Recent Work By Quenby Moone

This has been a bad month for earthquakes. The Pacific is working things out with its tectonic plates in a spectacularly violent fashion, affecting those near and dear to us in dramatic and terrifying ways. Our hearts, usually occupied by the few square miles around our own lives, become pained by the vision of devastation of those we love far away, and we struggle to make sense of the distances between us, our inability to run at a moment’s notice to the aid of the victims.

I have a love-hate relationship with images. I’ve written about them before, in a more personal context. But every massive quake or tsunami or hurricane in the era of the 24-hour news cycle becomes one more opportunity for me to dip into helpless depression, a feeling of impotence. The horror that we all experienced watching September 11 unfold internationally, I still remember with crystal clarity. I also remember the depressive episode afterward, culminating months later with me jumping in a car alone for a road trip, trying desperately to shake the grip of helplessness that had strangled me since September.

Our own Zara is in the middle of the most devastating event of her life, her world having been literally shaken to its foundation. I can only watch with grim respect as she answers her own need for understanding by writing it down and sending it to the rest of us via the wonder of internet connectivity. And in the face of this most recent earthquake, Japan’s northeastern shore being washed away by an unimaginably horrifying wave, I find myself torn in twain.

My son goes to a Japanese immersion school in Portland. Every day, he goes to school and interacts with his Japanese teachers, and a host of interns who, for one year, elect to uproot themselves from Japan to learn how to be teachers in the United States. The interns are woven into the fiber of our school: we have to do fund-raising, an impossible amount of it, every year to bring our interns here, and every year the community rises up to pull us through the financial gap. They live in our houses, they celebrate holidays with us, come to parties with us, share meals and laughs. They become family.

We’re saying good-bye to this year’s Japanese interns tonight at a party thrown for them. They will perform for us, we will give them awards, there will be Taiko drumming.

But I’m not sure it will be so celebratory.

As the first video of Japan was coming in last night, my husband and I watched the tsunami roll in over a tiny town. It was gripping and slow, the first wave having already flooded the area, the surges behind creeping up to continue the brutal work of the leader. The journalist in the helicopter above must have been dazed: every time he turned the camera to the sea, there was wave after wave, lined up like battalions, ready to smash into the already wracked earth below. On live television we watched as entire neighborhoods were washed up into the interior, cars, planes, houses. At that distance one can imagine that these are but toys, but we know with grim certainty that those cars and houses belong to people who are also being washed away.

I fight internally with myself. My need to be informed about these horrifying events, which touch people I know personally, rubs against my knowledge that if I look too deeply at the crisis, I can be thrown into another bout of useless debilitating depression. I’m not being useful if I just fall into the trap of watching the videos roll in with the same regularity as the tsunami surge to shore. I’m only creating that special fragility in my own psyche where the darkness can enter and take hold.

So my heart goes on being pained and open and broken on behalf of the victims, but I willfully turned off the video this morning when I could feel the chinks in my armor start to give way. The video is too visceral, too overt. And I wonder if we, those of us so far away, are actually experiencing shock–misplaced because the horror is not ours.

I understand the need for the images to get out. It makes our world small, and we reach with tiny hands across the breadth of the ocean. We rally our resources to aid strangers, we donate money and send rescue teams, we wish we could do more, but do whatever we can to bridge the space between. But I feel the media fatigue already. I’m turning off the video storm surge, and going to the party for our Japanese interns tonight instead, to ask them what they need, what we can do, maybe just listening to them talk.

I can do nothing else.



I was raised proper, by which I mean a proper appreciation of language in all its splendor. Our family did not exclusively fawn over the most flashy words, nor the most humble. We took delight in using descriptors of all stripes, including those reserved for the bawdy house. Within the panoply of adjectives and expletives, I learned at my mama’s knee how best to decry, offend, verbally defenestrate.

We practice our art with caution but devotion. It’s too easy to rely upon the ugly but poignant “Fuckwad,” so we reach for more interesting ways to express distaste. “Blithering, emo, wuss-tastic fuckwad” is, to my ears far more interesting, and importantly, more precise. “What is the fuckwad doing?” Blithering. It’s all right there, sewn up in a tidy package. “What kind of fuckwad is he?” An emo fuckwad, who aspires to such far reaches of wussiness that he’s wuss-tastic.

I guess it’s always been this way. I got damned to hell by my best friend in second grade because I said “damn,” a bit of irony that was lost on me since I neither knew what “damn” meant, nor what this place called “hell” was all about. Was it near Mount Olympus? Did Zeus live there? If so, I really wanted a date with Cupid, the Roman hunk of “Cupid and Psyche” fame and Eros’ doppelganger. I was only eight, but I knew hotties when I read about them. Plus, he had wings. That’s pretty awesome.

Once my son Milo was born, I valiantly razed my language to the realm of modestly offensive, and then further into the dull confines of Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream once we belatedly realized that Milo had a real knack for language too. Instead of wusstastic-ness, I have become enamored of completely antiquated charmers like “Sweet Fancy Brown!” and “Good grief!” I don’t say “Gosh” or “Gee whiz,” but the words “Criminy,” “Dangit”  and “Oh, crumb,” feature often in my mild expletives.

And let’s face it, expletives help. You drop your groceries: what do you do? Thank the heavens for giving you one more challenge in your already ridiculous day? No. You curse, blurt, spit, and then you pick the frozen strawberries up and move on. If I couldn’t do that, those groceries on the ground might just send me around the twist, and I would lie down next to them tearfully, wondering how I used to manage to get through my day at all.

But I’m not stupid. Not very, anyway.

I know that there’s a time and a place for everything, and first grade is probably not the place for a seven-year-old to be yelling “Fuck off, ______!” at his friend who had just told him to go to hell. I realize this is probably a little raw for the playground out of the mouths of babes. I really do.

So after telling Milo that it was inappropriate and he wasn’t allowed to say words like that, I created a mutual disciplinary response to the elegant but perhaps misplaced use of “Fuck.” (I mean, syntactically, Milo nailed it: “Fuck off!” was the perfect response to someone who just told him to go to hell, and if he was fifteen it wouldn’t have raised any alarms.)

So I created the “Potty-Mouth Pot,” the bank into which we must pay our debt to the gods of expletives and curses. It’s a blown glass jar displaying our shame for all to see: Milo owes twenty-five cents for every use of the span of “grown-up words” (which linguists might argue are a badge of the truly immature); I owe a dollar.

Why the disparity to the potty-mouth pot? Because to teach the lesson well, I figured that we needed to identify who was winning the contest and who was losing. Each dollar bill was so much easier to separate from the quarters my son reluctantly placed in the jar that we could, by taking a quick glance, estimate the winner.

This is also known as “hubris.”

The first day went predictably. Chastened by my admonishment but also soothed by the admission that I too suffered the curse of cursing, Milo and I paid our first debts to the pot together. He was testing the boundaries of our agreement. Did “Damn” fit the requirements? Yes, but “Dam-age” did not. He paid a quarter for “Damn” but not “Dam,” and he was terribly proud of finding the workaround.

I symbolically paid my first dollar into the kitty. (“What’s the kitty?” he asked. Same thing as the “pot” in poker. Now we’ve introduced gambling terms.) Even though I hadn’t said a single blue word, I felt I should make the point that I would be fair and honorable in the contest, that he could count on me for holding up my side of the bargain. If he had to pay, so did I.

The next dollar I shelled out was when I was on the phone: I said “Damn” to someone and Milo shrieked “YOU OWE A DOLLAR! YOU OWE A DOLLAR!” I gamely paid up, neatly folding my dollar and placing it in the jar.

Then he said “Hell,” and I had to wrestle him for the quarter he was loathe to part with. He cried as he let it tinkle to the bottom of the jar, separated from its mate by only two single bills, and Milo begged me to change the rules of engagement. His bereft display confirmed my impromptu but cleverly crafted lesson from which he was suffering the consequences in a real and tangible way.

Depressed over the loss of a third quarter, Milo bemoaned our arrangement to his father as he was going to bed one night.

“Don’t worry,” Lars said. “Mom will lose. I guarantee it.”*

Aside from the fact that I married the male version of Mata Hari, this information was enough to give Milo a renewed sense of purpose and hope.

He mastered his reliance upon potty words with the zeal of a convert. After his third quarter went in the pot, he was done. Not a single verboten word has passed his lips, though he has danced playfully around acceptable substitutes.

I have not been so fortunate. It turns out it’s mitochondrial. While I have, in general, turned an about-face on the real dirt-bombs, I seem incapable of eradicating the basic building blocks of interesting language: damn, hell, crap are so intrinsically bonded with my molecular material that they are woven into the fiber of my tongue. I cannot, apparently, get rid of them. Like herpes, or gout: there for the duration, like it or not.

My son has learned valuable lessons, too. He has learned the skill of secondary hearing, which eluded him until now. I used to beg, scream, shout, dance in front of him, block the television, pull his socks off–whatever it would take to get his attention. Now I don’t need to worry. If he’s engrossed so deeply in a book that I could throw a hockey puck at his head without him flinching, all I have to do is drop my guard and talk like my DNA tells me to and I have Milo’s undivided attention. “Potty-mouth!” he shouts with delight as if being revived from a coma. “You just said a bad word! Pay up, MOM!”

He has three quarters in the bottom of the Potty-Mouth Pot. I have at least thirty bucks in there. But who’s counting?

Don’t answer that.


*Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not even the star player on the potty-mouth stage. Grandma, from who I learned everything I know, talks like a trucker with a fatal case of gutter-tongue. Even now, with her adorable Grandma walk and her devotion to baking holiday cookies, she blasts the room with language dripping with so much ooze it’s amazing people let her into nice places. Colorful, descriptive, eloquent and utterly demented, she shames all pretenders to the potty-mouth crown with their pedestrian lack of creativity.

So I found it both charming and ridiculous that after Grandma heard about my struggle to reign in my gutter mouth, she paid up one lowly quarter to Milo in the interest of making a good impression…even though she had outshone my every utterance in front of the boy in two short hours over dinner.

A quarter.



My son Milo started reading when he was three. Almost seven now, he reads everything and anything–with the exception, he explains, of “fiction.” If it’s not based upon something tangible in the world he’s not interested, which makes him a strangely knowledgeable authority on things well beyond his years.

Milo knows about many subjects, but like his father he’s got a remarkable memory for dates, maps and events over the course of human history. And while he’s still very much a seven-year-old, thus making historical context a little complicated for him, he can tell you with fair accuracy the major events of both the First and Second World Wars. He knows about shipwrecks, which ones went down when, what the differences in their destruction were, why the passenger liner Lusitania is suspected of carrying weapons destined for England (a second explosion in her hull after the Germans shot her–a suspiciously huge blast which sunk her in eighteen minutes).

Last week over waffles in Hawaii, Milo was reading a souvenir newspaper I bought him from Pearl Harbor, a tiny little grownup pouring over the tragedies of December 7, 1941 with the gravity of a concerned citizen. “It’s so nice to see a kid reading the paper,” a gentleman told my brother, no matter that it was several years out of date and had the headline WAR! across the top in 200 point type. “No-one reads the paper anymore.”

My brother, not having kids of his own yet, readily recognized the opportunity to brag. “That’s nothing. Check this out.” He turned to Milo. “Tell me about the mongoose.”

