Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Leather Journals and Weathered Campers

This piece was originally publish in City Dads Group in July of last year. There is an added paragraph that was edited out (for good reason, it's weird) included at the conclusion. I just wanted this here in my blog-cum-journal because it means a lot to me and I want it with my other musings.

 

I am going through a long and sentimental (bordering on mawkish) ending of sorts that involves a 20-year-old Coleman pop-up camper.

My wife and I bought it new just after we were married, well before we had the twins, well before I ever dreamed that was on the horizon. It’s old and worn now, ravaged by time and memory, many miles and many backyard sleepovers. I am trying to figure what to do with it as it’s barely roadworthy.

We were so delightfully young and naive when we were purchasing it. We spent weeks looking at floor plans, considering size and amenities, finally deciding on a smaller sized one that could be towed by my six-cylinder Chevy S-10. A smaller size would also made it a little easier to back up and, truth be told — ‘cause I suck at backing a trailer — could actually be hand pushed into a space when necessary. It never really occurred to us that we might be camping with twin toddlers or giant teenagers, so we based our needs on just us: no toilet and an interior set up to accommodate two newlyweds and a guitar.

The camper’s been in the backyard for sometime now. The boys like to hang out in it as the WiFi reaches that far. I’ve got to put it down before … well, I can’t.

You see, at the same time we bought the camper, I purchased a very nice leather-bound journal. I put it in a drawer inside the camper and vowed to write a bit about every night we would spend in it. And I did. The writing is not very good, few metaphors or deep insights, but the years are covered, each trip dutifully noted. Through the pages, the boys grow up, I age, the relationship with my wife deepens and a continuity and connection is established. Over the years, it has held the stories and hopes of a young family growing up together. Stories of thunderstorms and frightened toddlers, scraped knees and sleepless nights; hopes for the future in the young minds of 6-year-olds and my own hopes for their lives moving forward.

leather bound journal
“Through the pages, the boys grow up, I age, the relationship with my wife deepens and a continuity and connection is established. Over the years, it has held the stories and hopes of a young family growing up together.” (Photo: Bill Peebles)

I am very glad I bought that journal. It sits to my left as I am writing this right now.

I spent a couple of recent evenings in the old camper, looking through what was in it when I came across the journal. I, of course, knew it was in there, but with a curious urgency — fueled perhaps by the beers — I put it with the pile of things to take into the house along with a nice bag of ropes and twine and three fire-starter type lighters — you know, the long ones.

Here’s the thing, the “ending” of that old camper is a new “beginning” for that journal. It is done with its long present and now can begin to show me my past: a past where I hoped for my boys’ future. It is so strange how, as one writes in diaries and personal journals, how prescient we can be. There’s an entry from 2011, written of an early morning at a state park in central Ohio, where I say: “The boys are getting along surprisingly well. They rarely fight or bicker and are good friends, it seems. Who knows how long that’ll last, but I really hope it does.”

How could I know then that, nine years later, they’d still be best friends?

Or, that at the time I was watching the beginnings of what I think will be a lifelong friendship?

How, perhaps, would I know that camping and close proximity and bonding in the close quarters of that little camper would help that along?

And how, perhaps I had helped it through sheer happenstance and in a leather-bound journal I’d noted it and can now look back upon it?

Recently, a fellow father and writer, purchased a used camper and solicited advice from a social media group we are in. I typed a long answer — advice on gear and the such — but I deleted it. The real advice I had for him was too ethereal and came from a place I’m at now, a place he’ll get to, a place he already is. Camping, like so many other family adventures and hobbies, are about memory making. Their worth can only be revealed later, but, at the time you’re making them, you still somehow know that even if you don’t realize it then.

Anyway, we all seem to be currently living lives that seem to simply be in the present.  Asking ourselves to consider what is ahead, or even close examination of what was just behind us is, if you’ll forgive me, untimely.  Literally, now, this now, is not the time. But, for me, this journal seems to be both future and past, a thing long gone, but ultimately to show its future self, uh… later?  Now?

Oh, nevermind…

 

Abba

This post was originally published on City Dads Group in April of this year, I am reposting it here because, as an archive of my writings, I like to get most everything I've written in one place. The original Editor's note precedes it.

 

Editor’s note: Pope Francis has proclaimed 2021 as “The Year of St. Joseph.” Pope Francis describes Joseph – the father of Jesus and spouse of his mother, Mary, in the Christian tradition – as “a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father; a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, a father in the shadows.” Contributor Bill Peebles wrote this tribute.

