Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Effect Jungle Trips Have

It's about 6:17 AM. I haven't had coffee yet as it's still brewing. It's late for me to be getting up but I had a fitful night from about 2 AM on. Dreams and dreams: I apparently was suckered into buying all sorts of insurance for people in one of them and suddenly found myself being asked to pay for huge children's bouncing houses that had been torn by tree branches; cars that were driving themselves in a crash-derby; women's breast implants that were deflating; badly manufactured football helmets. Heck, I didn't even know I was the insurance carrier, much less that those sorts of things could be insured!
And there were jungle dreams, including one that had Pablo, my old Matses friend who died some months ago, pulling a section of bark from a large downed tree and eating it while he explained that it was what the Matses ate before they had yucca. That was a real event, and when it happened a couple of his wives cringed as he ate it dry--so did I--because they said it was much better when mashed in boiled water. But that was the only time that ever came up and as the tree was down I couldn't take a leaf pressing to find out what kind of tree it was. And while I've still got some of the bark here at home, and still take a bite once a year (it's amazingly filling stuff that seems to expand to the size of a loaf of bread in your stomach) I've always wondered what tree it is. And none of the younger Matses know anything about it. That was from the old days and so I sometimes dream, like last night, that I'm frantically trying to identify it and can't.
And there were a lot of dreams that were nonsense and so I kept having to sit up to get rid of them so I didn't get much good sleep.
But then this morning, I looked into my email and you know what? There were letters from four former guests of mine, people who'd been in the jungle with me. And there were letters from three guests coming on the June trip. Those are good, and they're filled with questions.
But the letters from former guests are better: One was a note to say I would be getting a new piece of art he's finishing up for Madeleina; another was to invite me to lunch this week; another was from someone about to try some nu-nu (the Matses tobacco snuff) that I'd given her at home in Europe and wanted me to go over how to use it. Another was from someone who just wanted to say hello.
Yesterday, I was in touch with two or three other former guests.
I think the fact that so many of my former guests--and I've only had maybe 150 in my whole life--remain in touch is an indication of how deeply the jungle trip I do with them affects them. I mean, it would be silly to say it was me: I'm just the connection to that space, the front man for the magic that begins to happen when we meet in Iquitos and I put them in the open-air motorkars for the drive back from the airport to town. The magic that begins to grow as I take them around that odd little city I love and show them some of my favorite spots and then really begins to move through them when I put them on that overcrowded riverboat and we start heading up the river under an Amazon sunset, green banks at our flanks, into the deep and mysterious jungle.
Each trip is different in a number of little ways. And each guest is different in little ways: Some hate the idea of bathing in the river; others say they're too old or fat to hike. But the magic changes that. With few exceptions--and I did have one trip I'd take back in a minute if I could--everyone is doing everything with joy just one day into things. Eating foods they'd never imagined they'd eat; swinging on vines and having medicines blown up their noses, and frog sweat burned into their arms.
And when they get home and forget the itch of those million mosquito bites, or anything else that might have made them uncomfortable, they still remember the magic. They still remember being so quiet they could hear soul-silence. They remember the medicines we did that helped them access parts of themselves and the universe that were perhaps never accessible before.
And those things keep working on them, not for weeks but for years. And them writing me a little note sometimes is their way of staying connected--or reconnecting with that. And so I love getting those notes. It reminds me that something good and deep and profoundly changing occurs out there. And that's what it's about. My own teachers are all but gone now, with just Hector and Victor, up in the mountains, still alive. But Julio and Pablo have passed and Moises' isn't himself after getting hit by a car some years ago. But what they taught me I'm lucky enough to pass. And that's a wonderful gift.
And now I'm going to go get that coffee. Have a great day, everybody!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Barbara's Birthday

My sister Barbara, two years younger than me, had a birthday yesterday. I'm a long way from Queens, New York, so I had to do it by card and email and I'll try the phone today. She was another--along with Mike, Pat, Peg, Pete and Reg, the baby--of the great Gormans. What a time we had growing up. It was the 1950s and early '60s and our dad Tom was an actor on then-fledgling live television, and Broadway, and mom, mom, had had a heck of a career in radio, but quit acting for 20 years to raise us. She did go back when we were grown up and had just gotten a juicy part in a national tour when she got too sick to work.
