Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo / Livejournal Comments
Interfacing with the community

Written in response to "the danger of being in the spotlight" (515.html), which was posted to four2four micro-fiction on Nov. 23rd, 2008 at 6:54 am by a user who is no longer with us. "You mean ...?", somebody asks, eyes wide in terror, unable to complete that thought. Yes. His journal has been purged.


"Dear G-d in Heaven, what in the Hell is that?", her boyfriend asked. A naked figure stood trembling in the middle of his field of view, and it wasn't the naked figure he'd hoped to see, that night. "Mark?", she asked. Oh, good - she got his name right. She'd been a little worried about that. "What are you looking at?" "You really don't want to know."

He still had the binoculars they had brought with on their third date, which had ended just this morning. So much was expected on a third date, as a matter of custom, and it left a man damned if he was and damned if he didn't, didn't it, Mark wondered? If he moved quickly, he was no gentleman. If he moved slowly, he lacked decisiveness. Either way, the only company he'd have in his bed would be that teddy bear he wasn't going to admit keeping, until date 37 or so. If even then. What to do, what to do ... she liked nature, didn't she? It was worth a shot. He invited her to meet him, not at night, but in the morning, before dawn, to watch the flocks as they gathered for their autumn migration. It was perfect. They got to spend time together, quality time, without sex being a possibility because children usually were up before their parents. He could express desire without having to act on it, or even make it more than a hint.

Perfection was a matter of degree. As far from the downtown as he lived, he couldn't get back home to change after their date and still be to the office on time. This gave him an excuse to dress up at an hour which didn't seem to call for it, sure, but it also meant that he got to lug his binoculars around, all day, and endure the attempts at humor it inspired. The club to which they were going was known for its long lines, so he wouldn't have time to get home after work, either, not if they were to get in that night. Still smelling faintly of moss and the marsh air, a mismatched hunter's hat in hand, he had walked past identically clad secretaries as they smiled and raised their eyebrows in a disturbingly well timed unison, before heading directly to the club, where he could only hope the bouncer was open minded. It was his dad's hunting hat. He was not going to throw that away.

By the time he got to the line in front of the club, the hat was back on, and more than a good luck charm. Even for a late November, this was a cold night, the rain falling in a light, freezing spray that seemed to penetrate everything but that hat. He had taken his place in line, holding it for her, while calling to tell her that he was in place. A gentleman may carry the aroma of the woods with something he'd never be confident enough to call grace, but a lady could never do the same. She had gone home to shower. He had waited, warmed only by his overcoat, the hat, and thoughts of the night ahead, grateful for the surprising speed with which she had returned. His pleasure didn't last for long.

Hearing a thumping from above, he looked around, and kept on looking around the roofs above for a few minutes. The bouncer started to say something, only to be silenced with a sharp look and a blunt question. "If the guy up there has a gun, do you want to be the person who explains to the police why nobody had any warning when he opened fire?" Even bouncers were expected to have a little sense. Silence followed, and he continued looking, until he saw a dim figure and wished that the light had been a lot dimmer.

The old guy had probably been really well ... nobody had laughed in him in the locker room back in his day, enough to say that. This he knew, because on this cold late autumn night, he had seen fit to remove every stitch of clothing from a body that had sagged as only a former body builder's could, waves of flesh surging and crashing against each other with every poorly placed step. Blood slowly flowed out of wounds on his forehead and hands, hands that relatively speaking, had been spared the ravages of time and neglect. Tucked into the folds on his neck, not entire lost in the flesh around it, was a yellow bowtie, which the man had left on.

"If I don't want to know, why are you looking at it?", she wanted to know. "Nut on the roof", he said, immediately wishing that he'd used a different word. She glared at him, but he didn't think of the lost points. "Just because somebody is depressed and desperate, that doesn't mean ..." she started. He broke in and told her what he had seen, with a merciful minimum of detail. "OK, he's a nut." "That's all I'm saying", he said. "You think he'll jump?", she asked. "It is a concern, isn't it? At least, he doesn't seem to be armed. Yet." At which point, he - the boyfriend - put down the binoculars, turned to the bouncer, and asked "shouldn't you be calling the police?"

