I know it’s not Pearl Harbor Day, but I’m thinking about my mom anyway

I stole this photo. As far as I know, no photograph exists to accompany this story.
I stole this photo from http://www.plasticsoldiers.webs.com/.  They didn’t even put up a fight.

I try to be a nice person. I certainly want to be one. Unfortunately, I’m starting to believe I might not be genetically wired for punctuality and thoughtfulness. If I have missed your birthday, it’s not because I don’t care about you; I just plain forgot. Like my brothers, whose birthdays are lost somewhere in the sad, endy bits of summer, the problem is that your birthday doesn’t automatically appear on my calendar. Apologies to all of you.

Fortunately, my father’s birthday falls during the Thanksgiving season, and my sister’s is on or around the first day of spring, so even if I don’t write them down, there is always something on the calendar to magically remind me.

Easiest of all to remember is my mother’s.

My mother turned ten the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

That must have been a memorable birthday, with everyone huddled around the radio, speechless and shaken. Probably not the best one, mind you, but remarkable, nonetheless.

Over the years, my mother has championed everyone else’s special days, but on hers she lays low, no doubt hoping someone might step up and do a little something for her for a change.  We have tried.

We learned early on that Dad was good for a Hallmark card and a nice little gifty item, but he was not to be entrusted with the cake. In his defense, he did attempt to make one from a box once, but was so flummoxed by the words “ten-inch tube pan,” that he gave up and drove to Piggly Wiggly.

It’s worth mentioning that in our house, store-bought baked goods were a sign of approaching moral turpitude.

After that mini debacle, we siblings started juggling responsibility for the cake amongst ourselves, usually ironing out the details the morning of December 7.

One year, though, my medium brother decided to make an Angel Food Cake. He even started the project the DAY BEFORE. Impressive. We were all reasonably decent cooks, but we had some respect for his ambition. If you’ve made an angel food cake, you know what I mean.

Out came the ancient Betty Crocker cookbook, heavily thumbed and coated with a light dusting of flour from decades of use.

My brother looked so serious, meticulously pouring over Betty’s good book. We thought everything was under control, and gave him a little space to work his magic.

It’s uncertain exactly what went wrong. The reigning theory is that he must have combined elements from a couple of different tricky recipes arranged on the same page.

All I know is that it looked beautiful when he pulled it out of the oven. Betty said to cool the cake by flipping the whole pan upside down and sliding it onto the neck of a wine bottle. That way, the cake would cool but still stay light and airy. Trust me, if you’ve whipped 12 room temperature egg whites into a heavenly cloud, if you’ve sifted the cake flour four or five times, and spun the superfine sugar, you want that cake to be FLUFFY.

Medium brother flipped the pan, only to have a half-baked cake carcass collapse onto the counter.

Sad.

After a minute or two of reverential silence, he scooped the remains right back into the pan and tossed it into the oven for another thirty minutes or so.

Then, the cake and my brother mysteriously disappeared for several hours.

Nothing more was said about the cake that day. We like to sweep things like this under the rug. I figured he had made the shameful Piggly Wiggly run, and was off somewhere, nursing his culinary wounds.

The next day was a Sunday. Everything proceeded normally: fried eggs for breakfast, followed by church, then dinner in the dining room. Sunday was the one day a week that the mail was cleared off the table. My father presented the card, the gift. It was time to sing.

Medium brother thumped down to the basement and emerged with the most astonishing sweet mess I’ve ever seen.

The cake mass had been roughly sculpted into some sort of landform and half-sunk battle ship. These were situated on a homemade wooden platform, which was covered with Reynold’s wrap and an ungodly amount of blue icing. There were American flags, tiny plastic boats and planes, and little soldiers everywhere.

It was, hands-down, the most impressive birthday cake I’ve ever seen, and to top it off, surprisingly tasty. Not like an angel food cake, perhaps–more like an epic Pearl Harbor Day cake reenactment would taste. But not too shabby.

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What I have learned from the Tenderloin

Having two children and a husband who travels frequently, I don’t get out much.  The other day, I looked at where I was and what I was doing and had a complete conniption.  I turned to the woman next to me and demanded, “When and how did I turn into a f*cking soccer mom?!”  She may have laughed weakly before changing the subject to PTA memos, or box top collections, or some other topic to fuel my identity crisis.  Thank god one of the soccer dads started bringing comfortable chairs and adult beverages to practice.  That has really made my descent into personal hell more tolerable.

In light of this realization, I have been making a concerted effort to get out into the wide world once in a while.  A few days ago, that brought me to the Tenderloin.  There are definitely a few things to be learned from the seedy parts of San Francisco.

1.  Do not tell a gigantic, inebriated man that his Rottweiler is cute.

Though I’ve always assumed that, luckily I didn’t have to be the one to test the theory out. I did have to cross the street, however.  What a ruckus.

2.  The Tenderloin is a good place to be invisible.

I saw a man hobbling horribly on a crutch suddenly tuck it under his arm and ride off on a bicycle.  No one batted an eye.  If that sort of behavior passes under the radar, I imagine no one would notice if you fixed your bra-strap, or took care of that annoying crusty bit flapping around your left nostril.  Hell, you could have a whole garden variety melt-down there, and you’d blend right in.  It’s cheaper than therapy.

3.  Fancy shmancy organic-type Whole Paycheck markets are just as ridiculously expensive in economically under-resourced parts of town.

While I am thankful to find something besides del Taco for my snack emergencies, how do these places stay in business?  Where are the tasty food trucks?  The tamale lady? Happy hour?  That’s right.  Not here.  Might be time to head to Tu Lan.  Definitely don’t use the bathroom, but the food is tasty and cheap, and if I remember correctly, Julia Child used to slum it here when she wasn’t partying in her limo.  I’ve heard some stories.

4.  Seedy parts of town foster creativity.

I saw the most pathetically amusing and/or revolting painting of my entire life hanging in a place of prominence in a loin-y gallery.  Imagine a tiny, cluttered venue–art crammed into every cranny–devoting an entire wall to one enormous canvas.  Mostly it is a giant color field of oil paint, with a shit-brown lump at the bottom, and a little white unicorn in the the center.  I think the unicorn was crying; I might have made that part up, though.  At the top, in swirly, girly hand lettering, it says:  “I’ll never find true love…” followed by a very melancholic curlicue.  That thing is burned on my retinas.  It was awesome.  I dare you to find something like that at 49 Geary.

5.  In dire times, the first thing to go are your dreams for the future.

For some reason, I decided it would be cool to look at people’s old funky stuff.  I meandered into some pawn shops.  Have you noticed?  All of the pawn shops are clustered around the courthouse.  I had never thought about that before.  And guess what people hock to get out of jail?  Musical instruments and engagement rings.  Almost exclusively.  It is deeply depressing.  Why not get rid of…I don’t know…some technological gadget? A Blackberry?  The wii?  Or a TV?  Why not guns?  Get rid of that thing!  It didn’t help you out this time, did it?  And where you’re going, they’ll probably take it away at check-in. But no.  Love and music.

I suppose there are a lot of other lessons to be learned out there, but right now, I need to get some healthy snacks together for practice today.  And a big jug of wine.