Kitchens, Sex and Cher.

It was just another night in the kitchen. Dinner service was done, over, kaput. We had nearly finished prepping for breakfast the next morning, or rather, I had nearly finished prepping for breakfast the next morning while everyone else worked on the remnants of a bottle of cheap scotch. Nobody of any worth gives a shit about breakfast in a typical kitchen. Except for me, since I was in charge of it. I had volunteered for it, in fact. I enjoyed the silence of the early morning stations, dimly lit pilot lights, cold hearth and the 360 degree view of the early morning sky from the front steps of the hotel, perched as it was on the banks of a rapidly shrinking lake high in the Appalachian Mountains. There was nothing better than that view. Ever.

But that was still hours away. Half tore up, the cooks and tired ass front house staff were bonding over shared bong hits and snorts of cheap whiskey (Maiden’s Piss, my Scottish geology brethren had called it), both of which would work wonders for their complexion the following afternoon, as most of us were pulling doubles. It was summer and no one gave a shit. Not even me. At that point, I’d drank enough alcohol for three lifetimes and was lucky to be there, so my persona as the responsible one was hysterical, at least for me. But nights such as those were few and far between, as most everyone was usually too tired to even think of bonding after work, as celebrity chefs will lead you to believe. Honestly, most everyone in a kitchen drags their sorry ass home to bed, stopping along the way to fill up on their help me forget until morning drug of choice. Or the please let my leg stop cramping and my right hand from seizing while I sleep pills.

This night was different. A rather raucous game of “Who would you fuck if…insert scenario here” had broken out between the cooks and the front house staff, each group trying to outdo the other in different directions. The front house staff, mostly female, were picking fairer members of the male populace, with the actor Scott Speedman leading the charge. I had no idea who that was until someone informed me that it was the actor opposite Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, at which point I had to agree that yeah, if I were a woman, or gay, or in prison, or trapped on a desolate island, or if we were the last two men left on the planet, like, for real, then maybe I would hold his hand. This nearly got me out of the game, but not quite.

The cooks had, as usual, degenerated rapidly in their choices. Possible fuck mates went from the laughably implausible to downright disgusting, quickly. Kate Beckinsale held her own for a few moments, with the sole female chef holding out for Brad Pitt, if he and Anthony Bourdain had a baby and the baby were grown and legal. The male choice went downhill to a degenerate pornstar named Gauge, who most of us had to promptly use the Chef’s computer to identify. It turned out she was a tiny little brunette with braces on her teeth from Arkansas. Her sexual repertoire included unspeakable three ways and orgies while performing handstands. Admirable enough, but disturbing on many levels.

I was doing quite well in avoiding any questions until a waitress with long red hair, a penchant for weed, stiletto heels and other girls pinned me to the wall. “What about you, Ron?” She pointed her middle finger up at me nonchalantly. “Who would you fuck?”

Of course. This game had been played many times all around me, and I had adeptly dodged it. Until now. Now I couldn’t. Now, for the first time, as I chopped and blanched potatoes for home fries the next morning (It didn’t occur to me to ask if there was a fry cutter in the kitchen. It didn’t occur to anyone else to tell me.) “Yeah, Chef, what about it? Who?” The new speaker of the house was the sole person of color working in the restaurant, a very angry cook from Mexico City who had apparently made a very wrong turn on his way north and ended up in the south, in the mountains, in a snowy white redneck college town turned upside down and dumped into the mountains. It irritated him that I had been mistakenly referred to as the Chef one morning during breakfast service when it was actually he that should have been given credit. He carried a grudge.

I thought for a few moments, and the kitchen actually went quiet. I didn’t realize until then that I was a non-person in the kitchen. I had shared virtually nothing with anyone since I had started. Nobody knew my background, where I came from, who I was, if I was qualified (I wasn’t), had the experience (I didn’t) or the kitchen know-how to even be there. I didn’t drink, or do drugs, which baffled the other employees, as I bore all the signs of a hard boozer. They didn’t know that I was sick, had cirrhosis, was terminally ill, married, nothing. They knew I had a son, as I paraded him around every time I had a shift off. I was so happy to be working in a real, live kitchen that I felt it was akin to paradise. I wanted my infant son to see it. I wanted him to be proud of his dad. I wanted my wife to be proud of me.

The pay sucked, the hours were long, but I had started to fit in. Do you know what that means to a reject like me? I had a B.S., two M.S. a PhD dissertation, ten years of engineering and miles of mining experience. I had wandered everywhere, and had bored of everything almost immediately. I had been a professor, a technical advisor, a geotechnical engineer, a teacher, a coal miner, a construction worker, a fry cook, a dishwasher, a mechanic, an electrician, a research assistant, a writer and so many other things. My resume looked like Ben Franklin and Samuel Clemens had a son and he threw up on it. What I truly loved to do was right there, in that kitchen. Cook. That’s what I loved to do.

So, I considered my response for oh, about 0.00001 nanoseconds and responded straight from the gut. A disconcerting habit that I have which has consistently gotten me in serious trouble since I was six. (My Mom: “Who were you hiding from?” Me: “Ummm. You!”) It got me in even more trouble after I started dating (Angry Girlfriend: “Who the fuck do these slutty ass hoop earrings beside your bed belong too?” Me: “Ummm. You?”)

I had a throwback for a moment, circa 1990. I was driving a Ford Escort, one of the saddest date cars ever built. It wasn’t even a GT. That was for the cool kids. I had an Escort Wagon. L. Not even a GL, just an L. It didn’t have a radio. The passenger side window was down, as the driver’s side window didn’t work. I was going as fast as I could make the car go without getting out to push, which I thought would somehow make it look cooler. My girlfriend of the month had cheated on me with a friend of mine. Not unusual in a little town. The girl may have been of questionable ethical and moral standards, but she could sing. Damn, she could sing. With tears running down her face, she faced me and sang the entire “If I could Turn Back Time” song by Cher. Don’t act like you don’t know which song I’m talking about.

I don’t know what made me think of that song at that moment, except that maybe I was once again reminded that I didn’t fit in then, and I didn’t really fit in now. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Cher. 1990. Thong, lace and leather. On a fucking Navy Gunship.”

Everyone was staring at me like I had stepped out of a wormhole covered in goo. Me, not the wormhole. The silence was deafening (Yeah, I used that tired analogy). In the silence, without saying a word, the angry Mexican cook started to clap. A few seconds later, everyone was applauding. My ears were red. My boss, the sous chef, clapped me on the back. “Damn, son. (He was about 20 years younger than me.) You’re sick. That was totally fucked up, man. Let me show you where the fry cutter is.”

