I have read several essays in major publications on how to get your kid into a good kindergarten. I thought they were fucking kidding but they were dead serious. I guess it is up to me to take a dump on this topic.
It’s time to start looking for a school for your child. I don’t mean to point out the obvious but you really should have started looking when the kid was two years old, but you screwed around and waited until he only has two years before kindergarten. Most responsible parents these days start filling out applications to competitive schools once they get a sonogram or as soon as the paper turns blue on the pregnancy test. You may have procrastinated and screwed up your child’s entire future. Let’s face it, if your kid doesn’t get into the right kindergarten you may as well send them to a training academy for janitors or lunch ladies.
If you were only able to get your child into a second-tier kindergarten there is no need to panic. All you have to do is put that child up for adoption, learn from this mistake, and start over with another baby. If you have become “too attached” to this child to relinquish it, you may consider keeping it as an employee in some domestic capacity, say as a maid or gardener. Let’s be honest with one another, even though your second choice of kindergarten costs $35,000 a year plus supplies, the only thing your child will be fit for in life will be manual labor and he or she will surely be a complete disgrace to your family name.
Since 1997 the Hillsboro Academy has been preparing five year olds for some of the most prestigious first grades in the country. The Hillsboro Academy has recently unveiled a pre-coital registration program in which couples can put their child on a waiting list (along with making a sizeable deposit) even before they have had conception-inducing sex. Registration contracts stipulate that only a partial refund is available if there happens to be something too good on television that night to have sex.
If this whole process seems too daunting, there is another option available to prospective parents. Instead of the traditional process of having a child of your own, scratching and clawing to get that kid into a succession of ever more expensive schools which may or may not culminate in producing an offspring you would be proud to call your own, if this seems just “too much” then there is a new service for you. At My Son the Doctor Adoption Agency you can chose from an array of accomplished adults. All candidates for adoption are licensed physicians from leading medical schools, a fact which relieves you from suffering all the usual anxieties of over-bearing parents. At a cost of only $500,000, the My Son the Doctor adoption process will save you a fortune over raising your own doctor from scratch. The bond between you and your adopted doctor will be so authentic that your adult child will want to have nothing to do with you, just like in traditional families.
In America today the most unimaginable nightmare in the realm of childrearing involves sending your kid to a public school. If you believe what is printed in major magazines about the urgency of matriculating your child in only the most elite academies, the public school system is one step below selling your offspring into white slavery or enrolling them in a gladiator academy. You may as well change your baby’s name from Wilson to Spartacus if all you have planned for him is a public school education.
If you choose to send your child to a public school you are setting them up for failure in life. If your child attends a public school how will he learn to cross over to the other side of the street when being approached by a minority? What if they actually become friends with someone of a different ethnic background? We all have nothing against African-Americans as long as they are famous or rich or both, but tolerance can only be pushed so far. I mean, it’s cool to be enlightened these days, but it’s kind of going overboard if your kid brings home a minority playmate.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
How about Hitler? Does anyone have an argument against banning history’s absolute biggest prick from being employed in the attempt to get a cheap laugh? My initial instinct, my knee-jerk response is to say that in deference to the millions of victims of his terrible reign of terror, Hitler should be a forbidden subject of gags, limericks, knock-knock jokes, sit-coms, funny greeting cards, and humorous anecdotes of any sort. I’m glad we could all agree on that one.
But think about this for a minute. I don’t think that I will get any argument when I say that Jewish people make up an extremely disproportionate share of comedians. Now take a situation in which millions of Jewish people were being persecuted by just about the silliest-looking fucker in history and you just have to believe that there were a lots of Fürer jokes. And come to think of it, I also remember watching a Three Stooges episode when I was a kid in which Moe did a very convincing, and hilarious impersonation of that infamous Nazi shit heel. If I were to denounce that humorous portrayal of Mr. Hitler, wouldn’t I be guilty of rewriting comedy history? I am ashamed to say it but I can also remember a fairly funny joke having to do with Hitler and tequila. Let’s leave Hitler off the banned list for now.
