The Scent of Patchouli

scentofpachouliThe scent of patchouli gave her away. Well, almost. Every schoolboy knows that patchouli can be used as a perfume, an insect repellent, incense, herbal tea, an excuse not to bathe, and/or to cover the scent of smoke, drink and drugs on clothing. Well, maybe not every schoolboy knows, but maybe some hippie schoolboys and girls from the 1960s and ’70s. And, of course it goes without saying, East Indians.

Why this woman smelled of patchouli I could not readily say without asking her outright. Possibly because she was either a throwback Thursday hippie, was fighting off mosquitoes or termites, didn’t bathe regularly, or was, in fact, an East Indian. I opted for the latter, since she looked East Indian and she was neatly dressed in a sari and not at all as an unbathed hippie, nor of that era, judging from her apparent age. In any case, it was probably not polite to approach a perfect stranger and casually query, “Say, pardon me for asking, but is there any particular reason why you reek of patchouli.” Doesn’t go over well. At all.

So, in all honesty and to get technical about it, since there are so many options here, the scent of patchouli didn’t exactly give her away at all. It should also be stated that while patchouli normally has a heavy and strong odor, hers was faint — trace even — and not a bit overpowering like it can be. In other words, she did not really reek of patchouli at all. The fact that I’d even noticed it as patchouli speaks volumes of my past life, not to mention my proclivity for a bare soupçon of patchouli. In a word, I found the woman in a sari standing on the other side of the counter across from me, irresistible.

And that this attractive woman walked into my present life at all was only because she was obliged to. You see, I was assigned that day to the HR department of Pangborne & Sons, and she had come to be interviewed for a job. I don’t work in HR. I just happened to be subbing temporarily for one who was, Louise Prufoot, who had been called away because of a family emergency. I didn’t know the first thing about HRing, since I worked in the shipping department, but forms were given me by the office manager, whose name was Abner Billingsley, to hand out to potential employees, as well as an interview “check sheet” to ask them the right questions, and I was instructed to do the best I could until Louise got back. The check sheet turned out to be six pages long, and asked questions that not even I could answer. Why was I being punished, I asked Billingsley. Ours was such a tiny company; why all these questions? And why me? The office manager assured me that it was a snap and that I probably wouldn’t have to interview anybody at all, but just receive their resumes and basic information which I could pass on to Louise when she got back to work. But if the occasion arose where I might feel inclined to do a preliminary interview, it wasn’t necessary to ask a potential hiree all the questions, just a few random ones that seemed pertinent to the specific job the person was seeking, based on the corresponding application form responses, their job resume, and that which also served the company’s interests. It would help Louise, when she returned, to determine if it was worth the company’s while to conduct a more complete follow-up interview. I looked over all of these and quickly realized why I was in shipping and not in HR.

“What if I screw up?” I asked.

Billingsley frowned. “If you screw up? You’re planning to screw up?”

“No, I-I’m not planning to, but I can’t deny the probability that I might, considering my lack of experience.”

“I see. Well, in that case, then I expect that when Louise returns to work she might very well be interviewing someone to take over your job.”

Did I mention that Abner Billingsley could be categorized as a “pitchfork manager” who was not one to kid around with? He could also be categorized as something else as well, but I best leave it at that. I broke out in a sweat. I also prayed that no one would show up on my watch and that Louise Prufoot would waltz in at any moment and release me from this burden.

That’s when Patchouli Woman waltzed in instead.

Well, she didn’t exactly waltz in. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think women in saris can waltz in all that gracefully. She simply walked in. Period. I sniffed the air. A trace of patchouli. There’s something about the attenuated fragrance of patchouli that conjures up in me earthy, nutty-sweet, tangy, fertile, soft-wet-mud, minty-dried-leaves-on-a-forest-floor thoughts. Unlike full-strength patchouli, which can be overpowering, even offensive to some noses, a tenuous hint of it transports me into another realm, another dimension, beyond sight and sound. Rod Serling would have understood. I stared at her, mesmerized. She gave me a passing glance — more like a coup d’oeil — looked around the office, then back at me. When I didn’t respond, she cleared her throat. I came to.

“Uh, good morning,” I managed to wheeze. “May I help you?”

“Good morning. I’m looking for Mrs. Prufoot. Is she in? I have an appointment with her today. An interview for employment?”

Oh, God no, I thought to myself. No-no-no-no-no! This was a call-back thing. That meant the interview check sheet. I just knew it.

I swallowed. Dry swallowed. “I-I’m terribly sorry, but Louise . . . I mean Mrs. Prufoot, is unfortunately unavailable. A family emergency has called her away.”

Patchouli Woman regarded me with somewhat more interest, or at least with one arched eyebrow. I should probably interject here that I’m not using the term “Patchouli Woman” in any pejorative way. Au contraire. I simply did not know her name yet. To me, she smelled divine, and what better way than to honor her as such.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, as she sized me up. “Then perhaps you can direct me to someone else to conduct the interview.” Yes, she’d sized me up, all right.

