Monday, August 30, 2010

Kept company

"Hey sailor, looking for a good time?" Kelly calls out the window to his friend Liam. A tower of a bear (or wolf, rather...I need to check my gay field guide), Liam smiles wide and calls something back that I can't hear over the radio. Kelly parks the car and gets out to do the gay greet (a kiss on the cheek and a sassy back-handed compliment). We get his bags into the car; shift from one topic to another, all of which I wouldn't be able to repeat without changing the security settings on this blog to "mature"; and head off for what Kelly has described as "Iron Chef with booze".

The dynamic changes as soon as Liam and Kelly start to catch up. In our relationship, I'm an Ionic column...pretty in a simple way, but mostly I'm just there to be supportive. With Liam, Kelly fades a little himself, becoming more reserved (if only by a breath). He blushes at some of the more off-colored comments and looks at me as if he expects me to be offended. (He clearly hasn't gotten to know Samantha very well...) "I told you he'd be like this," Kelly says with a half-hearted sigh. We get to the restaurant/bar/hotel (?) and Liam manages to say "hello" properly. He lifts me three feet off of the sidewalk and squeezes me in a bear hug that breaks everything from T1 to L5 of my spinal column. "It's so great to finally meet you, dearheart."

Inside, we do a shot of something banana and cognac (much to Kel's disgust) and Kelly orders the first round: gimlet for him, aviation for me, and something bright pink and fruity for Liam. After introducing us to a few groups of people, Kelly gets sucked into industry talks and I get prepared to do my usual people watching. Liam grabs my neck in a buddybuddy squeeze and I almost forget that for once, I'm not alone at one of these things. "Oooh, take a look at that one!" He hisses, pointing out a man in a button-down done from the top button down, khakis that hit two inches too high above the knee, and shoes that are only appropriate to wear as you lash your sailboat to the dock. "Very J.Crew," I tell him and roll my eyes, snickering into my drink. Liam snorts and sips his, shaking his head. "J.Crew has more style than that."

In the course of drinking too much, I found another non-foodie to add to my list of foodie friends. For all the wonderful things I can list about Kelly's friends, they all have the same item that could go in the center chunk of the pro-con Venn diagram...they're all foodies. Michael and Karen (the first two members of Kelly's "family" that I've met) are another pairing of foodie/non-foodie, and my first introduction into the Wine Widows Club. "I swear, sometimes it's like another language," Karen once told me. "You pick it up after a while...but still, I remember sitting there with all of his wine friends and not knowing what to say."

I lose sight of Kelly within an hour (a new record), but still have Liam to keep me company. "It's such a small town," he says and orders us another drink of something that I can't name but belongs on Carmen Miranda's head. "I can't go anywhere without running into someone I've boffed." I laugh, if only because Kelly has run into some industry person at almost every night/morning we've risked outside his apartment. "You have no idea," I tell him and wave to two more of Kel's friends that I've come to know over the past few months...two more of my new foodie friends.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


It feels like 11pm. It's really only 7 or 8, but it feels like 11. Work has been a nightmare and I have spent the past week coming in early to rewrite a 200+ page multi-client report worth at least $50,000 in four days. I sag into the booth, stare into the pickled broccoli, and listen to Kelly ramble about salt. "It's the reason China was able to build the Great Wall They had a monopoly on salt and iron which was needed to process salt This actually allowed people to start raising cattle and horses domestically in the first place..."

The waiter returns with miso soup and two stone bowls. They remind me of the metal and wood steaming platters that keep fajitas warm. The bowls are huge and filled with rice, vegetables, and a half-cooked egg arranged on the top. I break the egg and let the yoke color the rice. Kelly's ramblings have turned into some strange cousin of scat.

