All posts by X Teri

Literally, Christmas

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“Surprise!” I shouted, taking the blindfold from my wife Dawn‘s eyes.

In front of us was a wide expanse of land, most of it marked by a series of red stakes driven into the ground in regular intervals. “For Sale” signs fronted the road. We were on the edge of Tontitown, near an expanse of evergreens and a county highway.

“What am I looking at?” my wife asked me with an odd look of consternation on her face.

“Land. I bought you a little piece of land for Christmas.” I smiled, demonstrating how proud I was of my surprise.

“What? Which part of it is mine?” she quizzed.

“That 15-feet wide parcel on the left is all yours.” I waved my arm.

“Why? What am I going to do with THAT?” Her voice rose an octave.

“Remember when I asked you what you wanted for Christmas a while back?”

She thought for a moment and said, “Yes, but I didn’t ask for land, much less such a small piece.”

“Aha! But you did. I asked you over and over what you might want for Christmas – and finally told me that you did not want a WHOLE lot for Christmas.”

We All Live In Nakatomi Tower

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“Hey, sprechen ze talk?” – Harry Ellis

The holiday season can be defined in any manner people see fit. For some, it is an intensely personal celebration of the cornerstone of their faith. For others, it’s an excuse to share time with family and friends. While this will cause a ruckus for some, those who disagree should look to history for an explanation, lest Hans Gruber and his merry lot of robbers burst into their lives and spoil their festive plans. There’s room for everyone to live and love the holiday exactly as he or she wishes. Even for nutjobs like me who love fruitcake or those weirdos who enjoy trees comprised of one single color. Luckily for all of us, our party requires no invitation or dress code.

“Welcome to the party, pal.”

If people love the movie Die Hard as a yuletide movie, it follows that it is, in fact, a holiday movie. Observance of a ritual makes it so. It’s for this reason that I abandoned most of my foolish insistence on orthography and spelling. People drive usage and customs, often at the expense of the comfort and sanity of those around them. As much as we like to insist on consistency, everything is always in flux. In a century, the words I’m using will feel awkward. There will be new traditions we never imagined – and many of ours will seem antiquated. Change is so constant and gradual that we allow ourselves to forget that nothing we do today was always done by our predecessors. Some of us get stuck in a feedback loop that traps us in the idea that our way has always been the way.

Traditions and customs ebb, flow and grow in a wild manner, with complete disregard for what preceded them. If you find yourself struggling with friends or family who disagree with the way you choose to celebrate (or not), ignore them. Don’t fuss or argue, even if you want to wrap them in a chair with Christmas lights, and drop them down an exploding elevator shaft with a note indicating, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.” Wave your hand in the air in frivolous disregard for their jaw-wagging. Sgt. Al Powell didn’t heed Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson, did he?

If you want pizza for Christmas dinner, enjoy it. If you want to play board games and drink fizzy margaritas, followed by a bacchanalia of present opening at midnight, jump in with enthusiasm. If you feel the urge to put up a tree in October, do it. A great number of non-religious people celebrate the holiday, a fact which riles a few of the faithful, as if another person’s choices spoils their own. There is no “one” way to celebrate the holiday. No matter what choices you make, I promise you that someone somewhere is making a twisted face about how you choose. Capitulating to nonsensical demands about a holiday lessens everyone’s enjoyment in life. You’ll feel like Harry Ellis with a hole in your head, after literally trying to negotiate with a terrorist.

If Die Hard is your favorite Christmas movie, then revel in John McClane’s adventures. Should anyone lecture you about your choices, unclasp your watch and let them fall away, like Hans Gruber from Nakatomi Tower. They’ll make the same face as he did when they realize that you can’t be swayed. “Happy Trails, Hans!”

The last thing you want to be is a Grinch, or as the eloquent John McClane puts it, “Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the a$$.” He also exhorted us to, “Take *this* under advisement, jerkweed.” Wise words.

The question isn’t whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie; rather, the question is why do other people care that you celebrate it as part of your tradition? Heathens and believers alike can rejoice that our world is one of crazy, infinite freedom. In a season of lovingkindness, so many lose their focus on its possibilities.

P.S. It could have been worse. There are those who think that “Christmas Vacation” is the best holiday movie ever made, which proves my point that all of us are crazy.

Yippee ki yay, melon farmers!

