Monday, September 26, 2011

American Hitchhiker, American Heart

He’s doing it. Sean’s* hitchhiking from the middle of America to the Atlantic Ocean.
He left Iowa on Sunday. He’s 24, my former student, a writer. Smart, funny, serious. Tough, hopeful, cynical, vulnerable.
Yes, he’s read Kerouac’s On the Road.
He’s an Iraq war vet-- 2 combat tours, single dad of two boys, a son, a brother, a former Marine.
He currently works as a prison guard in a Midwestern state. Not his first choice of a job, but in this economy, it’s just that, a job. He doesn’t complain. He took the week off from work for this trip.
Sean is staying in daily contact with some friends through Facebook, with brief updates of where he is, how many times a day he was picked up by cops, what rides he got, where he slept.
His mission of discovery asks one big question that has many parts. The big question is—does anyone in America have the heart to take a crazy risk?
The smaller parts of the big question: who will pick up the tall, scruffy, blond guy with the backpack? Will they leave him by the side of the road, cover him with dust, rain, condescension? Refuse to even look at him? Lock him up in jail? Rob him, beat him, leave him in a ditch? Will they take a chance on Sean? Will they fear him?
Sean’s journey makes me look at myself. No way would I pick up a strange hitchhiker of any description, at any time. Well, at least I doubt it greatly. That lesson was drilled in to me at a young age.
Yet I’ll never forget the day my mother, who was 50 at the time, came home and said something about the hitchhiker she’d picked up.
Teenager that I was, I flipped out. How could she pick up a stranger?
“Oh,” she said, “he was just a boy. A college kid, probably. And it was starting to rain.”
How many hitchhikers has my mother picked up in her lifetime? Is she still picking them up? I don’t even want to know. She has a huge heart, but I want her to be safe. Let other people take the risks, is my uncharitable attitude.
But what about Sean?
I’m conflicted. How can I hope or expect other people do what I wouldn’t do? Stop and give Sean a ride? I can’t make any sense of it.
But I want Sean to succeed, to get to New York, to the Atlantic Ocean, to find what he’s looking for. To write a great novel out of the experience, even if that wasn’t his intention. To get home safely to the Midwest.
He’s only trying to find out about America’s heart.
What would you do if you saw Sean on the road? Do you ever, or never, pick up hitchhikers? Have you ever been the hitchhiker, looking for a lift?
*Sean is not his real name.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Soup, soup, glorious soup!

I was thinking about soup this morning, and decided I am a soup snob.

Ah, soup. Surely it was one of the first foods cooked by early man, after the bloody haunch of giant elk began to get monotonous. Some soups can qualify as super-foods, with all the vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants any nutritionist could ask for.

Soups can be humble, yet unmatched in deliciousness. It doesn’t have to take a lot of expensive ingredients to make soup, so they can be extremely economical while feeding a crowd. Of course I’m not opposed to elegant ingredients such as nice herbs, crab or wine. I grow a few of my own herbs, and I am lucky to live near the coast where I can catch my own crab-- or get it fairly cheap at the fish market. The wine used in a soup doesn’t have to cost more than a few dollars a bottle.

I was a sous chef in a restaurant many years ago, and I learned to make truly great soups. Not just blowing my own horn—I have a gift when it comes to making good soup. My soups get raves from friends and family. They beg me to make soup. I even dream about leaving teaching for a career operating a soup truck.

Have to say, with the general warmth of menopause, I haven’t made a whole lot of soup lately, but when the weather cools a bit, I’ll get back into soup mode. I don’t have much choice.

The problem is, because I have an intimate knowledge and understanding of good soup, I can’t order soup in a restaurant. Most restaurants, I am sad to say, turn out salty, glumpy, inedible, sorry excuses for soup.
I’ve found I should not even try to eat restaurant soup. It only hurts my feelings when I dip my spoon in hopefully, only to taste salt, maybe some flour, and little else. Many restaurants are serving soup literally dumped straight from a can into the soup warmer. Can the downfall of civilization be far behind?

This makes me morose, because if I want soup, now I have to make it myself. I’d like to be treated to a bowl of soup that I didn’t have to make with my own large and capable hands. But I can’t lower my soup standards! I’d rather do without.

