28 March 2011

"In Reast"

It was a Tuesday night at the Blue Rider, and I was locked in a game of world domination across the corner table with two friends and a stranger.  I had the Confederate-looking grey armies at my disposal, and in that historical mindset was clinging to life in the remote north Asian provinces of Ir- and Yakutsk.  I’ve never much cared for Risk, truth be told.  I don’t like dice games, for starters; something about pinning your hopes to the impersonal mathematical calculations of chance.  I also never much cared for the unofficial table alliances, the resulting blocs, and the inevitable me-sitting-around-for-an-hour-waiting-for-the-end.  Because it is a long game, which for most is reason enough to avoid it.
            Friends Phil and Sam were locked over the Americas and Africa, turning a blind eye to the verdant fascist monstrosity that is Tyler.  I’d only just met Tyler.  He’s the sort of guy people meet and ask each other ‘where did they find this guy?’  A gargantuan, Panama Jack-looking fellow with a neatly clipped moustache and an omnipresent glaze of sweat on his enormous forehead.  He’d got Australia and Europe in his meaty grasp, and now he was gunning for all of Asia.  Silently gloating with that broad grin and the Oliver Hardy, half-eyed smugness routine.  Because this game was evidently meaning a lot to his sense of self-respect.  And I really wanted to beat the fat bastard because of it.
            So we’re there finishing off our third pitcher of the night, trying to keep the conversation light and pleasant.  I say ‘trying’ because this Tyler guy wouldn’t stop trying to talk politics; apparently he’s big in the local Tea Party circuit, in addition to being an objectionable heifer.  So I was liking this guy less and less, yet all the while preparing myself spiritually for the painful defeat inevitably coming my way, when my phone dingles.  Not a ring, mind, but the little text ‘dingle.’  After a bit of fishing about in my jacket, I find the text reads

Hey u are in reast
this is the cops of
the boss and
tomrrow the Fbi
will get u good

It took a couple reads through, but I still had no idea what the thing was all about.  It was a 410 number, which doesn’t quite ring a bell with me.  East coast maybe?  West coast?  And what the hell does ‘reast’ mean?  Or is it a place?  Many such questions spun about in my brain.  Such as who ‘the cops of the boss’ entail, and why in the world the FBI would want to get me, in particular.  I actually began to feel a bit nauseated, trying to think of things I may have done.  I don’t download movies or do drugs.  I once got quite a bit of music from the LimeWire back in college, but that was years ago by now.  Certainly the wheels of justice don’t move that slowly!   The mind was drawing blanks all over, but in the back of it I knew it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with me really.  I’m not a bad person, outside the pale of occasional speeding and routine corner-cutting.  Certainly nothing bad enough to warrant tangling with the FBI.  Above all, the whole thing smacked of wrong number. 
“The hell is this?” I asked of the table, showing the text to Phil and Sam.
“Maybe they’re finally cracking down on commies,” Tyler suggested with an evil snigger.  Phil suggested I should text something back.  Of course, as to ‘what’ I hadn’t a clue.  Truth be told, if it were some sort of dirty cop, tipoff situation, I wanted nothing to do with any of it.  Some Harvey Keitel-ish, as-played-by-Nick-Cage illiterate detective on the other end, completely unhinged and maybe a little coked up.  Probably wouldn’t take kindly to their illegal tipoff in the hands of the wrong person.  They might be so inclined as to drive across the country non-stop in a diaper, hell bent on wreaking horrid vengeance upon me.  Something to that effect.
But what did ‘reast’ mean?  I’d generally prided myself on a large, well-rounded vocabulary.  Not knowing this word was actually the most troubling bit.  Besides which, who would I know that would text so poorly, using words like ‘reast’ besides?  It had an other-worldly, dystopian Big Brother sort of verbage to it.  Thought crime; you no read, kind of thing.  Whoever it was meant for, it would be the last sort of warning I’d want to receive in advance.  With a lurid sense of foreboding in the pit of my stomach, I finished off the last of my beer and decided to call it a night.  There would be things to look up, and it was a perfect excuse to cut Tyler’s victory short.  The fascist pig.

