Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick Or Treat?

     Today is the day for spooks and goblins, witches and ghouls, and of course black cats. I don’t normally take issue with black cats but to be on the safe side I try not to let them cross my path, especially on this day of days.  
     Here’s a picture of a cat I painted a few years back and I think it says something about the resilience of the species. This gray tabby is blind (notice the sealed eyes) but he’s figured out another way to see. He doesn’t like what’s coming into his view—you. Is he a monster, or is he seeing one?
     That’s for you to decide.

         Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Ghost of Kilarney Park:Conclusion...

     Haunted houses and Halloween go together like dots on dice, but the haunted house on our street never did anything to attract trick-or-treaters. So why was there a light burning on Verna’s porch?
     My feet began pulling me to the light. My head swirled with thoughts of murder: rat poison, asphyxiation, throat slashing, but I was more interested in candy than my safety. 
     I inched up the front steps to her porch and peered into Verna’s kitchen window. She was seated at her kitchen table, her head resting in her hands. Her back was to me and I couldn’t see her face, but I could hear her crying, a raspy soul rending sound, not the depraved rant of the undead or the wailing tirade of a guilt-riddled wife who’d murdered her husband.  
     Instead of ringing her doorbell, I turned to go. As I did so I saw something on her table that made me squeak like a mouse finding a wheel of cheese—treasure. Edible treasure.
     On Verna’s kitchen table was a large pirate chest made of cardboard. Among the pirate images painted on it was one of the most cherished names in a chubby kid’s lexicon—Hershey. Inside the chest were countless bars of chocolate. Not the penny-size ones—these big boys fetched upwards of a quarter each. I felt like Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo as I eyed such treasure.
     Verna must have heard my squeak. She turned around and looked at me standing there on the other side of her kitchen window.  I’d never seen her up close and I noticed she was totally opaque without a ghost’s translucence. Her eyes, while red, didn’t look otherworldly. She swiped away tears with the back of her hand and waved me in, saying, “The door isn’t locked.”
     The door opened with a moan, as if it wasn’t accustomed to swinging open. My costume didn’t make entering any easier. Verna’s house had the same floor plan as ours which meant I was practically inside her kitchen when I stepped through the threshold. She stood up and gave me a watery smile. She looked…rather pleasant, even with puffy eyes. But then Hansel and Gretel would never have entered the witch’s house had she not also appeared pleasant.
     “That is a very nice costume. Did it take you long to make?”
     I nodded.
     She turned to the chocolate chest. “I ordered this from a catalog a few months ago.”
     “It’s a lot of candy.”
     “I was planning on handing it out to trick or treaters this evening.”
     “But you never give out candy on Halloween,” I said.
     “True. True. But this year I decided to make up for all the years I sat in this dark house without handing out treats. Unfortunately, I had to work late tonight and by the time I got home all of the children had already passed through the neighborhood. All the children, except you. You’re Stephen, from across the street, aren’t you?”
     The costume didn’t disguise me as much as I’d thought. I nodded.
     “Would you like some candy?”
     Another nod.
     She reached into the chest for a foil-wrapped chocolate bar, dropped it into my pillowcase. 
     I thanked her and headed for the door, but her sniffling stopped me. “You should come to neighborhood barbeques and block parties next summer. And my birthday party is in two weeks. Why doncha come?”
     “After all this time, I don’t think people would want me to come,” she answered.
     “I want you to come.”
     She looked kinda pretty as she smiled at me and closed her door. I headed home, where my mother waited with her sweet tooth.
     The next day I awoke to find a Hershey’s treasure chest on our front porch. An attached note said:

     For Stephen, my only Kilarney Park friend. Don’t get a stomach ache.
     That afternoon something sprouted on our street that we hadn’t seen before. The bright red paint seemed out of place in front of the gray house that had once haunted my feverish imagination. Hammered into Verna’s front yard—a FOR SALE sign.
     A few weeks later, the Ghost of Kilarney Park moved away. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ghost of Kilarney Park

      In keeping with the season I’m posting a true Halloween story from my memoir The Kid in the Kaleidoscope. I hope you enjoy it:

