banana pudding, cruise ships, and cookies

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I made banana pudding.

I’ve eaten it many, many times – but never made it.

It happened like this: I went to Harris Teeter for some lunch supplies. I got gefilte fish and matza (it’s Passover). Then I went to Bucky’s Produce in Spencer and got a jar of honey and three small heads of green cabbage (one for coleslaw; two for steaming).

On the way out, I looked at the bananas. They only had a few. Some were too green to eat and some were getting black. I got the ones that were getting black.

Bucky, the owner – an elderly man who sits in a chair in the middle of his store and talks with customers, said, “You can have those.”

“I don’t mind paying,” I said.

“If you had a million dollars, I’m sure you’d give me ten,” he said.

“Yes, I would,” I said.

“So you can have ‘em. If you don’t take ‘em, she’ll make banana pudding tomorrow,” he said, pointing at his wife, who stood behind the cash register.

“I don’t want to stop you from getting banana pudding,” I said.

Bucky’s wife spoke up and settled the matter.

“Take all you want,” she said. “I’ve decided not to make it.”

I grabbed four large bananas.

“Here’s what you do,” Bucky said. “Stop at the store on your way home and get some pudding and vanilla wafers. It won’t take you ten minutes.”

And then he said it again.

“It won’t take ten minutes.”

So I went by the grocery store – again.

I got a container of organic vanilla yogurt, some reduced calorie Cool Whip, and a box of Nilla Wafers.

It took less than five minutes to make, and it was delicious.

Today, I got a little over-confident – and thought I’d make cookies.

Lately, I’ve been buying lots of cookies at a bakery – big cookies with lots of good stuff inside – and taking them to my customers as little gifts of appreciation. Sometimes I get donuts. Sometimes fudge. I probably spent about $80 last week on goodies.

It’s well worth it. This is the best money I spend on my business, I’m sure. But I thought perhaps I could make my own and save some money. I could also have the pleasure of knowing I made them myself. A gift less from the wallet and more from the heart.

And, my wife told me that cookies are easy and fast – which is why so many people make them.

I got a recipe for cookies that contain all the stuff I like: chocolate chips, walnuts, oatmeal, and raisins. I went shopping.

Suffice it to say, I’ve spent a lot more than ten minutes on the cookies.

Next time, I’ll leave the butter out for a few hours so that it’s really, really soft. And, I won’t have to make a late night trip to Walmart in order to buy a mixer.

How did they taste? I don’t know. Still haven’t gotten that far yet. The dough is in the refrigerator now. In a few minutes, I’ll put them in the oven and find out.

So why the sweet tooth all of a sudden? I have no idea. I’ve never been a big consumer of sugar. Not a big eater of dessert. And here I am, hopping from one bakery to another. Mostly I’m getting gifts, but I also have a few tastes of my own.

Am I older than I think I am? I learned years ago that elderly folks seem to enjoy sweets.

The summer I turned 18, just before starting college, I worked on the Cunard Adventurer, a cruise ship, as a bus boy.

This was the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life. We served two sittings at breakfast, two sittings at lunch, two sittings ad dinner, and a midnight buffet.

In the few free hours I had, in the afternoon, instead of touring the beautiful Caribbean Islands, I got on my bed and slept.

We were allowed to eat whatever we wanted, including dessert – as many as we wanted. And the food was fantastic. I gained fifteen pounds that summer.

I realized, that summer of 1974, that we Americans can be a little soft (even though we consider this to be a country of hard work and long hours). There were three of us from Salisbury working in the dining room on that ship. We were the only Americans.

The guy who hired us said that Americans never stay long, which is why he would not buy us our plane ticket home unless we stayed the entire summer. That was the deal.

About two weeks into it, I wrote my dad and asked if he could send me the money for a plane ticket home. He told me to stick it out.

We did get to go home a few weeks early. There was an engine fire on the Cunard Ambassador, the Adventurer’s sister ship, and all the passengers merged onto our ship. A week later, there was an engine fire on the Adventurer. We were pulled to shore by a tug boat and dry docked. The company paid for our ticket home.

