27 May 2011

Monstrously Good Karachi Curry

Preparation time:  45 min. if preparing with soaked beans, otherwise 25 min.
Serves:  Three

You will definitely need:
two cups brown rice
1 1/2 lbs of most any sort of cheap beefsteak
at least half a bottle of curry powder (4-5 tbs)
5-6 tbs of tomato paste/sauce/etc.
1/2 pint cream/milk/coconut milk
1/2 cup dried pinto beans, or tinned equivalent of garbanzos et al
spices such as fennel seed, celery salt, brown sugar, mustard, etc.
any number of supporting ingredients

Quite the process here, but it'll be well worth it!  The day prior, take your meat and cut it into strips, then cubes.  Pop them into a freezer bag, and add a tbs of Grey Poupon (the roughest, brownest stuff possible), a tbs of yellow curry powder, crushed fennel seed, and a bit of water.  Shake well and slag it into the fridge.  If you opt to use dried beans, put half of a cup or so in a Gladware container atop the fridge with some water; soaking now will save a lot of grief at cook-time.
Day next, ponder hard at what you'd like to eat in curry form; I decided to go for two red potatoes, chopped yellow onion, two hardboiled eggs, five chopped mushrooms, a generous handful of raisins, and the meat and beans.  Other tasty possibilities might be peppers (hot or not), sweet potatoes, celery, any sort of fruit (dried or not)... use your imagination!  But begin boiling your soaked beans in a pot of water and a liberal dash of salt; shouldn't take more than twenty or so minutes, if you've soaked them overnight.  If you opt for red potatoes, chop and add them to the boiling beans about ten minutes in.  Once they're all done and edible, consider them just another ingredient to momentarily add to the mix.
Otherwise (if dried beans are not your thing) cover the bottom of a sizable wok with butter and turn on to HI or MED-HI.  While that's heating up, begin preparations for yon rice; I use a rice cooker (Yan Can Cook!) and two cups of brown rice, which should about sync up with the curry preparation.  Once that's begun, add your drained marinated meat to the wok and begin dicing the onions, mushrooms, et al and add them along.  Pretty soon you should have a fairly wonderful-smelling affair cooking up!  Next, take a bowl and add several heaping tbs of curry powder, half a pint of half-and-half (or coconut milk, or milk) and four or five tbs of either tomato paste, spaghetti sauce - basically, something tomato-based that should serve to add color, flavor, and substance to the curry mixture.  Mix well, then add to your wok and again mix well.
At this point, assault your soupy mixture with HI heat and a barrage of spices.  Essentials include something hot (a nice spiral of Sriracha for me), something salty (I opt for celery salt, as it is an earthier flavor that shouldn't overpower the curry), and something sweet (a small handful of brown sugar should work wonders).  Other spices may include garlic (mushed, chopped, or powdered), fennel seed, mustard powder, soy sauce, paprika... again, beyond the essential three it's up to you the consumer to decide.
Once the wok is a bubbling stew of good flavor, try and let it boil on for three to five minutes, stirring and turning, really nannying your curry.  Otherwise, it will become a thick crunchy mess to scrape off the wok later.  Once it's reached that prime consistency (neither too soupy nor too dry, just nice and thick) turn it down to LO and give it a spoon-taste to see what you think; is it missing anything?  Now is the time to nitpick.
Another thing to consider (hopefully you've read this recipe well before mulling it through on the stovetop) is whether or not a side bread is to be considered.  I broiled up two thick slices of cheesy garlic bread for three minutes, towards the rice's completion.  However, there are many fine naan and flatbread recipes out there, for the adventurous.  Try them out!
Once the rice is done cooking, the meal should be ready to dish out.  Bowl up the rice first, then cover with a liberal quantity of your curry, bread possibly to the side.  (Goes well with coffee, although a tall glass of milk might be nice.)  And maze karein!  Guaranteed, you and your friends/family will be sprawled about on the furniture within half an hour!  

No Offence to Squirrels...

Thanks to my friend Adam (via the Facebook) I had the extraordinary opportunity to see this little blurb of a speech.  Ordinarily I wouldn't think twice about anything said on the Hill, but I enjoyed Rep. Weiner's candor.

It almost makes me want to watch C-Span more often.  Almost.

21 May 2011

"The Maelstrom"

