Archive for the ‘Complicating It All’ Category

Being “Proaaaaactiv” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” Magazine Issue #522

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“Glass Ceiling Plus” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” Magazine Issue #545 (back cover)

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“Brutally Honest Park Bench Plaques” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” Magazine Issue #550

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“Workers We’d Like To Go A Day Without” in “MAD” Magazine

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MAD MAGAZINE ISSUE #550 

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“Soldiers of Misfortune” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” Magazine Issue #531

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“A City Divided By A Beak” in the “NY Times”

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A City Divided by a Beak

Third Avenue bus pulled over by frantic man on street. Explains he must retrieve friend’s escaped pet bird from roof of bus.

Bird Sitter begs Alarmed Driver to let him climb on top of bus to rescue pet. Driver says no, too dangerous.

Bird Sitter steps in front of bus defiantly. Bus cannot move. Bird Sitter shouts, “That bird must be saved!” Peering out the window from my seat, I am inspired. Lone man staring down city bus — an ornithological Tiananmen Square.

Passengers split into two factions: those on Team Bird — MUST SAVE BIRD! — and those on Team Gripe — BIRD MUST DIE SO BUS CAN GET MOVING!

I join Team Bird out on the street. Offer Bird Sitter my umbrella. Alarmed Driver calls dispatch for advice. Crowd of passers-by gathers around bus to assist Bird Sitter as Freaked Out Bird stares down from roof.

Local Shopkeeper provides ladder and broom. Stranger and I steady ladder as Bird Sitter ascends side of bus. Freaked Out Bird flutters just out of reach. Repeatedly.

Bird Sitter begins cursing all things feathered. Freaked Out Bird feels ashamed. Flies off bus and onto nearby building fire escape. Relieved crowd disperses.

What will become of the winged thing? And did it have a MetroCard?

Back on bus. I feel smug. Team Bird people cheer; Team Gripe people gripe.

Suddenly, at front of bus, a third type of New Yorker emerges: Team Driver. Folks who fear for Alarmed Driver’s now-jeopardized job. Not his fault that bus was brutally violated by a six-inch bird! They will testify on his behalf! Alarmed Driver appreciates that. I am ashamed. Had not thought of Alarmed Driver’s awkward position during bird mutiny.

Three types of New Yorkers, divided by a beak. Did I pick the right team?

Originally Published at http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/a-city-divided-by-a-beak/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0


“What the He’ll?” in the “Huffington Post”

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“What the He’ll?”

By Alison Grambs

Like most Americans, I like to complain.

Whatever has irked me – be it a problem at work, a squabble with my parents, a politician’s latest scandal, a friend’s thoughtless remark, or just a spontaneous burst of exasperation with my life in general, I relish in the rant. Also like most Americans, when I’m having a bad day, I think it only fair to let everyone know it – a goal readily met thanks to the wonders of text messaging technology. Within seconds I am able to disseminate my missives of misery to anyone I deem worthy, invoking references to Satan’s domain to get my point across effectively.

“WHO THE HELL DOES HE THINK HE IS?!”

“WELL, SHE CAN JUST GO TO HELL AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED!”

“WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN?!”

Yes, it feels good to vent with the tip of my finger. Only trouble is, I have the new iPhone and it doesn’t believe in Hell.

No matter how I attempt to manipulate my elitist 4G’s virtual keyboard – be it by capping the letters, or placing them in quotation marks, or adding a space bar, or tucking them in parentheses – my iPhone simply will not allow me to write the word “Hell.” Instead, without explanation, this Puritanical pest, for which I paid a great deal of money, routinely modifies the most important word in my lexicon of lividness to “He’ll”.

“WHY THE HE’LL WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?!” I’ve inadvertently texted my husband when he uses our dishwasher to wash his socket wrenches.

“WHEN HE’LL FREEZES OVER!!!!!” my tirades to friends have bellowed when I’m asked to do something unpleasant like wear taffeta to a party or baby-sit their kids.

“I LOOK LIKE HE’LL!!!!!” I’ve spewed to my mother when my attempts at cutting my own hair result in me looking like Caligula’s twin sister.

Once, I even sent a hapless friend searching high and low on iTunes for a song by AC/DC called, “Highway To He’ll.”

Yes, it seems my ‘smart’ phone has no interest in acknowledging the existence of that most Southern region where the sin-ridden burn for eternity. I have been robbed of my Constitutional right to type one of my favorite expletives. Needless to say, it is frustrating as all he’ll.

After weeks of trying to annihilate this loathsome punctuation mark that was haunting all my texts, I decided it was time to take action. No longer willing to be censored by a 4.8 ounce brick of bossiness, I made an appointment at the Apple Store in Manhattan. Come he’ll or high water, I was going to force one of those Genius dudes to perform a reverse exorcism. Put the devil back into my iPhone, so to speak. Or, if that could not be accomplished, I’d do my best Norma Rae impression – leaping onto the Genius bar, cardboard “SET ME FREE FROM THE APOSTROPHE!!” sign held high over my head, and demand a less opinionated iPhone altogether.

