Customer Service For Werewolves

When being normal fails, I bring the weird. WalMart’s attempts to make me into a cashier have been inspiring.

Given that I was enjoying a bout of sleeplessness, I went to Walmart before work very early this morning. I ended up with more items than I had planned because I’m a guy. When I reached the front of the cavernous store no lights were on for the cashier stations. As I walked towards a smaller lady in the very front she looked up, saw me approaching and rapidly started walking in the other direction. Not to be outdone I went the opposite direction to trick her into thinking I forgot an item somewhere in the store. I then hot-footed it back to the front coming from the other side. Now, she was directly in front of me with no way to evade.

But surprise me she did. She started to walk away. So I pulled out one of the tricks of my youth and shouted a small howl. Not only did she stop in her tracks but several other people dropped what they were doing and turned to see what freak was howling at 4 in the morning.

I couldn’t help but laugh, which probably amplified how crazy I looked and sounded.

“I’m sorry your corporate overlords put us in this situation, but there are no checkers,” I told her.

She turned and bellowed to someone, “You’re gonna have to do his checking for him.” To me, she said, “#11 is open. She’ll do your checking for you.”

“If I do YOUR job and check myself out, this cat food is clearly buy one get two free. Also, if the moonlight hits me directly I am uncertain as to whether I can control the werewolf conversion.” Yes, I amused myself.

As the other lady came to check me out I asked her if she believed in werewolves. She laughed and laughed.

In the background, I could hear someone on the radio asking for another pair of hands up front. Whether for work, weirdos, or werewolves, I can’t be sure.

Today, I was the victor.

I hope the run-and-hide lady knows I was joking.

A Few Words on Voting…

A couple of basic ‘voting’ posts I wrote a few years ago, especially regarding the feeble, illogical, and nonsensical “… if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to voice your opinion” arguments seen every election cycle.

Not Voting Doesn’t Negate Your Right of Participation or Expression

Voting Disenfranchisement Is Wrong

P.S. I of course vote. But those who don’t, voluntarily or involuntarily, don’t forfeit their right to participation or opinion.

Charlotte’s Hope

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Charlotte once resided in a modest house on the corner of Lilly Street and Shumer Way, nestled inside one of the many decaying towns in the delta area of Arkansas. While she hadn’t stepped foot inside the family home in decades, it was still an infrequent and lingering beacon, a place that once defined her. Her mom had departed this world unexpectedly just as Charlotte hit her stride as an adult. Though her own life was full, a little air exited her soul with her mother’s passing. She not only had buried her mother but a sliver of her own life as well. It remained in her hometown, cloistered and protected from the world.

The promise of life blossomed before her, of course, but the loss of the person closest to her heart would always be one characterized by that uneasy and painful feeling one experiences after swallowing too big of a bite. In Charlotte’s case, the bubble of discomfort failed to fade completely. Each new experience, every shared story, and all moments of clarity occurred with an invisible and almost indiscernible hand on her shoulder. As time marched forward, the hand would feel lighter even as the bruise on her soul deepened. If a kind soul such as her mother could find herself so ingloriously subjected to the injustice of unearned disease, it could writhe toward anyone, despite nobility, intention, or merit. It was a hard lesson to accept but her mother taught it with unimaginable and sublime beauty.

She’d find herself in her hometown, often without remembering the interstate or the quaint highways that brought her there, the same byways once traveled by her mother. The engine of her car would be thunderously ticking, even as the beads of sweat rolled down her forehead. After untold minutes, she’d lower the driver window. Her eyes would devour the familiar details of the small covered rear porch and door, the one almost everyone used. The front door was almost ornamental; someone announcing himself there invariably identified as strangers. She knew without looking that there were 18 rows of white clapboard ascending the side of the house, culminating in exposed painted soffits. Some nights she would slowly emerge from a dream and could still feel the rough sensation of those painted boards as she leaned against the house of her youth. In the summer, one could feel the heat from several feet away.

