Memoir

Julia Child Supper Club, 2 of 2

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Julia Child Supper Club, 1 of 2

I wanted to share a special experience we had with several of our Portland friends over the years. Upon hearing of Julia Child’s death in 2004, we decided to hold a dinner party in her honor, using only her recipes. There were ten members in the group, in alphabetical order by first name: Arlene (my wife), Carolyn, Chris, David, Foster, Herje, Jim, Mark (that’s me), Mary, and Pat. From that initial dinner, we created the Julia Child Supper Club. Unfortunately, shortly after the group’s creation, Arlene and I moved to Mexico (no connection). The group restarted after we returned to the Portland area in 2008.

At each dinner, the group decided the date and location of the next gathering and which cuisine to feature. David and I worked together on the menus; I drew a cartoon and David designed and printed the menus.

The following menus are from various Julia Child Supper Club dinners. It was one of the best experiences with friends we had back in Oregon. With fond memories, my appreciation to all of the JCSC members. Bon Appétit!

 

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Two Weeks in Roswell – Chet & Lonnie, 2

Once Chet overheard the pitch — Boyz n the Hood meets Night of the Living Dead – while sitting at a bar counter in Lompoc he knew he wanted in. He used his limited connections, the cousin of his former brother-in-law who knew a guy who knew a guy, to get an assignment running the second camera on the second unit at the second location. Chet saw “Homies versus Zombies” as the Hollywood big break he’d been waiting for, a break that would give him a much-desired foothold inside the industry and kickstart a career that would ultimately result in several trips down the Red Carpet. Ever since he worked as Best Boy Grip on “Tits for Tots,” an inspired-by-story of how a group of strippers saved an orphanage from closing by dancing naked in public to both raise money and to expose corruption at City Hall, he was hooked on Hollywood.

Chet was stunned “Homies versus Zombies” did not become the huge hit he expected. Especially with those USC marketing guys behind it who came up with the story description for the poster: “To save Los Angeles from a Zombie apocalypse, inner city gang bangers must overlook their differences and learn to fight together.” He thought the concept was brilliant. It had conflict. It had irony. It had gang bangers. It had zombies. And, best of all, it had several gratuitous sex scenes. How could it fail?

Chet loved everything about the movie. Unfortunately, audiences did not. After the movie bombed and the nascent indie studio locked its doors for good in the middle of the night, taking their tax write-offs with them, Chet went through the studio dumpster and grabbed boxes of discarded merch, which he later sold out of his van. He recovered hats and shirts and mugs and bumper stickers and toilet paper with sayings like “Die Again, Dog” and “Who Ya Gonna Call? Gangbangers!” His best seller was a white t-shirt with the words “Not In My Hood” on the front in a dripping blood red font. Unfortunately, three weeks later someone broke into his van and took all of the merch he kept there, leaving behind empty beer bottles and a used condom.

So, he was back to working as a freelance paparazzo and photo journalist for tabloids. Which was why the two Homies-Zombies alumni were in B.F.E. Oregon filming a fake Sasquatch.

“All right. Let’s do it. But I am not going back in that forest. You can forget that. Instead, how about you photograph me walking through the meadow, so I don’t fall and kill myself?”

“You know that’s going to make my job harder. In the forest, you’re more hidden and it’s easier for me to capture images of Bigfoot without people knowing for sure it’s Bigfoot. I won’t have any natural cover to work with if you’re in the open.”

“Not my problem. Use special effects. Put Vaseline on the lens or something.”

Chet knew it wouldn’t do any good to argue further with Lonnie, once his partner’s mind was made up. Lonnie might not very bright but he made up for it in stubbornness. Besides, half a Bigfoot was better than none. Chet surveyed the meadow, looking for the best opportunity for cloudy, diffused optics. He spotted a stretch of about thirty yards that went from a thicket of trees through a beautiful green meadow and ending at a bubbling creek, framed by tall boulders.

“Start just outside the trees over yonder,” Chet pointed. “Then walk slowly in the grass toward those boulders by the creek.”

Dressed again in full Bigfoot regalia, Lonnie nodded and positioned himself at the edge of the forest, then gave the thumbs-up signal. With the video camera hoisted on his shoulder, Chet pointed at Lonnie and said “Action.”

