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Archive for March, 2010

pillows, to the detriment of society, have become the stuffed animals of adulthood.

those of us who have taken the giant leap and gotten rid of the ark of stuffed animals that were once piled high and wide on the bed (and by “those of us” i mean “not necessarily those of us to whom i am married”) have taken it upon themselves to replace this animal farm with a pillowpalooza of decorative nonsense.

(and when i say “nonsense,” i say it while glancing over my shoulder and running very quickly away.)

we have thumbs. we’ve learned to walk on our hind legs. we communicate via a complex series of sounds, symbols and gestures. we’re the smart ones. yet, for the life of me, i don’t get why it takes me an hour every night to dig through piles and stacks of sheathed foam rubber rectangles of varying sizes and weights in an effort to find a place to drool uncontrollably and without guilt.

aaah. to sleep, perchance to drool.

apparently, someone among us decided we all need a battalion of pillows on our beds (sofas, chairs, stools, benches and floors).

we are a species that has mastered a lot of complicated tasks. tasks that make all the other species quite jealous, i am certain. but these other species have to be laughing out of their self-cleaning bottoms when they see how bullshit we have become over pillows.

here at chez mattison, there are 10 pillows on the main bed. down the hall, in the room where the company stays (the room i call “the dog house” for reasons that are none of your damn business), there are another 11. and there are countless others scattered about the various couches, futons, day beds (bed by day; crime fighter by night – i never understood why it’s called a day bed), chairs and closets. we even used to have a pile of pillows on the living room floor, upon which there rested a pillow. so, even the pillows had pillows.

when i was growing up, there was a pillow on my bed. it was a flat, lifeless, blue-and-white thin-striped pillow. filled with feathers that would every so often poke their little quill ends into the side of my face. it had no personality; no face. just a pillow case and what i would later in life come to learn were drool stains.

the things our bodies make us do while we’re asleep are out of our control, and therefore not open to ridicule, derision, finger-pointing or snickering. nocturnal drooling is one of the few we should be able to discuss without embarrassment. the others will perhaps make blog fodder for another time.

yeah. gonna jot that one down.

but i digress. the pillow of my childhood: every so often, a feather would stick its pointy end outward, like it was trying to escape. i would always oblige – grab the end and pull the little sucker out. sometimes i’d wake up and there would be a small pile of feathers on the floor next to the bed. on rare occasions, i over did it a little.

never shared that story before. weird little kid. we all were.

as i got older, i graduated to two pillows, but that’s because feather pillows get real flat. i like a little height. (i also like the cold side, so i find myself flipping the pillow a lot before falling asleep. also when i wake up in the middle of the night. wet puddle down; cold side up.) somehow, feather pulling incidents aside, i was able to shake the weirdness of my youth and become a responsible adult. and i did so with flat feather pillows, folded and tucked neatly in their assigned place under the covers. by mom.

today, however, i sleep on a bed covered with 10 pillows – all but two of which are decorative. they serve no sleeping purpose whatsoever. the sole reason they exist is for me to move them to the floor before bed very night, and then back to their assigned places before work every morning.

“i’m gonna head up to bed now, hon. get a start on moving some of the pillows. i’ll call down to you in about an hour, let you know when i’m almost halfway done.”

sure, they look nice, but who sees them? company? not so much. company would never have access to the main sleep chamber. so that leaves karen and me. and that is as far as i will delve into why the pillows exist.

i only use one of the daytime display pillows during the actual sleep process. it gets buried in the back of the daytime display so the tour groups can’t see there might be a wrinkle in the pillowcase. upon this pillow, i don’t even lay my head. for actual sleep, i put my head on a special guest drool pillow that spends its daylight hours in my closet. this is pillow no. 11 in this bizarre pillowworld i’m in.

why do we have all these pillows?

for one, bed, bath and beyond put them all in a giant freakin’ bed-in-a-bag, placed before our eyes a photo of how beautiful your bedroom could look if you came to the store, plunked own a couple hundred, and wrestled this thing out the door and into your domestic lives. nowhere in this fishing expedition was it mentioned that this bed set looks best in a bedroom large enough to accommodate a helipad. they didn’t mention the bed-in-a-bag is too big to fit in the shopping cart and won’t fit in most american-made vehicles. taking the pillows out of this bag – it’s like a clown car. pull one out and there’s still another two in there.

