Hank’s Drive-In

Originally posted on Ramblin Ron:

As a writer and a cook, I rarely need to look very far to find a story. I usually have more ideas than time or attention span and as an editor once told me, I need to “SLOW DOWN.” Sometimes stories are so compelling that you actually don’t know what to do with them or who to tell or how to write it.

When I was at Radford University, a favorite place for us to all go after having a bit too much fun the night before was to Hank’s, as we referred to it amongst ourselves. Set in a sea of fast food restaurants, this beach-like, shack looking place was home to the cook we all knew and loved. We would pile in around a vinyl covered table in his one room restaurant/eating area that could seat around ten or so at max capacity. Everyone else pulled up in…

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Leaving Reno?

Reno

At some point between sleep and wakening, hung-over dinner and drunken breakfast, all hell broke loose. My Felicity look-alike work friend and escort to a smarmy Christmas Party had discovered my best friend and lover and they were having an all-out pitched battle. I hated to break it to Felicity, but this was just the sort of thing that Bob (let’s just call her that, OK?) ate like a starving Russian model at an all you can eat sashimi bar. I had been awake for about fifteen minutes, going through mail, making some phone calls to verify that all the charges had been actually dropped and it wasn’t some joke by my Grandfather’s youngest brother, who also happened to be the judge, magistrate, lawyer, contracts negotiator and person in charge of just about everything in the small town near where I grew up.

Sabrina (aka Felicity) was explaining loudly that she was decidedly NOT happy to find me with my arm around another girl, as we were rehashing our last few months apart while finishing the handle of Vodka and a handful of happy pills with court papers scattered around us like confetti. We were just talking about how fun it would be to go to Italy together (she insisted that she knew just where to go, who to see and how to live there) after a stopover in coal country for me to stock away a few grand to trade for euros. Sabrina had picked a truly horrendous time to come and see why I hadn’t been at work.

Bob decided that this was an argument best won in the nude. She dropped the blanket away, placed one leg strategically over the other, threw her shoulders back, tossed her six-hundred blonde mane into a trashy, sexy, perfect mess, checked her toenails and drained her last martini. Neat. Straight, actually, if you didn’t look hard for the Percocet’s swimming around in the bottom like someone’s spunk that was just too lazy to try anything else. She called Rocky to her. He went obediently enough, but with a bit of reluctance, as though he too were tired of the whole thing already. I know I was.

“Who loves me?” Bob slipped into her best Valley Girl accent like a well-worn favorite sweater. Her blue eyes pinned me to the wall and I wanted to be anywhere else. On a deserted island maybe. With a reverse osmosis water filtration system. Sabrina was dead white and shaking like a leaf. She knew the battle was over. Bob had flown in from LA and her Land Rover was parked at the top of the steps as if she owned the place, which I suppose she did. Her parents did, at least, which is the only way that I could have afforded to live here. Despite the crime rate, desert sand street and proximity to the interstate, it was still a hipster street and market values were skyrocketing. Sabrina, oddly enough, was now mad at me. “You’re a pile of shit! You know that, right? To think….I hired you!”

The gate at the top of the stairs, which were inlaid with tiny stones and hand fired brick from the courtyard below us, slammed, hard. Bob, her most pressing battle won with her opponent fleeing down the street rolled onto her stomach and stretched her toes towards her head. Her crazy icy eyes pinned me to the wall like a specimen in an Entomology Museum.

“Want to do something fun?” I nodded, all the fun gone from my immediate future. I was relatively certain I’d just lost my job as a cook, and I was even more certain that my days with the USGS and NASA were numbered. They had stopped feeding me datasets that could be solved and could only be tagged for further research. That meant my publications had dried up, which meant, at least to smallish community of people who study fracture mechanics on other planets, that I no longer truly existed.

I shrugged. “Sure!” Is there really another answer to that question? She was dressing, if you could call it that, in a white sheer number that would likely land me in jail by the end of the night. Assault and battery, maybe. She really enjoyed starting fights and acting her part as the dazed and confused damsel in distress as my luckless opponent and I battered each other senseless. I had grown somewhat used to it, down to taping my fingers when we went out, just in case. My only real wish is that she would choose someone more my size to start shit with.

The night was as I expected, mostly. I don’t remember much. We met a model friend of hers at the airport, dressed just as explicitly as Bob. We were driven downtown in front of Casino Casino. I felt sorry for the washed up guy sobbing on the street and bought him dinner at a steakhouse. Bob and Company enjoyed it until he started vomiting and begging for a drink. Then they declared it was gross and too real and left to find a drug dealer, I suppose.

I stood in the cold desert air, desperately searching the horizon for stars. I couldn’t see any. I wander into the Silver Legacy and shivered as refrigerated air, reeking of retirement, booze and sadness washed over me like a tangible thing, like a jungle snake watching me with unblinking eyes as I stumbled closer to its lair, lost and frightened.

I ignored the feeling, tossed the last pill out of my pocket into an abandoned gin and tonic and swallowed all of it, unflinching.

It was a fabulous evening, I suppose. I awoke sometime later on my flattened air mattress just as Rocky came in through his gate. The high desert air was cold again, without a trace of humidity. I sat outside on the steps and numbly poured coffee from my neighbors French Press into my old cup. I didn’t argue when he added a splash of whiskey. We sipped our redeyes and watched the sun come up. The two models were still passed out in the remains of the air mattress. I reminded myself to throw that thing away and get a real bed someday.

The heavy oak door creaked open and Bob stumbled out in an old sweatshirt of mine. She didn’t look nearly as good as the night before. I could see the beginnings of age at the corners of her eyes and mouth and her spray on tan was fading rapidly into a jaundiced yellow.

She covered her face with my sleeves and stumbled into my arms. “Promise to never leave me again. Please?” How could I agree with anything else? I did promise and she settled into a comfortable warm mess on my lap and smiled sleepily at me. “We had fun last night, right?”

Her teeth were smeared with lipstick. Like blood, maybe. Mine? I watched the sun finish rising and drained my cup.

I was leaving Reno. That was for sure.

Light Pollution and Home Fries

The harsh city lights lit up the immediate sky. Overlying stars winked above the pollution emitted by the small cities constant drain on the water resources of Lake Tahoe. Not for the first time, I welcomed a look at the stars, looking back through eons of time to what? The beginning of the universe? Creation? The first or latest ripple of energy that rippled through our known solar system, no doubt accompanied by a noise devoid of context to human ears. With nobody there to witness it with any understanding that could be made understandable to the finite abilities of the human brain, it joins the riddle of the tree in the forest. I made my way across the pedestrian bridge spanning the interstate, which provided a indelible boundary of sorts between the garish tourism and crime of downtown and the Institution of higher learning, where I spent strange hours pondering the imponderable, getting paid to essentially think deep thoughts on shallow subjects and transmit those ponderings to the blinking question mark of a computer screen.

The constant stream of automobile headlights sparkled darkly in the constant multi-colored twilight. Although nearly daylight, the screams and laughs of late night party goers in search of something they dared not pursue in within their natural environment of suburbs and McMansions around the world. Those who survived the onslaught of petty criminals, con artists, casinos and prostitutes of all kinds would sleep the restless sleep of the guilty, subconsciously worrying about the ultimate digital trail of their escapades as the fell upon their credit cards like starving dogs, draining bank accounts and ruining credit in their pursuit of something else, something different.

My day had begun nearly 24 hours earlier, as I rose from a few hours of fitful sleep to let myself in the kitchen door of a tiny café across from campus. The owner, a striking blonde with more than a passing resemblance to Keri Russell, a fact that I was made aware of at a Christmas Party she escorted me to.

Surrounded by nerds, technicians, PhD candidates and their mentors, we made an unusual pairing. I refused to be drawn in to any discussions on micro-fracture tip deformation mechanics on mars and she would not respond to any of the enthusiastic advances of my colleagues, who, well into their second drink of the year, were terribly wasted and embarrassing to be around. My own mentor was a nearly deaf middle aged white guy with the most striking case of OCD that I’d ever seen, a house in a gated community, a shy, skinny wife dressed in new outdoor gear and a pet rabbit they’d taught to use their toilet. Not for the first time, I wondered what the hell I was doing there, with that group of people.

I preferred the kitchen. When I rumbled through the steel door with multiple padlocks, kicking opossum filled trash cans out of the way and bonking an occasional coyote on the head, I felt at home. My home fries were wildly popular and I cut fifty pounds of them every single morning, using only my chef’s knife, blanched them in boiling water until tender, drained them well and baked the excess moisture away in a 500 degree oven. I would empty the fryers, refill with rendered duck fat and lard that I screened the night before and kept hidden under the pastry counter and fry each batch to order.

