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220px-Luke_Halpin_publicity_photo_2Lately I have been having a lot of media-related dreams. My last entry here was about an imaginary Rod Serling-produced TV show based on Faulkner's books. The other night I had another one about a TV show based on Frank Herbert's Dune--which of course never happened. But I decided to try to integrate this into the current work-in-progress. It fits in this way: there is a plot point that makes a lot more sense if the protag has for some reason a large and geeky social network. It needed some reason why a lot of people on the story's equivalents of Facebook and Twitter were available to observe it and react when he posts a pic of himself online with the words "THE END?" written on his chest with a marker upon the occasion of his twenty-first birthday. So, the long and exceedingly geeky paragraph below is the condensation of the dream cast into the world of the work-in-progress:

"I am A-R, a Boy Who Loves Dune"
That Arthur-Rimbaud even had such a large—and rather nerdy—social network extant to respond to his perceived suicide-distress-call was due mostly to his role as the curator of Bene Tleilax, a web-haven devoted to the fandom of the old TV series Dune. Derived loosely from the novel by Frank Herbert, the show ran from 1966 to 1986 on broadcast and then later on cable, inspiring a small but persistent following of people given to doing things like making costumes, attending conventions and writing fan fiction. Like its major TV sf-genre rival, the British show Doctor Who, the Dune series was composed of a long string of complex story arcs and it was marked by changes in its cast and characters as time passed, sometimes informed by Herbert’s occasional new entries into the novel series. Its “golden age” was generally considered to be its first three seasons, in part because of its remarkable cast ensemble: James Dean as the Duke Leto Atreides and Dean’s real-life young son Luke-Henry as his fictional son, the hero Paul Atreides; Tallulah Bankhead as the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam and Joan Collins as the Lady Jessica; the surrealist artist Salvador Dali as the Emperor Shaddam IV; John Colicos as the corrupt and sadistic Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, and Luke Halpin (also of Flipper fame) as his troubled heir Feyd-Rautha. Because of the vast scope and depth of its storyline and the constant need for new characters that might only appear once or twice, Dune became a routine stop for nearly every actor in Hollywood during the period as well as for every up-and-coming director. Anyone who’d ever touched Yoknapatawpha County or The Twilight Zone or Star Trek or Night Gallery ended up involved with Dune as well. By 1990, there was literally no one under consideration for an Emmy or an Oscar that hadn't had at least some contact with Dune. A-R’s father had been a huge fan of the show, and he’d indoctrinated his boy into it from an early age. Several years ago, looking for something to do as web-based media project for a class in high school, A-R started Bene Tleilax as a sort of personal blog combined with Dune content. Dune-enthusiasm had waned a bit over the years, in part as a result of a number of botched feature film attempts and a string of widely panned novels by Herbert’s son, but A-R still loved it all, even the weak early-1980s seasons and the bad movies and the sketchy novels, and he was delighted when his site readily gained a large following. Eventually, despite his efforts to keep the site focused on his “front-page” content, it gradually turned into a huge library of fan-written fiction, most of it “slash” in character. Accepting this natural inevitability, A-R’d spent much of his time with the site over the previous few years carefully organizing all of this slash fiction into easily searchable archives, and occasionally posting an editorial on his main page about the state of it all. This satisfied in him an urge to organize data. Occasionally he’d bust out fifty cents per word—on his dad’s dime—for original sf/fantasy fiction with a “Dune-ethos” (but without using Dune’s copyrighted property), which got him some notice as a “professional” publisher of sf/fantasy, and a lot of the stories that he’d published on Bene Tleilax later re-appeared in the various annual “Best Of” books. Despite this success, he never invested fully and personally into its cachet, instead sticking with the sensibility of his site’s original subtitle: “I’m A-R, a Boy Who Loves Dune,” and never trying to make it anything more grand than what he’d originally envisioned.
Early this morning I had a dream that I discovered on Netlfix a 1950s-era TV series produced by Rod Serling and based on William Faulkner's work. This was so cool that I had to write it down, but instead of just recounting the dream, I decided to splice it into the work-in-progress (my still-ongoing NaNoWriMo project). A new excerpt from it:

