inasmuch as it concerns Thing-a-day:
Cultivating dailiness in February and elsetimes.
Oh, All Right, I'll Do That Thing
Apparently Writer's Digest don't actually post a prompt a day anymore. They must have run out the bank or something. Now they only post one a week.
Here's the prompt that caused me such disgust the other day:
It's garbage day and you put your trash on the curb, but when you return home from work, it's still there (though everyone else's garbage has been taken away). The next week, it happens again--and again the following week. Why is the trash collector snubbing you? Write a scene explaining why he's skipping your garbage and how you figured it out.You can visit their forums and see how others responded to it.
I don't know exactly what it is about that prompt that just kills inspiration dead at my feet. Maybe it's the sixth grade English teacher style: Now, class, here's your assignment. Something about the way it's worded puts me back at four and a half feet off the ground looking up at a middle-aged man or woman (it doesn't matter which) with a blackboard behind their heads and a half-patronizing, half-eager smile on their face. Isn't that exciting, kids? Doesn't it just rev up the old idea juicer? And maybe it's the way the prompt closes off all the possibilities except the least interesting ones. They've already decided for you why the garbage collecter isn't taking your trash: He's snubbing you.
I'm just not interested in the story behind that social drama.
I told some friends about the ghastly badness of this prompt, and we started brainstorming how the prompt could have been made interesting by being left more open-ended or simply being worded differently. Most of our ideas centered around having one's garbage indeed taken--except for a single item left behind. "You and the garbage collector are vying for the love of the same woman; the items the g. c. leaves behind are to throw you off the track." "You and the garbage collector are spies in a vast network. The g. c. leaves items of your trash behind in order to convey coded messages which you will then pass along to the only other member of the network you know of." "Yes, but your spy network trades only in the most mundane of data. 'Mrs. Murphy is planning a Mac & Cheese dinner tonight.'" "The messages the g. c. leaves you are entirely about food. Is he trying to ask you out on a date?"
The spy network was my idea. I liked it, so I ran with it.
I retrieved the garbage can lid from where it had been left. As usual, the garbage collectors had tossed it on the ground, projecting it in the natural trajectory caused by letting go of the lid the moment it could be said to have been removed from the can. There'd been a bit of wind around lunchtime, too, so it had gone down the block a ways. I picked it up off Mrs. Murphy's lawn, sighed, and trudged back to my own driveway.
It was when I went to put the lid back on the can that I saw it. And I remembered.
So many years... I'd almost forgotten. "Act natural," they'd said, "blend in," and I'd done such a good job. I'd found employment, found a social group, made friends. "Try to think like one of them." I'd even married one of them, had children with him, two children, Tom and Renee, sixteen and ten years old and so beautiful like their father.
Twenty years, and you almost believe you're one of them-- until the message comes that it's time to be one of you again. Looking down into the garbage can I felt the rest of me in the back of my mind, hidden away for so long but beginning to stretch and yawn after its long sleep. The temperature of my blood shifted two degrees to the cooler, and the subtle halos I'd learned to ignore stood out in my vision around everything with a pulse. A sparrow taking off from the curb: a glow of red and a haze of violet in the corner of my eye.
I had been told they would contact me, and that I would know it when I saw it. I knew it now.
My garbage can that should have been empty contained one thing: the shed skin of a snake. And to prove it was no accident, the fragile tube of dead matter had been threaded through a large bead made of no material found on earth. Ourlithk. I had to control myself from pouncing on it like a magpie. The metal was beyond price. You didn't buy it; you were only ever given it by the very powerful, and then you knew you belonged to them.
Of course I belonged to them. I was one of them.
And so, apparently, was one of the garbage collectors. At least.
I rolled the can back into my garage, carefully acting as though nothing had happened. Just in case a neighbor was watching. Once inside with the garage door closed, I reached in slowly and retrieved the ourlithk bead. The snake skin crumbled at my touch. It had been merely a symbol of what I was supposed to do. The bead I brought into the kitchen with me, strung on a piece of twine, and hung around my neck. I would not remove it again while I stood upon the earth.
The rest of the week loomed ahead of me, a desert of dread and anticipation. I would have to act normal. And then, next Monday morning, I would wait for the garbage truck, and for my contact.
