Saturday, December 31, 2011


Update: Our New Year’s Eve Turducken dinner
     On New Year’s Eve Mrs. Chatterbox and I spent the afternoon at the theater watching War Horse. On our return home we slipped our turducken (a turkey breast stuffed with a duck breast stuffed with a chicken breast stuffed with rice dressing) into a preheated oven for an hour and a half. Mrs. Chatterbox made mashed potatoes and an assortment of veggies to accompany the main course. I mixed up a batch of martinis and we enjoyed them while waiting for our turducken to roast. On a recent Chubby Chatterbox post  many of you offered comments on turduckens, and in appreciation for your concern I won’t prolong the suspense: We would have had a better meal had we eaten War Horse.
     Turducken is one of the worst things I’ve put in my mouth, and I could easily raise a few eyebrows were I to start listing the questionable things I’ve eaten over the years. I should have been suspicious when a burnt jockstrap smell permeated our kitchen. (As I type this in my downstairs studio I can hear Mrs. Chatterbox scraping our dishes. She’s yelling, “I can’t get the stink of that horrible thing off my hands!”
     As for its appearance, it wasn’t at all appealing to look at. It resembled a bald head wearing a hair net. And the rice stuffing oozing from it resembled lice. (There was a bunch more description here but you can thank Mrs. Chatterbox, my editor, for sparing you further details.)
     Pause: I’ll be back: She needs me.
     I’m back. Mrs. Chatterbox was cutting up the rest of the turducken and feeding it to the garbage disposal, but apparently the disposal didn’t want it either and had stopped working. I had to pry chunks from the blades with my fingers.
     I feel sorry for my wife, who’d looked forward to preparing a delicious meal for me, a meal that I’d requested and she’d prepared with her usual love and skill. Unfortunately, boiled gym socks would have tasted better.
     When we found the turducken at a fancy grocery store I had the good sense to ask the butcher how many people it fed. He told us it was a small turducken but it would easily feed twelve. Since it was only the two of us dining on it I had the butcher cut it in half, shrink wrap the two sections and wrap both for the freezer. I still have half of that fowl meat bomb in my freezer. What the hell am I going to do with—
Please disregard the previous portion of this blog.

     Welcome one and all to the Chubby Chatterbox Turducken 2012 Contest. Just send me a comment as to why you deserve a free turducken dinner and your name will be entered into a drawing for half of a delicious, mouthwatering treat. Don’t wait, hundreds of you will undoubtedly be curious about this culinary delight. I’m standing by waiting for your comments. Be creative. Maybe there’s someone you hate and you’d like to send them a message. I’ll cough up postage for anywhere in the contin…make that the world. Please? Is anyone out there?

     I may be at the hospital tomorrow having my stomach pumped so I’ll say it now while I can.
Happy New Year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Magic Fish

     This short story was inspired by a recent trip to the mall:

