Ponder this:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Everyday luxuries

I like the wind that has been howling since late yesterday afternoon. It's been a constant background mutter-snarl with spasmodic whoops and shrieks around the eaves. Last night as we got into bed I murmured to the poodles, "It's a Heidi night, boys." This kind of gale makes me feel cozy: Heidi snugged up in her hayloft in Grandfather's Alpine cottage.

This morning I'm thinking of my commonplace comforts, the mundane delights of my daily life.

Our woodstove is an ongoing comfort. We started with a cast iron woodstove. It was a good stove...nothing warmer than woodfire heat...but every morning when I got up and every afternoon when I got home I'd have to start a new fire. This one, installed two or three years ago, is soapstone. Three days without a fire and enough sparks remain among the ashes that I can throw in some wood and have a roaring fire in twenty minutes. Turn it down, flip up the catalytic combustor lever and I'm comfy for twelve hours. White Noise of Wind, and Warmth: what could be better?

I like my coffee grinder and my good ol' Mr. Coffee machine. In the mornings I let the dogs out, grind the coffee, fill the reservoir with the sprayer hose from the sink (I moved the coffeemaker right next to the sink so I wouldn't have to fill and spill first thing in the morning), and start the machine. I turn on the laptop, put water in the microwave for the dogs' breakfast. The thirty seconds that I have to wait for that almost kills me with frustration. I put the kibble in the warmed water and the dogs come back in. I pill them (thyroid for Angus, heart for Max) and by the time we've finished that routine, the coffee's just about ready. Lots of it. I like my freshly-ground Eight O'Clock coffee beans, and I like knowing, as I sit here, that there's a whole pot of nice hot coffee waiting for me to refill my cup. On Thursday afternoon everybody else was singing the praises of Keurig machines. If I ever decide to drink less coffee in the morning, I'll look into a Keurig. My consumption would decrease: I wouldn't be able to stand the fifteen-second wait for another cup.

One of our Thanksgiving group was my friend E. Three years ago when I met E she spoke no English. An American friend of E's mother wanted her children to become fluent in Spanish so she brought E here from Mexico to be the children's nanny. Our friend R knew enough Spanish to begin keeping company with her and when he came to paint our house, he brought E along. R often acted as translator and joked that we would all learn Spanish before E learned English.

Every day while R painted, E and I sat at the picnic table with Vanity Fair and Harper's Bazaar and other magazines, showing each other ads we liked, opening the glued perfumed edges of pages, sniffing and critiquing by means of facial expressions and unstructured sounds. That was My Summer of the Sandals: I treated myself to regular pedicures and wore flashy polish on my toes and fingers. She always came equipped with her cosmetics bag, and when our efforts at communication thinned to wisps, I read and she groomed her brows and nails. I gave her some Burt's Bees cuticle cream; she gave me an Estée Lauder lipstick. So the beginning of our friendship was based on Girly Things. When R and E come to visit, E always arrives bearing Girly Gifts for me.

Thanksgiving Day E brought me a whole array of amber-scented bath goodies, and a bottle of OPI Dear Santa nail polish.

It's lighthearted candy apple red with sparkly bits. She said when she saw it, she said, "Ooohhh, June!"

There were years of my life when I had more than a dozen nail colors in my kit. I had to arrange them in a rotation to make it easier to decide which color should go on on Sunday evenings. The popular wisdom in my Yankee youth (I gather it's different in other parts of the country) was that Mature Women Who Were Not Trashy did not wear brightly colored anything. Either that belief has changed or I no longer care about it.
I have always loved clear bright red nails but I was in my forties before I was brave enough to sport them myself. Having missed out on that joy for so long, I'm not about to give it up. Yesterday while I did laundry and cleaned up and put away for another month all the holiday platters and bowls I took breaks and caught up on my Girly Grooming. I adore my tiny Christmas ornament fingertips. I could hardly wait to wake up and turn on the lights this morning so I could admire myself. Instant Happy.