Another Cooking Thing (This Time It's Greek)
Today's thing happened in the kitchen. John and I made spanakopita. Pictures! We have pictures! I really wish I'd taken some during the actual manufacture of the triangular pockets. That was... involved. I got too distracted with "Gods damned filo layers won't separate ARGH!" to remember to take pictures then. (Yes, this was our first time cooking with filo. Oh my Gods that sucks. But I would do it again, and probably will sometime soon; there's all sorts of leftover filo in the freezer.)
But meanwhile you get to see John sauteeing the fresh spinach (and wondering how it could possibly all fit in the pan) and, later, the cute little finished spanakopita triangles bubbling and crisping away in the oven.
They just came out of the oven. We need to let them cool down. They smell sooooo good... Good thing I've already stuffed myself on homemade turkey/andouille gumbo and I'm not starving or anything.
I am a kitchen Goddess.
Presenting A Picky Prompt Thing
So I used "Planning a picky prompt thing" as my search phrase. That got me rather a grab-bag of topics, including two pages about planning weddings and one about smallmouth bass fishing.
And the words are...
The Florida panhandle raced by like a movie, the kind of movie that maybe stars Geena Davis and, oh, I dunno, Linda Hamilton maybe, in a cute green convertible with money flying out of the back seat, hundreds of twenties hitting the breeze, 'cause they just robbed a bank and now they're trying to escape the state. That's how we went through Northwest Florida. Not like gorgeous actresses portraying bank robbers, though that would have been nice. Like the scenery whizzing by unnoticed while the camera focuses on the driver's impertinent bare feet kicking the side-view mirror. Foreground: fire-engine red on seashell toenails. Background: indefinite blur of green and concrete gray.
School was out, and we were headed to New York. By car. From Mississippi. I-10 to whatever went north when we were sick of I- 10 or ran into the Atlantic, I dunno, don't ask me, we never got there. We got about three small towns East of Tallahassee. That was the problem.
By now my sister's probably had her wedding. It was perfect in every detail: a fine fall of snow for the flower girls to make angels in, sparkling icicles catching the camera eye but not quite outshining the diamond on her left ring finger, jazz music at the wedding reception, our father standing on a chair to make a speech. He'd be wearing the tie with the penguins on it. So will all the groomsmen; my sister is infatuated with penguins. She's probably got the album on the mantlepiece. She hopes that visitors will shyly ask to page through it. She hopes they'll notice something missing. They'll close the book (she hopes) and then they'll say, "But didn't you say you had a younger brother? Which one was he?" Knowing her, she'll have the speech ready to go.
And nowhere in the speech will she say, "He was supposed to get here in time to stop me marrying this bastard." She probably won't even admit he's a bastard--not that she won't have noticed it herself, that is. I mean, that was the one detail she neglected when she planned her wedding. Getting the husband right.
It should have been Ronnie. But Ronnie and I never had much success getting out of the south. This trip was no different. I had thought maybe we'd turn north at Jacksonville. We still might, one day, if we manage to get out of jail.
We're working on that.
Planning A Picky Prompt Thing
Since writing yesterday's blog entry, I took a closer look at the write-up that came with the "2008 Beignet Waiter" collectible figurine that came with this year's King Cake. Apparently my little trip down memory lane was quite appropriate: Haydel's was, in fact, thinking of The Morning Call and not the Cafe Du Monde. (Here's Haydel's King Cake Collector Dolls web page. At the time of this writing, it hasn't quite caught up with the times. They're still showing the 2004 doll, which was a porcelain Pete Fountain. He's so cute!)
This tells me two things. First, that Metairie is not officially excluded from Mardi Gras history and nostalgia. That's a relief. I'm used to being a little defensive about my status as a Jefferson Parish native. (Welllll, I may yet have to be defensive. Calling it "Metairie's version of the Cafe Du Monde" is kinda wrong: its original location was on Decatur Street. It only moved to Metairie in 1974. That's pretty darn recent in terms of the establishment's 138-year history, but from my perspective, that's still before I was born. Plus the little slideshow on its web site's front page includes shots of the Metairie location's interior. So nyah.)
Second, since the write-up was in present tense, I'm gonna assume that The Morning Call is not as doomed as my last visit to the place made it seem. And hoo boy is that a relief.
Anyway. So much for that.
For today's thing, I'm reduced to writing prompts. That's right; I can't think of anything to write. So I went over to Writer's Digest's Daily Prompt site... and was immediately disgusted. I know, I know, I shouldn't be picky, the whole point of a prompt is to write stuff I wouldn't otherwise have written, but... I'm sorry, I can't bring myself to do it.
