Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Last night was Camilla's birthday party.  We met out on my patio with two other friends to have some cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.  Camilla hates summer, but she likes her summer birthday, and she loves a pavlova, which I've made before for her special day.

I first came upon pavlova from Nigella Lawson, who makes many things seem simple, whether they are or not, but this actually is.  A pavlova is a big, fat meringue covered in unsweetened whipped cream (because the meringue itself is sweet) and then topped with any kind of fruit that's in season.  It's an especially easy dessert for me to make, because I often have a dozen egg whites in my freezer (Creme Brulee demands many egg yolks but not, alas, the whites) and a good dessert for people like our friend who has celiac disease, because there's no flour whatsoever in it.  It also looks very festive and almost cake-like, so also good for a birthday.

It's also great to make for a party, because you can make the meringue a day or two ahead of time, and then all you do is whip the cream before serving.  You pile on the cream and then decorate with the fruit.  Nigella has a Christmas Pavlova covered in pomegranate seeds and a little pomegranate syrup.  I've made a Raspberry Rose Pavlova, with fresh raspberries and a little rose syrup, which you can find in either Indian or Middle Eastern grocery stores.  Last night we had raspberry and blueberry with a little rosewater sprinkled on top.  If you're not familiar with rosewater, I'd strongly recommend that you become so.  It's perfume-y without being sickening, and it's got a flavor that's indefinable for most Americans, but it's delightful.  It's like this thing you can't identify, but you know it's the secret ingredient.  Nigella calls for a little rosewater in the meringue for the pavlova, too, and I make sure to include it.

Happily, we had a bottle of Veuve Cliquot in the refrigerator, just waiting for a special occasion.  Since the girls all had two Rhutinis and were wanting something more with dessert, serendipity ensued.  Champagne, fruit, cream and sticky meringue:  all very refreshing on a humid summer evening.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Forget Rhubarb Pie

Today I made rhubarb chutney.  I've made rhubarb chutney before, but many years ago.  I'm not sure where I found a recipe for it, though today I used one in The Joy of Pickling, a wonderful book that I broke down and bought last summer after having checked it out of the library four or five times in the past few years.  Rhubarb is quintessentially Minnesotan, isn't it?  I mean, maybe it's just Midwestern, but few things are as Minnesotan as rhubarb from your neighbor's wild patch.  They sell it at the Farmer's Market and I'm always amazed:  I mean, I just go to my dad's house and pick it.

"Well, not everyone has it," he says, with a bit of pride.  "I brought some up to the nursing home.  Those people don't have yards, they can't get it anywhere else."  He's also fond of telling me that in exchange for supplying her with rhubarb, another neighbor makes him rhubarb crisp.  When I got my latest crop, he asked me for rhubarb chutney.  On one hand, my dad hardly asks anything of me; on the other, he asks outrageous things, like pulling weeds in his lawn.  Yeah, right.  So making chutney wasn't such a bad deal.

Mostly I use rhubarb for making Nigella Lawson's rhubarb schnapps.  You chop enough rhubarb to fill a quart canning jar about two-thirds of the way full, put in half a cup or so of sugar, and top off with the cheapest vodka you can find.  Let it sit around for a month or so, shaking the jar the first few days to dissolve the sugar, then strain and you're ready to make rhubarb martinis, or Rhutinis, as I like to call them.  I know, I know, a proper martini is gin and vermouth and believe me, that's usually the only thing I drink, but rhubarb!  In booze!  How subversively Minnesotan!

This year I didn't have any sugar when my dad delivered my first batch of rhubarb, so I just went ahead and made a vodka infusion with the rhubarb and vodka.  I figure I can add sugar syrup to the drink when I make it, right?  Those jars look beautiful with their pink and green bits of rhubarb soaking in increasingly rosy vodka.  The color is like pink tourmaline:  crystal clear, and pink as a ten year old girl's bedroom.

