Monday, November 27, 2006

Hope You Had a Nice Tryptophan!

Is everyone stuffed and bloated?

Another Thanksgiving down the hatch. I tried a few new recipes this year, thanks to Better Homes and Gardens and the Food Porn Network: Butternut Squash Lasagna, Green Bean Bake Revisited, and Nutty Brussels Sprouts. Thumbs up on all three.

The weekend yielded a surprise in addition to the usual driving, cooking, and visiting: I actually went out on Saturday night! I know, it was hard to fit a cute outfit over my oxygen mask and giant Medic Alert jewelry, but I managed. First we caught a very decent band (best cover of "Purple Rain" EVER) and later, I met a playwright that a new friend of mine had been wanting to introduce me to.

So how did it go? Well, within five minutes of meeting him I managed to insult his taste in music and spill my drink on him. (I was gesturing wildly with my beverage, holding forth on what an auditory laxative Michael Jackson’s "Man in the Mirror" is. But it turns out the guy likes the song. Maybe he even played it on the jukebox. Maybe.)

Ah, I love the smell of alienating new acquaintances in the morning.

Yesterday I did a little mildly hungover shopping with my best friend. Upon entering Target, I nearly ran over a woman that looked soooo familiar to me.

“Hi!” I shouted in her face with manic intensity. How did I know her? “How are you?”

She seemed to recognize me too, and responded with, “Great! Hi! How are you?”

I replied that I was fine, and we went on our separate shopping journeys. But how the hell did I know her? “I know that woman. But how do I know her?” I hissed to Cindy.

She shrugged and said, “You’ll figure it out.”

But I’m tenacious. I can’t let something go until I solve the puzzle. Aisle after aisle and I continued wondering aloud how I knew her: Did she work for one of my clients? Had we been at a meeting together?

No, I didn’t feel this to be the connection. And more unnerving: I was sure I knew her in a somewhat uncomfortable light. I racked my brain, trying to unearth every mildly awkward exchange I’d had with someone I may know professionally in the last two years. It took some industrial digging equipment, because there were many.

Was it someone I knew in a fiction writing-related capacity? Did she work for UW-O? No and no, although she had quirky glasses that gave her a distinct professorial look.

Alas, nothing was obvious. “This is driving me nuts!” I said to Cindy as we paid for our merchandise, my mind a thousand miles away from the transaction at hand.

“I know,” she said calmly. She’s going to be a good mom someday, with patience like that.

After I’d returned home it continued to bug me. But then last night, while watching Growing up Orangutan (have you ever seen an Orangutan baby? Adorable!!!!!) and continuing to plunder my mental filing cabinets for anything, any remote idea about how I knew the woman I recognized in Target, it dawned on me.

She was my gynecologist.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Poetry Reading

Last night I attended the annual Wisconsin Review fall prose & poetry reading at UW-Oshkosh. Three English professors were reading their work. I’d had one of them, Ron Rindo, as a creative writing prof back in mumbletyhummina, and another I’d had as a father since 1979, the year in which he adopted me. (Or maybe it was 1980; I don’t know, I was like, five or something. I couldn’t even read yet.)

Anyway, my dad is a recently-minted English professor after many years in the criminal justice field. He read some of his autobiographical narrative poetry last night, kicking off with one of my favorites (reprinted with permission from the author Peter Martin, my pops):

