26 June 2011


The line stretches on, an endless mumbling stream of people waiting for their turn to buy tickets from the teller at the kiosk.  But the line hasn’t lurched forward in five minutes or more, and Gerald is starting to feel aggravated.  For one thing, the line keeps absorbing the odd person like a human sponge.  Teenagers and assorted mallrats, mothers and children returned from the bathroom, clever fat men from the Wall Drug with cheap candy and soda hidden in their pockets.  One by one in twos and threes, approaching, subverting, and melting into the expanding bloating line.
It is quite infuriating, and Gerald wonders what’s in a line?  If not they, why me, he thinks to himself.  For of course a line is a human construct, a device of politeness and civility and order.  Once respect for the line is gone there is no order, no line at all.  It becomes a rabble, a riot, another fucking day in Baghdad.
Gerald clenches his fists which make that rubbing sound, like two pieces of leather each squelching against the other.  He cannot help but chuckle, and the tension eases up.  What’s in a line then, if everybody ends up at the same place, same time?  If not they, why not he?  The same rules apply to pot and pauper.  Gerald is a big guy, a veteran of the world; he asks himself why he feels held back by an ineffectual little queue.  He considers his options, resisting every urge to the contrary that holds him back at the line – by now a bloated trapezoid – ‘s end.
He lurches forward with a terse “Pardon me,” though in fact he means it earnestly as his actions trample his ingrained sense of courtesy.  But soon he’s ahead, he’s moving forward! and no man is his obstacle.  “Excuse me, pardon me.  Watch it, you.  Pardon- Excuse-” down and along the line it goes, every excuse become a meaningless mumble, a haughty mockery of the empty action.  Gerald is enjoying this as he physically draws back a tangle of stupid-looking mall brats.  He at last reaches the ticket kiosk, hardened to the meek complaints and directionless whingeing going on behind him.
Horrible Bosses, please,” he says to the freckled girl who looks far too old to be wearing braces.  She stands there behind her smudged glass divide, indecisively frozen and looking like a blank-eyed carp.  Gerald has his wallet in his hand, waiting.  Waiting, thinking about the money he’s about to pay out, wondering why we even use it.  Money and lines, mere frontage for the affable construction we’ve set about ourselves, like walls around a cell. 
Gerald is a big guy, a veteran of the world, the conqueror of piddling lines and such.  Pocketing his wallet he sidesteps the kiosk and heads into the greasy tacky lobby with the vaulted ceilings and too many movie posters.  There’s a life size cutout of the Green Lantern, asking folk to purchase refreshments at the snack bar.  Nuts to that, Gerald thinks to himself.  What’s in a bag of theater popcorn, if not the industrialized mimicry of what popcorn should be?  Certainly not seven dollars’ worth of anything.  No, first rule of survival.  Secure a source of water.
The theater lacking a water fountain, Gerald steps into the men’s room and wonders why they’ve even made the distinction of men and women’s lavatories.  It’s all just piss and shit, in the end.  He steps up to the sink and runs some cold, cold water from the tap.  He puts his head in and sucks from the stream, like a deer lapping from a cool brook.  This is freedom, this is self-actualization! Gerald exults to himself.  He drinks to saturation and, thinking ahead, decides to go ahead and have a piss before the show.
A mighty eyebrow is raised at the piddling urinals evenly strung across the wall.  Lines, money, and urinals, the deceptive trappings of a society of morons.  He positions himself at the far wall between the urinals and stalls and lets forth a torrent of urine and adjectives and expressions, leaving behind a dripping stinking puddle in his wake.  “This place is mine,” he declares with a laugh.  Not that he’d actually spend any time here, being dingy and urine-sodden. 
Relieved, released, quenched and ready to be entertained, Gerald bursts back into the lobby.  Some of the people from the line are giving him looks; let them look, he thinks.  They look upon a free man, a writer of his own destiny.  Veteran of the world, of Iraq and lines and mountains.  A super-man, if one were so inclined to say.  He paces up to the maze of velvet cord and brass stanchions and humors it, zigging and zagging his way to its cheese, in this case a spotty fat slug in a burgundy vest precariously propped up on a high stool.  “Tickets, please,” the great wheezy turd tells him. 
What gall!  Gerald shakes his head.  “Fraid not,” he informs the turd, though he actually fears nothing.  “Tickets are a misconception.  Now let me pass.”  But the turd does not.  Instead, he unperches himself and stands - in defiance! – of Gerald’s way.  Glowering, he knows conflict is imminent.  The peon does not know what he’s interfered in.  With a hearty shove, the fat attendant flumps down onto the stain-resistant bristly carpeting.  More attendants are approaching from behind, and one is already sputtering something into a walkie-talkie.  Baghdad, chaos, conflict.
Tearing a cord from its stanchion Gerald wields the dreadful bronze phallus above him.  They want to fight, so be it.  “I am the Ubermensch!” he bellows, and that stops them back a bit as he waves his makeshift weapon about his head in threatening circles.  Some people head out but most gape on as mall cops rush into the lobby, armed with their silly tazers and wearing their daft plastic badges.  No man can remain free if he is unwilling to fight for it, Gerald grimaces to himself.
I am the Ubermensch!!” he roars, “Fucking fear me!!”  And he could see they very much did as he charged at them despite the velvet corded maze .  Perhaps they weren’t so moronic after all.

