Category Archives: Food

Paper or Plastic?

I have been a user of canvas bags for as long as I can remember. From the first I became environmentally aware, I brought my own cloth bags to grocery stores. Later, as a business owner, purchasing boxes of bags showed me there were real savings to be had; bags are not cheap. So I never saw how bringing canvas bags to the store should be a seeming endless source of confusion on the part of nearly everyone, except myself.

As a fellow in my early twenties, I would go to Publix with my bags, toss them in the cart as I entered and do my shopping. This rarely ended in simply packing my goods in the bags and leaving. No. That particular chain likes to have bagboys. A sexist term, true, but it sounds better than bagpeople, which brings up images of unshowered unfortunates with rusted carts and thinned frocks with pockets full of cats. The bagboys (and baggirls) range in age from fifteen to one hundred and sixty. They happily pack your defrosting, sweating ice cream next to the soon-to-be soggy cereal for you and don’t like at all if you should pack for yourself. Instead, they insist on having their own people put the milk carton on top of the tomatoes. It is just one of the many courtesies they offer.

Lately, Publix has taken to hiring the developmentally disabled and the packing has much improved.

Still, I prefer to bag the items myself. I can pack them in fewer bags, know what is where, be less grumbly and, as my wife tells the bagpersons, it is just generally safer for them all around.

Approaching the checkout counter with my cart, I’d toss the bags on the conveyor first so the bagperson would see them and know, obviously, where the groceries would go.

“What’s this?” the cashier asks, turning one around, looking for a price on the sack old enough the words are hard to read, seams now only half-sewn.

I would, invariably, inform her it was a bag.

“How much is it?”

“It is nothing. It is old.”

“How do I charge you for it?”

“You don’t. It is a bag. You pack in it”

“Where in the store did you get this?”

“Nowhere in the store. I got it from my truck. I brought it with me. Does it really look new to you? I brought it to pack groceries in.” And she would look at me, turning the bag over again and again as if a tag would appear and make the liar of me. Then, she would toss them to the end of the counter and begin to tally my bill.

Not just Publix, of course. Winn Dixie, Harris Teeter, one Kroger, once, Food Lion, Shopright, Super Foodtown, Kash N’ Karry. South Florida, Central North Carolina, New Jersey.

The bags are in the hands of the bagboy. He also turns them over again and again, pulls them inside out, looking for goodies. He then opens a plastic bag on the frame and tosses my bags inside it, into the bottom, placing the food on top of them as the items pass the scanner. I watch.

Slowly, wide eyed, I ask, “Whachya doin?” the way one talks to a boy who has just put a bit of his anatomy in a lightsocket but you are more concerned with the socket than with him and, in the end, you might just flip the switch on just for the show.


“I can see that. Don’t you think the bags inside the bag might be more effective outside the bag? Perhaps we could put groceries in them?”

“Oh, was I supposed to pack in those?”

“What on Earth did you think they were for?”

“I don’t know. I just packed them.”

“I know. I saw that. Not planning on medical school, are you?” I ask, with stress on each, individual word to assure understanding.


He continues packing anyway.

“Undo it. Put the food in the cloth bag please.”

He scoffs, snarls, sniffs and grudges as he reverses course and out of the plastic bag comes the food and, finally, a clump of cloth.

I watch. He packs the food in the plastic bag again, my cloth ones laying beside it, empty, heaped. As he finishes the bag, he picks the top cloth one from the pile, opens it wide and puts the half-full plastic bag inside.

This is a matter of principle now. I’m not letting this go.

“Can you tell me what is the point in what you just did?”

“You said you wanted it in the cloth bag.”

“Why do I need it in the plastic bag first?

In truth, sometimes I do request an item in plastic. If it looks leaky. If it is wet. I didn’t want to go into that with this fellow. His water seemed muddy enough.

I ask, again, that it be undone. Packed into my re-usable bags.

He does so to a stream of barely audible mutterings. The cloth is still wrinkled and convoluted for all the extra room left by the little in it. He lifts the bag by the handle and, with great difficulty, as I watch, patiently, head cocked to the side like a confused dog, he lowers it into the plastic bag. I have three items inside a cloth sack, inside a plastic bag.

