Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In memory of Miss Kitty. . .

You live as long as you are remembered.” -- Russian proverb

My lovely, much older sister posted this on Facebook yesterday:
"In memory of Miss Kitty (my parent's cat), she didn't like people who were loud or had stomping feet, but she was a cozy companion to some of us. RIP."
My esteemed and accomplished much older brother stood on the fuzzy edges of his PHD in Psychology and posted the following comment:

“Dennis has complicated grief relating to MISS Kitty. MISS Kitty could read the true nature of people. The clouds above do not allow stomping feet, she will be fine."

To be fair, I had already posted this:

It's about time, a miserable, angry beast....

I have no PHD, though I did complete a couple of semesters of graduate school in the study of the dark, alchemistic art of psychology, enough to know what he said is basically true, grief is expressed in many ways, almost all of them irrational. So accepting his premise (without actually agreeing with his conclusions) I allowed myself to vent my thoughts and feelings, as complicated as they may be, the same way I deal with pretty much everything. I turn them into words, sentences and paragraphs, top down, without outline or goal. If any of this missive offends, sickens or angers you, just remember, I’m grieving, allow me to mourn freely, it’s for the best.

Miss Kitty died yesterday. Actually she was reluctantly escorted and expedited to her inevitable demise by those who loved her most, my parents.

I last saw the cat back in June. She didn’t look so good then and she was behaving most odd. She came up to me, quietly mewed a greeting and seemed quite at peace with my presence. I knew this was at best a severe form of feline dementia.

The stupid cat hated me, always has.

My parents had Miss Kitty for about thirteen years. She was a brown Siamese or Siamese mix of some sort. I only saw her on my infrequent visits, and then only for a second or two each time. For reasons known only to the depraved, twisted mind of that cat, she either hated me or feared me to a phenomenal, almost comical degree. All I needed to do was enter the old house and she would take off for nooks and crannies known only to her.

Often I would call out to her, in my most deep, threatening and resonant voice: HERE KITTY, KITTY, KITTY!!!!, thumping each syllable like a big bass drum, chucking out each K like a gunshot. Yeah, I guess you could say I terrorized the cat, but only after she first snubbed me.

I don’t know about a cat’s actual memory capacity, but whether I visited twice per year or only once in three, the reaction was exactly the same. I’d step into the doorway, catch a glimpse of her and like a stroke of comic-book panic, she’d dash away treading only thin air, often not to be seen again by me for the entire time I stayed. I was told that the cat only behaved this way with me, every other visitor and family member was always treated with respect and in many cases warm affection.

In thirteen years of irregular visits I was never even able to pet that cat, until this past June. I don’t know whether it was an act of reconciliation in the face of certain and inevitable departure or whether her feeble and failing mind was merely quashing all those memories and past horrors. I did get the innate sense on that visit that this would be my first, and last moment of peace with her.

She looked like a badly taxiderm-ized pelt. Her fur was splotchy and irregular. She sagged heavily in places that were once plump and firm. She was thin, too thin, downright skeletal. Her once glistening coat was dull and lifeless. Her eyes were cloudy and unfocused, her shaky and strained, yet still protesting voice was like a tattered bow pulled slowly across a poorly tuned violin string.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ve buried a lot of cats in my time, and on this visit Miss Kitty looked no better than many I’d put into the ground.

Maybe that’s it, maybe she’d heard the stories, or used her alleged mystical senses to just know that I had once been a sort of grim reaper for our family’s cats. Maybe to her eyes I was an incarnation of Death itself, surrounded by the hovering, mewling feline spirits of Timmy, Buttermilk, Two-Toed-Tommy, Cotton, Cream Puff, and all the many others that I had scraped off deadly Highway 139, dropped into a grocery bag and dragged off to the woods behind our house. Maybe she heard the hollow scrape, scrape, scrape of the dull, rusty shovel against rocky red soil.

Who knows what her tiny, peculiar little mind perceived.

I never intended this to be a worthy, qualified eulogy for Miss Kitty, I simply did not know her well enough to speak with any authority of her personality, her assets, her contributions, her interests or hobbies, or her life in general. My entire span of interaction with her was only a matter of a few minutes, possibly just seconds.

I am sure of this though, she was loved. Well, actually I don’t know that at all, I just assume it. Thirteen years is a long time to share a household, and in that length of time if no blood is let and no lawyers summoned, it is just more probable that there was love than not.

She was however only a cat, a suitable enough pet for those that are not able, willing or worthy to live with a dog. As pets go, dogs are high maintenance, energetic, needy, and very interactive. Cats are more like slightly mobile houseplants. You can go hours or days without interacting with a cat and they seem to be fine with that. You can put down food for a cat and they will eventually eat it. Sometimes that's the only way you can confirm that you still have a cat.

Occasionally, and at their own leisure, a cat will wander into the room you are in, call to you (or more likely, complain about something), then curl up beside you and expect you to show it the affection and worship it believes it so richly deserves. Then, once again at a time of its own choosing, it will wander off and find more suitable and comfortable accommodations, completely unconcerned with the wants and needs of its lowly human minions.

For reasons that are not clear to me I completely understand and respect most characteristics of a cat’s personality. I don’t necessarily like them, I just understand them. Cats are aloof and narcissistic. I know (at least I’ve been told) that I share at least a modicum of those very traits. I at least pull it off in a way that makes me appear charming, mysterious and desirable. Cats are generally just creepy, callous and cold.

AND they make my wife miserable. Also like many houseplants, cats carry on them an essence, an odorless aroma that bludgeons the breathing passages of my lovely wife (with whom I am madly in love.) She can even be stricken by the evil, latent gasses of cats that have merely recently passed through an area.

If I seem indifferent, uncaring or even disdainful of cats in general, it certainly should be considered, at least to some degree, as a form of chivalry. Whether it is their intent or not, whether with or without malice, cats cause my wife to suffer. I cannot and simply will not tolerate any member of any species that has the capacity to choke my dear wife without even touching her. Who invented such a hideous beast? Who infused such a dastardly trait into a small, soft, cuddly, purring creature? What kind of cruel, twisted superpower is this? It’s the living, breathing equivalent of a thick, sweet, cream-filled pastry lined with poisonous barbed spikes.

My parents like cats. They’ve always had cats. They are apparently completely immune to the foul bits. This of course leaves me in a quandary. Do I despise cats for their capacity to shut down my lovely wife’s ability to breathe, or do I accept them, and in fact praise them for bringing my sweet, gentle, saintly parents so much joy over the years?

Regardless of this dilemma, I do recognize the fact that Miss Kitty was an integral part of their family, for good, for bad, in sickness and in health. She was family and any time you lose a member of your family, regardless of their actual value to society at large, is a cause for mourning.

