Musical Spread

Toy Peanuts band with Lucy on flute, Linus on horn, Snoopy on electric guitar, Charlie Brown on sax and Shroeder on piano, of course.

The Christmas concert was cheery. The very large community band was decked out in Santa hats, reindeer antlers and green and red garb versus their standard concert black and white. There were clarinets and french horns, piccolos and sousaphones, oboes and xylophones, and, my personal favorite, the timpani drums. You don’t get to a better crescendo than that.

The players were very diverse, ranging from a fresh-faced late teen through a skinny and slightly stooped octogenarian both with full heads of hair, one straight and black and the other a fluff ball of white curls. There wasn’t a cluster around any age cohort–eyeballing the performers they were well distributed across the last sixty or so years. There was an even number of men and women, perhaps five more men than women if we’re nitpicky. And while the majority of the musicians may have been white, it was minor majority. People of color were represented across all sections of the band, from winds to brass to percussion. It was America.

The performance was in the band room rather than the theatre. The program was a light selection of Christmas and seasonal tunes with specialty turns by quartets, sextets and an octet full of various-sized saxophones. A few pieces were clearly well-rehearsed, and well-liked, by the band. A few were a little less beloved, and two of the chamber pieces started and stopped and restarted. The lady on the recorder called a mulligan on one song as did the first clarinet on another. It was all quite relaxed.

The audience was a bit fewer in numbers than the band. They were moms and dads, partners and children, and friends and neighbors who gathered to support their hyper-local musicians. They were welcomed not only with elf-suits and carols, but also with six buffet tables filled with post-concert nosh provided by the band members.

There were trays of to-go chicken, including the wings that disappeared before the trumpet was able to store her instrument. There were pre-cut squares of mild cheeses with triscuit crackers. There were a few dips, mostly of the bean and chick pea varieties, with accompanying chips and pita wedges. The black bottomed trays piled with pre-cut vegetables, like broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, celery, ranch dressing and the cauliflower that was always leftover, posted up one or two looming large on four of the tables. There was a dearth of serving pieces, so nobody ate the popcorn that would have required manhandling the entire contents in the tin.

The youngest in the audience were big-eyed at the tables full of sweets. A bowl full of kisses, a plate with green and white filled oreos, cupcakes with eggnog icing that looked straight out of a TV show bakery, brownies, Tupperwares topped off with chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip and oatmeal craisin cookies. Some desserts were from old country recipes, while others represented the latest paleo or gluten free trends. There were fruit and custard pies, which all looked store bought, and round and bundt cakes that evidenced the love of homemade icing and gaily placed nuts. There was also a fruit tray that became more and more desirable as a palate cleanser after the sugar course.

The band members congratulated each other and laughed through their quick debriefs of their successes and foibles, speaking the shorthand developed after many hours of rehearsals and their common, musical, patios. They mingled with their guests, jostling over that last wing and handing a plastic fork over the table to a stranger who was searching. Turns out that everyone found what they were looking for on this December evening.

No Sense

Photo of 13th and H St. at 10:55 a.m. on January 4th, 1931

Her hair was strawberry blonde, more strawberry than blonde. When you looked closely, you saw that she came that way. No off color at the ends. No reverse skunk dark roots. No center part outlined with silver or white.

She had a thick head of hair and bangs flew from her face. Although her cut was not high fashion, the ends weren’t split. Somebody might say she was a ginger with her freckled face and arms, but she wasn’t that fair and her skin held a tan just fine.

Her lips were moving, and she was only wordless in that she wasn’t making a sound, but she was most definitely forming words. Her face was more than sun kissed. Maybe a bit weather worn, too.

Her back was to the building and behind her was an unopened bottle of orange juice and an extra large cup from Chick-fil-A, or Five Guys or some other red writing on a white logo’ed joint. In front of her was a medium sized, clear plastic cup with a ring of green leaves that identified this as recyclable plastic. Maybe it wasn’t even plastic. It could be a corn product. The cup in front of her was about a foot from her mouth making the shapes of words. There was green inside the cup as well as bordering the cup. The green was paper money.

