Saturday, June 22, 2013


There are people who really won’t eat a raisin. I’ve never seen them object to a grape, or a glass of wine, or a sun-dried tomato, but the raisin inspires a gag of revulsion from some people, two of them my raisin-hating relatives.

There are other shriveled foods, like, as I said, the tasty sun-dried tomato or the sugar-coated pretender the Craisin® or beef jerky or apricot fruit leather. Raisins, usually being almost black, do have the both shriveled appearance and the blackness to surmount. The blackness of raisins means that they might appear to be an errant rock or burnt bit, and makes them easy to identify and pick out. They are minimally processed and so lack the uniformity of beloved foods, like the shapely whip and twist of RedVines® (all the same length), or the sculptability of mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, or the colored domes of the trendy fancy macarons or even old school Fig Newtons or Oreos or any doughnuts really. Perfect, uniform food appeals to the particular palate and the infantile. “No,” screams the toddler, “I want it the SAME.”

So raisins. Wrinkly. Shriveled. Black. Big ones, small ones, occasionally long ones. Sometimes in one of those tiny boxes of Sun-Maid™ raisins you get one that’s shrunken to the point of seeming a first cousin of gravel. Not so nice. Lots of little kids hate them, though a few little kids recognize that raisins are mostly sugar in a little black chewy shrunken nubbin. The rest pick them out of oatmeal cookies, pick them off of otherwise gooey and completely delicious cinnamon rolls, and leave them on the table, on the napkin, in their hair, on their clothes, on the side of the plate, on the floor for the dog. The dog will eat the raisins, though grapes and raisins and onions and chocolate are all pretty toxic for dogs. Dogs don’t care. Dogs are happy to eat toxic things. If a toddler drops it, or a ten year old drops it, or an adult sneaks it under the table, a dog will eat it.

They put raisins in the traditional Moroccan tagine at Barbes, a midtown New York City restaurant. This place is a few blocks from the temporary apartment we moved to when we first got to New York, and so we ate there a few times and had a lovely meal even when they lost their Grade A and had to be Grade Pending and then even spent a few weeks as Grade B. These things happen. We kept going there, the MaĆ®tre D’ kept opening the door to us, we kept ordering couscous and scalding hot sweet mint tea that they pour from as high up as they can reach and oh so delicious traditional tagine. But when my sister in law--a real live adult who saves people’s fucking lives—came to town and we met up with her there, she wouldn’t eat anything that might have raisins in it. I don’t even know how she knew to ask.

I think raisins are offered to young children and that is where the revulsion begins. My solution when my children were young and I still did things like bake cookies on a regular basis was to use golden raisins that are softer and lovelier and easily disguised within the texture of an oatmeal cookie.  But people will still ask, “Do these have RAISINS in them?”

I think the main problem that raisins have is the apparent consensus of their peers: most little kids hate raisins, and will complain about raisins being in things, and once the crowd has declared itself anti-raisin, that’s it.  They’re wrong, of course. Raisins are yummy. Oh well, more for me.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Things I Find in my Basement #37

Back when I still had a house of my own, I also had a basement. 

The police came about a noise complaint
In 1988, as now, we were renters, the Bacon Provider and I. We lived in Burlington, Vermont. 

On June 19, 1988, we played Pink Floyd's "Time" as loud as we could. It was a record we had. Back then, we played records, and we made cassettes to play in the car.

Someone nearby must have called the police on account of the noise.

I remember thinking this was all pretty funny.

These days, we have a storage closet in the basement of our apartment building, and we have to go down there to "take out" the trash. There is a fellow who lives down there who looks and sounds and seems a bit like Young Sideshow Bob. He seems to be about the age we were in 1988 when we played music too loudly.  The sounds we hear coming from the basement of this building are mechanical;  Pink Floyd's "Time" would fit right in.

