This picture was taken on this All Hallow’s Eve while Trick-or-Treating with the kids. I could count on one hand the number of houses that were fully decorated, and I’d like to address that in a second. But first, I’d like to point out that yes, that’s a bunny sitting quite contently in someone’s front yard. After conversing with the homeowner, we found out that it wasn’t his bunny, he just likes to hang out in his yard. Which, I guess would be slightly probable for this area. This isn’t the first rabbit I’ve seen hanging around here.
But still, some people go all out with the spoopy factor for their yard display. This guy just has a single bun-bun.
Worst. Halloween display. Everrrrr.
Still though, it is a black bunny, so it’s kinda scary? And knowing my luck, this one would just happen to be the one with big, nasty, pointy teeth and bones strewn about its lair. But luckily, I didn’t doubt my courage or my strength, so I snapped a picture before he hopped away.
The people that live across the street from him had a more involved display, turning their front lawn into a festive graveyard festooned with blinking lights, tiny, cartoonish graves and Dollar Store cobwebs. A half a block away, another with the same motif. But between the first one and the last one and the majority in between, the houses were dark. Nobody home; the universal language of “no candy here”. Not many revelers out in the street either. I’m used to being run over by squads of screaming children, hyped up on too many Kit Kats, and dressed in their store bought costumes. Last night, I was lucky to see two families out, and even then they were on their way home. For lack of a better term, my neighborhood was a ghost town.
Why is this?
Well, most of the reasons seem pretty obvious this year.
For starters, there just so happened to be a Category 3 hurricane that mowed down most of the eastern coast of Central Florida before lumbering north and flooding the Carolinas.
Maybe you’ve heard of it?
The aftermath left a bunch of damaged houses, and many more oak trees snapped into kindling. For the most part, there were some damages done, but it was nothing we haven’t lived through before.
Weeks later, we are still cleaning up, and life goes on. People are still repairing their roofs. Chainsaws are still grinding away, and the debris trucks will be holding up traffic for a little while longer.
In the meantime, trees still lay in segments along a busy road with no sidewalks. Not the most ideal situation for kids to try and navigate.
It’s a Monday, fercrissakes…
I mean, c’mon! Monday? If you weren’t a traditionalist like some of us, you would have sidestepped this little conundrum and had your Halloween-y whatnots taken care of over the weekend. Partying for the past two days in your costume puts you in no mood for dealing with throngs of sugar fueled children.
Most of us have to work in the morning. Besides, isn’t there a game on? Burp Fart Scratch
It’s an Election Year
Admit it, while some of your kids might be a little fearful of stepping onto some stranger’s porch that’s rigged with motion sensor jump scare contraptions, you kinda felt the same way when you walked up to a house with about a dozen Trump signs propped up in the front lawn like cartoonish gravestones. “Oh, there’s nothing to be scared of,” you repeat to yourself as you walk passed the chained up pit bull and old engine-less pickup truck. “I’m sure they’re nice people.” Then you see the stars and bars backlit in the living room window. Then the gun rack. And then another. Then the chill goes down your spine when you see them smile on their porch, and they all have three teeth between them.
shines flashlight under chin
…AND ALL THEY HAVE IS CANDY CORN AND STALE CIRCUS PEANUTS! MUH- HAAHAHAHAHAAAAA! NIGHTY-NIGHT, KIDDIES!
It could be nothing. It could be that I haven’t properly canvassed this area. I’ve lived in this part of town for two years and I still haven’t got a feel for it. I spend too much time hiding inside to notice or care. Maybe it’s always been like this.
Then again, maybe it’s all the above factors rolled into one big excuse to sit this one out this year. The heart’s just not into it this year. It needs a breather.
Then again, maybe it’s because I live in a suitcase community. On one side of us, there is the beach. The other, a river. In between, rows of tiny houses built in the 1950s. Most of them occupied, a lot of them with “for rent” signs out front. Rent is too high for the locals, so that means flocks of Snowbirds flock down here in their Mercedes Benz’s to escape the chilly grasp of Northern winters for a few months. They are congenial and lovely, but deep down, I think they feel about as out of place as I do. None of us have any idea what’s going on.
Then again, maybe everyone that lives here are complete d-bags and hate hate HATE Halloween like some Grinch who’s getting his list done early.
And I surely hope that isn’t the case.
I hope that we haven’t become as jaded about Halloween as we have about Christmas. I hope that somewhere there is that spirit of the holiday hasn’t completely died.
