Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving at Chez Coco

I’ll start with Wednesday night. Thanksgiving eve. My plan was to spend the night at my friend Michael’s apartment so that I could get up the next morning and make monkey bread. You may know it as pull-apart bread. It seemed like the perfect, decadent, overly sweet goodness to have for breakfast on the morning of a holiday – a holiday that is all about eating. Well, not really all about eating, I mean it’s about being thankful and taking the time to acknowledge what you’re thankful for, but then it’s about eating.

So, with work over for the day by 8:30pm, I took my list out of my backpack and headed to Food Emporium. It was crowded, but not as crowded as I expected it to be on the eve of Thanksgiving. I don't really shop for groceries at Food Emporium any more since I moved from Manhattan to Astoria Therefore my lack of knowledge of the store’s layout became apparent when it came to finding the necessities on my list that happen to be non-necessities in my everyday life. Some things I knew exactly where to find, but I had to search for vinegar and oil and Hershey’s cocoa. Then there was the matter of the buttermilk and the Karo syrup. The buttermilk was an ingredient in my red velvet cake recipe and the Karo syrup was needed for the butter cream frosting. So I'm standing in front of the milk products and all I'm seeing is Lite Buttermilk with 1/3 less fat or some amount of less fat. I was thinking to myself, this is red velvet cake; it's decadent and deserving of all the fat that buttermilk has to offer. I did make a quick phone call to my friend Neal, from whom I had gotten the recipe, to ask about the "less fat" buttermilk. There was no answer so I just made the decision myself. I didn’t buy it. Now on to the Karo syrup. I needed Light Karo syrup. I found the aisle with the cake mixes, flour, sugar, spices, syrup etc. This is where the crowd was. Seriously, one just had to park a buggy and walk because there were so many people in that aisle looking for baking soda, sugar and spices etc. that walking was nearly impossible. I found the cinnamon, baking soda, flour and sugar that I needed. I was happily surprised to find the syrup also on that aisle. Unfortunately all they had was Lite Karo syrup. Really, I thought, only Lite Karo syrup? Had the pecan pie lovers hoarded all of the Light Karo? First the buttermilk now the syrup! I'm all about the healthy eating, but some things just beg for the full-fat, full-bodied ingredients. Frustrated I exited the aisle and found myself standing in front of a Thanksgiving staples end cap. There on the second shelf was one bottle of Light Karo syrup. It was slightly to front of the shelf as if to say, "Here I am Michael; I've been waiting for you."

I boarded the R train to Queens with three bags full of ingredients. I still had to go to my apartment, repack the supplies into my Urban Luggage bag (green is the way), pack pajamas and clothes for the next day then walk to Michael's house. It was a time consuming amount of things to do, but I was working at warp speed. I might have been dillying a little, but I was not dallying at all.

I got home and filled my Gladware with the measured amounts of flour, sugar and cinnamon that I would need to prepare the next day's sweet delights. I thought it would be better to compartmentalize and consolidate than to take the full bags of flour and sugar. There was no need to carry the extra weight to Michael's and I was ahead of the game for measuring out the dry goods the next day.

I managed to get out my door slightly before 10pm. It’s a 20-minute walk to Michael's. Even with the extra weight I was anticipating a 10:30pm arrival. I was prepared for a long evening as he thought it best that I bake the cake that night. I had to stop at the grocery store on the way to his house and buy the buttermilk. Imagine the look on my face when all I found at C Town was the same 1/3 less fat buttermilk I had not purchased at Food Emporium. I just thought screw it! I'm not going to another grocery store for a little more fat. I didn’t mention that I also needed to buy some vanilla extract. I purposefully didn’t buy it at Food Emporium, as I knew I had a bottle at my house. Much to my surprise I found my vanilla extract had dried up. I had only had it 5 years. Who knew? Obviously, not this guy.

I did arrive at Michael's around 10:30pm. It wasn't before, but it was shortly after. It was cold that night, but with the coat and the scarf and the walking and the extra baggage, I was sweating by the time I got there. I was so glad to shed my coat and top-layer shirt.

Michael had spent the day preparing everything he needed to in order to make Thanksgiving Day as smooth as possible. We weren't planning to eat until 7pm with a guest arrival time at 5pm. That meant the turkey didn't have to be put in the oven until 2pm. You know what that meant for me? I didn't have to make the cake that night. I uncorked a bottle of wine, threw on my pj's and parked myself on the sofa to watch Modern Family and let the wine relax my tension away.

Thanksgiving Day morning I was up by 8:30am. I went to the kitchen to start making the monkey bread. First thing on the agenda – preheat the oven to 350°. Then I started cutting the first of three tubes of 10 Pillsbury® buttermilk biscuits into quarters. After the first tube was quartered, I sprayed Pam®, with flour for baking, into my bundt pan and then started shaking the biscuit pieces in the sugar/cinnamon mixture I had prepared the night before. I couldn’t help but feel like the little girl in the commercial for Shake ‘N Bake; “It’s Shake ‘N Bake, and I helped.” With my southern roots, I had no problem sounding just as southern as she did, probably even more as I tend to find humor in an over-exaggerated southern accent. Skip to all three tubes quartered, shaken and waiting patiently in the bundt pan for a caramel brown sauce to smother them with sugary goodness. I just had to make it – two sticks of real butter, ½ cup of brown sugar and ½ cup of the remaining sugar/cinnamon mixture heated over low heat until bubbling brown. I poured it over the biscuit pieces and placed the pan into the over. Only 30 minutes to go until breakfast sweet enough to rot your teeth would be ready.

How to pass the time? Watch the parade.

