Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You Can Never Have too Much Lobster

My chemistry teacher from sophomore year of high school used to always say, “Too much of anything will kill you.”

We scoffed and challenged the way fifteen and sixteen year old girls who think they are smarter than they are thanks to a fancy school uniform are wont to do. 

“Not true,” one of us once replied with an all-knowing smirk.  “What about water? Too much water can’t kill you.”

“Yes it can,” he said.  “Look it up.”  I will date myself by saying this was pre-internet days, so none of us bothered to hunt down the proof otherwise.

But, as it turns out, he was right.  Thank you Google, I’m not actually sure how I got through high school and college without you.  According to Wikipedia, between 1995 and 2008, there were more than ten reported cases of death by water.  The official term is water intoxication or water poisoning, and is “a potentially fatal disturbance in brain functions that results when the normal balance of electrolytes in the body is pushed outside of safe limits (e.g., hyponatremia) by over hydration, i.e., over-consumption of water.” 

Last week, at a client dinner during a trade show in Vegas, as we started to slow down our attack on the mammoth cold seafood appetizer platter, in anticipation of forthcoming steaks and sides, one lone lobster tail sat untouched on a bed of ice.

“There’s a lobster tail left over here,” Renee pointed out.  “Anyone want it?”  Of course I wanted it, whether or not I had room for it and filet au poivre was another story.  I kept silent.  So did everyone else.  Until Kevin chided everyone for letting it go to waste.  “You can never have too much lobster,” he declared.  We all laughed and I’d had too much wine, so I honestly don’t remember if someone actually ate the thing.  But I do remember being challenged to write a blog with such a title, especially in light of my last entry, and I started to think about what Mr. Patrizi had said, all those years ago.

Clearly, we live in a world of excess these days, and not just at a restaurant.  We always want more of something, bigger of something, better of something.  More food, more money, bigger cars, bigger houses, a better partner, a better body.  Satisfaction is an ever-dwindling concept.  And Kevin is right.  The general mentality is that you can never have too much of a good thing.  That attitude is what makes people like him a success.  Deep down we all know too much lobster will at the very least, make you feel lousy, but the real message here is the motivation.  To avoid complacency adopt an attitude that you can and should have it all.  It works, all the time, all over the world.  And it gives you something the strive for.  Maybe you never hit the “too much” mark, but trying to get there puts you in a pretty great place. 

Or was Mr. Patrizi on to something all those years ago?  Are we right to keep in mind that too much can be just that, too much?  That as much as we should strive to enjoy life and perhaps not dwell too extensively on the dying part, we would all do well to remember that we have our limits.  There’s a statistic I found online (thank you again, Google) that says over 1,900 lottery winners have ended up broke.  Some have even been murdered by family members or committed suicide.  Again, depressing, but an interesting argument.

I think we all end up somewhere on a continuum  (thank you Star Trek) between the two.  I’d like to think I fall somewhere in the middle, that I can usually find a good balance between when it’s time to go for broke and when I should just enjoy the ride I’m on.  Which seems like a good thing, but who knows.  Maybe it’s better to live on the edge.  I might find out one of these days.  Until then, at least when it comes to lobster, I have some, please.  But just enough to enjoy it and leave some room for the filet.

Monday, June 11, 2012

There's Always Another Mexican Food Restaurant

Early last week, my friend Jimmy came to town from LA for a quick visit, not a brilliant measure on his part in terms of timing for good Dallas weather, but I am always happy to have him in my orbit for a little while.  So it was hot out, and we decided to go for a walk at the lake anyway.  As my running partner said to me last night, we were determined to “suck it up and deal.”  And funny enough, we didn’t really notice the heat that much because we were too busy chatting, and debating options for dinner, post walk.  Jimmy had been to Dallas once before, last spring, and we’d done the requisite dining tour of the city – Mexican, steak, barbeque.  So that evening was up for grabs and we tossed out a few ideas, a revisit to Mexican food being one of them. 

