Impeachara

I do love this “commercial.” Would that it were not fantasy.

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Mourning, Anger, and Bleak Despair

Today, this day after the monstrous attacks in Barcelona and other parts of Spain, I mourn for the dead and injured and their friends and families. And I mourn for civilization, an experiment our species going terribly wrong. We are collectively breeding monsters and religious zealots whose beliefs are so utterly appalling that they merit nothing but contempt. It’s not just the religious, either. It’s the racists and misogynists and bigots of every stripe that claim to protect “their own” but who, instead, do everything in their power to denigrate and enslave people who do not share their skin tones or twisted sense of morality. Fear and anger, fueled by the narcissist in the White House, contribute to the swirl of ugliness that’s enveloping our country and the world as a whole. I read, a short while ago, that the victims of the attacks in Spain are from thirty-four countries. The psychotic bastards who conduct these attacks are killing and injuring people at random, without concern as to who they are. For all they know, their own families could be among the crowds they attack. These monsters are living, breathing representations of human garbage. Try as I might, I cannot find it in myself to understand their motives; I cannot find it in myself to think these people could ever be “rehabilitated.” The deserve, at best, to rot in solitary concrete cells, fed just enough so they don’t starve and never allowed to venture more than four feet from the sandpaper mat on which they sleep. Yes, it’s revenge, I suppose. And it’s punishment. And it shows not an ounce of mercy on my part. Today, I feel no mercy for the perpetrators of the attacks in Spain, nor for the domestic terrorist who took the life of Heather Heyer. For that matter, I have no compassion for the hordes of white supremacists and their ilk who stormed Charlottesville, Virginia, provoking the counter demonstrators with their nazi salutes and shouts of “blood and soil.” The chant of blood and soil  is an adaptation of the nazi chant of Blut und Boden, which signifies ‘purity’ and ‘homeland.’ What pitiful scum of the earth. 

Despair. That describes what I feel.

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Desierto

I watched Desierto tonight. It’s not an uplifting film. It’s an action/horror film whose premise is that a group of illegal immigrants attempting to enter the U.S. are forced to abandon the truck in which they are being transported. Because the truck broke down, they must walk. A deranged man who patrols the border with his dog, looking for rabbits to kill, stumbles upon them and, with the help of Tracker, the dog, tracks them down and kills most of them, one by one. The entire film follows the murderer as he takes immigrants out with a high-powered rifle. The ending, even though it’s satisfying to the extent that the criminal bastard gets his (at least we think), is not satisfying. It’s a depressing film that ruins an evening. It did not help that, for the first 45 minutes, most of it was in Spanish that, try as I might, I could not understand because the voices were so low and my translation skills remain badly rusted, with some holes through the walls of my translation pipes. After 45 minutes, I discovered that my “display subtitles” had been turned off. The remainder of the film made more sense, but did nothing to improve my opinion of it. It wasn’t bad, really, but it was most assuredly not good in the sense I wish it had been.

 

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A Taste of the Globe

My global gastronomical journey restarted yesterday afternoon when my sister-in-law came to the house with a bottle of Babich sauvignon blanc, some grapes, crackers, and a couple of cheeses. We added to the feast with garlic-and-jalapeño-stuffed olives. As we sat at the dining table, looking out over the back deck to the trees and distant fields, I said it felt much like our experience last year with my brothers and sister and sister-in-law in France. Just whiling away an afternoon with conversation and wine and simple foods. I remembered the markets in the south of France where we bought olives and meat and bread and vegetables. And images flashed in my mind of huge outdoor markets where we saw more fresh seafood and fresh vegetables and spices than I’d ever seen before. It was exquisite. The recollections of France and the experience of seeing and buying and eating food propelled more thoughts of foods I want to make.

I wrote above that my journey restarted yesterday; it began while we were visiting friends in Fort Smith recently. There, we talked food as we often do and the conversation turned to paella. I expressed a desire to own a paella pan and an even stronger desire to have access to fresh seafood like mussels and shrimp and squid and octopus and to a source of saffron. My generous friends offered to let us borrow their paella pan. We declined, but said when we find a source for fresh seafood suitable for paella, we will invite them to rush down to visit and bring the paella pan with them.

In today’s mail we found an issue of Food & Wine dedicated to Spain. Any discussion of Spanish food includes the obligatory conversation about paella and tapas, and the issue that came in today’s mail does address those dishes. But it covers so much more. Reading it made me long for queso manchego, jamón Ibérico, grilled octopus (pulpo), and dozens of other dishes. I may get serious about learning more about foods from different countries and cultures and cooking and serving them in our home. I might have to translate the name of our kitchen, which we call French Kangaroo, to canguro francés or kangourou français or, because I’ve been quite enamored with Moroccan cuisine of late, الكنغر الفرنسي.

 

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A Diverse Ending

We saw the  Earth shudder when the first nuclear blast took place. Though we were only a few hundred miles above Earth, we could tell something ghastly was happening below us. The Earth winced, like a person stabbed with a sharp knife. Subsequent nuclear blasts popped up like measles spots in rapid succession, painting the surface of the planet I once called home with seething pockmarks. Even from space, we first heard Earth’s sigh, as if it was taking in news of its child’s death. And then we heard the shriek. The shriek of a planet undergoing transformation. A shriek so loud and so hideous that it never leaves the ear. It is imprinted on the brain as if it were burned into the psyche with a hot branding iron. That shriek told us all we needed to know. There was no going home again. We could either perish in the space station or we could take the spacecrafts designed to return us to Earth and use them to seek out other places to live the rest of our days. That’s what we did. Three former U.S. citizens, two former Russian citizens, and one former Italian citizen. We launched within ten hours of the nuclear holocaust below us. We left, not knowing whether our families were alive or dead, but assuming they were dead or dying. The horrors of an all-out global thermonuclear war were obvious to us; there was nothing to return to. And so we headed out, looking for something or someone who may or may not exist.

 

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Scattered

Yesterday, as I was searching for recipes of various kinds, I stumbled upon a website, www.oldfatguy.ca, that intrigues me. The proprietor, who lives in the mountains of British Columbia, enjoys cooking as much as I do, perhaps more. And he shares recipes and cooking experiences that fascinate me. I learned quite a lot by reading through several of his posts. Among other things, reading his website convinced me (not that I needed much convincing) that I really need to get a good meat grinder and sausage stuffer. I realize, of course, I ought not to eat sausage with any frequency if I want my cholesterol to remain in check, but I reckon I can control my intake of sausage just as soon as I develop more discipline. I’ll do that right after I complete my exploration of wanton gluttony. But my gluttony and his website are not the reason I’m writing this morning. No, the reason I’m writing is that I have to write or I’ll wither.

Writing is, some days, more important than breathing. I’m afraid I’ll lose what little ability I have it I don’t use it. Perhaps I’m afraid I’ll forget how to type. Or spell. Or that I’ll lose my ability to build sentences, as a result of squandering my limited facility with grammar. I refer to writing here not as creatively crafting fiction or essays or poetry. I am thinking of writing in the sense of stringing words together with the help of my fingers and a keyboard.

