Tag Archives: Eating

The Sleepy-Bear in Klamath Falls

Brass bells on a chain jangle as I push open the motel office door and step onto faded blue carpeting. A brass statue of Ganesha stands on the counter; orange and yellow marigolds float in a bowl at his feet. Ganesha holds a sitar. He wears a pointed crown, and his fat feet stand on an inverted lotus blossom. Orange light from the setting sun streams through the window at the far end of the room, which smells like incense and curry powder. A laminated sign lies flat on the worn, cracked, fake wood counter: “Welcom!!! Pleas ring bell.” A dome shaped call bell sits next to the sign and I punch the knob jutting from the top of it. The dilapidated chairs lined up along the wall look like they were salvaged one by one from the streets in front of peoples’ houses on garbage day.

A middle-aged East Indian man in a white short-sleeved shirt steps through a doorway on the other side of the counter. The aroma of curry, onions, and grease follows him in a potent wave. He closes the door.

“Welcome, welcome!” His eyes, so black they might be all pupil, are full of joy and his smile is like the one he would give to a sister he hasn’t seen in years. I can’t help but smile back.

“Thank you,” I say. “Do you have any single rooms?”

“Yes, of course!” He pulls paperwork out of a drawer and hands it to me to fill out. “Where are you from?” he asks. “What brings you to Klamath Falls?”

“I drove down from Portland.” I look up from the form that wants to know my name and address, car make and license plate number, and how I intend to pay. “I’m on my way to Crater Lake, but when I got to the turnoff I realized it was getting late, so I decided to come here for the night and get a good start in the morning.”

“Wonderful!” He rubs his hands together as I finish filling out the paperwork. I dig in my backpack for my wallet, take out a credit card, and hand it to him with the form.

He gives me a room key. “Thanks,” I say, and pick up my pack.

“No, wait! There are so many things to do in Klamath Falls! Here, let me give you a map so you can enjoy yourself while you stay with us.” From another drawer, he extracts a tourist map all in bright colors. He grabs a yellow marker and circles the attractions. “Across the street is a park–see, right here. There are beautiful hiking trails and benches if you want to sit and contemplate the lake. Here is the theatre, a museum, restaurants–all kinds of food–I’m sure you will find something wonderful to do.” He holds out the map and our hands brush as I take it from him. His skin is the color of milk chocolate. “And…” He leans over the counter and gives me a mysterious smile. “I have saved the best for last.”

He stands back and spreads his arms. “Every morning, we celebrate!” His smile turns ecstatic. “You must come. There will be all sorts of delicious food as we celebrate the new day. Please come to our celebration!”

“Thank you so much! I’d be delighted!” How wonderful to celebrate each new day.

~

My room is clean but shabby. The dark green bedspread has some snags and loose threads. The cream wallpaper with a brown fleur de lis pattern is torn here and there. The ancient television hunches on its stand like a giant toad, and a bare wire connects it to the power outlet instead of a normal cord and plug. There’s a little coffee pot on the desk with a packet of coffee and containers of creamer and sugar. Next to the desk is a refrigerator. The ice cube trays in the freezer are full, a good thing to discover since the ice machine I passed on the way to my room had an “Out of Order” sign on it. I go back to my red Geo Prism, lift the icebox out of the trunk, and lug it into my room.

I close the drapes and sit on the edge of the bed. I tug my hiking boots off. I look at the map with its colorful little cartoons of boats in the lake and people fishing. I might as well take a walk and see if any of the restaurants look good. But first, I want a shower.

The bathtub has been scrubbed, but the deep rust stains make it look dirty. I hesitate. Oh, don’t be such a wuss, I tell myself. I move the big round faucet dial to medium hot and give it a pull.  The pipes groan. Water spits and sputters from the shower head before it settles into a warm stream. I step in.  This place is ready to fall apart!

~

I head up Main Street on foot. The sidewalk is dark between the round streetlights. It feels creepy.  I pass a big clock on a fluted pole; it looks just like the pocket watch my dad had when I was growing up. It’s five after eight. I walk faster. This is just like Main Street in every small town out in the middle of nowhere. What am I doing here? I pull my jacket tight around me. The night streets in Portland feel safer.

I turn around and head back to the Sleepy Bear. I’ve got cheese and apples in my ice box. I have crackers and nuts. I’ll make do.

~

I sit on the bed, pillows propped behind me, with an apple and sliced cheddar cheese on a paper plate next to me. I pick up the remote and start flipping through the channels to see what tomorrow’s weather will be when I go to Crater Lake. There’s a lot of static, then a loud pop. Sparks flash from the wire in back of the TV and the screen goes black. I get up and click the power switch off–the remote doesn’t work anymore. A faint ozone smell fills the room. I don’t care about the TV. I’ve brought a new book by Charles de Lint, Forests of the Heart. It only takes a couple of pages before I’m back in Newford with Bettina and her milagros, and I read until I fall asleep.

Morning is sunny. The view over Crater Lake should be spectacular; I’ll get some good photos. I make a pot of coffee and pull on a wool fisherman’s sweater and jeans while it’s brewing. I drink the coffee while I pack the icebox and stuff my toiletries and yesterday’s clothes into my pack.

