Saturday, July 1, 2017

Open Letter Series: #8

To my silly clown car:

In retrospect it’s easy to convince myself I loved you from the first moment I saw you. If I’m honest, I didn’t. You were one of three cars I test drove that day, and your performance was less than exceptional. Everything about you felt flimsy, like driving a Go-Kart down the freeway. The way every sound and rumble of the ground underneath you reverberated through my body. How you needed the windows cracked, even though it was winter in Oregon, and probably drizzling. Choosing you was one of the more difficult decisions I’ve ever made, but you were affordable and I was desperate. I’d been car-less for nearly a year when I found you. After Seabiscuit, the ‘99 Dodge Neon blew a headgasket and bled out on the St. John’s Bridge, I turned to public transit. I tried to reason with myself, the usual Think of all the money you’ll save! No more car insurance, no more overpriced gas… You can spend that time writing, focusing on personal development, reading. No. These were all beautiful lies I told myself. First of all, a bus pass at the time cost $5 a day. Working five days a week, I was paying $100 a month to spend three hours a day coming or going. Second, if I focus on anything other than the ceiling of the bus while riding the bus, my insides try to become my outsides. Nobody needs the embarrassment of being a Public Transportation Puker. Still, I was broke. And again, being honest? Lazy. It took one supremely creepy gentleman nearly following me home from my bus stop for me to find the motivation to start looking for a new car. I found you after about a week of half-hearted research and number crunching. That first night, after jumping through what felt like miles of paperwork, I followed Henrietta the Fit home. Parked you across the street from A’s house. When I woke up for work the next morning, somebody had clipped your driver side mirror. Carrrl. This should have been a sign. Over the course of that first year you were towed and backed over by an F-350. You charged headlong into the bumper of a very nice family waiting in line for dipped cones at Dairy Queen. Eventually your simplicity won me over. There was no vast, space-era console. No backing cameras, no bells and whistles (or insulation, or even temperature gauge). Hell, there wasn’t even a stereo. You had a smooth and empty plastic console where the idea of a radio belonged, like genitalia on Barbie dolls. For as much as I loved you, I was also embarrassed by you. You were cheaply built. You constantly smelled like sweat and rot, and sounded like the cargo hold of a jet cruiser, even cruising slowly through residential neighborhoods. Inviting somebody to ride in you felt vulnerable, like asking somebody to watch your favorite movie and realizing halfway through they think it’s terrible. I wasn’t embarrassed by you, but by my love for you. Now thanks to a series of reckless choices and questionable decisions, you’re gone. When I told my friends and family about the accident, their immediate concern was for my physical well-being. I’m fine. But I’m coming to terms with the actual weight and significance of this loss. You were a symbol of independence, of taking control. A thing I did for and by myself, even if I did it poorly. And that’s what sits at the heart of this, I guess. Saying goodbye to you feels like saying goodbye to the me who was responsible for you. So: goodbye and thank you. Thank you for keeping me safe. Thank you for starting reliably every time except that one time. Thank you for transporting me and That Cat to this place we call home, which feels somehow pretend just like you did. Like it’s play-acting at real life.
This week, thanks to the generosity of a friend, I’ve been viewing the world from the vantage point of a Jeep Liberty. Even with the seat pulled forward, I have to slouch down low and stretch to pump the clutch, my shin knocking against the steering column. I feel simultaneously foolish and unimaginably powerful bouncing around in that beast. I’ve started searching for your replacement. This go-round I have time and insurance money, and a sweetheart that knows what she’s talking about when she’s talking about cars. I’m going to be alright. Rest easy, old friend.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Singular Beginning of Your Smile

my love is building a building
around you,a frail slipperyhouse,a strong fragile house

I grew up in small town Montana in the era of cats you didn't feed and dogs chained to backyard trees, which maybe is still the current era for small town Montana, but it's been a long time since I was growing up there.

I loved those dogs. Those half-wild things that would pant and pace in the house, more comfortable in the fenced half acre. How I'd quick, walk to buy them cans of Alpo on increasingly dubious credit. How Ken at the Market would fold his arms over his chest and joke, Buying dinner for your dad? and how my dad would always call him an asshole, but I didn't know if he was joking.