Cooking and writing keep me company. They allow me to sidestep slipping into madness, to the extent that I am able to avoid it. I should include reading in that list; reading helps a lot. I’ve considered what I might do if I were left entirely to my own devices. If I were single and had no obligations, what might I do? I’ve asked myself that question. My answers are never satisfactory. I fantasize about disappearing into the mountains of Mexico. I daydream about slipping into Canada and making my way north to places I could dissolve into the forest. I contemplate living the life of a recluse in New Mexico, far away from the glamour of Santa Fe or Albuquerque. And I envision myself scraping by in New York City or Seattle, living in a one-room apartment with barely enough to pay my rent and eat twice a week. I think, sometimes, I deserve those fantasies. I deserve to be alone and destitute and struggling to make ends meet in unforgiving places that treat strangers with scorn and distrust.

Let’s change the subject. I am relatively certain I could be an assassin if I had no family to worry about. I think I could pull the trigger with absolutely no guilt, no sense of shame, no doubt as to the decency of my act. I would be an ethical assassin, though. I wouldn’t kill just anybody. The object of my endeavor  would have to merit the means of their dispatch. A bullet, clean and quick, would be suitable for some, the ones whose behaviors do not merit premortem punishment. Others might warrant scythes or axe handles across the chest, giving them the opportunity to experience pain equivalent to that they visited upon their victims. Still others might deserve lengthy and agonizingly painful processes such as the removal of their skin with kitchen gadgets, the sort of thing one would use to peel a cucumber. Those folks also would require the application of saltpeter and alcohol on their wounds.

Well isn’t that a cheery diversion from man’s inhumanity to man? I should say so.

Myth. The cause underlying all our problems is myth. Myth as moral education is one thing. Myth as rigid instruction as to how one’s life ought to be lived is another. How can we ensure that myth is not taken literally? I suppose you must start young. Wrench the babies from their delusional mothers’ bosoms and teach them to love their fellow humans. Drag their fathers to rehabilitation centers; change them or use them as fuel. That’s obscenely brutal, isn’t it? That’s where my mind goes; it whipsaws between decency and demonic hatred.

I’ve had enough of the ugly side. I want nothing but decency. Yet I question whether decency can thrive when people like the leaders of alt-right and KKK and other such groups exist. I’d like to think love can change them. But I don’t think that’s true. Hard oak clubs and anger are the only answers, I’m afraid. And that happy thought brings me back to cooking.

Last night, for the first time in all eternity, I smoked a couple of burgers. We bought some incredibly cheap ground beef (73/27 lean to fat ratio) with the intent that I’d smoke it. I had intended to smoke it on Saturday, but I chickened out, claiming I wasn’t in the mood. Then the rains came on Sunday and all day yesterday. Late in the day, there was evidence the rain might taper off, so I decided to go for it. I formed two large patties, sprinkled them liberally with a rub usually reserved for cuts of pork destined for the smoker, and smoked them for about ninety minutes at 225F. Though they were far more “done” than I like (internal temperature around 155F, medium plus), they were tasty. If I had ground the meat myself, I would have cooked them only until around 140F; but I’ve grown skitzy about commercially-ground beef; I’m concerned about bacteria and other such stuff.  Since I had the beef to smoke, I decided to try another unique recipe. I read someplace about cooking wedges of onion in aluminum foil, along with a pat of butter and a beef bouillion cube. So I did. And I decided to smoke an enormous jalapeño, too. I was happy with the results. Although, I must admit, I expected the beef patty to thrill me more than it did; it was good, but not orgasmically good.

I had another vivid dream last night. But I cannot divulge its nature here, lest I ruin an otherwise adequate life. That might become an interesting story line: a man has a vivid dream that consumes him. It’s something he cannot share, not even with his friends and family, because it would reveal him as the deviant he is at his core. But the dream plagues him. Every waking hour, the dream haunts him. Over the course of months, recollections of his dream drives him further and further into madness. He begins to think people he passes on the street have been sent, from his dream, to monitor his every move and to report back to their master (who’s a stunningly beautiful but demonic witch). His distrust of people grows to a distrust of things; he begins to question whether the bread for his sandwiches and the tomatoes in his garden are agents of the woman. Door knobs and hinges become her listening devices, so he avoids them. Dogs cannot be trusted any longer; they may operatives working for her. A woman friend’s friendly embrace becomes, in his twisted mind, a coarse, public sexual encounter with the witch. He cannot drive a car because she might appear at any moment in the passenger seat, a chef’s knife in her hand and an evil smile on her lips. He cannot draw the shades on a window because he might see her face peering in from the other side of the glass. He dare not open his mouth, lest her tongue find its way in. Not that any of that stuff sprang from my dream; but, still, I won’t write about it, at least not now. Instead, I’ll write about coffee.

Have I mentioned that my first adult encounter with coffee occurred while I attended the University of Texas in Austin? A machine, which in return for a dime or a quarter, dispensed coffee (or so it was called) introduced me to coffee. Oh, I’d had it before, but I needed to be awake and alert and focused on learning. So I turned to drugs. In those days, for me, drugs meant caffeine. Coffee. Black swill created from a mix, I assume. Instant coffee. It must have been instant. It was awful, but I drank it, nonetheless. I had not friends; did not know anyone in Austin. So I drank coffee alone. Coffee from a machine. And no one noticed me. I was invisible then, too. Coffee did not make me visible. But it gave me the sense that I was an adult. Or I think it did. Hell, my recollections of my college years are almost as sparse as my memories of my youth. I’ve lived sixty-three years, yet most of that time is gone; not even captured on film. I wonder why I cannot recall almost my entire lifetime. There’s probably a reason. Maybe it too closely resembles that dream I dare not share. Or remember.

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Thrice

Think about the word, “relative.” Are you thinking about a cousin or has the level of humidity in the air captured your attention? Or, perhaps you’re thinking of the degree of connectedness between multiple concepts. Now, think about “aspic.” Does the word conjure a gelatinous tomato concoction? Or does it suggest to you an environment filled with snakes? If the word caused you to see, in your mind’s eye, a ball of writhing snakes, I’ll forgive you for the erroneous association of the word with the image. There’s a certain amount of illogic in language. It’s evidence of the imperfection of the species of which you and I are a part. If one is a misanthrope, one can be described as misanthropic. It follows, then, that a bundle of asps are aspic. But it doesn’t. Not really. Yet consider that an actor has a meteoric rise, like a meteor (though meteors tend to fall, don’t they?). And linguists speak of matters linguistic. So, what does this have to do with relatives? I’ve asked myself that question a hundred times and answered it thrice, with different replies.

