Friday
Feb072014

Full Confessional Friday! 2/7/2014

Be it Venial or Mortal (there's no escaping Original), we've all got secrets -- light, dark, funny, sad -- worth bringing to light. The act of confession can be liberating, mollifying and entertaining. Contrition? Repentance? A shot of Tequila? That's your call, sister.    

Wednesday
Feb052014

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” ~Lemony Snickett

Note: Several mothers have written Mrs. G. over the years asking her to republish this particular post on reading with kids. Mrs. G. searched high and low through her archives and couldn't find it. Finally, it dawned on her that she wrote it for the PW site, so she headed over there and stole it back. She hopes you find it helpful (and entertaining) and can forgive her outlaw ways.


Mrs. G. loves books. Her house is filled with them. Her car is filled with them. She even carries a couple of them in her purse. While some people fear heights and the End Times, Mrs. G’s idea of terror involves being stuck at the DMV or Jiffy Lube without a book to read. Rather than sit quietly and enjoy a moment of self-reflection, Mrs. G. will pull out a tampon and read the wrapper.

She’s not going to discuss the past legal problems that have ensued as a result of her shady dealings with the various book-of the-month-clubs. It wasn’t until she got her first credit report in her twenties that it occurred to her that she really was obligated to buy those four books following the freebies, and that perhaps she lacked well-grounded judgment in signing up for a few clubs in her former cats’ names: Fuzzy and Hershey G.

Mrs. G’s kids were the same way. They were serious book lovers. While her son was a reluctant -- and she means reluctant --  reader, he finally became interested in sixth grade. Her daughter, however, had a wee obsession; she lugged around a book bag filled to the brim and weighing approximately 22 pounds nearly everywhere she went. Everywhere.

The Spiderwick Chronicles brought Mrs. G's son to the world of reading. And as soon as he finished one, he and Mrs. G. would immediately hop in the car and head to the bookstore to by the next in the series. Mrs. G. didn't even give a damn they were only in hardback; you do what you have to do.

When Mrs. G. was very young, she started the tradition (which she still carries on today) of writing authors whose books she loved, books she just adored. She wrote the authors a simple thank you note…three sentences at the most. Many authors wrote back over the last thirty years, and she has them all tied up in a pink satin ribbon and tucked in old cracker tin. Mrs. G. encouraged her children to do the same. When Mrs. G’s daughter was about twelve, she decided that she wanted to write Harper Lee to thank her for To Kill a Mockingbird. They mailed the thank you note to Harper Lee’s publisher in hopes that it would eventually get to her. Mrs. G. didn’t know at the time that Miss. Lee was a recluse, so the letter came back return to sender. Mrs. G. didn’t tell her daughter because she didn’t want to disappoint her, but Mrs. G. saved the letter because it was heartfelt, sugar-coated sweetness. The letter began:

Dear Miss Harper Lee,

I am twelve-years-old and am currently working on eight novels…

You would think with a love so all-consuming that Mrs. G. wouldn’t be such a basket case each fall when she has to distribute the book list to all of the eager students in her literature classes. This nervous condition is not caused by any difficulty in finding books she thinks are worth reading and discussing because, reader, there are just so many, but rather because every single year Mrs. G. has one or two parents who take issue with one or two of her chosen books.

There was the parent who objected to Patricia C. Wrede’s delightful Dealing With Dragons, because in certain religions dragons represent evil of the satanic nature. And just so you know, because this was news to Mrs. G, it’s the European dragons that are the worst spiritual offenders. Chinese dragons aren’t that much of a problem. Of all the continents’ dragons, apparently Eastern dragons are the most benevolent. Who knew? And then there was the dad who expressed concern over the swear words hell and damn in Katherine Paterson’s lovely Bridge to Terebithia. Mrs. G. listened quietly as he went on and on, all the while thinking holy shit... is damn even technically considered a fucking swear word anymore. Oh, and Mrs. G. will never forget the parent who questioned whether reading The Diary of Anne Frank might be pushing it, because, honestly, the Holocaust was so brutal and depressing.

