Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 241 – Bankruptcy

           My wife has convinced me that we need to file bankruptcy. I’ve been resisting that route for some time. I want to avoid the associated stigma, although I have to admit that it’s already a little late for pride. The fact is, although we have disposed of a lot of stuff—including our good car—and cut or eliminated a lot of our expenses, we still have $65,000 in credit card debt and our monthly payments to service that debt are over $2,000. The highest interest rate we pay is over 30%. The lowest is 23%. These rates are in spite of the fact that in 20 years we have never missed or been late with a payment.
          While that much credit card debt is astronomical and suggests a profligate lifestyle, unfettered by temperance or good sense, such is not the case. I’ve been overextended on my credit cards for over 20 years. I got that way when a business that I got into failed back in the late eighties. I elected at the time to pay all my business creditors off by using the generous facilities offered by a handful of bank cards. I should have filed bankruptcy back then, but I didn’t.
Since that time, I’ve been at the mercy of the credit card companies. Most of the cards I had back then were subsequently bought up by either Bank of America or Citibank. In 20 years time I’ve used the cards, but I would not characterize my usage as extravagant.
My wife and I lead fairly staid lives. We don’t drive fancy automobiles. We don’t take vacations. We don’t throw lavish parties. Neither one of us wears jewelry. We don’t own a boat or a timeshare or expensive clothes. We have however, by my estimate, paid the credit card companies about $240,000 in interest in that time.
That’s money I’d like to have back. That’s a burden I’ve been trying to get out from under for approximately forever. I couldn’t make it happen, though. I was in too deep, and the banks knew it. They were more than happy to have me paying all that interest. They thought up ways to get me to pay more.
More than once they offered me credit card consolidation loans. Sweep everything under one debt umbrella at a reasonable rate, make one payment, and watch my principal balance fade away. That was the pitch in the mailer they sent me. When I actually called them to take them up on their offer, however, it was a completely different story. Then it was more like, gee you’ve got an awful lot of debt, what kind of collateral can you offer us? This was Bank of America. Most of what I owed was to them. Didn’t they already know I had too much debt? Wasn’t that why they were offering me a consolidation loan? Apparently it was not.
They ended up telling me I was a high risk candidate and offering me a loan at a significantly higher interest rate than I was paying on average at the time. I declined their kind offer. I’ve continued to make timely payments on all the cards. I always make more than the minimum payment when possible.
Sometimes it’s not possible. When I was facing high out-of-pocket medical costs because of the cancer surgery I had in 2007 for instance and when I was getting multiple lithotripsies for my kidney stones in 2008, making more than the minimum payments due was not a viable option. Now I’m jobless for an extended period of time. Things don’t look like they’re going to improve anytime soon. Continuing to make the minimum payments isn’t just a burden under my current circumstances. It’s nearly impossible. It will be absolutely impossible when my unemployment benefits run out or when my COBRA insurance subsidy runs out.
Better to file bankruptcy now than to wait until I’m in arrears and truly underwater. I still don’t want to do it, but I’m warming up to the idea. The more I think about it, the more attractive it becomes. The more I learn about the current economic crisis and how it came about, the less concerned I am about the poor banks to which I owe money. They may be my good faith creditors, but they are also the proximal cause of my inability to pay as well as my considerable misery.
The banks have not been doing their job. According to economist specializing in monetary policy, Warren Mosler, in a January 2010 article on banking reform in Huffington Post, “the public purpose of banking is to provide for a payments system and to fund loans based on credit analysis.” What we have instead, for the last 10 to 15 years, is a banking system increasingly involved in the creation and trading of arcane financial instruments such as securitized mortgages and derivatives.
Even while they have been reaping huge profits and paying huge bonuses, the banks have fallen down on their basic public utility, which is providing financing for business innovation. So while the bankers have been buying big houses on Long Island, vacation homes and boats in the Caribbean, and filling their wives’ closets with Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin shoes, American business innovation has been left to decay to the point where it is unlikely to recover anytime soon. Until it does, we will not see a return to full employment.
I’m not very sympathetic to the losses that Bank of America and Citibank are going to suffer when I file bankruptcy. They’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars of my money already, and they used it to tank the economy and my future along with it. You won’t see me weeping if Ken Lewis’ wife has to settle for 600 thread count sheets because I get discharged in bankruptcy and effectively default on the credit card loans I owe to Bank of America.
I’ve imagined what it would be like for a representative from Bank of America to show up at my bankruptcy hearing to give me a lecture on not borrowing beyond my means to repay, or honoring my good faith obligations, or some such drivel, when it is clear from the news that the banks themselves have been guilty of a ridiculous overextension of their own ability to make good on their obligations. In fact, if it weren’t for the errant risk taking and unmitigated greed of the banks, it would currently be much easier for me to find a job and to continue to remit their usurious loan payments. Up to now the banks have left me holding the bag for their greed and excess. Now it occurs to me that it may be my moral responsibility to hand the bag back to them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 234 - Daily Mass and Other Perquisites of the Unemployed

