Monday, May 26, 2008

Willy P. continued - velour & baked goods

Charlie W. was one of the several acolytes who worshipped at the shrine of blond Jordans – these young men were platonic family friends, since the Jordans were good Lutheran girls. I believe that Charlie did have parents and a home of his own, but maybe there was some dysfunction there – for whatever reason, he was often at our house for Sunday dinner (not called lunch), the midday meal for German descendants like Ben and Priscilla. I remember one Sunday when Willy, who – unsurprisingly for a dog from a family of 5 girls and a boy – preferred women to men, barked extra-loud and long at Charlie. My brother Dave, who was a senior in high school and had moved to one of my dad’s rent houses so that the Jordan girls could take over his bedroom, happened to walk into the house mid-bark and said, in wry solemnity – combining his usual gravitas with a mildly questioning intonation, “Maybe Willy doesn't like velour."

I can remember the staging of the scene – medium-height Charlie grinning nervously and blinking his eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses, barely having entered the kitchen because Willie, in front of the stove, was so noisy, and then tall, lean Dave appearing in the hall behind Charlie and using his superior intelligence to rapidly assess the situation. Dave was wearing his usual church uniform of dark brown slacks and European-tailored Oxford cloth shirt (he had an unusual build for his age and on a shopping trip with Uncle Harvey to Neiman's, they had learned that his physique was better served by European-cut shirts). Charles was not classically handsome and his teenage complexion had not yet cleared, but he was very clean, at least when we saw him on Sundays – you could smell his Right Guard and other 1970s guy products. I think he had graduated the year before and was working locally and/or going to community college – he had a small clothing budget and only two Sunday shirts, one being the velour model.

When looking through a vintage clothing site for the right velour image I saw a flowered shirt that was instantly familiar – this was my first recollection that Charlie also had a rayon shirt, which he alternated with the velour one. Not only had I forgotten about the floral shirt (probably a good reallocation of brain cells) but I couldn’t, and still can't, remember the color of his velour shirt. I think it was blue-green, but the wine-color shirt I found online looks so familiar…that might have been the color instead.

When Craig and I bought our house 10 years ago, the master bedroom was painted a hideous Pepto pink (the original owners were proud of their color scheme, including matching curtains), which Craig startled me by referring to as green. When I quizzed him, does that really look green to you?, he corrected himself, but I think he has some slight color-blindness. I also tested him on a wine-color bathrobe he used to have, but although he described that color correctly, I figured whatever relative gave it to him for Christmas might have already told him the color. I have never caught him in a color mistake since, so either his disability is very mild or he has gotten better at tricking me (trickery being a handy skill in marriage). Actually I was jealous of his viewpoint because our bedroom could only have looked better if I saw it in green. Having trouble distinguishing between red & green is one of the two basic types of color blindness, and it fascinates me that blue-green and wine-color fall into this problem category. I mean…think about the era, I guess early 1980s?, when mauve & blue-green (up to and including seafoam) were used in interior decor to an obnoxious degree. I always wondered how those colors got put together in the first place, but they do seem to share a weird kinship. So, I guess the real color of Charlie's church shirt - whether wine or blue-green - doesn't matter. Either way, my reader gets the 1970s visual.

I mentioned to my brother Dave that I was going to be blogging his comment about the shirt, and he mailed me this:
I have no recollection of that quote, but I do remember forming an immediate dislike of Willy, which was mutual: he growled and snapped at me every time I walked into the kitchen. This never failed to amuse Priscilla. To get back to the quote, it does sound like a good quote for the times. There was a new technology for making inexpensive velour, one of many good reasons to dislike the 70's.

You know…even after 46 years of being Dave’s sister, it still annoys me that he is so easily, naturally, a more concise and witty writer than I am.


