The Rest of Chapter One

As I know everyone’s on the edge of his or her seat since yesterday to find out what happened in the rest of chapter 1 from the thirty-some years-old beginning of The Book of Seasons, we will present it to you immediately—the rest of chapter one…


The Book of Seasons

chapter one, concluded

I was that evening reclining, as I usually did, in the uncomfortable red plastic supposedly-easy chair, reading. The hotplate (I am still not sure about its legality) was boiling a can of baked beans, and I could hear the sauce just beginning to gurgle — or I was finally aware of the bubbling. Regardless, several paragraphs remained to complete the chapter, so I let the sauce burble contentedly. My window was open on the sultry evening, but the air was not moving. The enclosed mud parking area below was accessible only by an alley across the far side, and as a result few breezes were bred there to blow into my room. It was a cheerless view, back walls of tall buildings, although I had not yet seen it at its worst, as I would when the winter slushes arrived.

I was sort of sitting, between cigarettes, my coke emptied, attempting to read but actually thinking vaguely about the beans and my supper. I was considering what my students would think of the situation, typical for me, at least at that time, but not at all a common pedagogical stereotype. As a student teacher that autumn, I was supposedly learning practical aspects of my future career. However, I still felt more like a simple college senior without any pretensions to the adulthood my students tended to impose on me. My present domestic situation doubtlessly would have shattered prejudiced images for most of my pupils.

I realized suddenly that I had no idea of what had occurred in the last several paragraphs, if not pages. I had succeeded in distracting myself even from my distraction. I was just beginning the process to decide whether to conclude the chapter now or eat immediately, when, quite instantly, someone else was in the room.

The peculiar sensation when one is no longer alone dropped over me, a shroud, a straitjacket, a tightness in my back and side.

I glanced in the mirror above the dresser along the wall to my right. I saw reflected there, incredibly, a man, or the shape of a man facing the door. He seemed to be standing three full feet off the floor, hanging in midair, above the middle of the bed. And, as I looked, I was certain that I could briefly see through his form, as though, strange as it seems, he was suddenly materializing then out of, as they say, the thin air. He remained for a moment suspended somehow, became solid, and then collapsed onto the bed. As he fell he twisted himself into a semi-foetal position — or rather, as he hit, feet first, then buttocks, then his left shoulder. He wheezed loudly, the fall knocking the wind out of him, and lay still a moment.

Five seconds. That was the longest possible time, I am certain, from the moment I first felt my privacy invaded until the stranger wheezed as he landed upon my bed. As you might expect, it seemed longer to me then.

My first thought, of course, was that I had imagined the whole scene. So I turned from the mirror, on my right, to examine the bed, on my left. He was, however, lying there, trembling, shaking as though from tension caused by a great effort. A sudden wind, a single gust of air, blew against me, quite hard, only for a moment. Then the evening was as still and sultry as before, and the man was lying on my bed, curled up, shivering.

Naturally, the beans boiled over at that moment, spitting beans and sauce over the hotplate and the dresser top — bubbling beans erratically over the sides of the can, stripped of its label, and spilling sauce on the electric heating element. I reached out reflexively and turned off the switch, stood, and, fumbling with the potholder, removed the can from the burner, displacing only a few more beans. Frustratingly, I could still see the man in the mirror.

In fact, he was sitting up.

I am afraid that then, only then, it finally seeped into the crevasses of my thought that he was actually present, and I rather feared suddenly to turn around.

And then he spoke: “God damn!” Bending over to rub his ankle, he added, “Rotten miserable joints. Always going bad in the pinch.”

Suddenly my trepidation melted away.

He was an old man. I had not noticed before, but he was about seventy years old — white hair, mostly bald, scrawny. A thoroughly unprepossessing creature, particularly hunched over himself tending his ankle, the overhead light causing his hairless top to gleam.

I turned around. He noticed the movement and looked up wide-eyed. His mouth sagged open.

What the hell?”He clapped his hands to his head, running his fingers into the remaining locks. “Oh, Christ. Can’t I do anything right?”

Our minds are unusual, operating in ways we do not understand or even clearly follow. I can set these events on paper now and in a conscious order, but at the time I really did not quite comprehend what was happening. I must have been stunned, not accepting all I had observed. I know that I was vaguely thinking that he had actually climbed in the window, rather than what I had seen in the mirror (even though the room was four floors up), reasoning that what I had seen reflected was an illusion. I was also considering that since he was so old he probably could not do me any great harm. I am not certain how I was reconciling those two notions; it must not have occurred to me then that a decrepit seventy-year-old antiquity would have exceptional difficulty clambering four stories up the hotel exterior to enter my window. Nor did I bother to realize that someone who could perform such an ascent could certainly hurt me severely.

He stared at me. He had green eyes.

I said, rather weakly, “Hi.” I smiled, also rather weakly; I don’t have a very good smile even in the best circumstances.

He looked directly at me a moment longer. Then he, too, smiled. He had a rather nice smile, one that I always imagined my own to be like but knew it was not. “Hi?” he raised his eyebrows, bushy and unkempt, in question. “I suppose it is a greeting. It’s not —” He was going to continue, but suddenly he flushed deep red, swayed as he sat at the edge of my bed, and folded over, head between his knees.

Rather stupidly, I remained, still amazed, rooted to my spot, one hand still clutching the hotpad. He was moaning. Then he straightened up, his face now drained of blood, pale, his skin like new paper, whitely translucent. Exclaiming “Oh, shit!”almost inaudibly, he collapsed backward, like a stack of freshly washed clothes falling over, onto the bed with his legs dangling over the end.

Then, at last, I moved. I went over to him. His eyes were open but glazed, apparently not seeing. As I leaned over him, however, he seemed to focus his gaze on me momentarily. Then he shuddered, his eyes rolled, and the lids drifted closed.

Barely I heard him say, “Don’t tell anyone. Please don’t — oh, crap…” And he was unconscious.

I decided that the climb up the wall had been too much for him. I hoped he would not die.

Touching his forehead with my fingertips, I noticed that he was very cold. I jerked my hand into his chest and clutched his wrist, afraid that my hopes came too late. How could I explain a corpse? However, his heart was beating, rather hard, but evenly, and his breathing was regular. I am not sure what regular breathing is exactly, but I determined that his was. It had better be, I thought inanely.

After determining that he was alive, I was a little at a loss as to what I should do. My reason and my instincts told me, most insistently, to run, screaming, hysterically if at all possible, for help. I nearly did, regardless of his last words. However, I was by then certain that he had entered through the window, somehow, from above, from next door — a million possibilities were spiraling and shooting aimlessly but furiously through my mind. Somehow he had entered through that window, though, and people who enter through windows do so for no good or upright reason. What if he had expected me to be gone, intending to steal all I owned in my absence, and finding me at home struck on this illness as a ploy to send me away for help? And while I was gone, then he would complete his larcenous intentions. And this superb subtlety of the fellow to whisper, “Don’t tell anyone,” knowing that was exactly what I should do.

