Author Archives: czelazek

More short fiction

You Can’t Bring That In Here

“You can’t bring that in here,” I said to the couple, only to be met by blank stares. They were stoned, for sure, and weren’t tracking that I was pointing to a bottle of wine they were carrying, the cork having already been pulled and stuck back in the top.

“The wine,” I spelled it out. “You can’t bring that in here. No alcohol.”

“Dude,” the guy said, starting to argue with me. Why is he calling me Dude when I’m a woman? That just seems stupid and wrong. And makes me even more inclined to enforce the rules.

I interrupt him. “Dude,” I say back him, “There’s no alcohol, sorry.” I point to a big sign that lists the prohibited items, alcohol being third on the list after weapons and drugs, followed by glass containers, dogs, and chairs over 13 inches tall.

The couple stares again. They’ve paid $100 a pop to get in and now they’re arguing about a bottle of wine that probably cost them eight bucks. And the line is growing behind them, people shuffling and sighing and giving them irritated looks. They keep staring, not able to grasp their choices.

I need to spell it out. “You can throw it out,” I point to a big barrel that is by now about half full of forbidden items. “Or you can get out of line and go drink it before you come in.” I point away from the line, over toward the parking lot.

“Hey jerk-off,” I hear suddenly. “We’re all going to miss the show if you don’t get moving. Just throw out your fucking bottle and move on!” There is a big sunburned guy in a tank top behind the stoned couple and he has now inserted himself into the situation. Clearly when he got his sunburn, he was wearing short sleeves. Maybe he’s trying to even it out now and get his shoulders burnt too. He is carrying two chairs, which look like they will meet the 13 inch rule and be allowed in, a blanket, and a ziplock bag of sandwiches. This isn’t his first rodeo; he knows what to bring and not bring. His wife, smaller but equally sunburned, is looking a bit embarrassed. She’s carrying an event T-shirt she bought from the knock-off vendors in the parking lot, having saved probably $10 by buying that one instead of the official ones inside.

The stoned couple turns toward the sunburned man. “Dude,” the guy starts. He pulls the wine bottle from the striped hippie-bag he’s carrying. FInally, he’s starting to get the message here. Sunburn guy is pointing to the trash barrel when the stoned man swings the bottle out and starts an arc with it toward the man’s head.

Didn’t see that coming. Luckily, sunburned guy did. He may have drunk a six pack of Bud Light in the parking lot but his reflexes are quick. And stoned guy, well there is nothing quick about what he’s doing. Sunburned guy easily blocks the arm that’s swinging the bottle and the bottle flies, people moving out of the way as it hits the long dry grass with a thunk, cork still in. Sunburned guy’s other arm comes up and his big fist hits the stoned man square in the cheek and he’s down for the count.

By then, my colleagues hear the commotion and we’re all on it. Me, I’ve got the Taser out and really want to to use it. But on who? Stoned guy is down and not going anywhere. His girlfriend has drifted off, maybe changing her mind about going to the show after all. Sunburned guy was red to start with, but now his face is even redder with agitation. He’s rubbing his hand, not moving toward the guy on the ground. “Dumb shit,” he mutters. Then he turns to us, sees my Taser and the look on the other Security folks’ faces.

“Hey,” he raises his hands. “He swung that bottle me.” He points to me, “She saw it. I was just defending myself. All I want to do is get in to hear the Thich Nhat Hanh. I don’t want any problems. I don’t know why he did that. Guy was obviously stoned or something.”

By now the crowd is buzzing and people are all taking videos with their phones and texting their brothers-in-law. “Nothing to look at here,” my colleagues and I say in the loud authoritative voices we learned at security school. “Get back in line!” I return my Taser to my belt, disappointed. One of the bigger men on the security crew is hauling the stoned guy to his feet and getting ready to put the flex cuffs on him. I radio the supervisor to call local law enforcement to drag this idiot away.

I look in the sunburned wife’s bag and then wave them through, tell them to enjoy the show. The guy looks flustered and you can tell his wife is relieved. Me? I’m glad he didn’t get hurt and I’m still bummed I didn’t get to use my Taser.

Short fiction

I’m a fortunate person. The COVID pandemic has taken little from me. One cherished thing that it has taken, though, is my writing group. Since moving to Ajijic, I’ve been attending a “Write to the Prompt” group every week. The group follows guidelines developed by the Amherst Writers and Artists program. One person gives a prompt and everyone writes for 45 minutes. After, there is optional sharing. I’ve written more — and particularly more fiction — then I’d written since I was middle-school age. I sure miss my group.