26 March 2011

"Velvet Elvis"

       It was a Wednesday night at the Blue Rider, same as always.  The four of us sat around our usual table, in the corner nearest the door.  I was finishing my second glass of Pabst, eyes wandering around the room while Karin and Michelle kept a heated conversation about something, or perhaps nothing in particular.  See, Phil is seeing Michelle and Karin sees absolutely nothing in me at all, so at these weekly functions I play a supportive fourth round the table.  Usually this has me listening in to the iambic pentameter of the talk, throwing in the appropriate exclamations when needed.  We’ve settled so well into the Blue because the conversations seem to run more smoothly when I’ve got something to look at, and the Blue Rider is the most spackle-laden bar of them all.  Not your typical Applebees stuff, what with the frames and polish and cornballishness.  No, the Blue has a bizarre, borderline-troubling Steadman air to its décor, a truly loathsome collection of local art that covers every orifice save one.
       It was the save one that had caught my eye this evening, having more or less milked the last from the zombie John Wayne portrait, or the double-vaginaed phoenix perched over the doorway.  Opposite the bar about chest level between the three-part lithograph of the shitting stickman and the hunting picture where even the deer is wearing aviators, a good sized two-by-three foot swath of wall lay bare.  At an appropriate lull in the conversation I brought my empty pint to the bar and summoned Kenny, an easy feat as it was fairly dead that night.  Unlike the stuff on the walls, there was nothing even slightly interesting about Kenny.  Just your run-of-the-mill, middle-aged, middle-set, Scandinavian-looking barman.
       “Another Pabst,” I tell him, pulling three dollars from my wallet.  As he’s doling it out from the tap I venture to ask him, “So what’s with the blank spot on the wall over there?”
       “Actually,” he says with a grin, “it’s an interesting story, there.”  He hands me my glass and palms my cash, and I take a stool at the counter.  “See, we used to have a velvet Elvis there.  It’d been up for ages, decades maybe.  Might’ve even been the first picture in the bar, but that’s neither here or there.  When I was a young man, still at the college, I started work here.”  {Not to break from the narrative, but it was a stretch to imagine Kenny was ever a ‘young man,’ ‘in college’ notwithstanding.}  “Well we used to have an old jukebox over by the door, where you guys’ table is now.  There’s never been a lot of space for dancing, but from time to time someone’d make do.  Well one night it was pretty slow in here, a Tuesday say.  There’s this gal Betty – Big Betty we called her, for obvious reasons – and she hits the jukes and starts dancing with her man.”
       “What was his name?” I asked with instant, stupefying regret; I don't normally interrupt stories.
       “Can’t remember, actually.  Prolly another Big-something; all of Betty’s guys were pretty big.  But they were dancing that Checkers number, ‘the Twist.’  And God if that isn’t a story in itself!  Big Betty doing trunk twists in public…  So they’re twisting around in the bar, and suddenly our waitress Sylvia lets loose a scream.  It was horrible, nearly dropped the glass I was wiping.  She swears up and down that Betty’d gone and changed into Aretha Franklin for a bit, but it’d stopped when she quit twisting.  Understandably, we couldn’t quite believe her.  Betty hadn’t felt a thing, and you couldn’t blame her man and I for not watching.  Eventually Sylvia went off home to get some rest, it being a slow night and all.  And Betty gets back to twisting.  Truth be told, I’ve never really seen her dance much else.  But then, by Christ, sure enough if she doesn’t turn into Aretha Franklin right there before my eyes, skin hair and all!
       “‘Betty!’ I said, ‘You’ve turned black!’  And no sooner does she stop dancing but she turns back.  Course, this time her guy saw it too.  We had an awful time trying to make sense of it.  Seems it only happened when she would dance in front of the Elvis, and then only if she twisted.  And you know, then I gave it a try and – hell! – I turned into a twisting Aretha Franklin too!  It was the craziest thing, but kind of wonderful all the same.”  And Kenny got this soft look in his eye as he gazed silently over at the blank spot on the wall.  “Of course, it was fun was all.  Betty’s guy tried it, then Big Betty again.  Twist and turn into Aretha and stop and turn back again.  Like magic.  Within the week, the place was wall-to-wall and lined out the door with people wanting to give it a try.  Mr. Rasmussen, the owner, decided to start charging a dancing fee.  People still tried, but they were none too happy about it any.  And for a while, the boss was thinking about changing the name of the place to something like Aretha’s or the Dancing Elvis.  But then old Horst Keeler got stuck, and we had to take the picture down.”
       “What do you mean, ‘stuck’?” I asked, completely amazed at the story.  I’d always wanted to be Aretha Franklin for a day, but had never known such things were possible.
       “Well, I mean he didn’t change back.  He stopped a-twisting, but Ms. Franklin stayed in the room, only with Horst Keeler’s voice.  Might’ve lost the place over litigation if he hadn’t caught ill and died over the shock of it.  Yep, it was a bit of a buzz kill.  Nobody’d go near it, and even if they would, Mr. Rasmussen wouldn’t let them, for fear of it happening again.  So he took the painting down, and that was the end of it.”
       “Jesus,” I exclaimed, “but what happened to the painting?  And how come nobody’s ever mentioned this story before?”
       Kenny just laughed, “Nobody knows what’s become of it, and most everybody’s gotten sick of hearing it.  You were just the first person to ask about the spot on the wall.  Was kind of nice, telling it again.  I’d almost forgotten.”
       “Well good story, Kenny.  Best one I’d heard all day.”  And slipping an extra dollar onto the counter, I brought my untouched beer back to the corner table and settled back into group iambics.

