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dragonfruitA passage from the work-in-progress. A few people might recognize the situation of it from when I posted a whole bunch of the story's "Part One" on this journal some time back. But this is from Part Two. Part Three is close. And that's the last part. So hopefully it will be out of my system yet this year.


A-R passed much of the day fiddling about with his Dune site, Bene Tleilax. A large number of new (and mostly ridiculous) fiction postings had accumulated and they needed cataloguing. He sorted them slowly into their scores of categories—hurt/comfort, Chapterhouse Era, Jihad Era, many dozens of permutations of slash-fic, Duncan this-and-that, Harkonnens, et cetera—and added the appropriate tags, rejected a few that were not complete enough entries. He answered a few emails and social media posts, mostly related to the suicide panic of a few weeks previously. He explained again that the infamous “The End?” pic was not a suicide note, that he would not himself commit suicide, that he discouraged people generally from committing suicide. Enough now with suicide, said he to all.
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A couple of years ago I visited my homeland and was inspired by its weirdness and my own weird feelings about home and family and things of that nature to write a weird story about it. It was initially a stand-alone short thing about a dude who visits his family home in Wisconsin during a period of bizarre climate change and runs into some Lovecraftian supernatural business. Then, last fall, I churned that concept into my annual attempt at National Novel Writing Month and developed a sequel to that original story, a Part Two, which focused on the son of the protag from the original story and what that kid was up to while his dad was away in Wisconsin. I didn't make word count for NaNoWriMo with this, but I did figure out that the story actually wouldn't end properly without a Part Three bringing together the threads from the earlier attempts.

So now I think I have the start of Part Three, and I am considering telling the whole third part in epistolary form, letters back and forth between the characters, maybe some journal entries, kinda like Dracula. The original story (Part One) was in first-person from one of the main characters. The second part was told in a more or less conventional third-person narrative aligned with the other main character. I am not sure about going epistolary with Part Three yet, just trying it out. I don't usually like the concept. It worked for Dracula over a century ago but it's failed so many times in the internet age when a novelist thinks that stringing together a bunch of emails and social media postings works easily as a narrative. It gets dated fast, and often just ends up being dumb. I pretty much always rejected this when I was editing M-Brane SF. I recently read Dennis Cooper's gay-sex horror/porn thing from a few years back, The Sluts, which is relayed in message board posts, and it's not a very good read. I like his work generally because of its transgressiveness, but that one really needed a different format. But when I started on Part Three of my thing, I found myself writing letters. I think if I continue in this fashion, I will try to assiduously avoid a lot of references to how things like computers and smart phones operate currently. These characters aren't putting quill to parchment. It's set "now." They are using their tablets and phones, but I don't want the tech to be too up-front. So maybe the concept of letters without a lot of talk about how they are transmitted might work? Anyway, this is the way Part Three starts...

It would be better than here. Just in the like that, if you can’t remember anymore if. I want to know but I can’t see are you up there. I don’t have a lot of strength now. The sky is stripped. I am too weak to write much. But I still hear them walking in the trees; not speaking. Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland and into the hills, I have come to wound the autumnal city. So howled out for the world to give him a name.
          
            —From the last and first sentences of Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, with italic emphases added by A-R Kanayda for his “response/thought text” Bellona City of Vapor, Denny Kid of Fire