Milo considered for a moment. “Well, they hunt during the day unlike the palm rats, which means they’re not nocturnal. So they’re diurnal. Yep. Diurnal. Also, they’re invasive here in Hawaii.”

The man just stared. “Okay, then!”

My brother laughed with pride when he told me the story.

This is what we have to deal with around these parts: a seven-year-old who is extremely seven-ish when it comes to his emotional maturity but can pull facts out of the clouds like rain. His insatiable quest for knowledge keeps us up long past his bedtime with his queries about historical events. Last night, in the dark, looking at the mottled shadows, he said: “Tell me about the French Revolution.”

The French Revolution isn’t one of my stronger suits. I admitted to Milo that he really should ask Dad about it, but the short of it is this: people were sick to death of monarchs and took matters into their own hands to create a republic, but then everyone got a little carried away and started slaughtering people mercilessly from all quarters. Then a little short guy led the French army throughout Europe, taking over a great deal of it until they got to Russia, which by its very nature defeated Napoleon and his troops.

“That’s the 1812 Overture,” Milo said.

Good grief, I thought.

So you will understand when I explain that his head doesn’t work within the realm of superheroes and sports figures. He works with historical heroes and villains, Nazis and Napoleon, U-boats and the Blitz, air raids and invasions on land and by sea. This is what he knows.

The other day he drew a picture in class on the back of his spelling test. It features two people in a fire truck driving up to a burning building, at the top of which is a tiny figure, apparently caught in the fire. One stick says to the other stick, pointing a little stick finger at the building, “That’s a Nazi.”

Which, if you know my kid, makes perfect sense.

But his teacher somewhat frantically pulled Lars aside to point it out. “I wanted to show this to you,” she started. “I didn’t even notice it at first, but some other parent saw it and was really upset by it.”

Lars took a look at it. “It’s what he knows,” he said. “He knows about World War II and he knows who the Nazis are.” She looked unmoved. “Our family is Jewish,” he said, a strange sort of justification when you get down to it.

“It’s just one of those things we need to be sensitive about,” she replied. But she was rattled and didn’t know how to deal with it. She wanted it to go away.

After Lars explained the situation to me, we were at a loss. Milo hadn’t condoned Nazism, nor written about how Adolph Hitler was a fine fellow with great ideas; he had drawn a picture with a Nazi in it. A stick Nazi. Had the words, “That’s a Nazi” not been written, it would have been just another seven-year-old artwork exploring seven-year-old anxieties and thoughts about his seven-year-old world.

And we realized, both because we were getting defensive, but also because we were genuinely angry about it, that if Milo had written “That’s the Shining Path,” or “He’s Pol Pot” or “There’s Darth Vader,” no-one would have thought twice about it.

Now we were placed in the unenviable position of explaining to Milo that his teacher was upset by something somewhat intangible. He hadn’t espoused any belief in the Nazi philosophy, nor had he made reference to anything they had done, either in support or condemnation. He didn’t call someone on the playground a Nazi. He hadn’t done anything wrong. We explained to Milo that we weren’t mad, but that he couldn’t talk about Nazis in school. “Why?” he asked – reasonably, I might add. If you can’t talk about Nazis in school, where can you talk about them? Are schools for learning about everything except the Nazis? He’d written a solitary word, one based in a period of history he knows about, in a drawing. He’d written a word. “I can’t believe my first grader is being censored!” Lars said, and while “censored” is a bit hyperbolic, I have to agree: this was much ado about nothing.

If the word “Nazi” still has the power to terrify in this knee-jerk way, it makes me extremely uncomfortable about where we’re headed. If we can’t talk about Nazis, we can’t talk about what happened in World War II. And if Mark Twain’s “niggers” are excised from Huckleberry Finn, we can’t talk about slavery or the Civil War with any realism. If we’re hair-trigger about certain buzzwords like “Nazi” and “nigger” even in their historical context while overlooking other historical atrocities, like Cortez storming the New World and Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” we’re whitewashing all of them, either by hysterical touchiness or willful ignorance.

Language is as powerful as you’re willing to make it. To de-fang “Nazis,” who still feature prominently in popular culture despite our first grade teacher’s wish, we have to talk about what they did. Indiana Jones, made of either video game LEGO’s or Harrison Ford’s best years, still fights the Nazis in front of thousands of children every day. Children are exposed to Nazis; if we can’t explain why they’re important, we’ve lost the struggle for making meaning out of the meaningless.

Nothing was more meaningless than the Holocaust. If we cannot explore the senseless, meaningless horror of it because we can’t write the word “Nazi,” we’re in a whole heap of trouble.


*In the days that have followed, things, as they do, have changed somewhat. Milo’s teacher has talked to us more completely and we have an understanding. But certain things remain true, and it bothers me. I wrote a comment to Ronlyn Domingue which I think sums up my remaining feeling about the situation, even with the understanding with his teacher.

You know, I have to be fair here. The teacher has talked to me in the aftermath, and she’s okay. She knows that Milo is a kid whose curiosity runs from the interesting to the completely arcane. She felt she had to raise the subject with us because the other parent was sort of hysterical about it. This is coming clear in the days following–but it certainly wasn’t clear when I wrote this post. That’s the problem with internet immediacy. Facts changing to make a less charged situation.

However, having exonerated my son’s teacher I will say this: the parent who became hysterical about my son’s drawing had no jurisdiction to become so. The same truth of knee-jerk reactions about things applies as much as when I wrote it, and I’ve experienced it in other situations. People love to moralize where there is no moral.

The truth is, whatever issues this parent raised about my son’s drawing caused far more harm than good. First, there was no wrong done, and now my son feels embarrassed about it, doesn’t know what he can and can’t talk about in school, and feels like he did something wrong, no matter our assurances to the contrary. Second, what business was it of hers anyway? She’s not teaching the class; the teacher admitted that when she saw the drawing that was causing the fuss she just shrugged and knew it was Milo being Milo. The parent has no context, no history with him, doesn’t see him on a daily basis; how can she be so impertinent to think she should call him out to the teacher?

This sort of petty mischief in the guise of being a concerned citizen enrages me. It’s not the first time it’s raised my hackles and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The shrapnel from this one event is going to take a long time to remove.

Note: This story is from six years ago, but it is a holiday tale which speaks to any era. As a personal aside, “The Bun” is our toddler, who got that name from being a “Bun in the Oven.” That kid has years of therapy ahead of him.


Every Christmas is a misadventure in gift-making in the hopes of saving money, but this year I thought I would go out of my way to come up with something really special. And when my husband and I went to an amazing dessert place, I noticed they sold a box of four brandied cherries for nine bucks. FOUR CHERRIES. Nine bucks. I don’t question the quality of their cherries, but nine bucks seemed like a lot of hay for four little chocolate-dipped confections.

“I’ll make chocolate cherries for Christmas. If this place can sell ’em for nine bucks a box, surely I can give mine away for free!”

I began doing my research. I didn’t have a recipe and all I could find were separate pieces of the puzzle: a recipe for brandied cherries, without chocolate. Maraschino cherries instead of fresh. Finally I found a recipe that sounded right but there was honest-to-god canning involved and I was intimidated; I’ve never canned anything, and little gift boxes of botulism probably don’t go over very well. So I found a recipe for the cherries which involved only hooch, sugar, and the cherries themselves, dumped in a jar and allowed to pickle themselves in wanton boozy splendor.

Cherries are hard to come by in the middle of December. I’ll bet you haven’t looked lately, but if you had you would discover that cherries are either mangy, ludicrously expensive, or altogether absent. I ran against all three problems in my quest, but finally found a pathetic little bunch for ten dollars a pound at a specialty store. I doused them liberally in brandy.

It was about this time that I realized that the brandied-cherry process takes three months. THREE MONTHS! I didn’t have three weeks! I began to foresee a little time crunch, and unless I could build a time machine in the next few days, my cherries were going to be ready in time for a little Easter giving.

I needed to can them after all.

Back to the stores trawling for fresh cherries, which included me learning when produce deliveries were made. Each potential triumph was met with disappointment: the cherries were supposed to arrive Wednesday, then Thursday. I called the produce guy: no cherries until Saturday, and maybe not until next week. Time was of the essence, and I was losing hope. My cherries were a dream unfulfilled.

I gave up. I was just going to have to bake some stupid cookies or something.

Ready to move on with my life I walked into a store to pick up some victuals, and there, like manna from heaven in a glistening pile of blood-red fructose, was the answer to all my drunken holiday dreams: Chilean Bing cherries for $7.99 a pound. I should have bought them all, but in my travels I envisioned another tortured nut-job racing from store to store looking for cherries and I had pity on them. I left some behind for the next sorry sap.

I was ready to can. I had the cherries. I designed the labels. I bought boxes and little candy underpants for the finished confections. All systems were go.

To evaluate my process, I looked at the website of the dessert place where this seed of discontent had germinated and read the description of their cherries:

The house specialty! These bad boys have been bathing in Kirsch since June! They then take a dip in fondant and finish with bittersweet chocolate.

I read it again: fondant.

What the hell is fondant?

There was some mystery component called “fondant” which was the answer to my drunken cherry nightmare. Back to the internet I went, searching high and low for a definition of fondant and how I could get some, fast.

Each answer provided more questions. Fondant was the icing on those crazy Martha Stewart wedding cakes which look like they’ve been shellacked. But what was icing doing in my drunken cherries? It was a solid that turned into a liquid and made cordials gooey inside. Okay, great, gooey cherries, but how the hell do I get some?

After reading thirty websites and parsing out half-literate directions, I realized that fondant is confusing because fondant is all things to all bakers. It is the icing on the cake and the buttercream filling in Mrs. See’s candy. It is the sugary goo in the cordial cherry and the totality of the after-dinner mints in the restaurant. It is everything, and nothing at all.

It was too zen for me. But I had come too far, invested too much sanity, and spent too much money on cherries to let a little sugar come between me and my drunken confection.

Now we were treading in true candy-making waters, a dark, perilous path which, unlike cooking, has little margin for error and lots of scientific voodoo surrounding it. I was never very good at science. I read up all I could, and bought myself a candy thermometer and a scraper. I dug out a marble slab from a table which had gone into deep storage since The Bun arrived.

I put him down for a nap, and I began to boil sugar.

The only thing I really know about boiling anything is that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. But this sugar needed to boil to a “soft ball” stage, which was supposed to be between 235 and 240  degrees exactly. I had no idea how long that took.

It takes a long time.

The Bun was awake before it was done, that’s how long it took. And I needed to let the sugar cool for a while on my marble slab, which, after waiting an eternity for it to boil was too much for me to resist. As a cook, you’re always stirring and tasting and spicing and stirring again, but this candy thing was achtung about stirring the boiling sugar (“Verboten!”), and now I had to let it cool without meddling with it? It was intolerable. Plus, The Bun was rummaging through a cupboard he had emptied of its couscous the day before, and I needed to get this show on the road before the pilaf met a similar end.

I began to knead my fondant. It was very, very sticky. It did not come up easily from the marble slab. It did not ball up like Silly Putty or Play Dough. It stuck to the scraper. It stuck to itself. It was a complete mess. I powdered my hands with corn starch and began twisting it in my hands, hoping it would begin to harden just enough for me to throw it away, when it began to turn white, just like it was supposed to. It was crazy, it was amazing! I set it down and rescued the oyster crackers from the clutches of the bun. I felt moderately triumphant, and then went about trying to make dinner.

