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That Time of Year

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J sits across from me with concern, desperation and regret passing across his big mug like semaphore flags on a sunny day.  He's not hiding a thing, which assumes that he ever could. J is the proverbial open book.  "I have more to offer and since I'm about to be fifty I figure I need to move forward with whatever opportunities are out there. I mean opportunities here. I'm not looking to go elsewhere."  J's voice is a booming bass that echoes in this high ceilinged echo chamber of a room tagged onto the end of the Communications building like a silo attached to a barn.  J has the sort of voice that lends itself to singing Johnny Cash tunes at Karaoke bars, which is exactly what he does for fun with his wife on their days off. I hear they do a spot on version of "Jackson". I'm all for J getting ahead, and yeah, he could contribute. Maybe.  Trouble is, nearly every time he's been put in a position of responsibility beyond supervising a couple guys on a shift, he's fallen apart.  But this time it'll be different he tells me. This time he'll be ready, more prepared. Sure J - we'll get you more training and the next time something comes up that looks good, you throw your hat in the ring and we'll see what happens.

It's yearly employee review time and I am spending my days listening to all manner of stories, both guarded and completely open, about people's lives at work. People I work with every day. It's not my favorite time. Everyone wants something and no one likes to hear why they can't have it.  Or at least some of it. Some of these people are pains in the ass who need to grow up, shut up and just work. Others just put their heads down and grind through the every day. And a very few, take it as a challenge and point of pride to do their work above and beyond anyone's expectations including their own.  The thing is, I'm doing these reviews and handing out these raises with virtually no guidance or direction from my boss. He's trusting me to get things right with the staff. A staff of about 70 people. It's daunting if I think about it too much, but then I realize that I'm the one manager that has the most exposure to all of these folks, so actually I am the best one to do the evaluating.  Doesn't mean I'm wholly comfortable with it though. Not by a long shot.

Signal from Radio Free Albemuth
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I'm a big fan of Ryer's and it's not for the obvious reasons - he's an artist that works in as many mediums as he can get his hands on, a quality I've always been attracted to in artists I like. Also, despite his love for and obsession with trains, he is willing and interested in exploring most any subject to bash his art against. I've collected art for a long time and besides being attracted to multi-medium artists, I like collecting pieces that represent an artist working outside of their box i.e. a printer creating oil paintings or a potter creating tapestries - that sort of thing. I've known Ryer for many years now and he's always had a talent, but in recent years that talent has started to grow into that undefinable something that helps him create wonderful work in whatever medium he turns his hand to. As I said, I've collected art for decades, and I've always followed the cardinal rule of art collection which is don't buy for an investment, buy what you like. and I have a favorite print of Darth Vader grilling burgers with a light saber to prove it. I also like Ryer's work and that little monsters are calling to me so take my money, boy! Here! Take it!

Guy was a pretentious, arrogant prick who captured the proto-punk zeitgeist of the 60's and 70's and rode that wave to the bitter end. Every pierced-up, no talent, two chord thrasher pissing on authority, writing shitty poetry and playing gigs in urine soaked basement clubs owe this guy a blood debt. My favorite record from him was "Metal Machine Music" - a double disc "fuck you" to his fans,his label and anyone else who didn't get it. Perfect.

Puttering around the house, writing, laundry, writing, dishes, writing, and putting off turning in my bottle/can deposits at the store...

Iron Butterfly providing the soundtrack to this Sunday groove. "Metamorphosis" is a little known, highly under rated album that followed the group's monster hit "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" by a few years. This record is a very tasty mix of vocal and guitars all wrapped up in a psychedelic blues burrito of rock. "Easy Rider" is probably my favorite tune if only because I think it should have been a bigger biker anthem than "Born to Be Wild" - it has everything- chugging rhythm section, amazing guitar licks, growling gumbo vocals and outstanding in your face lyrics. IMO - a great little gem of a record that sounds even better cranked up to 10.

Way to sneak back into it Bosox.

Fall light slanting in through my windows with that special golden glow suffusing my darkened office and this hovering in the air.....

A picture of Hellen Keller with her beloved cat, "Mittens".


I am going to Hell.

Yeah - don't feel so superior - I know you laughed too. So here, share a seat with me on the bullet train to The Lake of Fire...

Yeah I'd really like another beer but my ancient cat, Siam has found a comfy place to nap and I don't have the heart to disturb him. A small price to pay.

A lot of the point of Japanese food is subtlety. Today we are serving udon noodles with winter vegetables and beef at Hope Dining - it's hard to keep things subtle when you prepare 400 servings of miso broth and udon, but we're Americans and sublety isn't usually our strong suit.
Here's a clip from my all time favorite food movie, Tampopo. In this scene we see the Japanese version of the Heimlich maneuver. Let this stand as a warning to the dangers of over eating noodle soup.

Happy birthday to the great Jon Anderson...

Check out my sweet new wine glasses I got at work today.

This is true. I've walked by Secret Service like this, carrying a 200 pan and shouting "Behind!" for extra effect.

You can have your marathons, mudders and fun runs...running with the bulls takes REAL fortitude and bravery...:D

My Halloween season film fest continues with "Cold Fish"
Crazy creepy gory fun. If cold blooded murder, dismemberment and violent insanity is your thing then this one's for you. Bring mops and sponges for the clean up.
I give it 4 bad dreams out of 5.
Waiting for you now in the stream at Netflix.

Dog just posted this great recipe on Pinterest...

Oh yes...

What a delightful interview. A pair of brothers who brought a huge load of love and light into the world. If only their were more, just like them.

So flipping through the channels I get stuck for five minutes on a 60 minutes expose of "leadership PACS" used by members of congress to feather their nests and create generational wealth. Rage welled up from nowhere so I quickly dashed off a rant e-mail to my rep, Bill Huisenga and switched the TV to Netflix. I shall watch American Horror Story (how apropos) and drink beer while waiting for the Secret Service to knock on my door...

This amazing piece of Epic brought to you by my friend Janis of Tanuki.

Fall commute in Michigan...

Dressed for success...

Churrasco beef with chimichurri sauce - Lunch today! Phelps Dining Hall, Hope College

My co-worker and office mate Mimi Lixey left work at 5 today(early for foodservice folks) being chauffeured by our boss, BobV to the hospital in Grand Rapids so she could have her baby. About two hours later Baby Boy Lixey arrived! Congratulations to the Lixeys on the new addition!
BTW - Mimi, are you coming in early tomorrow to finish up the staffing schedules or are you taking the morning off? Just checking...

We really need those schedules ASAP.

And you have a couple interviews to do tomorrow, also.

Just sayin'...

Yes is finally being inducted into the Rock n Roll hall of fame. As a life long fan I'm so pleased. In their prime they were a mesmerizing live experience. I hope they have enough room on the stage at the ceremony for everyone that's been in the band over the years. And I hope we see the return of the amazing Jon Anderson to the fold.

