Louisiana birthday

jumbo
The pot is much larger than it appears.

I STIRRED UP a nice pot of jambalaya today for my 74th birthday.

Years ago, in Mexico, I fixed jambalaya much more frequently. I rarely make it now, but special occasions call for special food. There will be no cake.

I also whip together a passable gumbo, but that’s even more labor-intensive. I may never do that again, but who knows? But I’m lazy.

I lived in New Orleans for 18 years if you don’t know. Both my first wife and my daughter were born in New Orleans, a place that forms odd people.

Time passes far more quickly as you age. Not just years, but weeks and months, even days. It’s a strange phenomenon. So, here I am at 74, just one year younger than my father when he died of a heart attack. In spite of getting annual physicals, there had been no indication of any heart issues for him.

So much for annual physicals.

Apart from a lower energy level, I had no age-related issues until I hit 73. That’s when I really started noticing. Now I feel it, but I still get around pretty good. There’s the occasional wobble.

Aside from anything major, probably the most noticeable change that comes with age is the loss of sure-footedness. This in spite of my doing more exercise than most people my age, plus the significant issue of possessing a child bride.

This afternoon, as I toss Tabasco hot sauce (from Avery Island, Louisiana) on my bowl of jambalaya, I’ll wonder if I’ll make it to 75 or, even more significantly, to 76, something my father did not manage to accomplish.

Felíz cumpleaños to me!*

* * * *

* And just like last year, my child bride forgot.

The file man

I’VE MAINTAINED a file cabinet for decades. I find filing satisfying. When I left Houston, I culled wildly, keeping just the bare bones, which I packed over the Rio Bravo.

new-imageI bought a new file cabinet, resuming the habit.

I have insurance files (one for homes, one for cars), bank files (two banks), investment files, three house files (two here, one in Mexico City), receipt file, tourism file, health file, and many more.

But my favorite is the Miscellaneous File where I keep stuff that doesn’t belong elsewhere. Yesterday, killing time at home due to having a cold, I opened Miscellaneous.

It’s a trip down Memory Lane.

  1. Press passes with mug shots. One from my first job, New Orleans. I’m clean-shaven, 24 years old, in a dress shirt and tie. Another for the San Juan Star. I’m 30, My collar is open, and I have Fu Manchu mustache. The third, Houston Chronicle, age 39, shows me in a dress shirt and tie but with the full black beard of a Hells Angel.
  2. Expired passports. Two U.S. and one Mexican. The older U.S. passport shows me in eyeglasses. That’s a no-no now. Both Mexican and U.S. passports were renewed this year, likely for the last time. I’m not immortal.
  3. Air Force shoulder patch. It’s a large circle that says F-106 Dart. The Delta Dart was an interceptor aircraft, and I maintained survival-equipment pods in the ejection seats. Had I not screwed up so much of my youth, I would have been flying the F-106 instead.
  4. A bookmark. On textured blue paper and inscribed with a haiku of my father’s: cajun cabin/the aroma of hot gumbo/floats on the bayou. His name, dates, and the phrase American Haiku Master, which he was.
  5. Air Force discharge. Two versions. One suitable for framing, and the other with dates and mumbo-jumbo.
  6. new-imageA watercolor sketch. Of me, done by local artist Arturo Solis. He just walked over and handed it to me one day years ago while I was on the plaza enjoying a cafecito. We have a number of his works hanging on our walls.
  7. Drug formula. For committing suicide. You never know when it may come in handy. The Hemingway method is messy. Anyway, I don’t own a shotgun.
  8. Texas driver’s license. I arrived with it. It expired six years later, and I never renewed. My DL now is Mexican.
  9. Solo certificate. On the 28th day of June, 1976, I took off alone and returned to the New Orleans Lakefront Airport in a Cessna 152. Suitable for framing. I don’t fly anymore.
  10. A love note. From my wife on my birthday in 2003. We had been married almost 18 months.
  11. Final electric bill. Houston, dated Jan. 8-12, 2000. Amount: $86.02 for just four days 16 years ago. That’s approximately what I pay now in a year at the Hacienda.
  12. Certification card. International Bartending Institute. Dated May 7, 1982. I am a certified bartender. Whoopee!
  13. Flying license. I became a pilot of small planes on Oct. 26, 1976. The license never expires. You do have to renew your medical certificate, however. The last medical expired June 1, 1978. There’s also a radio permit in the envelope.
  14. Cremation certificate. My mother was cremated on Jan. 8, 2009, at Atlanta Crematory Inc. in Stone Mountain, Georgia. She had made it to age 90.
  15. Divorce papers. I had them in this file until fairly recently, but I tossed them into the trash. Two divorces. Two utterly miserable experiences that I’ll never repeat. I would prefer the Hemingway solution.

