Have yourselves a Happy One.
We'll be in and out during the holidays
so check in from time to time.
Thanks for hanging in there with us
A recent post in this space recounted a long-ago game night at the Peperium household. It involved one of those strategy-and-tactics affairs Avalon-Hill put out in the 70’s. Taking place years before the Internet, the game was played on a flat, board-like surface. There were also, I recall, plenty of unit counters and unit arrival schedules and odds tables—all the math required to resolve combat being done on scraps of paper. The subject of the game was even more dated than the manner of play: it re-created the Battle of Gettysburg.
Ok, so it’s not the kind of marital revelation that’s going to lead me to quit golf. But wait, there’s more. The “interesting” part of the post—the part that set the comment thread abuzz and had Crackie quietly rocking on his barstool at his club in barely suppressed mirth—was the revelation that I had “allowed” Mrs. P to be the Confederates. When it was added that Mrs. P won, well, I think Crackie fell off his stool. All our other regular readers (both of them) were probably suffering similarly. After all, they know I spend my precious leisure hours knee-deep in history, usually of a military nature. I mean, the irony of it all, right?
Of course, Mrs. P’s posts are
always thought-provoking (Hon, don’t you have somewhere to go?) This one
provoked me to reconstruct what exactly happened on that fatal evening. How, I
asked myself, could I have thrown away both my moral and intellectual
ascendancy over my new bride? Squandered my chance at having her look up to me
as a King among men—and thus any chance of talking her into doing creative
things with aerosol cheese? Oddly enough, it was an essay by James McPhearson
that provided the answer to those and other probing questions.
In American Victory, American Defeat, McPhearson addresses, among other things, the tendency of some schools of history to a rigid determinism. If the Union won the war, then that outcome must have been inevitable. McPhearson counters this with the notion of historical contingency: Americans won their independence from Great Britain against far more daunting odds than the Confederacy faced in 1861. 40 years before our Civil War the Greeks triumphed over the Turks. A little bit further back, the Greeks managed the same thing against the Persians. The whole thing can be summed up neatly in the reassuring words of the Honorable Gallahad Threepwood: “Chin up. I’ve seen stickier things than this come out alright.”
In our Civil War one of the stickiest of those things was the Battle of Gettysburg. And after reading McPhearson’s essay I started thinking about what I had done wrong in that game all those years ago. As Mrs. P said, I had done everything I should have done—I had followed the battle plan, right? Thinking about it in the light of McPhearson’s essay it suddenly occurred to me: No, I hadn’t. Not because I had failed to understand the plan, but because there was no plan to understand. In the best tradition of historical contingency Hancock, Howard, Meade and Co had reacted to a fluid situation as it unfolded from moment to moment and won a (limited) victory.
What I had done on the game board was simply seize the
famous “fish hook” line. On the first day of battle I hadn’t bothered trying to
forestall A. P. Hill’s Third Corps around the Lutheran Seminary or Ewell’s
Second north of town around the almshouse. More than that, on the second day I
hadn’t thrown Sickle’s Third Union Corps forward to the Peach Orchard to form
the infamous salient. I had just occupied the place history told me the battle
had been won on: the high ground between Culp’s Hill and the Roundtops.
What I had done on the game board was simply seize the famous “fish hook” line. On the first day of battle I hadn’t bothered trying to forestall A. P. Hill’s Third Corps around the Lutheran Seminary or Ewell’s Second north of town around the almshouse. More than that, on the second day I hadn’t thrown Sickle’s Third Union Corps forward to the Peach Orchard to form the infamous salient. I had just occupied the place history told me the battle had been won on: the high ground between Culp’s Hill and the Roundtops.
After all, didn’t history let me know beforehand that the fight on McPhearson’s Ridge against Hill was a losing proposition? And even more emphatically, didn’t history teach that Sickle’s salient among the tree-fresh produce was a near-disastrous mistake? When I marched everything I had onto Cemetery Ridge, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill and the Roundtops, I figured it was all over except the snide remarks.
But when the smoke had cleared the snide remarks, as anyone who reads this blog knows, came from an entirely different quarter.
Historical contingency, of course. In other words, it was
the “mistakes” as much as the “brilliant decisions” that won the fight for the
Union. Back when I worked on the Ford account (no, I’m not getting off topic) we
were charged with telling people about things called “crumple zones”. These
were areas built into Ford products specifically designed to progressively
collapse, absorbing the shock of a collision and diminishing it before it
reached the passengerss of the car. I began thinking of McPhearson’s Ridge on
the first day and Sickles salient on the second day—especially Sickle’s salient
on the second day—as the military equivalent of crumple zones: giving the
Confederate assaults something they had to wade through before they reached the
main Union position.
