Melissa’s Recipe and Map Home

July 28, 2015

IMG_2123In my kitchen, there is a box. It’s suppose to be for Take-Out Menus. In fact, it says “Take-Out” in hand-painted letters on it. The interior is slightly larger than a piece of paper, and thick enough to hold about half a ream. I don’t much order take-out, so I have co-opted the box for recipes. I often find recipes online and print them out, so it’s kind of the perfect size for them.

In the box, there are many pristine pieces of paper, recipes for dishes I have never made. And then there are a whole group of stained, smeared, water and oil-drop-laden, “well-loved” recipes. Each one of them I can identify by the appearance of the paper-rips, ads on the back, stains, notes scrawled in corners, etc. There are the easy ones, your red velvet, your pudding cake, the Viactiv ad from Good Housekeeping that screams ‘Best Chocolate Brownie Recipe” on the other side. Though even I’ll admit the oil-stained corn dog and corn fritter recipes do get confused easily.

And, somewhere near the top of that box is a very important, small, nondescript, piece of paper. It’s not an index card or a piece of looseleaf; it’s just a fragment of what used to be called “typing paper.” It has no lines and there are surprisingly no stains on it. But, the paper is discoloring from age, so it isn’t really white anymore. It doesn’t look like anything to the untrained eye, just a torn scrap of paper with a short list of 6 things on it:

2 sticks butter
3/4 the sugars
2 eggs
vanilla
2-2 1/2 flour
1 baking soda

The other ingredients are implied, so are the instructions. This IS a recipe. It is a recipe from my sister Melissa. It is HER recipe. A cookie recipe that my entire family knows (not by the ingredients, but by the end result). Melissa has been making this recipe since I can remember. And, if you don’t know how to mix it, what to add to it, or what temp and how long to bake it, you are not meant to. I have made my own variation by adding two things, but I do know how to make Melissa’s recipe. And, I am honored to have this, this scrap of paper with her unmistakeable handwriting on it.

When things get overwhelming, Melissa has a saying: “When you don’t know where to go, go back to the beginning.” The beginning for us was always Cape May, NJ where we grew up. It was home. Sometimes, however, going back there isn’t possible.

And even though we now live just a few miles apart, sometimes going to see Melissa isn’t possible either. But, these cookies, to me, are comfort; they are home. I don’t need or want milk with them. And I will only eat one or two each day (though I make giant cookies, so that’s like 4 regular). I find myself reaching for this recipe often these days. I never have to look far, it’s always near the top of the box.Making the dough and baking them has become almost zen-like for me. I don’t look at the recipe anymore, but having it there on the counter while I bake makes me happy.

Yesterday, I texted Melissa, asking her if she wanted to come over and bake cookies with me. I didn’t specify what kind, she knows. Her response, which was not surprising to me (or her, I imagine): “I’m baking cookies right now.”

Shitty laundry day

December 14, 2012

It started out as an awful enough day. The bathroom sink clogged fist thing in the morning. Not wanting to come home to this mess, I threw on some clothes and a hat and headed to the Walgreen’s, not two-blocks away. I found the industrial-strength blob-in-a-can and headed to the checkout counter. While standing on line – a very long line – I thought, “get some cash so you can go to the laundromat later.” As I approached the cashier, that thought instantly left my head as she told me I actually had earned enough ‘Balance Rewards’ points on my ‘Balance Rewards’ card for a discount reward. Did I want to redeem them now, or save them for a bigger reward? I  remembered that I’d be picking up 4 prescriptions tomorrow, and those are each worth like 500 points, the more points, the more discount reward, so I wouldn’t cash in my reward today, I’d wait for the big payoff!

I left Walgreen’s and half-way down the street realized I never got cash fro the laundromat; I was so caught up in the exciting rat race of Balance Rewards, I had forgotten. As I stepped in dog shit, turning to cross the street, my excitement of possibly saving $10 off my next Walgreen’s bill waned.

Arriving home, I left my shit-smeared shoes on the landing of the fire escape, below my small bathroom window. It being rather cold, the window is kept closed, so this would be a safe place until I could further clean the shoes. I administered the pudding-thick drain cleanser and began readying for my day. As I dressed, I got a text from my co-worker Kurt. He’d decided he would indeed be quitting in February and that he wanted to bring a guy in today to talk about replacing him. Could he bring the guy in at 3. I preferred 2, because I wanted to leave by 3 to begin the mountain-chain of laundry now decorating 3 rooms in my apartment. But, in my head, I was considering this change at work and spinning 15 different scenarios of how this could play out. So, I said nothing.

I started imagining how work would be without Kurt while I also started separating laundry into piles of whites, darks and towels/sheets. For some  reason it doesn’t matter to me what color the sheets or towels are, they all get washed together: A Benetton ad of laundry. My mind continued to wander as I continued to sort: Would I just envelope most of Kurt’s job into my own and then hire an assistant so that I could make more money? Would I be able to bargain for new carpet and lights and a paint job of my office? Then, a rather pungent smell brought me back to reality. These clothes had been here a bit too long and needed to be done ASAP. Why did I passively agree to a meeting at 3? Ugh!

As I prepared to leave the apartment, I looked at my small, sad, undecorated Christmas Tree. He looked like he needed a drink. I picked him up, stand and all and carried him to the shower, where I gave him a quick remembrance of rain. The smell from his full, happy needles filled the bathroom, and I momentarily forgot all about my laundry and work. I left the house quickly with thoughts of Christmas dancing in my head.

Work was uneventful and so was the meeting. The applicant seems nice enough and competent. He’ll do fine. The meeting went long though, and I was NOT happy to be leaving to START my laundry at 4:30. On the way home, I stopped by the laundromat to gauge the amount of washers available. There seemed to be plenty. I also checked to see if the attendant was there. She was not.

At my laundromat, you pay not with quarters, but with a card. Recently I lost my card, so I knew I needed another. You have to buy the card from a machine, it costs $2. You HAVE to use singles, as the machine gives you no change. I didn’t have singles, and the attendant had gone to dinner. I decided to again go to Walgreens, get a soda…er…some coconut water, and then get some cash back in singles. Walgreens, the laundromat and my apartment are essentially one block away from each other, forming a Bermuda Triangle of sorts in the middle of the Mission District in San Francisco. Unfortunately no one ever disappears.