It was raining particularly hard the day I ran into a childhood friend from the neighborhood.  I say friend in the sense that he wasn’t an enemy, but more or less a fellow victim of the times.  But time heals all wounds, as I am told, and where Eddy had been a gangly, ugly youth in grade school I had little trouble recognizing the strapping, ugly adult he had more recently become.
As I had said, it had been raining buckets that day.  It was lunch time and I was on my way back to the office from the diner on 16th and Lacrosse, a greasy little spoon in an ugly drawer that needs no further mention.  I was only a few blocks away when the darkened sky finally opened up on me.  I’ve always enjoyed watching heavy rains, and being in them whenever possible.  It rains a lot on the coast, and I’ve learned to love every cleansing drop.  But it was a bad day to stomp about in puddles and revel in pleasant memories, on account of a new pair of shoes I was breaking in.  They being leather and I being not so foolish as to ruin new leather shoes on a whim I took shelter in a bus stop that was handily nearby.
I sat on the bench, I suppose giddy as a schoolboy.  The water thundered off the clear bubble of a roof and pounded the pavement with that satisfyingly flat smack, like the sound of marbles dropped on concrete.  I was enjoying the hell out of it all, watching sheets of water crashing against the shelter’s dome and running down in rivers.  Impervious to everything except the cold damp air that is nearly always inescapable.  But God, I loved it.
And that’s when fate threw Edwin Archbuck inside the shelter with me.  He had a sopping wet rag of a newspaper above his head, which he threw against the wall and it made a nice wet flump against the plastic.  His makeshift umbrella didn’t work as well as he’d hoped and his light grey suit had turned to charcoal, the pink hues of his skin showed through his shirt, and I won’t even go into the state of his tie.  In short, it was an awful mess and his clothes hung from him like he was some sort of stocky towel rack.  Yet he was indefatigable.
“Jesus, it’s a mess out there!” he exclaimed with the breathless enthusiasm of one who has survived an ordeal.  It was then that I recognized the flattened nose and set-apart eyes of a boyhood chum I could not put a name to.  Fortunately he also recognized me at that moment, as a monster grin overtook his face.  “Jimmy!” he roared with some delight.  Not a lot, but some, latently made up for by the sheer volume of his greeting.  He paused for a moment, perhaps unsure whether or not his memory served him well.  The pause was short-lived as he confidently thrust a sopping meaty hand toward me.  “Jimmy!” he reiterated, “I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age!” 
Not quite remembering his name, I took his hand and responded in vague but pleasant tones.  We began to catch up.  His marriage, my divorce.  His dogs, my window box of tomatoes.  His gammy leg, my ulcers.  He managed mortgages at a nearby bank and - my own reminiscences notwithstanding - I found that he had gone to high school in Iowa, come back here for college, has no children, likes to golf, and myriad other wearying details that make up a life. 
As we talked, my thoughts drifted back to our childhood.  Our childhood; I thought back to the ass-kickings in the lot behind the abandoned grocery store, to the darkened alleys and the isolated places of our youths.  I remember being made a hell of a lot older than I should have been, a lot quicker than I’d have liked.  Dozens of such memories passed before my mind’s eye as we talked, every fiber of me wanting to know how he, Eddy whose name I could not at the time remember, how he dealt with the similar demons that must have haunted him.  But they must have!  I had to know, if only to know whether or not I was the fool for dwelling on the past, for malingering upon long-closed closets filled with dusty skeletons and velveteen ghosts.
Finally we came to a pause in the conversation, though the rain continued to thunder above our heads.  “So…” I began.  All hard topics begin with a drawn out so, in my experience.  “Do you ever think about it, back then and all?”  Perhaps he had, because suddenly Eddy’s countenance darkened.  The smile vanished and the brow tightened and Eddy could no longer look me in the eye.  I regretted this difficult turn in the conversation, but - as I said before - was driven forward by a need to know.
From within someplace deep in his personal crawlspace, a battered and fatigued reply escaped Eddy, “Time heals all wounds.”  Time heals all wounds, that dreadful shrug of the oppressed, the naïve psalm of the vanquisher.  Life continues forward, never ending like the rain above us.  The world breaks us or makes us stronger sort of a thing.  I felt for the wounds of a fellow traveler yet felt better that I was not alone on my road.
A short silence followed, no doubt spiked with a bit of bitter retrospection.  It wasn’t long, though, before Eddy’s grin returned in a sense.  The sense of it being that it was at least half what it was when he first saw me.  He was as transparent as he was brief.  It was nice to see me.  We must have lunch sometime.  I should take care.  We exchanged one last bit of eye contact before he turned to depart.  His eyes were the same as mine; I may as well have looked into a mirror.
“The rain is clearing, I think.”  He said it with such conviction that I might have agreed with him had I not known it to be a lie.  Such as it was, he ran off down the street into that interminable maelstrom that had descended upon us.  I remained on the bench and watched the rain crack against the roof and pour down the sides of a handily available bus shelter, enjoying the hell out of it all.  Knowing full well I would never see little Eddy, or little me, again.

20 May 2011

A Little Bit of Self-Marketing

So I recently wrote an article for the AC earlier; ordinarily I wouldn't tout, but hell!  I'm pretty proud of it.  So Mr. Music, would you play?  --->  http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/8075993/ipad_factory_explosion_kills_two.html?cat=3

18 May 2011

“Dramatic Affect”