          In one of our weekly telephone conversations, my 90 year old mother suggested that I should take advantage of the opportunity presented by joblessness to attend daily Mass. Loathe as I have become to take the advice of the many well-meaning well wishers who seem to be constantly trying to ease my burden, this actually seemed like a very good idea to me.
I like daily Mass. I have often wished when I was working, and therefore unable to attend, that I could—although, to be honest, I also often wished that I could be attending a root canal or a colonoscopy. Many otherwise disagreeable things are preferable to me when compared to being at work. That being said however, in the interest of full disclosure, daily Mass has never been disagreeable.
I have always found Mass a satisfying and tranquil way to start a day, and something that carries over into the balance of the day no matter how unsatisfying and un-tranquil things may later become. Daily Mass is better in many respects than Sunday Mass because Sunday Mass is thronged with the barely faithful, Catholics who really don’t want to be there, but only come out of a sense of obligation and fear of heavenly reprisal.
Daily Mass, on the other hand, is attended almost exclusively by people who want to be there. They are a quiet, thoughtful, sanctified bunch, and I’ll guarantee you that none of them leaves daily Mass to go to a workplace where they create misery and havoc for others. If everyone went to daily Mass the world would be a far, far better place.
          Daily Mass notwithstanding there is a lot of inner peace associated with not working, peace that may or may not, according to circumstances, be offset by the inner anxiety associated with not having an income. Disregarding the income factor though, there’s not much not to like about not having to go to work. First and foremost is not having to associate with jackals and dolts. Even if you are a jackal or a dolt, not being forced to rub shoulders with more of your kind is liberating. There is a chance that, absent the behavioral reinforcement afforded by their proximity, one might in fact and over time cease to be a jackal or a dolt. Oh, happy day!
          Not having to work means one is free to self-actualize. The absence of deadlines and to-do lists, freedom from the unreasonable expectations of others, escape from the tyranny of pressure, subtle or otherwise, to compromise one’s ethical sensibilities: all these contribute to the general spiritual well-being of the jobless. How ironic then that the jobless should be held in such low esteem by the working, when the jobless are clearly on the road to becoming morally and intellectually superior.
          But I was talking of Mass, and Mass is a holy undertaking for the working and the jobless both. I have been able on occasion to attend daily Mass in both conditions. It is a blessing to be able to do it. Attending Mass informs the balance of the day in ways I could not hope to adequately describe. St. John Vianney says that “when we have been to [Mass and] Holy Communion, the balm of love envelops the soul as the flower envelops the bee.” It is this “balm” that is most noticeable—a balm of healing and comfort that soothes the sting of our worldly encounters.
          St. Leonard of Port Maurice was more global in his assessment. "I believe that were it not for the Holy Mass,” he says, “at this moment the world would be in the abyss, unable to bear up under the mighty load of its iniquities. Mass is the potent prop that holds the world on its base." Maybe. I know that it holds me on my base when I am able to go, and there is no doubt in my mind that if everyone did it there would be less in life to tilt the world off its base and toward the destruction that seems imminent all around us.
There is a wholeness, I think, in Catholicism not found in other religions—at least not for me. I mean this in an intensely personal sense, and my intent is not to devalue anyone else’s spirituality, nor to insult anyone’s faith.  I’m sure many would disagree with me, but I have left the Church, examined it afresh from without and then again from within. I have not found it wanting in any respect. The logic of its precepts is perfect and beautiful. I am at home in my Church and my Church in me.
The Church has had her lapses to be sure—sad periods when overzealous defenders of the Faith allowed excesses of righteousness to cloud the fullness of communion with the divine and with one another—the Inquisition, the intemperate wielding of temporal power by prelates and popes in the Middle Ages, and, most recently, the scandal of sexual predators within the priesthood. I don’t excuse these, but neither do I allow them to define my religion for me. My faith gives me the capacity to understand the evil in men and from whence it comes. My own sinfulness allows me compassion in the truest sense—the sense of ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’
          My satisfaction with my Church is not born of a sense of justification or correctness or holiness or morality or salvation, but rather from a sense of completeness, of unity, of a logical explanation of who I am in the grand scheme of now. Everything else proceeds from this sense and the way it makes sense to me. It defines and informs my humanity and rests at the core of who I am in a way that my work never has.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 227 – Spilling the Beans, Paying the Price

          I was very excited one evening several weeks ago to get a call from a CFO who had seen my résumé online, and wanted to talk to me about a controllership at his company. I was excited for two reasons. First he was not a hyper-caffeinated recruiter trying to make a name for himself by pulling the trigger hundreds of times in rapid succession without discerning a clear target (an actual job) or checking his ammo (reading my résumé.) I’m beginning to think of this as the video game approach to modern recruitment. No, the guy who called was a real executive with a real company who wanted to discuss a real position and thought I might be a real possibility because he had really read my résumé.
          The second reason I was excited is that we seemed to get on famously. We had similar attitudes, similar aptitudes, and our business sensibilities seemed to me to be as in tune as they could be. The more we talked the better it got.
          The company was a second generation décor jobber that had carved out a nice little niche for itself in the international hospitality industry. They weren’t looking to grow exponentially. They didn’t have unreasonable expectations. They weren’t acquisitive. They weren’t interested in selling out. They were interested in growing in profitability by improving their purchasing, service, and delivery efficiencies. They wanted to take a methodical and systematic approach to these improvements. I thought they were perfect for me.
          To add to the intrigue, the CFO wanted me to send him a one page letter on any topic whatsoever. If I was passionate about cars, for instance, I should write about what cars appealed to me and why. If I was interested in the cultivation of exotic orchids, I should write about that. He didn’t really care what it was about. It didn’t have to be about an interest. It could be, quite literally, anything under the sun.
          Some people would be intimidated by an open ended assignment like this. I was not. I am not afraid of a blank page. I love creative writing exercises. Not only that, I excel at them. I’ve participated in enough of them to know. If performing well in creative writing exercises were all that was required of men in order to attract women, I would have a harem of beauties that would be the envy of every randy mogul and every over-indulged sultan in history. Fortunately, both for me and for womankind, more is required. If people were generally compensated for excelling at timed, impromptu writing exercises in a competitive environment, I could quit looking for a job and just attend writer’s conferences for the rest of my days, thus assuring myself of a comfortable living. I’m not throwing down a gauntlet. I’m just saying that this little exercise assigned by the CFO, who I was sure was about to become my new boss, was well within my comfort zone.
          The CFO and I ended our conversation on that note. I would provide the required letter via e-mail the following day. He would call me back as soon as he had read and digested my brilliance. We would proceed from there.
          I set to work immediately on the letter. I decided that what he really wanted was a window into the soul of me. He had proposed writing about a passionate interest because he thought an avocation that burned with some intensity would better illuminate the dark recesses of my inner self. I have two such passions. One is for writing. The other is my faith. I decided to write about both of them and, in what I thought was a stroke of self-promoting genius, to discuss how they informed and guided my working life.
          I reasoned that ultimately this CFO was going to have to make a choice about my qualifications, skills, and values and how those would frame my suitability for the job he needed to fill. Making those connections for him seemed to me to be the surest way to convince him that I was his man. My letter was a masterful mix of subtlety and candor, deftly connecting the lessons of my pursuits to my professional development and to the ethical foundations of my life at work. Beyond this it was calculated to make me seem as interesting, intelligent, humorous, temperate, equable, and humble as I, on my best days, believe myself to be. Apparently it was not enough.
          Two days went by with no word. I sent another e-mail—return receipt requested—inquiring as to whether or not he had received my submission. Another two days went by with no response. I called. The new custodian of my future was in a meeting and not to be disturbed. I hadn’t asked that he be disturbed, so I thought this information, relayed to me by a brusquely efficient personal assistant, was, if not suspect, at least a little heavy-handed. I left a message. A week went by. I sent another e-mail stating that, at the risk of becoming a pest, I was anxious to get some feedback on my assignment. I have yet to hear anything in return.
          This turn of events is a mystery to me. The guy indicated he was going to move quickly on his decision. We had rapport. We were simpatico. I felt that I had acquitted myself in exemplary fashion on the letter writing assignment. I can’t imagine that I was so far afield in my assessment of the situation that I don’t even merit a courtesy response to my inquiries. Even a perfunctory e-mail telling me they had decided on another candidate would be better treatment than I got.
          I have gone as far as I am willing to go. Not only that, I have gone as far as the guy I described in my letter is willing to go. I am interesting, intelligent, humorous, temperate, equable, and humble. I am not annoying, and I am not interested in becoming so.
I am annoyed, however. I have officially had it up to ‘here’ with folks who lead me down a path only to abandon me deep in the woods without apology or explanation. This is something I would never dream of doing to someone else, yet it seems that it keeps being done to me. What’s up with that? 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 220 - Big Karma

