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Monthly Archives: November 2006

I’m Not getting Stuffed on Thanksgiving Day

It is Thanksgiving morning and I am lazing on the couch. At nine in the morning, I have given up on exercise for the day. It is in the seventies outside. I had anticipated cooler weather and the rise in temperature and humidity has wrung the run right out of me.

My son, rising at ten-thirty, informs us he has been invited to Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house. A bandmate, a former student of mine, and we are delighted. The house will be quiet and calm and he will be with friends, happy, well fed, while we are here. Where I am right now is where I plan on being the remainder of this day. Rocky I through V will be on TV. What better is there to be doing?

Apparently, what better there is to do is eat. Then eat some more. Then still more. I am supposed to stuff, gorge, cram and glut myself on any and all available comestibles in honour of the season, the Pilgrims, the Indians, Corn, Turkeys, Ben Franklin, George Washington, The President, Squanto, Tonto, The Lone Ranger, My Friend Flika and Rin Tin Tin. I am supposed to eat birds and beasts and breads and then, for some reason I fully fail to fathom, watch football.

Yes, this is the season of the curmudgeon coming into full colour and plume. But I come by my cynicism honestly and it is a family tradition. Nor do I chase people down to tell them just how I feel. No, they search me out and then I tell them just how I feel. I get to tell them just how well I like the season and all the accoutrements. You are reading this by choice, yes?

We have been invited to friends’ houses too. This late afternoon. We have, for the first year, declined, choosing not to choose. You might think I don’t get many invitations to holiday dinners but, despite the sentiments of the previous paragraph, I am apparently sparkling company. Go figure.

We were also invited to a Thanksgiving dinner, starting around noon, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship hosted by Rev Ann Fuller, a crazy-smart, fun to be with, great-to-talk-with lady and her chef husband, Jamie. We’re not going to that either. We’re staying home. I’m not making Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not making a turkey. I have veggies in the crock, a filet of salmon defrosted and a flank steak for my wife which I will grill later. No rolls, no potatoes, no sauce, gravy, pies, ambrosia, wines, cakes or casseroles.

I attribute this to laziness. As high-achieving as I am, as active as I normally manage to be, sometimes I just want to lay and read, lay and watch, lay and snooze, lay and stare at my wife as she watches, reads, snoozes. I just want to be. Today is that day. I have chosen to be lazy and I am not procrastinating. When I am lazy, I mean it and I do it well and efficiently with the utmost dilligence. When it comes to being lazy, I spare no effort.

The day moves, it cools as the sun rises. I have always liked days that get cooler as they age. To me, these days seem backward, magical, mysterious and amazing. I revel in them, in awe and wonderment. I walk outside every hour or so to feel how the temperature has dropped. By one in the afternoon the air is cool and the sun is hot and this too is a tactile combination which has always felt like the paradox of the world – cold wind through hot sun.

I dress and go for a walk. I know, no matter how lazy, I will get my exercise in. I will walk because, if I don’t, I won’t feel I can eat today. And so three miles it is. Out of habit, I take my phone. Everyone is busy and no-one will call. I take it anyway.

Don’t tell anyone.

While I am walking, taking the long trail through the Turkey Creek Sanctuary near my home, my daughter calls. Sef is twenty-one, smart, stunning, funny, independent and calls either Lee or myself several times each day. I take odd days and Lee gets evens.

It is from her I received the best compliment I have ever, from anyone, been given. Even better than when Valerie told me her friend said I needed to be cloned twice. Even better than when Craig told me I was a god. Even better than when an old woman called me a mensch. Seffy told me she wanted me to live forever.

My brother is going to the home of his in-laws. My parents to their neighbour’s home. Alek to a friend’s house. She is going to her boyfriend’s home for Thanksgiving dinner. What am I doing is what she wants to know.

Staying home. The vegetables are nearly done. The fish is ready for the grill. Don’t you eat those things most of the time? Yes. Nothing special today? No.

Of course you don’t want to go to anyone’s house for Thanksgiving. She has figured it out. It’s a food holiday, she says to me. Too much pressure.

Indeed. It is a trial. Holidays can be a trial. Food can be a trial. Too many times hosts are insulted if I don’t try everything, take a taste but not a plateful, eschew certain delicacies, sweets, cakes, breads.

I have lied on occasion saying I was allergic to whatever it was or they were. Allergic to all these things? Yes, poor me! I once told a host I was diabetic and was watching my sugar carefully. But say you are simply watching what you eat and suddenly they are expert and assuring you can take a day or ten off. Oh, a diet, yes? But it’s a holiday so calories don’t count. It’s shabbas and there is no fat in anything the brucha is said over. Relax, it’s a holiday. If I were an alcoholic, they’d be inviting me into the bar and offering me Long Island iced teas and gin slammers. That would be insane. But insist on cake for someone who has worked tirelessly to lose a person’s worth of weight and you are a good host.

I insist I am there for the company and camaraderie, not the food. The reply?

“Have some donut holes.”

“No thanks.”

This is an event of recent.

Several minutes later, the same lady. “Just one or two.”