I would also prep waffle mix, pancakes, beat enough eggs for 75 omelets, check my pickles, rescue my hand-cured pork belly and sausage from their respective hiding places, and crank out breakfasts until 10:00 a.m. I was paid in cash, every day, and I packed and cleaned as though I might not be back. With outstanding warrants in Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia and Maryland, there was always a chance.

All this made me a bit more wary as I approached my apartment that night, with the neon night at my back and the faint glow of a light fading out from under my door. Rocky woofed reassuringly and I relaxed a bit. Whoever was in there had to be someone he knew, well, or he would never have let them through the entrance. I dropped the latch on the gate back in place, noting the electronic click of the security locks, checked my mail and made my way down the steps. The sun was just rising to my right, and the lights of Sacramento were on the horizon to my left. Lake Tahoe was no doubt gleaming like the world’s largest and most precious diamond just over the horizon, behind the snow covered peaks of the Western Rockies.

I eased open the door, and the scent of hair product, perfume and vodka became my guide to the interior. There was a small tiled bathroom, a kitchenette and a single king sized air mattress, occupied. Her blond hair spilled over the very expensive blanket she carried everywhere with her and Rocky proudly stood guard by her on the mattress. I locked the door, put water out for Rocky, which he scorned, as usual. It was habit for me, but he’d long since learned the value of a toilet.

It seems I’d left this girl everywhere, and still she followed. She was too fragile, too open, too open-hearted to follow my ornery ass around. I picked through the prescription pill bottles on the floor by the bed, noting the half empty handle of Absolute turned on its side, still dribbling it’s poison onto the stone floor.

I shook out one of the pills, and sat down on her yoga mat. Rocky padded over to join me. I checked his breath and eyes, relieved that he showed no signs of intoxication. That was all I needed. A drunk 110 lb. lab mix and a 110 lb. enraged and inebriated model with a rich girl entitlement attitude wrapped in about a thousand dollars of grooming.

I glanced at my mail, and hastily ripped open an envelope from my lawyer back home in Virginia. I picked up the bottle of vodka, palmed the pill and chased it with a feta stuffed Kalamata olive and a chug of devils juice. My hands shook a bit. Case dismissed. No credible witnesses. Come home.

I relaxed into the air mattress and turned on the TV, barely watching the Dragonball Z episode. Goku was blowing up some world somewhere and his hair was glowing. As the sun broke through the high altitude fog, the girl’s hair, spilled all over her pillow and blanket, glowed as well. I decided to finish of the bottle and sleep for about a week.

Rocky sighed, turned in a quick circle and quietly put his head between his paws. In the mornings early sunshine, the burn of neon lights vanished into the outer realm of human perception. The dog’s paws twitched and I gagged slightly at the familiar burn of the alcohol. I’d be sick tonight.

But I’d be on my way home. Sort of.

Over the Hills and Down the Mountains…A Plan Gone Awry.

“It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.”  I was always a bit disappointed in the character portrayals of the Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I became addicted to Tolkien as a teenager, when I discovered the three books, plus “The Hobbit” while assisting my uncle in remodeling a house. The books were rather strategically hidden, but nothing really escapes the relentless gaze of a teenager in their never ending quest for knowledge. Around age fourteen, my own quest for anything new quickly morphed into a frenzy of planning on how to get out of there. Preferably as far away as I could go, where no one knew me and I could start over, somehow rising above the ashes of a broken heart and contaminated soul…it was at this point that I usually broke down into tears, wallowing in my undeserved self-pity as only a teenager can.

Despite my broken heart and despondent soul (from which I always recovered, especially with the advent of another blonde, wannabe model with “Baby” tattooed on her shoulder blade into my life. I never did lose the desire to travel and see new places, even though it seemed more impossible as years went by. Then I discovered something! Something huge! Magical! Terrific! If you packed a small bag with a few clothes, not many, a little money, not much and a little food you were ready to go! The world was at your fingertips!

I’ve lost count on the number of times I’ve just simply wandered away, telling know one for certain of my plan, as I usually didn’t know myself. That didn’t stop me from being vague and mysterious up to when I left, as though I were indeed an angel whose wings had been ripped away in some  epic recapitulation of events as only I, the purveyor of legend, the immortal Highlander (remember that shit?) could somehow recall, if only I could stay sane in the telling.

Welcome to my childhood.

