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J and I returned Monday from four days in Curacao, an island of the former Netherlands Antilles (now an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands). It's been eleven years since he and I vacationed anywhere very far away together. I want to make a few notes on what we saw and did there.

ARRIVAL, AIRPORT, TAXI: Airports stress me out generally, but as airports go, I like these small ones that are typical in the Caribbean and some places in Mexico. We'd hoped to exit the plane by stairs as we did many years ago in Mexico, but here they did have that exit tunnel thing like at most American airports. But the exit tunnel and the arrival/immigration/customs area was open to the air, not air-conditioned, kind of sultry because it was hot that day. We liked this, being immediately exposed to the climate.Read lots more... )
I've been off from work for a week, and that's the first time that's happened in years. Everyone seemed surprised/disappointed that Jeff and I didn't have any kind of trip somewhere planned and that I just stayed home all week. But let me tell ya: it is really nice just getting to stay home and not have to do much in particular. On the other hand, I am fairly twitchy by nature and seem to always harbor a feeling that I need to be getting something constructive done all the time (which has been a useful trait in my job). For my days off this week, I'd imagined that I was going to complete a lot of writing. I didn't do anywhere near as much as I'd have liked, but I still did get a lot of it done, and I know where I am going with a couple unfinished projects. Some random features of the week off:

--I took the Cube in for an oil change. It wasn't as painful as I thought it would be, and I while I waited in the car place's rather comfy waiting room, I re-read a story called "Tattooed Love Boys," which I think is my favorite entry in Alex Jeffers' collection You Will Meet a Stranger Far From Home. That book also contains two stories of which I was the original publisher in issues of M-Brane SF.

--We received from Ikea two new couches. They arrived in eight boxes and took much of the afternoon for us to assemble them (and get rid of our old furniture--thanks, Craigslist hoarders!). This was a tough project, but we are very happy with the result. We have never had comfortable living room furniture, and the new couches--two identical items by the name "Karlstad"--are way comfie. We love them. 

--J and I went shopping for throw pillows for the new couches. On the same trip, I bought a case of cheap but very palatable wine at Trader Joe's and have been imbibing liberally of it since.

--Earlier in the week, J and I stocked up some staples at Viviano's, the Italian grocery in the adjacent neighborhood. There I found a new San Pellegrino drink, Pompelmo (grapefruit). It is wonderful! I have drunk three of them so far just as they are, but I suspect it would be a fine mixer with vodka or tequila. 

--At our regular grocery store, I saw in the same visit two attractive lads who have worked there for a while, but never seem to be there at the same time. One is a bagger and the other a stocker in the produce department. Seeing them at once made me wish that they were well-known characters about whom I could write some "slash" fiction. I could still do it, but no one would know who they are. Such a shame. Maybe I can imbue them with supernatural powers, turn them into characters, and then cause them to have their ways with one another. 

--Last night I spent a few minutes on Twitter attacking Congressman Todd Akin (Assbag-MO) who is now our state's rightwing candidate for the US Senate. There are douchebags, and political pieces of shit, and rightwing toads...and then there is Todd Akin. This guy is a card-carrying disaster. He believes that student loans shouldn't exist. He wants the minimum wage abolished. Ditto Social Security and Medicare. No more Federal investments in energy or education. Resignation from the United Nations. The kind of troll that wouldn't have been taken seriously in Senate-level politics even 15 years ago, he is also one of the most homophobic members of Congress, in the same league as Bachmann and King. So unhappy was he with the repeal of DADT, he came up with a new bill to make it legal for service members who don't like fags to bully and abuse their gay comrades. That's how stupid and mean this creep is. Akin's Twitter handle is @ToddAkin, and I encourage tweeps to use it to attack him savagely, with great scorn and bile, from now until Election Day. 

--I remembered once again that spending random time, with no particular point or purpose, with Jeffy is more satisfying than anything "constructive" I could have been doing during my days off, and I am glad that I found a lot of that time this week. 

I go back to work tomorrow, but only for a half-day at most. Most everyone else will be off, so I can get some work done in the early hours and be gone by noon. It's all pretty nice lately.

Finished this evening reading Samuel Delany's Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. I did this while baking chicken that was later to join avocados and tomatoes and radishes and cucumbers and scallions in a salad for our dinner. I'm glad I didn't finish it earlier this afternoon, when I had the book in my hands while doing laundry. Because then I probably would have been weeping in public at the laundromat instead of alone in my kitchen (Jeffy was away in the front room). 

And I look again at its last page--its very last paragraph, which is this:

--and woke, thinking, in the dark. No. I have a bit more time. He relaxed before the rumoring sea.

And that's not sad at all. It's a relief. But the pages that preceded it, that last awful movement of the shared life story of the two protagonists, those moments before the two together became one alone, were extremely hard to take. I knew what was coming hundreds of pages away and didn't want to experience it, but I needed to know the details anyway because I adored those characters. It's not the common novel that follows two people in life and love from their teens years all the way until their late eighties and end of life in the late 21st century. 

I worked for a couple of years as the cook for a residential (and end-of-life) facility for people with dementia. I thought of them a lot as I read about Eric Jeffers' and Shit Haskell's final days together. I have a grandmother who, at 96 years of age, still lives in reasonable health but has less and less memory as time passes, particularly of anything that happened more recently than three decades ago. And less still of anything that happened today. 

The last couple hundred pages of the book, read over the last few days, which dwell more and more upon aging (and which are almost interrupted from time to time by funerals for and mentions of the deaths of characters from earlier in the book), have made me feel older. No, that's not true. It's made me think about being old more than I normally do. Age--my own aging, if I actually live to be truly old--has always been a dismaying abstraction that I'd rather set aside. But what will it really be like, and what will it really be like for me and my partner should we grow that old together (as I increasingly suspect we will)? The characters in this story, Eric and Shit (I won't sanitize it here by using his "proper" name Morgan--he didn't like it and, at his own insistence, nobody hardly ever called him that) live, in their youths and well into their middle-age and later years, a fantastical (possibly preposterously so), sex life with each other and with others, much of it rendered for the reader in detail that Delany himself always calls not "erotica" but rather "pornography." It's a distinction that I am not sure matters, but this book makes me wonder about it. I think about how my partner and I, together for almost thirteen years now, did not ever have anything approaching that crazy a sex life even in the early days (and know we never will in the future) and I wonder if we missed something. Would we have even wanted, in the most excessive fantasy mode of mind, to have had anything like the carnal world that Eric and Shit had? I don't think so. It's over the top. Theirs is a fantasy--it's speculative fiction. The novel becomes science fiction to some extent later in its course, but it's out-and-out fantasy early on. I think so anyway. But not sure if I have reasoned that out completely. 

There's an obnoxious 1-star review of Through the Valley... on Amazon (note to self: keep up with the policy of avoiding user comments on stuff) in which the poster complains generally about the porn element of the book  (I think because he doesn't think it's "hot"), and expresses incredulity that Delany is a published author of a number of books (revealing that he hasn't heard of Delany's long and broad career) and generally bagging on the quality of the writing. He then goes on to suggest that if one wants to read some REALLY interesting and transgressive shit, then one should read some other authors including Dennis Cooper. Years ago, I happened to select for back-to-back reading Dennis Cooper's Frisk and Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse, two fairly contemporaneous examples of creepy and squicky horror/murder-porn involving gay characters. Brite's book--regardless whatever any of its detractors may have said about it--didn't blink. It was a fucking horrifying story with a godawful climax and a horrendous denouement, a total success in its mode. Cooper's, on the other hand, did blink. It ended with a sort of "just kidding" or it "it was all a dream" wrap-up. When I read that one, I wondered if the author had planned something else but then fell too much in love with his protag to let it happen. I guess I don't have anything else to say about that other than anyone who thinks that Cooper is a better novelist than Delany needs to read a lot more books. I respect Cooper's work...but damn, he's no Delany.

I gather that part of the aesthetic intent of Through the Valley... is to fuse the contemporary "literary" novel with science fiction and pornography. That the book is Big L literature is plainly apparent, but whether it is also really science fiction or really pornography might be open to discussion. I might take that up in a later post, but not now (cuz not quite done wiping away tears and snot from how sad those last few pages were!)
My partner and I very, very seldom ever visit the cases of pre-made frozen meal items in the grocery store. We cook dinner from scratch nearly every evening. We are both competent cooks (and I do it professionally), and the time we spend together cooking and eating is a hugely important part of our whole quality "together" time. But occasionally, especially when I have a stretch of evenings where I won't be home for dinner due to work, we will lay in some pre-fab products so that there is something quickly on hand for one person to eat. Jeff likes the Alessi-brand risotto kits that our local stores stock in the rice/pasta aisle. I bring him some chicken and mushrooms to enhance it with, and a decent dinner for him comes together readily. A couple months ago, he needed a quick dinner option and suggested I just grab some kind of "disgusting" (his word) frozen dinner and he'd suffer through it. But, as I assessed the options in the freezer case, I was discouraged because I knew exactly what it would all be like and that it would all be crap. But then I noticed something that I had not seen before, these Tai Pei Chinese-style meals in the form of a frozen take-out box-shaped brick.

