Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bachelor Days With Daddy

My mother became pregnant again when I was a few months shy of four years old, if I've done my math right. I remember her telling me about it in the bedroom in our apartment on East 86th street. It was early evening--or maybe it was after dinner, but it was dark already because it had to have been winter--and I was on the left side of my parents' bed, my dad's side. It was his side because his right leg was decimated by polio, so when he got up in the morning, he could sit up and lead off out of bed with his left. He got around just fine in those days though, my dad. He had a pronounced limp, but he was young and dark-haired and handsome and could do chin-ups on the bar he'd installed in the bathroom doorway, and he was a great swimmer; he was even a lifeguard in college.

The only thing he couldn't do was run, which meant if you ran ahead of him, you'd be left with nothing to do but to wait for him to catch up to you with his slow, methodical walk. Oh, he could hustle a little bit in an emergency, but due to his gait, I was taught very early on not to run too far ahead, and to always, always, stop at the end of the curb and wait. I didn't always run ahead, either. Sometimes I liked to walk alongside him and limp with him in perfect tandem.

Sometimes he would whistle a tune to our beat on the street.

Dad would change out of his shirt and tie after he came home from work, and Mom would come into the bedroom to ask how the day went, and I would bounce in behind her. Mom had been in the same biz--the ad biz--as Dad. It was how they'd met and fallen in love and gotten married, as a matter of fact. Though once they'd gotten married and she'd gotten pregnant with me in short order she'd "retired" to a more domestic life. She'd lived the hot shot life for a few years, as not too many women did at that time, but she was no glass ceiling-breaker, my mother.

She smoked her way through her pregnancy with me. I have the photographs to prove it. Who knew better in those days? Then she quit.

But there was news this night. Mom had something to tell me. Dad changed his shirt on the other side of the bedroom. He usually went with the white short-sleeved undershirts with a "V" neck in those days (he switched to sleeveless in later years.) I don't remember the words she used. I just remember that one minute I was lolling around on their bed, glad to have Daddy home and wondering what Mom had on the stove for dinner and hoping it would be on the table soon. I was enjoying my household role as center of the universe, when all of a sudden I learned...

...I wasn't going to be that anymore.

Not that this was news I couldn't take. I was a pretty level-headed kid. These things happened, after all. New babies. Siblings.

"When?" I suppose I asked, though I don't really remember. But I think that's the first thing most anyone of any age asks when you tell them you are pregnant. "In a few months," Mom must have said. "In the spring, around the end of April," she could have said.

I do remember her asking her what is was going to be, a boy or a girl, which was a question no one had an answer to back in those days. So Mom answered with a question, which she must have thought was the next best thing, "Well, what do you hope for?"

I gave this some thought, as if what I hoped for might actually come to be.

"A big brother."

Mom and Dad certainly must have exchanged a furtive glance after that response.

"Well, honey, that's not possible," they said after some hemming and some hawing.

"Well, why not??"

The birds and the bees, if you have not by now figured it out, had clearly not been presented to me at this stage of my life. That came along later, and in the form of a book Mom gave me, and way after I had it more or less figured out anyway through secretive, giggling conversations with peers, and through my parents' copy of Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex that I used to sneak off the bookshelf and page through when they weren't paying attention. It was a lot better book than the one Mom gave me.

"So, why can't I have a big brother?" I wanted to know.

Well, because I just couldn't, was the best answer I got at the time, and when I asked if perhaps I could have a baby brother, then, I was told that the chances of that were much, much better.

And so we waited. And Mom got bigger and bigger, as pregnant ladies do, though she dressed really well, and still looked very, very pretty.

When it "was time," they called my babysitter, Merchie, who was an older lady in the neighborhood. I don't know where they came to know Merchie, but she was very nice, and she wore her steel gray hair in a big bun smack on the top of her head. She'd sit on the couch and play whatever board game I would bring out to torment her with, and she'd always let me stay up a little later--but not too much later--than my parents directed.

And sometime the next day I woke up, and Dad was home, and Merchie was gone, and Dad told me I had...

...a baby sister.

Which was the polar opposite of the big brother I had asked for, and had still secretly hoped for, even though I had been told that wasn't going to happen. You just never knew....if you hoped hard enough....God, or Mom and Dad, or whoever was in charge of these things....

Nor was it the baby brother that in my more rational and realistic moments I knew it was more reasonable to hope for.

"So where's Mommy?" I wanted to know. I needed Mommy home. Needed to have a couple of words with her about this baby sister thing. And just needed her.

"Mommy will be home in a few days," Daddy said. Back in the day, moms of newborns were allowed to languish and luxuriate in the hospital for three or four days, not for the twenty-four to forty-eight hours insurance lets you stay now (if you're lucky) before they kick you and the baby out the revolving front door.

"A few days??" I asked. "Well...what will we eat?" I was little, but I had come to like and expect at least a couple of square meals a day, and I had never in my life seen Dad put together anything that required preparation more complex than pouring a bag of pork rinds into a big bowl or spooning Haagen-Daaz chocolate ice cream straight out of the container and into his mouth.

"We'll eat just fine, don't you worry, ha ha ha," he said. He found time to visit the hospital every day, to visit Mom and the mystery sister, and I spent a couple of hours each day with a neighbor or with the indefatigable Merchie. But most of the time, it was me and Dad. Dad had quite the talent, kept secret until then, of frying up Spam and serving it with a side of B&M baked beans. Who knew? And it was good! And Vienna sausages aren't bad either, if you don't worry too much over those little white bits floating in the juice in the can.

"Can I have chocolate milk on my Rice Krispies?"

"Why not??"

And it was a nice few days and a nice few nights. Dad and I ate our bachelor meals and he let me stay up a little later--though not too much later--than Mom would have wanted.

"We're picking up Mom and Kris at the hospital tomorrow," Dad said the last evening. "We are?" I asked. "Me too?"

"Yes, indeed," Dad said. "You're going, and I'm going, and June Hayward is going."

June Hayward?

When did June Hayward enter the picture? June Hayward was a friend of Mom's, and our families were friends in the way that families are when the moms are friends. That is to say, not really. June Hayward was a nice-enough lady--and a minor soap opera actress, so she was kind of glamorous--but why was June Hayward going?

"June Hayward is coming with us," Dad explained, "because children are not allowed upstairs into the hospital, so she will stay with you in the hospital lobby while I go up to collect your mother and Kris."

I can't go up.


I can't go up with Daddy to see Mommy for the first time in four or five days to meet the new baby for the first time? I have to stay in the lobby with June Hayward, who is nice enough and pretty enough and will tell me funny stories while we wait, but who is really nobody much to me? I don't get to have the big family moment up in the room up there with Mommy and Daddy and Kris?

No. Hospital regulations.

So I marked the end of my bachelor days with Daddy and climbed in the yellow cab. He directed the driver to June Hayward's building and we picked her up and drove to the hospital and it all went as he had said. June Hayward and I sat down in the lobby and I watched his back as he went in the elevator and the doors shut behind him and in what seemed like a long, long time--the doors of the elevator opening dozens of times spilling out people I didn't know and had no interest in--they finally came out. Daddy again, along with a beaming Mommy in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse in a starched white uniform. Mommy held a bundle, wrapped in the pink-and-blue striped hospital blankets.


