The Great Plotnik

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday: the Garden at Great Plotnik World Headquarters

Asparagus Spear with Onions


Purple potatoes (left), White potatoes (right)

Flowering Kale, Vidalia onions

Climbing Snow Peas


China Plate Iris, fading Daffodils


Ceanothus with many honeybees

There are lots of reasons to lampoon Shmalifornia, but springtime isn't one of them. Plotnik thumbs wistfully through seed catalogs each winter, to no avail, wishing for more sunshine for his smuggled-in Padron pepper seeds, or large beefsteak tomatoes, or eggplants or sweet oranges or avocados. His tradeoff is no humidity or smog in the summer, nor ice nor frost in the winter.

He remembers living on the farm in Catawissa and, during the winter, sitting by the fireplace poring over those same seed catalogs, snow on the ground and the pond frozen solid. There, he couldn't wait for the last frost, that same frost that never comes to Saint Plotniko. So no tropicals or subtropicals there, but tomatoes the size of softballs, Duarte plums, Iochief corn.

He and Ducknik lived in Manhattan then. Plotnik would buy pepper seeds and plant them under grow lights, then when they sprouted place them out on the fire escape, and on the weekend transplant them into the garden in Catawissa. Usually they died but not always.

Easter Sunday is the official 44th Anniversary of Plotnik and Ducknik's real first date. The two stood by the window this morning, staring into the garden, and Plotnik thought: "On Easter Sunday 1969 we were drinking wine on Martha's Vineyard. On Easter Sunday 2013 we are eating bagels in Saint Plotniko. A zai a zee a zopp!" which is Plotnikish for "How lucky can you get?"

Friday, March 29, 2013


Somebody should've filmed yesterday's adventure at Costco. We would all be viral by now. Mummy P. insisted on driving the little electric cart that they provide for people who are unable to walk through the aisles. The cart has two speeds: very fast and immediate brake. At Costco, when people see someone offering a taste of free food they run in front of you to go grab some. If the driver of your electric vehicle is blind, she doesn't see the people running in front of the cart, nor do the Costco workers stocking the shelves present a barrier of any kind to her.

She ran over Plotnik's foot twice, all the while insisting to know "why did we come here anyway? Why are we buying that? We don't need that. Why did we come here? Don't buy that." Vrooooom.

We didn't kill anybody, and here, in the land of diminished expectations, this goes in the ledger with a checkmark under 'successful day.'

Stiletto City is beautiful in late March, Plotnik has to admit that. Every flowering tree is exploding, every bulb is bursting forth, every fence is covered with Jasmine or bougainvillea. Even the succulents, and the azaleas, and Gawamighty the amazing clivia, bouguets of orange wave themselves in the air like an audition of drunken, strapping green cheerleaders. Latinos mow, prune, plant, clip, wash. This neighborhood, where the Chief and Mummy P moved in 1966, then dusty and flowerless, without charm, and probably half Jewish, now is becoming Russian, and treed, and flowered, and orderly, and if it weren't for Latinos not one damn thing would ever get done here.

She repeats herself. A lot. I don't know how you get used to it. I don't know how Lillian and Gloria can manage. We must celebrate caregivers. They bring life to those who used to do the same for others, but no longer can. Lillian and Gloria are saints, that's all there is to it. Period.

"Why did we come here? Why are we buying that?" Because, Mom. Because. Vrooooom.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What a Wonderful Night

Sometimes you get a Matzo Apron, and everything just works out the way it's supposed to. This year's Passover seder was perhaps a little more spiritual than usual -- which isn't easy to do when it's unlikely that anyone at the table believes in least not the wrathful God of the Old Testament nor the Your Best Buddy God of the NewTestament. Perhaps our testament is called Friendship. 

That's not to belittle the message -- it's just that when you all haven't gotten together for a year, there's lots to catch up on. The hagaddah is filled with references about how the old sages would drag it out until early morning, talking and talking and...talking. Can you imagine? A bunch of rabbis who can't stop talking?

It's about freedom, of course. But it's also true that nobody gets their freedom without taking a little something away from the people who used to feel very free while you were a slave. So -- you fight for what you truly need and then, as life goes on, you kind of define who is on your team -- your kids, your friends, your family. You're happiest when you play on a team.

