February 1, 2021
A notification appears in a small box at the upper right corner of my computer screen
I am informed my daily average screen time — the time my computer is linked with the Internet — is 8 hours, 6 minutes.
I close the box.
Location: a screened-off section in a large “multipurpose room.”
The room is part of the Siberia With a View Community Center and serves as a gymnasium for local youth programs, complete with basketball backboards and hoops, and small portable bleachers.
The space is also used for the occasional public gathering, and includes an adjacent “community kitchen” in which food is prepared for high school graduation celebrations, quinceaneras, and award dinners held by the local Republicans whenever a doddering and/or certifiably insane party dignitary arrives in town to kiss ass, hustle votes and raise funds.
The multipurpose room also serves as a Sunday morning sanctuary for a large Happy Church congregation, though negligent engineering resulted in an acoustic environment that makes the music of the Praise Band difficult to enjoy, and an unbearable experience for congregants wearing hearing aids.
Today, staff members at the local hospital are in control of the facility.
Kathy and I are here to be vaccinated — our second Covid19 jabs.
We engage in an extended, intense argument as we sit in the car outside the building. Kathy accuses me of losing our vaccination records and calls me “a dumbshit.” The cards are in her pocket. She apologizes. I refuse to accept the apology, and call her “a belligerent blockhead.”
But, I’m not finished: I’m charged up and need to release some steam before entering the center.
I loudly note that Kathy has ignored my latest efforts in the studio. She admits she’s seen the paintings, and adds that she doesn’t like them. She says she remained silent because she didn’t wish to hurt my feelings. Since I engage the subject and in so doing open the floor for comment, she reminds me that the truth is her best option and repeats, twice, that she doesn’t like the paintings. Though my feelings are deeply hurt, I apologize for my outburst. She accepts the apology. Flush with her advantage, she does not apologize for hurting my feelings. I call her “a belligerent blockhead.” She growls at me and calls me “a dumbshit.”
Despite the interlude, we arrive at our assigned time, present our documentation, fill out our permission forms (in case we die, or end up wearing a drool cup and eating nothing but vanilla pudding), and wait for one of several medical personnel working at stations at the far side of the space to raise a green flag and signal a turn for the shots.
A flag goes up, Kathy moves on.
Another flag goes up and I waddle to a station attended by a formidable looking woman clad in blue scrubs. I exchange meaningless pleasantries with the RN: I admire her tattoo sleeve, then chat about the weather, potholes in the roads, a lack of decent Haas avocados. I expose my left arm, relax my muscles. She swabs me, sticks me, then swabs me again. I thank her for her service.
I shuffle to another table where an administrative functionary takes my paperwork and slaps a sticky note to my pants just above the right knee. The note reads 10:35 a.m. — the time when I will be allowed to leave the area beyond the curtain that divides two sections of gym floor.
I will be observed beyond the curtain for fifteen minutes, EMTs and paramedics allegedly at the ready should I suffer a serious reaction to the vaccine, then fall to the floor to spasm and froth at the free throw line.
I stroll around the edge of the curtain to find a clutter of folding chairs, each chair placed six feet from any neighboring perch.
I find a chair, sit, look around and, this being a vaccination session reserved for residents 70 years of age and older, I experience a revelation.
It’s like I’m in a nursing home day room, or waiting for an Ice Cream Social at the Senior Center!
Joining the gaggle of grayhairs, I’m parked between two old gals in wheelchairs, one of them with an oxygen generator in her lap, ferules hissing in her nostrils. She’s sleeping.
I attempt to converse with the other woman.
“Boy, they have this system down, don’t they? Getting these shots has been easy.”
“That’s how it seems to some people, to the dupes” she replies. “That’s what the Deep State folks want you to think. My daughter made me come. I live in the apartment above her garage, so I had to agree. But this isn’t necessary. This virus isn’t real, it’s fake news. The president said so.”
“The president. President Trump.”
“You mean ex president?”
“The president. He didn’t lose. He’s coming back and he’ll be inaugurated in March. Then all this pandemic and vaccine nonsense will be over.”
“Well, that’ll be a relief,” I say. “How do you know this?”
I wait for an answer, but she’s fallen asleep.
Kathy, seated six feet opposite, is busy chatting with a jazz trumpeter friend seated six feet to her left. She’s telling him about her new adaptation of “Strangers in the Night.” He agrees to stop by our house once the vaccine takes effect so the two of them can “jam,” as the hipsters say.
I can’t wait.
Kathy promises him dinner, which she claims I’ll cook.
Taking the cue, and lacking anything better to do, I think about food. I reflect on my ongoing reread of a collection of pieces by James Beard that include classic recipes, clearly expressed. His narratives are simple, decidedly thin when compared to those by MFK Fisher, his style meager next to that of Jim Harrison. I imagine Beard as a large, wounded character at the typewriter late at night, seeking balm in reduced and burnished memories, needing to subdue things settled in his depths.
