Monday, June 11, 2018

But it is an innate feeling, something intuitive, something that would be with you always.

As you got older it begins to fit better.  You no longer find the need to look for reasons.  And the old reasons of earlier times, times when you might have expected a normal happy life in keeping with appearances, fade with increasing rapidity and duration.  You see when you think of the old girlfriend of should have would have and could have you know now, you know better, it's not going to last, having lost the desire, seen clearly the nature of reality, seen the nature of your own moods...

Time, time passing, aging, the things that come to pass concerning family, these do the job of bending down your shoulders in a pensive way as you go about your errands.  And all such things are only the match for the way you are.

In your maturity, one just gets comfortable.  You can begin to appreciate the quiet.  You regain the understanding toward your own qualities of mood as that which is the savor of the salt of the earth.  It becomes a comfort, a reflection of a better understanding of self.  And you can really start to live without envy, without wanting the things of other people's lives.

We are as unique into each other as all the wide variety of plants and animals of all the earth.  Our similarity is always there, being in God's image, and susceptible to God's laws of nature and the spirit.  But one life of the human being is vastly different from any man-made pattern or cultural style, vastly different from the Madison Avenue-generated catalog of happy endeavors, of shining attractiveness.  Those are all insufficient, the sexy images of advertising culture, of selling the being of God what she nor he needs.  (Catholicism can only attempt to keep up with such, to have energy equal to the negations of humanity.)  To expect one to be, to appear, "normal" by such a standard is too much to impose upon the natural health of a person living appropriately to humble divine image.

There is always that, not knowing what to write, not knowing what to say, not knowing where to even begin, for the writer.  No writer is immune from this potentially depressing condition, and grows into understanding it.  The writer, great or not, is not as bound to the mental realm of dualistic thinking, beyond masculine or feminine, beyond success or failure, good and bad, taking from the Buddha in this endeavor.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Father's Day

You know...

My father figured out how to be an educator.  He fell into it perfectly.  And even had the G.I. Bill.

He ended up having a long great career, teaching many people.  Just out of his DNA, who he was.


I hope I have the DNA in me, to find some way to be a teacher like he.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

It would always take to the end of the Chef's visit for the main body of reserve be dropped for a moment.  The visit with open with the joy of his return and the promise of a glass of wine, the activity of friends joining him.  "Mister Ted..."  And in the last five minters, as I have the privilege of being behind the bar to keep him company over a last Stella before he heads to Dulles Airport, our bond is eternal and timeless thing.  He shows me pictures of his farm, the vineyard, the cork trees, the farmhouse, low like an Irish cottage but with tile rather than thatch for a roof, some interior renovations.  He encourages me to download WhatsApp, as he, after Cambridge Analytica, no longer on Facebook.  The two ladies I work with, approach me while he is there at this last visit to his bar, and they are insistent about me seeing something of the new computer system, the Jazz Night menu.  "Come on, really?" I say, standing up for myself once.  "Look, I pick up the slack for all the other bartenders...  Just please leave me be so I can enjoy the Chef's company for his last five minutes..."  The solid shorter one, "Ted, do you remember that book I gave you, yes, The Tools..."  "Yes, I know, Alina, face your fears as if they were a cloud... I know, but I just want to hang and talk to Bruno.."

And then the older one, into a reiki like energy exercise thing from Japan, in her bovine sweetness drags me over to the screen, and I go, yeah, yeah, appetizer, entree, yeah, I think I get it...

And then with a hug, let us know if we can do anything to help (you with your mom)... and with an obvious respect for what I do, even if I am silly and foolish and temperamental at times, placing me on solid ground, as long as I wish, he departs and it has been a good visit, though I missed the early part of it visiting with mom.

The night of hearing of Bourdain's death, tired from going out into Georgetown the night before with an old girlfriend who is doing well now, walking, too much pollen, I put a shirt and pants on and go by Bistrot Du Coin around 12:30 at night.  I imagine there will be a gathering of chefs, and the guys worked for the DC Les Halles, and knew the man.  But even though they are supposed to serve dinner from a late night menu until one, the woman hostess tells me, sorry we are closed.  Okay.  There is one guy at the bar, and he is paying his check, and the stools are up on the table already.  And I am feeling very sad.

