Greek Mythology

MartiniWhen I was waiting tables, people seemed to offer me drinks on an almost nightly basis. If a couple brought in a particularly nice wine, they’d want to pour me a glass. If someone purchased an esoteric bottle from our reserve list, I’d be offered a taste if I hadn’t tried it before. Sometimes, people would try to buy me a shift drink or a shot of ouzo because they just liked me so damned much. These things happen all the time to charming, middle-aged servers in Greek restaurants in San Francisco. It’s part of the culture. Sadly and, I suppose, wisely, they were gifts I was compelled to refuse.

“Thanks, but I can’t,” I’d say with a detectable half-tone of disappointment. If there’s anything a waiter needs after surviving two crazed seatings in the dining room, it’s a shot of something alcoholic. “We used to be able to do that years ago, but not anymore,” I’d add as a slight, wistful foam began to bubble at the corners of my mouth.

It’s true. When I started at the restaurant, we’d taste wine multiple times a night. Slide management-sanctioned shots of Plomari down our gullets with the last guests. Sit down at the bar for a decompression cocktail when all the customers had left. That is, until one particularly unfortunate evening.

If my guests were persistent enough in their offer, saying things like, “Oh, what harm could it do?” I’d nearly always respond with, “Well, if you really want to know, I’ll tell you why we can’t drink at work. But only after you’ve finished your dinner because the story’s a bit…bloody.” I’d drop that on them like a sizzling plate of saganaki and let them make the choice whether to pursue this post-prandial line of conversation or not. But that last word usually got them hooked.

After their tables had been crumbed and tidied and the dessert menus slid into place in front of my guests, the question would come up again. “So?” I remember one woman who wanted to buy me a drink asking, “Give us all the gory details.” She sounded like a friend asking about an especially terrible date or a hemorrhoid  operation.

“Well,” I said, “It used to be all fun and games around here until someone literally lost an eye.” I noticed out of the corner of one of my own, fully functioning sight organs that I was needed at another table– a man had dropped his dinner fork. I excused myself for a moment, relishing the fact that the interruption would serve to make story time that much more enjoyable.

“What do you mean ‘lost an eye‘?” the woman demanded before I’d fully reached the table.

“I mean precisely that,” was my rather serious reply. And then I began to tell her and her dining companion the story, which goes something like this…

Years ago, I worked with a man we called “Papou”. It wasn’t his real name, of course, but he was Greek and in his sixties and just seemed like the type of grandfather who would drink a little too much raki at Holiday parties and start flirting with your young female friends. The name just fit and he never discouraged its use. He was an amusing man who seemed to enjoy the novelty of working in a fancy restaurant for once in his life, but he had a rather sharp tongue that he whittled to a fine point when he’d been drinking, which was often.

He was charming enough to peel the knickers right off a nun but, sadly, his breath could strip pine, which meant he’d have to work his magic from a distance of at least five feet for the seduction to be effective. He smoked. A lot. He was the one person for whom I considered stale cigarette smoke a breath freshener.

EyeballAt the end of one fateful evening when all of the guests had cleared the restaurant, a few of the staff bellied up to the bar for an after-shift drink. I wasn’t working that night, so the rest of the story I’ve reconstructed over the years based on the accounts of those who were. Papou, who’d more than likely had considerably more than just one cocktail by then, decided to go outside for a smoke, taking his martini glass with him. No one’s certain exactly how it happened because there were no witnesses– his coworkers most likely busy swapping customer horror stories and not-so-casually finding out who had the best night, tip-wise. It’s possible that he was trying to light a cigarette while holding his drink, propping open the heavy oak door at the front of the building. Maybe set the drink down on the pavement in order to pay more attention to his Marlboro Red. Whatever the method, the cocktail class managed to break and the jagged stem somehow found its way into his eyeball.

When our manager came upstairs to close up and kick everyone out, he counted heads and then inquired as to the whereabouts of Papou. No one had noticed him leave. Assuming correctly that the old fellow had gone outside for a smoke, he poked his head outside. No one was out on the sidewalk, but there was a trail of blood that led right up to the door of Papou’s white land yacht, where he was found trying to “sleep it off”. If the manager hadn’t found him, he would most likely have bled to death by morning. Instead, he was trundled off to the hospital to see what could be done, which was very little. The eyeball was a goner.

He never came back to the restaurant. Whether he was fired or simply decided to retire or both, I don’t know. All I do know is that a friend spotted him at SFO, one-eyed like a defeated Polyphemus waiting to return home to Greece and crawl back into his cave with his sheep and his wine, knowing that no man was responsible for his misfortune but himself.

After reading that last paragraph, you may be saying to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute. A blinded Cyclops is no longer one-eyed, but no-eyed,” and you’d be absolutely correct. I just can’t think of a more accurate correlation to Greek mythology. But that’s pretty much what this story is–a tragic tale about a Greek man that has taken on the distinct gauzy haze of myth over the years.

I remember very distinctly that the woman who asked me to tell the story had a cocktail glass with only a sip or two left of pink liquid in it, turned warm from lack of attention. When the narrative was over, I looked at the glass and then at her, asking if she’d finished with it. She nodded, speechless.

“And that is why we’re not allowed to drink at work anymore. Are you sorry you asked?” I queried, removing the potential hazard from the table.

“No!” she ejaculated. “That was amazing! I just feel so bad for the old man.”

“Me, too,” I said. And I do feel bad for him. But I’m also grateful to him for giving me such an excellent cautionary tale with which to horrify my guests. It happened in a Greek restaurant, after all. Drama is to be expected.

When the woman paid her bill, she slipped me an extra $20 on top of the gratuity. “I still want to buy you a drink,” she insisted, “Just have it….anyplace else but here.”

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Les Marseillaises

Salt CodA chunk of dried salt cod had been occupying valuable space on my tiny pantry shelf for months. It was given to me by my friend Craig, whose Azorean  fisherman DNA does not allow him to pass up snatching bits of bacalhau whenever it crosses his path. I thanked him for it, popped it into my messenger bag and promptly forgot about it for a couple of days until I noticed an odor emanating from the bowels of my man purse which brought to mind the neglected terrarium of a hermit crab I briefly kept in the 5th grade. Crystalized salt flaked its way through the gaps in its waxed paper wrapping and settled on the bottom, which looked very much the way the shoulder of a person with an aggressive case of dandruff might after wearing a black wool turtleneck for several hours.

I gave the bag a good airing and myself a good talking to.

I knew precisely what I wanted to make with it: brandade de morue— a mixture of poached salt cod, garlic, olive oil, and potato all whipped together, baked, and served up hot or cold. I also knew precisely how I wanted to prepare it– authentically. I remembered reading something by MFK Fisher about her time living in Marseilles and how she was impressed by the efficiency of the local housewives who, rather than waste time constantly changing the salt cod’s soaking water, placed hunks of it in their toilet tanks so that every time someone spent a penny, their future dinner got a fresh change of water. I tried to find that passage again but couldn’t locate it. And then I thought to myself, “Well, she drank.”