Lonnie lurched forward. Mid-way through the meadow, he stopped and turned to look in Chet’s direction, as if the famed creature of the Northwest had heard a noise or saw a movement and was ready to bolt. Lonnie took two more steps, stopped, and starred at the nearby ground. He saw the grassy field move, as if giving way, and noticed something black and white near his feet. Lonnie removed his mask and unleashed a blood curdling scream: “Skunk!!!”

Unimpressed to have finally met Bigfoot, the skunk turned his backside toward Lonnie and unleashed a blast of a nasty-smelling liquid from its anus.

When they pulled into a gas station near Oregon’s southern border, the attendant who came out to pump their gas took one whiff and told them to get the hell out of there. Not wishing to linger and argue about the illegality of odor discrimination, Chet got back on I-5 south. The now ruined Bigfoot costume was tied to the van’s roof, while Lonnie kept as much of his body out the passenger’s side window as possible without falling out, hoping to air out his body like a wind sock.

###

LOS ANGELES, CA – Residential Neighborhood – Chet’s House – Late Night

By the time the two friends arrived home to Chet’s North Hollywood bungalow, a home he inherited from his mother, it was late and dark. Lonnie lost a game of rock-paper-scissors to Chet and spent the night in the van parked in the driveway.

In the morning, Chet rapped on the van window and handed Lonnie a cup of coffee.

“Jesus, Lonnie. You still stink.”

“Tell me about it. I had to sleep with myself and couldn’t get away from the smell.”

“I’m going to have to fumigate my van.”

“Sorry, not sorry. Not my fault.”

“Is so. You’re the one that didn’t want to walk in the trees. Should have stuck to the plan.”

“Hmm,” said Lonnie.

“Go inside and get cleaned up. Try not to touch anything.”

“How can I clean up without touching?”

“Figure out a way. I’m going to the store to pick up a paper and some cleaning shit to get the smell out of my car.”

“Pick up some Entenmanns’ donuts,” asked Lonnie.

Chet nodded, turned, and walked down the street. Lonnie watched as Chet’s image became smaller and smaller. For a second, he wondered what it would be like if Chet disappeared in a puff of smoke, like that tabloid story about the guy who died from spontaneous combustion, an unfortunate condition that apparently ran in the guy’s family. Lonnie shook his head to clear away such thoughts and told himself to focus. He took out his mobile phone and typed in “Home remedies to get rid of skunk smell.” His search returned 168,000 results, which helped to make him feel better. Obviously, a lot of people get skunked. I’m not so stupid, after all, he told himself.

With a towel wrapped around his waist, Lonnie turned on the water in the tub and watched it fill. He tested the water from the faucet and adjusted it to his liking. When the tub reached the half-way point, Lonnie poured in tomato juice from three 32-ounce cans. He added shampoo to the running water, thinking the flowery shampoo smell would counteract the overriding sense of tomato. He sniffed a few times and then shrugged. He lowered himself in the mixture and released a loud sigh of satisfaction.

This wasn’t Lonnie’s first encounter with a skunk. Two years ago, Chet had an idea for a video clip – he always had ideas for video clips– and that time his idea involved a skunk. He wanted to get a skunk that had been “disarmed,” meaning its spray capability had been surgically removed, and video record people’s reactions to seeing a skunk walking toward them on the sidewalk. Then he topped his sidewalk idea with an even better one. Why not put a leash on the skunk and walk it inside of a dog park? Chaos would ensue. He chuckled at the thought, and sure enough, he was right. As Lonnie and his “pet” skunk entered the dog park, screams greeted them and, as predicted, chaos followed. Dog owners panicked, grabbed their own dogs, tried to re-leash them or carried them in their arms, and scurried to the parking lot. Chet captured in all in a short video titled “Skunk Crashes Dog Park” that was posted on YouTube, which became the third most popular video posted online that day. Lonnie watched the dog owners rush around trying to avoid the skunk and laughed so hard he sharted.

Two years later, in the primitive woods of Oregon, Karma had delivered Lonnie a message. Since Lonnie’s attack by a fully armed skunk, he now knew first-hand the awful lingering smell that came with the experience; he felt guilty about the dog park prank and understood the fear behind the panic. He asked the God of Dog Parks for forgiveness.

