Short Fiction

Squirrel In The Grill

The baby was up all night, poor thing.  Poor new mother, her night clothes covered in snot and sour milk, standing over the sink.   Too tired even to decide if she wanted a shower or a cup of coffee.  And nobody around to care.

They were new settlers in a new suburb.  Great big house with no furniture in it yet, only one baby (so far), now standing on a patch of cold brown sod.  It was so nice when they moved in last August.  A ticklish breeze and the smell of fresh grass made them feel like adults — or maybe it was the mortgage and the big-ticket lawn mower?  They closed the season with a Labor Day barbecue for their friends.    It was right before her last trimester and she felt so happy, ready for their life to really begin.

Now the winter was ragged and rough.  He forgot to cover the grill the last time they made steaks back in November.  Then snows covered the yard and grill covering wasn’t as much of a priority as being a new father and revving up his new snow blower. She sighed and chewed at her chapped lips. The baby’s crackling snores came out of the nursery monitor and she stiffened just a bit.

She wasn’t sure what she saw.  It was just a sensation of movement outside, maybe a bird?  She watched.  It was a fat squirrel squeezing out of the side vent of the grill.  Its bushy tail made a flourish as it hopped on the rounded stainless steel top.  Its eyes were bright and it moved with the agility of a creature used to the luxury of deep and uninterrupted sleep.

She looked down at her mismatched, dirty pajamas and noticed her clinging, greasy hair. She wondered if that squirrel was a mother, leaving her babies to get a breath of fresh air and something to eat.  Or maybe to just be a squirrel again for a little while.  A warm tear rolled down her cheek.  This wasn’t how she thought it was going to be.  No, not at all.

 

 

 

 

Short Fiction, Uncategorized

I Knead Words

The dough is still tough, cold but in a little while it will be elastic, warm.   My hands will pull, throw, twist and fold until it glistens and obeys my commands.  I’ll make sure it will look forward to its rest in the warm buttered bowl.

But now I focus on the work and anticipate the earthy smell of the yeast, the chewy crust and the warm crumb.  A story turns itself over in my mind as I knead. Words are like bread.  They rise and sometimes they turn out tasty.  Sometimes they don’t, but like my less-than-perfect loaves, I’ll enjoy them anyway.

 

Uncategorized

Born in 1955 Yet Forever Young, Green, and Crispy

I was milling about with my old pal nostalgia and found this Thanksgiving post from 2011. Thought I’d turkey trot her around the blog one more time. Have a wonderful holiday!

Can I Take A Nap First?

Today give thanks to Dorcas Reilly, the intrepid team leader who toiled in obscurity in the Campbell Soup Company test kitchen.  Although she very modestly denies it, she is given the credit for developing the iconic recipe for Green Bean Casserole, known in our home by its acronym, GBC.  (We like all our iconic side dishes to sound like something recently discovered by the CDC.  It lends a frisson of excitement to dinner at our house that our guests have come to expect.) I’ve discovered that the rabid lovers of GBC are not to be trifled with.  They need their annual fix of the creamy/crispy soup & fried onion combo, and they will throw their own mothers to the wolves to get it!  I should have learned my lesson last year when we had a GBC accident.   You see, we always make 2 casseroles and accidentally left one in…

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Poetry?

Get Into The Holiday Groove

Greetings, Napsters!  Here in the U.S. we are ramping up for that quintessential American holiday, Thanksgiving.  In true Can I Take A Nap spirit I invite everyone to join me in my warm up to next Thursday’s holiday with some bad haiku.

Somebody check fast!
Guests arriving in a minute ~
Extra T.P. roll?

Did we forget it?
Check the oven and the ‘fridge
Hidden G.B.C.

House is dark and still.
Foil wrappings crackle too loud!
Midnight sandwich time.

House full of kids’ friends
Loud, laughing. Now they can drink.
Pretend I can’t sleep.

Future Thanksgivings
Everybody gets a leg!
GMO turkey.

 

 

 

Short Fiction

Ruby Caught Red-Handed

The stacks feel so close. They stretch so high that they appear to meet.  It feels more like a cathedral than a library.  The colors of the books are so bright, and the sunlight pours down on Ruby though there are no windows in the stacks.

