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Oh, that accursed clanging

“Send not to know for whom the bell tolls … “

Believe me, sent or not, I hear bells, and I have a good idea for whom they are tolling.

I have a birthday coming up soon, and those darned bells are getting loud. I am going to ask family members to ignore my birthday; I don’t need the reminder.

My youngest daughter had a birthday a couple weeks ago. She has cruised past thirty.

That accursed clanging is driving me nuts.

I watched my grandson scoot around on the living room floor the other night, a flurry of ceaseless energy. And me with little or none to spare.

Oh, those damned bells.

I caught some sort of bug a week ago: body aches, congestion in the head and chest, sore throat, chills. I thought I was dying. I was certain I had contracted a case of swine flu. I’m still not over it. Can’t shake it. I am tired, achy, snot-riddled.


I go to the gym to lift heavy objects and put them down again. I invariably hurt myself. Damaged ligaments don’t heal quickly, if at all. Strains remain. My shoulder hurts so much I can’t roll over when I am in bed at night.

Stairs worry me.

Did I mention I have four chins?

Oh, and did I note there are certain body parts I have not seen in years from a standing position?

My allotment of medicines has grown to the point I need one of those compartmentalized boxes for sorting out doses by the week and the day.

I can’t remember names; many of my conversations are artful dodges involving statements like “How’s the family,” (hoping the person in front of me has a family), and greetings like “Hey, man, how’s it goin?” I wish I could remember “man’s” name.

I go to the store with a mental list of four items; I remember two. It is not unusual for me to get to the car in the store parking lot then turn around and go back to the store to procure the key ingredient in a recipe.

Critical dates on the calendar?

You gotta be kiddin’.

Mind, body’— the whole shebang is eroding away, like a limestone facade in a driving rain.

Kathy has the answer to the problem: Detailed mental tasks and plenty of exercise.

She read about the therapeutic value of detailed mental tasks in one of her many “You have the power to heal yourself” books. It’s a shame she forgot where she put the book — I’d like to read it.

The exercise, I can handle. I’ll take a mid day walk now and then and waddle on a course downtown. I’ll continue to go to the gym and lift heavy objects and put them down again. And continue to hurt myself.

For my detailed task, I have highlighted learning Esperanto and taking a course in quantum mechanics.

Better yet, I decide to cook something that requires more than an ordinary amount of mental effort and a ton of energy (just to prove I can do it) — a dish that in no way resembles the bland, cafeteria food favored by the elderly.

I stroll through the aisles at the grocery, pondering my choices. As I do, it hits me: chile rellenos, with a zippy salsa fresca.

I procure four shiny, dark green pasilla peppers. I snatch a couple serranos from the bin as well as a large jalapeno. I buy a carton of grape tomatoes (anything larger tastes like cardboard), a white onion, a head of garlic, a can of organic black beans (I can’t tell the difference between the organic and the “poisonous” beans, but I do this for Kathy — the canary in my culinary coal mine). Knowing Kathy will find something wrong with the rellenos, (“oooh, too hot”) I purchase a couple sweet potatoes.

I roast the pasillas, the serranos and the jalapeno on the outdoor grill until their skins blacken. I put them in a paper bag and roll it closed, letting the peppers steam for ten minutes or so. I peel the skins from the peppers, taking care not to damage the flesh.

I cut the tops off the serranos and jalapeno, halve them, and remove the seeds and spines with a spoon. I put my hands inside plastic sandwich bags during the pepper process; I don’t want to get oils on my fingers and later, without thinking, touch my eyes, nose, or something more delicate. Nasty business, that.

I chop the serranos and jalapeno and add them to the tomatoes, which I have washed and cut into neat little hunks. I add some finely diced white onion, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, salt, pepper, lime juice and olive oil and, presto, I have a salsa. I put it aside so the flavors can meld.

I cut a slit in each pasilla and use a teaspoon to gently remove the few seeds within. I set the peppers aside.

I put the beans in a sauce pan, add some diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, a splash of chicken broth, a clove of garlic (crushed), some ground cumin, dried oregano, a half teaspoon of Chimayo red, salt and pepper. I cook the bean mix down over medium heat until the liquid has evaporated and the beans start to get mushy. I help the process along by mashing half the beans with a fork, then I add a splash of olive oil and mix.

I cut four half-inch-wide logs of asadero cheese — each about three inches in length.

I spoon a wad of mashed beans into each pasilla, press a cheese log into the beans and close the pepper. The beans hold the skins tight, the pepper closed.

I make a simple batter: flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, a touch of cumin, a splatter of the ground red, half-and-half. I add enough liquid to get a pancake batter consistency.

Canola oil is best for the frying. Into a cast iron pan goes about three-quarters of an inch of the oil and it is heated over medium high heat.

Each stuffed pasilla is first dusted in seasoned flour (salt, pepper, Chimayo red, oregano, cumin) then dipped in the batter. Into the oil a pepper goes and it is fried until golden brown on one side, then flipped. When toasty good, the peppers are put on a paper towel to drain before being transferred to the plate and drowned with the salsa fresca. Some lightly dressed greens on the side, a microwaved sweet potato with plenty of butter and, kablam!, the delicious end result of a detailed task.

To add to the complexity of the task, I purchase a German Gewurztraminer — it goes well with zippy food. Just reading the label requires a Ph.D.

And , for dessert — a healthy dose of over-the-counter pain medication.

If I can remember where I put the bottle.