     Haunted houses belong in the realm of goose bumps, foggy nights and old neighborhoods, not pristine suburbs with freshly asphalted streets, unblemished sidewalks and immature trees. But a ghost lingered across the street, in a house where a man died.
     I was only two when our neighborhood suffered its first fatality. Kilarney Park (later to be swallowed up by the Silicon Valley) had just opened for occupancy and neighbors had yet to come together with barbeques and meet-and-greets. It didn’t help that none of the parents on our street seemed to know the dead man’s name, much less how he died. By the time I was eleven no one could even remember what he’d looked like. For years he was referred to as The Ghost of Kilarney Park. 
     Once after an excessive dose of cough medicine, I peered out of our front window and saw the ghost sitting on a nearby light pole. The next day I got the best grade I’d ever received on an arithmetic test, a C+. I figured the ghost was good luck and I spread the word. Soon kids in the neighborhood were attributing good luck to the ghost, as well as bad. 
     The deceased had been married to Verna, who continued to live in her neat little house at Kilarney Park until I was eleven. She wasn’t old enough to look grandmotherly, but she appeared older than the adults on our street. If she had any friends or family they were never seen visiting her. 
     Verna’s house was a colorless shade of gray. Her car was gray and she went to work on weekdays wearing gray suits that matched her gray hair. She planted no flowers. Weeds such as dandelions might have added a hint of color but they refused to take root in her soil. The developer of Kilarney Park had planted sycamore trees in the front yards but Verna’s died. In its place was an Italian cypress shaped like a giant candle stick. It was such a dark shade of green that it appeared black. My mother complained that the sight of it depressed her.
     “Why?” I asked.
     “Italian cypresses are associated with cemeteries.”
     “Because the roots don’t fan out. They grow straight down and don’t disturb the dead,” she said.
     On weekday mornings Verna could be seen driving to work. She was the only woman in our neighborhood who worked outside the home until my mother landed a job when I was fourteen. 
     Verna was grist for our rumor mill; our fertile imaginations ran rampant: The reason The Ghost of Kilarney Park hadn’t moved on was because his wife had murdered him and his soul cried out for revenge. She done it with poison—rat poison, maybe. Or maybe she slit his throat with a carving knife while he was snoring. My best friend Ricky Delgado didn’t buy that one; he said the police would have hauled her away if her old man was found among blood-soaked sheets with a gaping hole in his throat. Another theory was that she asphyxiated him with car fumes in the garage. There was little by way of malice that we kids in the neighborhood wouldn’t attribute to the poor widow.
     Randy Bernardino who lived three doors down from us was a feverish Twilight Zone fan; he floated the idea that Verna was as dead as her husband—a ghost, one who might not even know she was dead. This notion of Verna being a troubled specter caught between two worlds began to lose plausibility when her battery died and Dad rescued her with jumper cables. It seemed improbable that a ghost needed a car to get around in.
     The years rolled past and Verna continued to live in a universe parallel to ours, keeping her own company while never interacting with anyone. She drove by our lemonade stands, lawn parties and garage sales until she faded from our sight. But after several years of invisibility, an episode happened that brought her vividly into view.
     Except for Christmas, Halloween was my favorite holiday. My mother always checked my booty when I returned, claiming she was looking for tampered candy or hidden razor blades. She always used this as a pretext for confiscating some of the best candy. Ricky Delgado and I always worked on our Halloween costumes together. One year he’d be a pirate and I’d be a cowboy. Or he’d be a spaceman and I’d be a vampire. 
     Several days before Halloween in 1963 we both decided to be robots. Since neither one of us was willing to consider a different costume, we played a game of rock-paper-scissors to see who got to be a robot. My paper covered Ricky’s rock, but my best 
friend could be a dickwad and wouldn’t lose gracefully. So we both built robot costumes.
     Boxes were glued together, a small one for the head and a large one for the body. Openings were cut from the inside so our heads could slide into the smaller box like the headpiece of a space suit. Wire coat hangers were straightened and attached as antennae. The larger box was supposed to rest on our shoulders to prevent the weight from pressing down on our heads, but the costume still managed to give me a tremendous headache. 
     When it came to finishing touches, Ricky struggled to keep up with me. I never received a grade less than an “A” on art assignments. In the fifth grade I was King of the Bulletin Boards. (The extra credit helped get me a “C” in arithmetic classes.) I cut neat openings for the eyes with an X-Acto knife and appropriated a broken shower nozzle for the mouth. After spray painting the boxes silver, I painted rivets and welded seams. My pièce de résistance—a laser blast to the body where a space creature had zapped me. A few more details here and there, legs and Keds wrapped in aluminum foil and presto—Man of Metal.
     That year Halloween fell on Thursday. I faced an arithmetic test the next day and wasn’t prepared for it. (I’d spent too much time working on my costume.) My mother refused to let me go trick-or-treating with Ricky until I’d finished all my homework and assured her that I was ready for the test. Hearing my mother hand out candy to trick or treaters on our front porch only darkened my mood. 
     Ricky was long gone by the time I covered my legs in aluminum foil, slipped into my costume and grabbed a pillowcase for the candy.
     “It’s getting late. Don’t go too far,” my mother said without commenting on my costume. “And don’t eat anything until you bring it home so I can check for razor blades.”
     A wane moon floated overhead as I began knocking on doors. Many houses had already handed out their candy and turned off their porch lights. I received an unexpected reception by those still handing out goodies. I’d worked hard to make my costume memorable, but I hadn’t realized just how similar mine was to Ricky’s. Everywhere I went I was mistaken for him. And he had over an hour head start. The candy distributor at every house I approached said nearly the same thing as they closed their door in my face, “Nice try—you’ve already been here.”
     As fast as possible for a chubby kid dressed in boxes, I huffed and puffed to a section of neighborhood where I didn’t normally go. Still, every doorbell I rang had already been rung by Ricky. Before long my Zorro wristwatch was telling me it was time to head home: I was the only kid still walking the pavement and most porch lights were off. My empty pillowcase hung limp in my hand as I headed home.
     The lights of our house were likewise off when I turned a corner and headed home. I had a splitting headache from the heavy costume pressing down on my head and a back itch I couldn’t possibly scratch. Then I saw a light. In the strangest of places.