Passengers got first priority for flights off the island of Curacao, so we waited there for a week. During that week, I met a guy from New York who stole baby parrots out of nests and raised them in a shoebox in his house. I bought one for fifteen dollars and smuggled it through customs in the pocket of my sports coat. I named it Poppy.

Poppy liked to sit on my head.

One night, in the middle of the night, the family cat pushed Poppy’s cage off the kitchen counter and onto the floor. The cat got the bird out and killed it. I found out about this in when my father woke me in the night and told me what had happened.

I remember getting home and playing in a tennis tournament almost immediately. I still had sea legs. I lost a first round match to a guy who I had never lost to. He was so excited that he hugged me after the match. I remember not being in the mood for that hug.

I remember the breakfast shift. I went from table to table with the coffee pot and Danish tray. It was there that I noticed that elderly folks were keen for the sweet stuff.

I also saw this in my parents. My father always enjoyed a piece of cake after dinner or a bit of ice cream later on in the evening. But as he grew older, he had these and also kept a supply of chocolate in the house (for himself and visitors).

When he was near the end of life and not eating much, I used to get him cheesecake. He always loved cheesecake. It had a lot of calories and he would eat it. It was when he started to refuse the cheesecake that I knew my father was in the last days of his life.

And although I don’t see myself as elderly – could this be happening to me? Or have I just been being hard on myself in the past and am finally giving in to a bit of self-indulgence that’s been there all along?

Oh well. Time to pre-heat the oven.

I’ve caused a few wrecks

On July 30, 1972 (my 16th birthday), I drove to the highway patrol station to get my driver’s license. My learner’s permit was in my pocket and my mother was in the passenger seat. As I pulled into the space, I scraped a car.

It belonged to the highway patrol officer who tested me. My mother paid him for the damage to his car. I passed the test.

Later that day, I was demonstrating to my father my driving skills. I parked in the public lot behind my family’s store, Zimmerman’s. Not stopping in time, I hit the parking meter, head on. No damage. My father rarely rode as a passenger with me after that.

The next day, I had a wreck in the middle of the downtown with Claudia Blalock, a classmate. We were in the middle of the downtown, in traffic. Best I can remember, there wasn’t a lot of damage.

I don’t remember whose fault it was, but I remember Claudia’s comment.

“I like to drive fast,” she said.

A couple of years later, I was driving my brother’s sports car — a snazzy convertible — down a gravel road on the way to the Beech Mountain tennis courts, where I had a snazzy job as the tennis pro.

Going a little too fact, I went into a slide on the curve and hit a Mercedes coming in the other direction. As I recall, the Mercedes didn’t have a lot of damage. My brother’s car suffered a dent big — enough to total the car.

About ten years ago a guy ran a stoplight and hit me. My daughter, Emma, was in the passenger’s seat. She cut her eye and the police officer wanted to call an ambulance. I called my wife, who came and got her. She applied a band-aid (much less traumatic). I later learned, from my lawyer, that calling an ambulance would have resulted in a much bigger settlement.

I smashed our mini van into a tree about fifteen years ago. I had started backing out of my driveway and remembered something I had forgotten from inside the house. When I got back in the car, not having remembered how close I was to the tree, I put it in reverse and hit the tree. End of car.

One time I got so excited about the good deal I got on an espresso machine (back in the days when Starbucks had not yet moved into the North Carolina market) that I leapt my car forward from the parking space in the Brendle’s parking lot and into the path of a speeding red sports car.

When I was 12, almost 13 years old, I did a very bad job one week of preparing for my Bar Mitzvah lesson. My mother sat in on these weekly lessons and she was embarrassed – not just because I did badly on the lesson, but because I was not as polite as she would have liked with Rabbi Gerber. She was pretty mad at me for not studying, and she wasn’t crazy about my excuse (I had had a tennis tournament and didn’t have time). She was furious, and when we went out to eat afterwards, she had a wreck and blamed it on me getting her so upset.

One time, on the way to the beach, the car was packed full and I had no visibility. I changed lanes and cut off a car in the other lane lane. Our cars never made contact, but the driver of the other car was angry. He honked and flipped me the bird.

Then he went to the police station and said I was a hit-and-run. Next, I got pulled by a cop and taken to the station – where the cop believed me more than the other guy, and let me go.

