Right Resolve

I came across an article written by a 30-something chap who bought a condo at age 24 and wrecked himself financially. Even if the tone is occasionally whiny, for the most part he avoids pointing blame at anybody but himself, which is all to the good, since he’s indubitably the sole author of his misfortunes. He bought in 2006, at the peak of the real estate bubble, and he bought with no equity whatsoever and not a dime in savings. He made himself a sitting duck for any downturn in the market, and as we all know, a great big whopping downturn happened within a year or so.

He could have stayed the course successfully — after all, the monthly payment remains the same no matter what the property’s ultimate resale value — but he compounded his foolishness by quitting a steady job in favor of pursuing a freelance writing career, although at the time he was seriously underwater in his mortgage with the break-even point still a good ways off in the future. As his income dwindled, he found himself in the worst situation imaginable: he couldn’t afford the monthly payments, he couldn’t rent the place out for enough to cover the payments, and he couldn’t sell. Whether one calls it instant karma or just the impersonal consequences of actions, the guy kicked himself into his predicament and will have to claw his way out, one way or another.

Which leads me to thinking about something I hadn’t thought about in a while: the Buddhist concept of Right Resolve. This is one of the “eightfold path” precepts that together form the fourth of the Four Truths, themselves an after-the-fact outline of the Buddha’s teachings as formulated by later generations.

Early definitions of Right Resolve, the work of narrow-minded, naive monks, are of little use in the modern world, or in just about any world for that matter. Those old-timey Buddhist monks had a single pat, prim answer for just about everything. Do you need to avoid sexual misconduct? Just live celibately. Are you too concerned about money? Just don’t have any. Are you attached to your possessions? Get rid of it all and live without doodley-squat, not even a proper pair of eyebrows. Do you worry too much about your diet? Just beg for your food, eat whatever you’re given, and don’t save anything.

Fortunately, Right Resolve is amendable to interpretation by more discerning minds. It can be understood more broadly (and with considerably more application to contemporary life) as the determination to avoid actions that are harmful to oneself or to others, regardless of one’s current lifestyle.

And that’s clearly where this guy tripped up big time. The resolution itself needed to be considered much more closely than it was, whether it was buying a house, a car, or a bag of groceries. He even flirts around the edges of the issue in his article, pointing out his many reservations about the purchase even while his parents were encouraging him and offering help.

It appears that many of his reservations were about himself, more than the financial commitment or the market, and had he listened to himself more carefully, he might very well have avoided an action which threw him into financial disarray for the next decade and will likely continue for a good while longer. He knew he wasn’t and might never be emotionally or fiscally ready to buy property. He knew that the market was over-inflated. He knew that his income was insufficient, and that he lacked job security. He knew all of it.

And yet he acted, acquiescing to what he considered the better sense of his parents. Even that should have been a siren-level warning to him: any 24-year-old who is that easily swayed by his parents needs to limit his financial decisions to calculating a server’s tip.

Thus Right Resolve would seem to imply being to thine own self true. Along with its companion Right View, Right Resolve is a kind of mental gymnastic, the strengthening one’s own will and the slow acquisition of clear thinking under stress. It begins with basic information (which he had) but then leads to the implications of that information.

The author of the article seems to be picking that up in hindsight. His last paragraph addresses the common observation that many millennials aren’t buying homes. “Maybe they just know what they’re doing,” he says. Hmmm: there is no “they” there in the broad sense that he’s implying, at least in my opinion. Some millennials are buying homes, after all, and presumably they know what they’re doing as well. One should refrain from a massive purchase like a house or condo if one lacks fiscal discipline, has a low salary, has no savings, and has questionable job security.

Hell, that doesn’t even need to be given such a fancy label as Right Resolve. It’s just good old common sense.

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And Gladly Teche

Some musicians teach in order to support their performance or composition habits. That’s not me. I teach because, well, I’m a teacher. Awareness of that simple fact came early.

I was the class tutor for my 8th grade French class. Somehow our French teacher had figured out that I had a knack for explaining things. (I honestly don’t remember how that came about.) She asked me to tutor a chap who was having problems. We scheduled an after-school time in her classroom and got to it.

I still remember the visceral thrill that accompanied picking up the chalk and writing out the conjugation of devoir on the board, and then drilling my pupil until he had it memorized. We tried it in sentences, we talked French, and all went well. Before long his test scores had improved remarkably. It was a good gig.

By the 9th grade I was teaching some private piano lessons, although I have to admit that piano teaching has never really been my thing. I’m much more attuned to classroom work, and in particular I’m happiest when delivering lectures and explaining things to groups of people.

Pedagogy classes never meant much to me, nor do the dictates of “educators” who strike me as assemblers of glutinous verbiage rather than folks with anything concrete in particular to offer. I can’t recall ever benefitting from anything in a how-to-teach book, no matter how humble or how fancy-pants.

Teaching really isn’t something that you can learn out of a book or in a classroom. Like making a good loaf of bread or fashioning a clay pot, teaching is acquired by doing. It’s a practice, in other words. You get better over time as you find what works and, even more important, what doesn’t. Most young teachers of energy and imagination boil over with ideas and theories that they want to try out. And they should. But the older, wiser birds tend to simplify and streamline; we know by now that directness and clarity are the thing, combined with tolerance, humor, patience, repetition, and (as much as is possible) an ego checked at the door to one’s classroom or lecture hall.

If my calculations are correct, those afternoons at the French class chalkboard would have occurred in about 1968, thus getting on to 50 years. That’s a long time to practice. I have been a professional teacher for over 40 years. And just maybe I’m starting to get the hang of it, but every year invariably something will happen that makes me feel like a blundering novice all over again. That’s good. The day I start thinking that I’ve got this thing mastered, that’s the day to start the retirement process.

And the day that I write scholarly articles containing anything along the lines of: “Effectuated strategies for establishing hegemonic group technologies resulting in incentivized targeted learning outcome assessments”?

Shoot me, just shoot me right then and there.