     The mall was choked with shoppers returning Christmas presents and looking for end of year deals. My sister had gifted me an unsuitable sweater and I’d come to return it. With the refund tucked into my wallet I worked my way to the mall exit. The aisles were jammed with sullen children, screaming babies and tired parents. Maneuvering around them required patience which at that moment I was sorely lacking. I dodged into a pet store to calm my nerves and build up energy to slash my way through the jungle of shoppers to reach my car.
     A rude young boy pushed past me with a crinkled dollar clutched in his hand. He pressed his nose to a tank swarming with goldfish advertised at a dollar each. An older man approached to wait on him. They didn’t appear to notice me and I was well positioned to hear their exchange.
     “Can I help you, young man?” he asked politely.
     “Are you Chinese?” the boy blurted.
     “My parents were born in China, but I was born in San Francisco.”
     The boy appeared to think about this for a moment, and then said, “I’ve spent all of my Christmas money ‘cept for this dollar. I guess I’ll take one of these crummy goldfish.”
     “Have you owned a goldfish before? They require care to thrive, clean water and of course fish food.”
     The boy rolled his eyes. “My sister got one for her birthday but a couple a days later it was dead. She said I could have the fishbowl and what’s left of the food.”
     “I see,” the man said. “Do you know anything about goldfish?”
     “I know they’re pretty darn cheap if you can buy ‘em for a buck.”
     The salesclerk showed remarkable patience with the kid. “Goldfish are originally from China. Early Chinese fairy tales from around 700 B.C. refer to a goldfish leaping from a well to signal the end of a drought.”
     “Can these fish jump?” He didn’t look as disinterested as he had a moment earlier.
     “No. But imagine what must have happened a thousand years ago. Can you imagine how long a thousand years is?”
     “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table lived a long time ago. Was it around then?”
     The man nodded, oblivious to others impatient to be waited on. “Back then someone spotted a little grey fish with a fleck of gold on it in a creek. The fish was scooped up and placed in a pond with another fish with a single golden fleck and before long babies were born with two spots of gold. The process continued until, after much careful breeding, a fish was created that was completely gold in color. So you see it took ages to create the first of these tiny miracles. It’s true that today they aren’t expensive, but they certainly aren’t cheap.”
     The man carefully netted one of the fish and placed it in a plastic bag with water. Before handing over the fish he leaned toward the boy and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “You might want to keep it a secret, but these fish are special in another way. They possess the magic of good luck. Take care of it; feed it properly and keep its bowl clean. The longer this fish lives the stronger the magic.”
     “What happens if it dies?”
     He pretended to shudder. “Let’s not think about that. Besides, I have a feeling you’re
going to take good care of this fish. Aren’t you?”
     The boy nodded. After visiting the cash register, he left, carefully cradling the bag containing his new pet.
     I smiled at the salesman and searched for a nametag. He wasn’t wearing one. “That was clever of you,” I said. “That fish didn’t stand a chance until you fibbed and told him it was magical.”
     “I didn’t fib,” he explained. “That little fish is going to teach our young man responsibility, patience and kindness. What’s more magical than that?”
     A few weeks later I again found myself in the mall. The post Christmas crowds were gone. I remembered the man in the pet store and decided to pay him a visit. I passed by the yapping puppies and meowing kittens, grumpy parrots and disinterested rodents until I came to the fish tank still advertising goldfish for a dollar apiece. The clerk without the nametag was nowhere in sight. When another salesman approached I said, “I’m looking for an older Asian fellow who was working here a few days after Christmas.”
     “I’m the manager,” he said, “and no one on our payroll meets that description.”
     “What about seasonal help?”
     “Sorry. Maybe you’re confusing ours with another store.”
     “Is there another pet store in the mall?”
     “No. Maybe you were at a different mall. But since you’re here, is there any way I can help you?”
     I shook my head and turned to go, but I was halted by an impulse fluttering through my mind. “Yes, there is something you can do for me. I need a goldfish.”

Coming soon: Goosie & Bonkers: A tale of Two Goldfish…..

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Drink Knocks You On Your Ass?

     New Year’s Eve is rapidly approaching and Mrs. Chatterbox, who isn’t much of a drinker, and I toast at midnight with a glass of something festive, champagne or my old standby—martinis.
     My folks weren’t imaginative drinkers; they liked Ancient Age (whiskey) mixed with Seven-Up, which became my drink of choice when I headed off to college. I’ve tried over the years to drink beer like a real man but I just don’t like the taste of hops. I have no such problem with the hard stuff.
     Shortly after I got married my new father-in-law, a retired Army colonel and one-time bartender, took my wife aside and told her, “I can’t stand it that Steve only drinks bourbon & seven. Since you two aren’t driving anywhere tonight I’m going to expose him to another drink.”
     I didn’t hear the exchange but I’m sure she giggled and said, “Okay, Daddy.”
     Later that evening my bride and I were invited to join Mr. and Mrs. P. in the study. He poured a clear concoction into a chilled, long-stemmed glass and capped it with an olive speared by a tiny plastic sword. My first martini! I had no idea I was to be the evening’s entertainment.
     With all eyes on me, I took a big gulp. This new drink was…absolutely marvelous. I swallowed the rest in one gulp. My father-in-law poured me another, but cautioned, “You’d better sip it slowly. These have a habit of sneaking up on you.”
     He quit drinking after three martinis and the only entertainment that evening was watching Mrs. P. help him up the stairs. After I’d consumed another three martinis, Mrs. Chatterbox led me to bed. I seem to recall being interested in something else that evening—once we were alone in our room—but the only thing I could firm up was my enthusiasm. Nevertheless, martinis have been my drink of choice since then. (If anyone’s interested I’m willing to share my recipe for the world’s best martini. It’s easier than you might think.)
     On a recent trip to Mexico with our son CJ, we wandered into a bar at dusk. I was about to order my usual. CJ ordered first, something called an AMF.
     “What’s an AMF?” I asked.
     “I don’t think it’s for you, Dad,” CJ said.
     “What’s in it?”
     “Everything,” he said. “AMF stands for Adios, Mother Fucker.”
     There was the hint of a challenge in his tone. “Make it two,” I told the bartender.
     Three AMFs later I realized the drink was aptly named. How I walked back to our hotel is a mystery, but I did discover a new drink. The things we learn from our children.
     What was the last drink to knock you off your ass? Tell me about it. I have a full bar waiting and I’m ready to experiment.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Free Range Turducken