I walk down the avenue, past a homeless guy I sometimes nod to--he is vaping smoke, and smiling and I say hi, how you doing, man.  Back home in the apartment on the quiet street, I have a pack of ground lamb that will expire in a couple of days.  I pour myself a glass of wine and set to making a ground lamb version of Navarin,  given what I have in the kitchen, onion, beef stock, red wine, frozen peas, tomato sauce and paste, zucchini and squash, and rosemary and thyme and bay leaf plucked on my little sad walk back along R Street in the quietness of night, only one pedestrian passing as I climb the little cobblestone hill of 22nd.

Grease rises as I brown the lamb, but I make my headway through the improvised recipe in the order Martha Stewart gives me over my iPhone, and I hope for the best, bringing it to a splattering boil there in the green Crueset dutch oven, and then letting it simmer away as I drink a bit of Beaujolais, finding Anthony Bourdain On-Demand, in the Basque Country, and in Uruguay, and I cannot believe he is gone, and that his voice will utter no more, and no more of the fresh tales that always soothed me and interested me and were a pat on the back for what I do, both as a barman in a French Bistrot, and, and maybe more importantly, as an honorable attempted writing guy trying to prove his liberal arts education did not go to total waste.

It is a rug pulled out, from underneath many, I'm sure.

The writer has a private life.  There's  no way around that.   There has to be time for work.  And perhaps sometimes his work is largely to understand himself, to understand, why, why write, what's the point.

Friday, June 8, 2018

He was the odd combination, a literary man in the professional kitchen, at home with reading George Orwell, and in his writing on the order of literary criticism, along with getting out of his creative shell to talk, up close and personal, sharing ribald jokes with all walks of kitchen life.  He made thoughtful television that never failed to draw interest and attention and a satisfaction found in few places beyond Ken Burns.  His hybrid quality speak of our times, when talent and intelligence must take unconventional paths to find comfort in a life of hardship, for times when the innate character of the human being does not fit into the jobs the new economy provides.

He figured out the template, that of the classic writer, a person reflective and inward looking out, being out in the world with adventure.  He did it better than all of us, with far greater courage and willingness for the weariness of travel and risk and adventure...   Food and writing, dining and travel, in a considered and thoughtful fashion, written down and recorded as close to the actual experience you could get.  (None could blame him from a shift, in degrees, from writing to television;  he still wrote his own show.)

One in the restaurant business might have observed, that the ingrained experience of the stresses of each shift he had done as chef might have eventually made those other kinds of stresses, of travel and lonely hotel rooms, as ordinary, eventually toothless, a cause for humor, grist for the mill at least once one had a drink in front of him.  He must, and probably out of habit, put up with a lot of stresses, all along.  Restaurant people, nor anyone else for that matter, don't like to admit that the stress can catch up with you.

He, in his travels and culinary adventure, combined the literary, the thoughtful, with all the wonderful and immediate experience that everyone who's ever worked in a restaurant might know, the joy of good dining.

But so deep and fair to walks of life, an adept at cutting through bullshit, with a critical eye toward popular culture, broad as Dostoevsky (think about that) in his vision if not in literary verbosity, that, inevitably, deep down in the gut, one began to worry about him.  Tolstoy embraced the whole, and he hid his guns from himself.  Bourdain was never lacking when finding words to understand a culture, an encounter, a dinner with fellow beings and chefs and their families.

And as with the great Russians who walked in life, it is not too difficult to place Bourdain's work under the same overarching sense, really, of faith, into which all things fit in, the kind of thing we see in The Brothers Karamazov, or the grounding of the endurance behind Notes From the Dead House.  Bourdain might have placed his faith, conversationally, in other things, too snarky, and a New York realist without time for such things, to personally admit any religiosity, as might happen with the cynicism that enables fame.  Yet, he was an embracer of the Old School, wherever he might find it.  At least to this writer and his own peculiar perspective, too sensitive to long push it upon others in any insistent way, a believer in us all getting along, and keeping the dreamy silliness of his own faith private, more or less.

