Tuesday, December 25, 2012

By Popular Demand

Back in the days of little boys in short pants and little girls in crinolines, Mrs. Hall remembers many a Christmas eve spent propped on a cushion and pushed up the big people's table, starring down a bowl of the inevitable first course to what seemed then like the Meal That Lasted At Least Two Days.  Forced to endure this annual ritual, it generally involved listening to a flock of elders drone on endlessly, then dawdle over stripping the table, washing every dish in the house and then sometime about oh, midnight or so, decide that perhaps we might just let the little ones open those pesky Christmas presents after all.  And the opening salvo to this supreme tantalus of an evening was always a steaming bowl of sauerkraut soup.
  Some foods come naturally to a child, like ice cream and birthday cake. Others have to sidle up slowly to their little senses, and after much wooing and pleasant talk, eventually make nice with the infant's tastebuds and a new favorite is born.  The giant mushrooms floating atop the sauerkraut soup like grisly lilypads on a murky pond did not come to be on Mrs. Hall's list of Happy Anticipations by any of those routes; they were imposed, as things often were in those days, abruptly and absolutely by martial law.  Despite however, these rough beginnings, the glorious heady broth and winey aftertaste (if perhaps only by repetition) finally wore their way into her heart.  And yet another generation grew that could not imagine a Christmas eve going by without a family around the table, impatience and anticipation intertwined and the saying of Grace over an beloved bowl of sauerkraut soup.
Mrs. Hall's phone rang last week and it was Master Ian calling from Okinawa, Japan.  He was hoping Mrs. H. could wrap up a jar of her sauerkraut soup and ship it out to him for the holidays.  When asked about Christmas, Erick remarked last weekend that the one thing he was going to miss this year was having that wonderful soup at the beginning of the meal, and just Tuesday afternoon, as the Halls drove out to join family for dinner, Colleen texted Mrs. H. that she too was dining with friends, but it wasn't the same without the soup.  The circle will not be broken.

(Editor's Note: In case the Gentle Reader would like to inflict tradition on a brand new generation of innocents, the recipe for Sauerkraut Soup can be found here.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tis the season

Killer purred contentedly.  Her ample proportions filled her new kitty bed completely, and lulled to sleep with visions of feckless vermin running through her head (and considerable catnip coursing through her system) she managed a tidy fifteen hours of bliss a day.
Mr. Hall glanced over his shoulder at her behind the couch and adjusted his pillows.  Mrs. Hall had given him the complete series of "Frasier" on DVD for his birthday, and even with all the disciplined rationing he could muster, he still seemed to be devouring the episodes like peanuts.  There were thirteen episodes to a season and he was on the third season already.  "What gets me, " Mr. Hall muttered, as he settled in comfortably with his soda and snacky chips within reach for the fourth show that afternoon, "is how that cat can just lay there for hours in the same position, day after day."  Mrs. Hall opened her mouth to speak, but then thought better of it.
Birthdays come but once a year, and although Mr. Hall had insisted on no fuss, no party, no cake- Mrs. Hall knew there had to be at least a smidgen of pomp and ceremony.  She promptly came up with a solution.  "Make a wish, darling, and blow out the candle!" said Mrs. Hall.   "I've already got my wish," he said, smiling. "Erick's coming out this weekend for a visit and I can hardly wait to see him!"
Mr. Hall's son Erick came in on the late flight from Seattle Friday evening.  Pestering him for any news from the homefront and plying him with considerable homemade chili until late into the night, they finally let the poor fellow lie down and get some rest.
The next morning an unseasonable overcast marred an otherwise beautiful day as the little band trotted out to check out some of the suburban hotspots.  Erick was familiar with the highlights of the Strip, but the outlying areas had seen significant growth since his last visit, and the Halls enjoyed playing tourguides to the outer rim diversions.  After a brief stop at Tivoli, they ended up at the sports book at the recently renovated Red Rock Casino; the boys checking the spread on some basketball games, Mrs. Hall perfecting her trifecta skills.
 A lively dinner at their favorite mexican restaurant, washed down with a few pitchers of margaritas to celebrate their winnings and the weekend seemed rounded out very nicely indeed.
Time always seems to fly by in a blur when company comes, remarked Mr. Hall sadly, as he ferried his son back to the airport Sunday morning. "At least you're leaving with a profit- I always think that's the best way to vacation."  Hugs were served all around, and Erick sped off back to work.
 Mr. Hall settled down into his favorite spot on the couch and queued up another "Frasier" episode.  He looked over at his empty glass and turned to Killer.  "Oh, don't get up- I'll get it."  Killer emitted a low yawn, rearranged herself on the couch and covered her head with her paw.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Mrs. Hall arranged the Christmas cards on the bookcases and sighed.  Noticing her wistful state, Mr. Hall came over, smiled and gave her a warm hug. "What is that delicious aroma you're wearing?" he asked.
  "Well, it depends," she moped. "If it's redolent of rosemary and mint, it's that lovely shower gel I order from that glorious spa in New York.  If it smells like Old Spice©, then it's my anti-perspirant from Walmart."
  Mr. Hall sensed there might be some discord in her soul. "It's just that I was thinking of all the things we'd be doing if we were back East," she said.  "Right about now, Oakwood Crematorium would be having their yearly cocktail party after work.  We'd stroll on over after filing a death certificate or two, have a short one with the boys and remark on the state of the business, admire the sextant's landscaping and toddle on home.  They always have such a nice buffet; although I understand the chef they use is famous for his barbecue.  Darling, why do you suppose they never have it on the menu?" Mr. Hall smiled gently at her. "I'm guessing they try to steer clear of anything smoky at those functions."
  "I miss the holiday dinner at Coleman's Irish Pub." she continued on dreamily. "The bar decorated to a faretheewell and the parking lot a sea of black Cadillacs. All the old faces we'd see there- Scottie Kerr from Batesville and Bob Atkinson from Wilbert Vaults, all talking business over the hors d'oeuvre and desserts.  Ah- good times!" Mr. H. nodded as he slipped on his coat to retrieve the afternoon post.
  She was still sulking on the couch when he returned with a handful of colorful envelopes.  "You'll have to put aside your homesick pout for another day," he informed her after perusing a brightly colored missive that had been taped to their front door.  "We've been invited to a neighborhood mixer tomorrow night. Fetch a shiny bow from the giftwrap and see if there's a bottle of that cheeky Beaujolais left in the cooler." But he looked around to discover he was talking to himself; all that remained in the room was a whiff of mint and musk- Mrs. Hall was already nose deep in the Christmas ribbon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Special Delivery

