Thursday, March 23, 2017

23/31: Eating Costco Hot Dogs with my Dad #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
My dad handed me a foil-wrapped object, its silver sides glinting in the fluorescent light as I took it from his hand. It was still warm. 

I hadn't really asked him to buy me a hot dog at Costco, but at this point in our relationship, it's sort of a foregone conclusion. 

You see, my dad is the type of man who appreciates a good deal, especially when it comes to food. All you can eat buffets, two-for-one offers...and the warehouse club hot dog, which is a screaming good deal in his book. After all, you can get a hot dog and a drink for under $2. Where else can you eat an entire meal for such a low price? This is the rhetorical question my dad asks each time he hands another still-steaming foil cylinder to me. 

This thrifty tradition goes way back. On Sundays, when I was younger, my parents would make a weekly Sam's (another cult club warehouse store) run to stock up on household necessities in bulk. With three young kids in the house, we went through things like toilet paper and cereal quickly, necessitating these pilgrimages to the kind of club where, instead of throbbing music and colorful light shows, you're surrounded instead by elevator music and fluorescent lights that wouldn't be out of place in an interrogation room. My brother, my sister and I adored these trips. It was here that we learned another one of my dad's methods for seeking out a good food deal: the free samples.

"Think of it as an appetizer," he'd say, leading us past the 64oz bottles of olive oil and the kiddie-pool sized tubs of mayonnaise to the first of many free food oases. Bite-sized sections of sandwiches, pizza rolls, crackers with a tiny square of "interesting" cheese on them, communion-sized cups of juice...we consumed it all, trailing behind our Free Food Sensei and learning from his wise ways. We'd chew thoughtfully and comment on the merits of each sample as if we were food critics. This was a process, after all.  

At the end of our journey, our appetites sufficiently whetted, my dad would leave my mom to wheel our teeming cart through the checkout and take us over to the food counter (conveniently placed so you have to walk by it to leave). He'd pull out a ten, buy us all hot dogs, and present them to us. After the vigorous sampling, it felt like we had earned it. 

Tonight, after a quick spin through Costco to collect supplies for my sister-in-law's baby shower this weekend, I knew exactly what my dad was doing when he kept walking once we pulled up to the checkout lane. I followed him, and sure enough, I was rewarded with the first foil-wrapped hot dog I'd had in quite some time. 

"Only the best for his girls," my mom commented with a smile as she and my sister took their own pieces of nostalgia. 

When I was younger, I coated my prize with ketchup and added mustard as an afterthought. These days, I take healthy doses of ketchup, mustard and relish on my hot dogs. Tonight, I unleashed my inner kid as I decorated my dog, delighting in the waves of happy memories that flowed over me as I did. 

My condiment preferences may have matured as I have gotten older, but there's one part of me that's the same: the part of me that still loves eating a Costco hot dog with her dad. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

22/31: Scaring the Seagulls #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
Morning sunlight glints off the ocean. Sweat earned by my morning run dries on my skin. The waves inch in, then slip back out again, their edges bordered by white foam. I stand, my hands on my hips, and look ahead. 

I'm looking at the seagulls. 

If you've been to the beach, you know that the gulls are ubiquitous. Here, they dot the sand in front of me like beached buoys. They stand, sentries of the shoreline, watching me. I watch them back. They are unimpressed by me. I don't have food, which means that I'm basically worthless. They all but turn their beaks up at me as they poke at the ground, searching for sustenance. 

Then, without warning, I get An Idea. If you know me, you know that I get nonsensical urges from time to time. They're totally irrational, totally random and totally silly. 

For no reason at all, I want to run towards the seagulls like a crazy person, flailing my arms and screaming, just so I can force them to notice me.

I know. It's a little rude. After all, like me, the seagulls are enjoying this fine South Carolina morning. They're minding their own business, saving their annoying natures for later when some hapless six-year-old opens a bag of Cheetos. 

I dig the toe of my running shoes in the wet sand, forming a little well. Maybe I should leave them alone. I look back at the seagulls. They aren't even looking at me.

I make up my mind. I sprint full speed ahead at the seagulls, my arms raised over my head and my fingers splayed. They stare at me for a moment, waiting to see if I will stop. I don't. 

