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Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2003.
like waves crashing
november 8, 2003
When we first moved to the town in Texas, south of Dallas, we've been living in the past dozen years, it was small.
The population was around 20,000. There was only one supermarket, one department store, a K-Mart, since abandoned, a McDonald's, a couple of dance studios, the types with, on their frosted glass front doors, black silhouettes of little girls in mid-twirl, and a lot of cows.
The past year or two, our little town has experienced a mushrooming of stores. We now have a Home Depot, a Barnes & Noble, Michael's, Office Max, Linens and Things, Ultimate Electronics, all the other barn-size stores we had to drive to Dallas to visit.
Conventional wisdom is that this sudden retail invasion must have destroyed the town's very soul, or at least increased the number of flyers left under people's windshield wipers, but in fact all these new stores have been nothing but a blessing. Kids are now able to find jobs, we're able to save a swimming pool's worth of gasoline, causing much less pollution, and the town, because of the increased tax rolls, can provide more services.
This past Wednesday, November 5, was the Grand Opening for the latest store in town, J.C. Penney's.
We decided to go.
We had passed the lot where the Penney's building was being erected many times. As the construction progressed, all these big orange rectangles rising against the sky, a number of other shops opened nearby, in anticipation of the Penney's traffic.
We started our outing by going to one of the restaurants that have sprung up around the Penney's site, Must Be Heaven, a new franchise started in Brenham, Texas (a month prior, we tried a Mexican restaurant in the same strip mall, where we ordered a sizzling fajita platter for two, which included refried beans. Usually, the serving size for refried beans is a ladle's worth dumped on your plate, sometimes with melted cheese atop; in our case, we were served the refried beans in a huge white bowl of a size usually only taken out of the cupboard for mashed potatoes during Thanksgiving. The sheer volume of the beans intimidated us both. It was like a third person at the table, but one who doesn't talk).
Must Be Heaven is a sandwich and soup place. Must Be Heaven? I sincerely hope not, for the sake of all our immortal souls. What a cruel, metaphysical joke it would be, if Heaven is even remotely like this café. The staff themselves were nice, the premises clean, but the sandwiches were absolutely uninspired. (Sandwiches are important. When Warren Zevon was near the end of his life, dying of cancer, he appeared on David Letterman. Letterman asked Zevon if he had any final advice. "Remember each sandwich.").
I tried the hot pastrami. Pastrami, swiss cheese, mustard, rye bread. The mustard had a pleasant, sour taste, but all the ingredients stayed separate, as individual tastes, without ever transcending to a 'this is a sandwich' taste. The reason may be because the sandwich is microwaved, rather than taking the time to steam or oven-heat the pastrami.
Mary tried the French Dip sandwich, roast beef and cheese in French bread, with a dipping sauce. The sauce itself had a good beef flavor to it, but again, the beef, cheese and bread remained too distinctive in their flavors.
While we ate, resignedly raising our eyebrows at each other over our first disappointing chews, the jukebox next to us played My Boyfriend's Back (a song from the fifties I've always liked, so there was that, at least), and The Age of Aquarius, which even back in the sixties I thought was kind of stupid.
The parking lot for Penney's was car-crowded, all these 2003 and 2004 metallic colors, as we expected, although by luck we managed to find an empty slot not too far from the front entrance.
Inside, it was busy, people wandering around, forming eddies. What struck us (other than its front-of-the-store check-out counters, the first Penney's in the nation to locate the counters there, instead of in the individual departments), was how low-ceilinged it was compared to other department stores, and how narrow the aisles off the central walkways were. We made our way to the kitchen appliances section, and the interior aisles were so narrow that if you wanted to look at pots and pans, or rice cookers, or food processors, you had to enter a tall alley only one person at a time could squeeze through, and even then, sideways. I'm not exaggerating. They were the narrowest aisles I've ever seen in a store.
When we first walked in, we noticed, as we were supposed to, a display of stuffed monkeys arranged on different levels around a circular kiosk, all of them made of red crushed velvet, of a hue evoking insides. Probably a hundred monkeys altogether. Mary felt the arm of one, telling me how soft it was. I reached my hand out, squeezed a red arm (indeed, it was unusually soft), and with a domino effect, probably amusing to everyone but me and management, all the red crushed velvet monkeys started tilting forward, one by one by one by one, falling off the display, spilling on their faces onto the floor. Why does this type of little disaster always happen to me?
