Archive for February, 2011

Chapter 54. It Ends?

Chapter 54

It ends?

 

‘To be born again.’

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks.

 

The drive south down Highway 880 past the shit treatment plant, then alongside of the port of Oakland and towards it’s much less than special downtown skyline, past the airport and finally into the always scintillating suburb of San Leandro is not particularly pretty or inspiring.  Neither is the eventual destination.  Doing the drive in a tiny red Alfa Romeo convertible makes it intimidating as well.  This crowded road serves as the main artery south from the port. It is filled with large semis pulling 40 foot containers of imported goods, just getting started on their respective voyages, running late, hyped up on who knows what, driving fast and hard and in a real hurry.  With one mistake any one of those huge trucks could crush my little red sports car in one moment of inattention and turn us into a coke can.  Add the condition of the road, as bumpy as the economy and seemingly with no budget to fix even a pothole, a steady stream of projectiles hurling upwards and you get the picture. It is not pretty. If that isn’t enough, there is the Alfa’s hard, no make that jarring ride, the result of worn shocks and 20 year-old foam in the seats and you have a bracing Tuesday morning road trip. Wearing a bandage that covers my left eye doesn’t help my peripheral vision as I navigate and the sharp residual pain behind my knee felt with every shift shouldn’t help my mood.

 

The view is as inspiring as the condition of the road.  A series of decaying brick buildings line both sides of the interstate in various states of repair along with deserted rail yards and grey concrete BART tracks.  These are vistas that would be common heading south into New Jersey from Manhattan, not here in precious Northern California.  It is a long way from the Golden Gate Bridge and those bright blue vistas of the Pacific Ocean. There are no redwoods or open space to be seen.

 

That is just where I found myself on a brisk cloudy Tuesday morning driving to work once again. Smiling and excited just to be there. I didn’t care how it looked or who was on the road. I was happy as a fucking clam. Which made me wonder, does a clam feel happiness?

 

Anyway the point is this:  All stories come to an end and it was time for this one to do the same. I knew this phase of my life was over as soon as we reached an agreement to start working at the coffee company the week before.  My personal odyssey of manful meditations and mental voyages came to a halt right then.  Just as light bulbs burn out, taut muscles decay, pert breasts and muscular pecs sag southwards as gravity pulls them down, everything ends.  Period.  Moments pass like sand in our personal hourglass until they drain out.  If we are lucky, we get to turn the timepiece over again and start anew.  I got that chance.

 

Change was here. Now. It started today.  I was working again. I was sure that my need for daily manful mediations would fall away gently like a scab that was ready to go and hopefully not one that was picked off too early leaving a scar.  It was all hard to believe but it was over.

 

The manful meditation path I walked over the past 18 months was one of the epic journeys that stitched together form the fabric of my life.  This chapter took much longer than I ever imagined or expected.  All of those days at home that dragged on forever.  So much emptiness to overcome and so little guidance on how to do so.  So many daily challenges and so very few answers.

 

It was a harder and longer trail than any I had climbed before. I was out of energy but not from physical exertion. I had no inner strength left, exhausted by a 10-year stint running a dysfunctional business.  Suffocated by time spent caring for others who couldn’t care for themselves and none left to grow in.

 

Our busy lives leave no time in which to gain perspective.  No time to enjoy the view, much less look at it, from an onrushing express train.  We travel in a blind temporal subway, a tunnel, safe in a concrete tube fine as long as everything works perfectly but not knowing where the train is going with no stops to get off, no cord to pull.  Then I found an emergency stop and the ride ended. Suddenly there was no structure to hide in. No work problems to distract, no one to motivate me. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do.  No emails.  No phone calls. It was totally and utterly incomprehensible.

 

This was a long and often confusing road. The path kept climbing and twisting.  Each turn became sharper as life came back into focus through small victories and major defeats.  Each step more steep and difficult to climb as it revealed new insights.  Each truth less false as it revealed itself slowly over time.

 

Before the summit of change, there are a series of vast plateaus.  When you think that you have reached enlightenment or employment, when you finally walk onto that plain you have been looking at as you climbed upward, it is not there. Instead, there is another steep hill that you did not see. Another climb that you did not anticipate.  There is no choice but to keep going up.  And up.  And then up again.

