Flooded

for Jon Benson who wanted a story full of rain

Out west we heard Fire and Rescue services had spent all their allocated resources before the fire season had even begun, due to decades long Superdroughts, lightening strikes and careless campfires. But here in the verdant woodlands fo the midwest, it was difficult for the inhabitants to imagine such a marsian landscape, pancaked as they were beneath layers of charcoal stratosphere the color of slate.

Even in winter, the trees were the color of the clay earth, Pottery Barn gray. But winter was the long long slog behind them, as they contended with consequetive days of rain all of spring and now into summer’s first bloom into late June. In south central Indiana specifically, the residents didn’t know some days whether or not to believe in the promise of rainbows anymore, as the rain kept coming without cease. Can you imagine that kind of immersion?

On days it didn’t rain, the air was so humid it felt as if one was breathing rain. Or was the oxygen saturated? Who could say for sure? The people only knew their bodies felt every bit like the plump mulberries that were late in coming this year and tight with the day’s basting. It was too early for ninety degree temperatures. They puzzled and griped, was this what tropical felt like?

Melchior was beleagured and waterlogged. Each day off from work at his second job as a courier, was spent eating vitamin D to combat the deficiency from lack of sun, and trying to keep the vegetation cut back in front of his duplex rental between rain storms. Because he wasn’t an asshole, he also cut the grass on his neighbor’s side, with whom he shared a bisecting wall.

A woman in her late thirties with a kid and two jobs and an in and out boyfriend, whom near as he could tell, was more out than in, Melchoir helped her out when he could because she really seemed like she could just use a break.

The snowball bushes and daylillies in front of the house, that he solely cared for, created a kind of creamsicle effect in summer he rather admired and he would’ve loved to get some snapshots of them, if only the rain he began to think of as Niagara Falls, would at least slow down. He wasn’t sure a few snapshots were worth busting out all his rain gear for, and he really was hoping for just an hour or two of sunshine.

Someone needed to siphon off some of this wetness out west where it was needed.

After his chores were done, those he could accomplish inside and his books were devoured and he was ballooned with the murder reporting machine his devices had become, he would just sit on the sofa parked in front of the curtainless picture window with the chipped screens and tried to remember what unfiltered sunlight looked like.

He missed the play of shadow that the combination of sunlight and the pitter pat of leaves created together. Monochrome was excellent, but in its own measure. This diet of gray days whose incessant dimming into nights siphoned off his energy and blanketed his enthusiasm for life. He imagined some mischief maker in the sky controlling the weather and something primal made him imagine a pencil pushing punishing god exacting penalty on those who tipped his accounts either too far to the left or right. California got fifty to life of drought. Indiana, stretching dangerously toward fascism, got rain. Like, all the rain. Deluge, really.

Melchior doubted the stain that was the Indiana Conservative Party could be washed away. There just wasn’t that much water. He reconsidered; eroded possibly, but never cleaned.

Gilead, Melchior’s cat, climbed onto the back of the sofa, clawed a few times and settled in to purr next to Melchior’s ear. Gilead had been a stray his Ex Antonella had rescued. He kept Gilead when Antonella had tired of the continuous ashen palor their days had taken on. She left him for the orange tiled rooves of the Kotor fjords in Montenegro on the Adriatic Sea. „Jadransko more je lepo,“ she had yelled into the phone when she had landed. The image of her the day they met on a photo shoot, where he machine gunned her portrait draped in the red fabric of a flowing Armani gown deep into the lens of his eye and the film of his heart, was impossible to root out. From Turkey, her scarlet lipstick and daring glare from beneath thick hair that could only be described as perfection, she sniffed out his love and prepared to banquet. It could not be denied, he missed her Meditteranean light, no matter how battered his heart felt when she left. He never quite knew for sure if she had left for sunnier climes, or if just to escape the decomposition of their relationship which had been hardening into stale bread. Sure, she’d invited him to go with her, but she knew he’d say no. His mother, an old bag of bones he felt obligated to visit weekly in the overpriced nursing home he worked two and three jobs to pay for, kept him shackled to what mother nature was reclaiming as swampland, the posts buried deep into the mildewing earth.

Back to Gilead. It was so easy to get off track recently. Gilead was a finicky calico that didn’t like to be held, ever. It was a miracle Antonella had ever lured him into the house at all. Well, maybe not. Hunger drives a man to do things against his own best interest. Though Gilead wasn’t a man, but you, dear reader, get the idea. In any case, Antonella, like every other situation in her life, had little desire to stick around to find out what gifts Gilead did have to offer when she realized what he presented right off did not match her narrow expectations of him, so she was happy to leave him behind for Melchior to raise, and left to set up shop where she was likely to find things fall as flat as a souffle in a room where the door was slammed.

A flash of red flitted onto one of the snowball bush branches outside the window, a cardinal taking refuge under the umber foliage. Gilead’s whiskers trembled. His throat chirped. He swished his tale and swiped Melchior’s 5 o’clock shadow. The first laugh in probably a month squeaked out of his set of full lips (Antonella always had liked the way he kissed, he remembered) and it had been so long since he truly heard his own voice, it sounded like a stranger. „Easy boy,“ he said, not knowing really if he was talking to himself or to Gilead. Either way, he was sympathetic to unfulfilled desires that shake one’s bones.

Some rain Spirit whispered to the cardinal and it too fled taking with it its flickering light. Gilead leapt at the window too late. Melchior commisserated the action spent too late, and so got up to grab some cat treats he’d been saving. He knew this probably didn’t hone any hunting instinct Gilead might yet be harboring, by rewarding him for a failed launch, but he couldn’t help himself. Soothing Gilead soothed himself somehow. And besides, Gilead had so few cat pleasures in life trapped indoors as he was.

Melchior busted out his cannon and snapped a few close-ups of Gilead devouring his unearned feast while the radio switched from its jazz programming to reporting that local farmers were experiencing terrible root rot from all the continuous rain and food shortages were predicted.

As he reached over to click off the radio, he wondered, should they take Antonella’s example and leave, too? He slid his hand down Gilead’s back as he ate, and the heavy lift of finding a new place to move for the three of them; himself, Gilead and his mom; caused him to sigh. His mom’s memory had deteriorated so drastically, she rarely recognized him anymore, even with the most expensive, up to date therapies. He imagined her yelling for help believing he was a kidnapper. Where would they go, anyway? No place really held any promise anymore. Climate Change effects made every place undesireable for one reason or another. „Pick your poison,“ he heard himself say out loud to no one in particular, or to Gilead. Gilead looked up as if to ask, „Is this food poisoned?“. When he got no answer; unwilling to resist the gamey, chewy texture; he naturally went back to eating.

Melchior didn’t know. Maybe all this rain was making him crazy; talking to his cat, imagining scenarios of accused kidnapping. All this time spent indoors had his inner compass misaligned. The need to get out of the waterlogged city and out to the probably too soaked woods overwhelmed him.

