Monday, June 29, 2009


I had a weekend almost entirely without obligation: no kids, no partner, no work, no choir. And if you don't count laundering the linens twice, the only productive thing I did between Friday night and Sunday night was to stake the tomato plants in the garden. I also did a little weeding.

If you don't stake your tomato plants, your tomatoes will all end up on the ground, where they'll rot before they ripen. Properly staked and tended plants give more and better fruit. My stakes are actually the handles from string mops that I bought at the dollar store for -- wait for it -- a dollar each. I bought them last year and then kept them in the garage over the winter. Despite spending a few months in ground that was often wet, they didn't rust at all, so now I'm using them for a second year, which means they cost only fifty cents per use. Am I thrifty, or what?

Tomato cages are also traditional, but they're pricey.

As I was pressing the stakes down into the soft ground (weeks of rain before a few days of sun that allowed me to get into the garden), I couldn't help thinking that the whims of the English language make it such that you could stake a tomato plant either a) to support the plant and increase its yield, b) to keep an undead tomato plant from rising up and devouring both you and your marinara sauce, or c) to create a living reenactment of the acrylic-on-black-velvet-living-room classic, Tomatoes Playing Poker. And that's without even considering the homophones.

I was careful not to put the stakes too close to the root of the plant. That could damage the plant, and would be a mis-stake.

I did venture into DC Saturday evening to catch a concert at the Kennedy Center. Since b&c wasn't in town, I invited my buddy George, and we had dinner at a Greek restaurant in upper Northeast beforehand. I thought perhaps it was just a hair too hot to eat outside, but almost immediately after we sat down, a light breeze came along, and it was just perfect. I had driven to Bethesda to pick him up, and we'd parked about two blocks from the restaurant, allowing us to walk through a delightful neighborhood and feel depressed about living in the suburbs where you can't walk to anything. But it was too nice an evening to stay depressed, what with the cool breeze and the excellent food and the extremely decorative young (twenty-five and thirty-three, I'd guess) gay couple who walked by holding hands. It reminded me of a time, perhaps a year ago, when I'd been driving on that same street, perhaps a block or two away, and had not approved of another gay couple who were holding hands. They were also both young and attractive, but one was in a suit, and the other was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. I don't think you should hold hands unless you maintain some level of parity of formality. I'm willing to give you one level of separation, say, a guy wearing a suit and another guy who's business casual. Or maybe a guy in khakis and a blue button-down shirt with a guy in jeans and a sweater, but that's already stretching it. The guys on Saturday night were both wearing jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts (one brown, one magenta). They were aesthetically appealing both separately and together.

I'm generally not that picky about my eye candy, but it usually comes in singles rather than doubles. It's a fairly common phenomenon, when I'm by myself, for me to drive along, see a boy, and say, "Pretty!" out loud where no one can hear it.

I was on my way to the supermarket Sunday evening when I saw another pair of young men, not holding hands but jogging. They were both wearing black shorts and running shoes and nothing else, and they were almost too pretty to bear. But, really, nothing is too pretty to bear. It's a shame they were going the other way and that I only had a moment to enjoy the sight of them.

I don't usually spend my suburban driving time ogling the cute young men, but that might be because there aren't so many of them around until one gets into the more urban areas. What I more typically do when I'm driving around the deeper suburbs is to semi-compulsively multiply the digits on mailboxes. In my immediate vicinity, it's not so easy because so many of the house numbers have zeroes in them. For example:

And here again:

I only have a temporarily addictive personality, though, so I don't multiply all the time. But if I remember that I haven't done it in a while, then I'll start to do it again, and I might, for a few minutes, have trouble letting go of it. In that case, the zeroes become a useful break because while I probably multiply more rapidly than most men (as with "stake," "multiply" has, um, multiple meanings, so feel free to make a joke comparing me to a rabbit), when I saw this:

it took me a couple of seconds to come up with 324. It's not uncommon to be driving along some suburban roads at forty or forty-five miles an hour, and then if you don't have some numbers with zeroes in them, it becomes difficult to keep up. Yet another reason to move to the city, get rid of the car, and spend your time ogling boys rather than numbers.

