Tuesday, October 4, 2016

House of the Dead Puppies

This was in Walton County, Fl. Maybe 1987, after I had come back from Iowa and just before moving into the beach house in Gulf Trace with T.

T knew quite a few people in the area--I think maybe she'd grown up in the northeast, or maybe in many places--(her father was a career Air Force man and had flown fighter jets in Vietnam)--but her parents owned a place up in Baker, Florida and she had been living/working along the beach for quite some time. Anyway, for whatever reason, she wanted to stop in and see some guy who lived up among the red-dirt roads along the south side of the bay. And, so we did.

The only thing, when we got there, this guy was not home. And the bad thing was, there in his yard inside a chicken-wired compound, were dead and dying puppies. I mean a whole litter of puppies--and not just newborns, but maybe a few weeks or months old--either dead or in the process of dying. At least a dozen decent-sized puppies. They looked well-fed, had healthy coats, but there was something more-than-obviously very wrong going on.

It was not a pretty sight.

T was especially dismayed. I don't recall if the mother dog was there among the puppies, but here we were in the heat and at a strange house along the back roads along the bay and there were these dying and already dead puppies . . . What more can I say?

I know T called the guy's phone after we got home (no cell phones then) and left a message. I know he called her back--or maybe we saw him somewhere a few weeks later, I don't recall though it seems like I saw his face. Anyway, he apologized but did not explain why they had died or were dying or what he had done about the whole sad ordeal. Doubt it was poison and more likely some disease due to the puppies never taken to a vet or some such. I don't know.

I don't think about it much.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sam: Grayton Beach 1986

Actually I was living in Gulf Trace at this time, living with T. in the unfinished house on the beach after I had come back to the Panhandle from Iowa--after I had dropped out of the Iowa Writers Workshop (something that still pains me to say to this day).

Sam was a guy I met at a restaurant party, probably for the holidays. I don't recall exactly. He was with another guy--someone's older brother or son of the restaurant owner--and the two of them were, shall we say, a few of the more educated, self-aware and worldly among the usual crew of people in that area in the nineteen eighties. Sam stood out because he was of Asian descent (Korean, Japanese, Chinese--I don't know), which was unusual for that part of Florida. Anyone who wasn't white was unusual for the beach, really. So he and his friend (the older brother) were standing around at the party and I went over and introduced myself.

We--the three of us, I must have been there with T. but I don't think she was there at the moment--made chitchat. I asked Sam where he was from and I could see him and the other guy exchange wry glances, so I quickly added, "Well I assume you're an American, and just wondered what town you're from." This set things up better between us, as (as I could tell) they thought I was referencing his race. Turns out he was from Virginia and had been in the Navy.

As I said, they were good guys who had been away from the South Walton County bubble.

So, one night T. and I threw a party at our beach house. Clark and Charlotte (other friends, connected to Seaside) had been giving us a bunch of scrap wood from construction sites because T. and I had a fireplace for heat (only a fireplace) and we had stored the wood under the house. I think we threw the party because our electricity went out and we had bought a bunch of chicken and stuff and decided to grill it all up--so we invited people. A party along the beach communities mean't everyone was pretty much invited, so a lot of the young crowd showed up--the local teens and a bit older who had grown up there, who maybe hadn't finished high school, who all slept with each other and drank/drugged to oblivion together etc (not a bad lot on the whole, but who pretty much, in general, fit the bill for your stereotypical white trash Southerners). Sam and his friend also came.

Well, the party started well enough, with chicken, beer, pot, a big fire in the sand. But the younger people just couldn't quite accept an Asian man in their midst. They kept bothering Sam about Kung Fu and other silly stuff like that. I'm not so sure they did it out of malice as much as a sense of curiosity and stupidity, as these were the only cultural references they had for someone who didn't look like them. No matter what, they were complete and annoying idiots. So Sam finally had enough and left.

The kids also left, taking the time to run over our neighbor's mailbox in the process. (That's another short tale, the next door neighbor when I went to apologize for his run-over mail box.)

So, the party wasn't such a big success. We'd run out of chicken pretty quickly (the power had come back on, so we didn't really need to grill everything). We'd burnt up our wood that was for heating the house in the winter. And Sam--one of the few people around I could have an intelligent conversation with--had been insulted.

