Friday, April 10, 2015

PARMESAN CHEESE - A #ShortStory





PARMESAN CHEESE

By Roy L. Pickering Jr.
                                      




"You want some Parmesan cheese, man?"

These words welcome me back to the world of consciousness.  Each of my senses is being assailed.  Nerve endings from head to toe throb with pain.  A marching band strikes up a show tune, every member playing my ear drums.  The light of a thousand suns pries open my protesting eyes.  My saliva is at least eighty proof, my stomach doing somersaults.  And a horrific smell engulfs me - the divine intermingling of a backed up urinal, a gallon of sweat, stale beer, morning breath, and cheese.

A man hovers overhead, peering into my face, hand held out with the aforementioned cheese.  He is unwashed, unshaven, wearing tattered rags that would make the skin of a rhino crawl.

"Where am I?"

"You're in my alley.  You want this cheese?"

My eyes are growing accustomed to the light.  He wasn't lying. This is definitely an alley.  I put my brain on rewind to recall what turn of events placed me here.

I went out drinking last night.  Why didn't my friends see to it that I got home safely?  Because I was alone.  Why was I ...  Oh yeah, now I remember.  I'm in mourning.  My girlfriend dumped me.  Why would Nicki do that?  We had a great thing going.  We were ...  My memory is returning with a vengeance.  She found out that I slept with her best friend.  Or did she find out I slept with her sister?  No matter.  I got busted doing something with somebody.  Now I'm depressed all over again.

I try to stand but a wave of pain keeps me horizontal.  My ribs are sore.  My jaw isn't feeling so hot either.  Was I mugged?  No, that’s not it.  I was talking to a redhead, making pretty good progress.  One problem though.  She was the bouncer's girlfriend.  Suddenly I'm ricocheting off walls, the floor, the ceiling.  I got the feeling the redhead was amused.  She probably does this sort of thing regularly, the psycho.  Makes me glad to have someone like Nicki. Oh yeah, I forgot.

"You got the time?", I ask, nagged by suspicion that I'm supposed to be somewhere, though I cannot recall where or why at the moment.

"No.  I have Parmesan cheese.  You want any?"

"How about some tequila?"  That's what I was drinking last night.  Aspirin will be of little use.  No hangover this intense can be combated with non-prescription medication.  A hair of the dog is what I need.

"Poco loved Parmesan cheese."

My wedding!  I'm supposed to be at the church by twelve o'clock.  Nicki and I are getting married.  At least that was the plan before I screwed up. 

"Nobody loved Parmesan cheese like Poco." 

My folks are going to flip out.  My father may even cut me off financially.  He’s threatened to often enough, but I’ve always placated him by promising to get my act together.  That might not be good enough this time.  If not, I can say goodbye to my cushy job in the family business, my penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park, my Jaguar, my floor seats at the Garden where I cheer on the Knicks a few feet over from Spike Lee.

"He could eat a whole can of the stuff in ten seconds."

As if I don’t have enough problems, this rancid, raving lunatic is going on about how much someone named Poco loved Parmesan cheese.  Maybe I can get Nicki back.  I’m willing to grovel.  Women like her don't come around every day, a fact my father reminds me of constantly.

A filthy blanket is draped over me.  I push it off.  My beautiful cashmere coat has spent the night soaking in booze and vomit.  The dry cleaner won't be able to do anything with this.  How bad can things possibly ..."

My wallet!  I had over seven hundred dollars on me.  I spent the night lying comatose in this alley.  There's not a chance in ...  It’s still here.  But what about the money?  It's here too.  My credit cards as well.

"You can have it if you want.  Go ahead, take it."

The bum is offering me a can of Parmesan cheese.  Why didn't he rob me?  Maybe he's retarded or something.

"Is this your blanket?"

"Yes it is.  It was cold last night.  Those men threw you out here soaking wet and beaten up."

"So you loaned me your blanket?  You took care of me?"

"Sure.  You seem like a nice man.  I think Poco would have liked you."

"Poco?"

"Poco was my dog.  He died last night."

Maybe there's still time to sweet talk Nicki.  I can smooth things over with jewelry, or perhaps extend our honeymoon another month.  As pissed as she was, I know how much she was looking forward to this day.  Barnum & Bailey couldn't have put together as big a show as our planned wedding, and she gets to be the star.  If I move quickly enough I can ...  This crazy man is crying.  He's crying over his dog Poco.

"He was a great dog.  He loved Parmesan cheese."

