Autopsy

This morning I finally received the autopsy report. The attached letter read “It is unfortunate that it took so long, but there have been articles in the local press about the backlog in the courts and Medical Examiner’s office, so apparently this has been an issue for many people.”  I am grateful to the embassy staff for their perseverance of effort in securing this document.

While my Spanish skills are poor, I can read it enough to know that the cause of death was the “toxic effect of carbon monoxide.” 

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Coupling

It was only after his live-in partner left and he began shopping and cooking for himself did he notice that the food packaging industry basically had only two marketing models: couples and family size. This was a little more than annoying. Either he ate a lot of creamed spinach at one sitting, to use this dish as an example, or he kept half of the thawed package in the fridge until later. Often he did not want to eat the same dish two meals running, or even two days running. This meant the risk of shoving the leftover to the back of the shelf as other dishes accumulated in front of it. More than once he forgot about the spinach, and mold spread like crabgrass over the dish.

He hated to throw food away. Nor did he like repeating a dish just because he could not saw the frozen package in half. The obvious answer, in the case of spinach, was to buy fresh spinach and make his own version. But the fresh spinach came two ways: already washed, in a plastic bag, or in a bunch bound by a rubber band. In the end it was the same problem. Either you cook it all at once or you steam half the package or bunch. This sometimes lead to black leaves and rotting, unless you use the stuff right away. Of course you can prepare all of it, then freeze half of that, if you really get down to it. But the fact remains that things are packaged for a minimum of two, or for one person who endangers himself by overeating.

Take ravioli, for instance.

He continued purchasing the brand which he and his partner had shared over the years. They often had their favorite, a four cheeses filling. Recently he had taken to buying their latest innovation, cheese and pear, a delicious combination hitherto unknown to him.

The problem with this brand of ravioli, he had learned in recent months, was that you had to be very respectful of the cooking time of four minutes. Any longer, and the pasta bled its filling into the water. Not only that, to save half the serving and reheat it proved nearly impossible. They stuck together and resisted an esthetic appearance. Pick up one, and you dragged two others along with it, or maybe one dropped loose into your lap. Olive oil didn’t help. He tried in a frying pan with a little cream, then with a little wine, then with just butter. In the microwave, it was practically nuclear destruction.

This was when he discovered an anomaly which might have escaped his notice completely had he continued to live his life paired with a woman. To avoid the problem of reheating the ravioli, he began dumping the whole package into a bowl and counting out one half the package to store in the fridge till another day. At first he thought it was mere chance. Seventeen raviolis, count them again, seventeen. So he saved eight and cooked nine the first day, shoving the others back into the package and into the fridge.

Being a creature of habit, mostly out of a necessity to order his shopping and solitary lunches and dinners, he ran through his repertoire of recipes. A hearty vegetable soup of leeks, potatoes, carrots and turnips, with a cube of vegetable broth. This was good for lunch, maybe with cheese afterward. A day or two later, white beans could be added to the soup and this would be a quite decent dinner for one, or two, if the neighbor dropped in for an episode of The Walking Dead, in which case he might make a baked apple dessert. A week or two later, you would find him cooking the soup again, this time throwing in frozen salmon or hake on the second or third day, getting close to a fish soup, if you add a couple of spices.

In between he often made a two pound meat loaf. This was good for at least three, maybe four meals. The fresh meatloaf with baked potatoes and a salad. Hot meatloaf sandwiches with toasted brown bread and mozzarella, tomato and avocado salad. If the neighbor didn’t drop in to see zombies or use the wi-fi, then the last fourth of the meatloaf could become part of a ragu spaghetti sauce or macaroni Bolognesa.

Another rotating dish was salmon fillet in an orange sauce, usually with green beans and sweet potato. The variation here would be with Basmati rice.

And so on.

So what with eating out and running through the recipes, it was only a couple of weeks later that he had a new hankering for ravioli, maybe with a pesto sauce. Again he counted, surprised to note once more that there were seventeen – although this time it was the four cheese variety. Had this been going on all those years when his partner was the one preparing the meals? Had she in her self-effacing way given herself the short measure? Or did she alternate, sometimes taking the long, sometimes the short of it? Or did she even notice?

Such thoughts led him nowhere, of course. Still, his obsessive nature wouldn’t let it go, so he bought three more packages and checked. Seventeen, every time.

Nothing for it but to look the company up on the web. He found the address and opened up Office Writer.

“Dear sirs,” he began, “it has come to my attention …”

June 10, 2014 – The day I should have been on the way to San Francisco.

