Monday, May 30, 2011

Dining Out in Kansas City

Accurso's Italian Food
4980 Main Street
Kansas City, Missouri

It's just a guess, but I suspect that as you move away from the heart of Country Club Plaza, prices get better and the snob factor declines in inverse proportion. Accurso's is just far enough from that point of overpriced snobbery that the prices are acceptable even to this miserly curmudgeon, while the snoot-elevation was still sufficient to lend an air of sophistication.

We were surprised to be seated right away, at 7pm on a Friday evening — but judging from the many restaurants we passed on our way here, no one goes out on the Friday of a three-day weekend in Kansas City.  I celebrated this unexpected bit of lagniappe with a glass of wine, an inexpensive and unpretentious Riesling that I really enjoyed. We started with the antipasto sampler, tasty and easily large enough for four people: artichoke hearts, olives, salami, provolone, capicola, mozzarella, pepperoni and tomatoes slathered in way too much balsamic vinegar and olive oil. 

What's that mean?
The dishes we ordered were lasagna, ravioli raphaela, and two of that evening's specials: stuffed rigatoni in a cream sauce, and tuna steaks on capellini. Of those four, only the tuna would seem to match the promise of the restaurant's atmosphere and reputation. It was excellent, cooked to within a hair's breadth of perfection, with a delicious light sauce. The stuffed rigatoni was cooked al dente but seasoned with an overdose of salt, and an underdose of stuffing in the pasta (and what there was, was bland). The ravioli raphaela was plentiful but, sadly, uninteresting, to the point where I actually left a good portion of it uneaten, and didn't take it home for leftovers, a shocking behavioural abnormality that should speak volumes. The lasagna was either okay or lousy, depending on which you accept of the four opinions it produced at our table. My own thought was that it was just okay, though the sauce relied too much on mere tomato flavour. The link of dry Italian sausage served with it was grilled well beyond expectation but not quite beyond acceptability. 
Accurso's Italian Food & Drink on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 27, 2011

Things Are Looking Up: Day 2 of the 2011 Wisconsin Road Trip

[Some of the photos taken on this trip are posted on line HERE]

Stratford, Texas, at sunrise
I was up early, like 5AM, wide awake, so I got dressed and went out to see the sights of Stratford, Texas, a small panhandle town that, honestly, has no sights. It didn't take long. At least the angle of the light gave mundane things a slight romantic cast, and the cool air was bracing. Rick was up a couple of hours later, and we loaded the car pretty quickly and headed off in search of coffee.

Before we found that, though, we reached Boise City, Oklahoma, where we witnessed the destruction wrought by the US Army Air Corps pilot who accidentally dropped three bombs on the town during a 1943 training mission. Luckily for the town, bombs used during training missions back then weren't live ordnance, so the destruction was mostly to the surface of the earth. One of the bombs has been enshrined as mute testimony to the town's will, in its crater in front of the Chamber of Commerce. The others are in the town's museum collection, which we didn't see.

After that, we drove out to the edge of town to see the city's welcome to visitors from the north. When it was built, these giant sauropods were called brontosaurs, so it probably had some cute diminutive name like Bessy the Bronto. Now they're called apatosaurs, and that just doesn't lend itself to charming iambic phrase. So now it's called The Dinosaur.

Following that, a quick tour of the town revealed that there was only one surviving eatery where we might get coffee and breakfast ... a Subway in the local truck stop. It could've been worse. Much worse. At least breakfast at Subway is a thing of known quality and composition, and the truck stop's coffee was pretty good, and voluminous.

From there we headed northeast, clipping the corner of Texas County (which was why we went that direction in the first place) and then up into unexplored Kansas. We paused briefly to admire the vastness of the grassland in the Cimarron River bottom, then continued north to Wallace, epicenter of a number of battles between the US cavalry and whichever tribe of Indians inhabited the area at the time. I thought it was Arapaho, but there was some Pawnee pottery in the local museum.

The big draw of that museum, though, is its collection of barbed-wire animal sculptures executed by local artisan Ernie Poe ("Ernest E. Poe, if you want to get formal. I don't.") His chef d'oeuvre is the near-life-sized buffalo that stands out front, seven hundred pounds of wire on a steel frame. 

In addition to the museum, the exhibits include a station of the old Butterfield Overland Despatch line that ran through the area, complete with bullet holes and trap door that led to the tunnels that once connected the station with its outlying defenses; a Union Pacific Railway station; and a building built to house the collection of the larger implements of frontier life -- a corn wagon, a chuckwagon, a sleigh, some other carts, a loom, a mock-up of a blacksmith shop, and the various animals that Ernie has built to pose with the vehicles. All in all, an entertaining half hour by the roadside.

