Food for Thought – The Pagosa Springs SUN The most trusted source for news and information about Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Thu, 26 Dec 2013 17:50:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Food for Thought – The Pagosa Springs SUN 32 32 Makin’ a move in the Monkey House Thu, 26 Dec 2013 22:00:56 +0000 I’m done.

No more columns. No more editorials.

No more stress sweat on Sunday night, with no words of worth on a page and time growing short. Forget words of worth (and the sad pun therein) since it’s debatable whether there were ever any worthy things written in this space. My Sunday sweat was most often occasioned by no words on the page at all.

But, now, there’ll be no more of, “What the hell am I gonna do?’

No more deadlines. No more toss back three fingers of bourbon and wait for something interesting to happen.

In fact, no more Sunday nights, as in “Oh, crap, it’s Sunday. I gotta get up tomorrow morning and waddle to work.”

I’m quittin’.

I’m outta here.

I’ve spent more than a quarter century working at a small town newspaper. I worked for years as a reporter, writing about everything and anything that could happen to folks, good and bad. I worked for years as a columnist and an editor, getting paid to spout off in public, increasingly aware of what Gurdjieff meant when he said, “The higher climbs the monkey, the more you see his ass.”

I’ve squandered countless hours dealing with other monkeys. Siberia With a View is distinguished by one thing above all others: more monkeys per capita than just about any little community, anywhere. There is a legion of folks who have moved here (yes, most have moved here) who labor under the illusion they were once much more important than they really were, and who are intent on convincing people they remain as important, and certainly as inflated, now that they are here. Ours is a place where “successful” people move who cannot afford to live in Aspen or Telluride”— a community rife with colonels, not generals, with vice presidents, not captains of industry.

Over the last quarter century, I have endured the drivel dispensed by the Pollyannas —folks who believe that, just because they are here, this is the most wonderful, incredible, fantastic place in the known universe. Boosterism is not just obnoxious, it’s toxic. Arm in arm with the Pollyannas troop those intent on “improving” the place. Newcomers, they are nonetheless authorities on what is best. They seek to “develop” the economy, to improve the area, to burnish their reputations by sucking on to others’ projects like remoras on a whale shark, to take credit where no credit is due, to hang posters that then grow yellow and brittle and, once the tape gives way, fall in pieces to the cold floor in an empty store space.

I have accommodated the doomsayers — the quacks who are convinced that everything and everyone but them are responsible for the wreckage and failures that define their lives and, thus, find in this a call to rise up with other failures and assert rights that, in reality, would come to nothing. An armada of them, rolling along on their Rascals, AR-15s in their laps, are no doubt heading for the county borders to put up the barriers as I write this.

I have dealt with the privileged clowns who have lived with a standard of life better than 99.9 percent of all humans who ever walked the planet, yet are convinced that the system and the processes that allowed them to do so were broken beyond repair once every important figure on the scene was no longer white and male.

I have put up with the fools who shout about government providing a helping hand to others while they cash their government benefits checks, utilize Medicare, wave the war flag, and rant and rail against any proposal to cut their Social Security payments. They shout about government, but they want their roads plowed; they call the fire department, law enforcement and the ambulance whenever government is needed, they drive on the highway and they send their kids to public school.

I have watched as those whose consciences are cleared with a vacuous confession, or a cheery song sung in the company of likeminded folks, deny charity to others. I have watched those whose charity comes with the provision that they receive maximum attention and credit for the act.

I have witnessed tiny but loud people who provide nothing of value to the community attempt to bring down those who make a difference, slandering and libeling them, publicly soiling their enterprises for the sole purpose of causing them pain and undermining their efforts. The activities of these malevolent individuals, regardless of how they disguise them, serve only to pull others into the crawl space they themselves inhabit.

I have regarded with sadness the continuing demise of a rural way of life, the steady loss of once great tracts of land, the subdivision of those lands, the construction of far too many homes for the environment and the stimulation of population growth, as well as the arrogance of those who divide and sell, their chests puffed out as if they have contributed something important, exercised some kind of skill.

Siberia With a View has, indeed, provided a clear take of the backsides of the monkeys, myself included.

But, I have also seen those of true, good heart tend to others, with no desire for recognition or compliment. No need of a volunteer of the year award in these ranks.

I have received birth notices and the photos of the babes, and found my heart warmed. Often, I remember when the parents were born. I have received obituaries and the photos of the departed in happier times, and have been saddened. Too often, I knew the deceased for a good portion of my life. The cycle, in all its joy and pain, in its potentials and actualities, has been center stage, and the emotions it brings are deep, and real.

I have watched unpaid neighbors risk life and limb to put out fires and, for many years, tend to and transport the sick and injured. I watched volunteers scour the backcountry for those who lost their way, volunteers who skied treacherous terrain at night in an attempt to find someone who strayed into harm’s way, volunteers who risked their lives to recover the bodies of people lost in plane crashes and other accidents. With no need for a citizen of the year award.

I’ve known noble souls who were born here, whose parents were born here and whose grandparents were born here, who suffer in silence the end of a way of life and the inalterable destruction of the land they know. All with no need to foment revolution, but with a stoical awareness that things invariably pass away.

I have known true oldtimers, most now gone, whose memories and stories were a colorful and significant link with times past.

I watched sincere and skilled individuals educate our youngsters and labor under the burden of increasing regulation and restriction — often in a physical environment no true citizen would tolerate, were their child a student — persisting all the while.

I have witnessed too many buffoon politicians who, cowardly and self-serving, tell anyone anything they want to hear, before turning to tell the next person something different. But, I have also known public servants who, with a genuine connection to and love of this place, have worked long years to help guide things along, clumsily at times, enduring insults and venom spit by mean-spirited critics.

As a fourth generation Coloradan, I‘ve accepted Siberia With a View for what it is, for I have seen it many times — a small, rural western community characterized best by one thing: change. To those who yap about “historic downtown Pagosa Springs” I’ve replied, “The only thing historic about this place is that nothing lasts.” Where once the Ute and Navajo took the waters, an army post was established. The fort moved and the place, for a while, was a ranching center. The timber industry came and went. Tourism swelled and land was modified to accommodate a flood of retirees and second home owners, all sure this was the most beautiful place imaginable (that they could afford) and a service industry grew to support them.

The change continues, with real “improvement” taking place in small increments — even as one genius and world authority after another condemns and criticizes any notion that does not emanate from them. And that changes, as well: as one seer fails and fades, another takes his or her place. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Where Siberia With a View goes from here is anyone’s guess.

And a guess it should be.

One thing that is not a guess: there will be no more “Sunday” nights for this monkey.

No more columns.

I’m quittin’.

Not retiring, mind you. I can’t afford to retire. I’m a writer and a painter and I need the cash. I’m just moving to another part of the Monkey House.

But, it is time to leave this work. I wrote a while back that I believe those of us of “a certain age” should know when the time is right to vacate salaried jobs, leaving the tasks to those younger than ourselves, to those with new families or ready to start families. I opined that it was also a good thing to know when one had served in public office long enough, when it was time to allow those who would live for decades with decisions made now to be the ones who make those decisions.

For me, it is time.

So, what to eat on such an occasion? What should this monkey gnaw on as he moves to another tree in the Monkey House?

A banana? No, though I have learned that other primates peel their bananas from the opposite end than do I. They’re smarter, you know.

Other fruits? Nuts? Whole grains?

No. I am quitting a job; I am not at death’s door quite yet.

I believe there is evidence to support the assertion that chimpanzees can, on occasion, rip into a hunk o’ animal flesh. Even if there is no such evidence, I am going to act as if it is true.

For this monkey: meat.

But, nothing too fancy. After all, I have spent the past quarter century working at a small newspaper in Siberia With a View. Therefore, no celebratory tenderloin, no massive porterhouse.

Ground meat.

Meatballs. Something I can throw at other monkeys.

One third each of home-ground chuck, pork shoulder and veal.

Seasoning: white onion (slushed in the processor with a couple cloves of garlic), minced oregano and basil, a hefty dusting of Espanola red, salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

Binder: cubes of day-old Italian bread, soaked in milk, squeezed fairly dry; a flutter of panko breadcrumbs; beaten egg.

Mix the lot and let it sit in the fridge for half a day to allow the flavors to meld.

Bring the fleshy mess to room temp, fashion big balls. We’re talkin’ monkeys, after all.

Brown balls in olive oil then simmer for 30 minutes or so in a simple sauce of crushed San Marzano tomatoes (with their juices), some chicken base, a bit of oregano and basil, salt and pepper. Adjust the liquid and seasoning as necessary.

I intend to slap a mashed ball or two in a split, warm bolillo roll and sprinkle it with shredded Parmesan before I devour it. The balls would also go well with some pasta or would be just fine simply smothered with a bit of the sauce.

My parting shot: If you come looking for me, don’t stand beneath the tree.

We monkeys are prone to do some pretty ugly things.

Beware the mirror, and the mirror effect Thu, 21 Nov 2013 22:00:21 +0000 Beware the mirror.

Don’t panic, there’s no symbolic meaning here; you don’t need to do any intellectual heavy lifting. I’m referring to real mirrors, regular mirrors, those reflective things you hang around the house. You see them at gyms, at hair salons, restaurants, department stores.

Any place you put them, they can do damage.


I’m getting pretty shaggy, so I make a trip to see my personal stylist to get a haircut and a trim. I’m at a point in life where there are a number of things to trim beside the hair on my head — eyebrows, mustache, etc. — and Ray is the man to do it. He’s been trimming me for more than 25 years; he knows my hair, the odd bumps and grooves on the melon (play as much hockey and football as I did when you are a kid and you sport a wealth of cranial irregularities).

It takes fifteen minutes and Ray’s work is done. He turns the barber chair and tells me to check out the job in the mirror.

“Great haircut, as usual, Ray. But, who is the old man?”

What I see reflected in the mirror is startling, and disconcerting: the image of an old guy, looking a bit the worse for wear, several junior chins blobbing out beneath chin No. 1, bags blousing beneath watery eyes, epidermal oddities aplenty, earlobes a bit longer than normal — the whole old-guy package.

It’s the damned mirror.

It’s dangerous.

No, it’s evil.

The most evil mirror?

The one that hangs above the low dresser in the bedroom. If I stand across the room, it affords me a view of the top three quarters of my body.

In the morning, freshly arisen and unclothed, this is not something I want to see. In fact, no one should gaze upon this image; it can sap one’s will to live. I look over at Kathy; she is on the bed, propped up, reading and writing. And staring at me with a look of … what? Horror? Sadness? Pity? It’s clearly an existential moment for her.

What do she and I see?

It’s an old guy, carrying what appears to be another, somewhat smaller person around his midsection, scrawny legs barely able to move the load.

Seeing this is worse than gazing at Medusa. At least, with a glimpse of that hideous mythic creature, you turned to stone and never had to face the specter again. Not so with the image in the bedroom mirror. As long as that mirror and I are in the same room, I am guaranteed a disturbing experience.

Confronted with the old fat guy, I turn away quickly, only to see a similar image reflected in a mirror hanging over the bathroom sink.

He’s everywhere.

He has hair sprouting all over his body, in spots that shouldn’t have hair. For crying out loud, those sleek and beautifully muscled lads in the magazine ads don’t have hair there? What’s going on?

I suppose I could fill a hot tub with molten wax, rent an engine hoist and have myself dipped and stripped, but even hairless, there remains a problem: there’s no getting rid of all those chins, the watery eyes, the extra person draped around the midsection.

The mirror shows me that my structure is collapsing, and other evidence supports the reality. There is no need for an actual mirror in these cases; there’s a “mirror effect” produced by many things, and the “reflections” they produce are just as nasty as those seen in a silvered surface.

We shrink, you know.

I’ll be frank: my waist measurement exceeds my inseam measurement — by quite a bit. In fact, with my stubby legs, I likely buy standard pants with the shortest inseam available for an adult. Anything shorter and I would have to patronize the guy who custom tailors clothes for circus monkeys.

As if that’s not bad enough, for the last year, I’ve noticed something ominous happening to my pant cuffs: the back of the cuffs are being shredded.


Because I am shrinking. The combination of a gradually collapsing skeleton and the person around my waist pushing my pants down puts the cuffs under my heels.

I could wear suspenders (a sure sign a guy is headed for the tunnel and the bright light) or I could wear cowboy boots, with a substantial heel. And, of course, I could go to the monkey tailor. But, I can’t afford a tailor and I would probably fall off the cowboy boots, so I have to live with this, and the fact that Kathy has taken to calling me “Shorty.”

