Maybe everything that dies some day comes back.
A guest host joins us for a special edition of the Friday newsletter.
Hello! It’s Friday. If you’re new to The Action Cookbook Newsletter — and a good many of you are this week — welcome! Congratulations on your excellent decision-making. One thing that happens around here is, every Friday, I provide you with a list of seven things — recipes, cocktails, music recommendations, dog pictures, etc — to launch you into the weekend. Posts like this. Sometimes there’s a cohesive theme, and often there’s not, and that’s very much by design; it’s a slice of life as we live it. I greatly appreciated this comment the other day from reader Aimee G., who described the newsletter as such:
Writing that's like life- a little scattered, full of wonder, sometimes anger, sometimes laughs, sometimes tears, sometimes booze. But absolutely worth it all the same.
To precisely that end, today I’m handing over the controls to a guest host, my good friend Denny Mayo, who wanted to take a look at seven things of his own.
I don’t know if Scott would describe his newsletter as such, but to me the through-line in his newsletter is getting older and finding ways to be comfortable with that. Those feelings are not uncommon, but Scott’s willingness to share with the world is. I admire the hell out of that, and hope that my visit with you all is from the same vein. Scott is a dear friend of mine, and has graciously let me put some thoughts into the world. Don’t worry, he’ll be back soon.
This particular newsletter is about getting older and making new friends. It’s also about loss, and grief, and finding comfort in those around you.
The least that we can do is make our welcome clear
“My five year old won’t stop crying, and every day when I go to pick him up, my three year old runs up and punches me in the dick. The teachers laugh when I show up now, because they know it’s coming. I know it’s coming. Every day, right in the dick. They think it’s hilarious.”
I heard that within five minutes of sitting down at my first Dad Happy Hour. My daughter’s school community has monthly happy hours for moms and dads. They’re held separately so that two-parent households can have one parent stay home while the other is out. Dad Happy Hour is, to me, both a totally unremarkable thing and also the most remarkable thing. It’s welcoming and unassuming. We talk about sports, and home renovations, and camping. We talk about family members dealing with cancer, and new developments in the neighborhood, and strategies to maybe stop your kid from punching you in the dick. We stay out until 1 am like morons and then smirk at each other the next day at school dropoff.
Making friends is hard at any stage of life for most people. It’s especially difficult when you have young children and time becomes increasingly unavailable. Dad Happy Hour is a way, if slightly contrived, to make friends. From this friendship comes a sense of community. The dads I see walking to school every day are no longer strangers: they’re friends that I’ve talked with about anything and everything. This month, we’ll have to talk about death.
What you say about his company is what you say about society
Jeff was one of the dads that I met on the school playground and got to know at happy hour. His older child and mine were in the same preschool class, and his younger child is six months older than mine. Both of our younger ones were babies during that first year of preschool. Our families experienced second kid exhaustion together. We all learned the value of Saturday morning dance classes, and realized the convenience of the bar next door together. Over time, our families occasionally spent entire weekends together, on his boat or at a cabin. We’d joke that I’m his younger kid’s best friend; he’d lovingly call my younger one ‘Weezy’.
Jeff and I realized that we both love live music, so we went to concerts together. We went to four shows in 2019. One of those was put on by two of my favorite bands at NPR’s Tiny Desk. We didn’t pay for a single ticket; Jeff knew everybody and always got on the list. After every concert, we’d have a drink and talk about the bands, or our families, or anything, really. Sometimes those nights ran into the wee hours of the morning, like Dad Happy Hour can do. It’s good to spend time with a friend.
I’ve traveled to Athens, GA to see the Drive-By Truckers play their Homecoming shows for a few years with friends. (Newsletter Scott went last year, too.) Every year the band gives out pins for free at the merch table. The 2018 pin says “Always go to the show”. After I mentioned the pin to him, Jeff started putting that saying as a hashtag on photos from every show he went to. His last post on Instagram has that hashtag.
A week after the last show we went to, a week before Christmas, Jeff passed suddenly in the night. We don’t know why.
Let’s twist again, like we did last summer
Fresh pretzels are a blessing; fresh pretzel sliders filled with egg, cheddar, and bacon are a revelation. Our neighborhood has Pretzel Bakery and they make that breakfast slider. I’m gonna send along this recipe on spec, so apologies if I don’t get this quite right. It’s OK to fuck up in the kitchen—I think Scott might have mentioned that before.
To make a pretzel bun, this recipe should do, but substitute the sweet topping with everything bagel topping. Make the dough into a ball between your hands before letting them rise the second time. This recipe should make about six, based on my rough estimate. Maybe a dozen? Who knows. Cooking is fun. Treat the risen dough balls with the baking soda bath, sprinkle with everything topping. Bake at something like 425 degrees until golden brown, then let them cool.
The Pretzel Bakery uses a microwave and ramekins to cook their eggs and get the sizing right. You could use an egg ring, or make a big omelette and a cookie cutter, or just fold the egg over so that it fits onto the bun. What I’m saying is cook some scrambled eggs and portion them to fit your pretzel buns. A fried egg would also work great, honestly. Cook some bacon, break it in half. Grab a slice or two of pre-sliced sharp cheddar; you’re busy, and that’ll do.
To assemble, slice the pretzel roll across the middle, put a slice of cheese on each bun, the egg in the middle, and bacon on top. It should look like the picture above. Add a dash or two of your favorite hot sauce, or some spicy brown mustard. Take a bite. See God. Jeff loved the breakfast slider. I love the breakfast slider. I hope you love it, too.
