Monday, July 25, 2011

Monsieur les Deux Chapeaux – Alice Munro

In his introduction, Carver let the reader know that he intended to include stories in this anthology that reflected “what it was like out there.”

He does just that by placing this piece by Munro in the anthology.

I feel kinda bad. I just can’t get excited by a Munro story. It took me a couple of days to get through this one. It was longish, and there just wasn’t anything to pull me through. I know Munro’s reputation as an author…she just doesn’t do much for me.

And because I feel this way about the story, I cannot expend anymore energy on it.


Skin Angels – Jessica Neely

As far as I know now, we were pretty lucky. I mean it could have turned out so much worse. We weren’t saddled with an abusive step-father or a wacked out step-mother, and neither of them brought step-siblings into the picture that harmed us in any way.

I hear horror stories about combined families.

Yup – my sister and I were pretty lucky.

My sister and I are both grown now and came out of the whole experience relatively unscathed.

I suppose I can’t knock either of my parents for getting remarried. They got lonely. They fell out of love with each other and they found love and stability on someone else.

Each parent is now dealing with problems that are too personal and too medical to really share here.

It is strange how things work out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

All My Relations – Christopher McIlroy

Back in one of my other lives, I worked in a restaurant.

Before I began my work at the restaurant, I worked in a liquor store. I restocked the shelves, hauled cases of beer to cars, and from time to time, towards the end of my shift, I’d pound a couple of beers and do a couple quick shots of vodka from the airplane bottles we sold.

I wasn’t worried about getting caught because everything smelled like booze, and the work was mindless…so if I was a little buzzed…no one could tell.

We’d close the store around 11 and I’d peddle my bike home.

So, the restaurant.

I saw the help wanted sign hanging in the window one day as I was once again doing something mindless for the liquor store.

I wandered over during a break and inquired about the position.


Cool – another mindless job that could net me some extra cash. I applied and was hired.

A bit over qualified…but…well…whatever.

I worked out a schedule with the liquor store and the restaurant so I could have hours at both places.

I was tired at the end of the day, but I was working off some demons.

The dishes came back in bus-boy bins stacked high with slop. I’d scrape off the remaining food…at least the big chunks, and give the dishes a quick shot with the shower hose before loading them into the automatic dishwasher. I’d fall into a trance and became very efficient.

The owner of the restaurant saw that I had the potential of handling something a bit more challenging than dishwashing so he allowed me to train as a waiter.

His vision was flawed because I sucked as a waiter and I hated it.

Back to the dishwashing. My comfort zone.

An added bonus to being a dishwasher is that there was plenty of half empty bottles of wine that made their way back to my station. There was no way I was going to let some fine wine be poured down the drain! I developed quite the palate for grapes.

After working for several months, the restaurant changed ownership and with the new owners came a new chef and new ideas. The staff was pretty fortunate and a good percentage of us were asked to stay on as help. Once again, the owner/chef saw that there may be some potential in me and he moved me out of the dishwashing station and into the kitchen proper.

In my new position as a pastry chef/baker/cold app. Prep cook, I finally found success.

There was a new interest in the culinary world, and the whole “fusion cuisine” movement was hot. I was making homemade Burnt Sugar ice cream, Jagermeister ice cream, Ginger Thyme Crème-Brule, chocolate mousses, sugar cages, savory breads…it was quite the experience and I was very successful…as was the restaurant.

Moving me away from the dishwashing station left a hole. The chef hired a guy to fill my space. His name was Mike and because we already had a Mike (line chef), this second Mike became known as “Black Mike”.

Anything goes in the kitchen.

Black Mike has the cloudy bloodshot eyes of a crack smoker and hard-core drinker. He was small of frame and his body lacked any sort of muscle definition. He had a soft voice and wore a constant smile. He held a pack of Newport’s firmly in his hand.

I watched Black Mike as he worked, and I saw him develop a taste for the grape as I once did.

I respected that. In a demented sort of way.

I liked Black Mike. He was…what you saw. All he wanted to do was wash dishes and get buzzed. Again, I respected that. The honesty.

Friday and Saturday nights were long shifts in the restaurant.

Around 1030 as the last tables were being seated, I’d give $4 to Black Mike and tell him to head over to my old liquor store to buy some “two-fors”. For one dollar you could buy two 16 oz. cans of Natural Light Ice. So for $4 you could get 8 – 16 oz cans.

I’d give Black Mike 4 of those cans for his shipping and handling charges and because…well…he was a nice guy and just wanted to get a buzz.

I really enjoyed working at the restaurant and I learned so much there. I learned about life, and the thought that many people have, where they believe that everyone should spend part of their life working in a restaurant, is true.

It’s hard-core and will transform your so many of your thoughts on so many of your dearly held opinions.

