Thursday, May 30, 2013

In Waynesville we have a better class of homeless

     Living in Waynesville has some much envied advantages; the sense of community, charity and fellowship, not to mention a simpler lifestyle, reduced incidences of crime and the literal and figurative elbow room.  Don’t get me wrong, we have our share of druggies, winos, sex offenders and petty thieves.  After all this is the town where they arrested three men for operating a sadomasochistic castration dungeon, where a Baptist minister evicted nine congregants for not supporting President Bush, and of course, the animal control officer who felt compelled to shotgun Tom Gobbles, the town turkey, in front of a restaurant packed with patrons.  It’s just that most of our horrendous news events wouldn't even make the back pages of some big city newspapers.
     It is easy to get complacent here where they regularly close off Main Street for community street dances, where dining out is a social event to meet and greet your friends and neighbors, and where the serine beauty of the Smoky Mountains almost obscures of the dirty underbelly of human nature.  That’s why it is refreshing when someone scratches the surface and lifts up evidence of the omnipresent societal slough for all to see.
     A few weeks ago I shared a story on the social sites published by The Smoky Mountain News.  It was a compassionate, even inspiring story of one of this town’s street dwellers and his dog.  But the echoes of the story (in my head) are not the unfortunate circumstances that led to his homelessness, not about the help he receives from Meridian Behavior Health Services, or his own charity that he practices with the minimal Social Security income he receives, what echoes is the passage, “waiting for a cup of coffee at City Bakery in Waynesville, the 65-year-old stands patiently alongside tourists, retirees and locals. His clothes, shoes and beard are well kempt. He holds his head up high and there’s a smile on his face. These don’t seem to be your typical characteristics of someone homeless.” 
     It is almost like the writer was attempting to excuse the presence of the misfortunate in our picturesque Norman Rockwell setting.  Are we to assume that we have a better class of homeless?
From the Burr Studio & Gallery 136 North Main Street, Waynesville, NC 28786 
     This blog post was inspired by a recent trip to Bi-Lo for a cucumber, a gallon of distilled water and a six-pack of beer (aren't Express Lines great fodder for the imagination).  I elected to use one of the Self-Pay kiosks rather than wait in line while people tried to guess the correlation of my sundry items.  I was looking up the produce code for cucumbers when the animated voice of the kiosk to my left politely asked, “Do you have anything under your cart?  Do you have any coupons?”  The seemingly benign lady who had just finished her purchase started yelling, “No.  No.  No!  And I don’t want you to talk to me!

     I wasn't sure if it was a joke meant to amuse her fellow shoppers or a minor psychological detachment, but I knew I had to bookmark the event to use as a muse.  Even in Waynesville…

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Smellable Memory

     Have you ever smelled a memory?  The other morning as I started my day returning emails and organizing my tasks at 4 in the morning (a normal time for me), a front moved through the mountains with a gentle rain shower.  A cold wet breath of air was inhaled by my house through an open window behind the desk.  Suddenly, I was fourteen again, awake in the predawn darkness of a lonely cabin in a Poconos summer camp for rich Jewish kids from New York City.  Rising earlier than most other life forms in the forest, my duties as the assistant camp cook required that I get the kitchen open and the coffee on before the steward and the cook arrived and awakened the other staff.  I could even feel the cold damp wood floor as I swept my feet in an unseen arc trying to find the flip-flops I needed to wear for the walk down the hill in the fog draped darkness.
     All of that from a cool, rain-washed, mountain breeze.
     The spontaneity of the thought brought to mind how the first chilly morning of autumn always reincarnates my morning walks to the Gertrude C. Folwell Elementary School in Mount Holly.  The mind is such a curious organ.  One smell from a chemical plant, and I am in the back of a Chevy Nova station wagon crossing the Delaware near the Roman Haas plant to fetch my Grandmother to her new apartment in Lumberton.  A subtle soft breeze on a cloudless summer day, and I can hear the parents cheering from the bleachers at the Little League field.  The slightest wisp of a wood fire, and I am once again at the Boy Scout Jamboree in the Bass River State Forest.  There are dozens of scent triggered memories that could easily be catalogued with very little work, but in retrospect, they all seem to share one particular similarity: a genesis in a simpler, more innocent time.

     Why is it, that as adults, we don’t generate these same indelible imprints of joy in our minds?  Granted that all of my smellable remembrances originate before the emancipated complexities of work, marriage, family, money, taxes and household maintenance, but should that be a chiseled-in-stone requisite for implanting a triggered memory?  Sure, I could list the memorable times I have experienced as an adult; there have been many, but none that manifest in unintentional mental flashes.  I cherish my involuntary reflections of the once-was-me, but I worry about the cerebral pollution responsible for my psychological-climate change.  It seems that my mind has entered into a new ice age and threatens the extinction of that rare species of memory. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chipmunks can fly?

