Sirenita’s body has become a cancer growing-ground, an incubator for terrorist cells that have out-muscled her immune system and broken its defenses. She has been told that she will live for, perhaps, six more months.
Many would call that a death sentence. Sirenita calls it a life sentence and has decided – because, of course, she would – to make it the happiest time of her life, to spend it in places and with people she loves, to not be afraid or angry. The cancer may be eating her, but she will not be sickened by chemotherapy, she will be feasting on happiness, on kindness, in the company of friends and family members and lovers. She has decreed that it will be fun.
I see your head shaking. I do. And the disbelief and tears in your eyes. But you shouldn’t be a doubter, and you know why? Because this is Sirenita Lake. She can do this, and she will. I’ll tell you how I know.
We have never met, this small dynamo of a woman from the Bay Area and I, not in the flesh, but I have read what she’s written, her essays and comments, for four years. I know more about her than I do some people I’ve known for decades for one plain reason: Sirenita writes her real story. She tells the truth, neither puffing it up nor blunting its edge. Her stories are unvarnished. How is that possible, that they are completely free of what most of us cannot avoid – polishing a fact here or dulling one there to make a story shinier or sadder than it really was, to wring some emotional reaction from a reader? I think it’s because she lives so easily in her skin; she lives that way and tells the truth of it because she doesn’t need her readers’ approval. She is telling, not asking. How a reader feels about the choices Sirenita makes is irrelevant, which frees her. She is as honest as a handful of warm soil, as sunlight on your face.
Her history has been a wild ride. I won’t try to tell it except to say she is lucky to be alive (today, without irony), which she has said herself. If you haven’t read her whole blog (clue: you ought to), you should catch up by at least going to the linked posts below. When your jaw drops (and it will), try harder to pay some attention to the writing since she does that better than all but a few people who have ever written on Open Salon (or Salon, frankly). Here’s a taste, so you know how good an opening paragraph can be:
“I wanted to start this “the rhino lowered his head and charged, barely missing my leg as I pulled myself up into the baobab tree…” Or maybe “the gun was shaking in the addict’s hand and I read in his crazed, glassy eyes that no matter what I did, he was going to pull the trigger…” Sadly, my near-death experience involves a cough drop. Not even a poison cough drop, or a high-velocity cough drop launched from a fiendish machine. It was one of the flat, mediciny kind of cough drops. It happened after the man who would be my husband went away.”
Her bio says, “I am married in a committed, open relationship that is the anchor of my life,” and says more – and more honestly – in those fifteen words than most of us will ever write in an entire essay. Sirenita is polyamorous and doesn’t care if you like it. She spends zero time justifying how she lives, the same amount of time she spends telling others how they should live. Unusual as it may be that she loves, emotionally and sexually, more than one man, she never writes about it for its societal shock value or to titillate. Sirenita is the opposite of a showoff. She is just telling the unfiltered truth, which is a very different thing than being a person without a filter.
She is factual. She is also extraordinarily smart in that way that logical, IQ-centric people are (I ought to know; I am one); things click into place in her mind – you can almost see it happen. It’s impossible to fool someone like her, which I found out when we serendipitously teamed up for the Great Reveal of the OS BS Identity Charade last fall. After exposing the two named fakers by combining the data we had independently compiled, we watched the fallout and chatted in emails. The fuckmuppets, as some of us called them, came out of the woodwork, wailing that we were mean and had lied(without evidence because, of course, we hadn’t) because these people were their friends and had been nice to them so none of this wretched, duplicitous stuff could be true. You can imagine how this struck my bright friend and me. After rolling our eyes, we laughed about it, even making satirical fun of it with other folks in a post or two. But when things got ugly and went beyond the usual nimrods like Libby and Kit blathering on (and on and on and on), when Margaret got personal and vicious and publicly attacked me and Rita and Jules and Nana, that’s when Sirenita schooled all of us on how to stand up for ourselves. It was a lesson in being powerful that will stay with me the rest of my life.
I could go on about how crappy it is that Sirenita is dying, about how I wish we could sub some asshat with a bad temper who mistreats his kid on the Deaths of 2013 list instead of her. I do wish that, but so what? None of what we wish matters a snap unless we can act on it. Sirenita taught us that, didn’t she? Setting aside wishing – as in ‘on a star’ or trying to find the goddess who types the goddamn death list – we know in our deepest guts that we can only change those things that we control. What remains of Sirenita’s life (because that is within her control) will be lived the way she has lived all the years up to this one – honestly, fiercely, right up to the edge. Beautifully.