Yes, it was time for a Thanksgiving Day tradition – the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I’ve watched it for more than 20 years. I can remember times at my parents’ house watching it while sitting in the living room floor cutting up apples or grapes or bananas for mom’s fruit salad. I also have the best memory of all. It involves my mom, sister and packages of craisins flying through the air.

In November of 1997, my mom and sister came to NYC for the first time. I had moved here in May of that year so it was my first Thanksgiving in NYC and the perfect excuse for their visit. It was only natural that we go to the parade. We arrived on the parade route about 6:30am that morning. We already had to fight for a place to see. We ended up on the corner of Broadway and 34th, right where the parade made it’s finally turn after stopping in Herald Square. We were blocked part of the time by a woman in a red hat. I can’t tell you how happy we all three were when she left. The funniest memory of that day comes at my mom’s expense. There were people walking the parade route that year throwing airplane snack size packages of craisins. Well, wouldn’t you know one of them would have to hit mom, square in the face. We still laugh about it to this day. We also wondered that year about the people dressed as a clown or slice of pizza or piece of cake. We imagined what it must have been like to tell their family that they were going to be in the parade dressed as a slice of pizza or wedge of cheese. On Thanksgiving morning 2010 while talking to my mom, I told her what I was in the parade this year. I used the most downtrodden voice I could when I told her I was carrying a pumpkin and waving. My sister was a slice of pizza and my nephew Dylan, not even a thought in our heads in 1997, was craisins. Yes, the craisins live on! Mom had yet to decide what she was in the 2010 parade when we spoke that morning.

The timer went off alerting us that the monkey bread had spent the required time in the over and was now ready for us to behold it in all it brown, glistening, ooey-gooey glory. I dumped it onto a cake platter and removed the bundt pan. It was beautiful and it was ooey-gooey. I’m not sure if I had never made it with real butter before or what the difference was, but the coating looked like caramel and as it cooled while running down the side, it just froze mid drip. It was amazing; so rich, so warm, so sweet. Add the cup of coffee I was enjoying along with the parade and you’ve got a Thanksgiving Day morning that got off to the right start.

When the parade ended at noon, I had two hours, in which to make my first-ever red velvet cake from scratch, before Michael had to put the turkey in the oven to bake. I found myself in the kitchen staring at the ingredients. I was intimidated. I don’t know why. I think I’ve always thought red velvet cake was difficult to make and that everything had to be done perfectly or it would be ruined. I decided the best thing for me to do was to jump in and get started. I must admit that I was shocked at how much oil went into the batter of this cake – 1¼ cup. I just let myself be in the moment. I’d wanted to make this cake for about 5 years and I was finally doing it. One thing I had to remember is that it should be fun. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. Failure is not an option. I wanted the cake to be amazing and was freaking myself out about it. Honestly, it’s just ingredients, blended together, placed in a pan and baked. It’s not like I was removing someone’s liver.

Because I made the monkey bread that morning, and it required a bundt pan, I decided, at Michael’s suggestion, to make the red velvet cake in the bundt pan. It was a beautiful, shimmering shade of red. I must confess that I licked the beaters. Is there anything better than licking the beaters? Only eating the cake, in my opinion. Anyway, the batter tasted amazing. I could only hope the finished product tasted as good. On that thought it occurred to me that unless I burned the cake, it had to taste good. It could only taste like the baked version of the wet batter I had licked off of those beaters. Relax Michael, I had to tell myself.

Once it was in the oven, the hardest part was over. I poured myself a glass of wine. It was noon! The smell of cake filled the air as I waited for the timer to beep and alert me to check the progress. Back to the intimidation. I found myself whispering as I opened the oven door to look at it. What was this a soufflé? No! It was merely a cake. Intimidation be gone. It was baking and it was fine. It took longer because of the thickness of the cake due to the bundt pan, but I checked it every five minutes for about 50 minutes and when it was done, the toothpick was clean.

Twenty minutes into the cooling time of the cake I started making the frosting. I like butter cream frosting for red velvet cake. It’s much richer and more elegant on such a gorgeous cake than the easier, and in my opinion, cheaper, cream cheese frosting. I will admit that I was a bit confused by the fact that the frosting recipe I was using did not call for butter. Call me crazy, but I would think butter cream frosting would have butter in it. I got the recipe from a reliable source and chose to not question it any further and just combine the ingredients of the recipe and hope for the best.

I learned two things about frosting. I had no idea what “soft ball stage” was. Michael had to Google it. Turns out that sugar syrup dropped into cold water will form a soft, flexible ball. That’s the first thing I learned, as I had to cook the sugar concoction until it did that. The second thing I learned was that I had merely made white icing. It was perfect for drizzling over my red velvet cake, but it tasted like marshmallow cream and hardened as it cooled. My mom is sending me her butter cream recipe for next time.

The drizzled cake reminded me of a candy cane. There was nothing wrong with the frosting either. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it worked. The cake was very moist and the crunchy texture of the hardened icing was a nice compliment.

I can actually say I was proud of myself for both of my sweet creations on Thanksgiving Day. I’m thankful that I didn’t burn either one. I’m thankful that I tried something new.

The friends arrived at Michael’s apartment; the wine flowed, the food was eaten, laughs were laughed over dinner and during games of Celebrity and Apples to Apples. Michael’s table was gorgeous. It was his grandmother’s. He also has her china. He wanted to host Thanksgiving dinner at his house this year to use the china and the table that had once belonged to such an important person in his life. I know about that importance in my own life. I think she would have been proud. The day was lovely and joyful. The only thing missing was Tynan, who thankfully joined us twice that day via Skype.