If seagulls could roll their eyes and sigh, they would as they rise into the air as one, sailing overhead lazily for but a moment. I retreat, giggling like a schoolgirl, and they settle back on the sand. They shuffle their feet as if to reprimand me for my stunt, but I can take it. Seagull shame is worth the one moment of unadulterated bliss earned by giving in to one of my impractical yet hilarious urges. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

21/31: Something About Salt Air #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!

There's just something about salt air. 

Each breath in is a promise, each exhale a freedom. Brine mixes with the sort of sunshine you only find next to the ocean, and with every lungful, I feel new. But there is a familiarity there. A comfort. Salt air always tastes the same, no matter how long it's been since you breathed it last. 

I walk toward the waning sun, next to my sister and behind my mother. Translucent jellyfish who long ago gave up the ghost dot the beach that stretches in front of me. They catch the light, looking like delicate soap bubbles that have yet to burst. Miniscule shells crunch beneath my bare feet, their textured sides mingling with the puttylike consistency of the wet sand that tickles my toes. Above, a bright red kite soars in the blue, blue sky, the cherry on top of the sundae that is today. 

My sister and I share the same stride, our feet striking the sand in tandem. We talk, pull faces, and execute overwrought leaps (a halfhearted attempt to recall the days when we used to dance) that cause us both to double over in laughter.  She points out dogs and wishes they would come closer so that she could pet them. I dart into the cold waves, shrieking each time the tide envelops my toes. Our wind-tossed hair mingles as we walk. Her brown strands are darker than mine, but the texture is the same. 

Time has passed since we were last together, but us? We are the same. We pick up right where we left off. We are a beloved book that has been shelved whose story is instantly familiar the moment it is opened again. 

My sister squints against the sun and looks forward at our mother, who is slowly becoming smaller and smaller as she moves away from us. 

"Let's catch up to Mom." 

I nod. I take in a deep breath. There's just something about salt air. Each breath in is a renewal, each exhale a declaration. 

And I run, exhaling and screaming and giggling and whooping like I'm six again. And my sister is right beside me, our feet striking the sand in tandem, our breaths mixed with bursts of laughter. 

We close the gap. We reach my mother at the same time. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

20/31: In Transit #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!

Author's note: I'm traveling to South Carolina today to see my family, so here's a short poem (written in twenty minutes since that's the duration of my free wi-fi here...get it together, Lambert!).

The airport is...
A revolving door,
The in-between,
A constant state of limbo. 

We are
We are
In transit. 

I am a boomerang 
But always returning
Back to where I started. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

19/31: The Cinnamon Roll That Wasn't #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
9:50 AM.

I sighed and turned my phone over so that I wouldn't be tempted to check the time again. 

"She said 10, right?" I looked at my husband, the corners of my mouth turning down slightly, a move that he knows is the precursor to the Full-Blown Katie Pout (TM). 

He nods his head. "Do you want to wait?" 

I looked at the table in front of us. Both of our dishes were empty. Traces of my ham and egg burrito and smears of the whipped cream from his French toast were the only remnants of our breakfast. I glanced over at the chalkboard sign over the counter that bore the words that had haunted me since we walked through the doors of Russell's Cafe: Saturday is Cinnamon Roll Day! 

I looked Scott dead in the eye. "Yes." 

I have A Thing for cinnamon rolls. Simply put, I adore them. They are nature's perfect food. So naturally, when Scott and I arrived at Russell's at 9 AM, the first thing out of my mouth after the perky girl behind the cash register greeted me was, "So, about those cinnamon rolls..." 

Her face fell momentarily. "Yes, we have cinnamon rolls, but they're not ready yet. They take a while to proof. They'll be done around 10, I think." 

So here we were. Our breakfast was finished. Scott had drank at least three cups of coffee. I was nursing my second glass of iced tea and had read the free copy of St. Louis's food magazine from cover to cover in an attempt to take my mind off of the cinnamon roll (of course, this happened to be their pastry issue. Mission NOT accomplished).

10:05 AM.

Just as I was about to give up all hope, I heard a squeal from the girl at the register. "Oh, they're ready?! Awesome!"

She could only be talking about one thing.

I swear my ears literally perked up. I sat up a little straighter, waiting to witness the moment where the pastry I had (not so) patiently been waiting for was placed behind the counter next to the cookies, scones and muffins already on display.