The Summer I Was Seventeen

The summer I was seventeen I found a dead girl
in twelve feet of water in a stone quarry
in Waupun, Wisconsin.
I’d gone there early in the evening of a hot July day
after putting in a twelve-hour shift
for Green Giant Canning Company running blanchers for an
unending river of green beans,
French cut.
Two men with a row boat were just pushing off in the quarry’s shallow end.
One of the men knew me and spoke to me.
“Pete, can you swim?”
I said that I could.
But I did not like the way this day was turning out.
The quarry was too small for boats, and I knew
there must be some terrible reason for theirs.
“We’re looking for a girl,” he said.
Scared, I swam alongside the aluminum boat
while one man rowed and the other stood looking down
Into the green quarry water.
I paddled along beside them while on shore I could see
a crowd beginning to gather. And a white
rescue truck with a red cross pulled up.
The man standing said quietly,
“I think I see her.”
My skin crawled but I dove down to find nothing.
Spring-fed currents moved across the quarry’s bottom
like cold black hands. I came back up
and we kept looking. While the small crowd watching grew.
“There she is,” said the standing man, pointing down.
I dove again, this time terrified because I knew I would find something.
Halfway down in the murky water
I saw her and had to fight the urge to swim back to the surface
where things like this didn’t happen in the summer I was seventeen.
But pride more than bravery pushed me deeper, and lying
on her back on the bottom I saw a very dead-looking
nine year-old girl.
Her lips and fingertips were purple, and her
frilly swimsuit, like her hair,
undulated in the cold current.
She was wearing tennis shoes against the sharp quarry stones.
I reached for one shoe and a wrist. Then pushed
off the bottom with my feet, looking up and away from the horror
in my hands. I broke surface and
heard at once a mother’s wail on the quarry cliff.
I handed her up to the men in the boat without looking at her.
They took her from me and tried to blow life into her mouth.
One man rowed and I
swam back toward shallow water and my parked
1953 Oldsmobile. I didn’t
feel like swimming anymore
that day in the
summer I was seventeen.

From this he segued into a few select poems about seeing—at age 15—a stripper shooting ping-pong balls from her vagina, the use of an Alka-Seltzer bottle as a sex toy, and the concept of human genitalia growing to epic proportions after exposure to weed killer.

So, you see where I get my classiness from. (Don’t worry, the poems were much more respectable than I make them sound, with redeeming themes about Coming of Age, Loss of Innocence, Determination to Succeed, and Mankind’s Sometimes Scary Urge to Mess with Nature.)

Bottom line: it’s always nice to sit in a roomful of people while your father talks about penises the size of Box Elder limbs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


This weekend as I was engaging in one of my more retiree-oriented hobbies (filling a bird feeder), I observed a tiny red-breasted nuthatch snacking away on peanuts eight feet from where I stood. He was adorable and fairly tame, so I was kind of bummed when a sharp-shinned hawk swooped down from my neighbor’s tree and snatched him, flying just three feet from my face.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t wearing my San Diego Chicken mask.

Still, seeing such a skilled predator in action was exciting. Especially since we live on a city lot the size of a carpet sample. Although next time, Mrs. Hawk? I suggest the highly snackable house sparrow instead. I hear they taste like popcorn. Or, if you want something meatier, try a starling casserole.

There’s no way I can segue from that, so I’ll just jump right into my next topic. There is a restaurant in Milwaukee that has lately gained a very negative reputation—perhaps because within a recent two-month timeframe, police were called to the location something like 18 times. Primarily due to auto-related incidents (theft, accidents, and vandalism), although fighting in the restaurant was also a major cause of police visits. One of these fights involved forty people grappling and throwing plates, silverware, chairs, and punches. Things have gotten so bad that a city alderman is campaigning to shut down the restaurant entirely.

You’d think that this restaurant is of the George Webb-strain, serving omelettes and pancakes to drunk patrons at 3 in the morning, right?

Wrong. Can you guess what this restaurant is? If you know, leave it in the comments. No fair Googling. If nobody guesses correctly, I’ll post the answer by tomorrow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Now Meatier!

Okay. Let’s talk turkey. Or rather, the fact that the bird that will not be appearing on my plate this Thanksgiving. The green bean casserole, potatoes and squash will be there, perhaps looking around, shrugging their shoulders, and checking their watches. Is the turkey late? Held up in traffic, perhaps? Did the turkey forget the gravy and have to go back for it?

There will be no turkey because, well, I haven’t eaten meat since 2002. So let’s get a few things out of the way right up front. I think listing my Frequently Asked Questions should cover it:

Q. Do you mind if I eat meat?

A. Not a bit; that’s between you, your butcher, and your colon. Just don’t order veal if you’re sitting next to me, because I might moo softly whenever you take a bite.

Q. How do you get enough protein?

A. Twigs and bark are remarkably high sources of protein. Also, have I told you of my enduring love affair with all things dairy?

