31 July 2009

Dork In The Field: A Writer's Love Story

By some turn of the wheels behind the curtains, I ended up arriving home early from work. Early enough that I was able to get dinner made and safely tucked into my gullet, and still had time to do some actual loafing about. Or Scobberlotching, if you prefer. Great! My problem? I didn’t want to stay home. The evening was nice and I had a lot of stuff swirling around in the centrifuge that is my head. Time to head for the lake for some fresh air, evening sun and to work some of the cramps out of my brain.

I now have a “go pack” of sorts, to schlep my writin’ type stuff with me, whenever I get the urge to write al fresco. I still have the backpack I used for some of college years, a spiffy black number I bought on Main Street. I don’t know for certain how I managed to hang on to it for so long, but it now has new life as my tote for notebooks, pens, sketchpad, camera and other stuff I can’t seem to do without on these little trips.

So I made it to the lake, parked the car and hiked a short way over to one of the picnic areas. I found a table tucked away in a quiet corner and set up shop. Open the backpack, spread the stuff out on the table, perch the glasses on top of my head and get to work. It was while sitting there tapping my cheek with the pen and savoring the summer breeze that I realized: I am a dork. Short white socks, a t-shirt tucked in for crying out loud, with a backpack full of notebooks and pens and paper…Don’t believe me? Well, dork that I am, I took pictures. Behold the majesty!

There are potatoes on my shirt. At least The Captain’s had fish.

Sigh. As a saving grace, I was not wearing my goofy, beat-up, green baseball hat. I took comfort in having my version of the Blankie on hand, so as to write.

Be still, my heart! What light, on yonder table breaks…?

Where the rubber hits the mental road

Tool O’ The Trade, GumboGeek-style

Reading about writing about reading about…

As IB says, “This is where the magic happens”

That is what it is all about: that moment when the idea forms on the tip of the brain, like that little drop of nectar on a honeysuckle blossom. The pen caresses the page, the mind opens wide and the thoughts dissolve into words on the page.

Just like that, it’s love…

30 July 2009

No, Lonesome, No Cry

“… I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown,
Oba - obaserving the 'ypocrites
As they would mingle with the good people we meet…”
Good friends we have, oh, good friends we've lost
Along the way.
In this great future, you can't forget your past;
So dry your tears, I seh…”

The storm has passed, leaving the sidewalks a muddy gray, and he felt something stir sluggishly in the hollow stone of his chest. His heart, the color and density of the concrete. Off to the west, the sky was beginning to clear, patches of azure silk amongst the dirty cotton of the clouds. It’s too bad, he muttered, that the rain doesn’t make clouds look cleaner. He wondered what could really wash it all away. What base to neutralize the acid of sorrow?

“…Good friends we have, oh, good friends we've lost
Along the way.
In this great future, you can't forget your past;
So dry your tears, I seh…”

The blinds were open halfway, thin bars on the soft prison he called his new home. They rattled whenever the door opened. But he just couldn’t bring himself to ask the maintenance guys for some replacement clips. Funny, that sort of routine repair seemed so uninteresting to him now. A small thing to be ignored, like many small things of tiny import. The sun glowed brighter like a flashlight wrapped in tissue paper. The watery rays gave a pearly sheen to his face and the walls that bounded it. His eyes closed slowly, a sleepy jaguar twitching its ears at the noise buzzing from the radio. Bob Marley unknowingly drives needles into an aching heart.

“...And then Georgie would make the fire lights,
As it was logwood burnin' through the nights.
Then we would cook cornmeal porridge,
Of which I'll share with you;
My feet is my only carriage,
So I've got to push on through…”

Either the world heaved under his feet, or he grew faint, sagging against the door. There was a sharp crack, as the glass in his hand hit the trim along the frame. The dull report sounding as a gunshot in a living room suddenly become anechoic. The walls, the carpet, swallowing up the rasp of his breath and the beats of his heart. He wondered why those noises disappeared, yet he could hear every dog barking, plane flying and bad muffler out in the parking lot. Ah, he thought, it’s all internal.

“…But while I'm gone, I mean:
Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right!...”

Anything self-generated, he said softly, is bound to disappear. The tree in the forest with no one around. Not even myself to hear it. The glass grew heavy, dragging his arm down as if he were holding a cold, wet cannonball. His thirst increased as wetness gathered at the corners of his eyes. He smiled at the thought that maybe he did not have to raise the glass after all. The cold liquid travelling by stealth through the capillaries of his hand and arm. On the way, something alchemical occurred. The drops from the glass no longer ice-cold and bracing, they emerged hot and molten. Liquid salt slag from the furnace of his heart rolled down his fevered cheeks. The glass he raised to his lips and took a swallow, oddly dainty in his motions. A marriage of quinine and lime coated his mouth and lips with sublime bitterness.

He laughed again, at the thought of tonic. A good thing, he told himself, I need to protect myself from the fever. The grin faded, knowing the fever, this emotional malaria he carried within, would return. The radio droned on, and he found he had no strength to turn it off. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, staring out the window into the silvery bowl of the sky.

“…I said, everything's gonna be all right-a!
Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right, now!
Everything's gonna be all right!...”

He said to no one, I know you mean well, Bob, but…gimme some time to believe you.

Lyrics from “No, Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley

29 July 2009

Mayo Playo Hato: In Which I Finesse The Dogma

Pagans have long memories. Or at least, they pretend they do. A short while back in these here Gumbo pages, there was a discussion of mayonnaise on sandwiches and other tasty treats. In that post I may have given the mistaken impression that I am some sort of “mayo hater”. If so, I humbly apologize, and herein seek to offer some clarification. A pulling back of the veil, as it were.

A careful reading of my previous white paper on the subject does show that my quibbles with mayo were more about application rather than classification. I certainly harbor no ill will towards the humble condiment itself, or against the multitudes of fine folks who enjoy a dab or spoonful or bucket of mayo on their food item of choice. Even if sometimes it does make me shudder. Mayo on bologna, My eyes! My eyes! O, Lawd hep me , hep me… Sorry. Got a little sidetracked.

As with any good question of theology, the asking of it causes one to think, to ponder, to wonder about the mysterious underpinnings of life. Life, really, is in some ways, all about sandwiches. Don’t we all just want a good, simple sandwich now and then? One that doesn’t make us quail before the infinite awesomeness and terrible beauty of the Universe? The answer to that is yes.

So the question of mayonnaise returned to me, this week, whilst I was trapped in the fever dream side effects of an un-static life. Things swirling about my head as I struggled to keep the nose above the waterline, clinging tenaciously to the bronco as it kicked and bucked. It was a synchronistic collision of a scribbled grocery list, too many deadlines and a smart-ass comment about my so-called backsliding regarding mayonnaise. Brothers and sisters, I am here to tell you, offer some testimony for your taste buds: there are some cured pork products that mayo does go well with, and I have to say, it goes quite well on a simple BLT. Doesn’t sound like much of a revelation, now, does it? Many of you probably already knew that. But I was sort of backed into a corner on it recently. I was hungry, stressed and tired. I needed something easy, quick and took very little thought.