"Damn!", he said a moment later, returning to his observations. Freakshow was nowhere to be seen. Where had he gone? "Like what you see?", she asked him, before he dropped the binoculars in pain. A spotlight on the roof was shining on them, turned by the ancient exhibitionist, and she was in the center of it. "Bang! Dead! Fall down, you're dead!" yelled the old man. "Mark?" she asked. "I'll be fine. Just humor him. Before things get worse." Looking with a little dismay at the wet and filthy pavement below, she crumpled and play dead, as well as she had when she was eight. There she chose to lay, motionless, until the light was off of her, and she and her date could run for cover. Wherever that was.

"Good girl", he said. "I'm not your dog", she said, as she thought of the dry cleaning bills. "I didn't mean it that way. Sorry." A few more women were spotlighted and a few more humored the madman, while the others sprinted away, not worrying about what they could or could not do gracefully in heels. Ten seconds later, as the light moved away from them, seeking fresh prey, she rose and they ran into an alley across the street.

The sound of sirens could be heard, faintly in the distance, and the old man knew it was time to leave. Rinsing the fake blood off of his hands and foreheads in a puddle that had gathered, he dressed as swiftly as arthritic hands would allow, finding his way into a long forgotten service elevator, which took him to the ground floor, where, as planned, the boards had been taken off of the entrance to the shaft. Slipping into a car waiting for him in the back without a word, he laid down low, pulling a tarp over himself as the car pulled away, passing ten patrol cars on the way out. "I guess I should be flattered", he said. "I guess you should find another line of work", he son said. "I'm open to suggestion", the old man said, before reaching down, flipping open his cell phone, and calling to say

"Mission accomplished."

The reporter put down his phone, and finished the typing of a story he didn't have to be told. If you wanted to get a scoop in this business, you had to be willing to go the extra mile, he told himself for yet another time, wondering if someday he'd believe that. He felt a little dirty. Still, a hundred dollars for a drunk old man's performance and his silence left four hundred dollars for a freelance reporter and his rent payments, and the script for that performance had been an easy one to write. There were worse ways of making a living, he supposed, even if this was only going to make it to page eight.

There is no pasta in this recipe, but I thought of this after reading this pasta recipe over in Cucina Italiana. I won't claim originality for this one - one can find things like this all over Chicago.

You want to use a cast iron pan for this. Aluminum just won't distribute the heat well enough. Take two chicken breasts. They must have the bones still in them and the skin still on. If they don't, go make something else, because this won't work.

Heat up some extra virgin olive oil; the other kind is good only for deep frying and making soap. Not 1/4 of a cup, that is for sure, that is too much for this. Exactly how much, I can not say, because the oil is there as a lubricant, and every pan is different. Pour enough to maybe coat the pan from the center to halfway out, heat the pan until you can see a faint mist rising above the oil, then drop the heat to medium low. Roll the pan around and see if the whole pan can be coated with what you have. If not, add some more oil. The reason for this strange maneuver is that olive oil is saturated enough to thicken as it cools, so if you coat the pan while it is cold, you'll use too much oil. Watch the heat, because this isn't peanut oil we're playing with. While olive oil won't burn as easily as butter, it will smoke at a much lower temperature than peanut oil. The feel in your lungs will make you wonder how our ancestors ever managed to bear being in rooms filled with lamps burning such a substance, through an evening's entertainment, but then, perhaps some of them had the good fortune to be slaves. It's an experience best missed.

Pat the chicken breasts dry, quickly, put them in the pan, quickly, reach for a wooden spoon, quickly, and shove the household member who will choose to make small talk at that inopportune moment to one side, decisively. You don't have time to wait. Start the browning of the chicken by moving the breasts around until they've had a chance to get lightly seared all over the side facing the oil. This, you must always do, and you will do it again, as you turn the chicken in a little while. Cookbooks never tell you this, and this is important - once the chicken starts to stick to the pan, and leaves a little bit of itself behind on the metal, things are going to get worse in a hurry. The oil will lose more and more of its effectiveness as a lubricant, the skin will end up being stuck to the pan, little shreds of meat will be torn off a surface which will no longer hold in the juices, and the meat will end up dry. With care, you can avoid carbonizing what is stuck to the pan, and recover much of it through deglazing, but it won't be the same and if you do get carbonization, you'll have an unholy mess on your hands. So, if your deeply wounded housemate protests, asking you if you don't have time to be polite, answer him with an unapologetic "no."

