Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why The Chicken Crossed The Road . . .

Came upon a rooster standing guard over one of his hens that had been hit by a car on Schley Road this morning. I stopped and moved the dead red hen to the side of the road. A lady thanked me and said, "How can people run over a chicken? Why does everyone have to be in such a hurry?" She drove away and another car sped by honking at the rooster that lingered in the lane.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Green Apartment - Part One

The apartment was on the third floor surveying the corner of 15th Street and Iris Avenue, upstairs from the used bookstore that was forever closing- the Clearance Sale sign never came down, the books were always half price. Pleasantly convenient to the Sea Dragon Noodle Shop, the apartment gazed down on the red Chinese lanterns who swayed quietly and hardly noticed by people hurrying from the train station on rainy nights - here, the train came over the river on a bridge of intricate iron work, far too elegant for this part of the city, as though it's engineer believed that one day this neighborhood would be frequented by bon vivants and duchesses down on their luck.
The apartment, unlike the lanterns, rarely went unnoticed by passersby. It stopped some people so suddenly that those following found it difficult not to step on their heels. A child declared to her mother while waiting for the crosswalk to change, "Mama, a sky terrarium . . . " and indeed the child was closest to the truth. Others would let their chopsticks fall from their fingers and look up through the calligraphy decorated windows of the noodle shop and wonder, "Is there a botanical museum up there?" No one was left untouched by the sight of the apartment from the street, and evening made the apartment a real celebrity, a solarium glowing like a lovely woman by the candlelight of a table in her favorite French cafe . . . what lover could resist a thing lit from within?
The windows of the apartment were numerous - two on the front side over the busted neon sign which should have read Used Books, but only sputtered U Boo, then three windows on the southern end of the yellow brick walk-up, and finally another three windows on the east side, facing the river and the train trestle. This vantage offered the plants abundant natural light. They filled the windows and pressed and reached their large leaves against and seemingly through the glass. There were times of day, depending on the light, that they cast shadows on to the street below, and this transformed the pavement into something other than the cold grey thing that it was, as though leopards and parrots would appear suddenly, perhaps, wave down a taxi. The windows seemed like leaves themselves - the glass was chlorophyll stained, no green of the sullen trees struggling to stand in the bricked walkways below could compete with this verdant light above -- it was as though the apartment was possessed by emeralds.

Muriel subletted the apartment through a friend at work. She had been working in the city library, the little branch, near the Unitarian Church, the one with the stained glass windows designed Frank Lloyd Wright, or was it the pews? It was the pews and the windows, and sometimes Muriel liked to sit in the little courtyard to eat a sandwich at lunchtime, and she wouldn't open the book she had brought with her to read, because the light through Mr. Wright's windows was far more captivating than anything some old writer could say to her. But she found herself nearly living on the street, because the woman she rented a room from died and the family was very greedy and rude, and they gave Muriel three days to vacate. She told Estelle in the Circulation Department of her circumstance and Estelle, who always had an answer for everyone, because, really, that is what a natural born librarian has, the ability to find almost any solution, said, "Oh, you must take Dr. Fattoria's apartment!"
"Who is Dr. Fattoria?" asked Muriel, suspicious that Dr. Fattoria might want more than she could possibly give.
"He's a botanist, and he's going to the Amazon to look for an orchid that nobody has ever seen before and he says he will be there just months and months. He wants someone quiet and sensitive to take his apartment while he is away. He'll practically pay you to live their sweetie."
"Why sensitive?"
"Because of his plants . . . "
"Yes, you will need to water the plants."
"I can water plants." Said Muriel recalling the dead Christmas cactus she had to throw out only a week before.
Estelle called Dr. Fattoria and after some back in forth in Italian, "he speaks English, but prefers to speak Italian," made arrangements for Muriel, who spoke no Italian, to meet him that very afternoon. Muriel was to take the Purple Line all the way to it's last stop, Iris Avenue, and Fattoria would meet her in front of the noodle shop, but she wasn't to ask him to dine in the noodle shop, he deplored the Chinese and anything that they might eat, especially noodles.
Muriel had never been to that part of the city, and she felt like a pioneer as the train crossed the river, that roiled under falling snow. She marvelled as the snow fell and disintegrated when it hit the waves. She saw the apartment from the train, and she knew it was Fattoria's, because Estelle said "Look for the Green Apartment Muriel," - it was only a moment of green, but unmistakable behind the veil of snow. She disembarked the train and followed the few commuters down the black stairs covered in rock salt to the street. She continued straight on Iris Avenue until the Chinese lanterns came into view, and there, under the lanterns, stood a man in greenish tweed, he was bent against the wind, and he seemed to be embarrassed.
"Dr. Fattoria?"
"Yes, I am Muriel."
"Oh good, come with me. Your train was late and Chang kept opening the door and asking me to come in and have some ramen. Vile stuff, you know, don't ever touch it."
"He and his wife own most of the block. I pay him rent don't you know? But I'll be damned if I ever eat his noodles."
Fattoria led Muriel across the street and into an alcove, "Here you'll find the post boxes, and this door has a buzzer for visitors. Are you familiar with these buzzers?"
"Yes, we have one in our apartment, well the apartment I am leaving."
"Estelle educated me of your situation. Deplorable, really. Well, I had my buzzer disconnected, if you want it reconnected . . . "
"No, it's not necessary, I rarely have visitors."
"Estelle told me you were reclusive Muriel. The plants will like that about you."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Librarian . . .