“No thanks.”

A minute or two later, “You can have some you know. It’s ok.”

“No really. It’s ok not to have some as well. No thank you.”

A few minutes later, “Just a few.” Shoving them in my face, chocolate in my nose.

“No thank you “

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to die fat and young like you are going to.”

There was applause.

A party for a guest at school. A long line at the trough. I am taking vegetables, greens, some beans. Skipping over the double-tray of grocery store fried chicken, I move on to the green beans. Behind me, the track coach, six foot, over three hundred pounds, half a person extra hanging over his belt, taking three pieces of chicken as he says to me. “You can take some Mr. Tritt.” He wasn’t even supposed to be there. He came for the food.

“Of course I could.”

“So take a piece.”

“Nope. Don’t need it.”

“Come on Mr. Tritt. It won’t kill you.”

“Mr. K… I am heartened you are so well acquainted with my physiology as to know what is and what is not good for me. Now, if you will excuse me, unlike you, I wish to live.” He has since lost quite a bit of weight.

My daughter doesn’t force food. Bless her. Craig does not. Bless him. Evanne does not allow such at her house from anyone and I gladly attend festivities there. One party a guest insisted I eat pizza. Once, twice, thrice I refused and finally the offending guest, who later, in an unrelated incident, hit me in the back of the head with a hardcover edition of War and Peace, was taken aside and spoken with about leaving the guests to do as they liked. After that, while generally skittish about accepting party invitations, I happily accept invitations there. No forcing or stuffing allowed. That, and I get to play Brit Ekland when we watch “The Burning Man”

My grandmother taught me the joys of stuffing myself and eating what I neither wanted nor needed. This is not among the things for which I am thankful. She would put double portions on my plate. Just eat what you want, she would say.

If I ate it all, more would be put on it. If I didn’t, “just one more bite,” she would insist. Just one more. Now one more. Just another. One more. No? Why? Don’t you like it? Didn’t I cook it good? What’s wrong? Nothing. Then why not eat? Fine, children starve but you, you don’t want. Fine, I’ll throw it out.

My grandmother boiled chickens. Made Minute Rice. It’s a shame she didn’t at least use the chicken water for the rice. When the chicken was boiled, she would taste it and, if she could find any detectable flavour, she would boil it some more. When finally the last dribbings of chickeness had been dissolved into the water, Grandma would pour the water down the drain. Then she would make Minute Rice. This is what I would be given double helpings of.

Family events didn’t mean different food. Holidays didn’t mean something delicious or unique, it simply meant there would be even more of the food we normally ate. How much boiled chicken can one kid stand?

Of course, sometimes my father would choose the holiday meal and we would bring in cold-cuts or Long John Silvers or KFC. Later he got fancy and would bring home Popeye’s Chicken. How festive. At least it wasn’t boiled.

To be fair, my wife tells me my Grandmother made kuggle incredibly well. Kugle, kigle, kichel, not kegle, all of which are different names for a noodle pudding which was baked, sort of solid and my Grandmother would put pineapple into it and pop it upside down when done. How this came to be traditional Yiddish food I still can’t grasp. The last word is a pelvic floor exercise. Of the four, I prefer the last. I goes better with pineapple.

The world is full of my grandmother. It seems she is everywhere and she loves parties. People have glopped food Thursday, November 23, 2006
I may be a Turkey (but I’m Not getting Stuffed on Thanksgiving Day)
It is Thanksgiving morning and I am lazing on the couch. At nine in the morning, I have given up on exercise for the day. It is in the seventies outside. I had anticipated cooler weather and the rise in temperature and humidity has wrung the run right out of me.

My son, rising at ten-thirty, informs us he has been invited to Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house. A bandmate, a former student of mine, and we are delighted. The house will be quiet and calm and he will be with friends, happy, well fed, while we are here. Where I am right now is where I plan on being the remainder of this day. Rocky I through V will be on TV. What better is there to be doing?

Apparently, what better there is to do is eat. Then eat some more. Then still more. I am supposed to stuff, gorge, cram and glut myself on any and all available comestibles in honour of the season, the Pilgrims, the Indians, Corn, Turkeys, Ben Franklin, George Washington, The President, Squanto, Tonto, The Lone Ranger, My Friend Flika and Rin Tin Tin. I am supposed to eat birds and beasts and breads and then, for some reason I fully fail to fathom, watch football and follow the suppzoo diet pill guide.

Yes, this is the season of the curmudgeon coming into full colour and plume. But I come by my cynicism honestly and it is a family tradition. Nor do I chase people down to tell them just how I feel. No, they search me out and then I tell them just how I feel. I get to tell them just how well I like the season and all the accoutrements. You are reading this by choice, yes?

We have been invited to friends’ houses too. This late afternoon. We have, for the first year, declined, choosing not to choose. You might think I don’t get many invitations to holiday dinners but, despite the sentiments of the previous paragraph, I am apparently sparkling company. Go figure.

