Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Diva Licks a Head

I am completely busted tired. I am not even certain I will be able to finish this blogpost, but I am going to give it my best try. I hope I don't blather on. The reason I am so tired is because I was dogsitting for my neighbor's mutt Diva. Diva is a Beagle/Great Pyranees mix. This is something I don't like to think about. But so you can picture her, she has the coloring of a Beagle and the appearance and size of a Great Pyranees. They call her Diva because she likes to have her face in the place. She is quite beautiful and of a pleasing temperament. She likes strangers and she never barks except to say hello. I think she would also bark to protect her loved ones, but thankfully she has never been tested. The only really gross thing about Diva is she is a drooly dog. Her tongue is always hanging out and she drips slobber everywhere and it makes me gag. I know...this speaks ill of me, but if it is any consolation, I didn't like it when my kids were drooly either. I'm not down with drool.

The problem really is that I don't have a dog and so the whole drooly walking of them is something I am really not thrilled about. It was raining yesterday like the Holy Flood and there I was with Diva out in it and you know what they do when they get wet right? They shake. And when a drooly dog shakes it's water, hair, drool, ugh. It is not pleasing. This drooling and walking of dogs is the entire reason I don't have one. I don't even walk my daughter to the busstop in the cold and rain. I wave from the door and watch from the window. I figure the whole rest of the neighbhorhood is out there anyway and so I'll be the bad mommy. I watch for Mrs. M and when her green van pulls up, I send my child out. Mrs. M is a dutiful and good mommy. She's out there in all the weathers. If she had a dog, I'm sure she would be one of those who walked it 5 times a day and fed it organic. I forget to feed my children. I wish they could filter feed like whales but from the air.

On Saturday I took Diva to the outdoor Mall and like I said it was a really beautiful day and Diva is a really nice dog, she smiles and everyone stops to smile back. My kids are like that, too. So together, we weren't getting very far, a few steps and then we stop and on and on. L asked if she could hold the leash and being that we were moving so slow, I figured what harm? This is why I have not been picking up the phone or answering email. I am hiding out still after the incident on the mall...

Diva, being a diva, likes attention best. After that she likes frisbees, white socks, and sunglasses. She talks to us. L, being quiet and watchful, really does seem to understand what she is saying. Which is why when Diva started bark and whine and to to run pulling L along behind her and when L started shouting, "NO, DIVA, NO, THAT IS NOT A FRISBEE. NO!!! HE DOESN'T WANT TO PLAY!! STRANGER DIVA STRANGER!!" I should have reacted faster. But, Diva is three times faster than me, even pulling L, and I was wearing these stupid sandals that were slippery and my heels kept sliding off the sides. K is twice as fast as me, which made him nearly as fast as Diva pulling L, but by the time he caught them, Diva had mounted the brick wall and was partaking of the man's head. They could not pull her off of him. K and L together do not weigh as much as Diva.

So Diva had pulled L along the brick walk, jumped up onto a brick wall that separated the restaurant tables from the central walkway and was licking a bald man's head as he sat at the table having a plate of pasta with his horrified family. Well, the family wasn't originally horrified. They were normal until Diva planted her front paws on his shoulders and began a thorough slathering of his head. She was fondling the sunglasses he had perched there while her tongue went to work. As I ran toward them crying out, "DIVA NO DIVA NO," I had to note that his sunburned head with its narrow rim of reddish hair looked like a frisbee and that his sunglasses were the added temptation.

The man was unable to move because Diva weighs something like 160 lbs and she had nearly her full weight on his shoulders and he was in a seated position. His luncheon companions were fussy old ladies who just scream and are of no use. My children were leaning back pulling at the leash and I ran up and threw my arms around Diva's hips to try to yank her down, but imagine it: it's a big brick wall which Diva has leapt atop and on the other side of this wall, peaking over the top was the man's red, bald head. I can't get up on the wall, my kids can't get up on the wall, Diva isn't moving.

