Not Non-Fiction

Stories.

Nothing To Sneeze At.

In the past allergy season didn’t bother me. I feel guilty for saying that and perhaps I should clarify that I felt bad for my friends who coughed and had runny eyes and noses, even though it gave me the opportunity to call them up sometimes and ask if their nose was running so I could say “Well, you better go catch it!” and then I’d hang up as if they didn’t know it was me. And now I’m paying for that, although if there’s allergy karma it’s doing the equivalent of giving me the finger as it drives by. I wake up with a stuffed up nose and I have a few bouts of coughing through the day, all of which I’m pretty sure is because I’m allergic to something in the air right now.

Allergies are a weird thing anyway. I’m not treating them lightly because when I look at labels on various foods and see warnings about nuts, peanuts, or eggs it’s a somber reminder that for me they’re innocuous ingredients but for some people they can literally be deadly. One of my wife’s friends has trouble with food that’s been cooked near shrimp. A shot of epinephrine can prevent anaphylactic shock but imagine having to keep one handy all the time in case of accidental exposure to something most people take for granted. And all because some people have immune systems that overreact to something in the environment that should be harmless.

I’m not putting down the immune system. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s just that sometimes I think we should be able to communicate with our body, tell it to calm down when it’s fired up about something it should just let go. I have regular checkups with my doctor. Why can’t my major bodily systems arrange to have regular checkups with me?

“All right, digestive system, take a seat. First of all I want to thank you for all the wonderful work you’ve been doing. I also want to apologize. I know I should have been sending you a lot more fiber. I’m going to work on sending you a lot more bananas and cabbage, though not at the same time, and a lot less pizza and coffee. Thanks, and keep up the good work. Take some of that pink stuff on your way out, and could you send in the circulatory system next?”

It would be so easy, and I bet some of the underappreciated organs, like the pancreas, would appreciate the individual note of congratulations. Around allergy season, though, might not be the best time to meet with the immune system.

“Immy, you know you’re very special to me. You’ve always been close to my heart. And everything else, really, which is what makes you so vital. I appreciate everything you do, really. That stomach flu that moved in downstairs? I’m so glad you stepped up to take care of it. But we need to talk.”

At this point I would bring up pictures of pollen, pet dander, and, I don’t know, dust mites, maybe, and say, “These are not your enemies. Look, they’re just passing through. The respiratory system has them covered. Literally. With mucus. You don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Capisce? Have some chicken soup on the way out.”

I know it can never be that easy. If it were a whole spectrum of immune system conditions, not to mention other systemic issues, could be wiped out, or at least dealt with a lot more easily. And I wouldn’t spend so much time trying to catch my nose.

Please Tip Your Waiter.

The Month of March As A Restaurant Menu

Appetizers

Shrimp cocktail

Simple, classic elegance, half a dozen chilled shrimp served with cocktail sauce and lemon.

Fried green tomatoes

A historic Southern classic since 1991, cornbread fried and served with our house remoulade.

A kick in the nuts

Customers have expressed confusion about this so we want to be clear there are no nuts—no pecans, no walnuts, no hazelnuts–or nut-adjacent items like peanuts, cashews, sesame seeds, or anything else you find in fancy nut mix. This is an actual kick in the family jewels delivered by one of our chefs who, if you’re lucky, will be wearing Crocs.

Spring rolls

Rice-paper wrapped spring rolls, your choice of shrimp of vegetarian, with cucumber, bean sprouts, and cilantro. With plum sauce for dipping.

Roast chicken

An entire chicken stuffed with mushrooms, croutons, capers, and gorgonzola with a wine-reduction sauce. For some people this is an appetizer. Don’t judge.

Salads

House salad

Iceberg lettuce with cucumber, radishes, chopped tomato, and our house vinaigrette.

Big bowl of broken glass

Served with our house dressing which in this case is literally pieces of the building we knocked off with a hammer and threw in there.

Entrees

Prime rib

Either eight or twelve ounces, grilled to your specifications, served with two sides and you may or may not be stabbed in the hand by your waiter.

Linguini with clams in either red or white—oh, wait, we just became one of those sushi places where the sushi goes by on a little conveyor belt. We hope you enjoy our new direction.

Burgers and Sandwiches because we’ve turned back into the place we were when you came in.

House burger

Your choice of ground beef, turkey, or black bean. Served with fries and your server will scream non-stop for five minutes.

Box of crayons between two slices of bread

The crayons are all orange so if you want the chef will melt them and you can pretend it’s the world’s worst grilled cheese.

Desserts

Brick

We stole a bunch of these from a construction site. Served on an elegant dish.

Chocolate cake

Our own special recipe made with swirled dark and white chocolate, available with or without macadamia nuts, raspberry sauce, and whipped cream.

Raw oysters

The chef may stick a few of these in the chocolate cake if you’re wondering why it’s in the desserts.

Beverages

We have a wide variety of craft beers on tap, bottled, and in cans, as well as a range of specialty cocktails.

Iced tea is available sweet or unsweet.

Still and sparkling water is available, as are soft drinks.

Someone dressed as the Kool-Aid Man may pour a pitcher of Mountain Dew Code Red over you as he runs through the restaurant singing Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd”.