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Year Three Begins

I celebrate an important anniversary on August 10, in honor of the lifestyle change I made in August of 2015 as I left San Francisco and moved to a sizable contemporary Mediterranean in the outlying suburban city of Brentwood, out in the general region of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. I took possession of the house with substantial equity from the get-go—no FHA mortgage for this kid—and have glided onwards ever since as a homeowner in a modern suburb with all the amenities thereto. Having spent 40 years in a city once celebrated for its arts and freewheeling lifestyle, but nowadays more likely to be held up as the poster boy for misplaced progressivist policies that have resulted in third-world contrasts between glittering wealth and appalling squalor, I am now happily ensconced in a town filled with children and families and retirees and lovely homes in carefully-planned and well-landscaped developments, all surrounded by farms, orchards, and vineyards. Brentwood has its pockets of poverty and its instances of crime, but the pockets are tiny and the crimes are low voltage. It’s safe here, and it’s clean. The schools are tip-top. Shopping is abundant and convenient. This is a city of well-maintained parks, athletic fields, swimming pools, hiking trails, bike paths, senior centers, golf courses, tennis courts, and more. It’s no place for trend- or thrill-seeking urbanites, first-nighters, hardcore foodies, freelance musicians, starving artists, or anybody who requires close proximity to a major city. But for everybody else, life is good, whether farmer or parent or kid or retiree or professional single guy like me.

My happiest discovery has been just how well suited I am to single-person homeownership, responsible only to himself for all matters home-related. Voices can be heard out there in the big bad Internet that condemn the entire venture—never buy a home, they say, since you’ll pour money down a rat hole and spend all your time repairing and fixing stuff. I suppose that might be true for some people. It sure isn’t true for me. I consider the money and time well spent. And as for my house being a money pit—well, it has increased in value by at least $100K since I bought it, and that’s not even taking my plethora of upgrades and improvements into account.

As for repairs, I’m reasonably handy with hammer and screwdriver, but most importantly, I know what I can and can’t do. For example, I can replace a wonky power outlet easily enough, but not long ago the GFCI outlet that controls the power to all three bathrooms started acting weird, flipping open and cutting off the power to the bathroom outlets for no discernible reason. It had seen its day and needed replacing. Although I could have probably run down to Home Depot, bought a new GFCI outlet, and installed it just like any other, I decided to have a professional electrician do it just in case there is something about GFCI outlets that I don’t know. Yes, it cost an order of magnitude more than fixing it myself, but I consider the money worth it in peace of mind. And the power stays on in the bathrooms now.

I will paint a bedroom or the family room or the kitchen or a bathroom myself. But for a complete paint job of the house exterior complete with transparent stain on the back fence and opaque stain on the deck railings, I hired professionals. Ditto a full landscaping of a side yard. I could probably do it but it’s just not worth the time and bother, and besides, I’m not exactly a 25-year-old any more. On the whole I’m more inclined to hire out than do it myself, neither out of extravagance nor laziness but because I’d rather not have to live with the consequences of botching the thing.

At the start of my third year I can take well-justified pride in my stewardship of this property. My house is easily the best-kept on my cul-de-sac of contemporary Mediterraneans on about five different floor plans. It’s freshly-painted in a subtly contrasting two-tone scheme. All is trim, ship-shape, meticulous. Its already pronounced curb appeal is enhanced by a dandy front lawn—velvety emerald, soft and welcoming, mowed and edged weekly. My back yard has morphed from a scraggly expanse of dirt and random grass tufts into a fragrant floral sanctuary with an inviting soft lawn. The mature but originally scruffy rose bushes flourish in superb health. Even the north side yard, formerly an expanse of weeds and dog poop, is now a desert gardenscape with sages, lantanas, butterfly bushes, and other high-heat, lower-water plants all flanking a curvy walk made of decomposed granite with flagstones and entered via a lovely redwood arbor. All in all, the grounds exude unpretentious prosperity and well-being. And I made them that way, bit by bit.

Indoors the situation is comparable. It’s airy and light, nicely if economically decorated, and scrupulously clean. The kitchen appliances are fine new Bosch and Samsung models. Lighting is all LEDs now, with instant-on fluorescents in the bathrooms. Quite a bit of the interior is repainted—with more to come—and all of the door and bathroom hardware is freshly-installed antique bronze. Soon to come are re-tiled bathrooms and front entryway. Next summer will be window replacements—and hopefully a French door in place of the current patio door—and new chandeliers in living room and entryway. At some point a thorough kitchen re-do is in the offing, but I have to save up for that one. The house sports a classy modern HVAC system that combines quiet operation with energy efficiency, in place of a high-quality but aged original model. I tend to be proactive rather than reactive, more inclined to replace rather than repair. Nothing creaky or quirky or eccentric is allowed.

In short, my house is a work in progress but dramatically improved from its August 2015 incarnation, when it was a well-designed and solidly-built home that had suffered from several years of benign neglect and the depredations of two oversized and overly athletic dogs. It is still well designed and solidly built but as of August 2017 it positively hums with robust health. That isn’t to say that everything is perfect—far from it. The fact is that it’s a 25-year-old house with all that implies. Stuff wears out. Fashions change. My list of potential projects and improvements remains very long indeed. But I think it will be always so, since I never run out of ideas to tweak this, improve that, add or remove something else. And it’s a house, a living thing, and not something encased in lucite or frozen in amber. Problems can and will arise.

But the house is a joy, an adventure, and a constant source of fascination as I enter Year Three. Thus when August 2018 rolls around, unless the fates deem otherwise I expect to post another solid progress report.

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Gimme That Old-Time Piano Playing

Even if I don’t play in public (or private) much any more, I’m still a pianist. It’s sort of like being a Texan. It doesn’t matter how long since you’ve left the place; born there, you’re it, period and forever always. Ergo, I’m a Texan. Ergo, I’m a pianist.

As part of preparing for a session on Chopin for my class “The Early Romantics” at San Francisco’s Fromm Institute, I put together a comparison of a number of pianists playing the first two phrases of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9 No. 2. It’s a familiar piece, possibly a bit hackneyed by now, but nevertheless a gorgeously well-written bit of aria-like witchcraft for the piano. In listening to newer pianists and older pianists, I was struck anew by how much we have lost by generations of beady-eyed piano teachers cudgelling their students away from certain “bad habits” that, to my ear, are anything but bad.

Item: “breaking” the hands, or playing the melody note (typically in the RH) just a fraction of a beat after the accompaniment. It’s generally condemned by piano teachers—sometimes for good reason if it’s merely the result of inattentiveness—but actually it’s quite an effective way of getting around the piano’s inherent percussiveness. It’s also a time-honored practice, not only on the piano, but on the harpsichord as a method of bringing out a melodic line.

