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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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some people are afraid to bring their ribs to memphis
june 1, 2008

I'm sitting at the monitor, keyboard in front of me, my private army of alpha-numeric keypads ready to do battle again against yet another blank screen, and I'm having a hard time deciding whether "hurt" is the right word.

So did I sprain my back? Throw it out? Wrench it? Twist it?

'Twist' actually sounds most accurate.

About three weeks ago, I twisted my back.

Mary and I only go out about twice a month. The rest of the time, we stay indoors.

Actually, not entirely indoors. We go out into our backyard garden to fill the birdbaths and bird feeders, and see what flowers are in bloom (right now, it's day lilies), and each day I walk down the sidewalk to get our mail.

(For the past week there's been a letter-sized sheet of paper taped to the communal mail kiosk we share with several other neighbors. It's one of those missing pet flyers people print on their computer and post everywhere. Whenever I see one, I say a silent prayer pet and owner are reunited. This one had a black and white photo of the pet in the top half of the sheet, which is typical, but glancing at the photo as I unlocked our mailbox, I thought, Jesus, what kind of dog or cat is that, then realized it was a photograph of a turtle. I read some of the copy. The turtle dug its way under the backyard privacy fence of its owner, "and escaped". It's a Russian turtle, about six inches long, and "he doesn't bite." The line that got me though was, "Answers to the name Chunky." Really? I can see how a cat or a dog might know its own name, but a turtle? Would it really turn in your direction if you said, "Here Chunky. Over here, boy." Who knows? Maybe. I also liked the "escaped" from the yard. Escaped, like, traveling six inches a day? Which reminds me of an old joke: A turtle goes to the police and says, I was mugged by two snails. The cop says, Did you get a good look at their faces? The turtle shakes his head. "It all happened so fast…")

When we do go out, it's usually to buy food.

Given it is only once every two weeks, that day is exhausting, since we're buying half a month's worth of food and we have so many places to go (we don't go to just one market to buy all our stuff, because we've never yet found a particular market that excels in all products.)

We buy our packaged goods (paper towels, cat food, light bulbs, canned tuna, you get the idea), as well as our deli meats (they have Boar's Head) at Krogers, because that's also where we get Mary's prescriptions filled.

We buy our produce at Cox Farms, because they have a wide selection, and the produce seems to be the freshest.

We go to Target for focaccia bread and rib eye steaks; to Tom Thumb for the rest of our meats and other perishable items (milk, eggs, sour cream, heavy cream, butter); Central Market for delicacies (fresh wide noodles imported from Italy, special cheeses from all over the world, taramosalata (if you like caviar, try taramosolata, a Greek roe spread that is absolutely incredible), and wild mushrooms); Whole Foods for fresh fish.

By the time we arrive back home, the bearded cats meowing with their little pink mouths for their dinner, we're exhausted.

Plus we still have to freeze the meats and breads, and store them either in the side-by-side we have in our kitchen, or, in our garage, either in an older side-by-side, or a freezer bin (the type that, in mob films, easily accommodates a dead adult male), or our spare refrigerator out there. That takes another hour or so, while we listen to classical music on WRR.

The majority of the groceries, non-perishable, we leave stacked across our kitchen counters and the wide breakfast nook table for a day or two, until we get around to putting them away. All the while our bounty is out, Beauty, our black cat, moves on four paws from package to package, all the different heights and geometric shapes, meticulously sniffing all the human hands that have touched each container.

So three weeks ago, we were unloading the last of the supplies from the back of our SUV, and I pulled out bag after bag of kitty litter, each twenty-five pounds, as I always do, but I somehow pulled one out wrong, at an impatient angle, so that I completely twisted the long muscle running alongside my spine.

The pain was immediate.

I hunched over, shambling out of the garage into our kitchen, hands swinging. Mary came over, eyes alarmed.

The thing is, with a back injury, it affects every movement of your body.

Walking upstairs to my study on the second floor hurt, but it was a manageable hurt.

But lowering myself into bed? Getting myself out of bed? That pulled my lips away from my teeth every time.

By the weekend, babying my back, I was starting to feel better. Then Sunday, while my back was still healing, I don't know what I did, but I really wrenched it again.

Sunday night, early Monday morning, moon in the window, I had to get up to pee.