I also have to learn to live with another nasty sign provided by a mirror effect: my ankles are giving way. The outside edges on the heels of my shoes are being ground off at an alarming rate. I can imagine someone gathering my shoes after my game clock ticks to zero: they pick up a pair of my old man walking shoes (though I, for one, don’t believe in walking as a regular activity), and they see the sad, rounded outside edges on the heels. They imagine me lumbering, Chaplinesque, down Last Chance Boulevard. It’s poignant —a kindergarten version of Heidegger’s meditation on a worn shoe. They weep.

Then, they throw the shoes away.

The mirror effect is everywhere.

I look at the snazzy lazy susan Kathy installed in a kitchen cupboard. It has two levels: the bottom tray of the spinner holds her supplements — a dizzying array of odd herbal and quasi-medicinal compounds designed to keep her healthy well into the next century. The top tray holds my goods — stuff prescribed by doctors to keep me alive until tomorrow.

Me and the extra person I carry around my waist.

I look at my section of the carousel and it is clear that I am standing on the Big Edge, an old man teetering on the last precipice.

The mirror effect.

The answer, get rid of mirrors, as many as possible, real and otherwise. I can’t throw away the goodies on the lazy susan, or I won’t make it to tomorrow. I can’t stop wearing shoes, at least when I leave the house, but I don’t need to check the heels.

The pant cuffs? I am not going to wear suspenders, ever. I’ll go to a Big and Tall store, waddle to the Big section, amp up the waist measurement, get the inseam hacked down to near-dwarf length, and lash the waistband above my extra person with a heavy-duty belt. Or, I can tell people that rats have eaten the back of my pant cuffs.

The actual mirrors? I’ll slowly, slyly, remove mirrors in the house one at a time and hope Kathy doesn’t notice, although it seems she always has her mug in front of one of them. I will leave her favorite mirrors, and refuse to gaze upon “his” image.

This way I, and the extra person I carry around my midsection, can languish comfy in the notion that no one ages, no one shrinks, no one’s ankles give way under an overweight cargo, no one grows extra chins and sprouts hair everywhere on the body.

Best of all, without the mirrors, and with a reduced mirror effect, I can continue to eat and drink as if I were 30 — a regimen that also assures my extra person remains happy. No image, no reminders, no problem.

Once I jettison several mirrors from the house, and stash my old shoes in a recycling bin, I’ll enjoy a Manhattan (double, if you please), two cherries. From there, since it’s winter, I’ll sit down to enjoy a massive portion of a daube (if Kathy is away, it will be lamb, if she is home, it will be beef and she can pick out the hunks of cow), slopped over a pool of cheesy polenta. If I am in a plebian frame of mind, I will substitute a hefty slab of pan-crisped mac and cheese for the polenta. If I must include vegetable matter (other than what might find its way into the meat mix), I’ll go with roasted root vegetables — carrot, fingerling potato, turnip, parsnip — the sweetness of the vegetables heightened by the roasting process. A simple salad of greens dressed with garlicky vinaigrette should be harmonious, don’t you think? With the meal, something red: a Corbieres from Languedoc-Roussillon.

If there is no old, fat guy reflected in a shiny surface, no ill messages transmitted by tattered clothing and wrecked heels, the old fat guy doesn’t exist, does he?

So, the next time Ray spins me mirror ward in the chair, I will close my eyes and say, “As usual, Ray, a superb job.”

Then, I’ll amble, Chaplinesque, down an anything-but-level sidewalk, toward a rapidly setting sun, making sure I don’t catch a glimpse of my image in a nearby window.

The Flutaphone Dialectic: a remedy Thu, 31 Oct 2013 21:00:44 +0000 Ever have one of those moments when, brain train derailed by an unexpected obstacle, you stumble on a mnemonic connection that illuminates something about the way you are put together, that leads to the discovery of a key to your psychic cellar door?

I’m not referring to anything mystical here, nor am I hinting at something as profound as a Joycean epiphany, where the effect of years of parochial stress is suddenly brought into focus.

Well, OK, I am referring to epiphanies — but nothing monumental. My epiphanies are inevitably mundane.

One of these epiphanies occurs the other night as I sit down to dinner: chicken piccata, the lemon-based sauce sharpened to a razor edge by a monster load of capers; linguine with freshly shaved Parmesan, sautéed broccoli with garlic.

I like to hear music when I eat, something that provides a soothing background, that masks the less-than-desirable sounds of chewing, swallowing, burping and conversation.

So, I flip on the satellite radio receiver. What I hear is anything but what I need: Native American flute music.

Bango: I have an epiphany. Somewhat Hegelian in nature, if you will allow it.

Thesis: Native American flute music, the flautist backed by a cheesy string section formed, no doubt, of members of a regional, amateur orchestra from somewhere in Oklahoma.

Antithesis: Smetana’s “The Moldau.”

Synthesis: A lightning-quick association and a comprehension of why I detest certain kinds of music and why I am such a jerk about it.

“Detest” is a strong word, I know.

I use it with that in mind.

The “music” fills the room. I stop in mid-bite, the meal soured by more than lemon and capers. Mozart, this ain’t. What have I done?

This is marginal stuff. Shed your inclination to political correctness for a moment and you will, if you’ve been exposed, agree. Some claim the “music” issuing from this instrument — regardless of the ethnicity of the instrumentalist — is “haunting.” I believe “stultifying” is a more accurate term.

Lest you think I am narrow minded, (and you have all sorts of better evidence to support the assertion) understand this is not alone on my list of musiclike sounds, and the alleged instruments that produce them, to be avoided at all costs.

I am reminded as I am pummeled by the dreck issuing from the speakers that most bluegrass music and the majority of pseudo-Celtic drivel mistakenly recorded these days also fall into the same category. As does most hip hop and the large measure of metal, thrash, pop, whatever.

These types of music are brain cell killers; liking them proves the point.

Ready to scream as the flautist hits a naked note that trembles goose-pimply and simple against the ghastly work of the saccharine string section, I experience the epiphany, the unplanned and uncharted trip through the mental muck. I am a jerk about this kind of thing because I was once musically traumatized — so brutally, in fact, that the memory of the experience stays deeply buried until something (say, Native American flute music played during dinner) forces it to burble to the surface.

My epiphany comes surging forth, wrapped in a sequence of images.

Little Karl is in the third grade at Lincoln Elementary School, Room 210 — a plain, three-story brick building located on South Pearl Street in Denver. As a member of the Baby Boom generation, first wave, I occupy space and consume more than my share of oxygen in a classroom crammed with twice the number of kids permitted by the fire code. There’s lots of us; fathers of first-wavers who leapt from the troop train when WW II ended nine years before with yet another important mission in mind. Boy, were they busy. And, again, triumphant.

There are forty urchins stuffed into a space made for 20. It is hot and we are all more than somewhat tense. After all, we’ve just undergone the third air raid drill of the week, the siren set atop the school wailing, sending us to duck and cover beneath flimsy desks, there to wonder at what precise moment the commies will incinerate us with a nuclear device. We know from the weekly black and white 16mm commie threat movie that, while the flash will blind us, we can rest assured we will be converted to disconnected molecules long before we have a chance to hear the terrifying roar of the explosion. Certainly before we feel any pain.

Scant consolation. No amount of graham crackers and milk served mid-morning can alleviate the anxiety.

Mrs. Walsh stands at the front of the room, frazzled from a day spent tussling with the tykes, her hair in disarray, her hands shaking. She needs a cigarette, and a boyfriend. Her eyes bulge slightly and, in a warbling voice, she says: “Remove your flutophones from their sleeves, class. Take your book of songs out and turn to page three — ‘Birdies Sing in the Glen.’”

Dear lord.

She raises her hands, flutophones are pressed to teeny lips, (their sinister sisters, the soprano tonettes, are readied by less hearty members of the class). We inhale. As Mrs. Walsh’s arms descend, the most horrible sound known to man fills that cramped, hot, smelly space.

A sound scarier than the shriek of bagpipes preceding a charge of blue-tinted, one-fanged, smelly highlanders across the heather.

Worse than the awful cries of a cat caught beneath a car tire.

Worse than the wail of the air raid siren on the school roof.

Worse, yes, than the sound of a banjo.

In the grip of the memory of that experience, fixated on the images in mind’s eye, I realize I am musically biased because of … the flutophone.

Anything that sounds remotely like it, or whose distasteful impact is similar, finds a place on my list, and my negative reaction is instant and arbitrary.

I can’t stop the flow of repressed memories.

There it is, my flutophone: a six-inch-long tube of black plastic, bulging in its center, with four holes drilled in the top of the tube. At the business end is a primitive mouthpiece, with a vent just past the opening. I provide the gook caked on the shiny black plastic mouthpiece (that’s graham crackers and milk for you).

It’s kind of like a flute. A mutant flute. A flute for morons.

Like me.

I am totally inept and, to make matters worse, I sit next to the premier flutophone player at Lincoln Elementary School — a flutophone prodigy, if there ever was one: the gorgeous, but insidious, Judy Brandsmaa. The girl of my third-grade dreams, the object of my prepubescent fantasies. As I fumble with my flutophone, she sneers at me. She writes notes to her friends. I know what they say.

The flutophone is the source of my social undoing.

Satan created the flutophone — this frightening relative of the recorder, this embarrassing cousin of the ocarina, (and I don’t have time here to detail the horrors of the tonette).

We have been told we must practice each night. I don’t practice. I can’t stand to be near the flutophone. It is hidden away, like a strange cousin kept in the basement to belet out only for family holiday dinners.

I dread flutophone day at school . Granted, it’s a bit better than being picked for the “skins” team in a “skins and shirts” basketball game — but not a whole lot better.

The sound given off by forty badly-played flutophones is pure torture. In fact, all this current blather about what our intelligence services can and can’t do to prisoners (waterboarding, electric shock, sleep deprivation, etc.) would be seen as trivial, if we subjected suspected terrorists to a third-grade flutophone concert. They’d be telling us anything we wanted, and more, just to stop the assault. Toss Judy Brandsmaa in for good measure, and you can imagine how the strongest will would crumble.

I experience my epiphany, finish a second helping of chicken piccata, and head straight to the computer. I put my ear buds in and crank on the iPod. I listen to things acceptable, medicinal: a smattering of The Go Team, Randy Weston, Arthur Lee and Love, a touch of Diana Krall, Vivaldi, and a couple songs by Patty Griffin.

I Google “flutophone sales.”

Does this monster still exist? Can I find this vehicle of aural agony on the market?

The answer comes quickly: The flutophone is not only available from several manufacturers and retail sources, but American kids are still subjected to the blunt force trauma of the flutophone experience. The sirens are long gone, the 16mm black and whites no longer flicker. But, the flutophone lurks beneath the flashy media skin of the culture, barely seen, like a potent virus secreted in a rain forest monkey, waiting for a chance to be loosed upon unwitting victims who toast and devour its host.

And, to breed once it escapes, to father Native American flute music, banjos, privileged upper-middle class white kids posing as yodeling hicks, inane ego-fueled kindergarten rhymes created by barely literate high school dropouts.

It all ties together and, at last, painful as it is, I understand.

It’s the damned flutophone.

The only antidote? Food.

The next night, I decide to concoct something for dinner with the power to heal and protect. It will be so darned good, it will counteract any horrid musical moments and erase the distressing memories they evoke.

A pal told me about some crepes he made for breakfast recently and this reminds me I have not cooked crepes in quite some time. I decide to whip up a pork tenderloin paprikash filling (via Northern New Mexico), blending ingredients that, wrapped in a crepe, will eradicate bad influences and intrusions on the dining experience.

The crepes are easy: a cup of flour, two eggs, a cup of whole milk, a bit of salt, two tablespoons of melted butter. This is good for eight or so of the eggy beauties. The only other necessity: a small, nonstick sauté pan. No way around it; gotta have it. And it can’t be one of those ancient, oh-my-god-I’m-dying-of Teflon-poisoning pans. It has to be top of the line, unscratched.

I beat the eggs and mix them with the flour. I slowly add the milk to the flour and mix thoroughly. In goes the melted butter and a pinch of salt. I let the batter rest. Easy business. I have the pod on; I’m listening to the Bulgarian Women’s Choir. A little too much screechy soprano, but I enjoy them.

I rinse a small pork tenderloin and remove the silver skin and connective tissue. I cut the pork into small cubes, then season the meat. I dice half a white onion and finely mince five cloves of garlic.

