Here Comes the Martha Train! CHEW! CHEW!- Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies!-292 eggs, 215 1/2 cups of sugar, 218 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 276 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 1 recipes to go!
June 24, 2015
It’s been a very long time since I visited this blog. To be honest, I’ve been disheartened and pretty damn depressed with how life has been going lately. It’s gotten so bleak, I rarely even bake a batch of cookies anymore. I’m not the only one who’s been feeling this way. My husband, Dan has had a great deal of stress, too. Before I get into this, I should probably address the cookie pictured above. Martha has three different chocolate chip cookie recipes in her book: a regular, a thin and crisp, and a caky chewy one. This, of course is the latter and it’s not a bad cookie if you like caky textures. Personally, I’m not fond of caky, chewy cookies. I like a crisp, salty buttery cookie, but to each their own. It’s relatively easy to make and if you need to throw something together in a hurry with a high yield, these would probably not disappoint. I’m not sure if there’s anything particularly special about these– no unusual Martha-esque ingredients, no special preparations, just a simply chewy cookie. If that’s your thing, then go for it.
“My mother’s a fish.”
—Vardaman from As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The quote I’ve cited above has always been one of ambiguity. It is one of the shortest chapters of any book ever written. As I Lay Dying is a brilliant and heartbreaking novel by William Faulkner. In it, each chapter is told from a character’s perspective. In fact, each chapter is simply named for the character speaking. In the case of the quote above, the character is the youngest sibling in the Bundren family. Vardaman is a mentally disabled boy with no education. He spends his days fishing in the creek and copes with his mother’s death with these four simple words. Scholars have debated what it means. It is, for many, a very ambiguous statement, but one I now feel I profoundly understand.
My mother-in-law took a fall in her home where she lived independently. It was a subsidized dwelling for the aged. She had her cat, her car and her choice of which Walgreens she wanted to visit depending on her mood. Lawrence, Kansas is a sleepy little town dominated by the University. She moved there when Dan went to college. Later, he moved 45 minutes east to Kansas City. She stayed. Rosemary didn’t like change. Most people her age don’t. As I age, I can certainly sympathize. Change means things unknown, and the unknown loses some of its appeal as we get older. Unknown usually means struggle. Unknown usually means… well… unknown.
My mother-in-law Rosemary was a quiet lady. So introverted she was practically concave, I’d joke. She was kind, though. A simple farm girl from a town in Illinois, she married an aerospace engineer and bore him four children. The last one came late in life. It’s the one I’m most thankful for, mostly because I married him. Her husband passed away in the early 2000s, but he had left her and my husband on their own long before that. It was just her and him for many years and they were quite close. She suffered a fall a few years ago which landed her in rehabilitation. Falls do something to the elderly. Psychologically, it’s a traumatic experience. Rosemary’s fall was no exception. She spent nearly two days on the floor of her bathroom, kept conscious by her cat’s visits. Thank goodness for the nosey neighbor who noticed her mail had not been retrieved. So, Rosemary ended up in the hospital and it became apparent that a return to her apartment in Lawrence would not be possible. Instead, she would move to an “Independent Living Facility” in Overland Park. We jokingly called it the cruise ship. Meals would be served in the dining room three times a day by a wait staff. There would be entertainment nearly everyday. Ice cream socials, bingo, and organ with Dwayne. Rosemary was not happy. She didn’t like change and she wasn’t especially fond of people. This was, after all, communal living and she was not having any of it. She lived there for a time and adapted to her new way of life. In time, her cat Kitty-Diddy (named for P-Diddy – she thought this was funny) passed on, leaving her with even less. Dan and his brother visited her almost everyday bringing her groceries, medications, and clean laundry. We could all tell that she was struggling, though. She would put a good face on, but she was slipping away in conversation and her comprehension was waning. She suffered a few very aggressive infections which landed her more than once in rehab. The last time meant she could not return to independent living. She would need nursing care full-time. Her decline hastened at this point and soon there was a hospice worker assigned.
Dan would come home from his visits with tears in his eyes and simply fall apart. It’s been a sad year. This kind of stress can make for a precarious time in relationships and, to be honest, ours was strained. We mustered up enough compassion for each other to see it through, though. The same might not be said for our family members. Things got uglier than they needed to be. This happened with regularity. We both became accustomed to the steady cadence of disparaging remarks and cruel criticisms. This didn’t help the situation, though. Toward the end, our concern was with Rosemary. We wanted her to leave us without pain and knowing she was loved. She did. We had visited her that Saturday morning after Memorial Day and we could tell she was approaching the end. Her body was giving up and she laid silently, her mouth opening and closing as she took in what air she could. We sat with her and spoke with the hospice nurse. We left to fetch groceries for the house and just as we arrived back home, we were called to return. Her color had changed and the breaths were less frequent. We cried and held her hand. We spoke and hoped she could hear our voices. Soon the breath stopped and she was freed.
It was a quiet and lovely moment.
Last week, Dan and I were contacted by our friend Charla. For years we’d enjoyed our regular lunch meeting with the old gang- Charla, Mary, and Art. These three were long-time friends from an earlier time in Kansas City’s history and they welcomed us into their fold. Art was a tall, lanky, crusty, Jewish, gay octogenarian with a sharp tongue and a wicked sense of humor. It was always a treat to hang out with him and he made us laugh often and remembered our birthdays and the holidays with a card and a box of Russell Stovers chocolates. He had been trimming bushes in his yard while standing on a ladder wearing flip-flops. He fell and ended up in the hospital with a broken arm and leg. No one contacted any of his friends because his prognosis was good. That is, until a CAT scan revealed an area of his brain bleeding. The bleeding increased and surgery was out of the question at his age. As instructed in his living will, he was moved to hospice. On the way there he lost consciousness and never woke. I went to visit him and was greeted by Charla and his sister Jean. I sat and held his hand and spoke to him. His breathing was all too familiar. In and out… In and out… mouth open… mouth closed… mouth open… mouth closed… then nothing. He was gone. We wept.