It took me about five minutes to maneuver my body out of bed. Hobbling with my forehead down didn't hurt so much, but then bending over to lift the white toilet lid sent a horrible spasm across my back, like a heart attack. I stood over the toilet, breathing heavily, not moving, but another extremely painful, knees-bending muscle spasm flexed, and for the first time I thought, What if this doesn't go away?

I had consulting work to do for my business, so Monday after breakfast I hobbled upstairs, put in the hours.

My back injury didn't improve. It felt like someone was holding a Ralph Robert Moore doll in a shack that sat on piers over the edge of a bayou. Sometimes even when I didn't move, I was sitting motionless, I'd still suddenly be treated with a twist of the muscle running down my back, bending my face down to my knees. It had the intensity of a foot cramp, but along a much, much longer muscle.

Mary was scheduled to go into Dallas that Thursday, for a blood coumadin check, but I knew there was no way I could fold myself into and out of our car, so I called the doctor's office and canceled.

Towards the end of the second week I started feeling better. That Friday I even mowed the front lawn, because I had to, being very careful behind the loud mower.

By the next Monday, the pain was pretty much gone. Still a dull presence, but no more spine-twisting spasms. I can put up with dull presences.

That following Thursday we drove into Dallas for the rescheduled coumadin check, then on the way home stopped at an Italian grocery Mary had discovered on the Internet.

The Internet site (still under construction) for the grocery made it look like an Old World Italian grocery shop, the front window filled with drum-sized offerings of cheese, an array of sausages and specialty meats, and perfect produce.

The reality, as we pulled into the tiny parking lot off a busy road, was a little different.

The store itself is half grocery/delicatessen, half warehouse.

Past the cash registers in front, you have a very small display of fresh produce. Most of it does not look as good as the produce you would get at a regular supermarket.

If you walk down that aisle, you come to the deli at the rear of the store. This is really the heart of the grocery. Their own marinara sauce (quite good) in small plastic tubs, a lot of Italian meats and cheeses, sub sandwiches to go, and frozen pizza dough sold in balls. The rest of the store has an aisle of dried pasta, several shelves of sauces and other delicacies that are hard to get (including an artichoke-based sauce), then an aisle of haphazardly-arranged wine, and a final aisle that is mostly shipping boxes and confusion.

The grocery itself smelled delicious. Always a good sign.

We bought a couple of pizza dough balls, and a tub of the marinara sauce.

That Saturday, Mary and I decided to make a homemade pizza.

We've made pizzas in the past, but usually we make such a large one it's hard to get it out of the oven in one piece. The soggy middle tends to stick to the baking stone, so that we wind up with a giant pizza doughnut.

This time, we decided to make, instead of one huge pizza, two regular-sized ones.

We cut the pizza dough in half. I took one half, Mary the other. Working side by side, always fun to do, we rolled each half out, then picked each half up in our hands, supporting the circular dough with the knuckles of both hands, spinning it gently around with our knuckles, getting the dough larger and thinner.

When we had it the size and thinness we wanted, we dusted the top of our wooden pizza peel (a large paddle) with some cornmeal, to help prevent the dough from sticking to the wide baking stone we were heating in the oven at four hundred and fifty degrees, then placed the first raw disc of dough, about seven inches across, on the paddle.

Using a tablespoon, we spread marinara sauce across the top of the pizza, to within a half inch from the rim. We sprinkled generous amounts of shredded mozzarella cheese atop the red sauce, then crumbled cooked Italian sausage, and sliced mushrooms and chopped green bell pepper we sautéed separately. Finally, we added the key ingredient, drizzling olive oil (we use Bertolli's extra-virgin olive oil) in a spiral over the toppings.

Opening the oven door, I placed the pizza paddle in the oven, above the hot baking stone, jittering the paddle to get the raw pizza to slide forward onto the stone.

Ten minutes later, the first pizza was done. I slid the paddle under the pie, pulled it out, redusted the paddle with corn meal, then placed the second pizza on the paddle, slid it onto the baking stone.

While we waited for the second pizza to bake, we grated some parmegianno regianno over the top of the first pizza.

We got in bed, each with a plate of pizza slices, turned on the TV.


We glanced at each other, smiling, while we chewed. Thumbs up!

And my back didn't hurt anymore.