I think Young Sideshow Bob also smokes in the basement because the smell of cigarettes comes up into our bathrooms late in the morning when most people have left for work and the building is quiet. We usually see Young Sideshow Bob when he goes outside to smoke; he stands next to the building, or sits on a low wall there. This spot outside our building is visited by many people, and serves as the Crying Lounge for the McDonald's employees who work around the corner. 

My very first paying job, outside of babysitting, was working the night shift at an Arby's in the late 1970s. This was my opportunity to learn that I was actually a "white" person, and I learned how to count change, to punch a clock, and to smoke. Even though I wish the folks who work at McDonald's would go someplace else to smoke or have words with each other or talk on their phones, I do understand that working the register at a fast food joint is hard and sad and worth complaining about.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Turtle in the Road

 A few weeks ago, I tested the brakes of my car when I saw a small turtle in the road; my car has excellent brakes. My middle son, Art School, was with me, and I instructed him to lift the turtle out of the road, keep it facing the same way, and put it down in the grass. He was surprised that the turtle scratched his hands with its desperately waving paddles, but he was more surprised than harmed. We drove to dinner with the excitement of having done a good deed, and though we were late picking up the Bacon Provider at the train station, and Art School had to wash the wild turtle germs off his hands, we were glad we did it.
Gregor, Soup Turtle

Back at the farmhouse we have rented in Dutchess County for the season, we are playing host to a pet turtle named Gregor for the second summer in a row. Gregor is a third year student at Bard College, having been enrolled after being purchased by other Bard students from a Chinatown street purveyor of “soup turtles.” Now he is an overfed beast, a red-eared slider, the kind of cheap pet that finds itself living in the green ponds at Central Park once it exceeds the normal dimensions of an apartment-sized aquarium. Somewhere in Gregor’s future there is no doubt a real pond and an old age spent basking in real sunshine instead of a propping him/herself on a small pile of rocks under a light bulb, and eating real insects and pond weeds instead of Rep-to-Sticks and wilted lettuce. But for now, he is our houseguest at the farmhouse.

Last summer Gregor’s aquarium sat on a shelf out of view or reach from our permanent pets, but this year he was placed by his exhausted owner on a little trunk in the mud-room, just inside the door. And there the aquarium has remained.

Just the other day I was feeding Gregor, and Cherry (who is a dog interested in all things small and squeaky, and has recently caught herself two baby rabbits) suddenly noticed the soup turtle for the first time, and now she actively wants to smell, watch and taste the aquarium of said small animal. I don’t want to find out if turtles squeak like baby rabbits.

Yesterday morning, because there was a train to catch, the dogs were roused when we got up. Even though the dogs should be exhausted from oh-so-much running around, wasp-catching, bunny-chasing and sun-bathing, they will leap to attention from a sound sleep if we make a gesture towards the door. So out they were sent, and they galloped about, did their morning business on the grass, and Cherry, being the senior and more obedient dog despite her predilection for hunting, presented herself promptly while Captain went off for an early morning adventure.

There was no time for an early morning adventure yesterday.

Once again I had made an incorrect calculation; I was wrong about what time we needed to leave the house to have the Bacon Provider to the train on time, and so we had lots of yelling anxiety in the car on the way there. The problem had started when I wasn’t ready to go at 7 am, got a bit worse when I was found at 7:08 stripping the sheets off the bed, and got worse still when Captain didn’t come back in. Captain finally took an out-of-the-way route via the open garage, and was shooed into the house. As I fired up the engine of my car at 7:12, the Bacon Provider leapt out again, because in my haste I had put Captain in the closed mud-room with Gregor, the turtle.

The yelling anxiety got more intense at the long stoplight in Rhinebeck, where all directions of traffic go red for a pedestrian, and then it always begins with green for the direction you don’t need. We should have left at 7 a.m. and it was my fault that we didn’t.  Good thing I’m a multi-tasker; I can simultaneously offer an apology, articulate a bland re-assurance that the clock in my car is fast, and drive like a bat out of hell slightly exceed the posted speed limit without crashing into anything. We made the train, just in time.

