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campain

What was his old campaign, exactly?

Summers told WGME-TV that the Talking Phonebook picked up one of his old campaign numbers by mistake.”

mousetercard

All-purpose flour: $4.25

Enough yeast to last forever: $6.95

Phone calls to your aunt for baking instructions: twenty cellphone “units,” whatever that means.

Baking your own bread at home: priceless.

Discovering that a mouse has been living in your toaster, probably (judging by the evidence) for several weeks: …

* * *

There are some things money can’t buy. One of those is rodents, since I would be only too happy to ship you mine for free.

hattitude

“So it was pretty early and I wanted to get some stuff for when I was having you guys over later, so I put on my coat over my nightgown and I put my hat on too—you know my [black felt cowboy] hat?— and I drove down to the the store and [ex-boyfriend] Billy was there working the cash register, and he was wearing, you know that hat he always wears? that train engineer hat? Well he looked at me and said ‘where’s your horse?’ and I was so tired I said something dumb like ‘oh it’s outside’ or something like that. But if I had been thinking I would have said ‘same place as your train.’ There were a bunch of people standing around. It would have been perfect.”

the medium is the mess

“That’s CBS evening news for this Friday. I hope you all have a safe weekend. I’ll see you back here Monday night. Good night everyone!”

[We see our hero, sprawled on the couch, trying to balance a bowl of spaghetti on his chest while winding gobs of it onto his fork. Theme music swells from the television set. He reaches for the remote control.]

“Oh honey, let me get you a napkin!”

[Our hero looks up, wide-eyed.]

“Katie Couric?”

“I know I usually stay in the TV set and everything, but I couldn’t help noticing—you’re going to ruin that fleece if you don’t get that tomato sauce off it.”

[It is Katie Couric!]

“How…how did you get here?”

“Oh honey, you don’t think I could just stay in there and see you live like this? I really care about you! Here—”

[Katie Couric hands our hero a paper towel.]

“Wow, I—well, I didn’t know you could just step into my living room like that!”

“Yeah, I know. People think that television personalities are just characters on a screen. They don’t think we know what goes on outside, but we do.”

“I just—I didn’t know it worked that way.”

“I care about all my viewers. Every single one of them.”

“Yeah—wow. I guess that’s why you always sound so motherly and concerned, huh? Hey—what are you doing?!”

“I just thought you’d like me to put that in a glass for you. There you go sweetie.”

“Uh…thanks. So, like, you’ve been watching me all this time? You mean every time I turn on the television set you can see me too?”

“We’re not trying to pry honey. That’s just the way it is with live television. We just want to make sure you’re OK.”

“So all the other news anchors—”

“They can see you too.”

“Even the ones on PBS?” Maybe that’s why they look so tired…

“We all can. But we’re not trying to be invasive. I wouldn’t have said anything except you really have to be careful with tomato sauce, especially on the furniture. You know, you might want to eat this at the table first and then watch TV after.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Thanks.”

“I’m going to go along now honey. Just remember to use a little warm water and soap on that vest.”

“I will. See you.”

“Bye sweetie.”

[Katie Couric climbs back into the television, stepping around an entertainment news host. Our hero changes the channel, then gets up for seconds and another beer.]

reality show

“I’ve never been in Reba’s house,” I say, pushing a branch out of the way.

“The inside is a lot like the outside,” says Kim, stepping over a toppled flamingo.

Reba greets us at the door. Oddly enough, the the house itself is outwardly plain, and its interior is open, sparely finished with a second-story loft. Reba built it herself.

“Look at all the fish!” I say, rhetorically. There are a lot of fish.

“Oh come have the tour!” says Reba.

We start at the nearest tank. (There are three.) Reba points out Ellen, Barbara, Kathleen, all now several years old. She points out Kim, who is tiny.

“The old me is in the freezer,” says Kim. “We’re waiting til the ground thaws.”

Reba also points out Reba, five inches long, with glorious wisps of white and orange fins.

If you haven’t figured it out, Reba’s fish are named for herself and her friends. I have figured it out now, but it took a while. For instance, a few weeks ago we were having dinner at Kim’s house when Reba said:

“Oh, Kim! Guess who got to swim in the BIG tank today!”

“Me me meeeeeee!” said Kim, raising her arms in triumph.

“YES!” said Reba.

To the uninformed, such exchanges are puzzling.

The only male in the tank is Wilbur, whom I wouldn’t mention except he’s the only fish I’ve seen who waddles. I would say he has chubby apple-cheeks, except they’re yellow and blue, not rosy. When he swims, his tail swings one way, and his head—cheeks and all—bends in the other direction. The ferryboat captain gave him to Reba because he wanted to swim in the tank with the ladies.

Fish aren’t the only decoration though. Cardinal-shaped Christmas lights festoon a tree in the corner. The numbers on the kitchen clock have lost their grip and lie heaped at the bottom of the dial. But the flamingos are winning.

They’re not obvious at first. You notice them in the yard, but they’re mixed in with driftwood, lobster buoys, and convoys of plastic dump trucks. Inside, they’re not immediately obvious either.

We were sitting at Reba’s kitchen table, by the window. Ever since CBS started airing “Survivor”, Reba and Kim have had dinner every Thursday night and watched it. Since I moved next-door to Kim, I’ve been invited too. Both are in their mid-fifties; both commute to the city for work. Normally, Kim (a cooking fanatic) makes dinner, but since she’s about to leave for a family reunion, it’s Reba’s turn.

