Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Everything's Going to Be Fine-ish.

Suddenly summer.

Hard not to love this time of year. That creaky old lumbar don't pay as much mind, and the sun stays up longer than a starving cat in a tuna tree. Oh, just so you know, that's how I like to talk in the summer, like I'm back on the porch, sipping on a tall Hi-C. Matter of fact, I can still hear my old hound dog barkin', chasin' down some hoodoo there.

Born in Puyallup.

But while each season throws off its own distinct vibe, summer's mood is magnified; it's a little lazier but a lot more passionate. The quarter of all Americans who regularly attend school are abruptly handed a box of instant holiday (now with fifty percent more free time!), and we all know shit tends to happen when the kids get bored.

And aggravating our restlessness a notch further this particular solstice is a churning storm on the horizon, kicking up an angst about America's future that a lot of us can't remember previously feeling. Violence dominates our headlines and citizens are rancorously divided over whether to address it with more violence or otherwise. The president we elect in November will inherit an unprecedented hunk of disenfranchised voters from whichever side loses. Whether we like it or not, we're stuck with either a libelous Beltway lifer or a racist, peach-pallored prick. Seems pretty grim, doesn't it?

Mmm... nah. Our country has actually teetered a lot closer to the brink than we are right now (Please see World War II and Cuban Missile Crisis.). Oh, and that term "good old days"? That's about as real as those WMDs they cooked up to hornswoggle us into the Iraq boondoggle.

So, to demonstrate how our union has persevered despite taking a few shots to the pills from time to time, I'd like to highlight some of the good and bad mojo visited upon this country we love.

Summer of 1966
We move our hunting rifle from the gun rack to under the bed because of this: During August, race riots inflame much of the nation, most notably in Chicago and Waukegan, Illinois, and Lansing, Michigan. A state of emergency is declared in Cleveland, and troops are dispatched to restore order.

But damn it, we're still a great country because: On July 4, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Freedom of Information Act.

And this cool thing happened: The first Star Trek episode was broadcast on September 8, further dividing America into those who love Star Trek, and nerds.

Top one-hit wonder of the summer: The Men in My Little Girl's Life, by Mike Douglas. It was the only top ten hit for the famous talk-show host, and with a title like that, I can see why.

Summer of 1976
We move our hunting rifle into the closet and buy a .38 revolver because of this: In New York City, the "Son of Sam" pulls a gun from a paper bag, killing one and seriously wounding another, in the first of a series of attacks that terrorize the city for the next year.

But damn it, we're still a great country because: We watched Bruce Jenner, Sugar Ray Leonard and the Spinx brothers make quick work of their commie counterparts in the Montreal Olympics, dominating them until Apollo Creed's tragic beating in Rocky IV.

And this cool thing happened: The first woman is admitted to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Top one-hit wonder of the summer: Afternoon Delight, by Starland Vocal Band. A curious thirteen-year-old at the time, by the end of that summer I'd surmised that this wasn't about the joys of a Fudgesicle at 3:30.

Summer of 1986
We move our .38 revolver under the bed and buy a new .357 for under our pillow because of this: The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to explode, and what better reason to protect you and yours from wandering bands of deathly ill homosexuals than with that little beauty of a pistol you found under the Christmas tree last year.

But damn it, we're still a great country because: Top Gun debuts, grossing $177 million and causing the firearm owners mentioned above to feel aroused and dirty. Many went on to purchase VHS players for future Top Gun screenings in the privacy of their own homes.

And this cool thing happened: During "Hands Across America," at least five million people form a human chain from New York City to Long Beach, California, to fight hunger and homelessness. Unfortunately it quickly deteriorates into a vicious game of Red Rover.

Top one-hit wonder of the summer: Rock Me Amadeus, by Falco. Wait, did I say top one-hit wonder?

Summer of 1996
We put our .38 in the glove box of the F-150 and move the .357 to the nightstand. For further protection, we purchase a Glock .45 because of this: The Centennial Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics kills two and injures 111, so y'all might want to listen up: no immigrant Islamist terror tool is going to make me a victim without tasting a headful of lead. Wait, what's that? He's a white American Christian? Whatever, I do love me a sweet new gun.

But damn it, we're still a great country because: President Bill Clinton signs the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty at the United Nations.

