23 March 2013

Friday Afternoon Reg'ler Thang

Damnit, I sat down to expound on any number of topics from God particles to rape culture to who knows what, and then I was all distracted by rereading my past writing. The net result was, and I am sure this happens to you as well, that I couldn't stop thinking about sandwiches.

Is it weird, do you think, to have a crush on a sandwich?

Not just any sandwich (or 'sammich', as I sometime say) mind you. I'm talking po' boy. Shrimp po' boy, to be exact. And just about every Friday, at the tavern across the street from my place of part-time spice mongering, they have the shrimp po' boy as a special. I discovered this some weeks ago, on a sunny Friday lunch half-hour in which I persuaded myself to not to hook up with Crush #1 (a tasty BLT sammich) or Crush #2 (superlative turkey club).

So it 'twas that fateful afternoon I "ventured forth in search of tasty comestibles", to paraphrase John Cleese in Monty Python's "The Cheese Shop" skit. I hoofed it on over to the tavern, grabbed what would become my semi-regular seat, and uttered the phrase that would send my sammich cravings in a new direction: "I'll have the shrimp po' boy, please."

Even the waitress seemed surprised. It was not my usual. There was a brief awkward silence from which we both recovered in reasonable time. I sipped my iced tea and amused myself watching the antics of the talking heads on the sports channels showing on the televisions above the bar. Then the sandwich arrived, I fell to.

First, a word about sides. The sandwich specials come with some pickle chips and a choice between potato chips and cottage cheese. I like pickles, and the ones in this place are decent. I am not a cottage cheese man, so my choice is always the chips. Theirs are not house-made, but whatever brand they might be slinging are good enough.

As to the sandwich, the bread seemed a cross between a baguette and ciabatta sub roll. Good sized, it was packed with a decent supply of shrimp, with lettuce and tomato slices. Regarding the shrimp, I admit I was prepared to be underwhelmed. After all, the middle of the country is not exactly known as prime seafood territory. But it was fried shrimp, not simple boiled shrimp, and there was remoulade sauce. I reckoned fried and sauced would make up for any slippage in the quality of the shrimp themselves.

Man, oh, man, was I surprised. Even though it was a full lunch time crowd, things seemed to get quiet as I chewed. It finally penetrated my consciousness about a third of the way through the sandwich that it was really good. The shrimp were fried just right, not heavily breaded. The sauce, their version of a remoulade, really had some presence. The tomatoes were less than stellar, but it being winter that was of no surprise. Even the lettuce was tasty, dark green romaine instead of insipid iceberg disappointment.

It was as I polished off the last bite that I realized it wasn't just good, it was great. It was so good I asked the waitress to let the kitchen crew know that I thought that shrimp po' boy was possibly the best po' boy I have had outside of New Orleans. And I had some spectacular po' boys in New Orleans on my visit some years ago!

Now I realize that were it possible to do a side by side comparison of this sandwich to one from say, the Acme Oyster House in New Orleans, the NOLA version would probably win. They have history and tradition and experience on their side. That's okay, though, and I'll tell you why: I don't live in New Orleans right now. And I wanted a good fried shrimp sandwich; that sandwich was right in front of me. Lucky for me, the folks in the kitchen seemed to want to make a good po' boy, and it showed. It was good enough, for sure, to be that Friday afternoon reg'ler thang.

12 March 2013

Echoes and Ricochets

It wasn't the two sets of strangers' fingers digging into my groin that brought tears to my eyes. It was a heart attack what did it. A heart attack that does not belong to me, but in some guise feels as if it had.

I was standing in the exam room, after the obligatory Q & A with the surgeon and the medical student who accompanied her. I had been asked more than once if it was okay for the student to be there, and if she could also participate in the exam. As I long ago shed most of my squeamishness when it comes to medical exams, I told them I had no problem with it. The way I see it, we all have to start somewhere, and how else is anyone going to learn this stuff?

