Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Walter the Second

Like most people, Walter Hubbard did not remember his own birth. Neither did his parents. The fourth child of nine, Walter was born to Richard and Athena Hubbard, of the Tucson Hubbards.
“The lovely Mrs. Hubbard!” friends would say. “Adding to the troupe again, we see. How you glow when you are with child, how many is this dear?”
“Old mother Hubbard, more like,” she would respond with not a little exhaustion, her brood of mini-Hubbards dancing around her like demons ready to burn their mother at the stake. “I believe this is number seven.”
“Eight, mother! This is number eight!” Walter would correct her.
“Are you quite sure dear? I was certain we were only on number seven. Let me see, there’s Winston, Warren, Walter, Wallace, Wanda, and Wendy…so yes, this should be number seven.”
“Yes, mother, but there are two of us.”
“Two of who?”
“Two Walters? You must be joking. Why would we have two Walters?”
Indeed, our Walter was born exactly two years to the day after his older brother, Walter. Walter the second was welcomed into the world rather unceremoniously, and a worn out Athena signed the birth certificate with little ado in her groggy post-partum state.
The naming mishap was only the first of hundreds of incidents which would render Walter the second (a man who would be largely forgettable even if he had been given his own name) a perpetual shadow in the memories of those who knew him. Regardless, Walter the second never realized he was constantly being forgotten until well into college. He always had a birthday party (though it was thrown for his brother Walter…he just thought there wasn’t enough room on the cake for two names) and somehow in the mix of nine little devils leaping around the cramped household, Walter always had a bed to sleep in and food to eat.
What Athena Hubbard did not know (aside from the number of children she already had) was that she was pregnant with numbers eight and nine. The birth of the twins Wilbur and Eunice was quite eventful in the Hubbard household. Athena was caught off guard without a name for the little girl. She considered the name Wanda but realized, almost too late, that she already had one of those…so the child was named after the almost blind nurse who caught her as she slid out into the world on the heels of her brother.
“How are we going to house eight children, Richard?”
“Nine, mother. You just had number eight and nine,” interrupted Walter the Second.
“Nine? Impossible, I’ve only been pregnant eight times.”
Ten year old Walter decided to leave that one alone.
“You’re quite right, Athena,” said Richard, ignoring his son, “We have no more room where we are now. We are going to have to find a larger home.”
And so it was decided. The burgeoning Hubbard family, with eight or nine children decided that they were too numerous for Tucson, and moved to Tempe. A stranger might argue that it was fate that brought them there. They might argue that it was an uncharacteristically rainy night in Tucson when the children were in bed that Richard Hubbard and his wife Athena conceived twins, causing the family to have too many children in a small house which prompted them to move to Tempe where there was a larger house perfect for a family their size and where the second child of theirs named Walter would grow up, fall in love, and marry Alice Snogbottom and one day encourage her to have an affair with Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger which would lead to that man's unfortunate death at the bottom of Pickler Ravine which is why, to this day, there is no Tasty Freeze in Flagstaff, and why we can blame almost everything on the weather.

Walter Hubbard loved his wife more than his own life. It was unfortunate for her that he had tried to commit suicide no less than three times, possibly more. And now, as Mr. Hubbard comforted the love of his life while she wept in grief over the lost love of another man, he considered how difficult it would be to bury himself alive. Granted, he might need some help tossing the dirt back onto his bound up body…he could pay someone to do that…but would that count as suicide? He’d be perfectly willing to dig the hole himself, right in his own back yard, if need be. But those nasty laws of the universe (especially the one where you can’t be two places at once) prevented this plan from developing into fruition. Happily, he realized he’d already been digging his own grave for 17 years, it was just a matter of time before someone else took pity and helped throw a little dirt on his face.
“Oh darling, I loved him so much, and now he’s gone, gone forever and he’ll never come back to me, never! Oh, what’ll I do!”
And there it was.
Walter remained as comforting and as loving as possible through the whole ordeal. The ordeal had, in fact, been of his own orchestration…an ordeal he foolishly thought would bring his wife back to him. One that would make her see how much she needed him, how much they needed each other. It took him months to convince her to ask Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger out to dinner.
“You silly man! Why on earth would I do that?” she declared.
“Darling, if it’s a matter of hurting my feelings, have no fear. I want you to experience the sort of freedom we missed out on by marrying so early.”
“Oh, it’s not that, Walter…”
“Then what is it my sweet?”
“Women can’t ask MEN out. It’s against the rules. I would never ask him out first. If this is going to happen, I need to have a plan. I need to lure him in, not corner him. If there’s anything I’ve learned from fifteen years of…marriage, it’s this: men feel threatened when they’re trapped. No offence.”
“None taken.”
“So what I need to do first, is go shopping. I’ll need new shoes and a killer dress if I’m going to get Stan to ask me out. Give me the credit card.”
“Anything, my love.”
Okay, so it hadn’t taken months to convince her. But Walter liked to think that she would have held out longer if Stan hadn’t told her himself that very day that he would be moving to Flagstaff in two months time to open up another Tasty Freeze franchise. And so it began. Walter Hubbard knew that it would not take much for his darling wife to attract the attentions of another man, if she hadn’t already.
She was quite a beautiful woman, by any man’s standards. Her hair was a tall sort of floofy arrangement of peroxide curls sprayed into place by some not insignificant amount of hairspray each morning. When Walter looked at it, he liked to think of it as a slightly yellow cloud sitting upon the bold brown mountains that were her eyebrows. And, he always loved the way she scraped away excess red lipstick in the mornings with her well manicured French nails. Yes, she was quite beautiful. And Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger was just the sort of man Walter knew would treat his wife with the sort of respect a married woman looking to have an open marriage would deserve…and then be out of town by August. He never thought for a second that she would fall in love with him, or that her love would be the beginning of the end for the Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger line.
Walter looked at Alice Hubbard now as she leaned over her knees, one hand covering her face, one digging into the clear plastic covering on their brown velvet sofa that was their first purchase together after their honeymoon. It was quite a good deal at the time, really. The custom plastic covering cost almost as much as the couch itself. In fact it may have cost more. Walter made a mental note to check the receipts that were still tucked safely under his bed.
Walter suddenly realized two things. First, he realized that this was only the second time he remembered his wife sitting on the couch in their living room. And second, he realized how lovely she was as she sat there sobbing over the death of Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger, the owner of the Tasty Freeze, and the most eligible bachelor in town…until recently.

The Grill Fire

I started drinking this afternoon at 12:30. And later, I'll probably have cake. And I'm okay with that, because this morning, I almost died. Now, I'm going to tell you a story about how my roommate Jessie saved my life, but it's not going to be one of those trite "Near death experience stories" because I already have one of those. And it's not going to be one of those "carpe diem" stories or "don't go one more day without telling that one person you love them" stories because, really, we've all seen Dead Poets' Society and if you are seriously holding back from expressing love, then you have some issues that are not going to be solved by reading an email. But this email is going to make a difference in your life. Maybe. And I am going to tell you about why I would make a great 18th century farm wife.

Now, I want to start off by telling you that two minutes after I woke up at 6am this morning, my roommate Jessie saved my life. But to tell the story right, I have to back up a bit.

I have a new job.

For those of you who don't know: I have a new job. I'm still working at Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena, but my new job is in the Promotions department where I get to host events for authors to come in to discuss and sign their books. Usually the events are pretty fun and interesting. Mystery writers, or authors of childrens' series, sometimes big name authors like David Sedaris or Salman Rushdie....we get them all...and last night we had a panel of writers from a local writing group. Amateurs, mostly. Like me. And it was terrible. I spent a large part of the event text messaging my sister from the back row.

Me: "Shoot me now."
5 minutes later: "Or slit my throat, whichever is faster"

Most of the authors really were awful. They talked about divorce, depression, war, wrote bad explicit poetry...almost all semi-autobiographical first person narratives...and really, I think it's silly to mis-label group therapy as a writers' club. It's not fair to the rest of us who expected interesting literature.

I headed home. Weary from an afternoon of bad literature and no vodka. As worn out as I was, I still looked forward to coming home to a house full of people. Our weekly Sunday dinner was on, and in full force. There were new friends and old friends and people I just call friends because it's easier than saying we pretend to dislike one another. I'd sent out a text earlier in the day letting people know to bring something to BBQ… so when I got home at 8:30, the grill was on and the kabobs were almost ready and twenty people were prepared to eat.