A young man holds an infant in an oak rocking chair. The baby fusses and cries, uncomfortable in its new surroundings, inundated with sights and sounds so new and unfamiliar. The father soothes and smiles, his rough hands stroke the dark hair and chubby cheeks and the baby calms and begins to coo and eventually nods off. The room is dark, but a simple lamp fills it full.

The toddler, two-and-a-half, now laughs and chases a kitten across the wooden floor of a dining room. The same father watches, a warm drink in his hand, and encourages the little one to be gentle. He lifts the kitten and teaches the little one to pet it with care. A morning glow fills the room and speckles the orange and black calico with a light that seems from within the kitten and kid.

That toddler, a boy now, 7 and full of energy and boundless love watches as the father makes his breakfast of bread and milk and sweet honey. He dances in his pine chair in happy anticipation and sighs at the taste of the honey and milk-soaked loaf. He knows he is safe even as a storm blows up in the trees outside the home, unafraid even as the room explodes in the flash of lightning close by.

Ten now, the boy runs and chases and tags and tackles his friends as they play outside the school. They rejoice in the temporary freedom, away from the hard wooden desks and dusty classroom. Another boy falls hard, and a sharp stone slashes his forehead, our boy runs towards him pulling off his garment, unafraid of the blood and pain of it. He comforts and tends the wound. The father watches, not proud but sure, sure in the lessons learned and taught, from both to each other.

An older boy, a young man perhaps, the rings of his years building up around him, protecting, comes into his age. There are celebrations and woodfires and wine and cheese and incantations. Some blood, perhaps, is let. The time is upon him now to look to the future – outwards, forward and in, always in.  The father knows, though, the rough and wondrous way ahead.

A job — a workshop, a woodshed, a quarry, a brewery, a bakery, a sanctuary – where is not important, but the boy is gone, his own man know. But, he is also his father’s son and shall always be.

The tenderness he shows others is in indeed his father’s.

The grace he has seen is only illuminated through his father’s eyes.

All that he finds sacred in the wood, and in the thorns and in the sorrows; all that is sacred in the sky and lakes and clouds and smoke is through the father.

All that he finds holy, the very whole of it all, is the Father.

After a time apart, both seconds and eons, they meet again.

The boy, always a boy to the father, smiles and simply says:

Abba.”

The joyous father beams and whispers back, “My son …”

 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Sideman's Dream



Do ya’ll know what a “sideman” is? I looked it up and I didn’t get a good feel for the word: “a supporting musician in a jazz band or rock group.” That’s really not enough, but I am sure I have layered my own connotations over this simple meaning, as one does.

When I was in my early teens, I tried to learn some Jim Croce songs since he was in the fashion of the times. “Operator,” “I’ve Got a Name” and “Time in a Bottle” are just a few of the tunes I tried to mimic.
I got them down alright, but I never really mastered them. I just assumed I didn’t have the skills to do them.

And then, in the late seventies, I saw Jim perform on a variety show with another guy. I was all, who’s that dude, and, as I watched, I came to understand he was doing the guitar heavy lifting and Jim was just strumming the rhythm. The realization came over my adolescent-addled mind like a storm, one of those, oh, ohhh, OH! moments. Yes, of course, I should have figured it out, but I hadn’t.

He was a long-haired, lanky guy named Maurice T. "Maury" Muehleisen. In fact, here they are together in what I think is the very show I was watching a repeat of. He was killed in the same plane crash that killed Croce and others.

 Jim Croce

After the initial surprise, and, honestly, the shocking fact that I didn’t know this, I watched on. Besides the extraordinary fingering skills and the airy background vocals and the absolute calm he exuded, I could not help but notice how damned happy he looked, as though he couldn’t get over the fact that he was playing for a legend, as though he felt honored to be doing it. That stuck with me.

Forward now ahead to the last few years. I’ve taken a strong interest in the songs and legends of the inimitable Guy Clark. I guess you could say I studied him and his music. I read a wonderful authorized biography of him by Tamara Saviano called Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark. I watched a bunch of videos, many from his later years, and one fellow kept coming up, Verlon Thompson. I won’t go into the details of times and places; they aren’t necessary today.

But what is important is how he felt about his job. Over and over again, he states that it was the great honor and joy of his life to be Guy’s sideman. You can tell he means it as well. He took Guy’s death awfully hard, as you can imagine. He also wrote this song, “Sideman’s Dream” for Guy.

I did a lot of living between Maury and Verlon, but I’m not sure I was ever very far away from the idea of a sideman, a helper, a supporter, a “lifter” if you will.

