Monday, March 20, 2017

Not by egg whites alone


For the past few weekends, I've been working on my fried egg game.

I've been eating things with fried egg on top. The whole purpose is to break the egg yolk and let it drizzle all over, creating a type of sauce.

I've had a fried egg over french fries cooked in duck fat and Parmesan. I've had a fried egg as a component to a hamburger.

The yolk adds a richness that amps up the flavor.

I feel bad for people who only cook with egg whites. Like, I get it. Health or whatever. Even if I get back into some kind of workout groove, I'm not giving up the egg yolk.

It's too versatile.

It's the secret in a decadent egg nog. It's the reason creme brulee is what it is.

I need a sign in my kitchen that says "not by egg whites alone."

Knowing how a yolk can transform whatever it's on, I decided to make something my dad loves. I used to eat it as a kid, and then I decided it was gross, but then, for some reason, I returned to it. I'm not sure where my aversion came from, but I think it goes along with being a bit ageist.

I thought eggs on toast was for old people.

I'm getting older, so apparently it's time to enjoy food like that again.

Soon, I'll be rubbing myself up with Aspercreme and wearing my Life Alert necklace.

The first attempt of the fried egg, I cracked my eggs into the large pan, and I just let them go. I figured it wouldn't take too long, but I waited, and I waited, and I waited. The egg whites on top closest to the yolk dome weren't cooking. They continued to stay translucent.

I didn't want raw egg. I tried flipping them over to make them over-easy, but I mutilated the eggs, and in the process, exposed some of the yolks to the hot pan, cooking them solid.

I placed them over my toast, but it was too late. Too much of the yolk was cooked through. My eggs weren't saucy enough.

It was too dry.

The second week was much of the same. They were saucier, but I had cooked the yolk too long. It was the consistency of a deviled egg.

Why didn't I look up how to cook a fried egg online? People, I can pasteurize my own eggs. I can make mayonnaise from scratch. I can separate egg white and eggs with just the shell.

I mean, how hard is it to fry an egg?

After two attempts and batting zeroes...I realized my answer.

Very.

I needed assistance. I looked up some secrets to the perfect fried egg, and I found the perfect solution to the egg whites on top.

Steam them.

Once most of the egg were cooked and the yolk dome was still runny, I added a tablespoon of water to the pan and covered the eggs, allowing the steam to cook the tops of the eggs.

Two weeks in a row, and I've cooked fried eggs to perfection.

No little over-cooked yolk bits. All sauce.

Some salt and pepper, and a toasted slice of honey wheat bread becomes a decadent brunch.

Eggs on toast aren't for old people.

Not any more.

Now, let's hope I don't start craving prune juice.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

I was informed that Jeremy had half a soul


Author's Note: Typically my Interesting Characters are a chance for me to write about a random fictional personality, an exercise to stretch my writing muscles. Lately, I've been writing about real people that were interesting characters. I may meet a few more down the road, but none of them will be as interesting as Jeremy. 

The main goal for the night was to be as 90's as possible and play a vampire storytelling game. 

Three of us, my friends Beth, Jessie, and I, went to someone's apartment to play. This wasn't just a teen's apartment, sans parents for the evening. This apartment belonged to the teen. There was a sign on the door that said "no parents allowed," and although I was a naive former-Catholic school pupil, going to an apartment whose sole proprietor couldn't rent a car was a bit worrisome. 

The apartment belonged to Maria. She sat in the middle of the living room, sucking down tequila shots complete with lime and salt sans glass. It was just her, the bottle, limes, and a salt shaker. It was more of an incantation performance than simple shots. It was like she had something to prove.

Perched around the room were other teenagers. The only other one I remember was the guy by the window, smoking. It wasn't a cigarette.

My friends and I sat for a few when Maria's boyfriend, Jeremy, materialized. He was a warlock. This is how I could tell: he had long wavy hair past his shoulder, he was shirtless, wore black jeans, and was barefoot.

And because he was shirtless, the power of his pecs called forth my two friends. He beckoned. They stood up and followed.

I was stuck with Maria, and her tequila voodoo, along with the hunchback by the window. To say I was really uncomfortable was beyond an understatement.

Jessie and Beth followed Jeremy to the end of the hallway and they all disappeared, shrouded by the light of the bathroom.

The door closed.

I was all alone.

