June

At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.

One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.

The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.

Eighty-five years ago, and plus ça change.

Popeye arrived, and June was full of getting used to him. I took a month off to facilitate adjusting to having a new little baby.

Daniel…has been an angel. He is an amazing older brother. Early on, before the birth, I worked hard to get him into the mindset of him being part of the team helping to raise Popeye and teach him; Daniel would know tons that Popeye didn’t know, so he would have to help teach the new one how to grow up. He had a few outbursts, mostly related to milk supply, but for the vast majority of his waking hours he is kind, attentive, and loving; when Pops cries, Daniel will run as fast as he can to see what is wrong, and inevitably he will run away, get a toy, and bring it back to try to get Pops to stop crying. When Pops is quiet, Daniel will say, “Where is the baby?” and then go to find him. If Pops is sleeping, Daniel will take his hand, or stroke his hair, even if we tell him not to, and Pops will wake up and yelp, and it is hard to get annoyed because Daniel is just loving his little brother.

The kindness comes out with other people, too. A couple of weeks ago, he asked me – he is asking a lot of questions now – he asked me, “Daddy, does everyone have feet?” “No,” I said, “Some people do not have feet.” A little later, I was looking down on London Road, below our living room window, and I shouted, “Daniel, come here quick!” He always knows there is a reason for me to tell him to hurry, so he raced over and I scooped him up in my arms and said, “See that man in the wheelchair? You asked me if everyone has feet, and he only has one foot.” He asked what happened, and I said I didn’t know, and then I explained that a lot of people without feet get around in wheelchairs, but sometimes, they have special “sticks” that allow them to walk and even run. I told him about Oscar Pistorius – just about the Olympics, not about the murder – and he said, “maybe we could use some of my sticks to help give them more feet.” He collects sticks when he is walking around outside and brings them home, and we have a big pile of them near the front door, and he wanted to give up his pile of sticks to people without feet so they could walk. I told him that they needed special sticks, strong ones, and we would probably have to cut down a tree to get one big enough and strong enough to walk with. A week later, the first thing in the morning, he knocked on my door and came in. I sat up in bed, and said, “good morning,”, and he said, “daddy, yesterday mummy and I went to the gardens and I cut down a tree for the man without a foot.”

I damn near started sobbing.

Anyway, I knew ahead of time that there would not be the same amount of time to dedicate to Pops as to Daniel, but…well, my main goal has been a bit disappointing. With Daniel, I read a dozen Shakespeare plays, Paradise Lost, The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, and who knows how many other books and issues of The Economist out loud to him, trying to get the language into his head. With Pops, the first month, I was only able to get through Paradise Lost and The Sun Also Rises. Paradise Lost was, again, brilliant, but this time around the ending struck me as dull. The conversation between Gabriel and Adam was just turgid – perhaps intentionally so, but still, I gritted my teeth for the last hour. For TSAR, every year I learn something new – one year, I realized that Jake smoked; last year, it was the observation that Cohn goes to the barber to shave, and all of the other male characters shave themselves. This year, I was reading it on my Kindle, and got to the third chapter when I read that Georgette “cuddled” against Jake.

A while ago, I read that a lot of books are coming off of copyright, and unauthorized editions are being published that are not consistent with the original – 1984 was a particularly ironic example. So when I read the word “cuddled,” I almost jumped out of my bed, disturbing Popeye. A writer who strove for the true sentence, who reeked masculinity and machismo, would never use the word “cuddled,” and I had never seen it before in his book, and I was certain that some internet troll had started a vicious campaign to destroy the integrity of the e-version of one of my favorite books. But why was I reading it on a Kindle anyway? I thought of Taleb’s aphorism, “They read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall on an eReader but refuse to drink Château Lynch-Bages in a Styrofoam cup.” Perhaps I was getting what I deserved.

So I went to the living room and got the paper copy, muttering that for great books, I needed to go to the real thing.

Two things happened:

  1. I flipped straight to chapter three and, on the second page, there it was: “She cuddled against me and I put my arm around her.”
  2. I started reading it over again from page one, the paper copy, and slowly.

