Sunday, January 31, 2010

# 3 for Ben- Revision Prompt

[The prompt for this was to revise and post an old piece of mine]


In a Laundromat in Fredericksburg, VA, I accompany my girlfriend Brittney because she is anxious. Having never been to a Laundromat she is unsure how to conduct herself, but she has more dirty laundry than she knows what to do with and I am not busy, I am never busy, so I’m happy to keep her company. I read Sherman Alexie, or am distracted by Dancing with the Stars on one TV, or try to lip-read the telenovelas on the other couple. She does math for her hydrology lab; and in the equations I see an opaque language I have not employed in years and may never use again. We share, sporadically, the kisses of young people in love; and I am almost surprised to not see alarm in the faces of the other patrons in response to an act the Laundromat has probably not seen in years and may never see again. Perhaps I’m wrong; I guess I wouldn’t know.

I like the Laundromat, it has a quiet that the libraries and the sad bars could never approach. I like it because I am a tourist; it has nostalgia for me, and I don’t have to come here all the time, and I am there for a special occasion, I have brought a book to read. No one else there has a book to read; they just stand or sit, and wait. One man plays a soccer game on the old Neo-Geo machine for what seems like only seconds. The children pretend to play the attract modes on the bar-style touch-screen games, their mothers watch them, everyone waits, and I think I’m in the best fucking library there is. The Laundromat is a good place to be a tourist.

The last time I was in a Laundromat was 1994 or 1995, in Ruidoso, New Mexico, with my best friend Jake and his mom, whose name I don’t know, or their last name. Jake’s dad was a pastor in some capacity, I forget. They lived in a house owned by the church my family attended, a big Baptist church where the pastor could never stop making metaphors about baseball, and I knew a kid who slobbered on a baseball-sized jawbreaker every service. Sometimes my dad translated for the Spanish-language service that occurred simultaneously in the basement. That was the best, because I didn’t feel the need to pay attention as I didn’t know what anyone was saying anyway. I just drew sharp-toothed monsters on yellow legal pads, five or six pages a service, easily. Anyway, my best friend Jake lived right by the church, and he had a gravel yard, a Super Nintendo, the hugest brown cavity on his front right tooth, and his family did their laundry at a Laundromat on some road in the country.

Occasionally when I came over to his house, which was a good twenty-five minute drive from mine, if I was there long enough and they had too much dirty laundry Jake’s mom would take Jake and me to the Laundromat. Sometimes I had quarters, or would beg them off Jake’s mom and have my parents pay her back, but I forget what games they had. I remember at Pizza Hut there was a Neo-Geo with King of Monsters and some game where you fought a robotic baboon at the end of the first level. At the Restaurant back in Whiteriver there was an old Ms. Pacman, and at some other Pizza Hut by a highway of my childhood there was Primal Rage, but I no longer remember what games this Ruidoso Laundromat had. Some sort of fantasy side scrolling game, I believe, but the memory is muddled by static from The Legend of Zelda. But I went and Jake and I played, or more often Jake didn’t have the quarters, and watched me play, but it was fun. I don’t remember the arcade machines but I do know that there was a crane game. The very last time I went to the Laundromat with Jake and his mom my dad picked me up there on his way home from work. At my insistence he played the crane game until he won. He won a stuffed spider, green with black legs, and I kept it for years. It was the only time I had ever seen someone actually win it, and I watched every time someone tried. It was a hard one, I guess. He won it, and we waved goodbye to Jake and his mom and we left the Laundromat. Soon after that we left New Mexico for Virginia; and now I don’t remember Jake’s last name or exactly what his parents did for a living or even the arcade games at his Laundromat. I do remember me and Jake getting in the scoop of a bulldozer with the consent of the driver, it lifting us up into the air and driving all around the church parking lot I remember the anger I felt when my little sister took a dump in the corner of their bathroom when she came over with me even though she knew what to do, and the shame of it. I remember every level I ever watched him play in Super Mario World. I guess all that is something.

In Fredericksburg fourteen years later Brittney’s dryers are a few minutes away from spinning down, I request two quarters from her and she says “Since you’ve been such a good boy” and obliges, and we laugh. I go over to the Neo-Geo machine and play Metal Slug 2. The machine’s age is showing, the screen is all green, but I have fun. I play through the first level, I mow down Arab stereotypes and rescue the bearded, starving GIs who reward me with machine gun upgrades and salutes. I hop on a camel mounted with a laser gun, I beat the boss(a giant, hovering plane) at the end of the first level and then I lose my last life ten seconds into the second. I wasn’t trying very hard. That’s fine, Brittney needs help folding now, and the strange tint of the screen makes it hard to see. I pat her ass, slip the second quarter into her pocket and start folding. It’s a little wet, but she wants to get out of there because she feels like she’s keeping the lady working the place from leaving. And anyway it is the Laundromat. We get out of there, we get a little Taco Bell. Taco Bell contains the total of all your dreams when you’re 19, but what 19-year-old has their own car; so you just go when you’re 22, and since it’s too late you can never stop, you can never be satisfied. Clean laundry in the trunk, eating cheap nachos in the car in the parking lot in the dark, you have just been to the Laundromat and its loud hum that is a better quiet than the silence of any library. The Laundromat is the perfect place to be a tourist, and that’s all I’ve ever been there.