So I have to run AROUND the wall leaving my kids to hold the leash, I push through the bald man's fussy tablemates and pull and push at Diva to get her attention. She looks up and says something that sounds like a creaking door. From over the wall, L shouts out, "She says, 'What?' "

The man of course doesn't know what to say and he's sputtering about suing!! I'm wondering if he has just cause, because you know...I'm not litigious, but I'd be pissed too. Likewise, what are the rules for dog behavior?? Can I be fined for letting Diva be held by my 8 year old daughter in a public place? Can I be fined for not noticing any frisbee shaped heads, any accessible sunglasses? It is quite obvious, I felt anyway, that K, L and I were doing our best to rectify the traumatic situation.

It didn't help that as I looked at this man, my eyes kept drifting up to his pate which was not only glistening with slobber, but which also had great white foamy patches, like he had been put through the car wash but not rinsed off. I kept gagging. This is not within my control. I have a shallow gag reflex.

His sunglasses were askew, but still perched up there. His collar was wet and bent. I noted...his collar was white and rolled and looked just like a pair of sweatsocks resting over his shoulders. Trifecta. I pulled my eyes away and began rummaging around in my mommy bag and brought out some tissues. I began to pat his head while L called out from over the wall, "Now she's saying, "Can I have one."

"Tell her she's had enough."

"She doesn't mean head, she means tissues."

"L, please control the dog."

"Got it."

I reached into my bag and gave him my whole tissue pack and then laughed nervously pulling at my sleeves. "Well...okay then."

"Can I have your contact information. In case there is any follow up required."

I laughed nervously again and handed him my business card, which I accidentally printed sort of upside down and backwards. It has my jacket cover on one side and my face and website and a review blurb on the other. If you hold it so the cover is right side up and flip it, my face is upside down. I made them myself. I hoped he would find them charming and that it would show how silly and innocent I am.

This is true. I am silly and innocent.

He said, "I'll make an appointment with my doctor and be in touch with you. Your dog needs discipline."

I said, "She's really very sweet. I am sorry. It is awful that she licked your head."

"Your children need discipline too."

From over the wall L said, "Diva wants to know if she should come up there and lick him again." Suddenly Diva was looking better and better.

The man looked alarmed.

I called over the wall, "Thanks, L. I'll let you know if that becomes necessary."

She called back, "Diva says, okay."

I said goodbye to the bald man and tipped my head. He tipped his head forward to. "Your daughter is a regular Dr. Doolittle."

"Indeed. It's a wonderful talent. Don't you think?"

He grudgingly nodded and sat back down and I went back around the wall and the four of us went home.

So far the guy hasn't contacted me. Keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I have deleted my last post...Poopoo and the Hair...some of you know why and others may not know why, and I will leave it like that. If any of you who don't know why want to know why, drop me an email and I will tell you. Well, I might call you to tell you. No paper trail. So be sure to leave me a number where you can be reached. In fact...I will personally call anyone who writes asking why I deleted Poopoo and the Hair.

This does have to do with potential retribution by Poopoo, who is still dating Morton Huseman and who still lives in my basement amid the pumpkins. It is remarkable what a good jack-o-lantern carver she has become. She looks up from her gourds and huffs that her creativity is the spawn of love.

And seeing her adept fingers wielding her scalpel, I do fear for my jugular, as I have no doubt Poopoo would draw blood and worry later about the loss of life.

So I have deleted the blogpost Poopoo and the Hair. Let her carve her masterpieces while sitting on her mushroom-shaped stool in the dung, amid the pumpkins. I have things to do and I can not spend the rest of these days watching my back.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Incident in the Lunch Room

First, let me apologize for my long bloghiatus. I just regained use of my fingers after the incident in the Lunch Room. Second, I would like to interject that with all the taxes we pay, we really shouldn't have to volunteer in the Lunch Room at all. There should be enough money to pay for adequate numbers of Lunch Ladies. But apparently there isn't, so they have us on a cycle. I always end up on duty with this Lebanese guy whose daughter is in my son's class. He's always saying we need to get them together to play. My son's 11. She's 12. It's no longer a suitable suggestion, even if I were inclined to pursue playdates. The problem would not be my boy, who still only wants to play football with boys and covers his eyes if they kiss in movies. The problem would be with his little Lebanese hussy daughter who, along with a whole bevy of girls, is constantly rubbing my son's hair saying, "It's so thick and curly, it's so thick and curly." I've seen them because I cycle in. My boy asks me, "MOM, why do they DO that?" I answer, "because they are hussies."

The little Lebanese one is the worst. And she looks like Kim Kardashian.