Why I bring this up is because it concerns me a little when things like this happen. Halloween isn’t just for the kids. I’ve seen plenty of adults light up like a Hollywood marquis on opening night because this night is their time to shine. The sense of wonderment that you once felt as a child, whether you were too afraid to climb up the porch, or running with the pack of department store Power Rangers. The sense that we still have the capacity for letting the unknown into our lives. At least for a little bit. We still have the ability to be shocked, to have a laugh, to worry that you might be showing up to your office party in a lame costume, and realize that 4 or 5 people are thinking the same thing. It takes one night out of 365 to make us realize how human we are, and lately, it feels like it might be slipping away.
I bring this up because it concerns me. There is nothing sadder than an adult who has lost his capacity to celebrate just for the sake of celebrating. It concerns me, because it makes me sad and a little nervous that there are darker forces than ghosts and vampires who cast a pall over this night, and darken house after house. Have we become that jaded? Have we let this year grind us down? We have let the screaming heads guide us by fear. We are a divided country. One we haven’t seen in a long time. One night passing out the candy in costume. One night to join in with a parade. One night to commune with the beasts and the bunnies. One night to reclaim that wonder we once had as a child.
I think we all deserve it.
On a related note, a neighborhood that goes completely dark while a black bunny roams the streets just might be another thing to add to my Work In Progress file.
Baton Rouge Falcon Heights Dallas Too many places to count Too many places to mourn.
I wrote this last year on my other blog. Then as now, I am tired of seeing innocents getting shot because of the color of their skin. I am tired of the injustice, and the wheels that grind so slowly and accomplish nothing.
Yesterday, a black man was shot point blank by a cop for selling CDs from his car. Today, a black man is shot dead for following an officer’s order to show ID. Tonight, Dallas is on edge as a shooter takes out his prey from the shadows.
This will not end. I fear that this will never end. I cannot sit by and watch this happen. I need to say something. The only thing I can do, the only thing that is in my power is to scream as loud and as often as I can in the form of a poem, framed in a blog post.
How many more times do I have to keep posting this?
I’m tired. I need to go to bed so I can get up in the morning and write my little insignificant story. Hopefully, nobody kills each other tomorrow.
Thanks for reading…
There was a period of time back in the early 90s where the albums, “No More Cocoons”and
“Fear of a Black Planet” were in heavy rotation on my CD player. Both Jello Biafra and Chuck D were (are) prime examples of what first came to mind whenever I think of “Slam Poetry”.
At the time, it was new to me. The anarchic spitting of some of its finer authors who felt the constraints of society through verses that could barely contain their rage, let alone a classic structure, spoke to me that there was more to poetry than couplets and iambic pentameter. It signaled to me that poetry wasn’t just empty drivel in a greeting card. Poetry could love, be passionate, and rage in more ways than I thought possible.
Although I am a fan, I’m not a practitioner. What I would sweat for hours over a notebook page for was done so much better, and more effortlessly by my heroes.
Recently though, I’ve been feeling it.
I have committed to myself to write on a more regular basis these days. If I’m going to be an author, I need to practice every day. And even though I’d like to sequester myself from society so that I may accomplish my lofty, literary goals, it doesn’t seem feasible when there is a toddler that needs your attention.
So, I write when I can.
Sometimes, it’s real life that gets in the way. Sometimes, it’s my own fear and doubt. Other times, it’s what’s happening in the world, and the feeling of helplessness when you feel you can’t do anything about it.
For the record: Politically speaking, I lean to the left, although I am in closer alignment to the Green Party. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing.
These past few months have been building up to a personal crescendo for me when I see which way the wind is blowing in terms of social and fiscal accountability from our elected officials, our reasoning when it comes to choosing new elected officials and who is getting more exposure for the wrong reasons, and of course our endless obsession with violence.
I should watch more Netflix and less cable news. I should spend more time on Cheezburger than Twitter. I should focus more on making my kids happy.
Instead, I get sucked into it.
With apologies to Jello, Chuck, and everyone else who spits, slings, screams their own voice of revolution, here’s my release. And by release, I mean “release me from thinking about this so I can move on to other things…”
You seem confused when it comes
To protecting the ones
Who elected you to do so.
The streets are filled
With raised fists
And raised voices
Screaming and waiting for protection
And for you to follow through, so
You vilify and separate.
Intellectuals are Enemy of the State.
Brown skinned people on TV feed your hate.
Anything to justify using the gun you bought.
Everybody else’s Freedom is an afterthought.
Hundreds dead from the fear you wrought.
I can’t feel sorry about your sinking yacht,
When all you do is rearrange the chairs.
The bodies pile up, and all you give are thoughts and prayers.
Who’ll clean up the oil spills?
How ‘bout our health care?
What about our homeless and hungry and disabled veterans?
Not every issue can be solved
With guns blazing.
You forget that we’re all responsible
For the children that we’re raising.
Or, does it not matter anymore
Now that it’s not in the womb?
