Monday, June 23, 2008

Big Hand

It has to be a really dark night, still, no moon.

It has to be a red dirt country road in the South, no streetlights, no pavement, no cars.

It has to be still, no breeze, and warm and sticky.

It has to be quiet. The only sound can be junebugs and chuck-will's-widows and katydids and locusts and a distant hound. And the nervous titter of little children and the long, crunching strides of grown-up feet on dirt and rocks, with the quicker, irregular pat-pat-pats of the kids.

Way down the road is someone with a broom--the Big Hand--hiding in the brush in the ditch or behind a cedar stand on the side of the road. No one knows where the Big Hand is. No one knows.

And everyone walks, single file, ten feet or so apart, down the road in the dark in the stillness and the quiet, waiting and walking.

The grown-ups have broad smiles on their faces in the darkness, remembering what the kids are feeling right now.

The kids are about to throw up from excitement and fear--but not really, because Daddy is right behind me.

Please don't let the Big Hand get me. Please let me be the one the Big Hand gets.

At some point, unpredictably, the person with the broom LEAPS out into the road, shrieking "BIG HAND!!!!" and runs after whatever shadowy shape is closest. Everyone goes wild, screaming, laughing, running, tripping, hearts pounding out of ribcages, and the ruckus can be heard in every holler for miles.

The first person to get swatted becomes the Big Hand, and the game starts over.

Once we get back to the house, Mamaw gives us water from the well bucket and we all get on our pallets on the floor in the various rooms. She goes from kid to kid with a basin and cloths, washing first our faces and then our feet. We cover up with the sheets and giggle, still juiced up with adrenaline. We hear the muffled conversation and laughter of our parents and aunts and uncles out on the porch and finally, like a drug has taken effect, we bat our eyes more slowly, let go of our cousin's hand under the covers, and drift off to sleep.

It's a good game.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

bran muffin

One of my great pleasures in Seattle is strolling through the Pike Place Market early in the morning, just as the vendors are setting up.

No tourists yet, just old Asian women arranging flowers and strapping lads raking ice into place for the fish.


Today, a gaggle of tottering oldsters, all bedecked with tour company baseball caps, cameras, fanny packs, and brand new Rockport shoes had been disgorged by a bus, and they were shuffling hither and yon. My friends and I were trying to get through the line at Lowell's, so we could order our eggs and find a table by the window. There were any number of container barges and cruise ships and ferries to be monitored as we drank our coffee, and we were eager to get seated and start the stirring, sipping, and reflecting.

But no, the universe had other things in mind. A snarky cashier needed to be brought together with said oldsters, all of whom were hard of hearing. The cashier had a litany, and these congregants had not realized they were slacking in their half of the call and response:

"I want eggs."

"How do you want them?"

"And a bran muffin."

"THE EGGS, how do you want them?"

"And a cup of coffee."

"How do you want the EGGS?"

This was bad enough, but then disaster struck when a blueberry muffin was produced instead of a bran muffin. The wife of the man ordering had already walked off with the muffin, as he was trying to exchange it for a bran. Between the wife not understanding that she had the wrong muffin, the man not understanding that he had to return the blueberry if he wanted to get a bran, and the cashier not understanding that no amount of shouting and tattoo-wielding and piercing-clinking was going to intimidate the old man and his wife into understanding the dilemma, the line had snaked out the door and into the produce stand next door.

S. and I tried to ask the universe "how can we help you give the man his bran muffin so that he will get the !&@! out of the line?" (we really took the zen movie to heart), and eventually the universe caved in and spoke to the cashier: "Look, Chica, forget about the math. Two out, money for one in, it's all good."

All this time, "Disco Inferno" was playing. I thought about inviting the whole assembled congregation to forget about the muffins and join me in a little liturgical dance, but I refrained.

It was an oddly satisfying, if cognitively dissonant, soundtrack to the morning.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Zen. Not.

