Sunday, July 26, 2009
A few months ago, I took a trip home because the stars aligned and a few family events were happening at the same time. My cousin's twins were having their 1st birthday, my aunt was celebrating her Golden Jubilee (50th anniversary of being a nun) and there was a big family reunion. And of course, I would get to see my little nephew, who as of this writing is nearly 9 months old.
The family reunion is the interesting one. It was a gathering of my mother's side of the family. About 150 people attended. I knew about 15 of them well, the people that I think of as "my family" at holidays and such. About 10 more I had met perhaps once or twice at some point in my life. The rest were complete strangers. I wasn't looking forward to it, but I thought, "well, I'm home anyway, it'll make my mom happy, and it's only 4 hours". My attitude was one of annoyance, not dread. But that all changed the second we walked in the door.
Now, those of you who know me well know that I am quite shy, and that at times it goes past merely shy and all the way to anxious and fearful. I can honestly say that this reunion provoked an anxiety in me that I have not felt in as long as I can remember, at least all the way back to high school. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted and given name tags to stick to our shirts. It started right then. I don't know why, but this overwhelming feeling of anxiety and dread took hold of me. The event was held in a church cafetorium, and our family group of about 15 staked out a table right in the middle of the room. We settled in, and then the others started to mingle and head for the bar. I sat and didn't move until we left. Four hours in a folding chair at that table and I did not so much as stand up. I was so afraid that I can't even describe it. I did not get in line for the bar and I did not get in line for food, because I was scared that someone would talk to me. My parents and others in my family kept asking me questions. "Why don't you get a drink?" "Aren't you going to eat something?" "Are you feeling all right?" I just said I was feeling sick because I couldn't possibly tell them what was really going on. Honestly, even if someone brought me food or drink I wouldn't have had any because my insides were so jumpy that I would have thrown it up.
The worst part was toward the end. The guy who had organized the reunion was giving away door prizes for things like "oldest person here", "longest married couple" and things like that. He announced one for "person who came the longest distance". I froze, as I knew that except for one person from San Diego, it was probably me. And I also knew that my mother would immediately jump up and point to me.
My mother is the most extroverted person I know, and she has never understood my shyness. Further, I really don't think that deep down she thinks it's even real. When I've displayed shyness before, whether it's been refusal to dance or reluctance to talk to people, she just accuses me of being surly, sullen and an "old fart". Like I'm just doing it to be a jerkoff. The thing about mothers is that they are certain that everything you do is done to them, for them, in response to them or as a representative of them.
As expected, my mother's hand shot up like a teacher's pet and she squealed "Los Angeles! Los Angeles!" while gesticulating wildly in my direction. I immediately wished the the floor would open and swallow me up. I was feeling the same as I would if I were standing on the table naked and doing an Irish jig. I turned around and shot my mother a look of absolute anger and violence. A look that said "If you don't shut your mouth right now I'll come over there and shut it for you". She noticeably recoiled and threw her hands up. To make things worse, no one immediately went up to claim the prize, and many people had heard "Los Angeles". A brittle woman whom I am apparently related to leaned over from another table to urge me to go up. I told her that someone else here was from San Diego, and silently prayed that Ms. San Diego would finish up in the bathroom and save me. This woman, rather than take the hint, proceeded to engage me in a geographical debate about which city was further from Philadelphia. I was flustered, so I don't remember exactly how that played out. But in the end, a shambling, mulleted Rhode Islander, a savior in striped Zubaz pants, staggered away from his pitchers of beer and up to the stage to claim the prize. Soon after, someone's child was urged/commanded to sing what turned out to be a quite lovely version of "Danny Boy", and the event was over. On the way out, Mrs. Rand McNally said goodbye and made a subtly snide comment that made me want to knock her out and that I wish I remembered.
On the way home, I apologized to my mother for snapping at her. She didn't ask what the hell was going on, and I didn't offer.
I don't know why this happened. Ostensibly, these people are family and should have nothing but kind things to say to me. And if this had never happened to me in a group of strangers, why should it happen now? The only thing I can think of is that since these people were family and this was a reunion, I was actually expected to talk to them. In a group of strangers nobody cares. I wish I weren't like this. "You just have to get out there and mingle, meet people!", I hear from well-meaning people. "Everyone is nervous around new people and if you don't start being more outgoing, you're going to wind up alone." Well, this is what I am. I can't change it. It's not a matter of just deciding to be more outgoing. You might as well tell a blind man that if he doesn't start opening his eyes, he's going to keep bumping into things. But they are partly right. I really do think that it's going to cause me to wind up alone. I'm not saying, "oh woe is me", because I've done just fine so far being alone. I just wish I were like everybody else.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Taking on this challenge includes displaying your bookshelf and DVD shelf, your two favorite cookbooks, your menu for dinner, and the drinks that might be served. An evening at Casa de Words will be one to remember, and you will surely want to be present.
