Popping Out With Martha!- Lemon Poppy-Seed Cookies! -131 eggs, 101 1/2 cups of sugar, 103 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 120 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 96 recipes to go!

November 9, 2010

Martha's Lemon Poppy-Seed Cookies

André's Lemon Poppy-Seed Cookies

Today is my second day of not smoking. I may or may not have the ability to write a coherent sentence since most of my internal organs are rattling inside my ribcage demanding nicotine, but I’ll try.

Lemon Poppy-Seed Cookies  have got to be some of my favorite cookies I’ve baked so far. They are quite thin and delicately crisp. A silky, buttery, lemony batter is rolled in sugar and grated lemon peel then sprinkled with poppy-seeds  and baked into wafer-thin crisps that melt in your mouth while delivering their intense, sweet. lemon flavor. I baked up a batch of these for a friend and co-worker who had donated to my AIDS Walk challenge back in March. She’s a fiery ginger I have named, affectionately, the Red Menace. She put the tin full of these treats out in her department and like a moo-cow in a pirana-pond they were gone in a flash.

Looking for a crowd-pleasing cookie? Look no further than the crispy bits of lemon-poppy-goodness.

And now, the final installment of the Chuck & Clothea saga.

It was late. Far too late for anyone to be knocking at the door. Well, anyone but Chuck. Pulling my green-fuzzy robe over my shoulders, I opened the front door and was greeted with a blast of crisp and cold Winter air and Chuck, my less-than-sober neighbor. There he stood with his drunken stare and tipsy sway, an all-too-familiar late-night event at my little shack by the levee. This time, though, something was different. His hand was wrapped in an old T-shirt and was soaked in blood.

“Man, André. I don’t feel so good. Can I come in?” – Chuck asked.

I started a pot of coffee and filled a bowl with warm water and rubbing alcohol. I had Chuck remove the T-shirt wrapped around his wound and place his hand into the bowl to let the alcohol disinfect the cut. It was quite a deep and impressive cut, too. It stretched from the base of his wrist, across the back of his hand and up to his middle finger. The bleeding had stopped, for the most part, but stitches were probably going to be needed for the wound to heal properly.

“How did this happen, Chuck?” – I asked.

Chuck answered with a long and harrowing story about a trip to a Southern University Football game earlier that evening that left him wounded and victimized.

He spoke in a drunken narrative- “I was at the football game having a good time and minding my own business. I was walking along with my beer and then I sees a cage. There was a little kitty cat inside the cage and he looked so sweet and cute I just wanted to reach in a give him a little pet under his chin. So I reach in and call at the kitty. “Here, kitty-kitty-kitty, I says. That mother-f**king kitty ripped the shit out of my hand! Then these two white men in uniforms started chasing me and I ran back to my car and drove here.”

I paused to think about the story Chuck had just related to me. It had been my experience that sober Chuck had little common sense and fairly low intelligence. Drunk Chuck had absolutely none of either.  In frustration, I explained to him that if he were at the Southern University football game, the so-called “kitty” in the cage would have been the team’s mascot- a jaguar. I have no doubt that a jaguar could really mess up your night if you tried to scratch it under its chin which is why you don’t stick your hand into the cage containing a wild cat no matter how cute they may seem to be. I imagine the men in uniform that gave chase after the incident were paramedics since you were probably bleeding all over the place and they could have done a better job dressing your wound than me. I also imagine that you are the dumbest man I will ever know.

Chuck began to laugh. “A jaguar? You serious? Oh, Man. That’s some cool shit. I’m like some crazy African warrior getting wounds and shit from jaguars.”

You are an idiot, I thought, shaking my head and escorting him to the door.

Chuck’s inability to use common sense, particularly, when he was drinking became more and more of a liability. He was making far too many bad decisions towards the end of our friendship and soon his poor judgement would claim another victim.

I loved my dog, Tennessee. She was a shepherd mix with a black coat and dark brown eyes. A patch of white rested under her chin. She never barked or even growled except during her visits to the veterinarian. During these rare trips, she would have to be muzzled as she would begin snarling as soon as the car pulled into the parking lot.

I remember walking into the vet’s office with Tenn, as she gnashed her teeth and shook her head trying to free herself from the wire frame around her face like a demented, canine Hannibal Lechter.  An elderly farm couple sat there with their tiny teacup poodle nestled between them. The old gentleman sat there in his overalls and fishing cap, watching Tennessee’s antics from behind his thick-rimmed glasses. Flashing a smile with his four good teeth, he announced- “That there’s a Goddamn Dawg!”

That’s how Tennessee got her unofficial pedigree. Whenever anyone would ask what kind of dog she was, I’d respond, “She’s a Goddamn Dawg!”

Tennessee, outside of the vet’s office was quite sweet. She was a healthy medium-sized dog around forty-five pounds. She loved being petted and would quietly and stealthily work her way from one side of the couch to sitting fully across your lap. She hated rainstorms, though. Particularly the sound of thunder or fireworks. On July the Fourth and New Years Eve I’d find her squeezed into the back of the media cabinet or shaking in the bathtub. She was my poor, scared “Goddamn Dawg.”

