Monday, December 17, 2007

Ned E.

Summer sausage, sandwiched between thick cut scraps of sharp cheddar cheese sat naked on the rusting hood of a powder blue dodge pick-up. The cheese gripped tightly to the ridged hood and kept the sausage, still complete in its faux skin, from sliding down and onto the gravel driveway beneath. The air was thin and crisp, even for a cold April morning and the hood was steely cool. The round edges of the sausage protruded on either side from the yellow-orange cheese and its fatty white flecks were exposed to the cool air. The congealed flesh and gristle, processed, but not devoid of its animal taughtness, glistened in the cool sun. The maroon wrapper, slightly peeled on one side flapped as the wind whipped past it, gave the meat a tough exterior, but the center of the sausage, with its gel-like softness and yet underlying density gave the animal protein and lard a cold, harsh aura.

Ned’s dark, rough hands could not feel the powdery grip of the cheese, but the size of the morsel felt natural as he brought the beef and cheese to his lips. A few swift bites, the substance nearly sectioned itself, and Ned sent the beef to the fierce, fiery furnace below. His stomach was the only entity within himself which could cause him pain. His throat and chest burned ceaselessly with the gastric juices from within. A strange sense of satisfaction ran through Ned when he appeased his stomach momentarily with the processed but seemingly raw animal products. He stoked the internal flames, knowing well, that his steady diet of Banquet ® Chicken Pot Pies, summer sausage, sharp cheddar, and bacon was the cause of his internal broiler.

He leaned against the grill of the car and closed his eyes. Consistent weariness lent Ned to fits of closed-eye thought sessions. Halfway through his work day didn’t seem close enough to being able to retire to the Pink Flamingo trailer park. Slowly, the strange sandwiches disappeared from the hood, and were replaced by a little Debbie and can of coke. Slow sips from the Coca-cola classic reinvigorated his dormant heartburn, and he tried to quell it with bites from a zebra cake. When the cake was gone, he took one last swig from the aluminum can and tossed it into his fire red lunch cooler. The zebra cake wrapper blew away with a gust of wind and Ned’s crunching footsteps followed after it and stomped on it to hold it to the ground. He gingerly bent over at the waist grabbed the wrapper, and joined it with the Coca-cola in his cooler.

Back to work, he picked up his hoe and returned to the freshly exposed soil. The soil was rich and full, the way freshly roasted coffee beans smell. On either side of the patch of naked ground, were large trees, looming as if from another era, fully matted below with grass, still brown from the winter’s bite. Ned traded his hoe for a spade and shored up the kidney-shaped outline which he was cutting from the grass. More fresh soil lay below, seemingly nourished by the healthy grass above it. This too, Ned stroked with the hoe, recreating an untainted earth, preserved from weeds by years of pesticides aimed at keeping the blanket of Kentucky blue grass above in top shape. When the bed was adequately prepped, Ned returned to his truck, pulled a shovel and nursery grown azalea from the bed. In the chilled shade of the mammoth oaks, he planted the azalea, just on the cusp of the bed, in his mind, perfectly contrasting what would be the rest of the bed.

The thin, scrawny, crab apple tree was always hard to remove from the truck. He rolled it down gently from the mulch pile, his hands scrapping on the knotty trunk. He slid two 2x4 pieces of lumber from the truck and placed them in position so he could roll the root ball downwards. The burlap sac surrounding the mass of dirt and tangled roots felt soft and gentle in Ned’s hands and he relished the experience. The small tree, constrained from below by the twine and burlap confines would soon be liberated to the deep coffee-rich soil below. Like a freed bird its roots would extend, farther and farther from home, perching amongst the roots of other plants, flowers, and trees.

After an hour of softly scooping out the cold, hard earth beneath the top soil, Ned laid the crab apple tree on its side and reached into his back packet. Warmed on one side from his back and cool on the other from the air, Ned extended the blade from its steel case and began working through the burlap. Once sliced, the burlap easily rips, frayed edges splitting unevenly to each side, like a curtain being torn from top to bottom exposing the beauty of the roots below. Clumpy dirt surrounds puny scraps of root, with nothing about it to which one would be attracted.