If I encounter one of Beard’s many recipes involving the baker’s craft, I move on. I don’t bake; Kathy does it quite well. I prefer his hearty, most often meaty productions.
He’s right about cassoulet: it should be consumed at lunch, or in the mid afternoon, never at night, at the dinner hour. If eaten after seven, it guarantees a fitful rest.
He’s also correct in saying the same about choucroute garnie. If enjoyed later than 4 p.m., this monster will drag you into a fog shortly after it is eaten, then wrestle you to a wakeful state at 2 a.m., your gut churning, your head aflutter with odd notions.
The oxygenated matron rouses long enough to shout out “No, Binky, not in the planter,” but fails to remain awake. Her chin drops back to her chest as her oxygen generator emits a squeal that sounds like the slipping bands on the automatic transmission in a 1972 Dodge Dart.
The EMTs and paramedics cluster next to the wall of the gym. They chat and laugh loudly, exchanging stories about errors with fractures and the old men they find unconscious, without pants. They don’t hear about Binky and the planter. One of we ancients could go into anaphylactic shock and they wouldn’t notice. No big loss. At least the first responders are here. It’s the gesture that counts. I make a mental note to thank them for their service as we leave.
The Binky shout, however, awakens my other chair-bound neighbor. She looks at me with clouded, watering eyes and says, “Biden isn’t the president. The election was rigged, but it’s OK since Biden really works for President Trump because God told him to. He does the president’s bidding and in March he’ll step down. President Trump will round up political enemies and execute them, along with all the liberal mainstream media puppets and the perverts in Hollywood. Sean Hannity says the stock market will soar. I have General Motors and Pepsi stocks, and I’ll be able to buy a condo, get away from my daughter. She’s a Democrat. Never liked her, that one.”
She falls back to sleep.
My arm begins to hurt at the injection site, and my fifteen minutes are up. Kathy and I leave, Kathy promising the trumpet player that she will e-mail a copy of her piece to him so he can practice and come up with some “riffs.” The man has an oddly shaped upper lip, likely the result of a misaligned embouchure.
We motor home and I think about what I’ll make for dinner.
Beard provides a fine, basic recipe for brandade morue. I love brandade.
No go. A week prior, I mouse to the Pike Place Market online site and find they are sold out of the stiff, salty sides.
It’s for the best: Kathy wouldn’t want me to purchase the cod. The last time I obtained salt cod, I stored the slabs in the laundry room and for a month or so our sheets and clothing smelled like a cheap diner in Jonkoping.
As I drive, I make the mistake of saying, “I wonder what I can make for dinner this evening.”
Her reply: “Chicken and dumplings.”
Oh no, I think, she’s going back to her roots — it must be the result of the vaccination. The poor dear is traumatized.
She is relentless. “We’ve got two chicken breasts in the freezer. I’ve seen them. You can scrape the frost off of them, and they’ll be fine.”
Freezer-burned, skinless chicken breasts are nearly tasteless, and good for little else than an emergency paillard, chicken schnitzel, or low-grade chicken parm — all highly seasoned concoctions. Use the breasts in a chicken stew, and a major flavor boost is required. I have a shitload of chicken base I can use if I’m forced to complete this tragic exercise.
“Plus,’ she continues, “there’s carrots and stuff in the veggie drawer, and we have onions. It’ll be great. It’s cold out, and it’s supposed to snow later today. Chicken and dumplings. Mmmmm, perfect.”
I consider alternatives, reckoning with what I have on hand in the fridge and in the pantry.
My friend Jim sent me some duck confit, and a couple of legs are stashed in the freezer. Too late to thaw the duck, and surely too late to make cassoulet — easily a six to eight hour process, not counting the overnight soak of the beans. I could whip up a duck confit, cabbage, and vegetable stew in the style of Gasconne (there’s a great recipe on the Saveur website), but the rock-hard waterfowl presents an insurmountable problem.
So, chicken and dumplings it is, the damaged and tasteless chicken thawed, cut into large hunks and seasoned before being briefly cooked in olive oil. In goes chopped onion, carrot, celery, and parsnip for a quick round in the hot oil. A couple smushed and minced cloves of garlic get a minute or so in the fat. Next in, some chicken broth with a hefty addition of chicken base, a bay leaf, some dried tarragon. Bring it to a boil, turn it down, cover and simmer for an hour. Taste and re-season. Dumplings: flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, some tarragon, a beaten egg, half and half. Drop the dough by the spoonful into the bubbling liquid, turn up the heat a bit, if necessary. Cover and cook until the dumplings are done and the broth has thickened.
Eat begrudgingly, with frequent splashes of Cholula.
We both put down our fill.