The man was well-read, in a liberal arts way, while having the courage to enter Culinary Institute of America after a year or so at Vassar.  He could reference Conrad and the classics, Fellini, a whole body of culture quite beyond that of American popular tradition.  He was a being endowed with all the characters of literature.

If he had such grace and kindness and hospitality, all of in on visceral level, a friend to so many, one had to wonder,  where did it come from, out of what deep pocket of private hell did he then grow above, making a phoenix out of the ashes of the previous.   What had he seen, what darkness did he come out of, to forget, that he had good will ambassador friendship for all people in all situations.

And one knew it himself intimately.  The need for quiet, for obscurity, for a walk in the woods while going to work to exorcise the demons, and then, even miserable, then setting up, getting everything in the bar ready to go, and then, after a staff meal, writing down the specials for the night on a little pad of handcut paper that fit in the breast pocket of your boring Brooks Brothers clean shirt which had been carefully folded in a legal pad notepad on the way to work on a bicycle, next to a ballpoint Parker Jotter pen.  What was darkness and drudgery and a sense of absolute uselessness, of rolling the heavy stone up toward the top of the long steep hill and then it rolling back down again and again, no retirement fund, and health insurance going up, and with each year a new need to do better... The stone will be pushed up toward the hill again.  All that became the most marvelous vessel of true hospitality, humor, candor, charisma... The basis of a way to read people, to get them, to interact, all of which brought a deep joy and a sense of well-being, a sense of no small accomplishment toward insuring peace would continue to reign in the world of good will and in there with present understanding and enactment of the great Tocquevillian Democracy of elbows and words rubbed in bars.

So much of what he said...  so true, so balanced, so relevant, so valid.

One of the days before I knew, I made a tea of muddled lime, sea salt, turmeric, and when I stirred the cup, as green tea steeped, the perfect yin and yang, the perfect image of the swirl of the universe in my cup.   And seeing that, one can only know that all in the great balance, good and bad, positive and evil, left and right, positive and negative, clockwise, counterclockwise, moon, sun, night day, drunk or sober, male female, mom, son, dad, daughter, brother, sister, intellectual, workman, all comes to some balance, and that is the only way I can now understand all that has been very positive, and helpful, a model, a way forward, even as he himself took  great risk of the jump into candid uncertainty and a new kind of being in the weeds, there would be an end, and the end has come to reckoning for this man, Anthony Bourdain.

"I've had a lot of good friends for a week," he said, speaking of his travels, as remembered now by Bill Buford on CNN's tribute that night.  That is the restaurant business itself, he would have known.  People pass through, and you are the spiritual as well as the physical messenger of the best friendliness has to offer. there at the center of the act of dining.  Many were his friends, but as great as friendship as he was, one wonders of his way of doing things, did he really have a match, a close intimate friend to reach mutually in good company beyond the frills of good blue cheese and port, of local rabbit stew and ramps, local wines....

Always first with the good spirit.  And now he has left this world without any of us really ever getting good interview of all his science, all his science fiction.  What a character, what a man.  He left us with a final answer.

Which is that no one can ever know another person.  All we can do is try.


Of course one had hoped he'd come to DC.  He'd sit at my bar briefly, have provencal vegetable soup, crusty boneless pigs feet, sweetbreads, veal cheeks, cassoulet, a good glass of Burgundy, an Isle Flottante for dessert.  He'd note that I too had some honorable literary attempt.  And I would reply that early work, just not focussed enough on what counts, tales of work.   We would have tasted a Pinot from the Loire.  A Languedoc, a Marcillac, a Madiran, a Morgon, a Clos des Mouches, a Bouche du Rhone iconoclastic red..

The report on him, and how he might have acted the last few days of his life.  Going beyond Thursday dinner, not showing up...  "He'd put everything into the shoot...  And then he'd go back to his room and isolate himself."  On an exhausting schedule, and, probably, too good a sport about it, too much susceptible to having a drink then, when he arrived.

And there was also what he had written earlier, or said in interview, or perhaps on his show (see, his natural skill, coming out of his being a real person), about even working as hard as he did, executive chef of Les Halles in New York, he was in debt, could not pay for health insurance, that when he was in the time of writing the mass of work that because Kitchen Confidential, first seen as an article in The New Yorker, he was a very worried person as far as normal concerns of rent, etc.