In today’s newspaper there is an article about a consumer group warning parents of certain toys that pose a choking hazard or other dangers for children. Surely only a monster would consider as fair game for laughter a subject that involves over 210,000 emergency room visits for children annually. One of the products the consumer advocacy group mentioned was a toy guitar that could damage a child’s hearing because it puts out 117 decibels. If there were a child anywhere near me playing with a toy that put out 117 decibels, the last thing you would have to worry about would be the kid’s hearing—unless the child’s hearing could somehow be damaged by me smashing the guitar repeatedly over his head. I don’t think there is a court in this country that would convict me of any wrongdoing, and they would probably get a chuckle out of hearing that story. A jury of my peers probably wouldn’t object if I had also gone after the parents for providing their child with such an incredibly obnoxious toy.
Finding subject matter that is totally taboo to everyone is harder than I thought. Something that I find particularly heinous is anyone who finds humor in the day-to-day cute things that kids say and do, but Family Circus is one of the most beloved comic strips in America, so what do I know? Something even more unpardonable for me would be someone who cuts a Family Circus panel out of the paper in order to show it to coworkers around the office. To me, that violates all standards of human decency. Is Family Circus worse than Hitler? We may never know. I am also horribly offended by the canned laughter used in television situation comedies, but I seem to be in the minority on this issue and so will remain silent.
I will close this essay with the issue unresolved. Until we come to some kind of agreement all of you sick minds out there go ahead and make jokes about handicapped kids, 9/11, Princess Di’s premature demise, dying Popes, dead babies, Helen Keller, necrophilia, leprosy, and the glory hole in Michael Jackson’s bathroom stall. It’s open season on everything. Happy hunting.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Carls' Buther Shop
La Vita Bella in any Language
I wasn’t bound by a lease at Brentwood Terrace because I had been there so long, so a month later I moved into the top floor of a duplex on Center Street a few blocks from the Portofino. It was cheaper than my old place and a lot bigger: two bedrooms, a bathroom with a footed porcelain tub, and a screened-in sun porch in the front. Just walking up the stairs should be enough to kill me, but just in case that isn’t enough I bought a bicycle. I can’t even remember the last time I had been on a bike. I think I was eleven or twelve, but it’s true, riding a bike is like riding a bike. I can still do it.
The hardest part about riding a bike was trying to get over how silly I thought I looked pedaling around my new neighborhood. At first I felt like a hippo on ice skates—make that a hippo on ice skates on thin ice. I started out a little awkwardly on my garage sale bicycle complete with a steel basket on the handlebars. Juan, a self-professed bike nut, gave me a lot of encouragement, to say the least. He practically threatened me at gun point to buy it in the first place.
I wasn’t even aware that I was looking to buy a bike when I got a call from Juan insisting that I meet him one Saturday morning at an address around where we now both lived. When I met him at the garage sale he was riding tiny circles on the bike. “This has your name all over it, Chris. It’s in great shape and costs less than two tanks of gas.” Two tanks of gas were getting to be pretty expensive. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”
It was fun. I kept my new bike locked to the railing of the entrance to my duplex. As my confidence in my riding ability gradually increased I started riding more and more. The lack of parking in the downtown area used to keep me away from the shops still struggling to hang on. All of the things that made this part of town difficult to access by automobile—no parking, narrow streets, and short distances between businesses—conspired to make it ideal for travel on a bike. I discovered so many new places downtown that I felt like I was visiting a new city, at least they were new to me, or I was rediscovering places that had been here in Centralia forever and I had let them go fallow in my years living on the southern, suburban end of town.
My favorite new spot was Carls’ Butcher Shop. The first time that I went there I thought they had made an unfortunate grammatical error on the sign but it turns out that there are two Carls working there, father and son. Carls’ was on Vine Street, an easy three block bike ride from my house. Carls’ had been there for over 40 years. I probably drove by it 100 times without ever stopping inside.
As far as I knew, meat was something that you bought wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam at the supermarket. After only a few minutes inside their shop you became aware that Carl and Carl Jr. were true artisans. No guild craftsmen from Medici Florence took their skill more seriously than the Carls. They were Renaissance butchers, Michelangelo’s of meat, they were artists. Carls’ Butcher Shop, as it turned out, became one of my favorite places in Centralia.