At Walgreens, I was waiting on line – a very long line (experiencing DeJaVu) – when I was accosted by the manager telling me to go to cosmetics, there was no line at cosmetics. I am one of those people who once I pick a line, I stay with it, knowing that leaving it can ONLY result in fiasco. But the manager, in his own ‘helpful’ way, pushed my shoulder toward the cosmetics counter. And, I was on my way.

When I arrived at cosmetics, lo and behold! there was a woman already at the counter, buying a sampling of every chip, pretzel, nacho, popcorn, etc. in the snack aisle. I am not joking; she had one of every single-serving bag they sell. The cashier, May, who has seen me several times a week for 9 years now, saw that I only had a soda and politely asked the woman if I could go ahead of her. “Oh no, I’m in a rush!” Snackzilla replied. May, being slightly flustered by this response and feeling bad for me, began ringing the various bags up quite quickly. In her haste however, she had not signed in to her register. It was not until the last item when she looked at the register and realized none of it had been rung up, she’d have to start again. I waited patiently until my turn, got my cash and thanked May. She smiled a crooked smile and gave me a look of “Sorry, I tried.” She’s always so nice.

I returned to the laundromat and purchased my card, again gauging the washers available; still good. I headed home to pack up the smelly goods. At home I began loading my laundry bag, which holds a goodly amount of maybe 80lbs of laundry, or cantaloupes. Not that I have or would ever be in possession of 80lbs of cantaloupe, or any other melon for that matter, but I imagine the laundry and the melons would be equally unwieldy. It would take me two trips with a full bag each time, and I would still have about 20lbs of melon left to haul. That last one would have to wait until tomorrow though, as time was ticking and the last load has to be in the washer by 6 and it was already getting late.

I loaded up my washers and set the timer on my phone so I knew when I would have to switch things to dryers and then when I could unload and start the folding process. I devised my plan to unload my first 80 lbs from the dryers and into my laundry bag, take that home and dump it on my bed, then run back and get the next load and do the same, then I could fold everything in the comfort of my own home and TV. This plan could not fail!

I loaded up bag one and headed home. The bag seemed even heavier on my shoulders now that all was dry and fluffy. I entered my apartment and trying to squeeze the bag through my front door, I lost my balance. The bag, perched atop my shoulders, lurched forward and toppled over my head, pulling my coat over my face, momentarily blinding me, and landed on the floor with a WHUMP! I shimmied out of my coat (think of the ballerina hippos in Fantasia), picked the bag up and dumped it on the bed, making sure all was out of the bag.

Sweating now from carrying heavy bags back and forth, I decided my coat was not necessary for the last haul. I walked out of the apartment, empty bag in hand, closed the door and started down the stairs to fetch the next loads from the dryers. I heard a faint alarm sounding. My alarm, from the timer on my phone. My phone, which was still in my coat pocket on the floor in the hallway…along with my apartment keys. I had to go get my laundry now, or the laundromat would close and my stuff would be put in the lost and found – which my laundromat should simply label as “lost.”

If I left the building though, the front gate and door to the building would both be locked. I would be left on the street with a heavy bag of laundry on my back and a skyscraper of clean, unfolded laundry sitting orphaned on my bed, my cellphone – containing the apartment manager’s number – on the hall floor with my keys, nestled snuggly in my coat pocket. I thought fast and jammed some junk mail into the doorjam to the building, then did the same to the front gate. If I got to the laundromat and back before anyone else came in or out of the gate or building, the jams would still be there. I’d only be trapped in my building, outside my apartment. I chanced it and won! One victory for the day.

Now locked out side my apartment door, with a large bag of laundry, I searched for a way to break in. I went to the fire escape to try the bathroom window, maybe I could pry it open. Stepping on to the dark fire escape and attempting to climb the rail to get close to the window, I slipped on something. I reached down and picked up a shoe. A shit-covered shoe. The one I had put there this morning when this day began. As I stood there, shit on my hands, locked out of my apartment, a laundry bag propped up in front of my door, I could not help but think this could not get worse. Never think that.

I tried for about 20 minutes to break into my bathroom window. I finally figured out how I could. I knocked on my neighbor’s door and in my broken, lame Spanish and with full pantomime, I asked her if I could borrow a butter knife. She obliged. Back on the fire escape, I now had an audience – my non-english speaking neighbor. I am unsure if there was nothing on the television, or if she was protecting her butter knife investment. But, she stood there watching as I struggled, muttering things in Spanish that I could not quite hear, nor understand.

At long last I was able to squeeze the butter knife in between the panes of glass and flick the copper bar that “locks” my window out of the way. I pushed the window all the way open and handed her her butter knife, hoping she’d go back in now, shows over. Ah, but there was plenty more to see. Now that the tiny window was open, I needed to hoist myself up and into the window. Refer to the visual of the Hippo Ballerinas.

Once at window level, I pushed myself up as far as I could until I was seated on the ledge. The window in my bathroom is located in the shower. It was then that I saw it: my little Christmas Tree. Still sitting in the shower from his “rain” this morning, and now blocking the way for me to crawl in, or to try to balance my foot on the edge of the tub. Somehow contorting my body (again, think hippo), I was able to reach the shower curtain rod, which I tugged until it came off the wall, the shower curtain cascading to the ground and covering half the bathroom. I used the rod to push my tree over to one side. I tossed the rod onto the floor and pulled one leg in, then the other, leveraging myself by holding onto the top of the outside of the window with my shit-covered hand. I lowered myself into the bath tub and, now covered in soot, shit and sweat, thought “this is a good place to be.”

After I washed up and put the window back together, I retrieved my laundry from outside my apartment,  hosed off my shitty shoes, picked up my keys and phone – kissing them and vowing to never be apart again – and began folding the laundry. All told (including folding and hanging), my laundry experience lasted almost 6 hours. I was exhausted and the normal feeling of accomplishment I have from doing laundry was missing.

There’s still 20lbs of melon left to do. Two words: Fluff and Fold.

An idiot weighs in.

May 14, 2011

(note: Please do not be offended by any word-choices here. This is not an insensitive story by any means, it is for amusement. So, don’t send me emails because I used the word ‘retarded,’ got it?)

