Monday, August 31, 2009

Bachelor Night, Part 1

Months ago, my wife decided she needed a vacation.

She needed some time away from the baby, and was willing to plan ahead for this last week of August. Her mother, the Latin Teacher, is visiting from New York. The two of them rented a house at the Oregon Coast, armed with good walking shoes and Season 7 of 24. The boys were invited for the first few days. On Thursday afternoon we left to roll back home. This is where the fun begins.

It was hot when we hit Portland and neither Jeep or I felt like cooking. We hung around the house that evening, playing with our newfound toys and pretending to clean the kitchen, respectively. At some point I stumbled upon the mostly finished keg of beer in the garage, leftover from last week's Pig Roast. Why not? It smelled alright and tasted just fine for lukewarm beer. This will be exhibit A.

Jeep ate a lot of grapes for dinner. Grapes and cheese and whole milk and Cheerios. Let the court note that I am marking the contents of my one-year-old's stomach as Exhibit B. Do you see where this is going?

Boy, we were having a good time now. I love bachelor nights! Jeep and I played around the nursery, wrestled on the bed, read books in the shower, and generally had a great night. I was too lazy to make dinner after he went down, so I put in a movie and ate crackers for dinner. Rice crackers. And I found something in the pantry to go with it. Dry packaged pepper garlic salmon spread. From CostPlus World Market. Definitely a Christmas stocking gift. Exhibit C.

On bachelor nights from days gone past, when I still worked for a living and I wasn't out swilling drinks, I had a bachelor tradition that I followed religously. Whenever the wife was out of town, I always watched the somewhat adolescent classic, Joe Dirt. I do not know how this got started, but probably it has something to do with the fact that my Wife HATES this sort of movie and has no patience for it. And of course I love it.

I went to bed around 10pm, just after the part where Joe sleeps with the girl he thinks is his sister. Joe could be Exhibit D.

Around 11:30pm I was roused from sleep. Let me give you a little background about our baby arrangement. At our house, the baby sleeps as far away as possible. He is in the back corner bedroom off the laundry, and we close all the doors to keep things quiet back there. Needless to say, we are the sort of parents who fall into LetHimCry (LHC) category, also known as CryItOut (CIO) or ShhBeQuietAndHe'llGoBackToSleep (SBQAHGBTS). We are heartless cold bitches in my house. And my boy sleeps like a dream.

Except on this night, when I heard a very different sound coming through the baby monitor. He was awake, for the moment, but little Jeep was making a new sound. This one was not a cry so much, as a kind of choking cough. I rose from my bed to see what was the matter.

To be continued . . .

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Pig Roast

My boy turned one year old last weekend.

For Jeep, this was another day of grabbing for rocks, learning to walk, pointing, smiling, and generally experiencing the world in all its beauty.

Of course it was not so simple for me.

A year ago, I had a career change. I went from high school teacher to Daddy.
I left a school where I was valued, needed, and appreciated. I watched kids grow up before my eyes, and I knew that I was making a difference. I was a coach, mentor, teacher, and case manager for a whole slough of kids whose lives didn't hold much hope or promise. I worked every day to help them believe in the power of their dreams.
Five years I spent at this occupation, and in one dazzling August evening in 2008 the birth of my son changed my direction. I quit my job and took a new title. Stay-at-home-Dad.
So of course I had to commemorate the event. With a pig roast.
You may wonder, why a pig roast? I'm not sure I could tell you myself. In retrospect, I will say that it brought together a good mix of celebration, theater, and bacchanalia, which is to say, drunkenness. I couldn't be happier that my boy survived one year of life, and goddammit I wanted to do something GREAT to mark this event with the kind of gravity it deserved.
This was something I was called to do, that I needed to accomplish. Like many things in this category, it caused a minor fight with my wife. But lets set that aside and get on to the story.

I spent weeks preparing for this event. I researched pig roasting methods, scouted an appropriate venue, sent invitations, and procured kegs of beer. And then there was the pig. I chose to purchase this particular swine from a local butcher. I don't know if it was a girl pig or a boy pig. I just said pig, and they said okay.

I set my alarm for 3:40am on the morning of the pig roast. I had enlisted the help of a close friend in the building of the fire and the cooking of the swine. He seems to like being called the Pig Bitch, so we'll stick with that. At 4:45am with lit the match and started the fire.

Part of my whole pig roast obsession was that I wanted to roast the pig in the ground, using the methods of the islanders of Hawaii and the South Pacific. Basically, you make a big fire, throw in some rocks, then burn the fire down to coals and bury the pig under burlap or canvas or banana leaves or cardboard or all of the above. The rocks cook the pig. Brilliant.

There is a problem with this method - I don't know anyone who has ever done it. That's not quite true - I've seen similar earth ovens in Fiji, and of course I've been to the obligatory Hawaiian luau. But that doesn't help me here. I have other pig roasting friends, but they have all used a more labor intensive method - roasting over a low fire on a spit. It seems like all the serious pig cookers I know don't really like the uncertainty of burying the pig without knowing when it's going to be done.

For me, that is the best part about roasting a pig in the ground - there is some definite RISK involved. Greatness courts failure, Romeo.