But the kids: Mike was a wonderful athlete and creative force for us: He invented, or copied, The Strong Kids' Club, and membership involved all sorts of torture: But nothing he wouldn't do himself. We'd have to lie, absolutely still, in the tub with six inches of ice water for 30 seconds--and he had a stop watch to keep us honest. And we had to be able to walk around the whole house in bare feet whenever it snowed, which it did quite a bit in Whitestone, Queens back then. And we had to be able to write our whole name in blood on scary notes: Peter Thomas Gorman. And if the pin-prick dried up before you got your whole name down, well, you had to start over.
He went on to play baseball for St.Johns, served in Vietnam, became a NYC policeman and retired as a lieutenant. During his cop days he became a lawyer as well and is now a judge in the Bronx, NY a couple of days a week.
Pat was the artist. She could draw anything. And she was also the softer side of the Gorman kid's creative force: She would give us younger ones pony rides on her back and had half-a-dozen different pony personalities, from a real lazy one to a bucking bronc. She also had save up for our own horse, and we hit nearly $100 before mom told us we just didn't have room in our yard. Pat, with Peg, also started the Whitestone Twirlers, a baton group that probably had a dozen local little girls in it. They'd practice every Saturday and march in the local parades and then they got good enough that by the time they were young teens the Whitestone Twirlers were asked to march in the big New York City St. Paddy's Day Parade up 5th Avenue. That was cool. And then she was always winning those local art shows where kids paint local store windows for Halloween and Christmas and such. And she went on to be an important graphic designer, designing the changing MTV logo, lots of album covers for Sting, Billy Idol, the B-52s and so forth. Later she became an acupuncturist and now teaches Tai Chi.
Peg was the beauty. Absolutely gorgeous drop-deal blond. She was also the monster of the baton, winning contests both individually and doubled up with Pat. Our father, Tom, taught them a stage fencing move of tossing the batons to one another, and they won some big tournaments tossing fire batons back and forth, 20-25 feet in the air. Or at least that's what it looked like to me. But Peg was just two years older than me and so there was a rivalry there: It seemed like she was always biting my head or doing other painful things to me. After high school she went to work as a legal secretary and I've got to tell you she was wild on those old IBM Selectrics. She could do better an 125 words a minute mistake free (I think she'd put it at 145) and it was fun just to watch her fly through pages and pages of stuff like a cartoon Olive Oyl. She married her high school sweetheart--and is still with him 40-years later--and they've raised three beautiful daughters who have given them a lot of grandkids. And somewhere along the line in the last 10 years or so, she decided to become an interior designer. Not for fancy apartments, but for things like casinos. And her boss had her doing exterior design as well, architectural renderings for shopping centers with the parking spaces, the gardens and such. And she's been doing a pretty phenomonal job at it.
I came next and you already know too much about me. I suffered juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a kindergardener and spent months in a hospital. I was a trial patient on cortisione in 1956 and that had me up to 162 as an 8 year old. And I somehow made it through the Strong Kids' Club--though I don't think I was ever officially inducted--and wound up someone who liked the underbelly of NY, overdid drugs and alcohol, was a very excellent NYC chef, hitchhiked 50,000 miles, managed to turn a penchant for writing into a living, and fell in love with the Amazon jungle.
Barbara was after me. She was the actress and early writer in our gang. Nicknamed Butterball by the family doctor, she was, like Peg, drop dead gorgeous. And she could make a stone laugh. She'd come to the dinner table and start naming the last names of the kids in her class--we always thought she was making them up--and two minutes later the rest of us had milk coming out of our noses, and Tom would be crying with laughter. And at about 7 she began writing a book, and she'd read pieces of it to us nightly for what seemed like months. What a howler. Even though I was older than her I would listen in amazement and slight jealousy. And then, could she act! When a church group or Rotary club would ask my father to be a guest and do some Shakespeare, he'd sometimes ask Barbara and myself to come along to be his foils. And we'd learn our lines and rehearse and when we got where we were going Barbara would be so damned good, and I would be a nervous nellie. She just became the person, while I was nearly always stuck outside, trying to be the person. She did that through school and it was a wonder to watch her work. And at home, when Mike would invent a play to do for mom and Tom--the most memorable was The Blind Dentist--she was always in the role to a T. A little later, she and my sister Regina, at the suggestion of her boyfriend, now husband of nearly 35-years, Paul Errico, they formed a group with Reg and Barb the lead singers and hot chicks and toured the east coast one year. And she and Paul, a working musician whom many of you probably remember from his work on Steve Forbert albums, wound up with three beautiful kids who are stories of their own.