I remember reading Heart of Darkness for the first time as an adult, realizing, maybe 15 pages in, that I was reading it too fast, then starting over and suddenly seeing the outlines of the wharf, smelling the Thames, hearing Marlowe muttering “But darkness was here yesterday,” then being transported to Africa in all of its imagined violent vibrance and life and death. I have read The Sun Also Rises at least once a year since 2003, just as a way to get ready for summer, and suddenly…it was back. The last few years, it has been, like JFK and sex, something to have read, not to read, but this year, it was a voyage, a true remove from daily life.

But is that remove from daily life necessary? I sometimes walk along a street – Union Street to Forth Street to Albany, for example, then past the gardens – and look at the buildings and realize that I came from San Diego, one of the most beautiful cities in America, and Cleveland, which I still think has the best community I have ever encountered and which still gives me goosebumps every time I think of it, and am living in Edinburgh, Scotland, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Why would I want to escape from this life? I pick up Daniel and tell him we are going on a walk; he puts his shoes on himself now, and we walk down the steps, four flights, one by one, and leave out of the huge heavy blue door between the Taste of Italy and Toppings Book Store, where he was the very first customer ever. We walk down Elm Row, where Darwin once got his medicines, and Valvona and Crolla, where everything is overpriced and everyone knows it but it still makes for an appreciated gift for those who know, and past Cafe Maradona, where they have the good espresso and croissants and it is not overpriced, and Tattie Shaws, where, even in the pandemic, they would only take cash for vegetables and fruit. We will walk down past David’s restaurant, the Georgian one, to the construction site where Steven is the gatekeeper and lets us in so Daniel can pretend to be a foreman, making sure the beams get laid and the cement gets poured and the sewage systems get connected, all just right, to the basketball courts where the Spanish, Polish and Chinese players all play pickup games while skateboarders smoke weed and listen to 90s American rap and occasionally ride up and down plywood ramps, and when one of them loses control, Daniel shouts out a loud “OHHHHHH” as if it is the biggest blunder he has ever seen in his short life and I wonder if I am going to have to fight someone. We sometimes go to Zane’s shop, where I buy Pakistani incense or deggi merch or popcorn kernels, and then the shopkeepers always try to give Daniel a lollipop, back past the toy shop and Monty’s police box, which she rents out for popup businesses, then up to our building, usually taking the way past the Ukrainian embassy, where the candle I brought from the 99 Cents Only shop in El Cajon still sits. I might stop for a bottle of Cidre de Bretagne; the wine shop gets 36 bottles a week, and they always sell out by the weekend, and some weeks I am not lucky, but this week I was. We cross back to our side of the street and suddenly everything feels familiar, and I am also starting to feel possessive of our block, as if we are really part of the community, because somewhere on our walk I will run into someone I know – David or Alan from lodge, Mike or Johnny or Lotus from Jiu-Jitsu, Atik the tailor, Chris from my club, or one of the dozens of parents I know from a dozen playgrounds. We will stop and talk until Daniel has asked me five times to leave, leaning and pulling on my hand; we will say goodbye, and I will turn and think how lucky we are to be in a community where we can’t walk past the dry cleaner without Michelle, who always smokes out front, and never has a smile for anyone, waves at Daniel and tries to get his attention and is as tender as I think she has ever been in her life.

Anyways, early on, maybe in 2004, I realized that Hemingway’s power was writing the locations into the story as characters, so that you feel like you may not have been part of the party in 1920, and you might not be able to meet Bill or Mike, but you can sure as hell go to the Hotel Crillon and get some of their stationary and write a letter on it, and even if it is not a very good letter, it might be better for being on Crillon stationary. You can’t watch the bulls from Hotel Montoya with Jacob, but you can go to Pamplona and visit the cathedral and drink the wine from a leather skin and taste the tuna and oil and onions and vinegar and feel as if you were part of the action. Reading The Sun Also Rises this year, there were several points where I thought: the real thing he writes about is the luxury of time.

And that is something I have so little of.

