Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From Poland, With Love

Sometime around the time I was in high-school I had sardines for the first time.  I'm guessing, for no particular reason, that it would have been the Aleesi brand... given the ubiquity of that Italian maker of kitchen hardware, coffee stuff, and (esp. in America) foodstuffs, popular in mid-western supermarkets.  I was a particular fan, at the time and for years, of their sesame breadsticks.  One day I bought my own sesame seeds and roasted them myself with homemade dough.  That was the end of that.

I think what inspired the sardines was a peculiar moment in For Your Eyes Only, the '80's James Bond flick.  Sean Connery was about the only thing good in the ridiculous movie.  Was Rutuer Hauer in it?  If so, he would have played some Eastern European, Iron Curtain pantiwaist (sic.).... so, who cares?  It was a bad movie, but, had a period of, to a kid, boring exposition, where James opens up a gleaming briefcase, and within it is all manner of canned delights, including caviar (Beluga, surely.)  In any case, I eventually would eat caviar now and then with my adventurous family, but not sardines.  Why?  I'm guessing that the ubiquity and frank fishiness of sardines has prejudiced us against them (in canned form) since they were first caught to become the ancestor to Ketchup and the growingly popular Asian/ Eurasian fish sauces.  I certainly don't remember being fed them even once by my Mom.  Had she fed them to me, I am certain I would have eaten them habitually while working on the farms of my young adulthood.  I never did, however, because they slowly grew on me, after, I think, remembering that Sean Connery moment... and fantisizing about having my own [brief]case of delights.  In search of delights I came across sardines.

Occasionally a girlfriend and I would share a sardine sandwich, which, indeed, is an intriguingly "whole food" looking thing, with its silver skin glinting against sprouts, tomato, horseradish and caper.  Sort of a poor mans Lox and Bagel.  And a healthy mans too.  With their high fat content (esp. when packed in Soy/ Olive oils) of the exact sort recommended to us these days, and complete protein... in a small, recyclable aseptic container, they are indeed, a hell of an alternative to a Pepsi.  And, they cost less then a Pepsi!  Go figure.

I'm waiting for the day sardines exceed their absurd envelope of awesomeness and become known by people beyond the super-foodie world, which has a long standing appreciation of such foodstuffs.  Most of the sardines I get are packed in Poland, from vessels fishing I couldn't say where; Sardinia?  I've had them packed in the Middle East, Russia, Poland, and China.  Rarely ever, if in fact even once, in the U.S.  I don't think we experience the sardine in our oceans much.  Perhaps they detest our capitalistic excesses.

I don't eat them every day, since it goes without saying that they are fish from a polluted and somewhat disgusting ocean: while their mercury level is low, it is hardly non-existent.  Also: they are a delicacy,. meant to be enjoyed, on an intriguing time frame: popped open like a convenience, but savored like a thing of beauty.

A few rules:  Don't be fooled by the snake oil salesmen who would have you believe they fish with gilded fishing nets.  The ocean is an unbounded salty body, which, while far from homogeneous, is none-the-less neither organic, nor conventional.  It's just the ocean.  Fish are fish. If you must pay three dollars for sardines, go ahead... eat one third my take.  But I'll have you know that the fanciest variety available at the specialty stores will never beat my $1 oil packed variety with hot sauce and capers.  I make fun of my housemate Richie for buying his "organic line-caught" sardines at our local fancy swag food shop... organic fish?  He agrees, but finds the lively packaging perhaps a sort of status symbol... who knows?

