Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Escaping from Gay-bashers

We were driving with our friend Stephen to see "Duplicity," when Stephen said he had read Mark Doty's blog about his escaping from gay-bashing thugs in North Beach.  "Do you remember what happened to us in Sporters?" Stephen asked John.  John remembered.  Years ago he and Stephen had gone to Sporters, a gay bar on Cambridge Street in Boston.   A group of young men came in, looking for trouble, looking to hassle the men at the bar.  They mouthed off at John.  He gave it back to them.  "I said, 'Fuck off, asshole,' John told me.  "Nothing as witty as Oscar Wilde."  They left, but soon John and Stephen learned they were waiting outside, waiting to attack.  According to Stephen, within minutes Lloyd Frame, who was in the bar, called the police.  He told them a group of thugs was beating up an old woman.  The police would not come out to protect patrons of Sporters.  "Betsy saved us," Stephen said.  "She was my guardian angel," John said.  Betsy, a woman they hardly knew, rushed from the bar to her car, drove up to Sporters, and rescued John and Stephen, driving them to Charles Street Station.  "You weren't in the car," John said to Stephen.  "I was; she drove us both.  The police came out in force.  I remember seeing a paddy wagon pull up as we drove off."  "I don't remember that; I only remember being afraid they would follow me into the subway."  "I was there," Stephen said, "in the station."  "You went one way; I went another," John said.  Stephen would have stood on the inbound platform, John on the outbound.  They would have seen each other across the tracks.  It would have been late at night.  "How many of them were there?" I asked.  "Five or six," John said.  I asked about Lloyd Frame.  He worked at Harvard; he drank, died young.  Clever Lloyd Frame.  Brave resourceful Betsy.  "They knew what to do," John said.  

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cheap Soup for Hard Times

Mark Bittman's recipe, "Egg Noodles with Soy Broth," is not as cheap to make as Patricia Hampl's grandmother's "Nothing Soup"--three cents a serving--made from a smudge of fat, flour, onion and water, which she writes about in her memoir, The Florist's Daughter, or my mother's hard-times "corn chowder"--five cents a serving--made by adding milk to a can of creamed corn, or a salad of dandelion greens you can pluck for free, but it costs almost nothing.  If you read Bittman's column in the Times, you know he's not fussy: many ingredients are optional; he encourages you to improvise.  When I read the recipe I thought it was crude.  It's anything but.  The soup is bracing and tasty.  John and I ate it on a cold spring night.   Spring?  It's still winter in Massachusetts.  Here's how to make it:
1/3 cup soy sauce, more to taste (I like low-sodium soy sauce.)
1/3 cup ketchup or 3 tablespoons tomato paste and a pinch of sugar.  (I used tomato paste and sugar; it was fine.)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, more to taste.  (You could use white vinegar and brown sugar.)
A few drops dark sesame oil ( optional) ( I didn't have any.)
A squirt of sriracha or other sauce, or a dried red chili to taste (optional)  (I used red pepper flakes.)
1 pound egg noodles, preferably fresh.  (I used packaged noodles.)

1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  In a smaller pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil; once boiling , reduce heat so water bubbles gently.
2.  To the smaller pot add soy sauce, ketchup (or tomato paste and sugar), vinegar, sesame oil if using and sriracha or chile, along with pinch of salt.  Stir and let simmer.
3.  Add egg noodles to large pot.  When tender but not mushy, drain.  Add more soy, salt, vinegar to taste.
Serves 4

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pleasure and Danger

For our anniversary John and I spent two days at Aerie House in Provincetown.  Near the small greenhouse where Steve, one of the owners, raises orchids, a hot tub faced the ocean.  The air temperature was thirty-five degrees; the sun did not have much heat; dressed in shorts and a skimpy top I would have to descend two flights of outdoor stairs in the freezing air to reach the tub.  Never mind, I had to get into the hot water: my joints ached.  I raised the lid and turned on the jets.  The water churned and steamed.  In seconds I was in.  I leaned back and let my legs float.  As soon as the first shock of pleasure diminished, I noticed the warning signs nailed to the wall.  The pregnant and elderly were in danger.  I was older, certainly not pregnant.  We were cautioned not to go into the tub if we had taken drugs or alcohol, not to use the hot tub alone.  I was alone.  Ten minutes in the tub was the limit.  If the soakers wanted more, they were advised to get out, take a shower, and then go back in.  There was a large clock--not a chance of missing the time.  There were emergency phone numbers, directions to the location of a first-aid kit.  The water steamed; the heat sunk in; my muscles un-kinked.  I lay back again.  An aging person in danger.  More than ten minutes had passed.  To the east the jetty made a pretty broken line; the lighthouse seemed bravely small, the horizon tender.  I gave myself more time.  I sat up straight so my neck and shoulders were in the cold air.  Not for long.  Back down I went into the delicious heat.   The wine bottle I would open for dinner had a warning label; the cigarettes I used to smoke did as well, the food I eat measured for fat.  So many warnings.  No doubt, you can think of more.  These warnings do not spoil pleasure or frighten me.  I regard them calmly.  How does that happen?  Some say the young think they are immortal.  What about those of us who are no longer young?  The avid desire to live pleasurably is stronger than so many warnings, isn't it?      

