Monday, October 29, 2018

Toy Cars

File this under the category of Phrases that Make Me Cringe:
Under a photo of a car or truck: “Here’s my new toy!” 
Now, I get that when Baby Boomers began to realize that they were aging, it suddenly became A Thing to be perceived as a Child at Heart. Subsequent generations have followed suit and now we have a culture that really could benefit from the direction of a straight-laced nanny. There is a lot to be said for using your “indoor voice,” particularly when in public on your cell phone discussing your digestion problems with your healthcare provider.

However, I have come to accept that in order to convince ourselves we’re never going to die (I’M certainly NOT), we must do whatever it takes to deny the aging process. (Though, I must pass on to my fellow Women of a Certain Age – no one is fooled by those SnapChat filters. The Good Ship IngĂ©nue has sailed and good riddance!)

So, honestly, I have no problem if adults spend their spare time playing with doll houses, racing remote control cars or running their model trains on a tighter schedule than a subway in Tokyo while wearing a railroad engineer’s hat and blowing a wooden whistle (you know who you are). I, personally, have my gnomes and talking dogs.

If you want to embrace your inner eight-year-old, have at it. But here’s the thing – eight-year-olds break toys. They ram them into walls, leave them on stairways, or throw their sister’s Ken doll out a second storey window dressed in Barbie’s tutu. No big deal because they’re toys.

Two-and-a-half tons of steel and flammable liquid: not a toy. Not even remotely a toy. Leave your heart of an eight-year-old…12-year-old…hell – teenager…home. (It is my opinion that teenagers should only be able to drive 20-year-old Cavaliers with a blown-out transmission and a cassette player that doesn’t work*.)

When I encounter a 6,000 lb. Silverado on the Beltway, I want to know it’s being driven by a 40-something with a kid still in college, a mortgage and a sense of his or her own mortality. (It would also be nice if you could be driving a 3-ton truck because you actually need one, what with it being almost November and I’m still sleeping with the windows open and the fan running – but that’s another issue.)

I commute 10 hours a week at a minimum and I am constantly dodging drivers who grew up watching everything from Smokey and the Bandit to The Fast and the Furious, all – I assume – at a time in their young lives where they were unable to separate fact from fiction. Because it’s really not speed that is the issue; believe me, in that respect my driving habits would probably surprise…well, no, they probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s had to commute. Honestly, on a two mile-long straightaway on Va-231, when I’m late for work and no one is in front of me…I WOULD TOTALLY OBEY THE 55 MPH SPEED LIMIT, OFFICER.

Take that same straightaway, place in it a loaded 18-wheeler followed by a leaf-peeper in absolutely no hurry, a farm-use truck whose tailpipe emits noxious fumes every time he hits 40, a priest, a minister, and a rabbi…and me – and in my rear-view mirror I see a black Escalade, closing in fast. In the opposite lane are oncoming headlights. The Escalade pulls out and passes us all in one go and only makes it because the rest of us immediately brake. Though this would be an ideal opportunity to protect the gene pool in one fiery crash, no one wants Finster Baby to take the poor guy in the opposite lane with him. Besides, an accident would make us late.

But even Finster Baby showed good judgement when compared to the perfect storm of idiocy I witnessed last week. In a construction zone in the pouring rain, with two lanes merging into one, I could see an ambulance was trying to make its way through traffic behind me. Most of us pulled over onto the shoulder, except for a farm tractor traveling 15 mph and a huge black truck that was behind me, but passed me when I pulled over to make way for the emergency vehicle. The ambulance was forced to pull into the opposite lane, where those kind souls actually were on the shoulder. Behind me, an SUV pulled out of the line of those who pulled over and passed everyone, only to encounter the black truck, which was now stuck behind the farm vehicle, still putt-putting away like he was in the middle of a barren hay field. With a screech, the SUV pulled over the double line in the wake of the ambulance, passed the black truck (who was now honking his horn at everything) and the farm vehicle. Not to be outdone, the black truck gunned into the oncoming lane, missing by inches the oncoming cars pulling back onto the road.

To what can we attribute such a perfect storm of assholery in one place? Immaturity.

Eight-year-olds live in their own world and everything that goes on around them is seen through the lens of their ego. It is age-appropriate and precisely the mindset you need when you’re very small, vulnerable and totally ignorant of the ways of the world. When it seeps into adulthood, the results are thinking that everything, including who get through traffic first, is a competition you need to win to feed that ego, now grown huge and hungry.

So, no, you do not have a “toy.” You don’t take out loans to buy PlayDough. No one is making a living fixing Cabbage Patch Dolls. When a piece of Monopoly is missing, you just need a dime or a thumbtack.

And when a pedal car tips over, no one gets hurt.

Unless, of course, it meets up with a black Escalade. In his world, we’re all just pedal cars on the VA-231 of life.

Yes, he still has this car. Good luck in December, Heir 2!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

In Which I Slink Back From Oblivion

Have I ever stayed away from Linguini this long?

Blogs became passe' as Twitter snipped away at readers' tolerance for lengthy prose. It's safe to come back and write as I write. No one is reading it; certainly no one who would care what I think.