...but after this release, A-R did not return to the book. Instead he turned on the TV, selected his Netflix queue. He’d become rather interested in an old TV series called Yoknapatawpha County. It was a creepy Southern Gothic soap opera of sorts, with a lot of horror elements. Rod Serling had produced it (same guy who also made The Twilight Zone) with teleplays penned mostly by William Faulkner, and it had run on TV in the late 1950s. It had been quite popular despite its opaque plotlines and densely written scripts and its often-macabre subject matter. But evidently it also had been heavily censored during its original run, many of its episodes bowdlerized in the cutting room or never aired at all in order to protect the sensitivities of 1950s TV viewers from moral offense. But the show’s current studio owner had recently undertaken to restore it to the TV show that Serling and Faulkner had intended it to be. Never-aired episodes were unearthed. Scenes were restored to other episodes. The whole thing was meticulously re-mastered, its black-and-white imagery newly crisp and mesmerizing on a hi-def screen, its shades of grey rendered into a glistening plasma of strangeness from another era, its soundtrack music once again like a transfixing Circe-call.

        The show was built around a series of story arcs centered upon the rivalry between two decayed families of the series’ eponymous fictional county, the Snopes and the Compsons, the former being relatively low-brow newcomers to the county and the latter being the remnants of an antebellum aristocracy. Interspersed among these ongoing storylines were many stand-alone episodes about various incidents of mystery, horror and evil chicanery. One of the “lost” episodes that had run afoul of 1950s censors focused on one of the Compson boys—a “mental defective” named Benjy—who tried to sexually assault a girl and was then castrated for it. The story was unspooled almost languidly by way of Faulkner’s ornate language, and filtered through camerawork that made the whole thing look like something seen through shifting black-and-white stained glass. But the result was a thing both stunningly frank and surprisingly graphic. A-R wondered if it would meet broadcast standards even now, and he was not at all surprised that it’d been suppressed back in 1959. Another episode uncovered a group of social outliers—some frightful white trash, relatives of the county’s Klan-involved sheriff—who were processing dead humans, some murdered and some grave-robbed, into smoked sausage and decorating their unspeakably filthy pine woods hovel with desiccated and tanned human remains. Some of the series’ horror even ventured fully into the supernatural, with acknowledgements of vampires, specters and voodoo zombies afoot in the county, these made even creepier by the way the characters never seemed to regard any of these goings-on as things outside their ordinary experience.

         A-R had thought about that a lot lately: weird goings-on that weren’t regarded as anything outside the humdrum of day-to-day life on Earth. He’d observed that the “heat bubble” phenomenon that had been blanketing Wisconsin—where Chris persisted in staying for far too long—was generally commented upon as being rather unexpected, but also that no one was particularly concerned with explaining it. Indeed, the only media attention he’d seen devoted to its basic weirdness was on a single broadcast of NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show when Rehm and a climate scientist discussed the topic, the scientist wearily dismissing the whole thing as just another symptom of the world winding down and suggesting that humanity ought to just lie back and accept its obvious impotence over the natural affairs of the universe.

         One multi-episode arc of Yoknapatawpha County’s second season featured in its background a steady rainstorm that had persisted for months without a break. The eeriness of the phenomenon laid not so much with the bare fact of it but rather the characters’ complete nonchalance about it. It was a detail that impinged only incidentally on the events of the main storyline. A truck tire might be mired in mud because of it, or a woman’s hair might be soaked when otherwise it might not have been. But that was all. This reminded A-R of Wisconsin, the heat bubble, and now the temporal disconnect between Wisconsin and the rest of the planet. No one seemed to care about it. It was in front of no one’s attention.

      A-R had had reached season three of the show. The sixth item on the episode guide caught his eye, an episode titled “The Cabinet of Cthulhu.” Its summary stated: “A visiting researcher (Robert Culp) befriends Benjy (Billy Gray) and presses Quentin (James Dean) for the secrets of an ancient seaman’s chest and a hidden cult.”

