“What in the name of God is that?” Brenda’s voice hissed, jarring Carl’s attention, as the unexpected sound erupted from behind his left shoulder.

“Why do you do that? You startled the hell out of me.”

“Sorry. Well, what is it?”

“It’s a snake of some kind.”

“Duh! I know it’s a snake. What’s it doing in the garage?”

“It’s taking dancing lessons!”  Carl spit the words from his mouth like they were bitter pills.

Brenda’s face contorted into a fierce scowl. “All right! You don’t have to get smart with me. I just asked a simple question.”

“I don’t know what it’s doing here,” Carl said. “I don’t know how it got here. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know its name. I don’t know its pedigree or whether it’s poisonous.”

Brenda’s scowl deepened. “Why are you being such an ass?”

“I’m trying to figure out how to get the damn thing out of the garage and you’re disturbing my concentration. Let me finish this and then you can ask your stupid questions!”

“As you used to tell me, there are no stupid questions. Only stupid people. And I’m not stupid, so that must leave you.” With that, Brenda wheeled around and stormed back into the house.

Carl opened a large paper grocery bag, placed it on the floor, and began to coax the snake into it, using the handle of a broom. The creature writhed, its red, yellow, and black rings around its body almost dancing, as Carl shoved at it with the broom. With the snake fully inside the bag, he pushed the open end down with the broom, gingerly folded it to close it, and picked up the trapped viper. Jeez, this snake is heavier than I thought it would be.

Carl took the bag inside the house and set it on the kitchen counter. “Brenda, it’s in the bag,” he called. No response. “Brenda, the snake is in the bag on the counter.” Still nothing.

What am I going to do with this damn snake? It’s supposed to be illegal to kill them, but…

The sound crinkling craft paper interrupted his thought as the snake moved inside the bag. Carl watched the bag bulge as the reptile made its way around the edges of its prison.

I’ll search Google to see what kind of snake it is and how to get rid of it.

Brenda’s voice intruded on his internet search. “What’s in this bag on the counter?”

Carl heard the unmistakable sound  made when craft paper is handled. “Don’t open it, it’s…”

Carl sensed that Brenda’s scream was from pain, not fear. But fear gripped Carl as he viewed an image of a coral snake on the screen.


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Gingerly Approaching a Moroccan Cooking Binge

Last night, our meal’s main course was Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon, Olives, and Harissa. I made the harissa, which delivers one of my favorite flavors,the day before. I served the chicken over brown rice, alongside a few cucumber spears, some sliced tomatoes, and sweet peppers. I was generally satisfied with the meal, but not as thrilled as I had hoped and expected. I think it was the brown rice; its consistency wasn’t quite right. Perhaps my lower-than-expected satisfaction derived from the fact that the fresh ginger I used wasn’t really fresh. I bought it a week or more ago and wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. When I unwrapped it yesterday to grate it, I discovered that it had deteriorated considerably. Though I was able to salvage enough for the recipe, I question whether the stuff was adequate for the task. My experience with the unsatisfactory ginger led me to explore the “best” ways to preserve fresh ginger. My research suggests these as the best ways:

  1. Plant fresh, unpeeled ginger in potting soil. That, from what I’ve read, will keep it quite fresh and will probably result in the growth of some foliage.
  2. Place fresh, unpeeled ginger in a zip-lock bag, squeezed to remove as much air as possible, and put the bag in the refrigerator’s vegetable crisper.
  3. Immerse peeled ginger in a glass jar of vodka.

All three methods, according to the sources I found, will keep the ginger fresh for at least eight weeks.

I discarded the ginger left over after I made last night’s meal. So, I need to add ginger to the shopping list, along with ground coriander seed. I’m sure there’s more. But that will do for now.

My current fixation on Moroccan food shows no signs of diminution. For breakfast this morning, I used last night’s leftovers, which actually tasted better today than last night. I plan to make several other Moroccan dishes in the weeks to come, provided my wife does not tired of my experimentation. On the menus will be: Lamb with Couscous, Moroccan-Style Spiced Shrimp, Chickpea and Tomato Stew, and Méchoui of Lamb with Charmoula. I made enough harissa to last through all of them, provided I do not use it first in any number of other dishes I think would benefit from its rich, spicy flavor. The odds are good I’ll have to make another batch (or two) long before I get through the menus.