So I'm custodian of Zoe's goldfish while she's away at school. His name is "Gordo", which is Spanish slang for "fat". Which he is - in his own charming goldfish way. Anyway, I've never cleaned his tank solo before and tonight was the first time. I housed him in a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup while I rinsed and scrubbed his tank squeaky clean. I really got into it, letting my OCD take control of the situation. When everything was perfect and sterilized, I turned to the measuring cup to retrieve Gordo only he..wasn't..there. Oh. My. God. Where is he! He's a frickin' goldfish! What? Did he up and decide to take a stroll? A frantic few seconds and I find him wallowing around in the kitchen sink about to flipflop himself into the drain screen. I grab him and toss him unceremoniously into his tank with a quick look around to make sure no one saw this shameful episode. Good. No one around. Whew!

Great points and good overview of the unintended consequences of streaming music. Myself, I've always felt an obligation to throw money at artists I like and even extra dough to the ones I fan. I suss out new music by keeping my ear to the ground, so to speak and Pandora/Spotify is part of that process - for me they are tools to finding the New Music not sole sources of music entertainment. I'm old school in the respect that I like owning the recording medium in a physical sense - I grew up with the LP as part of the whole experience. I learned to live with CDs, but I prefer owning the vinyl. Right now I'm busy replacing my Peter Gabriel era Genesis vinyl and some Be-Bop/Fusion Jazz favorite discs. Small price to pay for the near-lifetime of listening pleasure these artists have given me.

Ryer's cool train that he built with his train buddies... I just keep thinking of "Bridge Over the River Kwai".

ames Dean's last film "Giant" was released on this day over half a century ago. It's not a great movie, but I like it anyway because of Dean. He makes everyone else look like high school drama students tripping over lines and stiff as two by fours. Love the little "see ya" wave he improvises at the end of the scene here.

Cabrera lights the fuse....

It's Breakfast at Dinner, Hope Dining style! Chef Steph peeling apples for tonight's stuffed pancakes at the vegetarian station...
It's Monk's birthday. Dig.

Yes! Keep battling, Tigers - don't give up!

Incredible. Most say, "Ohmygod, the piano!" but for chefs it's "Ohmygod the knives!"
Oddsmakers pick three of my favorites to win the Literature Nobel this year. Haruki Murakami, Alice Munro and Joyce Carol Oates. I enjoy reading everything they write and you would too.
Forward...

...and now he's playing the Big Room at Caesar's.

Babysitting brisket.

At GFS food show. I think I've found our new staff uniforms.

John C, Calhoun looks like Willem Dafoe. Oh, and an article about one party about to go supernova, taking us and possibly good portions of the rest of the world with it.

                                                                       

                                                               Back Yard Blue Chair      
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If I were in Santa Fe I would so be there for this.......



Originally posted by grrm at Seven Days And Counting...






 We're down to seven days till the grand re-opening of the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe.

[That sound you just heard was me gulping.  Work is proceeding apace, but there's still a lot to do, and that opening is bearing down on us like a damned locomotive.  I need to whip my minions harder.]

First up, the classic 1956 MGM big budget SF classic, FORBIDDEN PLANET.



Tickets for FORBIDDEN PLANET... and Jean Cocteau's ORPHEUS and John Carpenter's DARK STAR, our other featured attraction... will all be FREE, but they're going fast, especially for opening night.  If you're in Santa Fe, drop by the box office and get yours now.

Oh, and we also hope to have signed copies of some of my books for sale at the theatre... and maybe other cool stuff as well.

Where Reality Goes to Die

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                                                               Photo 65     

I enjoy Vegas but not for the gambling or the shows or any of that. I enjoy it's world class people watching, I enjoy the food, I enjoy it's energy of corruption and yes, I enjoy the hedonistic vibe. I've been going since the 80's, mostly for conventions and as a jumping off point for hiking trips in Utah and Arizona. I've only been there for strictly vacation purposes a few times. My wife's 50th, a bachelor party trip and a one time, solo three day layover on the way to culinary training in Napa. Vegas is constantly evolving. Over the time I've been visiting I've seen it go from Sin City to Sin City with the Family back to Sin City and now it seems like it's Sin City 2.0 with special add-ons; those being the less Mortal of the Deadly Sins - Gluttony and the uniquely American Sin of Consumerism. Vegas is now one of the culinary hubs of the world - any famous chef worth his salt has a restaurant (we call them "properties" in our business) in Vegas. Same goes for upscale retailers and major International Brands. Versace, Hermes, Coach, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Chanel, etc. They are all there and they are everywhere. Vegas is becoming a shopping Mecca, supplanting Rodeo Drive, Mall of America, Fifth Ave and any other Hive of Shopping in America you can name. What the world has to offer in consumer goods Vegas has in concentrated form contained in an 8 mile radius surrounding the Strip, Fremont Street, The Fashion Show Mall and the International World Outlet Center.

I'm always a little unsettled by the amount of money floating around when I first arrive in Vegas. This time I had a monetary out of body experience while buying a $5 toothbrush on the first morning there. Along with the outrage and shock of paying 5 bucks for a toothbrush at Walgreen's, I was further shocked when the guy at the register next to me plunked down 2 grand for a new laptop like he was buying a pack of cigarettes. And yeah, they had laptops at Walgreen's - it's Vegas, you sell anything, anywhere. This was 6 in the morning and I was approaching being awake for 24 hours by this time, which is something else I do in Vegas - not sleep. My former SousChef and now newly minted Banquets and Catering Chef was with me. He had never been to Vegas. Even though the counter person didn't bat an eye at the laptop purchase, my convention partner and Vegas newbie, Josh, couldn't help but say something.

"Dude! You're buying a laptop at Walgreen's?"

The guy peered at Josh with a look of friendliness tinged by a hint of disdain. It's a look you get a lot of in Vegas from the truly heavy weight hustlers you run across.

"Yeah, my old one took a puke down at the sports bet and I need to have one for the afternoon races."

"But its two grand."

"Yeah, now I'm only up 22 grand." And he grinned like Satan barbecuing babies.

Josh looked at me in gawping shock. I smiled big enough to hurt.

"I love Vegas."

Another thing I like about Vegas is the Casinos on the Strip. Some, like the MGM Grand, Wynn, Riviera, and Treasure Island are casinos that happen to have hotels wrapped around them. Others, like the Venetian, the Bellagio and our hotel, the Cosmopolitan, are actual, huge grand hotels that just happen to contain casinos.

Our chef's convention, for whatever reason, was booked in the newest place on the Strip - The Cosmopolitan. Perhaps you've seen the commercials on TV. It's a hotel specifically targeted for the younger crowd. From my perspective of a 55 year old aging hipster, it was a delightfully weird hotel with a Goth/Matrix theme full of 20-something party girls and their douchebag paramours. Their were the Italian Guido douchebags, the Persian douchebags, the Asian douchebags and the Hustler Hip-Hop Brother douchebags. The girls were non-descript and interchangeable hoochies with no delineation from each other. Whereas the GUYS all had their separate style identity, the girls all looked very much like they were taking their stylistic cues from Maxim magazine and the BET channel. This didn't bother me so much as the little accessory obsessions did. I am so over the baseball hat turned backward, sideways, flip up thing. The bill perfectly straight preferably with the hologram UPC sticker still attached. Bad tattoos. Japanese kanji and barbed wire bicep bracelets for the guys and tramp stamps and ankle tats for the girls. Ugh. Sheath dresses with nothing underneath but perhaps a thong seemed to be de rigueur for the girls. And sky high stilettos. Some things don't change.

