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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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pointless africa
april 1, 2007

My dad willed his estate to his children, his three sons. But then, in going through his papers after his death, it was discovered he also left money, in a separate bank account, to my wife, Mary.

She was extremely touched he would do that.

I contacted the bank in Connecticut to get the funds released, and a week later, there it was in our mailbox, a check to Mary.

Since my dad made a point of leaving the money specifically to her, it was her money to do with whatever she wanted.

She gave it some thought, went on the Internet, and decided she'd use at least a small part of it to buy something most couples secretly want, but rarely purchase, a rotisserie oven.

I remember as a kid going to a local delicatessen on Greenwich Avenue, several warm quarters in my hands, fascinated by the large steel rotisserie oven they had behind the cash register counter, rows of skewered chickens and ribs slowly revolving under high-intensity heat, skin browning, glistening, exuded fat dripping off.

That was the way to cook food.

The rotisserie oven Mary chose was put out by Wolfgang Puck.

It's a funny thing about recipes. Few of them are any good. We have hundreds and hundreds of cookbooks, some in our kitchen, the rest in tall wooden bookshelves in our garage, but most don't have a single truly great recipe. Typically, reading a recipe in a cookbook or food magazine, I realize the finished dish would be blah, done a thousand times before. It's like reading descriptions of TV pilots:

Three powerful career women will stop at nothing to succeed in the business world, but their ambition causes problems in their personal lives.

A socially-conscious public advocate is thrown into the position of New York City mayor. He has to balance his principles with city politics.

The lives of four women who've been friends forever and live in New York City, one of whom is married and has to juggle a family with her career, go through various mishaps.

Professional women juggle different parts of their lives.

Three prehistoric men battling discrimination in present-day Atlanta try to find ways to live like "normal" 30-year-old guys.

Two L.A. paramedics who are best friends save other people's lives but keep screwing up each other's.

The lives of six Supreme court clerks get tangled with the judges they work for.

A sexy defense attorney toes the line to protect her innocent clients.

(The scary thing is, these are all real pilots being considered by the different broadcast networks for the Fall 2007 season. Some of these shows might actually get on the air.)

(The only network pilots we hope do make it, based on the people associated with each project, are Dirty Sexy Money (ABC), Pushing Daisies (ABC), Babylon Fields (CBS), and The Return of Jezebel James (FOX). And of course all the new HBO pilots, True Blood, by Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball, John From Cincinnati, 12 Miles of Bad Road, and In Therapy.)

I'd say there's probably only a dozen or so cookbooks we've bought over the decades that are really worthwhile (by really worthwhile I mean that the cookbook contains two or three truly outstanding recipes.) Top of the list is Paul Prudhomme's first cookbook, Louisiana Kitchen, which probably has ten great recipes. Another chef who produces reliable recipes is Wolfgang Puck, which is why we thought we'd give his oven a try.

The oven in fact performs a number of functions, including convection cooking, a special setting for homemade pizzas, a broiler, a standard oven, and probably several other cooking methods we haven't yet discovered.

For our first rotisserie test, we chose chicken.

Every once in a while, if we were in a hurry, hadn't planned an evening meal, on our way home we'd pull into a twilight parking lot, the type with incredibly high-up security lights, walk into the supermarket holding hands, pick up a rotisserie chicken. They'd always be in a black plastic base, clear plastic dome atop. Once you got them home, cracked the two plastics apart, this wonderful aroma would waft, the flat belly and wings of the chicken sitting in a rich pool of yellow quartz juices.

The Wolfgang Puck Rotisserie oven is about the size of a microwave oven. We spent some time with the coffeemaker, explaining to it why it needed to move to a black counter next to our stainless steel side-by-side, to make room for the rotisserie. Often, taking the time to talk to your kitchen appliances whenever these potentially upsetting moves occur can alleviate the stress for both you and the appliance. Change is frightening.

The Sunday we decided to first take our rotisserie oven out on a shake-down cruise, with a whole chicken, was also the same day we saw "Off the Charts, The Song-Poem Story", rented from Netflix.

If you're not familiar with the film, it's a documentary about all the aspiring song writers across America who would send their poems to different agencies advertising in the backs of popular magazines, to have the poems set to music, a record or CD delivered to the aspirant's mailbox, for about three hundred dollars.