On my way home to my family I tried to get my CD player to play my one remaining Cher album. It was too scratched up from all the years of bounding around in glove compartments to do anything but skip and make puzzling warbled sounds. I was exhausted. My feet hurt. My back screamed in agony and my shoulders cramped. I was embarrassed by my outburst. But, still. I felt damn good, son.

Southern Camping

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The Mason-Dixon Line is a bewildering boundary. Officially, it marks the South from the North, a reminder of the past, of iniquities real and suffered and penned into the history books. It is poorly understood, by both sides now, who wonder why there even are sides. The South is a conundrum of contradictions. Both old and new, stubbornly hanging on to the past while passive aggressively evaluating the new. It’s a place where old families still rule vast areas of land and wield incredible power, both over the vote and football. A place where old cuisines are being preserved and rediscovered nearly as quickly as they are being lost. Red Eye G­­­­­ravy and Cheesy Grits, once a staple of the poor and working class only, have earned their place in the hippest and trendiest restaurants in the United States. At the same frustrating moment, it is a place stereotyped by deep poverty and ignorance, attributes which strike even the casual observer with the question: Why?

The food culture of the South has always had its roots firmly in necessity. The mountains of Appalachia cut a deep swath through the majestic countryside to the west, surrounded by the lowlands so bloodied by the riches available through exploitation of slave labor for hundreds of years. One has always influenced the other. Appalachia was ruthlessly pillaged for her natural resources. Majestic stands of old growth hardwood, some believed to the remnants of ecosystems before the last ice age, were clear cut to provide timber to not only the ports and plantations of the South, but to the world as well. Ships laden with lumber planned from giant Chestnut Trees plied the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic for centuries. Fur, gemstones and precious metals were collected from the same unique microclimates and travelled the same trade routes as the hardwood, coal, cotton, corn, tobacco and other raw materials, making a few wealthy beyond all measure while enslaving an entire populace to the land and their taskmasters.

Through it all, culinary influences migrated from country to region, following the people who were forced to scrape something from the few morsels and scraps abandoned by their overseers. Spanish rice followed maize crops, black-eye beans, grits, lard, abandoned parts of otherwise valuable animals became staples across the south. Appalachia contributed their own influences as well. Desperate for calories, laborers in coal and logging camps invented lard biscuits, made from a few cups of flour and whatever fat they could render, most often from pigs turned free into the mountains to avoid property taxes levied upon the owners.

Red-eye gravy became a breakfast staple, a way to consume half a days’ worth of fat and calories into one simple and hardy meal. Sausage and egg biscuits were easy to wrap and carry and the Southern King of all foods, fried chicken was born out of the necessity of keeping priceless nutrition from spoiling during the heat and dirt of the day. Brined in tea, dusted with flour and spices, the Cajun and African roots of this dish are undeniable.

Every food around the world has its influences from somewhere else. Tracing a culinary common root is impossible: Even more so in the South. Especially in the modern South. The New South has risen again, dusting off the ashes of centuries of bloodshed and horror, stigma and exploitation to become something else. Where only a few years ago the presence of heavily tattooed, bearded white men would have been a sign of a deteriorating neighborhood, now it earmarks a place as an up and coming residential gold mine.

The young are migrating in spades to the New South. Once a home only to aging retirees, seeking solace in the land of eternal sunshine while taxing the finite resources of the crippled infrastructure with unlimited air conditioning, now Central and Southwest Florida is becoming a place for hipster bars, artist communities and organic farmers. Chefs, no longer bound to the once American Quest for superstardom on the Food Network, follow the influx of migrant populations to serve the food that they have always wanted to cook. The food they grew up eating, the food of their lives.

Chefs like Sean Brock, Ashton Carter, Aaron Deal, David Chang and so many others are earmarking their clients by cooking food that they themselves want to eat. Food they are interested in. The food industry will likely always be driven by the desire of the masses, but there is a select clientele that are truly interested in good food: Not the shit served to the oblivious or obnoxious, but instead to the appreciative.

A quick stop at an orange grove in north central Florida gave testament to the theory of a changing South. Gobbled up by conglomerates and subsidized giants, the citrus groves of old are largely gone. Just as their northern counterparts, small fruit growers were nearly annihilated during the Cold Wars of global food sublimation. A few families banded together, refused to sell and began selling local citrus in roadside stands, banking on the curiosity of weary travelers. It worked. Just as local apple and peach orchards in Georgia and further North, near the Mason-Dixon Line, began hawking their wares at farmer’s markets, newly popularized by the trend in healthier food.

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Savannah, Georgia is barely recognizable to me. On this recent trip, I’m struck by how much everything has changed in the past fifteen years. Me. Savannah. The populace. Mostly me. Fifteen years ago I was a stressed to the bone twenty-something graduate student struggling to find my way into a suitable career. With a sizable monkey on his back. Now I’m a forty-something newly minted Dad, much more relaxed and sans monkey.

What I remember as run down old shops on the waterfront have now given way to carefully restored four-star accommodation’s, each one preserving the old in order to give life to the new. Three-hundred year-old knotty pine planks, destined for the trash heap, were salvaged and refinished to provide flooring for dozens of structures. Brick and stone architectural notes, ancient by American standards, their mortar spilling a thousand stories of slavery, bloodshed and war down their weather beaten surfaces, remain behind as cornerstones for new elements.

Our room was a reminder of such. Two giant king beds with uber-soft, yet perfectly firm mattresses, parallel an ultra-thin television, not much thicker than a half-deck of playing cards. The bathroom is no less elegant, with tile floors salvaged from another locations, lovingly and painstakingly restored and placed for my barefoot, dripping enjoyment as I emerge from the steam shower. Hand hewed granite stones, significant historically by their geological origins from far away, give testament to the trade routes that once plied Savannah with raw goods, labor, and money.

Paula Dean’s shop beckons. We don’t enter, our morbid curiosity satiated by years of her drawl and stubbornly contradictory southern standards. We cross the square honoring John Wesley, my brother’s namesake, and I regal my wife and son with the history of this strange individual, curiously small in stature and demeanor, who was forced to leave England behind due to reported rendezvous with a church members daughter. I muse on how little things have truly changed over the last few hundred years, and then I realize I have lost them both. Another truth I must accept as a Dad: Nobody really listens to me anymore.

