FOR THE LAST SIX MONTHS (AT LEAST) WE’VE HAD A MAJOR CHANGE take place in our television viewing habits. I think that this change has come about because of two things; Online services such as Netflix and Hulu among a number of others have begun to air some new and very creative programming. Just about everyone else has been wallowing in a Political Stew that has been tasteless, without any real meat, and triggering my gag reflex.
So, we were faced with a choice: Enjoy some new and excellent programs or endure sphincter clenching broadcast venom.
Not a difficult decision – let someone else watch all the stuff with zombies.
Inside the crowded cabin, the roar of the jet engines was only a constant vibration to him. No sound was getting through. He always flew stone deaf. It would take two days for his full hearing to return.
“I know, Dominic,” said Peeto. “Happens every time you fly.”
“Happens every time I fly.” Dominic pinched his nose and blew, trying to open his blocked ears.
“I tell you, Peeto, I hate to fly. I really hate it.” The blowing did no good.
“Yeah, it always messes up your hearing,” nodded Peeto.
“It always messes up my hearing, y’know?” He stuffed five sticks of gum into his mouth.
It was a little more than an hour into the flight from Newark to LAX and the flight attendants had already started dealing out the prepackaged, precooked, and pre-ruined meals to the passengers. It was a ritual known to the attendants as “slopping the hogs.” Somehow, that part never got into their ads.
Last week I was in my usual spot at St. Arbucks having my morning coffee and being sociable with The Usual Suspects, whatever their names are. I had just picked up my free refill and returned to my chair. It was then that everything began to come apart at the seams.
(Advice: Never stand next to a Mime. You might end up as collateral damage or, even worse, you might get stuck inside that invisible box that all Mimes seem to have.)
I take that back – I see ice in my coffee, but there is no ice on the roads or on my windshield. I’m not complaining mind you. In fact, I am doing my Happy Dance – big time.
For the last week the Weather Bunny on Channel Two has been predicting that Terre Haute (That’s French for “What’s that floating in the Wabash?”) was going to be hit with several days worth of ice storms, Sleet, Freezing Rain and NCAA Athletes. I don’t mind the athletes, but the ice, sleet and freezing rain I can do without.
Fiction Saturday – Chapter 24
“Davis, wake up. I want you to take over. I’m exhausted and I think we’ll be safer with night coming on. We’ll switch again when we stop for gas.”
“You look drained. Laura, we are going to make it, right?”
“We’ll make it, Davis. Things will be fine. Once we get to the border, we’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, beautiful, carefree, Mexico.”
They were both whistling past the graveyard and they knew it.
They had changed their path south to California Route One, the coast road. Just north of Ventura, on the outskirts of LA, Laura pulled the car into a Shell station.
The orange floodlights washed over the concrete and the islands with the self-serve gas pumps. Inside the station a young man with stringy hair and acne sat behind the counter reading a motorcycle magazine.
“I’ll fill it up,” said Davis.
Laura opened her door and got out. She stretched her arms and yawned. She looked around the brightly-lit station.
“I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
She walked into the mini-mart and reemerged seconds later holding a large brass key attached to a miniature baseball bat. She disappeared into the darkness around the side of the building.
Davis used his debit card to fill the tank of his three-year-old, white, four-door Ford Taurus. He made a mental note that it was due for a scheduled maintenance checkup. He topped off the tank and put the nozzle back into the pump. It was then that he realized he was finally hungry.
He really hadn’t eaten anything since he had picked at his lunch back at the Target store in Santa Maria. Now he wished that he had, at least, eaten his churro. Laura had inhaled her food as if lunch was going out of style.
“Maybe she’s more used to this than me,” he thought to himself.
After replacing the gas cap and pocketing his receipt, Davis walked up to the cashier’s counter inside the station.
“Hey, good evening, Mister. Can I help you?” The young clerk put his magazine down on the counter.
“We got a pretty good selection of munchies and the cold sodas and stuff are over there in the cooler. We don’t sell beer or anything hard any more.”
“Thanks. Soft drinks will do.”
Davis walked over to the rack. He studied the collection of foil and paper-wrapped sweet and salty junk foods. He picked up a small bag of chips and headed over toward the beverages.
“Hey, Mister,” the kid called out to him.
“Yes, what?” Davis turned away from his search.
“I think you got some company outside,” said the young man, his head tilted toward the door and the gas pumps beyond.
Throwback Thursday from January 2015
I SAW THE FOLLOWING news item yesterday and I thought that it might have repercussions beyond just traffic problems.
“ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. — Authorities closed all southbound lanes of Interstate 95 north of Rocky Mount early Wednesday after a tractor-trailer carrying ramen noodles wrecked near N.C. Highway 4.
No other information about the wreck has been released, but boxes of noodles were spilled over a larger portion of the highway.
The state Department of Transportation said the closure could last all morning. Lanes are expected to reopen by 3:30 p.m.”
I thought that when the word of this crash got out all hell would break loose.
My brain created its own little movie of college students all over the South dropping their textbooks and i-phones and rushing to the accident scene.
The first reel, even under the opening credits, would show speeding traffic along Interstate 95, and then the Semi in question loosing traction and slamming into a bridge abutment. Next comes a slo-mo following shot of thousands of those little cellophane packets of the Ramen Noodles spreading out across all lanes like little flavored migratory butterflies.
Music comes up: Paul McCartney and Wings – reunited to sing: “Food on the run.” I can almost smell an Oscar nomination coming for the soundtrack.
The next shot cuts to hordes of skinny underclassmen and women sensing the possibility of free meals, scattering across the landscape, heading toward the Interstate. It is meals just ripe for the picking. An overturned truckload of gold bullion (not bouillon cubes) would not draw such a response.
Those Ramen Noodles don’t grow on trees, y’know. One must strike while the saucepan is hot.
In my collegiate days (Pre-Ramen) we were limited to making grilled cheese sandwiches with a steam iron or instant soups that tasted like flavored sea water. If an accident like this had happened back in the late 1960s I would have been moving with all imprudent speed to scoop up as many free and easy meals as I could stuff into my backpack.
Most days I can look at news stories and just yawn. Things don’t vary all that much from Six O’clock News to Six O’clock News. If you want to get my attention you’ve got to do something original, or at least really dumb. Spreading several tons of Ramen Noodles across an Interstate highway gets my attention. It also makes me hungry.
Talk amongst yourselves for a while. I’m going out to get some lunch.
THIS HAS BEEN ONE OF THOSE DAYS ALREADY. Up early to try to get in some writing, then coffee time at St. Arbucks, a trip to the pharmacy, and then to the bank, and to the everpresent Kroger.
What will be on the agenda for after 10 AM remains to be seen, but I’m not terribly hopeful?
Fiction Saturday – Continued
“See, I told you I’d come in handy.” Davis looked out of the passenger side window at the passing California landscape. “I wish you’d let me drive for a while, though.”
“Later tonight maybe. I’m a better driver than you are and it helps me to relax.” Relax was something that Laura had not been able to do for a second, ever since she saw her own face staring out from page four of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Besides, I think better while driving. Maybe I can figure a way out of this mess for us.”
“Well, I’m a very good driver—no accidents ever, and you could use a break.” Davis knew there was no changing her mind once it was made up, even though Laura looked like she hadn’t slept in days and her jaw was clenched tight.
Appreciating his effort to care for her, Laura smiled and gazed at him as he huddled up against the car door. He looked lost, she thought.
“Well, dearest,” she said, “at sixteen I was picking up extra pocket money as a wheel man. Just for kicks really. My father never knew. It was stupid and dangerous, but I was good at it.”
“Don’t tell me any more right now.” He was a stranger in a strange land if ever there was one. “I haven’t digested everything you’ve laid on me so far.”
“Okay, I understand.”
“I do have one question though,” he said. “Why did we stop at a travel agent before we left? A ticket for one from Miami to Detroit?”
“A little deception. Detroit is a border town, a ten-minute walk out of the country across the river. I bought it in my own name, of course. It won’t fool anybody for long, especially Dominic. But the Feds will have to check it out. It’ll tie up a couple of their guys for a few hours and give us a little extra edge. It’ll help our odds, maybe.” She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe not. I don’t know.”
“What are our odds?” He was immediately sorry that he had asked.
“We’re two snowballs and we’re driving south.”
It happened again last night, and even though it wasn’t in the best of taste, it was funny.
After dinner, my wife, the lovely and ever tolerant, Dawn, said that we needed to go grocery shopping. I’m all in favor of that because, without it, I’d wither away to a mere shadow of myself. My doctors have suggested that my shadow could use a little whittling down.
After all of the usual thumping, poking, and listening he seemed to be relatively pleased, almost surprised it seemed to me, that I was still alive and kicking. I admit that I don’t kick as well as I used to, but I have the “alive” part down cold.
IF I SAY THE WORD “FLARP” TO YOU WHAT COMES TO MIND? If you are over the age of 12 probably nothing – I hope. Unfortunately, it does carry a very specific meaning to me and I can blame several children and one adult for that.
