Cucumbers

I remember my grandparents’ garden from my childhood. I remember following along behind my grandfather, sent out for tomatoes, while I “helped” by pulling fresh cucumbers off the prickly, hairy vines. Wiping the vegetable off on my tee shirt, I chomped into it right there where I stood.

My grandfather was a staid mountain of a man. He didn’t talk much to his family; he frequently responded to my grandmother in grunts or one-syllable sounds. When he sat down to eat, he really tucked into it:  seconds were certain, thirds were not out of the question. I never knew him not to eat what my grandmother set on the table, but he drew the line at cucumbers.

When my brother, my cousins and I discovered this, we were giddy with unexpected knowledge. We were between six and seven years old and our shrill little giggles must have sounded like the munchkins in Oz. Our secret-telling was, no doubt, conducted in theatrical stage whispers. We couldn’t believe it. Grampie didn’t eat cucumbers! We had to clean our plates, but now here was this revelation.

And so at every meal shortly thereafter, we took turns offering our grandfather helpings of the cool disks marinating lightly in vinegar with a hint of sugar and generous salt and pepper.

“Would you like some cucumbers, Grampie,” we asked choking on our hysteria. In the spirit of humor moderated by solidarity, Grammie hid her smile until it wore off and even she spoke sharply, telling us to leave our grandfather alone. But it was irresistible to tease the unteaseable, to ruffle the unruffleable.

“How about a cuke, Grampie,” we asked, until finally he pounded the table with one open hand.

“I don’t want any goddamn cukes,” he thundered before slamming downstairs to his woodworking shop where a half-gallon of vodka was kept cool under the stairs.

What he didn’t know, sadly I think now, is how nicely good vodka goes down with a bit of gently muddled cucumber, fresh from the garden.

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The Christmas Sweater

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The dog stood rooted in the doorway, in the middle of the hall. Her lower teeth jutted out of her mouth and her ears were back. She was wearing a red and white sweater with the words “Ho Ho Ho” down the back. She wouldn’t walk in it.

The party guests were dribbling in and floating past her, laughing and complimenting her. Her stubby tail wagged now and again, but nothing like it usually did, when there was no sweater.

During a lull between guests, the dog turned and walked stiffly to the front room where she had a bed. She stretched carefully onto it, not quite able to relax with the foreign apparatus pulling at her shoulders. Adding indignity to indecency, the polyester sweater was too small for a dog of her well-fed stature.

Sweater aside, her owner was generally one of the better humans. She fed, opened the door with little prompting, gave treats, and cleaned the toys when they’d gotten stiff from chewing. But today, she’d put the sweater on the dog. Today, she kept saying “Ho Ho Ho” while she made food without sharing it. Today, she sang like a howling beagle to music with bells. The dog sighed.

Eventually the dog drifted into a light-snoring sort of nap, interrupted when her owner came into the room. The woman teetered a bit, leaning to pet the dog. She’d brought a few bits of cheese, which she shared without requiring any action on the dog’s part.

The dog looked up at her person and put her ears back. The woman set her glass down on the mantle and lowered herself to the floor, sitting near the dog’s head. She looked into the dog’s brown eyes and cooed, “What a pretty girl.” The dog gazed back at her and burped. The woman laughed and pulled the sweater over the dog’s head, petting her, and planting a wet kiss on top of her furry head before returning to the party.

The dog stood and stretched her hind legs forward and backward, putting her butt in the air and her elbows down on the rug where the sweater had fallen. She picked it up by its fur-lined hood and shook it, breaking its neck. The dog pawed and gnawed at the sweater until only the mangled Ho Ho Ho remained.

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First Time Published!

I’m happy to say that my flash piece, “The Light” was recently published in Dual Coast Magazine. The piece is posted below as it was revised for publication. Below that is the link to my reading of it at the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, where it won an Honorable Mention.

The Light

The November moon was high overhead, making the treetops and field look silver. I went out to see the moon glow on my skin and found a moth struggling to build a fire at the edge of the forest.

“I could light that for you,” I said. “I’m good at it.”

The moth paused for a moment, contemplating. Her antennae quivered, as if there were a breeze.

“Yes, that would be fine,” she said. “Actually, it would be quite good of you.”

“So, where are you off to,” I asked.

“I’m searching. I’m called to search for the thing I am missing. There is a shadow inside of me, a cool empty place.” She paused and looked over my head.

“I see,” I said, picking up the smooth, dry twigs. Rubbing them together, I felt warmth radiating from the friction.

“Why do you ask?” said Moth.

“I wondered how we both happened to be in this place, as if we were here to meet.”

“That could be. Perhaps,” Moth said. “And you? You are here for a purpose?”

“I’m consumed with too much heat,” I said. “I came to cool my face under the moon. It was here a moment ago, but I don’t see it now.”

“Nor I,” she said, rubbing her spindly legs together, “Nor I.”

I slid the twigs back and forth. Sparks glinted off, cascading onto the mound of straw on the ground.

“Oh my,” Moth said.

Soon the straw was ablaze and I tossed the twigs onto the top, watching the bark glow and curl back, exposing the tender innards to the fire. I turned away to gather more twigs. When I turned back, Moth was gone and the fire was larger, like a passion recently kindled.

 

Another Portland to Love

Not quite shiver weather today in Portlandia, but inching closer. The homeless people outside my building yell back and forth to each other up and down the block. They surround the Safeway across the street like ticks on a dog’s back, drinking in what sustenance they can find.

Funny the AirBnB listing didn’t mention them.