Don't take the searing on faith. As you press down on the breasts a little, moving them around - you do this, so the underside of the ribs will be browned, after maybe ... three minutes or so, I guess ... you quickly lift a breast up, without turning it over, and look underneath. The color you're looking for is white, not golden brown, but the latter would not be bad news. If the surface of the underside of the chicken is now white, wherever the chicken rests on the oil, you can now let that breast sit without being moved, as it browns. Don't worry so much about the underside of the ribs. That part of the chicken doesn't stick so easily. If you see whiteness, let the chicken breast sit in the oil, to gently sizzle away for a while until it turns golden brown. It won't ever turn golden brown under the ribs - opacity is all you ask for out of that surface. What will turn golden - and a light gold is all you want - is that little bit of meat underneath the bones at the edge of the breast. Yes, a darker gold would be prettier, but it would be achieved at the cost of a diminishment in flavor - the part of the meat closest to the bone is where most of the flavor it to be found. So, if when you lift the first breast up to check the color, you see that light gold, you want to turn the first breast over, quickly, swirl it in the oil swiftly to seal the surface, as you did before, then, seeing that the now hotter pan and hotter oil have turned the surface white in seconds, let it rest in the oil, turning the heat as low as it will go without the flame going out, then moving the other breast a little, and checking to see if it is whitened or golden underneath as well.

The reason you're dropping the heat, at this point, is because while you're looking at one breast, there is the danger that the other will start to stick, so we play it safe. Is the other breast whitened or goldened underneath? If the answer is no, this might be because the heat isn't being distributed well enough, maybe because you're using too small of a burner or, G-d forbid, an electric range. Aren't you glad you weren't using aluminum? Believe me, things would have been worse. At least, there has been no burning at the bottom of your pan. Move the unbrowned breast to where the browned breast was, bring the heat back up to somewhere between medium and medium low - just high enough to get a nice sizzling sound going, no more - and give both breasts another few minutes of benign neglect.

You don't want to work too energetically at this. We are not stir frying. The quick movement in the oil is done to prevent sticking, but the real browning, in which the flavor that will be given to the sauce, develops when the chicken is sitting still. Keep it moving through the whole browning, and you'll get a sickly color, and a chicken that will be overcooked before it even begins to look brown. Have your pan lid off to one side, so that if one chicken breast is golden all over - except under the ribs, where that won't happen - while another still needs work, you'll be able to lift the breast that is browned out of the pan, and out of the heat, to rest until the other one is done.

When both breasts are browned nicely - grey is not good enough, and is a sign that the heat was far too low - they are removed and put to one side. Two sliced medium size carrots are put into the pan, and cooked until soft. A chopped medium sized onion is put into the fat with them, cooked soft, and then one minced clove of garlic, after the onions have started to brown, slightly - and the carrots, too, by the way. The onions cook more quickly than the carrots, and burn more quickly, too, the garlic doing both the most quickly of all, so this is why there is an order to doing this.

At this point, you will probably have seen why I insisted on not adding oil to excess. What you're frying the vegetables in really isn't olive oil, any more. It's a mixture of olive oil and chicken fat, and the chicken had a lot of fat to give. The oil was just there so that chicken would have a chance to give it. Yes, you can pour off excess fat, but you'll lose flavor by doing that, so it's best not to have more fat in there than you must, in the beginning.

You could run some tomatoes through a food processors, but why work so hard? Ever see the blades on those things? They don't look like something that anybody should want to scrub. In most of the United States, you've probably had to settle for using canned tomatoes, anyway, because the supermarket variety in the fresh vegetable aisle is pink, dry, unripe and hard, not suitable for this. Even at the farmer's markets held in Chicago, where the produce is supposedly fresh and "locally grown" one sees fruit that would serve better as softballs than as seasoning, picked supermarket hard because the upper class customers from Lincoln Park think that they're supposed to be like that and will make a fuss if they aren't, and because unripe tomatoes are easily to transport up from Kentucky in the back of a pickup truck. Really, the whole thing's starting to turn into a bit of a fraud, as good things in Chicago almost always seem to, in the end. So, we settle for the Contadina, and since it's canned anyway, why not save a little time and buy the puree?