„I don’t know,“ he heard himself say. And he didn’t know. It was an hour’s drive to his favorite spot. Where were his hiking boots? Had he waterproofed them this spring? It was already 2 p.m. Could he get out there and have enough time to adequately decompress? Did he even have a rain jacket? A sound between a mew and a growl escaped his lips and startled Gilead, who looked up again, this time with an expression of pity.

Melchior stroked his back again, scratched behind his ear and reassured him. „It’s okay Bud. Your dad’s just having a moment.“ Having a moment. That’s what the english teachers in his high school used to say when a student acted up, or when they retreated to the teacher’s lounge to smoke. That’s when smoking was still allowed indoors. So long ago.

Giliead went back to eating.

Melchior remembered his neighbors across the street who lived in a real house they didn’t share with anyone. They would probably be bailing out their basement today. Their fifteen year old sump pump went out three times last year and each time he had gone over to help them clean up. Their neighborhood was built in the 1920’s and the city had never updated the sewage system, so they were still on the same one built shortly before their houses were. Because of this, during major rain events, and this was the third 100 year rain event this summer, everyone’s basement flooded, except for his duplex which was built on a vacant lot out of brick in the 80’s, on a flat concrete slab that had not worn well over time.

His body itched for activity—all this sitting around was making him feel as stir crazy as he had over this past winter, which threatened to never end. He looked back outside and regarded the growing pond that collected in the divet of the front yard. He checked his apple watch. Damn. 2:30. His belly complained.

Damn again. He sure didn’t want to spend his Saturday night bailing water, but he knew if the call came, he would not refuse. Soaked in the Brents’ basement, or soaked in Yellowwood. He weighed his options.

His phone sat shiny and black on the window sill, a beacon bouncing a faint light from the window into the room.

He could get pizza on the way down to Yellowwood and eat it in the truck, he thought.

On silent, the phone lit up as if to prod him along. Only a social media notification, as reported by the apple watch.

He struggled to remember where he had stored his rain outfit for his cannon. O yes. The top shelf, back of the bedroom closet. He sprang up from his squatted position next to Gilead, and for a split second the feline wondered if his human were indeed part cat.

Within a few minutes, Melchior had prepped his gear, filled a water bottle, patted Gilead goodbye and bootstomped somewhat angrily out to the Jeep. Who gets angry at rain, he thought. Maybe he was going nuts.

His gear pack thrown into the backseat, he heaved himself into the front seat and slammed the plastic door hard, but it still only made a hushed thump. As fast as he’d run through the rain and even though he’d worn a boonie hat, some droplets had managed to invade their way through his defenses and trickled down his neck. Even so, he began to look forward to the hike, to move his leadened muscles through the soaked and mushy landscape of his favorite forest preserve. He could almost feel the tree roots bending the bottoms of the soles of his boots now, he thought.

He pondered how much wildlife he’d be able to capture on film and how many animals were likely holed up and hiding out, sheltered from the deluge, as he himself had all month. He put his ideas and expectations of what he might find aside in an effort to embrace what was actually waiting there for him. Just because three cups spilled, didn’t mean the other two you were holding didn’t merit a little sipping.

Under the spell of some serious five of cups energy, he called in his pizza order from the cab of the Jeep. Brozini’s 34th street special was his most coveted comfort food and he knew picking it up on the south side on the way to the forest would make him feel the full 10 of cups energy.

His keys jangled against the metal keychains and against the industrial plastic of the console as he inserted them into the metal ignition. He pushed in the clutch with the force and tension of blowing up a balloon in a single breath, and turned the ignition. The engine sputtered. The engine also sputtered with a second turn. All the console lights came on like a space ship at night. The engine sputtered it’s last and died. Flooded.

The Devil Card

What follows is the first chapter of a novel in the works. More will be posted if folks show interest in reading more.

Some people say watch what you wish for, you just might get it. The phrase ran through her mind as the Adriatic waves slapped the side of the fishing boat she’d chartered out of Dubrovnik. When Tomlinson wanted fresh shots covering increased mafia activity coming out of Montenegro, there was no doubt which staffer he’d send.

Late nights, above and beyond hard scrabble work got her to where she wanted to be; senior staff photographer of a respected Midwestern journal. But she didn’t think she’d get sent back to the small Balkan country her mother risked it all to leave. It was understandable that asking anyone else to go was absurd, since she was fluent in Serbian and the most experienced, but she’d been dubious since given the assignment.

Apprehension reared its piny head as she swallowed the desire to call it quits before they even made landfall. Coverage of American mob activity was one thing; the Balkans was a whole other animal. And still, the pull of old family ties once severed, felt as if they were being knit back together and pulled her close, like the thread of Ariadne into the labyrinth.

The schooner rounded the bay and the docks revealed themselves against a backdrop of a stone city that worshiped the feet of black mountains. She laughed at herself. Taking the bus like most tourists wasn’t good enough for her. No. What a predictable, practically boring, flair for the dramatic she had boating into Budva at night.

The Burin blew a deceptive welcome from shore as the boat docked. Ropes were thrown and caught; the anchor weighed. Lights from the promenade reflected on the black surface of the low tide, a sloshing bowl of midnight oil, that resembled for all intents and purposes a carnival put on to entertain the swaths of tourists that visited every year; a mini universe that existed solely separate and from the filaments that held it firmly in its place.

Widely known as the Makarske Riviera, the area had rebuilt after the 90’s Balkan Wars as an Adriatic seaside paradise where the wealthy could come to relax, be pampered and relieve themselves of the burden of some of their monetary units, either in the Casinos, or resorts that catered to every need, any whim.

It was probable the private boat she’d chartered through her connections in Chicago carried cigarettes, cocaine. Smuggling rings were huge here and provided party goers their fun and competing families wealth and power. It was only a fraction of their diverse portfolios. Many began to invest in Adriatic cruises; a few floating gambling casinos catering to Northern European vacation goers. Germany, Norway and Denmark were huge slabs of steak hungry Balkan businessmen salivated over. She’d have to remember that metaphor and use it as a caption.

She’d strong armed Aleks Karadjordjevic to meet her to discuss the possibility of his guiding her through his Serbian and Montenegrin contacts for the story. Aleks was the editor of the online publication OUCC. They reported accurately on mafias globally, but centered primarily on Europe, Russia and the Balkans. Although he had been reluctant, she felt luck was with her when he’d agreed to help her.

And why wouldn’t he feel hesitant? This was his life’s work and instead of paying him for work already done, The Times was sending one of their own to barge in on his territory, digest and make manageable the complex history and current events in his country for a consumptive American audience that was both forgetful and addicted to a daily dose of violence.

He had assented mostly because she had a strong reputation among journalists for her integrity, and if they were going to send anyone, and they were, he’d lucked out getting her. She cared more about her subjects she documented that she did personal consequences. Word leaked through the grapevine that he’d also had her investigated by his team, so there was that.

Something in the ether hung between her computer screen and his; something he wasn’t telling her, something aside from his royal family heritage; not that royalty counted for that much in these modern times, meet the new boss same as the old boss as a popular rock lyric chanted. (O, she’d had him investigated in turn! It was a personal fact he was known to prefer to keep under wraps.) Her instincts buzzed with the intuition. She would find out soon enough, she supposed, but it niggled her now in the moments before they were to meet.