“Flarp” is a product that is gloriously described as “Noise Putty.”
Fiction Saturday – Continued…
“Oh, for crying out loud.”
“This is not good, Dominic.”
“Really? You think so, Peeto? Jeez, I never would’ve figured that out all by myself. Thank you ever so much, you moron.”
“Well, Dominic, Don Giani ain’t going to like seeing his daughter’s picture all over the newspaper like this.”
“No, he won’t,” said Dominic. This was serious.
Peeto was scrutinizing the newspaper, looking at the picture and slowly reading the story about it.
“Y’know, it’s not even a very good picture of her, Dominic. She’s much prettier in person,” said Peeto.
Dominic grabbed the paper from Peeto’s hands.
“That’s my wife you’re drooling over there.”
“Sorry, Dom, but you know what I mean. She is a fine looking…”
Dominic cut him off with a look and threw the paper to the floor.
That was the second time this morning he had thrown it down. The first time was when he checked the baseball scores and saw that the Mets had blown a four-run lead to lose to the Washington Nationals. He was wearing out his welcome. The owner of the donut shop, standing behind the crullers, muttered something in Chinese. Peeto picked up the paper again. It was part of his job.
Dominic was back at his booth in the donut shop. He still felt uncomfortable going back to his old hangouts. The jokes were getting to him and he knew that some of the guys were not happy with Dominic’s inability to control his wife. It was making things a little uneasy for them at home. Their wives were talking about more than clothes and kids. Several were making secret plans of their own, just in case.
The table was filled with empty paper coffee cups and the remnants of maple bar pastries and crumpled napkins.
“Y’know, Peeto,” said Dominic, a small, lopsided, grin on his face, “There’s a good side to her picture being in the paper.” He wiped his chin with a napkin, cleaning away the last few shards of sugar glaze.
“There is? How you figure that?” asked Peeto. “Don Giani is going to be even more pissed off with you than he already is. He don’t like publicity.”
“Thanks for that news flash, Peeto. Just listen.” Dominic was trying to analyze a complicated situation—not something he did all that often.
“The paper said that they want Beverly about some hit or something. I don’t know what that’s all about. I think they must have made that part up.”
Peeto couldn’t keep quiet.
“That part’s going to piss off the Don even more.”
“Oh, well, so much the better,” said Dominic, holding up a finger as if he had just made a big discovery, or was ordering a beer. “They’ll work really hard to find her, and when they find her, I find her. And when I find her I get my money back, I get the Monsignor off my back, and I put several holes into Beverly’s forehead. It’s like three birds with one stone.”
“But, Dominic, I haven’t heard about nobody getting whacked. Have you? I dunno, but it smells funny. Beverly always seemed like such a sweet and gentle soul. Almost like a nun, but without no penguin suit.”
“Peeto! Will you stay focused on the problem at hand here? Quit talking like that about Beverly. She’s still my wife. Until I find her anyway.”
Peeto was on a stumble down memory lane.
“You remember old Sister Modesta, Dominic? Man, she used to beat the stuffing out of both of us. Remember when she locked me in the closet all day for calling her a penguin?”
“No, I don’t remember and I don’t care.” Dominic tried to cut him off. “‘Cause when she sees her picture and this story she’s going to come popping up out of her hole just like Bugs Bunny and I’m going to be standing there with my shotgun.”
“You’re going to be just like Elmer Fudd, right, Dominic?”
Dominic hit Peeto in the nose with his crumpled napkin.
“Just go get me another maple and bacon bar.”
When Peeto left Dominic alone in the booth he looked again at the newspaper and the first rays of sunlight crept over the horizon of his mind as two and two began to add up and the story started to make sense.
“Oh, my God…the cleaning lady.”
Sitting in the study in his barber chair throne, amid the clutter of his life, Giani Montini was reading the same news story and looking at the same blurry picture of his daughter. His blood pressure medication was getting a test.
He was talking to the Consiglieri, his attorney and adviser, with whom he met twice weekly to keep tabs on the never-ending investigations into the Family businesses. He also met with him because this highly paid lawyer was the only friend from his early days who was still alive. They sipped at their coffee and nibbled at some low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sugar and totally tasteless pastries.
“They think my little girl killed somebody. That’s nonsense. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s not in her. She wasn’t raised that way. If anybody had been hit I would have heard about it.” He tossed his pastry back onto his plate.
“Bobby, what is going on here? Why are they looking for my daughter? This doesn’t make any sense. It’s crazy. Even if she did do something like that, which I’m sure she didn’t, she’d come to me. She wouldn’t just take off.”