One more homely pleasure: Wool Wax Creme. A friend gave me a jar of it as thanks for some little favor. Great stuff.

Proust Questionnaire

Vanity Fair's website includes an interactive Proust Questionnaire. The questionnaire is a regular feature on the last page of each month's issue of the magazine and I always look forward to the pithy and witty responses.
I completed the questionnaire just now and find that the celebrity whose answers most closely match mine is Annette Bening. I haven't ever particularly cared for her. Now I have to read about her and see what it is that we have in common to cause our responses to be similar.

I'm back.
We have nothing in common except our political inclination.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve

The pies are baked and cooling. The salad parts are chilled and prepped and wait in little bags for tossing together with my own dried basil and a myriad of other herbs and the red onion, which rests in the garden until morning. The cranberries have been sweetened and cooked into sauce. The Yukon gold potatoes have been boiled with a few cloves of garlic, and whipped with white pepper and a secret (because Husband thinks he doesn't like it) touch of good ol' Bell's seasoning and loaded into a casserole, sprinkled with paprika for reheating. Husband is browning the sausage and onions for the stuffing, with the homegrown dried sage.

The fresh turkey presents its nether parts to me at every opening of the refrigerator. It is the final insult available to the poor bird, who becomes an afterthought among this panoply of dietary excess.

Shrimp to be roasted and cocktailed, menaste marinating, to be reheated with cannelini added at the final moment, sweet potatoes and acorn squash, and the tablecloth are morning chores.

You would think we had the Russian army coming for dinner.
We will be a total of five.
By 5:00pm tomorrow we will be five stuffed and logy folk.

How fortunate we are.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Misperceptions. Or not.

I have been reading too much online lately. Blogs, articles, opinion pieces in various online news sites. I need to stop it; I'm getting seriously annoyed and sputtery. I am not sure limiting my browsing will help that condition, though. The following laff riot came to me in my email this morning:

> > Tragedy in Los Angeles
> > In South Los Angeles , a 4-plex was destroyed by a fire.
> > A Nigerian family of six con artists lived on the first floor, and all six died in the fire.
> > An Islamic group of seven welfare cheats, all illegally in the country from Kenya, lived on the second floor, and they, too, all perished in the fire.
> > 6 LA, Hispanic, Gang Banger, ex-cons, lived on the 3rd floor and they, too, died.
> > A lone, white couple lived on the top floor. The couple survived the fire.
> > Jesse Jackson, John Burris and Al Sharpton were furious. They flew into LA and met with the fire chief, on camera. They loudly demanded to know why the Blacks, Black Muslims and Hispanics all died in the fire and only the white couple lived?
> > The fire chief said, "They were at work."

A joke, apparently.
I don't find that amusing. Is it me?

Besides the p.o. factor, I have begun to read things oddly. I see things that aren't there. For example, I read, "In an essay titled 'Heil Heidegger!' Carlin Romano, a critic for The Review, called Heidegger a 'Black Forest babbler' and fraud who was 'overrated in his prime' and 'bizarrely venerated by coyotes even now.'"
The word was acolytes.

I read, "Eating a good night’s sleep." The real first word of that sentence, as it was written, was "Earning."

In an online ad, I see, "Do you keep your customers coming back?
"Buying more?
"How do I do it?
"Evil marketing from Constant Contact."
Of course, the ad was for Email marketing.