To be frank, I was afraid he was simply faking. So I remained, purely selfish and possessively paranoiac.

When he did not stir for some time and remain very cold, I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and covered him with my spare blanket in the bottom drawer of the dresser. Then I furtively ate my beans, cold at that point, while maintaining a constant watch on my intruder. He never moved; neither did he die. In fact he was a most undramatic specimen, despite his curious entrance. And that, although I was unaware of the significance of the occasion and the nature of his name, was how I first encountered Durwood Wakdjunkaga.

I do have chapters two, three and four. Is anyone interested? I had fun. It was amusing to revisit this old thing (and see how I haven’t gotten beyond some of the things I wrote then).

February ends tomorrow. I never planned to post a blog every single day, but so far I have. Strange. Sometime soon some more of Mantorville.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

We Only Thought It Was Lost…

So all my reminiscing here in the weblog got me to actually stir from my chair and look through a few things, principally the file cabinet in the basement where Janet had me stuff all sorts of items over the years to get them out of sight. One drawer was supposed to be dedicated to my writing; it seems to be littered with play programs (from plays I wrote) and multiple copies of scripts. However, I located several things I didn’t think existed anymore—principally a xerox copy of the four chapters of The Book of Seasons that I actually finished. I know, I know. I told you it was lost; I even summarized the plot, but I found it, and I can prove my memory is fallible because I didn’t remember what I’d written correctly.

(I feel intrigued that I have a xerox of this text—not the original, just a xerox—and the kind of xerox that it is. I guess it would be safe now, nearly 30 years on, to admit I must have made use of one of the first copiers at the school.) Anyway, I got it entered into the computer (I hope with very few auditory errors, like the one that those of you who get the blog via e-mail saw toward the end of Mantorville, part nine), and now you’ll have to endure what I was writing as fiction back in Ft. Madison (and evidently revising to one degree or another in the early years here in Maquoketa). Voila — The Book of Seasons…

The Book of Seasons

chapter one

Look, in growing up we all go through a multitude of ambitions. but, for most people, that’s all they are, ambitions. only the fortunate ever satisfy, even partially any of those aspirations.”

I never dreamed, even in my most secret pretensions, that I would one day be composing a book about myself (no matter how tangentially). I never dreamed, that is, until I met the rather peculiar person who originally uttered those sentiments. Our acquaintance, unusual in itself, proved the spark which has since become such a persistent flame in my thought that I must record what I have learned — simultaneously recapturing and exercising that person and his portion of my life. So I discover myself in a position to speak somewhat about me on paper, all the better to clarify Mr. Durwood Wakdjunkaga’s quite singular life and definitely plural times.

Although trained to teach English literature, I have never had great cause to practice, let alone polish, my own literary skills. I always been more an observer to participant. For that reason, my narrative abilities, as more than several informal anecdotes I have attempted to recount have revealed, are not among the best. I fear that I serve as an altogether inadequate and roughly made container for what is an extremely rare and very excellent vintage, an inappropriate and common medium for thoroughly extraordinary tale.

I am, as I suggested, a teacher. I have been teaching now for three years. In the fall of my senior year at college, I undertook my student teaching practicum at one of the high schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a fair-sized metropolitan area with a respectable amount of industry, citizenry, idolatry, complacency, insanity and skullduggery. In most respects it is a typical Midwestern midsize city; it is unique in that it is a place of distinct odors. Anyone who has ever passed through Cedar Rapids will assert that it is an unusually smelly town. Those who live there identify a variety of individual stenches: Quaker Oats’ aroma usually smacks of baking and industrial effluvia combined; the meat processing plant spews an organic order of rot; a cloacal malodor of and sewage rises from either the river, which roughly bisects the city on a north-south line, or a small unnatural lake in the central northwest. These are the emanations which I became able to distinguish during my brief habitation. Residents of the community also claim a varying number of other minor reeks, including the essences of the local zoo and the less desirable students of Coe College. I never found the mephitis of Cedar Rapids annoying except on those days when all the assorted scents combined in an olfactory conspiracy to prevent respiration altogether; on such days one must breathe in slight, shallow inhalations as infrequently as possible — one must seek a delicate balance, avoiding not breathing at all (most desirable) and yet maintaining one’s existence. That is, of course, unless one is Wakdjunkaga, who was never upset by any combination of excremental fumes.

I first encountered the man on a Friday evening, a Quaker Oats evening, accurately warm and yeasty in the back of my nostrils. His arrival, as everything about him, was both startling and unique.

I was residing then in the Hotel Allison on First Avenue downtown, next to and on top of the Bishop’s Cafeteria where I ate occasionally. My home during those weeks of student teaching was a typical outdated residential hotel, and my room, 430, was exactly like all the rest in the building, somewhat larger than most, but in no major respect unusual. I had a lumpy double bed, an uncomfortable red plastic armchair across the room, a mirrored dresser along one wall, and a chest of drawers in a recess next to the closet. A metal nightstand stood by the head of the bed. Except for wear on these articles, the furniture and the room appear just as if time had ceased in 1953. More than once I would awaken in the morning to imagine I had regressed twenty years or so. This anachronistic sensation was particularly associated with the rather tedious carpet with which my room was adorned — a noxious pattern of intertwining roses and stems on a bland grayish background. I remember one time Wakdjunkaga remarked that the thing resembled the regurgitations of an unknown rose-eating creature of presumably revolting habits; I am not quite sure what he meant altogether, but the sense of vomit was right.

The night he arrived, however, Wakdjunkaga was in no condition to notice such marginalia as the room’s decor.

Is it any good? Are you wondering what happens? I commented in one of the early posts of “Mantorville” that I thought of it as being reminiscent in ways H. P. Lovecraft— not in its style but in its storytelling technique. Reading this thing, I notice a very Lovecraftian turgidity of style…

I’ll probably post the rest of this first chapter tomorrow.  We’ll see if we can get you more of Mantorville soon. I do have a little more written already.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

I’m Talking to You…

I have a bit of news…

I’m trying to learn to enter information in a new way, hopefully faster and easier to edit than my previous fumble-fingered keyboarding. I don’t know how well this will work. I’ve only been at this since late last Wednesday.  (Today is Monday, February 15, 2010, although you will be reading this somewhat later.) If all goes well, I hope to be able to create many more documents faster than I ever have before.

MacSpeech Dictate

What I’m doing is learning to dictate. Using a program called MacSpeech Dictate and a USB microphone from Plantronics (how interesting that the program knows both its own name and the microphone company), I can both order the computer around—give commands—and dictate text right into word processing programs and even text fields in, say, web browser pages.