While I’m being thankful I want to take the opportunity to say that it is a wonderful thing to have people in this world that you can be with on special holidays when you can’t be with your family. Those people become your family. For much of my life, being a theatre performer, I wasn’t home for Thanksgiving Day. Now, working in an NYC theatre box office, our business not only don’t close for holidays, we add more performances during the week. So I am thankful to have people to laugh with, eat with, share with, cry with and drink wine with.

I am truly blessed everyday of my life. I have a wonderful family, beautiful friends, good health, a great job, an amazing home and a red velvet cake recipe that will now become part of my baking repertoire.

Thanksgiving at Chez Coco

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 12

After the dishes were washed and placed in the drainer Jack started down the hall to his room. He suddenly remembered that Henry's shirt was in the dryer. Shut behind the door of his bedroom watching the movie, none of them heard the buzzer alert them that the shirt was dry. Jack turned around and walked back to the utility room to get the shirt.

He couldn't resist lifting it to his face and taking a deep inhale. He pulled the shirt away disappointed. It smelled like dryer not Henry.

He took the shirt to his room and put it in his backpack so he wouldn’t forget to take it school tomorrow and give it to Henry. He got undressed and climbed into bed. As he lay there in the dark he had to resist the urge to get up, get the shirt and hold it to his chest like a child clutching a security blanket. He didn't need it for security; it was a substitute for Henry.

Wednesday. When Jack awoke from a restless night's sleep he immediately remembered dreaming about Genevieve. It wasn't like the first time he dreamed about her. He wasn't playing out scenes with her. This time he could see her in a very bright room. They weren't talking. In fact he didn't remember there being any sound. She was just there and he was watching her. He didn't even know if she was aware of his presence. He figured the dream was a combination of having watched her movie the night before and remembering how bright her living room is usually lit.

He got up and stumbled down the hall. Walking the half-awake walk of someone not ready to commit to the morning.

Post shower and breakfast, he headed out the door for school. He was running later than usual so he was surprised to see Henry and Kevin barely at the end of their street. He ran to catch up with them.

"Hey guys, wait up," he yelled at them.

Henry and Kevin stopped at the sound of Jack’s voice and turned to watch him running to meet them.

"What's up?" said Henry.

"School," replied Jack with little enthusiasm.

"Word!" Replied Henry.

Kevin had done little more than grunt, as he was the least morning-enthusiastic of the three of them.

"I hope today doesn't drag by," said Jack. His tone was that of someone dreading the present because the future was all he could think about.

"Why would it be any different than any other day?" asked Henry.

"Because going to Miss Genevieve’s is something I'm really excited about doing and it has nothing to do with school. School is just something I have to get through today. It’s a means to an end to get to what I really want. It's like the tootsie roll center of the tootsie roll pop; what you really want is the tootsie roll, but you gotta get through the hard candy coating to get to it."

"Wow, that was a lot of description for this early in the morning," said Henry a little overwhelmed, processing everything Jack had just said.

"Sorry." Jack took his ability to be intellectual, no matter the hour, in stride. "Hey, I brought you your shirt." He took his backpack off, opened it and took out Henry’s shirt.

Henry was confused about what shirt Jack was talking about, then he remembered that he had worn Jack's shirt home last night. He recalled catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror in his bedroom as he started to take it off. He stopped and checked himself out in the shirt. He liked it. It was a nice shirt. He had always thought Jack had good taste.

"Sorry I forget to give it to you last night. I didn't hear the dryer buzzer, so I didn’t remember it was in there."

"No problem," said Henry as he took the shirt from Jack. "I didn't bring yours. I can drop it by your house later or I can bring it to school tomorrow."

They were playing their roles perfectly this morning. It was very Jack to remember Henry’s shirt and very Henry to be suave, aloof and forgetful.

"Whatever's easier. It's not like I don't know where you live."


The day did drag on just as Jack had feared. Every class seemed to take two hours instead of one. Interestingly enough it was the study period that flew by; the hour he wished would have lasted longer to give him more time to complete his homework. Somehow he managed to get it all finished. He wasn't sure about Henry or Kevin. He couldn't really worry about the two of them and their homework though. He was ready for this school day to be over. He was ready to be sitting on Genevieve's sofa enraptured by whatever exciting story about her life she might tell next.

Finally the bell rang. As he walked out the front doors of the school he saw Henry and Kevin already outside. He ran down the steps and straight into their conversation.

"I just don't understand why, that's all," said Kevin.

"Why what?" said Jack.

Henry and Kevin turned to look at Jack who seemed to have materialized out of thin air.

"Where did you come from?" asked Kevin.

"I saw you guys from the top of the steps and ran down to meet you. I just ran up. So what conversation did I interrupt?"

"It was a geometry conversation. I hate proofs and I was telling Henry that I don't understand why we have to learn them."

"I told him they were to challenge him," said Henry. "Kev, you just gotta open your mind and let the math flow through."

Jack looked at Henry for a reason behind his Zen-like statement.

“Are you high?” he asked half serious; his eyes squinted, questioning. He then looked at Kevin for a reaction. Henry half-heartedly gave Jack an offended look and Kevin snorted a laugh at the two of them.

"So, are you guys ready to go? I've been looking forward to Miss Genevieve's all day," said Jack. His excitement was only slightly contained.

"Yeah. I've been looking forward to it myself," said Henry.

"Then let's get moving instead of standing here giving ridiculous explanations for proofs." Jack gave Henry a smirk that oozed with sarcasm.

As they walked toward Genevieve's Jack took in the scenery around him for the first time this season. He loved fall and there were trees in their neighborhood exploding with yellow leaves. None were brighter than the large gnarled tree in front of Genevieve's house. Its roots were firmly planted in her sloping front yard, but its reach was expansive. To the east its branches covered the sidewalk to the west they shaded her entire side yard. It was beautiful to behold. The afternoon sun’s illumination made it seem like it was glowing with a million yellow lights.