I’m going to start posting some of my short fiction here, as the world needs more fiction and more entertainment, and less hatred, pettiness, and sickness.

I welcome comments. Cheers!


The Poundcake or the Scone?

She got to the top of the stairs and waited. She knew he would be coming out of the bathroom into the hall before eight o’clock and she was a patient woman. Or she had been up to this point. She had been extremely patient, she thought. She recalled a saying her mother used to have: the patience of a Saint. She guessed that it meant the saints had been patient in their suffering and she could relate to that. But her suffering was going to end soon.

She let her mind wander as she waited in the darkness at the top of the stairs. She visualized the future, after this was over. She’d be busy with arrangements for a few days, of course, but then her life would begin again. Steven would help her fix up the house, just like on those HGTV shows. They’d pull out all the old 1960s crap and put in a new kitchen and new bathrooms. That was what sold houses, she thought. They could take down a wall to create an “open concept,” which she knew was important. She wasn’t sure if they could figure out how to create a “master suite” with the layout they had to work with, but it was an old house and the buyers couldn’t expect a miracle. She was a little concerned about the staging. On TV, they always had some trendy young woman come in with stunning furniture and about a thousand throw pillows and decor items — glass jars that would catch a ton of dust and antique books that no one would ever read. It seemed expensive but the buyers on the shows sure loved that crap. Well, she’d figure something out. She had a flair for color, people said. It would be a fun project and she and Steven could live in his apartment while they were doing all the work here.

She wasn’t sure where they’d go after the house sold. They had so many options. She was considering Waco, Texas as the house prices there seemed so low when she watched the Fixer Upper show with Chip and Jo. She could get 700 for this place and pay 250 down there. And it was sunny in Texas. She could ride her bicycle every day. Cheap and sunny. She knew Steven was interested in Florida but the humidity seemed like a deal breaker to her. Maybe they’d travel a while before settling down.

Was it odd she wasn’t having second thoughts, she wondered. Did that make her a sociopath? She knew about those from Criminal Minds and CSI and Bones. Those people didn’t feel emotions. I feel emotions, she thought, like what I feel for Steven. But when it came to her father, who was a mean and spiteful man and who had outlived any kind of usefulness, she didn’t really feel anything. She felt a bit anxious to get it over with but mostly she was calm. She had already run all the “what if….” scenarios in her head and she was confident she had a plan for anything that might go awry.

She pulled the phone from her pocket and checked the time. 7:51. Just then she heard the toilet flush, followed by the running faucet.

“Carol Ann!” He hollered as he pushed the bathroom door open. “Get my ice cream ready! My show’s about to come on!” He motored with his cane, as fast as possible, from the bathroom to the stairs. He was focused intently on the carpet, watching his feet so he wouldn’t trip.

“Carol Ann!” He hollered again. He was used to her responding that his ice cream was ready and he was irked when she didn’t reply. “What are you doing? The show’s almost on!” She watched him shake his head, angry and disappointed with her as usual.

As he got to the top of the steps, she moved quietly from the dark corner. He put one hand on the railing, the other was gripping his cane. She gave him a fierce shove with both hands and hoped for the best. If he didn’t die right away, her plan was to leave him there while she went to the grocery store and then to Starbucks for a decaf and pastry. She’d keep the receipt, of course. Her story would be that he fell while she was out. If he was dead, though, she’d call the ambulance right away and get it over with. That would be the ideal situation. She let out a big sigh and started down the steps to see if she’d be making the call or heading out to Starbucks. She thought about the lemon pound cake at Starbucks…but then again there was always the raspberry jam scone with the powered sugar icing.

Happy Baking

My mom baked. My grandmother baked. I bake.

When my mom passed, I inherited her boxes of recipe cards. Here is her recipe for Congo Bars, which I have been trying to adapt for high altitude baking.

You should bake these. Easy. Delicious. Dense. Slightly chewy. Use butter, not margarine (my mom was of the margarine era).

High altitude people: 1/4 cup LESS sugar. 1/4 cup MORE flour. 1-1/2 tsp baking powder only. And watch your baking time carefully.

A “small package of chocolate chips” is about a cup. Nuts? My mom used walnuts. OH, and I have no idea why they are called “Congo Bars.”

Vegan Sloppy Joes – quick meal

Vegan Sloppy Joe’s

Since I now have a fabulous kitchen, I am digging out some of my favorite recipes, recipes I haven’t seen in a while (like, 2 years).

