phynedyning

Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Karen’s pound cake

In Lifestyle on July 30, 2013 at 4:13 pm

A forgotten can of pilfered government pound cake and a supper of goi cuon awakens bittersweet memories.

cratpoundcake

I noticed the muddy “engineer” boots as I turned the chain adjuster on my motorcycle a few more clicks. They were a square-toed, heavy heeled style, with big metal rings joining heavy leather straps at the ankles. The muddy ones now before me belonged to ‘Marvin’, one of our merry band of high school enduro and motocross fanatics.

“Gavin’s home.”

I nodded and smiled broadly. Gavin was about three years older than me. He had left for the army after a local judge recommended he do so “…as soon as possible.”

“Holy shit. That’s great.” I stood up and wiped my greasy hands on slightly filthier jeans.

Marvin had picked up a screwdriver from my tool bag and began using it to scrape the mud from his boots.

“He’s married too. The dumb fuck. Brought back a woman from over there. His dad’s really pissed. She’s Catholic and fuckin’ Vietnamish.”

“Oh fuck. You’re kidding.” I didn’t know what religion Gavin’s people held with. I was fairly certain they weren’t ‘cat lickers’. They were probably one of the few descendants within Michigan’s old French-Canadian families that wasn’t. They sure as shit were not “Vietnam-ish”.

I frowned at Marvin’s revelation and at his use of my best screwdriver as a mud removal tool.

“You met her?”

“Yeah. She seems nice. But, jay-zus aitch Key-ryst, she barely speaks English and squats instead of sitting in a chair.” In an unfortunate irony, Marvin now squatted next to the rear wheel of my barely (street) legal motocrosser. “She looks like she’s ten fuckin’ years old.”

“Fuck. Barely any of the Polacks around here speak much English. She’ll fit right in.”

‘Fuck’, in those days, often substituted for spoken capitalization and punctuation.

“Wanna meet her?”

I rolled my wrist over to look at my watch. It was the height of fashion to wear one’s watch with the face over the inner part of your wrist. It also kept it from being whacked to shreds as we tore through the jack pines on our motorcycles.

“Sure. I got nowhere to be.”

That summer began my education in Vietnamese culture and cuisine.

“Karen” (Her given name sounded like “k’wor-ahn”. Because she was in love with being an American, she immediately latched onto ‘Karen’ and never tried very hard to teach us the Vietnamese name she was given.”)

Gavin had been smitten by her. She had been one of the battalions of ‘hooch girls’ that seemed to swarm out of the ground wherever Americans set up a few corrugated shelters or musty tents. For a few ‘P’ a day, she would sweep out the soldier’s sleeping areas, catch rats, and run laundry and do errands. Karen spoke fair English. She had attended a Catholic school for several years before running off (or being sent off by hungry parents) to make her fortune as a servant girl to the “mi” (Americans). After putting up with “a bunch of boo-sheet from a gazillion army chaplains and other useless assholes”, Gavin got permission to marry ‘his’ hooch girl. It took them six months to wrangle the army into permitting the marriage. They (against the odds) kept their relationship going when he was ‘unexpectedly transferred’ a few days after discussing Karen with a (previously) kind chaplain.

I glanced cautiously at the little form standing in the driveway next to a (now) scary-thin and scraggly-handlebar moustachioed Gavin who was (as expected) working on his own motorcycle. The top of her head scarcely reached the height of the cycle’s handlebars and it bobbed a good two feet below the one on her husband. A Scooby-Doo beach towel hung from her skinny shoulders and dragged in the dirt and leaves that littered the cement around her bare feet. She clutched a few greasy wrenches in one hand and a sweating bottle of Coca-Cola in the other. Marvin and I climbed off of our bikes and did our best to ‘saunter’ to take positions opposite the shyly smiling girl.

You wan’ vee’?”

Gavin nodded in our direction. “Yeah, Sweet. They want beers. Bring me one too.”

The waif with an impossibly flat face grinned broadly. She tossed the tools into the grungy toolbox spilled out on the cement and set the pop bottle next to it. Giving her coal-black hair a toss, she scurried toward the house. After tripping on the edge of the towel, she wadded it up and tossed it into the grass next to the driveway.