“My mother’s a fish.”
Faulkner put these words into poor Vardaman’s mouth. To a boy with limited mental capabilities, he saw his mother slowly slip away just as I had witnessed the loss of two dear people this last month. Like a fish out of water, our bodies cling to this world, desperately pulling in what we can as we prepare to leave. I used to think this line of Faulker’s was a quirky, twisty bit of word play. It’s not. Like Vardaman, my brain doesn’t understand the nature of final farewells or what comes next. I have no concept of heaven or hell. I can only comment on what is before me.
Sorry for the bleak and somewhat maudlin post, but that’s where my brain is these days- I’m trying hard not to let my heart live there, though.
Maybe my next blog should be around Mr. Boston’s Bartender’s Guide.
Martha’s Creme de Cookie! – Cassis Crisps! -290 eggs, 213 cups of sugar, 216 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 273 cups of flour used so far- 3 recipes to go!
May 10, 2014
Black currants are soaked in ethanol to create a liqueur popular since the mid-nineteenth century known as Crème de Cassis. It is used in the popular wine drink, Kir, as well as in frappés and other concoctions that the hipster mixologists can go on and on about. To me, it tastes much like any strong port or dessert wine– a bit like sweet raisin juice. This liqueur adds a touch of subtle flavor to a rather simple sugar cookie and, honestly, I have no idea why it received its own page in Martha’s recipe book. She could have just added a note in any of the other sugar cookie recipes to substitute crème de cassis in lieu of vanilla extract for a more complex flavor. I assume she was running out of ideas and this seemed like something a bit more exotic. The cookies aren’t bad. The flavor, as I mentioned, is quite subtle. Too subtle to really be detected. This begs the question, “Why?”.
Speaking of why, why haven’t I been tending to this blog?
I don’t have a really good answer. I just haven’t been feeling “it”. I know that’s a vague answer. I know that most of you are thinking I’ve given up on this altogether with less than a handful of cookies left to write about. My focus keeps getting pulled away from this blog by other projects and I am a bit embarrassed by my lack of stick-t0-it-ness.
One of the more recent projects stealing my focus is an article I wrote for the local gay rag, Camp Magazine. The editor asked if I would write an opinion piece about how the younger generation of gay men might learn a thing or two from the older generation. He made this request after he saw my comments on an incredibly offensive article of a similar bent he’d posted a few weeks ago. I accepted and began interviewing several folks on both sides of the argument and this is what I came up with. Hope you like it.
9 Things the Younger Gay Generation Needs to Know
Ten years ago I moved to Kansas City to be with my boyfriend, now husband. That October we enjoyed an evening of fun in the West Bottoms where we entered one of Kansas City’s famed haunted houses. Kansas-Citians take Halloween very seriously. We fumbled from room-to-room, stumbling through the dark and twisting corridors, occasionally jumping out of our skins when a masked teen would lurch at us with a strained growl or well-rehearsed shriek. At the end of this tour of terror came an elaborate exit that required all guests to descend several stories via a corkscrew slide. At the base of the slide were several boys who helped the disoriented guests to their feet. As one of the young gentlemen extended his hand to offer me assistance, he uttered the most unnerving phrase I had heard all evening. His words shot through my gut and sent shivers down every one of my nerve endings. “Here you go, Pops!” he chortled. …Pops?! POPS?!… It was at that precise moment I realized I was no longer part of the youthful set. I was, in fact, “at an age.”
Now that I accept the fact I am hurtling towards my AARP years, I feel obliged to do what most folks my age do– offer unsolicited advice. As a gay man who finds himself a bit long-in-the-tooth, (This is not just a cute turn-of-phrase, by the way. After forty your hairline and gums are in cahoots to recede.) I feel compelled to share a few insights with the younger gay boys and girls. That doesn’t mean they should be compelled to listen or agree with me because, honestly, they probably won’t.
So, here goes:
- Yes, a lot of older men just want to get in your pants. So do a lot of younger ones. This doesn’t change when you get older. Even at eighty someone’s going to be eyeing your package. Mostly the backside towards the wallet area. Insurers, doctors, banks, mortgage companies, etc… they all can’t wait for you to grow up just so they can get in your pants. Personally, it was easier dealing with the ones who just wanted to get into the front. Most of them took “No” for an answer. This could all be resolved if all just agreed to stop wearing pants. Write your local congressman. Solidarity Now!
- Unless you know something I don’t, do not call me “Daddy” or “Papi” or any other term that may indicate we are related. This seriously creeps me out. It makes me feel like a perv and makes you sound like a lost four-year-old in a Wal-Mart.
- If we’re having a conversation and you pick up that cell phone to update your status, send a tweet, check your email, or text a friend, I WILL KILL YOU! It’s rude. No debate. Do it in my presence and you will have twatted your last tweet.
- The older generation did not cause AIDS. Yes, before AIDS there was a lot of promiscuity. This was not just within the gay community. It was the hedonistic- post-love-in-era of the 70s for chrissake. There was a lot of semen flying all over the place. AIDS was and is still an issue within all communities. No one who has AIDS or HIV “deserves” or “earned” it and no one has the right to judge. Many of the older generation lost more than hopefully you’ll ever be able to lose withinyour lifetime. So, when it comes to this issue, think before you open your damn mouth.