"I'm sorry, hon'. What'd you say?" I ask him. "It's bibobop," he repeats. "I'm sorry, what?" "Bi-bim-bap. Bibimbap." He scrapes the rice crusting along the inside of the bowl and mixes it so the rest has a chance to turn into crunchy sheets. "It's Korean comfort food." I shovel some into my mouth, careful not to burn myself on the bowl. Despite the strange name and presentation, it might be the most normal thing I have eaten with Kelly. (It's essentially fried rice from the local Chinese Take-out.)

"You should write more about my birthday," he says, a little miffed I haven't explained the bone marrow story in more detail. "I don't know, Kel," I say and stab at a zucchini. "It's sort of in the past." "Well, David Sedaris writes in the past." I don't argue and wonder what the brown tendril is that I have wrapped around my chopstick. It's almost vegetable in appearance, but I've learned that you can't really ask questions in Chinatown. (Well you can, but the answers aren't what you want to hear.)

My first "weird food" incidence was going for dim sum in Chinatown with Samantha, Sean, and their friend Ashley. The walls were blood red and covered with gilded mirrors. The tanks were filled with live fish and waiters ( I suppose you could call them that) pushed their carts between tables. The four of us were the only people in the entire restaurant that were not Asian. Sean had been several times before, so I trusted him when he picked out rice balls wrapped in lotus leaves. "What's this?" I asked him, pointing to the meat inside the rice ball. Sean shrugged and continued to shovel tripe into his mouth with glee. I decided not to ask any further questions when a cart went by with phoenix claws.

If dim sum was my formal announcement, then Kelly's birthday was my debutant ball of weird food. Going to Evie's restaurant, we sat at the bar and picked at cheese platters, duck, and sweetbread. "It's cow thymus," Kelly says as the bartender puts down the plate. It looks like a giant hushpuppy soaked in gravy and sprinkled with peas. "Grammy always says that you can't say you don't like it if you don't try it." I finish my glass of something pink (I assume it was a rose, but Kelly has pointed out mistakes in past posts) and scoop out a bite with my fork. It's softer and spongier than what I expected. The gravy is super savory and sharp, cutting through the strange texture of the sweetbread. I manage to eat it without freaking out, but think twice for going in again and decide to stick with the duck.

A few more glasses and Kelly and I go off alone to get drinks. This begins the infamous "Bone Marrow Incident". Taking a taxi, we take the first seats empty at the bar and I let Kelly's friend (he knows EVERYONE) make us cocktails that have as much liquor in them as a Long Island. "I'll also get an order of fries and the bone marrow," Kelly says. The words "bone marrow" are said as if they were some luxurious treasure...the Tut's tomb of food. His order comes with the bones arranged in a neat row, a pile of cut baguette pieces set up artfully behind them. "You have to try it," Kelly said and spooned some of the marrow straight from the bone onto a slice of bread. I've never been a hungry drunk (sometimes I'll snack, but I never had a "I must EAT!" moment), but I remembered Grammy's advice and copied his movements with only a little hesitation. The marrow was good, but reminded me too much of a savory jello. It had a grainy texture and taken straight from the bone was a little too ghoulish for my inebriated mind to grasp.

"So what do you think?" Kelly asks me about the bibimbap. I pop the brown tendril into my mouth carelessly, relieved it's a vegetable of some kind. "It really is Korean comfort food," I tell him.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wine: a study

"Sorry, the place is a mess," Kelly says as he opens the door to his apartment. There is a half-empty suitcase on his couch, the cat is gone, and his bed is torn apart. The mattress is naked, the surface picked out in ugly flowers, and piled with clothes.

"Come on, I need help picking out a suit," he says half in the closet. He grabs his dress shirts in bunches and lays them out on the already cluttered bed. The colors are all bright blues, purples, and pinks done in stripes, checks, plaids, and some patterns that are a mixture of both. His nightstand (a collection of wooden vintner's boxes) is broken in half and opened to show his collection of ties. It's another jumble of bright colors and patterns.

