End of Eden

The sum total time f my counter space with tonight's dinner prep all over it. It is literally a 24 square inch patch.
Actual entirety of my work counter.

I’ve been working on a postage stamp space in my kitchen for a generation. I have used all of my wiles to maximize the chopping, measuring, mixing, cleaning and plating space. I stage in the sink. I manipulate pots and pans and cauldrons across the stove when I need to hold something. I rotate mis en place on the counter, on the storage cart behind me, in the dish drainer, in an open cabinet on top of the dishes, and, occasionally, when it’s not in use, inside the oven.

Today, I just might have hit a wall that I knew not of.

I knew not because I was managing in what is. When the kitchen designer asked me what I didn’t like in my kitchen–what didn’t work–I looked at her blankly. I actually never thought of my kitchen in that way.

Sure, I’ve broken a glass or burned my wrist or spilled a plate full of food on occasion. But these faults have been exceedingly rare.

Yes, I cook many days during the week. And, yes, I enjoy trying new foods and new techniques. And, yes, I’ve hosted many dinners. And, no, I didn’t think it was any trouble. I was simply cooking in the kitchen I had. Nothing to complain about, because I got it all to work. If it didn’t work, then there would be reason to complain.

Today, I almost lost it. I didn’t have enough room. I was working in layers. There were piles upon piles of workspaces in order to mimic more than the less than two square feet of workspace. It’s actually smaller than that, since the kettle and dish soap and olive oil and salt are permanent tenants on that patch. Why don’t I move them? Because there is no place else for them to go.

In fact, lots of things have no place to go. And when there is no home, things mill around like a grade school class without seats. Chaos.

I’ve been plotting where things would go in the updated kitchen. With it’s new cabinets, ample drawer space and new island that, by itself, is six times bigger than my current counter space. I stand at today’s sink and think about turning around to line up four or six or eight plates, plopping down the rice or potatoes on each and then the green beans, next, the chops or steaks or thighs and, finally, spooning the relish or sauce–all without tying myself up in the pretzel contortions to which I am expert and accustomed.

I stand near the door where there will be a dishwasher that I’ll remove the used utensils and bowls to–rather than figure out how to get enough space in the sink so I can get the full salad bowl just waiting for it’s vinaigrette out of the work’s way.

The imagining has been fun. I’ve been anticipating the efficiency and ease of a right-sized and right-spaced kitchen. But not today. Today I was frustrated.

Today, I was annoyed at the high level of tightrope walking and high wire balancing that I perform every time I try and get a good meal on the table.

If the architect asked me what bothered me about my kitchen today, I’d tell her that it isn’t the kitchen that I will have. I am dissatisfied with my culinary life because now I see myself in a new environment. One that is not so difficult.

I’m hungering for something better than what I’ve had that I didn’t actually feel was that bad. It’s a loss of innocence.

I feel like I’ve taken a bite from the apple. I like apples.

You Can Tell By the Way I Use My Walk

Almost a June night in DC.

Saturday Night Fever is a lousy movie. But when Tony Manero (John Travolta) struts down the street to Staying Alive you have all you need. All of it.

I grew up in a city that didn’t walk. It was the Motor City. So we drove. We raced. We saw the world out of a window–sometimes up and sometimes full wind–at thirty five miles per hour. Occasionally we were stopped, at a red light. More often we were faster. Way faster.

But when Tony left the paint store and owned his sidewalk/catwalk we rocked shoulder right and left with him. We joined him in his prowl as he looked back at another’s high and proud swagger. We followed his head. To the right. To the left. All on tempo.

I walked the street tonight. From the prototypical DC power environ. And I looked up.

I saw the end of the day trying to assert itself. But it’s almost June. The day is hanging on as long as it can. There is a bit of dark blue in the sky, at the edge, but the day ain’t done yet.

It peeks itself from behind the trees on 16th Street and peaks from behind a tall building–for Washington standards. It plays gray and gold and navy. It’s not going easy.

And I’m flouncing on the sidewalk to an internal beat. Staying alive to the drop of the subway where the day disappears.

Parallel Lines

Blondie LP Cover for Parallel Lines

One of my superpowers has two parts. First, it’s finding street parking in the city. Second, and, this is the really impressive part, is getting my car into the tiniest of spaces.

I am really that good.

I am so good that I people on the sidewalk stop and watch me and applaud. I am so good that truckers pause and shake their heads before they see me adroitly place my car, at which point they nod approvingly as one pro to another. I am so good that when I did a u-turn to fluently slip into a spot across the street, an offended police officer gave a low whistle before he upbraided me for an illegal traffic move. No ticket, either.