Inside the museum were some photographs of people exploring an interesting geological formation called Monument Rocks, which we found out were just a small distance out of our planned way. So we drove over to Oakley, the next town, where we saw the monumental sculpture of Buffalo Bill Cody on a mound,

and the little Fick Museum (which consists of one fascinating fossil exhibit and piles of local craftwork)

and then we drove fourteen miles south to a dirt road that led, after 7 miles, to Monument Rocks, an impressive stand of chalk towers left behind when the land around them eroded away. We spent at least a good hour clambering around in these rocks.

After that slightly mystical experience (you always understand why the Indians thought of these places as "sacred"), we headed north toward Nebraska, stopping for dinner in Oberlin, Kansas, a pleasant Plains city given to variety in its garden plantings of irises.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Like Cameron Diaz with a West Texas Drawl

Green Chile Willy's
13651 Interstate 27, at McCormick
Amarillo, Texas

It's just a simple metal building, plopped down between the frontage road and a horse farm. Inside the decor is typical of many Texas restaurants: framed, autographed pictures of local celebrities, some western impedimenta, some old sepia-toned photos. Not a very large place. In fact, not nearly large enough for the crowds it attracts. We got there just in time: we were seated immediately; fifteen minutes later, all the seats in the waiting area were taken.

The menu is as simple as the architecture: fried chicken; chicken fried steak; burgers; and side dishes like fried corn and baked potatoes. I went for the JalapeƱo Jack chicken fried steak; my friend Rick opted for the chicken fried chicken.

Our waitress, the title character of this post, greeted us as though we were old friends come to call, but with a degree of sincerity that is hard to fake. When Rick asked for sweet tea, she told him they only had unsweetened, "But can you stick your finger in it?" An old line, but delivered with such unforced charm that it still works. She was attentive throughout our meal, but without hovering. She struck just the right balance between visiting with her customers and getting her work done, and we could see that no one in the place felt any lack of attention from any of the staff.

Both our meals were priced at $11.25, though the menu did claim that all the chicken fried steaks were "Texas sized," and both meals included a salad and one side order. Still, I thought the price a little on the high side. My initial dissatisfaction with that aspect of the visit increased when I found that Texas is not as big in the Panhandle as it is in the rest of the state. I expected a CFS that draped over the sides of a respectable platter; I got one about the size of a dessert plate. Big enough to satisfy the stomach, but not the eyes. I know, I'm better off not having gotten some gigantic slab of breaded meat, but I had kind of been hoping for leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.

See my comment, below,
re the "value" rating
I certainly didn't leave with any sense of dissatisfaction, however. It may not have been the absolute best CFS I've ever had, but it's up there. The breading was a little crunchy, as it should be, and well seasoned; the meat was good quality, and the cream gravy was excellent. The best part of it, though, were the added ingredients of jalapeƱos and shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, which were present in just great enough quantity to add their flavours to the mix with clarity, not intruding on the simple pleasure of CFS with cream gravy, but augmenting it. Rick's chicken fried chicken had the same combination of ingredients, and was equally tasty. 

The side dishes were done with a precise hand. Simple foods like these are hard to screw up, but also hard to excel at. Yet the kitchen at Green Chile Willy's Grill has excelled. The green beans I had were fresh, cooked long enough to be tender but not so long as to get mushy, and seasoned with a tangy mixture of spices that does not appear to include bacon or fatback. They were delicious. And Rick's baked potato was large but perfectly baked, with plenty of the toppings that make a baked potato so heart-clogging good. 

The kitchen at Green Chile Willy's is geared toward speed. Salads, condiments, toppings and such are packaged in the slow times for quick delivery when the crowds start pouring in, but they achieve that speed without sacrificing appreciably on quality. It's a good thing, because the lines are out the door.
Green Chile Willy's Grill on Urbanspoon

And the Adventure Begins!

The start of a Road Trip is such a dull affair these days. This is because I live pretty much in the middle of Texas, and have to get through the rest of it before I get to any New Territory.

This trip, at least, is exciting for Rick, who's coming with me to Wisconsin, and who has never ever been beyond Junction (except for six weeks in Basic Training on an air base in Amarillo, but he never got off base in that whole time). So we're driving along through the more or less unremarkable landscape between San Antonio and the Oklahoma line, and he found things to look at. It helps to have new things to look at, even if it's all flat, treeless expanse. And we did have a dust storm to liven things up briefly; at one point it was heavy enough to drop visibility almost to zero. But that only lasted a few hundred yards.