“Ok… I am confused. It must be me because I am not the bag-professional here, (I was a bagboy, truth to tell, but so what? My forte was offering carryout service to old women who had walked from no fewer than half a dozen blocks away. I would be out of the store at least two hours every day. No less. “Carryout is our policy.”) but can you tell me why I need my cloth bag inside a plastic one?”

He said not one word, lifted it out and threw the plastic bag away.

“Nope. My purpose in using cloth bags is to save the plastic and paper. How do I accomplish that if you throw it away?”

“Well, it’s used.”

“What? Is it dirty? It had packages in it just like the next set of packages it could have in it, to go home with the next person in line unless they have cloth bags too. Then you can torture them. At least, you could put it in the recycle bin instead of the garbage.”

I took it from his hand, smoothed it out, put it back on the frame and smiled.

I wish I could say this happened only once.

Sometimes I have fewer bags than I need. Some may be in the laundry or I have purchased more than my bags can handle and I opt for a plastic bag. Often, the bagger will put in one or two items. Why? Do they fight? I’m not saying I am against the separation of hot from cold or chemicals from foods; I am talking about cereal boxes. Surely, this cannot be a weight issue that a bag can hold only a box of Cheerios and a can of tuna. Why do I need to take home scores of bags containing only two items each? And if I ask for the items condensed, again, the bagger takes them out, put them in new bags and attempts to throw the original bags away. Foiled again. Why not throw them out? They are, after all, only a non-renewable resource.

Ah, you say, but some of the bags we use now are made of corn cellulose. Still, while corn is renewable, the fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides used to grow them aren’t. They are petrochemical in origin and none too good for our environment. And even if they weren’t finite, polluting and carcinogenic, why waste a perfectly good bag?

Bag in a bag? Bag my goods and put the bag in a bag? Maybe for an extra heavy item, a sharp one, but I have had a bagger do this with everything.

I once, just once, asked to speak to a store manager. I explained it might be good to tell the bagboys what to do with cloth bags. I asked for a ballpark figure on how much the store would save if bagboys stopped putting one item in a bag, throwing bags away, bagging bags in bags. He admitted it was a goodly sum and had actually looked into it. I asked, why not talk with them?

He explained he had tried once and it just doesn’t work. He shook his head. Indeed, let us continue concentrating on State-wide Highstakes Testing and No Child Left Behind. That way we can have a whole generation of people who can write a mediocre essay under pressure but can’t figure out how to use a cloth bag.

I wish I could say it was just the large, run-of-the-mill stores. I wish I could, but I can’t. I started going to Whole Foods and such places, in part, because they knew what to do with the bags. Or so I thought. I had, not along ago, a long talk with the manager of a Whole Foods on the issue.

I had one item. It was a jug. It had a handle. The employee put it in a bag. Because it was heavy, he then put that bagged jug into another bag. I suggested his employees should know better. I shopped there, in part, because I felt they did.

He said I was wrong and, if I worked there a week, I would swear the environmental movement was doomed by stupidity.

Walgreen’s. I purchase an item. A four pack of cassette tapes. Light. Easy to carry. He places them in a bag.

“I really don’t need that. Thanks.”

“Ok,” he says, taking them out of the bag, balling it up and –

“What are you doing with the bag,” I ask quickly.

He stops. “Why? Do you want it?”


“Ok,” he says, shrugs and reaches under the counter to throw it away.

“Is the bag bad? Is it ruined? Is it being punished? It had cassette tapes in it. Does that mean you can’t use it for the next person? Can you tell me one good reason it should go in the garbage?” Does it have something communicable?

“No.” He is confused.

“Good.” So was I.

I still am.

Do the Earth a favour: bring your own bags. And next time a clerk or bagboy asks you “Paper or Plastic” just point behind him and tell him his mother wants him. Then, while he goes running to find her, bag it yourself.

Happy Earth Day.


Posted by on April 27, 2007 in Culture, Food, Nature, Social


Passover and the Industrial Revolution

From my collection, Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin.

Every Passover I bake matzah.
I wait until there is
Nothing left to do,
I wait for the lull
In the torrent of business and busyness
And preparation for the unexpected guest,
The soup is bubbling slowly
Covered, tsimis done,
Chorosth setting
And Passover plate
Covered, in the fridge
Next to the gefilte fish.