Historical contingency, of course. In other words, it was the “mistakes” as much as the “brilliant decisions” that won the fight for the Union. Back when I worked on the Ford account (no, I’m not getting off topic) we were charged with telling people about things called “crumple zones”. These were areas built into Ford products specifically designed to progressively collapse, absorbing the shock of a collision and diminishing it before it reached the passengerss of the car. I began thinking of McPhearson’s Ridge on the first day and Sickles salient on the second day—especially Sickle’s salient on the second day—as the military equivalent of crumple zones: giving the Confederate assaults something they had to wade through before they reached the main Union position.
Granted, in both cases that “main Union position” had not been established yet. Cemetery and Culp’s Hills had to be occupied in a hurry with fragments of commands left over from fighting north of town on the first day, and Meade and Hancock had to look pretty slippy on the second day too, shoving whoever he could find into the space where Third Corps should have been. But it’s just as true that the Confederate attacks that rolled over McPhearson’s Ridge and the Peach Orchard paid a stiff price in casualties and daylight. The shadows were getting long on July 1st when Ewell began contemplating an early evening assault on Cemetery and Culp’s Hills. Likewise, on July 2nd Law’s brigade approached Little Round Top and it’s fabled meeting with Vincent’s brigade with just a few daylight hours to spare. And while they arrived relatively fresh, the rest of their division—the men who could have provided decisive support—had spent themselves fighting their way through Sickle’s ill-conceived but stubborn (Bigelow’s Battery is just one example) salient.
In other words, with all the hubris of a grad student incautiously asked about his thesis or an actor who’s been given talking points from the latest conference of green scientists, I stood revealed as a historical determinist. Like, who knew?
One day my second grade teacher, Miss Jane Brodie, asked our class to draw what we wanted to be when we grew up. After thinking a bit, I drew myself wearing a long, sleeveless, pink gown with pearls, evening gloves, and matching pink shoes standing on a green lawn with a white house in the background. When all of the pictures were done, Miss Brodie called us one by one to stand up before the class and explain what we wanted to be. Soon it was my turn,
"First Lady of the United States."
The room broke up laughing. Miss Brodie told the class to be quiet. Then she turned on me.
"Ms. P, First Lady of the United States is not a job. The instruction was to draw a real profession. When the rest of the class goes to out to recess, you will stay inside and draw another picture."
The class left for recess and I, completely humiliated, remained at my desk drawing a new picture. When it was done, I presented it to Miss Brodie who had been sitting at her desk.
"What are you?"
"Is that what you really want to be when you grow up?"
"Very good. You may go join the class at recess."
Dear readers, you know how the rest of the story turned out. I did not grow up to be a dentist. To add insult to that long ago injury, last year America elected a Princeton and Harvard Law School educated First Lady, Michelle Obama, whose greatest personal achievement are her toned arms and her greatest professional achievement is the wearing of a sleeveless gown. Unless of course you are a Liberal and can only see things in black and white. Liberals believe Michelle Obama being the first African American First Lady of the United States is her greatest professional achievement as it doesn't matter to them if she is a good First Lady or bad one. All that matters that she is African American. Leaving aside it is incredibly racist of Liberals to judge any of Michelle's achievements, even one bought and paid for by the Unions, solely on the basis of her skin color, and incredible piggy of Michelle Obama to ride unearned Black privilege right into the White House, Liberals also think Michelle Obama has taste. And style. Sadly, Liberals only know reality when it coshes them at the ballot box. Even then, they refuse to understand it.
Happily for those of us who enjoy reality, we live in the era of Michelle's Mirror. Michelle's Mirror, or MOTUS as we fondly call her, not only does exactly what a mirror is supposed to do, she is performing the constitutional duty our independent press is supposed to do but has failed most horribly with this particular presidency : MOTUS allows us see the real First Lady, Spanx lines and all. This most rare and refreshingly honest view of the First Lady causes MOTUS's readership to let the cat fur fly in the comment section. Last week MOTUS took her readers' flying cat fur to the next level by introducing the weekly When Snark Attacks contest with a Golden FLOTUS is awarded at the end of each week. With a little help of my friends -ok, ok- a lot of help from my friends, I won with,
"The first ensemble must be First Lady's nod to solar panel heating."
My acceptance speech:
MOTUS, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on Michelle Obama's failed outfits of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new snark to the very real wardrobe challenges we face. Our time to offer a new standard of comedy for the country we love.
The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the rest of your readers. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best-dressed country on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to make fun of this First Lady so that Michelle's Mirror's comments section may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals. Thank you MOTUS, super secret committee and most all, thank you voters. Especially the dead in Cook County who hadn't turned out to vote since Jackie Kennedy's day. God bless you, and may God bless Michelle's Mirror.
Dear readers, it was only when I sat down to tell you about this win that I realized I had forgotten to thank some one else who was critical in making me the snarkster I grew up to be : I 'd like to thank my second grade teacher, Miss Jane Brodie.
And do visit Michelle's Mirror daily. It's too much fun not to.
This is the wreath FLG built*.
