Zephyr 98 Archive

My job this weekend, stated in this journal,* is to put to paper the story I’ve been telling to my successive kids for years on why bears are earth toned, shy, and easily annoyed. While I fantasize otherwise, I don’t expect it to be easy to translate a never told twice the same tale to paper, capturing what always made it work (and writing text that encourages children to interact the way mine have naturally). Then find an illustrator–perhaps one of my older boys…. It would be fantastic to find a publisher and if that fails, I’ll self-publish for extended family and friends and still be happy.

So by Monday there’ll be a new page on this site (not a blog entry), populated by a river run of salmon, a idiosynchratic blue bear, a large enough boulder, the bear’s patient friends mountain lion and moose, and a crafty racoon. There, signed my name to that promissary note. Now to keep everything under the sun from frightening me into home maintenance tasks and not writing (that new fence needs staining, but there’s summer enough left).

*Does anyone but me detest the word “blog,” which sounds too much like blop, flop, blip, splat, and other words that resonate with the smack of slung mud or cowpies, or the slap of hot taters on plastic plates in school cafeterias (not that I don’t have fond memories of all those things). Or, maybe,”blog” gives the writer permission to throw or serve up anything and run away laughing and the reader to dodge or dig in, indiscriminately. Or, in comments, return service.

Blog also sounds like a volume of pages stuck together with jam or, in the case of some I’ve found, with bodily fluids. It also sounds like snog, which, following the trail of crackling synapses, reminds me of how I would tease my (not yet then) wife when we were in (gasp) high school, chasing her round the room declaring, “I kiss you now!”

…or was it a shark hunt? Or a micro cache hunt?

Scenes from last week’s camping trip to the north side of Tillamook Bay:

Teens find 3′ blue shark on the beach, drag it back to camp, ponder pulling its teeth for a necklace until Mother steps in for the kill.

Youngest son finds his sense of balance and becomes one with his bicycle, joining his cousins on roundabouts round the campground. (Dad gets an appropriate amount of exercise running alongside till son achieves equilibrium.)

Children of all ages go geo-caching (with GPS and printouts in hand):

  • Front wheeling (in a minivan) up scary logging roads with National Geographic views
  • Clambering to the top of the bent and hoary forested rock known as the largest of the Three Graces, accessible (on foot) only at low tide
  • Probing the intimate undersides of parked steam trains at the local “train and chain” park
  • Poking between windswept, storm giant-sized boulders in the mini Hadrians wall known as the North Jetty
  • Discovering the cleverly disguised puzzle box at another roadside attraction

Dad (me) kicks back at the top of the big dune that overlooks Tillamook bay and its raucous and sometimes deadly bar, a view that on sun-baked days makes me want to radiate ad nauseum about brush stroked blue-gold sparkling waters and foaming wave crests against the improbably rugged emerald studded crenelations of the Oregon Coast Range. (I warned you, and I was showing restraint.) Then there are days when competing pressure zones lock the bay in sun and the ocean in fog, where boats crossing the bar enter or exit from alternate dimensions (Stephen Kingish, Lovecraftian, or Dunsanyan). Those days are indescribably cool for people (like me) who grew up on fantasy literature.

Everyone eats like sunburned and sandy royalty when different parties return at days end with fresh bought oysters in the shell, fresh dug clams, fresh caught salmon and sea bass, so mouth watering that we replace our differences in politics and religion with Dionysian exclamations of wonder and, yes, tears of joy. In between mouthfuls. (If you don’t like seafood, fresh or otherwise, then there’s no help for you. None at all.)

