FIVE THINGS I COULD LIVE WITHOUT BUT WOULDN’T REALLY WANT TO
1. Fried chicken. When I decided to give up all meat (chicken, beef and pork) for Lent earlier this year, my death-row last meal was a Popeye’s 3-piece dark, spicy with mashed potatoes and gravy AND a side of red beans and rice AND the biscuit, which is like dessert. (Note: It’s funny I even observed Lent because I don’t consider myself a practicing Catholic any longer, but I do happen to live in New Orleans where the indulgence during Mardi Gras necessitates some attempt at penitence.) I’m not ashamed to say that I picked those bones clean and even licked the mashed potato container. I’m really letting you in my little dark, private world now! My grandfather, a/k/a Paw Paw, made the best fried chicken in the world. He cut the breast into quarters (I’ve heard them called puppy feet) and the thighs in half so you had these little unidentifiable pieces with salty and peppery (very important) thin, crispy skin. He fried them in a black-iron skillet with maybe an inch of oil — no deep frying — and patiently stood guard turning and turning each piece until it was perfectly done. I don’t fry chicken because 1) I don’t have that level of patience, being an instant gratifier and all, and 2) that fried smell lingers throughout the house permeating every fabric and does not acquiesce to the 17 candles/sticks of incense I light to eliminate it. However, I would love to have my Paw Paw’s fried chicken just one more time.
2. Coffee. Let’s just forget that caffeine is technically considered a drug and can be addictive. Whatever with all that. I’ll justify my coffee addiction with the same vigor as a heroin addict justifies the needle and the damage done. My brain is not in full-on function mode until I have that first cup in the morning, and I’ll be honest, sometimes it takes a second cup. I go through phases in how I take it. Mostly it’s just black. Sometimes just sugar. Just cream. Both sugar and cream. My favorite is Vietnamese coffee — strong pressed coffee with a big spoonful of sweetened condensed milk. Love! There is a little cafe in Rome between the Via della Conciliazione and Borgo Santo Spirito where I got my daily fix while visiting. Standing at the bar and having a couple or three shots of hearty espresso pulled by descendents of Roman gods is a very pleasant and sexy way to start a Roman day.
3. Freshly cut grass. Oh, that sweet smell that takes me back to my childhood when my dad finally allowed me to cut the grass with our Snapper riding lawnmower. I thought if I could operate a clutch and go through the gears on the Snapper, I was certainly almost overqualified to drive a car on the open road. What’s the difference? If you all would have seen my straight swath of lanes in the grass, you would know the difference. I also came close to giving myself whiplash on the Snapper. That first gear was a bitch to finesse. No way was I ready to be let loose on the unsuspecting drivers of Greenwell Springs, Louisiana. I would’ve been Menace’s little sister, Havoc. I believe I was about 12. I always wanted to cut it in a circle, but that didn’t pass with the old man. Just as well, I probably would have made myself dizzy going in circles and coupled with the fumes from the exhaust, I might have just fainted dead off the Snapper. But the smell of fresh-cut grass brings me back to a place where my responsibilities were smaller, my worries non-existent, and my imagination infinite and rampant. Our neighbor would smoke while he cut his grass and then sit on his patio and enjoy a few 7-ounce Miller ponies (I’m so waxing nostalgic on those little bottles.) He kept them in his outside refrigerator which gave us, the neighborhood kids, plenty of opportunity to perfect our craft of pillaging, plundering and pilfering said ponies. The combination of the smells of the grass, cigarette smoke and beer is a holy trinity for me. Anytime I smell those three together, I feel I’ve hit the trifecta. It is really ironic that I cannot tolerate cigarette smoke. I hate cigarettes and their effects on smokers. The world would be so much more pleasant if everyone stopped smoking. My supporting argument: How could it be any worse if everyone stopped smoking? Damn the cigarettes! But, strangely, the combination of that bouquet is like my warm blanket. If I ever get my own yard and have to cut the grass, don’t think I’m not stopping by the 7-11 (all Circle K’s have and will always be 7-11s to me) and buying a six-pack of High Life and a pack of cigarettes just to let one burn while I’m cutting that grass sipping a cold one.
4. Beaches. Year after year after year, our family vacation was a week at the beach. I don’t think my parents knew that there were other destinations where one could go and still be considered “on vacation.” I think it was because it was a fairly inexpensive trip that involved no air travel and expensive hotels. We never had an itinerary. The sand and water were our entertainment and no one was charging admission to the beach. They plopped us in that sand and we basically entertained ourselves with little plastic shovels and buckets and the sacrificial Barbie doll on which we practiced beach burial rituals. While I have great memories of Florida vacations, they’re just a little overdone for me. Now, I have put aside my childish ways, and my idea of the beach has become a little more refined and discerning. I crave an exotic, secluded, and virginal beach, not one packed with umbrellas and oblivious sheeple. If you read my “I Want To Tell You” post, you’ll know that I am shockingly and inexcusably under-traveled, so I have not yet been to beaches meeting these standards. However, I know that they exist. I know I WANT to go to these beaches (quality over quantity). And I know that some day, I shall be basking in one of these still and solitary retreats fully appreciating every fucking minute of it. I love the gritty feel of sand, the clean smell of the salt water, the lulling sound of the breaking waves, and the birds singing their wordless songs. To exist in that littoral zone, if only temporarily, without the burdens of responsibility, punctuality, obligation, clothes … well, you get the picture.
5. Books. I’m geeking out on this one, but I really love to read. I always have a book or a magazine (no celebrity pandering tripe and drivel) that I’m reading. I love all genres of books — fiction, non-fiction, biographies, autobiographies, historical fiction, dystopian novels, travel books, science fiction, cookbooks (I keep hoping for a little culinary inspiration), and a limited amount of self help books because I can only read so many times that I need to know my true self before I can have a meaningful and lasting relationship with anyone else (yeah, yeah, yeah) and what the 10 steps to happiness are. They change with every article. I can remember at an early age being fascinated by books. Back in the mid ’70s, before there were more than four channels on TV (and that’s even counting PBS), before the days of these interwebs and instantaneous information, before Kindles and iPads, we had books — numerous pages bound together with glue and hard covers. I would read our encyclopedias. Kids, these were about 26 volumes of books (much heavier than your Mac) containing articles that described/defined different subjects from aardvarks to zygotes. They were like Google when it was still just a thought in the back of someone’s brain. I absorbed them and handled them with kid gloves, except for that one unfortunate incident with the S volume, the spider article and the resulting torn page. Oh, the horror! Recently, I had to part with my National Geographic collection. Seriously, it was a collection — every edition from 1972 through the present. It felt like the ending of a relationship with a lifelong friend you never see or hear from but you knew was always there and could call on for anything you needed. I have a hole in my literary heart now. But the other day, I received the latest issue in the mail, and it made me appreciate and devour it even more.
So those are just five things I can think of off the top of my head that I really could live without but wouldn’t want to. Fried chicken, coffee, the smell of fresh cut grass, beaches and books. I’m sure that speaks something about me to the mental health profession, but they still are some of my favorite things.