Everything I’ve written so far happened to me pretty much as I’ve described it. I’ve had to change the order of a few things, and of course the names of some of the people involved, but in terms of the events and circumstances it’s all too true. When I tell this to people that I’ve had the occasion to discuss some of these things with, they are usually incredulous in one way or another. Some of them can’t believe that people in business, people who make a lot of money and are for the most part respected and looked up to in their communities are capable of behaving in the ways I’ve described. People don’t want to believe that anyone who has, or appears to have, a lot of money could possibly be as stupid as I have portrayed.

Others are perfectly capable of believing the bad behavior of the people I’ve worked for, but they can’t accept that I would stand for it very long. They think that I should have walked away to find a better place to labor. These people are harder for me to dismiss, because I think they’re right. I can scarcely believe it myself.

What highly compensated executive in his right mind would stand for being denigrated and cursed by a boss like Henry or Ivan or Richard? What honest professional trying to make a business succeed would tolerate the philandering and self-serving machinations of an Alicia or a Fische? What sensible manager, witness to one bone-headed decision after another eroding all hope of profitability in a company where thousands of workers depend on sound practice and good decision making, could not cry out in alarm, and try at least slow down the madness?

In each case the answer would be me. I would do just that because like most everyone I know I will avoid confrontation at all costs and constantly strive to take the easy way out. It is almost always easier to put up with the devil you know than to learn, the hard way, the tricks and deceits of the devil you’ve yet to meet.

If I weren’t unemployed and despairing of ever finding another job I wouldn’t be writing this and hoping that I can turn it into a book. I would be working late, and getting home too exhausted to wax very creative.

That in itself is a sad state of affairs. I should have written a book a long time ago. If I had, I would be a lot happier, have a lot fewer regrets (saved and realized), and have put up with a lot less crap at this point in my life. Had I struck out to do what I enjoy early on rather than waiting to be forced into it by circumstances, both I and (I like to think) the world would be better off for it.

I should be writing this and making a book of it now because it is time for a lot of this stuff to be said. Fifteen million people are out of work, most of them through no fault of their own. Most of them have no idea what happened to them. They were blindsided by economic events way beyond their control. Many, many of them have been without work for a long time—eighteen months is not unheard of. They have lost their health insurance, their homes, their cars, their self respect, and their dignity. They suffer from depression, feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness.

They suffer from a host of other maladies that are the radioactive fallout of poverty, stress and depression. They’ve stopped taking or cut down on their medications because they can’t afford to buy both prescriptions and food. They don’t go to the doctor when they need to because they must use what little money they have to eat, shelter their families, and fund their search for another job. Priorities are shuffled and re-shuffled based on the exigency of the day. They are suffering mightily, and for the most part they do not understand that this is something that was done to them and for which they ought to be indignant.

Even the folks who realize that this economic turmoil we find ourselves in was avoidable are blaming the wrong causes. George W. Busch is a favorite target. Everyone loves to hate George. His stupid grin invites blame and ridicule. George borrowed us into a hole to finance his military adventuring in Iraq and Afghanistan. George is the very embodiment of goofy evil.

Big oil is another culprit, squeezing us dry of money while they pollute our planet and exhaust our resources for their own profit. Who else to blame: welfare recipients, the unemployed slackers who won’t get off their backsides and get a job so long as unemployment benefits are available for the effort of not working, deadbeats who got mortgages they couldn’t afford by lying through their teeth and now refuse to pay what they owe, middle-aged, white, Republican men because, let’s face it, they are to blame for nearly everything else, Namby-pamby liberal socialists determined to spend us into oblivion with a host of ridiculous social entitlement programs calculated to take money away from hard-working Americans and transfer it wholesale to lazy, shiftless scam artists whose only skill is gaming the system, and illegal aliens of every stripe and color who are stealing a living from natural born American citizens by working at jobs no one else wants for wages no one else will take.

You only need to spend five minutes reading the comments on any blog or website article that discusses economic issues to see that somebody somewhere thinks you personally are responsible for their misery, and would like nothing better than to see you tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail. Chances are pretty good that you feel the same way about them.

Assessing blame is counterproductive at best. Any rudimentary lesson in management will tell you not to do it. When something goes wrong, as it always will, you take corrective action, you modify your processes to prevent whatever went wrong from happening again, and you get on with business. I’m not an organization though, and I’m not in business. I’m just me, and while I’ve taken steps to ensure that all the bad stuff that’s happened to me in the past doesn’t happen to me again, I can hardly resist the temptation to blame someone for every bad thing that’s happened as a result of losing my job. As a self-employed writer it’s doubtful I’ll ever have to tick and foot for fools and charlatans again. That’s an excellent outcome as far as I’m concerned, and since I was forced into this course in the main by losing my job, there’s some force to the argument that I owe Bill and Fritz a big thank you for heaving me out onto the street.

My mind doesn’t work that way though. I’m not nearly so gracious and mature. Deep in the vilest recesses of my heart I hold those bastards accountable for every hardship I’ve had to endure over the past year because none of it would have happened had they not decided to fire me. They assessed blame in the worst possible way. They undertook to do me injury to save their own sorry hides. Being ignorant and venal they were incapable of looking into the foreseeable future to see the kind of damage they were doing to me personally, and, if they did, they chose to do what they did anyway and without remorse or shame. This is the conduct of men who have never had to suffer fools in the workplace because they are the fools that everyone else suffers. They are insensitive to the realities of the predicaments they create for the people who work for them and the people who no longer work for them because they have never been thrown into those predicaments themselves.

