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Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Bad Henry.

The night of the day my son was born, I cracked open a cool pilsner and leaned back on the rear legs of my vinyl hospital chair with one eye on the door: so I wouldn't get busted by some fresh third-shift nurse/ contraband hound dog. I had the sixty dollar bouquet for a backdrop, my greasy hair tickling the vase glass, feeling it slide just a little back on the wide vented windowsill; the rooms they stick you in an hour after the kid arrives: you either put the flowers under the window looking out at other people's rooms, or you put 'em on the toilet with the lid down. That's the only two choices. So, when I popped back in with my beer bottles clinking away in my jacket pockets, and bags of cheese and olives and hummus, I moved right towards the windowsill and nudged a little space in between the box of granola bars and the keepsake New York Times from Henry's birthday and set the flowers I'd bought for my wife down into their little clearing there.

Then, we smiled and talked and kept looking over at the plastic bassinet, at the new baby sleeping off the long strange trip. I'd break a wad of feta off the block with my fingers and shove it in my mouth, watch the door, sip my beer, tuck it down in its hiding spot on the cold tiles.

Letterman came on. The Letterman music. Happy horns. I wasn't paying that much attention.

Then I heard that announcers voice say Hank Aaron.

My heart cannonballed into my gut pond.

I screamed.

Monica looked at me, startled.

Hank Aaron, I said. Hank Aaron! HANK FUCKIN' AARON!

It was all just too strange, too cosmic to believe. I'd never seen Hank Aaron on Letterman before. Or on any late night shit really. I'd seen a lot of Foo Fighters. And a tractor trailer load of Seth Rogans. But, Hank Aaron: no.

My chest started caving in on itself. I really couldn't talk or understand what was going down.

I slugged down the rest of one beer and ripped the cap off another. I stopped worrying about the door, about the nurses.

Sometimes things happen for reasons. Unexpected, surprising you with hot blasts of synchronicty and kismit, you are sitting there exhausted next to your sleepy wife in her hospital get-up and all of the sudden God or the Gods or somebody decides that you've been cool today, you been decent somehow, and they tilt over off the side of a throne the size of a dozen suns and they jiggle their fat God fingers and sprinkle a little magic glitter dust down through the stars. Down past the spinning planets and the martians zipping around out there in their Le Cars, down through the solar winds whipping across the black wilderness of forever, so that by the time it rains down on your tiny unimportant soul breathing in and out between a jug of supermarket Kalamatas and lukewarm brewskis, its just a few flakes is all.

But, man, a few flakes of that shit is all you need. Trust me.

So, my gift came in the form of Hammerin' Hank. The same dude I'd spent the entire morning watching on YouTube videos swatting drug-free pure rockets into the sweltering Atlanta nights long ago, as the chemicals slow dripped into my wife's veins and my boy began the long slide home. I'd been obsessed with Hank the last few weeks, as we'd settled more and more on naming our son Henry. We'd toyed with other names: tossed them around and felt them in our hands and our heads, trying to figure out whether he was maybe a Charlie (Charlie Brown). Or an Oliver (Oliver Twist).

But Henry was the name that kept showing up neon.

Henry: the son of a friend, an eighteen year old kid, gorgeous kid with a mop of black hair and an acoustic guitar under his arm in a million pictures I'd seen of him.

Henry: Hank. Hank Williams: the greatest loneliest voice who ever sang a song.

Henry: a king's name if there ever was one. Henry The Fifth. A Shakespearean guy. A name with power, and infamy.

Henry: the conflicted soldier in the best Civil War story ever written. The Red Badge of Courage.

Henry:  Hank. Hank Aaron. The greatest long ball hitter who ever played the game. And more than that, a young guy who stared hate and odds in the face with dignity and quiet peace. A beautiful guy, I kept thinking. A great great American.

When all of that swirled up in my head, I just turned to Monica one Saturday afternoon about three weeks before her due date and told her we had to name our little buddy Henry. It just made all of the sense in the world. His name was Henry.

It always was.

It just takes awhile sometimes.


Monica got a little grin on her when she saw how giddy I'd become. I was a little buzzed on my beers and my new daddyhood and she could probably see a little boy there right beside her on either edge of her mechanical bed for a minute or two. She didn't say much that I remember. She just watched me. I liked it.

I kept talking through Letterman's monologue and the commercials and all. I kept jabber-jawing about how I just couldn't believe what a sign this was. How the hell did these people come up with Hank Aaron as a guest on the night our boy came into this world. How the hell did they know. Hank didn't have anything to promote. No books or salad dressings. He wasn't the new coach of the Yankees or anything. Hell, spring training was just getting underway; baseball was still just some tapered icicle hanging off the carport for cold weeks now.