I brown the pork in a couple batches, making sure I don’t overcook the meat (it dries out quickly), removing each batch to a warm plate when done. I toss a bunch of diced pancetta into the hot pan along with the onion and saute until the pancetta begins to brown a bit. I take care not to burn the onions. I flip in the minced garlic and four or five tablespoons of crushed, fire-roasted tomato. I cook until the tomato begins to turn a mahogany color. I throw in a bunch of caraway seeds, cook the mix a while, add the pork, several teaspoons of hot, Hungarian paprika, a teaspoon of Espanola ground red chile, and a cup or so of chicken broth. I season with salt and pepper (not much salt, since this is going to reduce) and I mix well. A lid goes on the pan, the heat goes to medium-low, and the mix simmers.

I steam some sliced carrot. What the heck — you need something vaguely vegetable to buffer the flesh and eggs. I make a simple salad of spring mix, tomato, kalamata olives and dress it with a lemon/mustard vinaigrette.

The crepes are simple: take the small nonstick sauté pan, put it on medium-high heat, toss a small glob of butter in the pan. When the butter starts to sizzle and brown, ladle in some batter — not too much. Tilt the pan back and forth to cover the entire  surface with a thin layer of batter. Thin is the key here. After a couple minutes, carefully flip the crepe and brown the second side, When done, remove to a heated plate and cover. Repeat.

I drain the carrots, hit them with a bit of butter and freshly ground black pepper, and blend about a half-cup of sour cream into the meat mixture. If the sauce is too thick, a bit of chicken stock will take care of business. Meat and sauce go on a crepe; crepe is rolled and sauce is put on top. Carrots and salad on the side. Glass of wine (a Cotes du Ventoux pairs well) and I saunter across the room and turn on the satellite radio receiver. I turn it to the New Age station. Bring it on.

Armed with a dinner Kathy deems, “a violation of every single dietary law we know,” I am afraid of no sound.

Unless, of course. I hear an air raid siren.

Or a flutophone.

I Promyse, it’s Truli a Marvelous thing Thu, 24 Oct 2013 21:00:07 +0000 “What are you going to name him?”

“You’ll have to wait until he’s born. I’m not revealing anything until then.”

My youngest daughter, Ivy, the Queen of Suspense, is about to give birth to her second son. I have reason to be curious, perhaps even concerned about his name. After all, she and Jon named their first son Ryder Banzai King. It’s going to be hard to top The Bonz.

Back when I was born — in the Dark Ages — nine months after the troop train unloaded at the station, parents doled out fairly conservative names to their issue. Dwight (for parents enthralled with the victorious general), and Karl pushed the limits in those restrained times. Robert, Susan, Karen, Janice, Richard, William — these were the norm.

Now, however, and for the past few decades, creativity, and often illiteracy, have moved to center stage in the baby-name game: Odd combos, strange spellings, a fascination with the “unique” have gained a lot of traction with American parents.

My curiosity leads me to undertake an Internet search. What are the baby name trends? What are the more bizarre names being glued to today’s American newborns? Perhaps my search would give me some clues regarding my grandson-to-be’s name.

I find some rippers, and gain some frightening insights concerning the names fashioned for the next generation.

In terms of altered spelling, how does Mkenzi strike you? It’s a humdinger, but the name has competition whenever Truli is entered on a birth certificate. And, if that is truli not enough, what do you think of Promyse?

Promyse you won’t say anything to her, she’s just a child.

If you are compelled to criticize Promyse, Mkenzi and Truli as worthy baby names, do so with a poetic Kadence.

Imagine a baby named Imagine.

Take comfort, there are newborns out there named Comfort.

When I found that some new parents are naming their kids after states — Nevada, for instance — I considered (momentarily) a grandson named West Virginia King.

Maybe not.

Same with New Hampshire King.

As darkness falls, imagine children named Evening. They’re out there.

What a marvelous name, Evening. Nearly as marvelous as Marvelous.

As I read the lists of new and unusual baby names, I realize the phenomenon is a mystery to many older Americans. I come to grips with this when I see that Mystery is on more than one of the lists.

I struggle to understand the essence of the situation, and I come across the name Essence.

For crying out loud, what would Timberlyn think of all this?

This kindergarten-level poetic license being exercised by our current batch of childbearers reveals a couple of things: first, that American school systems are failing miserably when it comes to teaching spelling. Second, there is an overwhelming need on the part of some young parents to provide their kid with a moniker that illuminates him or her, makes them stand out when the roll is called in a classroom.










To modify my distress, realizing an extreme reaction is indicative of how much I am no longer “with it,” I come to a compromise conclusion: Any name is fine, so long as the kid is brought up so he or she can live up to their name.

It is difficult to imagine any kid being worthy of Marvelous, much less Imagine.

Likewise, it is hard to think that someone with the name Mystery is destined for anything but prison.

I can see Comfort, Truli, Kadence and Promyse finding work as strippers and doing quite well.

Nevada (along with most of the “cowboy” and rugged, western-named young ’uns) will find work at a feed lot, as a professional wrestler or meth cooker, busting tires, or as an extra in Hollywood.

My point: the name you give a child will influence how the person named sees himself or herself and will, no doubt, shape how others apprehend and treat them.

The Bonz?

Given the meaning of “banzai,” the Bonz is going to have to be careful he doesn’t fracture his melon as a ski jumper or fall while walking a wire between skyscrapers in Manhattan. I have a hunch that, come time for a party, he might be a preferred guest. Through his nearly five years, though, Bonz has proven to be smart, creative, articulate, physical and enthusiastic. Plus, he cooks with me and is developing some kitchen skills and sensibilities. An interesting fellow. So, I think he will prove worthy of his name in a positive way.

With some of these names, however, my response is: What on earth were you thinking?

I feel pretty smug, but I get my comeuppance in short order.

It’s July 9 and Bubbie and I motor over to the hospital to find Ivy, Jon and Bonz in the birthing suite.

We meet someone new: an adorable little man; he is wrapped in a blanket and sleeping on his mom’s chest.

“I’ve got a brother,” says Bonz.

“Come meet your new grandson,” says Jon.

Ivy is pretty beat up, but she smiles and pulls the edge of blanket down, revealing a beautiful face.

“Say hi to … Bodhi Valhalla.”


It takes a second or two for things to click into place. I go from Uhhh? to Oh, that makes sense. Turns out, I have been a moron, going down the wrong track with this name thing. I forgot something.

After all, we named our oldest daughter Aurora Borealis. Aurora named our granddaughter Forest. Ivy and Jon named their firstborn Ryder Banzai. What made me think we weren’t in the swim of things? Further, why didn’t I see that I was at the root of the trend? Why didn’t I realize I am one of the fathers of the current creative name boom?

So, I have to soften my position further. Truli, a name will be an influence, but that influence can work in a positive way. An exceptional person can ride an unusual name to great heights.

Bodhi: Sanskrit. A Buddha’s understanding of the nature of things. Awakened. Enlightened.

OK, but he’s going to have to work at it, given that I am his grandfather, but … who knows?


This is pure Ivy, a salute to one branch on her ancestral tree. The middle name could have been Aaron, but Ivy apparently wanted to tip the hat to the Vikings in her father’s family’s past (not an unknown move, since Freya shows up on several of the baby name lists).

So, this little guy is going to have to be awake to the nature of things and be enlightened while, at the same time, eager to die in violent battle so he can join other fallen warriors in a great hall where they, and a suitable number of dangerous women, party with the gods until it is time to stream out and meet their end at Ragnarok.


Bo has a job on his hands.

I need to figure out what Bonz and I can cook for Bo once the little guy grows some teeth and develops a yen for solid and tasty fare. After all, enlightenment and Ragnarok demand energy.

For Bodhi: a lamb curry, served with raita and basmati rice. We’ll make it mild for the kid and increase the potency as he matures. Bonz is into grating ginger and his rudimentary knife skills will suffice when it comes to chunking up some tomatoes for the curry (a little blood never hurt anything). I will cube the lamb in another area of the kitchen, since Bonz has decided he is a vegetarian (except for those occasions when his mom makes her pulled pork rellenos with cilantro lime aioli). The chunks of lamb are seasoned with a teensy bit of salt, pepper and a light dusting of garam masala, then sautéed in a neutral oil a few pieces at a time until the chunks are browned on all sides. The browned lamb is removed to a bowl while the remainder of the meat is prepared similarly.

The heat is turned down to medium and chopped shallot and minced garlic are tossed into the pan — oil added, if necessary. Throw in a bunch of shredded ginger and a tablespoon or two of a favorite curry paste. Cook for a minute or two until the paste gets fragrant then add some chopped tomatoes and cook for a few minutes more. Deglaze with chicken broth and dump in the lamb. Cover and cook over medium low heat until the lamb is tender, adding a bit of broth if necessary. Finish with a can of unsweetened coconut milk, reducing the sauce until thick. Add a small amount of brown sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, taste, adjust the seasonings if necessary. Serve with a mound of cooked rice. Bo will enjoy this kind of fare until he attains enlightenment, at which point he will, like his brother, forsake meat (even the rellenos).

For Valhalla: lefse, to eat with the curry in the place of naan. Bonz will enjoy the messy process of mixing the lefse dough with his hands, then rolling it out. Lefse is a Scandinavian potato-based flat bread. Cooked potatoes are riced and, while warm, are combined with heavy cream, butter and salt. The potatoes are cooled and flour is mixed in. A ball of dough is rolled into a very thin crepe-like round and cooked in a hot grill pan until each side is golden brown. Roll a round into a cone and use as a shovel for the curry. A bit of lefse and curry, chased with a bite of cooling raita … who needs more? If more is necessary, some cubed and roasted winter squash, lightly seasoned with garam masala will do the trick.

With a Forest, Bonz and Bodhi on my hands, I need to restrain myself with the criticism of non-traditional names.

The trend is going to continue, and grow.

How does President Marvelous McDonald sound to you?

Wonder if he’ll like lefse?

Indulge … and get rid of the goofy hat Thu, 17 Oct 2013 21:00:21 +0000 Leftovers.

The place: the produce section at our supermarket here in Siberia With a View..

I am examining an eggplant, when she appears next to me. She’s wearing a plaid shirt, hiking boots and an incredibly goofy hat.

We inhabit different universes. She knows me; I have no idea who she is.

Something approaching a dialogue ensues.

“This thing you have with food, and cooking. You’re obsessed.”

“Nope. I’m merely attentive.”

I turn the eggplant in the icky supermarket light. Supermarket light does serious injury to hues in the blue-violet to purple part of the spectrum. Too much yellow in the light. Complements, you know; mix them and you’ve got icky.

“Attentive? That’s selling yourself short. You’re always writing about food, and wine. You brag that you’re thinking about food and cooking all the time. Attentive?”

“OK, real attentive. Granted, I wake in the morning and I’m focused on breakfast because I read a recipe or two before going nighty-night a few hours before. And, true, throughout the day I’m mulling over options for dinner. I think about food and cooking a lot. And I read about it, too — about what to make and how to make it. I study recipes, examining them like a Viking-crazed Irish monk analyzing the Book of Kells for answers to his existential dilemma. But, obsessed? No. Intense? Perhaps. So what? Do you think this eggplant looks feeble? Come on, hold it. Don’t be afraid … caress it.”

“But, there’s so many more important things in life other than food and drink.”

“I can think of only two other important things in life, and I am not sure if either of them is more important than food. Depends on the situation, and the company. And I am pretty sure, present company considered, that it would be a mistake to mention them now.”

“But, gluttony is so wrong.”

“Yep, couldn’t agree more. C’mon, prod my eggplant. I don’t advocate or appreciate gluttony. I’m an Epicurean by inclination. Always seek pleasure, but never to the point it becomes pain. There is a wide gulf between gluttony and a refined appreciation that propels measured and informed consumption, with pleasure as the highest good defining the territory.”

“Phooey. That’s a load of crud designed to divert you from the fact that constant attention to food and eating is an earmark of decadent and conspicuous consumption and, as such, is a weakness encouraged by a persistent unwillingness to confront the troubles and deprivation faced by other members of the species. Not to mention the other species that are as valuable as we are.”

“Whew. That’s an earful. Were you a sociology major in college?”

“OK, let’s put it simply: In a global and historical context, your obsession and your indulgence is wrong. A sin, if you will. To pay so much attention to food, to cooking, to eating, to drinking …”

“Excuse me — to outstanding food, creative cooking, careful eating and drinking.”

