• (This piece has been removed, pending publication)

  • As I write there are scads of folks out there working the turkey. There are a few ways to do it right, and a thousand ways to do it wrong. Some of those cooking techniques are downright dangerous, and I'm sure we'll all read about them in tomorrow's paper. I'm not giving cooking tips at this late stage except to say that if you haven't yet started cooking the bird by now, everyone's having chicken fingers for dinner.

    The turkey's not really the point anyway. I know Paula's probably whiteknuckled over such a thing, but deep down we all know the side dishes are the real star. Unless you're serving one of those turducken monstrosities, but I can't even wrap my mind around what it takes to put one of those on the table.

    The staples - at least down here in Arkansas - are pre-FoodTV Network. That means canned green beans oozing in cream of mushroom soup, with a generous topping of canned, fried onion rings. It means sweet potatoes with brown sugar and tiny marshmallows. It means cornbread dressing with bits of boiled egg and whatever came in that white bag inside the turkey's butt. It means butter beans and lumpy creamed potatoes. It means butter, butter, and more butter.

    Now, you can bring something in addition to these staples, and should. A guest, whether invited or univited, should have some sort of covered dish in their hands when they show up. I know people in other places bring a bottle of wine, but that's inadvisable around here. In a dry county full of Baptists it pays to know your crowd ahead of time.

    You don't want to be discussed.

    And then there's the jello salad. I think it defines the holiday and southerners in general. You only see a jello salad at covered-dish church socials, after funerals, and at Thanksgiving. No one looks forward to eating these things, yet everyone does. Every Woman of a Certain Age should have at least one good recipe for a festive jello salad, and if she's a maiden aunt, two.

    Dessert is a topic for another day. Besides, you've got cooking to do. So do I.

  • 'Round these parts, students take a class called "Freshman Experience." It's designed to keep first-timers around by giving them some actual study skills and a realistic view of what's expected at the university. Not a bad idea. If I'd had such a class maybe I wouldn't have received that "invitation to take a semester off and think about your priorities" letter I got in the mail after my freshman year.

    One requirement of the "Freshman Experience" class is to interview a professor about their first year in college and include that information in a lengthy, culminating paper assignment.

    It's that time of year, I guess. Students say they come to me because they think I'll tell good stories. Or long ones. Either way, I'm interviewed quite often. I like doing the interviews. It puts my fabulously unsuccessful first college attempt to good use.

    I'm a cautionary tale.

    I did so many things wrong as a college freshman that each year during these interviews I'm able to give a different slant to the cautionary tale. It keeps things interesting, I hope, for the professor who actually has to grade these papers. As a Iraq war/abortion/gay marriage paper-reading veteran, I do understand the value in a fresh piece of student prose. Believe me.

    This year's theme is Choosing a Major That Won't Be Obsolete Before You Buy The Cap And Gown.

    My first semester in college I took typing, shorthand, business machines, accounting, and sociology. I was a business major that semester and had a really, really good time, but not in class. It's a good thing that business degree dream died quickly. No one needs shorthand anymore, the type of "business machine(s)" I learned were the clickety-clack ten-key variety, and accounting was a hand-entered ledger workbook. Believe it or not, these were core business major courses.

    Sociology was handy, though. Still is.

    Since successful CLEP testing threw me into my sophomore year, it was instantly crunch-time when I began. I had to Officially Declare a Major. So I did that. Several times. I majored in philosophy, psychology, speech, and broadcasting briefly and at various moments. I toyed with art, theatre (I never forgot the proper university spelling), and English. Only the Math department was completely safe from me.

    As a broadcasting major I took a few interesting classes. Mostly I learned to spin reggae and bluegrass records, although not usually in the same radio show. I learned how to edit and splice audio tape with a razorblade, and how to cue up records so they gloriously began the second I flipped the switch. Even if I get the radio-bug again, my pre-digital recording skills are completely useless. FM radio itself is almost extinct, and it will be for sure when all the Generation Jonesers and Boomers get iPods. It might happen this Christmas.

    In my recent research on Generation Y, I ran across some interesting information: by graduation, most college students will be taking jobs that haven't even been invented yet. What? It took almost thirty years for my college skills to become obsolete. It will take these Gen Yers only four or five. Facebook, it seems, is better training for what's to come than their business classes. What's scarier is I think they already know that.