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cheers for Linda Bamber's Poem "Class"

Most American poets teach but few write about it.  Linda Bamber, author of Metropolitan Tang, is an exception.  Her poem "Class" reminds me of how vulnerable we are when we take poems we love into the classroom.  I'm taken with the bright, lively, slangy vernacular voice of this poem:

Everyone got sick-- 
but I mean sick.  Plus Noah
broke his shoulder, and for days
Scott was dazed from a concussion.
Colds settled in their sinuses;
allergies erupted.  I had to miss class myself

I couldn't tell if they liked Whitman, so I asked.
"This much?" with just a tiny gap  between my palms.
Politely they all indicated
Something in

Emily Dix got sick while we were doing
Emily Dickinson
Which bummed out her dad as he'd named her that
on purpose.
After class I seized the book
and read Scott yet another poem.
Hadn't I worn my heart
on my sleeve enough
for one day?  But after a pause,
"She's such a good writer," he deeply said.
The skin of my teeth relaxed.

Now "Thirteen Ways" by Wallace Stevens.  Suddenly,
success.  It's
the kind of ensemble situation I'd 
fly somewhere for;
I'd get on a plane for this.
No, let me tell you
our little group taking turns today
was like Coltrane's band
on a lost great night.  My lame little class.
Just Noah and Sarah and Andy
the others and me.  Whoopee.

When this class ends I'll be the one
who cares, not you.  And yet
in twenty years
             in ten
                          in two
who'll remember who?

I'm in you, goofballs,
wait and see.

You're just a blur to  me. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

Why Worry?

John and I were getting ready to leave for dinner.  He put on his jacket and gathering the material in his fist pulled the jacket away from his stomach.  "The jacket's too big, isn't it?" he asked.  "It is, but not much," I said.  Before we finally left our condo, John had put on and taken off his jacket a number of times, finally deciding to wear it.  We reached the restaurant on the quiet end of Lincoln Road just west of Alton and found a table outside under the heater going full blast.  If the temperature drops to seventy-five degrees in South Beach, the heaters go on.  Two men chatted at the table near us; when the waiter asked to take their order, one of the men said they were waiting for a friend.  John and I chewed on the delicious bread.  The friend arrived.  He wore spike heels, pegged pants, and a tank top with spaghetti straps.  He was in marvelous shape; his arms were muscular but not too bulked up.  His black hair was wound in an enormous coil on top of his head, and there was still plenty of hair to spare: a thick lock hung over his shoulder.  I took all of this in quickly.  No one was paying any attention to him.  And he wasn't paying much attention to himself; he was not posing.  I waited for John to put down his glass.  "And you were worried about your jacket!" I said.    

Thursday, March 26, 2009

South Beach Story

I went to the tailor and shoe-repair shop near Espanola Way to have a pair of  trousers shortened and waited while a couple negotiated the price of repairing snake-skin boots.  The shop is run by Cubans working at their sewing machines under a canopy of dozens of feathered dream-catchers, those items usually found in tacky tourist shops.  These dream-catchers are not for sale.    The couple agreed on a price and moved toward the door.  I was about to step up to the counter when a man pushed ahead of me.  "I'm next," I said.  He gave way.  "I bet you're an entertainer," he said, perhaps on the evidence of my loud voice.  "I am, too," he said, and jumped on to platform where the seamstress usually pinned up hems.  He was spectacularly handsome, in his thirties, I guessed; just at that tipping point before the signs of aging become apparent.  In command of the platform, he began to sing in a perfectly pitched baritone:

My heart is sad and lonely
For you I cry
For you, dear only
I tell you I mean it
I'm all for you
Body and Soul . . .

He went on until the end of the song.  The women at the sewing machines looked up from their work; the machines stopped.  The proprietor, an attractive middle-aged woman, who, in the many times I had done business with her, had never smiled but leveled a glance at me that said: You may be happy now but you'll soon be miserable, now appeared thoughtful; her mouth softened; her hands were still.  The man sang as he stepped down from the platform.  I told him to go ahead of me, which he did with a bow.  He needed buttons sewn on his jacket.  In two minutes he was done and out the door.   The women went back to their work.  The proprietor gave me a price for shortening my trousers and for the first time looked into my eyes.  Her eyes were the color of caramel.  She seemed to be dreaming.