Saturday, August 31, 2013

Born and bred

The creature stared at me, wide-eyed through the florescent glare, Saran Wrap stretched tight across its broad back. Alone in the seafood cooler, he was the only one of his kind, there among the farmed, color-added Atlantic salmon and mud-flavored tilapia, perched on a blue foam tray, legs tucked 'round him like a comfy kitten. He didn't blink. He was dead, red, cooked and chilled, ready to eat. Such a find is rare in the City Market fish department in Gunnison, Colorado.

What if nobody takes him home? I thought. This beautiful animal will have died needlessly, ripped from his home, family and friends (Dory, Nemo, Crush and Gill?) only to be tossed in the trash when his expiration date came and went. I lifted him for closer inspection, checked that date, felt the heft of him, scanned his surface for cracks and blemishes. The creature was perfect. I lowered him back into the cooler, nodded farewell, turned to walk away, took one step, and stopped. Shoppers strolled past, studied lists, analyzed packages and placed them into carts. A man approached the seafood area, glanced into the cooler and rolled on. What if a local buys him? This was no trout. What if he's snapped up by a transplant from Indiana or Michigan? Good luck finding that walleye, pilgrim. I looked at my cool friend. Let's call him Shelly. What if the person who buys him is a Texan? From Dallas. Or Plano. What kind of a name for a town is Plano, anyway? Welcome to Plano, a no-frills, plain-o town. There was a town, a Texas town, and Plano was it's name-o. What would these people know of bottom-dwelling, sidestepping, urchin-gobbling brachyura?  Like Shelly, I am Pacific Northwest born and bred.  He and I are cut from the same, salty cloth, never mind that the Willamette Valley has no ocean view.  I panicked, imagining my dead-eyed compatriot on the platter of a Plano Texan, the man's napkin tucked into the snap collar of his western shirt, steak knife gripped tight in a beefy Texas fist. S.O.S!  KELP! I've hauled relatives of Shelly's from the depths to the docs, claw-snapping clusters of crustaceans in netted frenzy around a mangled fish head wired tight into the floor of a mesh trap. I couldn't let this happen. Better that poor, dead Shelly land in the belly of a native daughter.  His bar code scanned without a glitch.

Maine's got lobsters, Alaska, its deadliest catches. They're all delicious. There is, however, nothing finer from the murky depths, or from terra firma, than the sweet, cold flesh of a fresh, dungeness crab.

Dipping morsels into drawn, organic, grass-fed butter, I lifted the first bite as a toast to the two of us. "You are what you eat, Shelly, and you eat what you are."

Monday, August 05, 2013

This essay may blow, but there are no colons and the goose is far from cooked

I have not traveled recently to Mexico. Nonetheless, I'm stuck home today, mere steps from the water closet for a mild case of food poisoning. Montezuma's Revenge. Like Kings Kamehameha and Luis, there were several Montezuma's, but it's Monty II who is the namesake of this expression, so soundly trounced by Spanish Conquistador Herman Cort├ęz in 1519. Herman, it would seem, was not a nice man. It's like the Indigo Girls' re-incarnation song, "Galileo." Montezuma got the shit kicked out of him, and today, I am literally living that legacy.

Hard to believe the guy who looks like a pansy, beatnik poet (not that there's anything wrong with that) prevailed over the loin-clothed stud. This is the lesson of history through the ages. Greed and firepower always trump righteousness. Strike a manly pose with spear and shield. Stand fast to defend your people. You look good, but you're no match for a pouty, well-groomed, beret-capped Spaniard backed by a gold-hungry king and battalions of well-armed, well-fed soldiers, a slew of traitor-natives and a healthy roll of canons thrown in for affect. Sure. Invite the beatnik into your village. Look at him. He's harmless. Present him with gifts. He'll smile, shake your hand, be gracious, then kick your Aztec ass. It was the ultimate checkmate of the 16th century. No wonder poor, beefy Montezuma II has to get his revenge this way, through the likes of me and my non-Aztec ass.

Red sky at morning, geese take warning.