Well, today ushered in a new complaint and it concerned the hungry wolves in Joan Aiken’s wonderfully creepy Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a Gothic tale, set in England, about a group of cousins whose parents go abroad and leave them with an evil governess named Letitia Slighcarp. When Mrs. G. chose this exciting book, no, she did not realize that it portrayed wolves in a negative light. Which is wrong, because, in fact, there is no record of any human ever being attacked by wolves and Native Americans revere them. Alrighty then.

Mrs. G. is sort of free and easy when it comes to books. When her kids were younger and she participated in play-groups, Mrs. G. was bombarded with advice on how she should do everything regarding her children–feed them, potty train them, educate them, put them to bed–and all that was just fine. But Mrs. G. remembers many of the moms read each and every book their child read before their child did. Mrs. G. tried that for a while, but her kids were voracious readers and she found that pre-reading their books left little time for, well, reading her own books. And she’s selfish that way. She just focused on filling her home’s shelves with good books (old and new) and kept an eye on what came home from the library. And this is how it’s rolled for the last twelve years, with no real problems to speak of.

Mrs. G. learned all her free and easy ways from her mom, another voracious reader. Mrs. G’s mom took Mrs. G. to get her library card pretty much when she was old enough to walk. And Mrs. G’s mom sort of left it that…and went off to read her own books. Mrs. G. was free to work her way through the best and the worst of it. She read the Little House Books, the Five Little Peppers books, the Nancy Drew books and the Trixie Beldon books…Mrs. G. just worked her way through the children’s section until she turned 14.5-years-old and discovered, have mercy, the adult section. And this is where Mrs. G’s literary life took a nose dive for a couple of years…into the abyss known as mass market paperbacks. She got a little taste of Danielle Steel and Judith Krantz and those creepy books about the brother and sister living up in that attic doing who knows what. But Mrs. G. worked her way through all this, perhaps, age inappropriate and, sometimes, so so quality of books and got back on the road to all things right and good.

Sometimes you have to dig through the trash to get to the good stuff.

So Mrs. G. gets crabby when people get so worked up over fiction. Do we have to be so sensitive about everything. She can’t be responsible for perking up the Holocaust or repairing the reputation of Canus Lupus, the American Wolf. She just wants to read and pass on her love of good books in a free and easy kind of way.

Here are some G. Family favorites:

Elementary

~The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
~Can You Guess My Name?
~Raising Sweetness
~The Catwings series
~Betsy-Tacy series
~Miss Hickory
~The Happy Hollister series
~Cricket in Times Square
~Strawberry Girl
~Time Cat
~Great Brain series
~Mr. Popper’s Penguins
~Chester Cricket’s Pigeon Ride
~Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse
~Phantom Tollbooth
~The Wainscott Weasel
~Hank the Cowdog series
~The Freddie series
~Mary Poppins series
~Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
~My Father’s Dragon
~The Chet Gecko mysteries
~The Bobbsey Twins
~Understood Betsy
~The Year of Miss Agnes
~Hundred Dresses

 

Middle School

~Trixie Beldon Mysteries
~Frindle
~A Long Way From Chicago/or any Richard Peck Book
~Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
~The Bronze Bow
~The Matchlock Gun
~The Penderwicks series
~The Mysterious Secret Benedict Society
~The Adventures of Hugo Cabret
~The Lightening Thief
~Sisters Grimm series
~Chasing Vermeer
~Inkheart series
~The Thief Lord
~Five Little Pepper series
~Ginger and Pinky Pye
~Wrinkle in Time
~Narnia Chronicles
~Everything on a Waffle
~The Girl of Limberlost
~Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
~Anne of Green Gables
~Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
~Swiss Family Robinson
~Kidnapped
~Reluctant Dragon
~Snow Queen
~The Hobbit
~Huckleberry Finn
~Adventures of Tom Sawyer
~Small Steps
~Ella Enchanted
~Black Stallion
~Blue Wolf
~My Side of the Mountain
~Crispin Cross of Lead
~The Little Grey Men
~The Sword in the Stone
~A Proud Taste of Scarlet and Miniver
~The Royal Diaries

 

High School

~Education of Little treel
~Great Expectations
~Oliver Twist
~Fair and Tender Ladies
~Endymion Springs
~The Boy in Striped Pajamas
~Star Girl
~To Kill a Mockingbird
~Of Mice and Men
~The Grapes of Wrath
~Frankenstein
~Jane Eyre
~Vanity Fair
~Emma
~Pride & Prejudice
~A Tree Grow in Brooklyn
~A Prayer for Owen Meany
~The Three Musketeers
~I am the Cheese
~All Creatures Great and Small
~The Color of Water
~The Screwtape Letters
~Washington Square
~My Antonia
~Jim the Boy

Behold the library card, your ticket to everywhere. Behold librarians, who won't judge where ever you want to wander. They are the rock stars of free speech. Get thee to a library today!

