Out of nowhere, apropos of nothing in particular, talking to myself: “I’m going to blow your fucking brains out, motherfucker.”
Another voice, also internal, says “Yes, that’s right” – not as a jeer, but because it fits, it suits, it conforms; it feels like climbing under warm covers on a cold day. It feels like scratching an itch – ahhh, that’s it!
Still another voice, with some alarm: “No, that’s not right!”
And then I get up, and wash the dishes.
Before you say something: please – don’t. The last round to that dialogue is a murmur of different voices, some of them sarcastic, all of them ashamed: “Well, what was that all about?” “I guess you are the only one in the whole world with problems!” “Oh, for heaven’s sake, shake it off.” “Are you going to talk like that so you can be the center of attention, get everyone’s sympathy?”
This is a good day. This is not me asking for sympathy, this is me giving it. Somebody who will read this needs to read this – someone going through a similar experience, but who is not able to talk about it, as I can today – because they are not having a good day, as I am today.
I didn’t do too much yesterday. In the morning I went out for breakfast with my roommate and his fiancée. We went to the Blue Dot, two blocks from the apartment and always crowded on a Saturday morning. Sometime in the afternoon I went back out and got a pot roast, a head of garlic, two parsnips and a rutabaga. Also some Brussels sprouts. I had promised, a week or two back, to bring pot roast to the church supper on Sunday. When I got home I salted and peppered the pot roast and seared it, with a little olive oil, in my InstantPot. When it was browned on all sides I set the roast aside and threw in the parsnips and rutabaga, along with carrots I already had in the house, tossing them until they had had mellowed a bit and picked up all the fond from the bottom of the pot. Then I poured them all into a bowl and threw in two onions and let them get golden and brown around the edges.
Time for broth. I dumped the onions out too, and deglazed the pot with a little balsamic vinegar. I used two teaspoons of “Better Than Bouillon” beef base in two cups of water, adding a bay leaf and rosemary. The head of garlic went in whole; some recipe on the internet made it sound like a cool way to add garlic to a roast. I also put in about maybe a cup of red wine; and then maybe a teaspoon of Kahlua left over from months ago when I made chocolate trifle, because I had it and it might do something interesting to the flavor. I prefer to cook with alcohol; drinking it tends to make me wake up in the middle of the night. I’ve never quite truly gotten used to the bitter flavor of alcohol, but I will drink socially, to keep whoever I’m with from feeling awkward having the only drink–I tell myself, although I have noticed that, as they say, a drink can take the edge off. Another reason I am shy of it. I have a deliberate propaganda campaign to tell myself I can drown my sorrows by drinking, but, specifically, caffeinated beverages.
The InstantPot directions suggested using the Meat setting for 30-35 minutes, so I set it for 25, deliberately wanting to finish off with slow cooking. Well, somewhere along the line I miscalculated; when I opened the lid it was clear the vegetables were far overcooked. I lifted the roast out and set it on the cutting board; perhaps it had been imbued with a rich blend of flavors? I tried to fork a bit off the corner, and it came away too easily; the meat had given up on all adhesion, and had become merely a collection of fibers, like some Andean mummy exposed to conditions so harsh that even Decay gave up and died. It was kind of a downer.
I tried some of the broth, a bit too hastily and, as a consequence, obliterating the surfaces of my mouth and tongue. But before going silent my taste buds confirmed that yes, there was flavor in the broth. That recipe on the internet had said to squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins, but in my case the cloves no longer had the strength to pop through the skins and oozed into a mushy glob with the skins, so I just dropped the whole thing into the trash with the wordless regret befitting wasted garlic.
I sliced up the roast, in the process noticing signs that in the center of the cut there was a bit more firmness and cohesion, so perhaps the worst of the damage was only at the periphery. I ladled broth over the sliced meat to let it absorb back in. I stuck the inner pot of the InstantPot in a sink of cold water, to cool it down quickly so that I could put it in the fridge and go to sleep.
This morning I got the meat back out and flipped it over and ladled some more broth on the slices, and put the pan in the oven to warm it. I decided to give up on the vegetables; they looked gray and didn’t taste much better. Perfectly fine food if you are starving, but I am gradually learning that there is only a sad pride in pretending to be more impoverished than you are; nobody in Africa would prosper from my needless eating of horribly overcooked vegetables. But there was a skim of fat on the broth that I wanted to save with the broth, but wouldn’t go through the colander cold. So I drained some of the liquid and put the inner pot back into the InstantPot base and started it warming.
With about 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter and approximately as much flour I started a gravy base. I let the flour warm to just a slight brown shade and started adding the broth, slowly of course; or at least somewhat slowly. As usual, my impatience prompted me to add a little more than I thought I really should have, then panic and whisk frantically, and then relax as it blended together just fine after all.
It got about as thin as I care to serve gravy but I had not enough gravy and too much leftover broth.
It is almost a signature of my cooking style to change my mind about what pot I need to use halfway through, or somehow wind up using more pots and pans than I should have needed; so with a little shake of my head at the familiar and tiresome, I pulled out another pot and started a second base. When I had got it close to the same consistency I combined them.