Four hours later, the last guest had departed and I was sound asleep in my bed. Still fully clothed in my black dress complete with earrings. I may have still been wearing my shoes.

I woke up to a faraway sound. Mmmm…rain. I rolled over in bed and glanced at the sky. Gray. Comfort. Sleep again.

But the noise outside my window kept growing, and it wasn’t a familiar rain sound. Reluctantly, I roused myself up again. Hail? I tried to focus my eyes on the sky…tried to adjust the way you do when you’re looking at one of those magic eye pictures where you cross your eyes and you see a penguin riding a motorcycle. I searched the sky for the hail I heard on the porch, tried to find the definition of clouds and the shadows between them. Brushing the sleep from my eyes, I looked again. The sky was still gray, but clear, not overcast from hail or rain or clouds, but pale from no sun. Confusion kept me awake for a moment or two, but I wanted so badly to fall back into that perfect pocket of blankets still warm from sleep.

Looking up and out my window I saw a red glow, more intense than sunrise, reflected on the eve above. Suddenly, pieces started falling into place. I shot up onto my knees and looked at the porch below. The red glow wasn’t sunrise, but fire. And the sound that woke me up wasn’t hail or rain, but the plastic bits of our grill boiling and popping in the heat.

The next few seconds were fueled kindly by a shot of adrenaline …because 6am has never been kind to me.

I hurdled out of my bed, opened the door to my room and screamed to wake up my roommate “JESSIE! FIRE!” Her response, as she tumbled down the stairs “I KNOW!” was punctuated immediately by a nice solid “SHIT!”

I’m pretty sure that’s about when our roommate Lexi woke up, but I was back in my room, buried in my closet looking for a suitable blanket to smother the fire. As I dug around, I started trying to calculate how much each second of my search would cost us. I threw one shoe aside as I imagined the destruction below, “There goes my basil plant!” some more popping outside and I tossed a dirty shirt over my shoulder, “That has to be the umbrella over the patio table. Dammit, that was new!” Finally, I found a large green microfiber blanket my sister had given me for Christmas a few years ago.

“Yes, this is perfect” I thought in relief, “If I wet this, it should be heavy enough to put out the fire.”

With the blanket bunched up in my arms, I skidded down the stairs. Jessie had opened the front door, but I was too focused on getting to the fire to wonder what she was doing. I could see the grill from the living room through the sliding glass door and the scene was terrible in its beauty. Red flames longer than my arms flirted with the overhanging limbs of a dry tree from the neighbors’ back yard. Glowing bits of melting plastic knobs dripped and dropped themselves around the charred propane tank below. Left over bratwurst grease popped as it spilled onto the patio and boiled away the paint on the fiberglass floor. The wheels were, at this point, little more than rubber puddles. It took me about one second to run from the stairs to the door leading out to the deck. It took Jessie about half a second to go the same distance…damn her long legs!

Turning to Jessie, I outlined to her my flawless plan: “Okay, I’m going to go warn the neighbors and then throw this blanket over the flames.”

At this point, I have to pause and applaud Jessie for her wherewithal and practicality at such a rude hour for a household fire. She looked at me calmly, assessed my plan and very matter-of-factly dismissed it.

“No. No you won’t. Let’s try this first.” and she pulled the pin out of the fire extinguisher in her hands. Jessie can usually be described using the word “statuesque” because of her height and imperturbable countenance. But in that fraction of a second she looked positively intrepid. In about two swift movements, the pin was out, the screen door opened, and the fire was out in a cloud of white fire extinguishing glory! Go America! I felt a surge of patriotism and love for the genius who thought to himself (or herself) “YES! We shall package and distribute metal containers full of a pressurized white powdery substance and this will indeed save lives! Methinks it will but save our country. Nay! Mayhaps it shall yet save civilization as we know it! Yea verily!”

I’m not sure why I imagined that person saying “yea verily” especially with an exclamation point following it…but that was the picture in my brain. And there was much rejoicing.

Jessie and I regarded the near-cataclysmic disaster we had avoided. And we stood there for a few more seconds while our adrenaline highs started to fade…and we collapsed. I fell onto the couch, still clinging to the blanket, curled up in the fetal position. Jessie fell into a nearby chair, still clinging to the fire extinguisher, curled up in the fetal position.

Jessie started laughing first, the way you do when you realize how ridiculously close you teeter on the edge of controlling or not controlling your world every day. Actually, maybe that’s not what she was laughing at. I think maybe, perhaps she was just laughing at me and the ridiculous plan I hatched to save our lives. “You know,” she mentioned by way of encouragement, “your plan to extinguish the fire with a big wet blanket and warn the neighbors was really very good…it would have been very useful if you’d been a farmwife in the 18th century.”

We both laughed then. How drastically different we are. How absurdly practical Jessie was to remember we have a fire extinguisher right outside our door…and HAVE had it there for as long as we’ve lived in this apartment. How downright ridiculous I was to think I could throw a microfiber polyester blanket over six foot flames and return with any of my own skin.

As we sat there, recovering, I started to worry about the grill and any flare-ups that might happen again. The propane tank sat there staring at me, all taunting and ticking-bomb-like. I imagine if this particular propane tank could speak, it would probably have some bizarre, haughty French accent. “Ha ha ha!” it would chuckle, gutterally “Approach me againe you naughty leetle ‘uman! Mais, oui: I will only liquefy you like thees tires beneeth me.”

It would probably have a stupid handlebar mustache and greasy hair too. Stupid propane. This is not the alcohol or the cake talking, neither. This is pure hatred for that trash-talking aluminum mistake that I so kindly brought in and gave shelter to for so long. And this is how the petit bastard repays me! By taking advantage of my early morning daze and anthropomorphizing itself! I think not!!! So I decided to take action. I called the fire department.

This was when I realized I was still in my black dress from the night before….so made the phone call, explained that there was no longer a fire but we were dealing with a verbally abusive French tank of gas. Fine, I left that part out, but as soon as I let them know there was no fire, but a danger of a re-flare-up, I ran upstairs and changed into pajamas so the brave firemen of Sierra Madre wouldn’t think they caught us in the middle of some early morning lesbian walk of shame since I appeared to be wearing clothes from a previous night’s soiree.

Eight of Sierra Madre’s bravest appeared about five minutes later and as I sat on the couch and watched them kick away bits of plastic that could now only be used for some poor modern art exhibit, I couldn’t tear my mind away from one little thought. If I hadn’t woken up this morning, if Jessie had been out of town or hadn’t had the wherewithal to get the fire extinguisher in time…I might have died. And my last night in this earthly existence would have been spent listening to VERY poor literature.

Zen 20

Dear The Tooth Fairy,

How have you been? It's been, what...sixteen, seventeen years since you've been to visit? I was just thinking about you one morning last week because I found some loose change under my pillow. At first I thought maybe I'd lost a tooth in my sleep, but they were all still in my mouth...thank goodness. Then I thought maybe I was ABOUT to lose a tooth and you just jumped the gun on the ritual "tooth for coins" exchange we established years ago. I finally realized it was just a quarter and a dime that had fallen out of a pair of jeans I'd taken off and thrown on my bed the night before.

Now that I think about it, you've got a hard gig, The Tooth Fairy. How did you get into your line of work, anyway? Maybe you were too small and flighty to be a dentist or dental hygeinist and now you're working the graveyard shift snatching sugar-rotten teeth from under the noggins of slumbering children. AND you have to pay them!

I was wondering, actually...has the price gone up? For teeth, I mean... because when I was losing my teeth, I think the going rate was twenty five cents per tooth. But with inflation and all, I bet it's somewhere up around fifty or sixty cents by now. I'm just wondering because if times get tight, I'd like to have something to fall back on. Also, I have other things you might be interested in purchasing. I trim my fingernails about once a week, and my toenails once a month (I think they grow slower) and I was thinking each set might go for a dime each (one cent per trimmed nail) which would be an extra fifty cents in my pocket per month...again, only if you're interested...I don't know if there's much of a market for toenails these days.

Or, if you're only in the business for pre-used dental items, The Tooth Fairy, maybe you're part of a networking group of other types of fairies who make under-the pillow, is there a The Junk Mail Fairy, or a The Holey Sock Fairy? Because I have lots of those things. I did try putting some chocolate under my pillow for you last night, as a thank you gift for all the loose change over the years....but it was still there (and a little melted into my sheets) when I woke up in the morning. I thought a little more about it and I guess it was always my parents who let you know there was something waiting for you under my pillow at night. Maybe I'll call my mom and see how she used to get in contact with you.