A while ago, we were talking with Nicholas’s godparents, although they weren’t his godparents then, and also we named Popeye Nicholas in the end, and that is the first time I have written it publicly, and Charley, the husband, mentioned that he had taken a road trip across America back in the late 1970s and loved it. A few days later, I was listening to America, and thought: what he had back then, and what I had in the 1990s in Southern California, is something that virtually nobody has now: the freedom of disconnection. Even people who swear off smartphones have, in their place, dumbphones – they can get in touch if absolutely necessary. The road trips I had in high school could involve leaving El Cajon on Friday after school and before traffic got bad, driving north to Los Angeles on the 15 through the sagebrush canyons and avocado groves, and then returning Sunday evening down the 5, past the military bases and the beach communities and the biotech firms that hadn’t been built yet; the 48 hours between were times when our parents had no idea what we were doing. I could be rushing down the coast in a boxcar, hurling unripe avocados at warehouses by the beach, or sneaking into Disneyland with three of the most beautiful teen models in Southern California who also happened to be my friends, or stopping a homeless man trying to fight my friend by walking toward him, smiling, while wrapping a length of chain around my fist, and my parents would never know. Once, on the same trip as the chain incident, I had a severe allergic reaction to cats at Audrey’s house, and almost had to go to a hospital, and my dad, a doctor, didn’t know about it until days later. Often, the people crammed into my car didn’t knew where we were all going to sleep, and that was OK. And if something went truly wrong? We were in a car crash, for example? I remember often thinking that we would end up walking miles to a call box on the side of the road to report it, then walking back…and waiting.

Daniel and Nicholas will likely never have that blessed disconnect.

But I digress; Hemingway writes about the luxury of time, of being a flâneur, really, about the space between the action, in a way that is breathtaking and painful and heartwrenching, and even if he uses the word “cuddle,” I still love this goddamn book.

I also finally finished The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, by Paul Kennedy. It is a work of absolute genius, even if it was finished in 1988 and he writes about the 21st century as if the USSR were still going to be around. I understand so much about the last 500 years, particularly the conflicts, now – of couse World War One was not about the assassination of the Archduke! Of course the North would prevail over the South in the American Civil War! Of course Spain would lose its empire early, whereas Britain would rise and fall! And there were some surprises: of course Britain would pursue a policy of appeasement before Churchill came to power – in fact, when Churchill was agitating for a stronger stance, it was because he probably didn’t have a full grasp of the situation! It often reminded me of that old joke about how it is “too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.” For a while, I thought that this was an observation that common people had the most common sense and knowledge of how the world works; at some point in my early 20s, though, I realized that it could also be an observation that they have strong opinions about things without having all the knowledge of what needed consideration. Appeasement was a great example: Britain had a great navy, but they were concerned about how to defend their interests across both the far east and the Mediterranean, and couldn’t fathom raising an army – which would have been needed to confront Hitler on the continent. A land attack wasn’t an option – only appeasement could be considered, because they needed time. Anyway, for a brilliant paradigm on how to view the world, and how to try to look at the current Ukraine conflict, this is a must-read. In the end,

“The argument in this book has been that there exists a dynamic for change, driven chiefly by economic and technological developments, which then impact upon social structures, political systems, military power, and the position of individual states and empires. The speed of this global economic change has not been a uniform one, simply because the pace of technological innovation and economic growth is itself irregular, conditioned by the circumstance of the individual inventor and entrepreneur as well as by climate, disease, wars, geography, the social framework, and so on. In the same way, different regions and societies across the globe have experienced a faster or slower rate of growth, depending not only upon the shifting patterns of technology, production, and trade, but also upon their receptivity to the new modes of increasing output and wealth. As some areas of the world have risen, others have fallen behind – relatively or (sometimes) absolutely. None of this is surprising. Because of man’s innate drive to improve his condition, the world has never stood still. And the intellectual breakthroughs from the time of the Renaissance onward, boosted by the coming of the ‘exact sciences’ during the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, simply meant that the dynamics of change would be increasingly more powerful and self-sustaining than before.

The second major argument of this book has been that this uneven pace of economic growth has had crucial long-term impacts upon the relative military power and strategical position of the members of the states system. This again is unsurprising, and has been said many times before, although the emphasis and presentation of argument may have been different. The world did not need to wait until Engels’s time to learn that ‘nothing is more dependent on economic conditions than precisely the army and the navy’. It was as clear to a Renaissance prince as it is to the Pentagon today that military power rests upon adequate supplies of wealth, which in turn derive from a flourishing productive base, from healthy finances, and from superior technology.