Back to her hair, it wasn’t dirty. It wasn’t matted. It wasn’t higgledy-piggledy. But it wasn’t fresh from the salon, either. Her eyes were closed and the teeth behind her moving lips were a little oversized, but there. She was wearing a dress and black hose. Not sheer hose, but tights. The tights were ripped and ran. The toes on her left foot, the one on top, were exposed. Her right foot, the one on the bottom, was almost completely bereft of cover. There was a thread that looped between two of her toes that kept the rest of the stocking on her leg.

She had no shoes. No shoes on her feet. No shoes near her feet. No shoes near her head. No shoes next to the unopened juice. She didn’t have a bag. Not a purse. Not a backpack. Not a garbage bag. Not a thin plastic bag from the Walgreens.

She was more than asleep. More like passed out. She was sprawled on the sidewalk in the mid afternoon on a busy corner in the business district. She was on her right side with her hands near her chest, her legs pulled up slightly. Her nearly bare feet pointed toward the White House.

It wasn’t unusual for people to sleep on the sidewalk or to ask for money or to live on the streets downtown. But she didn’t look like that. She looked different. Like she was either a new transplant or someone who was lost or someone who was dumped.

A few people paused as they walked by her, looking to see if she was breathing, wondering if she was okay. At least two called to have someone check in on her. This is because as one was describing the woman and her location to the emergency dispatch, Engine 16 was in the intersection, making a left turn. The firefighters stepped out of the big red truck.

The one on the phone told dispatch that someone was here, hung up and felt water welling in eyesockets. She turned her head to the sky and said a prayer, hoping that something was there to catch it.

No Comment

I love to cook. I love to cook different things. I love to learn how to cook different things. The Internet helps me. See my handiwork above.

I am so happy to look at my mostly barren between-shopping-trips kitchen, type the words [squash], [capers] and [mint] and find something to make for dinner. And many, many times, the results taste good. Even better, I might have added to my cook’s knowledge for next time.

Another terrific thing about cooking is that you can use your learnings to make changes or substitutions to reflect what you have on hand or your taste preferences or both.  Sometimes I’ll scroll through a bunch and take parts of two–or maybe on occasion six–and concoct something. Sometimes I look for a recipe just to get a technique or a cooking approximation. The internet is a treasure trove for cooks and cook wannabes.

Yet another terrific thing about using recipes online is looking at the reviews of the other cooks. You can get an idea if people thought that there was too much salt or too much oil or if the prep-time is onerous or if it feeds an army rather than two or if you should double the sauce. If many commenters said that the results stunk, you take that caution and move on.

A non-terrific thing about cooking and the internet are people who comment and rate a totally different recipe.

Like this one for a corn and tomato salad,

I didn’t use tomato.

What the what? It’s a corn and TOMATO salad. Rule 1: You can’t review a recipe that you didn’t use.

Or this one for old fashioned spaghetti and meatballs,

I thought this was a great, old school recipe. Like somebody’s grandma. I pretty much followed the recipe exactly, except for making the following changes: I substituted salmon for the ground beef and veal because I had some leftover. I don’t really care for Italian seasonings so I used ginger and scallions. I bound the salmon together with some breadcrumbs and egg and the sauce was more soy and mirin. We served over rice with sesame bok choy. I would give the recipe 3.5 stars if I could, but will leave it at 3 since I made a few changes.

What recipe did you make? How could you review this recipe. And, most importantly, why do we care about your version of what is definitely not Mama’s Pasta? Rule 2: You can’t review a recipe that you didn’t follow, like at all. Shut up, please.

And the final one is the person who takes offense and feels compelled to share said offense because that is NOT how his family makes it. And his grammy knows! This is most entertaining when they include their own version of the recipe so that you don’t make the mistake and prepare the food wrong.