Q. What about iron? How do you avoid a deficiency?

A. I lick skillets and barbells, of course.

Q. What do you eat?

Quite a range of dishes, from sautéed plant stems with cardboard patties on whole-gravel rolls to garlic-infused paper straight from the shredder topped with a light sprinkling of wood shavings and capers.

Yes, I do occasionally whip up a dish that would inspire petitions, “Take Back the Table” rallies, and riots from small children and all of the men in my extended family. Take, for example, the broccoli pancakes and steamed cabbage with mushrooms that I made on Tuesday evening. I confess I made this because I’d been feeling cancer-prone and sluggish, probably due to my sedentary lifestyle, bad attitude, and mindless inhalation of something like 72 miniature chocolate bars during my annual pre-Halloween candy binge. Did J eat the broccoli pancakes? Well, let’s just say that with a little sour cream, salt, and shrill threats, anything’s edible.

Q. Do you still eat fish?

A. Ever since watching The Incredible Mr. Limpet, I can’t. I just can’t.

Seriously. Fish IS meat, Individuals Who Frequently Ask Me This. I do miss it on occasion (specifically, scallops sautéed in butter and garlic), but mostly, I now think of fish fondly—I wish this old friend well, but I don’t want to meet for drinks to catch-up. What do we have in common anymore, really?

Q. Will you eat meat when you’re pregnant?

A. Only if I am repeatedly kicked in the stomach and hear shouts of, “Hey ma! What’s a fetus got to do to get some hot dogs down here?”

Monday, November 06, 2006

Pom-pom hats, butter, and gargoyles. Don't forget to vote!

I’ve been very anxious lately; perhaps this can be attributed to the election tomorrow, but I suspect it’s because I’ve recently discovered that I live in a world where the Columbus Children’s Hospital will soon be breaking ground on the Abercrombie and Fitch Emergency Department and Trauma Center. Thanks to a $10 million gift, you see.

There are many jokes in there, but mostly a sense of resignation that one day, we will all be wearing ads on our foreheads. I’ve got ample space on mine, so I’ll probably end up with an ad for a drug named Flourahexamegazania, which whitens teeth, encourages a general sense of well-being, reduces flatulence, and makes the air around your head smell like flowers.

Other random thoughts and events:

I attended a literacy luncheon last Thursday and was inspired to become a tutor with the local Literacy Council. Um, hello, shouldn’t I already be doing everything in my power to facilitate literacy? Since I’m a writer and all? (Though you may not have guessed as much based on the grammatical cesspool that masquerades as this blog.) So this is a new development I’m looking forward to.

Watched an Australian western this weekend: The Proposition. An excellent study in creating multi-faceted, sympathetic characters. Plus, you really get a feel for how filthy Ol’ Timey settlers really were. On account of the smudged faces and clouds of flies around their heads.

Somewhere, at this very moment, a man is wearing a wide-brimmed hat rimmed with pom-poms.

Started my Christmas shopping this Saturday. I only bought myself two things. In pursuit of one particular innocuous gift-item, I was directed by a shopkeeper to a place that bars entry to those under the age of eighteen and only accepts payment in cash. Tell me. Have you ever found yourself wearing a peacoat, turtleneck, and Mary Janes in a store peddling gargoyles, patchouli, Ouija boards, crystals, dragons, and bags of herbs galore? Didn't it make you feel kind of old and square?*

Beginning this week, my best friend’s family is engaging in their own home-version of The Biggest Loser, pitting two related teams against one another in a battle to the weight-loss death. Well, not to the death, but I suspect they’re going to have fun dreaming up punishments I mean challenges for the “non-losing” team (that is, the team failing to lose more poundage) every week. I considered going along for the ride, since I could certainly stand to eat less and move more. But then I remembered that Thanksgiving and Christmas are mere weeks away—and with them, delicious feasts involving butter, cranberries, molasses, potatoes, sugar, cheese, and more butter. Since I’m a big fan of butter in its many forms, I feel trying to lose weight during this time may make me exceptionally crabby. And I’d hate to do that to J.

*This is the kick-off in my campaign to bring back the word "square."