Saving the world, one suburb at a time. Also, as I wrote on the Flickr description, for a kid who gets next to no sugar, Halloween night for my boy was like a fallen priest spending a night in a brothel. Or something like that.
My Internet footprint is bigger than it should be. I write regularly on three blogs. I have Flickr, Buzznet, and Twitter accounts. I have a MySpace and Facebook pages (both, grudgingly). All of that, combined with an increasingly active offline life, means I sometimes neglect this, my oldest and favorite place to hide on the Internet.
The past week has seen me writing a lot more on Up For Poker. Recent events, not the least of which was yet another poker game robbery here in G-Vegas have kept me pretty busy.
The last couple of weeks have been exactly what I needed on the offline front. I've seen a ton of live music, including Tony Trischka, Fishbone, Michael Franti, and the Black Crowes. Tonight I'm going to see They Might Be Giants for the first time in nearly a decade.
I also am planning a post with the working title of "Get in my pants" which I'm sure everyone is just dying to read. Or something.
A weekend as a single dad, followed by a personal/work project in the following week, followed by Thanksgiving, a trip to Vegas, the holidays, the Bahamas, and a wedding trip to Louisiana should make for a lot of good blogging fodder in the next few months.
If I can only find the time to sit down and write about it all.
I was about to go to a Halloween party that required a costume for entry. With my work schedule now a little lighter, I took an afternoon trip to Target with my wife.
"The adult costumes are over here," she said. She knows these things because Target calls her every morning and lets her know how the bottom line is looking and whether they need a Mt. Otis funded bail-out.
We turned the corner and I saw my choices. I could either be a strand of metallic garland or a sprig of greenery. I stopped at the end of the aisle and muttered something obscene. Christmas? I looked at the old stock lady with a look that I hoped conveyed, "I'd sooner buy your damned Christmas decorations in October as I would give you a hot oil massage in front of my mother."
I muttered some more and went to what was serving ineffectually as the clearance aisle for the Halloween stuff. As I turned around, I swear the old lady was pulling an Easter bunny and some chocolate eggs out of a box.
The pickings for Halloween costumes were pretty slim. I initially planned a medical/army theme and figured to go into the party as a Five Star Surgeon General. I ended up changing my mind and pulling together a black Medusa dress, an old lady wig, and a fake butcher knife. I was going to make a great Norman Bates' mother.
I ended up missing the party and was left with my old lady wig and a sense of confusion about what time of year it is. Are we really so damned rushed that we have to start buying Christmas stuff before I get a chance to get my "Mother!" on? I know it's trite to bitch about how early the Christmas junk comes out, but, holy, holy, holy, my pumpkin isn't even rotting yet.
See, we even delayed our trip to the pumpkin patch by a week or so. Why, rush it, you know? Last year, we had to throw elbows in a crowd of a hundred or so in the patch. This year, we were literally the only customers there. Everyone else must have shown up in July. The patch had been picked over and looked more like a Civil War battlefield if Robert E. Lee and Wade Hampton had been commanding pumpkins.
The peace and quiet was welcome, though. Instead of fighting pumpkin patch commercialism, it was like we were on our own farm, the slim pickings notwithstanding. I stood at the counter inside the barn and talked to the lady at the counter.
"Sorta quiet here," I said, disregarding my son's baby chick mimicking across the room.
"Everybody showed up the day we opened," the lady said. That was in mid-August. Back then, it was 100 degrees outside, the leaves were all still green, and Father Halloween was still making wooden toys at the South Pole. Still, people had to buy their pumpkins in time to start saving for the Christmas presents they were going to buy in October.
We picked out two pumpkins, a couple bear-fuls of local honey, and some sodas to cut through the Autumn humidity.
"Hey, hon," I said. "Grab some apple butter." The stuff we'd bought at Nivens Farm last year had been really good.
I'm not sure how many parts of the country enjoy apple butter. As far as I know, it's a national spread. However, if you live somewhere that doesn't celebrate harvest with apple butter, you are really missing out. Imagine spreading an apple pie on a buttered biscuit on a cold Autumn morning and you'll start to see where I'm coming from.
