Monday, November 29, 2010

24

Twenty-four is the number of pearl onions in Julia Child's recipe for Beef Bourguignon.

Bread of Life

They thought my grandmother was having nervous breakdowns -- she was close to sixty, depressed, anorexic, sleepless, and jagged. Doctors gave her valium and sent her home. She decided to try one more doctor and he asked her, “Mabel, what do you eat?” and she answered him honestly, “Coffee for breakfast, then I muck out six or seven stalls, go to work in the shop, and if I have time, I eat a bag of Oreo’s around two or three pm, and home for dinner, maybe a hamburger or a potato.” He held her hand, I’m sure it was shaking. He ran a few tests on her and told her she was not a Nerve Case, she was Hypoglycemic and she needed to feed her affliction. By the time I moved into the house in 1969, she was much healthier and happier. She was very careful to keep sugar and white flour out of the house, something that was a task back then -- she baked her own bread because whole grain breads were not in the grocery stores. Everyone who knew my grandmother loved her bread, when people remember her today, they recall her bread. it was Oatmeal Bread, and she made four loaves a week. I still have the gigantic yellowware bowl she used to make the dough in. Her recipe was her own adaptation of James Beard’s Oatmeal Health Bread (from Beard on Bread) -- she perfected the recipe after years of experimenting. But the recipe lived in her head, she did it all by feel. A few years before she died, I asked her to write the recipe for me and do you know what? It was two pages long and I only have the first page -- the second page was lost in one of my many moves over the years I suppose, and this is one of those tiny tragedies of life.

So here’s what I have, word for word:

2 Loaves

375 degrees for 35 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup oatmeal (old fash)
2 cups boiling water
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup dark molasses
tbsp yeast
about 5 - 6 cups flour (1/2 wheat 1/2 unbleached white or 2/3 wheat 1/3 unbleached white(better))
1 cup raisins (blanched for five minutes in hot water)

Put oatmeal in large bowl. Pour boiling hot water on it. Let stand til cool. Then add salt, molasses, melted butter, and yeast which has been mixed with warm water (not quite HOT more than warm), about a quarter cup of water for the yeast), finally add flour somewhere between 3 1/2 to 4 cups. You may need more or less flour but you are going to add more anyway after the 1st rising. After mixing well set to rise in a warm place about 2 hours - should rise to twice amount.

Now add balance of flour, knead on bread board as long as . . .


That’s it, that’s all I have. I have never attempted to make Mom’s Bread, because I don’t have the second page. BUT I have decided I am going to do it -- I have Beard on Bread as a Rosetta Stone of sorts, and I figure her ghost will sit on my shoulder and whisper the rest in my ear . . . I am not a baker, but my instinct tells me that I should split the dough in to two loaves after the first kneading and put it in the loaf pans to bake. Suggestions are welcome, within reason of course.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

from the deparment of observations . . .

Boogie and I like to go sometimes, and this morning we walked a road we had never walked . . . its not far from our house, and its rural, somewhat untouched on one end by modern development. The road borders a 750-acre tree farm that stretches languidly, like its from another time, along the I-85 corridor all the way to Mt. Willing Road. Desolate with its loblollies and vultures riding thermals on a cold November morning. 

The mobile homes on this road are firmly planted, nothing has been mobile about them for at least thirty years. A set of wind chimes rang in a tree near one trailer, painted dark green and encamped with four or five other small buildings, two constructed of cinder block, all painted Forest Service green . . . the chimes put me in a momentary trance, but I glanced past a collection of bird feeders into a glade with a stone fire pit where a man stood, in full camo with his back to me. He didn't move a muscle and I wondered if he was practicing some bizarre form of Tai Chi -- had he a gun, I would say he was waiting for a doe to wander through his commons . . . I pulled my dog closer to my side and walked more purposely, taking my eyes off the frozen man, and I waited for the sound of a shotgun. But it never came. Its full on hunting season here now, and I am not surprised to hear gunfire throughout the day from my own home, much of it coming from the vicinity of this road, and I imagine the neighbors are not against the idea of taking a doe or a buck at close range in the little fields that my dog and I skirted this morning. The Hari Krishnas commune just around the corner from this place, but you wouldn't know it.