Dear Chris, (my #2 Dad, Alternate Father Who’s Sometimes More Like an Older Brother, Destroyer of Illusion, Captain My Captain, the Falconer who Cannot Hear the Falcon):
            I do not know what happened to you when you were in Wisconsin, what things you did, what things you saw. You have not talked to me about it, except in the most vague of terms, circling around the subject, outward and outward, evading my questions until I am so frustrated that I get sick of talking to you and decide to just leave you alone with whatever it is you do and think all day. You also do not want to know what happened to me while you were gone, what things I did, what things I saw. You make that fact clear by not asking me even when I pointedly tee up the question for you.
            I told you of the arrival here in our house of the Cult Cthulhu and how one of their boys sold me some kudzu fruit at Circus of Foods and how I was enlisted to impregnate one of their women. I know that you had some kind of similarly weird misadventure when you were away, maybe even an experience somehow parallel to mine. Though you have shared little about it with me, you did let slip the fact that Circus of Foods is a store up there, too, and that you bought kudzu fruit there. You admitted, though without saying it bluntly, that you fucked a Cult Cthulhu boy there, that one that I saw with you in the phone image that night.
            Is that why you do not want to tell me much about your visit to Wisconsin? Do you think that I would judge you negatively because you had a relationship with that dude? Do you think that I would frown on the fact that you had your first such liaison post-Brace? Do you worry that I’d somehow be jealous? And do you really think that Brace—if he could somehow know about it from beyond the veil of death—would object? Because if you do, then you don’t know me very well and you have already forgotten something about Brace. Listen: you did pretty much the same thing he would have done had your positions in life versus death been reversed.
            And I think that you did the same thing that I did a few weeks ago.
            Maybe you’re just not yet used to being back home in “real” time. Maybe you are still suffering an effect of the time dilation that was going on under the heat bubble, a kind of temporal jet lag. Maybe you will catch back up to me in time and be able to talk about things like we used to.
            A few days ago, start of last week, I began a part-time job at Circus of Foods. I told you about this and have posted my schedule to the calendar on your phone so that you can know easily when and when not to expect me to be home. You didn’t have much to say about it, other than that I don’t need to work right now and that I need to be thinking more about getting back to school. I told you that I know that I can easily just live indefinitely off of you and the trust that Brace left for me. But I also told you that I might feel better about myself if I can earn some of my own money. And I told you that I am not going back to school until the fall anyway. The fall at earliest. I even told you that I might not go back at all because I thought that would catch your attention, get you stressed, maybe make you angry, maybe make you yell at me and give me the Brace-lecture about how I sure as fuck will go back to school! But you didn’t do that. If you don’t give a fuck about it anymore, then maybe you won’t care that I don’t give a fuck about it anymore.
            Do you wonder if I just said that in another attempt to get a rise out of you? You won't know one way or another until you have a serious talk with me.
            My job at Circus of Foods is in the Deli-Café. That’s a department of the store where we prepare ready-to-go food, mostly for people who don’t know how to cook or who think themselves too busy or important to cook for themselves. My assignment is to make salads and hot foods for the self-serve bar that they have adjacent to the produce department. The manager of the Deli-Café is very impressed with me because he found out that I am Brace Kanayda’s son. I did not present this fact in my application, but it came out in the interview. I admitted during my first meeting with him that I know how to cook and had been taught at home. He said, “I guess it makes sense since your last name is Kanayda!” and he laughed goofily. It turns out that he is a fan of celeb chef-type people, but that he did not necessarily assume that I was actually blood-related to Brace. It was assumed to be a coincidence of name. He would not have guessed that I was actually associated directly because someone like him would presume that no one who’d ever had a brush with “celebrity” would show up for an entry-level job in his store. But I sat there like an idiot and said, “Brace Kanayda was my dad. He taught me how to cook.” If I’d not done that, it would have been a secret. I may have been subjected to gentle ribbing based on the coincidence of my name—much as I might be if my name were Flay or Batali or Morimoto—such things as a co-worker saying, “Hey, don’t mess with the master over there, Chef Kanayda knows what he’s doing” and the like. The dumb shit people might say. Like if I were working as a house painter and my name were Michelangelo. That kind of level of workplace-dumb.
            The manager’s name is Mike DeLouvier and he conforms to the stereotype of grocery store managers. There are pictures of all of them on the wall behind the customer service desk: the general manager, the meat manager, the produce manager, the night shift manager and Mike DeLouvier are all dudes ranging in age from about thirty to about sixty, and they all have mustaches and not very good hair. The other managers, also pictured at customer service (such as the customer service manager), are women in the same age range. They’re also afflicted with bad hair but blessedly lack the mustaches.
            Mike thinks I’m really cool. He says that I am better at chopping stuff than anyone else who works there, and that I work faster, and that the end result of my work looks better. This is all true. But sometimes it’s weird because he seems to pay too much attention to me, even to the detriment of my co-workers, who all need and deserve attention. I suspect that they will eventually come to resent me, and that it will be due mostly to how he spends too much time talking to me and praising my work. I have only worked there a week, and he tells me that he could help me out if I want the assistant manager position that is allegedly opening up soon in the Deli-Café. He has thrice invited me to have an after-work beer with him and some of the others. On each occasion I have been ready with a polite excuse with which to deflect this unpleasant engagement. I’d almost suspect that he was starting to chickenhawk me. Maybe he thinks I’m cute, right? It’s happened before, yo. Would certainly not be the first time, son! But then when I overhear him talking with the other older dudes who work around there, I hear him engage in dumb jokes. I somehow mentioned that you were recently in Wisconsin. One of the other dudes said, “Only thing in Wisconsin is steers and queers!” And they all laughed, including Mike. It’s really stupid.
            Some of the foods I prepare there: macaroni salad, macaroni and cheese, tortellini salad, baked beans, three-bean salad, green bean casserole, potato salad, scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, Salisbury steak, country fried steak, carrot salad, broccoli salad, tuna salad, chicken salad and ham salad. A new gelatinous fruit/whipped cream salad based on the kudzu fruit, and a salsa made from it for the weekly taco bar. The meat for the taco bar, its shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, sour cream and regular non-kudzu salsa. I volunteered yesterday to make the biscuit dough for the breakfast shift because I find that I run out of things to do during my own shift because I work so fast. And you have to stay until the shift ends; you don’t get to just go home when your work is done. There are two breaks during each shift, but I never go on break with the others because they say things like steers and queers and I don’t think I will work there for very long.
            So that’s what’s up with me today.
            Love,
            Falcon

