What I learned this week, June 1st, 2021

at DFW Airport

How to stop overthinking

Grappling with your thoughts will leave you even more entangled in worry. Use metacognitive strategies to break free


This woman was waving a turkey leg out of her food trailer. When someone came up to buy one, she said, “Let me get you a fresh one hon, this is my demo model, I’ve been waving it out this window for hours.”

Junk

Why do we eat bad food?


Braindead Brewing, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

The Hidden Costs of Happiness

We all want to know how to be happy, but we rarely consider the hidden costs of happiness. It is not free. And despite what Cover Girl or Tony Robbins or the Dalai Lama once told you, it’s not always easy breezy either.


from Sightings, by Mai-Thu Perret, 2016, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

What Happens to Our Brains When We Get Depressed?

The human brain, in all its complexity, is nearly impossible to model. One neuroscientist is trying anyway


Running up that hill at the end.

Running From the Pain

Exercise can be a very effective way to treat depression. So why don’t American doctors prescribe it?


Arts District, Dallas, Texas

8 Rules to Do Everything Better

The most important principles to grow your body and mind


Running of the bulls, New Orleans, Louisiana

This Is Your Brain on Exercise

Exercise is as good for your brain as it is for your body, and researchers are just beginning to discover why

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Speed Dating by Anna Lindwasser

“New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous.

But there is one thing about it – once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.”

― John Steinbeck, America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction

Skater, French Quarter, New Orleans

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, June 11, 1997:

Fire Extinguishers

It was almost twelve years ago, I had only been working here for a couple months. I had only thirty minutes for lunch and I had only found one place I could get to and eat in half an hour. It was a little hole-in-the wall Chinese food joint down on Jupiter across from E Systems – the Egg Roll Inn. A handful of tables, twelve lunch specials in plastic letters on a board behind the counter, steam tables of prepared food, foam tricompartment plates and plastic dinnerware, little plastic packets of soy sauce, duck sauce, and hot mustard. Every city has hundreds of these places, not really very good, but cheap and fast.

I had received my allotted lumps of lunch special and steamed rice, divided by a soggy eggroll, when someone stuck their head in the swinging door, “Anyone in here drive a blue Ford?” he asked.


“I do,” expecting to be told my lights were on, it was an overcast day.

“Your car’s on fire,” was the reply.

I ran out to find the front end pretty much engulfed. For some reason, the thought of calling the Fire Department never occurred to me. I guess I didn’t imagine that there was someone who would come put out my fire for free. The owner of the restaurant said he had an extinguisher and I went in to get it. The fire looked bad, but it was mostly burning hoses and belts and wasn’t hard to put out.

I returned the extinguisher and then had a moment that was actually worse than the fire itself. I was a bit shook up and sweaty from battling the flames, my vehicle a blackened hulk out in the parking lot, everyone was staring at me (most had walked out to watch the free entertainment) but there on the table was my untouched Moo Goo Gai Pan (today’s watery special). I decided to gather up as much dignity as possible, ate my lunch, then walked back to where I work. It was a calm day and on the entire walk I could look up and see a slowly dispersing column of black smoke from my incinerated car. It was embarrassing and sad.

After that was an unpleasant week of phone calls; trying to get the title straightened out (I was woefully negligent in paperwork those days) so I could get a scrap dealer to take my car, I had to pay the owner for recharging his extinguisher, and had to make arrangements for getting to and from work until I could buy another car (I ended up buying a Renault Alliance – I can sure pick’em can’t I?). The money from the scrap dealer – minus the cost of the fire extinguisher – left we with enough money to buy two compact disks from the record store.

Not a horrible experience, but one annoying and humiliating enough to sink below the radar screen of memory. At least until the physical experience of firing off a cloud of dry powder brought it back. I was so embarrassed I never went back to the Egg Roll Inn. It’s still there, I doubt they’ll remember me after twelve years. I wonder if they have a vegetarian stir-fry? I don’t miss the food but maybe it would be worth a three dollar plate of limp broccoli to exorcise some demons.

And today’s flash fiction:

Speed Dating by Anna Lindwasser

from (mac)ro(mic)

Anna Lindwasser Twitter

Anna Lindwasser Homepage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Dinner by Xueyi Zhou

“Do you know what breakfast cereal is made of? It’s made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners!”

