Along for the ride:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Loaves and Fishes

The fog had not yet lifted when we reached the coast yesterday morning. We had a client meeting on a construction site; the three-story home-to-be, on a hillside overlooking Princeton Harbor, had an uninterrupted view all the way to the horizon. The white breakers crashing on the far Northern periphery, a distant reminder of the brutal waves of Mavericks surfing fame.

We headed down, after our meeting, to see what the fishing boats might have to offer. These incredibly fresh Rockfish inspired us to cook up a storm and invite some friends over to share our catch.
Six fishes (not five), a loaf of crusty bread and some wine, were the basics around which we crafted our meal. Adding Belgian endives and garnishing with parsley, garlic, fennel, shallots and tomatoes produced a visual feast as well as a flavorful one.

I had gone back to the office for the afternoon, leaving The Artistic One at home to work on his computer and prep our dinner for later that evening.
I was quite pleased to have worked uninterrupted for a few hours and headed for home around five o'clock, stopping to buy brown sugar and cookies to crumble over the apples I was planning on baking for dessert.
We have a family saying: " If we don't have a fire or a flood then it's not a real party!"
TAOne's car was not in the driveway. The front door of our house was unlocked. This is a frequent occurrence when TAO leaves in a whirlwind of creativity, keys and locks are often disregarded.
Once inside, I was alarmed by the smell of burning. I rushed to the kitchen to see what had been left on the burner and forgotten.
I had never imagined that anyone could succeed in burning vegetable soup! My big, heavy, stainless steel saucepan had a two inch (5cm) black crust around the inside, bottom edge. It was no longer hot but the smell had invaded the whole house. TAO had opened doors and windows and left to get groceries.
I turned on the oven and started making my apple crumble, as much to counteract the bitter smokiness, as to be ready for our guests.
It took a lot of scrubbing with abrasive cleaning powder to return my big pot to functionality. If it hadn't been stainless I would have tossed it out without even trying. I have had several opportunities to test my skills in burned-pot redemption.
TAO was soon back with his purchases. As I went to put away cheese and butter in the overflow fridge in our garage, I was distracted from my huff about the burnt soup; TAO had put away the fish earlier, still in its plastic bag, topped up with crushed ice. The slightly pink and fishy juice had dribbled all over the refrigerator, flooding the drawers, creating a nasty pulpy mess of the paper-towel liners I had put in.
The whole thing had to be mopped up and cleaned from top to bottom right away.
With both of our talisman fire and flood elements taken care of, it boded well for our party. We were expecting Lovely Daughter and SIL, with new addition Enzo the standard black Schnauzer. The other couple to whom we had allocated a fish each are longtime friends I know I could call in an emergency. I know they would respond but I also know they would be late in responding and have a very good excuse and it would be totally someone else's fault.
Friends are friends, warts and all. Right?
My invite to them was to come at seven'ish. At two minutes to eight, as we all waited and wondered, they appeared with a bottle of wine and a tale about the idiot who had messed up their bill and taken a half hour to sort it out. Sigh! 
I had a hard time steering our dinner conversation away from politics, as we have just had mid-term elections. I don't mind a give and take conversation about issues and performance but a monologue kept getting launched, that I have heard before, full of Urban legends, conspiracy theories and bigotry. 
When it got to a list of black men who are superior enough to "Transcend their blackness" (as opposed to our President, who apparently does not), Will Smith was the shining example. 
First of all "Blackness" is not something that needs to be transcended. Secondly, listing Will Smith as a not too offensively black example of blackness, because you like his acting, is a bit like a comparison to Roman Polanski, who can transcend being a pedophile by directing good movies.
The trend did not improve and my patience wore thin. The trouble with friends you have known for twenty years, is that there is less restraint on both sides. 
I usually let them rant on with just a passing mention of my disagreement with their point of view and/or a smiling reproach that magical thinking and viral internet postings do not a fact make.
Last night I put a damper on the hysteria with a strong reminder that good friends should know, and take into account, the fact that not everyone agrees with them. I told them how rude and disrespectful I found it to be steamrollered again and again because I was too polite to tackle them head on.
I think my message was received this time. There was a moment or two of awkwardness and shock followed by dessert and the very late addition of  a mutual friend who was divorcing her unfaithful, alcoholic husband as she'd found he'd cleaned her out financially and not paid taxes. He recently fell or was pushed and fatally hit his head whilst out with his girlfriend. It has since been discovered that someone put sugar in his car's gas tank as well, so it is ruined.
As well as burying her past, our friend has a week left to vacate her home which she is now losing. She is moving to a much smaller space and holding a sale tomorrow of furniture and belongings she cannot keep.  Political Monologue friend had worked all day sorting and tagging possessions for  the sale; certainly living the experience as a precursor to what might still be ahead for her family as she lives on the edge of foreclosure. In the years we have known one another she has lost two siblings and a niece to cancer. She is without health insurance and afraid to get any health exams as they might not only show a problem but then it would be on record as a pre-existing condition and she couldn't qualify for insurance if she could afford it. This same woman is viscerally against the one man who is trying to make health care available to her. She lives in fear either way.
All three of us have been as supportive of one another as possible, referring business back and forth to one another whenever we can and talking on the phone to worry through problems.
The greatest achievement is just the fact that we are all still here.
Much like the deceptively calm waters in Princeton harbor, in Life as in Friendships, there are rocks lurking beneath the surface and rogue waves that will try to drown us. If we're going to make it through we'd better keep finding a way to pull together, regardless of our differences.
I know what I'm going to say next time I speak with P.M. Friend:  "Will Smith for President!"


