Bugged

Our poor, bugged linden tree — and it had been doing so wonderfully well this year… until last week, that is.

Just over a week ago, home in the evening from a dayʼs work, I looked out our north window in the dining room and noticed that our linden tree looked peculiar in the topmost area. Later, I think that same day, I went around the house watering plants (a mandatory daily activity during our three-week drought, now strangely distant in the past even as rain falls while Iʼm dictating — northern Jackson and Dubuque, not to mention Galena, enduring a horrible thunderstorm-cum-tornado last night) and noticed the peculiarity was a laciness to the leaves, meaning some bug was eating them. The next night the damage had spread, and some gleaming green, chunky bugs flew in my face as I examined the tree — Japanese beetles.

I told Janet about my discovery when she got home from her workout, and she/we decided we had better do something immediately. So she trooped right down to Gasser True Value (yes, although we may hate their excessive accumulation of creosote-soaked, and creosote-fume-emitting, piles of logs, we do appreciate having a hardware store in town, although The Lovely One could just as easily have driven a little further to Theisenʼs), where she grabbed the last remaining Japanese beetle trap. Not calling on my USDA experience whatsoever, I assembled the trap following the directions on the outside of the plastic bag, hanging the bag from one of our tiki torch poles, and let the pheromone do its work.

The pheromone trap, currently about a third full on its third time around.

The trap was to be placed at least thirty feet from foliage (impossible in our yard) and it summoned by scent hordes of horny male beetles seeking sex from further away than just our yard (thus the need to keep the trap in isolation, away from plants, to prevent those erratic bugs from accidentally happening upon other juicy leaves to devour near the trap). We put it at the end of our driveway, since our neighbors had pulled down their one tree several years ago. Boy, shoving the tiki post into the iron ground was a chore and a half (not so much now, when all the dirtʼs turned from skillet hardness to mud).

And the pheromone did work. By the next evening the bag was already almost half-full. And I had to dump the still half-alive mass of churning black insects a day later — an unpleasant chore that I think was made somewhat easier by my experiences searching purple traps for emerald ash borers. Iʼm just not as squeamish about buggy life as I once was.

With the rain beginning last weekend and continuing just about daily this whole week, the beetles have diminished in quantity, and we have only had to empty the trap one more time. So far.

Of course, we are also worried about what those fiendish bugs may have accomplished in their life cycles before we started alluring all the concupiscent males to the pheromone trap. Our concern means weʼre also going to try to spray the tree with insecticide and soapy water and try to treat the ground as well — to eliminate (as many as possible) eggs that have been buried.

This was one time accessing the Internet was a genuine benefit. Neither one of us really knew anything about what to do about Japanese beetles, but a quick search googled out what we needed to know.

If only this were the end of our petty woes…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Snake Hollow

Hot off the fingertips (I just wrote this, one-drafting, yesterday afternoon), hereʼs the next installment for Mantorville. Enjoy?

— So what happened there in Snake Hollow?

He looked at me, solemn. But then he was always solemn, serious as a judge. A party. Kegger. Celebrating the victory. Frank had made that much clear already. Drinking. Lots of drinking in Quetzal County. As the kids liked to say, “What else is there to do?” But there was still too much, too often. And all the adults turned a blind eye. Like Frank said, theyʼd all done it when they were young. Tradition.

But these football bashes were worse. Frank had already let me know the thing that disturbed me: the adults were there, permitting, participating, guzzling it down with the kids.

Reliving their youth, I wondered.

Gotta love the source for this… (just click the pic)

Hell. No one ever seemed to move out of the county. This is the way it had always been. For the adults, grabbing onto their youth again. I guess. Or never letting go… I donʼt know. He grinned, sheepish, looking oddly youthful, like a boy himself. I never drank as a kid, not until it was legal. College. Not sure why not. Kids drank in my day, my schools, too, just not me. Not my group of friends. And everybody knew the athletes — football team, in particular — had big thirsts. I donʼt know why the Mantorville stuff bothered me so much. But it did. Even then, in the fall. Before I learned about… — other things…

He was doing it again. Drifting off. What did he learn later? Was he ever going to get to the point with me?

