Monthly Archives: January 2013

Of Lice And Men

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We had a Lice Scare at the old homestead recently.

Frank, a good friend of long standing came to visit for a ski vacation – which, by the way, was completely awesome.  I rarely get to ski with a buddy.  Roy says I make him nervous because I ski faster than he does, which means I spend a good amount of time hanging around on the verge of the ski run, which I totally do not mind, but – because while I am hanging about on the run, what I am doing is watching Roy come down the hill – he hates.  He wants to ski with me anyway because, in his eyes, it is bonding.  So what happens, for the most part, is we go out to the hill, Roy wants to ski together to bond, until we actually ski together, for half of a run, at which point he says “You’re making me nervous because you’re watching me.  Go ski somewhere else.”  and I say “But you wanted to bond. I am respecting that.” and then he says we’ve bonded enough for the time being, and we’ll meet at the base lodge at noon.  Very few of my buddies here ski, or at least, they don’t ski when and where I ski, which is why I was thrilled to entertain Frank, who used to ski (“a million years ago” he says) like a demon. A million years or not, it took him about 15 minutes to pick back up where he left off, and pretty soon we were ripping up the hill.

Now, in addition to the general companionship and all that you get when skiing with a friend, I get the added thrill of having fresh meat for my budding career in Ski Film Cinematography. On that trip, we had two days on the slopes, so I spent the first day filming him, and then on the second day, we switched and he filmed me.

This is where the plot thickens.  As a one-man Ski Film Production Company, I rely on a camera affixed to my person.  Specifically, affixed to my helmet, which has a special mount attached permanently to it for the purpose of holding an HD camera and shooting footage from that position.  Which means, in this case, I wore my helmet on Day One while Frank wore Roy’s helmet, and then on Day Two, we switched – he wore my helmet and I wore Roy’s.

I didn’t think twice about this, other than the several hours I spent editing the footage.  At least, I didn’t think twice about it until I received a Late Night Phone Call about four days later.

“Hi,” Frank said.

At first I thought it was a belated “hey, had a great time, touch base” phone call, but then I remembered he has a couple of kids under 10 and the household keeps hours accordingly.  So I knew it was not going to be good, whatever it was.

And surely enough, the next words were “I have some bad news.”

I held my breath, thinking he was going to tell me of some calamity in the household.

“My son got sent home from school today because he has lice.”

Oh, what a drag, I thought.  But why did this warrant a long-distance phone call at 10pm?

Oh, yeah.  The helmet cam.

“And,” he said inexorably, “I have them too.”

Ah. All is now clear.

I contemplated informing Roy of this turn of events, and just cracked up.  Roy is…I think a fair assessment would be…squeamish.  I had lice once before, which I caught from the small children of another friend. I didn’t think Roy would enjoy the notion.

In general, and with good reason, I regard small children as Self-Propelling Plague Ships.  They constantly seem to have one nasty disease or another, and hand parasites around to each other like lemon drops.  The only thing, in my experience, that comes close to the Active Virulence of Small Children is College Students Living In Dorms.  It seems like every professor on the planet gives an exam in the fourth week of the semester, which means that all of the students are getting hit with four or five exams in one week.  This makes them cut short on sleep, it makes them drink too much caffeine and smoke too many cigarettes, it makes them eat cheap, fast, and low-quality food, and it stresses them out maximally. All of which sends their immune systems directly to sleep.

I don’t think that in 12 years of teaching college, I have ever graded that first exam without coming down with some vicious infection 2 or 3 days later.  I have tried everything.  I have worn gloves while grading.  I have slathered my hands with disinfectant gel after grading every third exam. Nothing works.  The College Plague catches me every time.  At this point, I’m just grateful when it turns out to be nothing more than a wicked cold.  I seriously dread giving exams when I know that truly nasty stuff like a norovirus is going around.

Anyway, Frank – as so many parents of small children do – contracted head lice from the kids and then I traded ski helmets with him.  Which meant I’d been exposed.  And then I’d shared a bed with my husband, which made him exposed.

