly climbed the front steps, and as he reached the landing he saw that the front door, he saw that it was slightly ajar.

He groaned in recognition. This was not the first time that he had been burgled, not even the first time in the past six months.

He found that his key worked in the second lock, but even as he felt the click, he felt the door begin to push open at his pressure. Before him, the hall closet door was open and he could see that clothes had been thrown to the floor, some still on hangers.

He closed the front door quietly and stepped into the room, ear pricked for the slightest sound. He held his breath, listening. Quietly setting his bag on the floor, he began to move into the living room, sensing that whoever had been there was gone.

With a glance though the darkened dining room into the unlighted kitchen, he climbed the stairs to the second floor and peered into the master bedroom, his bedroom. The first thing he noticed was dresser drawers pulled out and tossed and pushed partially back in. Then, the half-open closet door.

He approached gingerly. The bedroom closet was a replay of the hall closet downstairs: clothes thrown on the floor, box lids askew. The top shelf was in disarray. Oddly, he didn’t see that anything seemed to be missing.

Each of the bedrooms was the same: dresser drawers open and mussed; closets open, clothes thrown to the floor, contents thrown about. And nothing obviously missing.

Returning to the first floor, he passed cautiously through the dining room and kitchen to the basement stairs. At the bottom, he turned on the lights and saw nothing amiss. Moving to the back room, he found that the trash bags he had stored near the back door had been slashed open, the contents spilling onto the floor. Still, nothing seemed missing.

Gary returned to the kitchen, hands on hips as he surveyed the wreckage. Three previous times in the past six months, he had come home to find that he had been burgled. He picked up the phone to call the police—again—when he heard someone at the door.


It was a hot summer night, humid and uncomfortable, but Gary finally had fallen into a fitful sleep. A light breeze gently moved the curtains at his bedroom window. His family had gone to the lake for the weekend, but he had work and stayed at home.

The floorboards creaked. Quietly enough, but sufficient to awaken Gary from his shallow sleep. He remembered clearly and immediately that he should be alone. He turned over and opened one eye. He thought that he caught movement, where the darkness was darker. He moved slightly to use peripheral vision instead of trying to focus straight on. The figure of a man tiptoeing across his bedroom, almost mime-like in his movements slowly took shape. Without conscious thought, Gary threw back the covers and leapt out of bed. The figure turned and fled, Gary close behind in silent chase.

The intruder pounded along the upstairs hallway, Gary almost at his heels. Around the column and down the stairs, ever in silence beyond the sound of pounding feet the two raced. As the figure bounded from the landing and dashed into the dining room, it dawned on Gary that he was unarmed. Moreover, he realized, he had no idea whether the intruder was. He slowed his pace.

In the kitchen the intruder hooked a left to the basement stairs and Gary stopped at the wall phone to dial 911.

“There’s someone in my house,” he shouted.

“Now?” asked the 911 dispatcher.

“Yes! I have him cornered in the basement; I am at the top of the stairs.”

“Is he armed?”

“I…I don’t know. I don’t think so because I chased him into the basement.”

Gary was astonished at the speed of the response. Even as he went to the front of the house, he saw a patrol car pulling up. He lived in a good neighborhood. He was surprised that the police were so near.

When the officer came to the door, gun drawn, Gary directed the officer to the basement stairs. Additional cruisers were pulling quietly to the curb and police were filing in to the house like a trail of armed ants.

“You need to stay out of the way,” the officer told him. Gary went out the back door onto the deck, where he saw strobing lights from additional police cars on the street behind his house. Officers with flashlights were approaching from several directions.

He did not notice that the external basement door was open. It was the way the intruder had broken in. It was the way the intruder left, even as Gary was on the phone with police dispatch.

Nothing seemed to be missing, and Gary felt that he had dodged a bullet. He hoped not literally.


A month later, Gary came home from work and went to deposit his change in his coin bank, a ceramic monk with a fringed tonsure and a coin slot in his back. “Thou shalt not steal” was emblazoned in script across his chest.

He stood with his hand hovering over his dresser…where his monk bank used to be. It wasn’t there. Neither was it on the floor behind or under the dresser. Neither was his jewelry box, filled with cuff links and tie tacks, his college ring and the ruby ring his father had passed on to him from his father. Further search discovered that his cassette recorder and a few other small items also had gone missing.

