Roux the Day

A worn wooden spoon on a worn wooden cutting board.

She stood over the stove stirring. Stirring, stirring, stirring. She wasn’t giving up.

She was learning to cook. It was a grownup thing to do, and she was ready to be a grownup. She outfitted her kitchen with a few pieces of mid-priced cookware to join the battered pots that had been her stepmom’s. She was addicted to cooking shows and studied the mis en place and vino in mano of her favorite chefs on her favorite shows.

Between HGTV, YouTube and prodigious brunches around town she was growing her skills, her palette and her repertoire. She fancied herself the foodie friend. She had started inviting friends to stand up cocktails with cute things on skewers and bites on those silly appetizer spoons. She graduated to hosting her own brunches filled with fancy french toasts, egg custards, salads and mimosas. Last year she did Thanksgiving for the friends who couldn’t get home. The boxed wines she served were the good ones. Everyone said she did great.

She was ready to cross into new territory. The turkey dinner was a win, but she was ready for something from her own inspiration. She decided that she’d host her alumni squad for a fun dinner party after the game. Her solution? Gumbo.

Gumbo was like chili only more exotic. Like chili, it could make ahead of time, it didn’t need extensive staging and it was hearty. She figured she’d serve gumbo, a goat cheese and pear salad with candied pecans that Giada makes and a baguette from the local bakery. She’d lay out some of Emeril’s “kicked up” olives, that fancy cheese with honey, breadsticks and beers to hold her guests while she warmed up the stew. She was hoping to remind people of New Orleans. Her idea was to have a party that was theme-y without really having a theme. She expected maybe ten or so.

She hadn’t made gumbo before, but didn’t consider it beyond her domain. The ingredients weren’t unusual–save the okra, but okra is a vegetable. She hadn’t been challenged by a vegetable yet. She felt confident. She got up early.

First up, the roux, the key to an authentic gumbo. Ingredient-wise it’s just oil and flour. Not too complicated. All she had to do was heat it and stir it until it was a deep chocolate brown. It seemed triflingly simple. Stand and stir. And stir.

After about five minutes she could see the color change. She nodded to herself. Something was happening. She figured a few more minutes. All she could hear was the spoon on the pan. Her phone should be charged by now. She grabbed it off the charger in her bedroom. She swiped around until she found an appropriate Spotify list–1,600 songs from New Orleans. That was good for mood setting.

She walked back into the kitchen to a scorched pan. The roux was burned. She had stepped away for two minutes, okay, maybe five or six, but it’s supposed to cook for like fifteen. Crap! She only had one big pot. She had to wait for it to cool before she could clean it out.

She fiddled with her playlist and made sure that her phone was connected to the speaker before she started again. She was glad she started early. She smiled and thought if it were later she’d have some cooking wine. Maybe it was better to be stone cold sober. She filled up her coffee mug, swirling in some of that hazelnut creamer. She dried the pan with a dish towel and put it on the burner to remove the last traces of water. She was ready.

Roux take two.

She measured out the oil and the flour and began the stirring process. She knew now that this concoction was a demanding master. She kept her spoon moving through the flour and the oil. It swelled and bubbled a little. She kept stirring. It went from vanilla to beige. More stirring as it passed from beige to taupe. It started to smell a little nutty. That was a good sign according to her recipe. She stirred and stirred. She swept the spoon in figure eights. She squiggled it through the mixture. She sipped her coffee from the cup held in her left hand as her right hand pushed the the darkening roux back and forth. She wasn’t stopping this time.

She had massaged the stuff in the pan for fifteen minutes. It seemed stalled. It wasn’t getting darker. It was stuck on caramel colored but she needed dark chocolate cake batter colored. She turned the heat up to make something happen. And it did. It went from a nutty smell to the stench of old fire pit. A few curse words sputtered from her lips.

Ruined roux number two.

She inhaled long. She exhaled from her nose and mouth at the same time. She needed to get this done and cooked before she left for the game, so she didn’t have time to get frustrated. She waited, again, for the pot to cool. It was a good thing, because she needed to cool, too.

She looked at the clock. She was running low on time. She googled “roux” and looked through a few of the entries. She found one from a site called BlueBayouCrazyCajunCooking that said it takes a half hour to get the right shade of chocolate and to lower the heat toward the end to avoid burning.