“It’s a slap in the face to all those who go without.”

“I see it much differently. Here, hold this acorn squash for a moment — like you hold a baby. It would be an offense not to deal with food and cooking the way I do. It is an offense to stuff your face with fast food. It’s a crime to eat mindlessly — and it’s criminal to surrender to misguided, self-satisfied and pseudo-saintly urges and go on a macrobiotic diet, beat a retreat to gruel and brown rice and weak tea. How grotesquely Ghandiesque.”


“Look around; what do you see?”

“Well, food, of course.”

“Not just food. Plenty of food, sister. An embarrassment of food, as a matter of fact.”

“So … we’re pigs. We have too much; we are induced every day to buy what we don’t need by clever advertising, convenience and brightly-colored packaging.”

“I disagree. I think we are the too-often ungrateful recipients of unimaginable good fortune. Think about it: the majority of the humans alive on this globe have no idea of the amount of food we can purchase — even here in Siberia with a View — nor of the incredible variety of foods. And, despite what the nitpickers and the organic freaks say, the vast majority of it — given it is eaten in reasonable fashion — is safe.”

“It’s immoral to have so much.”

“What? We should be ashamed of abundance? Because it’s there? On the contrary: It is an extraordinary occurrence, and the result of marvelous collective efforts. Immoral? I think not. It is not wrong to be able to produce and be blessed with plenty. The question is how the resource is used. It’s wrong if we take enormous resources for granted and we don’t share them when we can. It is dicey if we regularly overindulge or take abundance for granted. And here is where we will part ways clearly, aside from our opinions about that crappy shirt and goofy hat you’re wearing: I think it is unethical if we don’t take advantage of abundance. It’s not going to last, you know; nothing does. I believe it’s immoral to be blessed and not indulge the blessing in a graceful way. There is a mindless way of indulging; there is a mindful way of indulging. I choose to attempt to be mindful. Cooking and eating is a meditation, a headlong dive into the bright side of one of the primary aspects of what it is to be human.

“In that meditation, we discriminate when it comes to what we eat, and how we prepare it. The mere fact we prepare what we eat has great meaning. Not many of the organisms on this planet that eat other things (and there’s a lot of ways that’s done, you know) prepare what is eaten. In fact, not many of our fellow earthly travelers care a whole lot about what is put into the mouth, or wherever else it goes. We humans do care, if circumstance allows. And we should pay close attention to what we choose to ingest. Consider its origin and treat it with respect.”

“So, you’re saying it’s unethical not to indulge?”

“Correct. But, with qualifications. Don’t you listen? Is that hat restricting your hearing? The key is attention and respect … and thankfulness. All tempered with a bit of charity, backlit by the understanding that, but for fortune, it could be you having to forgo your luxury and shovel moldy grubs down your maw in order to simply survive.”

“You know, this is a pretty weird conversation to be having in the produce section of the grocery store.”

“Yeah, it is. But not as weird as that shirt and hat you’ve got on. Whaddya makin’ for dinner?”

“Manicotti. No meat; I’m off meat.”

“ Pity. Bit of goat cheese mixed in with the ricotta and parmesan?”

“Oooh, no. Goat cheese?”

“Absolutely, Try it and fresh herbs, no? Fresh basil, oregano?”

“Well, I’ve never used them, but …”

“How do you make your sauce.”

“Oh, I don’t have time to make it. I buy it.”

“In a jar?”


“Dear lord. OK, I can’t hear any more of this. I admit it: I’m obsessed — at least compared to you I am. Please, I beg of you: first, give me back my squash; second, mix some goat cheese into the ricotta and parmesan. And, give yourself a treat: try the manicotti baked with a romesco sauce. Stretch yourself. Take some time and meditate.”

“Rome-whatco sauce?”

“Romesco. It’s easy. Well, no, I lie: It’s not easy. But it’s not so difficult that, well, even you, can’t make it. Though you’ll need to take off that ridiculous hat and shirt before you go to the kitchen.

“There’s plenty of versions but all of them include some of the same ingredients: roasted red Bell pepper, almonds, roasted tomato, garlic, herbs (rosemary, oregano, basil), a little red wine vinegar, olive oil, sometimes breadcrumbs.

“Try this: roast your own red peppers over an open flame — two will do — and toss on a red jalapeno if you like some zip. Bag ’em, stem ’em, peel ’em. Get rid of the veins and seeds from the red jalapeno.

“Roast several Roma tomatoes — do it in the oven so they get all sweet and caramelized. Put a handful of unsalted raw almonds in a food processor and grind the daylights out of them. Peel a couple cloves of garlic and toss them in; throw in the herbs, a tiny bit of salt, some black pepper and pulse for a moment. Throw in the peppers, the tomatoes, a mess of breadcrumbs and a teeny bit of vinegar and pulse again, until everything is messed up. With the motor running, drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil until the sauce is emulsified. Taste, adjust, maybe add a wisp of sugar. Refrigerate for half a day or so to allow the flavors to meld. Then use it on your goat-cheesy good manicotti like you’d use that muddy industrial, quasi-Italian glop you buy in a jar. Throw some mozzarella, some hunks of goat cheese and shaved parmesan on top and bake it”

What are you havin?”

“A sinner’s dinner.”


“Remember, I said a true transgression is to waste food? Well, forgive me, but I have sinned. Too many times to remember. I throw away too much food.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“I’m afraid there’s some truth to that. Too many of us waste too much. And I am making my best effort to consume leftovers. I’m here to get some tomatoes, an avocado — even though they’re out of season — and some cheese. I’m going to make mole enchiladas, using the last of a pack of white corn tortillas and some leftover turkey burgers as my base.

“I’ll make a sauce with mole paste, chicken broth, a hit or two of Espanola red and tons of mushed garlic

“I’ll crumble the leftover burgers into the sauce and simmer for a while, adding a bit of broth if I need to, enough to keep the consistency just this side of sludge.

“I’ll dip the tortillas in hot oil ever so briefly and drain them on a paper towel, then grease a casserole and put a couple big spoon’s full of sauce in the pan. I’ll use a slotted spoon to remove meat from the sauce and roll up some enchiladas, adding crumbled cotilla cheese to the meat. Once all the rolled enchiladas are nestled next to the other in the pan, I’ll coat them with the sauce and put down some chunks of quesadilla and a bit more of the cotilla, maybe splash a bit of crema over all. Into a 350 oven the dish will go and, 30-45 minutes later, I’ve got a dandy on my hands.

“I have green leaf lettuce left in the fridge and I’ll slice the avocado and tomatoes, add them to the greens and prepare a lemon vinaigrette with stuff I find in the kitchen. I’ve got some pinto beans in a dish in the fridge. They’ll warm up just fine.”


Fine fare for the sinner who is making a change.

“Enjoy your romesco.

“Get obsessed.

“And, for God’s sake, get rid of that inane hat.”

Be an artist, be a teacher, eat a wolf Thu, 03 Oct 2013 20:00:22 +0000 “Let’s go to the writers’ conference in March. It’s being held in Seattle. We’ve never been to Seattle.”


“You know, the writers’ conference: we went last year, in Boston. It’s being held in Seattle this year.”


“Come on, you had a good time in Boston, admit it.”

“I ate some mighty good food.”

“I mean, at the conference.”

“We arrived in the middle of a blizzard and the conference included the biggest gaggle of geeks I have ever seen.”

“That’s because you approached it with your typical rotten attitude: Mr. Writer, Mr. Artist. You’re so precious. If you had taken the time to look, you would have found all sorts of helpful people there — publishers, agents …”

“Grad students and university adjuncts who will never make a living with their writing. People dressed in weird outfits, pretending they’re someone else. Geeks galore.”

“There’s some great restaurants and markets in Seattle.”

“OK, in that case I’ll go.”

I decide to research the conference.  I go to the association’s quarterly publication. What I find confirms everything I believe about the art world — most particularly about literary and visual arts. It almost convinces me to refuse to go to Seattle.

In brief: The art train left the tracks in the U.S. back in the ’60s when the notion that just about anyone could, and should be an “artist” took hold in colleges and universities. (It has since infected K-12 education.) Affluence and leisure gave birth to the fiction that anyone could write and paint, sing, act and play, and live la vie boheme in comfort — that one needn’t prepare for a standard occupation, for a traditionally productive role. After all, we need the arts as much as we need food, air, water, shelter and love, don’t we?

Soon, it became apparent this was a somewhat misguided approach, and the emphasis shifted to channeling would-be artistes into higher reaches of academia, to programs offering a master’s of fine arts or a master’s of creative writing, with the veiled promise of a job in the arts education factory. If you couldn’t live comfortably as an artist, you could do so by teaching naive kids while pretending to be an artist. The same happened in the world of theatre and entertainment; legions of high school students became “stars” and were encouraged by vacuous adults to pursue a life on stage and in film. Any clown who picked up a guitar was given a standing ovation and urged to stalk fame.

The wealth and ease in a large segment of American society bred illusion, and the illusion, in turn, engendered an Ouroboros of a system, one that devours and lives on itself, producing, in fact, very few credible artists.

Little was made of the fact that a “career” in the arts, with few exceptions, is a long, difficult and often unrewarding trek. Little was said when it came time to reveal the truth: only a few rise to the top — however that “top” is defined.

My perceptions are fortified as I skim the quarterly. What are interesting are the ads from the colleges and universities for their MFA programs — where you, too, can become a “writer” and fulfill your dreams. (They could just as easily be touting an art, theater, or music school.)

Nearly all the ads pimp the ride with a list of faculty members and visiting writers and instructors — a marquee, designed to attract eager neophytes like moths to a bank of bright lights.

The problem: I don’t know any of the names.

The names are displayed in a way that implies these bright lights have done great things, produced great works.

But, who the hell are they?

The answer is obvious: They are the previous generation of moths, wreckage tossed on the academic beach by the tsunami called “reality.” No doubt most of them have had a few stories or poems published in obscure journals. A few have had novels or books of verse published by a nondescript house, in a run so small as to be meaningless. They are aging moths, members of a third generation, themselves once attracted by a marquee listing of folks, most now dead, most deposited in the ash pit for failed scribes.

It is a great racket: gullible folks convinced to take out loans in order to sit with like souls, snuggled up with old moths in order to talk about what they should be doing all the time, by themselves if, indeed, they are serious about their creative work; folks hoping to be inducted into the Hall of Moths, moving from the back of the room to the front, seeing their names published in ads promoting an MFA program at an obscure college.

Not exactly what Joyce or Hemingway did. Surely not what Miller or Bukowski did. Not the path taken by Virginia Woolf. But, you play the cards you’re dealt and if those cards are lies, you need to either make the best of it or take your own life in a seedy motel room in Kingman, Arizona, once the illusion evaporates.

The art world has become an academic factory. These “artists” survive in a self-reinforcing system. Those who pick the few “artists” who escape and achieve a measure of renown are, themselves, products of the factory. Most of the true gatekeepers in the Western cultural world died 20 years ago and moths fluttered in to take their places.

The ads tell me important things.

For example, a significant number of the noted faculty members use an initial for their first name. This is a code of some sort, meaning, I suspect, that the person survived an appropriately difficult childhood and, in an act of courageous rebirth, rejects who they once were in favor of a creative someone-to-be. Or, perhaps, they have a goofy first name.

An equally great number bear some sort of ethnic name: Lightbear, Faqwar, etc.

As I scan the ads, it dawns on me: Hey, this is right up my alley! A bunch of half-accomplished dilettantes masquerading as talented mentors to the next generation of dilettantes, and getting paid for it.

I fit right in!

I craft a letter of introduction/application.

Dear Dr. L. Ibrahim Festoon:

Allow me to introduce myself and make it known that I desire a position on the staff at your illustrious institution. I am not well acquainted with Cloudy Bottom University of The Ozarks, but that is because your school lacks a Division I football program.

Nonetheless, I am sure Cloudy Bottom U. and I will be a perfect fit. You are dedicated to the birth of artistes, and I am an enthusiastic midwife.

Like the faculty and visiting staff you list in your ad for your MFA program, I too have had numerous pieces of work appear in obscure if not essentially unknown publications — in my case, more than 500 pieces, each 1,500 to 2,500 words in length, in a journal printed in my hometown of Siberia With a View. I have a fan who might vouch for me. I can supply a phone number and e-mail address on request, if I am able to secure them.