 

The journey revealed much in my character and opened doors that will not close.  It changed me forever.

 

My love of life increased exponentially, in fact, it became painfully acute. The power of my emotions now overwhelms me.  I find myself crying at sappy scenes in movies where before I had always held back.  Tears flow freely down from the corners of my eyes whenever there is emotional impact, usually during the revelation of a great truth or an act of real kindness.

 

I became a kinder person without sacrificing morals or fortitude.  If anything I became stronger.  Kindness was completely new to me.  I do not recall being taught about kindness growing up. Perhaps I rejected it during the pressure cooker atmosphere of my youth when it was seen as a crack in your defenses that would be immediately exploited by those around you.  Now I live it day-to-day and actually enjoy it.

 

I found a deep inner reserve of strength that I did not know I had. Forced by sheer will alone to climb out of bed on the days when I didn’t want to.  Apply for jobs that I wouldn’t get or want.  Walk long and hard when I would rather have quit.  Made to wander before I emerged from a mental desert.

 

I gained a sense of real spirituality. There is no time for spiritual growth in the life of a Jewish adult male. This was the first time I ever felt anything like this.  Organized religion never offered these kinds of teachings, lost instead in equal parts dogma and ritual.  Now I can’t say that I am a practicing anything these days. I can say that the teachings of Buddhist philosophy resonated with me in a way that my religion never did.  They sunk in right away, permeated my soul and are part of me.

 

I learned to accept and then embrace a good life.  Not what is publicly considered to be a great life, but a really good one. Realized that I don’t have to have the power of Fela or a 180 IQ or a bigger house, car or bank account to achieve happiness.  The sound of my saxophone became that of the sweet notes of Paul Desmond and Stan Getz, away from the overblown power of Julius Hemphill, Anthony Braxton and Coltrane in his later years.  I understood for the first time that great people suffer and often don’t live happy lives.

 

I allowed myself to become vulnerable, something that is both dangerous and exhilarating.

 

I slowed down. By doing so I learned to appreciate simple moments of pleasure that would have passed me by.  Here is one I can’t forget.  A tale of how the lion’s roar of the downshift beats deep in the heart of even the youngest manful man.

A few weeks ago I was waiting for a red light in my neighborhood.  A perfect day to drive that bright red convertible. The car may be underpowered, but it features the classic pinafarina studio sports car nose, shining chrome grill and recessed headlights that say simply sports car.   A very young manful man (probably no more than 8 years old) was crossing with his mother and his younger brother. I waited for them to go by. As he passed in front of the long red hood of the Alfa he looked at it a manner that is usually reserved for the subject of another well known group of manful meditations, women.  I mean he checked it out long, lustful and hard.  Just when he was about to pass by the front of the car, he looked up right at me and said, “Wow Mister that is a really cool car”.

 

I smiled at him and replied, “Thanks. I think it is too.  I hope that when you get older, and if you work at it, you will get the car that you want.”

 

He smiled back. Then he walked away with his towel draped over his shoulder and took his mom’s hand. It made my day. In years past I would have been impatiently waiting for him to get out of the way. I would never have noticed him.

 

I found myself uttering words that I never had before.  One particular five letter word appeared over and over in conversation with friends and family.  That word was happy.  That was new territory in my life.

 

I felt centered.  Calmer.  Stronger.

 

At the same time I lost all patience with those who are close minded, angry and do not listen to anyone or anything except themselves. I discovered that the freedom to walk away from an asshole and not to engage is true liberation. I can’t take them anymore. It hurts to just to listen to their voices.

 

When I look back on the past year and a half it seems like a blur.  I have thought about what happened, maybe too often, trying to gain a better understanding of who I was and who I became.  Some of the moments feel silly or wasted but there is little that I would, or could, have done differently.

 

I don’t know if manful meditation was the cause of these changes.  I do know that they wouldn’t have happened without it.

