Month: January 2017

Friendship With Joey

budcansgimped

He took my daughter to the prom. That’s how I first met Joey. Beneath that tux was a short, lively, rough-cut fellow with a charming sense of humor that left me feeling bemused.

They met in Special-Ed class. They both had a pretty bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and so the stuff most students found easy and mundane in high school was, for some mysterious reason, a tough challenge for these two to focus on.

Joey soon drifted away from my daughter’s life, carried away by the very ADD that brought them together. I forgot about him. Until about ten years later. My niece got pregnant with her second child, and Joey was the father. Joey had returned to my life.

This would be his first child, and he was very proud and excited about it. He and my niece became an item. He had impregnated her in the parking lot of a bar the very first night that they met.

They dated and kindled a romance. And they would drop by our house and visit occasionally. Joey was loaded with charisma and energy. He was always warm, affable, and full of questions that made him seem truly interested in those around him. My niece, on the other hand, was shy and demure; a wallflower who spoke little.

They did not have much in common, and their romance broke apart.

Just the same, Joey was excited about the idea of being part of his future child’s life. He even wanted to be present at the birth. But this would not happen.

Joey was picked up for drunk driving. And it wasn’t his first offense. In fact, it was probably his third or fourth. The judge threw the book at him, and he was sentenced to a year in prison. He could not watch the birth of his son.

He emerged from prison with tattoos on both arms. One tattoo ran from the length of his elbow to his wrist, and read “Budweiser”. A similar tattoo on his other arm read, “King of Beers.”

Before prison he’d been making big money working in construction. But now no one would hire him. You see, Joey was now a convicted felon.

And a reprobate drunk.

Joey’s mother is an alcoholic who encouraged drinking in all of her children from an early age. And his love for his mother led him to take that encouragement to heart. He followed in her footsteps, worshiping the bottle with soul-selling reverence and veneration.

I hired him about a year after his son was born, to help with some construction work at my house. He was a good, hard, skillful worker, and a lot of fun to be around. But he was only reliable after noon.

One day he failed to show up for work. And for the next several days his absence continued. We worked on without him, and worried about what had become of our happy-go-lucky, jocular employee. We were accustomed to him showing up late, but he always showed up eventually.

Then I did some investigating and discovered he’d been picked up for drunk driving yet again.

He spent 16 more months in prison.

Joey got out a bit of a changed man. Not much changed, but a bit. He continued to hit the bottle, but he always had someone else do the driving.

To this day that has been his pattern. He still drinks, and drinks hard. But he always has a designated driver. He wants no more prison time.

My father-in-law befriended Joey. Every Sunday they play pool together. And he gives him little odd jobs to do, for nominal pay. And after Joey got his driver’s license back, he’s even loaned his pickup truck to him.

My father-in-law is very soft-hearted. Or perhaps you may be thinking that he’s soft-headed.

Joey borrowed the pickup truck about a month ago and didn’t return it for two weeks. So my father-in-law has finally decided he will not loan it out again. Or so he says. We’ll see how long that lasts.

We hired Joey again a few weeks back, to help out on a renovation job at my father-in-law’s house. Joey had borrowed several hundred dollars from my ailing mother-in-law just a few days before she died. Her mind had been going, toward the end, and she was vulnerable to moochers.

It wasn’t the money; we just wanted to think better of Joey. So we suggested that the debt would be forgiven if he would give us a day’s work. He gladly accepted this proposition.

And he threw himself completely into the job. His construction knowledge was indispensable, and his energy was that of two men. His work ethic was impeccable. Better than most people I’ve ever worked with, including myself.

He was even sober at 7:00 in the morning, when I picked him up.

Oh yes, that’s another thing. He said his car wasn’t running. So I had to drive over a half-hour to his house to pick him up, at the end of a long, bumpy dirt road in the middle of nowhere. His house, or actually his mother’s house, was surrounded by piles of junk, as well as about a dozen broken-down cars, and a destitute backhoe.

Also on the property was a perfectly good pickup truck that Joey couldn’t drive, because he never had enough money to pay the late-registration fees. All his spare cash went to the bottle.

But like I mentioned earlier, Joey was a good, hard worker. And warm, and fun, and similar to his name–a joy–to be around.