- Be grateful. If you can’t be grateful then at least be sensitive. Many of you live in a world that is more accepting or at least more tolerant of your sexual orientation than the one the generations before you lived in. The acceptance, legal protections, tolerance, and basic human rights currently raining down upon you were paid for with a lot of tears and suffering. Complaining about your upcoming nuptials or cracking jokes about same-sex marriage or “gaybies” in front of those of us who worked so hard to give you the legal right to wed and adopt, is a bit insensitive and smacks of all that is petty and cruel.
- Just like you, I still don’t really know what I want out of life. That said, I do have a pretty firm grasp on what I don’t want and by the slow process of elimination I’ve been able to narrow my options. That’s the benefit of experience. I’ve tried much of what life has offered me and know which things I would not try again and which I will always treasure. How’s that for advice? Keep living! There’s a world of things out there you’re just going to hate. Of course, there are a lot of things you’re going to love, too, and you’ll be devastated when you lose them. And you will lose them. That’s the price of admission for being born, the contract we all signed when we popped out of the womb. It’s during those times of loss that you’ll find true friends, both old and young, will be there to hold you up till you’re ready to move on. That’s the benefit of being a kind person.
- You will never live up to your full potential. None of us do. Strive to do it anyway. People will admire you for it. After all, it’s in that struggle you’ll discover how truly remarkable you really are.
- It gets better… except when it doesn’t…and when it doesn’t, you get better.
- Lastly, no haunted houses after you turn thirty-five. If you absolutely must, then don’t go to the one with the slide.
Doing Herb with Martha! – Rosemary Butter Cookies! -288 eggs, 212 cups of sugar, 215 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 270 cups of flour used so far- 4 recipes to go!
September 2, 2013
Rosemary is one of those herbs that can dominate the flavor of a dish if not used frugally. It is a delicious accompaniment to savory dishes, particularly lamb, pork, eggplant, and beef. My sister once prepared rosemary mashed potatoes. They were pretty dreadful. There was simply too much rosemary in the recipe ending in a side dish which can only be described as menthol-flavored mashed potatoes. It was this bad experience which fueled my reluctance to approaching this particular cookie. The recipe was simple enough- butter, sugar, flour, eggs- the usual suspects with the added ingredient of freshly chopped rosemary. Not a lot. Just enough to infuse the dough with a slight herbal freshness. The end result was a delicate, buttery, and sophisticated cookie that my co-workers enjoyed immensely. I was quite surprised at how remarkably delicious this cookie turned out to be given my bad experiences with rosemary in the past. My husband’s mom’s name is Rosemary. (Yes… I married Rosemary’s baby.) This has no relevance to the cookie or my story. I just thought I’d throw it out there.
I have been more than a little remiss in keeping up with this blog. I’ve no real excuse other than I’ve been depressed and frustrated with a lot of things in my life. My career, my household, my world, all have been spinning a bit out of control and I find myself longing to be somewhere else, doing something else, finding some fulfillment in my life that is currently and seriously absent. Perhaps I’m having a midlife crisis? That said, I don’t feel the need to purchase a sports car, have an affair with a twenty-something, or enroll in hair restoration, so it can’t be all that serious. Ah, well.
I just returned from my annual visit with my family over the holidays. My workplace closes each year between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. It’s mandatory that I not be at work and equally mandatory that I use my personal time off to do so. My husband, Dan, however, works in retail management and cannot be away from his job during the busiest time of the year. It’s the most opportune time for me to step away and be a dutiful brother, uncle, and son. It’s always strange going home. I step out of the skin I live in and into the skin of the person I used to be back at home. It feels awkward and strained. Every question asked and answered feels a bit inauthentic to who I am and what I believe. Perhaps I live a bit more selfishly here away from my family. When I’m with them, I find myself engaged in conversations that I would never partake in otherwise. There’s very little left to my hometown that feels familiar, warm, or inviting. One place, however, has never changed and during this recent trip, I stopped by this old watering hole to have a drink and a look-see.
George’s Place is a gay bar established over forty years ago by its namesake. It rests on the outskirts of Baton Rouge’s tiny downtown area just north of the Mississippi River bridge. It is a tiny dive filled with tap beer, video screens, a centered rectangular bar, a tiny stage, and a lot of cigarette smoke. The patrons are of all ages, ethnicities, educational and economic backgrounds. I had a regular piano gig there in the mid-nineties, accompanying several local vocalists and drag personas who would work the tiny crowds into frenzies every Tuesday night. Nearly thirty years ago, the barroom was purchased from George by two gentlemen named Guy and Richard who have kept the place humming with cheap drinks, gaudy décor and reasonably attentive bartenders/eye candy. Richard and Guy were both generous and kind individuals who attracted a slew of regulars to their establishment… me included.
Many an evening was spent at George’s Place drinking away the hours and listening to the inane ramblings of soused locals who expounded their political philosophies in fluent drunkenese. Over the many years I had witnessed strangenesses within the walls of this foul-smelling parlor of iniquity and I loved every one of them. The most unusual experience came in the early nineties when I had stopped by after a particularly rough Thursday at work. It was early evening and the sun was just setting across the river. I noticed a large tour bus parked outside in the gravel parking lot. I entered the bar and was greeted by a bizarre and, even by George’s Place’s questionable standards, disturbing sight. A dozen male and female patrons sat around the bar, all holding hands with their eyes towards the ceiling. Each had a drink in front of them and smiles on their faces. Many wore sunglasses and a few had sun visors. No one spoke. They quietly held each others hands and smiled serenely. There they sat in silence as a recording of Patsy Cline lilted in the background. I ordered a beer and sat among them, peering up at the ceiling, trying to figure out what they found so fascinating. The bartender chuckled. Was this some sort of a joke?- I thought to myself.