Of course, Josh was in his Glory, ogling every girl that flounced past him even though he has a wedding looming with the Love of His Life in December. All I saw was my daughter, the Z-Girl, wrapped around some gorilla tricked out like the rapper Pitbull and reeking of Axe. Disconcerting doesn't come close to covering it. That said, I delighted in the occasional Grey Panther that glided by me, usually attached to some corporate, high roller drone, on their way to the Roulette or Craps or Cirque du Soleil show VIP section. Their were a few unattached women of a certain age wandering the casino, but I had no time to discover if they were pros trolling for guys like me, or just there for the Gambling Jones or there attending the convention. I had to remain focused on keeping Josh from going off the rails and I had some certifications I had to attain before I left. Opportunities for a Vegas tete a tete would have to wait for another time. I would be back again soon, with no obligations. And then we will see what we will see.

I love Vegas.

Next: Fremont Street, Las Vegas - Hell's Pre-Registration

Nimrod Neiman Needs a Plan

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Nearly two months of browsing LJ with nary a post by yours truly.  The time does go by. Especially when chaos reigns. Still, I've had time out in the real world to polish this nugget here, amongst others in the sieve....



“How long we gotta stay out here, Nimrod?”

“Don’t call me Nimrod. I told ya that before!”

Neiman stamped his feet, which only refreshed the slimy chill of the large amount of slush that had already leaked through the bottoms of his boots. He was standing on the busiest corner in town in twenty degree weather holding a huge sign that said “Sanford’s Sporting Goods. Going Out For Business! 3 Days Only!” Neiman’s partner held a similar sign, but his stature allowed him to hold the sign high above the traffic whizzing by. Neiman gazed at him with exasperated contempt. He swore his eye balls were starting to freeze. Neiman pointed at the big man’s hat.

“Jesus! Fix your hat, Dan. Ya look like a retard out here.”

Neiman giggled a little at his own irony. After all, Dan was a retard, but one of those kind that could actually do stuff like have a conversation and not have to be watched every second. Dan shuffled his feet and did a dance like he had to go to the bathroom. The guy looked like a version of Elmer Fudd built by Dr. Frankenstein. Close to seven feet tall with hands like platters and a round head that sat on his shoulders like an orange sitting on a table. Dan straightened his Green Bay Packers hat then stared back at Neiman with eyes like blue marbles in a pail of milk. Neiman spread his arms.

“ What?”

Dan blinked.

“How much longer we gotta stay out here?”

Neiman leaned out into traffic a bit so he could see the bank sign clock two blocks down. Shit, it had only been a little over two hours. It felt like a day. The wind got suddenly colder.

“We got another few hours, Dan. Then we can go back.”

“How long’s that?”

“A while, Dan. Try not to think about it. Walk around a little. It’ll help keep you warm.”

Neiman knew if he didn’t distract Dan he would be trapped in a long circular conversation with him that would include copious amounts of whining and repeated requests for the time.

Is there a plan? Was there ever? Move on and find out....Collapse )

Neiman had known he was going to have a long day when the Rescue Mission director told him at breakfast that he was assigning Dan to go with him to work at Sanford’s. Neiman not only hated being partnered up, but this was a little worse because he felt uncomfortable around Dan. Neiman felt Dan was unpredictable and could quickly become uncontrollable if something spooked him. Truth be told, Neiman was a little frightened of being responsible for Dan. If something happened to him, it would fall on Neiman. This fear of responsibility was one of the root causes for Neiman’s being in his present situation. Whenever his responsibilities became too great, he drank. A lot. An inhuman amount. Over time his drinking solved the responsibility problem for him like booze solves most problems if you allow it; by leaving you with nothing but yourself and the liquor. No responsibilities, no family, no home, nothing. Neiman had been cool with it until he’d begun to lose whole days, and when he wasn’t doing that he was starving and freezing to death out on the streets. He had had just enough wit left to figure that he needed a better plan. The first step to this still nebulous plan had been to find food and shelter. He’d stumbled into the Mission on a clear, cold night in November and had been there ever since. It was now February and his head was just now surfacing from the ocean of drink and deprivation. The last thing he needed was to be charged with taking care of Dan. Neiman took it as a sign that he needed to update his plan and focus on getting the hell out of the Mission.

At breakfast that morning Dan was working his way through an enormous pile of corned beef hash when Neiman came up to his table. The sight of Dan shoveling the Alpo-like stuff into a maw that was lined with semi rotted teeth almost caused Neiman to lose his own breakfast right there. He focused on a point beyond Dan’s head.

“Looks like it’s me an’ you today, big boy.”

“I ain’t a boy. Pete says I’m a grown-assed man.”

Pete was one of the senior residents who had almost completed the Rescue Mission program for rehab. Neiman hated Pete because he knew the dude was scamming and he always put on this Snoop Dog bullshit nigger front. Neiman knew the guy would be dealing and using within a week of leaving the place. Pete had told Neiman once that for him, coming to the Mission was what normal folks call taking a time out. It was this and the fact that Pete had been the one to come up with the Nimrod nick name that caused Neiman to build a pretty good hate for the guy.

Neiman shrugged at Dan and hooked a thumb over his shoulder towards the front entrance of the Mission building.

“Yeah whatever, big man. Look, finish up quick because we’re gonna work together at Sanford’s today. The van leaves in 15 minutes. Dress warm – we’ll probably be outside for a while and its cold out.”

Dan squinted at Neiman, his eating hand never stopping its circuit from plate to mouth.

“You gotta help me get my stuff.”

Neiman sighed.

“Alright. Wait here when you’re finished I’ll come get you and help you with your stuff.”

Neiman left him to finish while he went and gathered up his own gear. He had a pea coat that worked well keeping the cold out if he layered stuff underneath it. By the time Neiman was finished getting ready he had every stitch of clothes he owned on his body. He worried about his lack of gloves and the rubber boots he owned had cracks everywhere. He had a feeling the two pairs of socks he had on weren’t going to be enough. Passing down the hall towards Dan’s room he met Pete coming the other way.

“Nimrod! Don’ worry ‘bout Dan’s stuff, I got him all set. He’s waitin’ downstairs in the lobby. Damn son! Y’all look like Frosty the Homeless Snowman! Y’all probly only be out for a hour or two. Ya don’t need all those clothes.”

Neiman shook his head.

“I’ll take my chances. Can always take the stuff off.”

Pete gave him the eye like he was laughing at him on the inside.

“Okay, okay. You do what you gonna do. Have a good one today.”