I didn't expect it would be totally great, but I also didn't expect to hear from Jeff that it was just about the worst thing he had ever eaten. He had the General Tso's Chicken version. But since that day, hiding in our freezer, has been another one of these that I bought at the same time: Broccoli Beef. Jeff is out of town and I got home early from work today. I have a dinner planned for later, but decided to eat this Tai Pei food for a quick lunch to hold me over. The box describes it as a totally delicious and restaurant-quality food item, and even boasts of a "new and improved recipe." Years ago, it was almost standard for product labeling to boast of being new and improved. But it's always seemed to me that implicit in the claim of newness and improvedness is a tacit admission that the original product had deficiencies and needed some work. And if that's the case with Tai Pei Broccoli Beef, then, damn, I am sure glad I never experienced its earlier non-improved version. Because this is not a good product. 

Of course I knew it wasn't really going to be "restaurant quality," but I'd hoped it would at least approach the quality of the really bad food at a certain Chinese take-out joint near my home. Their stuff isn't restaurant quality either despite it being from an actual restaurant, but it's actually pretty good compared to what I found in this box. The box is filled principally with cooked rice and a small amount of the broccoli beef dish itself (not actually very much of either broccoli or beef), including a weak sauce. The method of prep is to microwave the thing wrapped in all its packaging for five minutes and then let it sit for a couple minutes. I suppose one could eat it out of the box, but I dumped mine into a bowl and found that what I had was a mass of very wet and insipid rice studded with a few bits of other ingredients. After a taste, I went ahead and did what I knew I was going to do anyway: add a huge dollop of Sambal Oelek to it in order to give it enough agreeable flavor for me to eat it and be done with it. 

Whenever I experience a product like this, I wonder why it must be so and why things of this quality are so generally accepted that they continue to be about all that's available in non-specialty food shops. I get it that these Tai Pei boxes are inexpensive. I don't think I paid more than two bucks for it. To sell a product of this kind that cheaply and still make a profit on it, the manufacturer probably can't put anymore beef or broccoli into it than they do. If I were to make this dish from scratch, I'd spend more than two bucks per serving, so I get that part of it. Even an upgrade to the rice might be cost-prohibitive, but I know enough about food production to know that they can certainly come up with a better flavor profile for that sauce without adding cost. Generally it costs about the same to make a really bad sauce as it does to make a good one. Also, if the product actually tasted good, people might like it a lot more, and then they might be able to actually raise the price a bit and still sell even more of it. 

I'm not such a snob that I don't see some value in the concept of heat-and-serve meals, especially for people who are eating alone or quickly. Having been alone for the last few days, I have been a lot less motivated to cook since I don't have anyone to share it with, but I have done it anyway because I just can't settle for this kind of stuff very often, and I don't understand why it needs to be so mediocre all the time. 
I am past the half-way point of Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (Samuel Delany) and still liking it a lot. It's actually become easier to enjoy as it's gone on, but one side-effect is that its characters and locations are seeping into my dreamscape. But what's really weird is that it somehow seems to have somehow seeped into my boyfriend's dreamscape as well, and he has never read a word of the book! And I hadn't told him anything about it either (he finds it intensely tedious if I try to explain to him what I am reading). We were in the living room a few nights ago and I dozed on the couch. During this short nap, I had experienced a fleeting snippet of a dream set in what my mind has constructed to be the house that the main characters live in, a small, shabby thing in a small coastal Georgia town. When I awoke, I told him that I was heading to bed and that I'd just had a dream about this shack in Georgia, a setting of that novel. Then J said, "I had a dream last night that was in some kind of shack like that." Then he described how, in the dream, he became involved with people who were having all kinds of incestuous and kinky sex. I asked him if there as an older white guy there. He said there was and added that there was also a younger mixed-race dude and a young blond guy. In other words, he saw the book's lead characters in their home. Not sure how or why he managed to have this dream, but it's super-weird. I am not aware of any past situation where have shared dream-content like this but now I want to encourage him to talk about his dreams more often. He doesn't like to do that, always says he can't remember much, but I am going to ask a lot more now. 
I haven't been maintaining my pointless journal lately, and it's been driving me crazy. My work life the past few months has been so intense that I have had no time for much of anything. But that's settling a bit--we're entering a mid-season mitigation of insanity--and I am done with regular M-Brane tasks for a while, and I have been carving out a bit of normalcy. Which should really include babbling in this journal and then advertising that I have done so. Just like in the old days. For tonight's post, I have no particular topic other than recapping what's been on my mind outside of work lately.

Reading Books!: Anyone who knows me very well might be stunned to learn that in the year 2012, which is nearly half-over-with, I have read exactly ONE book plus 206 pages of second one (whilst in 2009, for example, I think I tore through about 100 titles). But what a wonderful, huge, weird and totally crazy long-ass book that one was: Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. Clocking in at nearly a thousand pages, this giant hardback city of weirdness, given to me by Jeff for X-mas, engrossed me for months. In usually very short installments. I actually read most of its bulk on laundry mornings at the laundromat. And then I'd struggle to return to it at night on the couch after work. But inevitably doze off from exhaustion, sometimes after having read as little as a single new sentence. At this pace of reading such a long book, in sessions of as little as 30 seconds at a time, it's not too hard to figure out why it took me so long to get done with it. Weird fact: just a few days after I finally finished it, it developed that Jeff's mom had heard about the book from one of her friends (who had listened to an audio book of it, which must have taken about six months to listen to) and so she wanted to read it herself. Wouldn't think it would be her thing. But she borrowed my copy. Haven't heard back yet on how it's going.

Now I am 206 pages into another thick read, Samuel Delany's long-awaited Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, and I have somehow managed that number of pages in just a few days. Yesterday I glanced over at Jo Walton's review of it on and I felt that I share some of the  reviewer's sentiments: it's really hard to enjoy it at first (Christopher is not at all into the lead character's obsession with nose-picking and snot-eating!), but then it sets its hooks in. I think I am going to love it, even though I occasionally have to avert my eyes a bit at an especially squicky passage. Before I glance back it at it and really read it anyway. Delany's a favorite author for me and I love having this thick new volume. For someone who hasn't read Delany before, however, and wants a sense of his whole body of work, this may not be the book to start with. It revisits a lot of the sex aesthetic of a much earlier work, Hogg, and like that earlier work, fuses "Literature" with some of the dirtiest (literally) hardcore pornography that I can recall ever having read. But this new book is not the gruesome and nearly altogether hopeless horror story that Hogg is. It seems like it's coming from a much brighter place. And it's got a character that I am falling in bookworld-love with, its young protagonist Eric who gets more awesome chapter-by-chapter, even when he is making boneheaded decisions (please finish high school, honey!). But then I consider his rationale, and I wonder who I am to say he's not making a good choice. He's going to be another Delany character that lingers with me for a long time after I have finished reading the book. As the story opens, he seems to be in a role somewhat analogous to that of silent Cocksucker in Hogg but with much more free will, and not nearly so much the receptacle and void of corruption that Hogg's lead was. But as the story has gone on, Eric has turned into something else entirely. He is going to stay with me like the fractured Kid and  the sweet Denny from Dhalgren, and the other very scary Denny from Hogg, and Rat Korga from Stars in My Pocket Like Grain of Sand, and Comet Jo from Empire Star. I'll report back on this book later.

Other Junk!:

1) I was greatly victorious at the June installment of the monthly wine dinner that I chef at the Botanical Garden. It was themed to go along with the Chinese Lanterns Festival in progress there now (San Francisco-accented Chinese food with Napa wines). Everything about it--the specific venue within the Garden, my menu, the makeshift kitchen, etc.--conspired against success, but we totally dominated. It was hard as hell, but when it's that difficult and it all goes perfectly, then that's what constitutes triumph.

2) I am looking ahead with some dread at Jeff's impending vacation to New Mexico to visit a friend. I can't go with him due to work this summer, and I just realized that I have never once spent more than a couple hours at a time alone in our current home and have a hard time imagining its emptiness when he is not here for days. It's gonna freak the cats.