Wednesday
Feb052014

Wednesday 5...No Reason, No Motive. Just Curious

1) Who do you miss the most?

2) Mountain Hideaway or Beach House?

3) Do you have a special talent/skill?

4) What last made you laugh until you cried?

5) One fact about the last person you kissed?

 

Monday
Feb032014

Questionable Habits and Pet Peeves

Habits (Then and Now)

~Mrs. G. shared this particular self-abasement many years ago and she thought it was appropriate to dust it off for this particular post. This information has been disclosed to no one on God's green earth unless you read this blog six years ago, and Mrs. G. is acutely aware that she will be the subject of major mocking this evening at her own dinner table by her own husband. When Mrs. G. was growing up in the seventies, she was consumed by a Saturday morning show called Land of the LostIt was a children's show about a motherless family-of-three marooned on an alien planet teeming with dinosaurs (one of whom was a pet brontosaurus named Dopey) and monkey-like cavemen called Pakuni. The family befriends a chimpanzee-like Pakuni boy named Cha-Ka, and Mrs. G. loved him. Not in a Secret Boyfriend kind of way but in a platonic interspecies kind of way. Yes, Mrs. G. loved Cha-Ka, so in her spare time, when she wasn't pretending to be the almighty Isis, Mrs. G. spent her free time developing an official Pakuni language so that she and Cha-Ka could communicate. So they could talk to one another. And how they talked to one another involved Mrs. G. standing in front of the bathroom mirror and speaking fluent Pakuni to herself Cha-Ka. Mrs. G. would appreciate it if we (and by we she means you) never spoke of this again.

~When Mrs. G. was young, her Female Sovereign was Cher. Mrs. G. read that Cher conditioned her stunning, glossy hair with olive oil. Olive oil? Everyone in Memphis used vegetable oil, specifically Crisco. Mrs. G, smart enough to question the relationship between her blonde locks and southern friend chicken, used olive juice instead. Apples and oranges, right? She and her head did not get the desired results, and her hair had a slight green tinge through all of fourth grade.

~Mrs. G's grandparents' backyard was a childhood paradise. Mrs. G. spent summers plucking honeysuckle off the vine and sucking the sweet nectar from its stems, throwing persimmons at the side of her grandfather's shed, grinding muscadines into a poultice to cure Schnapps, the Dachshund, from the gout and dramatically screaming bloody murder as she picked grass burrs out of her feet, desperately hoping for someone to come outside and witness and relieve her pain with a banana popsicle. One habit that somewhat shames her now was catching fireflies in a pickle jar and smashing their guts on her fingernails so they would glow in the dark. It was the closest she could come to wearing nail polish as her grandmother said if God wanted us to wear nail polish he would have mentioned it in a little book called THE BIBLE.

~Mrs. G. would run and hide when the postman brought any kind of package to her house for fear it contained Styrofoam. Styrofoam and the squeaky sound it made caused Mrs. G. to break out in goose bumps and start salivating to just the point of drooling. She would run to her room and shut the door until her mother gave her the All Clear. Styrofoam still sets her teeth on edge, but she has learned to marginally control her former childhood reaction.

~Mrs. G. will not wash a knife of any kind for fear of dropping it and stabbing herself in the foot. She prefers to drink out of plastic cups because one time she took one of her infamous falls while she was holding a glass.

~Mrs. G's children have frequently brought up Mrs. G's inability to hold it together in an emergency. Miss G. went so far as to suggest that if Mrs. G. ever ended up on a lifeboat, she would be the first one hurled overboard to silence the crazy that can often compromise survival. Mrs. G. can't argue with Darwin. She would hold no personal grudge while she drowned or sharks chewed off her limbs.

~Mrs. G's son pointed out Mrs. G's continual failure to successfully complete the transaction of receiving a secret. He says when he or his sister whisper something into her ear, Mrs. G. always loudly asks WHAT? or WHAT DID YOU SAY? Thus destroying the secrecy of said secret.