     Another Christmas has come and gone and I’m sitting here staring at the tree and already thinking about the complicated process of taking it down, boxing up the delicate ornaments, folding up the tree skirt and all the other things that make our tree pretty.
     Mrs. Chatterbox once had a crazy aunt who one year took a piece of plywood, nailed roller skates to it and used it as a Christmas tree platform. The decorated tree was kept in the garage under a tarp and on December 1st she’d kick it in from the garage and roll it into position in the living room. A week after Christmas she’d roll it back to the garage and throw the tarp back over it. Mrs. Chatterbox’s crazy aunt is starting to seem like a genius.
     An hour ago Mrs. Chatterbox, who’s far more organized than I am, asked me what I wanted for New Years Day dinner. I’m still stuffed from the delicious Christmas prime rib, and we’ve yet to polish off the Honey Baked ham we enjoyed on Christmas Eve. There’s also platters of Mrs. Chatterbox’s incredible Christmas cookies scattered about requiring my attention. But back to the problem of what to eat on New Years Day.
     We’re not adventuresome like Anthony Bourdain, not interested in nibbling on sloth rectum fried on sticks, but it does seem like we’ve eaten our way through most of the traditional dishes: pork, turkey, chicken, etc. But we’ve never had them altogether. “I blurted out, “What about a turducken?”
     “Turducken?” she said.
     “Yeah. You know, a turkey breast stuffed with a duck that’s been stuffed with a
chicken. And I think the chicken is then stuffed with pork dressing.”
     She wrinkled her nose. “I know what it is. That’s what you want?”
     Turducken was something I’d wanted to scratch off my bucket list, that and roast beast from Whoville, hand carved by the Grinch.
     I nodded and Mrs. Chatterbox is determined to procure me a turducken. That woman spoils me terribly. Incidentally, I was thin when we met.
      “Be sure it’s a free range turducken,” I joked. She didn’t smile.
     At the moment she’s making phone calls to local grocery stores and butchers, but this year turduckens are rare as chupacabras. Mrs. Chatterbox is no quitter and she’ll make this thing herself if need be, which makes me feel guilty requesting it.
     Since I’ve unwittingly put my wife to so much trouble, I ask you, my friends and readers, have you ever had a turducken? Was it any good? What did you pay for it, and was it worth the price? Let me know as quickly as you can or New Years Eve feathers will be flying as I help my wife pound a chicken and a duck into a turkey.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lurking On Our Christmas Tree

     I'd just poured myself a cup of hot chocolate and was settling down to enjoy our beautiful Christmas decorations (mostly the work of Mrs. Chatterbox) when my attention turned to the beautiful tree ornaments we’ve collected over the years. Mrs. Chatterbox and I try and purchase one each time we go on vacation and these remind us of the wonderful places we’ve visited. In addition to travel reminders, we have handmade ornaments that were given to us as wedding presents thirty-seven years ago. I even have a rubber ball (from a ball and jacks game) painted silver with toothpicks in it. I made this in the first grade. I think it was supposed to be a snowflake but it looks more like Sputnik. While I treasure all of these ornaments, over the years two have remained my favorites.
     The first is a Star of David our son CJ made when he was in the first grade. It was created with Popsicle sticks and glitter, although the glitter is now mostly gone. I have no idea why he made a Star of David since we aren’t Jewish, but this ornament is proudly displayed on our tree every year.
     The other ornament is…well it’s…questionable. Mrs. Chatterbox and I have no idea how we acquired this piece. It’s a little bear sitting on top of a child’s reading block, the type of blocks designed to help youngsters learn the alphabet. This ornament dangled on our tree for years, probably decades, before I got around to noticing the two letters on the block: F and U! Was this a coincidence? These two letters out of twenty-six? Where did this darn thing come from? I doubt I’ll ever find out.
     Now, whenever I see that little bear, I imagine him flipping me off. I should have gotten rid of him a long time ago but now it’s too late. He’s part of our Christmas festivities. Like the Star of David, he’s managed to make a permanent place for himself on our tree.
     Do you have any curious ornaments on your tree? Care to share them with us?