So instead, here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna do a search on Google, open up the first page of links (excluding paid advertisement) in tabs) and choose... let's say the 10th noun appearing on that page. That would be the main block of text, not the sidebar menu or whatnot.
Sounds like an appropriately anal retentive procedure. Only one problem:
What's my search phrase?
...I'll get back to you on that.
I Have A Thing For Beignets
Happy Mardi Gras! We had friends over to help us eat up red beans & rice, andouille sausage, cornbread, and ... oh, I'd say about half the King Cake that Mom sent. (John got the baby.)
Mom always sends me at least one King Cake from Haydel's bakery every Mardi Gras. Not only is this because I'm a homesick New Orleanian and she knows it, but also because Haydel's in particular puts a little collectable porcelain figurine in the package. This year's figurine is a "Beignet Waiter." You can tell because of the paper hat.
MORNING CALLSI used to bike to the Morning Call, which is the Metairie version of the Cafe Du Monde. It's about a mile and a half from my parents' house. Last time I biked there at two AM during a visit home, and it was closed. I ended up at the donut place at West Esplanade and Causeway instead. The people there told me its hours have been erratic since Katrina. (They also insisted that I looked like I was related to this other woman who just happened to show up and vouch for the fact that I was not actually her sister. It was surreal.)
Here: Praise for the man in the paper cap
and the matched streams of milk and coffee:
hot, hot, piping hot
and swirling before my spoon
even touches it.
Here: An ode to the hour, that the night has a case of
and I've no place else to go:
just here, amongst the mirrors,
amongst the cups of coffee
swirling with milk.
The world hasn't woken up yet
I haven't woken up yet
I'm dreaming these mirrors, the mirrors are dreams,
I'm dreaming this cup of coffee,
the milk, your paper hat.
I must have been sleepwalking
I'm awake now
Anyway. I want my Morning Call back. Dammit.
I'll check again in April when John and I come visit for the French Quarter Fest.
Improv Cooking Thing
The thing about Thing-a-day is, it's sort of unspecific. I mean, think about it: "Starting on February 1st, make one thing a day." Thing. Sort of noun-ish. Creativity is involved here, also newness ("no recycled old work"), but of what sort?
For obvious reasons, most of my things tend to be literary things. Today, however, I'm going with culinary.
This comes frightfully close to "recycled old work," I confess. What's new here is the extra savory treatment of the squashies. They needed a bit more flavor than I'd previously managed to coax out of them by merely dumping the frozen chunks in with the pasta.
Annie's Mac with Squash Brabant and Sauteed Walnuts
- Cook the pasta from one box of Annie's Alfredo And Cheddar. Drain.
- Defrost about 1.5 C cubed sweet potato and acorn squash. Alternately, you can start from fresh vegetables and cook them to tender.
- Melt 2 Tbsp butter and toss in the vegetables, a handful of walnut pieces, and a clove or two of minced garlic. Sautee for a bit.
- Add about 1 Tbsp onion powder, 1 Tsp paprika, and pepper to taste. Sautee a bit more.
- Add one or two chopped up green onions (scallions) and the Annie's cheese packet. Mix well.
- Add 1/4 C milk and 2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream. Lower heat, stir, and cook until warm.
- Add cooked pasta, mix well, and allow to simmer until sauce has reached desired consistency.
Enjoy! And leave yourself time for a nap afterwards. I came home pretty tired from work and this meal topped my sleepy right off.
Tonight we had some friends over and took turns playing a favorite video game on the Sony PS2. Which game? Well, the one that would star in this parody of recent blockbuster film Cloverfield.
The scene begins from the point of view of a digital video recorder at a crowded party: dim lights, the press of bodies, a spilled drink, music thumping out of an overenthusiastic sub- woofer. Suddenly the room shakes and the lights flicker and die. People grab for the furniture and fall all over the place. Our intrepid camera person is on his feet quickly and runs to the window.About Cloverfield: You should go read this thread at Making Light.
We're some thirty floors up looking down over the neighborhood streets. We can't see very far because the nearby buildings are just as tall. But everything shakes again and a sort of rolling roar rumbles across the middle distance, right to left. There's screaming along with it and air horns and car alarms and police sirens. After it passes there's quiet enough to hear the other party-goers ask each other what the hell is going on.