Hence, the BLT. All the ingredients at hand…except mayo. I toyed with the idea of making it without the condiment, but then, what would replace it? Certainly not oil and vinegar!* In the interest of fairness, balance and gastronomic equality, I did it. I crept down the condiment aisle, and lo! A jar of mayonnaise in the cart! I didn’t exactly feel like Martin Luther and his 95 Theses, but I did have this absurd image in my head, of a monk nailing something to my refrigerator door. Besides, I felt I had to answer the clamoring hoi polloi. Honor was at stake!

To understand a thing, is to know the manner in which it may be destroyed.” I heard that somewhere, I can’t recall where. While I certainly did not intend to destroy anything**, I wanted to be able to understand the thing. I cooked, I tasted, I enjoyed. It was good. Never let it be said that I was afraid to wander amongst the sinners, looking for goodness.

*See? I’m not a complete reprobate.
**Although it could be said that eating is destroying. But that’s another post.

28 July 2009

Random Tuesday Thoughts: Eat Here Get Gas Edition

Holy bucket o’ chicken with three sides, Batpeople! It’s that time again, grab a button and go!

LET’S HOPE NOT AT THE SAME TIME: So I’m watching some fine video tranquilizers, er, kids’ programming on the ol’ idiot box, Wee Lass at my side, and a new show has come on. New for me, anyway. The storyline involves two adorable pigs, best friends with big imaginations who just love traveling the world and seeing things and learning stuff. All good, right? Well, the name of the pigs and the show? “TOOT and PUDDLE”. Are those words you really want associated with small children who are still learning the finer points of sphincter control?

GOOD THING THESE WEREN’T ON THE FOOD NETWORK: Okay, sometimes I am easily amused. Scrolling through the channel guide (see previous item), I came across this:

Hooray! Muy bueno!

And just a few channels over:

Beginnings and ends, weddings and funerals, the Alpha and the Omega…

MANDARIN FOR “I DARE YOU TO EAT THAT”: For some reason I’m on another thought loop involving Chinese food. Last week I ginned up a Chinese-inspired bok choy and mushroom stir-fry, sauced up with toban djan and soy sauce (light and dark), garlic and ginger. Pretty tasty stuff. Curiosity being what it is, I have been leafing through some of what passes for my reference library on Chinese food, once again turning to my favorite Western interpreter of the cuisine, Fuchsia Dunlop. Reading her Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper memoir, something caught my eye and brought my stomach up short. She was in Beijing and wanted to sample “street food”, and was directed to find something called lu zhu huo shao. She said that loosely translated it meant “flatbread in broth”. What she got was nowhere near flatbread. Think “offal” and how it rhymes with “awful”. Probably should have said “parts of animals not for the faint of heart or stomach in broth”. Whuff. Suffice to say, I was happy to munch away on my greens and ‘shrooms, that’ll do for me…

MINE IS PROBABLY OVERDONE: Of the many things that can be done with codfish, turning it into dried salt cod (or bacalao) is probably one of the best known. Seems that the Norwegians and the Spaniards in particular had a hankering for the stuff. The Norwegians are also the best known producers of stockfish, which is air-dried cod (other fish can be used), and which ends up making the fish hard as rocks. Seriously, these things get like baseball bats. Probably why Norway is the world leader in fish related beatings per capita*. So what do you do with the other parts of the fish? Well, in his book Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (a neat read, by the way), Mark Kurlansky offers us a clue. At the end of one the chapters, there is a short end piece titled ‘The Well-Cooked Head’. Apparently, roasting a cod’s head is a vanishing art. Dammit, and I was just learning how to roast squash, now this?

TRULY THE ART OF EATING: In keeping with my mild obsession on Chinese food, let us now consider the wonton. I love wonton. I could eat them by the pound. Come to think of it, I have eaten them by the pound. There are, however, two difficulties for me with wonton. One, I don’t know if I am patient enough to make them myself, or at least patient enough to make them well. Two, I am not sure if I have ever had truly excellent wonton (or chao shou, to get all Sichuanese on you)**, but I don’t have enough experience with them to know what separates an average wonton from a stellar won. Er, one. Not to worry, I’ll continue to be on the lookout for more test subjects, to increase my store of knowledge. On that note, consider this little tidbit: in his delightful book Swallowing Clouds, A. Zee posits that one of the common ways to write ‘wonton’ in Chinese*** is translated as…’swallowing clouds’. Isn’t that wonderful?

Happy Tuesday, dear readers, I’m stuffed! Although I could swallow some more clouds…

*I totally made that up.
**Please indulge my nerdiness.
***Forgive the simplification; it’s just that I can’t reproduce the characters here.

27 July 2009

Simple Path: Milk and Wheat Transformed

Generally speaking, one ignores the utterances of royalty at one’s peril.

This is particularly true in regards to food preferences. Or more precisely, random statements referencing food preferences. Because what the princess wants for dinner or lunch or snack is a quantam crapshoot of crackers or cheese or yogurt or cookies or cheese sticks or peanut butter sandwiches, and what Her Majesty says often bears no relation to what she wants.

This is not to say that constants do not exist. They do. At least, we sort of agree that they do. Scientists have spent a crap load of time and effort measuring and judging and experimenting with the fabric of the universe. The speed of light seems to be a tough nut to crack, so for practical purposes, ain’t nothing gonna top that. Not in my lifetime, with the possible exception of the reaction time between the pronouncement and the protest when I tell my daughter “that will be the last game before bedtime”. Sheesh. There is no instrument that can measure that sort of speed.

Still, constants exist. Some strange attractors have come to light, within the limited but rapidly expanding Universe that is the sphere of awareness of Her Highness’ mind. Without true awareness, the princess is constantly running mathematical analyses on the nonstop stream of data that impinges upon the blossoming sponge of consciousness she claims for a brain. She carries it about in a skull-shaped porcelain vase bejeweled with two blue windows of astonishing beauty and purity. She processes, sharply and with lightning speed.

The numbers games going on in Her Lightness’ head rarely stops to stay anywhere for long. Simply put, there are too many Wonderful Things in the multiverse to consider, when the clock in one’s head isn’t counting down to anything. The Data, the Input, is all new and fresh. There is no reason for a Young Mind, even that of a whip-smart, razor sharp Princess with a bent for pink anything, to know that the thing right in front of it is the best of its kind, simply because it IS right in front of you. So the tendency is to skip around, like a thought-stone on the watery surface of the cosmos.

Constants. As I said, they do exist. Strange attractors are starting to dimple the fractal net, and Her Highness is now verbalizing them. One strange attractor in particular.

Butter noodles. Butter noodles with salt.

It seems that every two out of three times I ask the Wee Lass what she wants for dinner, and very often even when I don’t ask (she just tells me), butter noodles is the response.