Because this is a blog post and, therefore, all about me, I will end with this. It is the rare occasion that I am greatly impressed by someone I meet; my standards are high and I’m even pickier about people than I am about food. I only know the woman who goes by the name of Sirenita Lake through words on a screen, hers and others’; that hardly seems like it should be enough. But I have come to love her, this invisible friend, and to realize that knowing her has changed me for good – and for good. When she dies, I will miss her terribly. When she dies, there will be an empty pocket (the size of a mermaid) in the universe that no one will ever fill. When she dies, I hope she is hearing fabulous music and, if there is pain, that she is floating in a brilliantly colored morphine dream and doesn’t feel it. I hope that everyone she loves so well and so shamelessly is with her, that she leaves this world and finds ecstasy out there in some starry ocean.
# # #
A classic Sirenita comment (culled from near the bitter end of “Why Do They Hate Us?” on Nanatehay’s blog, in which the secret of the universe is actually revealed):
Open Salon: Sirenita Lake’s Blog (The main page, where you should start)
The photograph is from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons permissions,
of the Warsaw Mermaid (Syrenka) in Warsaw, Poland
Posted in: cancer, death and dying, human beans, la-la-la-love, religion
Tags: adobe soup, cancer, candace mann, death, dignity, dying, family of writers, grace, great loves, love, open marriages, pancreatic cancer, polyamorous, sirenita, sirenita lake, writer
What people are saying: 2 Comments
I wear his ring. The nurse made him take it and his watch off and give them to me. When she asked him if he had any other jewelry, maybe a body piercing that they would find out about later (she winked), he didn’t laugh. His clothes are in a plastic handle bag that shouts his name, printed in block letters with a black Sharpie. The bag is now on the seat beside me at El Torito, next to my purse that holds all my stuff and junk plus what emptied his pockets: folded money, driver’s license, black plastic comb, bifocals, sunglasses, iPhone. If either that phone or mine rings, I will probably jump out of my skin.
They wouldn’t let me stay with him beyond the first intake room, so he hadn’t been given any drugs when we parted company. I kissed his cheek, the one that didn’t have YES written on it, under his weepy brown eye, in indigo. I turned right for the waiting room, carrying my ten-pound purse and the lumpy handle bag. Gladys, the nice nurse, waved him left. He followed her, a blue hospital gown tied over his naked back, a gossamer elastic cap, printed with blurry American flags, perched at an odd angle on his grey head. A killing cant, he would say.
He had been curt with Gladys and testy with the nurse who took his vitals and a pin drop of blood from his finger. I mouthed that he was being a ninny when her back was turned and was paid back a tight-lipped smile. When Gladys said I can tell you’re pretty nervous, he said I’m always this way. Over his head, her eyes and mine held for a second, stamping his words. This man, who winces at the thought of a needle, is about to have someone cut into his eyeball, leaving behind a hinged trapdoor and a tiny tube. He is flashing all the gang signs of brave and macho, but he’s terrified. Better without me to blow his disguise and better yet when he’s had some Valium.
On my way through the door to the parking lot, I remembered when my frog-bellied toddler was in a hospital bed being wheeled away to the operating room, a favorite stuffed cat in the triangle of her arms, a blue surgical mask over its whiskers. I waved and held a smile until the doors swung closed, and then inhaled so much fear my lungs couldn’t let it go. I held that breath and a tablespoon of tears bobbing in each eye down a quarter mile of hallway, until I blew outside and burst into an embarrassment of snot and sobbing.
I drove past at least a dozen crappy places to eat lunch and chose El Torito because the parking lot wasn’t full. At a table in a small, empty room I was tended to by a nice man named Hector, who thought I had asked for quiet so I could work. When I told him I was camping with my iPad while my husband was in surgery, his eyes softened. He filled my tea and fussed. I didn’t want to tell Hector it was Mr. Forte’s eye, not his heart or brain or other essential that was being sliced up, and I felt like a phony when he told me he would pray for my husband and called me “mi amiga” as I left. I added a ridiculous tip to the Mastercard slip for my dishonesty.