She’d packed light. One black, durable shoulder bag carried everything she needed and could not purchase on her arrival. One camera, specialty lenses to get in close from decent lengths away, extra batteries. Euros were sewn into undergarments. Everything was either water proof or water resistant. Emergency contacts were memorized, on the off chance her phone was confiscated, or worse. She felt ready; but proceeded with caution, as ready had proven itself too often to be an illusion.

Mount Lovcen towered in the background; a black wall almost indiscernible from the surrounding charcoal tinted clouds. As her gaze was drawn upward, she did not immediately see Aleks approach the boat. He appeared suddenly in front of her, a kind of reversed vanishing; and resembled an anarchist more than a journalist, dressed in a black tee shirt, opaque jeans and boots. He trotted out, and in Serbian welcomed her, kissed both cheeks and side-hugged her.

“I’m so glad you made it! We heard there was a storm coming up from the south, so we weren’t sure how things would go for the boat, travel wise. You didn’t get seasick did you?”

Sanja smiled and answered back in perfect Serbian, “Of course not! I grew up sailing Lake Michigan; a lot more sea like than lake, really. I probably could have operated this bucket myself if pressed. And anyway, the waters are still calm, as you can see.” She gestured to her feet, at the low tide and inwardly rolled her eyes at her repeating the claim that sailing one of the great lakes was equal to sea sailing. It was a claim she knew to be both untrue and often repeated by a certain upper class Chicago bro belonging to the moneyed mileau. It was irritating to hear those words come out of her own mouth. A shallow breeze that smelled herbal and slightly of street food, blew her curls back across her shoulders and her thoughts on. As she faced Lovcen, a purple bruise that towered against the night sky, she could feel the storm coming.

Most of the crew behind them busied themselves greeting another group of khaki’d men who strode onto the boat. A seasoned photojournalist, Sanja knew bad news when she saw it. She’d just arrived and already the story was coming to her!

The last man up the gangplank made direct eye contact with her briefly before he clasped hands with the captain of the vessel. He leaned in close, said something in his ear and then looked back over his shoulder at her and nodded. His eyes were the color of ink and one could only see them in the half dark because his pale skin illuminated them, a small moon that inhabited a crazy orbit on this rocky shore. Onyx colored hair framed his face in thick waves. Sanja thought he might have just as well stepped off the cover of one of those romance novels she used to catch her mother reading.

Aleks put his hand on her shoulder and waved the men off as he guided her along.

“Did they give you any trouble?” He nodded at the men who unloaded the questionable cargo; the newest recreation. “There were easier, safer ways to get here.”

“No trouble at all.” She was accustomed to irreverent treatment from males. Everyone thought they had the magic formula to a woman’s pleasure housed in their pants pockets. Those that barked the loudest usually were the most insecure. She’d grown up learning to pay this type of behavior no mind and often she used it to her advantage. “And nothing is as safe or as easy as it’s marketed to be. And anyway, arriving by sea sounded more interesting.” What she didn’t say is that these were old Chicago friends’ connections. She couldn’t have been safer if she had traveled with secret service.

As they moved along the promenade, he asked, “Where’s your luggage?”

“This is it.” She motioned to her shoulder bag. “You never know when an airline is going to lose equipment, so I’m sure to take only what I need when traveling. I can buy anything else I want or need while I’m here.”

“Well, we do cater to tourists here, as you’ll soon see. You can get practically anything in one of a million overpriced shops designed specifically to make visitors feel safe and provided for. Our bread and butter comes from tourism now and everything is imported from somewhere else. The only thing we manufacture here now is fun.

“Let’s change the subject! You just got here, and I don’t want to bombard you with my cynicism. Have you eaten? I know a delightful place that serves a marvelous late meal. Truly Montenegrin. And large portions!”

“That sounds terrific. I’m famished, but I should probably check into the hotel before it gets too late.”

“Is it far?”

“I’m not sure. What do you think? Can we walk? I’m feeling a bit stiff from the trip and I’d love to stretch my legs. Besides, the evening breeze is exhilarating and has given me a second wind, so to speak.”

Sanja pulled out her phone and called up the address and sidestepped next to him so he could see the screen. She studied the strong line of his jaw, a contrast against his tallow skin tone that somehow reminded her of library paper.

Surprised, Aleks laughed when he saw the address. “Yes, I know this address. And we can certainly walk. It’s not far. Only about a kilometer or so from here.

The Times surely doesn’t skimp on accommodations. This is one of our priciest hotels that caters to VIP clients from around the world.”

She gestured with her hands in front of her face for the international sign for photo snapping with a camera and answered, “I like to put myself directly into the mafioso’s habitat! The pictures come out better.”

He handed back her phone and their feet began the slow ascent into Stari Grad the old town. The streets and houses were built of the same stone so that it seemed as if the houses had grown straight up out of the streets, amalgamate trees in the dark, the branched roofs reached for the black sky. It was obscure whether they stretched to touch the stars, or beckoned for liberation.

There was a bit of starlight quality to the night. The alley ways brightly lit were hushed and the breeze blew against the houselights as if to twinkle them. It struck her as alluring the way the winding streets were lit so that the light seemed to glow a soft ocher as if the stone walls emanated the light from their very core. It made her wonder what kind of stone this was the old town was built from. It made her wonder what would have made her mother leave this kind of picturesque charm.

Lost in the labyrinth of her own thoughts, she could have completely forgotten about Aleks had it not been for his mini histories of this house, that church. And before she knew it, they arrived at the hotel.

“Are you alright?” Aleks asked.

“I’m fine. Just the day catching up with me. I hadn’t anticipated feeling quite so tired after that brief walk.”

“It’s the fresh sea air. It can be quite tiring at first for those who are unaccustomed and of course, people experiencing jet lag. Would you maybe just like to check in and then we can catch up tomorrow after breakfast?”

“That sounds amazing. Thank you for being so generous with your time.”

“Nothing to thank. Let me escort you in to ensure there are no irregularities and then we’ll plan to meet up, say 9:30?”

“That sounds perfect! Hvala!”

They glided in through the open oak door with paneled glass and ivory curtains that stirred in the breeze. The interior walls were stained a tasteful lemon crème. The young woman behind the check-in desk glowed with the nonchalance of youth, wore a starched uniform that could only be described as crisp and spoke with the brevity and economy of words severely lacking in her generational counterparts overseas. Her efficient demeanor rivaled only the discreet air she exuded like breath.

Key card in hand and armed with instruction on her room’s location, Sanja hugged Aleks goodbye and they exchanged contact information. She did not see Aleks turn to watch her stride to the elevator. She could not have guessed what worry beads his mind rubbed.

The next morning when the alarm woke her with its urgent radio news all in Serbian, she did not remember that she was in a reserved room under an assumed name at first. But as she sat up and breathed deeply under the feather blanket and took in the posh surroundings it came back to her where she was and that the hotel itself was overpriced and catered to wealthy Russians. When she’d first made the reservation, she had figured, perhaps wrongly, that there was safety in numbers. Aside from that, there was something energetic about a crowd she found soothing, secure.