Through the gate, up the front steps, across the porch, through the door, past the Bible, up the stairs – they were in familiar territory now. It had only been a few days since they'd first stepped inside 327, but they no longer feared it's dark corners or creaky, rotten stairs. They knew their way around. Standing outside the second floor door now, Jack knocked and they waited for the voice that would gain them entrance.

“Come in, Jack.” There was no question that the voice was that of Genevieve.

Jack opened the door and the three of them walked into her living room.

“How did you know it was me?” asked Jack.

“No one else visits me,” replied Genevieve.

She was sitting in the same chair as each time before. She was wearing the peach-colored robe just like the time before and the time before that. Bing Crosby was again playing on the record player. Jack wondered how many of the peach-colored robes she owned or if it was the same one over and over. He also wondered what she did all day that kept her from getting dressed. He didn’t dwell on the answers to those questions, as they really were not that important.

The Hear, See and Speak No Evil monkeys took their places on the sofa.

"Do any of you know of Lana Turner or Tippi Hedren?" Genevieve asked as she looked at each of them individually.

It took Henry and Kevin a split second to look at Jack. Genevieve followed their lead with wide-eyed anticipation.

Jack felt the rush of heat to his face and knew it had turned red. There was no reason to be embarrassed, but he felt put-on-the-spot. He knew the answer though, so he laughed a little at his friends and then looked at Genevieve. "Yes, I know who Lana Turner is - she starred in Peyton Place and Imitation of Love among other things."

"Imitation of Love figures into my story, as does Lana Turner. What about Tippi? Have any of you heard of Ms. Hedren?"

No one was more surprised than Kevin himself when he blurted out, “Birds! She was in The Birds.”

Genevieve looked at him with surprise and gave him a congratulatory nod.

“Well Jack, it looks like you’re not the only person here who has an interest in classic films. Kevin must enjoy the suspenseful more than the melodramatic.”

They each sat back on the sofa anticipating another chapter in the life of Genevieve Malloy. Her stories were entertaining. It made sense because entertainment was her business. She was saturated with it like a vermouth-soaked olive in a gin martini. She was a movie star and the unlikeliest diversion for all three of them.

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Monday, November 15, 2010

Surfacing (Emotions to the top)

Sometimes I think I feel too much. Recently, I've been feeling it all. My emotions have been running so high over the past few days; like a car running hot, check engine light glowing red.

It all started with Tuesday night's episode of Glee. The episode found Kurt, the gay character, at the end of his bullied rope. I can't imagine how it must feel to be the only "out" gay person in the school, office or town. I also can't imagine what it must be like to be forcefully pushed into a locker every day. I realize this is just a character on a television show, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen to someone somewhere on any given day of the week. The turning point for Kurt was finding the courage to confront the bully.

In case you don't watch Glee, let me set the scene for you. The beefy football player walks by Kurt - who is standing in the hallway reading a text that says "courage" - knocks the phone out of his hand then shoves him into the locker. That shove was the breaking point for Kurt.

KURT: Hey! (running after the bully; enters the locker room) I am talking to you.
Bully: The girls locker room's next door.
KURT: What is your problem?
Bully: 'Scuse me?
KURT: What are you so scared of?
Bully: Besides you sneakin' in here to peek at my junk?
KURT: Oh yeah, every straight guy's nightmare that all us gays are secretly out to molest and convert you. Well, guess what ham hock, you're not my type.
Bully: That right?
KURT: Yeah! I don't do the chubby boys who sweat too much and are gonna to be bald by the time they're 30.
Bully: (bringing his fist toward Kurt's head) Do not push me Hummel.
KURT: (looking at the fist) You gonna hit me? Do it!
Bully: (slamming his locker) Don't push me.
KURT: Hit me, 'cause it's not gonna change who I am. You can't punch the gay out of me any more that I can punch the ignoramus out of you.
Bully: (screaming) Then get outta my face!
KURT: You are nothing but a scared little boy who can't handle how extraordinarily ordinary you are.
(The bully kisses Kurt. Pulls away. Goes in for another kiss. Kurt pushes him away. The bully hits the lockers - confusion, pain and frustration writ across his face. Kurt is in shock)

I was alternately scared and exhilarated by the confrontation. Fear is a terrible thing. I still live with it in some instances to this day. What I was not prepared for was the kiss. The big, beefy football player was just acting out. He's confused about his own sexual feelings. So instead of figuring them out, he chooses to bully the only kid in school who might be able to help him cope. Fear is a bitch, man!

Let's move on to Wednesday night. It was the annual CMA Awards telecast. Any of you that read my facebook status that night know that I wasn't happy. All day long I had been looking forward to a glass of wine and performances from some of my favorite country artists. Well, Time Warner Cable was, of course, a digital glitchfest that night. I was angry. I was actually cursing TWC, but I continued to watch. I was determined to hear what I could hear and see who won what.

There were two performances, and a win, that proved important to me. Performance 1: "Hello World" by Lady Antebellum. From the first moment I heard the song on their album it moved me. Their performance on the CMA telecast let me know that they had released the song as a single. Performance 2: "If I Were A Boy" by Reba. Who but Reba could cover a song by Beyonce and actually make it work. I know there are people out there who thought the performance sucked, but for me, Reba's trademark voice gave the song a distinctly country feel. She fills everything she sings with emotion and this song was no exception. For me, the song crosses boundaries because I'm sure there are women, of all ages, in this world, for whom the sentiment speaks volumes. The win that holds significance for me: Miranda Lambert, CMA Album of the Year for "Revolution." She also won CMA Female Vocalist of the Year.

