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.

 

 

Bullfighting Is the Only Art In Which the Artist Is In Danger Of Death

Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.
—-Ernest Hemingway

Running of the Bulls, New Orleans, Louisiana

So They Don’t Kill Me

“The bulls are my best friends.”
I translated to Brett.
“You kill your friends?” she asked.
“Always,” he said in English, and laughed. “So they don’t kill me.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

The Running of the Bulls,
New Orleans

The Terrain of the Bull

“In bull-fighting they speak of the terrain of the bull and the terrain of the bull-fighter. As long as a bull-fighter stays in his own terrain he is comparatively safe. Each time he enters into the terrain of the bull he is in great danger. Belmonte, in his best days, worked always in the terrain of the bull. This way he gave the sensation of coming tragedy.”
—- The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Running of the Bulls, New Orleans

From The Running of the Bulls

The Running Of the Bulls

“The stretch of ground from the edge of the town to the bull-ring was muddy. There was a crowd all along the fence that led to the ring, and the outside balconies and the top of the bull-ring were solid with people. I heard the rocket and I knew I could not get into the ring in time to see the bulls come in, so I shoved through the crowd to the fence. I was pushed close against the planks of the fence. Between the two fences of the runway the police were clearing the crowd along. They walked or trotted on into the bull-ring. Then people commenced to come running. A drunk slipped and fell. Two policemen grabbed him and rushed him over to the fence. The crowd were running fast now. There was a great shout from the crowd, and putting my head through between the boards I saw the bulls just coming out of the street into the long running pen. They were going fast and gaining on the crowd. Just then another drunk started out from the fence with a blouse in his hands. He wanted to do capework with the bulls. The two policemen tore out, collared him, one hit him with a club, and they dragged him against the fence and stood flattened out against the fence as the last of the crowd and the bulls went by. There were so many people running ahead of the bulls that the mass thickened and slowed up going through the gate into the ring, and as the bulls passed, galloping together, heavy, muddy-sided, horns swinging, one shot ahead, caught a man in the running crowd in the back and lifted him in the air. Both the man’s arms were by his sides, his head went back as the horn went in, and the bull lifted him and then dropped him. The bull picked another man running in front, but the man disappeared into the crowd, and the crowd was through the gate and into the ring with the bulls behind them. The red door of the ring went shut, the crowd on the outside balconies of the bull-ring were pressing through to the inside, there was a shout, then another shout.

The man who had been gored lay face down in the trampled mud. People climbed over the fence, and I could not see the man because the crowd was so thick around him. From inside the ring came the shouts. Each shout meant a charge by some bull into the crowd. You could tell by the degree of intensity in the shout how bad a thing it was that was happening. Then the rocket went up that meant the steers had gotten the bulls out of the ring and into the corrals. I left the fence and started back toward the town.”
—-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Running Of the Bulls, New Orleans, Louisiana

Ever since reading The Sun Also Rises and The Drifters as a kid I have wanted to go to Pamplona and see the running of the bulls. Will probably never get to do that – I don’t feel the urge as much as I used to.

On my last trip to New Orleans, I was able to do the second best thing. For over a decade they have had a running of the bulls in the Big Easy. Instead of real bulls – the participants run from a horn wearing women’s roller derby team which chases and smacks the participants with plastic baseball bats.

A bit of fun and a great opportunity for photos.

A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 10 – How To Talk To Girls At Parties

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day ten – How To Talk To Girls At Parties, by Neil Gaiman

Read it online here:

How To Talk To Girls At Parties

It’s a rare pleasure when you start out reading something and you think you know what it is going to be about – about a third of the way you are still sure and then, all of a sudden, you realize you are lost on a dark road and on the way somewhere unexpected… somewhere interesting and wonderful.

Reading something by Neil Gaiman… well, I should have known better. The title, the opening gambit… a young teenager trying to find his way in the world of women, intimidated by a good-looking, silver-tongued friend who has a way with the ladies. We’ve all read this before… we’ve all lived this before.

Then, all of a sudden….

Read it and find out.

You know when you are sixteen and confused and ignorant and you say to yourself, “I don’t understand any of this. Jeez! These girls all act like they are from another planet.”

Well, be careful….

