Fish Chowder and The Afterlife

November 30, 2008 § Leave a comment

The Kingfish gave of itself willingly.

The Kingfish gave of itself willingly.

I was going to make a pumpkin-rootabaga-parsnip soup today, with roasted chestnuts on top, but Charles snuck away to the docks, bought a kingfish and proceeded to make chowder. He made stock from the head, vegetables and cilantro (simmered for 45 minutes) then added celery, rootabaga, onion, garlic, cuisinart-pureed raw eggplant and a little cream and “cooked it until it was done.” Grilled fish and red peppers were added at the table. It was the best fish chowder I’ve ever had. The cilantro and eggplant gave it a hint of my favorite Thai green curry, but not enough to distract from the freshly-caught fish.

I’ve been working on my ebay site all morning, though the beach beckons. Describing my necklaces makes me want to create more—or more honestly, makes me want to pile up all the stones and run my hands through them. When I die I want to be buried with beads; not the finished jewelry and not the glass beads, but all the jaspers and agates, and lapis to bribe the devil. William Burroughs was buried with his gun. For a man who shot and killed his wife by accident in a stupid William Tell game, that takes some nerve, the kind associated with disturbed 14 year old boys and male writers of the Beat generation. But I guess he thought he might need that pistol where he was going. Might need to shoot his wife again.

I always thought the idea of a coin to pay the ferryman was odd. If a spirit-being condemned to row the newly dead across a misty river endlessly wanted anything from earth, you’d think it would be a case of whisky—or a goatskin full of fermented mare’s milk, as the case may be. As a child, I was also confused by the ancient custom of putting food in the grave with the corpse. I thought: it’s stupid to think the dead need to eat, but assuming they do need to eat, won’t they get hungry again when they finish the little bit you sent with them? I hadn’t yet gotten used to the idea of being weaned from a familiar, relied-upon substance: coffee, carbs, Prozac. I suppose the dead might appreciate those kernels of corn and wizened apples to help get them through their withdrawal from life. In this light, purgatory is no different than what heroin addicts go through in prison. You’d need it, I think. If an afterlife exists, which I find very hard to believe in but the rumors persist, surely the transition would give you the bends. A hospital room, then…flatline…Heaven? Back up. I’d need a compulsory orientation (folding chairs, bad video), the longer and more boring the better. I’d want to squirm beside my fellow recently-departeds—sorry, arrivals—checking out their reactions, looking for potential friends. And if I died when I wasn’t feeling too bad I’d need a few roundhouse punches to get me over my addiction to the earth. I’d want that smashing-down-to-nothing addicts go through so that simple health becomes a flaming miracle. Even if Heaven is in fact heavenly, I imagine I’d miss the wind in the trees and animals and hot tea. Brew me something foul from a dog’s liver and whack me with a branch a dozen times, I’ll change my mind. I’ll take Heaven.

As for Hell: if I end up there, I can always look for Daddy.


November 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

Oh dear. I meant to blog at least every other day, but Thanksgiving and Florida have undone that resolution. That edge of loneliness and despair impelling me to reach out to faceless dozens has been soothed by Charles’ loving presence, and finally a decent set-up in the kitchen. I made cranberry muffins this morning from a recipe in a falling-apart 50 yr old Fannie Farmer cookbook, and we ate them while watching Al Gore on Oprah talk about the end of the world. On the map Al made the piece of Florida where we were sitting disappear underwater and as my eyes strayed back to Oprah’s perfect bronze-black curls I felt already underwater: hearing the ex-veep dimly, sensing the storm overhead, entranced by the hum of deep water. As a child and teenager I was so interior I barely noticed how the world worked, even when it directly impinged on me. Necessity and loneliness have taken care of that, but I wonder what I have gained. I know more, see more, but not enough to succeed in my enterprises, and I have lost the joy and space inside my head. I remember moving around in my consciousness as if in a landscape bounded at the back by a forest—which I am now reminded of by the dense foliage of Oprah’s hair— getting close to the forest and thinking it went on forever. I worried that if I went too far, I’d never come back to our house, dinner, my mother.