Children are a statistic
That are groomed to consume
All the crap that they see on TV
And then, BOOM!
Twenty dead kids are presented as fictional ruse?
Twenty dead kids is not a lie.
TWENTY DEAD KIDS IS NOT A LIE!
Unless the one who pulled the trigger was an “alien”,
All you get are lifeless stares.
Unless the kids that got shot
Are related to a Senator or a celebrity, no one cares.
We’ll tear down your school,
And put up a prison
That’s built on thoughts and prayers.
Stop me if you heard this one.
A man walks into a church,
Kills everyone inside.
A man walks into a theater,
Kills everyone inside.
A man walks onto a campus,
Kills everyone in sight.
Cuz their white.
They get taken in alive.
Meanwhile a black kid gets gunned down for
Crossing the street.
The poor, the sick, the huddled masses,
Get turned out on their ear
Because they don’t meet
The Christian Criteria for our homegrown terror.
They are ones who should be feared.
Not us, we’re the good guys, remember?
They walk down stairs, alone and in pairs
and slaughter in the name of their god…
You won’t even acknowledge the blood on your hands
Because that’s not what your so-called holy leader demands
He commands you to make sure his empire
Expands and expands
Along with his profits and shares
At the expense of the lives of innocent kids
I could give a shit about your thoughts and prayers.
You say you see the problem
You say you know the solution
Arm the babies
Arm the teachers
Turn every neighborhood to a “Guns and Ammo” Theme Park
Because the problem isn’t us.
It’s never been us.
The problem is not that we’re poorly educated
Easily influenced, easily intimidated, easily manipulated
Overprivileged, trigger happy, flag waving, Bible thumping, diabetes prone,
Armchair Jeebus Freaks.
The problem is just over our border,
Over our heads
The danger of the unknown
The terror of the other.
It’s those brown people, black people, yellow people,
People who worship different gods, eat different foods,
Sing different songs.
You say you see the problem
You say you know the solution
And so its shut down our borders,
Lock up anyone who doesn’t look like you.
Sell more guns, spread your hate,
Shoot anyone who doesn’t worship your god
And deport the rest
Because, fuck ‘em, right? They’re never going to learn English anyway.
We don’t want to listen,
And we don’t want to learn.
It’s our fault that we can’t help ourselves, as far as you’re concerned.
It’s hard to have empathy
When your head’s up the ass of billionaires.
We need to protect us from ourselves.
Spare me your thoughts and prayers.
The Old Way; The Way I’ve Been Doing it for Years…
Make Dough the Night Before I Need It.
When I first started, I made the dough the day of instead of the night before. I could get away with it, technically, it was totally possible to do so. However, while it would make a deliciously puffy (albeit difficult to work with) dough, it wouldn’t have that same nutty, yeasty, gluteny flavor that is achieved when the yeast and the sugars have time to mingle for at least 18 hours. I eventually learned to make enough dough to be divided and bagged in freezer-proof Zip-Lock bags; using what I need and freezing the rest.
Remember the Ratios
When I first started, I used a scientific approach to my dough making; accumulating various methods and recipes, putting them all in a bowl and mixing it up with previous experience. The first few results were as expected…awful…my notes reflected as such, “next time, do this instead of that…use more of this and less of that…” There was a time where I just gave up. I was presented with a choice; spend time and effort on something trivial, or just give up and order out.
I pouted for a few months.
Then, one day I realized that the little things mean much more to me than the bigger picture, and I jumped right back into it. All I needed was a little more knowledge, a little more finesse. Bread is a living thing and it cannot be constructed as one would build a bookshelf…it must be nurtured. It took a few tries, but I finally hit my stride. The result of which was making dough regularly. So much to the point where I no longer relied on any recipe on paper, it was a “sense memory” thing. Something more akin to a chef or a baker who actually knows what they’re doing.
I’ve been making dough for over ten years now, and still I rely somewhat on measurements. In the beginning, I relied on my chicken scratch notes because it wasn’t automatic yet. Then dough making turned into a Friday night ritual to prep for my Saturday night ritual of making it. As the weeks and months pass, I just knew that this much flour meant this much yeast which that much water and so on. For years now, the result of my labor has just been…sustainably adequate. Maybe I got bored. Maybe my taste buds have gone blind and have given up trying long ago. Whatever the reason, I’ve made no secret that I wanted to change it, but I never dared to do anything for fear of something falling apart. Remember the ratios. Remember the crushing failures of the past.
For years, it has been fairly consistent. And I’ve been silently indifferent.
Never Get the Sauce from a Jar.
Ever. Always make it fresh. I will not bend on that. Always make it fresh. Make it with real ingredients. Forget that the price of fresh produce is going up, grab that basket of Roma tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market and get back in the kitchen. So what if it tastes a little…funny? It’s fresh! It’s…organic ‘n stuff! It’s supposed to taste like this.
