Category: Uncategorized

A Super Sunday Scramble in the Collapsed Pocket of My Mind

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, so I’m naturally drawn to thinking about the main reason for the day:  no, not football. Nope, not commercials. Huh uh, not gambling, not commercials about gambling, and not the halftime extravaganza.  Nope, I’m thinking about food, obviously.   

If you got that one wrong, you needn’t feel bad. I used to think that the day was about football, but then the once-successful football team I rooted for decided to take the 21st century off from winning.  Their last appearance in this national holiday tradition was in 1991.   Commanders is not only a boring name. It’s also ironic.

I guess I eat when I’m discouraged.

On Saturday I was at the grocery store trying to do the weekly shopping so that my wife, who had to work that day, could drop one thing from her list.  Of course, this failed, because I’m male, and I forgot to inform her that I was making this noble gesture.  We were parallel shopping.

So, we both came home with the rare Super Bowl parlay: Doritos, Fritos, and mini hot dogs. But that’s not what I’m thinking about on Super Bowl Sunday.  I’m thinking about daal…or dal. Both spellings are acceptable.

Yes.  I’ll explain. So, food was on my mind yesterday because it was Super Bowl Eve, but that specific food was on my mind because the night before, we had  gotten take out from an Indian restaurant, and I had ordered daal.  This surprised Nancy.  It sort of surprised me, too, but when I stopped to consider the reason, I thought it probably had to do with an experience in kindergarten.  No, not kindergarten in the last century; I’m talking about kindergarten last week.  I had been in Ms. T’s  class the week before, (no, not the wife of Mr. T.  That would probably be a last century reference, too.  I’m just calling her Ms. T. because I try not to use full names in my entries in case the people don’t want to be associated with the kind of free-form babbling that I call blogging.  Come to think of it, I don’t know the real last name of the real Mr T. either.  Ms. T. could be married to the Mr. T from the A-Team, but I’m betting against it ).   Anyhow, Ms. T. had read a book called Bilal Cooks Daal, about a kid who introduces his neighborhood friends to his favorite food.  One of the kids in Ms. T’s class, R., was so excited that his teacher was reading this book.  He helped her with her pronunciations, and he kept a running commentary throughout the read aloud session, confirming some of the details and countering others with the “real facts about daal.”  I was so impressed with his knowledge of the ingredients, because as with many Indian dishes, there are a LOT of ingredients…and because R. is 5.  He described how his family’s daal tended to be darker than the yellowish daal described in the book.  He said it had to do with the variety of lentil, not the amount of turmeric.  His classmates all nodded, as if that was what they were thinking, too.

At dinner on Friday I was relating this to Nancy (I’m using her name because she is already associated with this free-form babbling that I call blogging…by marriage), and it led me to discussing my own experience cooking daal in Poughkeepsie.  I had recently graduated from college and was making $3.15 per hour at a private reading tutoring operation.  We were located in a strip mall on Route 9.  That $3.15 was the result of three raises in five-cent increments over the course of my 6 months of employment.  My career was on a remarkable trajectory. These are not important details, but I am including them as hints of how old this memory is.  It contrasts nicely with the current labor dispute in Major League Baseball, where one of the points of contention is whether the starting salary should go up to $670,000 (per year, not per hour, but still) or stay at the meager $570,000 as set in the old collective bargaining agreement.  Anyhow, the $3.15 per hour was okay, because the room I rented in Poughkeepsie only cost me $150 a month.  I got a really nice furnished bedroom and full use of the kitchen in an incredible old Victorian house.  The woman who owned the house had recently retired from IBM, and her husband had died a few years earlier.  She needed someone to mow her lawn, shovel her walk, and sometimes take care of Myrtle, the miniature poodle she had rescued.  

Myrtle had issues, but that would be a digression. 

The real subject of this entry is Norma.    I feel that I can use her name here because as someone who has died, she probably won’t mind being mentioned on my blog.  Probably.

I really liked Norma. She was almost fifty years older than I was, but we became friends.  I miss her.

I’ve been blessed with a lot of mentors in my life, but Norma is one that I’ve never written about.  Sharing a kitchen with her was an education.  She never cooked for me, but she demonstrated how I could stretch my slim paycheck.  Aside from breakfasts, I was completely inept in the kitchen.  I think Nancy is still traumatized by a dinner at my apartment two summers before, in which I served her a frozen pizza topped with sliced hot dogs in place of pepperoni.  No, the pizza wasn’t still frozen when I served it.  I knew to put it in the oven for 12-14 minutes before serving.  But the hot dogs…

I remember Norma teaching me how to make a huge batch of spaghetti sauce on Sundays.  Kindergartener R. would probably like me to mention that in addition to garlic, onions, basil and oregano, Norma liked to add a little sugar to offset the bitterness of the tomato paste.  I’d then divide  my mega batch into meal-sized portions and freeze them.  I felt rich with all those sauces stowed away. 

She taught me how to make chili (also in huge batches).  I had no idea you could hide a little chocolate or even some coffee in a batch of chili.

She expanded my breakfast repertoire by teaching me about shirred eggs and the use of sour milk as a substitute for buttermilk in my pancakes.  

She also showed me how to grow my own alfalfa and mung bean sprouts in mason jars with cheesecloth over them.  There’s something about growing your own garnishes that can actually make salad appealing to a 21-year-old hot-dog-topped-pizza eater. (That was some tricky punctuation, as I didn’t want to imply that I had placed 21-year-old hot dogs on top of myself!  That would be crazy).

