June 15, 2015
The Grateful Dead are turning 50 this year, and a party is in the works for the July 4th weekend at Chicago’s Soldier Field. I too am turning 50 this year, and I’m more than happy to share the celebration with them.
I’ve shared a lot with the Dead over the years. It started quite by accident, way back in August, 1982 in Veneta, Oregon, home of the Oregon Country Fair – or as us high school kids called it: When the Hippies Came Town. I was working at the local Dairy Queen, and ratty-haired freaks in flowing clothing had been wandering in all day. Of course my coworkers and I were curious why these hippies had come back to town – the Country Fair had ended a month ago. I recall this one lanky guy with a turban of dark dreadlocks cradling his head telling me, “It’s the greatest show on earth. An experience you’ll never forget, and can never get enough of. You should come over and check it out.”
And that’s exactly what I did, thanks to a coworker’s boyfriend who mistakenly showed up at that DQ an hour too early to collect her – right at the moment that I was finishing my shift. So we tooled on over to the Country Fair lot to see what we could see. I remember sun reflecting off the long line of chrome motorcycles parked in the grassy lot, how we meandered into the concert unchecked, the craft booths lining the perimeter selling things such as hair wreaths of dried flowers. Most of all, I remember the dancers – this one blonde girl in particular, twirling circles in her paisley halter dress, hair streaming out behind her like the tail of a comet. I do not remember the music.
Another three years would pass before the Grateful Dead whirled onto my radar again, and that too was a serendipitous accident – or fate, depending on how you look at it. I was in L. A. at the time. One of the security personnel I worked with ran another outfit which provided security for the Dead’s Ventura concerts. When he mentioned his upcoming gig to me, I did not recall the band’s name from that concert in Veneta three years before, but this coworker was convinced I’d like what I saw and offered me 4 backstage passes. Who would turn that down – for any band?
My roommate and cohort in all crazy adventures at the time promptly borrowed the American Beauty LP from our local library. Music is what kept our hearts beating in those days. Beatles, Bowie, Stones, Doors – we immersed ourselves in it all, drunk on an era we could only imagine, saddened that those days of beauty and freedom were long gone. Two flower children, born 20 years too late. The Grateful Dead tunes we listened to from that scratchy LP did not evoke the same sense of wonder. They were okay, we supposed, or at least good enough to hitchhike up to Ventura to see a show.
I don’t recall even trying to go backstage. Walking through the crowd was like a carnival fun house filled with smiling hippies, beautiful freaks that welcomed us into their space, taught us to dance from our heart, and cracked our minds wide open. The music was all right too. Turns out these Dead guys were “good enough” for that friend and I to hitchhike all the way up to Tahoe the following month and down to Chula Vista the month after that. Good enough that, by winter of the following year, we quit our jobs, sold most of our worldly goods, bought a VW Bus, and “dropped out” to follow their tours across country.
The friend fell in love, her first true love, and we didn’t end up traveling together on tour, but we still saw each other regularly at concerts. The world that we dropped into was quite a place, filled with the most free-thinking, generous and beautiful characters I’d never imagined. I put nearly 40,000 miles on that bus over the next 18 months as I toured back and forth across country on America’s blue highways, selling bead work to pay for gas and food. Though I never had a ticket ahead of time, I boogied my way through 100-some concerts, venues such as Brendan Byrne, NJ; Hampton, VA; Alpine Valley, WI; Red Rocks, CO; and Angels Camp, CA; and each one felt like home. I learned to fend for myself and live life on the road, to adjust that VW’s engine valves on the fly and to navigate my own path. I learned to enjoy life deeply, and I learned that detours were an integral and inextricable part of living, no matter which direction they veered.
I didn’t realize the lessons I was acquiring at the time, or how those years prepared me for the next stage of my life – dashing off to Europe in search of adventure, landing in a traveling circus, and spending then next two-plus years with an even zanier cast of characters, one of whom I would fall in love with. My own first, and only, true love. Things didn’t always work out as I hoped during those circus years, in fact, sometimes things went very wrong. But they did work out, due to those years on Dead Tour, a strong thirst for life, and the fortune of sharing that path with someone I loved.
The centrifugal force of the circle of life is drawing me “home” again. This July, as the Dead take stage at Soldier Field, I’ll be there in the audience, with that “love of my life” at my side, waving my freak flag wide and high. And I will feel immensely grateful for one last party with the counter-culture which provided the lessons I needed to make my way in a traditional world.
Fare thee well ~
May 17, 2015
Note: In order to combine two of the author’s blogs, this post has been relocated from another site. For those of you who have already viewed this post, my apologies for the repetition, and thank you for your patience. Original post date: January 16, 2015.
Most of my friends and acquaintances know that I ran away with an Italian circus in my twenties, and some know that I have been writing stories about those years for some time. A few know that my memoir, Love in the Elephant Tent, will be published in May of this year. But not many know quite what has gone into that process.
I began to compile stories from my under-the-big-top adventures in 1994, a few years after I returned to the US from Italy. It was slow going. I mean slow. Perhaps that’s to be expected when you run off with the Grateful Dead and then a circus in lieu of college. By the time I helped form a local writers critique group in 1998, I had but a handful of chapters completed, none of which would make it into the final book. Over the next five years, I worked my way through the remaining story — laughter and tears, joy and frustration, and an incredibly patient writers group were regular and indispensable companions. By late 2003, I held a completed first draft in my hands — all 135,000 words of it. Another 5 years would pass as I hacked away at revisions and shepherded some 40,000 words, hundreds of hours of work, into the recycling bin.
