Friday, May 13, 2016

Music in the Kitchen

In 1975, one of my favorite groups sang, "I love music, any kind of music."  Yeah, the O'Jays were speaking directly to me because I have always felt that way.  From The Beatles to Beethoven to Barry White to Backstreet Boys to Beyonce. Music is a mood-changer.  When I'm in love, I sing all day. When my heart is broken, I can't listen to it without dissolving into a large brown puddle of tears. Surely I was a musician in a past life; music moves me.  Two nights ago, as I sauteed slivered onions to throw into my chicken cacciatore, I  stopped tossing onions around just long enough to find the Spotify button on my phone.  I plugged my sound bar speaker into the wall outlet and hit the Bluetooth button. "So Much Trouble in the World," wailed Bob Marley.  I moved back over to the stove, humming and swaying to the beat, and got my wooden spoon into the pan just as my onions were threatening to stick.

Cooking held little interest for me when I was a young mother. Food was just nourishment, more or less. I tried to make it tasty, I tried to cook it well, but it was hit or miss.  Back in the stone age before Chopped, Top Chef and Food Network Star, home cooks had to wing it. You either had the knack or you didn't.  When a dish came out well, I was happily surprised and served it as often as I could.  My potato salad, modified slightly from my mom's potato salad, became the hit of the family; I was asked to bring it to nearly every family gathering.  When money was tight for a long while, I figured out that tomato sauce, cheese, Italian seasoning and pasta in any form could come together to make a dinner that would last most of the week.  My daughter, 11 at the time, couldn't wait for dinner each night. Little did she know that Ronzoni was the only thing standing between us and an empty refrigerator.  Had a few disasters along the way: I once tried to make spaghetti carbonara after having had it at a restaurant. After boiling up a gloppy mess of eggs and heavy cream that refused to transform into anything anyone would want to eat, I gave up and ordered Chinese food, fighting back tears. Back then, I never played music while cooking.

I don't remember the exact date or even the year... but somewhere in my late 50s, I suddenly wanted new cookware and kitchen appliances. See, what you have to know is that I'd never owned a full set of quality cookware as an adult. I had frying pans my mother gave me, a pot I'd bought here, and a pan I'd bought there. I had a toaster, but no blender. No coffeemaker.  A crockpot or Dutch oven?  I didn't even know what a Dutch oven was. But suddenly, I wanted to cook and I wanted to do it really well.  I finally figured out that cooking is both an art and a skill.  It can be satisfying and fun. And it can be very Zen: the chopping, dicing, slicing, stirring... it demands that you be present in the moment. Cooking can be a mood-changer. Like music. So now I always combine the two, whether I'm working a new recipe or putting together an old favorite.  I'm never happier than when my family comes over and I'm cooking for them. The bad news is that I barely have time to interact with them because I'm in the kitchen minding my pots and pans on the stove, but I don't really mind and I don't think they do either.  The music is blaring, I'm singing with Usher or Mary J. Blige or Justin Timberlake, the TV is going in the living room (baseball or football if my mother grabs the remote; HGTV if my sister gets there first. If my grandson isn't burying his nose in his handheld, any movie based on a Marvel Comics character will do nicely).  Voices are raised, not in anger, but so that people can be heard over the music and the TV and the other conversations going on in the room.  I pop in and out of the living room when I can but mostly, I'm in the kitchen.  Stirring my sauce and singing with Aretha. And I'm happy.

Adventures in Senior Dating...

"Good Morning, Heartache... here we go again...."
At the age of 59 or so, after a pretty harrowing 3-year period that shall be forever known as "The Dark Time" (a story for another time, dear readers), I decided to dip my toes back into the dating waters.  Some would declare that I'm just a glutton for punishment, but the truth is: I'm a diehard romantic. Always was, always will be. I love being in love and I can't change that about myself any more than I can change the color of my skin or the size of my feet.  It is what it is.

So.  What I have learned is that dating over the age of 60 can be as difficult as it is in your 30s.... maybe more.  There's an extra added challenge, however: health issues associated with aging that morph into mental health issues, which cause emotional weariness... and wariness. Many women my age have given up on love and sex. They claim that the men they meet are looking for a "nurse or a purse", e.g., someone to help them manage their health issues or someone to depend on financially.  I hope they are wrong. So far, so not too good...

