Satiety

IMG_0001

When I wander off the 15th fairway and onto the patio of Janet’s bungalow, and into their living room, it’s not to do all that stuff that everyone assumes is going on. Yes, Bob, Janet’s husband, is frequently away,and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the same thing. It makes us laugh, Janet and me, because you can see their patio from the course and into every room, and when I walk in, every curtain is wide open. It’s Janet’s attempt at transparency, to show the world, or at least the membership, “Look. No carrying on here. No fucking of any kind. See for yourself.”

Angela, my wife, knew I dropped in on Janet and didn’t seem to mind because I came home stuffed. On those days, I wouldn’t make a mess in the kitchen cooking up something that maybe she’d scarf down in the time it takes to make her diluted instant coffee which she lightened with that corn derived instant creamer.

“I just like the way the coffee tastes,” she’d say. We met going to college at Perdue, and that was how coffee was made when we were kids. Angela was from Iowa and me from Ohio. It was all the things we had in common that made it so easy to move in together after college and marry ten years ago. Both of us grew up eating the Mac and Cheese, fried chicken and mashed potato, meat loaf and iceberg lettuce salads with Thousand Island dressing.

Angela never ventured beyond this small circle of safe foods. She gagged the first time we went to sushi with our friends in Minneapolis. She learned to declare herself full to clients when they went to eat at some trendy place, and would eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich she kept in her purse on the drive home. I had long ago given up trying new dishes on Angela who found even black pepper overwhelmingly spicy.

Angela works in publishing and edited this missive before she left me and Eddie, our standard poodle, despite all the transparency. I found it open on my laptop with all the markups in yellow getting rid of extraneous comments and run-on sentences, which I mostly undid because what does she know about how I feel.

Throughout the three seasons of golf that I had been finishing my round on the 15th hole, I answered any questions Angela had, which were few, and if I lost any details, she could see the pictures on Instagram or make comments on Facebook. She liked every picture I posted. She gave a thumbs up to every description of the various dishes we tried regardless of whether she would have tried it, which she wouldn’t have.

Janet and Bob and Angela and I first met after we joined the club five years ago. Most of the members were older and we naturally gravitated to one another. Bob is a scratch golfer and we played together just once. He is one of those guys that doesn’t say a word on the course, playing a mistake free round that was as uninspired -just straight 200 yard drives, greens in regulation with machine like regularity, and two putts. The only moment of drama came on 18, when he landed in a trap, laid his blast out to 8 feet, and drained the tricky downhill putt with the same unsettling focus. He barely smiled at the congratulations from his gathered audience of duffers. Over beers, he sat drinking a lemon water, and chewed on a few saltines before dismissing himself. I had fish and chips, and the other two fellows were elbow deep in the half pound bacon cheese burgers.

Angela enjoyed Janet’s company, but found it sad that she couldn’t publish her short stories. Angela even sent the best one, a beautifully written, sad story about a dying, crippled girl, to the fiction editor of her company’s premier literature magazine, but got no feedback. Janet spent her time writing and cooking, and as her writing was going nowhere, she poured her imagination into the kitchen. In the stove, she found, a kinder receptacle than the word processor. Janet would have us over when Bob was away, which was most of the time. He did some kind of financial work, and had to be in New York most of the week.

The first time I walked off 15, Janet was waving to me and pointing at a plate of pastries, only they weren’t dessert. They were golden filo dough wrapped around tender beef ensconced in a potage of savory vegetables. I wasn’t hungry, but I walked over. Seeing the feast, I sat down at their patio table and dug in. I snapped a picture, posted it on Instagram, tapping -“this should feel like cheating, it’s so delicious.”

Circe seduced Ulysses, not with her beauty or magic, but with food and made him late getting home. The following week, as I approached my drive which I had sliced into the grass near Janet and Bob’s yard, I saw Janet look up from her kitchen window and wave me in. She asked me about Angela, and mentioned something about having us over that weekend, but that Bob would be in New York again. I invited her over to our house as we were already having some people for cocktails and the Ohio State game. Lots of chicken nuggets, wings, pigs in blankets, light beer, and of course pizza. She asked if I had eaten, and without waiting for a response, brought over a tray of croque monsieur’s cut into decrusted triangles with a bowl of homemade onion soup -the dark rich broth redolent of caramelized onions that she had grown herself. Picture snapped. Food perfect. Lots of likes.

It became a routine, one that Angela and I joked about. If it bothered her, it was apparent only once when I brought home a bit of pot au feu. She wrinkled her nose and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with her Wonder bread, eating it with a glass of milk standing up in the kitchen as I finished off the stew with a New Zealand Shiraz blend. I never did that again.

The only time there was some tension at Janet’s was last week, when we were laughing over a wonderful Malaysian inspired spring noodle dish with pan seared duck. She got a call from Bob who said he would be stuck in New York over the weekend. He was on speaker and he said hi. After he hung up, Janet sat down without losing a beat and jumped back into our conversation about some local political issue. Then, without warning, she reached over and grabbed my hand and pressed it to her chest. I smiled, mumbled thank you, and retreated back to the fifteenth hole, resuming my round.