Tomorrow for my friend's birthday we're having Rhutinis, and I've come up with a new version this year.  I'm going to mix about three shots of the rhubarb-infused vodka with about three-quarters of a shot of strawberry syrup (from strawberries I put up last summer) in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Then I'll strain it into a cold martini glass garnished with a fresh strawberry, and float a little bit of sparkling Rose on top.  Doesn't that sound delicious?  It promises to be the hottest day so far tomorrow, but we'll be fortified with those icy-cold drinks.  In past years, I've made Rhutinis with the sweetened rhubarb vodka and a bit of Cointreau, or just shaken it with mint leaves.  Very different versions, but both yummy.

The chutney today was wafting such strong vinegar fumes that I tasted it and had to add another quarter cup or so of sugar.  I get that rhubarb is tart, but holy cow.  The chutney tasted hot, too, from the ginger as well as a bit of dried red chile.  I think it may have been a mistake to omit mustard seeds.  The recipe didn't call for them, but I feel like they would have added another shade of heat, as well as some texture.  I'm crazy about seeds:  poppy seeds, sesame seeds, mustard seeds, even cumin and fenugreek sometimes, depending on what I'm making.  This is why I like raspberries, too:  the seeds.  Of course, I'm constantly checking my teeth in my little compact mirror, but it's a small price to pay for the pleasure of crunching those little bits between my molars.

Most of the chutney got processed, but there's one big jar of it in the fridge for me to try out later.  I think I'll need some cheddar of some kind, and some crackers.  Next time I see my dad, I'll hand over two half-pint jars of the stuff and see what he thinks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Venice of India

Othello is coming to town, the postcard promised with a picture of two actors languid in the early stages of the play. At first, I thought, I'd like to see Othello. I wonder how long it's been? And then I started thinking, when will Othello be obsolete? There are lots of mixed race couples and, depending on which state you're in, those alliances don't cause the same reactions they did decades ago. In addition, they're not illegal anymore, either. Think of that: it used to be illegal to marry who you wanted because of their race. One day we'll look at gay marriage the same way: remember when it was illegal for men to marry men, and women to marry women? Isn't that crazy? we'll say to each other.

Or not. Mr. Hendricks and I are a mixed race couple, and here's the funny thing: we never think of it. Or we are rarely aware that our races are different. Mr. Hendricks is Mr. Hendricks: that is all. Yes, I see that he is lean and graceful and brown-skinned, but these separate attributes fade away and he is more of a gestalt (sorry, I couldn't come up with a better word). We live in a relatively progressive northern metropolitan area, and so we are not so unique. More noticeable is that Mr. Hendricks is thin and I am fat. In fact, the only public places that we notice bold stares are in Indian restaurants from Indian patrons.

And then we went to the homeland in January: the state of Kerala in South India. There are necks that are still sore from all the craning they did at us. There I was, in my full, fat, very white and sweating glory, next to the quiet elegance of my South Indian in-laws and husband. They are all to be commended for their ability to walk in public with me and appear to be completely unaware of the craning necks and unsmiling stares. I found it a lot more challenging not to tell people to fuck off (which I didn't, thank you very much) when they literally stared at me for unseemly amounts of time.

We talked about it after each outing. First, to be fair, there aren't too many American tourists in South India, so I was an anomaly. I can understand that. But here in the States (not a high standard of manners, to be sure), if one is caught staring, a smile usually softens the encounter. This is not so in India. In fact, there is very little smiling between people. Smiling is seen as stupidity. Smiling is reserved only for those you know well. Second, I am a large woman. Again, an understandable anomaly. Third, I am in the company of three Indians, and even though it looks as though we may be family, it is inconceivable that we are.

We went to look at jewelry with my in-laws in Trivandrum, the city in which they live. The shop was formal and it was crowded with people, as all of India is: chairs were set around all of the counters and there were several employees hovering around, each with a very specific duty. We looked at the earrings, and three men behind the counter to the left of us could not take their eyes off of me. The heat and the staring and the discussion in Malayalam (which I do not understand) started to take its toll. Mr. Hendricks tried to calm me down, and I did not want to embarrass my in-laws, but I really wanted to flip those guys off. The man helping us with the earrings engaged Mr. Hendricks by asking him all sorts of questions, and even with the language barrier, I knew they were about me. After something Mr. Hendricks said, the man looked very surprised and repeated his question, as if for confirmation. He looked at Mr. Hendricks and then at me and then again at Mr. Hendricks. We didn't buy any jewelry there.

