Nov 30, 2007

Art Generator

A friend long ago once told me that his art (an exquisite, surreal, Tolkienesque draftsman's hand style) was simply "the exhaust of a life being lived."

That phrase stuck with me even though the friend didn't. I still make my own art; I paint, photograph, sculpt when found objects present themselves, and in as many little ways as I can, I create. It's second nature to me, like some people sing when they're happy or others become accountants for a love of number or they love words and they become writers.

So anyway, there's this site, see? It's like one of those old shops you find in cities that you can never quite tell if they're open becaus every time you go by the door is locked. One of those places that you're always trying to figure out what they sell because it's not real apparent from the window. A place that looks like it's a sort of life-sized Cornell box waiting to be explored. It doesn't always load properly, and like anything interesting it's in a foreign language for the most part (with a rather boring English version available at a click) but the cool thing is, it takes bits of the web and your words and it makes art.

Ars Gratia Artis indeed.

Here's what my blog title prompted:

The Face On Mars indeed! How wonderfully eerie, tho the huge Google logo floating in the background sort of makes me wonder if the whole "Face" enigma is all just a hoax perpetrated by hackers.

And the title of my all-time favourite painting, "The Thing Wot Lurked In The Tub" gave me this:

The Bros' Grimm and an oval daguerreotype...excellent!

Nov 29, 2007

Chicken Fancier

I spent some time with the yard birds today (not Eric Clapton, the feathery ones) and you know what? They're dang strange little critters.

I had some time off this afternoon and thought I'd go ahead and bird-net the second half of the chicken yard. If you recall I built it as a rectangle and divided it in half, giving the birds two equal squares to go roam around in. I attached bird netting over one half to keep out hawks and possums and whatever else might desire to eat chickens, and promised myself that I'd cover over the other half as soon as Irrelephantly possible.

Now, a brief aside--if you're not a poultry fancier, bird netting is just this plastic net stuff, very strong and so thin it's almost invisible at more than a few feet away. People who raise fruit use it to cover trees and such to keep birds from eating their produce on the vine, and some stores cover their huge building signs with it to keep sparrows and wrens from nesting up in the structure. It's little squares are about the size of the tip of my index finger and it's sort of like trying to handle a hair net that's thirty feet long and twenty wide. Not impossible, just...queasy.

Well? A month has passed since I first promised myself I'd finish the other half. Perhaps more.

But, I got to it today! Honest! Carefully uncoiled the huge mass of netting from around the sapling tree it had blown into from last storm, fiercely shook it until the bits of ant nest that had been made over one corner was nothing but a mass of flying dirt and very confused ants, and I carefully laid it out in the back backyard and fiddled with it until I could get all the edges straight and flat and neat again.

This took about four hours. See the hairnet thing. Queasy. And nearly invisible.

So. I took the mass of stuff, zip-tied it to one length of fence and tossed the lot into the 'fresh' yard. Now envision this: the chickens not only have been scrutinizing me the entire time but they've been making that soft purring cluck that mature chickens make when they're busy kibbutzing. And they'd all crowd up against the fence closest to where I was, so as not to miss a single bit of the action.

They watched me while I unwound the old netting.

They watched me lie it all out on the ground to measure it.

They watched me secure it to the fence.

I swear, had they watched any more closely I was going to offer them a pile of zip ties and tell them to come do it themselves if it interested them so much!

So after my tirade and as I finished it got more peculiar yet. I got three sides secure--the three OUTsides. The last side I had to secure to the dividing fence between the two yards, and that meant I'd have to operate with fifteen chickens watching me from around my feet. Not a fun thought.

So, knuckling up, I waded in and was immediately drumstick deep in chickens, all eager and anxious to see if I was edible or, in Vin's case, to see if I was female. I carefully worked my way down the divider tying off the loose ends, and all the while Vin cackled and gobbled and tried to crow. I finally made the mistake of stopping and squatting down to see what was the matter. He immediately presented himself directly up front and wanted to taste 1) my unlit cigar in my pocket, 2) the wad of zip-ties sticking out of same pocket, 3) my ring, 4) my knuckle skin and 5) the hem of my pants.

Then, kids, it got fun. When I went to shove him away he went into his Three Stooges routine. If you haven't seen this before I highly suggest you go bother a rooster. I put my hand out to push him away and he started circling it ala' Curly about to get in a fight with Moe, all the while gurgling and chuckling. I knew this wasn't going to do so I grabbed him around his middle, hoisted him up in front of all his ladies and held him upside down.

Yeah, I know that sounds strange and is probably just a little unsettling to younger viewers but I'm told by Chicken Experts that it's the most expeditious way to subdue an eager cock.

(*snort* Can't WAIT to see how many hits THAT brings in.)

So, having subdued my cock (*and subduing gales of snickers*) I went back to the work at hand, and realised that since I already had 99% of the netting up it'd be a lot easier just to let them all into THAT side and close the gate so I could work in peace. And it worked! I finished up, they were happily chewing grass and digging up pecans and doing whatever it is chickens do when they're in fresh grass, and I finished up the netting.

Having wrapped up the netting I decided to do a little more socializing with the chickens so I squatted down again and sort of 'tuck tuck tuck'ed to them to bring them around. Again, my mistake. Everyone came crowding and Vin decided he had to make a German spectacle of himself. He started in with the Stooges schtick again, I tried to settle him down by a few rubs on his breast (heh! again with the hits) and he retaliated by trying to climb my hand, and by this age he's wearing his spurs so it left a few marks.

So, I had no choice. I had to take my cock in my hands again. (Oh gods I kill myself!) I turned him upside down, stared him right in his beady, crazy little black eye and we had a man to cock talk. I explained that his behaviour was way out of line, that he had done physical harm to me, and that if he kept it up I'd snap his scrawny neck, toss him over the fence, pluck his ass bald and have him in a frying pan before sunset. This seemed to reach him pretty clearly, because he settled right down after that.

Ah, the joys of chicken ranching. Never let it be said there's no fun to be had in a hen yard. All it take is...wait for angry young cock.*

* Honestly, I really am sympathetic to Vin's plight. I mean, if I were a foot tall, black, and had all my sexual organs on the inside I'd be easily agitated myself.

Nov 26, 2007

Black Friday, Cyber Monday

Sometimes the spirit moves you, and when it moves you you'd better be ready to follow, because it's sure going to lead.

Black Friday. That used to be a secret term, sort of a Thieves Cant for retailers, right up there with terms like BOGO (Buy One, Get One) and roto holds and planogram. Terms that make up the secret language of retail employees. Not anymore, it seems; you can hear those terms bandied about all over. But it's true, what you've always heard. Black Friday is the day that most big box-store retailers finally make it into the black on their spreadsheets. Years spent toiling under the yoke of retail burned that into me, and damn near burned out any chance of me enjoying Xmas ever again.