I have been helping him prepare for his Advanced tests for the past month. Well, by helping I mean going with him to study groups and calming him down as he worries about something I'm sure he already knows by heart. ("What if they ask me to name all the [insert grape] in [insert country/region]?" "Kel, you have an IQ of 300, you know that stuff." "What if it's all French? You know I'm an Italophile..."). I've watched him and his fellow sommeliers sit in front of glasses of wine and play the drinking version of Guess Who?! I've seen a full, formal table service performed step-by-step...even using a wine basket (which, apparently, is a useless piece of wicker/wire that no one uses anyway...sort of like taking advanced Calculus and being an English major).

Kelly matches shirts and ties in patterns that make my eyes hurt. Stripes with plaids in a giant swath of various purples. I match a solid blue shirt with a paisley-esque tie, but he vetos it and pulls another shirt to replace the blue. "That's too boring," he says. I sigh and step aside, offering a few comments when I can and watch him pack.

He'll be gone for the week and returning Saturday night. I keep trying to be as helpful as possible, but I know I'm just a blanket...something comforting just to have around. He pours two glasses of a pinot noir from Napa (a rarity in Mr. Old-world's fridge) and I drink as he finishes packing. In the morning, he will rush to grab his three bags, thrust a few CDs into my hands that he needs returned to the library, and empty the few items in his fridge into my car: two cheeses from our Othello picnic, a quarter gallon of whole milk, and the half-finished bottle of pinot noir.

Monday, August 2, 2010

As free as the elements

The Common is perfect and I can't stop staring at the stage. I manage to pull my eyes away to grab at the picnic spread in front of us, but I keep going back to the monolith on the stage, wondering what it could possibly be. Huge and looking as if it was made from worn stone or steel, I have been to Shakespeare on the Common a few times now, but I don't remember a stage as spartan as this. Well, considering the play is Othello...I'm not too surprised.

Kelly and I had prepared to do the MFA and Indian the night before, when we were a tangle of limbs on his loveseat and watching TV. "The weather's supposed to be nice tomorrow," he says. "You want to go to Othello and picnic instead?" I mull it over as the theme song for the show plays. "Yeah, why not? It could be fun." I had only asked for a lazy Sunday, so spending it in the park sounded just as good. With the cooler weather, it would be perfect.

Kelly's friend "Evie" (who I consider to be a friend of mine as well, "by proxy" as Kel puts it) and her friend "Hannah" have grabbed us a spot far from the stage, but not too far that I can't tell that Desdemona is the woman in white. Evie pours a rose carefully from its hiding place, her eyes looking about for the policeman that passed us not too long ago.

"Dig in," Hannah says to me. In the middle of our blankets, Kelly is cutting up two baguettes on a plastic board. Hannah opens up a second tub of hummus and offers me a pita chip. We also have four different kinds of cheeses (the closest to what would pass for "normal" [read non-foodie] is a sweeter blue cheese that doesn't make my mouth purse), organic blueberries, cherries, diced watermelon, and duck liver pate. I assess the spread again and look at the watermelon. Remembering camping trips and picnics from my childhood, the watermelon is the only thing that looks familiar.

The play starts and I spread one of the cheeses onto a slice of baguette. By the second act, we have taken it on ourselves to be the Mystery Science Theater 3000 of Shakespeare. "Othello is such a pimp!" Hannah snickers. "Beat a ho!" Kelly calls. "He's just like Mel Gibson," Evie says (the only comment to make the two older women sitting next to use to giggle).

By this point, I'm the only person that hasn't tried the pate. Desdemona begs for her life as Othello throws her to the bed. The pillow covers her face and she thrashes, falling to the floor...only to be dragged and drowned in the tub. The play is almost over and Kelly has his head cradled in my lap. I smile to myself and smear a little pate onto a slice of bread. I almost could make it a symbol of the play as a whole: brown on white, decadent and savory with a strange sweetness that would not be expected, and created by a violent act. It's not what I would have pictured for a picnic, but just as good nonetheless.