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Month: March 2010

Unforgettable Mistakes

Optimists think newspapers exist to inform us. Cynics think they exist to allow advertisers access to our discerning eyeballs. They’re both wrong. The primary purpose of a newspaper is to remind us that life is woefully, wickedly unfair. And to bring us Sudoku.

I read a story in this very paper not long ago that verified life’s injustice: A young woman was boozing at a local watering hole when some barflies began bothering her and she decided to drive home. She was drunk, and planned to find a spot where she could park and sleep it off. But that’s not what happened.

In the haze of drink, in the dark of night, she made a bad decision. She pulled onto the road and slammed head-on into another car, killing its driver — an innocent wife and mother.

It was horrendously unfair, criminally so. The young woman who caused the accident will pay $1 million in damages and spend at least a dozen years in jail. And after she has done those things, she’ll spend her life reliving the moment she screwed up, wishing she could do it over, do it differently. Her egregious error will define her forever.

Is that fair? Probably.

Breast Milk Canapé

I can’t help it. I see the word “brasserie” and I think “brassiere.” It may be Freudian, but a controversial dish at a New York City eatery has — just this once — justified the slip.

Diners at Klee Brasserie in Chelsea recently got a taste of Mommy’s Milk Cheese, a delicacy made from (gulp) human breast milk. Chef Daniel Angerer whipped up the fromage-de-la-femme after discovering that his home freezer could no longer hold all the milk that his wife was pumping for their 10-week-old daughter.

The couple hopes to donate the extra milk to families in need, but the approval process takes months. So rather than waste the current stock, Angerer, who once defeated Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, conducted a culinary experiment. He liked what he tasted, and he soon began experimenting with the cheese at his bistro as a canapé in various incarnations: encrusted with caramelized pumpkin, coated in dried mushroom dust, accompanied by figs and Hungarian pepper.

Some foodies loved the idea; others found it appetite-curdling. Veteran restaurant critic Gael Greene said it wasn’t the mild taste but the “strangely soft, bouncy” texture that creeped her out.

Book Club's Dramatic Chapter

It was morning when the email arrived, its subject line blaring like a Helvetica horn: “Emergency Book Club Meeting Tonight.” I hadn’t drained my first cup of coffee, and now I didn’t need to; there are few five-word phrases that set my adrenaline surging like this one.

It’s a laughable notion, I realize. What sort of event spurs a frantic gathering of book group members? An abominable mis-casting for the movie version of The Glass Castle? A global embargo of pinot grigio?

But the Emergency Book Club Meeting is not something to be taken lightly. In six years, our literature-loving girl gang has called just three of these urgent rallies, each time for a life-altering predicament affecting one of our members and thoroughly outraging the rest of our close-knit sisterhood.

“Ladies,” the most recent email began, “one of our own is facing a crisis situation and could use all the support and love we can offer.” The crisis: a cheating husband. More specifically, a self-involved man-child who navigated through his midlife crisis by using his wilson as a compass.

Panhandlers Beg the Question

The guy at the off-ramp. The teen at the gas station. The lady in front of the market. Their stories, no doubt, are as different as their cardboard signs — “Anything helps.” “God bless.” “I’d rather be working.” But there’s an unnerving sameness about their demeanor: downcast eyes, slack posture, and clothes that haven’t seen a spin cycle in weeks. Maybe months.

There are more panhandlers than ever before, and it’s no mystery why. The mystery, for me, is how to respond. Sometimes I offer coins and wonder what good my 63 cents could possibly do. Sometimes I ignore them and feel bad about it. Usually I just smile impotently and wonder, as I pass, if there isn’t some smarter way to help.

My grandma once took a homeless guy to Denny’s and bought him lunch. She drove him there and — gulp — stopped by an ATM on the way. Prudent? No. Constructive? Unequivocally. He got to order the hot meal of his choice and tell his story to a great listener over bottomless cups of coffee. (He had to listen to her stories, too, but fair’s fair.)

Not all of us have my grandmother’s time. Or her huevos. Isn’t there something we can do beyond flicking nickels at these folks, and short of asking them on dates?

I talked to a guy standing outside Trader Joe’s on De la Vina Street with a sign: “Thank you for all your help.” “It’s my preference to technically not ask for anything,” said the man, who wouldn’t give his name. He’s been, er, not-begging for seven months, trying to get out of debt. “Sometimes people give me food that doesn’t fit with my diet,” he said. “I’m vegetarian, on an all-raw diet.”

Only in Santa Barbara.

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