HOW TO EAT A PUMMELO

A pummelo looks like a giant grapefruit, and it tastes like one, too. Only better.

It’s sweeter. It’s not tart, or bitter, like a grapefruit can be.

But a pummelo is hard to eat. At least I used to think so. Until I learned the trick.

The pummelo (also called pomelo) is an ancestor of the grapefruit, and has been popular in Asia for centuries. Only recently, though, have we started to see pummelos in American markets. Even Costco occasionally stocks them, in heavy bundles of four.

I love grapefruit, so naturally I took an immediate interest in pummelos. At first I tried to eat them like I eat grapefruit, cutting them into sections like I do with an orange, and eating them out of hand. But the membranes of a pummelo are much tougher than the membranes of a grapefruit. Virtually unchewable, actually. So biting a slice of pummelo, and extracting the flesh from the membranes with your teeth and tongue and lips, is a somewhat challenging, and unsightly, performance.

I also tried taking a knife to each slice, and surgically separating flesh from membrane in each pocket. It’s sort of like separating flesh and fat when carving meat. It’s difficult. And time consuming.

Finally, it dawned on me. Why not eat a pummelo in the old-fashioned way that we used to eat grapefruit? Cut it in half. Then gouge out each pocket of flesh with a sharp spoon, and enjoy. Pummelos actually offer an advantage here, because the pockets of flesh are larger, and the tough membranes provide firmer sides for the spoon, thus making for easier scooping.

This is the way everyone used to eat grapefruit. There even were special grapefruit spoons, with serrated tips. You could order grapefruit in fancy restaurants, sometimes heated, or even broiled, and sprinkled with brown sugar or cinnamon, or poured over with syrup. Sometimes the pockets of the grapefruit were pre-cut, to make scooping easier. Sometimes there was even a maraschino cherry in the middle, for garnish.

You don’t often see grapefruit these days on the menus of fancy restaurants. You don’t often see grapefruit spoons anymore. I think most people now eat grapefruit the same way I do. Like an orange.

But the old way of eating a grapefruit is the perfect way to eat a pummelo. I’m glad I remembered.

WINDOW BEYOND THE WORLD, CHAPTER 2, RIM OF THE WORLD

Enjoy “Window Beyond the World,” a supernatural thriller set in the Southern California mountains. The novel is being serialized here in weekly installments. The co-authors are Sun columnist John Weeks, writing under his full name John Howard Weeks, and William S. Thomas, former Sunday Editor of The Sun.

A new chapter will be posted each Friday. There are 37 chapters in all. This free online edition is somewhat abridged for language and adult situations. For those who wish to read ahead, and enjoy the entire unabridged novel, it is available now in book form.

“Window Beyond the World” (iUniverse, $14.95), by John Howard Weeks and William S. Thomas, can be ordered from local bookstores or from online booksellers including Amazon.com.

WINDOW BEYOND THE WORLD, CHAPTER 2, RIM OF THE WORLD

The Rim of the World Drive is a 100-mile roadway that cuts across the
south-facing crest of the San Bernardino Mountains that overlook the
San Bernardino Valley east of Los Angeles.

For being so close to one of America’s great urban centers, the San
Bernardinos are a surprisingly rugged mountain range. San Gorgonio,
more than 11,500 feet high, is among its mighty peaks. And the San
Gorgonio Wilderness within the range’s eastern ramparts is a wild
place, where bears and mountain lions prowl in savage glory, where it
snows 10 months out of the year, and where frightening storms gather
without warning.

Lance Segundo lived in Lake Arrowhead, one of the many picturesque
resort towns along the Rim of the World. He worked in the valley, as
a copy editor at the San Bernardino Sun, largest daily newspaper in
“America’s Largest County” — largest in square miles only, but it
was a talking point for a region that existed fitfully, somewhat
insecurely in the vast shadow of L.A.

It took him 35 minutes to drive to work if he went westbound on Rim
of the World Drive, which descends into San Bernardino. On the other
hand, it took more than an hour and a half if he drove eastbound on
Rim of the World, which meanders along the mountain crest for almost
30 miles from Lake Arrowhead to Big Bear, the mountain’s easternmost
resort and a gateway to the San Gorgonio Wilderness. From Big Bear,
the Rim of the World descends slowly to the valley, landing finally
in Redlands, a pretty town with a private university and many of the
San Bernardino Valley’s nicest homes. From Redlands, it’s about 15
minutes by westbound freeway to San Bernardino, thus completing the
grand circle that pretty much had become Lance’s world.

Of course, Lance only occasionally went that way, the long way, and
not only because it was prohibitively long, both in time and distance
– especially for a man who habitually ran late to work. There was
another reason. Lance was a nervous driver. And the extra miles of
winding hairpin road were intimidating.

His most recurrent nightmare involved soaring through space,
breathtaking, even thrilling at first, but then losing control during
a sweeping right-hand turn and plummeting, sprawling, sweating,
screaming to his doom. The Rim of the World Drive had many, many
sweeping right-hand turns.