My parents were with us and I saw my mom's wheels start to turn. "Why don't we just buy some apples and make it?" she said. Five minutes later, she was explaining the difference between a bushel and a peck and we had a bag of locally grown apples in our car.
That night, after the boy was in bed, my wife, mom, dad and I stood in our kitchen and peeled apples. As my mom worked like an industrial peeling machine, the rest of us laughed while we massacred our fruit with paring knives. Over the course of the next three hours, we made and canned four jars of Mt. Otis Apple Butter.
My mom worked the recipe from memory, calculating cups and teaspoons in her head and measuring them with her hands. It was something she'd been doing her entire life and watching her work with--if you will--careless precision was something as beautiful as she is.
At 11:30 pm, we made toast and topped it with butter and our labor. The next morning, my wife made biscuits and we had the apple butter again. I don't think I have to tell you, it tasted better than anything we could've bought.
It's very easy these days to get treble-hooked by work, consumerism, and mass marketing. Before we know it, we're being dragged through the holiday waters and ending up filleted for Easter brunch. As a father of a kid who gets more mature every day, I'm learning that, holidays or not, life just moves too damned fast. Sometimes we just need to listen to our moms and slow down.
You can learn a lot from apple butter, you know?
I'll be happy to share some of mine with you if you wanna come down for my Fourth of July Party.
There have been few people in my career who I actually set out to impress. There have been few people who have actually given me chances I didn't deserve. There have been fewer still I looked up to like a father, but was still able to consider a friend. Andy Still is all of those people.
Andy was my boss from 1999 until early 2005. We parted ways amicably when I discovered a new direction and golden parachute. Since then, I've been able to watch Andy's work from a safe distance and wished for him a graceful exit whenever he chose.
Last night, the wife and I went to Andy's retirement party, a real-life "This Is Your Life" for him--and, frankly, us, too. Andy is giving up his role as News Director and heading off to a life of music, writing, and travel. All of it is more than deserved.
There are so many things that are wrong with television news these days. Anymore, it is a place where mediocrity isn't merely accepted, it's almost championed. Andy and the people who worked on his staff didn't believe in that. Andy and the people he trusted really believed in capital "N" News. The business wasn't all about money, how fat you were, or how good looking you could be. The business was telling stories. It was about giving people the news they needed in a way they could understand. If you entertained them along the way, even better.
I have many a rant on this subject, but those will have to wait for another day. Today is the day we recognize Andy's last hours on the job. If you have ever wanted to believe in the profession of journalism or wondered who among the fourth estate you could trust, Andy is your man. And, as we all agreed last night, Andy is more than just a newsman. He is simply a fine human being.
Congrats on a great career, Boss. More than that, thank you for giving us a reason to believe.
It was a tight night at The Royale. We'd walked through one of the first chilly nights in St. Louis and the bar and fire-dotted patio were packed with drinkers. I stood in a line of people and could see my friends at the first table inside the door. My beard was graying, my hair was salt and peppery, and the wrinkles around my eyes were deeper than the last time I'd been to a bar in The Lou. When I saw the doorman ask the lady in front of me for ID, I figured it was because she could've passed for 21. I, however, could've passed for 41, even in the soft light.
"ID?" he said to me as I stepped into the warmth.
I probably rolled my eyes as I reached into my pocket and fumbled for my South Carolina drivers license. It's always easy to find, what with the magenta strip of color across the top and bar code on the back. And yet.
"Um," I said, feeling like a 19-year-old Otis using the expired ID of a guy named Steve Ball to get into Shattered or get a drink at The Blue Note. "I guess I don't have it."
As it happened, a friend of mine knew the owner and I was sitting at the table with a hefeweizen in a matter of minutes.
"I think I lost my drivers license," I said over the din.
My brother feigned shock. "No!" he said, mouth wide open and a mocking hand covering it. "How could that happen?"