While we heretics can get a little out of control, incest ain't exactly on our typical Christmas agenda. Instead, we decorate Christmas trees. Stockings by the fireplace. Visit friends and family. We go to church. Rail against things like selling indulgences, simony, Mariology, saintly intercession, particular judgment. Which ones we are railing against at
the moment depends on how we're feeling and how much egg nog we've had. Just remember we're heretics, not theological ignoramuses.
This year FLG's in-laws will be in town and since his mother-in-law is a fish eater FLG will probably be attending...wait for it...a Catholic Mass. Perhaps even in Father M's parish. He'll be the one with an eye patch and a parrot on his shoulder.
If it looks like a duck...
Walks like a duck...
Quacks like a duck...
Then it probably is our First Lady.
Just ducky, isn't she?
I'm with you Marilyn...
... She's no Jackie Kennedy...
A big thanks to MOTUS for inspiration and pictures.
William Franklin Beedle, Jr., a.k. a Hollywood's Golden Boy William Holden, was born in 1918 to a wealthy family in O'Fallon Illinois. I've been told the Beedle family home is still standing and that it's right around the corner from our children's school. One of these days I must pop into the O'Fallon Historical Society and have them tell me where it is. William Holden was marvelous. This will sicken you but I love him as the dashing and (unfortunately) married war correspondent who falls for the widowed Eurasian doctor played by Jennifer Jones in Love Is A Many Splendored Thing. I absolutely hate it when Holden dies. But strangely, I hate it just as much when Holden dies in the swimming pool in Sunset Boulevard. Either Holden was a really good actor or I like really flawed men.
Holden was a really good actor. He was able to convince a girl that as Joe Gillis he didn't mind being bought and paid for. Remember how he accepted the Vicuna over the plain old camel hair? Also he didn't mind sleeping with a crazy old bat in a gilded rowboat of a bed. And then, there was bridge with the waxworks. Except Joe Gillis didn't play bridge. He sat (contentedly enough) clad in black tie at the elbow of the old bat as she played bridge with her Silent Screen friends. Gillis' reward? Besides emptying her ashtrays, she split her winnings with him. At the end of one evening he earned a whopping 72 cents. How could anyone forget this? I can't.
Especially tonight as I'm living bridge with the waxworks. Yes, dear readers this is true. I am. Mr. P and I are going out on the town with the black tie-clad Sir Basil and his Countess to meet some of their friends. Over at his place he's been regaling his readers - well not all of them are regaled- with accounts of Christmas parties past and present involving the men and women, his young loyals as they are known, that work for him. I am sad to say it's all too true. His young loyals behave like young royals so I've no interest in meeting them. But I have expressed a rather keen interest in meeting his other friends, the waxworks. So Sir B arranged for Mr. P and myself to be sent an invitation to some Christmas party at some club on the other side of The Mississippi. Tonight's the night.
When I tried tonight's outfit on for our 10 year old daughter she said, "That's very nice but it's not you."
"It's too young. And not modest enough."
(It starts at my neck, ends at my ankles and has long sleeves.)
"Would it make any difference if you knew I'm going to be the youngest woman in the room by about 20 years? I'm supposed to look young, well, younger. Not old."
"Well..." she paused to give me another once over. "Alright. It's ok for you to be dressed like a teenager since you'll be the teenager at the party."
"Thanks. Thanks a lot..."
"By the way, I won't be the only teenager. The Countess is coming too."
Motherhood is a most humbling vocation. It shows all your flaws.
When we purchased our previous home in Michigan 14 summers ago, we decided she should be called "The Marshalsea" because it took all of our available cash to procure her and even some of our investments. Then the government decided to penalize us heavily for having the audacity of using of our investments in such a grown up manner. The Marshalsea is a lovely English colonial of mature years. She was 70 years young and Mr. P and I came along in her point in life when she required a new kitchen, roof, driveway, windows, gutters, her original wooden 2 car garage lifted and rot replaced along the base plus a new garage door as well as front door and back door. Ah...what else? Oh yes, how could I forget? All new pipes and a furnace too plus a lot more. Mr. P. the wonderful homeowner he is, bought her the very best improvements he could afford. Had we sold The Marshalsea 2 1/2 years ago, we would have walked away with a six figure profit. But we didn't sell her 2 1/2 years ago. We sold her after both GM, Chrylser, and the housing market had gone belly up. Foreclosures and short sells had gone from the uncommon to more than common in our town. Happily, because of all the fine and gorgeous workmanship we had put into her, The Marshalsea sold only 3 hours after she was on the Market. Only the foreclosures on Lake Shore have sold that quickly - at auction too. We were on the open Market. Unhappily though, selling The Marshalsea took all of our available cash and then most of our investments -well what was left after the Stock Market Crash 10 months earlier. Then the government had even more audacity, given our circumstances, to penalize us heavily for using our investments to pay off our debt. As a result the Peperiums came closer than they ever had to residing in the real Marshalsea.
