Tuesday, 19 November 2013

House-guests: Breaking Bread and Breaking Bad

Was it Ben Franklin who said ‘house-guests and fish stink after three days’? Last weekend left me wondering about the reverse.  What’s the sell-by date, the statute of limitations, the odor if you will, of time spent in the home a ‘BreakingBad’ addict?  
When and how fast exactly does that get old?
We’d had a lovely evening. He’d come in from London, was a little jet-lagged maybe, this house-guest of ours, a charming chappy, we all were getting on like a ‘house-on-fire.’ The house on fire theme could be seen as foreshadowing, I get that now. But at the time, the company, the conversation, the Abbott Kinney Tapas restaurant we went to, the bonhomie all-round, it fell safely in the realm of ‘a nice time had by all.’  Maybe too much wine was consumed, definitely too much chocolate—so what? It wasn’t like Meth was involved.  I didn’t even bring up the names Walt or Jesse or Skyler or Hank.  Okay, yes, I admit, half-way through our meal I was wondering just how bad our house-guest’s jet-lag might be, cause if it was super bad, well, maybe he’d like to call it an early night himself, and then—and only then—I might have time to squeeze in an episode of 'Breaking Bad' (just one…or two, three at the most). I have rules in place, you see, about that kind of thing. I won’t watch the show just before falling asleep.  It’s too darn dark and winds me up, and I’m ‘my-body-my-temple’ enough to know it’s not good to carry all that twistedness into my dream-state. But I’m also an addict; I can admit I’ve often planned my day around my watching schedule. I’m addict enough to feel a quasi-holy gratitude for the fact I never got into 'Breaking Bad' till it was all over, because I don’t know how I would’ve survived the waiting for fresh episodes on a weekly basis. And goes without saying, I’m addict enough to break my own rules about protecting my dream-state, especially when it comes to a season finale.
But at this point in my busy watching schedule I was only mid-way through Season 3, nowhere near the finale.  And as this pleasant evening wore on, I became aware we were entering a grey zone… chances were I would not be squeezing in anything that night, and I was going to have to be fine with that.
But it was on my mind, you know?  It was calling me.
I’d just left off where Skyler tells Walt he has to go to the police.  The scene where she’s been up all night, unable to sleep for thinking about it (join the club)-- that was re-running in my mind as I kissed our house-guest good-night on the cheek. Walt’s face, hardening, and Skyler who doesn’t see it, but we do, the audience, I did-- that’s what I was seeing as our house-guest disappeared into the guest room with its thin little walls and shut the door.  “She goes on and on, oblivious about the effect she’s having on him!” I turned on my husband whispering without missing a beat, like he had any idea what I was talking about. Though he probably did, because 'Breaking Bad' is pretty much my only subject of conversation these days. “She’s rabid! Frantic!” I hissed.  “He has to go to the police, she says, he’s in over his head with all these drug lords, he’s just a chemistry teacher for God’s sake!  Oh-ho-ho, Skyler had to use that word, didn’t she?  ‘Just.’ Just a chemistry teacher!”
My husband stares at me blankly.  He’s not watching 'Breaking Bad.'  Maybe he feels he doesn’t need to, he’s already getting blow-by-blow nightly re-enactments.
But I need him to see, to understand, to go on this journey with me, get down into those scary 'Breaking Bad' trenches.  I can’t do this alone.  “He’s changed, get it? He’s gone to the dark side of the moon, he’s a monster and she doesn’t even know! She still thinking he’s just her Walt, her schlubby high school chemistry teacher!  And he’s not! He's not!”
I think this is where my husband began shaking his head. At the time, I took it as affirmation that he saw what I saw: “It’s the character’s fatal flaw, right? He’s a good guy, or was. But it’s his pride, his ego!  All this ‘just-a-chemistry-teacher, in-over-your-head, can’t-handle-it’-business, she’s pressing down on the wrong button! Wrong, wrong, wrong! He’s a ticking time bomb, and here’s where he explodes!”
My husband’s expression turned to real concern. Again, I see now I probably misconstrued the meaning, I took his look as worry for Walt. Or maybe Skyler. Not for the state of our marriage. Or my mind. Or our house-guest…lying in bed, one thin wall away.
And if I’m perfectly honest, actually, none of this thought process was really happening. Cause I was in that scene in that moment. I was Walt. I was Skyler. I was breaking very, very bad--
“’WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE TALKING TO? HUH? WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK I AM?  YOU HAVE ANY FUCKING IDEA? HUH? HUH? I’m the bad guy at the door. I’m the man you have to be afraid of. I’M the man. I’M THE MAN! I’M THE MAN!!”
I might have gone on for a bit more. The scene definitely goes on from there. But my husband, thank God, was in fact ‘the man.’ The man of reason.
“Shhh,” he whispered gently, pointing at the thin wall separating us and our house-guest.
Next morning, we’d all planned to go to brunch together, meet up with friends, a nice day out.  But I woke up a bit too late (you really need to ask why?), and our house-guest had already gone.
… Something I said?