Arranged adequately in the hole Ned began scooping dirt around the edges of the root. His booted foot, pressed down on the deep soil to harden the dirt around the tender root. More dirt, more feet, more shovel, less air. Deeper and deeper he imagined the roots growing, spreading throughout this man-made garden. Retreating to the nearby house, he extended the coils of a dormant hose to the source. Stretching the cobwebs along with the house, he traversed the thick bluegrass towards his crab apple tree. Softly, gently, he slid the mouth of the house in to the densely packed earth.

As he walked back to the house, he checked his watch. Three hours since lunch, not quite time yet. When working on a job alone, he could put in longer hours, not distracted by the nuisances of conversations. He turned on the water, and watched it surge along the hose. Back at the tree, he heard it filling up the earthen jar he had carved below. The ground around the tree slowly pulsed, occasionally a bubbling up would occur. Ned watched momentarily before returning to the truck. He pulled a wheel barrow from the back and began to fill it with mulch from the bed. When he pulled the top off the fresh mulch, steam from the organic decomposition warmed the local air. He blanketed the area around the tree with the shredded remnants of its brothers. The warm, moist nuggets leave a dark brown goodness on his hands. With his hands he crafts a moat of sorts around the crab apple tree, enshrining royalty and supplying the web of spreading roots with a wash of fresh, cold water.

Quickly, smoothly, handily with the ungraceful precision that only years of muscle memory provide, Ned scooped out dirt around the fringes of the bed, providing small holes only as big as his foot. Twelve of them buffered the edges of the kidney shaped cut-out. Over his shoulder he carried a large bag of peat moss, wrapped tightly in thin white and green plastic. He set it down with a thud between to holes and wisps of dusty peat smoked through the air. With his shovel, he split the bag, from top to bottom, exposing the light brown powder to the crisp air. He placed half a scoop in each hole, carefully mixing it by hand with the soil below. Twelve leafy green hostas he molded to the earth, firm as stones in their foundation.

With a quick yank, he pulled the water from the crab tree moat, and let it splash on the now dried open ground. As a healer prays over the crippled, he raised his arm over each hosta, sprinkled a splash of water on the leaves before bathing the soil around the plants with the water. With weary arms, he finished the job by pitchforking the rest of the mulch into wheelbarrows and gently spreading it, sometimes with hands, sometimes with hoe, across the garden before him. Finally, it was his time, he loaded tools in the wheelbarrow, then the truck, and placed the 2x4 lumber in last, crossing them underneath the tools so he could close the back gate in a nice neat, tidy, portable sacred canon.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mister Frank

Crackling, crisping, clicking flames leaped over a pile of dirty wood. On a balmy, sixty degree, sun-shining day it seemed unnecessary. Viewed from an insulated window the scene would appear no more extraordinary than a bundled, winter-walker sauntering down a bright sunny road. A large pile of wood for the burning sat next to the flames and was slowly, methodically, cautiously being depleted. A few hundred yards behind him, cargo ships loomed large, flanked on all sides by small fishing boats. The giant vessels lay stagnant supported by deciduous trees. Gleaming steel and the barnacle laden undersides lay exposed for the first time since the ship’s genesis.

Mister Frank, as he was almost universally known, could have only been more suited for this event if he was wearing gloves with the fingers chopped off. As it was, he wore the lower extremity equivalent, almost European looking capris hung loosely from his full belly withholding a hearty laugh. He sat, exposed ankles soaking in the unnecessary heat. He held a hammer in one hand and he jerkily clawed nail after nail from pieces of moldy wood to throw in a bucket. To his right, he collected a small pile of set-apart wood. Shoddily stenciled lambs and hearts graced the crown molding. Two small fragments he set aside, and looked at with a half-smile. On his left, he laid the rest of the wood. Periodically, he rose to grab a scrap of the fragmented timber and send it hissing into the fire.