As an adult, thinking back to this bizarre encounter, how was Maria okay with two girls following her buff shirtless boyfriend? To the bathroom? With the door shut?

Oh yeah, I forgot, tequila voodoo. Maria wasn't all there.

So I waited. And waited. My soul felt soiled as I sat in the dank living room of the ill-behaved as they recreated their own Pleasure Island.

I don't know how long I sat there, but it felt like over an hour.

Then, the bathroom door opened and all three came out.

Now free from their warlock captor, it was time to go. It took awhile for me to convince them, I mean, they didn't get to interact with any of these other people, since they went straight back to the bathroom with shirtless Jeremy.

Doing whatever it is you do with a warlock wearing only black jeans.

I practically had to push them both out, but we left. I wanted to go home. I'd had enough, but we went to McDonald's for a few.

And this is where they told me the shocking news about Jeremy, now that we were safe from his warlock harem. 

What they had discovered while in the bathroom.

"Jeremy has half a soul!" they gasped.

I didn't have the heart to tell them, that after they had abandoned me for over an hour in a living room full of gargoyles, now I also had half a soul.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

From the Introduction of "The Argument Against Amusing" by Namaste Jones


...and because of that, the art of amusing needs to be looked at with an ice cold eye. For millennia, it has been seen that the art of amusing was solely the power of left over magic from the Nine. These original muses from Greek mythology have been heralded as the alpha and omega of amusing. What they began is what we continue. Without our strange abilities and slight magical insights, Creatives around the world couldn't function. They need us. Towers would fall. Science would fail. Stories would go untold.

We, as muses, have decided this and accepted it blindly. Where is the science? Where is the evidence that these magics actually exist? Nothing within the world of amusing has been challenged. It has been and will always be.

Or will it?

Is a muse really doing anything special?

Have these people been wasting their gifts?

Are the bones that are kept within the catacombs of all nine academies really those of the Nine?

I haven't seen them, but was told they were there as I walked the halls of the Academy of Amusing. I was told not to question. I was to have faith, use my ability, and learn to amuse.

My questions continued to bubble to the surface.

In an age where satellites orbit the Earth, I'm beginning to find the strange, archaic and useless profession of amusing difficult to swallow. The pill is bitter, even more so, when my questions are seen as dangerous. My questioning was treated as sacrilegious. I was shushed. I was reprimanded. I was threatened. Then, I was kicked out of the Academy.

This only fueled my resolve. I wanted to know if there could be something else out there that allowed for a Creative to invent, to write, to compose. I wanted the freedom to research where amusing really came from, if a muse's magic really existed, or if it was all folly.

Those who want me silenced have tried to stop me, which fuels my resolve once and for all. If academia feels the need to mute, then what I have discovered must hold considerable weight.

For the first time in the history of amusing, what I have discovered is an argument.

An argument against the very nature of amusing that...


Friday, March 17, 2017

The Shameful Pineapple

I'll cut up some pineapple, I thought. I don't want it to go bad.

I placed it on the red cutting board, and started cutting through the prickly skin. Pineapples really are very easy to cut. Fresh pineapple, when extremely ripe, puts all other pineapple to shame, and we've all had the shameful pineapple, right?

It's like the title of a children's book: "The Shameful Pineapple" by Tremendous Moore.

It's the story of a little pineapple that posted pictures of the pricklier parts of its prickly skin on its social media accounts, and now the little pineapple has to face the consequences.

Please read this story to your children. It is the most relevant children's story today. You may wish your children to go to all the places and think of the future with "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss, but you need to make sure they also read "The Shameful Pineapple" so they don't post naughty pictures that will get them kicked out of college or fired from their jobs.

So, yes, now I believe we can all agree that canned pineapple is shameful.

With my orange-handled knife in my hand, I sliced and I sliced. I threw the ucky parts away and I chopped and chopped. The pineapple was juicy, so it was obviously going to be scrumptious.

Another famous children's author, Rhoald Dahl, would've seen the delicious pineapple drenched in its juices on the red cutting board and written something akin to: pineapplely delight so scrumpty-umptiously yellow!

And, people, he would've been right.

Except, something was wrong. On the cutting board, there were tiny, oblong, black specs.

I don't know about this, I thought. I'm not sure --

And then it hit me.