Ducknik's table looked beautiful.

And the food broke some new ground this year. Same old brisket and potatoes, but something happened. It was better than past years. It all was a little more labor-intensive than usual and maybe that's why everything tasted that little bit better. Sarah's Resplendent matzo balls started dinner off and then a mango-avocado-lime juice salad, Mary Ann's green salad and Bill's fabled White Sauce, Pip's brussels sprouts and Liz's almond torte rounded everything out, to go with Duck's macaroons, which were also better this year than ever before.

Rosie's Brisket -- the secret may be that everybody LIKES it when it's really soft and squishy and laden with that beefy-stewed tomato gravy. When Mummy P. made it, in the old days anyway when she was still Queen of her Kitchen, you got nice slices of tender beef with a tomato-y glaze. Plot still likes it that way best, and it always starts out like that, but by the time the seder has dragged on and the brisket has been warming in the oven for several hours -- well, it comes out soft, squishy, laden with gravy and filled with not only Umami but My Mommy.  

And those freaking matzoballs. Holy Jesus Was a Jew. Chef Sarah outdid herself this year. We also timed it so she didn't put them into poach in the broth until we finished the Plagues. Note to Self: 


 Thanks to The Great Mushnik for several of these photos.

 Rosie: we'd have loved to have you here. BZWZ, PD, 5H, BB and Des: Kisses from The Crew. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Great Smells and a Thought About Celebration

The kitchen at Great Plotnik World Headquarters smells really good. Sadly, Moses should have brought down from Mt. Sinai one more commandment, which was you don't cook all the food perfectly and then sit around talking until it all ends up dry and overcooked. But he didn't do that, did he?

Ducknik's macaroons are their very best right when they come out of the oven, which was an hour ago. But it'll be eight more hours 'til anyone tastes them, and by then...

This year, Plotnik obeyed Commandment One ("thou shalt listen to thy wife") and read the Hagaddah several days in advance, to prepare himself for the service. There is some interesting stuff in there, when you're not hurrying through to get finished before the brisket gravy cooks away and the matzoballs have absorbed all the stock so instead of one small matzoball in a bowl of soup you have one huge matzoball and no soup.

Plottie was struck by this one line, which is spoken before we drink the second cup of DELICIOUS concord grape wine. It comes as we list all the plagues once visited upon the Egyptians because their Pharoah was such a hardhead. We spill drops of wine from our glass first, because "by drinking from this partially filled cup, we express our sympathy for the Egyptians who lost their lives when Israel attained freedom."

What year are we talking about? Somewhere around 1430 BC. Do present day Israelis still feel that sympathy for their neighbors to whom the same thing happened in 1948?

Plotnik suspects many Israelis do think about it, at least on Passover night, but aside from that moment the idea enters their minds about as often as we bemoan what happened to the Cherokee or the Sioux.

If you're Siouxish you have a different story to tell. This all goes to say: don't believe everything you read. Still, The Great Plotnik is proud to be celebrating a holiday that has been talked about in the same way for thousands of years. He likes fitting into that great patchwork of history, playing his infinitesimally tiny role. It is better than no role.

And he is glad to see one passage, at least, amidst all the celebrations of how God chose us, and blessed us, and smote our enemies, and parted the waters to lead us into Zion, before drowning the poor Egyptian grunt soldiers who were forced to pursue us to their deaths, that makes us remember that our adversaries also had lives.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Travel and No Travel

It is time to buy a big brisket, and cans of stewed tomatoes, and flaked coconut for the macaroons, and oranges and olives, and get a piece of horseradish for the vodka, and make sure there's an egg to hard boil and find a lamb with a shank and dig up new potatoes from the garden.

Once again, it appears that Mummy Plotnik cannot make it next week. Plottie has asked her fifteen times and she has forgotten fifteen times. The stumbling blocks are the inconveniences of air travel and the stairs at World Headquarters, and if it's cold out where will she smoke? Plot has been advised by all members of the family that it would be unhealthy for her to come north, and to instead go down there later on in the week and carry-on some leftover brisket.