19 March 2011

Happy-go-lucky Meat Pie

Preparation time:  25 min. cooking, 45 total
Serves:  Four

You will need:
1# beefsteak {cheap ball tips will do}, cut into cubes
1 yellow/white onion
2 or 3 small boiled potatoes
four mushrooms, sliced
half cup garbanzo beans
2 tsp red curry paste, 5 tbs water, splash of half & half; mixed
cornucopia of spices; Worcestershire, mustard powder, garlic… the spice rack is your oyster!

2 cups flour, enough water to make dough, and a splash of salt
1 large whipped egg yolk, 1 tbs half & half

Preheat your oven to 425 F and begin making your dough.  I’ve never done pie crusts before, but add your flour , water {eyeball it}, and salt and divide the doughy mass into 2/3 and a third {for your crust and top, respectively}.  Roll it out and leave it on the counter; there’s filling to fry.  In a large skillet or wok, brown your meat and onions in butter {shouldn’t take more'n five minutes}.  If you’re using Worcestershire, douse it on now.   Chop up your mushrooms and potatoes and add them toward the end with the curry mixture and whichever spices you’ve decided on.  And voila!  Place your crust into the pan/metal bowl of your choice and dump the mixture triumphantly therein.  Cover with the crust-top {remember to punch your vents first!} and top with the egg-cream mixture.  Pop into the oven for 25-30 minutes and stewy, pie-eyed goodness awaits!

09 March 2011

"A Boy And His Cat"