thought it was awfully warm for January 17th as she went on break - she spun out the front doors of the library after being in there since 7:30 in the morning. She crossed Margaret Lane softly and quietly in her shoes with the two inch thick foam wedge soles and her tweed skirt with the silky lining and her grass green cardigan buttoned up to her pale throat and her red hair piled absent mindedly on that bony skull of hers and a car went past her slowly and the woman inside, a bookkeeper dressed in nothing that would say she was a bookkeeper, thought to herself as she changed the radio station that woman must be the Librarian, because who else looks like that? And the Librarian had no idea that she really looked like a woman who had sat behind the desk in the Library for all those years, sweetly, and silently whispering to patrons directions to find the books. When she first worked there, she was careful not to dress like a Librarian, but somehow, the books and the desk and the patrons demanded she dress in such a way, that it was a dead giveaway, and she knew it, when she passed the big window of the Mexican restaurant across the street, that she looked nothing like the lawyers that came from the courthouse across Churton Street, with their pencil skirts and their practical pants, and their strappy high heels, and their big Fly sunglasses, no, it was unmistakable, they were lawyers who spoke with television reporters about guilty pleas, and she was the Librarian who read stories to the children who's mother's brought them for Story Time . . .

Ernest Hemingway Says . . .

You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around caf├ęs,

Saturday, January 14, 2012

When You Got An Itch . . .

i'd been on the road for about 4 hours - it's a road i drive a few times a year, and this time of year it's bare and bleak and it never ceases to amaze me what people driving on a rural route can manage to hit with their cars . . . a red tail hawk, tail feathers fanned out over his downy chest smashed into the yellow line just outside the town limits of McBee.

i parked under the golden arches in Camden about three in the afternoon and rubbed my eyes. The parking lot was full of kids . . . chocolate shakes and silver Ugg boots and pony tails. i was greeted by a tiny wide old woman in her fast food uniform in the ladies room. She was propped against the corner of one of the stalls and she was gyrating back and forth and up and down, "Oh my back is itchin' somethin' terrible." i smiled at her, and said, "Well, when you got an itch, you gotta scratch!"

"Yes you do honey, yes, you do . . . " She continued to rub her back on the lavatory wall as i latched the door and sat down to pee, then she explained to me, "At home, now at home, I got one of those sticks, a real long one with the little hand with the little fingers on the end and I stick that down my sweater and scratch all I want, but here? I can't use my scratchin' stick."

"No m'am, I guess you can't."

"Oooh that feels so good!"

The whole ladies room was rattling to the rhythm of this old woman scratching her back. Another lady walked in while i was washing my hands, "Do you know how many salads we have to make before we leave?"

and the Scratching Lady replied, "No, no I don't know, they sent me in here to mop the floors."

"Well, come back in the kitchen and help me make salads."

"I'll be there in a minute, I gotta scratch my back."

The Salad Lady left, I dried my hands and bid good-bye to the Scratching Lady, "Bye now honey, you be sweet . . . "

She Ain't A Child No More

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Driving The Garbage Around . . .

Sometimes you get to the dump too early, like a half hour early, and the gates are closed, and well, what do you do? You are way out in the country, and waiting by the gate for the nice Norwegian man who manages the dump on Sundays is just silly, so you take your garbage for a drive -- air it out, let it take in some scenery before it meets it's fate . . .