Boogie and I pushed on in the crisp air, the sky absolutely water blue, not even a contrail cutting the atmosphere, and then we heard a boy's voice, distant, but somewhat panicky, "No! No no no! Stop!" and I turned to see the flash of white behind a very unkempt and sort of majestic holly bush standing in a barren field in front of a white trailer that seemed to lean to the left -- it might have been swaying with the soft November breeze, but I didn't have time to imagine the sailing of the great tin building, instead the boy's voice came again and accompanied by a milk white pit bull, the size of a mastiff, on one end of a lead and a thin black boy at the other end, being whipped back and forth with every stride of the dog, like a flag in a storm, "Nooooo!" and with this exclamation the boy's feet came out from under him and the bulldog kept on his direct line for me and my dog. For a moment, I let out all the air in my lungs and prepared for something that one cannot really prepare for, but I felt my cheeks flush and I saw the bulldog's tail was up and no hackles were raised over his great shoulders and Boogie was slack and so it was only the boy who was in trouble at this point, sliding across the yellow grass on his rear end.  The pit bull came to stop at the nose of my dog and there were genuine greetings, "Are you okay?" I asked the boy, who sat still, akimbo, now, under the economic shade of a mailbox, which seemed to sway in the breeze like its partner mobile home, the boy only nodded and leaned back in a feeble attempt to bring his dog back to him, but it was no use. The dogs began to grumble slightly, Wanna wrestle? was the utterance coming from the two of them, and so this tête-à-tête needed to end, and I was the only one strong enough to end it, so I checked Boogie and motioned to the boy to stand, "Now you take him home and we'll go our way, and it will all be okay." The boy tugged and tugged and the bulldog protested, but finally went, and we went too. And I was amused and relieved all at the same time.


Further on, there was a squeak and rush in the tree above us -- skyward, a small hawk, a Sharp-shinned hawk took a junco in its talons, catching her soft little body in cadet blue as she flew, and he swooped off with her, into the ramparts of farmed and well-spaced loblollies and my breath was taken away.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Milked

Nora opened the kitchen door and looked through the rain pouring off her roof and out to the street. The milk truck's tail lights were rounding the corner, headed for Maple Avenue, and beyond, now. She looked down and found two quarts of milk and something she had never ordered before, eggs! The milkman left her a note two weeks before,  Mrs. Pink, my brother is selling eggs now. $1.50 per dozen. His hens are reliable brown egg layers, and while many of the ladies prefer white eggs from the Food Star nowadays, I remember you mentioning that you missed the freckles on the brown eggs. I can bring you one dozen per week if like.
Nora left a note with her empty bottles the following Monday letting the Milkman know that she would very much like the eggs. She signed the note Nora, and not Mrs. Pink, and this daring informality pleased her.
"Mother?" Nora, bent to pick up the carton of eggs and her two bottles of milk, and tried to ignore her daughter calling for her. "Mother!" She placed the bottles on the kitchen table and opened the egg carton. The eggs were the color of coffee with cream and the freckles satisfied Nora, something about the eggs told her all was right with the world. Her daughter appeared in the doorway, her hair was wet and she was wearing a black cardigan sweetheart sweater with very tight dark Levis rolled up in cuffs that sat just above her bare ankles, "Mother!" she said for the third time, this time very quickly, very impatiently, so quickly, that the vowels were obliterated, only the consonants came out. 
"Yes, Natalie, what is it?
"Did you see the milkman?" 
"No, I rarely see him, you know that Natalie. Where are your shoes?"
"I can only find one. I think the dog took the other, so its probably in the yard. I thought you saw the milkman every week Mother, you talk about him like you are practically engaged."
"Oh shut up. Would you look at these eggs? Aren't they marvelous."
"They look like eggs mother, I don't know if I could describe them as marvelous. Mother!"
"What?"
"How am I going to go to school with only one shoe?"
"You can't get eggs like this in the store anymore . . . "
"Shoes? Mother, pleeeease?"
"Natalie, you are practically a grown woman, if you can't keep the dog from burying your shoes in the garden, then, well, there isn't any hope for you. Go upstairs, take a pair of my sneakers out of my closet, but I want them at the end of the day."
"Mother?"
"yes Natalie, what is it?"
"I think you should seduce the Milkman."
"Natalie!"
"You're not getting any younger, you know."
"What would your father say if he heard you talk like that?"
"Father would agree because he's dead and gone."
"You're late for school."
"Fine, if you won't seduce the Milkman, I will."
"You will not!"
"You know I could."
"You're a just a child."
"You just said I was practically a woman."

*****

The week went by slowly, Nora couldn't stop thinking about her daughter's suggestion. She had been alone for so long, she didn't even know whether she was attractive anymore. And the thought of her child leaning in the kitchen doorway making love with her eyes to the milkman was more than she could stand. What could Natalie possibly know about the art of seduction? Her experience was rather limited . . . or was it? She did find Natalie kissing the neighbor boy behind the garden shed last month, in the dark, in her pajamas and bare feet. Natalie never liked to wear shoes and this said something about the way Nora had handled her, she hadn't completely civilized her daughter. A man in the house would have solved that, Nora was sure of it, if Natalie's father hadn't died, the child would wear shoes and lower her voice. 