“TRAFFIC IS HE’LL !” I texted my husband as I stormed off the downtown bus and began hoofing it through Central Park towards the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue.

“THIS STUPID PHONE CAN GO TO HE’LL!!!” I seethed, as I mowed my way through the crowds on the pathway, through the Meadow, and the Boat House, past the Alice In Wonderland statue and the playground.

“DAMMIT ALL TO HE’LL!!!!” I tapped out, quickening my pace as I wound my way around half-naked sun worshippers, map-wielding tourists, and the hot dog vendor who charges customers for napkins.

With every “Hell” I attempted to type… and every “He’ll” my iPhone spit back…I got angrier and angrier.

And then it happened.

Head bent down and eyes too consumed with texting rage to focus on the trail, I plowed smack into the wrought-iron fence of the Central Park Zoo.

“OUCH!” I texted my husband, rubbing my bruised knee as I steadied myself against the waist-high fence. From where I stood, I had a clear view of the sea lion exhibit where a pair of cocky Pinnipeds were pointing and laughing at me.

“I’M IN HE’LL!!!!” I fumed to my husband as I glared up at the heavens, and shook my fist, cursing Steve Jobs for this latest injustice.

Directly above me towered a tremendous tree. Majestic, with plush, green leaves and thick limbs that reached out like welcoming arms. How had I never noticed it before? I bent down to pick up my keys that had fallen from my hand, and spotted something – barely visible from the path, if one doesn’t, say, walk into the fence.

Propped up against the base of the tree was an 8 x 10 photograph sealed in a plastic sheath. The photo was of a beautiful young woman with wavy, brown hair, cradling a smiling baby over her bare shoulder. With her head turned to the right, tilted just slightly downward, she was nuzzling the tip of her nose just shy of the baby’s cheek, and I was instantly struck by her smile. So spontaneous and organic that, for a moment, I envied the sheer contentment with life that woman was feeling at that very moment. Her joy simply could not be concealed and she wanted the world to know it. The baby’s face caught my eye next. The toothless smile so wide and her eyes looking right at the camera as if she was ready to take on the world, one tiny giggle at a time.

I must have read the handwritten note tacked to the upper right corner of the photo a dozen times, mouthing the words with quivering lips because they suddenly felt like the most important words ever written. Next to the snapshot lay a bouquet of petite pink, white and yellow roses and two plush teddy bears that were showing their wear from being laid out in the open air since June 26th, 2010 – the day six month-old Gianna Ricciutti and her mother posed for a photograph – the day a limb broke off that majestic tree, robbing two young parents of their new baby daughter, and tearing a hole through the city’s collective heart.

Perching myself on a nearby bench, I cried. The kind of cry that makes your throat sting, and your ears itch, and your tummy burn. I cried for little Gianna’s parents. I cried for the woman she will never grow up to be. I cried at the cruelty of it all. How could a tree so beautiful take the life of a child? I studied the people strolling down the pathway en mass – the cooing couples, the chattering nannies, the briefcase toting businessmen, and the scrambling children giggling with balloons and popsicles in hand. They all looked so ridiculous to me suddenly. So unforgivably oblivious.

“Dammit, people. Look at that tree!” I pleaded with all of them telepathically. “Don’t you see what happened here?”

For some reason, I wanted, no, I needed everyone to see what I was seeing. Feel what I was feeling. But they didn’t. The crowds just kept walking by that tree – locked in their own realities – just as I had been so many times before. As the crowds bustled past me, I kept staring at that tree. And as I did, something began to happen. I suddenly felt as though I was in on a big secret. Somehow fortunate to be noticing what no one else was.

“R U OK?” a text message from my husband glowed on my iPhone screen.

I thought about it. Yes. I was okay. In fact, I was better than okay.
“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED ?????” he texted next with more question marks than any self-respecting man should use.

“DON’T USE THAT WORD,” I typed back thoughtfully. “I LUV U.”

My revelation made me smile. My iPhone knew something I didn’t. It was time to stop exaggerating my own petty miseries because, compared to some people, I didn’t know the first thing about just how hellish life can be. In its own, mysterious 4G network way, my iPhone was ordering me to stop focusing on everything that was wrong in my life, and start appreciating everything that was right. A fight with my parents? I was lucky to have them around at all. A bad day at work? How fortunate I am to have a job. A friend did something stupid for the eighth time this week? Well, I’d done some colossally stupid things, too, and she kept me around.

As the orange hue of dusk rolled in over the Manhattan sky and the park cleared out to an eerie state of emptiness, I knelt down in front of that tree and whispered a silent prayer for the Ricciutti family. I vowed to focus on the blessings in my life. Look for the proverbial apostrophe, so to speak.

Since that day, I visit that tree a few times a week. I cry every time. Funny how it can feel so good to feel so sad sometimes. The photograph and note are both still there, just as obscured by the fence as they were before. So are the petite pink, white and yellow roses, and the two teddy bears.