We left San Antonio around 8 this morning, after I dropped Homer off at his kennel. Breakfast was in Boerne, at the Bear Moon Cafe on Main Street, which until this stop has always been a favourite of mine. Today, though, I found the coffee too strong and the scones disappointing. The cranberry scone was like eating bread, with a heavy but not crunchy crust; the buttermilk scone was like eating cake. Day-old cake. 
Bear Moon Bakery on Urbanspoon
We loaded an audiobook into the CD player and set off down the freeway. The book is P.D. James' A Taste for Death, one of her Adam Dalgliesh series. I've never read any of her work. It's by far the longest audiobook we got from the library, at 22 hours, but that's not entirely from the languid pace of the action. I find James also has a knack for elegantly simple and concise description. My favourite sentence so far, describing a character's reaction to the discovery of two bodies, was "Blood spattered against the retinas of her closed eyes." Evocative and succinct.

So in Junction we stopped to see the Deer Horn Tree. I didn't expect much of it, but that's about all there is to see in a place like Junction. Sure enough, a tree made out of deer horns. Well, we had to stop anyway, to put the top down.

Pearl of the Conchos and
Celebration Bridge
After that it was on to San Angelo. I'd been to the art museum at San Angelo a few years back, to see a travelling exhibit of paintings from some small but renowned museum in Connecticut. Right behind that museum (and I don't know if it was there at the time) is a park in the floodplain of the Concho River, and in the river, next to the new-looking Celebration Bridge, is a statue of a mermaid holding an oyster, in which is a giant pearl. The statue is called The Pearl of the Conchos. Not great art, but a nice statue in a very nice setting. Nice enough that we had a relaxing picnic lunch of the sandwiches we had brought from home.

Our next stop -- this will show you just how hard it is to find interesting things to see along the routes of western Texas -- was in Big Spring, where we were led to believe exist the world's largest pair of horns. It's only a block out of our way, so I wasn't too terribly disappointed to find that the horns are no longer there. Just an empty pavilion on the grounds of the Heritage Museum. Well, maybe they've moved the horns indoors. I suppose that if I had the world's largest horns, I'd want to protect them from the elements and rival claimants. 

The rest of the trip today, with the exception of the dust storm, was unremarkable. It's now nearly 10pm and we are ensconced in the "party room" of the Stratford Inn, in Stratford, Texas. The "party room" is called that because it has four queen-sized beds in it. I sure hope we aren't woken up in the middle of the night by a small but determined band of  Stratford's hardest-core partiers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why Would Obama Say Such a Thing?

Incredibly, I heard on the radio this morning an interview, conducted by a seemingly intelligent reporter for National Public Radio, of a seemingly intelligent political analyst, concerning the recent events to do with the Middle East. Under discussion was the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, where he met with President Obama (before the latter's departure for a visit to his ancestral home in Moneygall, Ireland; yes, we forget that his heritage is as much European as it is African), addressed a pro-Israel lobbying group, and spoke to a joint session of congress. The dust-up of particular interest to the radio pundits was because President Obama, speaking last week in anticipation of Netanyahu's visit, and with an eye toward the current climate of rebellion and reform in many parts of North Africa and the Middle East, said, near the end of his speech:

For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations. Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now. 
White House photo
by Lawrence Jackson
I disagree. At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever. That's certainly true for the two parties involved. 
For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.
As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it's important that we tell the truth: The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace. 
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people -– not just one or two leaders -- must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation. 
Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them -- not by the United States; not by anybody else. But endless delay won't make the problem go away. What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows -- a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. 
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
Israeli Prime Minister
Benyamin Netanyahu
(State Department photo)
The reference to the 1967 borders as a starting point for negotiation lit up Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has decided to start referring to them as The Indefensible 1967 Borders, a tactic that panders to unthinking people everywhere.

The question the reporter asked, for which the political analyst had no ready answer was, Given the political situation in this country, why would President Obama make a controversial reference to the 1967 borders as a basis for an agreed peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours? He gets nothing out of it. They seemed unable to fathom any reason for this statement.

I think I know the answer, and I think it was a wise and judicious thing for Obama to do. (I often think I'm alone among Republicans in thinking Obama wise and judicious, especially in comparison to the reactionary-pandering, fatuous, simpering, spineless, gutless wonders my own party keeps vomiting up for the entertainment of Fox "News" interviewers.) 