"where should we go?"
"i know! i'll show you the paint donkey i saw in a pasture last week . . ."
we drive past the cows in the field with the mobile home that tilts as though it might topple and we get to the field where i saw the three burros last week, including the paint, and they're gone . . .
"where are they?"
"i don't know . . ."
"maybe you imagined them"
"maybe i did, but we can see the lovely paint pony across the road . . ."
"all is see is an empty field"
we drive on and there in another field is the beautiful paint pony . . . "See?"
"yes, I see"
"we could head out to highway 54, get some coffee at the convenient store."
"that's a good idea, let's do that."
We get out to highway 54 and turn left, a man eyes us from his truck as we turn and we say, "Yeah, we are driving our garbage around, shut up!"
We pass the feed store and turn into the convenient store parking lot, "Park way over there, cause people will talk about our truck full of garbage."
"They'll talk, but will they steal it?"
In the convenient store we buy a bag of popcorn, a cup of coffee, a small bottle of milk, a bottle of water, a lighter, and a mason jar of the local men's club roasted peanuts.
We drive on, it's ten minutes to one, the dump will open then, i take a route that will take us almost that amount of time . . . I think about the horrible old ochre velveteen chair in the back of the truck, "Pop's chair is taking one more jaunt before the end, ey?"
"Did you see that?"
"The green barn? Oh what a terrific barn!"
"No, the orange cable that went under the bridge . . . "
"Didn't you see the green barn?"
"No I was looking at the orange cable."
"I was looking at the green barn."
"That's an ugly house . . ."
"The cows are lying down."
"It's going to get cold and rain tonight."
"We're here!"
"The gate is open!"

Thursday, January 5, 2012

white dog

i know why the caged white dog sings
back there behind the old man’s house
where the field of collards and turnips grow green
under an asphalt sky at dusk
night is coming
and she paces to one corner
then the other corner
and the great blue heron takes off
like a b-52 from the pond’s edge
his shadow crosses her white back
she jumps like an easy spring
to the roof of her little white house
there she balances on the roof
she sings loud
her voice is loosed over the chain link fence --
the sound of her rises and crosses the street
to ricochet against the red barn
a flapping tin roof catches on a nail
and clears the way for her mourning howl
so that it can fly across the plow
and the tractor for sale
and the trailer where that lady used to live
the white dog’s song rises over the sweet gums
and the pin oaks and the iron woods
and brushes a possum and shutters a squirrel
the black birds coil around her low notes
as they descend to the creek
and mix with the green cold water
that talks over the soft stones
the white dog breathes deep and lets go again
her chorus hits the side of the old man’s house
and shakes the jars filled with last summer’s tomatoes
to the edge of the shelf and the old man opens one eye
and turns over on his sofa while the tv makes his dreams
the white dog’s song goes out his front door
makes the mistletoe sway under the little christmas lights
that should have come down by now
her voice runs through the carport
under his dead wife’s cadillac
past the planters of pansies crystal with ice like candy flowers
the white dog’s howl rides on the scent of last night’s fox
down the logging road
past the waiting deer hunter
louder than the shots of his gun
the white dog lays down her peace
raises her sharp saber tail
her song scatters vultures
on the side of the highway
skitters through bare honeysuckle
where the junkos roost roundly
the white dog’s song goes down with the last of the day’s light
and up with the moon that fades with fog

Red Dog

the red dog spins kicking up a veil of red clay dust in the cold morning trailer yard down there in the hole next to highway 70 where the dogs are all tied to trees under christmas lights strung on garbage cans and a christmas tree leans on the steps that lead to the door ajar where i see the flash of a blue tv screen and a black boy stands in there waiting and waiting and waiting and the rest of his dogs are diving and pulling at their chains and shaking their cages as the red dog dances because he is free for just this moment until the boy catches him and ties his head up again . . .

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dryer Sheets & Black Eyed Pea Fritters

