Friendship

My Not-So-Bitchin’ Camaro

Today, my friends, I am going to tell you another story of my near escapes from Death. That winged reaper has danced a scintillating tango with me since I was a child, coming close, so close, but never quite touching. I’ve already written about one of these times, in my near miss through strep throat. Here’s another memory.

My 1979 Camaro Berlinetta was not my first car. That honor went to the 1943 Volkswagen Bug that I had used, abused, and ultimately, well, blew up. With the death of that little German War Machine (ah, to be a stupid punk teenager and not realize the implications and power of names), I had decided I wanted something newer, but still affordable for the shoestring budget of an odd-job working teenager. I also wanted something cooler, and as the Dead Milkmen would be happy to endorse, fewer things are cooler than a bitchin’ Camaro.

Alas, this Camaro was more rustin’ than bitchin’, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that the power windows were broken. That the AC was broken. That the heater was stuck on permanent full blast. That the interior of the car was stripped of everything, including insulation, down to bare metal. That the tires were all bald as hell, and the whole care rust brown. From actual rust, not paint. No, what I cared about was speed – and boy, let me tell you, that Camaro could fly. Even if you did had to open the doors at every stoplight to keep from getting heatstroke in the summer. I drove that Camaro for a good year, despite its scrap-heapitude, and you know? It was fun. Fast and loud and broken, which fit my punker/thug reputation.

The second summer I had it, my best friend and I landed a shit job working at a tree farm in the mountains of Colorado. Our job was pretty simple – we arrived at the farm, and took the trees that were dug up already, wrapped their roots in burlap, and loaded them on a flatbed for delivery. We were usually the only ones on site – the migrant workers who dug up the trees did so early (to beat any heat of the day) and our boss usually showed up at the end of the week to verify the count of trees we’d bagged and give us cash for our paycheck. Anyway, it was late May, almost June. We got up to the tree farm around nine in the morning, and the weather was fucking gorgeous. T-shirts and shorts weather, the way a day in late May should be. We were a bit miserable to say the least – the work pretty much required jeans and flannel shirts, so we were hot and not happy about it. We got to work, bullshitting about this and that. Then around one in the afternoon, the temperature dropped a good 20-30 degrees in minutes.

This put me on edge, instantly. My car was not ready for winter conditions. Basically, a death trap sled in car form. I turned to my buddy and said, “Dude, if it starts snowing, I am off this fucking mountain.” He bitched because he wanted to wait for the boss to show up with our pay, and I told him he was welcome to wait in the snow, but I would be getting off that mountain. He agreed, reluctantly. We kept bagging for a half hour, when this big, fat snowflake came drifting down between us.

“Seeya!” I said, and got up and went to my car. My buddy followed, jumped in, and we made our way down the dirt road to the mountain highway that would take us back to the city at the base of the mountain.

It took us about five minutes to get to the road. In that time, around 4-5″ of snow had already fallen. It was crazy how hard it was coming down; the windshield wipers on the not-so-bitchin’ Camaro were almost worthless. Every time they’d swipe one direction, enough snow would fall that the back swing would build it up against the base of the windshield, and the wipers would become worthless in minutes. So every few hundred yards, I’d have to stop and get out, clear the snow from the backswing, and keep going. To make it even more fun, the roads were getting slicker and slicker, so that it was a bit like driving on the ice level of Mario cart. Except on a mountain, with no little helper in a balloon/cloud with a crane to help drag you back on track. To make it even more fun, the freakin’ heater? The one stuck permanently on that turned my car into an Easy Bake Berlinetta for the previous year? It gave out as soon as we hit the paved road.

So there we are, slipping and sliding in my deathtrap Camaro down the mountain, and after a few wild fishtails I finally get the car to stop so I can clean off the windshield again. I was sick of getting out of the car, and had resolved to fuck with the heater controls to see if I could get it to work, so I told my buddy it was his turn to get out and clear the windshield while I did so. He obliged, opening his door and stepping out of the car. Except he didn’t get out. Instead, he slammed the door, and began scrambling over me as if he had opened the door to a prison shower scene and he was dressed in clothes with pedophile written all over them. He was screaming and in a blind panic, clawing at my door handle, and he opened it, causing us both to tumble out. I started yelling at him, asking what the fuck his problem was. He was whiter than the falling snow, catching his breath. Finally, he grabs my hand, and escorts me gingerly around to the front of the car.