So it caused some amusement to learn that in our economically depressed era, The Peperiums are now living, to what those in the know would say, in the vernacular. And we're, as others would say, digging it. As you all know by now we live in a corn field. But you don't that we live in a very large farmhouse in a corn field. Mr. P and I are calling our home, "Big House on the Prairie". But the real name for our house is the I House. It's called the I House because it has been so popular in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa since the early 1800's. The I House is part of what is known as vernacular architecture -a form rising up from common materials to suit the local needs. What is even more amusing for us Peperiums is that the I House, as common as it was, was actually considered a symbol of economic prosperity. Indeed the farmers who resided in them were considered so prosperous they were biggest and softest targets of the traveling snake oil salesmen like the Rockefeller brothers. (I can say that because the Rockefellers and my family were neighbors before the Revolutionary War - I know exactly how those boys cough, cough, made their money) What I enjoy most about our I House is that it is gracious. Very gracious and well proportioned. Ours is longer, taller, the porch runs the entire length of it, the front door is framed with sidelights, and it is at least 100 years younger than the one depicted above but, it does have a similar Gothic-influenced gable - which I love. It adds that certain je ne sais crois. Gingerbread trim works beautifully on an I House. In fact a I House looks rather too American Gothic without it. The designer of our home modified it in a most delightful manner by placing windows of Georgian proportions on the ground floor which gives a very light and airy feel. After life in the Marshalsea, sunlight is a most pleasant improvement.
The proprietor of Le Simiane wished us a happy new year and hovered in the doorway as we stood in the narrow street, blinking into the sun.
"Not bad, eh?" he said, with a flourish of one velvet-clad arm which took in the village, the ruins of the Marquis de Sade's château perched above, the view across the mountains and the bright clean sky. It was a casually possessive gesture, as if he was showing us a corner of his personal estate. "One is fortunate to be in Provence."
Yes indeed, we thought, one certainly was. If this was winter we wouldn't be needing all the foul-weather paraphernalia- boots and coats and inch thick sweaters - that we brought over from England. We drove home, warm and well fed, making bets on how soon we could take the first swim of the year, and feeling a smug sympathy for those poor souls in harsher climates who had to suffer real winters.
Meanwhile, a thousand miles to the north, the wind that had started in Siberia was picking up speed for the part part of its journey. We had heard stories about the Mistral. It drove people, and animals mad. It was an extenuating circumstance in crimes of violence. It blew for fifteen days on end, uprooting trees, overturning cars, smashing windows, tossing old ladies into the gutter, splintering telegraph poles, moaning through houses like a cold and baleful ghost, causing la grippe, domestic squabbles, absenteeism from work, toothache, migraine -every problem in Provence that couldn't be blamed on Politicians was the fault of the sâcré vent which the Provencaux spoke about with a kind of masochistic pride.
Typical Gallic exaggeration, we thought. If they had to put up with the gales that came off the English Channel and bend the rain so that it hits you in the face almost horizontally, then they might know what real wind was like. We listened to their stories and, to humor the tellers, pretended to be impressed.
And so we were poorly prepared when the first Mistral of the year came howling down the Rhone valley, turned left, and smacked into the west side of the house with enough force to skim roof tiles into the swimming pool and rip a window that had been left open off its hinges. The temperature dropped twenty degrees in twenty four hours. It went to zero, then six below. Readings taken in Marseilles showed a wind speed of 180 kilometers an hour. My wife was cooking in an overcoat. I was trying to type in gloves. We stopped talking about our first swim and thought wistfully about central heating... - Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence
This morning I awoke early to the sounds of high winds blowing over the harvested cornfields. My thoughts immediately went to Peter Mayle and his year in Provence. He too had foolishly believed he had moved to a gentler climate. I imagined our winds over the corn fields were akin to the Mistral rolling over the lavender fields in Provence which caused me to pull the covers up higher and snuggle closer to Mr. P. In my most charming morning voice I pleaded, "Don't make me go out there, please." Mr. P held me tightly and we laid there listening to the alternating sounds of the pit bull snoring in her bed at the foot of ours and the winds battering the side of the house. It caused me to feel colder and colder and which caused me to hold tighter and tighter onto Mr. P. When RKFDIL came in to greet us, we asked her to look out the window to see if there was snow or rain. There was neither. School was definitely open and the trains were no doubt running on time. Mr. P and I had to get out of bed.
As I drove out of the neighborhood en route to school I had to keep swerving to miss the tumbleweeds of Christmas wreaths and cedar roping blowing across the streets. All the holiday inflatables that had taken to littering the nicely manicured yards in recent days were long gone. They were probably real litter by now, only to be discovered after the Spring thaw by a farmer in his roadside ditch. The most offensive one, Santa on a Harley, had received its deserved fate. The winds had wrapped it tightly around two Holly bushes. The spiky leaves of the Holly ensuring it would never rise again proving to those who still require proof -there is a God. I had to keep two hands on the wheel as I drove through the razed cornfields to get to school. The radio said the winds were clocking in a 50 miles. They felt much stronger. As the children jumped out of the car in the school parking lot, I told them to keep their hats on during recess or it's ear infections for them. They promised they would and ran inside. I drove home thinking about dinner. What would fit the bill when the chill was one that cut right through to the bones?