But there he was. Here he was. Hank Aaron.

I don't even remember what the hell he said, to be honest. I remember he was charming and radiant. I remember his big beaming smile and his soft southern drawl washing over me and my new son and my wife and our cheese and our flowers, as if the room was pumped full of real night air, real chilled lovely natural air. Letterman was bigger and better than ever too. He knew what he had there on the couch. He knows shit like that. He likes Bradley Cooper and all, respects them and all. But still, after all this time, he knows where the gold is hid.

I remember Hank's big grin when his time was up. Him and Dave shook hands. Then they cut to a commercial and just like that he was gone from the room.

I slipped another cap off another bottle and eyeballed the door. I changed the damn channel too.

Monica understood.

Little Henry, he understood.

They weren't gonna march out some band or some actress that we were gonna give a shit about after all that.

We just watched the late news instead, my heart doing little girl cartwheels, one right after another, way down inside of me tilted back in my hospital chair.



Back Then/ Yesterday.


Green Onions.

I look at the forecast, at the 7-day, and I see the different weather that might be blowing around outside when my son gets born. Snowflakes. Rain pissing down out of a cloud. Numbers, high temps, hovering around 40.

I look past the weatherman talking. I look through him, really.

I look through him and through the television and the wall behind it and out through the trees beside the house, and straight through the mountains hovering over there. I push my eyes through the pine trees way out on the high ridges and press them against the visible sky like you might press your fingers through some plastic wrap in the kitchen, just to watch it stretch, then give. I keep pushing until the sky breaks apart and all of my focus goes gushing through the holes I've made; knotholes in the firmament, so I can push my eyeball against the fence and watch the action from far away.

No one knows who comes next.

No one ever had any clue who would arrive eventually. And no one ever will.

Whole galaxies get whipped up in mama's good guts and there is no telling whether he's gonna want pancakes on the morning of his first day of school or what book he might end up reading up in the jet the first time he flies over the rough dark sea. Down in there, mama's hot gravy seeps into his veins and rolls up into his tiny heart and then out again, rollercoastering life all up and down his world.

His lungs are birthday ballons with just one or two weak puffs in them, but someday they could be the same lungs huffing and puffing as he rounds second base in a playoff game or chases a purse snatcher down Broadway, dodging taxis and stuff. Maybe he'll use them to sing songs on stages. Stranger things have happened.

His fingers are just soft twigs, tickling across the inside of her belly when he does his little dance down in the darkness. But someday before long, those fingers are gonna wrap around the hand of someone he met in Algebra or at the mall or somewhere, and he's going to squeeze them tight to that other hand and he's gonna feel that zip through his chest: that same bolt of lightning that I have felt in my life, and that you have probably known too.

Those feet kicking out against his mama's insides, someday those feet might parade him down the halls of some great university or through the wild bustle of an African market. Or they might jog him across the terminal, to grab ahold of his old man from behind, and surprise him with a saw-ya-first squeeze.

I hope his little eyes are rested now. Because pretty soon he's gonna be shooting out into the lights that don't stop until the end. Hospital lights over your sweet new face and headlights coming around the corner to pick you up at 7 in the evening on a Friday night and the neon lights of Manhattan and the flashing lights of the cop pulling you over. The lights on Christmas trees sparkling off the glassy blinks of someone he's falling in love with down the road.

It's been hard to focus for me lately. Everyday things I get to doing, it seems like someone else is doing them and I'm just watching over a shoulder.

Every other second I wonder about who we're gonna meet, who we're gonna get to love.

I stand in the kitchen cutting green onions on an old bamboo board, Violet scurrying around the linoleum at my feet, your mama paging through the celebrity magazines and eating melted cheese.

I hear you saying things in your small voice before you even own it. Nonsense words and coos and stuff.

I'm cooking food and opening bottles of wine out here, little man. I'm cooking food and popping corks and clinking dishes down in the sink, but really: I'm looking at you/staring at you from a galaxy away; every second sparking off the sides of our battered spaceships as we keep barrelling at each other, closer and closer and closer.


The Husky Western Bookworm Rides Again.

Here are some random things on a Friday. Nothing revolutionary. Or even exciting, really. So, if you skip out right now, I understand.

Ok here we go.


