Archive for the 'odds n ends' Category

Bottom feeder

another giant squid

This is what it’s like to be a bottom feeder. First of all, we love ink. Ink is invisibility. Ink is darkness. Ink is what we write our history with. Look out there, out there into the vast whiteness. It has nothing to say until the ink drops into its wide open. No turning back once the ink has been spilled.

You want to tell your history, that’s fine, nobody’s stopping you. You want to tell someone else’s history, that’s different. There’s danger there, smells like sulfur, smells like burning cactus, smells like the brushfire or the war that can rush in and wipe out an entire clan.

Once I was playing cards in the back room of a little trailer house in Four Corners and I heard the wind pick up suddenly, and it was like I could see them even from inside, tumbleweeds rushing across the black night and suddenly igniting, igniting like monks in red robes, self immolating and taking down the fragile open country and everything that lives there with it.

I understand the meditative life of the tumbleweed, I understand the need to move, to feel the wind catch and carry us somewhere new. I knew about that even before I left Navajo country after the fire. I found my home on water, water green and blue and dark, almost black, where I fell in and never went back to dry land again, not for more than two, three days at a time. Long enough to find myself lurching when I came back to dry land, feeling the hitch and pull of gravity and rotation more strongly than I felt them on the water.

My family’s been landlocked for hundreds of years, most of them. My sea ways made me foreign, weird and unrecognizable as a giant squid, coming up from the deep only rarely, with gifts for my sister’s children, and then her grandchildren, until I am the only old salt on the Navajo nation, bringing seaweed ristras and monkey balls and painted tentacles. I stay a couple days, give them the salty sweet taste of my bottom feeder’s life, and then I leave again, leaving behind nothing but a trail of ink, and a history they can fabricate from the secrets hidden in the bright open sky and the black mesa reaching in the four directions around them.

For me, I add two more directions: straight up into the heavens, and straight down, into the cold, dark waters, where the wild shy ones live, where I feel most at home.


In the middle of everything

golden retrieverThis is a common scene in my home, most or many of those autumn days: me, pushing the dog bed against the wall, in spite of her strong preference for keeping the bed in the middle of the room, where I had to step over her repeatedly while I bake.

This dog does not want a den, she wants a stage. She’s been through many remodelings in a relatively short period of time, for a number of reasons. Sitting quietly in a corner does not guarantee love, attention or food, in her experience. When we upgraded our windows, single to double pane, she tripped the Pella man, whose ankle was twisted, but he forgave her anyway because of her strawberry blonde hair and her wish to play tennis ball with him before he leaves. The plumber is less forgiving, and charges me for his x-rays.

At some point in the remodel I am finally able to remove the vintage 70s Elvis posters that have been tormenting me through ex-husbands, sentimental children and unsightly holes in the wall that I have not ever gotten around to patching or painting.

Really, don’t we all know that remodeling is most manageable following a huge natural disaster? A flood, an earthquake, even a fire? Although fire is so absolute that it has almost a religious significance. This fire would not have happened without your sin. Or mine.

So I found myself dragged through our history: the beaded shell door hangings, the various sound systems, lost technologies, the aging spices from vegan experiments, the nasty industrial air fresheners of the nineties, the assorted snugglies and noise cancelling devices of the early 2nd millenium. We washed our feet like Jesus at one phase in our nesting. We lit sage to cleanse in another. We accumulated in the next decade, more and more and more and more and more and came suddenly to a painful and choking halt, with duct tape and orange alerts and one ounce bottles to carry on our big adventures somewhere else.

Now it is time to upgrade the house with security systems and timers, cameras and automated gates. My gardeners begin to worry, begin to believe there are terrorists everywhere and now my baking is for reassurance. No worries, I tell them, Randy and Julian and John and Jorge, take this apple spice cake and this bag of little things we did not use in the remodeling. They are looking for re-usable wiring so they can protect the perimeter of their empty lots, where they will someday build the house they’ve always wanted for their wives and children, who are for the time being living in little thin-walled apartments in Rio Rancho, which are incredibly expensive and yet close. Being close is important. Being close is more important than double pane windows, which is something even my red-haired dog, who is no rocket scientist, knows, and I have come to agree with her, and leave her bed in the middle of everything, because that is where we all belong.

