Crummy Cake Communication

Country folk have odd recipes, but we always eat good.

My mom had two cakes she introduced us to when I was a kid. She called them Mayonnaise Cake and Tomato Soup Cake.

Yeah, that’s how we reacted, too. Allow me to expand: the mayonnaise is used as a substitute for eggs and oil in a chocolate cake with coffee in the batter. A thick, dense, moist explosion of coffee-chocolate flavor. Frosting would be pointless. Vanilla ice cream works. We’d stir them together, unknowingly creating a cookies and cream experience 30 years before anyone was selling it.

My father was most precise in his speech. It was from him that I learned to look for the right word, the difference, for instance, between “loping” and “trotting” or “thinking” and “pondering” and such shades of meaning which give depth and clarity to our communication.

(That’s called “setup” so you’ll wonder, as I relate this, where it comes into play.)

… more … “Crummy Cake Communication”

How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer

Railroad ties make a good retaining wall. Heavy and thick, they’re impregnated with creosote so they’re nearly rot-proof. Peg them together with 3/8″ rebar and they’ll be there 20 years later (according to this picture. Neighborhood has sure run down since I lived there.)

The process is to lay down the first layer of ties, drill holes where the pins will go through, lay down the next layer, drill, and repeat. Somehow, I kept performing the miracle of drilling the holes exactly where they needed to be. Stupid confidence sometimes turns into wild good luck.

I’d finished the fronts of the walls, tied into the sides next to the steps. I do not remember why (trauma, perhaps) but as I neared the end, I asked my teenage son Tristan to come help.

“Here, hold this,” I said, with a 3-foot chunk of rebar placed in the top of the hole in the railroad tie.

… more … “How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer”

Lemon Grove Killer Van

We worked in the back of a great big van, more like a delivery truck. Not as big as a moving van, but far bigger than a passenger vehicle. Workbenches, grinders, air and power tools of all kinds, bins of parts and whatnot. It was convenient for work, being totally mobile. For driving, not so much. The van was awkward, felt top-heavy, and it as a nightmare to back up. I could always hear stuff shifting, rattling, pinging as we hit bumps or turned corners.

After lunch at a new place one day I headed out the back exit of the parking lot.

There was no back exit.

… more … “Lemon Grove Killer Van”

Fragility and the Geese

If you park your truck facing the sun and leave your beans and rice on the dashboard the Texas summer sun will warm it to eating temperature and melt the butter by lunchtime.

We’d heard the geese but couldn’t see them. Climbed down from the roof, dropped our tools somewhere they wouldn’t get hot, got our Mexican food from his truck and sat in the shade to eat.

I said something almost funny. Probably about as witty as “Duck, it’s the geese!” though it’s been so long I don’t remember.

… more … “Fragility and the Geese”

Greenback Blues

You should have married Andrew Jackson
I know that you think more of him than me
I’ll bet Ben Franklin would be fine with you
and that’s fine with me as far as I can see

Alexander Hamilton is only half as much
as Andrew Jackson in your twisted mind
George Washington is peanuts and Lincoln’s not much more
but Grover Cleveland would be quite a find

too bad Woodrow Wilson don’t circulate no more
got your hands on him he’d never leave
but gimme just one Roosevelt to call a cab
and I’ll be gone for good you’d best believe

Bald Man Can Dance

If I can get Keilan B up here for a couple hours, I’ll record a demo for this, because he’s the only one I know around here who could do the guitar solo the way I want it.

Bald Man Can Dance

(12-bar blues, plenty of distortion and reverb)

baldI’ve heard it said bald is sexy
But I’m telling you there’s just no chance
You may have heard tell bald is sexy
. . . . . . . . . . . no chance
My baby left me for a bald man
She wasn’t looking at his head, ’cause that bald man can dance

Baby said she’s going out for a drink
. . . . . . . . . . . of milk
Now why she gon’ take two forms of picture ID
If all she’s doin’ is goin’ out for a glass of milk? (which we have plenty of in the fridge, know what I’m sayin’ ?)
I think she’s goin’ to see that bald man
His moves
Are smooth
As silk

(amazing guitar solo during which you are not sure whether I am Elmore James or Elmore Leonard)

Whoulda thunk it’d be a bald man
Who’d mess up our romance?
I never would have thought a bald man
Would be the death of our romance
My baby wasn’t lookin’ at his hairline
That follicly challenged man
That wax-buying gentleman
That comb-eschewing character
I’m tellin’ you
Oh, Lord, I said that bald man can dance

The Precise Location of Milford House, Iddington

Since you’re unlikely to consult a map, nor to find it if you did, I’ll waste a bit of ink placing Milford House properly.

While not precisely in the village, it had long been given resident status due to the enormous donations by its builder to the church. Tradition being what it is ’round here, it’s hardly surprising that, more than two centuries later, privileged status persists, despite the fact that the original benefactor died within a decade of building his grotesquerie, and the church long ago sold off the organ, expensive paneling, and gilt whatchamacallits. Since it no longer functioned as a place of spiritual enlightenment (though some in the village argued that it never had) the trappings seemed irrelevant, except financially.