I don't remember Mom or Dad introducing us, saying unnecessarily, "Meet your new sister," or "This is Kris." They knew I knew who she was.

She had really big eyes. Blue. Bigger than mine. I knew, because I had dragged out the photo album when no one was looking and had a look at my newborn picture. Mine were squinty, and I had fuzzy black hair. Kris' head was crowned in a golden-blonde swirl of fine hair. It wouldn't last long, that feathery baby hair. That kind of baby hair falls out, and then it grows back into whatever it is going to be, which can be something totally different. But I didn't know that. All I knew at that time, at that moment, was that I was no longer the queen of the universe, and had been usurped by a beautiful tiny baby who looked like an angel.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Donnie's Place

It was a neat looking little place, the hairdresser's that opened up around the corner from me. It had a slightly contrived shabby chic look with its gilt-edged moldings, its curly-cue framed mirrors and its hammered copper ceiling. I could see it all as I passed by the big plate glass window that fronted the store. I didn't have a regular hairdresser at that point. I wasn't working at the time. I was recently married so I wasn't 'looking,' wasn't dating. And I had just had a baby. Keeping my hair up wasn't high on my list.

I kept passing this neat-looking little place. And I needed a haircut. But it looked like it might be a little expensive for me. Though I didn't have too much experience in these matters, at least I hadn't for a while, not since I had frequented "Leon's Beauty School" in Greensboro, North Carolina along with many of my other college classmates who wanted to get the poodle perms and stretch a buck at the same time. Except for the occasional chemical burn that might happen, Leon's wasn't too bad. But I was five hundred miles and almost as many years away from Leon's.

And I needed a haircut.

So I stopped in, finally. They were friendly there. And it wasn't overly fancy, really. I made an appointment. I didn't ask the price for a haircut. I figured I could get a haircut there once, and if I liked it and if it wasn't too expensive, then maybe I'd go back. And if I liked it and it was too expensive...well, maybe I'd go back anyway. And if I didn't like it....well, you get it.

Donnie was the owner. Donnie was tall and sort of good looking. He had nice hair, that's for sure. Blond and wavy. Donnie was gregarious in that way that serves people in the service industry very well, especially service industries that cater to women. Women like to be fussed over. Donnie had worked at another local place and partnered up with another gal there, Mary Anne, to open this place. It was luck of the draw, really, that when I made my first appointment, I got Donnie. I hadn't asked for anyone in particular.

And so it went for years. Through short cuts and shoulder length cuts and cuts with bangs, cuts without, but only one perm. Donnie wanted so badly to give me a perm. But I considered myself done with perms. "Your hair is so straight in the front and so curly in the back, you don't see that too often. I could make it so perfect." Yeah, right." But it seemed important to Donnie, so I finally let him give me one. It's no small deal, a perm. It takes hours. There are a lot of rollers involved, and you'd be surprised how heavy all those little rollers can be when they are on your wet head all at the same time. There's two or three sessions of waiting, then rinsing....oh, it eats up an afternoon, to be sure.

The perm came out all right. It wasn't too curly. Donnie had promised the technology was better and that it wouldn't be too curly and he was good to his word. “I don't want one of my eighties poodle perms,” I had warned. No, he did a good job. It was nice, lightly wavy, and perfect for the extended trip that Peter and Everett and I took to England. I was tied to my blow-dryer at the time, as many of us in the eighties were, so it was nice to not have to worry about that as we alternate-current folk travelled around in the land of direct.

And no chemical burn!

Everett was introduced to the high-fashion haircut one record-breaking wintry day. The snow had come down so hard and so long that it had closed the schools and even stopped the US Postal Service--that “Neither rain nor snow” motto be damned. We were home and I was heavily pregnant with Zack when little four-year-old Everett toddled into my bedroom, Barbie in one hand and scissors in the the other....

“Look Mommy, I cut our hair!” “Our,” meaning Barbie and herself. I barely gave Barbie a passing glance as I saw the strip-mining haircut Everett had given herself. That Everett, normally a smart girl, was actually proud of. No semblance of symmetry. No semblance of a style that anyone who had an IQ of over 85 or had ever passed a Rorschach test or had ever looked in a mirror for that matter, would come in and exult over. Just a disaster.

I called Donnie. I didn't really think in all the weather that anyone would answer, but he did. I told him the story and told him I had to bring her down right away. “OK,” he said. “We're just leaving for the day, I was crazy to even come in, but bring her in tomorrow, and I'll fix her right up.”

“Noooo,” I wailed, hormonal lunatic that I was. “I have to bring her over now, Donnie. Oh please. Pleeease!” Donnie consented, bless his heart. I hustled over there in the blizzard, in the knee-deep snow with little Everett, and Donnie sat her down, crossed his arms, pressed the scissors to his lips and thought about what to do. I hovered and fussed, but he chased me away and went to work. When the dust settled and little blonde hair snippets did too, there was Everett. Sporting the coolest Louise Brooks nineteen twenties flapper-do you ever saw. It wasn't like anything else you ever saw on a four year old girl. And while four year old girls like to conform and aren't know for pushing the fashion envelope, Everett looked in the mirror. Turned her head to the right and then to the left.

And proclaimed it a success.

Everett was a tough customer, even as a four year old. But Donnie understood her.

After a couple of years, Donnie and Mary Ann moved the business around the corner and down the block. To a bigger place on the more well-traveled main street running through the neighborhood. There were more chairs in the new place and more curly-cue framed mirrors. It took more stylists and more staff to keep the place running. I missed the old place just a little, but moved upward and onward to the new place and was happy to see Donnie and Mary Ann's business to do well and grow.

Donnie liked to talk. He'd stop occasionally while cutting my hair (“You're hair is so thick,” he'd sometimes complain. “I'm going to be here all day!”) He'd stop to talk to someone who dropped in, or go out to talk to someone who walked by, and he had a business to run, so occasionally he'd talk to someone on the phone who might be giving a hard time to the girl at the desk. He also liked to talk about his past. How he used to ice skate and play hockey. How he was a big rock fan back in the sixties and seventies and used to get in the back door at all sorts of the Beacon, at the Fillmore East, at Carnegie Hall back when they had rock promising free haircuts to the bouncers. He'd lived sort of an exciting-sounding life, full of ups and downs and some hard-livin', yet he also proudly displayed his daughter's photograph and bitched mildly now and then about his ex-wife.

He was a big baseball fan too, Donnie, and what a shock it was to hear one summer day when I walked in to make an appointment that Donnie had had a heart attack at the Hall of Fame game up at Cooperstown.

“Jesus,” I said to Grace, who I asked to cut my hair in the interim. “Is he OK?”

“He's OK. He'll be back in a month or so,” said Grace. “I'll convey your wishes.”