blame should be shared with tv home design shows. they, and the big box stores, are in cahoots. every episode of the countless versions of “mess with this house” features a celebrity designer (or six) ridiculing the way some poor schlub lives. and a vital component of every complete home transformation is a stack of pillows: bed pillows, orthopedic pillows, decorative pillows, natural fill (feathers), synthetic fiber fill, poly cluster fill, memory foam, cotton, wool, buckwheat hull pillows (what?), hugging pillows, inflatable tri-core pillows, water-base pillows, back sleepers, side sleepers, stomach sleepers, neck pillows, butt doughnut pillows, throw pillows, novelty pillows (shaped like cartoon characters or food or in-laws), sofa pillows, floor pillows, accent pillows, body pillows, bolsters, standard, queen, king, European, travel (yes, we even have horseshoe-shaped pillows designed to take along with us when we leave our other pillows behind). there is also the husband pillow (aka the boyfriend pillow), which is the one with arms that helps us sit up to watch tv in bed.

the husband pillow. only thing it’s good for is watching tv.

our pillows have even developed a sense of humor.

sham on them.

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as the memories of an enjoyable life continue to arrange themselves in neat little rows and columns (a grand and unexpected feature of this whole ‘getting older’ thing), i find going home again increases in frequency and ease.

i thank the five senses for helping me escape to the simpler times of my youth. for escorting me down the dead-end lane, past the towering maples, to the grey, one-story ranch with the split-rail fence, the st. bernard patrolling the grounds, the chihuahua standing sentry in the picture window; and the aroma of another boiled irish dinner wafting from the kitchen, down the hallway, and into the bedroom of the round youngster who had no idea at the time that this simple, comfortable, warm, embracing time would one day earn its own shelf in the run-on sentence hall of fame.

this nugget is delivered today because the sense of smell is being treated to the annual boiled dinner of corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes, all bee-boppin’ around in mom’s hand-me-down club aluminum pot. (sidebar: before the sharpest of you shed tools fires off a warning shot about aluminum pans causing alzheimer’s, that old chestnut has been debunked. there is no bunk. the claim is bunkless.)

what were we talking about?

traditions are the threads that hold snugly together our patchwork lives. today, at chez mattison, the featured tradition is making the house smell like home. the corned beef is currently holding down the responsibility just nicely, thank you. soon, the potatoes will be asked to join the dance. later, the carrots. and finally, the cabbage. (the beast with more than one role to fulfill. both olfactory; one also gastrointestinal.)

not to outdo mom and her ability to provide the best boiled dinner known to humanity (my biased observation is in no way intended to demean every other boiled dinner ever served, because every one of them is the best ever – and by “best ever” i mean “most recent”), but here at the homestead we’ve begun our own irish food week tradition. and that’s the hash constructed from today’s leftovers.

but first, a quandary: does it still qualify as leftovers if you knowingly cook twice as much as you plan to eat, solely to have enough food to make tomorrow’s meal? example: i am cooking two corned beefs (corneds beef?)  today. one is going to be served with the cabbage and the other boys in the band. the second is going in the fridge. it is this second one, along with the double-extra potatoes and carrots, that will be used to construct the grandest hash ever served in the long history of hash.

with food, i find thinking ahead is easy. with other things (marriage, family, the gas tank) forethought is at times an afterthought. but food and me, we’re likethis. we get each other. so, when the corned beef meal is planned, the next day’s hash excursion is also mapped.

and for this kevinly hash, we need one whole, cooked, cold chunk of love affectionately known as the extra corned beef. the one that didn’t wind up in sandwiches last night, hours after the first round of corned beef and cabbage was slaughtered in a mass attack of gluttonous greed. and any other deadly sins deemed worthy. (if it has not yet been made clear, i loves me some cb&c.)

when the cooked corned beef is cold and hard, it is easier to trim away the gargantuan iceberg of fat that encases the intertwined maroon cables of meat. it’s impossible to cut away all the fat, so when i say cut away all the fat, you won’t be able to, which is a good thing. because you’ll need it for grease in the pan.

so, cut away all the fat. wrap it in a mesh bag and hang it outside for the varmints and critters. and irish setters. (sidebar: when i was a wee lad, our irish neighbor mary boland put her corned beef on her back porch to thaw it out. she heard a commotion, looked out back, and saw a neighborhood dog running away with it. it was an irish setter. this is a true story.)

get out your big knife and cut the remaining morsel of de-fatted corned beef into chunks half the size of ice cubes. you want them fairly large because when they cook they’re going to get a lot smaller. like a super model on crack. the fat just melts away. also: go against the grain when you’re cutting – you want to be able to chew it, not floss with it.