A List For Yesterday

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Don’t you ever wonder if members of the Blue Man Group ever start feeling racist about all the other colors?

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“Chill Satan” is one of the best ways to tell someone they’re being an ass. I just thought I’d share that with you. Edit: I’ve heard it 4 times in two days. It must be a trend.

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It’s ironic that 9 Lives Cat Food would issue a product recall. Don’t all its customers have 9 lives or what?

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Proud or not proud? I just spent three minutes convincing someone who speaks English as a second language that the real lyrics to “White Christmas” are “I’m dreaming of a white christian.” He didn’t even blink when I told him VP Mike Pence ordered the change.

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As I exited the elevators on the bottom floor, a couple of well-educated women waited for entry. Another person turned the corner quickly and darted inside the elevator I’d just exited. He turned and waved his hand between the doors, indicating to the two women that they should ride with him.

One of the women asked, with a serious tone, “But does this elevator go to the SAME up?”

The gentleman holding the elevator looked at me incredulously. I couldn’t help it as I guffawed in raucous laughter.

The two women were not amused.

I hope the elevator did indeed take them to the same UP we all know so well.

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Springdale, Arkansas is the first American city to prove that metamorphosis (shape-shifting) is possible: several wildcats spontaneously became bulldogs.

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“Pay osculatory homage to my posterior” sounds far more elegant than its vulgar cousin on a Monday morning. Not to the guy I just quoted it to – but in general. May your Monday be filled with poetic snark. ‘Tis the season.

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Smug: me catching heck all year for abandoning all respect for grammar and orthography – & now seeing literally everyone misspelling the fancy dessert they’re all making.

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Apparently, “As foretold by the prophecy” is an unwelcome answer to the traditional “Good morning!” greeting.

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John knew he had married badly when his wife fell in the shark tank during their honeymoon and the sharks all jumped out.

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Niche and targeted marketing are going too far. (Or Stove Top now markets cannibal-themed flavors.)

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The Flux Observation

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It’s amusing to hear people say, “That’s just not normal,” as if humans have an established baseline for normalcy. 20 generations ago, we were on the cusp of worldwide exploration and science. The illusion of consistency is the trick your mind plays on you when you forget that human history tells us otherwise. While you might want things to get back to normal, the truth is that normal is a moving target. Your feet are on quicksand every moment of your life. Like a perspective painting, you’ll only know this to be true if you pause long enough to find yourself astonished by how obvious it is.

Like Butter, Squirrel Edition

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As ordained in the rituals of life, I passed part of the early spring doing futile battle with the encroaching squirrels. Most of them trespass into this area and my yard without even obtaining tourist visas, as all the trees here are quite young. The bird feeders are stationed up front, where we can stare out the windows, amused by our offended cat firing himself at the glass like an artillery shell as he notes invaders there. I’m waiting to see what our cat Güino will do if and when he breaks through the glass and finds himself face to face with a tree rodent. My guess is that he’ll shriek and hurl himself back inside the safety of the house.

As the hummingbirds and wild birds diminished, I removed the feeders. Given the jungle-like state of the properties behind me, I can feed and enjoy the wild birds as they amass along the dense brush there. One day it occurred to me that I might tempt the squirrels on their own turf. I started by dumping cereal, popcorn, bread, and any other food item I thought the squirrels might enjoy.

When I bought this house, the builders foolishly tried to avoid clearing the trees along the property line. I insisted and they begrudgingly removed them, leaving one wide stump jutting from the fence line. That stump serves as an accessible table for the wildlife. The cardinals and finches sometimes swarm from the brush by the dozens. It always delights me. Instead of using a feeder, I sometimes scatter an entire bag of bird seed in the area.

In the 3 years, I’ve lived here, I’ve used the narrow sliver of the backyard by the fenceline to throw any food that could potentially be eaten. Whether for the birds, squirrels, or Sasquatch, the consumer wasn’t my concern. We have a couple of cats of undetermined ownership who visit us and say “Hello,” too.