For a while, though, I resisted this insistence. Butter noodles every now and then was no big deal. But every night? What’s up with that? Perhaps it was the jaded adult in me that just could not fathom this.

Tonight, the Princess made me see the light.

It had been a long, busy day of activities (park, mall, bookstore) and fatigue (both of us) and some sickness (the Princess) and I was no longer interested in cooking anything. But dinnertime loomed, the royal stomach seemed calm and calories were needed. So the dinner request was just a formality.

Me: What do you want for din---
Her: Butter noodles!

With a sigh and a saucepan, I set the water to boil, noodles at the ready. A big bowl on the counter into which I set some nice slabs of Irish butter. I let the heat of the stovetop soften up the butter while the noodles cook. Once done, a quick drain in the colander and then into the bowl. The noodles are turned into the butter and dusted with salt. Her Royal tastebuds loves them some butter and salt. Without ambitions beyond staying awake long enough to put her to bed, I portioned off a heaping bowl of the noodles for myself. I carried her bowl and mine to the Tinkerbell table parked in front of the TV, and we set to. She dug in with gusto, I with feeble enthusiasm.

The scales fell from my eyes, dear readers. Sitting there with my chin at table top level, slurping on a bowl of salty, buttery goodness, the elegant simplicity of it finally sank in. Her Majesty announced the noodles were “awesome!”. I in my hardened weariness had to concede that the noodles were indeed awesome, being so simple and so good. I was content.

Contentment. Elusive like a butterfly, but there it was perched on the tip of my tongue. We sat and ate, and all was right with the world.

25 July 2009

Joga Bonito! Futebol en Fuego (or an Evening Well Spent)

Milan vs. Chelsea. Just minutes away.

Our seats were primo.

There was noise. There was beer. There was footie.

Milan lost, 2-1, but really? It was an evening well spent. GOOOOOOAAAALLLLLLL!

23 July 2009

Dream of Salt and Bread

I opened the door that evening, to make my daily schlep to the mail box, to get my daily dose of coupon flyers and junk, and there was a thunk at my feet. Looking down, there was a small cardboard box lying on the threshold. The wrapping tape said “Food Network” and it weirded me out. I was not expecting any packages, and I could not remember having ordered anything from the Food Network. Especially small kitchenwares, which is what the mystery package turned out to be.

I brought it inside and turned it over to read the packing slip. Aha, mystery solved! No, I hadn’t ordered something while sleep walking or after a couple of gin and tonics. It was from my Ma and Da, and they sent me a salt dish for my dining table. Just what I needed, and a nice surprise.

Later in the week I arrived home in no mood to cook. Tired and ragged out, with the walls closing in just a bit, I made a spot decision to go on a picnic at my favorite local lake. So I grabbed my cooler and backpack, filled them up with bread, olives, cheese, pickles, and threw in a jar of salt and my pepper grinder. A bottle of olive oil topped it up, and off I went.

Good on me for finding the perfect spot to conduct my noshing adventures. It was at a picnic table situated under a tree and in just enough shade for me to relax and enjoy the setting sun. A gentle breeze and, strangely for a Baltimore summer, almost no humidity, meant a most pleasant evening to dine outside.

While sitting there, chewing slowly and ruminating like an upright cow, I began to feel dizzy and weak. At first, I thought I was coming down with something. The working of my jaws slowed even further, my breathing loud and languid in my ears. I swallowed. I became hyperaware of the birdsongs among the trees, the shouts and laughter of the extended family picnicking across the way. I heard the giggles of children, the wind in the grass, stirring the leaves over my head.

Leaning back and closing my eyes, I felt a sense of peace wash over me. The tensions of the day truly melted away. Realizing I was not going to be sick, I resumed chewing. The savory bite of the salt and the unctuous embrace of olive oil grabbed my tongue and lips, each working of the jaw a deeper exploration of flavor. Breathing deep into my belly created a deeper sense of comfort. And the laughter and voices I heard were that of my loved ones, sitting around the table with me.

We sat there at the table, laughing and joking and reveling in the joy of each other’s presence. I smiled, dipped my bread into the oil, and we shared salt and bread on a lovely summer evening.

Dedicated to the roots of my tree, those of this world and those who have gone on to the next. May love find you, whichever world you grace with your presence.

22 July 2009

On The Ocean Voracious, Part Two

Deluge. The wave thunders over the bow to take my breath away. Gasping and spluttering in a frantic attempt to draw air into my lungs, I rushed down the hall to the delivery room. Or was it really an operating room? The distinction perhaps matters not at all. What did matter is that there was pain and blood and panic and a claustrophobic smothering of life out of control. Control for us, not the doctors and nurses doing their best to keep three lives in this world.

As I entered the room, my head full of whitecaps and howling wind, I was led to a chair set next to the head of the table. This was no captain’s chair, commanding the bridge on a clipper ship racing over the open ocean. Instead it had the feel of a life ring or a rescue dinghy. In other words, small, frail and to my overheated mind, distressingly inadequate for the task of keeping me afloat.

I had no choice. I sank into the chair with a prayer to keep me from drowning.

The mother of our twins lay there, dazed by fatigue, medications and anesthesia. She was awake though, and my heart broke to see the look of fear on her face. There is little so emasculating as facing a total inability to help someone you love out of their own extreme distress. What could I do sit by her side, murmuring what words of support that I could muster? To this day, I cannot recall if I held her hand, do not remember if anything I said truly helped. After all, what does the master of the ship say to the crew when they are staring up at a wall of water ten times the size of their own puny craft?

Not much, I suppose. But better to say something, better to acknowledge the human connection, than to completely surrender to the blind brutalities of nature.

I did what I could do, the best I could under the circumstances. The room was filled with choreographed chaos. It had the air of a bizarre religious ceremony, masked acolytes attending to the mysterious commands of high priestesses gathered around a strange and terrible altar. Machines beeped and hummed in the background. Hands were raised, blood was drawn. There seemed a never ending stream of small emergencies to defuse; all the while I sat there trying not to faint. If I felt possessed of manhood at all, I watched it slowly seeping away in a slowly growing pile of surgical gauze colored a shocking crimson. I fought to keep my eyes open.

The doctor spoke. I looked up to see that our son had been delivered. My eyes registered a pinkish blur the size and shape of a doll as he was whisked over to a waiting isolette. Another terse utterance from the doctor as our first daughter was delivered shortly thereafter. Again, I saw a doll-shaped blur. A shout withered in my throat as I learned that the babies were alive, the mother serious but stable.

There were no cries. The silence haunts me still.

St. Brendan was either a madman or possessed of supernatural courage. I, who am not destined to be a saint, certainly doubted my sanity. There were no bronze stars pinned to my shirt. The blur of the delivery faded into the gray-green roar of the sea pummeling my miniscule craft. I stood before the mast soaked and shivering in fear of opening my eyes. As I waited, I felt the motion of the boat began to slow. The wind dropped from a howl to a loud conversation. A dim silvery light seeped through my eyelids. Feeling no courage at all, I opened them to see a break in the clouds on the far horizon. The waters were restless, heavy, and the craft was still tossed. Still, it seemed we had survived the worst. I began to bail the boat.

