All original works by Ramie Rudlee (except newspaper articles and names used for inspiration, and where noted). Feedback, questions and ideas welcome.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Tonight's Menu

Chili and corn bread
 green salad
Beer and water to drink
raspberries and chocolate covered pretzels for dessert

A relatively simple meal, cooked and consumed under somewhat unusual circumstances. Unusual for me, anyway. Maybe other people live this way, but I don't think so.

A cold, wet Saturday in early December cries out for comfort food. Add the weather and the season to a house-sitting gig at a bachelor pad (a former boyfriend's), a minuscule income and a lot of driving and living out of the car, and you have a rough idea of the unusual circumstances. And probably more justification for the comfort food.

What made me decide to cook up a pot of chili and make corn bread from scratch in a kitchen that usually sees canned soup on the electric stove and frozen pizzas in the toaster oven as its most complicated cooking events?
The challenge? The need to flex my cooking muscles? Something else?

I like to cook. I haven't cooked in my own kitchen for months now. It's over 500 miles away. I cooked Thanksgiving dinner at my sister-in-law's house with kids milling about and a family dinner at stake. I was unusually calm and it turned out okay, but there were a lot of short cuts.

Here in the bachelor pad, I am cooking for myself with no time constraints. I can cook and eat or not eat. No one is watching. I did go out and purchase a nice pot to cook this chili in. The bachelor pad kitchen has one old enamel pot that, as I found out the last time I cooked something in it--spaghetti sauce, I think--has a tendency to chip when I knock the side of the steel spoon against the side as I have a habit of doing. I tell myself that all the nifty kitchen equipment I'm collecting now will go to furnish my own kitchen in the place I'll get once I land a full time job.

Yesterday, I collected scraps of food I had at my other 'place'--my sister-in-law's house, where I live in the basement and sometimes watch the kids and cook meals--and brought them here. Sliced red and green pepper from the Thanksgiving crudite (it was only a week ago), onion halves, herbs and spices, things I use regularly that the kitchens in my current orbit don't have in stock. I included flour, baking powder, pretty much everything I would need to make anything, knowing that the bachelor had next to nothing, and if he had anything, it was probably at least two years old.

Today, I went shopping. Again. I did some shopping yesterday, too. It somehow made sense to go to the Fresh Market close to the bachelor pad where they have a very nice butcher shop to get some things. I got some other things today that were either not available or way overpriced at the Fresh Market.

I don't know where the time goes. I get lost in all these unfamiliar stores with their strange layouts and selections. Today I went to the "Jewish 'Giant'" in Pikesville, where they have several Kosher aisles.

In between poking around the interwebs, practicing a Brahms symphony for a sure-to-be-dreadful concert tomorrow and I don't even know what else, I cooked and baked in a tiny little ill-equipped kitchen.

In order to bake in this kitchen, I have to empty the oven of the sad pots and pans that reside within. This leaves little counter space on which to work.

Before getting to the chili and corn bread, however, I thought I'd make some focaccia. Not regular focaccia, but something "healthy" with quinoa and flax meal and oatmeal, and some of those herbs I grabbed yesterday (I also grabbed my last envelope of yeast). I also used most, if not all of the olive oil the bachelor had on hand.

Then I made the chili. Browned the ground chuck I got from the very nice butcher shop, chopped up the onion halves and pepper slices, mashed and minced some garlic, drained the can of diced tomato, drained and rinsed the pinto and black beans, dug out the spices.

It all went into the nifty new pot along with some tomato puree, some bittersweet chocolate chips, some beer and some salt. The ground chipotle pepper got away from me a bit, but I don't mind the heat.

I made some cornbread, too, in my nifty new 9" round cake pan, with some smoked cheddar and the last of my first jar of maple cream (I have one left). Me with no money and I splurge on kitchen equipment and smoked cheddar. The maple cream I bought before I left New Hampshire, when I still had some income.

As the chili 'festered' and the cornbread baked, I scratched away at the Brahms half-heartedly. It's been a while since I've experienced a Maryland December--were they always this dreary? I must have been too busy to notice before.