I never saw him again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Eli and Maja

Eli was my wife's uncle. An amiable and intelligent man, Eli was the person I talked to the most when I first started attending my wife's family gatherings. He was easy to talk to, knowledgeable and welcoming. I liked him.

Maja was my older daughter's cat. She had two cats--Bubbles and Maja--both young but of different personalities. I liked both cats very much, though Maja was the younger and more friendly. In fact, she was a very sweet and expressive cat who liked to rub heads. The two cats (and, by extension, my adult daughter) lived with us for a couple of years when we moved here from from Florida.

Another thing about moving here (this place which shall not be named) is that we were once again among my wife's family. I like her family, though that doesn't necessarily mean I want to live all that close to them--anymore than I want to live all that close to my own extended family.

Anyway, Eli--tragically--developed Parkinson's disease, which slowly eroded him, at least physically. That day, his wife and two daughters brought him up to visit us and though he was pretty incapacitated by the disease it was good to see him. He couldn't talk too much, his physical capabilities were very much in decline--it may have been the last trip he took before moving into an assisted living facility in southwest-central Illinois, around the St. Louis area, where he and his family lived. Eli passed away about two years ago.

My daughter and her two cats moved back to South Florida about a year ago.

So, the visit. Eli and Maja . . . My wife, her aunt and two cousins (Eli's adult kids) went out to see the town, meet my daughter at work, etc, leaving Eli and I alone at my house (my wife's house, ahem). He and I sat in the sun room, trying to have a conversation without a lot of luck. Eli sat by himself in a chair, head down, facial muscles lax and sagging. There wasn't too much to say. But then Maja jumped up in his lap.

She's a big cat and, as said, sweet and friendly.

At first Eli was startled and even more so as Maja began to bump her head into his and then rub her head against him. It was a hard and extended and loving rub from the young cat and I could tell how much Eli was surprised by it, pleased. I don't know if he was a cat person, but I imagine it meant something--at least for the moment--for Maja to display such affection. Physical affection. It went on for a while and it made me smile along with Eli.

I saw him one more time before his death--inside the facility where he lived. He had always kept up his good spirits, at least on the outside. I'm very fond of his family, closer to them than other members of my wife's, though I get along with all. And I certainly hope it wasn't just me, that Maja the cat did bring a little joy to Eli on that day.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Learning French

I took Spanish in high school. I kind of liked it, but only took two semesters--the minimum. When I went off to college, at the University of Iowa, I decided I'd study French to fulfill my language requirement.

It was my freshman year and I lived in the dorms and the class was in one of the old buildings on the Pentacrest, Schaeffer Hall I think. My teacher--my French teacher--was Japanese. Toshio Naka--I still remember his name. Toshio Naka was a good teacher. I would joke that my French had a Japanese accent, but it was just a joke. I liked him, though he complained that my pronunciations were more Spanish than French.

I only took the one semester and then switched back to Spanish, the lazy student that I often was.

I've tried to learn French off and on since then--either teaching myself or using Internet guide or, currently, using Duo Lingo on my phone. I've never been very successful. One of my best friends is French Canadian--a Quebecois--and he's taught me a few things but overall, it just never comes easy to me like Spanish tends to.


Monday, June 27, 2016

That House in Milltown: 1989

My wife and I considered buying a house when we lived in Missoula. We were newly married--childless--and both attending school at the University of Montana. I had never owned a house. My wife had owned her half of a duplex in Champaign when I met her, but she sold it when we moved out west.

We had lived in a cabin in the Bitterroots--outside Stevensville--when we first moved to the area and that was for sale, but we wanted to be in town or at least closer to town. We looked at a few places, including one in Milltown.

Milltown was just east of Missoula, through the gap of Mt. Sentinel and Mt Jumbo, where the Clark Fork River is joined by the Blackfoot. There's another adjacent town called Bonner, but I could never distinguish between the two. It was a small town, depressed (at that time at least) and, as one would expect by the name, it had a mill. A paper mill, I suppose. It was home to The Milltown Union Bar and Laundromat: an establishment immortalized by a poem of essentially the same name by Richard Hugo. (I liked Richard Hugo and that poem and I liked that bar.) In fact, the house we looked at in Milltown was almost across the street from that bar.

Yes, we looked at a house. It was small. One bedroom. One bathroom. Not more than 1000 square feet would be my guess. It was cheap. I don't recall how much but, even to me even then, it did not seem like much for a house. I recall that it was painted red. The caveat for the property ended up being that it had no property--that is, it was a one-time mill company home and though you could buy the house, that deed did not include the land on which it was built.