Sean drowsily ascends the staircase with his hands slung in the tattered pockets of his blue terry.  Clump-clump-clump, each step making him feel a bit more obsolescent, like a lumbering dinosaur.  He steps into the kitchen and grabs a mug from off the wall caddy, noting the cuckoo clock with a sour disdain.  Horrible thing, cluttering up the wall for three weeks now.  He ought to leave it out in the bin, or maybe drop in a box someplace.  He knows he can’t, but he ought.
The kitchen is gathering filth.  Not a lot, he notes, but thereabout the makings of an unassailable mess in future.  He has all the time in the world now at his disposal.  But why bother?  He sets his mug on the counter and gives the kettle a lift, to feel how much water’s in it.  Half-full {or maybe half-empty}, he returns it to the stove and starts a flame.  Sean props open the icebox and ruts about for ingredients.  Bit of beef, block of cheddar, jar of horseradish, half an onion…
“Meow,” says the cat, who’s just come in from the bedroom with an air of sluggish contentment.  He always has a knack for appearing with the food. 
“Mornin’ cat,” Sean grumbles as he drops his things on the chop block.  It doesn’t seem at all right, the cat sleeping on his bed when he’s dropped off in the den again.  Where’s the loyalty?  He starts hacking up the onion, separating the rings from the skin and ends.  “Only the best things now, cat,” he begins saying.  “Life’s too short for chaff and scraps, eh?”  Sean feels a bit feisty this morning; it’s an odd, unpleasant sort of feeling, and one he can only attribute to the recliner downstairs acting up on his back.
The beef is still a bit frozen from the night before, so Sean cuts off a bit of cheese instead and puts the block back in the box.  “Might leave it sit a bit,” he says, and remembers the cat prowling about at his feet.  First the bed; his lunch will be next.  “Don’t even think about it,” he says to the cat in his sternest, most inconceivable voice.  The voice he uses with the neighbor’s kids when they play too close to the car.  It ends without punctuation, leaving it all rather open with an unsaid or I tagging not far behind.
Sean decides to take a fast shower before the kettle’s up.  As he lumbers {that word again} toward the bathroom, he wonders what he’d do if the cat did, in fact, made a go of his beef.  There’s not much he could do, really.  He wouldn’t kill the cat.  He couldn’t strike it, either; not only might he kill it, but he couldn’t be sure if it’d even hurt.  The cat certainly wouldn’t learn a lesson out of it, besides.  They’re shifty, unteachable things, cats.  It would only be his loss.  Anything more’d be shouting at the sky, with Sean feeling bad and ridiculous.
He breezes into the shower without so much as a glance at the mirror.  Sean can’t enjoy seeing himself naked anymore.  It only serves to remind what was, twenty or thirty years ago.  Like the cuckoo clock.  Like the half-empty bedroom, in a sense.  “Yes,” he ruminates as he enjoys the hot water off his shoulders, “chaff and scraps.”  Last vestiges of a life.
He isn’t surprised to find the beef where he’d left it, next to the kettle mutely spewing steam for want of a whistle.  He fixes up a sandwich on the stove and, mug in hand, joins the cat outside on the patio.  “You’re not a bad thing,” Sean tells him as he takes his seat at the table.  It’s a cool day out, but the sun above feels good and warm.  In a couple weeks the garden will need tending, and there’ll be projects about the house that will need doing.  He takes a bite into the warm juicy greasy beefstuff, savoring every bit of it.  Hearthy, wholesome good flavors and a goddamn cat hair in his mouth!
Sandwich spoilt, Sean rises to kick at the cat but the shifty bugger is gone.

