Say cheese

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 12, 2017 10:21 PM

Back somewhere around the time that time began and Romans started writing cookbooks they included a lovely little dish that seemed impossibly easy to concoct. Take two pieces of bread and slap some cheese between. Eat. Then, sometime in the distant future, some industrious body looked at those pieces of bread and thought “hmmmm. Wonder what it would taste like toasted?” Thus the first grilled cheese sandwich was born. 

Before the 1960s, the gooey delicacy was called toasted cheese or melted cheese. As early as 1902, a recipe for a “Melted Cheese,” designed to be cooked in a hot oven, appeared in Sarah Tyson Rorer’s Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book; a recipe published in 1929 in Florence A. Cowles’ Seven Hundred Sandwiches called to broil the ingredients to make “Toasted Cheese.” “Toasted Sandwich,” published in 1939 in The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, encouraged the ingredients to be broiled or even — gasp! — sauteed in a frying pan coated with butter. 

Initially served as an open face sandwich with grated American cheese, once the Great Depression began, it became a mainstay of the American Diet. People couldn’t afford much but they could afford an inexpensive loaf of bread and cheap cheese. The sandwich also provided enough nutrition to keep stomachs filled and bodies somewhat nutritionized. 

Then came World War II, and the grilled cheese became a favorite of the Allied armed forces. School cafeterias began serving them soon after, and housewives looking to provide quick easy meals put them on plates in front of their families.

In the 1953 edition of The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer wrote that bread and cheese should be heated in a commercial waffle iron. She listed it as an easy meal for even “the maidless host” to prepare. Maidless. The horror!

Today, grilled cheese sandwiches remain a necessity for just about everyone, except, naturally, those who are vegan. Upscale restaurants serve upscale versions, using different types of cheese, including blue, and adding vegetables and other condiments. Most kids love grilled cheese; most adults do, too, making it one of those rare cross over meals. Serve one up for lunch with a bowl of tomato soup and it remains a crowd pleaser. Slip a couple of slices of tomato between the cheese before grilling, and it’s even better, maybe because it sounds healthier.

When Justin was little, his diet consisted of cheese pizza, mac n’ cheese, cheeseburgers, and grilled cheese. If you’ve ever had kids, this is a completely normal menu. He also liked chicken fingers and corn dogs and French fries. His menu has evolved a bit now that he’s 26, thankfully. I know he still enjoys a good grilled cheese though, especially the French version, the croque monsieur which come with ham,and I expect I’ll be making them a few times in the next five weeks since he’s coming home from the tour tomorrow night.

Today is National Grilled Cheese Day. April 12. It’s an international meal. In addition to the Croque Monsieur of France, you can also indulge in Bauru in Brazil, or the Bombay Masala Cheese Toast Sandwich in Mumbai, the Arepa de Queso in Venezuela, a Cuban from Cuba, a Mexican Quesedilla, a South African Braaibroodjie, and the ever popular Vegemite Grilled Cheese in Australia. In our house, we like to grill fresh sourdough bread and cheddar cheese, or an open-faced brie. Then again, sometimes, we like American cheese, or maybe Swiss, or both. Marble rye with gouda and blue cheese. Or …

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live out loud

A flare for color

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 11, 2017 10:36 PM

According to a study conducted by a supplier for companies like Fruit of the Loom, Gildan and American Apparel, black is the color that most people choose when wearing to impress or reassure. It’s what people wear to exude confidence, intelligence and sexiness. It’s seen as serious and reliable by 64% of the men surveyed and 50% of the women.

Setting aside the fact that someone thought it was important enough to conduct a study on something like this, there are certain truths about wearing black as a color. It can be layered endlessly. You never have to worry about what you’ll be wearing anywhere. Should anything get accidentally spilled, nothing shows. It makes it very easy to pack. The downside is that it’s impossible to hide the fact that you have a pet. 

I am a big fan of black. I wear it a lot. Like the above paragraph, I find it easy to pack if everything is a variation on black. I can wear that with this and this with that and I’m very happy. Black includes dark gray, too. Sometimes it can include a lighter shade of gray as long as it all matches. When I go out, I wear black. When I go to a wedding, I wear black. I’m wearing black as I write this blog. 