And, simply because I seem to be writing about my odd perceptions of my environment, I'll add this observation, made yesterday to myself about myself. My hungry stomach has the same vocal tone as my cell phone when it announces, "Verizon Wireless," right before it rings. I nearly jumped up from my chair to grab the phone before I realized.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Railway Tunnel

Memory: A tunnel that my father often drove through on the way home from the village.
The tunnel was made of close hand-laid moss-covered stone walls, rounded sides to the low ceiling, like a remnant of an ancient castle. It accommodated the road where it cut through a hill. Grass and brush grew up the banks on either side of the entrance and the exit; grass grew on top. Whenever we kids were with him, we would beg him to blow the truck horn as we passed through the tunnel; the sound's reverberation thrilled us. It wasn't a long tunnel; it was short enough that once we entered it I immediately became impatient for Dad to blow the horn lest we be out before I heard that sound. I liked the feeling of being in that tube of stone. I felt cozy and protected. There is a similar tunnel on one of the nearby twisty curvy country roads. When I drive through it I slow down and blow the horn. If the road there were wider I might park in there and enjoy the closeness.

I liked then, and I like now, tunnels and burrows. In the winter I liked to burrow into snowdrifts. Snug and warm in my heavy wool snowpants I would sit in my little rabbit warren snow house. I smiled little smiles to myself and admired the blue-white walls and and the absence of sound. I felt secreted and safe.

Sometimes on long winter days my sister and I would pull and carry every wooden chair in the house into the livingroom and turn them over on their faces, cover them with old quilts and crawl inside our homemade tunnel. It seems, in memory, that we had rooms in there, although there couldn't have been that many chairs or that much space but . . . we were small.

This love of small cozy spaces is apparently part of my inborn psychology: Prior to my birth I never turned upside down the way a getting-ready-to-be-born baby is supposed to. I came out butt first.
I wanted to stay where I was safe and cozy.

(Note to self: Read Franz Kafka's The Burrow)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Holiday catalog shopping

Christmas is coming, and so are the catalogs. My rural mailbox is several hundred feet up the road from my driveway (the United States Postal Service fears coming too far down the road for fear of a non-return trip) and I break several vehicle and traffic laws by pulling to the far side of the oncoming lane to open the box from my car. During the last week there's been a veritable avalanche of catalogs waiting to fall upon me (if I'm quick) or on the ground (if I'm not) when I pull down the mailbox door.

I love this.

I bring them all indoors and stack them next to my Evening Chair, and spend hours examining each picture and sensual description of the myriad gift items.
"5 handmade brushes, each with a different width and length. Our ink set contains 5 ink blocks in black, red, blue, gold(!) and white, each embossed with a golden dragon." I think it's the "embossed with a golden dragon" that grabs me. And the idea of blocks of ink . . . I imagine the smooth surfaces, the rich colors.
Winter-themed solar lights! I envision glowing fairylights out in the cold winter darkness, softening, to my eye, the edges of the ice shards blown by the biting wind.

These poor deer would be blown two fields away in a week of our winter wind...but aren't they pretty?

Brightly colored alphabet giraffe puzzles, the A at the animal's head, the Z at its hind foot . . . sixteen inches tall! I have no children for whom to buy gifts but I like it so much that I consider for whose child I might buy it. (I have always leaned toward the educational in gifts . . . a characteristic not much appreciated by my child gift recipients, I think. I remember a plastic clock I had when I was learning to tell time; I loved it. But that was in the olden days. I think many children now cannot read analog clocks, only digital.)
Personalized everythings . . . gift boxes, pen sets, parking signs... Smooth woods, glittering crystals, wit in red print on metal.
Stacked boxes of fruits and nuts, assorted coffees and jewels of jams and jellies.
Boxed sets of holiday greeting cards with dreamy pictures and sentimental messages.
I'm sucked in by all of it.
I turn over corners of pages as I go, mentally piling up all the lovely sparkling treasures.

I set the catalogs aside, and during subsequent evenings I go through them again and again, running through the fingers of my mind the opulence of these riches.

I order nothing, and in February throw out the whole stack.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More restaurant stories for Joe

Big kitchen. Big walk-in freezer. Old big walk-in freezer. Newer ones have handles you can punch if the door closes behind you. Old freezer. No handle. It took twenty minutes for the cook to figure out where I was. Trust me on this: No matter where you live and no matter how hard your winters are, they are nothing compared to being trapped in a walk-in freezer for twenty minutes.