We wander on, back to the river front, strangely drawn by the past and present, and also by the warm winter sun, tanning our faces in the unexpected glow. My son plays, a testament to the past and the future, as he carts around his Tonka truck in one hand and his tablet computer with the other. I feel suddenly sorry for him, for some reason I don’t understand.

We eat breakfast at a trendy spot that our doorman recommended. We were the first customers through the door, and didn’t think to google the menu until after we had been seated. It felt better to just not know for a change. We started to twitter our meal, then thought better of it and enjoyed our fried chick pea sandwich and fried green tomatoes in peace. With hollandaise sauce. Our two year old son, who has decided that food is for the delight of mere mortals and not something he should be wasting his valuable time with in his quest to conquer the world, or at least the restaurant, by noon, refuses to eat one delicious morsel. Until we are ready to go. He then settles down and back content to be fed spoon by spoon, while he regales his loyal subjects, which consist of a table of giggling senior citizens, with tales of his glory and conquest. He’s not in the least embarrassed by the fact he has a very poopy diaper. If only our world leaders could be so oblivious.

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At the orange grove in central Florida, the temperature is already seventy degrees, despite the fact a cold spell is gripping the northeast and blizzard conditions are expected in our new hometown. We change delightedly from our Carharrts and Patagonia and Ibex cold weather gear into board shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. We return to the truck, an old F-150, yet another staple of Americana and sheepishly put our long sleeves back on. It’s still too cold for that.

Across the way, out of sight of the main parking lot, which provides a proper spot for two BMW’s, one Jaguar, a Land Rover, and at least three other mid-to-high end SUV’s, there are a couple of old cars and vans idling away. A worker pulls around back of the warehouse end, the business end, of the orange processing facility, where organic oranges become organic juice, which wing their way into organic aisles at Whole Foods far north of the Mason-Dixon line, where they are guzzled by toddlers on their way to swim class from their non-PCP certified Sippy cups.

Black women descend from the old cars at a sign, unnoticed by me, from the worker in his forklift, who leaves a giant crate of oranges out of plain site from the parking lot housing the upscale imported sheet metal. The sort through the fruit quickly and efficiently, pausing to take juicy bites as they work, loading the vitamin C laden food into plastic shopping bags. They are stare at me with some hostility until I take an orange from the bin and more or less try to join them, peeling an orange with my spring-loaded Case Knife, with a carbon heavy steel blade ordered just for me as a Chef. The woman across from me is greedily eating hers in big chunks, pulling it from the skin as she works, dropping the peels in the refuse bin for the compost heap. It is organic, after all. Certified.

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Field after field of citrus pass by as we hurtle south on back roads. I-75 is under construction, so google maps redirected us onto the byways of the state. We speed almost constantly, irritated by the extra time it is taking us. We make a pit stop in a small town, not more than a service station and a basic grocery market. All the signs are in Spanish. I’m stuck for a bit asking for the key to use the restroom. The lady behind the counter finally takes pity on my lack of Spanish and gives me the key and tells me to have a good day. Drive safe. In perfect English. I feel stupid. She looks at me warily, as if I may steal the key.

Outside, day laborers are squinting in the early morning sun, dragging hard on this sunny Monday. The wear tattered khaki pants, greasy torn t-shirts festooned with cartoon characters and reflective vests. They all wear either rubber muck boots or no shoes at all. One is singing something to himself in time with the Spanish radio station as he hoses out his cooler with a cut hose attached to a leaking pipe just outside the building. I am embarrassed to greet him as I pass by, revolted by the bathroom I just unlocked. Why it sports a padlock is beyond me. Maybe to lock some truly evil, barely human being in while awaiting deportation to another realm by a wizened Keanu Reeves type? I start the truck and hurry away, punching stations until I find a country song. Darius Rucker is singing “Wagon Wheel.” It’s my son’s favorite song and my wife and I both sing along to the lyrics, making up words as we go. Fields full of crops, intermixed with Thoroughbred horse farms blink by us. We barely notice.

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We arrive in Tampa right on schedule, unbelievable timing with a toddler. Not that we have a schedule, but it’s hard to leave a world full of deadlines, reservations and appointments behind in a day or so. It will take us a few days. We don’t exactly leave our search for hotels to chance, and once again google suggests something right in our price range. The Tahitian Inn. At first we think it’s closed, as at least half of it is under construction and the only activity that I can see is a young black man behind the reservation desk in a deep conversation with an equally young Persian man about women. One particular woman, to be exact.

We get our room key, which is much cleaner, or at least passes the visual and olfactory test, than the one from earlier in the day and find our room. It smells of chlorine and detergent, which is far better than a few alternatives that I have experienced. Nolan trams about the room, commandeers the phone, the remote and the dresser drawers. He really does act like a world leader. I unplug the phone and he doesn’t notice, just continues to give orders in his sing-song baby speech, which will one day soon turn into a command of the English vocabulary, including phrases that will likely shock his Nana speechless.

We don’t tarry, but dash out the room and back into the truck in search of an authentic Cuban meal. Google directs us at once to the oldest restaurant in Tampa, established in 1902. We arrive rather parched and dusty, with my stomach rumbling in surprise hunger pains. I haven’t felt those this strongly in a long time. Not since before rehab and nearly two years of battling symptoms caused by cirrhosis. My greatest fear on this trip is that they will return in all their agony, ruining our vacation. We’ve been lucky so far.

We cruise through the dining room after accidently entering the place by the wrong door. Literally hundreds of diners sit in large groups, sipping on or chugging drinks in glasses adorned by tiny umbrellas. They are all white and reek of tourists. I notice more than one fanny pack amongst the sea of gray hair and beer bellies and wonder where they have all parked. There is not a car in sight outside the restaurant. The waiters seem nervous, all men of color in three piece black suits. My wife and I realize two things: Not one table has any food and there is not another child in sight. We bolt through the front door just in time to hear someone complaining that they had left after an hour wait without getting anything to eat.

Another place, another google search. This one is a combination café and dining room, with an attendant serving their part of the room. The menu is in Spanish and cheap: Our entire meal was around twenty dollars. We feel that we have won a battle of some sort and we are inordinately pleased with ourselves.