From a vegetarian recipe for healthy “fried” green tomatoes with red pepper vinaigrette,

I am from the South and no self-respecting Southerner would make their fried green tomatoes with goat cheese. My grandma would take the can of lard or bacon fat out from behind the pantry and she’d fry them up. Also, we don’t put any fancy salad dressing on them. Just eat them sitting on the back porch waiting for the catfish to cook. This recipe is an insult to my heritage. No stars!

Seriously? Your childhood is sullied because someone is making a different version of a vegetable? Rule 3: Recipe comments are not a space for your personal therapy. Find a professional.

I know that this recipe commenting thing is a part of the broader issue of internet commenting and trolling. You know, where people comment on things that they didn’t read, comment on something that they reinterpret for their own purposes or comment so they can get something, maybe peripherally related, off their chest. [As an aside, if you want to be entertained by some of the best recipe trolling ever, go here.] 

Come to think of it, I think that I just might prefer reading recipe comments over any other internet comments.*  At least there’s a chance I’ll learn something.


* except when I see your Facebook comments that say I look good. Never enough of those.

Rocking Horse People Eat Marshmallow Pies

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The British Invasion band called the Beatles first played in the States in Washington, DC. It was in an upside down half pipe called the Washington Coliseum. A half pipe the size of an airplane hangar.

There was some kind of massive snowstorm that forced the lads up to New York via train. My favorite recollection was that of a man who said all he remembered was deafening, high pitched screaming. That and the smell of urine. I guess thousands of the teeny bopper fans pissed themselves in excitement.

To me the “coliseum” is a decrepit old building among many old decaying structures on the other side of the train yard where the Amtrak, Maryland light rail and the subway tracks criss cross and then feed in and out of Union Station.  It was tagged by the prolific Cool “Disco” Dan, as well as by more visually talented graffiti artists.

I had no business on 3rd St, NE so I didn’t see it up close until the our offices moved to the development at NOMA–which is a made up developer’s name to make the industrial area of empty lots, bus terminals, armories, and abandoned warehouses that was the real estate surrounding the tracks north of Union Station into a destination for high-rise offices, apartments, coffee and pet stores and restaurants.

I saw the “coliseum” up close the first time I passed under the bridge, driving along M Street. You could park your car in that rundown cavern for $5. That is an unheard of and remarkable price for DC. I kept driving. The overhead of walking under the bridge from a sketchy lot wasn’t worth $4 to me. Seriously, I paid $9–almost double–to not park there.

Now, that spot, where the Beatles played and the girls peed and the cars parked, is being converted to a very nice outdoors sporting goods joint. And condos, and, I bet, a new fast casual spot that has greens and grains in a bowl with some sauce.

This changes the neighborhood. Not a little. But a lot. And it’s mostly good.

In my neighborhood–two subway stops and a scant three miles away–we’ve had a torrent of new people moving in. I am very happy that people are buying houses and making spaces and creating families. This is what people in my neighborhood have been doing for the past hundred years. Not the same people–since our time on this earth is finite–but people who move in after others have moved out.

So, this moving into houses thing is NOT new. But, somehow, some of the people who move into the houses think it’s new. That, somehow, their being here defines new. And special. Really special.

I would call this attitude gentrification. Know that my neighborhood, that we have lived in ourselves for multiple decades and have been overlapping with other multi-decade residents (some from many decades before our multi-decade gig), was just fine before the newest new people got here.

Don’t get me wrong. We are happy you are here. We welcome you. We welcome you when you move in when you’re still are single. We welcome when you adopt your shelter dog and as you struggle through your training. And we are downright excited when you have babies and are tickled when you stay here when they go to school. And when we watch them go to prom and graduate high school, we know you are one of us.

But know that we have been a close knit middle class ‘hood pretty much forever. Maybe you haven’t lived with native Washingtonians before–I know I didn’t before I had my children–but they did fine before you. You are not the savior of our ghetto neighborhood, because this is not the ghetto and we don’t need saving. We are super happy that the clusters of new apartments and condos and overpriced townhomes have increased the density of our neighborhood so we can support more restaurants and a fancy wine store in addition to the liquor stores that don’t have tastings but have carried decent wine and excellent beer for at least a generation.

