This is the story of the “The Joke”, the longest joke I ever undertook. In fact, The Joke would still be going on if my intended target hadn’t come down with some sort of ridiculous cancer and died. I swear, the inconsideration of some people.
If you scroll down through my entries, all the way down, down past the owl penis envy…the pussy hat….the pussy…the elbow surgery…the other elbow surgery…the flute confession…the “Fuck You Scalia” eulogy…
Oh never mind. Just click this.
That was my very first Dangerspouse entry on WordPress.
But it wasn’t written by me. And that’s not a picture of me (most days). It was written and posted by Poolagirl.
Poolagirl first accosted me on my original Diaryland blog, back in the days when blogging was actually cool (ie: before MySpace/Facebook). I was boppin’ along posting my usual crap when all of the sudden I started getting all these comments from some chick claiming to be a pirate captain. And she wouldn’t. stop. insulting. me. Even the most innocuous “Woke up. Went to work. Came home.” entry was met with a blistering put-down.
So of course I fell in love with her.
(At one point she wanted to hear my voice so she badgered me and badgered me until I for godsake stop badgering me! gave in and called her. During the conversation I mentioned that one of my radio stations made me use the pseudonym “Rick Forrest”. Right after we hung up she left this note at my blog:
“Rick Forest? Who thought up that lame ass name? It sounds like something from “The Young and the Restless” – something that Fabio would use. *puke* You’re right about one thing (probably many things but let’s just stick to one) – when you get too good at something they can HANG you with stupid shit. I’ve heard your voice, and you’re a heart melter. You called me and I was ironing my pants. What a sweet moment for me to remember for the rest of my life.”
Ten minutes later she left a follow-up note:
“…‘ironing’ is a euphemism for ‘creaming’.”)
She had a thing for hats, and invariably any selfie she posted featured some garish upturned flower pot or something on her head. One day she had a bunch of baseball caps custom made with a sailing ship and “HMS Pie Rat” embroidered on the front. She signed one and mailed it to me. I still have it.
After that we corresponded regularly by email, continuing even after she left Diaryland and opened a WordPress account. She was constantly trying to get me to join her here, but I resisted because I’m fat, lazy, and stupid (according to her).
Finally she had enough of my obstinance. She set up a WordPress account in my name without my permission, aided by cohort-in-crime and webmistress supreme, Poundy. Then she wrote that initial entry, added the pic of what she imagined I look like, and sent me an email with the link. I can’t say I was surprised when I got the email, as I’d learned early on that that’s how Poolie did things. If you didn’t yield, she just ran over you.
Wow, I almost lost track of what I was writing about! Sorry, this is supposed to be about The Joke…
One of the few things I was able to eviscerate Poolie about on a regular basis was her self-proclaimed inability to cook. Which, of course, I later found out was a lie. She just liked when I insulted her. I would write scathing notes telling her she didn’t deserve love because she was using her oven as a clothes hamper. In turn she would barrage me with photos of herself gleefully eating crappy vegetarian take-out. It was a standoff.
Then one day she wrote an entire entry about how she has all these Meyer lemon trees cluttering up her yard, and other than making lemonade from them she didn’t know what they were good for. She was just gonna throw them out.
I hit the roof. “If you throw those Meyer lemons out I will never insult you to your face again” I wrote. “You better send them to me, or else.”
And I wrote this entry about it (lifted from my old blog):
The Lemon Grab
I’ve had a sour taste in my mouth for the better part of 4 days now.
One of my oldest D-Land friends is the dread pirate Poolagirl. At the time I started blogging she really WAS a full fledged pirate, a guide on a historical replica pirate ship with the eye patch and mustache and everything. She then did the same thing at a car museum (just bleach the mustache, and voila: Car Guide!), and then left museums behind altogether to write Tony Award winning plays. Which means she now looks down on me and my “Internet Humor Award”.
Before that snub though, NewWifey(tm) and I flew out to California one summer to see her. It was pretty cool. It was the exact opposite of New Jersey: no snow, and lots of Mexicans. I liked both.
Poolie was a hostess par excellence. She laid out her finest yoga mat for us to sleep on, and unscrewed the best cooking Sherry that Costco sells to serve with our take-out. Which we had every. Single. Night.
Her hospitality extended beyond domestic concerns, too. A few days after we arrived, Poolie took us on a private after-hours tour of the auto museum, which was un-freakin-believable.
At one point NewWifey(tm) excused herself to use the Ladies Room, which was two floors down in the lobby. When she got back Poolie was on the phone.
“Did I miss anything?” NewWifey(tm) said.
“I got to second base with her behind the Talbot-Lago.”
“Big deal” she said. “I got to third. Last night, while we were making dinner.”
That really shocked me. “You cooked?”
That’s how close we were.
I honestly didn’t think it could get any closer than that. But a week and a half ago I read on Poolie’s blog that she was suffering a surfeit of Meyer lemons. She’s got, like, an entire grove of them on her estate. But there are only so many Lemon Martinis she can drink in a year, so she was bitching about having to once again drop them surreptitiously into every Salvation Army kettle at every WalMart between her house and the Oregon line.
