Never, ever steam. Or GTFO.

An everything bagel, one of my first batch.

If you don’t know what a “schmear” is–where the word comes from and why its etymology makes its application to bagels clear and unarguable–go HERE. And if you want to experience a bagel from the vantage point of an experienced bagel-eater, go HERE and HERE. As you can see, I’ve given the subject some thought, more thought even that I’ve given to pizza, which somewhat surprises me since I eat pizza more often. I think it’s because Little Caesar’s deep dish pepperoni is so greasily satisfying and Comfort Pizza is such a symphony to my palate that I don’t worry about not getting pizza that’s not like “real New York” pizza. Only Home Slice in Austin offers me that and, even then, they try to Austinize it, and it doesn’t always work.

That is not the case with bagels.

San Antonio’s Boss Bagels are decent, and these are what is served at PAX Coffee Shop downtown. (As an aside, and only Kerrvillians will get this, I like what appears to be a name alteration: from “PAX Coffee and Goods” to “PAX” or “PAX Coffee Shop.” The former made it sound more like a mercantile business, which it has never been. It has been and is a coffeeshop, and new owner Katie has trimmed off any excess nomenclature and made substantive changes to its interior, a couple that I like and a couple that I don’t, but all of which show PAX’s evolution into a pure coffeeshop. And that, I like.)

There are a couple bagel places in Austin that are good in my opinion — Rockstar Bagels and Wholy [sic] Bagels — but most of us have to rely on the closer Boss Bagels, whose one of two locations is beyond the TSA checkpoint at SAT. That’s actually quite smart of them; bad for us.

Rockstar Bagels, center right: “A transcendent bagel experience”?

It was time to make some Freeman bagels.

I decided to use THIS RECIPE, mainly because the writer claimed to be a “real New Yorker.” Anytime someone claims that, it is ballsy and requires other “real New Yorkers” to kick the tires. And in the end, it’s as arbitrary as finding a recipe for a good meatball written by someone who didn’t grow up in Italy or near Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. In the end, it’s all about taste and very little to nothing about the cook’s street creds. Those are useful only in marketing.

A few observations about the process:

  • I had never worked with yeast. I was told to use Active Dry Yeast and, after letting it sit in some warm water with sugar, I was told to stir it till it dissolved, which was a chore. My mistake was that the yeast-water-sugar mixture never bubbled. It may not have been ready to be stirred.
  • Kneading the dough for ten minutes was exercise! Because of the yeast (?), it was rubbery and bounced back, rather than being like biscuit dough, which has no yeast and calls for kneading only so much as necessary. Good grief! Bagel dough, and I assume all dough meant for bread products, gives you Popeye forearms and calls for a good shoulder massage afterward.
  • Dough didn’t rise to “twice its size.” It was maybe 125% of its size after resting for an hour. Probably not sitting in a warm enough spot.
  • Shaping the dough into bagels was both easy and hard. After dividing the dough into 8 separate pieces, getting the dough into round balls was difficult for me. The technique suggested in the recipe was unnecessarily confusing, and even the writer said it sounded more confusing than it was. Let’s just say that it wouldn’t have been so confusing if I’d watched the accompanying video which, like the men of the 1950s driving across the country with the family and not wanting to stop and ask for directions, I wasn’t about to do. Full steam ahead!

And speaking of “steam,” if you have ever eaten a steamed bagel, you know it’s more like eating a marshmallow with sesame seeds on top.

Just don’t.

Writing while naked

The space heater is on the higher of two settings and is about five feet away on the floor and exhaling — exhaling only — toward me under the desk. It is slightly unpleasant.

I stretch my neck and lean forward to look over my computer screen at it. Black, it’s shaped like a decapitated pyramid. If it was moving, its vent would be a hypnotic spiral.

It’s been raining this morning, so my normal ritual under the stars was abbreviated to a standoffish admiration from the back porch. To the left, watching our black cat consider its next steps. Listening to heavy drops hit something metallic at the house to my right. Not original drops; drops, rather, that had already fallen and were falling again from roof or gutter onto an aluminum surface of some kind.

How many times does a drop drop?

I’m in flannel pajama bottoms as I start to work, which was about an hour or more ago. My t-shirt is one that I wear every morning. I wash it occasionally. It and my other morning t-shirts are perfectly normal shirts — it’s not like they have profanity or naked ladies printed on them — but I wouldn’t wear them in public. It’d be like wearing underwear to shop for groceries.

