Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In Dreams

I had a dream the other night that, while not disturbing, was certainly thought provoking. I seldom remember dreams unless I'm awakened in the middle of one. This dream apparently startled me into awareness. Although I don’t recall the entire sequence, what I do remember went something like this:

I was at the sink in my kitchen. A woman with me. We were cleaning dishes and both of us were smiling. I had a comfortable feeling that she was someone that I had known for a long time. Our arms touched briefly as we worked at the sink, the sensation of warm skin against my own very pleasurable and somehow soothing. When she spoke, I turned and glanced at her.

"Eric, I’m going to help you clean up your life."

It wasn’t her words that woke me; it was the unexpected recognition when I stared into her eyes. I'll call her Cicely. I had known her since the first grade. We had graduated from high school together.

While I had long known Cicely, we had never been close friends and certainly not lovers. We had never, in fact, had any kind of personal relationship, at least in this lifetime. Still, in my dream she felt like a trusted confidante. Should I call her, tell her about my dream and express the way I felt about her? I can’t. Cicely died of cancer this past summer.

This brings me back to pondering the dream’s meaning. Maybe it has no meaning. Maybe we are all destined to live parallel lives with many lovers and confidantes as the wheels of a giant life machine spins one slow story after the next. Maybe Shakespeare had it right when he said, "All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts."

My dream leaves me to wonder just how many parts I have played, and who were my fellow actors, and did all the stories end with song and dance on a festive summer night, or perhaps the sudden shock of unexpected pain?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Brother and Sister Oil

Eric and Anne
The oil boom and ensuing oil bust of the 70s and 80s is long past and seems almost like a dream to me now. I can recount stories about the period for hours, some of them funny and some of them sad, and I still chuckle about one that happened to my then wife Anne and me.

Anne was an oil and gas accountant – a damn good oil and gas accountant. She and I formed a small oil company and began drilling wells. I love the oil business, but Anne was passionate about it. She poured her heart and soul into our company, and I guess so did I.

Caught up inextricably in the bust, we both fought to keep our floundering company. We began a quest for a “white knight,” or at least a responsive banker. Alas, we found neither, but we had a few adventures along the way.

I have often heard that people that live together for a long time begin to look alike. If this is true then Anne and I were identical twins. Why? Because we were together twenty-four hours every day, and we both had reddish-blonde hair.

As Oklahoma oil companies began crashing Anne and I traveled the country looking for a friendly banker. We thought we had found a home with a bank in Los Angeles. On a trip there, we pitched our company, and our souls. The banker, a large man with long hippy hair, a longish beard and John Lennon glasses, listened to our fervent plea with a jolly Santa Claus smile on his large face.

“I’m curious,” he said when we finished our presentation. “How did a brother and sister happen to start an oil company together?”

Neither Anne nor I had a satisfactory response and it didn’t truly matter as his inane remark gave us the answer to the question we had just spent an hour asking.

We never found our white knight, or our friendly banker. Like so many companies during the 80s oil bust, we went belly-up. Yes, the bust is long past and seems almost like a dream to me now. Some of the stories were funny but many, so many, I keep buried deep in my mind until moments such as now when they come bubbling up painfully to a surface still foaming with crushed emotion.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Bertram's Creole Oyster Soup - a weekend recipe

Though some people say, “there’s no free lunch,” they have obviously never been to Bertram Picou’s bar on Chartres Street, in the French Quarter. He usually has something for his customers to eat, and always for free. Here is one of my favorites.

·         4 doz oysters, shelled
·         4 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
·         4 sprigs parsley, chopped very fine
·         Oyster liquor, strained
·         1 Tbsp vegetable oil
·         1 Tbsp butter
·         2 Tbsp flour, sifted
·         1 qt boiling water
Add the vegetable oil to a soup kettle and heat over a medium fire. Add the flour, stirring constantly until the roux is light brown, and then add the chopped onions and parsley. Add the strained oyster liquor, mix thoroughly, and then add 1 quart of water. When the soup shows signs of coming to a boil, add the oysters and butter. Remove from the stove before water boils, and when oysters begin to curl. Though traditionally served with oyster crackers, Bertram often offers toasted French bread instead.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Excerpt From Black Magic Woman - a French Quarter Mystery

I wanted to do a ghost story for Halloween. I'm almost finished with my new French Quarter Mystery Black Magic Woman and it occurred to me there are lots of ghosts in the book. Wyatt Thomas learns he has a ghost living with him for eternity because of a curse. In this excerpt from the book, Mama Mulate summons the spirit. I hope you like this excerpt.