He called the police and they asked a few questions, took his list of missing property and said that they would be in touch. They both knew that this was the last time they would discuss small potatoes.


The weekend before Christmas, Gary and his family went to visit his parents, planning to return Christmas morning for the children to open their gifts. They tumbled out of the car and scrambled to the front door, excited at the prospect of getting into the house to see what Santa had left. Of course, “Santa” had actually come before they went away, setting out a pile of gifts beneath the tree and extending well into the living room.

No one was more surprised or disappointed than Gary when they rushed into the house to find a few bows and some wrapping paper where the presents had been.

Once again, the basement door, hidden at the bottom of stairs below ground at the back of the house, had been the Achilles’ door. Its frame was shattered and splinters hung from the dead bolt installed after the first time he had been burgled.

It was difficult explaining to the children, and friends whose gifts had disappeared as well, teased him that they would use the same excuse the next year.

He sent the rest of the day with all-purpose cleaner and a roll of paper towels, wiping finger-print powder from the doors, door jambs, light switches and walls.

Ho, ho, ho.


Enough! Gary nailed shut the back door and installed hardware to hold a think plank across it to preclude its being breached again. He also installed timers on several lamps and asked the neighbors to keep an eye on the house when he was away.

It was a few months before the family again ventured away overnight, and Gary felt uneasy about leaving the castle defended. After three burglaries in as many months, he felt under siege. Neighbors reported similar break-ins, although fewer, and the neighborhood had become hyper-vigilant against the onslaught, offering some degree of assurance.

So it was that when they returned home Gary was chagrined to see that the front door was closed but damaged and ajar.

He sent his family across the street for safety and told them to call the police as he gingerly entered and began an inventory of damage and destruction, beginning with the hall closet. The door was open and clothes had been removed and thrown on the ground. Other closets also showed that they had been ransacked and in the basement store room, he found trash bags waiting to go to the curb slit open, their contents spilled onto the floor.

But when he heard people enter, it was not the police; it was his family and the neighbors from across the street who entered silently. His family quietly took seats in the living room as Gary reappeared, his face flushed and veins popping in his forehead.

“They got us again,” he said in exasperation.

“Gary,” his neighbor said, “I am so sorry.”

He looked at her, one eyebrow raised in question.

“I wish that you had told me that you put timers on the lights. When I saw them go on and I knew that you were out of town, I called the police.”

“But…” he glanced toward the ransacked closet in the hallway and back at his neighbor, whose face confirmed her guilt and regret.

“I’m so sorry,” she repeated.

“But, why…?”

He called the police.

“I understand that officers broke in when they had a report of an intruder, but why ransack my closets and rip open the trash bags?” he asked.

“Sir,” the dispatcher replied, “Officers had to check the closets quickly for their own safety. Someone could have hidden behind the clothes, so they dumped them as quickly as possible to be sure that no one was there. As they went through the house, they repeated the procedure in each room.”

“But the trash bags?” he asked. It was as close to a whine as he chose to approach.

“The bags could have contained stolen goods, sir. They wanted to check because if they did contain stolen goods it would indicate that the burglars were still present or planning to return. It was faster to cut the bags than to untie the twists.”

“I see,” he said, deflated. “Thank you.”


Although there was a decline in the number of break-ins in the neighborhood, four or five houses including Gary’s suffered occasional break-ins. It was as if the burglar or burglars knew when they were vulnerable, knew when the houses were unoccupied.

Some months later, Gary’s next-door neighbor’s son called from school. He had forgotten his uniform for gym class and wanted Rick, his father, to bring it to him.

Rick took the suit to the school, about a mile away, and returned quickly. When he entered his living room, he heard a noise in the basement. He went to his gun safe and retrieved and loaded his nine millimeter before investigating.

As he descended the stairs into the basement, he heard someone scrambling near the furnace.

“I have a gun and I am not afraid to use it,” he announced. “Come out of there with your hands where I can see them.”


“I’ll count to three and then it is all on you,” he said.


“No. Wait, I’m coming out. Don’t shoot, man. I ain’t got nuthin’.”

“Keep your hands where I can see them. Make sure they are empty.”