I wasn’t quite sure how to keep the food warm, since I had to drive 40 minutes or so to the church and it would be an hour or so after that until we ate. I have not yet invested in one of the insulated wrappers for a pan, suspecting that it it is the sort of thing I would use once or maybe twice in a year while the rest of the time it would testify to unfulfilled ambitions; and anyway, people were bringing food to potlucks long before someone manufactured a new necessary thing. I had a plastic fitted lid for my bowl of gravy (part of a set that came home with me after the Christmas gift exchange), and I added a layer of foil over that to help conserve heat. The meat itself was in a 13 x 9 covered in foil. I swaddled it with a Raymond-branded blanket, the kind of cheap merchandise too tacky for any other use but actually perfect in just such a case. I was running low on time, so the dishes had to wait until I came back.
I set off – but first, a stop for coffee. I saw a parking spot that bordered a driveway and snagged it, sparing myself the humiliation of demonstrating, yet again, that I still can’t parallel park in less than three tries. Coffee – Starbucks or Peets? They face each other across the busiest intersection in town. As usual, Peet’s won, being in my mind the underdog, and also closer – literally on my side. I tried the Havana Dulce Cappuccino. I like it.
I arrived at church. Churches are, for me, an almost uncanny intersection between personal and social; whether I consider myself in a public space or in a private gathering depends upon my mood, and, being moody, I am often not sure which. It is hard to start a conversation, because I am not sure if I want to ask “So, what do you think of this weather?” or “How do you deal with the agony of existence?” Mostly, I shift around awkwardly until someone else says something and I can calibrate my dialogue to match.
One of the good things about this church is the practice of singing older, richer hymns, and always all the verses. There are I think four hymns every Sunday. The hymn of the month this month is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” (see, another nice thing – they resisted the obvious temptation to choose a Christmas song).
After the service is a bustle of activity to set up for the meal. It’s a small church; I would say about 30 people in regular attendance, with seating for about 40. By moving the first pew back they can just squeeze in two folding tables to spread out the food. The space recalls a one-room schoolhouse. I am pretty sure my meat and gravy are too cold to be enjoyable, so a push my way to the tiny little “kitchen” (a corner with a few shelves) and slide the gravy into the microwave to heat it up some more. A vain effort – for me, at least, because by the time I get to it the gravy can be described most generously as lukewarm.
But the number of people who stop me to tell me what a good job I did! Five, six, maybe more, I don’t know. I wonder if I am moping obviously, and they are trying to cheer me up? But I think they mean it. There is just a bit of meat left, and as I am going to toss it in with the gravy and pack up someone claims it. By all means!
I have sometimes been to potlucks that feel like “white elephant” exchanges, perhaps for reasons only in my head, but this is a good potluck, what church should be like: it feels like a family reunion. People are happy to see me, but it’s not for something–it’s not for the men’s group or the single’s study or the church growth drive. We know each other, a little, and the familiarity is itself the entire purpose. Sharing food blends with sharing hugs.
I am forty minutes from home and roughly half way to Mountain View, where Dan lives, so I text him and ask if we can meet up. It’s always at Starbucks (Peppermint Mocha; it’s the third cup of the day, since I got one in at church as well). Dan offers to pay. Dan is a one-armed man, one of the last surviving cases of polio in the country; his wife works in the school system. I know how much some people hate to feel patronized, but it is hard, too, to let him buy me coffee. Today he hasn’t got his Starbucks card pulled out until I’ve already stepped away to the counter to order, and I pretend not to hear his offer.
I speak frankly with Dan. It is hard talking to him because he keeps trying to cure things that can’t be cured; but I think it is like rehab or therapy, it helps even if it does hurt and even if it doesn’t cure. He says he felt the same way I do, when he was eight years younger than me. But it is hard, too, to tell him I have it worse than he ever did. He spends most of his days bedridden in pain, often cancelling planned meet-ups. And I see the pain come back – at the corners of his mouth, his eyes; almost like a halo, if you will. We have talked for an hour and a half. I let him go home.
I am accelerating aggressively and changing lanes like one of the bros in a BMW. I should get one. Or a motorcycle. But I won’t. Because.
I turn on music, then turn it up loud enough that it will force its way into my mind, like a massage into knotted muscles.
I remember not to get off at the first exit, to keep going to the further end of island because I want to stop in at Target and pick up something I forgot to get last time I was there, a little notebook. There is a homeless guy at the bottom of the exit ramp. I have very strong and very divided feelings about beggars. I feel like charity would be to give them tens of thousands of dollars so they could actually get established, and anything else, what’s the point? Also I wonder about them. A friend of mine showed me a list of like fifty places in the area all serving the homeless. He had them all on a piece of paper. He keeps a stack in his car and hands them out. But occasionally, if I have enough time to argue with myself, I give them money anyway, to be ironic at the least. Here, man, here’s five bucks. Have a Starbucks. Or Peet’s; try their Havana Dulce. Peace, bro.
The notebook is to do this idea where I will write in it, perhaps before bed, something to be grateful for. I will practice focusing on the good things. Like all practices it will take time to make a difference; like exercise, like playing piano, or drawing. Like all practice, you can’t ever really finish, but you can start. And so I do, when I get home; I start.
Now then; should I e-mail Warren the talk I gave in 2013? I think he would like it. Or should I wash all those dishes?