I might do a little bit of bumper tapping, and occasionally I have to reset, but, in the end, it’s me next to the curb in a tight spot.

I will never forget when this superpower was granted to me. Ann K., my boss at the arcade, saw me struggling to get my car next to the curb. I was going nose in.

“No, honey.” (She called everyone honey.) “You can’t get in like that. Let me tell you how my uncle told me.” In a few seconds she passed on the power. She never showed me. She simply told me. I don’t know if there was a green spark or subtle neon glow that marked the powerup. Maybe. Regardless, I’ve been parking like a boss ever since.

There are, of course, physical limitations. Like you can’t put your car in a spot smaller than your vehicle. You CAN, however, put your car in a spot that LOOKS smaller. Knowing the difference is part of the superpower.

It’s really all mechanics, you say. And I say, no. It’s the power of trust. It’s believing that when you apply the mechanics your car will fit into the spot. And it does.

I guess that those new automatic car parking features are my kryptonite. I bet that most people who have them either use valet anyway or live in the suburbs and park in lots.

Me? I’ll trust in my own power.


that stupid bad-guy prince from Frozen being mean on a valentines card.

Somebody asked me what I was doing for Valentine’s Day. We were in the kitchen at work. People were talking about their weekend plans–especially looking forward to a federally induced 3-day weekend.

“So, you have plans for Valentine’s Day?”

I was in the midst of my beeline for the coffee maker. I came to an immediate and full stop. The question halted me, and, before I could check myself, I said that Valentine’s Day was a bullshit holiday.

Now everyone in the kitchen froze. The only sound was the very faint whirring of the microwave in the background. Someone was making oatmeal, I think.

I realized what I did. I spoke bad about that (b.s.) holiday of romance among people who were primed for romance. Or pined for romance. Or thought that they were supposed to participate in this external marker for romance.

And here I was, offering grumpy-Sanders, bellicose-Trump pronouncements on hearts, chocolates and flowers. On overpriced dinners for amateurs who only go out once or twice a year.

Truthfully, I like chocolates and flowers and fancy dinners. I often buy them myself. It was part of my training, because my truly loving spouse does not show unending devotion via these symbols. [Except for the dinners. We do that together. They are fun. We like to eat. And drink fancy drinks. And wine, too.] We have our own way of maintaining civility and sparks just shy of an incendiary device as part of our long term Waltz of the Incompatibles.

So my highly attuned senses dismissed the idea that V-day is important to show love in your life. Dismissed it a little too quickly and with a bit too much fervor.

Someone broke the silence and said, “I’d think you’d be like that about Valentine’s Day.”

I really appreciate that “do what you want” attitude. So, you all do you.

Tasting Sweet, Seeing Green

A Monkees record on a Honey Combs cereal Box. I think I had this one.

When we were little there used to be cool toys in cereal boxes (and in boxes of Cracker Jack, too, when Cracker Jack came in boxes versus bags). The toys in my childhood cereal boxes were like toys kids get in a Happy Meal except they were always plastic. Sometimes you get a stuffed toy in a Happy Meal. Never in a cereal box.Occasionally there would be a record manufactured right into the cereal box. We’d cut it out and try and play it in the red Close N’Play. It always–and I mean every time–was unplayable. But we’d act like we could make out the tune because it was a record, and it was ours.

Usually the prize was inside of the box. The box also housed a highly-sugared, highly-manufactured grain like Cap’n Crunch (I’d pick out the crunch berries if Mom got that kind), Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks (my definite fav) Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms (of which the commercials were significantly superior to the cereal. Yea, even at those times).

Okay. I admit that I ate all the cereal that I would never buy my own kids. Guilty as charged.

The giveaways in the cereal boxes were featured in the ads during the Saturday morning cartoons. No. Seriously. There used to be a time in which kids didn’t have cartoons on demand. We had to wait until Saturday mornings for our cartoon binges. I’m not making this up.

Anyway, when we’d open a new box of cereal, we’d immediately flip the box over to see the prizes featured on the back. There would always be pictures of the prize inside. Sometimes the prize would have wheels, sometimes the pieces of the prize had to be disengaged from plastic that held all the pieces inside a cellophane bag and sometimes the prize had a rubber band so that you could launch something. To be clear, we never put an eye out. Dad did, more than once, step on a toy wherein it would be embedded in his foot. So it’s not like these prizes were without danger.

We–us three kids–came up with the rules on who got the prize. At first, someone would dig through the box and just grab it. Possession nine-tenths being what it is and whatnot. There was some coming to blows with this method. Grabbing the box. Fighting over the box. Just sneaking the box. Punches and sometimes tears.

We needed something new.