“And, fer fucksake, put on a shirt or a robe or something!” Karen was wearing a painfully bright blue bikini. She did look to be about ten years old. Flat-chested and with a butt like a young boy, the bikini fit as though it had been borrowed from a much older (and much more developed) sister.

“She seems nice. Pretty smile too. Congratulations, Gavin”

Gavin looked toward the house. “She’s scared shitless. They smile like Cheshire Cats when they’re nervous. But thanks, man. She’s really far out nice and a good cook too. You’ll like her.”

Marvin and I looked at our boots when Gavin used they to describe his wife’s behavior. Political correctness was decades down the road, but his choice of words seemed odd or disrespectful.

Over the rest of the summer, we spent a lot of time with Gavin and his strange, new wife. She was immensely generous with their meager food supplies and seemed able to make huge pots of (sometimes evil-smelling and odd-looking) ‘stuff’. She was happy as a clam to cook for us or ‘run beers’ in exchange for a cigarette (from which she promptly broke any attached filter).

Salem and Marlboro filtered cigarettes were “Num-bah ten-tow-zen”. Gavin’s own Camel ‘studs’ were “Num-bah one!” The learning curve on cigarettes and Karen was short and steep…

…Whenever a guest’s pack appeared, Karen’s hand (waiving, palm down) took furious flight. It was a mistake to toss her the whole pack or to tamp out more than one smoke. Packs entirely disappeared inside of her shirt, robe, or (usually) the very worn Scooby-Doo towel.

(I learned much later, that the obviously highly-prized Scooby towel went almost everywhere with Karen. There was one infamous incident, a few weeks after our first meeting, where Karen squatted under the filthy towel in the rain to wait for the mailman. Gavin’s blue-collar (Polack) neighbors were aghast and one called for the police to “See what’s going on over there.”)

Karen’s potluck suppers usually consisted of a huge bowl of sticky rice and another of steamed cabbage leaves scattered with canned tuna. Sticky rice (‘xoi’) came in several varieties. Sometimes, it was red and pungent with peppers and garlic. Other times, it was bright yellow and had bits of (canned) chicken throughout (‘xoi ga’).

Karen never made the famous Vietnamese ‘spring rolls’, or goi cuon (lit. ‘salad rolls’), for us. Asian markets were far and few between, even in Detroit (where you could buy dozens of brands of Polish sausage). Consequently, the required rice paper was not to be found locally in those days.

Along with cigarettes, Karen had an absolute love for pound cake. She had loved the stuff since growing up in Vietnam. Until arriving in America, Karen had never seen a pound cake presented in anything but dingy, olive-drab cans that were slightly larger than a can of tuna.

The canned cakes had substance. When you shook the can, you got a satisfying ‘thud’. There is nothing like it. The closest approximation would be to shake an unopened can of tennis balls. But, even then, there would not be that substantial feel of a canned pound cake.

I last saw Karen in 1974.

I was on leave from my merchantman, docked for repairs to a trashed screw (propeller).

A few weeks before, we were cleaning out galley stores and we found (hated) boxes of ‘C-rations’ under a tarp. We pitched most of the stuff overboard while the officers slept or hid in the day room, except for a case of Karen’s beloved pound cakes. I stowed them in my locker and vowed to take them to her.

Gavin was in Alaska, working on the new oil pipeline. Karen was keeping the home fires burning and was contentedly caring for their three (still in diapers) children. She snatched the case of cakes from me and scampered to the kitchen, opening can after can so she could feed bits of the hard yellow stuff, birdlike, to her brood of Asian-featured children. Karen tossed me an unopened can, yelling as she waggled a finger at me, “You keep. You nevah know when you ung-wee.” After making small talk for a few minutes more, I left her place and set off to experience the rest of my life.

A few weeks ago, while cleaning out boxes of old keepsakes and the accumulated ‘crap’ of nearly six decades, I found a dented and badly scratched tin of pound cake. I hiked up the basement stairs and set the can next to the keyboard on which I now type these words.

Gavin was killed in a car wreck in 1986. His obituary did not mention a wife or children.

Last night, I made a big batch of goi cuon and a bowl of pungent nuoc mam in which to dip them. My wife adores the tacky, flimsy rolls and the salty-fishy sauce.

We had pound cake for desert.

Look how far we’ve come!

In Editorial, Lifestyle on July 26, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Some folks don’t understand symbols of servitude.