The cacophony of the summer insects would reach her ears, the hum of mosquitoes would play its summertime melody, and she would cry. In her hometown, most memories anchored in the perennial summertime of her youth. Her mother was so close and the echo of her voice was a lingering presence in the humid air. Whispers, languid syllables of laughter and love, all these intertwined and coalesced in the way that only occurs in Southern towns infected by the paradoxical need to move away.

The peeling paint of the place she once called home still called her name. The four side windows once adorned with light and familiar faces now blankly stared outward without regard. The lawn now screamed for someone to show it the attention it once took for granted. No children would dance in its hidden garden again and it was likely that no family would claim it as an anchor before the structure yielded to the inevitable neglect and gravity. This town and all other places like it are the observable results of entropy; all slide toward darkness and disorder without a guiding force to sustain them. She felt sometimes that her mother was the same dynamic demonstration of physics and that her growing absence was slowly accumulating in her own body as a void with a widening precipice.

The apparition of her mom walked the streets next to the house, idly chiding an unseen canine companion as it wandered in exploration. That her mother might indeed be slightly beyond the unseen membrane between this place of the here and now and the unknown seemed plausible. It was a spell without resolution, though. Hours of fondly wishing it to be so proved the fruitlessness of the endeavor.
“Claire,” Charlotte would cautiously whisper, her mother’s name a secret she dared not say aloud, all these years later. The name, once fallen from her lips, would unleash something primal inside her.

The expectation of her mother’s return was the closest thing to an afterlife that Charlotte could anticipate. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in a decade, she would also yield to this world’s demands and sleep one last time, to awaken in the place wherein her mother now resided. It was promise enough for her, beyond even the lofty covenants given to her in church.

Mother and daughter would join one another in raucous laughter, undoubtedly in the unassuming kitchen of her youth. Love would be on the menu, forever, accompanied by the foods with which her mother had so gracefully adorned the family dinner table.

For now, though, Charlotte experienced the heat, the buzz of insects, and the observance of the disintegration of the cradle and crucible of her innermost heart. She could feel the fingers of time furtively clawing their way up her spine, just as they were doing to the integrity of the house she once called home. Both she and the house would inevitably succumb.

As a bead of sweat coalesced against her neck, those same fateful fingers chilled her and she smiled the most secret and indecipherable of smiles that puzzled everyone who knew her.

Not everyone holds onto life with desperation. For some, hope lies beyond, away, and in lingering embraces.

Meanwhile, some of us, like her, sit in the gathering dark in our versions of curious little hometowns and wait. All of this, each detail, is temporary on a sufficiently long enough timeline.

Memories abide and love resists the void.

S-Hook, Lime and Sinker

Just off  I-40 in Clarksville, Arkansas, there’s a Tex-Mex restaurant adjacent to the interstate. We’ve eaten there a couple of times. It’s inexpensive and we usually find ourselves pleasantly surprised by the speed, quality, and cost of the meal. Typically, we compensate by over-tipping by a wide margin. This is in no way related to the fact that the workers invariably point a machine gun at us as we pay. I’m just kidding about that last line. I just wanted to ensure that you’re reading closely. The pico de gallo, which all Tex-Mex eateries should be judged by, is delicious.

As we went to the front counter to pay, I heard the older gentleman who seemed to wear several hats of responsibility at the restaurant ask in Spanish, “How’d THIS get here?” I turned to see him holding the ‘S’ hook, inquiring toward our waitress and another waitress from the other half of the restaurant. As we exited the table, I had placed the hot hook on the edge of the large salsa dispenser at the edge of our table so that it wouldn’t be missed.

Toward the end of our meal, my wife had picked it up out of the bowels of the chip basket, not realizing how hot it had become in the warmer. We weren’t disgusted by the discovery of the thick metal hook, just intensely curious. I imagined that it had fallen from something at some point, but couldn’t place what the mysterious piece of machinery or structure might be. Such an ‘S’ hook typically is used to support two chains. Unless you’re at Applebee’s, one wouldn’t expect such random pieces of metal to be in one’s food.