24 June 2011

Dissemination at its Finest

Hey-ho, chaps and galchiks!  For those who may have missed it, Minot ND is undergoing a particularly bad flood, just short of the 500-year scale and displacing some 12,000 or more of its citizens.  Largely situated spread across two great hilly inclines, flooding in the town’s valley area has effectively cut it in half along north and south lines.  The main road through town (Broadway) being closed to civilian traffic for dike and levee constructing purposes, the only major route bridging the town’s two halves is the highway bypass on its western extremity.

Thursday, 23rd June saw an unexpected increase in waterflow, making for a sudden rise and a call for additional evacuations in nearby neighborhoods.  Understandably, the one route left available for the public (the bypass) was thereafter congested with trucks, trailers, and other vehicles, brimming with evacuees and what belongings they could bring along.  It was (still is, mind) a state of emergency, and Minot businesses were asked to close shop for the evening to both allow displaced employees time to shift themselves and to lessen unnecessary traffic on the already overburdened thoroughfare.

Many businesses answered the call; the Dakota Square Mall, Minot’s largest employer, shut its doors at four in light of the emergency.  Yet one firm stood up and said ‘open for business.’  The company I work for, as it happens.  It’s a local restauranting firm, and though I’ll leave it unnamed it’s the type with ‘Investors’ thrown into it to inspire confidence and clarify its goals (much like any number in the landlording and loansharking industries).  It decided that its three restaurants (including the local Applebees franchise) would remain open, “for the people” we were later amusingly informed (when asking what they in corporate were thinking).  But rather than handing out sandwiches at the cot-filled stadium down the road, it was simply business as usual.

Yes, the dispossessed and wretched refugees were foremost on the company’s mind, I thought blithely to myself as I drove into the veritable sausage grinder of bypass traffic.  When the queue moved it did so at coughing fits, one jerk at a time.  A two-minute drive turned to forty, all told; not such a bad translation in cities accustomed to the daily traffic jam (here’s looking at you, Houston).   But hardly of any use when people are trying to ferry back and forth between their safe places and endangered homes.  Certainly not of use when dumpers loaded with dirt and sand have to squeeze by on the shoulders with their precious cargoes.  And at the back of my mind I wondered if the bypass would even be open after my shift was up, possibly stranded myself on the south side of town for a week or more.

All sour grapes, of course, the truths we lie to ourselves when we want something.  For me, a night off; for the firm, three restaurants filled with kitchenless, hungry refugees - a restaurateur’s dream.   But once past the traffic work was a breeze; inevitably empty.  So empty, in fact, a suit from corporate was making the rounds with the tersest look of surprise.  Restaurants empty?  But the Whos have no kitchens, no jumdrummers!  Clearly things of greater import were afoot, and misery is not the most marketable demographic.  And though I’m no economist it must certainly be a loss of some sort, running three fully staffed kitchens for no clientele.  

But knowing a bit of German, I can (and will) appreciate a little Schadenfreude when the opportunity comes along.

15 June 2011

Beef Lo Mein

Relatively simple to make, and quite filling.  Not recommended for those on the Atkins regimen.