Well, she definitely knew how to burn it. She had two techniques for that. She shook her shoulders out and switched her coffee out for a coke. She measured out the flour and the oil and began the process again, hoping that the third time was the charm.

 

Poured Out

Turnstiles at New York subway stop at 74th station and Roosevelt.

It was his first day on his new job. He wasn’t very good at it.

He always saw himself as an entrepreneur. The business owner. The man who made it happen. Bringing in bank. Making a killing.

This was his first attempt at his own business. He expected a slam dunk. He’d seen others do this work, and they were much less articulate, less attractive and even less orderly than him. They seemed to do okay. He’d do much better.

He stood in the upper level of the subway platform with his khaki flavored jeans, a long sleeved polo and his boat shoes. His brown bangs swept a bit to the side, his lanky seventy-four inches posted up like a beacon.

“Do you have a dollar? Four quarters?”

People looked at him. They thought that he needed a dollar to get on the train, but that wasn’t what he was asking for.

He looked at the people passing by, heading most likely home after a day at museums and festivals and maybe an afternoon tipple. It was Saturday. Nobody was stopping. Nobody even looked at him. No hands went from their pockets to his outstretched hands.

He’d been at this for almost forty-five minutes, and he wasn’t getting any money. He was losing his patience. He stamped his right foot.

“I can’t believe this,” he said, mostly out loud. He directed his frustration to the oncoming passengers by stomping his right foot again and raising both the volume and the pitch of his voice.

“Do you have a dollar? I’m HOME-LESS,” he bleated. He dragged the word homeless out. It sounded whiny and embittered.  He looked like a bro who couldn’t find his frat or someone who was doing a social experiment for his psychology class. People didn’t mark him as needy.

He figured he could make $20-30 in two hours. He saw people putting money in a bum’s cup. The guy didn’t grasp that people commuting on the train to or from downtown were not opening their pocketbooks for every homeless person they encountered.

Some, like him, never give. Some always give. Some give when it’s cold, when someone has a child with them, when someone looks like they need to go to the hospital or whatever tips their generosity scales. There had to be a connection. He wasn’t connecting.

As more people walked by, the guy was getting more resentful. He had been kicked out by his roommates just five weeks into the semester. It was his temper they said. And his awful mouth when he drank. But they all partied and so when things got broken he didn’t understand why they expected him to replace everything. And they were all trying to get laid so he wasn’t any different from them, no matter how that bitch lied. Whatever happened to bros before hoes?

His roommates let him leave his stuff until he found a place. The second night in the park was less of the adventure and more of a drag than the first. And he missed class yesterday and today. But he only had to scrape enough dollars for a bed under a roof for a week. There’d be money in his account at the beginning of the month. Craigslist was the move. Someone always needed a roommate.

This panhandling wasn’t working out. He had forty-six cents. He still had money on his subway card and a few bucks in a pocket. He’d go back to campus and take a shower at the gym. Maybe he could sleep there. He figured he’d stop at the corner store. He had enough for a small bottle. If not, he could sell a few cigarettes to the real bums.

Gridlocked

Cars parked on a shady street, next to a speed hump.

Ugh. He hated driving in the city. Well, that’s a little unfair, given he did it every day.

He preferred sitting in his own car to standing shoulder to shoulder to backpack to belly on a subway car. Even if the subway car moved and his car was sitting was in traffic.

He had his route, though. He’d leave his cul de sac. tour through the curvy roads of the subdivision, drive over the bridge and exit at the secret tunnel at E Street. From there it was a few short blocks to the parking garage. He paid dearly for his spot, but he was in control. He shifted his hours so he beat the outbound traffic. All in all, not a bad commute.

Today, though, he had to cross town. He was going to the hockey game and decided, perhaps foolishly, that he could park close to the arena. He wouldn’t need to go back and get his car. He would just need to fork out more city parking lot ransom. But he was calling the shots on his movements.

Until now, that is.

He wasn’t a speed walker, yet he felt confident that he could definitely get to his destination faster via sneaker. He was spending significantly more time with his foot on the brake than the gas. In fact, his forward progress was consisting of rolling a few inches after releasing the brake.

He had started the journey with his favorite rock bands from the 70’s blasting. He had turned off the joyous music and was only listening to the blasting of cool air from the vents. He was feeling no joy. He needed to cool off.