While trying to be as accurate as possible with the construction of the dough, I would “eyeball” the ingredients for the sauce. It would taste different with every batch. That would be okay, because honestly, the dough would vary in taste and consistency every time too, no matter how much attention I paid to it.
This is how its been for years. Homemade pizza would be our Saturday night thing. It would be the thing that holds the family together. It would teach the kids that daddy can cook too, and he can do it better than anything pulled out of a microwave. There was even a moment in time where my ego was so bloated that I considered opening a pizzeria of my own. The problem was that even though I looked forward to every Saturday night and making something that everyone could eat and hopefully enjoy, the end product that I was pulling out of the oven was good. And that’s not a complement. It was good. I was shooting for great.
It didn’t taste good. I mean, it didn’t taste awful, it just tasted…well…off. It wasn’t enjoyable. My feelings were confirmed when my daughter takes her slice and picks at it. She usually eats half of it before she quits halfway through, up until recently, she couldn’t even do that. I mean, it’s PIZZA for cryin’ out loud! PIZZA!! If your kid picks at a slice of pizza like some kids push lima beans to the side of a plate, then congratulations, you just made something so horrible that they would rather choke down a Papa John’s pizza rather than endure eating what you made. Way to go…you suck.
Things had to change. In doing the same thing for years, I have become slave to the action, I had become complacent. If I took a step outside myself and observed my pizza from another point of view, it didn’t matter that it was good enough or not. It was pizza, and it was fresh, and daddy was making it. There could be no wrong coming from this. Only, I could tell. It wasn’t right, and I couldn’t go through another week foisting a sub-par product to my family. I mean, if I’m not wowing them on a weekly basis, how would I hypothetically survive opening up a shop?
Things had to change.
And so they did…
Old Dough Recipe (prep time: 2 Days):
5 Cups High Gluten Flour
1 tsp. Dry Active Yeast
1 Tbl. light brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbl. olive oil
~3 Cups warm (between 95° and 110° F) water.
I recommend starting off with clean water. If you don’t have access to a Brita Water Filtration System, then a jug of filtered water, the kind you collect in your shelter in case a hurricane rips through your neighborhood? The store brand kind? The ones that are like under a buck each? Yeah, one of those will work nicely.
You’ll need around 3 cups, not exactly 3 cups. The reason being is that there is a crucial point in dough making when you have to slowly incorporate wet to dry ingredients. Too much wet, and it’ll turn into paste. Not enough, and it’s a modern art sculpture. I’ll get into the details later.
Warm the water to around 110°. Heating it in a microwave safe vessel is okay, I prefer to warm my water the old fashioned way of pouring it into a small saucepan, placing it on the back burner of my stove, turning the burner to low and busy myself with other things while it gets up to temperature.
While that’s working, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. If you don’t have one of these…well…don’t fret, the gift giving season is right around the corner. I used to mix by hand for a few years until I got one of these and realized how much my wrists have turned to stone. I recommend the stand mixer, it’ll save a lot of time, and it’ll save your arms…unless…ya know…you’re into that whole “beefy arms” thing.
Anyway, as stated previously, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl and mix on low speed using the whisk attachment. The yeast and the sugar need to do their happy dance in the flour, so you need to play the tune by mixing for 2-3 minutes. Once they’re all incorporated, add the salt while the machine is running, and continue mixing for another 2-3 minutes. Not only are you making the yeast happy, you’re also incorporating a little air to the mixture…let’s get to that later…maybe.
Stop mixing, and replace the whisk attachment with the dough hook. Dump the olive oil into the flour mix, and turn on your machine to a low speed.
Now, here’s where you’re undivided attention is needed. Not on me, your mix….although…I wouldn’t mind some attention…maybe sometime…go out for coffee? Or, I dunno…an invitation to join TSŪ…maybe a gift certificate to Harbor Freight Tools…a Macbook Pro?…HEY! Pay attention!
The reason you need to get your water as close to 110° F as possible is that you need to transfer that water into a measuring cup. Doing so (especially if you’re using a Pyrex measuring cup) will drop the temperature of the water by a few degrees. You’ve removed it from the heat twice (once from the stove and once from the hot cooking vessel), so you’ll end up with water that’s closer to 105°…WHICH IS OKAY! any lower, and the dough will go stiff. Hotter than 110° and you have a sticky mess on your hands. 105 is the Goldilocks Zone. (You might want to keep one of these babies handy.)