Ruby is looking for a book to hide the money and she feels irritated, rushed to complete this task though she doesn’t know why.  She pulls a blue book off the shelf, is it Moby Dick?  Even in her dream she thinks this is a poor choice.  The book is old and some of the pages have been mended with yellowing tape that’s making them stick together.  It smells funny, too.  Not musty like old paper, but antiseptic, like a hospital.  There are pictures in the book, drawings, really.  An old, tired classic long forgotten on the shelf.

She presses the bill into the center of a page, closing it with finality and pushing it back onto the shelf — squeezing it a bit because the shelf is so crowded and the books are so tight together.

A warm breeze brings a sweet, yeasty  smell, like bread rising and Ruby turns to see Artie, her late husband standing next to her.  He’s twenty-five years old, his face sunburned like the first time they met.  He’s holding his old, sun-bleached Red Sox cap in his hand.  Ruby’s frozen to the spot, hand to her throat, afraid that her slightest movement will make him shimmer away.

“Ruby, my jewel.”  He slides the cap through his fingers.  A small motion, unguarded and odd for a ghost.  “Always with your head in a book.  Too smart to end up with the likes of me, and yet….”

Ruby knows she’s dreaming.  Artie died five years ago and despite all her lonely nights of wishing this is his first appearance in her dreams.

“Artie, why now?”

“Just wanted to keep you on your toes, but you don’t need me anymore, Ruby.”  He smiles.  Light pulsates around him.  Ruby struggles to keep from squinting.

“Have you been playing ball, Artie?”  This is all she could think to ask.  She’s so much older, does he see?

“No ball playing, but we watch.  We watch over, and I watch over you, too.  You’ve always been good, Ruby.  They’ll never see, and they’ll never know, but that’s the point, isn’t it?  Life can be hard sometimes — even in the little ways”

Ruby wakes to the grey pre-dawn, hears the sound of rain against the window, feels Pinsky’s light cat-weight warming the bed’s edge.  She pulls the covers close around her and says quietly, “Artie, love of my life, you have no idea.”

Looking to catch up with Ruby, Viv and their friends of Benjamin?  Links below. 

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1

Chapter 6 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2

Chapter 7 Rich or Poor, It’s Nice To Have Money

Uncategorized

Wither Black Friday?

The outdoor recreational retailer REI has gone public with the decision to close their stores on Black Friday this year to encourage both associates and customers to go play outside on that day.  #OptOutside

I think this is a brilliant idea for a couple of reasons:

  1. Recognizes that shopping doesn’t need to occur in a physical store anymore. Even “lowest prices” are available on-line now.
  2. Highlights REI as a business in touch with their customer base and associates.
  3. Generates employee goodwill.
  4. Touches on the rise of “experiences” trumping material gifts.  What better way to burn off those turkey legs and extra stuffing than to take a hike with family and friends?  Have some memorable conversations with folks you don’t get to see often.  Or escape from folks you see too much.
  5. They don’t suggest a boycott of shopping or anything negative about Black Friday, but they open up an alternative.

We’re just at the threshold of Halloween, but I like the thought of both Halloween and Thanksgiving as holidays unto themselves and not as the bellwether and gateway to a season of mass consumption.   So I tip my woolly beanie to REI and will plan to spend some time in Nature on November 27, 2015.  I’ll be packing some leftover pie and cranberry sauce with me if you care to come along.

Uncategorized

Big Wheel Keeps On Turning

An old merchant once told me that the business of retail moves like a wheel — everybody moves from the top to the bottom and sometimes back up to the top again.  There was a time when big department stores like JCPenney, Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck were at the top of the wheel.  Funny, they were also “multi channel” retailers long before that term was coined because they had both stores filled with merchandise and catalog “big books” for their customers who lived too far away to shop in a city store.

Next on the wheel were the regional department stores.  Stores that might have had eight to twelve branches within a state and catered their offering to a specific customer.  These stores forged an emotional attachment with the community by sponsoring fashion shows and other local events.  Your friends and neighbors worked in these stores.   It was a big deal to take the kids to have their picture taken with Santa there.   I always think of the movie A Christmas Story and the Santa’s Workshop scene in Higbee’s department store as the “warm and fuzzy with a dark side” example of these stores.  Most of them were gobbled up during the latter part of the last century in a frenzy of acquisition and are now just fuzzy memories.