~Mr. G. refused to articulate even one of Mrs. G's bad habits. He said he believed it to be a trick question and that, frankly, the whole subject was making him nervous and to please quit looking at him.

 

Peeves (Then and Now)

~Like every child on the planet, Mrs. G. resented asking, no doubt, a critical question and being told, "We'll See." Like every child on the planet, she knew "We'll See" meant no, and she wanted every wishy-washy equivocator to die a slow and painful death.

Satan: How do you wish to die?

Equivocating Adult: Quick; in my sleep! 

Satan: We'll See.................


~Drivers who do not give Mrs. G. the wave when she takes great pains to let them move in to her lane. Mrs. G. has accepted no one holds the door open for you on his or way in to the building anymore, but the loss of the lane change thank you wave is just one more sign of the decline of a polite civilization.

~People who borrow your water bottle and all but French kiss it.

~Mrs. G. will not eat an egg (even in a fancy breakfast restaurant) that has that white, mucous-y, watery, membrane-y scum on top of it. All other eggs are fine, so this is not egg discrimination.

~If you text Mrs. G. and ask her "How are you?" she will not answer you back, because she assumes you don't really care what she's been up to the last three weeks if you expect her to type it out. She believes that all "How are you?" inquiries should be made by phone.

 

~She can not tolerate a top sheet on the bed. In her mind, it is akin to bed imprisonment.

Feel free to share your questionable habits and pet peeves. If you dare.

Monday
Feb032014

The BEST Pasta Sauce in the Entire World. Don't Doubt It For One Second Until You Have Tried It.( by Mr. G.)

Little Nicky's (In)Famous Red Pasta Sauce

I first, began developing my pasta sauce when I lived in Florence, Italy, in the early 1980s. Inspired by a most awesome Bolognese sauce that was served at a little trattoria called Anita's. It was then that I learned that the base of their classic Bolognese sauce consisted of chicken livers. Since then, I've blended chicken liver into my red sauce, although almost every other piece of the recipe has evolved over the years.

In truth, there's little that's unique about this red sauce. It's simply one of those big, hearty reds of a sort to be found all over southern Italy.

The important thing is, it's just a blueprint. Take it and bend it to your will and taste.

Mrs. G's Note: Mrs. G. knows some of you are horking at the idea of including, much less eating chicken livers. You do not have to use them and the sauce will be good, but not as distinctive and heavenly. The chicken livers give the sauce a deep, seductively subtle flavor and Mrs. G. swears that if no one told you chicken livers were in the sauce, you would never know. Mr. G. didn't tell Mrs. G. about the chicken liver until after they had married, set up house and, most significantly, pooled their money in to a joint bank account. Due to the labor and the richness of the dish, they only have this sauce twice a year and always invite friends over to share.

Ingredients

~ Fresh garlic, yellow onion, and habanero peppers. The peppers are optional, of course, but I love the warmth they add. Start with no more than two habaneros. Next time you can use more if two wasn't enough.

~ Olive oil, red wine (Italian preferred) and balsamic vinegar … and don't forget the green pepper

~ Chicken liver (a couple of ounces), salt & pepper, oregano (dried)

~  Ground meat (Italian sausage -- I like the hot -- but any will do and ground beef). I use both, roughly  a pound of each.

~ Solid meat (Sausage, pork ribs, meat balls, etc.)...vegetarians and vegans LOOK AWAY!

~ Tomato sauce:  four to six cans. Note that these are the larger cans (29 oz.)

~ One defibrillator 

Baby Back Ribs...marinated in pasta sauce. They fall off the bone and mama mia. 

Lets Put It Together

Stage One: Building the Sauce

~ It takes a while to build up the sauce in a way that prevents scorching and burning. The nice thing is, while you're building up the sauce, you can also be doing other parts of the process.

~ Start by chopping the onions and garlic in advance. I use an entire bulb of garlic, but adjust to taste. I also use one entire yellow onion. But again, adjust to taste.

~ Chop the garlic pretty fine (or run through a press, if you prefer). Set aside in small bowl.

~ Chop the onion medium-fine. About like this, then set aside in small bowl.