The realtor seemed a little dubious--no doubt because of the land ownership thing--that we were really interested in the house. And, ultimately, he was correct. But I was interested (my wife, not so much) and wonder what would have happened if we had bought it.

Instead we ended up looking at houses in town, settling on one close to the university. Ultimately I nixed the deal. I wasn't ready to buy a house. We didn't have career-type jobs and who knew if we were going to settle in Missoula.

So, we did not buy a house--in Missoula or Milltown or the Bitterroot. We did not settle in Missoula--or in Montana, or in Seattle or Portland as we had half-planned. We ended up back in Illinois for a spell, had our two kids, then moved to South Florida, bought a house, and stayed there for over sixteen years.

Friday, May 20, 2016

NYC Snow:1988

One night in New York it snowed. Jimmy and I were out and about in Manhattan, probably somewhere around St. Marks Square. The snow came tumbling down thick and slow, sticking and piling up and doing that magical thing any snowstorm does for a city--really, for about anywhere. So, yes, it was magical. Cool. Beautiful. Then walking the sidewalk of a side street we come across this man asleep. Or passed out. The unconscious man was also collecting snow. His body being covered in the magical white right along with the pavement and garbage cans and the city as a whole.

Even the policeman who came and started to kick the man couldn't undo this magic.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Squirrel Call: Iowa City 1981

I was working at the University that summer at Burge Hall, doing maintenance and cleaning and housekeeping when needed. I was working along with a number of other students, some who I had known, some who I met while working there in the summer. It was my second summer doing this.

But I--or we, as the case may be--met other people, too. Full time workers mainly, who were often from the smaller towns around Iowa City. People from the likes of Tipton (or is it Tifton?), Solon, Washington and so forth. People like Alfred (which was not his real name, but we called him that and I can't recall his true name any longer) and Norbert (who died in a pick up accident) and, to the best of my knowledge or simply my fallback name I seem to use, Jeff.

Jeff was from Washington, south of Iowa City. He was young--maybe twenty at most, maybe eighteen or nineteen. He was pretty much a country boy and wasn't sure what to make of we student outsiders (nor we to make of him). At first, at least. But he was a good kid (even though I was, in many ways, still a kid myself). Anyway, Jeff taught Steve Bowers and I how to make a squirrel call using three quarters.

(Steve was a close friend of mine. We had lived on the same 2000 dorm floor our first year there, though I had never really knew him well--but we became pals while working together.)

Jeff hunted squirrels.  In the woods he called them out of the high trees with the use of quarters. He showed us how you can cup two quarters in the circle of your thumb and index finger, then using the third quarter, you tap it rapidly on the two suspended quarters to make that hollow knocking sound that squirrels make: thnock thnock thnock.

I have never hunted squirrels. But I did try it out with back yard squirrels once. They certainly paid attention.

Of course, I don't know whatever happened to Jeff. I hope he never ended up like Norbert.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Toe Hoe

I met Jerry in Seattle in 1987. He lived down the block on First Avenue West in Queen Anne, across the street from the Safeway more or less. He, as it turned out, was schizophrenic. Nonetheless, we were friends for a number of years.

He had a medical discharge from the United States Navy and had some money. He was originally from Nevada--Sparks--but lived with his grandmother in Seattle. He had been a lightweight--maybe bantamweight--boxer in the service, but in his heart he was an entrepreneur. He invented games and candlesticks and, I'm not sure. But the one device he did invent and bring to market was the Toe Hoe.

The Toe Hoe was a bladed metal contraption with straps. You put your foot in it and used it to hoe the earth for flower beds or gardens and anything else you could think of. He had them manufactured and had them advertised. I used to have a copy of his commercial. I imagine it was shown on late night TV--one of those Popeil or Wham-O like commercials with footage of the toe hoe in use while a breathless narrator talked it up.

I was freshly married and my wife and I thought it was very funny. But, of course, it was also rather sad. Jerry told me that he got a call one day from some older man who had purchased his product and wanted to know how to make it work--evidently it didn't quite go over as advertised. Besides a copy of the TV commercial, I bought a toe hoe. When we got it, my wife and I laughed again.