The first thing he saw emerging from the shadows behind his furnace was an enlarged pair of the whites of eyes. The he noticed the trash bag near the basement door.

The man who emerged looked vaguely familiar.

“Upstairs,” Rick said, motioning with his gun.

The man walked dejectedly before him to the kitchen and kept his hands up as Rick called 911.

While they waited for the police—which was not more than two minutes—Rick said. “I know you. At least I’ve seen you.”

Of course he had, as he realized once the police arrived and identified the man. He lived in the house behind a high fence to the rear and between Rick’s and Gary’s houses. With a long record of petty crimes, he was a holdout in the one run-down house in the neighborhood. From his second floor bedroom, he could watch the homes of his more affluent neighbors in the rehabbed homes along the side of the street behind his house, and he could move quickly in and out when he saw everyone leave home. It explained why these houses had been hit so often and without detection.

Rick’s ten-minute trip to the middle school was shorter than the intruder had bargained for and it was the undoing of an almost perfect plan to make money for his drug habit while he punished the people who had gentrified his neighborhood.

And now, his home also is vacant, although it has remained unviolated…other than the workmen renovating it for sale.


From Falls the Shadow and Other Stories, (c) 2012 Craig Lancto

Just Like Romeo and Juliet

Posted by cdonegal on December 7, 2012 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Teaching is much more than instruction. It touches another world of activity and events, personalities and incidents, many of which are intentionally buried from public view. About 25 years ago, one such incident rocked the school--and at least one student's world:


The Holy Land Comes to Washington, DC

Posted by cdonegal on December 4, 2012 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the hidden treasures of Washington, DC, is a massive Byzantine church filled with precise replicas of the holiest sites in Christendom. the Franciscan Monastery.


In Praise of Poetry and Fictional Prose

Posted by cdonegal on December 3, 2012 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

The latest fad in educational reform is requiring that 50% of school reading be non-fiction. This essay argues that literature--and students- deserve a better fate.

The Road to Hell

Posted by cdonegal on November 30, 2012 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

The idea of a pilgrimage had appealed to both of them as they enjoyed their first trip to Europe, visiting holy sites in Rome and making a detour to visit Lourdes. They were grateful for their excellent health. Oh, she had trouble with her ankles and he with his knees, but, they joked, the first 80 years are the hardest.

The old woman dozed in her wheelchair as pilgrims passed by to and from the healing waters of Lourdes. Her husband looked lovingly at her and smiled as he waited to purchase a small phial of the water as a souvenir of their pilgrimage to the renowned grotto.

As he studied the coins in his hands in preparation for paying he heard the shouts of a woman who sounded very much like his wife. Turning to seek the source of the commotion, he was stunned to see a young boy in a Scout uniform pushing his wife toward the edge of the water. It was her shouts that drew his attention, as another boy seemed to speak earnestly to his wife of more than 50 years.

“Mabel” he shouted and began running toward the wheelchair as fast as his arthritic knees would carry him.

“Stop!” he called again but his cry was interrupted by one of surprise as he tripped over a stone and fell hard to the ground, his head bouncing once off the packed earth. A crowd quickly gathered around his immobile body as his wife’s wheelchair bounced to a stop. The scouts who had been with the boy pushing his wife retraced their steps to see whether they could offer first aid to the fallen man. Mabel grabbed her chest and tried to call for help, but she felt faint, her chest fluttered as if filled with butterflys.

Trying to stand, she collapsed on the ground, her face near a pile of fresh excrement left by a white miniature poodle.

Fellow pilgrims rushed to her assistance, drawing the attention of the Scouts who stopped their headlong rush at the shout behind them.

Looking at each other, they pivoted and returned to help the woman who had fallen from the wheelchair, but when the first reached her side, his foot slipped in the poodle waste and he fell, kicking the women’s face hard enough to break her nose and snap back her head. A collective shout of surprise arose from the crowd as the boy scrambled to his knees to attend to her. His friends ran for help.

The old man never fully recovered from the blow to his head. His speech was slurred and he had trouble remembering. His voice would trail off as he thought of his wife and the tragedy of her death beside the healing waters of Lourdes.