Which reminds me...I don't really know how to address this I guess I'll send it up to the North Pole. There are a lot of letters headed up that way this time of year. I'm hoping Santa's mail room will be able to forward this to you. I bet they get a lot of mail for various modern day mythological icons....I've been trying to get in contact with the boogey man too.

In any case, feel free to stop by any time you're in the neighborhood. Don't be a stranger!

Laura Jane McGranaghan

Zen 19

I'm severely tempted to call in sick at work today. Things are not going my way.

It started before I even got out of bed. Sorta.

You know how sometimes, you'll have a fitful sleep and the sheets will be all bunched up around you and somehow, by the time morning rolls around you've found THE most comfortable position you've ever been in? And then your alarm goes off. Well, that was me at 8:45 this morning. I waited for a few seconds listening to my alarm, hoping it would turn itself off so I wouldn't have to leave the nest of pillows and blankets. Because you KNOW that once you leave the nest, there's no returning to that perfect spot. Finally, I gave in. I got as far out of bed as I had to in order to reach the snooze button and then returned as quickly as I could, in my half conscious state, to the nest of joy and wonder. Everything was going well as I fell back in: the blankets were still warm, the pillows were still in the right place, the sheets were still bunched up in such a way that they were welcoming in the middle...but as my face made its way back to the bed, something was different. I'd pulled the sheets just enough out of place on my way OUT of bed to turn off the alarm, that as I returned, the elastic part of the fitted sheet on the corner of the mattress was barely hanging on...and my face resting near that very corner of the mattress was just enough to pull it off....and that's how I woke up this morning, by being smacked in the face by an elastic band. I took that as a sign to get out of bed.

Jessie woke up around the same time I did (that MIGHT have had something to do with the fact that I'd left the alarm going for so long...sorry Jess) and instead of being mad (as would have been perfectly reasonable) she suggested we make toast and coffee and watch tv in our pajamas until we had to get ready for work...neither of us work until afternoon today. I thought this was a great idea and (after I re-created how my bed had kicked me out a few minutes earlier) I took it upon myself to start the coffee.

I did everything right. I ground the beans, I put the filter in the coffee maker, filled it with water and turned it on. It wasn't until a few minutes later that I realized I'd forgotten to put the coffee IN the coffee maker.

Awesome. I had some vaguely coffee-flavored hot water.

Do it again McGranaghan.

Oh yeah, and THEN, I got out the toaster and as I was setting it down on the counter I knocked over one of Jessie's favorite wine glasses and it shattered in the sink.

Now, I am FULLY aware that I excel finding myself in awkward situations...I would like to reference the Karaoke incident a few weeks ago, and the old man and the questionable photographs he wanted me to look at a few days ago, and (let's be honest) a lifetime of being perpetually flustered or giggling at inopportune moments (remember how you used to razz me about that, Andy?) but COME ON. I can't catch a break. It's not just that I'm physically clumsy and careless (though that accounts for the wine glass breaking and possibly even the elastic band in the face this morning) or that I'm forgetful and absentminded (though that covers the coffee making incident) but uncontrollably awkward moments just HAPPEN to me, without my instigating them.

I'm considering becoming a cloistered nun. A customer at work decided to tell me all about them yesterday. It makes sense, hole yourself up all the time and just pray. I mean...what harm could I do there? I wouldn't even be able to speak to my fellow nuns due to the whole vow of silence thing. Of course, I wouldn't be able to continue my work as an international spy, but the ratio of awkward to non-awkward moments would significantly drop...I should hope.


Zen 18

Hey Kids, sorry it's been a while. I took a little break from the zen since (and I know this is hard for you all to believe, but) interesting things just don't happen EVERY day.

HOWEVER, there was this gem of an interaction that I had to share with you all. Sorry if some of you have already heard about this in person.

The other day at work, I was wrapping some gifts in the back room when I heard the bell ring at the Will Call window. I stopped what I was doing, turned the corner and saw an older man (at least in his mid to late seventies) standing at the window...barely taller than the counter. He had gray hair down to his chin, a bit of a scruffy beard, a hat and an army jacket. I asked how I could help him and he let me know that he'd ordered a book through our store that should be waiting for him, but he also had a book in his hands ready to purchase.

Shakily, he placed the book he'd picked out from the shelves on the counter. It was a book called "Sex on the Brain." I did a small (but hopefully unnoticable) double take before I asked for his last name so I could find the book we had special ordered for him. I found the book in our Will Call shelves and it was this giant coffee table picture book called "Naked Ambition"....The cover was a picture of two scantily clad women holding was a photo documentary of the Porn industry.

I hope you all can appreciate how hard I worked not to let any emotion or look of surprise surface on my face. I really tried.

As I handed him the coffee table book, he asked if he could have a few minutes to look at it while he decided whether or not he was going to purchase it. I said "sure, that would be fine, just let me know when you're ready and I can ring you up back here." It was at that moment I realized I needed to be careful and not say anything to this man that might be taken as a double entendre. He replied quickly though "No! That's okay, you can stay here, I'll only take a minute."

Of course.

So I waited patiently as this older man flipped through the large glossy pages of pornographic images... asking my opinion about a few of them. I really tried my best to avert my eyes. I promise you, I did NOT want any of those images burned into my retinas...

After what seemed like ten minutes (but was probably thirty seconds) the man decided NOT to purchase "Naked Ambition" but he did buy "Sex on the Brain."

All in a day's work, I guess. I should ask my supervisor if it's in my job description to look at porn with old men. I should get a raise.

Zen 17

Okay, the butter stories will have to wait. I was having fun today and had to share some of the results:
The following is a list of some popular Beatles song titles translated into Japanese and then back into English, courtesy of Google Translator. There's a key at the end if you get stumped...

1. Strawberry Fields Forever
2. Penny Lane
4. A little help from my friends
6. A day's life
7. Love is all
8. I am the walrus
12. Lady Madonna
13. Hey Jude
14. Revolution
15. BAKKUINZA ussr
16. While my guitar gently weeps
18. Return
19. Do not let down
20. The Ballad of John and Yoko
22. Here comes the sun
23. Together
24. Something
25. Octopus's Garden
27. The entire universe

Original titles:

1. Strawberry Fields Forever
2. Penny Lane
3. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
4. With a Little Help from My Friends
5. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
6. A Day in the Life
7. All You Need Is Love
8. I Am the Walrus
9. Hello Goodbye
10. The Fool on the Hill
11. Magical Mystery Tour
12. Lady Madonna
13. Hey Jude
14. Revolution
15. Back in the U.S.S.R.
16. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
17. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
18. Get Back
19. Don't Let Me Down
20. The Ballad of John and Yoko
21. Old Brown Shoe
22. Here Comes the Sun
23. Come Together
24. Something
25. Octopus's Garden
26. Let It Be
27. Across the Universe
28. The Long and Winding Road

Zen 16

I had a few problems with the movie "300." I won't go into each of these points in detail, or bore you with any of them except one: There was no butter in that movie.

I happen to know, as a fact (because my high school history teacher told me this was true) that the real Spartans would, as a part of their preparation for battle, cover themselves in rancid butter. They did this for a few reasons. First, the smell is repulsive. Instead of an opponent thinking to himeself: "Grunt, huff, grrr...this guy's gonna die...that stupid Spartan! Charge!" he would be thinking to himself "Grunt, grr...huff! Huff? Sniff! Gross...something smells BAD! It must be that Spartan who looks like he's about to chop my head offfffff....." THud! And the opponent's head is gone! One for the team! and all because of the butter.

Second, rancid butter is slippery.

Tomorrow: other things you didn't know about butter.

Zen 15

Here's your recipe for the day:

Laura's Easy Hamburger Cone Things


6-8 flat bottomed edible ice cream cones

1. Preheat oven to a suitable hamburger-safe tempurature.

2. Mix the hamburger with some bread crumbs and an egg (sorry we forgot to put the bread crumbs and the egg in the ingredients section...oops.)