I thought I could explore that part of myself later. And in my 20’s and 30’s it was still there, but felt more alien, clearly dangerous, hinting of mystic wisdom and psychotic drift, and what the difference was, and whether I make choices after taking the first step wasn’t clear. It should be noted that I also didn’t want to experience anything close to ‘God’ or ‘The Good’ as that would entail responsibilities I didn’t want. And now? My brain feels corroded, as rust-eaten as our old ’68 Ford Torino when we abandoned it in Charlottesville in 1979. If I desired to go anywhere beyond this ordinary consciousness, I’d have to practice, focus and sweat—and still let go of what I don’t want to let go of, my precious selfishness.

So I live dimly in the world, which is being changed, changed utterly, as I write. I can’t honestly say I want to be more engaged. As to what I owe human society that has given me so much: I’m afraid it wasn’t a wise investment. I’m like a house cat that catches the occasional mouse (which in fact I do; I’m good at catching mice), but generally prefers sleep.

No. It’s Florida doing this to me. I’ll wake up again. I hope.

I dreamed of Stephen Colbert

November 23, 2008 § 1 Comment

Last night I dreamed I was having sex with Stephen Colbert. He was quite enthusiastic, with interesting tastes. I grew fond of him in the course of it, as one does, and wanted him to stay the night, and the next night and forever, but he left me. When I was young I used to have very intense erotic dreams starring invented men whom I felt so connected to emotionally that I’d wake up confused and bereft, the way you’d feel if the moon disappeared and nobody but you remembered that it had ever existed. While I was in therapy I regularly received intriguing come-ons from handsome vampires and scotch-drinking ghosts, but my therapist unkindly insisted I turn them down. Now my dream lovers are either people I know or public figures. I always miss them in the morning. My husband once dreamed a spider crawled out of my vagina. He doesn’t remember this but I’ll never forget it. I think at the time (this was at least 15 years ago) I was scared that he’d seen my dark side, but now I would like to talk to that spider. Maybe she’d have a record of all my erotic adventures—have them on video in her crimson cave, ready to use as teaching tools for her many offspring with their tidy and delicate appendages.

Money, Honey

November 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

We’re all scared about the economy, some more than most. I’m not an auto-worker or single mother; I’m in no danger of being homeless. I’m a member of that unlamented breed, the formerly privileged—having always depended on money from inherited stock to keep me barely middle class through a life of writing, depression, chronic illness and a deep-seated terror of men with angry voices. In my youth, I thought every job came with a boss like that. Recently, my boyfriend Philip assured me that, in fact, most do. 

My mother is in the same pickle, though she won’t admit it yet, and it’s a little worse when you’re 83 and not really qualified for phone sex jobs. My brother thinks we should all move in together in her big, unpaid for, not-worth-what-she-owes-on-it house. I imagine a second childhood—hers and ours—where we’d learn the character-building truths somehow neglected in our education. Either that or set upon each other with axes.

My neighbor, also in financial distress, tells me that he’s going to kill himself soon. He tells me this often. People confide their suicidal thoughts to me because I listen without recoil. My father killed himself when I was 10, and in the next decade I knew half a dozen people who killed themselves: two husbands of my mother’s close friends; two teenage brothers I’d met a few times while we visited their home in Houston, and lusted after; one I’ve forgotten; and my schoolfriend’s aunt, who used to drift around the dinner table of her father’s elegant house, neither eating nor talking except once when she halted behind my chair and touched me on the shoulder, pronouncing, ‘watch out for this one.’ I doubt anyone heard her but me. I was spooked by how she knew, without ever having a conversation with me, that I was also profoundly disturbed.