She got up wearing just a white tank top and strolled to the floor to ceiling french doors. As she opened them a gust blew in from the sea and billowed the curtains. The balcony table was already set for breakfast, which suggested someone had come in and set it while she was sleeping which was more than a little creepy since she had not ordered breakfast. Was this how they treated all their guests? Or had someone else arranged this artful display?

There were red orange poppies in a glass vase and the bright sunlight glinted off the silver and place settings like fire. The wrought iron railing of the balcony set against the backdrop of the sea and mountains to her left, resembled a postcard. The furniture was built of a coffee colored wicker padded by ivory cushions.

If she leaned over far enough, she could see the veranda below where Venetian brown stone and freshly washed white cotton panels coupled with the constant offer of coffee in thick, alabaster ceramic cups created a kind of pottery barn meets the Adriatic feel. People spoke in soft tones, as those usually do when catering to the powerful. And the location was close enough to the shore to hear the rhythmic slap and swoosh of water sloshing on the flysch and sandstone seaside.

This morning the sky was filled with an apricot cream streaked by slate colored clouds that seamed across the horizon. The pale fabric panels that lined the balcony doors stirred in the breeze, and the soft clatter of tourists wearing cheap visors made in China floated up to her in an unintelligible murmur from the esplanade below.

Stepping out onto the balcony, she could see the yellow glow of lights along the beach in restaurants and bars, homes and boats, their lanterns danced and reflected onto the varnished surface of the sloshing sea. The bobbing boats anchored along the docks reflected the delight she felt at having a place to come back to after long days of interviews she anticipated.

She hadn’t bothered pulling out her laptop or unpacking yet. She leaned out on the balcony for what felt like a mini epoch and watched the sun pull its slow tangerine hulk over its lover the sea. The carnival of color that splashed across the canvas of the horizon marbeled lubricant, pearlescent.

What did she feel in those moments? Lost? Found? Resentful of having been robbed of such richness growing up only to have been starved on an imitation diet? Relief at being plugged back in? Whatever the tangled knot of emotion scratched and clawed inside her belly, she acknowledged an accompanying ravenous fervor to consume it all. It would take an iron will to slow down, take things one modest bite at a time. For the moment she would settle on consuming the sumptuous breakfast before her. She realized then how hungry she was, how her body screamed for fuel.

Checking the time on her phone, she saw she had plenty of time to eat, go for a run and shower before her meeting with Aleks. Who knew? She might even unpack her singular bag.

Winning.

What little sun shone in slivers through the closed blinds of the grimy kitchen window was enough to highlight just how different she looked from the night before when he’d won her under dubious circumstances. Cheating at cards ran in his family’s blood and he’d made a tolerable living at it so far, but as he sipped his Hill Brothers out of a MAGA mug a fellow Outlaw brother had passed out to all the chapter members (he remembered he’d really wanted a hat, but discovered too late there was a hand out and all the hats had been taken), he saw plainly what the night lights covered so well.

No one knew what her name really was. Even if they’d been told, they wouldn’t have been able to pronounce it; not that it mattered that much in the dark, anyway. He thought about it some as he studied her sallow complexion that last night had seemed more robust somehow (was she sick, he wondered) and her downcast glance. Something appeared to have caught her attention on the floor and Stix would have liked to have asked her what she was lookin’ at, but he didn’t think they spoke the same language at all.

He supposed she’d learn. That’s what Highball had said. He just didn’t have the time to teach her, so he’d just shoved her head in the direction he’d wanted her mouth to go and that’d worked pretty good. She was a fast learner, Highball had said. He was a little sad to see her go, especially as he could tell she was going to be an earner, but a fair loss was a fair loss, after all. Stix remembered now how Highball had patted his sidearm kinda’ when he’d said that and it made Stix second guess his fingerwork. If Highball suspected he’d been jacked, Stix wouldn’t walk away from what happened next. He folded that worry away like his Mammaw taught him. “Learn from what you did wrong boy. But no sense in maken the same mistake twice. Then put it away. Worry will wear your nerves and that won’t do for a steady hand at the card table.” It had always stuck with him how his Uncle had come in after she’d said that and accused her of throwing out his stash, which she hadn’t.  She knew better. Even though he’d used it up hisself and didn’t remember he did because time and motion had turned to one throbbing liquid, in his mind’s eye, he’d ended the one sided argument by blackening her eye which she’d passed off for a solid month as having lost her balance and hit the corner of an open cabinet door. No one, of course, believed her, but a good story will do that-glue the lid shut on shit nobody knew how to sipher anyhow.

“I’m gonna call you Kiki,” he said as he shoved a dirty fingernail in her direction. “You call me Stix, y’hear?” He planted a forefinger into his own chest and wondered briefly if that’s where a bullet from Highball would land. (Fold that away, Stix, he counselled hisself. You ain’t helpen yourself none with thoughts like that.)

He repeated, “You Kiki. Me, Stix. Hell, I’m talking like I got no sense. Like a gottdamned Tarzan movie.” He thought a minute, cocked his hatless head, “You speak english?”

She didn’t answer; only stared at him with an expression that could only be described as mixed: part accusatory, part pleading and part hopeless, wound tight with learning the rules of this new life imposed upon her, knowing the only way out of it was to age out, get used up.

She nodded. She did speak some English and made the international sigh for ‘a little’.

“A little! Why ain’t that somethin’! I only know one language myself, ” Stix felt some relief, but didn’t know what to do next. He ain’t never won his own person before. He didn’t want problems, and wasn’t sure how Kiki was going to benefit him yet. He’d have to see where her talents lay. And because he was about as kind as the quantity of English Kiki could speak, that is to say ‘a little’, he’d prepped her a spoonful to make the inquiry more tolerable for her. Most fellas did that to make their stable more manageable, but Stix was a big proponent of participation made playtime more fun, so he didn’t like to numb them out none.

“You hungry?” He pointed to his belly. She didn’t answer and her blank stare aggravated him. It wadn’t like this was his fault or something. He didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot though, so he pulled his anger back some, a tension that put him in mind of fishing line gone taught when you were reeling in something heavy.

He took a deep breath like he heard you were supposed to do when you wanted to calm down. It didn’t hardly work for him, but a lot was riding on this and he didn’t need his temper messing things up like it was prone to do.

She felt his hesitation and in a terrible miscalculation, dug in having intuited something unpleasant was coming, but did not know what.

“I made you breakfast,” he pointed to the rig on the cluttered table with the disconnect notices sugar stuck to the surface, the needle experienced.

Like a cornered dog, her eyes followed his direction. She backed her chair away, and scraped the linoleum held together only by decades of layers of fry grease, revealed the grubby subfloor.

“Look what ya’ done, girl. . .awww. . .look what ya done!” Stix breathed out, a dragon with a wicked growl. “You’re gonna have to work extra now to pay for that. Better take your breakfast now. It’ll help make what’s coming easier to take.”