I'd miss the tomatoes, though. A couple of months ago, I was sitting in choir rehearsal, talking with another of the basses, and we were discussing gardens, and when I mentioned the upcoming tomato season, he said, "The only things money can't buy you are love and home-grown tomatoes." I replied, "I'm not so sure about love." He looked at me and said, "I just don't know what to say now," and I responded, "Then I guess my work here is done."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dreams of Proust

No, seriously.

I had a dream last night that I was dating a cute guy who had read the entirety of In Search of Lost Times seven times. He said that he kept reading it again and again because it was so funny.

Normally, I'd consider that sort of dream more of a nightmare, mostly because it involved my dating someone. As far as I'm concerned, the principal reason for staying with one's partner is that if you don't, you'll suddenly be single, and you might slip up and start dating again. One shudders at the very thought.

He insisted on calling it A Remembrance of Things Past, and I thought that was odd, even though that was the title that appeared on the volumes that were so prevalent in used book stores twenty years ago. Used book stores themselves used to be a lot more prevalent twenty years ago, but perhaps that's just because I lived in Boston at the time. I don't think it's just that, though. Even in Boston, the dissemination of media became less eclectic during my stay, which was largely before the Internet. When I first came to town, for example, you could not swing a dead cat without hitting a revival movie house. When I left, they were almost all gone.

Sometimes I think of all the overeducated young men who will not find their way to a showing of "Les Enfants de Paradis" on the large screen and will, consequently, never see Arletty say, "C'est tellement simple, l'amour." It might be sad. And I can't help imagining that if I were to return to Boston and Cambridge today, at least a few of the used book stores I used to frequent would now be converted to Starbucks.

When I went to see "Les Enfants de Paradis" it was at the Somerville revival movie house, (Whose exact name I was about to say I didn't remember, but then I had a moment of diligence and did a little research. It was the Somerville Theater. Despite what the article says about a long-term lease and growing attendance, it closed down. It reopened, but it's no longer a revival house.) and when I gave my ten-movie pass to the usher to punch, he laughed and said that they weren't making any money that night because everyone who showed up to the movie was a regular customer using a pass. I'm pretty sure I bought popcorn, though.

My dream date told me, in a decidedly abashed voice, that he had only read A la Recherche in French once. He said it as if he were imparting his deepest, darkest, most will-he-still-like-me-once-he-knows secret. He seemed disappointed when I told him that I didn't think literature in translation was even a venial sin. All the same, I decided that I had to break up with him, in part because my own secrets were deeper, darker, and much more fun than his, but mostly because I wasn't sure that I could handle a future full of evenings spent next to a man chuckling over Proust.

Fortunately, I was spared having to break up with him by waking up, but if I ever find myself in that situation in real life (perish the thought), I'm pretty sure that I'll rise from his bed one Saturday morning, and, bending down to kiss his half-sleeping face, say, "C'est tellement simple, l'amour." He'll smile drowsily, and I'll walk out the door. Then I'll block his calls and e-mails.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Terrifying and Reckless Adventure

Early yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in a plush chair at one of the local branches of a well-known and ubiquitous national chain, which I simultaneously deplore and patronize, of coffeehouses, reading a few chapters of Don Quixote. I had been to the exact same branch a few hours earlier to procure for YFU a breakfast sandwich and a frozen coffee beverage with extra whipped cream, and the person taking my order had taken pains to wish me a happy Father's Day, but I was momentarily childless, YFU having left soon after the aforementioned extra whipped cream for a two-week stay at a summer camp located on the Chesapeake Bay and run by an association of young Christian men. I was using the backside of a bookmark that she had made me as either a Father's Day or birthday present in 2008 to help guide my eyes down the page, and I came to the following passage:
"I, Senor Don Quixote," responded the gentleman, "have a son, and if I didn't have him, perhaps I would consider myself more fortunate than I do, and not because he's bad, but because he isn't as good as I would like him to be. He's eighteen, and has spent the last six years in Salamanca, studying Latin and Greek, and when I wanted him to go on to the study of other areas of knowledge, I found him so enthralled with poetry, if that can be called knowledge, that I can't make him show any enthusiasm for law, which I would like him to study, or for the queen of all study, which is theology. I would like him to be the crown of his lineage, for we live in a time when our kings richly reward good, virtuous letters, for letters without virtue are pearls in the dungheap. He spends the whole day determining if Homer wrote well or badly in a particular line of the Iliad; if Martial was indecent in a certain epigram; if specific lines of Virgil are to be understood in this manner or another. In short, all his conversations are about the books of these poets and of Horace, Persius, Juvenal, and Tibullus; he does not think very highly of modern writers, and despite the antipathy he displays toward poetry in the vernacular, his thoughts are now entirely turned to writing a gloss on four lines sent to him from Salamanca, I think for a literary competition."

