Not Non-Fiction

Stories.

Thanksgiving 2020.

This repost is one of my annual traditions. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone except those in countries that don’t celebrate it and the Canadians who are heathens who have Thanksgiving before Halloween , and this year we could really use it.

It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

–Wikipedia

November 25th, 1864

It was even worse than last year. I know every time my family gets together we fall into certain patterns, but that never makes it easier. This time it was even worse because just getting to my parents’ house was such a pain. I thought I’d carriagepool with my younger brother and his wife, but they went up early so that fell through. Then I thought I’d beat the traffic by setting out at dawn, which was such a great idea everybody else in Richmond had it at the same time and the horses were nose to tail, stop and trot, for miles. Finally I got there a little after ten in the morning and my older sister came out already holding a glass of blackberry wine and when she hugged me I could tell it wasn’t her first one. She asked me how things were going and then didn’t wait for an answer and ran back into the house to tell everyone I was there.

I should have known I’d be walking into an argument in the foyer, the way my family is. It’s just what it was about that threw me. My kid brother had this crazy idea for a new way to cook a turkey, leaving the feathers still on and roasting it in the coals of a fire. Well, it sounded pretty stupid to me, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the neighbors tried the same thing last year and burned down their stable. But I didn’t want to side with my father either. So I said it had been a long trip and I needed to visit the outhouse and slipped out. Well, there was a line at the outhouse: two of my nieces, three cousins, all four of my brothers, and my sister was already in there getting rid of some of that blackberry wine. So I went back inside to see what was going on.

In the parlor my mother was putting together some kind of monstrosity with dead leaves and dried berries that she said she was going to put in the middle of the table.

“Where’s the food going to go?” I asked.

“Well, we’ll move it before we eat.”

I was going to ask why she’d bother to put it in the middle of the table if she was just going to move it again but decided against having that discussion, so instead I sat down and leafed through a broadsheet that was handy.

“The other men are organizing a game,” she said. “It’s some new sport called foot-ball. You should go and join them.”

Well, she knows I’ve never been athletic, but when I protested she got put out with me and said, “It’s your Uncle Wilkes’s idea. You know you’ve always been his favorite. You really should go and do it just to please him.”

FINE.

Well, when I came back in my sister just cackled and toasted me with another glass of blackberry wine. All my mother could say was “Don’t get any blood on the carpet,” and my older brother kept telling me to stop being a sissy and just put some salve on it. Then Aunt Gerda said pinch the back of my neck and tilt my head forward and Uncle Wilkes said no, put pressure between the eyes and lean back, and then my cousins got into it so there had to be a family brawl about that. A day later and I’m still bleeding. So much for the salve. I’ll have to make an appointment with Dr. Samuel Mudd when I get back.

 Then Uncle Aloysius had to start in Daniel about supporting the Whigs and Elizabeth about Suffragettes, just trying to start an argument. Fortunately they didn’t rise to the bait.

Then I tried to head off another argument about who’d have to chaperone the kids’ table by volunteering, but my father cut that off.

“No, no, I want John seated here on my left. After I sent him to that fancy and very expensive school so he could waste his time studying the dramatic arts and oratory he should be well-equipped to deliver the traditional Booth family prayer of thanks.”

Traditional since last year, he means. Then my kid brother kicked me in the shins which I know was his way of saying “Don’t start anything”. I kicked him twice as hard in the shins which was my way of saying, “I wasn’t going to,” and then kicked him again to say, “Hurts, don’t it?”

All this might have been a little more bearable if my sister had let me have some of the blackberry wine.

I swear I’m going to get that Lincoln for making us do this.

Food For Thought.

Dog’s breakfast-Disorderly, messy. This British slang term originated in the late Sixteenth or early Seventeenth century with fox hunting and the hastily thrown together breakfast dogs were served before setting out.

 

Couch potato-A person who sits around watching TV. American in origin, apparently from the early 1970’s, the term may derive from the appearance of slothful individuals but also from the growing consumption of potato chips during the Watergate hearings.

 

Piece of cake-Extremely easy. The exact origins are unclear but use became more widespread with the development and distribution of commercially manufactured cakes in the 1920s that led most people to binge on whole cakes.