But I noticed one thing has changed.

Maybe something has shifted in the universe. Or perhaps I’m just seeing the world a bit differently. But I swear each time I sit at that bench and look at that tree, it seems everyone around me is seeing that tree, too. It’s as though that tree is drawing people to it lately – a reminder of how our lives can change in an instant. Children stop running, nannies stop yelling, couples stop chatting. They all take a moment to step off the beaten path and focus on little Gianna’s photo. Sometimes the people cry. Sometimes they hug. Sometimes they just shake their heads and walk away. But they all notice that tree, and look just a little bit different when they walk away from it. And man, that makes me really happy.

As for my iPhone, I never went to the Genius Bar at Apple that day. Turns out my 4.8 ounce brick of bossiness is the best thing that’s happened to me in a while. It made me appreciate life’s apostrophes.

Originally Published at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/one-for-the-table/what-the-hell_b_712162.html

“HOLDING HANDS”

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“Holding Hands” 

by Alison Grambs

A few months ago I was walking home from work along a side street of Manhattan. Casually strolling towards me was a distinguished man and woman who looked to be in their mid-seventies.

They were holding hands. I was holding my cell phone.

They were quietly talking to each other through matching warm smiles. I was not-so quietly yelling at my husband through the receiver.

The casual pace with which this couple strolled suggested they had not a care in the world. I, on the other hand, was feeling burdened by every care in the world as I ranted into the phone about whatever debacle had occurred in my life that day.

As the couple drew closer, gradually closing the gap between us, the path became too narrow to accommodate all three of us, and soon we were entangled in that awkward step-to-this-side-step-to-that-side dance New Yorkers get stuck in when trying to politely share a confined space. Toning down my fury long enough to acknowledge present circumstances, I shimmied to the right to give the pleasant couple room to pass. They simultaneously stepped to the same side, indicating I should pass. I waved them on with insistence, as if to say, You seem happy. I’m miserable. Please, go first. The kindly couple, however, remained fixed in place, more than happy to give me first passage. I nodded appreciatively, eager to resume my ranting to my husband on the phone, and moved forward.

My efforts were soon thwarted, however, by another oncoming pedestrian, this one wearing a coat so bulky she instantly swallowed up the entire physical space I was hoping to pass through. Soon, what seemed like an onslaught of additional passers-by were scurrying around the couple and me on both sides. There was nowhere to go. We were positively stuck in place. Once again, our impromptu threesome found itself shifting back and forth in what seemed like an endless waltz of “step to the left/step to the right” maneuvers, the couple holding hands throughout it all.

A quick study of the area and a solution became apparent to me. If the couple could just break hands for one moment, I could pass through the middle and get on with my life. A rolling of my eyes… an audible grunt… I wanted to do both, for everything about our silly situation suggested pragmatism take precedence over romantics. But this couple made it clear they were not letting go of each other’s hands for anything. And for reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, I simply smiled and stood there in wait.

It got me thinking about how often my husband and I have been in similar situation, holding hands on the street, only to suddenly find ourselves caught up in a clumsy dosey-doe with someone approaching from the other direction. How often, in such situations, my husband and I err on the side of practicality, momentarily breaking our physical connection so that some stranger can shave maybe, oh, six seconds off his or her travel time.

Suddenly, such pragmatism seemed all wrong.

We’ve been married for over a decade now. Some of those years we held hands a lot; and some, not so much. There have been stretches during which we’ve felt incredibly close, and our physical interaction reflected that. Yet, like most marriages, there have also been stretches during which my husband and I have felt a bit disconnected. Work stress. Family stress. Money stress. Emotional stress. Life just has a way of getting in the way of holding hands.

And that is so very, very wrong.

We hold onto our smart phones… we hold onto our grocery bags… we hold onto our key chains… we hold onto our Starbucks coffee cups. But how easily we let go of our lover’s hands. Such a simple gesture, containing such a powerful message. And yet, it is often one of the first things we sacrifice in this modern world of multitasking.

So, it was with awe that I observed this couple before me on the street, unwilling to break their bond, even for just a few seconds. I suppose some New Yorkers would consider such a couple annoying, maybe even selfish. How dare they hold up traffic just because they’re in love! But to me, what they had was enviable. Although I’ll never know the details of their personal circumstances, I imagine couple had been together a long time. I imagine they had worked hard to find each other in this world – and worked even harder to beat the odds and remain a pair when so many other pairs were breaking in half around them.

I think of the widows and widowers I’ve known who can no longer hold hands with their spouses. Twosomes that turn into onesomes, parsed either by tragedy or romantic failure, forced to downgrade from a two-cup coffee maker to a single-cup coffee maker. No hands to hold.

It’s a gift of sorts, I suppose, to be able to hold the hand of someone you love. To intertwine fingers, press palm to palm, squeamishly embrace the sweatiness of each other’s skin on a hot day, or rub skin against skin to create warmth on a cold one. Holding hands is a silent way of telling someone that you’ve got their back. Such a simple gesture. So seemingly inconsequential in the grand scheme of the things; and yet, as integral to a relationship as talking, hugging, cuddling, kissing, or even making love.