     It has always been my good fortune to rescue the quirkiest dogs.  Our newest four legged child, Sebastian, is no exception.
     The first few weeks proved difficult, but finally he humbly agreed to assimilate into our family and immediately elected himself emperor.  Besides his all too frequent escapes, our biggest problem with him is his ADHD (attention deficient, hyperactive dog).  With each request to go potty, the imagined possibility of seeing/smelling another of the neighborhood dogs, frequently distracts him to the point he forgets the reason he asked to go out.
     All winter long, we dealt with his wishful quest for friends, and thankfully occasionally some of the neighbors’ kids would come to visit.  Angel is a regular; Chance, the boxer who lives above us, comes by to say hello, but our friend White Dog has been inexplicably corralled by his humans.  (I heard rumors of fights and murdered chickens, but I don’t know.)  Sebastian, thanks to his escape talents, has also met a number of other doggies up and down the mountainside.  He is always expecting that someone will be in the yard visiting.
     As spring sprang, the trees leafed, the songbirds filled the air, and our resident population of wasps and chipmunks appeared.  At least as far as Sebastian goes, wasps and chipmunks have a distinct similarity; both are among the best toys a dog could have.
     I have no idea where or when he learned it, but my Little Bubba has a comical technique to catch and play with wasps.  He crouches and crawls and sneaks up within striking distance of his prey and with a feline-like pounce snaps the wasp in midair.  He knows they sting, so as soon as he gets one, with a flick of the head, he throws it down on the ground.  He’ll stand over it as it collects its wits (and to be sure the stinger is not pointed in a dangerous direction), and then with another snatch and flick, he throws the wasp around until it manages to escape or just stops playing and lays there.  He does get stung quite often, but that does not deter him from playing the game.
     Chipmunks are a much more daunting challenge for him.  He sees them in the yard eating the seeds meant for our avian tenants, but he has yet to master a successful technique that would enable him to capture one of the elusive playmates. 
     We are all familiar with chipmunks, but Sebastian recently taught me something new; chipmunks can fly.
     There is a wall of stacked rocks on the side of the driveway behind where my Earthbox garden is.  The other day as he exited the garage on a requested potty run, his sudden leap was an obvious sign that something had been spotted over by the garden.
     Potty?  What potty?  We have got to find where that toy went.  After a general survey, Sebastian began a systematic, nook-by-nook search of the rocks.  He stuck his little brown nose deep into every hole and cranny searching for his would-be new best friend.  At about the twentieth fissure, long after he had lost my interest, he stuck his snout in and a chipmunk flew out.  It was a good two-and-a-half feet off the ground and the flight spanned about four feet of open space ending in some dense shrubbery.
     If Sebastian had not been off-balance, stretched tall to explore the higher hiding spots, I am sure he could have caught Alvin in mid-flight. But the chipmunk made it to safety and left my dog to ponder how much more fun these friends could be now that he knows that they, like wasps, can fly.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Puppy Love?

     It was about ten minutes before 2:00 AM when Sebastian sat up in bed, did a whole body shake, and said in his limited canine vocabulary, “Dad.  Wake up; I have to go potty.”
     I made a futile attempt to reason with him, which only resulted in him getting loud and barking at me, “I’m serious!  Get up; I need to go now!”
     I dragged myself from the soft comfort of my bed, donning my LL Bean slippers and rubbing the much needed sleep from my eyes.
     Sebastian was already off the bed and sprinting back and forth from the bedroom door to my feet in a futile attempt to make me hurry.  I lifted his sister down to take her with us since his argumentative
retort to my innocent questioning had roused poor Betsy from her peaceful slumbers.  Betsy is a cute kid, but the dumbest quadruped child I have ever known; she has never learned any language at all.
     Illuminating the kitchen, staircase, basement, garage and finally the side yard with painful light, too bright for my over-dilated irises, the three of us made our way outside.  Vacuous Betsy, driven only by mute instincts, immediately found an appropriate spot for her business and patiently waited while Sebastian surveyed the area for the possibility of nocturnal chipmunks.  

     “Nope, none by the birdfeeders; better check the garden.”  
     He thoroughly checked behind my Earthboxes, along the as yet to be transplanted Knock Out rose bushes, along the embankment above the drive; he peered into the dense coppice on the steep grade over the house and finally, with a crouched stealth technique that is more feline than canine, sprang to the retaining wall hoping to catch some unsuspecting rodent frolicking in the woods below the house.
     To his surprise, none of the elusive prey that he desperately wants to capture and play with were awake at that early morning hour.  But to be sure, he backtracked to the garage and rechecked every spot previously known to harbor those quick and evasive toys.  Frustrated, he sat down in the middle of the driveway with the intent of a doggy-style, overnight stakeout.  Knowing what he had forgotten, the real purpose of this pre-dawn sortie, I dragged my insolent leashed brat around to all the places he normally uses to relieve himself.  He showed no interest in anything other than a vigilant chipmunk watch.
     I eventually gave up and took both kids in, darkening the passageways behind us as we climbed the stairs back to the bedroom.  I did scold him for waking me for no reason, but he doesn’t understand how chipmunk hunting could be considered no reason.
     Back in the warmth of my bed, I slowly slipped over the edge of the precipice, returning to the mental quiet of sleep.
     “Dad?  Dad, wake up, I forgot to go potty.”
     It is needless to say that as I roused myself for the third time this morning, this time with coffee, news and urgent business emails, my normal office companion is still sound asleep downstairs in the bedroom.
     You have got to love him.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Fargo Philosophy doesn't involve wood chippers.

