Bean There, Done That


Coming home after my emergency heart bypass surgery, I knew I had to make changes. Specifically, exercise and diet. I started a workout regime in the hospital’s cardiac center that I’ve continued to this day, and I have no intention of ever quitting. I always feel better after working out, and I can feel my strength and stamina improving every day.

Still, without changing my diet, all the exercise in the world wouldn’t be enough, and my heart would be a ticking time bomb.  So it is that I set upon a low fat, low sodium diet.

I became obsessed with labels, silently dividing grams of fat per serving by serving size to arrive at a base number of the grams of fat per the base unit of measure, and then comparing my result to other brands of the same product.  I now eat only fresh or frozen vegetables and never canned to manage my sodium levels. I don’t use table salt any more, using pepper as a low sodium alternative.

But none of this quieted my red blooded, red meat, all-American lust for a cheeseburger. Simply put, I love burgers, always have. But now they are forbidden to me. One day, while I was deep in mourning for my loss, my wife had an inspiration.

“You should try those Boca burgers,” she said.

“What’s that?”

“They’re meatless hamburgers. They substitute vegetables for ground beef, and season them to taste like meat.”

A couple of days later, I opened up our freezer and took out the box with the frozen veggie burgers inside,  “black bean burgers,” to be precise. It turns out they have different flavored veggie burgers, each made with the same core ingredients, and each featuring a highlighted flavor. I was intrigued and open minded as I took one of the frozen rock hard patties out and put it in my George Forman grill.  I was eager to experience the taste of a burger again, even if it was a watered down, synthetic burger.

As it lay sizzling in the little grill, I got down to work on preparing the fixings.  I cut up pieces of tomato and onion and green, leafy lettuce, when it struck me that I was preparing vegetables to put on top of vegetables.  I noted this as potentially ironic, and went forward with getting out the condiments of ketchup, mustard and fat free Hellman’s mayonnaise. I toasted a multi grain hamburger bun and I was ready to go.

I lifted the top of the grill and was greeted by a distantly familiar scent. I was unable to name where or when I’d experienced the odor before but it was there, acrid and bitter. I put the patty on the bun. It was black with chunks of corn and bean visible in it.  Again, it looked familiar, like something, I couldn’t think of what, but something else black and soft with chunks of yellow corn in it. Undaunted, I applied  the toppings and condiments and took a big bite, when it came to me, what the pungent smelling and semi firm dark blob with bright yellow chunks of corn embedded in it reminded me of.

I let the mouthful I was chewing fall loosely out of my mouth and flushed the rest of my first ever black bean burger down the sink.  After drinking about a gallon of water I was finally able to remove the taste from my mouth, and at least soften the memory of the images and odors the black bean burger had planted in my mind.

Afterwards, something unexpected happened – I found that my mind now associates hamburgers with the memory of my encounter with the black bean burger, that the sound of the word “burger” conjures up its image and odor, and I am confident that I’ll be able to give up my addiction to burgers without ever being tempted to eat one again.  They call this technique to fight addiction going “cold turkey.”

Whatever it is, I try not to think too much about it. It’s lunch time, and there are some slices of cold turkey waiting for me.

 

The Night Brigade


It’s official – I’ve put my second novel, I Don’t Know Why, which I completed a first draft of about a year ago, on the shelf.  I’ve just been unable to generate any enthusiasm about fixing the many things that I know are wrong with it. I’m hoping that by putting some distance between it and me that someday I can revisit it and it’ll feel fresh and alive again.

Recently, I started forming the idea for a new novel, and I’m excited about it. I sketched out a basic outline of the plot and the biographies of several key characters, and I’ve started writing.  I’m about forty pages into it, and I’m having fun watching the characters reveal themselves.  I’m learning new things about them all the time, and my original assumptions about the plot are being challenged.  I found this to be true on both of my previous novels – once I started bringing the characters to life, they demanded changes to the story, and both books turned out to be drastically different than what I’d originally envisioned.

So it is that lately I’ve been getting phone calls waking me up in the middle of the night.  I always move to another room so as not to wake up my wife, hence avoiding an “It’s Jake from State Farm” moment. That would be easier to explain than the truth, that the calls are coming from characters in my book.

For example, I was awakened one early night by Craig Tyler, a nineteen year old kid who is the central character and narrator of the new book. The phone rang at 2:30 in the morning.

“Hello?” I mumbled into the phone.