Bend. Scoop. Stand. Pour. Repeat. A script of long hours, little sleep and constant worry. My wife in the ICU, my babies in the NICU. A seemingly diabolical arrangement designed to stretch and break the body and the soul. You really cannot be two places at once, the errant cruelty of which was ground into my mind. Things began to look up, as the twins stabilized and my wife improved enough to get out of the ICU and visit the babies. The meeting between the babies and the mother was a transcendent moment, a glimpse into the presence of the Divine in the fabric of the Universe. We began to hope, began to breathe more. Mother and father were able to go home. The sea relaxed, ever so slightly.

But on the sixth day, God created Pain.

A white-hot lance of agony delivered in the form of a late evening phone call. The daughter was in distress. We were told to get back to the hospital. I looked up from the bilge, pail in hand, to see the sky and the sea melding into one. A deep gray-green smudge of darkness. The wind began to race.

The drive to the hospital and the trip up to the NICU is a smear of panic and horror. My jaws at war with my guts, as they sought to escape through my lips. We made into the NICU, and the faces of the staff told us what we did not want to know, even before we saw the isolette. We rounded the corner, and the lance twisted hard between the ribs. Our daughter, not breathing, the machines turned off.

On board the boat, a tiny flame is extinguished by a hurricane. The ocean peels itself away from the horizon and wraps the boat; the coils of a ghastly Ouroboros come to crush it to end the world. I howl in despair and fury, unbelieving of such tragedy. As the wave rolls over the boat, the only thing I can think to do is hurl the bucket into its face and damn it to hell. The wave in its uncaring majesty ignores this puny attempt at defiance, and breaks.

21 July 2009

Semi-Random, 'Cause I'm A Headless Chicken

Whew. A short one this week, folks. I'm tired and shagged out from a long squawk. So this week, it's random to the tune of one thing:

The lurvely and delish Marguerite at Cajun Delights bestowed upon me an award! Dig this:

I would tell you all about it, but...I'm tired. Please do stop by Cajun Delights, get the deets on this and many other tasty things (seafood, oh lawd, seafood)(and beer), and tell her I sent you.
Happy Tuesday, y'all!

20 July 2009

Heron In The Rain

I saw a heron in the rain, its twin chasing it in the green glass mirror of the river below. Bluish-gray itself, it said nothing and the whisper of its wings soaked up in the liquid sibilance of the drops speckling the water.

I tell you the heron said nothing, but it spoke volumes. It spoke to me of you.

While meditating on the water circling in the cove, I spied the feathery blur just as it burst from the trees on the far side of the river. The heron flew low, perhaps fifteen feet above the water. The orange beak stood out as shocking streak of dull orange fire against the murky emerald of the river and the liquid emeralds of the leaves. My mouth agape as I watched it arc across the gap between the trees bookending the banks of the river.

Heron, wait…

Of what blood are you, to my friend Brother Heron?
Brother, yourself? Sister?
Are you, friend-to-be, a cousin, perhaps?
If you are, then give my best wishes to Brother
should you see him.

He and I have not shared the same air in too long.

The heron did not so much as tilt his head in my direction. In seconds, it was gone, hidden by the trees. I became aware I was holding my breath, so taken as I was by that glimpse of rare and incandescent beauty. I let the breath out slowly, through my nostrils and closed my eyes to savor the image.

You were there. Stepping out from among the trees and floating across the water. A small gasp and I smiled to think of you, momentary flares of color like fireworks in the mind’s sky. I did not cry. My tears the rain dimpling the mirror. I dipped my hands into the water, aching to catch the ripples of your memory. Like the heron, they too were gone almost before I knew it, leaving me with afterimages of beauty.

16 July 2009

On The Ocean Voracious, Part One

Six years I have roamed the ocean, seeking to escape its ravenous maw. Six years I have mourned the loss of the vessel in which I had set sail on the waters of life.

Was I St. Brendan, setting out in my wood and leather coracle in search of Paradise? Not exactly, as I would never confuse myself with a dyed-in-the-wool true believer. And I certainly never founded any monasteries. What I did do, akin to Brendan, was to believe in something so deeply, want something so badly I was willing to journey far through dangerous seas in an improbably small vessel to find it.

So it came to pass that I found myself on the verge of fatherhood, a wife pregnant with twins and a head full of naïve ideas about what fatherhood really meant. The early days were filled with joy and anxiety, but mostly joy. Against some steep odds I was the father of twins, where I had been hoping and praying for at least one child to call ours. I still remember the day we found out. The evidence was right there on the sonogram screen. A fine pair, indeed.

I was so happy I thought I would faint. Or throw up. Fortunately, I did neither. Instead, I started laughing and crying a bit, it was so beautiful and overwhelming. Wishes and dreams coming true in a most unexpected fashion.

Twins. Time to put on my big boy pants.

In the days and weeks following our discovery, I was growing anxious and overjoyed in equal measures. One child would have been a lot to take on, so two…! I was able to put aside the anxiety, mostly, and concentrate on the joy, the excitement. I could see the evidence there, every day, in a swelling tummy and the radiance that only a mother could have. Natural beauty on par with anything Nature could offer.

Plans were made, thinking of life with not one, but two babies in the world. Clothes bought, thoughts of a nursery, scrapbooks to document the growth and arrival of strange and lovely fruit in our little garden. Birthing classes and doctor’s visits: all served to put us on notice, and we did learn the many dangers, the pitfalls, the awful things lying in wait for the unwary traveler. Even all that terrible knowledge, in this era of information overload and access to good medical care, did not sap the enthusiasm and happiness I had begun to allow myself to feel. Breaking new ground, I told myself, when I realized I was slipping the bonds of a lifelong pessimism about the world, and about life. It was absolutely wonderful.

Amidst that burgeoning optimism, I fancied myself setting sail on a vast and glorious ocean, in a fine boat of my own construction. This is easy enough to do under sunny skies and calm seas, of which we had aplenty. Once out on the water, not even a quickening wind and darkening horizon could dampen my optimism, so I sailed on into the storm, instead of away from it.

Of course, we had no choice. Hindsight is perfect…

The day we entered the hospital was surreal, and scary, but almost as if scary through a thick filter. My wife sick, severely so, only we had no idea at first just how severe. She in bed, hooked to devices and tubes and wires, monitored around the clock. Me, parked on the rollout couch-bed, disheveled, worried and not really comprehending the violence of the storm about to break.

