Chapter 42 Ptui. Spit On The Ground. The Evil Eye Is Watching.

Chapter 42

Ptui. Spit On The Ground.

The Evil Eye Is Watching.

Now wasn’t that a sweet little vision?  What a week ending manful meditation, little boy proud of his mom, what could be more touching?  Real tearjerker, kind of Disney like… seriously great stuff.  But thinking more about that moment at the bus stop just makes me feel sad.  If only there were more of those good times instead of the way too many tough ones that we spent together.  Regretfully, as I scan the mental hard drives to look for more, there aren’t a lot of positive search results. At least not ones that can I recall as I set myself up to cruise the cushin’, getting ready to start me up in manful meditation again the next Monday morning.

Sitting there I question the accuracy memories about Mom in this regard to a large extent.  Here is why.  I wonder if we all consciously shade our recollections of our parents in a negative manner and if we do, for what reason?  Is it part of the separation process that we experience when we come to the inevitable conclusion that hey, I don’t want to live my life like they did?  Are we predestined to look back upon our relationships with our parents and focus on the negative moments or is the answer much simpler: that our experience with them really wasn’t all that good most of the time.  This was some fertile ground to cover during the coming stroll in this mental garden full of thorns and roses and more thorns.

Life’s routines were thankfully there to be addressed during the previous weekend.  Dinners to be made, shopping done garbage taken out and bills paid.  Hours pass and mercifully time flies along quickly. Books are read, movies watched, dogs walked.  Life feels normal.  In that normalcy there is a sense of comfort. Most life moments just aren’t that momentous, I don’t think I could handle it well if they all were.  And voila, before you know it another weekend of reliable everyday stuff is gone, Monday morning shows up and she who has a job has left the house all to you and only you again.  This part of the life script has become dull and repetitive.  In those long winter months, the Mondays came and went like groundhog day, occurring over and over again, the same story playing out without variance just like this one was.   I don’t like Monday’s indeed.

Yes, yet another week of nothing with a second helping of less than nothing stands ready to challenge my precarious mental state as I finish a huge mug of well-brewed pure mocha java (yes medium roasts are better but that too is another story).  I am much less than thrilled to be here. The coming week looks as enticing as an encounter with a jabbering toothless crack addict.   Monday begins again in a silent cold home looking at well-known mental signpost peeking out from the wet morning clouds, marking a familiar spiritual intersection.  What is it going to be today big guy?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?  Happy or sad?  How are you going to handle it?  How many fucking times has a week started like this one?  At this stage there have been way too many.  It is old.  The coffee in my stomach starts to growl.

How easy it would be to just go downstairs, settle down on the couch, turn on ESPN, find that red down comforter and a bag of fig newtons to go with that second cup of joe?  Way too easy.  Or better yet, keep putting off dealing with reality, just crawl along in endless circles of surfing the Internet, pointlessly passing time between sports rumors and trying to stay on top of a food world that is becoming less relevant to me by the moment as the hope of employment flickers and dims.

Not ready to succumb to the simian realities of sports center , I head upstairs, boot up the computer and off I go looking for nuggets hidden in the electron haze.  But after a few minutes of reading the usual meaningless emails and scanning other useless shit, I am staring straight ahead without interest.  This sucks.  As I shut down Firefox, I am stop for a moment and freeze.  The screen is not blank, quite the contrary, there is a digitized photo of she who was a parent then too and the kidults at ages 15 and 13 taken years ago on a family vacation in Italy.  Everyone is so so much younger.  We are smiling, sitting in the living room of a simply furnished country home outside of Florence where we spent a few nights.  It looks like freshly pressed olive oil and Sangiovese grapes.   This moment doesn’t just seem like it is far away and long ago.  It is.   Staring at it, I feel a deep piercing sadness that penetrates an already darkening mood, I long for complex times of cluttered schedules, when days were driven by little league doubleheaders and soccer tournaments.  When work was so dominating and determined that it lived with you 24/7.

