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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Singing the Bones, a dialogue

A: Ribs are the only bones I know of that things stick to.


B: Other things are BRED in the bone, aren't they?


A: And what sticks best is lamb shanks and pot roasts.


B: What's with the meat? Oatmeal is the classic stick-to-the-ribs food.


A. Oh, yeah. I forgot. Oatmeal.


B: So are there any other "bone" stories you want to investigate?


A: Skin and bones. Bone marrow. Marrow bones. I love marrow bones. I USED to love marrow bones.


B: My new Italian cookbook has a recipe for steak alla something. The picture shows a grilled steak surrounded by half a dozen sawed-up marrow bones, ready to be sucked.


A: Cholesterol city, if you ask me.


B: What sticks to the bone. Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words wither my psyche.


[Here, we must imagine that A and B become one voice.]


I don't think that's how the saying goes. But who on earth would ever try to convince children that "words will never hurt me." They'll parrot that to a tormentor, but inside they know they're lying. They'll feel the conflict of saying it because they know that sticks and stones cause bruises that heal, but words cause bruises that don't show and never heal.


How many of us can cite verbatim phrases that bruised us: "I'll never forgive you"; "I don't know what your best feature is, but it's certainly not your nose!"; "You're a culinary idiot"; "Can't you do anything right?"; "What do you mean you got an A-? That's a loser's grade. Where is the A?"; "Pretty is as pretty does"; "It was her choice to live far away from us; let HER pay for it."


It's hard to dim these voices. Even with the tinnitus and even without the hearing aid, they come through loud and clear and unmistakable and unforgettable.


"Unforgettable. That's what you are. Unforgettable. Though near or far….That's why darling it's incredible that someone so unforgettable thinks that I am unforgettable, too."  Little Midwestern teenagers hung on Nat King Cole's every syllable and carried his lyrics around for years. Believing them. Building a life on them, the more fools they.


Memory is not to be trusted. Where are the words my father spoke to me (did he ever speak words to me? Or was I just one of the crowd he told jokes to?). Instead of words from my father I have in my head the lyrics to Spike Jones songs ("It's a beautiful day for the races; Stoogeham is the favorite today…"; or "'Dja ever see a tin flute dancing?..."); Gordon Jenkins' Seven Dreams ("They're after me, they're after me, I cannot get away. For life is colored rosy red and death is colored grey…").


In our family, conversation is likely to be interrupted by a song. One comment reminds someone else of a lyric, which she then sings. Perhaps this is because all our interaction when we were young involved songs and not actual conversation.


When my sister Sari and I were in our teens, we developed the parlor trick of alternating the syllables of a song. I'd sing, "Once" and she'd immediately respond with "I". Had. A. Se. Cret. Love. We'd sing the whole song and then collapse with laughter. More fun to perform than to listen to, I'm sure.


My brother Mike went through a long period of spelling and pronouncing our names backwards. I was Nna Nosnhoj. He was Ekim Nosnhoj. And so on through all six of us. Nosnhoj is not a name you can easily forget.


Most of the Spike Jones records were Mike's, and all of the Homer & Jethro were his. I was too genteel, too upwardly mobile—too much of a snob, in short—to listen to Homer & Jethro. Now, though, I think I missed out on a good thing. Mike says they were satirical, a really funny pair.


I preferred Sarah Vaughan singing Mountain Greenery. "In our mountain greenery, where God paints the scenery, just two happy people together….Beans could have no keener reception in a beanery than our mountain greenery home."


Given the title of this rambling essay, the only way to end is with "The foot bone's connected to the –ankle bone. The ankle bone's connected to the—leg bone…" And so forth.



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Story of Two Stoves

Alice has a gas stove in her kitchen. Virgil, who lives next door, has an electric stove. Alice thinks that it's time for Virgil to give serious thought to a change, and with good reason: Virgil's stove doesn't work.


For example, Virgil's right front element comes on only when set at high. It is thus a good burner for boiling water for his twice-weekly spaghetti dinner.


The left front burner works only at the levels of low and simmer. This is where he melts butter and makes stove-top custard.


The right rear burner doesn't work at all, no matter what the setting. This is where Virgil sets pots when he's too busy to put them in the cupboard.


The left rear burner works at all settings, but it's a small burner and is awkward to reach, being next to the wall, so he seldom uses it. Only if he were to cook an elaborate meal would he make use of the left rear burner, and Virgil doesn't cook many elaborate meals.


You might think that Virgil hates this stove, with its inconvenient idiosyncrasies. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Virgil likes making do. He relishes the challenge of remembering which burner is good for which task, and he pretends that it's like cooking on an AGA. He thinks the brain activity required to use his stove efficiently is actually insulating him from Alzheimer's as he grows older.


But Virgil has to contend with Alice. They chat often, as neighbors, and the subject of their conversation, to his chagrin, is frequently their stoves. Alice has a gas stove that she loves. Alice sees no virtue in muddling through with faulty electric elements. Alice is determined to persuade Virgil to come to the gas side of the fence, where the grass is always greener.


"I can boil water in half the time, Virgil," says Alice.


"I don't mind the extra time," says Virgil. "I just sit at the kitchen table and read the paper while I wait for the water to boil."


This conversation will continue with many variations until Alice succeeds in converting Virgil to her way of thinking. Alice doesn't give up easily.


On the other hand, they are both already of a certain age, or a bit past it. If Virgil can just outlive Alice, he can grow older in peace, making do with his barely-functioning electric stove.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Party's Over

At the end of the party, if it has been at my house, I don't want everyone to leave. I want most people to leave, because by then I'm very tired of small talk, party conversation, circulating, and saying only nice things. But I want one couple, or maybe two, to stay. We will close the door on the departed partygoers, blow out most of the candles in the dining room and bring a few lit ones into the living room. Then we will sit around and talk. I know it's late by then, but I relish the openness of rehashing what went on. "Did you talk to Harold?" "Yeah. Did he tell you about Jenny?"  "No, what's going on?"


And then I get to hear all the gossip that I missed while doing the circulating-hostess routine with a platter of hors-d'oeuvre. You can't be a part of every conversation at a party, especially if you are hosting it. So I need to sit with a few other people who acted as my eyes and ears and can fill me in on all those other conversations.


But eventually even those few will feel that their part of the party is over, and they leave. And then I exchange my pretty shoes for slippers and put on an apron. Dino and I bustle around putting food away, loading the dishwasher, and talking, just the two of us, about who said what to whom.


And finally, now, the party's over.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor