"[My relationships were] like I was in these movies where the script was only half-written. When I’d get to the end of this half-script, the other actors wanted me to ad lib. But I had never gotten the hang of that. That’s why these movies were always box-office failures. Six of them in the past twenty years. I always blew the lines." ~ from my horrible first novel "Learn How To Pretend." (unpublished)(obviously)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Red Maryjanes

I don't know what they were thinking, inviting me here. They know I'm a vegan. But here it is Thanksgiving dinner. Ha-ha! Oh what fun. A family gathered around the carcass of a dead bird. They just felt sorry for me and forced me into this.

I don't even know these people. It's Sharon's family. Sharon from work. She sits in the cubicle next to mine. It's not even really her family, it's her boyfriend's family. He's never liked me. The boyfriend. I hear him talk about me to Sharon sometimes when we go out for drinks after work. He calls me a hippie dork. And now we're at his parents' house.

I've tried explaining what being vegan means, but each time I start, I get "So, who do ya want? USC or Iowa?" Like I care!

They think being a vegan is like being a vegetarian, so they keep saying "make more mashed potatoes for Sarah." I've explained to them three times that my name is Saraiah, but they don't get it. And the potatoes are loaded with milk and butter. What part of 'vegan' don't they understand? Good thing I had the tofu breakfast burritos before I came.

The boyfriend's younger brother is drunk and he keeps staring at my boobs. I barely have anything to look at in the first place. I think he's only fifteen. Why is he drunk? Do his parents know? What a little perv.

Sharon is hanging in the kitchen with her (she hopes!) future in-laws. I don't know anyone else, besides the boyfriend, so I hang out there too. I'm trying to think of an excuse to leave, but I don't have any money for a cab. I've had several glasses of white zinfandel to help settle me down. Sharon says it will make me more sociable. She keeps making jokes about me to the future mother-in-law. Bitch. She's acting like a bitch, and I tell her so!

"Darn, it, Sharon! You're acting like a real B!" I tell her.

"You mean because she's so busy?" asks future mother-in-law, obliviously.

"No, Mother," says Sharon (getting awfully familiar with this woman.) "She means I'm being a bitch."

I'm so angry I fling a tiny spoonful of mashed potatoes at her. She smirks at me, that catty slut, and returns fire. She throws a piece of turkey giblet at me and it goes straight in my mouth! I threw right up on my new maryjanes. The cute red ones! Sharon said it wasn't a loss because I got them on sale at Payless. "She gets her shoes at Payless" she tells future mother-in-law as if explaining some mental infirmity I have. I loved those shoes.

"At least I don't buy my underpants at the Wal-Mart!" I blurt out. Everyone stares at me, shocked. I probably crossed some sort of line. I guess the boyfriend's father works at Wal-Mart. And future mother-in-law as well. The silence would be deafening if anyone would bother to shut up. It's pandemonium. I'm standing, drunk as a skunk, crying, in my ruined maryjanes, in the middle of a puddle of white zinfandel, tofu burrito, and turkey giblet vomit, trying to explain how Wal-Mart is ruining America.

Needless to say, dinner was ruined.

And now I have to ride home with them, Sharon and the boyfriend. Hah! It is one chilly ride, I'll tell you. Sharon is driving and her and the boyfriend make forced small talk, but they ignore me. There's still a little puke on the side of my shoes. I wipe it on the back of Sharon’s seat. Bitch.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Crowing of Cocks, the Braying of Donkeys

[This photo file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License]

Let’s get something straight right from the start. This chicken that was standing on the pulpit holding a note? It wasn’t like a paper note. Not a grocery list for a loaf of bread and a pound of spuds. Or a note from your mother excusing you from gym class. Nor a love note. And, it certainly wasn’t a note from God that said anything like “Behold, and a little chicken shall lead them.” Rather, it was a musical note that it held: A tone. Alice Beebe, the alternate church organist told me all about it before the funeral.

“Bobby,” she said when I showed her the huge bantam perched on the lectern at the front of the sanctuary of Grace Lutheran in Hibbing. “I swear to Jesus, that… chicken is holding a perfect B-flat major,” she said. “It’s a sixty-cycle tone, like your refrigerator, or your washing machine make.”