--  I've been reading MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot and its becoming this real problem for me. I like the book a lot but it's also a little bit of work to navigate. Eliot's super duper Victorian writing style is hard for me to snack on at the end of the day, when I'm pretty whipped and laying in my bed to read until I fall asleep. Yet, I have that problem where I know if I put it back on the shelf for another day down the road, I'll probably never dive into it again, and I really wanna read it, since it's a mega-classic. Some say it's one of the best novels ever.

Sometimes I get to thinking that I wish I had a time machine and that I could go back in time and find Eliot and somehow keep her from writing this one book, thus ensuring that many years later: I wouldn't have to deal with this conundrum.

Then I get to thinking: what are you, a fucking lunatic? Just put it down. No one will ever care.

The book will never come up in discussion at a dinner party. NO ONE EVEN EVER INVITES YOU TO FUCKING DINNER PARTIES, DIPSHIT! And even if they did, do you know how many courses it takes until MIDDLEMARCH rolls out of its musty old coffin and dances out on to the table like some skelatal granny all hopped up on her own reincarnation?

Do you?!!

It takes at least three hundred courses, I tell myself.

And your stomach stretches to a bubblegum bubble and then simply Jackson Pollacks across the room after about forty or so.

But still. I want to be able to finish it. I need to.


--   Monica bought me a pizza stone for my birthday back in December. It came with a pizza book and a pizza cutter. She got it for me because I love pizza and I miss pizza and I want to make my own pizza maybe more than anything in this world. So, a few weeks after the holidays were over, I was up one Saturday morning/gave Violet some microwave pancakes/got her situated with some Great Pumpkin on her little dvd piece of shit/ and I started Googling around trying to pick up some pizza making tips.

That was sort of a bad move. One thing led to another, links led to message boards. Messages led to pictures of bags of some kind of .00 flour, and voices from the electric wilderness screaming at one another that they didn't know fuck-all about making your own dough; people telling other people that if you don't understand why you want to use expensive cans of imported Roma tomatoes for your sauce than you should smoosh a grenade launcher barrel against your eye socket and pull the trigger because you will never know how to make a goddamn pizza or anything else for that matter.

After about two hours of absolutely pummeling my own desire with the thick oak switches of the people of the pizza, I was a mess. I had no idea where to start or what to do. To be honest, I think my research had made me know less about making homemade pizza than when I started.

I wanted to make my own Margherita Pizza. I ended up scaring the shit out of myself. It's February now, and still: my big Friday pizza is one of those Wal-Mart 5 cheese jobs. I rip up some basil and throw it on there after it's cooked and I eat it with three fast shots of Chianti while we watch House Hunters or something.

And it is what it is.


I took a break from MIDDLEMARCH, in case you were still wondering about that. I didn't put her back on the shelf or anything; I just left her there on the little table by my bed. I figured maybe she might need a little time too, ya know? Time to really look at herself and think about how she is going to fit into this changing world. It's hard being an old book, I guess. It's not easy to be the late-night stromboli stuffed with Vicars and Parishes and winding lanes leaking your insides off the paper, dripping your old-recipe grease down into the half-moon eyes of someone from the future who wants to gorge himself to sleep. You gotta fight to stay relevant/ you gotta struggle just to remain even a little hot.

Maybe it's me. Maybe it's the book. It's probably me. She's had so many lovers, she has to know what's up. Anyways, we're taking a little break. And you and I know that shit never sounds good.


-- So I read THE GLASS CASTLE instead. It took me about a week of nights. Moving from MIDDLEMARCH into this one was pretty much like going into any pizza joint in Brooklyn or Philly and getting a slice and just eating the hell out of it right there at the counter, by the garlic salt and the oregano and the napkins. There was no baking it myself. No fucking cans of this or that. Nothing to understand/ no temperatures or yeast bullshit. I just walked into this lady's story, ordered a slice, and ate the hell out of it. Five nights in a row.

I'm not going to lie to you. It was really nice. It was really motherfucking nice at the end of the day.


-- Now I'm reading a book I found at Savers the other day for three bucks. THE WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga. It was a Man Booker Prize Winner for 2008, which evidently wasn't enough to keep it from the nasty fate of landing on the paperback shelf under the bright halogens down at Savers, but whatever. I'll tell you this: it is super awesome. It's a tale of India. That's usually enough to get me interested, so I bought the thing. But it turns out that it's also one badass slice of mind pizza. Adiga is a pretty spectacular writer. He's comical. But he's also an intensely great storyteller. Too many novelists forget about that, about telling the story. Too many people forget about the pizza when they build these big pizzerias.