Carl Senior’s father had worked for the U.S. Forces in Italy during World War II and had immigrated to Centralia not long after the fighting was over. In Italy he had been a butcher, as had his father and grandfather. Grandfather Carl, born Giancarlo Anzoletti, came to Centralia following a cousin who had left Italy before the war. He and his cousin became butchers and soon opened their own store in 1950. Carl was born that same year and upon finishing high school he came to work for his father, the cousin had ventured out to California to start a restaurant.
Carl had never intended for his son to enter into the family profession although his son had practically grown up inside the shop. Carl Jr. had gone to college and afterward had tried his hand at a series of other occupations. He always admired the way his father was connected with his neighborhood customers. Carl Jr. had traveled through Italy and wanted to make his father’s shop even more Italian than it already was. In addition to meats and poultry, they expanded to include the production of their own array of sausages and mozzarella. Because of Centralia’s rural roots Carl Jr. had local hunters and fishermen supply the shop with fresh game and fish.
Carl Jr. was savvy enough to realize that he and his father could only remain in business by offering the highest quality product available. They could never match the chain grocery stores in price. They added a few café tables inside the shop and served coffee, sandwiches, and a rotating menu of Italian delicacies. They sold Italian wine, olives and other pantry items. Carl Jr. explained to me one day that the products he sold weren’t for rich people. He didn’t sell anything that would be considered exotic to an average Italian family. He just wanted his customers to be able to appreciate the fine cuisine of the Mediterranean that he studied while living in Italy and traveling around the region.
When Carl’s grandfather had come to this country most Americans didn’t know the difference between olive oil and motor oil. Now you could by fifteen different types of olive oil in most of the big supermarkets in any city in the country. In the later years of the twentieth century America had done more to assimilate the foods of its diverse immigrants if not the immigrants themselves. Foods that were once considered luxury items had become the daily fare of everyday Americans. Carl Jr. called this the democratization of good food. Even Americans on the most modest budgets could eat well if they knew how to do it. His passion was teaching people how to prepare excellent economical food everyday.
They weren’t getting rich but they made a living and they loved what they did. Carls’ Butcher Shop was a local institution. It was also Centralia’s best kept secret; at least it was to me until I moved into the house on Center Street.
When Carl Jr. first started working with his father he lived in the apartment directly above the shop. Hi smother and father has a house four blocks away on Vine Street. After his mother passed away Carl Sr. switched living quarters with his son to help him accommodate the family he was beginning. With father and son sharing the hours at the shop they were able to open every day from 6 a.m. until 6p.m. Monday through Saturday.
During the summer months Carls’ Butcher Shop had two small tables on the sidewalk in front under a canvas awning. Juan and I soon got into the habit of meeting there for coffee before going to work in the morning.
I had long ago decided that my first cup of coffee in the morning must be taken outside of my apartment. Back when I made coffee for myself was when about 99 percent of my tragic household accidents occurred. One morning as I was attempting to make coffee I spilled an entire carton of milk behind the refrigerator. Crews that clean up after an oil tanker spill probably would have taken pity upon me. As I pulled the refrigerator out from the wall I half expected to find flocks of pathetic sea birds covered in milk needing medical attention. I never made coffee for myself in the morning after that catastrophe.
Back when I lived at Brentwood Terrace, I don’t think that I ever left my apartment without getting into my car to drive somewhere, ever. There was no place you could conceivably get on foot. Now that I lived on Center Street my car was becoming like some type of recreational vehicle, like a snowmobile or a ski boat, something that I only took out on rare occasions. On most mornings you could find my bike in front of Carls’ Butcher Shop and my car sitting idly in front of my apartment.
Carl Sr. was there in the mornings making coffee, and in the evenings after work Carls’ Butcher Shop became another tradition for us when Carl Jr. started held court. He started teaching a cooking class in the shop after store hours, complete with wine tasting. It was more just an excuse to drink wine while Carl cooked. He didn’t cook meals; he only prepared a single simple dish that everyone could linger over, as Carl liked to say. It was a simple accompaniment to the wine and vice versa.
There were perhaps ten of us who showed up for Carl’s classes, which were more like discussions in the Socratic tradition. His best classes were when he could get his students excited about a single, simple ingredient. He would preach about the importance of fresh basil, or different kinds of capers, or bread, or olives, or home-made mayonnaise. After one of Carl’s impromptu gatherings you would feel as if you were tasting a tomato for the first time.