And I was struck with how it cannot help but be both misguided and pointless to view one's children as an extension of oneself, much less to hope that one or another of them turns out to be "the crown of his [or her] lineage." In some, but by no means all, cases, a child's happiness, is a reflection of his or her parents' behavior, but what children choose to make of their lives is pretty much on them, and trying to control it can only lead to tears. The best you can hope to do as a father (or mother) is not to fuck them up, which is no small accomplishment.

There were fathers out in full force, of course. I particularly noticed a man who appeared to be in his early fifties who came into the coffeeshop with his two sons, both under the age of eight. He was handsome, with a distinctively shaped nose that he had passed on to both his sons. The boys were cute in the way that most temporarily well-behaved six- or seven-year-olds are, and they almost certainly have a lifetime of physical attractiveness to look forward to. They will doubtless be beautiful in fifteen years and will very probably look exactly like their father in another thirty years. The resemblance was emphasized by their identical, completely unnecessary combover haircuts. It was as if he were already preparing them for a future of hair loss that is almost certain never to arrive.

I had called my own father -- to whom, I'm told, I bear a strong resemblance -- in between visits to the coffeehouse. We had spoken at some length about the weather and gardening and the acquisition of hand tools, and he had told me once again how much he appreciated my father's day gift and the sentiment I'd instructed the people sending it to put on the card. My father is absolutely blossoming with gratitude these days. A keen sense of gratitude is one of the many things I appear to have inherited from him, but I am not so forthcoming with its expression. He has always been a kind and loving person, but I attribute some of his current effusiveness to effective pain management. Not that he's in any way loopy; rather, having suffered so much pain for such a long time, its removal has left him ever so slightly untethered. It is a very good thing, but also slightly overwhelming.

An hour or so later, when I had moved from an indoor to an outdoor chair to escape the overly aggressive air conditioning and enjoy one of the few rain-free periods of the last month, EFU called me to wish me a "happy happy happy Father's Day" and to discuss our plans for the rest of the day. I returned home to research movie times and then call her back. She drove over, and we set out to see a mid-afternoon showing of Away We Go, a film that drives home just how rare and difficult it is to not fuck one's kids up. I thought of the movie as an older, sadder, less clever version of Juno, but since my main problem with Juno was its excessive cleverness, perhaps that was a good thing. I could have done with a little less sadness, but then, who couldn't?

When I returned home, I heard b&c in the back yard, hammering. He was installing some fencing, in an attempt to keep the deer from eating the tomato plants, as they did last year. I have suggested introducing natural predators, but others in the neighborhood say that bobcats might go after the runners as well as the deer. They seem to think I'm joking when I say that it sounds like a win-win situation to me, and perhaps that's just as well.

B&c and I had hung the fencing in the top part of the garden the day before, and it had not gone particularly smoothly. The garden, even at the top of the hill, is very wet, and when he encouraged me to wear something other than my New Balances, I changed into my pseudo-combat boots that were sitting in the garage. B&c, reasonably, refuses to allow them in the house because of their strong chemical smell. I attribute this to their having costed only about $25 via mail order. It seems foolish to pay very much for an item of clothing that I own more for the pleasure of ownership than to actually wear. In any case, boots generally make me happy, so I was pleased to have an opportunity to wear this pair and get them muddy. What didn't, at first, go smoothly was the actual fencing, because b&c had purchased some sort of rounded, staple-like tacks to attach the fencing to the posts, and they were nearly impossible to nail into the thin uprights. I had to ask three times and endure a great deal of swearing before he finally agreed that I should go to Home Depot and purchase a staple gun. It was still Saturday then, so I narrowly missed out on the Home Depot/muddy boots/Father's Day trifecta of joy, but I am told that two out of three is not bad.

