Monthly Archives: March 2013

Storytime – The Chinaman

A writing exercise:

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So, this dame shows up in my office, says she’s got a problem. She’s real classy,
platinum blonde hair, bright red lipstick, legs that won’t quit. She pulls a cigarette outta her purse, asks for a light. She says her boyfriend was supposed to come in last night on the “Queen of Shanghai”, but so far, no show. I hold up the match, she leans forward for the light, holds onto my hand maybe a little too long, slowly blows smoke in my face. Distractedly, I put out the match.
“So, what’s the real problem, then? ls it love, or does he owe you money, or what?”
She looks out from under those long lashes, says, “I’m afraid he might be a little bit dead. The Chinaman was on his tail, ya know? Can you get the straight dope for me?
ls he after me, too?”
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OK, writer. Fill in the details. What’s the answer? Does she really have a boyfriend? ls there another angle? Who’s the Chinaman? What’s the story?

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Well, this is a fine kettle of eels.  Here I am, stuck on deck watch while this monster storm blows in.  I’ll be lucky to stay upright in this gale, and if I have to go very far along the deck I could get washed overboard.  Everybody else is below decks, warm and dry.  Damn!
I have to get to San Francisco, but I’m starting to think maybe this wasn’t the way to do it.  This old tub, the Queen of Shanghai, indeed!  More like the Old Cow of Shanghai; tired and all used up.  I can hear the howling and groaning of the plates as she fights her way up each of the towering waves.  That big old drive shaft is still knocking something terrible under the strain.  Why couldn’t they put a few dollars into maintenance?  Now they’d likely founder in the middle of this storm if that bearing seizes up.
All this started because of a woman.  Alice McVey, my angel and my curse!  Her big ideas had gotten me into trouble many times before, but I just couldn’t learn my lesson.  Now I’ve got Cheng Huan after me, all because of a little mix up about a shipment of jade.  After all, I didn’t really steal it, you know – I just arranged for it to go astray, and just happened to realize a fat profit from the deal.  Now I’m beginning to wonder if maybe he’s aboard this ship, under cover as one of the black gang in the engine room or maybe one of the deck hands – many of them are orientals.
If the ship holds together, maybe we can plan on docking in a few days.  But, in addition to the drive shaft problem, the navigation gear has broken down, so we’re not quite sure about our location.  The wind could have blown us way south, and we’ll have to make up all that distance.  Makes it hard to do much planning, and Alice will be all bent out of shape if the ship is much delayed.
I’m trying to see through the storm, scanning nervously for rocks.  There is a lookout at the masthead, but he’s likely just hunkered down against the banshee wind, so I have to do his job in addition to mine.  The wind is moaning through the wheelhouse, and the whole ship shudders as a rogue wave crashes into us broadside.  I hear the starboard door open, and the wind noises go even higher.  Whoever it is manages to get it shut, slamming it without breaking the glass, miraculously.
“Jake,” he says, “another fine day on the briny!”
“Murphy, “ says I, “are ye drunk? Have ye come up here in this weather just to make feeble jokes?”
“Not my doing, laddie,” he groans.  “Cap’n says to tell you that we need to let her run with the wind.  That bearing won’t last, so we’ve got to take off the strain, so’s to get a few more hours out of it.”
“The devil, you say. It’s going to be tremendous difficult to get her turned without taking on hundreds of tons of seawater.  We may not survive the attempt.”
“Well, damned if we do, etc.,” he says.  “I’ll bear a hand, since I’m here.  We’ll try to keep from driving her right to the bottom.  Say when.”
Murphy and I grab onto the wheel and start making the turn.  As I predicted, and he knew, also, we started taking on massive amounts of water partway through the turn.  We kept at it, hoping the hatch covers would hold, and eventually brought her around.  She heeled drunkenly as the wind slammed into the stern of the vessel.  Most of the seawater had returned to the sea by now, so we were starting to get some control.
Murphy yelled to make himself heard once again, “Go below, get some dry clothes, catch some sleep.  Be back in three hours, you hear me?”
“As you wish, my friend.  It’ll be welcome.  Be sure to check on the lookout from time to time, make sure he hasn’t gone over the side.”
I fight my way out of the wheelhouse, then down to the hatch that leads to the main companionway.  I nearly don’t get that hatch open, struggling against the howling, whistling wind.
I’m going down the companionway toward my berth when somebody jumps me from behind.  I get knocked to the deck with the force of the collision, but manage to roll over and get loose for a moment.  My attacker was on me again, but this time I had a little warning, and was able to get in a good punch, driving him back.  As he falls, I get a glimpse of his face.
“Cheng Huan,” I shout, “how did you find me?  And, what do you want?”
He warily gets to his feet, assuming some kind of a martial arts defensive position.  Since I have not been trained in that type of combat, I draw my pistol and aim it at his face.  As you might suppose, this brings him up short.
“Where is Alice McVey?” he growled, “I will have my revenge!”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I say, in my best pleading voice, “why her?  Just how involved is she?”
Cheng Huan bared his teeth, jaws tight, as he said, “She is the one who persuaded me to use that particular shipping service.  She assured me that my jade would be safe.  I don’t know exactly how it was taken, but she is to blame!”
“Come with me, and don’t try anything cute.  I know how to use this thing.”
I take him up on deck, and we are huddled up against the bulkhead, near the port side railing.  I hand him a life jacket and a flask of water.
“Sorry, old chum, but you’re going over the side.  With some luck, you’ll make it safely ashore, or be picked up by a fishing boat.  I won’t wish you luck, because you’ve done me no favors in the past.  Go!”  I pointed the gun menacingly, and he leapt over the railing, disappearing into the darkness.
I was looking forward to reuniting with Alice.  By now she probably had some new scheme in mind.