The recovery room disgorged a pirate-eyed Mr. Forte, walking a little unsteadily but on his own. There were no scenes like the ones I’ve had a role in all too many times these last years, where the magazines are left for families who might have some remaining hope, the color of the walls and the smell of disinfectant and the awful fuzz of the couch cushions persist like an earworm of a Journey song. We came home to Casa de Swell, and Mr. Forte was grouchy and annoying even after the fine things I fed him to break his fast, preferred to gripe about the pain than take a Tylenol. He is a nice man and a terrible patient, im-patient and out of his element, at the mercy of forces beyond his control. He slept, plastic half-an-eggshell taped over his stitched eye, drugs leaching out of his tired old body. Next to him, I dreamed we were on a jungle gym and he was stuck too high to go further and without a way back; I reached for him; he couldn’t let go of the gritty bar to take my shaking fingers.
Breakfast, coffee and a croissant. Still wearing the bandage and plastic shield over his right eye, he goes down the driveway for the newspaper without wobbling. The dullness and crankiness are, to my huge relief, gone. Like every other morning, he starts with the front page and hands me the sections, one by one.
Can you read? I ask.
Not really. I’ll just look at the headlines.
The local section, business and the sports section come my way, followed quickly by the many pieces of the Thursday New York Times. He sits there with nothing to do but chew and sip.
I feel funny reading while you can’t. Like I should stop and talk to you.
You could read me stories, he says, cracking wise.
I picture Amy and me, pasted together when she was a child, a book on my lap.
The New York Times says car sales are down in India, I recite, trying for Walter Cronkite.
But elephant sales are up, he says, Maharaja Motors. He smiles at his cleverness, winks at me with his left eye.
I look down at my hand. I had forgotten. You need this back, I say, and slide his ring across the table.
He puts it on.
Posted in: casa de swell, favorites, human beans, la-la-la-love, mr. forte, my guy
Tags: adobe soup, aging, candace mann, casa de swell, getting along, glaucoma, great loves, hospital, love, marriage, mr. forte, pirate men, recovery room, wedding ring
What people are saying: 46 Comments
I went to a cooking class with some friends, snobbily not expecting to learn anything, and out of the Specialty Produce box comes a bunch of greens I’d never heard of. A couple of interesting recipes and a day later, I have a plan for dinner.
Not only will we have lamb’s quarter in a cheesy, lemony pasta but the ricotta in it will be homemade, another first. Really good packaged whole-milk ricotta (Polly-O from Brooklyn) is rare here; only Mona Lisa’s market down in Little Italy is a for-sure, and there’s a festival this weekend so the traffic will be wicked. If I’m going to blow my diet and suffer my Big Fat Ass another day, this dish needs to make my eyes roll back, so the fresh, warm cheese will come from Mama Candy’s* kitchen.
Ricotta is cooked milk, so I need good milk. Clover Stornetta hasn’t made it this far south in California, but Stremick’s Heritage comes close. Full fat. Spaghetti from the store, lemons from the tree.
I have rocket (arugula) in the produce box and beets and cara cara oranges and radishes. A salad. A baguette from Bread et Cie picked up on the day of. Tiny torpedo radishes, paper-thin slices, on the cold-buttered bread, a few flakes of Maldon salt.
I used Anne Burrell’s Homemade Ricotta recipe. Nothing could be easier.
Have a big bunch (size of a head of cabbage) of lamb’s quarter (or similar greens) and rocket/arugula washed, thoroughly dried, picked over, stems trimmed, ready. Two lemons zested and juiced. Beets roasted, peeled, diced. One orange (is enough for two servings) peeled and segmented. Vinaigrette – with a good sherry or balsamic vinegar acid component – made. Pasta water boiling, big skillet on heat.
Put a palmful of kosher salt in the boiling water. Drop a pound of long pasta – spaghetti, linguine.
In the big skillet over medium-high heat, saute three cloves of garlic (thinly sliced, not minced) in a few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil just until golden. Add big pinch red pepper flakes (stand back from the pan), cook 30 seconds. Add lamb’s quarter or other greens, salt. Cook, turning with tongs, until wilted.