Monday morning came and Nora woke early, very early, what seemed like hours before the milkman would walk up her driveway, with her eggs and two quarts of milk. He would be wearing his bleached white coveralls, he would be slender, and cool, like a tall glass of milk. Nora brushed her dirty blond hair and put it up and then took it down and then put it up again. She couldn't decide what was more becoming. She pulled on stockings, black lace panties, garters, and a matching bra, these had been neatly sitting in her dresser since her Frank had died. Frank bought her lingerie all the time, so often, that Nora sometimes wondered if he might like the lingerie for himself. 

She slipped a gray shift on and deftly zipped it up the back, a skill she had learned since Frank was gone. She started to put her feet in a pair of very high heels, the ones she wore for the funeral, but she decided they were too obvious, and she opted for a pair of lower pumps, more daytime, more understated. She swiped lipstick across her ample bottom lip and puckered, then checked the mirror. Nora didn't mind what she saw in the mirror, it was the best she had seen in a while.

When she passed Natalie's room on her way down the hall, Nora saw the door was ajar and the light was on. Natalie was never up this early. Nora pushed the door open and found Natalie standing in front of her closet wearing what looked like an old satin nightgown set Frank had given Nora before Natalie was born, "Natalie! Where did you get that? Take it off immediately."
"That's what I'm hoping the milkman says." Natalie turned and coquettishly cocked her hip toward her mother.
"Young lady, go back to bed. You won't embarrass me."
"I don't have to embarrass you, you can do that all by yourself Mother. Look at you!"
"I'm going to shut this door now Natalie, go back to bed."

Nora stood by the sink as the coffee percolator burbled in the dim light. The sun was just coming up the street and she waited patiently for the milk truck to follow it. She poured her coffee and decided to take it black with no sugar, this made her feel stronger somehow. She watched Mr. Stanley warming up his car across the street, he was scraping the first frost of the year off his windshield as the exhaust from his car billowed and made its own weather in his driveway, like thunder would erupt from his garage door at any moment, followed by lightning and a summer shower. But just as Nora imagined the little storm overtaking her neighbor, the scene was obscured by the milk truck. It parked neatly and Nora saw the figure of the milkman disappear into the back of the truck to get her milk. She went to the kitchen door and opened it, she wondered what she would say. She panicked for a moment and then decided to invite him in for coffee, yes, invite him in for coffee . . .
"Mother?"
"Natalie! Go back to bed!" Natalie was standing in the kitchen, still wearing the silk gown, now with no robe, her pale skin flickering in the kitchen light. 
"I won't. I want to watch you seduce the Milkman."
"Natalie, I'm warning you." Nora turned away from her daughter and saw the milkman exiting the truck and heading up the driveway. Only, it wasn't her usual milkman, it appeared to be a milkmaid! Instead of the lanky milkman, here came a young brunette wearing a white canvas dress, a parody of sorts, Nora thought, the girl's hips swung and she looked more like a nurse than a girl delivering milk. "Good morning Mrs. Pink!"
"Oh, good morning . . . where?"
"Jim? Oh he's taken another route, but don't worry, he gave me your eggs!" The girl hopped onto the steps and handed Nora the carton of eggs and put the milk bottles at her feet. Natalie stood close behind her mother putting her chin on her shoulder, and Nora was surprised at how tall her daughter had become.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Walmart Queen

She lit the cigarette and pushed the shopping cart so that it rolled slowly and came to nest inside the cart before it and she thought how nice it was that the shopping carts fit inside one another like that, like the little set of Russian dolls her uncle gave her for Christmas when she was 12, he had just returned from Moscow, something having to do with selling the Russians air conditioning parts, which she never understood cause she thought Russia was always cold, like when she saw Doctor Zhivago it was never sunny or anything, but she was only twelve when her uncle went to Moscow, that was like eight years ago, so maybe there was something she forgot, like maybe it was air conditioning parts for the Russian army when they invaded deserts. So she turned and saw her sister was already in the car, in the driver's seat, even though she told her that there was no way she was driving, but she did it any way, cause she's a pain in the ass little sister and she just got her license and now she thinks she can just drive whenever the hell she wants to, "Tammy I told you . . . " but the windows were rolled up and so it was no use.

this . . .

is all i've got

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

tuesday morning . . .