It's gotten so much worse since I first started working in retail. When I was 19 or 20, working at KayBee Toys and later at The Tinder Box we never kept strange hours at Christmas. We never had people thronging into the store, and we certainly never opened at 4M on Black Friday to try and grab as much of the insane consumerism cash flying around as we could. I remember being righteously angry at the couple who wandered into KayBee right at 9am and didn't leave until 9:20, twenty minutes after closing time. I remember enjoying the Christmas holiday back then, too.

Then came the early 90s and Toys Backward R Us. Enslaved to the Giraffe. Six years of hell.

You know, it's funny but the military has it right--put a group of people together, no matter the mix of race creed or sex. Put them through six weeks of living hell and suddenly you've fused them into a group so tight you'd have to take a crowbar to it to find the junction between one and the other of it's members. That happened at TRU back in 1991. Several hundred of us laboured 24/7 in three shifts to build, fill and open the local store. Two thirds were cut, and the last became an entity. We were the best, the blooded. Some of my strongest friendships come from that time, from that place.

And Xmas blooded us time and again, year after year. Black Fridays. Weeks spent dreading that time. Weeks spent getting more and more stock packed into the store until it seemed that the aisles were groaning under the weight. And business picking up, the tiny trickle of tide that warns the islanders that the tsunami is coming with a ferocity only dreamt of. Black Friday morning--store opening at 6am, closing at midnight. People piled up in the parking lot like sheep, blank faces pressed up against the glass for whatever was the Must Have Toy that year. Milling around like cows at an abattoir, and the employees inside; red-eyed, exhausted, dreading the frenzy to come.

Heaven forfend you had to close. Closing the store meant you wouldn't be home until 2 or 3am. Forget seeing your family until well after January 5th, you were a slave to the cash register. It pounded us. It broke most of us. And a few really stupid ones, like me, hung on, and on. Six Christmas seasons. Six tours through Hell's Toybox. Little did I know what I was trading in for that meager paycheck and the chance to say "I have a stable job." I was trading my enjoyment of the holiday.

I came to loathe Christmas, loathe it with every ounce of my being. I had left Christianity far behind by that point so I knew better than to think pious thoughts of saviour's births and such. I knew it as a time to celebrate friendships and family. And with the giraffe riding me worse than any drug I grew to hate it. I was sick to death of carols, hated the sight of a red suit with white trim. The very thought of The Season was anathema to me. My family wondered why I so proudly proclaimed "Bah humbug" every chance I got, why I refused to send cards, why the very idea of a tree in the house gave me hives.

I knew retail. I knew what the season was all about--spending money, money most didn't even have to spend in the first place. Toys made 80% of it's year's profits from Black Tuesday until December 26th that year and every year. It was expected. Black Friday was more than just a clever term for the season, it was reality.

We employees paid for that reality with our innocence and our mental well-being.

This Thanksgiving, some eleven years after my last year at that place I sat down that morning to watch the Macy's Parade. I reminisced about my childhood. Thought long and hard about the people I missed, and the things I used to do. And even though the weekend was rainy and overcast and cold, I packed my little family up in the cab of my truck and we drove to the Lion's Club Christmas Tree Lot and we picked out a 7' Noble Fir, brought it home, lovingly set it in the stand and began to decorate. And I enjoyed it. I tuned the radio to the station playing nothing but carols and I sang along to the ones I knew in my croaking, exuberant manner.

The spirit had moved back in.

I think it's been creeping around me the past few years but hasn't ever quite found the way in, or has only gotten it's ghostly foot in the door, unable to fit itself further. That's how tightly retail servitude had driven the nails in. But slowly, bit by bit the spirit has pushed that door, has worked the nails loose. And now? Now I find myself looking forward to The Morning. I look forward to making boot prints in the fireplace ashes and tracking them carefully, artfully onto the rug and toward the tree, implying to a certain skeptical 13 year old that maybe, just maybe, she's wrong about the whole non-existence of fat men hauled around by big deer. I look forward to making or buying (mostly online, I still hate the maddening crowds that lurk in town) presents for those I care for. I look forward to the Christmas Canon and The Little Drummer Boy and The Carol Of The Bells. I look forward to sharing family and love and goodwill.

Toys Backward R Us closed some ten years after I helped open it in 1991. Oddly enough, I still keep lines open to many of the friends I made there. I think about them at Xmas time especially. The times we survived. I can't point to the money I made. I can't name to you the people whose kids I made happier by having Tickle Me Elmo or a Nerf Bow And Arrow in stock. I can't even show you the store where I stocked shelves anymore--it's a medical office complex now, and the dark outline of the store's name and the gawping giraffe head on the bricks is faded.

I can, however, show you (in a way) what I took from that time in Hell: David. Vulgar Wizard. Random. Rainman. Tyger. Shao. Micah. And even some of the ones I haven't seen nor heard from in years but still recall very fondly: Sheila. Bobby. Baa-Baa. The other Richard. K2. "Manuel Labor". Heyward. Tigger. Stephanie.

The list goes on and on.

Nov 22, 2007

Turkey Day

It's that time again. The long fast slide down to the new year. But first? Eating, drinking, and making Mary. Er, merry.

It's inevitable that I think back to Thanksgivings past around this time, me being the nostalgic type I am. This holiday out of all the others used to be the one time everyone came together, both the close and the distant of our family. All would converge here for Turkey Day in the days before my father got sick. I think we had the biggest dining room of all the family's houses, or perhaps we just had the most room to park. For whatever reason, this was the place for my mother's family to gather the third Thursday in November. It was always my Mom's side of the family; my Dad's people were all over MS and south LA so that sort of precluded them. So come the holiday we'd have scads of family here from all the branches on one side of the family tree; cousins, aunts and uncles, the works.

I remember being a little kid, warm in the den as the fire burned in the fireplace, watching the Macy's parade on the big console tv. It'd play while my mind and my body wandered to and far, near and away, wanting to see the balloons, wanting to go play, drawn to the kitchen to smell the turkey cooking and wondering which of my cousins would show, which favourites I really wanted to see and which not so much, and which ones might show up, the ones I hadn't seen in so long that their names were forgotten, their faces a memory from years ago. It always seemed to be cold around then, too, cold enough for flannel shirts and heavy socks, cold enough for a fire to burn brightly in the fireplace, set there by my father long before I woke up. There was always a fire burning in the fireplace in winter, it seemed, and of course the warmth of the kitchen. My mom bustling around burning the turkey and the green beans, my father trying to set up extra chairs and card tables here and there but mostly, since I now feel like he did then, dreading the massive invasion of mouths and arguments and such that that side of the family seemed to specialize in.