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2011

Her Last Christmas

     This 499 word true story was written for Heather’s Spreading Holiday Cheer contest. Check out the details at her blog: My Demon Spirit (here). I was encouraged to enter because of the efforts of Briane Pagel at The Best of Everything, and if he wins a prize and I don’t I’m gonna send a zombie to eat his brain.  
Her Last Christmas

     Christmas is that time of year when the pull of my ethnic background is the strongest. Dad’s folks weren’t anything in particular but Mom’s parents were Portuguese and her side of the family always won the weird relative contest.
     On Christmas day we always converged at our traditional gathering place, the massive family room at my aunt’s house. An entire wall was covered with a Cheers-sized bar, and a ten foot tall aluminum Christmas tree stood in a corner. A rotating color wheel painted the tree with rainbow colors.
     The room would be choked with aunts and uncles, along with first and second and third cousins, most of whom I never saw at any other time of the year. Reigning over the festivities was the family matriarch, Mrs. Gonsalves. I have no idea how she arrived because I don’t remember a Mr. Gonsalves, but she was treated like a monarch: no liquor or food was served until after she’d made her entrance.
     How I was related to her is a mystery, but Mrs. Gonsalves looked old enough to have led Adam and Eve out of Eden. Her voice was a croak, and she usually spoke in incomprehensible Portuguese. She stood about four feet tall and was always shrouded in the cheerless colors of a grave. Her hawkish features were usually covered by a black shawl as she sat in a seat of honor, hardly moving or talking until people forgot she was there.
     In 1962 I was ten years old, and one of those who’d forgotten she was there. She’d been seated near a bowl of M&Ms and I’d wandered over to fill my pockets. I was surprised when her withered hand sprang from the shawl and latched onto my chubby arm. She pulled me so close that I could see hairs on the mole beside her pointed nose. At first I thought she was going to scold me for eating too much—I got a lot of that—but what she said was far more disturbing and set my chins to quivering. She whispered, “This is my laaast Christmas!”
     I shook free, burst into tears and bolted from the room.
     In the kitchen, Mom was preparing a Portuguese delicacy, roasted pork marinated longer than the time it took to embalm King Tut. She saw me wiping away tears and asked, “What’s wrong?”
     “Mrs. Gonsalves just told me something,” I said.
     “I’m really busy right now, so out with it. What did she say?”
     I gulped. “She said this was going to be her last Christmas. Did you know she was going to die?”
     My mother stopped what she was doing and snorted. “That old bat told me the same thing—when I was your age.”
     When I returned to the family room Mrs. Gonsalves winked at me.
     Many of those gathered that Christmas day in ‘62 are now gone, including Mrs. Gonsalves. But she did manage to survive another twenty-three Christmases.

Wishing you many more Merry Christmases!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Has Scrooge McDuck Stashed All The Gold?

     One of my favorite movies is Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart. It isn’t hard for me to conjure Bogie’s eyes burning with greed and feverish lust, his mind  unhinged by the lure of gold.
      For centuries alchemists have labored to create a philosopher’s stone capable of turning dross into this precious metal, so far without success. Conquistadors and pirates have braved hostile elements and vast distances for it. Closer to home, Mike Geller in my senior high school class was considered a dork until he got a gold cap on a chipped front tooth and girls suddenly couldn’t keep their hands off him. I can’t help wondering if Lord of the Rings would have been as interesting if the one ring with the power to “… bring them all and in the darkness bind them,” was made of tin, or plastic, or aluminum foil.
      But have you noticed that gold seems to be disappearing from sight? I’m currently reading a magazine with half a dozen ads for jewelry and only one shows the precious yellow metal. The fine print describes this as “gold-colored” metal. It’s not even listed as gold plated.
     Usually at this time of year my mailbox is overflowing with jewelry store catalogs
featuring all sorts of baubles set in glinting yellow gold. This year there are only a few. TV programming is choked with commercials for Ben Bridge, Jared and Zales, but they’re mostly pushing silver colored jewelry.
     The jewelry store ads I notice most during these hard times are those offering to buy old or unused gold, as if there’s such a thing as new gold. As I write this, gold is selling at just under $1600.00 per troy ounce. Folks like Glenn Beck advertise the lasting value of gold and encourage people to hoard it as a hedge against economic collapse. Some of these companies even claim that after you buy their gold coins or bullion they’ll permit you to store your purchase in THEIR vault. Folks actually fall for this?
     When I managed jewelry stores in the ‘80s, gold was selling for just under $300.00 per troy ounce but the buying public had no idea how high the mark-up was. Twenty percent? Forty? Seventy-five? No, the markup was in keys (short for keystone) and a key was a hundred percent. Most gold and diamond jewelry was sold at a 7-10 key markup—that’s a markup of up to a thousand percent. It used to be cheaper to fly to Italy, party hearty and buy your gold jewelry there. Admittedly this was back in the day when high tech meant an electric typewriter, airlines didn’t charge luggage fees and cold duck was something you drank rather than plucked.
     So has gold become too valuable for the middle classes to own? Is this why we’re seeing so little of it? Has Scrooge McDuck locked it all away in his vault?
     Are you hoarding gold?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Deal Breaker On Becoming Jewish

