Fritter in the Bookshop

Just because we’re sentimental about a household object that used to belong to a grandparent, doesn’t mean the dog won’t eat it while left at home alone all day.  To him, a coaster with the Notre-Dame cathedral painted on it is – while not the preferred afternoon snack – quite suitable to chew on.

“To think of all the grand plans you once had”, he says, smiling up at me one day as we walked through the park, with an expression indicating that he is at once a wise sage and a mischevious trickster.  “You were trying to be more than you are.” 

He’s right of course.  I am only a wanderer, like the kind you see sketched on a Chinese scroll, small and off to one side.  I am the reader in a chair, in the corner of the bookshop with tea and an apple fritter.

There’s just something about a hot cup of tea and a warm apple fritter, when you’re perched on the shore of the Milky Way, fiddling with the margins that exist only in your mind.

 

 

Another Day’s Work

We get it, everything dances.

Everything is vast, simple, unfathomable, a transcendent oneness emerging from all pairs of opposites, glimpsed at times through the burning blaze of the spectacle of the human spirit in all of its messy tortured glory.

We get it.  The dust and the stars are remembered, forgotten.  You’ve entered the noun of your choice, ruminated upon it with adjectives, and yes, it is illuminating, clever, insightful, heart-wrenching, life-vivifying.  True for someone, somewhere, for us all.

We can relate to that bit about surgery, about something broken, something mended.  And that middle stanza, especially, helps fulfill our longing to feel connected even as we maintain our illusion of separation.

We’re with you.  We are so, so with you.

Tell us again how everything cycles, ripples, dreams of itself, contains something unexpected, possesses a sudden softness, an impartial hardness.  Tell us again about the immigrants, the patients, lovers, neighbors.  Tell us about the rising smoke, windowpanes, birds, seasons, positioning of planets, democracy.

What is sacred, broken, metamorphosed, alchemized?  Who will remember your great grandfather, grandmother, and the way they were?  What enters us, consumes us, abandons us, eludes us?

We trust that you will give us the answers to all this, and more, and that it will not be tiresome.

We’re prepared to embrace whatever you put before us, as long as it seems relatively extraordinary.  We want to hear about the rain’s toothache, the collective consciousness of house keys.  We want political shouts, spiritual hymns, soulful rants about things that mustn’t be forgotten.

We long to know better the depths of ourselves as audience to your light-shedding, enthralled in the predictability of our own fascination with what is – to you – just another day’s work.

 

 

Look No Further

…I have some good news, but only for a few more hours. Add a splash of color, no obligation. Enrollment time is now. What are you doing to protect what matters most to you? Last chance to join, last chance to win.

Abs in 30 days……this is true! Get the loan you need before it’s too late. Sleep soundly. Get an education. Pre-qualify.

Free report. A special offer. Proven Results. Your adventure awaits. 11 ways (insert subject here) can change your life. Stop struggling with this. Keep your skin alive.

Prepare for a career. Get rid of pain. How do you feel about 1-dollar life insurance? Have you been injured? Home security can’t wait.

Enjoy a credit line of up to 500,000 dollars. Buy 2, get 1 free. How far will your ambition take you?

Let us solve your problem. Get it now. Look no further. Are you between 25 and 85?

These won’t be a secret much longer. We’ve been trying to reach you…

Van Gogh Quote

“To do good work one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace.”

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve

Last night, we stayed up late planning our move to Ecuador.  This morning, San Diego.

By the time we sat down to lunch, we had made our final decision about Florida.

Over afternoon tea, we practically signed an agreement regarding the Virgin Islands.

Naturally we ended up on the couch watching a documentary about Brazil, a fire crackling in the wood stove.

Me, throwing myself against you like a slobbering Saint Bernard as the snow hushed up this fitful town.

You, making another remark destined to become a classic, while the icicles outside

closed in on their objective of connecting our roof with the ground,

the clock ticking its wheels over the little bump of midnight.