Holding hands is often the first experience we have in our lives with physical intimacy, and just as often, the last. As newborn babies freshly transplanted from the coziness of the womb, it is the stabilizing touch of a parent’s fingers intertwining with our panicked tiny ones that softens the shock of the new world. Likewise, for those of us facing the end, it is the comfort of a loved one holding our quivering hand that sends us off into the beyond without quite so much fear. Hand holding is the casual squeeze between two acquaintances on a date that signals, yes, this could lead to more. It is the hand of a friend in need being held by the hand of a friend ready to serve that need. It is the healthy comforting the sick, the strong leading the weak, and the old guiding the young.

Yes, the holding of hands is all of these things… if we let it be. I remember when I was little, walking with my father along the intimidating streets of New York, my diminutive hand tucked deep inside his manly one. Sometimes my dad would slow his stride for me, and sometimes, it was up to me to just find a way to keep up, even if it required that I sort of job alongside him like a Secret Service agent in a Presidential motorcade. No matter how difficult doing so proved for me, however, I absolutely would not let go of my father’s hand. If his pace quickened, so did mine; if his pace slowed, mine did as well. And as far as I was concerned, any feisty New Yorker getting annoyed about not being able to pass, would simply have to go around us. Sure, I’d arrive at our destination drenched in sweat, my little heart beating under the weight of little palpitations. But I’d arrive there as part of a team, and that’s all that mattered.

In the modest lower Manhattan church my parents attend regularly, there comes a time during every service that the Reverend instructs the congregation to walk over to one another and wish each other The Peace. I spend much of my time sitting in the pew dreading this meet-and-greet being forced upon me by a higher power. My mother used to be the same way – a bundle of nerves worrying about who among the crowd would welcome our hello, and who might shrink away.

But now, as the years have forced our family to cope with more downs than ups, I notice the enthusiasm with which Mom now approaches this opportunity to touch hands with her fellow parishioners. The woman runs Iditarod-like lengths throughout the sanctuary to extend a warm welcome to friends and strangers alike.

I’ve always loved my mother’s hands. They are beautiful hands. Hands that speak with a gentle, but firm grasp, as if to say, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve felt a lot. I’m here if you need me. They are the consoling hands that still hold mine when I’m having a bad day (which is often at age forty-two.) They are the loving hands that still intertwine with my father’s after over forty years of marriage.

Back on the sidewalk, a few more passers-by continued to hold our awkward threesome in place on that narrow street. And still, the couple refused to break grasp of one another. I admired the heck out of that. When the sidelines eventually did clear, our eyes met once again as the three of us tacitly acknowledged the humor of the situation we had just shared. Then I stepped far to the left to resume my phone call with my husband, and the couple stepped far to the left to resume their stroll.

In real time, of course, our interaction was little more than a fleeting moment that couple has most assuredly since forgotten. But to me, it was nothing short of mind-blowing. We should take more walks, I announced to my husband, no longer mad at whatever I’d been mad at. And Jesus, let’s make a vow to not let go of each other’s hands so easily from now on, okay? I thought to myself.

Hand holding isn’t always easy, and it’s certainly not always practical, especially in Manhattan. But we will do it more often now because it is nothing short of a privilege to have someone’s hand to hold. Such a privilege should not be taken lightly.

As the couple passed by, and continued strolling down the block, I stopped to look back at them one last time and smiled. More pedestrians were coming towards them now, but they simply would not let anyone come between them.

Their hands remained tightly clasped.

I hope they do so for a very long time.

“Unabridged Signs That Tell It Like It Is” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” MAGAZINE ISSUE #540

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“How To Annoy the Staff at Dollar Tree” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” MAGAZINE ISSUE #535

 

 

 

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“Would You Like Beet Root With That?”

“WOULD YOU LIKE BEET ROOT WITH THAT?”

By Alison Grambs

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NO TURKEY???”  I have never sent an angrier text in my life. Ping!

“We are having my famous Native American pumpkin chili,” Mother just texted back.  “You liked it last year.”  

No.  I did not like it last year!   In fact, I did not like her famous Native American pumpkin chili soooo much last year that I had politely excused myself from the table, raced into the kitchen under the guise of needing a glass of water, and promptly shoveled the chili into the family dog’s bowl.  If I recall correctly, even the family dog, who eats her own poop, wanted nothing to do with Mother’s famous Native American pumpkin chili.  She wanted turkey.

“But it won’t be Thanksgiving w/o turkey!” I am texting back to my mom now with trembling hands.
   
Ping!  Snotty response?  “Check your history.  Turkey has very little to do with the “First Thanksgiving.”

