Background Check Pending
Every particle of me
(At least those parts the world can see)
Works smoothly to create the masks
Compliant with my daily tasks
So no one guesses that down deep
When I was just a little tad
And full of zest and vim
I never thought the day would come
When eyesight could grow dim
And hair fall out, and memories
Impossible to keep,
Or that my middle would go soft
Or I would fall asleep
Just trying to sit through the news,
But couldn’t sleep at night,
Get creaky and arthritic
And develop underbite,
But, over and above these things,
No way would I have guessed
The day would pounce so suddenly,
So early. I’m depressed!
The assertion that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is cynical in its assumption not only that bad things will happen and that people will do bad things, but that this is where our greatest interest lies as well. To a certain degree, I will concede it.
There is a part of me too that believes in the other having equal weight: the kind and good, the innocent and the pure. Our every moment of disaster, whether natural or human-made, brings out this good in force. It is the sleeping angel inside that emerges on call to offer aid to the suffering, comfort to the weary and food to the starving. I think that maybe, despite all appearances, it’s goodness that is actually the one inexhaustible resource.
Who needs call centers in India, I ask you. India calls me all the time, without any help from batteries of trained phone service representatives, using only its myriad delicious foods. Works all the time!For a recent sit-down, for example, I was lured by the siren song of Tikka Masala. Too short a lead time for cooking on the occasion meant I’d need to doctor up some ready-made sauce, and there are certainly plenty on the supermarket shelves, so I picked out a jar and took it home to sauce some leftover roasted chicken and serve over leftover chicken broth rice. On tasting, the sauce proved to be a bit insipid and not quite what I had in mind, but it served as a fair base for a good dish with just a few little additions. A bit of tweaking with cloves, cardamom and cayenne got it going slightly more brightly. A toss of coconut is seldom amiss, so yeah, I threw that on top.
Buttery peas, freshly cooked pappadums and a spoonful of raita rounded out the meal. I was delighted to discover that ready-to-fry pappadums from the grocery could be easily prepared in the microwave, of all things, which made my dinner’s trip over from India just that much shorter, a good thing indeed. Raita is such a grand condiment, jazzing up many a different dish or meal with its cool and refreshing blend of plain yogurt with a few flavor enhancers like, in this instance, finely diced cucumber, dill, fresh mint and a touch of salt and pepper.The leftovers, since the raita was eaten and gone after the first day of this batch of Tikka Masala and there wasn’t a lot of chicken left in it either, got further doctoring. I added some plain yogurt directly to the dish, and a good sprinkling of my favorite homemade curry powder along with some brown mustard and black sesame seeds. I didn’t want to fix or add more chicken at the moment but wanted to expand the dish enough to fill me up, so I thought I’d love some palak paneer alongside. I love that spinach puree with farmer’s cheese in it, but, erm, it’s hard to make when there’s no spinach around. And no actual paneer, either, it turns out. So I took the similarly slow-melting cheese I did have on hand and cubed it directly into the sauce along with the chicken and peas. I’m pretty sure that this iteration of mine departed so far from true Tikka Masala dishes that it would be virtually unrecognized by any real Indian cook (no matter how far the true Indian versions vary, from what I’ve heard), so I guess India can’t be blamed for what I have perpetrated. But then again, the inspiration, the motivation–that’s all India’s fault.And I, at least, thank her.
Whether it’s only on my mind as a continuation of its recent theatrical theme is debatable, but I do think a great deal about location. More likely, perhaps, because whatever minute remnant of my Viking heritage remains in me is expressed in waves of desire to go, to be at or in, other places. It needn’t be out of dissatisfaction with my present; I’m simply aware at one level or another of how much great magic is Out There everywhere, luring me.
In any case, one of those relatively few things that will often set my heart racing is the image of a setting for some new act on my part. It may be quite specific–the upper room, reached by improbable set of impractical stairs, in an old clapboard chapel where I used to sneak away to daydream in the dust-glittering beams of attic light, perhaps. Other times, it might be more general, like that vague yet insistent itch to be at some glorious outdoor place defined more by its unsullied native air, free of any human-made flaw and full instead of the intimate stirrings of the natural world. Sometimes my soul inclines toward places known, and others, to something that may not yet even exist.