3) Of late, I find it difficult to get out of my head Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" song. Once any portion of it is heard, it replays in the background of my mind for a long time. What's annoying about this is that I probably would never have been aware of this tune were it not for the fact that the staff in my production kitchen at work constantly listens to a top-hits pop station on radio (later in the morning after they rebel against my selection of the local NPR affiliate) that only has eight or ten songs in its rotation, and one of them lately is this insidious Justin Bieber song. But what's really kind of fucked-up about the whole situation is that I don't really mind! I actually totally love this song! I think I am going to spread the contagion even further now:

4) An upside to having come down with the above-described affliction: I recently had a dream that Bieber was cast as Feyd-Rautha in a new Dune film, and in the dream context this seemed like a totally awesome idea. It still kinda does. Maybe I am still dreaming.

5) Got some new writing done yesterday, about 2000 words of it. This is best one-day achievement in many months. 
End of the year is a logical time to review one's status, either to identify things that point toward a decent next year or suggest that much improvement is needed. In no particular order, these were the major features of my year 2010:

Professional: In May of this year, I returned to a proper day-job as a working culinarian after years spent in the Exile. This has made all the difference as far as the management of the household economy and my general attitude on the ongoing, intractable need to work for a living. I owe this turn of good fortune to a very dear friend. Since I don't talk specifically about the day job here, and because I do not want to embarrass anyone, I will not mention him by name here. But good friends are things to be thankful for even more so this year than most. 

Homelife: We returned from the Exile this year. Our long, dark, insanely self-imposed sojourn in OKC was finally brought to its blessed bloody end by my partner's clear thinking. Well, Jeff had some help in the form of inheriting enough money to finance a move, but he talked me out of delaying the move until the end of the lease on our OKC home and instead saying "fuck that" and moving months early like we did. This wisdom on his part not only brought the Exile to an end months earlier but made the timing perfect as far as getting my new day job.

Writing: I wrote a lot, but didn't finish very much. On the other hand, I submitted two short stories for publication, which is far more than the zero that I had submitted during the previous three years. Of the two stories that I submitted, both were for specifically-themed publications and both were accepted. That puts my acceptance rate for the year at 100%, bitches! (Only two, I know...but still!) But tempering that success was my epic fail at NaNoWriMo in November. While I did clock about 30,000 words, they were quite a mess. Also, they were 30K words of a thing that needs to be more like 100K to actually be done rather than NaNo's 50K winner threshold. Projects that had fallen more or less into hiatus, like my military sf novel Shame and my non-fiction restaurant memoir/cookbook Stackin' Hogs, did not advance much during 2010, though both did have some words added and neither have been given up upon.

Publishing: If the actual work that I perform to make a living is my "day job," then my other job is as the editor of M-Brane SF and the publisher of the recently retooled M-Brane Press. 2010 was really only my second full year in this role, but it was a big one. Other than edit and publish the monthly issues of M-Brane, I also brought out a couple of single-author collections: Cesar Torres' The 12 Burning Wheels and Derek J. Goodman's Machina. I co-edited with Jaym Gates a one-off (maybe) erotic spec fic zine for Crossed Genres called The Little Death. I also published 2020 Visions, a really remarkable collection of near-future spec fic, edited by Rick Novy. We also started a second zine. Brandon Bell's Fantastique Unfettered published its first issue just a few days ago in a beautiful print edition. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the year was the publication of The Aether Age, co-edited by Brandon and me and published by Hadley Rille Books. This one was a long time in process and is absolutely the coolest book of the year, period. There's nothing quite like it. Anyone who thinks they know what it is but hasn't seen it yet is wrong. It may take a few months for the word to spread, but begun the Aether Age has!

Political: My undying disgust for teabaggers, Republicans, and other assorted morons reached new heights in 2010. If anyone had any doubt that American "conservatives" are wholly invested in promoting plutocracy, theocracy, know-nothing-ness and bugfuck dumbassedness, then no one need look any further than than the news of 2010.  I actually don't much care at the moment that these people have taken control of the House of Representatives. In fact, I look forward to how they will have to explain to the public why they want to destroy everything. The public needs a fucking refresher anyway: these are some of the same jackasses (Boehner) who ran the Congress just a few years ago, and now they are joined by some even crazier ones. On the upside: the health care law was passed and so was the REPEAL OF DADT!! In your face, McCain!

Personal: Ten years into the relationship with my significant other, I have never been more in love. This is why I do and care about all the rest of it.

I think that's everything from 2010.
I really enjoyed spending the day with Jeff cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. It's been a few years since I've been able to be home all day on the holiday. With this particular tradition, I see basically two kinds of people: ones who look forward to eating the feast, and ones who thrive on preparing it. I am of the latter. Inevitably I find with these larger scaler special occasion dinners that the actual eating of the food doesn't offer anywhere near the satisfaction that I get from making it. When we actually sit down and eat, as we did this evening, it seems a bit of an anti-climax; not because the food was not wonderful but just because the fun of its preparation is at an end. But there is still the gratification of seeing one's dinner guests enjoy the product of that labor, and we had plenty of that tonight.

The menu was...

Hors d'oeuvre
"Creole" crab dip served with homemade blue cheese-rosemary crackers and cheddar-cornmeal crackers

Herb-roasted whole turkey stuffed with vegetables
Gravy made from the turkey broth and drippings
J's family-traditional mushroom-water chestnut sage dressing
Roasted garlic smashed potatoes and parsnips
Creamed spinach with shallots and white wine reduction

Bourbon-flavored chocolate-pecan pie with vanilla ice cream

Below are a few pics of the preparation of these items. Personally, I think the triumph of the whole thing was Jeff's pie. He made the crust last night and then filled and baked it this morning. Generally neither of us are huge dessert-lovers but the process of making it was a lot of fun and the result was spectacularly delicious.

The pie right out of the oven.

The cheddar crackers just baked.

Behind me is bread and chopped onions, celery, mushrooms and garlic for the dressing. The foil packets contain roasted garlic for the smashed potatoes.

Floating atop the water is chunks of parsnip. Beneath are chunks of red potatoes. They eventually met.

The roasted turkey.

Spinach wilting into a pan of sauteed shallots. Later much more spinach was added, as well as wine and cream.

We had fun with it and are well-stuffed now.

We'll be having a very small gathering Thursday for Thanksgiving--just J and his mom and me--but I am excited about it because it will be the first time in  four years that I have not been at work on the holiday. The last couple years, J cooked totally awesome dinners for us by himself that I was able to enjoy when I got home, but I really missed being able to participate in the cooking. Generally I am rather Scroogey about the holidays, but as a professional cook and an avid home cook, Thanksgiving offers a lot of fun. And I'm all about the food with it. I don't care one whit about any other aspect of the tradition. I don't put up seasonal decor for it. I don't issue greeting cards. I pay no attention to that sport that they show on TV. I ignore the cornball half-myth of the Pilgrim forefathers. Indeed, if I had been in England in the early seventeenth century and had happened to have been on hand as the Mayflower was leaving dock, I probably would have shouted, "Don't let the door slam you in the arse on your way out!" [Note to self: add "insult departing Pilgrims" to "Fun Things to Do With Time Machine" list]. But I love it because it is the one truly food-oriented holiday that most Americans observe.

We've been going back and forth on what to make for the obligatory bird item. Since the gathering is so small, I had ruled out doing a whole turkey, though I knew that would be the most traditional and probably most appealing to J's mom. On the other hand, she is interested only in the lean breast meat. In 2006, we did prepare a turkey breast sans the rest of the bird. But I want those leg and thigh portions, if a bird is on the menu, and I have been pretty determined for weeks that we are going to have some kind of whole bird. Maybe not a turkey, but certainly a whole bird. But options dwindled. A duck or a goose would not have appealed to mom, nor would a pile of miniature winged beasties like quail. While I would have been totally fine with an awesome, perfectly roasted chicken, tradition may not have been sufficiently honored. I considered getting a capon (also essentially a chicken, but actually a castrated rooster that has grown plump and tender from a life of not having all its boy parts). A bit bigger than a normal roasting chicken, a capon can totally pass as a smallish turkey. In fact, nine years ago J and I used a partially de-boned capon as the outer "turkey" layer of a small tur-duck-en that we made for Christmas dinner. Capons are expensive, though. And so are turkey breasts, actually. So we considered it a real coup yesterday at the store when we found a 13-pound whole turkey for about fourteen bucks. At that weight, it's not a totally ridiculous size, and it will afford abundant leftovers to send home with mom. So the turkey tradition is satisfied and I get the whole bird that I desire for both culinary and gustatory pleasure. Thanks to the fact that we still have not had a real freeze here yet, we still have harvestable herbs on the deck outside our kitchen, very lucky for the end of November. While I have not decided on the whole plan for the turkey yet, I know that these herbs and a lot of butter and that turkey's skin are going to meet in glory in the oven.

