December 2019

Mel and Irene

The current state of the nation takes the sting out of being old and sick.

I’ve known some very talented and interesting people and am now feeling that I ought to recognize some of them. I’ll start with the dead ones since they can’t quibble.

I was teaching at Midland College back in 1972 when a colleague asked me to cover a class of hers that she had to miss. Of course. It was a creative writing class, and she told me that their assignment was to discuss Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”. Since this was one of my favorite stories, I sailed into class expecting to lead a rollicking discussion.

Just a few minutes into the class it became clear that the only student who really understood the story was this old black man sitting in the back, so he and I led the rest of the students into a fuller understanding.

After class, he hung around, and I thanked him for helping me teach the class and then (he had to remind me of this later) asked, “What are you doing in this class?”

He confessed that he and his wife had recently moved to Midland for her health and, wanting to explore the community, he’d enrolled in this class. We had a good talk and then met again on campus. At some point, he invited me to his home to meet his wife, Irene.

Even though they were my parents’ age, I found them delightful and learned their backstory. Mel was a native of New York City and had married Irene when she escaped from East Texas to New York as a young woman. Mel worked for the Civil Service, and they had a son named Clyde who was about my age. Irene’s health had started to fail just as Mel reached retirement age, so they picked up stakes and moved to Midland, where Irene had a sister. They bought a two-bedroom, brick veneer house about twenty years old that they could afford because it was in a less-prime part of town.

One thing I quickly learned about them was that even though they were way ahead of most Midlanders in terms of knowledge and sophistication, they were both utterly helpless when it came to home maintenance. They’d lived in apartments where Clyde had always taken care of minor things that the owner didn’t, so they could barely change a light bulb. No, wait, they couldn’t change a light bulb unless it was in a table lamp.

I’ve always enjoyed helping people, so I leaped into the role of a surrogate son and over the next three years took care of minor repairs for them as I got to know them better.

And as we became closer they told me more about Clyde and how he’d get upset with them when they inquired about his life and how he was doing. My immediate reaction was to blurt that of course he’s upset since he’s in his thirties now and doesn’t need you spying on him and running his life. Not that I said it exactly like that. But close.

This was a great breakthrough for all three of us because at that point my mother was driving me crazy with her inquiries. So they could explain to me that they just loved Clyde and wanted to help him if he needed it. And of course they wondered how he was doing. I got right back to them that it sure did feel to him like prying and wanting to keep control.

All three of us sat there marveling at our breakthrough as they told me they’d tell Clyde about our conversation, and I resolved to try to cut my mother a little more slack.

Meanwhile, here’s a Market Street building reflected wonderfully distorted across the street.

Market Street Moiré


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Approving Comments

This morning I got an alert from Word Press that I had a comment waiting approval, so of course I instantly opened the comment approval form, not wanting to keep waiting my reader who’d taken the trouble to comment.

Here’s the comment:


“I saw something like a couple of weeks before, but you
did in-depth research, and your post appears to be more persuasive than others.
I’m amazed with the arguments you provided as well as the fashion of your post.
I enjoy when articles are both interesting and informative, when even dull facts are presented in an interactive manner.
Well, it’s definitely about your article.”

Ummm, something a bit “off” in that text: “saw something like a couple of weeks before”, “the fashion of your post”, and “presented in an interactive manner”. Not to mention that the whole thing barely made sense. Definitely red flag. And then I looked more closely and saw that the sender had thoughtfully provided as part of the comment the url for a web page. I entered it in a different window, and yep, advertising.

But not just routine advertising for fashionable shoes or meds that will make me so virile that beautiful women will just line up for a chance at me. No no. Even better: it was for a writing service. Still better, the English in the website was even worse than in the comment. Stuff like “Secrets for Writing Esperative”.

I’ve saved the above link (and you not click on it, considering that it might be infected) so that when I’m ready to write esperative, I’ll know where to go for instructions, but first I trashed the comment.

Meanwhile, from the ludicrous to the sublime, a lovely boulder outside a Japanese restaurant on Valencia Street, alas recently closed, but the boulder remains.

Zen boulder


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Mother’s Rolls

The only thing that could save us from a slow death by global warming would be the arrival of Chicxulub II.

One of my favorite columnists at the San Francisco Chronicle, Caille Millner, wrote the other day about trying with incomplete success to make her mother’s pie crust, ending up with one she described as “adequate”. This set me off. It’s a slippery slope to try to make some dishes as good as they were made by the previous generation, but first let’s count the successes.

Pie crust.  I finally managed to make one pretty much as good as my mother’s a number of years ago, just about the time that I got seduced by recipes for desserts other than pies.

Cornbread. I’ve managed to tweak my mother’s cornbread recipe to be better than hers although every time I say this I worry about being struck by lightening.

I gave up several years ago trying to make dumplings that got even close to those airy clouds bobbing in a sea of chicken stock that Aunt Sara made.  Something about the touch, I think.

My project now is to bite the bullet and again try to make my mother’s legendary yeast rolls.  I tried to make them for a decade or so when she was still compos mentis. I started with working along with her in her kitchen so as to learn how, tried making them in my kitchen alone, and finally tried them again with her at my elbow when she was here for a visit.  They rose just fine in her kitchen, but they never rose right prior to baking in mine and were thus miserable failures.  That was thirty years ago.

Just a few years ago I was struck in a flash with a reason for their failure to rise:  my kitchen in San Francisco is something like twenty degrees cooler in all seasons than hers in the piney woods of east Texas.  See, in the summertime she set the thermostat to a balmy 80 degrees, which was comfortable for her, and just left the thermostat there in the winter so she wouldn’t get a chill. Sometimes she cranked it higher because she could look out the window and see the birds shivering.

So what I need to do is turn the little electric bathroom heater to low, stick it in my walk-in closet, and close the door to create a warm environment for rising.  Alas, fear that this last solution might fail has kept me from trying it until Caille’s column rekindled my desire to make those rolls.  If it works this time, I’ll cook them for others; but I’ll give them a new name: Closet Rolls.

Meanwhile, speaking of rolls, here’s the Rainbow Roll at Sushi Zone.

Sushi Zone's Rainbow Roll


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