Last night I walked toward my place behind a tall lurching sidewalk dweller, who turned the corner before me instead of going straight at the light (please god please god please god make him go the other way. Nope.) When I got to my door he was peeing in the plants near the stair exit of my place. Note to self: take the elevator. Always.

I understand the locals call it the Psycho Safeway. During the 10 minutes I was inside, a homeless woman accosted a manager, who was closing and locking one door for the night. She did the Linda Blair Exorcist barking voice on her way out the other door.

Hello, Portland!

I walk under the tree-lined streets and all I know is I love you, Portland. You are the city of dreamy dreams, despite the people poop on the sidewalk. Although these lefties would make me feel like a right winger because they’re so far gone, they’re still happy to see me. Random smiling people greet me as if we’d recently met through mutual friends at some enjoyable event. It’s like I’ve been invisible, but it’s wearing off and Ta Da! I’m here and so welcome.

It reminds me of going from dreary uptight don’t-look-at-me London to Ah love ya, lass Edinburgh. I’ve found another tribe of my people.

And tonight it feels like rain and it’s green with trees and gray with clouds and life is coursing through everything and I need to go get some more Portland on me.

Cheesy

 

Limburger cowSue and I had enjoyed an impromptu road trip to find a kinda famous “dented goods” place run by Mennonites in the middle of “I’m Lost” Wisconsin. Because of getting lost, we got there a half hour before closing, and discovered that we didn’t need more time than that. My primary purchases were corn remover pads in every configuration. It’s been 5 years and I still have stock, but what a deal!

We found roadside attractions to take turns posing beside. I felt like a true American standing beside the big ass upright cow statue that was wearing a chef’s hat and holding a big raw slab of sirloin.

Our last “official” destination before heading back to Illinois was established: Baumgartner’s in Monroe. It is one of a kind, so far as I can tell. The walls are covered by a battle between wine and beer, which I understand is symbolic of a battle between the Huguenots and the Catholics. In Monroe, the beery Protestants win.

Limburger catapult

Note that the beer steins are loading catapults with limburger while wearing clothespins on their noses.

Years earlier in our friendship, when Sue lived upstairs from me, we had gotten drawn to Monroe by their rotating festivals—one year it was the cheese festival and the next an accordion festival. Fortunately a girl never had to choose between them.

We’d almost come to blows during the Cheese Festival parade that honored families of cheese makers—seriously there were flatbed trucks with a bunch of old German farmers sitting on chairs. It was cute and funny, but the people of Monroe are serious about their cheese. They set up chairs days in advance, we later learned, to watch the parade. When I stepped out to take a couple of pictures, a wave of seething hatred washed over me from behind. Soon the grumbling began and we moved along, hoping not to have drawn the short straw in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” re-make.

On this day in Monroe, we were bound to try a local cheese of lore: limburger! We knew of its stinky reputation, but we’re fans of stinky cheese! Until our sandwiches arrived, we didn’t know that limburger actually smells like roadkill that has been in the sun for several days. We laughed and cried and cried.

 

One bite taken sandwich

I don’t think I was able to eat more than this. I can still smell this sandwich.

 Pull my finger

Asstrology

Gone are the days when my horror at seeing someone’s half-naked butt in a public place was confined to the ranks of America’s plumbers. As indignant as I may have felt at the time, I’ve come to think of that as the golden era of the Mostly Clothed.

Last week I walked down Franklin Street for a meeting. A man was working on his car, crouched on the street to get under the front seat. From his hat, I know he’s an A’s fan, but otherwise I only know that he needs a belt, more effective underwear, and perhaps a bit more time in the sun.

It seems that any time my husband and I happen out of the house to spend some tine in the world, one or the other of us will go into “red alert.” We notify the other verbally with either “BBC” or “GBC” and an eye dart to mark the location. (That’s Boy Butt Crack” or “Girl Butt Crack” if you didn’t already guess.)

The first time I witnessed this post-plumber phenomena I was at a once-favorite Irish pub in northern Illinois, where we lived for quite a time. A young woman, a friend of a friend, was seated at the bar and her lacy t-bar panties were hugging her hips, while her pants lagged behind at mid-butt level. Her friend and I looked at each other in shock and with some admiration. “Wow. That Emily sure is something!”

At the time, I had no idea this would become a trend. In the intervening years, I have thought that surely things would even out, that the low-on-the-hip pant fashion would be met by lower full coverage underwear and belts to keep America beautiful. Or maybe to make America great again, which would explain the random republican talking points.

Alas, 15 years later and it appears there’s a new moon on the horizon and it’s one with some real staying power.

working for the man

Dick was sitting at his kitchen table stirring the sugar into his coffee. He never managed to get it all into the cup and didn’t Noreen bitch about starting her day with sugar gritty elbows. Christ. If that was the worst of her troubles. He flicked his lighter and pulled in a lungful of smoke, first of the day.

“Yes, Zippers, this here is the most satisfying time of the day. Just you, me, coffee, and nicotine. It’s a man’s paradise right here, old Zip, isn’t it?” He scratched the black and white cat’s chin.

Zippers was a skinny bastard, probably because he spent every night outside carousing and whoring around.

“I need to give you a multi-vitamin, old man?”

Dick sighed.

Time to put his shoes on and head out to the shoe shop. If he didn’t punch the clock and get to his machine on time, Donnelly would be on his ass all day long. What a bastard.

Maybe, Dick thought, I should cut old Donnelly some slack. After all, his almost-pretty wife disappeared on him and he was just a working stiff earning a few extra bucks for all his supervisory prickishness. Probably sucks to be him. Maybe more than being me, even.

“But I got Zippers, don’t I boy? He don’t got a Zip Man, now does he?”

Dick scratched the cat behind his ears and bent to tie his shoes.