Everett asked me, when I told her about it, “Heart attack? Why? Did his team lose?” Donnie laughed heartily at this when I told him upon his return while he gave me what had to have been the second-worst haircut I had ever received in my life, second only to a cut I got down in Greenwich Village several years before from which I travelled home on the "1" train, crying at my reflection in the subway window because I looked like nothing so much as the prom queen of 1965, or perhaps, Marlo Thomas on "That Girl."

But Donnie had just gotten back, and was obviously a little off his game, so I said nothing and dealt with it and went back the next time (maybe a little sooner than usual) and got my cut again, and all was fine.

And we carried on for a while.

One afternoon, as I sat in my chair for my cut, the chair closest to the front, closest to the reception desk and to the entrance so Donnie could keep an eye on everything, a little old lady wandered through the door. Donnie prided himself on having a business that catered to everyone. His place wasn't known as a "hip" place, a "kid's place," an "old lady" place. Just a good place.

"Excuse me," Donnie said to me as the little old lady came in. He laid down his scissors and went over to her as she stopped at the front desk and looked around. I watched in the mirror in front of me, not having to turn my head. She looked addled, but then relieved when she saw Donnie approach and lean down and talk to her gently. He spoke to her for a few moments, then led her to the couch and said a little something else, and gave her a magazine. Then he went to the front desk, looked up a number, dialed, and had a brief conversation. Then he came back to me and my damp, half-cut hair.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"It's OK," I replied.

It was a customer of his who lived across the street and had Alzheimer's Disease. "It's just her and her husband," Donnie said. "He's too old to manage it. He does the best he can, but sometimes she slips out. But when she does, she always comes straight across here, thank goodness. She likes it here. I sit her down and call her husband, and he comes over to get her."

Sure enough, a couple of minutes later an elderly gentleman loped in, full of relief and full of thanks to Donnie for calling him over. He gathered up his wife, who pulled back on his arm and paused to look at herself in the mirror, turning her head to the right and then to the left as if she were assessing a new hairdo, nodded approvingly, and they walked out the door.

"It's amazing," Donnie commented after they had gone.

"What?" I asked.

"That impulse. Poor Mildred doesn't know where she is three quarters of the time, but when she's here, she knows she's in a salon, she knows me, and she knows to check her hair. I'm sure that's the last instinct that will leave her, or most women for that matter."

He was probably right, I thought, and I marvelled at his insight at the same time that I hoped I'd have some place like Donnie's place to wander to in the future when I completely lost my marbles.

Donnie used to tease Everett mercilessly, which was OK with me, since someone had to do it, as far as I was concerned. "I used to have a friend named Everett. Everett Pickett," he said once. "Everett Pickett?" I asked. "Why, 'Pickett' was my good ol' southern grandma's maiden name. Maybe they're related!" Since we were not genealogists, we never pursued it, but that didn't stop Donnie from yelling, "Everett! Everett Pickett!" loudly and over and over, every time she graced him with her presence. She'd glower, and he'd be delighted, and shout it even more. But it didn't bother me, her mother, as one would think it might have, because I meant what I said.

Someone had to do it.

But Everett took a shine to Grace, who was always there, the nice little Italian gal who cut my hair when Ronnie was out. Grace could take a while to complete a haircut as well, not because she had business matters to attend to or phone calls to take, but because she was Italian, and accompanied her storytelling with lots of hand-waving and gesturing.

Grace doted all over Everett when she came in and would stand back anxiously as Everett assessed her haircut, turning her head to the right and then to the left, before nodding her approval.

Everett didn't even remember by then that Donnie was the first one to give her that Louise Brooks "do."

Grace started cutting my hair again soon after that.

Donnie had had emphysema for years, and had struggled with the other ills that cropped up along the way, ills that he obliquely alluded to. The heart, of course. But mainly liver problems. “Oh I deal with them, you know,” he'd say somewhat ambiguously. “I have a great liver guy down at Columbia.” I was happy to know that, and never pressed for more, it was none of my business, even though it was always Donnie who brought up the subject. I was always just comforted to know he had a “great guy” who was "taking care of things."

But then he was out again. And I had Grace cut my hair once, and then twice, and then again. I'd ask about Donnie, and get a different answer every time.

“He's doing good. He's home from the hospital, resting. He's hoping to be back soon.”

“He had a little setback, he's back in the hospital, but not for long, we hope.”

“He's home again, but he's not sure when he'll be back at work. May be a while yet.”

I didn't like to pry and I stopped inquiring at all until I walked in on an impulse one afternoon to ask Grace how he was doing.

And she just shook her head sadly.

And then it was in the obituaries of the local paper, a couple of weeks later. Accompanied by a big photograph. Our local paper is a publication of some note, a Pulitzer-prizewinning paper. It carries obituaries of all locals, big and small, but rarely with a photo and rarely with a write up as long as Donnie's.

We had just come back from Cape Cod when I picked up the issue from the week before and read it. Seeing Donnie's face when I was just lightly perusing the paper to catch up on the news was a shock, in the ways those things are even when they shouldn't be. Poor Donnie.

It was a nice write-up.

And a good photo. He would have liked it.

And I stayed on. Many more years, it has been, and Grace has done yeoman's work with my straight-in-the-front, curly-in-the-back, too-thick head of hair.

Grace helped me through my alarming, sudden, yet temporary, alopecia—that's “hair loss” to you folks who have never had it happen to you and have never turned to Google and WebMD in a panic to do your research—she gave me just the right cut to cover those bare spots along the left side of my head. That thick hair Donnie had complained about stood me in good stead during that period, and I would have reminded him of that with glee if he had been alive to fix it for me.

Grace did Everett's hair for her prom, and was as anxious about getting it right as she was when she first shored up her flapper bob so many years before. Everett looked at her updo, turning her head to the left and then to the right, nodded her approval, then headed off in the limo with her prom king for the night of her life.

Everett is off at college now, so the high hair drama is over. I still get my cuts from Grace. I was getting color and even highlights too for a while. I was looking sharp and thought about how Donnie would have enjoyed my foray into the next chapter of my hair-styled life, for the love of it...and yes, for the income it generated....but mainly for the love of it. I did eventually have to give up the highlights as well as the color. Some things can be done at home. Maybe not quite as well, but nearly as well, and we have tuition to pay.

Then Zack stopped me the other day when I came in late from work. I was lucky that he was trying to redeem himself from some missed homework fallout from the day before, or he might not have bothered to remember at all, but he did, that Grace had called me. From her new place.
New place? Grace left Donnie's place?

Hairdressers do sometimes, for sure, and when they do, they take their client's phone numbers with them, so that can call them and let them know where they are. If you pay attention to these things, you can also see signs in salon windows, “So-and So (previously of 'Pretty Perfect) is now at 'Hair Affair!'” Clients are loyal, and will follow a stylist, especially if they find someone who can cut their hair well.

Especially if you have straight-in-the-front, curly-in-the-back, too thick hair.

So, I need a haircut. I'm visiting some old friends soon. I need to look good. These things don't get any easier as you get older. You gotta stick with what works, even if what works...changes.


I think Donnie would understand.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

WHAT's for Dinner??

I decided I wanted to try rabbit.