 

Tough nut to crack-A very difficult problem or undertaking, or a difficult person. Probably derived from nature and the difficulty of cracking certain types of nuts. The first known appearance in print is from A.F. Doni’s Morall Philosophy, published 1570, but came into wider use during World War II when German Enigma machines used Brazil nut code.

 

Selling like hot cakes-Extremely popular, in high demand but with limited quantities. Of North American origin the earliest recorded use is from 1839, but why hot cakes specifically is unclear.

 

Fruit Basket turnover-Complete disruption of the established order. This term derives from the children’s game of the same name and is primarily used by spinster history teachers from Poughkeepsie.

 

Cream of the crop-The very best of a particular group. Presumably derived from the fact that cream rises to the top of unhomogenized milk it reached urban areas in the mid-19th century with the rising popularity of creamed corn, creamed spinach, the less successful creamed eggplant, and the disastrous creamed cotton.

 

Icing on the cake-An added bonus to something that it already good. The origins are obscure since cake without icing is just chocolate bread.

 

In a pickle-A dilemma or difficulty. Derived from the use of empty pickle barrels to hold local lotteries with unpicked tickets left “in the pickles”.

 

Gravy train-A means of making a great deal of money with very little effort. Derived from actual trains that carried gravy West to feed Mack Sennet’s insatiable appetite for pork drippings.

 

Spill the beans-To reveal a secret. This is derived from a 19th century practice of storing prophylactics in containers of dried beans but since it was the Victorian era no one admitted to ever having sex.

 

Going cold turkey-To quit a bad habit (usually smoking, drinking, or drugs) immediately rather than gradually stepping down. Possibly derived from a term in a satirical British magazine from 1877 it may also refer to a belief that tryptophan causes unconsciousness making it impossible to indulge, unless your bad habit is oversleeping.

 

Putting money in a Wurlitzer and getting a pita bread sandwich of rotisserie-cooked meat—self explanatory, derived from going to Greek restaurants on Thursday when the musicians took the night off.

 

One Star Review.

This place is, like, really really off the beaten track. We wouldn’t have even found it if we hadn’t shut off the GPS. We started out on I-10 but it was late afternoon and truckers were going by us in the fast lane like they’d lost their minds. We got off at an exit, I don’t remember which one, and just started driving until it got dark. We were driving slow along this back road and could smell some kind of plant, or maybe it was churros or something. And we heard an old church bell off in the distance.

This place was really brightly lit and it looked nice so we thought it would be a good place to stop. Even after we saw the big gold Mercedes Benz up on blocks out front. We just thought that was funny. It didn’t seem like your usual B&B but that’s what we liked about it. There was a woman standing right out in front and we both thought, places like this can be really great or they can be terrible. Or kind of meh.  

The front room was pretty nice too. They had, like, a ton of Tiffany lamps all around. All done up in what I guess would be 1920s style. The woman who met us at the door lit a candle and showed us to a room, which I especially thought was nice, very atmospheric, and there must have been some kind of party going on because we could hear voices down the hall saying “welcome, welcome.”

Here’s where things got kind of freaky. The room was nice, with Shaker style furniture, but there were mirrors on the ceiling. I swear, mirrors! On the ceiling! What was that about? And you know how hotels always used to have a Bible in the table next to the bed? Some still do but this place had The Magus by John Fowles. Maybe an English major or somebody stayed there last?

Our room had a nice window that looked out over the courtyard and there were a bunch of shirtless young guys out there dancing. Some guy in robes and a pointy hat like Gandalf I guess was playing a guitar out there and that’s what they were dancing to. Not that I’m complaining but they were kind of sweaty. It wasn’t loud but I wondered if they would keep going all night.

We were still looking at the room when the woman who checked us in said, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device,” and, wow, I got chills, but we just laughed it off. We figured it was, like the theme of the room or the place. Creepy but you go with it, you know?