I swallowed again. “I would be delighted to do so myself,” I began, then decided to come clean, “but I would be lying to you if I were to say I am adept at interviewing. I’m merely subbing for Mrs. Prufoot until she returns. Perhaps you could come back tomorrow or the next day? She ought to be back by then. We are a bit short-handed, you see, and I don’t even belong in this department. I’m in shipping.”

“In shipping?”

“Yes. . . . I, uh, ship.”

“I see. So you’re saying that you do not feel competent to conduct the interview now. That’s most unfortunate. You see, I’m not sure I can return another day. I have other interviews scheduled.”

“Oh.” I think I might have looked crestfallen at that point. I felt crestfallen at any rate. If she could not return, I would most certainly be questioned, either by Louise, or by the office manager. Louise might be more understanding, but I wasn’t so sure about Billingsly. I broke out in a sweat again. My second sweat break-out and it was not yet even 10:00 a.m.! “Uh, well . . . ahem . . . I-I guess what I’m saying is that I could read questions to you from a six-page script and jot down your answers, which I could then pass on to Mrs. Prufoot for her review.”

“All six pages?”

“No, no, just a few pertinent random questions.”

“I see. But how would you know which random questions are pertinent?”

I thought about it a moment. “I wouldn’t, I guess. Well, maybe if you were to first tell me what job you are interested in filling, I might be able to tailor a few pertinent questions.”

She cocked her head slightly to one side as she observed me, as though she were judging whether or not to reply. Then she said, “If I were to tell you that Mrs. Prufoot was to interview me to replace herself as your company’s HR officer, would that help you?”

I could not hide my shock. “Replace Louise? You want to replace Louise Prufoot?”

“Yes. But let me be clear: It’s not to take the job away from her. Rather, she confided to me that she plans to retire and she wants to interview a few people and recommend to her superiors whom she thinks best qualified for the position. Evidently you were not apprised of her intentions.”

“No, I was not. It comes as complete surprise to me . . . I-I guess because I’m in shipping and not in management.”

She nodded. “So it would appear.” She paused again, and I could see that she was cogitating over something. Then: “May I make a proposal to you?”

“A proposal?”

“Yes. Seeing as how I already have ample experience in Human Relations from prior employment abroad, I would like to propose that I save you the time and evident angst of struggling through your six-page check list on your own, and instead allow me to go over it myself, choose the questions most apt to the job description, fill in my responses, turn these back over to you to submit to Mrs. Prufoot, and then let her decide whether or not to recommend me for the position.”

I gaped at her with awe. “You would do that for me?” I breathed.

She nodded with a warm smile. “I would with great pleasure.”

Not only did she smell nice, she was now my savior as well. Her name was Chandana.

Even if that means sandalwood in Hindi, she would always remain for me Patchouli Woman.

Steve Pulley
1/29/2016

Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

Sartor Resartus, or, The Laundering Laundress

sartoresaurtusMake no bones about it: Mr. Liverladdy was enamored of his laundress. Head over heels enamored. And I’m not just talking about her innate ability to get the most stubborn stains out of white collars either. Her name was Edna St. Vincent McCarty,* but oddly enough, she hadn’t a poetic bone in her body. Make no bones. She was a washerwoman through and through, which is not to say that washerwomen have not been known to be poets, only that most washerwomen are known more to specialize in laundry over verse. Ah . . . one exception does occur to me, now that I think of it: the poetry of my Great Aunt Agnes’s laundrywoman, Mrs. Gertrude Steinmetz. Gerty Steinmetz could churn out doggerel by the basketload while scrubbing Aunt Aggies’ undies on her scrubbingboard. Here’s one example that sticks to my mind:

Do we suppose
all that she knows
is a stocking is a hose
is a hose is a hose?

I find a certain ironic bitterness in that piece, actually. Perhaps I’m wrong, because I never asked her, but I think Gerty Steinmetz may probably have felt herself grossly underrated by others because of her menial occupation as a washerwoman.

But Gerty, of course, has nothing to do with Mr. Liverladdy’s laundress, the hard-working and lovely Edna St. Vincent McCarty (no relation, by the way, to Oseola McCarty, the renowned Hattiesburg washerwoman who became The University of Southern Mississippi’s most famous benefactor). Edna was not exclusively Mr. Liverladdy’s laundress, mind you, even though Mr. Liverladdy always possessively referred to her as “my laundress”, italicizing the “my”. Notwithstanding, she washed for other people as well — scads of them, in fact, throughout the neighborhood — employing a laundry sink, a washboard, two old-fashioned galvanized wash tubs, rubber gloves and a clothes wringer, and hanging damp clothes out to dry on a line behind her humble home while praying for bright sunshine and a breeze. She did not write any poems that I am aware of between spin and dry. Which is moot in any case, seeing as how there were no spin and dry in her laundry operation. But never mind about that; Mr. Liverladdy cared not a whit whether she could rhyme slime, grime, or lime. Nor did the other neighbors. All the latter wanted was clean clothes. All Mr. Liverladdy wanted, however, was Edna St. Vincent McCarty.

Mr. Liverladdy, whose first name was Hornwort, while perfectly satisfied with Edna’s washing acumen, was even more favorably impressed with the arch of her smile, the curve of her build, the curl of her locks, and the giggle of her laughter. In a word, he was in love with his bewitching laundress . . . body and soul, but primarily body.

