Me, Dad, and Cheesecake for Breakfast.

posted in: Family, Food, Word Nerd 10
Wayne Thiebaud. Pies, Pies, Pies. 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in.
Wayne Thiebaud. Pies, Pies, Pies. 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in. Incidentally, this piece lives in Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum and I saw it with my own two eyes, which, incidentally, are usually bigger than my stomach but never as large as my mouth.

My trip to California over the weekend wasn’t for business. I went and spent time with Leesa, my favorite aunt. She was my favorite aunt before the weekend; now I feel like we should fill out some kind of embossed certificate to announce it. Thanks, auntie.

It had been a number years since Leesa and I had spent time together. The last time I saw her was when her father died in 2009. That was a sub-optimal visit, as you can imagine. Everyone was sad about grandpa being dead and busy with funeral and burial stuff. “Sad and busy” is a dreadful state, and it inevitably comes upon you when someone you love dies. Me and my aunt wanted to reconnect without trying to work around a wedding or a funeral, so I flew out to California to see her, her adorable dog, Otto Lieberman, and the beautiful rosemary bushes that line the patio of her well-appointed California home.

We talked a lot. We drank a lot of coffee. We went to the Crocker Museum to have lunch and see art. We attended a black-tie dinner party. We talked more. We made another pot of coffee. It rained all weekend, so the main component of the visit was conversation. Lucky for me and my aunt, we’re good at conversation and share many (all?) of the same values and interests. And since 75% of my family members are also her family members, there was plenty to discuss in that area. The Fons side of the family was broken up into chunks early on in my life and it’s been a Humpty Dumpty ride ever since. This is true for me; I suspect it feels the same for other Fonses I know aside from my aunt, but I won’t speak for them.

Over the course of our visit, I got some information about my father. I haven’t seen him since Grandpa’s funeral either, but Leesa (his youngest sister) stays in contact. I am wary when I’m about to get information about him and hardly eager to ask for it; the presence of my father in any sort of reportage rarely bodes well. His issues are many. Despite my numerous attempts to make even a surfacey relationship work over the years, we have long been estranged.

I looked up “estranged” in the dictionary. I thought it meant “not in contact.” It’s a bit sadder than that:

estranged |iˈstrānjd|
adjective
(of a person) no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated: John felt more estranged from his daughter than ever | her estranged father.

My aunt told me something by accident that made me at once very sad and very happy, which is an emotional combination more common than being sad and busy, but not any more comfortable. We were talking about pies, Leesa and I, our favorites and methods for making them. We were at the kitchen table.

“You know, we Fonses have a real sweet tooth,” she said, coffee mug in hand. It rained so hard that day, leaves and mud fell out of the gutters onto the sidewalks.

“Really? Like, all of us?” I asked, instantly brightening.

My love of sugar causes me much anxiety. I’m usually worried I eat way, way too much of it, but when I try to eliminate it from my diet (or even cut down on it) I see no point in being alive. That I was somehow not responsible for it, that my sweet tooth was a genetic sentence, that my love of pecan pie and pistachio ice cream actually served to count me among my tribe, well, this made me feel fantastic and warm inside. I instantly thought about eating another one of Leesa’s gourmet marshmallows from the pantry.

“We’re definitely sweets people,” Leesa said. “Your dad, he’ll eat dessert for breakfast. Always would, always loved to. Pie, cheesecake. That’s not for me, but that’s what he would eat for breakfast every day if he had the option. Isn’t that funny?”

I swallowed too much hot coffee. It burned the back of my throat but couldn’t melt the insty-lump that had formed there when Leesa said the words, “Your dad” and “dessert for breakfast.”

I love eating dessert for breakfast. It’s my favorite thing in the world. If there’s cheesecake in the house, I will eat a slice for breakfast and genuinely take no interest in it the rest of the day. In my world, apple pie and coffee are perfect 7:00am foods. Just today, a hazelnut Ritter Sport chocolate bar and a pot of Earl Grey tea constituted my breakfast and you betcher bippy I was at my olympic best all day.

I didn’t know I shared this trait with my father. I didn’t pick up my love for coconut creme pie with my morning coffee by seeing him eat coconut creme pie with his morning coffee. I couldn’t have; I’ve been seated at a breakfast table with the man no more than a handful of times since the divorce. To be thirty-something and discover things about your father, (e.g., he likes cheesecake for breakfast just like you) this information would be bittersweet if he were dead. But as my father is alive, these sorts of discoveries are bittersweet as well as bizarre. We could technically have cheesecake for breakfast together in the near future, my dad and I.

Technically, we could. But emotionally, we can’t. Philosophically, we can’t. Historically, we simply can’t.

I made a pie tonight for Yuri. Buttermilk-brown sugar. Seeing as how it’s delicious and wrapped in foil on the little table where we eat, breakfast is served.

 

The Most Beautiful Thing I Have Ever Seen.

posted in: Art 2
Man, Mirror.
Man, Mirror.