I worked in restaurants for most of my life as a busboy, a waiter, and a bartender. I came early to the conclusion that my job was not about me, but to make others shine.

I never tried to upstage my guests, I always tried to make the whole experience about them. I cannot lie, this approach worked well, and I made a lot of money because of it. Others in the business, however, often were the star of their own show. Beautiful flirty waitresses, flamboyant gay waiters, Canadian dudes with “outrageous French accents”, stuffy sommeliers, overly enthusiastic hostesses and semi-celebrity chefs - they all fill the dining rooms of my memory, and I am sure their own styles worked well for them, but, it never felt genuine to me.

I spent most of my career in fine dining establishments most of which utilized a system of front- and back-waiters, especially for larger parties but often just on a regular night. In most cases, both could perform either role, but I preferred being a back-water. The front-waiter usually did all the talking and gave the “spiel” and took the order, though it helped if both remembered it, and basically ran the show.
The back-waiter took care of all the little details. When a guest left the table, I folded his napkin and, upon their return placed back in their lap. I made sure the Missus had a fish fork and the Mister a steak knife. I kept the water and wine glasses full, removed the salad or soup course, helped serve the entrees and lifted the cloches, and kept the whole thing rolling so the front waiter could look as cool and effortless as possible.

I loved it. I was useful and helpful and had every opportunity to be kind. I enjoyed the elegance and grace of it all. It was very dignified.

And there, I think, might be my point. There is dignity in every line of work that we all must recognize. I don’t want to list all the jobs that I think don’t get the dignity and appreciation they deserve - fabricate your own list - but I know everyone deserves my respect. Are there exceptions? I suppose so, maybe… not really.

In all those years back-serving I often was asked by a guest why I wasn’t a front-man, their assumption being that there was a hierarchy and that I seemed pretty good at it all. I’d smile and deflect, saying it was a pleasure to work behind John, Heidi or Sebastian or whoever. I never felt it stick in my craw though. We split the tip evenly and the work sharing seemed fair, so I just felt we were so-workers, team-workers.

Which, it occurs to me, might be a better point. No role is in any way subservient if it’s agreed upon that the goal and outcome serve the mutual need.

I return to Maury and Verlon and so many other great sidemen I’ve noticed over the years. After the initial thrill of the front-man and the excitement of a favorite song, I find my eyes and ears drifting to the sideman. A great guitar lead or a soaring fiddle solo, the studied beat of the drummer, the bassist soft and slow, the pianist’s quick arpeggio - all seem to lift the front-man, raising him higher than their singular talents. This would be the outcome of serving the mutual need: To present the song as perfect as possible.

One last, quick story and I’ll let you go.

I sometimes play and sing in a local bar called The Plain Folk Cafe of a Thursday night, open mic night. Now, I could write a novel about what I’ve observed in the goings-on there, but what most strikes me is the level of decency everyone offers each other. And these are different folks, with different geographical and social backgrounds, “hillbillies and hippies” my friend Ron once said. But this is no place to start a novel…

I know his name, but I haven’t asked him if I could use it (I didn't think Ron would mind), and, as a memoirist, I might not have all my facts correct or may have assumed things in my subjectivity that aren’t there. Anyway, he plays harmonica and is remarkably good. He sometimes sings and plays guitar but mostly he the house harmonica guy. Folks invite him up to play or he’ll play a bit as someone’s doing their set and they’ll ask him up. Which is what happened to me.

I was playing a tune, “Paradise” I remember, and I heard this plaintive call coming from close in the crowd, I saw him and motioned him up. He grabbed his harp case and hopped on up, playing the whole time, I might add. I’d really just started the song so after the second chorus I played a verse and chorus just on the guitar. A head bob to him and he understood instantly and took the melody on his harp. 

He soared. Adding more, in all honesty, than I would in the subsequent verses. He found that lonesome, lost sound that mirrored the mood and sad beauty in those haunting Prine words. I was a bit gobsmacked and I think he was, too, at me giving him such a long solo, I barely knew him at the time.

I finished that song and did a few more ending with a song I’d written called “In a Little Boy's Soul”. Mind you, he could never have heard this song before, guaranteed. One chorus and verse in, he was playing it like he’d know it all his life. He really lifted my song, made it shine brighter. I will be always indebted to him for that.