Chet was in the quick check-out lane, with a cart full of cleaning supplies. Since he didn’t know how to rid the van of the skunk smell, he grabbed whatever bottles of whatever stuff seemed to make sense. The one exception from the cleaning supplies was a box of a dozen chocolate-covered donuts from Entenmanns. That’s when the tabloid newspaper near the checkout counter caught his attention and he let out a yelp of joy. Chet grabbed the paper and ran out of the store, without thinking, without paying, without his other grocery items.

By the time Chet entered the bathroom, he was out of breath. He bent over, put his hands on his knees, and tried to recover.

“You get the donuts,” asked Lonnie?

“Why’s the water red? I know you didn’t slash your wrists. I couldn’t be so lucky,” said Chet, between gasps.

“I Googled ways to get rid of skunk smell and tomato juice came up. We only had three cans, so I added water. What do you think? How do I smell?”

Chet took a deep breath and sniffed.

“You smell like a friggin’ Bloody Mary.”

Chet sniffed again.

“No, wait. Now you smell like Pepé Le Pew.”

Chet sniffed a third time. “You smell like a Bloody Mary again. Who cares what you smell like? Hurry up and get your ass out of there, we got some serious business to discuss.”

“Yeah, like what?”

Chet showed Lonnie the tabloid story that made him race home from the store: Ivan Blotter, publisher of the National Hearsay (“More Juicy Gossip, Less Boring News”) had publicly offered a half-a-million dollars for photographic proof of extraterrestrials during UFO Week in Roswell, New Mexico. The headline read “Publisher Offers $500,000 Reward for Photo Proof of Aliens,” and it appeared above a photo of someone unconvincingly dressed in a cartoonish alien outfit. Lonnie emerged from the tub, grabbed the paper, looked at the photo, and said one word: “Amateurs.”

Chet stared at the naked Lonnie, dripping tomato juice and soapy bath water, like some DC comic book creature climbing out of a pinkish swamp, shook his head in disgust, and said, “I’ll never order a Bloody Mary again.”

###

Two Weeks in Roswell – Chet & Lonnie

Southern Oregon – Lush Forest – Afternoon

Paparazzo Chet kept his professional video camera pointed at a thicket of trees, a mix of vertical evergreens, broad-shouldered madrones, spindly aspens, some weeds that shall go unnamed. Suddenly, his camera captured a large body moving through the thicket. The large figure reached an open stretch and, for a brief moment, came into clear view. Gigantic, hairy, slouched, arms swinging wildly by its side: it was Bigfoot. No question about it. Chet continued to shoot. He zoomed and refocused just as the mythic creature stumbled, tried to regain its balance, stumbled again, reached out to a limb for support, which immediately snapped. The creature crashed to the ground, rolled several times and stopped only when it hit the trunk of a long-since dead Redwood tree. It was a pratfall worthy of a Saturday Night Live sketch.

“Shit,” said the monster.

“Shit,” said Chet.

Bigfoot crawled out of the forest, stood, and removed its head, which was not really its head at all but a mask to look like it. Fake Bigfoot limped to a staging area set up next to a nondescript white van: two director’s chairs, a small table, an ice cooler, bags of processed junk food, empty beer cans.

The former Bigfoot known as Lonnie, six feet two and eyes of blue, a boyish face, not yet 25, and most certainly not the brightest bulb in anyone’s camera bag, grabbed a beer from the cooler and sat on a director’s chair, the one with the name “Lonnie” scrawled in a black Sharpie pen on its back. He threw the headpiece from his costume to the ground and shook his head, water flying in all directions like a sprinkler. His hair, normally healthy and robust, was sweat-plastered to his scalp and lifeless, as if he had just emerged from a swimming pool. Lonnie let out a loud sigh and popped the can open, finishing its contents in one long swallow.

Nearby, Chet stepped out of the white Dodge Mini Ram van, circa 1980s, with FOTOMAGIK as its vanity plate. He walked over to the cooler, grabbed a beer, and sat next to Lonnie, in a director’s chair marked “Chet.” He opened his can and sipped, and knew enough to know not to say anything about the accident. They didn’t talk for several minutes, content to drink beer and enjoy taking in the fresh air and silence of the great outdoors, something in short supply back home in cray-cray L.A.

“Do you think it’s perve to date older women?” asked Lonnie, breaking the quiet.