Over his right shoulder, he glanced back to see his wife, Miss Liz exiting from their brand-new home. In her bathrobe, she descended the steps of their FEMA trailer and grinned at him. She carried cup of piping coffee to set on the chair next to him, furthering the mistaken winter-image. Miss Liz too, glanced over at the pile of sheep wood and let a gentle melancholy smile grace her face. Silently, she put a hand on Mister Frank’s shoulder, and retreated to the confines of the white trailer. Mister Frank stood, stretched, rubbed his hands over the fire only because he believed it was what one should do in this situation.

Standing and turning his head, Mister Frank glanced back at the source of his fuel. A thirty by thirty wood frame stood capped above ten feet by the remnants of aluminum siding and the glistening, sandpaper black shingled roof. He glanced back to his wood pile and a shiver did run through his spine. Enough shivering he thought as he took a pull from his stoneware mug. His eyes followed the dirt track from his pile, to the pile at the shipwreck. Instead of separating iron nails from their pile, Sternitz Brothers Shipbuilding had nothing but iron. Rusted metal scraps loomed large above the barbed wire fence protecting the area.

His eyes traveled the horizon, past the small suspension bridge, along the road of his exodus two weeks prior, through the rich forest and rested on the Caribbean Clipper. He began to imagine the tumult they must have felt as Katrina beat on them with her snarling backhand. The crew of Columbians on the ship were found only days ago, too scared to exit after the storm, and too high above the forested island upon which they landed. They sent one lone messenger down in a lifeboat from Ararat to try and obtain supplies for the rest of the crew.

Mister Frank had left town three weeks earlier on the advice of the town’s leaders. He thought he had been through the worst before, but heeded the warning nonetheless. He only needed to travel a few miles inland to take refuge in Bayou La Batre Christian Church on higher ground. Most of the town’s residents took refuge in the church, forming the city on the hill, lit my candlelight, looking down on the brooding of Katrina.

While most of the world was focusing on Saints marching in to New Orleans, Mister Frank laid holed up at the church. The waters receded, as did his home. Weeks later, FEMA unhitched his brand new residence and he returned to his plot of land with his wife. The memory of the experience did not carry pain with it. Mister Frank was sure he had known pain, but couldn’t recall what it was. Instead he continued to ply nails from timber and press on, the only thing he had ever learned to do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Today is gonna be the day . . .

The extent of self-deception never ceases to amaze me. For at least the past 10 years, I have convinced myself every morning that I as soon as I finished my task for the day (school, work, random others) that I would come home, plop straight in bed and sleep until Kingdom come. In those last ten years, I have fulfilled that self-promise at most ten times. Once a year, I make good on my autonomous pledge. About two-to-three hours in my day, it dawns on me that I will not be retiring to bed when I get home like I promised and curse myself for waking up. What amazes me about the situation is not my persistent ability to deceive myself, but that at six am amongst the cacophonous chorus of my Sony Ericsson T470 cell phone/alarm clock, I actually believe in good faith that today will be the day I make good on a promise.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Realizations from a Road Trip