I ate the chili and the cornbread but decided against trying to throw together a salad, even though I bought salad things at the Jewish Giant today. I just wasn't into it. I wasn't into clearing a space at the tiny kitchen table to eat, where I would be in close proximity to all the mess I had just made, so I took my bowl into the living room and watched the Brahms symphony on YouTube while I ate. (It's not going to sound like that tomorrow).

Hey, there's some beer left!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How Badly Can I Write?

     I showed my father this blog, which he dutifully read, and then went on to read something else completely different without a word.  I mean, come on--a little feedback please? 
     "It's good," he said.  "You're a good writer."

      "I need to be told the truth about my writing.  Don't tell me it's good if it isn't," I said.   "Would you tell me if I wrote something bad?"

     "Of course!"  he said.

How's this one?

Peter The Purple Porcupine

 Peter the Purple Porcupine woke up one frosty morning and tumbled out of his nest.  He landed on a pile of leaves with a thump.  He had leaves stuck on his quills.

Then he went for a walk and as he was walking he came upon a furry little squirrel that had a pocket full of acorns.  I want your acorns. said Peter the Purple Porcupine.

You can't have my acorns because you are a Purple porcupine.  the furry little squirrel said.

Okay then, said Peter the Purple Porcupine.  I will pork you with my quills.

Ouch!! said the furry little squirrel.  You're not only purple, you are mean!  and he ran away with his pocket full of acorns.

Then Peter the Purple Porcupine walked in the woods some more until he came upon a feathery bird.  The feathery bird had a twig in its beak.

Give me your twig or I'll pork you with my quills.  Said Peter the purple porcupine.

No way. said the feathery bird.  and he flew away before he could get porked.

So the purple porcupine whose name was Peter went home.  He had dirt soup for dinner and then he went to bed.

So don't pork people or you won't get what you want.
The end.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Watch this space . . .

In August, some family came to visit. 

Then a school district called. 

Then all hell broke loose.  That was September.

Perhaps in October, I will find the time to look at newspapers and nail polish names for inspiration.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Character Sketch

     Short short stories are not so easy to dash off.  My first 'newspapers' search launched me into an unknown area--the 1910's--which launched me into research I really hadn't planned on getting into.  That sent me back to the archives looking for my grandmother (for reasons unrelated and whom I did not find) where I landed on this article of less than 80 words.
    This article inspired still more research and began to spin into a story (in my mind) that would easily outgrow the 2000 words I was hoping to limit myself to.  So it will become a character sketch here.  If I like her enough to write her story I'll let you know.

     First, the article:
              From The Daily Courier, Connellsville, PA, Monday, June 4, 1917.

"Mother" Stillwagon of Hickory Square, injured in Fall.
           While chasing chickens from her garden, which she was working herself, "Mother" Stillwagon of near Hickory Square church, fell and broke a bone in her right arm a few days ago.
           Mrs. Stillwagon, who was 83 years old May 6, last, has reared a family of nine children.  She is now caring for a number of great grandchildren.  She claims the accident was due to "clumsiness."

     What was the deal with WWI, I wondered?   The U.S. had only recently declared war on Germany (April 6, 1917), so involvement in that would have been minimal at best. 
Connellsville, PA is about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh on the Youghiogheny River.
There was a nasty train wreck in the area in 1903 in which dozens of people were killed.
There is a Hickory Square church on the corner of Hickory Square Rd. which is still a rural area.
There are still several Stillwagons in the area.

    I did math in my head and looked at fashions, photos, articles and maps.  I took bike rides to generate questions and work out story lines.  It was getting bigger by the minute.  It had to stop--I have other projects.

     So, inspired mainly by the facts in the article, loosely (but barely) based  on my research (that is to say, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental), I would like to introduce

