Treasure Island

I grew up in a typical ’50s ranch. 3 (tiny) bedrooms. 1 (tiny) bathroom. 1 (tiny) dining room. 1 (tiny-to-average) living room. And 1 (tiny) galley kitchen. You know. The kind of kitchen that doubles as a hallway. So that a person must walk through it in one direction, then turn left to access the dining room. Or walk through it in the other direction, then turn right-ish to access the living room.

At least it was a through-street galley kitchen. It may have been squished for cooking but it was ideal for running circles around the inner core of the house. In pairs. Going opposite directions.

My first adult-apartment-galley kitchen, not so much. It was one of those architectural wonders tucked into a back corner of nothing. You know. The kind of kitchen that doubles as a hallway. To nowhere.

I’m all grown up now and I have a kitchen that still serves as a hallway in some respects. But that doesn’t matter because now I have an island.

That place around which crowds gather.

For a long time.

To talk. And feast. And talk some more.

It is quite possibly the 8th wonder of the modern world.

Late on Wednesday nights, after a crowd of college women depart my house (where they have consumed several loaves of banana bread, many tall glasses of milk, some mugs of coffee, a few cups of tea, and a portion of Scripture) my island is tangly. Busy. Scattered.


Wednesday's treasure island
Wednesday’s treasure island

It’s my favorite night of the week. It’s my favorite view of the island.

Except for those very rare occasions when the power goes out just before dinner on another night. And the only way to eat the 9×13 pan of goulash is by candlelight. Candlelight that evokes Advent. (Or maybe radioactive elbow macaroni.)

Thursday's treasure island
Thursday’s treasure island

What’s more lovely than enjoying a candlelight family dinner around the kitchen island? The glow is joyful. The ambiance is restful. The quiet is soothing. And the goulash is especially splendid.

Of course, the looming question soon becomes this: what, exactly, happens next? After we take our last bite? After this unexpected sweet dinner vigil is over?

Because, well, you know, there’s no power. There’s no way to use anything requiring electrical juice or internet bandwidth.

Panic. (I can’t live without modern conveniences which makes me an immigrant-descendant super-failure.)

Stress. (So are we supposed to justĀ talk all night?)

Sadness. (We used to know how to play board games.)

And then sweet relief. (Oh look – the power’s on. We are saved from our pathetic selves.)

…and then…

Sadness. (It was prettier by candlelight.)

Stress. (We’ve become those people – the ones who are defined by their power adapters.)

Panic. (How can I recover just a tiny little sliver of that peaceful beauty, proving I’m not one of those people?)

With a flip of the power-company master-switch (and the hard work of many devoted employees), my kitchen island went from being an oasis in the dark to being a harsh glare of manufactured light. Which changed everything about the room. And the meal. And us.

Sure, we could see better.

But it wasn’t as sweet. Or as peaceful. Or as (dare I say it) holy.

So I acted. With a flip of the electric-customer kitchen-switch (and a few puffs of breath to soften the candlelight even more), my kitchen island went from being drenched in glaring rays to being cloaked in whispered light. And it changed everything about the room. And the meal. And us.

Thursday's recovered treasure
Thursday’s recovered treasure

For about 5 minutes. Because powered habits are really hard to break. So the electronics are running full force. Like usual.

I find that sad.

Even so, my kitchen island – whether lit by a satin-nickle triple-globed ceiling fixture, 10 candles, or just 1 – is a treasure, more than adequate for hosting a feast, surviving the darkness, or welcoming the occasional castaway. Or all three.

I think Robert Louis would approve.

Watermelon Roulette

Here’s the thing about watermelon: it’s both the best and worst of summer treats – the best when it’s sweet, juicy, and pip-lite, the worst when it’s, well, not.

Here’s another thing about watermelon: each one is a gamble, a crapshoot, a white-knuckle round of roulette that is just as likely to drape the annual family picnic in a disappointingly tasteless pall as it is to launch the collective tastebuds into a surprisingly savory orbit.

[NB: Yes, my metaphors are mixed. Further, they break all the the rules of “write what you know” for I gamble not, live still, and embrace earth’s familiar solidity. That’s blogging for you.]

[NB2: Another thing about watermelon: it’s one of those weird countable and non-countable nouns, depending on the context. “I like watermelon” is okay but “I like banana” is not. “I grow watermelon” and “I grow watermelons” are equally acceptable (though I don’t). “There will be hotdogs, beans, chips, and watermelon at the picnic” works. So does, “There will be hotdogs, beans, chips, and watermelons at the picnic,” though it sounds weird in the plural. That’s English for you.]

Like so many others, I was taught that a well-delivered thunk on its thick rind was a foolproof way to pick a watermelon. If the thunk rings hollow, grab it. If not, ignore it. Just exactly what a hollow thunk sounds like has always been a bit vague to me.

After having delivered countless thunks with my knuckles to the rinds of countless watermelons, here’s the truth: the thunk test is rot half the time. Some hollow-sounding thunks result in breathtaking deliciousness. Others – last week’s for example – result in something with all the taste and texture of styrofoam soaked in formaldehyde and lemon extract.

[NB: I’ve never actually tasted styrofoam soaked in formaldehyde and lemon extract, but sometimes imaginative hyperbole is the only literary device that will do. That’s creative non-fiction for you.]

Watermelon is (watermelons are?) just about the biggest fruitified mystery of my life. Bananas are easy. Apples too. Grapes can be tested (surreptitiously). Berries can be doused in sugar if need be. But those watermelons (countable noun) are out to get me 5 times out of 10.

In gambling, those might be good odds. At a fruit stand, they stink, unless (fingers crossed) the thunk is a winner in which case the sweet smell of success is matched only by the sweet smell and taste of melon.


I was born and raised in the Midwest. I still live in the Midwest. I have no pending plans to leave the Midwest. I love the Midwest for lots of reasons.

But the Midwest does not have In-N-Out Burger.

And the Midwest, as far as I know, is not planning on ever getting In-N-Out Burger.

So I am not holding my breath waiting for this stupendous non-event.

But I am allowing myself to be disappointed because In-N-Out Burger is very good for the soul of people who have a hard time making decisions. People who freeze up in the hair-care aisle. People who are paralyzed by the bread section. People who would rather eat glass than deal with all the tooothpaste, deodorant, margarine, and peanut butter possibilities. People who view extensive restaurant menus with all the joy of extensive dental work. People who want all the details of life to be perfect and so get caught in a tangled web of over-analysis (that, let’s be honest, does not always result in the expected perfect payoff).

Reading labels.

Checking ingredients.

Comparing prices.

Weighing options.

Evaluating relative artistic value of product packaging.

(Approaching self-induced consumer lunacy.)

It’s enough to send a person Over The Edge.

Except at In-N-Out where the options are limited to whether you want your burger (the only sandwich choice) with or without fries (the only side choice). Even taking into account the various hamburger choices – single or double; cheese or not; onions or not; protein-style or bunned – a visit to In-N-Out pretty much boils down to this:

Burger, please. With fries. And a medium drink. And also a sticker. So that I can remember the mental ease of this place. Thank you. The end.