And yet, I can work like this, at least for a little while. I can certainly write like this.

I could probably write while naked and maybe one day soon I will.

Why wouldn’t I?

Let your nose smell the roses and your eyes see the sky

The Supergiant star Betelgeuse and a “titanic convulsion” in 2019, as recorded by Hubble observers.

Twice a day and both times in the dark, once at night before bed and again in the morning just after waking up, I walk out back to the 6th tee box on the golf course where we live and I admire the heavens in all their created glory. The temperature dropped to 30 degrees overnight, making the well-trimmed ryegrass feel like walking on a frozen crewcut.

At night I have my ritual of looking in particular for the constellation Orion and the surrounding stars and also for “nearby” Mars. (So odd that I would refer to these celestial bodies as if they sat on the circumference of a spherical boundary rather than existing on billions of concentric hyperbolic planes that constitute no barrier to travel.) Last night I found Betelgeuse and then, down and to the West, Sirius.

This morning I found the Big Dipper, and I remembered that it’s handle pointed toward some significant body. And indeed it did, to the quite bright Arcturus, which I looked up on Stellarium. That iPhone app also showed me that a Starlink satellite was passing overhead. Fricking cool.

This post might be boring to some, and now it constitutes a meta statement, which is also boring, even to me, but the experience itself is ineffable.

Smell the roses overhead.

I “love my H-E-B”

Gotta be honest with you, I was a bit put out. Now that I think about it, that’s a great phrase: being “put out.” Random 4-hours-sleep-last-night thought: raise your hand if you saw the Flintstones cartoons and remember how the cats were “put out” of the house at night.

“Some day, maybe Fred will win the fight… Then the cat will stay out for the night…”

Used to be that at night people put out the empty milk bottle and the cat. That’s just what you did. You can see for yourselves in this closing to one of my favorite cartoons that they’ve literally been doing this for 100,000 years. Sadly, the milkman, Bronto Burgers, driving on I-10 using only your feet for propulsion and putting the cat out at night have gone the way of the… (I think it’s worth noting that purple dinosaurs were around long before Barney.)

In my case, and to my seemingly irrevocable sorrow, I was put out by H-E-B.

Now, you have to understand something about H-E-B and my fanboy status around this national grocery store of Texas. (“We” Texans love H-E-B so much that there are Texas-shaped stickers printed with the common saying “Love my H-E-B.”) My quick rise to fanboy happened in 1996, and I won’t recount the story here but rather refer you to it HERE. Whether or not you read that post now or were one of the three who did so then, you should know that this site is inspired by H-E-B. For a New Yorker who grew up on real bagels, real pizza, and had smörgåsbord, sushi/sashimi and Ghanian by the time I could vote, I developed early on a prejudice toward not only food that wasn’t Gotham-found but also any grocery story that wasn’t called Fairway and didn’t require the skill of a Formula-1 driver to maneuver around the end caps and jockey for position at the express checkout line. If you have watched the Netflix series, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, you’ll know that cursing out the shopping cart driver who tries to overtake you is not unheard of. In fact, it’s encouraged.

You may not know this, but many Fairway shoppers themselves have sponsors ranging from Dave’s Killer Bread (this is indeed the Team Red Bull of grocery sponsors) to Post cereal to Le Colombe Coffee Nitro. At H-E-B, however, no sponsors are needed. No jockeying is needed. In fact, people are not even in a rush. Even the red scooter-basket-cart that people sit in go only as fast as a Chevy Suburban idling up Hilltop Drive.

I have veered so far off the subject.

Back to it.

I was put out.

Put out like a cat in the Mesozoic.

In addition to this site’s being inspired by H-E-B, I consistently post on my Instagram the items I buy from the store and cook. I also get responses from the store in Instagram DMs about my feed and stories that mention them. I am such a devotee that their coffee brand Cafe Olé is practically the only brand I drink. (We also occasionally drink Aldo’s Coffee from Greenport, New York, and Cuvee coffee I got at PAX here in town, but basically it’s all Cafe Olé.)

So I thought I’d try to become an “ambassador” for the brand and get free coffee for posting various kinds of H-E-B products. (Let’s be real, Red Bull-sponsored F-1 driver Max Verstappen drinks that swill publicly, but he probably eschews it privately. I, on the other hand, would drink Cafe Olé no matter what. Or would I…?)