"If you're going to cook rabbit," said safety agent Seabrook, "then you should really make a stew. That's the best way to cook rabbit. But don't bring in any for me, please."

"Have you ever had rabbit?" I took an informal poll of my co-workers, and came up empty.

I put it out there on Facebook and got a comment from an old southern friend and we had a back-and-forth about rabbit and brunswick stew and how if your drunk uncles made it in the big vat in the backyard then it probably had rabbit in it, and maybe even squirrel. "My father told me that my grandmother used to say eating squirrel was low-rent," I wrote, and he agreed.

My friend Kate's husband Bubb hunts and cooks squirrel. He said the best way to make it is into burgers. "Yeah, yum, squirrel burgers," said their teenaged son Ethan when he overheard the conversation. "But it does take a lot of squirrels," specified Bubb, "and squirrel meat can be kind of tough, so after you skin them, it's better to boil them a little bit first, so you can pull the meat right off the bones. The you can ground 'em up, put in a little filler, throw 'em on the grill...don't let anybody tell ya that ain't good eatin'."

After I recovered from the visual image of ten to fifteen hairless squirrels boiling together in a big pot I turned to Kate. "Are you going to tell me that's 'good eatin'?"

She shrugged. "I tried it once. I didn't die."

I don't think that's for me. Squirrel is just a little too extreme. I mean, c'mon, that's a rodent. Though, of course, it's all in your point of view. Bubb would probably say eating sashimi was "extreme," and if he did, he'd be no less right than I am.

But for some reason, I got it in my head I wanted to try rabbit. Let me cut to the chase and tell you that I haven't done it yet. I got as far as picking up a shrink-wrapped package of it at the local Stew Leonard's. It was placed kind of close to the chicken,though they didn't place it in the most obvious, easy-to-find spot, near the boneless breasts or the wings. It was sort of up and off to the side with the less popular items--the chicken hearts, gizzards, chicken feet for making soup. I once went with an old southern (why is it always southern?) roommate to visit her widowed country dad, and was met with a big pot boiling on the stove with eight or ten chicken feet, claws and all, sticking out of the top. Which was, by the way, hours later when it was finally done, some of the best soup I'd ever had.

I saw the chicken feet and allowed myself a minute or so's reverie and then snapped back to the task at hand. Rabbit. I looked at the package in my hand. It looked as innocuous as the chicken. It was cut into quarters. If I gave in to my imagination just a little bit, I could have almost been holding a package of chicken. And they say rabbit tastes like chicken. I know, I know...they say everything "tastes like chicken," but I googled this on several websites, and had become convinced that in the case of rabbit, it was actually true.

I pondered on the rabbit. Though I am a very courteous shopper, I made extra certain to move my shopping cart well out of the way of the flow of traffic--and if you have ever been to a Stew's you know that 'flow of traffic' is what it's all about--because I knew I was going to take a while. I wasn't going to be able to toss the prepackaged rabbit into my cart like a thigh/drumstick combo or a pound of ground round.

It didn't look like "a rabbit." It didn't look like anything more than any other chopped apart and processed type of meat did in that big long meat department. It looked no more like a rabbit than a pork chop looked like a pig. It looked less like a rabbit than a whole chicken looked like a...well...chicken. It looked like something you were supposed to pick up and marinate or stew or grill or do whatever you wanted to do to it for dinner that night. Case closed.

And as it turned out, I wasn't able to toss it in my cart at all that day.

Oh well, next time. I don't give up that easily. "And you know what?" I consoled myself. "Everett was the only one who said she'd be willing to eat rabbit with me, so I may as well just wait until she's home again, that makes the most sense." Everettwill be brave with me.

I find it interesting that while I've had a bit of a hurdle with turning our furry rabbit friend into an evening meal, I had no trouble sampling alligator.

Yep, alligator. At the New York State Fair a few years ago. I put Zack in the car and took the drive up to Syracuse, a good four hours away, for a two night stay. He must have been nine or ten. He wasn't as impressed as I was with the giant butter statue, nor was he intrigued by the dental exhibit with the giant tooth and the giant toothbrush you could actually pick up and brush it with. The cooking demonstration with the miracle non-stick pots held his attention less than a nano-second, and I could not arouse any enthusiasm from him to see Sha-Na-Na that first evening.

Day two was going about as well, and Zack really started to rumble as I steered him toward an exhibit of prize-winning quilts. But after the quilts, we bypassed the watermelon judging and went into one of the halls...the "New York State Agriculture" Hall, or maybe it was the Hall of "Stuff You Almost Never See Outside of a State Fair." We might have been back with the butter statue.

"Look, Mom! Alligator!"

Not an alligator. Fried Alligator. You could get a plate with coleslaw and french fries for $5.99, or if you just wanted to sample an "Alligator McNugget" it was only a dollar. Actually, they didn't call it an Alligator McNugget...could you imagine the lawsuits if they had??

"I wonder what it tastes like," said Zack.

"Do you want to try a piece?" I asked him.

"Nooo, no," he said. Zack has never been mister adventurous. If you give him a bowl of jello any other color than red, he starts to get shaky.

"Oh, c'mon, Zack. You'll never know if you like something until you try..." It was pointless, really. Zack had always had Peter's genes as far as eating went. "You're so hard to cook for," I'd used to complain to Peter. "No, I'm actually easy to cook for," he would always respond. "I like four or five things? How easy is that?" I guess when I said "hard," I actually meant "boring."

"No, try it." Zack said.

"If I try it, will you try it?" We moms never pass up a chance to teach a little self-righteous lesson.

"No," said Zack. Ya gotta give the kid points for honesty.

But by now I was intrigued and figured it could still be a lesson, if only a successful lesson when looked back upon sometime in the future. You never know. We moms take what we can get. "Well, OK," I said. "I want to try it anyway. I think it looks interesting. I think it looks delicious!"

Well, OK, I was about to eat a reptile. "I've had some sort of reptile before, haven't I?" I wondered as I approached the not-too-long line at the alligator stand. "I must have. I'm forgetting something really obvious. Have I had frog legs? No. Fish aren't reptiles, are they? No, of course not." I was getting a little ditzy with the anticipation now. The anticipation of eating my first-ever piece of reptile.

Reptile. Yig.

I handed over my dollar and was given an unceremonious little paper plate atop which sat a brown crunchy nugget with a toothpick stuck in it. The toothpick didn't even have that cute little colored cellophane decoration on the end.

Do they skin alligators, or does this nugget have that black scaly rubbery surface that alligators have? Are there alligator fillets? Alligator steaks? Alligator burgers? Perhaps I have to educate myself a bit more before I go tearing into this nugget....

"Eat it Mom! Eat it!"

I looked at Zack as I held the end of the unadorned toothpick with the overcooked nugget on the end. He was having the best time he'd had since we'd gotten up there.

So I played it up for him. I scrunched up my face, took it to my nose back and forth a couple of times, closed my eyes....wait, was I playing it up for Zack, or was I going to do this?

I popped it in my mouth.