I know I’m just kind of wasting space and time by saying this, but I’m hoping to get the computer to learn to understand me effectively and efficiently. Things went adequately last week. I did create most of the posts for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and one other post orally. I started dictating two different stories that I’d already started writing longhand—one about The Tourist (this one set in San Francisco) and the first several chapters of my François Villon novel. I also started a brand-new Tourist short story, hopefully almost flash fiction, this one set at O’Hare international in Chicago.

Let’s try a test: François Villon. Last time I tried to do that—before “training” the program—it came up with “false wall” and something I don’t even remember in place of Villon (since it just screwed it up, I found out the phrase that it likes to insert is “the home”). Now you’d think that it would know how to interpret that name, since I dictated about five pages on Friday. However in starting up this morning, I suddenly had more than one “profile” from which to select for the speech recognition program to use to recognize my voice and my words. Deciding to have MacSpeech Dictate delete the extras, the program suddenly froze and quit, and in restarting, I suddenly had to start all over again from the very beginning. So the software is having to relearn some of the things that we had gotten started on last week. Frustration, frustration, but at least I’m not typing!

Let’s see if it’s learned anything: François Villon. The software inserted it perfectly (after I tried training it from the first two uses of the name), and so we advance.

Other issues: I have to be careful not to make extra noises, which the software interprets as words like “the,” “and” or other short, simple, one-syllable words. Although I’m trying to work in silence except for my voice, I was playing music last week and it still heard my voice very clearly. Right now, I have a heater running to try to keep the temperature above 54°. It’s still doing very well hearing only my voice (I’ll have to give it a shot with music later today). I also have to behave in a well-trained manner.

I think we are doing well today because the software got me well-trained in those now lost, earlier sessions last week. I have learned some of the commands it wants me to use; I have also started working in a way that is suitable to the software (not very exhilarating and fairly demeaning to my humanity). And I’m becoming much more conscious of my punctuation. After all, I have to tell the software each and every punctuation mark I want to insert as I’m dictating, or else I must tell it in painstaking detail where to go back and click to insert.

The principal frustration for me is that the software wants me not to use the keyboard at all (at least while dictating text). MacSpeech Dictate maintains a “cache” document of everything I’ve said and all the punctuation marks and, I guess, all the edits that I have done. If I try to make any edits manually—using the keyboard—, the cache gets all screwed up. Screwing up the cache makes me a very bad boy: it breaks the so-called “Golden Rule” of computer dictation—“when dictating, have the voice do everything.”

I guess, except for the software dominating me, I’m having fun.

Since I’m not making any money from doing this, I guess I should get back to “writing” some more fiction. After all, I still have a lot more of “Mantorville” (a word the software did know last week, but which it doesn’t know now) to make up for you. I’ll make sure some near-future post does indeed get us back to Quetzal County. So I guess it’s “Hi ho hi ho it’s off to work we go” for now.

Adding a bit, later, shortly before it’s going to post: recent “auditory errors,” such as the one that cropped up in the original posting of Mantorville, part nine, are the result of dictation. For tomorrow and Sunday, I have a new—well actually quite old, but recently rediscovered—bit of writing that I was excited to find (even though I have already told you it was long-lost). I dictated four whole chapters (nearly 12,000 words) from a xerox copy in just a few hours, which is a vastly superior input record to retyping stuff, and I hope I have located all of the “auditory errors” (which are becoming fewer but still surprise me) before the posts appear. You judge.

I used to tell students that keyboards would some day—probably in their lifetimes—have become antiquated technology. I never realized the keyboard might be out of date while I still sucked breath here on earth. But I am finding I can do and write many things without my ineffectual fingers (and I begin to dream about a Bluetooth headset/microphone someday liberating me to pace where I wish while I write).

Sometimes I love living in the future.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Back in the Bathroom

For Janet’s birthday on Tuesday, I posted a poem I had written about observing a nocturnal visit to the bathroom. From almost exactly a year earlier came this one about seeing myself reflected in a bathroom mirror, also at night. Although set in a pleasantly homely apartment, the setting for “Sweetness and Light,” it’s not nearly so endearing as either of those other poems (since it’s not really about Janet at all), but true to myself, even these days. The title says it all…

Widdershins

art by frodomat —click for links to sources

The cruel fiend gnaws my naked heart
with iron teeth of moonwhite sin.
He sucks his fill, my fall, and licks
with slurping lips these pale warm bones.

He wears my face backwards, looks
lefteyed into my right, wolfjowled,
smiling. Speaks silence, hears
least of thoughts in grim contentment.

A hundred hurts puzzle my toes,
and webbed in veins, his hornhard
fingers taste my liver’s greenish love.

He weeps my hair and then returns alone.

15 June 1981

Possibly this post should have been entitled “Failing the Mirror Test.”

I am beginning to see a pattern in some of my ideas. I really do seem to get fascinated by looking at things inside out or backward. It’s just that sometimes it gets scary. Especially looking at yourself. It’s not always fun to practice self-examination, unpleasant in the extreme, awkward and uncomfortable — at least for me. And I feel confident that it must be the same for most other honest folk, at least if you’re not actually a Bodhisattva or a saint.

For analysis, it may be that the less-than-white teeth are “iron” because of the grayness all colors assume in poor lighting. Night light may also explain “moonwhite” — the only available illumination from my remembered moment. If I want to be honest, I wonder if “He weeps my hair” because of my then-increasing (now long-since fully accomplished) balditude. A while back Facebook spasmed through a doppelgänger day or three. This poem makes me wonder what an Evil Twin day would be like…

A few days after the poem above, I wrote another — perhaps connected — one for which I’ve always had a strange fondness. Here it is:


Brocan Teeth

I wonder if the movie which this image is meant to advertise, “Mirrors,” is any good…

The heart’s strange work is silent,

iambic in organic darkness underneath

the nervous mind, clutching at the blood.

Still its limbic products can be felt,

unsaid but howling in the hollow

where the ribbed hard sternum ends.

The thrust of blood is silence,

and quickchapped speech can only sound.

on the separation of feeling and expression

27 June 1981

I believe the neuroscience on which the poem is founded is accurate yet today.The title, although principally a pun and therefore preciously cute, is a reference to Broca’s region in the brain, one of the principal centers of speech processing. Speaking of being too cute to tolerate, I had intended to call today’s post “Aphasia or Self-Recognition” but then went for comedy.

I do sense in my own experience a grave dichotomy between my interior feelings (and even thoughts) and my ability to express them in words. Perhaps even biologically the interior and the exterior are sundered. Or is that just expressing my own inabilities as a writer?