“Tonight I’m going to talk to you about how I got to be a butcher in Centralia after years of study, travel, and thought,” Carl said to his small group of disciples. “I spent an entire summer there after a year in Italy. I was meeting two American classmates of mine from the States in Athens. They were on a three month trip across Europe and were flying into Athens from Vienna. I met them in Athens and we immediately made our way to the port of Piraeus. Jim had Greek parents and spoke the language a bit. For this trip he found it easier to go by his Greek name, Demitri. Joe was making his first trip to Greece, as was I.
“We took one of the massive passenger ferries that ply between the islands and the mainland during the summer. They are like a cross between the Love Boat and a slave ship. They probably have decent amenities, but for those of us paying for third class passage there wasn’t even a place for us to sit except the deck of the ship. This was more than anyone could ever ask for during the beautiful summer months in the Aegean. We brought along provisions for the five hour voyage to the island of Paros. Back in those days of extreme and unapologetic youth, the only provisions we required was alcohol. There were three of us so that meant six bottle of wine—just in case we got lucky.
“On that afternoon the sea was so calm we could have water-skied behind the ship. We were sharing our little corner of the upper deck with what could have passed for the United Nations of backpackers. We became the most popular people on board when we started sharing our wine with everyone in our little group. I speak a little French and began a conversation with a young couple from Paris. I have always admired Parisians; they all seem so confident; they all seem aware that they come from the most wonderful city on earth.
“I remember walking through the Louvre when I happened upon a French grade school glass being lectured by one of the curators of the museum. They were sitting around a magnificent statue by Pierre Lepautre’s (1648-1716) entitled Enée et Anchise. Their teacher was showing the children the actual tools that ancient sculptors used in fashioning a hunk of marble into an almost living being. All that I remember thinking at the time was what a head start these kids were getting in life. When I was their age I probably scribbling in a coloring book or something.
“So it was a little difficult for me not to feel a little inferior to this Parisian with his drop-dead gorgeous Parisian girlfriend. Their English was much better than my French but they were charming enough to let me practice talking to them. I offered them some wine in the little plastic cups we were handing out. We began with a Greek table wine. My friend Demitri was the only person who was even remotely Greek in this little get-together so he raised his glass and praised the Greek wine. He didn’t get much agreement.
“The next bottle we opened was a modest French Bordeaux. The young Parisian asked how much we had paid for the bottle and then commented on how French consumers insist on value from their wine no matter how much they pay. He was certainly correct on this point. In most of the major wine producing countries of Europe, citizens demand that there be good wines at every price. In any bistro in France there will be several wines by the glass at extremely modest prices.
“We moved on to the next bottle which I poured surreptitiously. The Frenchman in our group, along with everyone else, said that this was by far the best wine we had sampled. When I showed everyone that what they were praising so generously was an American red zinfandel the Parisian couldn’t have looked more startled than had I said they had all tasted hemlock. He made an attempt to qualify his compliments but I wasn’t having it. ‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to report you to the French Wine Council for treason,’ I said.
“I realize that it is incredibly hard for a lot of Europeans to accept, but America is no longer a country that consumes nothing but soda pop and hamburgers. We have learned a lot from Europeans and then we have applied American standards of quality control that has revolutionized our cuisine. Granted, a lot of our daily fare is dreadful, but if you make the choice to eat well, you can eat as well here as anywhere in Europe.”
Carl made sure that our glasses were full as he continued with his story. “But there is a lot more to the way Europeans live than the ingredients that go into their dishes. The most important thing is to get the pace of their life correct. This is especially so with people of the Mediterranean. I had already lived in Italy for over a year by this time. I was used to sitting around for hours over a meal of even a cup of coffee. I thought that I understood how life worked in this part of the world, but what I happened to me on this summer in Greece is that I became aware that this was who I was now. I wasn’t just mimicking the people whose country and culture I was temporarily sharing. I was beginning to think that I had figured it all out. I also realized that I had reached a point of no return. I wouldn’t be able to live any other way.