I thought J and I were gonna be good for each other.  He was funny, good looking, had a silly sense of humor and our chemistry was immediate.  We laughed a lot, I dug his Queens/Italian-American accent and our physical relationship was fun.  But of course, he had issues with a capital I.  A sickly mother dependent on him, a business that he worked on 18 hours a day, and an emotional fragility that was both endearing and frustrating as hell.  The main problem was that he very much wanted a relationship but he had no time for one.  If I hadn't been so attracted, I could have dealt with a 'see ya when I see ya' kind of thing. But I've never really been good at being casual when I'm very attracted to a guy... and he wasn't good at being casual either.  Within the space of 3-4 months, we broke up and got back together three times.  The fourth time was a bridge too far... we both knew it wasn't going to work.  Sigh.
Moving on.

This next one shall be known as H.

H was an interesting person -- on paper.  A retired social worker, he filled his days and nights with two major passions: photography and writing plays.  He was proud of his hobbies, and I'm always drawn to creative people.  So once we got going, trying to be a supportive girlfriend, I eagerly looked at image after image and read plays and short stories, providing critiques (he was very interested in my thoughts) but one glaring problem emerged.  He just wasn't very good. His photos were flat and lifeless.  His stories were unimaginative. I had been drawn to his passion, but passion without talent is.... what?

Having said all of that, our relationship was mostly fun.  We were on the same page intellectually. I introduced him to the wonderful series, The West Wing, and he introduced me to Apple TV and rock and folk music that I'd largely ignored in the early 60s.  I loved to cook, he loved to eat, and was not just tolerant of a few culinary screwups -- he scarfed up those meals as eagerly as the ones that came out as planned.  In addition, we did the kind of "New York-y" things I love: outdoor cafes, movies, off-off Broadway plays, long car rides upstate on weekends.  Physical intimacy was fun, easy and fulfilling.

But I got restless.  Our relationship became routine. H was at my place every single Friday after work and that was too close for comfort, largely because as time wore on, I observed that he was not a nice man in ways that are and were important to me in a partner.  He could be a little rude to waitstaff, used blue language in front of my mother, could be dismissive when he was bored.  Impatient, not kind, and not really physically attractive. I was looking for love and I knew that would never happen. There was no arguing or lingering when we broke up. I shut down, he left angrily, unfriended me on Facebook (the horror! /insert sarcasm here/) and that was that.  I lost no sleep over it.

We'll call him W.  

W very much wanted a long term commitment, possibly even marriage. But he was not skilled at fulfilling a woman's needs emotionally and not particularly interested in fulfilling them physically at all.  He talked a good game but made little effort because he was consumed by his own health issues, physical, psychological, mental and emotional... and yes, he had them ALL.  He is kind, caring and has a good heart. I thought that with enough time and care, the relationship would become all that was promised. I believed it so hard that I moved in with him way before I was ready. He pushed, I acquiesced.  Big mistake.... but there was no way I could have known that I was going to become a 'bait and switch' victim.  Once I had moved in, he changed, slowly... but dramatically.  He slept a lot, physical intimacy died and he was completely uninterested in it although he swore that he was.  But he wasn't.  The woman in his life and her needs came secondary to his cocooning within his comfort zone. He was comfortable financially and fairly generous and it became obvious that he felt that as long as he could provide in that way, as long as his woman is fed, housed and clothed, what more could she need?  And he was like a little boy who constantly required praise and validation about his good deeds. "Are you happy with what I gave you/did for you/ where I took you?" "What did your friends think?"  "What did your family say?"  Men like this don't realize how basically selfish they are. It's not what they do for you; it's how THEY feel about what they did and how many people you told about what they did for you.  As long as his needs were being met, all was well in the world.

I've never really cared much about money and things. Nice to have, sure... but affection, warmth, attentiveness, physical intimacy, intellectual stimulation, a sense of equality and partnership... these are the things I crave. Bye-bye, W.  He took our breakup very hard... but his distress seemed more about his needs not being met than about his missing my presence. Certainly there are women in their 60s and beyond who want companionship but not sex; who are more than content to take care of a man in a similar way that they take care of their home, sons and daughters. I'm not one of those.

I started this phase of the journey at the age of 59. I'm now 62.  The search continues.  The struggle is real, my friends.