I headed off (get it?  head-ed off?  hahah) to share the bad news with Roy.  He took it somewhat calmly, which surprised me until he reminded me that his kids had been young once too.

head-ed off to do some research.  A bunch of my buddies have or had little kids at home, so I polled them about how best to proceed.  Never say there isn’t a good use for Facebook.

The upshot seemed to be that Roy and I should carefully inspect each other’s scalps for tell-tale signs of lice before poisoning ourselves with lice treatments (and I collected several excellent recommendations for those along the way).

As I arrived at this conclusion, a commotion upstairs arose.

“OH MY GOD!” Roy screamed. “I AM LOOKING AT MY HELMET AND IT IS FULL OF LICE!!!!!!!”

Oh, shit.  Fortunately, life with Huey has inured me to a lot of the drama that might otherwise fill my existence, so I walked upstairs in my own time.  I found Roy in the bathroom, holding his helmet, skin white and eyes wide, trembling like a leaf.

“Let me see that.” I said.

He handed the helmet, shakily, over to me.  I peered into it under the vanity lights, the brightest ones on the floor.  It was at that moment that I realized his helmet liner isn’t wool, like mine is, it’s acrylic.  Has to be, because it was covered with pills.

No lice.  Just pills.

“Roy,” I said. “That is LINT, not LICE.”

He has a distressing tendency to become extremely Yiddish in moments of Great Stress, and did so at this time.

“OY!” he said. “Lice? Lint? Lice? Lint?  What’s the difference?”  You will have to imagine the hand waving and gestures that accompanied this.  Any scene from “Fiddler on the Roof” that features Topol will supply the relevant imagery.

“Lice, lint, what’s the difference?” I said.

“Oy.” he said. “Lice. Lint, who’s to know?”

I waxed wroth.  “No you don’t.” I said. “You told me you knew all about lice ten minutes ago.  Lice and lint are NOT the same thing at all, not on any important or relevant dimension.”

“Oy” he said, casting his eyes up to invoke some Heavenly Father. “They both begin with the letter “L”!”

At this point – and don’t ask me why it took so long to arrive at this conclusion – I realized several things, some of which are unprintable, but the general upshot was that dealing with the Lice Scare was entirely on my shoulders.  And I remembered that Roy had an appointment with our hair stylist Gretel the next day.

“You better call Gretel and let her know you might have lice before you go in to the salon.” I said.

“Oy! Oy! Oy! Oy!” was his only response.  I left before I succumbed to the impulse to start throwing things at him.

Having had it definitively demonstrated to me that my spouse was not at all to be counted upon to inspect my scalp, let alone to inspect it with any reasonable degree of attention or care, I decided to treat my head prophylactically.  After all, I thought, even if I got lice, it can’t have been more than one or two of them.  I’ll just poison my scalp, just in case.

When Roy walked in the next evening, I was doing so in the kitchen sink.  “Gretel looked at my head,” he said. “And she said I don’t have any lice at all!”

“Go away before I throw something at you.” I said.

I had my own appointment with Gretel yesterday, since my roots needed some of her Color Arts.  We discussed the Lice Scare.

“If he’d brought lice into my shop, I’d have had to kill him” she confided.

“You’d have had to take a number and get in line.” I said.

“Well,” she said, “I’ll check your head too while you’re here.”

“Oh,” I said.  “I already poisoned it, just in case. Unlike SOME people I wouldn’t even think of taking lice into a hair salon.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” she said, mollified, “Even if you had them, the color we’re going to put on now would probably kill them.”

The good news is that she checked and said I didn’t have them and hadn’t had them at all.  The bad news is that my head got poisoned twice in one week.

Next time, I wear a bandanna if I decide to swap hats with someone.  In the meantime, here is one of my artistic endeavors, shot on location on MLK Sunday, busiest day of the year on ski hills in New England.  Maybe anywhere.  As they say, “never again.”

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Do, or Do Not. There Is No Try.

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Today, I revisited the site of my Most Harrowing Ski Experience Ever.  The one from last spring, where I ripped up the slushy mountain on my super-rockered powder skis and decided to branch out onto unfamiliar black diamonds.