The cruel irony of electronic ‘conveniences’…

th-1I have an answering machine. It is always turned off. I have ‘call-waiting’ service. It is disabled. I have voice mail on my cellular accounts. They have never been set up. I have numerous email accounts. I check them twice a day. From sundown on Friday to sunset on Saturday, none of those communications devices are used. That period is Shabbat. It is time I set aside for prayer and to spend time with my wife.

“What do people do if you don’t answer? How can they leave a message?”

They can call back. If something is important enough to disturb me with, they will call back. If not. Well, I guess it wasn’t that important.

People don’t like my system. No. Not at all.

Someone began to lecture me about how ‘rude’ I was not to immediately answer my telephone or to at least use voice mail or an answering machine so callers could conveniently leave a message.

No. It is rude for callers to assume they have a right to convenience. It is rude for people to assume that they are so important that I would go Pavlovian whenever the phone rings, or that I would rush, butler-like, to obediently listen to their messages.

A pharmacy clerk got antsy when I declined to provide her with a phone number, email address, or a cell phone number for text messages to tell me that my refilled prescription was ready.

“It’s heart medication,” I explained, “If I don’t take it, my heart tries to kill me.”

That seems like a pretty good motivation for me to check on my own refills; or, for the pharmacy to take time to call me again if I don’t answer.

You see. I regard my telephones to be like small doors that passersby can open and yell to me.

Every swinging dick can stop by and yell, “Hey! I wanna talk to you.”

Nope. Such things are not ‘conveniences’.

The sins of Paula Deen mount…

My news feeds are another annoyance. I’ve shut most of them down.

A story (what an appropriate noun) on one of the services told me that Paula Deen was being accused by a former employee of yet more racist behavior.th-7

Deen allegedly asked some of her African-American employees to stand, dressed like ‘Aunt Jemima’, and ring a triangle dinner gong in front of one of Deen’s opening venues and yell, “Y’all come an’ git it!”

One employee refused and is now (allegedly) suing Deen (There, ya go!).

“That dinner bell represents a painful period for my people”, she explains.

Tell that to a cowboy, Sweetie. My wife grew up on a po’ white farm and was called to supper by a bell. A lot of folks still use ‘em. She had no idea that the bell was a symbol of minority oppression and white power.

She always thought it meant, “Supper!” Shame, on her. Poor, benighted white girl.

As for the sin of an Aunt Jemima outfit?

When people change history in order to race-bait, all manner of crap happens.

Aunt Jemima was a widely-recognized brand symbol until the mid-1960s when the proto-politically correct told us she, and Mrs. Butterworth, were demeaning to blacks.

Both were stereotypical representations of the ‘mammy’.

‘Mammies’ usually held beloved status in a home, just short of one’s own mother.

I have a dear friend, a stout Marine-type who can belly-laugh through tellings of Old Yeller, but he mists up when he talks about his mammy. “She was a dear, saint of a woman”, he says as he shakes his head in sad remembrance.

He grew up in ‘LA’…Lower Alabama.

I grew up in Detroit.

There were no mammies in Detroit. There were loads of ‘maids’ and ‘domestic workers’. Most of them were black.

On Thursdays, the shops were crowded with black women pushing carts and leading a pack of rowdy youngsters between the displays. Thursday was the traditional maid’s day off.

Maids put together a pretty good living. Suburban housewives were willing to wage neighborhood warfare if another homemaker courted their maid. Maids knew this and jockeyed for better pay and working conditions through using it.

Maids were respected almost as much as doctors and certainly more than lawyers.

The prototype PC-ers and race-baiters told black women they were ‘too good’ to work as maids.

They were so good, they were told, that they should quit those demeaning positions and take the welfare payments that white politicians were handing out instead.

That worked out well. Look at the symbol of equality that Detroit has become in the years since maids fell out of fashion there.

Elegant crostini on the cheap

In Recipies on July 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Set out a regal appetizer on a Bohemian budget. Who says you can’t entertain for less than $10? All in, with the apps and a bottle of red, our kicked back Saturday nite was around $7.

