The Roar of the Fog

This is Fergus in the header picture. I’m allowing him top billing for a while. Not too long, mind you, otherwise you’ll forget me, and I couldn’t bear that. So this is his fifteen minutes of fame.

I didn’t think I’d like Fergus when I first met him. To begin with, he was furry. Then there was his pedigree. He didn’t have one. He also was humorless, all business if you know what I mean. I suppose his stint at the pound turned him into a serious dude. But then he struck it rich. He was adopted by a woman with a heart as big as the sky and he’s become almost human. I swear there are times when Fergus is sitting quietly by the window observing the fog rolling in off the ocean that he looks like a university professor.

“Calvin, did you know that fog doesn’t come on little cat feet?” he said one evening puffing on his pipe as we watched the sunset.

“That’s shattering news, dear fellow,” I said. “Here I thought cats donated their paws every evening to produce this stunning effect.” photo168.jpg

“Carl Sandburg would be disappointed at your lack of appreciation for his Fog poem.”

“Did he live in San Francisco?”

“Chicago,” Fergus said moving into the living room, circling twice on the Persian rug, and settling down.

“Then he knows nothing of fog,” I said. “Fog comes rolling in, and it descends from the top down, not the other way around.”

“So how would you describe it if you were a poet?”

I poured myself a brandy and paced the room. Fergus watched me from under his strawberry blond lashes.

I disagree with Carl Sandburg
The fog doesn’t come creeping in on little cat feet
But comes barreling down the hillside
Like a locomotive arriving into a train station.
If cats were involved
The fog would hiss and spit and claw and yowl and make a terrible fuss
Like they do every night under my window.
With arched backs and glowing eyes
They’d move in jerks and fits
Down the mountain
The fog emerging like long strands of paper
From a shredder.

My performance silenced Fergus. He puffed on his pipe and let out plumes of smoke.

I curled up into a neat heap on a silk pillow and waited.

“You live in a noisy world,” Fergus said with a sigh.

“True. What about my poem?” I said.

“It’s clear you don’t like cats.”  beagle

The Street Crazies Aren’t Always People

My everyday morning commute to work is your typical jammed-packed-full-of-bodies-on-a-train experience. Nothing romantic or inspirational about it. I serves me well for characters in a story, for recording dialogue, and for picking up nuances of personality.

This morning, however, I met a character that made me laugh out loud.

His name is Buddy.

But Buddy is no ordinary personage.

He’s an English bulldog with panache.

I’ve seen Buddy before. He’s usually on the other side of the street with his owner, in an enclosed area between two buildings, barking at an orange ball the size of a watermelon. His owner is usually on his cell phone, so Buddy has to wait to get his attention. Hence the barking. Then his owner kicks the ball and Buddy waddles after it with more barking. His barking sounds more like snapping with a smoker’s voice. It echoes down the street and commands attention.

This morning I heard the snapping before I saw Buddy. This time he was on my side of the street. I rushed to catch up to him.

Buddy didn’t have his orange ball. Instead he was cruising down the street on a skateboard. 

That’s when I laughed out loud.

I caught up to him at the curb waiting for a car to clear the street. Buddy seems to know about streets and curbs and traffic because he was waiting patiently there. His skateboard had flipped over, exposing the four orange wheels. It seems orange is Buddy’s favorite color. He snapped and gnawed on one of the wheels.

“Flip it over,” his owner said.

Buddy barked with frenzy.

“Come on, Buddy, flip it over,” the man said.

Buddy opened his mouth, bit down on the wheel he was conversing with, and with a turn of his head, flipped the skateboard onto its right side. Then he nudged it with his nose, which in his case was his entire face, and pushed it across the street, which by now was empty of cars. Once on the next street, Buddy hopped on, peddled with his front right leg, gathered speed, then climbed on for the ride.

“How did you teach him to do this?” I asked the owner, a man as strong and street smart as Buddy.