 

Most of all, I am relieved that the pain inside of me has subsided. I remain aware that it can return at any moment. I worry that fear and resentment will regain an upper hand and wrestle me back down. My anxieties will always be there hanging out behind the scenes waiting for an opening, be it the returning stress of work, the oblivious nature of those around me or too much vino tinto rojo.   They lurk in the background waiting to see if that skeleton key still turns my emotional tumblers, waiting to stroll back into my life like a pimp hooking back up with a whore he has known for years.  A grizzled veteran dealer approaching an old recovering customer who says, “yes man I have what you want…”. It is a fact, my anxieties may be gone for the moment, but they will be back one day and MM will be there to help me to work through them.

 

Above all I hope that I learned how to become a better man. I wonder, when did men decide they were no longer gentlemen? When did they take the gentle part out of the discussion? And why?  When did we decide that it was only important to win with complete disregard to the pain of the other side and the larger question of how you got there?  When did just win at all costs become an acceptable result? Well we men made that decision.  And by doing so we destabilized ourselves. Now when we suffer a loss, which is inevitable, we have no emotional base or historical reference to work from.  Our personal lives are not comparable to great sports franchises like the Yankees or the Lakers.  We don’t lead the lives of LeBron or Kobe or any of these images who are repeatedly shoved into our faces as reference points.  Modern men are not ready or prepared for change or loss just as I wasn’t.  In fact, we are ill prepared, having nothing to fall back on short of trying to win again and no win ever being quite enough.  No one says “just lose baby.”  There is too much black and white, win and loss, and not enough understanding of just how grey it is.

 

It was a time I will never live again. I learned to stretch my mind and my body.  Learned not to fear fear, but to embrace it. To understand that obstacles are fears, nothing more.  Learned to stop daydreaming about life while driving and watch out for that fucking bitch in the white BMW convertible that was about to cut me off and hit the brakes just as she did.  Who did she think she was?

 

Guess the old Zen spirit hasn’t subjugated my LA driving instincts.

 

So there I was, awake again and driving past Hagenberger Road with the top down spring air rushing through the car and warming my soul. Riding to work on a day where the temperature broke 60 for the first time in 3 months.  Even if was only 62 degrees out today it felt warm to me.

 

This was not a typical job either. I was on my way to work in sales for a company that had no marketing materials.  It had no marketing budget either, in theory or reality. No historical data to rely upon.  No computer, I had to bring my own. There was dust coating the desk and half the lights were burnt out in my office. Expired samples and paperwork from the last lost soul that inhabited it littered the room. To make things even better I wasn’t getting paid and didn’t expect to for some time until things got better and sales picked up.

 

In short, it was a perfect opportunity.

 

I drove south. The man-Buddha inside spoke to me one more time as I turned off the freeway and merged onto Marina Boulevard, the exit for work.   I swear that this time I heard a distinct Yiddish accent in his voice as he did, eerily close to that of my father.

 

“Perfect?”(pronounced poifecht), he said to me his voice rising in tone and authority.  “You call this perfect Mr. Big Shot?  Who are you kidding? Now, if the Giants would win the World Series, now that would be perfect.  But this?”

 

I had to laugh.  I mean, who the fuck was HE kidding?  Our World Series dreams ended in 2002 in Anaheim, killed by a rally monkey, dead pitching arms and coaching hubris. A world series win? This would never happen in my lifetime.  Maybe years from now I would watch the Giants play and win a game 7 in heaven. But I would never see it here on earth and with about the same odds of happening as me seeing heaven.

 

The final recipe.   A roast chicken to die for.

 

The technique for making a great roast chicken relies on searing and braising, like so many good stews and chilies.  You need:

 

A good size chicken, 5 pounds plus.

6 carrots.

1 pound mushrooms.

2 lemons.

 

Olive Oil.

Salt, pepper, garlic rosemary, paprika.

A roasting pan with a lid or one you can seal with aluminum foil.

 

Wash the chicken and let it dry.  Rub it with the olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika.  Cut the lemons in quarters and stuff it in the cavity along with the rosemary while you heat the oven to 475.

 

Start with the breast up for 5 to 8 minutes until it browns, no cover.  Bring out the pan and turn the chicken over. Return it to the oven until the other side browns, another 5 to 8 minutes. Lower the heat to 350, add the carrots and cover the pan.  Cook for 1 hour.  Lower the heat to 275, add the mushrooms. Cover again and cook for another 1 hour.  The wing should wiggle freely. If it doesn’t cook in 15 minute increments until it does.  Turn the heat back up to 475 and return uncovered until brown to your desires.  Remove, let sit for 5 minutes.  Carve and serve with lots of sauce and twice baked potatoes.