I ran into someone on my way to work today, a co-worker from the long, long ago; the before-time. I don’t remember his name, and I don’t care to know it now. He saw me from a half-block away and started getting really animated. It was too late for me to cross a street or turn down an alley to avoid him, so I soldiered on. He approached with this strange surprised look on his face and began extending his hand. But, his hand was not headed toward my hand for a shake. As he got closer, he jumped forward and jutted his hand out, purposely landing it squarely on my belly, as though I were pregnant, and said “What happened?” Struggling to compute this unprecedented turn of events, I said the only thing I could think of: “I got fat.” The flood of cruel comebacks would arrive in a deluge moments after he walked away.

I live in reality. I know I have gained weight; I don’t think I look even close to the way I did a year ago. I know I have gained too much weight and am likely diabetic (we find out on Monday). I have a lot of self-loathing for my weight gain, and am simply uncomfortable in my own skin these days. My lover and friends have been supportive and encourage me – sometimes by lying: “you’re not fat, you look fine” – and by kindly asking if I’ve gone to the gym and etc. My weight seems to loom over every part of my day: uncomfortable and trying to avoid looking at myself when I get out of the shower, trying to find clothes that fit comfortably and that “hide” some of the weight, getting winded and sweaty walking to work or to the store, embarrassed to go out to bars where I used to hang out… oh the list goes on.

I realized I was getting fat awhile ago while working behind the bar at The Edge. A customer whom I have known since my days at Harvey’s approached me and said “Y’know, ALL the weight you’ve gained since you left 440 is starting to look good; you’re starting to look like a real bear now.”  I have nothing against bears, I like bears! But, I never thought I would be one. I knew I gained weight – I had recently dismissed the idea that all my clothes had shrunk at exactly the same time – so I would have been fine with his comment, save for that one enormously small word: “ALL.” Without that word, it’s a compliment: “Y’know, the weight you’ve gained since you left 440 is starting to look good…” See how much nicer that sounds?

At the time, I chalked that one up to a left-handed compliment and an amusing story I could tell friends and bar patrons. Re-telling it helped in two ways: I got to ridicule my pain, and the more you do that, the less it hurts. And, most of the people I told the story to would immediately tell me I hadn’t gained that much weight, that I wasn’t a bear and that I looked fine, etc. So I got a little ego boost.

I’ve recently had to ridicule other hurtful comments and events too – though the “you’re not fat” comments seem fewer and farther between these days. A few weeks back I started receiving emails from Jenny Craig. At first I thought it was a fluke; I get plenty of emails from weird sites. But, then after three weeks of Jenny Craig emails, I started getting emails from Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem. Opening my email every morning began to feel like waiting to be picked in gym class. I’ve since unsubscribed to all three sites, but can’t help thinking that maybe someone had deliberately signed me up for those emails in an effort to passive-aggressively tell me to lose weight. Maybe that sounds paranoid, but after someone puts their hand on your tummy and asks “what happened,” it’s obvious people can be incredibly cruel without trying or even knowing.

I remember talking to my therapist once about a failed relationship. My therapist, Tim, was very harsh, that is why I liked him. He had a great sense of humor and was more sarcastic than I could ever be (that’s an accomplishment).  I told Tim of my most recent ex-beau woe. When I finished, Tim rolled his eyes at me and said:

“Christ, Scott! I should record your sessions and whenever you have a “new” problem, I could just replay the session from the last time you had that same problem. Because, you have the same problems over and over. Are you retarded? No…retarded people learn faster than you do!”

Yes, it was mean, but he was right…not about the retarded people, just that I had the same problems (probably still do) over and over. I don’t seem to learn or grow from them.

The day after I had talked to Tim, I went to the laundromat. I had a large bag of laundry, which I set in front of one of those big Mega-Load washers. The ‘mat was packed, so I was lucky to get one of these big machines. I began tossing my clothes into the machine and was almost to the bottom of my bag when someone tapped my shoulder saying, in a marble-mouthed manner,  “dot machie is bwoken.” I looked up to see the developmentally-disabled person standing next to me using his left hand to tap my shoulder and his right hand to alternately tap the sign on my machine. The sign which read “out of order.”

I called my therapist immediately. He was right; retarded people DO learn faster than I do. Tim immediately apologized. He said he hadn’t meant to sound or be so cruel. He launched into a “developmentally-disabled people have the same relationship troubles as you and me…” diatribe that I tuned out. I mentally rejoined the conversation when he said that I do learn, just not as quickly as he’d like. And that from these events HE had learned something, though he didn’t tell me what. I think he learned to be more careful of people’s feelings, that no matter your intention, you can hurt someone with the simplest of actions; with one word.

I’m going to try and learn and grow from today’s events. I’m going to try to be less cruel. And I am going to try not to let stupid people saying or doing cruel things, intentionally or not, bother me so much. Lastly, I am going to try to get to the gym today to help me to feel better about myself.

” I know I may look like a rhinoceros, but I’ve got quite a thin skin really.” – Bernadette Hogan, Circle of Friends

Happy Wednesday Bear

October 8, 2010

Every Wednesday I take the 14 Mission bus to 9th and Mission Street. Actually I take that bus about 4 times each week, but we are only talking about Wednesdays. At Mission Street, I get off and begin the few blocks’ walk up 9th, passed Howard and Folsom, to my job at 9th and Harrison. The first few weeks, I brought my lunch with me. Then, I started waiting until I got to 9th to stop along the way and pick something up with my coffee. Regardless of holding onto my sack lunch or shopping for it, every Wednesday after I exit the bus, I am greeted by the same homeless man with his homeless dog, who looks at me and says “Happy Wednesday.” He’s a clean-looking homeless man; a bear with dark hair and beard and blue eyes. He always wears a trucker hat and jeans or shorts, though the shirt varies each week.

At first, I thought he wished it to all who passed by. Then, after watching him for a few minutes each week, I realized he didn’t. He sits in front of one of the little corner stores or the Burger King or Starbucks, dog curled up beside him, and he reads. Every so often, he looks up from his book and as someone passes by and, if they make eye contact, he says “Happy Wednesday.” I just happen to have been lucky enough to catch his eye each week so far. Though, pessimist that I am, I did think “he can’t be reading, he looks up too often.” That was until my partner bought me a new book a few weeks ago.

I love to read, but I don’t really have a great attention span, so I often read short story collections. It satisfies my craving for the written word and still allows me to get up every few minutes to get something from the kitchen, look out the window, watch TV, run to Walgreens, go to the local thrift store 4 times per week ‘just in case,’ people-watch at the local coffee shop – but not Four Barrel on Valencia: I don’t wear fedoras and scarves in 85 degree weather, I’m too fat for skinny jeans, I don’t own a dog, and I’m not that hip. My point being, once I realized how I read, I realized my Happy Wednesday Homeless Bear was doing the same thing.