And, dearest new people,  if I can give you one piece of advice, as you stroke your long beards and push your running strollers and swing your bikes from your driveway past me into the street, say “Hi!” or at least nod your acknowledgement to the olds and the new’s.

Remember, new people and gentrifiers, we are still a sleepy little Southern town; and those niceties that stitch us together into a community go a long way to ensure that your neighbor digs you out of the snow when you have a new baby and your spouse is out of town, that a neighbor anonymously keeps a watchful eye on your house when you’re away for the weekend, that someone gives the stink-eye to a stranger walking on your porch where your Zulily and Amazon boxes lie, that people who know who your kids are peep on them to make sure they “independently” make it to the schoolyard or playground or scout meeting, that an amazing stranger brings a CVS bag filled with toothbrushes and toothpaste and soap and a comb and tampons when your house burned down. Seriously. This is what we do.

Spend the time knowing the old, and the new. It’s really all good.

Hey, are you new? Oh hai!

Mass Hysteria 

Fabric from an old dress.

I haven’t been to church for a while, and the few recent times have been for solemn services. This Sunday, though, was to celebrate a small friend’s First Holy Communion. It was quite the spectacle. I hadn’t been to a full on social media mass before. And let me tell you, it was quite something.

Each child walked the aisle solo, the next one not to follow until the consecrated bread and wine were downed. There was a literal wall–three deep–of moms, dads, aunts, sibs, godmothers and other amatuer photographers stacked to the right of the altar. Most were filming on their phones. You could tell it wasn’t still photography by the way they held the phone sideways and circled it as if they were casting a spell on the children winding around the pews. I hope that they captured the kids as they hesitantly tasted the wine for the first time and scrunched up their noses and puckered their mouths and maybe even gagged. There was also tagging and filter-adding.  I hope there’s a hashtag, #firstcommunionsofinstagram.

I haven’t been to church for a while, but some things remain the same. Like the priest who has the worst flow I have ever heard. Think of your grandma or her sister rapping, if that would be bad, this guy is worse.

There is a Catholic tradition of chanting and sing-song prayer from the celebrant. There is a rhythm. The fact that the words are less important than the cadence doesn’t usually distract from understanding what’s said. This priest, though, has no pattern, rhyme or reason in his warble. I couldn’t understand his odd and random inflection–both tempo and tone. It was as if he was reading a language that he himself didn’t comprehend and was enunciating sounds that could be words–but he’s not sure. He might as well be speaking Latin. I don’t think he was.

I haven’t been to church for a while, but stepping into the sanctuary I was reminded of being part of this community. This very church community. I walked down that long, long aisle on the arm of my father. We pushed the double doors open with a great flourish and grinned like goofs as we swaggered past friends and family until he kissed me and I joined my partner. There were baptisms and communions and confirmations for my own boys. In between those sacraments, we would spend our Sunday mornings on the left side, toward the front, singing along with the choir.

There may have been an inebriated Midnight Mass or two, Christmas pageants and fellowship–which was code for donuts. We would wish each other peace and hold hands across that long, long aisle during prayer. As a not-so-great Catholic, I was there for the sharing and to scrape out some grace for the week. My typical prayer was for patience.

I haven’t been to church for a while. When my dad died, I stopped. I tried. The first time, when the choir sang a song from his services, I fought back tears. I clamped down on those raw, sad feelings. The next few times were no better. It might be a reading, a song, a prayer or the ringing of the bell that would crush my heart. I couldn’t think about the readings or the prayers or the songs without sorrow seeping from my eyes. My only solution was to think of something else, like snow if it was summer or a crab feast if it was winter.

It pulled me away from the fellowship of Sundays. Spending the time thinking about a shopping list or the agenda for a Monday meeting separated me from the community. That made me sad, and destroyed the value of going. But, if I didn’t keep the lid on my sorrow–the sorrow that was triggered by the going–I would expose what I wanted to keep to myself. I don’t want to share grief. It’s mine to take out when I feel that I can.