Oh really?  We’ll see about that!  Now I’m on Wikipedia.  Page titled “Thanksgiving (United States).”  Hmmmm.  Let’s see.   I bet there are like, a gazillion references to turkey being the staple of the ‘First Thanksgiving’.  Let’s see…

“The feast consisted of fish (cod, eels, and bass…” Eel?  Gross!  “…and shellfish (clams, lobster, and mussels)…”  That’s weird.  Hmmmm.  Still searching… “…wild fowl (ducks, geese, swans and…” I am breathing in, slow and steady, praying to every Wikipedia god for the next word to be…

BINGO!

“…turkey!”

Ah-ha!  Filled with a confidence usually reserved for someone who has won a gold medal at the Olympics, I am texting back:  “Mother, I will have you know that Wikipedia clearly states ‘turkey’ was on the menu at the First Thanksgiving!” Ping! Another text from Mother – most assuredly admitting her defeat.

“Daughter, I will have you know that, at one point, Wikipedia also stated that John Quincy Adams was a Founding Father…” Grrrr.  Damn that Michele Bachmann!  But I’m not giving up that easily.   My eyes continue scanning the Wikipedia page.

“… venison, berries and fruit, vegetables (peas, pumping, beetroot and possibly, wild or cultivated onion), harvest grains (barley and wheat), and the Three Sisters: beans, dried Indian maize, and squash.”

Hmmm.   Interesting.  No mention of a big, crusty pot of tasteless slop!

“I don’t see the word ‘chili’ in there at all,” I am tapping back to my soon-to-be-defeated maternal unit, my face barely able to restrain the wide grin spreading across it as I add several exclamation points to my text for effect.    

Ping! She’s written back. “You will eat what I serve.” Oh, no I won’t!     

Ping!  A text from my friend, Lydia, is coming in now.  “We got a puppy!”

Whatever.  I don’t have time for reports of happiness of any kind.  My favorite holiday is on the verge of being ruined.  I need Lydia’s emotional support. “My mom is refusing to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving.  Can u believe that?” Ping!

“Lemme guess.  She’s serving her famous Native American pumpkin chili again?” Yes! Yes!  I knew Lydia would understand my pain and suffering!  Now I have formed an impenetrable alliance against all things pumpkin and chili.  “Isn’t it despicable!”  I am texting back.  “Who eats chili on Thanksgiving? It’s madness!”

Ping!  Another text from my mom. “If you’d like, daughter, I can add some beetroot to my famous Native American pumpkin chili.  (Hee hee.)” Snarling now.  Yeah, yeah, real funny.

Ping! Text from Lydia. “Mama Grambs rocks!  She’s saving another turkey’s life!”

Nooooo!  Noooooo!  This is wrong – wrong on so many levels.   I want to text back to Lydia that I hope her new puppy pees all over her turkey this Thanksgiving, but I resist.   My texting fingers fly across the virtual keyboard of my smart-enough-not-to-eat-pumpkin-chili smart phone. 

“My mom is a pumpkin killer.”  On a roll, I text the pumpkin killer again. “Pleeeeeeeese?  Please can we have turkey?”

   Ping!  She’s written back immediately. 

   “No!  It’s too much work.”
    Ping! (She’s still going.) 
    “And you never help with the preparation.”
    Ping!  (Still going) 
    “Or the clean up.”
    Ping!  (Still going) 
    “We are having Native American pumpkin chili…”
    Ping!  (Still going) 
    “With beetroot.”

Ugh.  I am now defeated.  My dreams have been vanquished, just like the Native Americans of the Great Plains.  Such a cruel irony. I am sighing, if you can’t hear it.  Time to break the pumpkin chili news to my husband.  The right thing to do is call him at work, but the easier thing to do is text him the horrible news.    

“So sorry, honey.  But Mom says we r having her icky Native American pumpkin chili again for Thanksgiving dinner this year.” Ping!  Man, that was fast. “R U F&%$ING KIDDING ME??!!!  TELL ME U R F&%$ING KIDDING ME?  I WANT TURKEY!  NOT HER FAMOUS INDIAN PUMPKIN CHILI!”   Listen, pal, I’m thinking as I text back.  I understand your anger here – my world has been turned upside down, too, here-but let’s not be politically incorrect about this. “The proper term for it is ‘famous Native American pumpkin chili,’ honey.  Not ‘famous Indian pumpkin chili.”

Ping!  My husband types fast when he’s been betrayed. “No. The proper term for it is ‘crap.”       

I can practically feel my husband’s tear drops through our sweet, love-laden text exchange.  It’s too much to bear.  I sign off for I, too, want to cry, as my mind is spinning right now with images of last year’s ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving.  No delicious scent of crispy turkey skin roasted to perfection floating in the air.  No festive fight over who gets the white meat and who gets the dark.  No gloriously browned turkey legs to tear into.  No wishbone to snap for good luck.  This is unacceptable.  That’s it.  Time to pull out all the stops.  Texting my mom again.   