That'll work out.

Meanwhile, The Great BZWZ should have left the island of Sulawesi this morning -- her route takes her on a puddle jumper from her part of the island to Makassar, the larger airport on Sulawesi, and then onto a flight to Jakarta and another one to Singapore, then an all-night layover in Singapore Airport followed by a flight to Tokyo, another to Detroit, and then finally on to Providence. It takes days and days, but it's worth it to consider that she's been on a lake on the other side of the Earth. Doing stuff like that makes you even a better person than you were before you left. You see the planet more clearly, as well as your place on it.

And, unlike her flights a month ago, this itinerary does not include stops in Mumbai and Goa and wherever the hell it was Indiana.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Plottie Can Hear Again!

The Great Plotnik had the bandage taken off his ear this morning, to discover that the little skin graft covering the tiny hole on the inside of his earlobe, once occupied by an almost-invisible basal cell sarcoma, is now doing fine and healing well. He has to wear a bandaid over his ear for another few weeks when outside, to protect against the sun.

(Seems a bit overprotective, but hey. You listen to the doctors or you don't. Plotnik does.)

(Up to a point.)

(For example, his regular m.d., Dr. I Dunno-Wadda You Think? has told him NEVER use a q-tip in his ear to remove earwax. Today, after the ear had been covered for a week, substantial wax had developed. The nurse removed it with a q-tip.)

(His dentist, Dr. U-Flossem, wants him to use that useless little rubber-tipped dingus on his gums. Each time Plotnik goes in, he is asked: "Have you continued using the rubber-tipped dingus with the same frequency as always?" "Why, yes, Doctor. No change.")

(His dermatologist, Dr. Whoever Is In That Day, once told him to wear a hat and ALWAYS wear sun-screen when leaving the house. That day's dermatologist was bald. Plotnik asked him if HE wore sunscreen, and the man said "Well...just wear a hat.")

(The obvious question is why would The Great Plotnik, strapping young physical specimen that he is, have this many doctors. F-ing Kaiser. It's insidious. You don't pay extra for extra doctors, so the next thing you know you're in somebody's office reading pamphlets in Tagalog about high blood pressure.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Brines of March

Dinner was delicious last night. Nobody is full-bore 100% Irish but the traditions do not call for ethnic exclusivity. Everybody loves corned beef, cabbage and Bill's white sauce. And we hope those popovers become part of the unchangeable tradition.

And of course don't think the dainty portion on The Great Plotnik's dinner plate bears any resemblance to the trough-load he put away.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Lesser Known Historical Fact

It's St. Patrick's Day. It has been a long time since Plottie watched the Irish Parade up Fifth and Stagger Down Third. We drink beer and eat corned beef, cabbage and boiled potatoes to celebrate the Fourth Century monk who brought Christianity to Ireland.

Little is ever said about the third century rabbi who was bringing Judaism to Ireland, but turned left instead of right and ended up swimming with the herring. History would certainly have been different, though we might be eating corned beef anyway.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Post Modern

Sometimes a poem can say it better than a song. No music to amplify or confuse things or suggest emotion where the writer was unable to suggest it himself -- only words, strung together, one stanza to the next. The dance leads to the kiss, but, like the best kisses, not without effort.

One of Plotnik's favorite poets just showed this one to us:

Post Modern

Come dance with me in the Belle Epoque
As we imagine it, with penicillin and anesthesia
and modern dental equipment and demerol,

without the shadow of the next century,
replete with its appalling slaughter of the innocents
in muddy trenches and frigid gulags, without the need

to avoid the clinical language we invent to tidy up
torture and mass murder in its many manifestations.
Just the sunlight in a carefree Renoir,

without the sentimental palette or the peculiar fondness
for wool and bustiers and corsets and too-tight shoes.
Just the champagne of the afternoon, and an aperitif

or two, and three courses of haute cuisine including
dessert, and this dance without our stumbling feet
or a story about the morning's cold rain or the sunset's

unbearable tristesse, just the love that does not question
how it feels if I sleep with your best friend, or, 
in these days of gender confusion, you do the same,

or if I lose my arm on the job, or we fail to make
December's rent - just you and me in this bubble outside
of history, where we exist for as long as a first kiss.