I don't think I ever even tried to use it.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


When I was in my late teens and my twenties, I could make a high-pitched screeching sound. It sounded very much like feedback from an amplifier. In college I learned that if I could get someone else to make the lower pitch, kind of a train like woo sound, while I did the high note, it mimicked amplifier feedback almost exactly. I went eeeee, they went woooo. Mike was always the best at that woooo.

There was a party downstairs at Burge Hall, when I lived in the dorms at the University of Iowa, with a live band. Mike and I attended. There was a crowd and we stood close to the band, but not too close. We tried out the feedback noise. The band stopped playing and began to adjust their amps and we thought that was funny.

You'll be happy to know that we were always judicious with our power.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Can't Breathe: Johnson City 1968

I've only had the breath knocked out of me once in my life. It was when I was a kid and I was playing on a playground at Cherokee Elementary School, just outside of Johnson City, Tennessee. I don't know for certain if my year is right, but if so, I must have been eleven years old.

It wasn't what we called the Monkey Bars, but maybe that's the proper term for them. It was one of those contraptions like a horizontal ladder on poles--rungs, or bars, that you hung from and tried to cross by grabbing them one by one--something you see in Marine Corps obstacle courses, except, you know, for kids . . . I was with some friends, maybe a brother or two, and we were just goofing around. School was not in session. (Of course I could be mistaken about time and place, but not about the bars and what it felt like.) I was using the bars and maybe I tried to jump a rung using both hands at once--I was a pretty fearless kid, physically at least--instead of doing it one by one. But I missed and flopped down on the hard ground.

I must have landed on my belly, or on my side, but immediately, I could not breathe.

It was painful. It was scary. I was gasping. My lungs empty, I didn't know what had happened or what was going on but I desperately was trying to pull air back into my lungs, back into me. It is not a nice feeling, being out of breath. It's a very panicky feeling. No adult was there and I don't recall anyone else being all that concerned, but I sure was. Still--what are you going to do? Die?

Obviously, I didn't die. Also, obviously, such a thing as getting the wind knocked out of you is a semi-common occurrence. At least among sportifs. So, I recovered. More or less figured out, on my own, what had just happened to me. Put it down in my kid-history as to what can happen to you. And that was that. For all I know, I went right back to playing.

Yet, I have not forgotten it.

I certainly recall that it was no fun. No fun at all.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

O'Malia's Black Beetle

I'd say O'Malia was my best friend at the end of high school and before I made friends in college. He remained a best friend for a very long time--but, I have not seen him in a very long time. Maybe thirty years, now. I know I talked to him once on the phone--that was at least ten years ago. He's one of those guys my age who have no social media presence and, if they have a cell phone or email, I don't know what the number or contact address is. I seem to have a number of old friends--and even some current ones--who don't use cells or computers, let alone, say, Facebook. Yes, I'm sure I could look him up with a simple Google search, so maybe I'm about as guilty as him (them) for losing touch.

O'Malia had a car. It was an older Volkswagen Beetle, black.

You could hear that car coming before you saw it. I don't think I ever drove it, but I rode in it many many times over the years I knew him. Around Urbandale and Des Moines, out to the Fort Dodge swimming pool and Saylorville Lake, to Lyons Park for touch football and frisbee, to--when we were a little older--the bars, and over to Iowa City and back numerous times.

The car's windshield wipers, I remember, ran on air pressure from the tires. He never appeared to have problems with it. Sure, it rode and rattled like a tin can, but it was reliable. And, well, I guess I don't have much more to say on this issue.

Good things disappear--just like that Black Beetle--and are discarded. Or change. Or, perhaps, outgrown. Or simply neglected.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Border Stops: Alaska and Mexico

In 1983--May--Brock, Matt and I drove to Alaska. We left Iowa and headed to Seattle and then north. We went up through British Columbia, splitting off to the lesser used coastal highway at Prince George, rather than heading up to the main route--the AlCan. We camped all the way, making it into the Yukon, spending a night in Whitehorse where we paid $3 each to take showers in a trailer rigged out for just such a purpose. Then we head to Alaska, a return to the U.S. Border.

And that's where we were stopped.

Crossing into Canada had been no big deal--a simple and friendly encounter--but returning into the U.S (our home country) we were stopped, grilled, dog-sniffed. I know that when I pulled up (I was driving) I was happy, we were all in a good mood--Alaska at last!--jubilant. So, maybe I came off as flippant or something when we pulled up. But we were only just happy young men on a long road trip to work the summer in Alaska. Anyway, they made us pull to the side and get out of the car.