We got off that stage and do you know what he said? “Thanks for letting me play with you. I truly enjoyed that.” And then he thanked me for giving him that lead and telling him what key the songs were in. He’d just transcended my set, made it better, you understand? He made it better. I thanked him, of course, and complimented his style and connectedness but he’d have none of it, genuinely humble.

He started to the bar to get a fresh Yuengling and I thanked him one last time, and then he said something that still echoes, “It was my honor.”

So, I guess that’s my advice today. Sometimes, you’ll be a sideman, sometimes you won’t, (and sometimes you just won't be sure), but I have found the most satisfaction in being one. 

I am a sideman to you boys. 

I am a sideman to my dear wife, Marci. 

I’ve been a sideman to friends and musicians, chefs and CEOs, infants and the infirmed, priests and roofers.

And it has been, and shall forever be, my honor.

Peace and thanks for stopping by, I know things are pretty tough the days, I appreciate your time.


There's always more, isn't there?  Years ago, over ten I'd say, Marci had this mouse pad made for me. It's Zack holding the water fountain on as Nick gets a drink, they later reversed roles.



 It's nice to have a sideman, ain't it boys?


Kind Being


This was originally published as Be nice, Kids. Better Yet. Be the Things you want in Others on City Dads Group in March of this year, just two months ago. It seems a bit trite and naive in retrospect, but, I liked it at the time.  

Hey, my teenage sons — and friendly others — you might remember that I’ve been offering advice to you — my boys, not the others — instead of talking about what you’re up to as I did for so many years. Honestly, I thought it would be easy to give advice and drop wisdom bombs. You know what? It ain’t.

Before I get started, though, let me tell you a quick story.

Since right around the time you boys were born, 15 or so years ago, this same guy in the deli at our local grocery store has been slicing our ham and salami and bagging up fried chicken for us. His name is Neil, and he recently retired. I saw him the other day at a convenience store where we were both getting coffee. When he recognized me, he smiled and shook my hand warmly and said, “Hey, it’s Super Nice Guy!”

I was a little take aback, but who doesn’t like a nickname — truth be told, I always thought of him as Neil the Chicken Guy. I smiled and told him I always appreciated what he did for us and mentioned that he always gave me a couple of more pieces of chicken than I ordered. He said he was glad to do it. Neil also said he thought I was the kindest customer he had and that he enjoyed talking baseball with me and watching the boys grow up. I made an impact on this guy just by being nice to him, which is sadly rare way to treat a retail employee.
 
Just by being nice.

So, I guess that’s my advice for you this time is: Be nice. Good advice, right? Well, yes, I guess so. But, what does that even mean?

As parents, we say “be nice” all the time. I looked the word “nice” up: pleasant: agreeable; satisfactory. Sort of a generic entry there, don’tcha think?

Be good. Be kind. Be safe. Be nice.

I’ve been saying these things to you since before you could talk. So much so, in fact, that it begins to mean nothing. I wonder if they even mean anything to you anymore. We never define exactly what entails “being nice” or any of the other words we so casually offer as you go out the door. Perhaps, they’re only platitudes given up as much for ourselves as for you, as though I’m covering my own ass by telling you these things. You know, “I told him to be nice, officer. It’s out of my hands now.”

I notice, however, that there is a consistency here in all those trite directives I’ve been offering, but not where you’d expect it. It’s that first word, “be.”

Man, that’s a complicated word. But, it is a verb and that helps. I understand verbs.

The word “love,” for instance, is both a verb and a noun. I’ve never been able to pin it down as a noun. It’s one of those that is different to every person and in every case. But, as a verb, it is more definite, more actionable.

Maybe that’s what we mean when we say “be nice” or any of the others. The focus is not necessarily on the amorphous noun but on that little word in front. I am asking you to become nice, occupy nice, live in nice. And, you know what, I see you do it.

I’ve watched you be nice so many times over the years. A hand offered to help a player up on the soccer pitch. An encouraging word given to a scared friend or frustrated brother. An unsolicited hug for me or your mother. I’ve witnessed you being respectful to your teachers. I’ve seen you being kind to your grandparents. I’ve seen you be patient with younger kids, watched you be safe on a playground.

The only way we can see these nouns like love and honor and respect and integrity is when they are acted out in front of us. Listen, boys: it’s easy to see the meanness and baseness and discourtesy of this world we live in. Just turn on your phone or your television. It seems nearly every show or movie depends on some unsavory elements to move forward — some are just devoted to being mean or showing cruelty and disrespect. And the news so often just shows us the bad.

But, and I truly believe this, it is just as easy, if not easier, to see kindness and decency and niceties and so much more.