Anyway, her dad is always on my Lunch Room rotation. He has a tic. When he gets excited or scared, he squeezes his eyes shut, shrugs his shoulders up and down three or four times, and waves his open hands in front of his face real fast. And then, he opens his eyes up wide and shouts "CHA-CHING!!"

If you pause here and take a moment to do this, you will see immediately how distracting it is. I find that, even though I am expecting it, when it happens I gasp and my head moves back a fraction of an inch. I have never run away screaming or even shunned him. This is because I am exceedingly kind. And because he already has his hussy daughter to deal with. Why make it plain that I think he's a freakshow? He named his daughter...wait...I shouldn't tell you that. It's inappropriate. But let's just say her name suits her appearance and personality. (Imagine a name where one syllable ending in a vowel is repeated twice. Imagine that there is a consonant involved which we linguists call a post alveolar fricative...ya...that is never a good decision. And at the first sign your child might look like Kim Kardashian, it is time to find a diversionary nickname, like Mary). My Lebanese friend is heading for a long, hard stretch. Squinting, shrugging, waving and shouting CHA-CHING will not help. So I choose to be kind.

So anyway, we were volunteering in the Lunch Room and we were seated beside one another, because as soon as he sits down everyone else leaves, and the things is that I really can't get up when I am the only one sitting at the table with him because it is just so rude and he has his whole soon-to-be-slut daughter to deal with, like I said. So we've arrived the mandatory 15 minutes prior to our Lunch Room service for the Orientation, and all of us are on time, because of Mindian and what she does if you are late. They always make us sit through the 15 minute safety and procedures Orientation even if, like me and my Lebanese friend, we have volunteered for Lunch Room duty fifty times.

But the thing is Mindian doesn't care if you are a smartmouth, she only cares if you are late, so I say, as I always do, "Has anything changed in the duties? In the set up? Have you moved the ketchup? Have you rearranged the order of the cutlery? Is it now forks, knives, spoons instead of spoons, knives forks?"

"Mrs. Hampton, if you ever paid the least attention when we address this assembly, you would recall that we have long ago switched to the spork and certainly only a Cretin would think that knives were allowed in school in this dangerous age."

"I was only being funny."

"No. You were not." She narrowed her eyes. (They all do that to me). "Knives are very dangerous Mrs. Hampton. Very."

We are countrymen. She can not forgive me my levity and I can not forgive her her gravity. It is the natural state of the Indian to be at odds with other Indians.

Anyway. This is always happens because they think I am a smartmouth and I think they are mean. I think the kids are on my side. There is ample evidence. For example, Mindian is their nickname. For Mean Indian. Genius. I like to think of myself as the Shindian. Super Hot Indian.

When I arrive, the Greeter Lunch Lady who sends us to our seats always narrows her eyes, too. Before I've even crossed the threshold. I narrow mine back. I will not be intimidated. Despite their scissors.

The Lunch Ladies wear scissors around their necks on festively colored lanyards. They say these are to open ketchups, but the tale will tell. This time, when she narrowed her eyes and pointed to my table I stretched out a hand and swung the scissors. I've been wanting to for years. They just dangle there. It's like they're calling my name.

My Lebanese friend must have had a sense that this was a mistake because I heard him shout "CHA CHING" and when I looked back in line, he was shaking his head back and forth back and forth and flapping. Usually he shrugs. I knew this particular gesticulation was directed at me. I opened my eyes wide and smiled. I looked back at the Greeter Lunch Lady and said, "You know I was only playing right? Sometimes, its nice to have fun, right?" I smiled. Now let me tell you, you can't actually see me, but I have a great smile, its all lit up and my teeth are really big and white, really, trust me. I've heard it's infectious, my smile. But Greeter Lunch Lady just narrowed her eyes and she narrowed her lips too, and they started out pretty narrow. The whole effect was very scary. From somewhere behind me I heard, "CHA CHING! CHA CHING!" I chose not to look back.

I took my seat at my table and soon the Lebanese friend joined me and everyone else left, as usual. He leaned over and said, "Sujatha, I believe they are discussing you. I believe it is conspiratorial."

"How can you tell?

"I am Lebanese."

"Of course."