When there is nothing left to do
And everything is finished
I bake
I work as quickly as I can
Rushing, like of old
When there was everything to do
And nothing to be done but hurry.

I work to make bread
Matzah shemurah,
‘Watched matzah’
As of old,
Before the machines were invented,
Before 1857 and the mixers and kneaders,
Rollers and perforators of the
Industrial revolution.
In fewer than eighteen minutes
From flour to done,
Nothing can rise
But the realization of the mitzvah,
Purpose for preparation,
And prayers.

At a temperature I can comfortably reach my hand into
They bake.
Like bare feet on desert sand.

When they are done
They have opened in the
Center, crisp and brown,
Heavy and thick,
Empty. Receptive…

This is not like the matzah
From a box.
My matzah is not a gigantic saltine
Stacked like x-ray plates
Or cards
Or slates.

When I was seven
I went on a field trip
Through the Jersey Countryside
To the clogged vessels of
Dense New York streets,
Sitting in the Yeshiva bus,
Staring down
At the faces in the unmoving cars
We slid, heated, halting,
Metal to metal cells, fuming forward.
Finally, stilled, we gratefully
Disembarked, stood and walked along

Delancey Street
The lower east side
Of Manhattan,
With my school class,
We visited a temple during minion
Sat separated
Girls from boys
On an austere balcony of
Dark woods and dark ages
Staring above the vaulted steps
At the dais of black-coated men
Listening to the song to their beloved
Carried with the audible overtone of the holy
And an undertone of confidence
The song was surely heard.

We were there for days or minutes
And fidgeted, fussed, squirmed
In the presence of the Universal King.
After, released of our confinement
Reconfined to sturdy lines to walk
On to the great mystery of the
Matzah factory.

Past the pickle barrels
On the sidewalks
Where for ten cents
We all got to dip our hands
And pull a half-sour
From the briny cask,
Close by,
And brick-built
Red and high-windowed
Was the matzah factory.

We entered though the loading dock
And never wondered if there was
A door, an office, a warehouse but
There were ovens
Vast and hot.

We stood on a balcony
Over the open factory floor,
Vats and vaults
Mixers and all over the smell of flour.
Rolling from the vat,
Poured onto a sheet, rolled into the ovens
Pressed by combs
For perforation
For ease of use

For profit
For Horowitz-Margareten,
Streit’s, Manischewitz
The Matzah Monopoly
For tables during Passover
For people to gingerly, slowly shop for
In Pathmark, Shop-Rite, Foodtown
Kids in cart, mamma picking her box
Of matzah, plums, salami
And, if she was in a hurry
It had nothing to do with
Evacuation, or the Pharaoh
Or Moses except that
We’d read it in the Haggadah
And break the matzah,
Ask the questions, dip the
Parsley, spread the horseradish
And bite.

The factory was hot with baking
And we left, sweating, drenched
Flour-powdered without and
Within, samples of matzah,
In a single-file exodus from the ovens.
Which, every Passover
I recreate in my kitchen.

The bread of affliction
Is my joy, my revolt,
My exodus and cry unto the wilderness
To my own kind –
“Let my people go.”


Posted by on April 1, 2007 in Culture, Family, Food, Poetry, Religion, Social


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 diligence. 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 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 Weenies? 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.


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.


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


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Body Modification

I was sitting with a friend of mine the other night. She’s a model on a site called Suicide Girls that specializes in chicks (her term) with tattoos and piercing and whatnot. What makes her stand out, aside from some obvious attributes (I’m not saying and no fair guessing) is that she actually has no body modifications.

So we were talking about piercings and tattoos and rivets and brands and hollyhanna I’m not getting any of that stuff done. I mean, I get tired of the colour of my sofa let alone want permo-pics penned on my pecs. Please!

Still thinking… do I really have no body modifications? Aside from the pain and anticipation, or, rush or whatreasonhaveyou people have for getting body mods, for the most part, once done they are done.

I do have a body modification. It’s a doozey too. Lots of folks do. And it is hard won, took much more than money, required dedication and grit, trial, vigilance, error, review and introspection.

It required physical labour, sometimes sacrifice or denial, always commitment. If going from a size 40 to a size 30 isn’t a body modification – if going from a double extra large to a small isn’t a body mod – if flattening one’s stomach, gaining biceps, and getting our bodies to the point where they can walk miles and miles non-stop when we started not being able to negotiate a set of stairs without huffs, puffs and frequent rests isn’t a body modification, then I don’t understand the concept.