If only Mabel had not wanted to sit for a moment in an empty wheelchair, obviously left by someone who had enjoyed a miraculous cure, to watch the panoply of believers while Bert went to buy a souvenir.

He had trouble focusing his mind, but it kept chewing at the irony of two people in excellent health who walked to the healing waters of Lourdes and had to be carried out, one never to regain consciousness before dying in a French hospital so far from home and family, the other never regaining the ability to walk or speak.

The leader of the Russian Boy Scout pack that had thought Lourdes offered the perfect site to do good deeds, quietly resigned his post, but his family noticed that he was never again quite the same.

From Falls the Shadow and Other Stories, © 2012 Craig Lancto

Not the Cheap Seats

Posted by cdonegal on November 29, 2012 at 7:05 AM Comments comments (0)

The crash and sound of grinding metal froze Marian almost in mid-step. She ran to the front window, fearing the worst.

“Oh, no,” she cried. “Not the Ferrari!”

Money wasn’t the issue. She did all right. Well, well enough to rub it into the faces of those she had passed on her way up, anyway, which is what mattered most to her. With her modest inheritance and her successful law practice, Marian had more money than anyone she knew. Anyone she knew in the old neighborhood anyway. Not that she talked to them or would acknowledge that she knew them. Her life has been a history of quietly clawing her way up, wearing her face of sunny optimism to conceal the crippling need to amaze and impress the people she grew up with, the people she had scraped off her shoes long ago as she severed ties to her modest roots.

At the country club, where everyone she knew had more than she, she was on the lower end of the scale, but she was a member. In this as in all things, she clung to the superficial trappings of status that accrued to being in the right groups, the right clubs, the right neighborhood. Of course, she had scrabbled into each by a fingernail and membership in each prestigious group was more tenuous than anyone might guess. Behind the show, she was a shell, deeply in debt, shedding those she left behind and alienating those above her on the social scale, those who saw her social climbing as desperation, those who mocked her intrusion as a pathetic effort to elbow her way into the society of the right people. An infiltration of the lifestyle that was their right.

In this area, millionaires were not an exclusive club. Hers was the least expensive home in the exclusive neighborhood, but it was in the neighborhood, in proximity to wealth. Her jewelry was excellent costume jewelry or bargains from distant pawn shops and bazaars, designer clothes from discount houses. The “classic” Ferrari that she had bought at an automobile auction allowed Marian to pass among the über rich as one of them while actually costing much less than it appeared. But it was the most authentic of her costly disguises.

She had sunk much more of her “wealth” into the car than she should have but Marian was determined to claw her way to the top, and she knew that the only way to get there was to appear to already have arrived. Besides, she loved to flaunt her success.

With the rented art that adorned her walls and the mortgage that reduced her to a quivering mass, she was making the right impression, but she knew how tenuous was her hold on the trappings of wealth.

Being posh had driven Marian since she was a girl. She had resented the families that had better cars, better homes, better clothes and better vacations. Her father’s car dealership had made him very comfortable, but he was still a car salesman and that shamed her. She was embarrassed that he did not have a college degree, never mind a degree from one of the prestigious schools their neighbors had attended.

But even the most affluent of her neighbors was beneath what she considered her her due, proper station, and she quietly took pride in knowing that she had exploited every opportunity to step on them as she could to rise above them.

Best of all, only the brightest of them understood that she was doing so; she was smarter than them all. She took as her personal motto Hamlet’s observation “that one may smile and smile and be a villain.”

She had mastered the act and scorned those stupid enough to buy it. She believed that that included everyone else.

She saw herself as a modern Scarlet O’Hara, except instead of never being hungry again, she vowed never to be upstaged by people who had better pedigrees or made more money, every relationship she invested in, and every decision she made revolved around how it would affect her social standing, now and in the long run.

At law school she knew that she had found Mr. Right as soon as she realized that the classmate was the scion of one of the most respected and feared law firms in the city. It didn’t hurt that he was gorgeous and athletic. In fact, she first was drawn to his smile, which seemed to start in his heart and radiate through his doe-like eyes. Add his self-deprecating humor, kindness, and natural good taste that he wore like comfortable jeans, and he was a catch any way she considered him.