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Day three in our camp. In my experience, it takes three days to settle into a campsite. The first day is spent trying to get the tent up, an outdoor kitchen (in our case, that is a must have) organized and sleeping cots assembled, dried out and placed in the tent. With a toddler, we find that this is more of a challenge than it used to be. His rapid and sudden change in environments results in an immediate temper tantrum, complete with wailing, green snot and eye buggers. Miserable with diaper rash from spending the last two days in the car but safe in his cocoon of familiarity, he tries to get back inside the truck. We pull him freed of his trappings and set him on the ground to wail at the other campers as they beat a furious retreat.

We did make it through the third day. The second day is spent looking for things, blaming one another for things forgotten and astonished by what you brought and didn’t bring. In our case, the fearless author completely forgot a freezer full of frozen portion sized yogurt, ready to be thawed and eaten. I also forgot a simple staple of camp life: A short sleeved button up shirt. I had several put aside to bring, but, I forgot them. Laura, in her excitement of being somewhere warmer than the Great Frozen North, neglected to bring a proper coat or warm clothes to sleep in.

Thank God we did remember the baby, who has also settled in by this third day. Our bodies and minds are adjusting rapidly to the sunrise and sunset, time to go to bed, time to nap, time to eat. We’ve already figured out a cooking rhythm at this point, and have fallen into the familiar tasks of home, only now it’s outside. We have packed plenty of beans and rice and various other sundries: Canned peas, dried pasta, noodles, quart jars of Ramen Stock, frozen chicken, fish and a little beef, all separated into portion sized parcels for thawing individually. That part we have finally gotten down. Nothing leaked meat juice into the cooler ice, which we still eye cautiously in memory of scarfing down icy rum drinks at night years ago only to discover the next morning that we had been gloriously sucking down raw chicken blood, antibiotics and god only knows what else with our swill. Our uneasy stomachs were a product of not only too much alcohol, but all the other stuff we’d been drinking.

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So we learned our lesson. We also learned to take cheese out of its wrapper, label it, and portion it before placing it in the cooler, so we’re batting pretty well right now, all things considered. I make a glorious Ramen in the cool evening with soba noodles and scallions, and all seems right.

Looking around for the first time as my body remembered how to ride a bike again, I am once again examining the South for traces of what it may be. We are just north of the Everglades now, a place I paddled into as a much younger individual, only to paddle even more rapidly out of. In the words of my father, there were things in the swamp that would BITE YOU. Now, older and with nothing to prove, I have no intention of leaving this island. For now.

The island is a curious paradise. Just below Ft. Myers, it is accessible by bridge on one end only. The toll is much less than I seem to remember, most likely because disposable income was not a thing that I had, at all, fifteen years ago, when I first arrived on these fair beaches. Not that I have much now. The toll still stings a bit.

Once a mecca for the aboriginal people who lived here, the island is now entirely inhabited by Senior Citizens. These curious individuals have indeed found the cure for getting old. Move to an island that is populated by the elderly, governed by such and priced accordingly. Looking at property values, we are both grateful for our tent, which is pitched at the only campsite allowed on the entire island.

We discover immediately that bikes rule here. Big cruisers and little Townies alike, with an occasional three-wheeler and the odd emaciated looking person on a lithe speedster doing his best to impersonate an elderly Lance Armstrong, there are bikes everywhere. Bike lanes. Bike rules. Bike paths. We find it rather glorious, as Laura gets to use her giant beach cruiser I bought her for Christmas ten years ago. I am jealous: I wish I had one.

We are trying to find the south, and here, we have found a new interpretation of it. The old meets the older, everything is convenient and comfortable and pleasant and as new parents, we love it. Everyone coos over our son, who is still shamelessly stumping for votes, poopy diaper and all, everywhere we go. I’m suddenly the “Young Man” with a small family, instead of the old dude in the kitchen. It’s nice. We eat at one restaurant, eyeing the comfortable menu that you find all over the United States, order a fish sandwich and don’t go back.

We do find a taco stand on our wanderings and vote to go back to visit ASAP, after Nolan calms down for a day or so. He is reacting to restaurants with something akin to fury right now, I’m not really sure why. Laura and I find a small coffee shop so she can upload some files and send out some contracts. We end up paying $6 for a small tea and $5 for a cup of coffee, plus tip, which ended up being nearly a third of what we pay for our camp site for our privilege of getting wireless.

I see no sign of the south that I know and love here, although it has plenty to like. As long as we eat what we cook, we’re in no danger of going over budget, and eating out becomes a technical and financial disaster. Nolan prefers stacking votive candles over watching their cheery, fake glow, which I must say I rather agree with. If he stopped there, that would be fine, but when the decorative artificial candles become missiles, then we become liable in the likelihood of a flipped comb-over. The perils of that are too great and we elect once more to stay in our campsite for meals.

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A sign of the new south is where we least expect it, but should have guessed. A convenience store next to our campsite, which is located way over in the corner, as far away from unsuspecting retirees that may be disturbed by a toddler in the wee hours of the morning. Early morning conversations in Spanglish serenade me into full wakefulness on our second morning. I was mostly awake anyway, my arthritis howling at me over the indignity of placing my old bones on a cot, padded by my sisters hand-me-down yoga mat. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We saved eighty bucks by borrowing one sleeping pad and utilizing the mat for sleeping. Besides being uncomfortably hard, it also smelled like my sister’s dog and my old habit with marijuana, with cigar smoke and ass sweat mixed in for good measure

I headed next door to find the source of the racket and following my nose to what was smelling oh, so good. There was only one thing that smelled like that, and I was not wrong. I bolted through the back door just before opening to find a sleepy eyed cook pulling chicken out of a giant vat of buttermilk, dredging them in flour, cornmeal and spices, and dropping them into a deep fryer full of peanut oil. At six a.m. $2 gets you a piece of chicken, a pickled jalapeño and a cup of cheap coffee. I’m very nearly in heaven. I watch the eerie pre-dawn light fade to morning as I crouch with the day laborers, mostly Latino, and munch on greasy, wonderful chicken with bites of hot pepper and a scalding hot sauce that they pass around. I know I’ll pay for it later in the morning. What the hell. It’s the best breakfast I’ve had so far that someone else cooked on this trip.

My wife is not as thrilled as I am as I rush back into camp with grease in my beard, babbling about fried chicken. She’s not very trusting in my judgment of what is and is not edible. I used to take great offense at this, and sometimes I still do, sulking at her for not even trying something I’m excited about. This morning, I really don’t care. She can eat it or not, but I vow to go back in a morning or two and get two pieces this time, with peppers and hot sauce, and bring it back to camp to use in a morning Ramen bowl. She blearily sighs at me just as our son starts to wake and I blather on about the historical significance of fried chicken in the south and to immigrants in particular when I realize I am once again just talking to myself.

