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.

Real Kill

Here’s a long autobiographical story by Patrick about his time in Missouri. I found two versions, one from 2011 and another from 2013. I spent a couple of hours editing the latter (mostly typos and formatting) and am posting the result here.


The airlines wouldn’t let us fly, so Mari and I returned to the States from Holland on the S.S. Rotterdam.  Mari was in a stupor induced by Thorazine, little red capsules that she had to pop two or three times a day.  It seemed pretty crazy to me that she could travel by ocean liner, but not airliner.  Seven days, if I remember correctly, with nothing but sea in all directions.  She could fall or jump.  On a plane, I’m pretty sure I could have kept her in her seat for a few hours, and anyway what harm could she have done?

A friend met us at the dock in New York and took us to his apartment in Freeport until we figured out how to get to Missouri.  I had sold my car before expatriating, or so I thought, two years before. Continue reading “Real Kill”

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”

The Whole Point of My Life Was to Meet Stephanie

Another one of those long conversations with Patrick, sharing a bottle Scotch at my dining table and talking about life, responsibility, love, and minding our own business. This one is from 7 Oct 2014 and was transcribed by Christine. The audio file is too big to post here, but if you want to hear it, I can make it available elsewhere.

Patrick: Whatever happens, happens. I did what I had to do, or what I thought I had to do, and you did what you had to do did or what you thought you had to do. And we’re still doing the same.

JP: Un-huh, yep, yep!

Patrick: And of course there’s no one to judge us except you and me.

JP Yeah. Although, I think others who, whose lives we have touched…

Patrick: They can’t judge because they too…

JP: But they will judge whether…

Patrick: Ah yeah, well…

JP: … it’s appropriate. Again, we can’t control their actions.

Patrick: I judge myself more harshly I think than other people, even more harshly than my own kids, I think.

Patrick: On the other hand, I think I have to say, the whole point of my life was to meet Stephanie.

Patrick: And I’m sorry, but all the other stuff was an issue that was just on the way.

JP: Un-huh

Patrick: Because I wanted what I found, and I thought I found it with your mother, and then I thought I found it with, with Mari and I thought I found it with Lois … and I found it… with Stephanie. At this point, Jennifer says, “I’m so jealous of Stephanie.” [laughter]

Patrick: What can you say?

JP: Yeah, yeah. I…

Patrick: But, I was a human being who was also looking for love… Just like you guys.

JP: Un-huh, yep!

Patrick: And my family is just as fucked up as your family. [laughter]

JP: Yep!

Patrick: It’s just I was innocent, escaping that family, but I’m not innocent in escaping this family. I was guilty. On the other hand, I don’t believe I had a choice at that moment. Every time I think about it, I get to the point where I drive out of that schoolyard and I have just lost my job, and my car breaks down, and I lose my job at the newspaper that night, and I’m going then to a little money in Melbourne at the Satellite lounge playing bass, and I still have to wash the diapers.

JP: Yeah.

Patrick: And then I find a job in Chicago and go.

JP: Yep.

Patrick: At that point everything goes like it’s a quantum leap, and it’s a sense of freedom (long pause), and adventure, and love, and still, back there: JP, Jennifer. Oh God, you can’t imagine what it was like. I came back to visit you in the garage apartment in Melbourne, and you fell over the…

JP: Construction set.

Patrick: [laughs]

JP: I thought that was in New York.

Patrick: No no.

JP: Okay.

Patrick: Nah, I came to stay and was in the bed with Donna and you came in excited about what you’d made and you fell over it and broke it. [laughter]

JP: Yep

Patrick: Nothing’s changed!

JP: No [laughs]

JP: I tend to destroy the things I build.

Patrick: Ohh God.

JP: [laughs] …in some ways. I’m much better now at …

Patrick: That was just before I left for Europe. It’s been a long, a long trip.

JP: Yeah, a strange and wondrous journey.

Patrick: Yeah. I’m glad you’re ok.

JP: Yeah, yeah. {pause}. I’m glad you’re still a part of my life.

Patrick: Yeah {pause}. I hope you are able to eh {long pause}, make eh {heavy sigh}… find the other half of yourself … which is always, I think, by naturaleta, by nature, a man and a woman. I think it’s really, in my opinion, it has to be. I hope that you can do that.

JP: un-huh

Patrick: Because life would be so much more beautiful, that’s all. On the other hand, it’s not my business… [JP and Patrick laughs], it’s your business. I have to say eh, life with a woman is twice as valuable as a life without a woman because there are four eyes and the world is multiplied. Anyway, it’s not my business.