This is not to say that I don’t love color. I’m particularly fond of earthy tones. Rusts, golds, browns. My house is awash in these colors. The floor is a dance of taupe and rust and charcoal. The stone in the pillars and fireplace is a mix of orange and gold and black and gray and brown. The exterior color is an earthy brown; the pavers are desert brown; the garage doors are rusted metal. While nothing in or out of the house could be construed as bright or flashy, it’s still color. 

We look at our neighbors and in their backyards, bougainvillea is bright, prolific. Fluorescent pink and orange bursts out. It’s glorious. Last Friday night, we went to our friends’ house for an impromptu barbecue. They do that a lot. It’s so different than what we’ve been used to in California where everything is planned weeks in advance just so people can figure out which way to go in order to get there. Here, we’re all so close, it doesn’t matter. Their backyard is heavily populated with desert plants and incredible color. It’s stunning. It made us realize we needed a flair of our own.

So on Saturday, we went to our local nursery and bought some orange. This orange comes in the lovely form of solar flares. 

The solar flare shrub sports gorgeous orange flowers all spring and through summer. It grows to be about six feet high, and loves the sun, the wind, the moon and the stars

Naturally we put it on our deck, which we have come to realize, is our backyard. Because of where the house is located, because of the steepness of the hill, we don’t have anything traditional, like a yard. So our deck, which cantilevers out over the desert, is what we have. And that’s where our orange flare of color resides.

Black may be confident and sexy. It may be accepted anywhere, anytime. But a little orange this way comes and it’s a good thing.  

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live out loud

Time enough and then

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 8, 2017 8:55 PM

Last night I got run over by a truck with the license plate KJM 1954. Allow me to explain. Our neighbors had an impromptu BBQ and invited us down. It was casual. They were just going to throw some chicken and steaks on the grill, maybe boil some corn on the cob. I said I'd bring a salad. We also brought some wine. We arrived at around 6:30, just in time for sunset. We drank, we laughed, we ate, we drank some more.

This week, the roads in our neighborhood received a re-sealing. The board had decided to do something more elaborate than normal sealing because we're trying to make our roads last a bit longer before we have to do a complete redo. The roads went down in approximately 1998. Nearly 20 years later, they're not in horrific shape, but they aren't great. From Wednesday through late yesterday afternoon, Kevin worked with the asphalt company to ensure that the roads were all resealed beautifully.

He loves this stuff, my husband does. I remarked at one point that he should have been a contractor. For three mornings, he woke up early, donned his wide-brimmed hat, climbed into his Classic and zoomed to the front gate to make sure the gates were open. Then he'd spend time with the workers, showing them where they should be, driving the property to see what had been done, what was fine, what needed additional sealing. He was in his element. 

But by last night, he was toasted. Or as I like to say, toast that had been left in the toaster just a little too long. Off we went to the Roeslys for a Friday night soirée, and by about 9:30 I could tell that my little piece of toast was now completely burnt. I kept my hand on his arm, squeezing to make sure he didn't fall asleep since I thought that might be considered rude. When he does it at home, it's no big deal. But out in public, well – it might be frowned upon, even amongst friends.

By 10 o'clock I'd persuaded him to return home. I piled him into the Sport, climbed behind the wheel and off we went, up the driveway, around the cul de sac and then right up our road. It took us probably less than a minute. Once home, I poured him into the house and into bed. I did a bit of surfing and finding nothing worth watching and generally being tired myself, finally turned the TV off around 10:45. 

At 1:35, I woke up. I have no idea why. But Kevin wasn't in bed. I listened, and didn't hear anything. I called out – "honey?" Nothing. I got up and started through the house, calling his name. Still nothing. Then I started to panic. I knew he was in the house, but I figured I'd find him on the floor somewhere. Luckily, where I found him was asleep on the bed in the guest room. Tucked under the throw, one of the decorative pillows pulled close under his head. I gently woke him up, listened as he talked complete nonsense, and convinced him to come to bed. Where he snored and because I didn't want to wake him up, I listened for at least an hour and a half before exhaustion got the best of me and I finally fell asleep, fitfully. 

The poor guy. He was so spent, he had nothing left to give and yet his mind, playing tricks on him, compelled him to keep going, keep moving. 