Today, the rain falls with a Montezuma-like vengeance. Canada geese in the pasture behind the cabin ride out the deluge like champs. That parcel is a kind of goose hotel. They stop in twice a year for an extended stay, en-route north, en-route south. The geese landed a few days ago, announcing their arrival in a riot of squawks and honks, letting the marmot and rabbit bell-hops know to be ready for their baggage, and the chef (a man-made wetlands meadow) to prep the worms and bugs and seeds for their semi-annual, welcome-to-the-Rockies feast. The geese are early, an omen, natures way of telling us to split and stack the firewood, now. Change is in the air and on the wing. It's early August, and summer lingers. But here in the mountains, winter is always coming.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Back at it

It's been some time since I've written. My mom died in February, and I haven't had the gumption to write much, other than a couple of feature stories for the paper and the occasional pithy email to a friend. Tonight, sitting in my favorite burger joint with a pile of fries in front of me, I dunk them into a deep pool of ketchup mixed with a hot sauce. That's how Mom liked 'em. My burger? The Spicy Hawaiian, a nod to my 808 connections. It's a brilliant combination of peppers and pineapple, a favorite on the Power Stop menu. I'm sure she'd have loved it, too. There's a bubbly beer with a lime in it. That's not a homage to anything. I just like beer.

These past months, I've done little but work, search and apply for jobs. Two rejection letters have landed in my email this week. Search-and-apply has become a futile obsession. It's time for a break, at least until I hear back from all those applications still floating around out there. I am a writer, after all. Writers write, and so it is that I resurrect the blog.

Where I work, initials rule. We scratch them on tickets and sheets of paper, line after line. I was here. These are my initials. Everywhere. Everyday.
"Who's TD?" My scrutinizing associate asked a few weeks ago.  I looked at the letters with her. Cool and flashy, my initials did, in fact, looked more like TD than TT.
This week, I made a modification to the moniker, to change it up a bit, retain the flair, but with bit more clarity.
What do you think?" I asked.
"It's pretty," said one colleague. "But I like the original. Who cares if it looks like TD. We know your symbol."
"You're like Prince," said the other.
"I'm the teller formerly known as Toni," I said.
"OMG, you are cracking me up today," she said.

Why is comic relief never listed as a job requirement?

This afternoon, I gave a young woman cash back on her deposit. Fifty bucks. Two twenties and a ten. She lingered at my window, fumbled through the bills, staring at them with the focus of a border collie on a flock of sheep.
"Everything OK?" I asked.
"I have to have all the bills in serial number order in my wallet," she said. "I'm somewhat OCD that way."
She shrugged and walked away. I waited 'til she cleared the door, turned to my co-worker, raised my eyebrows. Her eyebrows raised back. In stereo, we blurted, "Somewhat?"

And now, a shameless lapse into present tense.

Quarter to five. A woman walks in. I know the instant the door swings shut that she's from Crested Butte. She has three bags of coins. We've already balanced our vault and shut down the machine. My co-worker explains this, her tact and politeness a customer service work of art.  She presents the most reasonable of options. "How 'bout if we lock this away in our vault for the evening, then deposit it into your account first thing in the morning?" It's such a great idea, proposed with such confidence and logic, it makes no sense not to. I'm sure the woman will agree.
"I'm leaving on a trip first thing in the morning," says Ms. Moneypenny (not her real name), sliding the heavy canvas totes across my counter. I smile and grab a bags. "We'll start with this one. It'll take a couple of trips."
"Can I help?" she asks. "Oh, I guess I can't come back there."
"Nope." I say. My colleague senses the figurative stench of an irked vibe oozing from my pores, head to toe, like too much curry and garlic. My co-worker is frustrated too, yet she is far more composed than I feel. We all want to go home, weary of our long day, our long week, our boring job. It's one thing to duck in for a quick, late transaction five minutes before closing. If you make it in before the doors close, you've made it. It's your turn. Welcome. If you've rushed in with your coin container and it's all the money you have and you need it to pay rent TONIGHT or be evicted, or to buy groceries 'cause it's all you've got 'til payday, that's OK too. Happy to help. It's quite another thing to heft in three bags of coins, mostly pennies, nickels and dimes, that were three bags pennies, nickels and dimes yesterday, and this morning. They will be tomorrow, too, and next week when you return from your trip, too. I schlep them into the vault, where the machine sits idle. Irritation notwithstanding, it's my favorite piece of equipment in the whole place, a mechanical marvel. Another co-workers brings in the remaining bags. I flip the switch, pour in the booty, push the button. A riot of coins clatters and whirs, filling and clearing my head.

