Genuine Moroccan Cheesecake

Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)

We know a teacher in Denver who likes to take us out for exotic food every time we’re in the area.

The first restaurant she shared with us was a Moroccan place. As we walked through the front door and we saw people sitting on the floor on cushions I wish now that we’ve done that, uncomfortable as it might have been at my age. We sat in a regular booth.

Our daughter Fiona, who at the time was the pickiest eater in the world, was determined to try everything. We call her ‘travel Fiona’ when we’re traveling because she is always a little bit more adventurous.

Our friend warned us to try everything no matter how strange it looked . For instance, grilled chicken between 2 tortillas covered with powdered sugar. It’s delicious.

The restaurant seemed to be family run; it looked like a father and mother and 3 sons. When one of the sons noticed that Fiona was trying things but not eating very much he said “I’ll bring something you’ll like.” He came back with a dish, I don’t remember what, and she took a taste and he looked expectantly and she said “I don’t like it.”

His brother laughed and ran off to the kitchen saying “I’ll bring something you’ll like” and he came back and they took turns through the whole evening bringing us plates of food, for which we never got charged, to try to tempt Fiona into liking some kind of Moroccan food. She’d always taste it very politely and think about it and say no, I don’t really like it. And then whoever had brought it got laughed at.

At the end of the evening the father came. He’d been watching this the whole time and he said that he was going to bring something that he knew Fiona would like. He came back with a plate of what he called ‘genuine Moroccan cheesecake.’ Now, it looked and tasted to me like regular old cheese cake. But the 3 sons stood back and their father won.


Two-Friend Tent

Sue was digging through an old box and found this story I wrote 26 years ago. Perhaps the second story I ever wrote.

Two-Friend Tent

I think Mike and I have always been friends. Always except last week I mean. Last week he said something not very friendly, so I told him we weren’t friends anymore. I guess something like that needs some explaining.

Two weeks ago we had a new kid in class. His name is Artie Stevenson. Everyone always wonders if a new kid is a nerd or if he’s OK. You can always tell by lunchtime. Artie didn’t raise his hand and try to answer every question in class, and at lunch he didn’t have a dumb lunch box or anything like that. His mom sent carrot sticks, but when he said his dad lifted weights and he ate carrot sticks for lunch no one said anything.

Anyway, some of us went over to Artie’s house after school the next day, and that’s when we knew for sure he was OK. When he saw our bikes, mine and Mike’s and Billy Swenson’s, Artie said let’s go riding. When he got his bike from the garage, we could tell he was OK because he had the coolest bike we’d ever seen but he didn’t brag or say anything about it, just, “Come on, let’s go, guys” and we raced to the empty lot.

The next day, Mike wanted to come over and play Captain Crash on my computer. Well, really it’s my dad’s but he lets us use it if we’re careful. I said let’s go bike riding with Artie, and he said, “Okay” but I think he didn’t want to. He didn’t tell his usual number of dumb jokes that day. (Mike’s jokes are alright, just a little goofy sometimes.) I guess I didn’t notice then, but I do now.

After that, it seemed like every day Mike wanted to do one thing and I wanted to do something else. My something else usually meant going to Artie’s house. Before, Mike and I always wanted to do the same things. I couldn’t figure out why he was being so weird.

That weekend, Artie’s mom said he could have one of us guys over to spend the night in his tent in the back yard. He could only have one of us, she said, because it was a small tent. Artie picked me, and I was real happy, and Billy didn’t mind, but Mike was just weird. He just said, “I’ll see you guys later. I gotta go.”

My mom said I could go straight to Artie’s right after school Friday so I took all my stuff in my school backpack.

Artie’s tent was neat. His dad barbecued, and his mom made us some snacks for after they went in the house. His parents are real cool. They even made sure we had a flashlight, in case we needed to come in the house in the middle of the night or anything. Then we had homemade pancakes for breakfast. Not homemade from a box, homemade from just kitchen stuff. His mom even made the syrup!