The next method was that when you poured the cereal, if the prize fell into your bowl, you got to keep it. This seemed beautifully random. Except it wasn’t. There was some maneuvering of the box, shaking to one side to unearth the toy and unfair joggling and manipulation. This technique soon came into disuse, likely because of blows being had.

There had to be a better way.

Turns out that their was almost always different toys in each promotion. There would regularly be three color options for the toy. Almost always blue, green and yellow. We used this to create a system that effectively avoided blows. When we got the box, each of us would select a preferred color and whatever color the toy was, whenever it appeared, we knew who it belonged to.

We went one step further and standardized on a selection order–by age. I was in the middle, so I was okay and the youngest was just happy to be in the game.

So for years I thought that my favorite color was green because the Oldest Sib would always always always always select the blue toy. And nobody wanted the yellow toy. So I would select the green and made myself feel good by deciding that it was my favorite color anyway. The Youngest Sib got dibs on the unwanted yellow.

Eighty or ninety or even 100 percent of the time there would be a yellow toy in the cereal box. So the Youngest Sib, despite not making a choice, made out well. And, most importantly, there was no coming to blows anymore.

Cereal boxes do not have good toys anymore. Even though I don’t buy the crap cereal that I grew up on, I still nostalgically look at the boxes. No toys. Those times are over. The other time that is over is the time in which kids would figure out what they decided was fair–without any parental meddling.

And, in case you were wondering my real favorite color is red.

Old Women Bruhs

What is the old white woman version of the word “bro?”

Gloria Steinem–second wave feminist icon–totally stepped in it when she tried to old-splain why young women were not supporting democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Women are more for [Clinton] than men are. Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, women get more radical because they lose power as they age. 

They’re going to get more activist as they grow older. And when you’re younger, you think: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’ —More here.

I kinda get her motivation. She’s like, “Damn! I just might see a woman elected president of the United States in my lifetime! And I don’t have any idea why young women are not wanting this, too!”

Classic and historical problem with American 2nd Wave feminism–white, middle class, educated and tone deaf to the needs of the women who are not them.

Now, Steinem did take it back. Using the classic and historical excuse of “misspeaking.”

But still, insulting people who you want on your side because they disagree with you just might be the problem.

Origin Stories

As part of the offsite, participants had to share their origin stories. It wasn’t put that way, but it was part of the ice breaker exercise.

One person spoke about an idyllic childhood in a communist country. Since there were so many constraints it was a simple time. When pressed, it might not have been all good. They did have to stand in crazy lines for hours and the shelves in the stores were empty.

Another person conveyed the challenges of being bi-racial. They didn’t know that it was important until high school when people started confronting them with “what are you?” This led to much soul searching. Someone else lost a parent at a very tender age and had to overcome being a nerdy outcast but found a circle of great friends on the way to great success.

It seemed everyone had a struggle to overcome–although everyone seemed to see their struggle as simply part of their origin. Made me wonder if there is something about the expereinces people have that draw them to different types of work. This offsite was at a non-profit.

What would this ice-breaker be like in the investment banking industry. Would participants talk about growing up with cooks and servants? About prep school, the tennis instructor and the golf team? Would they talk about meeting their future spouses at a Renaissance Weekend at an exclusive Hilton Head hotel? Would they talk about their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents preceding them at their Ivy League college? About getting a loan from Dad to start their first firm or build up their investment portfolio or to pay off a bad business break? Would they bemoan the challenge in getting a good apartment in Manhattan?

Just wondering about origin stories.

Brown + Dog

Great big super scary UPS truck

Who is it that says dogs are colorblind? They are very wrong. My dog most definitely knows the color brown.

This I know because he desperately hates the UPS truck. And its denizens. (sorry drivers!)

This I know because whenever he sees a UPS truck he yells at it. Loudly. At the top of his lungs, and, totally, by the way, at the top of my patience.

The truck rolls down our street, he furiously barks.

It stops and delivers Zuilly or Zappos or Amazon across the street. He goes off.

And, sorry and so sad and so very wrong, when a poor driver has to come up on our porch for our delivery. Super sorry, since I’m a very active Amazon Prime member. Poor driver endures shock and awe from the red-coated full-throated beast. Really, I am sorry. Really. I am.

Total hate from our sweet oversized over-bellowed hound.

In our house it’s awful. So awful that would yell at him to shut the eff up. Where “eff” is a very different word, but Loyal Reader, I don’t want to say this word in front of you.

I did some research and found that when I was yelling AT him to shut up, he thought that I was yelling WITH him. What? So I’m screaming at him to shut up and he’s like, YEAH! We are getting those muthafuckas to leave us alone.