     It’s another Wednesday night at the Blue Rider, same as always.  The four of us sit around our usual table, in the corner nearest the door.  I’m finishing my third Michelob Ultra, having recently jumped onto the low-carb bandwagon.  It’s not a bad beer, so far as the light stuff goes.  With me are my friends Phil, Michelle, and Karin, whose pleasant descriptions of their weekends are fast coming to a grinding halt.
     “…so I think I’ll start wearing Patagonia instead,” Phil finishes saying, followed by the appropriate murmurs of moral assent from the rest of us.  Ordinarily the talk at the Blue was a round-robin of conversation, one of the three picking up the tail end and setting off again, leaving me pleasantly to my thoughts and drinks.  But tonight was altogether different, lacking in a certain zest or interest or energy.  No joie de vivre, like.
     “This sucks,” Karin at last says huffily.  “I mean, like, this dynamic.”  She motions around the table.  “We’re just a bunch of boring white people.  We suck.”
     “I know,” Michelle agrees, her biff Phil nodding along in agreement.  “We need a gay guy or something, like all the cool groups seem to have on TV, you know?  Somebody to liven things up a bit.”  And she gives me one of those withering looks.  I don’t add much to the dynamic, I know, but in all honestly there isn’t much more to add.  Ordinarily the three have their bases pretty well covered.
     I get up and grab myself another Ultra, wishing they didn’t go down so quickly.  Not only am I drinking more of them than usual, but the blasted things are a dollar more expensive than the Pabst.  When I return to the table Karin is already on the phone, doing that head waggling emphatic voice thing she does when she wants something.  “Could you please please please come down,” she was saying.  “We desperately need to hang out.  Really?  Alright!!  See you in a bit, hon.  He’s coming,” she tells us triumphantly as she pops her phone into that outlandishly sized pink purse of hers.
     “Who is he, then?” I ask, but nobody hears me.
     With the expected arrival of another the talk picks right back up, Karin describing her friend Colin with Michelle and Phil winding themselves up into an absolute circus of excitement.  When this Colin finally strolls in after maybe ten or so minutes, Karin and Michelle both jump up to hug him.  They briefly introduce Phil and myself, and with an emphatic whoop-whoop Karin orders up a round of brightly-colored Mike’s Hards, which I suppose is the new Zima.
     The gals hedge Colin in between themselves, their combined energy about double what it normally runs at.  Phil leans in to Michelle’s left, doing his best to outdo them in the gesticulating party atmos they’ve created.  Even I take things up a notch, leaning forward on my elbows and nodding here and there as I sip at my Mike’s.  It’s a sweet thing, a sort of cappuccino of the beer bar universe.  Frankly, I’m not much into sweet anymore.  But they’re unstoppable as the next two rounds come to table, sickly pastels in clear bottles.
     It’s my turn to buy another round, so I belly on up to the bar to order myself a real beer in addition to four Mike’s.  Not even an Ultra; I’m thinking Guinness or the like at this point.  Something bitter and real and palpable to savor.
     “Gawd, she never shuts up,” Colin hisses as he unexpectedly sidles to the bar beside me.  “Why do you hang out with them?  No offense, but you don’t seem to be their type.”
     I think about it, having not really ever thought about it before.  True, that nameless feeling crops up from time to time, that out-of-place sensation.  I suppose it’s always been a for-granted, ‘Wednesday nights at the Blue.’  Like church.  “I dunno,” I tell him.  “I like this place, I suppose.  And listening to them lets me unwind a bit.  It helps to sort of go limp and tune out, just listen to the sound of their talking like.”
     Colin laughs.  “Buy me a drink?  Like, a real one?”
     “Yeah sure, those help too.”  I order two pints of stout and three candied Mike’s, and looking over at the corner table I don’t think they’ve noticed Colin’s gone.  

16 May 2011

A Medley of Blends for Each and Every

     As I sit here smoking my pipe on the deck, it occurs to me that a good blend should (and usually tends to) reflect on its namesake.  For instance, an English blend generally has the good, robust flavor one might associate with the John Bull, ‘keep calm and carry on,’ dashedly sporting spirit of that island nation.  And once I had the opportunity to try a Rhodesian blend; a bit abrasive and harsh to the palate at first, after a while one grows fond of it and begins to enjoy its candid earthiness.
     If I could produce a distinctly Dakota blend it might be a touch drier and blander than the rest, with a dash of caramel to affect flavor.  There would have to be an enjoyable subtlety to it, but after a bowlful one’d be left wanting a more exotic blend to excite the spirit.  But at least for a time, one can take quiet delight in the Dakota experience.  A plain sort of satisfaction that will always be there for when the throat has had enough of the rough-and-tumble of adventure.

15 May 2011

"The Crossroad"