This roadtrip had all the drama of the others, only this time it was real life drama. My wife and I had bought a new home in Easton, MD near St. Michaels. We have a son, not quite two. We have a feral cat, age unknown. We have not yet sold our previous home, where we had lived for eight years, despite all our improvements. My wife is crazy busy with photography, and I am still suffering physically from HE, the side effects and symptoms of acute liver cirrhosis. Traveling, extended trips in the car, physical exertion or just simply standing too long sends my system into toxic shock. All of that notwithstanding, I chose to babysit our movers and drive up separately, over what I planned to be a few days of time, easy drives, and visiting with friends and new restaurants along the way.

That’s not what happened.

On Monday morning, I did manage to talk our cat, Stubbs, who is large and in charge and almost completely feral, into a small cat carrier that I bought for him. Astonishingly, he went willingly. He became my companion through the whole trip, until I lost him. More on that later.

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I said goodbye to Nolan, without crying (I saved that for later, I was only going to be one day, right?). He grinned his normal devil may care grin and he and his Mom piled into her Cadillac and off they went, headed for our new home in Easton, Maryland.

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I finished loading my Ford, met with the movers, who just so happened to be a great bunch of girls and guys, in spite of some gross misunderstandings throughout the day. The problem was, I was getting sicker by the minute on Monday, how sick, I didn’t really know at the time. That didn’t stop me from having a great day, nonetheless. The homemade wooden rack worked like a charm, thanks to my Dad and Brother James, who took their time on the rack-to-truck attachment to ensure it was as strong as possible, held everything I could possibly want, and kept all the bed features available. Thanks, James and Dad!!

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While the movers were doing their thing, I tried to mostly stay out of the way, although it nearly killed my pride to do so. By mid-morning I was beaten down pretty badly, but still on my feet and moving. I did a lot of sightseeing, visited Palisades, Eggleston, Pembroke, picked up a new canoe for calm water use, visited Moonsown Farm for some happily raised pork and boar, ate a hot dog, grabbed some sandwiches from Tangent Outfitters and in general had a pretty good day.IMG_0204

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I tried to help pull a guy out of a ditch, to no avail:

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Wrapped most everything up at the house, then cruised on over to the Inn on Main Street and visited my favorite dive, Underground Pub. They gave me my old coffee mug for luck, without anything but tea in it this time, my bourbon years are long gone:

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The next day found me in the hospital, where my plans for traveling north through WV, stopping to see my mentor Chef and documenting food all the way were changed. Instead, I started a bleary three day journey to our new home, which held it’s own set of adventures that I never planned for.

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I was given an autographed copy of a book, met some seriously cool people, learned yet again that every single day is a blessing and realized that I hate Doritos. I still haven’t found Stubbs, but I will. He has a way of showing up. Nolan was happy to see me and I celebrated by sleeping for about two days.

More on all the rest of this later. In the meantime, watch that front door!

Pura Vida!

 

The Forgotten Generation

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The little girl, around five or so, carefully adjusted the camber on the ramp, with is to say that she moved a few bricks around to what she felt was a safer launching point. The little boy, his head amass with brown curls and thoughts of motorcycles, pouted a bit, but internally agreed that it was probably less susceptible to catastrophic failure than the angle he had scornfully placed it. They both solemnly watched the sun set over the Appalachian Mountains, their faces bathed in the late fall warmth. The smell of apples, dried corn, brownies and soup beans with fatback was redolent in the falling temperatures, accompanied by the sound of leaves brushing against one another as they fell. The end of one season, the beginning of another.

Some forty feet or so above the launching pad, as the boy had started to think of it, astride his brand new Green Machine, the wind stirred again, blowing his long hair aside as he looked with wonder at the little girl. She was tall for her age, with the wisdom granted to some in their early youth normally reserved for adults in the last glow of their trips around the sun. Her long blond hair was bleached to almost white by the sun of the mountain tops and the pounding waves of the mighty Atlantic, where she spent her summers by the seashore. Her tanned skin was smudged and she studied the launching pad a bit more, her brown eyes frowning as she considered the vectors involved in launching an unwieldy piece of plastic after it’s decent had increased the speed far beyond any design anticipations of the engineering staff, who were mostly leftovers from the failed attempts to build stealthy munitions from engineered material.

The little girl, after the contraption passed her begrudging approval, turned and gave the boy a thumbs up. She was pretty already: A network of barely visible sun freckles across her nose and cheeks, with a stubborn look-adults-straight-in-their-face attitude that spoke of independence and distrust of authority that became the hallmark of our generation. The boy was also a prophecy of his years to come. Thoughtful and intelligent, although not quite as capable as the girl, he had the ability to create smoke and ruins wherever he went, with a tendency to sit in astonishment in the aftermath of his calamity, calmly wondering what had went wrong.