Dear Lord, what have I begot?

Next round. He yells at the UPS driver and gets all physical. He knocks over all the flowers, and I see that all the pillows are on the floor. He’s on the couch standing in kill stance. YELLING at the top of his lungs and throat and whatever else a hound dog has. Trust me, it is loud. No. Seriously. LOUD.

So I walk up and grab his collar and say in a whisper, “This is not your job. Leave it.” And I repeat this about twenty million gazillion billion times, always in a whisper. [while in my head I am screaming YOU STUPID SHIT DOG SHUT THE FUCK UP, but he never hears this. He just hears the gentle whisper.]

“This is not your job. Leave it.”

And I drag his 85 pounds of muscle ass off of the couch where he is in total KILL mode. That means that all four of his strong-ass legs are planted strong, that his tail is rocket straight, that his muzzle is pointed and strained toward the perceived [totally wrongly because there is no threat] danger.

As I drag him by his collar he pulls back to the bullshit threat. Bullshit because there IS NO THREAT. But, because he is still doing his job since he is the dog in the house, I continue to whisper to him the alternative. [Whispering is getting increasingly difficult, if you couldn’t figure that out on your own. Just saying.]

He fights me for the effort that it takes for me to pull him off–and this is a SIGNIFICANT effort. I don’t go to the gym because I build super-body-strength since I am pulling this freak around. Maybe I should thank him. Or give him a doggie-treat.

Anyway, he pulls back so he can alert from his spot looking out the window. He is up on the couch. He is protecting us all. Standing on the couch gives this big dog another couple feet. So he’s at about five-feet at the snout, and he’s at full yell.

I’m pulling him off the couch, [pretending to] always whispering, but, frankly, if that stupid effin’ dog knocks me over [again!!] I will likely maybe lose my shit.

I’m pulling him off the couch with all my weak-strength and all the time gently whispering that it’s not his fukcing job and walking him away from the window and, then, magically, when we walk into the next room he suddenly becomes complacent.


I walk him toward the bathroom, and as I get closer he knows that he needs to go to a place and pull himself together.

We call it “Puppy Time Out.”

I escort him, at this point easily, to the bathroom and put him inside. I tell him to chill out.

And, he does.

Seriously. This dog is smart. He knows that once I gather my strength and pull him off the couch it’s over. Totally over. And he needs to pull himself together. And sit pretty. It’s over. And the damn truck will be gone. And he will sit, like a little dream whip, in a little ball, on the couch.

“Stop, Doc!,” you say. “So why does this indicate color awareness??”

When he sees someone on the street [i could do an entire separate series of his street insanity] wearing a boxy brown jacket, he wants to do great bodily harm to him.

I know this because my arms are much longer than they were the day before we saw that poor man standing on the other side of the street with his brown HH or North Face or whatever brown coat with a hood.  I was frantically holding that mass of dog-muscle away from the guy with the brown jacket as he was punished via very loud and vicious-sounding barking. I was so embarrassed. If the guy was wearing a blue or red or green or khaki jacket, no yelling.

[But if he was wearing a church lady hat, all bets off. The dog hates hats, too. That is another post.]

I don’t get this. Like at all. But I love my crazy red dog.

Corporate Doughnuts

cake donut. mmmmmm

When I was in school we’d raise money selling donuts and coffee.

You had to reserve the space in the Union. Sign ups for student groups–mostly progressive and then finally the Young Republicans when they finally cracked the code since the progressives weren’t sharing–were at the beginning of the semester. You tried to get as many days as you could. Donut selling was easy money (see more below).

Most student groups used the same coffee makers. I forget who owned them. It might have been the PIRG. There were two big multi gallon machines. No decaf, just regular coffee. I think we bought the coffee from the PIRG, too. Or at least reimbursed them.

There was sugar we’d put in a styrofoam coffee cup with a plastic spoon. There was powdered coffee creamer which got the same treatment. My tenant’s rights group supplied our own cups and coffee modifiers, and our own napkins, too.

One day our director thought it’d be better if we owned our own coffee makers. Then WE could rent to other groups–like the Young Republicans–and it would pay for itself in a few months. Such entrepreneur. Much pain in ass.

Boss man didn’t manage the coffee makers. They’d come back dirty. They’d not come back. We had to chase down our friends in the other student groups for payment. And they’d want to pay in donuts.

All the student groups got their donuts from the same donut shop. I don’t remember the name, but it wasn’t called donut. I think the goods came from a place called Dairy Something or Somebody’s Dairy. I don’t really remember. I might be making the name stuff up.