If I were the wife of ad writer Peter Mayle and we were living in Provence having our pet donkey's ears blown off by the Mistral winds, I would make Peter a garlic and red wine Provencal Beef Daube for him to enjoy as he surveyed the emergency vet bill for reconstructive surgery on his ass. The ass he only had because of his wife's peculiar fancy for it. But I'm not married to the ad writer Peter Mayle and residing in Provence. I'm married to the ad writer Mr. P and we're being tossed about in a corn field in Southern Illinois. Perhaps it's because Mr. P and I have consumed a Balthazar of wine to adjust to living in a corn field that makes me think Beef Daube is not the right dish for tonight. Comfy old clothes feels more like it. I'm preparing Mr. P a pot of old clothes to savor as he surveys the emergency vet bill for reconstructive surgery on his pit bull's ears as they are sure to be blown off during our walk. The pit bull he only has because of his wife's peculiar fancy for it.
or Cuban Ropa Vieja.
Salt and pepper the meet. In a large pan, brown the meat in a little bit of oil on both sides. Add about 1 cup of water and simmer, covered, until done, about 2 hours. Turn off heat, and allow to cool down, covered, in the pan.
Shred the meat. Add the broth from the pan. In a clean pan, heat some oil. Brown onions and garlic. Add green pepper and cook for a few minutes. Add meat, broth, tomato sauce, wine, bay leaves and salt to taste. Cook for about 1/2 hour. Serve with rice, crusty bread or tortillas.
In the silence of a deserted avenue, wagons stuffed with produce made their way to Belleville, their thudding wheels rhythmically echoing off the sleeping German houses behind the rows of elm trees meandering on either side of the road. At the Square a cart full of watermelon, another full of green apple met up with eight carts of caramel corn and very cherry coming in from Shiloh. The horses, their heads bent down, led themselves up with their lazy, steady pace, a bit slowed by the uphill climb. Up on the carts, lying on their stomachs in the beans, wrapped in their black-and-gray striped wool coats, the drivers slept with the reins in their fists, Occasionally the light from a gas lamp would grope its way through the shadows and brighten the hobnail of a boot, the blue sleeve of a blouse or the tip of a hat poking up from the bright bloom of legumes - red bouquets of sizzling cinnamon, off white bouquets of toasted marshmallow. Or the bursting greenery of lemon lime, juicy pear and margarita...
In 1869, two German brothers, Albert and Gustave Goelitz opened A.G Confections at 121 East Main Street in Belleville, Illinois. They made what were considered back then gourmet candies. Gustave ran the storefront, employing sweet young German girls to package up the confections. Albert ran the horse and buggy, selling their candies to all the neighboring towns, villages and enormous farms. Though sadly no longer headquartered in Belleville, A.G. Confections is still around today selling its gourmet sweets. A.G. confections is the popular Jelly Belly Candy Company.
I'm currently on a kick to learn the history of the area we now reside in. A.G. Confections is my most recent discovery (I have loads more to share). When I told Mr. P about A.G Confections he said, "Jelly Belly? Those were Ronald Reagan's favorite. That makes sense. He was an Illinois boy." Indeed Mr. P was right as anyone over 35 years of age can easily recall. Reagan was from Illinois and Jelly Bellys were his favorite treat. So much so that a Waterford jar full of them sat on his desk in the Oval Office all through his 8 years in residence. Today, this delightful Jelly Belly mosaic (over 10,000 were employed - job creation being a hallmark of Reagan's economic policies) of hangs in the Reagan Library.
Well, I'm off to Mass at the Cathedral. Why the Cathedral? Well today is a Holy Day of Obligation and the Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Belleville who might even be an Archbishop. I can't recall. What everyone around here does recall though is the big dust up over him coming to town. Yikes. Dust-ups like this are not supposed to happen in the Catholic Church. He's the Bish. Don't like it - deal with it or become an Episcopalian. Well dealing with things is not a strong suit in this area probably because the Dems and the Unions have run the town (into the ground) for the last 80 years so. The Dems and the Unions are not big on letting their constituencies develop coping skills as all their great cradle-to-grave policies so perfectly illustrate. I'm just a non- Union, non-Democrat Catholic mother trying to make sense of the mess I've moved into. Figuring out who the Commies, the Useful Idiots, the Heretics and Your Basic Insane are in our new Diocese thereby avoiding them will help me in making sense. So I'm off to introduce myself to the Bishop or Archbish (if he isn't one then he is slated to become one), hence Noon Mass at the Cathedral.