Storytime – Boring Store Windows

Another writing exercise  – this time the words to be included are:

atmosphere, bamboo, tank, kaleidoscope

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Storefronts

I was walking downtown, on our main street.  You know the one; it’s just a line of endless vanilla stores lining both sides.  You stroll along, looking into the occasional window, halfway hoping to see something interesting, but it rarely happens.

So, I was kinda bored at the apartment, just me and the walls, nothing on tv, nothing compelling in my reading stack, so I figured I’d give it another go.  I tried something new this time; I walked along, eyes straight ahead, counting.  When I had counted one thousand steps or so, I looked into the nearest shop window.  Well, crap!  Appliances, furniture, once in awhile a book store, but they only had regular books, nothing special.  It would be neat to come across a book something like “The Neverending Story”, but that was only in movies, right?  Another thousand steps, auto parts, a thousand more, stationery.

Well, I was burning up time, but that really wasn’t my goal.  I wanted to find something of interest, something new.  Or, to pursue the quest posed by Robert Pirsig, in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” – “What is good?”  Well, I wasn’t doing very well on either front.

Ok, time for a different plan: I would tightly close my eyes, then open them to very small slits, just enough to navigate, and walk along somewhat aimlessly, turning the occasional corner, not really taking note of where I was, trying side streets, hoping not to get mugged in the process.  There must be storefronts containing whatever it was I wanted, somewhere.

Something made me stop and open my eyes to see the storefront on my left.  Can something of interest have its own gravity, its own pull of attraction?  I turned, fully facing the shop.  In the display window were a number of strange devices, seemingly constructed of tiny gears, pulleys and wheels.  Some of them were in motion, with levers going up and down, cables hoisting small dump cars up the side to dump out a marble which then rolled down a track to the bottom.  One construction had tiny lights within it, and some kind of smoke generator emitting puffs of smoke out the side as the wheels revolved.