You might be wondering what the CMA Awards have to do with my emotional breakdown. Well, here it is. I bought Miranda Lambert's album. It is so good. It is country to the core. She has crafted and recorded some wonderful country songs. Songs that are bursting with emotion. The sentimental favorite for me is "The House That Built Me." It's about revisiting the house where she grew up. She tells the woman who lives there now about the that room in which she learned to play guitar, that the hand prints in the concrete steps are hers and that her favorite pet is buried under the oak tree in the yard. The story is tear inducing in and of itself, but what got me even more was that she just wanted to touch the place and try to remember who she was and where she's from. I've spent a lot of time running away from the small town where I grew up. I know that I can't live there, but that place, and that house, is the place where the basis for who I am was learned. It's important. It matters. I have to embrace it. When the song came on my ipod, I was at the gym. I had to keep myself from crying. I love a song that I can instantly connect to like that.

The Lady Antebellum song made me question if there is a video. There is. It is so emotional that I was heaving at my desk. At one point I was crying so hard that I lifted my hand as if to testify in church. The tears started as sadness, then turned to joy. The string section on the song evokes the emotion every time I listen to it.

In case you were wondering, I bought Reba's new album too. She never fails me.

Now, let's move on to Monday, November 15th, the sixth anniversary of my Grandmother's death. I had forgotten that it was this day. When I opened my computer, my icalendar alerted me with a pop up.

She battled cancer for four years. I was sitting in the airport waiting to bored a 6am flight home to see her. I called my Mom while I was waiting just to see how things were going. I could tell when she answered her phone that something was wrong. She couldn't talk. From her breathing she sounded as if she was running. She asked if she could call me back. It turned out that Mom was running. She was running to my Grandmother's room. The phone call I received just minutes later was from my sister telling me that my Grandmother was gone. I went to an angry place. The anger was because I could have flown home Friday or Monday. I chose Monday because of work issues. I didn't get to say goodbye. Of course, that is more about me than her, but I loved her so. I was the first grandchild; the only one for almost 8 years. My relationship with her was unlike that of any of my other grandparents. From what I understand, she had an attitude shift after I was born. A situation, full of sadness and embarrassment for her, changed to one of love. I never doubted for a minute that she loved me. I wish I could have had more time with her, but not at the expense of her living in pain. I wish she could have known me as I am now; the person who has grown so much in the past six years.

I didn't cry at the airport. When we boarded the plane, I sat in the last row. I had the entire flight to Nashville, TN, to brood about what had happened; to ponder how my life had changed. I slept a little. I listened to my ipod a little. When "It Feels Like Today" by Rascal Flatts came on, the tears began to flow. I cried for my Grandmother's pain and that she had died. I cried for my Mom's loss. I cried for my loss. To this day whenever I hear that song I'm on that plane.

It's no wonder my emotions have been running so high for the past six days. I wonder if subconsciously I knew the anniversary of my Grandmother's death was approaching. I wonder if that's why the music that touched me, touched me? My emotions are living on the surface like a raw nerve.

Happiness is also an emotion. I am happy that Kurt stood up to his bully. I am happy for the new music that graces my ears. I am also happy for the relationship that developed the day of my Grandmother's funeral between my sister, me and three of our cousins, Casey, Leah and Whit. We became more than just cousins that day; we became friends.

"It's okay now."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 11

By the time 8pm rolled around Henry was at Jack's house in the kitchen watching him open bags of microwave popcorn.

"Is that kettle corn or movie theater butter?" asked Henry.

"It's kettle corn, my favorite," replied Jack.

"Cool, that kind is my favorite too," Henry said as he lifted a glass of water to his mouth then promptly spilled it down the front of his shirt.


"What?" asked Jack as he turned around to see Henry jumping up from the table and heading toward the counter for the dish towel that was hanging on the cabinet door. "What happened?"

"You gave me a dribble glass and then missed the joke when I spilled the water down the front of my shirt."

"You dumb ass, we don't have any dribble glasses. You just missed your mouth." Jack couldn't help but laugh at Henry as he watched him dab his shirt with the dish towel. "What were you doing?"

"Not paying attention I guess," Henry responded with more laughter to his voice than annoyance.

Jack rolled his eyes at Henry. "Just take your shirt off and I'll throw it in the dryer. You can wear one of mine while it dries."

Jack hesitated before heading to his room to get Henry a shirt. He knew he shouldn't wait around for Henry to take his shirt off, but he couldn't help himself. The problem was there was no reason for him to hesitate. He became aware that Henry too was hesitating. He felt his face go red. Was it possible that Henry had silently noted that Jack had run into his arms? Was it possible that Henry was paranoid now? Could he know that Jack had feelings for him? Shit thought Jack as he abruptly left the room. He knew he had to get a shirt and walk back into the kitchen acting like nothing was out of the ordinary. He would act clueless like Kevin.

After he found his favorite blue shirt he quickly took it into the kitchen for Henry.

“Where is Kevin?" he said as he gave Henry the shirt and tried to inconspicuously drink in every inch of his chest. He turned away hoping it was nonchalant and natural instead of obvious like he felt.

Henry stood there for a second holding the shirt before he put it on. "Hopefully he's doing his homework. We were talking about that in the yard after you went home."

"I was standing on my front porch watching you guys talk. I didn't mean to stare, I was just so curious. You guys looked a little intense."

"It's okay, I probably would have told you anyway," said Henry. "Kev was upset about me having straight A's. He said he was trying to be like me, you know – easy going, blowing everything off, cool rider. I just told him he should be himself. Do what he wants to do. He's got this complex that I will only be his friend if he acts like me."