So we’re left with the conundrum: This is not the South that I was looking for and hoping to find here. It is its own place, with its own ebb and flow of snowbirds migrating as far away from the northern winters as they can, much as we are. The island has its own brand of tranquility. Bicycling is the way to get around, food is overpriced, Yankee accents are thick and nasally, but it is still paradise. Just in its own way.

Camp life after a few days begins to have a personality all of its own. Deadlines slide into the background as your schedule now follows the sun. Sunup, you’re up, stomping off the cold and waiting on the tea to boil while you uncover the tailgate kitchen that, by now, is as good or better than anything you have at home. For one thing, spills aren’t quite as big a deal as in your outdoor kitchen. If a few crumbs hit the ground then so be it. Even the sight of your toddler eating food straight out of the sand seems, well, ok. It’s not like it’s “dirty” or anything. Books become old friends as pages turn with astonishing speed by headlamp after the sun bids goodnight and the stars, filtered a bit by the light pollution from Fort Myers, slide into place.

Bike routes become familiar, a favorite thing to do before the beach in the afternoon. Tooling around nature preserves, marveling at the diversity, you can’t help but be thankful for the vision of a few, so many years ago to preserve the island as best they could. There are no stop lights and no fast food restaurants allowed on the island, save one lonesome Dairy Queen, grandfathered in after 1974. So what if the restaurants lean their offerings to mimic the chains that Midwesterners are used to? Parking tickets and hefty shelling fines pay for the upkeep of some truly marvelous preserves. The Sysco trucks idle their way through 25 mph traffic, their drivers irritated, no doubt by the lack of eye candy on the way to the beaches, unless you count a particularly fit 70 something sporting new Under Armor leggings. It’s a place into and of itself.

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We wake even earlier Sunday morning, perhaps more excited than we should be. Nolan catches on to our energy and charges about the campsite until the neighbors begin to emerge from their tents like space age time travelers, sleeping through time and distance as the known worlds, old and familiar, become distant and gone, giving way to new worlds, betrothing in their unfamiliarity. The noise of a happy toddler isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I’m starting to believe that anyone who can’t respond kindly to a grinning two year old bearing a gift of sand covered cheese has something seriously wrong with them. He makes his rounds, saying hello to his fans, stopping long enough to gorge on milk and for us to chase him with food. A toddler is hell for a chef. They will disdain your best efforts for leftover ice cream in a trash can or dog food stolen from Fido. It keeps you humble.

We eat lightly and head for the Farmer’s Market, some two miles away, only a fifteen minute ride or so on our bicycles. Nolan is so excited that he starts leaning from side to side, causing his mother, at the helm of their great red Cadillac of a bicycle to list from starboard to port in an alarming manner. She fusses at him and he quiets down, but nothing is getting rid of that huge, toothy grin. He knows fun is afoot.

The market is glorious. It is beyond my expectations. It is beyond my dreams and hopes and dizzying in its array of glorious fruit, vegetables, citrus, strawberries, blueberries, tropical fruit we’ve never heard of before. I gorge on samples, taking full advantage of my limited Spanish and the eagerness of the sellers to trap you into their stall. It works: More often than not I spend a few bucks at the stands with the friendliest vendors. We eat samples of grapefruit and orange, mushrooms and starfruit, a spiky fruit I’ve never seen before that explodes with flavors of grape and mango when you bite into it. We eat tamales standing up in the street as a sea of people stream by us: Northerners of all dialects, Eastern Bloc accents boom unfamiliar tones as we listen, German wafts by, followed by small blond, impossibly tan boys. Nolan runs to play and they interact as only children can, squatted in the dirt inspecting various insects and shells, all invisible to adult eyes.

I hear Cantonese dialects, a few Southern drawls and the unmistakable honk of the Midwestern accent. A soft Vermont tone interrupts us in our fascination with this unbelievably good thing that we have found, this open air market where people are talking, conversing, laughing, eating and gouging prices with the ebb and flow of shoppers. Our neighbors in the campground, two hippies like us, only from a generation before, Vermonters fleeing the harsh winters, stand and chat as the crowd flows around us. A sea of senior citizens, in all shapes, colors and sizes, peppered here and there with other generations and the sellers themselves, all young and of various origins in the human mash-up of genetic migration.

We chase Nolan through the crowd, rescue a lady from his persistent little boy attempts to throw rocks at her, for what reason we still don’t understand. He vanishes so fast, running on his nimble feet on the sand causeways, darting to and fro through the maze of human limbs, prosthetics, canes, wheelchairs, shoes and bare feet. Laura stays on his trail like a Cree Indian, relentlessly pursuing him by sight, while I, on some unspoken agreement between us, swing wide through the crowd, reading reactions on adults faces as they are arrested by the smile of a child, tanned strong legs and blonde curly hair, playing as children should.

We never lose sight of him or his direction, between the two of us, but we sometimes wonder what it would be like for just one of us. It takes a village to raise a child. I believe that now, and sometimes wish our world was still composed of settlements, clans of humans dedicated to their families and the survival of those of their tribe. It’s hard to imagine evil in a place such as that. I have a hard time getting the movie “Minority Report” out of my head while we chase him, but we keep him close and people are kind.

We gorge later on tomatoes, grilled pineapple, oranges, onions, black beans and rice, grilled chicken with lime and lemon and spices and eat like kings. I am happy manning my station behind the tailgate kitchen, as any cook is who has good ingredients. I grill and taste, stir and add spices, chop and dice, paying little attention to anything around me. Laura watches Nolan as I make my mentors proud and pull a meal from our horde worthy of any restaurant, anywhere.

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Laura asks me over a spoonful of dinner: “Would this be as good at home?” I think on that for a spell. I grin at her, my love, my wife, and I have no real answer. She is beautiful with long, lean tan legs and a body that would make a teenager jealous. Her bare feet swing back and forth and she is sporting the tiniest bit of sunburn on her left shoulder. I just smile. I’m thankful to be here. Regardless of what sort of south we may be in.

The trip ended, as they all must. Ours ended in a whirlwind of impromptu packing as our son broke out in hives on all exposed skin and his face swelled to twice its normal size. We toughed it out as long as we could, correctly identifying it as an allergic reaction to something, what we didn’t know. We stayed one more night after his face began to swell, but packed up and bolted the next morning. Like all new parents whose child has never been sick before, and in that we are truly blessed, we make decisions in rapid fire and sometimes against common sense. We wander about Ft. Myers in search of a doctor who will see him, something taken for granted only a few years ago. We were turned away at the first practice, regardless of our excellent insurance and credit cards on display. We sat in a private children’s hospital for three hours as his swelling became worse, panicked and bolted for points north.