You see, we had come out of a winter where we dealt with something no one wants.

Not even famous children's author Tremendous Moore.

Mice.

Those little black bits were from the mice.

They were turds.

Tiny turds.

Teensy weensy mouse turds, and they were affixed to the pineapple I had just chopped. The pineapple was forever ruined. All of it went into the trash.

How on earth did mouse fecal matter get onto my pineapple? Befuddled was I. The pineapple had come from a glass bowl where we kept our fruit. The bowl sat on top of our island, which was on casters. It didn't touch any walls. It was wood. No cloth or cords hung around the island for a little mouse to climb.

I went over to the bowl. Then I went to the trash. All the fruit had to go. Nestled at the bottom of the bowl was more mouse defecation. The mouse fecal defied, and the fact a mouse could climb up the island mystified.

Then the thought came: the mouse wasn't just in our garage. The mouse had been in our kitchen, climbing up things, and dropping turds wherever it went.

I felt all the cringes and all the shudders.

It's not that I find mice to be disgusting. My instinct isn't to lay traps with cheese and stand on chairs with brooms, waiting to bash their heads in.

I thought mice wore little t-shirts and spoke to you in tiny voices. I thought mice, along with birds, had the ability to help clean up a room or sew clothes. I thought mice wore cute tiny hats, slept in matchboxes, and outwitted cats.

This is not the truth.

Mice do none of those things.

They poop tiny brown Tic-Tacs everywhere they step, which make me watch my step.

It's repulsive, and although I find mice and all their pooh to be vile, Wifefriend hates ants more.

This baffles me.

Mice, right? Rodents? Poop? Furry? Pooping in fruit bowls? Disease? Poop?

Ants don't concern me. People eat them chocolate-covered.

So, as winter ended making the mice no longer a problem, the snow melted to spring, allowing ants to become the new nuisance.

They walk militant in their lines, coming from God-knows-where, claiming my kitchen as theirs. I usually just spray our vinegar cleaning spray concoction and swipe them up in a paper towel. I lay out some ant traps where the meanest chemical in them is borax and go on with my day.

Although Wifefriend doesn't spasm and convulse on the kitchen floor at the sight of ants, she claims she doesn't like how they can get anywhere. Like, in cereal boxes. Cracker boxes. Cracker Jack boxes. That is what makes her skin crawl.

Okay, so ants can crawl all over and leave no trace. We really have no idea what their tiny ant feet have touched, but that's why they don't bother me as much. Mice leave fecal friends everywhere they go. Maybe I can't handle mice because they pooped on my pineapple.

That's a sight I cannot unsee.

I know there are worse things. There are, but those mouse turds were bigger than the ants that walk into our kitchen.

Bigger.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Confessions of a Dangerous Barista, Part 2





Psychology is everywhere.

It’s in the frequent disputes between dysfunctional relationships, it’s in the abandonment of children by their imaginary friends, it’s in the nursing of a traumatized victim of a cow-tipping accident.


At one point, I applied this psychology to those who entered the coffee shop where I worked. After doling out many beverages, I realized that certain types of people ordered certain types of drinks.

And so begins my thesis:

Those who drink regular black coffee are go-getters who don’t like prune juice. Their typical statement is how “caffeine doesn’t bother them,” even though you can’t understand a single, stuttering word they’ve said, while knocking things over as they try to multi-task everything: an e-mail, phone conversation, the bathroom, changing a baby's diaper and trying on new shoe, and complain about how fast their heart beats. They are all business. All. They have no understanding of down time, and that might be because they they have to wake up early, and the black coffee is the medicine to cure the sunless morning commutes.

Those who drink black decaf coffee are also strictly business, but they enjoy no thrills whatsoever, and they definitely don't like prune juice. For some reason, they want all the things coffee brings, but none of the repercussions. They probably also drink Caffeine Free Diet Coke. It's like they're afraid of living. These people will never be caught white water rafting. They admit to themselves ‘how good coffee tastes’ when they could be a) a recovering smoker ridding themselves of both caffeine and nicotine b) in complete denial of their halitosis, or c) have an oral fixation. It’s just something about paper cups and parched lips.