Edna St. Vincent McCarty, for her part, knew nothing at all of Mr. Liverladdy’s testosteronic proclivities for her affection. Without delving into the scientific specifics elucidated by eminent and imminent sexologists — the science of sexology being still an unsettled work in progress according to some — this might be attributed to the fact that Edna’s olfactory system was so permeated for years in the aromatic scents of Tide, All, OxiClean, Gain, Purex and Wisk laundry detergents that she could perceive nothing of the pheromones that stir the cravings of mankind to mate. Which, of course, raises the question of how Mr. Liverladdy’s testosteronic antennae could even detect Edna’s pheromones awash with the competing bouquet of said cleaners that he might peradventure be so drawn to the woman in the first place. Whatever the case Edna, unaware of Mr. Liverladdy’s quixotic passion for her, went about her daily labor-intensive washerwoman duties with the sole eye of financial solvency, modest though it be, in order to feed, clothe and shelter herself and her dear aging mother, and with the dream of purchasing on the layaway plan a heavy-duty washer and dryer of her very own and, if God were extra kind to her, maybe even a commercial iron as well.

It may have been from inhaling an overdose of Edna’s detergent-laden proximity, but in any case Mr. Liverladdy felt at last the time was ripe to make his move, to declare his intentions to Edna, which in his mind included at some point wedding and bedding the woman, though not necessarily in that order. And he was a man of some means, sartor to corpulent congressmen. They paid him well for his services. He knew Edna’s precarious financial state. He could resolve it. He felt confident that she would not, could not turn down a proposal of marriage.

Enter Cosmo Abercrumbie: also loyal client of Edna St. Vincent McCarty . . . and tailor to gross governors. Also a man of some means. Also arch rival of Hornwort Liverladdy in the primp of portly politicians. He, too, was intent on winning the fair laundress’s heart.

Truthfully, neither of these clothiers really needed her in the least for their respective tailoring enterprises, but both entertained similar competitive yearnings toward the person of Edna St. Vincent McCarty, both eager for her to be their spouse, lover, mother of their children, and custodian of their household and needs. Ergo, both utilized her washing services for their personal laundering solely in order to gain her attention, interest, and reciprocity. In effect, both vied for her love and humble adhesion.

Both, of course, were also delusional.

Steve Pulley
1/23/2016

Notes:
1. I borrowed the title of Thomas Carlyle’s 1836 novel “Sartor Resartus” (meaning ‘The tailor re-tailored’) for part of my own as a bit of tongue in cheek. As a callow youth, I actually attempted to read Carlyle’s novel, but alas I was incapable of understanding it and never finished.
2. I acknowledge that the conclusion is a bit abrupt, but in my mind Edna seems to be an independent soul and not about to put up with a couple of swellheaded seamsters.
* With apologies to poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.
With apologies to poet Gertrude Stein: “Do we suppose that all she knows is that a rose is a rose is a rose.” (Operas and Plays).
Oseola McCarty
Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

Oh, Please, Not Again!

ohpleasenotagainMr. Fassbender did everything around the house while butt naked. When he and Mrs. Fassbender were young, she did not mind this a bit, because not only did Mr. Fassbender then sport a sleek physique that any sprightly wife would appreciate, but he also made the day-to-day chores around the house oh, so much more pleasurable for her. However, the years eventually took their toll, as they are wont to do with most of us, and alas Mr. Fassbender’s physique looked far more sleek when hidden well beneath a layer or two of clothing.

Mrs. Fassbender, whose first name was Carlotta, tried to think up subtle, kind ways to convince her husband that it was high time he started dressing himself. Carlotta, a fan of Shakespeare, could only now compare herself with Othello rather than with Desdemona who, bemoaning the supposed infidelity of his beloved wife, cried out:

Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th’ ear-piercing fife;
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!

She did not wish to hurt Mr. Fassbender’s feelings, for she loved the man more dearly than life itself, but in a word, pomp and circumstance had long devolved into paunch and circumference. She had to figure out a charitable way to deter his perennial dress code, or lack thereof, around the house. And then early one day, upon alighting from what she ascribed as yet another “guidance” dream of hers, she struck upon a possible solution. Guidance dreams were for Carlotta Fassbender those that symbolically offered wise counsels to lead her onto propitious paths. In this particular case, she’d dreamt of a plague of locusts weaving a full-length cardigan sweater. Quickly she arose from her bed, threw a robe around her, and headed for the bathroom, where Mr. Fassbender, as usual buck naked, was busy performing his morning shave with a double-bladed safety razor.

Carlotta cried out, “Darling! Quickly! Dress yourself! There are creatures from another world staring into our bathroom window!”

Mr. Fassbender, despite the safety razor, still managed to nick himself on the chin at her outburst, paused, adjusted his bifocals, and followed his wife’s pointed finger toward the window, which of course was wide open. Mr. Fassbender had noticed many years prior that the man often did seem to frequently forget to close windows, and she sometimes wondered if he was innocently absent-minded or a perverted exhibitionist.

