The King Ranch Chicken Casserole was billed as a “mood enhancer” for “cold winter evenings.” I’m always game for a mood enhancer, and while it was a mild October evening, it was after all to be a “mood enhancer.”
And that was enough to cook it.
Growing up in New York City, we didn’t have “casseroles.” I was raised on apricot mousse, sushi, and nameless middle eastern dishes my father cooked after retirement. And of course Entenmann’s. You can get them at Walmart occasionally. Someone recently told me that the Moonies cult owned Entenmann’s. I’ve not verified that, but either way it has no effect on how tasty I remember their cherry cheese danish.
I don’t think I heard the word “casserole” until I went to college and dated a girl from upstate New York whose family had moved to North Carolina when she was 12. She was, by most measures, southern, and her family made casseroles. And, yes, I did have my first tuna casserole there. Her name was Carla, and her family was originally from Fulton, New York. One summer she and her family took me to Fulton, which lies north of Liverpool, New York. Liverpool, of course, is where you’d stop for a bite at Heids of Liverpool.
You can try one of their “coneys,” which is like an albino sausage. Or you can have an amazing hot dog. But. You have to ask for a “frank,” not a “hot dog,” or it’s possible you won’t be served.
We stayed at her aunt’s home, which was across the street from a cremation service.
Back to the casserole.
I needed a mood enhancer.
I had been called a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer by two friends in the last week, most recently yesterday. One had gone further and said I might as well be marching with Hitler. Both freedom fighters were women, and both had known me for some time. One I’d known since college, and we’d had a brief romantic mood enhancement in the late ’80s. She decided some time later that she was a lesbian, and I’d like to believe there was no correlation. The other was a woman I’d known around 2008-2009, when we both had kids at P.S. 9 elementary school in New York City. We didn’t know each other long, but serving on the PTA together and standing in the schoolyard at 3:00 with other parents does have a way of creating the bond of neighbors at the same stage in life. Many of the parents from that time kept in touch through Facebook. We now know that Mark Zuckerberg puts the kibosh on what some people say but allows others, behind the safety of their keyboards, to launch verbal SCUD missiles at newly discovered targets.
My college friend has cut all ties with me. The other woman, the P.S. 9 one, may well have felt little connection with me to begin with. I had liked her, though, and my friend from college was one of my oldest friendships, excepting my five closest friends from adolescence and my younger brother. That one stung a bit.
With this election, it seems almost any relationship is up for grabs. Possibly even marriages.
“I wonder how ___ and ___ are doing,” I said casually to Karen last night in bed before we turned out the lights and when the two helpings of King Ranch Chicken Casserole had sufficiently enhanced my mood. My remark was more of a musing than a question and referred to a couple I’d known for decades.
“Yeah,” she said, “I wonder how they’re doing during this election.”
“I mean,” I went on, “he’s somewhat conservative and she’s progressive. Perhaps they’re like James Carville and Mary Matalin [the 1992 campaign managers for Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, respectively].”
I paused to consider. “Nah. Mary Matalin was more of a Bush-type Republican.”
My mood had by then developed a bit of an edge.
Since it was well past the time when I should go for a third helping of the casserole, I rested my left arm on our 90lb chocolate Labrador retriever, who was curled into a mound between Karen and me.
I moved my hand over his chest and kept it there: feeling his breathing, which was steady and slow.