The Complete Idiot

I had this system for getting exactly what I wanted out of people.

It was so perfect, this system, like a surgical knife, or maybe more like a perfectly blown piece of glass.

This system worked for everyone, and I was the author of it. Sweet!

It is pretty exciting to be the author of a system for getting exactly what you want out of people.

I wrote a book: Getting What You Want Out Of People For Dummies.

And another: The Complete Idiot’s Guide For Getting What You Want Out Of People.

These books were wildly successful. I had some LLCs. Bunches of them. And two accountants to manage my numbers.

Lost seven jobs in 6 years. Fired for being hard to get along with.

Next I’ll write a book about Getting Fired for Dummies.

Pays the bills.


I’ve been a scapegoat more times that I can count. Many’s the time I found myself tangled in some ridiculous, false, absurd accusation. Frankly, I believe that scapegoating is hard wired into human interaction.

At least that’s what my grandfather always said, and he was something of an expert on the subject. Jungian fellow, always looking for the archetype. What we have here, he said to me when I was 8, is a classic example of scapegoating. I was crushed, the ridiculous sad clown of the third grade, smacked down and beaten up by every fifth grader and even a few fourth graders every time the teachers turned their backs.

It was interesting the first time he talked about it. He told me half a dozen examples from his own case histories, each one worse than what I’d just experienced. By the time I’d heard it again and again, in 6th grade, 8th, 9th and on throughout highschool, though, it wasn’t interesting anymore. Grandpa had started to grow hair out of his ears, which I took to mean he could tell me whatever stupid Jungian story he wanted, but couldn’t hear anything I had to say back to him. Like, that’s fine in the abstract, but what does the scapegoat do about it?

This occurred to me around 17, last year of high school. I’d been a dumb suffering brute up until then, but suddenly this voice came to me — hey hey heeeeey, what about this, what about this harassment, there are plenty of other doofus 17 year old guys with skin worse than mine, worse social problems, why this relentless singling out of me? Me?  I can see myself, 14 years old, helping my mother make mayonnaise for her Sunday afternoon card game, and it doesn’t  look so bad, the white are raising, the yolks are blending, the lemon is lemony but not oppressive. Somehow, by Monday morning every jock and every cheerleader in Cherry Hills Middle School knows I’ve been making mayonnaise with my mommy. Mayo Clinic, they called me for three months.

Maybe that’s why I went to cooking school instead of medical school. I had a rich, complex, unusual relationship to the tongue, which I processed and served mixed with conventional ingredients that were presented in fantastic, grotesque shapes at the Madison Food Orgy, a three-day food festival event held in Madison in the early 90s. My tongue won 2nd place for best presentation two years running. This was a terrific first challenge.

There is a lot of disgrace in the food circuit; almost everybody has taken short cuts from time to time, but in cooking, with its small but powerful judges, it’s easy to underestimate the impact of the special foods section. I forgot, for two or three years, but I’m back now.




She is at a masquerade ball. She’s dressed as a skunk. Her husband as a raccoon. They pretend they are not together. She is hot in her skunk costume, smelling a sweet musky melon smell rising up from within the costume. I smell like an animal, she tells herself. Her little skunk nostrils flare and her tail rises up, as if to give absolute proof to that statement. She goes to the food table, which is decorated in prison gear, with balls and chains and convict striped tablecloth. She brushes her black and white tail against the table and looks at the food. Popeye is standing next to her, looking at the yam pie and the sweet potato custard. He chooses the yam; she is more interested in the Dagwood pile of cold cuts: salami, pastrami, bologna, ham, pimiento loaf, sweet pickles, hot pickles, cole slaw, iceberg lettuce, American cheese. She builds a mighty fortress of a sandwich and looks for a place to eat where she won’t be seen. She feels ravenous, predatory, nocturnal. Scott walks by in his raccoon coat and she sees that he, too, is sweating, and she controls an urge to go and smell him, rub her scent against his. She is a perfume scientist, blending pretty scents with predatory glands, mixing clove, sage, nutmeg, ylang ylang, lavender with musk, dragon’s breath, graveyard flowers, dirt, the smell of rotting underground. She blends it all together, stirs it with a licorice whip, makes an infusion and douses herself in it for this dead evening. She is someone’s dead relative, she knows that, but not whose, she’s not even sure what species she is now. The fumes she and Scott make rise together and settle over the potluck table, greenish vapors wafting, hovering, dispersing into the casseroles, the pasta salads and the sandwich fixings. The costumed guests wander by, pick at the olives and the little sausages wrapped in bacon. As the perfume settles on them, they fill their plates higher, higher, suddenly ravenous and revolting to themselves, until the entire party is rolling on the floor under the table, mashing foods into their mouths, into each other’s mouths, tearing at the flesh of the melon and the chicken with equal lust, equal abandon, and in the background they could barely hear, through their overpowering hunger, the minor chords of any organ in any moldy cemetery in any old movie with a theme that involves dismembered body parts, oozing bits, and smells that make the innocent turn faint and nauseous. There were no innocents at this costume party, on this Halloween, and all there were fed until they were hungry no more.