I DM’ed H-E-B on Instagram, and they gave me the email address to write to in order to ask about becoming a brand ambassador. So I did.

Crickets.

Four times. Crickets. Not even an auto-reply.

So I complained, like a little pissy New Yorker who doesn’t get his way grocery shopping:

Gary Gulman with a riff about Trader Joe’s, that bastion of yoga-panted and entitled midday-shopping white women.

H-E-B’s Instagram monitor(s) have consistently responded to my questions and proactively commented on my posts and stories. It was obvious that if I wanted a response to my selfless (“yeah…no”) offer to be an ambassador, I’d have to ping the IG crew rather than wait for responses to my emails.

So I did.

And like a pissy New Yorker who thinks that grocery stores revolve around me — although they kind of do: me and every other customer. Ok… low blow. But pissy nonetheless, like I said — I even called the lack of a response to my emails, “rude.”

I said that. I know: harsh language.

You can imagine what I’d say to a New York City-based grocery store. In fact, you wouldn’t have to imagine it. I could show you how I responded to Gristedes one time if only I could find the post from my old blog.

H-E-B wrote back.

They wrote back and promised a follow up. And you know what? They followed up, because later THAT DAY, a woman named Shannyn wrote a very kind email and said that H-E-B didn’t have any ambassadors for the Cafe Olé brand. Shame, if you ask me. BUT, she added:

While we don’t have an official Café Ole ambassador program, we appreciate the love and really are glad you love brewing Café Ole!

We’d love to send you some Café Ole to say thanks- and if you post anything, wonderful — but if not, just know we appreciate you being such a fan!

Gracious H-E-B response to pissy New York complainant

Yesterday a box arrived. A heavy Box. From H-E-B with, I soon learned, a packing slip with Shannyn’s name on it.

In it were eight (8) pounds of flavored ground coffee, a 2lb bag of flavored coffee beans and various swag, including a “Love my H-E-B” sticker, which was quickly affixed to my otherwise pristine MacBook Air. Market value was easily more than $100.

Can you tell I love my H-E-B?

“For a moment of night”

I think I’ve found a way to spot Mars in the night sky using Orion’s belt and then two stars.

We live on the fringe of a golf course, and the 6th tee is about thirty yards from our back door. Twice a day I walk out onto the tee box. At night, I stand there and take in the majesty — and I do mean majesty: a word we rarely use other than referring to Charles or Elizabeth and which we ought never use when speaking about individual humans in a hierarchical way but, instead, use universally about the majesty of our humanity and the Created Order around us — I take in the majesty of creation. When the stars are out, not only is it more pretty of course than on a cloudy night. It also is more humbling to me by far than standing in daylight. In daylight, I often feel massaged by Sun as that star lovingly warms what is around me. It lulls me to think that somehow I’m at the center. Night reminds me I’m not. And a starry night is a fearsome thing indeed.

Then in the morning — before coffee, before writing in my journal, before any sacred text reading, and certainly before social media and email — I walk out onto that same tee box and again I take in the majesty and also face my irrational fear of being alone outside at night.

Finding Mars is relatively easy now compared with remembering some of the star names.

In “Orion’s Belt” are, from “east to west” (for lack of a better way to describe their positions), Alnitak Alnilam and Mintaka. I just checked that link and, sure enough, NASA describes their relative position the same way (“east to west”). They are “blue supergiant” suns, more massive and powerful than ours. (That kind of makes one feel almost quaint, yes? To talk about “our sun” when so many other suns out there aren’t possessed at all. Most likely.) All three names are derived from Arabic words, and this makes me think of the three wise men and Zoroastrianism, which was an association bandied about when I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s and before anyone speaking Arabic was considered a terrorist. It was also a time when much of popular Christianity could tolerate a non-Jewish “-ism” to be included in the Nativity story.

  • Alnitak — from an nitaq, “the girdle.”
  • Alnilam — from al Nitham or al Nathm, “the string of pearls.”
  • Mintaka — from al Mintakah, “the belt.”

If I follow these stars from east to west I plot a course further to the west and then north until I find Bellatrix. “Bellatrix” means “female warrior,” and is likely derived from one of two words, both male nouns. Webster’s Dictionary says that “-trix” is a suffix that, when added to words, “forms a feminine noun of agency.” One thinks of “executrix” of an estate (vs. an executor). (The reddit generation has taken “dominatrix” and shortened it to “dom.” Much of language amongst them is abbreviated or even acronym’ed, made easy for texting. In fact, you can turn this entire post into a 572-letter acronym and text it to a friend. They will thank you. Try it.)