The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me. In a Walgreens a pharmacist, no doubt noticing my stricken look, tentatively diagnosed it as a reaction to sunscreen and gave me skin treatment suitable for babies. A nurse in Tampa left her post and hospital to evaluate him in the parking lot, worried that we wouldn’t be able to find health care in the labyrinth of our medical system. A rural doctor, wrapping his hands around his considerable girth, toyed with our emotions by playing with Nolan for a full fifteen minutes before pronouncing him allergic to an ingredient in sunscreen and prescribing steroids, the first dose of which was administered there in his office.

We stopped to visit family, including my wife’s large, loud, wonderful, exuberant, extended southern family in Georgia, just outside Atlanta. We were promptly fed until we felt we would burst. Nolan’s Auntie, as he dubbed her, much to her delight, made us at home immediately and we were all chattering like magpies in the kitchen within ten minutes of our arrival while Nolan showed off for his newest fan by banging on his toys as loudly as he could.

The night stretched on as I found it hard to leave these people, both nights we were there. They made me homesick for my own family as they talked over one another, laughing constantly and delightedly, at no one’s expense save those present. They passed giant bowls of cole slaw, green beans with bacon, savory chicken pot pie, bread and of course, the omnipresent pecan pie, all whipped up with little to no effort by our motherly host.

Time flew by too fast and we were in the driveway, saying goodbye, loaded down with coffee and fruit for our drive, Nolan pouting over leaving his Auntie. We all wave until we are far down the road, reluctant to say goodbye, but knowing that we will be back. The mountains of Georgia, the beginnings of the mighty Appalachia, nod goodbye to me, shrouded in the endless mist, rain and sunshine. My heart longs for the hills of my heritage, the green mountains and the mighty river and dirt lanes.

We dashed on north, back towards our home, although I was reluctant to return. The eastern shore, to me, is northern, regardless of its position on the map. We visit my sister in Charlotte, NC, living large in a small local restaurant where we can barely taste our food as we try to get caught up. Her husband has long since joined in the boisterous southern calamity that is our way of greeting one another and remains calm as we nearly shout at one another over endless plates of food, eating from one another’s bowls without a thought or care, something we’ve done since we were kids.

Then, suddenly, we are outside of D.C. after a wonderful and unexpected Indian breakfast conjured up by Laura’s Indian sister-in-law to be, full as we can be and savoring the exotic tastes of preserved lemon, fish cake and savory pancakes, smothered in cheese sauce, and eastern shore favorite. I can already tell that this will be a new family favorite.

I am becoming a bit exhausted and sentimental as we close the final gap to our new house on the Eastern Shore. I begin to feel homesick for the mountains, but the Bay welcomes us home with open arms. Not a breath of air is stirring on the still waters as we cross the bridge. The air and water become one as I gaze off into the expanse of horizon to my right, Laura at the wheel of our Ford truck, which has seen us through so many thousands of miles and we hope, for many thousands to come. I feel a glimmer of welcoming in the warm day as the now familiar salt air flows through the cab, carrying with it the smells of the earth and water. I become restless in the confines of the cab. I want to be out, planning our garden, ordering fruit trees, getting starter seeds washed and planted. Maybe I’ll get a few chickens this spring. Nolan will love the chicks. I imagine them in our workshop, dashing about under a heat lamp, surrounded by young tomato saplings and herbs awaiting the warm spring sun. I am home. Regardless of the Mason-Dixon line.

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Lucky?

My new Pharmacist is staring at me like she’s just witnessed the return of Michael Jackson. Ok, maybe not. But she is definitely giving me a very strange look. Clad in sensible shoes, glasses, her dark hair in a ponytail and her white coat, she personified her position in the medical community. Complete with a pen in her pocket and a pill cutter in her hand. She had a nervous tick, I suppose, and constantly pushed her glasses up towards her forehead, although they seemed to be in no danger of falling off. A leftover childhood habit, I guessed. She probably wore glasses that didn’t fit.

Had I been less nervous, I would have most likely amused myself by piecing together her life story by observations. Higher degree, but young. Her parents had bought glasses for her that were too big at an early age. Plain hair, no makeup. Well spoken and definitely educated, but without any pretenses. She actually likes her job. A woman’s shoes are a direct snapshot into her soul. Sole? Super high heels, designer styles, anything providing an escape from her daily wardrobe either signifies a sense of adventure or insecurity. Paired with too much makeup, insecurity. Paired with a sensible outfit that draws attention away from and not towards her choice in footwear indicates emotional bravado. Her? Her shoes indicated a sense of confidence and a preference for comfort and performance over style and emotional jangle.

I had just requested a forty-five day supply of medication to take with me on a vacation to Florida. A camping trip. With my wife and two-year old toddler. I was beginning to wonder if I were insane, but I really feel like we need this trip. My significant other and myself have been tense for a while, we need a vacation: We need some space long enough to acknowledge that we are still human and we do in fact still love one another.

As any recovering addict knows, the scars left behind from years of suffering on both entities don’t go away very soon. Trust issues are still there, despite how much you both try to dig them out. A simmering anger sometimes boils for no reason, often over something as simple as making the bed, or ordering a three dollar movies. There is no reason behind many of the emotions that you go through, and you can only ride the ebb and flow of the emotional currents as they pass. They do pass.

But now, standing in front of this very intelligent young woman who is responsible for providing me with enough medication to keep me alive and just as importantly act as a liaison between my insurance company and my doctors, I’m not thinking of any of that. I’m worried. The Insurance Companies now have the upper hand in these transactions. They determine and interpret the doctors prescriptions so that they can pay as little as possible in keeping you alive. It is a sad truth, but it is truth, nonetheless. For whatever the political reasons, this is where we now are as a society. So, I was a bit antsy in awaiting her questions.

When they came, they were not what I expected. She pushed her glasses up, studied the screen, and then me. Back at the screen. Me again. I quickly began to feel guilty, as if I were somehow stealing the very medication keeping me from fertilizer. “You have cirrhosis?” It was not really a question. She could see that, right there on her screen. I nodded. She read more, pushed her glasses up again, and stared at me. “What I have here,” she tapped the screen,” indicates that you should be dead. Personally, I’ve never seen anyone make it past one year after developing cirrhosis from drinking this badly.” She studied me again, this time tapping her teeth with her pen. I was about to lose my mind with anticipation. Was she able to give me the medication or not? Damn it. I don’t need a prognosis.

