Archive for December, 2012

December 23, 2012: It’s a Dry Eat (Merry Xmas!)

Here’s an essay I published in New Times earlier this month, and later read at a New Times-sponsored reading at Crescent Ballroom.

It’s the week before Thanksgiving, and I am making eighty dozen Christmas cookies. Surrounded by metal contraptions that resemble waffle irons, I am cranking out hundreds of flat, round, paper-thin Italian holiday cookies that signal—at least to Italian Americans from northeastern Ohio—that Christmas is nearly here.

I don’t eat pizzelles, a traditional Italian cookie I’ve heard people describe as resembling snowflakes and giant drinks coasters, but I’ve been making them practically since I was old enough to stand. I’ve got it down to a science: Plop two spoonfuls of sticky, anise-flavored batter onto the grooved face of the electric pizzelle iron; close iron; open second iron and remove cookies and place on cooling rack; fill second iron with batter; move on to third iron, filling it with batter and closing it, by which time the cookies in the first iron are done and I’m ready to start again.

To my palate, pizzelles don’t taste like much, no matter what kind of flavoring I add. But white people seem to like them, and I can make a lot of them in very little time. Today, I’ve been making pizzelles for a half-hour and I’ve already got about 400 cookies made.

My spouse, Tevye, wanders through the dining room where I’ve set up my pizzelle assembly line. “Oh, hurray!” he sneers. “Sawdust cookies! It must be Christmastime!”

Ha ha. Tevye contends that all the Italian sweets I make are dry and flavorless. Not because he’s unkind or because I’m preparing the recipes badly. Because he’s right. The seven dozen biscotti I made yesterday are exactly perfect, and just like the ones for which people pay three bucks apiece at coffee houses and better delis. They’re also like roofing shingles: brittle and flavor-free. I’ve attempted biscotti recipes other than the traditional one used by my grandmother, ones with exotic ingredients like rosemary and toasted almonds and dipped in melted chocolate, and the cookies are certainly tastier. But they’re not traditional. They’re someone else’s Christmas.

“At least someone else’s Christmas doesn’t require a half-gallon of milk to force down,” Tevye reminds me as I plop out my eight hundredth spoonful of pizzelle batter. “Please tell me you’re not going to make taralli this year.”

“Too late,” I mutter into my mixing bowl. “They’re in the freezer.”

“Oh, good!” Tevye crows. “Because it’s not Christmas without freeze-dried pepper-and-fennel pretzels!”

Well, no. It isn’t. At least according to my family traditions. Last year, though, I tossed tradition out the window and, in an attempt to compensate for the parched sweets of my people, I swapped a soaked-in-rum English Christmas Cake for the traditional New Year’s Eve rice pie (or, as Tevye calls it, Sahara Desert Pie) that my great-grandmother used to serve every December 31st. We’d had Christmas Cake at a friend’s house in London on Boxing Day the year before, and it was the moistest holiday dessert I’d ever eaten. The very complicated recipe involved making a dense, candied-fruit-filled cake that one “fed” with cognac, once a day for a whole month before the holidays. Then, just before serving, one covered the cake with sheets of marzipan and topped it off with a two-inch-thick layer of royal icing.

“So you’re replacing the New Year’s Eve pie made from wood shavings and sand with a cake filled with rubbing alcohol and smeared with lard,” Tevye clarified. “One into which you’ve poured eighty dollars worth of hooch, and that will set off carbon monoxide meters all over downtown Phoenix?”

I remained resolute, and served my Christmas Cake to the neighbors who came for a midnight toast on New Year’s Eve.

They were polite. Mostly. Two or three of them took a nibble, but even the drunkest of our guests left most of their Christmas Cake on their Santa plates. The next morning, I had about 30 pounds of rum-drenched fruitcake to unload.

In the end, we left it on the sidewalk in front of the neighborhood park, hoping a homeless person with a drinking problem might want it.

“Maybe you should go back to baking with splinters and sawdust,” Tevye suggested as we headed back to our house. “At least pizzelles look nice.”

Thing I Hate Today: Christmas arrives with light speed


December 12, 2012: In Case Anyone is Wondering

December 12

This is not a photograph of an insurance claim form.


Sometimes I feel like all I do is fill out these goddamn Medicare insurance forms all motherfucking day long.

Thing I Hate Today: See above

December 10, 2012: What Happened Tonight

          I left the house without my eyeglasses. I wear those cheap drug store “readers” that magnify things up close so that middle-aged people can see them. I didn’t take them with me when we left the house, because we were just going on our nightly walk and then to dinner at one of the two dozen restaurants that have recently sprung up at the intersection near our house.

          At the restaurant, one of those chain Chinese places that breed like rabbits, we ordered a salad and a noodle bowl. As I was dividing up the salad onto two plates, I kept eyeing a mushroom that was stuck to the side of the bowl. “Without my glasses, that sure looks like a grasshopper,” I thought.