3. Put a handful of the hamburger mixture in each of the ice cream cones.

4. Bake meated-cones until they're not pink anymore.

5. Use ketchup for icing and add sprinkles! (also not in the ingredients section, these are optional)

6. Enjoy!

Zen 14

Gather 'round, children, and let me tell you a tale. Let us take time on this Thanksgiving eve, let us set aside our butter churns and our sugaring of marigolds, let us loosen our corsets and unbuckle our hats that have big brass buckles on them for no apparent reason and let us hearken back to a simpler time. So hunker down with a mug of mulled cider or fermented honey wine and allow me to regale to you a yarn of a story that has made me the girl I am today, the girl who has gained the reputation as "Vroman's Bookstore's Offical Company Christmas Party Mood Killer."

After nearly three weeks of consecutive employment at Pasadena's favorite (and oldest) independent bookstore, I was enjoying that short lived, but wonderful title of "the new girl." Being the new kid at school/work/your chosen city of residence means so many things. It's a wonderful opportunity to start a new chapter of your life. To do things right. To eat healthier, dress smarter, wear cleaner socks and be more patriotic...Go America! (that was just for you Regan, since you just finished reading AHWOSG :) )

But there is only so much time you have to take advantage of being unknown. Some people manage to maintain an elusive air indefinitely, but even they become, inevitably, known as that person in the break room who only eats cold Tun-ana casseroles, or the guy who never washes his hands but insists on eating from the communal peanut bowl. In my tragic case, I will become known as the girl who killed the company Christmas Party.

As with all tales where the narrator invites you to share in the pain of their lamentable demise, I will tell you that my intentions were always good...noble even. My goal, at my first social event with my new co workers...was not just to fit in, but to make a mark. I guess, in retrospect, my goal was achieved.

There's a high standard of "coolness" that has been set by generations of free-spirited booksellers employed by independent bookstores like Vroman's. There's the quirky bohemian lifestyle that I long to be a part of that seems always just beyond my reach. I don't have horn rimmed glasses, I don't have that starved waif look, I've never dyed my hair, I don't carry a pocket volume written by Kafka/Proust/Kant/Machiavelli/Sartre in my back pocket at all times, I've never lived in my car, I've haven't had anything tatooed (yet) and I usually bathe a few times a week. So I have to fit in… in other ways.

The Christmas party was at a Restaurant in South Pasadena called the Firelfly Bistro (they had some of THE BEST yams I've had in my entire life) and the party was pretty standard company Christmas party fare from there on out. Dinner, drinks...karaoke.... It's the Karaoke that did me in....oh, karaoke. I noticed something strange at the beginning of the evening. As people got up and made goofs of themselves singing poorly to songs that are awful to listen to on the first place, the crowd was eating it up! The singers made mistakes and danced around and sang in different keys and the more they did this, the more the crowd cheered. I hate singing karaoke...mainly because I'm pretty awful at it...but here it seemed like that was a good thing. I picked my karaoke partners carefully. There's Mr. Steve....the children's story hour host at Vromans who is a little bit older than me and delightfully quirky in a Science Fiction fan kind of way. Then there is Kris, the ridiculously adorable manager of the children's book department who offered (OFFERED!) to be a sign language interpreter as Mr. Steve and I sang Paradise by the dashboard light (in my experience, a foolproof crowd least at McGranaghan family weddings) by Meatloaf.

I figured the plan was foolproof. Imagine it if you can: The new girl convinces a Vroman's Icon who is known only as Mr. Steve to sing a rock ballad with her as the the bright/eyed-sweet/spirited children's book manager interprets the classic Meatloaf song for the hearing impared (of which, to be honest, there were none in the audience) and these things add up to: Genius! Right?

So there I was on the precipice of coolness. Years of failures had lead up to this point...bad haircuts, a habit of sticking my foot in my mouth, braces, smelly tennis shoes, an addiction to yellow mustard...and suddenly there I was: In a room full of quirky people who love to read and talk about books and ready to cheer on (!) awful Karaoke with a quirky comic book fan and a sign language interpreter just five songs away from a smash performance of one of the world's most beloved rock ballads.

Four songs away...

Three songs away...

and what's this? Are people filtering out? Are people LEAVING as I'm about to curtsey onto the stage, eschewing my scaley snakeskin lifetime of insecurities and late blooming?

Two songs away...

The night is young people! Stick it out, wait for it...this is going to be WORTH it!

One song away...This is my moment.

DJ: And now we're going to take a little dance break. Who knows how to SALSA!?!

NOOOOOoooooooo........! Okay fine, let's dance.

So I danced. We all and what was left of the group of the bohemian elite who still...but only for a short while longer...knew me as the new girl. We were fierce, but the crowd continued to dwindle with every salsa we salsa-ed...down to a quarter of the original number. Then I turned around and Kris was picking up her purse and keys. She'd had a long day and gotten up early to sign for two church services that morning. She said she was sorry to go before we got to karaoke, but we'd do it some other time. I hugged her and watched her go. Kris walked out the door (the It factor of our would-be history-making moment) and the song ended and I turned around and the DJ called my name.

gah! Did I have enough time to run outside and grab Kris and convince her to stay for just a few more minutes!? no...probably not.

You don't realize how sketchy the lyrics of that song can be until you're standing in the corner of a restaurant singing it with perfect stranger with twenty drunk and tired coworkers staring at you like you're a pile of day old bread pudding that just put on a pair of sunglasses.

Really. Mr. Steve and I sang about being seventeen year olds in the backseat of a car. I didn't even have any real life experience to pull from here...never having seen the backseat of a guy's car as a seventeen year old...

The DJ didn't even bother calling anyone else up to sing after we walked away in awkward silence. He just put on some more music the crowd could salsa to and forget what just happened. It would have been SO much better (ie, funny) if Kris had stayed just a few more minutes...but as it was...I just became the new girl who sang about making out in the back seat of a car with Mr. Steve...

People danced, but the party was over. Everyone felt dirty and awkward. We’re perfect strangers for goodness’ sake! The new girl’s a hussy. Nobody made eye contact with me on the way out ...I couldn't blame them.

It's like those times when you go weeks, maybe months without looking at your hands, really looking at them, and then one day you look down while they're resting on your lap, and you realize they're a lot smaller and weaker than you remembered and that the nails grow in a little funny, especially the one on your right hand where the writing callus from your pen has gotten really deep and has made that part of the nail flat.

Okay, maybe this experience wasn't anything like the hand thing, but that did happen to me the other day...being surprised by my hands. Thought that was weird.

Anyway...I went home, felt a little awkward and tried to forget about it...I wanted to hope that everyone was too drunk to remember anything from the party. But I was wrong. It's all I've heard about. Even from people who weren't there.

So, here's what I've decided: I'm swearing off karaoke forever. Also, I might go sit in on story time with Mr. Steve on Saturday mornings at ten...I like it when he wears his Spiderman Shirt.

Zen 13

And now: a few unrelated thoughts...that may, in the end, seem to have been related to each other.

Part 1
Sometimes I think of my brain as this big room...or maybe kind of like a dirty basement filled with cardboard boxes that aren't properly labeled and stacks of books that have lost their dust jackets and sometimes there are small creatures that gnaw away at various and sundry items that were once in the process of being sorted, but now they are in a state of organized chaos and collecting dust. Also, there's a troll named Huey.

I envy other people's brains that must seem like well kept offices with organized file cabinets and dust-less bookshelves and possibly a window with flowy/gauzy curtains gently swaying in the wind. They are functional rooms that are pleasant to work in and, though they may temporarily become messy due to stressful circumstances, they almost always end up being sorted out, cleaned and returned to a state of moderate organization. I feel like this is what Jessie's brain must look like on the inside. Ashley's, too. They probably don't have stupid trolls living in those offices, either.

But me, I'm stuck with this dusty, windowless, troll-inhabited brain. I keep lots of stuff in here. I tuck away stupid things like the fact that one of my favorite customers, Michelle, at Vroman's is redecorating her house in a mexican cantina theme. OR, that nearly fifteen years ago, I went over to my friend Nikki's house just after her dad had repainted her room and noticed that he'd accidentally touched her ceiling with two of his fingers covered in dusty-rose colored paint leaving two oval-shaped prints just above the head of her bed. WHY do I remember this crap? It doesn't do anybody one bit of good...least of all me. It just clutters up the basement where I keep the stuff that is actually useful in the same unkempt state as the clutter.

AND, no matter how often I sit down and try to sort things out, it just ends up messier than when I began. That's because Huey tries to help, but he's just a manifestation of my Id, and therefore represents my chaotic, illogical desire to remain in an emotional state of disarray.