After several minutes, I noticed another man slightly older than myself at the end of the bar. He had been eyeing me with a bemused smile since I entered the room. I approached him and whispered to him inquisitively, “What is going on here?” He gave a short laugh and explained that he was the driver of the bus outside and that his payload was a group of blind and deaf students from North Mississippi on their way to a conference downtown. “They’re not holding hands, see?! They talking to each other!” I then noticed the tapping out of words between each of the couples. I began to laugh with relief and sat down to enjoy the company of the quietest most talkative group of people I had ever been around.
I shared this story with Guy during this latest visit. He remembered that evening as vividly as I do. His partner, Richard, sat in the corner with a large smile on his weathered face and a name tag that simply read “Alzheimer’s Patient”. This was not a mean-spirited or tasteless joke. Richard, over the past few years had, in fact, been declining into a permanent state of dementia. He did not recognize me but seemed happy to see me nonetheless. Guy and Richard still own George’s Place but have passed on the management of the facility to Richard’s rough-and-tumble lesbian niece. It was good to see them and aside from Richard’s illness, very little has changed. There’s still the buzzer at the door in order to be let in. This was installed in the late nineties after an early evening armed robbery which left several patrons injured by gunshots. The clientele was still eclectic and ornery, filled with many opinions but not many facts. The place still smells of stale beer, urine, and cigarette smoke.
It was all strangely comforting.
As the saying goes…
It may not be much, but it’s home.
The Other Martha Graham! – Homemade Graham Crackers! -286 eggs, 210 3/4 cups of sugar, 213 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 267 1/2 cups of flour used so far- 5 recipes to go!
September 2, 2013
When I was a child we always kept a box of graham crackers in the pantry of our home. I never really understood why. As I recall, none of us in the family really liked them. Mom never made cheesecake, at least not cheesecake that didn’t come in a box marked JELL-O, and s’mores were completely foreign. In Southern Louisiana where it’s easy to sweat in the middle of Winter, we didn’t spend a lot of time gathered around an open fire toasting anything. As an adult, I appreciate graham crackers a bit more. They have a unique and unmistakable flavor. Honey, cinnamon, and wheat chaff are pretty tasty when combined. Baking them is no extraordinary feat. It’s a simple enough dough to assemble. White and wheat flours are mixed with wheat germ, honey, butter, salt, and baking soda then flavored with cinnamon and brown sugar. It all comes together into a dense and extremely sticky dough. The most difficult challenge in baking a batch of these crackers is the elbow grease involved in rolling them out thin enough. You don’t really want to add a great deal of flour to the rolling surface of these otherwise your crackers will turn out too dry. Instead, you must roll out the tacky dough between two sheets of lightly dusted parchment paper. Using a fluted pastry wheel, you then must slice them into uniform rectangles and prick each one with the tines of a fork to prevent them from warping in the oven. Again, they’re not terribly difficult to make but they do take time and patience.
How are they different than store-bought graham crackers? Well, the taste is superior. The buttery nuttiness with a tinge of cinnamon spice and smokey brown sugar make the homemade version of these a far more satisfying and flavorful experience. I brought these to my office where they were quickly dispatched. Most remarked that they had a much more intense flavor than any graham cracker they had ever purchased from the store. So, if you are feeling like taking s’mores or a graham cracker crust to a whole new level, get out your rolling pin and be prepared to wrestle out a batch of Martha’s Homemade Graham Crackers.
Here’s something that’s on my mind, and my mind has not been a very happy place lately. Don’t be too concerned. I’m taking a much needed vacation soon and that will put me in a much happier place soon. In the meantime, here is some rather bleak writing. You may want to pour yourself a drink for this one.
Depression is a difficult thing to write about. Too often it can appear to be a cry for help. It can seem like some sort of cockeyed group therapy in a social media setting. It can be self-indulgent and self-piteous. I am going to make an attempt, though. I am not looking for feedback or advice. I’ve had plenty of therapy and am dealing with my demons the best way I know how. After all, they are mine, not yours. I am writing about this simply because it’s best to write about what you know. I know depression. I know how to deal with this part of myself. Perhaps it might help others with similar feelings and experiences to find their way out of the dark place. Perhaps not. I’m not a therapist, nor do I claim any such wisdom. I only know what I know. Here goes.
I kill myself at least twice a day. Once when I wake up and have my coffee and once before I go to bed. I occasionally kill myself at points during the day as needed. Killing myself is a personal mantra- a prayer of sorts. Of course, I am not literally killing myself. I am merely pronouncing my death. Sometimes I do it silently and sometimes I catch myself muttering the phrase, “André died today,” or, “André’s dead.” I am not killing the person I am. I am killing the person I could be, the person, who if given reign of myself, would destroy everything in his path. I am killing my saboteur. The part of myself that would like to see everything around me crumble. The part of myself that strips away joy and magnifies misery. He is an angry child. He is my father’s son.