They were still serving dinner so we went down. This guy in a navy double-breasted suit and a cap came over and asked if he could get us anything to drink. I asked for some wine and he said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” Well, I don’t know what that meant because I asked for the 2014 Merlot they had on the list. I guess they were out of it because they brought a couple of glasses of some rosé chardonnay, but they poured it over ice. I was like, what is this, 1976?

Then I guess there was some kind of special event because we were invited into another room in the back. This part…I don’t really want to talk about it. It was dark and I think they let a live pig or something loose in the room. They had given us these knives and there was a lot of screaming. We ran for the door and got out of there fast.

We went back to the front room and there was this, like, statue in there. We thought it was just a statue but it turns out it was a robot. It came on and said, “Good night, we are programmed to receive.” Then it sighed and said something about the diodes down its left side hurting and how it had a brain the size of a planet. It told us we could check out any time but we couldn’t leave which could make anybody paranoid if you think about it.

Well, we got out of there and I didn’t think anything about it until I just got the credit card statement and we’re still being charged! I’m writing this while I’m on hold trying to get it taken off our bill.

All this because we took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  

The Modern Esophagus.

From the diaries of Ernest F., gourmand:

Bavaria, August 11th, 17—

I have come to stay with my brother Victor in his quarters at the University of Ingolstadt. While he is pursuing the study of natural philosophy and chemistry, still greatly consumed by grief over the death of our mother from fever, I have turned my attention in an equal degree to the study of the culinary arts.

I was inspired to take up this pursuit during my stay in Paris where I became acquainted with M. Carême, whom I heard to deliver a panegyric upon diet. Upon consideration of the wisdom of the ancients he did say, “That which we consume so becomes us.”

I was so enervated by this I was barely able to rest that evening, though it pleased me to see my brother Victor was similarly excited by a lecture on chemistry. By degrees, after the morning’s dawn, sleep came. I awoke, and my yesternight’s thoughts were as a dream. There only remained a resolution to study the art of food.

That day I paid a visit to M. Carême and was treated to a most excellent luncheon. My appetite was so great I left not a jot of what was placed in front of me, causing M. Carême to immediately recommend me for membership in his Sodality Of The Unblemished Dish. We then fell into a lengthy discussion of interesting experiments with bread conducted by an English Earl named Montagu.

From this day culinary studies, and particularly spices and seasonings, in the most comprehensive sense of the term, became nearly my sole occupation.

August 27th, 17—

My studies in cuisine have continued apace. I soon became so ardent and eager that the stars often disappeared in the light of morning whilst I was yet engaged in my kitchen, causing many neighbors to inquire as to what is being concocted; though whether this is due to my experiments or those of Victor, who is as ardent a worker in his laboratory in the lower section of our house as I am with the stove, is not clear.

September 5th, 17—

Having acquired several spices, not merely parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme but also chervil, and chives, I have begun experiments with sauces. One of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human tongue. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of taste proceed?

September 15th, 17—

I am barely able to contain myself. A shipment arrived today of many exotic spices, among them nutmeg and cloves brought from the East by Portuguese traders, a quantity of bark from cassia or “cinnamon”, cardamom, anise, and fenugreek.

September 29th, 17—

Victor has been spending much time in charnel houses and tonight came home with a rather fine human leg. My devotion to my craft is such that I immediately considered ways it might be prepared for table. Victor seemed concerned, and pushed me away, saying it was for his own experiments. He is now accompanied by a wild-eyed hunchback who assists him. Perhaps I should also have an assistant.

October 5th, 17—

A corpulent gourd has been sent to me with tarragon procured from the American colonies, together with mallow and vanilla, and Jamaica pepper from the Antilles.

October 12th, 17—

Victor speaks much of flesh. I cannot allow myself to be distracted. M. Carême sends word he is concerned by my absence.

October 18th, 17—

Eureka! Inspired by disjointed ramblings that have reached me from Victor’s laboratory I have found a combination of spices that, when combined with the flesh of the American gourd, are positively ambrosial. I rush to share this discovery with M. Carême.

October 19th, 17—

Carême has shared my spice mix with a patisserie, and it has spread thence to a coffee house. This is not what I intended.

October 21th, 17—

A familiar odor reached my nostrils as I passed a tavern. I was sick, dismayed beyond belief, to find my creation imbibed in beer.