This morning, we’re attending the annual “water ceremony” at the Unitarian Universalist church. It will be our first “water ceremony.” My gut tells me it will be far too woo-woo for my taste, but we shall see. I’ll wager no one in the church this morning, aside from my favorite wife and me, had home-made Moroccan food last night. I’ll even up the ante and wager than no one else had the same breakfast we had this morning, either.

I’m getting slightly better at writing by speaking, but I still can’t seem to do fiction that way. I long for my wrist, arm, and shoulder to get over whatever it is that’s bothering them. Tomorrow, I may seek out a chiropractor.

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Here’s to Boston

Thanks to this morning’s newsletter (Fast Forward)  from the Boston Globe, I learned that today is the 120th anniversary of the launch of the first subway in this country. At 6:00 a.m. on September 1, 1897, one hundred people rode the subway through a tunnel under downtown Boston.  I had assumed that the first subway was in New York City, but my research this morning revealed that New York’s first underground commuter line did not operate until October 27, 1904. Almost thirty-six years earlier, the city’s first elevated line opened. New York’s rapid transit system is the largest in the western world, butsystems in Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Guangzhou, and Moscow eclipsed its ridership. The New York system, though, is the largest in terms of the number of stations (472). On September 23, 2014, more than 6.1 million people rode the New York subway system,

But today’s celebration is about Boston’s innovation, not New York’s, nor the other systems with greater ridership. Have I ever mentioned I am easily distracted, starting my writing with the intent to write about one subject, but drifting off into other areas almost without realizing it? Maybe I should explore what I’ve written to determine whether I’ve mentioned that before. But not yet. Not now.

There’s much about Boston I find appealing. Even before I learned that it set the pace for public transportation in the United States, I liked Boston. I like the in-your-face honesty that characterizes the city. I like its rough-and-tumble personage. I like Santarpio’s Pizza. I like the JFK Library. I appreciate that Boston is largely a very progressive Democratic stronghold, a place where the obligations of society are honored and practiced. Obviously, not all people in Boston are progressive Democrats, but the city votes the way I wish the country at large would vote. Sure, Boston has its share of problems, but it leans left, the way I like a city to lean.

I like the fact that the Boston Globe (and other outlets, I’m sure) reminded the people of the City of Boston that yesterday at 5:00 p.m. was the deadline to take items to Boston City Hall for people stranded in Texas by Hurricane Harvey. The collection effort solicited baby formula, toiletries, non-perishable food, blankets, new clothes, and diapers. Additional collection centers were established throughout the city. The items are to be packed up and shipped to Texas today, September 1.

Congratulations to Boston the 120th anniversary of it subway system.  And for being the city it is. I’d like to visit again. I really would.


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Congressional Hypocrites

I read this morning that some people, especially in Congress, question whether a legitimate role of government is to help people deal with and recover from catastrophe. The argument, as I understand it, is that neighbors, not government, should help neighbors during catastrophe. Communities should help themselves; government should not step in to do what neighbors ought to do.

I contend that government is simply a formal version of neighbors-helping-neighbors. Government is an amalgamation of neighbors, joined together for a common cause. Government is of the people. It is the people. What is it about government that makes people feel so strongly that it is only a medium for handouts?

The Texas Republican delegation in Congress, almost to a person, voted against providing funding for the recovery from Hurricane Sandy. The fact that they opted to abandon their neighbors to the north may come back to bite them; I hope that bite comes only in the form of a political lashing, rather than in the form of a lesson in hypocrisy. I don’t think there’s any question that the people in Texas want and need federal financial support to help cover from Hurricane Harvey. I wonder whether the Texas Republican delegation will be hypocritical, or whether they will vote against support for Hurricane Harvey victims. I hope they reveal themselves as hypocrites, rather than giving their political philosophies greater import than their constituents’ well-being.

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I think it’s impossible to write, with any degree of realism, about living through a flood like that facing the people in and around Houston, Texas today. It’s not just Houston. We ought to remind ourselves that Bay City and Richmond and Rosenburg  and dozens of small towns on and near the Texas coast are under siege. I believe, with all my heart and soul, that people with the financial means who opt not to donate money to address the catastrophe befalling our fellow humans in the affected areas are not decent humans at all. That awful judgment assures me a place at the uninvited fringe of decency. So be it. I am opinionated and judgmental. I am unforgiving at a point. I am unwilling to show mercy when mercy is unjust. But I hope with all my being that the people who live in the shadow of Hurricane Harvey and his successive iterative incarnations survive. Ach. I hate watching people lose everything.