Lastly, today I was peeling back the pop-top of my sardines, at lunch time, in the midst of an irritatingly endless scraping session on an exterior paint job.  The house is, perhaps, 100 years old.  The paint job prior to the last was lead paint, so even now, we must take extraordinary measures against inhalation and the spread of drop paint chips.  This costs us enormously in poly-ethelene plastic and canvass drop cloths, since you can't simply re-use a drop cloth filled with lead dust.  The face masks make the mild early summer heat feel worse, and the sunshine was not much appreciated.  When I'm this grumpy, somethings wrong.  I guessed that I was hungry.  So I walked some distance to the Music Library ( the house was not open) and washed my hands and face, and walked back.  I opened up the tin of sardines with its pop-top (I don't wear flip-flops, Mr. Buffett and fans.)  Inside were only four of the fish (the fancy sardine companies make hilarious distinctions amongst their various price-point levels of sardine loveliness.  Their are "two layer" cans.  And "three layer" cans.  I don't know what else is offered since I refuse to imagine ANY sardine being "value added."  However!  Mother nature had a small gift for me. I noticed a billowing girdle of roe, within each fishes body in the can and gasped a bit.  Beach Cliff, the grocery store brand I buy, can also be found at the Dollar Central.  So I was literally eating Dollar Store smoked fish roe.  "One and One Half Layer."

It is sometimes important to note a distinction.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

An Eddy in this Sometime Crick

I've been fairly busy lately.  Despite this, my job sometimes requires me to spend an hour or two, or even a half day in a state of suspended animation.  Waiting for someone else to do what should have already been done.  I've always enjoyed this, provided I'm not starving or going completely broke or something.  There are always things to do other than work.  And to smell the daisies requires, sometimes, a bit of attention distracted from the ennobled tasks of our civilization.  Have you ever told someone, when asked what you did today, "smelled the daisies?"  If you have, A: good for you.  And B: you know it takes a bit of courage.

It isn't, however, courage in me... I more or less was born this way.  I'll never forget when I was but a child at 12 years old in summer camp, I'd steal off from structured activities, "clinics", to spend time alone, reading in the woods, or hey, sitting at a picnic bench, in the middle of an open field. The wind on my face, and the smell of clover (smells like honey on the breeze, right?  Clover Honey, at least.)  I never got caught... given the times, few adults were much worried at our YMCA camp as to a 12 year-olds safety.  I knew, as did most of society around me, that bad things could happen... but very infrequently were likely to.   That conclusion, however, was hardly an accident.  Super bad things happened to my family and myself at times throughout my childhood.  It was a discipline fostered by my parents:  to imagine the world as indifferent to my suffering, and (this is so incredibly important to my life) danger toward me as particular.  NOT in the parlance of more and more journalists recently: structural.  There was no organized effort to hurt me as a kid.  There is no such thing today.  There never has been.  There never will be. And, best of all, there virtually cannot be.  Especially if I think carefully about my actions, and alliances.

None of this is meant to be metaphorical or political whatsoever.  It just amazes me, that's all.  I am my parents age, more or less back then, now.  Many of my friends have children who are the age I was then, now.  I hear all the time about all the child molesters and thugs and rapists and boogiemen who are out to snatch their kids away from a summer camp, ect.  Don't get me wrong... I suppose I have some issues about leaving the kids with a charismatic religious figure with the presumption, "what could go wrong?"  But to see these children today, where an encounter with a random arena of their own devising being something of a tactical impossibility... it's clear as a bell to me what this is doing to the person they will become.  With plenty of exceptions, people often seem to grow into an expectation of an organized and controllable life:  where consequences are sequestered to a fairy land of exquisite presumptions.  That these same presumptions can have nothing to do with actual consequences to actual life is nobodies concern.  The one way this is comforting to me is my memory of my parents having serious trouble with almost exactly the same thing in our happy little leafy suburb while I was growing up.  Despite the ugliness of some aspects of my parents childhood, they knew that there was something honest about the odor of the real world:  and the "good cheer" of the suburbs, like a giant spritzer, casting a wide rain of Febreze all over a happy burg, seemed to them
queerly dischordant with what they simultaneously hated about their pasts, and seemed strangely attracted to.  Is that not the odd appeal of suffering?  Especially in hindsight and at some distance?