So there I was, two people I had met for the first time only minutes ago, poking and prodding my groin to identify that what we were looking at was indeed a hernia. (It was. Yay, me.) They pushed somewhat hard, and it was moderately uncomfortable, but endurable in the name of medical education. I winced.

What was really working on my mind was not inguinal distress (fancy talk for "groin pain"), it was history. The student had asked a series of pre-exam questions relating to my medical history and that of my family, and she asked what proved to be the sharp question. Sharp, pointy, like a syringe needle.

"Do you have any siblings?"

There was a moment of silence, broken only by murmurs from the hall. Always, there is this dislocation when I have to decide between "have" and "had".

"Yes, one brother. Deceased."
"What did he die of, what did it?"
"He died suddenly, of a massive heart attack."
(concerned look
"I'm so sorry."
"It took us all by surprise. Thank you."

We then segued into a general discussion, away from non-physical aches. Procedures and concerns and recovery times allowed me to step back from the edge of the canyon that had  opened up in my head. Shortly after this exchange I was asked to stand so they could conduct the physical exam I mentioned earlier. The pain on the nerve endings acted as cover for the pain I felt in my heart and head, a peculiar ache caused by the loss of something that cannot be replaced. Subconsciously I think I was grateful for the physical hurt as a distraction. Exam concluded, I tugged up my undies, tucked in the shirt, and sat down to conclude the visit. Surgery and soon is for the best, we agreed, and I would let them know as soon as I figured out what to do. I left the office, got into my car and began the drive home. 

The canyon opened up again, right there in the middle of a busy street. Memories of my brother flooded my head, and I nearly swooned. I sobbed, briefly. What to do with the shards of the past that deafen and sting when I least expect them? Sitting confused and helpless there at the stoplight, I wondered. I had the sensation that someone was in the passenger seat; and maybe, just maybe, my brother's ghost smiled and said "Duck and cover yer ears, bro, duck and cover yer ears."

It was just like him to say it. I ducked, I covered, I held him close as the echoes and ricochets faded away.

11 March 2013

Amplitude Squares the Force (Magpie Tales #159)

 Meal Beach, Burra Isles, Shetland by Robin Gosnall via Magpie Tales

Never in his life had Colin Haverhill woken to the sound of applause, or being shusshed as if he were making too much noise in the library. It took little time to realize that now was not one of those times. A saline tang in his nose and gritty coldness digging into his back and neck told him differently. It was cool on the morning beach. The waves welcomed him back to life.

He opened his eyes. It took some effort, crusted as they were with sand and the granular residue of tears. A disconcerting split second of tugging and his eyelids snapped open on the cerulean dome of the sky arching overhead. It was a blue he had not known he missed, it was the lightning blue of her eyes, the kind of blue that made him ache. His heart spasmed. The metallic sharpness of it caused him to sit bolt upright, and cough.

Shivering, he spat into the sand. The dregs of a few too many wee heavies coated the insides of his mouth. His head ached. The ghost of the drink was on him, he could tell, but not so bad he wanted to turn himself inside out. Small miracle, that,  he thought. Dragging his hand across parched and flaking lips, he looked up to get his bearings.

Small beach, empty save for himself, a lone seabird and some tide-wrack. Low hills across the way. Green sward behind him. Out by the headland, his aching eyes spotted something that could have been a boat. Or a figment. He didn't know. It was then that the color of the water caught his attention.

Her eyes again. Liquid blue, shifting like the wavelets between aqua and lapis and the sky.  In some lights it was flecked with gold. He never had been able to predict how they would present. Her mood, the sun, so much beauty in the moment it often left him speechless, breathless. Especially when she laughed.

The sea lapped the beach. He told himself it wasn't her voice he heard. She was gone, he was lost, now somewhere on the wrong side of the world. But the waves kept crashing in no matter where he ran. They were smaller, Colin granted, but amplitude squares the force now and forever. The waves curled in endless lace upon the strand, each one a hammer on the bell of his heart.