He started off with certainty that he would have a beer or two before the game. Now he wondered if he would get to his seat before players skated onto the ice. He tried looking out the window at the other commuters, to calm himself. Instead he saw a big white truck blocking one of the lanes. The truck wasn’t moving. There were do-gooders loading tables, trays and coolers after feeding the bums. And the bums were streaming across the street, zig zagging between the barely moving cars with styrofoam boxes. They weren’t actually gumming up the traffic any worse, but it looked like they could. That just added to his annoyance.

He was happy, if that is the right word, that he was in the left lane. He wasn’t going to let any of the cars stuck behind the white box truck into his lane. He was out of graciousness. Not without guilt, though. He didn’t try and justify his discourtesy. He was irritable and he owned it. Now he had to get around that truck for his right turn.

The congestion-causing truck made it easy for him to switch lanes. He zeroed in on the unmatched intersection. The north-south street was through, but the east-west didn’t quite match up.This caused additional traffic confusion. He slammed his hands on his steering wheel. He was likely to miss the opening faceoff.

Pedestrians streamed across the unmatched streets, barricading his turn. A trio of cyclists on those stupid city red rent-a-bikes crossed in front of him. They needed to watch where they’re going. There was almost a break in the walkers. He decided to try and thread his Camry through the crowd. If he made a move, maybe some of these idiots would stop walking and he could clear the intersection.

He stopped himself from cursing. His windows were up and nobody would hear him. No reason to uselessly swear.

His eyes darted from one side of the street to the other. Where was he going to park? Now was the time to curse. He thought for sure that there’d be easy parking. His phone rang. He looked down and saw his buddy’s name. He told the unanswered phone, “I’m on my fucking way, alright??” His buddy took the train, and he scanned for a place to put his stupid car.

Pieced Apart

She-Hulk all freaking out because she did her transforming. Outside of the cartoon are some guys freaking out worse.

Dammit. When did that happen?

She had just run her hand along the back of her leg and was halted by a hole.

Seriously? My pants got ripped?

She used the passive voice because she had no knowledge of a trauma, or any activity for that matter, that would have created the tear.

It’s not like I’m wearing them out. I only wear them May to September.

When she looked in the mirror this morning, she wasn’t happy. These pants didn’t have the most flattering cut. They made her look like a very heavy bottomed pear. She swapped out three different tops before she settled on one that made her look more balanced.

Did I catch myself on something? All I did today was sit. Is it this stupid chair?

She couldn’t stop herself from fingering the hole. She wondered if she could sew it together. If it wasn’t frayed she might. It was too high up to convert the pants to shorts.

Like I’d actually really pull out a needle and thread. I use safety pins to hold up the hem on those khakis.

As she walked out of the office, she half-waited for someone to tell her she had a hole in her pants. Someone who got a peep of her fleshy white leg against the black of the cotton. Then she thought about ripping the pants up. She could think of nothing else.

I’m not going to do anything with these other than put them in a pile where they will accumulate dust. And guilt.

She climbed up the stairs and put her key in the door. She walked into her apartment and tossed her bag on the table next to the door. Next to a pile of unopened mail and unread catalogs. She started unzipping her pants as she approached the couch. She let them fall to her ankles and sat down.

These pants are stupid.

She picked the pants off the floor and put her fingers in the hole. She pulled her fingers apart. She watched as the hole got bigger and the fabric frayed. It made a sound of motion as she rent the leg from the seat. It was a crackling along a path like the gunpowder trail to the powder kegs that gets lit in a movie before the big explosion. She took the leg and found more fabric weakness. She pulled strip after strip apart. She wanted to do the same to the other leg but didn’t have a way in.

Where are those fcuking scissors? All bitches have scissors. Shit. Here’s a knife.

She stabbed a hole at the back of the other leg and continued the dismemberment of the trousers. She didn’t know if it was the sound or the feeling of resistance as she broke through, but it was something. She looked at the tatters strewn on the floor and threads and scraps scattered on the couch. She was breathing heavily.

Done! Damn that was good.

She walked to the kitchen and took a glass from the cupboard. She wiped away the sweat that beaded above her lip. She took a bottle out of the fridge, and, in one motion, she unscrewed the top and filled the glass. She walked back to sit among her handiwork. Drinking wine–in her panties.