“Whoa man, you’re reeling.  You okay to drive?”  I only ask because Dwayne is, in fact, having a bit of trouble unlocking his door.
“I’m good, man,” he assures me, and I have to admit he isn’t slurring any.  Once he unlocks the car I climb into the leathery passenger seat, feeling rather good and slurry myself.  The iron beast purrs to life and we’re off, avoiding the staggering folk caught in the general exodus as we slowly roll through the parking lot.  One guy is propped up against his trunk, sloppily pissing on its bumper.  Another guy and his gal are making out by the road, practically afire in the blues and reds cast by the sign they press against.
Dwayne honks his horn at them as we turn off down virtually deserted 8th Street.  “Get a room, you two,” he mumbles to nobody in particular.  He’s seemed more melancholy than usual, and I ask him what’s up.  “Oh you know me, man.  Same old, same old.”  I figure he means Angie, and leave it at that.
The streets, as I mentioned before, are fairly lifeless.  The odd car carefully - soberly - makes its way home, creeping past the darkened street-lit apartments of downtown.  Even the main avenue - Main Street, they call it - is unusually sparse, given the bars have only just spewed out the last of their clientele into the gutters and dimly-lit alleys.  Not even the prowling white cop cars are about; when the bell strikes one, they’re usually out in full force.  We drive a ways unmolested and unnoticed, and turn off again onto the darkened backstreets of town.  It’s an unusual evening, and not at all unsettling as my thoughts skulk about in different directions.
I’m thinking about Easter baskets, actually.  Wondering what awful trinkets children might sometimes find in them that most joyous of Sunday mornings.  I have to wonder if anything could top the year my brothers and sister and I all found little plastic fetus replicas planted amid the jelly beans and coated chocolate eggs in the paper green grass.  Each came with a little card, facts and appalling figures on the one side and a particular prayer on the other I presume was meant to ward off unexpectant mothers.
“What are you thinking about?” Dwayne asks me.  “You’re god-awful quiet tonight,” which is a bit like the pot and the kettle, I suppose.
“Fetuses in my Easter basket,” I tell him.
“What, you mean like eggs?”
“No, I mean plastic ones with fingers and toes.”
“You’ve got a fu-” he starts to tell me, when he has to hit hard on the brake as another car roars on through the yield with wild abandon.  “Jackass!” Dwayne shouts, and I have to say I added a few things of my own.  I’ve more or less been a bit blue around the mouth, since middle school.  It’s developed into a bit of a bad habit actually, precluding what most people would consider a properly professional type manner.  Many an eyebrow raised, like.  But getting back to the intersection, the car roared right on past, slowing only once before disappearing up the road.
“Are your lights on?” I ask him as my heart resumes skipping to its regular rhythm.  In no uncertain terms he lets me know they’re on, have always been on, will never not be on.
“I’m in control!!” he roars as he puts his foot down on the gas.  “You sound like Angie sometimes,” he tells me in a very annoyed fashion, but again it’s best I leave it at that.  He flies off on his own tangent; about how he knows these streets by heart, how he feels great and very sober, how he is an excellent driver and how he doesn’t understand why girls can’t let a good thing simply be.  And all the while the car picks up its pace. 
“Chill, man,” I tell him, feeling a bit uneasy what with the speed and all.  I’m not so much afraid that he’s going to hit something, or even someone.  Rather, I’m still thinking about the unusual lack of police about; at some point there’s bound to be one or two floating around, waiting for the likes of us to speed on by.  I can’t remember, but I’m thinking that drunken passengers get into trouble in a DUI situation as well.  Accomplices to the fact and all of that.
We’re roaring up the street - he talking about boundaries and responsibilities, me thinking about jail - when we nearly get sideswiped by what at first glance looks to be the car that we’d nearly run into earlier.  “Oh hell, yield!!” I shout, but they come to a halt and we zoom right on.  It’s funny, almost like a reverse déjà vu.  The car, the intersection, et al.
“Bleedin’ Zarathustra,” I say, downright awestruck.  “I think we just passed ourselves.”
Dwayne slows down a bit, craning his head around to catch a glimpse of the other car.  “You think so?”  But the car is out of view and we carry right on.  “Is that sort of thing possible, passing ourselves?”
            “I’m not exactly sure.  I wouldn’t think so,” I reply, at the same time unsure quite how to know for certain if it was or was not so.  If I’d paid attention to the time on the dash, for instance, I could verify if we’d transcended the bounds of time and space.  “How did we get onto this road?”
“I don’t actually know,” he says, biting his lip.  When he makes to hit his blinker I can see his hand shaking.  “We’re more or less still going in the right direction, though.”
“I thought you knew these streets by heart, et cetera and so forth.”
He shrugs.  “I’m a bit tipsy, you know.  Cut me some slack.”

13 May 2011


Although it's fair to say I keep pretty well abreast of current events, it's not often that I watch the news.  Partially I find myself irritated by the commercials, although I think I just more-or-less dislike that stereotypically 'American' anchor voice.  It's the spam of accents, devoid of flavor or charm... but that's neither here nor there, so far as this little blurb is concerned.

Even reading the news online, one cannot escape the near-ubiquitous promotion of social media bastions Twitter and Facebook.  Twitter particularly bugs me, I suppose.  It's a network that devotes itself to the by-the-minute update of people's personal mundanities, of every thoughtless blither and vacuous mood swing, peppered with the moronic OMGs and ROFLs and the like (Lol) that will keep Orwell spinning well into the next century.  Call me a stodgy old Luddite bastard (go on, do it), but I'm bugged past reconciliation with the idea.