“WTF?” said A-R aloud, sitting upright, fully articulating it as double-you-tee-eff. Just as the blunt depictions of unvarnished racism, social decay, cannibalism and incest from other episodes seemed out of synch with the utopian cultural mindset of the era in which this show had been made, so, too, did a reference to the Cult Cthulhu, a thing you heard about and encountered routinely nowadays but which did not seem like a thing that could even have existed in the made-up halcyon myth age of 1950s America. Like Mormons, he thought. They were certainly around back then, but you didn’t see boys on bicycles wearing ties every single day like you do now. Nor boys with tentacle chains around their necks stocking weird-looking fruit in the grocery store.

    He clicked WATCH.

Jeffy and I don't usually revisit the Thanksgiving leftovers in any big way. Post-dinner on Thanksgiving night, we send as much stuff home with his Mom as possible and then I stand in the kitchen doing a triage, putting away what little we probably will use again, consigning scraps to the trash and then asking Jeff questions like: "Any chance at all that we would ever look at this again?" holding half a turkey wing or a giant spoon of cold mashed potatoes. Or, "Does this item have a future?" And he says, "Maybe in a week when I throw it away!" Et cetera. But this year, I carefully reserved more stuff than normal because I had a Friday night plan already in the works before the Thanksgiving cooking had even begun.

We made a sandwich using some turkey leftovers, stuffing leftovers and the batch of "Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish" that we never ended up using last night.

First, I mixed some stuffing in a bowl with some chopped scallion, a bit of Louisiana hot sauce, and an egg:


stuffmix

The scallions and hot sauce added some freshness and punch while the egg supplied some structural adhesion for the next stage: making this into patties for pan frying!

stuffpatties

And after forming patties, I coated them with bread crumbs, which may seem odd for a product that is principally made of bread already. And which will later be placed between slices of bread. But the crumbs afford a bit of help for achieving a nice crispy finish...

stuffingfry

Which afforded us a second chance to have some of those crispy top and edge bits of the stuffing that are generally a thing of the past after the initial T-giving night serving. I heated some olive oil in an iron skillet and browned the patties for several minutes on one side, carefully flipped them, and then moved them into the 400F oven for about 15 minutes. In the oven, they hung out next to some turkey leftovers which I put in a small skillet along with a scant amount of the leftover gravy, just to give it back some moisture. 

turkeygravy

I wrapped the turkey pan in aluminum foil and heated it while the stuffing patties finished. Also, I placed four slices of wheat bread right on a rack in the oven and toasted them. When everything was hot and ready to go, I slathered all four slices of bread with the cranberry relish (more on that below), added a slice of cheese to each stuffing patty and built two of these sandwiches:

tsandwich

That relish is the famous recipe that Susan Stamberg works into NPR's Morning Edition broadcast somewhere every year before Thanksgiving, and it is unlike most any other cranberry sauce recipe in that it is a totally raw preparation of cranberries, sour cream, sugar, onion and horseradish. This makes it uniquely suited as a condiment for this sandwich, the perfect foil to the richness of the rest of the dish. It has a sharpness, acidity and pungency that cuts right through the leftover-breadiness and makes a sandwich that would otherwise be a Total Abomination into something just right for a lazy post-TG Friday night.

Thanksgiving dinner was awesome

This was the menu...

TGmenu2012

We liked it a lot. As usual, I had a lot of fun with cooking all of it. But I am never all that excited about the actual eating of it all by the time we actually sit for dinner. Because then it's over. But we had a very nice time.

I actually have a leftovers plan in process for tomorrow night's dinner. As it turned it out we never used the Stamberg cranberry relish today because it didn't seem to fit in anywhere. But it's going to make the awesome sauce for some turkey/stuffing panini. 

Thanksgiving NaNoWriMo excerpt

melonThis is some real first-draft unedited business here, just a segment from my NaNoWriMo project that I came up with to tie into Thanksgiving. I submit it here in honor of the holiday, not because I think it was worth writing for any other reason. It is from the middle section of a trio of interconnected novellas, and so will make little to no sense to anyone in this stand-alone way. But it's got to do with dinner.

