May 25 2015

Memorial Day, and the Price of Killing

DSCN3363I hate pigeons. Most people who live in cities hate pigeons. The only thing we hate more than pigeons? People who feed pigeons.

I just ran over a pigeon. It was in the street, I assumed it would fly away as I got closer. And it tried, but it was already maimed. It lurched one direction, then the other. I wasn’t sure which way to swerve to avoid it, the damn thing couldn’t make up it’s mind, which way to go. I swerved a little to the left. With an oncoming car, I couldn’t go too crazy on the swerve — and that’s when the pigeon made it’s fatal, and final, lurch.In the same direction I swerved.

I felt sick. I felt horrible. Much as I hate pigeons, I felt guilty. I thought of the people who hunt, who deliberately kill magnificent creatures — cougars, gazelles, lions — that no one hates. Animals in their own habitat yet, not polluting ours with their droppings and their mere unsightly presence, spreading disease. These hunted animals are minding their own business, raising their young, on their own turf. And people come in and take pleasure in hunting them with state of the art equipment. Hardly a fair fight. They call it “sport,” though I always thought “sport” meant facing an evenly-matched competitor. But what the hell do I know? And then to mount that animals head in your home, because… it belongs there, not on it’s own body, in it’s natural habitat, protecting and feeding its offspring? I’ll never understand.

cheetah4It’s Memorial Day. My mind wanders to those young men and women we send to foreign lands, and whose job it now is to kill in the name of America. Of Freedom. Our Freedom. Sometimes they kill people who are about as much a threat to our freedom as that pigeon I ran over. Maybe that killing is as joyful and empowering to them as shooting the cougar is to the hunter. I hope not. But if killing another human being, a civilian, is even half as upsetting to them as running over that stupid pigeon was for me, then I truly fear for the mental state of our soldiers. More and more of them are coming home with serious psychological issues. I assume killing innocent people is only a part of what haunts them, what leads them down a black psychological abyss from which there’s rarely a full escape. Many don’t come home. That’s where life ended for them, somewhere in that abyss.

So soldiers — those who died fighting, who have fought,  or are still fighting —  thank you for what you do. I mean that, I truly do. And I’m sorry for what you’re asked to do. For America. For Freedom. Our Freedom. I wish you could all be free –we could all be free. But then, freedom is never what it appears. Ask those animals in the wild.


Jul 3 2010

Ceremony: It’s in my blood (and in my cocktail).

Sunset on the farm. Unless of course you ask the rooster, for whom the sun eternally rises.

I took a friend up on an invitation to spend Memorial Day Weekend savoring peace, fresh air, and fresh eggs on her family (a 4-H family) farm. I was surrounded by horses, goats, turkeys, chickens, cats, dogs — and a cacophony of animal sounds. And it was rather peaceful – even the rooster with total disregard for the sun’s location in the sky.

My job on these treks (which occur every six months or so) is to cook. It’s what I love to do and I love doing it for her mother, who lives there alone. She gets more vegetables in her diet the weekend I’m there than the other fifty-one combined.

It gets a little embarrassing when her mother informs everyone (in-home nurses, bridge partners, family members) who enters that I am the visiting “Iron Chef”; because then they stop and observe, believing that I really am some sort of expert. I’m not. I just have a good eye, hand, sense of taste, and (mostly), some serious curiosity. And of course, there’s always the glass of wine nearby, which is part of the ceremony that is cooking. And no one loves a ceremony more than yours truly.

Catching up on some light holiday reading.

Before accepting the invitation, I specifically asked my friend if any family activities were planned. “No” was the answer. My friend didn’t know this was a make-or-break for me. Not that I dislike her family; far from it. They’re lovely. It’s just… a very different family than I grew up with. And the whole “Iron Chef” thing… nah. Please, no live audience. I just want a nice quiet weekend, because…

I’d also decided the day before driving up that I was not going to drink for a month. A month. Just to “reset” the brain and the body. It’s not the sort of thing you share with nice people whose lives don’t involve (or for that matter revolve around) the ceremony of drinking to a large degree. Living in the city, I don’t know anyone whose social life isn’t rooted in the culture of cocktails. It’s how I grew up, it’s what I know, it’s what I love, it’s how I’ve often paid the rent (bartending). The people, the lifestyle, the stories, the making of a fine cocktail, the nose of an epic wine, the feel of a velvety cognac on your tongue… Most of my friends are artists of all strains, and over cocktails is where we come together.

But back to Memorial Day weekend:

Oh the things you find in other people's childhood rooms. I haven't had a childhood room since I was twelve.