 

Songs for my funeral.

 

While this is far from an epitaph, I have often thought about what songs I would like played at my funeral.  So here they are.  There only three and if you are there, make sure they get played.  While they are playing please listen.  That is all I ask.

 

Kind of Blue.  Miles Davis.  Words fall short.

Ry Cooder.  Secret Love from Mambo Sinuendo.  A man.  A guitar. Perfection.

Just A Man. Los Lobos. Sums it all up for me.

 

If someone wants another tune play Waltz for Debby by Bill Evans.  Shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house after that.

 

-Some words of thanks.

 

First to my family. She who is Florence. She is there when I need her and is the love of my life.

 

To our two exceptional kidults, Olivia and Mark.  I would not have made it through this adventure without your humor, your power and your passion for living.

 

To my parents, Melanie and Harry, wherever you are for making me smart in every sense of the word.

 

My brothers in arms Mark, Fred, Mitchell, Michael and Ron.  Better than real brothers.

 

My faithful walking buddy, bigfoot white dog Kelly, the walking machine.

 

My friends.

 

My network.  Yes, it is important.  We help each other after all.

 

And to everyone who listened to me during this journey and anyone who ever read these posts.

 

I thank you all.

 

Fin-

April 19, 2010.

 

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Chapter 53 Monday. Monday.

Chapter 53

Monday. Monday.

Can’t trust that day.

The Mommas and Papas.

Expect the unexpected.  Plan for the worst.  You can’t force the issue.  The best laid plans of mice and men. The meaning of these tried and true homilies boils down to a simple truth.  Try as you want, you can’t control what is going to happen in life.

As per the norm, she who always has a busy week was out the door early by 7:30 am that Monday morning, leaving me to contemplate my ongoing quest for perfection in my approach to huevos rancheros.  Recent developments included a two-pan method guaranteeing not only a crispy tortilla but evenly melted cheese and well cooked eggs.  This morning’s version was stellar, topped with fresh cilantro and green spring onions picked that morning in ze garden and a dynamite roast garlic salsa made the night before.

This long-awaited day started with the absolute best of intentions. I approached the end of this period of almost constant home-stay with reverence and humility, eager to use these last few hours to look back one more time on the past 18 months of inner work and the learnings that I experienced. The goal was to spend the day in a sequence of complex meditations that probed my life, my strengths and weaknesses.  To examine what had been accomplished during this time, a very tall order.   So before the final journey to the mancave, there was a need to get organized. I sat at the dining room table, coffee cup steaming(organic East Timor hard to find but worth it), writing out a list of subjects to cover that day.  They were quite a group.

Expectations and how to avoid them.

Acceptance of limits.

Humility.

Friendship.

Death.

Anger.

Violence.

Failure.

Fear.

Obsession.

Choice.

Career.

Joy.

Parenthood.

Failure.

Success.

Why do Alfa Romeo engines always burn oil?

I couldn’t resist that last one it truly is unanswerable.

At that point I stopped.  I read over the list and laughed.  There was no way to cover that kind of ground in a day of even the best work much less in a week.  The only hope was to attack this list as if writing a business plan and that meant to prioritize. Didn’t work either.

After spending 15 fruitless minutes moving the subjects around and around in order of importance I gave up.  It would be easier to say fuck it and celebrate the end of this era by not meditating.  Go out, enjoy a glorious early spring day and get some gardening done.  Ride the bike.  Walk the hound.   But that seemed wrong.  Disrespectful of the process and myself.   There needed to be some kind of closure and that wasn’t going to happen sitting around wondering.  Who knew what might happen, there was only way to find out. It was back to the cave for the final session.

Opening the door once again and looking into the mancave I felt sad, almost nostalgic.  Staring at the bright purple cushun where I had spent so much time and the variety of guy posters (sports and music subjects, nothing changes) taped to the walls in a feeble attempt at decoration, it all suddenly seemed strange, foreign.  Yet if any knowledge was acquired from this work, it is that there is no gain found in sitting around worrying about what has already happened.  It is so much better to sit down and get started working to clarify what was learned and seal some of the knowledge before the next phase of life began.