So strange was the look on the older Latino man’s face that I felt compelled to walk the few steps back to our table and explain. In Spanish, I told them it was indeed inside the basket of chips as we ate, that we weren’t upset by its presence, and to have a great day.

“I’ve been looking for this darned hook since yesterday!” the older gentleman told me. “How did it get in the chips?” He wondered aloud.

“Suicidio,” I joked in Spanish and he took a moment to stare at me as if I had just sprouted a large tree from my forehead.

The other two waitresses looked at me quizzically, still confused by the large metal hook and the fact that I was suddenly speaking coherent Spanish to them. I think that the waitress for my table suspected that I spoke a few words in Spanish but it dawned on her that I had probably understood all their shouted conversations during my visit. (Yes, I heard their conversation about North Carolina. I wouldn’t move there, either.)

Mistakes happen and my wife and I weren’t bothered by the metal hook being in the basket of chips. At another restaurant, one staffed by less personable employees, it might have escalated into a full-fledged verbal duel-to-the-cash-register situation.

As it is, though, I find myself still wondering how the hook fell from whatever it was attached to and into the chips. I’ll bet that the older Latino man is wondering, too.

 

Celery Is The Cure For Happiness – An Autobiographical Anecdote

 

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The beet chip story from a few days ago forces my hand toward another story. It’s not one which ends with a grand moral observation, though, unless it’s a reminder for everyone to avoid being ‘food stupid,’ as I call it.

To assist you to better understand my youth, you can observe through the picture that while food scarcity was sometimes a problem for me, starvation was the least of my worries. It wasn’t until the end of my 9th grade year that I managed to break away from my intense infatuation with food. I probably should say ‘temporarily breakup’ given my adulthood. That’s my mom with her arms over my shoulders. She’d been drinking when my Aunt Ardith snapped this picture.

I wish I had been drinking heavily, especially if I had known I’d be writing about the herpes of the vegetable world: raw celery.

I mean no disrespect toward the current food waste programs. Teachers do difficult jobs and those involved in USDA-related food programs emphasize giving students control and also encourage eating what’s taken and taking only what one plans to eat. I went to elementary school 40 years ago, about the time that fire was discovered. What’s true now was definitely not true then.

Today, I listened to a story about food waste in schools. Most of the arguments were well reasoned and supported. They were so proud of the food waste reduction and that kids were now squirreling away leftover food instead of throwing it away at school. I knew immediately that at least one school kid was going to get his revenge on these well-intentioned people as they patted themselves on the back for reducing food waste. We not only don’t learn from history, but we also tend to amplify our egregiousness with even greater folly. I laughed as I imagined that imaginary and gleeful child puking all over the high heels of his well-intentioned teacher.

Thanks to my grandma, I was spoiled by food. Even though her type of cuisine leaned toward the basic, there was nothing as delicious in my mind as elbow macaroni soup, collard and mustard greens, green beans, corn in any form, tomatoes, okra, or potatoes. Unlike my parents, my grandparents were compassionate about food, even though they were children of the Great Depression. Both money and food were always held in high esteem. In my case, they didn’t care what I put on my plate as long as I ate it all. Wasting food was simply not something one could do. On the other hand, they didn’t threaten me for disliking food or force me to eat something for my own good. They weren’t “food stupid” as so many modern people are. They asked me to try everything before deciding whether I liked it or not. And I did, even things such as sardines and salt pork. I never rejected a food without trying it. My grandma knew that overall I was going to get much more than I needed, especially since I was known to eat more vegetables than any other 5 kids combined. I don’t know how harsh grandma was to other grandkids (because I was her favorite) but I do know that she would never have forced me to eat something I clearly indicated I didn’t like. In my defense, it would have never occurred to me to lie to her about it, either. I found out at a young age that I didn’t like beets, which puzzled my grandma.