We were also invited to a Thanksgiving dinner, starting around noon, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship hosted by Rev Ann Fuller, a crazy-smart, fun to be with, great-to-talk-with lady and her chef husband, Jamie. We’re not going to that either. We’re staying home. I’m not making Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not making a turkey. I have veggies in the crock, a filet of salmon defrosted and a flank steak for my wife which I will grill later. No rolls, no potatoes, no sauce, gravy, pies, ambrosia, wines, cakes or casseroles.

I attribute this to laziness. As high-achieving as I am, as active as I normally manage to be, sometimes I just want to lay and read, lay and watch, lay and snooze, lay and stare at my wife as she watches, reads, snoozes. I just want to be. Today is that day. I have chosen to be lazy and I am not procrastinating. When I am lazy, I mean it and I do it well and efficiently with the utmost dilligence. When it comes to being lazy, I spare no effort.

The day moves, it cools as the sun rises. I have always liked days that get cooler as they age. To me, these days seem backward, magical, mysterious and amazing. I revel in them, in awe and wonderment. I walk outside every hour or so to feel how the temperature has dropped. By one in the afternoon the air is cool and the sun is hot and this too is a tactile combination which has always felt like the paradox of the world – cold wind through hot sun.

I dress and go for a walk. I know, no matter how lazy, I will get my exercise in. I will walk because, if I don’t, I won’t feel I can eat today. And so three miles it is. Out of habit, I take my phone. Everyone is busy and no-one will call. I take it anyway.

Don’t tell anyone.

While I am walking, taking the long trail through the Turkey Creek Sanctuary near my home, my daughter calls. Sef is twenty-one, smart, stunning, funny, independent and calls either Lee or myself several times each day. I take odd days and Lee gets evens.

It is from her I received the best compliment I have ever, from anyone, been given. Even better than when Valerie told me her friend said I needed to be cloned twice. Even better than when Craig told me I was a god. Even better than when an old woman called me a mensch. Seffy told me she wanted me to live forever.

My brother is going to the home of his in-laws. My parents to their neighbour’s home. Alek to a friend’s house. She is going to her boyfriend’s home for Thanksgiving dinner. What am I doing is what she wants to know.

Staying home. The vegetables are nearly done. The fish is ready for the grill. Don’t you eat those things most of the time? Yes. Nothing special today? No.

Of course you don’t want to go to anyone’s house for Thanksgiving. She has figured it out. It’s a food holiday, she says to me. Too much pressure.

Indeed. It is a trial. Holidays can be a trial. Food can be a trial. Too many times hosts are insulted if I don’t try everything, take a taste but not a plateful, eschew certain delicacies, sweets, cakes, breads.

I have lied on occasion saying I was allergic to whatever it was or they were. Allergic to all these things? Yes, poor me! I once told a host I was diabetic and was watching my sugar carefully. But say you are simply watching what you eat and suddenly they are expert and assuring you can take a day or ten off. Oh, a diet, yes? But it’s a holiday so calories don’t count. It’s shabbas and there is no fat in anything the brucha is said over. Relax, it’s a holiday. If I were an alcoholic, they’d be inviting me into the bar and offering me Long Island iced teas and gin slammers. That would be insane. But insist on cake for someone who has worked tirelessly to lose a person’s worth of weight and you are a good host.

I insist I am there for the company and camaraderie, not the food. The reply?

“Have some donut holes.”

“No thanks.”

This is an event of recent.

Several minutes later, the same lady. “Just one or two.”

“No thanks.”

A minute or two later, “You can have some you know. It’s ok.”

“No really. It’s ok not to have some as well. No thank you.”

A few minutes later, “Just a few.” Shoving them in my face, chocolate in my nose.

“No thank you “

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to die fat and young like you are going to.”

There was applause.

A party for a guest at school. A long line at the trough. I am taking vegetables, greens, some beans. Skipping over the double-tray of grocery store fried chicken, I move on to the green beans. Behind me, the track coach, six foot, over three hundred pounds, half a person extra hanging over his belt, taking three pieces of chicken as he says to me. “You can take some Mr. Tritt.” He wasn’t even supposed to be there. He came for the food.

“Of course I could.”

“So take a piece.”

“Nope. Don’t need it.”

“Come on Mr. Tritt. It won’t kill you.”

“Mr. K… I am heartened you are so well acquainted with my physiology as to know what is and what is not good for me. Now, if you will excuse me, unlike you, I wish to live.” He has since lost quite a bit of weight.

My daughter doesn’t force food. Bless her. Craig does not. Bless him. Evanne does not allow such at her house from anyone and I gladly attend festivities there. One party a guest insisted I eat pizza. Once, twice, thrice I refused and finally the offending guest, who later, in an unrelated incident, hit me in the back of the head with a hardcover ediion of War and Peace, was taken aside and spoken with about leaving the guests to do as they liked. After that, while generaly skittish about acepting party invitations, I happily accept invitations there. No forcing or stuffing allowed. That, and I get to play Brit Ekland when we watch “The Burning Man”

My grandmother taught me the joys of stuffing myself and eating what I neither wanted nor needed. This is not among the things for which I am thankful. She would put double portions on my plate. Just eat what you want, she would say.