Conclusion tomorrow….

What was your favorite Halloween costume?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beat Me With A Drumstick

     Sometimes I can be as peevish as Andy Rooney—I miss him already. 
     Hollywood irks me quite often. Why is it that whenever someone gets into a car they never look in the back seat where a killer is patiently waiting for them. I saw this happen once in a movie and the car was a freakin’ convertible. In spy movies, whenever the main character is suspended from the ceiling by a wire, the bad guys never look up when they enter the room, leaving the likes of Tom Cruise to dangle above them without drawing attention. I can’t remember a time when I entered a room without glancing up at the ceiling. 
     In action adventure movies when our hero defuses a bomb he’s always forced to make that all-important decision: should I cut the red wire? The green one? Or the yellow one? Why would a sadistic bomb maker use colored wire in the first place? I bet if you ask demolition experts they’d tell you bombs don’t come with wires colored like the rainbow. And why do action movies now all have fake endings? Sure, like I really believe the killer is dead. Everybody knows the villain can’t be dispatched that easily so why play this game with us. And speaking of playing, there seems to be only one reason for parties in movies—so the director can bust up the revelry with violence. Happy pioneers having a picnic in the grass and before you know it—thunk…arrows aerating everyone’s backs. Happy square dance; time for the villains to ride into town and shoot up the place. Cruise ship ballroom dancing—time for the iceberg to hit. 
     But Hollywood's assumption that our brains are thimble-size isn’t what ticks me off the most. It’s a small thing, really. You’re about to think, C’mon, don’t you have anything better to do than fret over…that? Obviously I don’t so here it is:
     I’m troubled by what advertising agencies consider an absolute: NEVER show a child holding a piece of chicken unless it’s a drumstick. Yes, as a former illustrator who once worked closely with advertising agencies I understand the reasons behind depicting kids holding drumsticks: kids are small and big pieces of chicken look cumbersome. Besides, drumsticks have a handle for little hands. But just once couldn’t there be a picture of a kid holding a thigh, or a small breast or even a wing? I once painted an illustration of a child holding a chicken thigh and the client ordered me to repaint the thigh and replace it with a drumstick.
     That was decades ago, but I continue to scour TV commercials and magazine ads, looking for that elusive kid clutching a piece of chicken that isn’t a drumstick. I’m convinced he or she is out there, happily holding up a handle-less piece of poultry. Help put me out of my misery by finding a picture of this kid. Remember, no drumsticks! (Nuggets don’t count and probably aren’t really chicken.)
     Do you have a pet peeve?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Unleash Your Imagination On This One...

     Thanks to those of you who offered titles and comments for my depiction of an egg on a throne. In addition to blog comments, I received quite a few e-mails and Facebook messages with great ideas. Here’s another picture that I hope will stir your imagination.
     This was painted back in 1995 and has always been a favorite of Sue’s, although she can’t explain why. Thanks to this image I landed my first illustration agent back in ’97, but we never sold this one. Maybe because we couldn’t think up a name for it.
     Can You?

P.S.  If you’d like to see something that actually sold, check out my archived August 9th posting, Long Time No See.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Running Down The Governor Of California