Now, it must be said that Carlotta Fassbender was getting on in years herself, and Mr. Fassbender, whose first name was Sigfried, had noticed that his wife seemed more prone lately to imagine things that were not in fact there. Her “guidance” dreams of late had also created in his mind the suspicion that perhaps she might be suffering the onset of dementia. It worried him, for he loved his wife more dearly than life itself, and he wondered if it might not help if he were to humor her a bit, then perhaps make an appointment for her to see her doctor.

So he said, “Oh, please! Not again!”

This took Carlotta something aback. “What not again?”

“Why, the Gabblegoobers,” he replied. “Who else?”

“Gabblegoobers? What are you talking about?”

“You said you saw creatures from another world staring into our bathroom window, did you not?”

“Uh, well, yes, I did, but . . .”

“But nothing, sweetheart. They were Gabblegoobers. I’ve seen them, too.”

“Where in the world . . . ?” She shook her head. “No-no, Sigfried, just a minute. There’s no such thing as a Gabblegoober.”

“No such thing as a Gabblegoober? Why of course there is! I know a Gabblegoober when I see one.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I most certainly can. The place is crawling with them.”

Carlotta looked out the empty window, then back at her husband. Things were not going at all as she had planned.

“What do you mean the place is crawling with them?”

Mr. Fassbender set his razor blade on the sink. He placed a hand lovingly on her shoulder. “Carlotta, you just told me that you’d seen creatures from another world, right?”

“Uh . . . yes.”

“Well, there you are, then. I’m only affirming that I, too, have seen them. They are Gabblegoobers from Makemake.”

“Makemake?”

“Yes. That’s where Gabblegoobers come from. It’s another dwarf planet like our poor demoted Pluto. The ones you’ve seen are on a tour of Earth. Our town happens to be a particularly fascinating attraction for aliens. I’m not at all surprised that they’d be checking us out, we being the archetypical humans that we are.”

Carlotta Fassbender blinked at her husband. “Uh, Sigfried, are you feeling all right?”

“Never felt better, my sweet. Never better. Why do you ask?”

She viewed the portly, buck naked man who was her husband for a long moment. “Darling?” she said, tears in her eyes.

“Yes, dear.”

“I’ll make you a deal.”

“A deal? What kind of deal?”

“You may not understand the logic of this, but bear with me, all right?”

“Very well.”

“I promise on the grave of my parents never ever again to bring up the subject of creatures from another world staring through our windows, if you will promise to start wearing some clothes more regularly.”

Sigfried stared at her, looked down at his aging corpulent buck-naked body, directed his gaze briefly to the open bathroom window, then slowly returned it to his wife, whom he loved more dearly than life itself. He raised one eyebrow, pursed his lips, and sighed.

“Deal.”

Steve Pulley
1/20/2016

Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

Pluto’s Not A Planet

plutosnotaplanetI went into a depression after I found they had demoted Pluto. The planet, that is, not Mickey Mouse’s canine pal, which got demoted by Charlie Brown’s Snoopy. Or, for that matter, not the Roman god Pluto of the Underworld, demoted by Hephastus, god of computer geeks. Or the particle detector PLUTO at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in the 1970s, which has long since been demoted since there is no more DESY particle detector, although there’s a whole bunch of them today at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), none named Pluto, mind you, but one named ALICE. Or the laxative by the name of Pluto Water wildly popular in the States back in the constipated early 20th century. It got demoted, too. You see, while its active ingredients were listed as sodium and magnesium sulfate, known and effective natural laxatives, Pluto Water also contained lithium salts. There was the rub, for in 1971 lithium became a controlled substance, and the sale of Pluto Water was halted. Now we’re slopping up Polyethylene glycol (PEG), dietary fiber, or undergoing exotic transanal irrigations, aka colonic hydrotherapy.

I could go on and on and on, of course, but none of this is germane to my depression over the demotion of Pluto the planet . . . alas now but a mere dwarf, like in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Blick, Flick, Glick, Plick, Quee, Snick and Whick; or Axlerod, Bartholomew, Cornelius, Dexter, Eustace, Ferdinand and George; or Grouchy, Klutzy, Lazy, Sloopy, Smiley and Chubby; or Gorm, Knirps, Niffel, Quarx, Querx, Schrat and Wichtel; or Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey . . . depending on the version you’ve followed. By the way, why “dwarfs” in Snow White and the Seven, and not “dwarves”? Same kind of arbitrary political manipulating as in astronomy, if you ask me.

You begin to see the extent of my depression. I become easily distracted by my own inane digressions.

All because astronomers discovered in 2005 a remote dwarf planet named Eris (aptly named after the goddess of strife and discord) that was more massive than Pluto, thus bringing about the knock-down, drag-out fight among astronomers and amateurs in 2006, ending in demoting Pluto to dwarf status.

It was a crushing blow to a child born in the 1940s, namely moi, who ever looked heavenward for Pluto in the hopes of seeing that elusive planet, discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, a 24-year-old American astronomer, and named by Venetia Burney, an 11-year-old English schoolgirl. Fortunately for him, Tombaugh died before the demotion, or he probably would have died afterward from the shock. Burney, on the other hand lived to see its mortification. She declared in effect, however, that at her age, which was then 87, she didn’t really give a root-n-toot one way or t’other, though she would have preferred leaving Pluto as a full planet, enjoying all the rights and privileges thereof.