One could also buy green tomatoes, which will be much better than the fake red tomatoes for sale anywhere, except for maybe one or two stands left at Green City, if you are in Chicago and can find them. The tip to finding them, seemingly against all logic, is to look for the cheapest tomatoes, because they're usually the best. The rich cook to impress, the poor cook to eat. So, whose do you want to go shopping with, really? But you probably won't be so lucky, so as we usually have to in America, you're probably going to have to settle for getting a higher grade of trash.

About half of a 28 oz. can of puree would seem right. One sprinkles some hot red pepper flakes over the vegetables, puts the tomato puree in, cooks it down until the moisture is gone and the puree is little more than a paste, the oil being visible where the puree no longer covers the pan. You put the chicken breasts back in the pan, and add enough dry red wine to bring the liquid in the pan up to the side of the ribs, no higher. We're not braising this chicken, exactly. A bay leaf is tossed in, to balance the sweetness of the carrots and onions and to give a little more depth to the sauce, and then a light sprinkling - maybe 1 1/2 teaspoons each - of basil and marjoram. The pan is covered, with the lid slightly ajar, because we're not steaming the chicken, either, and the chicken is left to cook over low heat.

This should take about half of an hour. About halfway through, when the sauce is starting to dry out, you'll want to add another 1/2 of a cup of red wine. When a fork penetrates the breasts, meeting no serious resistance, the chicken is done. You take it out of the pan, put it on a plate, and deal with the sauce, which it was sitting in just a moment, ago. At that point, if the sauce isn't thick, it should be swiftly reduced until it is about as thick as heavy cream is, when it comes out of the refrigerator - a little thinner than the usual gravy, but not by much. If the sauce is too thick, a splash of red wine followed by a quick simmering should thin it nicely.

If you have concerns about consuming alcohol, there is always the option of burning off the alcohol by heating the wine in a saucepan, lighting a match and - making sure that nothing flammable is near the stove and that you are leaning back, touch the match to the side of the pan. Careful! The flames will leap several feet, higher than you heat, so I wasn't kidding when I told you to lean back. You really do not want to be directly over the pan when you do this, if you do this. I haven't bothered for years, and haven't found myself getting a buzz off of the chicken, but this is an option.

Pour the sauce - or pan gravy, if you wish to nitpick - over the chicken. You're done. Go eat some chicken. This is not going to be fine dining. Jug wine is more than good enough for the sauce - please don't waste a vintage on this. This is just basic home cooking, so grab some club soda to drink on the side - it goes much better with this than tap water - and don't expect too much.

Current Mood: blah blah

Poems follow the links to that which inspired them. Enjoy!

...... http://all-haiku.livejournal.com/153324.html

.................. Fragrant feline scent
.................. Heated by the summer sun
.................. Occupies the air

...... http://all-haiku.livejournal.com/153408.html

.................. Rotting old pumpkin
.................. Such a lovely reminder
.................. Halloween is done

............ ++++++++++++++++++++++

.................. Lawns wait to be cut
.................. In the malls, teens on the hunt
.................. I hate the suburbs

Current Mood: rushed rushed

See: http://writersblock.livejournal.com/2011/09/29/

Q: "What’s the best way to mend a broken heart?"

A: You don't. Either it mends itself or it doesn't. All that you can do is get out of its way and put yourself in a setting in which healing has the best chance of happening.

What that environment is depends on the individual. I've seen some of the women saying things like "don't pretend that everything is OK" or "have a good cry" and maybe that works for women. Never having been a woman, I wouldn't know. I will say that for a man, this advice might not work so well. A lot of women will tell a man "let it out", they will badger him about it, and on those rare times when he does, you should see the expressions on their faces. Pure scorn, for having been given exactly what they requested. The man, having been nagged into sharing that which he was inclined to keep private and made more vulnerable than he wanted to be, finds his faith in his self-appointed confidant was misplaced. Now he gets to feel humiliated and violated, and that doesn't help.