One larger squirrel, one mistrustful of even his own bushy tail, began jumping down in huge leaps to observe me as I hurled food at the fence. I put out a mess of popcorn and an entire stick of butter as an offering of peace. After a few minutes, I peered through the slats in the kitchen door and noted that the reluctant squirrel had propped the entire stick of butter at an angle – and was busy chewing it with gusto. I could almost hear him smack his lips. The squirrel’s name is now Splat Albert due to the fact of his size and in the event of a fall, it’s going to be a quick demonstration in mass and gravity as he plummets to the ground. While I can’t testify that Splat Albert single-handedly consumed the entire stick of butter, I believe he did.

Over the next few weeks, I began to leave more sticks of butter, followed by entire jars of nuts. The place on the stump seemed to be our DMZ. I learned that Splat loves grapes, watermelon pieces, broccoli and a huge variety of other foods. I think I found an equal opportunity eater.

It seems that Splat Albert has forgotten our previous Feeder Wars. One possibility is that the butter has clogged his tiny arteries already. Another is that he is enjoying his adventure as he does the “Before vs. After” conversion in reverse; instead of becoming sleeker and healthy, he has surrendered himself to the diet I’ve prescribed. If he continues to eat entire jars of nuts and butter at this rate, I may need to climb up the tree and place him on the upper perches where his nest resides.

For now, Splat Albert is once again happy, as I poured another jar of nuts for him today, followed by a stick of butter. If I open the door, he’ll excitedly chirp at me to come no closer.

There are those who will say, “You can’t feed squirrels THAT!” To be clear, I’m not feeding them anything, nor setting the table for them as they choose their own menu. I’ll admit I’ve had many laughs, watching the squirrels (and Splat in particular) slowly grow in girth. I’ve put away my pink Daisy BB gun, the one previously used to frighten the squirrels as they slithered up and down my bird feeders. Splat fails to see the butter as a weapon. Perhaps he knows that a domestic food supply and absence of a road will lengthen his lifespan considerably, even if he becomes too fat to enjoy it. Regardless, I’m letting Splat choose his own diet, one free of BBs.

The picture is of one of Splat’s neighborhood encroachers, a squirrel which squeals in terror if Splat jumps from the trees above. It’s a “Before” picture.

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This is one of our feline visitors. You’ll note that Splat made a hasty exit from the stump. He’s hiding in the top of the bush, although it’s impossible to see him perched there, watching the cat.

A Reverie For Then

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In a nearby cavernous auditorium, perchance in another cosmos, voices rose and fell, each youthfully jockeying for position. The camaraderie of teamwork still lit each of their souls in excitement. Youth is a fuse which can be subdued only with great effort. Its exuberance is a trumpet’s undeniable fanfare.

I could hazily sense the subtle vibrancy of life percolating through the concrete walls as I sat on the right end of a worn wooden piano bench in the chorus room, a place I seldom ventured. My own voice was broken and even in the moments that I might have something to herald, doubt dutifully clamped my lips. Caged birds seldom discover their voices.

The lights were dim about us. I sat in awe, next to a transcendent creature whose humble mastery of those eighty-eight keys hypnotized me. Her long, nimble fingers playfully and effortlessly waltzed across the keyboard. She smiled at me, in part in the simple pleasure of sharing music she had created and in part from the delight she noted written on my face. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, I’m unsure how to compare fathomless wonderment.

It’s a simple satisfaction of life to share a moment with another soul, one which transcends personality and place. Everything extraneous falls away, leaving people to face one another. The overlap of engagement is the subtlest of all possible harmonies. If the metronome of the universe finds the perfect synchronization, each person walks lightly and without recognition that their guards have yielded.

She continued to play as I sat, mute, imagining that I could see the notes float from the opened piano into the spectral air. Absent the vocabulary to express it, I realize now that I was living one of my first moments of bittersweet experience.

After a few sustained minutes, the tumult from the nearby hall spilled out and someone entered our shared sanctuary of the chorus room. The spell was broken as her devout hands moved away from their natural home above the ivories. She instinctively knew that the interloper had ruptured whatever interlude we had experienced. The notes which were magically suspended in the air dissolved and fell to the floor.

She and I smiled at one another – and for a breathless moment, I was rendered floorless.

I returned to my bestial life, one whose existence was the antithesis of that shared melodic moment. That the savagery of my separate life had suffered a momentary rest deepened its claw into my soul. I had managed to peer out the smudged window of my life for a moment.