Israel has, rightly, long enjoyed great and essentially unwavering support from the United States. We have been that nation's champion since its founding in 1948; we have backed it, even when its positions have been questionable, in every one of its conflicts with its neighbours. Each presidential administration since Truman's has understood that Israel, unlike its neighbours, is under existential threat: intractable elements throughout the region, from Islamabad to Fez, from Damascus to Sa'na, want the State of Israel wiped off the face of the earth. With that kind of threat facing it, Israel is entitled to greater deference in our dealings with it and its neighbours. 

But Israel, in the last decade or so, has begun to lose the moral high ground it held in American thought since 1948. Ultra-conservative forces within Israel have begun to assert themselves with greater success, forcing what they call a "Greater Israel" on the world. The ongoing Jewish settlement of lands in the West Bank, outside the 1967 borders, is a part of that push for an enlarged Jewish state. But each new settlement, each additional hectare of land taken from the Palestinians by Israeli settlers, is a new affront to the prospect for eventual peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel knows this, but its weak governments have been unable to find the backbone needed to prevent further encroachments on the West Bank. American governments have repeatedly warned Israel that this nation will not support this eating away of the land that will, in some fashion, someday be an Arab state of Palestine; the Israelis, though, apologise, maybe pause, and continue to build. 

Obama's statement that the 1967 border is a starting point for negotiations has long been acknowledged by all responsible parties. For my own part, I agree with that, and I would go further and say that wars have consequences, and the Palestinians much accept that the wars fought and lost in 1948 and 1956 and 1967 and 1973 mean that Israel's annexation of Jerusalem must be accepted as fact. They won it, and it is theirs. 

Palestinians must accept, too, that they were offered their own state at the same time the Israelis were, in 1948, but they chose to make war instead. They lost, and they must accept the consequences of their decision, or their fathers' decision. The refugees who fled the nascent State of Israel in 1948, and their children born in refugee camps throughout the region, and in neighbouring states, many of whom have never set foot in Israel, must accept that they have no right to return to ancestral homes in Israel. Whether they have any right to return at all must depend upon their willingness to accept the status within the Israeli political structure that is offered to them — a status that, because they are not Jews and Israel is by definition a Jewish state, is likely to be what we would consider second-class citizenship for some time into the future. (Westerners who find that likelihood opprobrious should look to the status of non-believers in Islamic nations throughout Africa and Asia, or to the status of Catholics in the British colonies that became the United States, and accept that our notions of inclusive democracy are not universally shared. We may well be morally superior, but we are not the ones who make the decisions or live with the results.)

By reminding the Israelis that the 1967 borders are the starting point, and that their continuing incursions into the West Bank have never had our support, Obama is, wisely and judiciously, warning the Israelis that American backing has its limits, and that they have continually tested those limits for decades. Incursions, like wars, have consequences.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Story


The day after Lester died, Emma heard music.

Her first thought was that it was pretty, but before she could decide why it was pretty, she realized how extraordinary it was just to hear music. The old, untuned piano had sat silently in the day room for the entire seven years she had worked there, and never once had anyone struck two consecutive tuneful notes on it. It was just where David sat.

He had been eight when Emma came to work there, and already a resident for three years. He spent every day sitting at the piano, not touching it, never trying the notes, not seeing anything. Just sitting, staring at the window beyond the closed case of the instrument. Mary Ann, the Supervising Nurse, said that when he first discovered the piano, he had played every note, from lowest to highest, slowly, deliberately, one time each and one after the other, as if memorizing their sound. He would take a seat there early each morning, and strike the lowest note, then the next, and the next, and when after several long minutes he finally reached the top, he would start over at the bottom, again and again, all day long, until at last Lester put a stop to it.

Lester had lived at the hospital for longer than anyone could remember. He alternated between sitting in an upholstered chair in the day room, muttering things no one understood, and shouting profanities and curses at his fellow residents, the nurses, the attendants, the walls, the furniture. And one day, about the time Emma first came to work there, Lester, who had been sitting in his chair muttering, stood and began cursing the light fixtures on the ceiling, then strode purposefully to the piano and slammed the lid down on David’s hand. Mary Ann said it broke a bone just above the left index finger.