I used to have a dog when I was a kid.  Sparky was a great companion, and thanks to him I was never lonely growing up as an only child in a huge house.  My dad was always somewhere else doing whatever had to be done to get richer by the day.  My mother was either off shopping in ritzy boutiques, having lunch with friends, or doing charity work for obscure projects like saving endangered species of butterfly.  It was made clear that I was mostly a nuisance to them.  Nothing personal, but children demand a certain amount of selfless devotion, and that is what they felt nannies and maids were for.  They made certain I wore the finest clothes, played with the fanciest toys, and attended the best schools.  But they didn't have much attention to spare.  

Sparky passed on while I was in college.  That was probably the most upset I’ve ever been in my life, including last night.  Sure, I did the traditional depressed guy routine after Nicki dumped me.  But I was mostly just mad at myself for blowing such a sweet deal.  Nicki has the looks of a runway model, speaks five languages, and her dad's almost as loaded as mine.  That's a pretty tough hand to beat.

"I hope they have plenty of Parmesan up in heaven."

It doesn't matter though.  I don't love Nicki any more than she loves me.  Love can be stumbled upon, disregarded, cherished, discarded, trumpeted or muted.  But it cannot be arranged.  Otherwise why would I be here instead of putting on a tux in preparation for wedded bliss with a woman who is all I'm supposed to want? 

Perhaps I did love once, and knew what I wanted, what real happiness is.  The time was brief, and such brevity is probably what keeps it imprinted on my brain.  Maybe if it had not ended so abruptly, and against my will, I would be able to accept the loss.  But my will was just an extension of what my parents chose it to be, and my one possibly true love did not have sufficient fortune or come from the right class of people.  My feelings for Paula, whatever name applies to them, were not frivolous enough to be tolerated.  So I was given an ultimatum.

Sabotaging the marriage my parents carefully set up will cause a firestorm. Technically our wedding was supposed to unite two people in love.  But in reality it was to be the merging of two empires.  My indiscriminate behavior will be seen as another act of unoriginal defiance.  The way I see it though, what I possibly want, who I may or may not love, has to count for something. 

"I think Poco would have liked you.  Anyway, you look like you can take care of yourself now, so I'll be going."

"Where to?"  Why did I ask him that?  What do I care?  He points to a garbage bag.  I don't need to ask what's in it.

"To the city dump.  Poco deserves to be buried proper.  I'll dig him a hole with my hands if I have to.  He would have done the same for me if I went first.  You want to come?"

Not bothering to wait for an answer, the bum slings the bag over his shoulder and walks away.  There is an inexplicable aura of dignity about him as I watch him exit his brief stay in my existence.  I manage to rise in spite of protests from various aching body parts and stagger out of the alley.  

 A couple walks by and I ask them what time it is.  The look in the man's eyes reminds me of a newly neutered pet.  Primeval urges to conquer and spread his seed have been domesticated out of him.  He is worn on his woman's arm like a fashionable purse.  It's only ten o'clock.  There's still time.  I know I can earn Nicki's forgiveness. 

Oh what the hell.  "Hey, wait up."  I suddenly have a craving for Parmesan cheese.







And now for some book reviews...


Ghana Must GoGhana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A virtuoso performance. Taiye Selasi is an author to reckon with. Her prose is a lullaby, taking its sweet time drawing us into the lives of the characters who populate Ghana Must Go. The narrative flits among members of a fractured family, each of them nursing their specific heartaches. What they share along with the ties of blood is abandonment, which leads to separate paths. A return to Africa to bid farewell to the man who left them is what brings them back together. Along the way we learn their secrets and sources of pain. Scattered moments throughout their lives fit together to form the image of a family, one that has been broken, but not irreparably. The arrival of death signals an ending, as well as the opportunity for new beginnings.


 

Labyrinth (Languedoc, #1)Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can never read too many grail quest yarns. This one doesn't have quite as infectious a pace as The Da Vinci Code. The style of prose ventures closer to literary than Dan Brown's strictly commercial blockbuster. Labyrinth also had me struggling to remember my high school and freshman year of college French lessons, for whatever that's worth. The narrative provides readers with two stories to follow (somewhat similar to Raymond Khoury's The Templar Salvation), one taking place in the present and the other in the distant past, the two racing to reach a point where they will merge. There are a good deal of characters to keep track of (perhaps a couple too many for my taste) with prime spots going to women. So I suppose this is the most feminist of the grail chase books I've read to date. It won't be the last, as I simply can't get enough of them. And I may return to the fiction of Kate Mosse someday, because even though this novel didn't quite wow me, it was crafted well enough to have me hooked to the end.



Fortunately, the MilkFortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hilariously absurd. Entertainingly original, in spite of the fact that this book basically has the same ending (spoiler alert) as one of my favorite movies - The Usual Suspects. Wacky illustrations perfectly match the zany tone of the prose which will have you and your little ones laughing out loud (very loud) throughout. Even the title is awesome.