He's amazing, my husband. He's conscientious, dedicated, focused. Everyone in the neighborhood just loves him and regularly gushes over what has happened since he managed to get the previous troll removed from the board. Now no one person is in charge. The three board members share responsibilities and they're getting things done. The amount that they've accomplished, from getting the lights at the front entrance working, to installing a new package mailbox, to weed control and general landscaping maintenance to now having the road done... everyone has noticed and everyone is thrilled. While they're all equal partners in making decisions, it's my husband who spearheads it all, who meets with contractors, who is completely engaged in the process, sometimes to the detriment of real work. But he loves it; he sees the progress. And it's noticed. It's recognized. It's rewarded.

Today, I've been just this side of zombie. Exhausted, not quite able to focus on anything worthwhile. Instead, we went to Lowes and spent a bunch of money on outdoor lighting and more furniture for the deck. We bought ceiling fans, and then went to the local nursery and bought plants, also for the deck. 

It was time. And it was a day when we were both tired, a little brain dead but still wanting to accomplish something. 

We sat outside tonight, as the sun was sinking and the wind was blowing, on our new chairs, sipping wine and listening to jazz. All I could think was that today, and tonight, at least we had time enough. Time enough to share, to enjoy, to be. And then... 

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live out loud

Have you herd?

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 4, 2017 10:41 PM

So much of our joy these days comes from 3.8 acres. When we bought this property in 2010, we knew we’d found something special. We also knew that eventually we’d have to make the big decision and move, something we finally did in 2013. In the three years leading up to that, we visited our dirt, traversing the desolate landscape between California and Arizona. We’d bring a bottle of wine, pick up a pizza and drive out to our property. We’d picnic out of the back of the Range Rover as we watched the lights of the city sparkle and listened to the sounds of a desert in the darkness. 

We moved into our house in 2015. From up here on the hill, we can see most of the world. Our visibility stretches for at least 10 miles, perhaps more. I’m going by the app of my phone that regularly lists the visibility index. Down below, houses dot the landscape, nestled amongst saguaros, ocotillos, mesquite trees and the occasional palm. To the southwest, is the city. Beyond that, the Tucson Mountains carve into the sky. The Santa Ritas, the Rincons and the Catalinas do the same. Tucson is a desert paradise surrounded by four mountain ranges. It’s glorious. 

Up here on the hill, we are removed from everything. Tucked as we are in the far northeast corner of Pima County, we can literally see where the city-limits ends to the east. There is a line of demarcation at the base of the Rincons running directly south, pointed toward Mexico. 

We sit up here all day long, Kevin in his office that faces east and southeast, me in mine that faces west southwest, and we work. Riley spends his mornings and evenings on the deck, watching the desert go by.

We have come to love our patch of land in the Sonoran, with its spikey fauna, and biting creatures. We absorb it; it becomes part of us every day. 

Including on days like this that begin with those biting creatures at 6 am. Let me set the stage. It was 5:55. The sky was just fading from darkness to light, painted gray. I was faintly asleep having spent yet another restless night. This is my life these days. I wake up in the night; I’m awake for at least an hour. Then I toss and turn and try to get comfortable, temperature-wise. 

I had just rolled onto my side and pulled up the covers, finally cool enough to burrow. And it started. The growl followed by the scramble and the bark and the bark and the bark. Riley scrambled out of his bed and raced toward the bathroom, howling, barking, whining. It was early and we weren’t quite ready to be up but up we were. 

I got up first as Kevin cussed softly from his side of the bed. I went to find Riley who was wedged between the bathtub and the windows, positively glued to what was outside and barking his fool head off. 

I asked what the problem was, what the issue was, what the hell was going on? And then I looked outside. One after another after another, javelina, of all sizes and shapes, were climbing up from the desert below, clamoring up the swale, sauntering across the driveway, stopping to strike a pose.

There were at least nine that I saw. A herd. And I’m not sure how Riley actually heard them since the windows were closed. Still, there they were, standing, posing, looking javelina-ish, odd-looking creatures that they are. And all I could think was – dog, I love this place.

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live out loud

And I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 1, 2017 7:53 PM

Saturday mornings are my refuge from life. Especially when it’s cool, the temperatures moderate under a cloudy sky and only the faintest of breezes drifting through the desert. This was the situation today when Riley and I set out on our Saturday morning walk. We go alone, just the two of us, mom and puppy, a woman and her dog. Saturday is Kevin’s day of working outside and I respect that. It’s his respite from the week previous; mine is the long walk with the dog. Soon it will be too hot to do this so I take advantage of it while I can.

