If you’re wondering, a pickle back is a shot of pickle juice you take after a shot of whiskey (usually Jameson, for whatever reason). Yeah, it sounds weird. But it’s more delicious than you’d expect. As is what I’m about to tell you.
So, you might or might not know this, but I’m a pretty good cook. I mean, not only have I been feeding myself for decades. But I also spent like three of those decades working in bars and restaurants, watching and learning and getting tips (it’s true what they say: for every hungry bartender there’s three thirsty cooks).
One of those tips, learned a long, long time ago, is that if you’re cooking in a pan on the stovetop, you can speed things up by pouring a little liquid in there and covering the pan. Gives it a quick little steam-aroo, if you know what I’m saying. It’s especially nice if you’re wilting some greens into your sautee.
Somewhere in the last couple years, I started using the leftover brine from pickle and olive (and jalapeño) jars. The results are delicious. The brine adds flavor, but it’s deep flavor, the kind you sense is there but doesn’t stand out, it’s just a little extra umami for your mouth. For me, it’s double-plus good, since it means I’m using up *everything* in the jar, which is low-key a compulsion of mine, left over from when I was younger and broker.
Anyway, all this is a long way of saying give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Yesterday, after buying a cup of tea and nine copies of Real Change, I cried in the grocery store.
It was cold out, below freezing. Snow fell off and on, some of it snow that had fallen the day before, stirred up and blown sideways by wind sharp enough it had teeth. The light was silver tarnished by winter clouds, though the sun’s generous nature would win out later and turn the day if not kind at least kinder. I’d got a good chill in my fingers and hands scraping the windshield — forgot to grab gloves on the way out the door. But by the time I had driven up the hill to the store I was warm all the way through.
Two days previous, I was swimming in an ocean warm as bath-water, jumping waves with my love and watching the sun set at the end of a week and a half in Costa Rica with Dr. Bae.
We’d been gone since before Christmas, so there was nothing to eat in the house. So I went to the grocery store. I didn’t bother to make a list. We needed, like, everything, all the stuff we usually have around, plus a couple of specific requests from Dr. Bae, which of course I’d remember. I was wearing four layers, wishing I’d put on more. Yeah I’d just come from paradise, where I’d lived in my bathing suit most of a week. But it was cold, man. Crossing the parking lot, I couldn’t wait to get inside.
Back when I was a bartender — back when I took most of my pay home in cash, and always had a wad of singles and fives in my pocket — I used to give money to just about every homeless person who asked. I got a buck for opening a beer; it was no big deal to kick down and help somebody out. I figured if they were bad off enough they needed to stand around outside and ask strangers for money, they needed it more than I did.
Since then, I don’t carry cash as much as I used to. Even if I was still a bartender, I probably wouldn’t: nowadays everybody pays with a card. Walking with all your tips is a thing of the past. Even if I do have cash, it’s usually in twenties, stuck away in my wallet just in case. Like yesterday.
I think it was because I was thinking about how cold I was that my eyes didn’t slide past the lady selling Real Change outside Safeway the way they so often do. Real Change is a fine publication, and as a card-carrying bleeding-heart liberal progressive social justice warrior I 100% approve of their undertaking and mission. But I also resent them, because I’ve already got more to read than I could possibly keep up with. So I’m basically buying a piece of recycling (or, depending on where you live, compost).
It’s a real conundrum, negotiating that particular intersectionality. Put simpler: life is complicated.
Except it wasn’t. I was freezing and I looked at the lady standing in the cold and decided I’d buy a paper and get her two dollars closer to wherever she was trying to get to. It seemed the least I could do.
“Can you break a twenty?”
“I don’t know. Let me see.”
She had to take off her gloves to count back the change. She had a hat on, and a jacket I might use as a mid-layer between my long underwear and my outer jackets.
She was shivering, the cold crept into her bones, it looked like. We talked a little while she counted change back. I let her get to sixteen and said I’d just make it easy on both of us and buy two. I asked her if I could get her anything inside: a bite of food or a hot drink. She asked for a hot tea and being a retired bartender I asked how she liked it.
That I was very sad, and so I was going to go sit in my car and blast Corey Hart’s Never Surrender and have a singalong and a good cry. But things kept getting in the way, and I never made it. Now the song is (not unpleasantly) stuck in my head, and given it’s New Year’s Eve of this shitshow dumpster fire of a decade, I’ve decided there’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere. Anyway, here’s this ’80s kid’s parting gift to you for the ’10s:
Before we get started, here’s what I want to know about your philosophy:
Given the resources and capabilities of human beings as a species, why shouldn’t everyone matter enough to be important? Why shouldn’t everyone have what they need to prosper and thrive and be happy? There’s more than enough to go around. Why shouldn’t everyone have enough?
Beware cynicism, friends. Beware it always. For it loves above all else to wear wisdom’s dignity, and speak with wisdom’s voice. But wisdom is earned, often at great expense, where cynicism is cheap as air, and for the most part as substantive. It likes to put on wisdom’s clothes and stomp around making big noise, like a child raiding their parents’ closet. Worse, it counsels inaction when action is desperately needed, and acceptance of the worst in events and human nature. It’s easy and safe, like playing dress-up in your parent’s clothes, because it takes no chances and affords hope no space or soil to take root in.
It’s said wisdom comes from experience (and experience from lack of wisdom), and it’s true. Wisdom is earned when we try to do hard things. If we succeed or if we fail matters, but it matters more that we try. That’s why cynicism is so dangerous. Because cynicism will tell you it’s not worth it to try. That failure is inevitable.
And here’s the thing. Sometimes cynicism is right. Often as not we *will* fail. But right or not about the outcome, cynicism is always wrong, because it ever and always stops us from acting. From trying and doing the hard thing. And the wise know what the cynic never can: that it’s better to try and fail than never to try at all.