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In the moment, one slice at a time

I’m becoming my grandson as he moves quickly closer to what I once was.

This becomes even more apparent during the Christmas holiday.

Banzai is just about 2 years old; he has not yet been drugged by the commercial side of the holiday, the perversion of the occasion by industry and its Santa CEOs encouraging the buying frenzy, sharpening the focus on goods and the supposed pleasures they will bring.

Way too much has already been written about the corruption of Christmas by the purveyors of material things – the makers and sellers of toys, clothing, entertainment items, electronics, baubles, household goods, etc. No need to go into that here.

To watch the Bonz wander about in the annual mercantile mess is a treat … and a lesson for gramps

The lad is the second grandchild in our family (our granddaughter, Forest, is 11), and he is the first grandchild in Ivy’s husband Jon’s family. As a result, Bonz received some serious booty this year.

Not that he is fully aware of it.

That’s the beauty of it all.

Oh, sure, some of the toys make an impression. Bonz spends a bit of time zipping around the house on his fire engine. But, for the most part, he is in the moment, and the moment holds a multitude of attractions – some gifts, most not.

He expects nothing; as a result, everything is a surprise. And nothing holds him in its sway for more than a few seconds.

Bonz is here, right now. He has not joined the “I see it, you buy it, and if I don’t get it, I will throw a tantrum or be depressed” club.

As an example, when Ivy, Jon and Bonz come to our house for breakfast on Christmas morning, Bonz tears open a couple packages and briefly checks out the contents before being distracted by the switch that turns the Christmas tree lights on and off. That switch is, indeed, fascinating. On, off. On, off.

After quickly checking out his Thomas the Tank Engine and helping his dad install a wheel, Bonz becomes enthralled with the discarded wrapping paper. He has a swell time rolling around on the floor in the brightly colored paper, flinging sheets of it in the air, tearing stuff up.

Then, the big deal: the boxes. After all, can a guy have more fun than when he walks around the room with a huge box over his head and shoulders?

Obviously not.

The kid is right where the rest of us should be: fascinated by what is in front of him, utterly delighted by virtually useless things, engaged with others who are present.

He’s here, right now. And only here.

Oh, if we elders could be the same — little Buddhas, completely alive in the present.

I find I am starting to move to that point, starting to be more like Bonz as he becomes less like Bonz. Another year, and he will be thinking ahead, wanting things. He will learn about desire and, thus, he will learn about disappointment that lasts more than a minute.

I, on the other hand, am starting to shed desire, in all its forms. Desire has been at the root of most, if not all of my problems in life and, as I grow old, I find my desires waning, causing others to experience less suffering because of me.

I find that those things I need inside an increasingly shallow horizon line. The things I attach to (and the period of attachment, in many cases, grows more brief as I age) are more of the moment.

I value affection, like Bonz does. We find love with those who are with us, now.

I concentrate increasingly on things at hand. I write, now. I paint, now. I cook, now. I listen to music, now. I am less a victim of plans now. When I cook, I rarely do so with recipes in mind; I shop at the market every day, and that which attracts my attention becomes an ingredient in a medley that takes form on the spot.

Like Bonz, I am easily distracted by bright, shiny things.

While Bonz possesses a ferocious memory, it does not yet dominate him. Me, I am losing my memory and it dominates me less. Say hi to me: I may not remember your name but, in-the-moment guy that I am, I will pretend to, until something distracts me.

Bonz and I don’t want too many things.

Had you asked Bonz what he wanted for Christmas, if he said anything it probably would have been, “Cake.”

I agree. A perfect choice. Since I have not yet achieved in-the-moment purity, I might have added, “Cheese.”

Not much else, thanks.

People asked me: “What do you want for Christmas?”

My answer: “Nothing, except to be around folks I love and care for. To cook with them and for them. To eat and drink with them.” In other words, for the moment to be ripe with options. To be absent plans, desire and disappointment.

All that said, I got several gifts that set me atwinkle with ideas, luring me out of the moment into a projected future.

Ivy and Jon gave me a gift certificate to my favorite art supply store. I need to come up with a list.

My daughter, Aurora, and Forest, gave me a bunch of truffles. Once I open the jar, I must use the contents within seven days. That’s a lot of truffle in a short period of time, but I will manage.