He nodded. He lifted his chin and raised his eyebrows. I looked the direction he indicated and there they were, the whole group of Lunch Ladies with their heads bent together, in their white uniforms, their scissors swinging ominously in and out of the circle. I could see the glint of the metal between their heavy upper arms and pendulous bosoms. For the first time, a shudder went through my body.

They turned around and Mindian took center stage as she is the Lunch Lady Leader. She gave the same announcements as always, the times in and out, the grade levels and what order they would come and go, the procedures for trash bags and dismissal from the cafeteria, the protocols for handling 1. lost lunch, 2. bathroom breaks 3. sharing food 4. talking in line 5. talking at the tables 6. cleaning tables 7. getting condiments/napkins/plastic ware, and 8. opening condiments. And when she said "Opening Condiments," she looked directly at me, and only at me. Until that moment, she had addressed the entire crowd and had decidedly ignored me, which was great for me, because I was composing a chapter in my mind and that's easier without scrutiny.

Suddenly, I shifted my eyes to her chest where her scissors hung on a green lanyard. Green. Slytherin. Of course. I raised my eyes up to meet hers. We stared at each other with equal contempt, but Mindian's eyes shone with malevolence. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a mean Lunch Lady wearing scissors around her neck? Then you know what I was feeling.

Before long, we could hear the shouts and feel the rumbling in the floor of stampedes of children heading for the cafeteria. My Lebanese friend and I took our stations. We had been assigned the eastmost trash can as home base. This is the one they use for fish.

"We stand beside the fishy trash can because of your irreverence."

He was right, there was nothing I could say.

If you have ever done lunch duty you will know it is like herding cats while balancing slobbering dogs on your nose and opening milk cartons. Milk cartons are designed to keep us in our place.

Throughout the whole afternoon, Mindian and the Greeter Lunch Lady were harrassing me.

"Move faster, they are waiting."

"Mrs. Hampton? You were extremely sure of yourself, ready to shrug off Lunch Duty orientation, and now I see you struggling with milk cartons."

"And spork wrappers."

"And thermos lids."

"And the table over there, they need their...condiments opened."

I saw the gleam in their eyes and yet I went over to open condiments, and they followed. And what happened next is in dispute and I am not trying to get any Lunch Ladies fired, as I do not want to...shorten the duty cycle...but we all know what happened. We just choose to be quiet. Even the kids know. I have heard that lunch is an entirely silent affair now...since the incident.

I approached the table of first graders with their beautiful little faces and red lips all open, waving their ketchups in the air, "Me! Me! Me! Me!! Mrs. Hampton, open mine." They know my name because I am famous and kind. The lunch ladies, trailing behind, noted their fascination with me and it displeased them. I could practically hear their indignation, "This one is disrespectful of Lunch Duty and a scofflaw and yet they love her, is there no justice in the world?!"

I reached out for the first ketchup packet, and looked for the notch indicating where to open, but it was unnotched! I looked on the other side, and no, no notch, so I struggled. The sweat began to run down inside my blouse and I looked left and right for help. I caught sight of my Lebanese friend, but he was struggling over a milk carton. I was on my own. I looked behind me and the legion of Lunch Ladies stood smugly by, smiling.

Finally, I said, "I can't open it, honey, let me get you another."

"There is no TIME for that, Mrs. Hampton. Weren't you listening to the briefing on opening condiments? We are not speaking to hear the sounds of our voices. The information is crucial. Crucial."

And that is when it happened. All of them lurched forward with their scissors raised on their long lanyards, and they came for me. And before I could put down the packet of ketchup, or hand it over, they proceeded, all together, to cut it open.

I believe, as I fell to the floor, I saw the boy whose ketchup it was, faint as well. The last sound I heard was "CHA CHING!" I can only hope the others 6 year olds thought it was ketchup, not blood.

Because it was blood, not ketchup.

The bandages just came off yesterday, and this is the reason for my long bloghiatus. 200 stiches over all my fingers on both hands. 100 stitches a hand. 20 per finger.

And yet, I will not press charges. Because I am kind and good. And like I said, I do not want to spend one day longer in that lunch room due to lack of Lunch Ladies.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Year-long Jack-O-Lantern Supply

I have a big problem. I big, big problem.