Now, we had no drugs on us. Well, Brock and I had none. Matt also had none, but he had had some (he later told us) on the trip. All three of us smoked pot but Matt did more often. In fact, we basically smoked Matt's pot in Iowa City. Brock and I had no idea he had brought some along on the trip. And the thing was, he had finished it up by the time we hit the Yukon. Still, he had a pipe with residue and there were a number of seeds in his car.

Matt answered all questions and showed the agent what and where his paraphernalia was; Brock and I just honestly said we had nothing. This was all news to us. But they wanted to know what else we had, where the cocaine was and so on.

So, off we went inside. Detained. Questioned again. Eventually we sat in an waiting room, with an official at a desk, while outside they started to go through our stuff and the car. I looked at my two friends and said, somewhat loud but also sincerely: "This is a big waste of time."

I don't know if that did the trick or not, but the official got up and went outside. Just a moment later he came back in and told us we could go.

When, later that summer, we crossed back into the Yukon, the Mountie smiled, told us to have a good day, and waved us right through.

Now, in 1990, I was coming back from Mexico to Montana by bus. By myself. I'd met some men on the bus--Mexicans--who joked around with in my limited Spanish, but also met a Canadian guy (a Saskatchewan, I think) who had a dark tan and very black hair and thick mustache. He looked more like your stereotypical Mexican than the Mexicans did.

Well, up north--not quite at the border--the bus came to a stop. At this stop, a group of men--Federales--with machine guns came onto the bus. They made every male get off the bus. We stood outside and then they herded us into a tin shack that had no windows. There was a chief--a small man--and about three or four others (the ones with the machine guns). They lined us up inside that shack and then had us come forward one by one while the Jefe checked our papers.

My Saskatchewan buddy was before me. The chief started to talk to him in Spanish. I knew more Spanish than this guy and he couldn't answer the man. And the man got agitated and spoke louder, faster, angrier and the Canadian could only put up his hands. I almost spoke out, to say he wasn't from Mexico, but figured maybe that wasn't a good idea. Eventually they got it straightened out.

When my turn came, he looked at my papers and my license. (I may have had my passport with me--but I had gone to the trouble to get a permit to travel in Mexico when I was in Tijuana--a visa of some sort that was required but that few people ever bothered to get. A German girl got detained for lack of one when we got off the ferry in Mazatlan.) "From the United Staes, eh?" he said in English. Or maybe he said "Americano", I'm not really sure. And I just said, "Yes."

That was it. Nothing more. I do recall at least one local man from the bus giving the Federales a hard time. I don't know what was said, exactly, but it was sort of a protest to their detaining us and taking us into a room like that. And it was kind of scary--though I don't recall thinking to ominously about it when it happened. It's more common to see authorities dressed in tactical gear and carrying machine guns now than it was in 1990. So, there was a bit of a shock factor, but, fortunately, nothing really happened.

At the U.S. Border in Nogales there was no problem, except the Canadian had to pour out a full bottle of rum. In Canada, you can bring back two or three bottles of alcohol from Mexico. United States citizens were only allowed to bring one.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Wandering Homeless of Fort Lauderdale

When I worked the Las Olas Bridge as a bridge tender, I had some time on my hands. I tried to use the time to write, to study Spanish and such while I listened for boats on the marine radio, but self-improvement only went so far. Especially self-motivated self improvement. What I ended up doing was looking out the windows a lot. One thing about being in a fixed position like they (the bridge house) was that you saw the repetition of the world, of human activity, rather acutely. An example of that was the people who walked over the bridge on a daily basis. Sure, there were tourists and visitors but there were also a lot of regulars who came over and back on the bridge, headed to and from the beach across the Intracoastal. And of those, the most regular were the homeless.

Evidently, as homeless people, they had to keep moving. I don't know if the police kept them going or this was just something to do or it helped with their survival on the streets but it didn't take long for me to see the pattern. To recognize these men (and a few women) as they did their daily trudging. And then I'd see them other places as well, when I was driving the kids to school or out running errands, I'd recognize these people. At times I was astonished to see them quite far away from the bridge, to understand that their route was much bigger and wider than I would have imagined. I was both kind of appalled that this was their life yet also held a certain admiration that they had the strength and willingness to do it.