I crunched down. It was very crunchy. In all honesty, there didn't seem to be much meat inside, just a little. ("Is it meat? Is it black rubbery skin? Don't think about it, don't think about it.") It was very greasy. Very greasy. Of course, we were at a state fair, where grease is a major food group; fried dough, fried sausages, deep-fried Snicker Bars. I had stayed for five days at the New York State fair as a teenager with the 4-H organization, had eaten all that fair food, and it had taken weeks for my digestion to get back to normal. But the alligator...was it greasy because alligator was greasy, or was it greasy because the state fair was greasy? Whatever, it was too late to worry about it now.

I chewed, I swallowed. I made an appropriate face and made Zack laugh and made his whole trip worthwhile.

And all told, it tasted a bit like chicken.

I tried it once, and I didn't die.

Maybe Zack will one day try something once and not die.

Hey, maybe it will be rabbit.

Monday, January 4, 2010



Ohmigod, get it away from me. Get it away!

I can do lizards. I can even do spiders. But I don't do mice. Or bats. Which are basically just flying mice, anyway.

Our family moved to P'son, into a big ol' farmhouse with a big ol' attic when I was ten. And you know what live up in big ol' attics? Well, you know what I'm going to say.

Yes. Big ol' bats.

Our cat Emmett used to love running into bats when she'd sneak up there. You could hear the rumpus above, and I'd have to run into my room and put my pillow over my head. Emmett was an awesome hunter too; she'd always win. Then Dad would have to go up and deal with a dead bat.

I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that we had bats flapping around everywhere. It wasn't exactly the Munster household. Only occasionally, really, would one make its presence known. Sometimes one would even get down from the attic and into the main part of the house. When that happened I would "remove myself from the premises" until Mom shouted across the yard to let me know the coast was clear.

Fast forward years and years and years. Mom is gone, Dad lives in the city near us. Zack, who was about four, and I got a jump on going to P'son for the weekend on Friday evening, Everett and Peter were going to follow along a little later. It was blazing hot, even after the sun set. We stumbled our way down the yard in the dark, carrying our old, fat, deaf cat, Albert. Albert was as sweet as he could be, though he didn't move very fast or think things through very thoroughly.

I fumbled at the back door with my key, and we stepped inside the kitchen. I turned on the light, set down the cat carrier and opened it. I always let Albert take his time and climb out whenever he felt like it. He never seemed to be in any hurry.

My next move would always be to continue through the kitchen to the living room to turn on the light in there. But then it came at me, through the door from that still-dark room.


Amazingly, my shrieks didn't phase Zack. Amazingly, my grabbing him and picking him up and running the other direction into the bathroom which was on the opposite side of the kitchen and slamming the door behind us didn't phase him either.

Albert! I couldn't leave poor old Albert out there by himself, not with the bat! I was going to have to make a run to rescue him! I opened the door a tiny crack and peered out. No sign of the bat. Oh look, Albert had gotten out of his carrier and was sitting placidly in the middle of the kitchen, probably pondering over his next move. I could get him. It would only take a couple of seconds if I ran really fast. OK. OK. Here we go. One...Two...Three! I bounded over toward Albert and the bat once again came flutteringly out of hiding and straight at me.

Sorry Albert. Every man to himself, I'm afraid.

I turned on one foot and sped back to the bathroom with Ian.

It was actually a bathroom-slash-pantry-slash-utility room. We could stay in here for days if we really needed to, I reasoned. There was running water, and more than enough food, except no can opener, but hey, there's peanut butter, and oh, look! A bottle of vodka! And the washer and dryer, too. Yes indeed, Zack and I would be just fine.

Zack snapped me out of my reverie with the annoyingly down-to-earth query,

"How long are we going to stay in here, Mommy?"

"Oh, not for too long. But we'll have to stay in here until Daddy and Everett get here. Daddy will take care of the bat."

I couldn't call Peter to warn him or to ask him to hurry up because my cell phone was in my pocketbook all the way across the kitchen on the table, and there was just no darn way....

"Hello? Hello? J? Are you in the bathroom?" It was Peter and Everett. Oh my goodness, Zack and I had fallen fast asleep on the floor of the little room! Talk about disorienting. "Yes! Yes! I'm in here with Zack. There's a bat out there! Be careful! Send Everett in here!"

"How long have you been in there?" Paeter asked as he opened the door to see me sitting up by now, and Zack just stirring. "Well...uh...what time is it?" I asked. Oh, we'd only been in there about an hour. "Hey!" I shouted as I awakened more fully. "Close the door! The bat's still out there somewhere! You should have seen him attack me! And poor Albert! I tried to rescue him, but I couldn't!"

"I have never heard anything more ridiculous in my life." Peter said. "You grew up here, for goodness' sake. I can't believe you're carrying on like this," he continued as he walked and looked around the kitchen and proceeded to the living room. He came back. "OK, you have to come see this."

"No, no, no. That's OK. I'll stay in here."

"Just come look." I followed cautiously. Peter was not beyond a sick practical joke. But I followed him into the living room, instructing the kids to stay back. There was old Albert, in the middle of the rug, dozing comfortably.

With a dead bat next to him.

"How did that happen?" we wondered aloud. Albert opened his eyes and gazed at us in that thick-headed, loving way he had, and gave up nothing. There was no way Albert killed that bat. Wait..."It is dead, right?"

"Nawww. He's sleeping," Peter snarked. He picked up the dead bat (ew) and took it outside to toss it out into the woods, and have a cigarette while he was out there. With the danger clearly past, I invited Everett and Zack into the room and turned on the TV and the three of us spread out.


Ohmigod. It was another bat! Or maybe it was the same bat, and the dead bat had been there before and I just hadn't seen it because after all, I and I hadn't made it as far as the living room and....

Bat! Flapping all around the living room, wherever it came from.

Everett shrieked like a normal kid and I called them over to the couch, where I had already pulled a giant fuzzy blanket over the top of me. There was room for the three of us, so we huddled there and waited for Peter to come back inside. And waited. And waited.

Peter had a way of taking his time. It was the weekend, it was hot, he was having his cigarette and probably sitting by the stream enjoying the quiet. It could be a while until he came back in, and was. The kids and I were under that fuzzy blanket for at least a half an hour, with me periodically peeking out seeing the bat, shrieking, making the kids shriek, and diving back underneath. When he returned to three quivering, various-sized lumps under the blanket, he couldn't stop laughing. "There is another bat, God damn it, and it isn't funny, and you have to do something about it, because I am about to have a nervous breakdown!"

"And hurry!" demanded Everett.

Peter opened a window and managed to shoo that one out with a minimum of fuss. "Well, thank you," I said, and really meant it. "And thank you also for being an asshole and laughing at me," which I really meant too.

I'd had enough excitement for the evening. I poured a glass of wine and went upstairs to spend a little quality time on eBay. Ooohhh...look at that price on Victoria's Secret yoga pants! I love those! How much should I bid? Hmmmm.

Somebody "up there" had it in for me that evening, I'm convinced. As I checked the time remaining in the auction and deciding just how much to bid so I could still feel I got a bargain, because everyone loves a bargain....