And, Huey's right, I guess. I'm kind of attached to the way things go in here. In high school, my teacher Mrs. Jones told my that my brain was an abyss of useless knowledge. I took that as a compliment since she was my scholar bowl coach telling me to memorize the pulitzer prize winners in fiction by year and title...they're all still in there somewhere, I guess...but I still get Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow confused for some reason.

Part 2
The Venerable Bede was this 8th century English monk who wrote The Ecclesiastical History of England. It turns out that he didn't actually get the title "Venerable" until after he died when there was a latin typo on his gravestone that, instead of saying "here lie the venerable bones of Bede" said "here lie the bones of Venerable Bede." But still, the name stuck and somehow, he must have been worthy of the title or it WOULDN'T have stuck (kind of like the fact that cliches are cliches for a reason.)

I'm kind of sad that we don't necessarily endow noteworthy people with specialized monikers or designations like "The Venerable" or "The Lionhearted" or "The Terrible" anymore. We give well known people nicknames, sometimes, I guess. I mean, you know who I'm talking about if I just say the letter "W," or if I refer to "The Material Girl" you know that I mean Madonna...right?

I guess what I'm saying is that the time honored tradition of adding an adjective to someone's name should be reinstated. I would like to nominate myself for one or more of the following name designations, and I suggest you come up with some for yourselves as well.

Laura The Perpetually Flustered
Laura The Flatfooted
Laura The Relentlessly Loquacious
Laura The Terrible

I know "The Terrible" has already been taken by Ivan. But I kind of like the idea that, if my name were to preceed my presence in any situation (ie, Hey! Laura the Terrible might stop by later.) and there are people who don't know me yet, they will be intimidated and fearful, but then, when they meet me and realize that I'm really kind of not so terrible (I hope...or maybe I'm deluding myself) they will be pleasantly surprised!

Zen 12

My cat hates me. She won't let me sleep. She's needy, lazy and selfish.

And this next part is going to surprise some of you: sometimes when I think about my cat, I think about love.
I think about love, not because I am in love my cat, don't get me wrong here. My feelings for my cat are far from what I would initially define as love. No, no. We have a disturbing coexistence based around Fatty's rather unique communication techniques...and these used mostly to let me know that she's unhappy with me....but there is extreme honesty between me and the cat:

Examples of ways that, in the past week, Fatty has let me know how she feels about me:
Sitting on my face
slapping me with her tail
batting at my door at 4:00 in the morning to let me know it's time to clean her litter box
meowing and batting at my door at 12:30 in the morning to let me know it's time for her to eat
pooping on the bathroom rug...three feet away from her litter box...just because she hates me
coughing up hairballs at the top of the stairs
caughing up hairballs at the bottom of the stairs
walking accross the keyboard of the computer in the living room while I'm typing
getting my attention, then turning away from me with her tail up in the air (a position known as "the Shun")

Fatty and I have a mutual dislike for one another and our need to bear each other's presence comes out of necessity. She bears with me because I feed her (sometimes) and I bear her because Deniece is going to come back from Africa someday and is going to wonder where Fatty went if I take her to the pound. However, there is a nugget of joy that I get from this relationship and it is this: there is no guessing involved with where I stand with Fatty. It's blissfully simple knowing for certain that I am loathed by her.

I feel like much of my misunderstanding about love comes from an evil corporation called Disney. I grew up thinking that even if I were a mute with a fish tail, there's still a possiblility a handsome prince might want to marry me. Disney is a magical place where strangers with nothing in common get all hot and bothered at first sight and then climb mountains (or, waste perfectly good genie wishes) to be with each other. That's not love, those are hormones and infatuation. You never see what the real relationship would be like. What happens when Prince Charming finds out Sleeping Beauty is just narcoleptic, or when Cinderella's husband finds her talking to the mice in the bedroom?

Maybe it's just as unrealistic to expect that everyone could represent themeselves truthfully without any fear of rejection. For example, a royal date could go like this:

Haughty Heroine/Princess: Well, Doofy Prince, I'm very beautiful with a great career ahead of me as princess of my parents' vast empire. However, I have chronic halitosis...and I also like to spend hours feeding insects to my pet venus fly trap...Herbert. Oh! And I hate to vacuum.

Doofy Prince: That's cool. I'm captain of the swim team and I've got a pretty nice vast empire of my own, but I think it's unlucky to trim my toenails, I've seen the movie Snakes on a Plane 687 times and I still believe in Santa.

H H/P: Yeah. I'm pretty sure we're not very compatible. But since we're at this nice restaurant, we should go ahead and order.

DP: Cool. Have you decided what you want yet from the menu?

H H/P: No, that's another thing, I'm pretty indecisive too.

DP: Ah. Thats alright, I can't read, so I'll just get whatever you get.

Ah, so refreshing. Let's all be as honest with one another as Fatty is with the world....

you know...I'm going to take that back. I don't want Jessie to start batting at my door in the middle of the night letting me know when she's hungry. Yeah, brutal honesty might not be the BEST idea. Let's just carry on as usual and we'll figure it out from there.

Zen 11

I realized this morning that I have lived in the Los Angeles Area now for almost two and a half years.
In that time I have:
Had three wonderful roommates
been adopted by an amazing church
made friends
lost some friends
made new friends
lived on one couch for three weeks
moved into two different apartments
completely altered my tastes in music
started doing yoga
had three different jobs
been unemployed
been a raw vegan
craved meat again
learned to roast coffee
had my picture taken in front of the Taj Mahal
pretended to jump off a cliff in Ireland
been to a Chinese wedding banquet
learned how to do voice overs
read 33 books
and learned that I've always spelled the word "weird" wrong (whatever happened to I before E?)

There are very few things that have remained constant since I moved here. I still go to the same church on Sundays, I still have the same car (though it's considerably dented now), I have the same email address and I've lived with the same cat the whole time. That's about it.

Tomorrow: The Cat.

Zen 10

So, I might be a spy. The problem we face now is twofold:
1) You know I am a possible candidate for spyhood and you must forget this so that when I'm recruited (if I haven't been already) I don't have to kill you.

2) Even though you've already forgotten that I'm a possible candidate for spyhood, you should still be alert to the signs that when you are talking to me, it may very well be that you're talking to a genetically designed or altered "other" person who is impostoring the Laura you know because the real me is being detained in some warehouse in Botswana.

I think that point number two is something to keep in mind with everyone you know, whether they are a potential spy or not. With the world the way it is, and cloning on the rise, we should probably start a non-profit organization with the goal to raise "evil impostor" awareness. Sit down with your close friends, your spouse, your children, parents or even distant cousins you are fond of and make sure you are mutually aware of five traits unique to that person. Our organization will make it easy for you to remember these five traits because we have invented (after years of research and case studies) the simple mnemonic device: P.I.N.C.H. These letters stand for:

Code word

When you have the conversation with your loved one (assuming they are still your loved one and not an evil stand-in already) make sure to memorize the five points.

I will use myself as an example so that at sometime inthe future, if you are suspicious that I am not actually me, you can ask me a variety of questions to "test" "me" and make sure "I" am who "I" say "I" am... if you follow my drift.

P: First, you want to be aware of a physical trait. Preferably a scar or tattoo or soemthing permanent that can't be duplicated by maniacal genetic scientists. Birthmarks are too easy. I have a birthmark about the size of a pinky thumbnail that is about four inches north east of my belly button, but this will be no good for you to remember since it's probably encrypted in my DNA and will, therefore, appear on my evil impostor. You can remember this: I have a ten inch scar up and down my spine and an 15 inch scar around my left side ribcage from my back surgery AND a barely noticable pock mark on the right side of my nose from when I had chicken pox in 4th grade.

I: Pick an ism that is unique to your loved one. For instance: I will never paint my toenails again since I'm slightly superstitious that every time I paint them, something bad happens. Also, if you see "me" munching away happily on something that is mint-chocolate (ie. ice cream, andes mints...etc) you will KNOW it's not the real Laura since the real Laura thinks that Chocolate is wonderful, and mints are wonderful, but they are two wonderful things that are NEVER to be enjoyed together. Also, the ism you choose to remember can be anything from a facial tic, to the way that person wears makeup, or their hair or how they pick their nose (ie, right nostril first, etc. You get the idea).