My wife prepared lunch for us, giving us a break in the middle of all the hard labor. I sat down to eat, but not Joey. Where was he? I waited politely for a few minutes, then finally dug in and ate without him.

I had almost finished scraping the bottom of my bowl when Joey came straggling in. “Where were you?” we queried.

“Oh Grandpa had a light out in his bedroom, so I was changing it.” he offered. Joey always called my father-in-law “Grandpa”, because he was the great-grandfather of his son.

The day finished and I drove him back to his mother’s ramshackle home. But he seemed less talkative and friendly than he’d been when I picked him up that morning. I wondered what I might have done to leave him feel offended.

The next day my father-in-law announced that he’d had about $40 worth of rolled coins in his bedroom, and they were now missing. Also, he was missing a hundred dollar bill that he kept in his checkbook.

We quickly recalled Joey’s mysterious disappearance at lunch time. My wife told her father that she thought Joey had stolen it, and that she didn’t trust Joey, and that she thinks Joey takes advantage of him. My father-in-law promised to ask Joey if he took it, and gave us an astonishing character endorsement by asserting that his friend would actually admit it if he was the culprit.

And he told my wife that he wasn’t concerned about being taken advantage of. He said that he never paid Joey fairly, so it all worked out. And he cautioned that life isn’t always about money.

A few days later he and Joey played pool together. That evening he returned from the felt-top games with reassuring news for us. He said he’d asked Joey if he had taken his money, and that he denied it.

He claimed he believed him.

I’m not sure I agree. But I do agree that life isn’t always about money. It’s a mix of trust, forgiveness, compassion, and so many other things that raise the human condition to a spiritual level of comfort and gratification. And so I’ve bitten my tongue and refrained from advising my father-in-law to end his friendship with Joey.

Instead I advised that he find different hiding spots for his money.

Nice Guys

operation_castle_-_romeo_001

(A fictional account. So far.)

He could have saved the world today. But he didn’t. He could have reached over and grabbed the hand of that officer sitting next to him, before he made the fatal move. But that’s not the kind of guy he was.

No, in fact he was just like that officer. A nice guy. He made no waves. He respected authority and did what he was told. He complied with the established order. He lived his life trying to be as normal and humdrum as possible, in his every thought and action.

He was very nice.

So when the order came down to launch the preemptive nuclear strike, and he saw that the officer sitting next to him was going to comply with that order, he froze. In his mind, just for a split-desperate-second, he grabbed the officer by the arm and wrestled him to the floor. And saved the world. And his family. And himself.

But he quickly rejected that thought and braced himself for inevitable annihilation. Because he was just too nice a guy to do anything else.

Just like all the other nice guys who responded to orders today without question, but instead with a “Yes sir” or “Yes ma’am”.

And that is how the world came to an end today. Not at the hands of bad guys.

But at the hands of nice guys.

Macaroni & Cheese

Guglielmo Macaroni, 1874-1937. I don't have any pictures of my macaroni and cheese dish, so you'll have to settle for a photo of the inventor of this dish. Guglielmo Macaroni was not just a chef, but also a scientist. He invented wireless radio transmission, which revolutionized the way we communicate.

Guglielmo Macaroni, 1874-1937. I don’t have any pictures of my macaroni and cheese dish, so you’ll have to settle for a photo of the inventor of this dish. Guglielmo Macaroni was not just a chef, but also a scientist. He invented wireless radio transmission, which revolutionized the way we communicate.

Dr. Victo Dolore, at the blog “Behind The White Coat” asked me to write a post on macaroni and cheese. I don’t like cooking-themed blogs, and tend to avoid them. Who wants to read a boring old recipe? Not me.

But I’ve learned that it’s always best to follow a doctor’s orders. So at the risk of turning this into a cooking blog, here is my recipe for macaroni and cheese. This recipe should feed a family of three gluttons for about two days:

Well, it’s actually three recipes in one. So let’s start with the first. First you have to make bechamel sauce (pronounced BAY-shum-el). Bechamel sauce is a standard sauce used in many different dishes, so this is a handy recipe to have.

BECHAMEL SAUCE

Step 1: Grab a large, white onion. Yank it out of your garden, steal it from a produce stand, or pilfer it at the grocery store. You need an onion.