There are only two other cars in the parking lot. I load the icebox into the trunk and toss my backpack into the passenger’s seat before I head to the office to turn in my key. I pass a swimming pool that I hadn’t seen in the dark last night. The water is dark green and thick with algae. There must be hundreds of pounds of green slime.

I go into the office. At one end, the chairs that had been lined up along the wall cluster around an empty table. In the middle of the room is a huge table spread with a white tablecloth and piled with food–bagels, cream cheese, bread, peanut butter, strawberry jam, apples, oranges, corn flakes, Rice Krispies, Trix, Wheaties, hot oatmeal, sweet rolls, coffee, and hot water to make tea. Someone has wheeled in a refrigerator and plugged it into the wall. Inside are milk, orange juice, and half and half for the coffee. There is far more food than I’ve ever seen at a hotel breakfast–it’s enough to make me want to celebrate.

I  go up to the counter and leave my key in the box before I fill a big mug with coffee and take a bagel over to the table. I slather it with Philly and take a big bite. The cream cheese squishes over my tongue and the bagel is fresh and chewy. Today I’ll see Crater Lake for the first time. The coffee is hot and good. It’s a happy morning.

On the counter, Ganesha gleams. Someone polishes him a lot. I slip a handful of loose change into his bowl along with the flowers. The bells on the door jangle as I leave.

Sunday Scribblings – Story

Burgers at Verna’s

The first time I went to Hawaii, I stayed with Maggie and Dave in Hilo.  I was enchanted by the volcano with its vast crater, the red-hot lava bubbling up from the center of the earth and steamy sulfur hissing out of cracks. Miles before you got to the volcano, the lush tropical forest gave way to stark lava fields, nothing but lava as far as you could see. It was eerie, like being on a different planet, or on the moon, and I borrowed Maggie’s car to drive back to the volcano two more times. Dave said there were lots more things to see and we piled into his van one day and headed for the Kona coast on the other side of the island with its gorgeous tropical beaches and swaying palm trees, but the volcano enchanted me more. It was a long drive, and we were all very hungry by the time we got back to Hilo.

“You haven’t really experienced the island until you’ve eaten at the local drive-in,” Dave said, pulling into a parking lot next to a dingy-looking hamburger stand. There were several picnic tables near the ordering window. We chose an empty table and sat down to wait. At a nearby table was a Hawaiian family, an enormous couple and their three kids, having dinner. This meal was an event: the table was so loaded with everything on the menu that there was barely room for the plates and silverware. We tried not to stare but we just couldn’t stop ourselves.

This was a serious eating ritual with no talking. They all had masses of gorgeous, wavy black hair that they’d pulled back out of the way with elastic pony-tail holders. Thighs were spread wide to make room for their massive bellies to settle in between. Their sturdy brown calves were anchored to broad feet in black plastic flip flops while they gave full attention to the hamburgers and fries and pizza with all the toppings and greasy noodles with succulent chunks of Spam and fried chicken and coleslaw and mashed potatoes and gravy and pie, all within easy reach.  The children were silent, steadily eating while their parents ate and smoked, one hand holding a fork and the other keeping a lighted cigarette ready for that steadying puff between each bite. They ate slowly, smoking deliberately, looking over the food and choosing ahead of time which golden piece of fried chicken to take next. Their attention and gratitude seemed almost holy and made me decide to notice my own food more. A warm wind smelling of sulfur gusted gently over us.

The woman at the window called out that our order was ready, and we got our teriyaki burgers and took them back to the car. We wolfed our whole meal down on the way home, joking and laughing and making plans to visit an ancient petroglyph site the next day. The first bite of my burger was delicious, but I was so busy talking, I never noticed how the rest of it tasted.

Sunday Scribblings: Event

Fighting over who gets the most

Prompted by Sunday Scribblings: Dinner

Dinnertime for the dogs is serious business: lots of anticipatory chop-licking and jumping for joy when the bowls are being filled. I taught them to leap high in the air instead of jumping all over me, so it looks like the most joyful cavorting you can imagine. Then I set down the bowls. Each dog checks to make sure the other one didn’t get more. It’s the same with treats, and if a piece of jerky should fall out of Kieran’s mouth (he’s clumsy and not too bright), Jilly snatches it before he even realizes what happened.

When Joel and I were university students, we’d have dinner at Mama’s, an Italian restaurant right out of the movies with red-and-white checked tablecloths and candles in chianti bottles dripping wax all over the straw holders. We’d begin with antipasto–cold cuts, cheese slices, peppers and olives–while we waited for the pizza. At last it would come, round, hot, and succulent with bubbly melted cheese, sliced unevenly with an equal number of slices but some pieces bigger than others. Like a couple of dogs, we’d eye the pizza and try to grab the biggest slice first. Sometimes I won; sometimes he did. Mama’s pizza was wonderful, meant to be savored, but we bolted it like dogs, racing to get to the last slice before the other person could. Joel always got the last piece; I just couldn’t eat fast enough. Dessert would be spumoni, green and pink ice cream full of candied fruit. We each had our own bowl to linger over and enjoy, and it’s still my favorite ice cream.

Besides fighting over pizza, we found countless other ways to be unkind to each other until I moved to another state, found someone else, and had a child. Joel was killed in an accident. I still think of him when “49 Bye-Byes” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash comes on the radio; it was our song. How we could be best friends, lovers, and utterly horrible to each other all at the same time still pains me, but now, years later, the best-friends part is what remains.