It could be argued that this form of life, a reader stuck in--imagine--a kitchen in New York City, was a perfect background for the pace of his television work, works of endurance, ease, personal pain, energy, exhaustion.
It's been a month, and I get on my bike and ride down there, down past M Street, past the construction site, then left onto the bike lane on L, up the couple blocks to 19th, take the U-lock off the mountain bike's handlebars, lock the yellow bike, take the helmet off and into my blue courier bag, across the street, in through the lobby to the elevator, up to the Fifth Floor.

Yeah, so I bring her up to date with my visit to my mom, the doctor appointment, the driver's license renewal, etc..  The clock ticks, I talk along with some form of purpose, an inventory of work and travel, the way things stand.

About thirty five minutes on, I'm talking about what might have been the plan, as they call it, what I wanted to achieve, where was I headed, subliminally or not.  So I mumble, leaning back on the beige couch looking up toward the ceiling then out the window to the left, back at her in her chair, her white shoes, pink nail polish.  She's still paying off student loans.  You do what's doable.  They don't effect your credit rating the way other stuff does...

The plan was to work a job, sort of like Melville, Conrad, Twain...  And then use that as the basis for writing...  An iceberg of experience.

But then come along all those talented writers who sit down and write and are so immediately good that they get published and receive acclaim.  Philip Roth, I bring him up, and also how I've outgrown Goodbye, Columbus to some extent.

You had a plan.  She says.  And it didn't work out the way you might have hoped.

You're petrified of making any sort of change...

Jesus, Buddha, they failed first time around.

The week goes on.  The night is very intense, very busy, straight running from six on, til midnight.  It is hard on the mood, a long day...  A friend takes me out to an art opening down in Georgetown...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

In the night, after staying in all day, and being completely unproductive, but for a nice texting conversation with a new Tinder hopeful, I try to read Roth, early Roth.  I peer into the early pages of Portnoy's Complaint.  The outstanding virtuosity, the humor, the gift of words, and the ability to present an alter-ego to explore the inquiry with sufficient candor...  Chapter Two, Whacking Off...  Bold.  More than a passing reference.

I get tired of it.  I switch back to Goodbye, Columbus, and that too begins to bore me quickly.  Maybe, like Roth himself admitted in recent years, one outgrows...

It's a scary time in my career, life in general.  In need of relaxation.  My own healthy physical Central European male reaction to imagery of women of all ages enjoying the hobby of anal sexual response. I take my time.  There is precedence in Kundera's work.

There is the new computer system to worry over, and also the late dinner facing the barman, the boss, a birthday party in the back room...  The last party, the last night in town.

Aside from the practice of checking on one's own health, a good idea at age 53, to make sure everything still works, I'm not urged to chronicle a fictional life in the way Roth, the master, has.  Another message keeps stealing in, that to be pleased, one must put aside, as in Luke, his life in order to gain it, to give up on his own selfishness and all the immature impulses...

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Philip Roth:
"Why is it that when they talk about the facts they feel they're on more solid ground than when they talk about the fiction? The truth is that the facts are much more refractory and unmanageable and inconclusive, and can actually kill the very sort of inquiry that imagination opens up."
--from THE FACTS: A Novelist's Autobiography (1988)

So, even without divulging too much of my own life, and its embarrassments, in this venue, I have stuck far too much to the solidity of facts rather than the for the openings of fiction, and so have I, as Mr. Roth observes, limited the scope of writing.  Compelled to be reserved by such a public venue, originally intended as a field of literary criticism and that sort of thing, I've written about things that influence, that move, that effect the life of the mind, such as it is.

But no Roth am I.  

The inquiry I should have aimed for would have been freer, and fictional, and I've been too conservative for that.  I tried to allow for a kind of work to emerge without trying to shape it too much, to let it come forth.  And now I cannot make heads or tails of it, and I am tired of the set-up of its little tales.  Hospitality is in all of us, in the best of us, but one needs a job and the ability to make a living corresponding to where he lives, a career.