With the passing weeks, I started to wonder what’s his story? Is he crazy? Does he say “Happy Wednesday” every day? Does he go to other parts of the city and bid “Happy Tuesday?” Are there a group of people who have “Happy Thursday” on Polk Street or “Happy Sunday” in Pacific Heights? Where does he get his books, and what does he do with them when he’s done with them? Is there a homeless book-exchange program? Maybe he started the homeless book-exchange? Maybe he’s an up-and-comer in the homeless community. Maybe 9th and Howard is the homeless equivalent of Four Barrel Coffee; it’s where all the hipster homeless hang out. He would fit in at Four Barrel, he has a dog, reads quite a bit and has un-ironic facial hair…add yoga into the mix and he might as well just hang out there instead of 9th.

I usually give “Happy Wednesday Bear” a dollar. After all, I am only able to stop at Starbucks for coffee because of a gift card I won at a company Christmas Party 2 years ago. Not like I have been holding onto it for that long; I had lost it somewhere in my apartment and just came across it a few weeks ago. So this week, I thought I would use my Starbucks card and buy him a sandwich. I am pretty poor these days, and those dollars are adding up. And judging from his array of t-shirts, I think he actually might make more money than I do.

I got off the bus as usual and walked toward the Starbucks. There, sitting in front of the Burger King was my homeless bear reading. I could not make out the title of the book as the cover was very warn and facing down away from me. The homeless book-exchange probably rejected this one, and he just picked it up for a lark before deciding whether or not to throw it away…er…recycle it. Homeless hipsters recycle. HWB looked up, caught my eye and said “Happy Wednesday.” I walked into Starbucks, ordered my coffee and two sandwiches. Starbucks has these “low-fat” breakfast sandwiches. They’re egg-whites, turkey bacon and some kind of low-cal bread I think. I got that for myself, and thinking HWB is probably not THAT concerned with his figure, I got him a full fat, egg-sausage-cheese sandwich thingy.

The wait for my coffee and sandwiches seemed so much longer than normal today, as I was anxious to surprise my Wednesday morning-maker with a treat. Finally, my name was called and I was on my way. I checked the bags to make sure I got the bland sandwich (blandwich), and HWB would get something hearty. At this point there were a few seconds spent in my head of “ketchup or no ketchup,” which I dismissed with the knowledge that he was homeless and has probably eaten out of the garbage, thus, not that picky.

As I approached him, he seemed engrossed in his book. I wasn’t sure if he would make eye contact with me this time. And, if he did, would he recognize me from a few moments ago, or would he again wish me a “Happy Wednesday”? If he didn’t look up, would I say something or just set it down next to him. What if his dog growled and bit me as I tried to set it down? Charity and good karma-baiting are sometimes fraught with danger. HWB looked up at me, the sun shining in his eyes causing him to squint hard and lift his hand, still clutching the book to his brow, the title now visible: “The Big Book.” I smiled at my own chagrin.

“Hap….oh, hey again.” he recognizably said to me.

“I got you a sandwich.”

“Oh, wow…thank you so much.” he smiled.

How is it that some homeless people have such perfectly white, straight teeth?  I didn’t want to engage him, didn’t want to ruin the story I had created in my head with the reality of how sad and terrible his life might actually be, or worse with how much better than mine his life is. As I started on my way, I smiled and said “See you next Wednesday.” Sandwich and book in one hand, and leaning down to pick up his dog with the other, he looked up and said “Hey, have a Happy one!”

He walked into Burger King, and as I walked away, I heard him say to the clerk “Can I get some ketchup?”

Dear John

January 17, 2010

Dear John,

Remember when you were hot? I mean, not just that you were good looking, but that you were a commodity. Everyone wanted you. Guys wanted to be you and girls wanted to be with you; or they wanted your hair. You did some good stuff too. Then, you had a couple foibles and well, kinda disappeared for like 20 years. Then, you had your triumphant return and you were hot again. This time though, not so hot in the physical sense, you just found the perfect vehicle to ride back into the spotlight. Then it all went to hell.

Seriously John, when you were on “Welcome Back Kotter,” I wasn’t a fan of you. I didn’t think you were funny nor did I think you were attractive. But, many did. The hair, the chin-dimple. People ate that shit up. And, your portrayal of Vinne Barbarino was, I guess in a simpler time, funny enough. And you did some movies which I hear had some success capitalizing on something called “disco.” You even did one I liked about a boy in a plastic bubble…arguably the best movie made about bubble-boys (with apologies to Jake Gyllenhaal in “Bubble Boy”). Then, you vanished. Occasionally, some stinker would show up “starring” you, but for the most part, you were off the radar.

Enter “Pulp Fiction.” When it came out, it was brilliant (let’s face it, it just doesn’t really stand the test of time). Quentin Tarantino wasn’t the gay-voiced egomaniac that we now know him to be, and you hadn’t had a hit in decades. And, there you were, looking cool…largely thanks to Uma Thurman. So, here it was…your return. Yay you! But then…oh vey. Have you thought about turning down a script since? Seriously. Right after Pulp Fiction, we were inundated with you trying to be cool in every movie offered to you. Hey, guess what? It didn’t work. You’re not that cool. And, I hate to be the fly in your soup, but you are not a good “bad ass!”

Let’s just mention a few of the more outstanding failures here: “Phenomenon,” “Broken Arrow,” “Mad City,” “Face/Off,” “The General’s Daughter,” and of course “Battlefield Earth.” Though I have to say that “Battlefield Earth” is so dreadfully bad that I love to watch it when it’s on cable. So sad. There have been occasional hits wedged in between the myriad crapfest films. But, even a blind pig finds an acorn every once in awhile.

Your latest incarnation is that of a renegade FBI agent in “To Paris with Love.” First, thank you for shaving off that awful toupee. Second, do you REALLY think anyone buys that your facial hair is that dark at your age? Seriously. You and Nicholas Cage need to have the “Just for Men” taken out of your hands. Own it, dude. I am 40 and have a graying beard. Watching trailers for your movies makes me even grayer.