Item: right-hand (melody) dragging behind the left (accompaniment). Stock in trade for pop singers everywhere, it’s a classic method of keeping a melody from becoming too square and too resolutely attached to the underlying beat. Just a bit of lingering behind the beat can work wonders. Listen to Ella Fitzgerald. Listen to Frank Sinatra. Listen to just about everybody. And then listen to masters like Rachmaninoff do more or less the same thing.

Item: arpeggiating left-hand chords. We’re dealing with that pianistic percussiveness again, and rolling a left-hand chord ever so slightly can work wonders to ameliorate the piano’s fundamental brutality. Instead of three notes going BANG all at once, spread them out a bit. It’s like spackle over a hole in the drywall. Some later piano composers such as Scriabin wrote in deliberate polyrhythms as a way of filling in all those gaping holes left by the piano’s inability to sustain in any way other than descrescendo.

Item: taking as much time as you want for melodic ornamentation. At some point during the 20th century pianists changed their overall focus from the melodic line to the underlying beat. They started spouting zero-sum crap along the lines of: if you slow down somewhere, you have speed up somewhere else to make it up. What utter tommyrot. It’s not accounting, you know, and the rhythmic books don’t have to balance. There are no rhythmic books. If Chopin writes a 22-note ornament over three beats, for heaven’s sake don’t get all weird and try to play a perfect 22:3 polyrhythm to an unruffled steady tempo. When Chopin writes something like that, he’s telling you to indulge yourself. Just play it however you want—and if that means adding extra beats, or extra beats plus some unfathomable extra portion of another beat, then you just go right ahead. Let those 22 notes sing out as you will, and to hell with the beat.

Item: bending and changing notated rhythms to suit yourself. Boy, is this one a hot tamale. But many of our great pianists of the past did precisely that without the slightest worry. Again I offer the example of great pop singers. The rhythm is more or less there, but they’re not rigid automata about getting everything spit-spot to the notated score. It’s a melodic line, not a dictation exercise, in other words.

Item: juicing things up with a few extra bass notes here or there. Well and why not? Even if the piano had been outfitted with 88 keys from the very beginning (absolutely not the case), I see no reason why not to indulge in a little highlighting here or there, if you really think it will help. Hell, even if you’re just feeling expansive at the moment.

Item: “swing” à la Viennese waltz lilt (giving just a bit of English to the 2nd beat of 3/4) or à la Polish hesitation style (that same English applied to the 3rd beat instead). Once so common as to be almost ubiquitous, it has almost disappeared from today’s performances. I’ll allow that the “Polish” rhythm can become a dreadful mannerism, in which 3/4 almost becomes 4/4 due to the lengthening of the 3rd beat. But then again, here’s where taste and careful listening come into play. Do it for musical effectiveness, and don’t let it become an unconscious mannerism.

Item: “preluding” a bit before short pieces. Just a tiddly bit of improv to establish the key, and then you’re off. Josef Hofmann was partial to it even late in his career. How did it happen that pianists—who were once composers as well—became so averse to even the slightest hint of personal creativity? Stop making it up!! I heard from various teachers. Well, why the hell not? Somebody made that piece up originally, after all. I believe the term public domain might have some relevance here.

Now then. Sergei Rachmaninoff is often cited as being a pianist who planned everything out, played precisely, and all that. And yet: just listen to his recording of the Chopin E-flat Nocturne, and be prepared to be shocked if you’re expecting the last word in musical probity and conservatism. Hell, he rolls chords and breaks hands and drags RH behind LH and fiddles with the rhythm and takes his sweet time with the ornaments. And it works, man does it work. Listen to Moriz Rosenthal to hear constant breaking of hands (effective), or Josef Hofmann to hear the nocturne played with a clear Viennese waltz lilt, the second beat just a bit longer than the first or third.

And listen to Alfred Cortot play it—either from the 1920s or 1940s; he was pretty consistent. His performance could be cited as a litany of everything piano teachers inveigh against—breaking of hands, arpeggiating, re-writing RH rhythms, taking time for ornamentation, juicing things up here or there. But it works, and it works gorgeously. I’ll take that any day over certain more modern performances that seem to consist mainly of projecting the RH melody out to the rafters, almost as though shouting to the audience, mostly in perfect time throughout with just the slightest hint of a tapering off at a cadential point, all with brittle but well-projected sound.

No. Play it as though you wrote it, I used to hear from certain piano teachers who weren’t aware of the irony of the statement they were making: i.e., play it as if you wrote it and you’ll kill anybody who modifies so much as a millisecond of it.

Here’s a gloss on that statement: play it as though you’re writing it, right now, here in this moment that will never come again.

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Profound Logic

Jean Sibelius and Gustav Mahler, contemporaries and polar opposites on the surface, likely had more in common than not. They took divergent stances on symphonic composition, however. Sibelius recalled an exchange: “I said that I admired [the symphony’s] severity of style and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motifs … Mahler’s opinion was just the reverse. ‘No, a symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.’”

I cheerfully classify myself in the Sibelian camp, although I’m in no wise an anti-Mahler type. I find a great deal to admire in Mahler’s symphonies and other works; naturally I enjoy the glittering orchestrations and massive sonic effects—I’m as tickled by spectacle as the next guy—but many of my favorite Mahler passages are relatively restrained, such as the contemplative lyricism of the 6th symphony’s slow movement, or the grandly-conceived sonata form of the 9th’s first movement. I’ve journeyed far since my first aghast and repulsed encounter with Mahler; all I heard was narcissism and psychotic grandiosity. Both those characteristics can still unnerve me today, but with time and (some) familiarity I’ve been able to move past some of my earlier aversion. Das Lied von der Erde, a work that brings me no end of pleasure, fascination, and admiration, had a lot to do with that. Das Lied was my entry ticket to Mahlerdom.

But my heart is with Sibelius and his ilk—i.e., composers who practice profound logic, which is to say, composers who believe that the highest expressiveness comes from using the least amount of material, and not the most. That I’m not alone in this regard is witnessed by the composers who belong in this category: Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms, among others, including Sibelius.