“I’d say you are very, very lucky.” She glanced at my running clothes, soaked with sweat and back at her screen again. “You take really good care of yourself, and the medication seems to be working. But diet an exercise, and of course, not drinking are the things that most people are not able to control. They usually feel too bad to start a program of wellness to begin with.”

“I’d say you are really one of the lucky few.” I stared at her for a moment. “How many times have you had paracentisis procedures?” I shrugged. I was thinking, do I get my medication or not? She made sure I had enough, checked my vitals, looked into my eyes and wished me luck in my travels.

The man behind me was horribly jaundiced, with the abdominal swelling so typical of patients like me. His breath reeked of ketosis. Alcohol fumes seemed to leach out of his skin into the environment, as if he were a poison cloud, breaking apart as we watched in horror.

I stepped outside. Out of habit, I looked up. It was cold, but the sun was shining. The beach seemed to be so far away, but a reality. I’m leaving with my wonderful wife and my precious son to enjoy the warmth. I really am a lucky man.

Daddyhood: Children and Expectations

Nolan concerned over the Sourdough Starter's "Death"

Nolan concerned over the Sourdough Starter’s “Death”

I’m watching my son while he watches T.V. These moments of observation will become rare as he gets older and begins to demand his own privacy, mostly likely in his room, then the inevitable abandonment of dependence as he moves throughout his early and later teen years.

At the moment, I’m content to think of none of those troubling thoughts. The future is murky, and best not studied too closely. I live more in the present than most people, I think. It is a result of many years of uncertainty, of poverty as a child and again in my twenties, although the latter was self-imposed and provided me with a sense of invulnerability and confidence in my ability to survive.

Now, I am just grateful for every day. I’m overwhelmed by the responsibility placed upon my shoulders by this gift of a son. I’ve learned to adapt, even in two short years. At first, I swore he would never watch television. I conceded my point and found an alliance: Internet television provided me with the ability to filter movies and shows and disable advertisement, which is mostly aimed at providing empty calories exploited by the remnants of arms manufactures held over past their prime after WWII and the Cold War no longer needed their services to render standing objects into their atomic states.

I am mostly uneasy that these same government sponsored entities are now entrusted with the nutrition of our children through subsidized global farming and the proliferation of cheap food ingredients. So far, I have held fast to my goal of never serving my child processed or “fast” food. Will this last? As long as I can make it my decision, it will. When it is his decision? Of course he will eat McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King. Hopefully, these institutions will have attempted to clean up their act by then, but that is only hope.

Of course, these foodstuffs won’t kill him. Not immediately. But what about painkillers? Or mutating strains of virus? What about the legalization of marijuana? I have long been of the opinion that it doesn’t matter – how do I feel now?

What about alcohol? What are my expectations for him? To never drink, not anything, not ever? That is most likely irrational. But, my own battles with addiction make it hard to think of the substance and my son in the same cogitation. The parallels are too great.

My sister says that expectations destroy free thinking and self-discovery. I agree. If my expectations, like my parents were, are for my son to somehow “better” himself in the American dream of increased wealth and disposable income, will that blind him to other paths? Will he simply revolt, as I did? My parents’ expectations of me were finally rendered null and void in a fury of disobedience and wanton self-destruction as I shrugged off the mantel of religion and short-term success. I chose a lifestyle far different than they had hoped, and even today they are somewhat confused by me, as all parents are by their children.

My father says that without expectations, the child will spiral in an endless void, with no goals to lead them or concerns to shape their personality. I agree. Without my parents’ expectations, I would have nothing to strive for non against as a young person. I would have had no direction, no meaning, just adrift in a current not of my own making, riding it through life, obeying the immediate whims of my conscious, as opposed to making my own way. I chose the dark paths at times, just for the experience of choice and the journey more difficult.

Will this impact my son? What will I do for him?

I will just be there, every day I can, teach him what little I know, and pray for wisdom. He is growing and changing every day – I can barely keep up.

I’m going to keep previewing what he watches on T.V. I will give him a tablet device, as it is part of his world, no matter how much I dislike it. I would not raise him to be wantonly ignorant, wallowing in the pride and self-righteousness of religious cults and hierarchy. My great hope if for him to be experienced and wise beyond his years, following his parents in a careful journey of this world.

I want him to be computer savvy. I also hope that he will have the ability to shoulder a small pack, vanish into the world and be o.k., better than o.k. I hope he will be able to tango and split wood. I hope he can speak multiple languages and be at ease in any environment. I want him to be well traveled, yet grateful for home. I want him to be able to grow his own food, harvest his own protein, yet appreciate the sacrifices the earth makes to provide for him.

Is all this too much to ask? I don’t know. I’m just a Dad.

Obituary

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sourdough_0001(Easton, MD) RIP. Gwynevere Sourdough, (August 6, 2014 – January 10, 2015) was laid to rest today in a small tomb in a compost tumbler today. She is followed in life by her three sisters, Mulan Kimchi, Ariel Pho and Belle Kombucha. Her colors were orange and earth, and her grave adorned with Paradise Tea and Christmas Holly, who joined her in the everlasting ebb and flow of the circle of life.

Gwynny, as she was so fondly known by her friends and family, was responsible for many loaves of sourdough bread in her time here with us. Her Father and Benefactor, Hank Sourdough, age 47, offered a eulogy. “She was a hungry and often petulant child, who was meant for the warmth of the sun. It is with great poignancy to know she suffered from cold, but never from neglect. She sorely missed her mountains and the torridity of her beloved hickory stove.”

Her caretaker, Chef Ron, was not available for comment.

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Boots and Baby

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Dearest Son:

I’m proud of how well you behaved today. You drove your end of the shopping cart all over the store and didn’t hit a thing. When the pretty lady behind the counter offered you a cookie, you took it, graciously, even though you really didn’t want it that much. You even ate part of it while she was watching. That is called grace. Sometimes, I have that.

You sat up straight in the restaurant, talked on your phone to some Very Important People. You still made time to recognize the small folk, like your Dad, and the waitress. You chattered away to her and let her know you liked here, though her shoes were pretty and I think you complimented her on her hair. She was blown away by how well you handled your hot pizza and blew on it before offering her a bite. That is called charm. Most of the time, I have that.