Mother Stillwagon

     She has been called “Mother” since the birth of her second child in 1854.  It had been more than sixty years since anyone had called her Elisabet—almost as long since anyone knew she’d had a given name.  She gave up her simple surname “Miller” when she married in 1852.  She was eighteen. 
   Her husband had been one of the last casualties of the Civil War.  He had left her with nine children to raise on her own.  Hard work, but not unfamiliar.  She was of sturdy country stock.  She knew about farming, about animals and about home remedies for sniffles and sneezes. 
   While she did not spoil the child, she used the rod sparingly, relying instead on her ability to intimidate with a scowl or shame with a look of utter disappointment.  Only when those practiced looks failed to get the chores finished or a purloined item returned would she resort to spanking the guilty party.   More often than not, though, her children and grandchildren responded to her looks with heart-felt apologies and instant action.
    They were looks that came easily to her still.  Even at her present age of 83, she was an impressive looking woman.  Once tall and solid like the trees that surrounded Hickory Square, she stooped more now than she did twelve years ago, when her first great-grandchild came to live with her, but still worked her half-acre garden herself and kept a flock of chickens in line daily. 
    At work in the garden, she wore a long dark skirt that hid the men’s shoes she found more sensible than the high-buttoned boots she saved for town and church.  She wore the sleeves of her high collared blouse rolled up to her elbow and protected her clothes with a long coarse muslin apron.  She kept her long but thinning gray hair piled up and tucked under a wide brimmed straw hat. 
    She took more care on Sundays, when in addition to her carefully shined high-buttoned boots, she replaced her work clothes with a flounced skirt and trim jacket and wore her best straw hat, the navy blue one with the white ostrich feather and pale blue satin ribbon.
   The children—her three great grandchildren and the ones she called great grandchildren—dressed their best on Sundays, too.  Mother Stillwagon insisted.
Most of Saturday was devoted to shining shoes, rinsing stockings and pressing shirts, hair ribbons and sashes.  By Sunday morning, all eight children had a plain but presentable outfit to match their freshly scrubbed faces and hands.
    She marched them to church and marched them home again for supper.
The children always behaved because they would have hated to miss supper.  There was always roast chicken, mashed potatoes, hot biscuits, gravy, creamed spinach and pie for dessert.  Each week it was a different kind—apple, peach, cherry, or raisin when fresh fruit was out of season. 
    Mother Stillwagon believed in pie.  It was round and contained.  It could be neatly divided, served hot or cold.  It was her secret pleasure, downstairs at dawn while the children slumbered, to start her day with a cup of hot black coffee and a piece of cold pie—a second pie the children never saw.
    Her great-grandchildren were an accidental hobby of sorts.  She started her ‘collection’ with Mary Alice, who came to live with her after her mother died (her father had been killed in a horrible train wreck just a few months before she was born).  Mary Alice’s grandparents and great uncles (Mother Stillwagon’s own children) had ventured west once their children had grown.
Henry and Howard, Mary Alice’s twin cousins, came to live with them when their parents caught typhus and died.  The boys were two, and at eight years old, Mary Alice had the energy and self-importance to help Mother Stillwagon chase after them.
    The other children seemed to start showing up, like stray cats.  Certain young girls who found themselves in ‘the family way’ were told they could leave bundles for  Mother Stillwagon.  Friends of friends of distant relatives who knew of poor orphaned children in their town would send word to beg Mother Stillwagon to take them in.  She had a large house and a big heart.  How could she say no?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sandy and the Lifeguard

Sandy and the Lifeguard is the color of a fictional nail polish.  It might be a neutral pale pink color, like the inside of a shell that's been on my toes for almost a month now.
It's at the point where I have to decide either to remove it or go get another pedicure.  Instead, I've been working on this, which has now gone slightly beyond the length of a short short, weighing in at 2163 words.  Not quite finished, but it needs to go up now, so I can work on other things.  If demand is high, I may continue the story of

     Sandy and the Lifeguard    

    On Wednesdays, Sandy slept late—as late as nine a.m., most weeks.  Even if she had been up late the night before (or out until dawn in a few cases), she wasn’t going to waste a minute of her only day off in the most popular beach town in Maryland.  It was summer after all, and worries about course selections and dorm room assignments were a good six weeks away.    

    Unfortunately, it was Saturday--her longest work day of the week—a miserable day of having to serve pancakes and coffee to grinning, sunburned tourists in the morning and press dopey designs onto cheap cotton t-shirts for them until late at night.  They were all relaxing, enjoying the weekend without a care in the world.  Sandy had to get up before six to serve them.

    “Whatever,” Sandy muttered as she dragged herself out of the sagging pullout sleep sofa.  She folded the creaking furniture back into itself, only half-heartedly trying to be quiet for her roommate, Donna, still asleep in one of the lumpy double beds of the efficiency apartment they shared.