I split in two at a very early age. Systematic belts, and fists, and switches, and tears, and sweat, and blood stung, and burned, and bruised. The daily application of these were intended to make me into a man. They did not. They merely tore me into two incomplete persons: one, an angry little boy filled with fear and self-loathing and the other, an emotionless adult bent on self-preservation. Neither of these selves were very pleasant, nor did either please my father. They were both incomplete, and therefore weak. Peers and other predatory adults could plainly see my weakness and exploited it for their own enjoyment. I was a sissy. I was a weakling. I was a mama’s boy. I could be intimidated. I could take what they gave me in silence. I would not fight back. I would not tell. I was a pariah. This embarrassed my father and the beatings increased in frequency and intensity. I learned to smile with each strike. This was the only way I knew to stop his fists, his anger. This was my childhood as far back as I can remember. Nothing came without punishment. Failures, real and imaginary, were not tolerated and embarrassingly broadcast to anyone who would listen, a testament to my father’s long-suffering of worthless children. Triumphs were trumped by my father’s jealousy and were soon forgotten.
So, that’s how I grew up. It was a blessing that my dad gave me the boot at sixteen. I lived with my grandmother for awhile and then my cousin, and then an evangelical art teacher. I learned to sharpen my wit to deal with those who would exploit me. I sharpened my talents so that I would be able to make enough money to get by. All the while I ached for a different life. I longed to be happy.
I spent most of my twenties working constantly. I was prolifically creative and moved about the country securing contract after contract. I fell in love with the wrong type of people, but made friends with some of the right ones, too. I self-medicated a lot. Marijuana was my drug of choice and I spent every non-working moment in a pleasant and emotionless haze. I rarely saw my family and avoided my father altogether. He, too, avoided me. We despised each other.
In my early thirties, I admitted myself into a mental health clinic in Indianapolis after a long and extended bout with suicidal thoughts that began to manifest in destructive behavior. This was the third time in my life I found myself in a hospital wanting to die. Something needed to change. I needed to change. I was discharged into an intensive outpatient group therapy and the work of repairing myself began.
It was during this time I became acutely aware that I was dealing with a duality within myself: one was the preservationist, and the other was my destructor. This is not entirely uncommon among folks who have dealt with abusive childhoods or traumatic events. You see, part of me was still the victim, the scared eight-year-old boy hiding in the filthy ditch because he knew his father was looking for him. That part of myself was angry and compulsive, filled with fear and mistrust and wanting desperately to run away. The other part of myself was the adult, the one who took care of the scared child, the one who was trying to make things better. These two parts of myself were in constant conflict. The child part of myself was convinced that everything I had built was going to fall apart, that I was going to fail, that I deserved to fail, that I was unworthy, that I should just die, that I should be ashamed, that I was not ever going to be in control, that I was worthless. It didn’t take long for me to figure out where these thoughts were coming from. After all, this child was my father’s son.
The other part of myself, the adult, was trying to hold it all together. Picking up the messes that my child self had created. Trying to mend relationships and build a better future for myself, making decisions based on facts and logic, not emotions. My adult self was tired from the struggle. Worn down and ready to give up. It’s tough to keep up with a rambunctious kid.
Suicide was always an option. It was an option instilled at a very early age. My father threatened suicide often, almost weekly. He kept a shotgun in the closet in a pink leather case and would threaten to unload it into his head. Yes, I think a pink gun case is unusual, too. Sometimes he would threaten to kill me and then kill himself. As a teenager, I would always follow this empty threat with “Or vice versa.” This was followed with a punch to the face, but it always felt worth it. This morbid predilection with suicide was telling. My father was an unhappy person. Truth be told, he still is. For my own sanity, I’ve learned to let go of much of the anger I had over the childhood he provided me. He was merely the instrument of his own sad childhood. The fists that struck me were from generations past. I have forgiven as much as I can, but I don’t forget. I can’t.
During therapy, I came up with my mantra- “André is dead.” It was a way of killing off that part of myself, that angry child, that destructive part of myself that I had wrongfully nurtured for so many years. It was popular at the time for people to say “Be kind to your inner-child,” when in reality, I should have taken a hatchet to mine. The first few years the mantra was constantly running through my head, a repetitious prayer. Each day, the compulsions weakened and I began to build myself all over again. I even began to like myself a bit. Soon, I liked myself enough to let someone else into my life. The right kind of person. Now, the mantra is only used when needed: once in the morning, once in the evening, and when I feel a compulsion coming on.
I still rarely see my family. It’s difficult when I do. The mantra is stronger when I am around them. My child self screams just under the surface of calm. My father looks at me. He is older now. The years weigh heavily on him. There is shame in his eyes. Now, however, the shame isn’t with who I am, it is with who he was.
Like I said, I’m not a therapist. I don’t claim wisdom. I only know what I know. I know what works for me. If killing my miserable self twice a day so I can live happily is what I have to do, then so be it.
July 26, 2013
My apologies to my readers but after counting the recipes in the book six times, I’m afraid that Martha’s claim of 175 recipes was a slight exaggeration on her publisher’s part. There are only 173 recipes. That means there are only six recipes till this cookie endeavor is completed. (I am secretly happy about this but still a bit miffed.)
Stay tuned for a new post coming soon!
Martha’s Minty Fresh!- Chocolate Mint Sandwiches! -286 eggs, 210 cups of sugar, 211 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 265 cups of flour used so far- 8 recipes to go!
