Saturday, November 12, 2011

what is your favorite food?

I'm a pretty adventurous eater.  I like all kinds of cuisines, and I'm always game to try something new.  I especially love the theatre of fine dining.   I love caviar.  I love oysters. "Let's try the selection of cheeses."  And I always leave room for dessert. If lobster is on the menu, you can set your watch by the fact that I'll order it.  Or seriously consider ordering it.  I have expensive tastes (of all kinds but that's for another posting) which I have to keep in check, if only for the sake of my bank account.

Almost two decades ago, when HE and I began living together, it was in a place where you didn't need much money, and that was a good thing because much we didn't have.  We lived on one full-time salary.  Mine.  And a not-for-profit one at that.  But on Friday nights, at the end of a long week we'd splurge and buy a bottle of champagne (not the the most expensive but certainly not the cheapest) and order in a pizza.  We were treating ourselves.  For me, it was a perfect meal, made even more so because we were together.

The years pass. The zip codes change. We travelled across the country in one car with one dog and since then our little family has known four cars and loved five dogs, expanding to two at a time.  We went from one salary to two salaries.  We went from renting apartments to owning houses.  And now we find ourselves back to living on one full-time salary.  His.   

But odds are, and just think of the number of Friday nights after all these years, if we do find ourselves at home this is the menu: a decent bottle of champagne (or some such beverage) and a large, well-done, pepperoni pizza. 

The truth of the matter is I can easily put away half of a large pie by myself.  This may come as a surprise to some.  For my 40th birthday all I wanted to do was go out to a movie and get dinner at the new, hot, chic restaurant devoted to pizza owned by celebrity chefs where reservations at a civilized dining hour had to be made weeks in advance.  The pizza was rustic yet elegant; the menu just the kind of menu that 21st century foodies and food critics and magazines and cooking and travel shows go crazy for.  It was a terrific night, but at the end of the day it's not the kind of pizza I crave.

The pizza I crave is made with NYC water; short of that, I look for pizzerias that make a pie that gets as close as it can to tasting like it comes from the old neighborhood.   But it's not just about the way it tastes.  There's something about pizza that lives in a place deep inside me where there are no words.  Something in the combination of sauce and cheese and oregano and garlic, that when I take a bite of the crust takes me back to the slices I would buy with my lunch money.  Back to 4th grade when we were allowed to go out for lunch once a week.  Out for lunch!  Beyond the schoolyard fence!   Unsupervised!  4th grade!  Unthinkable today, right?  What a sense of freedom!  A pack of cubs.  Loud, joking and teasing -- falling over each other.  "Can I get a slice and a coke?"  They always seemed ready for us as we came in and took over the store.  Unleashed on the world all on our own with money in our pocket, if for only an hour.  And back in time for SRA reading in the afternoon. 

Within every slice of pizza is a little piece of home.  A little piece of the time when we were young and out in the world, and when the world felt, in a way, almost too big for us.  And yet, there we were.  And it tasted so good.

The perfect ending for this story would be that the pizzeria is still there.  But it's not.  I went searching for it on the internet and found out that it went out of business in 1990.  In 4th grade you went searching for answers in Encyclopedia Britannica and a pie cost $3.25.  Ahhh...the Internet.  The place where you have to come up with endless answers to endless security questions.  So you can buy books. Or shoes. Or pay bills.  Or reconnect with old friends. Or make dinner reservations.  Or look for a job.  Or have a blog.  So now you understand why the question I'll never choose is: "What is your favorite food?"  The answer is obvious.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

not a (blogging) virgin anymore

This time last year an event occurred which only now am I able to see how transformational it was to my life.  That event's name was Cleo.  I first heard about Cleo via a voicemail message from my husband that I retrieved during the intermission of a play reading I was attending. HE: "Um...honey, if you have a second could you give me a call, I have a quick question."  It was an odd sounding message from my husband, especially on a Friday night when by this time he would have been already asleep having endured another brutal week at work. I immediately call him. ME: "What's up? Every thing all right?"   HE: "Do you know anyone in the neighborhood who has a basset hound?" "No. Why?"  "Because there's one in our living room and she has no collar and she looks like she's had a litter of pups."  "How did she end up in our living room?"  "The doorbell rang, and there were these people there -- they heard our dogs barking -- and they thought maybe she was ours or we'd know who she belonged to.  They found her wandering on our street."  "Where are Fanny and Lucy?" "Locked in the bathroom. I tried to give her some food, but she wouldn't take it.  She's a pretty cool dog, though.  Are you coming home?"  "It's only intermission... do you need me to come home right now...?"  " long will you be...?"  And so, after the play reading was finished I came home.  And we fed her.  And got our dogs to calm down.  We figured she'd been dumped; or perhaps, she'd had enough and escaped from wherever it was she'd been living. We took her to the vet the next day and there was no microchip. We put up signs and posted on craigslist.  HE named her Cleo (something about a regal profile, something about a barge).  She seemed to like it.  She seemed to like us.  We were falling hard and fast.  And no one came forward to claim her.  But I was out of a job, and while I had some free time to spend supervising our brood, the idea of Cleo as a permanent member of our family was not a possibility.  So I began the process of finding someone to take her.  After a few missteps, I found a fantastic rescue organization who agreed to help us place this beautiful, big girl.  We offered to foster her until they found the right family for her, but they already had a couple in mind.  Cleo sounded like the perfect fit for them.  Our holiday gift for 2010 turned out to be that the family was travelling during the holidays and so we would have her until New Year's.

I was not surprised by how emotional I was at having to let Cleo go.  She defined the first several weeks of my unemployment.  She was a project I could focus on while going through all the emotions that come with looking for work.  During the time I spent with her, she revealed herself to be smart, stubborn, possessing a sense of humor, charmingly aggressive, beautiful, aloof and yet loving.  Having her in my space was a grounding force. 

What surprised me was how part of her never left, though the crate and bed we bought for her are gone. Our rescued, pint-sized terrier Fanny, the one who bonded immediately with her, now eats out of her basset-sized bowl. And I've got my spot on the couch back.  HE and I talk about her often.  Sometimes we reminisce about funny things we experienced with her.  Sometimes we imagine what it would be like if she was living with us today.  Always, we laugh.  When I turned the calendar in the kitchen (where we also have Cleo's "wanted poster" that we posted around our neighborhood hanging like a souvenir) from October to November, I realized that a year had gone by.  And that so many things had changed. And that I was as happy as I had ever been. I am the luckiest girl on the planet in the love department.  The job situation was looking up.  I committed to that rescue organization that had been so supportive of me, becoming a  volunteer interacting with owners who need to surrender their hounds.  And I, who am obsessed with other people's stories and the ways in which they tell them, discovered during this month when I realized that it had been one year since Cleo came into my life, that I, too, have a story.  A story that is meaningful and worth telling.

I had been wandering.  Looking for someone to take me in.  And I did.  And here I am.