I was driving into the parking lot at the Home Depot, happy in my boots, when I pulled up behind two early twenty-something men walking side by side towards the entrance. It was warm, and they were somewhat sweaty, and one of them was wearing a tight pair of painter's shorts that were held up only by the sins of his forefathers. He was shirtless, with a long, smooth, slender torso that he was preparing to cover with a wife beater, in anticipation of entering the store. As I passed him and looked in my side view mirror, he bottom hem of the tank was slowly descending his pale chest and was holding just above his nipples. Unanticipated beauty is all around us and nowhere more so than at the Home Depot, the ancestral home of un-self-conscious manliness. It occurred to me that in twenty years, this particular youth would, in all likelihood, have leathery skin covered with the wrong tattoos, chosen for reasons of lust and/or altered consciousness rather than out of sensible aesthetic considerations, but the eventual, inevitable disappearance of his youthful beauty makes it all the more remarkable now.

I might have been tempted into a moment of wistfulness, but wistful is not so much my nature, and, in any case, I had a stapler to acquire. Also some gloves for YFU to use while sailing on the Chesapeake. And some staples, of course. I did not tarry long in the temple of masculinity, and when I returned home and loaded my gun, the upper portion of the fencing was completed in short order.

I removed my boots before re-entering the house, of course, and later I took them to the sink to remove the bulk of the mud from their soles. I felt a twinge of remorse at consigning them, yet again, to the garage. I put them inside a plastic grocery bag, poured some baking soda inside each boot, poured more inside the bag, and sealed the bag before returning the boots to the garage. They had been sitting outside for a long while before I put them on yesterday and they had not yet lost very much of the smell, but perhaps the baking soda will, eventually, do enough to allow them to take a place of honor in one or another of our closets, next to some of the other, less odoriferous boots that I also almost never wear.

Perhaps when they're older, I'll ask the girls for a nice pair of boots for Father's Day. They routinely complain that it is difficult to shop for me because I don't want anything, and because I don't use the things that I do say I want. EFU is still annoyed with me for not using the very nice handmade leather wallet that she brought me from Guadalajara, but the wallet she bought me a couple of years ago is still perfectly fine, and the Guadalajara wallet is so nice that I'm in no hurry to begin the process of wearing it out. Similarly, they disagree with my contention that it is impossible to have too many cotton handkerchiefs. I, of course, am extremely pleased to receive a homemade bookmark, but they also feel that I have too many of these.

They finally agreed, however, that it is difficult to have too many Staples retractable thick-barrelled gel-ink pens, so when I opened my Father's Day gift this year, it was not much of a surprise to find a two-pack of them. It was just what I wanted.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Annals of Thrift: Waiting for the World To Change

A few days ago, I was sitting at my computer, minding my own business and either playing a game or watching yet another episode of Legend of the Seeker (I have now worked my way through the entire first season, and I have still not seen Craig Horner's unclothed backside. What a world.) when b&c appeared in the doorway to the study and began an unsolicited rant on the failures of the Obama administration. I will spare you the details, but in essence, he is annoyed that President Obama has been in office for several months and has not yet solved all the nation's and the world's problems. (I want a golden goose, Daddy! I want it now!) I mostly ignored the rant: b&c gets into petulant child mode very easily when something (usually, as in this case, not the thing he's complaining about) is bothering him, and there isn't any point in trying to reason with him once he's in that mode. Everyone gets that way once in a while. I, for example, was in petulant child mode for a good forty-five seconds as recently as May. Of 2006. But b&c is in petulant child mode five or six times a week, so I reckon it all evens out.

My sense is that b&c's disappointment comes in large part from the near hopelessness of the situation that existed at the changing of administrations. When things have gotten that bad, and there's a change in leadership, people want to believe that there's going to be a fundamental change in direction and that it's going to yield dramatic results immediately. But, then, of course, when it comes time to actually govern, it turns out that change -- at least in a mature democracy -- has to be incremental. Even if there's a new mindset, details get worked out slowly.

I've experienced an analogous disappointment recently. I had hoped that the financial crisis would provide, along with all the devastation, an opportunity for a general rethinking of values. I envisioned a world, or at least a significant segment of a society, where people would come to value their interpersonal relationships more. And the almighty dollar less. But old habits die hard, and while many people may be able to afford less, it seems that they're affording less of the same old things. I hoped for an increase in canasta parties and quilting circles. I got The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Thanks, Bravo.