     No, it wasn’t Arnold the Governator, and no, I wasn’t a reporter in hot pursuit of an interview. It was Jerry Brown, and I ran him down with my car.
     I’d forgotten my unfortunate encounter with the former Governor of California and three-time presidential candidate (now the current Governor of California) until I dialed in to a local deejay who was asking listeners to phone in their most memorable encounter with a celebrity. The prize for the winning story was a day of pampering at a fancy spa, which I knew Sue would enjoy. As I thought about the deejay’s request, I recalled the Jerry Brown incident. It happened back in ’76 when Jerry was running for president. I still think I’d have won if my call had gotten through the radio station’s choked switchboard.
     I was in downtown San Francisco, behind the wheel of my faded blue VW Bug and wearing a brown corduroy suit that made me look like the bear on the California flag. San Francisco’s hills are notoriously steep and my brakes were in sad shape, but I was broke and risking my life hunting for a job. Sue and I had only been married a few years and we’d just returned from backpacking in Europe. I was traveling south on Polk Street and had just stopped at the intersection of Polk and Grove Streets. I was looking up at the stately dome atop City Hall when it happened.
     While idling at the intersection and waiting for the light to change, I suddenly found myself engulfed in a mob, a swarm of shouting, agitated hooligans gesticulating wildly and circling me like hyenas eying a wounded wildebeest. My VW Bug started bouncing about like I was in riot-torn Beirut instead of downtown San Francisco. My confusion gave way to the realization that these were reporters.
     Just then a fellow came into view in front of my windshield. Even though I’d been out 
of the country for a while and hadn’t been paying much attention to presidential politics, I still managed to recognize Jerry Brown, the former Governor of California famous for dating pop singer Linda Ronstadt. I’d heard he was running for president.
     Somehow my foot slipped off the brake pedal and landed on the gas. The Bug lurched forward and struck Jerry Brown. Bumped into him would be more like it. He did a half twist and landed on the hood of my car. Our eyes locked, and I accidentally hit a switch and the windshield wipers began arcing across my dirty windshield. The incident lasted only a moment, and then Jerry rose up from the hood of my car, brushed himself off and marched away, followed by the horde of reporters.
     A year later I was living in Los Angeles and decided to trade in my VW Bug. The fellow at the dealership scowled at the hippy-dippy bumper stickers and wrinkled his nose at the high mileage. He then offered me a few bucks for the car.
     I said, “See that scratch on the hood?”
     “What about it?” he asked.
     “Jerry Brown did that.”
     “I hate Jerry Brown, voted for Ford,” the fellow spat.
     This was going to be easier than I thought. “That scratch is where I collided with Jerry last year when he was campaigning in downtown San Francisco.” 
     “No fooling? You actually hit Jerry Brown with this car?”
     “I really did.”     
     He doubled his price.
     Have you ever had a close encounter with a celebrity? Let us know about it.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What's The Difference?

     Years ago I made my livelihood as a professional illustrator. I started out as a landscape painter but that didn’t pay the bills. A friend suggested I become an illustrator because the client tells you what they want and often pay before you begin. This seemed like a good alternative to all of the unsold paintings in my closet.  
     Before long my specialty was conceptual illustration: book covers (yes you can judge books by their covers) magazines and newspapers. Eventually I augmented my income by teaching illustration at a local art college. Students often asked me to explain the difference between painting and illustration. This is what I told them: When I finish creating a picture, if the result conveys a logical message and can be easily understood by many people—it’s an illustration. If I’ve created something ambiguous, something that is hard or impossible to understand and is capable of making most people scratch their heads—then I’ve created a painting. 
     It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I wasn’t popular with the highbrow instructors who taught painting. I often got into heated discussions with those who looked down their noses at “commercial art,” in spite of the fact that painters like Rembrandt and Rubens also created illustrations. 
     Over the years I’ve created thousands of images, and some of them continue to confuse even me. Art has a habit of influencing its own creation; the end result is often unexpected. Sometimes this is a problem; other times it feels like a miracle. 
     I recently prowled through my storage closet and sorted out all of the art, segregating published works (which are usually returned to the artist) from those I couldn’t find buyers for. Some of the unpublished pictures were favorites, even though no useful purpose has yet been found for them. Most of these defy explanation. 
     I’ve decided to blow away the dust and post some of the curious images from time to time, to see if you can come up with a title or caption. I have a fairly thick skin so I promise I won’t be offended by anything you write. (A lie! My skin is actually as thin as rice paper.) But I’ll try not to be offended. Here’s one of my favorites; it hung on my wall for a while. I like the way it makes me feel when I look at it, but if you ask me what it means, I can’t answer. 
     What is your opinion; is this a painting or an illustration? Does it make you think or feel anything? Got a title or caption for it?   

Friday, October 21, 2011

Jack's Gift

     I swim at the public pool on weekday mornings at seven a.m.  On the way home on Fridays I swing by the bakery section at Albertsons because—well, you know why. (A clue is in the title of my blog.) Anyway, this morning I was marching toward the delicious donuts and pastries when I encountered five year old Jack and his grandpa. 
     “It’s Jack’s fifth birthday today,” Grandpa said, grinning at me. “He’s picking out donuts for his party this afternoon.”
     I returned the smile and waited patiently while Jack made his selections. I must admit that little Jack had been trained on how to handle donuts; he properly made his selections using the provided tissue papers. His little pink hands didn’t touch any, although a few donuts squished like Play-Doh in his grasp. Jack selected two dozen tasty treats. He grabbed anything dripping with chocolate or covered with colorful sprinkles or swirls. 
     Just as he finished loading his box I joked, “Are you going to leave any good ones for me?”
     Jack hugged Grandpa’s leg for protection and didn’t say anything. 
     When they walked away to pay the cashier I made my selection. It was fortunate that before entering the store I’d decided on bran muffins because, well, you can guess why. Jack hadn’t chosen any muffins so I was left with an ample selection. I grabbed a few and bagged them. I couldn’t help noticing that Jack’s box of donuts had looked like a party in a box while my selection hung in a plastic bag like dog poo.
     In spite of the early hour there was a long line at the cash register. Another register 
was opened and shoppers moved over to it. I found myself in line behind Jack and his grandpa.
     Jack, still eying me cautiously, focused on the brown lumps dangling in my bag. He moved away from Grandpa, walked up to me and said, “I’m sorry; I guess I did take all the good ones. If you want, you can have some of the donuts in my box.”
     I was on the verge of explaining why I needed bran this morning but decided against it. “Thanks, Jack. But I’m fine with these muffins. Have a happy birthday today.”
     He smiled at me and waved goodbye as Grandpa paid for the donuts and led him away.
     Thinking about Jack and his generosity will warm me for the rest of the day. Although it’s Jack’s birthday, a day when he will undoubtedly be showered with presents, I’m certain that today I'm the one receiving the best gift.