That thought was followed swiftly by another one: “Well, so do I”. Had I just imagined the whole thing? I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from drunken, hallucinatory reading. It had to be true and, damn it, I was going to pull that salt cod of the shelf, drop it in the bottom of my toilet tank, grab a copy of The New Yorker, and get down to the business of preparing dinner.

My enthusiasm for using “the necessary” as a handy kitchen tool was dampened over a rather wet lunch with my friend Mei, a fellow food writer and memoiriste, who said, “That might be okay for you here in San Francisco, but other places put all kinds of chemicals and shit in the water to keep the pipes from freezing.” She had a good point. She also lives in Dublin, and wouldn’t be trying brandade “à la methode des femmes au foyer Marseillaises” any time soon. I can’t say that I blame her.

Disheartened, I went home and put the small brick of desiccated fish back in its dark, dry goods prison until further notice. That night, I made chicken salad for dinner using tools found in no other room but my kitchen. It was bland substitute my heart could not fully embrace– it still yearned for brandade prepared the lazy Marseilles housewife way.

Months passed, but still I couldn’t bring myself to make the dish. I hadn’t the stomach to plunge the cod into the toilet and hadn’t the cheek to do it the bourgeois injustice of being soaked in freshly-Britta-ed water. So the dried-out ingot of The Grand Banks languished between the honey jar and its permanent sticky ring and box of C&H sugar cubes I refuse to throw away in case I ever got around to drinking absinthe in the proper, Belle Époque fashion.

And then– finally— inspiration visited one morning as I used the smallest room. I could still use my toilet as a prep tool without resorting to using toilet water. If I soaked the cod in water from my kitchen, but set the container on top of the tank, it would serve as a reminder to change the water every time I needed to go. I could have my fish cake and eat it, too, without encouraging my readers to do anything that might cause them to become physically ill. Or that might cause their loved ones to suspect they are mentally ill because they started dropping fish down the back of the shitter and calling it dinner.


Brandade de Morue

While I maintain that the best and most convenient source for dried salt cod is from a half-Azorean ex-college roommate, my therapist has helped me to understand over the years that what is best for me might not be best for everyone else and that I must learn to make allowances for people whose lives may differ from mine.

For these people, I would suggest looking online for your salt cod. It’s disturbingly refreshingly easy to find.

The following recipe is merely a guideline. Some people (like me) prefer it mixed with potato, others find this heretical. I found myself smearing a thin layer of goat cheese on my toasts before spooning on the brandade. I sometimes chop up cornichons and sprinkle them over the top. I say do whatever it is you want to do to your brandade. Don’t worry about what the folks of Marseilles might think– people who put their salt cod in the toilet are not typically the type of people who are going to care too deeply what you do with yours.

The recipe I use is largely based on one from SeriousEats. With a few changes.

Serves 4 people as a sociable appetizer or 1 shut-in who will leave it on the counter uncovered and eat it all over the course of two days. 


• ½ pound of dried salt cod
• 1 medium-sized russet potato.
• Fresh thyme sprigs (3 is probably sufficient, but I like to use more)
• Bay leaf, if you’ve got them.
• 3 or 4 whole cloves of peeled garlic
• 2 cloves of minced garlic
• About 1/2 cup of olive oil
• About ¼ cup heavy cream
• A few squeezes of fresh lemon juice
•Salt and pepper to taste.
• Finely chopped parsley for garnish. Or cornichons or Rice Krispies or whatever.


  1. Rinse the salt cod to make it less salt and more cod. Place in a dish of cold, clean water, either on your toilet tank or in your toilet tank. Refresh water each time you heed Nature’s Call over the next 24 hours.
  2. Bake your potato (or why not bake more than one, really, since the oven’s already on) at 350°F for about an hour  or until tender when stabbed by the tines of a fork or blade of a stiletto, whichever you have on hand.  Cut potato in half while still warm, scooping to flesh from the skin, and fluffing with a fork to remove any major lumps. Set aside.
  3. Take the salt cod out of your bathroom and place in a medium-sized saucepan over the stove, covering the fish with yet more fresh, cold water. Add the whole garlic cloves, thyme, and bay leaf. Simmer for about 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let steep for another 20 minutes. Or, if you are like me: Realize that you’re supposed to be at your therapy appointment in like 15 minutes, panic, put on pants, jump in cab, talk about how digging up everything you thought you buried and ran away from 20 years ago for the purposes of writing a memoir has left you emotionally slimed and brain-dead for exactly 50 minutes, take the bus home but stop at the market for a fresh baguette and a bottle of rosé to have with your brandade which reminds you that you have left the cod sitting in its poaching water for nearly two hours but that’s fine because it’s only cod sitting in scented water and everything is going to be okay, which is how you feel because you just left your psychologist.
  4. Remove cod from poaching liquid, flake into the clean bowl of a stand mixer, ridding yourself of any bones and gross whitish stuff you may find lurking in or around the cod flesh. Add the poached whole garlic to the bowl, discarding everything else.
  5. Add fresh garlic, to make it extra French and, using the paddle attachment mix ingredients on medium high, as instructed by the good people at Serious Eats.
  6. Watch in horror/amazement as the cloves of garlic and about ¼ of your flaked cod pieces fly out of the bowl of your stand mixer. Quickly turn of mixer and curse.
  7. Be grateful that you had just scrubbed your kitchen floor on your hands and knees only yesterday, then pick up whatever bits of ejectus you can salvage and place back in bowl. Try again at a slightly slower speed with a tea towel draped over the bowl. Curse again.
  8. Place flaked cod and garlics in the bowl of a food processor with a good drizzle of olive oil. Pulse three staccato-like times. Now return your quarry to the stand mixer, where you will more than likely not have to deal with flying bits of fish again. Turn on medium speed, adding a bit more olive oil, and beat the crap out of it.
  9. Add cream, then beat even more crap out of it.
  10. Remove work bowl from the stand mixer and incorporate the potato by hand. Add as much lemon juice, pepper, and salt as you like. Surprisingly, this salt cod dish will probably need a lot of salt added back in, since most of it has been flushed away either literally or figuratively. You may eat it now, if you really must, but it is better when placed in a baking dish or ramekin and shoved into a hot oven for about 10 minutes until it puffs and starts to brown a little, then shoved under the broiler until it continues to brown even more.
  11. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with toasted baguette, cucumber slices, Chicken-in-a-Biskits, or just a spoon, for all I care. Or, do as I’ll admit to doing and leave it on the counter until fully cooled and have it that way (read: drink two glasses of rosé, get tired, go to bed, wake up in the morning, grab a fistful of cold brandade de morue that you forgot to put away the night before with your bare hand, shove it in your mouth, and question everything about your life. Except maybe your cooking abilities because that lazy French housewife fish thing you made yesterday was really fucking good).