I may take pictures while we cook on Thursday and post them here.
For close to a year I have been talking about publishing a fantastic book, including two novels published back to back, in the style of the old Ace Doubles. Gradually, I have cleared away the obstacles to bringing this dream to fruition. First, I needed to figure out how the hell, on my computer, to flip half the book's pages upside down (the two halves of the double are compiled in a tete-beche design, each upside down in relation to one another, a book with essentially two front covers, and I didn't want to pursue the project until the formatting issues were understood). I solved that problem.  Next, I needed two fantastic short novels of beautiful quality and compelling storytelling. These came to me in the form of The New People by Alex Jeffers and Elegant Threat by Brandon Bell. Alex and Brandon are two of my favorite writers--not just of writers that I have met and worked with as a result of M-Brane SF, but in general. They are both craftsmen of finely-wrought thought-provoking fiction. Their stories forthcoming in The Double will delight and astound readers and make everyone want to read more from them. A lot of luck surrounded acquiring these stories, too. Alex submitted his to the general M-Brane slush, with the comment that he was taking me at my word that there is not an upper word-count limit for submissions to the zine. As I started reading The New People, I understood that I had the first half of my Double. Then, not hopeful of a favorable reply, I asked Brandon if he happened to have any short novels lying about that he might want to submit for the Double. He surprised me by offering to finish his in-process Elegant Threat or write on the fly an entirely new thing set in the Aether Age universe. Either sounded great to me, and he soon presented the beautiful item that the world will soon read.

But one piece of the project remained: this book demanded two lovely pieces of cover art that would not only evoke the tone of the stories but which would hearken back to the era of publishing that I am trying to honor with the Double format itself. I don't quite remember how the thought/decision process played out, but several months ago it became clear to me that the Double's cover artist needed to be my partner-in-all-things, my boy, my #1 crush, the artist known as J, my Jeff. He does not recall how or why he agreed to this. I assume it was a drunken boast to which I then held him accountable. Jeff is very talented visually. If such things run in families, it would make sense since his late father was a commercial artist and a fine artist. Jeff would be horrified that I am posting these comments on the internet, but he never reads my Live Journal, so I can rest assured that he will never know about it (it's like hiding in plain sight). 

In the month's since he agreed to create the Double covers, Jeff mostly fought against it tooth and nail, even occasionally denying that he had ever said he would do it. To which I would insist that he had committed in an irrevocable iron-clad fashion to deliver two book covers to me on time. Then he would occasionally acquiesce and act like he was about to start work on them. He would ask me for visual prompts, doubting his own mind's-eye impression. He kept saying, "I don't know sci-fi. I'm not a sci-fi artist." To which I would say, "You don't even know what 'sci-fi' is. But you know how to draw stuff." His process (which I have seen on a lot of other projects, art and otherwise), is to fight, stall and resist until somehow, suddenly, the moment is right. He does not respond pressure on anything (not just talking about art here). But when he decides he sees what he wants to do, then it's suddenly done. In both cases with these cover pictures, he set aside most of the suggestions that I made or that I passed onto him from the authors and went with a subjective impression of the overall attitude of the stories. The New People image catches some literal detail--a faint suggestion of a space elevator cable vanishing into the sky, smoke rising above a city--but does not depict any actual scene from the story in a direct way. The Threat cover is rather abstract in design and depicts no specific event but it feels to me--as one of the few people who have read the story so far--like something of that world. The two together match very well as being two covers of the same book. While they are quite different images, their color palettes and the emotion that J somehow imbued into the paper make them seem like two sides of the same basic thing.

J is very unhappy with the way these images look on the computer, as above. For the actual print book, however, I will be using high-resolution scans of his pictures and they will be nearly as lovely as the hand-made originals.  I'll be starting a pre-order special on the book soon, and we estimate December 1 as release date.
Recollection of events last night:

We've not seen much of the old neighborhood at night--as in night "life"-- since we returned to STL from the Exile three months ago. I get back from a short shift of day-jobbery, setting up snacks and and a bar for the Mothra-fest at the Garden, and J wonders if I want to go to have a PBR at Urban. That's a bar, sort of "hipster" (but not in an obnoxious mode), that opened up next to our restaurant on Grand back in those great days when we had the restaurant. We liked that place, set up in the shell of an old Vietnamese eatery that moved up the street a few years ago. And its owner was a friend and ally when we were business neighbors, and we hadn't been back there since the Exile. I say, yeah, let's go, and we are somewhat surprised at how hard it is now to park anywhere on the Grand strip. Not that it was ever easy on a Saturday night, but the street is way busier now, even early, it's like 7:30. 

The guy recognizes us immediately, as if almost 3 years haven't passed since we last entered his bar, and he anticipates that we are going to drink bottles of PBR. This sets me at ease because I feel so often, since returning from the Exile, that I will be regarded as a loser, a shell, a ghost of past failure. I've lately been in the weird place of being back in good standing with a former employer; I see people who knew me years ago and probably assumed I was washed away some where. My stuff is still around. A legacy of recipes and other documents exists in the server of my employer's computer network. And everyone knows about the Exile. So again and again, I encounter subtly changed places and people and things from before. It makes me nervous. But at the bar, I relax quickly. We drink for a little while, and then I feel like moving on, seeing some more.

Of course we need to walk right next door and look through the plate glass store front of our old place, our beautiful and beloved Jasoom Restaurant that ate us whole but that I still love in memory. The Ethiopians who now run it fucked and cheated us out of our property. It's a shame because I love Ethiopian food and their restaurant is supposedly well-regarded and they insult us in a deeply painful way simply by being in business longer now than we were. So I'll never eat there. I think they notice us with some vague recognition as we gaze through our (their, fuck them) window. They've expanded into the neighboring space, where the hair salon was (with the hot dude with the tattoos that I liked to look at), and they've built a big bar in the room that was our dining room.  The expansion room is tasteless and poorly appointed--not in the charming and homestyle way of of many real ethnic eateries in the area, but in a I-have-no-style-at-all-and-don't-care-because-I-am-a-str8-dude kind of way. In our old dining room, they have new flooring and new paint. J notices that some our Tiffany-style light fixtures, that he installed himself during one harrowing (for me) night of breakers and wires and caps, are still in there. I notice that the word "RESTAURANT" which I had applied to the front window in white letters was still there, but, of course, the Jasoom logo which had floated above it is long gone. I see the end of the awning where I painted over the words "Cafe-Bistro" left from the French joint that had been there before us, and the paint is wearing away and you can read those words through it again. This stuff makes my eyes tear up and I decide we need to move on.

We visit two other old South Grand haunts. We forget that one of our favorite bars is still cash-only, and we don't have cash. Our friend who runs it is off tonight. We realize that we probably never even did know that the place is cash-only since I don't think we ever actually paid for a beer there back in the day. We move on to Mangia, a long-time fixture of the neighborhood. They make fresh pasta there and it is their pasta that is used in dishes in dozens of other kitchens around the city. Back in the day, it was a somewhat divey joint, kind of dirty in ambience if not in actual dirt, filled with art and old lamps and chrome-legged kitchen tables and really uncomfortable chairs, as if a 1990s raver had appointed it from garage sale finds. A restaurant with respectable food, it was also always one of the few 3am-closing-time bars in the area, and therefore a super-popular hangout for the youngish drinking locals. I hadn't been there in a long, long time. So we go in through the new entrance, through the new expanded area (they, too, blew out into the next storefront) and we barely recognize it because now it is much more orderly, much cleaner, it looks like a high-end restaurant in the West End or Clayton. It's beautiful but devoid of the ambience I was expecting. Until I notice that the chrome-legged tables and crappy chairs are still in the original dining room. We sit at a beautiful bar that is very uncomfortable for us because it doesn't feel familiar. I notice a spectacularly colorful and minutely detailed mural covering most of the wall of the old section behind us. In one tiny portion of its mad flurry of details, infant Romulus and Remus painted as almost fully-formed males suckle the swollen teats of a crazed-looking wolf. It's a lovely place but it's not for us right now. We move on.