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My post last night, in which I complained about not having speech-to-text software, led me to do a search this morning. Sure enough, I found free speech to text software online at I am surprised that it is reasonably accurate, though it does require me to go back in and make changes and corrections.

I remember dictating letters on my first “executive” job. I spoke into a microphone, recording my voice. I feel like I’m doing exactly the same thing now, inserting punctuation with my voice. My secretary transcribed what I spoke. I knew how to type; but I had no typewriter in my office. Instead of buying me a typewriter, my employer paid a secretary. To be fair, she did far more than type my correspondence. But it seems odd, today, that a person would be employed to transcribe the words of another, a person who is perfectly capable of typing for himself.

I hope I’m able to continue doing this with my real writing. That might make it easier for me to get to the point of having a book. Although I think I think better through my fingers then through my mouth. We’ll see. Now I will copy this and make the corrections necessary and post it. We’ll see how that works.

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Dangling from a mesquite shrub on the edge of a cliff, nothing below me but sharp rocks a thousand feet below, I reach up for that helping hand that’s not there. It’s dark here on the precipice, dark and lonely, a single grip away from salvation or eternity. I hear the sounds of stones hitting the rocks far below, pebbles that slid with me to the edge but, unlike me, weren’t saved by a stunted tree whose relentless determination to survive allowed it to live in a place unfit for survival. My right hand, the only thing between me and death, is losing its grip on the branch. My left hand, reaching up must appear to the circling vultures to be waving at them, calling to them to wait just a little longer. “Your meal will be available shortly.”

Why did I come, alone, to the desolate landscape of southern Arizona? Why did I climb those cliffs and expose myself to rattlesnakes and demonic heat? Why was I so careless with that last step, the one that resulted in my slide down the steep slope to the edge? I allow myself these pointless thoughts instead of struggling to pull myself up.

“Hold on! We’re lowering a rope!” The voice must be in my head. I am alone. No one is here.

“When the rope gets to you, grab it!” It’s unmistakable. It’s a human voice. A woman’s voice.

I reply. “I can’t see you. Where is the rope?”

“It’s almost there. You’ll see it in a second.”

And then I see it. It’s a thick hemp rope, a good inch thick.  As it gets closer to me, I see that it’s tied like a hangman’s noose.

Her voice spills over me again. “See it? Grab it and put it around your neck. We’ll pull you up.”

I grab the rope with my left hand and slip it over my neck as instructed.

“Okay. I’ve got it.”

“Let go of the tree.”

Sweat drenches the bed. My chest moves with labored breathing. My heart beats fast. I try to speak, but my mouth is frozen in fear. But I’m alive. And my dream is just that. My right hand cramps from the grip on that tiny mesquite limb.



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Orwell’s Legacy

I remember only vaguely reading George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London and Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.  But I read them all. My memory of the books is hidden behind too many years and drenched in impenetrable darkness, but I do remember I loved his writing. My developing sense of humanity was tethered to Orwell’s beliefs., though probably not all of them. Most of the time, when I read his books, I felt like I was reading the works of someone with whom I agreed almost entirely. I read his books as fast as I could lay my hands on them. And I sought out people with whom I could discuss them. It was as if the books sparked something in me that I had not, theretofore, known existed. They were like fire to me. I found few people who were as enthused as I, though. And, I suppose, that’s when things began to change. I don’t know how. Perhaps it was the unenthusiastic response I got from professors. Or students. Or who knows who. I remember, though, that I was disappointed somehow that my fierce interest in Orwell’s books did not meet with universal support.

There foregoing paragraph has absolutely nothing to do with what’s on my mind tonight. Tonight, I’m reliving an enjoyable day, a day during which we drove to the Shangri-La Resort near Mount Ida for lunch. I had a cheese burger with jalapeños. My favorite wife had chicken fried steak. My sister-in-law has a burger. Each of us had pie: lemon meringue for my wife, blueberry for SIL, and cherry for me. Good pie. Or, as I like to say, “Damn good PAH!” Then we drove to Mount Ida and wandered in a second-hand store and an art gallery. Both were intriguing. And then we drove home.