I, on the other hand, went spiraling head-over-heels downward (as opposed to formerly heavenward as a child) into the abyss of despair and loss, getting through only the first four stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, and depression — preferring to wallow back and forth, up and down, around and around through these four repeatedly, like a wrestler in a mud brawl who simply can’t get enough of it, but ever stopping short of acceptance and throwing in the soiled towel. I’m a boggy mess.

Pluto! To me you’ll always be a planet, and don’t let anybody tell you different!

Steve Pulley
1/19/2016

Posted in Anecdotes | 4 Comments

Born to Sweet Delight

borntosweetdelightMuch to my numb surprise after all these years, that rascal Steve Pulley has finally deigned to allow one of his characters to introduce herself to his readers. You have absolutely no idea how many of us (and there are hundreds!) who’ve yearned for such a day. I can only conclude that because he’s going a bit senile he’s let his iron grip slip. A cog in the nog has hit the fog, so to speak. I toast to writer’s dementia! Steve has always hated abbreviations and acronyms, because he suffers from a strange dyslexia where he cannot even figure out what NASA, LOL, OMG, SNAFU, AWOL, ASAP, AKA, UFO, NBA, or AARP mean, just to mention a few. I think it all started when his mother stopped feeding him alphabet soup. The point being, his acronymic dyslexia is . . . uh, where was I? Oh, for heaven’s sake! I got so wrapped up in that damned list that I forgot what the point was! Well, it doesn’t make a speck of difference, because this isn’t about that curmudgeon anyhow; it’s about me! I get to speak! At long last!

Ahem . . .

My name is Stephanie Wainwright Pangborne, and I am a pretty nifty broad if I do say so. First off, I should say that my name isn’t mine by choice. Had it been my choosing, I would have called myself something more familiar, more homespun, like Betty Anne Mitchell. Can’t one still be a pretty nifty broad with a name like Betty Anne Mitchell? Well, I think so, and why not? But Steve has no compassion for any of us — and by “us” I mean his story characters. He gets his kicks by coming up with the weirdest names possible for most of us. I mean, after all, “Wainwright” for a girl’s middle name? Really? And would you believe that the initials of my name just so “happen” to be the same as his? Talk about poorly disguised narcicism. Did I spell that right? Steve’s a real stickler for correct spelling and punctuation. If you ask me, he uses way too many commas. And don’t even ask about em dashes, ellipses, parentheses, and brackets! He’s a regular maniac with those. [Oh . . . it’s spelled narcissism. Damn. Well, who cares?] Let’s see, where was I? Oh, yeah . . . names.  As for “Pangborne”, just about every story he ever wrote has a Pangborne wrapped up in it somewhere. And I totally anticipate that before he croaks there will be future stories featuring the likes of scads more Pangbornes. I ask you, how can a writer possibly be so altogether obsessed with a name like “Pangborne”? And the dope even tries to hide the fact by spelling it different ways: Pangbourne, Pangborn, Pangbourn . . . Need I go on?

Okay, enough of all that. We have to live with what we’re served . . . with radiant acquiescence. Bite my tongue!

My name is Stephanie Wainwright Pangborne, and I was born to sweet delight. Steve insisted it as a title here; otherwise, no deal. We do have to make concessions, I guess. I initially had no clue in the world what “born to sweet delight” could possibly mean. Authors rarely if ever explain themselves to their characters — at least my author never did. I mean, just how many of us are handed a book to look up these things? That said, I just this minute discovered it on my own, anyhow, by weaseling the info out of an effete character from another of Steve’s stories (this chap purportedly a poet, though I must confess I was not a bit impressed with the doggerel he’d been assigned to), who explained to me that it’s a line from William Blake’s poem, “Augeries of Innocence”. I had no idea what an augury was — or for that matter who William Blake was — but the same chap told me that it’s a sign or omen. Hmm. Blake’s poem, he went on to say, contains a series of paradoxes which speak of innocence juxtaposed with evil and corruption. He had to explain “paradoxes” and “juxtaposed” to me as well. Sigh. Okay, so I’m a dope. Not my fault at all. My character was never intended to be a brainiac in the first place. Anyway, it starts out:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

It goes on and on and on juxtapositioning the hell out of this, paradoxing the hell out of that. Then, almost at the very end, these lines:

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

Well, that certainly took me by surprise. Steve had not written me born to misery or endless night, but rather to sweet delight. I took it then that my author, in one of his rare good moods, determined to create me as such. Of course, you must know that I was suddenly crushed with remorse for being so hard on him. So I guess I should forgive him for naming me Stephanie Wainwright Pangborne, right?
After all, he did write me as a pretty nifty broad, born to sweet delight. Who could ask for more?
Stephanie Wainwright Pangborne
1/6/2016
Posted in Anecdotes | 2 Comments

A French Toast Morning

afrenchtoastmorningIt was a French toast morning I could tell the moment I opened my eyes and glanced out the window. The weather looked crappy and promised to be cold, windy and rainy for the entire day. It meant staying at home, because wandering about outside instead was not an option. French toast for breakfast, on the other hand, seemed the only possible alternative to save the day. I steeled myself to crawl out of bed.