At home, my parents were tyrants about food. I ate some of the worst, most ill-prepared foods known to man, many times under the guise of not being wasteful. This particular line of logic confused me, given that dollar for dollar, most of their money was spent on alcohol, cigarettes, or replacing broken furniture each time they decided to practice their ever-widening domestic violence reactions. Wherever we lived, most evenings threatened to turn into WWE nights, without referee or ropes. Never mind that because mom chain-smoked her entire life I had never eaten potatoes at home that didn’t look peppered already. Mom also put onions in everything. I mean that literally. I kept expecting to find several peeled onions in her bathwater. Because of dad, mom would often prepare the nastiest meats; large slabs of beef nonsense, barely cooked, smelling of old paper and blood. When she could, mom would buy large volumes of sliced ham, the kind that reminded of what a toilet smells like when seldom flushed. It’s one of the reasons to do this day that I dislike ham, and more so when it is sliced into slivers of hell like deli meat. Mom also made me eat potted meat and Vienna sausages, which as we learned from Karl in “Sling Blade”, is nothing more than brains and beef peckers.

I was content with noodles, soup, or vegetables. I was a simple kid and easily satisfied. Give me a soda, basic food, a book – and stop beating on me, and I could make a good day out it. As I’ve written about before, I also acquired an intense LIKE for over-cooked and burned food.

Even though it seems unlikely, it was because of my parents that I went years without eating much meat voluntarily. I wasn’t sure that meat could be prepared in an appetizing manner, so I’d eat salads, bread, and vegetables – or the tablecloth if it kept me from getting ill or having to force down food better suited to be thrown from a moving car at one’s enemies. Forays to other people’s houses showed me that the food at home versus out in the world were wildly different animals and that I was trapped in a culinary hell from which there would be no escape. It should be noted that no green leafy vegetables, much less lettuce, were kept at my house growing up. It was when I was older and had access to an unlimited amount of salad from a popular eatery in Tontitown and from a distant cousin we lived with that I found a love for lettuce.

Since I grew up in small-town Arkansas, I heard the phrase, “Boy, you don’t know what’s good” with such regularity that it lost all meaning. This phrase was considered to be the height of culinary comparative arguments. On one occasion, my Uncle Harold was chiding me for not wanting to eat any of whatever dead carcass flesh was being offered and proudly yelled, “Boy, you don’t what’s good!” Uncle Harold was one of the good guys, too. My grandma laughed and said, “Harold, why are you sitting there picking on the boy when you know darn well you wouldn’t eat a lot of things growing up?”

As for retaliation, for each gesture of love and kindness from my grandma, my dad would be capable of the most brutal reprisals for not wanting to eat whatever he wanted me to. I took beatings night and day. If I told him I didn’t want fried chicken or a slab of whatever animal carcass of the day he had, I would get hit by a fist, belt, spatula, or item he found nearby. He was like the Wile E. Coyote of food beatings. His creativity toward brutality was endless. To him, eating, especially meat eating was a characteristic of all real men. It incensed him that I had no desire whatsoever to eat what he dictated. Deer, frog legs, snake, gizzards, cow livers, boiled beef tongue, rabbit, and squirrel: all of these were required eating. I hated them all and don’t eat them willingly today. His cruelty expanded to other areas, too. Once, he forced me to try raw forest-gathered mushrooms at my Uncle Buck’s house. They tasted like a deer’s anus. When I started to throw up, he punched me. He then forced more of them into my mouth. Crying, I forced what I could down. He made me agree that I loved them. As soon as possible, I went outside and threw it all up on the next-door neighbor’s side of the house. This same scenario was re-enacted many times in my youth. (I often think I could have painted the house with vomit with sufficient time to do so.)

It is strange looking back, because despite having been in prison and falsely claiming he could eat anything, the truth is that my dad hated a lot of food, especially the healthy stuff. I’m not sure why food granted him such an expansive outlook on cruelty towards me. He never missed a chance, though, and I got it much, much worse than my siblings did. I often daydreamed of sautéing him a skillet full of wild mushrooms and steak – and then bashing him over the head with it.