06 March 2011

A Week in the Life etc, Part II

Fascinating stuff, this!  So I’ve tracked my food intake over the week and run up some totals, with surprising results.  On average I eat just over 1000 calories a day, plus 100 or so odd liquid calories from milk or juices.  Pad this with 500 or 600 calories gained from beer/mixed drinks {an average of 3 or 4 a day} and I’m still short below the 2500 or even 2000 caloric recommendation.  Craziness!  And on average I consume about 2000 mg of caffeine a day, primarily from the 12-cup pot of coffee I have each morning, and averaging a cup of drip coffee to have about 150 mg each. 
If we are what we eat, then as the chart suggests I’m not a whole lot by much.  I believe my low-cal existence can be summed up like this:  on an average day I either skip breakfast, or else eat a piece of toast or lil’ cup of yoghurt with my coffee/tea.  On unplanned-dinner days, lunch tends to be the larger meal of the day.  Mostly having to do with a cup of rice and pan-fried veg and meat or what-have-you.  Scrounge evenings, I’ll have a tin of soup and salad or sandwich; otherwise the roles will be reversed, with a light lunch and more interesting evening meal of pizza or crock-potted pork et al.  I don’t really snack anymore, and I tend to have a beer with dinner, and as the evening winds down another afterwards followed by a cup of warm decaffeinated something.  {Bear in mind the week’s average gets thrown by my evenings on the town Wednesday and Saturday…}
And yet I feel fine.  Going over the stats, I get my daily nutritional needs in terms of vitamins and minerals; I’m quite hydrated in some form or other as well.  So what started as a feeling that I spend my whole days eating, under scrutiny actually turn out to be quite a different case of guerilla small stuffs that tend to be nutritionally constructive.  And it has caused me to look into the effects of high caffeine ingestion, which studies indicate may be the cause of ‘tip of the tongue’ syndrome[i], among other such things.   Now how does that expression go?  Know thyself and...            Hum.
 "Damn, I had it on the plane…"