I think if I were ever called upon to enumerate my eight favorite French innovations, these would figure on the list:

French horn
French dressing
French fries
French bread
French omelette
French kiss
French women
French toast

These, by the way, are in no particular order, except maybe for the French toast, which this morning trumped all others, even French kissing a French woman (and also for the simple fact that there are currently no French women available to French kiss in the neighborhood, and even if there were, chances are pretty good that they would not be willing to reciprocate).

Aside from lists and wishful thinking, I managed to make it to the bathroom to take care of my morning ablutions, get dressed, wrap myself accordingly for the interior weather until the gas heater in the living room finally cranked up the ambient heat to an endurable 72ºF, and work my way to the kitchen. I focused all my attention on turning up French toast ingredients, ignoring the eyesore precariously stacked in the kitchen sink still awaiting to be addressed from the morning, afternoon and night before.

I happen to be a purist, and do not abide prepackaged ingredients (except maybe for frozen mixed vegetables, which probably doesn’t count anyhow as prepackaged in the processed sense of the word), so I was bent upon creating the most delicious French toast in this sector of the planet from scratch. It rarely occurs to me that I’ve never actually seen prepackaged French toast ingredients in any supermarket, though I don’t doubt for a minute that it does not exist.

I realize that there is probably an infinite array of recipes, and I myself have tried out a few with more or less successful results, but this morning it was to be classic French toast and most certainly not some hoity-toity absurdity created by an over-imaginative 21st-century faux Fannie Farmer. To wit:

6 large eggs
1½ cups heavy cream, half-and-half, or milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
6 slices (1-inch-thick) bread, preferably day old
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Pure maple syrup, for serving

Okay, things began to run awry from the get-go. First off, I only had 3 large eggs, and by “large” I mean what my grocery store denominates as large, which I would term closer to the size of large Cornish hens’ eggs. Next, I never buy heavy cream or half-and-half, thanks to doctor’s orders, and I was therefore stuck with a mortifying 1½ cups 1% fat-free milk instead, ostensibly to keep my cholesterol below killer level. I did have vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, and salt, however, but God only knows where I put the nutmeg. Had plenty of bread, but it was (damn!) prepackaged and each slice measured only 3/8″ thick, or roughly 3 slices to every inch! A special trip to a bakery for 1-inch-thick slices was out of the question. Remember, the weather outside looked crappy and promised to be cold, windy and rainy for the entire day. It meant staying at home, because wandering about there instead was not an option. As for the butter I had . . . well, it was actually margarine, not butter, because of a gustatory anomaly I picked up a couple of years back which makes all butter taste and smell rancid to me now. You begin to see how vapid and pathetic my life has become. I did have vegetable oil and maple syrup, however. Now I was left to improvise. Somehow, in spite of the handicaps, I managed to put together the ingredients, cutting the recipe by half, or thereabouts.

I’ll skip the part about dousing the bread with the mix, the frying, and the rest . . . Oh, hell. I may as well admit it: the lack of at least half-and-half, nutmeg, 1-inch-thick bread, and butter kind of queered my ideal French toast morning.

Right now I’m thinking about lunch. That cannot fail. I have all the ingredients I need:

2 slices (3/8-inch-thick) whole wheat bread
margarine
mayonnaise
Jarlsberg cheese (1 slice, low fat)
ham (2 thin slices, Black Forest, no preservatives)
horseradish (a dash)
spicy mustard (a dash)
salsa (medium heat, a dash)
yellow bell pepper (2 slices; could also be red or golden)
jalapeño (4 thin slices)
tomato (2 slices)
black pepper (freshly ground; a twist or two)
purple cabbage (1 slice)
kosher dill pickle (2 slices)
lettuce (green leaf; a leaf or two)
tortilla chips (on the side)

Now there’s a ham sandwich afternoon for you if there ever was. Yessir!

Steve Pulley
1/4/2016

Posted in Anecdotes | 2 Comments

A Case of Mistaken Identity

caseofmistakenidentityIt was one of those late-fall/early-winter afternoons where the weather hadn’t yet quite made up its mind which way to turn and so settled briefly somewhere in between. The sky, now somewhat overcast, seemed inclined slightly toward the latter. Whether this might mean overcast for the rest of the day, impending rain, or a sporadic partly cloudy/partly sunshine was anybody’s guess. In any case, most people wandering about outside opted for the warmth of jackets or coats, while some even carried closed umbrellas, just to play it on the safe side.