In school, I learned that people would willingly barter with me, and happily, for my dessert or milk in exchange for whatever concoction of vegetables the school was inflicting on us that day. One of the most common was peas or one of the ten varieties of mixed vegetables that generally got boiled in huge cauldrons on the industrial stoves. Countless times, I would press my tray against that of a schoolmate and swap for something better. At home, I would eat green beans, corn, and tomatoes directly from the can – something I often do even now. While I looked like I traded for desserts, the opposite was usually true.

One day during elementary school, our teacher proudly explained that we would be graded on what we ate. “What fresh hell was this?” I asked myself. I figured there was some kind of error or that all the teachers had lost their minds. Unlike my fellow classmates, my world viewpoint didn’t preclude adults acting as if they had lost their minds at any given moment. At that school, we didn’t choose what we wanted. The school workers plopped, flung and threw whatever the next item was more or less into the segregated concavities of our food trays. There were things I simply couldn’t eat. Make no mistake, unlike most of my schoolmates; I overall REALLY enjoyed school lunches. They simply were miles above the consistency and content of what I could expect at home. Just like at home, I couldn’t always determine what the food was supposed to be. Unlike home, however, I could be reasonably certain it wasn’t poisonous, given the likelihood of dead children all over the concrete block cafeteria if things went terribly awry.

In those days, it was almost impossible to explain to your teachers that you were accustomed to being tortured by your dad if you said you didn’t like something. They didn’t know that if I wet the bed, I’d have stripes across my back and legs for a week if my dad had a hangover or was simply bored. I knew that with time, the school’s ill-advised plan to judge what I chose to eat or didn’t eat would cause a problem.

It was the same week that the food grading system started that I met my lifelong nemesis: Raw Celery. On a dozen previous occasions, I had attempted to eat this abomination without throwing up. I was scoreless against the impulse. It was puzzling, given my love of all things vegetable. If given a choice between licking the under-rim of a bus station bathroom toilet and eating celery, I would unflinchingly opt for the toilet, even if someone was sitting on it at the time. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I will demonstrate this if ever given the choice between death and celery. If foreign terrorists ever capture me, all they’ll need to do is force me to eat celery in order to get a confession from me.

I don’t remember a lot about the lunch grading starting, honestly, other than dreading it. When I went up to put my tray on the conveyor, the teacher told me to eat my celery or get a reduced grade. As I was fearful of almost all teachers when controversy arose, I told her that I was fine with that. She got mad at me and reversed course. She insisted that I eat it – a reduced grade was no longer at stake. A paddle was in my future. I told her that I would get sick if I tried to eat the celery. She forced me to take a bite anyway and I spit it back out immediately. She let me go, through a clenched jaw. I knew the battle lines were drawn and that just like at home I had no artillery with which to fight back.

A few days later, celery once again made its disgusting appearance on the menu. They must have purchased a truckload of it from the local Satanic Distributor. I traded my celery and dessert for another boy’s mixed vegetables. He ate the celery with glee, as I did his vegetables. Soon enough, the Gestapo teacher doing lunch duty came over and told us we were forbidden to trade food. Therefore, I got another reduced grade, even though I had eaten more vegetables by trading for a serving of mixed vegetables compared to a slice of celery stalk.

How much later it was, I’m not sure, but the day came when celery was once again served. Except another horrific layer was added: they put peanut butter on the stalk. While I was okay with peanut butter, the only thing worse than a celery stalk with peanut butter on it would be if a large diseased bird pooped on it first. The teacher didn’t even wait for my reaction this time. She insisted I eat it, that everyone liked peanut butter and celery. Having forgotten the exact words, I’m sure she ranted off a list of reasons why I was being a little jerk for not wanting to eat the celery. Since I wasn’t getting out alive, she also insisted that I drink my carton of milk, something that I often didn’t touch. However, I held my nose and drank the milk quickly.