Kochi, or Cochin, is a city north in Kerala we visited with my in-laws. Also known as 'Jew Town,' the city boasts the oldest synagogue in India, one from 1568. Around the synagogue are shops and the cemetery. Perhaps I had begun to become immune to them, but the stares this time around seemed either less frequent or annoying. In fact, it wasn't the stares that were so bothersome, it was the hawking of trinkets that started to bring me down. The hard sell was on, especially to the American. The sellers were relentless, and I bought far less than I might have if I'd been given a little room, both literally and figuratively.

Mr. Hendricks and I finished our trip in Delhi. We had a tearful goodbye with his parents at the train station, and after a trying ride of forty hours or so, found ourselves in a very nice hotel in the capital city. We ate only at its restaurants, purely out of convenience. In fact, we had three or four meals at one of the restaurants, and were served by the same waiters. On two occasions, we were given separate checks.

"They don't think we're married," Mr. Hendricks said as he signed both of them with our room number.

"What do you mean? We've been here for breakfast twice already!" I said.

"I think they think we're business associates, or maybe we're having an affair," Mr. Hendricks said.

"You've got to be kidding," I said. "This is a five-star hotel. They see Westerners all the time here."

"Yeah, but how many Indians with non-Indians?" he said. "They might see black and white couples, but Indians don't usually marry non-Indians."

That night we left for home. Our driver dropped us at Indira Gandhi International Airport. It was relatively small in size, but packed to the gills with people. I saw a young woman in a uniform who appeared to be directing people and their copious baggage. I approached her with a smile and said, "I'm on a KLM flight to Amsterdam."

"Do you have your ticket?" she said and actually smiled back.

"My husband does," I said as I turned to find Mr. Hendricks. He was behind the man who was behind me.

Her smile and eyes got wider. "He is your husband?"


"And he is Indian?"

"Yeah," I said as Mr. Hendricks showed her our flight confirmation and she looked at us with ill-concealed awe.

That's what was so astounding to all the young men and women in India who got an eyeful of us. They couldn't believe that an Indian man, very like themselves, married an American woman and lived to tell the tale. Personally, I don't think they were jealous of me. No. I think they were jealous of Mr. Hendricks and what appeared as freedom within his family to marry who he pleased. I think they were jealous because he was an Indian living in the States. I think it was hard to imagine such a life of liberty and, at the same time, isolation.

Desdemona didn't have the time to visit the in-laws, did she? Maybe it would have all gone swimmingly, and she would have sailed through the trials with flying colors. Or maybe everyone in Othello's village would have been stupefied that he married this white skinny swan while there were so many more suitable women for him at home. Women of substance, of classic Moorish beauty, of proper childbearing form. We'll never know.

Mr. Hendricks and I aren't the tragic types: I am no young, impetuous daughter, and Mr. Hendricks is no Army general. Othello is supposed to be about jealousy, critics argue: race is secondary. But here in the States, race is never secondary. Here in America, the debate rages on even as we watch our new president and his family in the White House. All about us life is changing, and not in the ways we thought it would. Othello this fall, the postcard says. I wonder what it will mean by then?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Mr. Hendricks loves Wikipedia. Its entry on Ponmudi begins like this:

Ponmudi (The Golden Peak) is a hillstation in the Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala in South India. Its [sic] located 61 km north-east of Trivandrum city at an altitude of 910 m. It is a part of the Western Ghats mountain range that runs parallel to the Arabian Sea.

So far, so good. Then it veers off into a downright dirty lie: Ponmudi is connected to Trivandrum by a narrow winding road whichoffers a scenic view on the way to Ponmudi.

Cut to the maniacal laughter of one who has escaped death a thousand times. Because that's what you will have done if you indeed take this "narrow winding road" with a "scenic view". Scenes of your impeding demise, maybe. Of course, there's no other way to reach the "Golden Peak," and I have to report that it is only worth seeing if you have the balls of a NavySeal. I don't, and yet I made it there and back with my lifeintact, but my adrenal glands were completely shot to hell.