Integrity flies by in the cab of the firetruck as it screams by our house from the station around the corner. Courage is made real in the intent and decency of medical professionals. Honor is there in the hearts of our teachers. Cashiers and servers, cops and clergy, roofers and landscapers, “chicken guys,” will all respond in kind when offered kindness. I’ve seen it over and over in my life. You will, too, you’ve just got to look for it.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to revise my advice today. “Be nice” is too vague to be helpful. I’d say just “be” might be enough.

Be nice, be kind, be helpful and courageous and wild and playful and hopeful, just and right. Be love, be integrity, be honor and decency and respect.

Let them occupy you. Let them be in you, and I believe they are. I believe they are in all of us. Be the things you want in others, be toward them as you’d have them be to you.

Just be.

Be yourselves.

 I just wanted to get this here.

Peace.

Monday, March 9, 2020

I Chose the "Ch****oast"



When I was thirteen or so my parents went out of town for the weekend. My then seventeen-year-old, senior in high school brother was tasked with looking after me, so, yeah, I went unsupervised. 

It was fall and he had a football game Friday night which I had attended and got a ride home afterward with friends. He was supposed to get me home. I didn’t see him again until late Saturday morning when he left and told me he’d see me whenever.

I, correctly, took that to mean the next day.

When Mom left, she said we could have anything in the freezer, meaning TV dinners, which were very popular in those days. She, however, did not say specifically which freezer she meant. You see, there was also a big chest freezer in the basement full of frozen bread and vegetables, ice cream, curiously, milk and… meat.

I liked meat, a lot, then and still do. For some people it’s sweets, some like salty, some like fruits and vegetables, others can’t do without starch. I think folks are predisposed, like, biologically, to run on different fuels. I run on meat.  Also, I am not a scientist.

So, here was the plan. I’d get some meat from the freezer and I’d grill it for my lunch. As I opened the lid that cold air rushed me and I swore I heard a little choral “hallelujah” as I looked down on all those white butcher packs full of meat, each marked - many smeared - with a grease pencil as to their content. Now, I was not so stupid as to take a “T-bone” or a “Strip,” Dad would not have liked that. There were plenty marked “Hambuger”(sic) but that’s not what I wanted. As I dug, I found “Round Steak,” a possibility, a giant “Roast” and, towards the very bottom, a “Ch*** *oast.” It was not too thick, a good size and has clearly been down there on the bottom for quite a while and would probably not be missed.

So, I chose the “Choast.”

Now, I have held in my hands a piece of marble that was less hard than this chunk of meat. In fact, I had to run it under hot water to get the paper off it was so thoroughly frozen to the surface of the meat. This, for reasons that I can’t quite grasp today, did not deter me, nor did the white freezer-burn around the edges. I chucked it onto a cookie sheet and went to start the Weber.

I’d watched my Dad start the grill many times, we had hamburgers most Saturday nights, and I knew how to get it started. 
He used a nifty chimney thing that you stuffed with newspaper at the bottom and filled the larger top part with the Kingsford and lit. In ten or so minutes the coals were going and you could dump them out and put the grill grate on. I accomplished this with little difficulties. The difficulties were yet to come…

Salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, just as Dad did with the burgers. The grill was hot, and I slid that meat from the sheet pan and on to that very hot grill with a mighty sizzle and a soft sorta “clunck” and looked forward to my steak in fifteen or twenty minutes, figuring it was just a big sirloin.

I gave it a few minutes and went to flip it with the big fork that dangled from the Weber. Needless to say, that meat was simply impenetrable. I gave up on the fork and grabbed the tongs that were next to them. The tongs were woefully under-designed for a two-and-a-half-pound hunk-o-beef and I quickly abandoned them.

All that was left on the utensil hanger was the burger spatula that had a surface area about a thirty-secondth of the meat. I managed to get it under but kept getting it off balance and had to steady it with the tongs, but I did manage to get it flipped.

Nothing. It had grayed a bit and there were a few marks from the grate, but it didn’t look like any hamburger or steak I’d ever had. I gave the other side maybe ten minutes, performed the flip maneuver with a little more alacrity and again… nothing. Yeah, it was a little darker than the first side, a little less gray edging toward brown but, well, not right.

Young men are not quick to either see nor admit to the folly of their ways - that comes with time and experience - but, I think I began to see that I needed a better plan. Thankfully, it occurred to me that I needed to thaw the beef. Perhaps this was not the best time for this realization, especially since I knew meat needed to be thawed. My mom often left a pound of hamburger out to thaw in the morning for dinner later. I am still unclear why this occurred to me so late in the game that day, but, there it is.