As the above narrative has shown, economic prosperity does not always and immediately translate into military effectiveness, for that depends upon many other factors, from geography and national morale to generalship and tactical competence. Nevertheless, the fact remains that all of the major shifts in the world’s military-power balances have followed alterations in the productive balances; and further, that the rising and falling of the various empires and states in the international system has been confirmed by the outcomes of the major Great Power wars, where victory has always gone to the side with the greatest material resources…The international system, whether it is dominated for a time by six Great Powers or only two, remains anarchical – that is, there is no greater authority than the sovereign, egoistical nation-state. In each particular period of time some of those states are growing or shrinking in their relative share of secular power.”

from “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul M. Kennedy

Other books from June:

  • The Little Book of Talent – the thing that will stay with me is that centers of excellence are often spartan. I liked that. Worth rereading.
  • Jump Attack – I started these workouts, and they are really simple, absurdly tough, and absolutely amazing.
  • A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse – I have wanted this for a long time, and it came up for sale on Kindle; it is initially lovely, but quickly gets incredibly annoying.
  • Paradise Lost – again, I read this aloud to Nicholas because it needs to be read aloud.

As for Nicholas: it is really difficult to transition from one kid to two. Daniel has been fantastic, but the drain on time is intense – for all of us. At one point, I googled “father trouble second child” and went down a rabbit hole, all the way to articles where fathers said they hated their second children and were considering just leaving the family behind. I never felt like that, but I have also had a lot of trouble justifying why anyone would have a second child – I love Nicholas, but I also wish we had waited more, and wouldn’t have minded if he had come two or three years later. I can’t even imagine what it is like to have three – the loss of self must be complete. And four?

Forget it.

Plus, again, Nicholas has colic, and cries a lot. At least for him, the crying is understandable – it isn’t always for milk, or out of discomfort we can alleviate – he just cries, and knowing we can’t help makes it mentally and emotionally easier. On the last day of June, he had a really long crying jag in the evening, which coincided with Daniel’s bedtime; Alice took Daniel, and I took Nick. I held him in as many different ways as I could think of to maybe move some of the gas around his stomach, or out of his butt, and finally had him in my arms, his head in the crook of my left elbow, his right arm against my chest, his left arm over his body. Suddenly, he stopped crying. He didn’t go to sleep; he just looked up at me and gurgled a bit.

And suddenly I was totally in love with him. I started talking to him – telling him about our family, about Daniel, about Alice and me, about my life. I told him about his name – how we picked his first name from a list of criteria we had and, more importantly, his middle name, how he was named after Tom Higgins and how, with the middle name of Higgins, he had such a good middle name to live up to, and how I hoped I could give him a good last name, too. I told him that it was hard adjusting to having him in the family, but I still loved him and was looking forward to finding out who he was, and how he was part of the team now, too, and we would all make it through this together.

Then he started crying, and Alice came in because Daniel was asleep, and she gave him some milk.

And last but not least, I want to start writing recipes down so that Daniel and Popeye know how to make the things I make. So here is my recipe for homemade mustard:

First, go to a Somerset cider press with your inlaws. Well, first, get inlaws from Somerset, THEN go to a cider press with them. Make sure they drive, because you are going to get drunk. Get the cider out of huge barrels, in a barn, and make sure you bring several bottles back to their home. If you can, remember that cider, too, has a terroir no less that wine, and keep that taste in your memory; lock it in. But you will forget it, at least temporarily. When you get to their house, and you are wondering how much more to drink, tell your inlaws that it would be amazing if they took a bottle of the cider, put some cheesecloth over the lid, left it open, and allowed the cider to turn into vinegar. Forget the last part, that you told them that.

Six months later, visit them. Your mother-in-law will tell you that she made vinegar out of the cider; look at her like she is a genius, and tell her that that is amazing and you are incredibly impressed. She will look at you, confused, and tell you that you suggested it, going so far as to have given her step-by-step instructions for it, which is strange, as you have no idea how to make vinegar and have never made it in your life. See the bottle, with a well-developed mother on the top; wonder if she actually is insane. Google what live vinegar is supposed to look like, determine it is safe, and then put a teaspoon of it in your mouth. Taste that same terroir from months earlier, but far more complicated, and determine that she has made the best cider vinegar you have ever had, that she is a genius, or, rather, you are a genius and you don’t know how it happened. Fly home with only carry-on luggage and, as you can’t bring the entire bottle home with you, even though she encourages you to because she thinks it is disgusting, pour a tiny amount into a contact lens case to bring the acetobacter back home to Scotland.

