Thawing

 

As I have related over the past two years, my one-sidedly antagonistic relationship with a certain neighbor has been slowly warming. We now regularly have short and shallow chats as I pass her house on my daily dog walks. A while back she suggested that we allow our ducks to roam more freely. She wouldn’t mind at all if they waddled down to her yard to eat some slugs. Last week she offered me a peach.

Yesterday, however, she had a particular concern to discuss with me. A complaint, really . . When my husband came home later in the day, I told him about the conversation

‘She said we should kill our rooster and eat him.’

 

To backtrack a minute, we have discussing this exact topic for a while now. Whereas I was thinking along the lines of re-homing the rooster like we did last time, the husband was for a more final solution. I found that sort of sad. This rooster had once been part of a happy Band of Brothers and by sheer dumb luck became the sole survivor (two of his brothers have long since been digested, the third one landed in our freezer). Unfortunately, he made a fatal mistake when deciding to start his days of loud crowing at 4:30 am. Now his time was up.

 

I thought that by telling the husband about my conversation with Mean Neighbor Lady he might change his mind. He didn’t. In fact, it seemed to make him more determined. He told me later that he was going to do the deed himself. I asked him how and he explained. I asked him if he was going to use an axe and he said, no, probably the big butcher knife he had gotten from his brother.

 

We sat in silence for a time and I contemplated his burgeoning collection of knives and his predilection for reading grotesque psycho killer thrillers.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘they say one thing all mass murderers have in common is that they killed small animals in their youths.’

‘I killed mice when I was young,’ he responded. ‘Of course with traps.’

‘You didn’t enjoy it though . . . or . . . did you?’

He didn’t respond.

I thought about what we were going to do once the animal was dead. He had said earlier that he would probably just bury it because it was too old to cook. I sighed.

‘I guess we will have to eat him. Otherwise it is just murder.’

 

The husband is now sitting out on the porch in his farmer overalls and watching YouTube videos about how to properly slaughter and dress a chicken. And I have to go clean out and reorganize the freezer to make room for a second rooster. The whole time I will be muttering about Mean Neighbor Lady and how she is to blame for setting this whole unfortunate series of events in motion.

Yesterday, my life had only one old bird in need of thawing. Soon there will be four.

 

 

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Mushroom Crowd

 

It’s become something of a tradition that we and seven other families spend a few days in mountain cabins in a place called Klippitztörl. A little googlie told me that name comes from the Slovenian word hlipica which means ʺwindy areaˮ and the Austrian word Törl which is ʺa steep rocky narrowing of valleys and pass routes across a range of mountainsˮ. You’d think that what would most excite the crowd would be the beautiful landscapes or the exhilaration of reaching rocky peaks after a long hike, but it quickly became clear that it was something else. My first clue was that everyone seemed to be hoping for rain. My second clue was how my fellow wanderers kept their eyes peeled on the ground around their feet or to the left and right of the paths. It was fungus they were after.

On Day One, I only halfheartedly joined in the fungus hunt, occasionally glancing here or there, hoping one would jump out in front of me. After two hours of hiking, here was my paltry contribution. Three tiny chanterelles:

Day Two went much better. Not only did I nab a porcini, but it was probably the biggest one found yet. And it is not like my husband helped me. Like by saying ʺC., come here . . . you might want to look over in that direction . . . no, a bit to your left . . . no, your other left . . . maybe look by the tree there . . . now right by your foot . . . watch out! Don’t step on it! . . . Yeaayy!!! Now that’s a nice mushroom! Good job!ˮ No, it was not like that at all. But he did let me in on an old fisherman’s trick when we took the picture. He told me to hold the mushroom way out in front of me and that would make it look bigger. See for yourself.

On our way home from our hike on Day Three – part of which I spent at a lodge reading while the others went all the way up to the top – we took one of the husband’s infamous ʺshortcutsˮ. After wandering around for an extra hour trying to find our way back to the original route, we chanced upon the chanterelle homeworld. It became hard NOT to find one. Believe me, I tried.