Slowly pour 2 cups of the water into mix while your dough hook enabled machine is running. Increase the speed of the machine slightly. Your goal at this point is to make gluten; to make sure the dough is at the right consistency to work with. Now, there are many different ways to tell if your dough is ready, but the easiest way is to peek inside of the bowl and make sure that the sides of the bowl are cleaned by the dough as it moves around inside. To do this, you’ll need to pour more of the warmed water into the mix, a few drops at a time. Once the sides of the bowl are clean, you should be close. Don’t worry if the dough sticks to the hook and/or to the bottom of the bowl. A little is workable, if it’s too wet, keep mixing and incorporate more flour into the mix with the machine running. Let the machine run for at least 5 minutes, then remove the bowl from the mixer, loosely cover the bowl (they say to “loosely cover the bowl in plastic wrap”. I use a clean dinner plate. Works just as well, and its more versatile…stay tuned) with the dough still inside, and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Turn out your dough onto a flat, floured surface and knead by hand. There are many recipes out there that tell you to hand need for at least 10 minutes. That’s a bit excessive since the more you knead, the stiffer and unpleasant the crust will be. You will need to…um….knead…but only until there’s a good amount of give to the dough; it’ll contract (bounce back) if you press down on it. Knead and roll the dough into a ball.
Next, you will need a dough scraper, and a kitchen scale. Your dough ball should weigh in the neighborhood of 3lbs. Use your dough scraper to equally divide the dough ball into 4 smaller balls. These should be around 12 oz. a piece (if you have extra, divide it and spread it evenly as you can amongst your balls… stop laughing).
I could go into a step-by-step on how handle the dough at this point, and I may someday revisit this subject complete with video instruction starring me (you have been warned). But for now, let’s see how the pros do it…
After you roll them up, use your plate that you used to cover up your dough earlier and drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil in it. Roll a dough ball around in it so it receives a lite coating. Then you should, as Mr. Gemignani pointed out, place each ball in individual zip lock bags (gallon sized will do the trick). Make sure you get as much air out of the bags as possible, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Place your balls in the freezer. The longer they stay in there, the better they’ll taste….stop LAUGHING! If making pizza the next day, take as many as you need out of the freezer, and place in the refrigerator. Remember to take them out at least 2 hours before baking.
The New Recipe. The One I Discovered a Month Ago:
The same as above, except add another teaspoon of yeast and divide the dough to 1 lb. portions. Much better; nice chew, very tender, wonderful aroma and mouth feel.
Now, the dough has been modified for the better, why stop there? On to the sauce!
The Old and Busted Sauce Recipe:
Roma Tomatoes (I highly…HIGHLY recommend going to your local Farmer’s Market for these. The bigger, the better. The ones you get from a supermarket or “Wally World” are just way too small and flavorless and…gross.) Depending on the size, you’ll need anywhere from 6-8 (slightly over a quart). Make sure they’re ripe. If they’re slightly orange and/or not as squishy, the sauce will give a very “bright” flavor, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
4-5 cloves fresh garlic roughly chopped
(2) 5.5 fl oz (2 small cans) tomato juice
1 tsp. sugar
I’d like to take a moment to point out that the rest of the recipe is not in exact measurements…remember… “eyeballing” So, just like you’re Nonna did in the old country…follow your nose…it always knows…the flavor of fruit (that’s a 70s reference, kids. Go ask your parents).
Peel your tomatoes. Again, not getting into how to do it here, so here’s an informative video… //www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/bgjJZRnpS24
Add all the ingredients to a pot and introduce an immersion hand blender to the party and blend until saucy. Place pot back on the stove (the warm part where you boiled the water) and cover until room temp. The residual heat will cook the sauce gently.
Now, this has been my sauce for years. This is the sauce that I’ve been convincing myself that is the best thing in the universe. The thing is, and I’m basing this on experience, it has a tendency to turn on you the longer it stays in your fridge. I recommend freezing what you don’t use. This sauce, while made with fresh ingredients, isn’t that good and will turn sour within a month. This is the sauce that I’ve been fooling myself with. This sauce…for lack of a better term…sucks. So, in order to get out of the suck, I turned to the internet while swallowing the fact that sometimes, I just don’t know what I’m doing.
New Hotness Sauce Recipe:
(2) 15oz. cans of tomato sauce (30 oz.)
(1) 12oz. can of tomato paste
1 Tbl. Italian Seasoning (I know, I know, “how could I?” you gasp,but it’s better this way. Trust me.)
1 Tbl. dried oregano
~1 tsp. crushed fennel seed
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
Combine sauce & paste in a large saucepan over medium heat. While that’s working, crush your fennel seeds. Don’t have one of these yet? Remember…gift giving season…Macbook Pro…FOCUS!
Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly (making sure not to burn). Reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool, apply to pizza….yadda yadda yadda.