And this cool thing happened: The unemployment rate drops to 5.1%, the lowest since March 1989. House Speaker Newt Gingrich laments that five percent of the country is still slackers.

Top one-hit wonder of the summer: Standing outside a broken phone booth with money in my hand, by Primitive Radio Gods. Sheer genius, as it was the only song ever written with its entire lyrics in the title.

Summer of 2006
We give our .357 to the wife, put the Glock in an ankle holster and buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle because of this: Spinach contaminated with E. coli kills two and poisons over 100 others in 20 states. We learn that leafy vegetable-based terrorism is real and if you don't believe it, explain the sneeze guard, tough guy.

But damn it, we're still a great country because: Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion. Well, at least the YouTube guy must think we're great.

And this cool thing happened: The world's tallest living tree, a 379-foot tall coast redwood (sequoia) now named Hyperion, is discovered in Redwood National Park.

Top one-hit wonder of the summer: You're Beautiful, by James Blunt. This song always gets my hopes up at the beginning because the guy has a plan, then leaves me feeling raw and empty. Damn you, Blunt!

Thanks for sticking with me. Hopefully we can all agree that over the past five decades, through the good but especially the sad and horrific, we Americans have shown a way of coming together when it's least expected.

I'm certainly not expecting it this summer.

Friday, June 17, 2016

More Boyfriend Drama—a short story

The table vibrated, Cynthia's quiet ring tone set to Billy Squier's In the Dark.
You're never sure if the illusion is real.
You pinch yourself but the memories are all you feel...
She rolled onto her side and grabbed the phone. Her nerves were stupidly frazzled. Is it him? It's been three days.
Damn. It's just Heather. "Hey, Heather."
"Hi, just wondering how you're doing."
"Umm...I'm okay." Cynthia drove her fist into the pillow. "Shit! I'm trying—I really am, but I can't stop thinking about him. He hasn't called since Sunday… and it’s just making me more and more obsessed." She rolled onto her back and blew out a breath. "This isn’t good."
"Come on, Cyn, keep things in perspective. You know he's into you."
"Yeah, well, that’s the thing—I don't know. Supposedly, he's really been busy with work lately. That's what he says, anyway. Then he just shows up in the middle of the night, like he lives here. Fucking asshole."
"It's just so funny," said Heather. "I could've sworn the dude was gay when I first met him. He's in such amazing shape and wears those tight clothes. Those belts, the boots. Oh, and hello? That old guy he's always hanging with. Not sayin’. Just sayin'."
Cynthia threw off the covers. "Heather, trust me, if only you knew. Not gay. And Rob says he only hangs out with the guy because he has to. If the boss says work late, you work late."
"I know, and I totally trust your instincts, Cyn. I just have a feeling that there's a lot you don't know about him."
"Well, there's a lot that he doesn't know about me either. Like that clown I just broke up with. If he ever found out about that, we're as good as over. They used to be best friends, you know."
Cynthia's call waiting buzzed. Her heart jumped as she looked at the number. Him. "Hey, Heather, I gotta go. It's Rob. Thanks for listening. Love you, call you tomorrow."
"Bye, Honey. Love you too."
Cynthia cleared her throat and blew out a quivering breath. Gently, she thumbed the green circle. “Hi, Rob... Really? Again? Right. Mm, hmm.”
Molten rage filled her stomach. Peeling off her head band, Cynthia flung it at the TV, burst out of bed and elbowed the bedside lamp against the wall. “Tell you what, Robin, this is the fourth time you've done this, not that I'm keeping track. How about if I call you next time? You never know, though, something might suddenly come up.”
She clicked off her phone and gazed out the window into the night. The Bat Signal's familiar beam pulsed brilliantly above Gotham’s twinkling skyline.
“Hmm... " Anger subsiding after her torrent, Cynthia's eyes followed a wispy cloud as it wafted across the familiar oval.

"I suppose he could be gay.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Interview—a short story

The perky admin approached Panos as he sat trying to will his sweaty forehead dry in the overstuffed lobby chair. New York summers.

She smiled and paused, unblinking. "He'll see you now. Follow me, please." Panos rose, grabbed his ornamental briefcase and watched the woman’s ass as she led him inside. Her beautiful hand opened the door to the sun-splashed corner office, then slid back and she disappeared.