    And that English major I finally decided on? While it sounded useless at the time, I've found that writing never goes out of style. There are entirely too many people who feel they can't do it, making those of us who do write feel pretty special. In an online, global world it's the difference between success and slinging burgers at McDonalds. It's likely that soon face-to-face skills may not get you hired – your writing may be all prospective employers know of you. It's not going to matter how you look on paper, it's going to matter how you look online.

    And all that major-hopping? Well, it turns out that may be a good idea since the average Gen Yer can expect to have half a dozen different careers in their lifetime. Careers, I said, not jobs. It's an excellent argument for a Liberal Arts education, if you think about it. I won't mention that in the interviews, though, because they all have parents paying godawful amounts of money to get them in and graduate them out. It's too expensive to Find Yourself in college by major-hopping now. That revolution will have to get more affordable.

    Oh, I'll probably still include something about the importance of attending more classes than frat parties. With a college education, you must be present to win. As far as choosing a major goes I'm sure I'll tell them to find their intellectual passion and hang on for the ride of their lives.

    And to look me up on Facebook.

  • My parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. It made me think the world was a gigantic circus where I might crawl right out of the peanut gallery and onto the high-wire. Ta-da.

    Well, it is. Kind of.

    This morning I watched The Perfect Grandson will his left fist into his mouth. It took a long time and many unsuccessful attempts, but he stared down that fist until he had it right where he wanted it. Determination.

    Very soon I'll tell him he can be anything he wants to be when he grows up. I won't mean it, though. I'll let my daughter work out the finer points on this when he's older, but for now my mind is clear: there are some things he simply cannot become.

    During his last months in utero and ever since, my daughter and I have made a running list. We add to it as the need arises, or during particularly worrisome Discovery Channel documentaries. Levi can never be...

    1. a prisoner. Of any kind.

    2. a Bering Sea crab fisherman.

    3. a Pro-rodeo bullrider.

    4. an ice climber.

    5. a firefighter in Southern California.

    6. in any branch of the military stationed in an oil-producing country.

    7. a bum.

    8. a drug addict.

    9. a Republican.

    I have no doubt this list will grow. He's only four months old. There's time. If you have any more to add to the list, let me know.

    I understand that telling him he can be anything he wants when he's grown has more to with the limitless possibilities than with dangerous choices. Fine. I'm perfectly aware that someday The Perfect Grandson will be a hairy-legged, back-talking, reckless-driving, hormone-driven teenager. Those things happen.

    I just don't want him to run with scary boys or vote Republican.
  • Waffle House

    (This post has been removed, pending publication)

  • Antoinette wears her skirt too short for some and her voice too loud for most, but she takes coats, seats patrons for light suppers before the symphony and has history with too many married men who glide their Blackglama’ed wives with a light hand to their seats while giving Antoinette a brief nod that says, yes, I know us, I know you’ll say nothing, of course I’ll call.

    She wants to know who recommended us so I tell her, and even though she hesitates, there is a smile as she scribbles a note inside a matchbook that I don’t read then or even later when I slip it into my coat pocket.

    When I see the doorman the next day it occurs to me he looks more like a fireman than a doorman, so when I call him aside, tell him, this – offering the pocketed matchbook from Antoinette at the Café Allegro – this is for you, he takes it with confusion until he reads the note and smiles like a man who’s known Antoinette far away from the Café Allegro and far away from the curb at the William Penn Hotel where he hails cabs fiercely like he’s fighting a backdraft, and I see the history of their night or their week or that one regretted refusal settle on him before he says, thanks, and looks on the back of the matchbook for a continuation that isn’t there, that even he doesn’t expect, and again he says, thanks, and I look away because their history is something I stole and it’s lonely shoplifting moments from someone else’s life.

  • I don’t know how to write a book. I’ve read thousands of them and some were quite good, I just don’t know how to write one.

    I make poems instead. So many that they’ve become a long string of ribbons tied to my arms and legs and waist to flutter behind me all the way into the needle point of the horizon line, all the way back to my first fat number two pencil. Making poems is the only weapon I ever had against growing up or growing old.

    It wasn’t much of a weapon, though, because I’ve done both.

    I still have these twisting poem ribbons. That’s a comfort. They tie me to my life like gauzy lifelines. Without them I’m an
    astronaut unleavened by oxygen strings and invisible radio waves carrying my labored voice. Without poetry I’m a rudderless kite. I’m Major Tom.