I was fortunate to be born at the beginning of the space age. There are lots of fascinating eras in history, and who wouldn't like to have known what it was like to live in ancient Greece, imperial Rome, or Elizabethan England, but even then, you know that Socrates, Caesar, Shakespeare, no matter their accomplishments, never got over looking up at the night sky, knowing that particular mystery was beyond their grasp.

On Sunday, May 25, the Phoenix Mars Lander successfully touched down on Mars, in one of the planet's northern arctic plains.

This is tremendously exciting news.

Mars is one of the few places in the solar system-outside Earth-where life is likely to have existed in the past (as many in the scientific community now believe), and where life, in some form, may still exist. If we find evidence of life on Mars-past or present-it shows that life is not a fluke, limited to our one large, lonely planet, but is instead likely to be scattered everywhere.

For the first time ever, we have a lander on Mars that has the ability to dig down into the surface of Mars, and specifically, because of its landing site, into the ice layer directly below the planet's surface (Mars' north pole, we now know, has a vast abundance of frozen water just beneath its surface.) The lander will also scoop up soil samples near the ice layer, to look for signs of organic habitability. If life did once exist on Mars, it's possible those samples will hold evidence of that life.

Everywhere on Earth where water has been found, no matter how hot or frozen the water may be, life has been found.

When Phoenix's primary three-month mission ends, in September, it will continue as a weather station, provided by our friends at the Canadian Space Agency, recording temperature, wind and humidity (its first weather broadcast reported clear skies, a northeast wind, and temperatures reaching a high of twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit below zero). Phoenix will also be able to record the Martian winter's expansion of the polar ice cap, an expansion that is expected to eventually silence Phoenix, as the lander becomes encased in the advancing ice. Which is a shame. Phoenix, we hardly knew ye.

An accomplishment as stunning as the successful landing of Phoenix on the surface of Mars would, you think, be greeted by huge black headlines, but in our present time, where so many of us are content with "one-inch thoughts", the story didn't even make the top news.

On our local affiliate of NBC, the station we usually watch for news in the morning, the top story was about a man who was hit by a car. The second story had to do with a girl who was riding a horse, lost her balance, and was dragged on the ground by the horse. Story number three featured a local funeral home that put up a small flag on its lawn for each soldier who had died in Iraq (this was Memorial Day). The fourth story was about a fitness program with a Memorial Day tie-in. Story five was a Memorial Day message from Governor Rick Perry. Story six was the Mars landing.

Of course, that may be yet another example of old media versus new media. On the Internet, the news of the landing was linked everywhere, with people around the world excitedly discussing the significance of the event, especially children. As always happens, there were some on the Internet who could care less about space exploration. It's the old, tired argument of, Let's solve all the problems on Earth (as if we ever could) before we start exploring space. We watched a "Food Challenge" on Food Network this past weekend. It was for a barbeque competition in Memphis. As one of the contestants, preparing his secret sauce, said about the competition, "If you never go, you never know." That's the way it is with space exploration. Some people are afraid to bring their ribs to Memphis. That's fine, but at the end of their life they don't have any prizes. All they have is their caution. And caution looks pretty small on the fireplace mantel.

This day belongs to all the people around the world who have kept their sense of curiosity, of passion, and want to know about our Universe. Who want one of us, eventually, to set our booted feet down on another planet. It belongs to those who have the courage and imagination to have that dream happen. It belongs to heroes.

Click here for a photograph released by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Phoenix descending through the Martian atmosphere to the surface. It's not an artist's rendering. It's an actual photograph. The picture was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the planet for over five years. Phoenix traveled 422 million miles to get to that point. Ed Weiler of NASA compared the precision of putting Phoenix in just the right spot to succeed after its nearly year-long flight to landing a hole-in-one with a golf ball from 10,000 miles away. You can see Phoenix's white parachute, and, below the parachute, the Phoenix Mars Lander itself.

We're in that lander.

Trevor Denyer, editor and publisher of the highly-respected U.K. magazine Midnight Street, had some serious health problems late last year and early into this year, which required a lengthy hospital stay. I'm pleased to say he has recovered, and is back at the magazine. My story "Rocketship Apartment" will be appearing in the next issue. Welcome back, Trevor. You had us all a little scared, mate.

The Horror Express, also based in the U.K., will be publishing my short story "Dogs Want to Eat You" in their new anthology. I'm honored to appear in the publication. Writers in previous issues include Dean Koontz, Neil Gaiman, Graham Masterson, and many others.