Bowl Game

A bowl of beef bibimbap, with veggies. There's a pair of chopsticks and some red sauce on the side.

Shopping on Christmas Eve has different flavors. Some pick up a last item or two–like the roast for the main event. Some frantically pace and pounce because they didn’t shop and are without inspiration. They will likely settle for anything within budget. Then there are those who are simply celebrating the season.

The market was crowded with all of those people, and more. Strollers blocked walking space and the bar counters were lined with people having a drink. The cafe tables lining the walls and tucked in underused nooks were mostly filled. A big man was seated at one of the tables. He moved with great deliberation, slowly pulling his bowl closer to the edge of the table. He stopped to check the progress. He pulled it just a little closer.

He was likely six foot five or six foot six if he were standing. His head was rectangular, not a definite point to his chin, but he had one. While he was big, he wasn’t heavy. In his youth he may have been athletic. But his youth was decades behind him now.

He still had some hair on his head, and it wasn’t white. It was a sandy brown that made him appear younger. His hair should have been white, or gone. His gold framed aviator glasses held thick lenses. If you looked at his eyes through the bottom bifocal, they were magnified to bug level. He was wearing a button down plaid shirt. It wasn’t flannel and the plaid wasn’t wild. He had a camel colored ribbed sweater vest neatly buttoned over his midsection.

He wheeled in a little closer to the table. The armrests of his chair hit the tabletop, keeping him a little further away than he wanted to be. He pulled his bowl a closer. His hand trembled just a little bit when he picked up his spoon. He carefully aimed the spoon into the bowl. He leaned in to meet the spoon with his mouth. Some of the rice missed his mouth.

A woman with a dark, wavy bob maneuvered through the holiday crush of humanity. She had a lidded bowl between her hands, her pinky finger hooked around a bottle of spring water and two pairs of chopsticks wedged between the bottle and her ring finger. She was unhurried and without stress, unlike every other person in the market. She wore a holiday cardigan that was not ugly but that was a little warm for the day. It swung open offering people a glimpse of an “H” with an arrow and her checked politics. She wore smart walking shoes that didn’t look like walking shoes.

She used to hike with him when she was a girl. They’d go for long walks along the stream. Most Saturday’s they’d be in his boat, doing the morning fishing. Their discussions were mostly practical. Sometimes there’d be a lesson for her. His rule? If you want to eat it you have to clean it. He’d shown her how. When it wasn’t summer, she might tell him about school. He’d listen more than talk. She grew up and went away, but still walked with him and fished with him when she was in town.

She brought the lidded bowl to the table and took off the lid. It was pretty hot. She moved his bowl away from him. She pulled napkins from her bag and nestled one under his chin, draped over the top button of his shirt. He slowly moved his tremoring hand to his chest, where he methodically tamped the napkin flat. She blew across the soup in the spoon and moved it toward him. She looked into the lower part of the lenses of his glasses, her right eye asking a question. He nodded ever so slightly, his mouth starting to open. She put the spoon near his mouth and he tasted the soup. He nodded more definitely. It was good like she said it would be.

Now he was in her town. She put the spoon down as they sat next to each other surrounded by the frantic bustle of holiday. They were both content, to sit with each other as if they were on a small boat in the middle of the lake sharing the silence and enjoying time with each other. Later, she would stand behind his chair and push, and they would take their walk.

Smell of the Season

a array of green candles

She stood in the aisle of the discount store. It wasn’t a dollar store discount store. It was a store that sold department store goods at value prices. The price tags included the standard retail prices above the “you’ll pay” price. This type of store has been called Macy’s nightmare, because customers get everything on sale. The sale price is on last season’s or last year’s goods. Usually.

She walked in, as she always did when she was nearby. She really didn’t have a shopping agenda. After aimlessly strolling through the store, she found herself assessing shelves full of scented candles. She was developing a strategy before she went in.

She started looking at the candles presented at her eye level. There were round containers and square containers. Mostly round, though. Some were tall. Some were short. Some were squat, others elegantly shaped. Some had two or three wicks. Those were usually short and squat. There was one brand with wood wicks–they called them branches. They purportedly crackled as they burned. She thought that the wood ones were unlikely to burn through. Gimmicky wicks.

She knew that she would skip any orange ones. Those were leftover from Halloween and Thanksgiving, with fall scents of pumpkin spices and woody cinnamons. There was likely one that was going to imitate the smell of leaves, too. None were scents that she liked. She saw a coral colored candle. That one was trying to evoke a beach sunset. Her eyes dismissed all of the firey colored waxes to focus on the dark shades. She was looking for whiffs of Christmas.