How about you? Are you a snob about any foods, refusing to accept anything less than your standard of deliciousness or the brand you insist is the best? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I set myself the goal of NOT complaining in my next blog post.

So this may possibly be the weirdest post you've ever read. That is, if you don't like clams.

Most people have a strong opinion about clams. The innocent clam has inspired a lot of haters.


I love clams.

I like other shellfish, too, but clams are excellent.

It may have something to do with my ancestry. Lots of coastal people hanging around up there in the family tree. Fishermen/women. Some of the foremothers and forefathers were glad to get anything they could to eat, even if it was clams they dug from the mud themselves!

Dad is from a tiny spit of land called the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay is on one side, the Atlantic Ocean is on the other. The air is salty and so are the clams.

Mother, not from there, calls it the Land that Time Forgot. Definitely an out-of-the-way place! Dad's family came over from coastal England, oh, about 1650. I joke that they were thrown off the prison ship (that really happened to some folks in the 17th century) and never looked back. They probably started digging clams after swimming to shore.

Mom's side of the family includes some coastal Irish people, along with some thrifty German and French folk. I bet they all ate clams.

I eat clams any way I can get them, and typically to excess. This weekend, my husband came home with 50 fresh medium clams from a good local fish house. What a man!

We ate them. They were superb, a breath of the ocean, of summer.

Ah, clams. I get misty just thinking about them.

Do you have a favorite food that not everyone understands?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I grew up with a bossy father. He's now almost 87, and I'm 54. He's still bossing me.

Dad was a corporal in the Marine Corps during WW II, but when his five children were still living at home, we called him the General behind his back. We were his little troops. He ran us ragged, we thought.

For example, we had a pop-up travel camper that we traveled up and down the Eastern seaboard with in the summers. The camper top was made from tent canvas, with aluminum poles that needed to be put up, and snaps that needed to be fastened.  

When we pulled in to a state park campground at dusk, after traveling all day in our 1966 black Valiant station-wagon (hotter than blazes), Dad assembled us. He barked out the orders, and we scrambled. Tired, hungry, our young fingers fumbled with poles and snaps, the mosquitoes hummed and bit. Dad got redder in the face by the minute. Bossy? He defined the word.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, we had the camper up, could get some grub, and get to sleep. Putting up and taking down the camper was dreaded by us all. The General micromanaged us to the brink of anxiety attacks, if we had known what anxiety attacks were in those days.

Years later, my sister and I put the camper up by ourselves one evening. Without the barking of the General, we managed to raise the camper top in ten minutes without a cross word. We were astonished that it was so easy to do when the General was not shouting directions. Here that, all you bossy folk?

His bossiness and iron will meant corporal punishment was unknown and completely unneeded in our family. One pointed look from the General, and we stopped in our tracks. He ruled supreme-- I doubt there was ever a dad who commanded more obedience from his children with so little effort. Not that we were always model children, far from it, but when he was around, we did what we were told!  

Anything less than compliance, and quickly, was fruitless. Rebellion? We thought about it. We grumbled plenty behind his back, but resistance seemed not only futile, but suicidal, even though he never laid a hand on us. I still marvel at the immensity of the power he wielded over us.

Now Dad and Mom live five minutes from me, and hundreds to thousands of miles from the other four children. This means that Dad has only Mom, me, and occasionally my long-suffering husband to boss around, and oh lawd, he does he have fun bossing us.

Of course I'm braver now that I've realized that he can't really shoot death rays from his eyes. I've even said to him several times, “You're being bossy!” He only shakes his head at this treasonous behavior. I think I've even seen him hide a smile at my too little, too late attempts at insurrection.

He knows I am powerless to resist. I will eat the meal he insists I eat when I'm not hungry, I will “sit down and rest” at his command, I will get him the glass of iced tea, I will fix the TV remote. His bossiness knows no bounds, and may be one of his most treasured daily activities as his health gradually declines.

Once bossy, always bossy. The frightening part is I find myself bossing my students around as though it were second nature to me. Ah, how sweet it is for the perennially bossed to be able to boss minions of our own.