I’ve held and hugged a couple of beloved dogs as they were injected with the modern chemistry that would forever ease their growing pain. I have held them as the life slipped slowly out of them. I’ve held them as their heartbeats slowed to a standstill, as their final breath finally passed from them, almost a sigh. I’ve looked into their confused and frightened eyes and could sense the very instant when those eyes were no longer actually seeing. I know this deep pain of loss very, very well. I know how hard it is to finally choose to let your pet, your beloved family member go. Even though we’re just talking about a cat, Miss Kitty was more than a mere hyper-allergen houseplant, she was loved.

More important than just being loved, she will be remembered, and according to that old Russian proverb this means she in fact, still lives.

Miss Kitty was laid to rest in a peaceful lea behind my parent’s house in the small town of Cerulean, Kentucky. She is buried alongside a previous beloved cat, whose name I do not recall.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NPR Fires Juan Williams. An explanation from someone that doesn't really care.

The Washington Post's Debbi Wilgoren and Paul Farhi reported Thursday:

Veteran journalist Juan Williams was fired from his job as senior news analyst for National Public Radio late Wednesday because of comments he made about Muslims and terrorism on "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News Channel.

"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country," he said. "But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

I’ve known lots of people that have been fired from their jobs, only on a very few occasions has there been one and only one reason/incident to cause it. We can only know about this firing what we are being told, so conjecture is natural, but also virtually pointless.

As far as what he said, yes, it does sound a bit racist, a bit as if he’s looking at people who merely look a certain way and reacting in fear because some people that looked like this did something for him to fear.

Anthropologically speaking though it’s quite natural. Our ancestors who may or may not have evolved from ape-like creatures lived in constant peril. They had to be vigilant. The appearance of a known threat, lions, tigers, bears, marsupials, or even other humanoids sparked a fear reaction, a flight or fight response. Not being as fast or as agile as many predators, observation, even paranoid fear, gave our knuckle dragging ancestors an advantage. Thus it seems natural too that even something that merely looked a little like a predator would spark that same reaction, the fleeing could begin before the predator even came into full view.

This trait is not restricted to humanoids or the space aliens from which they evolved. Many lower animals, the ones god sent to us to kill and eat, also use this ‘paranoia’ this ‘don’t wait till it’s close enough to harm us’ fear-reaction to take flight. Thus plastic owls can successfully scare off creatures that use sight as a primary sense and are subject to being murdered by owls.

As humanoids we certainly have evolved from our original ancestor, a lump of clay, with sight being our primary sense. Thus when our Founding Fathers saw something that even looked a little like a threat, the flight/fight sense tingled, the successful ones flew/fled/flit. Those guys eventually produced offspring (after getting married, of course) in higher numbers than those that just stood there and said “Hey cool, what’s that heading this way? Is that a . . .AAAARGGGGGGGH!”

So, it’s probably a successful and natural reaction to feel fear when seeing something that even just vaguely reminds you of a threat.

But Mr. Williams’ sin was not that he reacted quite naturally, it was that he admitted it on national television for his bosses to see.

You see we’re not supposed to always admit publically what we really feel, especially if it flies in the face of popular popularism. We’re not supposed to tell the lady in our office that she’s really, really hot. We’re not supposed to tell anyone if we are gay. We’re not supposed to tell anyone that we enjoy wearing gender-inappropriate underpants. The truth is simply not always appropriate. Discretion is certainly the better part of maintaining employment.

I frankly have no problem with his admission of being afraid when he saw someone in an airport being overtly Muslim. (even though the 9/11 terrorists were reportedly wearing khakis and polo shirts). It is, like it or not, and perhaps unfortunately, natural and in this case there were no actual actions taken (beatings, lynchings, name calling, oppression, poll taxes) resulting from his fears. But he seriously screwed up, he went on TV and spoke the unspeakable.

Was NPR right to fire him? I dunno, I don’t know that I have all the facts.

Was he right to say what he said? Hmm, that’s more complicated. I mean if I went on local or national TV and admitted that I fantasized about this or that perversion (mind you, not admitting to actually doing anything like that) my wife/boss/livestock might get worried that someday I might act on those feelings…Would It be right to divorce me? Fire me? Pine for the mercy of the butcher’s axe?

Perhaps NPR was afraid that his inability to quash his fears was going to interfere with his ‘so-called’ objectivity. Maybe they thought it already had. Maybe they merely thought the public reaction (and by public I mean the estimated 200-300 people who actually listen to NPR) would be anger and rebellion amongst the Marxist, ultra-liberal tree-hugging, latte-sipping, wine and brie crowd that I stereotypically pretend NPR listeners are.

Jobs in radio are tenuous at best, you are completely at the mercy of what your fickle listeners think.


NPR may have simply acted out of primal fear towards the mere possibility of a threat to their livelihood without actually looking the situation over all that closely.

Which of course they should never admit to.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Derby. . . no, not that one.