10 March 2013

The Stay-at-Home Nomad (Sunday Meditation #28)

If the redwoods questioned their roots as often as it seems I question mine, the forest would be full of giants crashed to the ground, howling at the moon about the indignity of the craters at their feet. There would be no grandeur, only solipsistic anguish.

The weather, damp and dreich outside the walls. Gazing out the windows at the sodden yard, trying to get a grip on the untethered balloon that is my soul. Perhaps the better analogy would be blowing about like a plastic shopping bag caught in a dust devil. I feel like that, sometimes. This floating, flying, whirling sensation has acquired a life of its own in recent weeks. Often it is triggered by the weather, like today.

I am not blaming the rain for my dislocation. The rain has no motive, no desire. I would be quite the fool to think the dull gray clouds and the drops were out to get me. No, I don't blame it.

After all, think positive, right? It could have been more snow, right? I actually manage a smile or two. Given the choice I would take rain over snow most every time. The deep snow of the past two weeks has mostly melted, under the influence of warmish temperatures and now rain for much of the day. The thrum of the sump pumps in the basement offers its own commentary on my ruminations. I shiver to think what might happen if the pumps failed. The groundwater is running fast from snow melt and the rain.

To be fair, the weather isn't the catalyst of my rootless funk, it is only the familiar of the extraordinary pressures I find my self battling at the moment. Life has been a swirl of change. Tax season is upon us, and I will not fare well this time around. I am still searching for the right combination of jobs to resume truly useful employment. There are many irons in the fire but no clarity.

Nights are spent chasing sleep, and believe it or not, dear readers, I have been wishing to not dream so much. This is unusual. Up until about the end of last year I hadn't dreamed much at all for quite some time. Long enough that lack of dreams became the new normal. But then something changed. The dreams came back. Frequent, disjointed, erratic

My dreams, dressed in harlequin, enrobing the motley fool that is my mind. All possessed of a common theme, in myriad variation. I am searching, I am hunting, I am lost, I am prey. It is a terrible quest to find something you cannot name while being hunted by something you cannot identify. I search and search, only to awake empty handed and weary, wondering what just happened.

Bah. It wasn't really dreams about which I wanted to write. I am not certain now what it was I wanted when I sat down to empty my head. I wish it could have been fiction (I have a number of things floating around in my head), as I am sure it would have been much more edifying for all of us. But the fiction just wouldn't free itself up. I tried, but I couldn't get the snow out of my mind.

The snow. Yes, that is it. The snow that had been on the ground is what triggered this funk. I know why. It came up in a recent conversation I had with someone I love, in which we were discussing our respective reactions to the heavy snow. Hers was more gleeful and upbeat, mine was grouchy and less than cheerful. Mine involved expletives.

The significant thing was not my surliness. It was something I said, the import of which did not fully catch up to me until yesterday. I said out loud that the snow made me unhappy because I have now, in my life, seen more snows as an adult than I ever did as a kid; snow means something very different to those stages of my life. Snow as a kid means playtime and wonder. Snow as an adult means (at least to this adult) inconvenience and stress. The melting drifts reminded me that I have been an adult for many moons now.

The full realization of that revelation hit me hard today when the pewter skies opened up and the rain began to fall. I listen to drops fall, snow of a different genus, and the water hitting the ground became the scissors that cut the string holding me to the ground. My body stayed put, but my mind went whirling away, spiraling up into the sky. I felt weightless, rudderless, wondering when the roots I am desperate to grow will spread themselves firmly into the soil that surrounds me.

The chair creaks softly under the weight of my body, a corporeal anchor to my nomad soul. I'll open the window tonight so I can hear the rain while I drift off to sleep, perchance not to dream.