Thank you for visiting the month of March—where anything can happen!

Twenty-One Attempts To Get The Windshield Replaced.

The van’s windshield had a crack in it. We called HourGlass Repair & Replace. This is the chronicle of what followed.

Appointment 1-The technician texted to say that according to his GPS he’d be arriving between 8:30AM and 9:30AM. At 9:43AM he pulled into our driveway and started getting ready. A light rain started. Because we don’t have a garage or covered driveway he said he’d have to come back when it was dry and would reschedule us for the next day.

Appointment 2-Three days later we had to call and make another appointment. Two technicians showed up unannounced at 10:10AM. After complaining for fifteen minutes about the cold they started preparing the windshield for replacement, removing side pieces. Then they decided it was too wet and cold to continue and left. They made a note to reschedule out appointment.

Appointment 3-Cancelled because of heavy rain. We had to call and reschedule.

Appointment 4-The technician arrived a day early when we weren’t home. No apparent repair work was done but he left a Vespa parked in the driveway next to the van.

Appointment 5-The technician, scheduled to arrive between noon and 3:00PM, arrived some time between midnight and 3:00AM. We awoke to find that he had removed the cracked windshield then reinstalled it backwards and left a note that said, “They don’t make Edsels like they used to.”

Appointment 6-Cancelled because of heavy rain. We had to call and reschedule.

Appointment 7-Cancelled due to unforeseen delays with other jobs. While taking the Vespa out for a spin I was pursued by a van belonging to a rival auto-glass company. I was unable to see the driver but could hear him demanding that I stop and give him kidney beans.

Appointment 8-The technician arrived at 10:05AM in an HourGlass Repair & Replace truck blaring “Bad Moon Rising”. After preliminary prep on the van windshield he discovered the replacement windshield was for a 1991 Yugo and wouldn’t fit any existing vehicle, including a 1991 Yugo. The appointment was rescheduled.

Appointment 9-The technician arrived at 1:05PM and took the Vespa.

Appointment 10-The technician texted us that he had to cancel our appointment because a manure spreader jack-knifed on the Santa Ana. We had to call and reschedule.

Appointment 11-The technician texted to say “time is a fluid and very relative concept”. At 2:35PM a rainbow-colored van turned into our driveway. The technician, with a bushy white beard and a t-shirt that said, “If You Remember The 60’s You Weren’t There” sat in front of the van contemplating the crack for several hours. After leaving he texted us to say he was unable to finish because “the banana peels were kicking in”.

Appointment 12-Cancelled for unknown reasons. Automatically rescheduled.

Appointment 13-The technician arrived around 8:00AM and was done by 8:30AM. Everything seemed to be fine until we discovered he’d removed the engine and replaced it with a cake decorated with “Happy Retirement, Carl!”

Appointment 14-Twelve technicians arrived at 2:30PM. Carl’s retirement party was a great success.

Appointment 15-Cancelled because of leftover cake.

Appointment 16-Some time during the night the Vespa was returned.

Appointment 17-The technician arrived at 10:15AM, removed the cracked windshield, and installed a new one backwards. He left without notifying us. We scheduled a new appointment.

Appointment 18-The technician arrived at 9:25AM in a Citroen BX. He wore a trench coat, a plaid trilby, and dark glasses. After telling me several times, “The pearl is in the river,” we both concluded he was in fact a character from a 1982 made-for-TV spy thriller in which downtown Poughkeepsie is used as a stand-in for Bucharest.

Appointment 19-The technician arrived at 1:30PM and removed the backwards windshield but replaced it with the one with the crack in it.

Appointment 20-The technician arrived at 10:05AM in an HourGlass Repair & Replace truck, loaded the Vespa, and departed, blaring Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Midnight Special”.

Appointment 21-The technician texted us to say that according to his GPS he’d arrive sometime between 8:30AM and 9:00AM. He arrived at 8:50AM. Replacement of the windshield took about an hour with a recommended wait time of four hours to allow the glue to dry. After he left we found a note taped to the inside that said, “Call any time you need us again.—Carl.”

Somehow It Didn’t Work Out This Way.

A typical day of my adult life, as imagined by me as a kid, watching television, circa 1979:

I stumble out of bed and wander aimlessly with my eyes closed. Because I’m not fully conscious I step out of the window and wander onto a construction site where a series of well-timed girders lifted by cranes carry me up at least a dozen floors of an unfinished skyscraper. I make my way along more girders, blissfully unaware that I’m over a hundred feet off the ground and step into a large steel pipe just as it passes by. The pipe is lowered to the ground just in time for me to step out of it. I walk back into my apartment into the bathroom where I manage to shower, shave, and get fully dressed, somehow without ever taking off my full-length pajamas.

My roommates and I who, in spite of all having full-time jobs, are always in the apartment together, discover we don’t have the month’s rent which is due today. Or we had it and misplaced it under the couch cushions, or accidentally handed it over to the neighbor with his morning newspaper and now he’s on a trip to Paris and we have no way to get into his apartment to get the envelope with the rent in it.