Yet being an “executrix,” ladies, is your nom (de guerre…see how I did that?) in only some states. Other states will make the person who executes a Last Will and Testament the “executor” and, effectively, rob women of their agency in such matters. Gender-fluidity — a liquidation of gender from noun to adjective — also robs the identifying person of their definition in the literal sense. I would think their desire would be the opposite. Of course, fluidity does allow one the freedom to sit at the head of the Thanksgiving table one year and at the kids’ table the next.

On the contrary, I like to think of words as ice crystals, branching off from a center and forming a pattern that can be traced back when looking exceedingly closely and with care not to melt their ancestral paths.

For more on this increasingly dull (to some) topic, go HERE. I, for one, hold my breath when searching for the root. One never knows what one will find. It is often a root word meaning something not so much male-dominated as true to its actual meaning, one which we shy from today for fear of losing friends or social media followers, which is to say the same thing. “Gentleman” comes to mind. It used to mean an Englishman of noble birth who owned land. Then it meant a man who was not only polite but polite specifically to women who wanted men to be polite. Then it meant a man who was polite to women who wanted men to be polite to women but not let anyone else know that she wanted that. Today, of course, it refers to a man who walks into an building with no windows at lunchtime carrying a hundred dollars in singles.

From Bellatrix, I fly across the north and veer slightly south until I hit Aldebaran. Yet another word that might be derived through Arabic and originally from the Latin. For more: HERE.

Finally, to Mars, I simply float a little northeast (?). At this point I have lost my sense of direction, because we use direction on a horizontal plane that is not easily tilted. Let me describe it this way: if last night I stood on that tee box facing toward Medina, Texas — which is an ironic posture for an Episcopalian to take when working with Arabic names — and look up, I see Orion’s Belt in the southwest at about 11 o’clock. (Which means, as you now know, that when I tell you in Kerrville, “let’s meet tomorrow at 1 o’clock,” what I am really saying is “let’s have an early breakfast in San Antonio.”)

I follow Bellatrix and Aldebaran by leaning back, and by the time I hit Mars, I’m pretty much looking straight up. Lunchtime in Kerrville. In the end, what we think of as “north” (and south and east and west) is still a self-centered orientation of the universe. It is “around” us. We are not “in it.” Copernicus is rolling in his grave.

This, of course, is one of the main reasons I go outside under the stars — quite alone at night and very alone first thing in the morning. I want to feel “in it” rather than it being “around me,” as I do in daytime. Lulled. (Included in the many etymologies of “lull” and its offspring “lullaby” is the Dutch word “lullen,” which means “to talk nonsense.”)

Instead of being lulled to sleep, I want to feel that irrational fear of being in the dark.

Henry Beston (1888-1968) wrote:

Our fantastic civilization has fallen out of touch with many aspects of nature, and with none more completely than night. Primitive folk, gathered at a cave mouth round a fire, do not fear night; they fear, rather, the energies and creatures to whom night gives power; we of the age of the machines, having delivered ourselves of nocturnal enemies, now have a dislike of night itself. With lights and ever more lights, we drive the holiness and beauty of night back to the forests and the sea; the little villages, the crossroads even, will have none of it.

Henry Beston in The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod

Again, he writes:

For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars — pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time.

At night, or in early morning, I have nothing to fear except deer, a skunk, maybe a possum, or a stray cat. Yet the hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms actually do stand up. It is irrational. I am never in any danger. Ever. So I walk out there to the tee box to glory in the majesty of the deep navy blue sky and to face down that irrational fear, which is not a fear of anything external so much as it is a fear of what I might learn if I stand still for that one moment of night.

It’s not the wings themselves

Monarch butterflies land on branches at Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. On Thursday, July 21, 2022, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature said migrating monarch butterflies have moved closer to extinction in the past decade – prompting scientists to officially designate them as “endangered.” (AP Photo/Nic Coury, File)

In the fall of 1972 or 1973, when I was 9 or 10, the monarch butterflies were making their way to Mexico. I was fortunate enough to see the daytime sky as densely dotted with them, it seems, as with the stars at night out at our beach house on Fire Island, New York.

