Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cooking In the Storm

Two packages chicken breasts
Two heads Bibb lettuce
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms

It’s a dark, damp morning, the day after the first presidential debate, and I am writing my grocery list in my head. The house is still, the silence all-encompassing, a microcosm of the silence of a nation holding its breath. My fears today are many – some justified, some no doubt extrapolation – but I seem unable to delineate one from another. And so I do the one thing I know how to do in both good times and bad. I cook.

1 bottle dry cooking sherry
1 large bunch red grapes

My little grandson, who came to us four years ago by way of south Korea, is four and half now. He’s in kindergarten where he’s learning to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The big words are tricky and the concepts mud puddles. But he stamps his feet in them and splashes until he’s drenched with their majesty -- the rest will come later. For now it’s enough to put his hand over his baby heart and cut to the chase, “Flag of the United States of America! Liberty and justice for all!”

2 cucumbers
1 container Parmesan cheese

Early this morning I saw two deer. In the space of time before the sun has fully risen deer blend so seamlessly with the backdrop of trees they are nearly invisible. If you want to see them – really see the grace and shape of who they are-- you have to look hard. If you focus on their color you’ll miss them every time.

1 loaf artisan bread
2 large tomatoes

Words tumble over words in my head, but I can’t bring them to my mouth, can barely force them out through my fingertips. I should be out canvassing the neighborhood, signing up voters, working the phone banks. I’m a world class talker – ask anyone who knows me. I could talk the legs off a donkey and sell the pope a double bed, but right now all I can do is cook. So I will do that then. And when I have chicken, and rice pilaf with mushrooms, salad, and bread, I will pack them all up and take them to the Democratic party headquarters to feed the young volunteers who are here from Chicago, Rhode Island and California. They crash on family room floors, eat whatever presents itself, work until the wee hours and then repeat it all over again day after day. They breathe life into the words my grandson shouts and the ones I can’t articulate.

1 bag celery
2 green peppers

I am silent today. My voice is stilled by anger, but mostly by grief. I am sick over what’s happening to our country, sick that Barrack Obama must contend with the circus his opponent is trying to make of the election during a time when our country is literally cracking open like an overripe pomegranate. We are bleeding, we are gushing blood like a geyser, and his opponent and the woman he is using for his own selfish means, are apparently insulated from the spatter. But we are not insulated. We are black, and white, Asian and Hispanic, sick and well, Christian and not Christian, straight and gay, poor and middle class, employed and unemployed, young and old. If we don’t succeed in making a difference this November we will continue to have no buffer from the raging storm of greed and lies they so neatly couch in words like faith and Christian. The last safe haven may be this kitchen. And so I will go there today and cook for Barrack Obama.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ike's Last Breath

The last breath of Hurricane Ike blew over the Midwest rather spectacularly on Sunday. Nancy and I usually walk five miles on Sunday morning, but decided to delay until afternoon to get a few things done at home. Nancy showed up around five and almost immediately the many trees in my backyard started rockin’ and rollin.’

“I think we’re cooked,” I said. “Might as well sit down and talk.”

CRASH! The outer door of the screened porch flapped in the wind like Sarah Palin under the scrutiny of Charlie Gibson. Porch trees and plants fell like dominoes and one of several small decorative windows at the top of the screens imploded, leaving the brick floor littered with blue glass and smashed wood. I grabbed the door while Nancy saved a decorative stained glass panel and together we moved all the furniture as far back against the wall of the house as we could. At this point Nancy decided maybe she’d better make sure her own hatches were battened down and made a dash for the car. I stood at the door in amazement and growing apprehension. Our trees are not saplings. If they fell … My next thought was my husband who was in Indiana doing an outdoor show for his business. According to the Weather Channel, Cincinnati was hardest hit and he was but one hour away from Cincy.

By the time Ike gave up the ghost power was out in much of the area and the yard looked like a war zone. Eric had managed to get through on his cell phone earlier and all was well in Indiana, though the connection was so full of cracks all I heard was “me … okay now … okay?” By ten p.m. I had the glass cleaned up on the porch and Mickey the cat ensconced once again to take in the night air. The real work began yesterday.

