Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Mister Meatball's flying circus
I don't always dress this way when I'm cooking. You'll have to take my word on that.
And yet, had you been around my place much last winter, especially at dinner time, odds are good that you witnessed firsthand this preposterous sight.
I dread the coming winter. So must the hungry people who share it with me.
Face it. It's impossible to pay attention to what's going on in the kitchen when you're continually having to escape to the attic. Dressed up like the Hamburglar and battling armies of wild beasts.
I'm afraid you will need to accept my word on this as well.
Minutes before this frame was shot, on a very snowy evening last January, I was two flights down, standing at the stovetop in a warm kitchen, chatting with friends and tending to a veal breast stuffed with sausage and pine nuts and fresh herbs. On the counter that serves as my pasta-making station rested a batch of freshly cut pappardelle that I had just prepared. On the turntable (yes, I still have one) Tony "Don't-Call-Me-Norman" Perkins was wrapping up the A Side from his 1958 LP "Long Ago and Far Away," with a respectable rendition of "On a Rainy Afternoon."
Anticipating an imminent vinyl flip, I grabbed my wine glass and headed to the living room. There, Otis the Wonder Dog napped near the fire, dreaming (I'd imagine) of the Parmigiano-Reggiano he would surely be gifted once dinner time came around.
An all around lovely evening going on here at La Casa di Polpetta, don't you think?
I thought so too.
Which makes us both wrong.
Squirrels—flying ones—are after me. Have been for years now. They live in my house, wreck my property and frequently interrupt my slumber. To fight them I have broken laws I did not know existed, risked serious harm to myself and to others, and skipped out on kitchen duties when they were most crucially required.
I hate these squirrels. HATE. Just the thought of them turns me into, well, this guy...
Go ahead and be disappointed in me if you want. I don't care. You probably think flying squirrels are cute. Try living with them. Then tell me how cute you think they are.
I should have gotten the hell out of this house years ago, when the Pteromyini (that's science speak for the squatters in my attic) first arrived. The kitchen wasn't nearly as workable or enjoyable as it is today. I hadn't converted the stovetop to gas yet, or redone the countertops. Even the wall oven was a piece of crap. Who'd miss it?
Instead I had to go and meet a man named David Sparks. Sparks is a wildlife expert in Southern Maine. Should you or a loved one require wildlife "rehabilitation," or "nuisance relocation" expertise, or just a fun-filled birthday party for a bunch of 4-year-olds, Dave is your man. His shop is called—are you ready for this?—Sparks Ark. For real.
Exploring the attic and crawl spaces with Sparks did a complete kill on my appetite the day we first met, possibly a decade ago now. I remember clearly having my eye on the leftover pork with clams (a Portuguese favorite) from the night before, thinking it would make a fine lunch. But Sparks showed up in his truck just before noon. When he left, around an hour and way too much "evidence of infestation-gathering" later, I was off to the showers, not the refrigerator. I don't think I ate for the rest of the day.
I'll be merciful and spare you the details. You're welcome.
Anyhow, back to that snowy winter night last year. No sooner did I lift the stylus from the Tony Perkins LP than my attic tenants' presence became known. I knew by the sound that they were not running roughshod over the fiberglass insulation; clearly the Havahart traps had been tripped while the music was playing. Somewhere above me was one or more creatures lured into "humane" animal traps by Snickers bars, peanut butter, and a Meatball who could not bear dispensing more severe punishment on living things guilty only of needing a warm place to stay after daylight ended.
It was time for me (and my friend Tom, who was visiting and baking a nice crusty bread to go with the veal breast) to get dressed and go to work. (I know, I know: "Who you gonna call?")
As it happens, two of the four deployed traps were, shall we say, with squirrel. Which meant that I needed to, A) Leave cooking the rest of the meal to others and, B) Commence to unlawfully transporting live creatures to a new home in "another municipality" while driving in dangerous snow-and-ice conditions, and in a hungry and irritable state.
See, you can't just carry these traps a few blocks and release what's inside them. Not even close. Some say a successful "wildlife relocation" (meaning the critters won't find their way back to the place where their joy ride began) requires going a 50-mile distance away. And not just any meatball is allowed to transport wildlife across town lines; it's actually against the law to do it. And you thought it was pretty easy being me.
So I loaded the SUV with the incarcerated (and not-at-the-moment flying) squirrels, kicked it into four-wheel drive and slowly drove off in the direction of "an undisclosed location," leaving my friends to finish cooking the dinner that I had so carefully planned out. (Tom wanted to ride shotgun but I wouldn't let him; not much sense in both of us getting pinched if a copper happened upon this caper.)
I did not drive 50 miles from my kitchen that evening, or the many other evenings just like it through these years. I'll need to be evasive on details here, but suffice to say that a wide river provides man many opportunities. Traveling, say, a bridge that goes over such a river could be a useful exercise for a man in my position, if you catch my drift. Particularly if on the other side there is a cold, dark place where freight trains travel slowly and precious few witnesses (er, citizens) roam. Translation: I drop the suckers off on the side of the river where I (and my kitchen) ain't.
And so one night this winter, while you are cooking something fabulous in your fragrant kitchen, surrounded by loving family and dear and devoted friends, think of your pal in the wilds of Maine, four-wheeling through snow over icy roads and bridges, an outlaw in search of no witnesses to his crime.
Just try and drop the bandana from the image, okay.
And maybe the hat.