“Not El Fenix,” I said, because we went there last time.  “But you know, there’s always another Mexican food restaurant.”  Jimmy laughed.  “There is!  You can visit here seventeen times and we could go to a different one every time and still have more on the list.”

“You should write a blog titled that, “ he said.  “There’s always another Mexican food restaurant.  It doesn’t have to be about Mexican food.”

Okay, Jimmy.  Gotcha.

So I started thinking about the greater meaning of that phrase, outside the confines of Texas, or perhaps Mexico, and something kind of hit me.  And for some reason, I thought about my first real best friend. 

I met Aron Northington in the first grade.  She was in my homeroom class and she captivated me.  She was tall, with impossibly shiny, long blonde hair.  We couldn’t have been more opposite, visually, until I looked down that first day of class and saw we were wearing the same shoes.  Not a big stretch, because this was a uniform school, so we were also wearing the same outfit, and how many pairs of navy blue kid’s leather Mary Janes are really available at the mall at any given time.  But it was the intro a shy kid like me needed, and it opened the door.  By happy accident our names also rhymed.  From that day on, we were pretty much inseparable.  I even named my first pet, a kitten, after her little brother Ben, on the specific instructions that everyone pronounce it with the same Texas drawl that Aron did, so it sounded something like “Be-yun.”  I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not creepy when you’re seven.  I didn’t dye my hair blonde and drop the K off my name too, I just really dug the way she said that name with the accent that, thanks to two Yankee parents, I did not possess.  We had a good run for a few years before she moved and went to a different school.  But for that time, she was my best friend.  My only best friend.  I chose her and she chose me.  Sure there was always another friend to play with, but given the option, it was always her.

In some of the relationship we have – friends, lovers, boyfriends, girlfriends, maybe even husbands and wives, we always have a choice to make.  When we choose someone to have in our lives, or they choose us, then we have a responsibility to one another, and I mean that in a good way.  We should want to, and so should they.  That’s what being friends, life partners, what have you, is all about.  But because of that choice, the reality is that there’s always, always going to be someone in the next shopping center (metaphorically speaking, don’t actually stand around in a strip mall looking for someone at random) if the one you’re with at the moment isn’t to your liking, or isn’t treating you well.  We don’t have arranged marriages in this country, and arranged friendships usually stop at about kindergarten, maybe first grade.  And so it’s pretty true.  And Jimmy is clearly gifted at seeing the profound within the mundane, because he’s right.  There is always another Mexican food restaurant. 

But shouldn’t you have a favorite one?  I do (it's not El Fenix).  And hey, maybe you have two or three favorites, which works if the metaphor in question refers to friendships.  With significant others, or spouses, the reference gets a little murky, and I’m definitely not an advocate of polygamy.  That being said, if we’re talking restaurants, then pick and choose, try something new, visit your favorite one often.  If one day, the tacos are lousy, maybe you give them a second chance.  If the tacos stay lousy and then the enchiladas start to suck too, then maybe not.  Actually, that point translates.  Taco equals boyfriend, best friend, etc.  And now that we’re talking friends or loved ones, if you’ve got someone you care about, or a few someones, people that are generally awesome to you and treat you like you’re special, people you like to be around, then make the time for them.  Love them back, tell them you love them, cherish them.  Because they have the same choices that you do.  And there’s always another Mexican food restaurant for them too. 

And thanks Jimmy.  My friend, if I don’t tell you enough, let me make the point now to say you are, categorically, one of my favorites. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Storytelling Time

Just to change it up a little and keep things interesting, and because my day is a little crazy - here's a bit of short fiction I once wrote for a 24-hour short story contest.  I didn't win, and it could probably use some work, but I've been trying to work more fiction writing back into my schedule, so I'm hoping this acts as a little reminder to do just that.  Enjoy...

I marveled at the rain beginning to fall around me.  I yearned to stay standing outside, with my face turned up the cold drops coming down hard, faster with each passing second.  To feel them, wet against my cheeks.  There was no rain where I lived.  Not for the last hundred years, according to the history books at school.  But the cotton candy wrapped around the paper cone in my hand was rapidly transforming from a fluffy mound into sticky, pink syrup, and had started to run down my fingers.  Everyone around me was running for cover towards the colorful, striped tents that dotted the carnival.  I had learned long ago that the best thing to do was to blend in, so I shielded the remains of my precious treat and ducked into the nearest tent.