Onomatopoeic Food Justice
The local Whole Foods makes a sandwich I’ve grown partial to. They call it a Hawthorne–after the trendy old SE Portland street or neighborhood, not the prickly tree with healing properties. It’s a folded pita slathered with hummus, tahini, and horseradish and stuffed with falafel, tomato, lettuce, and red onion. It’s cheap, tasty, and fills me to the gills.
For the last week they’ve been out of falafel, so no Hawthornes. They don’t make it themselves, even though they have a full kitchen behind the prepared foods counter. Apparently, it’s made by a serendipitous little falafel maker in parts unknown, who ships it frozen in little roughhewn green brown briquettes, the kind you might use to build a cozy desert doll house (where you could pretend they ate their way out of house and home).  Every day I showed up at the sandwich counter. The sandwich makers came to know me by my woe and no longer asked, just shook their heads.
I’m not a vegetarian. I have other choices. I just really like those sandwiches. I don’t care if they put something in them that makes me suffer in silence when I can’t have one.
Today, I showed up just to follow the ritual–I to nod, they to shake their heads, I to shrug and shuffle off. But today, the two sandwich makers were too busy to look at me. Customers 10 deep pressed against the sandwich counter. All around the sandwich maker’s workspace, shiny rectangular steel bins were stacked with falafel as high as gravity allowed and perched wherever space allowed. The makers were so pressed by falafel they rubbed hard against each other every time they reached for ingredients, behavior that under normal conditions would surely be an HR violation. From their muttering (and cursing) I learned that they had received an elephantine delivery of falafel: a semi-full; a falafelapooza; a robust fellowship of falafel; falafel for the politely fidgeting masses. There had been a falafel backup between the source and store that a capable shipping agent had finally unclogged.
I managed to slip between bodies in the crowd till I reached the counter. We were like the faithful present at the resurrection, but civilized about it, focused on our goal, meditative, patient, doing nothing that would cause the makers to delay delivery of the body to our lips and tongue. They should server communion falafel at church–attendance would increase 100-fold.
The makers, for their part, were more than generous in distributing falafel. Every sandwich was stuffed with a double helping and for every steel bin emptied and kicked under the counter, the makers whooped. My favorite maker, she of the dark-rimmed lenses, cherubic nose, and twist of dark hair that she constantly puffed out of her face, delivered me first, pressing a brown paper bundle twice as fat as usual into my hands like precious cargo, her eyes wishing me away. The crowd murmured and pressed the counter harder while I squeezed out to the registers.
The cashier proclaimed, Man dude, that is one sandwich!, and punched my sandwich card twice (buy 10 get one free).
I cradled the bundle all 5 blocks back to my office, slid my door shut, unscrewed my bottle of green tea, and, with sharp office scissors–the kind people sometimes run with–I sliced open the wrapper. It fell in half like the unclasping of two hands revealing treasures of the Orient. It rested sensuously on my desk not like a baby (I’m no cannibal!) but a fat beautiful brown breast–with food stuck to it–waiting my hungry mouth.
And I wrapped my hands around it, squeezing gently on the ends to keep the ingredients in place. And creating an opening in the middle of the sandwich, like a wide smile or a birth opening. Falafel burst out like fireworks, hit the floor, and exploded, scattering tiny golden brown fried chickpea kernels over my shoes, under my desk, everywhere but in my mouth. Later I counted eight pieces (one for each letter in falafel, I realized later). I sat on the floor in the middle of the golden carpet, finished the sandwich with 4 pieces of falafel, tomato, onion, lettuce, hummus, tahini, and horseradish, then spent the rest of my lunch hour collecting the pieces by hand for the trash.
Falafel. A word meant to explode across the floor. A food that cannot be packaged in a single metaphor. A place in the universe where a little brown person (or people) sits rolling and frying balls of spiced chickpeas and have no time for the folly of Western gluttony, and are not beyond teaching a lesson.

The Whole Foods market near my office makes a sandwich to which I’ve grown partial. They call it the Hawthorne–after the trendy old SE Portland street or neighborhood, not the prickly tree with healing properties. It’s a folded pita slathered with hummus, tahini, and horseradish and stuffed with falafel, tomato, lettuce, and red onion. It’s cheap, it’s tasty, it’s almost heavenly, and fills me to the gills.

For the last week they’ve been out of falafel, so no Hawthornes. They don’t make the falafel themselves, even though they have a full kitchen behind the prepared foods counter. Apparently, it’s produced by a serendipitous little falafel maker in parts unknown, who ships it frozen in little roughhewn green brown briquettes, the kind you might use to build a cozy desert doll house (where you could pretend they ate their way out of house and home). Every day I showed up at the sandwich counter. The sandwich makers came to know me by my woe and no longer asked, just shook their heads.

I’m not a vegetarian. I have other choices. I just really like those sandwiches. I don’t care if they put something in them that makes me suffer in silence when I can’t have one.

Today, I showed up just to follow the ritual–I to nod, they to shake their heads, I to shrug and shuffle off. But today, the two sandwich makers were too busy to look at me. Customers 10 deep pressed in near silence against the sandwich counter. All around the sandwich-making space, shiny rectangular steel bins were stacked with falafel as high as gravity allowed and perched wherever space allowed. The makers were so pressed by falafel they rubbed hard against each other every time they reached for ingredients, behavior that under normal conditions would surely be an HR violation. From their muttering (and cursing) I learned that they had received an elephantine delivery of falafel: a semi-full; a falafelapooza; a robust fellowship of falafel; falafel for the politely fidgeting masses. There had been a falafel backup between the source and store that a capable shipping agent had finally unclogged.

I managed to slip between bodies in the crowd till I reached the counter. We were like the faithful present at the resurrection, but civilized about it, focused on our goal, meditative, patient, doing nothing that would cause the makers to delay delivery of the body to our lips and tongue. They should server communion falafel at church–attendance would increase 100-fold.

The makers, for their part, were more than generous in distributing falafel. Every sandwich was stuffed with a double helping and for every steel bin emptied and kicked under the counter, the makers whooped. My favorite maker, she of the dark-rimmed lenses, cherubic nose, and twist of dark hair that she constantly puffed out of her face, delivered me first, pressing a brown paper bundle twice as fat as usual into my hands like precious cargo, her eyes wishing me away. The crowd murmured and pressed the counter harder while I squeezed out to the registers.