I think that most men have accepted that a wallet is merely a man-purse that can screw up the lumbar region. It's a receptacle for everything that Joe Average encounters in a given day--receipts, small bills, membership cards to the local warehouse store, small animals, and, if you're still single, phone numbers you will never call. The age of the Crackberry and PDA, however, have rendered much of the wallet's utility useless. We can collect things digitally now, and that means the days of Costanza Wallet should be behind us.
I gave up the wallet years ago, remarkably on my brother's suggestion. He carried a money clip and I saw no reason not to do the same. At the time, I wore a suit five days a week and my giant leather wallet had a hard time staying in the pants pocket. Moreover, I slung my jacket around enough that keeping a big wallet in the breast pocket was a no-go. At the time, it was difficult to pare my life down from everything I kept in my wallet to what could fit in the single pocket of a money clip. It took me nearly a year to get used to it. Eventually, though, I was a convert.
That's when I entered the poker world.
The poker world does not operate like much of polite society. One clear difference is the amount of money you have to carry at any given time. In polite society, if you were asked, "How much do you have on you?" you might say, "Twenty." For your future reference, saying that in the poker world means something other than it does standing in line at Wal-Mart. It's a world where twenty dollar bills are cumbersome and fifty dollar bills are unlucky. People routinely borrow hundreds if not thousands of dollars at a time on only a handshake. That is a long way of saying, when you're walking around Vegas, you're likely carrying more money than fits in a standard money clip.
Enter, the rubber band.
Now, maybe I started doing it as an affectation. However, I was carrying a lot of money at any given time and it was true that the amount wouldn't fit in the standard money clip. What's more, it was more money than I was going to carry in my back pocket where any pickpocket could snatch it. Regardless, before long, even when I wasn't carrying much money, I had resorted to using nothing but a rubber band to carry my cash, drivers license, and credit cards.
I liked it for so many reasons. Unlike a money clip, bills never slipped out. The roll fit perfectly in my front pocket and was always secured by the rubber band. If the rubber band broke, I simply got a new one for a cost of around ten cents. When playing poker two or three nights a week, it was easy to just throw my poker roll around my regular cash and be done with it.
My wife, however, hated it. At first, it was because I would often forget to take my poker money off the roll and I would end up pulling too much cash out of my pocket when were out and about. That was justified. However, her disapproval developed into a full-blown disdain even after I reduced my walking around money to a couple hundred bucks at a time. She hated the rubber band, and, if I was catching her drift, everything it represented. She found a companion in my brother, who upon the loss of my drivers license launched into full mocking mode. "How could it happen?" he would say. "You have such a great system going here!"
It was, in a word, disheartening.
It may have been denial, but I delayed going to the DMV to get a new license. Every once in a while, I would stretch the rubber band out and peek inside the cards for the tell-tale magenta strip. Of course, it wasn't there. In fact, the last time I could remember seeing it, I was in the line for security at McCarran International. They let me on the plane, so, I guess I had it long enough to make it to the terminal. After that, however, it was MIA and no amount of rubber band stretching was going to change that.
And so, for the better part of two months, I walked around without a drivers license. When going somewhere where I thought there would be a chance some young punk would try to card me, I would carry my passport.
"That is so pretentious," the wife said to me one night as we prepared to head out to American Grocery. She refused to explain herself any further, but merely looked on me with bemusement when I put my passport in my pocket.
After dinner, we headed out to Liberty Taproom for a drink. Sure enough, two guys with a great future as security guards stood sentry at the door.
"ID?" they said.
I handed them my passport and said, "My wife thinks this is pretentious." They waved me in, and I swear, as the door closed behind me, I heard them laughing.
Late last week, I sucked it up and went to the DMV for a new license. Technology, such as it is, allows for me to get a duplicate license without having to pose for a new picture. The lady at the counter reached across with a picture of a younger me. It was a guy who still carried a money clip, who didn't have graying hair, and who didn't have as many wrinkles around his eyes.
"Didn't you used to be on TV?" the woman asked.