It’s a pointless indulgence.
There is no logic behind it, no sweet story of youthful longing or unfulfilled ma
chismo. It started simply in 2006, our first summer in Hillsboro. The sign in front of the fairgrounds touted “Demolition Derby, Sun 7PM”.
It would be the closing spectacle for the Jefferson County Fair, an event none of us had any real interest in otherwise. Someone mentioned seeing the sign, and expressed interest, perhaps as a joke. The rest of us chimed in enthusiastically. Sure, we’d love to see a demolition derby!
So we went. We ponied up the cash to get into the fair, we got there early to walk the grounds. Same old county fair stuff, dubious loud flashy rides that we wouldn’t be riding, tents and booths designed to take your money in exchange for the chance at a cheap stuffed duck. The sickly yet familiar smell of fried dough and melting sugar traveled heavily with the slight breeze. Inside the pavilion were the crops; squash, pumpkins, tomatoes on steroids. Blue ribbons and trophies, 4H signs and seed ads. Outside politicians smiled and waved alongside mower, spa and siding salesmen, shiny tractors and enormous combines. The largest crowds assembled in front of small portable shacks selling funnel cakes, beer, hot dogs and cotton candy. The noise of diesel generators nearly drowned out the pathetically tinny carnival music. The goats in the petting zoo looked worn down, weary of being fondled by sticky kids.
It only took about fifteen minutes for us to grow tired of this. Fortunately rumbling V8’s could be heard in the distance.
We drifted towards the grandstand and found uncomfortable seating on
aluminum bleachers. Adam had his root beer, I had my overpriced water, Angel had something, I don’t recall exactly. The deep fried onion she’d bought was crispy and tasty at first but grew heavy and greasy about halfway in.
Towheaded kids jumped up and down on the springy bleachers, one of them eventually slipped, they always do. Mom and or dad to the rescue, a little beer’d up but still in control. Rural teen girls strutted in their too-short shorts and ridiculously tight tank tops,
young men wore the tightest jeans they had, topping themselves with a crisp cowboy hat. Pear-shaped middle age men and women dominated the crowd, from slightly heavy to industrially obese. Sweat stains detailed thinning, fading tee-shirts, sweat pants were stretched well beyond all manufacturer’s recommendations. And everywhere ball caps, advertising motorcycles, military service, beer brands, tractors, and just as often a colloquial obscene reference.
The center of the grandstand was nothing more than a field of dirt. No track, no stripes, just an open dirt field surrounded by large concrete blocks that looked like giant gray Lego blocks. On one side was a gap in the barrier blocks that aligned with a long cattl
e gate. Through this gate came the water truck. It methodically sprayed down the dirt, turning it into mud. Once enough water had been dispersed so that it appeared to be standing the truck exited.
The crowd grew anxious, the man in the public address booth sorted his papers and checked the microphone. He spoke into and then listened to his walkie-talkie, and finally welcomed
the crowd. The low quality sound system made him sound like an extremely loud gramophone recording, the lower frequencies of his voice completely attenuated by the cheapness of the weatherproof speakers, little more than bundled bullhorns.
Onto the field rolled three stripped down, crudely painted Crown Victorias. From each car waved a flag, the stars and stripes in one, the generic Missouri state flag from the next, followed by the car carrying the almost sacred white on black POW/MIA flag. Once settled in apparently random spots on the field the announcer instructed the audience to rise. He sang the National Anthem, yeah, he sang it, and no, he didn’t do a very good job of it. I didn’t notice so much, I was busy trying to figure out the nature vs. nurture conundrum of the driver of the American flag car, since on the top of his car he was also flying a just-as-large Confederate flag. These flags are popular in demo derby, I don’t know why. I had ancestors that fought on both sides of the war of northern aggression (as my younger brother still calls it). I don’t recall that crashing vehicles into each other for recreational purposes was considered either a strategy or an analog for victory in any particular battle, large or small. The Southern pride angle didn’t exactly make sense either, here in Missouri. But I’m all about freedom of expression, and if flying the flag of a soundly defeated rebellion gives you an ego boost then go ahead, show your colors.
Once the Star Spangled banner was tortured to a painful, off-key qu
ivering crescendo, the crowd cheered and engines rumbled and spat to life.
The gate was opened and five coverall clad men carrying flags of various solid colors took their places around the field. One guarded the gate the other four were positioned outside the concrete barrier blocks. These were the referees.
One at a time large Lincolns, Fords and Buicks entered the gate and took positions nosed into the barrier walls. The cars were all stripped down of all glass, doors welded shut,
gas tanks removed (replaced by a small fuel bladder in the cab containing just enough fuel to get through a few minute heat.) The radiators had all been flushed, now running on straight water. (Toxic antifreeze is not necessary or permitted in these events.) For the most part these are cars that were purchased for a couple hundred dollars or less from a junk lot. All they need to do is run and survive for a few minutes. Things like timing, compression, tuning and beauty are irrelevant. The tires would be considered illegal, if not deadly, anywhere else, no tread to be found on any of them. Rough and crude spray paint jobs are the norm, there’s no sense putting a silk scarf on a doomed creature.
Demolition derby is bottom dollar stuff. Purses seldom exceed a thousand dollars on the circuit. At smaller events such as this one at the fair, the winner takes home only about three hundred. This is pathetic considering that the best case scenario is that your car will be beaten, crushed, stomped and violently compressed to the point where the winner is merely the car that can still move around a little after all others cannot. No one’s driving these cars home, or anywhere else after the bout. Whatever work you put in and whatever expense you incurred will be for naught in just a few short minutes.
There were three qualifying heats, with the last five cars to survive each heat going on to the feature event, an all-out fight to the death. In the first heats there is strategy, survival. If you are one of the last five cars running, you either stop and snap off your stick, or just exit the field.

So what’s to keep a car from just sitting and hiding? Well there are only a few rules in this sport but sandbagging is simply not tolerated. Each car in the field must at least tap another car once every two minutes. True competitors despise sandbagging and will hunt down and torture a driver suspected of obvious timidity.
At the start of a heat all cars are parked idling in a rough circle around the inside of the barrier, taillights (or where they used to be) pointing toward the center of the field. Once the green flags fly, the drivers reverse toward the center, or each other. Though tough to control, backing into competitors is preferred as the rear of the car carries nothing important. The front can survive some hits, but not many. Driver’s side doors are off
limits and avoided for safety reasons.
Nowadays cars are not quite as durable as in the heyday of demo derby. The massive, heavy frames have all but disappeared. Contemporary Crown Vic’s and Town Cars crumple much easier than say a ’66 Chrysler Imperial, which were actually banned from most derbies due to their indestructibility.
The carnage is not immediate. The combination of bald tires and muddy field keep the speeds down considerably. The field is not large enough to build up a lot of momentum so each hit is occurring at about five – ten miles per hour maximum. Even a full head on collision is quite survivable. The drivers are protected only by stock seat belts and motorcycle helmets. Although injuries can and do occur, they are somewhat rare.
Within the first few minutes the field is crowded, and clusters form. Soon enough someone will blow an engine, snap an axle or otherwise just seize up. A wooden stick extends from the driver’s window, the driver snaps this off to i
ndicate he’s out of the race. A snapped stick car is off limits for the rest of the heat.
Usually one or more drivers will stand out in a heat, their aggression wins them the crowd’s favor. As does the underdog, the guy who’s taken a beating and is struggling to restart his steaming, crumpled pile of metal. When he finally gets it moving just at the two minute mark the crowd goes wild, as if Lazarus himself had awakened.
Soon enough two broken sticks, three, then four and five. Dead cars sitting in the middle of the field, still occupied by the driver and sometimes a rider. Occasionally they do get hit by a stray run, they simply ride it out.
The heats run about fifteen minutes, a few excellent smashes occasionally punctuating the atmosphere. There’s always a car or two shooting flames out its pipes, that’s a sure crowd pleaser. (No mufflers or fancy exhaust pipes on the cars, exhaust is routed directly to short stacks protruding though the hood.)
After the heats, tractors and skid loaders clear the field of the loser
s. The referees walk the field tossing out chunks of metal, plastic and rubber. The winners head back to a pit area and take hammers and crowbars to repurpose the damage. No precision engine work here, just do what’s necessary to prolong the life of the car for about twenty more minutes of violence.
Time now for the mini cars… which in demolition derby seems to mean cars with less than a V8 engine. No clear standouts, mostly American cars with the ubiquitous and venerable Taurus’ a slight favorite. Front wheel drive changes things a bit, but the small, lighter cars have more pep than the lumbering Crown Vic’s, and are in my mind much more fun to watch. As well, the smaller cars just can’t take the punishment as readily. The rears crumple so completely that
they end up looking like half-cars.
For now these smaller cars are a novelty. Eventually they will dominate more as the supply of hefty V8 cruisers dwindles. In other places there have been novelty competitions using SUV’s and minivans, this may be the next wave.
The final heat, the feature, is all about being the last man standing. That’s all that matters, last longer than everyone else. Since these cars have already survived one heat, they start this round already quite banged up, this heat doesn’t last long. Tires start peeling off wheels, axles break off, bumpers litter the field. Many of the finalists spend as much time trying to restart the ruptured engines as pursuing their foes. Almost all the radiators are split open, steam pours from several rapidly overheating engines. They’re all eventually sputtering in death throes, like wounded animals they jerk and scream, spit and swear, twitch and scratch till absolute and total death consumes them once and for all, forever.
Why we enjoy this so much we don’t know. We split into pairs or as singles for most of our entertainment. For demolition derby, it’s not even asked if any of us want to go, it’s assumed. None of us care a lick about professional sports, NASCAR, horse racing or ballroom dancing. We don’t raft or canoe or fish or hunt. We don’t like country music and there’s not a pickup truck in our driveway or Camaro on blocks in our yard. We’re educated, upper middle class and articulate. But this event intrigues us.
At a demolition derby there’s no fanfare, no marching bands, no floats with pretty girls. There are no Mint Juleps, large flowered hats or shiny alligator boots. There’s no corporate sponsorship to speak of, mostly just barber shops and feed stores. The trophy is mostly plastic and the purse is less than the price of participating. There are no stars, no celebrities, no big names at all, mostly just local boys with a knack for mechanics a yearning for action and perhaps a death wish.
The event is completely pointless, dirty, messy and violent. It is shameless in its unmitigated decadence. It’s a greasy middle finger thrust into the air toward all that is politically correct, tasteful, sophisticated and green. For a few minutes on sultry Saturday nights, in small fairgrounds around the country, it’s simply a yee-haw noisy good time, and never claims to be anything else.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Of Rice and Men