Perhaps the latter is my cue to see that there are places I myself should be inventing and shaping. Mayhap there is a scene–is an entire tale–yet to be writ, precisely so that I can be the first actor on its stage. Do you suppose that this is how we must address Life to fully inhabit it?
Even when we’re young we pick up clues pretty swiftly regarding what sort of behavior and attitude is expected of us in our interactions with others. As a child, I learned ever so quickly that I am not the boss of anyone else and practically everyone else is the boss of me, and not much has ever changed in that department. Whether happily or unfortunately, depending entirely on your point of view, I also figured out as speedily as most kids do that as long as I behaved in the expected manner when anyone was watching I could get away with a fair amount of far more self-indulgent–if not subversive–ways. Sure does simplify my life!Show of Proper Respect
The Mistress in her jewelry and finery and furs
Thinks everyone should bow and kiss the ground—that’s also hers—
And genuflect before her grand tiara and her mace,
So that is what we tend to do—at least do to her face.All frivolous jocularity on the topic aside, however, getting trained by our elders and betters, in particular our mothers, is both more complicated and more happily meaningful for those of us who are blessed with great moms. Me, I’ve got two. The mother who gave birth to me and raised me from my days as an only mildly subversive little sprout into the silly but exceedingly happy big kid you see before you today is worthy of recognition as one of the great teachers not only for giving me a framework on which to hang my sense of right and wrong and general grasp of manners but also the education and freedom and knowledge of being unconditionally loved that enabled me to choose how to build on those foundations as I grew. My second Mom, brought to me courtesy of (her son) my beloved husband, gets credit for instilling the same curiosity and drive in her children and, in turn, for reinforcing in me through her example what it means to be a lively and lovely person who is good company, an active part of the household and community at every turn, and a tireless learner and adventurer who earns her place in those settings with remarkable grace. Whether I can live up to the standards set by either of my Moms remains to be seen, but they certainly give me the tools that should make it possible if anything can.
If it can’t, I guess I’ll have to fall back on my naturally ridiculous ways and just pretend to be better than I am for as long as I can keep up the front. Those of you who are looking for reliably good, sound company, go see Mom W and Mom S. And also my sisters and my sister-in-law, great mothers to their children, and all of those other mothers, who by birth, adoption, random acquisition and teaching, raise better people, who in turn make the world a better place altogether. All of whom I thank profusely not only on Mother’s Day but every day for being such great examples even for those of us who are a little too childish to be motherly examples ourselves. Go ahead, you can say it right in front of me. I’ve learned that much, at least!
Everything is not always as it appears. For good or ill, our first impressions are often quite mistaken, and responding to them with too much speed often means, if not outright failure, at least diminished returns of success.Take Bonnie and Clyde‘s visit to the Ponder State Bank. Those bank robbing hicks, made famous and a good bit more glamorous than the average two-bit crook by media and public appetites right from the contemporaneous news accounts on down through the Hollywood version of them incarnated as Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, were perhaps more prone than most to such snap judgements, given their line of work. Undoubtedly, once they started their career of armed robbery, they weren’t likely to be given any sort of chance to explain themselves or do anything particularly legitimate without being suspect, and clearly they weren’t allowing a leisurely approach in which to assess and evaluate any situation as they approached the end of their road.So when they showed up in little old Ponder, Texas, hoping to make a full withdrawal of the bank’s funds without having their own account number, it’s little surprise that they weren’t welcomed with open arms. In point of fact, it is a little surprising that they weren’t greeted with firearms, what with the swath they were cutting in those days, and it being Texas and all. Not to mention that, had they checked their information ahead of time to plan the heist, they would have learned in advance that the Ponder bank had gone belly up just previous to their visit, thanks to the Depression. Turned out to be a bust both for the bank and for the troublesome twosome. Irked, whether at their lack of foresight or the bank’s inability to supply them with cash, Ms. Parker and Mr. Barrow just shot the place up a little in that casually friendly sociopathic way of theirs and took to their heels again.And as anyone who knows the tale of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow knows, that dash didn’t end well for them at all. Perhaps a touch of circumspection and introspection now and again in their lives might have led to a considerably less messy end.Avoiding hasty conclusions can make quite the difference in the tiniest of things as well.