But what bothered Frank —me, too; me, too — was the other side of the party. Beyond the boozing. He told me that there were girls there, cheerleaders, predictably, and other girls. Even some eighth graders. Disadvantage of having the whole district in a single stinking building. All those middle school girls who blossomed early, you know, who, uh, got breasts, drew the attentions of the older guys every day. Anyway, the vasity cheerleaders, with Rogʼs help, and the Home Ec teacher, uh, heck, itʼs been so long… He was trying to remember her name. Itʼs in the journal. I listed everybody. Itʼs weird…

I donʼt need her name, Arkham. You could just tell the story, I thought, mentally ordering him back on track. But he needed it. To him it was important. At least for now.

Semanksi! Thatʼs it. Petal Semanski. I knew her first name was odd, but all I could think of was Flower, Blossom, Lily… anyway, Petal was young, fresh out of college the year before. Maybe two. Her folks were farmers in the northern part of the county and raised horses. Did pretty well for themselves, from what I understood. Petal had gone to St. Werburgaʼs, the Catholic school in Machen — only Catholic high school I ever heard of named for a female saint! Where all the girls were supposed to be the prissiest little Miss Perfects around, and the boys all got recruited to play sports (theyʼd pulled one of Collinsʼs best JV running backs over the summer, full-ride tuition). But our guys seemed to like dating their girls and vice versa (of course, rumor had it Mantorville girls were easy, too). Anyway. Petal had been head cheerleader at St. Werbaʼs, gone to college in Dubuque — real stay-close-to-home girl — and not gotten hired for a job at the old high schol when she graduated. Or else there wasnʼt one. Or something.

So now I knew all there was to know about Petal Semanski, Mantorville home economics teacher. Did any of this stuff matter?

Anyway. After living at home with moms and daddy for a year, she took the job at Mantorville, even though she seemed daily to make it known that this was a huge step down for someone like her. And she was cheerleader sponsor, too. But not for football, just the winter sports. School librarian, a fussy old fuddyduddy, was the football sponsor, even though she never went along to away games, just left the girls unchaperoned on the bus with the team.

And Mantorville girls were easy. Got it, Arkham.

Miss Tottenliebe. Whacked old coot. — So Petal was at the party in Snake Hollow, not really supervising her girls, the cheerleaders. Since they werenʼt, I guess, actually her girls anyway. But taking charge of the other stuff. The initiation.

— Initiation? I couldnʼt help it. It just burst out of me.

Yeah, off to one side, back in some woods. They were… uh…

How long was it going to take him to say it? Having sex, deflowering the young ones.

They were branding them.

— Branding? Not what I had expected, and I couldnʼt stop myself again.

Yeah. Frank said there was a bonfire by the water — a stream flows through the bottom there, sometimes called Snake Creek — and they had branding irons heating on one side. Nearest the stand of trees. And they were using them on the girls. The young ones… they were getting branded. On their buttocks.

Petal was running back and forth getting a hot iron for a cold one and carting the new one into the trees. The older girls and the players, and Roger Dodger, had a drinking game going, Frank told me. Pound a pint whenever one of them screamed. And they were putting plenty of cold ones down.

— Initiation ritual? Rite of passage?

Exactly. Once a girl had it done to her, uh, once she “got her snake,” she was a big girl, a real Serpent. …One of the things the guys would say to come onto a girl was to ask to “see her snake.”

— And heʼd show her his, huh?

And there was plenty of that going on down in Snake Hollow, too. Frank had seen his share of beach parties in California. But nothing, he said, like this orgy. The guys on the team had gotten their brands earlier, the new ones at a party late in the summer, before school started, to kick off practice. Smaller little snake symbols. On the base of their thumbs…

Funny. I had noticed some kids with what I thought were bruises or burns on their hands, and later, I realized that most of the kids, particularly athletes, had squiggly scars. I just never put it all together. Too weird. Too sick.

And of course, being a newbie, that night was Frankʼs night.

Mistakes? Problems? Criticisms? Let me know. As I said, this one is totally fresh and unrevised.

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

Developments in Quetzal County

For those who were expecting more from Stars in Heaven, we will have to see (I am nearing the end of what I have written in that sci fi tale). ButI have been actually writing again (believe it or not). And, as it has been far too long since I last added anything to fan Daveʼs favorite story, I have a small, entirely new piece of “Mantorville” for today…

Glorious! I do enjoy religious value judgments. So useful.