I'd be OK with going home at this point. I am kind of cranky for no real reason anyway--low grade crankiness that's been turning on and off all day--and I figure that all we're going to do is sit somewhere drinking, which we can do as comfortably if not more so on the deck behind on our own home. But I get it that this is special that we are out and I feel badly for J because he hasn't been out of the house much since we returned from the Exile. He is having fun being out and I try to work up some of that sense in myself. We can't decide where to go. We leave the Grand area and head over to the Morganford area. We like the Tin Can, but it's about 10pm now and it's too crowded. We're both crabby about being in certain kinds of crowds. He suggests going to a gay bar--the very thing that he normally never wants to do--but I say no, I don't want to. He persists and names a bar over in the Manchester/Choteau "Grove" area. It was an old "troll" bar. Fuck no, I say. I don't want to go to a gay bar anyway, and certainly not a troll bar. Come on, he says, everyone will be so old and run-down that it will make us feel hot by comparison. That actually appeals to me a bit: I have been feeling somewhat old and unattractive myself lately.

The area that they call the Grove now used to be a blighted stretch of old derelict commercial buildings and abandoned housing. For many years the lesbians and gays maintained a handful of outposts in the midst of that, bars like Novack's and Attitudes. In urban areas again and again, our people lead the renaissance by being the pioneers back into the dead zones that white flight left behind in the 20th century. The gays are still in the Grove and probably in even larger numbers now, but there are a lot more people and businesses there now, too. We hear loud live reggae music emanating from one of the newer establishments, and J wants to stop there. But then I realize that we still don't have cash and we won't get into a single one of the joints in this neighborhood without paying a cover. I get really cranky again. We need to hit an ATM but he doesn't have his card (to which we know the PIN), just mine (to which I do NOT know the PIN). We need to go home and get either his card or the scrap of paper that has my PIN on it. The car needs gas and is chiming for it. J wants cigarettes. I see a cycle of hassles in front of me. J doesn't think I am any fun, and I don't think I am any fun either. I want to be fun, but I get crankier. I repress the crankiness and say that we will run home, get the other card, get gas, get cigs, get cash and go back. And have fun.

Once on the ground, we somehow don't think that paying the cover and actually entering any of the places is as appealing as it seemed from the car. We spot a sign in front of one bar stating "No cover tonight!" and we decide we'll stop there and decide if we have the stamina to take in any music at one of the other spots. J looks around trying to figure out where exactly he is. The neighborhood has changed a lot. "There's Novack's," I say, pointing across the street. Then I point eastward on our side of the street toward another landmark he would recognize. He gets  reoriented, and then I realize that the bar that we about to enter, now called "Just John's," is in the space that used to be called Freddie's. Years ago, on a similar outing, we picked up a stray there. Inside, it looked much the same, but redecorated and repurposed a bit. Inside, a shirtless bartender has the bar's logo tattooed on his chest. I hope he is the actual owner of the place because otherwise it seems a mistake to put the name of a place that you work on your body in indelible ink. It's very crowded, very noisy and I am still fairly cranky, but I feel like I can relax a little bit since J seems to still be having fun.

Gay-bar-cruiser mode kicks in a bit, a reflex: I am glad that the crowd as a whole seems pretty average in appearance, no real over-representation of very hot dudes nor very non-hot ones, and not overly young on average. Since I've been feeling kind of aged and schlubby lately (and had not prepared myself for a "gay" outing), I take cheer in the fact that it's not all cute 22-year-olds in here nor too many raging hipsters. I feel that I fit in credibly with the median profile here. While I am not heinous in appearance, I am not hot either. I'm not young anymore either, but I have actually improved with age and can usually pass for a few years younger if I want to. Until my ancient soul speaks, a soul that was old when I was 12, but I don't plan to speak to anyone other than J, which I do with a lot of hoarse shouting because the music and crowd noise is such that we need to repeat ourselves a lot. Maybe we are too old for this. 

At some point, we move to an outdoor tiki bar area behind the main space and J scores a seat at the bar. I stand next to him and we talk about random things at high volume. He is smiling unselfconsciously and looks about 23 and is very, very cute. He talks about Lady Gaga, whose music and music videos seem to dominate the audio-video system throughout this multi-bar compound. I notice the music shift into something by New Order--"Blue Monday" I think it was--and I notice every guy in the place who is paying attention to the music (or  not) react in at least some subtle way to it, if not dancing outright. This bouncing, bobbing boy near J's barstool catches my eye. I'd noticed he'd been mouthing with great enthusiasm the Gaga song immediately preceding. He is a short, scrawny, somewhat funny-looking kid who was certainly born well after New Order made that song. He is beautiful. I wonder if he really knows the song or is just reacting in a primal way as he dances and bobs to it with even greater enthusiasm than he seems to have had for Lady Gaga. I remember that I've thought the thought before that there is universal appeal in New Order for Anglophone gay boys regardless of age and background, as if there is a switch in the hardware of our genes or the software of our hormones that gets flipped when our bodies hear it. It delights me that I see the goofy-looking beautiful youngster reacting in the same way as the 50-year-old just a few feet away from him.

Eventually we make our way back home. I wonder, in a Vulcan-like way, if we had the desired "fun" the quest for which seemed to motivate this rare outing. I think possibly so, and J's mood is good, and I am less cranky.
Not much time to blog at length tonight. But I wanted to let friends know that our long national nightmare is over. Jeff and I have secured an excellent new residence in St. Louis and will indeed leave Oklahoma by May 1. Also, I scored a fine new job which will improve our household economy dramatically. This calls for some Emperor-arriving-at-the-Death-Star cackling:


We're visiting STL this week to do the search for our new home. Sleeping in an unfamiliar bed tends to do interesting things to my dreams. The dreamscape during the last hour or so of sleep this morning was an especially vivid and especially confusing jumble of images and scenarios drawn from a huge number of sources. It's too much to recount in full, and much of the detail is slipping out of memory, but several items that I do recall seem to have the same underlying anxiety:

1) During a scene where I was part of a large group with a number of cars among us, and where we were all in a hurry to leave where we were and meet up at another location, I spilled a take-out container of kim chee on the floor of the passenger side of my car. I wanted to take a minute to clean it up because I thought it would spoil, soak into the carpet, make the interior of the car smell like kim chee forever. Then I realized that it wasn't actually in my own car that I spilled the food, but in a friend's car which was identical to mine. So I decided to just leave it since I hadn't been caught.

2) In another sequence, I was apparently living in a college housing situation, much like the on-campus house that I shared with a few other kids during my second year of college. My father visited and for some reason I didn't want my housemates to see him, as if I were embarrassed by his presence. So I ushered him into the house as quickly and surreptitiously as possible. But then he asked if I had any food in the house, which seemed very out of character for him. I looked in a refrigerator which was stuffed with what looked like old fast food bags and wrappers and other trash. In this mess was a full sandwich from Subway. I handed that to my dad, certain that I was probably stealing someone's else's lunch, and ushered him upstairs to my quarters to get him and the evidence of my theft out of sight. Then, in my room, evidence was strewn about that I had recently had a lover in my room: pants and a shirt that were not mine lying on the floor, underwear that was not mine on the rumpled bed, and the sound of a shower running in the next room. I struggled to find a way to distract attention from this evidence, not wanting to be caught.

3) Later, I was in a building that was a mash-up of both the middle school and high school that I attended in real life, with elements of the Saint Louis Art Museum. This was one of the longest and most tedious sequences of this morning's dreams, as I navigated through claustrophobic corridors and rooms with impossible angles and walls too close together. But eventually I was in a gym locker room (one equipped with industrial kitchen appliances) with a dude that I used to know from college days. I was supposed to boil water for pasta, but he was undressing to take a shower and I decided that I needed to do that, too. It was really just a flimsy pretext to get up close and naked with him, and I decided to hurry up and do it because I knew that Jeff and other people would soon arrive for dinner and I didn't want him to see me in the shower with this other dude because I knew he would know that I was doing it for reasons other than just getting clean.

And there was more of this, but too much and too tedious to recount. For some reason, these dreams all had something to do with me sneaking about and trying to conceal bad behavior or facts that would be embarrassing. I have no idea why this would be subconscious theme today. In real life, I don't behave like this. I would never consider leaving a kim chee spill in someone else's car. I wouldn't steal food from a roommate, nor would I invite my parents into my bedroom if there was evidence of my romantic activities lying about (nor would I ever consider having guests in my room at all with the bed unmade or anything out of place--we are very neat in real life). Were something like the school gym/kitchen/shower scenario to become available in real life, far from hiding it from Jeff, I would probably try to convince him to join in. I feel rather unsettled with all of this, and hope that my next sleep session is not similar.