However, when it did occur to me, it all occurred to me. 
Something changed. It was clear that a biological timer had gone off or, deeper perhaps, a genetic switch was tripped, and I saw unmistakably the battle I was into, my first, my trial by fire. The combination of the heat and smoke of the Kingsford, the aroma of the sear, and the Flintstone-like look of that slab stirred up in me a primitive and urgent lust for that piece of meat and conjured in my mind great heroism. I felt, perhaps, as an apprentice may feel as he enters a noble trade and knows that he will someday know the secrets that will make him wise.

I’ll do us all the honor of speeding up the narrative.

You know that technique where you push all the coals to one side and the other side no longer sears, we call it “indirect heat” these days? Yeah, I didn’t think of that. I did remove the meat and the grill, and I pushed all the coals to the sides, in a big circle. I added some more Kingsford on top of the graying ones and put the grate and the meat back on.

Yes, I’d encircled the Choast and begun my siege. 
I won’t dwell on the battle tactics I employed, but they did include an interesting technique to refuel my fire in which I slowly spun the grate and dropped individual briquettes through a small gap by the handles of the grate; an inspired Webelo moment that involved aluminum foil and an onion and a limp celery stalk and Pepsi; and a moment of sheer epiphany when I came to understand the air vent adjusters at the top and bottom.

So, a wrapped and wrestled, roasted and broasted, fiddled and fucked with that meat for a full four or more hours. So long, in fact, that I had to have lunch waiting on my lunch - Lebanon bologna and mustard, thanks for asking. Finally, I decided to remove it from the foil to see what I had.

It was gray…

However, as you might recall, I had been awakened to the Way of the Grill and I knew I needed to get some color on it. So, off the grill, remove the grate and pile all those coals, now just small glowing bits, but they made a nice pile in the center.

As I stacked them with the wearing-out tongs I knocked most of the ash off them and, well, I could have smelted on them. Grate back on and quickly it is hot, hot, hot.

I slid the meat down with a satisfying sizzle. The Pepsi had reduced along with the juices and was a bit syrupy and clung to the outside of the chunk. It quickly smelled of caramel and barbeque and earth and Ohio. 

I managed to flip it - it was starting to come apart a little - and when I did the angels sang. It was dark gold and brown and deep umber and there were perfect grill marks. It was Pinterest perfect decades before there was such a thing. I can see it right now…

I quickly seared up the other side and plated it on an chipped oval platter, a platter my mother still has to this day. It was then that I realized I didn’t have anything to go with it. 

I carried the finished product into the kitchen and decided to fry up some potatoes in bacon grease, a family favorite Nick makes these days. Now that took a while and, honestly, unbeknownst to me, gave that meat a chance to rest and cool a little.

Somewhere around six, I’d guess I sat down at the picnic table on the screened porch. Close enough to the Weber to feel the last of the heat from the coals which cut the evening chill nicely. Our porch was high on a hill and all around me the woods and fields in the distance glowed in that fall palette this part of the country utilizes so well. It was still and had been all day and the aroma from the hours-long grilling session hung sweetly in the high ceiling above me. Crickets and frogs were tuning up and birds tittered in the trees.

I looked down at the platter in front of me, this platter…



… and the rustic aroma of those golden, bacon-fried potatoes mingled with the faint tang of the burnt edges and the sweetness of that pop-caramelized chuck roast will forever hang in the smokehouse my memory.

It was not quite fork-tender, I had a steak knife and sliced an edge off and popped that in my mouth and, well, you know what... I’m gonna let you imagine how good it was. Everything I could say about it is because I know food these days, not so much then.

I know, now, what techniques I used and why things happened the way they did. I know the Maillard effect and about how sugar and salt work and all that.

But, back then, all I knew was that it was perfect, and I had never even intended it. I thought I was having steak but accidentally invented braised, grilled, glazed ch****oast.

And that, dear boys, is my bit of advice today: a lot of times life works out much differently than you expected. And - comically, I think - it is often through blunders and wrong turns and desperate chances and tomfoolery and hairbrainage and dumbfuckery that we find ourselves in wonderful, odd and unforgettable moments.

If there are axioms in life I think this might be one:

“You never know what’s coming or where you're going.”

I hope this finds you someday, boys.

And peace to those reading along now, or tomorrow or yesterday. It’s weird that when you write it’s like being in all tenses at the same time.

Thanks for stopping by.