I have included examples of my work and once you rip from them a thin veneer of shallow satire and simpleminded observations, you will spend hours delighted by a difficult search for meaning in the multicultural debris that remains.

My strongest attribute: A nearly supernatural ability to deceive myself and others into believing that anyone can be an artist. I will, in short, issue a clarion call to those who wish to join our ranks, urging them to incur debt they will be unable to resolve and to hold out hope of low-wage, part-time work at institutions such as Cloudy Bottom U. I will embody all that is best in this incestuous system and in your university.

I am able to communicate across cultural and gender lines (see the enclosed essay concerning my fascination with transgender websites) and am relatively well behaved in the company of women. I am also old and, if you reject my application, I will file an age discrimination suit.

I indulge in intoxicants, but I am sure most of your faculty members are impelled to do the same, given the reality of their situations. I have not, to date, lost my driver’s license, so be assured I will arrive on time for class with my eager proteges, barring unforeseen and understandable “writer’s difficulties.” An occasional stint in rehab looks good on an artist’s resume, don’t you think?

Can’t wait to see Cloudy Bottom’s booth at the job fair; no doubt, the MFA candidates will do a swell job with the decorations. And I am thrilled by the possibility we will soon be colleagues.


K. Al Shofar (aka Many Rainbows) Isberg.

I am pretty worked up about the conference now that I have a strategy. In a culture in which everyone can and should be an artist or a star, we need experienced guides to take neophytes by the hands and pull them through the labyrinth that leads to an MFA and, if not a part-time instructor’s job, to a decent shift at Starbuck’s or The Olive Garden.

I can’t wait to be asked to deliver the graduation address to a group of bright-eyed MFA recipients.

In the meantime, I am on to a more important task: researching dining opportunities in Seattle.

I am determined to visit the famed Pike Place Market and I find a French-style brasserie at the site. They offer duck confit, with crispy thyme potatoes.

A confit is easy to pull off, especially with duck, goose or pork, given the commercial availability of fats. Duck legs are the ticket. They cook oh-so-slowly in fat (their own, and purchased), at 300 or so, for three hours. The duck legs, with thighs attached, are trimmed then rubbed thoroughly with a mix of Kosher salt, ground black pepper, chopped fresh thyme and bay leaf, and kept overnight in a large, sealed plastic bag with 10 or so crushed cloves of garlic. The trimmings are slowly rendered with some water and, when the water evaporates, the fat is added to four cups or so of purchased duck fat. The fat is heated, the oven preheated. The duck legs are wiped clean and put in a single layer in a deep baking dish. The fat is poured over the legs, covering them; the pan is covered with foil and into the oven it goes.

The duck can be stored, immersed in the fat, for quite some time (this was, in fact, a technique devised to preserve meats). A few days or weeks in the fat enriches the flavor. When ready to use, take the legs from the fat, (warm the dish holding the duck fat in a pan of warm water to melt the fat before carefully removing the legs) gently scrape remaining fat from the meat, then crisp up the legs, skin side down, in a heavy frying pan or grill them skin side down until crispy good. Save the fat for a batch of double-cooked French fries.

Another French joint in Seattle, mere steps away according to Google, offers octopus with fennel sausage, and a manchego rabbit roulade. What’s not to like about manchego? What’s not to like about rabbit? What’s not to like about meat and cheese, rolled?

Seattle, without seafood?

Not a chance.

An oyster bar in the Ballard neighborhood (any idea where that is?) provides a wide variety of the bivalves as well as a fave treat: grilled sardines.

There’s an Italian place near the convention site: braised romano beans, with sausages, fried risotto balls. A “gastropub” is close by, with one of my all-time hits — salt cod fritters. The word—“gastropub” is troubling, but I can get over it.

I locate a purveyor of pork belly and kimchi pancakes and a restaurant called “How to Cook a Wolf.” I’m going there just because of the name. Wolf on the menu? I certainly hope so.

I better enjoy these delights while in Seattle.

After all, K. Al Shofar (aka Many Rainbows) Isberg will not be able to afford them once he gets his dream job.

Get with it: consume, be happy Thu, 26 Sep 2013 21:00:50 +0000 A friend is visiting, and he is a very smart person.

He forgets, however, I am an idiot, neglects the fact I can’t concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds or so, and attempts to have an intelligent conversation with me.

Fat chance.

He tries to do this while I am watching TV. To avert an embarrassing social faux pas, I hit the mute button on the remote and turn to a position where I can pretend to look at him, all the while keeping an eye on the screen in case something bright and shiny appears there. Bright and shiny things fascinate me, especially if they move.

My friend’s topic: The possibility that our culture is now defined nearly exclusively by consumerism, by consumption and a slavish relationship to corporate America — no longer by reading, art, conversation, history (as if it ever were).

He asserts, in fact, our culture relies more and more on an ignorance of history and the embrace of kitsch, on ignorance of the values available in literature and philosophy, on public education geared to a productive role in a corporate machine, on the total immersion of the individual in an ocean of transient goods and exposure to a relentless barrage of ideas — political and commercial (as if they are different) — so shallow they are no more than slogans.

As he mentions this, I notice a woman on the screen is blasting the living daylights out of her thighs and rear end with a medieval looking device — all elastic bands and springs. It must work: her thighs are magnificent, Olympian. Who wouldn’t want thighs like that? She is in absolute control of her appearance and, therefore, of her universe. To look superior is to be superior.

My friend is still talking.

… that, with each passing day, what it means to be an American — and increasingly, a citizen of the globe in this ever flatter world — is defined by what one purchases, what one owns, where one lives, what one does to produce the income necessary to own more things, by the trite political labels they attach to themselves. That, in fact, what we are as persons is increasingly defined by our cooperative response to corporate ad media-driven political demands.

In short, he asks, are we trapped in a net cast by increasingly dominant commercial entities and a parallel economic and political elite, lured in by an appeal to a logo-burdened sense of self — a sense of self built with a deliberately short horizon line, resting on a foundation of indulgence and immediate gratification?

What kind of liberal freak is this guy?, I ask myself. But then, something moves on the periphery, and I fail to say anything. A guy on the tube is selling a product that removes mold from grout. Like magic! You’ve got a moldy bathroom, for example. Well, first, what does that say about you? Nothing good, you can be sure. Your neighbors, after all, do not have moldy bathrooms. One application of the magic formula and you can invite the Queen of England to have dinner, in your bathroom, and you will feel not an iota of shame. Buy it. Now.

My friend is still talking.

… could it be our major media are operated so as to shift consciousness to topics and events structured to divert us from consideration of certain realities — the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor, the intentional attempt to destroy public education with governmental mandates, the steady undermining of states rights and local governmental control, damage to the environment, the shrinking middle class, the commercialization and homogenization of partisan politics, the increasing lack of loyalty of giant business interests to any and all nations, the impending serfdom of the overwhelming majority of the planet’s population, misguided violence and political evil? Has our news become entertainment of a perverse sort, designed like sitcoms, as mindless filler between commercials?

Out of the corner of my eye, I watch a huge SUV blast through a major league berm of snow. I decide I want a silver, huge SUV, with special hip-hop wheels and rims. My new vehicle will feature a sound system capable of breaking glass at a distance of 100 yards and I will have a television system installed so members of my posse can watch music videos as we blast our way through banks of snow, effortlessly, at 50 miles per hour and 8 miles per gallon. We will impress many, many people as we wheel carefree across their property. We will be important because my vehicle is huge, and loud. A lot bigger and louder than yours. I might even cover it with decals.

My attention wanders back to my friend’s monologue.

… look at national politics, for example. Democrat or Republican? Isn’t it kind of foolish to think there is a great difference between the two? The media’s been in a frenzy to create the right versus left, liberal versus conservative distinction, to prime people’s gullibility, massage them as they swallow the questionable distinction because it is made personal, shaped to fit their ego needs. But, upon examination, isn’t each faction as beholding as the other to corporate money, interests and demands? Haven’t people been conned into adopting false political identities, their energies diverted to an empty, loud discourse characterized by exaggeration, anger and falsehood? Haven’t people been conned into becoming political caricatures and turned against each other so they don’t get together and turn on those who really deserve the ire?

Suddenly, there it is, on the screen: something truly revolutionary. I halt the conversation.

“You want meaning? You want substance?”  I ask my friend.  “Don’t hand me your kitsch-as culture crapola. Regardez, mon ami. I mean, check it out; it’s incredible.”

There it is, all bright and shiny, held in the hands of healthy, fit-looking people, who’ve gathered on a snazzy patio, each illuminated by the strongest of suns, happy in a way only fully satiated consumers can be. It’s the Plate Caddy. Available through a onetime television offer. All major credit cards accepted.

Never again will your party guests have to fumble with a risky combination of plate, eating utensils and glass or cup.

Think about it. You can throw a luau, a cocktail party or a holiday bash at the new grotesquely large third home you built on former ranch or farm land, and never have to worry about a guest ruining a new outfit from Lord and Taylor with spilt food and drink. Nothing is going to slop on to those Dolce & Gabannas.

Not when you’ve got the Plate Caddy.

Could anyone criticize consumer culture once they’ve seen this beauty? It’s a space-age piece of molded plastic that looks like it’s straight from the bridge of The Enterprise. Look at it: Imagine Kirk and Spock and the rest of the interstellar gang putting their chow on these sleek wonders. The plastic plate is locked in place in the center of the caddy; a cup holder makes the drinks secure as the Enterprise goes to Warp 7. There’s a utensil slot on the side for knife, fork and spoon, just in case the crew needs to draw their phasers and rub out a Klingon or two.

Who says kitsch is lacking in depth and not related to fundamental needs? Who wants Chaucer or Rembrandt, who cares about Toynbee or Spengler, when you’ve got a creation like the Plate Caddy?

Plus, each caddy has a special, color-coded “snack pick” with it, so you’ll always know which caddy goes with which guest when it comes time to circulate with another platter of store-bought meatballs.


I ponder the purchase of a set of plate caddies.

Let’s see, I say to my friend: I’m rabidly antisocial; I inhabit virtual space, full of jingles, low interest rates and special, onetime offers. I have little time left for real people. So, should the occasion arise when I actually allow people into my house and serve them food, how many caddies will I need?

I can’t foresee inviting more than six people total for dinner, and that’s stretching it. After all, I have two small couch/recliners and a couple of chairs in the “entertainment center,” all placed in front of the television set. The idea of eight or more guests is out of the question; someone would not be able to see the screen, and someone would be likely to interrupt my favorite programs with things like “meaningful conversation.”

Unfortunately, the caddies are sold in sets of four, so I will have to purchase two sets, keeping two caddies aside in case I lose or break one of the essential six. (Break a space age plastic Plate Caddy? Not gonna happen.)

When my caddies arrive (I’ll have them sent next-day express) I’ll surprise my socially deprived wife and throw a caddy party. We’ll set the event to coincide with the prime hours on the Shopping Network — it’s cubic zirconia month, you know. Talk about sparkly.

What to have? What is the perfect food for a plate caddy and an evening of rocking good commercial fun?

Obviously something that, with an ordinary plate-cup-utensil combo, would set the stage for disaster. Something hot and messy, hard to manage without the help of modern industry and design. Something in harmony with contemporary tastes, with the consumer culture, with globalization. Something kitschy.

Sloppy Joes.

This is a fine one, both tastewise and in terms of symbolic meaning.

Think about it: A huge packing plant located somewhere in Nebraska uses uninsured illegal workers to grind random chunks of animals (and the occasional uninsured illegal worker) together to produce the meat I’ll use as my base. How about some tomatoes, genetically engineered and grown to a point where they are full-sized, green and hard, then turned red through the scientific application of a gas while they are in transit in an abysmally hot truck? Oh, yeah.

And I’ll need some onion and garlic and green pepper, again genetically engineered to create the right appearance (Flavor? What’s flavor? Who needs it?), sprayed repeatedly and kept bug free. Liquid smoke, produced in a test tube? OK, bring it on. Some spices finish off the list, the pungent goodies harvested somewhere in Southeast Asia by 10-year-olds working for 25 cents per day. I’ll plop the saucy melange on top of hamburger buns saturated with preservatives and other additives, baked thousands at a time in an automated facility outside Spokane. For a beverage: simulated orange drink, chock full of artificial flavor and colorings. Ahhh. If it was good enough for astronauts, it’s darned well good enough for me.

“That ought to suit the new cultural elite you’re so worried about, eh?”  I say to my weak-kneed intellectual friend.

No response.