In actual news that isn’t scavenging from the long dark corridors of the distant past, Janet’s birthday lunch on Tuesday was a very pleasant experience. The drive up was nice — sunny and bright. The food was good; she and her folks had the daily special, a spinach wrap with homemade chips, and I enjoyed a very nice Greek salad. If you’re in Dubuque, you might give Caroline’s at the Hotel Julien a try. Afterwards, I came home and worked up yesterday’s post from the unnamed horror story and then created this post (well, to be completely honest I had the poem saved with no commentary, and in finishing my closing remarks to the story segment, I decided this was going to be what you got to read for today). I know: I’m scrambling for something since I’m out of story to post. That probably means I’m going to break an unwritten and unconscious rule of which only I am vaguely aware, and post some other prose in the meantime.

At least today’s selections are nicely brief. (And I do hope you click the links: all the real fun—and content—is there.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Mantorville, part 9

New stuff from  the story (and I’m working on more).

The earlier parts are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Having accepted his new job in dinky, rural Mantorville, Iowa, and endured his first inservice days, James Arkham now explains the ugly opening day assembly that began to turn him sour on this new experience…

Opening Day Assembly (1)

They opened the year with an all-school assembly. If there was a point to that assembly, I donʼt remember it. The only purpose it served, as far as I could see, was to introduce those of us who were new. And that wasn’t very impressive to the kids sitting on the bleachers. First they introduced the new faculty, me and the math guy. No one — not even my fellow faculty — especially not the kids, seemed very impressed to meet me. However, a couple of kids I could hear comment about being related, however distantly, to “that-air math guy,” as they put it. Then it was time to introduce the new students. This was when it got really strange. This is when I first felt really sorry for these new kids and got over feeling sorry for myself — which is where the assembly had led me until then.

There were two new students in the upper grades, a girl and a boy: Edy Allan and Frank Long. Both came from families brand-new to the area. Neither was related to each other nor to any other families in the area, so of course that made them, like me, Outsiders.

Here’s what happened at the assembly. Howie had taken charge of introducing the new teachers, but once that part was over (thankfully from my perspective), he turned the meeting over to his secondary principal. As I guess in many small communities, Howie as superintendent served as elementary principal. Our principal was a good old boy from Quetzal County, of course — Roger Davis, who appeared not only to know every detail about every kid in the school but also about everyone in the county. Pretty much everyone.

Davis had been snickering as loudly as any kid during introduction of us new teachers—especially, you probably guessed it, at me. I hadn’t liked him from the in-service days. When Howie ran the meetings, things got done. Our meetings with Davis were pretty worthless, and me starting a new job and buried under the paperwork and preparations for classes that meant, I didn’t feel I had time to waste. I’m pretty sure he sensed my antagonism. Being a real good old boy, he didn’t hide his feelings much, although he never hesitated to slap me on the back and laugh in my face. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like him. And probably I was too citified for him. Our Mr. Davis prided himself on being just about as rural as you can get — big hunter, had his own farm, worked for the seed company in the summer even. Just a good old country boy.

It didn’t help that he talked like a yutz.

He was okay about Chuck, just smiled and nodded with the things that Howie and Chuck himself had to say. And Chuck played to the crowd, emphasizing his local relatives and the supposedly fun times he’d had when he’d visit during the summers here in good old Quetzal County. Howie teased Chuck about his youth — being fresh out of college, the guy was just twenty-two, and he suggested that the kids needed to take it easy on this “kid.” I don’t know if Chuck liked being a kid or not, but he smiled and when handed the mike, talked about his youthful enthusiasm and how he hoped to get close his students but also to keep them on track to really learn some higher mathematics. Then it was my turn. Howie joked about me correcting his grammar (the oldest, tiredest joke English teachers always have to hear) before letting me say a few words about myself. I talked about how I hoped to get the best from every student in each of my classes and how much fun we could have in English (that got a vast laugh — especially from Roger Davis). Then Howie wrapped it up, suggesting the students make the most of all their opportunities ahead this school year, and let Roger take over.

Even though we were a pre-K through twelfth grade district all in one building, meaning that we had kids as young as four years old at that assembly, Roger Dodger thought it was appropriate to cackle about the kinds of opportunities the football team would find on Saturday nights if they did good (that was his exact phrase, by the way, “did good”) on the gridiron Friday nights. And he whooped it up as loudly as the big guys I assumed were the football team, sitting right down front on the outside edge of the bleachers.

He gave a nod at us two newbies on the faculty (his words again: “newbies on the fackle-tee”) and then launched into about three minutes on the kinds of nonsense that uptight prigs often thought was best for their little minions in some of the less “valluhbuhl ree-quired courses. Guess we’ll jus’ hafta show our newbies what’s what, what?” And the crowd went wild on that one too; even Chuck looked a little green having his expectations cut out from under him like that.

Then Davis moved on to new kids. There were several in the elementary — one younger brother of the new girl upstairs and a kid from a third new family entirely, a couple of transfers — open enrollments from other schools in the area. For the youngsters, he just made them stand up as he said their name and something about where they’d come from and what grade they were in. Motherly and grandmotherly elementary teachers kept close watch on their kids through these introductions, usually holding a hand on the little ones as they stood.

The high-schoolers got handled differently. Very differently.

First up was Frank Long, who owned his name. First, he was the most open, honest and sincere kid I ever taught — completely frank in every situation (which was going to count against him at that assembly and every single day at school). Second, he stood about a head over six feet, tall, lean and topped with a mop of sunbleached auburn blond hair, worn casual and long. He liked large T-shirts and baggy shorts — unfashionable in contrast to the sports gear, jeans or camouflage looks favored around Quetzal County. (A good portion of our girls dressed as if they hadn’t heard the Eighties ended a long time back: big curly hair and lots of wedges boxing out their dresses.) And even more unfashionably — flip flops. He looked like a very cool surfer and would have fit in perfectly where he came from — southern California. Here, somewhat appropriately, he was a fish out of water. They knew it and they glared. He knew it, too, and did not care.

Evidently Roger D was going to rectify that situation.

Our esteemed principal called Frank out on the gym floor to stand beside him. Old Rog took wicked delight in pointing out that “Frankie boy” — as he insisted on calling the kid — didn’t look like “good material for our football team.” Really funny observation,right? He also spent a long time exploring the fact that Frank had moved in from Southern California, “and he looks it, don’t he?” That remark got the kids started, pointing out the ways poor Frank looked effete and wondering what kind of stupid ideas a kid from those parts must have. The football guys seemed to lead the heckling; Rog just smiled at them with every wicked comment. Frank, standing embarrassed in front of the entire student body, writhed, turning deep red, even his knees, visible in his surfer shorts — increasing the crowd’s vocal amusement.

About this point, Howie looked troubled and headed out of the gym. I guess he knew it was only going to get worse.

