Foodie Tuesday: American Pizza Party

When company’s coming and it’s not supposed to be a fussy occasion, I’m not going to be one of those hosts slaving in the kitchen and trying to pretend perfection. I would much rather spend my energies on getting edible, uncomplicated food on the table and either being with the guests or, as was the case the other night, getting out of the way of my spouse’s dinner meeting so I could enjoy reading in peace while I ate my own dinner in the other room. The people in attendance at the dinner meeting could talk business and be casual and not concern themselves with etiquette or entertaining me—or I, them—and I could even relax a bit after fixing dinner.

Pizza, in the American style, is an easy choice on such occasions. This time around, I didn’t have any guests requiring any particular dietary care: no gluten-free needs, no vegans, no special religious occasions being observed, and so forth. I didn’t have any unusual worries about any formalities. Simplicity and ease of serving were a bigger deal than being distinguished or fancy in any way, and setting up so the meeting group could take care of their own food and drink once it was served was the obvious solution. Around here, that means being able to eat without utensils if we like, and helping ourselves when we want more. Pizza. Drinks. Fruit and vegetables already cut up and served cold, with a couple of dipping sauces in case anybody wants. Lots of paper towels or serviettes or cloth napkins, whatever’s available.

Did I mention pizza?Photo montage + text: Pizza Party

And while I could fiddle around and make homemade crust, I’m kind of too old and lazy for that anymore. Horrifying, I know. You can shun me. Or you can enjoy making your own pizza crust, or hey, just join in and buy store-bought dough and save yourself a little time. I won’t even judge you if you order delivered, ready-made pizza. I just got in the mood to do my own toppings this time. So that was the only fuss I made. I let the grocery store do all of the fruit and vegetable peeling and cutting and plating in those chintzy little plastic trays, and was quite content. The pre-made pizza dough bought from the refrigerated case at the store was good enough for me, and one of the guys at the meeting even asked me if I had made it, and I didn’t lie. Credit where it’s due.

For the veg, a dip made of blended cottage cheese and whole milk yogurt (equal parts or so) seasoned with dill, thyme, salt, and smoked paprika, and a pinch of cayenne. For the fruits, a sauce of caramel—brown sugar melted in butter, with a pinch of salt, and in place of the usual cream, more yogurt. And a big hit of good quality cinnamon, for this batch. Mixed nuts and individually wrapped candies and chocolates. Cold drinks. Good friends and colleagues, and big ideas floating all around. Satisfying sustenance.Photo: Pizza Buffet

Through the Cracks

Photo: Gears GrindingI wrote this post a few days back, but stuff like this happens with great frequency in this day and age, I think you’ll agree.

How is it that, in this era of hyper-communication, so little information gets transmitted to the right person at the right time? I’m sitting in the doctor’s waiting room contemplating this, not sure if I’ll get in for a simple annual eye exam that’s a couple of years overdue, because last time I came in this doctor’s office, had supposedly been sent the required referral but it wasn’t in my file. Today, same story. I confirmed my appointment with a person in this office, who assured me that the referral had arrived, over a month ago—yet now it’s “not in my file.”

I got here immediately after listening to my spouse go through an incredibly convoluted and tedious rigamarole on the speaker phone to pay a bill for an account that had long been operating smoothly with automatic payments on the exact same credit card, only to learn that the bank that issued the card (despite owing us on its account at this moment) had refused payment on it. All of the numbers and dates were correct and no reason given for the refusal. So my patient partner had to re-register the very same card for the very same auto-pay system, and because there’s a 30-day wait for such registrations to be confirmed, he also had to make the present payment individually. Even the poor billing department employee walking him through the transaction was so confused by and even embarrassed at the silliness of the mess and how many long pauses on hold it took to unravel it all that he kept trying to make small talk to pass the time before it was resolved.

Meanwhile, at various other points in my quotidian wanderings, I frequently watch bosses make decrees that they would know were impossible to enact or enforce if they only asked the underlings who are expected to perform them. I regularly see parents and children, housemates, siblings, spouses, and others talk at cross (sometimes very cross indeed) purposes, all the while with the deeply held belief that they are offering great wisdom and well-planned solutions, yet never quite hearing each other or considering that the person with whom they should be conversing may have already solved the problem in hand. And I have watched employee-representative committees without number at work when they have neither consulted the employees they supposedly represent for their input, nor told them what is being negotiated, how, why, or with whom.

Anybody else feel like you’re sitting right outside the Cone of Silence from Science Fiction Theater? It’s as though I can see gears turning and mouths moving and messages of obvious importance flying back and forth, but can’t see the text of the communiques, let alone read lips or minds.

