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Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2005
Once, long ago, I lived in a far away land hard upon the rust belt of a city famous for auto parts and steel. Western NY it ‘twas, a strange and by now unfamiliar place. I haven’t lived there in some 30 years or more but was birthed there, brought to the threshold of adulthood there. Took wife and children there as they appeared, one by one, in the time after I had transplanted and rooted in the Swamps of the nigh South.

Wildly spaced things still connect from there - a few greatly aged aunts and uncles. Football, if you can call it that, from the Buffalo team who hath sucked mightily this year yet refuse to allow this sorta southerner to escape the loyalty of being born into it. A knowledge of snow and what to do with it, and cold and how to dress for it and think about it (those born to cold might know of which I speak, you know how to think about cold, how to frame it in your mind and thus deal with it).

I haven’t been back there since I moved Mom and Dad away in, what . . . 2002? The brother thought it best to move them away from the area that had spoke to them for most of their lives and start the nursing home thing farther south, and I went. I pretty well knew it would be my last time in the ‘ville, there’s not much calling me there in either a tourista or family way any more.

First time I rolled into Swampville was a shock. Here were people who smiled and greeted and hugged and spoke with smiles. Not quite the way things were done in Western NY. It’s a severe place in a lot of ways and weather is only one of them. I’d be brash and say the people tended to be every bit as cold as the wind off the two lakes, maybe it is a little accurate, maybe it isn’t at all fair. Being insightful as a fifteen year old ain’t much, as such things go.

But I sit here in post-holiday inactivity and watch a DVD, one of my presents, which is all about the Buffalo thing. It’s got a few years on it, 1989, a concert from the stadium where the Bills have been busily embarrassing themselves this year. I keep looking for faces in the crowd when the camera jerks away from Jerry, Bob and the rest of the Dead for a minute. A crowd of those I always thought of as the cold, who look anything but on a NY July evening.

And yeah, I happen to loves me some Dead on film. I am ancient, I am withered. But I still shimmy without shame in the recliner when advised to Not Fade Away.

Thanks for the disc, Maggie. It, you and the Dead absolutely rock my world.

Is it possible to remove this balloon from my gut which has been blown up and pricked at regular intervals over the last several days? ‘Cause, trust me. It’s getting just a tad annoying.

It started on Friday. When Ally made her regionally famous Stroganoff with button ’shrooms, and we had Beth and her friend and Maggie and Bob and Ben the Youngest all over for heaping platefuls of Stroganoff goodness, and I patted my belly afterwards and pronounced it full. Well of course it was. A heavy meal, an inexhaustible supply of longneck 12 ouncer’s and the waddling to recliners. I swear even my cheeks felt stuffed.

Saturday was my turn. I won’t say I’m famous for much of anything other than the empty feed bag often spotted dangling from my neck, but I happen to like oysters. And in small circles such as this I’m famous at the very least for foisting them on helpless children and strangers plucked from street corners. I had a new idea this year, a Cajun sort of oyster - and fried to boot. It involved a lengthy marinade process, a roll in secret herbs, a dip in boiling peanut oil, but then . . . Oh sweet agony. A fried oyster or 30, moist, breaded in corn meal and served with the requisite hush puppy, the dipping sauce, and the totally necessary longneck. Ally and Beth declined which suited the rest of us to a T. The old “more for me!” thing. God looked down, pronounced me a pig and banished me to the glassy eyed place I go to sometimes, when vast quantities of food make my eyeballs hurt. There weren’t an oyster left alive. It was a slaughter of the very best kind.

Then of course came the 25th. Close on the heels of 6 am wakeups (because everyone in my brood is, after all, 5 years old once a year) I am traditionally charged with breakfast for the mob. I tend to stand alone (by choice) in the kitchen and lob eggs and random breakfast meats toward sizzling pans, ply cayenne pepper and drizzle butter on biscuits and generally create morning heaven in four skillets. It tends to satiate the masses until Ally moves into the kitchen, bent on restoring order and creating . . .

The Traditional Christmas Dinner. Where Thanksgiving is shamelessly copied in lockstep fashion, turkeys and all. No ham will do for this crowd, they gasp for turkey and stuffing, having had only a tease just a month before. And we do all we can to oblige, and wine is released to wander the earth, we run out of serving dishes for beans and sauces and potatoes and once again I stagger 12 paces from the table and collapse into my chair to sit, slack-jawed and drooling, as large men batter each other and chase a pigskin spheroid on my television. Clearly, they could not do this had they come to my house first.

I don’t ever have occasion to utter “This is ruining my diet” because there is no diet to ruin in the first place. But Lord help me, this distension of belly must cease. Just as soon as I finish off all that turkey which has found a home in my refrigerator.

It calls me, the wicked turkey sammich. You wicked sammich you. Toasted, with mayo and a pickle. A dab of leftover dressing and gravy.

Was that me, promising Ally a new kitchen in a new house, next year, so that we might do this more efficiently? I’d bet anything it was.

Update: . . . and because I forgot. Ever notice how Jerry's fingers work a guitar? Obviously yeah, he's short one, but it's the one that would be in the way anyhoo, sort of a karmic blessing. And how relaxed he is? He reminds me of the way a workman, no scratch that, a damn fine carpenter would wield a hammer. None of this stiff pounding as if using a brick. No, you let the wrist and weight of the thing make an arc, and it's totally effortless. I've never seen anybody look more natural in front of 85,000 people, just a picker doing the complicated thing that he does best. Mesmerizing.

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