A few months ago (in Las Vegas of all places) I saw the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

Now, I’ve received a lover’s gaze, I’ve seen a child take his first, wobbly steps toward mom, and I’ve seen a miniature Golden Doodle puppy run across a lawn. Today, I’m speaking of the art visual, observation as opposed to interaction. And I can say that on its face, the most beautiful thing I have seen ever in my life was the Michael Jackson hologram in the Cirque du Soleil show, “One.”

I beg you: allow me to attempt, however feebly, to describe it.

I had never seen a Cirque du Soleil show before and I did not feel sad about this. I knew the performers were talented and I had respect for the whole operation, but trapezes aren’t a selling point for me, especially if part of the spectacle involves a small man in a lizard leotard climbing over me and sticking a forked tongue in my face. Wasn’t that Cirque du Soleil’s whole schtick?

I was in Vegas on business. Cirque’s Michael Jackson show was in previews. I had a last-minute opportunity to go, and I jumped at it. I bailed on Penn & Teller ticket I had purchased already and ate the cost, even. I wouldn’t miss Michael for anything. I had no idea how smart my decision was when I took my seat.

From the time the lights went down, I was transfixed. I sat straight up in my chair like I was an 8-year-old at, you know, the circus. The dancers were astonishing. They have rubber bodies! And if a dancer has a rubber body and can bounce off a damned wall and do a spin in mid-air, you can bet your sparkly glove they can moonwalk, breakdance, and destroy any hip hop move you can throw at them. Man, were they good. I was chair-dancing, boogie-ing as much as possible without actually standing up because there wasn’t room to do so. Michael Jackson’s music is just so good, you guys. It’s made for joy and dancing, for fun and for life. I love his music, always have.

And it’s painful, because we killed him. We did. The star-maker machine, the press. Pop life, the cult of celebrity; it was a homicide. I believe with grave sincerity we all have Michael Jackson’s blood on our hands. You can exempt yourself if you like — it’s not polite of me to say so, having never met most of you — but that man was a fragile person with a one-in-a-billion gift and as a culture, we crushed it into bone powder, slopped it with a mop, and smeared the slurry till it squished under our feet. And Michael still made great music, still kept living when he was deadened by the crush of the crowd on the streets, in the news, and in his head.

So there I am, I’m grinning from ear to ear while watching the show and in the back of my mind I’m deeply sad, too, thinking about Michael and how this genius in our time died so painfully. It was bitter and it was sweet, the worst kind of bitter, the best kind of sweet.

And then it happened.

The theater goes totally dark. Then: stars. Twinkling stars wink, wink, winking across us, all the way from the back of the house to high up in the grid. Woosh… Woosh… Golden stars twinkling, spinning, starting to pick up speed as they collect and move, impossibly, as a group, like a school of fish! Everyone is craning their heads around, a full theater of adults like children, looking here and there and back again at this crazy cloud of stars and the strains of music begin. One couldn’t tell exactly what it was, though it sounded familiar…

The stars floated to the stage. The stars whirled around each other like glowing hummingbirds, faster and around and then, just as it hit you that the music was “Man In the Mirror,” there he was: Michael Jackson. The stars made Michael Jackson. They made a hologram of him. I gasped. Everyone did. This was alchemy.

As I live and breathe, the man appeared as real and as vital as any flesh and blood person there that night. The effect was incomprehensibly executed, an optical illusion without parallel. Michael Jackson was onstage. Humans haven’t evolved to understand this kind of thing. He is dead, but he was there, he was there, young and talented and he was singing, dancing to “Man In the Mirror,” a song I have long believed must’ve been among his favorites because it simply won’t end. There’s an extended coda to MITM that would be uncomfortable if the song wasn’t so freaking great. After his first “shah-mo” at the final third of the song, you really think it’s going to wrap up but it just keeps going. One gets the feeling Michael wanted that song to go on a long time, maybe forever.

If it would have been appropriate, we all would’ve been clapping, but no one spoke or whooped or did anything. We were all just either crying or holding our breath. The dancers danced with him. They moved as an ensemble with him and it was beautiful. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen because it was human ingenuity that brought it into existence. The work that it must’ve taken to build that effect, the science that went into it, the tweaking, the bug fixes, the failures on the way to the end result. I cried the whole time, from the star cloud to the ending strains when the stars whooshed away into nothingness, partly for Thomas Edison for heaven’s sake: we have him to thank for this, too.

It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen because glowing stars are pretty. And it was the most beautiful because a brilliant entertainer who cared about the world way, way too much to be in his line of work, lived again. And he was doing what he loved the most in a place where he was totally safe and sound: onstage. I don’t believe in ghosts and I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t have to. We have holograms and Thomas Edison, Michael Jackson and airplanes to take us to Las Vegas (and back, thank goodness.)

If you can see that show, you should. Let me know if you do.