Profound logic is on my mind these days, not a surprising state of affairs considering that I have once again given a series of lectures on the Mozart G Minor Symphony (No. 40) to my classes at UC Berkeley. This time around I have three Music 27 classes, thus three times through the same lecture in the same week. You’d think after 27 years teaching this course the piece would have become old hat by now, something to teach on autopilot. Not a chance. The first movement of the G Minor serves as the general introduction to sonata-allegro form but I choose to elaborate significantly by describing, and demonstrating, the brilliance of the thematic and harmonic design. Mozart practices his own version of developing variation—usually associated with Brahms—in his deriving all his thematic materials from two simple seed elements. The first is a descending semitone (E-flat to D); the second is a simple three-note rhythm (cha-cha-CHA; i.e., two eighths and a quarter.) The skill with which Mozart carries out this task boggles the mind, but more importantly, it stirs the heart in that it creates a movement in which everything seems utterly inevitable, as though every note has to be there, as though it must be in that particular place at that particular time.

Perhaps most miraculously, Mozart’s striking economy of means isn’t necessarily audible on a first hearing, nor does it call attention to itself. It simply is, and the more you delve into the movement, the more resonances you find with those original paired seed ideas, pitch and rhythm. Even the final chords (three of them in augmentation of the original eighth-eighth-quarter pattern) refer back to the opening theme and its source materials. Everything is organized and developed from those initial ideas, but there’s nothing sterile or static about it. Surely this movement exemplifies Brahms’s admiring statement that “It is a real pleasure to see music so bright and spontaneous expressed with corresponding ease and grace.” Especially because, pace Herr Johannes, it isn’t the slightest bit spontaneous—even if it manages to seem so.

Shortly I’ll be presenting the Beethoven C Minor Symphony to the same class. I hope that the Mozart presentation will have paved the way for them to understand and appreciate Beethoven’s magnificent spinning out of those famed opening four notes into the materials of not only the first movement, but into unifying threads throughout the symphony as a whole.

Profound logic runs through so much music that I cherish. Not long ago I performed the B-flat Major Partita by Bach; as part of my study I noticed the pervasiveness of lower-neighbor motions and a frequent reference back to the opening figure of the prelude. The C Minor Partita offers numerous references to Bach’s signature 5-1-2-3 figure, heard so often in his instrumental and vocal works. (Think Ebarme dich from the St. Matthew Passion or, in a major-key dialect, the Resurrexit from the B Minor Mass.) Or the way Bach generates the fugue subject of the B Minor Mass Kyrie from a single interval (a rising step) and, by so doing, creates the entire movement. Or the countersubject of the Fugue in C Minor from Volume I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, created from the melodic outline of the subject.

Brahms and the opening four notes of the D Major Symphony (No. 2)—a lower-neighbor tone followed by a downwards leap of a fourth. That lower neighbor becomes an upper neighbor to create the last joyous outburst in the brass that brings the symphony to its conclusion. The major-minor duality of the Third Symphony.

Well. I could go on and on and on; the instances are common and numerous. Nor are they restricted to only the greatest of composers. During the Viennese Classical era such resonances and organic unities were well-nigh built into the prevailing practices of the time.

Profound logic inspires my admiration far more than an all-encompassing embrace of everything. Perhaps I am reflecting my overly rational outlook, in that profound logic is quite possible to achieve whereas embracing everything is unachievable hyperbole. Perhaps I am reflecting my many years analyzing compositions and teaching about musical form. Perhaps I am reflecting my age, inasmuch as I’m much less likely to be moved by sensation than I once was. Perhaps I’m just being snotty. Whatever the underlying causes, that’s where I am with my musical aesthetics: I’ll take profound logic over being like the world every time. I’m not interested in being like. I’m interested in being.

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A Guy and His Hobbies

Platitude of the day: everything changes. Petunias bud, wax, and wane. Ice melts and water evaporates. Even the most seemingly solid and immoveable objects—think mountains, think diamonds—change in time.

Even me. I just might change my hobbies.

Consider my most passionate and involved hobby of the past several decades: record collector to the nth degree, bonafide whack job about completions, ready to pounce on the latest box set of Leonard Bernstein or Fritz Reiner or the Southwestern Orchestra of Northeastern Saarbruckersteinerbach. I bought CDs like no tomorrow. Eventually my hobby expanded to encompass a brief but exhilarating fling with vinyl LPs, then went seriously retro with an even more brief fascination with shellac 78s.

Concurrent with that came waves of audiophilia, not a steady-state infatuation by any means but periodic. When you get right down to it, once I had achieved pleasing sound quality I stopped caring. It didn’t hurt any to eschew the pornographic audio fantasies of industry mags such as The Absolute Sound and Stereophile. Besides, I never could really afford audiophilia, and I’m far too rational ever to sign on to its many absurdities. True audiophilia requires taking leave of your senses. I mean that literally: you have to ignore what your senses are telling you, namely that you can’t hear one goddamn bit of difference between a $3000 amplifier and some audiophile-blessed $45,000 jobber. A willingness to believe that 2+2 does not equal 4 is part and parcel of the whole audiophile gig.

It all came to an end. I lost interest in having all the latest classical CDs, stopped haunting whatever few brick-and-mortal stores are left standing, and ended my daily visits to eBay, ever in search of that elusive je-ne-sais-quoi recording by some pet artist or orchestra. Desire for chic audio gear faded.

Yet the urge towards hobby remained strong. I may practice an altogether satisfying profession, but just like everybody, I need my hobbies. When you think about it, CD-collecting is only marginally a hobby for a professional musician. Anything I can take as a tax deduction isn’t really a hobby.

I acquired—by drift and not by design—two new hobbies. Neither of these has any connection to music as can be attested by their utter non-deductibility. Can’t take a sous for either of them.

Hobby No. 1: gardening. Perhaps it’s a sign of encroaching age, as musician-turned-duffer putters around in his back yard, tut-tutting over the worms in the dahlias and patiently plucking ficus-tree sprouts from between the rows of impatiens. Well, allow this duffer to putter as he will. Gardening costs a mere fraction of CD collecting—let’s not even talk about the price differential with audiophilia—and offers demonstrably greater joys. There’s something just so dang satisfying about watching some piddly sprig of green take root, take flight, and morph into a gracious congeries of flowers and leaves. I have taken a father’s prideful interest in observing a bed of begonias slowly rise to cover almost half of a garden Buddha, joined in by encircling impatiens that by now render the Buddha as looking as though he floats amidst a cloud of flowers.

Trivia: according to the suttas of the Pali Canon, at the time of Siddhatta Gotama’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree (itself a species of ficus, just like the trees in my garden), the tempter Mara shied rains of arrows in his direction, all meant to distract him from the magnificent achievement just about to occur. Siddhatta knew those arrows for what they were, and the power of his concentration turned them into cascades of flowers. And there sits my garden Buddha, floating amidst the begonias.