Dear Arthur,
            This is very odd that I am writing a letter to you, in response to your very odd letter to me. But I think you are correct that I have been slow to catch up in time. I know that your letter was received several days ago, but I somehow feel like I am answering a letter that I just received a moment ago. But I think I am catching up. Each day feels a little more normal.
            But didn’t we see each other each day since you sent your letter? Didn’t we sit at the table and eat dinner together just last night? We did. I know it. We ate fajitas that you made. There are leftovers of it in the refrigerator right now. I just looked to make sure. There was even some kudzu-fruit salsa that you made but which was almost exactly like one that I made in Wisconsin, and we even talked about this for a moment. Why do you have to write a letter to me when we sit together for dinner every night? It makes no sense. Really, why do I need to write a letter to you now when I just had dinner with you last night and expect to do so again tonight? Do we really not ever talk? It feels to me like we do, but maybe it’s just so slow from my perspective, delayed, and you are somehow still ahead of me in time.
            I’ll be ready to talk to you more directly very soon about the important and valid points that you raised in your letter. But we may need a change of scene for it. It might help us both. I am attaching an image that I suspect will interest you.
            [Attached image: Airship Atreides, Moored at the Obelisk, Capital]
            That ship is coming to Argos-Bellona next week. Do we want to get tickets?
            Love you,
            #2
I realized yesterday that I'll soon be confronted with what will probably feel like a strong need to see the Star Trek Into Darkness film when it releases this spring. Which involves the extremely rare action for me of actually going to the cinema. But so formative to my geekiness was original-era Trek, that I tend to still pay attention when a new product comes out, even a weak TV series like Enterprise or a total disappointment of a film like Nemesis. The most recent movie-going that Jeff and I did was in 2009 when we went twice, for the Abrams Star Trek movie (because it was the new Trek movie) and for Avatar (because we were curious about 3D, which I did not end up liking that much).

sulu
I haven't even seen a lot of home video in recent years, but I have occasionally made a point of catching up on a few things now that I have streaming capacity on the TV (love ya, Apple TV!). For example, I recently saw the latest of the Nolan Batman films. It was too dark, by which I mean that most scenes were literally not adequately lit; too noisy, by which I mean that the sound design was bloody awful; and it barely made a lick of sense. This week Jeff and I watched Scott's Prometheus, the Alien-universe prequel-type film from last year. I find that I might just not be able to suspend disbelief and open my imagination widely enough to apprehend the preposterousness of this film. Is there going to be a good story ever again in SF film, or will it henceforth never be anything but visuals and noise? Last really good SF story in movie form I saw: Boyle's Sunshine which I happened to watch on DVD the same day in 2009 I saw the Star Trek movie. Then just yesterday morning (yeah, I have been lolling about ill with a nasty cold, wasting vacation days from work to recover), I watched Steve Miner's 2008 film Day of the Dead, which is a direct-to-video abomination billed as a "remake" of Romero's 1985 film. I happen to adore Romero's film, and while I know it's not everyone's cup-a-tea, when compared side-by-side with Miner's version, it is the deepest, richest, most nuanced thing ever. Holy fuck, was that remake bad! It has frak-all to do with the Romero film other than rehashing some character names, and is just generally horrible. But now, as I write this, I wonder how much worse it really is than Prometheus: it is a very low-ambition failure with no apparent effort exerted to make it good, while it looks like they actually tried really hard with Prometheus. I sometimes think I'd rather watch an undisguised piece-of-crap movie than an overwrought and pretentious one that makes no sense.