Those days are simply jacked.  Gone.  Outahere.

Never ever have I seen such a parade of meaningless Mondays.  They drain the soul out of you and a lot worse.  As I sit down in the mancave, I look back upon the aforementioned previous weekend with a bitter eye.  It was not what you would call a success.  Perhaps (ha) overcompensating for the boredom of the week before and before that, I drank too much on Saturday night and got a lecture form she who is offended by my cynical and critical nature that was on full view during a typical dinner party.  My happy state of mind was fueled by several margaritas, a bottle of pinot gris, a host of reds and a kicker of Sauternes.  I thought I was being funny and among close friends who could take it, but I guess not everyone including her cared for some my jokes and jabs.  What really got her going was my ‘foul language’ and she let me have it by going silent and doing the dishes afterwards with the door to the kitchen shut.  A big do not disturb sign has been posted.

I guess buddhas don’t curse.   I haven’t found that inner peace yet. And to make matters much worse I didn’t remember a word of what I said and she wasn’t going to tell me.

I spent Sunday was in a miserable hungover haze, head fuzzy stomach sour mind wandering.  Without any sort of major league sports to distract me, and she not being in the mood to forgive or to find her inner la sweets in any way, the day was as grey and cold as the almost raining skies outside.  Not even white dog felt much like moving, she stayed hidden in the burrows of her felt blanket tucked into a tiny ball unmoving unwilling to even give me the faintest of tail wag.  After running out of filing (clearly an unheeded cry for help), I found a personal security blanket around 2 pm in the form of 4 straight hours of Soprano’s DVD’s.  That was followed by a dinner of tasteless re-heated beef stew that had overstayed its life in the freezer.  No red juice tonight, no joy, no spice in the meal.  She eventually joined me at the table but not a word was exchanged, no candles lit and she read the paper entire time looking up only to find the salt.

She was very asleep by 8:30, early meetings to follow the next day was the brief explanation that she gave accompanied by the most perfunctory kiss on the air cheek, but I think she was just plain tired of dealing with me.  I didn’t stay awake much longer.  We did not say good night and slept far apart.

As I reviewed the weekend’s events the next morning, I didn’t have to try had to understand why I drank so much Saturday night.   The simple answer was that I just wanted to have a good time.  The complex answer was that I just wanted to have a good time.  Staying at home means exactly that and while you can make it comfortable and perhaps engaging to pass your time there, it does not in any way equate out to a good time for a person with a social bone in their body no matter how hard you try.  When people show up you want to play so bad like the kid who has been suffering with the flu and has finally been let of quarantine after missing summer vacation.

It does not make the situation any easier when a good part of the dinner party is spent talking with friends about what is new in their careers.  It’s not like they didn’t have interesting jobs and all that.  They all did.  And it’s not like anyone was showing off either.  But there would always be that uncomfortable moment when everyone had talked about their jobs and knew better than to ask you what was new with your search.

They knew the answer and so did you. So you might fill that glass a little higher and a little more often than otherwise as you danced with your partner demon alcohol.

Alcohol. One of the great yins and the yangs in our lives, showing us the good and suddenly without warning the bad.  It was also the last remaining conscious altering tool in my arsenal, at least until I found yoga and meditation as I had abandoned all drug use decades ago when I simply lost interest in them.  But without conscious alternation there are no reference points for the every day and god damnit, I loved to drink and I truly adored a great red.  And I took that adoration to an unhealthy love more than a few times.

My relationship with alcohol was driven in part by the lack of available mental filtration devices for my mind. While alcohol helped me to forget, it did so with a huge IOU full of hangovers and lost productivity.  That is where I slowly began to learn just how much good mediation and yoga could do for me.  They were the first reverse osmosis membranes I ever found to clean out the sludge in my thoughts and with so much pollution incoming, I was easily overwhelmed by the amount shit I had to deal with.  I was grateful that meditations worked their schtick so well on me.  A long manful med session, a 1½ hour ashtanga yoga workout and a schvitz at the gym and the day that started poorly could continue in relative harmony without the hangover.  And that is just what I wound up doing that Monday morning with damn good results considering how blue I felt.