I sit and wait. I get agitated and then frustrated. I get so irked and itchy that I have to hunt for clues and try to set things on what I hope will be a clearer and better path. And just when I think I’m getting my pulse back down to a practical pace, the documentation I sent out at yet another company’s request six weeks ago magically disappears into the ether, presumably now sandwiched between the pages of somebody else’s documentation in the middle of their file. I’d ask the company to email or phone me when they locate my materials, but I’m pretty sure that if the message to do so doesn’t also disappear in the meantime, he who took the message will have retired by then and the new guy won’t know what was requested and will pass on the request to yet another trainee, who will in turn bury it in another wrong file for later discovery by a random office cleaner. I’d promise to let you all know how it turns out, but I’ll probably forget, anyhow.

At least I can tell you that after one more phone call today, my doctor’s office did agree to fax the ophthalmologist a repeat of my appointment referral, so I got to visit the eye doctor after all and get my eyeglass prescription updated. Until I get those new lenses, though, I can’t be certain I’ll be able to keep an eye on the prescription slip. So disappears another useful piece of data, drifting through the cracks of the information highway.Photo: Geared Up

Industrious

My nature is just about the polar opposite of industrious. If there were a way to recline and remain immobile and mentally inactive without being in a completely vegetative state while still getting through daily life, I would probably have discovered it by now, but I manage to keep alarmingly close to it in spite of all urgings toward better things.
Photo: Skansen Factory

I have tremendous curiosity about and admiration of those who are, conversely, hard workers and the wonderful machinery that represents and supports them in their labors. But I have never progressed far beyond the stage of admiring these ‘rude mechanicals‘—human and otherwise—in the abstract. To me, they remain alien and magically artistic yet quite incomprehensible. Only when contemplated in the stopped state required for rest, repair, and refueling do they even register in my mind as real.
Photo: Red Engine

I will always admire and be immensely grateful for those people who do the work of the world, who keep it chugging on all cylinders and, indeed, invent and craft the machinery that does the chugging. I could not enjoy this life of privileged repose and ignorant ennui if it weren’t for being carried by the very machinations of these titans. I bow at their feet in humble gratitude and respect.
Photo: Vintage Helicopter

And while I’m down here curtseying, I notice that the floor looks quite comfortable and inviting indeed. If you should need me later, come back and look for me where I’ve stretched out on the rug in a slackly indolent heap. Don’t make too much noise, though, for I may be dreaming happy dreams of gears turning, flywheels whirring, and motors purring, and it would be a shame to interrupt them with actual action.

10 Terrible Words that Shouldn’t Exist in Any Language

Digital text-illustration: 10 Terrible WordsOne person who hates is a Weapon of Mass Destruction. One who cares and shares? Perhaps the only antidote.

As I recently said to my friend Maryam: poverty—both of concrete, material resources like food and shelter, and of intellectual and ephemeral resources (education, spiritual enrichment, the arts, community engagement, etc)—seems to me to be perpetrated and perpetuated more by selfishness than by an actual shortage of any of those resources. The rich and powerful always want more riches and power, and what they do have makes them able to afford and acquire more and to keep their feet firmly on the backs of the have-nots. Plenty is never enough. The resulting imbalance is as old as history, and rotten as ever. Only those who will speak up and resist entrenched inequities and injustices will have any hope of making change.Photo montage: Wolverine & Badger

The badger and the wolverine have a reputation for being among the most tenaciously savage brutes of all the mammals. Yeah, Honey Badger even has his own meme to show for it. But let’s be honest: no beast of earth, air, or sea has a capacity for vile, rapacious cruelty rivaling that of the human animal. Even creatures of the natural enmity of predator and prey compete, fight, kill, and are sated. They have little apparent ideation of hatred and war to match people’s. A wolverine or badger will fight to defend, or to kill for food, but unlike the human, doesn’t seem inclined to attack indiscriminately outside of its primal needs for safety, shelter, and food; when the skirmish is done as efficiently as possible and the need assuaged, the sharpest of tooth and reddest of claw among them doesn’t do an end-zone dance to celebrate its pleasure in winning but will usually depart the scene or go to rest for the next time of need. The remaining food and shelter and other resources stay in place for whatever creature comes next, hunter or hunted, cousin or not.

Can we humans not learn from such a thing? I’m pretty sure that if we destroy each other and ourselves in our constant self-righteous, self-congratulatory belief that we deserve everything we can get our hands on, Honey Badger won’t be the only creature that doesn’t care.

Be Very Afraid. If You Really Like that Sort of Thing.