And not just flittering in randomly. No. This m****r f****r swept right between my face and the glowing computer screen.


I ran from the room. I doubled back and grabbed my glass of wine. I was going to need it. I ran to my childhood bedroom, which was no longer the bedroom I used in P'son as an adult, but was the bedroom I used to flee to when the bats woke up and I had to hide my head under my pillow. It still had some of my old books in there. I had my wine. I'd be OK. It was my last stop for the evening. Peter had heard my ruckus and had come up and dispatched the bat somehow. I didn't know, I didn't care. I didn't come out until morning. You all carry on out there. Mommy's done.

I've been to some great zoos in the world. I've been to the National Zoological Park in Washington DC, and I've been to the London Zoo. I live a stone's throw from the Bronx Zoo. All with amazing exhibits and rare animals -- places you can learn something new every time you go.

My most indelible memory is wheeling Everett in her stroller through the Bronx Zoo's "Mouse House." Dark in there. Behind one of the large glass exhibit windows were a bunch of bats -- flying mice, remember -- dozens of them. But they were behind glass, they couldn't hurt me. Oh, they could give me the willies a little, but I could stand there all tough-like and face my fear and stick my tongue out at them and all that good, mature stuff.

Then I noticed a man toward the back. Not a zoo-keeper, not an expert of some sort, clearly. A man in coveralls and a matching cap on his head, pushing a broom. He had his back to me, just doing his job. Those dozens upon dozens of bats just ruffling all around his head, all around his body. I just watched him in amazement until I couldn't help myself and I knocked on the glass. He didn't respond at first.

Perhaps he couldn't hear me, or perhaps he thought it was just some kids fooling around. I knocked again with more purpose, and finally he turned around.

I smiled and gave a little wave. Then I pointed my finger around at all the fluttering bats and mouthed the question, "How do you do that?" He cocked his head and smiled a little and gave me an exaggerated shrug, then turned back to his work.

Indeed, a somewhat thoughtless question. People need their jobs, after all. Did this man grow up thinking he was going to have a career of cleaning up bat shit for a living? Probably not. But it was a job, and an honest one. Who was I to ask him how he managed it? He managed it because he had to.

He probably made ten bucks an hour, that guy.

I think he deserved more. He's the bravest man I ever saw.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sick Days (January 2009)

I'm coming down with it, I just know it. Shit.

Everett's been sick all week. She's been walking around the apartment with the red nose and the rheumy eyes. The mouth hanging open so she looks like her IQ's dropped about 90 points. You know Everett's sick when she looks that awful and doesn't care. She ignores my medication combination dictates, instead calling Josh, who checks with his parents, who are in the medical profession, and follows the advice he calls back with. "Yes, I can take the NyQuil even though it's been only three hours since I took the Advil...Josh says it's ok and YES he checked with his parents!" And here I thought they had broken up. I guess she's still keeping him on staff for medical emergencies.

Everett's teachers have come in and out of my office all week. One even called me from her classroom last Friday. "Is Everett ok? How is she feeling? What are her symptoms, exactly? Oh, the poor thing!" People should give that much of a shit when I'm out sick.

Yes, back to me. I'm not feeling well, and that means for the duration, it's all about me.
I am the worst sick person in my family. Usually that designation is conferrred upon the grown men in the house, but actually Peter is pretty good. He lies around and naps, quietly reads on the corner of the couch, makes himself soup. He's so self-sufficient and calm about it that I often forget that he's sick at all and forget to be a little nicer to him than I usually am. "Why can't you go out and pick Zack up from his rehearsal for a change?? Oh. Oh. That's right, you're sick, I forgot, I'm sorry. So how are you feeling, anyway?"

I lie in bed, heave heavy sighs, and moan quietly. "Ohmigod, would you knock it off, you're ridiculous!" whoever is passing by will often shout out. "Could I have some more water pleeeease?" I cry weakly. "Are you eating out there? What are you having? Could I have a little of that, pleeeease? I can't find my asprin!"

Zack had Chicken Pox when he was in the first grade, and he was disgusting. I wrapped him up in an over-sized sweatshirt with the hood pulled tight around his head with the string. We ran the three blocks to the pediatrician, after office hours as instructed, as if I were harboring Typhoid Mary. The doctor visibly cringed as she let us in the door. She determined that he didn't have pox down his esophagus, or up or down or in anywhere else it is exceptionally dangerous to have them. Just all over every last square inch of his body. Nothing to do but oatmeal baths, Benadryl, and wait it out.

I told poor miserable little Zack that if he didn't scratch, he wouldn't get any scars. I am still amazed when I think back to how he was able to follow my one simple instruction. What willpower he demonstrated, just sitting on his little hands, watching tv, and determinedly not scratching. In one of life's more unfair turns, after he recovered, he was left sporting more than a couple of scars. After all that hard work not scratching. "It's not fair, Mom!" he said with tears welling up. I didn't scratch at all, and I still have promised me I wouldn't!" I felt terrible.

I had Chicken Pox when I was about eight or so. It was a pretty nasty case. I remember my mother calling everyone we knew to let them know, even the dentist. How embarassing. After two weeks of suffering, my little sister Kris came down with it. She had THREE, count 'em, THREE pox. No fever. No suffering. But she got to stay home and enjoy life until those three pox took their blessed time and dried up completely. "Now J," Mom said "Aren't you happy for your sister, that she was lucky enough not to get as sick as you were?" Uh, yeah, right....whatever.

Everett is a world-class sleeper when she's well, and when she's sick, she has been known to sleep twelve hours at a clip. Her personality takes an occasional cranky dip, "You're going to the supermarket? Could you please get some good stuff for a change? And could you please remember the Blistex this time? You always remember what Zack asks for. You never forget what he wants. Why do you always have to...." SLAM -- I'm out the door, sorry -- can't hear you. She's growing up to be as charming a sickie as I am.

The question, if indeed I am coming down with "it," will be whether to stay home in my misery in an empty apartment with no one to yell at, or go to work and spread the joy and the germs around.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Fourth Lobster (August 2009)

I wouldn't go so far as to say that everyone should experience killing his or her own food, like some might suggest. In The Omnivore's Dilemma, one of my favorite books of recent memory, Michael Pollan follows his purchased steer to the slaughterhouse. He visits a self-sustaining farm in Virginia and beheads his own chicken. He hunts wild boar, and forages for wild mushrooms, which is more daunting than you would imagine. And did you know that mushrooms, as fungi, are more closely related to animals than to plants? I sure didn't.

I don't come from hunters. My North Carolina grandpa may have shot a rabbit or two, maybe a duck (shades of Elmer Fudd) but to hear my dad tell it, grandpa was more of a fisherman than a hunter. He'd come home with bass, or lake trout, his mouth just watering for my grandma to fry them up for him. And she would say to him, "That's wonderful dear, now take them right back outside and scale them and clean them and gut them, and then I'll get right to it."