So I’ve caused a few wrecks – and these are the ones I remember. I know there are some I don’t remember. Or choose not to remember.

I’ve been lucky. Never gotten hurt.

just a blog about eggs

Yesterday, I dropped by Consign 120, a store in Concord, and bought four dozen eggs. Randy, the owner, also has a farm, and he brings in fresh eggs each day. I often stop and get a dozen, or two, or three.

The reason I got four dozen is because I promised to bring 30 hard boiled eggs to the family Passover Seder on Friday night. I got extra because these eggs are small.

Fresh eggs are harder to shell when hard boiled that the ones in the store that could be several weeks old. But they taste a lot better — so I’ll work it out (rolling the eggs first and shelling while hot; a little salt in the water, mutilating a few…).

A few months ago, Randy didn’t have many eggs. He had a fire in the barn and the chickens were traumatized. They weren’t laying. Now, in mid-April, the girls are happy. He has dozens of eggs on hand.

An egg, on Passover, has many symbolic meanings. In our family, we most often refer to it as a sign of life. It’s also the only food that gets harder as it cooks longer — and that has some meaning (can’t remember what).

For Easter, the egg symbolizes the seed of life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And for both religions, of course, the egg is a symbol of spring and new birth.

But I have a different theory.

I think both holidays (and religions) started using eggs because it’s peak laying time for chickens and there were so many of them.

Somewhere along the way, a Jewish mother, and, a couple of thousand years later, her Christian counterpart, said “We’ve got to find something to do with all these eggs!”

“I’ve got an idea,” her husband said. “When everybody’s over here for Passover, put a hard boiled egg on every plate.”

And the Christian mother, who was fond of Easter and had an eye for design, said to her husband, “Look. I just decorated these eggs! Take them eggs outside and hide them in the grass. I’ll call the neighbors and all the kids can have an Easter Egg Hunt.”

—————–

Tapi, who was an exchange student at our house when I was in high school, a roommate in college, and still a dear friend, grew up in Finland.

I remember him telling me that his mother gave him hard boiled eggs in the morning, in winter. He put them in his pocket and used them to keep his hands warm on his way to school. Then he ate them for lunch.

—————–

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Italy, in Venice. Venice is close to the Dolomites – very good skiing – and I took advantage of that several times.

I remember a meal from that time (1976). I was in the mountains and went to a small restaurant for dinner. I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. My Italian was weak and, in those days, not many Italians spoke English. I had no idea what I had ordered.

The waiter brought me a bowl of broth and an egg. He cracked the raw egg and dropped it into the soup.

That was it.

Enjoy.

—————–

Growing up, breakfast before school was a little different than it is these days. My mother took orders, each morning.

She had five children, a husband, and a busy, full-time job. Yet, each morning, she asked us how we wanted our eggs. Fried? Scrambled? Omlet?

Sometimes I placed my order while I was still in bed, or getting ready for school. Sometimes I was already at the table.

Either way, my mom took special orders from everybody, every morning.

How things have changed. My kids never had eggs for breakfast. There wasn’t time.

These days, I do get eggs many mornings – and my wife fixes them (or me). But it’s a matter of how many, not how I want them cooked. Her dishes are always fantastic, but if I don’t want them the way she’s cooking them, then I can cook them myself.

Eggcetera, eggcetera, eggcetera.

Come to think of it, I haven’t had breakfast yet.

Walmart matza

Made a late night trip to Walmart.

I had to get some nicotine gum.

When I say had to get some nicotine gum, I mean I had to get some nicotine gum. Although I haven’t smoked since February of 1997, I’m still addicted to this drug.

My father also chewed nicotine gum. He developed heart disease, and cancer, and used the gum — late in life — to quit smoking.

During the transition — after the heart surgery and before the cancer — he would cheat.

He’d make frequent trips to the grocery store, for the smallest of items — and I’d see him at the red light, taking a toke from a cigarette.

Been there, done that.

Eventually he kicked it completely. Just as I did.

So we chewed nicotine gum together.

Then, one day, he stopped.

He switched to Tic Tacs.

And he suggested I do the same.