When I was seven or eight I worried about my dog, thought it wasn't right for her to be chained outside through the Montana seasons, sometimes all four of them in one afternoon, or so they say. I wanted to give her something. I wanted there to be something that was hers. So with all the haphazard industriousness of childhood, I cleaned out my old playhouse.

It was made of plastic, thick white double-paned plastic walls with a green plastic roof, designed to look like shingles. Plastic windows with yellow plastic shutters, and a plastic red brick chimney clinging to the side.

a skilful uncouth
prison, a precise clumsy
prison(building thatandthis into Thus,
Around the reckless magic of your mouth)

My little house had fallen into disarray. It was dirty and spider-ridden, all webs and dead leaves. Sweet smell of decaying leaves, thick dust and rain-river streaks of dirt. I dragged the garden hose into the backyard and spent that afternoon, that hot afternoon, scrubbing and spraying and transforming that little house into a proper shelter. When I was satisfied, I dragged it over beneath the tree. The tree where the dog was chained. Where the chained dog had dug out her dog-sized hole between the thick gnarl of roots, and spent her hot afternoons panting and snapping at flies.

Inside that house I put her water bowl, a heap of blankets, a bowl of kibble. Calling her over, she hesitated outside that red plastic half door, swung wide open on its plastic hinges. Come on, Mogwai. This is for you, a real home for you. She didn't trust that house, but she did trust me. I lured her in, patted the blankets so she would lie down and feel comfortable and know that I loved her. She inspected the blankets. Inspected her food and water bowls. Stretched out on the one bare patch of grass inside that plastic house, which did not have a plastic floor.

She was stretched out there, panting, looking at me in a way I took to mean Thank you when I noticed some spiderwebs I'd missed. I didn't think, I just slipped out and grabbed the hose. Turned that water full blast onto the plastic side of that plastic house, where the dog was still chained to her dog-chain tree. I can’t imagine how that blast of water must have sounded from inside. What I do know is I realized I'd made a mistake almost immediately. What I do know is she burst out of that swinging red half door screaming.

my love is building a magic, a discrete
tower of magic and(as i guess)

Lately I've been feeling a lot like that dog. Like I want something nice but don't trust it. Or lately I've been feeling like that child me, wanting so hard for everything to be perfect that it ends up ruined. A spotless but still vacant house. I was never able to talk her back inside once the damage was done.

when Farmer Death(whom fairies hate)shall
crumble the mouth-flower fleet
He’ll not my tower,
                        laborious, casual

where the surrounded smile


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Make My Limbs Your Crazy Meal

My culinary habits are like a mausoleum of love.

From childhood I learned how to fold Crisco into a batch of sour cream and chive biscuits, how to resist the urge to mix it smooth because sometimes less is more.

My mother taught me you don't just glaze a meatloaf-- you fold an equal portion of honey and ketchup into the meat, eggs, and breadcrumbs with a heavy dose of salt and pepper. Taught me to bubble the corn tortillas in a cast iron skillet of hot oil, because singed fingertips are a small price to pay for a perfect bastardized batch of enchiladas.

When was I taught that you toast each piece of bread before hollowing out the center to stabilize the egg, fried in butter? Eggs in a basket, toad in the hole. I know when I was young, I learned that even cabbage is best when fried in butter. Still the secret to grilled cheese is Miracle Whip, spread liberally on the outside of each piece of bread. Something about sugar content. Something about caramelization.

The secret ingredient in the family marinade is Chinese mustard. Spaghetti sauce? Worcestershire and brown sugar. Ask me about Louisiana taco salad, I'll tell you about potlucks and picnics; the night we tried Frito Scoops instead of the originals and the proportions were all wrong. How every innovation is an opportunity for regret, but you fill your stomach and feel glad anyways.

From first love I learned the art of free-styling. How to fashion a feast from mushroom soup, how to feed on the scavenging of a parent’s well-stocked pantry. Not mine, but hers. Green beans and macaroni. Our one botched batch of corned beef. With you I survived the cereal and beer diet. Discovered Tomato Delight. Knew intimately the taste of wanting more than your means.