"Yeah," I said. "I did, but that was a long time ago."
But now, I am the Rubber Band Man, I thought, and walked toward the door. As I stepped into the sunlight, I slipped the drivers license into a fold of bills and protected it with a perfect, soul-soothing snap.
There are two hard things about the Lake Eden Arts Festival.
The first hard thing is the getting there. The actual road trip is easy. From where I sit, it's only an hour and half drive, most of it on interstates. Camp Rockmont (which, despite the sound of its name, is not a place where people are regularly massacred by serial killers or a place where 18 year-old girls in white cotton panties experiment with some crazy new interests) is a simple little place on a simple little mountain lake.
The hard part is the anticipation of getting there and then fear of not getting a prime spot next to the lake. That is my job today. The wife and I are the first wave of The Advance Team. The job we have chosen to accept is that of scout and flag-planter. I should remember that in nine years of LEAF-ing, we have never failed to get a good camp site for this four-day event. Yet, I always worry. I'm sick with it right now. I'm leaving two hours before I really should in some false hope that it will make me feel better. When we get there, it will be a mad dash over a split-wood fence and to the lake. There, we will begin forming the Tent City U for a party of around 20 people (a small year in comparison to the 32 we had last year). Within a few hours, we will be joined by the rest of The Advance Team, Jane, T, and Ted. They will help us build Tent City and make it our weekend home. By 8pm, we will be finished and drinking beer. The hard part will be over.
The other hard part is the leaving. Sunday morning, we will all wake up up. More than half of our group will be hung over. Everyone will be tired. No one will want to spend three hours breaking down Tent City and cleaning up our site to leave the land as we found it. But everyone does.
Those are the two parts of LEAF that I hate. If those were the only things I knew about LEAF, I most certainly would never go. Thing is, everything else in the middle of those two times is easy. Beyond easy, really. A picture T took last year pretty much sums up LEAF in October.
I could spend a couple hours writing about how much I enjoy this weekend, but I don't think most people would get it. I've spent years trying to convince people why it's fun, and nobody has understood it...until they have joined me. I think in our group's LEAF history (which pre-dates the Otis clan by several years), only two people have joined us at LEAF and not liked it. Dozens of others have vowed to come back as often as possible. And they have.
So, it's off the grid for me this weekend. I'm not simply setting an away message on my computer. I'm turning the damned thing off.
I've never been one to run away, but this weekend, I'm retreating and not feeling the least bit bad about it.
"I'm an import killer," Ray said through a cloud of blue dust.
Ray had two packs of menthol cigarettes shoved in the front pocket of his work shirt shirt. At mid-afternoon on a sunny Friday, it was his job to be under the hood of my foreign, gas-guzzling SDV (Stripped Down Version). I didn't envy him the work. An hour before, I'd thrown up the hood and looked down at the battery. The positive terminal was hidden underneath a crust of blue-green corrosion that looked rather alien. I actually said aloud, alone in my driveway, "Woah, that's not good."
I had some suspicion my SDV's battery was on the wane. A couple of nights before, a beer run had nearly been cut-off when my vehicle almost refused to start. Then, sensing how cruel it would be to keep me from beer, the engine turned over. I took that as a sign to completely ignore the problem.
Then Friday afternoon came and I had four errands to run before a friend was scheduled to be at my house to pick me up. After working for about 35 straight days and nights, I was going to take a night off. Out to the driveway, I hopped in Emilio (see if you can figure out why he's named that) and turned the ignition.
Everybody knows the sound. It's a low, halting, groan that ends with the dome light extinguished, the radio channel pre-sets erased, and the car making no other noise. I wasn't even sad. I looked back through my mental maintenance file and recalled that since I bought the vehicle in November 2001, I have never changed the battery. It's a rather amazing feat, really. The standard life of a battery is 2-3 years. This one--a factory battery that looked more like something that would fit in the back of a big flashlight--had lasted for six years without ever failing me.