“Give up the gum,” he said. “These are cheaper.”

He was a loving father and grandfather with plenty of grandchildren, so the Tic Tacs had the added benefit of being something he could give children (anybody’s children) at any time, in any location. All of them always enjoyed the little gifts. During temple, when things got really boring, he would reach in his pocket and produce a container of Tic Tacs. Like Pavlog’s dogs, when the candy began to rattle against the plastic container, grandchildren turned to him and waited for the Tic Tacs. Watching TV. In the car. At a banquet. Anywhere. My father, late in life, became known for his offerings of Tic Tacs.

As his illnesses progressed, he became less mobile. But he would sit in his chair and rattle the candy in his pocket, and children began moving in his direction.

Meanwhile, I’m still chewing the gum, and will go to Walmart in the middle of the night if I run out.

I also picked up a few Passover items while in Walmart.

I remember the day – not long ago – when the only way to get Matza was to know somebody who was going to Charlotte who could bring back an extra box.

I remember a day when you would expect a Walmart employee in Salisbury, NC, to give you a pretty funny look if you asked for help finding Gefilte Fish.

Not anymore.

I had trouble finding it, so I approached a pretty young woman in the candy aisle. She was shelving Easter items.

“I’m looking for the Gefilte Fish and Matza,” I said. “You know, Passover stuff.”

“Right this way,” she said, and she took me to them.

I thanked her and called my wife.

“Do you know if we have any horseradish?” I asked.

“If we do, it’s a year old!” she said.

Good point.

So I started looking for horseradish. A few minutes later, I went back to the woman on the Easter aisle.

“Do you know where the horseradish is?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said.

Will all the items in Walmart, I couldn’t help but to ask her another question. “Do you know where everything is?”

“Pretty much.”

Again — she took me to it, and told me to ask her again if there was anything else I needed.

The horseradish only cost $1.22. A small price to pay for a jar that’s fresh, rather than a year old.

My father used to tell us about Passover at his house, in New York, when he was a child.

He said his father’s Seder took all afternoon and all night. The children passed the time outside, playing.

“Nobody paid a bit of attention,” he’d say.

He and his brother and sister changed their names to Post, so it wouldn’t sound Jewish. That made it easier to get a job or an apartment.

He made a secular life for himself, here in The South, and participated in his Jewishness enough to get by, keeping the rabbi and folks at the temple happy. But his friends were not Jewish. His life was almost completely assimilated. Aside from a few trips to temple a year, a little brisket, chopped liver, bagels, and herring, it was rather mainstream, Salisbury NC.

Somewhere in heaven, my father is rattling his Tic Tacs, smiling about the girl at Walmart who knows exactly what you’re talking about when you ask for Gefilte Fish and Matza.

555 words. That’s the game.

555 words.

That’s the game.

555 words a day for 90 days makes a book.

The idea for the book is that I discover the idea for the book.

Yesterday, I created a kitchen that is spotless, almost. I spent the day cleaning it — taking everything out of every drawer, throwing away what was too old to use, donating to Goodwill what somebody else could use, and recycling what could be recycled.

And then, late last night, I discovered three drawers, just to the right of the sink, that I had forgotten.

So why did I forget these drawers? There’s a reason for that. It’s no accident that I cleaned the entire kitchen, including some really grimy shit in places the eye never goes that have never been cleaned (the tops of the cabinets above the stove). I had to stand on the countertop, with my knees bent, my head against the ceiling. It required a scraper.

And then there was the top of the refrigerator!

Yet, I did not clean these three drawers — easily accessed and easily cleaned — beside the sink.

Why?

The answer is inside the drawers.

The top drawer contains plastic grocery store bags. What are they used for? Absolutely nothing. My wife uses reusable bags when she goes grocery shopping. I forget to take these, so I get the plastic bags from the store. When I get home, I throw the plastic bags away — thereby polluting my planet.

When I lived in England, in the ‘70’s, they didn’t give you bags at the store. You brought your own. And here, we waste for the sake of waste because we can.

When I get home from the store, I don’t put my bags in this drawer. Why not?