In my zeal, I hadn’t noticed he was gone.

Oh well.

I hit a button on the remote. The sound is back on. Life is good.

A talking head on the news says gasoline prices are down somewhat and Lindsey Lohan has barfed at a Hollywood club. The president is looking to pick a fight in Syria and L’il Bow Wow has advice for kids thinking about dropping out of school.

Did you know there’s a new plastic wrap that seals with the touch of a finger?

Five more Americans died in Afghanistan.  Two hundred Afghans.

No child is left behind. And no child (who is not in a private school) is truly educated.

“You deserve a break today …”

With nothing down, and next-day shipping.

When Bitsy whines, play it cool Thu, 12 Sep 2013 21:00:44 +0000 I see it as a public service.

My annual “Don’t be a mooncalf” editorial, directed to parents of school-age children and printed prior to the start of the new school year.

I’m busy preparing one for use this fall.

The essence of the message is simple: As a parent, you see your children as no one else sees them and it is always wise to remember this before making a complete fool of yourself.

When the parent goggles are on, little Jimmy and Suzie are surrounded by a halo of retina-shredding light. When little Billy and Donita do well, a tsunami of accomplishment washes up on the shoreline of Mom and Dad Island and the lapping of the waves creates the illusion that the tykes are perfect. That they actually accomplished something. In these cases, Mom and Dad can slap yet another snazzy bumper sticker on the mini-van, signalling the triumph.

When little Clem or Martina do less than well, things grow dark and threatening. When little Juan or Serena are criticized and, whimpering, carry home a dismal message, fraught with elements of conspiracy and bias — when cruelty and despair color the kidlets’ dialogue, a harsh bugle blows and the parental cavalry musters for a blind charge, usually ala Pickett, Custer or The Light Brigade.

Any parent worth his or her salt is prone to these reactions. They would be a poor excuse for a parent if their protective cocoon was not thrown over their offspring, if their defenses were not jacked up to Defcon 4 when a perceived attack was underway on the wee ones.

There’s a fine line there, however, and sometimes it is difficult to walk.

With a warning in mind, there is no need to jump off the edge.

A kid can be less than perfect. In fact, it is desirable. A kid can finish second or third. A kid can fail. It’s OK … really it is. In fact, at risk of riding a cliche to death, sometimes it is for the best.

In other words, if someone provides counsel, listen, take heed and you don’t have to be an idiot. You don’t have to endure a train wreck if someone tells you it is coming just around the next bend.

Message complete.

But, each year, not always understood.

Following a discussion of this topic, a fellow grew indignant and asked, “Just who do you think you are telling parents these things?”

“Well, that’s easy,” I replied. “I’m a pro.”

When it comes to being an utter ass or making a complete fool of oneself in the role of parent, I’m an expert.

I’ve been to the mountain.

And I’ve fallen off.

Several times.

I speak from experience and I see no need for others to blindly stumble off the same cliff I did. We are not lemmings, you know.

Parents, especially those with children in the upper reaches of K-12, encounter numerous opportunities to act in humiliating and stupid ways. And more and more of them succumb as the character-challenged generation raised by the first of the Baby Boomers — themselves the most self-indulgent bunch of pinheads who ever mottled the face of the planet — rear their young ’uns.

A lot of the kids intuitively grasp their parents’ flimsy condition and, having trained mommy and daddy at home to run in fear from confrontation or controversy, they find ample opportunity in the classroom and on the playing field to manipulate the parental units and steer them to Chucklehead Boulevard.

It happened to me. I was a dumbbell and my oldest daughter tricked me.

I also managed to be a total ass with my youngest daughter … all on my own.

My older daughter played me for a sucker when she was a junior in high school. Read on, it’s a textbook case.

It was basketball season, and my sweetie was a dandy, playing at a monster 5A school in Denver. I mistook her success for mine and my head swelled through the first part of the season as I sat in the bleachers, waiting for someone to compliment me for something I did not do, waiting for someone to seek out my totally untutored opinion, giving me the chance to blab incessantly about things I knew nothing about. Nature abhors a vacuum, and there was a big one at dead center of my existence.

At the same time, my daughter had become increasingly moody and recalcitrant on the home front and, frankly, I was tired of butting heads with her.

I did everything I could to avoid criticizing her, making demands based on fair expectations, imposing meaningful discipline. Too much stress for a Boomer. After all, as long as she was a star on the court and my ego was massaged by association, everything was hunky dory.

Until the evil Mrs. Brown intervened and shattered the sparkly sphere that surrounded my tiny universe.

English class.






Don’t know why she’s doing this to me.


Out to get me.

Daddy, save me.

I fell for it. It never occurred to me I was being played for a fool by a remarkably Machiavellian kid.

This can’t be, I thought. How can someone pick on a kid, MY kid — lie to her, cheat her out of a grade? How can the administration let someone with such a clear bias pick on my baby?

I was an idiot. Not only that, I was working as a teacher at the time, amplifying the quality of my stupidity.

I stormed to the high school and beat a blustery path to Mrs. Brown’s room.

Nice lady. She had a professional demeanor throughout my diatribe and maintained it as she took her grade book from the drawer, opened it and showed me the line next to my daughter’s name. Most of the boxes were empty. Those that weren’t had alarming numbers in them — 55, 40, 19 — eerily similar to the numbers I saw on my own high school report cards.

Turns out my precious little angel, she who could do no wrong, beautiful apple of my eye, had lied to me. She hadn’t done most of the work assigned to her, and when she had, her performance was crappy.

I had a choice at that juncture: I could blame Mrs. Brown and, if I felt particularly loony, I could blame the principal, maybe take the issue to the superintendent of schools, or the Supreme Court. Or I could wake up, see I was manipulated in a situation of my own making, realize I had done a very poor job of keeping up with what my daughter was doing (or not doing) in the classroom and had mistakenly ignored the classroom in favor of the considerably less valuable world of the playing field and court.

I made the right choice.

I’m not sure I ever felt any lower. I skulked out of Mrs. Brown’s room like a dog that has soiled the heirloom Persian carpet.

Unfortunately, I was not done with my tawdry work.

Voltaire said “Once a philosopher, twice a fool.”

Call me a fool.

I had another shot at being a complete imbecile in a world-class performance involving my youngest daughter.

Turns out she was a pretty fair swimmer. Won a lot of ribbons. No, wait a minute … WE won a lot of ribbons.

For several years, my youngest and I had a ritual we observed when she finished one of her usually successful races. I would wait poolside and she would jump out, rush over and give me a full-body, very wet hug. My head would swell with unearned pride and she would get a dose of fatherly affection. It worked for both of us.

At the end of a season, however, she faced her nemesis in a state championship 100-meter race. Her rival, at 11 years old, was already  6 feet tall and had hands and feet as big as swim fins. The girl went on to a career as an NCAA Division 1 athlete. My kid looked like a flea next to her.

The girl beat my daughter that day. Not by much, but I still went into spasms of agony.

I had lost.

I was beside myself. The top of my head was coming off and I fled the scene to the parking lot, to sulk and stew.

My daughter, fresh off finishing second in the state to a frightening Soviet-style lab experiment hoisted herself out of the pool and looked around for her hug. She was pretty darned happy with herself and she wanted to share.

Dad was not there. He was being a moron. He had mistaken his ambition and goals for his daughter’s. He had falsely identified her experience with his. He had forgotten to simply be proud of her, for her. He was too busy using her as a means to his own pathetic ends.

Finally, I decided I would set the matter straight: I went in search of the coach to ream her out for her failings, but couldn’t locate her. Then, I found my daughter sitting alone in the shade of the team tent.

I attacked like a rabid wolverine. After all, I knew everything: the strategy was wrong, the start faulty, the turn inadequate. Her coach was to blame too, failing to provide my little Olympian with the best possible instruction.

I was prepared to rant the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately, my daughter stopped me.

In a whole lot of ways.


She looked up and said: “You know, dad, if you can get your fat rear end into the pool and beat me, then you can give me all the advice you want.” (Actually, she used a much tangier term than “rear.”)

Ever been hit by an ego-seeking missile? Boy howdy, when they hit you, they blow you up, big time.

From that point on, I got excited about my daughter’s athletic activities, but I held my advice to comments about the latest Consumer Reports tests of sports drinks. If I talked to the coach, it was to ask if there was anything she needed. I took an interest in my daughter’s classroom work and accepted her work for what it was— even when her teacher, including her own mother, rated her less than superior.

I worked hard to recognize the line between enthusiasm and idiocy. I worked just as hard to understand that my own children could and would manipulate me. I realized others would never see my precious babies in the same light as I, and I was thankful for it. If my kids went into this world with my opinion of them as their only guide, they would be eaten alive.

So, when I write an editorial to caution parents about their potential to be simps, I have some serious background; I know what I’m talking about.

When the urge hits to clomp down to a teacher’s room or the principal’s office to hoot and holler about one thing or another, when the urge hits to call the coach and say something stupid, take a deep breath, at least consider the possibility that you are not getting the whole story from little Sid or Wanda, that you are seeing the picture through your parent goggles, then make something good to eat.

Make something special for a special, albeit not always superior, usually average child. Something the kid likes. Don’t drag out the haute cuisine; aim for your kid’s heart as well as his or her stomach.

With both my kids, the recipe was the same. Still is, now they’re grown.

Green chile, my way.

With fresh flour tortillas and full-race frijoles. Maybe some guacamole, if avocado is in season.

Since it’s for the kids, I use pork loin. I trim the meat, cut it into half-inch cubes and season them. I cook the meat in a bit of olive oil, over medium high heat. I don’t brown it; I heat it until it begins to turn opaque.

Into the fat goes some white flour and I cook the resultant roux for a moment or two to get rid of the floury taste. I don’t brown the roux as you would for any of a number of gravies or Cajun dishes.

Into the roux goes chicken broth and five or six cloves of garlic, sliced. Maybe seven.

Next up: green chile. When I was young and full of energy, I would get a sack or two of hot Hatch green each fall, have the peppers roasted then peel them, bag them and freeze them for use throughout the winter.

Now, I purchase a tub of frozen hot, chopped green and add the contents to the mix.

Here’s where I veer from the beaten path and do things to offend the purist.

I toss in a handful of crushed tomato, and I add a tablespoon  of high-grade Espanola red.

A bit of salt and pepper to taste, and the concoction simmers for a hour or so, reducing and thickening, the heat from the chile permeating the mix, the flavors melding in a subtle alchemical dance.

This is good stuff. It causes the endorphins to flow, fertilizing a sense of peace and goodwill.

Try this, or something like it, the next time you’re convinced little Dieter’s performance in the high school musical is the equal of any on Broadway or little Claudine, at 5-2, is destined for a career in the WNBA.

Too bad I didn’t have some before I went to see Mrs. Brown.

Of vacuums and pain, blood sausage and Piero Thu, 22 Aug 2013 21:00:32 +0000 I have a headache.

An abstract headache.

A vacuum in my head causes the pain.

The vacuum replaces the ideas and standards sucked out during a visit to an art gallery in Santa Fe.

I should have known it would happen.

It’s Santa Fe.

Santa Fe: where an adobe roller coaster would complete the theme park.

Santa Fe: where visitors weighted down with atrocious turquoise jewelry waddle here and there, clinking and clanging, in search of third-rate “Indian” and Western art.

Not that the entire City Different experience is loathsome.

I’m in Santa Fe with Kathy to experience the finest thing the city offers — opera — performed at one of the most spectacular venues anywhere.

We arrive at Santa Fe in time to book into an overpriced hotel (i.e. any hotel in Santa Fe); we make a trip to a favorite restaurant (food — the other fine experience in Santa Fe) and enjoy a meal prior to making our way to the opera site. We sit at a table in the courtyard at Santacafe and take it easy, minding we don’t overeat before the performance (well, maybe not).

Kathy enjoys halibut, the fish perfectly cooked, bedded on Israeli couscous, with a citrus beurre blanc. I opt for seared scallops, served atop a mound of fresh tomato fettuccine, with a leek cream sauce. The scallops are caramelized, sweet, the interiors shimmering. The sauce is kissed with garlic, the dice of white leek tender, a shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano lending the dish a salty grace note.

With a light, French white, it’s perfect.

As is the opera: Rossini’s bel canto masterpiece, “La Donna del Lago.” Some of the most spectacular choral work to be heard, in particular the male chorus. The principals are wonderful; it is the final performance in the run and the cast is in top form.

I imagine for a moment that I am civilized.