JP: [laughs]

Patrick: Wow! [Looking at the bottle of Scotch we’re drinking]

JP: [laughs] Yeah…I noticed the quantity there too…

Patrick: You are James’ son! [Jameson]

JP: Yes!

[laughter]

JP: Ahhh. Well hopefully you will sleep tonight.

Patrick: Well if I don’t,

JP: You’ll sleep tomorrow on the drive up!

Patrick: [laughs] Yeah, that’s right

JP: [laughs]

Patrick: If I fall asleep at the wheel—I’ve done it before—I did it twice, so I’ve… third time’s the charm.

JP: Don’t fall asleep.

Patrick: No, right.

JP: No, let me rephrase that, stay awake.

Patrick: Umm, yep

JP: And I’ll inject a penny into the [negativity] jar. [laughs] I don’t know when I started thinking about…

Patrick: Not using negatives?

JP: … trying to … You know I, there was, there was something or some… I don’t think it’s been that many years but I must have read something or considered something, I don’t know how it was, but maybe I was just thinking about verbs and I have been very negative about a lot of things and I need to stop that.

Patrick: But you don’t need to eh cram it down other peoples’ …

JP: Noooo, I know.

Patrick: I think it kind of becomes a little bit of a headache.

JP: It is, it is.

Patrick: I do the same, And Stephanie used to do it, but very gently. There’s a way of doing it…

JP: I’ve tried to start adopting a more positive outlook. I know I do it a lot with Christine and I think it’s partly because I have … for as long as we’ve know each other we’ve enjoyed each other’s company but it has always struck me as so… I guess I just wanted to share with my feeling that we need to make more positive things, just subconsciously.

Patrick: Yep.

JP: Maybe it’s something I picked up from Toastmasters too, I don’t know.

Patrick: Yeah, could be. But anyway, if you’re saying “Make it positive,” this is already a negative statement for Christine… what you’re doing is not fair… So, be careful.

JP: That’s true

Patrick: Yeah, anyway, it’s not my business, as I say. Did I tell you “It’s not myyyyyy business?” [laughter]

Patrick: I always say to my friends in Spain, Olvidé mi cremallera, “I forgot my zipper!”

[laughter]

Patrick: So, whenever you have the feeling of saying “I know more than you do by eh because you just said something you shouldn’t have said,” I always say “don’t.” It doesn’t contribute, but never mind, it’s not my business. [laughs] It is not my business. How do you say that positively? … “It’s only your business.”

JP: Yeah, that it. That’s right, this is your business. [laughs]

Patrick: This is your business [laughs].

Patrick: It’s been a good life.

King Leer

You do what you have to do to make a living….. Not one of Patrick’s proudest moments, but something more to add to the long list of things he did to get by. He wrote this in 2004.

I remember Deià when the village was a haven for pornographers.  A burgeoning nest of bohemian writers and painters soon becomes a honeycomb for dope dealers, Don Juans, and other hangers-on. Such was the case by the late sixties and seventies.

To cite a few examples: Michael was a pint-sized Manson type who used his sexual charisma to send his women off to Morocco to smuggle hash and kif into Mallorca; when one of these was busted and jailed, he fled his house down the Clot road, leaving quite a few ruffled birds in his wake.  Another dealer new to the village showed up one Sunday afternoon with a suitcase packed with slabs of dark brown hashish, but his buyer didn’t show, and he had to sell a key for a pittance to get back to Palma and off the island.  And more than one trafficker in acid had graced the village with their dreams; they shall remain nameless, though all residents know who they were. Continue reading “King Leer”

Whetstone

His name was Blackstone. He was our professor of poetry, of creative writing.

We called him Whetstone, because he sharpened our wits.

We had classes with him twice a week. Normally, he would come into the room sit on the corner of his desk and recite a poem usually not one of his own, someone that he’d been reading. Perhaps Auden or TS Elliot. Or something by Conrad Aiken or whoever was in vogue with him at the moment.

I remember especially one that began

Well, Sherry died last night…

We all believe it was true for the first few lines, but the rhythm and rhyme set us straight pretty quick.

On this particular morning he came in as usual and sat on the corner of his desk and began what we thought was a recitation.

“My house burned last night,”

he said. We had all been to his house the weekend before for a celebration. The house completely lighted by candles placed on the mantelpiece, on the drinks table, on end tables by the chairs and davenport. Maybe a hundred candles and a dozen students.