"Really, he thinks that's the only reason we're all friends?"

"Yeah. I told him I liked him for him, not for who he thinks I want him to be." Henry walked to the cabinet, got another glass and filled it with water.

Jack emptied the popped bag of popcorn into a bowl and then put another into the microwave.

"He's just insecure that's all," said Henry after taking a spill-free drink of water. "He sees you as smart and popular and he sees me as easy going and popular and he sees himself as popular only by association."

Jack was leaning into the corner of the counter watching Henry as he talked about the conversation with Kevin. He felt proud of him. That's the only way he could describe it. He was proud of the way Henry had handled the situation with Kevin's fragile ego.

The microwave dinged, signaling the end of popping for the second bag of popcorn. Jack turned toward the cabinet to get a second bowl, but Henry was standing there with a bowl in his hand. Jack was surprised and the look he gave Henry said as much. As he took the bowl from Henry, his pinky finger grazed Henry's hand. His senses were already heightened from Henry's naked chest. He turned quickly and placed the bowl down on the counter too forcefully.

"Thanks," he managed to say trying to cover up the fumbling noise.

"You're welcome," replied Henry as if nothing was out-of-the-ordinary with the bowl exchange.

They heard the door opening in the utility room off the kitchen. It was Kevin.

"Hey, Jack, it's Kevin. You guys here?"

"Yeah, we're in the kitchen," Jack said as he started toward the utility room.

"Don't mention the homework conversation okay. I don't wanna embarrass Kevin." Henry spoke sincerely.

"I won't," Jack said without missing a step. "What took you so long, Kev? The popcorn's gonna get cold."

"Yuck," Kevin crinkled his face. "I hate cold popcorn. Am I that late?"

"No. I'm just giving you shit," Jack punched Kevin's shoulder. "Seriously, where were you?"

"Homework dude. It's a bitch." Kevin gave Henry a tentative smile after he said the words. Henry smiled back and gave a slight nod to Kevin.

"Did you get done?" asked Henry.


"Good,” interjected Jack as if he wanted to change the subject. “No homework talk tonight. Tonight we watch Miss Genevieve. You two grab the bowls of popcorn and I'll get the beanbags. Meet you in my room."

"Good going, bro," Henry said as he squeezed the top of Kevin's shoulder.
"Get the popcorn." Kevin knew what Henry was doing. He gave Henry a look that included a slight smile to let him know he accepted the advice from earlier and appreciated the support. "I'm gonna see what's in the fridge that's good for mixing."

“Well alright,” Henry said nodding his head in approval.

Kevin searched the refrigerator as Henry grabbed the two bowls of popcorn and headed down the hall to Jack’s room. The room was empty. He put the popcorn bowls down on Jack’s bed and walked over to the entertainment center. He started to look through Jack’s DVD’s, but caught sight of a framed picture of Jack, Kevin and himself on the top shelf. He picked it up and looked at it. They had gone camping last summer in the woods not too far from where they live. They had had such a good time. Henry was remembering the moment leading up to the taking of the picture. The three of them had been sitting around the campfire smoking cigarettes and drinking beer that Kevin had lifted from his parents’ refrigerator in the garage. They were so relaxed. They had just been talking and laughing. There wasn’t a care in the world. As close to home as they actually were, they felt like they were in an isolated forest miles away from anyone who knew them. During a moment of serene quiet, Kevin farted so loud that it shocked them all. They started to laugh and couldn’t stop. Then the smell hit them. It was obnoxious. It smelled like what they imagined a corpse would smell like. That led to more laughter. They doubled-over, laughing so hard that Henry remembered his abs hurting the next morning. When the laughter was under control enough to allow them to breathe again, Jack had pulled out his Blackberry® and long-armed a picture of the three of them.

“That was my favorite moment of that whole camping trip.” Jack had walked into the room while Henry was lost in the memory. Henry jumped at the sound of his voice and inhaled sharply. As he turned toward Jack’s voice, he exhaled and laughed a little at being startled. Jack was standing there, holding the beanbags, smiling at him.

“That fart was pretty rancid though,” said Jack as he threw the beanbags onto the floor between the bed and the entertainment center.

“It was pretty rancid. I don’t know what Kevin had eaten that day, but it smelled like something died inside of him.” The two of them were laughing when Kevin walked into the room with three glasses of ginger ale, one about to fall from his grasp.

“What’s so funny?” asked Kevin as he walked to Jack’s dresser to put them down before he dropped the stray.

Henry held up the picture for Kevin to see. Kevin started to laugh along with his friends.

“Man, that was the most rancid fart,” Kevin said through his laughter. Henry and Jack looked at each other when Kevin said ‘rancid’ and laughed even harder. “I seriously thought for a second that I might have shit my pants.”

That moment of laughter transported the three of them right back to the woods. There might has well have been a campfire in the bedroom. When at last they each managed to draw breath again, they stood up straight and smiled at each other – lingering shoulder shakes of laughter still visible. Kevin was the first, this time, to lift a fisted, out-stretched arm toward his friends. The other two made their way toward Kevin to explode-the-finger-fist-bump.

Kevin turned toward the dresser to retrieve two glasses and hand them to his friends.

“What’d you find?” asked Henry.

“Ginger ale,” replied Kevin.

The three of them took a drink. Kevin was no fool when it came to mixing drinks. He knew as soon as he saw the ginger ale in the refrigerator that it was the perfect mixer for the whiskey he had put into his dad’s flask. The other two seemed to agree with his choice. Kevin gave them a yeah I know smirk and plopped down on one of the beanbags.

“So, what’re we gonna watch?”