Lars came home to a marble slab covered in sugary tar, me covered in corn starch, and a hungry Bun. I explained the circuitous route by which I came to this point, and showed him my round white ball of sugar which I tapped proudly.

It thudded. It had a weight similar to the heft of cement shoes. It was as white as a cue ball, but markedly larger with a gravity that puts Jupiter to shame. My fondant wasn’t a light confection that was flexible enough to roll–it was hard enough that if I hurled it at someone’s head, it would give them a concussion, if not kill them outright.

Despite this setback (how many setbacks have I had now? Four? Five?), I proceeded along with my plan and canned the second batch of cherries. I’m considering getting more just so I can make sure I’ve got enough on hand to make a fabulously ridiculously enormous batch of chocolate-bloody-covered cherries.

At this point I’m committed. I’ve become a woman possessed.

Now it’s not about the Christmas cheer, or the joy of giving, or the good feeling one gets by sharing a handmade gift of delicious food. Now it’s the principle of the thing. Now it’s about revenge. Now it’s about me conquering a bunch of out-of-season cherries and making them cower beneath my fondant and chocolate glaze.

Happy Holidays.



Epitaph

I have seen my Drunken Cherries through to their conclusion, and there’s no step which hasn’t been met with chaos. As of this writing, the casualty list is: four jars of cherries, three batches of failed fondant, two bags of sugar, a quart plus a pint of brandy, several pounds of chocolate, many afternoons, and most of my dignity.

I never did succeed in making fondant. One batch was stone, one was tar, and after I realized my thermometer wasn’t recording proper temperatures, my last batch crystallized like rock candy. So I gave in and bought some. Of course, it was out of stock when I walked in, so I had to wait yet another day. This is typical of the Cherry Path, and in the end the cherries proved stronger than me: after finally seeing several cherries through to their chocolate-drenched conclusion, most of them had holes which leached goo like the blood from battlefield wounds. Some died on the table. The ones I patched up in triage were misshapen and monstrous looking, more Frankenstein than delightful dessert.

When I was weighing whether or not to package them up anyway, I noticed to my chagrin that they had developed a case of “bloom,” a separation of the chocolate solids, making them even less attractive (if that were possible) and serving as a ringing note of failure in my epic cherry-making disaster. Finally, when I checked on them this afternoon, I found that the remaining chocolate shells had imploded in a tide of cherry effluvia, apparently preferring to take their own lives rather than continue on in ignominy. They expired on December 17th, 2004 around 2:33 p.m. They are entombed forever in two little Tupperware sepulchers.

After I had become obsessed, I penned my version of Heart of Darkness:

My journey into the jungle of confection continues. The walls of candy are closing in on me, threatening to tip me into the abyss of madness. The world runs in rivers of blood-red syrup and stark white fondant, blending in a failure of bad science and too little time.

The natives are getting restless, and I can feel the thrum-thrum-thrumming of drunk cherries, lolling like corpses in their watery tomb of sugar and spirits, condemning me, accusing me. The cold marble slab upon which I sacrificed two balls of fondant lies awaiting me like my own bier.

Each step takes time, and I have none to spare. I fear that I may not survive this trip. I fear the jungle is stronger than I am.

The horror… the horror…

That just about sums it up.

It was about the time I began critiquing the fashion choices of our fellow passengers in the Long Beach Airport I realized I had reached my limit for what the brain could tolerate on “vacation.” Completely mean-spirited, I was watching the passers-by stuck in the same predicament as me, crammed like cattle waiting for their damned flight crew to arrive so their plane could take off, now three-and-a-half hours late. “That woman should never wear stretch pants,” I spewed in my head. “She looks like a naked mole rat rolled in purple icing.” I’d turn in another direction, only to face someone else worthy of my skewering. “Jesus Christ, dude. Have a little dignity. Leave the acid wash at home in the bins,” I’d scowl.

But this was just an indication of the fragility of my own mind since I am a great slob myself, rarely bothering to put my clothes together in any discernibly fashionable way. I am, in general, sympathetic to my fellow American slobs. Sometimes it can just be too much bother to put on clothes that look more interesting than thrift store cast-offs, when one knows that the outfit’s only future is one with spots of ketchup and paint splatters on it.

We had endured an amazing number of obstacles to what anyone might call “fun,” and we were now stuck in Long Beach, in one of the most dismal little airports I’ve ever seen, trying to get home. We had already spent the morning in Los Angeles fighting a cloudburst of epic proportions and forging through rivers of water making their way to  LA’s inadequate sewer system to get to the Museum of Natural History. We were soaked, grumpy and hungry when we got in the doors of the museum where we discovered there is no restaurant. We took one look at the T. Rex just past the door and turned around to ford L.A.’s new rivers again, looking for crappy food in a crummy part of town.

We returned to the museum, ever mindful of our flight a few hours hence. We carved a neat path through the exhibits and it was enjoyable enough, but we were happy to get our soggy asses to the airport, the first step in our trip back home. We arrived with a picture-perfect finish at the airport, just enough time to pick up a magazine and get on the plane.

This is a small airport. It was built in the 1950′s and perhaps updated most recently in the late 80′s or early 90′s. It has a grungy institutional lack of charm, made worse by its lack of amenities. So when we arrived, thrilled at our speedy dodging through L.A. rush hour traffic, we were dismayed that we would be spending a rather long stretch here. Ours was the only delayed flight in the whole damned airport.

When we checked a bag (a decision based solely upon our unwillingness to drag our bags, along with our son, through the airport for our long delay), my husband asked if there was anywhere to wait it out. “You could either go to your gate–which is basically a big room–or the restaurant.” That was it.

Restaurant it is! We parked ourselves in the booth and whiled away the time as best we could; eventually we could no longer tolerate the nice but useless waitress or drink more beer and get thrown out for public drunkenness or cited for child endangerment: our son was flopping into the aisle, and we needed to remove him before he tripped someone and sent food raining down on his head. So despite having several more hours to wait, we gave up our plush digs in the ugly paneled restaurant and opted to go to the big room.

Big room is right. At the entrance there was a “bar,” separated from the main room with a barrier rope; they apparently couldn’t be bothered with walls. Two of its four seats were occupied by bozos hitting on the female bartender. At the other corner of the room was a snack bar, similar to what one might find in the lobby of a hospital, with blue plush bears no-one wants and bags of popcorn and licorice, some aspirin and bottles of water. We found seats in the remarkably quiet room in front of the only other amenity, the magazine kiosk, manned by a pimply overweight young man who looked ready to kill himself. There were four gates and rows upon rows of Trailways-era institutional seating. That was it.

But at least it was empty, and our son could burn off a little extra energy by climbing the seats and running through the aisles. Which was fine, but only good for so long. So we gave him our phones to play with. That palled after a while, so we went to the bathroom. A brief distraction, but at least we got to see what the toilets looked like.

The only art in the whole airport was hung between the men’s and women’s restrooms, a fitting place. My husband encouraged me to look at it, and since I wasn’t encumbered by distractions, I walked up to it.

It struck my husband and I both with foreboding and curiosity about the artist’s intent. A rank, yellow sky hangs in the background, the Washington Monument shooting up violently behind a single skeletal tree, while two children flee in the foreground. Or is one fleeing the other in terror? Their backs are turned to the viewer, making the observer a party to the action, either pursuing, which is creepy, or being pursued, which is creepier. A girl is looking over her shoulder to see if the threat is gaining upon her. A plane shoots diagonally overhead, its vapor trail leaving the viewer wondering if it were the culprit in making the sky yellow, a villain leaving behind clouds of mustard gas or sulphurous evil intent.

It did not soothe the uneasy traveler into a sense of calm about their impending journey. And it didn’t matter that upon further examination I discovered the kids were not fleeing but ice-skating; it remained jarring merely by its composition. The artist pulled a fast one, even if they themselves didn’t know it. They had a lark at the expense of poor hapless purchasers of bland institutional art.

My husband took a photo he was so charmed.

Meanwhile, the room was filling up. The passengers were all similarly travel-frumpy, most recently having come from Disneyland and god knows what horrors there. Most of them were dressed in Classic American Tourist: pale shapeless blue jeans or Dockers for the gents, often with a cell phone clip on their belt. A well worn t-shirt from some other tourist destination they visited long ago, now soft and faded from washing, or a shirt with sequins, glitter or some unholy combination of the two. An impossible number of stretch pants under too-large t-shirts, a look I sported when I was 15 and promptly retired realizing that no-one wants to look at a sad-sack Olivia Newton-John facsimile. Sandals, though it was not warm. There were perms.

And there were more and more of them coming. Our son was being squeezed into smaller areas of territory, and like a cheetah losing habitat he was becoming more brave and more ornery: climbing up and over the bucket seats right next to whoever was there, placing an unwelcome foot dangerously close to a pissed commuter; sitting on the tables bolted between them and twitching and fidgeting, throwing elbows out too close to grumpy seatmates; distracting people from their only respite: reading People magazine or looking at their phones.

Our plane was now four hours late. The natives were getting restless. There was a sense of static electricity in the room as people swapped stories and bonded over their stranding; I overheard conversations full of intimate details of other failed vacations between complete strangers who had become their new best friends in the dreary Long Beach Airport. Parents were desperate to keep their children from exciting a riot, which in this fevered climate would not be too difficult.

Like streaming tides of wildebeests the stranded passengers began to crowd towards the gate. Had someone seen something? Did someone spot the crew? The collective had spoken, and all passengers uniformly wove their way to where our plane was supposed to have departed, so long ago. We too followed, a rash decision as we had staked out our territorial claim early on. To leave it was a hopeful, but ultimately senseless act of optimism.

The wildebeests had not seen the crew, nor gleaned some greater intelligence about our flights status; the airline, choosing wisely to placate the beasts with symbolic gifts had left out water and soda and some bags of fodder in the form of mini pretzels and cashews. The herd had gone to the wallow, and we, proper dupes that we are, had given up our prime section of grassland for an utterly craptastic booby prize.

I don’t know if we cheered when the crew arrived, or simply tasted blood in our mouths from the anxiety and waiting. I know that when we finally got on the plane our son was running on fumes and nervous excitement. We were relieved that the plane would lull him to sleep, the drone of the engines knocking him out like a sedative.

Alas, that is not our son. He’s a perpetual motion machine, always enraptured by anything new. So while our fellow wildebeests slept, we were stuck with a playful calf, jumping into the aisles and jostling the flight crew, playing peek-a-boo with the toddler seated behind him. He would have been cute had everyone around us not been trying to sleep.

Predictably, just as the plane was descending toward our blessed Portland home, our son passed out cold, the fatigue overcoming him in the last ten minutes in the air. Our journey not quite complete despite our tantalizing proximity to home, we now had to get our checked luggage and a dead weight through the airport past midnight, to curbside and a taxi.

We struggled in the aisle with our belongings, the other wildebeests laughing at our impossible task: our son was so asleep that we couldn’t pull his coat on, couldn’t move him, couldn’t figure out how to negotiate this last obstacle to free ourselves from the belly of the plane. With no small amount of help from the herd, we somehow stumbled free.