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Six Months to Live

DecemberApologies if the title’s a little dramatic– I’m just like that sometimes.

I’ll begin by reassuring you that I have absolutely no intention of dying in the next few months. To steal and re-contextualize a line from Elizabeth Bennett when she finally succumbs to Mr. Darcy’s non-charms in Pride and Prejudice, “My feelings are so different– in fact, they are quite the opposite.”

The headline, if a tad misleading, is accurate. Over the past several months, I’ve been listless, depressed, disinterested in the things that used to give me joy, and totally burned out. My sense of creativity withered and nearly died like the neglected and unclassified houseplant I placed high on a bathroom shelf, hoping it would find nourishment solely from the steam of my daily showers.

Blog? Who gives a Flying Wallenda about my blog? Well, I do, actually. But the only idea I’d had for months turned out to be unusable.

I’d been at a loss for quite some time as to how I might shake things up, life-wise. Diet? Exercise? Actually having sex with another person once in a while? Those are fine for people who give a damn. The post-surgery/post-Holiday/Post™ Sugar Crisp blues were and are rather difficult to ditch.

When my friend and co-worker George died a few months ago, however, things began to change, though not immediately. He suffered a stroke last September and died of a heart attack in February. People often eulogize their departed loved ones as being “full of life”, but I don’t think I’ve met many as full of the thing as he was. He was very loud, very affectionate. He seemed to get excited about everything, which I envied a bit. He spoke with great passion about the evening’s specials, even though he usually got most of the pertinent details incredibly wrong. “Tonight we have the most AMAZING dish cooked in a wooden oven and made with a goat stew stock! Oh my GOD.” I could never be entirely certain he wasn’t climaxing in front of his guests. If a minor television network had commissioned one of its new-hires who had once briefly visited Paros while on a cruise with his parents as a child to write a stereotypical comedy Greek waiter to inject life into one of its flagging sitcoms, he might have come up with a less colorful version of Georgie.

He was hyper, he was full of joy, he was sometimes very annoying, and I loved that man to death.

And now he is dead. It took me a while to realize that, if a doctor hadn’t accidentally found that blood clot in my heart last year, I might have beaten him to the grave. That moment of realization was when it truly hit me that I’ve still been just bracing myself for the next terrible thing to happen after telling myself not to. And writing about it previously, for heaven’s sake. Sometimes, it takes an annoyingly long time (and an awful life event) for things to sink in.

So I said to myself, “Fuck it. What in Fuck’s name am I waiting for now?” I have a filthy inner voice. With an alarmingly limited arsenal of swear words.

And, with that, I decided to take exactly six months off from work and do all the things I’ve been wanting to. I’m already a week or so into it. I been taking long walks in the morning. My apartment is shaping up nicely, thank you. I’m not hiding from friends as much. I’ve actually gone to the gym and plan on doing it again. I’m spending three weeks roaming around France this summer. I’m sleeping a lot. I’m thinking a lot about a week in Ireland. And I have two major-but-realistically-acheiveable goals to accomplish before December: lose 22 pounds and finish the book proposal (and start writing said book in earnest) by the time I return to work for the Holidays.

Oh, and I’ll be keeping up with this blog. I’ve promised myself to put my butt in my writing chair for 3 hours a day, Monday through Friday. Most of that will be devoted to the book project (you’ll be seeing work from me soon, dear agent), but I’ve got a couple of things up my sleeve for this website, too.

I’m hoping a summer spent leaving my apartment (and country) frequently will serve to get my creative juices going again. But I realize that takes actual slogging and effort as well as the occasional tap from the Inspiration Fairy. Last week, I cut back the dead leaves from my neglected bathroom plant and gave it a bit of food and water. I even sing to it in the shower, though I’m uncertain if Johnny Cash songs are conducive to healthy leaf development. I’ll let you know how things go.

I won’t, however tell you if I somehow wind up getting laid over the next few months. I’ll have to save that tragedy for my memoirs.


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Irish Sweepstakes Stew

Stew PotMy grandfather Dominic was said to have had the luck of the Irish, which I find  odd because he was almost entirely Calabrese. I also consider it a bit cruel because the Irish have not been, historically speaking, a very fortunate group of people. At least Smitty, his best friend in South Philadelphia, was of actual Irish stock.  Perhaps his friend’s purported Hibernian good fortune rubbed off on Grandpop when the two of them got so eye-wateringly drunk the day Prohibition was repealed that they tried to swim up the sidewalk. Many skin cells undoubtedly sloughed off and mingled on the cement that early December afternoon in 1933. It’s the only story I know about his friend, so that is all I have to go on.

But it was another December afternoon not many years after he took both his whiskey and his breast-stroke without the benefit of water that good fortune came into full play. This little story has everything to do with luck and, as appropriate to both the season and the saying, this luck had everything to do with the Irish.

Long before SuperLotto and Scratchers, there was the Irish Free State Hospitals’ Sweepstakes, which was set up specifically to raise money for, unsurprisingly, the building of hospitals in Ireland*. This Gaelic fundraising scheme was extremely popular in America during the 1930s– home of more Irish people than Ireland at the time. It wasn’t, however, strictly legal, but the U.S. government seemed rather soft on this specific sort of crime.

1937 newmarket irish hosp sweepsSweepstakes tickets were rather expensive for  working class people during the Depression and, naturally, working class people were just the sort of folk who liked to buy them. My grandfather was an exception– he never had to pay for his tickets. He was offered the opportunity of selling a book of them– the payment for his time and effort was to keep two tickets for himself. He chose the first and the last one in recompense.

A short time later, several numbers were drawn at random from a giant drum by either a blind boy or a sexy nurse– both were used as ticket pickers– back in Ireland. One of the numbers was Grandpop’s.

A list of names was published in the papers, including Dominic’s. Every winner was then randomly assigned a horse, which would then race against each other in a steeplechase completion. There would be a several horses carrying tiny jockeys and the big dreams of a very fortunate few. Dominic seemed more fortunate than the others– he drew a horse named Hurdy Gurdy, who was the grandson of one of the most famous horses in the history of horse racing, Man o’ War. Prior to the race, my grandfather was offered $10,000 for his ticket. He declined.

Man O' WarWhy settle for ten grand when you’re the odds-on favorite to win fifteen times as much? My father remembers the excitement of the time, though he wasn’t yet six. Newsreel cameras showed up at my family’s door.