Chill, calm, attitude adjusted, I emerge from the vault. It is then that I learn the woman's car has broken down. She has to pay the mechanic. A ripple of sympathy hits, followed by sharp twinges of guilt for my own misguided judgement and internal pissiness. Her account comes up on my computer as a matter of protocol. I feel bad for her, poor woman, car in the shop, road trip planned for first thing in the morning. I glanced at the screen.

She has enough in there to buy a new Lexus for cash.

Privy to people's accounts. It's a necessary part of the job, but one I dislike most. "Too much information" my colleague often laments. It's uncomfortable, having seen inside our neighbors' bank accounts. In a small community like this, we're all neighbors.

To be clear, I love Crested Butte, our sister hamlet up the road, and have great affection for many good people I know who live there. It's long been the kind of place where you could belly up to any bar and not know if the guy sitting next to you was a dishwasher with three jobs or a millionaire. And if you did know, it didn't matter. In recent years, however, a new breed of wealthy and entitled have "discovered" CB. They've swooped in to snap up their piece of paradise, but rather than blending in, they prefer standing out, and expect to be treated accordingly. It's a bummer of a change.

One more day in the salt mines, then--- The weekend!

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Not yet all wet

Life is rigged. And boring. Seriously, I mean, you know the drill. 

Yes, living without running water has been inconvenient, and you'd think people would sympathize, but all they do is stare at my jugs. 

Everyone should go without water for a few days. She says, as though that were a real hardship. I imagine my Alaska friends splitting a gut over that. "A few days? Hah! Try it for a few months," they'd say. "Or years. Decades!" Yeah, well you last frontier people are mad. I'm talking about the rest of us; sane, normal people, the complacent, wasteful kind who take natural resources like fresh, clean water for granted and piss them away every day without a thought. It takes two gallons to flush a toilet. Two. Gallons. (I'll pause for effect here.) That's a container in one hand poured into the tank -- glug, glug, glug -- and then from the other hand -- glug, glug, glug. It's a lot of water. And when one has to schlep those gallons, only to watch them spiral down the drain to no good effect other than taking the stinkies with them, it gives one pause. Not that eliminating the stinkies is not a good effect. It's just wasteful to use so much perfectly good water to flush poo. But that's what we do with every flush.

If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down. That's good advice, whenever water's scarce. But of course, water's always scares. We just don't act like it. 

The solution to poo-lution is dilution. So we need some water for such things. All the more reason not to waste it.

It takes gallons to wash a few dishes, too. And how many people just let it run while they're brushing their teeth?  Gallons and gallons, right down the drain.

Talking Head interlude:
Letting the days go by, letting the water pull me down. Letting the days go by, water flowing underground...

Once the well's a well, well, the excavator guy (his name is Chris) will dig a trench six feet deep and about 15 feet long. This will include some sort of mechanical/human interpretation of a mole, as he will tunnel a couple of feet under the slab foundation at the edge of the laundry room. The well guys (Rick, Tom and Frank) will return to install the pump. The plumber (he's Fred) will run pipe and electricity along the bottom of the trench from the pump into the house, direct the water through a pipe that will come up through the cement-slab floor (another hole required there), cross the ceiling overhead and down to the pressure tank. Nothing to it! I should have water spilling from my spigots by week's end.

I should be paying for this until I'm 94. 

Flowing faucets or not, I vow to be more frugal with this precious, life-sustaining fluid. Shorter showers, fewer baths, less flushing and of course, mellowing. 

They call me mellow, yellow (quite right)....

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dream visions

I'd done what I could to get there, to be there with her that Sunday evening, February 24th. I didn't make it. But I DID see her.