Three days in a hospital room is no forty days in the wilderness, but it sure felt like it. All the testing and monitoring and alarms and constant checking of things. Very hard for everyone, especially the mother, and to this day I am still astonished at my blithe ignorance. Almost up to the last hour or two, I was still thinking that we would be home shortly, problem solved and that we would still be taking our planned vacation that summer. My god, I was so wrong. Towards the end of that third day, with a solemn look on her face, the doctor brought us face to face with the awful truth: our babies must be born now if we wanted the best hope of mother and children surviving. That sixteenth day of the month…

Imagine being at the top of mountainous wave, looking down on the green, glassy trough below. The mind reels, the mouth gapes and the knowledge sinks in that little boats aren’t meant to sail mighty oceans. For one small slice of eternity, I was standing in that boat looking down on the water and I could feel the bottom dropping out. Too scared to scream, to move, I gripped the gunwales as the water below came rushing up to meet my little vessel. On that warm summer day, I stood in the grip of dread while sliding down the foam-spattered face of Neptune.

My son and daughter, brought into the world through controlled violence. I stood helplessly by, cursing the roiling sea and screaming to God “I don’t know how to sail…” as the first of many towering waves broke over the bow.

15 July 2009

A New Pair of Shorts

I had the realization recently that I find it difficult to write a short post. So here goes. Enjoy!

14 July 2009

Random Tuesday Thoughts: Dude, Where's My Car? Edition

Go on. Take it. You know you want one. It's Random Tuesday Thought, yo! Grab it and go!

BUT HE MEANS IT IN THE BEST POSSIBLE SENSE OF THE WORD: You want to read something funny? My vote for the best Blog Post Title of the Year, read it here. Funny title, good article. And, no, I am not related to the author, although he is a friend and former neighbor.

I DO NEED IT, BUT NOT REALLY IN THE WAY THEY MEAN IT: Again with the random targeted ads. This stuff is comedy gold, I tell ya! There it was, floating in my sidebar:

"Need Cleavage Coverage? Make an impression with your resume not your cleavage. We can help!"

Okay, that's just a big, fat softball waiting to be hit out of the park. I'll start: "Pardon me, miss, can I make an impression OF your cleavage?" You guys, feel free to add your own joke...

A STUPID GAG THAT STILL MAKES ME LAUGH: This giraffe walks into a bar and says "The high balls are on me!" Now that's comedy!

ITS TOO BAD YOU CAN'T MARRY A SANDWICH (ALTHOUGH LEGISLATION MAY BE IN THE WORKS): I'm always on the lookout for new things to meet and eat (make your own pun there), so it was with great interest and perhaps a little lust that my "foodar"* went off like a cheap fireworks display when my blogging buddy cIII let slip in conversation the knowledge of the Hot Brown Sandwich. Bacon, turkey, Mornay sauce and tomato on toast. I likes me a good sandwich, and if visiting with The Goat and Tater Man hisself wasn't reason enough to visit the great state of Kentucky, the Hot Brown sounds like it runs a close second.

Kentucky, here I come...

WHAT ARE WORDS FOR, IF NOT TO MYSTIFY AND BEFUDDLE: I have been working on an informal project as of late, trying to identify words that I really like, that really appeal to me. When I first started, I got all tangled up in trying to define the criteria by which I could decide why really like them. But that became too hard to do, too much work, too much angst over what should be a pleasant task. So I threw all that out the window, and wrote down the first word that popped into my head. That word? "Boing". Just that: boing. BoingBoingBoing. BOING! Not even a real word, but there you have it. Try using it in a business conversation today!
TURN THE HEAT ON AND SEE WHAT SHE SAYS: Over the weekend, the Wee Lass and I were timekillin' by watching some mindspooge on TV, SpongeBob or something similar. I looked out the window and said "Hey, it's a real nice day, you wanna go to the playground?" To which she turned her withering gaze on me and replied "No, Daddy, are you kidding me? It's too hot to think!" The thermostat read 73 degrees. At 80 degrees, she would probably pass out!
Okay, whew, time to towel off now, go find my car. Happy Random Tuesday, everyone!

*Special thanks to Darby Conley for that little gem. Darby, please be a good sport and know that I only streal from the best. I'm not plagiarizing, I'm proselytizing!

13 July 2009

Sometime to Return, To Myself

I ran the way, I walked a fine line
Wasted time only to find
You were callin’ I think finally
To remind me I am fine…

Picture this: It is close to Thanksgiving, 1988, and the worn-looking Chevy Nova is barreling down the highway on Route 460 in southern Virginia. Cruising down into the Piedmont region with the Blue Ridge Mountains small and getting smaller in the rear view. In the front passenger seat sits a cassette/radio combo boom box, the height of second tier portable music technology in the pre-digital age. A cassette box lies next to the boom box, skittering about on the cracked red vinyl of the seat as the driver takes the curves just fast enough to be interesting without posing a true public safety hazard.

The boom box is there because the car is a 1977 model, with a radio that only pretended to play music that anyone wanted to hear. Pushbuttons and that Day-Glo orange needle offering up frequencies that seemed to bear little resemblance to what was actually on the airwaves. The driver doesn’t really care, though. This is his first car, and nothing could be finer than flying down the blacktop, belting out punk rock songs at the top of his lungs.

The terrain is flattening out now, hitting that stretch of small towns between Lynchburg and Petersburg, the “Elam-Farmville-Crewe” axis as the driver of the car had dubbed it. He knew a girl whose last name was Elam, he knew someone who went to school in Farmville (home of Longwood College) and Crewe? Well, Crewe was the home of the 7-11 pit stop, a perfect coincidence of thirst, numb ass and full bladder coming together in a siren call to stop and take a break. Crewe was also the place to call home from the pay phone and let the ‘rents know about when their boy would be home for the break. Crewe was that place where he called home in a voice shaking with relief and homesickness to let them know he would be home late that one time he and his buddy slid off the road on a patch of black ice. They sat in a ditch for a while waiting for a tow truck, watching other drivers careen off the road for entertainment.

Doing the what-we-can
Working without a plan
I'm beginning to understand
It's getting out of hand…

Thanksgiving, in what would be his senior year of college. Five years of architecture school on the way to winding down, and the driver was ready for it to be over. Make his family proud on the way to becoming a respectable citizen. Maybe get a job after graduation, follow the path just like everyone else and find that path to stability, career and 2.5 kids.

At least that is what it looked like from the outside. Burnout was starting to creep in, under pressure from just trying to keep up and do his best. Trying not to waste his parents’ money and his precious energy, all the while telling himself this is what life was supposed to be. The driver was perhaps not even fully aware of the hidden cracks in the foundations of his life, but they certainly fueled the gnawing in his gut, increased the volume at which he bellowed out the songs pouring from the radio, set to volume 9 so he could scream and hear the music over the noise of the wind rushing through the open windows. Even then he knew, without having the ability to articulate it, that something was not quite right. That maybe, just maybe, he was not so certain of himself, that he had not made his choices based on what his heart wanted.

Passing the sign pointing the way to Red House, the driver reached over and hit the rewind button, to hear that song again. He grinned at the opening power chords and drew a deep breath. Not too much farther to Crewe.