Frank turned to his principal, who should at least in my opinion have been his support and not the leader of the attack, and asked if he could sit down now. Davis smirked, “What? Gonna leave the little missy — that cute, little new girl — all alone?” So Frank grimaced and stayed in place uncomfortably.

And it does get worse. I just have to make up what happens. There will be more to come, eventually.

For tomorrow we’re back in the “comfort zone.”

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Happy Birthday, Janet!

It’s Janet’s birthday. And I’m excited. Her folks are coming up to Dubuque for lunch, and I’m invited to join them, so we’ll all get to enjoy the food at Caroline’s, the Julien Inn restaurant. Her sister and brother-in-law came to visit for the weekend; that was fun. We all sampled the shopping opportunities in Galena. Of course, we appreciated most of all having an excellent lunch at Fritz and Frites. Food is always a fine way to enjoy good times (unfortunately for my weight).

I have a nice present for Janet (I hope). Since she has to attend a meeting tonight (now that’s unfortunate), I intend to give it to her at lunch. I know her folks will have a card and something for her as well.

Even though I’m fairly confident she’s going to like what I’ve gotten her, let’s offer a few poems here today as well (after all I couldn’t get them all in for Valentine’s Day nine days ago). I do beg your indulgence, but then I’ve offended you with so much poetry already, these few can hardly matter.

The first one has been a long-time favorite of mine, pretty much ever since I wrote it. More or less, it’s the first poem of our married lives together. In that way it ties in with “Sweetness and Light” on an earthly, domestic theme. This time it’s a trip to the bathroom in the night…

Moonshine Fluorescence

In the lightning flash of the bathroom light
you are suddenly from chaotic night created
and in consequent darkness, as the tube
imperfectly completes electrochemical connections,
annihilated: yet, when the current

courses through successfully again
you accomplish an instant resurrection
only to vanish recancelled into
Stygian shade
before a final and prolonged incarnation
as focused photons registering
an image upon my retinae,

which stereoscopic vision
transmitted along the optic nerve
my brain understands is you.

So, like a female mammalian firefly
you seem by awkward mechanical illumination
both to be and not to be, together,

but the perceptive organism, me,
holds you in truer sight, within:
the permanent, perpetual source of day.

18 July 1982

So there’s a married poem, from the summer after our wedding, a long trope on a neon light flickering on and what one sees in the the cancelling darkness. And me desperately trying to find some sort of meaning in it all—I hope a meaning deeply felt.

In our little apartment in those days, balanced along the horizontal, east and west, on Maple Street, here in Maquoketa, I could see the bathroom light flickering on from our bedroom. I don’t think I could actually see Janet, just the light.

All through that summer I was writing my second three-act play, Magick (which I should work on and get sent off to the publisher that rejected “Everybody”). I finished it at Labor Day, when sadly my mother, who had suffered from cancer for more than a year, died, having—I sometimes think—kept herself alive for our wedding. It was the 1982 Andrew Fall Play, revived again in 1998 (I enjoyed both productions, although nothing can probably top Diane’s reaction to hearing “Collywather” as the name of the imaginary friend in the show—I had borrowed that name from Diane’s own imaginary companion from childhood). My dad came to visit us in that little apartment after the funeral and burial service. He came to visit several more times while we were still there; I’m not sure why, but he seemed to like that love nest. In February of 1983, we moved into a house, a rental, that one of Janet’s clients had revealed to her was available. Although he visited us there as well, at least until he died in December, I think my father still thought we belonged in that little apartment. We liked it too. (Okay, a little too grim on the loss of parents—out of the blue to my actual mood—for celebrating Janet’s birthday. I have been glad that, adult-orphaned by age 30 that I was, Janet has been so valuable an element/center of my life.)

Here’s another poem from that apartment, this time from early in 1983, a bitterly cold and snowy winter (colder by far than this one has been, but equally well buried in snow). We had a long narrow window over the couch in the living room, which, if you clambered onto the sofa and peered outside, looked out on the large back yard, where on December 31st, 1982, a cardinal had arrived for a few days at least. A huge old conifer stood right by that window, blocking about a third of the view, as you can tell in the poem…


still untitled

Birdomen, speak me your meaning:

yesterday you arrived
in dusklight
around nightfall,

circling with silent wings
to find your place
in our fir tree,

sweeping to stop a third of the way
from the top, hidden
among the spiralling branches;

and orbited beneath the tree—
me seeking to spot your plumgage,
invisible in the foliage,

until my noise and prying eyes
sent you skittish, wings spread
crimson against the dying light,

southwestward behind the garage,
and gone, a cardinal sign
by sunset at December’s end.

And today, new year, my wife finds you
herself, outside the window,
but you fly off when I peer out,

a rush of red speeding southwest away,
just a glimpse of scarlet
to incarnadine the rust and greenishgrey

of this sullen, cold and troubled day.
Now upon the turning of the year you come,
coloring with fire the Janustime.

1 January 1983

A lot of things elude me, and the bird may stand for them all. When people say they have “retained a childlike sense of mystery,” I wonder if they don’t mean what I feel: “never overcome a self-absorbed, dimiwitted lack of perception.”

You might observe that my fascination with two-faced January goes back awhile in time.

Happy birthday, Janet, my sole redemption. (I edited away from “only” to hype the pun.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Voices from the Past

So I was hunting through the computer’s files again. Actually, I was hunting other places as well. I’ve located all sorts of old material—some of which I thought was totally lost, some of which I’ve told you was totally lost (but I turn out to be wrong). And here’s one such document.

Until the early 1990s, during graduations at Andrew Community School, an adult was often chosen—a high acknowledgment—to deliver an address to the graduating class. Usually some teacher, a favorite of the students in the class, received the honor of making the speech. My long-time colleague Robert Everding has earned that recognition more often than anyone else, I believe, and I have heard him give some interesting speeches at those occasions. Nowadays the superintendent, the school board president and sometimes visiting dignitaries about to award a scholarship make what remarks there are—above the two de rigueur presentations by graduating students: the don’t-you-remember-all-those-good-old-days-we-used-to-have-starting-in-preschool speech and its partner, The Senior Class Today (which for about fifteen years has become a PowerPoint presentation).

a gray Ford Escort wagon

A quarter of a century ago for the only time in my career, I got to give the commencement address. I believe I received my invitation to deliver the speech some time about now or maybe in a month or so during the school year, so I had a few months—even with speech practices and contests and the spring play—to gather my thoughts and prepare my remarks. Of course being me, not much work occurred until about the middle of May. I can still remember trying out ideas and phrases while driving to work and home again in the evening. In those days I was driving the one car that I ever bought new—a 1984 gray Ford Escort mini station wagon (that car got a real workout carrying all kinds of oversized props and set pieces to and from school; I think I killed the shocks and springs with one trip). A pottery mug from the Shakopee Minnesota Renaissance Fair, which I used for coffee, barely fit in the little flat place on the dashboard on the passenger side, and for some reason my briefcase of papers, either read or about to be read, rested on the seat behind me.