Leash secured, I zipped up my sweatshirt, donned my sunglasses – a must even if it’s not currently sunny because my eyes are sensitive and because the sun might pop at any moment – grabbed a water bottle, slipped my phone into my back pocket and off we went. 

Riley is a good walker and like all dogs, loves it. He prances along, sniffing everything in his path, stopping to stare down any errant leaf or twig that wasn’t on the road yesterday. It’s comical to watch him as he dares whatever it is to move. Naturally, it won’t, unless there’s a sharp gust of wind. We had none of that today.

We started down Mira Vista Canyon Place, heading west. Like the canyons of Southern California – Topanga, Malibu, Decker, Benedict, Laurel – there is only one way in and one way out. It’s one of the scary things about California. If there is a natural disaster, the people who live in these canyons all must exit the same way at the same time. I suppose it’s scary here, too. We are surrounded by desert fauna, and at certain times and especially in the summer, that fauna is dry, tinder for a brush fire. There would be a rush toward the exit. But we are not heavily populated here; there are only 14 homes. 

We walked toward the gate and like most Saturdays I planned to exit through and walk further than weekday mornings. There is time; and today there were favorable conditions. We pushed along, Riley trotting by my side. We stopped for some water and continued on. There were no creatures out. We saw no deer, not even a rabbit. The only car that drove past us was the non-waving Mabes. There’s always one unfriendly neighbor in every neighborhood.

At the gate, we climbed up the small rip rap hill and walked around and out. At the end of the road, I usually go left. Left there are homes and paved roads. I went right instead. 

There is a sign just past the turn to our road as you climb north. It says Primitive Road, Not Regularly Maintained. There was pavement for several hundred feet but as we crested the short hill in front of us, that pavement ended. To the left was Ponce de Leon. I love saying that name. Ponce de Leon. Much like I like saying Kuala Lumpur.

Again, we went right, onto Coronado. The pavement crumbled into dirt and rock. There were no homes along the path, though there were the old tracks of off-road vehicles. Riley and I trudged up and down hills, carefully picking our way through rocks and brush, my eyes constantly down watching for snakes or Gila monsters. We stopped again for water and I surveyed the desert. The saguaros are beginning to bud, the ocotillos are already waving with orange flowers. Mesquite and palo verde trees, brittle bush. Everything green and lush by desert standards. To the north, more houses dotted the hills leading up to Mount Lemmon; to the south were the homes in our neighborhood and the city far beyond. 

We kept going. I worried that it might be a harder hike than I anticipated but nearly two and half miles later, we found the paved road of Winnetka Court. Again we turned right, south this time, and found our way back to Mira Vista Canyon Place and home.

We could’ve gone the normal way, the expected way. But I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises. And it made all the difference on this Saturday.

March

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 29, 2017 9:40 PM

March is an odd month. On the one hand, it ushers in spring with its warm temperatures and balmy breezes, and flowers spilling out of trees and bushes. This spring, we’ve had unusually warm days and nights, though two nights ago, we also had an unexpected thunder and lightning storm that temporarily brought cool back into the desert. Birds are everywhere, bugs have returned, including the tiny gnats that love to swarm when we walk. There are bees and wasps. Lizards are once again prolific.

March is our dating anniversary. Twenty-two years ago on this past 22nd, Kevin and I found each other. Two years ago, on the 24th, we moved into our dream home. March has been good to us as a couple. 

It’s also been difficult for us emotionally. On March 6, 2012, we had to say goodbye to our beloved Maguire. He was our first puppy love and had been with us since 1997. We used to joke that we got together, got the house, got the dog and then got married. Maguire was just 10 weeks old when we found him in the middle of February. He had been surrendered to the animal shelter in Agoura so we didn’t know his actual birth day. Our vet determined the 10-week age and by process of subtraction we decided to give him Christmas day as his birthday. It seemed perfect. A celebration of a supposed angel with an actual one. 