 

 

Want to put together an elegant appetizer on a shoestring budget? This is a perfect lazy man’s recipe that goes well with a bottle of chilled swill. It can be thrown together in just over an hour (hands-on time is only about 15 minutes). The onion marmalade can be made well in advance, leaving only the task of smearing a bit of Brie onto toasted slices of French bread. The stuff tastes like a million bucks and is sure bring compliments to the humblest of kitchens.

A few quick words about economy.

I watch for loaves of day-old French bread at Sam’s Club or Wal Mart. I recently bought ten loaves for a little over a buck each. They freeze wonderfully and fill in nicely when my frozen stock of baguettes runs low (I fill the freezer with home-baked each winter when the oven gives me extra heat, free.) Don’t fall for buying expensive red wine vinegar. A recent tasting on America’s Test Kitchen showed that the cheaper vinegar performs as well as the boutique ones. I went with Pompeian brand at $2.39 per bottle.

Ditto for the red wine. As long as it’s drinkable, it will work fine. Save the better stuff for when you serve this masterpiece.

Let’s get started.

You’ll need:

1 loaf French bread, sliced ½” slices

4-6 oz Brie, room temperature

2 TBS olive oil

¼ C red wine vinegar

2/3 C red wine

1 large shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 very large yellow (or white) onion, thinly sliced

2/3 C brown sugar

2 tsp dried French thyme (or a good handful of fresh stems)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a skillet over low-medium heat. Stir in the onions and cook for about 15 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Reduce the heat to low and add the shallot and the garlic. Stir for about a minute or until the fragrance blooms. Stir in the vinegar, the wine, and the sugar. The mixture should be barely boiling. Add the thyme and a bit of salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, at a bare simmer for about 45-60 minutes. Do not allow the pan to dry out. If it gets dry, stir in a tablespoon more of wine.

Pre-heat a broiler for ten minutes. Use a toaster to toast the slices of bread. Smear a bit of Brie on each slice and place them on baking sheets. Broil just until the cheese melts (1-2 minutes). Remove from broiler and fork a teaspoon or two of the onion mixture on each slice. Serve with wine.

 

Gratin: It’s not just about potatoes

In Lifestyle, Recipies on July 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm

The Phyne Dyner made a few lifestyle adjustments and summertime greeted him with a bounty of fresh vegetables. So, why not ‘go gratin’?

A development during the recent hiatus of the Phyne Dyner was our household’s switchover from conventional foods to all organic and low glycemic index food.

For decades, my breakfast has alternated between a bowl of Israeli-style salad with a small helping of cottage cheese or one cup of rice slathered with sambal oelek or Vietnamese chili paste. Until 19 March of this year, my rice was white and our proletarian-style meals usually had its starch component filled with potatoes. Our meat (almost never eaten, except on Shabbat) was previously the supermarket variety. Now, its cage-free chicken (rarely free-range beef) that has been air chilled instead of cooled in a ‘fecal water bath’ by the packer.

My morning repast remains unchanged, except that the rice is an organic, brown jasmine variety. Because brown rice metabolizes more slowly into glucose, there’s no glucose/insulin spike. Consequently, my morning hour of meditation doesn’t find me in a sugar high that crashes halfway through the session.

The health benefits are just becoming noticeable.

I’ve lost about twenty pounds and I’m able to snug up my belt by two more notches.

It’s been a good trade.

While our weekly grocery bill is about 20% higher than with standard supermarket fare, we find we eat far less food because the meals are more satisfying. This is especially true of the meals containing chicken.

The higher quality chicken doesn’t cook down or shrink because of a high fat content or because the meat has been permeated with water during processing. One chicken leg (Can you believe?) satisfies me. The rest of the plate gets filled with seasonal vegetables that now constitute about 95% of our diet.

With the advent of summer, eating vegetarian is a snap. My garden is just coming in and we have had fresh herbs since May. My dehydrator runs 24/7 to deal with the surplus of basil, tarragon, oregano, mint, chives, and sage. Zucchini and eggplant abound and menus vary according to what I pick each day. That means ratatouille will be in my future very soon. Right now, I have a pretty good mix of root and leafy stuff and that goes into quiches, galettes, or gratins.

Most people are only familiar with gratin as a potato and cheese affair and that’s a shame. So, to help you out of your own potato rut, I’ve decided to run with a mixed vegetable version that also includes a good handful of fresh chard. It’s a colorful and satisfying meal that you can assemble from what’s in the fridge. Enjoy!