The next day, go to a local wine shop and purchase the cheap wine out of the barrel in the wall, siphoning it into a Pyrex bottle that you yourself supply. Also, get beer and cider.

Pour the wine into one of the French glass jars that you have been buying from thrift stores and flea markets for years – either Le Parfait or Arc. You may not know it at the time, but Kilner and IKEA are terribly made, and the wire ring they supply is too tight to allow you to trap the cheesecloth under it to keep flies out – they maybe save a half-gram of metal by keeping them tight, and most people will never know the difference, but it is worth buying quality here because it increases your ability to use these jars to create things. Pour the beer into another jar, and the cider into a third. Look at the label on top of one of them, the Arc one; it once held Arabica coffee that had a best-before date in 1997. You were starting at Pitzer then, moving into the dorms, when this jar was last used for its originally-purchased purpose. Pour a few drops of the contact-lens-case vinegar into each jar, cover with cheesecloth, secure with the wire rings, and put them on the shelf in your kitchen under the picture of the Queen that your grandmother-in-law gave you for one of your birthdays, which is actually a card that the Queen sent her when she reached her 50th wedding anniversary.

Wait. Check every few days for a while, swirl the jars around to aerate them, and wait.

Forget about it.

Then, when you are passing it one night and you see a film on top, try not to get too excited. Eventually, that film will turn into a mother. When the mother is as thick as a quarter, shake the jar a bit to dislodge it and let it sink; another mother will form. Eventually, and there is no set time for this, just go with whatever you feel, but eventually, taste it – if it tastes like vinegar, bottle it. I have no real faith that cider acetobacter, especially wild, will lead to a different taste than beer acetobacter or wine acetobacter – the bacteria eats alcohol and shits acetic acid. I don’t have the palatte to taste the difference, anyway, and the people who are that fussy probably don’t get invited to my house for meals.

Oh – so bottle it. Use some on salads. Give it away. But after it is bottled, immediately start a new batch, or two or three new batches. Compare wines; make some from champagne left over after a party, or home-brewed beer, or dilute gin and make ginegar. Make whisky vinegar. If someone brings you beer that their friend brewed, make vinegar out of a bottle and then, the next time they visit, explain that the salad dressing was made with it. Share it with your friends who run restaurants. Decide whether you like lager, porter, or malbec vinegar, or vinegar made from perry. Just once, make a gallon and let it age. Keep doing this for years.

Then, when your oldest son is three, and has decided that he is not going to nap anymore, and you need something to keep him engaged when the evening is dragging but it is not quite bedtime, put on your excited face and say, “Daniel!” Pause, and let him build up the suspense in his own mind, and see it come through in his eyes, as he giggles in anticipation of what you have in store for him. Then say, “We are having burgers tomorrow. Do you want to…jackhammer some mustard seeds and make mustard???” When he shouts “YEAH!!!” and jumps up in the air, just because you used the word “jackhammer,” go to the kitchen and get the bag of yellow mustard seeds sitting in the back of the spice rack, the one you got when you decided to make curry from scratch all those years ago, and the mortar and pestle. Bring them all to the living room and sit down on the carpet, the one you are getting rid of in a month, and give him the…whether it is the mortar or the pestle, give him the thing that is not the bowl part, and pour a few mustard seeds into the thing that IS the bowl part, and ask him to gently smash them. Whenever one cracks, celebrate. Eventually, he will ask you to do the jackhammering and he will pour; he will also say, “Tell me when to stop,” which is the first time you have ever heard him say such a thing. Crush the seeds mercilessly, then ask him to pour more in, and tell him when to stop. I suggest like a half-teaspoon at a time, but sometimes he gets a bit zealous, and won’t stop, but that is ok, he is only three.

When they are mostly crushed, pour them in another glass jar – again, Le Parfait is lovely but any jar will do for this – and pour some vinegar on top, enough to cover the mustard. Return a bit later; the seeds will have absorbed all the vinegar, so pour a bit more on.

Leave overnight. In the morning, it should be ready; ask your son to smell it gently, holding it up to his little nose, and try not to cry.

Note: he will probably just want ketchup on his burger; that is fine, as the mustard should still be ready to eat, although it benefits from aging.

2 comments

  1. The mortar is the bowl, the pestle is the hammer. This comment is brought to you by the Danny Kaye Memorial Fund for Beverage Purity.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s