Black Magic Woman
Chapter 6
Mama lit another candle, and then disappeared into another part of the house. She returned carrying a small jar, a necklace, and an ornate box. After placing them on the kitchen table, she brought the teakettle from the stove. Thunder, lightning, and pounding rain continued outside the house without any sign of slacking as steam swirled up from our teacups.
“Hold out your palm,” she said.
When I extended my hand across the table,  she tapped something into it from the antique jar.
“What is it?”
“Like in magic mushroom?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Is it dangerous?”
“Not with me here it isn’t. I’m a practitioner. Remember?”
“I trust you.”
“Good. I’m giving you just enough to help induce a trance so I can channel the spirit that visited you in the hospital. Chew the mushroom; swallow it, and then wash it down with tea.”
Thunder rocked the ceiling as she pushed the box toward the center of the table. Wax had begun dripping down the sides of the candle and drying on the tabletop. Mama didn’t seem to notice, or to care. In the flickering light, I could see the box was constructed of beautifully polished wood with intricate markings carved into it.
“What is it?”
“More magic. A music box made by monks in the Early Middle Ages. Christianity was in its infancy in Europe at the time, and still very much a mixture of folk religion and paganism. This music box produces a very specific and wonderful melody. It was used in rituals to create trances.”
“For what purpose?”
“To ward off demons, curses, and the evil eye.”
“It must be very valuable. Where did you get it?”
“Don’t ask,” she said. “Is the mushroom working yet?”
“How will I know?”
“You’ll know. Put this around your neck and drink the tea.”
She handed me the pendant necklace with a stone, black as the sky outside the house. Rain and wind had set the chimes on the back porch sounding a discordant mixture of percussive music. Something heavy blew loose and slammed against the wall. I held the stone in my hand, rubbing its polished surface.
“What is this?”
“Psilomelane; a mineral with very special properties.  It’ll help us induce the trance.”
“This isn’t going to hurt, is it?”
“Stop kidding around. No time for silliness.”
Mama wound the music box, and then opened its carved top. Centuries had not dulled the instrument’s dulcet tones. A simple, repetitive melody began filling the kitchen with metallic-inflected sound. As it continued, it seemed to probe my very psyche.
“Breathe in,” she said. “Breathe out. Close your eyes and become one with the tones. Focus only on the melody.”
The tune was enchanting, the pleasant pitch of plucked pins as poignant as a full orchestra. Noise of the storm had disappeared as the mushroom started working, the far wall rippling and changing colors from vivid yellows and reds to ghostly white through my slotted eyes. I felt weightless, as if I’d somehow risen out of the chair and was floating, not touching anything. When I glanced at the candle, the wax pouring down its sides had turned to blood. It was the last thing I remembered for a while.
Wyatt’s eyes had closed, his head tilted, chin almost touching his chest. He didn’t notice the shimmering cloud that had suddenly appeared behind him, or the spirit staring at Mama with steely resolve. It was the spirit of a young man, his dark hair and distinctive clothes cut in the style of a different era. Though an aquiline nose dominated his face, it somehow made him appear regally handsome. He wasn’t smiling.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Zacharie Patenaud,” the apparition said. “Who are you, and why do you summon me?”
“I’m Mama Mulate, a close friend of Wyatt’s. I called you here for answers.”
“The man you call Wyatt has the answers.”
“If that’s not his name, then what is it?”
“I do not need to tell you what you already know.”
As Mama stared at the flickering apparition, a python appeared around his shoulders. The eyes of the dark reptile glowed red as it jutted its neck toward her, Its mouth open wide with evil intent. When Mama put her arm up to block the assault, pentacles, pentagrams, and hexagrams began flying toward her like an out-of-control, 3-D movie. The melody from the music box had become suddenly and relentlessly loud.
“You are cursed!” she shouted. “Why have you attached yourself to Wyatt?”
“Because it is he who caused the curse I bear. I’m doomed to stay with him for eternity unless. . .”
“Unless what?”
 “Only he can have the curse lifted.”
“You make no sense. Why would he place a curse on you that would have such an evil effect on himself?”
“Only he knows,” the spirit said.
“That isn’t true. Someone else has cursed you. A facilitator of the Devil and not Wyatt.”
“He paid for the curse with twenty coins of gold.”
“Then you must have done something horrible to cause him to to do such a thing. What is it you did?”
“Elise,” the spirit said.
“A woman? He cursed you because of a woman?”
“What matters is that only he can lift the curse from my  soul. If he does not, we will remain together for eternity,” he said, his image growing dimmer.
“How can he lift the curse?”
“That is a question only he can answer.”
The music had grown earsplitting, Mama’s eyes rolling to the back of her head as she tried to muffle the sound with her hands.
“What’s his name,” she shouted. “And the name of the woman who can lift the curse.”
The apparition’s voice and its image began to fade. He held out his hand to her as he disappeared into darkness. Mama continued shielding her face as the serpent, and flying Devil signs went with it.
When they were gone, she poured a straight shot of whiskey and then slugged it down in one gulp. After her second shot, the music box lay quiet, thunder shook the roof, and the candle in the center of the table flickered and died.