Those who enjoy flavored drip coffee are fun, whimsical and don’t enjoy the ordinary. They can’t be strictly business because on their lunch breaks, they’ll take that caffeine and go for a brisk jog, bungee jump off their office building or saran wrap the toilet seats in both the men’s and women’s restrooms, no wait, they're up-to-date and use Glad’s “press n’ seal” to cover the toilet bowls. Those who drink caffeinated flavor drip coffee be cray.

If you drink shots of espresso you are definitely of Italian descent, or from South of the border, primarily Brazil (and regions nearby). You are an elitist, drink with your pinky up, can balance books on your head when you walk, and you enjoy things in their purest form. You love limoncello.

So, you drink cappuccinos ? Oh, you’re definitely continental, well-traveled and sophisticated. You’re airy, enjoy being lackadaisical, since the beverage is mostly foam and is extremely light, and you inhale way too much foam for your own good and probably belch too much. Although there is espresso in your beverage, you can’t settle for being an elitist because all that foam fills your innards and you push burps out like a fowl dog. Not that I’m calling you a fowl dog, I would never…

And then there are your latte drinkers: You are unadventurous and definitely a mid-westerner (and if you live in large cities, you’ve either come from the mid-west or you have family from the mid-west and you have visited them). For the flavored latte enthusiasts, you must have melodrama in your life and this is evident because lattes are a heavy drink since it’s made mostly of milk and sugary syrups.

This is where I fit in. I'm the person that wants none of my own drama but all of yours.

Drinkers of the flavored latte are almost sophisticated. Almost. Some flavored latte drinkers just don’t have time to worry about Nautica and Nike stock because they're rushing their kids off to soccer practice in the minivan. Thank God for that shot of espresso, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to grocery shop, pick the kids up from school and take the golden retriever to the vet all in fifteen minutes.

If you enjoy soy lattes, just don't tell us how much of a vegan you are. We get it. You made muffins out of almond flour you ground yourself and water you squeezed from a rock. Unless you're lactose intolerant, then you're basically like any other latte drinker (heavy on melo, heavy on the drama), with one exception: cheese makes you gassy. That's a drama I want no part in. The bathroom is that way.

If you drink breves (lattes made with half and half), you haven’t had your heart or cholesterol checked lately have you? You definitely are having the time of your life enjoying the richer tasting things. It's seen that those who enjoy breves don’t think twice about some of their more destructive choices. If I were you, I'd go to the doctor and have a blood panel done.

Then there is the oddity of all lattes, the sugar-free, nonfat, flavored latte. It's like you're afraid to live. You peak out from behind the curtains. You support life but can't handle living. Or maybe you're a want-it-all-but-can’t-afford-it person. You don’t carry the true Kate Spade bag but the cheap imitation you found at Value City for 80% off the markdown price (girl, that bag is going to break in, like, a month).

Not everyone fits into the above categories. Some people are able to come up with their own brand of crazy. There were mornings when a lady ordered a decaf soy latte with half a pack of Sweet and Low. That lady was artificial, tanned a lot and her farts smelled like burning plastic.

The above, along with more psychology, can be found in my new book “Coffee Makes Me Think and Poop,” which will be out in May. It will hold recipes for new coffee drinks that Martha Stewart lost copyright over when she was indicted, and it will also discuss the psychology of adding sugar, whipped cream, Equal and other additives to the brewed beverage.
So, think before you drink. Your coffee says a lot about you.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Confessions of a Dangerous Barista


When I first started teaching, I continued to work a part-time job.

I had to wake up at 6 a.m. every morning. Saturday was not my day off. I think I woke up even earlier on Saturdays to go into my one-day-a-week part-time job: the coffee shop.

Coffee shops are obviously well-known for waking up so early that they actually wipe the butt crack of dawn, and my Saturday would continue on with a length of toilet paper attached to its shoe the remainder of the day.

Isn't it funny how I mention toilet paper? Coffee is known to stimulate one's need to use the bathroom, and don't tell me you haven't drank a cup of java then scrambled madly to the porcelain throne.

So, yes, I dealt out this beverage like a black market worker, hidden in early morning shadows, pumping insulated paper cups with Colombian, Cozy Café, House, and decaf coffees. I leaned out the drive-through window, I whizzed and swished cold milk with steam and lathered it into giant cups mixed with sugary syrups and fresh, brewed espresso. I threw pulpy, fruit compote into the blender and watched as ice and magic created fabulous smoothies. I could even make tea.

I was a barista.