This is an easy favorite that will please everyone. It’s vegan, so you’ve got the vegetarians and vegan covered. It’s also reminiscent of the ground-beef sloppy joe’s served in school cafeterias (or by moms) back in the day. So your carnivore friends will like it too. And: nostalgia!

This recipe has been tweaked from one I got years ago from the Nearly Normal’s Restaurant in Corvallis, Oregon. They published a calendar one year with recipes. They called it “Sloppy Norm’s.”

First, a word about the tofu. I like to freeze the tofu (in fact, I store my tofu in the freezer). For this recipe, you thaw it and then squeeze out all the liquid that you can (use your hands, do it over the sink). If you use fresh (e.g., not frozen) tofu, you will have a softer texture. The frozen stuff gets kind of rubbery and meaty, perfect for this application.

Vegan Sloppy Joe’s — serves 4

1 14-ounce package of firm tofu (see above re: freezing and squeezing)

Scant 1/4 c soy sauce

1 large green pepper, chopped small

1 cup chopped white onion (chopped small)

1 345-gram box of pure de tomate condimentado (or, in the US, a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce)

1 T mustard (Dijon or yellow)

1 T agave syrup (or honey if you’re not trying to do vegan)

2 T chile powder (the kind you get in the US, with cumin in it) OR 1 T real chile powder and about 1T cumin powder

About 1/3 c olive oil

Marinate your crumbled tofu in the soy sauce. Let sit at least 20 minutes.

Sauté onion and pepper in about half of the oil (a few glugs) until soft. Add tomato sauce, spices, agave, and mustard. Simmer about 20 minutes.

Sauté tofu in remaining oil in a hot skillet until brown and somewhat crispy.

Add tofu mixture to sauce and simmer a bit. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve on buns. Buen provecho!

Any leftover? It’s awesome served with tortilla chips.

Maybe next time I make it, I can remember to take a pic of the FINISHED dish. <sigh>

Oaxaca visit


Everyone has told me, “You must go to Oaxaca! It’s amazing!’ So finally we went. And it was.

Our “excuse,” if we needed one, was to take intensive Spanish classes. Each of us had two teachers — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. That’s right, 1:1 for five hours a day. I found it a great way to learn and to improve my skills. My teachers, both young women, were smart, friendly, curious and patient. I think language teaching attracts similar people as language learning, — people who like to travel and who are interested in other cultures and other ways of life.

One downside of taking five hours a day of classes is lack of time and energy to explore. Who knew how absolutely exhausted I’d be after my classes? Sleeping on a soft, worn-out AirBnB bed didn’t help (nor did being on the bus route, but hey, I do travel with ear plugs). Still, at 3 p.m. when classes were done, I was done. We retreated to our apartment where we had cold drinks and a rest.

Still, despite being busy and tired, we managed to see some sights, eat some great food, and absorb the vibe of the downtown area.

An option at the Spanish school was to leave with your instructor and have class in a café, a park, a library or other location. I loved that. One, it kept me awake in the afternoons and two, I got to see more. One morning, my teacher Gris and I had class in the plaza at the Soledad church. We sat in the shade on the big concrete steps, watching people and teaching/learning. I also got to visit some nice cafés and enjoy hot and cold chocolate drinks and teas.

The Sunday before classes began, we went to the museum of Oaxaca cultures, located in an ex-convent next to the Santa Domingo church. This is a huge museum with exhibits from various eras — from prehistory to Spanish invasion to modern times. A highlight was the exhibit of artifacts (gold jewelry!) from Tomb 7 at Monte Albán.

Jesus goes vegan:

One afternoon after classes, we dragged ourselves out for the 5 p.m. tour (en español) of the botanical garden. I probably understood about 60%, which was enough. The garden is a lovely oasis but alas you can’t visit unless you’re on a tour. The plant collection contains those that have been used forever by the local people for food, clothing, dye, art, etc.

One weekend day, we took a shuttle bus out to Monte Albán, which is a lovely and uncrowded archaeological site. The view from the site is impressive too.

Oaxaca is known for its art and its food. Food-wise, we did pretty well. It’s always a challenge for me to find non-meat food when traveling. Oaxaca was more veg-friendly than most Mexican cities, which made me happy. The hours at our school were a bit problematic as we had to be in class by 9 (not many things open before that) and then our break was 11:30 to 12:30 (too short a time and too early for a proper lunch). Still, we managed.

Some things I ate/drank:

— Nieves (ice cream) in the Soledad plaza. There are about seven different ice cream cafés, each with about 100 flavors. Alas, I only tried two: mamey and coconut. Yum.