After that, Artie came over and we played Captain Crash until my dad needed to use the computer. (Dad says when he gets a new computer I get to have his old one in my room.) Artie is pretty good at Captain Crash. He said his best friend at his old house had it and he was glad his new best friend had it, too. He meant me.

When Artie went home I called Mike to tell him how good Artie was at Captain Crash. All he said was, “Yeah, okay. I gotta go, okay?” Then I asked him how come he was so weird all the time, and then he said it.

“At least I’m not a computer nerd like some people.”

Mike never had any problems with computers before, but I wasn’t gonna let him say that, so I told him he wasn’t my best friend anymore. I told him Artie was my new best friend. I told him he couldn’t play my computer anymore and his bike wasn’t cool, and he said he didn’t want to be a computer nerd, and how would a computer nerd know what was cool anyway. I got mad and hung up.

My mom and dad were weird all day Saturday. They acted like something was wrong with me. I said, “If you want to see someone who has something wrong with them, go to Mike’s house.” They didn’t go, but they were less weird I guess.

Monday Mike and I didn’t sit together at lunch. All the guys were acting weird, so after I ate I went to the library instead of going out to play baseball like I usually do. I didn’t want to see a bunch of weird guys right after lunch. Especially not Mike.

Guess who was in the library.

I was just minding my own business over by the baseball books when Mike walked up and started looking at one of them. He just looked at it for a minute and then put it back. Then he just stood there. Finally I asked him, “How come you’re in here being a library nerd instead of playing baseball?”

He said, “You know I can’t play catcher with one of those other guys pitching. You know they always almost hit me.” I didn’t say anything about what I would do if I was pitching. Then the bell rang for class, so Mike left and I checked out the book I was looking at.

That day after school, Mike called. He said he and Artie and Billy and Reggie Williams and some other guys were playing baseball and did I want to come over and pitch. He said, “I told Artie how good you are, and he said I should call you. So I did. Are you coming or what?” I didn’t want to, but it was boring playing Captain Crash by myself because I know all the levels, so I said, “Yeah, I guess so.”

When I got there they were already playing. Tommy Wethers was pitching, but when Mike saw me he yelled, “Hey, let’s get a real pitcher in here,” and Tommy threw me the ball and ran to shortstop where he usually plays. I didn’t want to pitch to Mike, but all the guys were waiting and looking so I went to the mound and pitched.

It was a pretty good game, but the main thing I remember is that when we started playing, it was hard to stay mad at Mike. You can’t pitch when you’re thinking about something else; you have to concentrate. Also, the pitcher and the catcher have to work together. You can’t just throw the ball and hope he catches it. He has to know what to expect, like Mike said.

The baseball book I checked out says the pitcher and catcher are called ‘the battery’ like they’re charged up or something. After the game I told Mike that, and he said something about us being real high voltage. Then he asked if he could come over and play Captain Crash. “Aren’t you afraid of turning into a computer nerd?” I asked.

“Naw,” he said. “I know a guy who’s a computer nerd, and he’s the best pitcher in the whole world, except maybe Nolan Ryan.” I didn’t know what to say about that. I just punched him in the shoulder and said, “First one to my house gets to use the Electro-Ray adapter” and took off. Mike beat me like he always does.

We played Captain Crash until dinner time, and Mom asked if Mike wanted to stay for dinner. My dad and I drove him home afterwards because it was getting dark.

On the way home my dad said, “It’s nice to see you and Mike being yourselves again. Friends are important.” I guess he noticed how weird Mike had been acting.

On Friday, Dad asked if I wanted to have someone over for dinner. “And spend the night?” I asked.

“Sure, if you want.”

I ran to the phone to call Artie, but I guess I accidentally punched Mike’s number. I wasn’t sure what to do. Then I had the very best idea ever. “Can I have two guys over, Dad?”

My mom answered instead. “As long as you promise to give me just a little peace and quiet this evening.” I said I had an idea, and she would get peace and quiet.

Mike said yes, and when I called Artie he said yes, too.

When I got off the phone my mom said, “You know dear, some kids have two best friends..”

I said, “Yeah, like me.” That was my super idea.