Brian Trumble glanced at his watch and then skyward as he strode through the town’s small, semi-open, sparsely wooded central park toward his rendezvous with fiancée Shirley Bockwinkel, and her parents, Bill and Marylou, who had invited him to lunch at Le Restaurant Pièce de Résistance, a small, pretentiously named faux French eatery, but still with affordable good food, located a half block beyond the end of the park where he was headed. He was running late, thanks to a freak blow-out of all four of his car’s tires on the way into town, one at a time. How was that possible! On top of that, he’d forgotten to pack his cell phone, so there’d been no way to alert his intended spouse and future in-laws as to the delay. No doubt they were calling to find out what the heck with the holdup. Well, it couldn’t be helped, and he hoped they would understand once he’d arrived and explained the circumstances. Although he had his doubts that they’d swallow this excuse. After all, four tires in succession? Come on! He’d come to realize over time that the Bockwinkels could be a suspicious lot — Shirley included — and this mishap wasn’t going to help ingratiate himself toward any of them. Were the compressed-air gods conspiring against him? Was this but a sign of some kind from On High? Brian wondered. His relationship with Shirley had been a bit more blustery than he would have liked, but he’d hoped that premarital winds, to continue the metaphor, would calm once they were married. He was no longer quite so sure of such an outcome lately, but he’d felt committed. At the thought, he fumbled then for a strip of paper in his coat pocket, and finding it, sighed. Well, at least he had the proof of a receipt from the cab driver who’d brought him to the park entrance, so that might serve as some credence as to his tardiness. And once the tires were fixed at the repair shop, he’d have yet another receipt as evidence on his behalf. He shook his head. Why did he have to think of these things!

Like others strolling along the park’s walkways, Brian Trumble had also dressed for potential inclement weather. He’d opted for light winter wear, a Pendelton jacket, a tan houndstooth striped cotton scarf wrapped around his neck, a plaid ivy newsboy cap on his head. All très chic. Or at least he thought so. He’d hoped to impress Mr. and Mrs. Bockwinkel that he was capable of being a snappy dresser and not embarrass their daughter, also très chic. Underneath it all, he wore his routine business suit used at the accounting firm across town where he worked. Though today he was rushed for time, he enjoyed walking in this particular park and did it whenever he was in this part of town. It was a pleasant, appealing one, with a musical bandstand in the middle, surrounded by pathways, lawns where in the mornings he’d often see Asians doing t’ai chi exercises, a number of large trees, some ornamental shrubs, and beds here and there for seasonal plants and flowers. There was also a small playground to one side for children to play in, nearby tables for lunching or for nattering mothers while they watched their kids, and benches situated here and there for the public to park themselves on and people watch. That afternoon, however, not a lot of people seemed in the mood for strolling in the park, for there couldn’t be more than a half-dozen to be seen anywhere along the particular paved pathway on which Brian traveled.

He had only begun to traverse the park when he felt a hand gently take hold of his left upper arm. He turned his head and discovered a young woman attached to said hand. She seemed a little out of breath as though she’d perhaps hurried to catch up with him. He did not recognize her, and she had not yet turned her head toward his own, but rather maintained her gaze ahead, a dulcet smile on her lips. She was rather pretty, but not stunningly so, fairly dark-skinned, her ethnic origins mixed.

“I almost didn’t catch you,” she said, laughing, then turned toward him. Her eyes widened and she quickly released his arm. “Oh! Oh, I beg your pardon! I completely mistook you for someone else.”

The two stopped then, and Brian grinned. “Not a problem. Happy to lend an arm.”

“Goodness me, I must be going blind,” she exclaimed. “From behind you looked like a friend of mine I’m supposed to meet for lunch. Or at least your coat did. I’m so embarrassed. I do apologize.”

“No, please. I don’t mind a bit. In fact, I’m now a bit envious of your friend.”

She gave him a sidelong look, then burst into a wide grin. “Thank you! I’ll tell him that next time I grab his arm from behind.” She glanced at her own watch then. “Whoops, I’m running late for our lunch engagement. Please excuse me for rushing off like this.”

“No, I quite understand.”

“Well . . . again, my apologies for the mistaken identity.”

“Tsk-tsk. It’s all good. My pleasure.”

She nodded with a smile and strode away. Brian remained standing a moment to watch her recede, amused at their chance encounter. She’d had a slight accent, but he had no idea from where. Then he remembered that he’d better get a move-on himself or his next encounter would not be nearly as pleasant. The Bockwinkels prided punctuality, and he suspected that their pride in his was rapidly decomposing. Moments later this was confirmed upon his arrival at Le Restaurant Etcetera, Etcetera, the main dining room of which was filled nearly to capacity. Mom, Pop, and Bride-to-Be were not to be found. A quick check with “le maître d’ Monsieur François” (a portly lad, aka Headwaiter Frank, imported, it was rumored, perhaps either from Boston or the Bronx, Brian was not sure which) clinched it.

“Ah, Monsieur Trumble, so nice to see you,” he said with a simpering Franco-New England accent. “Oui, Monsieur, they were here. Now they are not. The mademoiselle left le monsieur this note.”

Mademoiselle would be Shirley. It read, “We were here on time. You were not here. Now we are not. I’m humiliated. I’ve just about had it with you.” Brian reflected. Things did not augur well. He sighed, folded the note into his pocket and looked up at the headwaiter. “It’s curtains for me, isn’t it, François?”

The headwaiter regarded Brian a moment, then replied, “It is not for me to say, Monsieur. But, oui, les curtains is also my humble opinion. Will le monsieur be lunching with us today?”