Anyway. Fairly early on, probably sometime in late April, before the spring play production, I got the idea to talk about Australian Aborigine circumcision rituals as a rite of passage in comparison or contrast with commencement ceremonies. It’s an idea I had expressed in various classes, at least up to that time. So all I had to work out was what to say about it and what kind of a point to make. About a week before graduation, roughly Memorial Day, this more-or-less final version took shape.

It exists until now as a handwritten set of notes and text in an old dot-matrix computer printout—the original Apple II-era file is long-gone. But I dictated it into my word processor recently so you can endure it today.

Some elements of the beginning may strike you as familiar, in light of the retirement speech I gave last June.


Andrew and Aborigines

the 1985 AHS Commencement Address

…uh… the speech is due—today?! …uh how many points off will it be if I give it on… Monday?

Actually, when you, through Bruno, first asked me to address this gathering, I was really flattered. And that was my big mistake—I agreed. Then all my problems started: two months of wondering, “What should I talk about?” Well, the big night is here, and I guess I’ll find out now.

I thought about reminiscing over the humorous events of your past—but Rodney wouldn’t let me. I considered discussing the rough road that lies ahead—but there’s time enough for you to suffer your mistakes yourselves; we all must. I thought about being entertaining and funny, but… who could equal Mr. Lichtenwaldt a year ago? I could tell you about your class motto—which I thought was pretty impressive—but I have heard all day the rewards of having dared to try the most. Someone suggested the topic, “the biggest night of your life,” but I would hate to curse you with this—however splendid—evening, especially this speech, as the ultimate highlight of your entire existence.

Of course, in some ways, this is a very important night—it marks what our society considers to be the symbolic boundary between childhood and adult life. Tonight is what anthropologists call a of “rite of passage.” You see, every culture has some kind of ritual to symbolize the end of childhood, to show that a young person has completed the training to be an adult.

For example, in the Australian outback, on a boy’s transitional birthday, Aborigine tribesmen disguise themselves as spirits by chalking their bodies white head to toe, and then, at sunset, whirling loud bullroarers over their heads, they summon the boy to the wilderness of ghosts. And when he comes, the ghostmen bind him hand and foot and instruct him and his peers in the history of the tribe (hmmm… sounds kind of like the way I have overheard people talk about school sometimes). They finish the ritual by using a sacred stone knife to ceremoniously incise a deep wound in a very tender part of the boy’s body: the conspicuous and bloody scar marks that young person forever after as an adult.

Of course, that’s all just primitive tribesmen. We are civilized twentieth century Americans. We just make the girls and boys put on strange satin dresses for a couple of hours and balance cloth-covered rectangular cardboard plates on your heads with a fuzzy thing dangling in your face, while the rest of us wear something like regular modern clothes and blind you with six million flash cubes exploding. You march in like soldiers to some strange music used for no other event in life, listen to somebody talk about how important all this silliness is (that would be me, you see). Then you stand up together and one by one walk across the stage while Mr. Bruce tells us your name and Mr. Sarver hands you a scrap of paper in a little folder. After that, you have to throw the fuzzy dangle to the other side of your head for some reason and give your mother a rose. Finally you all march out and you’re sort of an adult.

All very sensible, right?

You know, I was just imagining archaeologists 2500 years from now, uncovering your family photo album and puzzling over not only 36 dozen photos of you duded up in your prom clothes but almost as many—in the living room, on the front porch, marching in, marching out, getting the diploma—of this bizarre costume you’re wearing now. To understand it all, they would have to consider the long history of education—extending at least 35,000 years backward from now to prehistoric children confronting the wildlife of their world in a sudden flash of torchlight on the Paleolithic splendor of the painted caves like Altamira and Lascaux through the very earliest schools in Sumeria where people first were taught to read and write four thousand years ago, and the philosophers’ questions in the Academy and Lyceum of ancient Athens under schoolmasters like Plato and Aristotle, and the Scholastic debates of the medieval universities (from whom we inherit, 800 years later, the arcane garb you’re sporting tonight) right down to free public education (a radical idea invented just a hundred years ago) and our forty credits of coursework here in Andrew. And they’d probably shake their heads at our silly ways, just like us at the aborigines and their scars. But it’s right to compare those two situations.

In several ways what we’re doing here tonight is just like the Australian aborigines: this ceremony is a ritual to separate your child from your adult life, just as their ghost-rite is. Both are anthropologically analogous. Each Abo bears the mark of his ceremony—the scar that made him a man. In the same way, you are all waiting (somewhat anxiously by now, wondering when I’ll quit?) for your own mark of transition—your diploma (or your tassel to hang upon your rearview mirror for all to see). And, like the Abo, you’ll be proud of your sign and exhibit it with honor.

But of what are you proud? Of a scrap of paper? —What is your diploma? Well, like the Aborigine’s scar, it is a symbol. That scar means nothing in itself—in fact to us, the whole thing might sound rather gruesome. But the Abo shows his scar with pride! Why? Because it symbolizes his accomplishments, all that he has achieved in becoming an adult. And so does your diploma. Without all the hard work, study and learning of the past dozen years, your diploma’s just another potential spitball in a fancy wrapper. But for each and every one of you it symbolizes… not just hours of toil—that’s what counts the least. Your diploma stands for the skills you have acquired, how you have changed, what you’ve learned. It says this person is a new citizen of our culture, capable of reading, performing math, writing intelligently, knowledgeable of the long history and complex, evolving culture which have made us what we are. You have the minimum adult requirements. Without the knowledge, the paper’s just kindling. And some thief or an accident can separate you from the diploma, but nothing can keep you from what you have learned. That’s yours. It’s you. And that’s what all the rigmarole is all about tonight.

There is no magic here tonight. No hoodoo hocus-pocus is going to happen, no Pentecostal fires will descend inspiring knowledge or adultness. You will stay you, the person you’ve earned to be by what you’ve tried and accomplished these past twelve years. All this—the ironed robes, the tassels in your eyes, the fancy folders there, the photographs—are all nothing without your actual achievements. And all of history counts on you to have earned your rightful place tonight.

Thank you for the great honor of speaking tonight, and congratulations!

So there’s a second speech from my education career, a much earlier (and much shorter) one than the retirement speech. Nowadays Andrew graduation is an afternoon event, but in those days it was a Friday evening. And of course, everyone acknowledges both preschool and Kindergarten now in the 21st Century, so mentioning twelve years of education for a high school senior about to graduate is just silly.