Her eyes widened as they moved from him to the back door. He could see the math working in her brain, calculating the chances of escape. The problem was, she didn’t figure the landscape right outside the compound. The number on the other end of the equal sign was a phantom pain, one that didn’t exist, a figment of her remaining hope and imagination.

He knew it had to be crushed for her own good. He knew he was the best chance she had and she didn’t even know it. This stoked the fire in his belly and he felt the fishing line snap. His rage rose out of the waters of the kitchen, a tortured and inflamed whale.

“You don’t want the breakfast I fixed. That’s fine. You’ll just have to figure out your own way through, I’d guess.”

He picked her up by her crying throat. Her protestations were clear now, her English besting a King’s. Now he couldn’t shut her up as she choked and sputtered on his power and by the end lay exhausted by it; formless, smeared across his yellowed bed.

After, as he sat at the table, running his own numbers, she wobbled into the kitchen. Having pulled on his Wish You Were Here tee shirt, her inner thighs were bared and glistened, raw and strawberry kissed.

Kiki threw herself onto the wooden chair in front of the table, someone else now no one knew. She picked up the rig, tied off and plunged in; hungry.

Hey White People, Can We Talk?

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Hey, this is that girl you sent to college with the hopes she’d come back and make a difference to the community, but once she got out, she stayed out. Wonder why she didn’t come back? Maybe not. You might’ve been too busy worrying about how the electric bill was going to get paid, or why Tina won’t talk to you about the troubles she’s having at school, or why Terry can’t get work, or why when he does get hired, he can’t seem to stay at any one job long enough to establish tenure, or why mom, who’s in her sixties can only get a job at the Speedway, standing on her feet for 10 hours a day with hardly a bathroom break in between, and why the only time anyone cooks anymore, it’s on a holiday. Remember home cooked meals? Yeah, me neither. (We’ve been feeding our kids mountain dew and gas station food too long and it’s creating a brain drain of enormous proportions.)

You know what else I don’t remember? Living wage jobs. The kind where only one member of the family had to work and it was plenty to pay the bills you owed, plus put some aside. That’s because ever since the New Deal, CEO’s of major companies, (you the know the ones you now resort to working underearning jobs for and buy substandard products from produced by low wage workers overseas whose standard of living make ours look palatial), and the companies they siphon from, have been whittling away worker benefits and pay since before I was born, numbering in the billions.

In lieu of this, the white working class recently ELECTED, to put in one of those self same billionaires, into the highest office of the land. With ties to the KKK(a terrorist organization), sexist remarks that qualify as sociopathic (I mean, really, if he didn’t have all that money, would you really want THAT guy dating your daughter???), and blatant disregard of the global scientific community that has been warning us since the 70’s of man made climate change. (On this last note, I have to ask, how can we praise science only when it’s giving us fun toys to play with, but reject it when it tells us what we don’t want to hear?) And that’s just for starters.

I won’t waste your time filling your ears with what some of you might snearingly describe as my neoliberal agenda (I’d describe it more as progressive, really, but potato-potahto). But I DO have a few questions.

When is it do you think that we, as the white working class, will stop pinning all our modest hopes on a job? How many of us realize, or feel this in our bones, that the 1% of wealthy Americans folks keep talking about, really have our best interests at heart? Aren’t you sick to death yet of the best you can hope for is a service job where you are mistreated every damn day of your life, not just by the customers you kowtow to, but most definitely the hierarchy of bosses who continuously undermine you in front of customers, shortchange your hours, backpedal at raise review time and continuously fish that carrot over your head just to keep you jumping, turning the wheel that profits shareholders, and not you?

We as a whole keep looking to elected officials and corporate America for a job. That’s all we say we want is a chance, just a chance, to support our families. How’s that working out? And why are we settling for so little?

Also, as a whole we say there is honor in work. And that is 100% true. Then why do we continuously look to those who do zero work to provide us with the “opportunity” for the privilege of making piles of money for those who so clearly are no more deserving of it than we are?

My theory is that it’s what we’ve become used to. We’ve thrown ingenuity into the toilet and traded it in for some comfortable status quo, which no longer works in an economic landscape where the American worker has been discarded into that same toilet, because the American Business Elite don’t want to pay you a living wage, plain and simple. Their profits increase by paying low wage workers, be it overseas, or by bussing them in across the border.

You know what a border is? Control for the wealthy. You know who loses? Us.

You know why the President Elect will never build that wall? Because the monster that has become the same Agricultural Industry that has made serfs of your uncles and aunties on their own farms, profit immensely from our South and Central American neighbors who are more desperate than we are (often because of U.S. policy set to benefit corporate interests), who will work for pennies on the hour, whose workdays are sunup to sundown, and without whom, the Agricultural Industry would come crumbling down. And that industry, my friends, is third in power, only to Fossil Fuels and the Big Pharm industries. What do you think the chances are Big Ag is really going to allow immigration reform through, unless it becomes a vehicle that increases their profit, at the disadvantage of low wage workers? I thought we outlawed slavery?

The point I guess I’m driving at is this: white working class power is only valuable to the wealthy at election time. Aren’t you tired of being on this wheel? When is it do you think we’ll wake up and see that we as a collective group have more in common with immigrants (both legal and illegal) south of the border, black people and native people than we do with a sliver of the population, who like vampires, suck the life essence out of working people, so they can live high on the hog?

Let’s talk about those common interests. Access to clean water, food, air, shelter and the benefit of walking through our neighborhoods and countryside without getting shot at are a few. Are those things too much to ask? While some are busy buying their second yacht, or their third home in Aspen, the majority of us, struggle to keep our young people out of jail and pay the mortgage on a paper shack that barely keeps the winter wind out, and struggle to stay healthy in a polluted system that regularly underfunds education and creates food desserts? Do you think this is what working 40+ hours a week earns you? Hell, no!

And if you want to flip the script, if you want equal access to those things, white working people can do that, but ONLY by harnessing their people power and using it to reach out to those people we’ve been separated from in deliberate public policies that date back to the 1700’s when the idea of indentured servants in solid concert with slaves was a specter that was a direct threat to the wealthy landowning power structure during that time.

That’s what wealthy people lay awake at night terrified of. That poor and working white people will look behind the curtain and see that the wizard is a shakey, white guy from Kansas (I’m talking to you Koch Bros.–google, ’em and wet your pants), and wake up to the fact that their power is effective in toppling the wealthy landowners/powerbrokers only when they link arms with their black, brown, and red brothers and sisters. Our differences are our strength.

So, last question: Are you ready? Are you ready to build a lasting legacy to leave to your children and grandchildren that is independent of bowing and scraping, but one that is built on working together with people who share your concerns, and who might look a little different? Are you ready for freedom and justice for all replacing total freedom and justice for the few?

If so, get into the fight. It’s going to be messy. But I know you. You’re not afraid of messy. Good people at heart, you want what everyone wants: a chance to build a healthy life for you and your family. And, my friends, that is NOT too much to ask. God knows, we’ve all earned it.

