169 tagged with #daily

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fish tales

i remember a day when my parents and i brought a white paint bucket and a fishing rod to the dam and strung worms on hooks and threw them into the water all day long, and caught nothing. i remember watching my father tie the worms in knots so they wouldn't fall off. i remember the dingy water that smelled like rotten fish.

we watched in disbelief as a group further down pulled fish after fish from the water, catfish that scraped the mud off the bottom of the lake and came up squirming. they'd always throw them back, until they noticed us staring. after a while, they started keeping the ones they caught in their cooler once they'd finished their lunch, and when they were leaving, they dumped the whole cooler-full into our bucket.

maybe we really did look hungry.

my mother made fish head soup, putting a cut, gape-mouthed, greyish face in my bowl so i would have the most nutritious parts. i didn't like seeing it.

once, a summer flood came and went so fast that the sides of the road were full of fish, still flopping. my father's baby brother was visiting us; he yelled for the car to stop, then jumped out and scooped fish into his shirt. 'fish soup for dinner, fish soup for dinner!' my father's family grew up on starvation rations during the great leap forward, and once tricked one of the other brothers into eating sheep droppings by first saying they were candy, then saying they were special medicine. i didn't know if picking half-dead fish from the muddy ditch was also a joke.

years later, i followed the farm dad around during his evening chores, and he pulled a bass from a bucket; it was still alive, but he needed to dress it for dinner. he cut into it on the chopping block next to the chicken shed, eying me over the wet ripping sounds that i was fascinated to listen to. 'i'm not sure your parents would want you seeing this,' he said.

'why not? we've had fish before.'

it was grilled whole, but i had to go home before it was time to eat.

08 February 2018 21:59

bike greetings

some people frown at me when they see me on my bicycle. sometimes, it's their response to imagining themselves on a bicycle. 'can't you walk to work instead? what about the bus?'

sometimes it's a frustration that i'm in their way, that my presence forces them to be more careful, that they're worried something bad might happen to me and they have to see it.

but sometimes, i'll pass someone who looks at me and grins through their scarf. sometimes, i pass the old security guard who's been keeping an eye out for me since i was a teenager, and raise a hand in greeting. 'hey! you're making me look bad,' he protests.

'you can be out here with me, too,' i shout back, and his reply is blown away by the wind as i slide around the corner.

07 February 2018 15:23

neighborhood (part 2)

a woman in a flattened down jacket stumbles along the salted sidewalks in orthopaedic shoes; i put my hand over my heart and shake my head at her, sorry. i've seen her here for years. i've seen her here for as long as i've lived in this neighborhood.

the clerk at the liquor store leans against her checkout counter, eighteen minutes before closing, staring unblinkingly at the display of miniature bottles of jim beam. i wonder if there's going to be a pre-closing rush today. i'm only passing the window.

the entrance of this grocery store has always smelled like rotten vegetables, year-round. i have been in many other grocery stores, and i know that this is not the only way a grocery store can smell. do the regulars here know that, too? a pale man with a monstrous white beard reaches past me to paw through a display of countless different kinds of boxed macaroni and cheese, and i don't let myself spend much time thinking about what percentage of the items in the store are food and what percentage are food products.

it surprises me that there are cartons of egg dozens that almost cost five dollars; even on their small island, my parents can get eggs for under three dollars if they're lucky. the cheapest eggs here this week are still between one and two dollars, a number that sometimes seems preposterously high, and other times seem unreasonably low. i am grateful for a steady source of eggs.

the woman begging on the street crosses my path again. "sorry," i say out loud. "i'm sorry." i want to ask her: do you have a warm place to sleep tonight? but i am afraid, because i know she has persisted through this many winters, and worry that the question is patronizing. what i really want to ask is: are you alright? is there truly something i can do to help you? are you alone? what are your hopes?

we're all people, but sometimes i don't know how to talk to people. on my bad days, i hand out dollars; on my worst days, i've handed out twenties. i pay off my guilt for existing with more than the bare minimum of cash i need to survive, by passing off fistfuls of currency to anyone lucky enough to ask me during that moment. and i worry, then, too, if i could be more fair, if i could be more generous, if i could reach more bodies, if i could cause a greater amount of happiness.

and i have to satisfy myself with the reassurance that i'll never know the answers to these questions.

06 February 2018 23:26


jets was an old chesnut quarter horse, fourteen and a half hands high, just tall enough to escape being labeled a pony. people still called him a pony, though, but he was the best horse at the stable to give to a seven year old in purple zigzag tights from down the street. he was steady on his feet, experienced enough to know when you're not holding the reins correctly, but generous enough to give you good feedback when you were close enough.

while jets had a calm, plodding demeanor most of the time, he also had a weak spot for being startled. once, i was left alone to do drills in the barn on a rainy day. some birds had nestled into the sandy floor, and during one of my passes, they found our proximity offensive and escaped into the rafters. this, i hardly noticed, because the sudden rustle of wings sent jets up on his hind legs, screaming bloody murder, catapulting me fourteen and a half hands to the ground.

i was never hurt, but i was just as scared as jets was, scrambling to my feet before i stopped tumbling to make sure i was out of his way. i cried out of confusion and a sense of betrayal, that i had done nothing wrong but still ended up on the ground.

jets wasn't a tall horse, but i was still too small to climb onto his saddle without help. he stood calmly, as if nothing had happened, staring back at me quizzically while i struggled to get a foot into a stirrup.

i remember trying several times and failing, then abandoning jets to walk around the stable, sniffling though each door i found to try and find my riding teacher. someone else helped me back onto jets. i'm not sure if i ever told my mother this story.

05 February 2018 21:35

camel soup

this is a task familiar to most children of immigrants; as the more natural speaker of english, i was often called upon to take phone messages, schedule appointments, relay inquiries. once, my mother asked me to listen to a particularly confounding voice message from a neighbor.

"hello, [mom], this is [neighbor]. i just dug up a stash of camel soup labels, and was wondering if your child wanted to bring it in to school.'

camel soup labels? ladles? camel-sue playbills? i didn't know what it meant, either. but, this was a neighbor we trusted, so my mother sent me down the street to ask.

the result was as baffling as the message; i returned with armloads of ancient gallon-sized ziploc bags stuffed with labels that had been painstakingly removed from cans, flattened, neatly stacked. 'give this to your teacher,' my neighbor had told me. i didn't understand why.

i brought them to school and gave them to my first grade teacher, who seemed both confused and suspicious that i had just shown up with hundreds of dollars worth of education credits from campbell's, especially because i didn't understand what they were or why they were important. i remember her walking me down to the principal's office and helping them get filed away for our class. this is the same teacher that once sent me to the principal's office because i wouldn't stop talking about negative numbers during our subtraction lesson, the same teacher that sent me to the principal's office for sneaking books from home to read because the class books were too boring, the same teacher that sent me to the principal's office for fighting after the bell for recess because one of my classmates was sitting on my chest to slam my face with fistfuls of sand.

there were a lot of rules that were never explained to me. i didn't understand what camel soup labels were until once, much later, when i was doing my own grocery shopping; i looked more closely at a box of pre-packaged food and saw that a school could be partially compensated for a student who consumed a box of cheerios.

04 February 2018 21:44

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