So, I haven’t been to church in a while, but I went today. It was chilly and rainy. I chose it to be spring, so I pulled out a dress with blue flowers. As I put it on, I realized that I wore this dress to The Big Guy’s First Holy Communion a long time ago. I went a bit late. I held my umbrella high and walked more around than through the puddles. I was surprised that, in the back of my mind, I was hoping for peace.

When I walked into the church vestibule, I felt the burden of sad. I sat in my old spot on the left side. I saw my friends and their families. I listened to the jarring and discordant priest. It was so unpleasant that I was distracted and almost angry. I tried to block the sound and just focus on the words and take meaning from them. The tears leaked out. I thought about barbeque or one of the President’s jokes about Congress. The water subsided. It was an uneasy peace. It doesn’t get easier, at least not yet.

Blighted Bud


Open office spaces are very au courant. They are all about collaboration and breaking down hierarchies, but they end up being insulating. Because headphones.

You walk up and start “collaborating” to a colleague with their face in a computer screen. No response. You say their name. No response. You say their name louder. No response. You tentatively tap their shoulder, like some creeper. The colleague jumps out of their chair while pulling at the string around their neck to pull the bud out of their ear. Then they profusely apologize as you interrupt with your own set of “sorries.”

Meanwhile the person in close quarters NOT wearing headphones is totally disturbed and now reaches in their desk for something to plug into their speakerboxx thereby closing themselves off from the collaboration.

It’s worse than that.

I’m walking The Dog. It’s stunningly beautiful–sunny and warm. We stop frequently and at length so he can smell the hell out of every last blade of grass and dandelion to be. I spy a guy with a dog a block down. Those of you who are not dogwalkers may not realize that you must be ever vigilant for other creatures–squirrels, cats, birds, skateboards, baby carriages and dogs–just in case someone decides to bolt. You work to get the attention of The Dog as you choke up on the leash preparing for a burst of muscle that taxes your own.

As the guy approaches, The Dog notices the other. I’m prepped. The guy gets closer and asks me, “Is this your dog?”

Odd, but I’m like, “Well, yeah, I’m walking him.” I’m thinking he’s wondering if The Dog is friendly. We are close to the physical rendezvous, and he leans away a little as his dog with his waggy tail tries to make contact.

Guy is looking straight at me, and I start to tell him that The Dog is friendly. He abruptly waves me aside while telling me, “I’m on the phone.” I hear him say something about being “right in front of your house. I thought he got away. Where should I go?” He hadn’t been talking to me at all. He was asking somebody else about a dog. I didn’t see the telltale cord, but, as I dragged The Dog past, I saw his earbuds. I hope he reunited the other dog with his family.

He was disconnected from our false encounter while making a connection somewhere else.

There’s a great outside service window at the local watering hole, restaurant and grill. I perched on a stool at the smoothed concrete bar because the billowing smoker beckoned me to beer and BBQ.

A woman asked me if the seat next to me was available and settled in. She left the menu alone and began flipping through on her phone. I turned to the friendly people on my right who were downright hysterical pontificating on the different styles of sauce, bracket deadlines and other trivial matters.

The bartender approached the phone clutching patron for her order. The woman was unresponsive. Bartender looks at me to make sure that she was in fact making sounds when she was speaking. I indicated that she indeed was. We shared the moment of realization that you couldn’t hear if you were wearing headphones. Again, the headphones. Self-isolation from the surrounding conviviality.

The woman looked at the bartender and pulled out the bud. She ordered a house white. Then she put the earpiece back in and went back into herself. A few minutes later I heard her emotionally asking her phone, “Is that how you are treating me?” She was talking to someone who wasn’t there.

I didn’t want to eavesdrop on her pain. The conversation must have ended because she stopped talking. She kept flipping. I wish she took out the noise-cancelling and secluding earphones. I wish that she could have joined in the moment that was around her. Mostly, I wish she’s going to be okay since I somehow connected with her even though she doesn’t know.