October 25nd, 17—

I regret that I have committed the offence of injuring a street hawker, but to see my creation sold not as comestible but soap—-!

October 31st, 17—

It is with the utmost terror and loathing that I see how my concoction has spread not only to coffee houses but to all manner of applications. O! God in Heaven! What have I done? I have unleashed pumpkin spice upon the world and I shall be forever damned for it!

I only hope my brother Victor will redeem the name of Frankenstein.

Source: http://monsteroffrankenstein.weebly.com/

All Together Now.

An Irish pub in Spain is banning the classic singalong song “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond to keep its patrons safer…A photo posted by the pub’s owner Linda Carroll showed the sign explaining the decision: “Due to COVID-19 ‘Sweet Caroline’ is banned. There will be no: touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you.”

-delish.com, August 4, 2020

COVID-19 Karaoke Playlist:

Human Touch (Bruce Springsteen)-NO

Invisible Touch (Genesis)-NO

Sometimes When We Touch (Dan Hill)-NO

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams)-YES

Touch And Go (The Cars)-NO

Just A Touch (R.E.M.)-NO

Alone (Heart)-YES

Always On My Mind (Willie Nelson/Pet Shop Boys)-YES

Touch Me In The Morning (Diana Ross)-NO

Stand Back (Stevie Nicks)-YES

You Touch My Heart (Phil Collins)-NO

Might As Well Be On Mars (Alice Cooper)-YES

Out Of Touch (Hall And Oates)-YES

Stay Away (Nirvana)-YES

Lean On Me (Bill Withers)-NO

Miss Your Touch (Cassie Ventura)-YES

Can’t Touch This (MC Hammer)-YES

I Want To Hold Your Hand (The Beatles)-NO

Touch Too Much (AC/DC)-NO

Get Down On It (Kool And The Gang)-NO

Black Dog (Led Zeppelin)-NO

I Ran (Flock Of Seagulls)-YES

With Or Without You (U2)-NO. Or YES.

Hold Her In Your Hand (The Bee Gees)-NO

Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)-YES

Don’t Stand So Close To Me (The Police)-YES. WHY ISN’T THIS AT THE TOP OF OUR LIST?

Gimme Some Money (Spinal Tap)-NO

Don’t Come Around Here No More (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers)-YES

Isolation (John Lennon)-YES

I Drink Alone (George Thorogood And The Destroyers)-YES

Dancing With Myself (Billy Idol)-YES

Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones)-NO

Piano Man (Billy Joel)-ONLY IF THE BAR IS AT 25% CAPACITY

I Am A Rock (Simon And Garfunkel)-YES

Lola (The Kinks)-NO

One More Minute (Weird Al Yankovic)-YES

Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)-NO

Green Onions (Booker T & The MGs)-UH HOW DO YOU SING THAT?

Keep Your Hands To Yourself (The Georgia Satellites)-YES

All By Myself (Eric Carmen)-YES, SERIOUSLY THIS SHOULD BE AT THE TOP OF OUR LIST.

Sunday Morning Coming Down (Johnny Cash)-YES

I Think We’re Alone Now (Tiffany)-MAYBE

Roam (The B-52’s)-NO

Let’s Stay Together (Al Green)-NO

Addicted To Love (Robert Palmer)-NO

The French Inhaler (Warren Zevon)-WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Somebody To Love (Queen)-NO

I Touch Myself (The Divinyls)-YES

Close To You (The Carpenters)-NO

So Far Away (Carole King)-YES

Stand By Me (Ben E. King)-YES IF YOU KEEP SIX FEET AWAY

Sharp Dressed Man (ZZ Top)-WHY IS HE NOT WEARING PANTS?

You Are Not Alone (The Eagles)-NO

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida-NO ONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S ABOUT AND IT FRIGHTENS CHILDREN SO YES.

The Parting Glass (Traditional)-I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE?

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (Allan Sherman)-NOW YOU’RE JUST MESSING WITH ME.

Ye Newe Renaissance Faire.

