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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Small Town Knife 

Crocodile Dundee brandished a very dangerous looking Bowie knife and backed down a would-be criminal, taunting "Now that's a knife." 

I had gotten by with a nothing more than a plastic butter knife my first few months in Manhattan.  Being a new New Yorker with a tiny studio apartment, I was making due.  And didn’t cook any more than I absolutely had to. Which, for the most part, stopped and started with brewing a pot of coffee. Then one day while replenishing coffee filters and toothpaste at my local grocers,  I see a very respectable looking knife for sale. It was merely $5 for 7”of serrated aluminum. I told myself I could afford it. I couldn’t, but practicality had me in its grip, leaving me no choice.  I reached up tall on tippytoes and claimed it as my own. “What the heck.” The accumulation of basic household items had to begin somewhere.

Each time I had an occasion to use that knife I was impressed with its performance. No matter what I asked it to do, it was done with ease and precision. I may not have had much, but at least I had a knife that would never let me down. Seemed odd to feel so proud about a random purchase that was neither considered nor researched, but rather just sort of happened.  I felt that I had all the knife I’d ever need, ready to chew mercilessly through packing tape or vacuum packed coffee bags, an apple and cheese when entertaining, and on occasion, serve as a screw-driver. That knife would wear any hat I asked it to - and I developed a love for it, born of reliability and dependability. Perhaps that’s how people feel about their pets – a devotion that stems from nothing more than continued presence.

The years wore on. Other dime-store knives entered the scene, but always, when faced with a need for precision, not to mention strength, I’d dig past the other utensils that offered themselves to me, opting for My 1st Knife. Like an old Army friend, waiting to do what I asked of it,  I’d find it. It’s jagged, eternally-sharp teeth were always at my service.

Jobs changed, salaries increased, coveted one-bedroom apartments on the Upper West Side were found, and so too, the day came when I got a set of Henckel knives.  I was quite excited about this as it seemed to represent more to me. They were Henckel’s for crying out loud. I’d been in New York long enough to know that brand names mattered. Henckel’s were the ones to have. And I so loved the big butcher knife especially. Now I chopped herbs as though being filmed for the live broadcast of a cooking segment on the Today Show. Just as I’d seen it done so many times before, lifting the heel, pulling it toward me, and clamping down on the ingredient with confidence. It sounded just like the chef’s on TV, too.  While my cutting board was still just a piece of plastic from D’agostino’s Supermarket, my agility and performance and hardware were camera-ready.

Occasionally, I’d still reach for my 1st knife, mainly out of melancholy, but it never,  not ever, could it reside with the Henckel’s.  I was moving up, and this 1st knife had served me well,  so I’d always have gratitude for it’s indestructible service. But I’d moved on, clearly. Just ask my Henckel’s. They would emanate success and kitchen prowess, a cook who is now in the know, and comfortable being there. I had mastered the art of sharpening my Henckel’s, once I learned that sharpening was necessary maintenance of the owner. Again, I felt the cameras rolling on me as I swish-swish-swished the left side across the 10” diamond sharpening steel, and again on the right. “Ting!” Sharp as a… as a Henckel.  I punch through an arm of gourmet salami like a 300 lb. man through thin ice; cube out a cheese tray in minutes flat; gingerly maneuver the tip in, around and through the core of a cantaloupe  There was no mercy for the groceries awaiting me and my Henckel’s. I was on my way to being a Domestic Goddess in the kitchen, and ready slice, sliver, and  match-stick my way into a man’s heart. All I needed all along was the right tools.

It was long after the thrill of my Henckel’s wore off, when in the deep of the night, when the lights of my judgmental city were dimmed, I’d hunt amongst the miscellaneous cutlery to find my 1st knife. I didn’t have a serrated Henckel to make an apple cutting-to-apple cutting comparison, and maybe that was more of a conscious choice than I might have thought. I am nothing if not loyal.

And in that same way, my small-town self will always be in me. Mr. Right will have to make room for the drug store make-up plastic-shoe wearing eternally sharp $5 knife wielding part of me too.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Leaping & Looking 


Our eyes deceive us more than we can know. This I first found out as young girl, walking on the docks with my parents as we headed toward the marina for dinner. To my left was the lake, which had an intriguing layer of green across it. The lake was as calm as a corpse, not a single ripple on it. The green carpet laid out on the lake was both inviting and intriguing. I couldn’t resist the temptation to dart across this magical green carpet and race to the shore. Before anyone could have stopped me and my speedy, curious feet, I did exactly that.

Imagine my vast surprise when I fell right through the carpet and came up with a mouthful of Lake Michigan water and pond scum. I had learned to swim a long time ago so drowning wasn’t a concern, but certainly there were angry and confused adults who wanted answers. I simply told them that I wanted to walk on the green carpet. It looked solid, it wasn’t moving like water usually does, and my plan was to race to the shore. (I planned to have the shrimp that night. Beer battered. Which always seemed like an allowable indiscretion and I felt dignified in doing so.) Well they roared with nervous laughter. How did I get to be so stupid? Hadn’t I seen pond scum before? Apparently not pond scum of that magnitude.