I was a proud barista of a small coffee shop aptly named Java Jar because large glass containers filled with brown, legal, addictive beans lined the walls. Beans that produce the world’s most sophisticated beverage: coffee.

This small coffee shop had bright orange and red walls with a menu written in chalk and lattes that were named after candy bars. We had many familiar customers, and some days, if we were lucky, a man by the name Mitch came in.

He was once the governor of Indiana. He currently resides as Purdue University's president.

He always ordered a small coffee. It was easy to procure. Then, there were the other customers that wanted coffee. They tried to speak Italian.

“Good morning,” I said. “What can we get you?”

“Could I get a Venti Caramel Latte?”

“And what size would you like, sir?”

“Venti.”

“Yes, I know, but what size?”

“A Venti,” he said, disgruntled.

I’m not sure why. I mean, I just wanted to know what size he wanted.

That's not being rude. That's being a gracious server. Then, I tried to woo him with his milk of choice. I felt like I was reading the daily special at sophisticated restaurant:

“What kind of milk would you like? We have two percent or skim milk, unless you’re in the mood for something exotic, then we can make it with half and half, which is called a breve. Or we could go ahead and steam up some soy milk if you would like. You wouldn’t believe it, but the soy milk is actually very good. I used soy with my toffee steamer once, and it was a very rich drink.”

Without a blink of an eye, the man would always say:

“Two percent is fine.”

I began tamping the espresso into the portafilter and then slid it into the espresso machine. After I pushed a button, a dark brown pee stream drizzled into the tiny glass. While this happened, I placed the steamer stick into my metal pitcher of milk, and hissed the milk until it was hot and foamy.

It’s an incredible noise. I had to shout to my next questions.

“WHAT SIZE WOULD YOU LIKE?”

“WHAT?” he shouted back.

“WHAT SIZE IS YOUR LATTE?”

“I WANTED A VENTI!"

I stop the frothing milk.

“And what size is a Venti?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Don’t you serve it?”

“No, that’s Starbucks.”

We came to a mutual agreement that a Venti must be a large because I held up every cup and he eyed each of one them like they were in a police line-up.

He pointed to the largest cup.

“That’s the one.”

“One large latte coming up,” I said, and rolled my eyes as he rolled out of the coffee shop.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Monopoly changes up its pieces


Hasbro, we need to have a talk.

You sit down right here. 

There.

Now look at me. I'll try to keep my Real Housewives attitude down to a minimum, but if I throw a table, you can't say I didn't warn you.

How could you?

Those three just showed up, and you. Didn't. Even. Tell me!

I didn't even know they were invited!

Am I not following the right outlets? Should I blame the Trump circus? I've been so inundated with his "Tweets as news" that I've ignored the news a little bit. Is that how I missed your announcement?

I know it's been awhile since I've played the game, but I didn't even have a say in the matter.

To my consternation, I learned through the mouth of my brother-in-law that Monopoly has gone and changed up their tokens. Apparently, back in January, there was a chance for the human population of the world to vote on 64 different token options.

Sixty. Four. Token. Options.

Now, Hasbro, here's why I'm a little peeved that I was unaware of this: I own nine Monopoly games.

Nine.

Now, that's not as many as some crazy-obsessed collector out there, I'm sure, but owning nine different Monopoly games has to mean something.

Something, right?

I've got an older original version pulled from my grandparent's house after they passed away. I've got my Y2K collector's edition where the money is see-through, the houses are a stackable clear green plastic and the board is a hologram. I've got my goofy Muppet edition. I have a truly vintage edition, from 1961 -- over 50 years old -- that smells like old books. One of my Monopoly games is in a extravagant wood box, with wood houses and hotels, and money-colored money.

I wear my pearls and drink dirty martinis when I play that version.

Apparently my calm obsessiveness wasn't enough to inform me that I had a say in the matter, that I could vote.

It seems the wheelbarrow, thimble and boot have been replaced with a T-Rex, rubber ducky and penguin. Those were the three that won, alongside some of the originals like the top hat and Scottie dog.

I mean, I get why the wheelbarrow lost -- that piece was not aerodynamic. It was difficult to grasp, its sharp edges were loathsome. The thimble has been a disappointment ever since my pinky finger became too large to wear it. The boot? If it weren't the style of boot from 1935 when Monopoly first came out, I'm sure it might've had a chance, but that weird metal lip that stuck out in the back was just as awkward to hold as the wheelbarrow.