    Her other roommate, Lisa, had already left for work.  Her pancake joint was four blocks further down the boardwalk than Suzi’s and opened a half hour earlier.  

    Donna rolled over and pulled the thin cotton blanket up over her head.  A veteran of the college-kid-working-off-the-summer-in-Ocean-City club, Donna had scored a job waitressing in one of the nicer restaurants, where her nightly tips equaled a week’s worth of Sandy’s.  

    Sandy stood under the barely-warm water in the small shower stall just long enough to get wet.  As she dried and dressed, she looked down at the chipped pink polish on her toes and hoped she would make enough in tips today to pay for a pedicure first thing Wednesday.  She shoved her bikini and beach towel in her bag so she would be ready catch a quick swim (and maybe a lifeguard) before starting her shift at the t-shirt shop, grabbed a Pop Tart and headed out the door.

    Jill and Ryan were almost done with the side work when she walked in the back door of Grandma’s Griddle Breakfast Emporium.  Sandy grabbed a ruffled apron from the hook and started filling syrup pitchers.  There were only three empty ones.

    “Glad you could make it,” sneered Ryan.  “We would have saved you some of the side work if we knew you were gonna be early.”

    “Shut up, Ryan,” Sandy sneered back.  “Stuck me with the counter again.  Thanks.”

    “No problem,” Ryan said.  “Show up on time a little more often and maybe you’ll get some tables like a real serving wench next weekend.”

    “Oh, you’re so good to me,” she said, pulling the bus tray full of table settings over to the counter.  She placed a cylinder of silverware and rolled-up napkin at regular intervals on the red linoleum counter top.  Each roll went on a worn spot that corresponded to a round vinyl stool just out of sight from her side of the counter.  There were nine of them.  It was going to be difficult to earn pedicure money this morning.

    “Door’s open!” sang Jill as she unlocked the front door to let in the first rush of diners.  A young family of four—two weary looking parents and their totally wired toddlers—took a booth in Jill’s section.  A trio of young men, still loud and wobbly from Friday night’s pub-crawl, sat at one of Ryan’s tables.  Neither group was known for generous tips.

    “Maybe the counter’s not so bad,” Sandy mused as she watched Jill and Ryan put on their best ‘I’ll-be-your-server-today’ faces and greet their rowdy customers.

    The first of the counter customers came in—mostly old guys with newspapers who ordered coffee and egg sandwiches.  They never talked much, ordered much or tipped much.  Sandy plunked down egg sandwich plates, scooped up empty plates and handfuls of change and kept the coffee mugs filled.  

    To keep her mind occupied, she daydreamed about her few minutes on the beach between jobs: bikini, beach blanket and a spot just close enough to the lifeguard stand to allow some mutual checking out.  He would be blonde and muscular, with dark glasses, a whistle hanging around his neck, and looking for an excuse to come up to her.  Maybe she’d nick her toe on a seashell, and he’d come over to see if she was all right.  He’d get out the first aid kit, ignoring her protests that she was fine.  He’d hold her foot and gently bandage it, then he would let his eyes travel up her leg, along her body and rest on her face . . . But if she didn’t get a pedicure soon, he’d take one look at her shabby feet and toss her back in the water.
    Sandy dropped a stack of dirty dishes into a bus tray and gave up on her daydream.

    “Back to work,” she told herself.  “Maybe Mr. Lifeguard will come in here where he can’t see my toes.”  She snorted and looked up at the door as someone came in.

    He was one of the regulars who came in once or twice during the week and usually took a booth.  This morning, he appeared to be headed for the counter, since the booths were crowded with families chowing down before hitting the beach.

    “Nope, not a lifeguard,” Sandy thought as she pasted on a grin and welcomed him to Grandma’s-Griddle-Breakfast-Emporium-coffee-sir?

    He lifted his chin in a weak nod as he tucked his knees under the counter.  He must have been at least six-foot-three.  Sandy knew those stools couldn’t have been all that comfortable for him.  They were built almost fifty years ago, when the average height of a man was around five-eight.  No wonder he usually took a booth.  