Many of you are aware of the recent tragedy to strike our family, and by our family I mean ‘me’. I’m sure Angel didn’t mean to break the lid to my Rival 6 Cup Rice Cooker, but she did. Accidents happen, especially with Angel. In the past we’ve been to Urgent Care for slicing pineapple, opening a coconut and a while back for a grievous curling iron incident.

She said she was putting the little red rice cooker away when the glass lid slid off and shattered into 13.7 billion tiny shards.

I was distraught. The rice cooker was a Christmas present from Angel a couple of years ago. I had expressed a desire for one, that one in particular after reading hundreds of online reviews. I even sent her links to online sites that carried it as well as maps to local retailers that supposedly had it in stock.

Then I made rice.

Which is odd since I really never liked rice except for the fried rice you get at finer Asian Restaurants. By finer Asian restaurants I mean the ones in Springfield Mo. Light, fluffy, a few veggies, a few chunks of chicken, a few drops of soy sauce then stir-fried for just a short time.

But I had decided that I could learn to like rice if I could control its ingredients. After all rice is like potatoes, by themselves bland and starchy, but with the right toppings and cooking method, potentially awesome.

I tried a couple of batches right away and was disappointed. I downloaded recipes from the wide world of web, nothing worked, and I gave up. I put it away and thought little more of it.

At some point last year I decided to try again. I devoted three straight weekends to making small portions with recipes from all cuisines, Italian, French, Mexican, Mediterranean, Southwestern, Cajun, Norwegian, even Indian. The place was a mess of course, but I was on a mission, and if one of my missions means a little more work for Angel, well that’s a small price to pay.

Somewhere along the line I picked up a tip. Add a couple of bouillon cubes to the water.

Voila! All the rice dishes I tried came out better.

Soon I was dragging out the little red rice cooker every couple of weeks or so. Rice is cheap, add-ins’ are cheap, it only takes about twenty minutes. Nobody else in the family likes my more exotic rice dishes very much, Adam only likes rice plain, no ingredients at all, not even the small amount of diced onion I usually throw in to cook with the rice.

Angel says some of them are okay, though she’s never actually requested any of them.

I don’t mind, self gratification can be the best gratification. So I make rice, enough for everyone whether they eat any or not. If they don’t, no problem, as long as I’m satisfied it’s only gravy if someone else enjoys it as well.

My go-to rice dish is oddly enough Asian style, without the frying part. Here it is:

Into the rice cooker:

2 ‘cups’ of rice (the cup that came with the rice cooker)

2 cups of water (real cups)

3 chicken bullion cubes

1 TBSP finely diced onion

1 TBSP butter

Mix together in the rice cooker the butter, rice and onions. Dissolve the cubes in the water and pour into the rice cooker up to just below the ‘2 cup’ line, it won’t take the whole amount. I like my rice on the dry side, that’s the reason for shorting the mark.


To the steamer basket add any or all the following, substitute any of these with your favorites.


Green peppers



You don’t need that much. All combined you’ll only need about a quarter cup total.

Avoid strong tastes like green peas. Avoid cauliflower and broccoli altogether because they’re just disgusting.

Fresh veggies are great if you have them. I buy bell peppers celery, carrots in large packages and dice up a bunch and freeze them. That way I always have some on hand when I get a sudden hankering for either chili or rice. Onions I prefer fresh, we always have a couple around.

While the rice is cooking:

1 Boneless chicken breast, frozen/thawed is fine. Make it your favorite way without breading it, you’re going to chop it up anyhow. Here’s how I roll:

In a small skillet add 1 TBSP or less of olive oil and 1 to 12 TBSP’s of butter. Chop the breast into one inch cubes and start them cooking. About half way done, add ¼ cup of your favorite boxed chardonnay (or a couple drops of lemon / lime juice for you teetotalers) and 1 TSP of fresh or minced garlic. Once that starts to boil off add just a shake of soy sauce, don’t overdo it. Cook until the chicken is tender and done through.

Remove the chunks and let them sit in a bowl. When they’ve cooled enough chop up the chicken chunks to ¼ inch or less.

Pour off the juice and wipe out the skillet.

In a little, a very little oil, canola, whatever, fry two eggs completely, no runny yolk, pepper optional.

Chop up the eggs and add to the chicken.

About now the rice will be done.

Fetch a bowl twice as big as you think it might take. Pour everything into the bowl and mix it all up. Near the end of the mixing start adding a little soy sauce, swirl it around, taste, repeat until your taste buds throw you a party.