And then there's baby Regina. She was as lovely as the others but like Pat, Mike and me, a brunette, not a blond. She was someone I just fell in love with. I was just the right age and size to be able to take care of her--at four years older--and so I'd strut her around in the stroller, carry her through the house and so forth. Early on she suffered a trauma when her first grade teacher at St. Mels, a nun, had her do a math problem on the black board. It was probably something like 4 +3, but whatever it was she didn't do it and the teacher sort of snapped. She grabbed Regina's long hair and smacked her head into the slate blackboard, leaving her with a slight skull fracture. Now hitting was okay for teachers in those days, but this was over the line and Tom marched us all down to the convent that night to have us watch him beat the hell out of that woman. While he wasn't a catholic, we all were, and I knew we were going to hell for even going to the convent, much less for punching a nun in the nose, but march we went. I don't think Tom actually hit her but I think he made his point that the group with him were his kids and that if there was any future head knocking to do he'd be the one doing it, not the nuns.
Still, it left a bad taste in Regina's mouth and she didn't much care for school. She didn't even finish high school. She was the only one still living at home when mom got real sick and took care of her more than the rest of us. And she became a waitress and married the guy known as the 'toughest guy in New York', Tom Leonard, and they had little Tommy, whom I used to babysit for.
And then something happened and Big Tom got Regina to go for her GED, high school equivalency diploma and she did, then went on to Hunter College and kept going and got her masters and became a teacher and has twice been voted Teacher of the Year by the other teachers in her school.
So that's a little about us. I wouldn't have changed a thing. And if I get a bit soft when I think about Barbara's birthday, well, that's just who I am. And when some people think it odd that I love having Chepa's new babies around this house, when they're not mine, well, they just don't get that they're still my kids' sisters and they're all supposed to grow up and remember a full household and lots of zany stuff and crazy mealtimes and if I could give it to them the way mom and Tom gave it to us, well, I'll be very surprised but very happy.
Happy Birthday, Barbara! Hope it's a wonderful year for you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Afternoon and the Kids are Sleeping

It's just after 5 PM this fantastic Thursday afternoon and Madeleina is sleeping on the couch behind me, the one I generally sleep on at night. I went to talk to Italo, who'd been doing college homework a little while ago, to discover him fast asleep on one of his open books. And then I went to ask Marco if steak with baked potatoes and broccoli and a salad would be okay for dinner and found him sleeping with his video game control held tightly in his hands.
So all of the kids are sleeping and I am happy. I love seeing them sleep. Somehow it makes me feel they're comfortable: Dad's back from his meeting and now we don't have to be on the lookout. He's the lookout and we're off duty. Or something like that. Anyway, it makes me so satisfied to hear them breathing, like they're kids again and they've finally slowed down enough that you can put them down and know they'll be dreaming.
Bet some of you know what I'm talking about.
But then there's this other thing, which is why I went to talk to Italo to begin with. When Marco came back from wherever he was this afternoon, he came to me and said that Italo had tried to use his bank card to fill his gas tank--Italo's used Marco's car for a couple of days as his old Lincoln is under repair. "Italo tried to use my card to fill the tank even though I had half-a-tank. So now I owe another $35 to the bank for overdraft."
Earlier in the week Marco had been surprised when he discovered his direct deposit check had gone in a day late and he'd used his card 4 times in that day, leaving him owing not just for what he'd bought but for $35 for each over draft use: $140. And now Italo tried to use it, and despite it not working, Marco was charged another $35 for trying to use it.
So there went more than half his weekly paycheck.
I had gone to Italo's room to let him know that you can never use anyone else's card because places like gas stations momentarily charge you $75 or $100 when you swipe it, and if you don't have that, it causes an overdraft charge. You might only buy $5 in gas, but the card reserves the other money just in case you use more.
So here was Italo, trying to be cool and fill the tank with Marco's card--I guess he didn't have any money with him--and it cost Marco $35.