It’s time to put corporate America on notice. We the people, stand together, and are ready to use our minds to forge creative solutions to the serious problems the current system exacerbates for it’s own continued control and profit, in order to build a world that has room for all of its inhabitants, and not just the few.

Distance to Empty

 

In an hour, he would be at work, but for now he sat unwashed wearing blue plaid pajama bottoms and a Violent Femmes tee shirt with a hole in the left shoulder.  He ate cinnamon toast and drank black coffee, unbothered by the 45 minute drive ahead, the shower the world would thank him he for if he took and his unmade dinner.  An inner loop urbanite, nestled in the historic neighborhood where he resided, he was a goddamn zen master relishing the moment, studying the sparrow jumping from the solar lights that hung on the back porch outside the kitchen window, to the found nest in the eave’s corner, left where he stuffed it two summers ago.  He wondered if the bird would reclaim it, even with the big hole in the bottom.

 

“You’re fired.”

“Uh, what?”

“Do you want us to mail your last paycheck or do you want to make this extra awkward for me by actually coming in to pick it up?  Just let me know, so I can take an extra valium the day you swing by.”

“Just like that?”

“Not totally just like that.  This has been in the works for over 6 months now and you know it.”

“Aside from feeling pretty bewildered, your decided lack of professional language has got me in a tailspin, I must say.”

“Look Shakespeare, let me break it down for you.  Consistently, for the past 6 months, you’ve shown up to work ten to fifteen minutes late a couple of times a week, sending your co-workers to lunch late, calling in sick frequently, and sometimes not showing up at all.  Professional language aside, this is not cool.”

“So why would you schedule me to take over for someone at station, when you know I’m late all the time?  Seems like a case of mismanagement to me.  Maybe you should be fired?  Does Darren know you’re firing me?”

Suzanne shoved his walking papers directly under his nose, Darren’s signature was much loopier than he’d expected.

“Huh.”

“Any other questions, Shakespeare?”

“Would you write me a reference?”

“Funny guy.”

“What’s so funny about that?”

“If you have to ask. . .”

“I guess I just sign here then?”

She nodded, reviewing other papers in his file.

There was a terrifying freedom standing at the precipice right before the fall.  He felt almost as if out of nowhere an invisible hand would help him up to heretofore unimaginable heights, instead of the downward spiral his gut anticipated.  It was almost as if, for a few moments, she was doing him a favor, and this was the beginning of some radical change in his life, one of those unearned surprises he read about happening to others.

Now he had all this free time.  He could finish and publish that novel and the money would be rolling in.  Never mind no one read anymore.  Never mind that social media had supplanted books as movies and television never could have.  Never mind that publishers lost money more than they made it and operated on the thin prayer of the next Harry Potter or 50 Shades.  This was his new beginning.  His big plan.  Write a book.  Sell that book.  Sit back, collect the rewards, be interviewed by Slate.

He could not foresee that it was more intriguing to watch the dog chew his kong, check his notifications, wash the dishes, clean the bathroom, cut the grass than the actual get down to it work of writing.  He could not foresee that unemployment would not be enough to cover his expenses, nor could he foresee that time was running out faster than his resources.

All he could think of was, I’m a goddamn zen master.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Wrong with Maia.

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Maia is not well.

Everyone says so.  Her mother unfriended her.  Her brother does not return her phone calls.  Neighbors find sudden objects to invest their interest in opposite the direction she comes from on her nightly walks.  Even her cat, Desiree sprints away at the sound of her footfalls coming up the carpeted basement stairs.

Maia is not well.

Everybody says so.  And everybody should know.

So, Maia does what she thinks will please everybody, and consults a therapist recommended by the pastor whose purple tongue reminds her of a starched tie.  And from somewhere outside her body, she sees herself make progress with the therapist and she sees herself attend Sunday School and she notes the nods and smiles and the bared teeth shining in the sunlight filtered through stained glass and she thinks of wolves waiting to dig into her the moment she turns her back.  And yet, she eats fried chicken and sugar cream pie with the best of them and flirts with Uncle Blair like a good girl and goes to work on Monday, certain to always smooth out her linen skirt just above the knee.

She breathes and drinks coffee and fries potatoes and answers the questions put to her.  And always, she’s tired, but pretends not to be.

Maia is not well.

And she knows it.  And she knows it in a way that everybody can not know.

Maia wonders how she meets relentless demands, as is expected.  Her consistent composure astounds her.  The jiggling baby at her hip mystifies her.  Who is this person directing her behavior with such aplomb?  Maia disconnects from it all and plays the role laid out for her, as if she were flatware, dull from use, yet still serviceable.  Maia knows she is a tool.  Scripted to perfection.

As if by rote, she measures her calories, accepts her herbals and supplements at staggered intervals.  The trains run on time and so doesn’t Maia.  On no less than five hours sleep, she begins each day with yoga, walks the dog one and one half miles each night, until the day he dies, is sure to prepare three meals each day and includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Workouts begin precisely at 4:45 a.m., three times per week, before even the baby can wake up.  After all, how can she take care of her family if she does not take care of herself?  This is what she is told, ad nauseum.

Maia is not well.  And since she knows it, is careful each day to take 20 minutes out of her busy schedule for herself, whether she needs it or not.  Usually, she sits on the edge of the king size arts and crafts style bed, firmly comforted in down, and stares at the eggshell wall while her oldest kids, priced 7 and 8 respectively, play minecraft on the touchpads.  During this 20 minute block of solitude, in which she is instructed to do something enjoyable and relaxing, she is sure her husband coffees the office girl, who he supposes she knows nothing about–but since she is too busy taking care of herself in the subdued bedroom, she doesn’t let herself think too much about it.

Maia may not be well, but she is not stupid.

In fact, Maia’s awareness is so heightened as to be compared to a room full of undergrads tripping on mushrooms for the first time multiplied by infinity, arguing whether said infinity is or isn’t a prime number.  Everyone talks in slow motion and their whispers come through salvation smooth, radio frequency observed.

Maia may not be well, but she hears what you say about her when you think she can’t hear.  Her heart breaks so frequently she suspects she may very well die of a broken heart.

Therefore, Maia visits all the doctors, both holistic and allopathic.  She does so to signal to her community her commitment to achieving wellness, and because doing nothing is discouraged.  Every bent brow shot Maia’s direction is a barb that hooks her Heart, capital H.

Maia is not well, but does not confess the depth of her illness to anyone.  The whirlpool of disconnection and isolation she finds herself sinking in, she keeps to herself, because she doesn’t trust them not to push her further out to sea with their giant oars of criticism. Likewise, she does not tell Paul their team mythology has long stopped being living for her.  Who knows what came first, her lack of belief in their story, or Paul’s affairs?  It was all a chicken and egg game that left all the players starving at the finish.  Yet, Maia still plays along, finding that writing and playing the role is just easier than messy honesty.

Maia is not well and everybody knows it.

Cast Iron Grapefruit.

It is said that hunger makes the best cook.  I don’t know about that, but it certainly does make for the best reception at the lunch table; especially in the workplace.  Most days, my associates peer over the break table at my bowl, sniff deeply, sometimes suspiciously, and ask, “What IS that???  It smells DELICIOUS!”.