It is some sort of divine joke when you’ve reached this point and step off the plane into a completely deserted concourse only to discover that you are at the very furthest end of it. Unlike Long Beach Airport which is the size of a gymnasium and just as unattractive, this concourse was long. But if adversity is the mother of invention, I discovered my willingness to travel by wheelchair. With my son weighing a metric ton in my arms, and my husband burdened with carry-on, I sat down in the first airport wheelchair I saw, right at the end of the ramp leading off the plane.

Wildebeests laughed and applauded but then raced to the luggage carousel: whoever got their luggage first got the first taxi, too. Realizing the desperate race had begun in earnest, my husband, a wheeled bag in one hand and another across his shoulder, our son’s car seat wedged between his body and the handles of the wheelchair, began to push the wheelchair as fast as he could. I was buried in heavy child, trying to keep his limbs from getting caught in the wheels as he flopped around. My husband found it so ridiculous that despite carrying two bags, a car seat and 170 pounds of human cargo he took out his camera to document our final journey down the long hallway home.

 

We’re back now and we made it in one piece. Even though we did not beat the clock for our luggage, and no kindly soul offered us to cut in line for a taxi, despite it being 22 degrees and carrying a boy utterly insensate to the bitter elements, we were finally ushered into a cab where Rasputin himself was at the wheel. It was a fitting end.

Since then we’ve got scanners which nuke us, TSA rubdown services, and the still-hygienically dubious shoeless security check, not to mention all the other unpleasantries left over from both failed and successful terrorist attacks.

And we just booked our flight to Hawaii.

Attn: Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, hosts of Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel.

Hello. I’m writing in hopes that you can help me–not to bust a myth per se, but to figure out what to do with my six-year-old son now that he’s become addicted to Mythbusters.

“I need some alkaline metals,” he said. “For an experiment.”

Um. What?

“Alkaline metals. You know, like rubidium or potassium. Highly volatile.” He continued eating his pancakes.

I have a feeling that alkaline metals are tightly regulated minerals not packaged in your average starter science set.

“Here you go, Mom,” he said, handing back my iPhone over which he has far more mastery than myself. He made me a shopping list:


I’m pretty sure I can find a junked car, but I’m not sure where to acquire thermite, which my son informs me is “made of explosions.”

“It’s kind of like powdered dynamite, but more powerful,” he tells me. So why does he need both, I wonder?

“To explode the cars,” he says.

Of course.

He’s using Lego’s. “I’m building a cargo robot so that I can haul stuff around. I need some supplies.”

“Won’t the Lego’s work?”  I ask.

“That’s for the small scale experiments,” he says.

Oh. I see.

“Can I blow up the toilet?” he wonders. I can’t tell if he’s asking for permission or just idly pondering aloud, but I know this refers to the alkaline metals, which, when mixed with water make a charmingly concussive “Boom,” though, as I recall, they do not actually break the porcelain of the toilets which gave their lives for Mythbuster science.

Is there a school where he can learn to handle highly explosive material without shattering either our plumbing or himself? Are you offering internships to tiny wannabe Jamie’s and Adam’s? Is there a pilot program that teaches little pyro-technicians the safety skills needed to blow small appliances skyward? (Let’s start with toaster ovens, say, or hand-held mixers. Not the water heater which you blew straight out of a house. More like Modest Destruction 101.)

I would be obliged if you could steer him clear of toxic chemicals, or at least teach him to always wear his OSHA compliant mask. No bug bombs of death, if you please. I’m squeamish about radioactive material too, though you seem to work it into the show every now and then.

His obsessions were a little easier to navigate when he watched the photography show Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe. We just handed him a camera with the assurance we would go to Madagascar someday and take photographs of the endangered lemurs and chameleons dotting the island nation. But now he wants to build a shark cage, sink his own version of the Myth-tanic, and buy a small decommissioned plane upon which he can run “experiments.”

Luckily, he told me recently he’s got “fire-phobia” so it may be a while before his desires win the battle against his greater wisdom. But you planted a seed, Mythbusters. I fear when it germinates we’re going to raise Tory Belleci.

Any recommendations you may have in channeling his nascent Mythbusting gene into something which won’t demand extra insurance would be greatly appreciated.

Yours very truly,


Quenby Moone


P.S. My son just informed me that thermite is a compound made from iron oxide and aluminum powder. This sounds easy to acquire; please tell me that he doesn’t already know how to cook up the very thing that torched the Hindenburg. Please.

I got new glasses. Not just any glasses, either, but the ones which announce the onset of deterioration. The ones that say, “The eyes are tired now; next stop: doddering.” I’m sad about the glasses because I have nice peepers, although my husband says now I’ll just look like a Jewish librarian. Lucky for me, he thinks they’re hot.

When I was in the showroom, the plucky optician said, “You look very ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ today,” a reference to my Frenchie striped top and my cuffed jeans, looking much like Madonna’s outfit while she hopped around singing about the consequences of premarital nookie. I looked down, surprised. She was right! All I needed was my bleached coif from back in the day, and *boom*: high school.

The thing is, I’ve heard the Eighties are back. But I think I’ve been dressing this way since I was in the Eighties. Do jeans ever go out of style? Or am I just not paying attention? I don’t have an Eighties hairstyle, if only because I’m too lazy to do anything that might require “maintenance.” But I wear t-shirts which I suspect look exactly the same as the ones I doffed in high school. My guess is, if you looked through my wardrobe and then looked through many of my Eighties photos, you would see a striking resemblance between then and now.

Fortunately, some things have changed.

My dear friend, with whom I stumbled through the Eighties so long ago, just visited from Manhattan and we did a little post mortem on our fashion choices in high school. “They’re back, can you believe it?” She was referring to the resurgence of Hammer pants, attire neither of us can quite believe has resurfaced in the hallowed halls of fashion. “I tried on a pair for laughs a couple weeks ago, just to check, and it does not work anymore.” She giggled at the thought. “Now it’s all about my ass; they make me look like a blueberry or something.” I vividly understood: having worn them through my last two years of high school with a devotion bordering on zealotry, I remembered how they emphasized the booty into enormo-buns and diminished the lower legs into tiny little flippers. You might be mistaken for a blowfish if not careful.

And because teenagers are compelled to mimic but desperate for originality, we both obeyed the laws of Hammer pants but created signature flourishes to accompany them, our own personal touches that said, “Gosh darnit, I’m original, but not very!”

For me it was the men’s dress coat. I would comb every thrift store in the city looking for sports coats which dwarfed my small frame and gave me David Byrne shoulders, in nice burnt-orange plaids or blood-red shark skin. I would couple my Hammer pants with these old men’s cast-offs and dainty flats. Topped with a jaunty hat, I was one step away from joining a technicolor penguin circus.

I couldn’t understand it, but my best friend was not nearly so enamored of musty sport coats. Her signature Hammer styling was a creation of her own design: socklets.

Rather than wear something as practical as a sock, she revised the “leg warmer” and took socks to their illogical extreme: ankle warmers. How many pairs of socks met their premature demise at the end of her scissors? How many cuffs had she heartlessly rent from her perfectly serviceable socks? If socks bled it would be worthy of Vlad the Impaler.

She had two-inch sock-cuffs for every occasion, tiny little sweat bands mopping the brow of each ankle, each pair matching (or a daring counterpoint to) a different pair of Hammer pants. Because we were best friends I had to copy her, though I don’t think I ever carried it off with the same panache. And if laundry day was light because we were unburdened with whole socks, winters in Colorado with warm ankles but cold feet made them ones I recall as “the season of blue toes.”

“I had a pair of grey Hammer pants that looked exactly like elephant skin,” she recalled. “They were huge, baggy, wrinkled.” Who the hell wants to emulate an elephant in high school? For that matter, who wants to emulate a subway station, which I did with my Hammer pants that sported a whimsical print of subway bricks besmirched with graffiti. With old man coats over subway pants, I must have been a sight to behold. Just add the smell of a urinal puck and some Boone’s Farm and I would be a sensation. Me and my friend “the Elephant Girl,” with the merest hint of socks, an unholy “fashion-don’t” writ large.

Granted, we didn’t just wear Hammer pants, though both of us had at least three pairs. “Do you remember your skirts made out of pillow cases?” she queried. How could I forget? What invention! What inspired creativity! Bed linens? It’s a readymade! Slice open the top, hike it up with a wide leather belt, instant statement! Grandma’s floral prints were instantly repurposed into the newest trend in bed-linen skirt-wear. It bagged at the top where it folded over the belt while the rest was so tight I could hardly walk–but so what? I looked AWESOME! Why, if I paired it with one of my old men sport coats? Genius! The newest Coco Chanel-meets-Grey Gardens was well on her way to the Milan spring collection.

There were army fatigues which I wore with fishnet stockings, but because foot-covering was de trop in any ensemble, I cut them off and made them into fishnet leggings, held in place by rubber bracelets I forced over my feet. The bracelets almost cut off my circulation once I shoved them up my calf, but since we didn’t wear socks anyway, my feet would hardly be missed after their amputation.

“I made a skirt out of my bedroom curtains,” I reflected, a New Wave Scarlett O’Hara, though I didn’t have a Rhett Butler to impress. Plus, unlike Scarlett’s, whose masterful rejuvenation of window treatments almost fooled Rhett into believing she had retained her wealth, my skirt still looked like curtains when I was done: they even had the streaks of sun-bleaching from years in the window.

“I actually tripped over my own crotch,” my friend gasped, wiping tears of joyous disbelief from her eyes. “I was running across the street in my favorite Hammer pants and my foot got caught in the huge amount of fabric hanging down.” It must have been hilarious, but then this same friend caught me showing off in a moment of teenage hubris; I came skidding around a corner on a winter-wet floor whereby I ate shit: one minute I’m giggling through the window, the next I’m gone in a Tom-and-Jerry maneuver flat on my ass. What was I wearing? Hammer pants. Did they hasten my fall? Did my foot also get caught in the billowing clouds of crotch fabric? Who knows? It’s just another piece of our collective Hammer shame.

Ah, youth. I might have an anachronistic fashion sense of one who doesn’t pay much attention but I’m pretty sure that Hammer pants will look as stupid twenty years in the future as they did twenty years in the past. And I’m really glad that people will look that stupid in the present so they can laugh about it later.

I got onto a BBS (a Bulletin Board System) back in the early 90’s because I knew a bunch of reprobates who were cruising each other over internet dial-up. I didn’t know anything about computers, nothing about BBS boards, nor why anyone would use such an animal. But my roommates were intrigued by the possibilities and perhaps the faceless anonymity too. I went along for the ride because everyone was doing it, and just like apocryphal lemmings, jettisoned myself off the cliff and out to sea.

We created our web identities without the benefit of Facebook data mining. A number of hobbies, interests, and identifying characteristics were offered up as points to share with other members of the BBS, things like “Video Games” or “Knitting Kilts on Sundays.” We checked off the ones which resonated with us, and as a result we would have other members flagged because of our “mutual interests.” Blinking cursors and black and white text, the BBS was alluring in its complete irrelevance to my life.

There was not one single interest which I shared with the general BBS community. Nothing.

My identity made me appear to be the most dull of dull members on the BBS board, this despite my remarkably checkered existence and even more remarkably checkered friends. And with no shared interests with anyone, I wasn’t ever going to have one of those interesting “chats” I’d heard tell about. No email queries, no bupkus. I was going to have an identity more clear of blemishes than Holly Hobby.