N: Nostalgia. Remember a story or a memory you shared with the person OR a memory they told you about that they will never forget. It helps if this story is particularly happy OR embarassing. NOw, since you and I are friends, I'm sure you are familiar with any number of embarassing stories that have popped up in conversations from my past. A for instance would be the time i was locked out on a hotel balcony in Edinburgh and couldn't get inside to use the restroom. The downside to picking an embarassing story is that even the REAL person may not admit to remembering the nostalgic event. That's why there are five points, checks and's not a foolproof system yet, that's why part of our Grant funding will go towards fixing the five points ..and so they can spell something cooler like "h.o.t.r.o.d." or "e.l.e.p.h.a.n.t."

C: Code phrase. I feel as though this is the most obvious point in the "evil impostor identification system." It is up to you and your loved one to settle on a suitable code phrase to pass between you when you are in doubt about their identity. You will always be able to identify me by initiating the following dialogue in ordinary conversation. All you have to do is say the first line, when in doubt. Ideally, the real me will respond with the "response and confirmation" line and you may respond with the "I'm so glad it's really you" line. Like this
1) The "I'm questioning your identity" line: Hey Laura, when is the best time to eat a bowl of rice?
2) The "Response and confirmation that it's me" line: When you're hungry for one thousand of something!
3) The "I'm so glad it's really you" line: I love Mitch Hedberg too!

H. Hurt. It is always best to know how your loved one reacts when they are surprised by being physically hurt in some way. Most people have a subconscious automatic response phrase that they utter when they stub their toe, or when they get their thumb caught in the xerox machine at work or even when they run into an inanimate object. Here's why our acronym is so handy. All you have to do is pinch your loved one and find out what their automatic response is. For most people, the phrase will be "ow!" which is why it is helpful to have a guitar tuner nearby so you can check and see which pitch their ow registers at. (Tuners will be available at all of our "Non-profit Organization to Increase awareness about Evil Impostors" locations.) But there will be some people who have more nongeneric response like "Holy Elvis tapdancing on a triscuit!" or "Hey, why did you just pinch me, you idiot!?" Write it down. Remember what your loved one says when they are hurt.

Remembering these unique traits may help you identify an evil impostor and ultimately retrieve the whereabouts of your real loved one by torturing the evil imposter. Unless you end up liking the impostor better...which sometimes happens. Then, just pick your battles.

Zen 9

Three nights ago Lexi and I made another genius casserole concoction. This time: Huevos Rancheros Casserole, with Beans and rice for a base spiced with cumin and six divots on top, each containing an egg that went into the oven raw and came out kind of crispy, all topped with crumbled tortilla strips. I was waiting anxiously for the timer to go off...I don't know why I set the timer, I just chose an arbitrary amount of time (35 minutes at 350 degrees) that I figured a casserole should be in an oven. Regardless, I was waiting for the timer to go off, and when it did, I realized I hadn't been prepared with an oven mit to pull the dish out. With the timer beeping at me, my heart started to pound and in a moment of need, I used a dish towel in place of a real oven mit. In the heat of the moment (no pun intended) my thumb wiggled its way out of the towel and onto the metal rack in the oven for a split second...and singed off part of my thumbprint forever (I think) ...a minor sacrifice for a meal well done (also, no pun intended). Okay, not THAT well done, Lexi was gone for part of the concocting time, and I think that since part of the genius was absent, the casserole didn't turn out as well as it could, it would have been better if we'd had cheese or sour cream. But the point is this: I burned my thumb and I didn't even cry. I pulled my hand back sharply (making sure to balance the casserole with the other hand) as one does when surprised, and I didn't make a noise or a tear and my eyes didn't even mist up at all. I didn't even tell anyone about it to get sympathy...until still hurts and the blister hasn't even popped yet *insert big Bambi eyes here*.

I think this characteristic of having a high pain threshold will serve me well when I'm an international spy and my enemies are trying to get top secret information out of me. I mean, I've been through some pretty painful things in my life: I stub a toe at least once a month; I ran into the counter at work the other day and it stabbed me in the elbow making me lose feeling in my hand for several minutes (again, no tears); the following body parts of mine have been broken: two fingers, a toe, my tailbone, my T12 vertebra. Not all at the same time, this is a lifetime count. After two surgeries on my back, I have more titanium in my body than a golf club, which makes me bionic...I'm thinking about having hydraulics put in.

So, even though I may not be able to run away from my enemies or climb a rope to escape from them...if they catch me (which they inevitably will) and they torture me...I might hold out a while before I tell them all of my secrets.

Zen 8

I HATED climbing the rope in gym class in elementary school. I hated the humiliation...I hated everyone watching me in anticipation... I always felt like I'd been attached to the end of the string like a big piece of pink chewing gum as some giant from the ceiling was trying to pick up the blue mat two inches beneath my toes... I hated that I couldn't even get a grip on the rope...and right after I'd fall off, Andy Klein would jump up, shimmy up the rope like a little trained monkey and touch the ceiling before I'd found my place around the matt again. Gym class was never my favorite time of day.

It may surprise you that this was one of the reasons I felt I would make a good spy. Hang in here with me, I promise you'll see my point...

Picture for me, if you will, a tree...the tree you think of when you're reading a book and the main character passes a tree...any tree...the first picture of a tree that pops into YOUR mind: this would be your idea of "treeness." Everyone's picture of this tree will be different. Some would imagine an apple tree, or a great oak... perhaps your ideal tree would be a weeping willow, or something with lots of spanish moss hanging from its branches. You get the idea. This was just a test run to get your brains going in my direction.
NOW imagine a spy. What does this spy look like? Have a complete picture in your mind with all of the details worked out before you read on. Man or woman? James Bond? Sydney Bristow? Whatever your idea of "spyness" I certainly hope it's not a picture of a young girl who is unable to climb a rope in gym class... I don't look like a spy, which makes me THE PERFECT SPY. I don't fit the profile, nobody would pick me out of a room full of people as "spy material," and this (I thought) was my greatest strength.

Did you know that Mata Hari, the female spy executed in World War I for being a double agent..who claimed to be an Indonesian Courtesan....was actually a Dutch woman who had already had two children and been divorced before she started dancing and working in the world of international intrigue!?! If she can do it, I can. I'm part Dutch....I think.

So: My two points FOR becoming a spy so far are 1) I like to have secrets 2) I don't look like a spy.

Zen 7

In a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri: On the second floor of my parents' house: in the closet of what used to be my bedroom: behind a cabinet full of books: behind the cover of an air vent: in a small tin taped to the side of the air duct, seven or eight inches from the entrance, is a spare key to a car that I no longer own, accompanied by $100 in cash. This small package was something I kept entirely to myself... hoarding the knowledge of its existence. It was my getaway plan; a nest egg for independence. As a senior in high school, I was really too old to be thinking about running away; college was only a year off. But for some reason the idea that if my parents pissed me off, took away my atm card, or even took away the key to my car, I could still drive off and buy enough gas to get a few states away....not that I ever would :)

Also, I just like hiding things. There is a wrought iron key that I bought at an antique store taped under my bed in that house. There is a poem I wrote (a VERY poorly written one) taped to the back of the mirror on my dresser...notes to myself stuffed in books that I loved (Vicky, you found one of these when I lent you that book last week! Remember the "supplies for an ant farm" list?) and spare change and small bills tucked in between blankets in the hall closet...just for a little surprise for me (or anyone, I guess) to find later. It's kind of like leaving a five dollar bill in the pocket of your winter jacket when you put it away in the spring so you can find it in the fall.

I'm not entirely sure where or when this habit started but I know that I've always liked having secrets. I love knowing something (even if it's something I've created for the sake of HAVING a secret) that nobody else knows about. It makes me stand up a little straighter and talk with a little more confidence.

As you may recall, I have mentioned before that I am a woman of extremes: I carry an idea much farther than is reasonable. That said, it should not surprise you that because I naturally like to have secrets (NOT necessarily that I'm good at keeping them, though sometimes I can be) there was a significant period in my life when I thought that I was meant to become a spy. I think this zenful moment is going to begin a short (very short, it may end tomorrow or the next day, so don't get your hopes too high) series on why I would be a good spy....or why I used to think I would enjoy being a spy...all of the perks without the work.

Good night kiddies. I've got a date with Mario Puzo tonight (Godfather part deux) and tomorrow's going to be a long day :)

Zen 6

Zen is in short supply tonight.

I think i'll take the night off, but remember this: snakes and mongeese are mortal enemies.

Just remember that.

Zen 5

I promise, I PROMISE, this email is going to be about tea. But to get there, we have to start with, we'll start with tuna, correction: we have to start off with The Godfather.