She looked at me with her green eyes, and it was as if she stared out at me from her own Antigone half-mask; but as if her pale green eyes were just a different, deeper, part of the mask. “You cannot hear a poem without it changing you,” she told me. “They heard it, and it colonized them. It inherited them and it inhabited them, its rhythms becoming part of the way that they thought; its images permanently transmuting their metaphors; its verses, its outlook, its aspirations becoming their lives. Within a generation their children would be born already knowing the poem, and, sooner rather than later, as these things go, there were no more children born. There was no need for them, not any longer. There was only a poem, which took flesh and walked and spread itself across the vastness of the known.”

I edged closer to her, so I could feel my leg pressing against hers.

She seemed to welcome it: she put her hand on my arm, affectionately, and I felt a smile spreading across my face.

“There are places that we are welcomed,” said Triolet, “and places where we are regarded as a noxious weed, or as a disease, something immediately to be quarantined and eliminated. But where does contagion end and art begin?”

Construction Project at the Bayou Boogaloo

While in New Orleans for Lee’s Tulane Graduation I rode my bicycle to Bayou St. John for the Bayou Boogaloo. There is always a festival going on in The Big Easy and they are always fun. This was a particularly good one.

I bought a beer and found a shady spot on the shore of the Bayou. I sat there chatting with the locals about cycling, music, and aging hippies. We watched the watercraft plying the waves. It was a beautiful day.

A small group of people arrived on the far shore (not very far away) towing something on a trailer. They proceeded to extract a large, homemade barge consisting of a wooden platform with plastic barrels strapped underneath for floatation. We wondered how they were going to launch the ungainly contraption.

The guy had it going on. He directed his motley crew with efficiency and before you could swallow your gumbo they flipped it neatly into the water – using ropes to control the weight.

Then the guy proceeded to start hauling out prefabricated railings, benches, and an umbrella – screwing everything into place with a portable drill. It was an efficient and impressive display of carpentry. He soon had his own portable floating party barge, right in the middle of the bayou.

“Get that guy’s name,” one of the folks sitting next to me said between gulps of Abita Amber and bites of muffuletta. “I need a new deck and that’s the best carpenter I’ve seen in New Orleans.”

As I watched he extracted a full-blown steel anchor and dropped it into the mud at the bottom of the bayou.

The barge arrives and is flipped

The barge arrives and is flipped

over into the Bayou St. John.

over into the Bayou St. John.

Pretty bare bones at this point - but it floats.

Pretty bare bones at this point – but it floats.

Adding benches and railings.

Adding benches and railings.

Dropping Anchor.

Dropping Anchor.

Laissez les bons temps rouler

Laissez les bons temps rouler

Super Bowl Sliders

The Super Bowl has become one of the biggest holidays of the year in the states. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t an official government edict, that it has no religious status – not even some ancient pagan ancestor, or that it is usually a pretty crappy football game that only people in the two cities involved really cares about. It is a reason to go to someone’s house, gather ’round the big screen, and eat yourself into oblivion.

This year we were invited over and told to bring sliders of our own design. At first, I was not too excited. I am not a football fan (college basketball is my sport of choice – I went to Kansas and my son goes to Duke) and I didn’t relish a wasted day of boring sports and overindulgence. I started to think about things and try to make the best of it. There was some serious cooking skills at this place (professional caterers, graduates of chef school, people from Louisiana) and I decided to go for it and make an effort at putting together some original sliders.

If you don’t know, sliders are small hamburgers, originally from the White Castle chain. They have gone beyond those simple (but good) tiny versions of the All American Burger. Recently, I have been to a couple of food trucks – Easy Slider and The Butcher’s Son for example – that raised the bar on the creativity of sliderdom.

So I sat down with a sheet of notebook paper and worked out three different versions of sliders – two fairly pedestrian ones and one that was a bit more exotic.

First, BLT sliders. Simple – bacon, lettuce, and tomato on a roll with a little mayo. Easy and foolproof.

Then, for a second slider, I went for a Blu Cheese slider. Sliced sausage with blu cheese coleslaw and blu cheese crumbles on top.

Finally, with a little trepidation I designed a Korean slider. Pork Bar-b-que with caramelized kimchi. Soy sauce and Sriacha on the bun for a spicy kick. I still had a bunch of kimchi left over from my trip to Super H Mart. I ground some up in a food processor and sauteed it with some brown sugar (caramelized kimchi).

So I made a trip to the store and then set up an assembly line on the kitchen counter. The nice thing about sliders is that you can make a boatload of ’em without too many raw materials. There isn’t much in each little thing.