The lawyer took another look at the newspaper then settled back in his chair. He looked like an actor from a casting agency hired to play a lawyer on a TV show. He wore a four-thousand dollar Savile Row suit and had just the proper amount of gray at the temples. Looking distinguished and intimidating was expensive.
“You’re right, Don Giani. I agree. Something is very wrong here. Have you talked with Dominic about this?”
“Yes. He says that he doesn’t know anything. I sent him to Philadelphia and he swears that when he got back, Beverly was gone. He hasn’t been able to find her and neither have I.” The Don was feeling powerless. Things were happening and he had no control. “She’s hiding somewhere, but where? And why? Help me find my girl, Bobby.”
The lawyer, acting as both Consiglieri and as a friend, spoke in soft measured tones designed to impart confidence.
“My Don and my friend, I will find her. I will bring her to you, personally, and we’ll get this whole thing straightened out. I give you my word.”
Giani Montini’s face had turned an unhealthy shade of red from the anguish and frustration he was feeling. He stopped and took several slow, deep breaths to try to lower his blood pressure. He was not used to feeling this helpless. He needed to put his fatherly instincts aside and use his Family powers to find his daughter.
“This mess has Dominic’s fingerprints all over it. Call Dominic’s captain, the Monsignor. Tell him I need a meet on this. Somehow, that smelly animal has put my little girl in danger. Go and call the Old Man. I’m going to find her and God help anyone who gets in my way.”
Other things are not.
A nicely done “medium-rare” steak – Yes. A “well-done” steak – No.
Fried Chicken – Yes. KFC – No.
Airline Cookies, Cheap Mexican Food, and Beets – No, No, and No.
Kolaches – YES!
Sit and learn, my child.
Throwback Thursday from January 2015
I LIKE SNOW LESS than I like going up and down flights of stairs. I like snow less than I like going up and down flights of stairs that don’t have handrails on both sides.
I like snow less than I like Jeff Bridges movies – and that is saying something.
But why do I feel this way? Is there some deep, dark, pseudo-psychological, brain cell tweak memory that has made me feel this way? Could be.
Reaching back into the musty attic of my memory I am sure that, up until the age of ten or so, I was really into winter and snow. There were snowball fights defending the snow-fort we constructed in the back yard. And there was sledding down the sloping streets in the neighborhood. We did that, ignoring the fact that we lived two blocks from a steel mill, which had heavy duty semis going up and down the streets twenty-four hours a day. We rode our sleds down hills where the streets were under construction from dirt to pavement. I think that that might be the when and where that my feelings toward snow may have changed.
I was about nine or ten years old and just one block away from our house was a street that went downhill for three whole blocks until it hit the railroad tracks. There was a lot of work going on along the way downhill. Huge storm drain pipes were being installed and they sat along the side of the street waiting to be buried come spring.
To get a really good rate of speed downhill you would get a running start, then throw yourself down onto the sled and hold on. Steering was accomplished mostly by dragging one foot or the other into the ice. On the day in question, when my love for snow disappeared, I was just flying down that hill!
From what I was told by the other kids, I have no direct personal memory, I was going downhill at a good clip when another kid lost control and swerved right into my path. By reflex I dropped my left foot into the ice and made a sharp right turn right into a huge section of the storm drain pipe by the side of the street.
The next thing I actually recall is being carried by several kids back to our house and my mother screaming. It seems that my face was covered in blood and already swelling up to resemble an overripe cantaloupe.
After a quick preliminary inspection somebody drove us to the hospital emergency room. This was in an era before Paramedics came to you.
The immediate end result was three stitches under my left eye, a face so bloated that I ate soup through a straw for a week, and parental confiscation of my sled. They failed to appreciate my quick reaction time, avoiding a potential collision with another kid, and only saw my failure to choose the lesser of the two collision targets. There were few soups available that could be navigated successfully through a soda straw.
Yup. I think it was then that my love affair with winter and snow ended in an image seared into my brain of scar tissue and sucking up broth through a paper straw.
So, don’t blame me if I grumble and moan about winter. Blame that other kid who couldn’t keep his own sled under control.
When George Michaels, erstwhile singer and public facilities critic, passed away recently someone mentioned that they thought he was already dead. Obviously not. The Obit that was being read on the TV sounded familiar to them. My guess is that George must have done something a while ago to get a mention on the air, and to save having to actually do any real work, the newsreader (“reporter” in their own mind.) simply pulled George’s pre-written obituary and read from that – and then put it back in the file drawer to await George’s permanent shuffling off of his mortal coil.