And it takes not a moment, not a pinch, it doesn’t happen when one is drunk and isn’t discovered done in the morning. It takes a commitment to make it happen and a lifetime to keep it that way.

Sometimes I screw up, miss exercise, eat something I should not, feel it slip, worry it won’t last. Sometimes the lapse lasts a day, a week, and then I regain, restart and know I learned something, must cut myself some slack. It can be scary. This is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the squeamish, it is not for the week.

If this is you, congratulate yourself – you are doing one of the hardest things anyone can. You increased exercise, which is not a natural thing, and you have decreased food, which we all need and often goes contrary to what our bodies want. Buck up! You are amazing.

You are modifying you body and your life.

If this is you too, All Hail Us!


Posted by on August 18, 2006 in Culture, Food, Social


St. Adamus Day or The Slackers Jubilation.

It is my birthday party today. I just got this email:

In order to take no chances in offending the Gods (and or Saints) I have duly
pronounced the Ode to St. Adamus this morning. In my underwear of course
and toasting with a large glass of ice water (it’s hot here!) I’ll say it again on Friday just to make sure that the word goes up on high that I am a follower!

This is from a lady who, unlike me, is not afraid to admit she is wonderful. I’m learning. I’m a slow learner. Here is my response.

See, it’s a movement!

And I’m going to take a page from your book and proclaim, to everyone far and near, as they arrive, welcome to “me and all my awesomeness!”

A movement it is. St. Adamus started quite a few years ago and is now celebrated, though that may be a bit too energetic of a word for it, by lucky, lazy observers in many locals. Here is this year’s invitation:

You are invited, you lucky person you, to The Feast of
Saint Adamus

August 5th about 6pm

This year, we shall hold the feast at the sacred shrine. The shrine is located at Darwin Manor House at Peepton Hill, The Lap of Luxury (Palm Bay).

The Feast of Saint Adamus, also known as the Slackers Jubilation, is a newly created Ancient Tradition. Being traceable as far back as the necrotic period, records have indicated this to be one of the most hallowed of days, significant for the sheer number of people who kept the Holy Day, which comes as no surprise when one discovers the truly devout celebrants were required to do nothing more than lounge around in their underwear and snack.

Held on the Eve of the Ides Of August, or the Saturday night following the anniversary of the illustrious Saint’s day of birth, or whatever day is most convenient, during the dog days of summer when Canis Major rides high in the night sky and inertia and laziness prevail, when things seem dead and doing anything, exerting any energy for any reason, seems not only useless and futile, but impossible, The Feast of Saint Adamus festivities consisted of a costume party and pot luck. In ancient Mesopotomy, prizes were often given for the best Feast of Saint Adamus costume and usually went to infants and slave girls. This begins to make sense when one looks further into the customs of this most advanced, civilised culture and discovers that an ancient Mesopotomus hardly ever wore anything more than underpants, and infants and slaves less.

Food offerings consisted of gifts of leftovers brought in adoration of Saint Adamus. Anything hanging around the house would do, as long as it took little or no preparation, bespoke of no creativity and left hardly anything to clean up or wash. Utensils were considered an abhorrence to Saint Adamus, unless they were made of candy and entirely edible. Of course, in true homage to this beloved saint, as yet, no-one has ever taken the time or initiative to create these.

One must remember, the hallmark of the Celebration of Saint Adamus and the Feast bearing his name is that nothing special happens. A sort of Super Sabbath, celebrants are required to do nothing more than pay homage to their saint and each other by bearing witness to our mutual inertia. And let us do as the pious have done for centuries uncounted. This Feast of Saint Adamus, let’s get together and do nothing.

No-one ever goes to the trouble of coming in costume. Good. Some do come in their underwear. Excellent. Some come dressed and in their underwear: wearing it outside, on their heads, stuffed in, overflowing from, pockets.

When someone does manage to follow the rules, I find a prize. Since I never plan for this – it would be too much trouble – I just pick something off my shelves – candles, knickknacks, a flute – and hand it to them. I have too many things anyway.