I left the restaurant one afternoon after I caught the chef shooting heroin in the kitchen.

That was a bit much for me.

I left my stack of CD’s and my recipe book (one of the worst mistakes I ever made…leaving the recipe book).

I don’t know what ever happened to Black Mike. I can’t image anything good. The booze or crack probably caught up with him. He was just another shadow passing through my life.

I remember the last night I worked with Black Mike and it’s a nice image that I’ll hold onto of him.

He had just returned from the beer run. He dropped four beers off at my station, he then scampered over to his station, and we both cracked our beers at the same time, lifting them towards each other and nodding our heads, saluting the buzz we were about to mutually slip into.

Sportsmen – Thomas McGuane


That’s about the best word that I can use to describe this tight little story.

I don’t think there’s a misplaced word or point of punctuation in this little work.

The most hurtful passage. The one that pains me to read – because I can see it – and wish I could turn away.

And then he didn’t come up. Not to begin with. When he did, the first thing that surfaced was the curve of his back, white and Ohio-looking in its oval of lake water. It was a back that was never to widen with muscle or stoop with worry because Jimmy had just then broken his neck. I remember getting him out on the gravel shore. He was wide awake and his eyes poured tears. His body shuddered continuously and I recall his fingers fluttered on the stones with a kind of purpose. I had never heard sounds like that from his mouth in the thousands of hours we talked.

I think it hurts me so because I see a young vibrant boy reduced to a state of utter helplessness.


Made into an infant.

Three Thousand Dollars – David Lipsky

And now we hit a point in the BASS series where people of my generation start to see some names that are more familiar than say…James Lee Burke.

Nothing against Mr. Burke!

It’s just that I think David Lipsky is…known.

I find myself recollecting my college days again with this story.

During my junior, I dated a girl who went to school in the next state over.

New Hampshire.

Having a girlfriend 1.5 hours away wasn’t all that bad. Allowed me some space to get my studies done…and when the weekend rolled around, either she would spend the weekend on our campus – or I’d jump in the car and have a nice break from mine.

Side note - With all the shit I give my dad on this blog, at least the guy was there for me financially – when it came to school. He helped out with tuition and even paid child support monthly until I was 21. His child support money went into an account where I was able to tap into the funds for school books, supplies and uniform needs. Of course, a certain percentage of that money went towards beer and cigarettes. College right? (I was still buying cigs with pennies come the end of the month.)

Back to my Junior year. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but my dad gave me a calling card number that would allow me to call him or my mother down in Virginia from the hall phone across from my room in my dorm. It was cheaper than calling collect or me feeding quarters into the pay phone in the basement.

Well, having a girlfriend some distance away…and being a college male…I lost my right mind and used that card to call her.

Every night.

Well, the minutes added up, and one day my father called and wondered why he had received a bill from the phone company for several hundred dollars noting pages of call records from a phone in Vermont to another in New Hampshire.

That put an end to the calling card privileges.

It wasn’t $3,000 but it was the trust I violated.

It left a deep enough impression that I find myself writing about it here today years later.

Sorry Dad.

Doe Season - David Michael Kaplan

As new parents, we obsess over every little developmental stage in “the boy’s” life.

Is he on track…ahead…man, maybe he’s behind?

We are hyperaware of every single miniscule change. M and I compare notes through the day double checking to see if something we observed was deliberate or just an action by chance.

I’m not sure when we’ll stop looking for changes. I’m sure that we’ll always recognize physical changes and the changes in his “person” can evolve over his entire life. So, thinking that way…It seems as the type of parents we are, we’ll never stop looking at W and the changes taking place.

When did I start paying attention to my person? When did I become aware of the changes taking place in and to my body?

It’s hard to really peg a date. Sure, there are the physical changes, and I can remember certain changes and how I felt about them (mostly uncomfortable, as I suppose most people are) but what I’d really like to remember is when I knew that I transitioned from boy to man. I’m not interested in the physical change…more the emotional.

If I were to assign an event or a transitory occurrence, I’d say it would have to be during my first year at Norwich.

I knew before I even entered that school, that I needed to be there in order to grow. I needed to be far from home in an environment that made me extremely uncomfortable.

Through that lack of comfort, I would grow. It’s not uncommon for people to find that the best lessons learned were those when they were placed in situations of duress and they were forced to act/behave in ways that they never thought possible.

I look back sometimes at my four years there and the memories are colored just as Kaplan opens his story.

“…early morning darkness – deep and immense, covered with yesterday’s snowfall, which had frozen overnight.”

“Her father smoked a cigarette and flicked ashes into his saucer…”

Cold, frozen, snowy, tobacco perfumed mornings.

Yup – it was during those years that I became a man.