July 22, 2013
It seems like every few weeks there’s a girl scout, or the parent of a girl scout, or an aunt, uncle, distant cousin of a girl scout hitting me up to buy cookies. I always try to oblige when I can. One of the more popular cookies the girl scout cookie-pushers peddle is known as Thin Mints. I’m sure you’re familiar with these. They’re thin chocolate wafer cookie that’ve been dipped in chocolate. I have a box of them in my cupboard. They’ve been there over a year. I don’t really like them. I’ve never been a fan of minty desserts. Martha, of course, included them in her book and since I have an adversity to minty cookies, I put off baking them for as long as possible. It’s really too bad, too, because this recipe is actually quite good. Mint-flavored-chocolate butter cookie dough is rolled out very thin, then cut into discs, and baked until crisp. The filling is a simple mint-flavored vanilla concoction that is sandwiched between two wafers and then dipped in melted chocolate. Not terribly complicated, although quite time consuming. They are tasty, though. I’ve always found the Thin Mint girl scout cookies to have a bit of an artificial aftertaste due the amount of preservatives added to maintain “freshness”. This homemade version allows the flavors of butter, salt, and sweetness to come to the forefront with a refreshing waft of chocolate-mint in the finish- a much more satisfying experience.
Yes, I haven’t written in my blog for quite some time. At the beginning of this year I stepped back into the world of theater and after three shows back-to-back, I’m exhausted and can finally direct my attention to finishing out this insane cookie challenge.
I’m not being entirely honest. Yes, I’ve been ridiculously busy with rehearsals, performances, etc… but the fact is… I’m sad. Depressed, really. There are a lot of reasons for this depression. I’ve experiences a lot of loss this year and due to time constraints and an ever-growing tense atmosphere at work, I’ve not given myself the time needed to mourn.
I resume but not so fast I resume the skull |to shrink and waste / fading fading fading| and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labors abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard tennis … the stones … so calm … Cunard … unfinished …
-Lucky from Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
I’d like to tell you about my friend, Mark. I first met him in the mid-1990s at Swine Palace, a rather innovative theater company in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where I worked for ten years of my life. Mark was a New-Orleans-based actor from Boston who we’d cast to play Oberon/Theseus in a very lush and stylish production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mark was a staple performer in the New Orleans community, appearing regularly at the Tulane Shakespeare Festival. He was, in a word– outstanding. He was handsome in a very world-weary way with a full head of neatly cropped gray hair and blue eyes that always twinkled with a touch of mischief. His voice was precise in its elocution with a controlled gruffness reflected by an intimate history shared with a thousands cigarettes and just as many bottles of scotch. He had a slight Bostonian brogue that added a mesmerizing cadence to the wonderful stories he’d tell that charmed his devout and appreciative listeners for hours.
I loved Mark… which wasn’t always an easy task. Mark was a complicated individual with a tendency to drink in excess. One of my first experiences with Mark was after a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream when he’d invited the rather large cast and crew for dinner and drinks at a favorite local restaurant. Drinks were consumed, dinner was enjoyed, and stories were shared. The grateful cast members thanked Mark profusely and began to trickle away from the festivities. Earlier, Mark had asked me for a ride back to the actor’s housing which I gladly agreed to provide. When there were only the two of us left in the restaurant it was time for Mark to settle the bill. He looked at the tiny slip of paper and asked me to read the number to him since he had forgotten his glasses in the dressing room. The bill totaled over $500. He winced then grinned and placed his hand on my shoulder. “You know, I didn’t think those bums would actually expect me to pay for this shindig.” he said with a mischievous smirk. “Truth be told, I don’t have a red nickel to pay for any of this.” I angrily picked up the tab with my credit card and silently seethed on the drive with Mark back to actor housing. I was to soon learn that this was Mark’s mode of operation. It was his test, an examination of sorts to see if I was genuinely a kind person, a person who could be trusted. He never put me in that situation again… well… not that exact situation.
Mark became a staple performer at Swine Palace. He would stay in the actor’s housing for months at a time while trodding our boards. Audiences loved him as did the company of his fellow performers. I worried for him, though. He was continuing to drink far too much and eat and sleep far too little. I remember attending a poker game after a show one night where Mark was absolutely soused in vodka. He sneezed and his front tooth flew out of his head. It was a capped tooth, but a tooth nonetheless. He grabbed it from the floor, washed it off in his drink and stuck it back in his mouth without missing a beat. It continued to hang there precariously causing him to whistle a bit with every word uttered. I expressed my concern that he should visit a dentist in the morning to have his tooth repaired before the next performance. He shrugged and continued to deal the cards and swig from the bottle of vodka. The next day, an hour before the performance, I found him sitting somberly in the green room. He looked utterly miserable and smelled of vodka and sweat. “How’s your tooth?” I asked. “Fixed!” he responded and flashed me a grimace of clenched teeth for my examination.
“Did you see a dentist?”
“No. I took care of it myself”
“Superglue. Works like a charm.”
As the Director of Education and Outreach for Swine Palace, it was my responsibility to book school performances of Season Shows. We were currently running The Merchant of Venice with Mark playing Shylock. Mark delivered a very powerful performance in this role and students were eager to speak with him afterwards. I had arranged for Mark to visit my classroom to address a group of my high school theatre students. I picked him up that morning. On the drive in he sat in the passenger seat dead silent. Mark was not a morning person. He politely and quietly asked to stop for a cup of coffee. I obliged. He was freshly showered and still smelled of soap and cologne but he still seemed haggard. When we arrived at my classroom he sat quietly in the corner and drank his coffee while we waited for the bell to ring and students to start filling the classroom. He looked a bit unsteady. I asked him if was okay. “Top Notch!” he replied with a smirk. The bell rang, the students filed in, and class began. The students had seen Mark’s performance the previous week and were thrilled to spend an hour talking about the play and his performance. Mark stood before the group and launched in a soliloquy from another of Shakespeare’s works. He paused in the middle of his speech, glanced at the faces in the room and found one very young and pretty female student. He walked slowly up to her and said “I bet you didn’t know that soliloquy was about blow jobs.” The class was stunned silent. I began to sweat. He then went on to explain in vivid detail the sexual innuendo of Shakespeare’s language in several plays. I imagine, in Mark’s mind he was making Shakespeare relevant to the average American teenager. In reality, though, he came across as a dirty old man who was freaking out a classroom of young minds. Me included. I ran across the hall to fetch a confused secretary. I asked her to please watch my class while I removed a guest who was not “feeling well.” When we returned to my classroom, Mark was demonstrating the missionary position to an audience of gape-mouthed students. I applauded loudly to let him know that the “lecture” was over. The class applauded, too. Mark stood up and took a deep bow. I escorted him to my car and quickly drove him back to the actor’s housing letting him know how inappropriate his behavior had been. He kept saying “I’m sorry.” Later that day I checked my answering machine to find he had filled it up with “I’m sorry.” repeated over and over again. Mark was deteriorating. Something had to be done.