Which brings me to daal.  One of Norma’s daughters lived in Pakistan at the time and had taught Norma how to make a lot of Indian/Pakistani dishes.  Clearly, Norma could see that most Asian cuisine was not in my zone of proximal development.  Still, she thought I might be able to approximate the daal that she has learned to prepare.   

She was wrong. 

But I always appreciated her belief in me, and I’ve always appreciated when someone else made a really good daal.

So, on this Super Bowl Sunday, I’ll be watching football and commercials, and commercials about gambling sites and commercials about gambling apps and commercials about what to do if you or someone you know has a gambling problem, and I’ll be watching the halftime show, and I’ll be eating lots of mini hot dogs.

But I’ll be thinking about my old friend Norma, and wondering if someday soon I’ll be ready to try making some daal.  


For 36 years I worked almost exclusively as a fourth or fifth grade teacher.  In my new job as a special ed. paraprofessional, I still mostly  swim in the third, fourth, and fifth grade pool.  However, out of necessity, on certain occasions, I’m pulled from that safe harbor, and left to flop helplessly on the land known as kindergarten.  This is very entertaining for my long-time colleagues who love the image of me walking the halls holding hands with a five-year-old. It’s also nerve-wracking for those who actually care about the quality of work that I’m doing. And, for me, well, it’s mostly just exhausting.  

However, now that it’s the weekend, I can reflect with a more objective eye.

It’s 8:15 and I head to the side door to greet my charge for the day.  I’m subbing for another para who normally spends all day with M.  She’s not coming in today, so I’ll spend the day in kindergarten.  Granted, I won’t be teaching kindergarten.  For that, I would be even more ill-suited.  I’ve worked with M. before, since I give Ms. V her lunch break two days each week, so we’re on good terms.  

As M. enters the building, his eyes are wide with excitement. He’s about two feet tall (rough estimate), and at this moment, his eyes take up about two-thirds of that height (again, just a rough estimate).  He rushes through the front door, hears that Ms. V. will not be with him today, and plows ahead, undaunted.  He loves Ms. V, but what he has in his hand is far more compelling at this moment.

“What do you have?” I ask.

“A BATTERY!!” he blurts.  It’s at least a two-exclamation-mark blurt.  He holds it out to me.  “It’s a NINE VOLT!!!”  Yup, three exclamations.

I ask him where he got it, and he eagerly relates the story.  “The director in our house was going BEEEEP BEEEEP all night, and in the morning, my dad took it apart and he gave me the battery.  It’s a NINE VOLT!”  

Yes, I’d picked up on that.

It took me a moment to realize he was talking about a detector, but by that time, several other questions had flowed into my mind.  If it was beeping all night, why did Dad wait until the morning to take the battery out?  Does Dad sleep very soundly?  If so, the detector isn’t really doing much good.  Does this mean that M. got no sleep last night?  M. is rather combustible on a good day.  Hence the full-time para.   Imagining him in a sleep deprived state alarmed ME.

“What kind of detector was it?” I asked.  

“A water diRECtor,” he informed me, gently correcting my mispronunciation.  He was actually showing more patience than I anticipated, both with his substitute para and my poor diction.  

He regaled me with the powers of a nine volt as we went through his morning sensory routine.  While I brushed his arms and legs, I learned that the nine volt had the power of a thousand, “maybe a million thousand” other batteries.  While I did his joint compressions, I learned that he would be using it to build a lego rocket that would go “a thousand miles into the sky.”  And while he hurled the Yuck-E-medicine ball at me, I learned that…well…he has a really good arm for a kindergartener.

The remainder of the day followed a typical nine-volt-centered curriculum.  We noted the shape of the nine-volt:  not square because it had rounded edges and, as I noted, unequal sides.  He patiently endured my irrelevant comment.  We noted the plus and minus signs on the top.  “Those are the holes where the electricity comes out,” he informed me.  We crafted a paper towel cushion for the nine volt so it wouldn’t be injured as it sat in a zip lock on the top of M’s desk or when he transported it home.  We learned that the way that the electricity gets into the battery is that someone collects the thunder and puts it into the battery.  

“Oh, because lightning is electricity?” I ask.

 “No, thunder is electricity,” he corrects abruptly. He’s become a little less patient with my ignorance over the course of the day.

We’ve also built a lego house to hide and protect the nine-volt.  Though it is beautifully engineered and sturdily constructed, M. MAY have undermined the hiding feature by showing every passerby how perfectly the nine volt fit in the secret compartment behind the door that actually opened and closed.

We also learned, through a chance cross-grade-level interaction with a fourth grader in the stairwell, that by placing a foil gum wrapper across the terminals at the top of the nine volt, we could, if we wanted, cause the battery to heat up, catch on fire, and burn down the school. “Well, thanks for that, C.!  Shouldn’t you be getting back to class?”

Fortunately, none of us had a foil gum wrapper at the time…and I’m pretty sure the nine volt had lost most of its firepower.   As a slightly less impulsive elder,  I resisted showing M. how we used to test the strength of nine volts by touching the terminals to our tongue.  I’ll leave that to the wise old fourth grader.

By day’s end, M. had collected three other batteries (mere 1.5 volts, but batteries nonetheless) in his ziplock bag.  He had endured the tedium of snack, pizza lunch, art, choice time with blocks, and recess as he waited to get home to build his super-powered nine volt rocket.  

I don’t know about the nine volt, but by that time, I was in serious need of recharging.