She pursued him as relentlessly as she could without being obvious. How fortunate that they were in the same study group (how unfortunate that there had been an opening that resulted from another classmate having an unfortunate accident that forced her to drop out for the semester.) How fortunate that it turned out that she loved the same restaurants that he favored, the music he enjoyed, and the authors he favored. She was always so lucky, no matter how much work it required.

How fortunate that he was gallant enough to marry her as soon as he learned that she was carrying his child, despite her apparently bewildered assertion that she had faithfully taken birth-control pills. Even when he learned that it was a false pregnancy, he had stood by her. Noblesse oblige, he thought. He loved her, he said.

How unfortunate that he had died so young – and so soon after Marian had been brought into his family’s law firm.

And now this, she thought, as she ran out to see what had happened.

The woman standing next to her vehicle – well, their respective vehicles, as they now were conjoined—was impeccably dressed. Her perfume was subtle and gently floral. Her expression was well beyond woe-begone.

As Marian approached the woman looked up and turned her head toward her. “Is it yours?” she asked without preamble.

Marian nodded and her heart fell as she took in the damage to her classic beauty.

“I am so sorry,” said the woman, searching though her bag. “I was so excited about good news that my attention wavered.”

“Good news,” asked Marian, as she surveyed the damage with folded arms.

“Yes, and now especially embarrassing, I’m afraid. My husband had just called to tell me that he believes that he is about to be appointed Attorney General….My husband!” She dashed to her car and searched around the floor until she came up with a cell phone.

“Daniel? Hello?” she paused. “Oh, no, I am fine darling. I know that it sounded horrible, but it isn’t as bad as it sounded. I am so excited for you! And I am so sorry to ruin your news with…”

“Well, no, of course. No. No one was hurt; the other car was parked and no one was in it.”

“Yes she is here.” She looked up at Marian. “You are the owner, you said?” Marian nodded again, studying the woman as her mind raced to find how best to leverage the opportunity that had just presented itself.

She had been worried that the deductible would wipe her out. The only way that she could afford insurance for the Ferrari was to opt for a ridiculously high deductible. Certainly these people would have insurance that would cover it…and she might make some excellent contacts.

“Of course,” she continued into her mobile. “No I have not!” she added with quiet intensity. “It is the middle of the day, Daniel and I have not had anything at all….Of course. Yes, I understand. Yes, I will see you tonight, darling.”

She smiled wryly at Marian. “He is not pleased with me,” she said. “In fact, as I have had a one or two other minor accidents, he would prefer that we not report this to our insurance company, if that is all right with you. She pulled out a card and began writing on its back. Looking up at Marian she smiled. “I always make sure to have a few of my husband’s cards with me,” she said. “People seem more impressed by a prominent lawyer than a woman whose resume includes only a string of charity work.”

She finished writing and her tongue made a soft clucking noise while her head bobbed from side to side as she considered whether she had provided all the necessary information. “I have put my own name and personal contact information on the back of the card. Obviously, I would rather that we handle it between us rather than bothering him with the details.”

“Frankly, although he wouldn’t say it, I think that he is growing a little tired of my being such a klutz.”

She handed the card to Marian. “I am Rosaline, she said. Rosaline Reilly. This is my cell phone, so you can always get through to me, and I would love to get this cleared up right away.”

“If you will get the repairs made and send me the bill, I will take care of it immediately. I am so embarrassed to cause you the inconvenience….In fact, I would be happy to pay for a rental while yours is being repaired, if you will allow me.”

Maybe this would not be so bad, thought Marian.

“That is very kind of you,” she said. “I would appreciate that.”

“Now that I think of it,” said Rosaline, finger to her lips, “I could have the fellow who does our repairs do your work and he could drop off a loaner when he comes to pick it up.”

She looked around as if about to share a great secret. “You will understand that -- especially now – I am eager to attend to this as quickly as possible with as little fuss as we can manage.”

“I do understand” said Marian, who had not said so little in as long as she could remember. “I hate to put you out, though.”

“Not at all,” Rosaline interrupted. “I appreciate your allowing us to keep this between ourselves.”

Rosaline saw Marian look again at her crumpled car. “I will ask Jimmy – the man we use for our body work – to call you as soon as he assesses the damage to tell you how serious he thinks it is and how long he expects the repair work to take. The man is a genius! You won’t be able to tell anything happened.”