Friday, 1 November 2013

Day of the Dead

     “If I had even one memory of her cooking on it, then…” My husband was unable to finish that sentence.  How could he? My eyes were pooling, my bottom lip was trembling.  My mother had only recently passed, and we were standing in her ghostly quiet kitchen, staring at her dilapidated O’Keefe and Merritt stove, making emotional decisions. The stove would cost a lot more to put right than buying a brand new one, or even a similar re-conditioned one from ‘Antique Stove Heaven’—the place that had already offered up their astronomical ballpark estimate.  But that was the least of it.  Adopting my mother’s stove would also mean remodeling our entire kitchen around it.  Over the years I’ve dragged my family through more remodels of more fixer-uppers than most people have hot dinners cooked for them.  If I’ve learned nothing from all of that it’s that no kitchen ever transforms itself cheaply.   
     And my husband was right, my mom did not cook.  Had not cooked, not for a very long time.  I cast my mind back—I’d been with my husband coming up for 30 years (I was baby bride, don’t bother doing the math).  Had she really not cooked anything for over 30 years?  Did she ever cook?  I have a vague recollection of her stirring something on the stove top… once… but it’s such an early childhood memory, so lost in the mists of time, I could be just making that up. 
     “But we…we ate,” I said aloud.  My husband looked confused.  “Chicken Delite.  Or pizza,” I admitted.  His confusion seemed to deepen, but I’d answered my own question, remembering my youthful excitement over the parade of young delivery boys who showed up on our doorstep bearing food.
     “That’s where I get it from!” I said, connecting the dots, unbelievably, for the first time.  “I don’t cook either!  She passed that on to me!” I exclaimed, like that was a good thing.
     Well, I don’t.  Cause I’m crap at it.  Burning is my specialty.  I’ve had to remove all smoke alarms from our house, that’s how bad it is.  It was like those alarms just knew.  I only had to step near the stove and off they’d go.  When our kids were little I remember offering to cook for them once, and their little faces broke into panicked anguish: “NO MOMMY, NO!  PLEASE, NO!” they cried, like I was Joan Crawford threatening them with a wire-hanger.  It was awful.  I never offered again.  The only thing that saved us from complete starvation is my husband’s genius cooking skills. Whether that particular gift was in his original gene make-up, or an artistry born out of necessity, we’ll never know.  Point is, he’s smokin’…in a good way.
     “Honey,” he said gently, holding me close, “I can’t imagine you’d ever cook on this thing either.” 
     “But… but… you will,” I said, bursting into fresh tears.  Tears of the grieving trumps all reason.  And so, with that, our fate was sealed. Another remodel.
     It brought to mind the last remodel we’d endured in a different house—the one that had me swearing it was the last one.  Fixing up homes has been a sideline/addiction of mine, and until someone offers up a 12 step program, I may never be fully recovered.  But that one had been particularly painful.  Way over budget, way over-long, a certain psychosis had set in: I’d actually resigned myself to the idea that Chuck and his cohorts were a permanent fixture in our house, part of the family.  They’re nice guys, I remember thinking, is it really so bad living with them…forever?  Is it really so bad living with an unending root canal?  Yes, is the answer.  It was really so bad. 
      And in the midst of it, my father passed away.
     “Chuck,” I said, my eyes pooling that time too, chin trembling, full grief-mode, “you have to go.  (You, and your saws and your hammers and equipment, and your workers, and your dust and your chaos, and your invoices, and your intrusion, and your never-ending and-and-and…). End of the month, Chuck.  We’re having a memorial here in our home… for my father… and…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.  I didn’t have to.  Chuck was gone. 
     You could say it was manipulative, opportunistic.  But I knew it’s what Dad would’ve wanted for me.  He was a builder himself, and he had a sense of humor.   
     And I also knew Mom would’ve wanted me to have that stove, if only for the symbolism.  She was a woman who refused to be a product of her time, she was unchained to her stove.  It would be a classic reminder.
     I really love Day of the Dead.  It’s such is a beautiful concept; a day when we commune with those on the other side.  A time to remember, to appreciate and express our gratitude for all they gave.  But I especially like to ponder the many and varied ways they continue to give and enrich our lives, even after their ‘quote-unquote’ passing.