It’s a shame we didn’t get in the car and drive back to Siberia With a View immediately after the performance.

The next day … the sucking sound, the vacuum. The pain.

I should have heeded Kathy’s warning when I said I wanted to visit several galleries.

“Bad idea, Karl. You know what happens. You know you’re going to get more and more upset and, finally, you’ll blow a gasket. Why don’t we go to Target, instead?”

But, no.

There are several contemporary art galleries on my list whenever we make it to The City Different: a few located on the art midway known as Canyon Road, and several in the Railyard District. I can’t help myself — I have to go. I am like an otherwise well-adjusted gentleman of a certain age who is periodically compelled to visit a dominatrix, there to be humiliated and reduced to a sniveling, childish wreck.

The trek begins on a pleasant note: I see some work by a friend, Cecil, at a stop on Canyon Road. We have a nice chat with the matron.

Then, things roll downhill … quickly.

Here’s the problem: The world of contemporary art is a canary in a coal mine, signaling the presence of all manner of lethal nonsense that soon rolls over other cultural terrain like a pyroclastic flow of hot poop. It is a world peopled in the main by retailers, talentless academics and their curatorial minions — less-than-sensitive crypto-esthetes prone to catch whatever disease is current, intent on spreading the malady, at a price, to gullible patrons. It has become a “business,”  a world aflutter with “artist statements” fortifying efforts that, absent the poorly written missives, cannot stand alone, worthy of sustained attention.

The ordinary galleriste and “curator” is a shill for a show without substance, a car lot employee hustling to the curb to boost another sale, a fawning, money-driven sycophant serving an emperor with no clothes.

And what do they sell? Certainly nothing they relate to in any but a commercial way.

Oh, there’s plenty of work available for the decorator: highly varnished, beautifully colored abstract works — the lovely but empty spawn of a dilute coupling of abstract expressionism and color field painting. Lush surfaces, a few childlike scribbles here and there. Good enough for a Dallas “loft.”

And there are the art brut knockoffs — snarling dogs cast in garish colors. Young? Got money? This is for you.

I weaken as I expose myself to the crud, then comes the knockout blow, and the vacuum. The pain is born in a paradigm of all that is wrong with contemporary art as we enter the wrong door and a gallery matron approaches. “We are opening a new show tonight in the back building. The artist has used the geometry of the paintings of Piero della Francesca as the inspiration for a new series. You must see it; it is a tour de force.”

The warning siren sounds, but I ignore it. We wander to the back building.

There is a young man working there to install the exhibition. He has the correct, earnest air of the art truckler: “I just got my MFA, I am working on my MFA, I hope to get into an MFA program soon.” His hair is appropriately shaggy, his beard just so. He tapes an 8×10 sheet of paper in place in a grid of similar sheets, steps back, ponders the grid, chin on fist. A thinker, he.

Each sheet of paper in the grid bears a photocopied image of a Piero della Francesca painting. I have seen several of the master’s works in Italy, at the Frick in New York City, in London. I have long been partial to his portraits.

On each photocopied image, the “artist” has drawn straight lines connecting various elements in the composition. Obviously, the “artist” is asserting this is the geometric skeleton the master used to create the image. Piero was, indeed,  a noted mathematician and geometer, but …

MFA Boy continues his noble task and I turn to look at the paintings.

They are small — acrylic on wood. Each massive wall space in the gallery contains one painting.

The paintings are hard-edge abstractions — simplistic constructions painted for the most part in primary colors, with the colors clumsily juxtaposed. Taken alone, the paintings look like third-place prize winners in a junior high school art contest.

Had you stood next to me, you would have heard complicated ideas being roughly dissembled then sucked forcibly from my head.

I begin to feel the pain.

I look at Kathy. Her brow is furrowed. The expression on her face says, “No, Karl … don’t.”

But, I do.

I stroll over to MFA Boy. He is taping up yet another photocopy with lines drawn between select elements in a painting: triangles, cubes, an arc. Brilliant! It must be brilliant … the artist is Japanese! And a woman!

“Tell me,” I say, “do you buy into this crap?”

He turns to me, his mouth falls open. It’s as if I clobbered his noggin with a ball peen hammer.


“Do you buy into this crap, this conceit? Do you really give credence to the notion that there’s a valid relation between Piero della Francesca and the junk on the walls, or are you just playing along to get a summer job?”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “junk.” After all, the artist is Japanese (living in Germany), and a woman!

I might as well have asked if he wanted to be castrated with a pair of hot pliers. He is first shocked then grievously offended. As any self-respecting MFA recipient/student should be.

“Well, of course,” he says contemptuously, making a sweeping gesture toward the grid of sheets taped to the wall. “It’s obvious she was deeply inspired by the work. It is her source point.”

“She drew lines on a photocopy and wants us to believe there is some significance to it,” I reply. “Perhaps the significance her paintings lack. The paintings are atrocious and the conceit is used to divert attention from that fact. She’s like a leech attaching itself to a host’s body, sucking out just enough plasma to remain viable.”

MFA Boy is troubled; blood rushes to his cheeks. “It is deeply meaningful. The connection is physical, it’s spiritual. It is a matter of inspiration, a connection across time, a …”

“A bunch of crap to excuse poor art?”

I’m sure MFA Boy has never been in a fistfight, but he is preparing for his first, against a chubby, gap-toothed old man.

Kathy tugs on my sleeve. “I’m thirsty. Really thirsty. We need to find some water.” She pulls me out the door, leaving an aesthetically bruised and ruffled MFA Boy behind, roll of tape in one hand, photocopy of The Resurrection in the other. He grits his teeth and trembles as we depart.

My head hurts.

Artists make objects — the word understood in the broadest possible manner. If the object alone cannot elicit sustained engagement, it is weak. If the object needs a written explanation, it is incomplete. If the object requires a conceit, it is inadequate.

Weak equals leak equals vacuum equals headache.

Only food can ease the pain.

Our favorite Spanish restaurant will do the trick, though it is 3:30 by the time we arrive.

We are happy.


It is “Happy Hour.” Half price tapas, special sangrias.

We re-energize with blood orange sangrias and several tapas: a trio of schmears (red pepper-almond romesco, a carrot-garbanzo hummus, and a raisin and spinach spread) served with warm flatbread triangles; a chicken skewer, pincho de pollo, swimming in harissa, with a side cylinder of avocado, tomato, cucumber relish; and a remarkable custard — morcilla en flan de azafran. The saffron custard envelops strips of sauteed red pepper and fried sage and is baked with several slices of morcilla fanned across the top. It is topped with a hillock of aioli before it is brought to the table.

Morcilla is a sausage made with pork blood, onion, garlic, spices (often anise and cumin) and a filler — usually rice.

I neglect to tell Kathy we are eating blood sausage. She raves about the treat, cleaning the last of the custard from the dish, joyfully nibbling her share of the morcilla.

Then, I tell her.

To her credit, she bears up quite well.

That night, to continue the healing, we eat more tapas at another Spanish restaurant, including two orders of patatas bravas, as we sit at the bar and listen to a muscular jazz pianist and his bassist partner.

But, the pain does not go away.

The problem: I cannot get away from the idiotic paintings, the fool’s conceit, the death of cultivated, critical taste and the triumph of the MFA and business in the arts. The pain lingers as we return to Siberia With a View.

More food is in order if I am to heal completely.

I’ll prepare my version of pan-seared scallops on fettuccine, with a leek cream sauce.

I’ll purchase scallops at the market. They will be treated with whatever muck the mongers use to keep scallops “fresh,” so searing them properly, even when they are dry, will be difficult. So it goes in Siberia With a View.

I ponder making fresh pasta and reject the idea. Too much work. I’ll purchase a pack of “fresh” pasta at the market.

What else?

A leek, with substantial white.


Heavy cream.

A wedge of Parmesan.

A splash of dry white wine.

Chopped, fresh parsley.

Salt, pepper.

Olive oil.


That’s it.

And, it’s quick.

Water salted and on to boil.

Dice white part of leek, making sure it is very clean.

Mince and mush a clove of garlic.

Cook leek in extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat until tender.

Add garlic, cook for a minute or two. Do not brown the garlic.

Turn heat up and deglaze with splash of white wine. Reduce until wine is nearly gone. Add cream and turn heat to medium. Reduce until thick. Turn heat to lowest possible temp. Season. Add a knob of butter, incorporate.

Pop pasta in water, cook for a couple minutes, until the pasta is just this side of al dente. Drain. Put in pan with sauce and coat. The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce.

Heat heavy skillet over medium high flame. Add a touch of oil, a bit of butter. As the butter browns, pop in seasoned scallops, keeping distance between. Turn after two minutes, sear two minutes on other side. Too much time on the heat produces tragic results.

Mound pasta in bowl. Place scallops on perimeter. Slosh spoonful or two of sauce over pasta, throw on a smattering of parsley and a shaving or five of the cheese.

Eat. Perhaps with a simple green salad and some crusty bread.

Now, if the pain returns …

Morcilla, anyone?

Made with the blood of a “curator.”

German pants, bulldogs and Listerine Thu, 15 Aug 2013 21:00:09 +0000 I’m flipping from one cable channel to another. I’ve kicked back in the lounger, sipping a refreshing beverage, and I am cruising for cheap entertainment. My favorite kind.

I flash from channel to channel at near light speed. Suddenly, something catches my eye. No, to be precise, something catches my ear.

I backtrack. There it is. Polka music. In a flash, I am washed away by a wave of memory.

We near the top of the Mogollon Rim, northbound on U.S. 17.

Snow is falling and the highway is turning into an ice rink. Arizonans and Californians speed past us in their brand-new SUVs and several miles down the highway, we pass their overturned, now less-than-brand-new SUVs as the once haughty motorists attempt to exit the vehicles and scramble back to the edge of the roadway.

As I drive, I contemplate names for my soon-to-be-born grandchild.

My daughter, Aurora, is working on names for her child that, to my taste, are far too subdued, too tame, too politically correct. I remind her that she received her name — Aurora Borealis — following a fit of late-60s passion, and that she is now the caretaker of a tradition. She does not agree.

I am a professional wordsmith; I have superb ideas for names, and when Aurora refuses to comply with my suggestions, I inform her that I will call the child whatever I please, regardless of the name she chooses.

If the child is a girl, I will call her either “Ipana” or “Listerine.” If I have a grandson, he will be named “Zanax,” “Waxy” or “Max Apollo.”

I will not compromise.

As a grandfather I will work hard to be an embarrassment to the kid. The young ’uns are easily and profoundly embarrassed by old fools.

This will be fun.

We near the Prescott interchange and Kathy tunes the radio to an AM station out of Tucson. The airwaves are suddenly full of “international favorites,” scratchy, tuneful memories needled off old 78s, beamed to sentimental retirees hunkered in RVs parked in Tucson, in Mesa, all across the lower half of Arizona.

Kathy is thrilled when the program’s host plays the German Duck Dance. She knows the song well, quacks loudly at all the right times and, hands in her armpits, flaps her elbows up and down in a demented imitation of an Eider duck.

While Kathy wings her special way through the last few bars of the miserable Teutonic air, the announcer thanks the Heidelberg Club for its sponsorship of the show, and he notes that the next meeting of the club — the Cabbage Fest — will be held at a local hall on Friday.

At the mention of the Heidelberg Club, I am distracted from my primary tasks: to select a name for my grandchild, and to be on the alert for shapeshifters as we near the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.

It is said that shapeshifters appear next to roadways disguised as a wounded animal, a needy hitchhiker or a bewildered park ranger. You stop to help the limping Collie or to pick up the bright-eyed college student and, whammo, the shifter transmogrifies, the curtain falls, the lights go out. You have taken your last motor trip.

But the Heidelberg Club captures my attention. I can see the members of the club in my mind’s eye: a bunch of hefty old coots wearing Bavarian hats set at jaunty angles, argyle knee socks and — the piece de resistance — lederhosen. They teeter in a line, gold teeth flashing, feebly slapping their thighs as the accordion and tuba music reaches a crescendo. Then, they retire to the bar for a mini-stein of lager and a hit of Milk of Magnesia.

The vision precipitates a major anxiety attack.

It’s the blasted lederhosen!

I steer toward Flagstaff but I am consumed by thoughts of Denver, circa 1957.

I am at Lincoln Elementary School, one of a legion of dweebs conceived nine months after the troop trains arrive home and the GIs disembark at Union Station — one among more than 40 fourth-grade students in Section A, all of us crammed into a high-ceilinged classroom on the third floor of the school building.