  1. I have several family members that I simply don't talk to around election time. It's the only way to survive.

    And a 3-story house in Princeton? I thought people went around burning down houses that were built that tall. Or was that only in HMB?

  2. Dear ER,
    What an epic post. Reading this all has left me with nearly the same feeling I had after watching the film "The Decline of the American Empire"... I'm impressed however at how philosophically and gracefully you sailed the potentially stormy seas of burned pots and spilled fish juice and rude friends and politics and all... Chapeau !

    PS I hope the fish and crumble were good finally, the fish platter looked scrumptious, truly scrumptious !

  3. Merry, It is no higher than the steep hill behind it so it fits.

    Owen, I usually don't counter-attack. I see my friends in "Big Picture" terms. They have many lovable and admirable qualities. The early troubles with fire and flood lowered my tolerance level, for sure. Everything was scrumptious.

  4. Indeed, The food looked wonderful. Your tolerance is much admired. After the political rant, I would have been tempted to end the conversation by pushing the soggy, fishy paper into her esophagus.

  5. Legend, As you know, fresh, quality ingredients are key. As to the politics, she is so threatened by the unknown that I feel mostly pity. I was pissed that she didn't take me seriously or care enough to listen. I've heard my daughter step in and translate to people "That's the English Art of Understatement. What Mum really means is..." (fill in the blanks). I've known this woman long enough that she should have been more aware. She is now!

  6. Honesty between old friends is a frequent delight but also frequently starts riots... it's a fine line!

  7. When it comes to politics, I spend a lot of time listening, and looking for a point to jump off into more interesting territory.

  8. Your cleaning up after projects sound like some of mine. Just part of the package and when compared to the wonderful so much else the cleanup projects are minor and usually done in love. Your dinner times are much later than we can stay up. I have always been an early dinner eater and early to bed and early to rise too. In fact, today I was up and bustling about at 4:40 which is regular awake time around here and then remembered it was actually 3:40 as I forgot to change clocks. Ha. Your friends sound interesting and caring about each other. Having real friends in tough times like the friend losing her home helps her through I am sure.

  9. A post to give me much to think over.

    You are a better man than me, Gunga Din, to stay friends with friends whose viewpoint is so diametrically opposed to yours. We have one monopoliser - he's coming to lunch on Saturday - like that; our defence is not to take him seriously at all and poke gentle fun at him both for being so garrulous and his opinions. He is rather tiresome, all the same.

    If it is business that keeps you together, I can understand; the need to earn a crust makes you compromise. Feeling sorry for someone is another reason that keeps me connected to people I'd rather shed.

    And they say 'you choose your friends'.

    You really are a competent, capable and unflappable b.a., I salute you.

  10. Owen was right to call this an epic. And like Friko and others, I admire you for being able to keep the Big Picture in focus - I don't think I could do the same if the same irritants came up again and again. That you are able to write about the pot, the fish and the friends with your usual humour (even if sharp) is proof of your considerable forebearance.

    Loved the title and the menu - which reminded me of my SIL's long-ago regret that her children, never exposed to religion, had gaps in their understanding of terms like the title of this post. I took the easy way out and sent my kids to Catholic school for their religious education.