On the way back from the train station delivery, I met a large snapping turtle in the road, about 1½ miles from the farm. It was bigger than the last one we encountered.
Last year, we were still in North Dreadful, where we had a swimming pool and some scenery but were still surrounded by people who didn’t want to know us, I witnessed a woman in a large white SUV purposely driving over a large snapping turtle. It made a loud popping noise, turtle guts were strewn all over the narrow pavement, and I let out a shriek of horror. What kind of person goes out of her way to run over a snapping turtle? Oh, yeah. North Dreadful.
Angry snapping turtle, still ready to bite me

Yesterday’s snapping turtle was actually on the other side of the road, and almost all the way across already. I stopped my car and put on my hazards. I opened my window and tried to make a frightening noise. The turtle didn’t move. I opened the door and clapped my hands at it. The turtle didn’t move. I touched the back of the turtle’s shell with the toe of my shoe. The turtle spun around, snapped at me with its enormous mouth and scared me. I jumped left, hoping to get around it again. It hunkered in. I tapped it again, thinking that now I had its attention I could herd it off the road. The turtle spun and snapped again. Now it was pointed 180° from its original destination. I tapped the turtle once more, hoping to get a course correction. Now it was pointed towards the road’s shoulder, and looked ready to move.

I got back in my car and sat with my hazards on, waiting to watch the turtle make it to safety. A car came up from the other direction, and the turtle was directly in its path. I waved them down. I told them about the turtle. They thanked me. I told them about the turtle rescued by Art School. They told me they saw a man throw a jacket over “one of the big, aggressive ones” to be able to move it safely. I told them this was one of the big, aggressive ones.

The approach of their car inspired the turtle to rise to its greatest height, stretch out its neck and start booking it, turtle-style, up the road. I said it looked like it had an appointment in Rhinebeck. The other drivers laughed and said they could give it a lift since that was where they were headed. Another car arrived, and I pulled forward to tell the second driver about the delay. He was as good-natured about letting the turtle make its way safely across the road as the people ahead of him were.

Today I am back in New York City. I saw a green leaf on the sidewalk this morning and mistook it for a frog. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Birthday Story

On a June 4th a few years ago, I was in the copying room before school, making a batch of quizzes. Probably I was giving myself the gift of quizzing my students on that day, or it was for Honors Geometry, which, being an Honors Class, had a number of required elements, including weekly vocabulary quizzes. June 4th is my birthday.

"Sigh" is a Japanese extreme metal 
band from Tokyo, formed in 1989.
On my way out of the copying room, I encountered the magnificent form of Sister R. Sister R. taught 10th grade Scriptures, stood at least 7 feet tall, and had a neat white helmet of hair similar to the snap-on hair on a plastic Playmobil figure. Everything about her was great, from her long, large teeth or her hands the size of prayer books. She had a ready smile and an earnest stare, though one eye looked right at you, and the other eye might have looked over your shoulder. I often wondered if there were angels back there—angels only she could see.

She addressed me in her throaty whisper of a lady's baritone, “Oh, Maggie! Let me give you a Great Big Sloppy Happy Birthday Hug!”

Because Sister R. was two feet taller, when she held out her five-foot-long arms and enveloped me in the instant before I had a chance to flee, she trapped my arms by my sides and smothered my face in the depth of her cleavage. Then, for the four-count of the intense hug, my face was surrounded by the sister’s somewhat enormous bosom, that enveloped my forehead, cheeks, and ears. Her embrace pressed the air out of me, and I thought maybe I might die there.

When she released me, I drew in a long breath of joyous relief. I was alive!  I breathed in the smells of a freshly laundered lady’s blouse, of copier toner, and of the plaster walls and varnished woodwork of a hundred-year-old Catholic school. I felt reborn.