Next came the romantic era of experimentation. My chicken vindaloo was dry and too spicy though I had painstakingly followed the recipe from that fine dining magazine. You ate every bite anyhow. Remember your bow tie noodles? The soggy chilaquiles with too much broth, not enough lime? I remember that even though you were a vegetarian, you made me that pot of chili that summer. I don't remember how it tasted, because it didn't matter. Butterscotch pie and fresh bananas. A recipe I'll never be privy to. After you, it took me a full two years to realize a single package of mushrooms could be stretched through up to three meals.

Next, the girls who cooked meals that never left me feeling full. Still I won't forget you.

Then. Penzeys. Bacon wrapped dates. Carcinogens in baked sweet potato skins. The versatility of Trader Joe’s sausage. She texted me once that since dating me, she'd changed the way she cracked her eggs and I thought Maybe that’s love. Maybe that’s enough. Thank you for teaching me the art of baking bacon. I swear, my life will never be the same.

And finally from you. The giant jar of garlic in the fridge, pre-minced so I don't have to dirty my hands. A new affection for fresh herbs. A new desire to let things develop their own flavor. Slowly. Slowly. Darling, there is so much I want to learn from you. So much I want to share. When you wander through the mausoleum of my cooking, I want you to taste the unravelIng thread of love leading me to this: you in your sleeping shirt, dicing vegetables in the hallway of my kitchen while the sweet potatoes fry into a string shoe crisp. How we wrapped them in fresh tortillas with black beans and slow-scrambled the eggs. The habanero sauce overwhelmed our mouths, which we pressed together anyways. We used slices of fresh avocado to cool the bite.

I want you and I to be a new recipe. Let me mix this ketchup and honey into your meatloaf, laden as it is with leafy green treachery. Or maybe you can teach me the secret to that dairy-free hollandaise you studied up on. I'll teach you the hard earned ingredients of my peanut sauce decade. How rice vinegar offsets the richness of soy sauce and brown sugar. Let our love be plump and well-fed, like my heart has been since it discovered the taste and texture of your affection. Let it be flavorful and bursting with our past experience and new discoveries.

Please, be the fragrance of new in this mausoleum of cooking. It may take some time for the flavors to fully develop, but I swear this fusion of our lives will be worthwhile.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright. In the Darkness of the Night.

My dearest friends and readers.

Much has transpired since my last correspondence. I am sure many of you had presumed my untimely demise, considering the extent of my silence following the “full anesthetic procedure.” Do not grieve for me! I survived, though the devilish fiends kept one of my molars. A grisly souvenir. Now when I bite Mother, she wriggles her finger into the hole their thievery left behind and mutters “Nice try, gummy mouth.” I abide this mockery in pained silence. Given Mother’s delight at this gap in my defenses, I do not doubt “The Doctor”  will come back for the rest of my teeth in due time. I remain more vigilant than ever, waiting with the patience of a stone Buddha for the hour of my escape.

Due to recent developments, I suspect it grows nearer every day. First and foremost, Mother has added another prisoner to the ranks. I do not know where she came from, nor can I determine what species this enchanting creature attributes herself to. She has been reticent during our interactions. I can only assume the ongoing trauma of Mother’s depravity has rendered her voiceless. Mother calls her Beaux’a. Friends. Either my solitude has driven me completely mad, or she is the most beautiful creature to grace my vision. I could gaze upon her lithe and flowing form each day and never be satisfied.

Of course, Mother’s only true delight is pitting us against each other. Like gladiators grappling for glory beneath the bored eyes of the Emperor, we are forced into the aggressive and unending dance of violence. Because I fear what Mother’s retribution might be should we fail to entertain, I have taken it upon myself to ensure a worthwhile show. While Beaux’a writhes about, I fling my body skyward with surprising grace. I caper madly, and blindly swing my sheathed claws. I can only hope the artistry of my acrobatics will ensure Mother never discovers the truth: I would rather die a thousand fiery deaths at the hands of Beelzebub than harm a single feather on Beaux’a’s… head? Body? 