The Pilot's WifeThe Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oprah was right. This is an exceptionally well written story. Some of it I saw coming. Some of it I didn't. All of it was masterfully executed.

View all my reviews








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Saturday, March 28, 2015

SUPPORT INDIE AUTHORS











I went on a brief Twitter rant the other day about self published / indie authors, inspired by the claim of Sarah Taylor that Self-Publishing is no longer a dirty word.  True?  Depends on who is saying it, I believe.














My ODE TO THE LIBRARY



This is work for white people and people of color to do, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It’s work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors, and publicists. It’s work for reviewers, educators, administrators. It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines. ~ from Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing

Powerful facts based MUST READ piece by Zetta Elliot on Black Authors and Self-Publishing










Next up from me: MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE

Check out the interview I conducted with indie author, Todd Keisling.  If support of indie authors is hard to come by from various parties in the publishing industry machine, at the very least we need to support each other.  Below are reviews written for a few books I've read that were self published.  One of them took off (no, I'm not talking about 50 Shades of Grey) in a big way.  Perhaps it's just a matter of time for the others.





FerrymanFerryman by Carole Sutton


They say the devil is in the details and you will find a rich supply of them in this mystery novel, transporting you to 1970's Cornwall, England, racing aboard a sleek yacht or attending a fancy costume ball where far more than meets the eye is there to be discovered by those in search of answers. One of the people following trails both hot and cold is Steven Pengelly, a man wrongfully convicted of murder who gains his freedom after two years of imprisonment when the body of the woman he was supposed to have killed surfaces from the depths of the sea, freshly deceased. Although he has no further need to clear his name, the sister of a woman gone missing convinces him to join her desperate rescue mission. A man who does need redemption is Alec Grimstone, the detective who saw to it that Steven was convicted and now must follow the only path that will lead to a clean conscience, and to the true abductor/killer behind an escalating series of crimes. I will delve no further into the plot, with Ferryman being a mystery that I don't wish to spoil for anyone. Better to pick up a copy for yourself and follow the twists and turns that lead to a villian whose perversity is only matched by the clever measures he takes to maintain his depraved secrets. If you are a whodunnit fan, and who isn't to some degree, be sure to add Carol Sutton to your reading list.

View all my reviews

The Time CavernThe Time Cavern by Todd A. Fonseca

This book transported me back in time to when I was an avid 10-year old reader, which is both ironic and apt since it features 10-year old time travelers. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself (yet more time traveling) as I pen this review about a most wonderful young adult novel – The Time Cavern by Todd A. Fonseca. I typically do not read much fiction geared towards pre-teens and those in their early teenage years, having left that period of my life decades behind. Prior to The Time Cavern I suppose the last book I read that fit this bill was the first Harry Potter book. There was a tiny bit of buzz about Ms. Rowling’s wizardry series (perhaps you’ve heard of it too) so I decided to check out Part I and found it to be an enjoyable read, though it did not inspire me to pick up additional titles in the saga. I appreciate the ultimate achievement of the Harry Potter books beyond making Rowling a gazillionaire and launching a number of movie star careers. Millions of young people in their formative years who may not otherwise have been turned on by reading in a day and age where one’s phone provides as much entertainment as an arcade decided to check out a book (and then another and then another) because tremendous buzz made it a trendy thing to do. No doubt a good many of them moved beyond the Potter books and became lifelong readers, just as the Jules Verne books I read as a grade school kid sparked my addiction to books, not only as a vociferous reader but also as a writer. Young people lucky enough to stumble into The Time Cavern will be similarly affected. In it, a bright, curious, mechanically inclined boy named Aaron moves to a new house in a rural area with his family. Initially he feels like a fish out of water but his acclimation to a new home is sped up when he befriends Jake, a classmate who is not crazy about her real name “Jacqueline” or about being passive and stereotypically “girlish”. She has a spirit nearly as adventurous as Aaron’s, which is a good thing because they soon find themselves on an adventure upon discovery of a century old diary page that eventually leads them to a most extraordinary tree. Throughout the course of this briskly told tale Aaron and Jen become detectives on the trail of a case that is simultaneously ancient and futuristic. Their interest in scholastics, particularly science, serves them well as they unearth clues in a number of inventive ways, including a most ingenious use of a tanning bed. The backdrop to their caper (which also put me in mind of the Dan Brown blockbusters but featuring considerably younger protagonists and minus the violent aspect of adult thrillers) is an Amish community, people who Aaron comes to learn have basically suspended time with their lifestyle choices rather than joining the progressive march of technology. Whether it’s a trip to a cornfield or to a planetarium, each experience throughout the narrative is learned from and the knowledge is used to propel Aaron and Jake’s progress into uncharted territory. Fonseca cleverly intertwines the following of time honored traditions with science fiction elements to generate an enthralling plot that is sure to lure any young reader away from his wii game system. As this book shows, kids today may be considerably different than kids of even just one generation prior, but what kids of all generations and all ages have always been drawn to is the opportunity to embark on a thrilling adventure. The Time Cavern showcases masterful storytelling that will immediately be passed forward to one of my nephews. I highly recommend picking up a copy for the young explorers that you love.