I should bring him a bag of Jelly Bellys as a gift. No, not Tutti- Fruittis as that doesn't appear to be involved in the dust-up which comes as great relief to this former Episcopalian. I better find out what rank the Bishop is and address him properly or face the music. And it won't be Christmas Carols I've been told. Ah, there's nothing like life on the Catholic edge deep in the Belly of Jelly.
*The well read Francophiles amongst you will have picked up by now that the opening paragraph as well as the title were more than heavily borrowed from Emile Zola's, The Belly of Paris.
Back the early days of our marriage, I disappointed Mr. P greatly by not possessing half the zeal he has for the reading of military history. Or even an eighth. He had entered the marriage as a most enthusiastic groom, bent on making his bride give in completely to his tastes. Understanding he had married an avid reader, (By our wedding day, I had read Jane Austen's six novels 4,598,320 times) Mr. P was confident he could commandeer me into reading what he wanted me to read. Being an enthusiastic bride, at the bookstore I let Mr. P place his iron grip on my shoulder, steer me to the bookshelf he wanted to visit and let him buy me the books he wanted to buy. Then I began reading them. Mr. P was delighted. He had mastered his wife.
But, it wasn't long before Mr. P found himself in the same posish the Army Corps of Engineers did with The Mississippi. The ACE rerouted The Mississippi to make her a much more intelligent river, according to their ideas. For a while she did play ball and the ACE was delighted. But then The Mississippi must have decided her way was the better way for her. Most naturally, she began retrieving her old route by flooding thousands of people out of their homes. Reading military history wasn't really natural to me so I stopped reading Mr. P's books and, naturally assumed my old reading habits by rereading Jane Austen for the 4,598,321st time. Thankfully, Mr. P is not feminized so there were no floods of tears.
But I would be fibbing if I said he was not a wounded man. He was. Then one Sunday afternoon I rubbed salt into his wound. He suggested we play a military strategy board game called Gettysburg. I agreed. While pouring the adult beverages that Mr. P said would stimulate our minds for optimum strategizing he suggested, "Why don't you be The South?"
Mr. P, absolutely tickled pink I had consented to be rolled over by him -Mr. North, contentedly sat down to play the game. The first few turns were mine, as if you recall, historically speaking, it took time for The North to arrive on the scene. Imagine his very real dismay when he and his troops finally showed up, I drove him and his entire army into the ground. And it didn't even take 3 days. It only took a little more than 1 1/2.
"How did you do that?" he almost cried.
"It was simple."
"No it wasn't. How did you know which positions to assume?"
"Oh that was the easiest part."
"You don't read military history. How did you know this?"
"So, you're admitting that when you suggested I be The South, you intended to beat me?"
"That's not nice."
"Yes it is. How did you do it? This was not beginner's luck."
"You're right. I suspected you wanted to beat me. And thought, I could let you beat me but..."
"There is no but. You were supposed to let me beat you. Soundly I might add."
"You've already added that. But if I let you beat me then you wouldn't know how much I do pay attention to you, my dear sweet husband."
"I know how I've disappointed you by not reading military history..."
"Well, just because I don't read military history doesn't mean I don't listen to you when you read it aloud to me. You've read to me how the South fought the battle. And you've read how they should have fought the battle. I simply used the should have battle plan you read to me. With all your reading about how important it is to change the battle plans according to realities on the ground, I'm surprised you didn't see what I was up to and change your battle plan. You just kept on using The North's original one."
I would be fibbing if I said Mr. P had nothing to say to that. I would be fibbing even more if I said Mr. P never ever again expressed his dismay at me beating him, soundly. So imagine my very real surprise when a few months later he suggested we play Gettysburg again.
"Why don't you be The South again?"
To cut a very long and very boring story short, Mr. P beat me. Soundly I have to add. In the time since we had last played, Mr. P had devised a battle plan for the North to beat the battle plan the South should have fought. Or he looked it up in a book, I still do not know because he refuses to tell. He knew me well enough to know I would just once again use the South's should have fought plan expecting victory. I did. By the time I caught on that Mr. P had adjusted his plan to the new realities on the battlefield, I was dead. And so was my entire Army. Well that's not true. A few units survived to fight another day with Mr. P but they never did. I've not consented to play Gettysburg again because I don't read military history therefore lack the brains to devise a new battle plan.
It wasn't long after that Mr. P did discover a history I was willing to read about, food history. And being Mr. P, he bought me books related to the history he was interested in. It wasn't long before I was making him a few of the dishes he had long read about and longed to try. To say he loved this is an understatement. He, always the sharpest knife in the drawer, understood he had mastered his wife, just not in the way he originally thought he would. And in a way that allowed her to be a happily-mastered wife. Which made him a even more happy Master and Commander of the ship of his affairs.