He crossed his legs on the Green Machine so that they wouldn’t get caught on the pedals, settled firmly into his seat, tossed the apple he was eating to the core aside and grimly, gleefully, launched himself off the side of the dirt embankment. The rest of his life lay before him. His to do as he pleased with.

We were mostly rebels, all of us who are members of the single most shrinking generation of human beings in the U.S. The members of our previous generation, the flower children, the hippies, the stoners; finally caved with little to no resistance to the very systems that they had opposed for so long. The welcomed the move to suburbia in mass numbers and begat the largest growing and wealthy members of a wide-open open economic boom that lasted beyond anyone’s expectation.

Their parents, the great generation, the ones who fought in World War I, the Native American extermination and world-wide ethnic cleansing that shattered the world as nothing else before it, gave birth to extremist beliefs: Racism, social, economic and socioeconomic stratification on a whole new level, beyond slavery and its consequences. Instead they shifted to a new paradigm of ultimate power, a system of assimilation and extermination of unique races, religion and opportunity for millions of people and simply took over the world on a scale never before imagined or orchestrated.

We were the first forgotten generation, abandoned by our parents and as they relentlessly pursued the American Dream in an environment no longer tolerant of such dreams. We matured and grew despite school systems that didn’t care, fostered by our own intolerance of previous generations who betrayed us with nuclear warheads, starvation, and government-sponsored takeovers of basic human rights. Energy and basic services were micromanaged not only in the U.S., but even more aggressively in what was a rapidly shrinking world. We watched in total horror on our T.V.’s as the media showed us in the last gasp of free press the grisly details of a world that was at last controlled completely, effectively and totally taken over by a select group of old white men who were hell bent on taking their last grievances to their graves. This method of control gave birth to a new power, one that existed in the shadows, silently controlling world events and the media’s interpretation of them.  These new conquerors wanted only one thing: Power. With that control the wealth of the world became available and shared by a select group of individuals, all white, all male and all with a united agenda: Take over the economic engines, by whatever means necessary, of the entire world.

The X-Generation became the first to gleefully pursue education beyond what anyone expected. We were largely unidentifiable by dress, actions, race, gender and most importantly: Money. We also scattered like small fighting chickens before an advancing and unavoidable pack or unified wild dogs. Mostly defiant, unafraid and still posturing as if we wanted to stand and fight; we instead fragmented into small and often individual groups. We embraced and gave birth to the internet, technology and knowledge. We spearheaded a cultural revolution that amounted in the end, to nothing.

We shamelessly embraced heavy metal, rock, rap and music of all types. We gleefully engaged in illegal activities on a scale not seen in the U.S. before. We formed gangs, runaways, drug trafficking enterprises: All of which began with a distinct and total lack of trust with and disdain for authority. We grew up in a world that was supposed to end in a nuclear firestorm that never happened. The exasperation of those in power with us soon waned as the realization sunk in that in truth, there just wasn’t enough of us to make a real difference and the end, we just didn’t care.

The boy, a decade later, had become a defiant young man, honed by years of living in poverty, embracing the brutal work required to survive in a geographical region which had long depended on the work ethic of its members. He and the girl had outgrown the school that finally accepted them, taking college classes on the side, rapidly outpacing their teachers and leaders and aggressively challenging the narrow mindset of a cloistered mindset dependent upon an unwavering interpretation of religion, not unlike any other environment of isolation around the world, stubbornly holding to a belief in subordination of women to the harshest of requirements, where it was deemed an unforgiveable sin if skirts did not touch the ground, toenail polish was forbidden and long hair was the mark of ultimate dedication to their husbands god and they felt was holy.

The girl had not bent nor wavered in the face of severe persecution, and had grown uncomfortably into the beautiful woman that her early years had suggested. Still both cursed and blessed by her intelligence, she still loved everyone around her with a fierceness that she could not control nor truly escape. Once again she found herself adjusting the height of a ramp in an attempt to keep the boy, hell bent on self-destruction in his rebellion against everything, somewhat intact as long as she could. He was impatiently waiting, as he had as a child, on her to give him the thumbs up. Astride his new machine, a bastard mismatch of motorcycle parts that he had assembled into the equivalent of a time bomb on wheels, disdainfully without a helmet of protective gear of any kind, his long curls still uncut in a world full of men who scorned long hair, gunned his engine as she turned and reluctantly gave him a thumbs up. Three cars were assembled in front of the ramp, headlights blaring and speakers thundering Metallica, like some futuristic computer game yet to be written in DOS by someone watching. He threw away the clutch and buried the throttle. She watched until he slid to a stop, basking in the adoration of his female fan club, all screaming his name. Then she walked away. Into another life of higher education and people who accepted her as she was.