The white-haired man sprung up from behind the massive mahogany desk. His eyes were intense, a little Christopher Walken bulgy, his manicured hand gracefully swooping in. "Panos, Bob. Pieasure to meet you. Please, sit."

"Thank you for seeing me, sir."

"Hey, call me Bob. Being called 'sir' makes me feel like I'm talking to--well--just about everybody."

Panos forced a chuckle, unbuttoned his jacket and sat.

The billionaire settled into the leather couch next to Panos, "I've taken the liberty of reading through your résumé. Impressive, indeed. But just so you know, we've vetted hundreds of people for this position. Matter of fact, we we're still not done."

"Oh, yes, sir," said Panos. "Par for the course. Regardless, I’m honored to be able to see you personally."

"Well yes, thank you. So, let's get started. Says here that shortly after graduating, you signed on with Monsanto. Talk about a PR challenge! What did you glean from that experience?"

"Well, sir, I suppose my biggest lesson was that an elected official's opinion can be modified far more easily than corn seed, yet either can lead to vast financial reward for the stakeholder."

"I see. And then you accepted a position with Arthur Andersen.Your largest client was a company called Enron. Tell me about that."

Panos knew this one was coming. "Sir, have you ever had an itch on your back that you couldn't reach? Arthur Andersen and Enron each had itches, and they discovered that if they embraced each other, their itches could be simultaneously scratched. A lot of people became very wealthy from this relationship, and fortunately, I got out of there before some people made some mistakes."

"And then you came on board at Halliburton?"

"Correct. Takeways there? I’d say when it comes to government contracts, 'no-bid' equals 'no lid'." Panos was hoping the old guy would at least crack a smile, but nothing. 

"From there," Goldman Sachs enlisted your services. Tell me about that."

Panos stared out the window, taking in the Chrysler Building and Empire State in the hazy distance."Let me put it this way. When your job is hiding the proverbial razor blade in the financial carameled apple, eventually some trick-or-treater’s tonsils are going to be nicked, and..."

"Okay, you know what? Just stop right there. I think I've heard enough."

Shit, thought Panos. Too graphic. Should've known with this old dude.

Mr. Kraft bounced up like a teenager, stopping inches from Panos’ still-sweating brow.

"I think we've found our man. Congratulations, Panos. Welcome to the New England Patriots."

Panos took a step backward and put out his hand. Kraft ignored the gesture and engulfed him in a suffocating hug.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Lazy Carnivore's Guide to Delicious Dinners.

Just a little announcement before we begin: Reflections of a Shallow Pond, from this point forward, will be a food blog. No more twisted fiction, no more raunchy rhymes, future posts will contain nothing but photos of my food—a bag of pretzels from the vending machine, half of a stale maple bar from two cubicles over—you'll see everything I eat accompanied by three to seven funny hash tags.

Aw, I'm just kidding. I'm actually getting started on a young adult series where our hero is a clown with rabies. Somehow he only manages to kill bad people, and you really start liking him by the end of book four.

Today, however, I really do want to discuss cooking because it can be fun, yes? In my opinion, nothing beats a leisurely Sunday afternoon spent preparing something delicious. Pot roast, salmon, maybe some grilled kabobs—most things taste terrific when we're bestowed with a relaxed timeline to really cultivate a meal.

Problem is, on those weeknights where everyone converges at home around six, a deadly tandem of low blood sugar and teen-induced, finicky entitlement can force a nice evening to break bad in a hurry.

Whether we're tapped out after riding the bus for an hour next to a guy soaked in Axe and Olde English or just can't justify going to the taco truck for the third night in a row, we need to crank something out and move on. Hit it and quit it, as the kids used to say.

I know most of you feel my pain, so I'd like to share the dishes I prepare when confronted with whiny family members, profound lack of motivation, or both. None are accompanied by fruit or vegetables, so feel free to shake out a bag of salad to ease your parental conscience. And as a typical work week essentially consists of four dinner days (Monday through Thursday), here are my top four hasty tasty dinners:

4) Pizza: Ive eaten so much of it in my life that my DNA has become indistinguishable from the genetic code of Canadian Bacon. So why not learn to make it, right? You know, teach a man to fish, yada, yada.