When was the last time you received a gift from a child? 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nobody Holds Grudges Like A Mother!

     My mother doesn’t read my writing, which is a good thing because I doubt she’d appreciate how I characterize her, but lately we’ve run out of things to say so I’ve taken to reading short stories to her over the phone. I recently shared a childhood adventure: actually it was a chapter from my memoir The Kid in the Kaleidoscope. I thought she’d find it amusing. Boy was I wrong.
     The story, Riding the Hammer (check it out under Pages on my blog) takes place when I was ten and my best friend and I snuck out one summer evening to inspect the carnival that had risen in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center. 
     I read the story to Mom, and she listened quietly without interrupting, which was unusual for her and should have served as a clue for what was to come. As I read, I was pleased with my words and felt I’d created a well-paced, rhythmic story that was evocative of the period and, in my opinion, if not outright funny at least amusing.
     When I reached the conclusion the silence on the other end of the line was deafening. “So what did you think?” I asked.
     “Let me get this straight; you snuck out of the house to go to this carnival?”
     I was startled. That was what she’d focused on? That I’d snuck out? What about all those pretty words? “It was nearly fifty years ago, Mom.”
     “I don’t care how long ago it was. How old were you at the time?”
     “I’m disappointed in you. Where was I when this happened?”
     Dad worked a graveyard shift as a mechanic for the city of Sunnyvale and Mom worked days at a plant that bottled wine. She always dosed off early. “You were asleep on your bed.”
     “You betrayed my trust.” I could feel her hand coming through the telephone and smacking me on my now-gray head.
     “I think you’re blowing this out of proportion. Besides, what did you think of the rest of the story?”
     “Tell me, did you have a pang of conscience over what you were doing?”
     “So you didn’t like the story?”
     “It was hard to get past the realization that you weren’t the little boy I thought you were.” 
     She harangued me for twenty minutes, channeling so much rage that you'd have thought the incident happened yesterday.
     “Well, I certainly wasn’t an angel," I said. Maybe I better not read you anymore of my stories.”
     “I don’t want to curtail you, even though your stories are probably filled with deceptions that will wound me deeply. Continue reading them to me.”
     Fat chance!

     Can your Mom hold a grudge? Is she still blaming you for something?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Calendar War

     I’ve been married to Sue for thirty-seven years, and in that time we’ve come to learn much about each other. In addition to partnering as parents to raise and launch our son, we’ve shared hopes and dreams and dozens of silly as well as important secrets. I often think I know Sue better than I know myself. So you can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered something about her that really blew my mind. I thought I really knew my wife, so my head spun when I discovered we didn’t agree on something so fundamentally obvious. She might just as well have said the Earth was flat or evolution a myth. I’m wondering if our marriage can be saved.
     I can’t even remember how the conversation started, but somehow we ended up discussing the days of the week. I rattled off something about the week beginning on Sunday.
     “Sunday is not the first day of the week,” she answered. 
     Surprised by her response I asked, “What do you think is the first day of the week?”
     “Why, Monday of course.”
     “I see,” I said, assuming she was joking. “You mean to say that Monday is the first day of the “work” week.”
     “I don’t mean to say that at all. Monday is the first day of the week, period!”
     I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Did I mention that my wife holds a degree from a prestigious university? “If you check a calendar you’ll see that Sunday is the first day of the week,” I said.
     “Let me ask you a question,” she replied. “What days are commonly referred to as “the weekend?”
     I fell into her trap. “Saturday and Sun…”
     “Thaaaat’s right,” she answered smugly. “If Sunday is part of the weekend, it can’t also be the beginning of the week, now can it?”
     As usual, her logic was pristine, but in my heart I knew she was wrong. So I ask you, my loyal readers, to help save my marriage by telling my lovely wife she’s w-r-o-n-g. Actually, the more I think about it, the best way for you to help save my marriage is to tell her she’s right!
     I see on my calendar that Sue has scheduled our trip to the marriage counselor on Wednesday which, if Sue is right, I can no longer refer to as "hump" day.