In fact, the only interest which was mildly entertaining was the Society for Creative Anachronism. And this was because I didn’t believe it existed.

I thought that such a completely off-the-wall idea had to be a lark. What the hell is an anachronism which is creative? A dancing ascot? A pince-nez which recites Herodotus? And who would create a society based upon it? How patently absurd! How brilliantly Monty Python-esque! Ministry of Silly Walks, indeed. We had here a real contender for the ridiculous crown.

So I put an ‘X’ between the brackets. Me and my one interest, chosen purely for comedic effect.


I received a personal message on the BBS not long after putting my identity up. He wanted to meet, maybe catch a movie. Did we know any of the same people? It appeared we did. It was mildly creepy, sure, but innocuous enough. We grabbed a cheap burrito and some coffee, and during our brief introduction I realized we had as much in common as a high strung squirrel monkey has with a waffle iron. He was nice, but odd. About thirty years old, full of strange mannerisms and a trailer in which he lived alone on several acres with six cats he adopted from his mother. He moved with a self-conscious rigidity reserved for people tortured through high school, both by their peers but also their miserable home life. He didn’t know where to put himself in any room where he wasn’t in the way.

I moved with shocking self-confidence despite the fact that I was dangerously close to a clinical breakdown. Nimble, frenetic, and over indulgent. A dancer for years, I moved with a saucy grace anywhere I went, and I dressed to the effect. A hyper pixie flashing in and out of the lives of people I knew, moving too quickly and laughing too loudly to be contained in any room.

I filled the room to bursting, he tried to become the wallpaper.

But he seemed to be encouraged after our modest date, and after he brought me home asked if I’d join him at the Star Trek convention.

I was not exactly aghast, but I’ll admit to being confused. I was a night club fixture and a complete tart, not a science fiction lover with six cats and a trailer. Did something about me and my strangely crafted persona invite comparisons to Deanna Troi? Sure, sometimes I dressed the part of one of Kirk’s brief assignations, which is to say with skirts far too short to be borne. I even painted myself silver one night to go dancing with the drag queens. But really. A Trekkie?

I politely declined the invitation, scratching my head in wonder.


I got another query from a different gent a while later. I looked at his BBS identity and it appeared he actually had interests, which was remarkable enough for me to respond. Films and literature and god knows what else, but enough that he didn’t seem like my ridiculously bland no-interest self. And we chatted, or whatever it was then, had an exchange of ideas. Not that I was terribly articulate.

We met at a bar and hit it off. He was far more pulled-together than I was; he had a job which didn’t involve serving coffee or slinging beer or taking off his clothes, so he was almost like an adult. He lived in an unbelievable warehouse space with several other guys where they had film equipment, huge numbers of computers and a tire swing. Props from their various indy film projects hung from the rafters, completing an enchanting effect of grown-up romper room.

This was what I aspired to: bohemian creativity which relied on nothing but ingenuity, an awesome loft and a tire swing. Plus, I suppose, a real job to buy the equipment to capture the bohemian creativity and pay for the awesome loft and tire swing. I can’t say that I offered much return on his investment; I had a crummy job, no education, and a sassy attitude with nothing to back it up. I must have been rather like my online identity to him: dull.

Regardless, we had a completely inconsequential fling, burdened by nothing resembling passion in the least. It was marshmallow fluff until the next thing came along.

That came sooner than it might have after he picked me up from work one night and we went to a tirelessly seedy but trendy bar near his warehouse. I had been in training, so could pack away a great number of cocktails; he didn’t seem terribly impressed but gamely entertained his higher notions of chivalry by chaperoning. We left around midnight, right into the center of an altercation between two homeless men harassing a homeless woman. Arriving late to the kerfuffle meant we couldn’t parse whether they all knew each other or if this was brute force against a defenseless victim. A small crowd developed on the sidewalk, a limo parked next to a fire hydrant, the driver climbing out to observe, all of us deciding whether we needed to intervene.

A little scrappy guy, hunched over with a grungy baseball cap covering stringy hair began to physically push this tiny woman with her rolling cart, and my chivalrous, recreational fling moved into action, stepping between them to push them apart. Fling turned to the woman to ask if she was alright when Scrappy jumped on his back; Fling looked like he had a giant baby attacking him from behind who he desperately tried to shake loose. Scrappy was tenacious and street strong and would not let go until he could get Fling down on the ground to really pulverize him.

This was perhaps the moment when Fling and I lost any hope of becoming something more than a fling. Because it happened that while Scrappy was attacking Fling, I remembered that I had, for the first time in my life, a can of pepper spray. I never felt threatened before–except by people I knew–and I wasn’t planning on making a habit of wandering around downtown Seattle alone in the middle of the night. Maybe I just happened upon it in my apartment. I didn’t know where it came from; I certainly never purchased it. Maybe one of my friends left it behind and I picked it up just because.

So I sprayed Scrappy, the Attack Hobo. But Scrappy’s face was hanging over Fling’s shoulder from behind, and it turns out there isn’t much control over the range of pepper spray. And perhaps my aim wasn’t great because I both had a number of cocktails and Scrappy was a highly volatile moving target. I sprayed them equally and liberally.

Scrappy dropped off Fling’s back, both of them holding their eyes and choking to catch their breath. Their eyes lit up baboon butt red, and while I gritted my teeth in horror and embarrassment, cringing and shifting from leg to leg not knowing what to do, Scrappy slapped Fling on the shoulder genially. “Man, I’m really sorry. Dude, we good? I’m sorry, man. Shit, I didn’t mean it, you know?”

The chauffeur had called the police and we spent several confusing minutes explaining that I was just trying to help; no, I wasn’t the instigator. Yes, I used pepper spray on my date. It was an accident! The woman who had been assaulted disappeared into the streets like smoke, leaving us three mortal enemies defending each other in the eyes of the law, Scrappy bobbing and weaving behind us, popping up like a Whack-a-Mole. “Sorry, dude,” he said. “Dude, hey man. Sorry! No hard feelings, man. Lemme buy you a beer.”

We pulled ourselves from the grips of Johnny Law because they were confused and amused and didn’t know who to charge with a crime, and Fling and I wandered to an even nastier bar to soak out the pepper spray and adrenalin. We got unfathomably ripped, went to his warehouse to swing on the swing, wash the pepper out of his eyes and, though I didn’t quite get it, say, “Sayonara, babe. You’re too out there for me.”

This from a guy who sought me out because I was interested in The Society for Creative Anachronism. The nerve.


It was several years before I discovered the Society for Creative Anachronism really exists. And wouldn’t you know, it provides a place for people to live out their dreams of chivalry and nobility. There are no pince-nez which recite Herodotus, nor dancing ascots, but lots of terrible romantics who dress as troubadours and behave like lovesick paramours reciting Ye Olde poems of love and death to each other between tournaments in which they pulverize one another with remarkably deadly weapons.

Well. Lesson learned.

At least I got the Trekkie to watch my cat for six months when I moved out of town.

And Fling, I finally understood why he looked me up in the first place. Talk about your misguided romantic.

Epilogue

By Quenby Moone

Appreciation

There aren’t words for the confusion I feel about stepping out on the internet stage again. After living at our father’s house for the summer while he slowly sailed out to sea, my brother and I are stumbling into daylight as if from battle: scarred and weary and dazed.

One of Dad’s oldest and dearest friends Betsy was visiting from New York when my brother Chris, my husband and I went to Dad’s house to do some chores for him. Dad had been persistently prodding her to go through his library in the basement, thousands and thousands of art books, literature, mythology, to sift through them and take what she wanted. He’s been nagging all of us to do the same. It’s the housekeeping of dying.

In a different life my husband and I were in the dank center of a rock band who had hit it big.

Screwy and the Pin-ups* was at the height of its draw. And we, our friends and us, were all tied to it, either because of professional necessity or friendship, or, in my case, plain old-fashioned matrimony. In this, there were problems. I liked everyone in the band, including the support crew and their spousal so-and-so’s. I knew some better than others. But we were all stuck together by the devil’s pact, and it was a good thing that we liked each other: we were together a lot.

The problem lay in the Svengali who was, for all intents and purposes, running the show. Nominally a band of equals, Sven was the true fulcrum. Unfortunately, he was nuts. But all of us were beholden to Sven because the only way anyone was going to get paid was to stay in his good graces. He was fickle, two-faced, mercurial, paranoid. Dastardly in his willingness to demean his fellow bandmates and employees, sometimes overtly, sometimes not. His underlings were abused mercilessly.

Sven and I had an unusual relationship. He loved my husband with true, heartfelt affection, and my husband dodged the rain of wrath that fell on everyone else. He was often placed in the unenviable position of being the de facto defense attorney for hapless employees as it fell to him to keep the sword of Damocles from falling on heads which didn’t deserve it. He had the golden ticket: while everyone else suffered horribly at the hands of Sven, my husband had a ring-side seat to watch the blood flow onto the mat. He intervened when he could, but he wasn’t abused in the same way.

Sven did not like the wives. None of us womenfolk were particularly welcome, unless we embraced some part of the stereotype: dumb, stacked or young. Preferably all three. I was none of these, nor were most of the other wives. A remarkably savvy, smart, sassy collection of women were married to the male cavalry that filled the ranks of the band’s day-to-day operations, and almost none of them were impressed by Sven.

Sven had complete control over the Screwy operation, except for those dastardly women: he couldn’t control the lives of his cohorts beyond the studio door or band tours. Once everyone went home, they had the nerve to have relationships away from him, honest-to-god conversations, probably about him. They had lives. This was a problem, and Sven went out of his way to drive wedges between his bandmates, employees and their partners. Rumors about spousal untrustworthiness abounded; questioning the integrity of wives and girlfriends was raised to the level of high art. It was so insidious that one band member and his wife moved out of town to get away from Sven.

I was a thorn to Sven because Sven loved my husband. They had been friends for many years before he found himself famous, and Sven appreciated the longevity and consistency of this one relationship that straddled both worlds. But my husband left him no doubt that he would hit the door if Sven cast aspersions upon me. He didn’t need to spell it out for him; it was obvious. So Sven didn’t meddle in our lives the same way he did with everyone else, but it didn’t mean we were chummy.

The problems began when we met. Screwy had just hit the big time, and Sven and his wife took my husband and I out to dinner, to an extremely frufru place I’m pretty sure was choreographed to make us uneasy. He was successful. I felt like I was walking into a special club with potential hazing rituals; will he make me take off my pants, draw “W * W” on my ass, and then drive me by bull whip through the fountain downtown? But before long, one realizes that fame adds nothing new to the table other than weird stares from the table next to you. His wife put me at my ease. Conversation flowed casually after a certain point. Sven invited us to his house, recently purchased with the largesse of the Screwy enormo-hit which had flooded the airwaves.

“I love this rug. I just bought it for ten grand. Look at this piano. A baby grand! I picked it up for thirty. We had these curtains custom made; I don’t remember how much they cost.”

He was drunk with the fact that he had arrived, with his own success. He dragged out every stick of furniture they had bought to fill their new house in a tony neighborhood and attached a price tag. My husband and I took the tour increasingly dazed by Sven’s desire to impress. But in the end, it was just a house.

“It’s six thousand square feet,” Sven boasted.

“Really?” I asked, looking around their living room. “It just doesn’t seem that big.”

He flashed at me with incredulity tinged with outright hostility. He tucked the look away quickly, but we all felt the air pressure in the room drop.