    She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye as she reached for a clean coffee cup.  Plain brown hair hung across his forehead, stuck out from behind his ears and on top of his head, as if he had just taken off the hood from his faded red sweat jacket.   He pushed a pair of 50’s style G-man glasses—the kind that look like instant eyebrows—further up his nose as he unfolded a copy of some literary magazine.  She assumed it was literary because of the absence of pictures and glossy pages.

    “Heavy reading?” she asked as she poured coffee into the cup.  

    “Not hardly,” he said, flashing the cover of a mystery magazine with an illustration of body slumped over a desk.  “I save the heavy reading for when I’m at work.
    “I’ll have the egg sandwich, please,” he added.

    “EGG SAMMIE!” Sandy shouted back to the kitchen.  “You have to read for work?” she said.

    “Only to keep from going crazy,” he answered.  “The beach gets pretty boring, day after day after day.”

    “Oh, you work at the beach,” Sandy said.  “Which one?”

    “Twenty-fifth Street,” he answered and stuck his nose back into his magazine.

    Sandy knew the beach.  It wasn’t far from the Breakfast Emporium.  She wondered if she had seen him at the rental shack at the end of the street, the one that rented green and white striped umbrellas and blue canvas beach chairs to the same families that were filling the booths this morning.

    The service bell in the pass through window rang.  “EGG SAMMIE UP!” bellowed the invisible cook as a meaty hand slid the plate onto the ledge.

    Sandy served the plate to her mystery-reading customer and continued chatting while she cleared plates and wiped down the counter.  She didn’t understand why she was wasting her time with a bookish rental grunt when there were blonde lifeguards on the beach, other than service was slowing down and she was just plain bored.  

    She found out that they both went to the same college, had totally different majors, his friends called him Buddy (and he would not reveal his given name under any circumstances) and he kept a fish tank in his rental unit, even though the landlady had forbidden pets of any kind.

    “If she’s not going to do anything about the ants and cockroaches, I think I’m entitled to a fish,” he said.  His cell phone rang and he fumbled to get it out of his jacket.

    “Okay,” he said into his hand.  “Give me twenty minutes.”  

He snapped the phone shut, reached into his pocket for some bills and crumpled them on the counter with his napkin.

    “That should cover it.  Gotta go to work,” he said.  “Someone called in sick.  More like hung-over, if it’s who I think it is.”

    He rushed out the door without his change or his reading material.  Sandy didn’t pick up the magazine until after she finished clearing the entire counter, just in case he came back for it, which he didn’t. She stuffed it in her bag.  She might see him on the beach later, if she could manage to get off at a decent time.  If no one comes in before one, she’d be good to go.

    “Why do I care about his dorky magazine?” she muttered to herself.  

    The breakfast rush was over and the few lunch customers that wandered in headed for the booths and tables.  She got a nod from Ryan to close the counter so she could change and get to the beach for an hour or two before showing up at the t-shirt shop.  

    She jammed her tip money into her bag.  It would be enough for a bottle of nail polish, but no pampering.   Some leftover bacon with peanut butter on an English muffin would do for lunch.  She grabbed a pint of milk from the cooler on her way out the door.

    “See you guys tomorrow!” she shouted over her shoulder as she headed for the beach.
    It felt good to be out in the sun after spending all morning in the mechanically cooled air of the diner.   Sandy walked quickly along the few blocks to the 25th St. beach, chewing her peanut butter and bacon sandwich and taking swigs of the milk to wash it down while it was still cold.  

As she passed the rental shack, she looked for Buddy so she could return his magazine but found a skinny blonde girl in a bikini top and cut off short shorts instead.   Of course, there was a string of rental shacks all up and down the beach run by the same company.  He probably got called to cover a different one today.

    “Well, it’s not like it’s valuable,” she said to herself.  “I’m sure he can get another.”

    Sandy kicked off her shoes and let her toes sink into the hot sand.  It was as good as a foot massage to let the sand work between her toes and wrap around her arches as she walked to a clear spot on the beach to spread out her towel.  There was one not far from the lifeguard stand.

