My mother played the clarinet before I was born; that was the extent of our family’s musicality. As far as I know, “I’d like to learn how to play the viola” never crossed my mind, but somehow I found myself, toward the end of elementary school, learning to play. If it wasn’t for Eine kleine Nachtmusik stirring me, I might have given it up sooner than I did. I signed up for orchestra in junior high; I even designed the program cover for one of our concerts. I don’t remember being the kind of person who would volunteer for a job like that, but I must have been. I have the evidence. I loved Garfield, so I drew a likeness of him with a thought bubble over his head, saying something witty about talk of food being music to his ears.
The viola section consisted of two of us: me and Keith. I was second chair; Keith, my rival, was first; unfairly, I always thought. Keith was a stout, sour faced boy with a mouse colored crew cut and brown plastic glasses. He never talked to me, despite my attempts at chattiness; he certainly never smiled. Keith gave sidelong looks whenever I played a wrong note or was slightly off-tempo. Sometimes he would sigh.
The orchestra had uniforms: kelly green, scratchy, cheap wool cardigans with the school’s gold letter on them. They were as hideous to look at as they were uncomfortable. The obligatory sweater at concerts was almost enough to make me give up my instrument. Eventually I did, but whether it was due to Keith’s evil eye, or the sweaters, or my desire to be more like Olivia Newton-John when I danced around my living room, I can’t say. I joined the choir and the volleyball team in high school.
I like to think I’ve raised my boys to love music. I always have something playing in the background at mealtimes. Monday afternoons, they take piano lessons. Their teacher, Amanda, is young and hip; they have as much fun riffing with her as they do learning the music. When Abbott gets assigned a song he loves, he runs with it. For him, this means playing it repeatedly, as fast as he can, improvising his own rhythm. And completely neglecting any other music he’s supposed to be working on. When Amanda called him on it yesterday, based on the fact that he didn’t know the other song he was responsible for at all, Cal was Abbott’s Keith. She asked, “Hey Abbott. Why is it you can’t seem to make it through one of these pieces, and the other you can play with your eyes closed? Haven’t we talked about this before?” Cal sighed, and gave him a sidelong look.
Meal for an autumn evening
When we got home, I put on some music, made myself a ginger sidecar, and started to cook. I took the package of pork chops – center cut, about an inch thick – out of the fridge, opened the butcher paper, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. I pulled out my cast iron skillet, heated it on the biggest burner for a few minutes, then added a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Next I added the pork chops, over high heat, and turned them around for several minutes, until they had a nice brown color all over. I added white wine to the skillet, 1/2 cup or so, along with a minced clove of garlic, and let the wine mostly cook off. Then I added some vegetable stock – half a cup – to the skillet, covered it, and let it all cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat, until the chops were tender. I moved them to a plate, added a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the pan liquid, then poured the mixture over the chops, and garnished with some chopped parsley.
While the meat cooked, I washed a head of cauliflower and separated it into florets. I put the florets in a steamer basket inside a pot with water just below the bottom of the basket, heated the water to boiling, and cooked the cauliflower. When the cauliflower was tender, I gently tossed it with salt and pepper, and a little bit of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and chopped parsley.