I told him he had better explain such a bold remark. And he did. His story took my loathing of high school sports several notches into the revolted realm. You see, I have never been a sportsy kind of guy…

He trailed off. I sat there, looking at him, thinking to myself, “You didnʼt have to tell me that, Arkham. Just looking at you tells it all.” Slender but soft. You havenʼt joined any games or activities in all your years at Oakdale. To the best of our recordsʼ knowledge, you have no hobbies, no crafts, no contacts with the outside world — except that Christmas card. You qualify as the loserest loserly character with whom I have dealt. Ever. And your dragging this all out isnʼt helping my attitude any.

But I didnʼt say any of that. Sometimes an analyst hits a stage when the patient seems overwhelmingly annoying. Freud and Jung didnʼt touch on that, just transference. But itʼs a phase a psychiatrist has to watch out for. No matter what happened in sessions, they were going to try your patience well before you got a chance to be helpful. I simply said:

What did he tell you, Mr. Arkham?

He shook his head at me. I told you before, no more “Mr. Arkham.” That was teacher-me, and I am not that teacher any more. Maybe I already wasnʼt when I came to Quetzal County.

Dodging again, I thought. Always ducking and dodging. I needed to hammer him open. If I could without giving into my own frustration with him. But he was bottling everything, always had. Possibly he always would if our sessions didnʼt get him to crack. So hammer I did, trying the direct approach, for once.

Tell me, uh, James. I have noticed something. You are telling things from — what? — a decade ago … in remarkable detail.

I am? All innocence and unaware. Yeah, sure.

Yes, James, you are. Even quoting conversations ten years old in exact detail. …Too much detail, it almost seems.

Too much detail… So? What? Do you think Iʼm making all this up?

Very simply: Yes.

When my secretary types up the transcriptions of our sessions, she will have to use quotation marks. Thatʼs how excessively detailed you are being.

You record these sessions?

Of course. Itʼs a normal tool. I thought you realized that. Every interaction here at the facility is on record in some way or another. Do you object?

Why should I object to anything at all? These are your sessions. No, I thought, theyʼre for you. It just seems funny…

Another drifting away. Another pause. Did these give him time to think? What?

He stirred back into focus almost immediately. You want to know why I remember so clearly?

I wouldnʼt have brought it up otherwise. Possibly too direct with that, Doctor.

Itʼs because I practiced.

Practiced?

Yeah, I practiced remembering. Back then. ʼ93. I decided that summer, once I had moved to Bear River Falls, to start keeping a journal. Things had changed, so maybe it would be interesting. Worthwhile. And I wrote everything down, all about the first days of school and Roger Dodgerʼs antics at the assembly. Frankʼs football injury. And meeting with those two kids after school. I recorded it all. Especially through that winter and into the spring. When everything got strange.

I hadnʼt read anything about a journal in the trial information. Or anywhere else. I told him so.

It never came out, doctor. The day before I was arrested I mailed it off to my sister. To keep it safe. But I had written in it nearly every day until then.

But why get rid of it? Your defense was that you werenʼt the murderer. Wouldnʼt the diary have helped your case?

Maybe. Maybe not. I realized fast that I had been trapped and was caught as neatly and completely as… — My attorney got me to tell him my version. He decided on the defense. I figured, in Quetzal County, knowing what I knew… I was cooked. I felt that even before they actually arrested me. And I feared they were going to get the journals. I didnʼt want that… I didnʼt want it lost.

Does this diary still exist?

I donʼt know. I thought I was saving it by getting it out of my hands. And I was right about that. Even before the cops, someone went through my stuff. At home. At school. They didnʼt even try to be subtle. It happened over that weekend.

What weekend, James?

The big one. After — … after Howie was killed. Before they arrested me. Somebody, maybe several people, tore through my house when I was out on Saturday morning, and I found the same thing on Monday in my classroom. Like they were looking for something. I thought maybe it was my journal because of everything I had written in it. Though I didnʼt know how anyone would know about that. Anyway, it kind of warned me, you know? That maybe I had better protect the notebook. So I mailed it to my sister on Monday after school. Wrapped it in brown aper in the teacher workroom and sent it from the Bear River post office when I got back into town.