           It was a grasshopper. Which I discovered after Tevye had eaten a forkful of salad.

           We walked across the street to the pizza place. The hell with our diets.

Thing I Hate Today: Being served insects

December 7, 2012: Vomit, Redux

It’s an early afternoon in 1993, and a crew of photographers and writer-types has wedged themselves into my tiny high-rise apartment, which they are there to photograph for a spread in Phoenix Home & Garden magazine.

The art director is there, also, and while the crew is setting up lights and tripods, she takes me aside. “You have to take down the framed piece in the kitchen,” she tells me. “I know my editor won’t go for that.”

She is referring to one of my favorite pieces, a simple, hand-drawn, black-and-white depiction of the word “vomit,” all in upper case, hanging dead center on the east wall of my teeny galley kitchen.

“But,” I tell her, clutching imaginary pearls in horror, “it’s Bob Adams!”

I’d bought the piece a few years before, at Adams’ first-ever solo exhibit at downtown Phoenix’s Radix Gallery . It’s gorgeous, and it was the irony of that word hanging in a kitchen that led me to place it there. Every morning, while I waited for my coffee to steep, I smirked with pleasure.

“No,” I told this annoying woman. “You can art direct your magazine, but you can’t art direct my home.”

So the photographer found a particular angle that obscured my Bob Adams, and they shot around it.

Fifteen years later, I am sitting in the Frankfurt Aeroport. It’s 2:30 in the morning, Germany time. Tevye and I are on a stopover, returning from a summer month in Bargemon, and he’s off getting us some airport coffee when I spot Bob Adams and his wife and young daughter, walking toward me.

After we exchange hugs and make proclamations about living in a small world, I reach into my travel bag and pull out a stack of photos. “Look at this!” I say, handing over a photograph of my Bob Adams “Vomit” piece. I think it’s hilarious that I have run into an artist in a German airport and happen to have with me a photograph of one of his artworks. A neighbor of ours in Bargemon, an art collector, had requested that I bring him some photographs of my art collection, and I still had the pictures in my carry-on.

“Do you always travel with photographs of my work?” Bob Adams asked.

“Everywhere I go,” I gushed.

Two years ago, when I began curating art at Willo North Gallery, I made a beeline for Bob Adams. “You haven’t had a solo show in a very long time,” I reminded him. “Let’s do an exhibit of your new work.”

Bob very politely declined. And he declined my next three invitations, as well. And then, one day about eight months ago, he phoned to ask if I’d like to have lunch, and I knew that he’d reconsidered. Bob Adams does not strike me as the sort who “does lunch.”

Last night, close to midnight, I sat in a gallery filled with Bob Adams’ new art. It’s wonderful work, unlike anything Bob has created before.

No matter where you stand in the gallery, you can see Bob’s art. I made sure of that.

Bob Adams IMAGE 1

Ella, an image from YOUTH: New Work by Bob Adams, which opens tonight at Willo North Gallery, 2811 North Seventh Avenue.

Thing I Hate Today: Seeing cats roaming around outside, rather than safely home indoors

December 3, 2012: I’ve Got Chills; They’re Multipylin’


          What does it mean that three different friends have sent me a link to this terrifyingly awful video?

          I’m not sure, but I do know this: I want to meet the guy whose job it is to draw in John Travolta’s shocking magic-marker hairdo.

 Thing I Hate Today: That annoying pile of coupons that arrives in the mail each Wednesday

December 2, 2012: Always Here

Everywhere I go, I meet them: People who are taking care of a family member.

     An artist comes to the gallery to show me her photography, hoping I’ll be interested in exhibiting her work, and somehow we end up talking about how she’s been caring for her elderly grandmother for the past decade. Or I’m interviewing an architect for my newspaper column, and he excuses himself to go wipe his father’s nose. Or I bump into an old friend who’s moved back to town to take care of her mom, who’s just been diagnosed with some sort of horror.

     I wonder: Were they here all along, and I didn’t notice them because I wasn’t one of them?

December 2

Thing I Hate Today: “Would you be willing to take a short survey after this call is complete?”

December 1, 2012: Back

            My friend Mike knows everything.

            “Yeah, you’ll blog for six months or so,” he told me when I launched this thing, “and then you’ll just stop.”

            I told him, of course, that this would never happen. “I’m different,” I’m sure I said. “This blog thing is a commitment! I’m great at commitments.”

            But I hate writing. No revelation there: I’ve known I hate to write—especially for free—for the nearly 30 years I’ve been doing it for a living.

             Anyway, I’m back, to haunt you with blather from my wee life. And, for those of you who noticed or cared, I’m sorry I vanished. Here, as a sort of penance, is another photograph of me looking ridiculous.

Which of these girls is Robrt Pela?

Which of these girls is Robrt Pela?

Thing I Hate Today: Procrastination is like breathing