Then, we get sick.
Not from the food. It’s the vaccinations. Bouts of mini-Covid, I surmise, my evidence being fever and chills, body aches, sore throat, headache, fatigue.
The med folks at the vaccination site provide us literature that warns of this possibility. One might experience some of these symptoms, or all of them, it reads…or none at all.
It’s all of them for me, and for Kathy.
I fire off a message to my personal physician, Wanda.
“Code Red! Second vaccination this morning, reaction brutal.
“Kathy and I teeter on the precipice, a fall is imminent.
“Be honest, Wanda, this is the end, isn’t it? Be frank, I can take it. I won’t tell Kathy, given her talent for panic, so there’s no need to hesitate on her account.
“I attempted to mitigate the onset of the disaster with some timely sips of Tito’s Handmade Vodka and a dose or three of Wonderbrett Strawberry OZK. Alas, the strategy failed. The beast has us in its jaws and is shaking us mercilessly.
“Two requests: 1) an immediate, max infusion of ketamine. I’m sure you agree that this will stall my decline (no need to infuse Kathy, since she is on a probiotics-only kick) but, in case it doesn’t work, 2) call the ICU and have the staff sterilize the ventilator.
“I will wait for your reply and, while doing so, I will attempt to find my pants in preparation for my trip to your clinic. I believe I can still drive, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how long I will hold out.
“Make haste, Wanda, there is scant time to spare.
“Your trusting patient and close friend, Karl.”
I am semi-conscious when my phone alerts me to an incoming message. From Wanda.
“Your fucking immune systems are working. Drink plenty of fluids and go to bed. You’ll both be better in a day or two.
“No ketamine. Not now, not ever.
“Leave me alone; I’m binge watching Bridgerton, and I’m getting to the good parts. Have you checked out The Duke? Dear god! Where the hell was he when I needed him?”
I sleep no more than three hours during the first night, feverish and sweating, chilled and shivering, blankets off, blankets on. It’s nearly as bad as a charcroute garnie OD.
I try unsuccessfully to read a bit of Beard after I collapse on the couch the next day. The recipes make me nauseous. As do a cracker, a small chunk of Humboldt Fog, a bit of the broth from the leftover chicken and dumplings, a scrambled egg, a piece of lightly buttered toast.
I summon the energy needed to make a heroic gesture: I move two of the confit duck legs from the freezer to the fridge. They are there to remind me of a positive future, that things will improve, albeit absent ketamine, that I will cook, eat, and drink again. The time will come when I can again overindulge to my heart’s delight. My favorite pursuit.
I retire to the couch, recline, cover myself with a blanket and write a grocery list that includes items I’ll bring into play after I recover, after the fever breaks, my body ceases to hurt, my headache is a thing of the past, the nausea a memory. On The Real Inauguration Day.
- dried beans, preferably cannellini, in Siberia With a View most likely Great Northern.
- onions, garlic
- salt pork and/or pancetta
- above-average white bread for crumbs
- pork shoulder
- fresh thyme
- a pig trotter — one of the only things that merits a trip to Wal Mart.
I write another list for items I’ll procure online, and have delivered within three days of the target date:
- Saucisse de Toulouse and Saucisson a l’Ail. D’Artagnon is my best bet for a supplier. Should Wal Mart fail me once again, the pig foot can be had here for sure.
So, once Kathy and I are up to snuff, if Sean Hannity has not already named the date, I will determine when the mid-March Real Inauguration Day will take place, and announce that Kathy and I will host a celebratory cassoulet feast.
We’ll invite a couple of blustery and fantasy-prone conservative pals and a similar number of whacked-out progressives to the feast, all required to be successfully vaccinated.
I’ll serve the cassoulet with fresh, crusty bread (from the bakery owned by our friends Kathy and Kirsten) with plenty of butter, and a simple green salad dressed with a vinaigrette.
I’ll pop the corks on bottles of a suitable but affordable red, possibly Domaine d’Aupilhac Lou Maset, from Kermit Lynch, or Lynch’s own Cotes du Rhone, Cyprus Cuvée.
Of course, no Real Inauguration will take place, but it won’t matter that a political earthquake fails to shake our foundations. This is America, and we Americans don’t need or want reality in the mix. Fact restrains our ability to excite ourselves for no meaningful reason. We’re disturbed by anything and everything that’s trivial and nonsensical, any day of the week, since each sunrise signals a new crisis.
The nature of a crisis is not important, since it’s only our individual agitation and demented responses that matter in a decadent, failing culture. We chase the ghost of catharsis like a crackhead chases the next pipe.
As a result, for one faction of guests the meal will serve as a celebration of the survival of a treasured way of life, and for the others a wake at which they mourn the death of democracy…with good food and drink.
It will be entertaining. Cathartic.
At an appropriate hour, since I need my rest.