I have seen these do-si-do's
I've walked up on this road before
Picked it apart for hours and hours and hours and hours
Of turning tossing and looking and listening
To you and all the fucked up things you do…

The driver was used to this by now, the hours on the road trying to set a new land speed record to get home, without getting caught by the state troopers that popped up every now and then. He fancied himself a rebel now and then, but he knew he really didn’t want the hassle of a ticket.

The time on the road was a time for conversation, a weird and loopy dialogue with himself. Dialogue, that is, when he was not trying to sing along with the radio. Strange conversations about the Universe and his place in it, never once thinking himself weird.

Years later, the driver felt shamed into not talking to himself, because…well, that isn’t normal…is it?

In the grip of youthful self-absorption, the driver knew nothing of the minefields of the future, those dangerous explosives suddenly uncovered by the velvet covered brutalities of that which is called Life. No, such things were not even on the radar. And why should they be? Loud music, a fast car and time: all the time in the world. The driver smiled. The sign said Crewe was just a few miles ahead. He reached over again, and hit the rewind button.

But you're doing the best you can
With every grain of sand
That's trickling through your hands
Sayin’ catch me if you can…

Picture this: A midsummer early evening, July 2009, and the worn-looking Honda Civic is not speeding, exactly, but close to it. The car is on the highway south of Baltimore, midway between an old home and a new one. Under a sky the color of dusty silver and pale oranges, the driver is fighting back tears and fatigue and trying to master a gut that can’t decide if it wants to play nice or just torture its owner. The driver is tired, really tired. The trip is not so long in the physical sense, a short jaunt of about three miles. Piece o’ cake, yes?

Then why did it seem so long?

Doing the best I can living without a plan
I'm taking what I can get I haven't seen nothing yet
If one day you wake up and find what you make up
Come and get me come and take me there
Into your illusion I make my intrusion
Anytime, anyplace, anywhere…

The radio was playing, softly. The CD slot was empty, and the driver suddenly realized that the song coming out of the dash was not the song playing in his head. It figures, he thought, absentmindedly reaching out to hit the rewind button. A rush of hot tears as he realized he had no rewind button. The song played on, no chance of doing it over. He wept.

The driver wiped his eyes and told himself to stop being such an asshead. He knew why. The weekend was winding down, another weekend where he was privileged to be a father not just in name but in the real. Dropping his lovely daughter off carried with it a tinge of relief (the child was quite a handful, and he was no longer a spring chicken), but it made him realize just how disconnected the parts of his life seemed to be. The distance between what he was and what he wanted to be stretching out that three mile drive into what seemed like three hundred.

The hourglass is draining fast
It knows no future holds no past
And all this too will come to pass
Never forever whatever

The Honda pulls slowly into the parking space, a world-weary ship tying up to an unfamiliar wharf. Inside, the driver turns the engine off, but hesitates with his hand on the keys. Resting his head on the steering wheel, the hardness of it against his forehead giving him an anchor against the waves besetting him all around. He rubs his forehead against the plastic, grinding it and gritting his teeth as he comes to grips with the true cost of not listening to your heart. He slips the keys from the ignition, opens the door and steps out into the heat of a life starting over.

If someday comes early comes whipping, comes whirling
To take you for all you have learned
The tables are turning your bridges are burning
My destination sometime to return...

Italicized passages are lyrics from Sometime to Return by Soul Asylum, off the album “Hang Time”. A fine tune, indeed, to crank up loud.

08 July 2009

Adult Geography

“Hey, eeeeasy, mister!” the shrill voice of the boy child scraped across my eardrums, an icy spike into the throbbing mass of my head. Shirtless and buzzcut, the kid and his buddies half-glared, half-shrank away from the front of my car as I rolled forward an inch. Buzzcut was on a bike, one of those BMX types that look cool but are a total pain in the ass to ride anywhere for long. His peeps, two of them, were slightly ahead of him and walking fast like they actually cared to not be in the path of impatient people driving big hunks of metal.

Don’t wet yerself, Junior, I muttered to myself as I drove past the bike to make my turn, I wasn’t gonna hit you. Like I needed the complication of a tweenager sprawled across my hood. Oh, hell to the nahhh.

All I really wanted to do, I thought, was to give him notice. Notice that it is no proof of manhood to wait until the light is just about to turn and then decide to race across the street before the cars could start moving. Nor does it pay to play daredevil with a cheap bike or a skateboard.

Bike vs. car = epic failure for the bike.

I sighed, feeing grumpy and old beyond my years. Grumpy like the dwarf, but with a boil on his ass. Old like the Sphinx, and just as battered. Turning the corner, with the shouts of the neighborhood Evel Knievel and Co. fading fast, I wondered what had happened to me.

When did I get to be the Geezer?

It wasn’t until much later that I realized I was a teensy bit jealous, and lost. Those kids were me decades ago, doing much the same thing with my friends, bike and skateboards and attitude. They were getting about on a summer evening the only way they could. Which is to say, on foot or leg powered wheels. As such, they had a completely different perspective on where they were in the landscape, and a completely different view of the tyrannical freedom of the car.

A half-mile later I was thinking back to when the best way I had to get around was by bike, or by walking. The place I grew up in was very flat, almost no hills and no real steep grades to speak of. My world was circumscribed by the energy and time I could devote to getting somewhere. Of course, I didn’t have very far to go for most things. Most of my friends were within easy biking distance, and some were certainly close enough for walking visits. True to form, as a kid I had no appreciation of that luxury. Walking was anathema, unless unavoidable, and biking was a necessity in the absence of a car. But, gawdddd, all that pedaling! Mom, Dad, I wantneedgottahavecantlivewithoutmylicensepleaseletmedrivebymeacarpleasepleaseplease…well, you know the drill.

The place I grew up in was no small town, nor was it a big city by most measures. Flat, roads in a grid, convenience store around the corner (where I spent far too much money on pinball) and a park not far away. Getting around these places on a bike or on foot was always an investment of time (of which I now know I had plenty) and energy (also of which I had plenty); it always seemed a bit of an adventure. Will the chain pop off? Is it going to rain? How do I carry a pizza and an illicit six-pack on the handlebars without dropping them? You know all the shortcuts, the curves, the places where its cool to ride hell-for-leather and hope to not get flattened by a car. You get to know whose yards to cut through, and which ones have dogs to avoid (or smack the hell out of with a newspaper). Everything seemed potentially a LONG way away. And it seems a REALLY long way when you decide to leave a friend’s house at two o’clock in the morning after a party, where everyone is either asleep or (ahem) passed out, and walk home. Jay-zus, was that a long night. I discovered the meaning of “miles”. Given the dodgy nature of some of the places I had to traverse, it was the fear n’ beer that got me home. And, yes, Mom, I’ll never do that again…

Traveling this way gives an amazing, intimate knowledge and understanding of the terrain of one’s daily existence. It is a perspective hard to obtain while driving in car. Or maybe it is that the scale of things changes after years behind the wheel, pushing the gas instead of pedaling the wheels.