It doesn't seem like much but this is an issue I've been fighting for years now. How the Feds let the banks get away with it I'll never know. But I got interested when I myself was stuck with several overdraft charges by Wells Fargo years ago. I'd run down to near nothing, maybe $90 in the checking account, and then needed to shop for food. I used a few bucks. Then I needed smokes. A few bucks. Then a bottle of wine for me and Chepa, another few bucks. Then animal feed, another few bucks. Then something else, another few bucks. Maybe $60 altogether. And then a check I'd given the water company for $100 went through. I saw it on the computer and silently cursed that a deposit hadn't gone through and knew I'd be nailed for the $33 (at my bank) overdraft for the check. But no, the bank put the check through first, making me overdrawn, then each of the other things went through, each with a charge, so that I was left with six overcharges--$200, plus what I actually spent.
I went to the bank to ask what happened. They clearly and coldly explained that they always put through the largest charge first so that if you were overdrawn you'd be stuck paying the highest possible number of charges. I couldn't believe it. I said, "I made those purchases in one hour this morning. The check didn't arrive at the bank till after working hours. How is it that it went through first?"
"It's how we do it. We put the largest thing through first. So we put the check though first, making you overdrawn, and then we put through the other five charges, not in the order they arrived but in the order of size, and, turns out you owe us $198 for overcharges." The teller, a lovely, beaming young woman smiled as she explained it to me. "It's how we make money," she added.
"But why didn't they go through in the order I paid for things. If that was the case everything would have gone through except the check, and I honestly thought my deposit would cover that."
"Yes, well, your deposit was made at 2:05 PM, and that means it won't register till tomorrow. And, as I said, by putting the biggest charge through first we get a lot, and I mean a lot of overdrafts. And since we're in business to make money, well, I'm sure you understand..."
I understood enough to write the State's Attorney General, who said he'd look into the practice.
Then I wrote a cover story for my weekly about the practice that won prizes statewide. Then I wrote more stories about it.
And it turned out the Attorney General thought it was a fine practice. I forget the exact wording of the note but it was something along the lines of "Tough luck. Bankers need to make money and this is a primary source of it," or somesuch.
And now Marco has fallen prey to it because his company direct deposited his paycheck a couple of hours late so it didn't register till the next day. And for that he loses $200. I don't like it. If I were a banker who knew of this practice I'd fight to change it. It's a practice the mob money lenders would frown on in Brooklyn, New York. It's unfair and just another way to prey on people who live paycheck to paycheck.
Marco went to his company to find out why his money was deposited late and it turned out they'd paid the bank before 1 PM. But the bank's computers were down and so it didn't register till after 2 PM. But there was nothing the company can do about it and the bank's response was: "We're not responsible for getting your money here on time. Sending it at a certain hour doesn't count. It's when we receive it. And if our computers were down, well, we still didn't receive it before 2 PM, and so you just have to live with that. It's not really our problem. Perhaps you shouldn't depend on your direct deposit being credited on time."
I would love a few minutes with the person who told Marco that, and then a few minutes more with his boss and his/her boss and finally the CEO who probably took home several million last year, knowing that much of that bonus was made off overdraft charges manufactured by banking policies that the Feds deem okay but which would embarrass a loan shark.
So I'll explain it to Italo about the card later when he wakes up. And I'll chip in to help Marco ease his pain. In the meanwhile, I'll just revel in knowing they're all sleeping in the late afternoon, tired, beat up, upset, but finally okay. It's a mean world out there, kids. Better you learn it on $200 than some other, even harsher, way.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Afternoon With Madeleina

Well, I had to go to Walmart to send money to Peru today to pay for cabins for my guests on the riverboat we'll use in June. Damn! they've gotten expensive. I spent $300 for them and then paid my man Juan to collect and pay the funds and suddenly I'm $350 in the hole. Next couple of weeks I'll have to pay another $650 to send toilet paper, water, gasoline, kerosene and so forth up the river.
Forget that. Today I picked up Madeleina from school at 3:35. I was 20 minutes late. Caught in an important interview I forgot about her till I looked at the computer clock and realized how late I was.
"Got to go. I've forgotten my daughter. I'll call you tommorow," I told the media rep from the Secretary of State for the US in DC. He understood.
Madeleina got into the car grumpy. "Dad, I had my wig taken yesterday but I got it back today. Can I wear it tomorrow?"
"Of course, baby. Anything to piss the school off. So long as you maintain 90s."
"That's easy, dad. The hard part is keeping on surprising people. But that's the best part. But don't tell me...are we going to Walmart?"
"No. Just Two Bucks to buy a couple of mini Jim Beams..."
"I hate you, dad..."
So I turned up the radio real real loud. So loud you couldn't hear yourself burp, and told her: "If you want to complain about me, now is the time. I can't hear you so say what you want."