“Perve? Hell, no. I do it all the time and I’m no pervert. You’ve met Loretta.”

“She’s not older.”

“Is so. Almost a year older than me.”

“Naw, man. That don’t count. I mean older old. Like, you know, as old as your mother.”

“You leave my mother out of this.”

“Nothing personal. Just using a for instance.”

“Why are you asking?” said Chet.

“My uncle Cyrus said all of us young bucks are chasing the wrong tail. Said we should be going after older women. They know how to please a man. Young ones don’t. He said older ones always go whole hog. Full throttle. Think it could be their last time,” said Lonnie.

“I guess no point in holding back. If it’s their last time and all.”

They both sip and contemplate doing the dirty deed. It had been so long for either of them, they were beyond horny and would gladly do it with anyone. Chet had heard funny jokes about men getting it on with sheep but now those jokes didn’t seem so funny.

“Would you do a real old woman?” asked Lonnie.

“Like how old? Give me a for instance.”

“All right. How about the First Lady?”

”You have to be more specific,” answered Chet. “I mean, Martha Washington? Come on. I don’t think so. But there have been a few others I wouldn’t mind playing hide the salami with. The most recent ones, know what I’m saying.”

“How about a grandmother?”

“Good question. You got to do the math on that one before deciding. Let’s say that grandma had kids when she was sixteen. Then her kids had kids when they were sixteen. That grandma’s still in her prime, so to speak. Why, I might even take a shot at that gal when she’s a great grandma. That would be something. She’d be about fifty or so, I’m thinking.”

“Mid-life.”

“Guess you could say that. If she lives to a hundred.”

Lonnie nodded, took another sip, contemplated how a May-to-December romance might actually work.

“How about my grandmother?” Lonnie asked.

”Your grandma–Granny Finch? You must be joking. She doesn’t have any teeth and she’s always using that walker,” said Chet. “That’s a real turn off, man. And the perfume! Shit, she wears more perfume than a funeral parlor in July. You gotta draw the line somewhere, man. Grandmas, maybe. Grannies, no way.”

“Have to agree with you about Granny Finch. When I was a kid, she’d always kiss me on the mouth. She’d put her tongue in there, too.” They both shuddered at the thought and took another swig of beer.

“That’s it. I’m done,” said Lonnie.

Both men stared at the ground. They were not looking forward to the inevitable argument coming next.

Chet broke the uneasy silence. “All this talk about women reminded me how long I’ve gone without. Let’s get some more footage before going home,” he said.

“Nope. I said I’m done,” declared Lonnie. “I’m out of here. Time to pack up and go.”

“Just a few more shots. That’s all.”

“You’re not the one sweating like a stuck pig in that hot costume. Besides, no way I’m going back in those trees. Can’t see anything in there. Almost killed myself falling over that damn log.”

“Nobody wants to buy images of Bigfoot tripping and falling or sitting on his ass drinking beer. We need more footage. I can’t sell what we got.”

“Photoshop it.”

“I would if I had better images to work with.”

“You feel that strong about it, maybe you should do it.”

Lonnie hands the Bigfoot head mask to Chet, who promptly hands it back to Lonnie, who hands it back to Chet, who hands it back to Lonnie.

“It won’t fit me,” said Chet.

“Too bad.”

“All right, all right, all right. Give me the mask.”

Lonnie handed Chet the mask, popped another can of beer and took a long swig. He didn’t want to gloat over winning so he remained quiet, but Chet was not ready to concede. He held up the mask like a store clerk checking to see if the $20 bill he just received was bogus, pretending to look more than actually looking.

“You know even if I get away wearing the mask, the costume won’t fit. I’m going to look stupid wearing it. I’ll look like I’m wearing hand-me-downs.”

Lonnie looked away and noticed for the first time the raw, jaw-dropping beauty of the landscape they were filming in. No wonder Bigfoot lived here or someplace like here, he thought. If he wanted to live alone and not be seen or bothered by anybody, this is exactly the sort of place he’d pick. Quiet. Gorgeous. Fresh. Solitary. Spacious. Room to roam and stretch, no neighbors watching you take a bath or a dump. Nobody to report you for parking in a handicap zone. Lonnie was grateful that Chet took him here, as well as to so many other exotic locales, on their paparazzi trips to score marketable and questionable photos of the rich and famous and neurotically twisted.