The sound, or montage of sounds, begins to approach again from the left, much closer this time. It gets louder and louder (somewhere in the middle of it one dog is barking at the top of its lungs) until it's a deafening, thunderous din. Something huge passes in front of us. We're aware only of a massive, indistinct shape whirling by. After it passes, the horizon is wide open--all the buildings across the street are gone.
At this point, the viewer wants to hear some sort of dramatic soundtrack accompanying the revelation. But this is a documentary style movie, so all we get is the shocked silence of the party-goers taking in the suddenly empty skyline.
The noise starts again to our right, but this time it's far in the distance. The camera is jostled as people crowd against the window alongside our camera person. Hands on the glass frame the view. The noise gets louder.
Someone shouts, "Look!" and someone else moans "Oh my God." The indistinct shape is easier to see from this distance. It rolls with an uneven gait into the middle of our field of vision. It's mostly round, but something's sticking out, something tall and pointed at one end. As the thing comes to a stop directly in the center of the frame, we finally understand what it is. It's the Statue of Liberty.
Then the thing seems to get its bearings, and it rolls right for us.
In the darkness caused by the thing blotting out the world, the movie title fades in.
PROJECT: KATAMARI DAMACY
So, about a week ago, I had this dream.
I dreamt that there was a parade passing by and fireworks and they were all for me (and I was a lot younger than I am now) but my parents didn't want me to go out and enjoy it. And I knew they were right, and what they wanted was all for the best, and what I was supposed to do now was eat this special sesame-bun and drink this special peach fizzy soda and they would make me forget. I would eat and drink and then not remember anything special had happened. And that was really the right thing to do. But I really, really wanted to see the parade! So I promised that I would eat and drink the forgetting stuff after I'd watched the parade and the fireworks. In the dream, I knew that this wasn't the first time I'd been made to forget special things happening. I hoped this time I'd at least remember that something had happened.
So that was the dream, and that's what came to mind when I tried to think of a Thing to write today.
This is rather more of a short story than a scene.
It had been the best night in Little May's entire life. And she was a whole ten years old tonight, so that was saying something.
Every year on her birthday, May was allowed to stay up past her bedtime, as long as she liked. She was allowed to eat all her favorite things for dinner, even if they were ice cream, freezie- pops, crawfish sushi, and M&Ms. She was allowed to stay home from school if she wanted, or go to school and have all her classmates sing Happy Birthday to her. Little May's birthday was the one day of the year that belonged to no one but her.
But tonight, the night of her tenth birthday, tonight was special even by those standards. Tonight there'd come a knock at the door, and a little girl May's age was standing there in a dress redder than a valentine card and with sparkling gold hair down to her toes. "Come out," she'd said, "We all want to see you!" May had let her take her hands and had followed her into the street. The little girl's hands were slightly furry, like velvet.
Her mother had stood in the door behind her and begun to say something unhappy, but then she'd stopped. "Go on, dear," she'd said. "It's your birthday."
The parade was like nothing May had ever seen, not on Mardi Gras, not on Saint Patrick's Day, not ever. There were no marching bands or Shriners cars or clowns or floats or people yelling Throw me something mister. Instead there were--other kinds of people. People made of light, of wind, of bells, people with the faces of cats and birds, people with wings like bats and dragonflies. Like no people May had ever seen.
But they all knew her name. They all knew it was her birthday.
After the parade came the fireworks. Red and white and gold and green, they all exploded low in the sky, right above her head, fooling the street lamp into thinking it was dawn. And the noise! The whizzing and the booms and the popping and the sputtering! The strange, lovely people all stood in a crowd around May, looking up and going Oooh and Aaah. Every once in a while one of them would hug May. They looked so happy. Some of them were crying.
When the fireworks were over, the people walked away down the street waving goodbye. May waved after them. The last to leave was the little velvet girl in the red dress. She said, "You can't come with us tonight, not the way we came. But tomorrow--" And then she whispered in May's ear a series of instructions, one after the other like a how-to project in the magazine May's teacher brought to school. "You'll remember? We miss you, May. Come home." And then the little girl ran after the strange and wonderful people, out of sight.
May went straight up to bed, but she couldn't sleep. She felt like her skin was full of bees and her head was made of fireworks, she was that excited. And tomorrow--tomorrow she would do what the little velvet girl in the red dress had said! She would see all the strange and beautiful people again! While she lay there remembering and remembering and remembering, her mother came in with a glass of milk and little piece of pie. "Here," she said, "just a little midnight snack. 'Cause it's your birthday."
"What kind is it?"
"It's your favorite. Go on."