She turned the radio off.
"What did you say?"
"I said I wasn't in the mood to hear complaints, so if you want to complain about me, let me turn the radio up full and then complain to your heart's content. How's that?"
"Turn it up, chicken. You don't have the 'you know whats' to hear my complaints, Dad..."
I did and she started screaming. I felt they were insults but fortunately, I couldn't hear a thing as the pounding out of Stairway To Heaven completely drowned her out. Thank goodness.
Some time later she was talking about Indians. I think it was brought up because of one of the 15 books she's currently reading, but I'm not sure since my ears were ringing from my "Drown out your daughter's complaints" experiment.
"So dad, tell me about Indian names. Didn't Indians have secret names? Didn't your dad, my grandpa, who grew up with the Roundhead in Washington and the Sioux in the Dakotas, have a secret name?"
"Yes, baby. Tom (my father) was given the name "He who kills the snake" when he was 14 or so, after his horse got spooked, knocked him off and he accidentally fell on the rattle snake that spooked the horse."
"You mean he didn't actually try to kill the snake? I always thought you said he was brave?"
"He was brave, darling. But in that case he happened to fall on the snake. That doesn't make him not brave, it just makes him lucky, and that's why we have that beautiful Sioux headdress and the rugs and such that they gave him for saving the chief's son."
"But he didn't do anything! He fell off a horse that was spooked and killed a snake! That's nothing!"
"To you. To the chief's son, it was evidently a lot. Better to be lucky than good, they say..."
"What about other Indian names? You have a lot of friends who are not Indians who have Indian names. Were they just lucky too?"
"Hmmmm....Well, I'd say they were...I don't know. Sometimes people just fall in love with something from another culture and want to be part of it. You know what I'm gettin at?"
"You mean they made them up?"
"No. Way too harsh. But let's see...I guess they met an Indian who gave them those names, that's all. Like did you ever notice that people who talk about past lives generally come up with things like: 'I was Nefertiti', or 'I was a Celtic warrior', but rarely come up with, 'I was a garbage man in 14 past lives,' or 'I used to collect the cow dung so the cooks could make chapati,' and so forth?"
"Right. Most people only remember their glorious past lives..."
"Right. But most of the world are worker bees. We collect dung, write stories, do dishes, carry stones...not many people in any society do anything more glamorous than that. Still, most people don't tell you about those past lives. They tell you about when they were Cleopatra.....c'omon, how many people were Cleopatra? I know 12 and there was only one, so at least 11 are full of it. And there are probably ten million more whom I don't know who think they were Cleopatra, but the reality is only one person, at the most, had a past life as that girl. So the rest are faking it, or were given false information."
"So what does that have to do with Indian names?"
"Well, whenever you meet a white person who aspires to be a Native American Indian they almost always tell you that their secret name, given to them by their shaman teacher, is something like 'Vision Seeker,' or 'Strong Buffalo Child,' or 'He who knows the night,' or some such."
"What's wrong with that? Those are beautiful names. I wish I had a name like that. I mean a secret name. Something only you and mom knew..."
"You do."
"I do? I do? I don't believe you! You're lying, you stinking dad! You never told me!"
"Of course you have a secret name. What do you think?"
"I have a secret name? Oh, my god! I can't believe it! I have a secret name!!!! Tell me what it is! I demand of you, my father, tell me what it is!!!"
"You really want to know? You're allowed to ask, now that you're 12, and I'll have to tell you, but I don't know that you shouldn't wait till you're older..."
"No! Tell me now! I have the right! I demand it!!!"
"For sure?"
"Yes! I command you. I have the right, now that I'm 12 years old!!!"
"Potato Legs."
"Potato Legs."
"What are you saying?"
"That's your name. 'Potato Legs. My lovely little potato legs.' That's what your mom called you when you first sucked on her breast in the hospital, so that's your name."
"Oh, my god! Why did she call me that?"
"Because when I carried you from the heat lamp to her breast, you got there and she said your legs looked like little potatoes. That's all."
"But what about the beautiful names? What about 'She who sees the future?' or 'The one who knows?" or names like that?"
"Those are for white people who get initiated. Real Indian names, in my experience, are more like: 'Poops a lot,' or 'crooked toes', or 'hurt coming out', or 'ugly duck'. Those are real Indian names. 'Eagle Eyes' and 'Visionary' are White People's names."