"Spatchcock"
from The Curve and the Cairn

Lastain claimed never to have had in her entire life an actual Thanksgiving dinner. Her expression soured after she said this. She pursed her lips over the rim of her glass and sipped her drink. A-R told her that this was an absurd assertion: “Everybody in this country has at one time or another had a Thanksgiving dinner—even if it was a really shitty one. It’s embedded in our cultural DNA.”

            But Lastain persisted that her family had never honored the holiday properly, instead doing things like going to movies and eating popcorn, or running through fast food drive-thrus and eating in the car. A-R wondered if, during these times, she had been thankful for anything. Because, if so, then this too could have been a form of Thanksgiving dinner, albeit a shabby one. She said nothing at first, but peered at him darkly, sipping her drink. Then: “You have always been so snobbish about stuff like this, Arthur. Not everybody’s dad was a celebrity chef, you know. Hardly anyone has a kitchen this nice in their house!”

            “I’m not talking about the food.” A-R reddened, felt his ears get hot, and he looked inside the refrigerator. “I am talking about an unavoidable, deeply encoded cultural norm in America.”

            As if to defuse further clashes between A-R and Lastain, Haider interrupted with his assessment of the holiday and its fare: “Turkey, mashed potatoes, Stove Top Stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and sweet potatoes with marshmallows on them.”

            “Barbarism,” muttered A-R, still examining the contents of the refrigerator. Lastain sighed loudly behind him.

            “And you watch football on TV.” Haider leaned back, ass on the countertop, satisfied. Case closed, he seemed to say.

            “Whatever.” A-R sighed and reached for a bottle of white wine. “You two are missing the point. Tomorrow night we will have Thanksgiving dinner together and I will show you how it’s properly done.” He looked at Lastain. “No snobbery, I promise!”

            “Arthur. It’s January.” Lastain pushed her glass forward, hopeful of a refill.

            “It doesn’t matter. Thanksgiving can happen any day of the year.”

           

            A-R wrote the menu with a chisel-tipped Sharpie on a sheet-pan sized piece of parchment:

TURKEY IN TWO STYLES w/natural pan gray

CELERIAC SMASHED POTATOES
CREAMED CHARD AND KALE, gratineed yo!

ROASTED WINTER SQUASHES AND RADISHES

OYSTER STUFFING w/pancetta FTW!

MAMA STAMBERG’s CRANBERRY RELISH!! fuck yeah!

PUMPKIN PIE w/whipped sour cream

            Beneath this list, with a fine-point Sharpie, and in much smaller letters, he wrote his grocery list, checking the pantry as he went for items he might already have. When the list was finished, Hurricane jumped atop the steel island and examined it. “Coeurl,” he said. And, “Mew.”

            “Did I remember everything, kiddo?” A-R bent low to accept a nose-kiss from the cat. Hurricane emitted a loud purr, gazed at his human for a moment, and then leapt away, back about his day’s business. A-R added one more item to the list: cat food. Then he took a picture of the list with his iPhone, grabbed keys and left for the store.

            He decided to try the new supermarket that had recently opened on the former site of a desolated strip mall. It was called Circus of Foods, and rainbow flags flew gaudily, gleefully from its concrete ramparts. Having been raised by two dads, A-R could not see a rainbow-anything without thinking GAAAAYYY. But he doubted that this was likely the store’s proprietor’s intent.

            He passed through the broad entrance, grabbed a cart and turned left into the large produce section. Assessing it’s vastness and variety, he made a mental note to send Chris here—if Chris ever returned from Wisconsin. Celery, carrots, celeriac, garlic, parsley, chives, A-R said to himself, trying to tick off as much of the vegetal section of his list as possible before resorting to looking at his phone image of it.

            A big bin caught his eye. It was heaped with a large red-purple fruit with bright green and yellow fibers growing wildly from its skin. He had never seen anything like it. He picked one up. It was heavy for its size, fist-sized and cool. “It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” said someone. He looked to his right. A boy in the store’s uniform stood there, moving more of the fruits from a big box into the bin. The kid’s blue shirt collar splayed open to expose a necklace: steel charms in the shape of curvy tentacles hung from a knotted leather strap. Cult Cthulhu, A-R thought. But said, “What are they?”