Dream Number 86

Location:  A Zoo, the Lion exhibit

Weather Conditions: Blinding sun

Cast:      Three teenage boys
              Three lionesses
              No movie stars
             Three teenage girls


First scene:

Three lanky boys are posing for photographs on the edge of the lion exhibit’s pool. The photographer is unseen. I am watching the boys from a pillar -- I think I must be a crow. I wonder who gave the boys permission to be in with the lions.  I imagine the lions mauling the boys, but only briefly. The lions are milling serenely around the opposite edge of their pool, only the water separates them from the boys. They are lionesses, there is no lion. The boys put their feet in the water, they are carrying their shoes. The lions pace the edge of the pool, they are considering swimming, and they seem unconcerned about the boys. One of the boys sits and puts his shoes back on. When he stands, the other two boys join him, they put their arms around each other and they leave the exhibit by way of climbing the concrete wall. One of the lions watches them leave, switches her tail, and then walks into the water of her pool, which is the color of a piece of blue candy. I watch as the other lions disappear into their dressing room, yes, dressing room, that’s what I, the crow, knew it as in the dream. There are no trees, only sky and bone white concrete and the one lion, now, wading, in the pool, up to her chin. Her tail floats.

Second scene:

The lionesses, all three of them come out of the dressing room, they have become girls, two black girls and one white girl. They are beautiful and laughing and wearing dresses and high heels and sunglasses and their teeth are particularly perfect, because after all, they are carnivores. I am still a crow, but now I am sitting on a bench made of stone, watching the girls walk past me. They are happy to be done with work for the day (as lionesses) and they are looking for the three boys.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Movie Dream Number 35

Locations :      trail on the Little River, Hillsborough, NC
                        cliff overlooking Dead Man’s Brook, Westport, CT

Cast:    Girl on Horse: me
            Horse: Joe
            Missing Woman: Katherine Hepburn
            Orange County Deputy: Randy Quaid


So the  Girl is riding her horse on the river trail, its fall, the poplar leaves are saffron, the oaks are some kind of chili powder red, and the river birches are bone white and naked, leaning over the river, where the sun is playing like a child in the bath with her toy boats. The Girl picks up a quiet gallop and is winding close to the river thinking of busting up the sharp hill ahead, but just before she gets to the base of the hill, an Orange County Sheriff Dept. cruiser comes down the hill and parks. The Girl has never seen a car in these woods, let alone a cop car. She pulls up. The door of the cruiser opens, orange lights are spinning on the roof, and this makes for a weird show in the leaves and on the river. Randy Quaid steps out of the car, he leans back, stretches, and clears his throat. The Girl and the horse stand politely, waiting, as though they have been pulled over for speeding.

Deputy:  Afternoon

The Girl: Yes, afternoon.

Deputy: Have you seen a woman riding through here today?

The Girl: No, but lots of women ride through these woods Deputy.

Deputy: Well, this woman, she’s missing. Been missing since yesterday.

The Girl: Kinda hard to lose a woman on a horse.

Deputy: I agree. But you know, there was that big storm last night.

The Girl: Yop, big storm, wouldn’t have wanted to be riding in that storm. River came up over the banks, see? (Girl points to evidence of the river over running its banks, Deputy nods)

Deputy: Well, we think she got caught in the storm, near the river . . . family’s been real worried.

The Girl: Who is the woman?

Deputy: Katherine Hepburn

The Girl: Katherine Hepburn? The movie actress?

Deputy: Yep, can you imagine an old lady like her, riding a horse out here in a storm?

The Girl: No sir, no sir.


Cut to cliff overlooking Dead Man’s Brook in CT:

The Girl is sitting on her horse, watching two boys playing far below in the brook. They are unaware of The Girl and her horse high above them. She climbs off her horse and leaves him to graze on the cliff and climbs down one side of the cliff, carefully and quietly, pretending she is an Indian. She enters a cave just below the cliff. Half in the sun and half in shadow she watches the boys. There’s a radio in the cave, a man’s voice is speaking: Katherine Hepburn and her horse were found dead in a remote valley this afternoon. It is believed they were hit by lightning in last week’s terrible storm.

The Girl leaves the cave, climbs up the rocky side of the cliff and turns back to see the boys have moved further down the brook -- they have sticks, they are fighting as though the sticks were sabers -- The Girl takes the horse’s reins in hand, and lifts herself back into the saddle. The sun is low, there are steel gray storm clouds to the east, The Girl rides home.

Monday, November 8, 2010

fantástico!!!