"Five ounces or six?" she murmured, to no one in particular.
Mrs. Hall stood poised in the aisle of the Williams Sonoma at the outlet mall; in her hands she weighed the relative merits of two different cappuccino mugs.  As so often happens in the case of new purchases, the acquisition of a tiny new espresso machine for the guest room had created more problems than it solved.  None of Mrs. Hall's dainty espresso cups had proved large enough for the "lungo" setting on the maker, leaving her puzzling as usual, over size versus aesthetics.
Mr. Hall, himself so consumed with the problem at hand, found the best way he could address it was to park himself in front of a massive television monitor displaying random sports events in the promenade, and there remain to ponder the infinite. The ringing in her ears (she thought the result of mental exertion) turned out to be her cellphone, and Mrs. Hall answered more curtly than usual.
"They've been trying to deliver a package to your house three times now, and you haven't been home."  The voice on the other end sounded familiar, yet Mrs. Hall struggled to place it- "Where are you and when will you be home to receive it?"  Her faculties penetrating the fog, Mrs. Hall finally determined that Mrs. Iltsch (whose husband to whom Mr. Hall had entrusted the management of the funeral home) was trying to deliver a perishable item to them, and apparently having some difficulty about it.
 Even with Winston's inestimable abilities and the blessings of the Nevada Highway Patrol, they were a good hours' drive away.  "We'll be there by four, for sure," she replied, and leaving the quandary of the cups aside, scooped up Mr. Hall and took off.
Shortly before four, the bell rang and Mrs. Hall swung open the big door while moving deftly to hipcheck Killer before she made a break for freedom.  When she looked up, she let out a squeal that brought Mr. H. running.  "We thought you'd never get home!" laughed Mr. and Mrs. Iltsch, when Mrs. Hall finally finished hugging the stuffing out of them.  "Sorry about resorting to calling.  We had a choice of flying to Florida or here- and Pam said 'Vegas!' so here we are!"
The Iltschs always travel in style, and while they planned on spending some time with the Halls, they had booked luxury accommodations at the Palazzo downtown.  After a quick stop to investigate the sunken living room in their suite, the little band hurried on to a show.  Penn and Teller put on a marvelous act at the Rio, and upon Mr. Iltsch's insistence, they stopped and had their pictures taken with the stars immediately following the show.
The Halls implored them to stay for the Thanksgiving holiday, but the Iltschs had places to go and people to see.  They had to leave soon but it was agreed they would all go see the David Copperfield show their last night.
 After a perfectly mesmerizing hour of wizardry, Mr. Copperfield came back out for a last call. Large inflatable silver balls were thrown out into the audience, bounced about while the music played, and when it stopped, whomsoever was holding a ball was asked to come up. The music ceased; one of the balls was directly in front of Mr. Hall; he reached forward smiling and handed it over his head to Mrs. Hall.
As an encore, the random guests chosen from the audience were to disappear right on stage. Mrs. Hall, holding the ball high above her head joined the lucky attendees on the stage.  There was a few scurried moments as the unsuspecting group was shuttled onto the platform, and then before they knew it, the curtain was over them, a bit of cursory shaking was involved and the little band appeared at the back of the room mysteriously unscathed and to great audience applause.  After receiving an autographed picture from Mr. Copperfield himself, Mrs. Hall rejoined her little group. They floated happily around the casino for little while longer, but then it was time to part.
"If only we could make this a yearly tradition," Mrs. Hall sighed, as they waved goodbye to their friends. "They are such a breath of fresh air."  Mr. Hall agreed entirely, as he fired up Winston for the return trip home.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Wild Blue Yonder