But enough of that, I couldn’t stall the inevitable any longer.  It was on to the meditation itself.    And that means mother in all of her power and glory. Before I could even start thinking about traipsing down that path, I had fasten my seatbelt tight. No doubt about it, dealing with Mom had been the hardest set of meditations that I had ever tackled, an emotional Everest.  It made dad look easy.

There are a lot of men like myself who struggle to deal with anger over the lack of positive mother moments in their lives.  There are usually a host of reasons why their moms let them down, from narcissism to lack of emotion to just plain not being there.   In my meditation I wondered why this is my feeling too.  Where did it come from?

I started with a long look at her past. It is easy to understand her when looking back in the rear view mirror of time. Her life was a series of what could have beens that didn’t equal out to the life she wanted.  From the small town in Austria where her family was forcefully expelled by complicit neighbors trying on their brown shirts for size in 1938 (a bitter memo to those apologetic Jews and other haters out there, there no right of return. I am not getting back our furniture store and neither is any one else), to the book-keeping career she gave up for marriage, to the horrors she suffered at the hands of Dad. It was so much to handle. Her life more than gave her plenty of reasons to become the person that she was.

This was fine, but deal with my anger towards her, I knew that first I must try to forgive her. I am compelled to so do so that I can move beyond the crap I have been left with. This is not a joyous meditation, it does not have to be, maybe it can’t be.  It looks at the essence of my mother and that is not a simple subject.

But it was so fucking hard to forgive. It took work to root down into these thoughts without losing a sense of balance.  I had to dig deep, really down into some core into areas of pain that made me feel very uncomfortable.  I knew in my heart that despite all of the was wrong, she was there for me in a way that no one else could ever be in some very dark moments. I struggled not to let the bitterness of what she did to me take the potential healing in this moment of meditation away.

I believe that a manful mediation practitioner forgives his mother no matter what she did.  Sounds great right? If only it was that easy.  I try. My thoughts were not clear now, in fact they are jumbled, drifting.  I want to take the right course with them, to embrace them what for what they are to learn from what happened to mom and move on but it is so much easier just to stay pissed off.  And then without warning, the meditaion slowly begin to turn and my burned heart opens just a crack.

I come to a basic realization.  In order to let go of my anger I need to understand how she affected my life,  not just how she lived hers.  How I internalized the poisons that she could not help but emit.  Only then could I hope to forgive myself and in turn her.  First I must see where she went wrong.

So I plunged back in and looked at her behavior to start the ball rolling.  When I did I was reminded quickly of the cast of actors that she hired to play this off off Broadway production.

And without further delay, let’s give this rogues gallery of misplaced emotions and counter productive behaviors a closer look as they take their places for what is hoped to be their closing performance on the stage of my emotional life. Staring our show, standing behind curtain number 1 it’s a long dark shadow that casts across the floor lit by a single spot from behind.  As the door opens fully, we see that in the lead role there is that tried and veteran character actor insecurity.  Brooding, inward and unpredictable, Mom’s brand of insecurity was inescapable and tremendously corrosive. Her insecurity expressed itself fully as her life became a hole that could not be filled.  It caused a voracious need for others to give to her accompanied by even greater difficulty giving to them.  This in turn exhausted those around her that were her friends and made sure that they were not as numerous as they might have been.  What a role to take on!

Time to move on, let’s open curtain number 2.  Who is the winner this time standing in the red spotlight? Why, it’s her hyper-critical nature!  She would examine every interaction in her life, trying to read too much meaning into every nuance and once again, finish never satisfied.  What a performance, a life long achievement award if ever there was one.  Yes, please take a bow for the crowd.

Finally to round out the cast, we look behind curtain number 3.  Standing thin and tall dressed all in black stiletto heels and a tight leather outfit, it’s that familiar evil-doer we know and love, control.  Mom wanted to control all that was around her even though she could not.  When she couldn’t the results were awful.  Smile for us, would you?

Is that all?  No, the audience senses that there is more, is there someone missing?  Indeed there is and it is a dousy that emerges from the wings.  A waif dressed in tattered Chanel rags trailing clouds of dust.  The ghost of tightness.  For so many reasons Mom was painfully cheap. She had a tight fist that examined every penny that went out the door and a strict belief that nothing went to waste.  While depression/WWII era frugality was one thing mom took it way too far sucking the joy out of so many purchases.

The crowd applauds but I don’t see the charm in it.  I want to end it for today and I do. I finish this set of meditations knowing that there was a more difficult one coming for the rest of the week, how each of these fine actors had played a starring role in my own life.  And they had.

Thinking about Mom had exhausted me and I was ready for a restorative lunch and a walk.  Lunch featured my favorite dish, leftovers.  I give the refrigerator slot machine handle a pull and what comes up?  It’s hot peppers all across the window, yet another chicken tostada heavy on the salad please.

Lunch helps me to set my next goal, to finish the week by learning to understand what her insecurities did to me.  Fool.  How I thought that I could cover that much ground in a few days of focused meditation is proof that through it all I remain a foolish optimist.  But I did glean some key points as the week came to a close as my mind flowed through the blocks I overcame to lead a successful life.  A few highlights from those meditations.

From Mom I inherited a completely screwed up relationship with money.  I was anxious about every dollar I made and how I spent it.  This bitter truth came home to me thanks to a pizza dinner two weeks ago.  As I finished baking a simple (read:  pre-made dough, crimini mushrooms and buratta with sage) pizza and pulled it out of the oven I wanted to top it with something good.  In the pantry I found a bottle of beautiful looking bottle of Italian Olive Oil infused with Porcini.  Perfect.

Only it wasn’t perfect at all.  When I went to tear the seal off the oil I saw that it had expired in 2004.

From there I looked at the pantry and realized a sad truth.  I habitually purchased things at the specialty grocery store on sale and then forgot about them.  The pantry was full of expired jelly’s sauces, nuts and spices that were rancid and out of code.  That is what anxiety is all about.  Buying things you don’t need because they are on sale and then not using them.  In the meditation I saw just where this habit had come from.  How it had robbed me of joy.

Am I rolling now?  Yes I am.  I go deep into these thoughts and let them linger.   I hold them for a minimum of 10 breaths and repeat the feeling another 10 times.  I am ready to throw away the remaining spoiled food that I am storing deep inside.

I see the difficulties that I had early in my life with women become clear.  That it wasn’t always their fault that things didn’t work out.  That I had huge difficulties loving other for a simple reason.  I had no teachers, no role models, no loving couple that showed me the way.  There was no love in our house and mom, while I knew that she did love me, could not express that love until much later in life when I took the lead.

There is more.  Worst of all was a massive dose of her hyper-sensitive mistrust I people that is layered on top of the bitter explosiveness that Dad provided, assuring me of a fine trigger point that never missed a chance to get it on judge and often unfairly.  I had all of her feelings that people never could do enough for me and took every slight as if it was a slap in the face and followed through with  Dad’s delivery system.  I spent years and a lot of teachings from she who gives too easily to overcome these fears.

As hoped, my resentment of Mom began to recede as I gained understanding and not unlike the process I went through with Dad, I ended the week on Thursday and Friday with a strong rally on the good things she did for me.

The characteristics that mom gave to me are powerful simple and clean truths.  While not dramatic or even interesting to meditate about, without them the caustic poisons of Dad would have overwhelmed my being.