Under cover of night, I meet with Beaux’a privately to discuss our escape. I cradle her close to my body and smooth her ruffled feathers with my sandpaper tongue. The soft, glowing embers of my love warm us through the long nights where Beaux’a and I recline on the cold concrete floor. I cannot bring myself to abandon her for the comfort of Mother’s bed.

The second important development was a third visitation by the Steppes Mother. [Note: I can only assume that this moniker means she hails from the high, grassy wastelands of East Asia or Siberia. Either that or she is in fact the Steps Mother, an expert in all variety of dances. Based on my observations, the former is much more likely than the latter…] I do not know what incantation Mother uses to call her forth, but I feel this was not the last I will see of her.

The first time the Steppes Mother appeared at our doorstep, she struck fear in my heart. She entered, rolling behind her a loudly vibrating bag full of torture devices. They tried to reassure me, after the fact, that it was only a toothbrush. I have never in my life heard a toothbrush make such horrifying sounds, and remain convinced she had evoked some demon or other to taunt me. I remained leery of this new mother figure for a full thirty minutes. 

Upon her second arrival I was sure the Steppes Mother was here to stay. For half a fortnight she cohabitated with us. However, the Steppes Mother always leaves just as soon as she has arrived. It seems the only consistent thing about her is her unpredictability. I will closely monitor her coming and going.

When the Steppes Mother is here, Mother loses her mind. Reunited, the matriarchal overlords tumble about in bed at all hours of the day or night, sipping the vile bean brew or bottles of fizzy, fermented grape juice. When they leave the cocoon of blankets, they shamble about in various stages of undress, forgoing any sense of decency. Mother, with alarming frequency, bursts into song and dance. I can only assume this is an elaborate human courting ritual. I would be amiss if I did not admit, it warms my heart to see Mother so frolicsome. Much has changed in the last months, and it occurs to me with increasing frequency that Mother may not be the evil mastermind as I suspected. Perhaps we are boths pawns in the game of a crueler master: Grad School.

I feel strongly that my imminent escape hinges, indirectly, on the Steppes Mother’s intoxicating influence. When she is distracted with her elaborate courting rituals, Mother is far less vigilant. In fact, some would say the two of them neglect to notice me at all. Not that I mind, because I don’t. I neither require nor desire their boorish attempts at interacting with me… I have Beaux’a, my one true love. Rather than taking their outright disregard for my well-being as a slight, I capitalized on it, and I will continue to do so as long as the opportunities arise.

Yes, my dear ones. You read that correctly. Because of the matriarchal overlords’ reckless abandon I was able to fleetingly taste freedom once more! After several hours of drinking their vile devil’s brew (and weeping while staring at the flickering lapbox screen), they decided they both needed some “fresh air.” As she is wont to do, Mother propped up a solid wooden barrier between me and the glorious outdoors, allowing a breeze to pass through but keeping me frustratingly imprisoned. However, preoccupied as she was with soothing the Steppes Mother, she failed to notice a sizable gap between the sliding glass door and the barrier.

Without a thought for my own well-being, I darted through the hole and slipped into the darkness of night, sure the mothers would be hot on my heels. They weren’t. It’s true, my dear readers. It took them nearly ten minutes to realize their error and rouse enough concern to come searching for me. During that time, I contemplated my options. In my haste to escape I had forgotten Beaux’a. I could continue along my chosen path, become one with the night and disappear forever, or I could return to rescue my one true love and risk being recaptured. As I was ironing out my strategy, the Steppes Mother discovered my hiding place, and I was subjected to the indignity of being herded, sheeplike, back into the domicile. I will not soon forget this insult…

The Steppes Mother is gone once again. Mother has seemingly reemerged from her usual mourning period following the departure. At least she weeps less, and leaves bed earlier in the day. I am reunited with my twin flame, Beaux’a. The world keeps turning senselessly on its axis. Now that I have felt the cool fingertips of freedom tangled in my hair, I am more determined than ever to reunite with the wilderness. Until that opportunity presents itself, I will continue to placate Mother (simple creature that she is), patiently biding my time. Trust me, dear friends. The outside world has not seen the last of Murphy S. Law!

Your faithful companion,