Saturday, June 20, 2009

Arnold's Holiday Comes to an End.

Yesterday Arnold Jorgenson of 1313 Millstone Road, Cloverdale received a letter from the Confederacy of Dunces Ministry of Social Welfare and Charity telling him his disability payments would cease as of July. Accompanying the letter was this picture of Arnold taken by a Welfare Investigator. Arnold will not appeal the decision. His four year holiday is coming to an end.

An Evening with the Larkins

Minnie and Merle Larkin spent the cool evening hours of their 55th wedding anniversary on their front porch. Just before this picture was taken they celebrated the occasion with one of Minnie’s finger lickin good fried chicken dinners.
“Merle loves his Friday Fried Chicken,” Minnie said while standing over a frying pan full of chicken and hot popping oil. “I’ve also got a pot of boiling potatoes here for mashed potatoes. Just before serving I’ll use the chicken drippings and make up a nice pot of chicken gravy.” Minnie stopped for a moment and lifted a chicken leg from the oil. She checked to be sure it wasn’t burning then carefully put it back. “I can’t decide on corn or peas. Merle is partial to both.”

Minnie used the kitchen counter for balance as she shuffled to the pantry. She opened the door and stood with both hands on her hips while inspecting its contents from the top of her glasses. “Yep I was right. I did get a can of each at the Piggly Wiggly. I’ll wait for Merle to come home and ask him.” She returned to the stove to check her chicken. I thought back to my own grandmother as i watched her tenderly see to her supper. My grandmother loved to cook for family and friends. She never consulted a cookbook. It was all in her head, her fingers and her heart.

“Merles out helping our boy fix his back garden fence. He should be home soon. I told him not to be late. It’s not often we get company.” Minnie stopped and stepped sideways facing the kitchen window. She reached for the yellowed lace curtain. Her hand was weathered with age.
A few fingers seemed to turn at odd angles from overly large knuckles. The diagnosis was easy, Minnie suffered silently with arthritis. It was her burden and she carried it well. She leaned forward over the porcelain sink and looked both directions out the window.
“ Jon doesn’t have his father’s handiness. I worry about him sometimes. Merle will over do it and then his back will go out. Then its bed and plenty of hot water bottles.” Minnie dropped the curtain and moved toward a cubbard. She hummed a hymn between sentences.

We heard the front screen door slam. Merle was home. His overhauls looked well lived in. His shirt sleeves were rolled up. He leaned against the front door while removing his boots.
“Merle that you?” Minne called from the kitchen. Not a word was spoken between them. Minnie continued to cook and Merle pulled his socks up. He walked into the kitchen and stood beside her looking at the chicken in the pan. His smile turned into a kiss which he deposited on Minnie’s cheek.
“Fried Chicken on a Wednesday?” Merle asked.
“Its Friday Merle. You know that.” Minnie replied patiently.
“Is it?”
“Yes it is. How is Jon?” Minnie asked while getting the mixer out to mash the potatoes.
“Jon’s fine. He just dropped me off by the gate. Did I tell you I was going to Jon’s?” Merle asked reaching for the same things as Minnie but always arriving too late. He tried to help but seemed to be getting in the way.
“Yes I was in the Parlor when he came to pick you up?” Minnie said while pouring milk over the potatoes.
“Were you?”
“Yes Merle. I was. Now go to the bathroom and wash your hands.”
Merle grunted and turned toward the hallway.
“Merle, remember, you’re going to the bathroom to wash your hands.” Minnie reminded him. Merle grunted.

“Bless him but he is getting very forgetful. I want to take him to the doctor but he won’t have it. They scare him. At his age every visit usually ends in bad news. He says he's ready for Jesus any time. Well, he may be but I’m not. “Merle, are you washing your hands?” Minnie called out.
“What was that?” Merle called back.
“Washing Your Hands. Are You Washing Your Hands?”
“Yes I’m washing my hands,” he called from the bathroom.

After dinner Merle and Minnie sat side by side on the porch. I sat below on the steps. We watched the shadows lengthen as the sun went down.
The neighborhood was quiet except for the occasional car that passed in front of the house. It was an older neighborhood. Some yards well kept, others not.
“Its a warm night,” Merle observed as he unbuttoned a button on his shirt.
“Should we go in? The Variety Showcase will be on soon.”
“The Variety Showcase is on Wednesday nights. This is Friday,” Minnie answered. She looked at me. I heard her expression ask me if I understood how frustrating it was to keep corrected him. I smiled.
“Is it really? Funny that,” Merle said scratching his chin trying to remember what he did last Wednesday. “Well, we’ve got Saturday tomorrow and church on Sunday. Maybe I’ll help Jon again tomorrow.”
“You do that.” Minnie replied.
“Sure has been dry lately,” I say hoping to introducing a topic I knew the elderly liked to discuss.
“Just look at the lawn,” Minnie said. She picked up her cane and pointed out all the brown spots. “I should water more but the constant bending isn't good for my back. At our age some things just have to be left to nature.”