She began her evaluation by grabbing the small green glass in front of her. It was called margarita. She placed it back on the shelf. Not Christmasy. She awkwardly pulled the winter balsam. It was almost too big for her hand. She opened the lid and drew in a breath. It had a very weak scent, and not of trees. Lid back on. She picked up balsam fir. The container was a pretty vase shape with decorative nobs. It smelled of a Christmas tree lot on a cold day. She put it in her cart.

She went through the balsam bough, pine evening, winter fir.  Oddly, Christmas Tree smelled more of vanilla than tree. She tried the white candle that was called winter wonderland. This smelled of cookie dough. She put that back. She looked in her cart and counted four candles. As she scanned the bottom shelf for a yet unseen treasure another woman joined her.

Standing at the candle altar, the new shopper started her own examination. She picked up one of the pastel candles and removed the lid. She held it to her nose and sniffed. Her head shot up and away from the container in her hand. She wrinkled up her nose to close the airwaves and block the smell. She frowned from her forehead and placed the lid back on the glass. She looked over at the other shopper and they laughed at each other, and at themselves.

Flower Girl

Roses I bought from the grocery store. Pretty, no? There are three here and they are light pink.

I shop much less frequently at grocery stores. I’m talking about the stores with the miles of aisle, where they hide the milk in the back of the store to tempt your impulses and where there are sixteen different types of mustard but none of the brown deli mustard you used to regularly buy there.

Gone are the days where there were just a handful of big box grocery chains in town. Now there are options that include those huge traditional stores with pharmacies and tons of prepared foods to small specialty stores or the independent butcher shop and bread shop and fish shop and cheese shop in the market. I buy my milk at the gas station when I run out–there is no line. I prefer the eggs at the Saturday morning farmers market. I can hustle in and out of the small independent organic grocer to grab an onion and enough green beans for tonight.

The big stores don’t carry my favorite yogurt. Their chicken thighs are as big as my own thigh–no actual chicken would be able to walk on that. The lines are too long. The parking lot too chaotic. And the staff, sometimes, too brusque.

Because there are so many nearby choices now, I don’t have to invest my time and money stocking up. It’s a big change that has happened slowly. More stores, more options and fewer people eating in the house.

The one thing I miss about the big stores, though, is the flowers. The cheap and beautiful roses. The purple or the maroon Alstroemeria with blooms for almost two weeks. The two stems of lilies that provide six or eight massive trumpets. The gerbera daisies with the green straws that hold up their heavy heads. The mixed bunches that shift with the seasons. I would pull out a tablecloth to match.

I’d sometimes buy two or three bunches and grab an assortment of vases, cutting the stems to fit. I’d distribute the sprays in the dining room, the living room and a small bunch in the bathroom. I have no talent for floral arranging, so I sometimes just lean them in the glass all bunched up for a more modern look. You do what you can.

Cheap fresh flowers from the grocery store don’t always open. I have had many a rose bud that stayed tightly wrapped until it became brown and crisp, dropping it’s lowly head down as if exhausted. These become my Corpse Bride bouquet, sitting on the table, somehow managing–only to me I suspect–to maintain a sense of beauty, if not actual beauty.

The flowers are the only thing that I miss from the megastores. And paper goods and cleaning supplies.

It’s good I don’t mind the shrunken head blooms, the falling petals and the crunchy leaves littering my dining room table. Stretching the blossom for an absurd period is a part of my indulgence. I guess I’m still experiencing whatever attracted me in the first place. It’s odd to be loyal to cut flowers, but that’s just my nature.


Throwing in the Towel

Pink bath towel set.

It was a simple task. Maybe it wasn’t really that simple since there was already a task in the queue. She would call them “errands.” She had no idea what he would call them.

The goal was a simple wedding, and, as far as weddings go it was. The time frame between “will you marry me” through “I do” was a week shy of three months. They conned a priest into marrying them in a church and selected the #2 readings with full mass. Honestly the only criteria for the service was to avoid the “submit to thy husband” reading. Any of the other Old or New Testament love readings would be fine. A box checked.

There was a maid of honor and a best man, no additional maids or bearers. She told the maid to pick out a dress that would be appropriate to the best man’s tuxedo. And any color. Except white. There were many compliments to the bride over the maid’s sartorial selection.

She bought her own dress off the rack from the fancier department store. It was left over from prom. She had a choice among four or five white or near white frocks. She was very happy with the one she bought. And it was on sale, too.

The reception would be in his huge group house where there had been many large parties with multiple keg runs. He had a roommate who had access to wholesale booze, and they found a caterer that would bring food and a cake and wouldn’t charge for the champagne flutes even though they were only pouring and not supplying the bubbles.