I think he bore it just for her, because had he any hand in it he'd have made a few polite phone calls to a few close family members and gone out squirrel or deer hunting, or more likely just walking in the woods looking for paint rocks or petrified wood for us boys.

And then it was upon us: cars driving up, squeals of delight or sighs of dismay as I saw who it was, and me being the bigger of the two of us it was up to me to help carry in hot plates and casserole dishes and huge pots and covered cakes, making a mental inventory of everything I wanted to try. And Uncle Joe would always be late even though he lived right next door to us, and everyone would be loudly asking "Where's Brother" or "Is Uncle Bubbie coming?" And after all the kisses from powdered aunts and the awkward pats and slaps from distant uncles were through there'd finally arrive someone I could play with and we'd be gone, hiding from all the adults and their giraffe-awkward ways.

After a long round of kite flying or playing the Atari or shooting billiards on our much-loved table someone would, at the sign from the kitchen of cooks finally clear their throat and announce to the shining upturned faces that it was time to eat. We'd gather in a loose mass close to the dining room since there was no way to fit us all in there, drawing close to a family member or a favoured cousin. Some would stand in the doorway, and some in the kitchen, and some in the parlor that Mom had turned the other half of the front rooms into, and heads would bow and someone would ask my Uncle Emile to say grace. For some reason it was always him, not anyone else, and I remember being so tickled the year I realised he was saying the same rote formula that we used at school. And better, that he said in the same sort of sing-song mumble we all used there. "Blessusolord forthesethygifts whichweareabouttoreceive fromthybounty throughChristourlord amen."

And then would begin that long slow procession across the laid out wealth of food. There were always the same cousins who made the same jokes about being at the back of the line, having placed themselves there to play 'cleanup' of whatever was left. It's a long full blur of food and scents and voices and faces and similar but disparate memories. All the main dishes were always in the kitchen, covering the counter to either side of the stove and across onto the other counter past the sink, flanking The Bird. The little round kitchen table would have all the glasses and drinks on it, and we'd make a long caravan of bodies around it. First stop was picking up plates and utensils at the big bureau that stood at the edge of the kitchen and the start of eying the dishes hungrily. As the line crept forward we'd slowly shuffle to each big dish or serving bowl trying to guess who had cooked what, trying to make room on the plate for a serving spoonful or two of everything, calling out jibes to the people in the front to 'speed it up,' or to 'save some for the rest of us,' and answering the same calls from behind us with feigned scorn.

All the adults would slowly fill the dining room and that dark wood table until it was full, a body in each tall red velvet chair, and the bronze tableware clinking softly against dish or bowl. The kitchen table would be filling fast with the middle-years folks at the same time, the glasses and ice making it's way from table to place setting as the cousins and family moved past. There was a surprising gap in years between mom's siblings who all married and had kids young and my parents who married and had their two boys late in life, so all the 'kids' would be sitting at the kitchen table, and then THEIR kids would be with my brother and I. And being the kids we had a lot more free rein, so we would be scattered all across the den or whatnot, finding places on couches and wooden chairs, eager to wolf down our meal so as to get back into the dining room. There on the long serving board would be all the deserts--cakes and pies and frothy frilly constructions, each made with many years of handed down recipes, each perfected in it's own way by many hands long past.

After we were stuffed we'd explode outside to run and play and be foolish while the old folks talked and had coffee and seconds on the pie and worked up enough energy to start whatever discussion that would later erupt into good-natured arguing. I remember trying to squirm though the crowd of legs and feet and stomachs to get to my room or back out of it, seeing the football game on the tv and my dad feigning interest enough to be mistaken as a fan but I know eager in his heart for these interlopers to be gone from his castle.

As I got older I graduated to the big table, but the crowds were narrowing. The kids were moving away, were old enough to have their own dinners to go to, and I found my lack of age no longer mattered so much. I was allowed quietly into the ranks of the older cousins as though I'd only had to speak up to be in, though I knew better. I remember the year I was allowed wine at my place, a smallish glass of deep purple table wine--Manischewitz or Mogen David. I thought I was something, even though the sharp alcohol burned my virgin throat.

And of course as time passed the gatherings became smaller and smaller as family drifted apart or died; as marriages were made and split new faces would carry our old faces away to other houses, and now it's just Mom and her two boys and their little families most times for that big lunch, and a little play time for the kids until we're whisked off to the in-laws houses for Thanksgiving suppers, and it's just not the same. There's no sense of occasion, no meetings of cousins and family long apart. No more huge gatherings of family on the front yard for photos, mixing and matching children and siblings for different cameras or different arrangements of generations. Now it's quiet, and I look down the lane at the houses that have cars overflowing into the street and it makes me sad, in a way, and glad in another. Glad as Daddy was when it was a small turnout year, but sad because some part of me really DOES miss those crowds of overly familiar and distantly unfamiliar faces and voices.

A big part of me misses the sweet potato pie my Aunt Bobbie made every year, with the crispy marshmallow crust. Part of me misses drinking wine and being allowed to use the heavy bronze utensils, specially brought out of storage and polished up for use only at the adult table, feeling like I had passed some important milestone. And a lot of me misses seeing my father out in the yard, pretending to let his dinner settle when in fact he was just wanting to get away from the maddening crowd to pick up a few pecans in his yard.

The parade is on tv right now, the surround sound picking out each cheer and horn, the flat face of my making each float and balloon pop with vivid colour. The floats are familiar for the most part; Snoopy and Ronald and Big Bird. The bands sound the same; crisp horns, sharp snaps of snare drum and the twirl of batons. It all draws back the memories, making me miss those long-gone cousins and meals and games of pick-up football in the front yard. Mostly, though, I miss my father; quiet and dour, sitting and smiling, wanting nothing more than a little peace and a pocket full of pecans to crack.

I'm about to head to my brother's palatial home for The Meal. It'll be my niece and my two nephews, my daughter and wife, my Mom and my brother and his wife. And there'll be an empty place, one I'd long to fill.

Go kiss someone you care about, right now. Tell them you love them, while you can.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, my friends. The people whom I've known for all my life, and my friends whom I've not even met in person yet. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Nov 20, 2007

Sometimes The Bear Bites You

I have had a REALLY bad day today.

It started off last week with the boss chewing me out, except when this boss chews it's more like being pecked to death by a duck. She can't just come out and say something, she has to say it over and over. She loves to use the phrase "you understand?" to punctuate sentences, and best of all, she doesn't LISTEN.