My dad's family kept chickens in the back, and when he reached a certain age, probably younger than we pampered city-slickers would imagine, he was charged with going out and selecting and killing a chicken for dinner. An ax wasn't even part of this little backyard operation. No, killing a chicken for dinner on Driver Avenue in Durham involved catching one of them, wrapping your hand around its head, and swinging the whole feathered bundle a good strong couple of 360 degree turns. A little wrist action was necessary; if you didn't have the proper wrist action, the neck wouldn't snap properly and kill the chicken quickly and you'd be left with a brain-dead chicken that would run around the yard after you dropped it. Wouldn't that be a nice image to replay through your mind later as you settled down to supper that evening?

But I suppose it is fair to say that growing your own food and, yes, killing your own food, is character-building. While it isn't the line in the sand that I would use to separate a worthwhile person from one not deserving of my time, it's an experience maybe one shouldn't pass on if it comes up. As I get older, I find I am less likely to dismiss such ideas with an "ewwwww."

I had the opportunity in Wellfleet last week. We were all staying, even my dad, with Peter's sister Sharon and her husband, Danny. Everett wanted to have lobster before she returned to the city. You don't have to ask me twice if lobster is on the menu, and it was decided Tuesday would be the day.

"Fantastic!" I said. "Where do we want to go? Arnold's? Moby Dick's?"

"I was thinking we'd just buy some and cook them here," Danny said. "It's a whole lot cheaper."

Here. At home.

In a big pot of boiling water.

"Oh, uhh...great idea!"


We're gonna kill us some lobster.

Now, I realize it's sort of a yuppie dilemma, boiling a lobster alive. It's not the same as holding a chicken carcass in your hand, or shooting and skinning a rabbit. It's not as gross, and there's not the same central nervous system involved--no pain. They're just fish, after all.


I took Everett and Zack on a lobster boat tourist ride in Bar Harbor a few years ago. The guy hauled up the trap and showed us lobsters, showed us how to tell a male from a female. The female's tail wraps around more tightly under herself in order to protect her eggs. Females are also more likely than males to be spared by fishermen, and thrown back into the sea--to live on and raise more babies.

Which is how I think it should be, except for that eternal raising of babies part.

He also showed us how to tell if a lobster is right-handed or left-handed. The smaller pincher--if you look carefully, all lobsters have a larger and a smaller pincher--is the fine-motor pincher. ("What, is that the pincher he writes with?" I wanted to ask.) A lobster with a smaller right pincher is a right-handed lobster.

"Look! I have a right-handed lobster!" I announced at the restaurant that night. "I wonder what percentage of the lobster population is left-handed? Is it the same as humans? What do you think, kids??"

Blank stares. I realized right then that gender and handedness was more than I wanted to know about something I was getting ready to eat. Dad killed the chicken by putting his hand around its head--if I had been there, I wouldn't have asked which one he had slaughtered. Grandpa caught a fish and Grandma cooked it. I didn't need to know which pincher mama lobster used to check her eggs, or which pincher papa lobster would lead off with to avoid the lobster trap nestled in the bottom of the ocean.

It didn't stop me from eating lobster if the opportunity arose, no sir, but it did make me think a little bit each time, at least until the first couple of glasses of pinot grigio kicked in, that maybe I was a bit of a....hypocrite. But big deal, I'd tell myself, eating lobster was no worse than any number of sins I'd committed in the last year, and no worse that eating a hen that had been killed by an inept hand and spent a bit of time running around the grass like a....well, like a chicken with its head cut off.

But knowing a lobster is killed and cooked by dropping it in boiling water, and actually doing it are two different things. I had always bypassed even selecting my lobster out of the tank at the restaurants. That was way too "Hand of God" for me. "Just pick one for me please, and bring it out. ....Oh, and with extra melted butter, thanks."

All that was about to change. Danny's friend told him the best place to go to buy the lobsters, a place a few miles up in Truro. Some fisherman selling some out of his garage. Nice and tasty, and only $7.99 a pound.

"Say, that's the same as buying a nice sirloin," I rationalized to myself, trying desperately to find a common ground between buying a cellophane-wrapped pre-killed steak in the Stop 'n' Shop and boiling one of God's freshly-caught creatures alive. But that was about the only similarity I could muster up, unless you hauled a live steer up with a giant pulley and lowered it slowly into a giant vat of boiling oil, like something the Joker might do to Batman and Robin. "Holy Lobster Bib, Batman!"

Peter and my dad were enlisted to find the lobster place and make the purchase. I gave Everett a look and a toss of the head. "Go with them," I said. "Make sure they do it right." Off they went.
Sharon had quietly decided to not participate in the ritual slaughter. She didn't make a big showy stand about it, because she still had every intention of eating the results. But she sort of disappeared. I stayed in the kitchen to help. Danny clanked around under the counter and pulled out a big lobster pot. Big, but not huge. "Will that be big enough?" I asked.

"It'll be OK for four, I figure, then we'll use this pot for the other two," he said as he pulled out a smaller one. "I guess it'll be OK, I've never done this before."

What?? Oh dear.

I set the table to burn off nervous energy waiting for the lobster delivery. Danny worried over water levels and heat settings. "We're boiling, we're not steaming them," he said. "Boiling takes about fifteen or twenty minutes, the website said."

Hey! Web research is my job.

Peter and my dad and Everett returned with the lobsters. "It wasn't 'Commercial Street,'" Peter cranked, "it was 'Commercial Place'--we drove right past it!"

"How many 'Commercial' anythings did you think there would be, Peter?" I asked. You were in Truro, for heaven's sake, not Queens!"

There were brown paper bags. I was surprised, but what was I to expect, really? Tanks?

I reached in and pulled out a lobster and held it up. It had those thick rubber bands around its pinchers. I avoided taking note of which pincher was the larger one. I avoided looking to see if its tail was tightly wrapped up underneath itself.

"Oh right! Look! Rubber bands! Do we take these off before we kil--, I mean before we drop them in the boiling--, I mean....(huff) I take these off?" I asked Danny.

Everyone else had conveniently made him or herself scarce.

"Yes, the bands need to come off," Danny said. "Is the corn cooking?"

Is the corn cooking?? Am I supposed to be thinking about the corn, too? I've got enough on my mind here. I don't usually find myself on the road to a nervous breakdown simply from preparing an evening meal. But Sharon had the corn out on the grill and a salad already prepared. She had more than contributed her part and could guiltlessly stay away from main course preparation. "You don't want the corn ready," Danny said, "before the lobsters are."

Oh, 'Mr. Dinner Preparation Expert' all of a sudden.

"Everything doesn't have to be ready at the exact same time," I told Danny. "The lobster or the corn can sit around for a few minutes to wait for the other one, it will be all right."

"Oh, no," Danny said. "It all has to come out at the same time, or it won't be good!"

Sigh. This is why I get aggravated cooking with men. Especially ones who cook just once in a while, yet think they know everything oh so much better than I do when their turn comes up. Just get out of the way, please, and let me do it.

But I was the sous-chef here, and I wasn't going to stage a mutiny....particularly not in this case, because I was not at all certain I could step up to the plate and take over preparation of the main course. That's right....the lobster-killing.

The big pot was boiling.

It was time.