Philip’s wife once said to me, “Nobody kills themselves for love.” I looked at her incredulously. “Well, unless you’re depressed; that’s different. Then you need help.” Indeed. It’s easier to imagine dying over money. There’s no niggling feeling that the bastard isn’t worth it, no pathetic transformation into the martyred lover. There are just numbers and though numbers do lie, frequently, you can’t really take it personally.         

My neighbor and I discuss methods. I remind him that overdosing on pills can leave you brain-damaged. He’s more worried about who’ll take care of his white cockatoo. I consider it a good sign he’s not planning to take her with him, perched on his shoulder in the coffin, ready to sink her wicked beak into any welcomers on the other side.

Philip  called me just now to say Obama had announced his Treasury Secretary, exciting Wall Street. He thought maybe my stock had shot up to the moon, and when I told him I’d sold some this morning, he asked if I could buy it back. Yesterday he was infuriated with me for not selling it sooner. Charles left a message on my machine telling me he was watching the market news, and the woman anchor was wearing an ugly necklace. One of my handmade pieces would look much better. “We’ll have to work on that. I bet she’d pay more than $45.00.” 

My mom says, “You should ghostwrite for Sarah Palin.” 

Apple Cake or Not?

November 19, 2008 § 1 Comment

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been buying apples at the Greenmarket, preparing to make an apple cake. It’s true that there are better things to do with apples (pies, for example) and better kinds of cake (too many to list) but I love the word, thing, idea of apple, and worship cake in all its forms, so the prospect of baking an apple cake pleases me far out of proportion to any pleasure I may get from eating it.

I love the smoky blur on the skins of certain freshly picked apples, that color that’s like looking at autumn leaves through a car window in the rain. I love the names: Winesap, Macoun, Gala, Pippin, Northern Spy, Ida Red, Rome Beauty. I love that they were always around in childhood, unlike pomegranates, star-fruit or papayas.

For an apple cake you need apples, flour, butter, brown sugar, eggs and pecans. Rum, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder and salt. You can do half and half apples and plums, substitute cognac or calvados for the rum. You can eat the whole thing yourself over the course of a week, or serve it to your girlfriends for afternoon tea if you have any girlfriends you can convince to come for tea. Once, I had many girlfriends and a good number of them were self-employed, or worked freelance, or were artists with a little inherited money, or stayed home with children, and were thus free to join me after the morning’s work for psyche-laundering, spiritual maundering, and the mostly well-intentioned exposure of our significant other’s faults and peculiarities.

Now I have a boyfriend who will eat cake if I provide it—then immediately feel guilty for the calories. Since he lives in a perpetual state of guilt in regard to his many faults and peculiarities and I have wrung more righteous pleasure from this self-castigation than any woman could want, I hesitate to inspire more. A slice of apple cake is too lovely, too fragrant, too tempting and yet motherly—too redolent of childhood afternoons outdoors with a book—to be pushed into the maw of middle-aged male, raised Catholic, married-and-possessed-of-a-girlfriend self-hatred.

Forget all about that now, I say to him. You’re separated. I’m separated (and my husband has been reunited with his first love). But then I’m just playing my usual role—Eve holding the apple, naked, while Lilith paces outside the garden, inventing unpronounceable names for demons.

See? She has a good job. Who wouldn’t want that job?

I think of my cake and don’t bake it. The apples wait in the dark and I eat them one by one. I live alone. I would like a dog. I would get a dog—really I would—if it would sleep until afternoon and I could feed it cake.

5 tablespoons butter

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 ½ cups flour

2 eggs

3 tablespoons rum

I tablespoon fresh, finely chopped ginger

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups chopped raw apple

1 cups lightly toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour an 8 inch square pan or small bundt pan. Beat butter until creamy. Gradually add sugar and blend well. Add eggs, ginger and rum; blend. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and sift into batter. Beat until smooth. Add chopped apple and nuts. Bake for 35 minutes, give or take.

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