You’ll need (makes about 1.5 to 2 liters):

2 medium zucchini, sliced

2 shallots, minced (abt 3 TBS), divided

2 ribs celery, diced

2 C diced carrot

1 small bunch fresh chard

1 medium yellow onion, minced

6 green onions, sliced white and green parts

2 C diced white mushrooms

4 cloves garlic, cut into matchsticks

½ C dry white wine

1 ½ C milk

1 C water or vegetable stock

2 tsp dry Herbes de Provence

½ C flour (may use 50% whole wheat)

1/3 C Romano cheese, grated

½ C bread crumbs or matzo meal

4 TBS butter or olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

fresh chives for garnish

Melt the butter (or use olive oil) in a Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium low heat. Stir in the shallots, carrot, and onions. Cook until just beginning to sweat (about 8 minutes), being careful not to brown the vegetables. Stir in the garlic and cook until its fragrance blooms. Scatter the flour over the vegetables and stir constantly until the flour just begins to darken. Increase the heat to medium and deglaze the pan with the wine, being sure to scrape up any clinging bits of flour from the bottom of the pan. Immediately stir in the water (or stock) and the milk. Add the herbs, salt, and pepper. Bring to a gentle boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, (stir often) until the mixture thickens.

Meanwhile, bring about 3 quarts of salted water to a slow boil. Clean the chard well to remove any sand or grit and then tear the leaves from the tough stems. Blanch the chard for about 4 minutes and immediately drain in a colander, and quench the chard under cold running water. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Carefully wring as much water as possible from the chard and cut it into bite-size pieces. Stir the chard into the vegetable gratin mixture and remove it from the heat.

Oil a large baking dish or casserole. Mix the breadcrumbs (or matzo) with about 1 TBS of olive oil and the grated cheese. Season this mixture with a bit of salt and pepper. When the gratin mixture is cool enough to handle, spoon it into the baking dish and spread it evenly across. Scatter the breadcrumb mixture over the gratin and bake the gratin for about 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the gratin to rest for about ten minutes. This will allow it to thicken a bit more. Garnish with minced chives and serve in deep bowls with a fresh garden salad.

 

No compassion for PC heretics!

In Editorial on July 15, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Lama Surya Das writes about a meeting between an elderly monk and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. During the meeting, the venerable monk stopped the treasured meeting so he could pick up an ant that had been struggling to cross the highly polished floor between the two men. The action surely cut into the allotted meeting time, but it made all the difference for the ant. For ‘some reason’ I seldom click back to the blogs of people new to Phyne Dyning. Most times, the click seems to disappoint. Today was the exception and ‘zanyzacreviews’ (on WordPress) gave me some seeds to chew on. A little while later, I followed ‘Dennis’ back to his poetry site and to his writings about the homeless (gottafindahome on WordPress). Sure, it cut into my allotted time to write. But it made a difference.

Paula Deen? Hang her!

KTVU news reporters? Hang tires filled with petrol around their necks and light them!

Emma Way? Crucifixion atop an anthill!

[Cue the mobs with torches and pitchforks.]

In our quest for perfection in matters of tolerance, Americans have shown a willingness to inflict brave punishments and exile upon transgressors of Holy Political Correctness.

Burn the heretics!

Heretic Paula Deen was exiled from her food kingdom after she was sued for once using ‘the n-word’.

N-word?

Remember when all hell broke loose after someone used ‘niggardly’ in a news story? I remember burying my head in my hands when that story broke. Mobs have limited vocabularies.

Asiana Airlines threatened suits against KTVU after an intern bamboozled (Is ‘bamboozled’ still permitted?) the station’s anchors into identifying the Korean pilot as Sum Ting Wong (Or was it, Ho Lee Fuk or Wi Tu Lo?)

Are we substituting hypersensitivity for cultural awareness?

Let’s consider the case of Heretic Emma Way.

Emma bashed into a cyclist on her way to work and later tweeted somewhat triumphantly and callously about the incident on social media

Within days, a howling mob descended on Way and she became an instant pariah. The accounting firm where she worked as an intern promptly suspended Way and ultimately terminated her employment. They probably issued a tear-stained press release mewing something about Way’s behavior “not being representative of our company’s culture”.