"OK, I think we're good to go here," Danny shouted, ridiculously, like we were at opposite ends of a big boat or something.

"OK," I shouted back, "here I come!" I came over with the first de-banded lobster. I held it way up and out in front of me, like one of Zack's particularly smelly socks I might carry to the hamper.

Sharon and Danny's Cape Cod kitchen is large by middle-class New York City standards, but small by any other standard. Maybe four or five steps tops from counter to stove. But that night it was the Appalachian Trail or the Penine Way. Days, it took, to carry across my first victim--er--lobster. The right-handed lobster...oops! I snuck a look, in spite of myself. She (oh gosh, did I check for that curled-under tail, too?) wasn't moving too much, wasn't struggling or anything. She probably was near-dead, wouldn't even know what hit her when she hit the boiling water. We all gotta eat, right? Beast killing beast, right? Hey, it's Darwin, it's survival of the fittest, it's's how life works.


"Here I come," I said, still shouting, as Danny, a beast, stood by the boiling pot holding the lid with the oven mitt on. I, another beast, held it over the pot. The lobster, beast number three in this little scenerio, the snowball in hell, writhed slowly in my hand.


I couldn't do it.

"I can't do it," I said. I shoved it into Danny's hand. "You'll have to do it. Sorry."

Danny dropped the first lobster into the pot, as I went back to bring over the next one and the next one. Three lobsters in the first pot. It looked full, I thought. I stood there with the fourth lobster in my hand.

"We can fit in another," Danny said.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "It looks pretty tight in th--"

Danny took the lobster and pressed it in and replaced the lid. Within seconds, he had the remaining two lobsters in the smaller pot.

"So how long are you cooking them?" Peter came over to ask. Oh sure, everyone comes out of the woodwork now that the dirty work is done. "The guy at the lobster place said ten-to-twelve minutes."

"The website said fifteen-to-twenty minutes if you're boiling them," Danny said.

"I think the bottom two lobsters in the big pot are boiling, but the two you shoved in on top of them are steaming, technically speaking," I postulated, as I took a big gulp of wine. I will postulate while drinking as long as I am in the safety of the home.

And then the lid moved.

I choked a bit on my pinot, and then it moved again. As Peter and Danny debated over lobster-cooking details neither one of them really knew anything about, I pointed while I had the lip of the wineglass still at my mouth. "What?" one or both of them said. I pointed again, with a bit more urgency. I couldn't even say it.

The fourth lobster was trying to climb out of the pot. It (he? she?) had knocked the lid halfway off the pot and one entire claw came out. It was actually making progress.

"Oh, shit!" Danny said, and flipped the lobster over and pressed down the lid, harder this time.

"Is dinner ready?" Sharon came in off the deck. "No, it's not ready," I said. "It's still trying to climb out of the pot!" She set her mouth in a line and returned to the deck.

Eventually dinner was ready, and we were all seated around the dinner table with honking big lobsters in front of us. Everett and Zack emerged from wherever they had been hiding to avoid the hullabaloo. Corn was brought out, butter was melted, extra napkins were brought to the table. It was darn good, the lobster. Danny had managed to cook them all perfectly. I don't know if you can attribute that so much to the fact that he figured it all out, or to the fact that perhaps lobster is "forgiving," and not that hard to cook. As long as it doesn't escape. But it was yummy, and they were so big that there was plenty left over. Everyone, at my instruction, put their plates on the big kitchen counter, and as I finished the bottle of pinot, I broke into everyone's leftover lobsters and picked and scraped and got enough meat out to combine and make a rockin' lobster salad for lunch the next day. As Sharon likes to say, "We're all family here."

"Is there something the matter with me?" I idly wondered and I cracked and picked and rummaged through the shells. "I watched a creature literally fight for its life, make a last-ditch effort to save itself from what has to be one of the worst ways on this earth to die. And then after watching it fail, watching it be pressed back into submission, I turned around ten minutes later and enjoyed the hell out of myself eating it with a side of corn. I can stand here and rip it apart with my bare hands to make a nice dainty salad for us to feast on the next day. What does that make me?"

I guess it makes me....human?

P.S. My dad had a hot dog.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And Then He is a She

John's in heat.

I guess it's not so easy to tell a boy kitten from a girl kitten.

When Zack first found the cat, or the cat first found Zack, to be a little more precise, we took its scrawny little butt straight into Everett's empty room, to keep it isolated from Max and Minnie. "Do we know what it is? You look," I instructed my sister Kris, who happened to be there that evening. She took a quick look under the tail, not wanting to traumatize the poor thing more than it already was. "Looks like a boy to me," she said with a degree of certainty.

So whether or not, when I took John to the vet a couple of days later, the vet even actually looked herself to determine the gender, I don't remember. She might have just assumed we knew. She looked in his ears and eyes and squeezed John all up and down--she checked out everywhere.

Except know...down there.

Well, now that we had finally more or less agreed on the name John -- I stuck with it even through suggestions of J.D. (for John Doe) and Figgins (Kris stubbornly insisted on referring to the cat as "Figgins," since that was the last name of one of the ball players we were watching in the World Series that night. Sorry Sis, you don't get a vote from all the way in Brooklyn) -- John started acting sort of....strange. Sort of....un-John-like.

He started acting....more Jane-like.

No one's ever accused me of being the quickest one on the block in these matters. "John and Max are starting to act weird," I said to Peter one evening, "Like they have some alpha male domineering-thing going on. I think it's time to get John fixed." Peter was involved in his interminable online search for a used car and responded with a grunt. I shrugged and went to bed. The next morning I broached the subject again, "You know, Peter, they're at it again in there, Max is on top of John and biting the back of his neck and and being really aggressive and John is, like, just kind of laying there and taking it. He even looks like he's enjoying it a little."

Peter gave me one of those looks that Archie used to reserve for Edith right before he'd call her the "D" word.

"What?" I asked.

"You know what it is," he said.

"I do?" I asked.

"Sure you do."

"What? Tell me."

"John is a girl."


"Of course!"

"Ya think??"

I went back out into the living room. There was Max, on top of John. John was yowling, and rubbing himself -- herself? -- along the floor, with his -- I mean her -- behind stuck up in the air. Then Max tried to straddle her and...

"Hey. Hey!! Knock it off!"

What a hussy.

Max and Minnie joined the family a couple of years ago at the same time, and they were already neutered when they did. We had never had shenanigans like this in the house before. It was weird seeing Max act this way, and I think it's been weird for Max, too. It's like he's doing something from sense memory, like on MASH, when a soldier would wake up and Hawkeye would tell him they had to amputate his leg, and the kid would say "What do you mean? It's still there. I feel it."

They're trying really hard, when I'm not there to yell at them to stop, which means they're going at it the better part of the morning and into the afternoon every day. Until John, or Jane, or perhaps Jade -- new discussions are open, after all, and we haven't even told my sister yet -- is out of heat, and we can get her fixed. Or spayed, to be a little more precise.

Minnie, on the other hand, just watches from the back of the living room easy chair, or goes into the back bedroom to get a little shut eye.

She can't be bothered with that nonsense.