In 2009, it was time to find an agent, and I did. Then it time was to find a publisher. And that came too, but that’s another story, another post. For now I’ll just say that it took another 6 years. In spring of 2014, I had a contract and a publishing date set for May, 2015.
A publishing date. A specific point in time when others — anyone — could peer into my heart simply by opening a book. Oh dear.
The reality of sending such personal stories of a crazy and tumultuous period of my life out into the world makes me catch my breath — especially after hanging onto them for 20-plus years. But I do have to let go, see if this book will find its way into readers’ hands and hearts and bookshelves. So many concerns: Will anyone connect with my story? See themselves and their experiences in my own? Did I represent my feelings accurately? Treat others fairly? Spell foreign words correctly? And what about those damn commas?
I received my Advance Reading Copy in late December. I pored over it and adorned it with so many sticky notes that it looked like a 1920s flapper dress. And then I went back and pondered my notes, one by one. Fixing and unfixing passages. Moving commas. Correcting those foreign words. Checking accents, dates, and weights. And then I unstuck those sticky notes, piled them up in a corner of my desk. They reminded me of confetti.
And it is time to celebrate. The book may not be perfect, but that’s okay. I’m not perfect either, but I seem to be making my way through this world nonetheless. Not everybody “gets” me, so I won’t expect everyone to “get” my book. But some will, and I will be thankful for that.
It’s time for me to let go. Fare thee well, my friend.
It really did sound like a good idea. Peaches, mascarpone, zabaglione, caramels, tawny port, savoiardi … what could go wrong? A lot, apparently.
First lesson: do not freeze mascarpone cheese. If you find good, imported Italian mascarpone on sale for 75% off because it expires in a week, DO NOT fill half of your freezer with little blue and white tubs to use at a later date. DO buy all you can use in that week, however. Make a tiramisu a day. Make mascarpone/gorgonzola/walnut loaf and spread it on crusty bread for lunch. Hell, put it on your eggs in the morning if you have to, just use it all up before it expires. If you don’t, you’ll spend more time trying to save it when you defrost it than than a fresh tub of imported cheese is worth.
Second lesson: I’m guessing that Italians don’t make peach and caramel tiramisu for a reason. If they’re going to spend all that time making dessert, they’re going to make something edible, such as the real thing. Someone has surely come up with some good variables out there – which is what I was trying to do yesterday – my experiment just didn’t turn out that way.
I started out defrosting peaches I’d plucked last year from a nearby peach farm. Whenever I defrost a quart of sliced peaches, I’m always left with a good 1 to 1.5 cup of peachey liquid. For pies and sauces, I’ll use this “juice” instead of any water the recipe calls for. (Kitchen Tip: If it’s not needed for the recipe at hand, I’ll freeze it in an ice cube tray, perhaps plop a frozen blueberry or two into each cube, and save it for some yummy summery drink, or, preferably, to keep sparkling white wine cool on a too-hot day.) For my peach tiramisu experiment, I used a cup of the peach juice instead of coffee, melted a handful of caramels in it to add flavor and thicken it up a bit, and topped it off with 1/4 cup of Australian tawny port (in place of the amaretto I use in true tiramisu – though the amaretto would have worked nicely with the peaches too). The concoction tasted good enough to drink — so far so good, I thought, as I poured it over the savoiardi cookies (aka Ladyfingers) — I mean, doesn’t it look like it should have worked?
Even the zabaglione egg cream thickened up to perfection:
And that’s where I ran into trouble. You see, frozen mascarpone turns grainy due to its high fat content, and defrosting doesn’t undo the damage. A sample tasted like sweetened sawdust. Once on my tongue, the little globules of hardened cream melted, but I didn’t think cautioning my Mother’s Day guests to retain each bite of dessert in their mouth while the custard turned creamy would work out so well, so I tried to “fix” the mascarpone. First, I beat it with the Kitchen Aid’s beater paddle. Nope. Then the whisk. Still grainy. Tried my hand-held beating wand and found myself teetering in three-strikes-you’re-out territory. Then I laid my eyes on my Vitamix. A-HA! If this beauty could pulverize kale and chard and dandelion greens into velvety green liquid for my breakfast each day, surely it could silken up a tub of grainy mascarpone, couldn’t it?
Apparently not. It tried, though, I’ll certainly give the Vitamix that, and it made sure the entire household knew how hard it was trying by the godawful noise it created while doing it. As I continued shoving the cheese into the blades with the Vitamix-provided tamper, the blender’s valiant effort paid off in still-grainy but potentially edible mascarpone.
Between the beating and the whisking and the Vitamixing, I lost, oh, about an hour trying to save the cheese – a good part of that trying to dislodge it from the blender’s blades. I finally combined the mascarpone with the zabaglione, egg whites and vanilla, spread it on top of my savoiardi cookies, and placed it in the refrigerator to set overnight. Meanwhile, the peach sauce (peaches, peach juice, sugar and corn starch) had cooked to perfection on the stove top.
So last night, after a feast of gourmet pizza (Mom’s request) and spinach salad, I brought out the dessert, placing a nice-sized square in each bowl and topping it with warm peach sauce. The peach sauce was truly fantastic, but the custard was still grainy, and the cookies had disintegrated to mush. One guest outright refused even a taste. Okay… he doesn’t eat dessert often, I can count him out. Another guest didn’t want more than a couple of bites – and he loves his desserts. Four of us ate full servings, but only one said she’d eat it again. (Thanks Mom – always a trooper!)
Maybe we were simply too full. Or maybe the dessert really did turn out that badly. Whichever the case, I will: A.not freeze mascarpone again, and: B. stick to regular tiramisu, at least when preparing for guests.
The good news? I have the rest of that bottle of port to help me get over this travesty!