I’m not entirely sure what got me thinking about George Orwell. Perhaps it was our cheetoh-in-chief and his drunken-Facebook-equivalent speech in Arizona last night. Perhaps it was the thought that we may, at any moment, be involved in nuclear war. Or perhaps it was coincidental. The latter is unlikely.

To ease my troubled mind, I’m drinking wine tonight. I started with a delightful French rosé. Then I switched to New Zealand red. If I had any in the house, I might move on to single malt Scotch or mescal.

I’ve been thinking, seriously, about taking four days off from whatever it is I do and spending those four days, instead, at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs. I need a kick in the rear to get me writing. Solitude and guilt might do it. A .357 magnum pressed to my temple might do the job, too, but I have no energy in pursuing that possibility. Perhaps there’s no cure. Perhaps I’m a wannabe writer who won’t finish anything worth finishing. I do consider myself talented. I write well when I write. My writing no doubt needs improvement, but I’m pretty goddamned good. Except I don’t know how to write real stories. Stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end; stories that make people want to read them. Stories that pry emotions from hard hearts. I think I have it in me, but I can’t for the life of me drag it out. Instead, I seem to be a pretty decent tactician. I do dialogue reasonably well. I can grab the reader from the start with something jarring or stunning. But I peter out along the way in the process of telling the story. The novel I’ve been trying to write is losing interest; or, I should say, I’m losing interest in it. It’s not the challenge I thought it would be. Or, perhaps more realistically, I’m not the writer I thought the subject would bring out in me. Crap. I’m writing self-assessments, as it I were looking for pity. I’m not. I’m looking for something that might convince me I’m actually a writer and not a wanna-be. I think, though, that’s exactly what I am. I am like thousands of others who are decent writers, but not superb writers; they, we, are destined to wish for outcomes that will never happen.

I have said for years that I write for myself. That’s true, but only to a limited extent. But ultimately I write for an audience I do not know. I write for people I hope will be reached by what I write. The odd thing is this: I have no idea who they are. Are they aging geezers like me? Teenagers enmeshed in hormonic guilt? Who? I don’t know. Maybe the “they” I write for don’t exist. Maybe the “I” I write for doesn’t exist.

When I get into one of these moods, I wish I’d become a merchant marine. The salt water and hard work and endless loneliness would have cured whatever ailed me.

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The Price of being Pensive

I read this morning, in the August 3, 2017 online English version of Corriere della Sera about a German man named Roland Siedler, who made a habit of eating and drinking at multiple fine restaurants and bars in Florence, Italy and then refusing to pay. His excuse: “Italians pay. I’m German, I don’t pay.” He was arrested multiple times but, upon his release, returned to his practices of scrounging fine food from fine establishments. Siedler’s craven disregard for decency finally caught up with him.  He was sentenced to two years and two months in Sollicciano prison, after which he will be expelled from Italy.

After unsuccessfully attempting to read the original Italian version of the online paper (though I could make out a bit of the reporting), my wife woke up and I finished the breakfast I had started much earlier. Here’s a photos of it. In case you’re wondering, it’s a cheese omelet topped with five-pepper salsa (with a sprinkling of okra taco seasoning, which will be the subject of a future post),. In addition, there’s sliced peaches, blueberries, a sliced radish, and Canadian bacon. Thanks to the presence of ground coriander seed in the seasoning, the omelet’s flavor was (to me) a tad reminiscent of Indian cuisine. I told my wife the plate reminded me of a breakfast served to me by two little old ladies—one English and one Mexican—who jointly owned a little B&B in a village on the outskirts of Mumbai. She laughed, knowing full well I had never been to India. Her laugh, which sounded Canadian to me, made me think one of the two women should have been Canadian, inasmuch as the plate included Canadian bacon. But the Canadian bacon we buy is obviously processed in some strange way that’s probably not Canadian at all. Its shape is artificially round. And I wonder whether the pork is sliced from a whole piece of meat or, instead, cut from a loaf of meat chunks pressed together and “glued” with some form of animal fat and/or protein. I’ll have to explore that. I’d really rather be eating something natural; I want any flesh of an innocent animal I put in my mouth to be unsullied by artificial deformation and unnatural trimming.