― Roald Dahl

The soup after I added sprouts and other vegetables. Those little eggs were hiding down in a little nest of rice noodles. I don’t know what creature they originally came from

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Friday, November 01, 1996:

Dreams of frustration and stupid mistakes

In surfing the web, I’ve come some people who record their dreams. I’ve never thought much about dreams, so I thought that maybe I was missing something. So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing down as much about my dreams as possible. Now I realize why I don’t do this. Looking at your dreams should help you find subtle things about you and your personality, open up your mind to thinking about aspects that you hadn’t examined. My dreams were as subtle as a sledgehammer. For example the last two:

In my dream I went to a baseball game with some friends of mine, three of us sat in one section while one friend and I sat in another section. My section had no view of the playing field at all, the actual game was around a corner, all we could see was the crowd itself. I spent the entire dream walking around trying to find a place where I could actually see the game, but was not successful.

In another dream I was supposed to drive to Massachusetts to visit someone. But before I left, a guy (I remembered who he was, I haven’t seen him in years) convinced me to fly to Pittsburgh (I’ve never been there) with him, the idea was that I could drive to Massachusetts from there. Most of the dream consisted of us driving around Pittsburgh lost, I remember he offered to take me out to eat, he tried to pay with a coupon the waiter refused to take, and we didn’t have enough money to pay for dinner. The dream ended with him leaving me in Pittsburgh, and I realized that my car was still in Dallas, and I had no way of getting to Massachusetts, which is where I wanted to go in the first place.

Dreams of frustration and stupid mistakes.

And today’s flash fiction:

Dinner by Xueyi Zhou

from Pithead Chapel

Xueyi Zhou Twitter

Xueyi Zhou Homepage

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Omar’s Food Mart by Bill Chance





“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

― Orson Welles

Decatur, Texas

Omar’s Food Mart

After a long morning of soul-sucking meetings and conference calls where he felt this IQ dropped ten points after each one, Craig decided to go out for lunch. He needed something non-corporate so he decided to go to Omar’s Food Mart.

OMAR’S FOOD MART was a little place at the end of a strip of auto repair shops on a corner of bad asphalt not far from where Craig worked. It was a monument to capitalism. Operated by five brothers from Syria, it crammed an impressive array of services into what looked from the outside to be a tiny gas station.

There was no place that served bigger, nastier, or greasier hamburgers than Omar’s.

Craig hadn’t been in there for a couple years but it hadn’t changed. They had a bewildering array of exotic food (Craig used to buy Semolina flour there when he still had time to make his own pasta). Crammed into the tiny space were aisles of gewgaws, a display of Hookahs, chewing gum and motor oil. Plenty of merchandise looked pathetic: obsolete cleaning supplies, faded greeting cards, suspect canned goods, and a single tiny green cardboard cylinder of Parmesan cheese with a thick coating of greasy dust.

The only active merchandise was an entire glass wall of cold drinks, a couple rotating racks selling candy, Slim Jims and beef jerky (Slim Jims are NOT beef jerky), and a wooden stand holding a generous selection of pornographic magazines.

A full array of financial services was offered: a Pick-Six machine and several Plexiglas Scratch-N-Win lottery ticket dispensers, a private ATM with astronomical service fees, money orders, and two slot machines. They were video multi-line bandits, Cherry Master and Fruit Bonus. The slots had stools in front of them so the customers could sit in comfort as they stuffed the dollar bill slot.

Even though it looked like a gas station or convenience store Omar’s biggest business was food. The narrow space behind the front counter was crammed with grills and fryers. There was an extensive menu on the overhead plastic lighted sign: eight different kinds of hamburgers, including the Texas Jumbo Cheeseburger (Craig ate one of those once, he felt like he’d swallowed a football) BBQ, BLT, Chicken Breast, Grilled Chicken, Chicken Fried Steak, Fish, Extra Bacon $1.00.

There was a long list of “Specials” which come with a drink and fries, and “Baskets” which include a salad: Chicken Strip, Catfish, Hot Wings, Shrimp, Gyros, Grilled Cheese, Ham and Cheese, Tuna Salad, Chicken Salad, Corn Dogs, Burritos, and Hot Dogs (small and jumbo). Side orders of: Fries, Onion Rings, Tater Tots, Hot Wings, Chili, Jalapenos, Stuffed Jalapenos, Toast. A breakfast menu of sausages, eggs, bacon, cheese, and ham in all sorts of combinations.