Bearing this in mind (or don't, it really doesn't matter) I'm pleased to announce the launch of RudianBM, to keep the world afloat of my each and every movement.  It's one of those half-baked sorts of ideas that end up getting scrawled onto a bar napkin and implemented later in the wee hours of the morning.  But unlike the tribal armband or the poorly worded text to a once-was-significant-other (once was, before said text), I can look at the previous evening's handiwork through my daytime eyes without regret.  Yes, "I think I'll go with it," this somewhat unnecessary adventure into personal exploitation.  If nothing else, it's a bit of a throwback to those asinine hijinks of my college days.  So what the hell, let the unrelenting flow of information commence!

11 May 2011

"In Their Prime"

By about two-twenty the terrifying monster of a lunch rush make its last gasp, Ralph having started pressure washing his last load of dishes.  Wearily, he cranes his head around the corner in search of bus tubs, customers, anything that might deny him a smoke break. 
Uffda gevalt,” he mutters with upturned eyes as he peels his sopping wet apron off from his body and slops it nonchalantly into the sink.  Being cotton, there isn’t much point to wearing one other than keeping off the hunks of food that blast back during rinsing.  Nonetheless, as Ralph grabs his Newports from the shelf by the backdoor and steps outside he can still smell today’s special on him:  chili verde con carne.  Thick, pungent stuff; the kind that turns to plastery smears on the plate after a few minutes.
He lights up.  Crisp, refreshing menthol burning up his lungs before seething out in nice big expirations.  First cigarette since ten-thirty on his way in, being fairly well busy after.  There were the lunch-prep garbage cans to take out, station sinks to clean, and an everestial mountain of pots and pans and tins and trays to wash and scour.  And by the time that was down to naught the bus tubs start trickling in, becoming a ceaseless torrent until well after one.  Busy, Ralph thinks to himself as he uses the butt-end to light a new cigarette before casting it aside onto the greasy gravel lot.
But the day outside is nice.  Chill but calm, mostly-clear skies above and buds beginning to sprinkle the trees but particularly calm with no breeze at all.  Ralph’s second cigarette always smokes slower than the first, it being his ‘contemplative wind-down’ for the afternoon ahead.  He affects to smoke it, intermittently shrouding his view of the birds in wispy puffs that have hardly touched his throat even.  The birds flitting about the parking lot looking for scraps and bits of fries and crumbs; Ralph can’t imagine how any bits of food get out there from the start.  Never in over a year has he seen any casually munching pedestrians or else the surreptitious busboy eating from the kitchen behind parked cars, wantonly leaving behind trails of food for the birds to get at in the spring.  But they come down for something, scoop it up in their beaks, and tram it back to the oak tree outside the optometrist’s to feed their birdy families.
Ralph thinks back to his own family, to the reunion next weekend at the Dells.  It’s a bit nerve wracking, really, having not seen anybody in five or some cases nine years.  He’ll have to talk to Mr. Catherty about getting the time off, as well.  He’d have brought it up sooner, but Ralph’d only just heard about the thing from a cousin on the Facebook the night before.  Crushing his second butt under heel, he steps back into the noxious humidor of a kitchen and props his half-empty pack back on the shelf by the door.  Catherty’s office is at the far end of the kitchen, next to the walk-in freezer.  Ralph pops in his head, but the office is empty.
A little self-consciously, Ralph ventures out to the near-deserted restaurant and finds his boss crunching numbers over a pint in the backmost booth.  “Mr. Catherty,” he begins a bit timidly, bandana in hand.  The fat restaurateur adjusts his glasses and regards the dishwasher with an appraising glance that lets Ralph see all of the insides of his nostrils.  “Mr. Catherty, if I’m not interrupting anything I was hoping we could have a word.”
“Sit down, boy, sit down,” Catherty invites him with a welcoming gesture, fearing an unpleasant talk about raises or two weeks’ or the like.  Though only a dishwasher, Ralph is undoubtedly the best they’d had in ages.  He was able to form sentences and work without supervision, for starters.  “What’s on your mind?”
“Well sir, I was hoping for some time off.  See, there’s a reunion next weekend.  Normally I wouldn’t bother, but it’s been five or more years since I’ve been and there’s a chance it’ll be the last time I see a few of them,” Ralph trails off with the unsavory image that he’d been coming across like a frightened rabbit.  He hadn’t had time off in seven months or so.  By his reckoning he is at least entitled to a weekend, though a doubtful ‘isn’t he?’ remains hovering in the background.
Being the owner/manager, Catherty knew the schedules by heart.  Part of this was through relentless repetition, which seemed to work both for him and the staff.  From his perspective Ralph was a bit like the linchpin of the weekend team, as any other washer couldn’t keep up and might not even show.  More than that, Ralph rarely took breaks, never ate anything, and didn’t have any unsightly scarring or pocks.  No, it would be quite inconvenient - nigh on impossible! - for Ralph to have the weekend off.  He wouldn’t need telling, either.  Catherty could smell the weakness (and possibly the chili) on the boy, tittering on like a frightened rabbit.  Ralph wouldn’t need telling, just a bit of convincing to the contrary.  Reasonable doubt, like.
“Reunion, eh?”  Mr. Catherty smacks his lips with a visible distaste.  “Never much cared for them, myself.  And the first one in five or more years?  Aren’t you close with your family, boy?”  (Ralph shakes his head, a bit ashamed with himself.)  Catherty goes on, “And I suppose a lot of them are getting on a lot worse than the last time you’d seen them, eh?  Old and infirm and all that?”  (Ralph can only imagine.  His grandparents must be in their eighties by now, aunts and uncles and parents all in their fifties and sixties.)  “Suppose it’s a shame, having to see them after all this time at their worst.  Sad really.”  (All of them, fat and arthritic and wheezy.  Complaining about their health, asking about Ralph’s ambitions and making faces about washing dishes for a living.)  “I remember when my parents died.  I hadn’t seen them in ages, missed the decline and all of that.  It was kind of nice, really, being able to look at those caskets and remember how they were as I knew them, when they were in their prime.” 
Catherty gazes wistfully at his beer, wondering if the boy is buying any of it.  He certainly looks troubled enough, like he’ll eat his bandana any minute.  Ralph imagines it all, drearily sitting around picnic tables listening awkwardly to nearly forgotten old relics, hobnobbing with strangers called cousins and having to figure out bizarre sleeping arrangements on the floor like refugees.  Then there’s the drive and back, sixteen or seventeen hours’ worth in all.  Gas prices as they are, the specter of terrorism afoot…
“I dunno, maybe I won’t go,” he tells Catherty, who worries that he’s betrayed a smile as he feigns surprise.  “I mean, I’ll think about it.  I’ll get back to you,” Ralph adds as he stands, putting his bandana back atop his head.
“Take your time, boyo,” Catherty advises him solemnly.  As the timid dishwasher slouches back to smoke another cigarette, the fat old fox cheerily decides to help himself to another pint from the bar.