~ Place a  sauce pot on medium heat.  Use a good sized stock pot or whatever you'd normally use for a large red sauce. We're going to have quite a lot of ingredients, so be sure you have something large enough.

~ With the pot on medium heat, add olive oil -- an ounce or two.

~ Add the onions and garlic to the stock pot and stir. Don't let this get too hot -- that is, don't let the onions and garlic be sizzling vigorously. Stir frequently and cook until the onions begin turning translucent. Don't let the onions or garlic start to brown.

 ~ While these are cooking, start opening cans of tomato sauce and setting at the ready.

~ Start adding the tomato sauce:  Once the onions are ready, you can start adding the tomato sauce. The trick is to add the sauce incrementally so that you don't chill everything down to room temperature. Initially, add about a quarter of a tin and let that come up to temp.  As soon as you see that start to simmer, add another quarter can.

As the sauce grows in size the proportion of sauce that is hot increases, so you'll be able to add larger and larger amounts at a time.  By the time you get to the final can of tomato sauce, you can probably just add the entire can. The key, though, is to keep it cooking.

Also, while building the sauce slowly like this over time, you can move onto other parts of the process like seasoning and adding ingredients.

 

Stage Two: Adding Flavor Ingredients

While you're building up the sauce, you can add the flavor ingredients

Add red wine.  I use a nice Chianti (because I like to drink the remainder once the I've added what I need). In truth, though, any red will will do. With the sauce at a point where it's hot (that is, you haven't just added room-temp sauce to the pot), add a couple of ounces of red wine. I'm pretty liberal with the wine -- maybe even three or four ounces. Unfortunately, I don't measure -- I just pour -- so I can't be exact.

Add balsamic vinegar. Again, with the sauce hot, add about an ounce (or two) of balsamic vinegar.

Chop and add habanero peppers. First halve the pepper and remove the seeds, then chop medium-fine.  A sauce this large can easily tolerate two habaneros without getting too spicy. Two should add a nice deep warmth to the sauce. How many you use and how warm you like your sauce is a matter of personal preference, so you just need to go with trial and error when adjusting this. But again, starting with two should do you well.

Be careful when you're working with habaneros. Don't touch your eyes, obviously, but also avoid the aerosol. Also, when finished with the peppers, wash your cutting board, knives, and hands. By the way, first-aid for pepper juice (capsaicin) in the eyes is to flush the eyes with milk. Learned this the hard way (ask Enzo).

Add green pepper (or two). Green peppers disintegrate, so you want to add one and after about three hours, when it starts to fall apart, you take it and throw it away. An easy way to do this is to cut the top off the green pepper, like you'd cut the top out of a pumpkin you're going to carve. With the top off, clean out the seeds and remove the pith (the white pulpy material), then place the entire pepper in the sauce. Once it starts to fall apart, it's pretty easy to pick it out of the sauce and dispose of.

Add dried oregano. I don't use a lot of seasoning -- just oregano, salt and pepper.  I use a pretty good palm-full of oregano, then crush it between my two hands as I filter it into the sauce.

Salt and pepper. Salt to taste. Pepper … well, I grind a pretty good amount of pepper into the sauce. As you already know, I like a decent bit of warmth and pepperocity.

 

Stage 3: Adding the meats

By the time you get here, the sauce it probably pretty well built up. You definitely want the sauce pot to be pretty much full and to be pretty hot when you're adding your meats.

Note that, except for the chicken livers (which are essential), the meats can be just about anything you like. For ground meat, I almost always do a combination of ground beef and ground sausage (sometimes just ground pork instead of the sausage). You can adjust any way you like.

1.    Chicken livers.  Long referred to as my "secret ingredient," the chicken livers are an essential ingredient, so don't let your aversion to organs hold you back. I also have an aversion to organs, but here it's very different. I was turned onto this approach while living in Italy, where in Tuscany their most incredibly delicious Bolognese sauce (the classic Bolognese -- not the crap you get in American restaurants) has a chicken-liver base.  Try this approach. It adds a wonderful rich and earthy edge to the sauce.

a.      In a blender, place about an ounce of olive oil.

b.      Add a splash of red wine (we need some liquid for the blending)

c.      Add two or three ounces of fresh chicken livers.

d.      Blend thoroughly until a smooth, consistent blend. You don't want chunks.

e.      Separately, heat a sauté pan. Get it pretty hot.

f.       Pour the liver blend into the hot sauté pan. Stir constantly while the blend rapidly turns from purple (from the wine) to brown.  This happens very quickly -- in less than two minutes.

g.      When ready, pour the cooked blend from the sauté pan into the sauce pot.