Neiman just nodded and turned back down the hall. He met Dan at the front door. Dan was dressed in colors that made him look a little like a giant traffic cone. Red snow pants with a yellow ski jacket and yellow and green scarf. His gloves were yellow and he had on a yellow stocking cap with a Green Bay Packers logo on the front and a ridiculously huge pompom on top. Neiman noticed that as dumb as the stuff looked, it was all brand new. The ski jacket was a Columbia brand, he knew those weren’t cheap. Neiman had shop lifted one before. Dan was a sort of mascot at the mission and Neiman had no idea why he was there. Neiman knew he’d better not let anything happen to Dan or his name would be mud with everyone. The thought was making his breakfast turn sour. He piled into the van with Dan and a small group of other recovering drunks and addicts being dropped off at their day jobs. Neiman told himself again that he had to get a plan together soon, otherwise every day was going to be a long day if he had to keep this shit up.

Sanford’s Sporting Goods was on the other side of town and the best way to get there was by the highway, but they couldn’t take that route because everyone knew Dan got carsick on the highway. So they wound their way through side streets that were either clogged with snow or polished to a frictionless sheet of ice. When they arrived at the store Dan was the first one out, but not before he spewed his morning’s intake of hash all over the sidewalk from inside the van door. Neiman, shuffling out right behind Dan almost fell on his face trying to avoid the mess.

“Well, hell Dan. That stuff doesn’t look any better the second time around.”

No one laughed at the joke and the others in the van all gave Neiman the stink eye before they buttoned up and drove off leaving him and Dan at the curb. Before they could go inside Mr. Sanford himself came out and met them on the sidewalk. He went right to Dan and shook his hand vigororously.

“Well hey there, big boy! Haven’t seen you in a while! I’m glad you come! How have you been?”

Sanford was barely five feet tall and round as a basketball. Dan looked down at him like an ostrich getting ready to peck. Neiman noticed that it was okay if Sanford called him “big boy”.

“I’m fine Mr. Sanford.”

“And how’s your ma? You been keepin’ in touch?”

“Yah, I call her once a week ‘cause they make me down to the Mission.”

“Well good! Good! You ready to do some work today?”

“Yah, me an’ Nimrod’s ready, Mr. Sanford.”

Sanford frowned and shifted his gaze to Neiman, looking surprised to find a second person standing there.

“Nimrod? That you’re real name, son?”

“No sir – just a nickname the guys at the Mission gave me ‘cause it rhymes with my last name, Neiman.”

“You sure it ain’t because you’re stupid?” Sanford beamed then winked.

Neiman resisted the knee-jerk reaction to clock Sanford in his round, porky face.

“Nah, I think I’m smart enough. It’s just somethin’ that rhymes.”

“Well that’s fine! I’m glad they sent someone down to work with Dan. His mind wanders. Last time he was down here it was a little tough. But that was last time. We gonna do better this time, eh Dan?”

Dan didn’t answer. Dan was watching clouds go by. Sanford blinked and re-focused on Neiman.

“So…what’d you say your name was?”

“Neiman.”

“Oh! Yeah! Yeah! Nimrod! Well, okay! Look I only have a few hours for you guys today and its real easy work. We’re having a sale this weekend and we want to make a big splash. We’re calling it a “Going out for Business” sale. Get it? “Out for business”. The wife came up with that one. A real attention grabber!”

Neiman thought it was a stupid idea. People would only see “going out of business”. He smiled thinly at Sanford.

“Sounds good, Mr. Sanford.”

“You boys are gonna help get the word out. I’m gonna drop you off out at the bypass with a couple of signs and all you have to do is wave ‘em at the passing cars and make sure everyone that drives by sees that we’re havin’ a sale.”

Neiman was relieved. It sounded easy enough except for the standing out in the freezing cold part. He glanced at Dan. He was still looking around distractedly. Neiman thought he was being pretty patient. Sanford waved them inside then stopped Neiman at the door.

“Dan and I’ll go get the signs, son. Would you take that snow shovel and push that puke off the curb? Gotta get movin’ – I want you boys out on the corner before the morning rush!”               Neiman could have sworn he saw Dan smirk a little as he toddled in after Sanford. So that was how it was.

Neiman and Dan rode out to their work spot in Sanford’s gigantic SUV which was painted a garish electric blue and orange with Sanford sporting goods signs plastered on three sides. The thing looked like an automotive version of Dan’s outfit. Neiman sat as far away from Dan as possible in case he got sick again.   Neiman couldn’t imagine the guy having anything left to spew; the amount Neiman pushed off the walk had almost been too much for the snow shovel to handle. Dan and Sanders chatted, ignoring Neiman completely.

“Dan, do you like my car?”

“Yessir, it’s nice.”

“Like the colors?”

“Yeah. Blue’s my favorite.”

“Those are the colors of my favorite basketball team, the Detroit Pistons. Do you like basketball Dan?”

“Yessir. We watch it sometimes at the Mission.”

“Maybe sometime we could go see a game in person. How’d you like that?’

“I’d like that.”

It when on like this for the entire 15 minute drive out to the highway bypass. Neiman had been invisible, while Dan, by the time they reached their spot, had been offered a trip to see a Pistons game, dinner at a restaurant, a part-time job at Sanford’s and an autographed basketball that Dan would receive at the end of the day if things went well. At this last, Sanford fixed Neiman with a laser-like stare through the rearview mirror rendering him suddenly and uncomfortably visible once again. Sanford let them off on the only vacant corner of the intersection. There was a Village Pantry gas station directly across from their designated spot. When cars weren’t pausing for the stop light, they were careening by at better than 60 miles per hour. When Neiman and Dan finally got situated with their signs Sanford gave them the game plan.

“Okay boys, I’m gonna leave you out here for five hours. I’ll be back to pick you up and take you back to the Mission in time for lunch. Now, if you need to go to the bathroom or take a break and warm up a little you can go on across to the gas station. You can get a little coffee or somethin’ too – I have an account there. Just give’em my name. They know you might be comin, but they are also my eyes and ears so no screwin’ around and no slackin’ off or I’ll know.”

Again, he fixed Neiman with a dead fish stare then gave Dan a beatific smile. Neiman’s eyes drifted back to the gas station. Right above the entrance was a blinking sign. Packaged Liquors. Neiman felt a small stir deep in his brain pan. Next thing, Sanford was driving away and Neiman was there with Dan who was already wiggling and waving his sign at passing motorists like he was landing planes on an aircraft carrier. Neiman took up a spot a few feet away, facing the traffic coming the opposite direction; his back turned to the gas station. He didn’t move his sign at all. He shuffled his feet to keep warm and glowered at the cars as they passed. He’d already cleaned up puke for Sanford and he was damned if he was going to dance like a trained monkey for the guy. Neiman saw Dan out of the corner of his eye bouncing his sign and shuffling around in a kind of dance. He was singing “Yellow Submarine”.