People circumvent the rules by all sorts of strange means, like religions everywhere. Can’t use an elevator on the Sabbath? Just turn it on to stop at every floor from Friday afternoon to Saturday night. Can’t drive to temple? Drive mostly there and park down the street. Letter, not spirit. Likewise, people tend to make… Well… Here is another email:

Oh I have made something sinfully good for your party

My response:

As long as it’s a leftover. You can’t make something ‘special.’ then you
aren’t bein a slacker!

(Thank you)


It’s leftover. I made it yesterday 😉

What am I to do? One of the reasons I chose leftovers was to keep people from working to out-do each other. Also, I wanted a party that was not based in food, delectable, delicious, diet-shattering delicacies need not arrive. I want to talk, not chew, sing, not drink. You get the idea.

So, I started cooking in advance or picking up food I liked. Food, most likely, only I’d be eating. Not that others can’t enjoy them if they like. But, chances are, I’m the only one who’s going to drink the kvas and eat the cold-smoked mackerel. Today, I am smoking a rather large, a bit over a foot long, beef tongue. Smoking it means it’ll still be pink. As a centerpiece, I have a feeling that will keep a fair number of delicacies off the table I’ll be eating from.

A few hours of delight and pleasure need not end in extra pounds. I am serious. Really.

Besides, I’ll be far too busy throwing out Mardi Gras and being entertained by the masses there to celebrate the awesomeness that is me. Unless they read the Ode to St. Adamus, which, of course, is recited every year.

Ode to St. Adamus

A man named Adamus, a saint,
Had but a single loud complaint:
His workload nearly made him faint-
His time was not his own.

The other saints, he’d explicate,
Had time to sit and contemplate,
Philosophize and meditate,
Or solve an ancient koan.

But he alone of all the bless’d
Got not a single moments’ rest
He’d end each day dog-tired and stressed
His hands worked to the bone.

This sorry state continued ’til
The tired saint had had his fill
I need a day to just sit still!
The neighbors heard him groan.

Amidst the papers in his room,
A lovely thought then pierced his gloom
A way he might escape his doom
And find the time to zone.

To each saint is a feast assigned
And patronage of those whose kind
The saint’s good works were most aligned
With, when his works are known

Saint Adamus then beamed with glee.
It seemed that he would soon be free
His own feast he would now decree
Ere one more hour had flown.

A day of utter laziness
Steeped in the summer’s haziness
A break from all the craziness
Would be its general tone.

And so it is at August’s peak
When heat runs high
And will runs weak,
We gather, some relief to seek,
And sit around like stone.

Mind you, this was not written by me, Oh, no. It is by Jeannette Westlake. See, I have fans. It’s a movement.

I think I’ll need more knickknacks by the end of this evening.

Room for one more, Honey


Posted by on August 5, 2006 in Culture, Family, Food


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The Play’s the Thing

About three months ago I was asked to write a play. I have never written a play. I had no intention of saying yes.

“I’ve never written a play.”

“Oh, you can do it. I’m sure. You’re a writer.”

“I don’t know how.”

“I’ll send you some web pages.”

“I don’t have time to read them.”

“You have three weeks.”

“To read the sites?

“To get us the play. I need the cast list by auditions in a week. The finished play can take three.”

“I have finals to write and year-end grades.”

“Then I’d better get you the books this week.”

“Did you hear what I said? I don’t think you did. I’m sure of it.”

“There are three of them. I’ll being them Tuesday.”

Talking with Evanne can be like this. Often is. My defenses don’t seem to have much of an effect.

Which is how I found myself with a set of books, stories to adapt and writing a play.

I brought my laptop to work. My lesson plans adapted. My students became test-readers and part of an actual, live language arts project. They proofread, corrected, commented. It was done. I have never written so quickly, so fully engrossed in a project.

I took several stories of the Arabian Nights and adapted them to fit into a version of the Scheherazade story. To do so I needed to create segues as well, narration, ways in and out of the stories told by the queen looking to save her head with the stories that came out of them.

I wanted them funny. I wanted them beautiful and simple. I wanted some nearly silent and others a delight of language and a joy of sight. I wanted elegance and comedy, sweetness and wisdom. I thought I got it.

But how would I know for sure?

They loved it. Some of my stage direction had to be adapted for a children’s theater. Ages four to seventeen. That young, eh?