I was alone in the tiny enclave.  It belonged to the fortune-teller.  I could tell by the crystal ball and the deck of cards on the small table.  I took a seat in one of the two empty chairs and proceeded to wipe the goo off of my fingers, and tried to salvage the remains of my cotton candy.  It had taken me four trips to put together enough money for my day at the carnival, and I wasn’t about to waste any of it. 

I jumped at the sound of a voice behind me.

“Oh, sorry dear.  Didn’t mean to scare the life out of you.”

I turned as the old fortune teller came through the curtains at the back of the tent.  My gaze traveled up her colorful robes, to her gnarled hands covered in gold rings and finally to her face, run through with deep creases and encircled by a halo of brilliant red curls.  The sight of that face made me go cold all the way to my toes.  It was immediately apparent that the sight of mine had done the same to her. 

We both held our breath for a moment, equally unsure of how to proceed.  Time-travelers had, for the most part, been bred out of the population, thanks to some disturbing laws regarding procreation that had been issued back in 2310.  But there were still some of us.  Some were older people, who had been born before the new laws, and then there were kids like me, whose parents had somehow managed to cheat the system.  Usually by falsifying their family tree, which is what I assume my parents did in the name of true love, since I had never met any members of my extended family. 

It was highly illegal to be a time-traveler.  The first time I disappeared at the dinner table, and my parent’s realized I had inherited the ability from somewhere in their genetic makeup, they told me I must never do it again.  That if I did, and I got caught, someone would come and take me away forever.  I was four. 

By thirteen, I had been to hundreds of different places and times.  I couldn’t help it.  Life was just better in the past.  The smell of fresh air, the feel of rain, the taste of sugar.  I usually went from a hidden cabinet that had inexplicably been built behind the hanging bar in my closet.  It was just big enough for me to fit into. In all my trips, I had never met another traveler.  But here I was, in 2004, at least I think it was, staring into the eyes of my eighth form history teacher.

“Azalea.  What on earth are you doing here?”

I had always been terrified of Dr. Lexington.  She was a tyrant of a teacher, not to mention a stickler for detail.  And it suddenly occurred to me how she always seemed to know more about history than just what was in the books.  Now I was terrified for a whole different reason, despite the fact that she looked borderline ridiculous in her fortune-teller costume.

“I, uh…”  I had no words.

“Oh, for God’s sake, child.  Find your voice.  I’m not about to report your parents to the authorities for violating procreation laws.  Nor am I planning to turn you in, though you no longer have an excuse for your pitiful grade in my class.  Which means you can let go of that breath you are holding.  Now, how many trips have you been on?”

I exhaled, and then sucked in a breath of the moist air, unlike anything pumped through the vacuum sealed world that was my everyday life.

“Six hundred and thirty-six.”

“Impressive.”  I wasn’t sure, but I thought there might have been a hint of a smile playing at the corners of her lips.  She pulled up the other chair and sat down at the small table.  She absentmindedly picked up the deck of cards and shuffled them lightly before setting them down again, never taking her eyes off of me.  And then she did smile.

“Did you know,” she said lightly, as she reached out and smoothed her hand over my damp, fiery red ringlets, “that your mother’s maiden name is Lexington?”

In a sudden moment of clarity, I looked up into the twinkling eyes of my grandmother.

“Now,” she said, laughing at my wonderment.  She had always known who I was.  “My darling, granddaughter.  You must tell me how you’ve managed so many trips without detection.”

“There’s this cabinet in my closet,” I began.

“Oh, my.” she cut me off.  “I had forgotten all about that.”

“You know about it?”

“Of course.”  She smiled.  “How do you think it got there?”

In that tiny carnival tent, a history I had not known began to fall in place, drop by drop, like the rain coming down around us.