David hadn’t touched the keys since that day. Instead, he would hold his finger over each key in turn, hovering in the air, as if he had struck it, as if he heard the vibrations of the string die away. His right foot would rise and fall on one of the pedals, relentlessly, but to no effect except the sound of something moving inside. He did this every day, all day; and then, for no reason, about three years ago he stopped. He spent each day after that still at the piano, but just sitting, hands in his lap, staring out the window, or with eyes closed, staring at something within himself.

He never spoke. No one in the hospital had ever heard his voice. He never cried, or laughed, never made a sound, never even produced the incomprehensible sounds so common among the hospital’s residents. He submitted to being dressed and undressed and bathed and fed by the attendants, but in unbroken silence. He could hear well enough, of that they were sure, and he understood them when they spoke to him. They knew that, because they would remind him to go to the bathroom, and he would go. When they told him it was time for lunch, he would follow the others to the dining room and sit, placid, while each spoon- or fork-ful was brought to his mouth. If no one fed him, he simply sat. If they remembered to tell him he was finished, he would go back to the piano and sit for the rest of the day. If they forgot, he would sit in the dining room until someone noticed him and told him he could leave. If they gave him water he drank it; if they didn’t, he did without.

He had been a beautiful young child when Emma first came, and it had pained her to imagine the sadness of his life, being lived out in such a strange madness. His blond straight hair, his smooth pale skin, his green-blue unseeing eyes. And in the years since she had come to the hospital, David had grown into a handsome young man of fifteen, almost sixteen, existing in silence in his room and the day room and the dining room and the bathroom, and in his own closed mind.

Doctors came and examined him from time to time, and postulated theories, and made recommendations and wrote prescriptions and ordered treatments, but it never made a difference. Oh, a drug might make him sleep more, or less, and one had made him sway back and forth, but nothing ever changed the way he behaved, the detached way he responded to instructions, the way he sat, hour after hour, at the piano.

Emma took him for walks from time to time, around the hospital grounds, talking to him, pointing at trees and shrubs and flowers, urging him to notice. She would take his hand and say “Come with me, David,” in as cheerful a voice as anyone has ever used with a child, and lead him out the door, down the porch stairs, across the gravel drive, off into the grass. Sometimes she took off his slippers so he would feel the cool grass between his toes. She often used to think some response was just about to dawn, a look in his eyes, awareness, confusion, surprise, but none ever did. If she walked, he followed; if she stopped, he stopped. If she walked away from him, he stood silent and patient, until she returned and took him back in, or told him to go back. If she said “Let’s go inside now,” he would follow her. If she waited, he waited. But if she said, “Go back in now,” he would go by himself. She didn’t understand how he could know the difference and seem to know nothing else.

A year ago, maybe a little more, there had been another change. Now, instead of sitting silent and unmoving at the piano, he would hold both hands above the keys, fingers spread, slowly moving each finger as if playing. At first Emma had watched when she could spare the time, to see if there were some pattern to the movement. He seemed to play the same thing over and over, his left hand stretched wide, his right hand moving in place, thumb, middle finger, little finger, over and over, then moving to hover over different notes and moving in the same pattern, then in different patterns, but almost always from left to right, from low notes to higher.

Every few days she would take a few minutes to watch, and after several months noticed that the patterns traced by his fingers and hands had become more and more complex over time, as if he were composing an etude, and adding to it with the passing days. She could stand beside him, or in front of him, or behind him, and it made no difference to him. Did he not care that she watched him, she wondered, or did he simply not grasp it? She couldn’t tell.

She took to watching from across the piano, watching his face for some shiver of consciousness. Was he hearing an imagined sound from the notes he pretended to play? If he was, did it have some kind of meaning for him? But his look never changed from the vacant stare, his gaze never wavered from the bright rectangle of light through the window. He never looked down at the keys, never looked in her direction, never turned his head, never showed the slightest animation in his features. Occasionally he would stop suddenly, sometimes putting his hands down in his lap, as if he had made a mistake or reached an impasse, but soon he would start again, seemingly from the beginning of whatever he imagined he heard.

Whatever it was, it seemed to last about four or five minutes. She had timed him for a few weeks, and each time, whatever he was doing, he would do it for about that long, then pause, then start again. When he stopped before that time was up, he would put his hands in his lap, as if thinking. If he went the full time, he would simply pause and start again. Over and over, over and over, over and over.