“He taught himself. One day he got on it, and it’s been his thing ever since,” he said.

I looked up and Buddy had hopped off just in time before the skateboard crashed into a tree. It flipped over.

Apparently Buddy knows about trees, too.

“He’s getting good exercise,” I said.

“Yea, I’m hoping it will lengthen his life. His breed doesn’t live long, eight to ten years. Maybe with all the exercise he’ll live to be twelve,” the man said.

Then he added, as if talking more to himself than to me. “I don’t know what I’ll do without him. I like him better than people.”

Calvin says, “Buddy sounds deranged. Skateboarding? That’s like a beagle zip-lining with his nose. I’m also not happy sharing top billing with this creature.”

How To Spot a Phony Restaurant

I knew the moment we walked into the restaurant it was a mistake.

El Gordito was proud to be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week. It even sported a sports bar.

The owner grabbed me by the arm and walked me and Alf to a booth by a window. He dealt the two over-sized menus like playing cards, and left us. I looked around the room. We were the second customers for dinner. The first was a robust family of six, just finishing their meal. They looked up and smiled.

The owner returned. He was a man in his fifties, with dark short hair, a little black mustache, and quick eyes. He brought a basket of chips and a bowl of red salsa and plunked them down in front of us.

“Somtin do drink?” he said.

Alf suggested a margarita. I said no. This place would front load it with corn syrup and fake juice.

“Ice tea,” I said.

“Sangria,” Alf said.

The owner rolled his eyes and left. He went behind the bar and prepared the drinks. The only TV in the sports bar was flickering a basketball game. How un-Mexican. Where was the bullfight?

The tortilla chips were brittle. They had been fried in lard, a darling of Mexican cooking. I saw myself launching guerilla warfare from my booth with them and perforating the owner and the chef.

“Cause of death: impaled by chips,” the coroner’s report would state.

The salsa was thick, tasteless, and hot. The heat was poor camouflage for its nastiness.

I looked around. The window was covered in drawings of blue, pink and green margarita cocktails.

A couple roared into the parking lot on matching motorcycles. He looked like a mafia don, dark and mysterious behind dark glasses, she like a mortuary hairstylist, petite and curvy with lots of makeup. They were the third victims coming for dinner.

“See, we’re bringing in a crowd,” I said. “We should get this meal gratis.”

The interior of the restaurant was like the country of Mexico stuffed into one small place. Stone walls with paintings of Mexican towns, pottery in garish colors erupted with plants and vines in profusion. The booths and tables were made from rough wood and carved with designs of birds and flowers. Nothing matched.

Maybe if I spoke in Spanish I would win us special attention and we could order off-menu.

I ordered in Spanish, the owner replied in English. He was onto me.

We chose the most authentic item on the menu – tacos al carbon – tacos with grilled steak, raw onion, cilandro and lime. Everything else on the menu came smothered in melted cheese, re-fried beans with a side of lard.

While we waited, a minstrel sat down on a chair, donned a Mariachi hat, and pulled out his guitar. A laminated sign next to him read, “Teeps. Muchas gracias.”

Our dinner arrived. The plates looked like platters. We searched for our tacos. They were hiding under a mountain of shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. They were soggy. It was a scavenger hunt locating the meat. The rice and re-fried beans oozed into everything like an oil spill.

The Mariachi strummed his guitar and sang pathetic love songs that were popular in Mexico thirty years ago. He was off key. He jumbled the words. He switched to classical. He murdered the music.

We picked at our food and ate what we could so we wouldn’t embarrass the owner.

“How’s everytin?” he said.

“Great,” Alf said through teeth full of lard.

I said nada.

The dissonant notes of the guitar engulfed the room.

I began to laugh and couldn’t stop.

“I’m the one drinking the alcohol,” Alf said.

The owner asked us about dessert. I wanted to tell him his place was sugar-coated with lies, enough for a telenovela, but I bit my tongue.