“I can look back to one particular afternoon as the day that I came to this understanding about Mediterranean life. It was probably our third day on the island and we had decided to meet in the main village of Parikía for lunch at around 1:30 in the afternoon. The three of us were staying in the same hotel room but had seen little of each other since arriving. That’s just the way life is for young tourists on the Greek islands in the summer.
“I was up early that morning to do a little snorkeling in the crystal clear waters off the beach from our hotel. The water was still cold on that June morning, but the sun was hot enough to make it bearable. The Aegean has some of the clearest water I have ever seen anywhere. You could drop a coin off the deck of a ship and watch it sink thirty feet before resting on the sand. I think that I tried to swim ever mile of ever coast on every island that I visited that summer.
“Demitri, Joe, and I had planned to rendezvous at a taverna in the main village near the port. The rendezvous was an essential element to traveling in Europe with friends who all had different objectives, or similar objectives but distinct methods to achieve them. Generally, our objectives included experiencing the local culture, sight-seeing, eating, drinking, and trying to meet women—definitely not in that order. We would meet at our prearranged destination with military precision. Well, perhaps Greek military precision. On this afternoon Demitri and Joe showed up an hour late. But who was counting? I had ordered a coffee and was writing letters when they fell into their seats beside me.
“The taverna was identical to a hundred other tavernas across the Greek mainland and the islands. The restaurant was split in two by the street in front. Half of the tables were inside the restaurant and on the sidewalk in front. The other half were across the narrow street on the broad stone walkway along the low seawall. All of the tables in this section were shaded from the scorching sun by colorful umbrellas. The tablecloths were clothes-pinned down to the table to keep them from blowing away when the stiff sirocco blew across these waters. Today everything was as calm as the cats that sunned themselves on rooftops, windowsills, and stairways all over the island.
“The first thing that you had to do when you say down at a Greek taverna was to prop a matchbook under one of the table legs to keep it level. The moist sea air clogged the salt and peppers shakers, but luckily the food was always properly seasoned so these condiments weren’t necessary. The bread was either good or bad in a taverna but the olives were always excellent. We ordered a plate of olives every time we sat down, even if we were only having a glass of wine of a beer.
“Demitri and Joe were hung-over just enough to be relaxed on this particular afternoon. The waiter made his way from inside the restaurant and across the street to our table. We ordered three bottles of beer and olives to start. We still weren’t sure if we would stay here for lunch or move to another place. We were the only customers besides what looked to be the waiter’s family sitting on the other side of the street. We sipped our beers and looked out over the small public beach on the other side of the seawall. The beer was so cold the first few sips were slightly stinging.
“The quality of the olives is more or less a sure thing anywhere in Greece. Olives are the perfect appetizer and the perfect definition of an appetizer. They are a means to stimulate that appetite. They are a great accompaniment to beer and even better for wine.” Carl had a tray of assorted olives for all of us to sample. “These Kalamata olives are only slightly bitter and have a texture almost like that of meat. Every country in the Mediterranean believes their olives to be the best. As much as I love the olives of Greece, my favorite come from around Seville in Spain.
“The taverna gradually was beginning to fill up a bit as people who had enough sun for the afternoon filed in for a late lunch. We ordered a bottle of wine and Greek salads. The wine was inexpensive and totally adequate for our purposes on that summer afternoon. My philosophy of wine is simple. I would rather drink wine than go without, so quality is secondary to effect, and the effect is always there.
“This is probably as good a time as any to set the record straight on the Greek salad. It is called a horiatiki salad in Greek, a peasant or country salad. I had a Greek salad the very first time I ate in a restaurant in Greece and it immediately became my favorite dish. I never cared for salads before because I don't care for lettuce. In all of the times I have traveled in Greece I have never seen a Greek salad that contained lettuce. That’s fine with me. I suppose there is a little room for improvisation when it comes to this dish but not much. There's never room for lettuce. Here is my recipe:
GREEK SALAD (?????? ?????????)
1 green bell pepper
several Greek olives
pepperoncini peppers (optional)
Olive Oil and Vinegar.
Chop up the tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and bell peppers into bite-size pieces. Portion out the vegetables on each plate along with a couple olives, pepperoncinis, and anchovies. Top the salad with a piece of feta and drizzle with oil and vinegar.