Some of my stage direction “was too beautiful to cut so we had to make it into dialogue. It reminds me of Tennessee Williams” This is one of the best compliments I have ever received.

An old woman once called me a mensch. As compliments go, it’s hard to get better than that.

And the Theater was much large than I had anticipated. That is I thought it was one of the small summer productions. No, it was in the main theater of The Henegar Center. Another surprise.

I stayed away from casting and rehearsal. I didn’t want to interfere. Once written, what right did I have to tell them what to do? I don’t know their theater, their audience, their business. Two months had passed.

Then I was asked to be a stage manager. Me? You’d make a good one, I was told. Something else I had never done. But why not? It was a summer of firsts. My first CD, my first movie (a short, student film) my first DVD, my first stint running, MCing an open-mic poetry. Why not be a stage manager?

I arrive the day before the play opens. “Scheherazade and the Tales of the Arabian Nights.” I am stage manager, dresser, prop-meister for stage left. I am seeing what I have done come to fruition, come alive in front of me, under the lights, on the stage. This is a shamanic dream during waking.

The children slowly come to realize I wrote much of their play. I have not said anything. They have question after question. How did I think of that? It came from my head. How does that happen? I don’t know.

This is so funny, the oldest actor, seventeen, tells me. The little kids love it but there is so much here my I think is funny too. Where did you learn to do that?

Underdog, I answer. And Fractured Fairy Tales. Rocky and Bullwinkle. Mel Brooks.

Opening day. The theater is sold out. Five hundred seats. I arrive at 8:15. House opens at 9:30. Places at 9:55. Costumes on, last minute glitches, costume malfunctions, pins, props, positions everyone.

The music starts and the lights dim. I can hear the audience laughing, sighing. It works. Kids want to be the hero of one of my segments, a donkey named Chaki. They laugh. People lean forward when the Nightingale sings and dies, rises again and is free, react in surprise when Amira rejects her suitors, discovers her garden again has bloomed in her new desert home. They applaud and applaud.

I had said no. I would not write this. I’m glad I was not listened to. Sometimes it is for the best.

The last show, a full balcony, no where to stand. The end comes and costumes are put away, carried to storage. Props are carried upstairs, downstairs. There is a pervasive sadness about the cast, crew. I feel it over me.

The cast party starts.

I hear there is talk about me. A certificate of thanks of some sort. I look outside the theater doors to the banquet-room across the hall and it is crowded. I walk out, walk toward the crowd.

There is a line for food. It is the first thing I see and I know better. There will be nothing there I can eat, nothing that will be good for me. Day one of the play, between performances, thee was pizza supplied for the cast and crew and I left for food elsewhere, brought it back because I was afraid if I didn’t, people would think I was anti-social instead of just asocial. I sat alone, not wanting to impose myself on anyone. Evanne sees me alone, set apart, and comes over to sit with me. I think she understands but feel I have, by sitting alone, put her in a position where she did not want me to be unhappy. While I was happy for Evanne’s company, I did not want to think her compassion for me took her away from talking with others, visiting, enjoying her lunch.

The next days I brought lunch, took a walk, ate alone and did not impose.

Now, the cast party and what to do. I walk away from the food as I see people with plates of cookies, brownies, worse. I walk to the other end of the room.

I can sit by myself or find someone I know and cling, or feel I am, and then go home and wonder if I had behaved improperly, was a pain. Did they really want to talk. Were they being merely polite. It doesn’t seem worth it. Either way, I feel uncomfortable, unsure, free-floating and anxious. People are tugging at me, congratulating me, asking me things. In the theater I knew what to do; it was clear. When I was writing, I knew what to do; writing is simple – it makes sense to me. Here, I have no idea, I’m uncertain. There is very little potential here for comfort and I’ll wonder later; wonder what people thought, what they are thinking. I don’t know why. This is something I don’t understand.

So I am kind to myself and leave, walk back to the theater, open the doors and enter. It is dark. My eyes adjust and there is nothing left on stage but a bare set and a rug. Perhaps I am not the last one out, but just in case I walk to stage right and take from behind the curtain an tall old lamp with a naked bulb and a long cord. I walk it to center stage, front, and turn it on

The ghost light.

The stage should never be dark. This I understand.


Posted by on July 23, 2006 in Culture, Education, Food, Social

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