“Mother!  Tommy says he’ll kill himself, if we don’t have turkey!” Ping!  “Then I guess Tommy won’t be alive for kickoff…” 

How can she be so cavalier?  My mom knows full-well that my husband’s sole purpose in waking up every Thanksgiving is to slather himself in turkey juice and then plant himself on the sofa, bloated and fatigued, to watch the big Thanksgiving Day football game.

Ping!  Lydia is back.  “Ask ur mom for the recipe for her famous Native American pumpkin chili.  Think I’m gonna make it this year!” Delete. Delete. Delete.  I want not a single remnant of this traitor’s texts in my phone.   Should I give it one more try?

Sure. “What if I cook the turkey, Mother?  You don’t have to do a thing. I promise!”
    Waiting…
    Waiting…    

Ping!  “Fine.” Score!  My faith in humanity has been restored!  Thanksgiving has been saved!    

Ping!  “But your father and I want no part of your turkey.  Your father and I want my famous Native American pumpkin chili.” Oh sure, I’m snickering.   You just wait, Pocahontas.  The minute you see my famous this-has-no-pumpkin-or-beetroot-in-it turkey, you’re gonna want some.  Trust me.  

Time to text my husband the good news. “Honey!  Good news!  Mom says we can have turkey as long as I cook it!  YAY!” Ping!  It’s Lydia. “Good luck with that, honey…” Ooops.  Wrong person. 

Texting it again. Ping!  A happy text back from my husband.  “YUM!”     

Ping!  Lydia again. “BTW: Have u ever cooked a turkey… honey?”  Well, no.  I have not.  But how hard can it be?  “I will be fine.  Go kill some innocent pumpkins, traitor.” Turkey shmurkey.  You just buy the darn thing, stick it in the oven, and eat, right?   

Ping!  Lydia again. “U have no idea what u r in 4, jackass…” What does she mean, ‘in for’?   Google-ing how to cook a turkey now.  Looks straightforward enough.  And who, pray tell, is she calling a ‘jackass’?  Flipping through the websites now.  There’s how to choose the right bird.  How to defrost the bird.  How to wash the bird.          

Ping!  Mom again. “If you change your mind, there’ll be plenty of my famous Native American pumpkin chili on the table.” No.  I put my phone down in defiance.  I want no part of your travesty of culinary justice, you pumpkin chili she-devil!   I want turkey.    

Pages and pages of turkey cooking information on the Internet.  Yippee!  Everything I need to know.   I’m so excited.  How to pick a turkey.  How to weight a turkey.  How to season a turkey.   How to stuff a turkey.  How to baste a turkey.  How to remove the giblets from the…    

Huh.  What’s this?   There’s something about me having to stick my hand way up the turkey’s slimy rectum and pull stuff out of it.

Picking up my phone again. “Mother?” Ping! “Yes?”
   
It hurts to admit what I am typing now.  But not as much as it would hurt to stick my hand up a turkey’s slimy rectum.   

“Will I like beetroot in that famous Native American pumpkin chili of yours?”

“THE SHROUD OF TAMAGO”

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“Shroud of Tamago”

by Alison Grambs

Last year, a few weeks before Christmas, a gnarly mole on my shoulder was deemed ‘highly suspicious’ by my dermatologist. Although the biopsy results weren’t in yet, I prepared for the worst. Death. Just two months shy of my fortieth birthday a growth the size of a peanut was going to take me out – rob the world of all I had to offer it, and rob me of the third season of Jersey Shore. With death imminent I needed to get my affairs in order. There was a lot to do: sort out my will and testament; cancel my Netflix membership; and, most importantly, guarantee a good turnout at my funeral.

The funeral part was tricky – trouble was I’d been a bit snippy all year. Annoyed some people. Burned some bridges. If I didn’t make amends quickly there was a good chance I was getting buried with just the gravediggers in attendance. In need of a quick way to redeem myself with everyone I had pissed off, I decided to send out Christmas cards. I’d never done it before, but a joyful holiday greeting featuring a jolly Santa and his elves wrapping glittery presents seemed the perfect way to remind everyone of my wonderfulness. Cards, address book and pen in hand, I dipped in to a new sushi restaurant in the neighborhood to grab lunch and pen my final correspondence to loved ones.

The place was empty, and Jingle Bells was blasting on the radio. From behind a black curtain emerged a scowling waitress. She handed me a menu with a grunt, escorted me to a table with a grunt, took my order with a grunt, and stomped off behind the black curtain with a grunt. I wondered if she, too, was dying. A few moments later, she returned to slam down a variety of serving dishes containing my appetizers… with a grunt.

In between nibbles I pondered deathbed Christmas card etiquette. Do I mention that I’m dying? Include a “hold the date” notice for the wake? A reminder list of who owed me money? A snapshot of my murderous mole? Hungry and pressed for time I decided to keep it simple.  At the top of each card I inscribed the name of the recipient; at the bottom, my own. Then, in the finest penmanship I wrote out my profound holiday sentiment:

“MERRY XMAS!”