The sign on the glass door said, “Hours 9AM until Tired”.  I tested the door – it opened easily and quietly, allowing me to step inside.  My first impression was that of a magic shop, or a gypsy supply store.  One shelf had a variety of kaleidoscopes, another had bumbershoots with bamboo handles.  The overall atmosphere of the store seemed strange, like I had entered a dusty remnant of another day and time; if air can seem old, then that’s the best descriptor.  There was a haze, or mist, possibly coming from one of the devices on the counter in front of me; it had a small tank with an electric heater on the bottom, and vapors were escaping out the top.

I called out, “Hello, is anyone here?”  No reply.  There was a bell on the counter, an old-fashioned kind with a wooden handle attached.  I rang the bell repeatedly, to no effect.

I went outside and crossed the street to look back and see if there was any sign of life in any of the upper row of windows.  All the windows were dark, no hope there.  I stepped to the corner, looked back down the main street to see if there might be an alternate entrance, but nothing seemed promising.

I turned back, walked the half-block to the curious shop, but could not locate it.  The place where I had just been looking in the window was now a pet store.  Well, maybe I had not walked far enough. I went further, then further, nothing.

I retraced my steps to the pet store, intending to ask the owner for help.  I got to the pet store, but then discovered it to be a beauty shop.  I went into the beauty shop, but found no one there.  There was a long glass counter with an old-fashioned bell and a wooden handle.  I decided not to ring it.

Storytime – the Great Depression

Writing assignment for one of my writing groups:

It’s 1933, and the country is in the grips of the great depression.  You’re the man of the family, or you’re the mother, trying to make do with what little you have to feed the family and take care of your children.  Perhaps you’re a child, wondering what’s going on.  What’s your story?

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Here’s my effort:

Well, it’s been a long time since all this happened, you see, but I’ll try to give you some idea of how it was for us who lived through it.  You kids here just don’t understand, because you’ve got everything you need and you’ve never been hungry.  Maybe one of you can ask your mother to refill Grampa’s coffee cup, and I’ll tell the story again.  Are you sure you aren’t tired of hearing it?  Ok, ok – just kidding, I’ll start now.

You probably saw all of those pictures at the library about the poor families living out on the plains during the dustbowl, driving rickety old cars or trucks and having to make their way to California to find work.  Well, our family’s story is not quite like that.   We started out pretty well off, but then saw it all go away.

meninline

I was just a kid at the time, but I can tell you how it all seemed to come crashing down.  Father came home from work one day and right away we could tell that something was wrong with him.  He didn’t laugh and joke with us kids and didn’t seem to notice that Barky was wanting to go for a walk.  He and Mother went into the back bedroom and they had the door shut for a long time before they came out.  There was just me and my little sister Janie then, and we were pretty worried, I can tell you.

When they finally came out of the bedroom, they called us into the living room for what they called a ‘family meeting.’  I don’t remember our having one of those before, so that stuck in my mind.  I glanced at Janie, and she was on the verge of tears as we went into the living room with them.

Father said, “I know you’re both worried, because I kind of ignored you when I came in, and I even ignored good old Barky,  but I’ll try to tell  you what’s going on.”

He went on to say that he didn’t have a job any more, and it actually looked like the place where he worked was going to be out of business.  He was going to be home a lot now, unless he was out looking for work, and that we’d probably have to dismiss Sophie, who did our cooking, and old Fred, who helped with chores and the gardening.  He also said we might wind up living somewhere else, but it was a little early to tell about that.

Poor Father.  H could not have foretold, nor could he have been prepared for what did happen to our family. You’ll probably think I made this up, just to scare you, but this is the way it was, I promise you.