So it’s left to me to wish them the karma they deserve, the fate they’ve asked for. It shouldn’t be any worse than the fate that befell me; nor should it be any better. Here’s the list:
  • Lost job
  • Lost home in excellent, sociable neighborhood
  • Lost car
  • Lost self-respect
  • Lost good credit standing—filed bankruptcy
  • Lost access to doctors and medical service providers that I knew and trusted
  • Have passed on or delayed essential medical services because I can’t afford the deductibles
  • Have suspended or cut back on essential medications because I can’t afford the co-pays
  • Lost almost half my stuff in two garage sales from hell
  • Had to drive all over Florida spending three and a half days behind the wheel of a U-Haul rental truck
  • Had to move into cramped quarters in a fire ant preserve
  • Suffered innumerable ant bites because of where I am forced to live—this would be my personal favorite misfortune to wish upon those I know in need of some bad karma
  • Have to listen to a constant barrage of helpful and well-meant advice from a variety of friends and family
  • Lost any semblance of privacy, autonomy, and self-sufficiency
  • Have worn the same pair of shorts every day for the last 5 months

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 213 - My Wife Kills a Guy

          Periodically, when my despair of ever finding another job is highest, I begin to fume about the unfairness of my current situation. I think about the people who did this to me. In fitful wakefulness, late at night and early in the morning, I concoct elaborate and fanciful schemes of revenge. Some of these are more violent than others. Most of them are beyond my ability to execute. None of them is particularly satisfying in the imagining, but this does not deter me very much.
          I have envisioned an explosion in the Albatross parking lot that sends Quentin’s Mercedes hurtling skyward, end-over-end in a ball of flames. I have watched Rod’s pick-up being loaded onto a flatbed truck and delivered to an auto recycler where it is compacted and shredded. I hope that his laptop is inside, full up with color coded spreadsheets. I have witnessed Ringcomme, stalking wild boar on a grassy hillside, split in two by a jagged flash of lightning. When the smoke clears, his favorite rifle lies atop his smoldering ashes. I have thrilled to see Fritz sent sprawling down a marble staircase, limbs akimbo, cracking his skill on every other step, to land lifeless and disjointed next to his shattered glasses.
These visions may not be satisfying, but they are entertaining to me—so much so that I felt compelled to confess them to a priest. There must be something sinful in taking perverse pleasure contemplating vengeful mayhem on the authors of my unhappiness.
            The priest seemed to agree, at least insofar as he thought that these musings would eventually poison my spiritual life and dim the inner light that I ought to be tending. He recommended that whenever I felt compelled to daydream the visitation of bad karma on my enemies I ought instead to recite the Prayer of Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith ;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

          This is a lovely prayer, encapsulating as it does the essence of the proper Christian response to life’s troubles. It is also a beautiful sentiment in its own right, possessing an elegance of humility in the heart of its contrariness. It is that contrariness that appeals to me—its call to a flinty perfection that upends our every natural inclination. It is a hard thing to do, to sow love and pardon and faith and joy, when the only place to get those seeds is from the depleted stores of your own sorry heart. I know. I can say the prayer, but like most Christians, I fall on my face when it comes time to put it into practice.
          It is doubly hard for me, I think, because I have a resource that most people do not. I can visit destruction upon my enemies without retribution. I can heap karmic retribution on Rod and Quentin and Bill and Fritz without fear of getting arrested, standing trial, or going to jail. I might roast in hell for it, but that would include the satisfaction of standing next to them and watching their torment. Well, to be honest, I can’t actually do it, but my wife can. My wife can kill a guy by wishing it so. She already did it once.
          My wife has been in the real estate business for most of her adult life. When we lived on the other coast she managed several commercial properties including a large office complex. One of her tenants was an unctuous self-employed businessman of indeterminate occupation. It turned out that he was a con-man, but of course there was no way to know that until he was no longer conning anyone because he was dead.
          On the fateful day of this fellow’s untimely demise, he tried to engage my wife in an unseemly and too familiar embrace. In her words, “he went for side boob.” My wife was wary because he had tried on numerous previous occasions to invade her space to the point of inappropriate contact, and so she was able to avoid having her goodies actually fondled. She was however incensed by the constant effort required to fend off his advances. She’d had it ‘up to here’ with the guy, which occasioned her to remark to the maintenance man that she “wanted him dead.” Her ire for the moment vented, she went on about her business.
          That very afternoon the smarmy con artist went down to the local office of the DMV to renew his driver’s license—one of a half-dozen he had in his possession as it turned out, all issued under different names. Unfortunately for him he picked a day to do this when my wife had wished him dead, for when he reached the window and announced the name on the license he wanted to renew, he was recognized by an off-duty lady police officer who was standing in line behind him. She had in fact been looking for him to execute a warrant for his arrest. She decided there was no time like the present to do just that. There he was, within her grasp. She wouldn’t have to continue looking all over town for him. She announced her intention.
          Smarmy con-man panicked. He snapped open his brief case, spilling most of its contents all over the waiting area of the DMV office, but coming up with the one item he wanted most desperately to retrieve—a .45 caliber revolver. The lady police officer had not anticipated this development. What for her had started out as a simple serendipitous opportunity to arrest a guy in a suit and tie on a misdemeanor bogus check charge had turned suddenly into a potentially lethal hostage situation. She drew her piece, and a stalemate of sorts was established.
          One of the DMV clerks called the police, and in a short period of time the place was surrounded by a lot of regular police and a tactical response team complete with helmets, flak vests, and assault rifles. Among the first to arrive, coincidentally adding further to smarmy con-man’s extreme misfortune, was the husband of the off-duty lady police officer. Presumably the two had vowed not only to love, honor and cherish one another all the days of their lives, but also to have one another’s backs in the event of any tense armed conflict. It would also seem that they had rehearsed between them a number of scenarios in which they would be called upon to take out a bad guy while insuring one another’s relative safety.
          The husband leapt to the fore, signaled for his wife’s attention, called an audible, and in short order the con-man was laying dead on the floor of the DMV waiting area in a pool of his own smarmy blood.
          My wife learned of all these events the next day when the FBI showed up at her office to gather information about the con-man and as much detail about his activities as anyone there might be able to recall. She was visibly shaken when she came home that night.
          “I killed a guy,” she said. “I wished him dead, and he died…the same day. I killed him.”
          I tried to comfort her. “No you didn’t. It was just a coincidence. He’d have been killed anyway. He made bad choices.”
          “No, it was me,” she said, and with finality.
          If true, this is more than a little scary, but in a totally awesome kind of way. On the one hand it has helped me to stay faithful for years no matter how many nurses I wake up to in various recovery rooms. On the other it is a power that ought to be used for good. I continue to tell my wife that she shouldn’t worry about it, that it was just one of those things. Secretly, though I hope that it’s true. After all she loves me. Maybe I can prevail upon her to use her powers on my behalf. Not that I am particularly vengeful or inclined to violence, but I have started a list. There are people who need killing, and I think you know who they are.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 206 - Of Old Stories and Old Bones