I do the same thing, more or less.  I have memories of incredible hardships I have endured (and I must say, earned, in my case) and they are oftentimes good memories.  I not only don't trust their goodness, but suspect that there is an underside to my nature that, while hardly provisioning me in the expedition of life with a fortune, none-the-less is as resilient as butyl-rubber, and therefore, simply takes the sleights of my past experience as motivating: like a cup of coffee takes its over active molecules for nothing but the sustaining heat of its cheery nature.  An odd, and overdeveloped metaphor, but there it is.  My point being, obviously, that I greatly prefer fooling myself about the specific details of my life.  The underlying machinery of the roller coaster might be nothing but rusty metal... but the ride is what this man is thrilled by.  Just listen to how manipulative that statement really is.  The ride.  Is it possible to dismiss that as haokum?  Well, of course.  It is an unsupportable bunch of mystical bull.  I'm just a wandering fool. There is no ride.  My hardships were due to poor decision making and childish risk taking.  I also preferred to not pay my elders with the helpful gift of my attentions.  Any surprise I ended up a hero of the trashbin, resplendent in rags:  friend to all who were not there?  Nabokov asks memory to speak.  I'm almost certain memory would be, should I invite her closer, a hell of a crappy choice in friends.  Perhaps I ought, in light of this, provide her a funeral service in celebration of, get this, my own life.  Such are the privileges of embodied metaphor.  I wouldn't do it to YOU, reader.  Promise.

Which, given the utterly unreliable mechanics of narrative brings me around to White Oak cemetery, at the side of which I stood, my head cocked like a silly dog, seven days ago.  It is a plot of land one block over from where I sit, on the north west end of the center of Bloomington.  This section of town was filled with workers mixed in race; predominantly trades-people and factory laborers.  Many of the houses from here and down the rail line toward Illinois (a short distance toward that state, I mean) are almost comically small.  And occupied at a rate that Atlanta and Phoenix would envy.  Gee, I wonder why.

Why it is called White Oak I couldn't say.  I suppose there are some white oaks around.  I don't really know what one looks like.  Mostly,  it seems Bloomington is filled with the red and pin oaks.  The latter, I believe, being virtually a domestic, given the vagaries of its range: hewing close to us, like rats and pigeons.  Harder to find in the dark brambly havens of deer and muskrat.  But White Oak?  It's probably heaving above my roof as I speak, weighing in on when to give it up, given last nights howling winds.  All the seven or eight hundred trees that have blown over in the last few months in Bloomington are riddled while whole and alive, on the inside with their Grim Reaper: mold.  The snap like toothpicks in shear winds, and even sometimes lesser howling.  My imaginary white oak figures when the going gets tough....  But I, typical human, am thinking hard on bigger things.

In any case, planted with small sweetgum trees near 7th, (thirsty, annoying, messy things, if you ask me) and running about the corner of that street and Adams, bounded on the North by the old Illinois line, the cemetery gets it share of traffic: cars, whizzing down eighth to avoid the dogleg that the city planners created when they divirted Kirkwood (5th street) into a boulevard that inexplicably, to the newcomer in town, becomes W. Third.

The reason for the dodge, which the newcomer is so busy driving, and probably texting, that they might not notice, is that White Oak became superseded by Rose Hill Cemetery, which sits, you guessed it, straight in the path of progress West, of Bloomington.  Rose Hill was built, in the 19th Century, when like Indiana itself, it was the West.  Now, it's an oddly quiet center to the ceaseless shuttling of the quick: whilst long lived trees fall down amongst the slow erosion of big names once of a time, but, yes, right here still.  One of the last of the large trees there has finally fallen down, my friend Shannon tells me.  In heaven, we will buy tickets to such things, but here, dear fellow mortal, we compose chainsaw elegy.  I can hear them singing, each to each.

Oddly enough, a week ago, I inspected most of the graves at White Oak. The small cemetery gets more traffic than the big one, strangely enough, because it is on the rail line, and the indigents, homeless, and time-shorn lovers of place and process (like me) find rights-of-way abutting cemeteries precisely the sort of places to make our passing. 

I wonder if little Minnie, the two year old I stared down upon, buried at the cemetery, likes the setting as much as I.  A modern adolescent would say, "there are so many things wrong with that question." A college student might say any number if things, of course, but sure to include, "her soul is not in that field."  But a certain number of us, when asked at the right moment, especially in the light of the moon would simply redden with emotion not meant for the light of day, and sink to the depths where men and women go to die with the matters that once composed the meaning of their lives: down with the ship/ off to the old folks home.  Yeah, Minnie, I DO think you are there.  I do.  And frankly, I have to laugh at the curdle of feeling that this inspires in the living, yes.... for hon, what do I know, which you have not had chance yet to even begin the telling?