People often forget that when one reads, even if it is military history, they are taking in more than just things military. Armies and officers do have to eat. Surprisingly too, they not only ate, they dined very well when circumstances allowed. This fact is recounted in military history books as well as historical novels of military men, like the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. I've never read any of the 19 or so O'Brian books but I have seen the movie. Isn't that a perfectly dreadful admission? Naturally I fell head over heels in love with Jack Aubrey and even more head over heels in love with Steven Maturin. I say naturally because I had been primed to fall for them because of my ongoing 28 year love affair with Captain Frederick Wentworth. Captain Frederick Wentworth is the hero, both Naval and Ashore of Jane Austen's Persuasion. One of Jane's brothers was a Naval officer who was at Trafalgar so she knew of what she wrote. She wrote about what women were, and still are, interested in when it comes to Naval officers. She also touched lightly on life aboard for the wife who accompanied her Naval officer husband. It sounds as if it was an elegant and delightful life. Through Persuasion, Jane managed to persuade me that if I were ever to read military history, it would have to be about the Royal Navy. Hearts of Oak and all that whatnot.
But happily, I do not have to read Royal Navy military history because I was recently gifted with Lobscouse & Spotted Dog. L & S is the cookbook to accompany the Aubrey-Maturin series. Indeed the commanding Forward - mentioning of all seaports, Boston- was penned by the Master himself, Patrick O'Brian. I have not had time to really delve into the book but just from glances, it is an excellent book. The recipes will at first seem more than odd, unless you've experience with historical cooking, but they really aren't odd. They are incredibly well-researched and amusing. In fact, many of the dishes are still around to this day, just updated in terms of ingredients. Even Boiled Baby if you can believe that one. If you enjoy enjoy the Aubrey-Maturin series, the Royal Navy, or historical cooking, I highly recommend this book.
Yes, dear readers, it's that time of year again. When I and the little Peperatzzi climb in the ancestral Jeep and head off to the nearest high-end mall to collect the rich gifts that will be flung at the feet of Mrs. P. For once again it is her birthday.
This year's program was somewhat complicated by the fact that, being new to the area, we had no idea where such gifts were to be collected. Never fear. Sir Basil's good Countess steered us in the right direction and, despite a closed highway or three, we won through to an emporium so small and so select that it actually made me pine for those extravagant, three-tiered affairs with acres of parking and seven food courts which are now all in the process of doing the brother-can-you-spare-a-dime routine back up north.
But, of course, this is all a side issue Yes, presents were opened this morning by the fireside, but the real business starts tonight. RKFDIL and Little Bertie will help me whip up the gooiest, chunkiest brownie mix Betty or Duncan can provide (the "from scratch" posts, you'll notice, are all penned by Mrs. P). Once sufficiently cooled--I say sufficiently, because they still need to be warm for the next step in the process to work--we top each slab of brownie with a generous scoop of peppermint stick ice cream that will proceed to melt ever-so-slightly, mingling with the gooey crumbs along the edges of our plates. Then we all do our level best to hide this august assemblage under a top coating a chocolate sauce. This being the sort of thing I used to do for Mrs. P in our old pre-kids/renting-town-house-days, I thought it was a good time to revive the old tradition. Thanks to the recent unpleasantness of Wall Street we have even less money now than we did back then and once again we find ourselves renting. Also, the little Peperatzzi will get a kick out of making the brownies.
You've probably figured out by now that the illustration up top has nothing to do with the subject of this post beyond the happy co-incidence of a word. Well, if you've hung out here long enough you should know that we love indirection. While searching for an image of a sundae that bore some sort of resemblance to what we are planning on tonight, all I could find were nouvelle cuisine monstrosities by Rachel Ray and Paula Dean, all looking more like modern public sculptures than anything you could square your elbows at. So typing plain old "brownie" into the search field, this is what I got.
Beyond the fact that after our sundaes we're all going to strongly resemble this little chap, the picture works somehow. It works in the same oddball, off-beat, conservative-yet-Bohemian way that Mrs. P and I work together. This year has been, as Mark Twain might put it, one damn thing after another, Bun. And the wildest thing is, just like the aftermath of every other hair-bleaching crisis we've been through together, we've ended up in a better place. I'm not saying that at times in the last eight months I haven't thought of toddling off and ending it all in the village pond. But two things always sustained me. First, our village didn't have a pond. And second of all, I knew I'd miss you too much. Happy birthday, Love.
Putting lipstick into lesbian.