I like several references that date this speech to the Eighties—flashcubes, for instance, and only needing forty credits to graduate. At that time Len Bruce was principal and Larry Sarver the superintendent of the school system. I’ll leave the two students mentioned in the speech to enjoy their anonymity, but Bruno was class president, I believe, and Rodney—still a friend who even dropped by for an afternoon visit about a month ago—had the honors of the now mandatory remember-those-humorous-good-old-days-we-all-shared speech. I also enjoy now the flavor of the the International Thespian Society’s initiation ritual in the big middle historical paragraph.

I hope everyone appreciates my delicacy in avoiding any direct mention in this speech of just what got cut or the location of the visible scar from the ritual circumcision among the Abos. (Now that this has gone very public indeed, I will probably learn that I was misinformed, and the Aborigines have no such ceremonies at all. Ah, the agony of secondary reading.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Sad but True (I actually wrote this once, and I’m posting it)

This poem (or supposedly connected series of poems) dates from early in college for me (say 1971 or 1972).The title of today’s post doesn’t refer so much to the contents of this poem (or series of poems) as it does to the fact that it’s appearing here today. All I knew about poetry really back then was that a poet was supposed to be “deep” (I hope by that I meant profound) and therefore evidently sad. I’m not sure what I had to be sad about in those days. I was a college student with a decent scholarship. I lived at home; my meals and lodging were paid for. I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I didn’t need transportation, and when I did, there was my friend Kevin and his faithful truck. And I had other friends as well.

Seek and the web will provide: “Melancholy”

Maybe I thought my love life was in trouble. If I wrote this in the fall of ‘71, then I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time. If, however, this came out of the spring of ‘72—still my freshman year in college—my love life had changed for the better, several times over. (And like all my poems this one seems to be romantic, not in the sense of the nineteenth century greats, but whining about relationships—if I had relationships to whine about.) Either way, I was being serious.

What I do know is I thought I had to express “melancholy.” That was a favorite word amongst us young folks in Sigma Tau Delta, even though some professor—probably Ron Palumbo—struggled to make us aware of the bleakness and horror that word should express. We couldn’t get over how pretty it sounds: attractive especially to juvenile, adolescent minds. One friend even wrote a column in which “Melancholy sits beside me/And holds my hand”—a true story, no exaggeration. Back home appeared in Design magazine; at least either I or some editor had the wisdom not to publish what follows.

Obviously, I am not so wise today (or actually just desperate to have a post scheduled in advance). Here and there I like a phrase or two, but overall and in its details what follows is irredeemably puerile. So let’s have some fun laughing at my younger self…

Four Seasons of Night

one

There is no promise in my mind
that the sunsongs will awaken me tomorrow
or that I will be in this place to see you
sometime ever.

There is too much sunset in my heart
for any vows of duties for tomorrow
or to say that I will never go away from you
my lady.

There are visions in my spirit
which never augur good about tomorrow
or tell but fear of love’s skullmoon and you
my desire.

There is no hope within the marrow of my soul
that I will not cease to love you by tomorrow
or that I could forget your touching when I leave you
sometime never.

two

Where the road is,
westward,
into bright sunset,
rose,
crimson bloody,
stained with night,

where the road is,
westward,
will you hear my songs.

Listen to the wind scream
like a virgin,
broken, her first time,
now a birthing woman’s wail:
these fruits of my passion,
wreckage of love,
lost behind me,

Pursuing the wind’s dreams.

My hope lies beyond me,
in the west,
within the sunset,
nightverge brightening ruddy,
poem without end,
never awakening bliss,
leaving memories of faces
behind me, a long time gone.

Three

Moonskull leering
past the night shades,
silver on the snow:

a fragment of the night
will leave my sleep,
recalling the past,
perplexing the future,

quest without roads,
horror and wonder,
alone among the corpses
of unknown stars.

And I know

Returning spring,
warm days of sunbright skies
and sunshine mirth
will never remember me
behind your unknown female thoughts,
beautiful, like a sunrise,
a freedom of light

Soft and fragrant woman.

Four

Wake to see the sun rise,
golden-bloody, pink and orange,
clear in morning air,
behind me in the east,

above the mountains
that I crossed
to put between us
all the time.

Wake to see the sunrise,
fresh and bloody,
like a screaming baby
newborn on the earth,

strangely like a sunset
in the east,
above the mountains and my darkness,
behind me, a long time gone.

1971?

Aren’t I profound? Carrying the weight of the universe on my little teenaged soul. (I won’t even try to pretend that this is some “speaker” unconnected to me except in the breadth of my imagination. And where is that imagination, anyway? What’s here is thoroughly derivative.)

Well, once again it appears that Sunday is for embarrassment. But at least I got a post out of it. Let’s see what you get tomorrow…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Mantorville, part 8

And for a hopefully sunny Saturday, we are back to Quetzal County again. Previous sections can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

School has started in Mantorville for instructor James Arkham. Although he started out excited about this new job, things haven’t remained his blissful once he began teacher workshops and the first day of school. Arkham continues his narration to psychologist Joshua Symonds.

the no one-is-ever-going-to-help-me-entitle-this horror story

The next two days werenʼt much better, except people knew my name. I didnʼt remember most of theirs; Iʼve always been bad with names (not a good trait each fall in a teacher). Chuck had chosen to rent a cottage in Machen (river towns love to feature waterside tourist stuff, and he, raised in Nebraska, I think, went for it hook, line and sinker), so he and I went our separate ways when each day ended.

I tried to focus on being prepared for that first day of school and my new classes and meeting the kids. I worked in my room, getting a bulletin board all set up, arranging chairs into work areas, getting myself organized on the computer and with textbooks (the school used some really small-time publishers I was unfamiliar with, so I had a lot of reading to do to be ready for classes, too). Periodically a fellow teacher or someone—custodian, secretary—would stop by or ask me to their office for some piece of business, but overall I was just left on my own.

On my own. No other phrase could describe my position at Mantorville High better. They left me out of… everything. Almost from the first, I felt like there was some strange current moving behind the scenes, underneath the conversations—a flow of power I was unable to comprehend. The other teachers were attuned; even Chuck came to seem like the rest as the fall dragged along…

I was the outsider. I was the one who was different, strange. Only Howie seemed possibly as outside as me. Howie. He was also the only one who really tried to talk to me, who got to know me. Was that because he felt as alienated as I did? Or did he just feel sorry for me?

Anyway, I tried to focus on the imminence of school.

But those kids in the classes, they gave me the same feeling. “Outsider.” No one said anything, no one did anything definite, but there was a sensation somehow. Something emanating from them, like determined mistrust. I felt it directed much more strongly at me than Chuck: he gained their acceptance much more easily, perhaps due to his familyʼs local connection. The only ones as ostracized as I felt myself to be were the couple of new kids in the school—six elementary ones I never did know and two high school kids.