Craig had no idea how they could cook all that stuff in such a tiny space; but he’d never seen anyone order anything other than Hamburgers or Gyros. Three or four guys worked back there, one taking orders and the others scurrying around gesticulating and shouting in some unknown language. The only word Craig could understand was “Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger!” It sounded exactly like the old skit on Saturday Night Live. The meat and cheese sizzle on the griddle; clouds of blue smoke were sucked out overhead. One guy stands in front of a sizzling, dripping brown vertical rotating cylinder of some mysterious meat, constantly slicing off strips for Gyros. These were served in fat pitas with onions so strong you can smell them a block away.

At lunchtime there was always a line at the register. The customer in front of Craig had a graduated plastic bag Velcroed to his ankle and a tube running up his leg. Dingy yellow urine was filling the bag, it had a little valve on the bottom. It wasn’t that hot and Craig wished that guy wouldn’t wear shorts.

A guy was sitting next to the line playing the slots. An older man, thin, short, unsteady and using a cane, came in; they knew each other. They exchanged loud pleasantries, then the man with the cane leaned over and showed the slot machine guy the top of his head.
“Look,” he said, “I’ve got a couple new plates, here and here.”
“Jeez! Did you get your license back?”
“Nope, after a head trauma, they send you to a New-Rologist for an E-Val-U-Ation,” he replied slowly. “Then you have to take the tests.”

It was Craig’s turn to order. They gave him a numbered slip and he stood off to the side while the grease flew. After awhile they called his number out but handed an order to someone else.
“I though I was 256?” Craig asked.
“Oh, we had two orders with the same number, what did you have? Cheeseburger basket?”
He immediately reached down and stuffed a burger and fries into a brown paper bag and handed them to Craig. Craig noticed that practically nobody ever received exactly what they ordered the first time.

The baskets come with large drinks, which you fill yourself from a fountain in the back. There was a big sign that says, “Pay for your Refills!” Craig decided to eat in, he was in no hurry to return to the corporate rat-race. That he considered this to be a tiny vacation depressed him even more. They had some wood-grained plastic booths scattered around a back corner, a place to sit down. Craig still had his lab coat on, somehow it seemed appropriate there; almost every customer had some sort of uniform, many had metal chains between their wallets and belts.

It seemed like everyone there knew each other. The seating was close, which made conversations between patrons inevitable. A lot of asking for directions, “How do you get to Arapaho from here?” At the next booth some guy was smoking and ranting about fast food.
“I dunno why anyone ever goes to McDonalds! They can come here and get better food cheaper. That Damned McDonalds! The only thing that puts them over is advertising. I dunno why anyone ever goes to McDonalds! Costs more – Get less. People don’t think about stuff! You can’t tell them anything! The only thing I ever buy is senior coffee and maybe an egg McMuffin.”

The general conversation then turned to the extensive menu.
“They have Catfish?”
“Yeah, but it’s no good.”
The McDonalds hater added his two cents, “How can it be no good? Either it’s Catfish or it isn’t!”
“I don’t know,” another guy piped up, ” but it’s no good.”
“How about the shrimp?”
“I don’t know, I can’t eat shrimp. I’m allergic.”

The other diners then began talking about folks they had known that were allergic to shrimp and had eaten some by mistake. Tales of swelling necks, choking, hives, and respiratory distress.

Craig finished his cheeseburger and noticed there wasn’t anyone at the front. On his way out he ordered a bag of gyro sandwiches to take home for dinner. Back at the office, he stashed them into his desk drawer.

All afternoon folks walked through Craig’s wing of the building and complained about the smell. It was those powerful Omar’s onions hidden away in Craig’s desk. He never said anything.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Glonoushistory by Bill Chance

The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week

yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.

— Tom Robbins

This woman was waving a turkey leg out of her food trailer. When someone came up to buy one, she said, “Let me get you a fresh one hon, this is my demo model, I’ve been waving it out this window for hours.”

Glonoushistory

Sam drove two friends from work, Duane and Cheryl, out for Asian food at lunch. They argued on the way – about if the restaurant was primarily Vietnamese or Chinese. It had a wide variety of food on the menu, primarily Chinese, but the neighborhood was mostly Vietnamese. They decided on a way to settle the argument. After they parked they walked around the back, huddled next to the overflowing recycled grease container and pushed the kitchen door open. They stuck their heads in a little, keeping hidden but enough to hear the conversation between the cooks. All three were pretty sure they could tell the difference between Chinese and Vietnamese, even if they didn’t speak the languages.