He knew Chet was always taking advantage of him but he really didn’t mind. They were both driven by the same entrepreneurial spirit. For Chet, success came in the form of a camera but Lonnie had yet to find his true path. His mind never stopped racing with new ideas and inventions. Before they left L.A. he watched an HGTV special on Victorian renos and later that night, half-asleep, scribbled a note to remind himself of another invention: knitted booties for clawfoot tubs. He couldn’t wait to get started making and selling the booties.

Most importantly, he knew Chet better than most. Behind that gruff, make-a-buck attitude, Chet had a heart of gold. When California passed a law restricting paparazzi from taking photos of celebrities’ children, Chet was the only one of his colleagues who applauded the new law. He told his fellow freelancers at a public meeting that children should be off-limits, even though their parents might be fair game. He was booed and chased out of the meeting. Of course, this happened before Lonnie met Chet but the story about Chet standing up, alone, like that sheriff in High Noon against everyone else, was common knowledge in the paparazzi sub-culture.

“Like I said, we’re going to need more footage. We either get it now or come back later. If you want to return to B.F.E. Oregon next month instead of hang out at a beach full of skimpy bikinis, that’s on you. That’s your call,” said Chet.

Lonnie didn’t take the bait.

“I’m just a guy with a camera. You’re the real artist. You’re the talent,” said Chet.

Caught him, thought Chet. Now just reel him in.

“You really think I’m an artist?”

“Best non-star I know.”

“Give me the damn mask.”

When all other arguments failed, Chet knew as a last resort he could appeal to Lonnie’s artistic sensibilities. The two met four years earlier on the set of “Homies versus Zombies,” where Chet worked as the Second Assistant Camera Operator and Lonnie played one of the zombie extras. Lonnie played his role with such heart and conviction that he caught the eye of the Second AD, displaying an undeniable compassion behind his non-stop growls and groans. As a result of Lonnie’s sincere performance of an orthodontist now turned undead, he was allowed to remain “alive” until the final battle scene, during which he was decapitated by a machete-wielding short order cook named Pepe.

[you know, like, to be continued, man]

Two Weeks in Roswell – Arthur Fogg

Fogg Family residence – Dining Room – Evening

The family sat around the table and looked over at Arthur. Doris was attentive and supportive, but Sara’s mind wandered and Danny pouted. An excited Arthur waved the brochure.

“Thank you all for taking time out from your busy schedules to join your mother and me this evening for a family meeting.”

“Who died?” asked Danny.

“How long is this going to take? I have to meet Sue at the library, and I’m already running late,” added Sara.

“Nobody died, Danny. And I appreciate how you spend so much time at the library, Sara, but tonight we’re spending time together. As a family,” said Arthur.

“Mom?” said Sara, turning to her last court of appeal.

“Listen to your father. He has something important to say,” said Doris.

“That’ll be a first,” snarked a dejected Danny as he leaned his head on his folded arms.

“I think it’s time for a vacation. What do you say?” asked Arthur, with more than a hint of enthusiasm.

“Just you and Mom?”

“No. No. No. All of us. I’m talking about a family vacation.”

Sara and Danny groaned in unison.

“Where are we going,” asked Sara.

“Probably the same spot we go to every year,” said Danny before his father could answer.

“I thought this year we’d try someplace different. Go crazy with ourselves and take a tour to another planet. What do you say?” said Arthur.

“Really?” asked Danny.

“Seriously?” added Sara.

“Are you sure, dear. You take such comfort in the familiar. You’ve never been much of a risk taker, quite frankly, and you never liked tours,” said Doris. “You don’t like paying extra for someone else’s opinions, as I recall.”

“That’s true,” replied Arthur. “But this tour will be different. Besides, if we always go to the same place, how will we ever experience anything new?”

“I thought you only liked things you had done before,” said Sara.

“Nonsense. I’m a scientist. I have a professional obligation to seek scientific curiosity wherever I can find it.”

“As long as it doesn’t cost anything,” snapped Danny.

Undeterred by their pushback, Arthur continued to read aloud with a passion unusual for the man. He was trying his hardest to sell his family on the concept of going far away to do something together, to bond as a family. Besides, he had already put down a non-refundable deposit for the tour.