My tent sleeps three.


Raveled Sleave

Stumbling from the mouth of the cave, he shaded his eyes from the blinding blast of the harsh sun. It wasn’t enough. Sitting, he closed his eyes, letting the light filter through the lids, slowing seeping in until he could open them a crack and see where he was.

The mountain above was jagged, hard, rocky. Below, down a slope strewn with miniatures of the peak above, was a flat plain.

On the flat plain was a dwelling.

Between him and the dwelling, a small figure sat, doing something on the ground.

He stood, eager to go down. Not because he was curious about what the small figure was doing, but because that figure would see him, speak to him.

The heavy boots he wore were perfect for the terrain, as were the dungarees and light shirt. More than a few sleeps ago he’d stopped wondering about the clothing. It simply was, like everything else in his confusing existence.

“Hello.”

A young girl, more than half his height, but young. Seven, perhaps eight, if he had to put a number to it, but then, how would he know?

“Hello yourself.”

There was another curiosity. Had language never changed? The few people he spoke to understood him, in fact, spoke so exactly like him that he’d begun to assume he was being adapted, somehow, to each successive encounter.

“Are you a stranger? I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”

He crouched down, to be on her level.

“I don’t think I’m a stranger, but of course, you should always mind your parents.”

The young girl stood from her play, pushing figurines of animals around in a dusty menagerie.

“Do you want some lemonade?”

“I think I might like that. But still, you should ask your mother—”

“That’s what I’m going to do, silly. I’ll tell her you’re here to play with me, and that we need some lemonade because it’s hot.”

He smiled. “You make sense, young lady. I will wait.”

Shortly, she returned with two glass bottles filled with lemonade. A woman stood in the doorway, drying a plate and smiling.

Yet another unusual thing. Strangers trusted him, as if he wore a special sign from God that he was no danger to them. She simply smiled and went back inside to her cleaning.

He and the little girl moved the animal figurines around in what struck him as outlandish situations and circumstances. Her inexhaustible imagination would have worn him out when he was younger. He wondered at his own immaturity, selfishness. Was it part of the point of his situation, part of the cause, perhaps a remedy?

The lemonade was gone. The animals were, apparently, tired, and needed to be stabled for the night. The sun was, in fact, sinking behind an even bigger mountain across the valley.

He knew, but he asked anyway.

“Do you know what year this is?”

“Course I do.” Her answer sounded like she was saying two different numbers, twenty, and ten.

One-hundred and ten years. A new millennium.

He stood.

“Will you come play with me again tomorrow?”

He wanted to touch her, to ruffle her hair, but he didn’t.

“I’ll see. If I’m still around tomorrow, I’d like that.”

He would not see her again. He knew that. He did not know where he would wake up next. He only knew when.

Then, some child, it was always a child, would answer with another unusual pair of numbers, or rather, the same number twice, twenty-one twenty-one, each sleep a year longer than the previous.

His climb back up to the cave to sleep was the same stillness it always was.


Feet First

He looked down the cliff’s face to the water. It wasn’t the distance that concerned him; he’d gone into water from far higher than the 30 feet it looked to be.

No, what concerned him was the dark surface. It might mean deep water.

It might mean shallow water with a dark bottom.

Even deep water could have jagged rocks, old tree trunks, any manner of solid sharp debris.

If you have no choice but to go in, it doesn’t matter whether the water is deep or shallow, or so he told himself. What matters is that you go in feet first. An injury to one or both legs could be survived. Head injuries, out here in the middle of nowhere, probably not.

The first arrow hit the dirt close enough behind him that he heard it, felt a tiny shock in his feet. They would wait until they were close enough before loosing any more.

He leaped.

And as he went over the edge feet first, one foot snagged in the tangle of a tree root sticking out, flipping him completely, holding for less than an instant before he dropped again.

Head first.


The Time in Maggie’s Room

Maggie knew her father hadn’t meant her to fall. When he pushed her into the room to pull her door closed she had stumbled over the rug, hitting her head against the corner of the oak armoire. The sound of his own heavy boots must have covered the noise of her fall, for why else would he have locked the door and walked away without first determining that she was unhurt?