She'd gone into the hospital the Friday before with debilitating abdominal cramps. Doctors were confident they knew the cause of her discomfort, and assured my mom and Jim that a simple, routine procedure would have her home Saturday morning, "feeling like a new woman." What they found instead was a dead colon, killed for lack of blood supply by a tumor that had grown exponentially over the course of three weeks since its initial diagnosis, choking off the main vessel. The surgeon reported, "the cancer was everywhere." I jumped online to book a flight, but a dastardly Rocky Mountain blizzard had other plans, for the Denver airport, for all Western Slope airports, and for me. All Saturday afternoon and evening flights from here were canceled. No sleep, I left early the next morning, drove through the drifting white over four mountain passes from Gunnison to Denver, expecting to catch the only flight I'd found available, scheduled to depart at 11 a.m. I arrived to find that it too had been canceled, along with all other flights that day. My best hope was the last flight of the day to PDX, 7:20 p.m.

I received regular updates on Mom's condition throughout the afternoon, pacing the vast expanse beneath the peaked, white canvas at DIA, calls from worried uncles and husband. My cousin Amy reported at one point that Mom was resting comfortably, fast asleep. "She looks peaceful, Toni. No pain. She's even snoring, like usual." It was comforting news after a harrowing day and dire prognosis. Settled into a window seat, head against my coat wadded up against the fusilage, I fell asleep, fast, exhausted.  And there she was, riding down the escalator toward baggage claim at Hilo airport. She was ready, in her sneakers and shorty socks, light denim capris -- pedal pushers, she called them -- creamy aloha shirt with brilliant red hibiscus flowers, worn open and loose over a matching French vanilla tank, giant canvas purse slung over a shoulder, hair impossibly-cute in short, impossibly-blonde waves. Cheshire grin. Delighted. My mom had arrived. I moved to greet her, awoke, and she was gone.

When I landed in Portland hours later, I retrieved a message from Jim, her love and life partner. My mom had died. 7:58 p.m.

I've reached for the phone to call her more than once since returning to Colorado. An unshakable ache and emptiness still overcomes without notice, thoughts of her rolling uninvited, but not unwelcome, through my head. Yesterday, I caught myself imagining the trip we were planning for this summer. She'd wanted to go to Disneyland once more, to celebrate her 75th birthday.

Jim said that when someone close to you dies, it feels as if the entire world should stop. In deference to the event, everyone and everything should freeze, for a day, or maybe a week, so you can stop too, to grieve, to remember, to be, to feel the loss wholly, without interruption or obligation.  It doesn't. The earth spins on, the universe and planet and people ever in motion.

Ron told me last Saturday that my dog, Doc, was gone. He died the day after my mom's memorial service. Not wanting upset me further during those fragile early days, he waited. Good call. Doc was 14, a quirky, silly dog who lived a long, happy, pampered life. He was our boy, our first puppy. The kitties loved him. Harley still looks for him in the hard, to pass underneath and rub against Doc's legs. BeeCee sleeps on Doc's bed, wondering where his favorite doggie has gone.

And the world spins on.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


This is my beautiful mom. She died last Sunday.

For those who knew her, my heart breaks with you. For those who did not, here's an introduction to the best confidante, role model and mother a girl could hope for in life. This is the obituary I'd planned to submit to the local paper, but have opted instead to publish here.