After crossing the room, I sat down on the cushun one more time and began the last meditation with mixed emotions.   This had been a bittersweet period of my life. There is no doubt that if I had kept working it would never have happened. There is no way I would have chosen to spend the time I had engaged in manful meditation.  To make things worse for an overly analytic and fact driven mind, the results were not tangible.  There were no benchmarks, no red line issues, no defined process to judge by.  No, the value of this unexpected and unique experience lie in the pearls in these oysters not in harvesting them.  Even that analogy was far too judicious to sum up the strangeness I had experienced. Ceasing to earn a substantial wage and looking for things to do to kill excesses of time was so painful.

But looking hard within revealed what pearls they were over the course of that morning. Several thoughts emerged over the next 20 minutes of calm sitting.  The first one was that wasn’t the last meditation.  It was the final mediation in a sequence and the end of a period, not the end of meditation.  Meditation would be back.  That was a relief.  Changed the outlook of the morning a full 180 degrees.

The next realization was that what was learned would stay with me. With any sense of discipline (always my strong suit) the practice would continue to grow in the future.  MM was a base to work from during the next phase of life which, no doubt, would have its own sequences of ups and downs.

The core message of the morning was that the best solution to finding a meaningful meditation, and perhaps life itself, was not to force it. Learning not to try so hard was so damn antithetical to my very nature, always having been taught that trying hard was the key to success.  Now, it was time to back off of the pedal and feed the engine easily, not flood it (remember once upon a time there were carburetors and you could do that).  Easier said than done, but a good goal to carry forward.

Feeling centered I relaxed.  Then, without reason, my mind wandered off into a sequences of virtual voyages centered on an unexpected subject.  A celebration of the environment, a series of grand visions of great public places both inside and outside.  It certainly wasn’t a serious meditation as hoped for, but it felt good and there was no reason to fight it.  It was fun and it was easy to jump right in.  So much for discipline.

This part of the last meditations began with an image.  A llama.  A beautiful large white animal with curly fur perched on a mountain top at Machu Piccu in Peru.  He was staring out at the world and I stared at him.  No one and nothing moved.  We stayed there together for a long while.  Neither of us blinked.  I saw the green hills, the ancient outlines of a powerful civilization.  Felt the sun pushing through the clouds that danced across powerful mountain peaks one after another as far as the eye could see.

The images continued with a sequence of great public squares and buildings. My vision soared around the world carried by the wings of imagination.  They flew to an empty San Marcos Square on a winter’s morning, a sole figure, an old man in a business suit wandering across the brown stones in the morning in the company of hundreds of pigeons flying overheard.  A massive crowd came hurrying by, thousands of faces of all ages, races and financial means, pulsing with life, surrounded by the ever-changing massive neon signs, lights images and TV screens that surround Times Square which then unexpectedly morphed into Piccadilly Circus.  On without pause to metal stairs climbing up surrounded by the ornate lattice work of the chocolate brown Eiffel Tower looking out at the Champ De Mars on past Ecole Militaire and Montparnasse to the totality of the city of lights seeming to stretch forever.  The stairs continued up and up but the build, design and materials transformed into the geometrical patterns of the Alhambra in Granada Spain.

The speed of the vision accelerated flying back home, dipping in and out of the rotunda at San Francisco City Hall, the bleachers at Pacific Bell Park and then out again into the cave and by the drawings at Lascaux and on to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  On, on they went to Aztec Pyramids outside of Cuernevaca and then into the Plaza Central of Mexico City in the middle of a massive political protest alighting again in the middle of the world’s largest boulevard, the grand Julio 9 in Buenos Aires watching traffic fly by.  It became dizzying.  It was time to slow down.  It did.

I took 20 long breaths.  Then I received a final vision that afternoon.   I still don’t know how or where my visions came from or why.  They were quite a group; starting with a floating hamburger in a Boston hotel room and continuing through burning bar-b-ques, the violence of my father, my grandmother’s cookie dough, a perfect peach and it’s visual cousin a perfect tush, the birth of my son and a spinning beer bottle.  There would be one more today.