Just do us and yourself a favor John…stop making movies. Just take a step back from the spotlight, let your natural hair color grow back, leave the toupee alone, fly your plane and play with your kids. When you do decide to make another movie, and I cannot stress this enough…it should be a good 7-10 years from now, I suggest taking a small supporting role. Something believable too – aka, NOT a 40-ish dark-haired bad ass type. How about a spoiled millionaire with a warped sense of self and an airplane. Just a thought.

Sorry, John…but someone had to tell you.

A Christmas Cat-Coat

December 23, 2009

There’s a woman sitting next to me. I am at the airport, waiting at what seems to be the ONE place in SFO where all incoming travelers come through: a small tunnel-like hallway where thousands of travelers are funneled passed a chubby security guard, whose only job seems to be pulling a canvas tape out of a stantion to block the passage when the hall is clear, then removing it when people approach. ???? The woman seated next to me is probably in her late 40’s or early 50’s. I am sure she lives alone, save for her cats “Senator” and “Jingle.” I assume this because her full-length black coat is coated in little white and gray hairs and she smells a mile away like cat pee. She’s been sitting next to me for a total of 3 minutes before she leans in a little too close to my face, smiles like a Cheshire cat after a 10-year sugar binge, and says “waiting for family?”

Although I am an eternal cynic, and I will likely be taken to task for this; I am assured she cares not whether my family is on the way. I have watched this woman for almost an hour. She has changed seats about 6 times. She seats herself next to people who are alone, never a couple or family. She waits what she deems an appropriate amount of time, then, like Senator, she pounces. “Waiting for family?” The unsuspecting, or in my case, suspecting, victim usually answers “yes” with a polite smile. Given her “in,” the floodgates open. I am not sure if the story changes each time, with each victim. Not sure if she tailors her tale or mixes it up. But, each time, she leans in and talks and talks and talks. Eventually, the victims get up; excusing themselves to the bathroom or to get a water, or more often than not, to head to the TGIFridays bar a few feet from where we are all seated. Everyone leaves the same…wishing her a “Happy Holiday,” smiling politely, looking at their cell phone and walking quickly away.

When my turn came, and Kitty Coat asked me the now creepy question “waiting for family?” I looked at her and said, in complete deadpan: “I am waiting for my gay lover, to whom I am not legally allowed to be married in California. So, I guess, the answer is ‘no’, I am not waiting for family.” I expected that I, like all the others before me, would now have to interrupt the monologue which was about to follow, then get up and walk to TGIFridays for well-needed holiday cheer and leave her to her duties as time-waster at the passenger-arrival area in SFO. Instead, and I guess, not that surprisingly, without a story to relate, Kitty Coat quickly turned away in her chair, and as if suffering some indignity, crushed her head into her chest, pulled the sides of her hair-covered coat together, stood up and promptly walked away. This time though, she didn’t walk to another empty chair next to a lone person. She walked out the front doors of the airport. I watched her walk out, across the street, and stand in line for a taxi.

I started to wonder; did this woman come to the airport around holidays just to have conversations with people? If she had a Christmas Tree, were the only gifts under it for Senator and Jingle? Had I, in my sarcasm and desire to NOT talk to her, ruined her Christmas. Was this, indeed, her present to herself? Going out and talking to actual people? For a few hours each day, leaving the confines of her house, traveling somewhere and sitting with a group of people, under the SFO Christmas tree and telling her stories; like we all do at Christmas, but with our families and friends?

My lover arrived and we left the airport. I was especially nice to our cab driver on the way home. Since, I have been nicer to everyone I have encountered. So, Merry Christmas, Kitty Coat, whomever you are; and thank you for giving me a gift this year…and allowing me to share that gift with my friends, family and my city. Merry Christmas San Francisco, I’ll try not to be such a bitch.

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.

August 12, 2009

I never got to meet Olivia. Olivia Grace was my sister Melissa’s third daughter. She was born early on a Monday morning to a loud hospital room full of machines which were there to ensure her safety and survival. See, we already knew Olivia was going to be a difficult birth.

She was diagnosed in the womb with spina bifida, a condition called trisomy x and also with lesions and fluid on her brain, her spine and one of her kidneys. The doctors had told us that she might only live a few minutes after birth. With that knowledge, Melissa had brought her priest with her to baptize little Olivia as soon as she was born. And, he did. And, her little blessed 4lb. body and soul lay quietly hiccuping for a few moments before drifting off to sleep. Too weak and too little to feed for herself, Olivia was hooked up to a feeding tube and left in the hospital room with Melissa. If they could get her stronger, she could go home in a few days and then, once her weight increased, she would begin a series of operations.

My mother, Sam, and my sisters Victoria, Christi and Leigh, as well as Melissa’s two daughters, Gabriella and Erica, joined Olivia, Melissa and husband Chuck, taking turns in the room and making trips to the cafeteria and gift shop. The doctors and nurses wanted to make sure mother and daughter were not overwhelmed with too many visitors at once. My family has a lot of hospital experience, having gone through several heart attacks and surgeries with my father, before he passed away four years ago. We’re good at it now; we know to bring books and magazines and food to the emergency room – REAL food, you could be there AWHILE! And, when visiting someone who has been admitted, always bring snacks, puzzles or games and movies. Hospital rooms are incredibly dull and depressing, and no matter how much you don’t want to be there; you are…supporting and caring for a loved one who wants to be there even less.

The hospital room at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where Melissa and Olivia were, is apparently very nice. It’s brightly painted, to stimulate newborn babies minds and eyes I guess. The staff is at the top of their game and is very friendly and accommodating. And, the food, or “room service” as Melissa called it, is exceptional. She got homemade banana pudding with Nilla Wafers in it. This was very special.

When we were kids, my mom rarely cooked anything. But, she had one specialty…”Ze French Cookie Pudding.” You have to pronounce it like you are a French cartoon character in an American cartoon. It was simply Jell-o pudding poured into a large clear-glass bowl that had been lined with Nilla Wafers. The clear bowl was key, so we could see the cookies. Then, my mom would spiral more Nilla Wafers on top; this way, you got soft, almost soggy cookies IN the pudding, and crispity, crunchity ones on top. Nothing about it made it french. My favorite was chocolate Ze French Cookie Pudding. But, I liked Vanilla too. Never liked banana, but I imagine Melissa getting a variation of our mom’s special secret dessert at the hospital made her feel warm and loved after my mom left each night.