          Could you hold my coffee for a second, please?  I need to punch somebody (metaphorically speaking of course).  I have had an extremely difficult week fraught with disappointment, incompetence, frustration, and customer service at such a low level it might be termed customer abuse; all of this on top of the unending refusal of winter to cede its influence to that of spring.  Am I angry?  Yes, that’s why someone needs to be bitch slapped, and it doesn’t even matter who.
          I considered venting through this entire post, giving just enough details to avoid a libel suit, but enough to point my finger at inept culprits of my angst.  But every time I started to compose the first few paragraphs, I found myself seeing red and getting as worked up as I was yesterday afternoon.  That is not a good prompt for writing, nor is it the kind of image of myself that I want to portray.  As a completely unrelated aside, if I have ever recommended doing business with a certain credit union, please disregard that advice.
          Alright, give me my coffee back; I’m not going to hit anyone (maybe).  The weather is improving with the cessation of the rains and the relative approach of somewhat seasonal temperatures.  I might don a sweater or two, and attempt to do some work out on the deck this afternoon; maybe even catch a glimpse of that nearby star they call “sun.”  The unwarranted crisis of irritating idiocy resolved itself yesterday at exactly one minute before five (and one minute before I would have erupted into a volcanic demon bent on devouring a few very select souls).  So maybe, just maybe, this is going to be a good day.
          My puppy is peacefully sleeping on my lap, there are song birds singing outside my window, my workload is manageable today, I am desperately trying to ignore the mental recap of the last few days that is playing in the back of my mind, the skies are a vague resemblance of blue, I believe there is actually some sun shining on a pasture across the valley and this coffee tastes pretty good.
          Y’all know I’m a sucker for a good quote, well, remember Marg Gunderson from Fargo in the ending sequence? 
         “And for what?  For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know.  Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it.
         It is going to be a beautiful day, and if you disagree, you’re going to get hit.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Lobster tails, crab cakes, mussels, trout and catfish.

     Living up here on the side of a mountain in an isolated, rural community does have a few disadvantages.  The mail is never quite as reliable as it might be in an urban center, plus my mailbox is a half mile away and about 700 feet below the old homestead.  UPS does a pretty good job except I am never sure whether my packages are going to come out of Sylva or Mills River.  We are at a mid-point, so I guess UPS isn’t sure either.  FedEx is a joke; we’re lucky when we get them out this far into the sticks, let alone on any kind of realistic schedule.  We even had one FedEx driver call from the bottom of our driveway to ask if we thought it was safe for him to come up to the house.
     The reason I started with this thought is I am planning dinner.  For those who have bothered to read the “About Me” section of the blog (and obviously for those who have known me a long time), y’all remember that I started off in life as a chef.  Although there is not enough money in the world to convince me to go back into a commercial kitchen, I still love to cook.  Most of the time, I can find the ingredients necessary to satisfy my “hunger” to prepare the fete du jour, but not always.
     A couple of weeks ago, it was my wife’s birthday.  A long-standing tradition with my family and friends is, “It’s your birthday, choose what you want, and I’ll make it.”  The diversity of birthday wishes never ceases to amuse me, and as yet, I haven’t been stumped.  This year, Shirle wanted lobster tails (a relatively easy order).  Unfortunately after checking every possible merchant in town, I was only able to procure warm water tails.  That may not be a huge thing to some of you, but to my palette, the difference between a Maine tail or one from South Africa and those spiny creatures that inhabit the waters off of Florida or India, is like night and day.  In the end, the meal was good, but not as great as I had planned.
     Our little town does have one good supplier of fresh Atlantic seafood.  Out at the Historic Waynesville Farmer’s Market (Wednesday and Saturday mornings) a fishmonger from the outer banks brings in an assortment of whatever is being harvested 700 miles away.  The nice part is, he takes pre-orders, and will reserve your catch from the rabid walkup buyers that always strip his coolers clean before noon.
     With that small exception, seafood here in the mountains is going to be trout, catfish, farm raised or frozen.  Not an epicurean fantasy.  Tonight I am going to make fresh J crab cakes out of a can of refrigerated blue claw meat I bought at Bi-Lo.  I’ve used it before for my Crab Imperial, but like warm water lobster, it’s okay, just not great.  Tonight it is going to crab cakes because the one day a week where Ingle’s gets fresh mussels in from Maine, I was busy and missed the boat (so-to-speak). 
     Thank goodness we are coming into the farming season (if the freaking weather ever breaks).  Fresh veggies we have in abundance. 
     What would be your birthday meal?