“Now eat the celery. You and I both know you are pretending you don’t like it.” The teacher glared at me. Having been shamed and beaten by experts way beyond her level of cruelty, I didn’t really care about getting a paddling. A paddling from someone at school was comparable to a pat on the back from Attila the Hun at home. The teacher, seeing my reluctance, came around next to me, picked up the celery stalk, and put it in my hand, then dragging my hand holding the celery toward my face. I unwillingly took a bite, immediately feeling the urge to vomit. “Keep going. You’ll see it won’t kill you.” The teacher stepped away at the end of the table. I took another bite – and that’s when the universe shifted.

The mix of peanut butter and raw celery triggered something in my mind. It might have been the last time my dad held my face into my plate and forced me to get a mouthful of whatever man-making garbage he wanted me to eat. Whatever it was, it was powerful. From my nose and mouth came a simultaneous torrent of milk and lunch remnants. It went across the table and onto the floor, splashing across to the table on the next aisle of seating. I flooded my plate with it, knocking over my milk carton. I heaved and expelled everything I had eaten for the last 10 meals, or so it seemed. Moreover, I then put my head down into the mess, feeling a massive wave of nausea and dizziness. Keeping my head up wasn’t an option.

This story would be much better if I remembered what sort of shocked reaction the teacher had on her face after seeing me projectile vomit. However, I don’t know. I was too sick.

Another teacher came and helped me to the restroom to clean up. I enjoyed several exceptional teachers. Like so many others growing up, I also had a few who somehow seemed to know that I was an easy victim. My secret shame from my tortured home life must have registered in some instinctive corner of their brains.

We didn’t do lunch grading for very long. I don’t remember why that it ended but I do know that my fantasy is that the teacher who was so intent on being totalitarian in regard to what I ate or didn’t eat was so sickened by my volcanic eruption of vomit that she insisted that the program be abandoned. While I don’t remember exactly which teacher was the mean one, I could figure it out, if I really wanted to. I won’t though because I might be tempted to go to her house with an array or reprehensible food and force her to eat them all, one by one until vomit ejects from her ear canals. I’ll start with beet chips and celery filled with tripe and livers.

She did me one favor, though: unlike so many other foods I grew to like or at least tolerate, raw celery to me is no better than raw sewage – and I’d drink a cup of the latter before I’d ever eat a stalk of celery.

 

If I every develop super-villain powers just spray me down with raw celery.

Good Thins (The Beet One): Proof of Diabolical Culinary Forces

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Product Review #13 Nabisco Good Thins Beet Crackers:

I originally posted this review more than a year ago. The trauma of my initial taste test had faded in my memory sufficiently for me to convince myself that a subsequent retry was in order. I’ve now added this mistaken idea of my list of most monumental errors in life.

I saw ads for this item and despite my natural aversion to beets, for some reason, this sounded divine to me. I enjoy weirdly-flavored crackers; it’s like a sadistic eccentricity of mine, like my love of licking 9V batteries, eating burned food, and the smell of tar and creosote. Truthfully, I thought I was going to fall in love with this incarnation of Nabisco’s The Good Thins line.

Many people don’t know that beets are actually goat livers which have been buried secretly by elves. They are second only to raw celery as ‘the food most likely to taste like death.’ Given my overall love of vegetables, it pains me to say that beets are the culinary equivalent of phlegm stuck in the back of one’s throat after a prolonged cold. How I thought Nabisco was capable of disguising the hideousness of beets remains a mystery to me.

I tried a sample of these crackers. After a couple of seconds, I regretted every bad thing I had done in my life – there was no doubt that this product was created with the singular aim of making me repent for my sins. As the product sample lady awaited my reaction with anticipation, I weighed my options: spit the vile concoction onto the floor or wait until projectile vomit pushed it from my mouth. Had a cliff been nearby, I would have thrown myself off of it, if only to rid myself forever of the aftertaste of these beet crackers. I managed to swallow the cracker and was certain that I had just eaten the edible equivalent of an exorcism. After eating this cracker, I fully expected a little Sigourney Weaver alien baby to burst forth from my abdomen.

