May 14, 2004
Philadelphia, here I come, off to get my semi-annual haircut, go to Reading Terminal Market, drink wine and eat cheese and watch hours of cooking shows with my mom, and celebrate a belated Mother’s Day with said mom and a belated birthday with my brother, who turned 26 on May 9. I love my mom and my brother so much I could write encyclopedias about them both, but because I have to leave for my train in 10 minutes, I only have time for one little brag on how smart my brother is.
How smart is my brother?
When I was 21, I worked in the special sales department at Viking Penguin. Special Sales sells to any account that is not a bookstore, library or school. We’re talking mail order catalogues, corporate gift buyers, non-book specialty retailers, wholesalers, jobbers and public broadcasting (PBS) stations. Selling to PBS was my favorite part of the job, and thus it was not long before my boss decided to let me handle all of the PBS sales. One day I received a call from the PBS station in Scranton, PA, one of the few channels which broadcasted to my little redneck mountain town, from which I had escaped just months before. I told the buyer that I was actually a member of her station, having just come from the area, and we had a nice little chat.
I don’t remember relating this story to my mother, but I must have, because the following Sunday night I made my regular Sunday night phone call home, at which point Mom said, “Your brother wants to talk to you.” (Brother was 11 at the time.) I heard the telltale receiver handover noises, followed by my brother’s excited little voice. “Jenny! Guess what! Mom and I were watching Mystery, and they broke for a pledge break, and they said if you sent them money they would send you books, and they said ‘we want to thank these new members…and we want to give special thanks to one of our members, Jennifer Mathis [this would be your Bakerina’s maiden name] at Viking Penguin in New York City, who helped us get our books on time!”
Dear friends, in those days I was not the experienced media whore that I am today, so even a mention on the Scranton public tv station’s pledge drive was a really big deal for me. I was thrilled at the thought of my name being read on the air; I was touched that the buyer remembered me; and I hoped that all the kids who were mean to me in high school were watching Mystery that night (answer: not bloody likely). “Why, honey!,” I said to my sweet baby brother, “you’re kidding me!”
His excited little voice dropped down an octave, all excitement gone, replaced by a giggling snort. “Yeah,” he said. “I am.”
I know I proceeded to have a real conversation with him, followed by a conversation with my mom, but I remember none of it. All I could remember, all I can still remember to this day, was thinking, “I’m 21 goddamn years old, living in goddamn New York City, and I just got swanked by a fifth-grader.”
Posted by Bakerina
at 05:56 PM in valentines
Hello, poetry lovers,
In the face of unrelenting bad news, I decided to take some aid and comfort in poetry, specifically in the poems of Tibullus (55-19 BC), my favorite Roman poet, introduced to me by Kendall Hailey in The Day I Became An Autodidact (a swell book, unfortunately out of print). Tibullus is known for his love poems, particularly those written to the faithless mistress who torments him, but his war poems are every bit as impassioned and lyrical. I share Ms. Hailey’s admiration of anyone who stood up to be counted as a pacifist in an age when there was a god of war. The penultimate stanza is especially poignant to me, a nice antidote to Cato’s advice to ”make her afraid of you.”
Off to Philadelphia for the weekend, dear friends, but I may try to visit one more time, LuthorCorp permitting.
Who first introduced the terrible sword?
What a brute he was, truly a brute-steel-hearted man!
From then on murder was hereditary in man, and war was born,
The shorter way was opened to the terror of death.
Or is the man innocent, to be pitied rather, we being the ones
Who turn what he designed against wild beasts to our own misfortunes?
This is surely the fault of precious gold; there were no wars,
When the cup that stood ready for the feast was made of beechwood.
There were no strongholds then, no pales; the shepherd looked for sleep
Among his piebald flocks in peace of mind.
If I had lived in those days, I would not have known the crowd’s desperate weapons,
Or heard with quivering heart the trumpet-call.
But as it is I’m pulled off to war, and some enemy soldier perhaps has on his back
Spears that are destined to come to rest in my side.
Preserve me, gods of my father’s house: it was you that fed me before,
When as a green young boy I used to race around your feet.
Feel no shame to be made from ancient tree-stumps:
You inhabited my ancestor’s house in such a form.
They kept better faith in those days, when with inexpensive ceremony
The gods of wood stood in their tiny shrine.
The were appeased enough by the first fruits of a bunch of grapes;
Or the dedication of a wreath of bearded wheat-ears.
A man whose prayer was answered brought his barley-cakes
And at his heels his small daughter brought an untouched honeycomb.
So drive the javelins away from me you family gods,
And you, my country piglet picked from the full sty for the sacrifice;
Behind you I shall follow in a clean robe carrying baskets
Twined with myrtle, with myrtle round my own head too.
This is the way I would find favour with you; another can be brave in war,
And wafted by Mars lay low the chieftains of the enemy,
And then return from the war and tell me his story over a drink,
Sketching the camp in wine on the table top.
How mad – actually to fetch black Death to the battle!
He hangs over us as it is and creeps up on us with silent tread.
There are no crops below, no vineyards – only aggressive
Cerberus, and the ugly boatman of the Stygian stream;
There with gouged cheeks and charred hair
The ghost-white crowd swirls by the darkened lakes.
How much more laudable to get your family
And let old age creep over you in your cottage.
The master follows his sheep, his son the lambs,
His wife prepares warm water for him when he’s tired.