To be clear, it was holding this note, but not continuously. I mean the bird had to breathe, but, by god, it could hold that note a long time. And because I realize that most folks think “girls”—hens that is—when they hear the word chicken, I want you to understand that this bird was a Malaysian Serama rooster. I know some folks call the boy roosters “cocks,” but my wife’s a very devout woman, and she’d be thumping my head if she heard me talking like that. Anyway, he was all black with a bright red comb and wattles, looking like a black sheep version of that rooster from the Corn Flakes box. He was at least forty-two years old. Pretty long for a rooster to live, but I happen to know he was at least that old because I was two years old the first time I saw him and I’m forty-four now.

That first time he showed up, I was lying in my crib in our old house just off the state road, between Hibbing and Grand Rapids, back when Papa was working the Iron Range. Nothing was moving in my room except the white organdy curtains that lifted occasionally in the light breeze. The room was painted a washed-out sort of yellow that was popular in those days. It seemed like a big room, but that was because I was just a sprout then. There wasn’t much to see out the window on account of mama had a big snowball bush growing there on the south side of the house. It had got so big it covered a good piece of the window, but in the afternoon a soft, gauzy version of it managed to penetrate and light things up. Between that light, and the yellow paint, it always seemed like things were glowing, like there was some sort of heavenly presence in that place and it made me to feel safe.

In the center of the ceiling was a light, with a diamond-shaped frosted glass cover. On the floor was a threadbare rug with a flowery sort of pattern and fringes on the sides. My clothes and such were in a second hand dresser that mama had painted real colorful; bright red and blue. An old ladder-backed wooden chair, from Mama’s folks—my Bestemor and Bestefor—took up a corner, where Mama sat when she helped me get dressed in the morning and at night when I went to bed. There were a couple of shelves in the room, wooden ones painted white and, from my crib, I could see my toys there—the little stuffed lamb made with real wool, the wind up monkey that played a drum, and my Popeye the sailor man ship—and that always made me happy. On this particular day—it must have been afternoon, because I could hear Mama clanking dishes around in the living room for the coffee and cake we had when Papa got home from work. In a little while, I’d smell the coffee as it brewed in the percolator on the stove and I knew Papa would be there soon.

Anyway, right about then was when Mama would come in to wake me. She always managed to sneak up on me, coming from behind and up over the top of the crib. On this particular afternoon, as I was saying, I was waiting for Mama, and all of a sudden I heard a rustling, and the rooster appeared perched on the head of my crib. He didn’t have the best of grips there, and I could hear his nails scratching on the white paint as he wobbled back and forth. He wasn’t real big then, maybe ten inches or a foot, and his tail was kind of puny, but when he cocked his head sideways he fixed me with a look that would have frozen a flame; his pupil smoldering red, his iris a molten gold. He made a chuffing sound through his nostrils like a bull snorting. I started whimpering some because he scared me, but he just threw his head back and out came the note; pure and clean. It was a tone without a hint of quavering. It went on and on and on and I guess I didn’t realize I hadn’t been breathing until Mama and Papa burst through the door.

Uff da!” said Mama when she saw the rooster.

Allahu akbar!” was Papa’s response.

Something else I need to mention here is that Mama was a corn-fed Lutheran, a Norski, straight out of Compton Township, over in Otter Tail County. Papa was a Muslim, a struggling college student from East Pakistan at the U of M in Mankato when they met in 1962. I know it doesn’t sound like a match made in heaven—in fact it started as a marriage of convenience to help Papa get his green card—but they grew to truly love each other over the short time they had together.

Papa did a little hopping dance around the room clapping his hands in joy.

Allahu akbar!” he shouted over and over again. Mama couldn’t help but laugh.

“Mas’ud,” she cried—that was his name, Mas’ud, meaning ‘lucky’—“What is going on here?”

“Oh, this is wonderful, Greta!” he answered. “The Prophet has said ‘When you hear the crowing of cocks, ask for Allah’s Blessings for their crowing indicates that they have seen an angel.’”

He plucked me up out of my crib and held me in his arms as we three watched the rooster sing. The bird would puff out his chest, then toss its head and sing this same pure clean note. Mama told me later it held the note for at least a minute each time and that, while at first was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen in all her days, got to be a little tiresome after an hour or so.