It’s a pip of a hobby.

Now for Hobby No. 2: cycling. That one might be a bit of a surprise to anyone who has known me for any length of time, because athletic stuff just isn’t my forte. Yet cycling is indubitably physical. It actually builds up muscle tone over time. Imagine that. To date cycling is the only hobby I’ve ever had that could conceivably result in weight loss.

Whether or not my current hobby of recreational cycling, a.k.a. puddling about aimlessly, will act as a gateway drug to more involved or ambitious riding remains to be seen. I do tend to go in for the pound over the penny, so it’s not beyond possibility that I might eventually drape myself over some sleek carbon-fiber contraption and zoom hither and yon in an unquenchable quest for speed and distance. But not now. For now I’m the master of the down-shift. I sit upright on my “city comfort” model, looking around and enjoying the endless charms of the great outdoors.

I never would have picked up cycling when I lived in San Francisco. There’s a reason for all that grim militancy surrounding San Francisco cycling. It’s a lousy goddamn place for cyclists: the streets are narrow and pocked, the drivers inattentive or borderline homicidal, the winds chilling, the hills troublesome.

It was the move to the Delta region that encouraged me to take up cycling. Out here the streets are wide, the traffic light, the hills almost nonexistent, the breezes soft and inviting. Riding around East County is joyful and relatively safe. All of the main streets in my home town have bicycle lanes, and even the smaller ones that don’t are wide enough to allow for easy riding. And there are miles and miles of pathways and trails to be explored, some smoothly paved, some a bit more rustic, but all enjoyable and endlessly fascinating.

So I ride. I have become less maladroit about basic cycle maintenance although I remain a bumbling neophyte nonetheless. I can carry out a few simple fixes. Anything else requires a trip over to the bike shop.

Thus I shift one pair of hobbies (CD collecting/occasional audiophilia) to another (gardening/cycling.) A moment’s thought reveals the underlying reason for the shift: I moved from city to suburbia. My old hobbies were distinctly city-dweller hobbies, dependant on having a supply chain and big-city resources such as high-end stereo stores. My new hobbies are distinctly suburban, requiring as they do the access to lawns and gardens, and an ample supply of safe bike trails and paths. Not to mention a more salubrious climate.

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A Kid’s Book with Teeth

Surely I’m not alone in my habit of re-reading books that I have loved. Somehow they get better with repetition, instead of becoming dreary and predictable. Perhaps that’s because the books I have loved tend to be the sort of books that can withstand re-reading—i.e., I don’t get all gaga about the latest Dan Brown thriller, but instead have a tendency to take more substantial items to heart.

That’s not to say that I make a yearly pilgrimmage through Madame Bovary or The Education of Henry Adams. I’m neither egghead nor litterateur. I have zero patience with “literary” novels— those jobbers that the English lit profs always seem to admire and everybody else ignores. I used to make the occasional stab at slogging through some of those, but the process was akin to my sometime forays into the music of Anton Webern or Pierre Boulez, dutiful attempts at self-improvement that offered neither reward nor enjoyment. Or improvement for that matter. So nuts to Thomas Pynchon and John Barth and Virginia Woolf. My choices are prosaic, even bourgeois, but they’re my choices and that’s all there is to it: James Michener’s Hawaii and Centennial and Chesapeake and The Source, Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny and The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, many of the big Dickens novels such as David Copperfield, Bleak House, and Dombey and Son. The occasional science fiction classic such as the original Foundation series by Isaac Asimov or the Arthur C. Clarke standbys such as Childhood’s End and The City and the Stars.

One set of books you’d really think I would have cast adrift long ago are the “juvenile” novels by Robert Heinlein, products of his early career and stalwart companions of my teen years. The first of the series, Rocket Ship Galileo, has not withstood the test of time but was good enough to become a decent early 1950s flick (George Pal’s Destination Moon), and sold well enough to kick off an entire series of science fiction novels aimed at teenagers—well, to be absolutely clear about this, teenaged boys. Nobody questioned the science gender gap in those days, so it was assumed that the only target audience for such books would be males. The books are correspondingly male-oriented with a vengeance, although female heroines began to show up later in the series, particularly Podkayne of Mars. (Starman Jones contains a vividly engaging female character who eventually reveals herself as smarter than, and as scientifically savvy as, the eponymous hero.)

But to me, and probably to any kid who was floored then elevated by these books, it’s Space Cadet that wins the gold. Second in the series, it came out in 1948, sold well enough, and wound up exerting an extraordinary influence over subsequent science fiction writing. Anybody who has read Space Cadet knows all about Star Trek’s Star Fleet and Star Fleet Academy, both clear descendants of Space Cadet’s Space Patrol and its Academy. Both are essentially the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, just tweaked a bit with nuclear- and chemical-powered rockets (or Warp and Impulse drives) in the place of sail and steam.

I’ve re-read Space Cadet a number of times, but during a recent go-through I was newly impressed by Heinlein’s careful realization of an alternate future in which World War Three actually happened, and the Patrol stands at the vanguard of humanity’s slow crawl back to civilization. Heinlein doesn’t beat the reader over the head with any of it. In fact the implications were probably lost on most of the original readers, just as they were lost on me, given Heinlein’s skill at weaving background into narrative. Consider a scene in which cadets Matt Dodson and Oscar Jensen are enjoying a shore leave on Terra Station—a city-sized space station in geosynchronous orbit, used as a docking station for interplanetary craft and shuttles up and down to the surface.

“They took the slideway half around the Station, through crowds of gorgeously dressed and hurrying people, past rich and beckoning shops. Matt enjoyed it thoroughly. ‘They say,’ said Oscar, ‘that this is what the big cities used to be like, back before the Disorders.’ ‘It certainly doesn’t look like Des Moines.’”

An ordinary city street with shops and shoppers—but a novelty to our two cadets.

Or an earlier scene, in which Matt Dodson looks out of a viewport from orbit as an older cadet directs his gaze:

“‘Over there—see?—is the crater where Denver used to be. Now look south—that brown stretch is Texas; you can see the Gulf beyond it.’”

The crater where Denver used to be. Hmmmm…..