07 May 2011

"The Fix"

“I am an emissary of good,” the man in the stuffy black suit tells himself.  John Prescott is sweating bullets, not so much because of the stifling Virginia heat as much as his anticipation of the matter at hand.  He examines the billing in his lap, listing the various Negroes up for sale.  The Society had entrusted two thousands of dollars to him, with the hopes of possibly purchasing the freedom of five or six.  Depending on various marketable characteristics, a slave could fetch upwards of fifteen-hundred dollars; he hopes it won’t quite come to that again.  This was a program they had undergone now for some years, raising funds up North to buy slaves in order to make Freemen out of them.  It is Prescott’s eighth such mission already, and by the surly looks and the whispering air that seems to follow he appears to be earning an infamy among the traders and planters in the crowd.
The auction begins in its usual fashion, the ungainly tall auctioneer calling this unsavory proceeding to order.  A young man is brought forward and the pitch is made, “We have here a gen-u-ine article, gentlemen, not more than eighteen years of age.  The owner is selling at no fault, gentlemen, no fault!  Cotton planter, needs money.  Will the bidding begin at three hundred dollars?  Anybody?”  The man is stripped down and forced to turn around for the crowd, to prove he has no marks or scars.  With a grand sweep of his arm, the auctioneer declares in his sing-song tenor, “New as the day he was born, gentlemen, not a mark upon him!  Sweet as a lamb, and a regular church goer- You sir!  I have three hundred dollars, do I have three-fifty-”  And so on, the fast pace of the bid coming to a halt at seven hundred eighty-five dollars, to a squat miller from Louisa County.
John waits with bated breath, absently gnawing at the end of his thumbnail as he watches the proceedings unfold.  The first Negro or two are always fine-grade, fetching a high price and riling up the buyers.  He can feel it as well as any, a prickling disquiet – ‘antsiness,’ his mother called it.  A visceral chafing that can only right itself with the transfer of hard currency for a sacred human soul.  It’s a damnable thing, and Prescott wonders if the fellows in the crowd appreciate the immensity of their prospective venture.  He wonders if they too enjoy that same feeling of power at owning - at least on paper - not a lesser but an equal being.  Monstrous power, a feeling of absolute worth with an unbridled inflation of the self.  Like Christ standing atop the pinnacle.  John is breaking into a cold sweat, thinking about it.  With two thousand dollars, he might stand atop that pinnacle four, five, possibly six times today.
The next up for bid is a woman, middle-aged (at around thirty) and not exciting much interest.  The auctioneer, sensing the general reluctance starts the bidding at a low fifty dollars.  John kicks it off with an embarrassingly shrill “Fifty!”  The bid wavers there for a bit, the auctioneer adding “She’d be great around the house.  Mother of five - sold separately - good with children.  Do I hear seventy-five dollars?  Even sixty?  You sir!  We have sixty dollars, sixty dollars-”  Prescott looks over across the lot towards his new rival, a fat fellow with his thumbs hitched in the lapels of his seersucker suit.  “Seventy!” John adds, hoping the price won’t rise beyond a hundred.
“Hundred-fifty,” the seersucker man says with a haughty look in the abolitionist’s direction.  The auctioneer looks at John, who looks at the woman, then the ground, and at last shakes his head in acquiescence.  “Hundred-fifty, to the man from Nelson!” the auctioneer announces triumphantly, before going into the next article.  The blisteringly hot hours drag on in much the same way, with Prescott unable to secure any bids due to the malfeasances of others.  He was beginning to feel desperate, the queue of prospective slaves growing ever thinner as day slips away.  His gnawing antsiness and festering agitation; it reminds John of the sickness attributable to opium fiends one finds round the ports.
“Just go home, Sweaty,” says a swarthy farm manager from distant Scott County.  “You don’t look so well,” he adds with a smirk, taking a big bite out an apple as he does so.
“I’m on a mission of good,” John stammers back unconvincingly.  He can’t go back empty-handed.  One would do, at least one.  It took a week’s travel to get out here, and a failure might mean never getting sent back by the Society.
“Alright gentlemen, alright.  Been a long day, yessirs, and we’re nearing the end of it.  I’ve got here,” gesturing toward a shackled slave to his right, “not the bottom of the barrel but a bit of a troublemaker.  His fool owner taught him to read, s’been bounced around place to place ever since.  Uppity, gentlemen - not mean - and useful smart to boot.  Do I hear two hundred fifty?  Two hundred fifty dollars, gentlemen, can read and keep books.”  A shopkeeper from Greenbrier finally makes the first bid; the time was now or never.  Prescott raises his voice as best he can, “Three hundred dollars!”  With that, a flurry of hands and nods and shouts follow.  
Five hundred from the Nelson seersucker, six from a Carolina captain.  And at every interim Prescott raising the tally, intent not to be defeated by a bunch of Southern slavers nor be denied his brief trifle.  Eight hundred, one thousand, as the bid climbs even higher, it’s down to John and the seersucker.  John is quite literally quaking with the bid-fever.  He must win this man.  Finally, from seventeen hundred he wagers it all- “Two thousand dollars!”  The gentleman from Nelson pursues no further and with a derisive smile the auctioneer announces, “Two thousand dollars, to the naysaying Yankee.  A fool and his money, gentlemen…” 
Elated, John bounds back round to the rear of the platform to breeze through the formalities:  sign here, count money, sign there, and exeunt.  A title is given him, a slip of paper worth infinitely more than all the money ever printed, the ink his name is written in not yet dry.  Worth a man, an equal man.  John can hardly believe it, though it’s by no means his first time.  He revels atop his pinnacle, his ecstasy, and hardly notices when his man Cuthbert clears his throat.
“So sir, you mean to say I’m free now?”
“Yes, yes of course, sir.  Here is what is entitled to you.”  And with a godlike reach John Prescott transfers that weighty title to the very man it represents, an injustice of time and space again fixed.  They climb into his trap, two self-owning individuals, and begin their northward journey.  “I am an emissary of good,” an again-mortal Prescott thinks to himself satisfactorily, and he begins to dream about his next goodwill mission.

