AN EARLY EVENING BECKONS – Marilyn Armstrong

It was one of those days. It started out normal. We had to get up a bit early because I had a doctor’s appointment and even though we left plenty of time, we got out of the house a bit late. Time slipped away. It was coffee. I needed ONE MORE sip. My appointment was fine. Next stop? Grocery store.

We couldn’t get to the grocery. There had been a fire. Or something. The street was closed. Not the whole street, just the couple of hundred feet in front of the parking lot.

Other than the fire engine with the flashing lights, there was no hint of a fire or evidence of anything. No smoke. No injuries. No water on the street. No crime scene tape. A blocked street where we needed to go. They were allowing cars to drive through from the other direction. So there was no sensible reason why we couldn’t go a few dozen feet to the parking lot. Nope, we had to take the detour.

Uxbridge not being a real city, a detour isn’t a quick trip around a city block. We were in Douglas before we could start looping back to town. By which time they had parked the fire truck and there were no official obstructions.

Shopping concluded, leaving town was our next trial. Civic excitement is rare in our little town, so everyone had to take a long look at the … what? Fire? Crime scene? False alarm? One of the rubberneckers was riding a bicycle. We were behind him, trying to drive at 1 mph. As soon as we (finally) got around him, someone pulled out of a side street, slowed down to about 10 mph. Directly in front of us. We crawled home. Karma is.

Groceries were unpacked. Television was turned on. Surprise! The television still wasn’t working. I tried rebooting again after which, I hold my breath and call Charter. They’ve been having a bad week too and this is my third call in two days. Any day on which I have to call Charter is not a great day.

After a long hold, the agent assures me they are merely doing (more) repair work, but they hope it will be finished any day now. They’ll call me when it’s finished. Maybe even today. Eventually, dinner having been served, eaten, and cleared away, the phone rang. Charter (recorded message) says “Repairs are complete, thank you for your patience.” But it is not fixed. The television wi-fi is still not working.

Any day on which I have to call Charter once is not a good day, but if I have to cal them twice? That is very bad. They tell me to reboot. They send a repair signal. Nada. They can’t get a tech here until Thursday.  I am grouchy but there doesn’t seem to be a choice. I realize I’d better write it down because these days I forget everything immediately.  I turned on the light.

The bulb exploded.

My day is done.  Definitely an early night for me!

THE NEXT TO LAST STOP – RICH PASCHALL

The Inconvenience Store, by Rich Paschall

It was a peaceful summer evening.  The sun had just set.  The air was warm and the light breeze was refreshing.  Jorge had walked three blocks from his small apartment to the local convenience store for a Big Drink and Big Sandwich combination.  He had little food at home and did not feel like making anything anyway.  It felt good to take a walk on such a pleasant evening.  There was nothing quite like summer in the city.

There were a few others in the small store but Jorge paid no attention to them.  He went directly to the soft drink machine and then on to the Sandwich Stop.  After he made his selection, he noticed there was a bit of a commotion at the front of the store.

Three young men rushed in.  They looked like they were in their late teens or early twenties.  Two were tall and wearing white t-shirts and baggy shorts.  The third was a large guy wearing a black sleeveless shirt with some design Jorge could not make out, and black baggy jeans.  The big guy was also carrying a machine gun or automatic rifle.  Jorge was unfamiliar with weapons and was not too sure.

Do Not Cross
Do Not Cross

“Don’t anyone move,” the big guy commanded.  “Don’t anyone make a sound neither, not a sound.”

One of the others told the cashier to give him all the money if he wanted to live, and the third thief looked down all the aisles to see if anyone was hiding or there might be trouble there.  The few people in the store had not moved.  The aisle checker then stopped at the cooler and reached in for a twelve pack of beer, but paused like he did not know if he should steal it.

“Just take it,” the big guy shouted, “and let’s go.” He grabbed the beer and the thief at the counter only collected a small amount of money which he put in a backpack.

As they prepared to leave, there was a small whimper from the next aisle from where Jorge was standing.  In response, the big guy sprayed the aisles with bullets.  Jorge hit the floor.  There was a sharp burning sensation in his abdomen.  His head was groggy and he could not make himself move at all.  He slowly drifted away from the conscious world.

The cashier gasped and as the big guy got to the door he turned and sent a few shots in the direction of the cash register.  The convenience store worker had already hit the floor and shots went over the top of him and heavily damaged the display behind the counter.