          Nelson loves to tell stories. He always has. But, whereas story telling used to be just one of a number of things he liked to do by way of entertaining people, it is the only thing left that he can do given his current physical limitations. Since it is the only thing left to him, he does it often and repetitively. Sometimes he will tell the same story several times a day. This is more endearing than not because, in spite of his failing memory, he is still pretty good at storytelling.
My wife and her sisters have taken to recording his stories to put in a book for posterity. He mostly focuses on tales of his childhood and his adventures in the South Pacific during the war. Some of these are quite good. You can tell that he has been practicing them for a long, long time.
Nelson has always been keen to keep people entertained. He doesn’t like a lot of quiet. Quiet is unnatural to him, and since he spent most of his nearly 90 years in the familial company of four daughters and a wife I don’t guess that I ought to be surprised by that. By contrast my family is reticent. My wife, who thought that I was unnaturally quiet, even to the point of catatonia, was surprised to hear from my mother that I was the ‘motor mouth’ of my family.
          Nelson sometimes took his desire to entertain too far. Such was the case when my parents first met Nelson and his wife. We all met up in Kentucky at Nelson’s home. My parents traveled down from Dayton, Ohio, and my wife and I came up from Florida. Nelson immediately undertook to entertain my dad with mixed results. The two actually had a lot in common. Both were veterans of WWII. Both were quietly brilliant. Both had failed business ventures. Both were still married to their first wives—the mothers of their children. Both were the patriarchs of larger families than they had come from.
Despite all the similarities however, their interests were very different. Nelson was a hobbyist and tinkerer. He loved to camp and fish and hunt. He loved to build things in his basement. He loved to fix things. He had a workshop full of sophisticated tools, many of which he had made himself, and some of which he had conceptualized and designed for specific purposes.
My dad on the other hand seemed to have no interests at all outside his work. He did not build or fix things. The only tool with which he had even a passing acquaintance was a hammer, a tool he most often employed to whack recalcitrant devices into relative submission.    
          So my father was less than impressed when Nelson’s first official act as host of the occasion was to whisk him away from my mother and take him down to the basement to glory in the manliness of Nelson’s shop. It wasn’t just that tools held no fascination for Dad, and it wasn’t just that he thought that building one’s own furniture was a monumental waste of time better employed in earning the money necessary to buy one’s own furniture from a furniture making professional—although certainly both these things were true.
In addition to the lack of any philosophical involvement in Nelson’s tour of the shop were Dad’s physical discomforts. Dad had been wounded in World War II. He’d served as a radio operator aboard a B-17 bomber. He flew missions out of England over Germany—one of the most dangerous occupations in the war. The survival rate for B-17 crewmen at its worst was a mere 20%. In other words, only one of every five airmen made it all the way to the end of his tour alive and uninjured.
Dad flew only two missions before he was injured. He got hit by anti-aircraft flak when he was on his way from the radio station to man his machine gun. A jagged ten inch wedge of steel shrapnel shattered his ankle. They pulled a two inch long triangular bar out of his leg when they tried to put him back together. He saved the offending piece of steel in a box with his Purple Heart.
          Even after several surgeries to repair the damage he walked with a pronounced limp for the rest his life. By the time he met Nelson he had been limping on that gimp leg for 40 years—a great deal of it on cold, damp concrete floors in cow barns and meat packing plants. The cold and damp and the limping had conspired to ruin his hip as well. The last thing Dad wanted to do was climb down stairs into a cold basement to look at a table saw and a jointer/planer.
Nelson had a hard time understanding Dad’s lack of enthusiasm for the obviously wonderful stuff he kept in his shop. Dad on the other hand never understood why Nelson wouldn't just stand around in the kitchen sipping highballs and swapping off-color jokes like a proper Yankee. The two never got together again after that first meeting, but I never talked to either one of them in all that time without them asking after one another.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 199 - The Only Good Thing about Doctoring