If I ate it all, more would be put on it. If I didn’t, “just one more bite,” she would insist. Just one more. Now one more. Just another. One more. No? Why? Don’t you like it? Didn’t I cook it good? What’s wrong? Nothing. Then why not eat? Fine, children starve but you, you don’t want. Fine, I’ll throw it out.

My grandmother boiled chickens. Made Minute Rice. It’s a shame she didn’t at least use the chicken water for the rice. When the chicken was boiled, she would taste it and, if she could find any detectable flavour, she would boil it some more. When finally the last dribbings of chickeness had been dissolved into the water, Grandma would pour the water down the drain. Then she would make Minute Rice. This is what I would be given double helpings of.

Family events didn’t mean different food. Holidays didn’t mean something delicious or unique, it simply meant there would be even more of the food we normally ate. How much boiled chicken can one kid stand?

Of course, sometimes my father would choose the holiday meal and we would bring in cold-cuts or Long John Silvers or KFC. Later he got fancy and would bring home Popeye’s Chicken. How festive. At least it wasn’t boiled.

To be fair, my wife tells me my Grandmother made kuggle incredibly well. Kugle, kigle, kichel, not kegle, all of which are different names for a noodle pudding which was baked, sort of solid and my Grandmother would put pineapple into it and pop it upside down when done. How this came to be traditional Yiddish food I still can’t grasp. The last word is a pelvic floor exercise. Of the four, I prefer the last. I goes better with pineapple.

The world is full of my grandmother. It seems she is everywhere and she loves parties. People have glopped food onto my plate out of courtesy, I imagine, or duty or habit and then were upset it was not eaten. Grandmas like mine are legion.

So I have tended to stay away from food oriented gatherings.

It’s not like supermarket fried chicken or even a roasted turkey is something I have never had before. It isn’t like I have traveled to a foreign land and have told my hosts I’d have no part of their hospitality, do not wish to sample the local cuisine, don’t want to be part of the common culture while I am a guest in their land. At the local Thai Buddhist temple, if the ladies put something in front of me, I’m going to try it. There is no stopping me. Delicacies of a new nature, fresh experiences for body and soul. An enrichment of life. It is not that I avoid gustatory delights and taking part in life. No. I do not avoid all things savory and palatable. A Transylvanian restaurant? Choose for me and let me at it. Yes, that one too. And I’ll try that as well. It was soaked in lye and buried underground for six months? Yes, please, I’ll take some of that. Beanie Weanies? No, I don’t think so.

And if hamburgers and hot dogs truly brought me joy, maybe I’d indulge in those as well but, if not, why?

It has been suggested my counting what I eat causes me to pay more careful attention to what is within and what is without. It is a practice. It is mindfulness.

As I am mindful of how I treat myself and feed myself, it is a meditation on experience and needs versus illusion and desire. Such mindfulness makes the act of eating sacred. It moves my body slightly more in that direction.

One does not, after all, poison the well. One does not throw stones in the temple. One, at least, isn’t supposed to, that is. We humans poison our wells all the time but as a good idea it certainly needs some work.

I understand food is part of our culture. That is part of the joy and festiveness. But in our time of plenty, feasting is becoming more and more a norm. Birthday parties, office events, holidays, dinner-parties. If our ancestors feasted this much, I don’t think the words feast and fast would look so much alike.

Sometimes it isn’t as much fun, or as tasty, but I do my best to remember such gatherings and festivals are not about the food, but the event and the people, the family, friends and love. Not the hotdogs or cake or beer, turkey, pudding or pie. Certainly not the kuggle. But sometimes it is hard to do and, just sometimes, it is easier, kinder to myself, to stay clear.

And now, back from my walk, I am sitting quietly at home, writing, watching Rocky beat the crap of a Russian. I realize I missed my favorite part; the training scenes in the Siberian snow. While Rocky was out, so was I. We were both paying attention to what we needed to do.

In this time, quiet, I feel I can sit here and think about what this holiday means. What I am thankful for. Right now, I am thankful I’m not at a party. I have fish ready to go on the grill. But first, I can hear the sound of boiling water in the kitchen and, in the pot, there is a chicken leg-quarter calling my name.

Maybe later there will be some kegle.

onto my plate out of courtesy, I imagine, or duty or habit and then were upset it was not eaten. Grandmas like mine are legion.

So I have tended to stay away from food oriented gatherings.

It’s not like supermarket fried chicken or even a roasted turkey is something I have never had before. It isn’t like I have traveled to a foreign land and have told my hosts I’d have no part of their hospitality, do not wish to sample the local cuisine, don’t want to be part of the common culture while I am a guest in their land. At the local Thai Buddhist temple, if the ladies put something in front of me, I’m going to try it. There is no stopping me. Delicacies of a new nature, fresh experiences for body and soul. An enrichment of life. It is not that I avoid gustatory delights and taking part in life. No. I do not avoid all things savory and palatable. A Transylvanian restaurant? Choose for me and let me at it. Yes, that one too. And I’ll try that as well. It was soaked in lye and buried underground for six months? Yes, please, I’ll take some of that. Beanie Weanies? No, I don’t think so.