chunk up the carrots and potatoes in the same fashion, paying less attention to the “going against the grain” thing. but making sure the pieces are not so small that by the time you’re done, you have fried orange mashed potatoes. defeats the purpose of all the chunking. if this was supposed to be the consistency of baby food, step no. 1 would be: dust off your blender.

throw the meat hunks – with no grease of any kind – into your favorite frying pan (skillet, saute pan, stick, non-stick; whichever one delivers you the most comfort). i use my big cast iron. i’m a big cast iron kinda guy. i get the meat going somewhat casually so as to render the fat without turning it into marbits (the hearts, moons, stars and clovers found in lucky charms; hard, inedible morsels of yuck). because there is more cooking to come.

here’s where you’ll need to combine your cooking skills with your common sense. at some point, a sufficient amount of fat will have been excreted. you may need to pour off the ridiculous amount and leave what seems like a logical amount. or, you may not; this will depend on the meat and the common sense. and whether or not you like your blood to flow like blood or gravy.

crank up the heat to a more aggressive setting while tossing in the tubers and roots. again, more smarts: you don’t want to move stuff around too much because you don’t want to mash everything up. that’s a different recipe, which we will explore at the end of this one. you want to get a nice scald on the veggies. but you don’t want to burn them. slide the spatula under this mass of heaven in a skillet so as to keep it all from sticking, peek at the undercarriage to make sure it’s browning nicely. when it’s time, start turning everything over to crunch up the other side. if you need to add more action, pour in some of the melted fat you removed earlier. this will probably be necessary, as the potatoes can be ravenous sponges.

when your common sense tells you this looks like something you could eat (like you haven’t been sampling it every step of the way), you’re done. if you’re a cabbage fan, the leftover cabbage sauteed in a separate pan (using some of the grease you poured off the meat) makes a tremendous side dish.

truth be told, i buy several corned beefs (corneds beef?) when they are only a couple bucks apiece and throw them in the freezer. when i get a craving for this hash deal – no matter what time of year it is – i fire up the process all over again. but just for the hash. i make the leftovers as the main meal.

variations on a theme:

• for the initial corned beef and cabbage dinner, saute the cabbage in a separate skillet (away from the boiling corned beef), with olive oil, salt and pepper. roast the potatoes (russets, not whites) and carrots in the oven, under a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. this keeps the flavor of the veggies in the veggies and doesn’t boil it all away in the meat water. this is an intense version of the old standard and comes highly recommended.

• the potato pancake idea: mash up the leftover boiled potatoes and carrots with a little milk, until they’re the consistency of mashed potatoes. mix in an egg and a sensible amount of flour to bind the mixture. add chunks of de-fatted corned beef. mix it all together. form patties. fry them in the skillet in the grease of your choice. get both sides crispy and thank me later.

traditions be damned. i’m making new ones.

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see, a lot of this started with facebook.

several months ago, for reasons that escape me now, i decided out of the blue to find out what this facebook thing is all about. i think i was thinking if i could own my own little corner of the internets and in it place photos that are important to me and my family, then when visiting my mother in her southern pennsylvania assisted living quarters, it would be a convenient way to share with her what we’ve been up to.

mom has a computer and a fading memory.  i was thinking of ways to help her along a little.

thing is, i’ve been on facebook all day every day since, and i’ve only been to visit my mother, like, once or twice. i would go more often, but i would fear missing an opportunity to get a laugh at one of my status updates. or to stick my nose in my friends’ business.

… while i’m thinking of it, let me step away for a sec and see what my friends are doing. real quick facebook check. be right back. …

… i’m back. it’s depressing to learn no one has commented on my last post. and i thought it was pretty funny. alas. maybe they’re busy. …

anyway, when i signed up for facebook (or, fb, as we say in the fast-paced world of internet abbreviations – fpwoia, btw) i was immediately directed to the list of fb’ers with whom i attended high school and college. so i did what every other fb rookie does. i began checking out everyone’s photos – seeing how quickly my long-forgotten friends had aged. (who’s in here and how bad do they look? this doesn’t make me a bad person; it makes me an honest person.)

what i mean to say is, i began poking around the familiar names, sending them friend requests. this provided an amazing out-of-body holy-shit moment.

as in, holy shit did you get old. how come i still look the same but you don’t? please accept my friend request so i can see more pictures of you and immediately begin feeling better about myself. and please don’t forget to laugh at my jokes.

funny how i can carry on a life-long ‘how ya been?’ conversation with a person i spent the first 18 years of my life virtually ignoring. see each other in the hallway at school every day for years, but because, at that time, i had different friends in different circles than they did, there was never a desire to say hi, yes, no or boo. yet now, i feel as if, because we spent so many years under the same roof, i have a bond with these strangers and it knows no border.

time has its way of crumbling the invisible walls we spend our formative years building around ourselves. at the time we’re building them we don’t know why. when we grow up we realize there was no reason to. we couldn’t comprehend at the time that we simply didn’t know better. but we didn’t.