Merle looked puzzled, as if trying to remember something he once knew but lost in some corner of his mind. Then he remembered, “Its been dry. Not as dry as the Big Drought of ‘54 mind you.”
Minnie looked up to the sky as if to ask God for help,”Merle did you forget about the drought we had in ‘65?”
“Was it ‘65?”
“I don’t remember that one.”
“Well, remember it because that was the worst drought I can remember and my memory is as good as it was when I was twenty.”

They continued to talk weather. I watched the blue sky turn dark. The street light came on two houses down. It was time to go. I thanked them for the lovely meal and pleasant conversation. They both stood as I walked to my car. Just before I drove off I heard Merle turn to Minnie and ask who I was. She reached up and patted him on the cheek.
“Never mind Merle. Never mind. Lets go inside.”

I drove down Old Mill Road to Highway One. I turned left for home. It was a good night, as most nights are in Cloverdale.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ned. A Peculiar Dog

Ned is owned by the Bartletts. They live in a double wide trailer a stone’s throw from Avalanche Trail, a favorite hiking place for Cloverdale outdoor enthusiasts. Ned spends his days waiting for hikers and barking at the sun. The Bartletts erected a weathered wooden sign at the start of the trail warning hikers to “beware of the dog.” I suppose the warning is a bit misleading. Ned is not a vicious dog. He doesn’t bite. The warning is for Ned’s peculiar ways. He’s a sniffer and likes to mark his territory on moving targets, like hiker’s legs. The CSPCA (Confederacy Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) urges locals to approach Ned with care. Walk by briskly and with purpose. If he raises a leg, change tactics and zig zag back and forth throwing him off balance. Hopping, cocking a leg and marking territory is difficult for Ned when following a zig zagging target. If he persists, a quick kick in the snout will put him off the scent. Don’t worry about the yelping. The Bartletts won’t mind.

Shea Spends the Day at Grandma's House

Shea Carpenter is being dropped off at Grandma’s house. Grandma is getting older and finds it difficult to keep up with the demands of owning and maintaining her three bedroom home on Apple Gate Road in Cloverdale. Shea will be raking the yard, filling the bird feeders and taking in the pads off the lawn furniture for winter storage in the garage.

Shea’s older brother usually helps on these Grandma Days but today Shea will do it alone. His brother is hanging out with his friends and Shea needs to earn enough money to pay for the window he broke on the family truck.

Last Friday Shea and his three best friends were walking home from school. It was the kind of Autumn day that confuses a kid. The mornings were cold so mother made you wear your jacket to school. By going home time it was too warm to wear the jacket home so you left it at school. The next morning is cold again and you don't have your jacket so mother chews you out and calls you irresponsible. Yes, it was one of those confusing days.

Half way home Shea saw something no boy could resist. He slowed his pace falling two steps behind his friends. He reached down and picked up a perfect dirt clod lying alongside the road. Shea had to made a tough decision. Would Ronnie or Liam get plastered? Shea considered his options. Ronnie was fast and could catch him in a race. Escape was nearly impossible and Ronnie knew how to inflict terrible pain. Liam, on the other hand, was chubby but had a great throwing arm. You'd risk death if he threw a return clod at you. Ronnie or Shea, he was running out of time. One of them was sure to turn around wondering why he was falling behind.

Shea made his decision and threw the clod at full force. Liam took the hit squarely in the back. Liam dropped his books, filling the air with a string of cuss words fitting the occasion. Ronnie laughed, dropped his books and began a frantic search to find ammunition for Liam. Shea took off, running across the field toward his home and safety.

Shea didn’t get far before taking a hit that sent him into the weeds along an irrigation ditch. Liam and Ronnie doubled over with laughter while they waited for Shea to pick himself up out of the ditch. Suddenly they went quiet.
Shea stood holding softball sized dirt clods in each hand. Shea had a good arm and from that distance would definitely hit someone.
“Run,” Ronnie shouted. Ronnie headed one direction. Liam went the other. A moment later the air filled with flying dirt.

The dirt clod fight continued down the road to Shea’s front yard. Liam found safety by standing in the sheets Shea's mother had drying on the clothesline. Ronnie jumped into the back of the Carpenter's pick up truck and hid behind the tailgate. Shea surveyed the situation. He was fully armed and ready to throw but who would be the target? It was too dangerous to throw a dirt clod at Liam. If he missed and dirtied one of mother's sheets he would be redoing the wash himself. Ronnie was in the weaker position.

Shea had a special clod with a rock center for Ronnie. It would be a real stinger. He crept closer to the pick up. Ronnie peaked up over the tail gate. Shea saw him and threw. Of course throwing a dirt covered rock at someone's head was dangerous but since when did a young boy take that into consideration? This was the time of life when you did really stupid things and suffered the consequences. Many of life's lessons are learned that way. Shea's education was full of them.

Ronnie ducked behind the tail gate just as the clod streaked overhead. Then SMASH, the clod found its target - the back window of his dad's truck. Shea froze. Ronnie and Liam grabbed their books and took off running. Shea would take the fall for this one alone.