Black Eyed Pea Fritters & Beer for New Year's Good Luck
It seemed like they were eveywhere, the dryer sheets, like little ghosts of laundry past and well, they were beginning to rule my life, i was constantly picking them up and depositing them in the nearest waste basket. The final straw? i was falling asleep one night, not long after Thanksgiving, the Thanksgiving in which i invited my inlaws and they didn't like my cooking, in fact, they had never seen an acorn squash, and well, they were afraid that it just wasn't food, but, i'm digressing into family politics, which is not a place i want to go ever because it's a dark place, and remember i suffer from achluophobia, come to think of it, because of family politics, but ANYway, there i was, trying to fall asleep and i was overtaken by a cloying perfume, so flowery in fact, that i sat straight up in bed, and searched the dark for a whore. But there was no Lady of the Night, only my fast asleep husband and three hounds who were dreaming of rabbits -- they all sleep much sounder than me, and i told myself that this must be a dream, a waking dream of some terrible embrace from an old woman of my past, a woman who i did not want to be near, and she enveloped me in her fat arms, and her fat breasts, and my young cheek was pressed against a cold cameo that hung from a chain around her fat neck, and the perfume she wore overpowered me. i tossed and turned, and finally went to sleep under the lavender cloud of this perfume. The grey light of morning came, and i rolled over to look at the clock, and there, on my bedside table, as though a hotel worker had placed it there like a mint, was a fresh, unlaundered dryer sheet, emitting the perfume of my terrible dream. It was no seizure of my senses at all, it was just a wayward Bounce that somehow traveled from my laundry room to my bedside.

And so I begin this New Year with a myriad of promises to myself including an alternative to dryer sheets, which is now firmly glued to the inside of my drier, something akin to a bar of soap, somewhat cloying, yes, but, stickum makes it stay in the dryer, and that's a minute or two of my day now not spent collecting wayward launderous ephemera. 

The other thing my New Year begins with is Black-Eyed Pea Fritters from Madhur Jaffrey, the Julia Child of India, the cook who made living in Bermuda just a little sweeter, the woman who taught me how to make rice properly, and taught me that Curry Powder is not Indian cooking, but something of a joke upon British Colonialism. 

So if you're tired of eating black-eyed peas with collards to bring you luck the rest of the year, you might want to try this one New Years, or really any old day, cause we can use luck all the time, can't we?

From Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

Black-Eyed Pea Fritters -- Akara -- Nigeria, Mali

Different versions of ackara can be found in nearly all of western and central Africa. The dish traveled to most places the slaves went and is eaten today in the Caribbean and in South America as well. (In Brazil, it is called acaraje, a word not too far from the original.)

These delicious fritters are not very different from the North African/Middle Eastern falafel, except that instead of chickpeas or fava beans they are made with black-eyed peas. They are generally eaten as a snack or as part of a meal in Africa, but you may also serve them with drinks, offering a spicy dipping sauce (Shannon likes spicy peanut sauce, soy sauce, any kind of hot chutney...experiment!). Of course, you may eat them just like falafel, stuffed into pita bread along with shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and tahini sauce.

For those who do not have a food processor, the African method of making the batter is to put the soaked peas through a meat grinder and then to beat in the hot water in order to make a mixture that is light and airy with a drop-easily-from-the-spoon-consistency.

1 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas, picked over and washed
(if you live down South, you can get fresh black-eyed peas in the
grocery store during the holiday! Don’t ever ever use canned, you’ll regret it.)

1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (
Wolfy likes more cayenne, but its up to you!)

Peanut or canola oil for deep frying

Soak the black-eyed peas in water to cover by 5 inches for about 16 hours, changing the water once in the middle only if it is a very hot day. Drain the peas and put them in a large bowl. Cover them well with fresh water. Dip both hands into the bowl and rub the peas between your palms. You will loosen many, though not all, of the skins, which will start to float in the water. Skim off the free skins with a sieve or slotted spoon; leave the stubborn skins alone.

Drain the peas thoroughly and put them into the container of a food processor along with the chopped onion, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Turn the machine on (medium speed if you can control it) and process, pushing down with a rubber spatula again and again until you have a grainy paste. Slowly add about 5 tablespoons of hot water, (be careful not to get the mixture too wet!!) processing all the while, until the paste has a dropable consistency. It should also look light and airy but remain very slightly grainy.

Put 1 inch of oil in a frying pan and set it over medium heat. Allow it to get very hot. Now work fast: Stir the batter gently and remove a very heaped teaspoon. Using a second teaspoon, drop the batter in the oil...the fritters will be about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Repeat until the frying pan is full. Fry the fritters for about 1 minute at medium heat , turning them over as they darken, and then turn the heat down to low. Continue to fry for another 5 minutes or so, turning the fritters now and then (cooking time varies...Wolfy says they may cook faster than this.) You should end up with fritters that have an even, rich reddish-brown color and are cooked through. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Make all the fritters this way, remembering at the start of each batch to (a) turn the heat back up toe medium and get the oil very hot again and (b) stir the batter once very gently from the bottom up. The fritters should ideally be served as soon as they are made (smile!).

Leftover fritters may be stored in a closed container in the fridge.

Makes about 40 fritters; serves 6