The T-Rex token is impressive. It's very "Jurassic Park" or "Jurassic World," depending on which era you're from. The rubber ducky reminds me of Ernie from "Sesame Street" singing "Rubber Ducky, you're the one," so it makes sense why that one made it. The penguin, to me, is a stretch, but I get it. I mean, there were the movies "March of the Penguins" and "Happy Feet."

I'm not sure which ones I would've voted for, but with my 90 followers on Twitter, I'm sure I could've come up with quite the campaign.

I don't need to go out and purchase a new Monopoly game just so I can own the new pieces -- my collectors status has waned in the past few years, especially since no one will play the game with me.

They complain it takes too long.

And then, they go and play Risk.

Monday, March 13, 2017

March started, but coaching did not


This is how the last twelve years of teaching have gone:

We would come back from winter break in January, and I landed on my two feet, slightly refreshed from the slam dunk that is the end of the second quarter. I look at the horizon and know that the third quarter is never going to be easy.

The third quarter is when the yearbook demands the most time. Along with the yearbook, there's also lesson planning, grading, other publications I put together, video announcements once a week, as well as being a part of committees, tech coordinator, and all the things that aren't school related, like family, a house, school.

Then, just as the yearbook got wrapped up, and everything started to slow down, the third quarter ended, and I feel like I could take a breath.

But, nope, the fourth quarter began, and I lost time all over again.

Because track had started.

For the past 12 years, I went from one busy quarter of staying after and working on the yearbook, frazzled and figuring out how I'll get everything done, to the fourth quarter, where I was just as busy. January to May was a nonstop marathon.

Some days you could find me under my desk, hiding from responsibility.

"Too much," I shivered. "I. Just. Can't. Adult. Anymore."

Granted, it was never as busy when my sister-in-law was in softball during high school. I went from school, to practice (or a meet) and then to a softball game. Those were the nights I didn't get home until 9 p.m. a couple of times a week.

This year, the fourth quarter started, and the yearbook was finished, and I had nowhere else to be. For the first time ever, I was able to start my fourth quarter as simply as the first quarter. No yearbook. No track.

No nothing!

The eighth graders were not happy with me this year.

"You're not coaching this year?" they lamented. "Why couldn't you have quit after we left?"

And, what, get the same drama from next year's eighth grade class? And the year after that?
I was slightly surprised that kids were upset that I wasn't coaching anymore. I figured they caught on that coaching wasn't really my thing. I ran drills. I helped keep the chaos down. I perfected my coaching in high jump, where I worked with 10 kids max, but I was never a coach's coach.

You're hurt? Go talk to the trainer. I'm not going to make up something and have you get injured more. You need a special stretch? Go see Coach Kenney, he runs long distance for real. I know nothing about stretching. I'm just here to look pretty.

"My shins are hurting…" a sixth grader would say, coming up to me, limping like they were coming out of battle.

"I don't know what to tell you. I'm not a real coach, I just play one on TV."

"How should I stretch my calves?"

"Find a unicorn, lean up against it, and push."

That's how I saw myself, but maybe it wasn't how the kids saw me.

Or they did, and they were just sad I wasn't going to be there. I may not have been a coach's coach, but I was a total nut.

Maybe they just liked hanging out with me.

I feel like Sally Field.

"You like me! You really, really like me!"

I won't miss the time track took, but I will miss hanging out with the coaches and the students. It was one of the times where I was an adult, making sure things were getting done, but I wasn't in charge. I was an assistant coach. It's not like my classroom where I have to have a plan and be more strict.

I could have fun.

Not that teaching can't be fun, but there was a freedom being an assistant coach -- being one of six other assistant coaches. It's nice not having the answers.

But as the weather begins to warm, I'm going to be perfectly fine with leaving school at a decent time so I can go home, sit on the patio, and just enjoy the evening, even if I need to work on something from school.

Or write.

Let's hope I take advantage of this extra time.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Apothecary's Dilemma

The bell that hung over the door jangled as the woman walked into the store.

"Welcome to the Apothecary's Dilemma," the man behind the counter said. His head was shaved bald and shone with the light that cascaded through the windows of the two-story entrance. He wore a monocle in his left eye as he poured through an enormous tome of old writing. His frenzied right hand scribbled on a yellow legal pad.