Obituary: Beverly Todd

Bev -- my mom -- was a longtime caregiver, advocate, and dear friend to countless elderly in South Salem. Hers was a kind and generous spirit. She devoted much of her life to the welfare of others, giving wholly of herself and doing so always with great affection and humor.
She was born Beverly Marie Steinberger in Silverton, July 23, 1938, the first child and only daughter of Art and Marie Steinberger. Her brothers called her Bevvy Buns, a nickname she grew fond of and wore proudly within the family circle as an adult. Bev attended St. Paul’s Elementary School in Silverton, Silverton High School and Marylhurst College in Lake Oswego. She also spent a short time waitressing in El Paso, Tex. an early adventure, living with a girlfriend there for a few months before returning to Silverton to marrying Cecil Todd in 1958. They had one daughter, Toni. The couple divorced in 1977. Bev met her true love, Jim Cafferty, shortly thereafter. Except for a short time in the mid-1980s when she lived with her brother, David, in San Francisco, Jim and Bev have been together 36 years. 
Bev worked through the 1970s as an assistant to an ophthalmologist, Dr. Robert Baum. She was also a member of Queen of Peace Parish, engaged as an involved parent throughout the 1960s and 70s, helping immigrant families with basic needs and teaching catechism classes to junior high kids.
Her career in elder care began when she returned to Salem from the Bay Area in the mid-80s. When asked why she didn’t retire sooner from what proved a rewarding but exhausting profession, she said, “I’d say to myself, ‘When the last one of my people passes, I’ll quit.’ Then one or two would go, and someone new would move in, and I’d grow attached to them.” Bev cared for each as she would and did for her own parents, with respect, companionship, love.
Lacking rhythm to comical effect, she enjoyed music nevertheless and was a fine dancer. In their day, she and brother Paul cut-a-rug with enviable jitterbug moves. Or so she claimed. A born story teller, Bev was known to embellished upon and tweak facts for dramatic affect, often placing herself at the center of the action. She’d wax on about any topic, whether she knew much about it or not. To those closest to her, this was one of Bev’s most endearing qualities. 
An avid reader, she enjoyed a good yarn in print, too. Movies, live theater and performance were always a delight, and she relished fun weekends with girlfriends.
Card games were not her forte, but with a sharp wit and appreciation for wordplay, her Scrabble skills were unparalleled. A talented sketch artist and doodler, Bev left a daily legacy of busts and caricatures on Post-it notes and napkins. She was crafty and creative in spades, a fine seamstress and inventive cook who loved to try new recipes and share her favorites. Fascinated by science and history, Bev poured over copies of Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic, enjoyed discovering any new bit of family lore and visiting museums and historic sites when traveling. Trips to Florida, New Orleans, Hawaii and Colorado were highlights, but her favorite destination was Disneyland. 
Her sense of humor was sometimes mischievous, always infectious. She was quick with a smile and kind word toward anyone, senior to toddler, any color or creed. Enter any of her regular haunts at her side, and you’d hear the most genuine, “Hi Bev! Good to see you!” 
Bev died Sunday, Feb. 25 of unexpected complications from cancer. She was 74. She’s survived by her husband Jim Cafferty, daughter Toni Todd, brothers Paul and David Steinberger, nieces Amy and Nicole Bruntz and Brandi Ferris, nephews Michael and J.D. Steinberger and Brad Bruntz, son-in-law Ron Niederpruem, Sisters-in-law Victoria and Lorna Steinberger, Her lifelong best friend Veronica, Logan the boxer, Sunny the conure parrot and many friends whom she loved and cherished like family. To Bev, the greatest love and affections from everyone.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Here's a beef. In the United States of America, we have miles of soybeans, rows and rows of those podded, phytoestrogen-laced legumes across hundreds of thousands of acres. Why then, can I not find a bag of frozen edamame that does not say, in tiny print on the back of the package, "Product of China?" Anybody? I even tried the local health food store. They had 'em, compact plastic, post-consumer-waste pouches with "Organic" emblazoned across the front, a blast of eye-catching, eco-graphics. But on the back, way down in the lower left corner, written in letters so small you have to squint to read:"Product of China."

Speaking of beef, in Hawaii, a place where I occasionally spend time, many of the larger, local cattle ranches ship their animals to the mainland for processing. Meanwhile, island supermarkets are filled with beef from the mainland.

"There are two things in this world you should never pay for," advises a wise (ass) friend of mine. "Fish and sex." Now, I didn't catch enough trout last summer to stock my freezer. OK, I never got around to buying a fishing license, and ice fishing ain't my scene. So, in these snowbound days, I buck by buddy's admonition and, with actual money, buy fish from the local grocer. It's wild caught Alaskan salmon, not farmed or die-injected, previously frozen but not bad for the middle of winter in the middle of the mountains, and cheaper than most decent cuts of beef. Ah, again with the beef. Beef. It's what's not for dinner, although I see them every day, lines of plump, woolly bovines nosing through hay, strewn thick across nearby pastures. Why is it that a sockeye hauled from the Cook Inlet and flown 3600 miles to land on a pile of crushed ice at City Market here in Gunnison, Colorado, is cheaper than a ribeye I could shoot from my yard if I were so inclined?

It's a mad world.