an eascape for your birthday
Friday, January 19 2018
Today was Gretchen's 47th birthday, and she'd arranged beforehand for me to make pancakes for her. Amusingly, I'd never actually made pancakes before. I'm not especially interested in pancakes, so they're not the sort of thing I would ever make for myself. And nobody had ever asked me to make them until today. So after I got cats and dogs fed, a fire roaring in the woodstove, and those prepared birthday audio files (mentioned yesterday) emailed to Gretchen, I got two skillets going on the stovetop and started mixing dry ingredients. Gretchen had given me the brief on mixing the dry ingredients thoroughly while doing as little stirring as possible when mixing the wet ingredients into the dry so as not to "develop" the gluten (which would result in rubbery pancakes). Tje pancake batter seemed a little thick as I poured it into the frying pan; only then did I realize I'd forgotten to add the maple syrup. Part of the problem was my brain isn't used to the multitasking that seems to happen in a kitchen. But there was also the problem of working under a mild hangover, a frequent consequence of Thursday night video happy hour.
The pancakes proved inedible, not just to us, but to the dogs as well. The main problem was that I'd used baking soda instead of baking powder. For some reason Gretchen had a baking soda can in the spice cabinet that had the cyllindrical shape I'd always associated with baking power, and when I'd seen the word "Baking" in swirly black writing on a silver background, I hadn't bothered to read further beyond the horizon of the edge of the can.
A second attempt produced reasonably-good pancakes. I ate the ones that were most burnt, since that's not a problem for me. Unfortunately, Gretchen had had me add chocolate chips, and that wasn't really the flavor I wanted to have in my mouth. But it was a big improvement over those failed baking soda pancakes, which filled the kitchen with put a repulsive baking soda smell (yes, there is such a thing) that I had to dump the compost into the snow out in the garden.
Later in the day, there was a bit of a recapitulation of my pancake making setup, this time with Gretchen heating up two skillets and making dozens of crepes to layer between some sort of frosting to make a many-layer ("mille feuille crepe") birthday cake. It's perhaps not ideal to be making one's own birthday cake, but Gretchen was pretty sure she wasn't friendly enough with anyone skillful enough to realize her birthday cake vision. As with me this morning, Gretchen even contemplated throwing out her first batch of batter (for too much lemon, not baking soda), though she later realized that, diluted as a few layers in a tall stack of crepes, a few extra-lemony ones wouldn't be a problem.
A little after 6:00pm, I'd fed the dogs, given Neville his medication, and managed to get him to piss (but nothing more) out in the snow. The plan was to have dinner with friends at the Garden Café in Woodstock, leaving the dogs at the house unsupervised (for the first time since Jewish Christmas) with the hope that improvements to the recuperation fort would prove sufficient to contain Neville. We decided to leave Ramona outside the fort and to give both dogs peanut-butter bones (old hollow bones filled with peanut butter) to keep them occupied as we went out to the car and drove off.
We arrived early at the Garden and were met there by Chris & Kirsti, who'd just been in London (where Chris had played a role in getting the Tesco supermarket chain to stock a large number of ready-to-eat vegan meals). There's only so much conversation about such subject matter that I can take, and I kept looking at my phone to check in with my workplace, where work was still happening. Having actually worked for the same organization, later Chris and I could talk some about office politics in a way that I can't with anyone outside a videochat.
Eventually all the others showed up, I had a "corn chowder" soup, a panini, and perhaps three glasses of red wine. Nancy kept getting interrupted as she told me the story of some cold caller claiming to be Apple Support that kept calling her to work some sort of scam from a noisy Indian call center. On the subject of Gretchen's birthday, when someone asked how old Gretchen now was, I said that she was 24, "but just looked like hell." That apparently hit a comic sweet spot by being deeply shocking without actually offending Gretchen at all, so after a beat people felt comfortable laughing at it. Meanwhile Carrie (of Michæl & Carrie) is about to take a test in hopes of rising up a rank in the therapy field. I told her she should become an analyst who is also a therapist. Gretchen had asked everyone not to give her presents but to instead make contributions to my employer instead. (By then she'd raised over $1600.) But Nancy and Sarah the Vegan had gotten her a present anyway, including a small white pillow decorated with a stylized uterus-cum-fallopian-tubes-and-ovaries.
The meal went on a while and lingered over decaf and that crepe cake (and also pink cupcakes made by Sarah) well past when the other customers had left. I started being more and more anxious about the unsupervised dogs back at the house. But it wasn't my birthday party, so I just bottled it up and tried to think of funny things to say while not really listening to anybody.
When we walked in the door back home, I heard a "woof!" from upstairs that I immediately recognized as Neville's. The little fucker had broken out of his damn recuperation fort! Somehow he'd scaled the wall at whatever its lowest point is, probably near the west side of the woodstove, and then gone and done who-knows-what, perhaps running like a crazed piglet through the snowy forest with his big sister Ramona. I went upstairs and found Neville on a bean bag. When I got him to his feet, he didn't seem to like standing on his back legs, suggesting he'd damaged his knee surgeries. I carried him downstairs and put him in the recuperation fort and Gretchen and I sat around in silence, feeling like fools for what we'd done. Why hadn't we brought Neville? Why hadn't I just stayed home? "Hindsight is 20-20!" Gretchen sighed. She says that expression so often that it's a little like a verbal tic. Had our neglect done lasting damage to Neville's knees? I hoped for the best while fearing the worst. Finally we'd gotten the memo: Neville must not be left unattended for any amount of time for the rest of his recuperation. This means that, if one of us has to go into town while another of us is away, Neville will ride along in the car. If I'm in Los Angeles and Gretchen is working at the bookstore, Neville will be working there too. Ramona picked up on our sadness and tried to comfort us, but it was hard to accept comforting from a dog who had probably instigated Neville's escape, probably barking into the darkness and riling him up enough for him to leap over a makeshift wall on his half-healed titanium implants.
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