As the years bury their minute-filled corpses in the past, I am able to sporadically recapture those minutes of rapture, listening. Out of time, out of place, she sits unhurriedly beside me, sharing the gift of presence and music. That moment resides forever in an absent place. In other moments of fanciful experience, I can feel its vacancy beckoning me, though I know it will be but a pale shadow of an iridescent memory of youth.

The gift of experience is that we often fail to appreciate the moments as they wash over us. The agony of wisdom is to discern how fleeting the sublime sensation of joy can be.

And so, we look back, away from the monumental gray of our mundane days.

Our lives often lack cadence and tempo except when sleuthed in reverse, in reverie, and in reverence.

Those melodies, though, they remain; eternal, and accompanied by the decrescendo of our bodies.

 

A Culinary Misadventure

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As we were driving out of town, we skipped several eateries along the way, ones which we knew would be great. Absent being sidetracked, we were holding out for a repeat experience in the town of our destination. We had eaten at the tex-mex in question once before and although it had some issues, we were very interested in giving it another try. We had hunger and enthusiastic anticipation to ensure our experience would be great.

And the universe noted our idiotic expectations and drove them headfirst into the rocks.

We stood at the door as various employees jockeyed toward the front register and seating chart. I said, “Yes, two please” at least 4 times. Finally, one of the people decided to seat us. This undoubtedly was part of their strategy to make us work up an appetite or perhaps wisely flee the building. After a long wait, a waiter appeared. He seemed very uncertain. He came back twice to ask about the drinks and appetizers. The salsa was tasteless, even though it felt like it might contain a numbing agent.  While Dawn went to wash her hands, I attempted to salvage the salsa by using a chip to pluck onion and cilantro from my pico de gallo bowls and mix it with the lifeless concoction.  Upon tasting it, she said, “This tastes like tomato sauce from a can.” I laughed. I poured all the juice from pico bowl and managed to get some flavor in the salsa.

I’ll forego most of the usual jokes about bathrooms and Tex/Mex eateries. I’ll say this, though. When I used the restroom and opted for toilet paper to blow my nose instead of the hand-activated sandpaper dispenser at the sink, I laughed when I discovered that all of the toilet paper holders were empty. The odds of all the holders being emptied were so slim that I defaulted to another of my theories: if the bathroom smells like a lakeside bathroom or there’s no toilet paper, it’s generally a bad idea to frequent the eatery unless one of your hobbies includes studying infectious diseases. I usually trust my instincts about these things. I knew we had made a critical error in our eating selection. The men’s bathroom had all the allure of a WWII latrine trench.

A few minutes later, I noted a man hurriedly scampering toward the restroom. Although I didn’t actually hear his reaction, I imagined that a shrill cry of “No!” followed by a tirade of profanity wafting through the air. Pardon my specificity, but I hope he discovered the absence of the necessary bathroom accessory prior to engaging.

Our waiter was inexperienced. I left my readers in the side door of the car, so I was attempting to find a safe selection on the menu. Dawn helped me read the menu as if I were already 80 years old. As I mentioned the number I wanted, the waiter began asking me a series of perplexing questions, some of which convinced me he might have killed the actual waiter and took his order book as a cover story. To add insult to injury he then asked me to read verbatim the combination I had asked for by number. Also, these don’t allow substitutions, so I was confused. After being polite, I told him to bring me whatever the cook thought belonged on #3 and that such a course of action would be fine with me. (He had visibly flinched when I asked about ‘tacos de alambre’ and similar items.) When my alarm bells begin to sound, I always opt for plates containing no meat. It’s a lesson Dawn is slowly learning, too.

My wife foolishly ordered a selection with grilled chicken fajita meat on it. When the plate arrived, she was surprised to discover that they had used what I now call “squirrel chitlins” instead of chicken fajita slices. I’ve come to learn that restaurants that use the chicken pieces which resemble small sections of curly french fries can’t be trusted. Using that type of chicken under the guise of grilled fajita chicken is a dead giveaway that cost has surpassed quality as the main guideline for inventory. In NWA, I stopped getting my favorite dish and then abandoned my favorite restaurant precisely because of this. Dawn initially ate with the enthusiasm that hunger demands but her enthusiasm quickly faded as the texture, flavor and strange aftertaste of her meal overwhelmed her hunger. The sour cream that had been added to her plate was runny and tasted like it had been left out for an hour. I won’t critique the guacamole in fear that the Avocado Mafia will kill me for my honesty.