So your sister has it? This diary?

I donʼt know. She never responded, never attended the trial. Not that I wanted her to.

And sheʼs never written to you, has she? No matter how many letters youʼve sent to her. It seemed cruel even as I thought it.

Besides, you probably know… sheʼs never written to me… I donʼt even know if my letters get through. If they moved or something. Well, I guess theyʼve never come back, either…

I didnʼt really know anything about the sister. She had seemed unnecessary, outside of the whole thing. But if she had this diary…

Do you think it would help to have the diary, James?

Itʼd be better than me having to tell you everything, I guess. Itʼs hard, and I seem to keep getting distracted down blind alleys, onto things that donʼt matter. Probably.

So even he recognized what was going on.

I had wondered about some of the things you were telling me.

Me, too, doctor. Later, back in my room. But when we were talking, it all seemed… I donʼt know, just what needed to be said.

Yeah. If you were going to avoid getting to the real subject.

So is anything weʼve been talking about today actually important, then?

Today? Yes. Youʼd better believe it. The whole thing turns on Frank in the end. And what happened in Snake Hollow got me concerned.

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

The Ugly Toe

I am not sure if I should post a picture to accompany this post (or even write the post at all, but then, we all are getting familiar with how desperate I may be getting for ideas). On the other hand, having written it, what the heck…

I have gotten considerably better about running lately, churning out about thirty miles a week (donʼt sneer or condescend, actual athletes — thatʼs pretty good mileage for me). I have even gotten back into the long loop, six miles around town, some days. Once again, I should acknowledge that the word “run” is at best a fantasy-approximation of the actual sluggish trudge/jog that my aging body incapably almost doesnʼt accomplish. A considerable number of svelte, healthy, trim young women in lithe track suits speed past me regularly (one or two even twice a morning), pony tails bouncing insouciantly with contemptuous disdain. I saw one gangly guy, visibly running like a girl (no offense to women, but it is the best possible description of his wayward arms flapping unsynchronously to his wide-spaced legs), turn onto the sidewalk about a block ahead of me one day last week, and although I had figured there would be one individual not merely crawling along on all fours that I would end up passing, he easily galloped away, ever increasing the gap of distance between us until I gratefully turned the corner toward home. Equally or more aged folks feebly strolling in the morning breeze are about the only ones I ever pass nowadays, and even they cannot avoid hearing my hoglike approach.

But I am back at it, instead of loafing for an extra hour or two in bed before arising to help Janet with breakfast and lunch and getting her away to work (which had become the alternate-week pattern usually in the earlier summer — one week on, one week off with huge, poorly selected lunches every week to boot). And furthermore, the running so far hasnʼt injured me again — yet. This spring I got off track after pulling a muscle in my left leg, and then as I got myself back at it, my right knee acted up. (I really, really enjoy getting old.) Pain made it particularly easy to decide on getting nearly seven hours of sleep instead of not-quite-five.

With pain in mind, we are back on track. Sometime late last week (I think it was Thursday), I noticed that my right big toe hurt, noticeably so on Friday, and by Saturday morning I knew I had somehow let myself suffer an ingrown toenail. At least that is what I think these little situations are — a situation I never faced at all until I was about forty, and which I have only suffered about a half dozen times altogether. The redness, swelling (and pus eventually) I attribute to my near blind personal toenail clipping: difficult for the aged fatty to bend himself sufficiently to bring his face near enough his toes to see what heʼs doing when he tries eventually to trim the knifelike nails. And Mr. MultifocalLenses canʼt twist his head awry enough to find a viewing angle that puts the toes in focus with his glasses on. So I am generally cutting somewhat blindly. And periodically pay the price, like this past weekend.

I ran with the possibly infected toe on both Thursday and Friday (six then five miles). I mentioned the problem to The Lovely One on Saturday morning (she had noticed me wincing with every step and shunning shoes for my sandals). My normal regimen is to suffer a day or two and then with some rigid tool — fingernail or plastic knife — press back the enflamed flesh along the side of the toe to reveal the bit of nail that has been buried. It is exquisitely painful and usually produces the oozing liquid behind the inflammation. She offered to soak my foot in lukewarm water enriched with epsom salts that evening (although her definition of “lukewarm” apparently matched my footʼs definition of “scaldingly hot”) as we watched a rental movie, Date Night (not bad, amusing often, but not life-changing or -enhancing whatsoever) while eating grilled scallops for dinner.