In a way, I'm rather happy my erratic posting schedule chased away the few regular readers I had. How bogged down in correctness and apologies I had become! Going back through some of my scant postings, I can barely get through all the switch-backs and detours of my own writing. But I leave it here because it's real. This is what happens when you start thinking more of the reader's reactions than the truth of what you are saying.

I continue Linguini, partly from tradition and partly for that occasional visitor that may stumble in, read that top post and have some sort of reaction, good or bad. But the main reason I continue is the same reason I began this blog almost 13 years ago:
Even before there was such as thing as a “blog,” this stream-of-consciousness-Andy-Rooney-esque commentary on life would be continually running through my brain, getting in the way of other, more fruitful thoughts. Only I’d edit my rambling, stopping myself just short of – dare I say – enlightenment to study the grammar of the sentence with which I was involved.
This is the only purpose I can see for this thing called “blogging.” It might shut up the never-ending flow of commentary long enough for me to balance my checkbook in peace.
I was 48. I was incredibly stupid.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Cauliflower Rice


Why I Hate Eating Out

Every now and then, I happen upon food in a restaurant so absolutely wonderful I have to either figure out how to recreate the recipe in my own kitchen or be forced to visit the restaurant again, requiring yet another meal out.

Eating out demands a whole social system I’m usually just too exhausted to deal with. Other diners, the host person and waitstaff all require my interaction. Most of them – well intentioned, I’m sure – want to chat using that hideous manifestation of extroversion connection: Small Talk.

Server: How are you today? (Translation: Are you going to be low-maintenance, or…gluten free?)

Me: Fine. (Translation: Please don’t tell me your name…)

Server: My name is Ashley/Bradley/Brooke/Chandler and I’ll be your server. (Translation: You’re going to complain about the air conditioner hitting you in that seat. I know it.)

Me: Hi. (Translation: Oh my God! Now I have to remember his/her name. I’ve already forgotten it! What ever happened to people named John and Mary? What do kids with weird names do when they want pre-printed stickers to put on their notebooks and they can’t find a sticker with the name “Tracey” spelled “T-R-A-Y-S-E-E?” They would have to special order…)

Server: Ma’me? Ma’me? (Translation: Are you having a stroke? You didn’t hear me ask what you wanted to drink and you’re tipping the chair over and dropping the cutlery all over the place.)

However, Dirtman requires I go to restaurants on occasion and going with him doesn’t make matters any better. Dirtman doesn’t go to restaurants so much to eat, as to socialize. (Yeah, I know – how have we stayed married 30 years?)

First Dirtman scopes out the room, looking for someone he knows… or someone he might know… or someone wearing a Virginia Tech t-shirt… or someone wearing anything. He chooses his victim, wolfs down his food, excuses himself to go to the bathroom, never to be heard from again.

This leaves me at the table alone and at the mercy of a server who, now feels sorry for me and wants to ramp up the conversation.

Server: Are you enjoying your meal? (Translation: Jeese, even her husband doesn’t want to eat with her.)

Me: … (Translation: My mouth is full of food. Is it more rude to answer with a mouthful or try to swallow first and risk that, since this is small talk, she/he doesn’t really care and will move on before I get a chance to answer, in which case she/he’ll think I’m rude…)

Server: I’ll just take some of these dishes away. (Translation: Maybe I should go get her husband who is sitting at that table chatting with that group of bewildered Buddhist monks.)

I carry my Kindle with me always for just such occasions. I act like I’m reading something requiring full concentration. (Translation: I am deep and too focused on my reading to discuss whether it’s hot enough for me.)

During one of these meals I was introduced to a magical manifestation: Cauliflower Rice; specifically, cauliflower rice from Zoe’s Kitchen. Zoe’s is fast food (ish), without the health risk – and they make an incredible hibiscus green iced tea. And cauliflower rice answers the prayers of a 60-year-old woman who has finally admitted her carb-loaded days have passed (begrudgingly -- I still sneak in a pasta day. I'm not a psychopath).

Zoe’s Cauliflower Rice, infused with wonderful fresh flavors, forced me to spend half the time I should have been focused on the Charlottesville Opera’s performance of Oklahoma! instead trying to figure the interesting seasoning mixture that made the dish so captivating.

My first attempt contains the obvious flavors of lemon and dill and is very good. But it lacks the one very important spice that gives Zoe’s version its unique flavor. Cardamom was acceptable, but I have to own up to a miss.

You know what this means. It means another visit to Zoe’s Kitchen. Otherwise I’ll never be able to eat Cauliflower Rice without pants.*

*For those that know me – sorry for that visual flashing in your brain.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Thank you, Middle Eastern cuisine, for baba ganoush

Here's the thing about eggplant: I love eggplant. So, on a Saturday when I do my bi-weekly shopping, I buy an eggplant.

I’m going to make eggplant parmesan or eggplant melanzane (which is like saying “eggplant eggplant,” but in Sicilian it’s pronounced “moo-lin-yan’” and that’s what my grandmother called a casserole with just marinara, eggplant and romano cheese).

