RANDY’S WEEKEND VISIT.
The man who inspired the doggerel verse below has been my friend for forty-nine years. Last Friday, April 5th, he and his lady arrived at last, parked his huge, white Toyota pickup truck in our driveway and made themselves at home.
Randall looked slim and fit, as I expected, for he’s been hiking the hills of New Mexico, Oregon and Idaho most of the past year. But I was startled by his shock of thick hair which has turned snow white since I last visited him in Naples, Florida three years ago.
After our back-slapping abrazo, Randall turned to his lady and introduced her as Zia. Chris and Zia embraced and kissed; Zia shook my hand and gave me a thin smile.
“I love that shirt,” Zia said.
“This is one of my new Plane Shirts. My daughter, Kathleen, makes them for me. Kathleen is a flight instructor at the Westwind School of Aeronautics out in Phoenix; in her spare time she makes “Plane Clothes” and sells them at airport gift shops and on eBay. Randy has known her since she was in kindergarten.”
Randy added: “I haven’t seen Kathleen since her mother had that restaurant in Eastern Oregon. . .”
“The Wooden Nickel,” I interjected. That’s where Chris first met Millie. Pure serendipity. We stopped at the Wooden Nickel after a long night of driving up through the wilds of Nevada and there were my daughters behind the counter, Kathleen and Colleen were shocked to see me, and Lisa was at the range in the kitchen grilling burgers. Millie came out, took Chris by the hand and with a jug of wine they disappeared. While they were gone the girls had me in the scullery washing dishes.”
Randy gave Chris a quizzical look. “I didn’t know you had met Millie.”
“Oh yes. It was instant recognition; we knew we had the same cross to bear.” Chris said, tugging my sleeve. “Let me show Randy and Zia our guest room before you start another long-winded story.”
Last Thursday Chris and Allison went to Publix Market. They came home with a bagful of Poblano Chilies, the fattest I’ve ever seen. I was doubtful that they would serve for Randy to make his famous Chili Rellenos.
The luscious Poblano Chili Pepper (courtesy of Wikipedia)
The first step in the process of preparing the Poblano is to roast it over an open flame to char its skin. We took the chilies and a wet towel out to my camper van in the back yard.
The van hasn’t been opened since I quit trying to restore it more than a year ago. We had to remove the passenger seat and set it on the porch of the shop, and then shuffle the gear out of my boat, before Randy could get to the propane gas range to roast the chilies.
I turned on the gas valve while Randy spread the damp towel on the drop-leaf table and skewered the first pepper with a long-tined bar-b-Que fork. I handed him a box of wooden matches and he lit the burner. Both of us were surprised when that blue ring of flame lit up. Randy patiently rotated the pepper in the flame, blackening its skin and then laying it to steam between folds of the wet towel. As he worked on the peppers, Randy quizzed me about the design and construction of my boat; I was happy to tell him in detail how I dreamed up the boat during a long passage through the heart of Texas in our old house truck and then made a pair of I-Beam saw horses and laid the keel across them.
“I intended to make it light, a car-topper. But recalling the chop in San Francisco Bay, when the westerly winds whip up the water as the tide is ebbing, I beefed it up. I used three laminations for the sides of the hull and five on the bottom. As an afterthought I skinned the boat in Dynel cloth saturated with Epoxy. So that made it as heavy as a fiberglass boat; it would take a crane to stack it on top of a car or truck like you canoe; Randy asked what it weighed and I guessed eight hundred to a thousand pounds.
We carried the roasted chilies into the kitchen and Randy began to peel them.
“Do you have any enchilada sauce?” he asked. I didn’t.
“Let’s let these cool and go to the store. We’ll need more cheese than you have on hand, another dozen eggs, and the enchilada sauce.”
We split up in the store; Randy had to make a head call. I picked up the extra block of aged cheddar, a block of Pepper Jack, and a quart of sour cream. When I met him in the aisle where enchilada sauce is kept, Randy also had a block of cheddar. “Let’s get both,” I said, “I’ll use the cheese left over to go on burritos.”
Meanwhile, Chris and Zia were getting acquainted, telling each other about their years of hitch-hiking alone around the country in their “hippie” days. I had noticed earlier how down to earth Zia seemed, casually dressed and warm, open demeanor. Chris had downloaded the DVD movie “The Life of PI,” and assumed the reclining position on the sofa and Zia was supine on our love seat, engrossed in the movie.
I stood in the kitchen watching Randy make the Chili Rellenos, from removing the skin and seeds from the peppers, slicing them in half, inserting the sticks of cheddar and folding them over. And then he separated yokes from white, whipped the whites to peaks and then added the yokes and beat the batter some more while the skillet heated on the range. He poured batter in two skillets, added a stuffed pepper to each and then poured more of the frothy eggs over them. He cooked them first on one side to a golden brown and then flipped them and cooked the other side. I had cleared out the oven and placed a large baking sheet at his disposal. Quickly, it seemed, Randy had loaded the baking sheet with six chili rellenos each about five inches in diameter. He had set the oven to pre-heat to 350 degrees. I told him to turn it down to three hundred on the dial as that would control the temperature at 350.
Randy opened a couple green bottles of Yuengling Traditional Lager, reputedly Americas oldest brew. I would have preferred Corona Light, but the Yuengling tasted fine and I felt the alcohol affecting me before I’d half finished my bottle.
I’m normally loquacious, but after a bottle of strong beer there’s no shutting me up. With less than half a bottle working with my pills, I began to quiz Randy about his family. One of his daughters, the eldest, Allyson, lives in Brandon, just south of us, whom Randy plans to visit when he leaves here. Although he’s been divorced for almost a decade, he has maintained the house and acreage he inherited from his dad, but he recently sold out.
“I sold everything, the house, my boat, the whole ball of wax,” he said, “and went on my walk about.”
Since returning from his isolated sojourn in Ketchum, Idaho, Randy has been staying with his elder sister, Penny, in Naples and has resumed his psychological counseling business.
“It’s amazing how rapidly my former clientele returned and brought in a lot of new business. My work schedule is already busier than I like it to be.”
Before obtaining his Masters degree and getting his counseling license, Randy had worked for Outward Bound Schools for twenty years. One can imagine how being chained to an office must gall him. And yet he does it. I imagine many of his clients are troubled youngsters; Randy was one himself, prior to going to work as an instructor for Outward Bound in the Pacific Northwest. Becoming responsible for the lives of his students mellowed Randy, or so it seemed to me. Some day I hope to engage him on the subject more fully.
We dined at our kitchen table. In addition to the Chili Rellenos I served a large bowl of my home-made chilli con carne and a bowl of white steamed rice. The dinner was a success. (two of the chili rellenos were saved and I ate them both for breakfast at 0400 on Sunday morning).
Before leaving we discussed my boat, which Randy and Zia would like to have; I had shown them all of the work the boat needed in the way of cosmetic care and told them to contact our Allison, who has title to the boat. I phoned A.J. and gave her a heads up. I’d like to see the boat go to Randy, who will use it before it decays into a pile of powdered plastic and slivers; it’s been eight full years since the boat was last sailed and my sailing days are over.
Chris and I are both still in a trance, not quite able to believe our weekend was real; it seems more like a happy dream.