Sunday the toe was better but not by much. Janet thought it looked even more gross, red and enlarged. I opted for flipflops and sandals again. And again, as we did episode ten of I, Claudius, I put the foot in the plastic tub of (considerably cooler) salted water. I even sat an extra hour, watching a big part of Inglourious Basterds on one of the movie channels (not bad, like all Tarantino films featuring great dialogue — even in French and German with subtitles — and without much letʼs-just-turn-this-off-now gruesome violence of the sort that made Janet never get further than just past the opening conversation between the Mr. Colors in Reservoir Dogs).

Monday morning, I awoke before the alarms (a side effect of plenty of sleep on Friday and Saturday nights) and got out to do my miserable excuse for a run (unfortunately without my iPod, which somehow had lost all charge between mowing the lawn Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, but I found the six miles of semisilence — my hearing leaves nothing completely silent these days, what with the insubstantial celestial choir of cicadas I tintinitically pseudo-hear — interesting and not boring). And my toe never complained. Until later, as I was watching another movie, The Last Station (which Janet had selected but not really wanted to watch, and as it had to be returned by Monday evening, I decided to go ahead — liked it a lot, especially Plummer and Mirren, both juicily enjoyable doing Tolstoy and his wife, but likewise with the ever-excellent Paul Giamatti, and the young folks and the doctor were all good, too). The toe is still visibly red and somewhat swollen. I did take the picture. Weʼll see if my nerve permits me to include it.

It should be better by the end of this week.

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

A Weekend at Snake Hollow

It has been quite a while, not since April 13, that I have updated anything on the horrific adventures in Mantorville, Quetzal County, Iowa. (Do you think that getting my job with the Census has stifled my creative energies? I do.) The whole story thus far is here. I may not have much to add today, but when Janet and I got back from Davenport, shopping, yesterday, I decided that I would put up a bit of actual fiction for today. And it was to the set of pages for “Mantorville” that I turned my attention.

If you recall, former high school teacher James Arkham, a longtime inmate at the Institute for the Criminally Insane, having been convicted for killing his superintendent and friend Howie Phillips, has for a few days finally been opening up about his crime to psychologist Joshua Symonds. Although unrelated to anything in his criminal record, Arkham has been hinting/indicating that two students, Edie Allan and Frank Long, both new to the Mantorville School District, were important to him in causing what eventually occurred. One important event was Frank Long being maimed (apparently with deliberation) by his own team during an early October football game.

We begin, for review, with a few paragraphs already presented…

from the STILL-Untitled Iowa Horror Story

Anyway, Frank. I haven’t explained, but he and I shared a bond — probably because we were both new in the area and definitely because we both felt like outsiders. Edie was part of all of that, too, but I don’t want to talk about her now. Both of them were in my Advanced Placement English class last period, and so it became somewhat natural for them to linger after school for at least a few minutes to talk about things. Of course, Frank had football practice once he joined the team, and Edie, as I told you, was managing for volleyball. So none of these little chat sessions lasted very long. Not then.

It was talking after school, for instance, when Edie told me about counting the memorials in the Roll of Honor, and it was after school about two weeks before the “accident,” when Edie wasn’t there, that Frank first revealed what he thought was going on.

Okay, so weʼre retreating in time. Again.

He asked me if I had ever driven around the county. I had gone to Arnhem on 54 and on through Mantorville to Bailey and Cross Corners out of 61. And I had driven the river road from Arnhem to Machen and then on up to Dubuque. And I had taken Q11 across from Mantorville to 61, too, by then, my only actual county road. But I donʼt think I remembered to tell Frank about that one then. In fact, Iʼm pretty sure I didnʼt.

Anyway, none of that impressed him very much.

“Nah,” he said, “I mean getting back in the country hereabouts.”