Weak and wobbly, she pulled herself up by the massive knobbed handles on the doors of the armoire, then stumbled to her bed, more falling than sitting. Her head didn’t hurt, but the spinning wouldn’t stop. Closing her eyes helped. She rubbed her temples, which didn’t.

Her stomach reminded her that she was stuck here until supper. It seemed hours since she’d fallen, but since supper was promptly at six and her father’s quite unreasonable burst of anger had befallen her at five, she had not long to wait.

Normally comfortable, her boots pinched, as if she’d had them on too long. She drew her feet up on the bed one at a time to unlace them, dropping them on the floor. Another wave of dizziness lurched through her stomach. She rubbed her temples, eyes closed.

As the dizziness passed, she stopped rubbing and opened her eyes. Surely it must be near six.

Her clock read 4:15.

She must have forgotten to wind it this morning. It was her habit to wind it each day, but as is the case with habits, it had become unconscious, automatic, and so she didn’t remember winding it. May as well wind it now, estimating the correct time, and set it properly from the hall clock downstairs before bed tonight.

It was ticking. The clock was ticking when she picked it up. She had indeed wound it this morning. But why was the time wrong? It was not old. Her father had given it to her in the spring upon his return from the city. Surely it would keep better time than this.

Yet something was amiss. The ticking of the clock was clear in her ears and her fingers.

And now it pointed most definitely at 4:14.

Maggie returned the clock to its place on the table and felt behind her for the bed, climbing up to sit crosslegged, head bowed, face in her hands. She rubbed her temples, rubbed her eyes, shook her head, pinched her cheeks, tugged at the shorter hair in front of her ears.

Wiping her eyes, she looked again at the clock.

4:13.


Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill

My dad’s bigger boat, a Lightning with a 27′ mast, wasn’t ready for sailing yet so we took the little 12-footer. It was a buoyant little beast, capable of carrying four adults: Brett and I and our dad, and our friend Paul. Paul loved sailing and as a result was rooked into a boatload of unnecessary adventures. He spent a lot of his time with us wet.

We always packed food because sailing made us hungry. It’s only a mile across San Diego Bay from the boat ramp where we launched so we sailed over to Silver Strand State Park to have lunch on the beach.

I was at the tiller because Dad wanted to be the first one to step ashore. I realized as we were approaching the shore that the bottom inclined so gradually the rudder was going to hit ground before the bow touched the sand.

I said, “We’re running aground.”

Nothing happened.

I said it again. “We’re running aground.”

Still nothing.

I said, “Hey, we’re running–”

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The Monkey in Menswear

“The darker blue looks good with your eyes.” Jenna, back from checking the handbag sale, held a tie up with both hands, draping it across the bridge of my nose.

“Thank you. They’re not usually worn that close to the eyes but if it gets us out of here—”

“There! That’s him!”

The tip of the tie whipped my ear as my wife spun to see what nut was yelling behind us.

“This gentleman?” from the security guard standing next to Old Yeller (okay, young yeller, but that doesn’t flow the same.)

“That’s him.”

The guard took a step back and measured the guy with his eyes.

“Him. Right there. In the suit I know he didn’t buy here because we don’t sell anything that sharp.”

Jenna did semaphore with the tie. “What did my husband do?”

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Fortnight

  • 3-day convention in Tucson
  • 3-day drive
    1. Tucson AZ -> Tucumcari NM
    2. Tucumcari NM -> Kearny MO
    3. Kearny MO -> Cameron WI
  • 3 days with friends in Cameron, in a big old rambling farm house and a nameless puppy waiting to be given to our host’s granddaughter as a graduation gift (she named him Winston.)
  • 4 days house-sitting at a gorgeous home buried deep in the woods with 2 friendly cats and 1 that’s a bit cranky
  • 1 of those evenings out on the lake, seeing osprey, kingfishers, great blue herons, turtles, and a muskrat

Today:

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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.)

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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.

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