When racing day finally arrived, I can only imagine the tension and excitement my grandfather must have felt. He was a thirty-two year-old man with a fourth grade education living in a small apartment above his mother-in-law’s butcher shop with his wife and small son. In a few minutes, he would possibly be a very rich man with a big house of his own. I imagine many of his fellow ticket holders were thinking the similar things about themselves.

Out of the gate, Hurdy Gurdy was in front and remained there for most of the race. And then, at the last hurdle, he choked. I couldn’t tell you what happened precisely because I wasn’t there. But then neither was Dominic– the race was run somewhere in Britain. There was just a moment of confusion and then disappointment as the family huddled around and stared at the Phillips radio. Since it was my family I’m describing, they most likely shouted at it, too.

There’d be no $150,000 grand prize for the Procopios that day. The ticket wasn’t even worth the $10,000 he was so recently offered for it. But he did receive $3,000 as a consolation prize. With that money, he was able to move his family out from over the butcher shop in South Philadelphia and into a three-story townhouse in another part of the city called Mayfair, which sounds as though it probably smelled much nicer than his old neighborhood. He could do now do all the consoling he wanted in the privacy of his very own home.

He may not have won the Irish Sweepstakes, but he was still pretty damned lucky if you ask me.

Here’s newsreel footage of some of the bigger Sweepstakes winners from New York that year. People whose horses didn’t stumble. My family isn’t featured but, by the look and sound of some of them, it wouldn’t come as a total shock if we were somehow related.


Irish Sweepstakes Stew

My grandfather may have been considered lucky, but not, alas, Hurdy Gurdy. He quit racing not long after his stumble at the Irish Sweepstakes. His owner declined to put him out to stud and he was no longer seen in the best stables. He may or may not have been sold to a very wealthy eleven year-old girl with narcolepsy and taken to Guernsey, where he lived a quiet life out of the spotlight until the Nazis invaded and occupied the island in 1940. He was last seen looking for sugar cubes near Candie Gardens in November 1943, shortly after all supplies of cattle, sheep, and poultry had been either consumed or exported.

You do the math.

Serves anywhere between 3 to 912 people**.


Carrot• About 2 lbs of cubed horse meat, if available. If not, you may consider substituting mule or possibly lamb.
• 1 cup of medium-diced fennel, because this stew is in part inspired by Southern Italian people who do not really understand potatoes.
• 1 cup of pearl onions, blanched and peeled.
• 1 cup of carrots, medium diced which, in happier times, Hurdy Gurdy considered a treat.
• 4 cloves of garlic., sliced
• 4 tablespoons of bacon fat
• 2 cups of horse stock, if you have the patience to make it. Lamb, beef, or even vegetable stock will also work.
• 1 cup white wine
• 1 cup water or vegetable stock.
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste, ideally from a tube.
• 1 tablespoon of flour, for thickening. Or, if you still have access, one hoof.
• 3 tablespoons of flour for the coating of meat, which also helps to thicken. Do not substitute hooves.
• An unhealthy amount of salt
• The same amount of pepper
• A bouquet garni consisting of oregano, rosemary, parsley, and thyme.
• 1 bay leaf.
• More parsley, but chopped this time, for garnish.

Optional Ingredients:

• Freshly grated Pecorino cheese, because Parmesan is for Northerners.
• Pappardelle pasta. See: Southern Italian potato issues.


  1. Heat the bacon fat in the bottom of a large dutch oven. Toss the horse meat with three tablespoons of flour, some salt, and a bit of pepper. Shake off excess and place your dusty cubes into the hot pig fat. Do not crowd the pan– work in batches until your meat is browned on all sides. Remove from your cooking vessel and set aside.
  2. Next add garlic, onions, carrots, and fennel into the fat, lowering the heat, and cooking until hot and softened. Remove the vegetables into the same bowl as the meat or into a clean one if you don’t mind doing extra dishes. Pour the white wine into the pot and scrape at all the delicious bits stuck to the bottom unit they break free. Add 1 tablespoon of flour and your tomato paste and whisk until all is smooth and slightly thickened. Return the meat and vegetables to the pot, pour over horse stock and 1 cup of water. The meat and veg should be just covered by liquid. Add the bouquet garni, baby leaf, a little salt, and some more pepper.
  3. Cover and let simmer for at least 90 minutes.
  4. Plated Stew on PastaTo serve: if you are from a Southern Italian family, ladle the stew over pasta and garnish with Pecorino and parsley. If you’re from an Irish family, serve with potatoes. If you’re from a Anglo-Saxon Protestant family, you’d probably never consider making this dish in the first place.
  5. Sit down and enjoy with your family and thank the Lord for your good fortune as you say Grace. Just be certain to also thank the horse for your new house, your delicious dinner, and your new chest freezer, which will hold the leftover stew you’ll most likely be consuming over the next several months.

*Also not surprisingly, it was conceived by a professional bookie and most of the money never found its way into hospitals.

** This recipe calls for about two pounds of meat. If you intend to use the entire animal, please consider that the average horse weighs 760 lbs and has a meat yield of roughly 60%.  You will therefore need to multiply the recipe by 228.

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The Next Worst Thing

PencilsI wrote most of a blog post last week– something to do with feeling bleak and turning to hummus for comfort– but it was lost after I took a small break to play a little computer solitaire, which crashed my computer. There was something wrong with my internet connection, so the auto-save feature wasn’t functioning.

Perhaps my wi-fi was looking after me, choosing to euthanize my work like that. It was quite possibly the gloomiest and most pointless thing I’ve ever written since I was an 18 year-old scrawling incomprehensible poetry about slutty cows on my dorm room wall.

But I have been feeling out of sorts for a very long time. Chronically tired but unable to sleep. I haven’t given myself permission to writing anything amusing what with the world about to end. I learned that I’d put a bottle of bleach in the freezer only after discovering my raspberry gelato melted under the sink. My brain has been in lockdown for what seems like ages. It’s just been one crisis or tragedy after another for the past couple of years and I haven’t been coping with them as ably as I thought.

I used to feel pretty good. I thought I had interesting things to share with the world and the energy with which to share them. I was (more or less) happy. I could fit into most of my pants. Last week, I couldn’t say any of that was true and I wondered if I actually gave a Flying Wallenda about any of it.

But I’m pretty certain I do. It’s just hard to get a good view of the situation when the elephant’s ass of depression has bumped you to the ground and parked itself on your face. And, if it wasn’t clear to you already, minging air and shit-covered peanuts aren’t part of a balanced breakfast. Or things that make you feel very happy.

Lately, I’ve come to realize that I’ve crouched deeper and curled up tighter with each emotional and physical hit until my brain resembled a roly poly bug. I’ve stayed in that mental position since at least the inauguration. It’s as though I’ve just been waiting for the next worst thing to come along. And, as my friend Jay reminded me last night, “Don’t worry, that next worst thing will happen.” He then added something slightly more comforting to the effect of not letting such things get the best of you.