Now, it was dead in the middle of my driveway on a perfect Friday afternoon. My initial intention was to run up to the store, buy a new battery, and change it myself. Then I realized my wife had to use her car to go pick up the boy from pre-school. Thinking quickly, I grabbed some brand new, still-in-the-package jumper cables from the back of Emilio and hooked them up. After checking the connection on my wife's Honda, I went back to Emilio and said it again: "Woah, that's not good."
Smoke was coming off the positive terminal. I'd done my best to remove all the corrosion and produce a clean connection, but something was obviously still quite wrong. I grabbed for the red handle, then realized it was, well yeah, smoking hot. So, I grabbed for the cable and realized the insulation had melted off. Fingers singed, I grabbed the black cable, ripped everything off, and threw the smoking, melted mass as far as I could (incidentally, about four feet).
It was a sign, as far as I was concerned, that someone else should be replacing the battery in my car. While the jumper cables were obviously defective (another set out of the garage worked just fine), I didn't see any reason to press my luck.
And that's how I ended up with Ray the Import Killer.
The new battery was $80 including installation. Ray grabbed a red cart stacked with tools and wheeled it out to Emilio. I'd left the vehicle running and Ray took it upon himself to climb inside, turn it off, and get started before I'd even finished paying.
Ray wore sunglasses, a work hat, and a stained shirt. His hands bore all the signs of a career in manual labor. He worked with a silent deliberation. I stood on the sidewalk and wished I'd worn something different. I was in a pair of jeans--a little too tight--a graphic tee and a pair of Ecco shoes. To anyone driving by, I was that guy from the nearby suburban neighborhood where men don't change their own car batteries. I was about to stick my head under the hood, too, just to keep up appearances, when Ray emerged.
"You're going to need a new terminal," he said.
He was pointing to the positive connector. It was sea-foamy with corrosion.
"I'll go get one," I said with zeal. With a task, I felt like I was helping, much like the three-year-old that helps his father clean up autumn leaves, which is to say, not at all.
"It's the band-type with the bolt sticking out of the back," Ray said and ducked back under the hood.
I went in and ran into the woman who sold me the battery.
"I need a new terminal," I said. "Band-type with a bolt sticking out of the back."
Just five minutes before, I'd seen the same woman (a cross between Chastity Bono and Abe Vigoda) run to the store room and pick out an obscure part for a 1978 Cutlass from memory. There was no need trying to deny my emasculation. The new part was another $4. Still, $84 for the pleasure of having a brand new battery is no small price to pay. I mean, this battery came with a three-year warranty, something that would serve me very well if this massive container of acid lasted only half as long as my little flashlight battery.
When I returned, Ray was using a wire brush to clean the negative terminal. The blue-green dust smoked up into the air and blew with the breeze. I wondered how much corrosion dust Ray had breathed in his life. Like my battery, I'm pretty sure Ray was outliving his projected lifespan, despite the career of battery acid bong hits
"This work?" I said.
"Sure," he said. "You're going to need another terminal." He pointed to the black one. "Bolt won't turn."
I ran back inside and pulled the same one Ms. Vigoda had just picked out. In the sunshine once again, I said, "This work?"
"Nuh-uh," Ray said. "You need the one with the band and the two prongs that bend over the wire."
Of course, I do.
I went back inside, found the right part, and brought it back to Ray. That was another $4, bringing the total to $88. I was still okay with it. After, all, Ray was into his work. In all, he'd been going for about 25 minutes, and now he was installing new parts, straining over a pair of channel locks, and breaking a small sweat in the unusually warm October air. I wondered if I could tip him.
See, I spend 30% of my year in places where you tip everybody. Guy opens your door? You give him a buck or two. Dealer pushes you a big one? You throw'em a red bird. Server spends a couple hours making sure your meal is presented as well as it can be? Twenty percent is the minimum.
I've tipped bellmen, gift shop cashiers, housekeepers, concierges, valets, dealers, waitresses, bartenders, floormen, chip runners, deli counter workers, cab drivers, limo drivers, doormen, and cashiers. I have never, however, tipped a guy who installs car batteries. Is there a proper percentage? Is it even kosher?