 

The Power of Character

One of the things I loved most as a kid was my Grandma Ruth’s collection of 45-records, passed on to her from her dad’s jukebox and pinball machine distribution business in Oregon.  She would “ride the route” from customer to customer (taverns, arcades, roller skating rinks, etc.), and change out the records in the jukeboxes.  That was years before I ever came along, but those records would become an important part of my childhood.

I was drawn to music and storytelling from the beginning, so my discovery of the old 45′s was thrilling, to say the least.  A few were old jazz and 70′s disco, but the vast majority of them were country songs, trucker songs, and obscure story songs from the 60′s and 70′s.  Songs of humor, danger, tough characters and outlaws.  Songs depicting bad guys as heroes.  Trains, knives, guns, booze, diesel smoke, and girls.  As Joe Piscopo says in his role as Danny Vermin in the film Johnny Dangerously, “these are a few of my favorite things”. I’m talking stuff like Red Sovine’s Big Joe and Phantom 309, Johnny Paycheck’s Colorado Cool-aid, and Cledus Maggard’s The White Knight. Songs in the vein of Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”, but not as well known.

“Where the hell are we headin’ on this saunter down pothole-riddled memory lane?” you’re probably asking yourself now (in the voice of Sam Elliott) while stroking your handlebar moustache and squinting beneath the brim of your ten-gallon hat.  Just settle yer spurs, Lefty – I’m gettin’ to it.

One summer my dad took me to meet his dad – a retired shrimper named Buddy – in Florida. I was eleven or twelve, I guess.

“Grandpa Buddy’s gonna tell you that you gotta be tough, and that gettin’ old ain’t for sissies,” my dad told me.  For a country boy from Oregon who’d never really been anywhere, it was a big adventure.  Flying in a plane across America, I stared down in amazement at the “circles and squares” of farmland, and the silver ribbons of winding rivers.

“What kind of name is ‘Buddy’,” I thought?

Imagine my delight and surprise when Grandpa Buddy turned out to be a retired version of one of the tough characters right out of those songs I loved so much.  He’d lived a life full of adventure and danger as the captain of his own shrimp boat; he’d lived out a slice of the Americana I’d come to idolize, and so I instantly idolized him.  He had enough stories to fill not just a book, but an entire shelf, and he embellished those stories just right when he told them to me, in his deep southern voice that sounded like Johnny Cash.  He talked about a different world then the one I knew, but I identified it as the same world being sung about on those old 45 records: heroes, villains, tough guys, mercenaries, pirates and prostitutes.

“You gotta be tough,” he said over and over again.  Most of the stories ended with that sentiment – it was the takeaway, the moral, his mantra.  And in my mind, he was the coolest, toughest guy I’d ever seen.  He lived in central Florida on a river full of gators and snakes.  He made shrimp nets by hand out in his workshop.  He had tattoos, a jeep, nine machetes and an earring.  Okay, it was probably more like two or three machetes, but in my imagination it was definitely nine.

It turned out that my Grandpa’s real name was Marvin, a name he never liked. He quit school as a young boy and worked as a helper on fishing and shrimping boats. The fishermen would say “Hey buddy, get me the so-and-so”, “Hey buddy, I want you to do this or that, or “Thanks buddy”. And so his new name was born.

After that trip, I returned to my familiar life with my mom in our little house surrounded by farms and fields in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Depressed and bored, I stayed in bed all the next day, tears rolling.  When my mother asked me what was wrong, I told her I wanted to go back to Grandpa Buddy’s house. I was just a kid with an overactive imagination. I didn’t yet have the understanding that my grandfather was just a man, just a vulnerable person with fears and desires like anyone else. In my head, he was way larger than life.

I spent the rest of the summer hating myself, because I had learned that – when it came down to it – I wasn’t tough, and probably never would be. But I had also learned something of immense value, something I would carry with me from then on, something that tied the old 45 records and my grandfather together in a more cohesive way.