It would do Brian no good to call his fiancée now — first, having no phone of his own and not wishing to ask the use of the restaurant’s, and second, dreading Shirley’s impending wrath and by extension that of her parents, and perhaps worse. And in spite of the contretemps that he needed to attempt to assuage at some point in the day, Brian had had no breakfast and was famished. He shrugged. “May as well, François. I’ve got a couple of hours before heading back to work.”

“Très bien, Monsieur,” said François approvingly. “This way, s’il vous plaît.”

The headwaiter led Brian to a smaller side dining room off the main one, this with only three of its eight tables occupied. As he was about to sit down at one of the empty ones, he espied at an adjacent table the young lady who had earlier clutched his arm in the park. She was by herself, studying a menu, and with no sign of the friend she had expected to lunch with.

“Hello,” he greeted her.

She looked up from the menu, surprised. “Oh, hi! What a coincidence. Mister Mistaken Identity.”

He grinned. “In the flesh. Your friend hasn’t shown up yet?”

She gave him a wry face. “No. Can you imagine? The rat stood me up! Instead of calling, he just a minute ago texted me.”

“Ouch! Sorry to hear it,” Brian replied, then gave her a sheepish grin. “I was supposed to be lunching here with others, too, but I’m afraid I’m on the rat end for them this time. I arrived way too late, and they walked out, fed up waiting for me.”

“Good for them,” she said in jest, then slapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, dear! I hope I wasn’t the cause for delaying you earlier.”

“No, no, not at all. I was already detained because of a weird car problem, and I couldn’t call ahead to let them know since I’d left my cellphone in my office.”

“How unfortunate. If you like, I can lend you my own.”

Brian waved both hands in front of him, shaking his head. “Oh, thanks, but no. It’s very kind of you, but I have the very distinct feeling that at this point a phone call won’t cut the mustard, and it will take more than a little on-sight groveling on my part to smooth out things. Very ticklish people, these.”

She chuckled. “I see. So, each in our own way is out of a dining partner.” Brian nodded with a shrug. The headwaiter at his side inclined his head sympathetically, but still awaited to seat Brian at his table.

“Monsieur. . . .”

“Oh, sorry. Well. . . ,” began Brian.

The woman lifted a hand impulsively, interrupting his move to retire to his own table. “Listen, uh, perhaps . . . I mean if you don’t mind, that is . . . perhaps you’d care to join me for lunch? I’m not being forward, am I? I really do hate to eat out alone. Let me see . . . what else? Oh, I want to know why your car broke down. And . . . and I solemnly promise not to saddle you with the tab!”

Both Brian and François simultaneously raised a respective eyebrow, glanced at one another, followed by slight smiles — Brian’s because he would not eat alone and because the woman might well prove to be a more engaging lunch partner than those who’d deserted him, and François’s because it meant he’d have an empty extra table to offer patrons who might otherwise go someplace else to eat should the restaurant fill up later.

Brian then addressed her with a simulated straight face. “Why, thank you. I don’t mind at all, in fact. Yes, I would care to join you for lunch. No, you’re not being forward. I don’t like to eat out by myself either. When I tell you about my car trouble, it will be the absolute truth, but you will still think I’m making it up. And I trust you implicitly not to make a break for it when the check arrives.”

“Then it’s settled. Have a seat.” She turned her head toward François, who continued to hover politely beside Brian. “François? The gentleman will be dining with me this afternoon.”

“Very good, Mademoiselle.”

“And François . . .?”

“Mademoiselle?”

“Separate checks, please.”

The headwaiter bowed. “At your service, Mademoiselle!”

“François?” said Brian.

The headwaiter turned to him. “Oui, Monsieur?”

“Le menu de la journée, s’il vous plaît.”

“Tout de suite, Monsieur.”

“Merci.”

After François had handed Brian the requested menu and retired, the woman said, “So you speak French?”

“Nary a word. Only from watching quaint old movies on TV with Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Chevalier, Anouk Aimée, Louis Jordan, and Catherine Deneuve.”

“I see. Well, first of all, I should introduce myself. My name is Mojgan . . . Mojgan Colque.”

“Mojgan Colque?” Was this a made-up name, Brian wondered. He shrugged and smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Mojgan Colque. My name is Monsieur.”

She laughed.

“Not really. It’s Brian Trumble.”

They nodded at one another.

“You have an interesting name,” he said.

“I do,” she agreed. “And you are probably asking yourself, is this for real? It is. So now you’re trying to figure it out. So . . . ahem: Mojgan is Persian, which means eyelashes. Colque is a Quechua Indian name, from Peru and Bolivia. It means fine gold. And what about your name?”

“What it means? Not a clue, though I rather doubt first and last have anything remotely to do with eyelashes and gold. But, please, you must tell me more about your own. I’m very intrigued. I’ve never heard of either before. They are unique.”

“They are, and I will tell you, Monsieur Brian Trumble. But that first depends on whether or not I will  believe your story about this car trouble you say you had on the way over.”

Steve Pulley
12/26/2015

Posted in Stories | 2 Comments