Sunday, August 06, 2017

August, Cherries, and the Pizza Man

August, despite the miserable heat it usually brings, is one of my favorite months in Washington. Reason? People are vacating, and the commuting is easy. Well, easier. Easy-ish. Also, the cicadas are in full voice, and my local grocery store has $1.99 specials on a pound of cherries.

I should make a sugar-free clafoutis while the cherries are plentiful, in honor of my friend Sam who shuffled off this mortal coil last year, dammit. I never met Sam, other than through the ether. We became acquainted via the forum on Thomas Dolby's website. Sam was a roadie and crew member for Blue Öyster Cult for years and years. He had great stories, a fantastic sense of humor, and he always beamed with so much love for his wife and daughters. One of his daughters is a Russia specialist, so we talked All Things Russian now and then.

Sam liked to cook, and we discovered we both had a love of the fab French peasant dessert (or, hell, breakfast!) clafoutis. Sam had mastered a sugar-free version, and I had sent him a message last year asking for his recipe. I got caught up in the regular flow of mental traffic that makes up life, and didn't notice that he hadn't responded for a while. Then I noticed he hadn't posted to Facebook for a while, and then I found out he was gone.

I felt like a crappy friend. I really did. How did I miss him leaving this life? Although "knowing" Sam from his warmth and wicked humor online, I doubt he would have minded. We all get busy, we all have our own circles of life and calamity and obligation. We all fall down holes that suck up our time and our thoughts, and we have to forgive ourselves. And we have to forgive others when they are consumed with the minutiae of their lives. Friends circle back. Good friends? The old chestnut is usually true: it's as if you're just picking up the same thread of conversation, just with some more strands to weave into the tapestry of your story.

Sam's probably tuning a guitar in Heaven for one of the many musicians we lost last year, too, so his dance card is full. And I'll have to find a good sugar-free clafoutis recipe on my own.

I'm not a very good cook. Wait  that's too kind. I'm an awful cook, unless it's avocado dip, hamburgers, or something that can be mixed easily in a pan or pot bachelor-style. My skills at baking are limited, too. I can make clafoutis, sour cream chocolate chip coffee cake, my mom's chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, and these amazing, impossible-to-screw-up lemon blueberry muffins from the New York Cookbook. (Buy the book - SO worth it! Get a used copy on Amazon for a buck!) I can watch cooking shows 'til I'm blue in the face, and it's not going to make me Gordon Ramsay. (Although I can swear like him, no problem.)

I have been known to make biscuit bricks, a rice pilaf that deserves its own level in Hell, and once, a brownie so sickeningly sweet, my guests were all on the verge of diabetic coma. Let's face it: it's not my forte, but I try. My current lack of balance and strength makes any cooking (or doing dishes or laundry or dusting) a real pain in the ass. So, my less than admirable kitchen skills are even less admirable these days. Freezer bags of "steamer" veggies get the nod, along with odd combinations off the shelf that don't require much imagination or time in Julia Child's sensible shoes.

Hopefully, someday, this will pass. Not the bad cooking — I think I'm a lifer in that camp — but the balance and strength. Fingers crossed it returns. I'm too young to be this old.

I heard a knock at my door as I was writing that last sentence. I answered with healthy trepidation, not expecting anyone. It was one of the Georgian pizza guys. There is a group of Georgian men (as in Tbilisi, not Atlanta) who deliver for a handful of pizza and sub joints in my area. When any of them delivered to the trio of bachelors across the hall, they'd knock on my door for a little chat in Russian and just check and see how I was doing. This started after one of them saw me hobbling on my two sticks one afternoon at a strip mall on the Pike, and the Great Georgian Pizza Team grew concerned.

The man who stopped today usually has twinkling eyes and a load of charming compliments. Not today. He looked tired and thin, and every one of his sixty-some-odd years. For once, I asked him if he was okay before he could do the same for me. "Tired," he told me. "Old." Then I remembered something 
— the bachelors moved out last week. He explained he had a delivery in the next building, and he wanted to see if I was okay. Then he said, "My wife died three weeks ago. Everything is empty now. The house, my life..." 

He told me how he and his wife had been friends for many years in Georgia before they finally married. "It took too long for me to realize. For her, too. We should be together. But we were happy. Finally."

"Hаконец-то. Hаконец-то...."

"Then... she got sick. Cancer. Other things. It was fast. Now... the house is just walls and a roof. I get up, I take a shower, I put on this shirt, I eat breakfast, I go to work... I am still here, but I am not here. You understand, yes?"

He reached out and took my hand. "Do you have love in your life?"

"No." I had no idea why I felt compelled to express such simple honesty to him. "I don't."

"I hope you find it. I hope you do. We found it so late. Too late. Not much time. I hope you find it."

And then, the pizza man cried.

"Go out into the sun. I know you are a good person, a kind and beautiful person. I hope you find some love. I wish you love like we had." I felt bad. This grieving man was sharing profoundly generous thoughts, and I looked like a greeting card hag with my unbrushed hair in a banana clip, dressed in leopard-print leggings, slippers, and a t-shirt with holes in it. I was awkwardly gracious, fumbling in Russian for the right words of sympathy and embarrassed gratitude.

Then the pizza man let go of my hand. He walked downstairs, his shoulders shaking as he cried. My heart broke for him. 

I honestly don't think I'm a particularly good person, a kind person, or, most certainly, a beautiful person. I am just a person. I am a deeply, profoundly flawed person, invisible —  or laughable — to most other humans. But, just like most other humans, I do want love. And forgiveness. And kindness. And sometimes to just be left the hell alone —  and every other damn thing we all want.

And time moves faster now. Harder to catch dreams on the wind and hold on to them.

Still, we try to hold on, even when the wind wants to knock us off our feet.

As for me? I still have to find my balance first.