Sunday night was a very special evening for me. My very first viewing of The Godfather took place that night with a big bowl of spaghetti, and several glasses of red wine. Unfortunately, there was no cannoli. I now have three new loves:
1 The phrase "Go to the mattresses."
2 Short musical themes played over and over again on the mandolin.
3 Al Pacino.

Aside from these three new loves, there was one other lasting effect that Sunday night's event left on our household:
one VERY LARGE bowl of spaghetti noodles and very little red sauce.

I'm happy that my roommates are so optimistic about leftovers. Lexi made some fantastic alfredo sauce to use in conjunction with the superfluous noodleage...the meat sauce was gone by the end of the day after what we will heretofore refer to as "The Event." Today, we still had a LOT of noodles (I've had spaghetti noodles for the past three meals in a row, excluding breakfast) and tonight Lexi and I found ourselves facing a two-day old bowl of noodles (not to be wasted) and empty stomachs ready for dinner. I was scrounging around the pantry trying to convince myself there was a better option ...looking for some alternative to spaghetti and trying to get that stupid thirteen note theme out of myhead... and Lexi was getting ready to dish up another bowl of spaghetti with alfredo sauce.

Suddenly, my eyes glazed over in a fit of hunger and a brilliant idea struck me. I turned to Lexi and urged her to stop dishing up the gelatinous blob of solidified noodles into a bowl.

"Lexi!" I said. (I didn't pronounce the exclamation mark) "I have an idea: We have tuna, and cream of mushroom soup and noodles and a variety of assorted items in our refrigerator that we might otherwise consider useless! What if we made tuna casserole!"

I love Lexi for what she did next: She played along with me. The next ten minutes may have been the best ten minutes of my day. We raided the refrigerator for possible casserole ingredients. And the conversation went something like this:

"Hey Lexi, what do you think should go in next?"
"Dill relish."
"Check. How about turkey bacon?"
"Um, that might be a bit much."
"Got it, and how about Ritz Crackers for the top?"

It was like a science experiment. We popped it in the oven for half an hour and let me tell you: the nutmeg MAKES the dish. Good suggestion Lex! I think that, combined, Lexi and I are a genius. Culinary FIREWORKS, my friends. The problem is, that it could have very easily gone wrong. If we'd added the dill, or the bananas, the whole thing could have been a mess. I would, obviously, have blamed Lexi...but there's the slim chance I could wake up the next morning with Fatty's severed head under my covers....and that would be messy.

The point is, that even now as I enjoy what is arguably the best dish of Tuna Casserole I've ever had, I'm struck that the delicious product of our creativity could have gone so sour so fast...I think in an email a few days ago, I mentioned the story about the male spiders who dance to attract a mate. In short: they are NEVER creative. They never deviate from the dance that all male spiders have danced since spiders started dancing. What if there was only ONE recipe for tuna casserole? What if Lexi and I stuck to a recipe and never knew that dill relish, capers and nutmeg were so tasty all together? But what if we'd gone a little overboard (ie, a spider wearing tapshoes) and added the bananas? But what if the bananas had made the casserole even better? what if we'd accidentally dropped a peeled, sliced banana in the casserole, decided to bake it anyway and found out that Tun-ana casserole is the casserole of the future?!

I had this book when I was in Middle School called "What If...?" and it had about 50 short stories about how different inventions from velcro to rubber to sandwiches were invented. Inevitably, near the end of the story, the famous inventor (Thomas Edison, the earl of Sandwich, etc...) asks "What if...?" and some genius invention that has changed society forever is born. I blame this book entirely for my tendency to consider trying stupid things much longer than the reasonable adult needs to consider silly ideas (and here I reference the bathtub scenarios from email #2).

There was one story in the book about how silk was invented. The story goes like this (and I'll try to relate it as succinct as possible): Some chinese emperor was in his garden one day as his servants were doing laundry. They were boiling water to wash the clothes and a rough wind blew some hibernating silkworms into the cauldrons. As the servants tried retrieving the silkworms fromthe hot water,they realized that the pods had unravelled and become strings of silk...I have no idea if this is even the way silk is created...but its kind of a cool story. And it makes me wonder if the same thing doesn't go for how tea was invented.

Holy Tun-ana casserole, check out the wikipedia article : Read it! Under "History," awesome! Looks like it wasn't that far off.

But these aren't really "on topic" discoveries. The kind of discoveries I'm interested in are the stupid ideas that turned out great. I think I would prefer it if I created an alternative discovery of tea. It would be a little bit more like the process Lexi and I went through tonight...and it would go something like this:

Chinese emperor: I'm kind of bored today, Lowly Servant, what kinds of things do we have laying around the manor?
Lowly Servant: Gosh C.E., Last time I checked, all we had were some coffee filters in the cupboard. Oh man! It's fall! Can you believe all of the dry leaves all over the place? I sure do wish we could eat them or consume them in some way. I'm just keeping myself busy boiling this water, hoping a rough wind comes by and knocks some of these silkworms into my cauldron.
Chinese Emporer: Lowly Servant! I just had a harebrained idea! "What if...?" we put some of those leaves in the coffee filters and put them in the water. I bet that would be tasty. Also, do we have any bananas?
Lowly Servant: Oh! I like where you're going with this, C.E., but let's leave out the bananas.

And it was in this way that tea was invented, after the Chinese emperor regained the ability to taste since he burned his tongue on the boiling water. Good thing he had those coffee filters laying around...and that coffee had already been invented... It's called a willing suspension of disbelief, people. Bear with me.

Zen 4

I decided today that my life is pretty fantastic.

My shift at Vroman's didn't start until 12:45 this afternoon, so I had the morning free to get some things done. I started off by completing some very important business I've been putting off... by watching some cartoons in my pajamas while eating grape nuts. This was something I meant to do on Saturday morning, but I dallied too much and never got around to it.

THEN, I went into Jameson Brown, roasted a couple batches of coffee and had some great conversations before I headed into Vroman's. My job today was to call customers who had special ordered certain books we don't keep in stock at our store and let them know their orders were ready to be picked up. And this is how 95% of the conversations go:

Me: Hello, is "Bla blah blah" * there?

Lucky customer (in a VERY suspicious tone, especially if it's clear I've mispronounced their name): yyyyeessssss?

Me: This is Laura Jane** from Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena to let you know the book you special ordered has arrived at our store and is ready for pickup at the Willcall window.

Lucky customer: OH!!!! Great! Thank you SOOOOO much. I'll be there to pick it up in a few hours! Thanks again!

Me: No problem, have a great day :) ***

* In this case "bla blah blah" stands for the name of the lucky customer
** there is another Laura at Vroman's, and she happens to be my my name is now, officially, Laura Jane. Because Jane is my middle name, you see.
*** Smiley face inserted into text to convey to you (the reader) the way my voice sounds when I say this with a smile over the phone.

It was just after one such call that I realized just how cool my life is. Check it out: I am a coffee maker and bookseller! In the mornings I get to wake up and make coffee that will eventually be served to people who will be exchanging ideas, reading a good book, talking to their best friend, getting ready for work, or opening presents on christmas morning. In the afternoon, I get to go to a book store, and tell other people who love books that their special book is in and ready for them to take home (!!!) and when they do come in to pick it up, we get to talk about it. I can ask them about authors they particularly enjoy, and why they chose this book. I had one lady come up to the window today and ask if there were any books titled "The Third Eye" So I did a title search for her and let her know that there are about 24 books with that title...most of which we'd have to special order from our distributor. She decided to buy all of them. YES. All of them. Apparently she's into metaphysics. She didn't even care what they were about...she just figured if she ordered all of them, at least a few would be interesting.

And then I started looking back at my employment history.

My first job was at an amusement park in Kansas City. First, I gave people temporary tattoos and on tuesdays I sold sand art (the plastic bottles where they get to layer different colors of sand and take it home) THEN, I got to dress up as Snoopy every day and hug little children. Then I worked as a waitress at cracker barrell and talk to random trucker type men (awesome). Then, I was an RA in college and I got to play games ("teambuilding exercises") with college kids. THEN, I worked at Disney for two years making tv and cartoons. Now, I'm a coffee maker and bookseller. I am determined never to have a normal job.

