December, 2017

December has more than its share of parties and dining out.  To start the month here is a story of a restaurant with some spice.  

Also I’ve added two new episodes of Stranger in the Mind:  on 9/17 Bob and Karen watch football; on 9/20 Bob faces an emergency at the SuC (or County). 

 

A Cold Dish

The Chinese restaurant was busy on this Friday night.  Anna stood behind the counter dressed in a stylish, high collared yellow silk tunic and white pants.  A flat pale green jade pendant on a gold chain hung around her neck and her left arm rested easily on top of the cash register.  Her face was carefully made up and her hair stylishly coifed and tinted.  Anna smiled slightly as she watched and listened to the dinner throng. Business had certainly picked up in the eleven months since she’d been forced to take over managing the restaurant.  I’ve done well, she thought with well-earned satisfaction.  He used to tell me that I didn’t have the brains or the talent to run things, that I was only a good hostess and waitress.  Well, I showed him.  I guess I showed everybody.

Lily, one of the waitresses, approached.  “Table five is ready for their check.”

“No desserts?”

“Not tonight.”

She quickly totaled the bill, and handed it back.  “Be sure to thank them for coming, and remember to give them the flyer about our second wine pairing dinner next month.”

She looked at the reservation book.  A party of four was ten minutes late.  Not regular customers.  She’d give them five more minutes before giving the table to the walk-in couple that was.  She smiled at them and walked over to tell them that she’d comp them dessert for being patient.  Lily returned with a charge card and Anna ran it up and gave the card and charge slip back to the waitress.

When Lily brought the signed slip back, Anna was gratified to see that the table had tipped a bit over twenty percent.  Means that they liked the food and Lily’s service, she thought.  They’ll tell their friends.  Word of mouth is the best advertising.

Strange how things work, she thought, as she watched Lau Leong, his graying hair short-cropped, busy out on the floor with his tables.  He glanced up from his work and saw her looking at him and smiled.  She stared back without returning his smile then looked away.  Old fool, she thought, not sure whether she meant him or herself.  Thinks he can still pour on the charm.  She looked up to see him approaching. 

“Table ten said the chicken is cold,” he said.  “I told them that it’s supposed to be served cold.”  He smiled, waiting for her approval. 

“Yes, I guess that’s what you would do,” she said without changing her expression.  “But we’re doing things a little differently now.  Tell them that you’re sorry, that it was a mistake, and that you’ll take it back to the kitchen.”   She turned to one of the waitresses who had arrived with a charge card.  She processed it, then handed it back to the waitress with a smile.  “Be sure to give them…”

“I know, I already gave them the wine pairing flyer,” laughed the waitress.

“Wine pairing.” Lau Leong said.  “We never did that in the old days.”

“I try to see what the public is looking for, and then try it out.  The owner of the wineshop in the next block agreed to work with Chinese food,” she replied.  “And you need to get back to your tables.”  She watched him walk back to his tables and talk with the guests.  She heard them laugh at something he said, before he carried the chicken back to the kitchen.  He is still a pretty smooth talker, she thought.

The four at table fifteen got up to leave.  I’m lucky to have faithful customers like Mrs. Roy, she thought, looking at them.  Been coming to eat ever since we opened. 

Mrs. Roy waved at her and stopped to chat on her way out.  “Very enjoyable dinner as usual, Anna.  And you look very chic tonight.  She lowered her voice and whispered, “How is it–working with him, I mean?”  She nodded her head in Lau Leong’s direction.  “I thought that you had lost your mind when I heard about it”

“He’s got a good way with the customers, and he works hard.  So we are getting along fine.”

“Ah.  You’re being coy.  That’s all right, you can tell me some other time.  But you are an absolute saint in my book.”   She patted Anna’s shoulder and went out the front door.

She knows he is staying with me, Anna thought.  I know what you really want to know–where is the old fool sleeping?   Well, they can all keep guessing.  She glanced at the clock.  Five minutes and the late party still hadn’t showed or called.  She smiled at the waiting couple.  “Thank you for being so patient.  We’re just unusually busy tonight.  I’ll get you seated now.  I hope you enjoy your dinner.”

“Thanks for working us in Anna.  We’ll be sure to call ahead next time.”

Anna walked them to their table, seated them, and handed them menus.  “Suzy will be your waitress tonight.  She’ll be by after you’ve had a chance to look at the menu.”