Neiman was to the point of stepping out in front of the next semi that came roaring by when Dan finally stopped tonelessly repeating the line “We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine”. There was about five minutes of blessed silence before Neiman heard Dan’s footsteps crunching in the snow, coming up behind him. Dan whined about the time and getting cold. Truth be told, Neiman was getting a little frozen himself. The bank clock down the street let him know they had over three hours left. The wind was picking up and dark clouds were moving in. Snow clouds. He told Dan to walk around a little faster to get warm. Neiman’s gaze fixed on the gas station. The packaged liquor sign seemed brighter in the gathering gloom. Time to take a break.

“Hey Dan – let’s go over to the gas station to warm up and maybe get some coffee.”          

Dan’s moon pie face lit up then instantly went dark.

“I don’t like coffee. Do ya think they have hot chocolate?”

Neiman clapped the giant on his back.

“I’m sure they do – let’s go get out of this cold.”

They trudged hurriedly across to the station once the light turned. Neiman’s eyes moved not an inch from the blinking liquor sign as they made their way across. When they got inside, Dan announced that he had to go to the bathroom. Neiman waved Dan on without looking at him. Neiman was busy scanning the shelves.

“Yeah Dan you go on ahead – I’ll get your hot chocolate.”

There was a spot where you could make your own cup of coffee, cappuccino or, by God, hot chocolate. Neiman poured chocolate in the biggest cup he could find then made himself a small cup of black coffee; Tanzanian Yirgacheffe, whatever the hell kind of coffee that was. He brought the cups up to the counter, looking over the shelves and shelves of liquor bottles behind. Neiman knew it wouldn’t do to put booze on Sanford’s account, but he had a five stashed in his coat that was his emergency fund. If standing out in the freezing cold for another few hours with an annoying half-wit wasn’t an emergency, he didn’t know what was.   He set the drinks down and was about to order a half pint of Kessler’s when he spotted a small plastic bucket full of airline sized bottles next to the cash register. The bucket was being held by a plastic polar bear wearing a stocking cap just like Dan’s. The cap was emblazoned with the word “Rumplemintz”. Neiman knew the brand. Schnaaps. One hundred proof liquid candy cane goodness. The counter guy pointed at the cups.

“That gonna be it?”

“Uh, yeah. This is gonna be on Al Sanford’s account. He said you knew we were coming.”

“Oh yeah sure. Lemme get the ledger. You’ll have to initial.”

When the guy bent to get under the counter Neiman took a quick look-see around then swept a fist full of the small Schnaaps bottles into his coat.

They crossed the street while Dan tried to slurp his cocoa, walk a straight line and talk all at the same time. It was like watching a three legged cat trying to bury turds on a frozen pond. Dan made it to the corner without getting run down thanks to Neiman running traffic interference for him.

              About five minutes later Dan finished his cocoa. Refreshed and revived he started up with “Yellow Submarine” again. Neiman popped the lid off his untouched coffee and tossed it on the ground. He fished two bottles out of his pocket and one after the other he expertly unscrewed the tops using a thumb. He dumped them into the cup. He opened a third, and drank it down not caring if Dan or the passing traffic saw him. Instantly the old familiar warmth and well-being spread throughout his body. It started to feel like the cold wasn’t there anymore; not warmth necessarily just neutral temp neither cold nor warm.

Neiman began to feel better about standing out on a corner in the freezing cold. He downed the rest of the cup and fished around for more bottles. He had two left, which he promptly snapped open and poured into his cup. He took a sip and told himself to go easy and pace himself. Make it last.   He looked over at Dan. The big doofus was singing at the top of his lungs now and he had figured out how to twirl his sign like a baton. About every third twirl he hit himself in the side of the head, but he kept doing it. He was having the time of his life. Every so often a person driving by would honk. Jesus Christ. Neiman drained the contents of his cup, stared hard at Dan bouncing around like some demented giant bear and tossed the empty cup into traffic. He watched the crumpled cup bounce off the windshield of an Escalade with pitch black tinted windows. Florida car, Neiman thought nastily as he smirked at the thought of the poor bastards driving around in the Great White North freezing their asses off. The car hit its brakes and swerved. It bounced over the curb and came to a stop just beyond where Dan was swaying and dipping to his own tune. Neiman gaped as three guys jumped out of the vehicle.

Neiman saw immediately that they were gang bangers. What the hell they were doing up here was a mystery. They had on the required uniform. Hoodies, flannel shirts, Raybans, baggie pants pulled down mid-thigh. One guy was rockin’ the bandana down tight, almost covering his eyes and another wore one of those dumbass pork pie hats. The biggest one led the way. Neiman watched, fascinated by the steam rolling off the guy’s bald head. They came straight for him bypassing Dan who stopped his dancing and singing to stare dumbly at the bangers as they pushed by him. The Big One walked up until he was nose to nose with Neiman. Even though the situation was dangerous, Neiman felt calm. He had hundred proof courage. Big One spoke in a whispered growl.

“What chew think you doin’ trowin’ trash at my car?”

The guy’s accent was laughable, Neiman smiled.

“Look, it was an accident. I didn’t mean anything by it, esay.”

Big One’s eyes narrowed.

“Who the fuck you callin’ ‘esay’? You Latino now? You thinkin’ you down if you talk the talk?”

“No man, I’m just tryin’ to be friendly.”

The guy stepped closer, touching Nieman nose to nose.

“Oh we friends now? You toss trash at my car an’ now we friends?”

He got a thoughtful look on his face.

“So, since we friends now I guess you could do me a favor, right?”

Neiman could see the other two smiling wolfishly just on the edges of his peripheral vision.

“Sure man. Wadda ya want?”

Big One hooked a thumb over his shoulder.

“Come over here an’ take a look at the mess you made on my windshield. See if you can do somethin’ about it.”

Neiman felt adrenaline killing the buzz. They walked over to the car, the three bangers surrounding him. Dan stared like a dog watching a magic trick; mystification coating his face. He reached out to Neiman as they passed.

“Are these friends, Nimrod?”

Neiman waved Dan away.

“Its alright Dan. We just have a little business to do.”

Big One gave Neiman a quizzical look.

“Nimrod? That your name? What kinda name is that?”

Neiman shook his head.

“It’s a long story.”

They got to the car. It was still running, its exhaust sending out huge clouds of vapors in the freezing air. Big One pointed at the windshield.

“Take a look. What chew gonna do ‘bout that?”

Neiman looked but couldn’t see anything. He shrugged his shoulders.

“I can’t see anything.”

“Look closer. It’s right there.”

Neiman started to bend closer when one of the three grabbed the back of his neck and slammed his head into the windshield with such force that a spider-web of cracks formed where his forehead met the glass. Neiman saw black spots popping then it was like he was looking out from a tank of water. Big One’s voice sounded tinny.

“Oh man, look what you did! Now its really fucked up! Now we got a problem…esay!”

His head was slammed into the car again and this time the black spots stayed. Neiman’s legs gave way and he fell to the ground. He cried out as the first few kicks to his kidneys landed square. After he pissed his pants he didn’t feel the kicks so much. They kept on coming and he could hear all three of the bangers yelling at him, but it was like they were too far away to hear what they were saying. One of the black spots opened up wide and Neiman headed for it. Right before darkness closed over him Neiman saw Dan grab Big One around the neck.