     Care to vote?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gate Crashing

     Back when Sue and I were having difficulty paying to fill our car with gas, I won an all expense paid vacation for two to New York City. While in the Big Apple, I saw and experienced a great many things, but what I remember most is crashing a private show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
     Sue and I were strolling across Central Park one evening and we ended up in front of the MET. Limousines were pulling up to the steps and disgorging gents in tuxedos and ladies in sparkling gowns and jewels. A giant banner ran down the façade of the museum announcing a new show: Goya and the Age of Enlightenment. Goya’s canvases had been borrowed from museums across the world and tonight was the gala opening. I was ecstatic! Goya was one of my favorite artists. We dashed up the steps and were promptly turned away. 
     “Come back tomorrow,” said the guard at the door. “This is a private show, by invitation only.”
     Finishing our trip with a peek at all those delicious Goyas would be frosting on the cake. The next day we entered the museum and the man with a pencil moustache behind the information counter informed us that, while the museum was open to everyone, Goya and the Age of Enlightenment didn’t open to the public until the next day—when we were scheduled to fly home to Oregon. 
     “There must be a way we can get inside,” I pleaded.
     “Today is reserved for museum members. You can purchase museum membership, which would grant you entrance to the Goya show.”
     “How much would that set me back?” I asked.
     “Five hundred dollars,” he said.
     “I live on the other coast, three thousand miles away. What good is a membership?”   
     He shrugged. 
     “There must be another way to get in.”
     He blinked his eyes slowly at me. “Not unless you’re from a foreign country. Visitors from abroad are allowed in.”
     When we walked away Sue said, “I can see the wheels turning in your head. You’re going to crash that show, aren’t you?”
     I nodded. Sue, wanting no part of what was about to happen, found a bench where she waited for us to be thrown out of the building. 
     The queue to the Goya Show was long, and when I reached the front of the line I said to the guard in my best Tarzan voice—which I inexplicably revert to in times of stress— “Me from… Puerto Rico!”
     The guard nodded, pulled back the rope and let me enter.
     The Goyas were as great as I’d imagined them to be, and when I’d gotten an eyeful I left to find Sue.
     “What did you tell the guard to convince him to let you in?” she asked when we reconnected.
     I smiled at her and said, “I told him I was from Puerto Rico.”
     “Yep. They’re letting visitors from other countries in today.”
     “You could have picked any country in the world yet you blurted out Puerto Rico?”
     “It was the first one that came to mind.”
     The smug smile I was undoubtedly wearing slipped off my face when she said, “It’s a good thing that guard isn’t any smarter than you are.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Puerto Rico isn’t a foreign country. It’s part of the United States!”
Have you ever crashed anything? I'm dying to know about it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Killer Case of the Hickeys

       In the early years of our marriage Sue was determined to please me in the kitchen as well as the bedroom. She cooked up a storm. There was one ingredient she added to her dishes that I was unaccustomed to. When I asked her about this mystery ingredient she said, “Those are mushrooms. Haven’t you had them before?”
      If I had, I was unaware of it. “My mother didn’t cook with them,” I said. 
     “What do you think?” She held a ladle of spaghetti sauce with mushrooms to my lips.
     “They’re great,” I admitted.
     In the years that followed I gorged on mushrooms: mushroom omelets, salads laced with sliced mushrooms, mushrooms stuffed with pork sausage, and steaks smothered with mushrooms sautéed in butter and wine. Sue was never as fond of mushrooms as I was and ate them in moderation, but it seemed that I couldn’t get enough. 
     A few years after my introduction to mushrooms, I broke out in a rash that looked like I had dozens of hickeys all over my body. I was horrified, although my reputation at work soared. When my hands and fingers became too red and swollen for me to wear my wedding band, Sue decided it was time for me to see a doctor. I grabbed the phone book and started making calls, but all the doctors I contacted had full appointment books, except for one.
     His office was located in an old Art Deco building in San Francisco, in a part of town that had seen better days. I took the elevator up to the eighth floor and stepped out into the most peculiar doctor’s office I’d ever seen. The lighting was uncharacteristically dim, but I could see that the place needed a good dusting and vacuuming. The walls were spotted with bizarre black and white photographs of performers dressed in outlandish costumes, and opera music rattled the walls. The chair behind the receptionist’s desk was empty.
     This hardly seemed like an appropriate place to seek relief from my rash. Just as I was about to hightail it back to the elevator a door slammed open and the fattest man I’d ever seen—Jabba the Hut in a white coat—entered the room. 
     He examined me from the far side of the empty waiting area. He clucked his tongue, shook his massive head and spoke with an indecipherable accent.“Stop eeting zee mushrooms! You eating too manies oof dem. I gots mee threee daughters, all oover threee huundred pounds. Youz married?”
     I could have politely answered the man’s question, but instead I bolted for the door and dashed down the stairs, not waiting for the elevator.
     That evening I reluctantly pushed aside a plate of Sue’s creamy mushroom risotto. I told her what the doctor said (not the part about his three daughters) and I cut back on mushrooms. The hickeys soon vanished. 
     In retrospect, I should have paid Dr. Jabba for his accurate diagnosis, but at the time I was worried I’d end up hanging on his wall encased in carbonite. Or worse, pawned off on one of his daughters.
     What food are you, or have you been, addicted to? Tell us about it.  