            “They’re called kudzu fruit,” said the kid. He grinned. “They’re delicious!”

            Not on the menu: A-R took two anyway.

            Chopping an onion:

            Arthur-Rimbaud did it first, shedding its skin, halving it from root to stem, sweeping its ends to the side. He laid one half on its flat cut surface and quickly sliced through it in many close cuts perpendicular to where the root had been. Then he turned the thing slightly widdershins and sliced again, rendering the half to tiny dice. “Like this,” he said to Haider.

            Haider had just asked how properly to dice an onion, professing that he’d attempted it and occasionally seen it on a TV show, but had fallen short in accomplishing the task himself. “I’ll teach you,” A-R said, “by making you do it yourself.”

            Lastain sighed. “Oh Jesus Christ,” she muttered.

            A-R glanced at her, said, “We need a ton of onions anyway.” He pulled from the basket another onion “Here,” he said, setting it upon the board, handing Haider from across the steel prep island the ceramic knife, handle-first. “I will talk you through it.”

            “You did that so fast,” said Haider.

            A-R wondered, “Are you left-handed or right-handed?”

            Haider pursed his lips, nodded slowly. “It kind of depends. I’m kind of bi.”

            Lastain snorted behind A-R.

            “OK,” A-R said, “let’s say you were hacking to death a zombie during combat in Ruhrapenthe, in which hand would you be holding your war ax or machete?”

            “The right,” said Haider, no hesitation. He grabbed the onion.

            “Hold it against the board,” A-R said, “on its side. Yes, like that.” He watched Haider position the knife for the first cut. “Now, cut. One slice. Take off that end.”

            “And again. The other end. As close as you can to that root.”

            Haider did as he was told. Next, A-R showed him how to make a shallow cut through the skin from end to end and then peel away the papery layer.

            “I know how to do that, dude,” Haider said, gazing at his peeled onion. “But what I don’t get is how you get it diced without chopping it all to fuck.”

            “You’re making a big mistake,” Lastain said, rather dryly. “Letting Arthur think that he knows something that you don’t.”

            “Ignore her. Listen to me.” A-R grinned at Haider and was surprised that he smiled back. “Now do what I am doing.” A-R grabbed the remaining intact half from his onion and pretended that he had a knife in his hand. He positioned the end of its imaginary blade against the onion’s white flesh. “You put the tip roughly here, just short of the end of the onion, and make one straight slice downward. And then again, as close as you can to the first cut. And so on, et cetera.”

            Haider paused for a second, considered what he had seen, and then botched it entirely by making his first cut in exactly the wrong direction, making half-rings fall from his onion half.

            “OK. Stop.” A-R stepped around the end of the island to Haider’s side. “Don’t freak out. Because I am going to touch you, bro. Don’t go all PTSD cyborg killer on my ass.”

            Haider gazed down at A-R for a moment, as if deciding how to answer that. He laughed. “It’s cool, dude.”

            “It’s like trying to tie someone else’s tie,” A-R explained. “You pretty much have to be standing behind him.”

            Haider frowned.

            “But,” A-R said, “you are enormous, like a furless Chewbacca. So I can’t reach around you from behind and still see what I’m doing. But I can kind of get beside you.” A-R sidled close to Haider, extended an arm in front on him and grasped his knife hand. He took Haider’s other hand with his own left and moved it into place, fingertips against the onion. “Here is where you make the first cut,” he said, carefully positioning Haider’s right hand with his own. “And now. Slice.” Slowly, they did it together.

            Lastain leaned forward, opposite them. “You boys are so fuckin’ sexy right now,” she said. “If you accidentally start making out, I may just wet myself.”

            “Silence, Satan!” A-R hissed. He and Haider made four more cuts together and then A-R released his grip. “Continue, just like that. Try to make each cut as close as you can to the last.”

            Once the final slice was complete, A-R told him to turn the onion half so that he could slice it again, this time perpendicular to the previous set of cuts. “As if you had sliced a zombie from head to toe and then needed to do it again from shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, just to make sure it was good and really dead.”

            Suddenly confident, Haider did as directed and laid the onion out in fine dice.