The Patrol is anything but a bunch of Dudley Do-Right do-gooders. It has resulted from a United Nations-ish resolution to protect humanity from itself via a chain of orbiting nuclear bombs, each capable of wiping out an entire city. (Ergo Denver.) The idea here is that any nation foolish enough to start up trouble again can be eradicated should it become necessary. That’s what the Patrol is for, and its officers are charged with the authority over those orbital bombs. Heinlein even implies that the Patrol is well-nigh autonomous.

Matt Dodson goes through a spiritual crisis concerning that very autonomy. The prospect of bombing his own home town unnerves him and brings him close to resigning from the academy. But his academic advisor sets him straight:

“If the prospect of bombing your own town, your own family, didn’t worry you, I’d have you out of this ship within the hour—you’d be an utterly dangerous man. The Patrol doesn’t expect a man to have godlike perfection. Since men are imperfect, the Patrol works on the principle of calculated risk. The chance of a threat to the System coming from your hometown in your lifetime is slight; the chance that you might be called on to carry out the attack is equally slight—you might be away on Mars. Taking the two chances together you have something close to zero. But if you did hit the jackpot, your commanding officer would probably lock you up in your room rather than take a chance on you.”

Some of this should sound familiar. It’s the basic background to the entire Star Trek franchise, which postulates the idea of humanity hauling itself up out of a disastrous nuclear world war and reinventing itself, via a Federation that takes the power out of individual nations’s hands. Star Trek is a considerably more enlightened, to be sure. For example, its women are fully empowered and equal whereas Space Cadet contains precisely one female character, a scatterbrained 1950s sitcom housewife with the apparent intelligence of a marmoset. Space Cadet anticipates Star Trek by treating racial differences as trivial—white and black and brown and whatnot all commingle together without strain or stress. And of course Star Trek benefitted from advances in scientific knowledge during the 1950s. Some of Space Cadet’s science is outdated—Venus is a hot, swampy jungle planet with a breathable atmosphere. Nor does Space Cadet postulate faster-than-light travel.

Nevertheless, Space Cadet packs a lot of ideas into its breezily entertaining 200-ish pages. It’s worth reading just for the fun of it all, but underneath its gee-whiz mancave bonhomie lies a surprisingly sophisticated and all too plausible foundation. That we didn’t wind up with a “crater where Denver used to be” is one of the imponderables of the Cold War era. Of course books like Space Cadet and its spinoffs—the Tom Corbett books and TV series, Star Trek, some aspects of Star Wars—didn’t do anything to head off that grim and all-too-possible fate. But it reflected the thinking of the time, and took humanity’s worst nightmare as its starting point. Not bad for a book aimed at teens.

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Oh, Leave It Alone

We Californians live in a foodie-enhanced environment, with the Bay Area serving as ground zero for all things food-trendy. On the whole, I’m very happy to live in such a place. People here appreciate good food, and if nothing else, the emphasis on fresh ingredients has been an unmitigated blessing. Of course you can still pick up a box of Hot Pockets at the local supermarket. But you can also get some of the most marvelous produce you ever saw, and you don’t have to visit a farm stand or U-Pick, either. (Although living where I do, such delightful places can be found hither, thither, and yon.)

However: certain iconic dishes need to left alone, in my humble opinion. Even as artifacts of an earlier, tin-can and frozen-bag American non-food culture, they were and are perfect in their own way. There is no need to re-think or re-interpret them, to fuse them with some other world cuisine, or to gentrify them to near incomprehensibility. Either make them the way they were meant to be made, or make something else.

I offer the humble ice-cream sandwich as a case in point. I discovered an article in the cooking section of a major metropolitan newspaper in which the oh-so-foodie author went in search for the “perfect” ice-cream sandwich. Her verdict? Some overpriced thing with a peanut-cookie crust and ginger ice cream.

Oh, Christ, I thought. If she wants her peanut-ginger thing, bully for her. But I don’t look to an ice-cream sandwich for some special culinary experience. I don’t think I’d even like peanut and ginger together, to tell the truth. Besides, a peanut-cookie and ginger thing isn’t an ice-cream sandwich, which is by definition an uncomplicated comfort food. Which means the perfectly perfect Lucerne ones, with the plain vanilla ice cream and the thin but not sticky chocolate cake-ish outsides. They’re cheap, they’re reliable, and most importantly, they are the true ice-cream sandwich. And you can buy them in boxes of 48 if you want. (Unlike certain bastardized Atomic Age creations from certain continent-encompassing retailers, Lucerne ice-cream sandwiches will melt, and melt very quickly, when taken out of the freezer.)

With the homely but perfect ice-cream sandwich in my Number One slot, I present a few other dishes that I vastly prefer when they’ve been left in their humble and pristine state:

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

There is nothing simpler to make than a classic grilled cheese, and nothing more brutalized by overly-enthusiastic foodie types who can’t leave well enough alone. Here’s how you make a good one: butter one side each of two slices of good, but not exalted, white bread. (I think Oroweat Country Buttermilk is perfect.) I prefer a butter/Canola oil blend for its better spreadability, but margarine would be OK as well. Cover the bread thoroughly, but thinly. Heat up a skillet to medium. While you’re waiting, peel the plastic off two Lucerne American cheese slices. (I’m not the only person who thinks that the Lucerne beats the pants off any other American cheese on the market, and American cheese really is de rigueur for a proper grilled cheese.) Put one piece of bread, butter side down, in the skillet and push it down lightly with the back of a spatula. Lay the two cheese slices across the bread (don’t stack them) and the put the other slice of bread (butter side out) on top. Let the thing grill until the bread is toasty — don’t use too high of heat or the bread will brown before the cheese even gets warm — probably a few minutes max. Peek if you need to. Flip the sandwich and press it down again with the spatula. Cook until done — probably only a minute or two. The cheese will start to melt visibly along the edges. Don’t let it get too brown. Slice it diagonally with one quick knife stroke, and there it is. Serve and eat immediately since it’s only really good when crispy and melty fresh.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t get all creative, and don’t get all high-dudgeon-ish about using American singles. It’s what they’re meant for.

Spaghetti

Another plainly perfect dish often ruined by meddling and/or grandiosity.

Here’s what to do: brown a pound of ground beef in a big skillet. Drain it. Pour in a full-sized bottle of your favorite spaghetti sauce. (Mine is Classico Tomato and Basil.) Let it simmer until fully blended. Meanwhile, boil up a batch of spaghetti. Cook it to whatever you like — some people find al dente offputting. Drain the spaghetti. Serve some on a plate with a big ladleful or two of the sauce. Sprinkle parmesan on top. (I don’t like the canned stuff, but you can get nice fresh grated Parmesan at any grocery store these days.)