A benefit of middle age is having learned how to cook, because paraphrasing the famous director Robert Rodriguez:  Cooking is like having sex; you’re going to do it, so you might as well know how to do it right.

That said, I have probably watched more Food Network episodes of Molto Mario and Alton Brown’s Good Eats than any American alive.  Afterall, if you want to learn how to do something the best way to do that is to find someone who knows more about the subject than you.  Learning to cook isn’t difficult:  You just need to learn a few stand-by cooking methods and, of course, fail a lot.  My siblings and ex-husband could attest to my most disastrous failures, both in the kitchen and out

However, my co-workers may be my biggest foodie fans.  For a time, several of them paid me to make extra of whatever I happened to be bringing that day.  More recently, my friend suggested I write a food blog and that way when multiple people asked me what I’d made that day, I could just refer them to the blog, rather than repeating myself.

As funny as that is, I do get excited about these cast iron results.

Last Saturday, after a challenging week, shit got crazy on the stovetop.  I had just come from stopping off at the grocery after the two hour drive from Louisville and was feeling creative and like nourishment was the keyword.

At the store, having listened to my body, I picked up items that are typically out of the routine for me, so the fridge was stocked with ammo for a cell replenishing dish.

Armed with my favorite cast iron skillet on the stove, the shrimp sauteed in coconut oil on medium high with freshly sliced garlic and ginger.  Added to that, was some grapefruit zest.  Yes.  You heard correctly grapefruit zest.  And why not with temps in the lower 80’s last week.  It seemed like a grate (wordplay is fun!) fit!

The fresh beets were calling out to be used.  So, after cleaning one beet and it’s lovely leafy top, it got julienned and the greens chopped.  In they dove, with a healthy portion of sliced portabella mushrooms.  ( A word about those small portabellas you get in the store.  Does it seem to anyone else that they don’t taste a thing like the larger portabellas?  Does anyone else think they taste just like the regular mushrooms?  Sometimes I wonder if they’re just regular mushrooms dyed brown. . .meh.)

While that sauteed down under pressure of a little table salt (I know, nothing fancy like kosher or sea), a plantain browned in some coconut oil in a separate pan as a side dish.  As they finished and drained on a paper towel, they got seasoned with a little salt and paprika.

Before the beet greens got overcooked and were still bright green, half a grapefruit was separated into wedges and sliced into bite sized pieces and thrown in.  While those warmed up, I thoroughly enjoyed how the beets turned the whole dish, shrimp and all bright pink!!!  It may be those vibrant greens and pink and red hues that endeared the dish to me so completely.  Neighbors outside on their porches texted me about the smell–What WAS it I had on the stove???

As is usual for most dishes I produce, the flavor does not quite match the smell in intensity and this is a chemistry problem I will probably solve at some point in the future.  However, I will say, the flavor and texture of this dish and plantain sidekick, was satisfying in a way that carb loaded dishes just aren’t.  I felt intrinsically if I were eating actual nourishing food.  Afterwards, I felt full, not sluggish or cottonheaded.

A little probiotic, full fat, vanilla yoghurt for dessert after, complemented the dinner perfectly.

A replenishing topper after a draining, stressful week.  And bonus!  This dish did not create a lot of extra dishes to wash, which may be the best thing about it.

Dove’s Open Doors or Squeaky Clean, Sparkle.

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I.

I Can’t Say Momma Didn’t Warn Me.

Prell commercials back in the late 70’s to mid 80’s boasted models with long, lustrous hair with bounce, wave and curl.  Watching them made me beg my mother every day to buy Prell shampoo instead of the Head n Shoulders she bought to control her dandruff (sorry, mom, cat’s outta the bag!).  When she refused to purchase even one extra bottle of Prell, I stubbornly switched up my campaign strategy (more of a psychological assault, really, poor woman) to murder my trailer girl, stick straight, oily hair and achieve that Prell model look, by mistakenly pressuring ma to give me a home permanent wave, like she did for a relative of ours who came over periodically for the “treatment” complete with coffee and homemade cake.

Reluctantly, mom obliged and even consented, after my insistent whining, to apply the smallest size curlers on my medium length hair.  Result?  If a brunette poodle and a Q-tip had a baby, that would be close.  I can’t say Momma didn’t warn me. A proponent of accepting consequences for chosen actions, I was sent to school the next day anyway to accept what social ostracism my classmates had to dish.  The teasing was, as I remember it (if one can count on memory; it being slippery as a fish, hard to grab and hard to hold) intense; actual finger pointing included.

So, have you seen the new Dove soap campaign?  If not, allow me to present a synopsis:

In choice, what looks to be, metropolitan locations around the globe, Dove representatives/marketers, strategically placed two signs over side by side doorways, usually in what appeared to be high rise glass and steel buildings.  Over one door the word “Beautiful” was printed in a large font, while over the other, the sign said simply “Average”.  The goal of the campaign is to force females specifically (not one male was shown walking through these doors, not one male interviewed) to choose one of the doorways to pass through. After viewing several women choosing which door, Average or Beautiful, to pass through, women were interviewed on how their inner self worth guided their choice of adjectives.  Did they see themselves as Average?  Was Beautiful a concept too far removed from what they thought they could achieve?  Were their feet guided by how they saw themselves, or how they thought others viewed them?

The video of women and girls, internationally, choosing and then discussing their choices hits a gal right in her primals.

It is noteworthy to add that most of the women and girls filmed and interviewed were light to carmel skinned and only one dark complected woman sat in on an interview and said two sentences, both of which were complementary to a lighter skinned female.  It’s fair to ask, does Dove suggest that the only role a dark complected woman can play is as servant/helper, who reassures fairer complected women of their beauty?  The message here seems to be that only the fairer complexions are desirable and therefore superior.

And women all over social media FELL FOR IT!!!!   That shit is being shared like the devil, accompanied by tearful admissions of secret insecurities that span the female spectrum of race and sexual preference.

Which shows, in this woman’s humble opinion, how effective advertising is.  Like Prell before it, Dove targets insecurities of females to insert their brand into the public and personal psyche.  You’re going to remember those doors next time you buy soap.  You might even buy a Dove product because without even knowing it, you’ve developed a fond affection for a company who could create a video/story that could so adeptly provoke your emotions.  And through that fondness, you’ve developed a loyalty, dare we charge, a brand loyalty?, that will guide your purchasing hand at the final moment.

You might even buy your daughter Dove products, just as the wise mother steered her daughter’s direction to the door labeled “Beautiful”, because, as you know, your daughter IS beautiful and you want her to feel that way.

That said, none of us really thinks buying Dove products will make us beautiful.  But it is the emotional manipulation that happens on the subconscious level that increases sales, and THAT is what is particularly insidious.

Market manipulation coupled with hierarchy is a dangerous combination for our society generally speaking.  In this particular campaign, and thousands of others you could point to, the hierarchy suggests that “Beautiful” is the quality that is desired.  What’s so wrong with “Average”, anyway?