 

As you might guess, the grand finale / evening meal of our last day was a gorgeous mushroom goulash. Cooking was a group effort directed by my husband with his famous recipe.  Here it is, step by step, just in case anyone out there wants to try this. As they say in Austria – Mahlzeit!

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Spillover

 

One of the destinations of the daily 10,000 step walks my sister and I take is Atwater Park in Shorewood, where one of my favorite pieces of public art sits waiting for us. It is called “Spillover II” by a Catalan artist named Jaume Plensa (thank you, google). Take a look for yourself.

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The artist explained his use of letters by saying we use language to commune with nature and the world, or something like that, which is very nice, but I have my own ideas. I see a guy who consists of a jumble of amorphous, incomplete thoughts swirling around inside and outside of him. As he stares at the water, concerns begin to drain away, slowly emptying his faceless, everyman head. The way he sits, hugging his legs, makes him slightly vulnerable, but the upright head puts him squarely in the world. It fascinates me to think how different the impression would be if that head were bowed, making him looked scared or fetal-like. As is, he’s got more communing to do and he’s going to stick around for a while.

I get the impression he is fairly universally loved by the local people, but, of course, it wouldn’t be art if there were no controversy. Some tourist inspected him, “discovered” the secret message “dead jew” among his ostensibly random letters, and then blogged about it. Scandalous! Outrage! To jump to the end of the story, the artist graciously offered to alter his piece, exchanging a letter or two, so that it could no longer be “misinterpreted”. (Correcting my misinterpretation would probably require more major changes, so I hope Jaume never gets wind of this post . . . )

 

While on the subject of public art, I’ll add another fairly recent addition to Milwaukee’s collection – one that clearly falls at the other end of the aesthetic spectrum.

Meet the (monstrous) “Bronze Fonz”:

 

 

 

 

I think I’ll skip the interpretation of this one and move right to the scandal. Some art director complained and said he would move his gallery if the Fonz went up near it. When that made the news, the phone calls started coming. The art director then recorded some of these messages – which he called “death threats” – and put them on a website. (http://www.hotcakesgallery.com/milwaukee-bronze-fonzie/) Three of them come from 1) a homophobe who somehow sees the statue critique as an insult to the Green Bay Packers, 2) a Canadian who is now seriously considering not coming to Milwaukee, and 3) the Fonz himself (sort of). At first I was a little wary about clicking on “Listen”, but then – as I should have guessed, this being Wisconsin – they were pretty tame. (What does it mean to “end like Dahmer”?) Still, it is beyond my comprehension how some people have the inclination, energy or time to be leaving insulting messages on a stranger’s voicemail. Henry Winkler would not approve.

The end of this sad story of schlemiels (“Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!”) is that some musicians remixed the messages and set them to catchy beats. They made me laugh, but now I have this silly and bizarre song stuck in my head. “Gay boy. Dahmer gay boy. Gay boy. Go away . . .”

I think I need to go back to Atwater and look out over the lake for a while.

 

Dejuvenating

Since the husband couldn’t come along on our trip to Milwaukee this year, it was up to me to get the bikes in working order for my daughters and me to use. I hauled them up from my sister’s Silence of the Lambs basement, removed the cobwebs and set to work. Tires were pumped up, brakes were checked, rust was WD40’d, chains were oiled, seats were adjusted, gears were tested. We were good to go.

Of course, one of these three bikes was my now 42 year old Takara ten-speed which I have affectionately named “The Rejuvenator”. And once again, he lived up to his name. When I got on him and started pedaling, the old magic of muscle memory kicked in immediately. He was perfection. This was how a bike was supposed to feel! I sped off into traffic like any 15 year old would, exhilarated by my newfound mobility, leaving my fifty-seven year old achy, gouty and bursitis-prone self behind in the dust.