Now, of the three I recall most vividly--all men--I think their mental stability had a great deal to do with their homelessness. One guy who walked across my bridge daily--sometimes more than once or twice a day, was an older guy with a severe hunchback. He was stooped, he had a more than obvious hump--bent, face down, one slim bag slung over his better shoulder, this guy would march soundlessly around town. Of course I felt sorry for him. He never spoke and I never spoke to him. Another guy was younger, African-American, who I would often see on US1 standing on a corner and talking to himself. He came across the bridge often, nervous and skittish looking, aware of his surroundings, trying--it seemed to me--to be invisible, or at least to look "normal" and fit in with society. Or hide his affliction. But he talked to himself all the time, not loud, but you could see his lips move, hear him faintly if you were close enough. The third guy I'm thinking of I thought of as The Professor. He was middle-aged and always wore a tweedy sport jacket. He never wore shorts or short sleeves--always the proper jacket--and he pushed a cart. He had glasses and bed-head longish hair. he appeared pretty oblivious to the world about him and made his rounds pushing his shopping cart, maybe mumbling, doing his rounds. I did talk to him once--in fact, he made me angry. I was trying to put the bridge up for a sport fishing boat, I had the cars stopped, the gates down, lights flashing, warnings blare-beeping and dinging, and The Professor walks right past all the warnings with his cart and onto the bridge. I had to call the captain and explain why the bridge was not going up (and the cars had to wait) and he said he saw the guy. I stood outside the bridge house as the guy came across and admonished him. I said: "You're supposed to wait behind the gate. You understand that much, don't you?" or some such. He looked at me, almost astonished, breaking from his inner world to acknowledge that someone was actually addressing him. He didn't say anything, but he had a quick and brief look of guilt in his eyes and expression (though I'm not sure about that). But he kept ambling across, back to oblivion I guess. Yeah. I felt kind of bad. I men, I'm sure he heard worse on a daily basis, but not from me.

Even after I quit that job and went back to teaching, I'd see those people around. I felt like I knew them, in a way. Even after we moved away from Fort Lauderdale and I'd return to visit, I'd see them--a few--and it gave me a certain, I don't know, satisfaction (if that's the best way to state it) while still holding on to my sympathy for them. But, not anymore. No, not the lack of sympathy. They aren't there anymore. At least to the best of my knowledge--I've been back many times but I've never seen those guys. Are they still there? I know I'm not.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Not a KGB Agent: Seagrove Beach 1987

It was Halloween and I was back in the Florida Panhandle living in Seagrove Beach with Dave and painting houses in Seaside for my money. I was back there, living there, I think, because I didn't know where else to go. I'd been in Seattle and Des Moines. But, Halloween: I dressed up as a KGB agent. A trench coat, sunglasses, Cossack hat. I affected a Russian accent and a certain ignorance of American ways. I stayed in character almost the whole night--though people didn't quite get what I was supposed to be (I should have put the letters KGB with masking tape on my back or breast pocket). Yet, I was still a hit among friends and acquaintances--my catchphrase was: "Hmmm. Typical American evening, yes?" But this was before my friends came to pick me up and I had walked down to the little gas and grocery store in Seagrove, in my costume, to buy some cigarettes and beer. The cashier, whose name I don't recall now, but who I was hoping to see was working. I had liked her. I didn't know if she was involved with anyone or even maybe married and I was lonely but didn't have the guts to inquire further but she had a nice smile. I liked her smile. Like most southerners, she was friendly, chatty, pleasant to spend time with and I knew enough not to mistake this for interest beyond that. Nonetheless, I was a little smitten with her. But after my purchase and a few kibitzing words, as I was leaving, she asked what I was supposed to be. I turned around at the door, put on my sunglasses, and said in my Russian accent: "I'm not a KGB agent, that's for sure." This made her laugh.                                                                                                                                