But occasionally he want that way anyway. He just arranged the time
for it, and took it nice and slow, using the turnouts often to let
traffic pass that piled up behind him on the single-lane roadway.
After all, it was a change of pace, a little variety in a life that
had become all too routine, and every now and then he got the urge.

It was on the eastbound Rim of the World Drive that Lance had seen
Art and Gwen the first time, and he was driving that way again, not
quite a year later, when he saw them the second time.

The day was brilliant, the traffic unusually light, and Lance was able to enjoy
the scenery before him. Grand views of the mountain peaks to his left
and of the far-below valley to his right flickered before him through
the trees in endless freeze-frame images as he drove.

As he approached the same curve where he had seen the couple before,
Lance saw the same Pontiac Firebird pulling into the turnout.

Astonished, his heart suddenly beating hard, he slowed his car,
wavered briefly over what he wanted to do, then flipped on his turn
signal and swung left into the turnout. He pulled to a spot a
respectable distance from where the Firebird had parked and he braked
his own car to a stop. He left the engine running.

For a few moments, nothing happened. The Firebird sat motionless. But
then the door on the driver’s side was pushed open, slowly, and the
driver, swinging his legs with clumsy deliberation, got out of the
car and stood, uncertainly, leaning against it. He was laughing.

It was Art. Art when he was 20.

Art bent back into the car and pulled out a picnic basket. Yes, there
was a little picnic area here, Lance remembered. Risenbird Park, it
was called. Just then, the door on the passenger side opened and the
blond-haired girl bounded out. She was laughing, too. And sucking on
a stick of hard candy.

It was Gwen. She had a terrible sweet tooth, Lance recalled.

He tried to calm himself. The adrenaline was moving like a flood
through him, though, and his heart was galloping. He gave some
thought, for just an instant, to moving on, to leaving this moment
undisturbed, unexplored, not involving himself in the problems posed
here. Was his mind playing tricks on him? Was he hallucinating? Was
this a dream? A bad hangover?

But instead he turned off the engine, got out of his car, pocketed
his keys and walked purposefully toward the couple. As he drew
closer, he decided that they had to be real.

“Art?” he called.

Both of them turned toward him and reacted with broad grins. “Lance!”
Gwen exclaimed.

“Bro!” Art called, putting the picnic basket down so he could grab
Lance in a big hug.

Gwen joined the hug, wrapping her skinny arms around the two of them.
Lance kissed her cheek. They both had alcohol on their breath. Gwen
offered him a candy stick from a bag that she held in one hand. Lance
took it and stuck it in his shirt pocket. The touch of her fingers on
his hand sent a thrill through him.

“What are you guys doing here?” Lance asked, his voice quavering with
elation, confusion, exhilaration, bewilderment.

“Picnic, man,” Art said. “Can you stay?”

“I don’t know. Yeah, maybe, for a minute. But …”

“We’ve got extra. And there’s plenty to drink. In fact …” Art
picked up the picnic basket. “Here, you take this,” he said. “I’ll
grab the box o’ booze.”

They made their way to the picnic tables, Lance carrying the basket,
Gwen carrying her bag of candy, Art carrying a cutoff box with a
six-pack of beer, two bottles of wine — one nearly empty — and a
quart of Jim Beam whiskey.

It was too matter-of-fact. Lance was exploding with questions,
emotions. It was all he could do to keep from crying out, or maybe
just crying. Art and Gwen, on the other hand, were too nonchalant.
Yes, they had greeted him boisterously, but it was the kind of
greeting you get after a separation of a couple of weeks, maybe, or a
month, not 25 years. And there was no reaction at all on their part
to the fact that he now was a generation older than them. Even the
little boisterousness they had showed was suspect. They were drunk,
after all. If not for that, it might have been nothing more than a
“Hi-how-are-you?”

“What can I pour for you, my man?” Art asked.

“Oh. Hmmm, nothing, actually. I’m on my way to work, unfortunately.”

They both gave him wide-eyed looks. “You? Nothing to drink?” Gwen
said, almost giggling.

“Bummer,” Art said.

“You can eat something, though, can’t you? A sandwich?” Gwen said.

“Maybe a sandwich. Sure.”

“What’ll it be? Baloney, baloney or baloney?” She already was
stabbing at mayonnaise in a jar and smearing it on slices of limp
white bread.

“Baloney’s good.”

Art was pouring two plastic cups full of wine. He emptied the one
bottle, then unscrewed the top of the other bottle and continued with
that. It was Manischewitz Concord Grape wine. Art and Gwen liked it,
especially Gwen, because it was very sweet.

“Sure you won’t have one glass? It’s just wine,” Art said.

He offered one of the cups to Lance, then handed it to Gwen when
Lance raised both hands to refuse.

“We’ve got some Coke. I’ll pour you a glass,” Gwen said.

“Coke’s good. Thanks. Listen, what are you two doing here?”

Gwen handed him his sandwich.

“Eating, drinking, being merry,” Art said. “Tomorrow we die.”

Lance looked at him archly. “I mean, what are you doing here really?
What brings you, uh, you know, to town?”