What does Way’s sacking say about the company culture? “Make a stupid mistake and pay for it with your life”?

Ultimately, Way will be hard to place in a new job. She will be forever branded as that person.

No doubt Ms. Way will end up owing (and being unable to pay) whatever damages the cyclist experienced. Her rent or house payment will be late. Her dog or cat will go without vet care. Her insurance agent, grocer, butcher, baker, and candlestick maker will lose her business.

Serves her right! Right?

Or does it?

Paula Deen got axed (not ‘asked’) from her spot with the Food Network. That paragon of moral business behavior, Wal Mart vowed not to sell Deen’s cookware. Her publisher filed her latest book in the big circular file. Deen was stripped of her chef’s jacket faster than a Hell’s Kitchen contestant who put piss in Gordon Ramsay’s risotto.

It looks like Phyne Dyning is taking the side of the louts. Man the tar buckets! Get the feather pillows!

Calm down.

Remember Fiddler on the Roof? Remember the scene where the Menachem, the village beggar, besets his fellow villagers just before Shabbos Eve (Friday night):

Villager: “And here is a coin for you.”

Beggar: “One. Last week you gave me two coins.”

Villager: “I’ve had a bad week.”

Beggar: “You’ve had a bad week. So? I should suffer?”

Therein, dear friends, is the lesson.

Deen was a boor for using the ‘n-word’ that is unutterable by non-blacks or unless it’s part of a Hollywood script. The prank pulled on the KTVU reporters was in bad taste. Emma Way did a very callous thing and then worsened it with more childish behavior.

Do Deen’s employees need to suffer? What about her investors? What about her support crew? All of these people should do without?

What about Ms. Way?

She’s just out of school. Jobs are tight. Why should her cat or dog risk being euthanized at a shelter because their human companion screwed up? Why should her landlord go unpaid? What about her future? I’ll bet she has student loans? Who will pay those?

“She should have thought about that before.”

Nonsense.

We all screw up…sometimes in epic fashion.

Let’s think of a middle way out of this.

What if Way’s employer released a statement saying, “Our firm does not share the values expressed by Ms. Way or in how she handled this highly publicized incident. Our corporate culture is one of responsibility and respect. Therefore, we are enthusiastically retaining Ms. Way in her trainee position and we will endeavor to pass our values to her. We look forward to her embracing those values and those of our community and we trust that she will use this experience to grow.”

Would that be so hard?

Would it be unthinkable for Deen’s publisher to recognize that their client grew up in the South almost sixty years ago and to make a statement about Deen’s contributions to the culinary arts? Are there no African-American chefs who were inspired by Deen’s cooking skills? Why do we dare think Deen is unsalvageable?

In the end, the mob howls for ‘justice’. At night, wrapped in the blankets of their own beds, they pray for mercy.

We all do.

The American descent into madness

In Lifestyle on July 15, 2013 at 11:41 am

There is an epidemic of control-related mental illness in America. We now have the madmen running the asylum.

 

I believe that the majority of people are mentally ill. It is especially the case with proponents of American-style democracy.

What is democracy?

One person gets one vote. The majority opinion decides. Think apartheid.

American-style democracy is supposedly tempered because we have a representative subspecies of the style. It works like an absolute democracy, but the majority elects representatives who are supposed to consider the potential effects of majority wants upon the entire citizenship. Consequently, even if a majority of Americans wanted to enslave a portion of the populace (presumably) the representatives would not codify slavery into accepted behavior because slavery is wrong.

Unfortunately, the system is fatally flawed.

People flock to power like moths around a porch light. Tolkien’s character ‘Gollum/Smeagol’ would be more likely to surrender his precious ring than would any elected representative give up power. Consequently, elected representatives gleefully give into the wants of any majority who elects them.

By default, the electing majority is now made up of control freaks.

Control freaks are mentally ill people who have irrational fear of error. America is going through an epidemic of control ‘freakism’ and it expresses itself in the voting booth.

A control freak tries to turn the chaos of living into an orderly process. They wrongly believe, if they can only create a rigorously controlled environment, no mistakes will be made. When mistakes (unavoidably) take place in the controlled environment, the control freak believes the error happened because there were still insufficient controls in place.

What makes someone into a control freak?

Control freaks have deep-set fear of abandonment and/or they grew up in a home where deserved praise was seldom given (or it was qualified).