Preparation time:  15 min. once noodles are cooked
Serves:  Five

You will most certainly need:
a pound and a half of spaghetti (or soft noodles, if you like)
one pound-plus of stir fry-style beef strips --> marinated overnight with soy sauce, a touch of Worchestershire, garlic, and a generous spoonful of horseradish
one cup peas
one large white or yellow onion, five cloves garlic, a shallot or two
one cup mushroom, sliced
cooking oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, 2 tsp sugar, and sriracha

Begin by boiling up a pot of water for your noodles; if using spaghetti boil for seven or eight minutes until al dente, otherwise use as directed.  You may use this time to arrange your ingredients, chop your onion, arrange your socks, etc.  Once the noodles are boiled and drained, place into a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl add two tsp of sugar, five or six tbs of soy sauce, and two tbs of the oyster sauce; stir together and microwave for 20 seconds, then apply liberally to the bowled noodles with three cloves of minced garlic and a slight drizzling of cooking oil.  Take two forks and fluff, then add your cup of peas (I used frozen; fluff again and allow the scalding-hot pasta to simply warm them up, or use fresh!) and leave off to the stovetop.
Cover the bottom of a wok with a thin layer of oil and heat it up to HI.  After a minute or so, add your marinated beef (see underlined text in ingredients for details).  Let fry for a minute, then flip; once flipped, add your chopped onion and remaining two mashed cloves of garlic, then squirt a substantial wavelength of sriracha atop that.  Giving it a minute (wait for it), mix the current wok ingredients well together, letting it sizzle and stirring occasionally while slicing the mushrooms.  Add them to the mix, stir together, then turn the heat down to a MED level.  
Now comes the marriage of the two stages:  add the prepared noodles to the wok, and opting for the earlier two forks (rather than a spatula) begin fluffing them together with the beef/onion/et al, minding not to fire peas all over the place.  Take your time with this, allowing the noodles a brief time to each touch the bottom of the wok (and the juices and so forth therein).  Once mixed, the lo mein should be ready to serve!

{Optional ingredients:  diced celery, snow or snap peas, minced carrots... most anything that sounds plausible and complementary will suffice.}

14 June 2011


Storm clouds were a-rising at the Blue Rider one Wednesday night.  Not in the meteorological sense perhaps, though it was hard to tell quite what the weather was doing from inside the windowless bar.  Spring was delayed by yet another late snowfall, and tensions were understandably on the ups.  As I was pouring out a glass of Pabst from the pitcher, I was uncharacteristically longing for a cigarette as Karin and Michelle {and by extension, Phil} bickered back and forth across the table.
           Citizen Kane is an overrated albatross of a movie,” the one was loudly saying, to which the other would vehemently shake her head and spit back, “And you seriously think Seven Samurai isn’t!?  You have the artistic tastes of…”  And so forth.
            I couldn’t help but glare at the flyer that started it all, posted across the door.  The old theater was advertising a midnight reel of Casablanca, touting it as ‘the greatest film of all time.’  Inevitably this sparked discussion, already mentioned.  Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes it lingered on in rhetorical circles, like vultures looming over a very dead horse.  Culture-weary, I checked my phone for the time having given up wearing a watch some years ago.  Only 10.37 yet.  Hours to go before general bar close.  It was time to act fast before I got sucked into this endless rigmarole.
            Downing my glass and rising to my feet, I took my leave without much of a murmur.  The night air was cool and damp and a bit refreshing.  The streets in this part of town were deserted, filled with darkened warehouses and grain elevators and serviced by little bars.  I’d been to them all at least once, save for the one across the way from the Rider.  The pink fluorescent sign out front simply read ‘Judy’s’ in a feminine, cursive twist.
Inside it was your typical dive bar, with the scratched-to-hell pool table, clear plastic box of pulltabs at the counter, jukebox in the corner, and the inordinately large, unmistakably new flatscreen t.v. on the wall above the bar.  The smells of fat-fried pollock and cigarettes and stale beer permeated the dimly lit air, and between the surly regulars at the bar and the Willie Nelson droning at the juke a person couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
“Pabst, please,” I said to the bartender - a heavyset fella who fancied himself to be Johnny Cash in an apron - when I thought I’d caught his eye.  I hadn’t.  The regs cut me askance looks and carried on forced conversations about the sport and what, just waiting for a chance to ‘get a load of the new guy’ with earthy, detrimental laughter.
“Oi!  Pabst, ma-man and look sharpish.”  I could see myself saying it with a commanding glare and a snap of the fingers like Michael Caine, thin glass and such.  Could almost taste the words on my tongue, but far be it from me to be the rude one.  I instead waited patiently as Willy chunk-a-chunked down to Garth Brooks. 
It felt sort of like sitting in the waiting room at a clinic; only here the others all knew the doctor and there’s a chance I wouldn’t get beyond the forms.  But I’d got the form betwixt my fingers, a crisp green tenner because it’s the sort of place that hadn’t evolved to the card yet.  Which is just as well, I suppose.  Creates an added barrier to entry, keeps the kids out and builds up that generational apartheid stuff that seems to define our body politic. 
“Pants tight enough there, kiddo?” one gruff seed ventured to ask with a chuckle, and I realized then I’d finally caught the bartender’s eye.  Everybody’s, really.
“It’s the fashion,” I shrugged, and I’d wondered why I was there at all.  Point of the thing, maybe.  Only bar in town I hadn’t sipped at.
“Ho! Ho,” he pantomimed for the crowd’s benefit.  “You saying I’m not fashionable?”  The man was a flannel bubble with an intentional ‘Cable Guy’ look about him.  And truth be told, his pants were at about bursting point in terms of tightness; like corded blue sausage casings ending in pointy leather boots.  It was a pot and kettle situation, at best.
“Nah, yer pants are plenty tight,” I told him reassuringly, and I suppose I won a couple of quiet laughs.  I was just hoping this was only a bit of a haze, another trial to go through before I’d get my beer.  Last thing on my mind was a fistfight with the hulking Enus sitting before me.
But by now the bartender was about his business.  “Easy on, Jack,” he says to Enus as he asked me what it was I wanted.  “Just a Pabst, please,” I ordered, keeping an ever-loving eye on Jack.  He had a none-too-comical look on his face, and I was hoping to just get on and out.  The man takes my ten and brings back a beer without any change.  Picking up the hint I quaffed back my beer in two or three gulps, gave the boys a nod, and ventured back out and across the street.  I’d had my beer at Judy’s; that was once enough.