Our conversation then moved to the mug from which she was drinking her tea. I told her I thought it was quite attractive. “I paid $3.25 for it,” she responded, proud of the seventy-five percent discount price.

“You could buy a lot of bubble gum for that much money,” I said.

“Are you sure? Bubble gum’s not a penny a piece any more.”

That made me think how important pricing decisions can be to producers. If you sell something for a penny, your only choice when faced with a need to increase prices due to increased costs is to, at minimum, double your prices. But then I thought, no, you could increase your price by one hundred percent, but give more for the money. Like four pieces for a nickel. That’s still a twenty-five percent increase, but it’s the best you can do under the circumstances.

Today is the day of a total eclipse of the sun. Here in Hot Springs Village, the eclipse won’t be total; it will be less than ninety percent but sufficient, I’m sure, to be a stunning experience. The partial eclipse begins at 11:46 local time and reaches maximum coverage at 1:16 p.m.; the partial eclipse ends at 2:45 p.m. In between waiting for and reflecting on the eclipse, I’ll sweep gravel from my driveway and contemplate what life might be life living alone on a lovely, cool, comfortable planet a thousand light years away, with nothing but ice cream and Indian food to keep me company.

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Nadir is the Cusp of the Fourth House

I thought something had changed in me. I thought I had become someone else. But, no, I’m back to the old normal. Back to the old me. For several weeks now, I’ve been getting up late. For me, late is between six-thirty and seven or, on occasion, a few minutes past seven. That’s deviant behavior. That calls for assessment, analysis, and quite possibly institutionalization. But this morning, the old me came back, just as comfortable as ever with my old habits. I awoke before five, got up, made coffee, and put a few of last night’s dishes away. That’s the old John. The John of my memories. The guy I prefer. The man far more appealing than the guy who slept late.

Early mornings are my refuge from the world. They are the tranquil sanctuaries that shelter me from assault by the media and my own unhinged thirst to know things over which I have no control. Deep morning, the time long before the sun rises, is a time of utter calm and absolute truth. A time when I confront things about myself and the world in which I live and decide to change them, by god. If that last sentence would have been subject to review by the one woman in my library critique group, at least one correction would have been made: “capitalize the word God,” she would have said. And I would have nodded and thanked her.  But this is my morning and she is not reading the sentence and I need not be docile and deferential to keep the peace. Yet, today, I would do it nonetheless, because I am in my refuge. I know that deference need not be defeat; circumstances can make it a nod to compassion. I am in my refuge. I am protected from the world around me, the world that slaps innocent faces and slams decent people into walls while greedy hands search for wallets or purses or wads of cash. I wonder whether my refuge is an amoral hiding place, a place where I can feel comfortable while the world victimizes people outside its safe perimeters?

I sense I’m leaving my sanctuary, venturing out into a world fraught with unnecessary ugliness and callous disregard for compassion. There it goes. My comfortable security’s out the door, wandering the back alleys of cruelty, the streets that attack kindness with clubs and white-hot steel rods. Pity. That comfort, that sense of being impervious to physical or mental assault, sits stunned on the sidewalk, wondering what happened to decency and mercy. But, then, I realize I’m still here in my cocoon, just as safe as I’ve ever been. My thoughts have been out for a stroll in a rough neighborhood, a place to avoid if I value my safety and my sanity.

The book I’ve been writing has lost my interest, as all my writing projects do. I will try to recapture my interest in the story, but the more I think of it, the more artificial it becomes. And my writing project with a fellow writer, in which we’re trying to capture the drama of an immigrant child’s adaptation to and success in the USA is just as hollow. Neither of those writing projects absorbs me; neither drags raw emotion from me. I think only real emotion, stuff I feel personally, can stoke my creative fires for long. And maybe even that can’t survive over time. I’ve been trying to compile my blog posts into something worthy of polish and publication, but the sheer scope of the project is overwhelming. I’ve written more than 2400 posts on this blog, alone. Coupled with the other blogs I’ve operated over the years, I’m confident I’ve written something like 4000 posts. The task of reading all those pieces, let alone determining whether a particular piece merits editing/embellishment to make it suitable for inclusion in a collection is overwhelming. Maybe if I commit to reviewing and editing/polishing/embellishing/finishing one hundred pieces a month, I can get through the task. That would take only about three years or so. Ach. But I know so many things I’ve written are just vignettes that would need a lot of work; many would need a lot of attention to make them into something worth reading. I could simply eliminate them, but so many of those unfinished pieces are my favorites. I couldn’t let them wither away; I’d have to coddle them and turn them into the works of art I wish they could be. And that would take time and energy I’m not sure I’m willing to give. So, instead of working on them, I’m writing more drivel. I’m spending my time complaining about the time I’d have to spend, instead of spending my time in productive enterprise. That’s me. That’s the old John, back to his old ways. Early to bed, early to rise, quick to complain about things to despise.