I remember it was cold. Cold and rainy. This made each monarch’s air travel much like flying a 3-inch wet Kleenex. For, you see, the monarch butterfly itself is the small creature carried along on those wings, not the wings themselves. We see the latter, but it is the former that must make the long journey.

One morning I awoke and went to the beach. Wearing corduroy pants and a cable knit sweater Mom had made, with a matching one for my younger brother, Jim. I probably wore a white turtleneck. The shirt was probably clean, since Mom kept it that way despite young boys’ proclivities to soil them making forts or fighting off enemies with imaginary guns or tree branches for broad swords. Jim might have even been with me.

As the previous day’s sky had been speckled with these marvelous creatures, so now the beach on this drizzly morning was littered with those orange and brown wings. Some still attached, some detached or tattered.

I walked along and grew sad. I picked up four butterflies that were intact and seemed like maybe they were just knocked unconscious. I carefully transported them — I don’t recall how — and then placed them on the ledge of our second-floor balcony, facing the sun in the south and shielded from the stiff north wind. I monitored them. Waiting for their wings to dry so they could journey on.

The next day, I checked the ledge and three of the four were missing. “They must have dried and flown away,” I told myself.

Mom helped me identify and then write to the Fire Island National Seashore office and report to whichever man was in charge that I had successfully rescued three monarch butterflies from the recent storm, even though I’d lost one. I don’t recall if he wrote back. I do recall that I was still sad about that one.

I wrote up that story as an article for the first edition of a newsletter I’d launch the next spring. The publication had articles (news and also features), poetry and cartoons I had lifted from Highlights Magazine. I offered it to subscribers, and my grandmother became its sole patron. Not enough, I’m sorry to report, to keep it in the black, so I had to shutter it a month later.

The homeowners’ association where we live here in the Texas Hill Country has created a small monarch butterfly “layover station,” for lack of a better phrase. It’s a split-rail enclosed area of probably 75 feet by 35 feet not far from the main road leading into the development. Karen and I often remark that we wished it was a dog run.

Perhaps what little allure it holds for me is about potential, not actual.

Learning to read

You’d think that the one ingredient you wouldn’t forget to put in a homemade pumpkin pie is the pumpkin filling itself. Right? It’s a bit like saying you’re a lawyer who didn’t go to law school, rendering you a yer. Or a merry-go-round without any merriment, which becomes a nauseating spin cycle. Or cotton candy without the cotton or the candy, which looks like a confused kid holding a thin white cone upside down.

My first pumpkin pie left me a confused Yer lacking anything close to merriment. My second attempt redeemed me, since I’d learned by then how to read.

You’ll notice that on each one, the crusts came out roughly the same. The recipe I used was given to me by a coworker in ~2004–a coworker who’d raised four kids and had made roughly 532 pies, most of them pumpkin. That’s an exaggeration to make my point: she knew how to make a good crust. And I had only ever asked her about apple pies, since that type was common in New England in the fall, during apple picking season. In fact, I made three pies at once that year using her crust recipe, because we had recently picked so many apples from Honey Pot Hill Orchards. It was that year that Bennett, still a toddler and with my help, would pick an apple and then, when I wasn’t paying attention, take a single bite and drop it on the ground. I’m sure half a peck met this fate.

Anyhow, Anne (my coworker) trained me to use shortening for the crust instead of butter, and to roll out the dough only once. If any dough tore, you were to simply and gently pat it back in place and use a little more flour. I actually have made all my pies using this crust recipe. (I did once bake with a store-bought crust and felt guilty.) My mother-in-law last night confirmed also that for most of her pies, like a lemon merengue, she’d brown the crust first before putting in the filling, but for a pumpkin pie she’d put the filling into the raw crust and bake it. She’s also made closer to 1,000 pies, since she’s raised not four kids as Anne had, but five.

Back to the pie filling.

The directions on the Libby’s pie filling can are fairly clear. (I say “fairly” because that adverb makes a distinction between the manufacturer’s professional recipe writers and my ability to listen to them. P.S.: Though it modifies “clear,” “fairly” here is an adverb of degree, not an adjective. I looked it up so that while my reading skills might be failing, my defensive Google skills are still rapier-like.) The directions say, “Stir in pumpkin…” and, yet, I completely overlooked this, because I was reading the can while it laid on its side, assuming a posture of not wanting to be opened. My hands were otherwise occupied opening the evaporated milk and mixing in the dry ingredients. Later, when I criticized Libby’s instead of worrying about my own side of the street, I would even claim they forgot to tell me to add the evaporated milk. (Of course I added the milk, because–pshaw!–who wouldn’t, right?!) I read over the recipe three times and confirmed each time that they forgot the milk step. I was ready to call the Customer Service line to graciously inform them of the omission, but when taking these photos before writing this, I noticed that the milk instructions were right after the pumpkin instructions. I had added the dry ingredients because I saw them mentioned, and I added the milk because that was listed up top (yes, yes, as the pumpkin was, too), and the cans were sitting in front of me. The Libby’s can was sleeping face down. Of course I’d miss that! Anyone would.