This one was different from the start.  It had an incredibly grand and quite imposing entrance. It began with an all-white flash, bright almost blinding and pure energy.  For a second I though I was having a stroke, but a quick inventory of symptoms found everything in order.  The white light stayed.  Was this a preview of death?  The afterlife? If so, why now? Then a tiny circle began to form in the absolute center of vision.   It was brown.  No yellow.  It grew in size until it dominated the room.  This was no circle.   It was not yellow.  It was gold.  It was a ring.  Then I recognized it.   It was really surprising.  It was a wedding ring.

Without delay I shot back to a moment 30 years ago when a much skinnier and younger version of myself stood in a city hall in small village in Northern France with their communist mayor and his assistant who bore an uncanny resemblance to Miss Piggy, adding to the already surreal situation.  I stood in this mediation, dressed in a just too small tux looking in her eyes (blue as ever) and putting the ring on she who became my wife at that moment’s finger for the first time.  I was getting married again.

I stopped for a second and wondered. Was this a meditation or just a memory?  Did it matter?

Before proceeding with the meditation itself, I experienced a feeling of anxiety.  After all, marriage is a huge subject and the basis for so many decisions that follow in life that are not taking center stage at that this instant.  Some anxiety about this decision is normal.  Not feeling anxiety wouldn’t be.  Anxiety about the moment and equal amounts of anxiety of what will happen afterwards.  There will be no other day quite like this one in life.

The meditation returned.  I take a long moment in the meditation to remember how she looked (very pretty and very thin), her hair (very blonde), what she was wearing (an elegant well cut white dress with a bright blue sash).  What was I thinking at that moment?  Can’t remember. Can I remember who handed me the ring?  Yes, my brother-in-law. How did he look?  Skinny like me.  Happy.  Who was on stage?  I can’t picture it. I do remember the look in her eyes and the commitment in our hearts and the burning sensation in the pit of my stomach.

I take some time out breathe deeply for a few moments before returning to it one last time.  I bring her hand back into mine and feel its warmth as I did that day.  I get the ring out where everyone can see it and slide it calmly and gently over her finger again. I stop, repeat the image, breathe deeply and dwell in the purity of the instant.  The mediation ends there and I immediately awaken.  Sun is pouring into the mcave, spring is everywhere.  I rise in balance.

Lunch follows.  Nothing fancy, leftover minestrone to be precise.  After I finish eating I am ready to hit the cave again.  But as I approach the door to the mancave I stop.  Simply put, I realize that I have had enough for now.  Time for the yang to this ying, the outdoors. I  celebrate spring walking the irrepressible hound into the hills.  As I do I reflect again upon the time spent in MM.  I am perplexed by these questions.  Just what is a meditation?  What is a reflection?  What is a memory?  What is the difference? Does it matter? Was I meditating when I thought about our wedding and the countless subjects covered in the sessions?  Or was this just a bunch of memories strung together to create a sort of personal self-guided rehab? Were these my personal days of awe?  Days of awe that took18 months instead of 10 days and what book was I inscribed in?  Or was this just a crutch, a way to pass time?

Does it matter?  No answer emerged.  Some riddles aren’t there to be solved.

Continuing up the hills and looking out at the bay sparkling in the distance it was a perfect moment to look back. The practice of manful meditation was a gift. It came out of nowhere for no apparent reason.  Now it is clear to me why it did. I had been waiting for it all along.  Any remaining vestiges of doubt that I made the wrong decision by leaving behind an exciting but carcinogenic career that had nurtured me while it was destroying me were gone.

I am confident that I will maintain the practice and that it will change as I start to work again. What was sustenance will now become maintenance and that is good. It is a living practice, not fixed but fluid.

Returning home to the safety of our overgrown cottage I put the leash away and fed big foot a duck breast chew treat.  She is grateful, gleeful as she chews it down.  Following her, walking through the kitchen I feel a powerful surge of appreciation and gratitude pulse through me.