As the thieves got to their car, the police were pulling up to the lot.  The cashier had set off a silent alarm when the trouble started and the response had finally arrived.  There was an exchange of gun fire as the young men were able to get in the car and out of the lot, with a squad car in pursuit.

police car

Two officers wearing bullet proof vests had their guns out and cautiously entered the store.  The cashier saw them in a monitor high on a wall and shouted, “Help them, help them.”

One officer carefully went around the counter to find the cashier lying on the floor.  He approached slowly with his gun pointed at the young man.  He had to be sure it was not a trick.  Finally he helped the trembling cashier to his feet.

The other officer looked down the aisles and immediately called for medical attention for multiple victims.  He searched the aisles before going over to one of the victims.  By the time he checked to see if the first one was alive, more police were in the store and in the parking lot.  One ambulance came onto the lot closely followed by another.  A police officer outside was now obviously taking charge of the scene and ordering onlookers away.  Paramedics rushed into the store and observed pools of blood in two different aisles.  There was a lot of damage caused by the bullets of just one man.

The next thing Jorge was aware of feeling was the burning of his stomach.  It was the sharpest pain of his life.  His head was heavy and he could not open his eyes.  It seemed, however, that he was now lying on his back, rather than face down on the tile floor of the convenience store.  In his stupor he could not tell where he was or even if he was alive.  He drifted off again.

Three adults were taken to The Resurrection Hospital.  It was the closest trauma center.  The Catholic hospital had become familiar with treating gunshot wounds.  It seems they saw someone every week who had been gunned down.  The victims may have suffered from a gang dispute, domestic violence, armed robbery or were just innocent bystanders.  The increase of guns had brought an increase of  gunshot victims to the Emergency Room.

Sometimes the medical staff could do little more than call the chaplain to say a prayer.

Back at the convenience store was one more victim.  A ten-year old boy was going to be taken directly to the morgue.  He would not whimper again.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE DINOSAURS GONE? – Marilyn Armstrong

This post began because my husband is not fascinated by dinosaurs. He seemed a bit baffled as to why I’d want to write a story about dinosaurs. Should a dinosaur wander through my backyard, be assured that I will be out there taking pictures until either the huge reptile ambles away or eats me, whichever comes first.

Unlike many things which have adult origins — technology, philosophy, history — all the “ologies” and “osophies” that attended my education and subsequent research — my passion for dinosaurs goes all the way back, back, back in time to when I was four or five years old and my Aunt Ethel took me to see “Fantasia,” the original, not the later remake.

Who remembers in “Fantasia” the history of the earth, starring the rise and fall of the dinosaurs? It is set to Igor Stravinsky’s brilliant “The Rites of Spring.” The music itself might be enough, but with the Disney artists on their best game, it was something else and embedded itself in my mind for a lifetime.

None of the movie’s graphics were generated by computers. All of them … each frame … was drawn by human artists. The music was played live by an orchestra full of real musicians. Contrary to popular opinion, special effects were not invented by Steven Spielberg.

I was just a little kid and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I had nightmares for years about dinosaurs hiding under the bed, in the hallway, in my closet. I couldn’t sleep without a nightlight because I was sure there was a dinosaur lurking, ready to grab me in giant jaws with teeth 9 feet long. I was a child of great imagination and excessive sensitivity.

As I got older, I began to read books and discovered lots of really cool stuff about dinosaurs, most important (to me) was that North America — what is now the middle of the United States had been giant reptile central, the heartland of the Brontosaurus, Velociraptor and other astonishing creatures. Wyoming was the hot point where Tyrannosaurus Rex ruled. Perhaps their legacy lives on in Washington D.C. But I digress.

When this was made, the whole asteroid thing was yet unknown, so the history of the earth is missing that piece of information, but I’m sure Disney’s artists would have happily included it had they known. Meanwhile, I’m totally whacked at the idea of the earth getting hit by an asteroid. I always have a good laugh when someone in some space lab mentions, casually, that there’s an asteroid headed our way, but not to worry, there’s no better than a 50-50 chance it will really hit us.

That we pathetic creatures, crawling around the surface of the earth, believe we are all-powerful and can control our destiny by technology is funny. Not only has this planet been hit by asteroids — not once but many times — but each time, the event precipitated the extinction of Earth’s dominant species.