What they heard was Spanish.

“What the hell,” Duane said, “they have Mexicans cooking.”

“I’ve heard that,” Cheryl said. “Most of the Asian places hire Mexican workers in their kitchens. I never believed it until now.”

They decided it didn’t really matter at all so they walked around to the front and were shown to a table.

They had fun looking through the higher numbered items, such as No. 134- Fish Ball with Sea Slug, but decided top pass on anything unusual. They waved the woman away with the Dim Sum cart. It was lunch specials today, No. 6 for Sam and Cheryl, No. 10 for Duane.

They enjoyed the wrapper on their chopsticks. On one side were actual instructions on holding and using and on the other side a great little piece of literature:

Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
The traditional and typical of Chinese glonoushistory.
And cultual.

They liked the way that Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks was capitalized. They liked the little misspelled sentence fragment at the end. They especially loved learning the new word, glonoushistory.

What did it mean? It is in no dictionary they had access to. Cheryl pulled out her phone and all the hits it returned were in regard to the chopsticks.

“So it must be a new word,” Cheryl said. “From the context it is obviously intended to mean the food, cooking, serving and eating habits of a culture. A word made by combining history with nourishment, with a glo thrown in the front for good measure. I can’t think of any other word that quite means the same thing.”

Duane said, “I can think of examples of use: ‘Jeez, I can’t believe you’re eating that greasy hamburger!’ ‘Get off my case, burgers are essential to my sense of glonoushistory.’”

“’Twirl your spaghetti on a fork! Don’t suck it up like a straw.’ ‘Are you criticizing my glonoushistory?’” added Sam.

Cheryl said, “I imagine small eastern liberal-arts colleges establishing departments of Glonoushistory. Professors of Glonoushistory, getting research grants and traveling to Central Asia to catalog the preparation of boiled Yak and fermented Camel Milk beverages. The chorus of complaining when the first graduating class majoring in Glonoushistory realizes they have completed a course of study actually targeting them straight to the fast-food industry.”

The three had a good laugh and then their food came. They broke off the chopsticks and dug in. Sam smoothed the cover out, folded it, and placed it in his pocket. He wanted to tape it into his journal that evening so he could remember the fun lunch with his two friends. He forgot to do that, of course. A month later, after several washings, he’d find the little wadded up remains in his pants pocket and not be able to figure out what it was.

Stuffed and worried about getting sleepy in the afternoon – there was a lot of work to be done – they piled into Sam’s car for the short drive back to the office. Cheryl sat up front, Duane in the back. There were some grocery bags bag there and Duane absentmindedly poked around in them. They were full of canned food, there was even a grocery receipt, but the cans were all silver steel – no labels.

“What the hell, Sam,” said Duane.

“Oh, I buy canned food, mostly vegetables. It’s cheap. And then I peel the labels off and leave the cans in the car for a couple days – to make sure I forget what’s in them, before I put ‘em in the cupboard.”

“Why?” asked Cheryl.

“Life is too predictable.”

Flash Fiction of the Day, Bones Passing Through by Stephen Ground

“my beerdrunk soul is sadder than all the dead christmas trees of the world.”

― Charles Bukowski

The bar dining spot at Oddfellows – a wooden bench, metal pipe for a backrest, and a log for a footrest. Our waitress has my wheat beer and Candy’s wine.

There is a certain kind of long-term despair….

Bones Passing Through by Stephen Ground

Tampopo

Student of ramen eating:

[voiceover] One fine day… I went out with an old man. He’s studied noodles for 40 years. He was showing me the right way to eat them.

Student of ramen eating:

Master… soup first or noodles first?

Old gentleman:

First, observe the whole bowl.

Student of ramen eating:

Yes, sir.

Old gentleman:

Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas. Jewels of fat glittering on the surface. Shinachiku roots shining. Seaweed slowly sinking. Spring onions floating. Concentrate on the three pork slices. They play the key role, but stay modestly hidden. First caress the surface with the chopstick tips.

Student of ramen eating:

What for?

Old gentleman:

To express affection.

Student of ramen eating:

I see.

Old gentleman:

Then poke the pork.

Student of ramen eating:

Eat the pork first?