    She pulled off her shorts and t-shirt and dropped them on top of her bag on her way to the surf.  Without stopping to test the water, she ran in until the water reached her knees.  She didn’t have to wait long for a wave to meet head-on.  She emerged on the other side of it shaking her now wet hair back from her face, blew the salt water from her lips and crouched down to ride the next wave in.  A quick dip was all she had time for if she was going to work on her tan as well.

    On her way back to her towel, she glanced up at the lifeguard stand for a glimpse of her blonde hunky hero.  She frowned as she saw that it wasn’t the regular muscle-bound bleached blonde.  This one was leaner, a little taller, and had darker hair that reflected natural golden highlights in the sun.  He wasn’t bad looking.  He had the dark sunglasses and the whistle and something . . . familiar.  He lifted his hand in a friendly wave.

    Sandy looked around her to see who it was he was waving to, but no one else seemed to be looking in his direction.  When she looked back, he pulled his glasses down and looked over them, directly at her.  Her mouth fell open.  She closed it quickly as she reached her blanket.

    Sandy fumbled in her bag while her heart pounding wildly.  He never actually said he worked at the rental shack, she reminded herself.  Once her pulse felt normal again, she grabbed the magazine and turned to look up at him.

    “Buddy!  Fancy meeting you here!” she said with a forced grin—inside she winced at her lame line.  “I, um, you left, ah . . . 
  "Here!” she finally blurted.  She thrust the magazine in his direction as she buried her toenails in the sand.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Neither News Nor Nailpolish

     Sandy will be along momentarily, so until she's ready, here's something from my submission to The Fiction Project.  My theme was "the end of the world" (heavy stuff).  The illustrations are by my husband, Tim White (aka cafiend). It's there at the Brooklyn Art Library if you want to look it up and see what else I had to say on the subject.
[warning:  contains 'f' bombs]
No People

    Jack Spader poked around in the cellar of the third sub-basement of the Integrated Conglomeration of Commercial Enterprises, Inc. building, thinking that this was the coolest place to be in the whole world.  ‘Coolest,’ as in not 132’ F like it was outside (thanks, Global Warming), but a cool 71’.  It was also cool as in hip, radical, phat, fly or oogie.  It was Jack’s private sanctuary.  No one knew about it but Jack.

    Well, Cheryl knew, but he was through with her.  Okay, maybe she was through with him.  Even better, because she wouldn’t want to be anywhere near Jack.  What was it she said to him last week?

     “I wouldn’t get wich you if you wuz the last man on Earth, Jack Spader!”  Then she shot him a text thought from her visor: “U R LAM,” and stormed out of the pod.

     Ancient history.  Moving on.  Jack stretched out on the cot he had hobbled together from scraps he had found on the second sub-basement level.  He pretty much had the run of the sub-basements.  A big building like that and no one but Jack came down to the third sub-basement.  It was his job, after all. 
There were other sub-basement engineers, but they preferred to do their jobs from the control room on the fourteenth floor, take their breaks in the solarium, hang out in the spa, social crap like that.  Jack preferred the solitude of the sub-basements and had created his cellar retreat from a crawl space he had uncovered when the thingy on the gizmo needed crupulating.
       He didn’t understand what the big deal was with gabbing at dames in the solarium.  The one time he let the guys talk him into hanging out there, he had met Cheryl.  Gorgeous, brainless, shiny-headed Cheryl.  She came bouncing up to him in her microfiber skinsuit with her thought visor flashing: “WUT A QT.”  So, that was flattering.

     So, Jack chatted with her.  So, he came back to the solarium a few more times to meet her.  So, they had a couple of dates and he told her about his sanctuary, thinking she might like to check it out.  Well, that blew up in his face, and so here he was, back in the cool solitude of his cellar of the third sub-basement, separated from the brainless airheads of the Integrated Conglomeration of Commercial Enterprises, Inc.  (ICCEI, or ‘Icky’ as it was popularly known) by about seventy four meters.

    And he liked it that way.  He could think his own thoughts without flashing them through a thought visor for the world to see (and he didn’t much care what others were thinking, since all he had ever seen was insipid enough to be flashed in bad spelling and grammar on a stupid headband). He could listen to the quiet humming of the gizmos and doohickeys in the third sub-basement and read a book—another luxury of having the run of the sub-basements.  Books had been discarded decades ago as reading material and piled haphazardly in the corners of sub-basements in buildings of a certain age, to be used as emergency fuel.  He had found dozens of worlds to explore that made the world above ground seem pointless and dull.