I am grateful for so much. I am grateful that I didn’t fall off of my emotional bicycle pushed by the devils within that tempt us all.  No, this devil is not red.  He wears Armani, smells good, is handsome as hell and hides his tail tucked into the front of his pants just like Mick Jagger used to use a cucumber to emphasize his own pack.  He is a pro.  He is seductive. He wants me to ride faster and faster turn tighter and tighter until I fall. He could have easily overwhelmed me.  Instead I found my center. I didn’t lose balance.  I did not give in to my personal demons for this could have been a period of excess instead of growth.  MM was my personal road map to a better life.

I am comforted in the power of an internal drive within me that guides toward better things and a full life in the face of strangeness.

Looking back there are no great narratives in this phase of my life.  No great story line and thank goodness for that.  I didn’t get in a major car wreck or fall of my bike and no one got sick. The cancer I experienced was a disturbance to my life not a fatal occurrence, something that could be overcome.  There were no disasters.

There is another reason why excess didn’t overcome me.  I am fortunate.  Fortunate to have the power of choice.  Not to be torn apart by the economic realities that have devastated many men greater than I.  To have a home a family and a loving world full of friends and acquaintances to nurture me and provide sparks where needed.   Some money in the bank (even as we live in deficit, spending more than we earn, just like the country).  People who listen to me and give me advice as needed.   To live with a moral center and the strength to persevere on the days where it would have been easier to just say screw it.

I was at peace. There was only one thing left to do. It was time to cook dinner.  The choice screamed at me. Lasagna. A great lasagna starts with fresh pasta.  It changes the dish in so so many ways.  For one thing you don’t have to cook the pasta first.  That alone is worth it, saying nothing about the improvement in taste and texture.  That being said, here is how:

Get a large baking dish.  Heat the oven to 375.

Ingredients:

Basics:

6 sheets fresh pasta.

1 lb mozzarella cheese

½ lb sharper cheese, say provolone.

1 can chopped tomatoes.  Italian if possible.

1 bottle of pasta sauce.

Some grated or shredded parmesan.

Fillings.

This is a matter of choice.

They can be vegetarian or meat.  The idea is to have 3 of 5 layers be filling, two of tomatoes and cheese only.  It creates a diversity of textures and taste.  For vegetarian I like sautéed chard or spinach.  For meat, browned lean ground meat or sliced browned sausage of choice sliced thin.

Put a small amount of olive oil and water in the bottom of the baking dish.  Place the first layer of pasta.  Cover with 2/3 of the canned tomatoes.  Place a second layer.  Cover with filling and ½ of mozzarella cheese.  Place a third layer.  Cover with the second filling and the balance of the mozzarella.  Fourth layer.  More filling.  The sharper cheese.  Fifth layer.  Cover with tomato sauce and the last 1/3 of the canned tomatoes.  Final layer.  Brush with olive oil and any leftover sauce sprinkle with parmesan.

Here is the key, seal the pan tight with foil. This allows the pasta to cook as the dish steams. After ½ hour, take the foil off, increase the heat to 400. Cook 10 more minutes.  You will know if it looks done, it depends upon the density of the agreements.   If so, serve, if not back to the oven until it bubbles….

Making the meal was a blast.  My concentration was clear  and the dish turned out as harmonious as I felt. Unfortunately she who is never on time on a Monday came home late. No, even though it was back to work tomorrow there was no time to celebrate, it was just another Monday night.  Enjoy dinner in front of the TV, stay away from to much of El Rojo Forte (a very good Oregon Pinot AGAIN and tough not to have that third glass) and suffer through another Giant loss which stung even more after Sunday’s collapse in Los Angeles, wasting a good pitching effort from Zito.  Maybe he would make a come back.  There is nothing like a 10th inning loss after coming back to tie it in the 9th to leave a sour taste in your mouth.  This team just had no identity.  Another fucked year loomed.  My life was changing, it sure didn’t look like they were.

Tomorrow there would be change.

Songs of change:

Redemption Song.  Bob Marley.

A Change Is Gonna Come.  Sam Cooke.  Or Bobby Womack.  Or  Otis Redding.

Changes.  David Bowie

World In Changes.  Dave Mason.

Change the Lock.  Tom Petty or Lucinda Williams.

I Feel A Change Coming On.  Bob Dylan.


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