Short Story Of the Day, “anatomy of a burning thing” by Monica Robinson

The city at night sounded like his ribs when they broke, his body as it caved in on itself and snapped in half so loudly they heard it downstairs and thought it was a gunshot, another bullet hitting its mark, eating into the flesh of another broken soul, unwanted — unwanted, yes, disowned, in a room no warmer than the frigid air outside, shivering under layers, skin stretched too tight across bones.

—-Monica Robinson, “anatomy of a burning thing”

Time Exposure, Night, Downtown Dallas, Ross and Olive

Point of View – Stream of Consciousness – Reliability of Narration

You can play with this stuff… if you have the chops.

Read it here:

“anatomy of a burning thing” by Monica Robinson

from Blanket Sea

Monica Robinson

 

Short Story (flash fiction) of the Day, The Jungle Banshee by Jim Gibson

The oven was thick with grot and whenever you opened it to get your food, it would flood the room with smoke. I’d long ago taken the battery out of the fire alarm to stop that fucker going off whenever I made anything. And then it was back up to my room, to my games.

—-Jim Gibson, the jungle banshee

Old School Video game inspired graffiti, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Today’s bit of flash fiction is the jungle banshee (not sure if it should be capitalized or not – I like how it looks without caps) by Jim Gibson at 3AM Magazine

the jungle banshee

In the last thirty-odd years I’ve only had two jobs. I only remember once going on an interview and not being offered a job (it turned out they were interviewing me simply to gain information on the company I was working for). But, then again, I never spent that much time shut in playing video games. Of course, Pong showed up my freshman year of college and it cost a quarter and a quarter was a lot of money then. I remember you could get a pint of milk from the dorm vending machine machine for a quarter – I remember that because it was faulty and thought nickles were quarters – for a nickle you’d get a milk and a dime back (which you could take to the front desk and get two nickles for two more milks and two dimes… in theory you could be rich, especially if you could find someone to buy all that milk)… but I digress. I guess my point it that it was tough to get addicted to video games if all you could do was play Pong for a quarter. Pong was fun and in 1974 it was pretty amazing – but it wasn’t exactly addicting.

By the time video games became addicting I was grown and old and had kids and my memory was fading and my fast-twitch abilities were shot. I guess I was lucky.

When I was young people played Poker, Monopoly, or Chess. I did play a lot of chess, but I would get a headache if I played too much – it was never what I’d think of as fun – it was too serious. As I became more than a fairly good chess player I had to quit because it was stressing me too much. I never had enough money to play poker. And Monopoly – well, you couldn’t get addicted to that – that’s like getting addicted to watching paint dry.

The guy in the story has a video game problem. Or maybe it’s something else and the video gaming just falls into the hole.

It’s surprisingly affecting – I really feel sorry for the guy and wish him well. Probably more than I would if I knew him in real life. And I guess that’s a sign of a good story – if you care more about the character than you would if he was actually a real person.

 

 

A Stack Of Others On the Floor Beside Me

“I like best to have one book in my hand, and a stack of others on the floor beside me, so as to know the supply of poppy and mandragora will not run out before the small hours.”
Dorothy Parker, The Collected Dorothy Parker

I believe we all have our addictions. Life would be unbearably dull without addictions. The trick is to pick ones that won’t destroy you and then try and manage them.

One of my addictions is used books. In this Kindle age, my book addiction is tempered (that devilish device already has more words entombed in it than I can read in the brief time I have left to live) but every now and then it rears its ugly head. Today was one of those times.

It was the annual Half-Price Books Clearance sale at the Dallas Market Center.

Image a huge room – almost five acres in size – that usually holds massive collections of boats, recreational vehicles, or cars. That vast expanse of space is covered with hundreds of long tables and every table is stacked with books. All for two dollars apiece. That’s the Half-Price Books Clearance Sale.

Half-Price Books Clearance Sale, Market Hall, Dallas, Texas

The books (and other goodies) are only roughly organized – YA, Fiction, Cookbooks, Non-Fiction, Audio CDs, DVDs, Children’s Books, History, Vinyl, Comic Books, Coffee Table Books, and Vintage. If you are looking for a particular tome – it might be there, but you are not going to find it. The only way is to abandon yourself, walk up and down the tables, picking out what catches your eye.