Monday, October 10, 2011


     My eighty-six year old mother lives in a retirement community half a mile away and I call her twice a day, once in the morning and again after dinner. It’s often difficult to find things to say; politics are out of bounds because we usually end up shouting at each other—Mom still supports the John Birch Society—so we often resort to talking about the weather. A typical conversation sounds something like this:
     Me: “Are you enjoying the day? It’s pretty outside.”
     Mom: “Well, maybe for you, but it’s overcast and chilly where I am.”
     Me: “Really? That’s strange because I’m looking out of my window in your direction and I don’t see any clouds. And it’s eighty-two degrees where I am.”
     Mom: “I know what I see. I’m sitting here with a sweater on.”
     Me: “The leaves are turning; aren’t the colors gorgeous?”
     Mom: “It’s too cold to venture out, but from what I can see out my window the leaves aren’t turning yet in this part of town.”
     Me: “We both live in the same part of town. We live less than half a mile apart. You don’t have your own weather, Mom.”
     Mom: “Evidently, I do!”
     Yesterday our local meteorologist confirmed that she might be right. It’s been said that the best way to escape accountability is to become a politician or a weather forecaster. Yesterday morning I heard our local weather guy using a phrase I hadn’t heard before, one sure to cover his ass and protect him from fallout for the bad forecasts that are his specialty. He was talking about our city’s micro-climates. He took a long time explaining how the weather in Portland could change from one neighborhood to the next. He droned on at length and then predicted brisk temperatures with clear skies, a day to bundle up and enjoy great fall weather. (I was later caught in a downpour without my umbrella.)
     During my call to Mom last night I learned that it hadn’t rained anywhere near her. She’d experienced balmy weather with hot stagnant air. In the background I could hear the hum of her air-conditioning. 
     I’m sure she was still wearing her sweater.

     Who do you know that has their own micro-climate? 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Cup Of Fuzzy Wuzzy

     With coffee now so expensive, I need to cut back. This picture of a furry cup, saucer and spoon has proven helpful. When I imagine this fuzzy utensil in my mouth, or my lips puckered on the rim of this furry cup, a shiver runs through me and I don’t want coffee nearly as much. If you print a copy of this picture and place it beside your coffee maker, it just might help you, too. 
     Then we can exchange ideas on what to do about the headaches.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pyramids and Water Lilies

     I’m looking at pictures I snapped of water lilies in the French countryside back in May, but this wasn't where I was supposed to be. I should have been in Egypt, crossing the Sphinx and the pyramids off my bucket list. But fate decided otherwise. 
     This had happened before. In 1976 Sue and I were backpacking through Europe. From Athens we could have flown roundtrip to Cairo for a hundred bucks each. At the time it seemed like a lot of money. We were ardent followers of Frommer’s Europe on Ten Dollars a Day and extra money for Egypt wasn’t in our budget. While we mulled it over someone stole our Frommer book and we had to blow our budget by purchasing another copy. Now even further in debt, we reluctantly decided to pass on Egypt. 
     After years of seeing the Sphinx and those darn pyramids on TV, in movies and in books, Sue and I decided last year that it was time to lug our lumpy behinds to Egypt. With the economy in the crapper, we had to seriously consider if we could afford such a trip, but we weren’t getting any younger so we decided to splurge. We weren’t about to let money again deny us a trip down the Nile.
     We pulled money out of our rainy day account, checked to see that our passports hadn’t expired and purchased Egyptian visas along with airfare to Cairo. Two weeks before we were to board our plane we found ourselves glued to CNN watching countless protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square—Arab Spring was in full swing.
     I tried to rationalize journeying to Egypt at this time. After all, Egypt has had political unrest for thousands of years, but I admit to fretting over Sue’s safety as well as my own. I’m a bit swarthy and felt I could blend in—ala King Farouk—but Sue is fair-skinned and fair-haired and looks decidedly American. Then the State Department warned Americans to stay away from Egypt. Finally, the decision to risk our lives over a vacation was taken out of our hands when flights to Cairo were cancelled, along with our tour.
     On the day we were scheduled to arrive in Cairo vandals broke into the National Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square. They wanted to get their hands on Tutankhamen’s gold funeral mask, and succeeded, sort of. Evidently none of them had been in the museum before and they didn’t realize they’d broken into the gift shop. They failed to realize that King Tut’s priceless mask wasn’t mass produced in China and didn’t also serve as a cigarette lighter. Thank God the real mask was safely locked away.
      The airlines refused to refund our airfare so we had to pick an alternative destination. That’s how I came to be standing on Monet’s Japanese bridge at Giverny instead of savoring the splendors of Egypt. Yes, Giverny was exceptionally pretty and I did manage to enjoy the moment, but I was still smarting from being denied a ride on a camel and snapping a picture of Sue being spit on by one. 
     Still, there was something remarkable about those floating flowers. Before traveling to Giverny, Sue and I visited the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris where a giant painting of Monet’s precious  water lilies circle the room. I must admit that the longer I concentrated on those fragile flowers, adrift in a swirling cosmos of color, the more sublime they seemed. Instead of witnessing Egypt's testaments to the eternal, I was exposed to shimmering lights and evanescent colors, Monet’s monument to the ephemeral. 
     I haven’t given up hope of one day visiting Egypt, but I’m glad I managed to cross Giverny off my bucket list. If not for the turmoil in Cairo I might have missed out on something extraordinary. Besides, the Sphinx and those darn pyramids aren’t going anywhere. 
     If only that darn Sphinx would stop smirking at me! 