Now, I know this is the internet and people are prone to exaggerate here, but I am telling you the honest-to-God truth:  my car had stopped a scant few inches from the edge of a 200+ foot drop into a gorge. When my buddy opened the door to step out, he literally put his foot into empty air, had looked down, and nearly passed out before scrambling over me, screaming like a little girl. I was instantly struck by a wave of dizziness myself. My buddy refused to get back in the car. He said he’d rather freeze to death. I wasn’t so anxious either, but I didn’t want to try to hike my way off a mountain during a freak blizzard. Thankfully, a big rig truck came down the highway as we were debating what to do, and the trucker gave us a lift down the mountain.

My dad and I went back up a week later, when the snow had cleared, to get the car. A plow had pushed it even closer to the edge, enough so that my dad didn’t even want to attempt to drive it, since it still had some ice underneath. We hooked a tow chain to the front, pulled it free, and I drove it home.

And traded it in that week on a newer, less death-trappy car.

Where Runs the Warhorse

Where runs the warhorse when his time has come?
When his barding’s gone and his reins retired,
When sounds the beating of a different drum
Than the ones of war, that had once inspired
His gallant service to a noble knight,
With whom he galloped to honor, glory,
In deeds of skill, chivalry and might,
Inspiring many a young man’s story
Of bravery, mastery, battles fought,
And many a lass’s dreams and song
Of ancient days when true knights sought
To prove their mettle with courage strong?
To Elysian fields, where the sweet grass grows,
To await his knight, when the Trumpet blows.

This weekend, the valiant steed of a dear friend, the knight to whom I am squired, passed on to the Elysian fields. I am not a horseman, myself, being massively allergic to those noble beasts, but I know too well how strong the bond between man and his animal friends can be. Fare thee well, Luke, and be ready for your next ride.

Recipe time again! Eggplant Parmesan…

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I love to cook. It’s something that has been ingrained in me since I was a child; my family cooks, together, in one big flurry of food, song, and wine. Lots of food. Lots of song. Lots and lots of wine. ;)

Because of this, my friends have gotten to where they love coming to my place for dinner. About once every week or two, I’ll have everyone over to try out something I’ve been in the mood for. A couple months back, it was Eggplant Parmesan. And though they are usually up for my experiments in culinary delights (cauliflower crust pizza? super popular!), several of my friends balked openly at eggplant.

“I don’t like eggplant, Mark,” one of my female friends said, “I won’t like it. I’ll try it, but don’t be offended when I hate it.”

I made the following recipe for her and the entire crew. It went over really, really well. Last week, she sent me an email for the recipe. She had already bought most the ingredients. She signed it thus:

“Thank you! And damn you, Mark, for making me a liar! I’ve been craving this for weeks…”

So here it is. It’s simple to cook, uses easy ingredients, and is very tasty. Let me know if you make it, and how it turns out!

Mark’s Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients:
1 Eggplant
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Marinara Sauce of your choice
Sea Salt
Minced Garlic
Italian seasonings
Pepper
Pepperoni (if you want to add meat to the dish)
Italian breadcrumbs (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400.

Slice the eggplant into fairly thin medallions. I prefer about 1/8″, but you could go to a quarter inch if you wanted.

If you have a silicon brush, brush the eggplant slices with olive oil. If not, you may want to dip them in a shallow pan with olive oil in it before frying. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings to your preference.

Heat up a frying pan or skillet to a medium-medium high heat. Add in enough olive oil to coat the pan. Put in the garlic, and start letting it saute. Once it starts to smell really good, start laying eggplant slices on top.

After a bit (and when the garlic to the sides starts turning brown), flip the eggplant. Saute them for a bit, then remove them and place them on a greased cookie sheet. Spoon a dollop of marinara on each medallion, add pepperoni, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and then Parmesan cheese. If you’d like, sprinkle Italian breadcrumbs on top.

Put in the oven, bake until the cheese is bubbly and melty.

Pull out, cool for a few minutes, then enjoy!

Feeling bruised, sore, and joyous…

I have mentioned here before that one of my odd hobbies is the practice of medieval combat. Last night, I was invited to a demonstration of our fighting skills for a large group of Cub Scouts, as the culmination of a week-long camp with a theme of knights and chivalry. It was a long demo; I was in clad in 85 pounds of steel and leather and chain for just over three hours total. By the end, I was roasting hot. Imagine, if you will the number of layers I had on. An under shirt, a padded gambeson (basically a medium weight winter coat), a layer of chainmaille, a layer of thick, saddle strength leather, and then a layer of steel atop it all. Then, imagine that you are wearing this in the summer time. In Georgia. That said, I am still, even now, many hours later, riding the high of yesterday’s fighting.