But I’d already come to that conclusion, if only very recently. Curling up and hiding—apart from the chiropractic issues such activity can cause—is a crushing bore and I’m trying my best to stand upright again.

I took a week off from work to clean and sleep and organize. And, after almost eight years, I forced myself back to the gym.

I’d quit the Jewish Community Center back then, deciding it was too expensive and decided to join the closer, cheaper 24-Hour Fitness. I found it loud, grimy, and depressing, so I quit. And, not long afterward, I stopped being able to fit into some of my pants.

I’d toyed with the idea of going back to the JCC, but when one of the fittest people I knew dropped dead from heart failure at his gym, I was terrified of ever setting foot in a locker room again—especially after my own heart scare. But last week, frustrated by my current lack of energy (and lack of anything else, really), I did.

It wasn’t easy. I felt like William Hurt in that scene from Altered States where he slams himself against walls to shake free from whatever the hell it was that had gotten inside of him. Except I wasn’t naked. I really need to re-watch that film again so I know what the hell I’m talking about.

My free-with-new-membership trainer asked me what I wished to accomplish. “I want to get some of my energy back, increase my flexibility, and lose a few pounds,” I confessed.

“Well, if we take care of the first two things, the third will take care of itself,” he reassured.

He showed me some stretching exercises, introduced me to planking, got me into push-up position. I flirted with weights. It was all very mellow and civilized.

And it took me three days to recover.

I thought I was sick until I remembered feeling like this when I first started working out several years ago. My arms were finally able to fully extend this past Monday. It all felt awful, but it also felt fantastic. I walked the 1.5 miles home. I looked in the mirror. There was color in my cheeks. It was weird.

BooksOn Tuesday, I went back but, thanks to the advice of my psychologist (whose office is literally around the corner from the gym), I added a new exercise to my workout routine—a brisk walk two blocks east to the Presidio public library, which is not only quiet, but marvelously small, charming, and free from any whiff of adult human urine. I found a free corner, pulled out my laptop, and started writing.

Unfortunately, my first exercice de bibliothèque may have been more douloureux than my introductory session at the JCC but, one must allow that one’s writing muscles will be just as sore from disuse as one’s arm muscles when re-introduced to barbells after too much time off. It sucked. No, it more than sucked—it felched. I mostly stared at a blank screen for several minutes until I started to write. And what I wrote was excremental. I lasted barely an hour before I gave up and got some lunch. But the thing is—I went back again the next day. It still sucked, but not as much as the first time. And I intend to go back again on Saturday.

I’m slowly but surely whittling out a Holy Trinity of Wellness from a little sliver of Pacific Heights. A library for the mind, a gym for the body, and a shrink for the spirit. Of course, the gym helps the spirit, as does the library. And there’s even an excellent patisserie down the street to serve as a fueling station.

I’m not all fine and dandy yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be truly fantastic feeling, but I think I’m on to something better. If you were expecting a recipe in this post, I’m sorry to disappoint—I’m still working on a halfway decent recipe for my life. But I think the best fond for anything you may want to sauce your life with may just be getting yourself out of a bad rut, however deep it might be. Mine’s felt pretty fucking fathomless lately. With oily-slick walls. I was going to write “I’m digging my way out with a spoon”, but that would be wrong, since digging would only make the rut wider or deeper. Instead, I think, I’ve tied the spoon to one of my shoes like a crampon so that I can climb out, one slippery step at a time.

If someone would kindly throw me down a second, larger spoon for my other foot, I would be very much obliged.  Just make sure it’s not a cheap plastic one– that would not be helpful.

Thanks for reading. It’s been really difficult getting this out in words and I’ve felt I couldn’t move on to anything else until I did.

I shall resume full snark very shortly. Until then, cheers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 62 Comments

(Insert Adjective) New Year.

Mr. Bacon with Champagne.I stayed in on New Year’s Eve.

Earlier that day, I braved the outside world for a little while, looking both ways as I crossed each street en route to the supermarket, where there were crowds of people performing last-minute raids on pre-picked crabmeat, overpriced avocados, and underwhelming brands of sparkling wine.

With near-surgical precision, I scored some tangerines, a split decent champagne, cheese, crackers, and chocolate; sped through the checkout line; and was home again in twenty minutes, taking care not to trip on any uneven pavement or have my eyes ripped out by errant bits of chain link fence.

After returning home and stowing my purchases, I moved into the bathroom where I liberated myself from my clothing and carefully stepped into the shower, making certain to neither slip in the bath nor scald myself to death with unnecessarily hot water. Upon finishing my ablutions, I dried myself thoroughly and moved into the bedroom where, after ascertaining that I was not standing upon any wet spots or unexpected live wires, I turned on my computer to play a little Blossom Dearie.

When I had carefully stepped into my pants without falling over and braining myself on the corner of my heavy oak teacher’s desk and pulled on a t-shirt without a hint of self-strangulation, I moved into the kitchen, where I washed my dirty dishes and put away every sharp object within view. I pulled out a clean champagne coupe from the cupboard and placed it in the refrigerator next to the little bottle of champagne, gently so as not to shatter it and accidentally sever an artery.

With everything ready for the evening, I settled myself down on the couch to watch a Pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck film, wait for midnight, and do my damnedest not to die before the clock on my iPhone struck twelve.

Everyone, it seemed, was doing just that in 2016 and I loathe being on-trend. I cocooned myself for the last few hours of the year, sipping champagne, nibbling on fruit and chocolate, swooning over Ms. Stanwyck, and letting everyone on Facebook know that, as the minutes ticked away, I was still alive.

Midnight and the New Year tiptoed into my life this year, but I made it into 2017 alive, and was therefore relieved.

And then the next day, a friend commented that the people only got hysterical over the celebrity corpses of last year and I felt foolish, not being a famous person. But at least I still had a pulse.

And, if you are reading this, it means you are, too, dear reader. Congratulations.

Typically, I’d wish everyone a Happy New Year and be done with it, but my hopes aren’t all that high for 2017. There will be good times, I’m sure, but there will be some really terrible times ahead as well. After the lessons of 2016, I simply think it’s best to be prepared.

But there is one thing I am determined to do this year that I avoided in the last, which is take some actual risks. And to make my own happiness where and when I can. So that’s two things I’m determined to do.

I spent  a good part of last year being frightened and depressed. This year, I plan on being braver and, hopefully, a little less depressed. For a time, I wondered whether there was any point at all to writing this blog when all signs point to the world ending, but I’ve got my head on straighter now. This blog will stay because writing it helps me make sense of the crazy; it helps me stay sane.

