Thursday, November 17, 2016

Timothy Gager's Grand Slam: A Coming of Eggs Story (Big Table Publishing, 2016)


Timothy Gager's Grand Slam: A Coming of Eggs Story (Big Table Publishing, 2016)

A Review by Mignon Ariel King

The first thing one notices in Timothy Gager's Grand Slam: A Coming of Eggs Story is the Holden Caulfield-like anti-hero protagonist Woody.  There is an ensemble of characters in the novel who make up the staff and management at a chain diner, Grand Slams, and Gager deftly weaves their backstories and inner lives into the fast-paced narrative.  Despite the often more bizarre and troubled manifestations of the other diner workers' lives, Woody is clearly the focal character.  Woody is a young almost-man who is emotionally distressed and unfocused.  He is in an emotional and social limbo a year post high school, and still living with his parents, yet he is focused enough to seek and find work over the summer break from college.  The two characters who are also Woody's age are working their part-time diner gigs around college schedules, would-be college schedules, and pre-career funks.  It is unclear at times whether the trio have any clear plans.  They do, however, have dreams and passions, the passions often misdirected.  Of the three, Woody is the most attuned to what is going on around him, very invested in how other people's lives are turning out, whereas Sugar and Bobby are just going through the motions, enduring their surroundings and coworkers.

Woody's mother (Mrs. Geyser) attempts to monitor and guide; his father, a political progressive who named his son after Woodrow Wilson, grumpily tunes out his family to focus on favorite television shows.  A comparison is drawn between Woody's father and his "work mother," Maura.  Maura is fifty-something and seems plunked in the diner with her crumply stockings and middle-aged wide middle; Woody's father is plunked in his living room in a Michelin man body.  It is no wonder that the Grand Slams "work family" is so dysfunctional with Maura as its matriarch.  She keeps things moving, but she emotionally detaches from everyone at work to go home to nobody after she picks up her check each week.  Maura left her daughter behind for a better life...perhaps, but really her life is only simpler, uncluttered by the needs of others.  She has no suitors, no girlfriends, just her job and subtle dreams of making more, having more, materialistically speaking. 

Most of the low-level workers in the diner are more invested than their superiors.  Keating, a nasty bastard of a boss, does as little as possible while screaming at his employees, most notably emotionally abusive toward Kayak Kenny, a developmentally challenged bus boy who fantasizes about buying a canoe.  Kenny believes girls will fall in love with him if he has a canoe, swept up in the romance of floating on the pond with him.  Keating floats on cocaine and a rather sleazy sex life.  He sweeps women off their feet with the lure of free drugs.  Sugar is the diner's beauty; she is lusted after by every man who comes within reach of her pretty, pony-tailed, short skirt- and cowboy-booted beauty.  More power to the male author who makes Sugar one of the most intelligent, focused, compassionate characters in the book.  Her flaw is pathologically bad taste in men.  She has a small life and thinks small, but she evolves and matures faster than her age-appropriate male interests.  Sugar's introspection leads her away from the sweaty, portly, mustard-stained tie and rumpled suit grasp of Keating.  Her next conquest is a socioeconomic upgrade, Sayid, an Egyptian man who is too sexually repressed (for religious reasons) to use Sugar as a sex object.  He courts her, and this is obviously something to which she is unaccustomed but which she grows to realize she deserves.  Meanwhile, Woody pines for her from afar, as he did in high school, while being her platonic friend.

There are standard types throughout the narrative. Marisimo, the half-blind ex-boxer with cauliflowered ears, is less than fluent in English and over invested in his dishwasher job.  Dyed-haired Bob, the transplanted new boss, could not care less about anyone who works for him; he re=trains the staff with an iron fist.  Woody resists the ridiculous, superficial changes in a hilarious sequence of passive-aggressive actions, such as hiding the clip-on bowties.  Even the chilly Maura begins to warm up to coworkers as her career waitressing is challenged by the new regime.  She at least is proud of her work and her 20-plus years' commitment as the company girl.  The last romantic hope she had divorced then paired up again without noticing Maura's romantic hopes for him.  Maura is a bridge between the detached elders, with their selfishness, rigor, and paternalistic actions only in the condescending sense, not in any way caring about role modeling for or promotion of the Grand Slams staff.   The three young characters are not slammed over the head of the reader, and Gager manages to use character typecasting without making the characters seem wooden, stiff props in the narrative.  In fact, the characters are so realistic, and subtly nuanced with uncharacteristic personality traits as well as those expected, that the reader is frustrated by wanting to hug or slap them.  Throughout the novel, the almost-adults keep the momentum going in the midst of the socially odd and borderline tragic, invested adults.  How will this trio grow up while surrounded by infantile, base, or simply lost adults?  The reader is invested by the third chapter in finding out.

The Sunday Poet: Molly Lynn Watt

Molly Lynn Watt
Molly Lynn Watt’s poetry memoir “On the Wings of Song: A Journey into the Civil Rights Era” Ibbetson 2014, poems “Jazz Riff” will soon be installed in a Cambridge sidewalk, and “Civil Rights Update” is required reading in Dallas paired with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream”, co-creator/performer for “George & Ruth: Songs & Letters of the Spanish Civil War” also on CD, “Shadow People,” Ibbetson 2004, curator of Fireside Readings, Bagelbard Anthology editor and ukulele player.