This stuff reheats rather nicely too.

Notice I didn’t add salt. Between the salt in the butter and the soy sauce I find this is plenty salty by itself. Feel free to add more if you like.

Serve with… well just scoop some into a cereal bowl, grab a fork and chow down. This dish is best served with fresh Luzianne ice tea, beer, or even Sake.

Now back to the crisis.

Angel told me, reluctantly, what had happened. I of course was furious, or at least made it appear that I was. I screamed at her (in my head) and stomped through the house yelling “This is why I never get you nice things!”

I logged into the internet on my spiffy little ASUS Netbook and started researching replacement lids. Well, no such thing popped up. There’s a reason for that. Brand new the awesome Rival 6 Cup Rice cocker only costs about fifteen bucks. Individually a lid would cost about, I don’t know five to eight bucks? Then if you have to get it shipped. . .

So here’s what we’re going to do. This weekend, because I only cook rice on weekends, I’ll stop off at either Target or Wally-world and pick up a new one, hopefully the same model. I’ll take it home, open up the box, take out the lid, then close the box up and put it in a safe place, instant spare parts.

Then I’m making some more rice.

So thanks to all of you that have expressed genuine or exaggerated condolences over the loss of my treasured appliance. We will get through this crisis; it’ll just take some time, and about fifteen bucks. When you have words about this with Angel, try to be nice. She means well even if it does often seem like she hates me.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Grapes and the wrath of grapes.

I had some grapes last night, a big heaping fistful. Fresh, bright green and plump, juicy. Not many seeds, cold from the fridge, sparkling wet from being rinsed off. I love grapes, these store-bought, rather generic ones as well as the small, sharp, wild ones I picked and ate right off the vine when I was very young. We don’t get grapes often, only occasionally in fact, but they are about as good a sweet snack as can be naturally produced.

Bananas are great, so are tangerines and some oranges. Apples, well they’re quite good and there’s quite a variety of them, but they’re much more difficult to manage. Peeling, coring, slicing, a lot of work, all that biting and chewing. Grapes, well you wash them off, pluck them from their skeleton, heck, lots of them fall off by themselves, and just pop them in your mouth, done, instant gratification.

Grapes can be peeled too, I know this, I’ve done it. It’s not easy, especially if your goal is, as is mine with tangerines and oranges, to keep the peel in one piece. It takes patience and dedication but with practice it can be done. Some folks I hear can peel them inside their mouths using only their tongue and teeth. I tried that a couple of times, but my brain-mouth connection has never been very exacting or reliable.

I like raisins too, raisins used to be grapes. I have a small box of raisins every day as half of my lunch. They don’t taste quite the same, raisins aren’t juicy, they’re kind of slimy, but they are still sweet and easy on the mouth, and healthier than cookies or candy some people say. The other half of my lunch consists of a small package of peanut butter crackers, the bright yellow square ones you see in finer vending machines. I don’t eat anything for breakfast during the week, so this small lunch, in addition to about ten cups of coffee during the day provides all the energy and nutrition I need until dinner time, when I gorge myself on pretty much anything placed in front of me.

A doctor once told me that this style of eating was ‘atrocious’ which is, as I recall, a technical medical term for ‘good’ or ‘perfect’. It’s what lions do after all, how bad can it be?

But back to the grapes.

Wine is made from grapes too. I like wine. In case you’re not familiar with wine I’ll explain it to you. Take some grapes from a vine yard. Put them in a solid gopherwood barrel and have them danced and stomped upon by buxom French women. Then pour the resulting fluid into a pretentiously labeled bottle and you have wine. How’s this different from grape juice? Obviously it’s the added toe jam. Be careful though, the finer wines can be quite pricy. I’ve seen some pretentiously labeled wines go for upwards of ten or twelve dollars!

I enjoy wine nearly every evening because it solves all my problems. We really prefer the less expensive boxed white wines which are not stomped upon by French women. Instead they are apparently stomped upon by less expensive women from the region around the winery in Thunderclap, New Jersey. I’m not sure of the exact chemical difference between the foot sweat of buxom French women and the women from Thunderclap, New Jersey, but by the taste of the boxed wine, I’d say it has something to do with kerosene.

At this point you’re expecting me to say something like “I like grapes, but they don’t like me.” I almost did say that since that’s really what this missive is actually about, the side effects of grapes, not the grapes themselves.

But they do like me. I’d even say that grapes love me as much or more than any other living or formerly living thing on this planet. How much do they love me? They love me jealously, protectively.

I say ‘jealously’ since once eaten they don’t seem to want to share me with anything else I may have eaten in the last few days. I say ‘protectively’ in the sense that the grapes I’ve eaten seem to be greatly concerned about all the excess, unnecessary and perhaps even harmful stuff inhabiting every dark corner of my digestive system.

Grapes not only express concern with these things, they don’t just write a terse letter or wag a condescending finger, no, grapes are rather insistent if not downright demanding. And there’s no use arguing with grapes. They don’t understand ‘let’s all just get along’ or, ‘there’s plenty of me for everybody’ or ‘for the love of God, make it stop!’ And grapes, once eaten do not sleep. They leap onto the task of eliminating competition and ridding the hallways of all hanger’s-on immediately and tirelessly.

Grapes are also like a lover in that they can make you completely forget about past troubles, fights and turmoil. While I was eating them last night it never once occurred to me that grapes always treat me this way. I am blinded to the past when I’m eating them, no recollection at all about the discomfort and pain of the aftermath that seems so clear to me now many, many hours later.

Milk makes me feel the same way. Though milk loves me the same way, jealously and protectively, I do not love milk nearly as much. I never have milk by itself, only with other things, cereal or, well, that’s pretty much it except as a minor ingredient in something I’m cooking. I can go years without a bowl of cereal, so I can also go years without consuming much raw milk in its pure natural, pasteurized, homogenized and vitamin D enriched form. And even when I do have a bowl of cereal, I always recall that it may cause some discomfort and urgency. I certainly make sure that on the rare days I do have a bowl of cereal that I did not previously consume anything nearly as volatile as the big bowl of spicy chili I had for dinner last night.

The chili, I call it either ‘bachelor chili’, or ‘Angel didn’t have time to make anything, chili’, is quick and simple and at our house, always on hand. Take some celery, peppers, (both bell peppers and a small portion of jalapeno), garlic, a thick slice of onion (diced), crushed red pepper, black pepper and just a little salt and sauté it all in a small skillet till tender. (I keep some diced peppers and celery in the freezer) Pop open a can of medium quality canned chili, stir to combine, then let it simmer for as long as it takes to make up some fresh ice tea.