We did lose Sophie and Fred, and we did have to live somewhere else.  You may have seen pictures of the kind of house we had in the beginning, with lots of windows on the front, two or three stories tall, and a big front door.  When the money quit coming and the savings ran out, we had to scramble for the basics of life.  We moved into what they called a ‘cold-water flat’ downtown, crowded into that old building with lots of other families who were in the same boat as us.  We were lost in the innards of the big city, and no one much cared what happened to us.  If we couldn’t pay the rent, our stuff would be tossed out onto the sidewalk.  If we couldn’t pay for groceries, we didn’t eat.

bread-line

Father was able to find the occasional day work, but nothing permanent.  We had just enough to scrape by, but if one of us got sick, we had to get better by ourselves, and we hoped we never got really sick.  There was only enough to keep us fed, and there were no new clothes, and there was no longer an automobile for us.  Janie and I were too young to find real jobs, but we scavenged for what we could find in other folks’ trash, or over by the old car factory we might find something useful occasionally, even if it was just an old broom.

Mother worked wonders with what little food that came in, and we ate a lot of thin soup, flavored with small bits of meat. For our entertainment, we read aloud stories out of some of the books that followed us to our new place, and occasionally we’d try to play charades.  When it was really cold, we just huddled together in the big bed and tried to stay warm and not think too much about being hungry and fatigued.

Sometimes we’d go with Mother down to the bread line, so we could add a little something to our meager diet.  It made us feel bad to have to do it, but it was winter, we lived in the city, and there was no way to have a vegetable garden.  Times were hard, but we came through it.

I know, I know, you’re all getting restless now, and now that the power is back on you can go back in there and watch tv, maybe play some video games. You enjoy yourselves, and I’ll just sit here with my coffee and remember the old days, the hard days.  Hard, but those were days that drew us all tightly together.

I sure miss Janie, and I surely do miss your grandmother.

In a Cookin Mood

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Sometimes I wander into the kitchen and make something that’s a little more demanding to assemble (note: I did say a *little* more).  So, in this still-wintry season, I was wanting some herb bread, and some black bean soup.  Neither of these are that difficult to prepare, but they do require something more than using the can opener or the microwave.  Wanna play?  Let’s start!

  The first thing is the Herb Bread.  I started with a basic recipe, a year or two ago, and experimented with it until I got it pert near bullet-proof!  Ok, here’s the scoop, as we bakers say::

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Herb Bread

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(By the way: turn on the oven-light while you are putting the dough together, this will warm up the oven just enough to be a handy place to let the dough rise. While you’re at it, spray 2 loaf pans with Pam, whatever, and put them into the oven to pre-warm)

 

 Combine the following 7 items in a mixing bowl, stir well and let sit for 10 minutes or so, until slightly foamy.

  • 1 ¼ cups warm water
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. Italian seasoning
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons dry milk
  • 1 packet fast-rise yeast

10 Minutes up?  Ok, add approx 3 cups bread flour (use more if the dough seems sticky).

  Stir until well mixed, then dump the dough out onto a heavily floured surface and knead it (fold it in half, push it down, fold it in half, push it down, etc) for several minutes, adding more flour as required so the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. 

Then, divide the dough in half, then drop one piece of dough into each of the 2 pre-warmed loaf pans. Put the dough/pans into the warm oven.

Let rise until doubled (maybe 1 hour, maybe 90 minutes – just check it now and then).  After the dough has approximately doubled in size, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes – you may have to do some trial runs to see what time works best for your oven/pan combination.

Remove from oven when nice and brown.

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So, wanna make some Black Bean Soup?  Now *this* is gonna be easy, and it goes VERY well with the bread you just made!  I stole  borrowed  this recipe from Marian Allen’s blog http://www.marianallen.com/2012/11/charlies-black-bean-soup/   then made some embellishments.  See whatcha think!

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Black Bean Soup (maybe with sausage)

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  • 1 can black beans
  • 1/3 cup rice ( I like rice, so I use 1 full cup)
  • 3 – 4 cups water (if you like it thinner, use 4 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 can golden hominy, drained

Combine everything but hominy and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add hominy (plus desired embellishments, below) and heat through.