Step 2: Reach into your pocket and dig out your pocketknife. Slice about a quarter of that onion out of the bulb, then toss the rest in the fridge for something you might make later. Such as hot dogs.

Step 3: Make an onion piquet. Piquet is French for puke. But never mind that. Just make an onion piquet. Don’t know how? Here’s how: Get into your spice rack and look for the cloves. Not the damned powdered cloves, but the whole ones. They look like little pins. Get just one little clove; you don’t need more. Then find a bay leaf. Those are the things that look like little leaves. Put the bay leaf over the onion, then stab it with the clove, so that the clove clings the bay leaf to the onion. This is brutal, violent stuff. Be careful not to poke yourself in the process.

Step 4: Throw the onion piquet into a heavy saucepan. Then pour in 36 ounces of milk. That’s 4.5 cups. Light a big fire under the saucepan, then wait. When that milk starts a’boilin’ turn the fire down until the milk is just a’simmerin’. A simmer is a kind of light boil. It’s when you see little bubbles coming up, but not great big bursting, roiling bubbles. Now simmer that damned onion piquet in the milk for a whole 20 minutes. Stir it a lot, because nothing sticks worse to the side of a pan than cooked milk.

Step 5: In a separate pot, make a white roux out of flour and butter. What the hell is a roux, you ask? Beats the shit out of me. I can’t speak French. Just follow this recipe: Slice off 2.2 ounces of butter from that cube in the fridge. And you do use real butter don’t you? You sure as hell better, or this won’t taste so good. Use an electronic food scale to measure out this butter. I don’t like using measuring cups much. Scales are a lot more precise. Toss the butter into a saucepan. Now weigh out 2.2 ounces of flour, and throw that into the saucepan. Light a medium-sized flame under the pan. Grab yourself a spoon, or fork, or some sort of stirring implement, and stir the crap out of this concoction, until the butter is melted and a thick paste has formed. Then take it off the flame before the white roux gets too hot and then turns into a blond roux or a brown roux. But if it does, don’t worry. It should still work out well.

Step 6: After 20 minutes, remove the onion piquet from the milk, and throw it in the slop bucket for the pigs. You’ll probably find that the damned clove has come loose, and the bay leaf is floating around in there. If you want, fish the clove and bay leaf out. Or just leave them in, and amuse yourself watching someone’s reaction when they find a leaf in their macaroni. And a loose clove looks a bit like a booger, and that can educe even more amusing reactions.

Step 7: Put a flame under the white roux you made in Step 5, then gradually add the hot milk to it, while stirring constantly with a whisk to avoid lumps. Nobody likes lumps in their macaroni. Bring this concoction up to a good boil. Then reduce to a simmer, and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir a lot because, you know, cooked milk just loves the sides of pans. Whilst it’s simmering, add salt, pepper, and nutmeg, to taste. “To taste” means just that. Imagine what the finished dish will taste like, as you’re sprinkling these ingredients into the milk. And make sure you have a conservative imagination, or you might overdo it and everyone will throw up at the dinner table.

Step 8: After 30 minutes of simmering, you’re done. Congratulations! You’ve just made bechamel sauce. But now it’s time to convert your bechamel sauce into a bechamel cheese sauce, with the following recipe:

BECHAMEL CHEESE SAUCE

Step 1: Add to the bechamel sauce, 2.2 ounces of grated cheddar or American cheese. Then add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and a teaspoon of dry mustard.

Step 2: You should have added these ingredients a few minutes before your bechamel sauce was completed. Surprise! I hope you read these instructions completely, first, before embarking on making this gourmet macaroni and cheese dish. So let’s say you did, and you wisely added the ingredients in a timely manner. The cheese should all be melted by now, and so by now you have yourself a fine batch of bechamel cheese sauce. Now let’s move on to the main recipe:

MACARONI AND CHEESE

Step 1: Do you like to make your own pasta? Then go find a book and learn how. I’m not teaching it here.

Step 2: Get down to the dry goods store and buy or steal yourself some already-made macaroni noodles. It comes dry, in a box or plastic bag. Check the ingredients out. If you want the best stuff, get the macaroni that’s made from semolina flour.