           

            The turkey:

            “Doesn’t that turkey,” said Lastain, “take like a thousand hours to bake?”

            “Don't you just stick it in the oven and wait forever?” said Haider.

            “No,” said A-R to Lastain. “Because we’re going to spatchcock it. And no,” he said to Haider, “because we're going to spatchcock it.”

            That’s a preparation, A-R explained, where you cut the bird from throat to ass along its backbone and then pull out the backbone completely, and then flatten the beast for roasting. “But I take it a step further,” he said, tearing through that backbone with a great crunching, once and then again. He cast the long chunk of bony carcass into a steel bowl next to his cutting board. “Because I am also going to completely detach the leg quarters from the breast section.”

            Haider gazed at the bird. Lastain refilled her wine glass.

            “That’s the dark meat,” A-R clarified. “The part that Americans have been conditioned to despise but which is actually the best part, as soon you will learn.” He flipped the breast chunk over, cavity up. “I am also going to knock off these wing tips—” more crunching—“and very carefully take out the rib cage and the entire keel bone.” Haider leaned in closer, more interested.

            “It's like busting down a zombie, isn’t it?”

            “Actually,” Haider said, “it kind of is!” He looked more closely, watching A-R carefully pare the breast meat loose from its bony superstructure. “Except I’d just take that knife and whack the fucker straight through the middle of that sternum or whatever it is.”

            “Perhaps, but in this case I am trying to keep the whole breast-slash-wing section in one piece, just minus most if its skeleton.”

            Lastain wondered why.

            “So that we can still have a brief Norman Rockwell moment,” said A-R, “with something that vaguely looks like a classic intact Thanksgiving turkey out of a vintage Good Housekeeping mag. Before we eat the fuck out of it.”

            This explanation struck everyone as very funny for some reason, and they paused in the food prep for a bout of laughing, followed by a cigarette break. After a few minutes, after Lastain had stubbed out her smoke, she grasped A-R’s shoulder and said, “Though I have been giving you a hard time ever since you suggested this, I think I actually get what you are doing. What you really mean with your cornball spirit of Thanksgiving nonsense.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “So, really, thank you for doing this with us today. It is actually, somehow, fun.”

            Gently stunned, Arthur-Rimbaud stepped back. “But we have barely started cooking. And we have not eaten yet.”

            “But that’s not really the point, is it?” she said.

            A-R gazed at Lastain, not sure how to answer.

            Behind him, Haider examined the dissected turkey. “So what’s next?” he said.

Thanksgiving Eve preliminaries

Typically I don't like to do too much food prep in advance of Thanksgiving Day itself, preferring to save the fun of it for that day, my favorite holiday and the one day of the year that I can consistently rely upon for being free of day-jobbery. But this evening, Jeffy and I took care of a few things best done ahead, a couple of the more tedious projects that are less fun to do tomorrow. He made a pie this afternoon, a task we are both glad is done already.

Also, he made the doughs for the blue cheese-almond and parmesan-rosemary crackers that we will bake tomorrow. Over the last few years, we have had a habit of making these crackers to support crab dip--a snack for the early afternoon while the main bulk of cooking and socializing is going on. We have made the blue cheese item several times before, but the other one is new. Jeff used some of our fresh rosemary which is still flourishing out on the deck in the autumnal remains of our summer garden. The crackers now rest in the forms of logs of dough, chilling next to the chocolate black-bottom pie until tomorrow morning when we will slice and bake them.

And I went ahead did the bird butchery, spatchcocking the turkey to ready it for a preparation that I will detail tomorrow. Here it is whole:

turkey1

And here it is again:

turkey2

What I have done is removed the back bone, separated the leg quarters from the body, and completely boned the breast (but leaving the wings attached), by cutting out the ribs and wish bone and carefully removing the entire breast bone. In this way, the breast pieces will roast in an almost flat posture. And the leg quarters will get an entirely separate preparation, almost as if the two halves of the bird are different dishes entirely (which they really are, because the two colors of meat call for different sorts of attention to be at their best). That container on the counter behind the turkey contains the bones that I removed along with the neck and the giblets. Tomorrow morning all of this, along with some chunky pieces of onion, carrot and celery and some whole cloves of garlic, will be seasoned liberally with salt, pepper and thyme, glossed with olive oil and roasted in the oven until browned. Then it all gets moved to the stock pot where it will simmer for several hours. The resulting stock later is then used in several places: gravy, moisture for the dressing, and sometimes in the braising of vegetables if we are making something like Brussels sprouts.