There. My legacy was complete. Everyone would love me again. As Frosty The Snowmanpiped in on the radio my mind danced with visions of weeping  mourners lining up in droves at my funeral, clutching my Christmas card against their chests! Grievers hurling themselves on top of my coffin, crying out that Christmas would never be the same without another one of my cards!  The post office issuing a commemorative Christmas stamp in my honor! 

The waitress stomped back to the table and slammed down my sushi plate. There was the usual clump of ginger. The blob of pale green wasabi. Three tekka maki rolls. Some salmon sashimi. An eel avocado roll. Some shrimp. A few of those plastic fake shrubbery thingies I always chewed on accidentally. But wait… something was wrong.

“Um, I didn’t order this,” I said, pointing to a lone piece of tamago at the center of my sushi plate.

“No return!” the waitress growled back.

“But I hate egg,” I balked, indicating with a wave of my hand that she was to remove the spongy yellow interloper immediately.

The waitress indicated with a wave of her middle finger that I was to shut my trap immediately. Then she stomped away, muttering something about my bangs as she disappeared behind the curtain.  Snapping apart my chopsticks as Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer came over the radio, I leaned over the plate, preparing to fling the tamago off my plate and maybe hide it behind the napkin dispenser or something. 

That’s when I noticed the mouth.

I shrank back in disbelief. Were those eyebrows? Was that a nose? I poked at the egg with the tip of my chopstick. Yes, it was definitely a face. In fact, the face looked oddly familiar. The scraggly beard. The thin lips. The sunken cheeks. The anguished eyes pleading upward. The thorny crown. Although I could not be sure which version of the esteemed man this was residing in my sushi – Robert Powell- Max von Sydow- Willem Dafoe- James Caviezel – the resemblance was uncanny.  It was definitely Him….

Jesus. Incarnate in dairy form.

Put it back!” the Holy Tamago hissed.

I gasped. “Put what back?”

Put it back!” was all the Holy Tamago said.

Clearly, this was some sort of test to get into Heaven; and although I wasn’t a particularly religious person, I was smart enough to know that when Jesus gives a dying person a command – especially from an omelet – you obey it.

Put it back!” the Holy Tamago hissed again, its eyes bulging.

I began to put back everything I had moved on the table while writing out my cards. Perhaps Jesus was a stickler for proper table settings – some sort of hang-up from hosting the Last Supper? I slid my tea cup back to the center of the table. The ginger pot back to the right. The porcelain chopstick holder back to the left. The soy sauce dipping dish back to the upper right.

“There!” I smiled proudly as Santa Claus Is Coming To Town came over the radio. Then I gave the Holy Tamago the thumbs up sign.

Put it back!” the Holy Tamago hissed again, this time louder.

Disappointed, but eager to please the relic, I shoved the rice bowl to the lower center. The miso soup bowl to the upper left. The fake orchid to the right.  The pickled plum jar to the left. The Kirin beer bottle to the right. My half-eaten soba noodles to the left. My salad dish and gyoza trays to the middle.

“How’s that?” I asked, waving my hand around the table like Vanna White to show off my handiwork.

Put it back!” the Holy Tamago groaned, its voice now raspy and strained.

Fine. I continued putting more things back. I flung my dirty napkin back on my lap, and the ginger dressing spoon back in its dish. I stuffed my chopsticks back in their paper sleeve, and slung my purse over the back of the chair. Then I jammed my address book back in my purse, snapped the cap back on my pen, and stuck the Bandaid I had flung on the floor back on my pinky.

“Done!” I announced, bowing my head reverentially to get some extra points. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer was on the air now. I couldn’t help but tap my foot to it under the table. 

Put it back!” the Holy Tamago huffed angrily.

Great. Another person I had pissed off.  Desperate to please, I put my coat back on. My hat. My gloves. My scarf. Looped my belt back to the second hole. Rolled my sleeves back up, then rolled them back down. I pulled my bangs back off my face, tucked my hair back in a ponytail, and put my candy cane flavored lip gloss back on.

“We good now?” I asked.

Put… it… back!” the Holy Tamago hissed again, its body twitching and gurgling noises violently.

I leaned in. Yikes. The Holy Tamago wasn’t looking too good. Its face was all wrinkly now and its complexion had a slightly brown hue to it. At a loss, I scanned the restaurant for more things to put back. I righted the crooked photo of a Geisha that hung on the wall, and replaced the missing “L” in the word “Samon” on the chalkboard menu. I shoved all the chairs back under the empty tables, and rearranged the umbrella stand I had kicked on my way in. Begrudgingly, I reached into my coat pocket and returned the five mints I had swiped from the candy dish.

“How’d I do?” I asked, sliding back into my chair, eager to have this test over. 

Puuuut… it… baaaack!” the Holy Tamago wheezed, its gelatinous figure shivering intermittently.  

Oh dear. It was looking really sick now. Its brownish hue had changed to a deathly pallor – the corners of its once spongy and sprightly figure were now shrunken and taut. With the back of my hand I felt the Holy Tamago’s forehead.  It was ice cold. My God, it was dying! I pulled my napkin off my lap and gently laid it over the Holy Tamago to keep it warm. Then I grabbed a pen from my purse and wrote on the top of the napkin:

“DO NOT REMOVE!”