I should add “complete a thought” to my to-do list for today. So far, the only items on the list are: 1) view total eclipse of the sun; 2) make appointment with podiatrist; 3) revise the effing biography to satisfy my co-author’s desire to see progress on the work in which he has not participated in writing; and 4) become a better human being. There’s room for “complete a years-long task that’s only just begun.”

The title of this post, by the way, is an assessment by way of definition.

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Writing and Thinking and Feeling

We learn about ourselves from our writing. At least some of us do. If we study the words we use in stories and essays we write, we discern patterns that—admittedly beyond the edges of the scientific method—inform us about who we are. We learn our motivations, our fears, our struggles, and our triumphs. Writers may be in a better position than those who do not write to observe, measure, and contemplate the patterns. Written words can be counted, while speech disappears into imprecise memory. Written words offer evidence of who we are and who we have been. The patterns and evolution of the style of written words suggest who we are becoming or will become.

Today, I counted the number of posts in which I used the word “venom.” Eleven. I mentioned in a relatively recent post that my writing also seems to have a love affair with the word ‘detritus.’  If I were a psychologist, I think I’d make something of that. But I’m not and I won’t. Instead, I’ll complain about my corn. Yes, a corn that has effectively sidelined me from walking for exercise or even from wandering the grocery store. Today’s visit to Kroger was agonizing. Tomorrow, I’ll try to make an appointment with a podiatrist. My insurance won’t cover a penny of it; such is life. At times, one must simply choose health and/or the absence of pain instead of low prices.

I can’t announce it yet, but I think there may be big changes on the horizon. Changes I wouldn’t have dreamed of a few months ago. But I may be wrong. You may read my words for month on end without a single “exclusive.” And you probably will. I suspect that suggested “announcement” idea is based purely on a wish for more readership. It’s a classless act, I tell you.

Tonight, I received an email from a friend, a friend who had a devastating stroke several months ago. Early on, after he had the stroke, we were concerned that he might not make it. We visited him in the hospital frequently, though he was unaware of our presence most of the time. Fortunately, he recovered, even better than we expected. He sent a message tonight, saying his wife had read many of our emails to him. He expressed appreciation for our visits and our support. We never expected he’d see those messages. His message tugged at our heart strings in ways we never expected. The flood of tears seems unending. I love the connections between people, especially when those connections create bonds of humanity.

Some mornings, when I write fiction, it’s not fiction. It’s emotion transformed into story. It’s experience modified so that it fits a theme that may or may not mirror actual experience. If I wrote what I actually think and feel, I might be arrested and imprisoned or, even worse, taken to an institution and locked away. But my thoughts are not insanity; they are sanity taken to its logical conclusion. They are reflections of fears and worries and concerns that take root because I see reality before me and it frightens me. Still, for reasons that have no basis in reality, I have hope. I hope decency will return in public discourse. I hope rationality will overcome irrationality. I hope religion will become a respite from reality instead of a distorted interpretation of the real world. I hope people will, finally and without fear, embrace one another as creatures in need of support and love and comfort. While I’m wishing, I might as well wish for unicorns that give out free pudding; that wouldn’t be too bad, though, would it?

Some days, I’m shaken to my core. Some days, I want nothing but to leave this deviant cesspool we call humanity in the mirror. I want to move beyond disgust, toward something better, something more accommodating to decency. I guess that describes most days. One day, I might crack and do something about it. But not yet. I have an eclipse to watch. See, it’s the little things, the wonders of the universe, that matter.

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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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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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Yesterday, as I was searching for recipes of various kinds, I stumbled upon a website,, 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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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 dam 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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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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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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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 no 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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