A bearded man walked out of the store, looked at Ray, looked at my SDV, and shook his head. It was a rueful head shake that communicated all it needed to. The old dude drove a beat up teal Cavalier, but was bemoaning my driving of an imported vehicle. That's what happens in these parts.
He drive away in light cloud of smoke.
Ray looked up and spoke. "He got out of his car earlier, looked at your car, and said, 'You know, that thing will never run right again.' I told him I'm the import killer.'"
I couldn't tell if Ray was defending me or mocking me. Soon, it didn't matter.
I looked down and Ray was on his hands and knees, chipping away with a screwdriver at some corrosion that had formed on what I took to calling "that thingy that makes sure he battery doesn't slide around under the hood." Ray was a true professional and was going beyond the call of duty. I reached in my pocket and pulled out $5. I cupped it in my hand and wondered how one tipped a guy like this.
With doormen it's easy. The bill is folded a couple of times and rested between the tips and second knuckles of the index and middle fingers. It's slid into the doorman's hand with a simple, "Thank you." Card dealer? Just rake your pot and leave the tip on the felt. It's understood. Car battery installer? What do I do? Slip it in his tool box?
I almost changed my mind and forgot the tip, until Ray pulled out some industrial anti-corrosion liquid and slathering it in all the right places. For the past 40 minutes, it had been nothing but wire brushes, likely poisonous dust, new parts, and now lubricant.
With no fanfare, Ray stood and said, "That's it."
Ray probably wasn't more than ten years older than me, but he wasn't going to live as long as he should. I don't know what kind of cancer you can catch from battery acid corrosion, but it seems clear that ol' Ray is going to pick up whatever it is.
I pulled ten bucks from my pocket, walked over to Ray, and shook his hand.
"Thanks," I said and put the ten-spot in his hand.
I couldn't gauge the guy's reaction. "Aw, man," he said. He shut up as I turned to get in my car. I was feeling bad. I'd probably just offended him by giving him something extra for something he would normally do. He's a working man who didn't expect anything more.
"Sir?" I heard behind me. I turned to see Ray. "Thank you very much."
There are people in this world who break things. There are people who neglect things until they break or their own or reach the end of their normal lifespan. I am those people.
There are people who fix things. Ray is those people.
Sometimes, as we all live out our own personal battery life, we must accept our role. It's not always easy, and it's quite often emasculating, but it's life.
Six years ago, I did my job as a journalist. I worked a story hard. I was proud of myself. In the time since then, my life has changed so many times and in so many wonderful ways that I can't count them all.
In that same time, Charles Wakefield has stayed in prison, a place he has been for the better part of my life. Whether he would've stayed there may have not had anything to do with what I did, but, in my heart, I know I played a part in it.
In that same time, I have learned a lot more about Wakefield and how he ended up in prison in the first place. I have learned so much that I don't dare even start writing it here, because, if I do, this blog would be about nothing else.
In that same time, I have tried to atone for my youthful and naive exuberance as a news guy. Still, I have not ever come close to doing what I really need to do. I'm not even sure I ever can.
I just spent nearly three weeks on the graveyard shift. You'd really be surprised how dead the world becomes between midnight at 6am ET. People must really like this sleeping thing. By 2am, I'd usually found the end of the Internet and didn't have much else to do but watch TV. Again, you'd be surprised how badly programmed TV is at 3am. I mean, how about a little consideration for the hotel clerks, Taco Bell drive thru workers, and security guards? If advertising is any indication, the only people who are awake at this time are men who would like bigger penises.
Fortunately, satellite TV had some halfway decent movie programming. So, here's a list of what I watched while you were sleeping.
The Weatherman--Nicolas Cage flick that I really thought was going to be a comedy. It. Is. Not. Somehow I couldn't stop thinking about my buddy Uncle Ted.
Deceiver--Tom Roth, Chris Penn, and Michael Rooker. I really like watching all three actors. The movie felt like it was inspired by Usual Suspects but never really got there.