I suppose that denial and escapism are easier than fundamental change, so I'm not especially surprised at the way things are shaping up. And the situation is, of course, fluid. But it's sad to see an opportunity wasted. Naturally, I blame Timothy Geithner. If the Treasury Department addresses the worst financial crisis in decades by working with the existing powers to give us something that leaves us in more or less the same position, only poorer, it's not surprising when everyone else follows suit.

Incrementalism isn't always a bad thing, anyway, provided that you make the changes in the right direction. If everybody reduces his or her energy consumption by five percent, it adds up to a lot. Similarly, if everyone reduces his consumer debt and increases personal savings, it is, in total, a big deal.

Besides, living off the grid (the revolutionary approach) isn't really an option for me these days, so I'm making my own incremental changes. Beginning with turning off the TV when The Real Housewives of New Jersey comes on. It's possible that there's a fine line between guilty pleasure and indefensible cultural atrocity, but in this case the line isn't so fine and was crossed a while back. In any case, many of the incremental changes on the long road to thrift are changes that require time.

For example. This weekend I clarified some butter:

Clarifying butter doesn't really take all that long to do, but in this case, it was the first step towards giving up microwave popcorn. You can't pop corn in butter as it comes from the store because the milk solids will burn. But if you clarify the butter, you can use three tablespoons of it to turn a half-cup of unpopped kernels into a gallon of delicious, butter-flavored popcorn. And the only equipment you need is a heavy pot. (Alton Brown manages it with nothing more than a stainless steel bowl and some aluminum foil, but I find his method clumsy.)

A gallon of delicious, butter-flavored popcorn (you can make less) is just the thing to have when you're watching a movie in your own home with friends or family. I suppose you could also serve it at a canasta party or to your quilting circle, but while the popcorn doesn't seem greasy, you'd probably want to wash your hands before picking up your cards or your quilting needle.

Speaking of needles, one of my dress shirts recently bit the dust:

In the past, I would probably simply have thrown it away, but I figured I should find some way to repurpose it. I considered trying to turn it into handkerchiefs (it would have made nice ones), but the sort of stitchery required to make a handkerchief is beyond my capabilities. And if it weren't beyond my capabilities, I still wouldn't consider making one a good use of my time.

But an increase in picnic activity (if it ever stops raining around here) is definitely in keeping with the new thrift, and I would very much like to have a picnic quilt. Especially a picnic quilt where one side features my old shirts. Which are legion. So I cut the back panel out of my shirt, and I cut it into strips. And I have enough strips for about one-twentieth of a quilt.

No one said incrementalism was easy. I'll keep you posted on the progress, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Safety First

One of the by-products of leading a tax-accountant-by-day-man-about-town-by-night double life is having to attend a lot of cocktail parties. Also, a lot of dry cleaning bills, but that's another story. And at these cocktail parties, people ply you with liquor and ask you questions. Endless questions. What do you do, TED? When do you think this recession will end, TED? Do you think the host is trying to kill us with this bargain basement gin, TED? Wow, TED, is that a bazooka in your pocket, or are you just really happy to see me? And I generally try to answer these questions with good humor and no more than an appropriate level of specificity (I'm in the financial sector. Eventually. I'm pretty sure that's the gin you gave him for Christmas. No, that's just my leg: that ninth martini blurred your vision; nobody is that happy to see you.), but lately I've noticed a disturbing trend, as evidenced by this recent conversation with a total stranger.
Total Stranger: Good evening. Lovely party. I'm a total stranger.
TED: I noticed. I'm TED.
TS: Well, of course you are. Everyone knows you, TED.
TED: We all have our burdens to bear.
TS: Ha. There's that famous TED sense of humor. Say, TED, I was wondering. Where were you born?
TED: Ah, I see you've heard the rumors, but they aren't true. I am categorically not in deep cover for the Kazakhstan secret police. I was born in the U.S.
TS: Of course, but what city were you born in?
TED: You know, no one ever asks me that. Have you tried the lemongrass canapes? They're unique.
TS: I ask everyone that. It's good to know where people come from. So were you born here in DC?
TED: Oh, well, total stranger, I can't really answer that question with any authority. I honestly don't remember the birth experience very well. I was pretty young then.
TS: Oh, TED, you really do play things close to the vest.
TED: I don't own a vest. But there are contexts in which I'm vested.
TS: Still, your accent makes you sound like a local guy. Did you grow up around here, TED? What is the street number of the house you grew up in?
TED: Gosh, is that Dick Cheney? I better go say hi. Nobody ever talks to him at these things.
TS: I hear Cheney's a big animal lover. I still remember my first pet. Her name was Fluffy. What was the name of your first pet, TED?
TED: Oh, and, hey, he's talking to Ann Coulter. I better get over there. You don't want those two too close together. Demon spawn and all that, you know? Adieu, total stranger.
TS: Wait, TED! What year did you graduate from high school? And what is the name of the high school you graduated from? TED? TED!