The dinosaurs lasted a lot longer than we have. Should one of those big hunks of space debris smack into us, I think it unlikely that all the computers, weaponry, technology or prayers we can muster will be of any use at all. Our collective ass will be grass without even the opportunity to text our best buddies about the impending big bang.

We will be gone, quite likely having had even less effect on our planet, in the final analysis, than did the dinosaurs.

Humankind has always suffered above all from the sin of pride. Hubris, as the Greeks called it. We think we are creatures of God and perhaps we are, but who said we are the only creatures of God or that He gave us a permanent free pass from extermination?

map-dinosaurs-1993

And this is what so fascinates me and probably always will. That these creatures, these huge, powerful creatures who ruled this planet for more years than we can comprehend were, in a single calamitous event, exterminated. Eliminated from the earth leaving just their bones by which to remember them. And we think we are so all-powerful. I bet they thought so, too.

But now, we won’t need an asteroid. We are going to do something that all the dinosaurs couldn’t do: we are going to make ourselves extinct. How cool is that?

ABOUT THOSE SOFT PRETZELS – Marilyn Armstrong

This recipe turns up the kind of warm, soft pretzels you pay big bucks for at the mall. My biggest problem with them is getting them formed into a real pretzel shape. However, you can also twist them and that’s a lot easier. Or, you can cut them into smaller pieces and make them “pretzel bites.” They taste the same no matter what shape they are.

I’m going to give you the official recipe, then I’m going to give you notes. The dough should be a little bit sticky. It needs to be a bit sticky so you can press it together to form a shape. My first batch came out perfect. My second batch came out a bit too dry. The difference was probably the flour. The first batch was made with standard Wondra flour. In other words, regular bleached white flour.

The second batch was made using stone ground unbleached white flour. Those came out a bit dry for the shaping and twisting process. The taste was the same, but they wouldn’t hold together.

INGREDIENTS TO MAKE THE THE DOUGH

1-1/2 cup of warm water (warm to your touch, NOT hot)
1 tablespoon plain salt
1 tablespoon sugar (I prefer 1/2 tablespoon)
1 packet active dry years (2-1/4 teaspoons dry yeast)
4-1/2 cups of white flour
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

INGREDIENTS FOR BOILING

2 beaten eggs
Coarse (Kosher) salt
Large pot of boiling (rolling boil) water
2/3 cup baking soda

BAKING INSTRUCTIONS

450 F (230 C) (Preheat your oven if it requires preheating).
Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until they have a nice, golden top


If you have a strong beater with a dough hook, use it. You can do it with a wooden spoon and your arm, but the beater is SO much easier! Overall, a good beater works better, too

Step 1: Put the warm water, yeast, salt and sugar in the bowl. Use the bowl in which you are going to beat the dough; save washing another bowl.

Step 2: When the yeast gets a bit foamy, add the oil and the flour.

Step 3: Set the dough hook on the machine, put the mixing bowl on the machine, and watch it become dough.

Step 4: When the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl, dump it out on a big board.

Step 5: Wash and dry the bowl. Spray it with oil (or rub a light layer on the inside of the bowl using a paper towel).

Step 6: Cover bowl with a layer of saran wrap or something like it and leave it in a warm place for an hour to rise.

Step 7: Empty the dough onto a big board. Punch down the dough and knead it a few times. This is a good time to take that big pot of water, pour in the baking soda, and turn up the heat. While the water is coming to a boil …

Step 8: Cut the dough into 8 pieces. Stretch and roll out the dough just like play dough until it’s about 24 or more inches long. Form it into whatever shape is easiest for you. THIS is where it really helps to have a slightly sticky dough. When it’s dry, it’s hard to make it form a shape and hold it.

Step 9: After you have all the pieces shaped, boil each piece for 30 seconds. If they don’t turn themselves over, turn them over yourself. But they usually flip themselves. Remove them from the water using a flat spoon with a lot of holes. Be careful. Wet pretzels are very slippery.

Step 10: Use a brush to cover each pretzel with egg. Shake or use your fingers to spread salt on all the pretzels.

Step 11: Cover a baking pan or two with aluminum and spray it with oil spray. Place in a heated oven. I use my really big countertop oven so I can watch them as the bake and know when to take them out.

Let the pretzels cool slightly on baking racks. You can just take them off the tray on the aluminum foil. It’s a salt overload of the finest kind.