Step 3: This recipe calls for 16 ounces of dry macaroni. The rule, when it comes to boiling pasta, is to use one gallon of water for every pound of pasta. Therefore, find yourself a big enough pot to hold one gallon of water. Get that water up to a rolling boil. Toss some salt into the water. Pasta absorbs salt only when it’s being boiled, so that’s the time to salt it. Unless you have high blood pressure that’s caused by salt. Then don’t salt it. I don’t like much salt myself. Really, you can do without the salt. Now once the water is a’boilin’, grab a handful of macaroni and just toss it in. Make sure your handful contains exactly 16 ounces of this curly pasta. Use the scale.

Step 4: Boil the 16 ounces of macaroni until al dente, or tender. Al dente is a fancy Italian word that means slightly firm. How do you know it’s al dente, or tender? You have to fish around in the water with a spoon, and snag a boiling piece of macaroni on the fly. Then bite into it. That’s the only way to tell if pasta is done. You must bite it. However, it should only take about 7 or 8 minutes of boiling to make it nice and done and tender. Slightly less time for al dente.

Step 5: Strain the cooked macaroni through a china cap or colander. A china cap is a large conical contraption with holes in it, and it works just like a colander. It seems like a racist term that perpetuates a Chinese stereotype. But this term persists in the field of the culinary arts, where apparently, nobody gets out of the kitchen long enough to be enlightened by our modern world. After straining, run some cold tapwater over the noodles to cool them down. You have to cool them down or the damn stuff will just keep cooking, even when there’s no fire under it. Then pour the macaroni back into that big old pot you boiled it in.

Step 6: Throw the bechamel cheese sauce into the pot of cooked macaroni noodles and stir like hell for a while, until every noodle is coated with the sauce.

Step 7: Dump 16 ounces of grated Cheddar or American cheese into this mixture of sauce and noodles. By the way, you have been keeping yourself busy grating all this damned cheese, while the bechamel sauce was cooking, haven’t you? It’s a lot of grating. It will wear your arms out. You will feel exhausted by now. But you can’t rest. Because now you have to mix all this cheese into the macaroni. Use a great big spoon that you can wrap both forearms around, and stir by swaying your body in a large, swirling motion.

Step 8: Grab a big slice of that fattening, heart-attack-inducing, real butter you keep stored in the fridge, and use it to butter the bottom and sides of a large casserole pan. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Step 9: Pour the macaroni, sauce, and cheese mixture into the casserole pan. It should pour out in one or two big oozing glumps. Careful, don’t let any tumble over the pan and onto the floor, or you’ll have to scoop it up and put it into the pan with your bare hands, while no one is looking. Smooth out the top of the mac and cheese so that you have an even surface.

Step 10: Slice off some more of that life-ending butter and put it into a saucepan. Throw four ounces of bread crumbs after it, turn up the heat, and stir this around. By the way, you can get the bread crumbs in a can, at the store. DO NOT crumble up some fresh bread, and consider that to be bread crumbs. Okay, as the butter melts it will coat the bread crumbs. Stirring will keep clumps from forming.

Step 11: When the bread crumbs are thoroughly coated with all that delicious, deadly butter, turn off the heat, then spread the bread crumbs evenly over the top of the macaroni.

Step 12: Slam the macaroni into the oven and bake at 350 degrees, until hot. This should take about 30 minutes.

Step 13: Yank it out of the oven and serve. At long last, dinner is done! Bravissimo!

The Unfolded Truth

laundrypile

Aunt Carol grimaced at the monster. At all that unfolded, polychromatic laundry piled on her couch. Her stomach churned with worry. There was just so much, so much, to do, and not enough getting done. He’d feel so disappointed in her. Should she tackle the monster right now, or should she go grocery shopping?

Her husband, Harold, would be dragging his tired ass through the door after a hard day of work, in just about a half hour. He’d be hungry. So she needed to start dinner soon. Better go to the grocery store, was her snap decision.

But then she stopped and reconsidered. Her poor husband would be coming home to an empty house. He’d feel lonely, and that’s not cool. The kids were all involved in extracurricular activities at school.