--- Will Walker

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ear Status

Still feeling dodgy. One ear open, one ear closed. Have to keep bandage on one more week. Hard to sleep. May or may not make it to Tiapos tonight.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

White Smoke Has Been Spotted!

...this means "extra mayo" on the thirty pastrami-on-ryes.

In further news, The Great Plotnik Vatican Reporter reports that a new Pope has been selected. He is Cardinal Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinal of them all.

The greatest advantage is that Pope Stan is already dead, instead of just looking it.

Pope Stan is already a favorite to win the 2013 MVP ( Most Valuable Pope).

Pope Stan has been enthusiastically endorsed by Afghanistan, Turkestan, Hindustan, Kirghizstan, Baluchistan and Uzbekistan, who think the name has a ring to it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Pain in the Concha

The basal cell carcinoma is gone, finally. Plot has to wear this tape on his ear for a week and refrain from heavy lifting, like vacuuming and washing dishes and bringing in the garbage cans. He is allowed to watch TV but can't get too excited.

Yeah, right. Like the admonition to ice the affected area for 10 minutes every 30 minutes for the next 48 hours. Probably not gonna happen.

All this for the tiniest little culprit, which his sharp-eyed dermatologist discovered in his concha (that's the bottom part of your ear) last year. And it still took a ton of preparation and equipment and nurses and a surgeon. We're talking maybe 1/32 of an inch? Once they see the bad stuff is all gone they have to take a little skin graft from under the ear and sew it into the hole they just made.

AND -- did you know that if they take a piece of skin that was in a spot on your body once exposed to the sun, that skin can develop skin cancer later, even though it's in a different place? That's why they used the underside of The Great Ear Lobe.

You can't beat the MOHS clinic at Kaiser. This is Plot's second adventure up there and, if spending a lot of time in the sun when he was a teenager is the indicator they say it is, probably not his last.

Now he can't hear very well, with one ear bandaged off, and he can't use earphones either. And then there's that issue he hasn't mentioned about what happened to his finger on Sunday when Ducknik needed an old and very heavy speaker moved out of the attic and down the stairs. After a few days the finger does not appear to be broken, though he probably should have gone in to have a few stitches put in to close the cute little skin tear.

And yes, Plotnik is well aware of what "concha" means in Mexican slang. Just remember that

"The concha of the ear is an irregular hemispheric bowl with a defined rim."

That would have been a difficult operation on him.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Can She Get Any Cuter?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mommy's Little Man

Mommy's Little Man is getting to be a really good smiler. He's got that blissed-out 1960s thing happening too.

Papa, being on the other side of the country, is unable to reach out and hug Desmond, but he is doing it in spirit. The same goes for Isabella, who today went to Carnegie Hall with her dad to hear a children's concert. Papa, for some reason, insisted that that fine old concert hall is actually named Konecky Hall. Belly asked her mom if that were true. Did Plottie get any respect? No.

Saturday, March 09, 2013


The daffies, or to use the proper Welsh spelling, the davvydyllt,have been blooming for weeks but they will take a pinch on the jaw the first real windstorm we get. In the meantime, nothing makes a place prettier then bright yellow flowers. Plot has learned that out here you have to plant 'em anew every winter because they rarely come back.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Heat Lightning and Fog over Frisco

Last night our friend Steve stood in for his sister Margaret at a double-feature homage to their Dad, Lyle Talbot. Steve told some great stories, and we got to watch two depression-era films from the early 1930s, in one of which Lyle was a gangster and in the other a stock manipulator duped by love for Bette Davis. She was very young in this film, which is called "Fog Over Frisco," and she and Lyle both get bumped off early, and there went the best parts of the movie.

People in those days put on their hats and gloves and always stayed for two movies, plus a news-reel and a cartoon, so the films had to be short, just over an hour. Last night, Steve's stories after the show were even better than the movies. He and Plottie grew up very close to one another, in an era when Hollywood Boulevard still had some caché. His stories of driving to work with his dad (Steve was a child actor on "Leave it to Beaver" while his dad was a regular on "Ozzie and Harriet") took Plotnik back to the early 1950s, when Harold, his first stepdad, had an office on the top floor of the Taft Building on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, down the block from the Pantages Theater, and down the other block from the Brown Derby. Plotnik loved going to the office with Harold, where he could pound on the big black Underwood typewriter and engage himself in his one true love, which was designing menus.