2.06

Arthur held the brochure in his hand and read aloud from it: “’Primitive Days and Nights on Planet Earth.’ How’s that sound, kids?”

“How’s what sound?”

“Vacationing in a place called Roswell, New Mexico, on planet Earth,” explained Arthur.

“Continue, dear. I think we all need to hear more,” said Doris.

“Very well,” Arthur agreed and continued to read the marketing copy. “Begin your two-week vacation at Earth Boot Camp, where you will master the customs of this exotic locale. Then you will join your tour for the ultimate experience in primitive human celebrations. Starting with Roswell’s own famous annual UFO Festival, you will get a rare opportunity to see what Earthings think about other cosmic lifeforms, as well as their own. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in cultural extraterrestrialpology.”

“Primitive?” said Danny.

“I hope not too primitive,” said Doris.

“Primitive is a relative term,” answered Arthur.

“Still, dear, it might help to know more,” said Doris. “What else can you tell us?”

“I imagine that is what the Earth Boot Camp experience they mention will do for us. We’ll learn more once we get there and go through their training program, which is included in the price, I might add,” he said to Doris and continued reading from the brochure. “It says we’ll be able to eat beans and roast marshmallows by the campfire. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it, kids?”

“What are beans?” asked Sara.

“What kind of animal is a marshmallow?” added Danny.

Arthur ignored them and continued.

“Listen to this. Now, I think this sounds very exciting,” said Arthur as he read aloud. He paused to lend his next words greater impact: “We can sign up for an optional side trip to the Grand Canyon.”

“Grand sounds nice, dear. What is it?” asked Doris.

“It is one of Earth’s most interesting ecological wonders. A tall chain of mountains eroded over time to create a level plain with deep gorges. A must-see, according to customer reviews.”

“So, we’re going all the way to some other planet to see a hole in the ground?” complained Danny.

Arthur ignored Danny’s remark and continued to read: “It says here we’ll enjoy excellent image-capturing opportunities.”

Danny grabbed the brochure from his father and read aloud, with a snarky flair: “Book now and save fifty percent.” He threw the brochure on the table in disgust. “I knew there was something strange about suddenly taking a family vacation to another planet. We’re being discounted. All Dad cares about is saving money.”

Arthur grabbed the brochure back.

“Don’t talk back to me like that, son, and don’t complain about how I spend our money. When you start earning money, you can spend it however you like. Enough complaining both of you. We’re going on a family vacation and we’re going to have a good time. End of discussion. Besides, it’s still an expensive vacation in a desirable location.”

“Desirable, really?” laughed Sara. “How come they have to give such a large discount if it’s so desirable?”

“What the trip costs doesn’t matter. I agree with your father. It wouldn’t hurt us to spend more time together as a family and get back to basics,” said Doris, hoping to settle the argument.

“That’s right. And as I understand it, you can’t get more basic than Earth,” said Arthur.

“Basic is stupid and boring,” said Danny, as he crossed his arms and shook his head.

“How basic?” asked Sara.

“Good question, dear. Just how basic and primitive is Earth?” said Doris.

###

Two Weeks in Roswell – Arthur Fogg

The Gravity Works, Inc. – Levitation Division – Employee Lunch Room

Arthur sat across from Michael during their lunch break. Both men were introverts who typically ate lunch in silence, preferring to read work-related documents while eating rather than engage in chit-chat or sports talk. Arthur looked up and stared at Michael for several seconds.

Michael sensed he was being stared at and looked up.

“What?” asked Michael.

“Do you ever worry you might be losing touch with your family?” Arthur said.

Michael set aside his document and rubbed his hairless chin for a moment as he contemplated how to best answer in the remaining time they had for lunch. As a scientist talking to a fellow scientist, he usually answered in one of two ways: he either replied with a simple affirmative or negative, or he elaborated and filled his answer with authoritative citations, copious examples, a few sidebar hypotheticals, and obscure footnotes, droning on until everyone had left the room. This time, he felt he needed a different way to answer, especially since Arthur’s question was clearly very sincere and from the heart. He didn’t have to be telepathic to know his friend was troubled.

“Let me ask a question, Arthur. You go home early and there’s no family there. Right?” said Michael.

“Precisely,” answered Arthur, then quickly corrected himself. “Eventually they’re there, of course, just not when I expect them to be. Or maybe they’re asleep when I expect them to be awake.”