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Drowning in My Own Tears

I wish I knew what part of my psyche is so fragile that I am moved to tears by simple things, things that may move normal people in some way, but don’t twist their spigots the way they do mine. Something in me, buried deeper than I can dig to unearth it, draws emotions to the surface quickly and without filter. That’s true of empathy and tears, but it’s just as true of anger and bluster. I’m an emotional powder keg; either a dynamite shack that explodes in fury or a damn that bursts in a river of tears.  I work to contain that unwelcome spectrum, but I don’t work hard enough. I want to control it, but either I can’t or I simply don’t. The rage I felt at yesterday’s senseless violence in Charlottesville, Virginia mirrored the deep sense of sympathy I felt for the victims of the violence and their families and friends. I want to wrap my arms around the survivors to give comfort and, at the same time, bludgeon the perpetrators to death with a dull axe dipped in merthiolate and anthrax spores. I suppose I should modify my suggestion that my psyche is fragile; it is alternatively fragile and brutal, forgiving and merciless.

The interesting aspect of this internal conversation with myself is that I feel embarrassed by my tendency toward tears and shamed by my tendency toward rage. Perhaps that’s healthy. The tears are relatively harmless, except to my ego. The rage is harmful and damaging, not only to myself but to others subjected to it, either as object or witness.

One day, I will write about the man whose emotions ride these ugly tides. It will be an uncomfortable endeavor, revealing more than I know today about what shaped and shapes him. Once upon a time, I envisioned myself pursuing psychology as a profession. That was before, or was it after?, my decision to pursue sociology. I know it was before criminology and somewhere in the neighborhood of my firm commitment to linguistics. Earlier, still, I envisioned myself a doctor, then a veterinarian. And I seriously considered law school, as late as my late forties. Most people who know me won’t believe it, but at a point not long ago, I considered theology, though I had no delusions: I am an atheist and cannot imagine anything convincing me to think otherwise. On the other hand, I am not committed to atheism via evidentiary support; if someone presented believable evidence contradicting my belief, I would examine it without bias, I think. I’m wandering far afield of where I started, as I often do.

Some evenings, and this is one, I wish I had someone who shared my questions to discuss these matters. We would drink some wine and earnestly explore what little we know about ourselves. We would examine philosophies and ideas and gently argue against inadequately supported positions, in an attempt to help one another grow intellectually and emotionally and, I suppose, spiritually. I’ve never quite understood what spirituality is. My wife and I discussed that issue a few nights ago; what IS spirituality? Must it involve religion? Does it touch on what touches us? Is it an artificial construct that we have allowed to intrude on our lives to such an extent that we believe in it, even though it does not exist?

I wish I could experience the world a hundred or a thousand years hence. I am curious. I think life is inherently unfair; it allows us only a glimpse at reality. We can see and experience and understand such a tiny sliver of time. Dammit, it’s really not fair. Each of us should be, in my opinion, entitled to know humanity from its birth until its demise. We should be permitted to know our place in the evolution of humanity, to know whether we had any role in shaping the universe as experienced by our ancestors and the successors who follow us.

Tonight, I warmed up a piece of pork loin I smoked some time ago and heated a can of green beans. What made the meal special was some canned peaches some friends gave us when we visited them last week. The meal tonight was a snapshot of caring, decency, love, and kindness. Thinking of it makes my eyes water. And that really bothers me. Who else would tear up over a goddamn meal? I wonder if people a thousand years from now will cry. I wonder if there will be people left a thousand years from now. Our planet will not sustain unchecked human population growth, notwithstanding the idiot preachers who claim it will because, “it’s God’s will.” I should revisit my “New Malthusian Imperative” essay and post it again. I’m typing almost anything now to keep the tears at bay. I’m failing.

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Who Are We?

Calvin stood motionless as he observed the magnificent beast walk past him, just a few feet away. Apparently, the unicorn did not see Calvin. Otherwise, the animal would have bolted. Instead, it was the picture of serenity as it grazed on fresh clover. The creature’s back shuddered from time to time,  spraying morning dew that had gathered on its haunches into the air. Calving reached over his shoulder and, in slow motion so as not to draw the beast’s attention, drew an arrow from the quiver hanging on his back. He slipped the knock of the arrow into the bow string, carefully placed the shaft in the arrow rest,  and pulled back on the string.

What in the name of God am I doing? I’m about to kill a unicorn. This is insane.

Whether it was his thought or the motions of his arms that triggered the unicorn’s response, something alerted the animal to his presence. Suddenly, the unicorn raised its head. Its neck turned toward Calvin and its eyes fixed on him. In less than the time it takes to blink, the rampant beast was on Calvin, its hooves pummeling him. It knocked Calvin to the ground and stepped on the bow, snapping it in pieces like a matchstick. The animal drew back and lowered its head and then charged toward Calvin. The spiral horn punctured Calvin’s chest, piercing his sternum and snapping his spine before exiting his back. It raised its head with Calvin impaled on its horn. Spinning its head in semi-circles, the beast cast Calvin’s body into the air. Its gleaming white horn covered with Calvin’s blood, the animal rushed toward the creek. It dipped its horn into the rushing water and rinsed away the blood.

The unicorn lived to a ripe old age. Never again did it encounter humans carrying hunting paraphernalia. It died in its sleep on a winter evening many years later, after a delightful dinner of clover and spring water. Calvin, as you might have guessed, died before he was cast off the animal’s horn. We don’t know who mourned his death; perhaps no one did. And we have no idea why he was in the enchanted forest with a bow and arrow. Actually, we don’t even know where this enchanted forest is. And we have no information about Calvin’s surname; we assume he had one, but that’s not certain. The newspaper accounts of his demise have yet to be written. Perhaps in another time his obituary will appear in a small-town newspaper; that might reveal something about his background, his family, and other tidbits about his life that will make his passing more meaningful than it has been heretofore. What we do know about Calvin is this: we know his first name, we know he carried a bow and a quiver of arrows, and we know he was about to kill a unicorn before having second thoughts about such an undertaking. And we know he died, impaled on the unicorn’s horn. Why should we care about Calvin? And why should we care about the unicorn? The answers to those questions rest not with logic, but with whatever generic empathy we hide deep in our hearts. Maybe it’s there. Maybe it’s not. If we live our lives in accord with soulless logic, the tragedy of Calvin and the unicorn that killed him do not matter. Nothing does. And that’s the pity of it, isn’t it?

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Blue Eyes

Her penetrating eyes were talons. Once they had him in their grip, he was helpless. Though he was a victim, he was willing prey. He treasured every glance, every sweep of her eyes across his face. She knew the power of her gaze and she used it with aplomb. When she looked directly in his eyes, he felt she was reading his thoughts. Or that she was planting ideas in his mind, ideas her husband mustn’t ever know were there. She controlled him with her beautiful blue eyes, those emissaries of longing that burrowed into his soul as easily as a hot knife slices through butter. Her stare could bring a smile to his lips. And just as quickly, her eyes could arouse in him a palpable desire so fervent he could barely control himself. But he had to. Her husband and his wife weren’t blind; if he allowed his stoic face to waiver, revealing molten desire, carnage would follow.