The Swine Palace season had wrapped up and the actors and crew moved out of the artists’ housing and headed back to their homes. One stayed, though. I was alerted to the situation by the landlord who began charging our company a daily rate until Mark vacated the premises. In addition to my work as the director of education and outreach, I also served as the company manager and therefore it was my responsibility to see that the actor’s left the rental apartments in good condition and on time. I went over to the apartment and found Mark parked at the kitchen table with an full ashtray and an empty bottle. I explained he had to leave but he was barely coherent. I packed up his few belongings and cleaned the apartment while he passed-out on the sofa. When everything was scrubbed and his belongings packed and in my car, I collected Mark. As I began to drive him towards New Orleans, he confided that he had no home there anymore. He had let his lease go unpaid and therefore had been officially evicted and his possessions confiscated. I didn’t quite know what to do. I brought Mark to my home and set him up in my guest room until I could figure out what to do next. Mark continued to drink heavily. He looked sick. He was going to die if the drinking didn’t stop. I made inquiries at all the treatment facilities in the Greater New Orleans area. I was looking for a detox program that would assist him in transitional housing after treatment. It would also need to be done gratis, as Mark had no financial resources. I placed him on a waiting list for a bed in a detox center in the heart of New Orleans and a few days later I received a call they were ready for him. I didn’t discuss any of this with Mark as he was barely conscious due to his toxic state. I drove him to the facility and checked him in. Only when we arrived did he realize what was going on and he wasn’t happy about it. He protested that he was just having a bad spell and didn’t need any help. I pointed out that he was homeless and would die in a matter of days if he didn’t take advantage of this opportunity at that moment. He begrudgingly agreed
Before Mark completed his treatment, our director, BK, removed him from the transitional home to have him act in our next season. I was furious and spoke out against the director’s short-sighted and selfish decision. Mark relapsed and soon he was barely functioning. Mark and I shared the stage that season in a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Mark played Lucky, a silent slave to a cruel master. His master bade him to think aloud and Lucky spewed out a jumble of thoughts and images. Lucky’s mind was crumbling. So was Mark’s. After the show closed, I did not see Mark for another five years.
Mark eventually did find sobriety. He completed treatment and transitional housing and then moved to a quiet corner apartment in the Bywater neighborhood just outside of the French Quarter. He worked as a cook at a local restaurant. He rolled his own cigarettes to save on cash and drank soda. He survived Katrina. He endured his best friend, Gavin’s unexpected and untimely death. He remained strong and sober. He even began to act again. He reprised the role of Lucky in a nationally acclaimed production of Godot performed outside on the washed-out emptiness of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. He appeared in a handful of shows at Tulane Shakespeare.
Mark passed away in January. He hung himself in that tiny apartment in the Bywater. He left no note. He was tired and ready to be done with this world. Those he left behind were saddened but not terribly surprised. He was the lead character in his own tragedy. I felt guilty. Still do. I can’t help but wonder if things would’ve turned out differently if I’d been a better friend. I don’t know if it would’ve made much of a difference. Mark had his own way of doing things. This was his way of saying he’d had enough. I just wish we’d had a chance to say goodbye.
Everything But The Kitchen Sink, Martha!- Fruit & Nut Cookies! -285 eggs, 209 1/2 cups of sugar, 210 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 264 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 9 recipes to go!
January 27, 2013
If you are looking for a cookie with an impressive list of ingredients, then look no further than Martha’s Fruit & Nut Cookies. Flaked coconut, macadamia nuts, dried apricots, dates, and pistachios are the featured players in this sweet and simple drop cookie. They are dense and chewy and in spite of the extensive procurement of ingredients , they are a breeze to bake. The fruit and nuts are ground in a food processor and then combined with white and light brown sugar, flour, salt, butter, eggs, vanilla, and baking soda. They are then dropped onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and flattened with the palm of your hand. Bake them at 350• for 12-15 minutes and… Voila! Cookies! Not just cookies, but delicious cookies! So, next time you’re looking to impress a group of friends with a sweet and unique cookie, give this one a try.
Lately it seems that every time I begin a post, I start off with an apology for my tardiness. 2012 was a difficult year. Between the wedding, the six-month job assignment, the changing of jobs, the remodeling, the weight loss, etc… I’ve run out of steam. I’ve been in a low-grade depression through most of the year but I’m doing what I can to pull myself out of it. Disciplining myself to write more will certainly help. Folks who read this blog have told me how much they enjoy my stories and hope that I get around to writing more of those and fewer essays. Being a people-pleaser, I will oblige.