 

         Embellishments (optional, of course)

 

  • 1 small can chopped green chiles
  • I reg size can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can mushroom pieces
  • turkey smoked sausage, in bite-size pieces

All in all, you’ll wind up with a couple of tasty treats, without really wearing yourself out or feeling particularly challenged.

Bon Appetit! (French for DIG IN!)  The bread will be SUPER tasty, and the soup will also be great, and will stick to your ribs – you’ll want to make this soup again and again!

 

 

 

Jim & Kate invade Charleston, SC

Bridge-CharlestonSo, we were on a quest for some luggage, maybe some new footwear, for Jimmy (thass me) for my upcoming trip (shhh, secret for now).  We took a little field trip over to Clarksville, IN, about 35 miles away, to Bass Pro Shop.  We could have shopped here in Corydon, but weren’t sure the 7-11 had all the same choices as the MegaSportsMall  🙂

As we entered the vast shopping emporium, we were attacked by a giant leech!  Well, actually, it was a rather small salesgirl manning (personing?) the kiosk for a place selling timeshares. We tried to get away, but got stuck to the tarbaby.  She said, “How about 2 nights for $99, lots of choices of places to go, just gotta listen to a 2-hour salespitch?”  So, I said to her, “No way, lady, we aren’t going to waste our money on this scam!”  That’s what I intended to say, anyway.  What actually came out of my mouth was, “Why, shore, little lady – where do I sign?”  She threw in some free shopping cards for BassProReallyBigStore, so how could I resist?

Then, it came to pass that we chose Charleston, SC, for our destination.  Gird your loins, southern folk!  Here we come!  Oh, by the way, I did actually buy something at BassProShop – see pic  🙂HandyTool

Charleston was only a short drive for us.  10 hours is short, yes?  But, I had wanted to visit that area, anyway, because of the historic sites there – something about a little difference of opinion that the locals there refer to as “The War of Northern Aggression”.  So, before we left home we put together an impressive list of must-see things in Charleston.  We actually wound up visiting only ONE of the places on our list, but had a great time, anyway.  And, I was surprised to learn that the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown was involved in the Civil War, but live and learn, I say.  We listened to some really entertaining books-on-CD during our trip.  The one we listened to on the drive down was “The Land of Mango Sunsets” – loved it!  Yes, it was chick-lit, but well done!  Later, on our way home, we plugged in “Thirteen Moons”, written by the same fellow who wrote “Cold Mountain” (haven’t read it – saw the movie).  I loved the 13 Moons book, so richly written; wish I could write like that!  Kate and I always enjoy our road trips, hope to have many more!

I’ve included a few photos to give you a thumbnail idea of the sights we enjoyed in Charleston, browse them at your leisure.  We also got to enjoy some of the local delicacies, like shrimp & grits (the recipe for which was imported from Vermont, I understand), and we also wrestled with enjoyed crab legs, oysters, and some clams, presented in a big bucket.  Fortunately, I wore one of my multi-colored shirts, so all the spills that wound up on my shirt matched the seafood feast.  CityMarketWe had a big time browsing the tables spread out at the City Market – the market was a succession of long buildings erected almost end-to-end, but each separated by about 50 feet.  They said it used to be a slave market in ages past, but not a place where slaves were sold, rather a place where slaves would come to sell their handmade wares.  Hard to imagine that, but hey, would I question traditional history, passed down from the olden days?  We had rain on the second day, but we soldiered on, umbrellas and smiles – after lunch and the tour of the Yorktown aircraft carrier we took a carriage ride (yes, in the rain – there was a cover on it). Do it, have a good time!

We really enjoyed our short stay there, and are already looking forward to our next trip!  One or two folks said we might not wanna come in mid-summer – something about walking around in a sauna while battling insect pterodactyls palmetto bugs, which are so large that some locals give them names, like pets 😦 So, go enjoy Charleston, but maybe during Spring would be best.

Au Revoir, y’all!  🙂

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