     With Hanukkah just around the corner I’m posting a story from my memoir The Kid In the Kaleidoscope, a true tale about my decision to become Jewish when I was ten. But I questioned my decision when I found out about the deal breaker….
     Jonathan Khorman lived three houses down from me. One day while perched in the sycamore tree in his front yard he turned to me and made a startling declaration. “I’m one of the chosen people,” he said.
     “Chosen for what?” I asked.
     He shifted his weight on the branch he was sitting on. “Chosen to be special.”
     “Who chose you?”
     “God did.”
     “Says so in the Bible. Jews are God’s chosen people.”
     I liked Jonathan, but it was hard to imagine God personally selecting him for anything. When it came to team sports at school, Jonathan and I alternated being chosen last.
     Later, I asked my mother about it.
     “The Khormans are Jewish,” she said. “Jews consider themselves God’s chosen people.”           
     I knew the Khormans were Jewish because they celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas. Jonathan and his little sister Ruthie received gifts for eight days instead of one. I didn’t know much about Jews, but they were light years ahead of everyone else when it came to gift-giving.           
     Then my mother blew my mind with three words: “Jesus was Jewish.”            
    Even though I was an altar boy, I was surprised to discover that Jesus wasn’t Christian.    
     “So who was responsible for the crucifixion,” I asked, “the Romans or the Jews?”
     “People have been squabbling about that for centuries,” she said. “Opinions vary, depending on who you ask.”
     I liked the Khormans and chose to blame the Romans, since I didn’t know any.  
     The Khorman home wasn’t a popular hangout with us kids, but I remember the time Mrs. Khorman rang up my mother to invite me to a backyard sleepover to celebrate Jonathan’s eleventh birthday. Permission was granted.           
     Dinner at Jonathan’s house was strange, much of it not to my liking, but I learned a new word—Kosher. Jonathan opened his presents, most of which were educational toys. We looked at bugs and strands of our hair under Jonathan’s new microscope for awhile, and then we attacked Jonathan’s bright green birthday cake—I’d never had green frosting before. Then it was time to settle down in the backyard for the night. Just as we were zipping ourselves into our sleeping bags, Mrs. Khorman came to kiss Jonathan goodnight…and hear our prayers.
     Jonathan rattled something off that sounded like a record being played backwards. I couldn’t understand a word but I kept my mouth shut about it. When it was my turn I recited The Lord’s Prayer.
     When we were alone I asked Jonathan, “What kinda prayer was that you recited? I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it.”
     “I was speaking Hebrew. It’s the ancient language of the Jewish people.”
     As I lay on the grass in Jonathan Khorman’s backyard watching wispy clouds pass in front of a full moon, I realized that this Jewish thing was sounding pretty darn cool: interesting food, eight days of gifts in December, their own secret language. Catholicism was starting to pale in comparison. I considered giving Judaism a try.
     “Can anyone become a Jew?” I asked Jonathan.
     “I think so. You’d have to go to Hebrew school. In two years I’ll celebrate my Bar Mitzvah, coming of age. I get gifts.”
     It sounded a lot like First Holy Communion, which I’d received two years earlier.
     “If you became Jewish we could study together.”
     And if I celebrated a Bar Mitzvah I could expect more presents. “Is that all there is to becoming a Jew?”
     “There is one more thing, the most important of all.”
     “You need to be circumcised.”
     I frowned at him. “What’s that?”
     “It’s a ceremony commanded in the Bible as a sign of participation in Israel’s convent with God.”
     Confusing. “Say again?”
     “It means you get the tip of your penis cut off while friends and family stand around and watch. This is usually done when a male baby is eight days old, but you’d have to go through it now.”
     I was determined to become one of God’s chosen people, but this was a deal breaker if
ever there was one.
     I’ve never been known for my poker face and the next evening my brother David asked, “Not that I care, but what are you moping about?”
     “I was just wondering how much it would hurt to have the tip of my penis cut off.”
     He looked at me with more disgust than usual. “You’ve asked some crazy questions in the past, but this tops them all. Here’s the answer: IT WOULD HURT LIKE HELL!”
     “That’s what I thought.”
     “Why would you ask such a thing?”
     “I’m considering becoming Jewish and Jonathan said I’d have to get circumcised before they’d let me in.”
     David rolled his eyes. “Have you talked to Mom about this? I’m sure she’d have
something interesting to say on the subject.”
     “Why? She doesn’t go to church much, only on Christmas and Easter. I doubt she’d care.”
     “You’re wrong. Trust me; she’ll care. As for being circumcised, you’re too stupid to know, but you’ve already been circumcised. Boys are supposed to look like their fathers, and you and I were both circumcised at the hospital before Mom and Dad brought us home.”
     “So, Dad was in on this, too?”
     I shrugged off the fact that everyone seemed to have kept this a secret. I felt elated,
like I’d dodged a bullet. I didn’t need to go through a painful penis whittling ceremony
after all. And if circumcision was the most important part of becoming Jewish—as
Jonathan claimed—then Jewish or not, I must already be one of God’s chosen people.
     I was glad I couldn’t remember the feel of that hospital knife between my legs, but knowing what had happened to me before I was brought home from the hospital made me feel…special, until I found out every boy on our street shared the same “specialness”—except for Ramon Guzman, who’d been born in Guatemala.
     When I told Jonathan I’d decided not to become Jewish after all, he looked disappointed.
     “Look at the bright side,” I said, trying to cheer him up. “At school during PE
class when everyone breaks into teams, nobody wants us. This time we’ve both been