She returned to the front desk.  Lau Leong stopped as he came back from the kitchen with the now-hot chicken.  “Look Anna, if you want to take a break, I’ll be happy to take over for you for a while at the register.”

She felt surprise, then anger, and bit her tongue to keep from saying do you think I am stupid?  Instead, she heard herself say in a calm voice, “Thank you, but that’s not necessary.” 

Take over at the register!  Are you out of your mind?  She thought.  You fool me one time, shame on you; you fool me two times, shame on me.  Even the children thought I was crazy to take you back in.

  Even now, a month later, she wasn’t sure why she did it.  Maybe she was sorry for him.  And maybe it was because he’d been a good father and provider all those years before.  And maybe it was something else she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

Yes, I knew he saw other women from time to time when he was young, she thought.  But they came and went.  Not like this time when he went kind of crazy.  Damn young chippy from Suzhou.  They say the prettiest girls come from Suzhou.  Well, she was.  Why’d we hire her?  Turned his head all around.  Guess men get like that when they’re afraid of growing old.  Got him to steal from the register and run away with her.  Then, no more money, no more honey.  So he came crawling back.  She recalled with satisfaction the day he called to beg for another chance.

He came up to the desk to get a bill totaled.  She was pleased when he returned with the signed charge slip.  “Very good,” she said to him.  “They tipped you well.  I’ll mark that off your debt.”

“Anna,” he said half-joking.  “It’s going to take a long, long time to work it off with tips.”

“You should have thought of that when you were stealing all those months before you ran out on me with that slut.”  She got herself under control again.  “Just keep taking care of your tables and you’ll do fine.” 

And in the meantime, she thought, everyone sees you as a poor old fool who was taken and had to come crawling back to the wife he deserted.  And everyone sees me as a saint.  That’s what Mrs. Roy said tonight.  That’s pretty good, the old fool and the betrayed wife who became a saint.  And a good businesswoman as well.  Everyone knows what you did, and they see you out on the floor waiting tables now, working for me.  And me behind the register, the boss, instead of you.

12/10.  No short story today, but two more episodes added to Stranger.  Bob’s patient is not doing well and he asks Sal to take a look.

12/17.  A story called — Gaia — and two episodes added to “Stranger.”  Bob’s patient may be damaged by his infection and the Kennedy-Nixon Debates begin, as September comes to a close.

Gaia

In Greek mythology, Gaia was the primal earth-mother of everything.  Her name has been given to the concept that the earth is a self-regulating, super-organism; that all life on earth interacts with all  the non-living elements of the earth–rocks, seas, soil, waters, and the atmosphere–to maintain the  biosphere or conditions for life on the planet.

On every continent certain mountains have been called sacred as well as special rocks and rivers.  Living things too.  Trees and plants—the Tree of Knowledge, the holly, the burning bush, groves of oaks.  And animals of land, sea, and air as gods or demigods —shark, raven, bull, and snake among them.  So there is a long history of Man feeling not only that he is a part of Nature, but feeling that Nature, both animate and inanimate, is sacred.  

However there is a counter-theme that appeared early in human history, of Man as subjugator.  God said of Adam, “…let (him) have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth…”  Humanity did not really assume the role of dominator of the earth and its life-forms until the Industrial Revolution.  But as technology began to evolve at an ever more rapid rate, accelerated by wars, Man began to more and more impact both the non-living and living parts of the earth.

The planet follows its ponderous, stately, circular path around the sun, its slow deep thoughts exchanged only with distant solitary siblings.  It does not know when it became sentient, any more than a baby remembers when she gained awareness.  Certainly not when it first condensed out of the whirling stellar cloud that circled the newly formed sun.  Or while it was being constantly bombarded by in-falling asteroids and comets that brought water and minerals and organic compounds, adding to its mass while kneading its ever-changing molten surface.  Not even when it was struck a glancing blow by a careening Mars-sized planetoid that splashed a large part of its surface into space to eventually form its one moon. 

But after a half a billion years, the molten surface cooled and became solid.  Its orbit and those of its companions became more stable.  At some point life appeared and, once established in the new seas, began to flourish and evolve.  Plants made the transition to land first and greened the bare rock.  Animals followed to feed on the plants—and each other.  And at some time during this period, the planet became aware of itself and all that was on it’s surface, and its place in space.

Life on its surface was not a given and at five times in the history of the planet, there were mass extinctions of life in the sea and on land for a variety of reasons.  The flame of life flickered each time but did not go out and, following each extinction episode, life again flowered and diversified.