           Nelson is alternately afraid of, happy with, or mad as hell at the people who provide his care on a daily basis. He seems consistently pleased only with Anne, even though she most consistently gets him involved in stuff he doesn’t want to do. Anne likes to arrange outings and adventures to keep Nelson engaged. She wants to keep him active and interested in the world around him. He hates these outings—or pretends to. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
There is almost always an argument about whether or not he will go on one of these jaunts. Nelson protests that he doesn’t feel well, and the rest of us should just go without him. Anne tells him that we are not leaving him home alone. Then he gets mad about that. I think his real frustration is that the rest of us can’t have a good time without having to drag him along. There is some nobility, I think, in his feeling that way, but it still means we have to play out this big scene before we go anywhere, even if it’s just out to lunch. The curious thing is that as soon as we actually get him into the car and committed to the outing, he starts enjoying himself. For all the grief he gives her, Nelson loves Anne with all the capacity he can muster. He should.
The rest of his care team is a different matter. He thinks the daily caregiver is stealing from him—well not so much that she is, but that she would if we don’t make a concerted effort to nail everything down and lock everything up. He can’t stand the physical therapist, Ben, who comes twice a week to make him walk up and down the street.
Nelson thinks that Ben works him too hard, and yet he seems actually to be getting stronger and more sure-footed as a result of the work. Nelson hasn’t noticed this part however, or if he has, he has attributed it to a natural return to his former vigorous self rather than the result of a slow and laborious rehabilitation.
There is also an occupational therapist that comes once a week. Nelson likes her because she is cute and vivacious and they seem to have a lot of fun together. That is Nelson tells her stories of growing up in rural Kentucky and building radar and communications installations in the South Pacific during World War II, and she listens and asks questions. Then they play ball. She bounces a soft rubber ball at him and he catches it. The purpose of this exercise is to improve his eye-hand coordination and his balance. Apparently this is a lot more fun than walking with Bill.
In spite of Nelson’s obvious preference for the occupational therapist, however, he spends the two days before her arrival worrying about the visit, hoping that she will cancel, trying to get Anne or my wife to call and change the appointment, and generally telling anyone who will listen that he just isn’t up to any more of this therapy nonsense and why won’t we just let him sit in his chair and watch TV in peace.
          In addition to the two therapists, Nelson gets a weekly visit from at least one nurse. The one who usually comes functions as a kind of case manager, and her job is to monitor all the aspects of his care and his health and report back to the doctors anything that seems to require attention. She also draws blood once a week, which is sent off to the lab to determine whether they need to adjust his medications, especially his Coumadin. Nelson likes the nurse because she is attractive and friendly and spends a lot of time with him listening to his complaints as well as his stories. But, like with the occupational therapist, he spends an inordinate amount of time dreading the nurse’s visit even though he seems to enjoy it quite a lot when she is here. He told me that she reminds him of one of his daughters. He means by this not that she is particularly like one of the four girls he raised, but that she could easily be a fifth. She fits into his world that well. He just can’t stand the thought of her coming over until she gets here.
          I get Nelson. I empathize. He may be a pain in the ass to deal with, but from Nelson’s perspective so are we. I see myself in mirrored in his attitude. I feel Nelson’s flinty disposition crystallizing in my soul. I’m 61. Nelson is 89. Any way you cut it my life is more than half over. You can argue half-full/half-empty if you want. It won’t make any difference to me. Once you get beyond the halfway point, both ways of stating the case are equally unattractive. My life is either way over half finished, or way less than half of it is left. And I’m not ambling into old age amiably either. I’m in freefall, and picking up speed. My cup of infirmities is filling up. It seems over half full already, and I don’t have enough cup left to be comfortable with the pace.
          I’m already unhappy about the things I have to do that I just plain don’t want to do because I don’t feel like it. My feet hurt. My knees hurt. My hips hurt. My back hurts. I know I’m not going to feel better about being dragged out and forced to maintain a semblance of sociability. I may feel better about myself. I may even have fun, but when I get back I’m going to feel worse than I did before I left.
This is where Nelson is. He would be happy to sit in a chair until we get back from our little adventures, and then to continue to sit in his chair while we tell him all about it. That way he’d get all the social interaction without any of the physical discomfort. He’s already got enough memories. He doesn’t need to exert himself to make any more. It would be pointless. His memory is fading. Why tax it with new stuff…especially since it’s the old stuff that makes him feel good. It’s pretty much only the old memories that interest him.
          One of my favorite things to tell people is that, as we age, memory is the first thing to go. After they digest this, I tell them that actually it’s not, but it is the first thing that we can talk about. This always gets a knowing look. I think it’s very funny, but it is only funny because it is alarming. No one wants to know that the first thing to go is the thing you can’t talk about. But no one wants to talk about that either. I did manage to have a conversation about it with Nelson though. I guess he’d already complained about so much other stuff he didn’t think much about crossing the line to the stuff I’d rather not have been talking about.
          At the time Nelson’s list of maladies had not started to expand exponentially. He was not then troubled with Parkinson’s or heart trouble. He was taking Flomax for an enlarged prostate, and he had just had a lens replacement for cataracts. He was already fairly peevish about his treatment at the hands of his doctors though.
He was convinced that the ophthalmologist was bent on punishing him for some slight—this because Nelson had complained about the time and trouble the cataract surgery had involved. The time and trouble as it turned out was because of the Flomax, which for some reason increases the difficulty and potential for complications in eye surgery. Nelson hadn’t known this. How could he? Because he didn’t know, he didn’t tell the ophthalmologist he was taking the drug. The doctor may not have known to ask at the time. The risk was a new thing then. Now it is well known, and my own ophthalmologist asked me right away if I was taking Flomax when we scheduled my cataract surgery.
I was riding somewhere with Nelson one day. I don’t remember where, and to be honest I’m not sure that I was riding and not driving either. Nelson was busy grousing about the eye doctor. When he had exhausted that topic he started in on the Urologist who had prescribed the Flomax. He didn’t like that doctor either, and not because of the trouble the Flomax had caused during the eye surgery. No, Nelson was upset that one of the possible side effects of some other medicine the Urologist wanted to put him on was that he might develop breasts.
“What the hell do I need with breasts at my age?” he asked me.
“Not much, I expect.” I was trying to be agreeable. I wondered what he might need with breasts at any age, but I didn't say anything. It occurred to me later that Nelson may have been making a joke, but if that was the case he promptly forgot what was funny about it.
“Exactly,” Nelson said. “So I'm not taking it. If I did, next thing they’d have to give me would be another pill for that for the breast thing. I’ll be all day taking pills to fix stuff that other pills caused. There won’t be any time left over for anything else. You all might just as well put me in the ground then.”
“Nobody wants that,” I said.
Nelson looked over at me like he wanted to be sure I meant that. “Better do it anyway,” he said. “Otherwise the doctors are going to wind up with everything. I’ve had it up to here with all this damn doctorin’.”
“I can see how you might feel that way.”
“Those doctors got a pill for everything,” he said, “and everything they give me makes something else go wrong, and then they want to give me another damn pill for that. I think they’re all getting kick-backs from the drug companies.”
“Could be,” I said, “but what makes you think that?”
“Cause they’ve always got free samples to give away to get you started.”
He gave me another one of those looks. I couldn’t imagine where he was going with this.
“You remember when all my daughters and all you sons-in-law threw that wonderful dinner for our 50th anniversary?” he asked.
“I do remember that, and you’re right, it was wonderful.”
“Well I was talking to my doctor just before that, the one who stitched up my thumb when I almost cut it off on the table saw.”
“Uh huh?”
“He asked me if I wanted to try some of that Viagra.”
Nelson paused here, I guess to let the impact of that set in. He would have been 78 or 79 at the time he was talking about. I wasn’t about to say anything at this point to break the flow of his story.
“I asked him didn’t he think I was too old for that kind of thing. He said he wouldn’t know about that, but if I was interested he had some free samples he could give me.”
“So you got some?” I asked.
“I did. I never got any more, but I have to tell you, it’s the only time I ever got medicine from a doctor that worked like it was supposed to without screwing up something else.”
“I’ll be damned,” was about all I could think of to say.
He gave me one more look. “Don’t you tell a soul I told you that,” he said.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 192 - Saddle Up Boys!