I have neither the knowhow nor the tangible resources for filmmaking, but if I did, I think my concept of the perfect horror movie subject would be the infamous occasion of Black Friday. As we Americans approach the national holiday I like the most of them all, Thanksgiving, I think with a shudder that Black Friday’s grim shadow lurks just behind it.
For if I have a tender feeling for the holiday that not only marks the anniversary of my first date with my soon-thereafter life partner and makes me immensely thankful for that gift but also marks the national celebration of gratitude in general, I have an almost antithetical feeling about the retail frenzy that follows it. The former only throws the latter into higher, less flattering relief.

I love shopping, don’t get me wrong, but I hate being told how and when to do it, and what or whom for, and to what magnificent extents. I dislike being so easily manipulated by commercial ploys and plugs as it is, and the stink of desperation mixed with hyperbolic greed on Black Friday becomes overwhelmingly off-putting to me.

Digital illustration

What makes us turn into beasts when we get a whiff of the hunt? When a crazy sale is advertised, do I become predator or prey? Or should I just pray?!

There are obviously large numbers of people who are not only comfortable with the event but energized and entertained by the spectacle and Olympian scaled enthusiasm packed into the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza. I wish them all happiness and success in it. For myself, the greatest pleasure will derive from managing as successfully as I can to not even know it’s happening and staying immersed in the afterglow of my most overtly grateful time of year. Accomplishing that will be yet another reason for me to give thanks.
If I need any diversions during my quiet hideout from Black Friday, I can always work on a script for a rollicking thriller film with plenty of retail rowdiness and gruesome greed. Coming soon to a theatre near you!

Dirty Jobs, but Never Done Dirt Cheap

The world is truly full of overlooked and underpaid laborers.
Photo: Housekeeping Cart

This is a story as old as human community, and yet it’s notable how little it’s changed. The ugliest, dirtiest, the most physically demanding and unpleasant tasks, the ones that no one in his or her right mind would usually choose to do, let alone without any recognition or reasonable pay, these jobs don’t cease to exist because nobody likes them. They simply get done by people who have no other choice. And do we thank them for it? Do we give them public honor and paychecks commensurate with the knowledge and patience and back-breaking effort and yes, specialized skills that are required of them?

You know the answer. In this country, we spend more time and energy on vilifying the working poor as nuisances and a weight around the necks of their higher-taxpaying richer neighbors, at best. At worst, we accuse them of criminality, many of coming into the country illegally—which they may well have done—to snatch bread from the very lips of our own better educated and better protected children through their stealing jobs from the local citizenry. Which, of course, they rarely do, considering that neither we nor said children are willing and able to do without the jobs that the working poor do for us, let alone perform those tasks ourselves. Never mind that those we abhor for daring to come across the nation’s borders unseen are doing precisely what the vast majority of our own ancestors did, and out of the same desperation for survival, but now with the additional barrier of laws designed more out of fear and hatred than out of specific plans to better the safety and welfare of any of the parties involved.

If immigrants could remotely afford the risky business of taking a national day of “working poor flu,” the way that unionized workers go on strike or recognized organizations march in protest, just imagine what that day would look like across the United States. I don’t begin to think that there’s an easy solution to the problems of regulating this country, protecting individuals and the nation from the very real danger of criminal activity and the bane of individualism gone rogue. The latter being, in my opinion, a far larger risk to the rest of us from among native-born citizens who take their American privileges as the right to do as they please, even by force and against US governmental “interference” with their personal sovereignty. But I can’t believe that the draconian and targeted proposals many suggest these days are the right solution, either.

Let our internal renegades, our legal complainants against immigrants, and all foes of the “lazy” or “problematic” working poor themselves take up the labor and care required to ensure that every one of their fellow Americans has enough food to eat, education to navigate life and progress beyond restrictive ignorance, health care to prevent the spread of diseases and unnecessary pain or early death, and a safe, clean place to sleep without fear of exposure to the elements, destruction of their environment, or unfriendly intruders. Then I might start thinking we can narrow the gates to allow in only primly approved new neighbors able to contribute equally to the cause. Or would anybody out there like to see what happens on that imagined Flu Day, when all of the orderlies, cooks, construction workers, landscape maintenance crews, sanitation workers, child- and elder-caregivers, and all of their fellow underpaid workers lay down their tools and lie down on the job for even 24 hours?

I surely don’t know the solution to any, let alone all, of the problems that roll up into this one massive puzzle we have sitting on our doorstep. But I know that I will try to do better at giving proper respect and thanks, and a hand up when possible, to anyone who does what I can’t or won’t do myself. My life depends upon it.