Our teacher, Miss Bellodi, thanks a prematurely buxom Karen Goodhue for a touching and educational presentation as part of “Show and Tell.” Karen has described her cat Blondie’s agonizing death in amazing detail and has sobbed her way through a recreation of Blondie’s funeral in the Goodhue’s back yard. Karen receives a great deal of emotional support as she returns to her seat

I am terrified.

I want Show and Tell to end.

Show and Tell is not my favorite time. I have made several serious errors during Show and Tell, the last being a display of full-color photos of carcinoma of the penis I found in one of my father’s medical journals. The photos occasioned a number of extreme reactions, and I was sent to the principal’s office for the morning.

This Show and Tell, however, could be worse. It has me frozen with fear. I dreaded it the night before; I barely slept worrying about it.

Fraught with anxiety, I arrived early for school, making my way to my place in the classroom a half hour before Miss Bellodi arrived, nearly a full hour before any of the other students. I set off for school on my Schwinn before the sun was up, my breath visible as I passed beneath the streetlights on Exposition Avenue.

I have not budged since I arrived and took my place at the table at the back of the room. Now, the joint is full. It is Show and Tell time, and Karen retreats to her seat. My friend Ricky Hudson is next to me, picking his nose and eating the prize, totally preoccupied with mucous. Ricky smells like Vicks Vapo Rub.

I am in a dither, my mind races wildly. My normally short attention span is shattered into even smaller segments. I bounce from thought to thought — all the thoughts arising from one ominous source point.

I pray I will not be asked to leave my seat, to go to the front of the room, to stand in front of the blackboard. If I evade that dilemma, I will next need to find a way to excuse myself from lunch, find a way to remain in my seat, at my desk, as my classmates go to the cafeteria.

I will miss one my favorite meals — macaroni and cheese, and fish sticks — but the sacrifice is necessary.

What if I have to go to the bathroom? What if there is an air raid drill or, worse yet, a fire drill where everyone stands and files out of the room in an orderly manner; where we walk in single file down the hall, part of a streaming horde heading for the fire escapes and the playgrounds below?

What if . . .

Miss Bellodi speaks, and my jaw muscles tighten.

“Does anyone else have something to share with the class?” she asks. Ricky has found something interesting but, thankfully, he chooses not to make it public and devours it on the spot.

“Well then,” she continues, “we need to take out our crayons and …”

The instant she halts in midsentence, I sense trouble. Everything was going so smoothly. Everything was working out. Then, suddenly … Oh, no!

Unconsciously, I add up the facts. The equation is clear, the logic inexorable. Miss Bellodi is a close friend of my grandmother, Minnie. Miss Bellodi accompanied her sister, Dewey, to my grandmother’s house for dinner and bridge the night before. Miss Bellodi and my grandmother exchanged small talk. Some of that small talk concerned a trip my family made to Europe during the summer. Some of that small talk concerned items purchased during the European adventure: pot metal replicas of the Eiffel Tower; dolls from England, miniature Beefeaters and Yeomen of the Guard crafted from lead; Swiss wine skins; red, waxy rounds of Gouda. Some of that small talk centered on Karl. Some of that small talk concerned an article of clothing, and a cruel idea foisted on Karl by his otherwise loving mother.

Miss Bellodi is on an unstoppable march to an awful destination; there is nothing I can do. It is like being in a car crash: it seems to happen in slow motion, yet there is no way to avoid the impact.

“There is one more thing,” says Miss Bellodi, gazing to the back of the room, toward the chubby, gap-toothed, myopic lad sitting next to the kid with a finger jammed in a nostril.

“Karl, I nearly forgot. You have something very interesting to show us, don’t you?”

I grit my teeth so hard the enamel begins to crack. I start to hyperventilate. I peer through my bottle-thick specs at Miss Bellodi and, brow furrowed, attempt to subtly indicate my discomfort with a barely perceptible waggling of my head from side to side. It is a tremor fraught with significance.

It is a tremor ignored.

“Karl, come to the front of the room and show everyone your lederhosen.”

I am doomed.

Heads turn. All eyes are on me, especially the crystal-clear, ice-blue eyes set in the angelic, perfect head of Judy Brandsmaa. Judy turns in her chair, fixing those cerulean orbs on me, her perky little lips parting in anticipation of a wonderful surprise.

Can it get any more horrible?

Oh, yeah. It can.

From the moment mom spotted the lederhosen in Munich, the experience was fated. From the instant mom saw the liver-gray leather shorts with the bib-style suspenders embroidered with scenes from a Black Forest stag hunt, and said, “Oh my, these would look so cute on Karl,” the awful course was set. The second mom took the heavy, smelly, ugly shorts from the rack and said, “Oh yes, these are big enough to fit Karl. He’s husky, you know,” my humiliation was ordained. When she discovered the matching Hitler Youth knee socks, my fate was sealed.

“Come to the front of the classroom, Karl. Show everyone your interesting German shorts.”

I rise slowly from my chair, face crimson, palms sweating, and I waddle through the maze of tables to the front of the room. The cheap rubber soles of my Hush Puppies squeak on the bare wood floor.

I stand at the front of the classroom, my stomach protruding beneath the fleeing stag, my chubby knees chalk-white, bulging above the knee socks and the flashy “Forester” sock garters with the Kelly green tabs.

Miss Bellodi’s reputation for unbridled cruelty gives me temporary respite: no one dares laugh or shout insults in the classroom. Richard, the class bully, stares at me with a bizarre look on his face — a mixture of confusion and naked hostility. My friend Fabrizio puts his head down on the desk, his shoulders shaking. Judy’s eyes bulge. Ricky continues to pick his nose. It is the onset of allergy season.

Can it get any worse?

Yeah, it can get worse.

“Turn around, Karl. Show us your pants. Tell us about them.”

Had I read Nietzsche I could have regaled my classmates with a thrilling tale of “great blond beasts,” the last of the triumphant northern warriors, “Hyperboreans” alone on the icy heights … clad in lederhosen. I could create a story about the ancient origins of lederhosen and the role of the shorts in the knightly activities of medieval German royalty. I could, if need be, invoke my Swedish heritage and overwhelm ridicule with tales of Valhalla and Ragnarok.

Instead, I feel sick. My brain burns, thoughts tumble inside my head incomplete and confused. Finally, I mumble: “I dunno. My mom got them for me. She made me wear them.”

Can it get any worse?

You bet it can.

Once I am released from the front of the room I feign a life-threatening illness, but the school nurse returns me to class and I am forced to go to lunch. I walk through the crowded cafeteria in my lederhosen, clutching the tray with my precious cargo of macaroni and cheese and fish sticks, this time observed by an audience unrestrained by Miss Bellodi’s ferocious demeanor. The sixth-graders are none too kindly.

Can it get any worse?

Sure it can.

Ever try to high jump in lederhosen?

There is no way Mr. McIntosh the gym teacher is letting me out of the high jump test. Getting over that damned bar is hard enough for a fat kid in the best of circumstances, but when he is encumbered by a pair of stiff German shorts with bib-style suspenders with embroidered scenes of a stag hunt? Not a chance! And believe me, once sand is inside a pair of lederhosen, it is there for the rest of the day.

Can it get any worse?

Most certainly.

Stinging from a five-hour barrage of taunts, I stay in the cloakroom after school, waiting for my classmates to flee the building. When the halls outside the room are silent, I sneak down the back stairs, peering over the banisters to spot any potential problems on the landings below. I peek out the back door of the building, checking for trouble lurking on the playground. I creep out the door and over to the bike rack where my Schwinn was parked.

As I take the trusty flyer from the rack and put my Big Chief tablet in the basket attached to the front handlebars, I hear the voice — cold, ominous, behind me.

I don’t need to turn around.

“Nice shorts, porky. Does Mommie dress you every day?”


The only guy in the school to be stabbed. Twice!

The only guy whose parents let him wear his hair in a waterfall.

The only guy in the school with a leather motorcycle jacket.

The only 13-year-old in the fifth grade!

Can it get any worse?

Count on it.

I have no idea if Richard really attempts to catch me that day, but I am certain I set a land speed record on that clunky Schwinn. Uphill.

The chafing that follows is incredible. Damp German leather, sand, chubby thighs, metal-melting friction — all figure in an abrasion that takes weeks to heal. Due to my injury, my performance in the school softball tournament is abysmal.

Can it get any worse?


The incredible Judy never sets eyes on me again that she does not giggle, no doubt calling up an image of a lederhosen-clad paramour standing at her door proffering a bouquet of alpine wild flowers and a pork hock.

The lederhosen promise even more distress for me. When mom announces a “great idea,” namely that Karl wear his lederhosen to a huge picnic my father and his partners at the clinic are planning for the next weekend, drastic measures are in order. There is no way the Vandenbosch twins were going to see me in those shorts!

For help, I turn to Butch, our abnormally large Boston terrier.

Butch, as the ultimate Boston bulldog, has a penchant for clamping his powerful jaws on any object he fancies, then shredding that object, regardless of composition, into tiny bits and pieces. In his prime, Butch demolishes towels, ropes, roller skates, hockey pucks, large chunks of wood, pieces of asphalt roofing, Barbie dolls, brake pads, bricks, balls, football helmets, garden tools, a Christmas tree … and, saving the best for last — one pair of authentic Bavarian lederhosen.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog any happier than Butch when he ties into those shorts. I’m not sure he takes time to enjoy the embroidered scene of a Black Forest stag hunt, but the animal is ecstatic. Not only does Butch demolish the pants, he eats part of them, then takes a well-deserved but somewhat restless nap. The sight of our black and white bundle of energy leaping and frolicking in golden evening light in our back yard, tossing those lederhosen into the air, ripping into that fine German leather and gnawing on those genuine bone buttons, is a thing of beauty.

Of course, I tearfully blame the destruction of mom’s favorite gift on Butch and he is banished to a crude plywood dungeon in the garage for a week, but the price is right. His sacrifice serves a purpose: I might never cleanse myself of my shame, but there will be no more humiliation.

Jump forward.

As we roll toward Tuba City, the Tucson station begins to fade. The announcer reminds listeners of the correct spelling of “Dalmatian,” and Kathy and I enjoy what is left of a zippy polka before a wave of static erases the tune. Hail falls from the sky.

I decide to go German when I return home. Or, at least half-German — Alsatian — with a hearty choucroute dispelling the effects of the unexpected wintry weather. It will serve as a cleansing ritual, hair of the dog (may he rest in peace).

Sauerkraut provides the base and essence of choucroute. Gauge the amount of sauerkraut in terms of how many persons will enjoy the dish. Plan on at least a half pound of kraut per person. If you have a crock and the inclination, make your own. If this can’t happen, procure the freshest kraut possible. In Siberia With a View, this will be difficult, but there are refrigerated krauts that fill the bill. Rinse the sauerkraut well and squeeze out the moisture.

Saute a sliced onion or two in oil until golden, remove from the pan and mix with the drained sauerkraut. Add several cloves of chopped garlic and some ground black pepper. Throw in a smoked pork shank if you can find one, and a couple of peeled, whole carrots.

Line the bottom of a heavy pot with thin strips of salt pork. Dump the kraut mix on top of the salt pork. Cover the kraut with a half-and-half mix of chicken stock and a decent Riesling. Make sure the liquid thoroughly permeates the kraut.

Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for two hours minimum, adding wine when necessary.

Add some hefty chunks of Polish sausage a half hour before the dish is served and several links of Knackwurst 20 minutes before the kraut is ready to eat. Chuck a couple of genuine frankfurters into the pot while you’re at it.

If you can find the incredible, delicate white veal and parsley sausages called “bockwurst” (which I was once able to get at Erich Sachs Delicatessen in Denver — a lovely German deli on Broadway where, it is rumored, “special” meetings were held in the basement in the late ’30s) simmer them in water for five minutes then brown them lightly in butter before adding to the mix during the final ten minutes of cooking.

Fish out the carrots and throw them away before serving the choucroute. Separate the meats from the kraut, placing them around a mound of sauerkraut on a platter for serving.

Crank open another bottle of Riesling, maybe two, tear up a loaf of light rye and have plenty of butter on hand.

Call your nosepicking friends, put some accordion and tuba music on the Victrola, and get ready for fun.

Before you eat, lift a glass of Riesling in a toast — to Ipana or Waxy, to the Heidelberg Club, to lederhosen, and to Boston bulldogs everywhere.