You’ve had “that kind of a day,” haven’t you?
It starts on a sour note and goes downhill from there. It seems there’s nothing you can do to stem the tide of nastiness, to stop the nonsense, to reverse your course and head back to something reasonable, absent frustration and stress.
You didn’t expect it; you never saw it coming. There’s nothing you did the day before that leads you to believe you are going to crash and burn in the next 24 hours.
It just happens, and when it does it rolls over you like heavily armored tracked vehicle over a compact car.
This kind of day is like a bad run at the blackjack table. Some of you can relate to this: Things are going along swimmingly; you’re staying a bit ahead of things, chatting amiably with a gal named Tina from Orlando who’s been poolside working on the tan a few too many times. You’re marveling at just how deep a wrinkle can go in the epidermis; you’re blinded by her bleached choppers and you’re nursing a weak White Russian thinking all’s well with the world.
Then, kablam. Before you have time to collect your wits and emerge from the cloud of White Shoulders emanating from Tina, you watch, paralyzed, as hand after hand goes down the tube at light speed. In a nanosecond you’re flat broke and digging in your hip pocket for that 20-percent interest credit card from the National Rifle Association you swore you’d never use for cash.
That’s how it is.
It’s “that kind of day.”
I had one last week.
Problem is, it was the eighth or ninth in a row.
I was beat to a pulp, so I was vulnerable.
In my business, I have more opportunities than most to be exposed to irritation and stress brought on by unavoidable confrontations with idiocy — my own and that of others. Each confrontation with the absurd and the untenable erodes the will to live, depletes the reservoir of patience, tarnishes the image of the species.
Friday, though, I was at the edge. You’ve been to the edge, haven’t you? You’ve looked over the edge, into the yawning darkness.
I found myself on the lip of the chasm after I finished dealing with a series of folks, all of whom knew everything. This is invariably difficult for me, since I know everything too.
The behavior I encountered spanned the spectrum from the arrogance born of a too-tight moral focus to the pinball machine product of shaky brain chemistry.
I heard advice on how to do my business from people who hadn’t spent a minute doing the job. They took numbers, and waited in line to get to me.
I received comments from people camped warm and toasty in the restrictive mummy bag of kindergarten ideology. I was told the purpose of a newspaper is not to tell the truth, but to hide the truth from its readers and avoid controversy. I learned about an insidious government plan to disperse behavior altering chemicals from high-altitude aircraft, and was reminded that what most of us think are clouds are, in reality, alien spaceships. Soon, it was suggested, our pets would be devoured by buffalo-size chipmunks.
I reviewed the news of the week and realized, again, our world is a huge clown car pulling to a stop in the center ring, its tiny and gaily-clad occupants exiting in an unending, chaotic stream. How do they get all those clowns in one teensy car?
I was yelled at because a letter to the editor did not find its way to print. The fact there were three times the number of letters submitted than could be printed was irrelevant to my antagonist. The fact the letter was incoherent is “a matter of opinion.”
I stagger home and collapse in front of the television. I click on the satellite and, bingo, I am confronted by a news segment about elephant artists. Some goofball has taught elephants to pick up loaded paintbrushes with their trunks and drag the ends of the brushes across canvases. The elephants do this, of course, because each time they do as they are told, they get a snack.
The interviewer goes to a gallery that displays the “paintings.” The gallery owner faces the camera and, in all seriousness, tells a delighted audience the elephants have taken abstract painting to a new height, displaying “impassioned expression and certifiable lyricism. Look at the purposeful brush stroke” she coos.
The report ends as a nitwit in a collarless shirt purchases an elephant painting for $1,000.
I think back to a notable visit to Pasadena when I was alone in a gallery at the Norton Simon Museum, face to face with one of Rembrandt’s late self-portraits with all the time I needed and no one to interrupt me. The old guy had cracks in the forehead that Tami would need another five years in the sun to produce. And the painting didn’t smell like cheap perfume.
I watched the geek prance from the gallery with his elephant art and I wanted to melt.
It was one of those days.
What to do?
What do you do when anxiety weighs so heavy your chest you can’t catch a full breath?
I know some folks who retreat to the bottle, but they’re no fun past 7 p.m. and they think they’re a whole lot more fun than they really are before 7. I need something with more depth.
I need to cook and eat.
I head straight to the therapy of cooking, to the process of cooking, which includes planning and shopping and preparation.
The monster gnawing on my psyche is so big, I need to push beyond the ordinary, foodwise, flex my muscles, go exotic.
What to make?
The answer hits me like a speeding Oldsmobile.
I look at the clock. Time has slipped past me, Bergsonian, flowing like lava. It is 4 p.m. All the better for the vindaloo — a quickly-made, exciting dish.
I hustle to the market and to the produce section where I snatch the makings of a mushy green salad: mixed greens, a “ripe” tomato, a white onion, a “ripe” avocado, a lemon. I find a cucumber for raita.
From there I beat a path to the case containing packs of frozen shrimp. A guy stops me to tell me how he never reads the newspaper and how much he enjoys my column. I choke back my reaction and press on.
I find a pack of big boy crustaceans with nary a spot of freezer burn. I speed around the corner and procure a pack of frozen peas.
At home, I put the shell-on, split and deveined shrimps in cold salted water to refresh them as they thaw. I slice the white onion, mincing a third of the slices and setting them aside. I chunk up the avocado and do the same with the tomato. I rinse and dry the greens, tear them up, throw them in a bowl, add the minced onion, the avocado and tomato and squeeze the ingredients together. To them I add some fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, a bit of dried oregano, kosher salt and pepper.
The peas are put in a pan and head for the heat. I boil salted water and get some whole wheat pasta ready to cook
The shrimps are relieved of their shells and dried. The sliced onion is sautéed in oil until soft and to it I add a can of Patak’s vindaloo sauce — a wicked mix of tomato, vinegar, chiles, spices and heaven knows what else. You don’t analyze miracles, you accept them. This miracle comes from the best darned Indian food importer I know — with headquarters in, of all places, Austin, Minnesota. Austin must be the best city in the world: vindaloo, pastes, chutneys, garam masala and ice hockey. I make a note to visit Austin some day.
The pasta goes in the pot and, when it is half done, the shrimps are added to the bubbling sauce. They’re done at the same time as the pasta.
The fiery sauce obliterates thoughts of anything but the fact it is darned near impossible to get that much flavor in one bite. How do those wacky Indians do it?
A dollop of yogurt with the addition of shredded cucumber adds a cool veneer and creaminess to the meal.
A glass, or two, of rosé …
The weight is lifted, the therapy successful.
Cooking demands concentration, it wings one away from the obsessive thoughts that eat at the lining of the stomach, that restrict the breath. It is a meditation, the ingredients and processes a mantra.
Eating the food, if it is properly prepared, requires the same level of concentration and has the same effect, as does the conversation during the meal.
I crash on to the couch after dinner, calm, reintroduced to a world of order and reason. I flip the channel to the Big Joe Polka show and marvel at the accordion wizardry of Dave Salmons from Omaha. The guy is spectacular. It’s good to know there are artistes like Dave Salmons in the world. Once upon a time, I was enthralled with Jimi Hendrix. Now, my world has expanded to include Dave.
I contemplate some possible solutions to the stress of my work. Ways to prevent one of those days.
Perhaps another job?
Yes, that’s it ... as an art dealer.
I wonder where a guy can find an elephant around here?