Put a handful of shredded cheese and a teaspoon of sour cream in your favorite bowl (if it’s not in the dishwasher), pour in the bubbling chili then stir it around until all the sour cream has melted from the spoon.

Caution! Do not even start this process unless you have already confirmed that you have these two things close at hand!

  1. Crackers
  2. Antacid

So that’s what I had for dinner around six-thirty last night, thoroughly enjoyable while hunched over a good book. Then I didn’t do very much, which was a mistake. My little laptop suffered from a mean virus over the weekend and had not fully recovered so I spent the evening hunched over it hacking the registry and restarting it, re-running the scans, etc. This virus really loved my little laptop, jealously and protectively.

The hunched over issue is important. My digestive system does not function at it’s best if I am hunched over, it favors upright and moderate physical activity like walking or even ‘just not being hunched over’. I am a highly trained and highly skilled IT professional and thus my entire day is spent hunched over by necessity. By continuing that posture after getting home, and especially after a hearty, healthy meal, the whole digestive process slows to a heart-burning crawl.

That is unless a jealous and protective lover joins in, like milk, or grapes. They don’t care how long I was hunched over, they simply don’t care at all. They seek only to rid their new lover of all other contenders, all the other clingers. They seek to erase my system of all my past sins, the sooner the better.

Chili + hunching over+ grapes = significant discomfort.

So today, starting pretty early, I suffered not from the ‘wrath of grapes’, but rather enjoyed the rewards of healthy snacking. Grapes are good for me, they contain all that healthy vitamin and mineral stuff I’m supposed to be consuming instead of potato chips and cookies, and they’re also supposed to help keep me regular.

Regular? Right. I’ll tell ya’ this sweetheart, if this is ‘regular’. . .

So it’s been over twenty-four hours, I’m feeling a lot better now, having been so lovingly purged of nearly everything in my system. It’s left me kind of hungry though, maybe a snack would help, something healthy of course…..

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Road Trip!

This is roughly half of a two part tale. The other part can be found at:

Back in 2001 I got laid off from the company that Angel and I both worked for. The tech boom was busting, orders for our multilayer circuit boards fell off dramatically. The company, Litton Advanced Circuitry Division* (ACD) had been making circuit boards for decades, a Springfield Mo. major employer. I had worked there for fifteen years working my may up from a second shift equipment technician to Engineering Assistant, to Network Engineer and finally as Network Manager. Angel had worked there for seventeen years mostly in the electrical test area as a reworker (fixing bad boards) and test fixture fabricator.

I wasn’t shocked to be laid off; we had seen it coming for several months as the orders for circuit boards dwindled and cancellations greatly outnumbered new orders. The first layoff affected over one fourth of the company’s 800 employees, more layoffs followed. Eventually the assets were sold off, and the plant, over 200,000 square feet of heavy and high tech manufacturing, was torn down. Remnants of the operation remain as a part of Simclar Corp. in Ozark, Mo. where a handful of the former Litton employees remain.

The IT job market was not exactly booming in Springfield then so we ended up uprooting and moving to southern Maryland for the next five years. We returned to Missouri in 2006. St. Louis was the new destination, centered between my family in Kentucky and Angel’s in Springfield.

For the first few years after the layoff I lost touch with just about everyone at ACD. It was only a year or so ago, through Facebook, that I started reconnecting. A few weeks ago one of my re-found friends, Debbie, discovered an old poster celebrating ACD’s massive expansion in 1999. There were pictures of happy folks touring the shiny new facilities, thumbs-up style pictures. Someone in that discussion suggested burning it and pretty soon there was a cook-out planned. Debbie and her husband Dean were longtime employees. They live in rural Greene County and have acreage and a large deck; they would host the event, rain or shine.

I decided to attend, my first real me-time break since last July. Angel and Adam had classes to attend and dogs to board. Angel had pre-arranged Springfield lodging for me in her parent’s basement, she was quite eager for me to go. She also informed her two adult kids, Stephanie and Tyler, that I would take them out for Chinese while I was there.

On the road:

I packed a light bag, fired up the mighty Alero and hit the road Saturday morning,

BB to 30 to I-44 in St. Claire. It was overcast and drippy, the roads were moist and there were spotty sprinkles. I listened to Click and Clack (Car Talk) on NPR until KWMU’s signal faded, scanned through the lower parts of the FM dial to find another NPR station, picked up Rolla’s. They were playing ‘Whadya know?” Traffic wasn’t so bad on 44, I set my autopilot to 72 MPH and just shoved my wandering brain into the talk show.

Rolla popped up in front of me at just the right time, around eleven. I hadn’t eaten anything yet and the Alero was just under a quarter tank, I hadn’t fed it before I left either.

I know Rolla fairly well, I’ve been through it sporadically since ’77 when I was stationed at Ft. Leonard Wood. I had already decided what I wanted to eat, and if the old side of town hadn’t changed much, I knew exactly where to go: Wendy’s!

Wendy’s you say? Yeah that’s right, Wendy’s. You see, there are virtually no Wendy’s in the St. Louis area, something about lawsuits and bankruptcies. There is one in Jefferson County, but it’s to far in the wrong direction to make it convenient. I was after the chili. You’ll have to read the other blog for the details. I sat there with my chili and my bland tea and enjoyed the complete lack of cosmopolitan ambiance by reading the last couple of chapters of one of Ridley Pearson’s serial crime novels. Not exactly high literature to be sure, but that was exactly the point. For good or bad, short or long, this was my vacation.

Another sign I was outside the urban reach of St. Louis was the gas pump nozzles. In and around St. Louis, the nozzles are all surrounded by a thick, ribbed prophylactic that allegedly keeps deadly fumes from floating into St. Louis’ otherwise pristine air. Here in Rolla it was just bare metal against metal, much lighter, almost flimsy, toy-like. The rural pump was just as happy to take my ATM card as the city pumps though, for just as much.

I was back on I-44 by noon, the Alero quickly found its pace and climbed the Ozark’s hills and steep grades like they were barely there, the truckers all insanely jealous watching me pass them like they weren’t really trying.

Ft. Wood came up fast, that’s where my son Andrew was born, that’s where I fixed weather equipment at the small airfield, that’s where I was one of only a couple dozen Air Force NCO’s on an enormous Army base. Good times. Been there, done that, got the Commendation Medal.

On past booming Waynesville into Lebanon, where they build boats, lots of boats, the shiny, pointy kind with huge motors used to hunt down ferocious bass at 70MPH, bass must be really fast. I didn’t even slow down. Rolla’s radio station faded out so I dialed up KSMU, Springfield’s NPR affiliate. Crap, classical music and not even the good stuff, I was not in the mood for Dvorak in general, his minor works especially. So I smacked the CD button and played whatever was in the player. Two songs only on this one, rather one song twice, two different covers; “Major Tom (Coming Home)” That killed about fifteen minutes then I just silenced the thing.