Back to the pig. Once we had a big fire going, it seemed a shame not to make breakfast. Eggs and bacon, over the skillet. For anyone that would like to recreate a similar task, I made the fire from two year old fir and maple, then threw in an additional bag of charcoal briquettes. I also used about 15 medium sized garden rocks and 40 or so smaller river rocks. Several of the rocks cracked in half during the fire. The pit was about 3 feet by 6 feet, and roughly 3 feet deep. The bottom was lined with old brick.

Once we had finished with breakfast, the fire began to die down and it was time to prepare the pig. The Pig Bitch had picked her up the night before, and she spent the night in a cooler on ice.

Here I have a confession to make. I popped the cooler, tore open the plastic bag, and I got a little sick. I know what you're thinking here. I'm just a city boy, and not accustomed to the hard truth of barnyard life. That may be accurate, but I've been down this road before. I once killed and butchered pigs in a village in Siberia for Godsakes! With knives! No, dear reader, this was a different kind of sickness. It was a moment of doubt. This was the point where I realized that me and my pig roasting ceremony was totally RIDICULOUS. The sun was rising and a gentle fog rested on the meadow. It was 6 in the fucking morning. I had a giant dead animal on my hands, and why? Why am I so crazy? All of my very best thinking got me right here. I sat in it for a minute, and then we had to move on. There was nothing more to be done. Lets wrap her up and cook her!

Here is what we did. First we seasoned the pig with barbecue spice. Then we cut large holes in the rump and shoulders and inserted hot rocks from the fire. We wrapped her several times in aluminum foil, then chicken wire. Placing her onto the coals, we covered her with pre-soaked burlap, then canvas, then wet cardboard. No banana leaves for these cowboys. Then we threw some plywood over the top and waited. Just how long to wait was a topic of much discussion between me and the Pig Bitch. The internet varied from 6 to 12 hours. We only had a 60 pound pig, so I opted for 8 hours.

If you happen to be doing this for a 1 year old birthday party, I must recommend the use of cheap plastic fencing to keep out children and dogs. It also gives the endeavor a macabre quality that can only be augmented by a tasteful plastic cross.

Fast forward 8 hours. We prepared for a party, and a party we had! Despite my best intentions, our 40 some guests and their 15 children failed to drink both kegs of beer. I assure you that I did my part. I was feeling no pain when it was time to exhume the pig and cut her up for consumption. Nontheless, I can only report success.

The pig came out of the ground in grand style. There was a crowd of people, I gave a short speech. May my baby boy live a long and happy life!

Someday he will ask me, "What did we do on my first birthday?"

"We roasted a pig in the ground, son, in your honor."

"Did it taste good?"

"It tasted GREAT."

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

To my Jeep on his first birthday,

This past year has changed me forever. On the day you were born, the evening was a warm yellow and orange. Your mother and I watched the fading light out of our hospital room as the earth rolled slowly away from the sun. That night, the miracle of your birth came alive and into my arms.

I watched your wrinkly white back change to a bright red. When you opened your mouth to cry, it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.

I am blessed every day with the exquisite privilege of being your father.

This past year, I have watched you and loved you. Ever the miracle, I have learned from your learning, and rejoiced in your wonder. I was there when you crawled backwards across the room, when you said your first word, and when you climbed to the top of the stairs. I was there when you took your first steps, when you learned to wave goodbye, and when you opened your mouth to laugh.

We have traveled together this year. To the East Coast, down to California, up to Maine, and all over Oregon. We have shared pizza, and ice cream, and egg sandwiches. We have stood together underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and next to the Ocean, and under the Moon. I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.

Someday you will want to know: what was I like when I was one? I will tell you.

You bring me books to read, and we play with cars on the floor. You make a sound like an internal combustion engine. You love to surf on top of the guitar, and won’t let me play unless you have a turn. You love to eat, especially bites from our plates. Sometimes when you are really enjoying yourself, you make snorting noises like a wild boar. You love to feed us from your plate. You tell jokes and play games, but they are subtle. Often they are easy games like hiding (Where’s Jude?) and pointing. But sometimes they involve the organizing of blocks or throwing things onto the floor, and knocking things over. You don’t talk much, but you make your desires known through a series of hoots and moans. You want to touch everything, and hold it in your hands. You love cell phones, and you hold them to your ear and pretend to talk. You can throw balls, but not very far! And we just learned that you love to play with little dolls. It’s really cute. Please don’t blame me for this later in life.

On this day, one year past the first day of your life, I will make you a promise. Your mother and I love you more than we thought we could. We will stand beside you as you learn to walk, and behind you as you learn to run. We will yell with joy when you ride a bike, and wave goodbye when you get on the bus for Kindergarten. We will love you and laugh with you and support you in whoever you will become. Your dreams are our dreams to nurture and sow and build, from the tiniest hole in the ground to the tallest of skyscrapers.

When you laugh, the whole world laughs with you. You have your entire life ahead of you. Be bold! Be daring, and get out and chase down this life. It is yours to wrangle and capture and tame. This is my gift to you, my baby boy. The world is yours! May you live long and enjoy it.