Death Don’t Have No Mercy In This Land
I saw Amythyst Kiah open for Yola in DC a few weeks back. (About a third of the music recommendations that Scott has included over the past few months are bands or songs that I’ve passed along via a group text.) Kiah played to a nearly-full room, which isn’t common for an opener at most shows. She plays traditional blues and folk in an arresting manner, and commanded the room more than any opener I’ve seen in years. The room exploded when she simply changed instrument from guitar to banjo between songs.
The Kiah/Yola show was the first I went to after Jeff’s passing. After the show, I got put her records onto my phone. Her second record has a cover of ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy In This Land’, a classic blues song made famous by Rev. Gary Davis. It’s a traditional blues song, maybe the *most* blues song. Kiah’s version is sparsely arranged, the guitar bright and with a touch of reverb. Her voice is haunting and full. I heard it for the first time while on a run along the river. I find running by the river to be calming; Jeff loved being out on the water more than anything. One thing that I’ve learned this past month is that I run harder when I’m crying.
Amythyst Kiah and Yola are touring the US this winter and spring. Go see them.
I wouldn't have trouble with a piss test; only problem is my bad left knee
One assumption I almost always make when I meet someone with kids the same age as mine is that we parents are the same age. I do the same thing with co-workers. This is usually close in a general sense, plus or minus five years. But close doesn’t mean accurate: we’ve all lived different lives. Some of us are younger, some are older. Each of us have inhabited and bruised our bodies and minds in different ways. Some of us have more tread on the tires than others.
I’ve lived a lucky existence to this point: I have avoided back and joint issues. For me, parenting involves a lot of swinging kids around or chasing them all over a playground. Sometimes I do both at the same time. Jeff would do his best to keep up, but he lived a full life that took a toll on his body: his knees and back kept him from running or playing soccer. A two hour session at a bounce house birthday party wrecked him for a few days afterwards. He was eleven years older than me, after all. I tended to forget that.
One thing that Jeff’s knees still allowed was biking. When our daughters started biking without training wheels, he checked both of their bikes out, and tested them. By that, I mean he rode them. He taught me that I, too, can still ride a 16” bike if I want to.
So I do, from time to time: I still ride my daughter’s bike on the playground when it suits me. Riding that little bike always makes me smile. It makes me miss my friend. I’m starting to get used to doing both things at once.
Double Whiskey Coke, No Ice
2.5 oz Maker’s Mark
6 oz Coca Cola
A lot of chipped ice
I am a scientist. I’m trained to notice, and infer, and notice again. I tend to notice things and put them in my brain somewhere and usually that’s the end of it. But I like to notice, and that means I’ll walk through alleys, check out the underside of bridges, and to pull off the road into little parking lots and look around. Jeff liked to do those things, too.
Jeff noticed things about people and their lives in a way that I admired but didn’t fully appreciate until he passed. At his memorial, it became clear that he did that for everyone in his life, no matter how peripheral they may have felt. Most of us have a small, steady number of close friends that we are in contact with. Sometimes friends fall out of touch, sometimes we get close with someone new. Either way, that number stays pretty consistent. For Jeff, that number grew over time. Jeff did the work to stay in touch with everyone; he was the glue.
At the last show that we went to, I noticed that he not only drank his drink, he ate the ice in it too. He’d take his empty cup and slide it under someone else’s so that he’d have his hands free, and then go off to get another round for everyone. Jeff drank Makers Mark and Coke when we were at shows. To enjoy this drink, fill a plastic cup with chipped ice, pour a couple of glugs of Maker’s over the ice, then top off with a half can of Coke. Drink the drink, and then eat the ice. It’s your call what you do with the empty cup.
I search for comfort and I find it where I’ve found it many times before
There’s a table in the Pretzel Bakery where Jeff and I had our first real conversation. It was right before we chaperoned 14 three-year olds to a museum by going on the metro, so maybe it was the Dad version of a conversation in a foxhole. We talked about our kids, and our dogs, and dogs we’d each had before that weren’t with us anymore. It was a surprisingly deep conversation, one that struck me at the time. It still does. I didn’t expect to be talking about loss at 8:45 in the morning with another dad from the school who I barely knew. But that’s what Jeff did: he learned things about people, then he shared.
If my brain runs away from me, can still picture the two of us at that table, right in the middle of that conversation. Part of me is still standing at the base of a wind turbine last March, where Jeff and I pulled into a little parking lot in Carbon County, PA while on a grocery run. We stood there laughing about the sheer size of the turbine, and the amount of noise it made, and then we looked out over the broad valley in the cold for a few minutes. A little part of me expects him to drive by, roll down the window, and yell ‘HIII DENNYYY’ while I walk home every day. The neighborhood is filled with his absence.
Tonight will be the first Dad Happy Hour since Jeff died. He hated when Dad Happy Hour was held on Fridays, because there’s a happy hour on his block. He could attend a happy hour on his block while still wearing gym shorts; Dad Happy Hour on a Friday meant Jeff would have had to change his clothes. Jeff wasn’t going to put on pants to walk four blocks in the cold if he didn’t have to, so he wouldn’t have been there tonight. He’s not going to be there ever again.
There will be other friends at Dad Happy Hour, and maybe some new ones. I’ll be there, too: I could always use another friend.
— Denny Mayo