Marian looked from the card in her hand to Rosaline’s earnest face. “Of course. Thank you, Mrs. Reilly.”

“’Rosaline,’ please. My goodness, we are sharing an experience, after all.”

“Rosaline,” repeated Marian. “Marian Stainer.”

“Miss Stainer.”

“Marian,” Marian corrected.

“Marian,” Rosaline said smiling awkwardly. “Despite the circumstances, I am glad to meet you, Marian.”

Marian snorted a laugh. “Same here, Rosaline. If someone had to wreck my car, I’m glad that it was you.”

“Well, I’m afraid that makes one of us,” Rosaline responded wryly.

Rosaline looked at her watch. “Oh, dear, I am afraid that I am running late. She looked again at the conjoined cars, her Mercedes and Marian’s Ferrari. “It looks as if your Ferrari got the worst of it,” she said. “I think that my bumper just crumpled that rear panel, but the bumper sill looks good.”

“Oh.” Rosaline exclaimed. “You know what we should do?” Reaching into her glove box, she extracted a digital camera. “We should take some photos before we do anything else. Even without the insurance company, it makes sense to record the damage for whatever reason.” And she started snapping pictures from several different angles, checking them as she went.

“Oh, I even got one of you,” she said. “We can compare the expression on your face, before and after the repairs are done.”

“Now let me call Jimmy and see how soon he can get here.” Scrolling through the numbers in her cell phone, she nodded briefly and pushed the speed dial. While she waited, she looked up at Marian. “You don’t have to tell me how embarrassing it is to have a body shop on speed dia…. Jimmy?”

“May I speak to him, please? This is Rosaline Reilly….Thank you.”

After a brief pause, Rosaline’s head snapped up. “Jimmy? Jimmy, this is Rosaline Reilly. I am afraid that I need your help.” She paused and listened for a moment. “Yes, I am glad that helped buy you your new car, but I need some…special treatment.” She paused again to listen and then laughed a throaty laugh.

“Listen, Jimmy, can you work on a Ferrari?”

A pause.

”Of course, I knew you could, I just wanted to be absolutely certain before we went any further.”

“I’m afraid that I have ruined the back of a lovely old Ferrari, but the owner and I have agreed that Daniel and I would pay for it instead of taking all the time to go through insurance.”

Another pause.

“Yes, well that might be good news for you, but it probably means keeping my “classic” Mercedes a little longer than I had planned…If Daniel allows me to continue driving.”

“I told the owner – her name is Ms Marian Stainer – S-t-a-i-n-e-r—that we would provide her a rental while you are working on her car. Can you arrange for that and deliver the rental when you pick up her Ferrari?”

She listened briefly.

Looking to Stainer, she said, “He has that Jaguar that he is selling for the owner. If that works for you, he can bring it over right away.”

Stainer thought briefly before asking “What year?”

“What year?” Reilly repeated into the phone.

“This year? Why is he selling it?”

She listened. Then, laughing, she said, “Must be nice.”

Looking to Stainer she said “His wife hates the color. It is red and she wanted champagne.”

Stainer considered. “A red Jag? Sure, it’ll be fun for the interim.”

“Okay! That’s fine. Thank you, Jimmy. And we’ll cover the cost for that as well, for everything, so you won’t even need her billing information” She gave him the address and said listened for a moment before disconnecting.

“He said that he can be here in about a half-hour. I am so glad that this will work out! I want you to have as little inconvenience as possible.”

She looked again at her watch. “Oh, my! I am so late!” She returned her gaze to Stainer

“Marian, I hate to appear rude, but this is very important for my husband and Jimmy is on his way. Would you mind if I were to leave you alone?”

She saw Marian’s uncertainty and added: “You have my cell number – and let me give you Jimmy’s number.” She scrolled through her directory again and read the number to Marian, who wrote it under Rosaline’s number on her husband’s card.

Marian smiled and returned Rosaline’s pen. “Thank you, Rosaline. You have made what could have been an unpleasant situation an example of how civilized people can behave.”

“I caused the problem, “returned Rosaline. “The least I can do is try to take as much of the burden as possible from your shoulders.”

