A Waist is a Terrible Thing to Mind.
Being weight challenged has plagued me throughout my food service and journalistic life. I’ve always carried a lot of weight around in the world of the gastronomy and gustatorial arts, in fact I bring a lot to every press trip, wine dinner, or food/wine luminary interview.
Help came in 1996 when the editor of my newspaper offered to send me to The Duke Diet and Fitness Clinic in Durham, North Carolina. I would spend month there while writing weekly columns about their program for the readers of the paper. The object was for me to lose one hundred pounds over a six-month period.
After checking into my efficiency apartment across the street from the Diet Center in Durham, I went to the store to stock up the kitchen. Wheeling down the aisle I realized that all meals would be eaten at the Center, and even a crust of bread in the apartment would compromise my mission. I bought a bottle of water and some instant coffee and went back to stare at the walls. The entire apartment house was filled with Diet Center attendees, but every night the sound of doors opening surreptitiously for the pizza man kept me awake.
The Center arranged activities for the attendees from golf tournaments to attending the Durham Bulls (made famous in the movie “Bull Durham.”) baseball games. I think the golf course shut down for a time after our golf outing to get the footprints out of the greens. We were recognized at the ballpark as a group from The Duke Diet and Fitness Center and asked to stand. When all these three and four hundred-pounders stood, I imagined the fans thinking, “Man, that program just isn’t working.”
The Duke Diet program is probably the best thought out and executed program available for the morbidly obese. For every hour they give you in nutrition, meal planning, and exercise, they give you two hours of psychological reinforcement for how to get yourself to do what must be done. I lost sixty pounds and kept it off for a reasonable time. But, as the Good Book says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Pussy the Gourmet Cat
Pussy was a gourmet cat
Who'd have a morsel of this
And a tidbit of that.
From ragons of lamb
And chicken every way,
To bacon and ham
And Beef Bordelaise.
With tastes like that
You become a gourmet cat.
During the years that my wife,Kay and I toiled at our restaurant, her indoor/outdoor cats fended for themselves from nine in the morning until after midnight. To compensate, she left a smorgasbord of cat food out for all five of the unappreciative little bastards. Trying to walk through our kitchen was a cat bowl mine field.
A cat had only to whimper, and the next sound would be the can opener grinding out a new feline culinary offering. Suzie only wanted shrimp. Shrimp? Sylvester only ate crunchy dry food which none of the others would touch. Rhett Butler preferred canned food but would eat another brand of crunches. Merry liked an occasional raw egg, which made cooking breakfast difficult with her under foot. They all were offended if tiny sacks of “treats” were not regularly offered. I have no idea what controlled substance was in those treats, but it kept Kay’s cuties strung-out and begging for more. That cat food came from cans with a $0.50 price tag meant nothing to these furry little reprobates.
Something reaches the darkest part of me when I see one of the little adorables approach a freshly opened can of cat food, take one whiff, turn around and start trying it to cover the food up like it had just taken a huge dump. But the urge to drop kick the persnickety little darling soon passes.
Kay and I have no children, and the cats fill the void for her. So every time I file a cat complaint, she reminds me that cats don’t require orthodontia or college educations. I have consoled myself with that thought over the course of our marriage.
Then comes the question of what do these fuzzy little despots do with what they eat and drink. I hoped since they were indoor/outdoor cats that they would have the decency to do their business outside, preferably in the neighbors’ yards. But these little feisties would tear down the backdoor to come in and crap. It still is amazing how creative the adorables are at hiding a turd in a house. Dropping a load in a cat box takes no talent at all. Hiding one where the odor becomes so intense that I selflessly call in a nuclear strike to save mankind, takes some doing.
You’ve probably guessed that I am not some simpering, soggy cat lover who does third person baby talk to these creatures. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can build a pretty strong case for feline extinction. I also hold the hope that the person who first invited one of these animals into his abode is spending eternity neck deep in them.
From all of Kay’s cats, there was, however, one sterling example of what any self-respecting cat should be. His name was Pussy. Pussy was a gelding, a condition that could produce psychological trauma in other toms whose load had been lightened. Not Pussy. He was totally self reliant and fearless.