06 May 2011

"The Forest"

You can’t even kill yourself right.”
     The things I say sometimes, I think to myself as I stumble into a lamppost outside our apartment block.  There is no ‘our,’ though.  I basically live alone, adrift in a sea of tenants.  “For good reason,” I blether out with noxious breath while fishing my pockets for the key.  I feel like Dan Aykroyd two-thirds into that movie – what is it – ‘Trading Places.’  Or was it Chevy Chase?
     “Chivvy chess…” I mutter to myself.  It’s like a bad dream, doing without any control, caught in the backseat of my own psyche.  There was a time when I enjoyed it, getting blitzed and seeing where the legs might take me.  Yonks ago, now.
     I fumble about with the lock on the building door, unable to put the key in.  When I was younger we visited a German monastery, and I recall every door had metal leads that would funnel one’s key toward the lock.  Be bloody useful, now.  “Loody <gaseous burp>seful.”
     At last I match the grooves and am able to unlock the entryway.  The stairwell is ungodly muggy, stagnant from a winter of tight enclosure.  I loosen the scarf knotted about my neck and feel compelled to vomit.  I don’t, but I need to get upstairs quickly.  I stumble once on the stair, but am to the third floor fairly fast.  I make to unlock my door (3C) but it doesn’t turn.  I recheck the number (3C) and try again.  Idiot that I am, I never locked it from the first.  I lurch inside, flipping on the light as I close the door behind me.  
     The apartment is spartan, but I think comfortably furnished and for some reason ungodly drafty.  Sure enough, the window is open wide, which I remember I’d done to let out the stifling heat.  I cinch the scarf back up and shut the window, but the tightness around the throat trifles my gag reflex.  With swollen cheeks I run for the broom cupboard of a bathroom, barely making it to the toilet.  There’s not but a foot of space between the bowl and the shower.  I have to recline on my side, feet in the hall, as I release a night’s raucous torrent. 
     In the midst of several terrible minutes, I think back to that dark yawn of a bar, almost a sort of discotheque.  The music was positively blasting so a group of us were hiding back in a far corner, shouting conversationally.  There was a hipster.