Dan stopped singing and dancing when the Black Car pulled over. He didn’t like the guys that got out. They felt wrong. They felt like some of the men that show up at the mission. Their eyes all covered with scary dark glasses and wearing mean clothes. Dan was starting to have the bad feeling in his tummy like when he rides in the car and things go by too fast. He watched them closely when they talked to Nimrod. The Big One looked like a cage fighter like what some of the men watch at the mission. The mean ones who like fighting. Dan liked the wrestling show better. Pete said it was fake and no one really got hurt so it was okay. The Big One was almost yelling at Nimrod. Dan didn’t know what to do. He hoped they were Nimrod’s friends and it would be fine.

They walked over to the Black Car and Dan asked Nimrod if the men were friends. He didn’t even yell at him for calling him “Nimrod”. He just looked worried. Dan watched them close and suddenly one of them pushed Nimrod’s head into the car. Big One yelled at him then did it again. Dan saw blood and Nimrod’s eyes were all scary like a zombie’s. He fell down and the men all started kicking him. Dan was frightened to death, but Nimrod was a friend. Nimrod lived at the mission with him. Dan started yelling for help then he went to stop the men.

Dan grabbed the smallest man around the waist and was surprised at how light he was. He easily spun him around and threw him over the hood of the Black Car out into the road. His friend with the rag on his head stopped kicking Nimrod to watch where his friend landed. Dan grabbed his arm and twisted it up like he saw on Wrestlemania. He heard a crack sound and the man started screaming. Dan let him go and the guy fell on the ground next to Nimrod.   The Big One tried to punch Dan but he jumped to the side then grabbed him around the neck in a choke hold and started squeezing. Dan heard cars honking and sirens. He kept squeezing, waiting for the Big One to give up. Dan felt him go limp, but he kept squeezing. The other man on the ground was moaning and Dan didn’t know where the one he threw into the street was. Nimrod wasn’t moving. The sirens got closer.

The first thing Neiman saw after swimming up through syrupy unconsciousness was Pete’s face. He smiled a huge grin showing his piano-key sized teeth complete with a gold incisor that fascinated Neiman; momentarily distracting him from the fact that he felt terrible. Like the worst hangover of his life combined with a case of the flu combined with a ride inside a cement mixer. Pete’s voice rang through Neiman’s head like a bell on fire.

“Heeey, buddy! You up! Man, you done got fucked up real good. Just lie still. You got all kinda shit broken and bruised. Good thing our man Dan was there to get your back. Otherwise…who knows?”

Neiman felt like his mouth was full of steel wool. He tried to speak.

“A…an? Wh…wha..?”

Pete chuckled.

“Oh Dan’s alright. The director’s straightening the shit out with the cops now. They gave Dan a ride down to the station. An’ guess what? The dude hurled all over the inside a that cruiser.”

Pete’s booming laugh made Neiman’s head vibrate like a tuning fork made of razors.

“Oh yeah! The cops er alright wit it though ‘cause Dan’s a regular hee-ro. Saved yo’ life he did, Nimrod! Those cholos were diggin’ you a dirt nap when Dan came chargin’ in an’ tore they ass up. Put ‘em all in the hospital. They say the big un probably won’t ever regain consciousness. Oh yeah, Dan’s a regular bad ass. You owe him the biggest thank you your sorry ass can think of.”

Neiman sluggishly processed what Pete told him, horror and sad resignation dawned. It couldn’t be. The big dumb Baby Huey had rescued him. Had even saved his life? He was a hero? Neiman moaned. Pete patted him on the shoulder, a shit eating smirk smeared on his face.

“Yeah, I know Nimrod. Life’s a bitch then someone stupid saves it. You just lay there and try not ta think about it. You just get well an’ we’ll see y’all back at the mission in a few months. I gotta go. I don’t wanna miss Dan’s press conference. See ya on the flip-flop buddy!”

Press conference? It just kept getting worse. Neiman felt nothing now. Pain faded, giving way to a budding determination. Neiman had months of free time ahead of him. He couldn’t go back to the mission. He couldn’t be Dan’s bitch for life. He had all the time he needed right now. All he needed to do was think; think of something good. Think of a way out. He needed to think of a plan.  

                                                                                         sign waver



Jean Cocteau, George R R Martin and Me

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It tickled me to no end to see today's LJ post from George RR Martin (he of "Game of Thrones" fame, and yes, I'm a fan) and find that he just bought an abandoned art house cinema in his home town of Santa Fe.  If I had his kind of money, I'd be doing the same sort of thing, but unlike him - I'd be there running it and booking the films.

I love that the place is called "The Cocteau".  If I had a theater I'd call it either "Sensei Kurasawa" or "The Oddyssey".


Here's Mr. Martin's post....



Originally posted by grrm at Jean Cocteau and Me
I had not intended to mention this until somewhat further down the line, when my plans were a bit more advanced, but the Santa Fe NEW MEXICAN got wind of a recent real estate transaction of mine and ran the story this morning, so the cat is now out of the bag. (The cat in this case perhaps being Jean Cocteau's original Beast? No, not really, but it's an amusing coincidence, considering my years on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST).


Anyway, I don't intend to say much here, since there is as yet not much to say... but I will fess up to basics, since I see the story is already out on the internet and I would rather not be bombarded with hundreds of "is it true?" emails.

Yes, it's true. I've bought a movie theatre.

Here it is:

cocteau1

The Jean Cocteau is a small Santa Fe art house, with a single screen and 127 seats. It was built in the early 70s as the Collective Fantasy, became the Cocteau later in that decade, went through several local owners who ran it well, and finally became part of the Trans-Lux chain. They closed it in April, 2006, when they shut down their entire chain of theaters. After that it supposedly became the site of the New Mexico Film Museum, but the museum was never funded and never had any exhibits, so that was more in theory than in practice. Aside from a few special showings for the state film commission, which used to have its offices upstairs, the theater has been dark since 2006.

Before that, however, it was one of the city's nicest film venues. It offered coffee and pastries, and had the best popcorn in town, fresh-popped with real butter and parmesan cheese. I saw a lot of movies at the Cocteau between 1979, when I moved to Santa Fe, and 2006, when it closed. I like the idea of bringing it back, better than ever.

I will not be doing it myself, of course. So please, readers, fans, don't get nuts. I am a novelist and a screenwriter, not a theatre manager, it won't be me standing at the concession stand asking if you want butter on your popcorn. My job remains the same as before: editing anthologies, creating and producing television and writing the occasional script, and... first, foremost, always... completing A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. This does not change that.

I love movies and old movie theatres, and it broke my heart to drive past the Jean Cocteau for these past seven years and see it sitting there, dark and decaying. Bringing this beloved theatre back to life is my small gesture at giving something back to Santa Fe, the community that has been my home since 1979. Might be that I will lose my shirt... but, hey, I've been very lucky, I have other shirts.