In the end (of both tries) the cross section of pie looked quite different:

The first one went into the trash, and it slid nicely off the pie plate, since I’d made the crust so well.

The Beautiful Ima Hogg

The temperature this morning was cool-your-coffee-quick degrees when I stepped outside to have those first precious sips. “First precious sips.” I feel that same routine first-ness when I finish reading in bed at night. I set my book down, get up, pull the bottom sheet up and over the top of the mattress — I absolutely hate sleeping on wrinkled sheets (“Ok, Mr. Princess And The Pea”) — and then crawl under the covers. I lie on my back — though I almost never sleep that way, or at least don’t sleep well that way — and let out a sigh. Really, it’s a sigh. Sigh. Such a beautiful word. Almost onomatopoeic. I notice that onomatopoeic has not only a lot of vowels, but it also has all the vowels except a “u.” (It also doesn’t have a “y,” but Y’s are like thumbs. They’re vowels but not vowels.) So I decided to do a little research — that decision was a moment ago; I’m a long way off from sighing in bed, and my coffee is fucking cold by now — and Googled “words with all of the vowels.” Here’s what I got:

Eunoia, at six letters long, is the shortest word in the English language that contains all five main vowels. Seven letter words with this property include adoulie, douleia, eucosia, eulogia, eunomia, eutopia, miaoued, moineau, sequoia, and suoidea.

Guinness World Records

“The Guinness Book of World Records” is now simply “Guinness World Records” online. It changed names in 1999. Heading toward Y2K, while most people feared the sudden collapse of technology, Guinness leaned in. Books became dinosaurs. Except that Caitlyn Jenner, nee Bruce Jenner, will write an actual book, it will be sold at Barnes & Noble, and people will come and have their physical copy signed and perhaps shake Caitlyn’s hand, which will crush the reader’s from having thrown so many shotputs and hurled so many discuses. It will be ok. Because if violence is threatened, Caitlyn can hide in either bathroom. Sorry: low blow. As it were.

But I do want to go back now to those words.

Eunoia. This is a beautiful word. First of all, it actually is beautiful. It comprises the Greek “eu” (beautiful) + “noia” (thought) and can refer to the goodwill between a speaker and her/his audience. (Again, Caitlyn has a distinct advantage here. OK; last time. Promise.) You pronounce it “yoo-NOY-uh.”

The only other real word in this list that we all use is sequoia. The rest of those words above are for professors who live celibate lives, and not by choice.

For example, if you Google “adoulie meaning,” you will get a list of sites that let you know what andouille sausage is. Seriously. If, at the end of this post you are not disgusted, click there and see for yourself.

Miaoued” means meow’ed, like what a cat does. I am totally serious. Look it up. Its synonym apparently is “miaow.” We all know that both of those spellings for meow — which has fewer letters and is, after all, the choice of writers on a budget — have been created by professors at Ivy League schools to justify their Endowed Chair Of Stick-Up-The-Butt. And while “meow” is a cat sound and onomatopoeic, “miaou” is the sound of a professor teaching a class on cat sounds.

Moineau is French. Look it up. It doesn’t count. Why Google includes it shows that Silicon Valley is going socialist. Why Guinness includes it explains why it no longer has a spine.

Suoidea. This will require my naked contempt. DON’T GOOGLE THIS YET. It is a word from vertebrate zoology — danger already — and means “A superfamily of artiodactyls of the suborder of Paleodonta which includes”…wait for it…

.

.

.

Pigs.

Yup.

And since Suoidea is a type of “superfamily” — “Look at me! I’m a pig, and I live in a superfamily! Whoopee!” — there’s no singular identity within the word. I can’t say I’m a “suoid.” I can say I am suoidean — piglike. I can even say I am from the land of Suoideania — a farm. I can say I like to eat Suoideanese food: trough scraps. Or that my art is suoideanesque.