Two decades later, they are still the best of friends. Despite the miles, broken hearts, and wildly differing paths, they still remained in touch. Somehow, she knew just when to reach out, feeling the pain as he ultimately paid the price for a life full of broken bones, surgery, addictions, big wave wipeouts and crashes. He is finally wiser, more cautious and thankful for every day he can enjoy. He carries all the scars, both physical and mentally, of a life lived in the unwavering belief that he was indestructible. He now, finally, understands. She is still the beautiful woman she had always been, with a softness in her gaze belied by a heart that never stopped caring.

They sit in the glow of another sunset, another day, another time well spent and enjoyed. She doesn’t worry about him quite so much, but he still carries the air of one who, at his core, believes he is indestructible. He still projects, despite the scars and hair that is now rapidly turning white, the easy charm that befuddles him. She glances at him and a smile touches her face. Their two children, a boy and a girl, both glowing blonde curls, dive into the oncoming waves generated thousands of miles away, laughing as only children can. They are blessed with small children, surrounded by a new generation of parents, who gasp with horror as the two kids place themselves in what they feel is like, a totally dangerous place. Their spouses, both wondering at times what goes on the heads of their dearly beloved partners, are returning from a run on the beach, collapsing with the content of the exhilaration of physical exhaustion. Kisses and hugs are exchanged and the children come running out of the surf, their skin bright with health and supervised play.

The sun sets once more. Another day awaits. Their rebellion is over, but still simmers like a banked fire under the surface of frozen clay.

Pasta and The Girl

dreamfields-pasta_0007(Authors Preface: I will be selecting a winner at random for a family pack of Dreamfields Pasta AND a $25 gift card. All you have to do is comment on this page and share it on facebook, twitter and whatever else you use to stalk all your ex’s and you are in, Baby! The more you share, the higher your chances! Use the hashtag #IHeartDreamfields for bonus points. Good luck!! I’ll contact the lucky winner for your name and address, Dreamfields will take care of the rest. No, I’m not kidding. Erica, if you read this, well, you know who I am and can comment appropriately!) 

Her dark, dark eyes were a pool of thought as she watched me with scrutiny and curiosity. Which was it? I didn’t know, but it was enough to unnerve me and I became suddenly clumsy, thinking of things that I usually didn’t and berating myself a bit for every single knife skills mistake and unnecessary movement. My cooking ability, honed for years by necessity, which generally kept myself fed and my bank account as close to above zero as possible, seemed to have deserted me in this time of need. “Do not be afraid of your food. It will know.” Anthony Bourdain first used this phrase in his book, “Kitchen Confidential,” a book I had read over and over until the covers fell off.

Then, just like that, my hand slipped and the onion flipped in my hands, which were manifesting my inward state. I so wanted to impress this girl that I had just met, someone that had already made a major impact on me and I felt I was falling hard for her. I could NOT afford to continue wining and dining her in restaurants – I was nearly broke and tired of dating.

I suffered my first major injury that evening in the kitchen. I severed the nerve that helps your left forefinger operate properly, an injury which lingers even today. We assessed the situation in silence for a moment as I tried to pretend it didn’t happen. We ordered a pizza and spent the rest of the night of the night watching Zoolander, drinking a decent bottle of wine and laughing like old friends. Three years later – we were married. I did get the girl of my dreams that night.

Now we make this recipe as a failsafe if we are in a hurry or just whenever we want a fresh, tasty Italian meal. With a toddler and the schedules of artists, we are lucky to spend so much time with our son, but some days things get a bit crazy. Here is the quick and easy, mac and cheesy recipe [Thanks to Guy Fieri for this analogy] for you to enjoy!)

­Ron & Laura’s Awesome Pasta with Quick and Healthy Tomato Sauce.

Total Cooking Time: 12-20 minutes. Even faster if your ingredients are already chopped. Cost: Around $4-10. Serves: 3-10, according to how hungry they are.