 

2.    Ground meat. Again, there is a lot of flexibility with ground meats, but I most often use a pound each of ground beef and ground Italian sausage (typically the hot variety). Cook the ground meat fully in a sauce pan, then add to the sauce pot and stir in.

 

3.    Whole meat. As I've already mentioned, the whole meat you select is completely up to you and optional. I use sausage a lot but only because it's easy. When feeling ambitious, I make meat balls (another recipe -- I'll share that one another time). Mrs. G's favorite is baby back ribs browned and cooked in the sauce. My mother used to love using pork shank (peasant style). I would never use fish, but I can't think of any meat that wouldn't do. What ever revs your engine.

Regardless of the meat you select, note that the meat will cook in the sauce. All you need do in advance is brown the meat.

 

Stage 4:  Cooking:

The sauce should cook for at least three or four hours from the time you add the whole meat. I always give it four hours, but that's just me. Use the following guidelines:

1.    Keep the sauce at a simmer. Never, never let it come to a hard boil.

2.    Stir frequently to prevent sticking or scorching.

3.    Be sure to watch the green pepper. As soon as it starts falling apart, remove it from the sauce.

4.    Keep a nice loaf of French bread or baguette on hand to slice and taste along the way.

5.    Give it three hours minimum, but four hours preferred.

6.    Enjoy.

 

 

Friday
Jan312014

clifford, part one, or mom, i apologize in advance and just so you know, my phone is currently off the hook.

I published this many years ago but I think I should put it up again, so you will be able to cruise with Cliff right in to his Secret Society of Boll Weevil years (post up on Tuesday). So enjoy, or not, most likely not. He was a piece of work.



 

You know that compelling instinct we all have to share something horrifying or repulsive? It's the first cousin to the urgency some of us crave for someone else to confirm that the milk really has gone bad (here, smell!) or that there are, in fact, clumps of green, fuzzy mold on top of the raspberry jam. We need others to bear witness, to corroborate the event in order dilute the horror, the loathing of the experience and lighten the load weighing heavily on the portion of the brain reserved for things no person should ever have to contemplate.

Clifford. Clifford. Clifford.

There. It's been said despite the pact Mrs. G. made with her mother years back that they would, in familial oneness, block out and not speak of the four years he was part of their lives. Sorry Mom, but Mrs. G, for better or worse, is a writer and some stories are just too good to conceal. It would be sad for the story of Clifford to die along with the two of us.

Clifford was Mrs. G's mom's second husband and, therefore, Mrs. G's first stepfather, and he was a perfect case study of a man who avoided adulthood by refusing to budge from adolescence. When Mrs. G's mother met him, he was 38 and still lived with his parents. Scratch that, he didn't still live with his parents. He had always lived with his parents. His mama still cooked his meals and did his laundry and lovingly called him Cliffie as she handed him his plate of eggs and bacon each morning.

Mrs. G's mom met Clifford at a bar called Trader Vics in Memphis. They barely dated a month before they decided to get married. Mrs. G's mom insisted that she loved him and, really, could do a lot worse. He had a job. She refused to listen to anybody during the intervention organized by Mrs. G's grandfather. The whole family sat around Mrs. G's grandparents' den and said things like, "For the love of God. he is a loser." and Jesus H. Christ. have you lost your mind?" and, "Sweet Mother Mary, we don't want him in our family." And, finally the most shocking statement of all as Mrs. G's grandfather was a serious tightwad, "I will write you a check for $450 dollars right this second if you don't  marry this goober." All in all, it was an exciting intervention despite the fact that no one in the room had any psychological training beyond embracing the family motto of Get the hell over it.

But Mrs. G's mother married Clifford all the same. In her defense, she has since told Mrs. G. that she married Clifford to get out of her parents' house. She and Mrs. G. lived with them the year following her mom's divorce from Mrs. G's father. Mrs. G's mother couldn't take the restrictions placed on her by her well meaning parents: they monitored her comings and goings, they listened to all her phone conversations as the one phone in the house was in the den and only had a six inch cord and they dispensed well intentioned advice from sun up to sun down.