Mar. 19th, 2010 12:46 pm
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I have mentioned this a time or two on Twitter and Facebook, but now that the date is getting closer, I guess I can state firmly that J and will end our exile in OKC and move out of here around May 1, if all goes according to plan. The only reason this is possible at all this year is that J inherited some money. It's not a lot of money, but it's enough to get us moved and have a little bit of a cash reserve to keep us afloat for a while as we get ourselves employed in new day jobs. Yes, like every other time I have moved from one city to another, I am doing it with no firm prospect of employment. Last time, when we moved here, that was quite nearly a catastrophe because it took a couple months longer for me to get steady new income than planned and we completely ran out our cash reserve and were in some trouble. Because of our business failure and subsequent bankruptcy in 2007, we have no credit cards to fall back on either. So the money in the bank is what we have, and that's it until we come up with some more. I have decided to view this as an opportunity rather than a crisis.

The need to change jobs is the main downside of this plan. But it's also one of the best things about it, too, since we fucking hate our day jobs and can hardly stand them for even the few weeks that remain. Also, they are untenable even if we did like them, because we have both been rolled back on hours steadily over the last year, to where our combined income, which was meager to begin with, has contracted by about a third as compared to a year ago. Indeed J's rollback has been even worse than mine, and he earns so little that he can hardly be said to even have a job anymore anyway. We can't cut anymore from the budget, we need more income, but neither of us can stand the prospect of doing another job hunt around this town that we have grown to deeply dislike. So the inheritance cash comes at a perfect time. J is a believer in the idea that circumstances in the universe sometimes click together in a way that occasionally points us in a direction we need to go whether we were ready or not: We inherited money. We hate living here. Both of our day jobs suck and they have both undergone management upheavals in recent weeks which make our staying with them even less possible. Spring is coming. All these things and others suggest to him that a new chapter is being opened for us. I don't believe there is any order in things on the human scale, but I can see the comfort in a pattern like that and I am happy to view it in that way right now.

Another thing that we are of mixed minds about is our destination: we are returning to St. Louis and to the old neighborhood. This does not accord with our long-held dream of living somewhere with a winter-free climate, but we just can't manage something so extravagant anyway, and maybe never will. So let's be realistic. Also, J's mom still lives there as do most of our real-world friends. And it's much more our kind of city culturally and aesthetically than where we are now anyway, and it's just easier to go about our daily business there than here because of its density (we're not from the vast suburban sprawl around STL but rather the city-proper, which works better for us since we have only one car and J doesn't drive anyway).  We know people and places and will get reoriented quickly, so in that sense, it's an easy choice. Also, J wants to continue his horticulture education at the Missouri Botanical Garden which is within walking distance of our new home (we do not actually have that new home rented yet, but wherever it is, it will be probably be that close to the Garden because we're not planning to look outside our old territory if we don't need to, and Craigslist suggests plenty of options for us in the old 'hood).

We'll be up there for a few days in early April finding a place. If all goes well, we'll be relocated soon and hopefully feel some new optimism about our future. The moving plan and working on The Aether Age are the only things that have beaten back what felt like an acute season of depression coming on, and now it's almost spring. So I feel (cautiously) good.
When I was a young gay boy in the making, I thought that Pat Benatar was a pretty rockin' chick. But a strange realization has re-colored my perception of her.  Jeff and I were watching this video for "We Belong" recently
and I noticed a few things: 1) Pat Benatar--the rock star--is dressed in a conservative business suit and looks like she is taking a moment one morning to shoot a video (with lots of toilet paper) right before she heads off to her job on Wall Street; 2) Pat Benatar looks remarkably like Jeff's mother did in those days, and even now; 3) The blond boy with the candle during the children's choir segment looks remarkably like Jeff did in those days.  I know this because I have seen pictures of both Jeff and Mom which were taken during this era. 

So I have become deeply suspicious that Jeff's mom may in fact be Pat Benatar. And I wonder why they have engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to hide this fact.  Watch the video here. 

J's dad

Jan. 22nd, 2010 07:40 pm
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 There's a post on the M-Brane blog remembering Jeff's dad, who passed away ten years ago today.


Jan. 3rd, 2010 09:05 am
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Jeff's master gardener course, which he starts taking online in a few days, involves printing a great deal of study materials. We haven't owned a properly functioning printer in some time. Generally, I've had bad luck with printers. I think I have owned at least four of them in the last decade and none have lasted what I would consider a reasonable lifespan. I'm quite accustomed to a paperless office approach to my own work with M-Brane and my other projects. But there's no way around needing to print stuff for his class. Even if he could figure out a paperless approach to it, then we would run into a computer usage conflict. We only have this one computer, and I can't give up as many hours of access to it as it would require for him to do all his classwork on it. So, we are once again a printing household.

We received a bit of money for Annual Gift Day from our parents and allocated a portion of it to getting a new printer, plus all the ink and paper it will need. This was a shopping ordeal, at least by our standards. Neither one of us has much stamina for shopping. "But I thought gay boys loved shopping!" some people may wonder. Well, we don't. We also don't like musical comedy or figure skating. We decided to try to get the printer at Sam's Club. We needed to restock some staple food items that we usually buy there (like coffee, bacon, cheeses, onions, garlic, olive oil), and I recalled that the last printer I had purchased about three years ago came from Sam's and seemed a good deal at the time (though it now sits derelict). 

So we found what seemed to be a reasonably decent and cheap (about $49.00) printer/scanner. Cheapness was a major criterion for selection, and this one was just under my price limit of $60.00 (well, I said I wasn't going above $60, but there was no way we were coming home without a printer for J, so I was braced for a higher price if necessary). We bought the printer and congratulated each other on the way out of Sam's on how we had beaten the crowd by getting their early enough, drove home, and set to work on installing the printer. Then it all went downhill for a while. It didn't occur to us that printers might be for Windows systems only and just not have the drivers to work with a Mac. I even looked at system requirements on the box at the store, noted what Windows versions it was good for, did not see anything about Max OSX, and still bought it, just not thinking that this could be a problem. I mean, really. A goddamned printer driver? Well, as it turns out, Dell (this was a Dell-branded printer) simply does not offer Mac drivers for its printers. I did a quick scour of the intertubes, certain that someone had come up with one anyway or found a work-around for it. Site after site said the same thing: sorry, out of luck, your printer won't work with your Mac. Fuck.  So we boxed it back up and set out again to Sam's...which was a human zoo by the time we got back there. 

We returned the printer, got our refund and headed to Best Buy, thinking we'd have more selection in our price range, and knowing now to make certain that whatever we buy says on the box that it works with Mac OSX. Best Buy was a human zoo also, and it turned out that the only printer that was anywhere close to our price point was $70.00. Unwilling to cave at this point, we moved on to Office Depot. Though Office Depot is some kind of corner of hell on earth normally, possibly one of the most depressing retail establishments imaginable, it was not a zoo yesterday. Perhaps noon on Saturday is not the peak of shopping for office crap. But same problem as far as the printers and their prices. Again, cheapest one was $70.00.  Then I said it: "Prince, we are going to have to go next Walmart...and just take a quick look." His face fell. "Oh hell no!" he said. We must, I insisted. If we can save thirty or forty dollars by suffering through a few minutes of Walmart, we need to do it. The budget is too tight to stand on principle. We must at least look.

About an hour later we had a printer, the HP Deskjet D1660, $32.00 at Walmart. Since we were in the store and doomed to go through the checkout line anyway, we decided to get other tedious stuff that we would need soon anyway, like cat food and soap. On the way out of the store, J declared that he was happy to have completed his Walmart shopping "for another year," all of 2010 lying ahead, Walmart-free!  

Im actually pretty impressed with this cheap little printer, by the way. He printed the first few weeks worth of his class materials last night (and we need to pick up some replacement ink already), and I was really surprised how tall a stack pages it spat out (and how quickly it did it) before ink ran down. I'm not expecting it will have a long lifespan, but if it survives J's immediate need for it, then that's good enough. And I guess I can use it if ever want to do any off-screen editing. But no one should expect to receive a physical letter from me anytime soon.
 A little while ago, I completed one of the most hellacious winter weather drives of my life, getting home from work. I grew up and learned to drive in an Arctic-climate part of the country, but I have not seen such mayhem and madness on the streets anywhere in many years. Holy goddamned hell. I'm too exhausted after three hours of what should have been twenty minutes to describe it all in detail. But I am home safe now. But I have to head back to work at 6 am tomorrow...assuming that I can get the car unstuck again. While I was at work today, J took these rather pretty photos of the onset of the snowstorm. These don't really indicate the problem, however. It's much, much worse now. Merry White Fucking Xmas, y'all!