  • A quick and easy trip to the store. I timed it from start to finish at the grocer and it took me exactly eleven minutes.
  • Ingredients: One large quality can of whole tomatoes, peeled. Save money here by looking for scratches and dents. These are discounted during checkouts. It is important to get a quality product here, or you can use fresh tomatoes if you like. Two heads of garlic, a handful of olives (your choice), one sweet onion, one half of a pound of ground meat of your choice (we prefer lamb, pork or veal, or choose a veggie route and skip the meat) one large sweet pepper, two basil leaves, one rough handful of basil and one Box of Dreamfields Angel Hair Pasta. Note: We like to think that we make our own pasta, but the truth is, it’s a lot of work and sometimes we just don’t have time. Dreamfields is an amazingly healthy alternative that is incredibly similar to handmade pasta. We LOVE it. Most importantly, so does our son. The pasta has 7 grams of protein, so we feel safe without meat products.
  • Pre-Heat your burners. Trust me. Make sure nobody gets burned by quickly putting your cooking vessels in place. Use at least two quarts of water for the pasta with lots of salt and bring to a rapid boil while you are prepping. For your sauce, I prefer my ancient cast iron skillet, but any pot, pan, metal bucket over a fire or anything else will work as long as it is large enough.

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  • Prep your vegetables. Just peel the garlic, smash them with the blade of your knife and dice everything else. Knife cuts are not important. Just don’t cut yourself! Chef’s tip for the onion: Cut it in half along the axis of the vegetable. Flip and cut one end off, then peel. Leave one end for a finger hold while you chop. This will prevent any possibility of cutting your hand as you work on your knife skills.

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  • Put around two tablespoons of a high quality olive oil in the skillet and add the onion and garlic. Don’t heat the oil to its smoke point! If you see smoke, turn down the heat immediately! I start with medium high heat and reduce as needed.
  • As soon as the garlic and onion start to brown, reduce the heat appropriately and add the ground lamb (your choice) mixing them with a wooden spoon (Any other implement will work – I’ve even used oversized tent stakes. Don’t laugh! It works!)
  • Add the pasta to the water now. It should have enough room to float. Set your timer to five minutes. Add the can of tomatoes, basil, bay leaves and chopped sweet pepper now. Turn the heat to high.

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  • Check the pasta as your timer beeps about this second. It should still be firm, not soggy and have some “tooth” to the palate and taste. You don’t want it to be soggy. Drain into a colander and rinse with cold water. Set your plates and check your sauce. It should be cooked through and incredibly tasty, but simple. We’re going Italian all the way tonight! Use salt and pepper and even brown sugar as you like to achieve the taste your family wants.
  • Plate the pasta.
  • Spoon the sauce over the pasta.
  • Garnish with chopped olives, herbs and lots of grated Parmesan Cheese! (If you must, use the pre-shredded cheese, just please don’t stoop so low as to use the stuff in the green plastic cans. Ewwww.)

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Serve!!! Your child will throw it everywhere, but really, who cares? This pairs equally well with a Malbec, Italian Sparkling Water, or Grape Juice in a Sippy Cup!!

(Authors Notes: You can adjust this recipe as you like. Remember, cooking is a deeply personal enterprise, especially when it is for your family. The wonderful thing about cooking is you can do what you want, the end product is all that matters. Pura Vida!)

RM

Do No Harm

There is a time in every recovering addicts life, regardless of the former or current addiction, when you feel the overwhelming urge to try to right every wrong, recover your past and try and fix what you have broken in your former life. You reach out, call people you haven’t seen in years, scour the internet for old friends, ex-girlfriends, ancient acquaintances and everyone that you feel you have wronged. Rethink that urge and recognize it for what it is. An attempt at self-justification that you don’t deserve.

I met with a great friend of mine today. He was literally my hero, the guy I wished I was, the most honest, talented person that I have ever met. He replaced in my mind, the big brother that I never had. We’re roughly the same age, build, and have similar backgrounds and personalities. Southern boys to the core, we both grew up dirt poor in Appalachia, me with a chip on my shoulder and shrouded in mystery and myth and lies, along with a desire to leave where I was from and who I was that was undeniably annoying to people who knew where I was truly from.

How cool we thought we were. Now we’re just astonished by what the new generation of athletes are capable of as they truly lay down their lives in pursuit of the biggest, baddest stunts in the world. But, we didn’t know what could or could not be done. We had no camera crews, no supportive families, no health insurance, no sponsors, nothing. We drove old trucks and cars we could fix ourselves with only one requirement: We needed to be able to sleep in it. We wandered like gypsies, stuck in our illusions that we were somehow indestructible, above the expectations of the worker bees, the nine to fivers, the problems, man. Those were the days when gas was under a dollar a gallon and fifty bucks was a veritable fortune, too much, in fact, to remain true to our illusion of who we were. Bones heal, fear is for the weak, chicks dig scars. We ate all that up as if we were immune to life itself, thinking we were somehow above the law, death and society in general.