Chili

I’ll allow that there are many different versions of chili out there, but to this elementalist there’s really only true chili, and all the rest are silly upstarts. How to do it: brown a pound of ground beef together with one each green pepper and onion (chopped, of course) in a nice big dutch-oven sized pot. Drain excess oil. Add one standard 16 ounce can each red kidney and black beans. Pour in about 2 standard (8 ounce) cans of tomato sauce and about the same amount of water. You can use beef stock instead of the water — it makes for a richer broth. Add one standard 16 ounce can of diced tomatoes. Add plenty of chili powder — several tablespoons at least, about the same amount of powdered cumin, some salt and pepper (don’t overdo it), some cayenne pepper (ditto), some oregano (ditto) and paprika (very ditto). Cover, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer it for a couple of hours. Check to make sure it has enough liquid and add more if it doesn’t. Check spices about halfway through. Serve with chopped green onions, grated cheese, and sour cream if you want.

Tacos

Those floppy silver-dollar sized tortillas with a tablespoon of exotica on top in trendy Bay Area restaurants can be quite nice, but I cannot bring myself to call them tacos. That’s because they aren’t tacos. They’re hors d’oeuvres with a mariachi beat. Again the elementalist speaks. This is a taco:

Brown a pound of ground beef in a skillet and drain if necessary. Add one packet of taco seasoning mix and whatever else it says to use (usually tomato paste and water). Cook as directed. Meanwhile, set out a box of crispy corn tortilla shells (nowadays they make some that are flat at the fold so they’ll stay upright more easily) into a baking dish. Put in some of the meat filling, scatter a goodly glob of Mexican-style grated cheese over the top, and pop them in the oven or microwave long enough to get the cheese good and melted. Pour over a bit of taco sauce, then stuff in plenty of shredded iceberg lettuce, and top with salsa and (maybe) a bit of sour cream.

Macaroni and Cheese

Let us have no broccoli or kale or rare wild mushrooms added, no layering with mousselines or spinach soufflées. No experiments with semi-ripened or blue veined or exotic smoked cheeses, no special finishing treatment with a blow-torched Panko top crust. Let’s just make real macaroni and cheese, simple and always fine.

Boil up elbow macaroni. Drain it and put it back in the pot. Grate plenty of mild cheddar into it — Tillamook is good — and then some milk. Stir it over medium-low heat and watch for the texture and color you want; yellow and creamy. Don’t put in so much cheese that it gets stringy. Put in more milk as you need. You’re basically done at that point (some salt is probably going to be a good idea) but, if you want, add a little more milk to make the sauce a bit thinner, put a layer of grated cheese on top, and then put it in a casserole dish and pop it in the oven for 20 minutes or so until it gets melty and crusty on top. That’s it.

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A Year’s Difference

As I turn officially 62, I consider my state of mind just one year ago. As age 61 dawned, I lived in the grip of a persistent unease, a dissatisfaction that ran as broad as it was deep. I was antsy. I was unsettled. Almost every morning upon awakening I began considering where I wanted to go that day. Anywhere was going to be acceptable, more or less, as long as it was out. I’m normally without a hint of wanderlust, but last summer I had it in spades. It wasn’t distance I sought, but difference. Mostly I was driving around the Bay Area and a bit beyond, visiting communities that I had perhaps seen on the map or passed by on the freeway, but never explored. Hayward, Union City, Fremont. Millbrae, Milpitas, Manteca. Davenport, Davis. Cotati, Capitola, Petaluma. Tracy, Concord, Livermore. I kept driving around without any clear plan in my mind but an overall sense of seeking. What precisely I was seeking hadn’t taken shape yet.

I drove here, I drove there. Once in a while I stayed for a few days in a bed and breakfast. I was making mental notes to myself about many of the places I was visiting: could I retire here? Would it be possible, in about ten years’ time, to have saved enough to buy a house for cash?

That’s where my mind was at the time. I was seeking the cure for an as-yet undiagnosed illness. I kept thinking in terms of buying later, pipe dreaming rather than acting with purpose. I was house hunting after a fashion. When I wasn’t hitting the roads I was glued to Zillow, looking at listings, at first outside California on the assumption that upon retirement I would resettle where I could buy the house I wanted for cash, no mortgage. The Fort Worth area was appealing. So was the country well to the north of Atlanta. I considered central Oregon. I considered northern Iowa.

The mental murk began clearing as I chanced upon the far-outer East Bay communities of Oakley, Brentwood, and Discovery Bay, together with the southeastern arm of Antioch that’s known as Deer Valley. Brentwood in particular grabbed me firmly: as I rounded the last curve on Highway 4 and saw that lovely small suburban city, with Mount Diablo looming to the west, I felt a jolt of recognition, of belonging. Brentwood is a stellar exemplar of the affluent modern suburb: big landscaped streets, spacious shopping malls, good schools, well-designed housing developments filled with attractive homes and sprinkled with immaculate parks. Yet it is a real place with a long history as a Delta farm town. There’s most definitely a there there. Or perhaps I should say there’s most definitely a here here.

This was what I wanted. This was the climate I wanted: sunlight, real summer, warm evenings, a dearth of clammy winds. This was the environment I wanted: clean, safe, convenient, car-friendly. This was the community I wanted: families with children, retirees, and plenty of farm folks with generations on the land. This was what I had felt was utterly out of my reach, living as I did in an insanely expensive city while practicing a profession not noted for high wages. This is what I had told myself I couldn’t have, no matter how much I actually wanted it.

I had convinced myself that I had to stay firmly within San Francisco and avoid commuting, that I was lucky to have what I had (a sizable and shockingly affordable, albeit dumpy, Victorian flat smack-dab in the center of the city), that my longed-for suburban bliss was achievable only when I retired. Until then, I kept telling myself, just suck it up and bear city living. Forget that I am not temperamentally a city dweller. Forget that I am a dyed-in-the-wool homebody for whom even San Francisco’s myriad urban attractions mean little. No. I had a great deal with my inexpensive 1200 square feet of decaying Victorian bling, my walk-to-work location. So what if I was climbing the walls in desperation?