And that’s the way it was for two days…the family got up early and drove to the hospital in Philadelphia and spent the better part of the day with Melissa and Olivia. But then, on Wednesday morning, the phone rang early in my mom’s Brigantine, NJ townhouse. There had been an emergency with Olivia during the night. Nothing else was said; and that silence screamed volumes. My mother hadn’t been sleeping well since the birth and had spent most nights on the couch, dressed. So, this morning, after the call, she washed her face, brushed her teeth, put on her shoes and got in the car. There, she sat in the car, in the driveway, looking at the beach, and cried.

When my mother got to the hospital, she called me. The only words she got out were “Olivia didn’t make it.” We both began to cry. I knew there wasn’t more she could say, she was crying too hard. I also knew my sisters and nieces would be much the same way. I asked if Melissa was okay physically and told my mom I would email my Aunts and Uncles and would call later to arrange a flight home. I got off the phone and sat down in front of my computer, looking at the screensaver of the beach where I grew up. and cried.282439736837_0_0

Alone in my quiet apartment, I opened my email and looked at the one picture I had of Olivia – one that my sister Vicky had snapped with her phone and sent me the day before. That little girl, with her little pink blanket and her big blue eyes peering out under her too-big pink hat, a feeding tube taped under her tiny nose, and her little fingers all squished together in a makeshift fist, the way babies do. Everything about her was small. And, Olivia’s little heart was just too small and too weak for even her little 4lb. body. Olivia Grace Stuchel, my dad will take care of you now.

Call your family and friends and those closest to you and tell them you love them and how much they mean to you. Sometimes you never get the chance to.

Tap, grunt, grimace.

July 28, 2009

279428299013I take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit for those of you non- San Franciscans) often. Usually uneventful, the trips are fast and allow just enough time for me to text the person I am meeting to let them know I am on my way (read: late). However, there are those special days when a trip on BART offers an entertainment experience unequaled on MUNI or in a car.

Yesterday, I took BART to the Embarcadero to see a movie. I am used to taking BART for just one or two stops; so this, being five stops away was already shaping up to be an epic journey. I like BART. Different from MUNI where people huddle en mass near where the door opens and then force themselves forward like salmon into the exiting throngs; BART crowds stand in line awaiting the next train. When the train arrives and the doors open, passengers enter and take their seat or stand off to the side – usually away from the doors. There are times when BART trains are packed sardine-can like, but I seem to unwittingly avoid those times. Admittedly, I live in a romanticized version of BART transportation. For the most part.

I boarded my train and took my seat, phone in hand. As I started to text my ETA, an elderly man sat across from me. He was dressed the way my dad used to dress. He had on green pants, a multi-toned green sweater, black shoes, black belt, green socks and, of course, a white and blue pinstriped oxford under the sweater – the collar peering out just enough to say “I don’t match.” What got my attention though was the mass of electronic cords and devices surrounding him.

A  gigantic set of headphones surrounded his neck. They may have been wireless or perhaps they were a battery-operated radio headphone, but they had no cord connecting them to anything. On one hip, he had a large beeper-type device affixed to his belt. On the other hip, a carrying case for a large phone. On his lap sat an external zip drive (remember those?) with a tangle of cords around it, mirroring the white hairs that tangled around his head. In one hand he held a touch-screen cell phone, and in the other…a ball point pen – pointed and ready to be used as a stylus on the aforementioned phone. Techno-phile grandpa. Good for him.

The train lurched forward and as it did, Grandpa made a forced noise. I thought maybe he was caught off-guard by the trains’ motion, until he made another similar sound seconds later. I looked up to see him aggressively attacking the touch-screen phone with the ball-point pen and grunting in frustration. Tap, tap, tap, grunt. Tap, tap, tap, grunt, grimace. As he leaned forward peering more closely at the screen – as though giving it dirty looks would somehow guilt the screen into allowing the ball-point pen to work on it – some of the hairs from the top of his head began to fall slowly forward, like an antennae extending mechanically out of his head.

I wanted to interrupt him and ask him if he was sure he could use that kind of pen on the screen. But, as we pulled into the first stop, he opened his hip-carrier and removed a very low-tech notebook. The cover was folded back revealing a page with many scribblings, which he began frantically adding to. I looked at it, unable to make out the words and imagined it to be a list of the issues he would be covering with the unsuspecting tech-support person he was currently on his way to see.

“why can’t I write on this screen?”

“Why won’t these headphones work?”

“How do I get my pop-tart out of here?”

“Is it going to be toasted properly?”

I know that isn’t fair; he seemed a relatively on-the-ball old guy. As he got up to exit, perhaps coincidentally at the stop next to the Apple  Store, I wished him luck. I also hoped that the line at the store wasn’t too long; that pen is going to run out of ink soon.

I see married men

July 24, 2009

This is a story I wrote years ago, I am posting it so some new friends have the chance to read it. Again, feedback is always welcome. I am still having issues figuring out formatting on this blog-thing, so bear with me.  -Scott

The story…

I’ve been looking for new glasses for weeks…mostly at boutique-type eyewear specialty shops.  No dice.  I finally wander into a downtown Lenscrafters on a weekday afternoon.  There, I see this gorgeous hunk of a man – deep tan, blue eyes, salt and pepper hair…staring at me through the DKNY bendable-frame display.  He smiles, I smile back.  I’ve played the smile game before and it means nothing.  Well, it usually means that his boyfriend will soon appear around the corner and they will walk hand in hand together into the sunset – their new photo-sensitive lenses resting on their perfectly facialed noses.  I walk on.

Later, at the Calvin Klein invisible frame display, Salt, Pepper and Tan smiles again.  Maybe he needs glasses and thinks I am an employee.  Or, maybe he can’t actually see me – just a blur in front of him.  I smile back anyway, and kind of half give that “I’m winking, but it could just be that I smiled too hard or that I have a facial twitch” at the same time kinda look.  Barely helpful eyeglass salesperson Susan interrupts my line of sight to show me the cobalt blue lines underwire frame with the just barely visible light blue lens tint.  “Oh, everyone is wearing these.”  Is that supposed to help sell them?

I look around the store before I leave – sans a new pair of specs – but no Salt, Pepper and Tan to be seen.  I walk outside, fumbling to put on my 3 year old, bought at the drug store in Palm Springs for  $8 sunglasses when I see him – standing on the street – not smoking – just standing, as though he possibly could have been waiting for me.