So Mrs. G, her mother and Clifford moved into a small apartment in Frasier and began the section of Mrs. G's life she has labeled the fuckery years. Living with Clifford was like living with an insecure sibling. He related to Mrs. G's mom as his mom. He competed with Mrs. G. for attention and emotional gold stars. No one in the house paid much attention to him or offered him an ounce of respect. Even the cat ignored him.

Clifford wore velour jumpsuits with built in belts, he bathed in Brut cologne, he shellacked his hair with Aqua Net, he wore beaded moccasins in public and he had possibly the worst job on the planet. He worked for an insurance company. He drove around Memphis, meeting with clients in their homes to help process their paperwork and collect their urine. The backseat of his car was littered with little yellow plastic vials, each containing some sort of urine test magic tablet. When Clifford hit a speed bump, the pills rattled around like pee pee castanets. It was awesome to ride around with Clifford, his jumpsuit and complete strangers' urine. Just awesome. When Clifford wasn't in the room, Mrs. G. referred to him as a piss peddler.

Well, you might be thinking to yourself as Mrs. G's mom repeated over and over, so he was a loser, he was a bust, but he could be worse and, in truth, he could have been. He was never overtly mean to Mrs. G. and he certainly never hurt her. He was basically harmless, annoying but harmless.

But Mrs. G. is about to tell you something that is going to rubber stamp that Clifford was a loser of the most alarming, unsettling kind. She only told Mr. G. about it this morning over coffee, because she didn't want him to be blindsided when he read her blog. She had to cover her eyes with her hands as she confessed, unable to bear the possibility that that the stockpile of concerns floating around his head might audibly CLICK and reveal that his wife really is as mad as a March hare...in April no less.

Mom, Mrs. G. begs you, stop reading now and click over to your Diabetic Republican Grandmother's Forum. Seriously, go now.

Clifford had a curious hobby that he had apparently been pursuing for a disturbing length of time: he collected lint in his belly button. And when he had a beer or two, he would unbelt and unzip his jumpsuit and show it to, no lie, anyone who was in the room. It was a small ball of lint the size of a green pee pea and after he pulled it out for others to admire, he gently tucked it back in. Where this lint came from, no one knows, because as the Lord is her Saviour, who would want or need this information? Some questions are just not meant to be asked.

Or, have mercy, answered.

No one shed any tears when Mrs. G's mom divorced Clifford four long years later. He moved back in with his parents and Mrs. G. married another man within a year. But that is a story for another time. Mrs. G. survived revolving parents, and, truthfully, none of them were horrible. Actually, Clifford was that horrible, but he was harmless. He makes for interesting dinner conversation, though the lint ball is just between you and Mrs. G. Pinky swear.

Friday
Jan312014

Full Confessional Friday! 1/31/2014

Be it Venial or Mortal (there's no escaping Original), we've all got secrets -- light, dark, funny, sad -- worth bringing to light. The act of confession can be liberating, mollifying and entertaining. Contrition? Repentance? A shot of Tequila? That's your call, sister.    

Saturday
Jan252014

A Guide to Fine Dining by Aunt Snow

In adventure stories, explorers visiting a strange land find a trusty native guide to show them around, find food, and survive. When I came to Los Angeles in the fall of 1996, I was overwhelmed by its size and breadth, and I could not grasp its unfocused geography. The streets and boulevards were chaotic, lined with a visual cacophony of signs in multiple languages I could not decipher. But then I met Mark.

We met at the Shubert Theatre in Century City. I had been dispatched by Local #33 IATSE to fill in as a follow-spot operator for the show “Ragtime,” which was nearing the end of its pre-Broadway run in Los Angeles. The show had four spotlights – two in the booth and two truss spots. I ran Spot Two in the booth. Mark ran Truss Spot Three, suspended from the ceiling high over the audience.

The House Electrician liked me, so I quickly became the regular vacation cover for the Electrics Department. I worked both backstage and on spot for a couple of months.

A long-running show is a routine, with shows Tuesday through Sunday evenings, and matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. There’s a two hour break between the matinee final curtain and our call time for the evening show. That first matinee day, Mark invited me to join him for dinner break.