Tomorrow I will, as usual, tweet and Facebook our progress, and return here with an assessment of the whole affair. HTG2012 all y'all.

The cranberry relish reminds me

relish-58af5b7e704393e874969428d994a6a2ce4b196e-s2Since the founding of NPR in the early 1970s, correspondent and occasional Weekend Edition host Susan Stamberg traditionally inserts somewhere into the programming just prior to Thanksgiving the recipe for her mother-in-law's cranberry relish, the one famous for its punch of horseradish, its bright pink color and the odd step of making it the day before and freezing it. As the holiday nears, listeners of Morning Edition can expect at any time this recipe to appear. This year, it was inserted into a little skit with Lynne Rosetto Kasper (The Splendid Table) based on her show's "Stump the Cook" segment. 

But just as surely as NPR listeners can expect the cranberry relish to appear annually somewhere during Morning Edition, so too can readers of the NPR website expect to see sour comments about it from crabby people who can't abide a long-running joke. Such as Bruce Boyd, who said: "Yeah, my wife made the cranberry recipe a few years ago and took it to work for their annual pre-Thanksgiving feast... nobody touched it and she had to throw it all out. Enough of this annual running gag already."  And Cesar Zalamero who said, "Ms. Stamberg never lists the most important ingredients of all: Ham and self-indulgence."

This is why I need to remember to never read comments on stuff. But I could hardly help myself because I could feel it in my bones that there must, of trollish necessity, be someone who just can't refrain from bagging on a harmless, amusing thing. Well I got some news for you, dudes: the cranberry relish is actually totally delicious (though I don't think the freezing step is necessary) and if no one was willing to taste it at your house, then you got a houseful of childishly picky people with no manners who haven't heard that it is customary to graciously sample what has been prepared by your host for dinner. This custom generally causes people to discover--even against their will--that they actually like more kinds of food that they thought they did. 

But if you just don't like Mama Stamberg's recipe, how about you just ignore it next year? Because it will re-appear and it will be, for me, the annual reminder that my favorite holiday is just a few days away and it's time to plan the menu.

[I will be posting here later in the week our Thanksgiving dishes, and live-Tweeting and Facebooking our preparations on Thursday morning.]

Better to NaNo late than not at all

cairnimThough November 12 is a hopelessly late date to start this year's participation in National Novel Writing Month, I've decided to do it anyway. I am going to give myself a whopping 22,000-word head start by incorporating an already-written novella into the plan...but I won't count that toward my 50K to "win." So what's the point of this massive cheat, then, you may wonder? It's to motivate me to finish a much larger story, which I will take to 75K before declaring NaNo victory, assuming I make it to that threshold by end of the month. But if I do not log 50K in new words before the end of the month, then I will not claim my winner badge (but I still did the obligatory fake cover!).

This is the plan: I will put together a triptych of inter-related novellas involving the same characters. The first part of it will be the already-written "Love Me, He Said, and Turned Away Forever," most of which I posted on this journal in 2011. The second section will be titled "Taste the Blood of Lastain" and will focus on the character Arthur-Rimbaud who was only seen in Skype calls during the first section, and it will cover what he was up to while his counterpart in the other section was having bizarre misadventures. And then the third segment, titled "The Cairn and the Curve",  will involve the reunion of the protags from parts one and two and their confrontation with GREAT DRAMA! And HORROR!

This mostly-new work involves a group of characters that I have been tormenting since my 2009 (winner!) NaNo project The Days of the Dust and the Diane Rehm Show, and which I revisited in an alternate universe kind of way in the short story "The Cairn" (published in Library of the Living Dead's 2010 anthology Zombiality: A Queer Bent on the Undead). But in this new tale of their lives, they struggle in yet another vaguely Lovecraftian alternate universe where Cthulhu cultists are as ordinary as Mormon missionaries and climate change isn't any longer a subject of politics because it's become the giant freaky-deaky regular fact of everyday life.