Oh, the things one finds in other’s childhood rooms…

It turns out that my friend’s brother, his wife and their three children were, in fact coming over for dinner Sunday night. The wall of watchful, matching, green-gray eyes was on me in the kitchen from the moment they entered, as mom immediately started singing my Iron Chef praises. I took care of that by ordering them all to carry stuff to the backyard, where we’d be dining. Over dinner, All members of the family engaged in a very detailed discussion about a recent field trip to Washingon DC. Family Discussion As Ceremony. I’d heard of that…

After dinner, we gathered in the parlor to enjoy tea, Toblerone chocolate, and strawberries. And the whole time, the whole night, these kids participated. There were no cell phones, no distractions. This was normal to them: kids and parents talking. Kids behaving. I didn’t know families like this still existed!

I thought this sort of thing only happened on the Hallmark channel. It truly was an episode of The Waltons, directed by Norman Rockwell. I’m not joking. The children have flaming red hair and more freckles than the bus has strains of bacteria. The adults sport a faded version of this coloration. And they’re all tall. I do not blend in this crowd. Not just the physical difference (I’m a petite, olive-y blonde, the result of my Greek/Norwegian heritage); but more to do with the fact and I’m an acerbic urbanite. Chalk that one up to nurture, not nature. And the fact that I was sipping a grapefruit spritzer rather than a glass of pinot was not helping my disposition. Quite the opposite.

Gatherings at my house growing up looked like a day on the set of Casino. It was Vegas in the ‘70’s. My parents even looked like Robert DeNiro and Sharon Stone (that Greek/Norwegian thing again). As a family, we didn’t gather in the parlor to converse over tea and Toblerone and strawberries after dinner. For starters, my father was the Bar Manager at the Hilton Hotel (when Elvis was performing there). So he was seldom home for dinner. Our garage looked like the liquor warehouse of the hotel. My parents had parties, and that’s when things got conversational at our house. It was always fun to watch the adults loosen up and not be so hush-hush (in front of us kids) about… whatever it was that adults talk about.  And their conversations were always much more interesting than those of my peers. At one holiday party, I stood at the door holding a crate of Elvis’ Christmas Album (I assume that was a “secret gift” from the Hilton Hotel to my father), handing one to each tipsy guest as they left. It never dawned on me that this wasn’t typical of every child’s holiday memories.

So being there on the farm, surrounded by Rockwell’s Waltons, the feeling that “I don’t belong here” was now festering into pure irritability because I didn’t have my beloved glass of wine handy to help me appreciate the oddity, the surreality (to me, anyhow) of the situation. No, it was just me, unarmed. And again, I can’t tell nice non-drinkers that I’m cranky (and trying to hide my crankiness, which makes me even crankier) because I’m a baby and I want my ba-ba. They won’t understand and it’s embarrassing. Yeah, you know it’s bad when you can’t stop staring at a (probably 15-year old) bottle of vermouth. All of this soon spirals into a very real headache, and very real reason to excuse myself from the room and pop a Tylenol PM.

A good thing. I miss you.

So why the hell all this 40-something equivalent of 20-something navel gazing? Damn good question. I got nuthin’. I do have this: It’s day seven now. I’d just finished writing a feature screenplay (right before taking this vow of a month’s sobriety) and was wondering “what next?” And in recent days I finally started to write something for the upcoming Tenderloin Reading Series at which I was invited to read. And I was informed that my play, It Is What It Is, has been accepted in the upcoming SF Theater Festival. And of course, I did not pop a bottle to celebrate. That was tough!

So do I need this ceremony, this companion, this lovely crutch called “cocktail”? Last night I went to a local bar and had two ginger beer/mint/lime spritzers. So the past 7 days prove I don’t need it, the alcohol at least. But the ceremony… yes, I need ceremony in my life. Though there are a million (non-alcoholic) ceremonies out there and a million more I can invent… but I love this one! It’s where I come from, it’s in my blood; it even reminds me of childhood, watching my fabulous parents entertain. Hell, I made my first cocktail at age 5; I’d make them for my parents friends and charge them 10 cents. It’s who I am! Other kids longed for Disneyland; I had Fantasyland right there at home. Whenever my parents entertained, there were gorgeously groomed men in suits, beautifully made-up women in fabulous frocks, the Rat Pack backed up by the music of ice chiming in beautiful glasswear, and laughter! I couldn’t wait to grow up and make that my world. My Adultland.

But I guess we all need to step outside our skin once in a while, now don’t we? If for no other reason than to decided whether or not the skin we’ve grown so accustomed to still fits and is still flattering. Or do we still wear it because it’s what we’re used to, and we’re too lazy to try on a new one?

The one thing I know to be directly related to not drinking is waking up with a clear head. So clear is it, that I decided to write this little reflection to share with you. But is a clear head worth  going without my beloved ceremony? Ask me on July 1st, when I celebrate this achievement.

Better make that July 2nd.