The air conditioning had one zone and in summer we always kept it set it on STUN because the back of the house was so hot. One Saturday night a customer complained that she was freezing and wanted me to turn down the air conditioning. I said,
"If we turn down the a/c the cooks gon' pass out."
Customer didn't say a word.

One day during lunch one of the cooks did pass out. Right after he had an epileptic seizure and whacked his head on the corner of the oven on his way to the floor. Us waitresses picked our way carefully through the blood and walked across a broke-open cardboard box before we hit the carpet. The rest of the cooks worked around him until he came to and the manager took him in back.
Rule Number One: Ain' nobody call no amba-lance to no restaurant!

There was a back kitchen with three gigantic stainless steel sinks, the dreaded freezer, the walk-in cooler, and right in front of the door to the waitstation, the dishwasher. The dishwasher was a machine, not a person . . . us waitresses would run it in between scooping ice out of the icemaker and carrying it to the sink in the waitstation, picking up our orders, taking care of our tables, changing the soda canisters... The manager's desk was at the back end of a long tunnel-like room with its door just opposite the dishwasher. I was hustlin' from the back of the back kitchen with a bowl of salad for the salad bar. I got almost to the dishwasher when a chef's knife whizzed through the air past my face and stuck quivering in the wall between the dishwasher and the door to the waitstation. The assistant manager was in the office th'owin' 'at knife . . . he playin' wit' me.
He say he know he ain' gon' hit me . . . he know right where I wuz.
I lay him out in lavender. I tol' him jus' where the bear went in the woods. I tol' him just whut I do widdat knife do he play me like dat from here on forwar'. He ain' never play like dat wi' me again, I tell you dat.

New waitress in training.
Firs' thing she tol' me wuz her name. Secont thing she tol' me she havin' a baby.
I thought she meant right that minute.
Firs' few shif's, th' way it work she follow somebody 'round an' learn how to do evvything. She don' get no tips. Trainer get her tips. She get minimum wage until she get tips, then her pay go down. I wuz trainin' her. I tell her "Good idea go do this now, time to do that now...."
You can tell when they get it and when they don'.
I say, "Here . . . take this tray an' go clear that table."
She crinkle up her forehead and twitch up her mouth an she put on a mad face and say, "Tha's a lotta work. I'm havin' a baby."
I say, "That's the job."
She ditten move. I went and cleared the table. And took the tip.

Next night my friend trainin' this new girl how to close. Breakin' down the salad bar. Back on that two-foot square dishwasher tray go all the crocks fulla cottage cheese, slice cucumbers, salad dressing. Things always weigh a ton, but you balance it right ain' nothin'. Waitresses got good biceps and backs. Thirteen crocks, two dishwasher trays full, to go back to the cooler.
My friend loaded up both trays and said, "Okay. Now we take 'em back to the cooler."
New girl she say, "I can' carry dat. I'm havin' a baby."
My friend, she say, "You aren't havin' a baby. You're pregnant."
New girl didn't come back next shift.

One day as lunch was winding down I was refilling the salad bar. The kitchen was big and it was a long trek with a big square dishwasher tray of full two-quart crocks. I still had tables so I was beatin' feet. One of the cooks decided it was about just about the right time to mop the floor in the waitstation.
Quarry tile. Greasy quarry tile. Water on top.
I made it nearly to the diningroom carpet when my feet went up and my face went down. I don't know where the crocks went, but one of my fellow waitresses told me later she'd had to clean Russian dressing off everything . . . the cash register, the phone, the shelving...

Not five seconds after I hit the floor, while I was still facedown on the floor next to the cash register, a man was at the counter with his business card in his hand for the manager. He sold some floor treatment that would keep accidents like that from happening.
I mean . . . I'm layin' there and this guy's sellin' his wares.