I scampered off to the restroom in search of more things to put back as a recording of Santa Baby began playing. Using what I could find in the supply cabinet I replaced the empty toilet paper roll, and stuffed more paper towels into the towel rack. Then I filled the empty soap dispenser with more liquid soap, and replaced a burned-out bulb in the ceiling. I put the toilet brush back in its holder while I was at it. Then I raced back and pulled back the napkin shroud.

“NOOOOOOO!” I yelped, falling to my knees and wringing my hands in the air. The Holy Tamago was shriveled up to about half its original size – its thorny crown fading from view.

Puuuuuuuut.itbaaaack, the Holy Tamago gasped weakly as its body started to convulse.  

“BREATHE!” I urged, dipping the corner of the shroud in my water glass, then dabbing it against the Holy Tamago’s mouth. With the tip of my chopsticks I loosened the Holy Tamago’s nori waistband to help it breathe. Then I propped the Holy Tamago upright, shoving the end of my straw into the Holy Tamago.

“STAY WITH ME!’ I pleaded, performing sushi CPR now – breathing slow and steady through the straw

Puuuuuuuut…iiiiiiiiiit… baaaaaack…” the Holy Tamago sputtered, choked and gasped, its beard fading into the egg.

 “I’M NOT GONNA LOSE YOU, GOD DAMN IT!” I screamed, then apologized for taking the Holy Tamago’s name in vain.

“STAY WITH ME!” I cried, pumping the Holy Tamago’s heaving chest rhythmically with the tip of my index finger.

The Holy Tamago coughed, wheezed, and choked. The features of Jesus’ face were fading rapidly.

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND! TELL ME WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO PUT BACK!” I screamed.

The Holy Tamago let out a long sigh as I watched the face disappear into the egg. Then it said a single word.

“Meeeeeeeeeeeeee.”

And then Jesus was gone. The tamago was just a tamago.

What did it mean? Where was I supposed to put the Holy Tamago? On a plane? In a hamper? Jesus had taken the time to come to me in omelet form to deliver some special message before I died – and I’d missed it.  I had failed the most important test of my life. Laying the napkin over the deceased tamago, I bowed my head and cried.

The grumpy waitress stomped back to the table and began clearing the appetizer dishes. Silent Night came over the radio. It had been a long time since I’d paid attention to the words of that song:

 

Silent night, holy night.

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.

Holy infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Wait! That was it! I finally understood! The grumpy waitress reached for my sushi plate.

“PUT IT BACK!!” I suddenly heard myself shriek.

The grumpy waitress slammed the sushi plate back down.

“I’ll be right back,” I informed her, gesturing that she was not to remove the sushi plate.

Tossing my stack of holiday cards in a nearby trash bin, I raced out of the restaurant, down the street to the card store, and returned a few moments later. The waitress peeked her head out from behind the black curtain, then rolled her eyes, grunted, and disappeared again. I laid out the new set of holiday cards I had purchased across the table and admired the artwork. Gone was the jolly Santa cartoon. The elves. The glittery presents. In their stead,  a traditional nativity scene. I smiled at the Blessed Virgin Mary and Joseph kneeling beside the manger. Then I took out my pen and began writing in all the cards the words I should have written the first time around…

 “MERRY CHRISTMAS !”

When I was done,  I called to the grumpy waitress and gave her permission to clear the plate. A sense of relief washed over me. Although the Holy Tamago was no longer around to see it, I had done the divine sushi proud. I’d finally put the right thing back, and could now die in peace.

The grumpy waitress stomped back to the table, and just as she lifted the plate in the air and pivoted toward the kitchen I detected the slightest quivering movement from beneath the napkin. As the plate slowly passed by me I surreptitiously lifted up the corner of the napkin and peeked in. To my shock the tamago’s bright yellow color had returned- its mouth and eyes and scraggly beard as vibrant as when we first met.

Thank you,” the Holy Tamago whispered.

“No,” I whispered, “Thank you.”

With that, the Holy Tamago shriveled up and died… again.

The next morning the dermatologist called. Turns out my mole was benign… disgusting, but benign. I was going to live! I thanked my dermatologist for the good news, and then I thanked Jesus- wherever he might be. I felt lucky to have met Him that day at lunch – even if it was just in omelet form. And since that day I make a weekly pilgrimage to that same empty sushi restaurant. My lunch order is always the same: an avocado salad, miso soup, gyoza, two tekka maki rolls… and one piece of tomago.

One day, I hope to see the Holy Tamago again.  But until then, I’ll just keep trying to get the grumpy waitress to smile. She hasn’t yet, of course. But thanks to my Christmas miracle there’s plenty of time.

Originally Published at http://www.oneforthetable.com/Oddities-and-Obsessions/the-shroud-of-tamago.html