“Hi,” he says.  He was waiting for me.  Do I know him?  Have I met him before?  Have I had sex with him and I don’t remember?  Okay, he’s really good looking…I’d remember having sex with him.  I am picturing him naked.  I smile.

“Hey.  Did you find what you were looking for?”  I think this is a pretty good line if I must say so myself.

“I’m not sure.”  He has one-upped me with his answer.  “I think you’re very cute.  Would you like to have coffee sometime?” He very confidently asks.

Coffee.  This could mean he’s overly cautious or that he really just wants to have sex and asking me to dinner would take too long and be too much of a commitment.  Or, he could be a talker.  Coffee rarely means actual coffee in my life.  Except for couples.  They have coffee.  But, it’s usually in their beautiful homes together – while one patters around barefoot and gorgeous, probably just showered after the gym – getting ready for work.  Or, on a Sunday morning while one reads the New York Times in his white t-shirt and hospital scrubs, the other in a sweatshirt and boxers reading the sale circulars, and they sit silently – content to be in each others’ company and not needing to talk at all.  Like an ad in a magazine. A first date at a coffee shop though?  Who wants to be all jittery and then have to poop when you’re just getting to know someone?  Aren’t first dates difficult enough?

“Coffee sounds great.” My sphincter tightens as the words leave my mouth.

“I’m John.” Salt, Pepper and Tan gives himself a nickname.

“Scott.”

“So, you have a boyfriend?” John smartly asks. It is San Francisco, where many men with boyfriends have an “understanding” or  “arrangement” which allows both of them to fool around on the side – usually as long as they don’t tell the other, or as long as they come home to the other each night, etc.  In my experience, the arrangement usually means that one of them wants to fool around and the other simply puts up with it.

“No. No boyfriend here,” I start to panic “You?”

“No.  Not for a few months.  The last guy I dated had so many issues.  I haven’t really seen anyone since.”

“Yeah, my last break-up was pretty rough – but that was awhile ago.  And, we are just talking coffee here – I think I’m ready for that.”

“Alright, good, Scott.  Can I get your number then?”  He’s a fast and smooth operator this Salt Pepper and Tan John.

“Sure.”  I fumble in my bag for a pen as John elaborates on the previous boyfriend – a subject I dare never broach on a first, second or third date, let alone in the first five minutes of meeting someone.  Why not talk religion or politics – they’re usually less volatile and a lot safer.

“Yeah, that guy…” he gives no name and does not refer to him as “my ex.”   “…was real messed up. He had a lot of issues.  I really can’t deal with that.”  I am trying to conceal the contents of my bag while pretending to listen intently and search for a pen. I interrupt, “well, we all have issues.  I have issues.” Finally I find a pen, underneath my sweaty gym clothes and the now soggy protein bar I had planned to have for lunch.  Now, where’s some paper?

“No, this guy got a DUI, I had to help him with that.  He had trouble paying his property tax and was getting sued – I had to help with that.  He was just a big mess.”

I tear a full page of paper out of my journal and scribble my name and number down on it.  I look at it and don’t like the way I wrote it and wish I could do it again.  The name is too sloppy and the eight’s in the number look like little decapitated snowmen.  That, and the way the page ripped out of the book is uneven and left a frayed edge.  Issues.  He clears his throat and I forget all about the number, the snowmen and the uneven paper.

“Well, I don’t have those issues.  But I have issues.”  My confession is just that.   However, I fear it’s coming out as a charming, self-deprecating kinda thing and not the admission I hoped it to be.
“Well, Tom (a name!) also had so much drama!  He was so much drama.”  The word drama is punctuated by Salt, Pepper and Tan holding his hands in front of his chest and quickly extending the fingers as though he were about to catch a kickball.  Drama!

“Well, honestly John, I’m a writer and I like to tell stories – so I tend to be on the dramatic side.”  Is the honesty thing winning points here or will I be getting my coffee to go I  wonder.

“That’s altogether a different kind of drama.” Who uses the word ‘altogether?’ I hand my phone number to John and smile.

“How’s Thursday at Starbucks on 24th, say…7AM?” Salt, Pepper and Tan, the early riser asks.  And the only thing that comes out of my mouth in a shocked and ‘you are kidding right’ tone is “7AM???”

“Yeah, well I deal with the East Coast for business, so I am up at 4.   And, my wife usually leaves the house around 6, so… 7 is a good time for a little break.”

“I’m sorry…what?” I ask this thinking I could not possibly have heard him correctly.  He’s the one that asked first about the boyfriend, was it my role to ask if he had a wife?  Should I start asking this of all men I meet? Come here often? Can I buy you a drink? What’s your wife’s name?
My shock likely showing on my face, the conversation continues.

“I’m married.” He says this proudly, but then tries to assuage my obvious fear. “But, she’s okay with me dating guys.”  Right.  She’s okay with you dating guys – as long as they don’t have any issues or aren’t too dramatic.

As he continues talking about the wife, I imagine Salt, Pepper and Tan with Mrs. Tan as they sit with their coffee in the morning.  Him just having showered, pattering around the kitchen, anxious for her to leave for work so he can go meet the man he’s having sex with while she looks through sale circulars and thinks about dinner with the Johnson’s next week.  And maybe he’s having sex with Mr. Johnson too.  After dinner, the wives stay upstairs and have tea and gossip while the husbands retire to the downstairs to ‘play pool’ – where they take turns sucking each other off.

Then I think about the boyfriend, sitting at home each morning waiting for Salt, Pepper and Tan to come over for an hour or so.  He continues to believe that Salt, Pepper and Tan will leave the wife and stay with him.  He imagines their life together and talks about it with his friends – who all roll their eyes, tired of telling him how unrealistic he’s being.  No wonder the last boyfriend had so many issues.  I probably would’ve made him pay for my DUI and property taxes too.

And what would happen with Salt, Pepper, Tan and I after our date? Would he fall instantly in love with me? Would he leave Mrs. Tan, stop sucking off Mr. Johnson and move in with me? Would we take our places in the kitchen on Sunday mornings, having coffee and reading the paper – basking in the afterglow of sweaty, morning, shower-sex. And as I patter around the kitchen preparing my own special pancake recipe, would he think of his wife and her bland, heavy, tasteless, fattening pancakes – the thought propelling him to get up, hug me from behind and kiss the back of my neck – so happy for the life we share. And there we would be – happy in our lives together. Until one day when he decides to go shopping for a new pair of eyeglasses.