Next morning I woke up feeling like a truck had run over me. I asked Husband to call in sick for me and went back to bed.
Two hours later the store manager phone. "June! Where you at? You op'nin' this mornin!" Husband forgot to call.
I said, "Wait a minnit." I looked in the mirror again. I had a baseball on my cheekbone and a black eye. I went back to the phone. "You gon' hafta fin' somebody else."

I did go to work the following day and all my customers thought I'd suffered domestic violence. I got good tips that day.

Election Day

As usual I am up and moving too early. I would like to think that with this extra time I will be up and out and voting on my way to work. More likely I'll fiddle around and waste this time and vote on my way home.
I know that I will be voting today.

Since I live two towns over from where I work, I won't be able to vote in the election that will affect my livelihood for a few years to come. Up for election, or in one case, re-election, three seats* on the board that governs the municipality for which I work.

The only position that holds any uncertainty is the top seat.
The result of this election will be governing board comprising:
  • One convicted felon;
  • One reasonable person;
  • *One prince;
  • *One apprentice prince;
  • *And, in the center seat, either an unstable narcissist or an experienced, knowledgeable and realistic person.
It's an off year for national elections, but in my world this is it. There is a sense of gloom for those of us who anticipate these next few years with a board majority who thinks Nike's admonition to just do it is a valid mantra for governing. Just make the motions, pass the laws, demolish existing law . . . all without forethought, examination, or, indeed, any consideration of other laws violated by those actions.

The bottom line, and face time on camera, are all to this majority.
Cut the budget; give away the store.
Remove from the budget all funds to pay for training and for the books that delineate the law to be enforced.
Truck away equipment as cost-free gifts to neighboring municipalities.
Move adding machine departments into the same square footage as departments with a lot of noisy public exposure.
If all this results in employee inefficiency, the felon announces at a public meeting: "We'll just get rid of the employees."
And the irony of it all is that there will be no reduction in taxes.

So I will vote.
My vote will make little difference to most of the hours of my waking life.
I will vote, in my hometown, for people with whom I would like to work.
It is possible, after all, that that might come to pass.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Five words to ponder

GooseBreeder's recent entry has enticed me to try this five random word thing. The words to address are:

Before I met the late great Marly dog, and had only petfinder.com pictures of her
with which I was trying to decide if I should consider adopting her, a dog-trainer acquaintance told me she had "a bold look."

Merriam-Webster defines bold as "showing . . . a fearless daring spirit." And, indeed, Marly was a fearless and daring soul. Boldness, like courage, isn't aggressiveness. Nor is it foolhardiness. Boldness is a willingness to face what is. Marly taught me a lot about that. She was expert in investigating and evaluating new people and new situations. Except for car-riding.
Her boldness did not extend to the interiors of moving vehicles. I suspect it was due to her never having gone anywhere better when moved from place to place. Her own four feet did fine for getting someplace better. By the time she came to live with us, the habit of vehicle nausea was well-ingrained and she never got over that, poor thing.

See that round-eyed straightforward curious gaze? That's bold.

Marly was beautiful to me. Or rather, she became beautiful to me. I had never owned a dog that color, and I had no frame of reference for the beauty of a red-gold coat and amber eyes. When she came here she was ribby, with a thin dry coat. Wherever she walked she left a trail of falling hair. A good life improved her coat, but what made her beautiful to me was less her nascent thick fluffy pelt than her slowly-revealed personality . . . her sense of humor, her devotion, her caring nature.
A person's beauty is like that too. Some decidedly physically plain people are beautiful to the eye that sees beyond the exterior to the warm soul inside.