The Cook in the Golf Club

The director of the Royal Golf Club asked me to come for an interview. Turned out he wanted a series called Concerts on the Grass in the month of August every Saturday night. We looked at the possibilities, but of course in the open air the acoustics are not so good without amplification for the public. And I resisted the idea of mikes and speakers. Better would be a band shell.

There was a sort of natural amphitheater where he thought we could set it up. From there you could look up to see the balcony of the restaurant of the golf club where perhaps forty or fifty people could be sitting at tables. Outside the green surrounding the stage there was room for five or six hundred people. They could bring blankets and drinks and listen to the classics under the stars.

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Patrick’s California Memorial

In late June 2017, Abby, Julie and Rui visited California. In addition to the usual fun-for-kids stuff like Disneyland, horseback riding (three times, including once up to the Hollywood sign), going to the beach, and checking out the stars on Hollywood Blvd, we were able to visit with Julie’s brother, explore San Francisco, and go see Abby’s Aunt Gretchen at her house in the mountains near Yosemite.

On the last day of their visit, the four of us held a brief memorial service for Patrick in my back yard. Here’s a transcript of that service.

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You Coulda Been a Hero

Patrick liked the writing style in this letter from Gretchen, as did I, though it was painful for him to read. Some references have been edited at my sister’s request.

WARNING: Sensitive readers may be offended by this letter’s foul language or the reality of the tale itself.

CHAPTER ONE

You pegged Pedro dead to rights, when I called him a neanderthal. You said “no, cro-magnon, he wouldn’t eat his own children, but he would eat anything else.”

But at least he noticed I was there. Which was more than could said for you … during the important bits.

By the time we got hauled out of the 2nd orphanage, (the BEST SETUP EVER, lemme tell you) I didn’t even know who was doing the hauling. They SAID … but for all I knew, she could have been the Fucking Tooth Fairy, rumored to exist but rarely seen, since you had to believe it first.

Or the rare triangle-spotted ocelot.

But by this time we were fairly well accustomed to being shipped off to strangers for no apparent reason and I, for one, did not protest. Jennifer was delighted (as it was a source of pride at the orphanage that a) our parents were alive somewhere and b) said they would come back for us.)

You, at this point, were some exotic blurry figure in the distance, who was gonna show up in the nick of time. har har har. Personally, I suspected that you were living like Doctor Zhivago somewhere.

If you HAD showed up in the nick of time, I wouldn’t of recognized you either.

CHAPTER TWO

Now aunt Phil I woulda recognized. I would have willingly gnawed my own leg off to get away from her, too. She ran her home like an army barracks on her good days, like the CIA with carte blanche in a central american country on her bad ones. And she did not hesitate to fuck up her kids. Not just her kids, but ANY kids unlucky enough to cross her path. She beat ’em, she burned ’em, she made ’em eat outta the garbage (THAT’ll teach him to waste food…) She did worse, but it wouldn’t help anybody to know about it. And wouldn’t make fuck aII’s worth of difference either.

Aunt Phil was where mama dropped us off when she ran off with Rhett. Aunt Phil should have been taken to the vet and fixed, before bearing her first victim.

And she still ranks as the cruelest human I ever saw up close. That stretch woulda been a good time for you to step in. You coulda been a hero.

Mama says let bygones be bygones, … but she wasn’t there.

Neither were you, pal.

Why am I telling you this? Because the past has finally reached out to grab me and it’s dragging me down down down down down. And hell, who else is gonna listen? If not my beloved father.

Letter to Patrick

Hey Patrick, it’s JP.

I’m wearing that robe tonight, the maroon one that you and Ivonne bought for me when I came to visit in Palma—so long ago it seems, although it was really just a year and a half ago. So I’m wearing the maroon robe and I’m thinking about you.

You know, things are going ok. Of course, I still miss you like crazy. It’s what, one in the morning and I’m thinking about you.

I think about you a lot.

Still, I’ve dialed it back some. Continue reading “Letter to Patrick”

Teaching and Detective Work

Transcript of a conversation with Patrick about teaching and being a night watchman. It was very noisy in the restaurant.

Patrick: That was in Eau Gallie. [Florida]

John: Eau Gallie? Ok.

Patrick: Yeah, after that job, my mother in Winter Park had a neighbor who was the assistant principal of a Junior High school in Orlando, Florida. So she talked to him, and he arranged for me to get a job in Orlando teaching school – that’s my last teaching job in Florida.

John: But then you taught later in New York. But then you got fired from that one because of the …

Patrick: Yeah I got fired a lot of times. I tried to make a list of all the times I’ve been fired from. Very interesting. A night detective job … Continue reading “Teaching and Detective Work”