The Jordans created an unplanned cheerleader dynasty (I think all 5 of them were elected to the squad every year they were in high school), impressive not just because of their number or the lack of planning – and lack of pettiness, and none of the kind of nasty competition parodied in cheerleader movies – but also because they had all attended parochial school through eighth grade and started out at Tomball High as freshmen with few contacts (other than their older sisters, who taught them cheer routines). They were popular girls but not cliquish, having friends in more walks of school life than just cheerleading (band nerds, etc.), and they were also good students – National Honor Society and the Honor Roll. Yes, they all looked great in bikinis but it was more important to them that they had attained advanced lifeguard certification, a sign of physical fitness and safety achievement - the bikini physiques and the superb lifeguarding tans were incidental.

Anyway…let me stop describing my perfect stepsisters before I digress into bitchiness…on Spirit Fridays the Tomball cheerleaders, in addition to wearing their uniforms to school, made treats for the football team and decorated their lockers with “Go Team” signs, crepe paper and candy. Candy wasn’t enough though – they also took cake and cookies to feed these growing boys. Priscilla was an excellent from-scratch baker but recognized the efficacious value of using cake mix, which would assuredly not be scorned by the palates of high school footballers.

My story concerns a particular Thursday night – to place it in a timeline, it was after Willy’s hot spot problem, with its accompanying self-licking, was fairly advanced. Priscilla, on behalf of her daughters who were otherwise busy with homework or sports practice, had baked a sheet cake and covered it with German chocolate frosting. This type of topping, moist coconut and nuts in a sugary goo, is spread on a still-warm cake (unlike most cake frostings, which should only be spread on a cake that is completely cool – otherwise the frosting will melt and run). The cake’s warmth made it even more aromatic, and it easily got Willy’s attention. He was never far from the kitchen, and it was an easy matter for him to hop up on a kitchen chair…and lick the sugary, nutty frosting off the cake.

Priscilla caught him when he was only about a third of the way through...which meant she had more options for trouble-shooting. Her decision was to take a spatula and spread the remaining frosting over the naked parts of the cake. I had already learned that Priscilla’s appreciation of the Sciences was very basic - a couple of times I had come home with gems from biology or chemistry class, such as, did you know that hot water freezes faster than cold water?, and she would respond in the manner of, "Don't you dare put hot water into my freezer and defrost it." Without even initiating a conversation I knew that Priscilla had no concern for what the microbes on Willy's tongue might do to the football team. I shouldn’t sell her short – I’m sure she did know about infectious bacteria but figured that healthy, physically fit young men would have sufficient immunity to eat the cake with no problems.


While still living at home I started assembling a collection of decorative cookie cutters for more occasions than just Christmas – autumn leaves for fall, bunnies for spring, etc. Sometimes I used my mother’s recipe, which featured colored dough combined with white dough, and other times I painted designs on my cookies with food coloring. The paintbrush cookies were thin, delicate, and labor-intensive. One afternoon my stepbrother Steve was watching me bake and expressed an interest in eating a cookie. I was frowning and fussy, trying to get my paint lines straight and trying not to burn the delicate cookie edges, and I said in a short tone to Steve that he could only eat the broken ones. He ate some crumbled edges from the first pan and the second pan (ears and tails always fell off the rabbits and horses) but by the third pan, when my technique had improved and the cookies were coming out closer to perfect, Steve had resorted to lifting up cookies from the cooling rack and dropping (genteelly hurling them) to the kitchen table so they would be officially broken, per my directive, and he could eat them. Occasionally he varied his routine and let cookies drop to the kitchen floor, where his counterpart Willy P. would scarf them up. The tinkly thump of the breaking cookies and Willy's uncut nails as he danced on the linoleum made a counterpoint to my banging of cookie sheets and cooling racks.

Sometimes when Willy scrambled for food it reminded me of something in the movies...I have further clarified this through 12 years of living with my beagle Marley…it is reminiscent of a tap dance (when Marley does fast footwork for treats I call him Mr. Bojangles), or the kind of activity that occurs in old Westerns when the bad guy shoots at someone’s foot, yelling "Dance!" Maybe I'm a latent sadist, but I find it amusing to see a chubby dog (or a scared cowboy) move so fast.

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