Hi everyone. Thanks for accepting the invitation to the planning meeting for this year’s Renaissance Fair. So. I know it’s strange that we’re going ahead with this, but I have some ideas about how we can make it work. We won’t be using the site, of course, but I think the virtual experience we’re offering will be just as rewarding for our guests as the real thing.

First, some of you may remember my assistant from previous years, whom we all know as Lord Sudsbury.

No, I’m not going to call you that, Kevin. We agreed on Lord Sudsbury, remember? We did not agree on “Sir Osis Of Liver”.  

All right, first of all we’ll have performances by our favorite pike-wielding minstrels. Yes, I’m talking about the Britannia Spears. They’ll help us kick things off at ten in the morning and they’ll perform until eleven. They’ve been staying at least a furlong from each other but they’ve been practicing over Zoom and I think they sound great.

I’m really excited that Leanna will be returning. Although she won’t be able to have her usual crafts booth she will be doing a pottery demonstration from ten to eleven in the morning, and another one from two to three in the afternoon. We’ll also have links to her Etsy page on the site and in the video demonstration.

We’ll have another performance by the Spears from eleven to twelve and a separate room where we’ve got a local university professor to give a talk on castle building and a demonstration on how you can build your own from cardboard boxes. So that’ll be fun for the kids. And also…Lord Sudsbury, please don’t interrupt. Seriously, Kevin, we don’t need to know how many toilet paper tubes you’ve saved.

We’ll be taking the usual break for lunch from twelve to one and have an arrangement with Green Door to deliver hot turkey legs for people who’ve ordered them, and we also have a vegan and Tofurky option for the vegetarians and vegans out there, as well as curly fries and a selection of cakes from our regular bakery partner Where Is Fancy Bread.

From one to two in the afternoon Toby and Andrew will show off their storytelling skills. They’ve got an all new fairy tale for us and instead of their usual tip jar they’ll have their Venmo number in their PowerPoint slide show.

Yes, Lord Sudsbury, thank you for reminding me about that. We’re still working on technical issues but we hope to have a virtual version of the traditional Soak-A-Bloke with Lord Sudsbury in the dunking tank.

Kevin, this year could you please not come out in the Klingon outfit?

Yeah, today is a good day for someone to die.

No, Lord Sudsbury, we will not be having a mead drinking competition, even if you are already way ahead.

Anyway we’ll have more performances by the Britannia Spears and I’m especially excited that Anna and Mark have found space on a local farm and have gotten the video equipment to give us their usual jousting demonstration.

Kevin, I’m not going to ask you again. Either pull up your stockings or pull down your tunic. No one wants to see your lance.

Yeah, don’t kid yourself. That’s not a codpiece. It’s barely a minnow.

Where was I? Oh yes, since we can’t have our candlelight dance in the evening we’re going to have a special streaming of The Adventures Of Robin Hood, the 1938 film with Douglas Fairbanks.

What’s that, Lord Sudsbury? You made alternate arrangements? Kevin, that is not what we agreed on.

Excuse me, everyone, I have to make a correction. We’ll have a special streaming of the 1993 Mel Brooks film Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

And finally I have a special addendum: a demonstration featuring Lord Sudsbury of what it means to have someone drawn and quartered.

Let’s Get Together.

Hello. You may have heard quite a bit about me in the news but I’d like to take this opportunity to speak to you directly. It’s been a difficult time, I know. Some mistakes have been made. That’s why I’m asking for your support and the support of all those you know to help make things better going forward. Together I know we can do it. I know we can get back to normal, to the way things used to be.

I know a lot of people are tired of social distancing. They’re tired of not being able to see family and friends. They’re tired of not being able to gather in large groups or go to restaurants or bars. They’re tired of going to restaurants or bars and having the spaces where they can sit be extremely limited, with many areas off-limits. They’re tired of being told which way to walk down the aisles of stores, even though it’s, at worst, a minor inconvenience.

I know many people are tired of wearing masks too, and I understand. They can be irritating. Wearing masks can make it hard to eat. Some even claim masks make it hard for them to breathe.