If you got all the way down here, you deserve a Gold Medal. I also have a Letters file.

Maybe I’ll spill that here some day. That’s where the love notes are stored. I love love letters.

Work and solitude

WHEN WE first wed years back, I was the primary cook and dishwasher. I remain the latter.

But I tapered off on the cooking, mostly due to shiftlessness. It’s not that she took over so much as we just prefer the easy route. Quick stuff, takeout, restaurants, etc.

I used to do other work too. Decorative painting on the Hacienda’s walls. I’ve stopped. Too much effort.

Due to feeling increasing shame recently for my laziness, I’ve begun fixing more meals. I have some old standards. There’s jambalaya and gumbo. Jambalaya is lots easier than gumbo, so gumbo hasn’t returned to our plates just yet.

Maybe it never will. It’s not a quick meal.

I prefer easy fixings. I do a nice 15-minute minestrone. And there’s a pasta dish on which I dump steamed broccoli and garlic. Just today we’ll be having meatballs that I made yesterday in a crockpot.

And I’ve decided to work more in the yard, easy stuff. And wash the Honda more. I’ve been letting carwash guys on the plaza do it because it only costs a bit over two bucks.

Paying anybody to wash the car in these parts from June through October is akin to burning cash since it rains every single day. A clean car lasts about an hour.

But you gotta do something or, come November, you won’t even remember the color of your car.

So I’m working more now. Cooking, gardening, carwashing. It’s good to keep fairly busy, I think.

* * * *

The hermit life

I‘m reading a fascinating book called One Man’s Wilderness: an Alaskan Odyssey. A writer named Sam Keith used the journal of Richard Proenneke to construct the story of a man who moved alone at 51 to the Alaskan wilderness in the 1960s where he erected a cabin and lived solo for 30 years.

Proenneke’s talents with his hands and mind were awesome. He wasn’t an actual hermit because he received occasional guests, which he enjoyed, and, now and then, he returned to the Lower 48 for brief visits with relatives and amigos.

The book spoke to me perhaps more than to most people due to my longstanding hermit inclinations. Were it not for my love of womenfolk, perhaps I would have been a Proenneke. But I would have needed to hone my handyman skills first.

As a youth, I dreamed of living alone in an underground home on the bank sweeping down to the pond among cypress trees that rested on my grandparents’ Georgia farm.

Decades later, my hermit dream was to live in a half-buried school bus in the desert near Big Bend National Park. I read of a woman who did just that. I was flush with envy.

One wonders what a psychiatrist would say about those two dream homes being half buried beneath ground level?

I would have required a hermit woman, but doesn’t that negate the concept of being a hermit?

New ImageI would have cooked her gumbo in the school bus. And I would have washed her dishes. And maybe I’ll fix gumbo at the Hacienda again one day.

One must be kind to women.

Jalapeño cornbread

cornbread

THE PASTRY WORKSHOP is off and running, as they say. It debuted Monday with jalapeño cornbread, something I first enjoyed in Texas in the late 1990s at a popular gumbo restaurant just behind the Houston House Apartments where I lived a miserable year after my second wife tossed me into the street.

But let’s not wander down the sad alley.

While in Houston 10 years ago, en route to Atlanta, my Mexican bride and I lunched at the gumbo joint, the name of which escapes me, and the gumbo was accompanied by yummy* jalapeño cornbread. A Georgia Cracker by birth, I’ve eaten lots of cornbread in many guises, but never before with jalapeños, a Mexican twist.

When we returned to our mountaintop Hacienda, my wife began making jalapeño cornbread, and we have it every night to accompany the big salads I prepare to eat upstairs in the recliners while we watch Netflix.

The proper flour is not common here, but we find it in the state capital in a natural food store.

Unlike all her other tasty goods, she does not make jalapeño cornbread to sell. It’s just for us, and a friend who lives down the road gets some on occasion too.

Now and then I make gumbo which is a stupendous addition to jalapeño cornbread, or perhaps it’s the other way around. No matter. It’s a great way to live, and I pray it continues for a long, long time.

* * * *

* Some years ago I was criticized for using the word yummy. But here it is again. Do forgive.