Today started off okay, I mean, considering how it ended up. Like, when I woke, the sky was not purple, so I figured no more houseguests would arrive. Also, I didn't have the tingling feeling in my lips that often precedes particularly odd or dangerous Pepe behavior. Like when Pepe decided, around Christmas, that he would help me by installing a yard sale antenna on my roof and I came home to find him standing in a tree beside the garage hammering this Pleistocene, multi-limbed monster into the very precarious limbs of an old Bartlett Pear, all while singing Chinese Opera with a Spanish accent. When he heard my car pull in, he shouted down, "SEE MISS! I'M PUTTING THIS ANTENNA ON THE ROOF FOR YOU BECAUSE I LOVE YOU! IT HAS MANY ARMS! IT WILL SEE EVERYTHING! EVEN IN MY COUNTRY!" And I gently shouted back, "BUT PEPE, YOU'RE IN A TREE. THE ROOF IS BEHIND YOU!" And he turned to see, even though he is blind, and fell out of the tree pulling the pterodactyl antenna down with him, and landing, luckily if you choose to see it that way, in a giant bank of snow. He cried out, "OH NO, OH NO! NOW YOU WILL SEE NOTHING LIKE BEFORE!" (It astonishes me that he believes we all see on television what he sees on television, and that this is due to a failure of reception. Nothing we say convinces him otherwise, not even the simple, "Pepe, you are blind.")

That day, I felt my lips tingling right when I woke up. And the day he considered bathing, so locked himself in the bathroom, removed his clothing, turned on the water and then had a panic attack and began to scream, in some bizarre mix of Quechua, Spanish and Chinese, but was so terrified by the water that he could not unlock the door and I had to remove the doorknob to rescue him, but not before the tub overflowed. And I had to see Pepe naked, and in fact had to dress him because panicking blind men with hydrophobia can not dress themselves (just so you know if you are even in this situation). That day too, I woke up to tingling lips. So now, when I wake up, I do a labial scan before even getting out of bed. And the day seemed safe. The only annoying thing was this very close by beepbeepbeepbeep, that went on for a while, and the relatively close hum of a truck, which I figured was someone's lawn guy or some moving van, though it was pretty early. I didn't pay any attention to it and when I look back on the day, this is where I went wrong. I need to remember to take everything seriously. Every sound. Every instinct. Everything I notice means something, possibly. Probably. Because now I not only have Pepe, but also Morton Huseman. And I am not certain about the bodily clues of Morton's Mischief, though I have a hunch. And until I am sure, I need to be hypervigilent.

So I went about my day. It was a particularly busy day. I had neglected to iron on the Brownie Badges for LH of the red lips and white skin, the dark eyes and the able hands. She is like Snow White. Yes. You read right. I have a child who looks like Snow White and is also assiduous in that same Snow White-like way. Anyway, I digress. So I had neglected to iron on the badges and it was Brownie Day and I am that mother. The one who makes bad Shepherd's Pie on purpose and forgets to iron on the Brownie Badges. I really only want to read to them and write novels. I also enjoy their company for I have raised them to suit me perfectly. Because I am that kind of mother. Anyway, I continue to digress. So I woke up, did my lip check, and got crackin'. Brownie Badges, papers to sign, breakfast to make, kids to shuttle, research to conduct, meetings to attend etc etc. And when I got home, I exited the car and smelled manure.

Now here is the thing. It's not unusual once spring hits to exit the car in the suburbs and to smell manure. Because everyone is mulching their yards. But it is January. It is January. I looked around. My neighbor's neighbor (who must not have a job)was out there, he waved. I waved back. I opened the garage and went in the house and the smell of manure was stronger. Yes, you read correctly. I entered the house and the smell of manure was stronger. My heart began to race and then suddenly...my ears went deaf and dingy, you know...that airplane thing. It happened to me once over Dubai, my ears went completely thick and were wracked with needle-like pain. At the time, I considered that death would be preferable. That was an indulgence of youth, that I would die rather than suffer the momentary needle-like pain in my ears. I have kids now, so I suffer these things mutely without contemplating suicide. But that is what I felt, the simultaneous deafness/needles pain in my ears. Very unpleasant and a clear harbinger of doom.