And I'm not the only guy having this problem. Reports are coming in from all over the globe of smooth operators twisting an apparently innocent conversation in order to make you unknowingly give up the answer to your online security questions. I heard from one unlucky fellow in England who lost his credit rating, his investment accounts, and his seat in the House of Lords when he let slip his grandmother's maiden name after one too many glasses of single malt.

I'm sure you're not foolish enough to, in the course of some innocent flirtation, tell some ne'er-do-well the name of your favorite elementary school teacher, but alcohol and cocktail attire can get the better of the best of us. I have found it wise to develop, and stick to, an alternate version of reality. So even if you're not trying to destroy me financially, you shouldn't be surprised when I tell you that I was born in Astana. Or Paris, if I'm feeling more cosmopolitan and less exotic that day.

The lists of online security questions are extremely long these days, so one needs to develop a similarly extensive list of lies alternate reality security measures. For obvious reasons, I can't give you my entire list, but I will tell you that, so far, no one has called me a liar when I related that the name of my first pet was Cthulhu. I suppose that people would be surprised if it had been anything else.

The trends here are pretty obvious. Intellectual property theft and its countermeasures are both rising quickly. So it's reasonable to assume that, within another three or four years, at least ninety percent of every piece of information that you supply or is demanded of you will be either for security verification purposes or an attempt to steal your security verification information. And with it, your very way of life.

Why take chances? Any fact is inherently unsafe. That person asking you how to find the Eagle (and then asking for your phone number) or the library might be innocent (with respect to intellectual property matters, anyway: one hopes that nobody looking for the Eagle is entirely innocent), but he might be trying to find a way to put his new pair of chaps on your credit card rather than on you. The prudent course of action is never to tell the truth when confronted with any factual inquiry. In fact, you want to be as far away from the truth as possible. Left is right. Day is night. Slavery is freedom.

Truth is subjective, anyway, and the facts are usually overrated. I've always said that you should never let anything as mundane as the facts get in the way of a good story. Now I can add that you should never let the facts get in the way of your security. Obviously, I was ahead of my time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In Brief

I was driving home yesterday, and I heard an NPR piece about how many psychologists claim that humans are hard wired to make decisions that are contrary to their own self-interest. That theory would explain a lot. Like North Korea and some of my back-in-the-day dating choices.

On the same drive -- they are long, these commutes -- I heard that Subaru was one of the sponsors for either NPR or the local NPR affiliate, and the not-quite-advertisement for the company ended with the tagline: "Love. It's what makes a Subaru a Subaru." Really? You know, when Carla on Top Chef said that she sent her food out with love, I was all for that because it's Carla, and she's fabulous (but not dull), but for my car, I'll take sound engineering and construction, thanks. Of course, I drive a Ford Taurus, so, well, draw your own conclusions. A couple of days earlier, I was on yet another commute, and I heard yet another NPR piece, this one from the owner of a Boston Terrier. She was complaining about people's willingness to tell her that her dog was ugly, and she said something like, "You wouldn't judge someone because he drove a Taurus, would you? Okay, bad example." Boston Terriers can be ugly, now that you mention it.

Recently, via a blog post on The Search for Love in Manhattan, I discovered The Legend of the Seeker, and I have been working my way through the first season on Hulu. There are days when I consider my willingness to use Hulu despite its horrible commercials as a personal failure, but mostly I don't think about it too much. I have always been a sucker for sword and sorcery TV, especially since the sword part of it usually involves a buff man who often goes shirtless. Craig Horner is very cute, but he is too often fully clothed. I remember one particular scene where he approaches a river and appears to be about to disrobe so that he can bathe, but then he sees his female companion standing, naked, next to the river. He gets flustered, she gets dressed, and he walks away, without having taken off anything. (Also without bathing, which he could have used. He was looking a bit like those dirty-haired boys in the Axe shampoo ads.) I consider this malpractice on the part of the director and writer. But perhaps Mr. Horner has a clause in his contract that prevents him showing his ass. What a world. Or maybe his ass just isn't all that, but isn't that why God created stunt doubles?