The woman had blonde hair, the curls draping over the shoulders of her burgundy leather jacket. She pushed her black Ray Bans up, creating a headband. "Where might I find some of your rare books?" she asked.

He pulled the monocle from his eye and pointed to his right.

Behind her, a wall of windows allowed streams of midday light to gather across the almost black wooded store. The second story was visible from the first floor with only a waist-high railing acting as a wall. She could see through the stairs leading up to the second floor. The bookshelves on the top floor were perfectly inline with the bookshelves on the first floor. Particles of dust danced in the light as she walked past the stairs toward the stacks.

Her fingers graced the leather-bound spines of earthly colors. She skimmed the titles that pointed up and down. The book she sought wasn't quite as old as these. She pulled one of the books out, it looked like the title was in German, and pushed it back. She pulled another out, it wasn't the book she was looking for at all, but she opened the tanned and yellowed pages, listening to the glue in the spine crackle. She held the book up to her nose and inhaled. The biblichor was intoxicating -- vanilla cake and almond icing wrapped in the bark of an ancient tree.

A man she loved long ago introduced her to the aroma of books. Now the smell just brought back the saddest of romances entwined with the best of memories, a bittersweet that consumed her like the first sip of a strong red wine.

She put the book down. This wouldn't do. She would not find the book lined up with these antiquities. This, she already knew. The row of books, here, was the setting of their first kiss. It would be sacrilegious to visit this store and not spend a moment where it all began.

They may not have still been together, but she saw him everyday.

Their son had his eyes.

She approached the monocled man.

"You look good Stewart," she said.

He pulled the lens away from his eye, stuffing it in his front vest pocket, and looked up, then smiled. His lips revealed a line of crooked teeth.

"I didn't realize that it was you," he said, his voice a grumbled coo.

"It's been a very long time," she said.

"What do I owe the pleasure?" Stewart asked.

"You must know," she said.

He frowned at her. His unpleasant teeth disappeared, leading to an even more unpleasant snarl. "I haven't sold that book for a very long time," he said, looking down at his notes. "You know what happens to muses who are seen with that cancerous tome."

"Where's the renegade I once knew?"

"I have moved my interests far away from the dark side of amusing," he said, pointing down at the monolith of a book before them. As he tried to force the giant book shut, she forced her right hand in between the pages, blocking him.

"Stewart, you are one of the filthiest dirty muses I have ever met," she said. She opened the book back up and turned the book toward her so she could read what he was researching.

"A codex?"

"I knew their ideas had come from somewhere," he said. "There are ancient writings that will help prove that the Triple A is truth. Maybe not the complete truth, but there's so much we muses don't know."

She knew he hadn't changed.

"I want one of your copies," she said.

"I told you I don't have any."

"That book was Biblical to you." She reached her inside jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope full of cash from the bank. "I thought you might be difficult to work with, which is why I came prepared."

He looked down at the money envelope. The snarl faded.

"How much?"

"More than enough to hire a cleaning lady," she said. "You've let this place go. Your grandfather must be turning in his grave."

He pulled the envelope toward him, carefully lifted the glued-down lip, and peered inside at the crisp dollar bills. He smiled. His crooked teeth were back.

There was a gleam in his black eyes she had never seen before. Ice shivered through her body and left through her tail bone.

This was a mistake, but it was already too late. He turned around and faced the painting that was behind him. Impressionistic in style, the painting showcased the first school for muses built in Athens, Greece. Although there were eight other schools around the world, this was their Mecca. A muse's holy land. Stewart gently touched the gold frame, rapping it just slightly, and the frame popped out from the wall.

"That secret compartment is ballsy," she said.

Stewart remained silent, slid his left arm behind and pulled out a rectangular package wrapped in brown paper. He handed it over to her.

"Do not open it until you are in the safety of your home," he said.

"Oh, Stewart," she said, "where's your sense of adventure?"

His nostrils flared, and he spun the giant book back around to continue his research.

"I don't want to see you again," he said as she was leaving.

"You won't have to," she said, and as she walked through the door, in the luminescent afternoon sunglow, she reached across the lip of the package and tore through the paper.

She smiled.

She finally had a copy of "The Argument Against Amusing."