And if it helps you at all as well, that makes me happy, which is an excellent way to start a New Year, don’t you think? So feel free to use that as the adjective to your early January salutations, if you like.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some new posts to formulate and a whole freaking book to write.




Posted in Holidays | Tagged , , | 24 Comments

Ku Klux Klams

Ku Klux KlamsClams are, by instinct and necessity of location, bottom feeders. They spend most of their lives buried under the sand, revealing themselves only at high tide, which is when they seem to be happiest, as the saying goes.

Due to a rather unnatural and difficult-to-explain-to-the-rest-of-the-world phenomenon which occurred on or around the 8th of November, 2016, millions of clams have simultaneously decided it was safe to come out of their marine and freshwater hiding places.

What, you might ask, can we do with such a surprising and overwhelming abundance? One’s natural instinct is to eat them. But how?

Clams in white wine and garlic are always a treat. New England clam chowder, too. But these recipes feel tainted, like they just aren’t white enough for current American tastes.

After an exhaustive search, I have found the perfect recipe for Today’s America deep in the bowels of’s underused and discontinued food page*. I have merely changed  a few of the directions, added a few notes, and given it a catchier name to avoid copyright infringement.

Ku Klux Klams

Warning: Clams are unashamed shell-dwellers and are therefore treif. Sorry, Jews.

Serves: Quite possibly 4 to 8 years.


For the Steamed Clams:

• 50 littlehand littleneck clams. Do not use Manila clams as they are invasive and tend to steal healthcare jobs.
• 4 tablespoons of butter. If you are avoiding butter for health reasons, use bacon grease. If you use olive oil, your neighbors may accuse you of being Catholic or, worse, Greek Orthodox.
• 1/2 white onion, finely diced. Do not add garlic (see above).
• 8 ounces of clam juice
• 1/2 can of real beer, which is any beer with a proper German name or wrapped in an American flag.

To make White Sauce**

• 2 tablespoons of butter
• 2 tablespoons of white flour
• ¼teaspoon of salt
• 1/8 teaspoon of white pepper (Note: black pepper will ruin the purity of your sauce.)
• 1 cup of whole milk.


1.  Heat butter and/or bacon grease in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (which is accompanied
by a tight-fitting lid). Dutch ovens are grudgingly acceptable. Add the onion and sauté
until transparent and almost ghostlike. Add beer and whisk together.

2.  Add clams and clam juice to the pot, cover, and let seethe for 8 to 10 minutes until they
open. Any clams which refuse to open up should be set aside and commended.

3.  As the clams stew in their juices, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over
low heat. Add flour, salt, and white pepper. Stir until the mixture smooths and bubbles.
Do not overcook or allow to turn any shade of brown.

4. Stir in the milk and heat, whipping it up into an alarming froth for about one minute or
until it thickens enough to coat anything it touches.

5. Remove clams from their broth and place them in a large porcelain (white) serving
bowl. Enrobe the clams by pouring the white sauce over them in violent, swirling
motions. Do not garnish.

Editor’s Note: To serve, bring the bowl to your guests who have assembled hungrily around your table. Stare down at your handiwork and recoil in horror at what you’ve just created. You are more than welcome to break down in tears at this moment. Your guests will be confused, but they will wait. Apologize to them, stating that no one has to eat this garbage and that you’re sorry you ever brought it to the table in the first place. Remove the clams from the table, place in a heavy-duty garbage bag, tie firmly closed, and throw away immediately. Remind yourself to scrub the hell out of your kitchen in the morning.

Return to the table with cheese and crackers or whatever you might have on hand that will tide over your guests for the next 60 minutes until the Pakistani food you ordered from GrubHub arrives. Pour a round of drinks and wonder what other kinds of crap people will try to feed you over the next few years.

Stock up on more alcohol.

* There is no food page on Please tell me you knew that.

** Or, if you are one of my French readers who is a fan of Marine Le Pen, sauce béchamel.

Posted in Rants and Stories, Savories | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments

A Columbus Day Casserole


National holidays can be hard to get through. Christmas and Thanksgiving might be emotionally fraught, but I’ve found myself especially stymied by Columbus Day. I mean, how exactly does one go about celebrating appropriately?

Because I’m both culturally sensitive and a giver, I have decided to offer my readers a peek inside my own struggle regarding how to properly observe the achievements of this famous Italian explorer by sharing a few passages from my daily journal. May you and your family, whether Italian-American or the inheritors of some lesser heritage, find inspiration from it.

Friday, October 7th, 2016.

As someone who is genetically very Italian and rumored to be subtly Native American, it should come as no surprise that I am conflicted about Columbus Day. On the one hand, it was once a way for Italian-Americans to feel a sense of pride in themselves when the rest of the country regarded them as nothing better than mafiosi organ grinders’ monkeys. On the other, the holiday was and is a painful reminder to the survivors of every Pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas of the dawn of a New Age of genocide, thievery, plague, and slavery.

What then is a reveller to do?

Last year, I went to a potluck.

I thought long and hard about what might be appropriate to bring to a Columbus Day dinner attended mostly by people I’d never met before. After a short while, the answer was obvious: in honor of the great man himself, I decided I would show up unannounced, enslave my host and fellow guests, then kill up to 96% of them with a disease-laden casserole. If all went to plan, I could then force the survivors to remove all the gold from the house. If they came to me empty-handed, I would chop off said appendages, hang them around their necks, and send them off to the building next door to serve as a warning. And if I still had enough energy, I’d consider raping the younger folk while stubbornly calling them by their wrong name: Indians.

It sounded like a good plan, but I made one rather unfortunate mistake: I decided to bring a potato gratin. Potatoes wouldn’t be discovered for another forty years*. And in Peru, of all places, which isn’t anywhere near India. My attempt at cultural sensitivity was instead an exercise in cultural inauthenticity. Not a single dinner guest perished. And, when I announced my plan to force them into bondage, I was met with giggles, dirty jokes, and the pouring of more wine.

Processed with Snapseed.This year will be different. I will make a proper Italian casserole. I will make lasagne. Although it is probably Greek in origin and tomatoes weren’t encountered until the same time and place as the potato, it doesn’t matter because history will be kind to my potluck dish. I will fill it with cheese to stuff up and slow down my unsuspecting and most likely lactose-intolerant native hosts. I will take my concoction to a Marin County Day Care Center to let unvaccinated children cough all over it, then return home and leave it on a warm, humid counter overnight to incubate.

All that will be left to do is find the nearest Taino or Arawak social club, show up, and tell everyone to dig in.

The New World will soon be mine.

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Bad News. I have just discovered a fatal flaw in my latest plan. There aren’t any Taino people left because Mr. Columbus and his kind drove them to extinction in the 16th Century. I have learned that there are plenty of Puerto Rican people who are genetic descendants, but many have Spanish DNA as well, which means that, after several centuries of European domination, they would probably see through my plan right away. Although they may accept it because their economy is a disaster and they are more than likely fully immune to diseases of European origin by now.