When we lost him on March 6, we were devastated. It had taken us days to make the decision, but as we sat on the floor in the pet hospital, we knew as awful as it was, it wasn’t right to keep him as he was. I laid down next to him, ran my hands through his fur, hugged him carefully. He felt greasy; he felt as sick as he looked. I asked him for a sign that what we were about to do was right. He had been heavily medicated after suffering a nearly fatal series of seizures on Friday night. It was now Tuesday. The veterinarian had taken him off of the anti-seizure medication in the hopes that maybe he would come through it but as I lay there with him, feeling his faint breaths, he had another small seizure. Moments later the vet came in and he was gone. 

At the end of October of that year we decided it was time to rescue another dog, and we found our Cooper. He was an older dog at six. We think that he was ultimately even older than that, though we didn’t care.  We had some issues with him. He was afraid of everything, mostly I think of being abandoned, and he masked it by being aggressive – not towards people, but towards other dogs. It took us a while but by working with him, we taught him to trust. He traveled with us, moved with us, and then moved again. He became a good boy. But when we moved into this house two years ago, he was very sick. The vet had diagnosed idiopathic vestibular disease. His balance was off and they didn’t know why. It usually clears up within 72 hours, but it didn’t. He developed pneumonia, and we rushed him to the Veterinary Specialty Center. Five days after we’d moved in, on a Sunday morning, during a time that should have been joyous, he stopped breathing. We weren’t there. It haunts us. That was two years ago today. 

March runs the gamut of emotions, the highs of love and commitment, the lows of losing two of our boys.

But it’s spring, when life renews itself. I’m sitting here, looking at our newest boy, sleeping in the sun. He’s three, happy, healthy. As March winds down, we’re all doing our best to live it out loud.  

 

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live out loud

Design as art as function as wow

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 27, 2017 10:01 PM

Yesterday, I learned about a sofa from de Sede, a company based in Switzerland. I was reading the Sunday New York Times, which is nearly a day-long project. To submerse myself in intellect and art, in news and events and fear, is how I prefer to spend my Sunday mornings. Some people go to church. I gave that up when I was 15.

The New York Times Style Magazine is a thing to behold. It’s a weekly version of Architectural Digest and requires that one sit, preferably with a hot cup of coffee, and turn the pages slowly, savoring the images, reading about designers, discovering oddities that you’d never have in your house but are fascinating nonetheless. 

I’ve always loved Architectural Digest but I’ve always said that the houses they photograph, while stunning, never look as if anyone lives there. They’re stark, sterile even; distant. Still, it’s fun to live vicariously. 

Yesterday, I discovered something called the de Sede sofa by a designer named Ubald Klug. Born in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in 1932, his childhood interests aren’t known though I wonder if he was fascinated with stairs and making them loungeable. From 1952 to 1955, he trained as an interior designer with Willy Guhl at the Kunstgewerbeschule. Following work placements with architects in Zurich and Helsinki, he joined sculptor François Stahly in Paris in 1958 for three years, and attended lectures by Jean Prouvé twice a half-year. He settled in Paris in 1966, and after a number of years as a designer in the Mafia agency, Klug started his own business as an interior architect and designer. His various activities in interior design include work on exhibitions, trade fair stands, showrooms, shops and restaurants in France, Germany and Switzerland. He has designed products for the furniture, watch, textiles, glass and ceramics industries. Ubald Klug has received various internationally prestigious design awards for his work, including the International Design Award of the State of Baden-Württemberg and the Swiss Design Prize. He has also received awards from the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen and Industrie Forum Design Hanover. 

To my knowledge, he’s still alive and perhaps still designing. I hope he is, because this sofa looks positively divine. 

It’s described like this: “Two sophisticated, strong design sofa elements form the perfect basis for implementing your own interior design and furnishing concepts. The single element is like a terraced hill with widths and depths that vary in tapering steps. The elements ‘left’ and ‘right’ constitute a welcoming two-seater sofa, a seating pyramid or a small range of upholstered hills. By adding extra elements, it is possible to create entire seating groups to match your ideas and requirements.” 

My home has no space for such a form. Even if it did, it doesn’t have the right personality. I’m not sure where a piece of furniture like this would fit. Maybe nowhere. Maybe that’s the point. As with much design, the idea is more that it’s interesting, fascinating; that it causes you to stop turning pages and to say, quietly, as you sip your coffee: Wow. 

"I believe that innovation is crucial," Ubald Klug said.