“To town? You mean the mountains? I’m on break today. We’re free as
birds.”

“But you don’t live around here anymore.”

Art and Gwen looked at each other. Gwen stopped digging in the
mayonnaise and bit her lip.

“Well … OK, not here in the mountains, if that’s what you mean,” he
said. “But, uh, what do you mean? We’re less than an hour away. No
big deal. You OK?”

Lance blinked, looked down, tried to clear the desperation from his
eyes. He forced a chuckle.

“Good sandwich,” he said, then took his first bite. Actually, it
tasted flat. The bread was dry, maybe a little stale. He nodded at
Gwen, though, and smiled.

Gwen grinned that huge gargoyle grin of hers, pulling back her full
lips, orange with candy, into a joker-like rictus of a smile.

Lance didn’t say anything for awhile. All three of them worked on
their sandwiches. Lance glanced at the whiskey bottle in the box on
the table and sorely wished he could fortify his Coke. God, a drink
would good.

He couldn’t, though. He had a strict rule about drinking before work. And drinking and driving.

Tonight, though. Tonight for sure.

He again tried to steer the conversation, working to keep his tone
light.

“What are you up to these days?” he asked Art.

“Not much. Just school, and plenty of it.”

“Right. Still a way to go, I guess.”

“Law school is forever,” Art agreed.

“I’m not doing anything,” Gwen volunteered, grinning again. “Except
making a baby.”

Lance started. Yes, she had been pregnant. He remembered that. Not
for long, though, before she lost it. What year had that been? He
knew he had a bewildered look on his face. “Did I know that?”

“We told you,” Gwen said, an anxious look clouding her expression.

“Right. I’m sorry. I just had a brain cramp, I guess. Well, that’s
great. Congratulations. Again, I mean.”

“Brain cramp! That’s funny,” Art said, pouring himself another glass
of wine.

“It’s been so long since I’ve seen you guys,” Lance said, and he
couldn’t help the plaintive note in his voice.

Art and Gwen exchanged glances again.

“Hmmm, not really,” Art said.

“Not really?” Lance repeated. He looked down, lost. He was wearing
the same clothes he had put on that morning. His thumbnail was still
black from closing that drawer on it a week or two ago. He was
himself. Unchanged. This was today. He hadn’t gone back in time.

“I don’t seem different to you?” He gave them both a searching look,
and then felt bad, because Gwen actually started to cry.

“You just sound a little crazier than usual is all,” Art said.

“I’m sorry,” Lance said, standing up. “I’m just out of it. Running
late for work and all. I better hit the road.”

They exchanged chaste hugs, then Lance was in his car again and back
on the highway. He caught one last glimpse of them in his rearview
mirror as he took the first curve away from them. He also checked his
own face in the mirror. No surprises. He looked like himself. Still
handsome for a fiftyish man. Maybe a few too many care lines under
his eyes. And maybe his salt-and-pepper hair was getting a little
heavy on the salt. He looked his age.

Not like Art looked.

He made the time, even though he now was late for work, to drive by
Art and Gwen’s old apartment in Redlands. It took him longer than he
expected to find the place. There had been a lot of changes in 25
years, and the neighborhood didn’t look the same.

Back then, for awhile at least, he had visited his brother and sister-in-law fairly often.

Also, his memory wasn’t what it used to be. Too much alcohol, too much brain damage. He couldn’t remember the street names around their place. Those would still be the same, wouldn’t they? He couldn’t even remember, at first, which freeway off-ramp he used to take, and when he did remember, he wasn’t absolutely certain which way to turn.

To tell the truth, he was a little hazy on the whole subject of his brother. There had been some bad business between them. Sometimes he even dreamed Art was dead, which always shocked him awake and left him feeling sick and scared. He had lost touch with Art, that was for sure. Art and Gwen had moved at one point to some other place. Hadn’t they? But it was still in town. Wasn’t it?

And later on, Gwen had killed herself. Pills. No two ways about that. But Art? What had Art done after that? He had moved again, hadn’t he? But where exactly?

Lance wasn’t really sure, which amazed him, frustrated him. How could he have lost track of his own brother like this? It had been many, many years since the two of them had been in touch. Still, to lose track so completely — he wasn’t even sure where Art lived now. For crying out loud, he ought to have some idea of his own brother’s general whereabouts. But he didn’t. Simple fact.

Oh, well.

Finally, Lance found a block of apartments he was sure was the right one. He drove into the parking alley behind them and found the visitor parking spots. This much was just as he remembered it. He was sure of it. It was coming back to him. He got out of his car and walked, a little warily, to the mailboxes by the stairs of the building where they had lived.

How surprised would he be to find their names still there? Maybe not much, now.

But he didn’t. He found some other name there. Life had gone on. His brother didn’t live here anymore. Obviously.

NEXT: CHAPTER 3, THE DEMON ROOM.

“Window Beyond the World” (iUniverse, $14.95), by John Howard Weeks and William S. Thomas, can be ordered from local bookstores or from online booksellers including Amazon.com.