Yup, that's right. Menus. A five or six year old kid's view of the world: Turtle Soupe was one of those items on the menu, price forgotten. A few of them are still around somewhere.

On the ground floor of the Taft Building was an Owl Rexall drugstore with a lunch counter. When it was necessary for Plotnik to be made scarce, he was allowed to tell the elevator man to take him down to the Owl Rexall, grab a place at the lunch counter and order a grilled cheese sandwich and a chocolate milk shake. He would sit there until Harold came down and got him. Man! Heaven!

Maybe...1953? 1954? Was that lunch counter segregated, officially or unofficially? In Plot's dim memory, he thinks he remembers all kinds and colors of people there in the heart of Hollywood. Maybe, maybe not?

But it's not prejudice that's on Plot's mind this morning, as much as the world of his boyhood, when lines were drawn and people knew exactly where they stood. Your view of that world depends on which side of the line you got to stand on. Since the point of movies was to cater to the most people possible, if you watch films from every decade since we've had them you can catch a pretty good glimpse of popular sentiment about social issues.

In the first film last night, "Heat Lightning," a Mexican family is pictured driving up in a beat up old jalopy, Tom Joad style.  There are literally ten kids in that car, one per year, and the dad wears a sombrero and he says "we don' hab no money." So the good cafe owner allows him and his family to camp outside for free, and the payback is the dad is a great singer and just happens to have a guitar that is in perfect tune, so he sings one romantic bolero for the entire last half of the film. That must have made an audience feel good in 1934, to see the stereotypical Mexican, down on his luck like the entire nation was, singing his heart out while his enormous family slept on the dirt by the campfire.

Plot knows Harold got at least partially blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Maybe that was why the office in the Taft Building went away, substituted by an inferior space on Ivar Street. Plot doesn't know when the big Broadway department store across the street from the Taft Building closed, but it wasn't too long after that. Once TV came in and the movie business went out to Century City the seedbags took over the street, and they're still there.

By the way, if you'd never been to Saint Plotniko but you saw "Fog over Frisco," you would know four things:

1) There is heavy fog at all times.

2) Pacific Heights mansions have cable cars passing in front of them. In fact, there is a cable car on every street.

3) Cops are all Irish. But not too Irish.

4) You can see Alcatraz from everywhere.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

He's getting biggggg...

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


This may look like a feather duster to you. In fact, that is how it is marked on the bin at Loew's.  But if you buy this feathery fluff of imitation plastic (look in the mop department), plus the longest extension pole you can find, and toss in a nice-sized roll of duct tape  (look in the paint department), you end up with a Weapon of Mass Pollination, or: THE GUACAMOLUTOR!

Then, all you have to do is reach as high as you can into the fully blossoming avocado tree, rub each blossom with the imitation feather duster and then rub each other blossom. This is, after all, what bees normally do, but in Saint Plotniko the tree always blossoms long before it's warm enough to attract any bees. If you buy bees, they just sit in their hive until it warms up. All these beautiful fruit blossoms simply fall off without being pollinated, and the others turn into leaves.

Or so goes the logic here. Plotnik knows this tree can produce avocados, because he saw one in 1993, half-eaten by squirrels, and there is an avocado seedling growing ten feet from the first tree -- which proves a pit fell and sprouted and you can't have a pit without an avocado and you can't have an avocado without the tree knowing how to do it.

It's not as easy a process as you might think, and Plotnik could only reach maybe a third of the way up the tree, and only on one side. So perhaps, come fall, one side of this tree will be laden with avocados and the other side will grow only leaves and feel shame.

Plotnikkies must remember there was a time when Ducknik and Plotnik lived on a farm in Plotsylvania, where he planted a fruit orchard. He learned how to prune and pollinate in those years. And also how to fail as an orchardist, especially if you wanted to try doing it organically in an area with more hordes of predators than the sky over Kandahar.