Dawn found almost nothing savory to eat from her selection. She picked at her plate like a spoiled turkey buzzard might after discovering a whole pizza on the road. The waiter never returned to ask us about chip refills, salsa, or drinks. It might be a good thing, though. Dawn might have had commentary. She knows better than to return food except in emergencies or to ask for something else. He was around us, though. I watched as he moved around. I could tell that he was very concerned about his coworkers needing him to help them or to bus tables, even though there were 3 buspeople on duty. Dawn was showing a little frustration, something that’s unusual for her. I already knew the waiter wasn’t coming back absent a lassoo in my hands. I tried to get Dawn to accompany me to the front register to expedite the process. It took the waiter 4 or 5 times to actually have our ticket. For me, it was hilarious. Dawn wasn’t amused, especially at the part regarding me finding hilarity in the failed dining encounter. She just wanted out of there instead of being forced to look at the inedible carcass of her food selection on the plate in front of her. Even as Dawn attempted to pay at the register, she didn’t know how to answer the cashier who asked, “How was it?” I dared not turn around, lest I pantomimed sticking my index finger down my throat. Adding another insult to injury, the payment system didn’t allow her to customize her tip. Only 3 high-tip options were available. Instead of asking, she chose the lowest with a grimace. Dawn, like me, is normally a great tipper. We both found it appropriately hilarious that the one time we might have tipped badly, the restaurant’s payment system didn’t allow her to do so. We added this observation of our list of signs that a place might not deserve to survive.

As we left, I snapped a selfie of us, as I was riffing jokes about “What could go wrong?” Evidently, the universe had kept the tex-mex eatery in business to provide an answer for us. So, even though we had just survived the culinary equivalent of an equestrian kick in the crotch, we laughed as we walked away. The numbness faded from our tongues within an hour, even though our stomachs saluted us well into the night.

The good news is that Dawn now completely agrees with my rule regarding fajita chicken strips coming to the table disguised as squirrel chitlins.

I’m not calling out the restaurant by name. I want you to accidentally discover it one day. You’ll know if you have. Something primordial will trigger in your lizard brain. Your first instinct will be to call 9-1-1, if you’re still conscious. P.S. Fight or flight. I suggest you run if you remotely suspect you’ve entered the place in question.

 

 

 

 

 

1st of December to Remember

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As I turned the corner earlier this morning, I was momentarily startled, as the entire neighborhood went dark for a couple of seconds. We had an amazing lightning show last night, possibly in early celebration of the upcoming yuletide season. My modern stove light was blinking like a Johnson patrol car’s lights after pulling over someone with an accent. My Elf Mistertoe attempted to slumber on the kitchen counter, his hands clasped over his eyes. I don’t know how he could sleep with that damnable blue light pulsating like a beacon. Elves, as you know, are unfathomable in their habits.

Outside, the skies had cleared, leaving a vivid waning crescent moon to highlight the gnarled branches of neglected trees along the unincorporated side of the county road. A large, twisted trampoline lay half in the road and several neighbors had fence sections on the ground, having surrendered to the onslaught of the direct winds. On the other hand, that side of the road tended to look like the ‘after’ picture of an Allstate insurance commercial. The road was covered in leaves and detritus from last night’s storm. The air was saturated with the smell of a damp forest.

As I passed the Latino church near the Friendship Road cemetery, my eye caught a huge Christmas light display further to the east. I couldn’t figure out which house it could be. Nearing the entrance of the cemetery, it dawned on me that there was no house; the solar farm contained several utility crane trucks, each illuminated with a pale yellow sheen by security lights. From a distance, the pale lights looked like a thousand Christmas lights splattered across multiple gables of some unseen house.

On my way back, I saw the furtive fox again as it darted away near the perimeter fence adjacent to the road. It did not linger to watch me as it sometimes does, undoubtedly with errands to run. And in my ears, Il Divo sang, “le canzoni sono lucciole che cantano nel buio.” (…songs are like fireflies that sing in the darkness.)

On my right, at the house on the small hill overlooking the edge of the road, a man sat on the edge of his porch. Normally, this house is invisible to passers-by until the fall comes and strips the curtain of foliage away. I waved and he waved back. I hoped that his day would be as beautiful as the one I’d already started.

On the road, in the dark, it was all mine, and mine alone.