For those of you who want to read the story that broke the news, the link is here:

http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/article_11f41778-724e-5d42-9fbe-40e5b56ae400.html

We're having a press conference on Tuesday to detail our plans for the Cocteau to the local media, FYI. If anyone reading this is local media, you're welcome to attend.

More than that, I cannot say at this time.

Catering Radar

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Work is smacking me hard.  Don't know whether its my age, my attitude or the shifting of the stars and the crashing of the planets, but damn...

Every year it's like this - there's a long stretch of just balls out work craziness.  I know it's coming and I prepare, but this year it's just a grind.  I made the mistake today of looking at last year's planner and I saw that I had four days off in April and five days in May.  It put things in perspective because I couldn't recall any of the food I made for all those VIP, Must Be Perfect, The Bar is Sky High events for all those VIP clients that Have to Have Things Perfect Or They'll Just Die.  Well, that's not true - I can recall some of them because I have pictures and documentation (menus, recipes, etc.), but I looked at some of this stuff and couldn't recall many details.  It was a blur then and it's a blur now. I do remember doing a menu and cooking for Obama, but I couldn't be there to actually serve the meal because there was a More Important corporate client that needed my personal attention. I remember my incredulous look of astonishment and my instantaneous question to my boss..."More important than the President of the United States? Really?" Kind of a metaphor for the current state of affairs, doncha think?  Anywho, I'm in the midst of a daily cycle now that goes - wake up in the dark, get dressed, have cup of coffee, feed/water cats, stare at Facebook for ten minutes, go to work, come home in the dark, feed/water cats,shower, fall asleep watching Netflix, wake up at midnight, go to bed. Rinse and repeat until July 4 or thereabouts. Somewhere in there the Z-girl comes home from college and then she can wake me up earlier to tell me to go to bed.

Don't get me wrong - I appreciate the work, I really do. But damn.

From my perspective, people are spending money like drunken sailors again - it's just that there aren't as many of those people as when the shit hit the fan in '07. We're missing a few high roller clients who fell through the net during the recession. Clients who paid us so Things Would Be Perfect, but despite their efforts to entertain their way through hard times things turned to shit anyway.  I grew to have radar for the clients who would make it and the ones who wouldn't.   Caterers are a lot like canaries in the coal mine - we are inside, but not involved and we are some of the first to be able to see the cracks appear.  You just gotta see the signs. Forget about what food gets ordered - stopping booze service at corporate events is the first big blip on the radar. From there, if it goes quickly to only serving bottled water, then you know it's getting grim.

We had a client who's business was building and selling yachts.  The last big event we did for them was their annual sales blitz where they brought in their big money customers for appreciation and maybe an upgrade on their old yacht.  There were more salesmen than clients there - they served shitty Korbel champagne and Jones Soda and the food was hot dogs and hamburgers grilled on site.  The clients that did come, drove their Bentley's and Rolls' up to the showroom expecting valet service only to be told they had to park their own cars in a lot across the street and down a block.  I was treated to slightly miffed one percenters in Armani and Chanel trudging past and through the fog bank of charcoal smoke billowing off my grill full of cheap quarter pound burgers. A year later the company suspended it's yacht making operation and announced that it was going to work with a Dutch company to build props for wind turbines.  But that fell through when the Dutch found out the props they produced at home were better and cheaper. Since then the yacht company's been limping along on life support. They don't use us for catering any more. A local pizza shop proudly announced recently that they are now providing catering services to this company.  The clock is ticking.



Shoplifters

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Last night, I stopped at the grocery store to pick a few things up and get a prescription filled. I wasn't in a particular hurry so I wandered around aimlessly after I got my stuff. I ended up in the liquor aisle where I idly looked through the wines. I was caught up in the Chardonnay section searching for an "unoaked" Chardonnay which is a lot like playing "Where's Waldo' especially if there's an extensive amount of wines to sift through. I was marveling to myself at the ridiculous amount of Chardonnay on hand (15 feet and three shelves of it) when I get distracted by the chatter between three young people milling around just down the aisle in front of the hard liquor. Two slightly plump, blowsy girls and a skinny boy. There was no way they were old enough to buy booze. The boy was dressed like he couldn't decide whether he wanted to be a hip-hop b-boy, or a punker skaterboi. He had the ubiquitous pristine backwards facing ball cap with the tags still attached and giant Van's hightop sneakers. He was skipping around in the aisle with nervous energy and randomly tapping on bottles while muttering to himself. He kept up a running commentary which both girls ignored. One of the girls was wearing pajama bottoms and flip flops and the other was wearing sweats with the word "pink" emblazoned up one leg in rhinestones. She had a Zebra patterned beach bag; it's so big it looks like she's carrying around an air mattress with handles.
              The kid nearest me (pajama girl) is talking on her phone. Her conversation clipped and in some sort of verbal semaphore and as she talked she pointed here and there at the shelves and the other girl would pick out bottles to look at while the boy would bounce over, peer at the bottle and then veer off.

"I don't think it's here...yeah...I know...I know what it looks like...I don't...no...down there...that one...yeah Crystal has it...no...it's brown...it's wrong...look...those shelves are empty...what's the sign say...yeah...we're getting it, alright?...Jesus...Robert's no help...help her Robert!...Jesus...he's a moron...I think they have it.... but you have to....you have to ask....yeah..okayokay...I know...I'll do it...I gotta stop talkin'...I gotta go...we'll be there in a few...I don't know...ten minutes....yeahbye...."

I steal a long look as I pull a bottle of Firestone Chardonnay off the top shelf ($35, WTF!). The kids are all staring intently at a spot on the shelves then they abruptly scatter and go separate ways. I go back to my search. I find what I was looking for but as much as I balk at paying $35 for a Chardonnay, I balk equally at buying one for $4.99. I move on down the aisle and look at the shelves the kids were looking at. I see there is an empty spot where the high end Tequila is kept. Evidently the stuff that sells for $50 or more you have to ask for assistance to get. Oddly, there is Bourbon and Scotch on the shelves in that price range or even more. I sense a little retail racial profiling going on here. I head out musing about the incredible amount of booze this market has for sale in relation to its size. I'm ambling towards checkout when the group of kids walk briskly by. Pajama girl is last in line and she has the beach bag now. She's talking on the phone again. She brushes by me and as she does I hear the unmistakable sound of full bottles clinking softly together in rhythm with her marching strides. Her voice wobbles with her movement as she follows her friends out the doors into the parking lot.

"...I always have to...to do it...they just stand there....yeah...duh....yeah...he's a puss....shit...yeah...are they there?...not yet....yeah...on our way....."

French Gluten Free

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Crab Cake
Gluten Free Crab Cake topped with coconut "yogurt" and a side of eggplant gremolata

Went to a presentation on Gluten Free, Vegan French Cooking last night. Now taking French cuisine and pairing it with gluten free/vegan cooking is like what you get when someone like Pavorotti takes it in his head to cover the musical stylings of the Ramones. I was already sending my Sous to the class along with our specialists in the needs of special diet student diners so I decided to tag along out of curiosity. I took a class last year from one of the presenters.  She's a good teacher and really well versed in food allergy issues particularly Chrone's disease and Celiac. I was motivated to get updated on what's going on currently in the gluten free/vegan world. And truth be told, I was curious to see just how successful they'd be at making Gluten Free French food.