Marshfield, then Strafford, almost there. Traffic thickened up and slowed down to a regulated 60. On to the Kansas Expressway off ramp then south into town. I recalled on hitting the ramp that there were once plans to mess with that intersection, I couldn’t recall when I’d read that but I hadn’t been to Spfld in nearly two years… sure enough a screwy but strangely effective ‘diverging diamond interchange’. (The first of its kind in the U.S.) You’ll have to look it up for yourself; it’s hard to explain in mere words:

Everything became instantly familiar, seventeen years I lived in Spfld, most of it on the north side, Kansas and Kearney almost a back yard, not that many changes. My mind made lane change decisions without being prompted, as if it even remembered the potholes.

South on Kansas Expwy to Sunshine, left, then one block, right on Kansas Street then ten or twenty blocks till I saw the familiar shrubbery of my in-laws house. Done.

I popped in and plopped down, Barb offered me a dozen or so kinds of snacks, Virgil was watching the History Channel and we discussed the merits and flaws of Billy the Kid. Barb said the horse looked like Trigger, Virgil recalled that Trigger was stuffed and on display somewhere. We chatted about their lovely daughter and her dogs, then about Angel’s kids, and their kids. They wondered if Tyler was feeling better.

A lot of guys complain about their In-laws and as an amateur humorist, I suppose it would be easy to follow suit, but other than a few quaint and harmless quirks, not so different from my own, they’re just really good people. Witty, funny, relaxed and undemanding folk. As in-laws go, I’ve hit about as close to a jackpot as I can imagine there is. They’re easily the best in-laws I’ve ever had.

I refused the snacks politely because I was planning on eating heavy at the cook-out, but mostly because the Wendy’s chili was doing a fine job reminding me that I ate it too quickly. I spared them that level of personal detail.

About three fifteen I got up and excused myself to go to the party, answered that I wasn’t sure what time I would be back. They said not to worry, if it was real late Barb would probably be puttering around the house anyway, cleaning something. It’s one of her quirks. She had steam cleaned some of the stairs well after midnight the night before.

On the way to Walnut Grove in upper Greene County, I came up to the road that I used to turn down to get to our house in Willard. I glanced at the clock, decided that I could be fashionably late and took the turn. Like a photo album things looked a lot familiar but a little different. The road was the same, winding, narrow, going up many steep hills and around a few more. This road wasn’t built to account for topography; it was built between property lines, wherever they fell.

Only a few miles to the old house, I drove up the crooked, skinny road as familiar to me as if I had walked it a hundreds of times, which I had. I slowed down as I got near the ladies, the cows in the huge pasture where the ground bottoms out and the creek cuts through. On my walks I would talk to them, ask them about the weather, we’d gossip.

These weren’t the same cows from ten years ago, we’ve probably eaten those all by now, these were newer ladies, and a few gentlemen, and of a different kind. I was accustomed to the old Holsteins and occasionally the puffy eared, almond-eyed Jerseys. These new ladies were foreign and exotic, longhorns. Horns four or five feet from east to west. I’d seen a few longhorns in my days back in Texas, and maybe more on TV, I knew what they were and said hello anyhow. I stopped and took some pictures. They didn’t seem to mind, just like the ladies from years back, they seemed barely to notice at all.

Just up the hill about a half mile was the house, the compound. A three bedroom, single story earthberm where we’d lived for five pretty good years. The kids were young so the memories are pretty clear. Somebody else’s home now, they’ve got dogs, Angel would approve.

I stopped the car and turned on the flashers, not really necessary though since you can hear the rare car coming long before you actually see it. I grabbed the camera and hid behind a tree. I snapped a couple of fast pictures.

The dogs see, hear or smell me, they’re running free toward me. I snap a couple more knowing I had some time since they had to cross the deep creek bed and I didn’t.

There’s the bridge I built, as sturdy as the day in ’95 when I built it. And the willow tree, we planted it there by the bridge when it was, what’s that song say? “‘twas just a twig.” It’s over fifty feet tall now, broad and flowing in the breeze.

Time to go, the dogs are getting closer.

Up the road, turn around. Read the directions Debbie sent. Not all that far. back on 13, left on BB toward Walnut Grove, right after a few miles, then left to get back on BB, balloons on the mailbox, got it.

The driveway’s rough gravel, there’s plenty of places to park, even with ‘The Beast’. They just bought a new RV, as big as a county. I see Dean standing beside it, ten years older but still cutting a military frame and tight haircut, unmistakable.

We shake hands and look around at The Beast, feeling quite small beside it. I take a few pictures and head up the hill to the main floor. Nice house, big, they built it themselves with a few visits to the emergency room along the way.

Out on the deck was where they were all gathered. I knew all the faces, some of the names. My job back then took me everywhere in the plant, I took care of the computers and they were everywhere. So I recognized everyone, some better than others, the names though just wouldn’t come through; though I knew most of the people they were talking about.

Danny was there, he was in maintenance back then and laughed aloud when I came up to him. He called to his wife “This is Dennis, He’s the one that told me about his billy goat f*$#!ing his chickens!”

I remembered telling him that story, must have been in ‘96 or ’97 He was on the crew remodeling the IT area and I told him about the little pygmy goat we had, small as a terrier, but with the lust of a full sized stud. He attacked everything, the chickens, the other goats, my basketball. If it moved, even just in the breeze, he married it, at least he tried. His undoing was when he laid a hungry, winking eye on Angel. Never saw that goat again. She said she took him to a farm, but that could mean more than one thing in our language. Danny laughed as hard then as he was now on the retelling. I had to do all the explaining.

Danny ended up cooking the burgers and they were beautiful. (for more on the meal, read the other blog.)

The reunion quickly devolved, as it always does with people our age, into a discussion of serious diseases and deaths and the trials and travails of those that suffered them. Then on to whatever happened to so-and-so and what are they up to now. Recall that no one got to stay at ACD, it doesn’t exist anymore so everyone is somewhere else.

The folks at the party were fun and funny and occasionally tragic, but we celebrated times past and the people we knew along the way. I was a part of this peculiar and diverse family for exactly as long as I was at home in Kentucky with my own flesh and blood. At points it was surreal, once familiar names and events swept through and disoriented me, where was I? When was I?

Some of them were getting smashed, I stayed stubbornly sober. The crooked, dark, wet, unfamiliar road scared me enough to drink only tea, but it was good tea, Debbie made it just right, strong and fresh, non-chlorinated water.