 There is a deep, indescribable joy at the feeling of being hit during a good fight. I know that sounds ridiculous, especially to someone who has never tried it, but it’s true. Not that the stuff leading up to it isn’t thrilling on its own; wearing armour, on its own, has a unique ability to make one feel utterly invincible, even when you are very aware you aren’t. Still, when you are standing there, clad in steel and/or leather, cloth, even plastic, you somehow feel stronger. Better. Capable. And the combat itself is, in a word, astounding. To be able to swing a weapon, be it a sword made of steel or a glorified piece of grass pretending to be one, with force of arm and strength of purpose, is indeed a glorious thing. And it is also a glorious thing to see one’s opponent fall beneath the blow, to feel it strike hard and true and watch them tumble in acknowledgement of the skill of your shot. Winning is definitely fun.

 But there is also a strange joy in losing combat as well. There is so much tension on the field; not a bad tension, but tension all the same. A complex, intricate dance of emotions, thoughts, instincts. Flinches, dodges, feints, blocks. All of these building to a sharp anticipation of what will happen next, who will falter, how will they fall? And then, bam! You are struck. Hard. In a moment, all that tension and anticipation is relieved, and you are free to fall, to relax the muscles you had tensed before that fatal moment and to let yourself crash, protected, to the waiting earth below. It is, at the risk of making it sound more awkward than it actually is, almost orgasmic. Every bit of you that was moments before straining is released, relaxed, and done. And sure, you lost that fight…but you lost it to someone you like. We only ever fight as friends, and it is joyous when a friend succeeds, even when it is a success against you.

 Sure, there is sometimes a sting to that loss. Perhaps you realize, as you crash in a thunder of steel and chain, that you could have blocked that shot if you had turned this way or that. And sometimes that sting is more literal; a pretty little bruise where your friend’s clean blow landed unhindered in a spot you didn’t have armour. But it is a good sting in either case, like the good ache of a loose tooth you cannot help but wiggle. And the wincing gasp a day later when you find that spot again? Perhaps it is different for you, but for me, once the momentary sting is gone…it too, is joyous.

 A reminder of a fight that was honorably fought, joyful to participate in, and lost with dignity.

A Sonnet for a Sweet Friend

Dreams are the starships of the mind,
Unrestrained by the laws of life,
Where we can search, and better, find,
A chance escape from pain and strife
Around, perchance, some distant star
Where wonders blend with sweet desire,
Where all we need is near, not far,
And we are that which we aspire.
So dream, sweet friend, and find your heart
Eased by the visions that you see
In that strange place, a world apart
From here and now, from you and me,
But pray, return, with hope to share
Your dreams will always wait you there.

A tiny bit of awesome in a stressful day…

There are times where stress makes it hard to write. This week has been filled with them, as I’m sure my previous posts have indicated. That said, sometimes it is tiny things that can make a day so much brighter, that can inspire us to do something more. I had one happen today that I want to share, but first, a little back story.

I want to tell you about my siblings. Unlike a lot siblings (or at least, unlike the siblings of most people I know), my brother and sisters and I are all incredibly close. We text each other at least once a week, call at least once a month, email regularly, and try to see each other every few months whenever possible, despite the distance between us. We love each other, but more than that, we like each other. We legitimately enjoy one another’s company. We spend such times with food and wine and song and it’s really an amazing thing.

So this morning, things started rough. I was in a rather grumpy mood, when suddenly, my phone buzzed. Then a second one. Then a third.  I checked it, and it was my siblings. My brother had sent out a group text, a simple “I love you guys”.  My sisters responded in kind. I couldn’t resist, I texted back “Eh. I think you’re alright.”

Everyone responded back with a laugh, and then I posted, more seriously, a small paragraph about my appreciation for being not just close with, but best friends with my siblings.

My brother responded with “That’s my brother, the writer.”

His brother. The writer.

Thanks bro. I needed that.

Sorry for the melancholy…

Yesterday, clearly, I was in a bit of a melancholy mood. I don’t get into these often, but I have had a stressful past couple of days. I do have some excellent friends, all of whom did their best to try and distract and relieve as many of those stresses as they could, and for that, I am truly grateful. And yes, that includes you, my friends here who wrote me or commented to make sure all was well. It is. Pains of the past can sometimes flare and remind us of where we stumbled, but eventually, they too fade into the obscurity of willfully ignored memories.

Today, alas, has had stresses of its own. I sent my step-son (I use the term only for clarification here; in everyday life, he’s my boy and I’m his daddy) to go spend the next three weeks with his biological father. A man who never calls, never writes. Sees him once a year at best. A man who escaped by water-muddying and shit-flinging a prison sentence for something horrible, but for which I have no doubts he is guilty. And damn, was that hard. I love him…he’s my littlest boy, whether he was spawned from my genes or not, and knowing that he didn’t really want to go made it that much harder. When he climbed into said douchebag’s parent’s vehicle, he yelled out, “I’ll miss you daddy! I can’t wait to come home and play with you!”