03 March 2013

The Road to Hell is Paved With Beds Unmade (Sunday Meditation #27)

Nearly every day, upon arising from sleep, I think of making my bed. Nearly every morning, I make the bed. On the mornings I don't make the bed, I almost always carry with me nagging anxiety and disappointment. Every time I climb the stairs to my room, to enter it or passing by, I gaze through the opening upon the rumpled sheets and disheveled pillows and berate myself for not following through with intention. The bed in its disarray asks me "Really, sir, what was your intention for the day? What else will you leave unfinished?"

The bed does not literally speak, I know. If it did, I would have greater problems to solve than mere rearrangement of sheets. Ones that might involve doctors and analysis, and at this point in life I would rather not stray into that territory. But the bed does say something to me. Made, it gives the satisfaction of knowing that I have accomplished something, however small, in my day. Unmade, it exists as silent reminder that I have been lazy or unfocused or simply inattentive. Each state is a small seed, planting something in my heart of hearts that guides my actions for the remainder of my waking hours.

You may scoff at this notion, and I would not blame you. "It is a bed, man, not a plan for your life's work!" and the logical me would agree with you. There are many days when the logical me can put such daft notions aside, sink its teeth into the flesh of the day and consume it for all its worth. There are days when such consumption is necessary, if anything is to be accomplished.

Consumption is not the end of our actions entire, I must say. Some days reflection is required, an asking of "What are my intentions for the day? What do I hope to do, for whom, and for why?" These are questions that appeal to the emotional me. The answers do not necessarily demand us to struggle under the burden of reason (and make no mistake, reason as a state of existence is sometimes a burden on our animal minds) in order to make it through our day. But these questions must be engaged, I believe, if I am to fulfill the intentions I carry within my heart.

Intentions. We all have them. We all follow through on them with varying degrees of success. We all hope (at least, I hope we all hope) that we have done what we said we would do. The trap inherent in this is that too often we mistake the having of intentions with the fulfilling of intentions. We congratulate ourselves on meaning well, and we rely on the presumed good natures of those we claim to love, or want to love, that even if  things "just didn't work out" when in reality we just didn't bother ourselves to follow through, they know that we meant well. Human nature, I suppose, to take the easy route if we think someone will always cut us slack. Or that life will always cut us some slack. Things undone for too long, in life and love, will come back to haunt or hurt us.

This haunting is perhaps is the kernel of my anxieties, the driver behind my need to make the bed. A tangled blanket, a pillow on the floor, become avatars of the rippling chaos of my subconscious mind. I sometimes don't have the energy to dispel them even when I know it would be good for me. It takes an intention realized in an action to quell the ripples and set my heart on the right path for the day. This is why I so often force myself to make the bed: I calm the chaos and prime my mind to fulfill potential for the day, rather than congratulating myself for having created a 'to do' list which may end as mere desk ornament.

Again, you may laugh and point at the seeming silliness of my need to make the bed. Again, I take no offense. I realize that sometimes (to paraphrase Freud) a bed is just a bed. On the bad days, I berate myself for being attached to this notion of bed making. I can only note that on the days I do make the bed, I get more done. I feel stillness. I feel more open to love. I am not always fortunate to experience more love as a result, but I do know this: being still and open to love goes a long way towards keeping me from paving the road to hell with my own good intentions.

01 March 2013

March Madness? No, Angst.

Ladies and gentlemen, I could not let the first day of March go unwritten. My creative output here was at an all-time low in February, and that bothers me quite a lot. The last post? That, dear readers, was my 1,000th piece on Irish Gumbo. I found that amazing and deflating. Hard to believe I've been doing it this long, but I feel like it could have been better.

Gah. What do I know.

Be that as it may, I've had many things laying claim to my time. I have been diffused, as it were. Stuff and Things to be dealt with, questions to be answered, souls to be searched. There are some questions of Art to confront, and I informally owe some information to some folks who have been kind and supportive of me on my angsty investigations of this here life of mine.

It's March. I didn't want the first day to pass without note. Hopefully, the promise of the coming Spring will catalyze my back-burnered ambitions, and I will fill these electronic pages with more of substance. And before I forget...thank you for reading.