By eight I was outside with a stack of leaf bags and a rake. A huge branch I’d heard glance off the office window was now impaled in the fence. I may be a hundred pound weakling, I but sang that old Helen Reddy song in my head “I am woman, hear me roar …“ and wrestled it out and around the house to the curb. Meanwhile next door, a crew showed up at the neighbor’s house to perform the same ablutions. I chatted with the workers awhile and then we all got down to business – they with their rip-roaring machines and me with my rake and leaf bags. The day was dank and overcast, but a sudden flash of joy filled me from the top of my head to my sandaled feet. We made it! We survived! The wet leaves and debris smelled fresh and earthy and I breathed in their scent glad to the core of my being that I was out there doing what I was doing.

Not long after this, the owner of the house with the crew strolled outside with his coffee for a chat. I know he thinks I’m a tree-hugger and he’d be right about that, especially since it was my trees that had left their body parts all over his bare, green expanse of lawn, but I think he sort of likes me anyway. We talked about the damage and I said, “There’s sure a lot to be done out here, but then that’s the price of paradise, right?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say THAT,” he replied.

I guess paradise is wherever you find it. For me it's right here on this street in this town in Ohio.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Death, Stories And Fresh Eggs

My mother used to say that death always comes in threes. This year two local booksellers died, one whom I didn’t know, and Doug Gunn whom I did. I miss the latter at book sales and will no doubt feel it keenly next week when we go to the Wooster AAUW sale. Last year I picked up a book there and heard a voice behind me cry, “Stop! Don’t do it!” I turned around and there was Doug laughing at my near mistake. He’d almost bought the same dud-in-disguise himself the very same morning. The last time I saw Doug was last fall at the Ashland sale when we both crowed with delight when they announced a ban on scanners. Doug was the first “old school” bookseller who made me feel like we were classmates, something I appreciate as much now as I did all those years ago.

I guess my mother was right about death pulling a trifecta though because on Monday Rob Levandoski, writer and bookseller (Two Bird Books of Akron), died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Rob’s third novel “Fresh Eggs” was a 2004 Pulitzer prize nominee. The New York Times called him “a distinctive literary voice deserving to be more widely known.” I agree, which is why I think nature, God, the Universe, whatever, Whoever, got it wrong this time. But of course I don’t get a vote.

Last evening my friend Nancy, who is another local writer, and I went to calling hours at the funeral home. It had been a dark, rainy, glum day straight out of one of those Victorian English movies where they shoot from above, panning a sea of black umbrellas at the graveyard. For two days all Nancy and I could do was email each other endlessly. And yet for all that outpouring of emotion we were still shocked, sad, and so sorry for Carol, his wife of only five years. As we knew it would be, it was a rough go, and there were tears involved (mostly mine as I can cry on a dime), but we thought of a funny story about Rob and laughed our heads off too.

A few years back, Rob, Nancy, and another local writer, Betty Wetzel (who has also since died), were asked to be part of a panel discussion at the library about the writing life. Before it began, the moderator, who would never be accused of having a sense of humor, asked the trio if their publicists burdened them with too many events.

“Are you kidding? I had to sleep with mine just to get this gig,” Nancy deadpanned.

Picking it right up, Rob asked Nancy, “Do you think maybe you could sleep with mine too?”

Betty, a sly wit with a great Olympic laugh, cracked up and pretty soon everybody but the moderator was on a roll. Poor guy -- he looked like he was trapped with three live grenades and no access to the SWAT team, which I guess in a way he was.

I love that. Not only is it quintessential Rob, but it’s also the Ghunga Din of stories. We told it, and for one normal second laughed in the face of death. The best stories are like that though. They embolden us, make us strong, brave, and hopeful that there really is life not only after death, but in the face of it. Somebody famous (I forget who it was and I am not in the mood for research) said, “Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.” I don’t know about genius, but I’ll certainly attest to magic and, most definitely, power. Without the stories, without all the pictures Carol had placed around the room, without the books and newspaper articles, Rob's first press pass, and his old antique typewriter -- all stories in their own right -- how would we ever have dealt with that much sorrow? Stories not only embolden us -- they save us too.
P.S. I just opened Rob's book "Fresh Eggs" and read the inscription dated four years ago. It says, "To Tess, Stop getting rich with the business and start writing again. Rob." I never got to tell him that after a six year dry spell, I finally did.