Speaking of extracurricular activities, she wondered just exactly what Harold was up to these days. He seemed less attentive to her lately, no matter how hard she tried to please him. And he was spending more time at the bar. Would he? Could he? Did he dare?

No. Impossible. She refused to entertain the idea that this dashing, charming, charismatic husband of hers might be having an affair. He loved her too much. Or so he always said, with his syrupy, reassuring voice.

But for the past several weeks the suspicion kept nagging, like a cold, windy draft rattling at her heart. And it had been whispering tattletale innuendos in her brain. She kept hushing it, and shoving the worry away. But it kept returning, wuthering along with all its sad, chilly auguries.

An idea suddenly flashed in her head. An idea so bizarre, it stopped her in mid-stride as she headed for the front door with her car keys in hand. She changed course and settled down in the easy chair by the door, to mull it over for a minute.

She giggled. No, it was too damn crazy. Huh-uh. But then again, she had a reputation for doing off-the-wall things. No one would think much of it, coming from her. She could get away with it. So, hmmmm.

Uncle Harold arrived home to an empty house, looking worn out from a hard day at work. He noticed there was no car in the garage. And when he dragged himself through the door, he realized there was no dinner cooking. She must be grocery shopping, he surmised. His heart skipped a beat. Suddenly he didn’t look quite so tired.

He inspected the entire house, searching for any sign of his spouse or anyone else. And then he trotted over to the phone. He picked it up and dialed. With a gleeful chortle he said:

“Hey babe, watcha up to?!

“Oh really? That sounds sexy. I just wanted to tell you that I’m feeling pretty hot for you, right now.

“Nah, don’t worry, the bitch is out shopping.

“How ’bout this . . . after dinner I’ll tell her I’m tired and need to unwind and relax at the bar. But instead I’ll head over to your house.

“Nah, she never checks up on me at the bar. She hates bars.”

Some movement caught Harold’s eye. He glanced over at the couch and saw a monstrous pile of unfolded laundry begin to levitate.

What the hell?!

Blouses and bras and pants and undershorts, in all assorted colors, magically lifted up, up, up into the air, then dropped one-by-one down upon the floor in front of the couch. And as these multifarious articles of clothing returned to earth by force of gravity, a singular figure remained upright, by force of something much more powerful.

It was the figure of his wife, Carol, with a pink sock draped over her forehead.

“You son-of-a-bitch!” Carol growled through an umbrageous glare.

And that is how my Aunt Carol’s divorce began.

Burro Loop

I like to hike alone. I enjoy traipsing through the wilderness far from the nearest human heartbeat, other than my own. I’m misanthropic, I guess. But nothing seems to crowd the wilderness more than another human bean. If a human stands in the woods and no one sees him, will the woods be crowded? No. They won’t be crowded until the moment I become aware of the human’s presence.

Hiking clears my head. It opens my environment from the confines of my zoo cage I call a home, to the wide-open space of nature. My adaptable mind expands to accommodate this newly-found space. I become more reflective. My attitude waxes magnanimous. And I can feel wisdom growing within, faster than farm crops respond to a load of manure. Yes I really become full of it.

A December morning, 6:21 am. I embark upon a challenging journey. Burro Loop Trail. It’s six miles of moderately strenuous hiking, covering rocky hills and pediplains cut by arroyos, beneath a blazing, shadeless sun.

Burro Loop Trail takes hikers close to the town of Joshua Tree. That's Copper Mountain in the distance.

Burro Loop Trail takes hikers close to the town of Joshua Tree. That’s Copper Mountain in the distance, and to the right.

But the sun is not out yet. It’s 44 degrees, and I’m bundled in layers. I have a bad leg and two bum shoulders, and I’m not sure if it’s smart to be doing this. Search and Rescue may find my bones in a couple of months, but I must get out of the damn house.

6:50 am. I’m thinking about the old burro. Back in the 90’s, a wild burro found its way to our desert. Sightings were like Big-Foot anecdotes. People had stories, but no definitive proof. Except the tracks. The burro left all kinds of tracks and trails in an area about 25 square miles, in Joshua Tree National Park.