Convergence arrived: I realized that I wanted to live in Brentwood, that I had enough for a solid down payment, that I could easily afford the extra expense, and that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the inconvenience of a long commute. Actually I rather welcomed the long commute for its clear-cut distancing from city living. Even the undeniable trauma of moving—after twenty-eight years of continual burrowing in my Victorian flat—was welcome.

I was primed, ready, and determined. All that wandering, all that Zillow-ing, turned out to have a purpose. On August 12 I became the owner of a contemporary Mediterranean right in the heart of Brentwood.

And that was, indeed, the cure to my malaise. That persistent unease, that deep and broad dissatisfaction? Gone. One year later, an all-encompassing contentment has arisen to take its place, a rock-solid feeling of rightness, of thisness. I enter year 62 with gratitude, happiness, and fulfillment.

Not to mention two inches off my waistline and the start of a pretty decent suntan.

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Screw the Truffled Arugula

No doubt it’s just another of those getting-older things. The pastimes of youth fall by the wayside as we trek along; what once seemed chic now seems blah, what once was a must-do is now a yeah-maybe. The sage who quipped that age brings with it the acute pleasure of not going knew of what he spoke. Not going is just about the best thing there is.

Item: having to attend every new movie, no matter what. I never really signed on to that one anyway, but with time my formerly lukewarm movie-going has cooled down to absolute zero. I just don’t go. I don’t like movie theaters. I don’t like all those people and their noise. I don’t like being trapped (sort of) in that big box. I don’t like feeling like just another monkey sitting on the branch, staring agape at the screeching and twitching going on in the lit box before me, hooting and scratching if something pleases me, throwing my feces at the screen if it doesn’t. I don’t like being entertained en masse and by utter strangers. Leave me alone, you patronizing bastards: I don’t need your bread, your circus, your stupid dog-and-pony show. I’m just fine staying home with a book, or puttering in the back yard, or cleaning the stairs, or preparing lectures, or studying music, or any number of far more worthwhile pursuits. Just fine? No: let me correct that. I’m delighted to stay home with a book, to putter, etc., thrilled and honored and comforted to stay home.

Item: attending store openings, building dedications, all that public ceremonial crap. I can’t say I was ever much into that, but while I mostly lacked the gotta-see-the-dogfight mentality, most of my younger-day associates were dogfight afficionados to the core. I recall being dragged to a guided tour of the reborn SF Opera House after the Loma Prieta Earthquake had knocked it about enough to warrant its extended closure and re-do. Three hours of my life gone forever as some dweeb burbled on incessantly about the honest-Injun carpeting made by the same manufacturers as the 1930s and the PH balanced laundry. Nowadays a SWAT team couldn’t get me in there. I have grown and acquired a much better ability to say NO, with or without the thank you. Come to think of it, a discouraging snarl can settle a lot of hash.

Item: being a first-nighter who always catches the opening night of the Opera, the Symphony, whatever. Oh, please. I’ll go second night if I must, and avoid the crowds and the silliness of fashion parading. If I live to be 500 or 5000 or just soldier on until the end of it all, I’ll never understand the appeal of clothing fashion. And this coming from a guy with a professionally-trained musician’s ear and a pretty good eye for color, mind you. But putting value on the animal skins or woven plant fibers draped across one’s body seems silly to me. Always has. Personally I think the men have it the best here: we can’t get much fancier than a tuxedo, and tuxedoes are pretty much the same from Bangor to Bangladesh.

Item: and the reason for this posting’s snarky title: no more pish-posh restaurants with their oh-so-fancy food and their oh-so-astronomic prices. Let me put my cards down on the table, finally, for once, and for all: the only reason I enjoy going to restaurants is for the company, for the evening or afternoon chitchatting with my companions. I could give a rat’s ass about the relative merits or demerits of the eatery, provided they cook decent stuff decently. Not all of them pass that test, of course, but when you get right down to it, most of them do. I love good food, and by “good food” I mean wholesome and attractive and not much more. I am the least snobby, the least demanding, the least sanctimonious, diner around. Give me a halfway proper hamburger with edible fries and I’m just fine and dandy. Give me a steak cooked the way I like it—that’s medium-well with just the barest bit of pink showing, thank you very much—and I don’t care whether it came from a privileged cow that was raised by hand and met its end as a piping chorus cooed inspirational verse, or whether they just picked it up at Safeway.

Screw the truffled arugula, in other words. Screw the amuse-bouche (I am not amused) and screw the in-house charcuterie. Screw the itty-bitty portions and screw the artful patterns of sauce that were swirled on with a plastic squirt ketchup bottle that they probably swiped from a somebody’s hot dog stand. Screw the dissonant combinations of flavors and screw the egoistic refusal to leave well enough alone. Screw the trendiness and screw the month-ahead reservations and screw the noise and screw the prison-car crowding. Screw the $20 glasses of a wine that goes for $7.99 a bottle at BevMo. Screw having to ask for water. Screw paying $10 for a cup of ordinary coffee. Screw not being able to see your hand in front of your face. Screw waiting in line to pee. Just screw it all.

No. If I must go out for dinner—to socialize, to get a break from regular cooking although in fact I quite fancy cooking for myself and for company—then I’ll be just fine with a local chain restaurant that doesn’t pull any punches, that gives me enough to eat for a reasonable price, that doesn’t hurt my eardrums, and that isn’t puffed with pretention. Give me BJ’s Roadhouse instead of Gary Danko; Outback instead of Frances. There’s a long-established family-run taqueria near me here in Brentwood that serves a substantial enchilada dinner for $8.00. They’re clean, they’re quick, they’re friendly, and they do take-out.

Better yet, give me a well-managed and well-stocked Safeway and let me pick up what I want for dinner, and let me go home and prepare what I want in my own comfortable clean kitchen, using cookware that I know to be properly maintained since I’ve maintained it, served on dishes I like because I bought them, prepared precisely the way I want because I’m the one who has prepared it. I make good chili, tasty spaghetti sauce, dandy pot roast, delightful Cajun chicken with andouille sausage, yummy biscuits. Rissoto, casseroles, stir-fries, all that. Tonight I served myself a quite fetching chicken parmesan. It wasn’t much trouble to make and I’ve got three more servings chilling away in the freezer now, meal-insurance against one of those evenings. Total cost about the same as one pickled-in-house Argentine quail egg in aspic—two bites maximum if you have an itty-bitty mouth—at a posh restaurant.

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