And there will be zeppelins again, because airplanes can't navigate the Dust.



The Exorcist Playset

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A little Halloween fun for all my readers and writer-pals. Happy holidays, y'all...

The Exorcist Playset

            Last October, the whole world seemed like a slow-mo image that I perceived through a layer of stained glass, a place to which I was anchored, yet oddly detached. And a weird confluence of public and personal events happened last October, that all had something to do with Hell on Earth. One:  a next-door neighbor, Detective Lance Kinderman of the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police, who’d been probing into the matter of the local “Gemini Killer” serial murders, turned out to be the Gemini Killer himself, the monster who’d stuffed his victims’ mouths full of rosaries. Two: I got an acting job in the tenth remake of an old horror film, my first such job in a few years and one I didn’t much like after all. Three: my recently-deceased brother’s son—Regan, age fourteen—became my legal ward and moved into my home; and, four: the Kenner toy company revivified an old thing called The Exorcist Playset, a toy based on a novel from the 1970s.

            The original Exorcist Playset was a box of plastic and cardboard open on two sides, resembling a bedroom, with a plastic four-poster bed in it upon which rested the action figure of a demon-possessed girl. Levers in the cross-festooned base of the toy would raise and lower the bed—SUPERNATURAL HORROR!—and move dressers and other objects up and down on posts—LIFE-LIKE DEMONIC MOTION! The girl figure was articulated to the extent that you could make her sit up in bed and make her head spin all the way around, though her limbs were mostly immobile. Instead of being equipped with swinging joints, they were instead formed on a skeleton of flexible wire that you could bend a few times before they eventually broke. The press of a button on the playset’s base elicited the scratchy, metallic playback of a recorded voice saying at random such things as “The sow is mine!” and “I am the Devil!” and “The piglet will die!” HEAR THE SHOCKING VOICE OF EVIL!

            Action figures of two priests—one old and one young—could be placed here and there in the room, left feet inserted into pegs in the floor, but they always stood frozen in a sort of holy rigor mortis, one forever clutching a rosary and the other forever wielding an oversized Lucite bottle of holy water. A weirdly agnostic toy, the original Exorcist Playset never promised to resolve the tension of the underlying story, instead leaving its outcome to the imagination of the kid playing with this nearly static scene. In that sense, it was a great toy.


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I'm tired of it, y'all. I am sick of people beating up on kids because of who they are and how they were born. Aside from just the general meanness of the stupid, lumpen populus, what really pisses me off is when such unfounded prejudice and jackassery emanates from the vaunted institutions of America. This is why I wish to draw attention to a petition by one Karen Andresen in defense of her son Ryan who, after 12 years of devotion  to the Boy Scouts, is being denied his Eagle status because he is gay. Here are the details.

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What really touched me in Ms. Andresen's appeal was her description of her son's final project toward earning  his Eagle rank:   

A Boy Scout gets his Eagle by earning many badges, completing all lower Scout rank requirements, and carrying out an approved final project. So Ryan decided to build a "Tolerance Wall" for his school, to show bully victims -- like Ryan -- that they are not alone. Ryan worked countless hours with elementary students to amass a wall of 288 unique tiles, all illustrating acts of kindness.

I wonder why exactly it is (other than idiot prejudice) that any organization would oppose a kid like this. I wonder if they sleep well at night knowing that their current behavior reinforces the bullying and bigotry that Ryan and millions of kids like him have been made to endure for no reason. But I am not really interested in hearing their reasons. Their day is done. Society is moving on. They have lost. And that is in no small part due to the courage of kids like Ryan and moms like Karen Andresen. For that reason, they are inducted into the M-Brane SF Pantheon of Anti-Douchebaggery.

Note: Don't bother commenting about how the Boy Scouts are a private club and can have whatever rules they want, like a church. I don't give a damn. This kid was 6 when he joined. Also, my web-space is also a kind of private club with its own rules--set by me--and opinions contrary to what I expressed above are, under those house rules, wrong.

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