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Science* Of Sneezing

      There’s a nasty bug going around our neck of the woods. There’s probably one going around where you live as well. Several days ago Mrs. Chatterbox and I were at the mall and she decided to dash into Pottery Barn. I found a bench and proceeded to engage in one of my favorite pastimes—people watching.
     I noticed that many people were sneezing. The vampire sneeze is very popular these days, where you cover your mouth with your arm and sneeze into an invisible cape, which some say is preferable to covering your mouth with your hand and spreading crud like victims in Stephen King’s The Stand. Some people try to stifle a sneeze and make a sound similar to what happens when you remove the air hose after filling your tire.
     Others go for a more literary approach, employing what writing instructors call onomatopoeia—the written description of sound. These folks sneeze like the sound is being read rather than heard. Listeners are subjected to: achoo, atchoo and atisshoo, with the first syllable corresponding to the sudden intake of air and the second to the sound of the sneeze. After his hernia operation my dad’s sneeze became the howl of someone being mauled by a polar bear; my mother discreetly hisses like a garden snake. But it’s not the sound of a sneeze that fascinates me. It’s the serial sneezing.
     Very few people are single sneezers. I myself am a DS—Double Sneezer. I don’t know why I can’t confine myself to one, but just as surely as night follows day my sneeze is soon followed by another. Mrs. Chatterbox is also a DS but she’s sneaky about the second one, tries to cover it with her hand. She thinks I don’t see her nostrils flaring like Secretariat, or her eyes closing. I do. She swears that she’s a SS—Single Sneezer—but this is one of the few areas where she is not to be believed.
     My scientific analysis suggests that DSers are the most common in our population with SSers being the rarest. Yet people sneezing three or four times aren’t all that uncommon. My older brother was a Sixer. When he started blowing it was a funny sight to behold. This might sound insensitive (he did have chronic hay fever) but he frequently picked on me. I took pleasure slapping my knee and counting off sneezes when he was red-faced, bent over and gasping for breath—too preoccupied to run me down and beat me up, which he often did when he wasn’t struggling for air.
     I’ve yet to come upon the Holy Grail of sneezing. Yes, there is a Holy Grail of sneezing and if you’d given it time you’d have figured out what it was without needing me to tell you—catching someone sneezing with their eyes open. The scientific community once thought this impossible and maintained that your eyes would fly out of your head if you did so, but scientists are now divided about this (clearly they have too much time and grant money on their hands.) Once ridiculed for wasting time staring at the sun while trying to sneeze with our eyes open, many of us have now sloughed off public scorn to focus on achieving this elusive phenomenon.
     So what are you? Are you a rare single sneezer? Can you prove it? Do you fall into the category of the ubiquitous DS? Is your Kleenex wet by the time you finish sneeze number….
     Uh oh…I just sneezed. I’m willing to bet a million bucks another one is…yep!


Friday, December 16, 2011

Honk If You Love Whales!