Back to climbing in Vermont. I’m a little full of shit, but, in the words of a brutal coal miner, “This is my story and I’ll tell it the way I want.” We were over our heads. We had two girls with us, one of which had absolutely no idea that she was ever in any danger from our shenanigans and loved us so much that she would have cheerfully followed us to hell and back. Tall, gorgeous, every man’s dream wrapped into one rocking package, with a rich girl attitude and nose for coke, she tired of my life in time to live her own. The other was an accomplished climber in her own right, living a girl’s life in a male world. As much as I love them both, still, we shouldn’t have taken them. It’s just hard to resist your own personal groupies.

We were too far up, too exposed, and in serious danger. We were leapfrogging each other in reckless abandon, scorning protection of any kind, too confident in our ice axes and crampons and one another, with nothing on our minds but the next pitch.. We didn’t dream we could get hurt, die or suffer the consequences of our actions. We lived for the moment. With little to no plans for the future.

A blizzard was blowing in, a full Nor’easter, a mother of a storm. We didn’t believe it. Until it was almost too late. I caught him, prepared to climb past as he rested in his gear, stuck like some sort of insect on a pane of glass. We were at a point as partners when we didn’t need to talk. We just knew what the other person would do and what needed to be done. His beard was full of ice and snow was falling hard. We were both grinning like fools. Just then, we heard the girls, their voices drifting in the upcurrents of wind like ghosts, fiercely arguing over eating. My girl saw the trip as an opportunity to not eat at all and lose a few pounds. His girl insisted that everyone stay fueled to combat the cold. They hated each other as only two girls in love with two idiots could. The gravity of our situation hit us at the same time. He shook the cramps out of his forearms and I tied myself into the ice as best I could. “You got me?” His words hit me like a ton of bricks. I nodded. He shook his crampons and ice axes free, grinned at me, and fell like a stone.

The impact of 180 pounds traveling at 32 feet per second squared nearly yanked me off the face. I waited. He tugged the rope. I let go.

We made it safely. No worries, the luck of the dumb. I drove like a maniac to get out of the mountains and return all of our borrowed gear to the ice festival vendors who had loaned it to us. No harm, no foul. I was yelled at for nearly fifteen minutes by a local that I passed in four wheel drive in a blind turn in the blizzard.

I told him today of my desire to reach out to people and try and make things right. He is as brutally honest as ever. We were watching our boys play, reminiscing a bit and waiting on our wives to return from errands as two guys who are old enough to appreciate what we have. I told him, somewhat self-righteously, of my attempts to reach out to a few of the girls that I had hurt so badly in my self absorbed bull shit past, when I arrogantly thought it all would last forever.

He shrugged and stared at me for a moment, as strong as he ever was, with shoulders as broad as a lumberjack and the slightest hint of softness in his posture and more humility than I had ever seen in his actions and eyes, thankful for his life and what he had worked for, proud of his son beyond reason, as am I. His eyes are as blue as a glacier at night and his shaggy hair that drove girls wild has long since gone the way of our ancient trucks, faded into the past and rusting in quiet peace somewhere, awaiting a collector from a reality show to restore them in a vain attempt to land a spot on TV.

“Why?” I was startled. I didn’t know what to say. I never worked out inn AA, although I think the organization is the best attempt that we have to date for most addicts. The thought sprang to my mind, one of the twelve steps. “Do no harm.” We watched our boys play, alone in our thoughts. I didn’t answer. I didn’t have one. “Salt in old wounds, man. Let it go.”

He was always the wisest of the two of us. We fell back into the easy silence of two friends. I brooded. Then, I let it go.

There is no fixing the past. No rewind buttons, no do overs, no consolation, no sympathy or even reason to go digging up the past. Live in the moment, for the moment and don’t worry about the past. What you’ve done is done. Chances are, those people have long ago moved on, moved past the hurt and are somewhat embarrassed by you anyway. If you haven’t heard from them in years and you suddenly appear into their lives like some distant nightmare, long forgotten, you will do nothing but bumble about in feeble attempts to dig through old memories that they have long since moved past and have no desire to relive the moments you’ve been carrying around like a rotting corpse forever.

Do no harm. Indeed.