And if hamburgers and hot dogs truly brought me joy, maybe I’d indulge in those as well but, if not, why?

It has been suggested my counting what I eat causes me to pay more careful attention to what is within and what is without. It is a practice. It is mindfulness.

As I am mindful of how I treat myself and feed myself, it is a meditation on experience and needs versus illusion and desire. Such mindfulness makes the act of eating sacred. It moves my body slightly more in that direction.

One does not, after all, poison the well. One does not throw stones in the temple. One, at least, isn’t supposed to, that is. We humans poison our wells all the time but as a good idea it certainly needs some work.

I understand food is part of our culture. That is part of the joy and festiveness. But in our time of plenty, feasting is becoming more and more a norm. Birthday parties, office events, holidays, dinner-parties. If our ancestors feasted this much, I don’t think the words feast and fast would look so much alike.

Sometimes it isn’t as much fun, or as tasty, but I do my best to remember such gatherings and festivals are not about the food, but the event and the people, the family, friends and love. Not the hotdogs or cake or beer, turkey, pudding or pie. Certainly not the kuggle. But sometimes it is hard to do and, just sometimes, it is easier, kinder to myself, to stay clear.

And now, back from my walk, I am sitting quietly at home, writing, watching Rocky beat the crap of a Russian. I realize I missed my favorite part; the training scenes in the Siberian snow. While Rocky was out, so was I. We were both paying attention to what we needed to do.

In this time, quiet, I feel I can sit here and think about what this holiday means. What I am thankful for. Right now, I am thankful I’m not at a party. I have fish ready to go on the grill. But first, I can hear the sound of boiling water in the kitchen and, in the pot, there is a chicken leg-quarter calling my name.

Maybe later there will be some kegle.

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Posted by on November 24, 2006 in Culture, Education, Food, Social

 

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Nothing Funny about Hardee’s

I worked at a Hardee’s once. Just once. And by this I don’t mean I was once employed at a Hardee’s for a while. I mean what I said. I worked there once.

Whenever I see a Hardee’s I think of tough times and tougher financial difficulties. And whenever we are in the grip of some financial trouble of some such, which is often, I think of Hardee’s as well. I think of it quite a bit. Rather amazing since there isn’t an item on the menu I’d consent to eat, but there you go.

It was the summer of 1986 or 1992 or the fall of 96 or some such year and season when affairs of the financial sort were rather on unsolid ground and milk and bread were scarce, which was not entirely bad as we are allergic to dairy and wheat, but their scarcity was not a matter of famine so much as the assets to purchase them. Thus, rent was scarce, gas was scarce and scarce also were all manner of niceties and many without-which-life-is-not-so-niceties.

We had a child of one or five or four.asd Or one of six and one a newborne. I am not sure; it could have been either or both as such were the stretches of time we were with little or without.

And we lived in a trailer or perhaps married-student housing outside Gainesville, Florida and frequented the farmer’s market on the opposite outskirts buying what we could of what was left of the greens and fruit when the good stuff of the morning was gone. We spent $25 a week on food much of which consisted of spaghetti and rice and beans. We foraged and I would bring home lambsquarters and rapini. I learned what mushrooms could be picked and which to be left alone and made an error here and again, discovered when the onions were best to pick, grew vegetables in the city.

We gave up a car we could not afford, took a housemate, argued over nothing that had to do with anything except money and lack.

We discussed and planned. We looked for work. I applied at Wal-Mart. I was turned down as overqualified for any starting position because I had an AA in Education or a BA in Psychology or some such degree. The non-starter positions would go to those with experience and I had none. I was over and under-qualified.

Seven-eleven offered me six dollars an hour but I lost the position to a man with a PhD. I was unhireable as a waiter for reasons of which I am still unclear.

Finally I was offered a position at Hardee’s by the son, a manager, of a man with whom I taught at Miami Dade Community College as a paraprofessional or tutor or aid. Fast food? I had to think about it. We were in desperate times and still, fast food I had to think about.

“There’s nothing wrong with it. I know it’s not what you want but it’s better than starving.”

That’s my wife talking. She says this before I go off to job interviews. I see her point. The harder it gets to find work the more I agree but still, fast food is not quite what I had in mind when I started college. I went to Miami Dade and FIU, not Burger King University.

So I listened to my Sweetie. Things were hard enough then without arguing and, of course, she was correct. Completely. Utterly. So I could only reply, “But fast food? Holy crap that’s disgusting. Maybe I could dig ditches or…” I don’t remember what I said but it was quite like that. Besides, I am sure I would have been told I was well overqualified to dig ditches, bale hay, plant trees or anything else remotely physical. Sure enough, it seemed having gone to college ruined me for making any sort of living in the real world. In college I was fed a line.

We had even tried to immigrate to Australia. We were told by the Aussie consulate they needed skilled labour, not teachers. They had plenty of people with degrees. Could people with degrees wire buildings or frame homes or lay pipe? I was actually asked that. I said I imagined they could and if they took us we would frame or wire or lay anything they liked. It was a solid no.