Belch. 

Hate the Player? Hate the Game?

a futuristic arena
Illustration by Helio Frazao
It was an awful game, he learned. It didn’t seem that way at the beginning.

When he first approached the room, it was like an arena. It seemed like it’d be fun. There were three valuable playing pieces, and he had one. He used his piece effectively and in support of the other players whose pieces had more specific functions. It was like being a midfielder playing offense or defense as needed and helping to set up the next plays.

Part of the game was acquiring new players to extend the game. As new players came on, additional playing pieces were added in the arena. The new pieces were only for the new players.

The game was changing. Where he had sometimes drove the play and other times assisted, his piece and his play became more peripheral. He wasn’t in the middle anymore. He didn’t realize it for a good while, but there was a radial force moving him to the edge. He was doing less defending and more standing in a fixed spot. He didn’t feel like he was really playing most of the time.

He was still in the game. He tried to get in on more plays, but the new players and their new pieces functioned autonomously. He now saw that there were other players on the fringes. He motioned to them. The fringe players motioned back, some waving their playing pieces impotently.

A few new players came in. There was some shuffling of playing pieces. A few pieces were split and shared with two of the new players. Dividing the pieces didn’t diminish their capabilities. It seemed that they might even be stronger. Maybe not. He wasn’t close enough to see for sure.

He knew that his piece was less important than it was, but he knew he could still participate in the game. He could use his piece and maybe a fragment from one of the other players’ pieces. The other players, the ones in the fray, acknowledged him. He got a splinter of a piece passed to him as the players on the inside played on.

He looked down and realized that where he stood was a now a level below the main arena. He could climb up before he was eventually forced back. He wasn’t sinking as much as the rest of the arena was rising. He was separated from the other peripheral players. He wasn’t sure how to communicate with them. Maybe they could help each other get back in.

The newer players would sometimes come close to him and he could provide them a power up. But the play was getting away, or maybe he was receding.

He didn’t see it coming, but the wall of the arena next to him collapsed. It collapsed on top of him. He was under rubble and tried to get out. He shouted more and more desperately for the other players to help him. Even to see him. He held his hand above him and hit a barrier. He realized that there were walls around him now and he was closed off, compartmentalized.

He screamed out, “I’m here!” He screamed it again. And again. Another player came near him and asked him what he needed. He shouted “I need to get out of here!” The other player came over and closed the top of the cage. He was trapped, and the other player went back to the game.

High Tailed

The cover of Depraved and Insulting English.

She was so bored but only needed to hide her acute detachment for another minute. Two minutes max.

She hated the performance art required to do staff reviews for the useless staff. He was very earnest in offering her a wider swath of his skills. She wasn’t using all he had. He could do so much more.

She had no interest in his offer. She fidgeted in her head. She had to hear his languid if not meandering narration. She imagined his words to be the babble of a brook. Great, now she had to pee.

She provided the required thanks and hearty if not heartfelt praise as she lowered the screen to her keyboard. She knew as she stood up he would too, and it’d be over. He stood. He articulated his hope for his place in the organization. Sure, she thought, if this place was a museum of old puppets or old muppets. Hah! That was worth an internal giggle. She led him out of the conference room, showering him with her waxy Madame Tussauds smile–you couldn’t hardly tell it was fake–and almost collided with a woman.

Why did she nod to me? Why is she stupidly standing at the door? The bored woman brushed past. She needed to get to the toilet before her next meeting.

The stupid woman called her name. Wait, the bored woman knew her.

The stupid woman called her name again. She reluctantly turned. More time wasted. She was on her way to see her boss. Her meetings were back to back. The woman, upon recognition, was no less stupid.

She motioned to the conferences room. “We have a meeting scheduled,” she mostly asked.

The bored woman shook her head. She styled her layered hair this morning and her mid length flip bounced its objection, too. She usually wore a ponytail. She appreciated today’s emphatic ‘do. She marked this power up feeling. She needed to use the big round brush more often.

She flicked open her laptop. She balanced the device on the heel of her left hand as she started reading the stupid woman her schedule that definitely did not include another stupid meeting with another useless staffer.

That stupid woman was so stupid she didn’t even care. She whipped out her phone and shook it in front of her face, pointing at the appointment that was marked as being initiated by the bored woman and sat plainly at the current time slot on the phone’s calendar.