So anyway, I left at 5 in a foul mood. Would have been speeding if I hadn't been in the truck, but she simply isn't ABLE to speed, so at least I was saved that. But still and all, I was distracted. It was getting on dark, it was damp out, and I wasn't concentrating.

I rear-ended a car.

Now, I've been in wrecks before, unfortunately a lot of them back when I was a teen, so I knew the drill. I grabbed my insurance stuff and license and got out of the truck to see how bad the damage was. I should have known it was going to be bad when I saw the handicapped plates, but didn't think anything of it at first. As I was checking out the front end and realising how bad it was the driver got out of the other car. Kids, I freaked smooth out--he was a DWARF!

He sort of shambled back to me, got right up on me, looked up and in a really loud voice said "I am NOT happy!"

So I said, "Well then, which of the seven ARE you?"

And that's how the fight started...

Nov 18, 2007

"Write an obituary for an object rather than a person."

I got this little prompt in an email from VW, and it's been waiting patiently in my email's inbox for two weeks now--I simply couldn't delete it. It's such an interesting little meme that I knew the moment I received it that I was going to write it; I was simply waiting for the idea to finish coagulating in my mental attic before posting it.

(I'd love to see lots of you tackle this same little blip, but won't be tagging anyone as I'm anti-tagging. If you do, please let me know?)

The Daily Global Post Intelligencer
"All The News That's Worth Making Up"


Pen, Fountain (953 - 11/18/2013)

Earlier today a 2003 Parker Phileas in blue marble resin died at it's home in the Springfield Museum of Antiquities And Farm Equipment Throughout The Ages. Parker Phileas (blue) was widely regarded as the world's last surviving fountain pen. An early-morning fire that ravaged the building where it was housed was believed to have been caused by an electrical fault. Phileas was the last existing representative of a writing instrument designed to be refilled and reused rather than thrown away when empty.

While the fountain pen in general and Parker Phileas specifically had many strong supporters throughout the past decades the ongoing popular opinion of the early 20th century that all things need to be easily disposable helped hasten the demise of many 'reusable' items such as shaving brushes, physical money and moustache cups. Parker Phileas was widely regarded as one of the last extant reusable item in existence until the unfortunate fire at the Springfield Museum destroyed it, a mint condition 1938 International Harvester "Bale-Rite" pull-behind hay baler and two outstanding examples of late 1970's 'banana style' home telephones. Though the fountain pen had declined of late in popularity many school-age children on field trips and a few elderly folk regarded him and his spouse "Writing Paper," who also perished in the fire, quite fondly.

"We're sure gonna miss that old pen" stated one elderly visitor to the former site of the museum. "I remember way back in the day..." This reporter was forced to leave at this point as I cannot stand reminiscing.

Fountain Pen leaves behind many dozens of descendants, including the Bic Stic, the click ballpoint pen and the rollerball, all disposables.

Fountain Pen, seen here in an uncredited photograph circa August 2007 with Bottle Of Ink, both resting on an antique "paper" calendar. Bottle of Ink, a lifelong companion, died just after this photo was taken.

Nov 15, 2007

Meme Hammered!

Okay, Scarlett, you got me.

And only because my favourite cousin is named Scarlett, and because I love red. And some other reasons that are buried so deep in my pitiful little psyche that it's best I don't drag them, kicking and screaming into the blinding light of the pitiless gaze of the Public.

Heh. Already on a roll and I haven't even posted the rules yet.

Random Meme Rules

1. Link to the person’s blog who tagged you.
Done. Scarlett, this is all your fault.
2. Post these rules on your blog.
Why? Afraid I might forget them?
3. Don't drink anything over the keyboard while reading this meme on other pages.
HAH! Too late! *hoising a steaming cuppa Earl Grey* Take THAT, rules!
4. List seven random and/or weird facts about yourself.
See below.
5. Tag seven random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
Er, no. Gonna break another one. Iffen you guys wanna, take it and run.
6. Stretch.
Stretch WHAT, exactly? I need specifics!
7. Let each person know that they have been tagged by posting a comment on their blog.
Heh. Rules are made for breaking

Awright. *flexing my mental muscles* Yeah, pretty sloppy, prolly shouldn't do that again, at least in public.

1) I've a third nipple. Okay, not really. Fact is, I'm profoundly normal and have never broken a single bone in my body. I am an entirely stock, non-modified OEM Human Bean. Unless you count the heavy tattooing, which I guess voids my warranty. Damn!

2) I love spinach. I really do. I used to be the kid in school who asked for and received mountains of spinach from all the other kids on Spinach Day. Now? Now I can't eat it because there's something in that stuff that goes through me like castor oil through a widow woman, and I really genuinely miss spinach. And my sanity.

3) Sometimes I forget that most people don't care, and that stings. Sometimes I remember that most people don't care, and that stings too.

4) I'm a motorcycle snob. I often find myself looking down my rather aquiline nose at anyone not on a motorcycle, and I snub Harley riders as often if not more often than they snub us rice bike riders. And this makes me happy, I'm told.

5) I use things until they're useless. I cannot stand rampant consuming, buying for no other reason than to buy. I own three pairs of tennis shoes (all given to me as presents by the in-laws) and I feel guilty over it. When Walgreens has those big dump bins of "seconds and irregulars" Hanes coloured T-shirts on sale 5 for $10 I go head over heels, and will wear those things until they're ragged. (And yes, I'm wearing one right now.) This is also the reason I use a fountain pen--they don't wear out and don't get thrown away when dry.

6) I always feel terrible when I see a dead animal by the side of the road, no matter if it's a hawk, armadillo, opossum or dog. I hate the idea that people can just shrug off murdering some innocent creature. On the bike I've been known to swerve aside for dragonflies if there's a chance I can miss it.

7) Today being The Great American Smokeout, I shall be cleaning my largest capacity pipe, loading it with the strongest tobacco I have and I shall be smoking it while laughing evilly. I'm sick and tired of being treated by the media and etc. like a five year old. I KNOW it's bad for me. So is breathing what passes for air in most any part of the known world, eating anything that I didn't grow myself (and sometimes not even then,) and crossing the street against the signal. When you start working on that stuff I'll start worrying about my smoke.

An added bonus! No extra charge!

8) I hate most photos of myself. Cameras do not like me in front of them, and I'm much more comfortable BEHIND one. I think there are perhaps three photos of me in existence that I genuinely like.

Kay. Feel up to the task? Steal this meme and run, child, run!

Irrelephant Just Pawn In Game Of Life*

I was a tool last night. I know there's a certain amount of politicking in any office, but I had a rude awakening yesterday afternoon, and again at the dinner that evening.