Most of the time the other residents ignored him. Most of the time, most of them ignored everything, each lost in their own mad world. Few could speak or walk unassisted, so they would remain wherever they were placed, until someone helped them away. But on occasion an ambulatory resident would go to the piano and stare at David, or strike the keys haphazardly. One old woman, now dead, used to stand by the piano and talk at David, “Are you playing something? I don’t hear no music. You can’t play this thing.” He never responded, never acknowledged her any more than anyone else, and she would get bored and leave, usually. A few times she pushed him off the piano stool, and banged the keys madly for a short while. When that no longer held her interest she would simply walk away, and David would resume his place on the stool and start again.

Lester, in his moments of activity, would stand by the piano and shout at David, demand that he really play, call him honky and peckerwood and call down generations of African Methodist Episcopal curses on the silent blond boy’s head. At first, after the incident with the piano lid, Emma grew nervous whenever Lester noticed David, but nothing ever happened again. Lester would begin by cursing the flowers on the wallpaper, the shape of the doorknob, the grill over the radio speaker, and now and then he would turn his invectives on the others in the room, calling anyone names who caught his conscious eye, as no one did more often than David.

But mostly the other residents sat where they were placed, or paced mindlessly, or listened to the radio. It was always tuned to the NBC-Red network; whether that was from a conscious decision or simple neglect, Emma never considered. During the mornings there were local programs, farm reports and news, from Nashville and Atlanta and Chattanooga; in the afternoons, network soap operas; in the evenings, comedies, or dramas, or vaudeville programs from New York. Through them all David sat at the piano, oblivious and silent, fingering the air above the keys.

Emma arrived for work that morning and taken David to breakfast with the other patients. She had an attendant feed him while she made her rounds of the wing. An hour or so later she found him at the piano, fingering, and she stood watching him.

Mary Ann came in and saw her, and told her the news. “You know Lester died last night.”

“Oh! That’s so sad. Did he go peaceful?”

“Hah! Lester? Hell, no. Died screamin’ and cursin’ God for ever havin’ put him on this earth. One minute he was hollerin’ at the top of his lungs, sump’n ‘bout Abraham or Moses, I don’t know what. Then, bloop, he just keeled over dead. Can you come help me with his stuff?” And they went to Lester’s room to inventory and box up the few things the old man had owned.

Afterwards, saddened as always by the news of death, Emma moved slowly about the hospital. Lunch came and went, and no one spoke of Lester, and that, too, made her sad. She had helped move the residents out of the dining hall, saw David at his piano – she thought of it these days as “his” piano – checked the supplies of plates and utensils, and reviewed lists of medications for the afternoon. And now she stood in the hallway just outside the day room, scrutinizing a tray covered with little paper cups that held a rainbow of pills, hearing the music. Slow, funereal, elegant music. She found herself nodding her head in time with the slow beat as she checked the pills on her tray, and the thought, what beautiful music, floated up from her subconscious, and then she thought, consciously, but where’s it coming from?

She went to the door of the day room and pushed it halfway open. The radio speaker far to the left of the door broadcast, at low volume, the dialog of some soap opera; three middle-aged residents sat hunched in chairs in front of it. Others shuffled about in their robes and slippers, and others sat senselessly in chairs and on couches around the room. And David sat at the piano, fingering. Playing.

Emma went to the piano. David was moving his fingers, seemingly in the same pattern he had used silently for months, but this time each finger pressed a key, and his foot rose and fell on the pedal, and music, complete, full-formed, rose into the still air of the room and filled it. Mournful, slow, sad, then building, more on the black keys than the white, growing louder and fuller. Then a change, a faster pace for a brief time, lapsing back into the same theme as at the start; growing again, rising to a glorious, determined, majestic climax, ending in a flurry of low notes.

And then a pause, and he started again. His left hand pressed slowly down on two black notes an octave apart, his right began its three-note pattern. Emma moved to watch David’s face from across the instrument, put the tray down on its closed case. His eyes stayed focused on the window, but there was – did she imagine it? – there was a depth to his gaze she had never seen before. As if he saw what was out there. As if he had always seen it.

She put her hand to her throat and watched him play. He seemed, except for the eyes, exactly as always. He played his music all the way through again, then paused, and started it again. She turned and stared out the window, wondering what he saw out there.

As he came to the end of the piece the third time, she took up her tray again. She made ready to leave, and glanced at him as she stepped away. He was looking now at her.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Urbanspoon Rocks!

I'm only posting this because it's part of the process for "claiming" my blog for restaurant reviews to be linked to on Urbanspoon. But the thing is, for people who want to winnow through the chaff and tret of local restaurants in just about every city in the USA (even the smaller ones -- they're listed under their state), Urbanspoon is about the best web site there is.

Why do I think so? Click here.