I traveled 11 hours each way on a road trip to Durham, North Carolina this past holiday weekend. Here is what I learned (more tomorrow if these are enjoyable).
  1. Town squares are awesome
  2. Small towns have a preponderance of subways
  3. If I ever own a farmhouse I am definitely going to put fake candles in every window.
  4. Celery is not a good road trip snack, neither are peanuts, shredded whear (Each of which I took on my roadtrip, each of which are also coincidentally very high in fiber).
  5. Durham, NC is like Disney world/Harry Potter Land for rich kids.
  6. Paying with a twenty dollar bill at a toll-booth is not looked upon highly.
  7. Coincidentally, paying with nickels and pennies at a toll booth is not looked upon highly.
  8. The state of Ohio is extremely long.
  9. Tunnels don’t get old. I anticipated that they would stop being cool around age 23, unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I still find them riveting.
  10. On a related note, radios and cell phones do not seem to work inside a tunnel. Good thing driving through them is so darn cool.
  11. As much as I try to disagree, my tastebuds still do not like tomatoe juice.
  12. On a related note, tomatoe juice is not a beverage of choice on a road trip (because it doesn’t go well with peanuts or shredded wheat of course).
  13. Going the speed limit makes spying a police officer hiding in the bushes a lot less frightening.
  14. When you go the speed limit, impatient drivers are a lot more frightening.
  15. By my approximation, I counted around 52 Kiss fm stations in Midwest/Southern America.
  16. I have no idea why someone would want to name and or listen to a station named Kiss fm unless it featured Gene Simmons.
  17. Any blue sign on the road beginning with the words “tourist activities” can be promptly ignored unless you have a deep desire to rid yourself of twenty dollar bills to avoid uncomfortable situations at the toll booth.
  18. Counting singles may, or more likely may not be, a perquisite to aquiring a job at a toll booth.
  19. However, having a southern accent while working at a toll booth, totally makes up for a lack of counting ability.
  20. In sparsely populated parts of America, the only type of music broadcasted on fm is either a) horrendous Christian or b) horrendous country. Which, are apparently the same genre to rural populations.
  21. “Thus sayeth the lord” might be the most commonly heard phrase found while scanning the radio in the middle of nowhere. Talk about a voice in the wilderness.
  22. I am not sure why so many cities need cannons mounted in the town square. But in the event that intruders have a geometric preference for attacking perfect versions of rectangles situated next to courthouses and are susceptible to heavy spherical projectiles, we are in safe hands.
  23. Gas station coffee allows only two unfortunate options: Drink it while its hot enough to burn your taste buds, or drink it when cool enough to lament the fact that you have taste buds.
  24. If you ever see a sign on the highway advertising free coffee at a rest stop, do not stop, because it is a lie. Unless of course, that old guy in the corner with the shabby trailer was actually doling out cups of coffee, then the advertisement may be true, but all the more reason not to stop.
  25. Thanks to advertisements on the back of semi’s, I now know the going rate per mile at each company, and all I can say is: Sucks to be Schneider national drivers, eh?
  26. I need to work on mastering the art of stopping in a gas station, using the restroom, and wlaking right back out without purchasing anything without feeling guilty. My collection of gum, lipton green tea, V8 juice and Gatorade has grown excessive and only perpetuates the cycle.
  27. “Come on Eileen” is still being ubiquitously played on the radio.
  28. When Google Maps supplies a given route with a time of 11 hours and 37 minutes, that time does not hold true when you decide to take side roads running parallel to the interstated.
  29. Coincidentally, you cannot merely knock off two hours from the time, tell yourself you will go 10 over the whole way, and not pee. You will in fact, pee, buy green tea, pee some more, and arrive two hours late.
  30. In the case of Christmas decorations and assorted inflatable lawn creatures, less is still more central Ohio.
  31. The Buick Century was not built upon the premise that fast acceleration was king.
  32. The Buick Century was not built upon the premise that twenty-four year olds driving it should be able to pick up females.
  33. The South is apparently different from the North. Northerners are apparently unaware of this fact, while Southerners are apparently all to keenly aware. Why don’t they just start their own country.
  34. The actual name of an interstate has little to do with where it is going. For example, I recently was traveling on I-40 N and I-81 S at the same time. I have to believe that people on this freeway were, like me, feeling a) counterproductive, b) lied to or c) strangely akin to Stretch Armstrong.
  35. Brown caffeinated beverages are easily spill-able, startlingly stain-forming, and embarrassingly forgettable three days later when you put on the pants without looking at the lower thigh.
  36. There is a distinct limit to how long driving can be how fun.
  37. I went golfing with my friend who is in school to be a minister. As a medical student, I felt as if our outing was training for the beginning of a future joke. (PS I’m Irish)
  38. When determining whether to turn right or left, no tool is more useful than “never, ever, sell watermelon.” Unfortunately one can often missapproximate the direction of never, leading to a turn towards watermelon at the wrong time.
  39. I do not know what at least 50% of the signs I see mean (i.e. “no jake brake,” “soft shoulder,” “speed limit”).
  40. “Next 23 miles under construction” is code for “Sucks to be you, guy behind the semi.”
  41. The wrong way signs on free way on/off ramps are way to close to being on the wrong side. On a related note, way too many people were getting off the freeway on an on-ramp this weekend.