Sometimes, beautiful words have ugly meanings. Other times, while rare, ugly words have beautiful meanings.

Ima Hogg, one of the most respected women in Texas during the 20th Century. This photo c. 1900.

Three Things I Love About My Truck

When we moved to Kerrville five years ago—or, rather, when I was moved here by my Texan wife who in 1997 when we’d been married less than a year and living in New York City and I came home to find her crying over Texas Monthly’s annual chili-cookoff edition which, as you know, is like a siren call to anyone from the Lone Star State and will inexorably draw a woman back regardless of her moving to the city for her career as an architect or following her husband to frozen New England — she swore she’d never move farther north, but… — and back again to New York for his career (“Matzah in New York, Lord, and oyster crackers in New England?! Give me chili or give me death!”) and even with three sons who will eventually need expensive cars and not just weekly subway fare — friends gave us a truck.

Not just any truck.

A white-and-rust 1988 Ford F-150 ranch truck donated to us by friends in Frisco. It had less than 80,000 miles on it.

We had met the couple at the church in NYC where my wife, Karen, and I met. The man was one of two pastors, the other also being from Texas. In fact, there were lots of Texans there. In further fact, if you were from Texas and living in New York at that time, chances are you’d have at least visited Trinity Baptist Church on East 61st Street.

I did not grow up with cars. The first flat tire I changed was two summers ago on our Mini Cooper after watching a couple of YouTube videos. If it weren’t for the internet, I’d be walking the 10-mile round trip to PAX for coffee. (Walking because, my sons said, people here do not ride bicycles. “It’s embarrassing, Dad.” So aside from taking really short flights from Mooney Airfield, a motor vehicle was the only option.)

And now I’ve become quite enamored of this truck. Here are three of the many reasons.

First, it’s a pick-up truck. Which also means it’s a drop-off truck. This, as you all know — and by “all” I mean the 50% of readers who own trucks and the 90+% of that 50% who squeeze theirs into a H-E-B parking spot sticking so far out that I can’t quite get my rinky dink ’88 Ford past you; have mercy — this means that everyone comes calling for a favor.

“I need help getting this mattress over to ”so-and-so’s.”

“I need to take this old washing machine to the landfill.”

“I have a hundred pounds of mulch to haul, and my truck is a 2019 and yours is, well, old…”

Fortunately, this has not been a problem. We live closer to Mooney than to town. If you’re willing to come all this way to borrow the truck and haul your mulch, you might as well go speak to a pilot. He can drop it strategically over your garden with minimum collateral damage to your gas grill.

But the truck bed does make it possible for Karen to schlep around her art supplies and larger canvases. By the way, I sometimes use Yiddish, like schlep. (See companion article on schmear.) Not only do almost all New Yorkers of a certain age, Jewish or not, employ these colorful and almost onomatopoeic words, but they are culturally relevant for those living here, given a recent talk on Kerrville’s first resident, Joshua Brown (“Braun”), who was Jewish.

Second, there are no blind spots. While the steering wheel has too much “play”—it’s more like a boat’s tiller—and while you need to keep it under 55, go slow on the curves and easy on the brakes, it’s otherwise super safe: you signal, give a cursory glance over your shoulder, and the view through the windows—flat glass, not curved; unobstructed by any modern comfort and raised—give you a solid sense of traffic.

Finally: the quarter glass. Also called the valence window. When I have the driver’s side valence opened even a bit and crank the window down all the way, I can rest my bicep on the door and hold onto the vertical trim. I look good doing that. Real good.

I tell you. I’m wearing one of the dozens of snap shirts I’ve purchased here over the past 27 years — my urban-esque Uniqlo jeans well below dashboard level — and no one would guess I’m not from Texas.

Except, maybe, Lyle Lovett.

It’s “cupboard,” not “pantry.”

Let me tell you: it hurt a lot more than the photo might suggest. Sometimes the smallest injuries, like a paper cut, can rival the agony of being riddled with bullets like Sonny Corleone (James Caan) in The Godfather. After all, Sonny died, albeit after convulsing in the driver’s seat, through the front passenger door, then up against the side of his twelve-cylinder Lincoln Continental. So, after some production value on the New Jersey Turnpike, Sonny dies, goes back to his trailer on the Paramount Pictures lot, and has a double whiskey and a cigarette.

This was worse than that. By far.