Another worker walked out from the back, reverently holding a giant cast-iron pan. Inside sat six of the largest cinnamon rolls I had ever seen, each the size of a small dog. I'm pretty sure a heavenly glow surrounded the pan. The aroma was enticing. The rolls were perfectly browned. Steam rose from each perfect rosette of happiness. But something was missing...

"There's no...there's no icing?" I tore my eyes away from the rolls to look at Scott. The sorrow in his eyes confirmed my fears. NAKED CINNAMON ROLLS? The horror! 

10:10 AM. 

I picked up my keys and slid out of the booth. Scott didn't have to ask; I had already made up my mind.

There would be no cinnamon rolls eaten today. After all, when it comes to breakfast pastries, a girl's gotta have standards. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

18/31: Where the Music is #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
Author's Note: I had the pleasure of hearing Noam Pikelny play at The Old Rock House last night. I have a deep, deep appreciation for bluegrass music, so this was basically my version of nirvana. 

I shift on the leather stool I am perched upon, straining my eyes in the dim lighting of The Old Rock House to gaze at the small stage scattered with various stringed instruments. The low murmur of conversations floats across the intimate venue as we wait. The crowd is small and varied. An older man with suspenders and a flowing beard stands next to a girl in a floral dress. Off-duty musicians are given away by the callouses on their fingers. Older couples twine their arms around each other's waists, their heads tipped together as they wait for the main act to arrive. I take it all in. I am waiting too. 

Finally, the night's entertainment begins. An unassuming dark-haired man with a banjo slung across his shoulder walks to the center of the sparse stage, and without preamble, launches a shower of bright notes across the room, flinging them across the rapt audience as if they were candy at a parade or meteors darting across a night sky. The fingers of his right hand dance, the silver pick catching the light as it moves up and down the strings. His left hand waltzes up and down the fretboard. We jiggle our feet, nod our heads and tap our fingers to the beat he sets, but we are otherwise silent. This music demands to be heard. 

He looks over the crowd, not at it, as he plays. His eyebrows arch in time with his notes. In brief moments, a smile quirks at the corners of his mouth, interrupting his otherwise stoic expression. As I watch him do what he so clearly loves, I think that he is somewhere else. He is not here, in St. Louis, playing for a crowd united only by their common love of bluegrass music. He is playing for himself. He is where the music is. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

17/31: The Forgotten Junkyard #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
I don't remember how old I was when I first came across the forgotten junkyard. Most of the memories I keep from the ages of seven to fifteen that have taken on an impressionistic quality, as if someone has taken their hand and smeared it across the still-wet paint. 

But I remember walking through the line of forest that cradled the 30 acres of land I grew up on, the smell of the decaying leaves wafting up with each step, the peculiar sort of silence that blankets places where human footprints are rare. I remember seeing the rusted plow, then the Pepsi can with a label that looked familiar yet foreign at the same time, then the burnished gold of an empty lipstick tube that was too ornate to be something that you'd find on a vanity today. And then I couldn't stop looking. 

This was not a diamond in the rough; it was the rough spot on a diamond. This was a landfill in the midst of my sacred trees. The oasis of the forest, teeming with life, gave way to this display of decay, recalling days where trash was left behind without a second thought. Discarded memories lay on their sides, slowly sinking into the ground, waiting to be forgotten for good. 

I stood. I looked, and I wondered, stories spinning in my head of the glamorous lady who had rolled the lipstick tube up and carefully painted her mouth and the man who had once looked at this plow with pride after a long day's work. 

These false stories lingered in the air, fabrications of my imagination, and for a moment, this blighted mark in the middle of the forest looked more like a beacon, shining with possibilities. I knew I would return here because it was both mysterious and familiar, history in layers, begging to be explored. 

And I did, for many years. I retraced my steps, always finding it right when I was sure this would be the time this portal to the past had closed. I discovered something new each visit: a set of curlers, a mason jar half-buried in the loamy soil with a fern growing steadily inside of it, a rusted Folger's can full of nails. My parents shrugged their shoulders when I asked where the forgotten junkyard had come from, but it didn't matter. It was there, and I had found it. 

 Someone else lives on those 30 acres now. I hope that, someday, as the smell of the decaying leaves surrounds each step he takes in the forest that I loved, he comes across the forgotten junkyard. And I hope that, for a moment, he pauses and wonders. Just like I once did.