Molotov Brothers

Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)

My brothers discovered Molotov cocktails when we were teenagers. In case you don’t know what they are, as my brothers discovered it’s just a little bit of gasoline and a little bit less oil in a glass jar with a rag stuffed in the top. Wet the rag with the gasoline in the jar, light it on fire, and throw it. When it lands and explodes it creates a smoky fire that, in battle, or riots, disrupts the enemy, adding confusion and a smokescreen and fire and broken glass and all kinds of mess and nonsense.

I’m the middle brother, one brother 18 months older, the other 18 months younger, so we went through life almost like triplets—except one of us didn’t go around making Molotov cocktails. We lived right at the bottom end of San Diego Bay. There were disused railroad tracks right across the street and quarter of a mile away, a railroad bridge. Down below the bridge, 20 feet away, was a tiny stream and rocks where my brothers experimented with their Molotov cocktails. First a baby food jar with a tablespoon of oil and a quarter cup of gasoline which exploded, made a nice boom and burned till the water washed it away.

Then mayonnaise jars. Finally, when that wasn’t exciting enough, a quart of gasoline and a pint of oil in a glass gallon jar.

They lit it on fire, leaned over the edge of the railroad bridge, and dropped it on the rocks below. The explosion fluttered their pants and took all the hair off their faces and some off their heads. They were half way home before they realized they were running, and in their bedrooms studying for some imaginary school quiz when the police and fire department showed up to see what the explosion was out there in the estuary where all the protected wildlife lived.

I’ve always assumed they hadn’t blown up any California least terns or other endangered species but I wasn’t there so I don’t know. My father found out virtually everything they ever did (we discovered later because he’d also done the same things) but I’m not sure that the experimentation with blowing things up ever came to light. But I also know that after they almost blew themselves up and removed all their facial hair in the process, they never experimented with blowing things up again.


Amazing Exploding Mother

Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)

(You really should listen to it.)

During the late 80s I lived for a time in Texas in a big ol’ rambling 175-year-old wooden house with 3 fireplaces and a mother in law flat built onto the back. I don’t know when that was added on, but across a giant covered porch and bathroom there was a little apartment with a bedroom, a living room, its own bathroom and a little kitchen and dining room.

The appliances in there were ancient. The refrigerator was all curvy and rounded and had a big spaceship compressor on the top. The stove didn’t have a pilot light. You lit it by turning the stove on and holding a match in front of a little tube at the bottom where the flame would get sucked in.

My mom came to live with us for a while. She lived in the small apartment in the back. One day she came knocking on our kitchen door and said that she’d been trying to light her oven and the match blew out and she couldn’t find anymore. I gave her a box of matches and went back to what I was doing.

Twenty seconds later I realized that wasn’t very smart and I ran, banging through our door and as I banged open my mother’s door and was about to yell, from the kitchen came a great big “whoomp”.

I came around the corner, and she was okay, and the house didn’t burn down. She turned the stove off and when she turned to look at me she had no eyebrows or eyelashes and most of the hair on her forehead had disappeared.

I’m glad that she hadn’t stayed in my kitchen to chat, or have a cup of coffee or something, because the house, at least, would be gone—and maybe all of us.

So kids the lesson for today is: when your mom asks for a match, go check done things.


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.


Massive Mustard Mess

Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)

When the Texas economy crashed in 89 I loaded my pregnant wife and 3 small children into our tiny little Isuzu and drove cross country to San Diego California where I knew people, had family and friends and hoped I could find work in construction.

We had no money of course so we packed food in the trunk and in coolers and planned on driving straight through and fixing food along the way.

Late afternoon somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona we stopped to make some sandwiches. As I got the mustard out I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the bottle was swollen to twice its normal size, having been in the trunk, in the summer, driving from Texas through the great southwestern desert.

When I opened the mustard about half of the bottle came out, part fine vinegar mist and part messy mustard spray. All over the roof of the car, the windshield, the driver’s window, and every part of the front of my body from my waist up including my glasses and my hair.

It took a while to clean everything up. I chose not to have mustard on my sandwiches after that. When I sold the car years later there were still mustard stains on the headliner.

And the happy ending? Sorry. When I got to California construction crashed but it boomed in Texas. And we’d already moved. Eventually I found work in information technology, working with computers, so maybe there is a happy ending after all because that’s the work I really love.

See you next week.


Coffee, 2 Weathers, Please

People make funny assumptions.

Because I (usually) drink decaf, apparently people think I like weak coffee. One place I worked, my morning ritual was to dump out the watery half-strength muck someone had just made and make a pot of strong-and-a-half decaf. At home, my coffee is the strongest you’ll ever taste. Not kidding. It will punch you in the tongue. I love the taste of coffee. What I don’t like is the caffeinated shakes.

When we were traveling, everyone we stayed with or even drove with assumed that because we were from California, our preferred temperature was somewhere around 80ºF. It’s closer to 65º, thank you very much. We’d sweltered our way through two experiences as guests when we realized what was going on.

Having moved from far northern Wisconsin to southern Arizona, it is only natural that every single person we meet comments on how nice it must be to finally see some decent weather. I’ve learned to respond that it sure is sunny here, oh ho oh ho.

We hate the heat. We love the snow. Since we work from home and don’t have to go out if we don’t want, two feet of snow overnight is fun for us. We all prefer sweaters to short sleeves, and a roaring blaze in the fireplace to living cooped up with a/c for six months.

Also, apparently from the way I talk, everyone assumes I love bacon.

Got that right.


Too Much Salt

If I’m going to make a cooking mistake, it’ll be the seriously rookie mistake of adding too much salt.

We use kosher or sea salt for everything. I don’t like the taste of table salt; it’s too sharp. We have a shaker by the stove, and bamboo salt boxes on the counter and table.

Here’s what I do, time after time: pick up the salt box, swivel the magnetic lid, and shake right from the box into the dish. (This morning it was some tea biscuits, which you might call graham crackers or some such.) Here’s what happens: our brains see a lot of something, and misjudge portions accordingly. This is why using smaller plates is a very effective dieting tool. Honest.

So instead of a few shakes of salt, just to kill the raw taste of the flour when it bakes, I got salty cardamom crackers. If it was green cardamom they could be chai crackers if I’d used pepper.

But not. Cardamom and honey and too much salt.

Maybe I’ll use that empty cardamom shaker for salt.


Terpsichore Antipodes

I’ve pushed the button on yet another book, both Kindle and paperback versions. That’s the title up there.

Hold on, hold on. Don’t go rushing off to empty your wallets. The paperback isn’t live yet, though Amazon has created a page already. (Update: oh ho, the Kindle version is live.)

Another reason to hold your horses (and wallets.) This is nothing like I’ve ever written before. It is an experimental stream-of-consciousness romantic mystery novella. What’s it about? It’s about 20,000 words oh ho.

Here’s the sample from the back cover:

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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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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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