It was a cooking accident. As are all mishaps in the kitchen. They’re “accidents.” And by definition they’re silly. I was making what turned out to be an epic meal.

I’m zipping around the kitchen finishing the appetizer in the Traeger while also checking on the roasted potatoes and trying to time them with the meatloaf, which still needs the glaze and another 15-20 minutes in the oven after that. The green beans and chipotle corn are canned, so I can heat those later on the stovetop. The potatoes are getting dry so they come out. I want to tent them so I can throw them back in the oven until the meatloaf, which is taking way too long, is done. (Remember, it isn’t “done” until it has the glaze baked on. The recipe says the glaze is to die for.)

I will need some aluminum foil. It’s where I store all my wraps/foils/etc., in a lower cabinet in the pantry. (I call it “the cupboard,” but Karen corrects me and says it’s a pantry. I think of “pantry” as a small room, something a realtor might include in a listing, while a cupboard might be small enough for only a pre-schooler or a hungry small dog to hide in. In that same category of misnamed objects and domiciled areas, I still call it a “bureau;” Karen says “dresser.” I’m right, of course, because this is my blog and that’s how I roll.)

So I yank out the aluminum foil–Texas Tough brand from H-E-B–but along with it comes a box of Glad plastic wrap.

You can probably see in the photo to the right that Glad conveniently includes a small tree saw with teeth not unlike those of a great white shark. When I’m putting away leftovers, I always use Glad Press’N Seal, which works so much better than plastic wrap. I use the plastic wrap primarily for the box it comes in and for this small saw, which doesn’t actually cut through the plastic wrap but does allow me to trim back the sage bush behind the house.

So the Glad Bush Saw comes falling out of the cupboard along with the aluminum foil and somehow–it happened so fast, like getting T-boned at an intersection, except people walk away from those “accidents” all the time; just ask my son: he rolled our Hyundai Santa Fe three times after getting hit in front of Papa John’s/Brew Dawgz and literally walked away without a scratch (true story; it was a miracle)–somehow I attempt to keep both foil and Shark Teeth Bush Saw from falling onto the floor and to do so I must have grabbed the saw in my left hand and also tried to push it up with my left knee at the same time while going for the aluminum foil with my right.

The combined effect of my left knee pushing and my left hand grabbing was that I thrust my forefinger along the triple row of teeth of a Great White Shark which, let’s face it, “Jaws” Captain Quint would attest–had he not been eaten–that it did not hurt nearly so much as my cut did. Quint actor Robert Shaw, too, went back to his trailer after he dies a gruesome death and splits a six pack with Caan, who’s already finished off a bottle of Cutty Sark. The two of them talk about directors, starlets and why Shaw didn’t beat out Duvall for the role of Corleone consigliere. Shaw is getting hot under the collar, but Caan shrugs him off saying, “Look, Bob, at least you have a shot at the sequel as a crime boss. I’m toast for the whole trilogy.”

So I grunt a low-throated “Ow!” because at my age, even while wearing a (manly chef’s) apron, you don’t scream or emit any high-pitched noise that might indicate that this actually hurt. Which it did. Like a motherfucker. It was the dignified yell of a black-hat gunslinger finally caught at the business end of the Dodge City sheriff’s rifle getting shot, falling off his horse and saying, “Ahh! Ya got me!”

“WHAT?!” Karen shrieked from the other room. (Because the women in Dodge City always “shriek,” even to this day.)

I went over to the sink and put my finger under the cool Texas water that we pay dearly for except the adjacent Comanche Trace Golf Course which buys its water from a very wealthy lady who owns the groundwater rights so golfers get free water all the time but we only get water if I pay my bill before the 5th of the month after the due date or I get a kindly written but clearly stated reminder that my vended water will be shut off by the 15th if the balance due is not remitted immediately by clicking here and they take all forms of payment except for Diner’s Club. (Does anyone still use Diner’s Club? My dad, a Madison Avenue advertising man, did. All the time.)

So I’m taking all that in–Diner’s Club, paying for water when golfers don’t, “cupboard” or “pantry” (although we all know it’s “cupboard”), and the inherent and schizophrenic bias for and against men named Robert getting cast in the Godfather saga–I’m taking all that in yet every time I move my finger out from the water it bleeds like a sunuvabitch, and my main thought is, “Please, God, let me not need stitches, because the meatloaf has at least another ten minutes at 375 before the glaze goes on.”