I put down my handbag and my grocery bags and scanned left and right. I bent over to take off my shoes and I could swear that as I bent forward, the manure smell was stronger, so I thought, with relief, that it was my SHOES, that I had STEPPED in something! So I picked them up to check and no manure. It wasn't my shoes. I dropped to my knees and definitely the smell was stronger closer to the floor. So I began to crawl, through the kitchen, into the living room, through the hall and as I approached the basement door, the smell grew overpowering and I knew whatever it was was in the basement. I stood up and opened the door and the stench threw me against the wall. There was a blinding white light emanating from the stairwell and there was absolutely manure in the basement. Yes. You read correctly. There was manure in the basement. I walked slowly down the stairs and peeked around the corner and there were Morton and Pepe, on their knees in the middle of a plowed field, under a ceiling suddenly strung with thousands of white bulbs. They were examining with rulers something they held in their hands. Seeds. They were measuring seeds, both of them. And Pepe is blind.

My basement carpet was missing, or underneath the 20 cubic yards of manure. I looked around. There were my walls and my teeming bookshelves, and my windows, looking outside...meaning I was definitely inside. My mouth dropped open and Morton and Pepe looked up, as though the sound of my thudding heart had interrupted their measuring.

Morton looked back at Pepe and then swiveled his head over to me again. He said nothing and blinked. Pepe grinned, stood up, ran over and threw his arms around me and shouted, "MISS, OH MISS! WE ARE GROWING PUMPKINS! PUMPKINS MISS!"

They are growing pumpkins. Yes, you read me right.

It seems Morton Huseman, in addition to his online Chinese Opera Instruction, also runs a year long jack-o-lantern supply with a worldwide market. He grows pumpkins through a self perfected pumpkin-forcing process and when they are the right size, he carves them on demand into whatever his customers order. He assures me he is a "Pumpkin Artist." He showed me his albums.

He said, "I can make you in pumpkin."
I looked at him with my mouth open. My ears, remember, were popped, "Did you say, you have made me into a pumpkin?"
He swiveled his eyes over to Pepe and then back at me. He stared and waited, "No. No I did not say that. I said, I can make you in pumpkin. I can make a pumpkin into you." He smiled his microdontic smile and blinked his penguin eyes. I shuddered and chose not to pursue it.

"Why don't you grow them outside?" He swiveled his head over so fast I thought this time for sure it would spin off entirely leaving me with this shit to clean up, but it didn't. He just stared especially long.

"You can not grow pumpkins year long in an uncontrolled environment. I am not even sure your basement will work." He looked around at my basement with some disdain I thought.

Pepe chimed in, "OH MISS'S BASEMENT WILL BE PERFECT FOR ALL ENDEAVORS. MISS HAS MAGICAL POWERS!" Pepe is convinced I have magical powers. He makes me lay hands on his eyes every day. I do it. Who knows...maybe I do. I am left handed and and I have an odd spot on my tongue.

I didn't exactly know how to respond. You see, the problem is that the manure is already there. It's a problem I never imagined handling. I'm not so good at confrontation. I said, "You put manure down on my floor."

He swiveled his head and stared and finally said, "How else can I grow my pumpkins?"

I answered, "But there is manure. On my floor."

He replied, "I put down trashbags."

I am not sure what do to...I've seen Pacific Heights. I am afraid of Morton Huseman. He has penguin eyes, and an online jack-o-lantern carving business. Jack-o-lanterns! It's just not natural. I am afraid, this is the truth. And I need your help. I do not know what to do. All I know now is that my preternatural signal of Morton Huseman's madness might be Dubai Ears.

So I am simply asking, after you read this, if you have any thoughts, please feel free to send them to me, because...I just don't know what to do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Morton Huseman Mystery Solved

I solved the Morton Huseman mystery. He scares me, though I am trying not to send too much energy to the cold feeling in my spine. Morton Huseman is a friend of Pepe's. This would be reason enough for alarm bells to go off, but it's creepier. Morton Huseman has an unnatural way of swiveling his head from one side immediately and directly to the other side, 180 degrees, so that you are caught unexpectedly in his stare. It is this mechanical swivel that causes the chill in my soul.