This was the hallmark of our relationship: he bragged, I said whatever came to the top of my head, completely inadvertently offending him. He talked about his specialization in fields both basic and arcane, and in the spirit of debate I would question him about it, putting him on the spot and making him uncomfortable. It turns out, for instance, that he did not actually know much about literature or art. And had he not dragged out his empty closet for me to look in, I wouldn’t have looked. We, none of us, gave one tiny shake of a gnat’s penis if he was an intellectual superhuman masquerading as a pop star or just a normal person. But he was incapable of being at ease with the windfall he had stumbled upon; he needed everyone to be impressed with everything he did all the time.

Like a sore spot in his heel that rubbed wrong no matter what, I was one wife he couldn’t talk smack about without reaping costs too high to bear: the loss of his best friend. I drove him completely crazy.

I was strangely comfortable in that position.

And at some point, he was engaged anew, his marriage to wife #2 having fizzled in completely predictable ways, rife with infidelities and accusations and lies.

He decided to throw a party for his fiancee in Vegas for her 21st birthday.

Let me be clear: none of us were in our early twenties. Many of us had seen the back of our mid-thirties by this point. Sven had crossed the forty-yard line. But he wanted to throw a party for his child-bride, and he arranged to have the entire expense paid for with his impressive collection of air miles. Which is great, if there wasn’t such a forced, bizarre feeling to the whole thing. We liked his fiancee, but didn’t know her at all. And she was from, literally, a different generation. So stacking a hotel in Vegas with all his friends and cronies and calling it a celebration for her was a bit disingenuous. She had only one friend with her, another youngster who was as fresh-faced and bright-eyed as a fawn; we looked like wizened, grumpy ogres circling the sacrificial innocents.

We flew in on Friday night. The Master of Ceremonies and his fiancee went upstairs to change their clothes and left us in the Hard Rock casino to fend for ourselves. Half of us hit the bar, half of us hit the blackjack tables. The couple who moved out of state to avoid Sven hit the jackpot, won a couple hundred bucks on a slot machine and went to bed. Sven and his fiancee never surfaced, and while waiting for them we got drunk and eventually made our way to our rooms to pass out.

Sven liked to make people wait. If you asked me then what fame was about, I might have answered, “Making people wait,” because most of what my husband and everyone else in his operation did was wait for Sven. An entire eighteen-month period in our lives was spent waiting for Sven: to show up to record his album, to show up at the airport, to show up in the casino for a party ostensibly for his fiancee. If people weren’t waiting for Sven, they were rushing because they were late. It was just a little extra perk that came with being a part of “the inner circle.”

God only knows what happened Saturday afternoon. I have a photo of myself that speaks to the volume of my pounding head, so I’m pretty sure that I endured a hangover. But the plan for the evening was for everyone to meet at Nobu for sushi, and then catch one of the multiple Cirque du Soleil shows that have become entrenched in Vegas. Later, because my husband and I had been to Vegas multiple times to visit family, we were to be the tour guides to the seedier side of Vegas, or “True Vegas.”

We aren’t a Vegas Strip couple. The showy entertainment value of the Strip seems like marshmallow fluff covering the true heart of the matter: gambling and getting loaded. Why not just cut to the chase and get down to business? And we were thrilled to know which casino was arguably the worst casino in Vegas and our favorite place to wind up in all the glittering waste: The El Cortez.

So, after embarrassing ourselves by showing up in Nobu dressed the way we always dressed, which is poorly, and being wowed by Chinese contortionists in the Cirque, it was our time to shine. Much of Sven’s party opted to stay on the Strip, mostly to shake him. But a small band of intrepid explorers mounted up: two young girls dressed in miniskirts and halter tops in the chilly desert night, one Svengali dressed in a far-too expensive suit, our friend Uncle Nuthatch, who was one of Sven’s employees and had an even more complicated relationship with him than I did, my husband and myself. Six people in search of the divine seed of seediness.

We started outside The Plaza where things went south immediately. The girls were under-dressed and covered in goose bumps. Unlike the Strip, where women dress like hookers just for the fun of it as they hop from one insulated nightclub experience to the next, here the only people dressed like hookers were hookers and Sven’s two sweet doe-like companions. It was an uncomfortable juxtaposition: girls of radiant youth dressed like hookers walking down the street next to hookers desperately wearing the paint of radiant youth.

Sven wrapped his over-determined jacket around his fiancee’s shoulders; her friend was out of luck. The rest of us slobs didn’t have jackets to share. And the girls looked uneasy; this wasn’t exactly what they had bargained for. This was actually seedy. Downtown was actually full of people who looked like they had been gambling and smoking and drinking for their entire lives. This was not a movie full of quaint, slightly cheesy buffoons who whiled away the hours playing poker and patting the butts of cocktail waitresses, these were real people who had spent their lives in front of one-armed bandits hoping against their last quarter that they were finally, FINALLY going to hit it.

They were a little surprised. And Sven was offended.

The temperature Downtown was not nearly as chilly as the temperature rolling off of Sven. He was turning blue he was so arctic. It was as though we were personally shitting on him, what with all the grittiness and strippers and cigarette butts and stained walls and drunk middle-aged assholes and 99 cent shrimp & botulism cocktails. He seemed to blame us personally for placing this dingy reality there in front of him.

We were stumped. Do we continue this charade of a tour downtown when the tourists themselves were so obviously uninterested, even chagrined? How do we politely suggest that we decamp somewhere else? We needn’t have worried, because I was about to rise to my own personal best in offending Sven.

“Let’s go uptown to hang out with a better class of people,” Sven said, not a whiff of irony in the frigid air.

“They’re not better class, just better dressed,” I noted.

He glowered, “I’m sure the amount of gingivitis is much worse here.”

“Nice paternalistic attitude,” I shot.

“What are you talking about?” He was seething now.

“These people are exactly like the people on the Strip, just poorer.”

He growled, “We’re going back.”

My husband, charmingly and unrealistically trying to salvage the tone of the evening, asked Sven, “Are you sure you don’t want to go to the El Cortez?”

The two lovely girls and the grumpy paternalistic snob piled into the first taxi they could hail, leaving us three bums standing in the middle of downtown.

“Thank god,” said Uncle Nuthatch.

“Now what?” I wondered.

“Go to El Cortez, of course!”

The mighty hand of our oppressor had been lifted, and like children we ran headlong into the face of that which he hated.

We passed through meth dealers and pawn shops, bail bonds, and shady souvenir stands across the small downtown to its dingy entrance, the neon sign on the hotel tower reading “El ‘ortez,” the ‘C’ having blinked out months or years earlier. The smell preceded the casino by several feet, damp tarry smoke greeting us through the sliding doors on our way to partake in the sleaziest gambling options Vegas had to offer.

The El Cortez is the best place to gamble in all of Vegas for a number of reasons. It is where dealers get trained, first and foremost, so the tables are manned by charming novices who can hardly tie their shoes, much less run a poker table. And for this reason, it offers the cheapest buy-in of any casino in town. There are even penny-slot machines which sit on the perimeter of the casino and don’t bother to give you money if you hit. Instead they spit out a receipt which you take to the ancient money changer behind the metal cage and she’ll hand you your fifty-cent winnings while coughing up tubercular germs on your quarters. Which you’ll promptly go spend on the roulette wheel.

Ah, roulette! Nowhere in Vegas could you have such a luxurious night at the wheel for as little as you spent at the El Cortez. Ten dollars kept you in chips all night long if you sat at the dime roulette wheel, which we did, right next to the lifers who only gambled there because their pension checks wouldn’t allow for higher stakes. We loved it! Hit red or black, bet on both. Play ten different numbers at the same time, one dime chip on each. Lose big? You’re down a huge pile of chips but make up for it in the fact that you spent three whole dollars! You’re a high roller if you buy in more than once; tip your waitress a five, you are guaranteed the best service in all of Nevada.

Uncle Nuthatch was in heaven. He sprung for twenty bucks worth of chips and sat at the roulette wheel all night like a king. He didn’t know how to play, and who cares? Pick some numbers, slide some chips here or there, bet against yourself fifty-fifty. When the stakes are that low you can play until you lose or win, and you’ll probably do a lot of both.

He walked to the bar where he was sucking down Seven & Seven’s, set up beforehand by the bartender who had served him enough to anticipate him. They were dinky and watery but only a buck. “Are you playing tonight, sir?” the earnest bartender asked Uncle Nuthatch.

“I’m at the roulette wheel,” he said.

“Drinks are on the house then,” he told him.

Uncle Nuthatch came back to his seat, glowing with his extreme good fortune. “If I lose all this,” he waved his hands over his pile of ten-cent chips, “I’m still ahead!” He had the woozy look of one imbibing ambrosia from Eleusis. “It’s like they’re paying me to drink!”

Around Uncle Nuthatch’s seventeenth cocktail the waitress thought the bartender should consider cutting him off. The bartender sized him up. “No, I think he’s a pro,” he said. Victorious, Uncle Nuthatch ordered another Seven & Seven. Hell, another round for everyone! Have a TWO DOLLAR TIP! I’m feeling benevolent!

In such a heady atmosphere, despite the acrid smell of smoke and disinfectant and the baleful glares of committed but impoverished gamblers, weak cocktails and the dubious skills of the dealers, time slips by as though life is eternal and unchanging. We were pashas and queens in a magical, albeit marginal, palace, all our wants and desires anticipated and surpassed. When your expectations are low and the quality demanded sub-par, you can have the best night of your life with very little effort.

But eventually the dream dissolves. The oasis fades away into the desert heat and your headache begins in earnest. As the sun began to rise, and our devoted bartender got off shift and I lost half of my lung capacity from the smoke of six beautiful hours in the El Cortez, we called our yellow chariot to take us back to the Strip, land of a better class of people.

We lone uptown jerks stood patiently outside, save for one casino biddy, a tiny grizzled harpy who had spent her last nickel and needed a lift back from whence she came. She asked me if we had called a taxi. “Yes,” I told her. “The kiosk is inside,” and she scuttled sideways toward the lobby.

The sky was rosy when our taxi pulled up. We had wandered away from the curb and were just turning back to grab it when the biddy took one side-long glance at me and jumped in like a cat burglar.

“She’s stealing our taxi!” I shouted. I flung myself toward the door which was slowly closing around the crafty casino wench. “Hey, that’s our taxi!” I yelled at her.

She glared at me. “I got here first!” she croaked.

“I called them myself!” I barked as we squared off, toe to toe, one tiny crusty old lady and one woefully hungover tiny tourist ready to throw down over the only taxi on Fremont Street. Who of the two blisteringly loaded men intervened to prevent me from bodily pulling an ancient old woman out of our taxi at six a.m? I’m not sure, but in some divine compromise carved out of our perfect Vegas experience, we shared the cab with the mean wretch of a woman to her unbelievably depressing apartment complex set perfectly on the wrong side of the tracks.

We went back to our rooms in the Hard Rock, sun already bruising the side of the building. My husband fell into our shower to disinfect. I fell toward bed. The phone rang.

“Lookit,” Uncle Nuthatch slurred on the other end. “Lookit the sunrise. I swear, it’s fucking perfect,” he said. “This was the best night of my life.”

“Go to sleep,” I said.

“Okay,” he replied. “But lookit the sunrise, it’s fucking perfect.”