We were a long time gone already when we yelped our first salute. Long, long times on either side of our life. My first  and lasts are fixed, but pardon me here for just a moment, these mundane passages for Minnie.  And she was hardly alone there.

So, in the sunlight (the perfect, yellow, warm, life giving, carcinogenic sunshine, that is) I took my hours pleasure that Saturday, a week ago in White Oak.  I had not known much in my hurried former moments near at hand.  I guess I thought I should go out and meet my neighbors, but the rest of  the quick were down at Market getting good weight and marveling at the riot this side of entropy.  Just as in Summer camp, I went to the quiet place and stood before graves marked, where the marble wasn't illegible or supine: Born 1778; Died 1804.  A body beneath my feet that old I usually imagine to be of the peoples my State was named for.  They are obviously in state everywhere.  We are baffled by the pattern of their fluid culture: unbounded by a curiosity of magnitudes: the very small thrown out, inconsequential, trending on the infinite.  They, therefore, have melded with the very stuff of our soils: but a dark stain on the red clay wall of our well.  Only slowly melding with us: unnoticed, unreal, uncatalogued, unimportant.  Even Minnie is at least a monument next to that smear of trace minerals that The Old Souls leave still with us.  But, on the bright side, their remains give off very little radioactivity these days.  So, if you made whiskey with them, by accident, the government wouldn't allow you to sell it, by regulation:  only the properly radioactive alcohol (made, in other words, of recently living stuff) can be sold.  They have a Geiger counter, and per regulation, use it, before sale.  This prevents alcohol being made for consumption, in America, with petroleum distillates, or some such thing.  And... if you have a Geiger counter, you can check the sleight remains and dark smudges that you occasionally find in our mineral Glacial/ eroded oceanic moraine, here in Indiana.  A lack of beeping and you might be communing with a stranger indeed. I'm tempted by an old Geiger counter for sale for seventy bucks down across from the Kroger on Second.  They call it, I kid you not, the Ghetto Kroger. 

My friend Brennan disappeared two weeks ago.  I took a few days for me to hear that his Mom was sick and possibly ailing.  She, in fact, did die, which saddened me considerably, given my awareness of his closeness to her (she lived here.)  Additionally, I  had only just met her, a few weeks back.  She had seemed nearly as twinkling and in humor as her son, who walks a hell of a tightrope wherever you string it.  She, apparently, was a somewhat liberated woman back in the day, and any ropes meant for her today, she had craftily braided into something decorative, oftentimes presented to the world through her children, or on the porch of her small home, which I had sat in a car outside of from time to time.  She was and remains, in short, a person who took these prosaic materials of our curious life, and made them something, which to her, surrounded and nested her within a meaning personal and otherwise.  All of that energy remains.  I was standing outside her house yesterday, having just seen Brennan for the first time in weeks (at his store.)  After work I went by to say hello, and prior to going to a meeting together, we went to water his Mom's plants/ intentions/ gifts to the world/ burdens/ celebrations.... you get the picture.  The dog also needed some attention.  My prejudice being what it is, I summarily thrust my way into the garden to attempt to find a hydrant and water the flowerpots.  In and amidst the thick probity of perennials and other signs of life, on tops of facts of life, on top of sheer dirty tricks of life, I failed to locate the, now obviously vanishingly unimportant form of even a hose.  I called out to the dog walker for help.  He told me that the hydrant was where it would normally be, which is beneath a good chunk of sequestered carbon dioxide, glowing menacing green.  I parted the vegetation, beaming a bee square in the face and gained purchase on the giver of life's elixir.  Piece of cake!