I know that somewhere in that immense assortment there is one book that would change my life – and only cost two dollars.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find it.

When we arrived the outer edge of the room was almost completely filled with a long line of folks pushing big shopping carts piled with books. It looked like it would take hours to get through that queue and make a purchase. Luckily, the line shrank precipitously while we browsed – these were the true addicts that had shown up at first light for the prime books (though the staff was constantly restocking).

I saw the folks that I have spotted at library sales before – people with an app on their phones, working down the line scanning the barcodes. They have some online database they are working against that will tell them the value of the book they are passing. They will do this for hours – scanning through thousands of items looking for something they can sell on their online store. I guess this is cool – but what a hard way to make a buck.

I went to the sale with the idea of not buying anything other than maybe a book or two – simply enjoying the scene – like a junkie going somewhere to look at gigantic piles of heroin. Of course, that did not work. I bought a few books – less than ten – not too bad. I’ll have to get rid of that many – I control my addiction by limiting my shelf space (a book goes in – one goes out). So many  books, so little time left.

If you live in Dallas, you have two days left to get over there. They completely restock every morning.

I Have A Weakness For Kitchen Gadgets

“Only one in four has a chance at making it…. And right there, I knew that if one of us was getting off dope, and staying off dope, it was going to be me. I was going to live. I was the guy.”
― Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

I have a weakness for kitchen gadgets. I always have. By no means am I a gullible person – I believe nothing I see or hear until there is proof. Most of the time.

But show me a slick salesman on a well-produced infomercial hawking some hunk of slicing, dicing, heating, non-stick, time-saving machine and I will invariably think, “Hey, that thing will change my life – possibly even for the better.”

I’m too embarrassed to make a full list, but here’s a few I have purchased over the decades:

Fry Baby (can’t believe I bought one of these – it was in the 1970’s though)

Automatic Bread Maker (Fine if you like cylindrical bread with a big hole from the stirrer in one end – at least it made the house smell great at three in the morning)

Spiralizer (a good idea that didn’t work – too cheaply made and takes forever to set up and clean)

Fancy Mandolin (cut the end of my thumb off – afraid of it now)

Hot Dog Maker (another incredibly bad invention of the 70’s. You put the dogs between two electrodes and it heated them with 110 AC voltage shot right through the “meat”- tasted like burned ozone.)

Home Espresso Maker (there’s a reason that coffee shops use machines that cost thousands of dollars)

Toaster Oven (I already had a toaster and an oven)

Banana Slicer (OK, but half of my bananas curved the wrong way)

Dedicated Vegetable Steamer (Seems like a good idea, but converts crisp, flavor-filled, beautiful veggies into bland mush)

Crock Pot (yeah, you have one, they have stood the test of time – but I call it the “Flavor Removing Machine”)

On and on.

Probably it’s the simple combination of two more basic weaknesses of mine – food and gadgets. The intersection of these frailties leads to a synergistic and symbiotic effect that ends up, in my case as an addiction. The desire to purchase the last kitchen gadget I see is tough to resist.

Still, I usually do. I have a lifetime of cobwebby kitchen cabinets full of forgotten contraptions to learn from. My life doesn’t change and I don’t buy the stuff. Of course, the advent of the internet, especially Amazon Prime, has made resisting my obsession infinitely harder. A few keystrokes and a “buy it now” and that box will soon be at my front door.

So… I was doing better. And then, about a year ago, came the ultimate kitchen gadget. I resisted for about six months, but the pull became too much. I called up Amazon and ordered a six quart Instant Pot.

I have always used an old-school pressure cooker to make beans. It saves time and has the lure of having a bomb steaming away on your stove. And now there is an electric, computer controlled pressure vessel available for consumer use. I had to have one.

And, I must say, I really like it. I use it almost every day. The claims of, say, cooking a roast in ten minutes aren’t exactly true… they don’t include the warm up time to bring the food to pressure (which can take a while) or the cooling-down period. That’s not the point though, the big advantage over the old pressure cookers is that you don’t have to watch the damn thing to make sure it doesn’t explode. It’s all controlled by a finicky microprocessor which you command with an absolutely unintelligible array of buttons and an out-of-date red LED display which seems to display random numbers.

Still, as long as you ignore all the online recipes and printed instructions, it works. All you do is press “Pressure Cook” and some sane amount of time, and a hot, cooked meal will come out.