     I’m really tired of being burned when it comes to bumper stickers and artwork on other people’s cars. Responding to these attention grabbers over the years hasn’t always yielded positive results. I’m fed up with the angry looks I get for flashing a thumbs up for chrome fish proclaiming the driver to be a follower of Jesus. I’m bored with political causes and advertisements for overpriced alma maters, license plate frames celebrating private pilots and llama farmers, and stickers announcing you’d rather be skiing.
     Years ago during my morning walk to the bus stop a van would pass by painted with Matisse’s The Dancers, one of my favorite works of art. The painting depicted five figures forming a circle. Drawn with remarkable simplicity, these dancers kicked up their heels with unabashed enthusiasm for life. It was hard to gaze at the painting without feeling like a child again, as if I were reaching out to join a game of “Ring Around the Rosie.”
     This went on for months; sometimes I’d pick up my pace to try and catch a closer glimpse of the driver but we never managed to arrive at the corner stop sign at the same time. I couldn’t help wondering about the fellow driving that van. What were the chances that his car would be decorated with my favorite painting? I wondered if he was my soul mate. Other than Matisse, what else did we have in common? Was he a fellow art student also chasing an illusive creative muse? Did he have fantasies like I did about one day becoming the father of modern art?
     The day finally came when our paths converged. I was approaching the bus stop on the corner and the bus was early for a change. The Matisse Van, as I’d come to think of it, was stopped behind the bus. I dashed up to the driver’s window and tapped on the glass.
     A nondescript guy rolled down the window. “Yeah, what do you want?”
     “I just want to say how much I love and appreciate your vehicle. Matisse is my favorite artist and seeing The Dancers on your van every morning cheers me up.”
     The dude scratched his head, a cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth. “If you’re talking about those silly dancing hippies, they were already there when I bought this van. As soon as I can afford a paint job this baby is gonna be metal-flake purple.”
     My bus pulled away while I stood there with my mouth open. The Matisse Van drove off as well.
     Which brings us to yesterday afternoon. There I was in bumper to bumper traffic hunting for the right chili powder for my mother. (Our community has a large Hispanic population and the markets are filled with countless types of chili that aren’t good enough for Mom.) A car switched lanes, pulling in front of me. The bumper sticker on the back of the car read: Honk If You Love Whales!
     Well, dammit! I DO love whales. I think they’re wonderfully majestic creatures that we’ve driven to the brink of extinction. Whales are a hallmark species and the world would certainly be a lesser place without them.
     I should have given it more thought, I should have wised-up from previous experiences and considered the fact that the whale sticker could have been put on that car’s bumper ages ago and is invisible to the car’s current owner. But without my realizing it, my hand found the horn. I pressed down long and hard, trying to expiate for a great grandfather who was a Nantucket whaler. Without bothering to turn around, the
driver removed a hand from the wheel and flipped me an uncooperative finger gesture.
     From now on I’m not going to trust any bumper stickers, decals or pictures on cars,
not even if Jesus Himself has taken the wheel.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Road To Nowhere

     Mrs. Chatterbox loved the property, but I wasn’t sold on it. The house was everything we were looking for: stylish, contemporary, roomy, full of great design possibilities. And behind the back fence was a greenbelt with glorious trees. There lay the problem.
      The greenbelt had been purchased by the city years ago to build a road connecting two busy thoroughfares. I asked the realtor, “When will the city build the road?”
     He shrugged. “Plans were drawn up for it twenty years ago, but other projects keep siphoning off the funding.”
     “But it will be built?”
     “Yes, eventually.”
     That was enough for me. I told Mrs. Chatterbox we should keep looking.
     “Why?” she asked. “This house is perfect. I say we make an offer.”
     “What about the road? One day we’ll be looking out the window and see those glorious trees being bulldozed. And we’ll have a freeway behind our house.”
     “It won’t be a freeway,” she scoffed. “Just a two lane road.”
     We debated it for several days. I lost.
     We moved in and lived in that house for five years, and a day didn’t go by when I didn’t go to the window and fret over the fate of those trees. In my mind I could see them being toppled. I heard the sounds of chain saws, construction crews, smoke-belching machines laying down asphalt, not to mention the noise of incessant traffic: blaring radios, ambulances, fire trucks, police cars.
     Over the years, the city council repeatedly debated the road, reiterating the need for it
and the city’s determination to build it. Mrs. Chatterbox just shrugged when I expressed my concern—she was perfectly happy with or without the road—but knowing it would one day materialize behind my house filled me with dread. Eventually, I could barely stand the sight of those trees.
     I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally moved away. Decades have since passed. On a recent drive through the old neighborhood I saw a kid flying a kite in that greenbelt. Folks were walking dogs.
     The road still hadn’t been built.
     I felt like a jackass. If the city ever gets around to it, those trees will all be chopped down, but only once. In my mind I’d chopped them down a thousand times.