Crying, for a guy, can be like going to the bathroom. Everybody does it, sooner or later - except for me, of course - and it's nothing to be ashamed of, but you don't really want an audience for that, or to talk about it, later, or admit to it, either. It never happened, even if it did. Find some privacy and expect your friends to give you some space for a while. Don't hesitate to snarl and take a few heads off if a few of those friends won't respect your wishes in this. Do not go into the "chick zone" and start playing sad music to get it all out, unless you're one of those fellows who feels at home in pink chiffon, in which case, I don't know. But as for the rest of us - do you remember all of those chick flicks your ex wanted to drag you to, and how you begged to get out of them? Why do you want to be living in one? Forget that! Put on a little comedy, something light, drop the lights and chill. You're there to forget. Make a point of choosing entertainment that you've like, but which you had avoided, because your girlfriend hated it. I find that Andrew Dice Clay is a popular choice. The Blue Collar Comedy Tour guys aren't bad, either. The Three Stooges, I don't get at all, but if that works for you, why not?

Don't wait for happiness. That's not going to happen while you're alone. Just wait for as much composure as you're going to get. At some point, you'll feel the walls starting to close in, and you'll start feeling less relaxed instead of more, and that will be your sign that the Diceman has done for you everything he's going to do for you, today. Yes, I said today. Don't spend weeks in there. Get out, find your friends and do whatever it takes, as often as it takes, to make you think about anything other than what happened. Everybody will tell you that's wrong, that you need to examine your feelings. They're wrong, at least in the beginning. Ever get a cut? What would happen if you kept peeking under the bandage to see how the healing was coming along? Leave it alone.

Once you're out, with your friends but without your (former) girlfriend or theirs, think about all of the things that you used to have fun doing before you "grew up" and became a serious adult. A lot of what passes for maturity in this society is really nothing more than conformity, easily enforced on those in heterosexual relationships because as a group, women can't cope with the disapproval of their peers. Yes, that's a "sexist" thing to say and it's also the truth. As men, we lose freedoms that we should be able to enjoy because others discover that they can get to us through the women in our lives. At this point, there is no woman in your life. Cut loose and do the things you've been forbidden to do, and forget what anybody thinks about that. Get in touch with your inner adolescent and goof around a little, as you enjoy the furlough from this little prison of convention that the opposite sex puts us into, just to win the approval of others. Yes, you've lost something, and it matters, but remember that you've gained something, too. Even if the gain doesn't make up for the loss, it takes the edge off of it. It lets you think about something else, and it gets you out of your own way.

Whatever you do, if the old relationship was serious, don't expect the next woman in your life to measure up to the last one. Think about it. The last one couldn't have measured up to herself, in a sense - you had all of that past history with her, right, but you didn't start out with that past history. If you measured the experience you had with her in the beginning, as good as that was, against the experience you were having with her before things turned bad, it wouldn't stand up to the comparison. You could meet somebody who was better for you than your ex, maybe even the best who could ever be, and you'd never know, because you'd held her up to this impossible standard, and blinded yourself to the possibilities that were right there in front of you. Just live in that moment, as if the past never was, and experience it for its own virtues. Can you go from commitment to casual? Well, you'd better, unless you want to move into a monastery or turn into one of those guys who proposes on the second date, and then wonders why the woman stops taking his calls, if he's lucky and she says no. You're back to Square One, and you're going to have to accept that.

There are worse places to be. One other thing - those little mementos of the time you had together, put them somewhere out of sight and maybe a little hard to get to, but resist the urge to throw them out or burn them or otherwise damage them. Don't be hateful toward the one you were with, in any way - anger passes, but regret is forever. The time you had with her is over and it isn't coming back, and that's probably for the best, but that doesn't mean that those memories and that time won't or shouldn't mean anything to you. I assume that you wouldn't want to go back to high school or even to undergrad, but does that mean that you burn your yearbooks after you graduate? Those times that are passed and those people we used to know, they're part of us and they make us who were are. To throw that away is to throw away one's soul, and to forget who one is - do that, and who or what do you become?

I've set up an account for commenting on livejournal, so that when I encounter livejournal users who have interests in common with me, and have written about subjects that relate to those mentioned on Ex Nihilo (what used to be my Posterous blog), I'll be able to post comments. Having done so, I've decided to use the livejournal that comes with this account to comment on those sites, and add a little supplemental material along the way.

It will be an eclectic mishmash of desert photography, astronomy, physics, kosher Japanese cooking (yes, kosher), haikus, Mathematical logic, minimalistic photography and other subjects, with a continuing emphasis on that which is most basic, most austere and simple. Here, less will be more.