Trying my hand at writing a bodice-ripper paragraph.

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Five Years

This post, number 2415, marks the fifth anniversary of this blog: August 10, 2012 marked my first post here. I’d written hundreds of other posts on other blogs I’d started years earlier, but that first post on a blog that bore (and bears) my name seemed special. By obtaining a URL representing my name, and by committing to a year of hosting, I felt that I was doing something special. And I was. I acknowledged to myself that I called myself a writer. I’d been a writer long before that, but I was afraid to acknowledge it, for fear of being “found out” as someone who writes, but who’s not really a “writer.” A writer, in my view, was someone who wrote AND published. An author, in other words. A writer who had not been published was not serious. Not committed. Not good enough to call himself a writer. I’ve gotten over most of that. I’m serious about writing. I’m committed to writing—my writing—but I’m not sure I’m sufficiently committed to the craft that I’m willing to sacrifice a great deal of my time to improve my skills. And I’m not sure I’m truly good enough to call myself a writer, at least not good enough to consider myself a writer in the same league as one whose books I might buy. I realize that lack of self-esteem as a writer is no help to me. And I realize, from time to time, I’m better than I often think. Sometimes, I read what I’ve written and I’m delighted to have written it; proud that the words spilled from my fingers in the order they did, in just the right context and with near-perfect relation to the ideas I was trying to convey. Here’s to more of those instances of pride and delight. Five years on, I’m still writing and I’m relatively sure that will continue for the foreseeable future. As I plod along, stitching together what I’ve written in to what I hope is a coherent whole, I’ll remember to be proud on occasion that I’ve gotten this far. If nothing else, I’ve developed a modicum of discipline.

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Punishment

In last night’s nightmare, I was behind Janine and another woman. We were on our backs inside a tiny tunnel, the ceiling of which was just inches above my face. The two of them were riding on their backs on a contraption that seemed like a flat-bed rail car; it glided along on what seemed like narrow train tracks. They seemed to have the ability to power it forward. I, on the other hand, was inching along on my own power, scooting along the tracks. As they glided away from me, the light from their rail car disappeared from my view, leaving me in darkness. I was claustrophobic and I panicked that I might never be able to catch up to them. At some point, in the dream and out, I was making a lot of noise; Janine shook me to awaken me.

Somewhere else in the dream, before the tunnel experience, I suppose, another woman (perhaps the same one)—whose appearance was Asian but whose voice was middle American—assured me everything would be fine. I was nervous, but I don’t know about what. It was nothing like the terrifying experience in the tunnel, though.

Dreams like that make sleep seem like punishment.

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Scrawl

There’s something about the word “scrawl” that I find appealing. Appealing may be the wrong word. Magnetic might be more appropriate. I say this because I’ve used the word in several posts on my blog. In one, I named a character “Ribbon Scrawl.” In another, I mentioned a character’s uncle, “Scrawl Lee.” In another instance, I used the word to describe a character’s handwriting. And I’ve written notes to myself about a mysterious snack-style restaurant I call Scrawl that I may include in a story I’m writing. It’s that most recent use of the word that’s on my mind this morning. All right, it’s not the word so much as it is the place that’s on my mind. Scrawl is a place where Willem Svart, a disgraced South African nuclear scientist spends much of his time. I haven’t decided whether Svart operates Scrawl or has an ownership stake in the place. Regardless, he spends quite a lot of time there. Scrawl’s menu is an eclectic mix of traditional South African and Scandinavian food. The menu includes droëwors, biltong, boerewors, chakalaka & pap, Cape Malay curry, pickled herring, bobotie, kroppkakor, gravlax, smørrebrød, kalops, kåldolmar, tunnbrödrulle, and Durbin curry, among assorted other items unfamiliar to most of us. The place serves beer, of course. The most popular brands are Castle Lager, Carling Black Label, Hansa Pilsner, Heineken, Amstel, and Grolsch. Local microbrews gainied popularity in Scrawl years before the microbrewery trend hit the U.S.

Scrawl welcomes everyone—it’s truly a welcoming place—but its clientele tends to be an odd assortment of outcasts whose demeanor makes “normal” people nervous. Think “biker bar” and your sense of the vibe of the place is heading in the right direction. Instead of bikers, though, the majority of Scrawl’s patrons are professors, philosophers, scientists, and writers, all of whom enjoy the place as a gathering spot for like-minded intellectuals and misfits.

I associate the word “scrawl” with another word I find appealing, “squall.” To my knowledge, there’s no connection between them, save their beginning and ending sounds. Maybe that’s the appeal. Or maybe the meaning of each of them incorporates an element of chaos or disarray. I wonder what a psychoanalyst would think about my affinity for the two words?

The problem of writing about a place I’ve never been is that, the more research I do about the place, the more I am drawn to going there. Knowing a trip to South Africa is not in the offing for me in the near or even distant future, I’d like to find a South African enclave in the U.S., a place where I can meet an assortment of people from South Africa who have emigrated from South Africa to the U.S. for one reason or another and have come together in a community. Is there such a place? I haven’t the foggiest idea. I guess I’ll have to explore that possibility and, if it exists, decide whether a story that probably will never see the inside pages of a book warrants a trip.

Back to Svart. He fits in with the crowd at Scrawl, but unlike his fellow patrons, he is a bad seed. He shares much in common with them, but unlike them he is not a humanist at heart. His actions, more than his words, illustrate his lack of compassion, his thirst for attention, and his unspeakable greed. His presence is a stain on an otherwise impressive and happy third place.

I see by the clock that it is time for me to make copies of the writing I am to share with my Monday critique group. Svart belongs in the story, but not in the piece I’m sharing today.

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Cars

I drove a car, which my neighbor had borrowed  from a friend, to the gas station. Actually, he had traded vehicles with another friend; he had let his friend use his nondescript sedan in exchange for the use of his friend’s RV. It’s a long, convoluted story, but I’ll tell it the best I can.

My neighbor wanted to take a vacation in an RV. His friend who owned an RV agreed to let my neighbor use his. I agreed to look out after my neighbor’s house while he was away. The day after he and his wife left, I was inside his house, watering plants, when they returned. To say I was surprised would be an understatement.

“Jesus, you scared the hell out of me! What are you doing back so soon?”

“It’s a long, ugly story. We discovered, during a monstrous downpour, the windshield wipers don’t work. And something’s wrong with the shocks; Jenny got motion sickness just being in the passenger seat for an hour. And I got too close to the side as we were crossing a bridge and broke off the side rear view mirror. There’s more. Lots more. We just decided we’d had enough. It’s gonna cost me a fortune to have the damn RV fixed, so I can’t afford to take a vacation. Anyway, I left the RV at the shop to get it fixed. I borrowed another buddy’s car to tide me over.”

“I’m not sure I completely understand what you just told me, but I get the gist of it. I’m sorry that happened. But your plants are doing fine.” I nodded to the geraniums, water pooling in the saucers beneath the pots in which they were growing.