01 March 2011


            I need help.  This occurs to me on one of my late-night excursions to the kitchen faucet.  Spring may be on its way and all, but the apartment needs a major airing out.  Too dry, and I wake up nights with a burning, scratchy, phlegmy throat.  But that’s not what I need help with.  No, the realization that comes midway through a sumptuous swallowing of cold tap water is far more existential than a case of pharyngitis. 
I collect Transformers.  And I frankly have too many.  Like all habits and eccentricities and perversions one develops, my passion for these little rubixesque vehicles of death started in grade school.  Maybe our family’s Nissan Sentra wasn’t cool enough, or maybe the nigh-religious repetition of Saturday morning cartoons predisposed me towards it.  To me there was simply nothing cooler than a car that could unfold into a giant metal warrior, ready to do battle for the sake of the universe et cetera.
            Not that there’s anything wrong with that!  Likewise, it’s not so much a bother that a thirty-something year old bachelor might still have his boyhood collection stashed somewhere, to maybe bust out once in a while for nostalgia’s sake.  No, the problem lies more in the continued growth of this collection, which has gone exponential since I started my programming job five years ago.  Not only the quantity, but its extensive and quite public display in my living room warrants some concern, I now realize.  Paying around $800 online for a vintage Optimus Prime… blasphemous to say, but perhaps the phrase ‘disposable income’ has finally found its most sincere epitomization.  Food for thought in any case, as I lumber back to bed.
            I’m still thinking about it in the morning, long after my eggs and toast are nothing more than scattered crumbs and a film of slime on my plate.  I’ve been working on the daily crossword for an hour, to no real effect; mostly I sit and stare at the black bars and empty, occasionally numbered white boxes as I slurp up my fourth, fifth, sixth cup of coffee.  I need help.  {I need help?}  I need help.  Five thousand dollars in the past month.  {Help help help}
            I decide to take a short break and begin flipping back through the paper; same old stories, both of the imported and domestic varieties.  And as I’m glancing over the classifieds my eye catches the word ‘Transformers’ like a junkie spots a dealer, a glutton a cake, or a lech the slightest trace of nipple.  It’s a simple advert, not very descriptive.  But the name has me hooked, like a sign from above:  Transformers Anonymous.  “First meeting, Friday at the Civic Center, 7pm.”  Like a sign from above, it all fits in so perfectly.
            I’m in the Civic Center parking lot at a quarter-to, the day-of.  I’ve got sort of a queasy stomach, to tell the truth; the drab mid-seventies brown pebbled façade of the place makes me feel uncomfortably young again.  As though I’m on my way to a PTA meeting to discuss failing grades or a 'poor attitude,' like the time I got into a fight with Lars Ferman after he broke my Ransack figure.  The building only has three meeting rooms, and the one closest to the lobby has a conspicuous piece of yellow paper taped to its door, “Transformers Anonymous” block-printed across it with a black magic marker. 
There’s nobody milling about in the hall, and with a strong sense of foreboding I enter to find but two people inside.  A pot of coffee and cookies on the table sit beside a sheet of round stickers and a sharpie I take to be name tags.  They’re the soft-adhesive kind, like you’d find keeping measurements on garments at a clothing store.  I nod to the balding mellow yellow-sweatered fellow with the clipboard I can only assume is the moderator.  Person Two is a plumpish woman in her forties who looks back in a friendly but short manner that makes me feel self-conscious.  There is a circle of a dozen chairs set up in the middle of the room, the hard-backed plastic molded things that again remind me of grade school.  I take a seat somewhat equidistant from the others, making us into a sort of Mexican self-help standoff.
We sit in uncomfortable, expectant silence.  A few more sweatered folk venture in with the same friendly, furtive air I must’ve cut on entry.  By seven o’clock there are six of us in all.  Clipboard ‘Steve’ kicks it off with a welcome.  Steve speaks in a mild, buttery baritone that matches the softness of his sweater.  The effect it makes is insidious; within five minutes I feel torn between a need to sleep and the scrote-twistening fear that I’ll have to speak in front of these strangers.  Oddly enough, I can’t imagine a one of them having ever owned a Transformer.
A bit old, to begin with.  With the exception of the checked-sweater faux-hawk boy sitting next to Steve, I’m the youngest in the room by at least a decade.  Every sentence Steve churns out breeds further misgivings.  “We’re here to discuss Change,” he says.  “Specifically our fear of Change.”  He pauses a bit for effect and I can see everyone eyeballing each other with marked discomfort.  By now I’m quite sure this is the wrong seminar, and struggle to think of a way out before I’m up to share. 
Steve motions towards Tony to get the ball rolling; poor bastard, he’s about gone white in the face, and keeps shooting glances towards the door.  But there’s no escape.  With a bit of a falter he rises and introduces himself, “My n-n-name is T-t-tony, and I-ai-ai… I am a tiger.”  Death pallor turns to hot blush as he flumps back down into his seat, the tiger remark not elaborated further. 
Where in the hell am I?  Plumpish Person Two is next, a woman named Ruth who sometimes “transforms into a shrieking monster.”  “I mean that metaphorically,” she adds with an inquisitive glance at Tony. 
Next is Eric the Transvestite of Eight Years, who seems rather at ease opening up to the group at length about his nightly transformations.  He finds the whole thing quite funny, and to tell the truth I suppose it is.  It all seems a comic cock-up, the stuff of bad vaudeville and worse vaudeville homages.  But then it's on me, and I haven’t the faintest what to say.   
“My name is Jason,” I tell them simply.  “And I still collect Tran-" - and here I waver just a tisch; this whole evening is so bizarre - "Transformers.  Not even collect.  More like hoard.”  And as I sit down to the group’s even further confused silence, a spiritual weight feels dropped from about me.  Maybe my collection isn’t so odd, after all!  Thinking critically, I’m not a transvestite or an overbearing cow or a lame self-help moderator.  Or a tiger {whatever that entails}.  Just sort of a dork.  Hell, even I can live with that.  Ruminating along these lines, I sort of miss what the last guy has to share, and even his name.  It doesn’t matter though!  I’m elated at my newfound sense of relative normalcy and dignitas
At a lull in the conversation I sneak off to the restroom, ostensibly to wash up and dispose of my sticker before I make good my escape.  Yes, the dork in the mirror is me, but I can’t help but smile back at him.  Because really, it’s all about happiness, isn’t it?  I dry my hands on a coarse brown paper towel from the dispenser, again transported to my elementary days, and hopefully for the last time this evening.  I once found a bit of brown paper in the middle of my cafeterial Spanish rice.  Traumatizing, in its own little way.  I discard that crumpled memory into the bin and exit to the hallway with a bounce in my step, nearly bumping into Tony as he heads in. 
“Jesus,” he mutters as he passes.  “That would’ve been a lot easier to say in my fursuit.” 

And with that I make my way out to the car, keys well in hand...