Hiring practices. We're hiring a nurse back for the third time now. We all know she's a waste of good air, but we're hiring her back. Not because we need her (we don't,) nor because we really enjoy her horrible work ethic and her manipulative ways. No, we're hiring her because we're hiring another nurse from the same agency (a GOOD nurse, one I hated to see go from here and am glad to see come back) and this double hire will effectively cripple our rival. I can only assume that after we've hired Slacker, RN back this third time and she proves yet again to be a waste of time and energy and a negative influence on our business we'll fire her, or let her go, or what we're more likely to do, simply cut her amount of visits so short that she'll quit. Is it just me or is this rather vile? Hiring her simply to help cripple a rival, then toss her aside because we KNOW we don't want her again?

Then there was last night. The dinner. Three doctors, five residents (baby doctors, growing into their MDhood,) our Area VP, Director of Ops, two marketers and our Clinical Manager, the Area VP for Business Development (salesman) and a presenter from Corporate. Oh, and a few of us regular employees. We had them outnumbered, and probably could have had a pretty fair pick-up game of baseball.

And then there was the reason I was there--a Case Manager for the Rehab division of the biggest hospital in a two-hundred mile radius had invited me. Let’s call her “X” for the sake of a joke.** I can only assume that otherwise I'd have zero reason to be there. When you're showing off a new piece of Electronic Medical Reporting software to prospective clients who are also doctors the last thing you need is one of the office staff there. Nothing against me, but ordinarily I'd play the same role there as a bicycle in an oyster bed--maybe easy to look at but certainly not useful to oyster farmers.

This lady likes the way I answer the phone, you see. And that confuses me. I always use the same voice and phraseology when answering, am always polite and I try to be at least a little bit cheerful. And after I find out that it's someone like a hospital's case manager or some other referral source I try to be at least a little nicer. I mean let's be honest, people like her are the main source for our referrals--without them we'd lose 3/4 of our business. Naturally when I recognise someone who is a referral giver I've always allowed a little extra glee to slip into my voice when I hear "Hey, this is so and so Case Manager from Veryverybig Hospital, we've got a referral for you." I mean, they're like customers--they're giving us their business, why NOT let them know we’re happy to be given money and work from them?

So anyway, this lady asked everyone involved in the planning of this rather upper-level supper/meeting if I was going to be there, and I was given very little choice in the matter--either be there or be there. So, I went there. And it wasn't until much later that I started to realise just how much of a tool I was to my boss and the bosses boss and so forth. It was my role to keep this lady buttered up, to keep her smiling and happy. I was to be the sugar to help the medicine go down, if you'll excuse the Poppinsese.

It wasn't a bad role as far as gigolo roles go. I ended up sitting beside her at one corner of the “U” of tables, and honestly she was like most medical people I’ve met--friendly, relaxed and easy to talk to. And honestly she seemed quite able to hold up both ends of our conversation all by herself as long as I made the occasional nod or small noise to let her know I was still following her, so I did. Listening is easy. And by the end of the night, after desert had been consumed and most of the medical folk were making their way to the door I did so also, said my goodnights, shook a few hands and was ready to make good my escape when the marketer scooted over to me, hugged my neck and stage-whispered “Thank you for babysitting X.” I smiled and made some little noncommittal remark but it sort of made me feel bad. Then my AVP said the same thing only in different terms, and it really drove the point home. I didn't hear until later that the marketer and X hate each other's guts, so I was doubly used there, to rub it in X's face.

So now my question to myself is this: was the ONLY reason I was there because I’ve got a work ethic and try to give my job my all, even when I don’t often enjoy it anymore? Am I wrong to feel pleased to have been invited even though it was at the sole request of a 50something, lonely nurse? Or do I just need to accept that I’ve got at least a small knack for dealing with people and enjoy the free dinners it entails?
* Best if done in Mongo's voice from Mel Brook's "Blazing Saddles."

** I call her “X” because that’s what Nero Wolfe used to call his clients when he didn’t want to name them, and a doctor we were hosting could have BEEN Nero Wolfe if only he’d been wearing a yellow shirt or tie and had Archie Goodwin standing behind him. I spent the entire meal waiting for him to start pursing his lips, or for him to buzz Fritz for some beer, or to shout at Archie to call Saul Panzer.

Nov 12, 2007

Shit Or Go Blind

It's been one of those sorts of days--so much going on, so many different things to handle, and of all the little blips and blops of the "Oh I need to blog about this" today I can't bring a single one to mind.

Damned mind!

*racing through the stacks, trying to haul open all the little card file drawers, finding them stuck tight*

Kay. Launched the train blog, that's going to be interesting. Further dividing my attention, just what I need. Like feeding Pixie Stix to a kid with ADD, then letting him wash it down with red Koolaid. I've already got a few posts in mind, just need time to sit and write them all out.

It's not cold here yet. WHY is it not cold yet?

The pecans are falling like mad. Unfortunately, so are the leaves. I raked a third of my backyard a few days ago, with the intention of making pecan picking easier. Came out the next day and it looked like I hadn't touched the place. It's like brown snow, all crunchy and piled up against things where the wind blows it. I wander out there with my rake and pile it up carefully and the dogs run through the big piles and I move it and pile it and sort it and more falls the next day. At least my brown snow hides pecans.

My office is a wreck. My home office, that is, my sanctum sanctorum, my Fortress of Solitude. No handle on the door, just a decades long tendency to stick, and one of the cats decided to try and open it. He succeeded. Now my office is littered with cats and the results of letting cats free reign in a space. Bits of important papers everywhere, cat toys underfoot, and my lap isn't safe EVER. Ye gods I need to install a lockset.

I got invited to a VIP meeting at work today, that was weird. See, I'm not a VIP. I'm just above the gopher in the office, but I got the word today. We're launching a new electronic document thing for the doctors, a paperless alternative to mailing verbal orders to them for signatures, and it seems that some of the Case Managers and main nurses of these MD's want to meet me. ME. Because of my personality on the phone, I'm told. I have to wonder what sorts of jerks these people have to talk to all day long if a little politeness gets me invited to meet these folks and share an expensive dinner.

Here's a good one: I had a bad go Sunday. I was very tired and my gentleman's demeanor was shot straight to pieces, but I was struggling gamely to keep it nailed in place. Now, keep in mind that I spent many years in retail dealing with arsehole customers of every ilk, so I go out of my way to try to be as civil, polite and friendly as I can when dealing with retail employees who at least make an effort at being competent. This time I had reason to be an arsehole.