   Quarters were still a bit cramped in the hanger at the Hall (due to some unpacking procrastination on the part of Mrs. Hall) but since Winston had been spending so little time in there anyway, it mattered very little.  Serendipitous random dialing on the car radio provided them with news of a huge airshow at Nellis Air Force Base over the weekend and the Halls were off again.
     If Mrs. Hall ever manages to bottle the pungent aroma of diesel fuel and black smoke, there won't be a pilot around that could resist her.  Mr. Hall strained at the bit like an old fire horse, and it was all Mrs. H. could do to keep up with him as he sprinted from the shuttle.  The program was well padded; from the national anthem onward, the day never lagged or wore on.  For nearly five hours, the sky was alive with aerobatics and song and despite the unseasonably chilly temperatures, there seemed to be nothing but smiles and exuberant faces in the crowd.
  Several stationary displays enlivened the show, and at one point, Mr. Hall looked over and spied a

small child, having mastered the intricacies of working a mortar, zeroing in on the MIG parked just across the way.  "Just a minute," replied Mrs. Hall. "I'll handle this-" and she picked up a rocket launcher.  The usual hilarity ensued until Mr. Hall intervened and soon they were back on their way.

Thrilling displays, patriotic zeal and lots of fresh air can really build an appetite, and as the Halls sped home, Mr. Hall announced that the only thing that would cut the chill in his bones was a strong infusion of that tonic known as tequila.  They laid in a course for Tivoli Village to check out the opening of the new Cantina Laredo.   Syracuse's revamping of the old Carousel Mall into Destiny USA included a Cantina Laredo, and they had attended that opening in September; so it was truly surprizing for them to meet the very fellow that had served them there, in Tivoli.   Handshakes and well wishes were given all around, and after a complimentary round of drinks, the Halls strolled, happily sated, back out into the cool night air.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pick yer poison

Considering that only about half of the ceramic tile flooring could actually be seen through the maze of boxes and tubs still lining the hallways, the guest room in the Hall was abuzz with activity.  First Master Ian, and then Master Chris flew in, and for awhile Mrs. H. doubted if she was ever going to be able to keep the refrigerator stocked.
  It was the occasion of Ian's 21st birthday, and brother Chris' arrival in town had been a well kept secret; when the boys finally reunited, Ian nearly knocked Chris over with joy.
 Having purchased advance tickets to a huge airsoft competition in Corona, California, Ian unpacked several of the airsoft rifles Mrs. Hall had been holding for him and choosing a couple of hefty weapons, he invited Chris to do likewise, and the two of them drove down for the mock battle.  The event was attended by over 300 people, who were divided into two teams and then staged a full battle in lifelike conditions. Late into the evening, they returned exhausted, but victorious.

After a hearty breakfast of their favorite lox and bagels, it was decided the little group would take Ian around the suburbs during the day, bring him home for a breather and then hit the Strip for a wow finish.  Since Chris could only get four days off for the visit, they had to set a land speed record for sightseeing, covering as many of the big casinos as they could humanly manage on two feet. By the end of the night, the boys could be seen leaning against the balustrade, taking in the last two shows of the famous dancing fountains in front of the Bellagio just ahead of midnight. Moments later they dropped off to sleep in the back seat of the car, as Mr. Hall ferried their tired little selves home.

After Chris took off back to Montgomery, the merry band attempted to settle into something resembling a routine, but the lures of the city called to them constantly, and so each day became another adventure.