You rode your bike, a new one, even though you are barely two. You managed to make me so proud when you coasted a few feet all by yourself. I was also astonished by your ability to jump into our bed, even though it’s low, by just placing your hands on the mattress. You caught a football in the sporting goods store after you threw it into the air all by yourself. I’ve never seen a child do that before. Not age two. That is called natural athleticism. That is from your mother. I don’t have that.

After catching the ball, you played hide and seek with me all over the store. Most of the time, you let me find you. You were also content to wander about the store on your own, not knowing exactly where I was, but not looking for me either. You are already expressing your independence, even at this early age. That is called confidence. I used to have a lot of that.

You were quick to straddle a new bicycle in the store, taking off before anyone could get into position to help you, not thinking of the consequences of falling, or getting hurt, or what other people thought. That is called fearlessness. I used to have a lot of that.

You carefully read your book at dinner, engrossed in all the new pictures, and looked over each page carefully while drinking your milk and finishing your pizza. I was so proud at how you have developed so far. That is called intellect. I have been accused of having that, too.

When you fell off your bike later, you almost caught yourself, but not quite. You managed to turn yourself around, almost impossibly, to break your fall. Your head was too heavy. You still almost managed to stop your journey to the concrete floor but I was there, and I caught you. That is called agility. I still have that, thanks to you.

Just now, you would not stop trying the buttons on my thermos until you discovered for yourself what they did. That is called curiosity. Keep that trait. I have.

You have big feet. The doctor said so. You are tall and thin, as I was at your age. Being naturally thin is a good thing, it means you’ll be healthy later on, if you take care of yourself. I didn’t do that.

You make good decisions, already. You can differentiate between what is right and wrong, what is scary and not, what will burn you and what will taste good to you. You also try to never hurt anyone’s feelings, demonstrating a natural ability to read into a situation and do the right thing. I have not always done this.

You like to brush your teeth, take baths, get plenty of sleep and eat good food. You avoid things that are bad for you. I didn’t do that.

There are lots of things I didn’t do, but that is not what life is about. You already know this, even though you are two. I wasn’t even supposed to be your Dad, but I am. I wasn’t supposed to live long enough to be at your first birthday party, and we just celebrated your second. That is called stubbornness and luck. You have that too. You are my son.

With you at my side, I went through a lot of things these past two years. I had fluid drained from my abdomen twelve times. I had a really hard time with addiction and recovery, which I should not have had to go through, had I been smarter and wiser, like you. I was operated on several times, once by mistake, but I pulled through, knowing that you would be there with your sense of humor, loving smile and with your Mom in tow, even when she didn’t want to be, sometimes. I wasn’t the best Dad, and I’m still not, but I try. That is called being tough. You are tough. You are my son.

Now, as you are safely in bed, I look at your boots and mine, as you placed them side by side before you took your bath. It makes me cry, a little. But I am happy. I am your Dad. You are the best son I could have ever wished for.

I love you, son.

Daddyhood: Frozen and Preschool

I am one of those lucky Dads, through virtue of some creative financial juggling, a terminal illness, some creative talent and an independent and driven wife who happens to be the number one wedding photographer in Virginia, gets to stay home with his son. In a society that still, despite all of our predictions of the contrary, sets an unfair paradigm on couples for the male to be the primary financial provider, it can sometimes be difficult and even embarrassing to be a stay at home Dad. It’s also very edifying intellectually to observe my son’s behaviorisms compared to other children his age, who have been placed in day care in other more orthodox alternative environments.

This is not to say that raising a child outside of day care, in the absence of nannies (except when Mom & Dad really, really need some time alone) and with both parents usually present or more or less equally involved in a child’s development is the right thing. I don’t know that it is. None of us will really know. Children are resilient, no matter what. Toddlers have survived in hunter gatherer societies for thousands upon thousands of years. If not for their survival, we would not be here, right?

But day care can be a very touchy subject. Parents who choose Daycare or Preschool over alternative, stay at home options are often defensive of their decisions. Men who choose, either by virtue of their disposition or financial analysis to stay at home are even more defensive. As one of those men, I feel much the same way.

I’m not accepted, for example, on playgrounds where the majority of caregivers present are women. It doesn’t matter the ethnic or societal of the populace: I get strange looks either way. Most mothers ignore me, with a few notable exceptions who are simply thrilled to find a man occupying their world. In the environment of adolescents, I am either a suspected creeper, a lazy father who can’t or won’t work, or someone for mothers to pour out their hearts to in scenes eerily reminiscent of absolvent repentance.

I’ve learned to mostly nod and listen in those situations, which happen more than you would think. I’m southern, educated and I was raised by some very strong women. The women in my life as a child ruled the house with an iron fist. The man may bring in some money, but the women? They planted the gardens, raised the children, slaughtered the animals, stored all the food, prepared all the nourishment and paid all the bills. I have a lot of respect for women in general and mothers in particular.

There were two events that have really jumped out at me lately. Soon after moving to a new location, I visited a local bakery. It was upscale, and appropriately priced. Coffee was around three bucks, and cookies were about two dollars. Each. That is a bit pricey, but they were really good cookies and cookies are what my son lives for right now. that and Bubbles. both words elicit a very excited state of behavior for him.

We dropped the cookies on the floor. We were both at fault, as I didn’t have him properly secured when I picked up our plate of treats, and he over-reached in a lunging attempt to seize the prize. We stared at one another, my son and I, as we grappled for a decision together. We arrived at the same conclusion: We would pick up the cookies, continue to our targeted seat by the window, and eat them.

So we did. the mothers present, in their full regalia of ultra tight running pants, extremely bright running shoes that had only been to coffee shops and Whole Foods, matching socks with a water and wind proof top, completed by a conservative yet bouncy blonde ponytail, were very disapproving. One mother even dared so far as to raise her voice so that all could hear. “Where is his Mother??

then there was the “Frozen” moment. I released him into the wilds of a very high end toy store. Every single child in the store was planted firmly in front of a large screen T.V., which was relentlessly bombarding them with Disney’s latest financial marvel. Nolan sailed into the room, glanced at the screen, paused for a moment and my heart stopped. What would he do> He shook his head a moment, talked to himself, and proceeded to the trainset and engineers blocks, kitchen set and carpenters bench, where he pretended to build, cook, and destroy lots of things while happily rewinding the train over and over.

For some insane reason, I was so proud of him I nearly cried. Maybe I am doing something right. Maybe.