Many people, I know, want to go back to work. Or they want to be able to go back to their offices because they’re pretty sure they left an apple in their desk, and it would be really nice to have a meeting with actual people and not have to face a screen of coworkers that looks like the opening credits of The Brady Bunch.

I know people are tired of being scared, too. This is perhaps most true for parents who are facing the new school year. They’re wondering what they’re going to do with their children. For some virtual learning simply isn’t an option. They don’t have access to the technology or the internet in their area is too spotty to be usable. And many people just want to get their damn kids out of the house.

I know parents are worried about what can happen to their children. Even if statistically the chances of children getting sick or becoming carriers of infection are low no parent wants their child to be a statistic. And we don’t really know what the numbers are for children. No parent wants their child to be a guinea pig either. And speaking of guinea pigs what about Mr. Crunkles, the class guinea pig, who’s actually a girl, which we learned when she unexpectedly gave birth two days after she was brought to school from the pet store? Young Benjamin still has nightmares from finding her still bloody with a mass of pink suckling babies underneath her, or maybe the nightmares are from the time a bunch of sixth graders caught him in the bathroom and gave him what’s known as a “swirly”.

I’m getting off the subject here.

Many people, I know, simply ignore the rules, or openly speak out against them, deliberately gathering in large groups. I know they’re tired of being called out for this behavior.

Well, I sympathize. I’m tired of it too. I say it’s time to stop the social distancing, stop wearing masks, and just stop worrying. All of us, I believe, need to come together and simply go back to doing things the way they were before. Trust me on this. It will be so much better, especially for me.

I’m COVID-19 and I approve this message.

The Last Girl.

The unicorn heard the tent canvas rustle and raised its head from the filthy straw. A girl was sneaking under the edge. So many of them sneaked into the tent after the shows, and so many more wanted to but didn’t. The girl wore dark denim overalls and a polka dot shirt.

“Hello,” said the girl.

The unicorn nodded and moved its head forward so the girl could pet its nose. It knew she would like that. When she touched it the unicorn smelled the copper in her blood.

“I’ve never seen a real unicorn before,” said the girl, “only pictures.”

The unicorn lowered its head so the girl could touch its horn. She did, gently, feeling the grooves, then reached up to pet the unicorn’s forelock.

“My aunt has a horse,” said the girl. “I’ve ridden her. You’re smaller, and softer. I bring my aunt’s horse carrots. I’m sorry I didn’t bring you anything.”

The girl touched the unicorn’s nose again. Her sincerity smelled like dried thyme. 

The unicorn considered her, and how much like all the others she was, and thought it could tell her all things. It thought it could tell her it came out of the sea and sky when they first parted. It had seen mountains grow and seen trees climb the mountains until they reached the peak and turned to birds. It had walked across the world when all the sea was frozen, and again when there was only one land. It had seen fish swim onto land and green tendrils that followed and stretched up to strangle dragons in their sleep, and it had seen angry seven-eyed things creep up in the darkness and dissolve in the light.

It remembered the first girl it found, a naked mewling thing, lost, and the unicorn stood watch, protecting the girl from wolves and hawks, until other people came and took the girl away. The unicorn slept a long time after that while the sun went gray and the moon reddened with ash. The unicorn walked through the woods and found a girl with a satchel and told her secrets it had heard from mushrooms that glowed underground. The girl took these secrets with her. More time passed. Another girl was drawn to the unicorn. This one burned hot as a furnace and was wild. She wanted to keep the unicorn and it had to run from her.

The unicorn ran for many years and found another girl smeared with blood that was not her own, and she smelled of the iron she wore, and that she carried as a sharp stick.

It was a long time between that girl and the one before it now. The unicorn had come to live among people, to walk between dancers and clowns. It would swallow fire and strike stars from its hooves and send them spinning to the roof of the tent. 

The unicorn saw that this girl would have a daughter, and the daughter would have a daughter too. One day the girl and the daughter’s daughter would sit at a table and the girl would add sugar to the daughter’s daughter’s tea, and stir clouds of milk into a storm. 

“I saw a unicorn once,” the girl would say, “at the circus,” and they would talk about a time when there were circuses in the world.

The unicorn turned away from the girl, to say to her it was time to go.

 

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