            I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in a lot of the westerns I’ve been watching with Nelson. Almost every movie we’ve watched in the last two weeks features a rape scene. First of all I don’t remember westerns being like that. Certainly the ones I watched growing up were pretty tame by comparison. They even used to make jokes about the cowboy hero being more attached to his horse than he was to the appreciative damsels he’d rescued from the guys in the black hats.
Apparently though there was a period from the late sixties to the early eighties where the producers felt that they had bump up the sexual content of the few westerns they made in order to compete at the box office with the non-western fare. I don’t know why this translates into a lot of rape scenes. You’d think that they would be able to get some sex into a movie without creating what surely must be a distorted picture of the unbridled randiness of the American cowboy, but there it was for Neslon’s and my viewing pleasure—ten movies, ten rapes.
          You have to appreciate that this is more than a little disconcerting to Nelson. He’s not a prude, and he’s certainly not above using some fairly explicit language when the occasion warrants, but on balance Nelson has always been a true Southern gentleman. He lived in a house with his wife and four daughters. He has always gone to great lengths to protect those women from the rougher and more unseemly edges of male society. He won’t ever use bad language in front of his girls, nor will he suffer anybody else to do it.
Anne tells the story of playing many rounds of golf with her dad at a municipal course in their hometown in Kentucky. After she got married and her new husband had had the opportunity to go a couple of rounds with Nelson, her husband asked Anne how she could stand to play golf with her dad.
          “What do you mean?” she asked.
          “How do you stand all the cussing?”
          She had no idea. Nelson’s game was completely different when Anne played with him. I wonder which kind of round was the most satisfying to Nelson, the rude or the genteel.
          At the end of our two weeks of uninterrupted raping we found a movie with Candice Bergen. It was made when she was quite young and very pretty. I was pretty sure that she was going to play a classy role, and we were going to get a break from all the rapes. I was wrong. About 20 minutes into the film, Oliver Reed is forcing himself on her, ripping her clothes off, and engaging in fairly violent sex.
“Isn’t that Edgar Bergen’s little girl?” Neslon asked.
“Yes it is,” I said.
“It’s a good thing your wife isn’t here to see this,” he said. “If she comes out, you need to turn this off.”
My wife was busy in her office. She didn’t come out so we continued to watch. Apparently Candice Bergen’s character liked the rough sex because it wasn’t very long and she was head over heels in love with Reed—another thing I’ll never understand about the movies. Guys in the movies get away with stuff the rest of us would be thrown in jail for. You have to wonder how many men—women too—model their behavior towards the opposite sex on stuff they see in the movies and on TV—more than we’d care to know, I’d guess. That sure would explain a lot though, wouldn’t it?
Candice Bergen isn’t the only ingénue I’ve seen in the movies who becomes smitten with a guy who forces his attention upon her. There’s a lot of this kind of crap in the movies that just flat doesn’t square up with real life. I guess you could excuse it because, after all, it’s just the movies, but I have to think that a lot of impressionable people are taking a skewed view of the universe away from the movies and trying to put it into practice in places where it doesn’t work out very well.
For instance, I wonder how many MBAs toiling in the analysis trenches of big hedge funds got their fundamental attitudes about mergers and acquisitions from watching Danny DeVito in “Other People's Money” or Jonathan Pryce as Henry Kravis in “Barbarians at the Gate?” Or how many sales guys learned closing techniques from “The Boiler Room” or “Glengarry Glen Ross?”
This is not far fetched at all. There is actually a website that uses motion pictures to teach principles of management. Can you imagine learning management skills from “The Wizard of Oz”, or “The Godfather”? If not then you need to visit Management Goes to the Movies at www.moviesforbusiness.com and register yourself for a Hollywood MBA.
That’s business advice. I went there because that’s what I’ve been thinking about today. The movies I’m watching with Nelson are all about relationship advice—specifically how to manage your women.
Nelson and I both get tickled over the kissing phenomenon in films. Hero and heroine usually start out having some kind of conflict—big egos, big hat, big hair, big breasts, and big horse all seem to add up to sexual tension and personal friction—until the big kiss that is.
There always comes a moment when, in the heat of arguing over minutia, the hero and heroine suddenly have nothing left to say to one another. Clearly things are not working out between them. This is when they stare into one another’s eyes, fall into one another’s arms, and kiss. Something amazing happens during this kiss, to be revealed as the kiss ends and the heroine is suddenly vulnerable, docile, and compliant while the hero is noble, sensitive, and protective. 
This is the point in a movie when Nelson invariably remarks, “That guy must be a really good kisser, don’t you think?”
Love has bloomed before our eyes and in the space of several seconds. Not just any love either, but perfect movie love. Love, the dynamic of which appeals to the lowest common denominator in each of us and satisfies the simplistic expectations we were given as children by fairy tales and heavily edited family histories. People believe this crap because they want to, and seeing it over and over again in film after film reinforces it and makes it part or our cultural legacy. Fortunately, at least so far as the Western rapes are concerned, only Nelson and I seem to be watching.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 185 - Affordable Grillwork...and Pie