“We have two choices,” Jack said as he crossed the room to the entertainment center and started fumbling through the DVD’s. He hadn’t actually gotten out the ones that starred Genevieve like he had planned so he was going to have to look through the stacks. He didn’t think it would be too difficult to find them as they were relatively new and he hadn’t had a chance to watch them yet. This proved to be the wrong thought. As it happens most of the time, the two he was looking for ended up being near the bottom of the third stack of DVD’s. He realized he must have messed them up the day he was searching for the one that helped him confirm why he recognized Genevieve’s face.

“Here they are,” he said as he turned toward his two friends. They were sitting on the beanbags; heads slumped, tongues hanging out. They looked like they had fainted or died. It was part of the little joke they played on each other when something, or someone, took to long. They called it “dead man…”

“Really?” said Jack with sarcastic disbelief. “It didn’t take me that long to find them.”

Henry and Kevin stayed as frozen as possible where they sat.

“All right, we’re done here,” said Jack as he sat on the floor facing the two of them.

Kevin started to laugh. “Dead man on a beanbag.”

Henry joined Kevin in laughing. Jack just sat on the floor rolling his eyes and shaking his head. He couldn’t help but smile though. These were his best friends and “dead man” was one of their jokes. It might be stupid, just like laughing so hard you can’t breath because of the smell of a fart, but it was something they did and he loved it.

“So here are the two choices,” Jack said as he held up the two DVD’s. “We can watch The Setting Sun of Yesterday about a wartime nurse on her deathbed, recalling the soldier she loved and lost during World War 1. Or we can watch Spark of Denial about a daughter returning home to reconnect with her estranged family only to try and steal the family business.”

He sat there looking at Henry and Kevin waiting for them to make a decision. He wanted to play “dead man with DVD’s” it was taking them so long.

“Okay, so The Setting Sun of Yesterday is from 1965. It’s the movie she did right after winning her Oscar®. She plays the nurse, obviously. It’s probably gonna have some war scenes.” He threw war scenes part in because he thought it might help the testosterone-laden room make a choice.

“She plays the returning daughter in Spark of Denial. It’s from 1967. It sounds like it might be a little more melodramatic than the other one. Although,” a thought had just occurred to him, “they’re probably both melodramatic.”

“I say we watch Spark of Denial.” Henry said nonchalantly. Jack was surprised. He was certain after the mention of war scenes that Henry would choose The Setting Sun of Yesterday.

“That’s fine with me,” said Kevin, ever the follower in Henry’s footsteps.


Jack got up from the floor and placed the DVD into the player, closed the carriage then pressed play. He then made his way to his bed and grabbed his two pillows. He threw them on the floor between the beanbags as the orchestra started playing the main title for the opening credits. He settled himself on the pillows between his two friends and focused on the screen. Every time he watched an old film he thought about how the credits were presented at the beginning instead of at the end like they are in today’s movies.

Henry and Kevin were each holding bowls of popcorn. Jack chose to eat out of the bowl Henry was holding. He thought to himself that he should share out of both bowls, but then decided that it was just popcorn. Henry was sitting on his right and he was right handed after all. Paranoia be gone.

About halfway through the movie there was a close-up on Genevieve’s face. Her character’s father had just discovered that her character was trying to steal the family business. The look on her face was loathing. She was filled with so much hate for him, yet she had been so sweet in his presence leading up to the moment of discovery. Her façade had cracked. The sweetness turned to the sting of vinegar. Even though she was seething with anger at her father, she had but one single tear fall from her left eye and roll down her cheek. The scene left Jack breathless. He turned to look and Henry and Kevin. Both had ceased eating popcorn and were staring, riveted by her.

Jack turned back to the screen, a feeling a pure joy and happiness that his two best friends not only wanted to watch an old film with him, but they were actually enjoying it. He was smart enough to know that it was mostly because they had met Genevieve, but it didn’t matter. He was sitting in his room, sharing popcorn with Henry, drinking a drink made by Kevin. This was a moment that he wished he could long-arm a video instead of just a photo.

When the movie was over the three of them sat there for a moment. Henry was the first to stand up. Jack looked up at Henry, but Kevin kept watching the screen like he was processing a thought.

“That moment of realization by her father, played across her face like…I don’t know,” said Kevin.

“Stoic anger,” said Jack. “She was like…an incensed volcano, ready to blow, but everything stayed below the surface except for that one tear. That was the release. It was her anger, her despair, her embarrassment.

“It was a cool movie, Jack,” said Henry. “Thanks for letting us come over to watch it.”

“Anytime guys. I’m just glad you wanted to watch it.”

“I’d be up for watching the other one too,” said Henry. “I may not be a movie buff like you or as into classic movies, but now that we’ve met Miss Genevieve, I’d really like to watch it. It’s kinda cool to see how movies used to be.”

“Anytime.” Jack responded to Henry then quickly included Kevin. “The three of us can watch the other one whenever you want. You in Kev?”

“Sure. I’d watch the other one.”

“Cool, let’s do it,” said Henry as he started out of the room with the two popcorn bowls in hand.

The three of them walked to the kitchen. Henry placed the two bowls in the sink and Kevin the glasses. Jack knew he would have to wash them before his mother got home from the class she takes on Tuesday nights.

“So listen, are you two up for a visit with Miss Genevieve tomorrow? I’m just kinda antsy to get back to her story.”

“I’m in,” replied Henry as he stood at the door nodding his head.

“Yeah, me too,” answered Kevin.

“Then let’s try to get as much homework done tomorrow during our study hour as possible so we don’t have to worry about it after we get home. Agreed?

“Agreed,” said Henry and Kevin in unison.

“Okay, so I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

“Later Jack,” said Henry.

“Thanks again for the movie,” said Kevin.