Shea walked up to the front porch, kissed his grandma on the cheek, picked up the rake and went to work on one of the biggest yards in Cloverdale. It would be nearly dark before he finished.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Salmonella Sally

Sally Reichman is the cafeteria manager at Cloverdale’s School for Encourageables. This school is joint venture between the Confederacy of Dunces' Ministry of Health and Asylums and the Ministry of Education and Employment. It is a special school for children who find it difficult to follow society's rules. Most call the school's clients delinquents. The liberals label them 'misguided' . Sally refers to them as 'mouths'. The Ministry calls them Encourageables, a new word coined to bring a positive feel to their condition. The word hopes to emphasise the fact that with a little encouragement these children may correct their deviant behavior and adapt to society's norms.

Sally has managed the cafeteria for the past five years. The children call her Salmonella Sally. The nickname implies her food isn't safe. To the contrary, there have been no cases of food poisoning in the school since she inherited the cafeteria from the last manager who left due to a nervous condition. Granted, her food seriously lacks presentation and taste (the faculty of the school refer to her food as institutionalized vomit) but it is nutritious. There are times it is overcooked, burned may be a better description, but "A little bit of extra carbon never hurt anyone," she says to anyone who complains.

Sally brought strict German efficiency and discipline to what was a cafeteria in crisis. She strives for a noise free environment. Children’s voices are fingernails on a chalkboard to her. To preserve her sanity, Sally hovers over the children as they enter the cafeteria. She listens for the slightest vibration in a child’s vocal chords. She watches for hands free from their moorings. “Hands to the side and voices switched off!” she says in a voice soft and frightening like a cold breeze on a Halloween night.

Sally waits patiently knowing someone will crack and break her rules. When that happens she descends and feeds on the young and helpless offender. Unfortunate is the word to describe that child. Her punishments are graduated, beginning with a pull on the arm to take you from the safety of the herd. She then has you alone, separated from the pack. She bends down, moving her mouth closer to your face. She smiles, revealing her yellow nicotine stained teeth. New residents easily burst into tears. Those with stronger stomachs endure what comes next. With breath smelling of death and disease she delivers her warning.
“You violated the peace of my sanctuary. You don’t want to do that. I can be very nasty. Nasty indeed. Do you understand or should I repeat?”
No one asks her to repeat. No one’s stomach is that strong. The warning's climax is spoken with her red cracked lips rubbing against your outer ear. “Do we understand each other?”

Sally watches the child's face and continues to breath heavily while staying in close proximity. She waits for a faint shade of green to appear. When it does, she's finished with you. She nods to the class signalling for two students to escort you back to the line. She stands erect, rubbing her hands on her stained apron and begins her walk up and down the line of the damned.

Sally’s cafeteria has been referred to as Dracula’s dining room. You don’t know what’s on the menu. Is it her specialty - stewed chipped beef on toast - or is it you? Your lunch begins when you pick up a lime green plastic tray divided into compartments. If you’re lucky you'll find one recently washed. Searching the stack of trays for a clean one is grounds for detention. Sally has a special table in the back of the kitchen for delinquents deserving detention. The menu for those sitting at the Table for Special Purposes can only be described as ghastly. Imagine food not fit for a mongrel dog. That’s the cafeteria's normal menu. Now image the food unfit for that menu. It may be food that fell on the floor during preparation, scooped up, blown off and thrown back onto the grill. It could be food burned into charcoal sculptures. The lunch ladies enjoy their mid morning coffee and can’t be bothered to check food in the oven or fryer. Whatever it is you can be assured it is indigestible.

With plastic tray in hand you begin your walk down the Path of Saints sliding the tray in front of you. There are large STOP signs taped to the glass telling you when to stop and wait while food is slopped onto the tray. You may only look up. Any attempt to look at the food being dispensed will be met with a ticket to the Table of Special Purposes. The line moves forward when the child gets the nod from the lunch lady. Only when you are safely sitting at your table can you look at the food. Some risk making a face at the steaming matter before them. Others succumb to a power greater than themselves, pick up their fork, slide it into the quivering mass and pray to whatever higher power they believe has abandoned them.

A large sign hangs over the two trash cans near the cafeteria’s exit. It reads:
“Any Uneaten Food will be Used in Tomorrow’s Casserole” Sally has everything thought out. All angles are covered. There is no hope.

Then one day Matthew Rider appeared in the Cafeteria's’s doorway. He was a new seventh grader from the Outside World........

To Be Continued........

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Cloverdale Bulletin.

The Faith Tones will be performing at the First Baptist Church in Cloverdale this evening. Come early to get an autographed album of their latest release “Jesus Use Me”.

The Faith Tones started as The Tonettes, signing rock and roll at local fairs. After numerous attempts and numerous failures the Tonettes changed their name to The Faith Tones and switched to gospel. Their rise to fame in the Confederacy of Dunces has been meteoric. They are in high demand on Sundays but are ready and willing to do engagements on weekdays as well.

Bring your family and prepare for a great three hours of knee slapping, soul saving good Gospel sounds. Admittance is free but please bring a dessert for the social afterwards.