The Jesus Lizard -- Lists

Chan Chich, November 16, '95

Red Lord Parrot
Bat Falcon
Linneated Woodpecker
Toucan -  Collared Aracari
Euphonia - Olive Backed
Melodious Blackbird
Summer Tanager
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Clay Colored Rohen
Sulphur-Rumped Flycatcher
Magnolia Warbler
Purple Crowned Fairy
Woodcreeper
Hermit Hummingbird
Grey-Headed Tanager
Black-Headed Saltator
Woodstork
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
Fork-Tailed Flycatcher

Cactus - Devil's Guts

Laughing Falcon on the road to Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo:
Chicle/Chicleros
Quinine Tree
Snake Root
Pale-Billed Woodpecker
Vermilion Flycatcher
Leaf Cutter Ants

Horseback Ride at Chan Chich:
2 Roadside Hawks
Brocket Deer

Belize City:
Kiskadee
Frigate Birds
Fruitbats

Cockscomb:
Amazon Kingfisher
No Jaguar
Golden Olive Woodpecker
Orange-Billed Sparrow
Grey-Headed Kite
Black-Shouldered Kite
Green Honeycreeper
Red-Legged Honeycreeper
Great Tinamou

Tikal:
Peccary
Kinkajou
Red-Lored Parrot
Barred Antshrike
Grey Fox
Social Flycatcher
Red-Capped Manakin
Snail Kite

Friday, November 5, 2010

Nude In Decline

 Black Velvet by Andrew Wyeth


Tony went to the museum. He was there to see the Helga paintings. He read in Time Magazine about Mr. Wyeth dying and leaving all these paintings behind. Secret paintings of his mistress. Tony admired Mrs. Wyeth for letting the paintings go public, her calm attitude seemed to say to the world that what mattered most was her husband’s art and not his betrayal.

Tony liked museums, he didn’t necessarily like art. He liked the echo of voices in the halls, he liked the sparseness of the building, it quieted his mind. He had a lot going on in his mind all the time, and museums were one place where he could settle the nervous chatter in his head. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and despite the media frenzy over the paintings, the hall where Helga hung was almost barren of people, much like any of Mr. Wyeth’s paintings, great yellow hills in winter with only a boy in a coonskin cap and many-buttoned Civil War era wool coat to catch the wind.

It was paintings by Pollack and Jasper Johns that appealed most to Tony, he didn’t care for people in his art, much like his life, he spent most of his time alone. Alone in his apartment. Alone in the library stacks, where he found books that were falling to pieces—he would carefully place them on his cart and wheel them to the bindery in the basement of the library. There were no windows in the bindery, so Tony would lose track of time with his glue and paper cutting tools. He would assess the books. Were there pages missing? Sometimes it was possible to find replacement pages through other binderies. There was a network of people like Tony, calling, emailing, “Does anyone have pages 61 and 78 of Moby Dick?” And eventually someone would write back, “Tony, which edition? I have five different Moby Dick’s here!” Tony never threw a book away, no matter how many pages were torn or missing, because someone, somewhere, might need a page to repair their copy, a copy that could live again. It was like organ donation. The old worn books waited in a dark corner of the bindery to give life to another book far far away.

But Tony liked Helga. Who could resist her? There by the window, the sad January light of Wyeth’s Pennsylvania illuminating her Viking face. Her blond hair braided and resting on her shoulders. In one painting, she glows like a jar of summer honey, wearing nothing but a black ribbon around her neck, she reclines on her back, her face turned away, her legs crossed at the ankle softly on a dark bed . . . Tony couldn’t stop looking at the painting, because it was Helga who was providing the light in that room, the room where Wyeth painted her. This brought Tony to tears. He had never cried at the sight of a painting before, but this painting shredded him. He was witnessing Beauty. And Love.

The lady in the Museum Shoppe wrapped the book of Wyeth paintings in gray tissue paper and made small talk with Tony, something he was uncomfortable with, “They say it might snow tonight, wouldn’t that be lovely? A nice dusting for New Years.”

“Yes, I suppose it would be. But it makes things difficult.” Tony handed his credit card to the woman.

“Difficult?” She cocked her head at him and then proceeded to make the charge on his card.

“Yes, difficult.” He signed the receipt, she handed him the bag.