Because it’s full! It’s overflowing! It’s a little landfill, inside my house! A little place with items that will never biodegrade — taking up prime real estate in our kitchen and on our planet.

Filling valuable space in my kitchen with toxic waste.

Filling valuable space in my life with toxic waste.

Down from there is a tool drawer. We have a place in the garage for tools, but every so often, I need one. So I bring the tool in the house, use it, and return it to the tool drawer. So now there are few tools left in the garage. And the tool drawer is overflowing.

Need a hammer? A screw driver? Start digging.

The other drawer is full of items that get used by the tools. A couple of screws. Nails. Leftover parts from installing a towel holder or a mini-blind. Stuff that’s almost useless but sometimes a life-saver.

If I feel like digging.

Start digging.

Digging for tools. Digging for nails and screws.

Digging for a bag that will eventually be buried in a landfill that no one will ever dig.

Digging for my life.

And for some reason, I don’t want to do the digging.

There must be something in the drawers I don’t want to find.

Something I’ll find that reminds me of something I don’t want to remember.

The picture wire for the picture I never got hung.

The clamps I borrowed from my dad and never returned.

The caulking I got for the bathroom that never got caulked.

The putty I got for the window that I never got fixed.

The things I did not complete.

The drawers represent a life of incompletion.

So I stop. Let it sit. Incomplete. The drawer that could be the easiest of all. Incomplete.

Do I want a life of completing things and moving on, or a life of digging and wondering where it went?

love of headstand

I love the headstand. It’s my favorite pose – and always has been.

I need the plough, and the plough needs me – but I don’t love it. When I go into the plough, my feet don’t touch the floor anymore.

I used to think this was because my stomach had gotten to be the size of a basketball and was simply blocking the body from folding. But that’s not it. I’ve lost some weight, and my feet still aren’t touching the floor.

If I practiced yoga near a wall, I could adjust myself so that feet touched the wall, and then walk down a little each day, towards the floor – until I got there, eventually. This is how I first got my feet to the floor, when I first took yoga in a studio, 34 years ago. But I’m not practicing near a wall and just allowing my feet not to reach the floor. I’m not sure how close they are. I don’t think they’re very close.

A few months ago, I was practicing in the bedroom and my wife was on the bed watching TV, and I asked her.

“Are my feet close to the floor?”

I thought they were a few inches away.

“No,” she said.

“How close are they?”

“A foot or two,” she said.

I don’t worry about it too much.

A couple of years ago, I told a yogi that I couldn’t do the plough anymore. My feet didn’t touch the floor.

“What makes you think your feet have to touch the floor?” he asked. “It’s still the plough.”

I’m pretty sure my headstand is about the same as it ever was. In fact, lately, I’ve been very focused and using it was a resting pose.

I go up, find a spec to notice for focus, and rest there for a long time.

It’s only recently that I focus on a spec or dust or lint or material – anything I can find. For years, I did this. Sometimes I actually placed something there, creating the focal point before I went into the headstand.

But in the past year or so I stopped using this. My mind wasn’t focused. I looked around, changing focus from one place to the next, sometimes shutting my eyes and breathing.

But the past couple of weeks I’ve been going up into the headstand trusting that the perfect focal point will appear, and it always does. And I don’t shut my eyes. I focus. And I experience a profound and resting peace.

A focal point creates peace. Without it, there’s an experience of searching, questioning what is right, wondering how I’m doing – always being outside myself.

With the focal point – unplanned, out there, but distinct — there’s being outside myself that creates a stillness that allows me to just be myself, neither out there or in here, but just with the experience.

That’s peace.

Today, Sunday, I slept late, had breakfast, and visited my mother. Her eyes were open, but she wasn’t able to direct her eyes towards me. She looked to the side, at my hand, as I held hers. She spoke, barely audible. The sounds were indistinct. Only she knows what she said, if she knows.
Then I spent the entire rest of the day cleaning the kitchen. I cleaned every cabinet, taking everything out and wiping everything and putting it all back and loading my car with items for Goodwill and loading the recycling bins and garbage bags.

The low shelves in the low cabinets were very low, and my back was sore.

The plough, and not touching the floor, and the headstand, as a resting pose, made me – including my back — feel great.