Kathy gave me a mandoline.

Not a mandolin — that member of the lute family that, when plucked or strummed by pseudo hillbillies, occasionally yields an interesting sound.

A mandoline is a kitchen instrument used for slicing and shredding, to produce a perfect julienne. The mandoline is a razor-sharp blade, or blades, affixed to a tilted platform down which all manner of items are moved, the blade doing its precise work on them.

I possess good knife skills, but perfection has evaded me (read above, re. desire/disappointment). There is no way I am going to cut slices of, say, an apple, that are of identical thickness.

But, with a mandoline, the exact is possible.

My new mandolin is snazzy. I read the instructions, although my short attention span causes me to skip sections of the script.

The one thing I notice is a warning: “Do not fail to use the attached hand and finger guard when using this device. Always prepare the item to be cut and fit it into the guard before proceeding.”

I help Ivy cook Christmas dinner. She and Jon are hosting us and a number of friends and family members and she asks if I will do some of the prep work and prepare a potato and Gruyere gratin.

You betcha. And, this time, the gratin will be blessed with perfect slices of potato, compliments of my mandolin.

I take the device to Ivy’s and place it on the counter. I adjust the blade setting to 1/8th of an inch — thin. So thin, it would be well-nigh impossible to do the job with a knife. I peel the potatoes and begin the inaugural run.

Being in the moment, however, I forget the warning.

I run the first potato down the platform and across the blade several times. Out of a slot at the bottom of the mandolin drop the most wonderful rounds of spud I have ever seen. I am thrilled. I stop and hold up several of the slices for Ivy to see. She is suitably impressed.

I get back to my work; I am one with the machine.

The blade cuts perfect 1/8th-inch slices of potato.

It also cuts perfect 1/8th-inch slices of finger.

As with most razor cuts, the initial pain is slight.

As with most razor cuts, the blood loss is dramatic.

“Oops.”

“What’s wrong, dad?”

“I sliced myself on the mandolin.”

“Isn’t there a hand guard?”

“Well, yes there is, but …”

I consider telling Ivy about my theory: me and the Bonz being in the moment — no plans, no desires, no disappointment. But, the flow of blood is profound and it distracts me.

“Wow, you’re bleeding.”

“Quite a bit, actually.”

“Don’t get blood on the potatoes.”

Jon gets a Band-Aid. It’s one of Bonz’s Band-Aids – it has a cartoon character on it. I apply pressure to my newly-shaved finger and we slap the Band-Aid on. I get back to the task, finger throbbing. Soon, I am into the Zen of the mandolin again and we’ve got perfect potato slices up the wahzoo.

The gratin is easy.

I take three cups of heavy cream and put it in a deep saucepan with three cups of half and half. I smash four cloves of garlic with the back of a chef’s knife, remove the paper and toss the garlic in with the liquid. I bring the mix to a boil, then turn off the heat.

I grate a block of Gruyere (judging from the price of the cheese, they must be feeding gold to cows in Switzerland).

I heavily butter two gratin pans then layer the bottoms of the pans with slices of potato, slightly overlapping the slices. On top of the layers of spuds I ladle some of the liquid. I season lightly with salt and pepper. I repeat the process. This time, along with the liquid and seasoning, I put some small bits of butter atop the layers. I repeat, eventually constructing four layers. After adding the cream, butter, salt and pepper to the top layers, I cover them with shredded Gruyere.

These babies go into a 350 oven (the same temp Ivy is using to braise short ribs with a port and red wine sauce) and they are done in a little under two hours. Once the tops of the gratins are golden brown, we cover the pans with aluminum foil and remove them to the stove top while the sauce is finished.

As the adults eat dinner and converse, Bonz creates a spontaneous tabletop bowling game involving a beer can and an orange. From there, he quickly moves to a project to eat all the icing off a plateful of gingerbread men. After that, he attempts to remove his tongue with a plastic, battery-powered drill.

Me?

I am in the moment, too. The food is wonderful, the dinner companions are interesting, the wine is excellent.

My Batman Band-aid is doing the job.

There is nothing beyond this, nothing better than this.

Now.