As many of you know, I was briefly a clown in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth®. Many years before my adventures under the big top I’d formed a circus all my own, fated to perform only once… and what a performance it was. It was the sweltering Summer of 1977. The red, white, and blue paint that adorned the fire hydrants on every street from the previous year’s bicentennial celebration had begun to crack, fade, and peel away. My sister, Nicole, was seven years old. I was nine. Each Summer, dad would whisk our mother away to some exotic location like Montréal, Orlando, or Louisville to attend his company’s Life Insurance convention/Bacchanal. This would require kenneling us with whichever relative would have us. This worked best when they’d separate me and my three younger sisters into more manageable groups of two.
My dad had a sister, Dottie who’d married a gentleman from Mexico named Trinidad- Uncle Trinnie. They had two daughters, Penny and Rhonda, who were slightly older than myself. A few years after our visit that Summer, Aunt Dottie gave birth to their third child, a son named Trinnie Jr.. They also had a pet skunk named Pepper. The skunk, of course, had it’s scent glands removed. The same could not be said for Uncle Trinnie. He had an Old Spice addiction. Aunt Dottie and Uncle Trinnie had just built their dream house only a few blocks away from their previous home in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Louisiana. They had a spacious corner lot protected by a brick and wrought-iron fence. The house had three bedrooms and three bathrooms with an entire corner of the home devoted to my Aunt Dottie’s in-house business- a real Southern-style beauty parlor and gossip den. On a side note, my Aunt Dottie cut and styled my and my sisters’ hair whenever we came to visit. Having developed curly hair in my adolescence, Dottie decided to tease it with a hair-pick until it reached maximum volume. I went through most of my pubescent years with a thick mound of frizz on my head that resembled Nancy from the comic strip bearing the same name. Thanks to my Aunt Dottie’s beauty skills and her utter lack of aesthetic, I was indeed, a “Nancy” boy. I am quite certain this was why I began to lose my hair at the age of sixteen. It fell out in protest.
Aunt Dottie and Uncle Trinnie welcomed my sister and me to their home. We set ourselves up in one of the bedrooms and played enthusiastically with the skunk, Pepper, until in thirty minutes time, we were bored out of our skulls. Penny would stop chatting on the phone with friends to check in on us from time-to-time. Rhonda and my sister would play dress-up, only stopping for me to critique the series of ensembles they’d change in five-minute intervals. Uncle Trinnie would be away at work and Dottie would be loudly cutting hair in the parlor. I sat there in the den listening to the drone of the television, the hum of the air conditioner, and the loud cackling of elderly women from Aunt Dottie’s house of beauty. In the face of two-weeks of utter boredom, I had an idea. The Muscular Dystrophy Association had been encouraging kids to put on backyard carnivals to help raise funds for the cause. This was before the fear of personal injury lawsuits put an end to having strangers over to your home.
The idea of a carnival didn’t seem like something I could really sink my teeth into, though. I found the notion a bit passé. We could, however, perform a backyard circus. Rhonda had an entire trunk filled with old dance recital costumes. Aunt Dottie had enough makeup and wigs for a busload of clowns, and for Christ’s sake, we had a freakin’ skunk! Brilliant!
I assembled Rhonda and my sister around me to relay the idea. They were inspired. A chance for them to wear heavy makeup, sequins and parade about in front of a paying and captive audience? Abso-freakin-lutely!
The show itself was promoted. Costume pieces were pulled out of every trunk and closet. Music was chosen, make-up applied, and tickets sold to every neighbor on the block who had the misfortune of being home that day.
In six hours we planned, marketed, and performed a circus complete with an exotic animal act. Truth be told, it wasn’t terrible and we raised nearly fifteen dollars for muscular dystrophy.
I’ve thought a lot about that Summer recently and years ago I co-wrote play about a group of kids putting on a circus in their backyard. It was called Circus Berzerkus.
I hadn’t seen Penny, Rhonda, Aunt Dottie, or Uncle Trinnie in many, many years until my most recent trip home. My sister, Nicole and I met up with Rhonda and Penny for a few drinks. Penny is a C.P.A. in her fifties with two grown boys of her own. She recently became a grandmother. One of her sons, Shane AKA- Suga Shane, a rising rap artist, with as many tattoos as there are naughty words in his lyrics, recently fathered an adorable little boy, who as of this moment, sports no tattoos or piercings.
Rhonda recently enjoyed her daughter’s marriage to the son and heir of the wealthy owners of the largest beer distribution company in the Southeast region. I was unable to attend the wedding which my sister described as “the most expensive and decadent wedding she’d ever attended.” Shortly after the wedding, Rhonda’s husband of twenty-five years had an intense and emotional mid-life crisis, leaving Rhonda and their teenage son so he could pursue the life of a brooding middle-aged bachelor. Needless to say, we drank quite a bit that evening.
A few days later, my sister and I went to visit Aunt Dottie and Uncle Trinnie. They still live in that same old house on a double corner lot in Metairie. The beauty parlor is still humming along and Dottie has seen to it that her hair remains unnaturally dark for a woman her age. Uncle Trinnie, still smells of Old Spice or English Leather. His hair still remains pulled back in a tight pompadour, however, Dottie has allowed it to gray a bit. He looks distinguished, not unlike the world’s most interesting man from the Dos Equis commercials.
Trinnie Jr. , now a dad in his thirties was, as per usual, in jail.
These visits did not improve my low-grade depression. In fact, they may have turned up the volume on my personal grief-o-meter. I felt older. I looked around me and the faces from my youth had grown grayer, pained, and weathered.
Am I really that much older now?
Do I have another circus in me?
Maybe I need a pet skunk.