Oh, and one more thing. I can’t believe it, but I make yogurt in the thing. One of my weekend chores is to make yogurt for the next week. Half gallon milk, can of evaporated milk, boil, put in starter, heat overnight… and there it is. Save a little container for starter on next batch. It sounded so crazy and disgusting I made my first batch as a joke/experiment – but it is so much better than store-bought yogurt, it really is. I use it in a lot of stuff – smoothies, curries, salad dressing, coffee creamer, with walnuts for breakfast. It’s cheap and once you have the routine down, easy.

So now I’m happy. I have the ultimate kitchen gadget and I can stop looking… my addiction is done.

Wait… Wait! Someone I know has this new thing… an electric lunchbox. It’s a sort of Bento Box with a heating element built in. You fill it with stuff and cook it at your desk. Or in your car! It works on 12 volt or 110! This thing will change my life!

Weakness always rears its head…. once an addict, always an addict.

A Kind Of Library

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
― Jorge Luis Borges

Recycled Books
Denton, Texas

Everyone has their own addictions. One key to a happy and successful life is to choose your addictions wisely, and manage them well.

One of my addictions, one that I am managing, is owning books – especially used books. The depth of my addiction was when we lived in Mesquite – our house had a long, L-shaped hallway that was unusually wide. It was wide enough for me to cover the walls with bookshelves and then fill those with books – mostly bought on clearance from Half-Price. You can only read so many books – you only have a limited time on this earth (and so much of it is wasted at work and such) and your reading speed is finite. You can, especially if you buy used, own a practically unlimited number. I know this sounds nuts – but that is how an addict thinks.

When we moved, the movers went ape-shit over the books. “We have never seen so many books before,” they complained and said it would cost us more than their estimate to move us. So, here, in Richardson I limit myself to two full-sized bookcases and one small one (which holds exclusively writing books). If I get a new book, I get rid of an old book. Now the fact that I have… probably a score of bookcases-worth of tomes stored electronically in my Kindle… that doesn’t count, even though I doubt I will live long enough to read a fraction of them.

Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

Jeff Koterba color carton for 7/21/09
“Mars”

So now, I’m remodeling my room (once a formal dining room, then, for years basically a disco and LAN party room set up by Lee – now I have inherited it) with a new desk and a compact sound system. I was trying to figure out where to put the “bookshelf speakers” and decided that they should go on a bookshelf. So I had to remove a few tomes and went ahead and cleared out some space for some new purchases I have been contemplating… and then had a few cardboard boxes full of old books (it’s surprising how much weight and space books take up once liberated from their shelves).

I don’t know about you, but I simply can’t throw books in the trash. Odd thing really… but I can’t. Usually we cart old books to Half-Price, though we don’t really get any money for them (especially when you figure most of them were bought there from the Clearance racks). Then I remembered something I always see riding my bike around.

I’m sure you’ve seen these too – the Little Free Libraries. They are… if not everywhere, at least a lot of places. People build a sturdy little glass-faced box in their front yards, accessible from the public thoroughfare for people to “take a book or leave a book.” There are five near my house with another baker’s dozen within cycling range. What a cool idea!

Dallas, in its infinite wisdom, proposed regulating these, until they realized that was nuts. Reading these stories I love one quote. Apparently the whole brouhaha was started by one person asshat repeatedly calling to bitch about his neighbor’s library until the city stall jumped on it.

“Well, for all you kids listening at home, if anyone ever tells you one person can’t make a difference,” said East Dallas’ Philip Kingston, “remember one jerk using 311 in District 10 caused us all to waste our time here and caused the loss of hundreds of staff hours.”

So, today, I set out on my usual bike ride. Because of the torrents of rain over the last few days I rode my commuter/cargo bike – it is as heavy as a tank, but has fenders that make standing water and mud less of a pain. I have a set of Bushwhacker Omaha folding grocery panniers which make quick trips for food easy (I have six grocery stores with a two mile bike ride of my house). Once I put up the groceries I refilled the panniers with surplus books and headed out to a few close by Little Free Libraries.

I delivered a few books to each one – picking books that normal people might like.

I’m especially proud of the fact that I didn’t take any books (though I did look). Is that selfish of me? I’m feeding someone else’s addiction while I’m dealing with mine.

The sculpture in the outdoor reading area at the library.