The main trail that the burro traveled followed a loop. And this main trail was eventually converted into an official trail by the park service. But without the signs, you’d hardly know it was there. It’s barely a trace in spots, with many faint side-trails that can get you lost for hours, if you accept their invitations. It’s very deceptive. That crafty burro sure knew how to confuse people.

Which goes to show, you must always be careful when dealing with a jackass.

This is a million dollar house ensconced in the rocks of Joshua Tree. It's called the "Artist's House". Many artists have made their home in this town, and have constructed unusual architectural specimens. But I doubt few artists could afford a home like this.

This is a million dollar house ensconced in the rocks of Joshua Tree, near Burro Loop Trail. It’s called the “Artist’s House”. Many artists have made their home in this town, and have constructed unusual architectural specimens. But I doubt few artists could afford a house like this.

7:20 am. The sun’s been up for a half-hour and I’ve already shed three of my layers. I stuff the last layer into my backpack, then remove a water bottle and take a drink. It goes down the wrong pipe. I cough and choke and hack until I fear I’m going to black out. There’s nobody near to whack my back or do the Heimlich, because I love so much to hike alone. So leave it to me to drown myself while hiking in the desert.

7:45 am. My near-death experience with the water has led my mind down a philosophical path. Or maybe it’s the play of silence and Joshua trees and jumbled rocky hills all around that affect my mind. Or perhaps it’s the aches and pains that are growing in my legs and back and shoulders, inducing delirium in my brain.

For some reason I feel happy on this hike, in spite of nearly drowning. Deliriously happy. My philosophical mind ponders happiness. It occurs to me that hikes don’t always make me this happy. Nor does drowning. Sometimes I’d much rather be napping at home, than struggling for survival afoot in these rugged lands.

I call this "Snowman Rock". I really like this sculpture. Maybe that's because I prefer the art of Mother Nature over that which our residential artists produce.

I call this “Snowman Rock”. I really like this sculpture. Maybe that’s because I prefer the art of Mother Nature over that which our residential artists produce.

I try to come up with a formula that will guarantee this level of happiness all of the time. It must be the delirium making me do this. But then I give up and conclude that no such formula can exist. We are at the mercy of happiness. We’re always seeking it, but we can never guarantee what kind we’ll find. Finding this kind of happiness can be as elusive as spotting that old burro. You never know which turn in the trail will bring you face-to-face with the braying bastard.

8:10 am. I give up philosophizing. People can exhaust themselves trying to know all about life. Life is too big to understand completely. I decide to just try to absorb the sights, sounds, smell and feel of this old desert.

I call this the "Alien Skull". Another fine sculpture by Ma Nature.

I call this the “Alien Skull”. Another fine sculpture by Ma Nature.

8:22 am. Where is that turnoff? I know the trail turns up canyon somewhere around here. My last time on this journey was many moons ago. I think I remember that I have to go past an old desert plum tree, before the trail curves upslope.

Did you know that you can prune a plum tree, but you can’t plumb a prune tree?

8:51 am. Ah finally, the fork in the trail I’ve been looking for. Now I can eat my breakfast.

It looks like a duck, but it doesn't walk like a duck. So it's not a duck. But I still call this "Duck Rock". This sculpture is not for sale, as Mother Nature is a not-for-profit artist.

It looks like a duck, but it doesn’t walk like a duck. So it’s not a duck. But I still call this “Duck Rock”. This sculpture is not for sale, as Mother Nature is a not-for-profit artist.

9:17 am. Plop, plop, plop. I limp my tired feet across the dusty ground. This is my contribution to the world. My footprints. They contribute to the maintenance of the trail by making it easier for those who follow me, to find their way. I hope they appreciate all my hard efforts.

10:18 am. I spot my car way off in the distance. Sure wish I could teleport over there. But no, I must keep footslogging. I haven’t looked left or right for the past hour, nor thought about much of anything. This is dangerous. Wild Indians could have attacked me. But I’m too fucking tired to look anywhere except straight down at the trail. Except for occasional, wistful glances into the distance for my beloved automobile.

10:37 am. My god, why did it take so long to reach my car?! It seemed like it was only five minutes away, 15 minutes ago. But now I’m here. At last my journey is complete. Burro Loop has once again been conquered by this intrepid old man.

Where is that pesky burro?

Where is that pesky burro?