The offer seemed innocent enough. My in-laws wanted to show their American/Minnesotan daughter-in-law the coldest place in Kerala. They had been there before, but not for a few years. Granted, the traffic in Kerala had already scared the shit out of me, but foolishly I thought that had somehow conferred immunity. I mean, how much worse could it get? How many times could you watch opposing traffic coming toward you at twenty-five miles an hour while your father-in-law attempted to pass the car barely in front of him, forgetting to downshift and praying for the millionth time that the car wouldn't die because it was in fifth gear at ten miles an hour? How many near misses of a pedestrian or a scooter (a small motorcycle) could you tolerate? How many times could you hold your breath every five to seven seconds and still remain oxygenated? How many times could you hear horns honking without jumping every time, even though the honking was constant, like some sort of hellish conversation you couldn't understand. Even Mr. Hendricks, a man with a disposition of Buddha-like proportions, was griping my hand so hard as to leave bruises. And this was just the ride out of town.

We pulled over at the side of the road to stretch our legs. We'd probably already been in the car for at least an hour, maybe more. Still oblivious to the terror that awaited me, I wondered how much longer the drive would be. My father-in-law had mentioned "twenty-two hairpin turns," and I thought he was casually remarking on a curvy, twisty road. The term "road" needs to be defined. If by "road" you mean a dirt path cleared of trees and boulders, but filled with rocks and holes and only wide enough for one car, then, yes, it was a road. I'm pretty sure I don't have to mention that there were no guardrails, but I will, just for good measure.

So we start up the hill again, and while gently disentangling my hand from the crush of Mr. Hendricks', I begin to feel tired but uneasy. I mean, where the hell is this place? Then, off in the distance, my family points out the restaurant we'll be going to after we see Ponmudi. It appears to be very high and very far away. The road is getting worse: it feels like the car has no shock absorbers. And then the unthinkable happens: the car horn breaks. We have no horn. This is the only way to alert opposing vehicles that we are on the other side of the hairpin turn, because you sure as hell can't see anything. We press on, and now I begin to shoot desperate looks at Mr. Hendricks. He seems as nervous as I do, and yet, his parents are only mildly disturbed. Sure, the horn giving out is unfortunate, but that's no reason to discontinue our treacherous climb.

Then I see a road sign. A yellow sign with a drawing of an actual hairpin, about a thousand times bigger, and the number "1". At first, I am in complete denial. That can't possibly mean what I think it means, I calmly tell myself. We continue on, without a horn and another five minutes goes by. There isn't another sign, and yet the turns we've made on this stretch of the road are between ninety and one hundred thirty five degrees. To my horror, another yellow sign appears, exactly like the first one, and the number "2" is on it. Now the fear sinks in: I've got twenty more of these motherfuckers to live through. At the next sign, again after another five to seven minutes and several sharp turns and one car we managed not to collide with, I nudge Mr. Hendricks. I glare and jerk my head in the direction of the sign. He misses it.

"Three!" I hiss. "We're only at three!"

He looks confused. "What?" He's interrupted by his mother. She says, "I know why Denise is worried, she's not used to it, but you? What's wrong with you? You've been here before!" I have to mention at this point that my in-laws do not speak English (well, my father-in-law speaks a little, but my accent is really challenging for him) and I do not speak Malayalam, the native tongue of Kerala. This was actually a relief, although I'm sure my alarm needed little translation.

We continue on, and even though I did not have respite from the terror, I will interject here another item from Wikipedia:

The climate is alwayspleasant and it serves as a base for trekking and hiking. The tea-gardens here are also famous.

I will grant that the climate is probably always pleasant, if in fact you can even notice such a thing during your ordeal. But the "famous" tea gardens are completely defunct. Mr. Hendricks told me that when he visited Ponmudi as a child, there were tea stands all along the road where you could stop and not only have tea, but buy some to take home. He thought he remembered coffee, too. Tea is one of the official drinks of India, but in the South, they prefer coffee. Apparently the tea stands (we saw their abandoned shacks) were put out of business by the ubiquitous strikes and fights with the state government. There are so many unions in Kerala that it's a miracle when anything gets done. More often than not, it doesn't. So the promise of tea, coffee, and gifts evaporated, and I had only hope to cling to as we continued our death ride up the hill.