The cashier proclaimed, “Man dude, that is one sandwich!” and punched my sandwich card twice (buy 10 get one free).

I cradled the bundle all 5 blocks back to my office, slid my door shut, unscrewed my bottle of green tea, and, with sharp office scissors–the kind people sometimes run with–I sliced open the wrapper. It fell in half like the unclasping of two hands revealing treasures of the Orient. The sandwich rested sensuously on my desk not like a baby (I’m no cannibal!) but a fat beautiful brown breast–with food stuck to it–waiting my hungry mouth.

And I wrapped my hands around it, squeezing gently on the ends to keep the ingredients in place. And so spread the middle like a open-mouthed smile or a crowning birth canal. Falafel, previously held in by friction, burst free like fireworks, hit the floor, and exploded, scattering tiny fragrant golden brown fried chickpea kernels over my shoes, under my desk, everywhere but in my mouth. Later I estimated seven large pieces (one for each letter in falafel). I sat on the floor in the middle of the golden carpet, finished the sandwich with four pieces of falafel, and tomato, onion, lettuce, hummus, tahini, and horseradish, then spent the rest of my lunch hour collecting the grains by hand for the trash.

Falafel. A word meant to explode across the floor. A food that cannot be packaged in a single metaphor. A place in the universe where a little brown person (or people) sits rolling and frying balls of spiced chickpeas, has no time for the folly of Western gluttony, and perhaps is not beyond teaching a lesson.

Since I was in my early 20’s (& maybe earlier), I’ve dreamed of our family’s old country home at least twice a year, returning to discover dimensions and qualities and inhabitants that I never found in my 3 dimensional childhood. That home keeps creeping into my writing–sometimes more as a personality or quality than a physical place.

We sold the house when I was 12, after my parents divorced, and moved into the city. 4 years ago (in the physical world) I stopped by on the way back from a country wedding, just to see the changes–something I’ve done every few years when I’m out that way. This time, the changes were shocking and more surreal than any I experienced in Slumberland. I’ll write about them in a future post–it was unsettling in a Ballardian post-apocalyptic way that I can’t describe in a few sentences.

Some dreams stick and don’t need to be journaled–especially those with recurring themes or unique dreams that include sensory experiences like the taste of perfect bread (real dream–a teaching dream) or one’s murder (real dream and thankfully only once, although I did get a small award for the story it inspired).

Today’s title*

Leathers in Mozambique: An Adventure Story for Boys, by Edward M. Chrystie

Hodder and Stoughton., London, 1959

Three white guys with big guns in the jungle, the pith-helmeted, querulous-looking one in back clearly waiting to get picked off first.

Clearly the search for the kidnapped girl who would become the magician’s assistant–or, maybe the magician! (Who says the magician has to be a man–more interesting story opportunities otherwise.) Of course, the search is taking place in the wrong place, following a false clue. (She’s been taken into the desert: see the other entries tagged “Title a Day.”)

Resisting (not completely) all jokes about them just looking for a good leathers bar and not really hoping to find the girl.

*From the book of eye opening titles, Scouts in Bondage and other violations of literary propriety, ed. Michael Bell.

Today’s title*

Girls’ Interests: The Vereston Annuals series

D.L.M.S., London, 1937

The front cover shows two cherry cheeked clean young ladies in pith helmets, bright and appropriate simple dresses, white stockings and shoes on holiday in a Middle Eastern bazaar, guardedly curious about the play of a dark but twinkle-eyed snake charmer and his swaying cobra. Their backup is a gent in casual naval officer’s whites old enough to be their father. Everyone in the bazaar, merchants, customers, mystery woman on the cover spine, is watching them.

The girl on the right, who is being held slightly back by her companion, will grow up to become the magician’s assistant. The snake charmer will help her escape from kidnappers and teach her what he knows about magic and illusion while they are trapped in a cave during a sandstorm. (See the other entries tagged “Title a Day” for the magician reference.)

*From the book of eye opening titles, Scouts in Bondage and other violations of literary propriety, ed. Michael Bell.

Today’s title*

Invisible Dick, by Frank Topham

DC Thomson & Co. Ltd, London, 1931

The front cover shows a bicycle speeding away down a country road from a surprised bobby while being chased by a dog. The invisible rider is wearing only a cap and shoes. Part of the TOC is shown; chapters include Dick Finds It, The Vanishing Helmet, Porker Puzzled, Ghosts and Ghosts, P.C. Brett, Crow Pie, and Wizzing the Wizard.

This is likely a somewhat ribald story from the magician’s younger days. (See the other entries tagged “Title a Day” for the magician reference.)

*From the book of eye opening titles, Scouts in Bondage and other violations of literary propriety, ed. Michael Bell.