When I got home, I researched this item on Nabisco’s website. It turns out that Nabisco digs up the goat livers (aka beets) and feeds them to miscreant cows. Once the cow naturally converts them into manure, that is then desiccated and sliced into micro-thin wedges and cooked by the evilest chef in North America. (Probably someone who ‘trained’ at the Culinary Institute of Applebee’s.) Then, they season the dried wedges with the tears of repentant teenagers.

Several reviews on Amazon suggest that this item is either a test product program whose aim is to gauge limits of self-imposed suffering or an attempt to punish vegetarians for their holier-than-thou ways.

Paradoxically, I give this product 5 out of 5 stars, if only to hoodwink you into stupidly attempting to eat this product, too. Please eat a box and let me know whether you need chemo afterward.

P.S. The other flavors of Good Thins are some of best chips/crackers that exist. Other flavors include spinach and herb, sea salt, potato, rice, white cheddar, sweet potato, chipotle tomato, among others. Nutritionally, the other flavors and textures are delicious.

 

I’m still perplexed that the same company which makes the other flavors is capable of the sadism required to continue manufacturing these beet chips.

A Photo Puzzle Gift and Evening of Espionage

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My wife Dawn & I have decided that our nascent career in spookery and espionage has already faltered. Just attempting to quickly and efficiently exit the vehicle in an attempt to switch places was almost enough to do us in, never mind the furtive ‘chase’ across multiple lawns or the horrific sight of me as I ‘ran’ to escape being caught ringing a friend’s doorbell and fleeing.

While I scampered away to avoid detection, I imagined a neighbor calling the police and excitedly telling them, “There’s an old man wobbling through the middle of my yard. I think he might have done something he shouldn’t have, like have an extra serving at supper.”

By the way, we know our careers in sneakery are additionally suspect because it would have never occurred to us to attempt such a surprise under the cover of darkness.

I had spent an inordinate amount of time devising the perfect 1008-piece customized puzzle iteration, using a couple of hundred distinct pictures, and it arrived unexpectedly today. The finished puzzle is 20″ x 26″. It seemed like a moral imperative for us to drive over and surprise our unsuspecting friends with it. I think we had more fun devising our plan than actually being able to say “mission accomplished.”

Portrait Puzzles does astonishingly great work if you find yourself in need of a really, really complicated and personalized puzzle. They’ll customize the tin the puzzle arrives in, too, if you think that it’s advisable that the people intending to assemble the puzzle might need to know what the finished picture might look like.The one I had made will probably cause either partial blindness or intense bouts of spontaneous vomiting. It’s pretty complicated, is my point. At my age, though, getting to the point is more of a goal than a requirement.

Despite my strong desire to remove one piece from the puzzle in the gift tin, I resisted. I think I might have killed someone doing this a few years. How was I supposed to know her chronic OCD would flare up if she spent 22 hours assembling a puzzle only to find that it was missing one critical piece?

The friends getting the puzzle are two of the nicest people one could ever hope to meet. I didn’t get to know them until fairly recently, in part due to their wise aversion to hanging out with people like me. I lived a little of their lives with them, though, all these years later, as they trusted me to digitize thousands of pictures of their lives. It was an honor and I hope they get a little bit of the magic of the lives back as they relive it, piece by piece. I hope they have enough sense to go lie down for a moment if they begin to hallucinate from the effort.

To the residents who live over by Pin Oak, I apologize if you were unlucky enough to peer out your window while I was up to my usual shenanigans in your neck of the woods. I think I lost a shoe in one of your yards. You can keep it, though, to remind yourself that not everyone should run through wet grass or attempt to commit acts of sneakery in broad daylight.