Obviously we made it. The killer is that, while in fact it was very cool and windy, the view wasn't as spectacular as I had been led to believe. Or maybe the view of the edge of the Western Ghats did not justify three hours of nightmarish anxiety. We walked around a bit, took a few pictures. We then went to the restaurant, which looked like a large, glorified cafeteria without the line. We had a typical South Indian thali, which consists of several little dishes and rice, and any other curry you might order. We asked for a fish fry and a chicken fry, both of which were pretty good. South Indians eat with their hands. I never got the hang of it, but really didn't have to: a fork and a napkin always appeared on the table, just for me.

We finished lunch and stepped outside onto the terrace. The view outside of the restaurant was pretty nice, lovely, in fact. It was windy and sunny and we took a few more pictures. Then we started our descent, which I had been trying to avoid thinking about all during lunch. Actually, I had been ruminating about it during the drive up, too, thinking that even if we made it up the hill alive, there was still the trip back to survive.

But my mother-in-law, with her wonderful senses of humor and intuition, told us the story of Mr. Hendricks' birth during our trip down the hill. I was completely delighted, not to mention blessedly distracted. I had always wanted to know how Mr. Hendricks came into the world, and in a charming bit of serendipity, our birth stories share some features. Both my mother and my mother-in-law were first-time mothers when they gave birth to us, and both of them had somewhat precipitous deliveries after normal courses of labor. In fact, both of them were told, "Don't push!" by the panicked nurses who saw baby heads emerging. Both doctors were late, and my mother-in-law was attended by the doctor on call. My father-in-law had a friend who worked in the hospital. Because of this, he was able to stay in his friend's call room at the hospital so he would be there when the baby arrived. Usually, fathers weren't allowed in the hospital until after the delivery.

Mr. Hendricks, according to his mother, was sixteen days late. Not only was he big when he was born, about eight and a half pounds, but he had a ton of hair and the longest fingernails they'd ever seen. He was also exceedingly fair. All the nurses used to sigh and lament because he was so fair and pretty. "What a shame," they'd say. "He should have been a girl."

Given the language and geographical barriers between me and my in-laws, I never thought I would hear that story. When we got home to Trivandrum, I thanked her for telling us. "Well,"she said, "I know you deliver babies and I thought you might beinterested." I also found out why my husband is an only child. An only Indian child: what are the odds? My father-in-law casually remarked that he thought it was better just to have one child. My in-laws also said that by the time Mr. Hendricks was three years old, he often told them that he didn't want a brother or sister. "We don't need another baby," he'd say, batting those big brown eyes in his fair, pretty-girl face, up at them. How could they argue with that?

So while hissing the word Ponmudi in our house is code for what a fucking nightmare, it also brings a smile to my face when I think of listening to my mother-in-law telling the story of her delivery. The hairpin turns and the rocky road and the sheer drop off outside my window seemed to fade away as I imagine her all those years ago, waiting to have her very late and very pretty baby.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Mr. Hendricks and I took a little Labor Day weekend trip to Wisconsin to visit the American Players Theater again. This year we stayed in Mineral Point at Brewery Creek Inn, about thirty minutes south of Spring Green. On our way home from the show on Saturday night, we stopped into a charming little dive called Bubba's on High Street. It was one of three little joints open at the seemingly very late hour of midnight. It was like walking back in time to the eighties when bars were filled with cigarette smoke, loud and drunk patrons and even louder jukebox music. Bare bones, just a bar, an electronic dart board and stools. We took open seats at the end of the bar and a young man with shaggy blond hair and glasses, clearly feeling no pain, told us he wasn't the bartender but that he could get us a drink.

"I mean, it's okay," he shouted, leaning into the bar. "What can I get you guys?"

Foolishly I asked for a gin martini. I have had problems before with gin martinis, in more upscale establishments than this. Apparently there is some debate about what exactly constitutes a martini. According to me, an authority on martinis solely based on sheer number of them consumed, a martini is gin with a bit of vermouth, shaken violently with ice, then strained into a cold martini glass. I prefer a cucumber garnish because of the gin I favor, but an olive will also do. What will not do is gin shaken with ice alone and strained into a glass: that is simply cold gin. Additionally, martinis are not served "on the rocks." Anyway, these were the least of our worries.