Bob cancelled his meetings later that week, and I ran into them at the clubhouse walking in for dinner. Janet was clinging to Bob’s arm. The house is so quiet now without Angela’s FM station blaring from her office. Eddie clearly misses her, and I’m getting hungry.

copyright 2015 W Michael Park

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy was my favorite dish at a stylish Japanese restaurant on the Upper West Side during the ‘90’s and has stayed with me since that time as a short hand description for living. As a dish, it was tarted up with wasabi and overpriced Tokyo style curry poured onto rice, but as a metaphor, is aptly descriptive of my life as a constant outsider. What curry and wasabi agony that was offered by the dish was paired well with the moderately ecstatic Asian sweet potato humming nicely with some carrots, interposed by the mediating beef, its fat and broth filling out the dish. It was a particularly nasty looking green which gave it the look of Star Trek food, the kind that would give Scotty and McCoy fits when offered by alien dignitaries.

One of the habits that I have is that if I like a particular dish at a restaurant, I get stuck on it and will only order that same dish over and over again. The corollary to this rule is that after about two years, I stop going. Two years is about when I get tired of it. As I had mentioned in prior posts, the half life of human desire is about six months. In two years, whatever passion I had for the dish drops by four half lives or over 90%. Without a meaningful change in the dish, the natural refractoriness of my dopamine receptors kicks in –refractoriness refers to a nerves inability to give off the same intensity of signals if used again and again. The dish, once ambrosia becomes sawdust.

I am ecstatic when reveling in the new. I like the new car smell on the latest gadgets as they come out of their box, and figuring out the essence of a new surgical procedure has that same allure. New people, new surroundings, new foods –this is what gets me going. Of course, life wouldn’t be what it is without the agonies, and I engage these with the conviction that no matter how overwhelming the circumstances, brain chemistry dictates that the intensity of feelings on the agony side of things will wane too. All bleeding stops eventually, we say in the OR. So it is that life change takes about two years to settle into a steady state. A new job, a new relationship, fresh grief – any life change takes about 2 years to reach a digestible state. It took Tiger Woods two years to win again after all.

Which makes you think about marriages and how they survive romantic love. The old coffee machine that we got on our wedding day lived with us for the past 17 years. It was a Krups combination drip brew and cappuccino maker. My wife, Jennifer, says it was a metaphor for our marriage. At the start, we kept a variety of beans to grind fresh for every pot, occasionally making espresso and cappuccino, but eventually, we settled on cans of Melita Classic, which we found to be a superior ready to brew grind. At about year 7, I broke the pot, but Jen found a replacement. Two years ago, the heating element broke, but Jen managed to find a source for spare parts and she performed the necessary surgery on it to repair it. It was this year she realized that our coffee was not as good as it used to be after she tried the coffee that came out of our friends very expensive European coffee maker, and it was it some sadness we are saying goodbye to the old machine –the new one arrived from Amazon. It’s letting go of the past, accepting change, and anticipating the new that is both agonizing yet full of hope. Marriages, by definition, are rife with moments of agony and ecstasy, but when faced together with your partner, they become surmountable.

If I am to escape the fate of the old coffee maker, I have to actively engage, fearlessly renew, and aggressively freshen. Sophomore slumps are the result of passivity and laziness of the mind. Looking back on seventeen years of marriage, I can see that at some point, I was a drip coffee maker, once shiny and new, but now I am a fully automatic, self cleaning espresso machine, slightly used, but perfectly serviceable. Ciao.

20111213-204151.jpg

My Favorite Bar In Manhattan

In celebration of St. Patrick’s day, I will give out the location of my favorite bar. The Landmark Tavern (link) is my favorite bar in Manhattan. It is old, classy, with naked lady sculptures and bas-reliefs meant to mesmerize 19th century gentlemen. The barkeeps are fastidious and silent -the place is never full, usually empty, and nearly impossible to find from just memory, hard to get to by public transit, and there is a Hotel California kind of vibe if you go there at night. The picture above implies that the place is sunny and it is absolutely not -it’s dark and gloomy, and best visited on a rainy afternoon. Its the place to go for solitude, for breaking up (although awkward because there are literally no cabs and the nearest subway is two avenue blocks or so to my recollection, but aren’t they always awkward), for catching up with long lost friends, and for the best shepherd’s pie on the island. I half expect to sit down to a drink with Ullyses S. Grant in the place. There are no college students, and no loud drunk tourists. It’s a serious bar for serious people who want to meditate in the twilight zone.

docpark’s Nice Tea! and my picks

Football playoffs and lazy Sundays mix wonderfully in this iced tea creation. I make a typical Southern sweet tea using double density of P&G Tips tea bags, steeped extra long for that extra bite of tannins. I add a tablespoon of sugar for every two cups (may add more for more traditionally sweet tea) and if I have them, I crush and muddle in spearmint leaves. At this point, this drink is fine for drinking after mowing lawns, but if you want a super smooth Nice Tea -you add a shot of Amaretto and a half shot of Grand Marnier along with a dash of Angostura Bitters. The result is a very smooth concoction that makes you think about spring -sunny, cool, and stirring to the spirit.

I won’t talk about the Vikings because it may curse them. I will root for the Jets in the same way I would root for the drunk Irish guy on St. Patrick’s Day who picks a fight with a bunch of yobby out of town college kids from an SEC school. He may go down, but he’ll be defending the honor of New York in his own special way.