          I do all the cooking here. It’s my principal contribution to the social dynamic. I plan the meals, shop for the groceries, cook, and clean up. I like to cook, but my culinary skills, such as they are, are somewhat restricted by Nelson’s food preferences. That is to say I can’t give free rein to my creative impulses with respect to food because Nelson does not have a very adventurous palate, although he is very particular. Certain things he requires at every meal. Chief among these are crackers and desert. His other major requirement is that everything be as soft as possible because of his teeth.
He wears dentures. As if this weren’t trouble enough, his dentures don’t fit very well, and periodically they give him a lot of discomfort—if not outright pain. He went to get new dentures sometime last year. The new dentures didn’t fit any better than the set he was replacing so he’s never really worn them any length of time.
As I understand it, the fit has to be adjusted over a period of time until it is right. This requires multiple visits to the denturist. Nelson would rather suffer with ill-fitting dentures than make multiple visits anywhere remotely medical. I can’t say I blame him in this particular instance because I have been with him to the denture place, and I would rather do almost anything else. There are several problems with the denture place, each of which worsens the visit in subtle and insidious ways.
First of all it is a cut rate facility. It has the word ‘affordable’ in its name. This should give you some idea of the main focus of the services provided. If the name included some other equally friendly but elsewhere focused phrase like ‘comfort fit’ or ‘hassle free’ Nelson’s expectations about the new dentures might not have been so easily realized. As it was the dentures were cheap, and Nelson got what he paid for.
Because the place was ‘affordable’ it was also crowded. That is, pain and discomfort notwithstanding, a lot of people were queued up to buy affordable dentures because, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here, they are affordable. In order to keep the dentures affordable the facility dispenses with some of the more civilized amenities of modern medical care…like appointments. Presumably it takes money to install and maintain a system for taking and recording appointments. Saving money by not taking appointments means they can offer their dentures at a lower price.
Another civilized amenity of modern medical care is the comfortable waiting room furnished with a television, a good selection of reading material, and a sufficient number of padded and supportive chairs. These things too cost money, and so were largely absent in the interest of staying affordable.
What Nelson was confronted with when he went to get his new dentures was a wait of several hours duration…in a crowded room…furnished with hard plastic chairs, and nothing to do to occupy the time other than to observe the misery of one’s fellow patients—patients exhibiting the least attractive traits of their humanity owing to their own discomfort and boredom. Is it any wonder that Nelson didn’t want to go back to get the dentures adjusted. For him it was a one shot deal. If they didn’t get it right the first time he wasn’t going to subject himself to that level of torture again on the off chance they might get it right on the second or third try…or the fifth…or the ninth.
So all this brings us back to the question of what Nelson can eat. The ideal thing under the circumstances would be a smoothie, or a milkshake, or pudding. He actually likes those things, well the milkshake anyway, but he doesn’t think of them as real food so you can’t just sneak them by him and hope to get away with it. Nelson is a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and he would be happy with just that and desert provided the meat is tender.
When you give him all the stuff he likes though you risk running afoul of Anne who expends a lot of effort making sure that her dad doesn’t eat a lot of stuff that’s not good for him. That means I have to give him what he likes, but I can’t give him any salt or sugar or fat or too much red meat. As you have probably guessed that’s exactly what he likes.
Nelson’s ideal meal would be a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew pureed in a blender and served with a bendy straw followed by two ice cream bars and a cookie. Eating like this is probably what put him in the hospital last year and started all the health issues that ended up with him having to be supervised 24 hours a day. Now Anne won’t let me feed him like that. It wouldn’t be my natural inclination to do it anyway because I don’t eat like that, but as anyone who has small children knows (and Lord knows this isn’t so very different) after a while it’s just easier to give them whatever the hell they want rather than having every meal devolve into a struggle just to get them to eat something.
The effects of Nelson’s food preferences are worsened by the exigencies of his health. He can’t have salt because of his blood pressure. Because Nelson takes Coumadin for his congestive heart condition we have to regulate his intake of foods that are high in vitamin K—specifically leafy green vegetables. It’s not that he can’t eat vegetables; it’s that he has to eat the same amount on the same days of each week. If he has spinach on Tuesday this week, he has to have spinach every Tuesday. It’s more complicated than that, but I need less complicated, not more. Every new rule, regardless of the source or the logic behind it, makes it more difficult to provide meals that are at once economical, appetizing, and nutritious.
To keep Nelson engaged in the process I like to let him know what I’m planning and try to get his input. His mind doesn’t work the way it used to, so this isn’t as easy as it might seem. He remembers food from his childhood. He remembers stuff I made last week that he enjoyed. He remembers foods that are somehow attached to people or events in the past. Summer squash is one such food because he made it for himself shortly after his wife died. It was one of her favorites. Now, because he has that memory of his wife liking it as well as him making it to honor her memory, it has become one of his favorite dishes. Whenever I make summer squash he recounts the story of making it for himself to remember his wife.
Another of Nelson’s memory triggering foods is cream pie. He has a recipe for cream pie in his mother’s handwriting, and he carries a fond memory of what her cream pie was like. I tried to duplicate the recipe. It seemed very straightforward to me—eggs, sugar, and cream. It didn’t turn out anything like what he remembered, and he was hugely disappointed. I followed the recipe exactly, so I was mystified by this result. Maybe he’s remembering another pie altogether. Whatever the reason, I know better than to keep trying to duplicate his mother’s cream pie and expecting him finally to like it. Every cream pie I bake will be a betrayal of his mother’s memory. I couldn’t do that to him…or to myself.
Since Nelson likes dessert so much I decided to try my hand at some more pies. I asked him if he liked pecan pie. “Oh my, yes,” was his response, and his eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning. I made several pecan pies in as many weeks, experimenting with variations on a theme until I got one I liked. It was a big hit with Nelson and everyone else who got to try it.
I put the recipe up on Triond, and it got a few hits. After several months my Triond account is up to 35 cents. When it reaches 50 cents they will pay me. I’m going to put the money in the Aston Martin fund.
Here is a copy of the pecan pie recipe. It is flavored with Cointreau liqueur. “Oh my, yes.”



  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 large beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons Cointreau or Triple Sec
  • 1 (9-inch) deep-dish pie shell, unbaked


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Stir melted butter into sugar until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Stir in corn syrup, eggs, pecans, orange zest, and Cointreau.
  • Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell, and place on a substantial cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 55 minutes, or until pie is set.
  • Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.


  • Substitute ½ cup of light brown sugar for half the white sugar or use unbleached raw cane sugar for a richer more nuanced flavor.
  • Most pecan pie recipes call for pecan halves. This is fine, but I prefer the chopped nuts as it makes the pie easier to cut in my opinion.
  • I like nuts, and pecans are my favorite so I don’t mind loading a pie up with them—the nuttier the better. Two cups is about the most you can stuff into a 9 inch deep-dish shell without having the nuts spill over as the pie bakes. My wife thinks this is too many nuts as she grew up with pecan pies that just had the nuts floating on the top of the filling. You can certainly use fewer nuts, but I say, if you don’t like ‘em, why in the world would you bake a nut pie?
  • A topping of Cointreau flavored whipped cream makes a nice addition. Just add a tablespoon of the liqueur and a tablespoon of sugar to a cup of cold heavy cream and whip until stiff peaks form.