And so, after listening to my wife’s sage advice (“It’s better than starving.”) I called the son of the friend and made an appointment. It was for that afternoon or the next morning or later that night and before I went I asked if he knew I had a degree. He did and assured me since his father said I needed this, and badly so, it would be fine. I was relieved or troubled or aggravated or disappointed or all of it and happy and unhappy both.

I drove the few miles, “Dust in the Wind,” by Kansas, on the radio. It is a habit the Universe is happy to support by playing it for me every time I go on a job interview. That or “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” by REM. Both set the proper mood.

We met. It was a Hardee’s. What more to say? I was hired just because, filled out the forms and was told I could start at eleven. Eleven to two. Morning to afternoon? No. Night to morning. What? Night to morning. Eleven at night to two in the morning. I experienced a palpable sensation of the weight of my heart rise to my throat while I felt the same fall to my stomach; two weights simultaneously shift apart and both, I knew, were heart.

So I left, a bit stooped, tired of struggling, defeated, smaller. I headed to a thrift store for the proper coloured blue pants. Found several pair too small and several too large and opted for one that was only a size too big or maybe too small, but they were three dollars and that cinched the deal so it didn’t matter they were too short. I took them home and, with them and my Hardee’s shirt, sat around and waited for night to come.

Evening came quickly and the hour I was to leave dragged me along through the night. I dressed, put on sneakers and left. When Thoreau wrote “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” he was leaving for Hardee’s.

I arrived and walked in, was greeted by the assistant manager, given a tour of the machines and the headphones, some matters of protocol, how to run a cash-register that had no words, only pictures and then was shown how to make change. Apparently word had not got out I was overqualified. I pretended to mistake the quarters for nickels. I didn’t want to disappoint.

There was a steady stream of customers to the counter, past the window. People glossy and pale. Over-sized people ordering over-sized food. All night and into the morning, food they knew, one had to believe they knew, was not good for them and too much of it. Food Addicts. Food-porn.

There were better things to do and better food to be had. Real, honest food. Not fake food but food with actual nutrition behind it. Food that didn’t just look like food, masquerading as food. Food that would be good for them, body and soul, and not leave them empty. Food with production value. Food that would make their lives better, bring joy to their bodies, make them stronger. Food they could tell everyone about and bring home to their grandmothers. Real food. There were more meaningful culinary relationships to be had with non-virtual food. Food-porn.

That was the general. I remember few of the particulars.

I burnt the french-fries because the fryer handle was hot because no-one could find the handle for the basket.

I made several milkshakes on a machine somewhat like a stand-blender. It had several mechanical teats. Put the cup under teat one for a combined dairy and non-dairy colloid. Put the cup under teat two for some other such solid-fluid. Squirt in the flavoring of chocolate or vanilla or strawberry and then stick it up under the mixer and hold it while you press the button but make sure the cup is up all the way and then push it higher because it isn’t. If you don’t, the mixer will high-speed tangent flavory sluice all over to whatever distances the walls are unless there is something else in the way such as, perhaps, a customer.

I hope none of them were going anywhere after dinner.

Around midnight, I was put on drivethrough. It had the speaker we all know drivethroughs have. But it was augmented by the workers leaving out syllables here and there. You all suspected drivethrough workers did this and I’m confirming it. I know why they do. It makes the job bearable. Nothing makes the time pass like keeping people in a hurry waiting and making hungry people do without. Especially if they are wanting to give you money.

Even better when they are high and there was plenty of opportunity to have at it with folk too high to know they were being had. Fish in a barrel. Fish in a barrel. Yet, they were outside, driving around and I was inside, serving them suicide.

Suicide is what many of them asked for. I thought they were talking about the hamburgers. I didn’t get it the first few times and many of our higher customers, not having full verbal facility and agility became irate. Overheard, a co-worker came over and explained, in a voice fully matter-of-fact, suicide is all the sodas mixed together. They were asking for a carbonated syrup mélange. Whatever PepsiCo makes, yes, I’ll have that.

Suicide was a good thing to order and I started welcoming the drunk and high folk. If I messed up their orders, fixed the burger wrong, missed one of the sodas and so saving them from a successful suicide, made a bit of a mess, they tended not to notice so much. High people were great because I was messing up more than not. This was due to a mixture of apathy and grease. Both were everywhere I was, surrounding me at first but, by the end of the evening, the beginning of morning, they sat, solidly, inside.

I slipped and fell. Twice or thrice or more and I dropped things or didn’t and hurt myself and sat upon the greasy floor for a moment or sprang up from embarrassment. I grabbed handles and appliances to steady myself to rise but they were grease-glazed as well. There were no mats and nothing to absorb the grease but the food. I certify the food was more than adequate to the task.