We’d order the donuts in two dozen increments. Someone with a car–not me since I only had two wheels–would pick them up before the crack of dawn. I would be there for setup. I’d get the coffee started, lugging the big pot to the sink in the janitor’s closet to fill it. I know. Don’t judge me. We all did it and drank the coffee, too.

The donuts were all cake donuts. In fact they were all the same donuts. The differentiator was the covers. There were chocolate, grainy sugar, toasted coconut, cinnamon (with the grainy sugar) and peanut. Sometimes there were maple, but they weren’t big sellers. If the director picked up the donuts he would get those even though they didn’t sell. He must have liked them, or he wanted more variety for our display. The sprinkles on the white frosting either sold out fast or not at all. On Valentine’s Day there were donuts with red and white sprinkles. THOSE were popular. My personal favorite was the plain.

When I was on donut duty, I would eat two. Usually one cinnamon (with the grainy sugar) and a plain one. Yes, eating our profits, because although the money was easy, there wasn’t a lot of it. We might clear between $35-$65 after costs. And be super pleased.

I prefer cake donuts over yeast donuts. I’ve had good yeast donuts in the past, but it seems that nowadays everyone is imitating those Krispy Kreme donuts. Those donuts with the slippery, greazey sticky coating. I don’t know that it’s sugar. I do know that it’s nasty. Like I said, I like good yeast donuts, but these aren’t those.

The best donuts I’ve had since being all the way grown are Downyflake donuts. They have two types, plain and chocolate covered. I only like the plain. They are sinkers. If you leave them in a paper bag they grease it all up. So good. When you buy a dozen in a box and there’s some left for the next day, you pop them in the toaster oven on toast. If you put a paper towel underneath it and can avoid the paper catching fire, it will crisp up really nice. If the paper catches fire it crisps up, but not really nice.

I’ve often wondered what happened with that other New England donut, Dunkin’ Donuts. I thought they were decent, but someone brought them into work and they were absolutely inedible. It’s like they are diet donuts–in fake flavor and in rubbery consistency. It seems like they switched to good-for-you oil. I like the bad slash-tasty oil. It’s not good for you. It’s just good.

These gross corporate donuts, DunkinD and KrispyK are lousy excuses for donuts. I miss donuts cooked in good fat and that taste good. And that you could sell at school and make $45 for your cause.

But I don’t want artisanal doughnuts that cost $2.50 each that claim to be good and just aren’t that good.

Donuts have become a memory for me.

Breaking Bad

ballroom dancing at the metro
NOT the buskers in question.

There’s a group of buskers that have taken up as artists-in-residence at Metro Center. They perform on the platform down the escalator where folks are waiting for the Orange, Blue and Silver lines and where the Red Line passengers walk to reach the opposite train.

It’s a fairly intimate spot. By intimate I mean small. The area is flanked by two triple sets of escalators, and there are big pillars with the lists of stops on either side next to their respective tracks. The buskers don’t really get in the way, though. Good on them. Except that they may block one of the pillars so people unsure which train to get on won’t have a clue.

When I’ve seen them, there’s been 2-5 men setting up with an amp. I think that they dance, but I’ve mostly seen stretching. And jawing. There is an upturned baseball cap that is likely for donations. First time I saw it, I almost picked it up to give to the guy. I thought he dropped it. Then I recognized the signs of a pending performance: the amp, the fiddling with the amp, the stretching, the cool shoes and the multi-colored hair.

I think, though, that they would be more likely to get green in the hat if there was some type of performance. Not being a busker myself, I could be wrong.

Today, as I crossed the platform-stage, there was sound coming from the amp. The sound was music. There was a guy who was kind of dancing. To be fair, I guess he really was dancing. Not in a way that was impressive, that might make you stop and watch or that was even choreographed.

Like I have on previous days, I rubbernecked. One of the guys was making motions at the “dancing” guy’s back, almost like he was either trying to fan the flames or put out a fire. Hard to tell. It almost seemed like they were nervous or embarrassed, like the kids trotted out by their parents at the family gathering who really don’t want to play the violin for Aunt Viola. The buskers looked like that the other days, too. If this was stage fright, I didn’t see any imminent end to it.

There were four or five women clapping along to the music. There were people covertly glancing at the potential performers. These people didn’t want to encourage the buskers, but they didn’t want to miss out. A few others stopped to wait. Well they were waiting for the train anyway, but instead of facing the track they turned toward the amp and the guy moving in front of it.  Something might happen.

Me, I continued walking across the stage stepping onto the up-escalator, swinging around to face back at them. Something was bound to happen, no? No.

I didn’t see any money going into the hat. Seems that bad busking is not a good entrepreneurial look.

[image: The Ballroom Project]