The weather has been particularly dreary here over the last couple of weeks. Between the rain and a very busy weekend choir schedule, there was no opportunity to have a picnic with the girls this past weekend. YFU was unfazed: she went to her room and read manga on the Internet. But EFU wanted to spend at least some time doing things with me, so I taught her how to make chocolate mousse. The current version was Mexican-ish: I made it with a tablespoon each of ground cinnamon and ground ancho chilis. Anchos are not very spicy, and a tablespoon of it adds just enough heat so that a pleasant warmth builds in your mouth and throat as you eat your portion of mousse. I made the recipe up a couple of weeks ago, but EFU wanted to write it down, so this time I measured everything. I think it was a touch too sweet this time, so next time I will use slightly less sugar and/or a darker chocolate.

Still, it was delicious, and while it's important to learn from your mistakes, sometimes it's more important to accentuate the positive. By way of example, the choir sang a long piece Sunday morning, and I know that I missed a few notes. But if you're singing a thousand notes, and you miss ten of them, that means you got ninety-nine percent of them right, right? That's a high A. Besides, it's not like feeling bad about missing a note will allow you to go back in time and take another shot at it. And at some point, self-deprecation becomes ingratitude. If someone compliments me on my singing (as, modesty aside, I must say happens a lot), it would be bad form to shit all over their compliment by telling them all the things I did wrong. Singers focus on details, but what listeners hear is an overall impression of your voice and the song. If you have a nice tone and good intonation, hardly anyone will notice if you sing a wrong note. And even fewer people will care.

I was already in a good mood yesterday evening, but then I went and got a haircut. I talked the stylist into cutting the top shorter than she thought she should. It's pretty thin on top, but I just don't see the point of trying to hide that. Besides, I maintain that at least ninety-five percent of all men (including me) look better with shorter hair. By the time she was finished, she'd cut the top down to about an inch, and I was beaming with happiness. It should always be so easy to buy joy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I took last Friday off so that I could have enough time to get everything done for the fundraiser I was catering at church. I'm a very good cook, but I'm terribly disorganized, so everything takes much longer than I expected. After Thursday's choir practice, for example, I only had four or five items on my list (chocolate mousse, salmon mousse, two hummuses, and two sorbets/ices), and I figured I'd have them done by midnight, but it was nearly 2 am before I got to bed. I always have a good time when I'm cooking things, but the total amount of enjoyment per unit of product is constant, so if I cut down on the amount of time I spend, the enjoyment per unit of time increases, which is a good thing. Also, I get to sleep more.

I had slept so little on Wednesday night that when I stopped to fill my tank Thursday night, I forgot to replace the gas cap, and b&c came storming into the bedroom at 8 Friday morning (one hour and forty-five minutes before my alarm was set to go off) to announce, very loudly, that either I had mislaid my gas cap or someone had siphoned off all my gas. I was pretty sure that it was the former, but I pulled myself out of bed and downstairs to check that the tank was still full, which it was. I grumbled to b&c that nobody siphons gas in the suburbs, and he started to tell me about news reports that he'd heard, and I reminded him that those reports came from when gas was over $4 a gallon. Then I went back to bed. What else was I going to do? I don't understand the point of waking someone up to tell him about something that he can't do anything about. Perhaps he thought that my gas cap had escaped and that if I started after it right then, I could catch it before it joined up with all my escaped socks. B&c spends an inordinate amount of time worrying about my unmatched socks, which are, indeed, legion. I have two plastic shopping bags full of socks without mates. I will sometimes return home from the office to hear b&c proclaim proudly that he managed to match up one or two pairs of my socks. I am not much of a believer in purpose-driven lives, but I suppose that matching socks is as good as any. For somebody else, I mean.

Anyway, I went back to bed.

I rose again at about ten, composed myself, and set out for a final round of shopping. I had thought that Friday morning would be a good time to make the final Costco run, but it was overrun with the real housewives of Montgomery County, who seemed to be there mostly for entertainment and free samples. I was on the verge of muttering to myself about people wasting my time, but I reminded myself that muttering to myself is not on my (notional) list of approved activities. Instead, I ran with my cart through the crowded aisles. I worried that this would disrupt the social order, but I did not draw any complaints from store management, so perhaps I, and civilization, managed to dodge a bullet. Time will tell, I reckon.