That night, just as the lady in the shop had predicted, a light snow began to fall. Tony looked out his window and considered staying home. But his mind was restless and his nightly drives had become the only thing to really calm him, to help him sleep. Ten-thirty came and went, and when eleven arrived, the snow began to come down harder. Tony paced and then? He decided to chance it. He rode the elevator down to the parking garage and found the place empty, just as he had hoped. He went to his car, and opened the door, and doused the interior light. Quickly, purposely, he took off his clothes. First, his shoes, then his socks, finding the asphalt floor of the garage very cold, he hurried and peeled off his sweater, his t-shirt, and then his pants and his boxer shorts. He slid into the driver’s seat and held all his clothes on his lap for a moment, and then, he folded each item and placed them on the passenger seat, finishing the pile with his shoes on top.

He started the little car, a Honda Civic, two-doors, silver, with gray interior. The heat worked quite nicely and tonight would put it to the test. He drove toward the door of the garage and the motion detector sensed him and the big doors rattled up and out he went into the snowy night. The snow was blowing and twisting and the light of the street lamps and the head lights, even the light from the windows of Tony’s neighborhood was causing a cacophony in his view. But Tony steeled himself, he knew it would only be a couple of miles before he could turn onto 21 North, and then there would be nothing but trees, and fields, and stone walls. He felt delighted by the snow, he was glad he had made the effort.

Tony had been driving naked at night for five years now. He never thought he could carry on for that many years without being caught, without being found out, but somehow, he had succeeded. It was one of the only things he felt capable at, besides binding books, but he didn’t consider himself a great book binder, he was mediocre at best, and not as careful as some binders he had met. But in driving naked, he had found something in himself, a liberation, and something akin to what others achieved in meditation, a quiet mind.

Not long after seeing the Helga paintings, Tony walked past the bulletin board near the Circulation desk, and a flyer caught his eye, Models Needed for Life Drawing Class, No Experience Necessary. Tony stopped and shifted his backpack from one shoulder to the other. And then he tore one of the tabs with a phone number off the bottom of the flyer, “Gonna try some modeling Tony?” It was Emily, from the Circulation Desk, she was tiny and blond, and she spun by Tony like top when she said this.

“Um, noooo, its for a friend Emily.”

"Ohhh Kaaayy!" Emily saluted Tony and disappeared into the back of the Circulation department, where all the books patiently waited to be reshelved.

Tony folded the little piece of paper in his hand and put it in his shirt pocket. He was horrified that Emily had seen him take the number. She was the kind of girl he wished he could talk to, just talk to, perhaps over a sandwich and a Coke, but never in a million years. All he could muster was calling her on the interlibrary phone to tell her he had some books ready to be reshelved and could she send a student to pick them up? Sometimes Emily came to the bindery herself to pick up the books, and it was always most uncomfortable. She came in one afternoon when he was making a box. He made boxes frequently, boxes for books, and sometimes for the Periodical librarians, they loved to put things in boxes. His boxes were very precise and colorful. The library gave him a healthy budget for quality papers and archival glue, and he took advantage of this to procure excellent box making materials. Emily noticed the red box he was making for a book in Special Collections, ”Oh, what a marvelous box! I didn’t know you made all the boxes.“ Tony shifted in his seat, he felt his cheeks flush.

"I do, but not all the boxes."

"Would you make a box for me?"

"I, I, I suppose so, what kind of box do you need?"

"Oh a box for cards on my desk. Oh! And a matching box for all my pencils! I collect pencils you know. People leave them all over the library. Here’s my newest pencil." Emily took the pencil that was resting neatly behind her left ear and held it under the lamp of Tony’s desk, it was a transparent pencil, filled with water and a plastic Orca floating inside -- it said Sea World on one side in turquoise blue letters, "This might be the best pencil yet!" She said putting it back behind her ear.

Tony made two boxes for Emily and when they were done he gave them to one of her student shelvers to deliver. Emily sent him an email to thank him for the boxes and he never deleted the message. He kept it in a special folder he named Emily.

The little piece of paper with the number sat on Tony’s kitchen table by the bowl of sugar for quite some time before he got the nerve to call. A very brusk man answered the phone, "Yes, hello!"

"Hello, I’m calling about the flyer, um, for models for the life drawing class."

"Yes, well, we don’t need anyone anymore." Tony was relieved to hear this, but then the man paused and didn’t say good bye, instead, he went on, "But wait, are you a man?"

"Well, yes, yes I am."

"We only have women! We need a man for the class! What's your name?"

"Tony, Tony Gray. But, but I’m afraid I don’t have a very good build."

"Oh, that’s not necessary, we want all body types. As long as you can take off your clothes and sit still."

"I think I can do that." Tony panicked as he said this, he suddenly realized what he was signing up for.

"We can’t pay you very much, thirty dollars per class, maybe. The students contribute to your pay."

"Oh, that will be fine, um, when . . ."

