Cucumbers

I remember my grandparents’ garden from my childhood. I remember following along behind my grandfather, sent out for tomatoes, while I “helped” by pulling fresh cucumbers off the prickly, hairy vines. Wiping the vegetable off on my tee shirt, I chomped into it right there where I stood.

My grandfather was a staid mountain of a man. He didn’t talk much to his family; he frequently responded to my grandmother in grunts or one-syllable sounds. When he sat down to eat, he really tucked into it:  seconds were certain, thirds were not out of the question. I never knew him not to eat what my grandmother set on the table, but he drew the line at cucumbers.

When my brother, my cousins and I discovered this, we were giddy with unexpected knowledge. We were between six and seven years old and our shrill little giggles must have sounded like the munchkins in Oz. Our secret-telling was, no doubt, conducted in theatrical stage whispers. We couldn’t believe it. Grampie didn’t eat cucumbers! We had to clean our plates, but now here was this revelation.

And so at every meal shortly thereafter, we took turns offering our grandfather helpings of the cool disks marinating lightly in vinegar with a hint of sugar and generous salt and pepper.

“Would you like some cucumbers, Grampie,” we asked choking on our hysteria. In the spirit of humor moderated by solidarity, Grammie hid her smile until it wore off and even she spoke sharply, telling us to leave our grandfather alone. But it was irresistible to tease the unteaseable, to ruffle the unruffleable.

“How about a cuke, Grampie,” we asked, until finally he pounded the table with one open hand.

“I don’t want any goddamn cukes,” he thundered before slamming downstairs to his woodworking shop where a half-gallon of vodka was kept cool under the stairs.

What he didn’t know, sadly I think now, is how nicely good vodka goes down with a bit of gently muddled cucumber, fresh from the garden.

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Oh the Humanity!

Every now and then I feel amazed that I live in a place as populous as the Bay Area. Since moving here from Maine in my twenties, I have often needed to manage feelings of being overwhelmed by the abundance of humanity. Whether hiking deep in the woods, on the beach at a sleepless 5:00 AM, driving a midnight freeway–I don’t think I have ever been alone in my chosen home of California. Sometimes I long for a bit of spatial, psychological, auditory aloneness.

And then there are days like Wednesday.

On Wednesday, I left work and jumped on a BART train that zipped me under the bay and into San Francisco to see my favorite witch doctor. She calls herself a chiropractor, but trust me; she is a healer and a witch doctor of the highest order. But I digress.

Taking BART can be the best of times and the worst of times. Sometimes it just makes you feel like this:

As I stood waiting in line for the train, I heard echoes bouncing off the bare cement walls of someone ranting. Although it seemed like the ranter was speaking English, it was completely indecipherable and, of course, heading in my direction. For once, the train pulled in at exactly the right moment: the ranter, a husky-voiced stout little woman, draped in an Indian sari came into view. She got on the train and sat down next to a young, bright-eyed Millennial. As the train pulled out, the ranter’s eyes bulged and her head craned 90 degrees to look at her seatmate and I heard spooky organ music in minor chords. Bon voyage, happy travelers!

Chuckling to myself, I wandered up 16th Street, destination Castro. I love 16th Street. There are still a few commerce holders-on that have been here since the days of my youth when this was “my” neighborhood, like the Roxy Theater, Pancho Villa Taqueria (burritos bigger than a baby’s head…), and Kilowatt dive bar extraordinaire, but there are always new and interesting places popping up. Eye Candy for the Curious! Or the Candy Store Collective, if you prefer (how the heck do they do that thing with the succulents?):

Anyway, as I was walking to my appointment, soaking up all the Mission I could stand, this wild cacophony came from above and was everywhere at once. In those seconds the brain takes to process stimuli, I was confused and disoriented, but then I remembered: Parrots! I looked up in time to see a small flock fly overhead, squawking for all they were worth. San Francisco is home to several flocks of wild parrots. As crazy as that is, it’s also perfectly San Francisco, unless of course they live in your neighborhood. Those parrots have got to be the noisiest neighbors in The City!

After my visit with Dr. Ferraro, I was famished. I made my way back toward the BART station & stopped for a sausage and beer at Gestalt Haus. As luck would have it, the table beside me was full of 20-somethings having a meeting. My ears perked like antennae while I maintained my disinterested demeanor–it was the Occupy movement of San Francisco plotting their next action.

The location (Barnes & Noble) and the issue (399 remaining tigers–where, what type, I don’t know) had been established. The challenge, as I understood it, was to link these two things and develop catchy phrases and a chant. After a process that was a combination of support and challenge, they seemed to have a loose link between the bookstore and de-forestation (I think) and a phrase, “Barnes and Noble, Be Noble.”

And with that, I pushed my stool away from the bar and headed home sated, satisfied, and content to swim in the human soup.

Mardi Gras

It feels like every day is Fat-One-Day-Or-Another around the office lately. First the holidays and then the Valentine’s Day dessert party, and today there are cookies. It’s like we can’t stop ourselves any more.

When the clock strikes 6, it’s time to transition to the evening vices. It’s beer o’clock! It’s the working person’s reward for cubicle cramp, mental malaise, the paltry palate of the live long work day. Beer, it’s not just for breakfast anymore, as the cute little refrigerator magnets say.

So here we are, Mardi Gras. Not being Catholic, not being from nor ever having been to New Orleans, I’ve never wholeheartedly celebrated either Mardi Gras or Lent. But this year, it feels like someone has to put her food down. Foot, I mean put her foot down. On something. Just one thing.

Either the sugar or the beer would hurt at one time of day or the other. Probably beer would hurt more, because it’s also a social activity, a reason to go out, an aid to conversation (up until a certain point, when it isn’t, of course). It provides an excuse to venture off to some new venue or neighborhood–an adventure!

Should “the giving up” be less painful, and therefore more likely to succeed? Or should the deprivation be more painful, making it more significant, and  perhaps more thought-provoking?

If you were me, what would you give up?