He swivels and then says nothing for several seconds, during which time he neither blinks nor moves his mouth. Then, suddenly, he will begin a swishing motion with his jaws, swallow, smack his lips and say, "Aaaah." Pepe of course, can't see this, and all he hears are Morton Husman's affirmations as to his talent and vocal agility, his intonation and accent. Morton Huseman compliments Pepe, swivels his head over to me, and then: silence, stares, swooshes, smacks and aaahs, while Pepe, with his head blindly bobbling, shudders with glee like Richard Simmons and grins at the recent words of praise. It is frightening; Morton Huseman has penguin eyes. You know what I mean.

The universe forewarned me, but I paid little heed. We have grown cynical and unbelieving of signals...The day I came home to find Morton Huseman sitting at my kitchen table eating corn with Pepe, I knew something weird was going to happen. It was one of those days that starts with a purple sky and ends with a tsunami. But none of that matters anymore because as of this past Saturday, Morton Huseman is Pepe's Chinese Opera coach.

It seems Pepe filled out a form online using his little braille keyboard and his faulty voice technology, and he listed me as his reference, which is why I was getting calls for a Sloofa Mansion. I had spent days shouting into the phone, "There is no Sloofa Mansion at this number!!" I didn't know I was Sloofa Mansion. How could I have known? But if I had...perhaps I could have intervened... But after I turned everyone else away...finally there was only Morton.

When Morton, who apparently is exclusive, did his own personal research on Pepe, to determine if he was worthy of his fake-Chinese singing lessons, he found my blog. And I suppose to demonstrate his Authentic Chinesieness, he made a comment about my Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie, in Chinese. You can scroll down and see it in all its unintelligible glory, like an ancient Chinese secret. He obviously wanted to be coy, because let me tell you, Morton Huseman is NOT Chinese. He is a red-faced Caucasian man with white hair he wears in a twist behind his head like a skein of yarn. In a corn-induced stupor, he accidentally let on that he grew up in Iowa, NOT Beijing which is what his promotional literature says, and when I ask him about that now, he denies ever sitting there behind a tower of corn talking about his boyhood in Iowa, eyes glazed, face slick with butter, yellow kernals wedged between his small, backward-leaning teeth. I turn to Pepe, who is not deaf, for confirmation, but Pepe will bite the hand that feeds him. He knows I won't throw him out; he's blind, unpleasant and yeasty. And it's January. Pepe needs Morton Huseman's praise for his Chinese Operatic efforts. And Morton Huseman is not a nice man, he would surely withold his gentle kindnesses for any disloyal utterance of truth. Pepe has the sensitivity of the long blind and I know I can not win here.

You might be wondering whether I am scared to publicly denounce Morton Huseman as a fraud as far as online Chinese Opera instruction goes, but I am not afraid. I do believe that he was being coy with his Chinese message on my blog. Because there is no message there that had anything to do with Shepherd's Pie, or using my neighbor's neighbor's name on the label, or Christmas Cookies or even Pepe. This is what his message means:

Difficulty is not a new concept, but rather to avoid the old concept.


So I can think of only two reasons for Morton, the online Chinese Opera teacher, to make such a comment. Either he was playing the Chinese card, trying to look mystical and authentic and lacking a public enough forum so he inserted said coyism into my blog comments so that my vast and rapt cyberfollowing would see him as Confucian and want to learn Opera from him, OR he is saying that my blog about Medieval Shepherd's pie is hackneyed. Something he has read again and again. An old concept. You know...the "gross Shepherd's Pie passed off as a neighbor's cooking" concept. That my difficulty will be in finding a NEW concept to blog about. Or that in general, my difficulty will be with being fresh. As a writer and a person.

Either way, I believe Morton Huseman's purposes could be served by my turning the spotlight on him. Suddenly he has the forum he craves, because my vast and rapt cyber-following will know where to turn for all their Chinese Opera Instruction, and also it is certain that a blog about Morton Huseman showing up at my kitchen table before a toppling tray of boiled ears of corn in January with my blind houseguest Pepe is definitely NOT a played out concept.