I admitted that I hadnʼt, and he laughed. “Me neither…” His words hung in the air of my room, pretty close and humid for what must have been the end of September, like I said about two weeks before his incident on the playing field.

“Me neither…” he repeated. “Not until last weekend. Saturday night.” And again nothing more.

You must have felt like I usually do talking with you, huh?

Finally, I asked him, “Did something happen last Saturday?”

He nodded, then looked down at me, sharply. (I told you he was pretty tall, didnʼt I? And I was sitting at my desk, him standing across from me. I remember that.) “Uh, Mr. Arkham, this is just between us, you and me, right? Because it, uh, it has to be. I mean, nothing goes any further, you know…”

“Well, Frank,” I said, trying to be the full professional, “there are things I have to report, you know. I canʼt keep certain things secret.”

He grinned. “Yeah, like abuse and that. Teachers and doctors, you have to report it. — Nothing like that. Donʼt worry.”

“…And there are… other things, too.”

“Yeah, well, I got this far, Mr. Arkham, letʼs go for it.” But he stopped and paced away from the desk. Finally, from thee other side of the classroom, he said, “I donʼt think anyone much cares around here anyway. They all did it when they were young, you know. And some of the dads buy stuff for the team…”

“What are you talking about, Frank?”

“Drinking.” He turned around to face me again. “The whole, team, Mr. Arkham. They go out drinking after the games. And on Saturday nights, too. All of them — us. Pretty much.”

“Ah, yes,” I hesitated. “That would, you know fall under the heading of things I should report…”

Now my pause hung in the air.

Frank grinned at me again. “But…?”

Grinned. Just like you are doing at me right now, Arkham.

“But I kind of figured that, Frank. I figured that was going on. Things people say.”

“So you are not going to report me telling you this?”

“I should, Frank. But considering some of those things people say are jokes Iʼve heard Mr. Davis making to the players…”

“Yeah, Rog is right in there with those other adults. Helping out…”

“Buying beer? Is that what you mean?” I caught him calling the principal by his first name, but that wasnʼt the important element. “Mr. Davis is buying booze for his playersʼ parties?”

Roger Dodger, such a good ole boy. Somehow I knew it. It just had to be true.

Frank looked at his shoes, a long way down from his head, for a while. “Hell, Mr. Arkham, heʼs right there at the parties. At least he was last Saturday night.”

“So you went to a team party, Frank? Where was this?”

“Snake Hollow. Itʼs way back in the boonies. Serpentine Creek runs through there. After a little waterfall down the cliffs on the east side, it meanders out through the valley and under the county road bridge, an old sucker.”

I knew the creek flowed past the town to the east and eventually joined Bear River somewhere east of Bear River Falls.

“They had a big bonfire in the hollow, not far from the falls and about five kegs for everybody. After the game I had Friday night, everybodyʼd been at me to go celebrate. And, well, I didnʼt want to be the odd guy, left out… you know how it is… Yeah. I was there. Sure. How else would I know, huh?”

“So you are telling me… why, Frank? Is this a confession? Are you reporting to me under the Good Conduct Rule? — If Mr. Davis was there, a part of it all, it wonʼt do much good for me to report you to him.”

“No. Nobodyʼd listen to anyone trying to nark on the team, Mr. Arkham. No. What I wanted to talk about is… —is what happened at that party…”

“What? Did something happen? Something bad?”

“Not just bad, Mr. Arkham. It was downright evil.”

Okay. So now that Iʼve written about a thousand words, I guess I should have called this post “Teaser leading up to A Weekend at Snake Hollow.” Oh, well. Perhaps posting this will get me to write some more.

(If only I could decide just what it is that happened at Snake Hollow that Saturday night…)

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

Homework without pay

I spent Tuesday working harder than  really wanted to (and yet not so hard as I let Janet believe I had). And I didnʼt get paid a cent for it. Again. Worse, soon I will be spending a solid day really making an effort, as I (uh, “we,” but thatʼll be the day, Buddy Holly) repaint our kitchen. Again.

Yes, Janetʼs in the revamping-the-home mode, not a feeling I often get. I figure we make our house the way we want it, once, and then live in it. Not so my lovely wife, nor her sister, nor her mother. I guess weʼre not really fulfilling our personal/social obligations if we arenʼt always on some binge of home renovation or another. My family tends another way. We would each be happy just to dwell in our abodes and read. A lot. All the time, as a matter of fact. Even cleaning up is an apparently unnecessary chore among the Burrows.