"Tomorrow night, 7:45, Studio B in the Arts Center, do you know how to get here?"

"Yes, yes I know where that is." Tony hung up the phone. His only hope was that he would know no one in the class.

Tony drove far into the country that night, farther than he had ever driven on Highway 21. He stopped near a field only a few miles from the state line. There was more snow, piled high on the sides of the road, making high banks, he found a place to pull off and cut his headlights. He sat there with the little engine of the Honda whirring like a sewing machine. The stars were so numerous that he almost thought it was snowing again. He looked down at his naked body, pale and fat and torrid in the dim light reflecting off the dash board, "Helga, what do I do Helga?" But no one answered him.

*********

Tony hadn’t eaten all day, and he felt slightly faint when he arrived at Studio B. But he thought it better to faint from low blood sugar than to become nauseous and hurl in front of everyone in the class, "Tony? Are you Tony?" It was Tom, the instructor. Tony was struck by Tom’s lanky stature, he seemed to be seven feet tall, but perhaps it was the lack of food that made Tony feel as though he were sinking. "You are right on time, my students will be getting here soon. The dressing room is over there, just Take It Off! As we like to say, and settle into any comfortable position you like. First timers find it easiest to sit in the chair."

"Yes, uh, yes, sitting in the chair will be fine. Almost like sitting in a car." Tony felt as though his feet were frozen to the floor.

"What? Oh, yes, I suppose, if you find sitting in a car to be comfortable, then, yes, imagine you are sitting in a car. Naked, oh dear, how funny is that?" Tom began laughing and Tony tried to laugh with him, "You know, I hear, there are people who do that."

"Excuse me?"

"Weirdos, who drive around naked, flashing people, that kind of thing." Tom winked and laughed, "What a world, eh, Tony?"

"Uh, yes, hrmm, yes." Tony nodded and turned, he pushed the black velvet curtain back on the dressing room and took a deep breath. He decided to become Helga for the night, it was his only chance of surviving, to Be Helga. As he undressed, he heard the voices of students as they came in the studio. It became apparent that most of the voices were women. Tony folded his clothes and piled them on the small ottoman in the dressing room. He piled them just liked he piled them on the seat of his car, with his loafers on top. I am Helga tonight, I am Helga, driving her car, he told himself and pushed back the curtain of the dressing room, feeling as though he were a magician stepping onto the stage, but amazingly his audience didn’t seem to care. They were all occupied with preparing their easels and charcoals and inks and gossip. Tony made the walk across the room to the stuffed red chair in the center as though he were invisible. It was not unlike the feeling he had while driving in his car naked at night, traffic all around him, but no one aware of him, and his lack of clothing. He lowered himself in the chair and wondered how many models had sat in this chair, this made him slightly uneasy, he hoped they were clean, he didn’t care for dirty people. He crossed his legs and put one arm up on the chair, as though it were the open window of his Honda. Tom began the class, "Good evening everyone, our model tonight is Tony."

"Hello Tony!" They all shouted. Tony couldn’t reply, all he could do was nod his head, I’m Helga, I’m Helga, I’m driving my car.

The night ended, Tony dressed and the students left, all except one woman. Tom was critiquing her rendering of Tony. Tony heard her say one thing to Tom as he went out the door, "I’m going to call it Nude in Decline!" And there was much laughter. Tony never went back.

Spring came and with it budget cuts at the library. There were long memos regarding changes to be made, belts to be tightened.. Acquisitions would be mercilessly cut, student staff would be reduced, and for the first time ever, the library would be closed on Mondays. Tony was told to make do with the papers and materials he had purchased in the previous quarter. No more archival glue or fine handmade papers for binding, and the Periodical Department would have to do with the boxes they already had, no more box making until further notice. Staff birthday parties would be postponed and the Library Display Committee would be discontinued. Morale was low. But Emily remained spunky and suggested they send postcards to patrons asking them to donate new Bestsellers and magazine subscriptions to the Periodicals Department. Emily would go places Tony thought—some day, she might be mayor, or at least on the City Council, she was just made to lead.

All this stress caused Tony to drive more. Driving naked was the only thing that kept him centered these days. He wondered if he might lose his job, he kept telling himself he wouldn’t, because they needed to fix the old books, what with no new books coming in. But there were some, some in high places, the Librarians with PhDs, who didn’t care for Tony. He was just a paper sewing guy, they would see a way to outsource his work, he was certain of it. So he took to the road, and he considered, now that his Mondays were free, the possibility of driving naked in the daylight. This would be quite risky, but he had not seen 21 North with the sun upon its fields and trees and stone walls. He was tired of guessing whether there were cows in the fields. And better yet, horses! He knew that he could drive up there, out of the city, unnoticed and unfettered by clothes. He came up with a plan.

