i had lunch with my deadbeat dad today. what a messy, complicated relationship THAT is. my ability to tolerate his blustering, detached obliviousness changes depending on the day and the topic he's decided to hold court on. because his life is a non-stop round the world journey on one cruise ship or another with his wife, lunches with his children are like less-picturesque-than-usual stops in some exceptionally utilitarian port of call. he breezes in, condescends a bit, acts wounded a bit, informs me of his upcoming travel plans, we parry back and forth and then i leave with a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. my rejoinders in this ritual are considerably handicapped by the fact that despite his peerless ability to be a pompous aggravator, he's an old man, with watery eyes and a perpetually runny nose, who gets certain details confused and thinks his $16,000 finished basement with the finished bar, parquet floors, and GIANT (like 40-something inch) CRT tv for karaoke is the bee's knees. how can you truly get mad at that? is it better that i feel sorry for him? is it better that i leave our lunches with a conflicting, warring mish-mash of emotions that runs the gamut between profound relief that i've logged my filial duty for the month, and piercing pity for his aging fragility and his ambling, routine existence - where your children view the simple act of a 1 hour lunch time rendezvous as something of an endurance sport? something that one has to gird oneself for, something not to be embarked upon without first a shoring of steely resolve?
he keeps angling after an invitation to our house, in none-too-subtle phrases and tones that ensure that everyone within a five mile radius knows what stone-hearted progeny he spawned. it's an invite that i'm peevishly and pettily refusing to extend. i don't think that just because someone is retired means that they can summarily decide to renegotiate a carefully calibrated, 20-years-in-the-making détente. the problem is, there's the sentimentalist in me that remembers how he taught me to fish and ski, how he would takes us kids to do the kind of nature-y, all-canadian things that my mum and big d wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole (like a week spent at a family lodge in georgian bay), how we would ride in the back of his wood-paneled station wagon on our weekends with him listening to cat stevens and neil diamond squinting sleepily into the sun, and how he would patiently sit reading a newspaper at fantasy fair and chuck-e-cheese biding his time in solitary, caregiver boredom until we were done running wild. that's one of the threads that keeps me tethered to him, joining the other threads of biology, my siblings, happenstance, history, filial piety. those threads are so slender, so much more about our investment in them then the actual substance of them (but isn't everything about our investment rather than the thing itself?), but unbreakable nonetheless. to ignore them is to call them into existence through the non-acknowledgement of their being. to dance around their shadows even as we tell ourselves we're jiving in the spotlight.
so i meet him for lunch. and sometimes it's nice and sometimes it's something to grit your teeth through - but it's still something. our two silhouettes brought to face each other with the negative space between the profiles filled with memory and history and the genealogical ties that bind, with an unquantifiable portion left fallow for potential.
why am i being so moody and reflective on the subject of family? probably (most definitely) spurred by finishing this book, jonathan tropper's "this is where i leave you":
it's astoundingly, astonishingly, read-it-in-4-hours good. seriously. i bought the book on friday and it was done on monday. it popped up on entertainment weekly's year-end "best fiction of 2009" list and it happened to coincide with my turn to pick something for the work book club and my desire to read something funny. this is wickedly funny - the kind of funny that makes you crack-up on public transportation and makes people glance at you with a faint degree of worry, trying to calculate whether you're one of those "ruin the rush hour ride home" crazies and in a pinch, how much distance can be put between you and them when you go postal.
the story is about a man, judd foxman, who returns home one day to find that his wife has been cheating on him with his own boss. broken, alone for the first time in 10 years, and humiliated, the event coincides with his father's death and dying wish that the entire foxman clan (judd, his 2 brothers, sister, and widowed mum) sit shiva at the family home. the fractious, emotionally constipated, and bruised clan come together with all their baggage and history and the story unfolds over their 7 days in jewish mourning. the humour is pure acid, darkly funny and rings with veracity for someone (like me) who comes from an outspoken family where everything and nothing are on display - where no subjects are taboo, nothing so sacred that it can't be made fun of, no insult too cutting not to be expressed. at the same time that the dry humour provides a measure of levity, this book is also about loneliness, history, the past, family, and death. it's about the fragile bonds we forge with the people around us, about the shared history we have with people we grow up with, and how we're always trying to escape the inevitable: our personalities, our past, our present, and our own mortality. how we're such confused, muddled, messed up people trying to fumble our way through the capricious world we live in.