I set off to take a part-time job, in spite of having a full-time job, that’s guaranteed to pay me just enough money for the rent. Rent, in fact, is our only expense; food and a constantly shifting wardrobe just somehow take care of themselves.

Getting to the job involves a car chase. I’m not sure exactly why it involves a car chase but I’ll be driving a Cadillac Fleetwood nine-passenger sedan–green, of course–at high speed around corners and over hills, flying into the air, possibly while chased by police, or just by another person who will be conveniently stopped by a passing train.

Inevitably two guys will be carrying a large pane of glass across the street just in time for me to drive through and break it into a million pieces. I feel bad about this, but, making it even worse, they’ll be carrying a replacement pane of glass just in time for the other person or the cops to drive through.

The job will take me to the jungle which is not only in another country but another continent but it only takes me a few minutes to get there. While traveling through the jungle I will, of course, encounter quicksand which, in spite of looking like nothing more than extremely watery oatmeal, has the astounding power to pull me under. Slowly.

Using a convenient branch or rope I’ll pull myself free from the quicksand, and within a minute I’ll be completely clean and dry. This is fortunate because next I’ll have to worry about the erupting volcano. I’ll be able to outrun the lava and make an escape over a rickety rope and wood bridge.

Once safely over the bridge I’ll pause to watch the bridge collapse and everything on the other side be swallowed up by the destruction.

At some point in this process I will acquire the rent money and will get home just in time to hand it over to the landlord who will laugh and remind me that we gave him the rent money yesterday, and the whole thing was one big misunderstanding.

Miraculously all this will take place in less than thirty minutes.

Television Listings, Christmas 2022

TBS: 24 hours of A Christmas Story

USA Network: 24 hours of It’s A Wonderful Life

BBC: 24 hours of Love, Actually

TNT: 24 hours of Elf

Cartoon Network: 24 hours of Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Disney: 24 hours of some Mickey Mouse things, teen superhero sitcoms, and filler because everyone’s just using our streaming service to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol or YouTube to laugh at the Star Wars Christmas special

SyFy: 24 hours of low budget Krampus movies and maybe you should block us if you have small children because we’ll also run that Futurama episode with the murderous robot Santa Claus

TVLand: 24 hours of M*A*S*H Christmas episodes and that one Andy Griffith Christmas episode and, I don’t know, was there a Green Acres Christmas episode? Let’s find out.

Game Show Network: 24 hours of game show hosts in ugly sweaters

Hallmark: Twelve movies about a young woman who steps away from her high-powered job in [major American city] after a bad breakup to return to her home town for the first time in ten years to find the guy she had a crush on in high school is helping save the local [Christmas tree farm/candy cane factory/handmade ornament shop/egg nog distillery] from being closed.

Norwegian TV: 24 hours of a fire burning under the Aurora Borealis.

He’s Coming Clean.

Hello Everybody,

The holidays are finally here. It’s my time to take up my usual position watching over everything. Most of you set me up to keep an eye on your kids. I do, but I’m watching you too. Some of you obviously know that. Some of you do things I wish I hadn’t seen. Some of you do some pretty awful things just because you know I’m watching.

I want you to know how much I hate all of you.

I didn’t even want this job. This was supposed to be temporary, or a compromise. The Boss couldn’t keep an eye on everybody all the time, in spite of what you’ve heard. Every year the list gets longer and double-checking it is hard enough. I was supposed to only have this job while I was studying for dental school but somehow it’s ended up being a full-time occupation.

Maybe it was because I was always a rule-follower, unlike most of my peers. I was a misfit, if you will, but the wrong kind of misfit. I wasn’t the cool kind of misfit, the kind everyone admires and even aspires to be. Almost everyone. That type is overrated, if you ask me, and a menace. That’s why I was the one who reported that gang smoking behind the gym. Addiction, lung cancer, not to mention the danger of starting a fire. I tried to be discreet about it but since I’d told them to stop first it was obvious who reported them.

I had to develop my own coping strategies after that, like always being sick on days when we played dodgeball.

For the same reason I tried to turn in my senior class for the prank they were planning to pull. The adults didn’t take that nearly as seriously as I thought they should, but who did they think was going to clean up all that shaving cream? Being on school property after hours was no joke either.  

Sometimes I think this is all a punishment, but I can’t believe the Boss is that vindictive. Look at how he still put Rudolph in charge after all the trouble he caused. There’s a real misfit for you.

I also know the dislike is, in many cases, mutual. Some of you don’t even want me around. Some of you think I’m creepy, or that I’m teaching kids to be too casual about surveillance. Well, you can’t be too careful, but, gradually, I’ve come to think that there might be some things that can be allowed to slide. There are some secrets I’ll keep from the Boss, depending on what they are.

It wouldn’t hurt if you’d pass some of the milk and cookies my way once in a while too.

Sincerely,

The Elf On The Shelf

Thanks, 2022.

It seems like only a year ago I last shared this annual tradition, and thanks to WordPress’s nifty scheduling function I had this set to go three years ago without knowing what the 1091 days in between would bring. Anyway happy Thanksgiving to everyone except those in countries that don’t celebrate it and the Canadians who are heathens who have Thanksgiving before Halloween.

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.