“Since you’re here, would you mind doing me another favor and taking the car down to get gas? It’s almost empty. I would have stopped to gas it up, but I would have had to cross heavy traffic and I was just fried.” My neighbor held out a set of car keys, assuming I would take them. I did.

“Sure, happy to. Anyway, you’re parked behind me, so I can’t get to my car.”

I pulled on the door of the 1980 Corvette, surprised at how hard it was to open. It felt heavy; an unfriendly introduction to the car. When I sat down, the leather seat was hard and unyielding, as if petrified from non-use. The engine started easily, but I heard the unmistakable sound of consistent misfires as I pressed on the accelerator. I coerced the monster into reverse and backed out of the driveway. The steering wheel fought with me as I tried to maneuver the car into the street.

My neighbor watched me drive away. He must have wondered why I turned right instead of left at the stop sign.  So did I. There are no gas stations in that direction. The moment I made the turn, I realized my mistake. I’ll have to make a u-turn up ahead, I said to myself. Because I was driving a Corvette, I expected the car to respond assertively when I punched the accelerator to the floor. Instead, it coughed and heaved and, very very slowly, gained speed. When I neared the spot where I wanted to make the u-turn, I pressed on the brake pedal. It was just as responsive as the accelerator. The car seemed reluctant to slow down, so I pushed harder as I spun the steering wheel to the left. Somehow, I managed to catch my sleeve on the turn signal lever as I whipped the wheel. The stalk broke off and slid into my sleeve. Distracted by the mishap, I failed to notice that the turning radius of a 1980 Corvette is radically greater than the turning radius of a 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier. The car jumped the curb on the opposite side of the street, jarring me to my core and, I discovered later, bending the wheel rim. The front bumper barely missed a palm tree, but the grass in front of the tree was torn to shreds by the car’s tires. I looked in the rear view mirror as I straightened the car in the street to see a box truck barreling toward me at high speed. I punched the accelerator to the floor. Again, the car coughed and wheezed, but then suddenly took off like a rocket.

According to the police officer, the car had reached sixty-five miles per hour by the time it reached the far end of the school zone. Fortunately, I missed the children in the cross-walk, but that apparently was not enough of a positive outcome for him to give me a pass. The officer, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, pushed me into the back of the squad car, lacking the decency to hold my head down in the process. The bleeding stopped shortly after we arrived at the police station, but the lump remained for weeks.

I offered to pay to have the turn signal stalk repaired, but I stood firm on refusing to pay for the wheel rim; it’s my contention that I should have been told about the large turning radius.

I’ve received response to my phone messages. And every time I knock on my neighbors’ door, they turn out the lights and draw the shades. And, yes, it’s okay for me to go as far as next door. The ankle monitor sends an alert only if I go more than two hundred feet from my house.

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Smoked Jerky

Jerky in the rawIf the Universe is decent, kind, and caring, these strips of eye of round I marinated for twenty-four hours will be—seven hours hence—delicious, mouth-watering beef jerky. The kind of jerky I used to seek out on long, aimless road trip through Central Texas.

I put these strips of meat in the 170°F smoker, stoked with mesquite chips,  a quarter of an hour ago.  Soon, the smoker will reveal occasional wisps of smoke, signaling the start of the process of drying and gently cooking the meat. During that time, the aroma of mesquite will meld with the beef and its marinade (sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, jalapeño, cumin, garlic, etc.). The result—again, if the Universe is decent, kind, and caring—will be a joyous experience one has no right to expect, but for which one is eternally grateful (if one is fortunate enough to have the process conclude as desired). I may post photos of the result of my experiment. This, my first effort to make jerky, shan’t be my last.

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Seductive Spices

“What the hell are we going to do with three pounds of goat shoulder?” Geneva’s tone revealed her doubts about the gift from Jacob’s friend, Katrina.

Jacob flashed a conciliatory grin at her. “You needn’t worry about it, darling. I’ll figure something out. And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.”

Geneva scowled at the package Jacob had placed on the counter, then at Jacob. “Fine. But if I don’t like it, I’ll expect you to buy me dinner out. I’m not going to pretend to like it just because she’s your friend. Katrina is a little weird, if you ask me. Anybody who raises goats just to kill them and eat their corpses is a little ‘off.’ And it’s even more bizarre when they give pieces of the dead animal to their friends.”

Jacob smiled as he said, “You’d think you were a vegetarian from the way you talk. I’ve seen you greedily rip the meat off baby back ribs like you’d been trained by a hyena.”

His smile was not returned. Geneva stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Jacob in peace to figure out what to do with the unexpected gift.

“Well,” he said to himself, aloud, “I know she likes Vietnamese goat curry. But we’ve got no lemongrass and there’s not enough coriander seeds. Hmm.”

Jacob pawed through the spice cabinet, then rummaged through the pantry and the dry vegetable drawers, pulling items out of each. Then, he foraged the refrigerator. When he’d finished, the counter was littered with ingredients: cooking oil, the salt container, a large can of curry powder, a jar of allspice, a tin of thyme, two onions, two habanero peppers, a piece of ginger root, a can of coconut milk, a can of crushed tomatoes, and five Yukon Gold potatoes.

After all the ingredients he wanted were on the counter, Jacob turned his attention back to the goat. He cut it into two-inch chunks, spread it out on the cutting board, and sprinkled it liberally with salt. All righty, then, that’s ready to go. On to the next step of the battle.

He chopped the onions, cubed the potatoes, peeled and minced a two-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and chopped the head of garlic, and diced the habanero peppers. Then, Jacob mixed the spices in a white soup bowl: eight tablespoons of curry powder and one tablespoon of allspice seed. He pulled a large pot from the rack that hung over the kitchen island, put it on the stove, and turned the burner to medium high. He measured a quarter cup of corn oil into a cup and poured it into the pot.

While the oil was heating, Jacob patted the pieces of goat dry with a paper towel and then he measured two tablespoons of the spice mixture into the hot oil. Almost immediately, the sweet fragrance of curry powder and ginger and hot oil permeated the kitchen.  During the next thirty minutes, he carefully browned the pieces of goat in the oil. When a few pieces were brown, he set them aside in a glass bowl and started another set. By the time they had all browned, the kitchen was awash in the odors of allspice and seared goat, along with the pungent aroma created when curry powder meets hot oil.

Geneva peeked her head into the kitchen from time to time during this process, sniffing the air but saying nothing.

When all the goat meat had browned, Jacob turned his attention to the onions and habanero peppers, browning the onions in the same pan in which he’d browned the goat meat. The aroma of cooking onions, coupled with the odor of curry and allspice, filled Jacob’s nostrils. Oh my god, this is wonderful.  I hope she likes it. I think she will.

The addition of the minced ginger and garlic to the pot resulted in another burst of aromas, the melding of which seemed to act as a magnet for Geneva. “What are you doing in here? It smells like you’re emptying our spice cabinet into that pot.”