“Hi, Dave.  It’s Craig Tyler.”

“Who?”

“Craig Tyler.  You know , from your book?”

“Oh, Craig Tyler.  But you’re fictional.”

“Never mind that,” he said. “I’m a little bit concerned about what you wrote tonight.”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Well, don’t you think it’s important that you mention I’m a really strong swimmer?”

“I thought it was obvious.”

“I still think you should mention it.  It just might be distracting to the reader as is.”

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, Dave,” he said.

I wrote in my journal, “Craig is rather neurotic, and worries about things that aren’t really important.”

The next night the phone rang at 3:03.  The voice on the other end wasn’t happy.

“Hello?” I said.

“This is Paul, Paul Tyler? Craig’s brother?  Hello?”

“Yeah, yeah, okay, Paul. What can I do for you?”

“Really?  Really, Dave?  A heroin addict? That’s the best you could come up with?”

“Yeah, I thought it was a good idea.  You’re supposed to be a tragic figure.”

“Well, let me ask you, what do you know about heroin?”

“Um, not a lot.”

“You know nothing about it, admit it!”

“Okay, so I don’t know anything.  What’s the big deal? “

“I’m gonna be this big tragic figure, suffering from heroin addiction, and I’ve got to count on your skill to bring me to life and I turns out you don’t know jack shit about heroin.”

“So? I’ll do a little research.”

“You couldn’t have made me addicted to something you know about.  Like, I don’t know, maybe a Cheerios addict?”

“A Cheerios addict,” I said. “Yeah, that would make you real tragic.”

I could hear Paul sigh.  Then he said, “So let me be blunt – you ain’t Eugne O’Neil, and this ain’t no Long Day’s Journey into Night.”

“Long day’s journey – I get it, because the mother in Long Day’s Journey into Night was an addict.”

“That’s right.”

“But she was a morphine addict, not heroin,” I said.

“Oh, well excuse me, that makes all the difference in the world. I’m being sarcastic in case you’re too stupid to tell.”

“Now, Paul, there’s no reason to get nasty …”

“And another thing. That scene you wrote last night?  With me visiting Craig?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, I’m already dead, aren’t I?”

“You come to Craig in a dream.”

“I come to Craig In a dream.  Big fucking deal.  I’m still dead, so that makes me a ghost.”

“So?”

“So, it’s been done before.  Hello.  Ever hear of a guy named Hamlet? Hello?”

“You know, when I created you, I don’t remember making you so bitter.”

“Bitter.  Fuck you. You’d be bitter, too, if you were a fucking dead heroin addict who had to visit people in their dreams.”

“That’s true,” I said. I wrote in my journal, “Paul is bitter.”  I thanked him for calling and went back to bed.

Now if I could only get a decent night’s sleep, I might be able to do something with that.

 

 

 

Blue Collar Noir


Kitchen Sink Gothic is a short story anthology published in the United Kingdom that includes a story written by my friend, Walter Gascoigne. The title refers to a genre of gothic stories featuring working class characters, stories that range from, to quote the introduction, “darkly humorous to the weirdly strange and occasionally horrific.” Walter’s story is all of the above and much more.

I just received my Kindle copy last night, and I immediately flipped to Walter’s story, “The Sanitation Solution.”  I haven’t taken the time yet to read any of the other stories, but I was so taken by “The Sanitation Solution” that I wanted to recommend it immediately.  Knowing Walter like I do, I can tell you that the story is, like Walter himself, a unique experience.

Only Walter could preface a story by quoting Charles Manson and close by quoting Shakespeare. I’m not going to spoil anything by describing what happens in between, except to tell you that you’ll experience laughter and disgust and irony – not bad for a short story.  He writing is lean and efficient and straight forward, reminding me a little bit of Richard Matheson at his best.

Walter begins the story with these two sentences:  “From my vantage point on top of this mountain of trash and maggots, I could see the rats were the size of small dogs. Just last week I saw one tearing apart what was left of a tiny infant.”  Perfect.  There’s no way anyone can read that and not be compelled to keep reading.

And it only gets better as Walter draws you into his weird world and its twisted logic and strange characters.  It’s a testament to Walter’s skill in that only a few pages you are taken away to a world of his imagining.

Walter’s story is only one of many in this collection, and if it were the only one, it’d be worth the price of purchasing the book.  I’m hoping that as I read the rest of the book, I’ll find more stories that disgust and amuse me and make me think, even though I know there is only one Walter.