“By about the time our salads arrived we were beginning to feel the way a baseball pitcher must feel when he is on his way to a perfect game. It was like our entire lives were coming into alignment around this afternoon meal in a remote Greek taverna. By this time I had hundreds of meals in idyllic cafes, tavernas, and trattorias in Europe and I had enjoyed every one. I always felt like I was on vacation at every meal, even though I was living in Europe. I think that for the first time I began to realize that I wasn’t a visitor any more. I wasn’t just pretending to be a European as I stretched out a midday meal into a work of art; this was who I was and I was good at it.
Now I could see that Carl was making his little butcher shop on Vine Street as much like that Greek taverna on Paros as he could. He was also trying to educate his customers so that they would appreciate the need to elevate the simplest ingredients in their lives. He was trying to bring us to the same conclusions about living that he reached in during his time spent in Italy and Greece.
Carl often lectured his class that if you couldn’t get passionate about the simply ingredients like bread, oil, olives, wine, and cheese, then how could you feel strongly about the bigger issues like love and friendship? On this evening we were sampling a modest bottle of Chianti that he sold in the shop for less than what we all paid for a gallon of gasoline at that time. He had three different types of olives: French, Spanish, and Greek. He had a few loaves of bread that he had baked himself accompanied by a dipping oil for the bread that was just about the best thing that I had ever put in my mouth. Carl had written the ingredients for the oil on the blackboard above the counter of the shop:
1 cup of good Greek olive oil
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
a couple cloves of minced garlic
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
a pinch of red pepper flakes
a pinch of chopped parsley
a pinch of oregano
Mix these ingredients together and let steep. Serve with bread
Kate and Juan were seated with me at one of the tables outside after Carl finished his story. We were finishing our wine and making plans on what we should cook for dinner. “Carl should be a teacher,” Kate said. “I wish that he were reaching more people than can fit into his shop once a week for his talks.”
That’s when I got the idea that what Carl needed was his own TV cooking show.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
What if someone walked up to me right now, put a gun to my head, and told me to write something funny or they would shoot me? Would that inspire me to come up with a humorous essay or would the pressure strangle my creativity? What if I wrote something that was sort of funny, but not ha-ha funny? Would they just shoot me a little? Perhaps they would just shoot my ear off. I could live with that. I wouldn’t want to get shot in the eye, though. That wouldn’t be funny at all and definitely not ha-ha funny. If someone else got shot in the eye it might be funny. That’s called slap stick.
If someone I didn’t like got shot in the eye it would hilarious, so if someone wanted me to write something funny they should point a gun to someone else’s head and not mine. That’s kind of like tickling my funny bone, except replace ‘my funny bone’ with someone I don’t like’s eye, and then replace ‘tickle’ with a bullet. Does that make any sense? It makes sense to me so stop waving that gun at me and go point it at somebody else.
I refuse to be blackmailed into writing humor, so don’t even attempt that approach with me. You could try to take a member of my family hostage and threaten to harm them if I don’t get a laugh. That would not work with me and I’ll tell you why: I don’t like most of the members of my family. I may even enjoy it, so don’t waste your time with that ploy unless you are out to do me a favor.
What about bribery, you ask. I don’t know if I can be bribed into coming up with a humorous essay, but I’m certainly willing to give it the old college try. What did you have in mind? If you are having difficulties trying to think of things to bribe me with, allow me to give you a few suggestions: sex, money, gold, food (something with bacon on it sounds good), chocolate bars, nylon stockings, baseball tickets, and sex are just a few things I can think of. Did I mention supermodels? Perhaps some sort of combination of those items?
If you really want me to write something funny perhaps you should just get off my back and stop bloody hounding me. Good lord, you’re going on and on about this like a fucking broken record. Heaping this kind of pressure on a guy is what gives people ulcers, or heart attacks, or rickets, or that’s what makes people become bulimic, or schizophrenic, or it gives them irritable bowel syndrome (IBS, Known as the silent killer except when it isn't silent and then it is hugely embarrassing). I am under so much pressure to perform that I can’t think straight. I am losing my humor erection, so to speak. There it goes. I’m as limp as a noodle. Are you happy now? Do you think that is funny? I would if it happened to someone else. How about if I just drop dead for you? I’m sure you’d love that. You always were one for a cheap laugh.