“Thank you for the whiskey,” replied Jack.

After closing the door behind his friends, Jack watched them cross the street and walk toward their respective houses. He lingered a little bit longer on Henry. He was standing in the dark with no one to catch him so he indulged himself. When Henry was inside his own house Jack walked to the sink and began to wash the dishes.

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 10

The three of them ran down the stairs throwing caution to the wind – rotted steps be damned. They didn’t care. There wasn’t a thought in their heads about the possibility of falling through a rotten piece of wood. When they reached the street they all looked as if they were going to speak at once, but no one said anything until Henry broke the silence.

“Do you have any more of her movies at your house?” Jack looked genuinely surprised at Henry’s question. He knew that his friends would like Genevieve; he just didn’t know they would be as taken with her as he was.

“Yeah, I have a couple of her movies that I haven’t even had a chance to watch yet.”

“Could we go hang out at your place and maybe watch one of them?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“Cool. You in Kev?” Henry asked while turning toward Kevin.

“Yeah. I would really like to see what she looked like when she was younger.”

"Is that all you can think about; what she looked like when she was younger?" Jack questioned Kevin's choice of words. "That's kinda shallow, dude."

“Hey, I’m curious what she looked like when she was younger too,” said Henry, “but that’s not all I’m interested in. I would like to see her work. You gotta quit taking things so personally where she’s concerned, Jack.” Henry was trying to be honest and the voice of reason at the same time.

“I’m sorry. I just feel this need to protect her for some reason. I’m not sure what it is. I mean, I hardly know her, but she’s so nice and somehow…fragile. I think she’s lonely and needs us.” Jack’s reply was heartfelt. He was the most sensitive of the three of them. Henry knew not to push it. He understood that Jack felt things quickly and deeply. He didn’t push him further.

“So whatdya say we make a big bowl of popcorn and chill out on those beanbags that you hate so much. We’ll bring them into your room, pop in one of her movies and just…hang.” As the most charismatic of the three, Henry always knew how to plead his case with a smile and make it sound like the best idea anyone had every had. Jack knew charisma was what made Henry so irresistible. He just wished he didn't have to fight so damn hard to resist.

“I thought you had to get home?” asked Jack

“I do, but when I’m done with my homework I’ll come back over and we’ll watch the movie.”

“Homework? You’re going home to do homework?” The look of surprise on Jack’s face could have only been hidden by Botox injections.

Henry looked at Jack and opened his mouth to respond but caught the look Kevin was giving him. He looked at Kevin then back to Jack. He smiled the smile of someone caught in a lie. He acted cool as usual, but his suave, tough guy exterior had a crack in it; a crack he had provided. The jig was up and he knew it.

“Okay. So I promised my mom that I would get straight A’s and she promised me that I could go to the college of my choice. I have a rep to protect. I just wanted you guys to think I blow off homework like everybody else thinks.”

“You’re an idiot.” Jack and Henry both turned to look at Kevin. The words were unexpected and shocking coming out of Kevin’s mouth. Kevin was looking at Henry like a child whose dream of going to space camp had just been crushed.

“Kevin, dude, I just didn’t want to appear to be smart. Do you know how difficult it is for a guy to be both smart and popular? No offense, Jack.” Henry threw in that last part as an afterthought when the words he had spoken to Kevin actually cycled back into his own ears.

Jack rolled his eyes as he shook his head at Henry. It was just another one of Henry’s idiosyncrasies. So now he knew – Henry actually cares about his grades. Big deal. He was still the same old Henry.

“I’ll see you guys around 8 okay? Does that sound doable?” asked Jack.

Henry nodded his head. “See you at 8.”

“Yeah, I’ll see you at 8,” Kevin’s response was a little gruff. Jack cocked his left eyebrow as he looked at Henry and started backing away before turning to walk toward his house.


“Don’t 'Kev' me, Henry.”

“What’s wrong with you? Are you angry that I pretend to not do my homework?”

“I try to be like you, Henry. I always have. I look up to you. I blow off my homework because I thought you blew off yours. I just wanted to be popular like you. I wanted to be part of our gang. I’ve always felt like I had to impress you or you would convince Jack that I wasn’t worth hanging out with. Now I find out that you have straight A’s while I have straight C’s. I don’t ever do my homework because I thought it made me cool like you.”

Kevin stopped talking. His brow was wrinkled. He looked visibly angry. Whether it was anger at himself or at Henry was unclear. Henry wanted to convince his friend that they would be friends no matter what happened. Their friendship was important to him. He just didn’t know what to say. He didn’t have an opportunity before he heard Kevin say to himself, “Actually, I’m the idiot.”

Henry found his words. “You’re not an idiot, Kevin. You’re one of my best friends. You’re a goofball and you’re funny. I laugh at your jokes, even when they’re lame, because you say them. I enjoy hanging out with you. I enjoy hanging out with you even when you don’t bring your dad’s flask. You’re a cool guy, Kevin, and I’m proud to call you my friend. You have to figure out who you are and stop trying to be like me, or anybody else. Be who you are. I think you might find that it’s easier.”

Henry extended his arm, fist at the end, toward Kevin. Kevin hesitated briefly, and without breaking his gaze from the ground, bumped his own fist on Henry’s.

“How about you go do your homework?” Henry said to Kevin as he put his arm around his friend’s shoulders and they started walking toward Henry’s house.

“Okay.” Henry started down his driveway as Kevin cut across the lawn to his own house.

“Hey, Henry,” said Kevin midway across the lawn.


Without stopping or turning to look at Henry, “Thanks.”


Henry continued up his driveway completely unaware that Jack had been standing on his own front porch watching what had transpired between him and Kevin.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

©2010 Michael Rohrer