So I am not afraid. Except for that swiveling head and those penguin eyes. Which are scary. Perhaps I subconsciously blogged about him so that if anything happens, you will know where to begin looking: in my basement, because for a short time anyway, Morton Huseman, who is apparently down on his luck, will be living with me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie

Yesterday was the Medieval Festival at my girl's school. Apparently I signed up to support this event by bringing a dish. I do not remember doing this. I think it was my neighbor's neighbor's wife who put my name in. She resents my saucy attitude and the effect is has on her husband who, ever since the fishtank episode, slows his Volvo stationwagon down when he sees me to wave. He sticks his hand in front of her face and leans forward. His car often veers off course toward my mailbox. I wave back and I think she thinks it's cheeky of me, because I do not remember volunteering to cook. They sent home a slip before the winter break with my food item. Shepherd's Pie. Apparently they sorted the parents into vegetarian, non vegetarian, vegan, lacto-ovo, celiac, peanut allergy and omnivore and then drew names. They clearly were not fooled by the Sujatha. I look like an omnivore. It's the teeth; they're huge and would be wasted on vegetables and eggs. So I got Shepherd's Pie. Like it's the Festival of Medieval England. I went to England when I was 10 months pregnant. I survived on Pop Tarts I brought from home and Indian food, which is delicious in England. I did order Shepherd's Pie there, because even the English should not be able to mess up meat and mashed potatoes baked in pastry, right? But yes. They can. To the English, who invented the dish, Shepherd's Pie tastes like lasagne but substitute Worchestershire Sauce.

So I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. It was a moral dilemma actually. What was my duty to the school? Should I create a dish that was edible, or one that tasted English and worse, Medieval? I was staring out the back window at the snow covered yard pondering the right course of action when Pepe came into the room. I could see him through the glass. He is particularly visible these days as he has taken on the shine of the demented. He sidled over to the kitchen and took a handful of sugar cookies from the plate. He bit into one and announced, "OH MISS! (he calls me Miss; I let him because it makes me feel young) These cookies are so delicious. Now that you have given them out to the whole neighborhood, everyone is going to keep asking you to bring them to every party! You'll never get a minute's peace!" He giggled, and sidled out. My brain zinged. Just that morning my neighbor, one from the other side, called and left me a message that I should be sure to bring those fabulous Christmas cookies to the jewelry sale she is hosting. Hasn't she heard that I am crazy?

It occurred to me that if I were to make a delicious Shepherd's Pie, I might be asked to contribute to all the school's food-involved events. I might have to make Shepherd's Pie every year until L graduates! The PTA President, whose daughter is in class with L, would probably go on and become PTA President at middle school, because that is what these people do, and she would just see my name and automatically insert Shepherd's Pie and then drop me a note. She lives in my neighborhood. It would be Shepherd's Pie and cookies.

So I pulled out the Worchestershire.

Have you ever recreated a dish? I am not the most skilled in the kitchen, but I've done this a few times, tasted something in a restaurant and come home and tried to make it again. I have had only marginal success. I do not have a reliable palate. But in this instance, I was dead on. I have never ever recreated a dish with such singular accuracy as English Shepherd's Pie.

I used Worchestershire soaked Lasagne Noodles molded to the casserole dish for the crust and brocolli and sweet potatoes for the filling. And I prepared my meat using a salt-free burrito recipe from the internet site Cooking for Congestive Heart Failure. A Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie philosophy of Medieval cooking except everything was already dead when I cooked it. And then I covered it in ketchup and baked at 250 for three hours. It was lightly wilted, but crunchy too!

Then I wrote in my best calligraphy, which is akin to the scribes of yore, "Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie provided by: and I used my neighbor's neighbor's wife's name on the card! Legend!

I brought it in, waved hello to everyone and smiled my big omnivore grin, got marked off the PTA President's list as Sujatha Hampton, set up my Shepherd's Pie in its designated spot, checked to make sure no one was looking and put my calligraphed card down beside my dish! And here's the best part: it was a foil baking tray from the grocery store! I don't even have to worry about getting my casserole dish back!! Brilliant!

When L got off the bus I asked her how it went and she said, among other things, "We voted and Mrs. K's Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie was the grossest." Epic! "No wonder Mr. K is always scowling and never waves. He's probably hungry." Bonus! And then we went into the kitchen where I whipped up a fresh batch of Christmas Sugar Cookies, this time cut out to look like angels. And by the time my boy got home from practice there was a warm plate of glossy beatific looking cookies ready and they both looked up at me and blinked gratefully, "Mommy, you are the best mommy and the best cook in the world." Which is just as it should be.