II.

You’re so Special

When we’re wee tikes, many of us are told we are special.  No two snowflakes are alike and no one else is just like you.  “You can do anything you set your mind to,” they said.  Lies.  Just like Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, these ideas put into our formative little beans, paradoxically keep us in line.  If you’re special, that means you are elevated and prized and therefore will contribute something important and vital to your community.  We’re all counting on you to do something with your own brand of Special.  It follows then in order to accomplish those great things you’re planning, you’ll need education of some sort, and/or a job to do.  The rest falls in place:  a home to put all that stuff you’re going to need to help you reach your unique goals and, of course,  to rest.  After all, it is hard damn work being that special all the goddamn time.

Advertisers know, that deep down in the national collective psyche this schism exists:  we don’t feel special at all.

Everyday all around us, we are given signals to the fact that we’re disposable.  (People of color are sent this message more than anyone else, judging by the grim statistics of black, latino and native men and women being abused, killed and disappeared on a daily basis.)  We go to work.  How many of you feel valued for what you bring to the table (the essence of your super secret special-ness)?  How many abandoned street people do you pass by daily?  You read the papers (or internets, whatever).  Rape and domestic abuse statistics globally send a message to women that we’re not special at all, or particularly valued.  And how about the Republican agenda to control reproductive rights or justify rape?  Daily the problems of a degraded and ruined ecosystem is compounded by elected officials who side with polluters and send our young people to die in conflicts overseas.  They feed the machine and profit from the disposable nature of it all.

These lead you to feel overwhelmed most of the time.  You feel lucky to get a nutritious meal on the table before 8 o’clock.  You do it mostly for the kid.  If it weren’t for him, you’d eat a bag of chips and fall asleep on the couch watching Comedy Central at about 9 p.m.

So everyday, the question you don’t ask, but is just lying under the surface just waiting to hijack you:  If I’m so goddamn special how come I can’t fix this mess?

And this goes double/triple for women.  Being biologically hardwired to be the creative/nurturing half of the human species we have this neurotic compulsion to FIX EVERYTHING.  We don’t want any of the women in the door video to feel like they’re average, bad about themselves, that they’re anything less than beautiful.  We think to ourselves, we have got to fix the way women don’t feel special, or even valued.  We should all feel “Beautiful”, shouldn’t we?

III

Should We?

Human beings crave order.  It is out of this primal urge our desire for Beauty stems.  The most successful, highest paid models have symmetrical faces, while most of us have a few, shall we say, anomalies.  The left side of our face is a bit more narrow that the right side.  One ear is a fraction lower on our heads than the other.  Is buying Prell or Dove going to fix those things?  Of course not!  And we know it. But buying the product makes us feel a connection to the symmetrical women who model them.  They are a part of our team.  They are a part of the private inner landscape of our lives, our personal story, if you will.  So we glean a little value from that, and a feeling of Beauty is achieved.

But it is non-lasting.  And we need more of that feeling to keep going.  Like a drug, we keep seeking out the pushers to keep that Beauty high going for us.  And if we’re busy battling our insecurities that malignantly grow from the oldest Lie (You are Special, You are Special), think about the time spent we could’ve been doing something more constructive.

IV.

I Am Enough.

The first time I read that phrase, it stopped me in my tracks.  To share something I’m not very proud of, though I spend long hours working, being a mom, and volunteering, I often times feel inadequate, and guilty when there is something I can’t do.  Special people can do it all!  Right?  So each request I deny, is my level of Special essence then a bit depleted or lessened somehow?  What an absurd notion!  But many of us feel like that.  And the day I read the phrase “I am Enough”, I wrote it down on an index card in black sharpie marker and hung it where I could see it, and I think, “O yeah.  I forgot there for a minute.”

So, what would happen, if we collectively decided to embrace the concept of I am Enough?  Would we proclaim our grays Sparkles?  Would we begin to think of our scars as Life’s artistic brushstrokes?  Would we begin to appreciate a little crooked?  Would we be perfectly content with “Average” and then give up striving toward some complicated view of Beauty manufactured by teams of plastic surgeons, make-up and hair artists, fashion designers and advertising agencies whose only goal is to make infinite amounts of money? No longer needing their drug,  would we then begin to eschew big Advertising?  Would they then swerve the scope of their attention to men?  And if so, which door would the men choose to walk through?  Or would they be like the one young woman in the video, who stood regarding the doors for a long minute, and then turn away?

Calling Code 381

“Rice is not something you can just walk away from.  It does not necessitate muscle force or sweat, but patience and a watchful eye.”  When my grandmother first told me these things I was not listening.  A squirrelly adolescent more concerned with video games and than cooking, it wasn’t until my adult years after she had passed in her eighties, did I strain to remember all that she’d try to teach me about rice and everything after.

My mother, however, hates rice; one of her many ideas that confound me.  Even so, it is rice that bridged a gap for my grandmother and I.  It is rice I have to thank for being not just a vehicle of nourishment, but also a teaching tool.  It was through learning about the cultivation, cooking and eating of rice, my grandmother taught me about life itself; not just how to problem solve, but about the essense of planetary design in all its glorious orbit.

In 1942 my grandmother crossed a vast meadow with her mother and aunties and cousins.  They were gathering herbs and roots, the spring mud kissing their woolen ankles cooly in places, not far from where their horses rested next to a burbling brook.  A long winter’s hunger settled into their bones dankly, their fingers stiff with the stuff.

The curved top of my grandmother’s Uncle’s felt hat could be seen bouncing over a rise like a stringed dancing puppet in a children’s show and then it could not, his warning shouts silenced by accompanying rifle fire.  She knew what to do:  rice powered her legs, muscle memory taking over in the tall grass, the stand of trees quite far off.  Luck guided her to a dip in the meadow, and sense tore off her red kerchief and pocketed it.  She willed her heavy lungs to lighten up and calm her breathing.  She was the silence itself that descends after life is stolen.  She was the mud and the melted snow binding the earth.  Far away from the horses and the caravans, she could not be seen hiding in her protective hollow, the grass towering above her.  She had supposed there were only a few soldiers (or police or villagers; it was hard to know where threats came from now, every mouth a machine gun hole), and they were too busy rounding up the men to bother with one little girl.  She checked her pocket for the rice balls she’d pilfered from her mother’s campfire and patted them. She knew where to get water.  At the funerals, there was rice.  And at the weddings later.  No matter the change, rice was the constant.  Without rice to keep their band going, they would dissolve into the ether of this world, their voices no more than the fog in the valley, soon dissipated and burned off with the rising sun.

When I cook for my family in our sanitized midwestern home, I remember my grandmother.  When I cook the rice no one will eat, because it is too plain, because it does not seduce like so much of the American diet, when I cook the rice no one will eat, I cook for my grandmother,  for that time in the meadow, I cook for the mud and flame alike, I cook for our collective consciousness, I cook for the health of my children and yours.  And each time I cook, I fill the bowl with thousands of prayers, prayers as numerous as the bullets that brought us here; prayers for those that have materialized into fog, and for those who still hold form.