     Jack chewed on a 21st century crème-filled golden sponge cake (another fuel source to be found in the sub-basements) and flipped through The Big Book of Natural Disasters. 
    “Realistic book,” Jack thought.  Gazing at a picture of earthquake devastation, he could have sworn he felt the earth move.

He put the book down and grabbed the edge of his cot.  The earth was moving.
Okay, that’s not right.  That’s not something that happens in the cellar of the third-sub-basement.  The Icky Building was built on an earthquake-proof site of earthquake-resistant materials.  NOTHING short of total global annihilation should make the third sub-basement shake.

    Jack’s heart raced.  The pounding in his ears subsided long after the tremors stopped.  Once it did, he heard nothing unusual.  The humming and whirring of the gizmos and doohickeys continued as always.  None of the safety alarms were going off—they were singularly annoying—Jack would notice if they were. 

He went to the com panel and buzzed the 14th floor.

     He checked the sub-basement levitator.  The door opened to an empty compartment.  Nothing strange about that.  Just as a test (for what, he had no idea), he threw the book and the remains of his sponge cake in and pushed the button for the basement, three flights up, as far as the sub-basement levitators reached.  Jumping out just as the doors closed, he waited a bit for the levitator to move and called it back.

The door opened to an almost empty compartment.  There was the sponge cake and the book, exactly where he had tossed them.

    It didn’t prove anything, really, except maybe that there were no flash fires or radiation clouds in the basement (assuming that radiation clouds would make things glow the instant they came in contact with them).

  Jack would have to check this out.  Not hearing from the 14th floor was troubling.  He would have to take the levitator to the basement and transfer to the surface elevator that would take him to the tenth floor.  It was a short walk from there across the southeast breezeway to the bailey lift that would take him to the 14th floor as well as the solarium, spa and the other hot spots of Icky social life.

    That was the Standard Operating Procedure, anyway—one that had worked for him in the past.

   When he stepped out of the levitator compartment onto the basement floor, he felt a warm downdraft nudge him along the strangely lit hall.  And just like that, the S.O.P. fell apart. 

    Jack would not be taking the surface elevator or bailey lift anywhere.   There was no surface elevator, or breezeway or 14th floor or solarium or anything above the basement. 

It was all


    “What the fuck?” Jack whispered.  He tried to take in what he was seeing.  He couldn’t take it in.  There was no building up there.
Jack took a moment—he took several moments—to decide what to do next.  There were stairs that might get him to the ground level.
He walked zombie-like to the stair well, climbed as much of the stairs as there were and then clambered over the debris to hoist himself to the surface.
There it was—total global annihilation.  Rubble, smoke, ashes, oppressive heat.  No buildings, no enviro-bubbles, no trans-pods . . .

No people.

    Jack’s chest tightened.  He could hardly breathe. 

    “Don’t panic,” Jack told himself.  Then he remembered that even on a day when there hadn’t been total global annihilation, the air was not safe to breathe without SCOBA gear (Self-Contained Outdoor Breathing Apparatus).  He scrambled back down into the basement to grab a SCOBA suit from the supply closet.

    “What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck! ”  he muttered to himself as he pulled on the suit.   He concentrated on fastening the buckles and closing the seals on the papery outfit to keep from thinking about why he was doing it.   He would just put on the suit and go outside because . . . why?  Because the building he worked in was . . . missing????

    Jack climbed back out of the basement into world outside.  Nothing surrounded him.  The piles of rubble around him were surprisingly small, as if everything had been disintegrated. 

    He walked a few meters in the direction of the Green Place enviro-bubble park, which, of course wasn’t there.  Beyond that would have been the residence tower, where Jack had had an apartment. 
There were, before this ‘event,’ three more residence towers, another enviro-bubble park and one other building similar to the Icky within the eight kilometers that made up Neighborhood 653.  They simply weren’t any more.

    The likelihood that someone else had survived in a super-sub-basement in the 653 was slim.  The other corporate building had a brand new, fully automated sub-basement control system.  Robotic drones took care of the responsibilities that Jack had at the Icky.  There wasn’t even room for a real human to maneuver down there.