Her sole requirement for the catering was that they show up. She didn’t care what the food tasted like as long as it was there before the guests. When the caterer mentioned a bakery he worked with, she enthusiastically said “Yes!” even before he could sell her on the the airy, buttery cake with raspberries spread between the layers. Her only request was that the bride and groom at the top of the cake was a man and a woman. Done and done!

The week of the wedding was pretty busy. There was family and friends coming from across the country–at least one, and perhaps as many as six, said that they had to witness him say, “I do.” There was a house that they closed on two days before the wedding. And there were two separate households to move into the freshly mortgaged cottage.

He and his best man were heading off to pick up the three tuxedos, one for the father of the bride, too. This is where the simple task came in. She realized that there were no decent finger towels for the bathroom.

“When you guys are out, can you pick up some hand towels for the bathroom? Pink, please. And if they don’t have pink, white would be fine.”

The time to the rehearsal began to close in like the trash compactor in Star Wars. There were amazing wedding elves moving furniture about, sweeping and mopping, and artfully hanging these ridiculous white paper bells and twists of gray and pink crepe paper, but the list of things to do was still daunting. She was becoming overwhelmed. He knew. She didn’t know, so much.

She needed to get her clothes and check into the hotel, then change, then to the church for rehearsal, then the dinner, then back to the hotel. She kept going over her list around and around like that stupid zipper ride at the fair. The one where you go up one side and down the other in these cars that swing around and upside down and the people riding throw up. The elves checked in and she distributed more tasks.

The soon-to-be groom and his best man came back with the tuxedos. He handed her dad’s suit to her so she could bring it to the hotel. He wasn’t going to the hotel.

She looked at him.

“Did you forget the towels?” Her voice went sharp and a half octave higher from the strain of being calm. She was approaching the peak of the zipper ride.

“We got them. We didn’t know where to go so we went to the drugstore. They didn’t have many towels but we found these.” His brother showed a shopping bag. He pulled out four towels. They were more like kitchen towels, which would be okay, but they were not pink. They were orange.

She did not handle the color substitution well. Her disappointment was of volume. It was such that the women who would be her sisters-in-law the next day flanked her, grabbed her by the elbows and led her out of the house to work through her zipper list. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed that everyone who remained in the house was relieved when the squad removed the ticking bomb.

Anyway, The Spouse brought up those orange towels today. “Well at least it’s not as bad as when I got those pink towels!” (Yes, he still clings to his improper claim that they were pink. I kept the evidence for about twelve years.)

Why bring it up? It’s been decades of errands and lists and stress and explosions and near misses since that day. I guess the towels are an expression of something the priest read at our supersized wedding:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians* 13:4-8

So when he reminded me of his abject towel failure, I asked him why with a crooked grin then a chuckle and then a belly laugh. Because I know exactly why he said it.

* for those keeping track at home, that’s pronounced First Corinthians.

White Out

Three white t-shirts hanging on a clothesline against a blue sky.

There’s something about crisp whites. Maybe a button down, or towels and wash cloths. Could be a pair of pants with a knife sharp crease, or a duvet cover imitating a cumulus cloud floating above a sky-bed.

Crispness isn’t totally required. I mean nobody likes crisp socks, but warm, fluffed, super bleached socks from the dryer? That can produce an actual swoon. We still mentally categorize those delicious socks with crisp whites, because they’re somehow part of the same awesome experience.

Even the mere invocation of crisp whites works. There are  candles and air fresheners and sprays with names like Clean Linen, Snuggle Fresh Linen, Crisp Breeze, Linen & Sky and Laundry Line Clean Cotton. They actually don’t smell like anything, but people buy them. No. Literally, they have no scent. No flower. No spice. No exotic oil. No grass. Seriously, no aroma. Yet the idea of crisp whites fills our nostrils with, uhm. I don’t know. Crispness? Eau de crispette?

BONUS! You don’t even need to mention white to get that white crisp fabric feel. When you saw the names of the scents, they didn’t say white. But as you thought about crisp linen and piles of cottons, you knew they were white.

And not just any white. Holy white.

This is the bright white that reflects all the goodness from a Saint’s robes. This is the angelic glow of an infant wrapped in a white gown with white lace embroidery for christening. This is the white you see when you look into the yellow sun and it becomes an almost painful white as you’re forced to look away, blinded by that deity star. Then you can’t see anything at all for a few minutes. You push through that dark brown-black as payment for seeing god.

Sadly, this white in clothing and linens doesn’t last. It is ephemeral. That tablecloth that grounded last Christmas’ crown roast sports not only physical memories of Pinot Noir but also the grease shadow remnants of that delectable, fat-rich gravy. It doesn’t wash out. It doesn’t bleach out. It doesn’t Shout® out. And therefore, the cloth is much less white.