Madeleina started to laugh. "Was there anybody ever named 'bad breath?' or 'crooked teeth'?"
"Probably. Moms tend to name their kids right after their born, and 'wonderful piano player' is sort of made up compared to 'can't tell if you're a boy or girl', as far as names go..."
"Dad, I have to pee. I can't hold it in. You're making me laugh too much. Stop or I'll whack you."
"That's your second secret name, girl: 'She who whacks her dad.'"
"I am so going to get even with you, you can't imagine. I will cut your goatee off when you are sleeping. I will dye your hair white. I will WIN!"
"That's your last private name, Macaroni. 'One not to cross.'"
"Now you're talking, daddy-o. 'One not to cross.' Oh, yeah. Now that's a name. That's a name."
"I don't know, darling. I sort of like 'potato legs' myself.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gonna Get Awfully Quiet Round Here

Well, Chepa and her boyfriend--who came in a couple of days ago--just left for Indiana for a month or two, and they took their kids, Sierra and Alexa, with them. Which means it's gonna get awfully quiet round here for a while. It's been a rollicking madhouse, what with two parties for Madeleina this week--her real birthday with just family and then the bar-b-que on Saturday which was as good as promised. And lots of people showed, so there were cousins and nieces and nephews and my pal Lynn and his family and a couple of friends of Chepa's from Peru. And that was splendid.
But now the little girls are gone and I miss them already. I know they're not mine but I still love them to death and their real dad always seems like an interloper to me. He comes and goes as work permits, takes the kids for a month here and a month there, and I've got no say. Dammit! I sometimes wish I did, because if it was up to me they'd stay right here with Italo and Marco and Madeleina--or at least close enough to stop by to wreak a little mayhem most days.
Don't mean to get weepy on you guys, just saying I'm used to them and that there's something special in being "Mr P Garman!"
On a brighter note, Madeleina broke all school rules when she went to school this morning wearing a hoodie, underneath which was her brand new electric-pink wig. She's probably being lectured as I write this, but what the heck. I just laughed when I saw she'd snuck it into the car.
"Might as well put it on, baby..."
"You're not mad, dad?"
"Of course not. So you're get scolded, but not by me."
"I'm gonna tell them mom was going to give me pink highlights but then she slipped on some water and dumped the whole bucket of pink on my head. Think they'll go for that?"
"Not a chance, but it's a good story."
"Maybe I should say you were painting and dropped the bucket on my head..."
"Just put the wig on and stick with story number one. Dropping a bucket of paint on your head is a little too severe."
"You're right. See you dad. Pick me up at 3:15. Don't be late."
And then off she went, running up the walkway to the school door.
Yes, sir, that's my baby, no sir, don't mean maybe; yes, sir, that's my baby now.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What I Call a Bar-b-Que

Well, well, well. I think I told you all that a couple of weeks ago, because no one was paying me, I threw three grand into the stock market to try to make my mortgage this month. I had a few bucks saved and picked Ford, Pier One, Mclachy newspapers and a company called Visteon.
I spent 2056 or so. Right now I am up nearly $2500. Had to be. The math wasn't hard. Doesn't mean I won't lose it all but I guessed right.
But part of the reason for guessing at the market was because I don't have enough guests for Peru this Summer. Two trips: One with 8 people to the jungle--fine by me--but only five for the mountains, which will lose me $3,000. The second trip I had to cancel and the third trip, just 8 1/2 days for $1200, is far from full. So I'm dying here, financially, and I no longer live in a rent controlled apartment in New York but have a mortgage, water, electric, phone, car insurance and local tax bill. Whew! That's a lot of bills even though I don't use credit cards.
And then there are things like birthdays. We've had two here in the last two weeks, and tomorrow we're having the public birthdays for both Madeleina and Sarah. Which means 5 pounds of angus beef, two pounds of hot links, 10 pounds of chicken, 2 pounds of goat sausage, 10 pounds of pork ribs and 5 pounds of hamburger. I'll cook most of it on the stove or in the oven and let it get finished on the grill, rather than kill it altogether which is what they do in Texas by cooking it for hours on the grill. And we'll have cole slaw, home made, good mac and cheese, homemade, with tomatoes, onions and garlic and 5 cheeses, the potato and egg salad, rice, grilled asparagus with corn nibs and red pepper in a nice vinagrette, spinach/mushroom and bacon salad, warm, and then a nice fresh salad and top it all off with another ice cream cake or somesuch.