For those non-skiers out there, ski runs come in a few flavors, or, really, colors.  There are Greens, suitable for beginners and novices.  These runs have the most gentle slopes on the hill, and frequently travel laterally (cruisers) for great distances in pursuit of a nice gentle ride. There are Blues, suitable for Intermediate skiers – these runs typically feature more pitch, or a few moderately intense drops, or are a bit more narrow than the Greens.  Then there are Blacks, for Advanced skiers.  These runs can feature Holy Shit! pitches, and may also be narrow, and may include features like chutes and hair-raising drops.  Then there are Double Blacks, for the Experts.  Take all of the terrifying features of the Black and add bumps (moguls), or rock cliffs, or couloirs, or cornices.

I stick mainly to Blues but will hit the Blacks if the conditions are good (i.e., there is actual loose but not piled-up snow on the surface of the run, and there is no fog, sleet, snow, clouds, or other precipitation degrading the visibility).  A mountain covered with masses of spring slush on a clear day is a pretty good condition, so it made total sense that I’d use that opportunity to check out the blacks at this hill.

Only.

Only, at this hill, you can’t actually see the black runs until you’re already on them, and the designers of these slopes weren’t big on traverses and cut-throughs, which means that once you’re on it, you are on it.  No way out but down.

And last spring, I got out on the hill and discovered that, unlike the rest of the mountain, this run was a massive, endless sheet of ice with tiny little piles of slush scattered here and there.  And me on my big fat rockered powder skis, worst possible equipment for the conditions.

Read all about that experience, and the five years it took off my life, and the 500 new gray hairs it caused my head to sprout, here. 

Today was the first time we went out to that ski resort since that opportunity.  This time, I had my ice skis.  This time, we were there in the morning.  This time, there was snow on those black diamonds, not ice.

This time, it was going to be Different.

And so it was.  My strong urge was to go back and kick the ass of that icy run from last spring, but it was closed for race training.  So I had to pick another.  I saw a Ski Patroller wafting down the traverse at the top of the hill, and I said to myself “Guess what.  We’re skiing with HIM. He takes a black, we take a black.”

For some reason, and I don’t totally understand this, it is much easier to ski with someone else than it is to ski alone.  Especially on challenging terrain.  So I didn’t care if Mr. Ski Patrol knew he and I were Skiing Together…it was enough for me to annex myself to him.  He bypassed the big black highways right down the front face, and I nearly lost hope that we were going to take a black after all.  But at the last minute, he hared off into one of the more remote blacks, and I followed him right in.

Probably the front face runs would have been easier.  This run was so narrow there wasn’t even a white stripe on the trail map to mark it.  Just a thin spot in the trees with some writing over it.  In for a penny, in for a pound.

Or, in the words of my latest Ski Goddess, some anonymous 10 year old girl, “Here…goes…something…”


There were a couple of things I noticed right as I dropped in with my unwitting Ski Buddy.

1. This run was narrow.

Here are a couple of guys ripping the easier part of the slope:

2. This run was steep.

It had a Holy Shit! pitch.  A Holy Shit! pitch is when you realize that the run is so steep that you can’t even see down it.  I realized this right away when my Ski Buddy disappeared completely from view after taking one turn.  The horizon on the run was, maybe, 20 feet away at any given time.

and

3. Do, or do not.  There is no try.  And I can totally do this.

I had a very quick chat with myself when I dropped in on the run.  It started off with “DO NOT LOOK DOWN. DO NOT LOOK OUT AND DO NOT LOOK UP.  BUT MOSTLY, DO NOT LOOK DOWN. REALLY.  DON’T DO IT.”

Excellent advice, really.

Then I gave myself some more really excellent advice.

Take this run one turn at a time.  This run is not a whole bunch of turns.  It is especially not a whole bunch of turns on a pitch that feels like it might just launch me into orbit.  It is one turn.  And then it is one turn.  And then it is one turn.

So far, so good.

And more advice:

toes up.  shins forward. weight over the ski tips.  keep the feet together.  do not get sprawled out on this slope, it’s too steep. there is no safety to be had in the direction of the hill.  lean away from the hill.  stay loose.  BREATHE.