Donʼt believe me? Just ask Janet. She has a very clear point of view on all of this. (And sheʼs right. Cleaning up is a necessary evil. I once wrote a poem on the subject, a lovelorn poem if you can believe it. Maybe one of these days… Cleaning up is even worth paying for; we do, twice a month, which is why I was in Dedalan/Bloomian exile yesterday — and available to have lunch with my taskmistress beloved. Itʼs embarrassing to be so upper-class about oneʼs homeʼs cleanliness, yet making that choice may have saved our marriage at one point.)

On Tuesday I did do a little preliminary cleaning to be ready for the bimonthly visit, scouring the soapscum, grit and brown from our shower in the basement bathroom, a job I do better than anyone else, having been well trained and experienced for our whole lives in this house. And I believe that I do significantly better than our hired helper, so I was hoping if I did most of the job, sheʼd see what was left as a very do-able chore…

WRONG color

But the shower was only about an hour out of the day. What kept me busy was more dramatic (and the theme on which we started) — home renovation. Janet wants to redo our kitchen. Not the cupboards and all that: we had that done at great expense and no little disruption to our lives about a decade ago (although the way it turned out, itʼs not impossible that she wouldnʼt mind doing it over; at least we didnʼt go for some of the now-dated then-fashionable stupid ideas we/she saw on television).

She really just wants to repaint, having already selected and purchased a creamy shade of paint just darker than the white thatʼs already on the walls. Itʼs the painting that I know will absorb a day very soon. That day, unbeknownst to me, was supposed to be this week, in anticipation of a visit from her sister this weekend. But Diane will have to accept disappointment and a partial disaster in our kitchen because a preliminary job (the one that filled Tuesday for me) wasnʼt nearly as straightforward or simple as Janet had planned.

You see, several years ago, while I was still teaching and before I had resigned the extracurricular speech part of the job (some of which I added back my last year, last year), Janet had decided to renovate the kitchenʼs by then (for her) stale appearance with some tiny little tiles, which after months of searching and debate she purchased in copy-paper-sized sheets (roughly, maybe eight inches by eight inches) on plastic webbing — presumably to be actually used as they were bought and grouted between. But she removed the little inch-square tiles and glued them in a line along the top of our countertop backsplash. She did it all in one day, while I was away at speech contest (thus the detail in the recollection of the time above).

And it looked very nice (I thought; I donʼt think she was ever quite pleased with the effect, but then decorating is kind of like eating food you prepared yourself — someone elseʼs cooking always seems to taste better, at least to me). However, as the years went by (not all that many years, either — probably just five), too many programs on HGTV (known to us, thanks to Dianeʼs husband, Steve, as “How Gay TV”) and the DIY channel convinced and inspired her to make a change. Now the little tiles had to go.

But they didnʼt really want to go (to personify small ceramic squares). That was the unstraightforward fly in the ointment of Janetʼs plans for this week. While I sat on my wellpadded behind in my Captain Kirk recliner (more on that subject another day) in the basement living room watching television one evening, she was upstairs attempting (more or less unsuccessfully) to remove those tiles. It went very badly, although she did shatteringly (descriptive of the tiles) get about five off the wall. Thatʼs when she called me upstairs and told me that over last weekend my computer job (she really does not like me being on the computer ordinarily, so it gets shut down the moment she arrives home in the evening) was to investigate how to remove glued-on (caulked-on?) tiles from painted drywall.

I did my investigation, and the best we could learn was that heat helped. On Sunday we tried using her blow dryer to warm the glue and attempted together to remove more tiles. She avoucehd that it did indeed seem easier when the tiles/wall/backsplash had been heated. It didnʼt seem easy at all to my inexperienced self. However, I volunteered to give it a shot on Monday or Tuesday and get the little tiles removed, if she so desired. (With five — now nine — of them gone already, it was a done decision that the rest must also leave the walls.)

So thatʼs how I spent my Tuesday morning, removing tiles.