     Have you ever worried about something that never happened? Tell us about it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Minus The Hat

     I had no idea when I posted the story about my hair being saved at The House of Estrada that so many readers would request a photo of me without my hat on. I don’t like having my picture taken, as Mrs. Chatterbox will attest (she often says she looks like a widow in our vacation pictures) so I don’t have many to choose from.
      This photograph was taken last year when Mrs. Chatterbox and I went to Yellowstone in May and foolishly thought the weather would be accommodating. That’s Yellowstone Lake in the background, frozen solid. This photo exudes a rugged masculinity that often eludes me in real life. My face is in shadow but you can clearly see the status of my hair—for those of you doubting Thomases unwilling to believe Oscar performed a miracle on me.
     *Confession Time: You might not believe this but I do work hard at making my stories as truthful as possible, but it’s likely no miracle was involved in the saving of my hair. In the Seventies we were all doing strange things. Questionable eating habits, lacquering my head with hairspray and overdoing recreational drugs probably caused my hair loss. Oscar’s treatments came around the time I began taking better care of myself.
     I’m not sure I actually claimed to have been involved in a hair restoration miracle, but in my defense this is the Holiday Season, and if you can’t fabricate a miracle at this time of year when can you? 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Running Of The Grunion

     Christmas is a time of great expectations, and most of us set the bar far too high. At this time of year I always think of grunion.
     For those of you in the dark about grunion, they are a small slender fish that ride the waves onto Southern California beaches in April and May to lay their eggs in the sand. Their arrival is usually as predictable as clockwork and they arrive in the thousands, shimmering in the moonlight like puddles of liquid mercury. They make good eating, I’m told, but by law they can only be caught by hand, and if you have a fishing license. They’re slippery as Jell-O and tend to wiggle through your fingers.
     Years ago Mrs. Chatterbox and I were living on the beach in Oxnard, California. (Check out my Sept. 12th archived post “If Looks Could Kill.) I heard on the radio that the grunion would be running that evening between ten and midnight. Until then I’d never heard of these fish, but it didn’t take long for my enthusiasm to build. By sunset I was sitting in a folding chair waiting for an inspiring spectacle of nature, along with a few hundred other people.
     It was too brisk for Mrs. Chatterbox to venture out but I enjoyed the carnival-like atmosphere of other Grunion Greeters, as we called ourselves. Beer and wine flowed freely as we waited…and waited…and waited. At midnight the crowd unleashed a torrent of hoots and boos and it began to sink in that the grunion were going to be a no-show. The crowd dispersed. I was made of sterner stuff and decided to hang around for awhile. I was a believer, and like a kid struggling to stay up for a glimpse of Santa I wrapped my arms around myself, snuggled deep in my folding chair and waited.
     At one a.m. Mrs. Chatterbox woke me with a tap on my shoulder. “It’s time to come
inside,” she said. “The grunion aren’t coming tonight.”
     “I’m not willing to give up,” I said. “I’ll give them another hour.”
     “Suit yourself, but you’re on your own. I’m going back to bed.”
     I watched as her silhouette grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared.
     I promptly fell asleep again, and dreamt about waves of grunion riding into shore for their reproductive orgy, their glinting bodies painting the sand the color of mercury. I woke aching from sitting for so long. My watch read three a.m. It was time to go home to my bed. I stood and stretched. It was a beautiful night and I inhaled the salty air one last time before heading inside. That was when I saw it. Something shiny in the water.
     The wave deposited it onto the shore where it flipped about like a Mexican jumping bean. It was a grunion. Just one. It reflected the glow of the moon and was as beautiful as a custom-crafted piece of Mexican jewelry. I crouched down to get a closer look and watched as it burrowed into the sand to lay its eggs. It was hard to imagine a brain, probably no bigger than a grain of rice, compelling this exhausting action. Time and again the surf washed over that grunion until she freed herself from the sand and allowed the waves to pull her back into the sea.
     I was left alone to contemplate the beauty of what I’d just seen. It seemed to me that I’d received a special gift, and I couldn’t help wondering if this experience would have felt as intense had it been shared with thousands of these fish, and witnessed by hundreds of bystanders instead of just me. I doubt it, and tend to think this experience was for me and me alone.  
     On Christmas I think about that greatest of all expectations—the arrival of a warrior
Messiah who was supposed to lead an invincible army. This Messiah was going to paint the ground red with enemy blood, liberate his brethren and make them a great people. Well, that Messiah never came; what we got was a baby born in a stable because there was nowhere else to go, a single life as insignificant as a single grunion, flailing in the surf to bring forth the promise of new life. And salvation.
     At Christmas I’m reminded not to set the bar too high. The season doesn’t need to make us leap from our chairs as if Handel’s Messiah were being played for the first time. It’s often the tiny miracles that have the best chance of spawning in the human heart.