In support of natural consequences…

October 1st in Maryland is notable for really only one reason I can think of – a shit ton of new laws come into effect on this day every year. 2019 is no exception. As usual, there’s at least one of these new laws that leaves me baffled and vaguely annoyed.

Starting today here in the great State of Maryland, you have to be 21 years old to buy cigarettes. That’s fine. I suppose if you’re going to have an age limitation you have to set it somewhere, but let’s not pretend that setting it at 21 is anything other than arbitrary.

So, you’ve got to be 21 buy your pack of Marlboro’s or enjoy a cold beer. You can start working at age 14 (with a permit). You can get a driver’s license (provisional) at 16 years and six months of age. The state’s age of sexual consent is 16. You must be 18 to rent a hotel room for the night and 21 years old to rent a car.

At 18 a person is legally considered an adult. They’ve had 12 years of education made available to them. If the individual in question happens to be male, they’re eligible to be drafted into military service. It’s the age when we’ve collectively decided people are legally responsible for their own actions. It’s also the age we’ve decided that people are smart enough to begin voting.

Fundamentally I believe the question is whether we believe an 18 year old is an adult, capable of making responsible decisions, or do we not. As the age for “rites of passage” in our society slowly marches later and later into life, perhaps we should re-evaluate the definition of adulthood altogether since 18 is clearly arbitrary and we seem to be determined to surround the little darlings in bubble wrap, except when it’s time to decide who to fuck or whether they get to go to Southeast Asia to fight Mr. Nixon’s war. At exactly the time when we appear determined to defer adulthood well into people’s 20s, there’s a nascent move to lower the age of majority in order to allow even younger people to vote.

I find it the height of hypocrisy to believe an 18 year old (or someone younger) should be entrusted with the most valuable jewel of citizenship, yet also allowed to extend their childhood in almost every other meaningful way indefinitely into the future. People are either an adult, with the accompanying rights and responsibilities, or they’re not.

Creating a system in which people are adults for some purposes but not for others feels like creating an increasingly fractured and nonsensical universe out of something that really just shouldn’t be that damned complicated. Some people make shitty decisions whether their 18 or 58. Removing the natural consequences of those decisions isn’t doing any of us a favor.

Just a taste…

In a lot of ways I’m a simple guy. In a world where celebrity chefs and experimental cuisine are a thing, I’m sure some of my more sophisticated friends would find my taste in food horribly pedestrian. Cooking here at Fortress Jeff tends largely towards traditional – shocking, I’m sure. For most meals there’s a meat, a vegetable, and a starch. With a few exceptions, perhaps on a Saturday or Sunday, my table wine is tap water over ice.

While my menus are not as limited as they once were, there are a few favorites that appear regularly in the rotation. I can make a roast that’s a dead ringer for the traditional Sunday meal at my grandparent’s house. My lasagna tastes like it came straight out of my aunt’s kitchen. I like the tastes, smells, and textures I grew up enjoying. I may not be passing them to the next generation, but keeping them alive in this one is important to me.

Some tastes – mountain bologna from B&B Meats, cheese steak subs from D’Atri’s, and cheeseburgers from Scotty’s – I’ve given up on ever being able to recreate. There are, however, a few tastes of home that I’ve been working for years to replicate. The longest running effort in my kitchen has been the effort to put together a basic ham salad that gets close to the taste I remember coming out of Love’s Grocery in Lonaconing. Finding that flavor has been something of an obsession of mine… and I think I’ve finally managed to crack the code.

I would never claim to have the ingredient list right, but I’ve finally got the flavor – or at least something close to the flavor I remember. The internet is thick with recipes that try to raise simple ham salad to an art form – but simplicity is the soul of the whole “salad” family. It’s a food specifically designed to stretch the budget from an era when people of necessity made use of every scrap of meat in their kitchen. To me, ham salad on white bread is the taste of summer, ranking right alongside the BLT and corn on the cob.

So what’s the big secret? Apparently in my incarnation the missing ingredient was Miracle Whip. Being a Hellman’s household I never considered it before, but switching between the two changed the entire “flavor profile” of my ground ham concoction. I can’t imagine that any scientist anywhere has ever had a more joyful eureka moment.

So this Sunday morning I’ve got that going for me. If I don’t manage to get anything else accomplished today, I’ll still consider the day a wild success.

Blur…

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized how important it is to hang on to the friends you had when you were a kid. They’re the ones who know where you came from and won’t let you forget it. The ones you cannot see for months on end and effortlessly pick up the conversation like you’d just had a burger at the local greasy spoon the last night. They are the ones who know your secrets and like you anyway. Maybe more importantly, they’re the guys you bled with and who bled with you.

For a long time now, I’ve known that I could be a better friend. The days stream by in a blur of airports and meetings and I realize months have gone by. We’re all busier now, occupied with the commitments of work and family and time has become our most valuable commodity. At the most basic level, I could have spend more time on the phone or sent a few more emails. I could have been there more often on a lot of fronts. Realistically, I think we all know that life isn’t going to be slowing down any time soon. At least not until we collectively punch our last timecard and head to the golf course.

I wish someone would have stopped me years ago, sat me down and made me understand how fast the time would go. There should be some kind of class that teaches you things like that. I don’t want to make a blanket statement and say anything like “I’d love to go back and go to school all over again.” I think that’s probably overstating the case. I would love to go back for just one night, one average night when the whole gang was together. A fire, a half-dozen pizzas, and a house full of your closest friends. I want to go back and see the “god’s eye view” of things and watch it all unfold. It really must have been something to see.

In the meantime, know that I think of you all often. I’m both proud of and humbled by your friendship. I’ve been told I need to stop the mushy posts and keep to ranting, which is a much more natural voice, but I’ve promised to always blog what happens to be on my mind and there you have it, live via tape delay, from Hartsfield International on the evening of July 30, 2007.

Going to the well…

Have a six-week road stand starting a week from Monday with a 900 mile drive to Memphis. You might be expecting a rant, but the reality is the only thing I am mildly agitated by is paying $1000 a month rent for an apartment I am going to be using as a glorified storage shed/mailbox while I am gone.

Like before almost all of my long trips, I feel a compulsion to go home this weekend. It’s an almost visceral need to stand, again, on the good earth of my childhood; to go once more to the wellspring to drink deeply and gather strength for the next push, the next campaign in my most recent long slog. I’ll go home and smell the first crisp air of fall and watch the mist burn out of the valley in the early morning. I’ll sleep, peaceful in the quiet home of my family a few more nights before turning out to late nights in tacky hotel rooms. For a few days more, I’ll be home.

I’ve crossed continents, but ultimately, every place I have ended up can fit into the category of “just the place I live.” I’ve had my share of rolled eyes and sarcastic comments about Western Maryland and I can’t imagine living there again, but somehow, I can’t imagine it ever not being home.