In the backyard I created a holy place for birds by placing seven small stones in a circle — seven representing completeness, wholeness, perfection — about two feet in diameter, in the center of which I scatter bird seed of a most beneficial variety.
A reclusive life is not generally a matter of choice. Maybe it is for monks and deep thinkers and social stinkers. But certainly not for you.
Most of your life you had companionship. A mother all through your fatherless teenage years and a first wife you married too young, the inevitable divorce and then a string of young ladies during the ten years between marriages, and finally and marvelously, a second wife, a soulmate you thought of as your only wife and with whom you shared a life for thirty years until she left the planet two years ago for another dimension, or so you imagine when sufficiently stoned.
Since that day you have lived alone. The first requisite of the hermit life is to have an animal in the house, a pet. You prefer the word companion, generally four-legged, unless your companion is a bird. You’ve always wanted a parrot but couldn’t bear the idea of having a caged creature.
It doesn’t matter what kind of animal. Most people have a dog or a cat, but a white rabbit would be fine, especially if it takes you down the rabbit hole, or even a fish, but again, a creature confined is not for you.
The point is you need another living creature in the house, someone to look after, someone to talk to even though they don’t know what the hell you’re saying, they hear your voice and you hear theirs.
You have a cat, which you got for your wife when she fell ill and was unsteady on her feet and couldn’t handle a dog rushing about. You inherited the cat, a laid-back, entertaining, mystical companion, someone you care about and are a company for, as she is for you.
The days and nights become a timeless dreamlike sequence. You eat and you drink and you watch movies and you smoke and you read and go to bed and get up the next day not knowing why and do it all over again.
That’s the exterior observable life. Inside your head, you’re screaming with loneliness.
TAKE-OUT BE GONE
For years, when my wife and I lived in Miami and made good money, we ate in restaurants three or four nights a week. Dining out was a way of life. The nights we didn’t eat out, my wife would cook, and she made some good dishes.
For the past two years with my wife gone and living alone, I have survived on take-out, and prepared and frozen foods from the grocery store.
But amid the scourge of Covid I now eschew (interesting word eschew and very appropriate in this context) buying food prepared by other hands and have taken up cooking.
Since I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, my cooking attempts are traumatic experiences in experimentation, frequently with dire results such as godawful messes from spilled pots and moments of terror from stovetop grease fires. Not to mention inedible food.
I’m not a complete dunce. I do know how to make basic meals, like bacon and eggs, grilled steak and tomatoes, spaghetti and a few others. But my linguine and clam sauce was seriously unsuccessful.
MYSTERY OF THE SPICE RACK
Yesterday I made a big pot of chili with ground beef, onion, canned tomatoes and red kidney beans — a fairly easy meal but uncharted territory for me. I added the mandatory packet of McCormick’s chili seasoning mix, and salt and pepper, but the chili still turned out bland. Next time I will add other ingredients to spice it up.
My wife’s spice rack is still in the kitchen and full of wonderfully mysterious ingredients, from which she knew precisely which ones to use for each dish. I don’t know basil from rosemary (I did know a Rosemary once but that’s another story).
One day I will write my own version of that wonderful book ‘The Joy of Cooking’ — my wife’s Bible in the kitchen. When I first set out on this treacherous road, I would have called my version ‘The Hell of Cooking.’
But now, as I boldly continue down this road, such a title would not apply. I have found that this cooking racket is good for the soul, especially in this age of isolation. And since I often invoke God’s name — as in, Oh, God, I hope this turns out all right — I’ll call it ‘Sous-chef to God.’