Like I said, divine. Much as you’d expect on a Sunday morning.

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Prickly

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 26, 2017 10:43 PM

Spiny. Irritable. Cranky. Needle-y. Prickly. Of or capable of sticking, biting, piercing. The country is currently in the throws of a prick who becomes more irritable, biting and sticking every day. He cranks at people, in his own party, in the country, in the world. Some of us crank back. Prickly describes a person who is difficult, doesn’t like to compromise, won’t take yes for an answer; always seemingly spoiling for a fight. A person incapable of reason.

Our architect/builder fell into the prickly category. Every once in a while he’d be in a good mood and seem to enjoy what he was doing, almost liked interacting with the people – us – paying him. But not often. Mostly he was irritable and cranky, not liking any ideas that changed his preconceived notions of how it should be; how he wanted it to be. During our numerous challenges, he won some but so did we, which usually made him more prickly. 

But as I walk through my house, with its curved walls, its stone columns and tumbled Tuscan tile; with its endless glass overlooking the immediate desert and the city in the distance; with its stainless steel fixtures and appliances; with its nestled place in the hill. With its view of the hillside above and behind us, reaching toward the sky. I am softed. 

The hill rolls up with natural gneiss rock formations. It’s alive right now, swimming in yellow flowers atop brittle bush, the pink of Regal Mist, the creosote bush, the coyote bush, the wild juniper, the errant bougainvillea, barberry; the apache plume. Atop the ocotillos, blood orange flowers tower. The prickly pear, the flat paddled, low to the ground cactus, are beginning to bud. Soon, their fruit will appear in deep red and pink. You can make ice cream or gelato from prickly pear fruit. You can drink a prickly pear margarita. There’s prickly pear licorice. 

The saguaros stand majestic, tall and thin and numbering in the hundreds, thousands. Most have spires, or arms. These are what give them the look everyone knows from the old Spaghetti westerns. Cactus that look like they could hug you, but don’t be fooled. They’re beautiful, rarely angry, but prickly nevertheless. The saguaros are the definitive plant of this Sonoran desert. It makes sense, since this is the land of the Native American and legend says that: 

Quehualliu was the most handsome Indian of the tribe. He was always picking up flowers for Pasancana, the beautiful daughter of the chief. Together they learned how to walk and to play, in the most beautiful places of the mountain.        

One day when they were older, they fell in love. But Pasancana's father wanted his daughter to marry another boy in the tribe. When Pasancana and Quehualliu heard this, they decided to escape.        

The next day they were walking in the hills and they made a plan: on the following day when the first star came out they would run away to the mountains..         

When the chief found out that his daughter had defied him, he called together a group of men and started looking for the couple.          

Pasancana and Quehualliu were tired, so they sat down to rest. Thanks to the light of the full moon they saw the men coming and asked the Pachamama, the goddess of the land, to hide them. She took pity on the young lovers and opened a hole in the mountain and hid them there. The chief shouted "They can’t hide forever!" and he and his men stayed there all that night. The next day the lovers had changed into a cactus, Quehualliu, protected by Pasancana. 

Definitely a prickly situation.

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A guy and a girl walk into a bar

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 22, 2017 10:21 PM

There used to be a place in Woodland Hills called Yankee Doodle. It was ostensibly a pool hall but I didn’t know that 22 years ago when I made arrangements to meet someone there for a drink. He was coming down from Chatsworth; I was already working in Woodland Hills and since he lived in Woodland Hills, it seems the perfect city if not an OK place to meet. 

I got there just after the pre-determined time of six because a lady likes to make an entrance. I was wearing a long skirt and a turtleneck sweater; boots. I was still thin then and I could actually tuck the sweater into the skirt and not look bulky. I had purposely dressed this way. I looked nice but not like I was trying too hard to be dressed up for a date. Truth be told, I didn’t really care much about going. It was more out of curiosity that I was there.

I parked my Mazda MX-6, a car I had already come to hate and I’d only had it for about three months, in the Yankee Doodle parking lot at Canoga and Victory, sighed heavily, and walked up to the front door. Opening it, I recognized him immediately. He was already there, waiting. Still tall and thin, still with very dark hair, almost black. I don’t remember if we shook hands, or exchanged an awkward hug. We already knew each other vaguely so it wouldn’t have been out of the question. More likely, we simple acknowledged each other’s presence. Quickly deducing that the place was not conducive to having a drink and talking, he suggested Monty’s on the Boulevard. We drove there in his truck. 