We curled up in our beds and slept like the dead.


Sven was never happy with the way things were, only the way they were supposed to be. Downtown Vegas didn’t meet his approval because it reminded him of the things he fled: himself, his normality, his humanity. No-one catered to Sven the Rock Star in true Vegas. Truthfully, no-one knew who he was, and therefore he found it wanting.

“I must have been a huge disappointment to him in many ways,” my husband said after I read this to him. It’s true. Sven wanted more than anything to elevate us, to make us a better class of people. He took us to restaurants not because he liked to eat there but because that’s where people like him ate. He bought his entire party of groomsmen custom Armani tuxes for his wedding to the child-bride. None of them wanted tuxes, everyone wanted Sven to save the money and just rent something. But he insisted. Six Armani tuxes still hang in closets, worn once after all these years.

“He didn’t realize that an asshole in a nice suit is still just an asshole,” I said. Sven surrounded himself with the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met; many of us are still great friends after all these years, including the now-ex-wife child-bride, no longer a child, and with a child of her own. And Sven knew he was lucky, but it wasn’t enough to make him appreciate it, or us.

He was smart enough to pick a great crew, but too stupid to follow them where they led, even if it was to the El Cortez.

*Obviously not their real name. Though it should be.

I’m sorry for the mass mailing. I’m a terrible correspondent, as I’ve explained in greater or lesser tones of contrition for most of my life. My parents always tried to encourage me to write thank you cards when I was a child, and I’d scribble some half-baked gratitude, something about how fabulous my new old lady briefs monogrammed with the days of the week were, and then forget to mail it. Or not bother to stamp it, which is even more pathetic, somehow. It’s like the hard part was done and I got hung up on the minutiae. A stroke of contrariness? I don’t know. Sue me.

I never call anyone because I’ve nurtured a hate-hate relationship with the phone my entire life; imagine the curse of the ubiquitous cell phone for someone like me? It’s possible that I was the only teenager in the universe who avoided the phone–actually screened my calls. Hated the phone as a teenager; skillfully navigate it now by ignoring its ubiquity.

Anyway, back to the reason for this letter. Since Facebook has made the sphere of private versus the public such a complicated place, and the internet makes it possible to find anyone anywhere unless you’ve doctored yourself a little alternate identity and travel documents, I thought that it might be time to address my own personal privacy settings. Imagine, if you will, a shield of preferences circling me like a force field of ultimate power.

You girls I knew in Junior High School make me a little nervous, to be perfectly honest. I wasn’t sure how to be your friends back then; I was convinced that well-put-together girls in pressed Levi’s and Polo shirts scorned the very earth I walked on. Sure, I won “Class Clown” two years running–but I remain convinced that it was because I was the spastic heartbroken girl who didn’t know how to be well-put-together so was funny instead. I look sad in both my yearbook pictures when I was photographed with my male clown counterparts, two Frowny Clown Portraits adorning the Thrift Stores of History.

So, junior high school girlfriends, you get a free pass but only as long as you don’t remind me that I’m still that spastic poorly manicured goombah who can’t be bothered to find clothes which fit. Pointing and laughing are strictly forbidden. Otherwise, I’ll drag you off into the purgatory of the HIDE button.

Junior High Boys on the other hand are welcome. You guys were awesome in your dorky ways; sure, you didn’t want to date me because I didn’t have boobs until, well, ever, but you were a fun crew who laughed at my jokes. And there wasn’t a mean bone in your body–not that you shared with me anyway–and I hear many of you are still friends after all these years! That’s reassuring, somehow. You guys are alright.

Late adolescence and early adulthood harbors a strange melange of friends. There are many of you who I miss, even though I don’t write and I never call. Be assured that you’re still on my list of Friends and not Acquaintances. Yeah, it’s true. I forget that we haven’t talked in almost twenty years. I assume, completely irrationally, that we’ll hook up for coffee soon and talk just like we did in the past. I was actually surprised when one of you wrote me to say that we hadn’t seen each other in forever and wow, things have changed. Have they really? I can’t tell from inside my force field. I thought things were exactly the same as they always were, at least between us. Shows you how subjective it is here behind my wall of impenetrability.

I haven’t avoided many of you–note the “lousy correspondent” disclaimer–but there are some of you I have. How can you tell from my silence, since my silence is all-encompassing, whether we’re still friends or whether I’ve dodged you like a virulent strain of flesh-eating streptococcus? That is a perfectly reasonable question. Check the history files. Did you A) betray my trust B) play Machiavellian mind games with me, making me question my very sanity or C) both? If you answered “Yes” to any of these, put yourself in the “Avoided Like Plague” pile. There aren’t many of you, but you’re out there.

The Ex-Boyfriend privacy settings are more complicated. They also run to the “Sure, look me up sometime,” to the “Jesus, seriously, dude. If you were the last man on earth I’d commit Seppuku.” Again, if you’re unsure of where you are on the spectrum, review the history. Were we A) relatively unharmed by our dalliances? B) Total goofballs but not really impacted by anything resembling “commitment” or “longevity?”  or C) Cheerfully involved until we kind of just weren’t any more and then stumbled into the next thing? If you answered “Yes” to any of these, the force field will welcome you through.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself keeping company with this series of identifying characteristics, you can place yourself in the “Last Man = Seppuku” pile. Were you A) Formed in Lucifer’s loins? B) A sociopath? C) Abusive, ranging from mental anguish to a broken collarbone? You guys not only get the booby prize but the award for Most Toxic Relationships. I have avoided Facebook in no small measure because of you gentlemen, and I hope you can tell from my specific tone of silence (and my force field) that I have a mile-thick wall around me that reads “FOOL ME ONCE.” Also, restraining orders and very large friends.

But the rest of you–sure. Look me up, I guess. I mean, it’s sort of like going to the zoo to stare at the animals. Interesting for a minute until you realize that the animals are just biding their time until they can turn on their master….wait. No, that’s a lousy analogy.

Let me start again:

Sure, look me up, I guess. I mean, it’s sort of like reading the gossip pages and relishing the dirt you pick up about familiar strangers…

Damn. That’s not right either.

Okay. I’m just trying to say that I love many of you even though we haven’t seen each other in a long time. Except for those of you I don’t love. And I wish you could tell the difference, but because of my self-imposed silence, I guess you can’t tell who’s who. So maybe this new-fangled Force Field of Ultimate Power will make it easier for everyone to sort out who goes in what column.

Thanks, and I’d say “We’ll talk soon,” except we both know that’s not true. But I love you.*

Cheers, Quenby


*Unless I don’t, of course.

Scene: March, 2009. Winter is officially over but the sky is still leaden and heavy with rain. The nascent plants and flowers are peeking though the soil tender and bright, offering a hint of the fullness of our summer ahead. Seed catalogs fill the house. The first chicks come into the feed stores, a sure sign of the growing season to come.

I will go get some, because I’m insane.

I had recently ended one chicken experiment but was ready to begin another on its heels. I had just sold three enormous hens who had torn up our garden (an expensive experiment), but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the chicken-dream yet, so I decided rather foolishly and hastily to go get bantam chicks to stick under our fourth and final hen.

Gigi, all glossy black feathers and disco boots, had no other thought in this world than sitting on non-existent eggs fertilized by an invisible rooster. She had been sitting on her empty nest stubbornly and stupidly for five weeks; that chicks hatch from eggs in just three weeks made clear that this girl, our big fat dumb bird, was determined–biology and lack of eggs be damned. I admire this sort of tilting at windmills.

I felt I could both fulfill her biological drive and further my pathological need to have chickens by making her a foster parent. So when I heard that spring chicks were at the nurseries, especially the banties which only grow about a quarter of the size of big farm hens, I decided the iron was hot.

I bought a half-dozen day-old chicks, hedging my bets that a few would be roosters when they grew up. I kept them warm under a heat lamp until evening when chickens become even dopier than usual; relying on Gigi’s biological desperation and the fact that chickens can’t see well in the dark, I took one lone chick out with a flashlight to meet Mom.

Gigi glared at me as though a predator, and when she saw this defenseless critter moving towards her she struck out with her beak, all feathers and fury. Tiny chick shrieks mingled with my throbbing heart–Good grief! She was savage!–and Gigi’s beady night-blind eyes searched wildly in the dark for shapes she could peck to death.

This wasn’t going well.

I took the poor traumatized chick inside, having the sinking sense that I might need to raise the six chicks myself. I watched them sadly as they peeped their way around their cardboard box. Peep. Peep.

To hell with it, I thought. I carried the whole damned box with me outside into the dark of the coop, and one by one shoved chicks unceremoniously under Gigi, who was flittering nervously and starting to cluck. She was going to have to take on six defenseless chicks, dammit! Sure, she would win the contest, but maybe in the confusion a chick would find its way into her avian heart.

Actually, a chick found its way under her avian breast, which is exactly what is supposed to happen. All the sudden the clucking harpy of doom became a purring hen gathering up chicks and shoving them under her breast feathers as fast as she could. Soon all six chicks were invisible. Gigi’s breast had swallowed them up and she was cooing gently.

The Virgin Mother was beaming with pride. “Hallelujah!” she thought, “It’s a miracle! I knew that if I sat on an empty nest long enough, the gods would provide!” I moved the happy family into the roosting house where Gigi could safely keep her growing chicks warm and dry. She was a fabulous mother. And I was glad I didn’t have to sit on them myself.

 

We’re not a phobic lot around these parts. Calm, mostly unmotivated by irrational fears, but one phobia my husband and I shared from the moment we met was an all-encompassing fear of puking.

“Sure,” you think, “who likes to puke?” and I know what you mean. There’s nothing, NOTHING enjoyable about it, except the part when it ends. But unlike you, we’ve made our life goals to never, ever ralph again in this lifetime. My husband spent a great deal of his teenage years not drinking booze with friends to avoid throwing up–not, like some would believe, because he was a “nice boy.” I also spent my teen years assiduously not yacking, though in retrospect I should have, so pickled at moments I was probably a short trip away from the emergency room.

We really, really understood each other on this point. We also understood the pitfalls of having a child, too: there would be ralphing involved and there was very little we could do about it. We were just going to have to man-up. The tot was going to puke, and we were going to have to soothe him during the awful illness, neuroses be damned.

“The cats broke me in,” my husband tells people when we talk about the terror. I suppose that’s true. One of them used to “hoover and horf” back in the day, sucking in food at high velocity and then yucking it back up because she’d eaten too much; she was the only cat I knew who actually had an eating disorder. The other one would just puke. Not fur-balls, not because he ate too much. Just to test our resolve, I think. He was that kind of cat.

So the cats warmed us up for the norovirus, which came around at last. We’ve dealt with all the parental woes children offer their completely naïve parents, including inscrutable behavior and poop in such quantities it’s hard to fathom where it all fits in such a tiny package. But most importantly we’ve learned that we can survive the puking.

Early in the spring, our son picked up a nice bug and brought it home with him. And, being our son, puking for him is also a horror; unlike other kids who just sort of yawn and yack and move on, he’ll do just about anything to avoid it. How can one be genetically predisposed to fear puking? I have no idea, but it seems to move through our family like mitochondrial paranoia. And yet, being in a position of responsibility, neither my husband nor I can cave in to our own better instincts to flee the scene of the ralphing–we must stay and help our poor, terrified son by being the rocks of strength neither of us feel we are.