Friday, February 5, 2016

Trunk Full of Beer Cans: Des Moines 1975

I was seventeen, maybe eighteen, still in high school and working at Yonkers at the Merle Hay Mall. I could walk to work from my house (my parents' house) in Urbandale. I worked in the stock room and the loading dock and hadn't been there long before there was a trucker's strike--the truckers picketed behind the dock but I was not the brightest of kids and didn't really understand fully what was going on, even though they called me a scab and put a knife to the tires of the people who tried to keep the goods moving. (Later I was decent friends with most of the truckers.) Anyway, there were a number of men who wore suits that were in charge in some capacity at Yonkers, and they were ferrying things back and forth between stores in Des Moines. One such suit was a guy--nice guy but not my direct boss--who only had one arm. He came and got me and needed help moving some stuff into his car, which was parked out back on the sloping concrete that led to the dock. So I got the boxes or what-have-you and went with him to his car and he popped the trunk and it was full of empty beer cans. I mean completely full. Cans came clattering out as soon as the trunk went up and he quickly gathered them and then closed the trunk. I don't recall what kind of beer it was--not Budweiser or Miller, but of that ilk--but they were all the same brand. I mean, that trunk was chock full of emptied cans. The guy, this one-armed suit guy--he was clearly embarrassed, but I was savvy enough to say nothing, to pretend as though it was normal to have your trunk stuffed with beer cans.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ants: Fort Lauderdale 2015

So, when I visit Fort Lauderdale--really, my home town in many ways, along with Vancouver, WA and Des Moines, IA--I stay at Billy's. I always take the back, corner room in his house. I love his house, though I suppose some people would not. Anyway. There are two windows in the room that I like to open--unless it is summer--and there are tiled "shelves" at each window. There is an outlet along the bed, which is pushed up against the wall near both windows. I plug in my phone there. I put the phone on the inner windowsill of the north-facing window. I place my glasses, at night, there also.

And when I wake up, I put on my glasses. And I always see little doglike things running across them. Ants. Tiny ants that have their run around Billy's house. And I have to clean them off. And, my phone. Little see-through ants--mini-wiggly-furious-leg-moving-insects are running across its screen.


Thank goodness.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Ox: Missoula 1990

So I'm thinking of The Ox. In Missoula. Montana. That's The Oxford downtown--liquor, food and poker. And what I'm recalling are late nights, post drinking at Charlie B's and such. Stopping in The Ox for a final beer and an order of Chicken Fried Steak with Lone Star Gravy. Sitting at the counter with friends, crowded, the cook busy busy busy, the people smoking, probably us smoking, the noise of the poker games behind us, the tables full of others, the regular bar down the way full of drinkers. Noise and fried food, smoke and keno games. It would take forever to get your food. Some people would give up. But when you ate it?

The Ox. In Missoula.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Childhood Lunches: Vancouver

I've always liked lunch--my favorite meal. I'm not certain why that is, other than I like the informality of it, the noon hour, the foods associated with lunch. Sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads and such . . . But what I'm thinking of, along with lunch, is of my mother. Of my childhood with my brothers and sister, friends and places (South Dakota, Washington, Tennessee (not so much Iowa and beyond)).

I think it was in Vancouver, Washington where most of my notion of childhood lunches comes from, from things my mother used to prepare. I was in school then, so mainly I'm thinking summer lunches, which were the usual fare: peanut butter and jelly, cold cut sandwiches, tuna salad, spaghetti from a can (Franco American), hot dogs. Nothing special, really. My mother did make one dish--Tuna Stuff Over Noodles, we called it--which was essentially creamed tuna over chow mien noodles. I loved it, though, and still make it to this day now and then. And then we had salmon from a can.

That seems strange to me now, that we, as kids, ate salmon. From a can. Sure, living in the Pacific Northwest we had salmon--my dad would grill salmon steaks now and then. But I can't recall being crazy about them. But we all liked salmon from a can (though now I doubt I would, and it--salmon from a can--has not translated to my adulthood like Tuna Stuff Over Noodles has). I think she made salmon salad or other easy concoctions from the salmon--I don't recall exactly. (Oh yes--Salmon Patties: canned salmon mixed with cracker crumbs and eggs and fried with butter and salt!) But what I recall especially is that we kids would squabble over the bone amongst the flesh in the can.

Again, I don't recall why we liked the bone. It was just a soft, very white ring of a bone that got mixed up in the canning. There was always at least one, sometimes two inside. I'm guessing it was a vertebrae-type bone, small and easy to bite through. I guess we didn't really squabble, but it was just something my mother would ask: "Who wants the bone?" It's sort of like who got the salmon patty (or tuna patty, which eclipsed the salmon eventually) that was in the middle of the pan--the one that was always fried the crispest.

Nowadays, I suppose, I wouldn't much care to eat a salmon bone in a can. Or even the canned salmon itself.

I've had the real stuff. And I like wild salmon very much.

Okay. That's it. A salmon bone from my childhood.