So we headed over and I lugged my trays of sliders into the house. The BLT and Blu Cheese were fine cold, but I heated the Korean sliders up in the oven. The first two disappeared immediately. I didn’t even get to try any myself, they were gone as soon as I set them out. The Korean sliders weren’t such a big hit. They were too spicy for most folks’ taste – but the more adventuresome eaters seemed to like them. I thought they were good – but I’m used to kimchi and spicy stuff.

I guess I had a good time, though we stayed too long and I ate way too much. I remember looking at a plate where I had stuck a few jalepeno peppers wrapped in bacon and thought, “I should not eat these. I’m already full and if I do it will make me sick.” I did and they did.

There was some point in the game where I think the announcer said, “And on that play Brady had no choice except to eat the football.” I know how he felt. I felt like I had eaten a football.

It even killed the next day. I walked around in a haze, dehydrated and worn out from the effort of digesting all that food.

So I swear I will never do that again. I’ll have to read this again to remind myself before next year’s Superbowl.

BLT Slider

Blu Cheese slider

Korean slider - bar-b-que, kimchi, and sriacha

Slider assembly line

One nice thing about sliders - they are easy to transport

 Thunder Burger

More Food Trucks

Hawaiian Ham and Cheese Sliders

Barbecue Sliders with Coleslaw

Sweet potato mushroom sliders—a huge thumb’s up

Homemade Meatball Sliders

Bangkok Burger Feature: Sliders (Mini Burgers)

duck shredded & sandwiched

Five Under 5: Meatball Sliders

Whiskey BBQ Sliders with Jalepenos

Turkey Burger Sliders

Sliders

Turkey Bacon Sliders

White Castle

Island Sliders

New Product: Gardein’s Ultimate Sliders

Oven Baked Burger Sliders

Bison Sliders w/ Crinkle Fries

Hot Pepper BBQ Pork Sliders

Pulled Pork Sliders w/ Homemade French Fries

The Best Sliders

Spicy Whiskey BBQ Sliders (by PW)

 

Dallas Snuggie Pub Crawl

A while back (Saturday February 4th to be exact) I was waiting to get on the McKinney Avenue Trolley down by the Dallas Museum of Art. Glancing over at the folks waiting in line to board, I noticed that some of them were wearing odd items of clothing – at a glance, at a distance, at first… they seemed to be some sort of colorful flowing robe. My first idea was that they had come from the Crow Museum of Asian Art (which was having some festivities that day) and were wearing some cheap imitation Asian costume of some kind.

Riding down McKinney Avenue in the Trolley, I started to notice other folks wearing these robes. Now, though I could see them a bit better and realized what they were. These people were wearing Snuggies.

A whole group of Women of a Certain Age clambered aboard wearing matching tiger-striped Snuggies, cateye sunglasses, and silver tiaras (sorry, I was so gobsmacked by the whole entourage I forgot to bring out my camera). I asked them what was up and they said it was the third annual Dallas Snuggie Pub Crawl.

All along the route I saw folks all snuggified – though a lot were cheating – they were simply wearing their bathrobes backward. I know this is alright… the rules say:

This is a Snuggie Pub Crawl even so a Snuggie of some kind is REQUIRED but you can also wear:

  • Slankets
  • Designer Snuggies
  • Snuggie knock-off brands
  • Adult Onesie or Forever Lazy
  • Robes

I’m sorry, but I think these rules are too lax… I don’t think robes or Forever Lazy should count. I go out in those all the time.

We chugged along through Uptown and began to pass the bars where the pub crawlers were congregating. It looked like a blast. It was tough to get decent photographs – the trolley was packed and moving fast and I had to shoot through bits of glass.

So, I assume there will be a fourth annual Dallas Snuggie Pub Crawl in or around February next year. I’ve made a note in my planner – it’s the only thing I have marked for 2013 so far.

I’ll have to buy a Snuggie, though. I am not going to go out there in a backwards robe.

The Snuggie People boarding the trolley

OK, this is Texas, so I guess the burnt orange Snuggies are all right, but what is that big green case he is lugging and why does she have such an armload of notes for a pub crawl?

When you and your insignificant other meet another couple in Uptown for drinks... is it more embarrassing to forget your Snuggies... or to remember them?

The bars were hoppin'. Are those Mandelbrot set Snuggies?

D Magazine Photographs from this year’s Snuggie Pub Crawl

Snuggie Pub Crawl in Uptown

Pegasus News, First Pub Crawl Photos

2010 Pub Crawl Photos

2011 Pub Crawl Photos

Skull & Crossbones Snuggie

Ode to My Snuggie

I Sing the Body Snuggified