Common sense says that a person can’t truly love an inanimate object, but I beg to differ.

On the other hand, I find myself wondering how long this magic can last. How long can those bald and ever so slightly flatulent tires hold out? His brake lines are also creaking more, the joints of his gear levers are stiffer and he is getting crankier when I shift. His handlebar tape is sagging and decomposing. His age is showing.

And what about me?  A week from now, I will take him back down to the basement before leaving to go home. At our next reunion, I will be 59 and probably as good as retired. Will I still tear around town on him when I am 61? 63? 65? Will the day come when I have to give up riding ten-speeds altogether? How will this end?

I almost hope he goes before my ability to ride him does. That a tire bursts and is too expensive to replace. Or that a part rusts through that is no longer produced. That when our relationship ends, it will not be me abandoning him. It will be his last full measure of devotion.

 

Day Ten Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty-Eight

About thirty-two years ago I was contemplating getting married, so I consulted “the bible”, and in particular, Chapters 8 and 10. After that, I insisted on adapting our wedding vows to “I promise to love, honor, cherish, and occasionally play Scrabble with you for as long as we both shall live.”

It turned out that “occasionally” meant once every quarter of a century. So it was only five years ago that I discovered, to my horror, that my husband cheats at Scrabble. (Or do you think that “Jeanhose” and “Krux” are words?) Thank goodness I won the game anyway. Two points less and I could be divorcée right now.

 

As it is, it’s my 30th wedding anniversary today, and sort of like last year, I spent most of it chauffeuring kids around, obeying the commands of my cleaning lady, and doing load after load of laundry. It’s now about 7:00 pm and I am all alone for the evening – unless of course my adopted refugee son pops in for some food. Daughter 1 flitted in from her trip to Malta and took off two hours later to spend her first night in her new apartment in Graz. Daughter 2 is at a concert in Vienna, with friends and strict instructions to send me a text message every two or three hours.

And the husband is off fishing in Sweden again.

However . . .

Being the person he is, he made sure that a surprise appeared in the kitchen this morning. I might just be the only wife in the world who un-ironically thinks a bag of Cheetos is the best anniversary present ever! (The fountain pen was nice too.)  But wait, there’s more! A half hour later my cell phone chimed.

Check out what my husband calls “our Weddingfish”:

 

I’m starting to think this guy might be a keeper.

 

In Search of Lost Opportunities

 

This one is for Alison With One “L” for making me laugh out loud with her last post (“Lost Time, Indeed”) in which she deals with her PTSD (Proustian Traumatic Stress Disorder).

As much as I would like to help you with your weightier existential questions, I am, unfortunately, a bit of an agnostic when it comes to packing peanuts and quantitative tomato decisions. I also won’t be much help when it comes to an obsessive need to finish every book, however recklessly started, because I share that particular quirk . . . ( . . . although! . . . I admit to the occasional skimming – e.g. the last 30 pages of “War and Peace” or the Mueller Report footnotes). How I CAN help, maybe, is by telling you the advice I would have given you had I known you were about to crack open a Proust – in the hope that it may positively influence your future choices in reading material and help you toward the non-remembrance of painful things past.

Belated Piece of Advice #1: To start off, I’m thinking what you need now is something  . . . shorter. So when fondling the next massive tome, stop and consider the alternatives. Behold:

Behold again (the novel you just finished in a nutshell):

 

Belated Piece of Advice #2: In case the above is a bit too superficial for your current frame of mind, here is a more philosophical yet still logical approach to decision making. Starting with some basic Math, I think we can agree that:

if A=B, and C=D, and B≠D, then A≠C.

Now let’s apply this logic to a certain French novelist.

Life is short. Proust is long. Short ≠ long. Therefore, Proust equals death.

 

I rest my case.

Happy future reading, Alison! May it be pithy.

 

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P.S.

In case you liked the first sample from this book, here are a few more of my favorites . . .

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