“Did you see this?” Kim asks me, lifting a finger-sized flamingo-candle off the windowsill.

“Oh…there are kind of a lot of them,” Reba admits.

“There’s a BIG one down there!” Kim splutters, pointing. Behind the sofa stands a four-foot high flamingo, made of neon tubing.

“That used to light up,” explains Reba. “Something happened.”

As the evening progresses, I see more. A beanbag-flamingo hangs lugubriously from the upstairs banister. A functional neon flamingo comes on behind me, glowing hot pink. I see flamingos on the upholstery, the refrigerator, the plates, the lamps…

After dinner we move to the TV. The prefatory sounds of “Survivor” drown out the hum of fish-tank bubblers. Swimming in their tanks, the fish seem unperturbed. Wilbur waddles through another orbit of the plant. Reba remains stationary, fluttering her wispy fins, her mouth open, watching the humans as they debate which of the remaining characters deserves to be voted off this time.

the beerable lightness of being

Pull the choke out. Grab the throttle. Pull the cord. Pull the cord. Pull, pull, pull the cord.

“You wouldn’t know I have a hernia,” he says.

Pull, pull, pull the, Pull, pull, pull pull pull waaa waaaaaaaaaaahhh aaah aaah aaah aah aaah, waaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH…

It has cooled off considerably. The wind is still strong out of the Northwest. We have about half an hour of daylight to go. The sky has turned yellow; the waves on the bay are translucent green.

He’s giving me a ride home, since I don’t have a car, and since I was helping him do something at the other end of the island. But first a neighbor has asked him to cut up a tree that blew across the driveway last night. There are no one-stop trips.

Besides overseeing everything I do, and overseeing all the maps and tax assessments and affordable housing projects and shellfish beds in the town, he does anything that involves small, gasoline-powered outdoor equipment, such as lawnmowers, chainsaws, snowblowers, weedwhackers, leafblowers, and so forth. Today it’s chainsaws.

But only chainsaws. In other words, no helmet, no facemask, no gloves, no leg-chaps—none of the safety equipment sane people use when chainsawing.

I move segments of trees out of the way as they become available, keeping a safe distance from the blade. Despite my premonitions, the chainsaw does not jump or skid out of his hands; it does not buck up into his face and deliver a hemispherical lobotomy; it does not go for the ankles and spray the ground with gore. The job is done in minutes.

“Fifty bucks,” he says. Silly rich person, not to own a chainsaw. We return to the truck and climb in.

“Wait a minute,” he says. “Hop out for a second and pull the seat forward.”

“I need a beer,” he explains. A beer from the bag of beers beneath my seat.

“It’s actually a really nice time of year,” he says. “It’s cold enough that you don’t have to worry about keeping them cold, but it’s not so cold you have to worry about them freezing. All you need’s a plastic bag.”

We drive off, beers in hand. It feels like watching a football game, but instead of a couch there’s the seat of a truck; instead of a game there’s a road. We roll through it at twenty miles an hour, into the night.

spooktacle

Imagine a fish that swims its entire life in mayonnaise. And then imagine catching that fish, and cooking it, and chopping it up into a paste of little pieces. And then imagine all the creatures in the sea—lobsters, scallops, crabs, squid—and imagine them all cooked and chopped and mayonnaised. And imagine it all going into a bowl, and then imagine taking a potato chip and cutting the surface of the paste, and trying to dig some onto the potato chip without it snapping. And then imagine putting it in your mouth, and chewing it, and swallowing, and then turning to the lady in the sunglasses with blinking blue lights on the rims and saying that thank you, you like it and it’s delicious.

And then imagine looking out over an industrial landscape. Imagine smokestacks, of all shapes and sizes, their dark mouths gaping up at you. Imagine blocky warehouses; imagine grain silos glinting. And then imagine that instead of gazing over roofs and silos and stacks, you actually stare over the top of a table—over the tops of many tables, one after another, down the hall—and imagine that the smokestacks you see are the necks of bottles, that the silos are beer cans, that the warehouses and factories are derelict 30-packs, ravaged and empty.

And imagine for a minute that this is your America, for in a sense it is. Wisconsin is represented here; so is Colorado. Microbreweries check in from many parts of the Northeast. Jack Daniels gives a holler from down in Tennessee. They all wink back at you in the twirling colored lights.

It’s hot. The furnace is trained for colder weather, and starts blowing unnecessarily. The band is good, but loud; or good and loud, or both. The moon is full outside. When the twirling lights die away between sets, you can look out the windows and see a view of the ocean that would cost several million dollars today. The lights of large homes shine on the far shore; cell towers blink behind them. The sky glows over the city.

A woman walks by, wearing a white robe with a large pouch sewn to look like an open toilet. Another woman in a satin wedding dress is showing off her shoes (with flowers) and you realize she is actually a man. Several pirates gyrate at each other off to one side. Many people wear sunglasses with flashing lights—some blue, some red, some purple. A number of women wear large plaques painted to mimic scrabble tiles. Some people have stuffed their costumes to appear morbidly obese, but one of the sad facts of rural living is that without prior knowledge, you can’t be sure who’s stuffed and who isn’t.

Imagine knowing almost none of these people, and yet being there anyway, and you’ll see how I spent my evening. Awkward, yes, but some things are worth awkward to see.