It's pretty straight-forward. Buy two boxes of Appian Way pizza crust and stretch out the dough on a greased cookie sheet. Try using latex gloves to reduce stickiness. Bake the crust alone at 425° for ten minutes, then remove from the oven. The Appian Way sauce is good, but take it a step further and mix another brand in with it, like Contadina or Ragu. Add your toppings and bake for an additional fifteen minutes. You'll be watching Wheel of Fortune before you can Sajak!

3) Beef stroganoff: Your brood will come a runnin' for this fun frolic of noodle and cow. It's nothing but meat and carbs, but even a tattered coyote would taste good after marinating for nine hours in the crock pot. Combine stew meat, two cups of beef bullion, a tablespoon each of ketchup and Worcestershire in a slow cooker. Go to work or your local bar for the day.

In the evening, add mushrooms and two tablespoons of flour and stir until thick. Mix in a cup of sour cream and pour over egg noodles. Hot freaking damn it's good, and the back of the recipe book makes it even better:

In this woman's world, crockery is no mockery.

2) Sloppy Joes: This is a lowest-common-denominator meal, whether you're in a crunch to get to the science fair or in front of Netflix for the season finale of Broadchurch. On the bell-shaped curve of food preparation effort, it falls somewhere between unwrapping gum and washing a fork.

Fry up a pound-and-a-half of ground beef (or a combo of beef and ground turkey), drain it and combine with the Sloppy Joe seasoning, a cup of water and tomato paste. Throw in some of that sauce from pizza night to give it an added zing. Toast hamburger buns and top them with the bubbling, saucy deliciousness. Add shredded cheddar and you'll discover there's nothing sloppy about these Joes, yo.

1) French dips: In our house, French dips continue to dwarf the other easy dinners. Why? They taste as good as the restaurant version and no one has to tip the bastard in the kitchen. You can go all Safeway on these, too, from the sandwich rolls to the frozen steak fries to the deli roast beef to the au jus.

With two minutes remaining for the fries to bake, lightly butter the rolls and broil. During that time, heat up the roast beef in the microwave. Everything comes together in a magical synergy as you top your French Dip with horseradish; grilled onions and melted provolone are optional.

Well, there you have it—a week's worth of dinners that take about the same amount of energy as scratching your tuchus. Try them and I promise you, your family will embrace their mediocrity with a watered down passion you haven't experienced since Ted Cruz picked a running mate.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On Location—a short story

"Honest to God, that woman can be such a diva sometimes." Edward lifted the soaking paper and lowered it into the sepia tray. "Insisting that I use film for the shoot. And that I must personally process every print? Um, hello? Elton John called. He wants his bitch back."

"Ha! I like it." Edward's assistant Greg sat on a stool, trying to take notes in the amber light of the darkroom.

"But she can also be a goddamn genius, and I must admit," said Edward, "I am enjoying this whole film thing. Haven't produced sepia tones since the Nineties."

Which was also how long he'd known Mia Kirkwood, managing editor of Buzz magazine—compadres since their early days at art school, Edward now felt more like her obedient lackey than a renowned photographer in his own right. "Definitely a unique location, to boot."

"I don't know," Greg said, "Was I disappointed to leave that miserable place? Hell no." He watched Edward nimbly transfer another print from bleach to clean water. "Place made me shiver, like, the whole time. Think about what it was like living there."

"Or dying?"

"Okay, thanks, now I'm shivering again. Eddie, I'm not kidding, they need to take a fucking wrecking ball to that place."

"I suppose. But you have to admit it was amusing how disgusted those poor little models were." Edward clipped another sheet to the line. "Well tough shit, little girlfriends, y'all make more than I do, so you can just go ahead and put on your big girl panties. Edward noticed that Greg's arms were tightly folded. "What freaked you out the most?"

"Um...shit, where do I begin? The reception area?"

"True enough. Mental hospitals aren't most people's idea of home." Edward reached toward the wall, his hand cranking the amber light's intensity. "Let's take a look."

The five dangling photos slowly came to life as Greg's gaze sharpened. "Oh, God." He hugged himself tighter, unaware how his torso rocked as he absorbed the imagery.

Edward chuckled and clipped on another dripping print. "Mia Kirkwood, you've done it again."