A neighbor had a tomcat named Peter, and the two cats were bitter enemies. One night a howling cat fight broke out in our backyard that awoke both Kay and myself. She went to the window, returned to bed, and announced, “It’s just Peter fighting Pussy.” Kay went to sleep while I lay in bed for two hours bursting out laughing at the semantics of the occasion.
On another occasion I saw a large German Shepard mistakenly enter Pussy’s front yard domain. From ambush, Pussy landed on the dog’s back launching a diminutive version of a circus dog-and-pony act. Nearing the street, Pussy jumped behind the dog swiping him across his rear and literally “tearing him a new one.”
Pussy had two other completely endearing qualities. First, he ate anything that did not eat him first. His favorites were the leftover treats Kay brought home from the restaurant. The more haute the better the cuisine for Pussy. Second, I never saw where he did his business. I’m talking about near feline perfection here.
Pussy waited ever so stoically each evening in the driveway for our return from the restaurant. He leapt into the car with the door in mid-swing, and dispensed just enough loving to insure the continuation of the ritual. He then proceeded to the business at hand – exploring Kay's ever present brown bag containing his evening treat personally delivered.
He definitely was a different kind of cat. I could appreciate his love for good food, and he had no bad habits. He was not hyper like most cats when they relate to humans and to their own kind. Constantly in control and always completely confident of Kay and me, his serenity and composure were ever intact.
His most endearing trait; however, was his passion for being outside where the action was. A cat that only comes around for short periods of time is something that a non-cat lover can really appreciate. Pussy and I had years of enjoyable détente.
When Pussy died a victim of feline leukemia, we asked the vet to save his remains. Somehow it just didn't seem right for an old friend to end in a plastic sack in a garbage can.
Kay asked me to bury him in our backyard so he would be close. I think also she felt two hours of digging in the limestone infested Texas Hill Country would keep me from continuing to wish for the early demise of her other four cats.
Befittingly, we buried Pussy in a Chateau Trottevieille St. Emilion wooden wine crate. As I lowered him into the ground, I noticed the Chateau's quality designation branded into the wooden box end - "1er Premier Grand Cru Classe."
Yeah, that was old Pussy.
Good Fortune (Cookie)
It was the 1960’s, and I traveled the world selling construction equipment during an eight-year hiatus between marriages. Because our equipment would be used to construct the San Mateo – Hayward Bridge across San Francisco Bay, and because several large contractors called San Francisco home, I spent many days per month in “The City by the Bay.”
There were no complaints, as San Francisco was already an addiction. Now, decades later, I’ve not broken that habit. Back then I could give you a better-guided tour of San Francisco than of my hometown in Texas. The Hippie culture was fascinating. I once sought out the house on Stanyan Street where Rod McKuen lived and sat on the front steps reading his poetry. Café Treste in North Beach was a favorite haunt. While there, I always stopped by Walter Keene’s Gallery on Broadway, and eventually bought two of his paintings of sad-eyed, tear stained children’s faces. Okay, I’ll admit it; on a few occasions I strayed into The Condor Nightclub to see Carol Dodo introduce this new phenomenon called “topless dancing.” You could call Carol a lot of things, but “topless” was not one of them.
I helped put Dungeness crab and abalone on the endangered species list. Scoma’s and The Trident restaurants, both built over the water in Sausalito, were must stops for me. Don’t get me started on San Francisco restaurants, but back in Jack’s Restaurant’s heyday, there was no place west of New Orleans that could bring up classic cuisine of their caliber. Think about a restaurant so successful they had an unlisted phone number.
Since I was not spending my own money, I stayed in the Clift Hotel and started every evening with several Old Fashioned Cocktails in the Redwood Room. The making of an Old Fashioned is an art form, and no one did it better than the bartender at the Redwood. Years later, after Four Seasons began managing the Clift, the Redwood Room Old Fashioned still holds forth in its proud tradition.
Chinatown was not a curiosity for me. It was an avocation. I loved Kan’s Restaurant and Johnny Kan taught me how to cook Chinese food with his cookbook, Eight Immortal Flavors. My return
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