Old gentleman:

No. Just touch it. Caress it with the chopstick tips. Gently pick it up and dip it into the soup on the right of the bowl. What’s important here is to apologize to the pork by saying “see you soon.” Finally, start eating-the noodles first. Oh, at this time, while slurping the noodles, look at the pork.

Student of ramen eating:

Yes.

Old gentleman:

Eye it affectionately.

Student of ramen eating:

[voiceover] The old man bit some shinachiku root and chewed it awhile. Then he took some noodles. Still chewing noodles, he took some more shinachiku. Then he sipped some soup. Three times. He sat up, sighed, picked up one slice of pork-as if making a major decision in life-and lightly tapped it on the side of the bowl.

Student of ramen eating:

What for?

Old gentleman:

To drain it. That’s all.

—- Tampopo

Interesting scene from Tampopo

A few months ago I treated myself to a new membership to The Criterion Channel – a streaming channel filled with classic, foreign, and unusual films. I used to rent videos from The Criterion Collection – back in the ancient days when movies came on little plastic disks or on long ribbons of tape – and this is even better.

And in these old days and the even older days before that… we forget how hard it was to find anything odd, unique, or rare that you wanted to watch. For most of my life I would read about works of moving picture art that I ached to watch but didn’t have a chance to.

In college I would sneak into film classes when they were screening classic films. Then when I moved to Dallas in the early 1980’s I purposefully lived in back of a repertory film venue (The Granada – now an excellent music venue) which would show two different films every night – with a “bigger” feature showing over the weekends. The day at the end of each month where the poster with next month’s showings would appear was an important event to me. I’d hang up the poster and circle the films I wanted to attend.

Then along came VHS tapes and DVDs and Blu-Rays and I searched for the more avant-guard rental shops. I would drive across town on a quest for some obscure foreign film that I had read about.

There was a Japanese film from 1985 that I wanted to see and had a hell of a time finding. It was called Tampopo and was touted as a “Ramen Western.” Finally, someone copied a disk and sent it to me. It was a lousy copy but I absolutely loved the film. The main plot, such as it is, involves a John Wayne-like truck driver and a motley group assisting a women in revitalizing her Ramen shop and in the process, making the perfect bowl of noodle soup. It is odd, revolutionary, and very funny. It is also sexy and exciting and, best of all, a classic example of food porn. Literally, food porn.

And now, there is a 2016 4K restoration from The Criterion Collection that has now showed up on the streaming channel. I was able to carve out a few minutes and sit down and watch the thing.

It was even better than I remembered. I’m not sure how, but I had forgotten how unusual the structure of the film was. It will go off and follow the story of someone that walks by the main characters on the street (although that side story is usually wrapped back in later on). There is the story of the gangster in white and his girlfriend with their food-oriented sex life which involves live prawns and cognac and other things. They have a unique and amazing way to eat a raw egg yolk.

It’s not fair for me to recommend Tampopo – if you don’t have the Criterion Channel (there is a 14 day free trial) it’s still pretty hard to find. But if it happens to come by your way, don’t miss it.

Flash Fiction of the day, Invisible Ones by A. C. Spahn

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.”
― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Rest Area
The trail runs through some thick woods between the train line and the creek south of Forest Lane. There is a nice rest area built there. This homeless guy was sitting in the rest area, reading and writing in his notebook. We talked about the weather and I helped him find a lost sock.

Invisible Ones by A. C. Spahn

Short Story Of the Day – Pickled Herring Snacks (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“We are decent,” Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing, getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy. Fancy Herring Snacks flashed in her very blue eyes.
—–John Updike, A&P

Photo for Writing Prompt


I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#57) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


This is from a photo writing prompt – see above.

What is on this guy’s mind?

Is he a spy watching his subject?

a detective shadowing a tail?

a hitman waiting on a victim?

Expecting an illicit lover?

These would all be good – but I wanted something a little different – something mundane that I could then kick up a notch. I think he is simply some guy sneaking in a smoke.

 

Pickled Herring Snacks

 

 

The first thing Walter Neff did when he was  down the dark steps along the old stone wall and invisible from the house was to yank the loose rock out. He pulled his cigarettes and matches from the space he had hollowed out behind. He felt for the glass jar he knew was in there too, but left it for now. He pulled his Fedora down over his forehead and lifted the collar of his coat to hold back the wind and spitting drizzle. Only after a quick look around did he allow himself a contented sigh and lit the bright match. He loved watching the flame course around the end of the cigarette, knowing that the first satisfying puff would not be very far behind.