There are a lot of different approaches a filmmaker could take with that sort of material, the most obvious being a mocking tone, look at all these losers talking so sincerely into the camera, but in fact filmmaker Jamie Meltzer takes a rather sweet approach, introducing us to a number of the aspiring songwriters, letting us into their lives, then taking us to the small studios where their songs are quickly shaped and recorded. The documentary is, essentially, a look at one of our great American pastimes, the hope we're going to get rich quick.

My dad participated in this process himself.

I remember from the time I was a child he always wanted to put his mark on the world as a writer, mostly compilations of "interesting facts".

In the mid-sixties, when radios were on in every part of the land, he decided to try his hand at song-writing.

He bought a toy xylophone from Woolworth's, so he could transcribe the notes for each syllable.

The song of his I remember the most was, "Let's Race Into Space Together".

I have a copy of the sheet music for the song, including melody and lyrics, but it's buried somewhere within a roomful of boxes. It started something like, "Let's race into space together/We'll visit Jupiter and Mars/Say hello, Mr. Moon…" and so on. I have a fondness for the song, but it never got played on any of those millions of radios.

Later, he entered a song-writing competition to come up with a state song for Connecticut. I don't remember what his entry was called, or how it went, but it didn't win. Still, he always kept a good sense of humor about his attempts to be the next Beatles. You have to remember too that back in those days, new songwriters were emerging all the time.

After his retirement, he found a local paper, the type available free at a wire rack by the exit doors of supermarkets, that agreed to run a monthly column by him called Sprinkle with Salt, each column of which was a listing of different interesting facts. Years later, he paid to have the columns reprinted in a couple of softcover books, which he got several local area bookstores to display. He never made back his initial printing investment, but he did sell some copies. That was my dad. I admired him for his perseverance, and even more so, for his ability to keep his sense of humor when that perseverance didn't result in him becoming famous.

He had one of the two essential streaks all successful artists must have. He didn't have talent, but he had conquered his fear of failure. No matter how talented you might be, and there are a lot of talented people in the world, if you're afraid of failure, if that holds you back, you'll never be a true artist. Never, ever.

The Wolfgang Puck rotisserie oven chicken experiment turned out to be a big success.

We watched the pale yellow chicken slowly revolve on its spit within our oven, noting with glee each drip dropping off its revolution. An hour and a half later, we had a perfectly-cooked chicken, steam rising, waiting to be pulled apart, devoured.

Thanks, dad.

Like you, I get a lot of spam.

Each day, about two hundred emails.

Most of the subject lines feature deliberately misspelled words, in the hopes of getting past the different spam filters, but some, for whatever reason, feature short, surreal statements.

Spam is worthless, but so is nuclear waste, which France eventually found a use for, berets off to them, so I wondered if I could take something as worthless as spam and find something useful in it. After all, shit makes great fertilizer.

A poem.

I set my rules as follows:

The poem must consist entirely of the subject lines of different spam emails. I couldn't add any words.

The entire subject line must be used.

I came up with the following, which I'm calling a Spaoem (pronounced "spome").

Each subject line used in the spaoem is separated from the next by a punctuation mark, either a period, comma, or semi-colon.

The spaoem was constructed from subject lines culled from about two hundred spam emails.

There is no miracle, pointless Africa.
They took that information and compiled it into a searchable database.
Did you see it last night? It's all lovely stuff.
We have girls near you, tired of all these dramas.

Be happy with it, separate yourself from other men.
Too busy to go back to school? Turn back the clock.
To respond is less effective than to anticipate.
Don't be left out, join millions in the revolution.

Outside was a scene in riot with hordes of people
Scurrying in all directions. A land of beauty.
Picture yourself. Be happy with it. You cancel an appointment.
You are the lucky one. They missed it. Databases of surgeons.

There is no miracle, pointless Africa.
Few more days here, it's all lovely stuff.
It seemed my only option as the sunlight dwindled
And the rain continued to fall.

In publishing news:

My piece Pornography and Martial Arts Movies will be in the next on-line edition of Sein und Werden.

My story Truth Be Told will be in the next print edition of Sein und Werden.

My story Mice Leave Tiny Bites will be in the next print edition of Trunk Stories.