The "bartender" looked a little taken aback, but valiantly continued on. "Okay, and for you?" he turned to Mr. Hendricks.

"I'll have a vodka martini with Grey Goose," he said. It was too late to stop Mr. Hendricks from mentioning Grey Goose, but again, this was to be the least of our worries. Our friend put on his best professional demeanor and soldiered on, consulting with the woman two seats down from me to see if the bar had any vermouth.

A moment or two later, the real bartender came before us. He looked much like the impostor bartender in that he was also a bit loaded and friendly. "I'm so sorry," he began, "but we don't even have martini glasses here. We're just a beer and shot joint. I'm really sorry, the first round is on me. What can I get you guys?"

We reassured him that he did not have to buy our drinks. "How about a gin and tonic, then?" I asked.

"Sure," he said with relief. He looked at Mr. Hendricks.

"I'll have a vodka tonic," Mr. Hendricks said.

"Okay, then. I'm real sorry," he continued to apologize. Both Mr. Hendricks and I reassured him that it was fine, don't worry, we just want a drink, it's no big deal, again, don't worry. He seemed mildly reassured and went to pour our drinks.

Mr. Hendricks could not resist the opportunity to smoke in a bar, something he hasn't been able to do in Minnesota for a year or two. So he lit up and we tried to catch the American League scores on the tiny television hanging in the corner above the bar. Our teams were doing battle this weekend, and because we were on vacation we did not see any of the four games. Later we were to discover that they split the series: the A's won two games, each by a run, and the Twins won two games, each by about ten runs. The Twins are going to have to do a lot better than that if they want to get to the playoffs, but I digress.

Our small, strong drinks arrived and we gave our bartender a very large tip. We sat and drank. When we came into the bar, it was loud, but the jukebox (I use the term loosely: an electronic contraption with a screen, etc.) was off. Within a few moments of sitting down, someone had spent a good deal of money solely on Tupac Shakur. The loud, thumping pound of the music vibrated the seats. It was hard not to giggle. I mean, Mr. Hendricks was the only person of color within a hundred mile radius, but the townies in Mineral Point couldn't get enough of Tupac.

As we drank, I noticed a handwritten sign near the old cash register, taped to the mirror of the bar. It was entitled, "Bubba's Shit List" and underneath said, "talk to Bubba or the bartender in order to remove yourself from this list." There were about eighteen names, with number one being Billy Bob. I am not making this up. Two of the names had been crossed off, so it was indeed possible to make restitution. But how? And for what? I was deeply curious, enough to ask the woman next to me.

"Hey," I ventured, "what's up with that list?"

She turned to me and smiled. "I know, I was just looking at that! I know those people," she said.

"Do they owe money?" I asked.

"Nah, that wouldn't get them on a list. I know Billy Bob. I wonder what he did to piss them off," she replied.

I introduced myself and Mr. Hendricks to Dawn. She was in her mid-thirties, a regular nursing her lite beer and smoking her cigarette.

"Are you from around here?" she politely inquired.

You had to give her credit. There was no way in hell Mr. Hendricks and I were from around here.

I laughed and said, "No, we're from out of town. But I'll bet you knew that."

She smiled and said, "Well, I thought so, but you know, I don't know."

Our chitchat died down and she turned to talk to the bartender. Mr. Hendricks and I pondered the possible meanings of being on the shit list, and what you had to do to remove yourself from it. I was dying to get a picture of the list, but thought better of it. Perhaps the other patrons would not find it so amusing to have outsiders documenting their little piece of heaven. The smoke now had become almost unnoticeable, Tupac was still hollering, and a bar stool either fell or was tossed over by one of the young women in the bar. There was a very slight ruckus, warning us like distant thunder, and suddenly it was time to go.

We stepped outside into the not warm but not cool late August night and only then could I smell the smoke in a cloud around me and in my clothes and hair. It was just like the eighties when I went to bars and drank all night (beer, not gin: thank god, I'd have been in rehab about four times by now) and shot pool and played the same songs on the jukebox over and over. But I rarely got drunk: that wasn't fun. I spent a good deal of my twenties with friends in bars almost every night of the week, but we would sit and talk and drink and I still made it to work the next day. I'll bet our friends at Bubba's do, too. Our twenties are very forgiving, aren't they?