Jacob turned toward the door when he hear the sound of her voice. “Leave me be, woman. I’m making something you won’t like so I can eat it all by myself. You’ll get your dinner at McDonald’s just as soon as I’m done.”

“The hell I will! You’ll take me to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse if I can’t tolerate that swill.”

“You won’t have to tolerate this swill for awhile. It won’t be ready for another two or three hours.”

Geneva spun around in the doorway and, in her trademark stalk, left the room.

Jacob poured the meat and bones back into the pot, along with the coconut milk, tomatoes, four cups of water, the remainder of the curry powder mixture, and a tablespoon of thyme. He stirred the mixture, inhaling deeply of the fragrance from the pot.

“Okay, I’m done for awhile.  The last thing I’ve got to do is add the potatoes after the meat’s done. Then it will take about half an hour or so for the potatoes to cook.”

He got no response. He stepped out of the kitchen and into the front room. On the coffee table, Geneva had left a note. “I’m going shopping with Maggie. I’ll be back in about four hours.”

***

By the time Geneva returned home with Maggie, the neighbor who unbeknownst to Geneva was infatuated with her husband, the meal was ready to eat.

“Care to join us for some Jamaican goat curry, Maggie? I’d love to know what you think of my cooking skills.” Jacob, fully aware of Maggie’s infatuation, did all he could to encourage it.

“Thanks, Jacob. I’d love to,” Maggie answered, a look of regret immediately registering on her face as if to apologize for accepting the invitation without Geneva’s concurrence.

“Yes, please do join us,” Geneva said. “You might have to come back and help Jacob finish this stuff off, too. He always makes stuff too hot for me. I know you and Jacob both have an affinity for making things hot.”

Jacob snickered under his breath at his wife’s response. She has no idea how true that double non-entendre is!

The three of them, sitting at the dining table, tasted the finished dish.

Maggie’s eyes grew wide. “Wow, this is really great! I love it! My compliments to the chef.”

“Actually, the stuff is supposed to get better over a day or two so that the flavors have time to layer and blend just right. The recipe made enough for eight servings, so you might want to come back day after tomorrow to have it again, just to compare.” Jacob glanced at his wife.

Geneva nodded. “Just as I thought, it’s too spicy for me. I’ll eat this serving, but I think you owe me a trip to Ruth’s Chris when I get back from visiting my sister in Cambridge, Jacob. Maggie, you should plan on coming back to finish this off with Jacob.

Jacob noticed Maggie’s face flush. My hope has been fulfilled. She likes it.

 

 

 

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Distrustful Sky

The sky remained almost dark, distrustful that my appearance on the deck was a good sign. As I hung hummingbird feeders in their assigned places, replenished with fresh nectar, the sky brightened a bit, satisfied that my presence was not a bad sign. Hummingbirds buzzed nearby, zipping by my ear as if to send a message.  I took their strafing to mean they were pleased to see me, though I suspect they may have been cursing me the way birds sometimes do when their food sources have been withheld for hours.

I have a moderately full day planned, starting with giving a friend a ride to an appointment and back, followed by an afternoon program by an author, and then a late afternoon presentation and screening of a film about the life of D.T. Suzuki, the man credited with introducing an understanding of Zen Buddhism to the western world. During the interstitial moments, I’ll try to fit in writing more on my still-young novel and eating breakfast and lunch and an early dinner. These activities, coupled with my slothful nature, will preclude me from doing any much-needed work on the “yard” today. I need to blow leaves, buy and spread bark mulch, buy some lumber for an outdoor project, try to lessen the displeasing appearance of a large, ancient dent on my old beater pickup, and perform literally dozens of other tasks in need of attention.

According to the weather forecast, today would be a good day to do outdoor work, save for the temperatures, which are expected to reach the mid eighties. The forecast for the next several days calls for rain. So, I might be saved from my intentions again by those distrustful skies.

 

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Cucumber

David and Amanda Spears spent the first ten years of their marriage focused on work. He worked for a granite company as a buyer, a job that involved considerable international travel. She split her time between hautes écoles training in a dressage program on a farm in Connecticut and brokering failing equine businesses in California. During her time in California, she developed an appreciation for fresh cucumbers; it was more than appreciation, it was a passion or, perhaps, a pathology. When, finally, they expected a child after eleven years of marriage (they were married at twenty-four, so hers was a rather late first pregnancy), she decided to name the child, if it was a girl, Cucumber.

When Amanda decided on a name, just hours from delivery, David was in India, negotiating to buy one hundred sixty tons of Rajasthan Black Granite. Amanda called David, via a Skype video call, from the hospital delivery room.

“It’s time, sweetheart. My first daughter is about to be born.”

“Oh, that’s so wonderful! I wish I could be there, honey! God, I wish I could be there.”

“The doctors say they expect it will be less than two hours. I’ve decided to name her Cucumber.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard that right. Say again?”

“I’ve decided to name her Cucumber.”

“You can’t name the child Cucumber,” he screamed at his soon-to-deliver wife. “She’ll be damaged for life with a name like Cucumber Spears!”

Amanda was usually unwilling to get into a shouting match with her husband, opting instead to simply withdraw. This time, though, she reacted with anger just short of rage.

“If you tell me I can’t do something, you asshole, you better be in a position to try to enforce your prohibition! If you wanted a say in naming my daughter, you shouldn’t have begun an international business trip a week before the expected delivery date.”

“I had no choice! I couldn’t tell my boss ‘No, I can’t go negotiate this deal because my wife is having a baby.’ His response would have been, ‘If you’re the one having the baby, fine. Otherwise, you can and you will go.’ Anyway, you can’t name the child officially without my signature.”

“Oh, really? I would have thought if they required anything, they’d require the father’s signature.”

“That’s what I’m saying—” David stopped, realizing what he’d just heard his wife say.

Amanda stared at the computer screen in front of her. She saw the look in David’s face suddenly change from anger to surprise.

“Wait, are you saying I’m not the father?”

“Hell of a way to get the news, isn’t it?”

 

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Fresh Joys and Unending Tears

I love sitting outside on the screen porch at the intersection of dusk and darkness. I sit listening to the frogs and toads and insects and who-knows-what make a cacophonous racket in the trees and hillside just beyond the deck. If I needed to concentrate, the noise would be deafening, too loud to allow me to focus. But I recognize that, when I sit there, I have no power to control the noise, so my options are to go inside to the television or radio or music or to sit outside in self-silence, experiencing the exceptional volume of nature. Nature has a reputation for quietude. The reputation is undeserved; she is a howling beast, replete with screeches and screams and rumbles and roars that earn their Hollywood reputations for instilling fear and admiration.

When I sit outside, I become part of the cacophony. I’m a piece of the noise. And that’s perfectly okay; I like serving as a silent instrument in an orchestra.

In an ideal world—a world that mirror my dreams and expectations—I’d sit there and listen to the music of the earth while sipping a glass of cold sauvignon blanc or cabernet sauvignon or Jim Beam whisky. Last night, though, the sauvignon blanc fairy failed to deliver and other wines did not find their way into my house, in spite of the directions I left for them. So, instead, I sipped cold gin, enhanced with a touch of fresh lime juice. There’s nothing wrong or immoral or even offensive about drinking gin. I’m in favor of it.