“Are they avoiding you?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Aha. So, they’re busy doing other things and have filled up the hours of the day, essentially their lives, without you.”

“Sounds about right. How’d you know?” asked Arthur.

“Been there, experienced that. It seemed the more time I spent away from my family, the less familiar they became to me.”

“You mean like Spencer in Sales?”

“What happened to Spencer?” asked Michael.

“He was on the road all the time and spent so much time away from his family, his wife had him arrested for breaking and entering when he finally returned home. By that point, some other guy had moved in to his house and his kids were calling the stranger Dad.”

“Well, that’s certainly sad. But understandable, from what I know of Spencer,” said Michael. “My situation was not nearly as extreme. Of course, I needed a way to test my hypothesis.”

“Interesting. What were the parameters of your test?” ask Arthur.

“Spending more time with my family,” said Michael.

“That’s all? Sounds simple.”

“Yes. It was as simple as that.”

“Sometimes the simplest things can be the most complicated,” said Arthur.

“True,” agreed Michael. “Did you ever think maybe what you could use is a family bonding experience?”

“What do you mean?” asked Arthur.

“A vacation.”

“We already take a vacation every year.”

“Let me guess. You stay on planet. Go to the southern district. Visit the same sites, eat at the same restaurants–so on and so forth. Sound familiar?” asked Michael.

“There’s something to be said for consistency,” countered Arthur.

“Yes, and it’s called boring. Look, Arthur, how long have we worked together?”

“Seven years, three months, and twenty-two days.”

“Right. We’ve been sitting here eating our lunches together and you’re always eating the same thing. You eat the same lunch every day. Every. Single. Day. The same meal for seven years. That’s the very definition of boring,” said Michael.

“I happen to like my lunch. Why should I risk changing it for something I might not like?”

“If all you ever do are things you’ve done before, how will you ever experience anything new?”

“Hmm,” said Arthur, unable to form a more intelligent response. He hated to concede that Michael had a point.

“Have you ever heard of a travel company called Small Universe?

Michael pointed an index finger at his briefcase nearby on the table. The briefcase unlocked itself, and Michael wiggled his finger again, retrieving a travel brochure from “Small Universe.” The brochure slid over the table and landed in front of Arthur, who gave it a quick glance and read the cover aloud.

“’The family that vacations together stays together.’ Sounds too corny and too expensive.” Arthur pointed an index finger at the brochure, sending it back to Michael.

“It’s a lot cheaper than you think. They make it up at the other end, so they keep the customer cost down.” Michael wagged a finger and the brochure went back to Arthur.

“No thanks.” Arthur waved the brochure back to Michael, who waved it back to Arthur.

“How many times in your life will you get a chance to show your family another planet?”

“This one’s just fine.” Arthur pushed the brochure back still again.

“Arthur, you’re a scientist. Since when do you lack scientific curiosity?” Michael pushed the brochure back.

“I don’t lack curiosity. It’s the money I’m lacking.”

Arthur pushed the brochure back.

“They’re running a fifty-percent-off special. It’s a last-minute offer. Apparently, they’re under booked and need to fill seats. But you have to commit soon.”

“How soon?”

“Very soon. Like today.”

Michael pushed the brochure back for the last time.

“Did you say fifty percent off?” asked Arthur, who grabbed the brochure and quickly scanned its contents.

“Yes. Plus, if I refer you and you sign up for a tour, we will both get an additional five percent off on our next tour with them as part of their referral program. Jamison of Accounting is going. He’s the one who turned me on to Small Universe, and he can’t get enough of their tours. He must own stock in the company.”

Their lunch over, Arthur and Michael donned their respective white coats, disposed of whatever remained of their lunch, and walked down a clean, white corridor to the Levitation Lab.

“I almost forgot to give you the brochure back,” said Arthur, as he pushed the door open.

“Keep it,” said Michael. “Jamison has a supply cabinet full of them.”

Arthur and Michael entered the QA lab, ducking in time to avoid a small chair flying in their direction.

“Sorry,” said a co-worker.