Those new kids had my sympathy from the start because just standing in the halls I could see how their peers immediately reacted to them. I had been sensitized by my own experiences with the faculty, but those teenagers kept the new duo at bay with clear and antagonistic behavior. When I pointed that out to Chuck on that first day of school, he just muttered something about in small schools it was difficult to fit in quickly.

They opened the year with an all-school assembly. If there was a point to that assembly, I donʼt remember it.

Now we have almost reached the point where something happens.  Thanks for the responses I’ve received lately. I’ve almost run out of text that I’ve written for the story, however. We’ll have to see how soon I can get stuff going. Tomorrow’s Sunday. Let’s see what you get then…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Let’s Give Up Frustration for Lent

So it’s Friday. And it’s Lent. I completely missed Mardi Gras this year. You would think that being at home, having “all the time in the world” to myself, I could enjoy whatever I wanted. But I didn’t. Fat Tuesday wasn’t even a particularly good day for me: it was one of those days when just about everything seemed to go wrong.

our crockpot — note the cookbooks I could have but did not use

Since we had cooked an entire turkey almost two weeks ago and had saved the leftover meat, Janet had used the drippings and the bones to create turkey broth, which on Tuesday I was supposed to turn into soup. Cutting up a dozen carrots and a whole head of celery wasn’t too bad. However, when I had brought the broth from the outdoor “refrigerator”—meaning sitting in the below-freezing garage—on Monday, it was frozen solid. I let it thaw until late in the evening, at which time Janet suggested it should go into the refrigerator downstairs. Then on Tuesday I hauled the container out, only to find the soup was still completely frozen. So I put the large container in the microwave and set it at 30% for a half an hour, but at the end of that time it was still a cold, icy but also gelatinous mass. I tried to put it into the crockpot* anyway. Unfortunately only about three-fourths of it made it into the pot. The rest was wet cold jelly on the counter and floor. This unhappy camper got to clean the mess up. It was probably a good thing I was alone for that: Janet thinks my language at such moments is inappropriate for even the most sophisticated adults. She’s right, of course.

I was also having trouble getting the computer to do anything correctly. It seemed no matter what I typed or said, the words on the screen were far from what I had at first indicated. In an e-mail to Janet the word “Timmerman’s” somehow turned into “chairman’s”—I don’t really know how. And that was typical for everything I tried to do. Not a productive day.

About 4:45 I decided it was time to make supper. Every evening through the week about supper time, I prepare breakfast and Janet’s lunch. Breakfast is pretty simple: during the winter, just halve a grapefruit and cut the sections loose, wrap the two halves in plastic wrap for storage in the refrigerator overnight, and make coffee. I have screwed up by forgetting to put water in the coffee pot; once I even forgot to load the coffee and so we perked water. I’ve also forgotten to set the timer so the coffee would start in the morning. None of those things happened yesterday, but it was the kind of day when any of those options easily could have occurred.

Making Janet’s lunch is even simpler. I tear up a head of Romaine lettuce into one of her bowls, then I add (and it must be in the proper order, as I got instructed severely several years ago) walnuts, dried cranberries, a bit of feta cheese and last three ounces of shredded chicken. Nowadays, worrying about our weight, it has to be a measured three ounces. None of that’s a problem, usually, either. Then, with two meals for the next day taken care of, it’s time to actually make supper for that day.

On Tuesday it was supper that was the problem. I had decided to make a dish for which Janet had a recipe since before we started living together—Crunchy Beef Bake. I had never made it myself before. Here’s the recipe:

Crunchy Beef Bake Casserole

  • 2 cups uncooked corkscrew macaroni (preferably whole wheat)
  • 1 pound hamburger (or ground turkey; or meat substitute—i.e. Boca burger)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 14-1/2 ounce can tomato
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup green pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 3 ounce can onion rings

Put in 2-quart casserole and bake covered at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and topped with onions. Bake five minutes more.

What else? …ground turkey in a tube (there’s the scale to measure food by weight, too)

I got all the ingredients—I thought—together. I found a two-quart casserole dish. I measured out cups of uncooked corkscrew macaroni and put that into the casserole. I removed our well thawed tube of ground turkey from the refrigerator and even browned it a bit. With some difficulty and a little mess (it just wasn’t my day with soups, I guess), I dumped the can of cream of mushroom soup into a bowl and then added the ground turkey, the green pepper and some seasoned salt (which hadn’t been disturbed from its place in the spice cabinet for at least a decade, I believe).

So far so good. I wasn’t sure if all the onion rings went on top, as the recipe suggests, or if some were to go into the mixture. It seemed to me that usually most of the rings were in the mix.

It was still only about five o’clock, so I decided I could just sit my creation in the refrigerator, and when Janet called to tell me she was on her way home, ask her.

On reconsideration, however, realizing I was using the whole wheat macaroni, I decided I’d better let it cook longer than it suggested. I could still add the onion rings when she called.  So I preheated the oven to 350° and went back to work on the computer.

At about 6:15 I placed the casserole in the oven, deciding as I did so to put some onion rings in already. And it cooked.

Janet called at about 6:40 and agreed that most of the onion rings should go into the mix. I obediently added them and let the mixture continue to cook.  She arrived home about 7:10, and all seemed well.  It wasn’t.

Have you figured out the problem?  I hadn’t.

I had no clue that anything was amiss until we removed the casserole from the oven and Janet took a look at it.  She immediately questioned its appearance and wondered what I had done wrong this time. I insisted I done nothing wrong; I was most careful.

But the casserole did look funny. She kept asking questions, however, and in about five minutes we realized what I had forgotten: the tomatoes. We were both unhappy. I offered to add the tomatoes, but she grumpily refused. I tried the creation, however, and it didn’t taste bad, so I took some downstairs to eat, figuring she could make soup or have some of the leftovers in our refrigerator.

When she came down to “enjoy” the Olympic competition (the only sports I ever watch, interestingly), she excitedly offered me some tomatoes she had warmed in the microwave (what a novel notion, I thought—add the tomatoes to the casserole). They did improve the flavor. But nothing was going to improve Janet’s evening: I had screwed up royally and Fat Tuesday was spoiled for her. For me, the evening was still better than dealing with the computer during the day.

And so my Lent began: with frustration for all concerned at our house. Not much of an adventure, but it is what happened. And I still don’t have much accomplished to finish “Mantorville”—even though there is more for you tomorrow.

I tried to do better finishing the turkey soup on Wednesday and adding the noodles. But I am writing this on Ash Wednesday afternoon, so I don’t really know how that’s going to go yet. Right now, I have had enough dealing with the computer for today, so I am going to close. If anything is worth reporting between now and Thursday evening, I’ll add some more. You will know if this is it.

* Nothing in the Wikipedia description of a crockpot’s design matches our ancient model.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.