I dropped things because my hands were greased. I dropped the wrong things because I had picked up the wrong things because my glasses were opaque with a think and growing film of animal fats and vegetable oils. I could see nothing. Is that a ten or a twenty or a one? Pictures on the register were as useful as words and Braille would have been of more use. No sight, no footing, no handholds. I wondered just how much grease was in my lungs, how much my skin had absorbed, how deep in my ears my eustachian tubes were filled with animal sludge. How far up my sinuses were the cavities of my skull coated with the vaporized lipids. Fat was everywhere inside and out. I just wondered how much. I sometimes wonder how much is in there still. Like Oklahoma sand, Hardee’s fat is everywhere.

Time crawled. When I fell, I crawled too. Finally, two in the morning. I was told it was time to leave. No overtime allowed. What a shame.

I walked to my car and greased my door handle, then greased my seat and greased my steering wheel. I drove looking over my glasses which is only slightly safer than driving with my eyes closed. I didn’t hit much – just a curb or a mailbox or some students during mating season. I found my way home.

I greased the doorhandle to my home and walked in. I left my sneakers at the inside of the door. My wife was up, waiting, in the bedroom. I told her I was going to take a shower.

I’m sure I left grease-tracks as I walked toward the bathroom. There, I turned on the water in the shower and left a mark on the handle. I have always disliked showers too hot or too the water too hard… I know I’m sensitive so I read up on Best Water Softener Reviews. This time, I turned it up and let it get hot. I stepped into the shower, grabbed the Dr. Bronners and soaped myself. It took quite a bit for even this castile soap to start cutting through the grease but, after a while, a lather began to rise. Then I took my clothes off.

As I did Lee entered. I looked at her, or, rather, toward her. Then I took off my glasses, rubbed them with soap and put them aside and looked at her.

“You were wrong. There are worse things than starving.”

We talked long that evening and soon moved to a locale more economically viable. We moved to North Miami or Kendall or South Miami and with my father’s help rented an apartment or a duplex or a house with friends. Times change and episodes as difficult as this have been far too frequent but, happily, consigned to memory each one. But you still won’t find me in a Hardee’s.

I have been known, though, to fill my cup under every soda spout in the line. Syrupy, sweet and fat-free.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2006 in Culture, Family, Food, Social

 

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I am Easily Distracted by Shiny Objects

I am easily distracted by shiny objects. I grant that. The placement of those objects can either increase or decrease my incidence of distraction. I just made that up. Incidence of distraction. The degree to which, given a standard level of shiny, placement results in a differential distraction in a given individual. It’s scientifically proven. It happened in my class today.

My class is made of two curling rows of tables, each following the same curve. This means no student is far from me or the front of the room and the front row can just take their chairs and turn them around to work in groups. The curl is like the end of a French curve and one fits into the other. It is reminiscent of the waves our surfing-town is known for. I’m very proud of it.

It was designed by my friend Evanne, she of stage set design fame. We did this the week before school started when I arrived and discovered, a few days prior, all my furniture, newly delivered, had been stolen by other teachers. Teachers live by larceny. It’s that or they’d never have a thing. We got the tables from the trash.

Our school has dress codes. They are clear but have holes one could drive an elephant herd through. I can’t say I pay much attention to dress codes. For the most part I find them silly. Straps on shirts must be no less than three fingers wide. Shorts and skirts must be no shorter than the fingertips as one’s arms hang loosely. No foul or hate language. No language or pictures suggesting illegal acts or substances. I must admit, the hate language and illegal acts makes some sense. So does the ‘no flip flop’ rule. In crowded walkways the backs of the floppy shoes get stepped on and result in falls. Open toed shoes result in injury too. Such is the case in a child warehouse.

There are those holes though. Ladies in shirts that are long enough and do not have exposed tops but a slash across the chest so there is no doubt about the developmental status of the student. Not covered (by cloth or dress code). Against the spirit of the law but certainly not the word. The shorts are long enough to qualify but have the word luscious or bootieliscious across the backside. Personally, I’d rather they be shorter but not have the writing. Students will wear the illegal clothes and then put jackets over them. In the summer, jackets. They will then complain the classes are too hot but they can’t take their jackets off. Turn the air up, they ask. I have no trouble telling them their choice of dress isn’t going to inconvenience me. It’s summer. Dressing in a way that requires a jacket or sweatshirt isn’t going to gain my sympathy. Like the student in the short white skirt the day she knows we are going to be sitting out in the grass writing. The idea is it will get her out of it. The idea is mistaken.

The rules state how short skirts and shorts can be and that bare midriffs are forbidden. But because it says nothing about low-rise pants we have students who, half the day, are pulling their shirts down and spend the other half pulling their pants up. Does that call the attention of others? You bet. Boys and girls are equal participants in this.

Remember, this is eighth grade.

One of our teachers had a better way of putting it. When a student complained she had been brushed by a boy in an inappropriate place, the teacher pointed out, in a crowded school setting, it might be a good idea to use the rule that, if it isn’t a place I’d want touched, it’s not a place I’d want exposed.

It doesn’t matter to me, for the most part. I don’t care if a boy’s pants are so low I can tell them, each day, as they walk into the class, the color checks on their boxers. “Blue plaid today, Mr. S?” Mr. S. would never wear a belt and insisted on no-rise jeans. My talks with his father were not academic but more pleas for him to buy his son a belt. He did. With an LED buckle that read, in bright scrolling letters ‘CANDY’

Or if a gal wears her skirts so short her underwear is exposed when she sits. What do I care? That is a positive thing about tables, now that I think about it. Greater coverage.