Love, X

 

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A Springdale Morning’s Anecdotes

With the lengthening days, my inability to sleep soundly in the mornings once again dragged me from the bed and out into the morning. I chose to walk a byzantine and unplanned path through the bowels of Springdale’s downtown.

The brightest and most vivid storefront at 4 this morning was that of “Mr. Taco Laco.” I pitied those who would work there later today as the throngs of goofy Americans crowd in, each trying to eat their weight in appreciation of Cinco de Mayo, a dubious excuse to imbibe.

I stopped and admired the neon promise of salvation at the next corner. I was about to snap a photo of it but the inclination passed as I remembered that the worst logo in modern American history was just across the street. As I walked past it, I considered buying a large black sheet to hang over it, one to conceal its hideousness. The Chamber of Commerce is the furthest thing from a comedy club, though, so perhaps I’ll continue to just imagine doing so.

The store near the corner barbershop on Blair Street caught my attention. Despite the hour, its lights were blazing. The mannequins all seemed trapped in mid-step, waiting for me to pass and begin their secret dance. The store was strangely lit, like an aquarium.

As the theme song from “Stranger Things” started, an image of “The Langoliers” came to me. Though I was the sole owner of the morning, I knew that soon the streets would begin to hum with people as they began their days. I think the feeling was amplified by the empty and newly-renovated Tyson hatchery building. Its front was dark and I could see empty tables and chairs awaiting their occupants, each one preoccupied with whatever business they might be engaged in.

As I turned on to Grove Street, I surprised a man standing on the landing of his upper story converted apartment. He was smoking. The converted house he lived at was one I had lived in almost 30 years ago. Knowing the people who would need to live in such a place, I knew that his day was probably not going to be filled with pleasurable pursuits. When I lived on the lower floor of that place, the upstairs neighbor loved blaring “Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul. He played it a dozen times in a row, day after day. He was one of the meanest and ugliest people I’d met and he certainly didn’t look like a person who would listen to Paula Abdul; his preference, based solely on his looks and personality, should have been a drum track against the backdrop of people screaming. (Not Top 40 material, I would imagine.)

When I passed the creekside behind the Montessori School, the one which began as First Baptist Church and then served as a drug rehab facility for years, the thickening mist on the creek rose to about shoulder height. As I passed the curve behind the fire station, I didn’t see the opossum until my foot was next to him. I did a stupid dance backward and the possum scrambled away. Unfortunately for him, he chose to run forward and was trapped against the black wire fence as it ran up to the underpass of the railroad trestle above it.  I stood for a moment under the train tracks, unable to see where my new friend had hidden.

About 100 feet further along, a skunk was hunkered down on the rise to my left. He didn’t pay me any attention as I whispered, “Here, kitty kitty” to amuse myself. I survived another day without being sprayed by a startled skunk. I’ll tell my wife later that it’s a certainty that I’m going to get sprayed at some point. Walking in the deep dark has its benefits and dangers.

Crossing Johnson Street, I remembered a rainy Friday afternoon long ago when I was driving too fast and failed to stop soon enough at a stop sign. I hit the driver door of a souped-up Honda. The driver had borrowed his roommate’s car without permission and I had rewarded his bravery by hitting him. The owner never filed a claim. The policeman who came to the scene was a little irritated at me. Not because of my excessive speed, but rather due to his dashed hopes. He had spotted what he thought were empty beer cans in the back floorboard. He had excitedly reached for one with an “Aha!” expression about to pass his lips. The cans were non-alcoholic beer cans. I couldn’t help but laugh. And laugh some more. He ticketed me and I didn’t complain because I deserved it. The officer should have received a commendation for not screaming at me as I smiled at his diminished glee of catching me in the act of driving while drinking non-alcoholic beer.

The aura of older homes in the dark streets always appeals to me. The defects are hidden, the owners tucked away in slumber. I pass the houses, seeing only the splendor of the intricate woodwork, covered porches, and elaborate trim inside the living rooms.