I may try subduing some of the locals from the Bay Area. I know they’re historically wise to the infected blanket trick, but I’m unwilling to chance them falling for a diseased casserole. It was so expensive to make!

Why the hell do people feel the need to celebrate Columbus anyway? To do his work any justice is a tremendous pain in the ass. I don’t even want to get into all the mayhem, murder, and possible jail time which might ensue. Why can’t we find someone of Italian-American heritage more fun and ethically benign to celebrate? What about Frank Sinatra? Mob ties. Enrico Fermi? He’d be great, if one doesn’t mind ignoring the whole “architect of the nuclear bomb” business. Lady Gaga? Still alive. Al Capone? (See: mob ties).

Dean Martin
After much soul-searching, I have decided next year to celebrate the life and achievements of Dean Martin. Everybody loved him. He was much funnier that Jerry Lewis, a better singer than Perry Como, and was never quite as drunk as he led people to believe.

To hell with slavery and pestilence. Next year, I’m going to drink bourbon and watch Rio Bravo while fiddling with my Italian plums. So much less stress.

It’s a pity about my casserole though. I put so much work into making it. I just wish I could put it to good use.

Sunday, October 9th, 2016.

Great News! I have just discovered that tomorrow isn’t just Columbus Day, but Canadian Thanksgiving to boot! If I leave now, I just might cross the Saskatchewan border in time for tomorrow’s dinner. I’ll bring it to the first home I see. I’m certain I’ll be welcomed because everyone knows Canadians are too polite to say “no”– especially on Thanksgiving. And they’ve probably never even seen lasagne because I don’t think Italians have ever made it that far north.

What could possibly go wrong?



*The Peruvians had been cultivating the potato for several thousands of years, but only Europeans are capable of “discovery”.

Posted in Holidays, Rants and Stories, Savories | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Fruitlessness of Hope

peach-loaner-2When I was ten, my father made the well-intentioned error of taking me to see Gone With the Wind on the occasion of its 40th anniversary theatrical re-release. I may have walked into the theater thinking we were about to watch an Irwin Allen-style disaster film about hurricanes, but I walked out four and a half hours later obsessed with Vivien Leigh, faking a Southern accent and, of all things, desperate for a peach tree.

I begged and begged my mother for one. We were the only family on the block whose yard did not bear fruit. The Gerritzes on our left owned a highly productive apricot tree, about  a third of whose branches hung over the wall into our own yard. The Hoffarts across the street grew beefsteak tomatoes and lemons. The Ayers family were the proud owners of an obscenely large fig tree and grew artichokes. And Lyle the bachelor on our right had palm trees, which technically bore fruit, but he was the only neighbor with a pool, so he got a free pass.

Our neighborhood was so fruitful during the summer that bags of produce would simply be abandoned on our doorstep like fructifying orphans in desperate need of a home. Or consumption.

My family’s yard, however, was a place where vegetation went to die. The winter blossoms of our camellia bush seemed to be born bruised. My mother’s rose garden was no more than a collection of prickle-spiked skeletons with sparse, powdery leaves which, when they did flower, seemed so exhausted after giving birth that they drooped for the rest of the year. The only plants that thrived were the oleander bushes which, if eaten, would induce nausea, depression, and death. I figured a peach tree would help our horticultural image.

After weeks of nagging, my mother, who resisted the idea of a tree interrupting the expanse of our back lawn, finally relented. One day, there was a little peach tree laying on its side in the back of her station wagon, buffered by bags of groceries.

I agonized over its placement in the yard, finally settling on a spot where it could easily be monitored from the kitchen door window.

I dug a hole in the middle of our lawn, removed the plastic from around its roots, gently lowered it in, filled the gaps with earth, watered it, and then waited for the magic to happen.

peaches-poachingI had big plans for that tree. It would grow tall and healthy and strong, defying the grim fate of everything else in the yard. As I grew older and bigger myself, I would sit in its shade. A sun-ripened peach might choose to liberate itself from a high branch and drop into my awaiting hand in the hope of nourishing me as I read interesting biographies of Oscar-winning actresses. My tree would bear so much fruit, I could fill bags full of it and leave them on the doorsteps of neighbors. No one would have to guess who left them– everyone would know they came from me.

But season after season, that poor tree barely grew to pubescence, let alone adulthood. It provided no shade to speak of, nor much fruit. Three or four small peaches a year was about all it could summon the energy to produce. I watched and watered and waited, but nothing ever happened. And then I outgrew the thing in every sense of the word, moved away to college, and forgot all about it. My mother cut it down almost as soon as I left. A small hacksaw was all that was needed.

A few years ago on a visit home, the subject of the peach tree came up over dinner. My sister told me how she once hand-pollinated each blossom, which provided more fruit, but nothing to get especially excited about. I expressed my disappointment over it, reminding our mother of my broken dreams of shade and juicy nourishment. She took a little sip of iced tea, gave me a rather pitying look, and said, “Oh honey, it was a dwarf tree. I wasn’t about to have a full-grown tree in the yard. How did you not know that?”

Feeling betrayed, or at the very least duped, I replied, “Because you never told me!”

“Well, you’re smart. You should have figured it out,” she said, taking another sip from her glass.

But I didn’t figure it out. Like so many of my other childhood dreams, the tree never truly came to fruition. But it was a lovely hope to cling to for a while– like peach flesh clinging to its stone until it spoils and rots away in the heat, but much more slowly. Not that I would really know much about such things.


Honey-Poached Peaches with Ricotta and Pistachio

It might be a little late in the season for peaches, but that never stopped my family. Thanks to the low yield of our tree, we were more accustomed to the flavor of canned peaches in syrup. When I set out to make this recipe, it didn’t dawn on me that I was making a more sophisticated version of them, with ricotta stepping up to replace the inexplicably beloved cottage cheese of my childhood. The pistachios do double duty in supplying a satisfying crunch and an even more satisfying dash of Sicilian-ness to the dessert.

Makes: 8 servings– about the entire annual yield of our tragic little tree.


• 4 firm, but fairly ripe yellow peaches
• 4 cups of water
• 1 cup of sugar
• 1/2 cup of honey, I don’t care which sort of pollen the bees have rolled around in.
• 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped.
• Whole milk ricotta cheese. As much as you like.
• Even more honey, also as much as you like. It’s to sweeten the ricotta, which isn’t even
really necessary, if you don’t want to do it.
• Pistachios, finely chopped. They’re for garnishing, so as many as you prefer.