Cook the pasta to almost al dente. Tong it out of water and into skillet with cooked greens. Add the lemon juice and zest, then a cup or a little more of the ricotta. Turn heat down to medium under skillet. Toss/pull pasta through the cheese and lamb’s quarter mixture until it is well-coated. Add pasta water as necessary (a cup perhaps) so spaghetti cooks until perfectly al dente and the sauce is very creamy, not thick and pasty. Mound on plates, fine-grind black pepper on top.
Dress rocket with a minimal amount of vinaigrette (1 T or so per serving). Place diced beets and orange segments on dressed greens.
A kiss and thank-you from Mr. Forte will be dessert. Unless there are strawberries with more ricotta and a drizzle of old balsamic.
I’m publishing this after making the ricotta and roasting the beets but before the pasta and salad come together. And then, of course, we’re going to eat while it’s hot, so I may forget to take a photograph of the finished dishes. You’ll have to do it yourself to see how good it looks.
Lamb’s quarter (or lambsquarter) is also known as goosefoot or pigweed and apparently is classified as a weed. Its Latin name is Chenopodium album. It tastes much better than you might imagine. That image of a bunch of it came from Wikimedia and is reproduced with their permission under the Creative Commons license. The other photographs are from my trust iPhone.
To make the cheese: Food Network: Anne Burrell – Homemade Ricotta
I use Frantoia olive oil for everything but finishing.
The pasta dish is an adaptation of one by Diane Phillips.
* Mr. Forte really likes the food that is set in front of him here at Casa de Swell. He has been threatening for years to franchise it under that awful name he made up. He says we’ll make a lot of money. I keep asking who’s going to do all the work. He just wags a pretend cigar (a lá Groucho Marx) and winks at me.
Posted in: casa de swell, human beans, in the kitchen, kissing, la-la-la-love, mr. forte, my guy
Tags: adobe soup, anne burrell, beets, candace mann, cara cara orange, chenopodium album, cooking school, foodie food, Frantoia olive oil, groucho marx, homemade ricotta, lambsquarter, lemon ricotta pasta, maldon salt, mama candy, mr. forte, radishes, sunday supper, wild spinach
What people are saying: 8 Comments
DISCLAIMERS: This isn’t a researched recital of statistical evidence. It’s entirely anecdotal from my own experience and not meant to generalize beyond that. I am biased in certain ways, same as you. But I am old and have seen a lot in this life, particularly in my job as a court reporter. I am always on the side of the plaintiff who has been hurt by someone’s negligence, the little guy standing up to the corporate bully, the good guy in the white hat, but it makes me see red when someone tries to game the system for personal or financial gain. Or revenge.
I’ve administered the promise tell the truth (“Raise your right hand … “) to at least a thousand people. In a deposition (testimony before trial taken in an office with no judge present) in a civil case in California, it’s the court reporter who swears in the witness, then records (with that tappy little machine and a computer) the questions, answers and objections, every word everyone says. After 25 years of listening to people testify under oath, you get pretty good at figuring out who is telling the truth. And pretty cynical about how far some people will go if they think a lie might get them something or make them look bigger or better. Even to themselves.
Little lies – like shaving five or ten miles off the speed of your car in an accident case or saying your back hurt for six months (when it was only three) or saying you missed having sex with your partner while you were injured (after hugely inflating how often it happened before you got hurt) – are so routine they don’t even get an eyeroll. A small percentage of people tell slightly bigger lies, only to learn that there are more ways than they ever imagined to be caught out when there is money at stake. Fortunately, most of us take the oath seriously and don’t fib or even exaggerate. Then there are a scary few who blow the truth to smithereens, whose lies pile on top of one another until their story is a hair-flying, wild-eyed fantasy.
Employment cases – alleged wrongful termination especially – are full of fact-inflation and terribly bruised feelings and egos. The reporters I know say that acrimonious partnership splits are nastier than divorces. I was involved in one once; it’s true. Accusations fly. Versions harden into all black or all white; grey is lied away. The person who sees himself as wronged at work often defines that as ruined, not to be believed or made whole in this lifetime; this is personal, goddammit, and permanent. Some people can’t admit they made mistakes or contributed even a smidgen to an ugly situation; they wear a tattoo that says “It Was All Her Fault and Always Will Be.” Thinking like this does not promote good mental health.
