My dad has visited New York City several times. I tried to get him to bring the city to life by speaking of his times there, but he offered just one scene to represent the whole. He told me that he attended a Catholic Mass in the basement of a Brooklyn brownstone. On a mantel behind the altar, someone had left a copy of Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, and that album stood in its full 12″ glory for the entire service. Dad said that it seemed as if he was only one there who noticed it.
Several years ago, both my mom and dad planned to make a trip to New York, and I asked to go along. I was between jobs and hoped the trip would provide ample opportunities for street photography, which was a hobby of mine at the time. Once we were there, I was hardly able to stop long enough to take many pictures.
Reams of paper and miles of film have been devoted to capturing life in this city, but there is no substitute knowing what reality is like there. What kind of reality would produce the highest concentration on earth of those who live off their imaginations? The only way to know New York is to be there.
Usually I govern my driving with all sorts of rules to keep anxiety at bay. Don’t drive at night. Avoid left turns if at all possible. Parallel parking? No way. There is one traffic situation in which caution escapes me: a railroad crossing with no threat of a train passing anytime soon. Maybe it was all the Starsky and Hutch I watched in the 70’s, but I do like to make my car take flight on the tracks from time to time. When I get the oil changed on my car, the tires usually need rebalanced, too.
There are so many opportunities for flight in my city since it is littered with all kinds of railroad tracks. Once I was taking a coworker home and punctuated a speech on how terrified I am at driving in ice and snow by flying over the tracks. It was two months before the threat of snow that year, so I had plenty of bravery left in me. I did not premeditate this flight or its timing. My moments of absurdity can never be contrived.
My daring in these moments is a tribute of sorts to the role the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad played in my genesis. Both of my grandfathers and one of my great grandfathers worked for the B&O. My maternal great grandfather was a close friend and coworker to my paternal grandfather. My mom needed a ride home from work, so Great Grandpa called my future Grandpa and asked him if he knew anyone who could give Mom a ride on short notice. Dad was chosen to pick up Mom. They were married six months later.
I wonder if he flew over the railroad tracks in his GTO on the way to pick up Mom.
I’ve used at least a dozen different nicknames for my daughter. Most of them I use just between her and me, my way of writing some footnotes on her entry in the Book of Life. Once I accidentally used one such name in front of a friend, who asked me, “why do you call her Perfect Cheeks?”
I stated the obvious, “Because she has perfect cheeks.”
Her chi is perfect as well, so she is also my Perfect Chi.
She is perfect for me because she told me at age four that my shampoo smelled like a poison pen.
She is perfect when she pretends to be a Japanese man on Twitter, convincingly.
She was perfect on the bus trip to Ohio Caverns when her classmates were messaging on Nintendo DS and never guessed she was the one trolling them as Mr. Saturn.
She was perfect when she told me that David Bowie and some cats have heterochromia, not dichromatism.
She was perfect when she remembered during a power outage that Chris Griffin’s artist name on Family Guy was Cristobal.
This evening as I was flying over country railroad tracks in my CR-V and listening to “Stonehenge” by Spinal Tap, I felt that I had slipped into one of those odd peak moments of life. Years from now, I will look back at this time and feel it was one of many encounters with effortless joy. I will know how strange it was that I thought I was already old. I have felt old, but old in a good way, since birth.
I’m also pleased that my hibiscus has rebloomed. That is enough for now.
For the past couple years, I’ve thought that my daughter was on the verge of outgrowing her fascination with Halloween. This photo of her I took in a Halloween store over the weekend shows me that she hasn’t. If I could bottle that sense of awe and wonder and keep it forever, I would. I know that I will try to talk her into giving out candy at home instead of trick or treating. I figure that I will fail at persuading her that at age 14 she should sit back and give treats to all the little Minions, musclemen and princesses who will troll down our street on Halloween. She will trick or treat anyway, and I will be secretly relieved that she is still young enough to treasure all that candy.
Like chili or tacos, spaghetti is one of those dinners I regret I can’t serve more often. If I make spaghetti more than once a fortnight, I risk seeming lazy or obsessed. Since I seldom cook my own sauce, spaghetti is indeed an easy dinner for me to serve, aside from that moment of juggling pans as everything seems to finish at the same moment.
Here in the Midwest, spaghetti is actually two different things, a product or a dinner genre. The difference depends on whether you are buying or making spaghetti. In the grocery store, spaghetti is what you’d call a box of dried semolina dough that is cut to uniform length and ~2 mm girth. When you cook dinner at home around here and call it spaghetti, it could be almost any combination of tomato sauce, pasta and ground meat. Actually the meat is optional. If it is present, it may be crumbled or shaped into meatballs.
Spaghetti dinner has the rare quality of growing with a cook throughout a lifetime. It can be both a starter dish for a beginner or the signature meal of a master. I have made several attempts at creating a decent homemade sauce, but I end up with a bland but nice looking result, like a Penney’s catalog of cuisine. Since these efforts have not yet been worth the time I’ve spent on them, I usually buy a tomato sauce and add meat. My favorite store bought sauce is Mid’s, which is a bit pricey but has a much deeper tenor than typical jarred sauces.
Spaghetti dinner can be varied to the point of using a starch other than pasta. A few years ago, I tried substituting polenta for pasta, with favorable results. I can now make spaghetti dinner twice as often by disguising it as a polenta casserole. The next time I make this casserole, I will post its simple recipe. It is just a bed of polenta covered in meatballs and tomato sauce then topped with mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.
I just had a vision of making a chili variation on the polenta casserole.
That’s what I need to make next.
If it works, I have an excuse to cook more chili, which is even more satisfying than making spaghetti dinner.
This could be how tamales were born. They are a taco variant of the polenta casserole.
Time and again I hear the claim that the loss of prayer in our public schools was the first omen of the disintegration of American society, a portent of future decadence and inevitable chaos. When I hear such sentiments, I appreciate the ardor of the speaker’s faith, but I disagree with the argument. Keeping religion out of government and its agencies such as schools does not weaken this nation. The separation of church and state is among our best defenses against enemies both foreign and domestic.
When I was a child, I asked my mom why prayer had been taken out of public schools. She told me, “Who would choose which prayers will be taught? There is no guarantee that Christians will always be in the majority. Would you want your future children or grandchildren to go to a school where they must say that Jesus was just a prophet or that Buddha is a god?”
I am a Christian, but I believe that I would do wrong by my faith and this country by insisting that my religion inform our laws. Once religion becomes part of a government power structure, religious freedom becomes vulnerable to the whim of the changing electorate, and that electorate could vote away some of its freedom or security. Think of all the dysfunctional regimes who were powered in part by the restriction of religious freedom. Here are just a few of them: the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, the Taliban and now ISIS.
Adding a religion to government may seem to be a win-win situation, especially when that religion values compassion and the sanctity of life. In practice, we have imperfect people picking and choosing which fragments of that religion to uphold. People have tried to use the Bible to justify all sorts of cruelty, like homophobia, sexism and capital punishment. Whatever happened to “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”(Matthew 7:1)?
There is no promise that Christianity will hold the majority into our country’s future, and majority does matter in a democracy like ours. I don’t want to imagine how another religion could be used to justify oppression, and I do not need to tap into my imagination in this regard. Just think of how ISIS is using an extreme caricature of Islam to justify all manner of atrocities.