After I welcome you to my lavishly appointed one-bedroom
Turning a full four feet to the left, we'll encounter my TV stand complete with DVD shelf. This is actually my entire DVD collection. Apart, of course, from the ones that have to be spirited away from the premises upon my death by a very close friend.
I have many cookbooks, partly because I like to cook and partly because people keep giving them to me as gifts. If you are one of these people, thank you, but I have quite enough of them now.
My first favorite is The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine and the creators of the America's Test Kitchen show on PBS. This volume is the best general interest cookbook I've ever seen, and if I could only have one cookbook, it would be this one. They approach cooking scientifically, testing many recipes for the same dish and distilling all the best bits into one infallible uber-recipe. They've never failed me and I encourage you all to get this book right now. There are many other cookbooks in the Best Recipe series, and they are equally peerless.
My second favorite is Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse. The Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a BBQ joint in Syracuse, New York. I went to school at Syracuse University, and this quickly became my favorite restaurant in the world. I know what you're thinking. "BBQ in upstate New York? How good can it be?" Well, let me tell you. I love BBQ. I've eaten it in Memphis and I've eaten it in Texas. And this place is the best one I've ever been to, hands down. The BBQ meatloaf is my favorite recipe in the book. Mmmmmmm.
Now that you have an appetite worked up, it's time for dinner! Drinks are easy. I'm not picky. As long as the wine is red and dry, that's good enough for me. I'll have some Jameson whiskey and Boru vodka on hand for whoever wants the hard stuff, but this meal requires wine, and lots of it.
With so many people over, you don't want to be in the kitchen all night ignoring your guests. A simple, rustic menu that can be prepared largely ahead of time is perfect. So get ready for a big, soul-satisfying Italian feast.
We'll start with an appetizer of broiled asparagus with sea salt and balsamic vinegar wrapped in prosciutto. It's easy and it's a crowd pleaser. For our main course we'll be having Brasato al Barolo, which is a big hunk of beef braised in Barolo wine, garlic and lots of veggies. After three hours in the pot, it falls apart like the best short ribs or pulled pork. I'll be serving it in a bowl over a generous pile of polenta made with butter and grated parmesan cheese. It's simple Italian cooking at its best. For dessert we'll finish up with tiramisu and cups of espresso. That's actually my tiramisu in the picture, although I snagged the photos of the asparagus and brasato from other sources.
We'll wind down the night getting a buzz on and playing board games or trivia games that let me show you all how smrt I am. Finally, in the wee hours I'll kick you out so I can do the dishes. Or intend to do the dishes, instead leave them in the sink, go to bed, and actually wash them the next day.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Chatter X: Your grandmother's death did not hit you hard, then? Even that question makes you sound defective. It's acceptable to realize she had a long life and further time would have not been enjoyable for her.
WWW: Exactly. And no, it didn't.
WWW: I had a moment the other day when I looked at my address book to send out some notes. I had to erase hers. But it was more of a pondering thing than a grief thing.
WWW: It’s not so much just my grandmother that makes it weird...just that she’s the latest in a pattern where I'm surrounded by people who are obviously filled with grief and I feel like an extra in a funeral scene from a movie. The only thing that makes me upset at funerals is that other people are upset.
Chatter X: "Here I am, going through the motions. At least I'm in costume. I'll blend. I wonder what's for lunch? Is that wrong to wonder?"
WWW: I wondered. Swear to God.
Chatter X: Wow. I believe you. Did you wonder if you were inappropriate?
WWW: No, I didn't wonder about that.
Chatter X: You probably just haven't had the right person die yet.
Chatter X: You know, you make me say things that I would never have said in a million years otherwise. Thanks.
WWW: Hahaha. You know, I should have pretended that they were all out of the chicken parmesan. Then I could have cried.
Chatter X: Hahahahaha. Pull a nose hair out. That's how Bud Bundy does it.
Chatter X: We have now exhausted my knowledge of the dialogue from Married with Children.
Chatter X: Well, except for, "Aaaaaalllllllllllllllllll."
WWW: You forgot "Al, can we have sex?" "Uhh, no, Peg."