… i think someone has responded to my post. let me go check. …

… again, nothing. false alarm. what is it with these losers? why all of a sudden doesn’t one of them have the three seconds it would take to check my ‘like’ button or give me an LOL? like all of a sudden work is more important. what. ev. …

shortly after signing up with fb, i found, posted on these internets, a couple hundred photos taken at my 30th high school class reunion in august 2008. i was unable to attend because it coincided with the rapid, painful death of my best friend/neighbor, who was being ravaged by pancreatic cancer. last thing in the world i was thinking of at the time was anything that didn’t have to do with him. so, the idea that there was a high school reunion taking place was shoved completely aside.

had this not been the case, i wouldn’t have attended anyway. i had no interest in sharing the fact that i had spent the past three decades in the barroom and at the buffet table. not my proudest accomplishments.

so there’s that on top of it.

back to the reunion photos. i was impressed by how great – absolutely great – everyone looked. i stared for the longest time at the people with whom i was the closest in high school. i had on occasion wondered how they were doing – what paths their lives had traveled. yet never once had i tried to get in contact with any of them.

i saw photos of people who grew up on the same street as i – grown men and women who have, for most of my life, been relegated to my earliest memories. neighborhood games of tag and war and baseball cards in the spokes and lazy summer days. for decades and decades, these people remained children in my mind’s eye. here they were: grown, gray, balding, smiling – sharing the stories of the lives that led them to this day and this place before this camera lens. it was overwhelming.

i was moved to tears. then the phone rang: it was nostalgia calling, asking if i’d received that punch in the gut i’d ordered.

… it’s a slow friday afternoon, judging by my list of friends online. no one wants to come out and play today. losers.

no one here to stroke my ego, like my photo, LOL at my WTF, share the latest video i stole from someone else in the hope that everyone will think i actually had a hand in creating it.

not that i have been checking every minute or so.

well, maybe. a little. …

i find, since being on the fb, i spend more time thinking. trying to keep the creative juices flowing while trying to keep up with the lives of those who, until recently, were taking up none of my time and now are the daily focus of my attention.

fickle, am i.

this thought process has also contributed to the rekindling of my desire to write. so, thanks, fb.

never before would i consider myself the type to have an interest in letting a group of people (whose faces appear smaller than a postage stamp – the ones who share their faces, that is) know that i had a ham sandwich yesterday, or i’ve noticed the sun is coming up earlier each day, or i drove to work the other day before zipping my pants. now, it’s a part of life.

facebook is like the cashews of the internet.

i’ll just take one more look, then i’ll be done for the day.

ok. one more look, but then i’m really done.

ooh. thought of something clever, better post that.

has anybody responded yet?

better check again.

how about now?

that’s it. i’m done for the day.

ok. one more look.

ooh. CASHEWS. but i can only have one.

ok, but only one more.

ok. done.

one more.

… it’s getting later on a friday afternoon and the later afternoon gang is starting to show up in the friends list. it’s almost like clockwork who shows up when. …

there is the first-thing-in-the-morning group, who jump on the fb while consuming the coffee and the morning’s news, or after first arriving at work just before the boss, or after putting the kids on the bus and now have the day to themselves.

then there’s the lunch crowd – the ones who check in halfway through the day, probably with turkey, white american and mayo on doughy white sandwich bread caulking their smile, or greasy fritos salt making their mouse and space bar shiny.

there’s the mid- to late-afternoon crowd, who’ve waited long enough, dammit, and need to see what’s been going on. the whack-a-moles who can’t look away for an entire day, try as they might.

there’s also the evening crowd – the hearty bunch who critique the day, the news, the tv shows they are currently enjoying or have just finished watching. probably in their jammies.

and there’s me – who logs on first thing in the morning and keeps it running in the background all day.

it’s a personality thing. if it wasn’t covered in snow and economically not feasible, i’d sit on my front porch all day, watching the comings and goings of all the neighbors, their visitors and delivery vans. i’m an observationalist. and if you rearrange the letters in the word observationalist, you can spell nosy prick.

and this nosy prick has enjoyed connecting the past with the present. a life not shared seems less relevant. he said. finally.

thanks again, fb.

… ooh. more cashews.

but i can only have one. LOL …

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