We are tourists because we have had every advantage, because the education we have received ensures that we may often be broke, but we will never be poor. Because we have the ultimate luxury of perhaps wishing we could be. Or could be Hispanic, black, redneck, urban, anything you have to be born into; of wishing that we could not be the norm, that our mobility and advantage did not mean that while we can go anywhere we want, we can never be from or of it. We are tourists because we have washing machines in our own apartment buildings, because it is likely that one day we will own washing machines ourselves (together? or separately?), because our parents own washers and dryers and we grew up with them and therefore it is a novelty to be in a giant room full of giant washers, moms with five kids, Hispanic guys in trucker caps with moustaches who can’t be but five or six years older than us. Novelty is tourism. So go ahead: don’t look up at the buildings, neck craning and mouth wide, don’t wear fanny packs or a camera around your neck, don’t walk around with a subway guide in hand, wipe the grin off your face, but as soon as you aren’t visibly miserable to be there, as soon as the vaguest hint of interest widens your eyes, you’re a tourist and everyone will know it. You can no more help being a tourist than anyone can help hating you, than you can help hating them when they’re a tourist in your town, your work, your life, your Laundromat.

Veggies & Fruit!

Well, this post was going to be the first post with pictures...but it turns out that my USB cord is rusted. I have no idea how that happened. So, you will just have to imagine what this week's new dish.

This week I grilled red peppers, green peppers, and apples in a skillet. I seasoned them with cinnamon and garlic. My plan was to serve them hot on toasted bread, but my bread did not taste that good (cooking for one person means that things go bad more quickly -- it also means I need more visitors so that I can cook for them(: ). Instead, I ate the peppers and apples right out of a bowl. In the future I would not cook the apples and instead keep them raw for their "crunch". I think that the mixture would have been good in a pita, tortilla or on top of baby spinach leaves.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

#3 for Brittney

So, I was going to make a fabulous appetizer for the wonderful Kelly Cohen's engagement party, but I ran out of time. Instead, I got to help the wonderful Kelly Cohen make two delicious cakes! I do not have the recipes off hand, but I will post them when I track them down. One of the cakes was a buttermilk cake, with the most delicious frosting I have ever made/eaten. The frosting had butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, buttermilk and more powdered sugar -- yummy! I also got quite the workout while beating the cakes/icing by hand due to a one beater mixer (the second beater had gone mysteriously missing and the lone beater just could not beat without its friend!).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dish #2: Bacon Cheeseburger Crescent rollups!

This weekend Ben came to visit and I decided to try a new creation that I dreamed up while perusing recipes online. Have you ever made pepperoni bread? Well, the recipe called for a roll-up that included seasoned ground beef and Velveeta cheese in a similar style to pepperoni bread. Since I only have a toaster oven and not a real oven, I decided to adapt the recipe and roll up the ground beef and cheese in Crescent rolls. I browned the meat with bacon, garlic, Cayenne pepper, salt and pepper (notice a trend with the spices?). Just browning two slices of bacon with the pound of ground beef gave the beef a fabulous flavor. I spooned the browned meat, with a small piece of torn bacon on top of a slice of Velveeta and rolled it up in a Crescent roll. The result? excellent cheesy, beefy, goodness.

Prompt #2 Airport Parts

The prompt: For 90 seconds, write down everything you can think of in an airport.
{Do this before reading further}

Write a story that includes everything on this list. The setting for
this story cannot be set in or around or about an airport.

The response:

Deep in the county there’s a private junkyard of some size, where the airport and a small, forgotten hospital deposit the old crap they couldn’t sell away. The owner, Mr. Timothy, had made his money, so he looked more to his liquor bottle than to sales or security. His dogs were old and friendly and almost toothless. So Billy and Mackey liked to climb the fence, toes of their small shoes fitting easily, and they would see what they could find.

And the hope, they said, was to find something expensive, something valuable, tucked in the mountains of worthlessness, and sell it, so they’d be rich, and their families would be rich, and Billy’s mother would never have to cry over the weird long sheets of numbers in the kitchen at night. It never worked out that way. Ten year olds don’t really have connections, and their friends might think a shiny airplane part is cool, but they don’t know if it’s valuable. So instead the basement of Mackey’s house grew thick with shiny, broken carburetors, the corners stacked full of smutty novels, just in case they made sense one day. There was even an airplane landing gear. With the combined effort of Billy and Mackey, the time of many long afternoons, and the thick, concealing summer grass of those roads that people called country- though a few short miles away from skyscrapers- they got it home. One of those beeping airport carts- only Mackey had ever flown- had a rusty axel, so they couldn’t move it. So they might have been partners in treasure hunting, but the real draw wasn’t the promise of fortune, just being partners.