Then we Americans continued to expand in our usual “bigger must be better” mode and  built destination malls to aggregate a whole bunch of stores under one roof with “anchors,” usually department stores, at the ends.  Instead of having to park on a street downtown we could just park our cars in gargantuan lots and spend hours wandering around in temperature controlled climates all year ’round.   There were pizza places and record stores to hang out in while your mom shopped.  And it became a bona fide teen hang-out with the advent of video game arcades.  These malls were a terrific setting of popular culture — think of Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Kevin Smith’s tour de force, Mallrats.  I worked a couple of mall store jobs in my youth.  One job was at a place that made smoothies and since I wasn’t old enough to drive my Dad used to fall sleep on a wooden bench out in the mall on the nights I had to close.  It was a terrible work environment, but I didn’t know any better and they let me go right after the holidays.  I had to return the Santa hat I was required to wear but they let me keep the pre-Hooters style tee shirts that were my “uniform.”

Since folks love to shop when they go on vacation some forward-thinking developers created malls for manufacturers to sell directly to the consumer without alienating their retail clients and the outlet mall was born.  Today’s upscale outlet malls entertain an international clientele because they offer a large range of product in big-name brands in one very large, easily accessible location.

And then there is Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer with $485 billion in revenue and 1.4 million employees.  The big WM hung around at the top of the retail wheel for a very long time, but now they are starting to slip as Amazon increases in strength.  I’m measuring this by market capitalization — back in July Amazon’s market capitalization (~$263B) surpassed Walmart’s (~$234B).

Now you don’t even need to go shopping in a store anymore which makes it perilous to maintain a physical store anywhere.  Back in September Macy’s announced that it plans to close 35-40 stores in early 2016.  Strangely enough this announcement came shortly after the chain launched its test concept of “Macy’s Backstage.”  The assortment of merchandise “Backstage” will include clearance goods from Macy’s stores and special items from other brands between 20 to 80 percent off the original price.  Hmmm,  does anybody else remember “clearance stores” in those big old malls of the 1970’s?  They weren’t pretty; cavernous spaces with aisles of tables and racks where strange colors of clothing assaulted the eye.  But it gave its elegant sister store space to bring in the “next best thing,” and it humbled merchants a bit to see their assortment errors all in one place.   Kohl’s is also experimenting with this concept as a way to liquidate its returns from web shoppers. As another wise merchant once said, “everything has a price.”  But if somebody returned it at least once…. well, why would I want it at even x% off?

And speaking of “returns” — what about the concept of Rent The Runway?  Have a black-tie event once every five years?  Why buy a dress when you can rent one for three days?   Keeps you out of the stores and junk out of your closet.  Now before you think of that as a concept far from traditional retailing, just think about the liberal return policies of some retailers.  I’ve known more than one person who is the poster child for returning a dress on Monday that was purchased the previous Thursday.  I think it’s genius to bring that concept out in the open as a business.

Career-wise I “grew up” in retailing — what I liked most about it was the unpredictability of it.  Yes, we kept sales history by day, a weather diary when I worked in seasonal departments, and we wrote recaps of the month that we saved to review when we planned the following year, but the trends could still surprise us.  The year Nirvana exploded and flannel shirts blew out.  Nobody saw that coming when teenage kids bought every flannel shirt in patterns only a grandfather would choose.

Another merchant from my past counseled the team when we hit a rough patch of business that we didn’t get dumb overnight.  The things we did when the business was on the upswing were different from the things we will do as the business cycles down, but our collective business intelligence had not disappeared. The wheel of retail is spinning faster with both the need to be nimble with our business intelligence and ability to get bigger faster.  The massive collection of data drives a large portion of this growth — if you shop on Amazon just look at all the products it “recommends” for you.  Retailers have to make you want what they are selling or they need to make coming to their physical location more compelling than swiping a screen or clicking on a picture.  Maybe good retailers really do re-invent the wheel when they tap into both a need and a want, but this relationship now feels less emotional on both sides, more transactional.  Is the variable of human interaction less desirable for both parties?  Is “customer service” still an important attribute, and how is that defined now?  What I find intriguing about any successful retailer is how it anticipates the customer, but not in a creepy way.   Luckily Amazon still makes me laugh with its recommendations based on my buying history so I still feel smarter than its algorithms (for now), but it makes me wonder about the retailer who will surpass Amazon eventually.