It was late, and the sun came through the snowball bush, lighting the rooster’s plumage and making his shadow on the wall look huge. Papa’s eyes flickered about the room, no doubt trying to spot the angel the rooster had seen. He kissed me on the side of the head and whispered one more time in my ear, “Allahu akbar.” The bird hopped down from my bed and strutted out the door. When we followed him to let him out, he had disappeared.

I was seven before I saw the rooster again. It was in late 1971 after Papa had left to go fight in the war that made East Pakistan into Bangladesh. The day we received the news that he was killed fighting with the Mukti Bahini—the freedom fighters—the rooster was back, sitting in a branch of the sycamore tree in the side yard. I remembered Papa’s words then, and every time I saw that chicken afterwards; “When you hear the crowing of cocks, ask for Allah’s Blessings for their crowing indicates that they have seen an angel.” I saw the bird again on the day in high school when I rolled my pickup on an icy road and wrapped it around a telephone pole. And, on the day I met my future wife working at the A&P in Grand Rapids, he was perched atop a pyramid of canned corn. He hung around nearly twelve hours, until sunrise, on a sweltering June night while my wife delivered our first, and then again, the day, two years ago, that that same son went off with his Army Reserve unit to the war. Each time it held that same note. It was like some damn country & western song.

And now, again, he’d returned for Mama’s funeral. It was an aneurysm they said. She’d died quick and painless. Never having remarried, Papa’s wedding ring, and me, were all she had. I called up her church, Grace Lutheran, to make arrangements. She’d had a few favorite hymns she wanted done and I left work early to go meet with Alice Beebe about playing organ at the service. Alice had been friends with Mama, whereas Marjorie Gunnersen, the regular organist never had forgiven Mama for marrying a “raghead,” as she put it, though it had been thirty-some-odd years since Papa had left.

When I pulled up to the old building, I spotted something moving near the shrubs. I recognized it as the rooster—nearly three feet tall now—and it seemed to recognize me as well, the red and golden eye flashing. I walked inside and, as I stood in the doorway of the sanctuary, I was not surprised to see the rooster, perched on the pulpit, holding the perfect note. As I waited for Alice to arrive, Marjorie Gunnersen came from an office off the foyer. She seemed flustered, but strode forcefully up and met my eyes.

“I’m sorry, Bobby, we can’t allow you in here. This is a house of God, and you… well, you’re…” In the sanctuary, the rooster stood on the pulpit and sang. Marjorie lost her train of thought and gazed, helplessly at the sight.

“When you hear the crowing of cocks,” I recited, “ask for Allah’s Blessings for their crowing indicates that they have seen an angel.”
As she turned to me with startled eyes and I recited the rest of the verse as I’d learned it at the Madrasa Islamia, the Islamic school. They were words that never made any sense to me. “And when you hear the braying of donkeys,” I said, “seek Refuge with Allah from Satan, for their braying indicates that they have seen a Satan.” The rooster continued to hold the note.

(c)2008 Rick Raab-Faber



Right. It's a sunflower. I took a picture of a sunflower. Could it be any more bland? Probably. But I like the color in it..... did I post this one already?

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This work by Rick Robb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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Saint Sean


More of the same. This one is called "Saint Sean"

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This work by Rick Robb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

A recent shot that came out all cool and shit.
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Bound to happen

I was all excited earlier in the month... or was it last month? I don't know, but I was excited because I was actually blogging on a regular basis. And now, I'm not.

It was bound to happen, though, with the semester starting up and all that. Plus, I did get that job I applied for. It's a research assistant gig and it's pretty cool. My main project is transcribing and assembling research and interviews for some other stuff on Pete Seeger for the Library of Congress.

I've also been working trying to round up various speakers for a Banned Book Week event that the English Honor Society is putting on at the beginning of October.

That and getting the prospectus for my senior thesis ready to turn in by the 29th. That is pretty much done -- just some minor revisions to make.

Totally bombed my first Statistics quiz the other day. The big problem is that I really could not care less about the subject. I could care a bit less about the grade and how it will affect my GPA, but otherwise, enh, not so much.

I'm also still working on my grad school plans. I think, at this point, it's going to be either UNM, or a low-residency program. I was avoiding the low-residency at first because I wanted to get a TA-ship -- but then I realized that there is no way in hell I'm going to be able to teach. I just can not get up in front of a group of people without heaving my guts out. Projectile vomiting. Etc. The problem with the low-residency program is, of course, that I will have to pay for it.