In those days, I was a divorcee and rather enjoying my single-hood after so many years with one who turned out to be wrong. I dated a lot, but no one for very long. The longest ended up being a very nice guy named David. We were together for four, maybe five months. We had even talked about him traveling with me at Christmas to visit my family. I broke up with him in early December. 

At the time of my date 22 years ago, I was actually seeing someone else. Obviously it wasn’t serious since I was open to going out with someone else. I knew the guy I was dating wasn’t right. We’d been friend for years, and he’d taken me to Cabo San Lucas at the end of January for a getaway that was supposed to be wonderful but turned out to be miserable. I had developed a reputation of not dating anyone for very long and losing interest quickly. But what could possibly go wrong with meeting someone I’d known peripherally years earlier for a cocktail? 

Monty’s on the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Topanga Canyon was and remains a steak house with a terrific bar. It’s been there forever and while I’d never visited, he had. I was fine with the choice. I was only going to have one drink anyway. It didn’t much matter where we went a long as there was a comfortable bar stool. 

A drink turned into appetizers turned into a pizza turned into closing the place The piano player in the bar was every bit the loungy player one would expect in a bar, though Monty’s is by no means a dive bar. It’s very upscale. By midnight, as the place was shutting down, the piano player started playing MacArthur’s Park and my date and I sang along, laughing that we both knew the words. Enjoying the hell out of ourselves.

That night was 22 years ago. The guy was Kevin. We’ve been inseparable ever since. Tonight we’re celebrating our first date anniversary. It’s corny, we know, but we do it every year. We may even break out in song, and I don’t think that I can take it….

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The hills are alive

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 19, 2017 10:38 PM

Tonight is the annual Sound of Music Sing-a-long-to-the-movie at The Loft Cinema here in Tucson. I heard a commercial the other day when I was driving and in a brief moment of insanity, turned on a local radio station. I smiled. I can’t seem to get away from this movie and neither can anyone else it seems. The film was released in 1965. More than 52 years ago. And yet it’s popularity endures. Each year, the Hollywood Bowl does a live sing-a-long. Two years ago, NBC did a live broadcast of it with Carrie Underwood turning in an underwhelming performance. Or so I heard. The only good thing about that NBC show, again from what I heard, was Audra McDonald. I love her.

Unfortunately she wasn’t in the original film. Probably because she wasn’t born until 1970.

So there it was and there it is. Another sing-a-long. We didn’t go. Even though Kevin likes it, I – well, you know. 

As I type this, I find myself smiling, not because I’m getting all buttery about the idea of the Sound of Music – I’m not. But rather because for someone who can’t stand this movie, I tend to write about it a lot. I wonder what that says about me. 

Maybe I don’t actually hate it. 

Maybe the spectacle of Julie Andrews spinning around on top of a mountain in the nun version of lederhosen doesn’t make me want to vomit. 

Maybe I find the idea of people spontaneously bursting into song a perfectly normal way to live life. 

Maybe. 

But no. 

I do hate it, I almost throw up every time, and most people I know can’t carry a tune if it had a handle, your humble blogger included. 

But damned if today, the hills weren’t alive. All the rain we received this winter, coupled with the unseasonable heat we’ve had for the past week, have caused the desert to explode in color. The hillside behind us is alive with yellow flowers. The tips of the ocotillos have blossomed into orange buds. The lower, small cacti have sprouted buds, and this morning, as we were cooking breakfast, Kevin glanced out the kitchen window onto the driveway. The house steps down from the drive so we’re almost level with it from that vantage. In the center of the driveway stands a saguaro that’s at least 20 feet tall, maybe taller. It’s surrounded by smaller saguaros, but it’s the one that commands the space. 

“Look,” Kevin said, pointing. “It’s already sprouting.” 

Sure enough, the top of that saguaro is starting to bud. It seems early this year. Usually it’s April before we see buds. Soon the top of it and all of the saguaros will sprout big, fluffy white flowers. 

They’ll be alive. They are alive. And the hills are, too. 

Maybe I should have gone to The Loft after all.  

 

Nah.

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