May ate it up, every bite. Her mother sat with her until she was done, and then she took the plate and glass away with her. May heard her parents' voices murmuring in the hall, but now she was very sleepy and couldn't quite make it out. Her mother's voice was high and sad. Her father's voice was low and rumbly. "...with it like we always do," was part of what he said, and "you'll see, it'll be OK."
In the morning, May woke up already disappointed. It wasn't her birthday anymore. And she felt, like she felt every year the day after her birthday, like maybe she could have had more fun if she'd thought of more exciting things to do. She'd gone to school, her class had eaten cake and ice-cream, she'd blown out her candles... there'd been presents, including the computer game all her friends were playing, just like she'd asked for... she'd had candy and, and pie for dinner, and... and she'd watched TV with her parents until she'd gotten sleepy. Seems like she'd wasted it, somehow.
Oh well. Next year she'd think of something exciting. Maybe a big party at the amusement park, maybe all her friends could come. Maybe fireworks just like it was New Year's Eve. Maybe...
"May," called her mother, "aren't you awake yet? You'll be late for school."
Yesterday John says, he says to me, "Hey, so, I'm going to be doing thing-a-day." And I says, "What?" And he says, "Thing-a-day?" And I says, "No. What?"
And after a few more volleys along those lines the conversation settled down into a more informative groove, with him telling me all about Thing-a-day and me getting all enthused.
He's gonna do it. (He's doing it now. Hey look! And now he's done! For today, anyway.) And me, I'm gonna do it too. Maybe I didn't get to the Official Site in time to register for this year's session and have a cool Thing-a-day.com blog of my own, but, y'know, oh well. I have a blog here.
And, it being Feb. 1, I have a thing here. Here it is. It's a scene-thing, circa 530 words. Maybe I'll be doing Scene-a-day.
Most people didn't get off the bus here. All of the offices were empty, and many of them had been vandalized. The neon orange and red of gang tags glowed from the dusty, broken glass and crumbling pebbled facades. For those who didn't know how to read them, their scrawl still communicated loud and clear: don't be here after dark if you know what's good for you. All the locks were busted. None had seen their rightful keys all winter.Of course, tomorrow, who knows, tomorrow might find me quilting. Or knitting. Or baking, even. But I'm guessing that the majority of my things will be writing-things, like this thing here.
The cable news channels and the top-tier blogs called it "The bust after the boom after the bust," or simply "The second dot-com crash." It had left programmers, project managers, and technical writers without jobs. Business districts like this stood to no further purpose. Some of the signs you could still read: SineWave, WebNet, SpectralCore. Names that described nothing directly. Titles that appealed to an instinctual awe of the new and the shiny. Very little shone here now. The lawns were overgrown, the creek drowned in weeds, and the geese reigned supreme over grass and pavement. Why the bus even ran here at all was a mystery. The riders shrugged, called it a testimony to inertia, and waited for their stops. Their stops were further along, in retail and dining districts where business still flourished.
Closer inspection of the area revealed that a lot of the tagging was nearly as old as the bust, and the turf wars had already migrated east. Newer marks were subtler. A tracker might have sussed them out, or a bravely curious pedestrian might have observed the tracks being laid. For instance:
...inside an office formerly belonging to an online guerilla advertisement company, the handholds on the rock climbing wall that ascended beside the central stair were suspiciously well maintained. The ropes looped over the top bar were new. Each dawn found fresh handprints in the chalk.
...inside what used to be a broadcasting studio, down a windowless and electricity-less corridor, each recording booth had been altered. Where computers, microphones, and mixers once stood, there were now mechanical potters' wheels installed in the countertops. Red clay piled to the ceiling. On the walls were niches for tools, shelves for drying the greens, and sconces for the ten, fifteen, twenty candles per booth that gave the sculptors light.
...inside the former FedEx depot was a nest of generators gently humming, gently waiting for a neighbor squatter to ask it to do its job. The smell of gas filled the small storage space. A web of wires led to the closest buildings where electrical inventions underwent development. A cache of fuel and spare parts suggested a system of scavenge and contribution.
And the industry inside the buildings wasn't all there was to see. The crash had taken place late last summer, and the gangs had given up the space to the artisans some three or four months later. The frost hadn't left the ground yet, but you could see compost piles here and there, if you knew where to look. If you knew how to look. You could see that the shrubbery beds had been turned and tilled. They were waiting for seed-sowing time.
It's a good thing, doing things like this every day.