They’re frightening, these people who have told the story they invented or inflated so many times that it has become true for them. Maybe (probably) they were like that before this job/supervisor/company reprimanded or didn’t promote or fired them; it’s a big part of why they haven’t done as well as they believe they deserved to at work. Or life. A little paranoid, on the defensive, resentful of others’ successes – maybe these were things even their teachers noted. Assigning blame to others and taking no responsibility are skills they have perfected probably since they were children. Occasionally they file civil lawsuits. Most just go on through life, bitching and dodging, all too often with the blind support of their families and friends.
Sometimes – fortunately, not often – the Wronged One chooses from more viscerally satisfying options: threats, stalking, smearing an enemy’s name or reputation, lying about him or her to anyone who will listen. If things escalate, someone may be physically hurt, even killed. The theme is payback. I’m guessing there has to be some underlying mental illness or defect for someone to go from the I’d Love It If Something Bad Happened To That Person I Hate stage to physically doing it; that was surely true in the two examples I’ll tell you about.
My cousin Mike lived his short life in Colorado. My parents had settled in San Diego by the time I was in second grade, so I only saw him on our drive-to-Grandma-Helen’s summer trips that swung through Denver. Those ended when I was 12 years old and Mike and Craig, my little brother, were nine and almost-nine, several years before Mike’s trip on the Bipolar Express began.
It wasn’t known as bipolar affective disorder back then. It wasn’t even called manic-depression nor was Mike diagnosed with an illness by any name until he was in his twenties and had been in and out of prison at least once. All we knew was that, beginning in his late teens, he would rev past some mental red line, lose his grip on reality and then crash into the Slough of Despond. (Not really, since Mike wasn’t that guy in Pilgrim’s Progress, but that’s what we called it, being smart-asses and all.) He was into uppers, any kind he could find, during frantic attempts to stay on the manic side, which resulted in drug busts. When he was high, either from street drugs or his own racing brain, he was irrational and out of control. He was arrested once while breaking into an expensive sports car (that belonged to his stepfather, he claimed, who was going to thank Mike, perhaps with money, for finding and returning it) and then throwing a policeman across a parking lot. Mike wasn’t lying about who owned the car or trying to get himself out of trouble; he believed it was Ray’s car. He just got really, really mad at the cop for not understanding what he was trying to say about how some other car’s license plates got on Ray’s car. And for scoffing at Mike’s straight-faced assertion that he was, in fact, Jesus Christ.
Mike’s story is long and convoluted and sad. He was a very tall, very large man, and when he threatened someone he believed had mistreated or misunderstood him (including, but not limited to, his mother, his parole officers, every police officer in Colorado, his lawyers, his doctors, every judge he appeared before), it was frightening. He was intelligent; needing to get his hands on drugs made him clever and slippery; being in jail and prison and court taught him lots of tricks. That he was sick and had no control over the roller coaster his mind rode didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous. On the contrary, it made him relentless. He got in a lot of fights, hurt a lot of men, was seriously injured himself. He threatened to kill my aunt and uncle because they refused to believe he was fine and that it was everyone else who was bad and crazy and out to get him. He got hold of a shotgun. They hired protection.
Depending on emotionally where Mike was on any day and whether he was taking (or hiding) his medication, he could seem like a normal person. He was a sweet guy, always wanting to hug you. If you hadn’t known him for years, you might miss that ember of madness in his blue eyes. Until he began to rant, words running together, name-calling, paranoia drying his lips, you could easily feel sorry for him and his well-rehearsed hard-luck story. He convinced many people (or conned, if you view all of this with a gimlet eye) of his version of what happened and whose fault it was. If someone dropped off the Friends of Mike list, another was pretty easily found. People are nice; they want to believe and, once committed, admitting they have backed a loser and a liar makes them feel and look bad, so they hang on. It’s a good thing Mike wasn’t a blogger or he’d have snared a whole lot of well-meaning, good-hearted people into believing he was a victim of The Man.