We went into town early so we could spend time going from one ethnic grocer to another picking up supplies for our exotic ingredient larder back at the college. Fresh Pita, Injera bread, pickles and Zaatar seasoning from the Halal Mediterranean market, bags of coriander and cardamom seeds, Garam Masala along with dough mix for Puri and Dosa from the Indian spice store, and finally some quality imported soy sauce, Ponzu and a bunch of Udon, buckwheat noodles and various kimchis from the Japanese/Korean place. It was fun taking some of the crew shopping - most of them had a blast even though they had no clue about a lot of the foodstuffs. A few of the cooks bowed out after the Indian store because it was "smelly" and "weird" and they were none too pleased with all of the graven images being sold there. I only compounded the issue by purchasing a really cool calendar with the store's logo emblazoned over a great painting of Shiva and a little night lamp in the shape of Ganesh. It has glowing red eyes.

The seminar was very good and chock full of new info mixed with old. It was good to review the nuts and bolts of gluten and the gluten free world. Every year I see more and more students with food allergies with the bulk of them being in the medium to severe range. Mostly nut related, dairy or gluten, but some more specific to certain veggies or fruits. Part of the reason for this rise in allergies is the obliteration of beneficial bacteria along with the harmful through the use of antibiotics. Part of it is the prevalence of genetically modified foods coming to the fore these past couple decades. Some of it is environmental. It's all inter-related, complicated and nearly impossible to undo.



The lecture was broken up by small cooking demos that went along with the way the lecturer had her talk organized. I had never been served dinner while listening to a lecture and I must say it's not a bad way to wade through three hours of technical jargon and knotty problems. The wine pairings helped things along quite well.   The food was hit or miss. Vichyssoise benefitted quite a bit from the gluten/dairy free treatment, but the same couldn't be said of that old standby, Hollandaise sauce. In fact, it's my opinion that trying to create gluten free vegan versions of any classic French sauce should be stopped with extreme prejudice. The Coq au Vin was technically a great effort, but removing the gluten from it only made it thin and lacking in body or character. Dessert was a French parfait featuring caramelized pears and cubes of sweetbread made with Gluten Free rice flour blended with Xanthum Gum. The bread was flavored with Meyer lemon and quite delicious with a gooey denseness you get with home-made pound cake. All that said, it was a good meal and impressive in the execution.   Would I serve a Gluten Free French meal? No, but if in the midst of serving my version of Coq au Vin or cassoulette it's nice to know I can surprise and delight a person with Gluten issues with versions of the same dishes that won't make them sick. It's all about the hospitality.


Gluten Free Coq au Vin with Asparagus, Roasted Fennel and Hollandaise - if it looks greasy and thin,
that's because it was.


A Gluten Free dish I made today for a contest - Four Mushroom Shepard's Pie with Spicy Feta flavored whipped potatoes.

Pillow Shot Ozu

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Ozu Factory
The factory depicted in this pillow shot actually appears in one of my family's home movies from the mid-fifties

I've said before that I tend to get obsessed about one thing or another. Once I find an interest I'll delve into it as completely as possible until I get bored and then I'll move on. This past Winter I went through as many movies adapted from John Le Carre books as possible, I watched about 40 episodes of "30 Rock", read all of the current volumes of "The Song of Ice and Fire" saga by George R.R. Martin and am ongoing in my experiments in Molecular Gastronomy and night time street photography. I've learned quite a bit from all of these minor infatuations, but I think I've only really enjoyed, on a gut aesthetic level, my meanderings through the film world of Yasujiro Ozu. Not only because of my personal connections to Japanese culture, but because these films were as comforting as a soft blanket and a warm fire during the long days of winter where I'd leave for work in the dark and return to my Empty Nest, in the dark.

One of the great contributions Ozu made to the mechanics of film making was the idea and practice of the "pillow shot". These are static shots, usually devoid of people, that are beautifully framed and placed in the film at key points. During a typical Ozu film pillow shots are placed a points of friction or crisis in the narrative. They can also serve as scene transitions. Ozu's favorite pillow shots include deep focus shots of the ocean or mountains with a traditional Japanese lantern in the foreground; this shot usually symbolizes a character's struggle with traditional values clashing with modern change. There is also the interior pillow shot of tranquil domesticity shot low and again, in deep focus, with a perfectly arranged bud vase and flower in the foreground gently wafting in a random breeze. There is an oft referenced scene that is repeated in several films but most effectively in "Tokyo Story" (Ozu's most representative and famous film) that shows an interior of complete, Zen-like arrangement pierced by a steaming tea kettle just on the edge of the frame. Both pillow shots, the bud vase flower and the steaming kettle, allow the viewer time to absorb, process and intensify the heavy underlying domestic tension of the scene that came before. These pillow shots also set up an emotional framework for what may come after. They are poetic pauses that allow time for contemplation during the film. A very Japanese sort of device that has proven itself over time to be accepted universally by the film audience. We see examples of pillow shot variations in any number of modern films i.e. Robert De Nero calling Cybil Shepard for a date from a pay phone as the camera shows a quick static shot (again deep focus) of a dingy hallway or Christoph Waltz going through the silent pantomime of preparing beers for himself and Jamie Foxx in "Django Unchained". Quiet, still scenes that freight large loads of emotional tension from one scene to the next.

All of this emotional and symbolic manipulation aside, the Ozu pillow shots stand alone as a sort of beautifully wrought moving postcard from post-war Japan which lovingly depicts the pastoral and industrial landscape. Initially, I enjoyed these shots as a small wonderful window into a time when I was a small child living in Japan. Then I came to appreciate Ozu's mastery of the form once I learned that the pillow shot had a purpose other than as a placecard for scenic change. So not only am I delighted with the story-telling in Ozu's films; I can now gain several different sorts of pleasure from his skill with the strictly visual realm.

Here's a somewhat long, yet very well done montage of a selected pillow shots from Ozu's films shot in color:



Now that I've managed to completely drown my thirst for all things Ozu, I think I can set him aside and go on to my next filmic interest, Aki Kaurismaki the Finnish director who created a delightful film I watched recently called "Ariel" which is a symphony of dead pan, dry humor blended with tragic violence. I watch "Ariel" and as a movie buff I can immediately see where Quentin Tarantino got his visual style from for "Resevoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction". As they say, there is nothing new under the sun. Everyone influences everyone else.

Ozu Umbrella

                                                               

















Sidebar: I watched "A Somewhat Gentle Man" again last night and plan on writing more about it later, but I recommend this one highly. So funny and well done. It stars Stellan Skarsgard, an actor you will all recognize even if the name doesn't ring a bell. He is a journeyman actor whom I think deserves the same amount of Oscar attention as the aforementioned Christoph Walz has been receiving these past couple of years.

                                            A somewhat Gentle man