    I’d really like to write a book, though. I really would, but the world is too viscous and I can’t slog through to the end. Every moment is a handful of soap bubble images, stuck together and popping and wondrous and consuming. I can’t take my eyes off the tiny things long enough to understand the underlying chemistry of soap, so the bubbles open up into singular lenses and I can see perfectly through each one. To write a book takes larger thinking, an ability to truck the lens back and chart the progress of fifty soap-bubbles heading for open air.

    I’m always afraid that seeing the Big Picture means eliminating handfuls of exquisite gesture, split-second connections, the texture of the moment. The world is too thick with story. I might miss something important.

    I’m a beribboned astronaut paper kite losing soap between my fingers, afflicted with literary pointillism. Maybe that’s why I can’t write a book.
  • This is my official paper-grading break video.

  • At a workshop I attended this morning, I sat next to a high school teacher I taught with a few years ago before I jumped ship. He told me an interesting story about proctoring an ACT test during which one young lady became horribly, projectile-ill. All over the sacred testing materials and admission ticket. All over everything, it seems, mid-test.

    I guess it was time for a break at that point in the testing. That kind of thing tends to start an unstoppable puking chain reaction. And the clean up...there's that.

    A quick phone call to the testing service found them all without protocol for vomit-covered testing materials. The answer, they said, was to put the answer sheet, booklet, and admission ticket into a plastic bag and mail it back to ACT.
    That's right. That test had to be accounted for. So into the ziplock bag it went.

    Somewhere soon, an unsuspecting ACT employee will open a box containing a plastic bag...

    There are days occasionally stretching into weeks that I'm wracked with guilt over leaving public school teaching. Those students were my light and my life, despite the fact that most of the time I felt like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.

    In all the time I taught high school English, no one ever put me in a position requiring me to stuff a baggie with puke-covered test booklets. For that, I'm thankful. I'm also thankful for the former colleague who sat beside me today who did, in fact, have to stuff the ziplock. On a Saturday, no less.

    Bless his heart.

    The whole thing makes me a little misty, so I'm throwing in (at no additional cost) a poem I wrote for my students back then. All of them.

    Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

    my night flowers, my
    charming rascals.

    We, the geezers who teach and mother you
    want you to know
    we delight in you absolutely:
    the last-five-minute rising buzz and cackle of
    your unwasted youth,
    the parlay, dip, and spin of
    your endless afternoon,
    burst-blooming from your time-lapse
    unfurling into women, men.

    The thing is, I want to say
    you must come back on Monday.
    let me count the fingers and toes of you.
    Let me convince you poetry can exponentially alter
    the mathematics of the universe.
    Gravity is not a trick.

    You are not just another number.
    This is not just another day.

  • You know, I don't have epiphanies as often as I used to. I guess it's important to write these things down before I disappear into old age and can't remember my phone number.


    Epiphany #1: I won't have to remember my phone number. Hell, I don't remember it now because I never really dial it. My cell phone owns my number memories now. Click, click, click and I'm calling. Sometimes, just a couple of click will do.

    Epiphany # 1 and a half: I said "dial" and I don't think I've "dialed" a number for a very, very, very long time.

    Epiphany #2: The Perfect Grandson might begin his toddler years with either a woman or an African American as President. It's likely. And none of this will be a big deal to him or to any of his little buddies. All their lives. Imagine that.

    Epiphany #3: I'm middle-aged. Hmmm. I guess if I live to be ninety, that's true. I know this because my mother introduced me to one of her acquaintances as Monda, my middle-aged daughter. In public.

    Epiphany #4: I knew big hair would come back. It was just a matter of time.

  • We didn't have a single trick-or-treater last night and now all this candy is sitting in a bowl, just staring at me.

    I suspect Halloween is out of style 'round these parts. That, or I don't live on a street that looks candy-worthy. Maybe a little of both.

    This was my Perfect Grandson's first Halloween, but as he's four months old, sans teeth, and can't even crawl, the holiday was a little lost on him. My daughter stuffed him into a dinosaur costume and he promptly fell asleep. It's a good thing he did, because I'd have burned his little retinas to a cinder with the camera flash. I never miss an opportunity.

    So where are all the trick-or-treaters? Did all my curmudgeon retiree neighbors run them off? Maybe our local Bible Belt tightened a notch and kept the holiday at bay. Who knows. I'll fight the urge to throw down a lengthy "in my day we trick-or-treated the hippies" rant. You don't really care what what costume I wore when I was five, anyway.

    Next year the Perfect Grandson should have teeth and land-legs and everything. We're going to find some hippies and trick-or-treat them, by God.

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