But rules are rules. All bees do is fly into each blossom, rub around in it, and then fly to the next one, carrying the sticky male pollen from male stamen to female pistil. It works the same all through nature.

Of course, bees are more thorough than we are, and there are more of them, and they are also not trying to maneuver a heavy 20-foot pole. But we aren't looking for honey, either, just a couple avocados, to prove to the tree and to ourselves (The Optimists and the Women Who Love Us) that it's just a matter of time until this tree rewards us with luscious fruit.

Let's not even talk about that thick slab of avocado floating on top of a steaming bowl of caldo tlalpeño.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Lake Towuti

The Great BZWZ will be spending a lot of time on this lake over the next few weeks. It's no doubt really hard work, but if you've got to do hard work this seems like a reasonable place to do it.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Inside the Bubble

This morning Plottie drove out to Treasure Island to play some basketball with the old gang. One of the old guys brought his young nephew and his young nephew brought his large (and young) friend. So you had two really fast kids playing over the rim and everyone else hauling butt to try and keep up.

Plot kept being on losing teams but he also kept hitting his free throws between games which means he kept being able to play in the next game. So he got a good workout, and afterwards drove back to Snowy Valley to the bagel shop.

Then this happened.

(There is objectionable language included because it was an objectionable situation.)

As Plot walked towards the bagel shop, which is owned and run by a Chinese family, he saw the owner out in front of the shop, arguing with an anglo worker who was using a hose on the stairs next to the shop, making it difficult for patrons to enter.

Plottie likes the owner, so he decided to stand in back of him to support whatever was going on.
The whole scene was being observed by at least a dozen people, five babies and four dogs in the little vest pocket seating area in front of the shop.

The worker got angrier and angrier. The owner got angry back. Then, the worker shouted: "Stop being such an asshole!" He turned to the observers and yelled: "I wouldn't even walk inside that goddam store to buy any stupid little rolls from a Chink!!"

Stupid little rolls? That did it for Plotnik. No, just kidding, it was the other part.

He walked over and got in the guy's face -- well he got in his chin, the worker was pretty tall. "Shut your fucking mouth," Plotnik heard himself say. "What's wrong with you, talking like that?"

"But he's an asshole," shouted the worker. "He's always an asshole."

"YOU'RE THE ASSHOLE," shouted a very smartly dressed woman who had left her latte and gotten up to join the argument. "We don't talk like that in this neighborhood. If you can't refrain from expressing your frustration using racial epithets, you need to take your hose to some other vicinity."

Plot is paraphrasing, but that was pretty much it.

The worker, the owner and Plotniks' mouths dropped open and we all turned to stare at the woman.

Plotnik spoke: "Yeah! Like Texas."

And that, my friends, was that. The worker put away the hose, the owner and Plotnik walked into the bagel shop and the woman went back to her latte.

This is how we settle contentious issues Inside the Bubble.

Friday, March 01, 2013


That's what it is, irony. Or perhaps sarcasm. I've never been sure which is which.


I was being - I think - IRONIC. Like, ho ho ho, yes indeed, this year we have 10,000 avocados, AND, see, to show the irony, I can also play basketball just like I could when I was 'way younger. See?
Ho ho.


No, I can't dribble around a dead man. And there are NO AVOCADOS. I WISH I had avocados. I'd LOVE to have avocados. And I'm playing basketball tomorrow morning and I will WISH I weren't practically nailed to the floor. But I am. And I don't.

Is that irony? Sarcasm? Or pure curmudgeon?

America Becomes Japan

When did America become Japan? Everyone in congress needed only to save face. How is that working out for the Samurai?

The Democrats got greedy, as we always do. The Republicans dug in their heels, when they realized they had nothing left to lose. When these cuts come, which no one in Congress will feel, nor their children, nor their families, nor their friends, Obama will be blamed, and the blame will not be unwarranted. The number one rule in negotiation is you never back your opponent against the wall. 

Solution:  We need a nationwide referendum to dissolve congress. Both parties, all members. At least the Pope knew he was old and useless.

Sayonara, and good night.