The bored woman made an obligatory apology and closed her notebook. She really had to go. The stupid woman looked at her stupidly–no surprise there–and offered a taste of small talk. Maybe she was trying to get the bored woman’s attention long enough so she would acknowledge her and reschedule, but that wasn’t going to happen. The stupid woman didn’t want to reschedule anyway. She simply was inoculating against being blamed for a meeting not happening.

She looked at the bored woman’s torso and congratulated her.

The bored woman looked up at her, on the cusp of being interested. “Oh, yes! The new project launch?”

“No,” said the stupid woman. “On the baby.” She seemed genuinely happy for the bored woman who was quite pregnant.

The bored woman wanted to avoid a personal conversation with the stupid woman–and, quite frankly, with anyone at this moment. She had someplace to be and someplace to be before that place.

“Oh, this?” She matched the stupid woman’s eyes and followed them to her swollen belly. “That’s old news. The project launch? THAT’S my baby!”  She was okay connecting on work, just not on her private life.

Did that stupid woman just flinch? Or was it a cringe? No matter. Enough time was sucked out of her morning. She missed her chance to pee. Thanks stupid woman, she thought. You rank up there with that other useless staff member who’s inchoate wordstream caused this need to pee to begin with. She turned.

The stupid woman watched her walk away. Her bouncy high hair reminded her of one the kids’ favorite words from the Depraved and Insulting English dictionary. Feague is a verb that describes putting something (peeled raw ginger or a live eel) up a horse’s arse to increase the lift or the liveliness of of it’s tail.

The stupid woman grinned as the bored show horse trotted away, off to the races.

Petals of Metal

3 pictures of a rose cupped in hands, first the flower, then the separated petals then a shredded pile.

She developed her set of techniques originally as self-protection, but she found they served her well in self-promotion, too.

She had always been smart. Not the smartest but an equation of brains multiplied by hard work put her near the top. And while there might be a limit to brainpower, she was fully in control of her effort level. She could do this.

A loving addict for a dad and a mismatched avoider for a mom were the catalyst and the enzyme for recurrent family chaos. They would reject her and she would come back. She strained–because that’s what she did–to make her family work. Really, though, to make it work for her. She wanted out. She wanted to be on the path to good fortune and the life of the fancy. She wanted her parents to be proud. She wanted her parents to love her. She wanted them to want her almost as much as she wanted to leave them.

She wasn’t good at hiding her feelings. She couldn’t hide her terror of rejection. She learned, though, that some people hated to see her terrified. She learned that teachers and bosses and friends and lovers responded with concern to her cocktail of tenacity and anxiety–especially when she served it with syrupy flattery mainlined to their egos. They were happy to tend to her. She asked more frequently. She sat adoringly at their feet, looking up with big doe eyes for approval and favor. She frequently received both.

When her recipe went awry she didn’t check her ingredients or her technique, but blamed the stove for failing her. She learned that if she was self-deprecating, others would fault the stove, too. Sometimes her flopped recipes would work their way out. Sometimes she picked up a new technique. She always picked up a new cookbook. She could find new appliances. Shiny ones that would not fail.

She settled on her mate early. He was weaker than her–but strong enough. It was a child’s relationship from middle-school. They grew up together. He loved her and she encouraged him to need her. She didn’t bother with other men in college. She punched her ticket and decided he was the one. Except for that time they broke up when he lost his mother and he really needed her. She took him back when he was “well.”

When she had children, she loved them the way  that she learned to love. By seeking approval. Sometimes she would look for theirs. Other times she strategically withheld hers. It was an equation, this family thing. You invested, but there was a required return. They were supposed to love her and she would do what it took to make it so–whether it was guilt, or bribes, or mistruths, or silence, or hugs, or praise, or time, or attention. She didn’t know she did this, but her kids did.

When they left her house, one left the slide rule behind and sought no approval, and so sacrificed her mother’s interpretation of love. The other attempted to measure up, but could not find her own peace by trying to patch together her mother’s.

Her mate fell into a painkiller addiction that almost killed him. He found that the numbness he felt with her could be swapped out more pleasantly. When he came back, he moved away for a while. She was angry and lost. She stayed that way. And he stayed away.