We'll also have fresh beans with salt pork, some crawfish tails in brine and garlic bread, roasted peppers and fried ocra.
And if that doesn't make your mouth water, you should have had the homemade ice cream my friend E made yesterday: Strawberry cream so smooth I felt god spackling my stomach with another layer of fat while I ate it.
So if you're in the neighborhood and want to taste a Peruvian Bar-be-que, tomorrow at 4 PM is it.
Just bring a card for Madeleina, who turned 12 yesterday and you're in. We're an open house, after all, so long as you are nice people.
Happy Birthday, Macaroni!
Your completely flawed dad, who loves you fantastically.
Peter G

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Madeleina's Birthday Again

Some of you have been reading this blog for maybe all three years it's been up. If you have then you have heard most of this story before. But still, it's my baby Madeleina's birthday again and I am just a dad in love with her. Not that she's perfect: She stopped being perfect when she learned I wasn't and called me on it. But then I never was....
So last night, just before dinner, while she and I and Sierra were feeding the goats and the Pig and Boots, the Wonderdog, she said, "Tell me the story of me being born again, dad..."
And so I said: "You mom and I were madly in love and we made you from that love..."
"I don't mean the boring parts, dad. I mean the night I was born..."
"Well, I was downstairs in Richter's bar and having a drink with Jerry. We knew she was going to break water soon, but I didn't think she'd do it that night so I said I was going for a drink and she could join me..."
"You suck! Mom was pregnant and you went drinking? What kind of father are you????"
"Um...well...she'd been saying it for a week and I was going crazy..."
"I don't even begin to forgive you but go on."
"Well, around midnight, I was high on Tanqueray gin--I haven't had a drop of that in 10 years, I swear--when mom called the bar saying her water broke."
"Her water broke? Broke? And she was alone?"
"No. She was with Italo and Marco and called me."
"They were 10 years old! How could you?"
"Well, that's just the way it was. And Jerry and Kenny and a couple of others called a cab while I got upstairs and called Chuck to watch Italo and Marco and then got Mom down to the cab and over to Lenox Hill Hospital."
"What about the cheeseburber part? Tell me that part..."
"Well, we got to the hospital and got admitted and then she was in a dark room that was kind of spooky and she was feeling down and they said the doctor would come in a couple of hours--they'd woken him up--and so I asked mom if she wanted a cheeseburger..."
"Dad, nobody asks a woman in labor if they want a cheeseburger! That's insane! You're nuts!"
"Yeah, but she said yes. Maybe just to get rid of me. We could see the crown of your head just beginning to stick out but we were near a taxi driver's dream of a burger place--I stopped there at 76 and Lexington ave 1000 times with my cab--and I knew they could put together a couple of burgers in three minutes. So I raced there, got burgers, then came back."
"What was mom doing?"
"Waiting for the cheese burger and screaming for pain killer. You were starting to come out, see, and I was trying to distract her, or maybe me, with the burgers. And she was mad because I didn't bring a shake. And that was good, because when she yelled at me she forgot the pain for a second..."
"You're not my dad! You're an angel from hell! You left mom to get burgers while I was coming out? How could you???"
"I had to. She was going nuts and I didn't know how to help her. And while she didn't eat the burger, she did have some onion rings."
\ "That is a lie! My mother did not have onion rings while I was coming out! That's a lie!"
"Might have been fries, but we had a good time snacking while we watched your head show up and then the doc finally came and mom was brought into the delivery room and the doc had a couple of bites of the burger and then said: "We'll, I'm drunk so stick your hand in there and pull your baby out. Don't pull the spine, you'll cripple her. Just let her come out naturally..."
"AND I was terrified but stuck my hand into that juicy stuff and put it under your shoulders and let you slide out...."
"He should be in jail! Who was he? Let's sue him!!!?"
"I don't think he was really drunk. I just think that's what they say to get the dads involved. In any event..."
"I know this part. I came out half way, looked straight up at you, opened my eyes and said 'Hep, hep', which you though was "Help, Help" and then you told me that it was too late, that I'd become flesh and couldn't go back to being spirit until my life here was over. How can I believe that if you're the same person who gave mom a cheeseburger while she was in labor?"
"Well, because it's true. You just looked straight up at me, didn't cry, just said 'Help,help, help' and I realized you were suddenly terrified when you realized you'd traded in spirit for flesh but I couldn't undo it and so I just started crying and said 'I can't undo your choice but I'll try to make you see it wasn't a bad one' or something like that."