Trying to buy less than $35 worth of mixed goods I walked to a cashier (turns out she was a front end manager or head cashier or such. She pointed me to the self-checkout. This pissed me off, not because I don't like the self-checkouts (I do) but because it gave me the impression she was too important to work, and I wasn't allowed to give my money to a real person. But, undaunted, I smiled and went to. Scanned and bagged the lot. I gave the machine a Visa gift card with a little less than $30 on it, expecting to use it then pay the remainder in cash. Easy. The machine swallowed it's face.

I had to pull the manager away from chatting with one of her cashiers to clear the error, then she directed me to the only human cashier there, who already had two in line. This further annoyed me because she was suddenly too important to fix the problem herself, and was happy to foist it off on one of her flunkies. And when the card failed again, everyone went stupid. Sweet Gold Plated Christ, the first thing I was taught when I started working retail was how to talk to people, how to reassure them that nothing is wrong when something goes wrong, and how to move FAST to take care of the issue. Me? I was left standing there, feeling as awkward as a duck in a nudist camp while everyone wandered around with a dazed expression on their faces. And so yes, I was nasty to the cashier. She'll get over it, I always did.

The second time that afternoon I almost lost it was a little more acceptable in the whole. I'd gone thru a local drive-thru chicken place to get my famished wife a chicken sandwich, chips and a drink. The total was $5 and some change, and I was given a dollar coin from her bottomless purse instead of breaking another fiver. I handed this to the girl at the window with a small smile. She looked at the fin and the little golden disc, looked back at me, and as Baby Jeebus With His Tiny Holy Willie is my witness she said, with a disgusted sound in her voice, "What's this?"

Kids, I could have climbed out of the driver's seat, leapt onto that damned swinging window's ledge, taken that little girl by her shoulders and bitten her throat out, then tossed her corpse into the fryer. What I did was put a dash of acid in my voice and said with my perfected Southern Sweetness slathered all over it: "That's a dollar coin, dah'lin." I may have snarled a little afterwards. I know she closed her little flip-window quickly and I watched as she showed it to someone else, I can only assume the Manager.

I wish now I had said "It's candy! You peel the wrapper off and inside is chocolaty goodness!"

Oh kids. I'm so tired of people who don't care enough to try. I was raised to do my best, all the time, no matter what I was doing. If I was a shit-shoveler, I'd give it my all to be the best shit-shoveler in the stable, and that includes knowing about what sort of shit I'd be shoveling, being able to identify all the different shovels I might need, and how to tell a horse's arse from a hole in the wall. So why is this no longer done? Are today's parents just stupid?

Kay. I'm getting cranky again. *s* Gonna leave off before I tear someone's throat out.

Nov 10, 2007

Holy Jeebus

I've launched another freaking blog.

Trainspotting CenLa is now going to be the place where all the train posts go, so that I don't keep regaling you lovely people with endless reiterations of how cool trains are and what train I saw when and what it smelled like. It'll be an ongoing journal of what I've seen, heard, photographed or otherwise gotten into concerning train operations in the area, and if you ever happen to be headed this way you can check out all the good spotting areas.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled blog reading. *s*

Nov 8, 2007

Hunting Season

The cold has come, and with it the hunters. Acres of Mossy Oak green clothing, shotguns in every truck’s back window and at least one four-wheeler in every bed. Sportsmen abound in the Sportsman’s Paradise, and Fall bring them out.

My father was a big hunter. Not a sportsman, there’s a difference. My father and his two brothers grew up in a time and place where hunting was required if there was going to be food on the table, so as he grew older he approached hunting season with the same sort of end result in mind. When my father brought home a game bag of squirrel it appeared that evening on the dinner table. When he killed a deer, which was only about once a year, we had venison.

My mother’s family was a little different. They grew up in the same sort of poverty and around the same time, but being French they preferred to think about their problems rather than go kill something over it. There was, however, one exception, and that was my mother's brother, Jean-Batiste. Not only was he a hunter he was a hunter with a sharp mind and an eagerness to try new things, and as he got older he only got worse. He was never good at hunting at all was my uncle, but he was determined far beyond the ken of normal men. Worse, he lived next door to us so we were constantly exposed to his own particular brand of madness.

To further his goals he always had the newest ‘thing’ to help him hunt. He always had the latest innovation in shotguns, was one of the first people in the area to own a three-wheeler ATV when they first came out, and the same with four-wheelers. He owned at least one piece of clothing covered in every pattern of camouflage made, he owned about seven or eight different stands and blinds and had owned and used probably every decoy and hunting technique there was to perfect his sadly lacking ability.

One thing that was a constant about his hunting technique, though, was dogs. He loved to hunt with dogs, and there was always a kennel-full of hounds in his backyard, all barking and baying and carrying on. Saturday mornings there was never a doubt if Uncle Jean-Batiste was going hunting, because the rattling of cages and the barking of dogs could be heard all over the bayou.

About ten years ago, close to the time of his unfortunate death my uncle started getting a little more unusual in his pursuit of big game. He was very secretive around the family for months and months before hunting season that year. Even his dogs went missing. The kennels that used to be so filled with every sort and description of hunting hound were empty, the bowls filled with dust. He was terribly distant to everyone, secretive and solitary. Until the morning deer season opened, that is. That was his grand entrance, the great unveiling of the mystery.

We woke to the sound of high-pitched barking and the rattle of cages and such, and my brother and I tore out to see what had been happening. We saw Uncle Jean-Batiste there, proud in his camo, shotgun laying on the seat of his battered little Toyota pickup, it’s back filled with small wire dog kennels, and a huge crowd of dogs around his feet. Not just any dogs, though. He was surrounded by about twenty five yapping, bouncing toy poodles. Toy poodles, he explained to our incredulous selves because it took a sizeable pack of dogs to execute his plan, and he could pack a lot of these little pocket dogs in a fairly small space.

He went on to explain that he had spent the past year carefully training these dogs to hunt deer. Furthermore, not just running them to ground to hold them like regular hunting hounds but to go one step further. This was his triumph: he had trained the poodle pack to tree a deer.

It is a little known fact, he told us, that if a deer ran fast enough it could in fact scale a tree, and he had trained these poodles to drive deer to exactly that specific speed, and he was determined to prove to everyone that it would work. And come to find out, it did. He returned that evening with not one but two massive bucks, bark still stuck in their hooves, and a triumphal grin on his camo-painted mug.