The other Wronged One was a man named David Burke. Back in 1987 he was fired from US Air in Los Angeles, having been caught stealing cash from a flight’s drinks receipts, the last in a long list of suspected bad acts. He had previously been fired by an airline in New York, suspected of smuggling drugs on their planes. He met with his US Air boss, Ray Thomson, at the office in LA. The evidence against Burke was indisputable, but he insisted that he deserved leniency and a second chance. Thomson refused to reinstate him and then left to board a flight to San Francisco. Burke bought a ticket for the same flight, went through then-cursory employee security using the badge he hadn’t turned in. He had a gun. When the plane was over Paso Robles at 22,000 feet, Burke shot and killed Thomson, then the flight attendant, the pilot, the copilot and, investigators concluded, another passenger who was a US Air pilot* traveling to a company meeting. Burke purposely sent the plane into a shrieking dive. It was going so fast that it broke the sound barrier several seconds before impact, and when it hit that green hillside in the Central Coast most of the plane and all of the 43 people aboard (except a piece of Burke’s finger stuck in the gun’s trigger) were vaporized.
I suspect Christopher Dorner’s story is similar in relevant ways. He appears to have been a man who wasn’t successful at work or in life and who spent more time trying to pin the responsibility for that on someone, anyone, than trying to be a better employee or a better person. Maybe he was mentally ill, like my cousin, like the people who “go postal.” Maybe he, like Mike, is to be pitied for that defect. But, for me, what he doesn’t deserve to be is championed or for his version of the story to be considered factual in the face of overwhelming credible evidence to the contrary. Neither Burke nor Dorner are martyrs who died for justice or to shine a light on the unfair treatment of black people. They didn’t stand up for the little guy against his oppressors. They are not heroes. They killed a bunch of innocent people so they could end their lives in a way they saw as glorious and righteous and, importantly, notorious. They were bad guys, and ours is a better world with fewer bad guys in it.
Mike is dead too. After many stints in prison, he was finally successfully medicated for the last decade of his life, but those drugs and his underlying illness rendered him too damaged to work. Though he no longer threatened people, he was fuzzy and clunky. He smoked a lot of cigarettes. He had a heart attack in the apartment his mother and stepfather provided for him in 2011 at the age of 58. It is a long, hard slog through decades of memories to get back to the image of the Michael I once loved, a big, handsome bruiser of a kid with blond hair and eyes the color of cornflowers. I’m glad his mother and stepfather and sister didn’t become his enablers; that must have been hard to resist. I’m sorry for them and for him, for his sad, useless life. But I am so relieved that it wasn’t worse, that we didn’t see him on the news.
* The passenger/ride-along pilot on PSA Flight 1771 was married to a woman who had been my best friend many years before his death, when we were in high school.
Posted in: human beans, raise your right hand, what i'm thinking
Tags: adobe soup, bipolar affective disorder, candace mann, christopher dorner, court reporter, david burke, deposition, employment law, manic depression, mental illness, monetary damages, paso robles, penalty of perjury, plane crash, PSA flight 1771, revenge, skeletons in the closet, speed of sound, testimony under oath, wrongful termination
What people are saying: 11 Comments
If your kid is at Duke, you stay at the WaDu* when you visit. The last time I was there was in ’96 when Amy and Chris were graduating from law school. Mr. Forte and his dad Ed, me and my stepmother Margery and dozens of chirping, booming knots of other graduates’ families and friends sweated in the bleachers of Cameron Indoor Stadium, slippery and shining, as our robed and mortared relatives got diplomas and a good grip of the dean’s hand. Rain gushed outside the open transom windows; thunder was so loud it drowned the sound system; steam rose from our bodies into the thick air. I whispered in Mr. Forte’s ear, “This place is so much smaller than I imagined. How can it hold all those Blue Devil fans?”
Turns out it can’t, of course. Chris, on campus this week by invitation to teach a class and be honored at a dinner, stopped to talk to tenting students living in line at the box office. A much bigger perk than the dinner were the three tickets he was given for tonight’s game against NC State. Amy and Simone flew in last night from San Francisco for our nine-year-old girl’s first visit to Durham and to worship at the center of her dad’s basketball universe. They are staying at the WaDu.
Chris and Amy met in their first year of law school when they were paired as opponents in a moot court competition, but Chris was an undergrad at Duke and had spent four years, a nice Jewish boy from the Upper West Side, falling in love with the food of North Carolina. Trying to describe how much he misses Biscuitville leaves him without words. One of his roommates and best friends, Jimmy, worked as a line cook at Pop’s, where Chris, Amy, Amanda and Lauren ate dozens of buckets of mussels and drank gallons of wine. Pop’s was where all of them and their moms, dads, brothers and sisters, grannies and grandpas sat in the screened patio around picnic tables on grad night. We were just raising our glasses (and I was trying to shush Margery) for the first toast when the thunderstorm won and the power went out all over Durham. Jimmy and the men in the kitchen, cooking with gas, fed the whole mob whatever could be cooked on the big grill. There was ice for a while and plenty of candles. Most of us looked better in the dark anyway.