Marian followed her to the car and watched as Rosaline gently reversed from where she had implanted her bumper in Marian’s Ferrari. She was surprised at how little the collision had damaged the Mercedes, and looking at her own car realized that the damage was contained to one panel. The horrendous sound of the collision seemed entirely out of proportion to the actual damage.

“Does it look as if anything is rubbing on the tire,” Rosaline asked.

Marian hastened to look at the front tires. “No, you are good.”

“Wonderful,” said Rosaline. “Thank you for being so understanding, dear.”

“You are welcome Rosaline. I hope that I will be able to meet your husband.”

“My husband? Why on earth would you want to meet him?”

Marian laughed. “I guess that I didn’t mention that I am a lawyer as well. I would be honored to meet the next attorney general.”

“Aah,” said Rosaline. “Another one of those….Now I am as surprised as I am relieved that we could settle this so quickly.”

“Of course, I would be happy to get the two of you together; it is the least that I could do.”

As she drove off, the two women waved to each other as if they were old friends, Marian’s mind already racing to calculate how she could capitalize on the incident.

As she waited for Jimmy, Marian grew increasingly uneasy. Just as she was about to call to check on him, she saw a bright red Jaguar pull up in front of her house, followed closely by a large flatbed truck.

Exhaling a breath she didn’t know she had been holding, she went to meet the bodyman and collect the key to the Jag from its driver. She almost dropped it when it caught on the driver’s glove, but she caught it in the air and smiled at the man who delivered it. She watched him help Jimmy gently load her Ferrari on the back of the truck and felt a sudden sadness as she watched them drive off with it.

But... she had the use of a cherry Jaguar and she could look forward to meeting the next attorney general of the United States.


Marian was eager to take the Jag through its paces on the way to the office. She was going a few miles over the speed limit when she spotted the police car coming up steadily in her rear view mirror.

Immediately easing off the gas to return to the speed limit, she was dismayed to see the police lights begin flashing at her rear bumper. She was more dismayed to see a second police car coming up fast.

She pulled over to the side of the road and saw the driver of the first car approach her with his hand on his gun.

“Driver, step out of the car and keep your hands where I can see them.”

Marian hesitated. This is not the way a police officer typically responds to a car going a few miles over the speed limit. In fact, Marian believed that there was a tacit agreement between police and drivers that the speed limit really meant three or four miles above whatever is posted.

“Driver, step out of the car now and keep your hands where I can see them.”

She saw a second police officer moving stealthily along the off-road side of the car and opened her door.

“Easy,” said the first office. “Come out slowly with your hands in plain sight.”

She did as directed, but as soon as she was standing, the first officer said “Face the car and place your hands on the top.”

“Officer, what is this…?”

Her question was aborted in midsentence as the policeman slammed her against the side of the Jag.

“There is no reason for…”


She felt his hands briskly checking her for weapons as a second officer opened the passenger door and began searching the car.

“Officer. I did not give permission to search my car. I am a lawyer and I do not give you permission.”

“If it was yours, we’d need it, but not for a car that is reported stolen.”


She began to turn toward him.

“Keep your hands in the car,” said the first officer as he slammed her against it again.

“Officer, obviously there is a mistake. This car is a loaner while my car is being repaired.”

“’Loaner,’ hunh?”

“License is clean,” said his partner.

“You see, Officer,” said Marian, turning toward him.

“Yeah, I see. First time you got caught,” said the officer as he guided her roughly into the back seat of his patrol car.

Marian was bewildered. More so when she learned that Jimmy’s number was a prepaid phone, no longer in use. Astonished to learn that Rosaline’s was not a working number. Embarrassed to realize that the new attorney general’s wife had been visiting family at the time of their “accident”….and she had a different surname…and broken-hearted to learn that the Jaguar was indeed stolen and her beloved Ferrari was gone without a trace, probably sold for parts, the police said.

Worst of all was the next morning when she saw her photo in the newspaper with an article about her having been charged with auto theft. She was stunned at how much personal information could be gleaned in such a brief time. Gone with her Ferrari was her reputation, her image and the house of cards she had sacrificed so much and so many to build.

Sickened by the article about her, she turned quickly to the employment pages. The partners in her firm couldn’t afford the association.

From Falls the Shadow, (c) 2012 Craig Lancto



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