View all my reviews

From Where the Rivers ComeFrom Where the Rivers Come by Terin Tashi Miller

Set in the not especially distant past, Terin Tashi Miller transports readers to India. You'll feel as if you are walking the streets of Benares or Dehli, tasting the food, experiencing the heat, brushing away the dust, inhaling smoke from the funeral pyres, experiencing the claustrophobia of jam packed train rides, and taking in the vividly detailed sights. The first person narrative comes from the perspective of a journalist who is foreign to India by birth and race, but has been immersed in the culture long enough for it to be ordinary rather than exotic to him. He is not so much stranger in a strange land as an observer who has seen what India offers, recognizes the differences and similarities between his American homeland and the country from where his paychecks are earned, and accepts them with minimal judgement as the ways of the world. Miller's novel is neither plot heavy nor a character study, but rather, a story of place and slow to change times which subtly indicates the fine line between escaping where you are and who you are.

View all my reviews

Elf on the Shelf (The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, Volume 1)Elf on the Shelf by Carol V. Aebersold

An instant charmer. We'll see if it results in more nice than naughty behavior from my spirited 3 year old daughter over the couple weeks leading up to Christmas. She has definitely bought into the idea (after a little skepticism at first - "it's just a toy") that there's a scout elf situated in our home who waits until after she goes to sleep to fly back to the North Pole and file a report on her actions, then heads back to our house to be found the following morning in a different spot.







Whether it's independently published or not, when you discover a great new book (even it's only new To You) please be sure (word of mouth on and off social media is enormously appreciated by authors) to SHARE THE LOVE.       Reviews are awesome!!!



Monday, March 16, 2015

By any other name he would still be PETE ROSE







Ten years ago I asked...


Should Pete Rose be made eligible for induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame? 

This is a thorny question to grapple with, and one that won’t go away easily. At least not so long as Charlie Hustle is alive and kicking and reminding us that he just may have been the greatest ever to play the game. Professional baseball is plagued by numerous problems. Compared to the surge in popularity of the NFL and the NBA, baseball is going through troubled times. Had the players’ union gone on strike this past season, it may have been enough to cripple the sport for good. That disaster was narrowly averted. But how far away is the next crisis, and will it be the storm that baseball cannot weather? Major League Baseball needs to do something to demonstrate its strength and assert its position as the great American pastime. The woes of the league are symbolized by the fact that its all-time career leader in hits happens to be shunned by the institution that celebrates the best ever to play. As long as this situation remains, there will seem to be something wrong about baseball, something missing from its grandeur. But should the situation be remedied, a bandage applied to the sport’s wounds, if the situation is a just one? This is the dilemma that has been faced ever since Pete Rose’s banishment for gambling by then commissioner Bart Giamatti, and it is likely to resurface time and time again until resolved for good.


There is little doubt that Pete Rose did gamble on professional baseball games, including those played by the team he happened to be managing. Supposedly he only bet on his own team to win, which many point to as a factor in his favor. After all, if he was throwing games that he played in or managed, the case would be overwhelmingly open and shut. Not even the most diehard supporter of Rose would claim that even though he engineered his teams to lose games in order to make money for himself, he still deserves to be enshrined based solely on his statistics. Betting against himself is what “Shoeless” Joe Jackson allegedly did along with his teammates in the Word Series many moons ago. Despite Jackson’s protestations and numbers indicating he was in fact doing all he could to win, the shoeless one remains outside the pantheon of the immortals. This is an accepted state of affairs by baseball enthusiasts, no matter how many movies are made that cast a flattering light on Jackson. 