That’s the life for me – to let my head get steadily whiter,
And as an old man call to mind the actions of the past.
And meanwhile Peace shall farm my fields. Fair Peace in the beginning
Led oxen under the curving yoke to plough;
Peace dunged the vines and stored the grape-juice
For the father’s jar to pour wine out to the son;
In Peace the fork and ploughshare shine; in a dark corner
Rust seizes on the tough soldier’s unsmiling arms;
And out of the grove the countryman, not a little drunk,
Drives home his wife and progeny in the cart.
Then the war of love grows warm, a woman’s hair is torn,
Her door is broken in, and she grows plaintive;
Bruised on her tender cheeks she sheds tears; while the victor sobs too
That his crazy hands should have been so violent;
And Cupid, the mischief-maker, feeds the quarrel with insults,
And sits inflexibly between the angry couple.
How stony-hearted, how iron-hard to beat one’s girl;
Such a man dethrones the gods in heaven.
Enough to rip the thin garment from her body,
And ruin the elaborate structure of her hair,
Enough to call out her tears; and four times happy
The man who brings his gentle girl to weep by sulking.
But to be physically rough – he ought to be wearing the shield and stakes
And put a long long distance between himself and Venus.
But as for me, kind Peace, come and possess my ears of wheat,
And from your white bosom overflow with fruit.
Posted by Bakerina
at 12:18 PM in
May 12, 2004
Consider this: a Sunday morning in Astoria, a bit of a chill in the air but still your basic springlike day. In the breadbox on top of the fridge is half a loaf of stale brioche, no longer fit for sandwiches but still usable for bread pudding. Hey! Bread pudding! We’ll have bread pudding for breakfast! I love bread pudding, not only because making it is easier than falling asleep on a cool spring night, but also because you can make it as lean or as rich as you’d like. You can add eggs, subtract eggs, use whole milk, lowfat milk, cream; you can add sugar, honey, maple syrup, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, or eschew the sweets entirely and make a savory pudding. Whatever you pick, it is easy to make, it is soothing and satisfying to eat, and it makes your kitchen smell like a million bucks. Hmm, I thought. Maple pecan.
I turned on the oven. I buttered a baking dish. I cubed the brioche and laid it in the dish. I sprinkled pecans and sultanas over the bread. I took down my trusty Waring Blendor, plugged it in, loaded it up with milk and grade-B maple syrup (grade-B is stronger and more maple-flavored, definitely what you want here) and five eggs. Turned on the blender, the blender of choice of bartenders everywhere, supposedly the only blender one will ever need to buy. Watched first in surprise, then in curiosity, then in horror as the motor made a horrible grinding sign and the kitchen was suddenly filled with smoke and the smell of burning rubber. Apparently the fan belt has given up the ghost. I am able to decant everything into the Cuisinart and proceed as normally, but it is too late. The kitchen should be smelling of maple and pecan, but instead it smells like an industrial nightmare. The eventual bread pudding is indeed lovely, gently sweet, warming without being overfilling, but for me it is too late. Every bite tastes like the cost of a replacement fan belt.
Consider this, part II: Another Sunday morning in Astoria, the first warm muggy Sunday morning of 2004. Lloyd turns on the air conditioner. A horrible grinding noise is heard.
Posted by Bakerina
at 11:08 PM in
May 11, 2004
May 10, 2004
Actually, that’s a lie. Or, rather, it’s not a lie, but my ego making a promise my soul can’t keep. I blather a lot about what children my fellow New Yorkers can be; that we give this image of hardboiled toughness and a willingness to roll with the punches, and while that may be true when it counts (e.g the World Trade Center attacks, last summer’s blackout), when the stakes are lower we are a city of short-tempered six-year-olds, stamping our feet and shrieking when we don’t get our own way. I say this as though I am any better than anyone else, when, really, I’m as guilty as the guy sitting in the bench across from me on the W train, splaying his legs wide as tiny women, young and old, scrunch in and give up their personal space so that this peacock display can take place. I get impatient when I am in the checkout line at Key Food, behind some 200-year-old woman who insists that to not honor her expired-in-2001 coupon for 25 cents off the price of Nescafe would be an act of Communism, and then insists on paying her total in dimes. I have even been known to get a little mouthy with a security guard at the Virgin Megastore who insisted on stopping Lloyd and going through his backpack while ignoring the guy who really *did* have DVD’s stashed under his jacket (the guy made it out, too). I take people to task for shooting their mouths off and taking everything too personally, even as I shoot my own mouth off, convinced that it’s all a big bloody conspiracy against me.
So, no, I will complain again, and plenty, but not today. Today I will give it a rest because this morning I paid a visit to I could have been a contender and read about how Billy’s daughter Steph spent her Sunday. She is shaken but unhurt (thank the fates). Billy is understandably furious. I am a confluence of shaky-hand, racing-heart emotions: full of fury at the thought of some bastard pulling a gun on this sweet young woman; full of impatience with her employer for only now deciding to put in closed-circuit cameras (the phrase “locking the barn doors after the horses have escaped” springs to mind); full of love and wishes for Billy and Carolyn, who faced a parent’s worst nightmare square in the face. Most of all, I am relieved that it did not end in a much uglier, more horrible way, the stuff of our worst fears about our children. At the same time, I am angry for that relief. What does it say about us as a society when we have to take comfort from the notion that the worst thing that could have happened didn’t happen?