While I’ve been out in the yard traipsing about and yanking up the occasional weed, I have seen that some are much too lovely to bump off with abandon. After all, a weed is only a wildflower or a self-sown plant that has popped up in an unintended spot. So I tend to leave many such characters alone when I can, hoping that my neighbors won’t be too chagrined at my assembly of oddments growing in weird and unexpected locations in the flowerbeds, lawn and periphery.
I tend to be a little bit more ruthless, admittedly, when it comes to the paths and walkways, not to mention the driveway, because what grows through the cracks there tends to widen the cracks. What widens the cracks, in turn, pushes the stone and concrete farther to each side, and what pushes to the side can in its turn put undue pressure on the house’s adjacent foundation, and what can shift my house is a little more risky than the occasional irritable neighbor shifting my attitude.So when I saw that where our driveway dovetails with the next door neighbor’s at a shared bit of curb, there was stuff sprouting brazenly in the sun, I headed right on over to give that little interloper a tug and a toss. I would probably have looked especially ridiculous, since I was making quite the determined beeline for it, if I’d been geared up in full cowgirl regalia, but fortunately the only High Noon spur-clanking on the occasion was strictly mental on my part as I headed for a showdown with a measly little weed.Good thing the driveway is quite as long as it is, because I got mighty close before I could see clearly that this particular one was the very first of our blooming bluebonnets. I’m not certain that weeding out a specimen of the State Flower is a capital offense in Texas, but as a big fan of them I can definitely say that I would have been sorry as a sway-backed mule if I’d killed that pretty little plant. So I thank my lucky stars that I was slow to get there and had time to rethink my approach before that winking blue beauty got cut down in its prime. We should all be so lucky.
A Little Antsy Now
If I could do just as I wished and not a nickel more,
I’d not sit still just listening to any tiresome bore,
But I’m in well-bred company (I’m told), so I must stay,
Attempting to pretend it’s deep engrossment I convey—
Meanwhile, my nostril starts to itch and twitch, and I suppose
I am not wholly ignorant
Of what a fool I am
But if you’d keep me happy
Just give me a slice of ham
A piece of cheese a bit of bread
Some butter, if you will
And I’ll continue happy fool
Slumped up here by the still
Bread for the morning came from five-o’clock ovens fired with passion and streaked with musky, pungent olive oil; the steam rolled out of those great clay caves and up the terraced resin scented hills of vineyards’ cool and shadowed kiss. Inside the chalk-white walls with their gauzy curtains strewn and the brick brown pavers all around worn by pacing wiry dogs and treading cats, the whole countryside slept, immobile, somewhat far retreated in their beds before the wavy rays of fourteen-karat sun-baked into turquoise heat our ceiling of sky.
Cats are nature’s hate-seeking missiles. If there’s a houseful of guests, only one of whom dislikes or is wildly allergic to felines, everybody knows that’s where the household cat will make a speedy beeline and glue itself to the ankles of whichever sufferer would rather the cat were somewhere about a thousand miles away. As it happens, when they choose to do so, cats can also sense affinity. Some are so quick to attach to the humans who will indulge their every whim that they must probably have a sense transcending the dimensions we with our merely mortal five senses perceive.
In both, I have seen parallels in human form. There are some who manage at every turn to recognize quickly and attach themselves instantly to others who will love and appreciate them and all their gifts—and some, conversely (or perversely) who have only the knack of finding and sinking their hooks into people who would rather they were about a thousand miles away.