Chatter X: It's like that show writes itself.
WWW: Yes, it's "like" that.
WWW: It's a little known fact that Fox invented the Rimshot 3000 computer in 1983.
WWW: You just enter the names of your characters and a one line description of them. "Al Bundy: Sexually repulsed by wife, enjoys shitting."
WWW: And then you add the slugline. "Hot chick applies for job at Al’s shoe store." Done.
Chatter X: "Hot blonde daughter wrecks car."
WWW: See? You can be a TV writer too!
Chatter X: I can feel the unmerited royalty checks just waiting for me.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
In April, I wrote a post about how various historical figures might have used Twitter. Today I was innocently surfing the web and came across a blog called Historical Tweets. Cocoa Puffs fell from my mouth as I stared agape at my pilfered creation. I certainly recognize that a great idea might occur to more than one person. But three times? The script, the ice cream, and now historical tweets?? And this isn't even counting the way Hulu infiltrated my brain to appropriate an inside joke!
I've had it, Internet. I've had it with you and your underhanded thievery. You'll get no more good ideas from me. Henceforth, I will traffic exclusively in terrible ideas. This way, if you continue your dastardly behavior, you will at least be punished with bad content.
Here then, Internet, let me give you a sneak preview of some things I've been working on:
* A richly illustrated coffee table book exploring life at a 55-and-over nudist colony.
* A weekly newsletter written by and devoted exclusively to the adorable activities of Princess Foo-Foo, an unnervingly anthropomorphized Persian cat.
* A PBS miniseries that investigates scientific accuracy in the television show Battlestar Galactica, hosted by a rotating series of bachelor computer programmers.
* A blog in which Don Koharski of Skokie, Illinois uses each night's frozen Hungry Man dinner as a jumping off point to detail the unending agony and haunting loneliness that have reduced his life to an interminable wait for the sweet relief of death.
Have at it, boys!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
This past week I took an unexpected trip back home to visit the family, and we went to the shore to hit the boardwalk. Aside from stuffing yourself to the gills, the boardwalk is most famous for ride piers. As a public service, I thusly bring you...
RATING THE BOARDWALK RIDES
People ride the bumper cars to escape real life and enter an arena where cars are packed in like sardines and smash into each other with glee. I drive in Los Angeles every day, so I'm afraid for me it's nothing more than a busman's holiday.
The traditional ride for grandparents, pussies, and dudes who slip the pimply ride operator a fiver to stop it when he's at the top with the girl he wants to maul. Three groups of people I have no use for.
The Tidal Wave looks fun enough from the picture. But let me tell you, it is an absolute deathtrap. The cars jerk up and down in such a violent manner that spinal injury insurance is sold at a cost of four ride tickets. I suggested to the ride operator that they rename it the Tooth Chipper, but he looked at me like *I* was the one shaking people up like so many soda cans. Yeah, and you know what happens after you do that? Exactly.
GRADE: D (Upgraded to B with purchase of spinal injury insurance.)
Kiddie Log Flume
The idea of the Kiddie Log Flume seems like a good one. Until you look at it and realize that it's probably converted from an old dumpster or car crushing machine. And that dad looks WAY more scared than the kid. Hold on, dude, that looks like a stomach-churning five degree drop there. I hope your will is updated.
I was all into the idea of the Riptide until I learned to my chagrin that Perry King and Joe Penny would not be along for the ride. Besides, any ride connoisseur knows that this is just the Himalayan with a different name. They should call it the Ripoff.
This was inexplicably my favorite ride when I was a kid. For those of you who don't know, the point of the Tilt-A-Whirl is for the riders to sit in a circle around a wheel, which they then turn to spin the car faster and faster until a member of their party surrenders the contents of their stomach. People do this. For fun. I swear.
GRADE: C (Upgraded to C+ if someone in your car pukes and none of it gets on you.)
What kind of fools do ride companies take us for? This is clearly just that hoary old pirate ship ride with a new coat of paint and sparkly lights. Oh, and it's XTREME, DUDES! Still, that old pirate ship was fun, so...
This is how I imagine the pitch session at the ride company that makes the Wipeout: "Okay, you know how we keep making rides more twisty and dangerous, but people just keep lining up anyway? Fuck it. I say we just strap them to a piece of metal, throw them up in the sky, shake them until they get concussions, twist them around, and pound them in the ass with metal rods. If they keep coming back after that, then screw it, I give up. I'm moving back home and working in my dad's hardware store."