The abandoned kid begins to believe his mother and/or father left (or was constructively absent) because the kid misbehaved or failed to follow the house rules. They think, “Mommy would be here if I were a better kid.” The parental absence has nothing to do with the kid (in virtually all cases), but the child strives to follow all of the rules and even sets itself up to obey even more Draconian rules than the parents ever set down. “Maybe if I am better and make no mistakes, Daddy will play catch with me.”

The other version involves the “Why isn’t your B, an A?” phenomenon.

No matter what the kid does, it’s never good enough. “Good enough”, to the child, is capricious and ethereal. He simply knows he must perform better. Mistakes are not an option. The kid brings home a report card with an A in English. Daddy either says “Why isn’t it an A+?” or Dad shrugs and says nothing. (The kid may also have an abnormal sense of ego and dismiss any praise except one accompanied by a marching band.)

In the end, the kid sees mistakes as an enemy that must be vanquished. They grow up to be fixated on data, charts, motivational posters, seminars, and all of the other trappings designed to eliminate mistakes or create a perfect world. They set forth, armed with policy manuals and rule books, and tyrannize their fellow man in the workplace and from within the voting booth.

“Zero tolerance!” they cry. Their buttocks are so tightly clenched that a lump of coal between them would emerge as a diamond.

Of course, the more tightly they regulate their environment, the more likely it is that one of their fellow humans will transgress some rule or policy. These inevitable violations trigger another volley of new rules, all designed to prevent similar mistakes. The control freak gradually paints himself into a corner…using invisible paint.

It does no good to try to educate a control freak about their illness. For them to change, they would have to recognize their control issues as mistakes. But remember, to the control freak, mistakes are the enemy and mistakes will not be tolerated. A control freak will use every defense mechanism (from violence to denial) to avoid admitting that their drive to control is the problem.

Finally, how does all of this relate to what we are seeing today in America?

From the mid-1960s, children were abandoned by mothers who set out to empower themselves with careers and by fathers climbing the success ladder. Latch-key kids became the norm. Parents pushed their little protégés into soccer, karate, golf, foreign languages, and all sorts of advanced placement programs designed to mold kids into error-free perfecto-pods.

It worked.

We now have at least two adult generations for whom failure is not an option. Deep in their psyches they know that Utopia is just one more rule away. These grownups clamor to proxy leaders who promise, “With passage of this law, we will now have the tool(s) to be health, wealthy, and wise”.

That’s just sick.

The Zombie Apocalypse: Phyne Dyning Style

In General Information on July 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm

A few months ago, I reached behind my blog’s respirator and pulled the plug. The patient died as expected and I set off with my sea bag over my shoulder, now completely unencumbered and free to roam. I set off to finish my great American novel.

I finished it.

Now, I have two newly labelled drawers in the file cabinet next to my desk. One drawer is labelled, “Rejections”. The other has a plain black mourning band around the drawer pull. It is the draw in which I file the letters containing the concluding lines: “We are no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts. We will contact you when this policy changes. Thank you for your interest in _____________.”

I may need two more drawers.

My agent, Linda, still answers my calls. That’s something, I suppose.

When the rejection letters began arriving by the bagful, she suggested that I keep plugging along. When a rejection arrived from a publisher in Ghana arrived, she recommended the services of a writing coach.

The needle on my BSI (Bull Shit Indicator) began to twitch. A lot of money changes hands between struggling writers and writing coaches. I could hear my long-dead father’s voice balefully intoning, “Those who cannot do…teach.” Of course, I was all over the idea like a West Texas vulture on a week-dead coyote.

My coach turns out to be plural. It seems that coaching amateur writers is a default occupation of retired composition professors and publishing house reviewers.

They coach via the Kiss-Kick-Kiss model: “Your writing shows great promise. It sucks now. But it is obvious that you have diamond-in-the-rough talent.” After a dozen re-writes, the coaching paradigm  changed. “It is the object of our efforts that you improve. Try to think what has happened that may be adversely affecting your writing. Personal problems? Pressure?”

Then, it dawned on me. Without his monster, Dr. Frankenstein was just a creepy old guy with a bunch of surplus electronics stuff stored in a castle.

I had pulled the plug on my monster.

The journey continues.