After trips to two more stores, I returned home to sharpen my knives. When I was done, my paring knife sliced through a semi-dessicated lime as if it were soft butter. Sharpening knives makes me happy. Not as happy as getting a haircut, but happier than typing "animal husbandry." I put my knives into new plastic sleeves that I had purchased expressly for this purpose from a major online retailer, and I began packing up my equipment and foodstuffs to take to church. The car was soon full. I was due at the church at 3, and I was almost there when it occurred to me that my lime curd was still at home, in the refrigerator. This is the sort of disaster that would make a lesser man crumble, (Or not, but let's pretend, ok?) but I figured I would just make it work.

We had intermittent and violent thunderstorms all that afternoon and evening, so when I arrived at church, I had to unpack the car in heavy rain. And since it took me seven trips to get everything (except my suit, which I left from later) from the car into the kitchen, I was somewhat wet when I had everything inside and I was ready to begin actual food prep. A couple of minutes later, the church administrator came to tell me that the music director, who was meant to come and help with the grunt work, was stuck in Beltway traffic. I found this upsetting. I was pretty sure that I could handle the kitchen work, but many more people disappear each year in Beltway traffic than on trans-Atlantic flights, and the music director was supposed to accompany me and a violinist on "La Vie en Rose" a mere 6.5 hours later. Who knew whether she would make it by then?

Fortunately, I had the calming powers of cuisine to fall back on, and I began preheating the oven to cook the puff pastry that was destined to be filled with the non-present lime curd. Shortly thereafter, another helper arrived an hour earlier than expected, and we set to work in earnest. Before long, I was happily plying my freshly sharpened chef's knife on some unsuspecting Gouda while shepherding trays of puff pastry into and out of the oven.

As it happened, the music director was only ninety minutes late, and by that time, everything that could be done more than a few minutes in advance was well in hand, so I had time to drive home, through weather that would have given Noah pause, to retrieve my lime curd. I had, as it happened, also forgotten the honey rum sauce that I'd made for my apple puffs, so I was able to retrieve that as well. I would have chosen to view my good fortune as a reward for virtuous living if it weren't for a) the awful weather and b) my utter lack of virtue.

It has taken me a long time to understand and accept that church fundraisers are only secondarily about raising funds. Given the hundreds of hours that go into raising a few thousand dollars, we could get a much better return on our investment by working at a local fast food restaurant and donating our earnings. But it is apparent that having many people work together for a common cause builds a sense of community. And in this case, it gives many members of the choir a chance they would not otherwise have to perform a solo or in a small group setting. I already get plenty of solo work, but I get a chance to perform songs that might not be considered appropriate in a worship service. And I get to cook a lot of food for a lot of people, which allows me to be extremely self-indulgent while appearing to be selfless.

I spent hours and hours busily preparing what turned out to be too much food. I ended up sending out only one of the hummuses, and there were several times when I almost forgot to send out trays of food that I had prepared less than half an hour earlier and then put in the refrigerator to keep cool. I made a lot of notes on what worked and what didn't so that I can do the same thing next year with less time and effort. Everyone had a great time, and both my food and my singing were very well received. The gratitude (Unitarians really know how to do gratitude) was a little overwhelming, but the work itself (both culinary and vocal) was highly rewarding. There is a highly meditative quality associated with immersing myself in things that I'm very good at, although, here again, it would probably be a lot more efficient simply to learn to meditate. Towards that end, I have ordered a meditation DVD from the same online retailer, but I have not yet opened it.

The evening ran a little long, and it was after midnight by the time we had finished cleaning up.

I slept very late the next day, then I made my way to an auto parts store to get a replacement gas cap and a new passenger-side wiper blade. I had not known that they were sold singly, rather than in pairs, but I suppose that's just as well since it eliminates the possibility of a sock-like orphan wiper blade situation, which, surely, would be more than I can bear.

Replacing wiper blades is an extremely easy process, but I spent fifteen minutes in the parking lot fumbling with the one I had before a store employee about to begin his shift took pity on me and spent ten seconds doing the installation for me. Other people would, perhaps, be embarrassed by such a turn of events, but I couldn't help laughing. It was good to re-embrace my incompetence.