Now, the consequence of turning “mouth blind” as it were, is that when you apply something new to something established, there are bound to be repercussions. If done wrong, your family and friends will turn on you quicker than my old sauce taking up way too much room in the ice box. You will become a pariah and turned away from your next book club meeting. If done right, you will witness the initial shock, then the inevitable expression of “what have you done?, then the denial…then the acceptance…then the moment where you forget about the old sauce altogether.
Honestly, I didn’t know how everyone would react as I presented my pizza v. 2.0 for my family. My girlfriend went through the stages mentioned above, my infant son raged and fussed until he got a piece of the pizza crust, but the icing on the cake…the image that made my night, was to see my baby girl, fussiest eater on the planet, not only ate the ENTIRE slice of pizza, but it was intact as she was eating it; no picking, no pruning, no uck face… just devoured. Silently. Whole. Proud papa came back that night when a clean plate was in front his daughter.
My reaction upon eating it?
IT TASTES JUST LIKE PIZZA!
Pizza at last, pizza at last, great googly-moogly, pizza at last. I had forgotten what it tasted like. After scalding the roof of my mouth, I was brought back to the pizza of my childhood; I was brought back to the pizza shop on the other side of town that we used to go to on special occasions. I also wondered why I’ve been denying myself this for years. Why I was so resistant to change? Philosophical quandaries aside, I was finally where I want to be in my pizza-fu. It was wonderful.
It took me years of muttering to myself of how dissatisfied I was in order for me to get to the point of doing something about it.
And then I actually did something about it.
I was going to title this post, “Defining Madness” or something to that effect. It took me years of muttering to myself like a madman to come to the conclusion that I’ve spent a lot of time muttering to myself like a madman. Like someone lost in madness. Like someone who does something over and over again thinking the outcome will be different every time.
I was going to frame this revelation in the scope of how my attitude has been changing as of late…
If you can’t find it, make it.
If it’s not right, change it.
If it’s bad, walk away.
If all your good intentions and intelligence and talent aren’t putting you in the place you want to be, like say, every time I apply for a job, then perhaps its time to re-prioritize, re-think and recognize other paths in front of me.
If you don’t recognize your own talent and capacity for change, then I don’t know what to say. It’s inside you. It always has been.
It’s amazing how wonderfully huge the world can be through younger eyes. A hedgerow is thick, dense forest. A row of suburban houses is a castle wall. By the same token, it’s amazingly tragic how much the same world shrinks in the eyes of an adult. A hedgerow is something to trim. The row of suburban houses, a wall meant to keep the public unpleasantness out and the private unpleasantness in. To the young, impressionable eyes that first set eyes on Saint Anthony’s Home, it’s facade is a castle filled with the tales of valiant knights and beautiful princesses. To the more mature eyes of the ones who spent her fair share of years there, Emily now sees it as just another old building filled with stories that she would just as soon forget.
There was a brief moment of time in Emily’s life where she thought it would be a wise idea to join a convent. Her personal demons whispered in her ear for most of her late teens, and she felt the only way to get them to stop was to give her life to the Sisterhood, which she did, for a few years. Because of her young age, and late indoctrination into the faith, her responsibilities mainly revolved around the well being of the children and not much else; feeding, cleaning, learning of grace and reader of the occasional bed time story. It wasn’t long before her demons left her alone. After ten years of acting as a surrogate, and realizing that she wasn’t going to progress any further, she packed her belongings and left the home in search for a more fulfilling life, and perhaps, if time permitted, a child of her own.
Years later, she returns to these halls. This time as the Home’s most loyal social worker. Although the stone walls are still high and the tile floors still amplify every heel from every step, they no longer hold the ominous wonder they did when she was younger. It was no longer a castle, it was just another office building.
“Ah, it’s good to see you again, Emily.” Sister Mary Margret was always so cheerful; a smile seemed
permanently attached to her face, followed by the grasp of her cold, bony hand. It didn’t matter that Emily walked out on her so many years ago, Mary’s calling was to nurture and offer charity to an otherwise cruel world.
Emily tried to smile as she took her hand. The memories of every horror story from every child beginning to creep into her mind and pollute the otherwise Christmas Morning-type greeting that her former mentor doled out for free. “Afternoon, Sister Mary,” was all she could muster through a forced smile. As a teenager, she would open up her entire world to her. As an adult she is always all about the task at hand. There was little room for small talk or pleasantries, except when it came to Sister Mary. Emily would always allow a small concession. “How’ve you been?””Oh, I could never complain, child. It wouldn’t do much good,” said Mary with delicate cackle of a grandmother’s laugh. “I trust you’ve taken a moment to go over the files?”