Summers in Baton Rouge were particularly rough on Tennessee because of her mutt fur. She had a layer of coarse regular fur on top, but underneath was a layer of  thick, soft, shearling-like fuzz. She would continuously bite at her skin and scratch until she’d bleed because of the discomfort her coat would cause her in the relentless Summer heat. The vet suggested I give her a haircut during the Summers to offer her some relief.  I would buzz all her fur leaving her grey and hairless skin exposed except for around her feet and tail. I would also leave a black mask of fur around her eyes and two black ears. She looked awful but she felt terrific. Questions about her breed became more frequent when I would walk, what looked like a hairless exotic hound around Baton Rouge.

“What kind of dog is that?” – They’d ask.

“She’s a Goddamned Hyena!” – I’d respond.

I loved Tennessee. She was a good dog and a good friend. One day in the late Spring before her yearly Summer shave, I let her back into the house after letting her play around in the yard. She was covered in a white powdery substance and was hacking uncontrollably. I stepped outside to see what she had gotten into and there was Chuck in his yard with a sack full of lye tossing it everywhere. I asked him what the hell he was doing. He said he was spreading lye to kill the bugs in his yard. Clouds of the poisonous powder wafted over everything burning my eyes, my skin, my nose, and my lungs.

Oh, God. Tennessee!

I rushed into the shack and closed the door to keep the interior from filling with more of the poisonous dust clouds. Tennessee was throwing up in the kitchen. I rushed her to the bathtub to wash the poison off of her. She howled in pain as I hosed her down. I could hear her struggling with each breath. Soon she calmed and her breathing returned to normal. I called the vet and told him what had happened. I said she had been exposed to lye and her breathing had been labored but had returned to normal. The vet told me to make sure she was eating and drinking and if she showed any more signs of nausea, vomiting or disorientation, to bring her into the emergency clinic.

That evening, Tennessee drank her water, ate her food and curled up on the couch draped across my lap. She seemed okay. She slept through the night and in the morning I took her out for a walk, far away from Chuck’s lye-covered yard. When we returned I prepared for work. From the bedroom I heard Tennessee let out an ear-splitting yelp of pain. I rushed to the kitchen. She laid there motionless.  She had died instantly at eight years of age.

I gathered her body in a large garbage bag, called my sister and asked if I could bury Tennessee in her backyard. I rode the twenty minutes to my sister’s house with Tennessee at my side. I cried all the way there. I cried as we dug the hole. I cried as we laid her in the cold, wet soil. I cried as I headed back to my empty home. I cried as I knocked on Chuck’s & Clothea’s door, Tennessee’s collar clutched tightly in my hand.

Chuck answered the door wearing a stained, sleeveless T-shirt and a pair of boxers. I threw Tennessee’s collar at his feet. I yelled a vicious string of obscenities at him. Words and phrases of such vulgarity I don’t dare recall. When I was done, I picked up Tennessee’s collar and returned to my house. I never spoke or looked at Chuck again. Chuck, in turn, never attempted to speak with me again, either.

Months later I moved back to New York City, far away from the old shack on the Mississippi levee and far away from Chuck & Clothea. A former student of mine and his friend took over my lease. A few years later the landlord closed the old shack for good. Turns out my former student had fallen into the wrong crowd. They had been using my old cabin as a makeshift meth lab.The toxic chemicals left a residue on every surface in my old homestead, making the premises uninhabitable.

I visited my old street a few years ago. My old shack is still boarded up. Clothea still lives in the house next door, though. Chuck had died. Shot to death by an unknown assailant in the neighborhood just a few weeks after Baton Rouge was overtaken with former New Orleaneans after Katrina washed the city clean. My heart broke a little when I heard the news. I felt partially responsible. When Chuck and I were neighbors, he’d come over when he was too intoxicated to make smart decisions. Now that I was no longer there, he must’ve gone someplace else. Someplace far less friendly or safe. He stuck his hand into the wrong cage again and the bite was deep and deadly.

In the last year of our friendship, Chuck’s neglect claimed the lives of both our dogs. This same neglect would claim his own life a few short years after that.

I’ve since forgiven Chuck for his actions. I realize now that Chuck was one of those people who simply floated on the surface of life without caring too much, thinking too long, or dreaming too big. Life was heartache wrapped in disappointment and now he was at peace.

Well as much peace as Madonna and Tennessee will let him enjoy.

After all, pay-back’s a bitch.


One Response to “Popping Out With Martha!- Lemon Poppy-Seed Cookies! -131 eggs, 101 1/2 cups of sugar, 103 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 120 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 96 recipes to go!”

  1. Tommy Salami Says:

    You’re a generous man to give your former friend such compassion. Alcoholics demand that everything they do is a mistake, or something the victim did to deserve it. And he was certainly one of them.

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