The Untouchables--I'd watch it again right now (for the 97th time) to see Bobby DeNiro do the baseball speech.
Live From Baghdad --I'll admit, I have both a Michael Keaton and Helena Bohham Carter fetish. Different reasons, of course. Because I was a TV guy for a long time (and always thought--before I got married and had a kid--that I'd end up in a war zone), I watch this movie for a little vicarious living. Of course, it's fictionalized to a degree, but I like HBO films and this is no exception.
Singles--Another movie I've seen more times that I should've. If you've ever ever heard me use the phrase, "If you're going to have the operation, have the operation," this is where I picked it up.
Inside Deep Throat--Pretty good documentary on the making and fallout from the most famous porn film of all. Also, rather explicit. If you've never see Deep Throat, this documentary is a good excuse to watch The Scene. "Honey, it's educational! It's a documentary!"
The Omen--It's a really bad day when you realize your son is the Antichrist. At least Damien was adopted.
Sleep With Me--Mid-90s Eric Stolz flick that I had actually never seen before. I thought the movie was terribly miscast, but was very happy to see Parkey Posey half naked.
I Like Killing Flies--This one, I really enjoyed. It was a low budget doc about a famous New York restaurant's closing. The foul-mouthed owner is a cross between the Soup Nazi and an amalgam of your favorite social commentators. If you find the time, watch this one. It is poignant and funny.
Shadow of a Doubt--Old Hitchcock film that I surprisingly hadn't seen before. While a little long, it was really enjoyable. Based on the relationship between a daydreaming girl and her uncle (who may or may not be a serial killer). Movie was just as funny as it was suspenseful.
Call Northside 777--Another old one. While completely inconceivable plot line, it's the story of a journalist's quest to get a good story and simultaneously prove a convicted killer innocent.
Black Dahlia--Damn, how many damn movies are going to be made on this subject. Let it die. Only enjoyed this movie because I got to see sweet, sweet Scarlett.
Rank--A pretty good documentary on professional bull riding. Yeah, I didn't think I'd enjoy it either, but I really did.
Friends of God--Alexandra Pelosi's take on Evangelicals in America. About what you'd expect after her Journeys With George doc. Some really funny stuff with Ted Haggard talking about how Christians have the best sex.
Jarhead--I didn't expect to enjoy this one as much as I did.
Die Hard--Yeah. Like every time it's on.
Our Brand Is Crisis-- The War Room re-set in Bolivia.
Swingers--You always double down on eleven.
Broadcast News--A movie my wife and I bonded over about a decade and a lifetime ago.
Serpico--Pacino, Pacino, Pacino. Tough to be a bad cop in a good town. Wait, that's not right.
The Right Stuff--Can you believe I'd never actually seen this one before?
These days, it's rare for the wife and I to go out for a good meal. Unless there is a shark hanging from the ceiling, a hostess with a packet of crayons, or a giant mouse running around the joint, we don't tend to go out for dinner as much as we did in the past. It's hard to enjoy a five course meal and a cup of good coffee while a three year old shoots drinking straw wrappers at the adjacent table.
Saturday, we were able to head out to a place recommended by some fellow bloggers. American Grocery sated our need for something above the traditional fare offered by places with kids menus. I had venison--so fresh and rare, I imagine it was plucked from the nearby woods that morning--in a fig demi glace. I also ate organ meat, but that's another story for a different day.
When time arrived for the dessert course, the wife decided on some homemade doughnuts stuffed with mocha cream. Though our friends were there, talking and enjoying saying panna cotta in a thick Italian accent, it was impossible to miss what started happening to the woman I married. With a touch of mocha cream on her lip, she let loose an ever so quiet moan. Her body shuddered. Her eyes may or may not have rolled up into the back of her head.
Yep, there it was. I privately raised my coffee toward the kitchen and thought, "My compliments to the pastry chef." I didn't learn until later that the pastry chef was named Susan. The implications and possibilities were boundless, but left for another time.