Deep breath

cigar with woman smoke

George Hamilton takes a deep breath. Aaah. Cuban. Hand wrapped. Smooth. He is smoking in his tanning booth, smoke swirling around his head, gliding smoothly down his torso like a familiar snake. He exhales and wiggles his toes. His eye guards have been customized for him with his own warm brown eyes printed on them, eyebrows elevated, whimsical, amused. He inhales again, lungs filling with green trees and rich forests. He visualizes himself full of vibrant health. I am full of vibrant health, he says, from my head to my toes. He exhales, and the smoke wraps around the hairs on his arms, his legs, his long bony toes. He lies quietly for another minute or two, until the alarm goes off. He opens the lid of the tanning box and steps out in a cloud of smoke. He picks up a towel and walks to the two-headed shower with the large glass doors and the oversized rain showerhead. He sets his cigar in an ashtray just outside the shower and steps inside. The steam and the smoke blend and rise through the warm, humid air. George takes a deep breath and lets it out again. A deep, cleansing breath.

A solemn thing within the soul

Lying, as I am, in this satin-lined bed, I begin to think of death. The bed has become a sarcophagus, I think, and feel my lips grow cold.

The sun, as is common, went abroad, and I am left lying, as I am, in this satin lined bed. A solemn thing has happened within my soul. As I lie here, in this bed, I sense the movement of the sun, not from this day to the next, but from winter through the wet spring and I sense that I am lying in a glass case in a sunroom. Around me is a wild tangle of foreign plants such as I have never seen before. My eyes are open and I can feel my own vacancy, having lain here for much of one year. My hand, thin and chill, reaches up toward the case that has covered me, my only blanket for these many months. I push gently on the glass, and it swings open, as easily as a day lily on a warm morning. The room is rich with mulch and hummus, vines hang from high beams and the domed ceiling, like my own coffin, is glass.

Stepping out, I find a narrow path through this man made jungle, following some sense of my own, not sight or smell or reason. I feel the direction in my stomach, in my chest, which beats harder and then fades away, forcing me to sit on one of the white stone benches that appear whenever I feel I cannot go on. I’ve been hearing the sounds of greenhouse life, without really attending to them. Now, as I come to the door that will lead me outside, I realizd I am hearing a new silence. The murmuring of bees has ceased. I am standing in a city street, grey and dank, with citizens pale from their sunless lives, and they walk quickly and without looking at one another, collars turned up against the cold morning. The sound of bees and lizards and leaves is soon replaced with motors rumbling and tracks clacking, and there is no room for silence, and now a bubble has burst, and now a world returns.

A solemn thing within the soul is the ability to hear and be heard in a state of absolute quietude. When I died, I heard a fly buzz. The silence was absolute, and I did not die in that hard, noisy city, no, nor in a glass encased monument to botanical wonders. I died in the garden in my own sweet home, in the late spring. I was lying back in a lawn chair, with pillows and a cup of tea set beside me. I could hear the bees buzzing, and there was a smell around me more intimate than the smell of my own body. The smell of grass, sun, honeysuckle and the first early roses. I had a book in my hand. The bees buzzed, the sparrows clattered by, flirting and shaking the bushes with their nesting plans. And there, I fell asleep.


20 minutes, Monday July 13 from a line randomly chosen in a collected works of Emily Dickson.

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