Back in my Boston ad days, I worked with a giant of the old school bad boys. He was marvelous. His first name was one most people had for a last name as were both his middle and last names. (For the purposes of this story the bad boy shall be known as Psmith.) Psmith earned his statue in the Ad Rogues Hall of Fame in the New York office of JWT. It was when JWT had just given Psmith enough power to do good by kicking him up into lower management in the creative department. Psmith's response was to throw a legendary party with the wife he had at the time and then when the hangover wore off, do bad. Psmith hired a brilliant new copywriter. He went about the offices, conference rooms and the grill rooms of the School Clubs talking about what a brilliant addition this lad would be to the creative department of JWT. He filled whoever would listen with predictions of the new accounts that this new recruit would land and then filled out all the necessary paperwork for Human Resources. Human Resources, pleased as punch that all the i's were dotted and t's were crossed with this most promising of hires, they not only handed over the top salary Psmith requested, they handed over a window office too. It took about 2 weeks after the copywriter started, for Human Resources to get the idea this copywriter was unlike any other copywriter JWT had ever employed. Oh, his work was stellar and done on time. His bosses were absolutely delighted with him as was the creative group he was a member of. It's just no one, outside of his own creative group that is, could recall ever meeting the guy, much less seeing him. He never attended a meeting nor was he in his office. Sure they saw his briefcase next to his desk, the Chesterfield slung absentmindedly over the hook or just strewn across an arm chair and his ashtray was always in constant mid-use. Sometimes there was even a lit cigarette resting on the holder awaiting, no doubt, his quick return. Human Resources was at a loss to understand how this could be. After 2 months, they started an inner office investigation that only ended up making them more confused. They quietly checked with Accounting only to discover his paychecks were being cashed - in a most timely fashion- but still no one had ever seen the guy. Much less been around when he picked up his paycheck as this was long before the days of direct deposit.
The explanation was simple. The copywriter never existed. He was literally a piece of paper. Oh, Psmith had used the best quality resume paper creating this copywriter out of thin air. And to that expensive resume paper, he had attached the best of the best private schools and university educations, complete with all the honor degrees he could think of as well as All- Ivy sports achievements, interests, and references too. Human Resources as well as Upper Management had fallen hook, line, and sinker for the joke. After absorbing it, found it so clever, Psmith was soon on the receiving end of an even bigger promotion. When Psmith decided, after a couple of decades, it was time for him to go out to pasture at a small Boston firm, JWT gifted him with a gilt framed painting of the Commodore.
J. Walter Thompson, a.k.a. The Commodore
The first time I had coffee with Psmith in his office, I sat under the painting of the Commodore, which was soon after my own arrival to the Boston ad firm. Psmith's office was on what was quaintly called Executive Row. I had seen the painting of the Commodore hanging in there and knew it indicated the occupant of the office was the real thing in the biz. I wanted to get to know him. Psmith by this point was living on the Cape with, interestingly, the same wife- his original one, he had thrown his promotion party in NYC years earlier. By this point, Psmith only came to work when he felt like it or when he had to. So, naturally the first time I saw him behind his desk, I descended upon him. He didn't mind. We became buddies and he filled me with all sorts of great stories of how advertising used to be before people got so serious and sensitive. Plus he was always my dance partner at the company functions. Boy could he ever twirl a girl but I digress.
The woman who resided in the office next to Psmith was my Lipstick 101 classmate. Every Monday morning found her in my office or me in hers where we went over, in minute details, all the activities of the weekend. This woman was 20 years my senior and brilliantly married, dressed as well as bejeweled. She hooked me up with her dress shops on Newbury Street and in return I told her of all the goings-on of the Bright Young (Revolting) Things. One Monday morning as we were wrapping up class, Psmith walked in and tossed a catalogue on her desk
"For you two." he said as he turned and walked out the door.
My Lipstick 101 classmate looked at the catalogue and started giggling. She showed it to me and I began giggling. "Psmith, the mailroom really got that one wrong, didn't it?" she asked still in full giggle.
Psmith was in the doorway. Without turning around to look at us, he said "Read the mailing label." and was gone. My friend, being slightly myopic, held the catalogue close to her face and read it. When she had finished reading it, her face wore an astonished expression. My curiousity was peaked. She slowly handed the catalogue to me. The standard issued computer-generated mailing label read,
To The Women Friends of Psmith at ACME Advertising
The catalogue was for very expensive French silk stockings. My friend and I broke into gales of laughter. Psmith instantly moved up from legendary to Homeric.
I thought of darling old Psmith over the weekend as I happened to see a Cover Girl commercial for the first time in about a dozen years. We Peperiums have been on a cable hiatus of for 8 years but unfortunately, the hiatus ended in September. After seeing the Cover Girl commercial, we're thinking of going back on hiatus. Why? Because the commercial was false advertising of a most criminal nature. It featured Hollywood's leading lesbian, Ellen DeGeneres as the Cover Girl of "age defying" makeup. "Looks defying" makeup would be more truthful. Did Cover Girl forget the 50 year-old Ellen (translation - post menopausal) is the "boy" in her marriage? Someone, somewhere, high up had to.
So, Cover Girl's message to us old bags is our makeup is so age defying we can make you look as good as a butch lesbian.
If Cover Girl had to use Ellen Degeneres as a spokesman then they should've had Ellen do the most traditional form advertising; the testimonial. Ellen could've just said, "Cover Girl is the preferred make up brand of my women friends." The truth is all we have to do is take one look at Ellen's wife to understand, like dear old Psmith, she too likes the pretty, put-together, younger prune...