-- I can't wait to meet our son. We have three names picked out and we still haven't decided which one it's going to be. I like them all. One day I wake up in the morning and pour myself some coffee and one of the names pops into my head and it's like:YEAH THAT'S IT/ THAT'S HIS NAME. Then that lasts for like half a day and then another one of the names slams into the Honda when I'm cruising down the freeway, and I get to thinking that: of course, THAT'S the name.

It's been the same for my wife, the same names coming and going.

Oh well, he'll force our hand if he has to.  And that would be just fine, too.


The Bouillabaisse Kid.

Hey. Welcome to Stegosaurus. You got a reservation I hope, because we're booked up 19 months in advance.

Over at the grill, we're frying up some cupcakes. We're frying up some cupcakes and Chef Violet just tossed in some broccoli so it looks like we're frying up some of that too. Mini-cans of soup are zipping through the air. Chef Violet likes to throw stuff around a little before she cooks it; she likes to wing it against a wall, to see if it has what it takes to get thrown in her pot. I scramble around the kitchen unit trying to keep up with her, but I can't lie to you: it's tough, man.

One second I'm taking some crab out of the washing machine, for our stew, I guess/ then the next second she's trying to get me to fillet a stegosaurus so we can bake its short ribs with what appears to be a slice of orange and a semi-flattened half-gallon of milk. I don't ask questions. There's no time for inquiry, for learning her secrets. She looks at you at the beginning of the service, just once, with serious eyes that bitch slap your cheeks a little bit. It's a glare, really. A look of big mistrust; little eyeballs sizzling a laser hole in my forehead saying: you fat bastard: you know nothing of the Parisian school , of perfect reductions, of how the skin of the sublime chicken should snap between your teeth.

She just grabs a hold of her wooden spoon and looks deeply into my soul, four seconds tops; "You have force-fed me fatty inbred turkey nuggets! And ketchup! Since the day I was born!"

I plea with my eyes! Let me make it up to you, Jolly Rancher!

"Step aside, Papa! Let me cook my Foods of Love for the World!"


By now, of course, I'm in a spin/a daze. What the hell is happening?

Chef Violet moves to her sink and pulls out some bright green chili peppers and tosses them in the air so that they land down on the ground with some hot dogs and a goat with its eyeballs open that she has laid out down there. Then, before I can try and be of any kind of pathetic help at all, she just reaches her little fingers down, slinks them around around an edge, and just yanks out the whole damn sink basin and hurls it backwards with an elegant motion: as if that sink were the bane of her very existence and now we could get on with the show.

That costs money, you know?, I say to her. But, nothing.

I move out of tornado alley and try and prepare some wine glasses and a tea kettle on the little table. Still, no sooner have I started pouring out a wonderful Chateau Invisibiliti 1922, when Chef Violet comes  Sasquatching through my set-up: swinging a lion in one hand and a bushel of grapes in the other, talking some crazy kitchen smack, and sending my glasses and goblets in six different directions. I try and pick them up and say something mildly rude but it doesn't matter because she isn't listening to me, she's preparing her legendary bouillabaisse. She slams the head of some kind of a brown fish against the side of the fridge until she's pretty sure it's dead and then she flips it into her big red pot with a bright orange carrot, the hot red crab, and some fried chicken legs.

I attempt to hand her a glass of the wine I managed to salvage. I figure, hey, these big time chefs, they could use a little sandpaper here and there, to smooth out the grit. She takes the glass, looks at it. A long second passes.

Maybe I done good, huh chef? That's what my face says. I'm one of the weaker Muppets, all jammed up against King Kermit in the crowd.

She talks to the wine.

She speaks to the vino.

Fucking genius, I think. Pure genius. Talk to the reds. Encourage them to shine tonight. Who knows who will be out there/ what critics dine among us this evening?

Wine Whisperer!

I stare in awe as she sweet talks the wine then scolds it, all in one breath.

She drops it on the ground without touching it to her lips or dripping it in her magic pot.

My heart thuds down on to the crummy floorboards in my guts; an old stripper dies on the pole.

I watch as Chef Violet flings a fried cupcake into the microwave, slams the door shut, hits some buttons, takes it out again, and drops it straight into the hole where her sink used to be. She cackles at her burners and aims her wood spoon at the boiling crab like Jesse James. I ease her a hard plastic tart. She pings it off the counter top so that it flies off across the kitchen. She speaks in tongues at the brown fish.

She hits the spoon against the faucet and puts a whole eggplant into the dishwasher.

I hand her a cabbage and an ice cream cone.

She plops them into her percolating broth.

I get all giddy.

At three-thirty on a weekday afternoon, a two year old takes plastic food from me and I light up like a  pickle jar of headlights.