However, since we approach almost exactly to a thousand words, more on that subject will have to wait until, perhaps, tomorrow…

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

Quetzal County Capers continue

Here is a little more of the Mantorville/Quetzal County story. I havenʼt really been working on it lately (Sepharad instead), just letting ideas bake in the subconscious (which has genuinely been happening; I do have some new thoughts for this story). Regardless, Frank Long got injured (deliberately) in a football game (a scene I am afraid I need to revise/edit extensively now that I have been thinking more). Hereʼs the next few paragraphs as they stand right now.

Frank knew it. He told me.

And this is all important somehow?

Directly important, Dr. Symonds.

It had better be, I thought. We seem to be taking routes more roundabout than I could have ever imagined to get to the crime and finally from there to some kind of treatment.

So shall I tell you about it?

Go on. Go on. The whole purpose of these sessions is to get you talking, mister, no matter how distantly tangential to the topics we really need to explore. Or am I missing something, not understanding the connection, the importance of what you’re telling me so far?

To begin with, I need to explain a little psychological insight I achieved myself that long-ago fall.

Excellent, I thought. Psychological insights from patients are always so profoundly valuable.

As teachers, he continued, we think we know so much about our students. In reality, we know almost nothing at all. I had realized something of this in Jackson, but the lesson got even more startling in Quetzal County. Kids are full of surprises, secrets, angles and perspectives you would not have guessed until they choose to make it visible to you. Frank showed me vistas of humanity I would not have suspected at first. And Edie, too, in her own way…

He was drifting. That empty look hazed his eyes as he paused, noticeably, clearly thinking, remembering something. Then he smiled, not for me, to himself, shook his head slightly, and refocused, his thoughts and attention settling again on me.

click for source — great definitions

I used to be a pretty friendly person, and kids liked me as a teacher. I had more issues with that here in Iowa, but I don’t think that was me so much as those Quetzal County kids. They all looked alike, you know. Have I told you that already?

No, you haven’t.

Well, they did look alike. Long heads, narrow faces, lank dark hair. Broad foreheads, narrow and receding chins, loose-lipped mouths, big teeth. Generally long noses with wide nostrils. The girls mostly looked pretty as a rule, but the boys often reminded me of rural-baiting humor, likes the once-infamous Jukes family, and their class performance frequently matched. People in the area used to make jokes about the riverfolk down in Pelham and that area being inbred, but everyone in the county seemed to both resemble and be related to pretty much everyone else. Those families were just more definitely the same.

The look I’m trying to describe seemed like something out of a Tennessee feud movie.

Everyone was related to everyone else, too. I learned fast that you have to be careful what you say in Quetzal County because if you say something negative about someone, chances are that whoever you say it to is that person’s third cousin once removed or something. It was kind of scary, in a way.

And they’re all very conscious of just who’s related to whom and exactly how. For instance, I had never quite figured out all that once- or twice-removed stuff, even though I taught The Great Gatsby my whole career (you know, the narrator Nick is Daisy’s second cousin once removed — I didn’t know but I believed him: he had been the English teacher). But any kid I wanted to ask could have explained it to me…

Creepy kids. That’s all. Looking like yahoos with doltish attitudes. And they didn’t much like me even early on…

Anyway, Frank. I haven’t explained, but he and I shared a bond — probably because we were both new in the area and definitely because we both felt like outsiders. Edie was part of all of that, too, but I don’t want to talk about her now. Both of them were in my Advanced Placement English class last period, and so it became somewhat natural for them to linger after school for at least a few minutes to talk about things. Of course, Frank had football practice once he joined the team, and Edie, as I told you, was managing for volleyball. So none of these little chat sessions lasted very long. Not then.

It was talking after school, for instance, when Edie told me about counting the memorials in the Roll of Honor, and it was after school about two weeks before the “accident,” when Edie wasn’t there, that Frank first revealed what he thought was going on.

Not much develops so far, but I wanted to get in the description of the Quetzal County rubes (I can pick on them: theyrʼre my creation, and I know more about them than you do—nyah!). I intend for it to become not important exactly but significant maybe. Letʼs see if posting this gives me the oomph to do better on writing more of this story. —On the other hand, tomorrowʼs post lets you in on some issues about forwarding my writing career currently.

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