It’s chillier this week, the first of February, than it was that night in June. 34 degrees tonight at game time, says the weather forecast. Simone was planning to wear her Duke b-ball mesh jersey, a pair of shorts and those favorite red clogs to Cameron Indoor. Amy said, “Are you nuts? It’s North Carolina. It’s winter.” Simone replied, “But you guys are always talking about how hot it is in there!” No one knew months ago when Chris was given the tickets that tonight’s game would be decisive for Duke’s season; inside will be completely insane. Chris got a message before he left home that some VIP wanted to meet him when he got to town, and he was immediately suspicious that the guy wanted his tickets.
Simone will be driven and walked to every memorable venue her parents can fit into two days: this was Daddy’s dorm when he first got here, this is where Mommy beat him in the moot court thing, this is the house Daddy lived in with Jimmy and Jimbo, here was Amanda and Lauren’s house, and here is the apartment Mommy lived in when the trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras was foiled because an ice storm froze her car tires to the pavement in the parking lot for a week. Here is where Mommy and Daddy carried on their secret love affair for most of the last year of school because Daddy had a girlfriend in New York and Mommy figured this was great but, you know, probably just a fling. (How Jimmy never figured out what was going on is a mystery on a par with Mona Lisa’s smile.)
A lot of what Amy and Chris both love (besides each other) and remember about Durham and its places comes back to eating. The meal planning for this short trip was intense; certain spots, low-life and high-, were as mandatory as core curriculum requirements. I asked about shrimp and grits at Crook’s Corner, and Amy moaned, “We can’t even get to Chapel Hill!” There was a showdown over what time of day they would go to Foster’s Market. “Lunch,” said Amy. “No, it has to be breakfast,” said Chris. “Don’t you remember the breakfasts?” Amy rolled her eyes: “Of course I remember, but how many breakfasts can we eat in one day?”
Which clarifies everything, I think. You can lose Magnolia Grill and forget Pop’s and softshell crabs, all the pie and barbecue and tomato jam, the ham, the chive omelets. You can skip the chicken and waffles. Because once you think about Sara Foster and realize you’re back in the South, it’s all about the biscuits.
* Washington Duke Inn, Durham NC
photo of Meme’s Biscuits through the courtesy and with the permission of Virginia Willis: Virginia Willis Culinary Productions – How to Make Biscuits: Baking Secrets and Five Recipes
Posted in: children and grands, favorites, in the kitchen, la-la-la-love, laughs, mr. forte, oh the places you'll go, road trip, simone
Tags: adobe soup, basketball, biscuits, blue devils, cameron indoor stadium, candace mann, children, chris and amy, duke university, durham, families, graduation, law school, margery, mr. forte, north carolina, pop's restaurant, simone, southern food, virginia wallis, WaDu, washington duke inn
What people are saying: 12 Comments
Lunchtime at Casa de Swell on a soggy Sunday in late January. Mr. Forte sets his reading glasses and legal newspaper down next to his placemat (the red striped fish one). On his plate is last night’s leftover machaca rolled in a tortilla next to a spoonful of potato salad.
HIM: Is this a wrap? (said with a certain smugness)
ME: I suppose it is, though it’s technically just a flour tortilla.
HIM: (defeated) What else would a wrap be?
ME: A flat, pressed thing that looks a lot like a tortilla but isn’t one and isn’t Mexican.
ME: I’m stunned that you knew to call it that.
HIM: I’ve seen it on a menu, but I had no idea what it was.
ME: Welcome to the enlightenment.
(Some time later:)
HIM: What are you supposed to do if it comes unwrapped? (A bitten, mangled tortilla and clumps of machaca litter his plate.)
ME: If you held it differently while you were eating, it wouldn’t do that. But I forgot about your gorilla fingers. Hmmm.
HIM: I have an idea.
ME: Oh, boy.
HIM: I’m going to invent some edible duct tape.
ME: Ah. The light bulb goes on.
HIM: Or edible staples.
(I am momentarily speechless.)
ME: How about just using your fork?
HIM: Good idea.