(more soon)

Two Weeks in Roswell – Arthur Fogg

Chapter 2 – Arthur Fogg

EARTHNOT – The Gravity Works, Inc. – Late at Night

Levitation and psychokinetic scientist Arthur Fogg was the last to leave the Quality Assurance lab that night. On the nearly-empty shuttle ride back to his home in the suburbs, he closed his eyes to rest for just a second and almost ended up missing his stop. He was exhausted. Arthur had been putting in so many long hours recently that he wouldn’t know what a regular shift looked like if HR showed it to him in colorful charts and graphs. Nobody asked him to work these long hours, of course. He just did. Once he faced a problem, he didn’t know how to let go; his personality liked to hang out at the corner of Obsessive and Compulsive.

It was perhaps one reason why, whenever Arthur was offered a promotion to a management level position he declined. Arthur told HR he preferred to work in the trenches, as a principal contributor, and not get stuck in endless mid-management meetings that took a lot of time but went nowhere. The truth was a bit deeper, however. Arthur lacked confidence in his own decisions and did not believe he had the creative mindset to be a leader. He could execute someone else’s vision, true, but felt he lacked the visionary gene himself to be a leader. Or so he rationalized.

The Fogg Family Residence – Late at Night

As soon as Arthur arrived home, he looked in on his sleeping son, Danny, eight years old; four times worth of terrible twos packed in a rebellious body. Arthur dreaded the boy’s approaching teen years. Still, he loved his son and especially admired the boy’s spunk and directness, which he must have inherited from his mother’s side since Arthur was generally non-confrontational.

Next, Arthur checked in on fifteen-year-old Sara, a beauty destined to break many a young man’s heart. She, too, was sleeping. If Danny took after his mother, Sara was more like Arthur. A bit too passive or deferential at times, perhaps, but a hard worker who always tried to please others. Without a doubt, she was a team player and could be counted on in a pinch.

Finally, Arthur walked into his bedroom and looked at his wife, Doris, sleeping soundly. In many ways, they were complete opposites. Where Arthur was cautious, Doris was adventurous. Arthur considered himself a classic introvert, the nerdy scientist type; Doris was outgoing and a reliable presence on school boards and community action teams. No matter where they went, they always seemed to bump into someone Doris knew. They never seemed to remember Arthur’s name and she’d always have to re-introduce him as her husband, which was okay with Arthur. He preferred not sticking out and preferred anonymity to attention.

Arthur walked to the kitchen, removed his dinner from the fridge, warmed it up. He carried the plate of food to the dining room table, where he sat alone and began to eat. He looked at the three empty chairs around the table and decided he’d leave work early tomorrow and be home in time to have dinner with the entire family. He’d catch them by surprise. The thought made him smile.

EARTHNOT – The Gravity Works, Inc.

The next day, his regular shift over, Arthur joined a mass of employees leaving The Gravity Works building, a wavy metal structure that looked like something Frank Gehry would have designed on peyote. It fit right in, since all the office buildings in the central part of the city looked the same.

Arthur was taken aback by how crowded it was on his shuttle ride back to the suburbs, and reminded himself of another reason why he liked working late. To avoid the rush. This time he didn’t almost miss his stop.

As soon as Arthur entered his home, he announced his presence.

“Guess who’s home early?” he asked, to nobody in particular.

A post-it-note in the form of a hologram of Doris appeared instead. “Hologram for Arthur Fogg from Doris,” a robotic voice announced. The image of Doris spoke.

“Hello, Dear, I’m at the school weekly committee meeting. The rest of us had an early dinner. Just heat up the leftovers and I’ll be home soon. Love you,” said the hologram, which disappeared in a flash.

Before Arthur could send Doris a reply, a second hologram post-it-note appeared.

“Hologram for Arthur Fogg from Sara,” the robotic voice announced. “Hi, Dad. I’m studying late at the library. You and Mom don’t wait up. Love ya both,” said Sara’s post-it hologram. Truth be told, Sara was out partying with friends.

“Studying? That’s my girl,” he said. “Danny? Are you home?”

“Hologram for Arthur Fogg from Danny,” the same robotic voice announced. “Mom said I could sleep over at Ray’s. See you tomorrow,” said Danny’s hologram, which promptly disappeared into the ether.

“No. Wait. Did you clear that with your mother? A sleep over on a school night?” replied Arthur.

It wasn’t a school night, a minor detail that escaped Arthur’s notice. But what didn’t escape his notice were the three empty chairs around the dining room table as he ate his dinner alone.

[more next time]