The planet was aware of the one hundred and sixty-five million year reign of the dinosaurs, but they, like all the plants and animals that came before, lived on the surface and did not bother its consciousness.  However, the five mile wide asteroid that screamed-flaming through its atmosphere to blast a crater deep and wide into its crust jolted it wide awake out of its meditations, while eliminating the dinosaurs and much other life.  The atmosphere gradually cleared, new life forms like the mammals were able to expand and take over from the dinosaurs, and the planet settled back into its own deep thoughts.

Four million years ago, one of these mammals in Africa began to walk on two legs and over many, many millennia evolved into Homo sapiens.  The planet scarcely noticed this new puny animal, for so many life forms had appeared, flourished for a time, and then vanished.  Man as a hunter-gatherer was not that different from other animals in terms of his impact on the biosphere.  And even when he began to settle into villages, then cities, his efforts at plant cultivation and animal husbandry that went on for thousands of years, scarcely scratched the surface of the planet, and the planet, while aware, was unperturbed.

The industrial revolution changed all that.  As cities grew larger, the actions of man began to alter the natural order.  Man came to believe the earth and all that was on it was there for his exploitation, for had that not been ordained?

Ever more factories spewed out black smoke to foul the previously clear air.  Mines and wells  spread over the earth and bored further and further into the planet to extract coal and ore and oil.  The waters became polluted.  The exploitation of the bounties of the sea pushed them to and sometimes beyond the limits of their capacity to recover.  Species on land and sea were driven to extinction.  The very temperature of the planet began to rise as this process gained speed.

The planet consulted its siblings. 

The second planet from the sun expressed concern.  “I too once had water, but then a run-away ‘greenhouse’ effect raised my temperature to where now even lead is molten on my surface and my atmosphere is full of sulfuric acid rain.  You are unique within our family to hold life.  Don’t repeat my fate and lose what you have on your surface.”

“Not the only one,” said the distant seventh planet.  “One of my moons shelters life in it’s waters.”

“And on one of my moons too,” added the sixth panet.

“But not on your surfaces,” replied Number Two.

The fourth planet from the sun suggested patience, “These humans are a new kind of animal on you.  Others types of animals have come and gone.  The dinosaurs that you were so fond of, were with you for 165 million of your circuits of our sun and then they were suddenly gone.  You have time to see what these humans will do.”

The largest planet, the fifth one, favored action.  “Time?  They have been with you for but a short time and yet they have done more to harm you and the other beings that share your surface than any life form you have ever had.  I would hasten their departure.”

“How could I do that, Number Five?”

“They are actually doing a pretty good job of hurrying their own end right now.  You may have to put up with some short term pain and loss, but if you can increase the rate by which your seas rise and add some major storms, earthquakes, eruptions, and tidal waves, create more deserts, you can destroy their technology-based society.  Once they lose that, then they cannot harm you anymore.  And then you can begin the healing process.”

“Thank you, for all your comments my siblings, I have much to ponder.”

———————————-

“Hey Ron, do you believe in climate change?”

“No Willy, not really.  I mean I don’t believe that we humans are responsible.”

“Well, what do you think is going on then with all this crazy weather we’ve been having?  The scientists say the ice at the North and South poles is melting faster and faster and the seas are rising.”

“Those scientists always exaggerate things to get more money for their research.  I wouldn’t believe everything they say.  I mean they keep talking about the ‘Big One’ in California, and it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Well, I read that some think the whole half of California west of the San Andreas fault could break off into the sea when it happens.”

“If it happens!  See.  Fear mongering.  Don’t believe everything you read or hear.  There’s a lot of fake stuff out there.  We’ve had ice ages and then warm periods before when all the ice has melted, so it’s a natural cycle.”

“Ron, I know you don’t believe we’re speeding it up, but just suppose the scientists are right?”

“My gut feeling is that they are not.  And I’ve done very well following my gut before.  But if this time I am wrong—which is highly unlikely—then those scientists are going to have to earn their research money and figure out how to fix it.”

————————-

2017 Wildfires rage in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, northern and southern California

2017 Hurricane Harvey

2017 Hurricane Irma

2017 Hurricane Maria

2017 Earthquake – Mexico

2017 Earthquake – Iran

2011 Fukushima earthquake and nuclear powerplant disaster

2010 Golf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill

2005 Hurricane Katrina

2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami

 

2015 Paris Climate Accord reached

2017 USA announces intent to withdraw from Climate Accord

     

  

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