Calvin says, “Food is food. I’d have wolfed down that lard in a heartbeat.”

What A Golden Chair Says About Reading

Everyday on my way home I walk past a cafe that has one gold chair in it. You can’t miss it. It’s one-of-a-kind shiny gold snakeskin faux leather.  It’s by the bookshelf spilling with pre-owned books that nobody reads. The other tables and chairs are functional and boring, and usually filled with customers. The gold chair stays empty.

“I find it odd that nobody sits in it,” I said to Jasmine, my friend at work.

“Oh, it’s because nobody reads anymore,” Jasmine said.

“Like nobody sits down anymore either?” I said.

“Not in that chair, they don’t. They’d be self-conscious.”

“You mean, reading is now a self-conscious behavior?”

“If you’re not reading on a tablet, or your smart phone, you’re dated,” Jasmine said. “Nobody wants to stand out like that.”

I love to read. Real books. The kind with lots of pages crammed with words.

The next day on my way home, I made a detour and went into the cafe. I ordered an espresso at the counter, paid for it, and walked over to the gold chair. I sat down. I looked around. The other customers were engrossed in their conversations. Nobody noticed me sitting there. While I sipped my espresso, I turned my attention to the book titles. One of them caught my attention.

The book was: Historical Rumps on the Gold Chair by Sir Robert Bottoms-Up.

I laughed out loud.

A few people stopped talking to look at me.

Then the chair began to vibrate. At first I thought it was an earthquake. Nobody else seemed alarmed. The vibrations got stronger to the tickling point. I laughed louder. This time more customers stared at me. I looked around me. I was the only one experiencing this. I had a choice. To enjoy the massage or bolt.

What would you do?

Calvin says, “Do you get a free goodie if you pass the 3-minute mark?”

Brainy-Keet

I read in this week’s news of a clever Japanese parakeet that escaped from home, and landed on the shoulder of a hotel guest in a nearby hotel. The guest had no room in his luggage, so handed the bird over to the police where he remained silent. He didn’t even plead the fifth.

For two days the bird continued his silent treatment. Then on the night of the second day, he leaked his name and address.

The cops were stunned. Here was a voluntary confession they hadn’t squeezed out of the jailbird.

Sure enough, his owner was grateful to have him back. She told the police she had learned her lesson with another bird that flew away and was never able to find. This time, after buying the bird at a pet store two years ago, she had him memorize his name and street address.

What she forgot was his social security number.

Calvin says, “Beagles wouldn’t put up with that rot. We can sniff our way back home.”

Fabio Isn’t Fab

I overheard two girls talking in the corner coffee shop. One of them said, “Why settle for a good man when I have a great man?”

That’s the mantra among the single set. Nobody wants normal. The guys want the swimsuit model and the gals want Fabio with an attitude.

I have news. The swimsuit model doesn’t eat, she lives on liquids to keep her stomach flat.

With Fabio, there’s only one face in the mirror he wants to admire and it’s not yours.

The Fabios make lousy husbands.

The swimsuits have no room in their bikinis for anybody but themselves.

So what’s a single person to do?

I say look for the person with character. Now there’s an old fashioned word for you.

It refers to a person with a combination of outer and inner qualities that sets him or her apart from the crowd. Someone with substance, an individual, dare I say, different?

That person will not be Mr. Brawn or Ms. Sexy.

He will most likely be the last one to grab the spotlight at a party and the first one to wash the dishes when everybody else has gone home.

She’ll be more interested in your mind than in your muscles.

A person with character has staying power.

He won’t trade you in for the next image in stilettos. He actually wants a wife, a family, a home. That’s another old fashioned idea.

These men do exist, so look around. He’s not flipping through his smart phone, nor is he wearing ear buds. He’s the one behind the newspaper. He still reads.

Calvin says, “Quality stands out. I only go out with other beagles. Registered. AKC. Is that too snobby?”