On Saturday I have great plans for that eggplant…

…which don’t take place that night because – duh – I’m tired out from shopping and doing all the stuff that doesn’t get done during the week. Fire up the grill and let Dirtman do the cooking. Men like that, right?

So, Sunday…we take a drive on Sunday, just anywhere. We try to get lost.We come home late. Too late for eggplant anyway.

Monday…I work at the DM V. And it’s a Monday. Need I say more? Leftovers.

Tuesday…Again, DMV. Cheese quesadillas. Again. If it’s Tuesday it must be quesadillas.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are days I work at a food pantry. By the time I get home, playing with food is the last thing on my mind. I ditch my weekly pledge to cut down on carbs and boil up the pasta – a little olive oil, a little parsley, some garlic and a lot of cheese, done. Or eggs. (Yawn)

Back to Saturday and there is my lovely eggplant – only now it’s blotchy and sad.

Another eggplant destined for the trash…

…until I discovered baba ganoush*.

It’s simple, really. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, poke a few holes in the skin, brush the cut side with olive oils and bake, cut side down, for 35-40 minutes at 400 degrees. As it cools, finely mince a clove or two of garlic. Scrape out and mash up the meat of the eggplant, add the garlic, two or three tablespoons of tahini, the juice of a lemon, a teaspoon of cumin, ¼ teaspoon cayenne (this makes it pretty hot) and salt to taste. Use it as a dip for pita wedges, cucumber slices, celery – whatever.

(Disclaimer: Dirtman hates baba ganoush. But, then, Dirtman is compelled to dump cream sauce on fresh, tender asparagus and was raised on Miracle Whip. So, basically, he's brain damaged.)

The wonderful thing about baba ganoush, in addition to its snappy taste, is that it only uses the interior of the eggplant. So when I have a week like the one I just mentioned – which is, like, always – that sad, blotchy eggplant can still be a perfect starter with a smooth goat cheese... and a martini as dry as a Stephen Fry quip.

*I’ve seen this spelled so many different ways, I opted for the one that was phonetic. I’m sure it’s not authentic.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Somewhat Delayed Fathers' Day Post*

PVT John Theodore EckersonGenealogy research is one of those activities, like bird watching, you don’t come to until you are older.

I don’t know why this is, because it’s rather counter-productive. By the time you’re interested, most of the people who could have provided the information you desperately need are dead or mentally incapacitated.

I never knew my paternal grandfather, who died in the trenches of World War I. I’ve been gazing at his picture from a newspaper article written about him in the early years of the war, when he voluntarily signed up to serve -- in spite of his military exemption because he had several children (my infant father) and one on the way -- because, as he is quoted as saying, “there are plenty of slackers.”

I want to slap him, knowing as I do the hardship his death caused my widowed grandmother, who was forced to dole her children out to boarding houses to raise themselves.

So I signed into an ancestry research site. A search reveals his name on the draft registration roster and in two clicks I'm looking at my grandfather’s signature on his registration form. Suddenly he is a person – my person. My grandfather. For a moment I’m stunned.

This man whose name, when spoken, resulted in an eye-roll from both my father and my aunt, was suddenly real to me. Would he have asked me to pull his finger? Would he have swiped in front of my face, bent his thumb toward his palm and claim possession of my nose? Would he like me?

And why, for God's sake, do I care?

At one point, the family tree splits, with each branch settling in two different counties in New Jersey, and two entirely different economic and social classes. I don’t think I need to mention which branch I’m descended from.

There are no Elizabeth Bennetts or Mr. Darcys lurking in my family tree; not even a Jane Eyre or Jo March. My people were servants to those characters, nameless, faceless workers who supported the romance that is presented as the Regency and Victorian eras.
Is it some sort of inherited memory that I never had the same romantic vision of the 19th century as the media presents?

Deep down I’m always aware that while a small population was fluttering about in hoop skirts and covering their noses with lace hankies, even more people were breaking their backs carrying the water to keep them in their dainty finery. That's my people.

I look back at my grandfather’s picture. Though he gazes back at me with my father’s eyes, I still feel anger at this arrogant truck driver who stumbled into the line of fire. Had he not been who he was, had he not died, growing up I might have actually had a grandfather.

But then, had he lived, my father might never have been forced to leave college to get a job as a jewelry salesman to support his mother. It was there he met my mother. Where it not for that arrogant truck driver (or as Pa used to say, “I think my father was sort of a jerk.”), my parents would have never met.

And you, dear reader, instead of reading this, would be scrolling through Facebook posts on “Look at These 70s Celebs All Grown Up!” And Dirtman would be roaming freely about the world, trying to engage anyone and everyone into conversations about the weather. (On behalf of my family tree, you’re welcome.)

Physicists say that it is humans who impose a linear quality to the concept of time; some claim that events just happen without regard to past, present or future.

My existence has depended on the trajectory of a bullet shot in 1918 by a soldier whose name I’ll never know.

This amazes and humbles me.

*Portions of this post were originally published in (an old, old) column of Spot-On.