    It was rumored that Neighborhood 675 had a corporate building with a convent of nuns in the sub-basement, 78 kilometers away.

    Jack considered his options.  He could go back to his cellar and pretend nothing had happened.  He had survived the ‘annihilation’ down there.  And the sub-basements held enough books and Twinkies to last a very long time.

    Or he could grab a bicycle from the first sub-basement and try to ride it (in a SCOBA suit that wasn’t designed for the activity) to the 675 in search of possibly mythical nuns.
    And then what?  Re-populate the earth? 

    “. . . the last man on earth . . .”

   Cheryl’s words rang in his ears now.  He pictured them on a huge electronic billboard flashing for the world to see—for the last woman on earth to find him and get fertilized.

   Jack laughed bitterly at the thought.  Bringing more people into this decimated world seemed like a really bad idea.  What resources were left for future humans to exploit?

    He thought about Cheryl.  He thought about the guys on the 14th floor.  He pushed the thoughts out of his mind and headed back to his cellar where he could open another Twinkie and a book.

    Days passed.  Jack had lost track of how many.  The first one was difficult.  At quitting time, he had headed up through the sub-basements to go home.  When the levitator compartment opened onto the open basement, the day’s events came rushing back.  After an hour and a half of raging and sobbing, he had pulled himself together and went back to his cellar.

    Jack passed the time doing his job.  The gizmos and doohickeys were still working, after all.  He shut down the gizmos that controlled everything above the basement and re-routed the systems to the sub-basements.  He would be able to make the fuel sources last longer, in addition to making the other sub-basements more livable.  Just in case . . .

    Just in case some other survivors wandered into his neighborhood, he posted some signs around to indicate his existence.  He thought about making the trip to the 675 in search of the nuns—he even reinforced one of the SCOBA suits with duct tape to survive the bike ride—but he came up with enough reasons not to go and used his reinforced suit to explore the empty neighborhood.

    From time to time, Jack thought about people.  He had spent most of his time before the annihilation avoiding them—their silly conversations, mindless activities, noisy entertainments and wasteful lifestyles made him crazy.  He returned to his cellar after the necessary forays into the world of people to enjoy the quiet.  Now that the whole world was quiet, his cellar was not an escape, but a reminder of the people he no longer had to avoid.

    According to the expiration date stamped on the inside of his left wrist, Jack had 13 years of guaranteed freshness left before his systems began to shut down.  In that other world, it would be the time for him to check into a senescent repository to wait out his death in the company of other people with the same stamp. With the end of that world, he was now spared that final social obligation.  He faced his senescence alone.

Jack reached for a book and a Twinkie.  What else was there to do? 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Newspapers & Nail Polish: The Backstory

I said I was going to write this summer, in lieu of working a real job (and since that raft of paying summer string students never materialized).  So, when a pair of extravagant expenditures needed to be justified, I came up with this blog idea.

 Both extravagances took place while I was back home in Maryland to celebrate my mother's 75th birthday (less than five months after her death) and help my dad around the house a bit.

First expenditure--a subscription to an on-line newspaper archive service, called (clever name).  I accidentally tripped into a year's subscription, missing the cheaper monthly subscription to try it out and even cheaper FREE trial.  Now stuck with a year of being able to look at old newspaper pages from around the country, I decided to assign myself the task of performing arbitrary searches to use as inspiration for short stories (or essays, or . . . something written).

Second expenditure--my first ever pedicure.  I had been working diligently away in my mother's rooms, going through her clothes, books, various papers, and dealing with the broken hearts of my dad and brothers.  While sitting on the kitchen steps for a break, I looked down at my bare feet and decided it was time to woman-up and get my nails did.  I made an appointment at a place nearby.

It was nice (I paid too much, tip-wise), and I'm still enjoying the pale pink color on my toes--a color I'll call "Sandy and the Lifeguard."  It seemed that in a lot of cases, 'colorful' names for nail polish was the norm, the actual color description being the least important element in the title.  I saw another jumping off place for story ideas.

So, here is Newspapers & Nail Polish.  My goal is a weekly entry, alternating between the two inspirational sources.

I think I hear Sandy calling  . . .