  1. Wash your peaches and slice a shallow “x” at the bottom end of each one. The idea is to cut the skin without going too deep, which will make their post-poaching peeling much less of a headache.
  2. Pour water, honey, and sugar into a medium Dutch oven or saucepan– something large and deep enough to allow the peaches to be submerged. Heat over medium-high heat to dissolve the sugar and honey into the water. You may add the eviscerated vanilla bean at any time.
  3. When the liquid starts to bubble, gently slip in the peaches. Splashing may cause injury, or worse, extra clean up. Keeping the liquid at a simmer, poach the peaches for roughly 8 minutes, turning the peaches, which seem more than willing to turn over on their bottoms, from time to time. If the tip of a paring knife slips through the flesh easily, your peaches are properly poached. Remove them from the liquid with a slotted spoon, let them cool slightly, and then peel off their skins. It doesn’t matter where you put them, as long as it’s not directly onto a dirty counter.
  4. Keep the liquid simmering. Though it may have done its duty poaching the peaches, it now wishes to become a lovely syrup. Let it gently bubble away until it has reduced by more than half. When you think it might be sufficiently syrupy, dribble a small amount onto a chilled plate. Is it? If yes, remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve. No? Keep simmering until satisfied. Then you may strain.
  5. Slice the peaches in half, removing the pits. If you are ambitious, extremely patient, and have the available yard space, you may want to plant them and wait for them to grow into peach trees. I wish you luck. Place peach halves cut side down into a casserole or baking dish, pour over the warm syrup, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Spoon out the ricotta into a large bowl. Add a little honey. Or don’t. The very least you should be doing is aerating it a bit to lighten things up. Cover and refrigerate until you have occasion to use it.
  7. To serve, place peaches cut side up, spoon dollops– or great lashings, if you’re fans of The Famous Five— of ricotta in the center of each peach half, drizzle generously with syrup, sprinkle with chopped pistachio, and present one to your mother with a slightly accusing look.
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Lime in The Coconut

Lime and Coconut and DrugsI said, “Doctor, is there something I could take?”
I said, “Doctor, to relieve this belly ache?”

He said, “We’ll see, but right now I want you to haul your ass across the street to the hospital for some scans– I think you have appendicitis. And you know I’m your Nurse Practitioner and not your doctor, right?”

I was hoping for an easier, more pleasant response, like suggesting I might add a squirt of bright green citrus to the milky water of fresh palm drupe and consume it there on the spot, but I followed his advice and made my way to the emergency room, which was pleasantly underpopulated.

I was seen immediately, questioned, poked with needles, and scanned. Within an hour, a doctor appeared, introduced himself, and said, “Well, you’re staying here tonight! You’ve definitely got appendicitis, so we’re going to that that sucker out.”

It wasn’t exactly where I had hoped the day would take me.

Another hour passed until he returned and told me he wanted to do an EKG– he saw something besides my appendix on the scan he didn’t quite like. So a bed runner wheeled me back into the elevator and up to meet a gentleman named Lupe who placed a series of adhesive patches attached to wires onto my hairy chest, injected me with a gas solution, and rolled around my sternum the sort of magic wand that shows expectant mothers what’s brewing inside their wombs. Except there was no baby present, just a pumping heart and what looked like the shadows of ghosts inside of it.

He complimented me on the state of my lungs and sent me back downstairs.

Within the next hour, my friend Edward showed up with my computer, phone charger, and a couple of books. Shortly after that, my cousin Ann Marie showed up unexpectedly, having seen a photo I’d posted on Facebook entitled “P.G. [Wodehouse] and I.V.” She’s like that.

It was good to have her there when the doctor came back to announce that, not only did I have a clot on my left ventricle, but that I seemed to have suffered “a myocardial infarction” within the past few months.

“You mean, I had a mild heart attack?” I asked, for clarification. He nodded.

“We can’t do the appendectomy with that clot of yours. But we want to keep you here tonight to run some blood tests and keep an eye on you.” Ann Marie stayed with me until I was officially admitted and placed in a room, only disappearing long enough to return with some basic toiletries and ear plugs.

I can’t say that staying overnight in a hospital bed is a pleasant experiences– so much noise and poking and blood-letting and drugging every four hours, but the staff was uniformly kind. Especially Gypsy, the sexually ambiguous assistant who came in to take my blood pressure.

With so much time on my hands, I got to know my surroundings fairly well– the rolling table I could never quite adjust without ripping out the needles in my right arm; the plastic jug I thought would make a nice iced tea container until I realized it was for urine; the heart monitor, which was made by a company called Aramark, which was founded by my Uncle Hank. How appropriate, I thought. It was in a hospital that he met my Aunt Genevieve– she was the nurse he’d bummed a pack of smokes from while he was recovering from heart surgery. After his discharge, he returned with a whole carton and asked her out on a date.

The 1950’s seemed like such a glamorous time to be sick.

But there were no cigarettes for me. Or food or water, for that matter– I had more scans to perform.

My friend Craig dropped by for a couple of hours to keep me company and keep my mind on happier things.

Lime in Coconut
Since no surgery was possible, I was sent home the next evening with a laundry list of drugs– blood thinners, heavy antibiotics, cholesterol meds, chewable children aspirin. The next several days were spent going for short walks in the morning, napping, injecting needles into my stomach, swallowing pills, and sleeping some more.

I’ve been drowsy and in a general brain fog because of the drugs over the past couple of weeks, but I’ve felt just fine. And I’ve dozed off to far too many videos on Youtube. One episode of The Muppet Show caught my attention especially– Kermit the Frog and ensemble singing Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut”.

The thought of a refreshing glass of coconut water with a kick of refreshing lime sounded marvelous, so the following day I put the lime in the coconut, as lyrically instructed, drank them both up and came to a very important conclusion:

Harry Nilsson was a terrible mixologist. The concoction tasted bitter and slightly metallic. But then again, most things have tasted unpleasant lately. I poured the rest of the down the drain and went back to bed, full of forgiveness for Mr. Nilsson.

But I wasn’t really disappointed in the outcome. Quite the contrary, actually. I knew the drugs were working– the antibiotics were beating my appendix into submission, the cholesterol drugs were doing their thing, and the blood thinners were slowly helping my body dissolve the clot on my heart. I can wait a bit longer to start enjoying food again if it means I get to be alive.

If there was ever a luckier attack of appendicitis, I’d like to know about it. Had that supposedly useless organ not screamed for attention, the blood clot most likely would have been discovered by way of autopsy rather than by a simple scan.

I’ve had so many people reach out over the past few weeks, showing love and concern, which makes me grateful. I decided to write this post simply to let people know what’s been going on.

And to let everyone know that I am fine. My heart is pumping away normally, the brain fog is lifting, my sense of taste is coming back, the clot will dissolve, and I may very well have that appendix out in a few months.

But the next time I put it out there to the universe that I want to lose a few pounds, I should really be more specific about how I hope to achieve my goals.

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