We’re better at it now. Both of us have faced the beast head-on and we’re able to stomach it. So this particular spring night, so sloppy with rain and now a puking child, was for us just another part of the joys of parenting.

Except in my case, I too had come to feel a bit less-than-awesome.

After the early flurry of stomach misery, both my husband and I taking turns soothing and cleaning our unhappy kid, sleep seemed as though it might visit our house at last. We stayed up watching television until sleep became irresistible. Because my husband was feeling better than me (though I didn’t tell him that–I figured he had enough to deal with) I went to bed while he stayed downstairs with the tot.

Sleep enveloped them around three a.m., Papa curled protectively around his boy.

At about quarter to four, an unholy cry woke my husband and he sat upright to find the source of the noise. Grasping for his glasses he spied a chicken streaking across the yard. Gigi was cackling wildly, raising the alarm, and my husband leaped up from the sofa in his boxer shorts and jumped into his shoes.

Cold, miserable, raining and dark, a chicken shrieking into the void: my husband raced outside and grabbed a two-by-four just as he glimpsed an enormous possum loping lumpily down the chicken ladder in the coop. The front door of the roosting house was hanging off of its hinges, Gigi having broken it when she wrestled with the scavenging marsupial looking for a delicious meal deal. The nest box was empty, the chicks nowhere to be seen. Gigi screaming in the yard, my husband deciding whether or not he had the wherewithal to brain a possum with a board in his boxer shorts at four in the morning. In the rain.

Deciding between rescuing Gigi or bludgeoning a possum proved easy once he realized his primordial blood lust took him about as far as his laptop and his love of fine wine; he picked up the crazed Gigi and shut her back in the coop again, propping wood against the sagging door. Then he chased the possum away, choosing (wisely I feel) that he wasn’t ready to snuff out a possum just yet.

But where were the chicks? Gigi having taken to her fostering responsibilities with the seriousness of a zealot was keening inside the coop, desperate. My husband, now drenched, white legs glowing between sockless shoes and boxer shorts, and jacked full of adrenalin, worried that he was too late and the chicks had become a little possum snack.

peep

Two chicks were sitting on the ground in dumb terror, refusing, thankfully for my husband, to run away. He put them in the nest box and Gigi crammed them under her with relief, immediately beginning to purr and croon to her adopted kids.  More chicks appeared like tiny sprites which he chased through the yard, knobby knees flying after startlingly agile chicks which eluded him through wet plants and shrubs. One by one he tracked them down, each one a relief to him: he was not going to have to tell me about six Possum McNuggets. Maybe just three. Now two.

Now one.

One chick was missing. He had chased and rescued five chicks. Gigi, missing a couple of chunks of feathers and a few years off her life was busily fussing over the five and settling in for the morning which was just now peeking iron grey through the heavy morning clouds. He looked all over the yard, trying to figure how best to break the news to me. “‘A funny thing happened last night while you were sleeping…’ That’s terrible. ‘So, it seems there’s a possum in the neighborhood…’ Ugh.” Finally he gave up and went inside, dried himself off and crawled back to sleep around his sweaty son, still green with sickness but sleeping heavily.

He drifted off to sleep…

peep

With joy in his heart and a spring in his step, my husband leaped up, threw on his shoes and ran out to find the last chick, peeping frantically under the dining room window. And though it was about as large as his fist, that final chick ran him around the yard, a man almost naked save for his underwear and shoes, bald head steaming in the chilly pre-dawn as they darted in and out between leaves. From the jaws of a Chickensian tragedy my husband had snatched six chicks and been thrust into an episode of Green Acres. Had there been a laugh track the episode would have played out with all the dramatic depth of Eva Gabor chasing livestock around in her petticoats; a Benny Hill soundtrack running behind my husband running behind a chicken running through the rain at five in the morning.

 

He crawled into bed next to me at about eight. I was feeling pretty rough, but hadn’t shared my woe yet. I thought he would be impressed with me weathering our darkest fears all by myself, being so grown up as to not whine even a little.

“Let me preface this by saying that the chickens are all right,” he said.

I listened as his tale of adventure unfolded. There were highs and lows, all the twists and turns of The Odyssey and all of the comedy of Catch-22. We laughed in relief and sheer disbelief. I even forgot how crappy I felt.

“You didn’t hear anything?” he asked. Not a peep, no pun intended.

“Stomach flu saved our chickens,” he said. He was right. We would have never heard the kerfuffle outside unless one of us was, as he was, downstairs. My hero, the dark knight of poultry, wielding the two-by-four of justice.

Stomach flu has it’s place, but I suppose we can’t rely on it as a security measure in the future. We’ll just have to make sure the door is locked. It has been ever since.

Having graduated from Evergreen State College with plaudits from a wide range of teachers, I was exposed to all kinds of theory. Feminist theory, film theory, Marxist theory, cultural theory, sexual theory, Marxist feminist cultural film theory; theory wrapped in iceberg lettuce and swallowed with Ranch dressing. There is a lot of theory in an institution like Evergreen, and I read scads of it.

If you’re coming to my house for a social call, a casual tête-á-tête, a little visit just to say hi, make sure to take note of both your surroundings and your offerings. Bring wine if you like; wine is benign. A six-pack, perfectly balanced with a sunny smile and a warm greeting will make the afternoon bright. Even a bag of chips is good  because bags of chips have never been identified with ominous tidings or uncanny prophecy.

But avoid the Pyrex if you want to stay married. Or if there’s any potential for emotional disaster looming. Beware if you are mid-argument with someone; the stakes may get a whole lot higher once the Pyrex enters the equation.

On the other hand, if you are looking to hasten the conclusion of a thing–if you are, say, looking for the exit in an unhappy romance–feel free to bring the Pyrex-oven-and-microwave-safe-glassware, full of glistening and delicious morsels of food. Perhaps the Pyrex on its own would be enough to speed up the process, but this theory has not been qualitatively tested in the affirmative. There has often been food in the Pyrex in the past, and if you are truly committed to ending a thing, best to hedge your bets on a full dish.

The first example of Pyrex as prognosticator came ten years ago. Two friends dropped by unannounced while I was making lunch. It was a beautiful day, sunny, warm, deceptive in its cheerful aspect. We sat around our kitchen table laughing the laughter of the innocent, naïve souls who did not yet know how to read the signs.

One friend got a phone call; he took it on our porch.

I used a hot mitt to remove lunch from the oven, in Pyrex, which upon meeting the cool air, blew up in my hand, sending shards of hot glass over the entire kitchen.

My husband, noting the glazed expression on my face and the fact that I had no shoes on, threw me over his shoulder, a classic fireman rescue straight out of Hollywood disaster movies. Our friend on the porch, taking his phone call of doom, saw me in this rather embarrassing position, and wondered what sort of horror had befallen me, especially when he was receiving the message from his wife that they were getting a divorce. It was over between them. She was with someone else and was finalizing their marriage by putting in the papers.

Our vinyl kitchen flooring was a little melted in places, I was completely fine, the Pyrex and our lunch was a wash. Our friend was devastated. He had been married for years, and with the woman for far longer; we had been at their wedding. They had a child. It was a hopeless situation. And the Pyrex told all.

Years passed. We moved to a new house. Friends of ours came together with nary a breakup or disaster in sight. No Pyrex coincided with any social mishaps. I hadn’t used Pyrex much after the explosive necromancy of the past; since it blew up once I wasn’t encouraged to test its integrity every time I baked something. But nothing terrible had befallen any of our friends or loved-ones in a proximal relation to any oven-ready glassware in a long time, so perhaps we let our guard down.

Perhaps we had forgotten the lessons of the Pyrex, Harbinger of Doom.

Four years ago, two friends of ours were coming over to dinner. It was a reunion planned with great joy; one of our friends had come out of a career which had been one of the most surreal experiences of her life and now that she was relieved of duty, she was stunned at the life she walked back into. She was instantly famous, recognizable to any and all who walked down the street. She was weary and needed a respite from all the attention. I have pictures from that night. She looks sad, her life exciting and interesting, but overwhelming and stressful just the same.

She asked what she could bring, and I said anything that went with gumbo would be fine; a vegetable dish or cornbread, maybe. I did not think to specify the container; who does?

She is a terrific cook, one who takes great delight in feeding those she loves. She hadn’t cooked for anyone in months and had placed all her affection and all her joy of of good friendship in her big pot of greens. She and her beau walked up to the door with her lovingly prepared collards, the perfect accompaniment to a Dutch oven full of gumbo. The bag, heavy with liquid, slipped a little, and then more, and she watched, helpless, as the collards in their Pyrex sepulcher fell and shattered across our front walkway. She was devastated, started to cry because she had poured her love into them, and now they were cast across the pavement in a cruel dispatch, the tea leaves of Southern comfort food embossing our sidewalk with messages we couldn’t decipher.

We did not know that the disaster was not the loss of the greens; they were going to be delicious and we mourned them. But the Pyrex does not concern itself with mere sustenance, the food of the flesh; its concerns are metaphysical, otherworldly, ineffable. For our friend’s beau, unlikely as it seems, was the same beau who had been served notice on his impending divorce when the first Pyrex blew up in my hands. We even remarked on the uncanny similarities of events, laughed nervously at the unlikely coincidence, though since he was already divorced, his first wife couldn’t divorce him again.

Alas, there are more options in the fore-shadowing of Pyrex.

At about eight o’clock, the beau received a phone call from his now ex-wife: she was moving out of state with her new family. And she was taking their child with her.

Let me state for the record that we were good friends with this beau, but we hardly ever saw him. We most often mingled with him at large barbecues, where apparently the mishmosh of Pyrex mixed with other off-brand examples of oven-safe glassware watered down the chimes of the universe. Perhaps Pyrex has a direct line into the psyche of this one friend, which only aligns, like certain constellations, when in proximity to my husband and myself. Location is irrelevant: we live in a different house than the delivery of Interstellar Pyrex Message Number One, but the message seems to follow us to where-ever we are.

It would appear that Pyrex, in some unspoken relationship, has chosen my husband and I as the locus for emotional disasters to befall our friend and his kin.

Years pass, fortunes change. I turn forty. A celebration, a convivial atmosphere. Pyrex? None to be seen, but I wasn’t looking–I was turning forty, after all. Surrounded by my friends and loved ones, including the couple, Famous Person and Pyrex Lightning Rod.

They decided to part ways after almost a decade together. At my party, on our deck.

I had been too caught up in my own personal drama of forty-ness to look for the clues; where had the Pyrex been hiding? How had I missed the signs? But maybe this is not a part of Pyrex Prophecy. My husband and I just need to be near the Pyrex, we don’t even need to know it’s there for the powerful voodoo of Pyrex oven-safe dishware to work its ill-wind upon our friends. Maybe we are merely tools the Pyrex utilizes to channel the messages from the celestial spheres, creating a zone of safety for our friends to receive Pyrex Prestidigitation. We are the jewel and the medallion on the Staff of Ra, shedding light upon the stage where the drama will unfold, but not actors in the play. We must merely exist for the Pyrex to deliver its missive.

I want you to come over to our house, and we will share all the delights our house has to offer.  I set a good table, our house is warm with cheer. We will sit under the grape arbor in summer and around the table in fall. We will laugh, and take great joy in each others company.

But it is only fair to reveal the Truth of Pyrex. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.