Walter had met his wife, Phyllis, when she had called him to inquire about a life insurance policy on her husband. They had hit it off immediately, and Walter sold her a hefty policy to boot. There was a nasty bit of business, a thorough inquiry, when her husband had died – fallen off the rear observation platform of a train – the insurance paid off on the double indemnity clause because it was an accident – but they were able to ride it out and were married once it all blew over.

But now, Walter was having second thoughts. And thirds. Phyllis turned out o be a real piece of work. And she absolutely forbade him to smoke, which he had enjoyed since he was ten.

Finally, the familiar nicotine-soaked cloud was coursing into his lungs and he relaxed.

The misery that his wife could inflict almost made it not worth the trouble to sneak off for a smoke.

Almost.

The biggest joy in Walter’s life was in manipulating his wife so that he could get to his cigarettes without her knowledge. Tonight was a double pleasure in that he was not only getting a smoke break, but he was escaping one of her dreadful dinner parties.

He had no idea where she met these people, but was shocked at how many criminal low-life useless dolts she could conjure up on short notice. Tonight was especially bad in that he disliked the two couples that came over. Ralph and Harriet Brisbane were repugnant. Not only were Cecil Ramirez and his incumbent stripper girlfriend What’s-Her-Name repulsive – but he was scary. At the last get-together, after a dozen too many cocktails, Cecil Ramirez blubbered out to Walter that he thought Ralph Brisbane was running around with the stripper, Cecil’s stripper, behind his back.

“Ah swear there Walter,” Ramirez said, “If I catch that scumbucket Brisbane even givin’ her a look crossways I’ll pop a cap in his ass so fast it’ll make yure head spin.”

Walter thought about Brisbane’s sports car, the luxurious boat he kept down at the marina, and the antique pewter snuffbox full of cocaine that was always at hand. Walter knew that these were all things no stripper could resist. He had warned Phyllis about the danger in having both couples over for dinner and drinks, but she has simply flashed her bright-eyed look that always meant trouble and told him he was full of shit.

“Don’t be such a scaredy-cat. You don’t ever want me to have any fun,” She said.

He didn’t understand how a fight between dangerous men in your own house could be considered “fun” – but he was going to lose that argument.

So now his cigarette was about halfway done and he took a particularly deep inhalation before reaching back into the secret opening and pulling out a jar of Nathan’s brand of Pickled Herring Snacks. He turned the glass over in his hand and watched the streetlight bounce off the silver fish scales contained within.

Earlier, that afternoon, Phyllis had given him a detailed list of items to pick up at the grocery and on the way back, Walter had stopped at this spot for a smoke, selected the Pickled Herring Snacks from the bag and hidden them in the hole behind the rock.

Tonight, after a couple rounds of cocktails and an increasing level of tension, Phyllis had gone into the kitchen to put together the appetizer tray.

“Walter, you bastard! Get your ass in here!”

The other two men looked on sympathetically, but Walter smiled a little. His plan was working.

“You forgot the jar of Goddammed Nathan’s Picked Herring Snacks.”

“I’m sorry dear; it must have slipped my mind.”

“That’s why I write it down for you. Now get your ass out that door and get me those Herrings! Right now!”

“But dear… our guests?”

“Don’t ‘but dear’ me you worthless pile of sheep shit. You get me what I want and pronto!”

“All right dear.”

And it was all right. Since the jar was hidden only a few steps from the house, he had the free time it would have taken him to walk to the corner market and back. About the time of a leisurely cigarette.

Suddenly, he glanced up. There was a sharp sound out of the darkness in the direction of his house. He climbed a few steps so that he could get a glimpse. There was the glint of broken glass in the front yard and the curtains looked surreal as the cold wind blew them out of the shattered opening, fluttering in the hissing rain.

With the window busted out, he could hear yelling. Two voices, one low and guttural and the other high pitched and desperate. Then a loud, shrill woman’s scream and a series of popping gunshots complete with muzzle flashes reflecting out across his front yard. Then silence.

For a second, Walter had a desire to rush back, run up the stone stairs and across his yard – to see what horror had occurred during Phyllis’s dinner party. But he stood still. There were three, maybe four good puffs left on his cigarette. So he stepped back down, leaned against the stone wall, and looked at the can of Pickled Herring Snacks as he inhaled another deep languid breath of precious smoke.

He slid what remained of his pack back into the hole and replaced the stone that hid the opening.