This went on for weeks—each Saturday morning he’d load up the pack of poodles in his little truck and head for the woods, and each Saturday evening he’d return with a big buck strapped across the hood. We all ate well for that month, then tragedy struck. It seems, from what we were able to gather, that the pack had treed a rather surly buck who was still surprisingly agile up in the branches and was doing everything in it’s power to avoid being shot. Uncle Jean-Batiste had to get pretty close to the tree to shoot it, and when he did he forgot a very important rule: heavy things fall very fast and very hard.

He was found in the woods near a tree covered in strange scrape marks. He was surrounded by his pack of disconsolate poodles, crushed underneath a mammoth deer with an oddly smug look on it’s muzzle.

Nov 5, 2007

Packin' It In

Riding in a group of motorcycles, or riding alone? I've ridden a motorcycle almost daily since I threw a leg over my first bike in 1992*, so I know what I like, let's put it that way. I know it's cool to ride with someone else, sometimes a lot of someone elses. Heck, I've seen Easy Riders several times and even ridden the River Road where they cracked up, but I have never seen the attraction of riding with a pack of other riders.

Don't get me wrong, I've ridden in big groups and had a lot of fun with it. I've even lead groups of riders before, back when I used to work for the motorcycle shop. Even got to take out what was at the time a brand new Honda Valkyrie to lead the bunch, which was a blast. Honestly though? It's not my bag. I'm neither a motorcycle leader nor a follower. I prefer to set my own route and speed.

When you ride with a pack, you're limited by the skills of your weakest rider. If Joe Yamaha can't take a 40 mph curve at 60 mph comfortably then nobody should be knee-dragging. If elderly Yojimbo Suzuki doesn't like to drive more than 5mph over the posted limit and you end up in a 30mph zone the pack is either going to lose coherence when the heavy throttles leave or is going to turn as one and fall upon the slow member and rend him glove from jacket. Er...yeah.

And one more thing before I get into my story, though not my only beef with pack riding--weekend riders. You know the type: middle-aged guy, brand new Harley Super Extra Duper Wide Glide Extravaganza Dyna Fattie Custom, leathers so squeaky new you can still smell the dye and he rides like he's balanced on a three-legged saw-horse. In short, a poser who is a definite danger to himself and everyone around him. And for some reason this guy always wants to be in a pack, perhaps with the intention of taking out as many other riders as they can when they go down. I can only hope.

This weekend found me headed back into town to pick up a package we had left at a store while shopping earlier, and wanting to get in and out of town as neatly and cleanly as I could, I took Betty.

And since it was a pretty Fall Saturday, the roads were thick with weekend Harley riders. Me? I just kept my head moving and was just that much more careful, got to the store, retrieved the package and got a wild hair to go by the bookstore with a leftover gift card.

I made a fast dash in and out, and found myself leaving the parking lot in a mixed pack of six Harley guys and a pair of sport bike riders. I figured I'd ride along for a little while because, especially in busy Saturday traffic a pack is much more visible than a single rider, no matter how dangerous the pack might be. So, I tagged along, and had a really nice eye-opening: this group, this rag-tag pick-up group knew how to ride, for the most part.

The best part? The differences. The Harley Guys were typical Harley Guys: at every traffic light they had to repeatedly whack the throttle open to rack their drag pipes, had to pose in various and dramatic ways while riding (the "one hand steer" comes to mind, where the left arm is held straight down,) and then there was That One Guy. He was the King Poser. Not only did he waste half his day's ration of gas with useless full-throttle runs and sitting-at-the-light glass-breaking throttle whacks, he'd go into a spasm of GQ model poses every time he'd stop. I swear, he did everything but get off the bike and look vaguely toward his watch and vaguely at the setting sun.

The sport bike pair was the most fun. Both were wearing full swag--racing jackets with padding, boots, jeans and gloves, the works. Made me proud, after seeing so many fraternity boys shred themselves when they lay one down wearing cargo shorts and a pair of flip-flops. He was riding a monstrous CBR, and she was astride a much smaller but still very sporty Suzuki. I could tell she was the new rider by a certain lack of smoothness but I'll give them both this--he was being very careful to give her hand signals and little visual reassurances, and she was doing her level best to stay with the group, and doing a fine job of it.

And then there was me at the back of the pack, the daily rider, the cocky one. *g* Yeah, I'm not humble when it comes to bikes. I've put my time in at the MSF courses, done my fair share of riding in winter and summer, rain and shine, and come out stronger for it. I don't park Betty when the temps fall below 70 nor above 90, and a cloud in the sky doesn't frighten me. So, I relaxed, fell into my spot in the back and watched it all unfold.

Truthfully? It was a lot of fun. I liked being in a big bunch, a group brought together by a love of two wheels, a gathering of nonconformists. I relished the combined thumps of five V-twin engines and the tearing-canvas snarl of a pair of race bikes, and underneath me the quiet thump and rumble of Betty's 113 cubic inch V-twin. I loved the fact that they were all smart enough to travel in a zig-zag pattern in one lane, so that each bike had a fair share of the lane and a good three second space cushion between their front wheel and the bike in front of them. I was pleased that the pack leaders kept to the speed limits (mostly) in town but let it roll on pretty freely when we got out of the city limits. I got quite a lot of laughing done at King Poser's "Look At Me!" antics, and my heart warmed at the sight of this young guy being thoughtful enough to set a really fine example for his lady friend, a new and impressionable rider.

I was ready to follow them to wherever they were eventually headed but my turn-off came all too soon and I had to make the last five minutes home alone, but I had a smile on my mug. I had my faith restored in the pack, at least a little bit, and the callouses rubbed off my heart just a touch. Am I going to find a pack to ride with now? No. What happened was one of those little moments that the Universe likes to surprise us each with. I drank my cup close to the bottom, left the dregs and pushed back from the table, happy.

And the next time you're in town and see a black-on-black Roadliner Midnight with a big lunk of a guy in bug-spattered, care-worn black leathers and a flashy red and black helmet, pull up alongside and give me a high-sign. Maybe we can ride along together for a little while.

This was taken the day I brought my first bike home, a brand new air-cooled 1993 model 600cc Yamaha Seca II, in Deep Metallic Green III. The best four thousand dollars I EVER spent.

This is me thirteen years later, the afternoon I brought my Betty home. Brand new 2006 Star Roadliner Midnight, an air-cooled 1850cc V-twin in Classic Black. Same spot on the same driveway, many more miles under my tires.

Nov 1, 2007

It's Gettin' Too Dark, Too Dark To Pick*

It's pecan time again.

The weather is finally cooling off, and the pecans have been dropping like determined wooden rain. If a good wind comes up from the north, rattling the branches against each other you can watch them fall and bounce in the grass like hundreds of huge crickets, and the sound of them on a metal roof is like hailstones. My back yard only holds three juvenile trees, but I can't walk a step without hearing one crack and crunch under my bare feet. The very old tree in the corner of the Back backyard is loaded, and the ground beneath is littered with them, just below the tips of the grass.