I now understood the magic of storytelling, and the power of character.

 

Over the River and Through the Woods, To Grandmother’s House I Went

I grew up with a dairy allergy, a hardcore vegetarian/raw food advocate mom who juiced her own wheatgrass and fermented her own probiotic drinks, and no TV.  Books, cats, the outdoors, an occasional friend who didn’t think I was too weird, and an overactive imagination were my entertainment.  Once a week, mom would take me to the library and I’d check out so many books I could barely carry them all.  I’d lie around reading for hours on end, picking sadly at my salad garnished with home-sprouted lentils and fenugreeks.  I ate soy cheese, Rice Dream, unstirred no-sugar peanut butter/honey/banana sandwiches, tofu, and granola with orange juice on it.  But this nerdy only-child hippie kid was perfectly content, man, because most weekends I went to Grandma’s house.  Grandma’s: where I could count on the fridge being well-stocked with a veritable plethora of meats, and the never-deviating placement of a hazy crystal bowl of candy near the record cabinet.

My grandma Ruth had everything my child’s mind deemed to be most important in life: Dr. Seuss books, a pool table, an eclectic collection of old country and trucker songs on 45′s (relics from my great-grandfather’s jukebox distribution business), and a TV.  She would fry up kielbasa for breakfast (which she called Oktoberfest sausage), give me liverwurst for lunch, and serve me pot roast for dinner.  Then I’d collapse onto the couch – or as she called it, the davenport – and watch the tube, my scrawny bag of flesh exhausted from digesting so much animal protein in such a short amount of time.  I’m not certain how aware my mom was of this carnivorous debauchery. I think she knew, and allowed it, because she realized her little son was in dire need of some surf-and-turf (or as my uncle calls it, bait-and-bovine). Mom eventually began taking me out for an occasional hamburger, no doubt a result of my grandmother’s persuasion.

Grandma Ruth always had a sparkle in her eye and a spring in her step.  She’d fix herself a martini, dance around in her robe to old records, and school me at billiards.  ”Not enough,” she’d typically comment, referring to my heinous lack of English applied to the cue ball.  Every so often I’d make a damn good shot, and she’d say “here’s lookin’ at you, kid”, calling me Straight Shooter McGee and other nonsensical nicknames. She drove a little yellow Porsche convertible, and she drove it with a heavy foot.  There were racing goggles and (imagine!) gloves in the glove compartment, and a little silk pillow on the dash in the shape of a candy bar that said “Baby Ruth” on it.  Sometimes she’d drink half a pot of coffee and then fall asleep in her chair, her snores rattling the walls.  When she glimpsed a mole in her yard she threw open the closet door and pulled out her shotgun. When contestants got greedy on Wheel of Fortune and then hit bankrupt, she’d say “serves you right, you dirty rat fink”.

Grandma would usually cook me an enormous Sunday breakfast and then drive me home in the yellow Porsche, stopping for hot chocolate on the way. And so I’d return to my meatless, T.V.less abode.  I didn’t mind though.  I loved my mom hugely; she was one of my best friends growing up, though I despised my rainbow suspenders, hated my bowl haircut, and resented the cowlick in my hair.  Even a wet hairbrush only kept it at bay for a few minutes.  I guess I didn’t exactly hate being the only hippie kid in a rinky-dink three-classroom rural school where the other boys’ idea of fun was to shove a firecracker up a dead gopher’s ass and then light it, but I was certainly aware that I was the only one, and it was just downright irritating.

Growing up with such limited food options has definitely had its effects on my eating habits over the years, and is probably a big part of why I became a chef.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered “food taster”.  One time we ended up with one of those big round tins of Christmas fudge, and I found myself home alone with it. I methodically ate the entire tin – every last piece – all the while telling myself mom wouldn’t notice or care.  Boy was I wrong.  Not to mention I puked on a shrub outside and it never grew back.