Oh, Marly had been beat up earlier in her life... Her bio provided by the woman at the rescue included her having been shipped by air, at six weeks of age, to a family who upon seeing her didn't like her color. They had apparently expected the usual brown or black kelpie, not cream. After several months the man of the family decided she either had to be given away or shot. She came here with that bold nature, but as well, a neediness, and a fear of men. Husband brought her around, with his warmth and playfulness and gentleness. At first she would recoil from his attention, and I remember the joy of watching the first time they played the game of peeking and chasing around the kitchen island.
It is my firm opinion that animals who are given a second chance for happiness grasp it and are forever grateful.
Just like people. More readily than people, really . . . animals being less inclined to hold grudges against life.

What do I know about bespoke? ...except that I read recently in Vanity Fair magazine about Dominick Dunne's bespoke suits.
Husband has a few custom-made shirts, a luxury he indulged when he lost a lot of weight and deserved them.
Some years ago I worked at a state agency with an attorney who had an extremely successful Long Island Gold Coast practice waiting for him at the end of his tenure as a public servant. I can't recall what started a particular conversation about thrift in clothing purchases. Laughing, he said, "So I should start shopping at Macy's instead of Brooks Brothers?" I laughed back, my gasp of shock silenced before it escaped. Thrift, to me, meant Wal-Mart, or thrift store!

I like walking barely: Barely are my feet. In the late spring, I wriggle with pleasure at the feel of the grass as I walk for the first time in months on the lawn. As soon as I come in the door after work, the shoes go off. And the socks. The former for comfort, the latter for safety: I have wood floors slippery as ice to sockfeet. Winter floors are cold to bare feet but still my toes go naked, if icy chill. For this preference I pay in calluses and plantar bruises from escapee kibbles from the dogs' food dishes. Still, I like walking barely.

Just an odd note about barely. You know how, if you look at some words long enough they begin to look strange? Barely is like that. It wants to be barley to my eyes. Or barrely (like a barrel).

Should anyone care to carry on, here are my suggested five words to ponder:
Do with them as you like.

June do a blackcent

It wasn't fifteen years ago that I stopped waiting tables down in the city's gut. Anything you do for money is work, but that job was as much fun as a hard job can be. I got pretty good at the local dialect and body language, and I apparently have a face from which people do not expect such an accent.
An' you know whut? Ah steel gottit; Iss lite ridin' a byesthicuh...

A few weeks ago a young African American man came in to my office. He doin' he street strut, he dress in black and colorfully printed nylon running pants, a matching jacket and shades. He held out a business card to me, and asked if he needed a permit to operate a cab company.
"Where you plan on garaging these things?" I asked, and he told me they'd be garaged in an adjacent town, so I told him he needed no permit. He said he'd been operating his cab company in a town a little west, "...but they don' like me no more, so it time to move."
I slipped into the my old waitress persona.
"Why they don' like you anymore?" I asked him.
"Well," he say, "the KKK startet not too far away, and i' hasn' change much. At the end o' the day I'm still a black man, and this is a little closer to the city, so I figure it's diff'rent."
"I hea' dat," I said.
He doubletaked and said, "You hea' dat? Dat's gud." He noddet, satisfi'.

So many stories from my time in that restaurant, most of them fun.

One of the cooks innat city restaurant, he name Finesse. He real name Napoleon, but he din' like 'at so he wen' by he street name, Finesse. Finesse' brother, Ezon (as in ...Downna Road) work there too. One day some fine lookin' young women came in and Finesse tryta put some moves on. Dey wudden' havin' it, and when he back off, one woman, a curl to her lip, ask me,
"Whut he name?"
"Finesse," I say. "I don' know what that mean, but that what he call'."
"It mean 'fine,'" she say, "but he ain' fine."

The manager of the store was a black woman, the assistant manager a black man. One day during the after-lunch/pre-dinner lull, the three of us were leaning on the counter, watching traffic through the plate glass window. The manager remarked that the store had a lot of black employees. The assistant manager began to list the workers: "....he black . . . he black . . . he white
. . . she black... June . . ." he gazed at me for a second or two, "she pink."
We all dissolved in laughter.
I guess I wore excessive blush in those days...