I. How to Cook Your Life is a lovely documentary about Zen Chef Edward Espe Brown. I watched it with my guest/collaborator over the course of our evenings, as a peaceful reward to our hard work during the days. S. was able to flow effortlessly into the film. She is more focused and obedient than I. When EEB said to the people in the film to breathe deeply, S. breathed deeply, too. When he said to BE the package of cheese you can't get open--to ASK the cheese package how you can help it get open--S. nodded solemnly in affirmation.

By this time, of course, I had hauled my laptop over into my lap and was checking the weather, answering e-mail, reading blogs, and wondering how the Garage Band application works.

II. I had noticed earlier in the day that my tires were dangerously low. Let me quickly gloss over the embarrassing fact that I've never put air in my own tires. Oh, right, I can't gloss over that, damn it, since the fact is central to this story. OK, so sue me, I've never done it. I've always been a religious "every 3 months" oil changer, and the tires were always serviced then, and somehow I've just made it coasting through luck on Good Air Juju. But sure enough, I knew that I had to take the plunge, so S. and I set out to find a gas station.

I'll skip over the 20 minutes of us standing in front of the air machine, reading and re-reading the instructions. I'll delete the section about the panhandlers trying to get money from us. Finally, S. went in and confessed our shame to the assembled masses in the convenience store area, and returned with some guy wearing a solicitous smirk, who showed us how to do it.

It looked so easy. The first one was done, he stood up and handed me the hose, and sauntered (I swear the grin reached all the way around the back of his head) away.

I grasped the hose like I was holding on to the head of a deadly snake and went to my knees.

I took the cap off the, uh, air thingie, and promptly dropped it into the wheel well (or so I thought). I scrambled and patted the concrete, reamed out the inside of the wheel well with my blind, fumbling hand, and S. said the thought she saw something on the ground.

I'll skip the part about S. crawling under the car, looking for the cap and getting stuck in bubblegum, and me shouting to the tire "TELL ME HOW I CAN HELP YOU FILL YOURSELF, YOU @!$#!! TIRE!!!"

By this time, we were both weeping with laughter, and had pretty much tied the entire car up in a huge bow made of the air hose. But the tires are all plumped out at roughly, some measurement.

III. I don't see myself joining a Zen monastery anytime soon. I'm pretty sure I would be kicked out in the first 10 minutes.

Monday, June 2, 2008


However befuddled I am as they begin, they are just that: a beginning. I should never doubt Mondays. I fidgeted my way through the entire day at work, so I could come home and have no meeting, no plan, no social engagement, no responsibility to be the boss of me.

Work shoes off, walking shoes on, and I was out the door. I meandered up and down the streets of my new neighborhood, discovering things I've never seen while in my car. A tiny park with a group of people playing, of all things, kickball.

Oooh, Danny Dixon, wherever you are, you are still frozen in my mind as the hottest sixth-grader ever. The sound that reddish ball makes when it's kicked, hard, across the field brings you right into sweet focus in my mind's eye. My now transported pre-pubescent heart flutters at your memory...but my grown-up heart re-boots and suspects you're lying on a couch in a wife-beater, somewhere in rural Arkansas, drinking a Pabst right about now.

Down at Lake Union, I step between goose turds and pigeons hoping for a bit of bread from the boys eating hot dogs gotten from who knows where. The sun is behind clouds and there's a hole in the wooden boat moored at the landing.

I head back up the hill and step into a taco stand for dinner. There are 6 people in there and we are each alone. We are divided evenly between those of us staring straight into our food and those of us with eyes darting from person to person, looking at the space above each person's head, conscious of how we display our chewing, our swallowing.

I e-mail an iPhone picture and drop a glop of guacamole onto my pant leg.

I don't care.

It's the end of the day and one needn't worry about messes. 7:35 PM and I am blessedly unfettered.

I might just take a bath.

With bubbles.

Now begins The Great Silence.