Monday came and Tony took the elevator down to the garage. There were people about and the door was open to the street as it was on weekdays, he would not be able to undress here. He would have to drive out of the city. But he did remove his shoes and his socks. And he took off his sweater. He was tempted to take off his shirt, but the Security Guard was watching him. Tony started the car and quickly scooted out onto the city streets. He was very anxious to undress, the red lights seemed to last far too long, but finally he turned on to 21 and at the first mile marker, he pulled off the road, under a large maple tree that was exploding in green. The sun was brilliant and unlike Mr. Wyeth’s paintings, the fields were not covered in Painters Gray and barren frost, they were offering up crocuses and periwinkle. Tony had a hell of a time getting his pants off without getting out of the car, and he wondered how he could improve his plan. But, finally, he was relieved of all his clothes and they sat neatly folded on the passenger seat. He started up the car and stepped on the gas. In the light of day, he found a turn he had never taken, Bedlam Lake Turnkpike. He had only seen the lake on a map. Today, he would drive to its shores, and perhaps, take a swim?

The turnpike was wide and smooth, Tony rolled down his windows and took in the air which smelled of hemlock . . . the lake shores were thick with the bluish pines that made him think of Christmas with their oily smell. A sign directed Tony to detour, and Tony obliged and turned onto a gravel road, he was oblivious to any worries. The Honda rattled and clanged along the little road, the road got narrower and narrower. And finally it came to a picnic area, with a small beach looking out on the lake. Tony parked the car and listened. There was nothing, not a sound. A crow cawed. That was it. Tony fell asleep with the sun pouring in his windshield.

"Tony! Tony is that you?" Tony woke with a start. There was a soft rain falling and the sun was sinking into the other side of the lake. A woman was calling his name. It was Emily! She was with her boyfriend in his Range Rover. Tony sat up, consciousness was coming to him now, how long have I been asleep? He looked down at himself and then back toward the Rover. Emily opened her door and called again, "Hey Tony! Fancy meeting you up here at the lake!" She began striding toward his car.

"Oh oh, Emily!" Tony started the car, he needed to get away, but the Honda choked at his turning of the key, please please start!

"Mel and I came up for a hike with the dogs, want to come with us?" She kept approaching, the dogs followed her out of the Rover, they came running to Tony’s car, big dogs, Golden Retrievers, they jumped on the car, practically in the window. "Hey you guys! Get off Tony’s car!!!! Sorry Tony, they’re so obnoxious!" Tony turned the key again. Nothing. The car was dead. He must have left the radio on. Emily came closer. The dogs were snuffling and reaching for Tony. He didn’t like dogs, Never had. He pushed at them, but they only became more excited. Emily was almost upon him, she looked so pretty in her hiking boots and a flowered dress. Her blond hair was in braids, she looked like Helga. There was nothing he could do, except wait for her.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wolfy Got A New Dress!

. . . every girl needs a new dress, every once in a while.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

what does your childhood smell like . . . redux

laid to waste by a vicious virus for close to 72 hours now, delirium, fever, seven pounds lighter, i tell a friend this:

i'm a weak lung case -- almost died of the Croup when i was two, they kept me in a oxygen tent for a month -- its one of my first memories, being in the oxygen tent and eating cereal out of the box, remember those little cereal boxes you could tear the side up off of, with wax paper inside, and you could pour milk right in the little box?


and this floods my head with the smell of Vicks Vapor Rub—its night in my room over the kitchen, the house in Westport guards me against the blue night, there are stars banging off the stone walls and headlights zooming up the hill on Bayberry, and the steamer hisses all night, and I cough and cough and my grandmother comes in and finds me on the floor curled up, half under the bed, with a blanket and i insist that i was going somewhere and she puts me back in bed and smears more Vicks on that place where my throat meets my collar bones and i breathe and then she puts more Vicks in the steamer and the thing gurgles and whistles like my lungs and her hand is on my forehead and she tells me i don't have to go to school tomorrow. Morning comes and there is snow, just enough that it lights up the house and i hear my grandfather turning the water on and then off and then on again in his bathroom. He does this every morning, the washers on the faucets squeal under his big hands, on and off and on and off and he bangs about in there, finally the door opens and liniments and Bay Rum bound into my room, "How ya doin' kid? Rough night?" I nod and he winks and stomps down the stairs in his paddock boots. He'll drink a glass of bitters and then go to the barn to feed the horses.