I took a nice leisurely mellow turn, and then another, and then another.  I was so mellow that I hardly even noticed when the run took a hard right turn right in the middle of the pitch, or when it took a hard left turn right after that.   Mellow, mellow, mellow.  I was in the ZONE.  The Force was with me, and I was skiing like Yoda.

I skied that sucker like it was a great big green cruiser.  I did it at half the speed the guys in the video did it.   It’s harder to ski slow on steeps than it is to go fast…which means…

…I ROCKED that run.  I didn’t just ski it.  I OWNED it.  That run?  It’s MINE.

Here…goes…something.  Here…I…COME!  WOOOOOOO!

It’s the Weird Little Things In Life…

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Today we had a snowstorm.  It wasn’t much of a snowstorm, but that’s only because it warmed up in the late afternoon and melted a lot of the snow off.  The nasty mess did last long enough to keep me from driving down to Springfield for office hours…and my understanding is that it did not warm up on the ski hill.  And really, the only important thing is what happens on the hill.

We need more snow.  We had a lot of it, and really primo Rockies-style powder it was.  We never get that in New England.  New England skiers are known the nation over for being Technically Superior.  That’s because we’re usually skiing on ice.  I do know that I’m much happier when my skis – and the skis and boards of those around me – are making shuuusshing noise as they move down the hill.  The alternative is scraping sounds.  Or, on really bad days, banging and clattering sounds.  We had plenty of nice soft sounds the last three weeks or so…right up until our Epic January Thaw, when we started to see the dirt that had been hidden by the snow since Christmas.  The rest of the mountain got all melty, like it does when you’re skiing at Easter – but unlike when you’re actually skiing at Easter, this melty stuff was destined to freeze up, hard as a rock, in the next day or two.

Just in time for MLK weekend, the busiest weekend in the entire Ski Season.

There’s nothing like rocketing down the side of a mountain on a big textured sheet of ice.

And there’s really nothing like doing that in a huge crowd comprised of daredevil tweens, entitled investment bankers, snow bunnies, hungover sales reps trying to do business on their cell phones from the chair lifts, and never-ever noobs who didn’t think it necessary to take a few hours to learn to ski before launching themselves up a mountain.

While you don’t have to wait for MLK weekend to have this privilege, it is guaranteed at that time.  We certainly got a taste of it last weekend too.  Mountain was covered with Hero Snow.  That’s snow that is so soft and forgiving and easy to ski, you can wind up skiing at a level you ordinarily wouldn’t be able to touch.  Stuff went to the head of a couple of Studly Middle-Aged Jackasses too.  One of them was bombing down – and doing in such a way that I could tell he did know how to ski, which meant he wasn’t a beginner, he was just an asshole – bombing down a crowded intermediate run and treating all of the other skiers like they were poles in some kind of slalom race.  Idiot damn near ran over my sticks, he cut that close behind me.  I’d have tracked him down and socked him a good one, too, if he had.  I mean, putting me in danger is one thing, but gouging up my topsheets?  Now Them’s Fighting Words.

I watched him come within a whisker of clipping four other people on his way straight into the base area, too.  And – for once – I was wearing my helmet cam.  It had been an amazing day on the hill – picture perfect and with spectacular views.  Epic, as we say in the ski bar.  And I was looking forward not just to processing my videos and making some Entry Level Art, but I was really looking forward to incorporating footage of that jerk.  I was going to stick in a caption over the back of his head that just said “TOTAL ASSHOLE” and make it blink a few times, and then stick it up on to YouTube.

Imagine my dismay when I discovered at home that the memory chip had come loose and even though the cam had been powered up and making all of the proper responses, it hadn’t recorded a damn thing.  I was so devastated I had to go lie down.

Back to MLK weekend on the hill.  Getting some fresh licks of white from the sky will go a long way to avoiding the Skied-Off Sheet O’ Ice experience, and that’s a good thing, because I have – for once – a Ski Buddy coming in for a ski trip with me.  This is rad.  I always wind up skiing alone unless I’m taking a lesson.  I’m not even sure how to ski in company!  But one thing I know: I wanted it to be a nice experience, not an ice experience.  So I was pretty thrilled about the snowstorm.