I wonder which one of those Star Trek Into Darkness will be? Because I bet it won't be great. The teaser trailer kind of tells me that already, and probably tells me everything I really need to know about it: random baddie endangers whole Earth for a probably totally-out-of-proportion reason/Kirk and crew narrowly save the day somehow after lots of exploding. I can probably just skip it and miss nothing important by doing so. But I know I won't because I still house a small ember love for that universe even though it's wronged me again and again and again. And, if nothing else, the current Trek cast is chockablock with cute dudes. So there's that at least: it will be a visual delight. One possibly better suited for homeviewing. Alone.

star-trek-2009-sample-003

I was thinking about the prospect of this film last night while watching an episode of original Trek--the third season entry "That Which Survives." Ever since George Takei came out as gay, and I rewatch episodes of Trek with him in them, I have a quick sequence of thoughts kind of like this: He was totally gay when they were shooting this scene in 1967; that's so awesome; that so fuckin' sucks that he couldn't be out back then!; George Takei is awesome! and so on. While it's fantastic that he is out now--and very vocal in the rights cause--how awesome would it have been for a young kid (such as myself at the age that I fell in love with original series Trek) to have known that back then? To have even have been able to have considered it as a real possibility? Because I am a Trekker from way back, I have carried an ever-embiggening chip on my broad shoulder about the fact that this utopian sf concept, in its many hundreds of hours of TV and film, has never one goddamned time managed to get a gay character worked into the canon universe or even speak of the subject matter in a way that is in the slightest bit grown-up. I was stewing over that last night when I had this brilliant brainstorm: they should make new-Sulu in the new movies gay. It would settle my longstanding complaint and might be kind of a cool homage to original-Sulu actor Takei. Uh, but then this morning I found this recent article online by Dan Wohl where he makes much the same case that I was going to make here, but markedly less bitchily so. So go read his item and come back. Probably skip the reader comments, though, as a slight majority are beside the point or hung-up on some kind of weird geek hairsplitting about whether the Abrams universe is a full-on concept reboot (it is) or if it is an "alternate" or "alternative" timeline created from the "original" universe at the occasion of Kirk's birth (it is not; and I'll be happy to argue it in an extremely pedantic fashion some other time).

The handful of attempts previously in the Trek canon of even approaching the topic of non-heterosexuality, as summarized in the linked article, were few, thin, disappointing and even offensive, and left behind not one single real LGBT character of any type. The TNG episode "The Outcast"--which was celebrated at the time as Trek finally addressing gayness--offends with its built-in assumption that gay people must certainly seek to live in a heteronormative roles in order to be happy. I feel about this the same I way I did several years ago when I was asked by an acquaintance to assess whether it is Jeff or me who is the "woman" in our relationship: extremely annoyed. Also, it goes a wholly unnecessary step further and includes in the "science" of the show a cure-the-gay therapy that takes care of the whole problem and gets those pesky gender non-conformists back in line. Then there was the Enterprise episode where the Vulcan mindmeld was somehow a stigmatized stand-in for either AIDS and/or non-conformist sexuality, but it was so light-handed and timid a tale that I wonder if anyone noticed. (You know how Enterprise could have tackled this rough beast of an issue? Put a fuckin' gay dude in the main cast of characters. Done.) Then there was the lame lesbian kiss episode of DS9, the TNG tedium where Crusher gets kinda squicked out when her Trill friend switched bods from male to female, and the good old evil bisexual chicks of DS9's "Mirror" universe. Egads. And that's about it. So timid has Trek been that even in the supposedly daring "The Outcast" every single member of the genderless race was, in fact, plainly and unambiguously female. I bet they could have mixed that up a bit, cast some small-boned boys among the women, maybe even had one of them be Riker's love interest. That would have been risky and cool at the time. Hell, it would be now! That was over twenty years ago! Jeeezus! No wonder I am so annoyed! There's been zero progress in twenty years!

I want Trek to start having a gay dude in the main canonical cast. Period. I will abandon further following of the franchise if it doesn't get one pretty soon because this future world that has every kind of humanoid-with-weird-forehead creature in it, but yet somehow does not have a single gay person, speaks to me less and less every time a new show or movie appears. And while I'd be delighted with any sort of LGBT person or genderqueer character or any relief at all from the hetero-conformism that is all we have been given so far, I am actually being very specific here in my wish that this character, when he appears, be specifically a gay male. Why? Because I like to think about it grossing the shit out of the ugly, typical fanboys of my generation. While some of them were/are lovely people, so many of them were also grotesquely immature sexually, creepily sexist, rabidly homophobic--and all of that from a cohort of people who should have counted their stars had anyone--female or male--ever wanted to kiss them. Ever. It is these people in particular, the yucky fanboys of old (who often made me feel like an outcast among the most outcasted of outcasts) who I want to see flock like dorky, aging sheep to a new Star Trek film and be presented with the blunt fact of a gay dude in the main cast. But, no, that's not all I want. I want this, too: that main-cast gay dude, in one scene, full-on makes out with his lover in such an in-your-face way that you see their tongues enter each other's mouths and you just know for a fact that they are both boned hard in their Starfleet uniform pants. That would get me back into Trek for sure.
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.]

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