I left at around nine-thirty; the drive back was swift and uneventful. North Springfield on a Saturday night is not quite the raucous spectacle as you might imagine, especially since they cracked down on cruising and drag racing on Kearney Street twenty years or so back.

Barb and Virgil were still up, watching 48 Hours, a true crime show. I told them about being approached by a lady wanting me to write about the murder of her sister and niece in the ‘80’s. They were impressed; I’m just intimidated.

They went to bed at ten-something, I stayed up for a bit, they had offered me snacks again, and I politely refused as I had fulfilled my plans of stuffing myself with cook-out grub.

I had no wine with me; wine is the only thing I’ve found that overwhelms my normal insomniac state at night. I was tired though, the day had started early and been filled with things all day. I went to the basement, darker than deep space, and found the bed. I don’t recall taking long to fall asleep.

Minutes later though I could hear Barb puttering around upstairs, cleaning something.

I didn’t wake up again till seven thirty when I heard Virgil overhead. I got up, dressed and joined him for the morning paper, some coffee, and the Local TV news. About eight the thunder started, by eight fifteen it was overhead, raining heavy. By nine thirty it had reduced to a thin shower. I called Tyler, asked if he felt good enough to go to lunch, he said yeah, his ear was plugged up but other than that he’d be fine. I told him to call his sister and pick a good Chinese place, call me back when it’s figured out. About eleven would be best since I had a long, dull drive and a pile of laundry ahead of me.

We met at the place called ‘Jade Dynasty’ on Battlefield Road, across from the Food 4 Less. I got there about five till. Tyler and his delightful wife Tonya were there already sitting in their square, copper colored vehicle that I recognized immediately, helped by the fact that there were no other cars in the lot. It was sprinkling a little but the clouds were starting to pull apart and surrender. I got out of my car and got into the backseat of theirs. They apologized for the mess, I laughed and assured them that my car was worse, much worse, like a dumpster the day before weekly pickup, not too far from the truth.

“They open at eleven.” He said. I felt bad since when I was coming up with a good time I was only thinking about my own schedule, not that of the restaurant. Soon though other cars arrived, then Steph’s. I’d heard about her new significant friend Chris, but had never met him. Steph’s kids crawled out of the car, Alexis (Lexie), 5 and Corbin, 3. I hadn’t seen them in more than a year. They’re pretty kids, and their mother is exceptional with them despite the struggles of her daily life.

The door opened and a few families spilled in ahead of us. (more about the place and the food on the other blog).

This was unusual, this taking out the step-kids, but not too terribly awkward. I’d been a part of their lives since they were preschoolers, not all the time smooth, but we’re all adults now, so the little stuff just doesn’t matter anymore.

Tyler told of his home repairs and improvements and Tonya joined in with stories about the new puppy. They’ve got a cat or two already and a French bulldog named Jag, who we’ve puppy-sat a few times. The new puppy is a Chi-Weenie. A Chihuahua and long haired Dachshund mix, to be named ‘Grover.’ They had pictures on their phones. A new grand-puppy, sweet.

I sat opposite Lexie and Corbin they entertained us all. Lexie has a sweet, animated, sing-songy voice that never stops working. Corbin, though more serious is quite agreeable and for a three year old, quite articulate, aping his sister’s words frequently. He informed us that he ate green food so his hair wouldn’t fall out. Steph agreed. I knew this was just an innocent mommy-lie to get him to eat veggies, Steph’s prerogative, none of my business; I’ve screwed up enough kids in my life to think I know any better.

I asked him if lime Jell-O counted as green food. He answered that he wanted ice cream.

It was all done in about an hour, I needed to get on the road and they had lives to get back to. We parted ways and I headed over to Sunshine street, to a Chinese restaurant, the Canton Inn.

It’s not as stupid as I am sure it sounds, here’s the deal. I was picking up a CARE package for Angel and Adam. Angel insists that the Canton Inn’s egg rolls and wontons are better than those found anywhere else on this side of the known universe. She claims they stay crispy even after a two hundred mile drive and a couple of rounds in the microwave. She’s right. So I was under strict instructions to not show up at home with anything less than an enormous pile of eggrolls and wontons from the Canton Inn.

While I was waiting for the order, in walks Randy, a former Litton-ite that was not at the party the night before. Just a fluke, a coincidence, he’s not even on Facebook. We chatted for ten minutes or so, really nice to see him again, he’s an engineer, sharp and disciplined.

I left there in a good mood; the visit had been short, but nice.

I-44 was busy heading north/east, much heavier than on Saturday. It stayed up to the speed limit though and the miles clicked away. Somewhere past Ft. Wood it started getting dark, I’d caught up with that rain. The rain always takes I-44 across Missouri, it’s faster than the back roads.

I pulled in for gas at the same station in Rolla. The rain was light but promising to get heavier. I filled up the car, and then ducked inside for the restroom, the Chinese food was sitting pretty heavy. On the way out I picked up bottled water and some low dose speed, a package of Zingers. Glad I did, the rain got heavy all the way to my exit in St Claire, an hour or more of drowsy, rhythmic white noise. I was nap-less and tired, the Zingers kept me conscious, slightly buzzed. The stereo refused to play anything I wanted to listen to, my only other CD’s hidden somewhere in the far, darker reaches of the Alero.

I took highway 30, the rain stayed on I-44, at least most of it. A slower car ahead of me pretended I didn’t exist and stayed at it’s snail’s pace along the narrow, curvy road, it was turning into forever. To highway BB, the final stretch, and the worst. BB is to roads what flip-flops are to shoes, more a nuisance than a solution.

To Klondike, a mile to go. Slow sprinkles following me into the driveway, home. I unloaded in one armload and found Adam, said hey. I found his mom out in the big building with a couple of the dogs, they were learning to go up and down a ramp she’d built. I answered “fine” and “great” and “really nice” then announced that it was time for me to pass out. She asked if I was tired, I merely responded that I’d slept in her mom’s basement. She understood. I napped for an hour, unable to go longer because of the residual sugar buzz, got up and started my laundry.

I checked Facebook, somebody realized that we had neglected to burn the posters, the original point of the cook-out. Debbie, or somebody answered back that we should pass the poster on to someone else in the group, then they could hold the next party and we could forget to burn them there as well, giving birth to a new tradition of intentional forgetfulness.

I’ll go.

* Northrop Grumman bought Litton Industries in late 1999. Those of us that had been there for a few years never could really wrap our tongues around calling it Northrop, and since the plant was all but completely shut down a little more than a year later, I don’t think the newer name will ever stick. Northrop was not responsible for the tech industry bust of 2001, but they certainly didn’t toss out a very big life preserver. We all suspected they were really just after the shipyards.