It’s Tuesday night and I’m hungry again. But this time my larder’s stocked with food and the pickings are bountiful.
I throw some rice, water, pignoli nuts and a bay leaf into my roommate’s rice cooker and turn it on. Then I break out some pork chops, trim away the gristle and bone until only the medallions remain, season them with salt and pepper and put them to one side. Breaking out my cast iron skillet, I put it on high heat and add a liberal helping of olive oil. When the oil’s sizzling I brown the chops and throw in a whole glove of garlic. When the garlic’s softened I open a can of pineapple chunks and drain the heavy syrup into the pan and cover it.
After ten minutes I remove the cover and test the chops. They’re done so I put them on a plate and cover them with foil. I reduce down the pineapple syrup, mash up the garlic, toss in a handful of pineapple chunks and then slowly add heavy cream. When the sauce is at the appropriate thickness I add some mandarin orange slices, plate the rice and the chops and pour the sweet garlicky sauce all over it. Then I go into my living room and wolf the whole thing down with a vodka and tonic. Burp.
After watching the news I clean the dishes, grab a cigar and my computer and head out to my front stoop for an after dinner smoke. I’m quite pleased with myself. I like cooking dinner alone. It makes me feel self-sufficient. The recipe for tonight’s meal came from a book – Early Autumn by Robert Parker. Mr. Dawson forced me to read that book for English class back in 1985 – but I’m glad he did. The book was a revelation. The book’s protagonist, a private eye named Spenser, was a tough guy who could whip fancy meals out of thin air, quote literature, shoot a man’s eye out at 50 paces, lived by an immutable code of conduct and was a dandy lover to boot. To a seventeen-year-old boy in search of a role model Spenser became my hero. So over the years I hungrily devoured every book Parker wrote. Some were bad, some were good and a couple of them achieved greatness. But they’re all on my bookshelf and I revisit them from time to time. They’ve become old friends.
Feeling very Spenserish myself I get my cigar going, turn on my computer and surf over to the New York Times webpage. But when I tab over to the obituaries I get an unwelcome shock. Robert Parker died Monday at the age of 77. I’m not much into mysticism but I found it strange that I cooked a recipe from one of Parker’s books just before I found out he died. Coincidence? Probably. But maybe not.
I owe a great debt to Parker. Reading his books over the years not only taught me how to write but in a “small but mattering way” how to live. He taught me to treat myself like family when I was alone. He taught me it was okay to be scared. But he also taught me how to persevere – “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Parker helped make me a tough guy.
Not tough in the way Spenser was mind you. I may be a dandy lover but my left jab sucks, I’m a lousy shot and I don’t take down crime syndicates before breakfast. But tough in the only way that truly matters – to acknowledge the world’s a crazy broken place but still be able to appreciate the beauty it contains. Parker taught me only a tough person can be gentle. Only a tough person can do the right thing. And only a tough person is capable of love.
I finish my cigar and go back inside my apartment. Walking into the living room I pull my copy of Early Autumn off the bookshelf. It’s an autographed original edition my father gave me a few years ago. I run my finger across Parker’s signature and sigh.
Goodbye Robert. I will miss you.