“Yes,” said Emily as she flipped through the folder that was on the top of the pile, “Although, I’m a little confused. When we talked last, you told me that there was something wrong with this set of siblings that came to you recently.”
“Okay, well going by their most recent medical records, you had them go through physical and mental evaluations. First opinions, second opinions and even a note from the clergy, all giving clean bills of health.”
Emily has endured years of the tales of abuse from the runaways and orphans. Every story devolving into more horrific tales as the years went on. She has put herself through college and suffered the years of indignation from every male colleague and professor to finish in the top percentile of her class. She has survived a failed marriage. She even managed to live through her own daughter dying in her arms. She has survived. And yet, she still gets a chill down her spine whenever her former mentor would not be as forthcoming as she normally would be. It usually meant that something was beyond her grasp, and that usually meant trouble. Emily studied her poker face. She knew her expressions. The more dire the situation, the quicker her familiar smile would leave her lips. The Sister’s face was a few degrees above dire. Emily closed the file, took a deep breath, took a step forward and whispered at Confessional level, “I’m not going to like what I’m about to hear, am I?”
“Well, yes… and no, dear. Look, you and I have heard stories of the worst evil imaginable, in the case of these children that came into my protection, it doesn’t appear to be the case. There was no abuse, no trouble with the authorities, just three children without much of a past.”
“Hey Joey, guess what?” It was the question he’d always start with.
“What, Tommy?” I said giving in to the inevitable cycle of our conversation. “Chicken butt.” The chortling would literally not stop for minutes. And I will admit, it was infectious.
We just walked passed the lawn and garden store. It wouldn’t be long now. Tommy and I would cut through vacant parking lots on our way to the school bus stop every morning, it seemed, until we went to separate high schools many years later. We lived on the outer edge of a suburban labyrinth that would stretch out for acres. From where we lived, it was a mile (or so) walk from the edge of the community, through vacant strip mall parking lots, to where our bus stop waited; at the edge of an aging industrial park.
When we were young we had to hoof-it, as our parents would say. They had to walk everywhere they went when they were kids, so why should we be bestowed the privilege of a ride to someplace that is practically in our back yard. It’s not like we argued. A few years later, and we could ride our bikes to school. A few years later, and we could drive ourselves. We walked. It’s what we did. Of course, these were the days when it was safe for children to walk to school unattended. We walked. It’s what we did.
Our feet just hit the sidewalk outside of the local Burger King. Closer now. Tommy was a bit of a nervous talker. Without fail, from the moment we left our neighborhood it was non-stop about what was on TV last night, pieces of wisdom his father imparted on him, what he had for dinner last night, what he had for breakfast this morning, all spun together in a dizzying stream of logic, that is seemingly delivered without pause for breath. “…and my mom said if I ate my vegetables, I could stay up and watch Knight Rider. Which I think is pretty cool because I think that the Trans Am is the best car that was ever made, at least that what my dad says because he works on cars…” and on and on. Tommy didn’t have very many friends. That responsibility fell to me. Tommy was helplessly overweight, socially awkward, smelled vaguely of rotten milk, waddled when he walked, and yes the volume of his voice increased whenever he got excited so much so that it practically squeaked. As for myself, I was a latchkey kid, a conciliatory prize in a messy divorce that was packed up with the rest of my mother’s belongings, and forced to start all over again in another town which essentially makes me the new kid in town, which means nobody talks to you, which means for good or ill, Tommy and I were close compatriots. We needed each other.
“…yeah and so I totally used that as the answer in my test last week…” Tommy was a bit of a nervous talker. He would fill every empty space with white noise as best he could. I suppose it’s because I was the only one in his as-of-this-point short life who would give him free reign to do so. I let him go and do his thing, occasionally throwing in a “yeah?” or a, “nuh-uh.” just to let him know that I’m still here. I let him do his thing because right about now, mere feet away from our bus stop, at the edge of an aging industrial park, is where he would start to fade and sputter like a light bulb. It wouldn’t be noticeable at first, then the stammering, then the half-hearted grunts, then nothing. Silence. Unnerving silence.
I would suspect that at one time in history, the average industrial park was like the shopping mall was during the 80s; powerful monoliths of industry, until time takes over and man invents new methods of efficiency. The malls have more going out of business signs than actual storefronts. While the same fate isn’t completely parallel to that of the shopping mall, time effects the industrial park the same way. Warehouses, auto repair garages, salvage yards, all seem to be eventually bested by Mother Earth by taking back what’s hers; vines and overgrowth devour that which is left behind and unattended. Across the street from us are rows of industrial warehouses. Beside us, a kitchen appliance wholesaler who has gone out of business years ago, but his faded, lighted sign with missing letters still stood, and window display of kitchen sinks and mock-up refrigerators can still be seen through the encroaching mold from the corners of the glass. Behind us, well…behind us was something you don’t see everyday, and it spooked poor Tommy down to his soul. Behind us was a manufacturer, handcrafter, and purveyor of custom headstones.