I'm thinking about looking into teaching english in Japan, then coming back to the US (AFTER I've mastered the Japanese language) and translating Japanese comic books into english. Or some other strange type job. I just think that I may never have a real career and that my jobs will always be the kind you expect a teenager to have. I'm tired. It's time for bed. I'm going to write about tea (maybe) tomorrow,

Zen 3

This is not a story about mustard. It is a story about much more than that. It is about addiction, genetics, force of habit, and only a little bit about mustard.

Today was my first day at work at Vroman's. I had a 12-5 shift this afternoon and the whole prospect of having something to do with my days again is very exciting for me. So exciting that I forgot to eat lunch before I went in. By about 1:30 I was FAMISHED since I'd only had a bowl of cereal this morning at 9:30. I had my 15 minute break at 2:00 and I RAN over to Target, picked up half a loaf of bread, some turkey slices and a bottle of mustard. I slapped together a sandwich on a picnic table behind Target, and ran back over to Vromans, shoving the sack full of sandwich ingredients in the break room fridge and licked the last bit of mustard of my finger as I walked back into the upstairs office where my supervisor was waiting for me.

By the end of my shift, I'm tired, and thirsty, but satisfied from a good day meeting new people and learning new things. I grabbed my target bag of sandwichy things and headed out. As I emptied the bag into my refrigerator at home just a few minutes ago, I put the new bottle of mustard onto a shelf in the door of the fridge that has seven other bottles of mustard on it. Not seven different KINDS of mustard...most of it's yellow mustard (french's, preferably) with one jar of garlic mustard, a jar of home made sweet-hot mustard (from my friend Nanci at Disney), and a bottle of champagne honey mustard. This is not the first time I've been aware of my problem...or rather that there is A problem.

Let's back up. I am a woman of extremes. I believe this is partially a genetic, partially a learned characteristic. My great grandpa Charles McGranaghan was renowned for loving salty things. It's even rumored that, at least for a short time, he put salt on his ham. He also had a long torso and short, stubby popeye type legs...this is also genetic....

My father is probably the best example of what I like to call a serial addict. (Different from a cereal addict, which is what my sister Mary is.) My dad will become addicted INTENSELY to one food, substance or habit for a period ranging anywhere from one month to a few years. Take Pacman for example. Just after he and my mom got married, they had a couple of friends over for dinner. At one point, my dad told everyone he was going to go into the kitchen to do the dishes. A few hours later, they found him down at the arcade playing pacman. My mom hadn't known him long enough to know that he NEVER does dishes (something else I inherited) and it's almost always a ruse to excuse himself from the room to do something useful and he ends up doing something else altogether. The mysterious part about his addictions is that my dad ultimately ends up dropping each of them a completely unexpected time. Hey, at least it keeps him off the streets.

Our family has learned to work around and, in some cases, even embrace these momentary fancies of my father's elusive subconscious needs. I have rarely seen so much joy on his face as I did a few months ago when I was visiting home and my dad skipped into the kitchen to tell me and my sister that he'd just ordered some Tupelo honey online. Mary and I looked at each other with an undertone of concern. Dad had just discovered that Tupelo honey has a lower glycemic index than other types of honey (it's also ridiculously tasty) and therefore more tolerable for diabetics...which he is. We asked him how MUCH honey had been purchased and as he left the room he tossed a grin over his shoulder and said "oh, about thirty five pounds worth."

Thirty five pounds of honey arrived on our doorstep three to five business days later. He lined up the seven five-pound plastic jars in different areas of our house. First they were arranged on the stove as they were unpacked. Then, they were on the Kitchen table for about half an hour. Finally, they found themselves being displayed on top of a bookshelf in our living room...neatly spaced and centered for aesthetic purposes...followed by a solemn reading, by my father, of the nutritional benefits (with special emphasis on the part about the low glycemic index) and directions for storing and taking care of our bulk-bought Tupelo honey. He was so happy.

For his birthday a few weeks ago, my mom and sister filled the refrigerator in the garage with three of his current addictions: Diet A&W rootbeer, sugar free jello pudding cups (chocolate AND vanilla); and sugar free cool whip. There was nothing else in the fridge but these three items lined up like soldiers, each one ready to chip off a little bit more of the addiction until it is gone completely.

Eventually, these addictions will enter the graveyard of addictions-past along with pacman, diet coke, cigarettes, donkey kong, doom and playing "color my world" on the out of tune piano.

Staring at my mustard collection, I think about the things I too have discarded in my addiction-ridden past. Jane Austen, instant potatoes with sour cream and garlic, hot chocolate with vodka, ketchup, various video games, tall cold glasses of milk, Dick Van Dyke and Gilligan’s Island reruns (a result of elementary school insomnia) and keychain collecting. I know it won't last much longer. At the end of my first day at work, I'm going to make myself feel better by putting loads of mustard of a bowl full of plain brown rice ...and I'm okay with that because history lets me know it's just a's just a comfort condiment. And, it keeps me off the streets.

Zen 2

Today, I want to tell you about my bath tub. When we first moved into this apartment, I was pretty happy that in the upstairs bathroom there was both a shower and a separate bath tub. I don't generally enjoy taking baths, but for a few minutes I envisioned candles, wine, bubbles and soft Kenny G music (or Yanni, take your pick of middle-aged long-haired men making music for middle-aged women) playing in the background. Then I remembered that baths get old really fast. I'm usually in there for about six minutes when I get bored...or the wine starts going to my head and I get all panicked that I'll fall asleep and drown.

I knew right away that the separate shower would be sufficient for all of my bathing/relaxing needs and that the bathtub would go largely unused. So my imagination started running away with me. My first project was wanting to build an old fashioned still to make our own alcohol at home. I started looking up plans online, talking to people I knew who could weld things (another hobby I'd like to take up) and looking into how much it would cost. My plans came to a staggering halt when Kristian Kozelchik reminded me that home distilleries are illegal...and fire hazards. I tried to tell him that's why I was keeping it in a porcelain bathtub, but Kristian the cop wouldn't listen. Kristian my friend thought it was a pretty cool idea. That's the problem with having friends with law abiding jobs.

Next was the Koi fish pond. I always tend to take an idea to its extreme, even when the idea is still in concept stages (you may or may not have picked up on this) and I knew that if I got into Koi fish...I'd eventually want to get into the hardcore Koi world of finding the "right" fish and paying thousands of dollars for it. And Thousand dollar fish don't deserve to be kept in a bathtub where nobody's going to see it...I guess I could hold swanky parties, straighten my hair, only wear mod jewelry and drink neon colored martinis. "DAhling, you haven't LIVED until you've seen this Koi! It's a good thing I have it upstairs!" I don't do mod well. That idea was out.

Finally, I remembered this group of people I heard about who turn their bathtubs into motorboads and have Tub Races. But I'm not sure the landlord would like me carting his bathtub around the country. Also, I don't have the time for a consuming hobby like that...nor do I have a trailer hitch.

After almost a year of an empty bath tub (it did have the leftover paint rollers and dropmat sitting in it from an adventure in painting my room) Deniece moved out and we had to move the cat's litter box out of the downstairs bathroom (now Lexi's bathroom) and into the bathroom upstairs. I resigned my bathtub to its fate of holding a cat litter box so the litter doesn't spread everywhere when Fatty kicks it around. I don't like cats, and I'm kind of bitter that Fatty puts the bathtub to better use than I ever could.

I think I'll take up welding.

Zen 1

Yesterday, Jessie and I were walking home from Bean Town and cut through the Sierra Madre Library parking lot. On a bench out behind the building, the library usually has a stack of books and magazines they're getting rid of for anyone to take. We stopped by to see if there was anything worth taking. I picked up some cool additions to my growing used book library: Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson; The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain; an illustrated version of Julius Caesar published in 1967 (the artist gave Caesar an unusually large forehead for some reason...I got this one for my kids someday...I like to think ahead); and (the diamond in the rough) a copy of GeezerJock magazine. This is really a gem, I'm not kidding. You open up the cover and very first thing you see is a picture of a baseball 8 inch tall bronze man swinging a bat and...wearing a knee brace. The back cover is a Michelob Ultra ad with the typical white, upper class, well groomed retired couple with really straight toothy (dentured) smiles and cable knit sweaters on a yacht with the tagline "You go full speed, or you don't go." I felt like this tagline could have worked equally well for one of those Detrol bladder control commercials....but I also think Johnny Cash's song "Ring of Fire" would be perfect for a hemmorrhoid cream maybe it's best if I stay out of the advertising field.

The August 2007 issue of GeezerJock is at my house if any of you want to borrow it...for whatever reason.