The socks that were white and fluffy as a new kitten grew grayed and frayed like Grumpy Cat over a sadly short number of washings. That summer stock white skirt? The one carefully ironed after spraying with Magic Sizing  so every wrinkle and fold was pressed out to eliminate the shadows that obstructed the pure brightness? A poorly planned month ruined that sweet skirt. And a set of sheets, too.

I quit white. It was full of disappointment and regret. Printed sheets, dark towels and sensible sartorial civvies became my norm. I couldn’t fully resist the splendor of crisp white, but it was a disposable purchase from the final sale rack, easily replaced after it was defaced. My shirt drawer had a pile of cheap white tees in various stages of whiteness and, therefore, proximity to the trash. I would spend no real money for white.


Until I was so cold. We’d had fifteen days straight of cold spring rain. I was unprepared that day, wearing only a light silk sweater over my cheap white tee. Being only a block from a huge department store meant that I didn’t need to remain cold.

I went into Macy’s and paged through the racks. I pulled two coats off and found a full length mirror for evaluation.  First was the soft pink leather jacket. It fit poorly and had gold zippers. Zippers should be silver. Reject. Then, I tried on a Tommy Hilfiger faux-seersucker trench. The fabric was hard and stiff, like a piece of cardboard. Not crisp but rigid and brittle. The coat had the fit of a 70’s Barbie with a twist and turn waist. Reject.

I felt discouraged as I walked the coats back to their origin. As I hung up the unyielding blue and white stripe, a new option revealed itself to me. It was a very white trench coat. It was, in fact, crisp and virginal white. I didn’t think to reject it. It might have cast a spell on me.

I spied the tag. My size. I walked it to a mirror on a pillar on the other side of the aisle. It was a fine jacket. I popped the long collar up behind my head, a la Transylvanian. It looked even better. It was marked down eighty-percent.

I walked to the cash register and held out my left arm, the one with the tag. I wasn’t taking the jacket off. I was wearing it out. It was mine. It was amazingly and blindingly white. It would be stained. It would be ruined. It would not stay bright. I did not care. These were all risks that I would accept for that whitest of white and crispest of crisps coat.

As I walked out of the store, I felt like everyone was looking at me. And they were. The guard at store exit turned and nodded with approval. Walking past the food trucks more heads turned and nodded. Passing the hotel, the red cap stopped me. He had to tell me how fine my jacket was.

I know I have to keep it shiny and white. I’m ready for that risk. I’m thinking about buying white sheets. Crisp and white and cottony soft. I’m sinking happily into that thought. Ahhhh.

Too Much Blues

A huge pile of like nine pairs of jeans.

When I was fat, I had too many pairs of jeans.

Not like I had three different sizes in my drawer. I didn’t have the typical menu of fat jeans, jeans jeans and skinny jeans. Wherein the fat jeans were the ones you actually wore, and the jeans jeans are the ones you wore before you got stuck in the fat size and aspire to wear that day after a fast which will be the beginning of getting control over your eating, and the skinny jeans which are totally ridiculous and way past the point of aspirational to the point of downright laughable.

I only had the fat jeans. Just too many of them.

How many jeans can a Doc wear? First, you can only wear one pair at a time. Second, there isn’t much diversity in the style; it’s like five pocket or five pocket. Third, the color variation consisted of blue, blue-black, black-blue and black. And, fourth, if you were lazy and let them all get dirty, you’d end up washing two very large loads of denim and drying them all day.

As I was defatting myself, I didn’t buy interim jeans. This translated, over a period of many months, to pants that began to slip down and were held by my hips, then drooping past my hips until I had to keep hiking them up as they literally fell off my ass.

I got to delay buying jeans over the summer since I don’t wear jeans during swamp season. So, in the fall at the confluence of clothing absurdity and reducing to my goal, I went to Target and bought a cheap pair of new bootcut jeans. They were blue. I know, right?

They were fine, but I wanted a pair of Levis. I bought an olive green pair. About that same time, I loaded up bags of bigger sized clothes, including a shitton of jeans and put the bags on the porch for the nice driver to take to the thrift store.

My dressers and closet were amazingly unstuffed. I wondered why I had so many pairs of jeans (and elastic waist pants and granny panties and t-shirts). Enough!

I bought stuff because it was on sale, because it was a “new season,” because there was a color I didn’t have, because I like that label, because I’m bored and shopping. And because I’ve been programmed to buy via a bombardment of ads featuring skinny models in high heels and a good weave.

I’m over it. I did buy a 3rd pair of jeans to fit in my boots. And that’s it. The new rule is one in and one out. No more retail therapy. Instead I’ll take a walk. To the brewpub.

Beer is my shopping methadone. Hmmmm. Might need to rethink that.