A short, tire-worn dirt path connected the road to the front entrance which was this gaping maw cut into the side of a building; it was presumably there for pick up and delivery. The sign above it, beaten from years of neglect and in bad need of a fresh coat of paint bore the name “Frank & Sons”. In front of the not-too-welcoming facade, lay a display of their handiwork; rows of blank headstones, each with a cherub, or a cross, or a pair of baby shoes carved into its face ready to go, ready to mark eternity. It resembled a small graveyard, or a front lawn Halloween display made by someone who REALLY gets into it. Slightly macabre, but nothing out of the ordinary. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad were it not for a pack of older kids putting the fear into Tommy’s head that this place is where zombies come from. Typical cruelty from typical privileged bullies in training. The poor kid has an irrational fear of monsters to begin with, but for someone to give that fear an actual address to live in is just disheartening. It’s been two years now, and he still hasn’t gotten over it. He still stands rigid with his back turned from it, right hand clutching the bus stop sign, eyes clenched. It would be a few more minutes before the bus comes; an eternity to someone gripped in fear.
I still have a fear of big dogs, drowning, spiders that are bigger than my fist, big empty houses that have big, spooky basements, and for some strange reason, chickens. Don’t judge, they just freak me out. Outside of these things, there wasn’t much that scared me…well…not much that surprised me. Not anymore. When you’re a kid and your parents do nothing but argue, which in turn leads to having mom and dad sleeping in separate rooms, which in turn leads to mom and dad sleeping in separate houses, which in turn leads to repeated visits from a strange looking man that mom called a lawyer, which in turn leads to one day, you’re down to one parent and very little explanation as to why. Since then, The Boogey Man and all his crazy cousins including The Monster Under the Bed, The Ghost in Your Closet, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, a Heaven where your pets go, all tend get smaller in stature with every day until one day the monster you fear most isn’t purple or has fangs, he wears a three piece suit and carries a briefcase and calls you, “buddy”.
I never gave the warehouse a second thought. To me, it looked more sad than scary. I’ve stared at it many times, mostly because Tommy checks out for the rest of the morning, and I’ve never seen so much as Frankenstein’s Monster or the Mummy come rambling from the headstones. In fact, I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen any life in the place ever. Which is why it doesn’t surprise me to see mostly darkness from the gaping hole every morning. What does surprise me is that on rare occasions such as this morning, I do see a pair of eyes staring back at me. They are the type of eyes that reflect light like a cat or an owl and I reason them as such. But today, today the pair of eyes seemed to follow me. As if they were on to me. And they didn’t fly away on massive wings or scurry away on furry feet when our gazes met, they instead shuffled. Slowly. Sideways. These eyes were attached to something human, something slow, and something a little creepy. Creepy enough to make me take a step back to Tommy, and make me put my hand on his shoulder. For a brief moment, I considered that it might be a zombie, and for an even briefer moment, I considered telling Tommy. But reason had my ear today. That wasn’t a zombie, that was just some guy sweeping the floor. If I told Tommy, it would put him in therapy for the rest of his life. I had to say something, he was noticing the expression on my face and he was beginning to breathe funny. “Hey, Tommy?” “Yeah, Joey?” “Guess what?” “What?” “Chicken Butt.” There was much needed laughter as the bus opened it’s doors.
Author’s Note: Admittedly, this took me a little longer than I should have. However, this is the first sort of fiction where I didn’t have a framework to start out with, say for instance like a flash-fiction contest. All I had to go by was the glorious and unfiltered vision of my daughter and I was off and running. For most of the week, I was riffing while at the same time, drawing a blank on a title, which took me an hour to come up with. Many years ago, I had a job that was located in an industrial park. A co-worker employed the services of one of the businesses in our little warehouse cluster. The business was a family run moving company and it’s name is (wait for it) Frank & Sons Moving Co. Now, my ears are a little lazy and start acting a little screwy whenever someone speaks too quickly. Someone asked our freshly moved in co-worker who she used as a moving company to which she responded, “Oh, I used Frankenstein’s. They’re a few buildings down?” I couldn’t help but ask, “Frankenstien’s?” “No sweetie, Frank and Son’s.” badda-nah-nuh-nah-nuh…NEEP! [cheese shrug] Anyway, I swore to myself that I would use the play on words one day. It just took me forever to remember that. I would also like to point out that I have never worked for the company, nor do I know any employees or affiliates. This is a work of fiction and bares no reflection on said establishment. So. There. Please enjoy and as always, I welcome any and all feedback. Thank you.