The feels, man…the feels. My eyes water even just typing this.

But things will be ok. I’m going to spend some time over the next couple of weekends helping my wife clean and redecorate his room. I’m going to draw a mural on his wall, with him as a character amongst all of his favorite super-heroes and friends. We’ll paint it all up, and have that for him to come home to. I’m going to finally fix his home computer, so he can play his favorite PBS Kids games.

And I’m going to miss the hell out of him.

Can’t wait till you come home and play with me too, buddy.

Four past midnight, but I’ve so much to say…

…and no will to say it.

It was a day of mixed emotions. Some very wonderful things happened, some, utterly draining.

The one I return to over and over is a relationship, long broken, that I can’t seem to let go of. I think, really, its because the breaking was not my fault.

Because I can accept when that happens. For all my good bits, I can be an asshole sometimes. I can become driven and focused and lose sight of the needs of others. I know this, I recognize it as one of my flaws. In the past, this has caused friction and sometimes, yes, broken relationships that I valued.

I own that. I do. I know that those moments were absolutely my fault and I accept the responsibility for creating them. And yes, I’m sorry I did.

This one is different.

This one is one broken not by my direct actions, but by the whisperings and wheedling of another.

And I don’t know what makes it worse – that this person continues to do their best to destroy my ability to enjoy things I love that they have NO other interest in otherwise?

Or that the relationship they managed to break was able to be broken by such things in the first place.

Alas, I know the real problem, in the end…is me.

I shouldn’t put people on so high of pedestals.

Good night, Bloglandia.

I have grown weary of this day.

An unexpectedly hectic day yesterday…

Another day where I didn’t get to meet my writing goals has passed, alas! Work was crazy busy yesterday morning, and though I did get a chance to make a few comments on some of my favorite blogs, I kept getting pulled away by people who actually expected me to work for my pay. Ingrates! ;)

Then, I got word that we were throwing an impromptu birthday party for a friend last night. At our house. And oh, she requested that I make Chicken Bastiano.

What’s that, you ask?

Ah, how glad I am you asked! ;)

Chicken Bastiano is a recipe I invented a few years back, when I had a bunch of ingredients and no idea what to make for dinner. The Bastiano part comes from a silly place – I’ve mentioned before my medieval pursuits, and within my silly club about clubbing friends, we pick a “persona” to focus our learning interests on. Mine is a 14th Century Spaniard. Well, Italian/Spaniard – there’s a story there that I may go into later. For now, the important thing is that I research my costume and armour based off of what was popular in Spain and Italy of that time period. So when I was inventing this recipe, which was a blend of Italian and Spanish flavors, the name game naturally. ;) It’s very similar to a chicken cacciatore; diced tomatoes, cubed chicken, quartered artichoke hearts, sauted onions and garlic, italian herbs, and a few more spices with a bit of a kick from some green chiles. The whole thing is simmered together, and then served over noodles (I prefer rotinni) and covered in shaved Parmesan.

At the risk of sounding immodest, it’s delish!

It is also the favorite meal of most of my friends. For example, I texted one of last night’s guests to see if she and her husband would be attending the shindig. She asked what I was making. I said Chicken Bastiano. She texted back “OH HELL YES!!!!”

Ha!

The problem is, we ended up with a guest list of 25 people or so. And me, with a house that was a bit of a mess, and a lot of food to cook. I made the call, took the afternoon off, and went home to prep. All I have to say is thank god for teenagers – or as they felt like yesterday, built in slave labor. ;) The kids did an awesome job of tidying the house while I went shopping and, just shy of a hundred dollars later, came home with enough stuff to feed a small army. I got to work.

Cooking began at 3:00. Tomatoes, spices, artichoke, and green chiles into my large stainless stock pot and on the stove. My electric skillet, heated, got butter and a touch of olive oil. Garlic and onions, minced and sauted, then into the pot. Next, a dozen boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed and seasoned and into the skillet. Water set to boil for the four boxes of noodles. Spices added, chicken finished, added to the stock pot. Everything simmered together till the flavors start to blend. And before I know it, it’s 7:00, the food is just finishing, and the guests are arriving.

It was a great night. Lots of laughter, lots of talking, lots of eating. My huge stock pot, full of Chicken Bastiano? Just enough left in the end to fill a small ziploc container. All the noodles gone. All three gallons of sweet tea, gone. Both gallons of kool-aid, gone. All the garlic bread, gone. All my evening? Gone! ;)

All my guests, full, and happy. The last of them filtered out near midnight.

And the birthday girl? She had a wonderful night, and we were so glad to have hosted it for her.

It was worth skipping writing for.