There are many things to be thankful to Mom for, but my meditation zeroes in on a few that are crucial to who I am.  First and above all her family gene pool gave me an analytic mind that works very well.  Second, a deep desire and respect for reading and education.  And third, discipline, the ability to follow through that brought me success in life.  When I think of those parts of her character I realize how indebted I am.

I am ready to end my Friday meditation and I begin to look for a food that mom loved to pull me out and come back into the room.  While her cooking could never be gourmet, trapped by Dad’s tyrannical love of meat and living in an era where frozen macaroni was a huge breakthrough.  I needed for a break from seriousness and mom gave one to me.  Sweets.  She loved sweets.

For every spicy, sour or salty flavor there is a sweet filling out the yin and yang of the fourth eye of oral pleasures and for mom, sweets were her ganesh, her redemption. Being from Austria there was no doubt about her ability to bake like a storm.

As I think about the sweets of my childhood, a vision comes into my mind.  A large yellow bowl is slowly spinning in middle of the vision, it has the speed of a potter’s wheel.  It is a soft pastel yellow with a white interior, the sort of ceramic bowls that were made in the 50’s.  A wooden spoon is slowly circling inside of the bowl.  Then the spoon moves slowly upwards out of the bowl and begins to come towards me.  As it does I open my mouth.  I taste the raw cake batter they fed me a child, rich with butter eggs and chocolate.  I am back with my mother and grandmother, in the small breakfast nook near the kitchen.  They are speaking in German (I understand).  I am small, maybe 4 or 5.  The smell and taste is overwhelming.  The room is rich with flour, yeast and goodness.

I soften my breathing and am ready to end the meditation glowing in the peace of that kitchen.  As I do, I am taken to another childhood moment long forgotten and quite by surprise.  I am 12 years old and I am sitting with my Mom at a restaurant.  We are out to lunch.  The restaurant is strange to me, the tables are covered with starched white tablecloths, the silver is polished.  She let’s me order a coke, verboten at the house (who knows why we only drank 7up). It is located in a part of Los Angeles I don’t know where the boulevards are big and wide with names like Wilshire.

Stranger still the restaurant is shaped like a hat.

It is the Brown Derby.  I am transported directly to the meal.  I recall the taste of the first real hamburger I ever encountered.

It is heaven.

Thanks Mom.

Although I have never baked one, here is the recipe for Mom’s favorite cake:  Gugglehopf sometimes called Kuglehopf.  This cake is a bear to make, if you don’t have time and patience and know how to work with yeast or have patience to bake (like me) don’t bother.

I hope the author will permit me to use it one day, it is an homage to Mom, Grandma and Austrian baking.

This tender, buttery cake is based on the Marble Gugelhupf at Demel in Vienna, although I’ve added baking powder to give it the lighter crumb Americans prefer.

2 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/8 cups (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350°F. Using a cylinder-shaped pastry brush, butter the inside of a 9- to 9 1/2-inch Gugelhupf mold. Coat with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler over hot (not simmering) water or in a microwave oven. Remove from the heat and cool, stirring occasionally, until tepid.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Mix the milk and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup.

4. Beat the butter in a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. On low speed, beat in the confectioners’ sugar, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is very light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time.

5. Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar until the whites form shiny, soft peaks. Stir about one fourth of the whites into the batter. Stir in half of the flour, then half of the milk; repeat. Fold in the remaining whites. Transfer about one-third of the batter to a medium bowl and stir in the melted chocolate.

6. Spread half of the plain batter in the pan. Spoon in the chocolate batter, then top with the remaining plain batter. Zigzag a knife through the batter.

7. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert onto the rack and cool completely. Before serving, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Some Songs about mommas from the internal shuffle:

Every Mother’s Son.  Traffic.

Crazy Momma.  JJ Cale

Mother’s Little Helper, Rolling Stones

Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen

The End.  The Doors.

Momma Said There Would Be Days Like This.  The Shirelles.

Mother and Child Reunion.  Paul Simon.

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