Anthony Bourdain once wrote about the--if not always sensual--sexual nature of cooking and eating. By definition, he contends agreeing to eat a meal cooked by someone else is a submissive act, one giving up any illusion of control. You open your mouth and let someone else slip something inside. It's the concession of power for the pure sensual pleasure of letting someone else do while you enjoy.
I like to be in the kitchen. It's a creative and therapeutic outlet. It is especially gratifying when, after a few hours with knives, herbs, and meats, I get to watch someone really enjoy the food. It is akin to the satisfaction of another creative and experimental outlet that takes place in another room in the house. A job well done is a job well done, if you you know what I mean.
Marriage can be a tricky thing, though. After years and years of eating the same meals prepared by the same cook, there is an unintentional routine and expectation that arrives at dinner time. My wife knows the meats, the rubs, and how long it's going to take for the meal to be finished. It's the type of thing that leads a guy to experimentation. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, though, it ends with my wife slowly placing malformed rice noodles onto her tongue and forcing a "this is good, honey" from her abused mouth.
There, dear friends, lies the rub. If cooks are the dominant types, they like to believe they have done good, that they have given pleasure, that their toil and art served some greater good. They like to see animated pleasure, and in its absence, at least like to know they have gotten your tastebuds off. For some folks, it's enough to hear, "This is good." Others, like me, like to really believe it.
Indeed, the routine and familiarity of marriage goes both ways. I generally know whether my wife is enjoying something or merely tolerating it. I use the word "generally," because, despite really enjoying the process of pleasure, I am never 100% confident.
That's right. I never know for sure if she is...faking it.
A home eater has to walk a very thin line when dealing with a semi-confident cook. Being overly critical of a meal or the one who cooks it could result in a complete loss of confidence that turns into tentative cooking (a tragedy in itself) or a complete abandonment of the kitchen altogether. However, being too careful about the cook's feelings and feigning enjoyment is even worse.
Let's go back to the bedroom (he says as if we ever really left). I think we can all agree that it's pretty clear when a man is satisfied. Moreover, it's not the hardest thing in the world to accomplish that goal. Give him a big enough burger and a basket of fries, if you will, and by and by, he's going to walk away happy. A woman, however, is a fine diner. Something from the drive thru just ain't gonna cut it. Furthermore, figuring out whether the lady's epicurean needs were met is as difficult as reading a french menu through a napkin. She may have acted like she enjoyed it, but there is always a lingering doubt as to whether she enjoyed it.
There are times, of course, when it's pretty clear. Saturday night, as my wife's mouth slacked and she shimmied in her chair at the taste of the mocha cream, Susan the Pastry Chef had obviously scored one for the good guys. Down the table, however, I couldn't get read on how much pleasure Cheryl was getting from her goat cheese gnocchi. Her husband probably knew whether she enjoyed it, but I was at a loss. When she shared a piece with me, I felt a familiar tingle in the good places, so I had to assume Cheryl liked it as well. She said it was good, but I would never know if she was faking it.
We go to restaurants because there is no commitment. The chefs are the pros. You can usually assume you're going to walk away satisfied, but there is no risk of hurt feelings if you don't like the food. You're only out the cost of the meal, rather than the potential hurt feelings and marital strife of not liking your partner's cooking. What's more, when the server asks if everything is alright, you can fake it without longterm consequences.
At home, though, faking it is the worst possible temptation. In the face of a sub par meal, efforts to make your cooking spouse feel good about what he's prepared can only lead to one thing: more sub par meals. As it is with the time spent in the martial bed, a marriage beset by gastronomic dissatisfaction is not one you want to lead.
So, friends, when you feel the urge to say, "This is a good meal," when, in fact, you'd rather have had KFC, just don't do it. Faking it is the path to a lifetime of of wishing you'd ordered takeout and a couple of items from the Adam and Eve catalog.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to run. This is the first night in nearly three weeks that I'll be able to go to bed with my wife and I have to make a stop at American Grocery for some of that mocha cream. I wonder if Susan the Pastry Chef has plans?
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