So on a hot August day they swung over the fence, and a gaggle of happy old dogs came over and Billy and Mackey patted them and the dogs wandered on. The two boys slid in the shadows of tall mounds of castoff metal detectors, of pizza boxes and McDonald’s wrappers, and sweated under the sun as they skirted clear of the medical wastes- syringes glinting as noon approached. In their younger years past, they collected spent shotgun shells; but they learned quick that they only looked valuable- like Spanish coins, they had said. Those were those innocent days, Mackey thought. Today they fought, over a Snickers.

The other day, Billy told him, he stole the candy bar from the 7-11 down the street, and Mackey realized that was what thieves did. His daddy hated thieves, and it seemed there were a hundred kinds of thieves. His daddy yelled at the news a lot. But Mackey knew for sure that if you took something without paying, you were a thief; and where did Billy get the right? Mackey would have paid for him, he’d done it a million times. Before Billy even looked at something, Mackey would offer to pay for it. He knew how Billy’s mom was poor, and how even she didn’t know who Billy’s daddy was. So Mackey would pay for him, just hand him bills as they walked in the convenience store door. Why would Billy steal?

So on this day they fought. They never mentioned the theft- they just bickered, slandered each other in the little, cruel ways that only children can devise. As swear poured down their face, they jabbed out in the ways of the weak, and the little. Billy didn’t steal the candy bar because he wanted or needed it, and Mackey wasn’t truly concerned about the financial troubles of the 7-11 upon the loss of eight-nine cents worth of chocolate and nougat. They had perceived the unseen currents that moved adults along the inscrutable courses, the strange dance steps that made Billy’s mom approach Mackey’s with almost a bowed head. It was self-defense, this fighting. They both had seen the inevitable approaching.

They were so consumed with their arguing that they came deep and blind through the peaks and valleys of toilet paper rolls and televisions, of newspapers and magazines, cell phones and headphones, of the trash that was their shared passion. Arguing still, they came to a place they had never been: a tiny hill, a simple bump in the junk topography, dwarfed by the mountains of garbage all around. It was a pile of liquor bottles. Some were smashed from being thrown from the window of the nearby junkyard office, but as they pile grew and old bottles broke new ones’ falls, they stayed intact. The August sun was refracted and slanted around the shimmering pile, and from the open office door came a buzzing, soft and sweet in tone.

Billy stepped into the shade of the office, and could see nothing in the dark, just hear the gentle raspy song of insect wings. His eyes adjusted and came into focus on the figure of Mr. Timothy, the junkyard owner, reclining with his cap over his eyes. The embroidered nametag of his blue uniform read, in a cursive script- Mr. Timothy. There was a smiled on his face. The brim of his cap cast an opaque shadow over his eyes from which the buzzing was emitted. Billy touched the man’s hand where it rested on the arm of the chair- still warm. A fly, jostled by its brothers, flew a wobbly arc from the shade of Mr. Timothy’s hat out into the dim light of the trailer office, and back into the darkness. Mackey stood in the doorway, a scrawny silhouette against the blinding sun. He entered into dusky office, quiet except for the song of flies. Billy and Mackey looked at each other for a very long time.

First Dish -- White Chili!

For the first week, I made a white chili complete with Great Northern beans, chicken, green chilies, tomatoes, cream, sour cream, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic! I added a little too much cayenne pepper, but the spiciness kept the dish exciting. I dished out the chili into several plastic containers and enjoyed it for many meals this past week. There is still some left and Ben still needs to try it :)

Prompt # 1: Write a story about a beggar who loves to hear himself sing.

Big Davey T. could not hold down a job and he could not carry a tune, so when he set out to become a professional musician it would have been a big surprise to his friends and family had they heard the news, but they had not seen Big Davey T. for some time. Big Davey T. had been living on the streets some and in the shelters, selling books from streetside tables, like he’d seen the crackheads do. He had not played guitar since high school, but bought one at a pawn shop and took it in to the metro station. He played and sang, and to him, it was beautiful.

[Sorry this is kind of lame. So busy! Next week I'll get started farther in advance.]

The Resolutions.

This year Brittney and I have resolved to do something new each week of 2010. In my case, that means a new piece of writing every week, with prompts from Brittney. So, come here every week for a new short story or poem or Venn diagram or whatever from me (Ben. Ben is me).
As for Brittney, her resolution is to try a new recipe every week- one she made up, one she found online, whatever. So check in to see her recipes and pictures of the results every week.