That’s not especially helpful, geographically, is it? Perhaps this will help: head south from the village square, such as it is (apparently the founding fathers felt inadequate for a full square and opted for the three-sided version known elsewhere as a triangle) until you pass the last house on the left, and the last pub on the right. (Just watch for traffic from the former to the latter. It can be sudden and inconsiderate of the casual passerby.)

Now, passing the copse of birch, you’ll come to an enormous iron gate. An enormous ugly iron gate. Unless you’re better traveled than I, you will never have seen wrought iron so horrifically misshapen. Its designer had clearly asked its builder for something expressive of the modern era, which 250 years ago wasn’t a pleasant sight when translated to wrought iron. I could draw you a sketch, but I’ll save us both the weeping and ask you to trust my eyes: it is ugliness, captured for all eternity.

gate at Milford HouseNot just ugly, but useless. The gate is the only portion of the fence ever completed. My guess is that the iron-worker had a reputation to think of and packed his things off to a job which wouldn’t sully his artistic vision further.

There it sits, a gate, partly ajar, where it stuck so long ago no one alive recalls ever seeing it fully open, or fully closed.

The worn dirt path around the near gate post eloquently describes how locals have dealt with the gate from time immemorial. Or at least since the gate stuck, which might be the same thing.

Having done all these things; that is, started at the square, walked past the last house and pub, eyes sharp to avoid a trampling, and skirted the hapless gate, I thought I’d finish the journey, being only a dozen yards from the front door.

It seemed the perfect opportunity to finally test the head of my brass walking stick on the dense brass plate installed beside the door. I’d often thought of it, walking past the old pile, but felt one shade too silly at the thought of knocking on what I knew to be an empty home.

The solid rap and slight rebound were satisfying. Worth the wait, that was. Ah, life’s simple pleasures.

When you’ve lived in Iddington a while you’ll see what I mean.

The door opened in what I can only call a perfectly reasonable manner. No lurching. No timid peek-and-open. No fumbling with locks or latches. It just opened, as so few people seem to be able to arrange with their own front doors.

“Yes?” He proved himself as capable of standing as of door-opening. Just standing, without intent, subterfuge, or agenda.

I looked for an expression and felt as if I were looking at myself. It the ping-pong of conversation it was clearly my shot, and I took it.

“Yesterday in the post, I thought I saw a glimmer of sanity in your actions.”

“And you’ve come to stamp it out?”

Apparently my explosive laugh startled him. He stepped back, then regained his position at the door.

“No, not at all. I’ve come with a bellows to inflame the village with the stuff. There’s been precious little sanity here for decades.”

He eyed me. I can’t say how, precisely, he eyed me. It took me years to read the tiny signs even his face couldn’t hide.

“Best come in, then. Obviously no point standing on ceremony in these parts.”

“Excellent. No point standing, period, if you can sit.”

He stiffened slightly. Not that his face changed, but the swing of his hand to open the door hitched ust a little; the twist of one foot to step away paused ever so slightly before continuing.

“Yes. Well. Perhaps. This way.”

He stepped back from the door, and I stepped into a room full of packing crates, boxes, and the natural detritus of movers and moving.

“Go straight on through.”

Straight on through meant, as far as I could tell, toward the bright light coming from an open door between uncurtained windows, two rooms away.

I could feel him behind me and didn’t pause to look at the labels and scribbles on the boxes. Head down, I marched straight on through like an obedient school child.

Outside the door, it took a moment for my eyes to readjust from crossing the darkened rooms. A table was obvious. Chairs were not.

He stepped around me and walked toward the steps leading down to the garden from the stone porch we stood on. Spinning as he’d done at the post, he stuck out a hand in what I can only describe as a childishly nervous manner.

“Pearce. Kenyon. That is to say, family name Pearce pee ee aye arr cee ee, given name Kenyon, which I shan’t spell.”

Taking his hand I opened my mouth but he cut me off. “No need, no need. I asked around after your performance in the post. My acquaintences in the city were quite clear who you are.”

“Ah. And yet you invite me into your home. How gracious.”

And for the first time, he actually smiled.

“Stuffing. Nonsensical. Writers aren’t all fools. You may yet prove to be in the minority.” And, after the briefest pause, “Perhaps.”

His handshake switched from tentative to firm, resolved.

Without letting go of my hand, he stood for a moment, face wrinkling around the eyes and nose, and then he laughed, a bright, hearty, right from the boots laugh.

Releasing his hand, it was my turn to step back, startled. Laughs are infectious things, though, and I couldn’t help myself but to laugh as well, even without yet knowing the punch line of the joke.

Despite the lifetimes of water under bridges, I can clearly pinpoint that as the moment the greatest friendship of my life began.

And just in time, I might add. Iddington was about to drive me nuts until Kenny dropped in.

Chapter 2 of a book I hope to finish next year, with the working title The Village Id.