 Ten observations about our trip to St. Louis (with subjects ranging from televisions to cooking to sex) begun last Thursday and concluded today:

The road was wearisome as ever. We made our customary dinner stop, glad for a break in the drive. The Mexican restaurant in Springfield was laboring under a suspension of its liquor license. As a former owner of such a restaurant, I felt badly for its owner. Ninety days of not being able to sell margaritas or beer would have been lethal for us. As customers at this place, we were a bit disappointed. We didn’t really need a drink at the mid-point of a long road trip, though we certainly would have drunk a beer or two had it been available. We could have instead gone to the Applebee’s across the street, but then that would have been a situation where the living would have envied the dead. Unlike Applebee’s, the Mexican joint had the obvious virtues of not being crowded in general, not being crowded with assholes in particular, not being a douchebag chain restaurant, and not being the worst restaurant on the planet. But neither was it anywhere near the best restaurant on the planet. After we resumed the road, J complained of stomach discomfort. But I suspect this was due more to the quantity of food he consumed than its quality. For him to fully consume a plate of beef enchiladas and all the side dishes is remarkable.

Fuck driving in bad weather. Fuck it all to hell. I’m sick of it.  All my driving life since I left Wisconsin to attend college in Iowa, there has been time after time after bloody fucking time of needing to travel hundreds of miles by road to visit family members in other states, and so many times this has occurred during snow storms, ice storms or, as in the case of this trip, blinding, torrential rain. Night had fallen, the road was slick and black and flooding over. Of course, even though I-44 is continuously under permanent construction, they can’t ever manage to paint or re-paint the lines on the road, so it’s nearly impossible to see where the lane divisions might be. And it always seems that all big-rig truck driving in America needs to happen during the shittiest weather. It’s as if the trucks are monsters sitting in the truck stops waiting for inclemency before firing up their engines and rolling across the blasted and blighted middle regions of the country. I’ve decided that it is ridiculous to risk our lives in this manner of travel, though I do not doubt that we will continue to do it.

Mom’s computer:
            “So what should I set as my homepage?” she wondered. Jeff had no real opinion on the matter, but he pointed out that while this decision was perhaps of no great import in its specifics, she would indeed need something as the homepage. She had considered not even having one. “But what will open when you go to the web?” he wondered. “Since something must open, it may as well be a page that you enjoy.” Eventually she settled upon the Gmail page. Chris located the Windows Live Mail application and configured it in such a way that mail from her new Gmail account would download automatically and be accessible to her by way of a mailbox icon on her desktop. “So now you can have something else other than Gmail as your homepage,” said Jeff. “You don’t even need to go to the website now to get your mail.” She retained the Gmail site as her homepage. She said that there wasn’t really any other one that she needed as her homepage at this time. Perhaps she would join Facebook later and switch to that.

            Mom had been lacking a working computer and home internet service for a number of years. She was delighted that her son Jeff and his boyfriend Chris came to St. Louis and assisted her in purchasing a computer and a number of other items at Best Buy. She got a very inexpensive Toshiba laptop, preloaded with the new Windows 7 operating system. Chris was intrigued to see the new operating system but concluded that it was still very Windowsy and not Mac-like at all, but he refrained from sniffing in disdain at it. He knew that this computer would be perfectly adequate for Mom’s needs, and he conceded that it was a probably a better computer than its very low price would have suggested. She also purchased a wireless router, a 19-inch flat screen TV, a TV antenna, and a DVD player.

The TV:  We experienced much frustration with the new TV. Mom needed a new TV for her bedroom, but she doesn’t have a cable jack in there. The new TV, therefore, needed to simply receive its signals out of the air. None of us had ever seen the new style of TV using the new style of broadcast signal (digital) up close before. Great tedium resulted from trying to scan in the channels and fuss with the antenna to achieve best reception. Eventually it seemed that it was working—at least well enough—but we discovered that we were missing channels 5 and 12. After much more mucking about, Jeff managed to tune in channel 5. Then we discovered that there is no channel 12 at all. Though listed as 12 on the cable system in the living room, it is actually channel 30 when one tries to pull it from the air, and it had been there all along, perfectly tuned. We relaxed and laughed at all this once it was done. Interesting trivia: the new TV retrieved a hazy signal from a hitherto unknown low-power analog channel which was airing reruns of Dragnet. I wondered if there was somewhere nearby a TV rebel, perhaps a radical broadcast pirate testing out his still-secret TV station, an old VCR whirring in a basement or a bedroom, playing tapes of old TV shows, preparing for headier days to come.

Down in the city, our old homeland where we breathed the sweet air of freedom for the first time in over a year, we visited our good friend of many years and her new girlfriend. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, I will thinly veil their identities by calling our friend “E” and her girlfriend “V.” To begin, I should say that it is quite possible that V is a horrendous bitch. We had some forewarning of this. It was made known to us that V did not wish us to visit E. “Why must they come and ruin your birthday?” it is reported that she said. Also, “Why are they coming at all?” V’s disapproval of our visit was rooted in the crazy belief that the main purpose of our visit was to have sex with E.

Jeff and E have been best friends since they were teenagers, but they have never fucked. Not even once. I don’t believe that J has ever done it with a female at all much less his best friend E. It would be like boning one’s sister. I have known E for about a decade, almost as long as I have known J. I have never fucked her either, nor even considered it. Not even once. Furthermore, E is more or less a lesbian.  She swings both ways, but she is more a lesbian than anything else. This new girlfriend of hers, V, seems to find the basis for her jealousy, mayhem and foolishness in a cultural bias. V is from one of the countries of the Indian subcontinent, specifically one of the Islamic ones. Where she comes from, we are given to understand, it just doesn’t happen that men and women are friends with no sort of sex or romance implied. To her it beggars the imagination that E would have been “just friends” with J and me for this long with no sex going on. I wonder what her more conservative religious brethren have to say about her smoking, drinking and lesbianism.

So we knew to expect some friction coming into the situation, but we ended up feeling quite relieved and delighted when V proved to be sociable and friendly toward us. In fact, she seemed to have dropped her misgivings about us entirely. She was preparing intensely aromatic food when we arrived. She created a huge feast of dishes based on her homeland’s cuisine. It was beautiful and delicious. Indeed, it was restaurant quality and we told her so, and she seemed delighted that we enjoyed it so much. The evening ended in a very amiable fashion, and we left thinking that things were much better than expected with E and V.

As J and I drove away, en route to O’Connell’s for a beer, J’s phone rang. We gleaned through a series of ringings and hangings-up that E and V were going at each other hammer-and-tongs. Evidently E was trying to call J to get some testimony from him about what “really” went on that evening, but V was grabbing away her phone and hanging it up. We learned that as soon as we left, V accused E of having managed to either make out with or fuck both J and me during our visit. She’s out of her goddamned mind and we abandoned our briefly-held good feelings toward V.  But that food was still really good!

At the Zoo with E, we saw: penguins, puffins, sea otters, sea lions, and various primates. The visit was brief, but we were glad that we finally saw the new exhibit with the Antarctic birds as they are quite cute and interesting to see in person. The Saint Louis Zoo is one of the best in the world, and admission is free. Beer, however, costs about sixteen dollars for three servings. Fortunately E was buying.

Libido: From Doctor Drain’s notes regarding the proclivities and behavior of the Subjects C and J: Marked heightening of libido is generally observed in these subjects whenever they travel. This is supported by a large amount of information that we have gleaned from their implants over several observation sessions from the year 2000 to present. The reason for this is not yet understood, though a hypothesis was suggested last year by Doctor Benway and other members of the project  [Lab notes, 2008:0816].   “We did it a lot on the last trip, but not so much this time,” said Subject C, who requested one type of activity this morning, was denied, then requested a variant form of that same activity and was again denied. He made a third request, this time for an entirely different style of activity, and was once again refused. Subject J, as his reason for declining these requests, cited the proximity of his parental unit only a room away. “I can be quiet,” said Subject C. “We did it last time, and I managed to remain silent throughout.” Subject J remained firm in his position on the subject. He left the bedroom and prepared coffee. We next observed the subjects at a breakfast restaurant where Subject C made it known first to us via the implants and then to Subject J verbally that he was experiencing arousal induced by their waiter’s physical attributes. “He knows that you think he’s cute,” said Subject J. “He is responding with predictable and appropriate behaviors and signals. In other words, he’s ‘working’ it.”  Subject J is an expert in restaurant table service and knows the behaviors and signals that servers employ to discreetly “flirt” with their clients. “Too bad,” J said, “that he doesn’t know that Mom is the one who is tipping!” Both subjects found this to be ironically funny. Subject C adhered for the next hour to a fantasy of inducing the waiter into joining Subject J and him in a tripartite adventure of rather elaborate and unlikely specifications, but Subject J was less enthusiastic about this idea, not finding the waiter to be as attractive as Subject C judged him to be. A marked disparity between Subject C’s arousal state and Subject J’s persisted throughout the day. We concluded that that there would likely be no shared activities between these subjects today and shifted our focus to other subjects.