 For some time Ian had been diligent in squirreling away a considerable amount of scratch towards the purchase of a new car, and while he was still far from his goal, he felt he was sufficiently along in the schedule to look at some new representatives of his choice.  Searching out a nearby Ford dealership, he struck up a conversation with one of the salesmen, and before Mrs. H. knew it, Ian had talked him into letting him test drive a brand new Mustang 5.0. and was seen careening out of the lot.  Approximately 45 minutes later, a young fellow with a smile so large it threatened to swallow his whole head, reluctantly crawled out of the vehicle and floated on over to the Halls.  "That was just so much fun!" he continued to say for the better part of the next hour.

Sometime nearer the end of his leave, Ian mentioned he hadn't hit a rifle range yet, and as that had been one of the items on his to-do list, he thought they had better start investigating his choices.  Some short research later, they found themselves at American Shooters indoor range, gazing at a wall of rental firearms and watching Ian drool.  "Mom, mom- look at this one~!  Oh, man, I have to try this!"  Ian was absolutely beside himself, but not so consumed that he didn't forget his usual generosity- he graciously offered to set both Mr. and Mrs. Hall up with ear/eye protection and some rounds of their own to fire off. It was indeed a fun afternoon.  They started off by firing a FN FS 2000 semi-automatic, and having purchased 40 rounds, both the Halls were able to get into the action.

It had been nearly thirty years since Mrs. Hall had graced a pistol range, but happily, she managed not to embarrass herself; when the target was rolled to the front and examined, it was Mrs. Hall's shots in the bullseye.  Ian headed in to rent a huge Desert Eagle .44 Mag at the desk, but at that point, Mrs. H. begged off, explaining it was time for her to return to the role of videographer, until such time when she could acquire a tad more upper body strength.  Mr. Hall did not demur, however, and showed off some fairly considerable skills with a firearm himself.

Between exploring all the outlying casinos and blowing up paper targets, and running errands and moving furniture, the Halls managed to exhaust the better part of a Ian's leave, and before they knew it, his time was up.  Halloween was his last night in town, and after sampling some well-reviewed (but scarily named!) vintage, Ian and Mrs. Hall attended to the trick or treaters at the door and then called it a night.  Several heartfelt and much too brief hugs later the next morning, he was gone, winging his way over the Pacific and back to Okinawa again.

(Editor's note: Regarding the banner photo at left: one of the more fanciful decorator touches purchased along with the house was a grouping of large apothecary jars in the kitchen.  Thanx and a hat tip to Martha Stewart Magazine, October 1996, for the wonderful idea of filling them with what could truly be called ardent spirits.  "A sound idea for any occasion," remarked Mrs. H.)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Jenny We Hardly Knew Ye

  Everyone had exchanged goodbyes just three weeks earlier.  Glasses were clinked, hugs were given all around, the chefs at the Lake Shore Yacht Club had outdone themselves with some off menu treats, and the Halls were allowed to escape the dreary expectations of an upstate autumn looming before them only on the strictest promise that they would return with the tulips and all would be cocktails and laughter again.  Little did anyone realize it would be the last time they would see Jenny Wysocki hold court over a table again.
   Mr. Iltsch let Mr. Hall sleep in an hour or so Wednesday morning.  It was almost 8:00 am before the phone started ringing off the hook at the Hall, and poor Killer, dodging anxious steps, realized this was not going to be just another day of unpacking.  "Are we going back?" asked Mrs. Hall gingerly- she had been finalizing the grocery list for the following week.  "No." answered Mr. H. slowly but firmly. "This is Stevie's show now.  I'd only be a distraction."  She nodded in agreement.  Still, thought Mrs.Hall, she would have liked to have said one more goodbye.  Mr. Hall scrolled through the index on his phone and mentally ticked off all the chores he would be attending to right now.  If he were still there.

  Father Gleba- gone.  Father Matula, gravely ill when he relocated to Poland to be with his family- gone. Father Dudkiewicz, removed after an unfortunate display of misplaced frustration with old age and a rapidly changing society around him- removed to a nursing home and gone for all intents and purposes.  All in the course of a year and a half.  And now Jenny Wysocki, matriarch and keeper of the proud columned funeral home that had stood as a shrine to her deceased husband, across the street from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and it's dwindling Polish neighborhood- gone.
The plastic pink roses still bloom in the lobby.  The classical statues still stand mute at attention and gaze lovingly towards the deceased.  The liquid gold curtains in the small chapel rustle softly in the air conditioning and the sad stained glass faces of those familiar characters from the Last Supper still look on as people queue past a casket and pass into the night.

 Wysocki's Funeral Home still stands and serves, but the hands that tended it so lovingly for so long are finally at rest.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Greeley really knew his stuff

Mr. Hall closed the hanger door and shuddered.  A cold wind was blowing the leaves across the freshly mown back forty and he knew what that meant.  It wouldn't be long now, he thought.