Aside from the absence of complete darkness—or, if you prefer, the presence of  incomplete light—the early morning differs from night in an utterly different way. The discordant orchestral cacophony gives way over night to a gentler, much more quiet, harmonic hum, interrupted on occasion by a bird  call or a dog’s bark or cattle lowing from the pastures below.  Morning beverages differ, too, from those of the evening. I can’t remember the first or the last time I had gin or bourbon or wine of any kind early in the morning, for it has never happened. My beverage of choice in the morning is, usually, strong French roast coffee. When I’m feeling especially energetic (and if I also happen to have the right fresh espresso-grind coffee in the house), I’ll have an espresso or three. But that’s rare. Normally, it’s just coffee.

I was waxing philosophical about sitting outdoors in the evening, listening to the sounds of nature. Somehow, that morphed into an exposition of my evening and morning drinking preferences and habits. Recently, I spoke to someone about how my writing tends to drift from rabbit hole to rabbit hole. That’s not the case (usually) when I’m writing fiction for which I’ve predetermined the story’s general direction or know specifically how it will end But when I produce my stream-of-consciousness, journaling-style, word dumps, I tend to wander. I think my thoughts ricochet off one another, causing new ones to form and releasing others held captive by other ideas. There’s value to be gained by writing such deviance; somewhere among the millions of pieces of crushed and worthless stone may be found a gem. The effort to unearth it from its rocky grave and then polish it so that it at least reflects light is enormous. But, I hope, worth the expenditure of mental and physical energy.

The following quote is widely attributed to Franz Kafka, but they actually are the words of Anne Rice, from the preface to a collection of Kafka’s works:

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

Those words move me beyond my ability to explain why. Some words, experiences, or even images feel like messages from a kindred spirit, or God, which I think is the same thing. No, of course I don’t believe that literally. But figuratively, I’ll take that belief to my grave.

That thought reminds me of an experience I had this afternoon. Among an otherwise decadent day of sight-seeing in the Arkansas capitol and eating lunch at an expensive restaurant, we experienced something that moved me. We went to the Butler Center Galleries in downtown Little Rock, simply to see what was on exhibit; we went to be entertained, I suppose. And we were. And we were delighted by incredible art. And I was crushed by an exhibition called, “The American Dream Deferred: Japanese American Incarceration in WWII Arkansas.” The exhibition featured art of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in Arkansas during World War II, as well as objects from the Arkansas internment camps. My reaction to the exhibition was the same as my reaction to the Border Cantos exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, though not as intense; this was a smaller exhibit. Regardless of size, my eyes could not help but fill with tears as I read about and thought about the people who—only because of their ancestry— were imprisoned. This situation is not new of course; it has gone on for centuries. But the idea of this sort of thing happening in the United States rips me apart inside.  Slavery. Japanese-American internment. Mexican and Hispanic mass deportation. Muslim demonization. Shit. Where do I live?

The reason sitting outside, listening to nature’s noise, is so appealing is that it deadens the noise I hear when I hear humans being humans.

One day, when I expose my writing to the world, I’ll have to have a thicker skin than I have tonight. My skin tonight is as thin as a whisper; a rumor of brutality draws blood.

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Lost Among Serpents and other Reptiles

A bizarre merger of odd dreams into a nightmare

A young woman from Australia, who worked for my company years ago, was visiting. We were in someone else’s house. I remember windows looking down on a street below. And I remember strange stairs leading up to an area of the house where I was staying; each step was split in two, so that each tread of each step was at two different levels.

Someone, I don’t know who, was missing and we could not reach them. The young woman and two or three guys (I knew who they were, but do not recall) wanted to go somewhere, but needed the other guy who they could not reach. I agreed to let them use my car to try to find where he might be. They were in a hurry and I needed to get something out of the trunk. I threw my winter coat in the trunk for a moment so I could look for whatever I was seeking, but forgot it.

They drove away and just as a heavy snow began failing. Interspersed within the snow were balls of hail. I heard peels of thunder and flashes of lightning. I decided to walk home; I thought I wasn’t far and I needed to get there so I could prepare to go pick up paintings at Garvin Woodland Gardens. I started off and got completely lost in an enormous high-rise complex. I knew the complex was part of a university connected to several large businesses. Anyone in this area must be rich, I remembered thinking; they were part of what some would call “the upper crust.” The business people around me had a demeanor that said they were rich, rich, rich and they were proud of it. I went through various office building doors that led me to more areas in which I knew I did not belong.

I walked outside one of the buildings into a large, grassy area. It suddenly occurred to me that I could use my phone to see where I was. Just as I pulled it out and opened the map app, a guy rushed past me, chasing after a snack slithering along the ground (there were a lot of snakes visible on this stretch of open ground, full of green grass). He started tormenting the snake he was chasing, using one of the sticks that snake hunters use to snag their prey. This snake was a rattle snake, I could  tell by the tiny couple of rattles at the end of its tail. Suddenly, the snake struck at him and got him. He started screaming “it got me,” and pried it off, using his stick, which he waved around with the snake writhing at the end. This commotion riled up an alligator that was in a shallow pond nearby; it came at me, fast. I tried to kick at it, but it got hold of the bottom of my shoe and started shaking it. Someone else came up to try to help me, but just as he tried to put something on top of the alligator, the alligator released its grip. I thought it was going to lunge at me, so I jumped down on it with my elbow on the top of its upper jaw and pushed with all my might down on it, locking its mouth shut. I was expressing fear, frustration, appreciation all at once. That’s when I woke up. My wife started shaking me at the same time; I guess I was making noise.

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Mi Escritura Estraña

When I took the hummingbird feeders out this morning, I was surprised at how cool it felt to walk outside. The indoor/outdoor thermometer read 67 degrees, a much more civilized morning temperature than recent morning lows of 76 or more.

The temperatures in the mountain village of Mexico, south of Guadalajara, where my brother lives, are only a few degrees cooler this morning than we have here. But the daytime highs there reach only the high seventies, occasionally topping 80. By the time we visit in a few months, the average daytime highs will have dropped to the mid-seventies and the nighttime lows to the low sixties or below. The hottest month there is May, when the highs reach the mid-eighties and the average lows stay in the low sixties. That’s a climate I could learn to love.

According to an online language instruction website, duolingo, I am thirteen percent fluent in Spanish. While I wish it were true, I think my level of fluency is considerably less. My ability to understand and communicate in Spanish, though, actually is far better than the speed with which I can do it. I can force myself to understand and make myself understood to a limited extent, but it’ a slow process. I imagine the speed of my Spanish communication is akin to the speed of swimming—with boat anchors tied to both arms and both legs—across a large lake filled with blackstrap molassess.