Chores to assist Mom:  I broke down an old computer system and an old desk and hauled all that junk out to the trash. We also threw away an old non-working analog TV and its useless antenna. She didn’t need that stuff anymore, since she bought all that new equipment at Best Buy a couple days earlier. Plus, none of it really worked anymore. I thought it was a shame to get rid of the desk, but I suspect that a neighbor dumpster-dived it right away. Jeff potted a plant for her, one that he had brought as a gift from our garden. He also hauled up from Mom’s basement storage locker an antique radio cabinet. It now sits where the obsolete desk and computer were.  While these tasks were perhaps not a lot of fun, neither were they too onerous; and they were things that she would have had difficulty doing on her own. So we were glad to help.

Jeff prepared hot browns for dinner Sunday night. It was delicious. Here is a recipe for that dish, excerpted from the unfinished draft of my cookbook/restaurant memoir Stackin’ Hogs

            Like some of the lunch items that we discuss in another chapter, the Hot Brown is a regional curiosity.  It’s native to Louisville, Kentucky where it was developed at the Brown Hotel (hence the word “Brown” in the dish’s name). Jeff prepared them at Lynn’s Paradise Café in Louisville years ago when he cooked there, and has been a sort of evangelist for the dish ever since.

            Though slight variations may be found, it is built like an open-face sandwich with some sort bread topped with roasted turkey, smothered in a white sauce, topped with tomato slices, bacon strips and some melted cheddar cheese.  The bread may be toasted or not and the white sauce may or may not incorporate cheese into it.  We had it on the menu at the Saint Louis Art Museum for several years when I was chef there, and we used a Mornay-type sauce, which was simply a basic white sauce with shredded Gruyere cheese melted into it.  We also called it by the wrong name, as Jeff has never tired of pointing out.  St. Louis local cuisine also features this dish, but there it is known—incorrectly—as the “Turkey Prosperity.”  Another anomaly is that it sometimes shows up in St. Louis as a conventionally constructed sandwich that has little in common with the Hot Brown (or “Prosperity”) other than containing turkey, bacon and cheese. This approach, as Jeff would tell you, could not be more wrong if they were using a steam-driven, copper-plated wronging engine.

            Most recipes that we have found say nothing about toasting the bread and Jeff confirms that it was not done like that in Louisville.  Authenticity aside, I insisted that for the Jasoom rendition the bread should be prepared in the form of thick chunks of garlic toast. This ended up being a big improvement on the “original” (in my estimation anyway) since it provided an enhanced layer of flavor and texture at the ground floor of the dish.

            So this isn’t really a recipe so much as an assembly.  To make a Hot Brown, have on hand some toasted bread, some sliced roasted turkey, slices of ripe tomato, strips of cooked bacon, shredded cheddar cheese and the white sauce of your choice (ours was made my melting 2 tablespoons of butter and whisking in 2 tablespoons of flour and then adding 2 cups of milk and cooking until thickened; we seasoned with salt, pepper, granulated garlic and a splash of hot sauce).  [Alternatively, start the sauce with finely chopped onion and minced fresh garlic, as Jeff did last night.]

            It works best to assemble the portions on the dish that you plan to eat it off of, though you could assemble them in a skillet or on a baking sheet.  At the restaurant, we used large deep bowls that we then underlined with a flat plate.  Place the bread on the plate, add the turkey, pour the sauce over it all and then arrange beautifully the bacon and tomato slices on top.  Sprinkle cheese all over it and stick it under a broiler or in a hot oven for a few minutes.  In that case, probably don’t use plastic plates.  It is done when the top is melted and luscious looking.             [Since the original drafting of this recipe, J has pointed out a number of times that since one does not use shredded cheddar cheese but rather squarish slices of it, one cannot “sprinkle” cheese on it, as I suggest above.]


We’re back home now. J is sleeping and so are the cats. They missed us, and we missed them.


Though cooking is one of my few skills, I don't really do enough cooking-related blog-posting, and that seems like an unfortunate oversight. Maybe I assume that no one will be interested. On the other hand, everyone needs to eat, and (in my opinion) everyone ought to cook as much as possible rather than eat junk food or buy pre-made foods or dine in chain restaurants (if you wish to eat out, it is always best to patronize a locally-owned independent restaurant). I advocate this both for reasons of nutrition and aesthetics: home cooking done well is inevitably superior to any mass-produced meal, and one will  derive far more emotional satisfaction from it.

[Images of peppers growing in our garden; ingredients for this meal]

Tonight we prepared a simple and budget-conscious version of Thai-style red curry with chicken. To accomplish this I went to the neighborhood Asian market (the fantastic Super Cao Nguyen—which we call “Super Cow”) and purchased boneless chicken thighs, carrots, scallions, coconut milk and red curry paste. I also needed garlic, onion, and rice, which I already had at home. While I would normally wish to prepare the red curry paste from scratch, I ruled this out as an option today because of budget. The can of curry paste, for seventy-nine cents, while not as good as making it from scratch, is a totally passable ingredient and much cheaper than restocking my kitchen with ginger, galangal, lemon grass, fresh turmeric, cilantro, mint and tamarind paste.  But I was able to enhance the canned product thanks to the fact that J and I grow fresh herbs and chile peppers. We also had on hand already some things that we decided to incorporate: cauliflower, cabbage and frozen peas (a totally good way to keep peas around, unlike their canned form, which is an abomination).

[Image of J stirring the pot.]

So I proceeded as follows: 1) I diced the chicken thigh meat and set it aside; 2) diced an onion, about a head of garlic, and a handful of assorted chiles from our garden and put those together and set aside for later; 3) diced a couple of carrots and about a quarter of head of cauliflower; set aside; 4) chopped about a quarter of head of cabbage and the whiter halves of a bunch of scallions and another clove or two of garlic; reserved for later; 5) chopped a hefty handful of basil from the garden along with the green ends of the scallions; 6) readied a cup of basmati rice and two cups of chicken broth in separate containers; 7) had on hand from the pantry: kosher salt, black mustard seed, turmeric powder; 8) had some peas from the freezer.

[The curry in process; the rice composed and ready to simmer.]

It was a two-pot operation:

POT ONE (started first): Heat (high). Some oil. Hot pan. Chicken. Sauté until cooked through. Thigh meat, unlike breast meat, really can’t be overcooked in an application like this, and, in fact, the longer it’s cooked the better. It will retain its chickeny goodness while not drying out or dissolving completely. After a while, add the onion, garlic and chiles. Let them get started for a minute or two and then add the carrot and cauliflower (or NOT: these veggies don’t necessarily need to be there—we just happened to have them and wanted to use them). After a few more minutes of this sautéing and stirring about of the stuff, you can go ahead and add the red curry paste. Let that cook with the other ingredients for a minute or two, and then add some water, about enough to cover everything, a bit more than half-way over the volume of the ingredients. Lower the heat and allow to simmer. Turn your attention to POT TWO…

[Me and the curry pot after addition of the herbs.]

POT TWO: This needs to be a solid, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid, preferably a deep cast iron frying pan, though anything not-too-flimsy can be made into an adequate rice cooker. You can even resort to a loose-fitting lid and some aluminum foil if need be. Here we diverged from the Thai curry concept. Normally one would just have some plain white rice with the curry. But I did this instead: 1) Hot, hot, hot pan. Some oil. Add a teaspoon or so of black mustard seeds. When they start popping and sizzling, add the cabbage/garlic/scallion mixture along with a generous pinch of kosher salt and about a teaspoon of turmeric powder. 2) Sauté until the cabbage has wilted. 3) Add the rice and stir it into the stir-fried mixture to coat completely; 4) Add the chicken broth and peas; 5) Bring to a boil and then immediately lower the heat to as low as it goes (lowest flame on a gas burner; good luck on an electric) and cover it with the tight-fitting lid—lay foil over the pan and then lid it if your lid does not fit tightly; 6) Leave it alone for twenty minutes. 7) Turn off the heat entirely and still leave it alone, covered and unlooked-at, while you go…

[The rice, finished!]

BACK TO POT ONE: Add coconut milk and that pile of chopped basil and scallion greens. We waited until now because that stuff doesn’t need to cook as long. Indeed, we want it to go in toward the end to preserve its bright burst of flavor. Simmer for maybe five more minutes and then shut off the heat. Let it sit until the rice pot is ready. Eat. Well, taste first, season further if desired, and then eat.

[The food served, some rice to one side of the bowl, the curry ladled in around it.]

Is this correct and traditional and proper? No, but it’s economical, easy, and it hews to the integrity and flavor profile of the real cuisine, and it beats the hell out of what you would get from most take-out joints.