It put me in such a good mood I had to hit my corner sushi joint for dinner.  This place is tremendous.  It’s like “Cheers” with chopsticks and a gong.  The owner and his wife know all the regulars by name, and if you’re enough of a regular, they grant you a pair of chopsticks of your own to keep in the restaurant.  I remember the night I got mine like it was yesterday.  It’s always a good sign when you see someone at the bar who has their own pair.  It’s not quite like being at a ski bar, where everyone there is a friend you haven’t met yet, but close.  They don’t cater to jerks there.

Tonight it was a small crew, partly because the city put on the Snow Emergency beacon which means no street parking after dark.  They’ll tow your butt if you do, too.  It’s necessary to do this so that the work crews can plow the roads out – otherwise, the streets (which are already on the narrow New Englandy side) just get narrower, and narrower, and narrower, until they all turn into one-way streets.  Not formally, of course.  People still try to use them in both directions.  But it’s like when the road is under construction and it’s down to one lane and a flagger decide when direction 1 stops and waits and direction 2 goes, and so on…only without the flagger, and all of it getting negotiated from behind the steering wheel on the fly.

It’s a study in Chaos Theory, I am told.

So the only other customers in the place all had their own chopsticks, and I settled in with a dish of wakame and waited for my fish to show up.  The proprietor has interesting taste in music.  We’re just now coming off a three-year Reggae Jag.  Nothing like powering down a Dragon Roll to the licks of Peter Tosh and Max Romeo.  Now we’re into the Seventies.

And as I sat there making my way meditatively through the seaweed salad, on rolls a song I – and every other member of the Civilized World – recognizes immediately.  And it wasn’t very long before I found myself singing along. “Ain’t no doubt about it – we were doubly blessed! We were barely seventeen, and we were barely dressed!”.  The couple down the bar from be burst out laughing and one of them said “Yep, another one shows their age” and then took the sting out by rolling out in a lovely baritone “Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night…” and the next second, everyone in the restaurant, including the waiters, was singing along.

It would have been creepy if it weren’t so much fun.

The only experience I have to touch this is being at the Magic Kingdom during their late hours, waiting with a horde of college students for the new Buzz Lightyear shoot-em-up ride, and finding myself in the middle of a spontaneous eruption of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with 45 total strangers.  We did the whole thing, too, before the maintenance guy got the ride going again.

In the midst of this experience, I had the uncanny sensation that I knew the guy who had started singing with me.  His hair and eyes looked familiar, but that was it.

I was baffled…

…until later, his wife started talking Orthodontia with the owner’s wife about their kids.  Then the penny dropped.

That guy was my dentist. That’s why I only recognized his hair and eyes.  And voice, but I never heard him sing in the office, that’s for damn sure.  Every other time I’ve seen him he’s had one of those masks on.

Like I said, it’s the weird little things in life…

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Requiem for a Black Cat

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Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli

Nearly ten years ago, Tybalt Holder-Webb, aka The Black Death aka Buddha Cat, was laid to rest.  The angels rejoiced at his coming.

I dined tonight on Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic, and was transported back in time, lo, these 24 years.

At the time, I lived with an individual who we will call…Ronald.  Ronald enjoyed the fruits of my culinary labors, and no dish was more loved than the immortal Chicken With Forty Cloves.

Now, Chicken With Forty Cloves is where I discovered – before it became in vogue – the Delights of Roasted Garlic.  You can find it absolutely anywhere these days, but thirty years ago, it was Not So.  Then the advent of Chicken With Forty Cloves.  The beauty of this dish is that it’s a one-pot delicious roasted chicken that delivers a heap of roasted garlic for bread alongside…and that’s only the first night.  The second night benefits from the deployment of the carcass into a soup.   

The process is this:  throw the chicken and a bunch of herbs into a pot with 40 cloves of unpeeled garlic.  Seal the lid onto the pot with a paste and shove it into the oven.  90 minutes later, it’s Culinary Heaven all the way.  You turn the garlic cloves out of the pot into a bowl, cool them, and squish the garlic paste out and smear it on bread.  Eat until you are stuffed.

I have an immoderate love for roasted garlic and always have.  So this dish is…well…sublime.