There would be plenty of time to find out.

 

 

Short Story Of the Day, Devil’s Claws by Bill Chance

“ They came across a place where a lamb had died over the winter. Every year a few would not make it through the snowstorms, maybe trapped out in the field by quick forming drifts… and freeze to death. There were some leg bones, some ribs scattered around, and the tiny skull was already half-covered with red dirt. They kicked at the bones a bit.”

—-Bill Chance, Devil’s Claws

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#14). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Devil’s Claws

 

In the city, Sam Monaghan had been an elite baseball player – the offensive star of a select team, The Bombers. Not too bad of a pitcher either. He had to give up the sport in Coldgrove. That left a frustrating gap in his life, like a missing tooth in his jaw. The attackers had used his Bombers’ bat on his mother and he could not bear to hold one in his hands again.

They had lived in a brownstone in the old meatpacking district – they felt like urban pioneers. Until the one afternoon when Sam’s mother, Paula, came home from work to find the two tweakers that Sam’s father had hired to paint his little sister Brenda’s nursery waiting. After the attack on his wife that left her in a wheelchair, Sam’s father had moved the family out to the tiny rural hamlet of Coldgrove.

“Sam, I wish you would make some friends in the school here,” his mother said to him as he pushed her chair out onto the porch so she could watch the sun set.

“I know mom, I’ll try. I just don’t have anything in common with these kids.”

“What about Duane, dear? He lives on the next farm over, you can walk there whenever you want. He is only a grade below you.”

“I’ll see mom. I’ll see.”

“His mom says he plays baseball.”

Sam turned away.

She was talking about Duane Clankman, who was a year older than Sam was, even though Duane was a grade below. To Sam the whole Clankman clan existed somewhere out of time, as if they had been away from civilization for ages. Coldgrove itself felt out of whack for him.

Duane’s brothers and sisters were scattered all up and down the grades and you could pick them out of a crowd easy; the same thin, limp, blondish hair, homedone haircuts, clothes handed down from one to another, the same pale watery eyes, long faces, and the same blank, lost look.

Still, his mother protested and Sam could not resist her requests. Soon he was walking across the cow pasture, along the green algae-choked slough, to the Clankman’s farmhouse. They called the noon meal dinner and it was the best fried chicken he had ever tasted. He asked Mrs. Clankman for her secret.

“Oh honey, you just dip ‘em in milk, dredge in flour, salt and pepper, and fry ‘em in the ‘lectric skillet,” she said

“Then why is your chicken so good?”

“Oh honey, ‘cause an hour before you ate it that bird was runnin’ around in the front yard, eatin’ bugs.”

Duane’s mother wrapped a few pieces up and put them in a paper bag. A bit of grease made the bag translucent in places.

“You give this chicken to your mother, now,” she said, with a sad smile and a nod.

After dinner, Sam and Duane went for a long walk in the old west pasture. Sam’s mother had asked them to look for Devil’s Claws. The dry dark gray seedpods were scattered all over the pasture, hung up in among the prickly pears and clumps of sawgrass. She wanted to take a mess of claws, spray paint them gold and silver, and glue little plastic googly eyes on… decorate them up for a craft show the women were putting on down at the new library in town.

Along with the paper bag of chicken, they carried blue plastic bags from Wal-Mart to stuff the claws in. They were hard to carry even though they weighed almost nothing; the hooks tore at the cheap thin plastic until the claws would tumble out if you did not hold the bag exactly right.

They came across a place where a lamb had died over the winter. Every year a few would not make it through the snowstorms, maybe trapped out in the field by quick forming drifts… and freeze to death. There were some leg bones, some ribs scattered around, and the tiny skull was already half-covered with red dirt. They kicked at the bones a bit.

“Look at how the meadow grows here,” Duane said.

The thin brown grass of the old spent pasture was lush and green around the bones. Nourished by death, the body of the lamb.

Sam thought about why the grass was so thick and healthy around where the lamb had died. He thought about how the lamb had eaten the grass while it lived and now that it was gone, it gave everything back to the ground and to the grass that had nourished it.

“Duane?” Sam said, “You’re on the Coldgrove school baseball team, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, though I’m not so good. Just another body.”

“Do you think I could get on the team?”

“Yup, easy. Coach is always looking for players. Sometimes we barely put together a whole team.”

“Ok, then. I’ll need a new bat though.”