A car horn sounds and I am brought back to reality. I realize that I have no idea of the amount of time that has gone by or what Salt, Pepper, Tan & Married has been saying in that time and I decide that I really have to go.

“I’ll call you.” John says as I walk away and give an over the shoulder more-scared-than-amused smile. On Wednesday night I have not yet heard from him.  I shut the ringer off on my phone and go to sleep.  It isn’t until Thursday afternoon that I listen to the message from Salt, Pepper, Tan and Married.

“Hey Scott…it’s John.  It’s 7:04 and I’m here.  I guess you’re a no-show, so I’m gonna go.  Maybe we can talk some other time.”

Okay…4 minutes?  Is he retarded?  This is a city.  If I were taking the bus, you’d need to at least give me 15 minutes.  What if I were driving?  Parking?  And, what about being “fashionably late?”  4 minutes and he leaves?  I had absolutely no intention of showing up, but I would think that I get more of a benefit of the doubt than that.  His wife was probably later than that for their wedding.  4 minutes.  Issues.

An Open Letter to NASA

July 19, 2009

Men on Mars! It’s inevitable. Very soon a manned mission will be on its way to Mars, and possibly to other planets as well. With this amazing undertaking, and all the pressure and stress all of you at NASA must be under, I felt I should do my part by providing a little information which will undoubtedly prove invaluable in the planning and execution of these missions.

If there is anything that pop-culture has taught us, it’s that your crew will be a rag-tag group of mostly strangers – with the notable exception of two or three of them. Two of them will be ex-lovers or will have some sort of failed former relationship. Two will be rivals. It’s likely that the more talented of these rivals will also be one of the aforementioned ex-lovers. This is just the tip of the iceberg though. You are going to have personality conflicts a-plenty. I’ll try to cover these as we go along. First, however, I want to help you select the correct crew members. There are certain things you need to look for during the interview process. Here are a few pointers and some descriptions to aid your decision:

The Rebel: He’s out of control; he’s a loose-cannon. But, he’s the best damned pilot, alien-killer, space-doctor, engineer, or whatever-you-need-at-the-moment-guy out there! He’ll be unconventional in his ways, and this will bother the older “by the book” guys, but they will be forced to respect him for his abilities. You need him.  He’s going to save someone’s life or sacrifice himself in the last moments of the mission making it possible for the crew to return to earth or something. Or, he’ll kill the alien…that kind of thing. He’s also going to be one of those ex-lovers we discussed earlier. It’s easy to spot him, he will be really hot and will be wearing a slightly altered uniform (e.g.: sleeves cut off, etc).  Oh, and he’ll have some sort of nickname making him sound even more manly.

The Bitch: She’s a tough and tender, no-nonsense kinda gal. She’s pretty, but may seem lesbian-ic at first. Look for a brunette with a kick-ass body. She’ll have some sort of past emotional drama that has left her somehow scarred and vulnerable. But, for this mission, she will be the rock! She will save the day. She will put the ship back together, re-plot the course, avert the self-destruct, disconnect the gone-haywire on-board computer, or kill the alien. Chances are, she will also save “The Rebel.” Oh, and just so the geeks who have never been laid at NASA know: at some point during the mission, she will be naked and could end up having sex with “The Rebel.” You won’t like her at fist, but after you put your crew together, you’ll realize she’s the only one who can keep these guys in line.

The Spiritualist: He or she will be annoying. During the mission, this person will periodically spout ambiguoously spiritual advice and long diatribes to anyone within earshot. He/She will point out the “should we be doing this/are we interfering with the natural order of things” part of this mission. This person will die; likely in a “I am at peace” position, though it will have been from a particularly violent and gruesome act or alien encounter. I have no idea why this person will be on your mission, but they have to be. You’ll know them…they will be wearing a robe or tunic and some long beads and probably a simple hat and sandals.

The Doctor/Medical Officer: This is an innocuous and harmless crew member. They will die; likely in a gruesome first encounter or crash-landing or test or autopsy or medical-exam mishap or ship malfunction. The Doctor who goes on the mission may not be your first choice. The first choice will die in a mission-simulation and then you get this guy.  Just a thought…tell the doctor to never be alone ion the med lab. Bad things ALWAYS happen then. He’ll be tough to spot, look for someone wearing glasses.

The Android: Do NOT take this person. I cannot emphasize this enough! They will turn against the crew. If it is a female android, it will somehow develop feelings for a crew member (see “the Doctor”) and this will impede her directives and well…tragedy will ensue. If it is a male android, there will be a whole “dont kill the alien, the crew is expendable, just complete the mission” kinda thing. Suffice it to say, there WILL be a malfunction. Trust me. The Android will be hard to detect. Best to stab each perspective crew member and make sure they bleed blood and not white goo.

The Engineer : Another harmless crew member.  He will be among the first to die.  He will be a heavy drinker or a drug user.  He’ll be able to keep the ship running by fastening a rudimentary patch made of twigs and snot, but he won’t be able to keep himself alive through more than the first third of the mission.  He will have facial stubble and a tattoo. He will also likely use a catch-phrase that gets really annoying.

The Sacrificial Lamb: Adequate and vulnerable.  Dumb and poor with missing or crooked teeth who smokes.  The Lamb is on the mission solely for the money.  The risk involved in this mission means more money and that is why they are here.  The Lamb will be able to perform their job (like cook) but will complain throughout the entire mission…well until they die or become injured and burden the crew.  Easy to spot, this person will be straight out of a bowling alley.  Avoid them at all cost.  My advice: make one of the other crew members do this person’s job.

The Computer:  The voice programmed for the computer to communicate with the crew will likely be that of a woman.  Remember to give it a cute nickname – think “Mother,” “Bits” or  “Baby.”   It will make unintentional one-liners.  It is of utmost  importance that a “Manual Override” button  – one that turns the computer off – be installed WITHOUT the computers’ knowledge.  And, there should be several of them – in various places around the ship.  The computer, like the android, is going to screw something up and someone will die or be in prolonged danger unnecessarily as a result.  Easy to identify, the computer is part of the ship and is not a person.

I think this is a good start and should help you busy-bees over at NASA to begin getting your crew together. I am currently working on a trouble-shooting list for various possible space-travel mishaps, so until that’s complete…stay frosty! I’ll be in touch via email, or you can reach me by short-wave ham radio.

Sincerely,

TSK