This weekend is the Louisiana Pecan Festival in the thriving metroplex that is Colfax. There'll be drunk rednecks, toothless trailer trash skanks looking to pick up equally toothless men in pickup trucks, and the old Pecan Queen will step down from her throne to allow the new, fresh Pecan Queen to take up the Gnarled Branch of Office and place the wooden crown on her fair head. The old Queen will be lead off to the huge Pecan Castle, where she will remain until the end of the festivities, at which time she will be burned along with the Castle in a roaring, nutty bonfire.

Okay, so maybe I'm being a little facetious.

It definitely is pecan time, though. The crisp air heralds the end of the year, the drawing of the curtains. Hallo'een is over, and from here it's all downhill. The Pecan Festival, then the big parade at the Natchitoches Festival of Lights, and then Thanksgiving will be upon us with it's feasts and family, and maybe a game of football in the back yard. After that it's only natural that we all roll through a speedy series of big sales at the retail chains, and that leads us right smack into Xmas and before we've had time to clear our eyes from the lights and the ornaments and the tinsel it's New Years Eve and New Years Day and oh my gods it's 2008, where did the year go? And in front of us will be the long climb toward Spring, and rebirth.

I've been out in the back yard picking pecans in the evenings after work most every day now. It's introspective times like this that I look back at the past decades, at the boy I was, and compare him to the man I've become. Pecan picking. What I used to see as required drudgery is now meditation, a sort of therapy, and paying therapy at that. My father would spend hours every evening, from the time he got home until dark under one of the six or so pecan trees that dot our property, and weekends would find him out all day, stooping his lanky frame down to pick up a handful here or a few there. White plastic five gallon buckets of them would magically appear on the back patio, pecans carefully piled well over the rim, a brown, dusty tidal wave waiting to happen. In the evenings he'd always have the capacious pockets of his overalls bulging with black-striped pecans, which he'd carefully empty out with his big, gnarled hands into a waiting container.

When he was well and hale he'd spend hours each night at the kitchen table working with a Reed pecan cracker, a sort of metal-handled hammer and anvil that would make short work of the shell. He'd crack pecans and crack them some more until the tray the cracker stood on was full. He'd carefully empty the tray into a brown paper grocery bag with a soft wooden rustle, then reach down to the other side and fill the tray again with whole nuts, and patiently start working again. The whole house would be full of the warm fall smell of them, and we'd take turns carefully weighing bags and taping them closed, marking the weight on the side in black grease pencil.

At his production height it got to where he'd be buried in orders from friends and coworkers of his and Mom's for cracked pecans--ten pounds here, twenty there, a hundred there. He'd sell them for just under the going market price and carefully put all the money away in a saltine cracker tin he kept in the closet. He called it his "mad money" even though my father's mad days were long past. And each year he'd have five or six hundred dollars carefully saved, which would help Mom pay for Xmas presents.

We tried to help, tried to make a share of the profits, tried to keep up, but we never could match his quiet determination, his strength and his stony patience. At the time we made a fair little profit ourselves, it was hard not to, but the arm muscle energy and the time it took to crack enough pecans to make a noticeable profit was daunting to us two young boys, who could make money a lot easier simply by doing our chores, so it was left to him to crack pecans and fill what seemed an endless supply of brown paper bags.

Now I find myself out in the back yard, the world's largest bipedal squirrel, crawling around on hands and knees pushing a plastic bucket in front of me. It's therapy to me now, no longer the drudgery it used to seem. Now I see it as picking up nickels, because one full bucket will sell for about fifteen dollars. It becomes sort of like Easter Egg hunting, only the egg's golden center tastes of summer sunshine and a sort of smoky, dry woody sweetness, and these eggs can be sold in quantity for a little mad money for Xmas. And each year I ponder what exactly it is I see in pecan picking. I can and do easily make more money sitting behind a desk at work, sorting and filing medical records and tapping away at the keyboard, but it's not rewarding, that sort of work. There's no soul to it. Seeing the bucket fill slowly, hearing the muted, woody thumping of a handful of pecans falling on each other, clearing a section of yard and moving on to another, that's rewarding. That sort of work has hands in it, has teeth. Cleaning the yard carefully, one pecan at a time, and then coming back out the next day to find more have fallen. Each a few cents worth, each a few more seconds of quiet time with my soul.

I too go out after work now, and pick until it's too dark to see them anymore. My daughter has no patience for it at all, can't see it's worth right now in money or time; her soul is too light and airy to need dusting and repair, and I don't press her to it. She'll discover it in her own time, or not. So now I slowly fill my buckets and load them up in the wheelbarrow and roll it to Mom's house to be weighed and bagged. She served my father and now me as the middleman, keeper of the big list of buyer's names. It is she who still brings the carefully taped brown paper bags here and there to buyers who remember the time some twenty or more years ago when my father supplied them. I don't crack them, it's still far too much doing for not much return, and I find myself with what seems more and more to do each evening other than cracking pecans but the picking, for me, that's the thing. Finding them lying in the grass that's slowly dying from the cold, the thick brown ovals of the Mahans, the long cigar-tapers of the Stuart paper shells, and when I'm feeling really adventurous it's the littlest-fingernail-sized native pecans, hidden by the thousands in the grass.

This time of year always makes me think of my childhood, grade school to be precise. Our playground was an asphalt expanse littered with basketball hoops, some four-square grids with their careful yellow geometry and three or four ancient pecan trees. They stood spaced far apart, thick giants with gnarled black limbs, each with the asphalt pushed up and broken around their massive trunks like permafrost shoved away from the blunt prow of an icebreaker. My schoolbus always arrived early, and so I was always the first or second kid on the playground before the morning bell, and I can clearly remember the touch of chill in the air as I walked around and picked up handfuls of paper shell pecans. The asphalt made it easy to find them, and I'd walk until I had eight or ten, and then I'd sit somewhere quiet and open them.

How they felt as I cracked them against each other in my palms, the muted pop as one gave way before the other. How the shells would come away in huge, ragged sections, revealing the darkly golden, heavily wrinkled meat. It's more a part of me than any friendship I made during those tough, troubling years, more a part of me than any Field Day or textbook lesson. The sharp, dry taste of the first pecan of the season now brings me wheeling back to those times with the speed of a pecan falling onto a tin roof. I don't think anything has ever tasted quite so good as those pecans, eaten in the sharp cool of the morning. I doubt anything ever could.

* With apologies to Bob Dylan and "Knockin' On Heaven's Door."