So I spent the next five minutes grabbing, off the shiny floor, monkey rumps, trying to rebalance them on their circular glass shelves, most of them slowly tilting forward, falling off again, until I finally just jammed them against the interior supporting pole, upside down, sideways, in unlawful sexual positions, so we could move on.
But despite the bad sandwiches, the narrow aisles, those fucking monkeys, we had a great time.
In the Lately before this one, Mary and I were waiting to have an exhaust hood installed over our stove, and new carpet put down in our master bedroom (we repainted the bedroom about a month ago, and the new carpet was the final flourish).
The way it worked with the exhaust hood, as it had the week prior with a new kitchen sink we had installed, is that we'd get a call from the installer the evening before, telling us someone would be out the next morning, "between nine and one". So the next morning, we had to keep a ear cocked for the doorbell while we went about our regular activities.
The installer called from the road, on a cell phone, about eleven to say he was on his way. Our ears tilted up higher over the next twenty minutes. Then when we thought he must be lost, the doorbell rang.
I've never been sure what the protocol should be when a stranger is repairing or installing something in your home.
I know you're not supposed to stand there watching them ("What are you doing now? Are you sure that's right? Now what are you doing?"), but I also am uneasy with the idea of retiring to a remote section of the home, where I can't see out of the corner of my eye what they're up to, just hear mysterious noises (that pit-a-pat noise sounds a little like he's making a sandwich with our food!), so since the first floor of our home has an open wall architecture, I usually sit either in the breakfast nook or out in the living room, where I'm far enough away to where he's not going to feel a tingle at his back, but I can still see his elbows.
While the work is being done, I normally pull out from one of the downstairs book shelves this huge, hardcover volume I have, The Overlook Guide to Horror Films, which lists thousands of horror films from the silent era to the early nineties, each entry giving a detailed synopsis and critique, along with credit information, quite a few of the entries on overseas films, and just get lost in it for the hour or so it takes.
This past Tuesday, November 4, the guys arrived to install our new carpet.
Their window was between nine and one also, but they showed up at eight forty-five, just after we herded the last of our eight cats upstairs, to keep them behind closed doors while the work was done (they're indoor cats only, and work people tend to be a bit cavalier about firmly shutting the front door each time they pass through from parked van to leaking toilet, etc.)
Three small guys went in our bedroom with box cutters, emerging a minute later with the old carpet rolled up on one poor guy's back. He staggered through the front door with this tall load, during which time the other two carefully swept the exposed floor, then a moment later the same small guy staggered back in with the weight of our new carpet pad on his back.
It only took the three an hour and a half to put down the new carpet, after which the supervisor, smiling and nodding his head, gestured for us to come in and inspect their work.
Our bedroom was completely empty except for the new carpet, the other two guys standing self-consciously off towards one corner, and the brilliant, slanted reflections of our three bay windows on the carpet.
The carpet looked beautiful, better than we thought it would, a gorgeous, dark gold tone.
The man at Home Depot we had arranged the installation through told me as a piece of advice not to watch where the installers put the seams, that we would never be able to spot the seams if we didn't know exactly where they were, and this turned out to be true.
After the installers left, Mary and I walked around on the carpet, looking at how well it went with the walls. It is beautiful.
When I return to the bedroom in the early morning after feeding the cats and making coffee, Mary still asleep, I see the pure beauty of the carpet before me, leading to the bay windows, and the absolute cleanness of it makes me think, for a moment, we're in a large room not on ground floor, but several stories up, the occasional traffic outside, this early hour, at the rear of our property, sounding like waves crashing. It's such a pleasant aural hallucination with which to begin the day.
For those of you who have asked, my novel Father Figure, published earlier this year by Bookbooters, is doing well. It's currently the most popular trade paperback published by Bookbooters in the "Thriller" and "Horror" categories, and the second most popular title in the "General Fiction" category.
And I was a little astonished to find out the other day the book is now being sold at Wal-Mart on-line.
Barnes & Noble, which also sells Father Figure on-line, has a "People who bought this book also bought…" feature. According to their records, people who bought Father Figure through Barnes & Noble have also purchased:
Interesting. To me, at least.
In related news, the American textbook publisher Prentice-Hall is now using my essay Fear as part of the curriculum made available to special education students. I'm very appreciative.