“I know a good place to go,” he said.

Mark was one of the best followspot operators I’ve ever known, and that’s saying something, because Local #33 spot operators are the best in the business. In LA live TV broadcasts, and award shows require absolute precision and lightning-fast reflexes, with zero rehearsal time and zero toleration for mistakes. The top followspot operators in Local #33 work so many award shows they own their own custom-tailored tuxedos.

Mark loved to eat, and his physique showed it; he was short and rotund and light on his feet like a beach ball. As soon as the house lights came up, we’d dash down the exit stairs to the parking garage beneath the theatre, and jump into his 1989 Camry. The driver’s seat was pushed as far back as it could be to accommodate his belly, while his arms and legs were stretched straight out to reach the wheel and the foot pedals. We’d be cruising down Olympic while the audience still waited for the elevator.

Mark liked all kinds of food, but because of our schedule, he limited our tour to West LA. Mark liked a traditional Italian red-sauce joint called Anna’s on Pico near Westwood, and place nearby called Killer Shrimp. He also liked Gloria’s on Venice, for Salvadoran food, and Delmonico’s Grill for seafood. He knew what was good on every menu. “Get the cannelloni here,” he’d say, and he was always right. We sat at the counter at Johnnie’s Pastrami on Sepulveda, eating thick luscious sandwiches, hot on a French roll, Los Angeles style, slathered with mustard, while he flirted with the waitresses.

And all through dinner, Mark would tell me about other great places in town. “If you’re working at CBS,” he’d say, “you gotta go to DuPars in the Farmers Market.” Or, “There’s this great Thai place on Sunset, just a few minutes from the Pantages.”

Sometimes the show called us in for daytime maintenance, to change light bulbs, repair broken fixtures, and change out faded color medium. If such a call came on a Friday, the whole electrics crew would go to the Century Plaza Hotel for dinner break. Mark had discovered the $14 All-You-Can-Eat Friday night seafood buffet. A bunch of rough-necked stagehands all dressed in black, we’d take over the dining room and eat huge plates of king crab legs, fried shrimp and clams, chowder and baked fish.

Mark invited others to dinner too; sometimes Stan, on Spot Four, or the show roadie Steve, or Bobo, the deck electrician. Sometimes we’d stay in the big entertainment complex, grab a bite at McDonalds and catch a movie at the multiplex. But Mark wasn’t much for fast food – he liked sit-down places with table cloths.

Mark liked the kind of places that were part of Los Angeles’ history, the places he’d gone as a kid. Billingsley’s was one such joint, a dark steak-and-chops house, with a dining room with curved, tufted red-leatherette booths and tiffany hanging lamps. The early bird special was prime rib, veal parmesan or chicken marsala, served with your choice of soup or an iceberg lettuce salad, and garlic cheese toast made with soft white bread. In its dark and moody bar quiet old people sipped gimlets and rob roys, but we never had a drink since we had to go back to work.

“Ragtime” closed in 1998, and soon after, Mark moved to Las Vegas. I changed careers and lost touch with my Local #33 friends. The Shubert Theatre is gone now along with ABC Television Entertainment Center, demolished in 2002 and replaced by a featureless office tower. I’d always meant to go back to the Century Plaza on a Friday night, but missed my chance.

Some of the places Mark took me are gone now too. Delmonico’s Grill on Pico, where I savored lobster bisque, is no more. Anna’s Italian Restaurant closed; now it’s a faux British gastropub, tricked out with old-timey décor to look like a place with history.

Johnnies is still open, though, and I sometimes drive by Billingsley’s. It’s in an imperiled triangle by the 405 freeway, crouched underneath the looming span of the new Expo Line light rail spur to Santa Monica. Banners festoon the walls proclaiming bravely “Still open during construction!”

 Mark loved Los Angeles with an enthusiasm stronger than a Convention and Visitors Bureau. Mark made me feel like an LA insider before the newness wore off me, and I still hear his voice in my head as I drive around town. He served up Los Angeles on a plate to me, and I’ll always remember him.

 

 

Aunt Snow is one of the most interesting women Mrs. G. has had the pleasure to meet. She is a true renaissance woman who writes about the need to celebrate life all around you. You can read more of her writing at her blog, Doves Today.

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