— Chocolate drinks — hot or cold, with milk or water.

— Tacos guisados assortment: calabacitas with green mole, rajas and queso and huitlacoche.

— Salad with guayabas.

— Molletes.

— Salad with goat cheese, nuts and cranberries.

— Broccoli sandwich.

— Fried Oaxaca cheese with sides of beans and guacamole.

— Fruit and yogurt plates.

— Chilaquiles (red and green, with and without eggs)

— Enfrijoladas.

— Tostadas with smoked marlin.

— Smoked salmon sandwich.

— Salad of nopales, olives and cheese.

— Tlayuda with beans and greens.

— Spinach and cheese raviolis.

— Vegan enchiladas in green mole.

— Mezcal cocktails.

— Pastries!

— Cheeses!

— The crappiest French toast I’ve eaten.

Next time, for sure, I need to try the potato chips they fry fresh in street carts. And more moles.

If you’re a shopper, you will love Oaxaca. I’m not a big shopper (see my prior posts about minimalism) but even I loved all the choices. So much impressive art — rugs, ceramics, alejibres, and textiles of all possible types and descriptions.

The downtown Oaxaca area is very cosmopolitan with its zillion cafés, restaurants, bars, art galleries, museums. A few wide pedestrian streets provide respite from the cars and exhaust fumes and serve as a marketplace for street vendors. We enjoyed walking around and entertaining ourselves by people-watching, window-shopping and hanging out.

Monte Albán:

16 de septiembre

The holiday season has begun here in México. 16 de septiembre is Mexican Independence Day and the festivities are a blast. Someday, I guess, I will live here long enough that I can’t rouse myself for a 10 minute walk to see lovely things and have fun. But now, I’m al in.

Ajijic has an annual Regata de Globos — a hot air balloon festival. These aren’t the kind you ride around in; they are smaller. They are made of tissue paper and sent aloft with flames creating hot air. The event takes place in the fútbol field and is well attended. There are food and drink vendors and many teams making and launching their globos. Some go off without a hitch, after a lot of hard work, and sail up until you can no longer see them. Some fly for a while and then start on fire and drop from the sky. Some go aflame right there in the campo de fútbol. It’s a wild time and beautiful to see the handmade creations take flight. It’s sad, exciting, and funny when they don’t.

The day before Independence Day, kids’ games are held — running races, sack races, the greased pole climb, and one game where kids try to pry coins off a comal with only their mouths.

The night before Independence Day is the Grito de Dolores — a cry by Miguel Hidalgo that roused the people to fight for independence. It took place in the town of Dolores, which you may know now as Dolores Hidalgo. The grito commemoration at 11 at night. In Ajijic, the time leading up to it finds the plaza full of people watching ballet folclórico (the troupe included some very tiny girls who could really whirl their skirts around), mariachis, and a local singing contest (the crowd votes the winner with applause and the prize is a bottle of tequila). This year, it was a mighty close decision between an older man on crutches (who sang “Mi Lindo Ajijic”) and a tall young bearded hipster-y guy who the female MC asked to turn around so the ladies could admire his backside. In the end, the older man won and crutched off the stage with his bottle. Many of the singers this year were reading lyrics from iPhones, making us think of karaoke nights.

The local bellezas (beauty queens) were present with their intricate up-dos, perfect makeup and expensive gowns. A group of runners from Guanajuato arrived with the flame of independence— they had been relay-running for several days. They looked tired and so proud and patriotic. Touched my heart.

Earlier in the evening, we saw some high school aged kids in uniforms practicing their marching. They were the ones who marched the flag to the stage at the opportune moment. Someone read the Mexican declaration of independice, of which I understood more this year than I had in the past. Lots of stuff about the Catholic faith in there; who knew? The national anthem was sung (it’s long). The local delegado made the grito (cry) of Independence and everyone responded “VIVA! VIVA!” And then there were fireworks. The plaza was packed, many folks toting a bag of ice, a bottle of tequila, and plastic cups. A band would play long into the night/morning, long after we tottered off to home and bed.

On the actual Independence Day, a parade wound through the narrow streets consisting mainly of groups of uniformed school kids (all ages, with varying abilities to stay in formation), and horses. I love watching this, seeing the kids’ pride and that of their hovering parents. The horses? They’re big scary animals, okay? But some are pretty and have nice braided manes.

Other holidays will follow: Revolution Day, San Andres Festival, Dia de los Muertos, and then on to the Christmas season and the new year.

We’re ready. Bring it on.