Thinking back to my childhood and adolescence spent hoofing it, or pedaling my chubby buns off in the heat of a sticky Tidewater summer, I realize now that the city of my birth was really a neighborhood. And to my kid-sized mind, the neighborhood was more than a city; it was a big country bounded only by the limits of my muscles and my ambition to explore. It was a kingdom of the strange and of the familiar, places outside my daily existence and the delights of a home to go to, safe and dry. I used to think it was big. Really BIG.

When I go there now, to visit my parents and my brother, I am always stunned by how small my hometown seems, how close everything is now that I drive. It weirds me out, even makes me a little sad, although I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s the passage of time and the nostalgia that goes with it. Maybe it’s the realization that the scale of my existence has changed drastically from that of the kid I once was.

Later on that same night that I played matador with Buzzcut and his buds, I pulled into a drive thru ATM to deposit a check. All thoughts of “Easy, Mister!” flew out the window when I realized that I had no pen or pencil to fill out the deposit envelope. Cursing and muttering, I started the car again and headed across the parking lot to a grocery store, looking to buy some pens so I could get back in the car and finish my errand.

I got out of the car, Grumpy the Dwarf in search of Bic love. As I shut the car door, I happened to look back towards the road. There on the sidewalk, in a group of three, was a mother and who I assume were her daughters. She was pushing a baby stroller, the girls were laughing and skipping as they headed across the road to the neighborhood on the other side. At that moment it became clear to me why I felt jealous of Buzzcut. He was reveling in the oblivious freedom of youth, exploring his country anew, learning the land for the first time.

Me, I was tired, having wasted too many sunny days taking graduate courses in Adult Geography.

And still trying to get that degree.

06 July 2009

Lake Of Souls, Morning

The shrine is there, visible through open spaces between the trees, splendidly refulgent in shades of emerald, azure or silver depending on the mood of its cousins the sky and sun. The quicksilver surface is occasionally distorted by the splashing of waterfowl and fish, sensual ripples in a watery sheet.

The shrine is there, diffracted through the a million pinhole cameras created by the canopy of leaves and branches. A living shroud, perhaps, a green curtain concealing the mysteries within. The mysteries can be had, by those willing and patient enough to lift the edges of the shroud. Only in this way can one step through to the inner sanctum.

It was not always this way. Before, the lake was just a hole in the ground filled with water.

That was years ago and a persona away. Time has passed and the perceptions, the investments of feelings are different. The focus has changed. It used to be the lake was a pleasant novelty. A green loop to walk around, counting dogs and squirrels and marveling at the geese. Every so often a bike ride was in order, a welcome diversion on a comfortable spring weekend. At this lake, a pair of swans once lived, but the duet faded as one voice succumbed to the ravages of time and the other ceased singing, perhaps due to a broken heart.

The water was just water, green, wet, dotted with feathers, leaves and lily pads. Sometimes, in winter it acquired a crust of ice. Tempting to skaters, which are not allowed, and providing entertainment to onlookers watching ducks flop and skid on the slick surface. This ice was never majestic in an arctic sense, and never gave the impression that it covered anything more than a shallow lake, home to fish and frogs.

And later, souls.

The transformation was slow and subtle, from utilitarian feature of the landscape to a holy vessel akin to those containing the finger bones of saints or the teeth of prophets. It took years to happen, almost unnoticed on many hours of walks and quiet contemplation. The transformation may never have taken hold, too, if not for the beautiful and terrible pressures of time and life bearing down on the walker.

Awe inspiring joy and unspeakable tragedy. The psychic equivalent of plate tectonics acting on the soul and molding it into forms previously unknown and unseen. The walker talked to himself on his many trips around the lake. The lake began to listen to the prayers, the angry screeds, the quiet questions and simple joys discovered in the interior of the mind. There was transference of energy, and the lake stirred from a long, cold slumber.

And one day, the lake spoke back.

The walker realized this, one day in early summer. It was unusually cool and cloudy as he ambled down the path in the green stillness. The lake was there as always, waiting. Passing an opening in the trees and undergrowth, he could not escape the feeling that someone was waiting for him, watching, and whispering to him. There a path draped down a hill, leading into the trees. In the background, glints of silver and grey, almost as voices.

They were there, all of them, and had been for quite some time. Son, daughter, grandmother, family long passed and still of this earth: In his thoughts, in his words, his actions. All this walking and thinking and talking. It was no longer with him exclusively. It was with the lake.

The water now precious, bearing souls. They were with him, now and evermore. The walker climbed the hill, spreading his arms wide to embrace the water.

You are here, he said to the wind, come to me…I am home.

03 July 2009

Room 201: A Grand Lunch, Two Beers and Kind Words

Well, a gorgeous day indeed here in Gumbostan, and I have been enjoying the luxury of a day off from work on this Fourth of July Eve, 2009. Out and about today for a walk around my favorite local park, then off to a tasty lunch at a local eatery. The results? See...

Tiny, I know, but I took it with my phone camera. On the plate are a slice of roasted sweet potato (plate right) and the peel from a slice of roasted sweet potato (plate left). The little dish in the middle left had some roasted garlic mashed with olive oil and herbs. The little basket in the middle held some breadsticks and slices of bread, the designated "dunkees" to be dunked in the garlic mash. And it was quite tasty, I must say. A perfect complement to the fresh mozzareela and tomato sandwich with pesto spread, which you don't see because it's in ma belly! The glass to the left held some iced tea with lemon. But not just any iced tea, as the receipt says:

In case you can't make that out, it says "The Iced Tea". Hmm. Is that like The Big Dog, or The Big Kahuna? So I must be special, 'cause I get The Iced Tea.

The sky was somewhat cloudy, but the breeze was blowing and the humidity was low and the temperature was just right for sitting outside and eatin' stuff. As I leaned back in the chair, full belly, drooping eyelids and fighting off the distraction of an impossibly cute hostess, I got to thinking about food. Specifically, about what I was going to eat, possibly, on Sunday. I was meditating on gumbo, thinking I might make a batch because I haven't had the opportunity in a while. I became sad. I missed my gumbo.

But then I brightened up. Gumbo! That reminded me of a recent bloggy acquaintance I had the good fortune to make. The scrumptious and busy! Angie Ledbetter at Gumbo Writer and I finally crossed paths when she dropped by Irish Gumbo and I stumbled onto her Haiku Hoopla contest this past week. Just on a lark, I gave the haiku a shot. Lo and behold, I WON! along with another lucky contestant.

Well, beyond the name, what does this have to do with food? you ask.

Ahh, see, this is the beauty of it. As a winner in the contest, Angie promised to send me a prize...and that prize may contain coffee, pralines and quite possibly GRITS. Hehheh, life is good, my friends, life is good...

Angie is also a co-managing editor of The Rose And Thorn literary e-zine. So please stop by Gumbo Writer and/or The Rose and Thorn, say hello, and tell Angie I sent you!