    I don't understand the opposition to the health care bill - even more so when it comes from someone who could benefit from it. The level of discussion in American politics seems to have dropped well below the stupid line.

  11. Deborah, I am not religious but I appreciate the worthy concepts like "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" If the whole world just lived by that one rule, we'd be in a different place right now. Loaves and fishes/Feeding the Five Thousand seems so appropriate to our times. Then there is "Casting bread upon the waters" If I remember correctly, that one calmed the rough sea (not 100% sure on that).
    Politically, Health Care Reform has been painted as Socialism which is close to Communism and a big Bogey man for many.
    I do have a hard time understanding how people can follow the Party Line, just because it is the Party Line. Evaluating issues and candidates for what they individually represent is my chosen path. More choices would be good.

  12. Friko, My friend and I do collaborate for work sometimes, that's how we met. Her world has fallen apart in the last two years and she has an underlying panic or hysteria which was not so prevalent before. At one time we thought that she, her husband and two dogs would be moving in with us. That's how close to the edge she got. There is a warm, funny, strong woman still inside. We can't abandon her now.

  13. TechnoBabe, You sound so much nicer than me. There was (and often is) a fair amount of pot banging and cupboard door slamming until I work off my frustrations when TAO does these things.
    As I drank my coffee this morning, I took a bite of my waffle and tasted garlic. TAO had cut garlic then used the same knife to cut butter. The same butter participated in a blueberry-garlic waffle with maple syrup. An acquired taste, as they say. Some things never change.

  14. Martin, I tried so many changes of subject that evening. I even specifically asked that the conversation take a new direction. That's what pushed me into my little verbal smack-down.

  15. Steve, what's interesting is that the next morning my daughter mentioned our spat, as though it was a huge problem between myself and my friend. I am sure we're O.K. Nobody stormed off, we didn't do any name calling and dinner continued with more varied themes. We all cleaned up together and she left with a bag of cuttings from my garden.

  16. hehehe, you tell 'em girl. Grub looks fab but even we are getting way too much of your election coverage over here on the BBC!

  17. I'm not a fish eater, but that looks magnificent. I always appreciate a beautiful meal, even if it isn't to my taste.

    I always also appreciate a good conversation, even if it isn't too my taste BUT...sometimes, things go too far. And some of that discussion culminating with Will Smith was going far too far. I have a hard time not coloring my feelings for people when I hear opinions like that. But, good people can have bad ideas, so I do try hard to just bite my tongue and not engage it when I know I am outnumbered.

    Once again the rule applies that it's often better not to discuss politics or religion....*sigh* Too bad the majority ruled on this one.

    Glad you saved to pot. Too bad about the soup...that I would have eaten!!

  18. Trudi, there are not enough (any?) politicians working towards the greater good of all.

    Jean, The conversation was outrageous. She used to be fixated in the Queen's conspiracy to assassinate Lady Di. I thought that was bad enough:(
    The soup was destined to be yummy, leeks, potatoes, celery, watercress, onion etc. A whole big saucepan of water boiled away down to a burnt crust. The house is only now starting to smell other than like an ashtray. Grrr!

  19. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

    That said, it bears keeping in mind that I could count my friends on one hand, for better or for worse, when push comes to shove--with a couple of fingers left over, bien entendu.

    Having had variants on your white American friends for close relatives, my capacity for conviviality among those who have been drowned in the blood of, if not the lamb, at least, American mythology and denial at its deepest, I applaud you for not having succumbed to the lure of Valium with a vodka chaser. You never cease to amaze me. And BTW, this post is a great piece of writing.

    I'm delighted to hear that Lovely Daughter and your SIL were there of offer moral support and interpretation services during the festivities.

    I think I'll go look up some George Carlin now to clean my palate...

  20. This was a brilliant read. I felt like I was meandering along a trail that I could never have guessed where it would end up to safe my life-- and enjoyed every hill and valley along the way.
    I'd vote for Will ;-)

  21. Ms Pliers, As you know, there is only so much negativity I can take. I choose the bright side, mostly.

    Hostage, thanks for the comment. Life is not boring. Trying sometimes, but not boring.

  22. You are to be commended in handling the situation. I have grown so weary of such conversations that I now excuse myself and leave the room if they arise.

    As you say, life is trying but rarely boring.

    Thanks for a good read.

  23. e, thank you for the kind words. The Hostess can never bow out. Failure to be convivial is not an option.