I am not in mourning
I will rise from my periwinkle bed sheets
watch the sun cast shadows on the garden

I will wrap myself in purple
remember playing in the lilac bush and
grandma’s lavender-infused linens

I will be warm energy
and cool serenity going forth—
a blend of red and blue

I will fly ribbons in the wind
write love poems with purple crayon
I will not let despair build a nest in my heart

                                    Molly Lynn Watt, Nov. 10, 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

Collisions on a Non-Existent Highway By Rosalyn Marhatta

Collisions on a Non-Existent Highway
By Rosalyn Marhatta
Red Dashboard LLC Publishing
Princeton, NJ
ISBN-13: 978-1535469135
46 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Avoid the musk of Orient jungles and the threat of tiger paws. Or don’t. Rosalyn Marhatta’s Collisions on a Non-Existent Highway doesn’t. Instead, she entices her readers into a movable feast of dangerous love, loss, and longing. She infuses her stanzas with cardamom-spiced passions in a pulao of cultural contradictions. From the first poem, Beware the Tiger Burning Bright, the exotic captures the imagination (not to mention the lust) of Marhatta’s youthful persona. She opens the piece this way,

His scent assailed me in the dorm stairwell,
Moved the staircase sideway till I stumbled.
It lingered in my nostrils, lured me to a lagoon
Where palm trees sang and he served skewered lamb
Sauced with love songs.

Marhatta sets the atmosphere for one coming cultural collision in her poem Epicurean Love. After a meal of curried chicken the poet reveals a bit of the magnetic attract-and-repel dynamic going on. She recounts her lover’s cautionary stories and her smitten reaction,

You spun a tale of a tiger
who leaped from a photograph
to kill a king in a locked room,
because the king could not escape his fate.
We argued about fate’s inevitability
On our second date.

You led me with your stories
To a land of silk sarees
And husbands who were gods to their wives,
And I touched your curved khukri,
the weapon of the Ghurka warriors
who pushed past fear to deliver death to the enemy.

We create the accoutrements of harmony in life’s composition, arranging them methodically to reinforce our personal narratives. Marhatta’s persona does this in her poem Himalayan Tea Song. Sitting with “angels in saris,” she breathes in the scents of masala tea and cow dung. The presence of mountain blue pervades all. But interruptions do occur. The poet notes one such intrusion,

My niece in pink silk
brings me chai tea
with milk, cinnamon,

sugar—four teaspoons—my tongue
revolts, stung by its sweetness;
a brown neighbor boy with a cherub grin

saunters by, his stomach a balloon,
arms and legs spindles
like a “Feed the Children” ad from Vogue.

I want to feed that boy
Dal, vath turkarie : rice, beans,
curried vegetables, but the sun

reminds me I’ll be gone
in a month …

Taste becomes geography in Marhatta’s poem Tea and Virginity. Detail dominates the mnemonic canvas. Little rituals more than equal the loom of the massive mountain ranges as gatekeepers to exotic hidden worlds. The poet explains this equivalence in her concluding lines,

The eldest sister
pours me tea in a glass. I wonder
how to lift a hot glass
with no handles
without burning my fingers,
how to sip like a lady
without drinking that milk skin
that floats on the top.

I grasp The glass
At the top,
Tip tea into my mouth,
Swirl its sugar on my tongue,
Inhale the cinnamon-cardamom
Infusion and taste the Himalayas.

Vicarious satisfaction in art, specifically the cinema, often saves the day by absorbing raw emotions and delivering a resolution of sorts. In her edgy piece, Bollywood Noir, the poet seems to relish the lead-up to an obvious violent denouement,

Maybe you never wanted
to brush your face against her breasts
that pointed to a heaven
where angels ply sitar
on your temple to soothe
away nightmares of Yeti fangs
at your throat.

Maybe I never took that cab
To the pink neon sign
Blinking “Desert Rose Inn”
Or saw through that window
How she perfumed
The light bulbs and fed you chocolate sex,
How she caressed your toes
I had kissed early that morning.

The poet embeds the title of this collection in her poem Riyadh Odyssey, 1982. Beneath the surface of Saudi society knots of foreign women chafe against medieval restrictions. On the other hand hospitality reigns supreme in this complicated culture. Marhatta observes the obvious from her protected confines,

Saudi women glided down streets
cloaked in abayas and veils—
black ghosts to most—
hiding everything womanly,
except wrists jingling gold bangles
and feet flashing fuchsia shoes from Paris.

Saudi men, all in white, flailing swords,
danced together on TV.
Fred and Ginger embraces
would have been erased
by religious police.
And we Americans craving commercials
with women in bikinis,
titled an onion-domed building
the pink tit.”

Setting out her last best meal of salmon with caper sauce, Marhatta’s persona imagines her former lover in his alternative universe, with an alternative wife, and eating an alternative meal. Her recipe of pathos with a touch of humor captures the time-scape perfectly. Here is the heart of the poem,

My meals must bite.

Once you would have fed me chunks of curried meat,
spiced and sliced through the bone,
with notes of cilantro and cinnamon rising high,
fed me raisins with sea foam rice,
and cucumber pickle in sesame sauce.

But now, you cook for another wife,
or probably she cooks for you.
Does she glide her body across the stove,
to spark a light to boil your beans?

If you have an appetite for spicy food and percussive passion, you’ll like this book.