"Check the levels and load up the travel bar." he said, "I'll lay in a flight plan for warmer climes.  If all goes according to specs, we should be at the western annex of Penguin Hall by the end of the week."

The veterinarians in New York assured Mrs. Hall that if she just sprayed a little bit of the "Quiet Moments" herbal essence into her cat carrier (a dog crate, actually- the cat ones being much too small for Killer's ample proportions) her little precious would as calm as a plastic plant, a simile Mrs. H. found not a little unnerving.  Mr. Hall examined the contents of the atomizer, wondering aloud what the effects would be upon any other attendant occupants of the cockpit; but the office help convinced him it would only make little kitties mellow, not their hyper-caffeinated owners.  Killer thus being as pharmacologically relaxed as was legally allowed, they sped off into the night.

After a quick visit with Mr. and Mrs. Leo Pranitis, host and hostess extraordinaire, in Chicago for some unparalleled dining, they were back on their way.  Mrs. Hall had insisted on dragging both vehicles out, so for nearly 2400 miles, Winston wore a shadow a scant 10 or 12 feet behind him, zipping along at about 80-85 mph.

 Dusty and dry, the little band rolled into a freshly painted hanger late Saturday evening.  "At last!" sighed Mr. Hall.  He was still stretching his legs and unfolding himself to get out as Mrs. H. sprung into action and started retrieving bags.

"Hold it right there!"  he exclaimed.  "There's only one bag you need to unpack at the moment."  and he handed her a small canvas picnic satchel.  Mrs. Hall smiled; she understood immediately.  "Find a comfy spot, my love."  she soothed, and began to measure the gin.

We Always Suspected As Much

How they choose candidates in Syracuse New York:  (Note large amount of write-ins....)

Oddly enough, this is exactly how the RNC chooses Vice Presidents.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Penguins Progress

Last month had had its ups and downs for the Halls. What with facing the bittersweet induction at Cooperstown, and the untimely passing of design virtuoso Sergio Pininfarina, it was only fair to expect that Mrs. H. was not her jovial self as they continued to rummage through the remaining boxes.  She sighed theatrically as Mr. Hall carried a worn container bearing the legend "Lunchbags- do not discard!" up the stairs.
"The golden sunlight of the Tuscany hills glows slightly less bright this week," she said, wiping a tear.  "First Carroll Shelby in May, and now this.  There must be one heck of a race going on in the Great Beyond."  Mr. Hall was focused on the task at hand.  "Why on earth would you save lunchbags?"  She brightened immediately.  "This is wonderful!  I thought they had been thrown out."  She tore open the box and a mass of wrinkled brown craft paper poured out onto the living room carpet.  "Every morning when the kids went to school, I would pack a bag for them to take to lunch.  First for Chris and then eventually for Colleen, I would draw little cartoons on their bags to cheer them up.  At first they were just little sketches, but after a while they turned into actual cartoons; even the teachers in the lunchrooms would ask to see the bags.  They were usually done the last ten minutes before the bus came- whatever came to mind went on the bag. And it had to be right the first time- all I ever used to draw was a black Sharpie."

Funding for the art and music programs at the elementary school level in their old neighborhood had been in peril for some time and Mrs. Hall was well known as one of the volunteer "Art Moms" in the district. Her classes for the youngsters often had other teachers sitting in along with the regular students in the room.  "There must be over a hundred of them here," she mumbled, as she carefully smoothed each bag out and placed them in a pile,  "Don't tell me... don't even begin to think you're going to actually keep all that trash?" sputtered Mr. Hall.  Mrs. H. looked pained.  "Well, how 'bout this?  I'll just cut out the drawings and over the course of the next month or so, just scan them in so we can keep digital copies of the work instead- would that make you happy?" Compromise being the cornerstone of all happy relationships, Mr. H. acquiesced and the box was spared the dustbin.

Flying down the highway the following week in Winston, Mrs. H. looked across the cockpit and watched as Mr. Hall navigated rush hour traffic with ease.  "Just think, darling- in six short weeks you'll be able to unhook that ungodly leash you call a pager and throw it off a bridge or something.  I think we should have a ceremony to celebrate- any ideas?"  Mr. Hall stared off into the blue for what seemed to Mrs. H. an inordinate amount of time and then replied, "I think we should make a big batch of martinis and then I should get out my .38 and put several holes in the damn thing.  What do you think?"
"Alcohol and firearms?!  Go on- I'm listening!" she answered, over the purr of the engine.

Tell your friends!