"THe nurse, the only sane one of the group, must have thought you were nuts talking to a half-born baby that way."
"Probably, but I wasn't thinking of her right then. I was thinking of you and hoping I could be a good father and decent man, that's all."
"And when is that going to start?"
"Wise guy..."
"I'm your daughter, remember? Just like you..."
"I love you, baby. Happy birthday. You're 12 now. One more year and you're a teenager. Wow."
"And one more year or two and you collect social security or whatever that is, old man."
"Ah, baby. Such a wise guy. You'd have done well with the mob in NYC."
"I know, dad. Anybody who was born while their mom was eating a cheeseburger and fries is probably tough."
"You bet."
"Did she have ketchup on those fries?"
"That's not your business till you're 17. Meanwhile, happy birthday, Madeleina. I'm glad you're mine."
"Me too, dad."

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Heaven for an Hour or Two

So I'm broke and got some 20 grand owed me but at least 12 grand of it I'm never gonna get and I'm late with the mortgage and can't figure out where to go with the investigation of a public figure I started two years ago--on a good tip that remains anonymous--snd so you might think it all sucks. But then it was Sarah's birthday yesterday and that was a good time and today Chepa returned from wherever and here are Sierra and Alexa and they're asking for melon and watermelon and apples and watching me make some nice food and Madeleina is still excited about having milked a goat yesterday and the two new goats are fantastic and beautiful, even if slightly timid. And Sierra wanted "Mr. P Garman" to introduce her to them and I did and Alexa was demanding the right to wear a dozen necklaces from Peru and Chepa was stealing bites of food and Italo, sick with the flu, was helping Sarah unload the two dozen plants she bought from her car to go with the two dozen I bought her yesterday and it was just glorious mayhem with kids, goats, pig, dogs, bird, feedings and I'm just the guy who gets to pick 'em all up, feed 'em, love 'em and get thisclose to heaven for an hour now and then.
Thank you, Universe. It's the best.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Sarah's Birthday

Well, it's Italo's girl, Sarah's birthday. Or close enough to it to have a party for her this afternoon. It was going to be a big one until Chepa decided she had to leave town for a few days, taking her babies--and one of her sisters--with her. That cuts out the other sisters and their families, and eliminates my friend Lynn and his family--his wife grew up in part with Chepa in Peru--and leaves Italo, Madeleina, Sarah and I, as Marco is working. But as I've made food for 25, I think I'll be posting a "Free Bar-be-Que" sign on the front lawn just so it doesn't all go to waste. What food, you ask? Good question.
Let's see: For the carnivores there are a few pounds of good steak, a couple of formerly whole chickens, now cut up and marinating, some hot links, and hamburgers. For the people who just want to get fat there is macaroni salad, couple of pans of mac and cheese--which Sarah loves and it's her day--the traditional BBQ Gorman potato and egg salad and a bunch of avocados that will wind up as guacamole. And then beans.
And for the health nuts: Good old salad with romaine, cukes, tomatoes, some walnuts and crumbled blue cheese. And then a nice dish of spinach with red pepper and garlic; plus steamed asparagus in a sauce I haven't thought of yet.
And birthday cake and fireworks and a bottle or two of Jagger--again, Sarah's request--and whatever else we can come up with.
And why is so much of this food ready already, you ask? Good question. It's because we've got a stuck kitchen sink and I don't have the money for the plumber at the moment, and Italo is desperately afraid I'll embarrass us all if I keep pouring water from the sink into the ice chest and then emptying the ice chest out into the back yard as we've been doing for a few weeks. So yes, most of it is made or near made and it's only 9:30 AM with the party not slated till 3 or 4.
Only now there are no people. all falls on Chepa because without her, her sisters don't come.
On the other hand, some of that food will wind up with Boots, the Wonderdog and (the non-meat stuff) with Meat, the pig, and the two new goats (yes, both sackless this time around as I learned my lesson from the Goat From Hell on the last go round) that I am about to pick up in the next town. Yes, Sarah wants them. I hope she'll remember to feed them this time.
And in return for me having to care for damned goats for the foreseeable future, I'm returning the favor by buying her a whole lot of flowers in tiny pots that she'll have to plant around the house.
That ought to work off some of the weight she's about to put on this afternoon.