10 June 2011

Hudson Bay, Josef Mach, and Filet Mignon

     So I've had an alright off-day {how about you? comes automatically to mind} yesterday.  The kind where one wakes early and lingers over the course of two pots of coffee into the afternoon; scrolling through the news for anything interesting, a string of movies playing themselves out through the Netflix in the background (Superman II, Ransom, Johnny DangerouslyRevenge of the Nerds, Highlander...) while a rousing computer game is being played listlessly, or an article or two typed halfway and scrapped, or the inevitable thought that draws one to the Wikipedia.
     My thoughts of the day were on the Hudson Bay Company and Westerns (as a genre); pursuing the former led to a cool map and the knowledge that the company is still extant and run/owned by Americans as a sort of historical Eddie Bauer; the latter led me to the subgenre of the Ostern, a soviet-era Western (Stalin's favorite genre, surprisingly) which bucks its American counterpart by vilifying the settlers and portraying strong, defiant Natives.  The more accessible of these (again, via the Netflix) are the films of Josef Mach.  I've dropped two onto the queue, so we'll see how it goes eventually.
     Finally the day was capped off with a grand meal of filet mignon, whipped potatoes, and frozen yellow corn (meal fit for kings, that!).  Earlier in the day I had placed the four filets into a freezer bag with a considerable amount of butter, freshly crushed garlic, and just a touch (just a touch, mind) of the Worchestershire.  Lop that back into the fridge, and by sixish you're set and ready to go like!  I sauteed some onions and Portobello mushrooms for a couple of minutes, removed them, then put down the steaks on a HI heat for a minute and a half per side; crank it back to a MED setting and cover with the mushrooms etc for a few more minutes.  And voila! ready to eat {and damnably delicious}.
     End it with an evening at the bars, and that is a Rudian day off.

05 June 2011

Jesus, Floods, and Resurrections

Jesus wept!  Been working for what seems like a non-stop slurry of a few weeks, damned split shifts.  As a result, I've had scant time to write up anything.  Someday...  However!  I have resumed working on a book I'd started back in Zambia, about individuality and the search for worth etc; call it a resurrection.  But as I type I've yet to get ready for work in a few.  (sigh)  Someday... big ol' shandy in the shade someplace...