Last year we had a student who insisted on low-rise skirts and thongs. I did my best to not walk around behind her. I had already been called by her parents and told her friend in class claimed I had looked at her. Not looked at her funny, but that I looked at her. (“Didn’t do your homework again, Ms. C?” Staring over my glasses as teachers have done since Franklin and even managed to do well before there were glasses.) She was going to lodge a complaint that “I looked at her.” Then the parents of the friend, having heard of the conspiracy from their daughter, spoke with her and explained it was the teachers job to look at all the students and the less work she did the more she’d get looked, and then, stared at. That was my job. Moreover, they explained this was far too serious a charge to make about a male teacher just because they didn’t like the class. Meanwhile, the low-rise girl had guys going out of their way to walk behind her to the pencil sharpener. Things would suddenly, continuously drop next to her so she would reach down to pick them up.

On one particularly clumsy day when more erasers were dropping than I thought were in the class and no pencils seemed to be sharp enough, I followed the rout the students, mainly boys, were taking to discover more of her than might be appropriate for public school and quite an ampling study in shadow and light for interested pupils in our class. Since the parents knew she was prone to this I called them. She was coming to school dressed in more than this and changed once at school. That ended. I’m teaching English. Just let me teach.

Another child in class liked glitter. She would rub it all over her. One day I noticed more than a few stares her way from the boys and giggles from the girls. She was actively rubbing glitter on her chest, pulling her shirt out a bit, rubbing it in, pulling it down, blowing on herself so it would dry. I was teaching transitions at the time and she was supposed to be revising her last essay for transition use.

I walked over to her and saw the problem. The glitter increased the deeper into her cleavage it got. She had formed an arrow from her neck pointing down between her breasts. So I am rather oblivious that it took stares and giggles to make me notice this. I knew better, however, than to point this out to her and, instead, called the teacher, a lady, from the class one over. She walked in, noticed her immediately as the beacon she was, and called her out of the class to talk. The female assistant principal was called and she dressed a bit more appropriately after that and sans glitter. Then, a few days later, the AP tells me the mother had a fit, asking how it was I had noticed this in the first place that I knew to call in another teacher. In other words, why was I looking at her daughter? A guy teaching school has his own set of problems. It is not the real world in any way.

Today, we had a cell phone difficulty. Cell phones must be off and out of sight. Not visible. Put away and off. If they are noticed by administration and we didn’t do anything about it, we are asked why we didn’t follow the rules. It is like that with dress code violations. If the end of the day comes and a dress code problem is noticed by an administrator, he or she will want to know why it was not reported first, second, third periods and so on right through the day. Did I mention I just want to teach English?

I have a student who is constantly fixing herself. She reaches her hand into her top, not surreptitiously, but with flow and show and flare, to readjust herself. This is continuous and occurs regardless of what sort of top she is wearing. This is punctuated only by her pulling her shirt down if not enough is showing over the top, then pulling it up the minute she notices boys staring at an area not her face, then pulling it back down because puling it up has pulled it above the waist of her pants and another view has just been presented. This is a constant hand and clothing dance. Does she care? Is it on purpose? Is she conflicted? I have no idea but am certain it could be fixed with a big ‘ol t-shirt.

“Ms. C. Checking to see if they are still there?”

“What?” the low neck of her shirt is pulled forward and she has her nose hidden by the collar. She is obviously looking for something in there. I’m explaining the notes on the board for the next Literary Analysis, and she is taking inventory.

“If you would look up here now, I’m sure they will still be there later.”

Today Ms. C had on something significantly smaller, lower, shorter and thinner. There was also something glinting each time she reached her hand into her top, round the objects kept not too well hidden to readjust. She’d pull it up a bit and the glint would disappear. A moment later, in my eye, a glare as the light from the window behind me bounces from something shiny and my attention is caught. Her shirt has tightened itself down again and something is shining.

The sequence plays again. As the shirt re-inches lower I again notice the object. It is a cell phone. Her phone might have been off but it was certainly visible. And it was poised to be noticed, noticed often and noticed well wedged, as it was, into her cleavage.

I remind you, this is eighth grade.

As far as drawing attention to oneself, this certainly accomplished it. Distracting. High incidence of distraction. But I said nothing. Nothing, that is, until after class as I walked out with the other students. Catching up to her I asked what her class next was. Art. I called down to the teacher after I got back to my class. Yes, she will look. No, it would not surprise her as she has spoken to her mother before and she is making a habit if calling attention to herself. She looks over as Ms. C. enters the room, or so I surmised as Ms. Art Teacher exclaims, suddenly, “O My Heavens.” Sure enough, that was it.

Ms. Art Teacher is amazed it took as long as it did for me to notice but tells me it was wise of me to not say anything. Have a female teacher point it out. Is that safer?

Did I mention I just want to teach English?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 3, 2006 in Culture, Education, Social

 
 
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