The problem, however, is that garlic isn’t a substance you enjoy once.  You get to enjoy it at least three times.  Once as it goes down, once as it circulates through your system and perfumes your blood and thus your sweat, and finally as it makes its way back out into the world.  It reminds me of really good French cheese, that way.  Roy and I were traveling in the Loire Valley years ago and paid a visit to a farmstead where they were dishing up a rustic supper and a pageant (“un spectacle!”).  The dinner featured – in addition to one of the best red table wines I’ve ever had, and for 5 whopping euros the bottle – a log of the local chevre, a cheese for which the region is justly famed.  We were in Culinary Heaven then, too – especially with the cheese and pate – and stayed there until the next day as we traveled north in our tiny rental car.  Thirty minutes on the road, and we became aware…of…an…Odor.

Not an odor.

An Odor.

Possibly an ODOR.

I suggested we had driven close to a dairy farm, perhaps, or a feed lot.  We rolled the windows down, but it became immediately clear that the Odor did not emanate from any exterior source.

Then we considered the possibility that some small rodent had crawled into the engine and passed away.  But usually animals take a good bit longer to become quite that aromatic.

Then, as one, we arrived at the stunning conclusion that the Odor emanated from none other source but ourselves.

“Oh my God,” I said. “We’ve gone Native.”

Once we identified the origin of the Odor, the source became immediately clear:  it was the Cheese.

There could be no question.  There we were, rolling through the French countryside in a tiny rental car, reeking of Goat Cheese.

I was certain that this would cause us major problems when we hit US Customs in New York the following day.  As soon as we arrived at our resting place, I showered.  And I showered, and then I got up in the middle of the night and showered again.

Nothing helped.  Parfum Du Chevres had to run its course.  Thank heavens it had mainly done so by the time we boarded the flight, because really, I cannot conceive of the likely response of our Fellow Travelers in Coach Class to being warehoused in with us, reeking as we were.

And then, there was also the Customs issue.

Back to the Requiem.

I overindulged in the roasted garlic, as I inevitably do, because it is SO good, and woke in the night because I reeked of the stuff.

I smelled so strongly of garlic thanks to that overindulgence that I woke myself up.  Astonishing.

I lay in bed for a while, with the Black Death curled up on my chest where he preferred to sleep, thinking about what to do.  Finally, at 2am, I decided I was going to have to shower, I couldn’t take it for one more minute.

And so I sat up.

The cat, irritatable, whurrred at me as he was dislodged from his Living Pedestal.

And suddenly, I realized, I could no longer smell the garlic.

It took a moment for the penny to drop, but when it did, I grabbed the cat’s face and sniffed it long.

And nearly passed out from the garlic.

Ronald, bless his heart, was on KP that night, and had neglected to store the remaining roasted garlic.

He left the bowl of roasted garlic cloves, cloves that were covered in a layer of chicken fat, sitting out, open, on the counter.

And the cat ate every atom of that stuff right up.  And then came to bed, curled up on my chest, and spent the next hour exhaling Feline Garlic Breath directly into my nose with every purr.

What can you say to something like that?  “Get the heck off me!” is what came to my mind…

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

4 lb. roasting chicken
salt and pepper
7 T olive oil
40 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
rosemary, thyme, basil, celery top or parsley
1½ C flour
1 loaf French bread

Preheat oven to 400°.  Season cavity of chicken with salt and pepper.  Place chicken in casserole.  Drizzle olive oil to coat evenly.  Arrange cloves around chicken.  Add herbs.  Season with salt and pepper.  Mix flour with just enough water to make a dough.  Roll the dough out into 1½” strip slightly longer than the casserole is round.  Place dough around the rim of the casserole and seal with the lid.  Cook 90 minutes.

Slice and toast  the bread.  When the chicken is finished, carve it into pieces and serve with the cloves of garlic (press them to make the garlic come out, then spread on the bread like butter).

Store the leftovers tightly covered in the FRIDGE.

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The heavens rejoiced at his coming, while the angels quaked in their boots. Or, in the immortal words of one of our apartment’s maintenance men, “There’s some kind of ANIMAL in there!”