I thought I was being expeditious en route to my illegal shrimp. So while I did look before leaping, what I saw was deceptive, at least to the inexperienced eyes of a child. And to this day, things haven’t changed all that much. If it smells good, eat it. And learn the rigors of tainted Thai food take-out the hard way. And if he’s cute, kind, and a good listener – the three litmus tests for attraction – jump at his invitation to visit him. Tell yourself it’s serendipity at its best. Learn the lesson of premature coupling when he tells you that he’s not all that into you, his invited guest. You might say I’m a risk taker. That doesn't feel accurate to me, but I’m open-minded, that much is true. Maybe I need to become more judgmental. I have a lot of judgmental friends and they seem to be having nice lives. Within predetermined boundaries. Doing their jobs as round pegs placing themselves into quaint round holes.

I feel that people like me, and I know I’m not alone in this, are less concerned with a guaranteed, calculated outcome and are more open to the possibilities of what the unknown holds for us. So I ended up in Lake Michigan – a place I often used to go for fun anyway. I sat through dinner in a saturated sundress, and ate every last beer-battered shrimp they brought to me. I’ve never ordered Thai food again. And I’ve never had food poisoning again. I’ll leap again, that I know for sure. And if I come up empty handed again, I’ll cherish the memory all the more. Because what's to be learned other than that particular person at that particular point in time wasn't what he appeared to be? Not all green carpets will plunge you into Lake Michigan. I’m a square peg, on the constant look for my square holes. I think that’s the definition of a leaper. And I know no other way. W.H. Auden is correct. Leap before you look. He wrote a poem to honoring the same spirit. A battle cry to crush convention. I am in good company.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bad Brain 


I’m in a troubled relationship right now. Yeah. I’ve been trying to strike a peaceful coexistence with my brain. We had to enter couples therapy. I just can’t put up with it’s shit anymore – all the tormenting, name calling, paranoid accusations of a brain in the throws of mid-life crisis – hey, that’s not my problem You live your life, I’ll live mine, and try and leave me out of the whole mess. We got attorneys, hoping to come to a settlement. I hired the firm of Passivestein and Lowenbrau; its hired Yousuck Gotohell. That “Yousuck,” he’s a bad dude. I’m paying my attorney by the hour to come up with evidence to refute the charges, and I’m galled that he’s taking his time on this case. Can’t be good for either one of us, really, me and my brain. All the petty squabbles we get into. Most days, I’m so beaten down, I just get up and ride the ride. I just hope we can work it out – I’m an optimist. I have faith in human nature. Because we’re all good people! Yes we are! Well, not you. You got problems. Oh yeah? Then where’d I leave my keys? See! You’re the one who sucks! Look, I know you’ve got a lot on your mind too, all the synapses acting up, wanting time off, looking for paid holidays – I know it’s a lot of stress on you. But why take that out on me? I’m here for ya, right? We’re supposed to be a team. Don’t I take you to Macy's all the time, huh? Talk about sensory overload. And those weeks we spent in Australia – that was a real treat for ya, right? But how do you thank me? And the VOICES!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What Now Laughing Cow 

I saw this butter dish in a boutique a few years ago. I loved it immediately yet was taken aback by the price tag it boasted, over $50. Spending more than $10 on a butter dish – one that I loved even – struck me as too frivolous. Purchases I can’t justify never happen, since I have no patience for managing the ensuing dissonance. I was with my boyfriend who encouraged me to get it, but I did not. Months later, he gave it to me as a Christmas gift. So to think the guy who spent 3 hours at my table cutting paper to decorate an elaborate Christmas bulb for me was gesture and gift enough in my eyes. He went this extra butter-dish step to brighten my Holiday, catching me by surprise with this gift – he had to make an extra trip at some point without me specifically to make the purchase. His effort was not lost on me. Six weeks after the Holiday he broke up with me, moved across the state and married some girl. Pamper me, spoil me, surprise me and then run away. So what is love? I know what I used to think it was, and strangely that once involved a beloved butter dish with a Laughing Cow emblazoned in irony. Thinking that La Vache qui Rit took effort, planning and considerable expense resulting in surprise and joy actually meant something more significant. If you’re like me, and for your sake I hope that’s not the case, don’t ascribe value based on your level of appreciation for an act or gift. Consider the possibility that your bar is dangerously low and any fly-by-night lover can clear it in a single half assed vault. The Laughing Cow is a Trojan Horse filled with treacherous gifts that will fool you. A fine show piece for dairy product stands the test of time, but its bearer may not. Raise the bar and be the Laughing Cow.

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