The next day I told Mr. Hendricks yet another winning-the-lottery fantasy: I would buy Bubba's and whip it into shape. The bartender would be a huge African-American man and the waitress a beautiful lipstick lesbian. There would be booths and a small grill, so you could eat fries and chicken wings. There would be martini glasses, and a "J.D." (an appletini) would be all the rage. There would be a state of the art ventilation system, so the person next to you could smoke like a chimney and you'd never even know it. The jukebox would have only music from the eighties: Prince, Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie, all that sort of thing. I'd still call it Bubba's, mostly because when we were teenagers, my brother and I would call our mother 'Bubba,' and she hated it. There would be a portrait of her, framed, with her name underneath, implying the bar was her namesake. She would hate that, too.

Then after about a year, I would sell the bar back to Bubba, and he could run it right into the ground. Everyone would come back, smash all the martini glasses, destroy the leather booths and never repair the ventilation system. All would be well again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

This Week in Baseball 8/12/08

Baseball season is coming to an end.  When there's less than half the season left, when there's not even fifty games left, it is ending.  So it's sad, even though our teams have had a rough time of it.  The Oakland A's are long out of it, have been at least since the All-Star Break, when their rookie first baseman was having fun with friends and decided to test the depth of a body of water with his head.  Daric Barton is lucky to be alive, and it is amazing he's not a paraplegic.  Bob Geren, manager of the A's, said of course he was relieved Barton wasn't seriously injured, but also implied that his lack of judgment was concerning.  I now refer to Barton as "head injury," as in, "Head injury hit a three-run home run in the third."

The Twins are flaming their little matchstick light of hope, constantly one-half game ahead of or behind the Chicago White Sox (or, as Bert Blyleven says, "She-cago").  Last week I saw an afternoon game between the Twins and the Mariners.  An obviously worked up Blyleven ranted and raved about the lack of endurance and ability of starting pitching, and the resultant stress on the bullpen.  "People work hard at their jobs, and they work nine to five.  These guys are working nine to one!" he roared.  Apparently Blyleven pitched 280 innings during his first major league season.  Today if a pitcher tops out at 200 innings, he's considered a "workhorse."  He went as far as to call starting pitchers "sissies" if they didn't or couldn't pitch deep into games, and said that they didn't have "the guts" (when he really meant "balls") to finish what they had started.  Clearly someone had put a nickel in him, and his cohort Dick Bremer blamed it on the Seattle coffee.

It's disturbing to find yourself in agreement with Blyleven, he of the "Circle me Bert" fame and the endless commentary on cookies and cupcakes, but there I was.  I don't give a damn about the bullpen and its so-called "stress," but I do think pitchers need to pitch a lot more innings and throw a lot more pitches.  Pitchers are bulking up and breaking down:  don't forget that one of Rich Harden's many injuries was due to his reaching for his alarm clock.  These guys are barely men:  why are they injured all the time?  The workouts and the steroids might have something to do with it.  And I am not a fan of the "specialist" role:  Denys Reyes has that ERA for one reason only.  He comes into a game with men on base and proceeds to do his usual bang-up job of giving up a two-run double, yet his ERA remains perfectly intact.

Last night Glen Perkins was under a lot of pressure:  he just became a  new father; the bullpen had been exhausted the day before in Kansas City, blowing a two-run lead and then losing the game; and he was facing the third-place New York Yankees, who are still the Yankees.  Meaning that they all take a lot of pitches and for reasons that are not statistically understood, Bobby Abreu always gets on base.  But Perkins pulled it off:  he walked three but got out of it every time.  Perkins usually pitches well and then, according to Bremer "without warning" something goes wrong and he starts to give it up.  Actually, there is a warning: it's called the sixth inning.  But last night it came and went and Perkins pitched eight, count them, eight, shut out innings, then Nathan came and finished it off with three strikeouts.