Standing beneath a behemoth fir tree, and before some Neo-Classical arborvitae, I wondered at the house and garden of Brennan's late mother while watering, looking for all the neighborhood like a bum peeing
in that saintly woman's Zinnias. Careful not to encourage the plants too much, I turned off the water, which, went about as well as turning it on, and while waiting for the dog to bring Brennan back, I snooped around the property.  His Mom was a champion finder of valuable stuff, and the yard had little grace notes of her canny capabilities all over it.  Most of the stuff was beneath the celebration of this particular season, but, some was not.  I looked at the stuff that was not.

Ducking beneath Spaceship Fir Tree, I went around the side of the house to see if the Earth really did continue back there, and sure enough, even some of the small house did as well, in the spectral light of that Gymnosperm.  Along the foundation wall (not leaking!) of the house ran a ladder, which my criminal mind noticed, to its pride, and my shame was unlocked , and I smiled at the prospect of ripping anyone like Brennan and his Mom off.  Such is the manner in which rather effective phantoms, or Banshees are born.  Then I noticed that upon the ladder was what looked like some very oddly colored squirrels.  Upon closer inspection the squirrels turned out to be small kittens, three of them, one white, the others who knows.  One of them darted into a hole exactly the size of their bodies, small but not tiny.  I walked to the front of the house and garden, and saw Brennan coming out of the front door.  "Hey," I said, "did your mom have cats?"

"Yeah," he said, "she has one in the house." At least, he said something like that.

"Well," I said, "she's got kittens living in the crawlspace.  Do you suppose she was feeding them?"

Ever the investigator of aesthetic appeal he asked me, "long or short haired?"

I gave him a look that forms one part of the basis for our friendship.  It wasn't flattering to either of us.

"Do you honestly think I know how long their hair was?  I thought they were rats for Chirstsake!" I pleasantly suggested.

His endurance of my over reaction was the sort of look he often gets while enduring noise coming from my direction.  He was, no doubt, weighing something toward a rate I can't fathom.  We both were smiling.  Kittens are after all, a smiling variety of vermin.

"I'll need to catch them somehow. Do you know how to trap them?" he said, eventually.

"You're on your own there, buddy.  By the way, who planted those arborvitae, your Mom?"

"You mean the pine tree? That was our first Christmas tree, twenty-four years ago." he said.

I didn't mean the tree.  Though, given what he'd just told me, I had trouble emoting much that was intelligent.

"I guess we should be glad you didn't plant six of them, huh?" I said, more in wonder, looking up at the thing, then anything.

He gave me the gift of his laughter.  I guess I'm partial to people who are tolerant.

While driving to a meeting, I asked Brennan a little more about the last two weeks, and with great calm and very much out of character, he slowly related some of the details of the passing of his mother.  He told me that they had wanted to bury her in Kokomo (I think) but that the expense was somewhat crushing, and given all the other things that needed doing they had settled on a place in town.

"And where is she buried?" I asked him.

"We buried her in White Oak, " he said.

I am obviously off today, given the length of this post.  When I have finished typing these words, and attended to some people who asked my attention, I am going to go where I have never been  asked for anything.  But, it will in some senses not be a return.  For the sod is turned over, and some ashes have been placed upon a deliberate spot particular to no soul who still commands the difficult carriage of our burdens, and our gratitude.  To the shade of some trees I will step... their shadows soon enough their own resting place.  And to the edge of a grave not yet marked even by a stone from her children, the vernal green that followed her will be gone: but return.  I will stand there with her, and Minnie, and with the others in White Oak.  Only paces from my home, and but a few from my habits.  I know nothing of their place and time to which I too must return.  But I will stand there none-the-less for a friend, and myself, and from those habits, apart again, as ever, in summer camp; in half of life.

(This is for Brennan, who I told, "I hadn't realized how much I care about you." when he returned.  Such cognizance need not be repeated. And also for Harlequin, who has her own realms, shorn from this half.  To return, Harlequin, as the grieving are often asked, is, I think, an unfair request, given the unity of life and of death.  We are shorn, yes, but the world is united.  I can not be human and with Minnie and all the rest.  With grief, I believe connections are none-the-less made.  We owe no-one a return, a birth, or an innocence.  Thanks for your friendship. And your honesty.  I suppose it is sad, to say nothing of dicey, to make so plain a case, as is my habit, for the beauty of pain.  But there it is.)