We wanted to know What is the occasion – your birthday? He told us that he was celebrating the fact that his wife had run off with the plumber. Then he proceeded to tell us that a plumber had more money than he could ever have as a poet and a college professor and “… in fact had a golden door knob on his house, I hope how you appreciate the Freudian significance of that?” He lifted his glass and said “Here’s to solitude and to the Muse.”

So this day when he sat on the corner of his desk, it was not a poem. We began to notice he was not so neat as normal. His suit was a little wrinkled, his hair disheveled and and there was a smudge on his cheek which seemed to be soot. What gave it all away was that he was not wearing socks, unforgivable for such a dapper guy.

After that first line, he passed out and sprawled across his desk. I ran next door to the room of Dr. Rogers with whom later in the day I would be taking a class in Robert Browning’s the yellow book or whatever it was called, that long poem he wrote in Florence based on the trial. Dr. Rogers was another poet not so distinguished perhaps, but older and with a reputation of sorts based on his thesis on Browning at Antioch. He was am elegant southern gentleman in a blue suit matching his eyes. He was also head of the English department.

With our assistance he got Dr. Blackstone out into the fresh air of the balcony over the garden below our classrooms. Somebody called the university medics and they took him on a stretcher down the steps.  He was later treated for depression, and maybe a drying out?

The upshot was that in fact he had fallen asleep in his own living room with candles once again all over the room, drinking alone, mourning the loss of his wife. One of the curtains caught on fire. He woke up inhaling smoke as he was led outside by neighbors and, in a stupor, watched his home burn to the ground.

As far as I know he did in fact later write a poem that begins

My house burned last night…

but if so I never saw it.

I used to have a copy of his early book Call Back the Swallows, by Wings Press, a vanity publishing house. Other books I found listed on the internet – Delirium and Drums, Miracle of Flesh – but never handled either of them. There was yet another I never saw which I could imagine contains something about the incident, since it is dates only a few years later than the day he fainted in the classroom.

It is called Not as leaves are shaken.

April 10, 2016
Valldemossa

Patrick’s Childhood Memories

Here’s a recording from 2014 in which Patrick recalls his childhood, specifically how his family would can foods in the summer and eat them in the winter.

PM: We canned green beans and tomatoes and I think peas, canned peas, and so of course all winter we had that stuff from the garden. When you emptied the mason jars – there was a hole under the back porch steps – you’d it throw it the hole and they’d be Continue reading “Patrick’s Childhood Memories”

Whiffletockers

In high school I worked after classes and on Saturdays delivering furniture for Carl’s Furniture store in Orlando.  Miss Brewster was the secretary and bookkeeper for  my boss. She was what we used to call a handsome woman, probably in her fifties.  She wore reading spectacles with rhinestones on the rims, and was one of the first persons I knew who had a chain to let her glasses dangle from her neck when she wasn’t using them.  I was fascinated by the way they bounced off her bosom when she let them go.

There were two of us working in the delivery van. When we had no deliveries, Miss Brewster put us to work sweeping the premises, washing the display windows, polishing the tables and whatever she could dream up to keep us earning our wage.

She was hard to please and kept after us, never satisfied, especially with the floor and those  dust balls which would flee from the air current created by the push broom, scuttle under a sofa, and later reappear to follow Miss Brewster as she swept by to greet a customer in the showroom.

She called these elusive fluffs whiffletockers, pointing them out to us with her spectacles.  Whiffletockers were hard to catch, and if you managed to grab one with a broom, it stuck there and had to be plucked loose from the bristles by hand.

I never heard the word before or since.  Miss Brewster has since become dust herself, and for me all that remains of her is that pair of spectacles, slanted like cat’s eyes and beaded with rhinestones, and her contralto voice saying whiffletockers.

Memory is often like that.

You try to catch it and it scurries away from you, hiding under other more vivid furniture in the head.  In that sense then, they resemble Miss Brewster’s whiffletockers, and I am determined to track as many of them as I can, weightless though they may be, and flatten them like oversized asterisks on the page.  Maybe then they will cease flitting about on the floor of my mind, or at the very least accumulate in an orderly fashion in a corner where old light is coming through a window.

*

  ‘Nita and I are standing on shining wood.  Barefoot.  Naked. Bright sun illuminates our skin, makes a puddle of light beneath us.  We seem to be floating on the thickness of varnish.

In another room dark and windowless, my newly arrived brother has my place.  He arrived without the harmonica promised to come with him.

That is the beginning of all.

*