Tonight it's Mike Mussina, also known as "Moose," for the Yankees and Nick Blackburn, another rookie for the Twins.  I hate to say it, but even if they Twins win the division and go to the playoffs, they won't make it out of the first round because they'll have to go through New York or Boston, and they usually don't go through them.  They crumple.  But I would dearly love to be proven wrong.  Go Twins!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Natural Woman

definition of natural:  existing in or formed by nature, as opposed to artificial

Patients of mine, both young and old, will argue the case of hormonal contraception with what I like to call the "natural" argument.  "It's just not natural to trick the body," they will say.  Sometimes the argument is simply that birth control pills are not "natural," as if the Mountain Dew or Red Bull they drink is.  This argument has the corollary of "hormones are bad," but that is a discussion for another day.

What is, indeed, natural?  What is a natural woman?  Can it be argued that any of us today resemble, at least reproductively, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers?  While I believe that there is nothing new under the sun, especially when it comes to sex, I don't believe that my generation and younger are anything like our fore-mothers when it comes to reproduction.  We begin menarche younger and younger, for whatever reasons that may be found for this, and we also begin menopause younger (known euphemistically as the 'perimenopause').  We bear fewer children, if at all, and also begin bearing them when we are a good deal older than was thought possible one or two generations ago.  What was 'natural' to our great-grand-mamas was to marry in their late teens or very early twenties; to begin having children fairly soon after marriage; to breastfeed those children; and to start the cycle again, repeating every eighteen months to three years until they were exhausted.

I generalize, of course, but you see what I mean.  There is an argument that 'modern' woman is not 'natural' in her hundreds of monthly cycles, i.e. having a period every month instead of being pregnant or lactating for several months out of her life.  It's not considered 'natural' to continuously dance that cycle every month for years without pregnancy.  Today we want to be able to control nature, but somehow remain natural.  We want to avoid pregnancy until we are ready, and that may mean when we're fifty, and we expect that technology will be there for us.  We do not expect limits.

Perhaps it is my own aging that makes me realize how little control we have, and the appeal that fate holds for some has seemed a more and more reasonable stance.  We can maneuver out of its way, perhaps, but it always gets us in the end with irony and surprise, doesn't it?  So it was with me and my uterus.  A uterus, it should be known, that has never been pregnant.  An intact, never used, factory model:  vintage, in fact, at forty-five years of age.  I had decided in my dotage and in my desire to avoid being a middle-aged freak show (first pregnancy at forty-six!) that I would get the Mirena intrauterine device (IUD), and maybe, as an added bonus, get fewer and shorter menses, too, in my waning reproductive years.

Alas, it was not to be:  upon examination my uterus, that pristine, still in the package uterus, measured ten centimeters deep, too much to have the IUD placed.  To say I was speechless is an understatement.  I was stunned, and my voice rose with each succeeding, "But how can that be?  I've never BEEN PREGNANT!"  Most uteri (yes, the plural of uterus:  is it not wonderful?) measure between six and nine centimeters, though sometimes, a uterus that has housed many a pregnancy will sound to greater depths.  And then there's my uterus:  a virtual five thousand square foot house just waiting to gestate a fetus or three.

When the shock wore off, and after another contraceptive plan was made, I wondered if I had fooled fate or had been fooled by it.  Perhaps I was designed to have a passel of boys, each a year or two apart, running me ragged but kept in line most of the time by their father, who made them behave like angels once a year on Mother's Day.  Maybe I would have had only one child, after successive miscarriages, my uterus a large, cold room unable to keep hold of a pregnancy.  Maybe that big old uterus was waiting for ovaries that wouldn't, or couldn't, cooperate.  Maybe fate was wise and knew that a uterus that size didn't have a chance of recovering after delivery, and decided not to let me bleed to death.  Who knows what explanation there is for what seems to me to be an anomaly, this seemingly capacious and capable uterus in my never pregnant body.  For a minute I wished I was twenty years younger in order to be a surrogate, because even though I've never wanted to be a parent, I've always fancied that I'd like pregnancy and have always wanted to know what it felt like to push a baby out of my body.

So here I am, waiting out the last of my (supposedly) fertile years, with a wondrous uterus that never got her day in the sun.  I hope she's not taking it too hard.  I hope she still feels like a natural woman.