Janie points at his arm, “What happened there?”
“What, that?  Just an old scar,” the hipster says casually.
“What from?” Mark asks snidely.  He apparently can’t stand the guy either.  “You cut yourself or something?”
“Yeah,” he answers simply.
I laugh, bark-like and unfriendly.  “You can’t even kill yourself right.”
“Wow.”  He is visibly speechless, thunderstruck by my terrible faux pas.  “I guess I failed at failure, then,” he at last says, rather stiffly.
“Sounds like a success to me.”  

     The things I say sometimes.  At last, I’m done and on my feet with my head in the sink.  The cold water feels wonderfully soothing, and an occasional mouthful from the tap helps get my bearings straightened.  I stagger into the den and flop out on the couch, a mite refreshed.  The head is clearing up enough to feel fairly miserable with myself.  I think back to the hipster and his arm, and wonder what it must be like to be so driven.  And I think back to myself and wonder at what little it takes to miss the forest of human misery about us for the dislike of being outdoors.

But I dunno, maybe he was just Emo.

05 May 2011

"A Change of Pace"

The salad is perfect:  crisp shredded romaine.  A small handful of organic white corn kernels and a few garbanzos.  A gauze-thin slice of onion, every layer pulled to shreds and evenly spread.  A twice-diced grade-A boiled egg, sprinkled liberally.  Five croutons, a thin coat of light ranch dressing, and capped with a dusting of white pepper and finely shredded parmesan.
Pair this with a four-minute cup of Darjeeling, and Greg’s after-work snack is complete.  Every weekday at five-thirtyish central standard time, without fail.  Perfect in every way.  Every weekday.  Five-thirtyish.
Greg looks at his miserable little salad, this perfectly balanced, delicately flavored, sickeningly wholesome dish of his.  Every day, perfection for the mouth and body, for eight years running.  As he takes the bowl and mug to table, Greg wonders how much cubic space his lettuce, corn, and croutons of eight years’ accumulated salad would take up.  How many bags of onions the gauze-thin whispings would comprise.  How many tea trees have had their top two taken to brew his 2,085 mugsful.
He takes a forkful and puts it into his mouth.  Despicably delightful, the same as every other day.  Crunchy, cool, with just a hint of pepper, green onion, and sour cream.  Vomitous.  Greg puts the fork down and reflects on a lifetime of good decisions, made each and every day by his damnably sound reasoning.  “To hell with this!” he declares to his salad, pushing it away gently so not to send it off the table.  “I’m making myself a snack!”
Rising to his feet, to this end he proceeds to search the cupboards and pantry, to scour the freezer and very depths of the fridge.  Greg finds nothing but a healthy stock of ingredients and carefully sealed leftovers.  “Rat farts!” he shouts angrily, after he remembers the kids are away at their afterschool crap.  It feels good to shout; different, and satisfyingly irrational.  He checks his watch.  Bonnie shouldn’t be home for another half hour yet, time enough to visit the Kroger.  Grabbing his keys, with a laugh he is out the door.
*          *          *
“God’s cock,” Greg exclaims as he wheels his Taurus into the driveway.  The Caravan is back, already parked in the garage.  He parks alongside it, then grabs a white bag from the passenger’s seat and heads over to the workbench.
Inside, Bonnie continues fixing supper when she hears the car pull in.  It isn’t usual for Greg to be gone yet, less so that he would leave an uneaten salad on the kitchen table.  Seconds tick to minutes, and still he has not come in.  Strange behavior, and Bonnie begins to feel nervous.  Setting aside her chopping, she ventures out to the garage.  She begins calling, “Greg, honey, where did you go?  You left a salad on-” when she stops short at the bizarre spectacle of her husband leering about in the garage’s far corner.  
Hearing her gasp and realizing he is no longer alone, Greg stiffens nervously.  Clearing his throat, he tells her “I’ll be inside in a second, just a minute.”
But his mouth sounds full of something, and with a suspicious leer of her own Bonnie approaches her husband.  “Greg, what is that?  What are you doing?!”  To her horror, Greg appears to be eating Spam, cold from the can, with a putty knife.  Like some ravenous beast!
“I’m eating Spam!” he explains to her emphatically.  “Can’t a man have Spam once in a while?”
“Put it down, hon!  Think of your arteries!!”  She advances cautiously, as though the can were full of trans fatty contagions.  “Put down the putty knife, hon.”  She tries to grab for the tin, despite his protests and defensive shuffles backward.  At last, she loses patience with this childishness.  Give it here!”
“Never!”  Loading up on another mouthful Greg dashes for the door, Bonnie close behind.  He savors the greasy, salty, faintly porky flavor and distinctly foamy texture of the meat as it squelches between his teeth.  He feels exuberant.  “This is different!  This is madness!  This is life!!” he thinks to himself as he rounds the corner, and breaks a sprint across the back yard for the tree line. 
Bonnie cannot keep up; nearly a decade of salads have kept him fit and surprisingly spry.  She gives up around the middle of the yard.  “You’ll spoil your appetite!” Bonnie shouts after her fool of a husband, but to no avail.  He calls something back between mouthfuls about living, she thinks, and the snapping branches and crunching leaves fade distantly into silence.