beneath each joke, each clever turn of the phrase, each stinging allusion there was a shadowed rumination on connectivity and the false security that "family" provides. it's also about how family comes through, how we make peace with our mistakes and the choices of others, how life is a dizzying miasma of resignation, struggle, grasping, and glory. so for all my talk of how uproariously funny it is, like life, each moment of humour has its twin moment of downward spiraling reflection. on monday night the dotytron walked in from work to find me curled up in my craft room, nose buried, thoroughly saddened and overwhelmed by how pathetic people are - how transparent our desperate attempts to construct a measure of meaning out of nothing. nice guy that he is, he gave me a hug and let me talk it out. it helped.
it's nice to read a tale of infidelity told from the guy's point of view - and a romantic, regular guy, too...not one of those polished, sociopathic cads, but a dude who loved his wife and a marriage that lost its way, the way things can, gradually, over time, in tiny incremental steps until you're wondering if this is your beautiful life, or beautiful car. GO OUT AND READ THIS BOOK. you can borrow my copy (after the book club meeting) if you promise to give it back.
after last night's leftover mandate, i threw together a 2 course dinner in 30 minutes (on the nose) tonight - trying to get food in our bellies before the dotytron's private guitar lesson.
first, a linguine with garlic, chilies (T's dried kind packed in oil), lemon zest, parsley, and shaved bottarga. so easy! not even deserving of a recipe - you could seriously put any proportion of the above together (with some pasta cooking water, of course) and it would taste divine. that was the last of my firenze bottarga, i'm sad...but we had a good run (over a year!)
this salad though was the real star - oh goodness was this ever the tastiest shiz ever. the combo of the breadcrumbs, the dressing, and the sieved egg totally mellowed all but the gentlest note of bitterness in the radicchio. i'm going to post the recipe at the end. this one is definitely going in my regular repertoire.
i also knit my dad a hat. by his request, he wanted a plain, black toque big enough to fit over his not insubstantial noggin and with a rounded top. as he so eloquently put it in an email, he sees a lot of chinese men walking around in toques with pointed tops like dorks. (?) i used the a very plain hat pattern by feather and fan. pretty simple - knit in the round, ribbed band, yarn held double when it comes to the non-ribbing part so that it's extra warm and cozy. i added some inches to the length and a few extra stitches to the circumference to account for my pop's extra large head. it went pretty quickly but i took a long hiatus to finish up other projects. knitting from both ends of the ball can be pretty annoying and lead to a lot of tangles so i needed to take a time out at a certain point.
radicchio salad with anchovy vinaigrette, breadcrumbs, egg
adapted from the zuni cafe cookbook, serves 4 as a side
2 heads radicchio, outer leaves discarded, cut in half, cored and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove
2 anchovy filets
2 T. red wine vinegar
6 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
3/4 c. coarse breadcrumbs (i used panko, natch)
2 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
- heap the radicchio in a bowl
- take the breadcrumbs and toss with 1 T. of the olive oil. spread on a baking sheet or in an oven-proof dish and toast in a preheated 400F oven, until evenly golden brown (approx. 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.
- meanwhile, mince the garlic clove and anchovy filets in another small bowl (i used the food processor for the entire dressing). whisk in the red wine vinegar and 5 T. of the olive oil until emulsified, adding some salt and pepper to taste.
- when the breadcrumbs are ready, toss the vinaigrette with the radicchio. sprinkle the breadcrumbs over. pass the egg through the holes of a large-holed sieve and sprinkle on top of the salad and serve.