     What destination is waiting to be crossed off of your bucket list?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Man Up!

     Years ago when I worked in a jewelry store the manager required all of his sales associates to pierce ears. I hated the idea of holding a needle-loaded gun to someone’s ear and firing so I managed to be busy when customers came into the store asking for this service. 
     But one time I couldn’t get out of it.
     A leather-clad biker chick, with spiked hair and smelling of exhaust and Pabst Blue Ribbon, came into the store wanting an ear pierced, even though she already sported a dozen earrings on each one. “I want a gold stud up here at the top,” she said, pointing to the place.
     “Up in the cartilage? Won’t that hurt?” I asked, hoping she'd turn around and walk away.
     She rolled her eyes and shrugged.
     I couldn’t talk her out of it, and there was no one else around to pawn the job off on. I sterilized her skin as I’d been taught, loaded the stud into the gun, held my breath and squeezed the trigger.
     Uh-oh; the stud only went in half way. Feeling like I was going to pass out, I bent over and took deep breaths.
     She tore the stud out of her ear. The blood must have drained out of my face because she looked at me curiously as she handed the stud back to me. “Be a man! Try again,” she ordered.
     I tried a second time, and the earring still didn’t go all the way in. I don't know what I would have done if a co-worker hadn't finally arrived and completed the job. 
     I apologized to the biker chick when she left, positive I'd caused her a great deal of pain. She slapped me on the back and told me not to worry about it, but I can still hear her words: “Be a man!” 
     Since then I’ve tried my best to be every bit the man she was.

What was the worst or most dreaded job you ever had? Is it your current one?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Finding Richard Paul

          While cleaning out the garage yesterday I discovered him in a box on a dusty shelf, his leg caught in our old George Foreman grill. His unblinking eyes fixed on me when I reached for him, as if to say, “Where’s everybody been?” 
     Richard Paul, showing signs of the fierce love our son Colin lavished on him long ago, was once an integral member of our family. Richard Paul is a Cabbage Patch Doll.
     I was thinking about him a few weeks back when a distant relative of his showed up on one of those pawn shop programs sprouting up on TV. It turns out that Richard Paul is actually worth a few bucks. He’d be worth more if he still had his birth certificate and adoption papers, which I’m sorry to say he doesn’t. And I’m sure the signs of wear and tear on his face and body, indications of just how much our son adored him, would detract from his value. Not that it matters. In spite of what people pawn on TV programs, I couldn’t possibly sell a family member, even one with an eye peeling loose. And even if I could persuade myself to do so, even if I could locate his adoption papers, he rightfully belongs to Colin. Just ask Santa! 
    Strange how Richard Paul's blue eyes bore into you. How do I explain that it isn’t the 80s anymore, or even the 90s. I'm sure Richard Paul recognizes me as he would Sue, although our hair is a bit grayer and I’m chubbier than before. Our dog Ginger, who used to carry him from room to room when Colin wasn’t looking, went to the Rainbow Bridge years ago, but it would be hardest to explain where Colin went. Our son was five when Richard Paul came to live with us the Christmas of ’85. Colin is now thirty-one years old.
     As I brush dust off the tangled yarn hair, I remember Richard Paul sitting at our dining room table, smiling as our little boy tried to push food into his unmoving mouth. We once lugged Richard Paul to Hawaii because our son refused to be separated from him. But Richard Paul’s proudest moment came when he offered to spend the night in Colin’s closet. Our son was sure a boy-eating lion was waiting in there to gobble him up the moment we turned off the light and closed the door. I confess that I was the one who volunteered Richard Paul for this assignment, but in the morning when Colin flung open his closet door and saw his unblinking adopted brother sitting there, uneaten and not mauled, it was Richard Paul who got the credit.
     I gently returned him to his box, careful to keep his legs away from the jaws of the George Foreman grill. I replaced the box on the shelf. The pang of sadness I felt was lessened by the gladness of knowing Richard Paul was no longer lost.
     Just waiting…. 
     Did you ever lose someone special? I still mourn the loss of my Woody Woodpecker doll.