Epilogue: The two beers I had while making dinner and writing this post. Yum. And the Room 201 reference? Well, folks, last Thursday marked my 200th post since joining this here blogosphere. 200! Wow. I didn't think I would make it that far in a year! So that means that this is my 201st. See? (grin)

02 July 2009

Leaving Burma

The real problem was not that he had been sent to Burma, it was that he had never come back. That his body was currently in the driver’s seat of a car in Houston, Texas meant little; his mind was singing the Yangon blues.

Bobby Sack sat in the front seat of the stolen car, a dark blue Honda Accord, and stared across the parking lot, eyes fixed on a certain door. It was warm in the car, and Bobby barely noticed. The sunlight and the heat were old friends to him. Three tours in southeast Asia had given him a new perspective on what it meant to be hot and humid. Bobby smiled faintly, thinking of the heat and the damp and figured that Houston was just a wannabe, the third prize in the hot and sticky sweepstakes.

In the passenger seat lay a road map and a small black nylon duffel bag. The greasy-looking snout of a silencer poked out of the half-zippered bag, the snout of a particularly lethal turtle. Absent mindedly, as if he were patting a well-meaning but insistent nephew on the head, Bobby put his hand on the bag while smoothing out the cloth. The hard outlines of the pistol butt pressed into his palm. Bobby grunted softly at the touch, two old hounds greeting one another.

He flicked his eyes briefly to the clock on the dashboard. 12:58 in the afternoon. A brief stab of impatience which Bobby quickly squelched, wondering when the sonofabitch was going to take his lunch break. Soon, he thought, soon…

The radio was playing softly, a low murmur of music drifting through the car, waves on a distant beach. A small chunk of memory moved in Bobby’s head; he focused his hearing on the song without taking his eyes off the door across the way. Burma? Did I just hear that? Bobby wondered. Burma…

“…Once I had my heroes
Once I had my dreams
But all of that is changed now
They've turned things inside out…”

…a hot breeze wafted through the window and Bobby jerked wide awake. The smell of burning trash and human waste sat thick and acrid in his nostrils. He gagged slightly while trying to adjust his body armor. Goddamnit, he cursed, all that money spent and the fuckin’ lab techs still couldn’t make it comfortable. There was a rapid pop-pop-pop off to his left, the chunky sound of leftover Russian firearms. Must be government forces, Bobby thought, not the lighter sound of good old American firepower. He darted his eyes left and right over the street. No sign of the insurgents or rebels or whatever the press was calling them these days. Fuckin’ criminals, is what I say, muttered Bobby. Sulky teenagers with guns. He spat into the dust and shattered glass coating the floor under his boots. Sulky teenagers, and we have to spank them…

Bobby sighed as his heart slowed down. No one had really seen it coming. Uncle Sam had his eyes locked so long on the festering mess that had been Iraq, and the subsequent ass-hattedness of Iran, he failed to noticed the rot setting in down in Southeast Asia. Except this time, it wasn’t Vietnam. The Vietnamese had done a good job of putting the meddling of France and then the United States behind them. These days there wasn’t much difference between Ho Chi Minh City and Shanghai, if you set aside the language. Lots of shiny buildings, shiny young things on their cell phones, all looking for the latest that overseas investment dollars could buy.

Burma was a different story with the same plot. Military government rotting out, putting on a good face to keep the superpowers interested, but thugs are thugs. At which point, Bobby wearily noted, his employer could not keep its fingers out of the pie and there they were, history repeating itself. Another American bailout, in another country on the other side of the world. Lots of blood and bad feeling, Bobby thought, and he could not make up his mind which was worse: street fighting or mountain jungles. Of course the point was moot if you were dead…

Bobby was just about to fire up a cigarette when some motion at the end of the street caught his eye. Bobby tapped the sergeant on his grimy shoulder, and pointed; the sergeant nodded and whispered for the rest of the platoon to ready themselves. No telling who or what they were, the shadows on the street were a little too heavy. Bobby eased the safety off his assault rifle, peering over the windowsill. A small beetle crawled over the shattered glass and splintered wood, tracing a crazy zigzag path. Bobby found himself staring, transfixed, as the figures down the street drew closer. He curled his finger around the trigger. It seemed too quiet, and just as the lead figure stepped into a slanting sunbeam angling over the road, one of the troopers to Bobby’s right tried to stand up quietly. He lost his balance, slipping in the layer of dust, and fell. He landed awkwardly on a chunk of shattered concrete and groaned, the sound of his rifle shockingly loud as it accidently discharged.

Fuck me, Bobby thought, as there was a sudden rush of activity inside the ruined building and in the street outside. A rapid stream of voices shouting commands, in English and a language Bobby still couldn’t speak, but could understand, and the street erupted in a white hot blur of automatic weapons fire. Bobby squinted against a hot spatter of grit, as bullets whacked into the concrete and stucco in front of him. Bobby raised his rifle just in time to see the figure across the way raise his arm, a grenade clutched in his hand. A young hand. Bobby had just enough time to realize the figure was a kid, a teenager maybe, decked out in the ragged kit the insurgents called a uniform. The kid’s eyes locked on Bobby, seeing the barrel of the assault rifle pointed straight at his thin, dirty body. Bobby saw the sun on the dull green of the grenade, and squeezed the trigger, saying to himself Bless me father, for I have sinned…

“…That's when I reach for my revolver
That's when it all gets blown away
That's when I reach for my revolver
The spirit fights to find its way…”

The hot stickiness of the syrupy Houston air roiled through the window, causing Bobby to jerk awake. His left hand curled around the steering wheel in a spasm. Fuck, fuck, fuck he cursed himself, I hope I didn’t miss him. Bobby looked at the clock and eased a sigh as it read 1:02. Still time, he thought, and his car is still there. The song was still on the radio, Bobby thought it was on its coda. The lyrics drilled into his head, as he prayed that his target would come through the door and into the parking lot.

Motion at the door. Bobby’s pupils dilated and his hand tightened around the butt of the pistol. The door opened, and a man in a light grey suit stepped out, adjusting his sunglasses. For a split second Bobby thought the man was staring at him; a brief moment of a teenager’s dying eyes in the dusty Burma sunlight. Fumbling with his keys, the man stepped down the walk and headed for his car. His path, Bobby thought, would come right next to the Honda. Bobby clutched the pistol in his lap, holding the map over it with his left hand and pretending to study it as the man walked past the car. One second, two seconds…Bobby stepped out of the carrion heat of a Yangon alley, opening the door and planting his feet quietly on a Houston sidewalk. He eased off the safety and took a few languid steps up behind the grey suit. Behind him, the radio buzzed faintly, and Bobby smiled at the words…

“Tonight the sky is empty
But that is nothing new
Its dead eyes look upon us
And they tell us we're nothing but slaves…
That's when I reach for my revolver…”

Bobby Sack raised the pistol, finger tightening on the trigger, and wondered when he would get home from Burma.

Italicized lyrics – “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” by Mission Of Burma.