I am sure I have the intellectual capacity and lingual flexibility to learn to be conversant in Spanish, though I am less certain today than I was ten or twenty years ago. But what I possess in capability I’m afraid I lack in discipline. I’m undisciplined in so very many ways. And on top of that, I’m more than occasionally contumacious. Now there’s an adjective that, unfortunately, describes me. It’s defined as “stubbornly perverse or rebellious; willfully and obstinately disobedient.” Surprisingly, to me, Google Translate offers a Spanish translation: contumaz.  Perhaps before I engage in a serious attempt to learn Spanish, I should become fluent in English. Most English-Spanish translation resources refer to terms like subjective, indicative, imperative, perfect, perfect continuous, preterite, etc., etc. Even though  my mother was an English teacher who worshiped at the altar of grammar and insisted on diagramming sentences, I resisted learning the terms. I remember saying to someone (not her), “there is no reason to call a word a gerund; just call it an ‘ing’ word.” I think, now, a more thorough understanding of the structure of the English language and the terms used to describe verb conjugation might have served me well.

But I’m not writing about a lifetime devoid of English verb conjugation, am I? Probably not. Yet I cannot say with certainty what I am writing about. The weather? A trip to Mexico? Learning languages? It could be any or all of the above. It’s just my strange writing, mi escritura extraña.

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Lion

I do not follow film. I do not wait with anticipation for announcements of Oscar nominations, nor do I track predictions about which new films will be the latest and greatest contributions to filmdom. I guess that’s the reason I’d not heard of Lion until quite recently. It was the film screened tonight at the monthly Film Night at the Unitarian Universalist Village Church. I was more than impressed; I was stunned by the film. The writing, the cinematography, the story, the whole damn thing! What an astonishing story! What a heart-breaking story that both rips one’s soul to shreds, and then offers an opportunity to believe in the uplifting power of perseverance coupled with good luck!

I am so glad I watched the film. In a sense, it was deeply depressing and heart-breaking, but it injected bits of hope into that ugliness. I left feeling embarrassed for my recent ennui and hopeful, knowing that only by trying will we learn whether our efforts will be successful.

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The Last Cold Front

“Man, the weather is changing a hell of a lot faster than the models predicted. Two years ago, I was among those saying we wouldn’t see a sea level increase by three feet until 2100.” Angus McCutcheon’s leathery face was the picture of worry. His mop of red hair, streaked with ample amounts of grey, clung to his sweaty scalp. He glanced at the mirror on the wall and saw a much older man than he thought he’d see.  His blue eyes, almost buried behind massive brown wrinkles of skin, turned and squinted at the computer screen.

Shelly Thumb nodded. “It’s gettin’ damn near scary, Angus. Crops are the shits.  And I don’t know where we’re gonna get our water if the reservoirs keep on like they’re doin’ of late. Priest Lake has gone totally dry. Did you know that?”

Just as Angus started to acknowledge Shelly’s bleak assessment, an alert from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration popped on his computer screen. A cold front over central Alberta, Canada, has begun to move south. Expect it to bring cooler temperatures to eastern Washington state and western Montana over the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Temperatures behind the front could drop to the middle seventies briefly. Nighttime lows will return to the mid-eighties after the front’s passage. Daytime highs could return to near one hundred by Tuesday.

Angus sighed as he read the alert. “I’d hate to own land on the coast and watch it disappear beneath the waves. But it’s really not much better here, is it? I mean, we’re seeing the collapse of farming right before our eyes. What are you and Jack gonna do if we don’t get rain?”

“We’re gonna do what everybody else is gonna do. We’re gonna die. People around here say  “at least folks on the coast have water,” like it’s some kind of salvation. But for cripe’s sake, it’s salt water. We’re all up shit creek. Do the NOAA predictions give you any hope, Angus?”

“I’m afraid not. But I’m excited that this alert talks about a ‘cold front.’ I haven’t seen them use those words in weeks. Maybe that’s a sign.”

The following Tuesday, NOAA issued another alert. In the absence of atmospheric evidence suggesting the development of future cold fronts, NOAA has suspended announcements about cold fronts moving south from Canada. Henceforth, NOAA announcements will focus on the effects of waves of warmer air moving northward.

 

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Envision

Constraints exist only in one’s imagination.
Possibilities have limits only in the mind.
If a person can conceive of time travel,
he can travel forward in time, carrying
a notebook in which to record his reality.
Circumstances impose boundaries only when
we let them bind doubts to our dreams.
Stories I tell myself shape the future
in ways impossible to measure without
tools I create in my imaginations.
Even old men build bridges to infinity,
using ideas to form structures clad with words.
Accomplishments rest on visions fed by wishes.
Hope is the calculus of fantasy, scrubbed
clean of impossibility and polished with
inspiration and unbridled ingenuity.
Envision a future and it is yours.

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Venezuelans and Their Food

Earlier today, an article on the National Public Radio website about a food common in Venezuela, called arepas, launched my exploration of the dish. Several recipes later, my interest grew beyond food as I became increasingly intrigued about the current state of affairs in the deeply divided country. I tried to find reliable, unbiased information about the recent plebiscite and the Maduro government’s response to it. Regardless where I looked, I questioned the legitimacy or the veracity of the news. from BBC to NPR to a couple of English language “news” websites dedicated to Venezuelan politics, nothing was sufficiently comprehensive, nor sufficiently absent judgmental language, for me to feel I was learning what’s really going on in the country.

Much of what the major international news organizations write about the country seems to be fed to them by the governments of the countries within which they operate. BBC reports on what the British government says. NPR (one of the news outlets I’ve come to trust almost completely) reports on what the U.S. government says. I have absolutely no confidence in a word that comes from the present U.S. administration; it is steeped in blatant lies. And when I read Venezuelan media, the claims that effectively say “we report only facts and do not allow bias to enter our reporting” are immediately crushed by blatantly biased reporting, both pro-Maduro and anti-Maduro. Despite my inability to find news I can trust (or my inability to trust news I can find), I think the days of Nicholás Maduro as President of Venezuela are numbered. Of course, I’ve thought the days of Donald Trump’s presidency were numbered in the low single digits since his inauguration and I was wrong about that.

The upshot of all this is that I wish I knew more about Venezuela and its immediate future. And I wish I had more confidence in the news media. I am not about to start calling every media outlet “fake news,” but I think many media outlets are allowing themselves to be manipulated into becoming just that. Part of the reason can be traced to people like me, people who choose to get their news “free” online, as opposed to paying the very reasonable (and very expensive) prices of newspapers. And, for that matter, television news. We ask advertisers to pay for news; we feel they should pay for our access to information.

This little side-show has gone in an altogether different direction that I envisioned when I started. I’d really like to find a source for the pre-cooked white corn flour necessary to make arepas. I suspect that won’t be hard. And I’d like to assemble a collection of recipes for several fillings I can use for arepas. I suspect that, too, won’t be hard. And I wish I could share some of the arepas I make with the hungry people of Venezuela. Because I think they are in far greater need of arepas than I.

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