There have been no movies made as of yet to support Rose’s cause, not even a made-for-TV one, and they makes those about pretty much everyone. Pete Rose by and large has to speak up for himself, something he has been very willing to do over the years. But every so often, an occasion will arise when the fans get to voice their opinion on the matter. Each time, the sentiment has been strongly pro-Rose. There was the moment during the 1999 World Series when he was introduced as a member of baseball’s All-Century team (he was permitted on Turner Field in Atlanta because Pac Bell sponsored the event and insisted he be included) and received the loudest ovation of the players assembled. Jim Gray interviewed Rose before the second game and asked him whether he might now admit and apologize for gambling in order to end his suspension. Rose complained during the interview about Gray’s aggressive line of question, feeling it was an inappropriate place and time. Fans sided with Pete and Jim Gray was soon afterwards made to publicly apologize for the crime of doing his job. Then there was the ceremony to honor baseball’s most memorable moments that took place before Game 4 of the most recent World Series. Rose’s 4,192nd career hit, which surpassed Ty Cobb’s long standing and seemingly indelible mark, earned him the No. 6 spot on the list. The voice of the people has been repeatedly heard on this subject. They feel Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame, end of discussion. 


Induction into the Hall of Fame is not a mere popularity contest like some run-of-the-mill All Star game, however. Not that the imposing of morality has a great deal to do with who makes it into the Hall either, for the place is filled with racists, wife beaters, alcoholics, drug users, etc. It appears than when it comes to Hall of Fame induction, baseball has just one cardinal sin that it will not tolerate. Thou shalt not gamble, particularly on baseball itself. It doesn’t matter who you are, there are no exceptions to this rule. Gambling by baseball players is the equivalent of Eve eating that forbidden apple, a serious no-no. When Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays did promotions in Atlantic City long after their retirements, they were told to stay away from baseball until they disassociated themselves from the gambling industry. Now if baseball is willing to banish the Mick and the Say Hey kid, it’s pretty clear that they mean business. Their heroic achievements on the field did not matter. Their championships did not matter. Their status as legends and ambassadors of the sport did not matter. Baseball simply does not want to be connected with gambling, and if you can’t follow this rule, consider yourself an outcast. 


But Major League Baseball under the reign of Bud Selig is not in quite so strong a position as it was under the reigns of Giamatti and his successor Fay Vincent. Baseball needs the approval of its fans now more than ever. The fans support Pete Rose. Something and someone has got to give. For this reason, Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement in 1997 is at last under consideration. Pete is being asked to confess and apologize, or as he no doubt categorizes it, grovel for forgiveness? He certainly won’t be allowed to just waltz in. After all, there’s not doubt that Rose did something wrong, even if it’s unclear to outsiders precisely what. He did plead guilty to tax evasion charges, for which he spent time in a halfway house. And most incriminating, he did agree to a lifetime ban back on August 23rd, 1989. Why would someone who so loves the game agree to forever be banned from it, unless he was guilty as hell? Unless there was a mountain of evidence that he was unable bury. Best to accept the harshest of punishments, lay low for a few years until the public has forgotten that he was a bit of a jerk back in the day, and then come back when their strongest collective memory is that he was one of the greatest to ever step on to a baseball field. Now when Pete stands before thousands of fans for a ceremony, he receives nothing but adulation. In other words, he comes off smelling like a rose. 


Recent word has it that much progress has been made in this matter. Reportedly, Rose has indicated to Selig that he's willing for the first time to admit he bet on baseball and would also be willing to apologize for his 13 years of denials, and even serve a probationary period of "good behavior" in order to gain reinstatement and Hall of Fame eligibility for 2004. Rose is said to be encouraged by progress in talks among his lawyers, Selig, and current Hall of Famers who were teamates of Pete, Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan. An agreement may indeed be finalized and announced within a couple months. But supposing these reports to true, my initial question still remains unanswered. Does Pete Rose deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? 


My opinion on the matter is that if you did the crime, you should shut up and do the time. But the duration and harshness of the punishment should be appropriate to the seriousness of the ill-advised deed. Let’s not treat a pickpocket the same as we would a mass murderer. If there is hard evidence or documented admission by Pete Rose that he bet on his own team to lose, this is enough to warrant his lifetime banishment from the sport. If he only bet on his own team to win and on other games he was otherwise uninvolved with, a suspension was certainly in order, but not a permanent one. He should make a public statement of wrongdoing, and once this is done, be put on the Hall of Fame ballot. After that, if he’s voted in, he’s in. The famously stubborn Pete Rose has to give a little, and so does Bud Selig. If they both truly love the troubled sport as much as they claim to, they will do right by it. They will give acknowledge that Pete Rose, regardless of his abrasive personality and personal vices, played the hallowed game of baseball the way it was designed to be played.




Now here we are in 2015 and I ask you the same exact question.  Should Pete Rose be made eligible for induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame? My own opinion remains unchanged from the words stated above.  He has been hustling just like back in his playing days towards eligibility for a long time.  I think it's time to wave him in and see if he can make it safely home.