The Essential Hot Sauces

“He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune


Oblique Strategy:
Don’t break the silence

I am all about the hot sauce. Food exists largely as a means to shovel hot sauce into my mouth. There is a simple test – if it doesn’t make the top of my head sweat – it isn’t hot enough.

Ok, I’ve been digging around my archive USB hard drive and found a blog entry from 2006, my second version of The Daily Epiphany, called The Essential Hot Sauces.I had a magazine ask for an article version of this – though they settled for a different one.


Right now, I have only three essential hot sauces. There are others that are good, but these are essential.

Cholula

First, is Cholula, the one that I guess would count as my single favorite. It’s the one with the wooden ball for a cap – easy to spot on a shelf. What makes it special is the fact it is made with Chile Pequin (or Piquin, similar, but not quite there, to the cultivated Tepin), a tiny wild chili instead of some cultivated pepper. The sauce costs more because of that but it has a complex flavor unmatched in cheaper sauces.

Bufalo Chipotle

Next, I still have Bufalo Chipotle on my list. None of the other Bufalo brand sauces are very good – but their Chipotle is the best. I’ve enjoyed the various uses of chipotle (smoked jalepeno peppers) for years, long before they were as famous as they are now, and am a little perturbed at something I like so much become chic, Americanized, and homogenized. Still, the old standby, Bufalo Chipotle hasn’t changed a bit. Its flavor, from a smoked pepper, is very different from any other type of sauce, and it great for a change of pace. Also, it’s thick and dark in color (almost a black-purplish-brown) and can be attractive when used with a contrasting sauce such as:

The third sauce is one I learned to like since 1998. It’s Sriracha, and is an Asian sauce – the one in the plastic squeeze bottle with the rooster on the front.

Sriracha

It’s thick too, and a bright orange, and mixes well with other stuff. I think I eat more of this than any other kind.

I think I need to add a couple more – a Louisiana sauce at least (Something other than Tabasco – that old favorite seems to be getting too thin and vinagar-y lately) and maybe a habanera-based sauce (these are so hot… I want to find one with some flavor in it).

Any suggestions would be appreciated.


It’s funny to read this after all these years. It’s odd to thing about a time before Sriracha because it is now such a ubiquitous part of my life. Otherwise, those three are still essential.

At the end, I wondered about Louisiana hot sauce, since then I made up my mind and wrote a blog entry about it:

Tabasco or Crystal

A tough choice.

Crystal it is.

And I wondered about Habanero based sauce. I have a homemade habanero sauce that is great and the link takes you to a blog entry and recipe, but I don’t make it too often – it’s too dangerous (I’m sitting here sweating, just thinking about it). I will buy a Yucateco sauce, green or red, to keep on hand in case of emergencies. Be careful with it, it’s hot.

But what I wanted to write about, is that I am addicted to a new hot sauce. We were at a restaurant (already forgotten what it was) and they had a green Sriracha sauce that was delicious. It wasn’t very hot – but it had a great flavor. They had red and green, but the green was something new.

Green and Red Sriracha

What caught my eye was that the bottles were labeled Distributed by ALDI.

Aldi, if you don’t know, is this cool new model of a grocery store. There is one at the end of our street and over a block. I like it especially because it is uphill from the house. I ride my bike uphill and then buy milk or water or other heavy items and coast downhill back home.

Now every time I go there I buy three bottles of the green Sriracha. I eat a lot of it because it isn’t all that hot – so I put too much on. I put it on everything. And I mean ever-y-thing. It’s too soon to say if I will add it to the essential list – I might tire of it. We’ll see.

Daily Writing Tip 44 of 100, Recognize Them When They Show Up

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Recognize Them When They Show Up

Source – On Writing, by Stephen King

Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.

Let me tell you how story ideas feel to me.

Where they come from, I have no idea. When they will come, I can’t predict. Why they come, I can’t explain – but come they do.

They feel like a serious itch – or like a stone in my shoe. Something that I, no matter how hard I try, can’t get out of the forefront of my mind. I really can’t think of anything else.

Until I write them out – write them away. Then and only then will they leave me alone and I can get on with my life. It’s a need, an addiction – graphomania, if you will.

Everyone has addictions – the question is if you can live with your addiction or even control it and make it work for you. I think that for me, for my graphomania, I can work it out.