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Trump vs. Hillary: Wake Me Up When It's Over.

Finally it's come to pass—Trump vs. Clinton—estúpido hombre vs mujer acostada.

Are you ready? If not, that's fine, because we've got a solid six months ahead of us to watch a muck-huckin' donnybrook not witnessed since Geraldo took a neo-Nazi chair to the face. We'll have a nice long exposure to this toxic spectacle, so let's just pace ourselves, okay?

And by ourselves, I mean me.

Four years ago, little intrigue marked the 2012 presidential primary season. As with every incumbent president over the past thirty years, Barack Obama sailed through spring and summer unopposed by anyone from his party. In fact, the last time that happened was 1980, when a cranky Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter ("We cahn't bayah fah mah yeeahs of wicked pissing failyah!").

On the right was Mitt Romney: tanned, rested and crisply mom-jeaned. After biding his time in the well-choreographed dancing order of Republican establishment candidates, he'd placed considerable distance between himself and the field by May, anti-climactically creaming Santorum in the final delegate count 1575 to 245.

That Obama-Romney matchup, while packing some considerable wallop due to the men's stark ideological and cultural differences (car elevators, magic underwear and Stanford vs. single moms, magic cigarettes and Harvard), seems nearly flavorless compared to this year's eminent insane.

Currently, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are polling historic numbers in the category of "strongly unfavorable." It seems that we don't just despise Trump, we want to take that orange mull-hawk and hurl it around the freaking room like Bam Bam with a granite easy chair. As for Hillary, she doesn't just lightly chafe our sensibilities, she fracks into our souls with her venomous guile and heaves around more baggage than Mr. and Mrs. Howell.

So yeah, this one's a little different, and there's no way to know how a contest between two such remarkably unappealing candidates will affect voter turnout. On the one hand, this November could experience record participation from non-white and young voters. Specifically Latinos, with their 48% turnout lagging behind African-African (67%) and white voters (65%) during the 2012 election, may go big on November 8. Why? A little refresher:

They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting. -Donald Trump, July, 2015

By the same token, over the past year both Trump and Bernie Sanders have risen to symbolize America's immense dissatisfaction with traditional insider politics. Not all who backed Sanders can be considered rubber stamps for Hillary, and certainly not for Trump, whose splintered his own party like the delicious inside of a Butterfinger.

This war of attrition will end in six months. Pissed off honkies who can't find it in their consciences to vote for either candidate will recycle their ballots and set their iTimers for 2020. Pissed off Latinos and African-Americans will vote in record numbers, but more as a referendum against Trump than an "atta girl" for Hillary. She'll win the presidency decisively.

Remember, though, there's still a long way to go, so you need to calm the hell down.

And by you, I mean me.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

It's Crime Rhyme Friday


What should we do
With the guy in the trunk?
Should we cut out his tongue,
Make him live like a monk?

The Boss said "Don't care, just
Make him disappear."
Our options are open,
Then let's have us a beer.

Should be shoot him, or stab him,
Or let him go free?
Maybe waterboard him, yo!
Always wanted to see.

Should we call up his grandma
For some old phone a booth?
Then send her a letter
Attached to his tooth?

Do we chop him up, burn him up,
Hack with a hoe?
Do we untape his hands,
And say "Dude, you can go."

I hope you remembered
The axe and the saw.
I hope we weren't seen
When we taped up his jaw.

Should we drive to the desert,
Or head to the woods?
Hey look, there's an Arby's,
Curly fries would be good.

Should we bury his torso,
Apart from his noggin'?
Keep driving until
We don't see people joggin'.

What should we do
With that dude in the back?
Remember, it's like lifting
Three concrete sacks.

Should he beg us to live,
Should he cry for his wife?
Will he tells us there's cash,
If we'd just spare his life?

Did you use enough duct tape
To keep him from kicking?
Hear that? Holy shit!
I don't think that shit's sticking.

Should we pull over here,
And just check on the load?
What's that noise? Do a U-turn!
He's bounced down the road.

Goddamn it! He's dead now,
And it's all your fault.
I'm sick of your shit, so
Climb in the trunk, Walt.

I need to get going.
Really need to get get drunk.
But what should I do
With the guy in the trunk?