New Jersey has a lot of things, but one thing we don’t have is Meyer lemons. In fact, we don’t have Meyer lemons so much that I’ve never even tasted one. Over the last decade I’ve seen them for sale maybe twice in the local grocery store, but they were hideously expensive – about a dollar a lemon. I pulled back each time.
So after reading her little “Woe is me! I have too much!!” First World diatribe, I wrote and generously offered to lighten her awful burden. She fell for it, and immediately shipped out a box of 12 Meyer lemons by 2nd Day Air.
Then I saw the postage stamp. She paid 23 dollars and 94 cents to rid herself of those monsters.
That’s 2 dollars a lemon.
How did I feel when I saw that? Terrible. I mentioned in my initial e-mail that I’d pay the shipping costs if she sent them out. But I assumed she’d send them Ground and I’d be on the hook for 4 or 5 dollars. 6, tops.
I decided to weasel.
“Hey listen Poolie,” I wrote, “you know that getting that 24 bucks out to you is #1 on my To-Do list, and because you mean so much to me I’d like to send you back double that amount. But, see, NewWifey(tm) is battling some “Breast AIDS Scofula Lyme Ebola Syndrome” thing that’s going around and even though getting the money out to you is much more important than staying home and giving my wife comfort and making sure she takes life saving medicines, she doesn’t feel that way. Can you find it in your pseudo-Christian heart this Christmas season to let me pay you back a few months from now when her physical and mental scars start to heal and I’m not on suicide watch any more?”
She fell for it again. “Ah, don’t worry about it” she wrote. “Merry Christmas. Keep the change.”
Guilt free, I ripped into the box of lemon scented…er, lemons, and pulled two out. The first thing I made was avgalemono soup, that Greek sunshine-in-a-bowl that so many people fuck up because they forget to temper the eggs and end up with “Lemon Clot Soup”. I served it alongside a platter of pork piccata, the classic Italian lemon caper treatment.
They were awful.
What the hell was I thinking? I took lemons renowned for their sweetness and put them into highly spiced savory dishes that needed sweetness like JFK needed a hole in the head. Prepared that way there was no distinction between those Meyers and the 33-cents-per-lemon lemons I usually get.
Ok. Lesson learned. Stick to desserts.
So that’s what I did.
But first, I had to worship them. If you don’t know that you must worship your ingredients before you use them then you know nothing about food and don’t deserve to eat.
(I’m the penguin there in the upper left, btw.)
That done, I zested the remaining lemons and divided the pile into three mounds. The first mound I simmered in milk, which became a creme anglaise, which then became lemon ice cream. The second pile got dumped into a thermal carafe with a bottle of vodka. In the weeks ahead, with the addition of a simple syrup, it will magically transform into Meyer limoncello.
The third mound, with the addition of lemon juice, became lemon curd. Most of which got turned into this:
That, my friends, is The Best Lemon Tart in the World(tm). I’m glad none of you were able to taste it because then you’d never be satisfied with any lemon tart ever again. And that would be just too sad. (For you baking geeks: the crust is a pate sucre with an extra yolk, a little more sugar, and instead of ice water I mixed ice water and vodka 1:1 to reduce the gluten production. It was sweeter and more tender that the usual pate sucre, which countered the tartness of the lemons.)
I have to say, the zest is where I really saw a difference with these lemons. Meyer zest is so fragrant and so pronounced that my hands smelled like furniture spray polish for two days after cooking with it. The juice is great too, but the real thing that makes those puppies worth a dollar apiece (*cough*ortwoifyou’reasucker*cough*) is that oily, golden, outer layer. In fact, it might even be worth it to rekindle my friendship with Poolie just so I can get invited out there again. This time I’ll cart home a case of lemons instead of burritos.
I’ll also make sure NewWifey(tm) isn’t the only one to get to third base this time.
Ciao, kids. And THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU POOLAGIRL! (For the lemons, too.)
“You ever gonna get to The Joke, Danger?”
Chill. Here it is:
After Poolie airlifted me out those lemons at a cost of 24 dollars and told me it was on her, I hatched a plan. This was back in 2013. First thing I did was write her a brief note telling her that regardless of her Christmas largess, I was going to mail her back a package of equal value. Eventually.
And I planned to. Eventually.
This is what I did. After I got done making the picatta and the avgalemono and the tart and the limoncello, I saved a couple of the lemon seeds and shoved them into a bucket of dirt.
I was gonna grow my own Meyer lemon tree, and when it bore fruit I was going to mail them (or something made from them, probably more appreciated) back to her. It was brilliant! Hilarious! So like me!
I figured the whole joke would take about a decade. Decade and a half, tops. In the meantime, every few months I would mention in one of our email exchanges that I hadn’t forgotten her package, and would be mailing it out shortly. “The Joke” was a running one.
In the meantime, on the homefront, NewWifey(tm) and my good buddy Doc both poo-pooed the idea. “It’ll never work” they told me. “Lemon trees don’t sprout from seed.”
Several weeks later one of the seeds DID sprout.
This time they said, “It’ll never work. Lemon trees grown from seed don’t bear fruit.”
“You just wait” I said.
So we waited. And waited. A year. Two years.
By year three it had grown so large we could no longer keep it in our bay window. For Christmas that year NewWifey(tm) got me a portable greenhouse, and we moved it out to the back porch:
“It’s still not gonna give you lemons” NewWifey(tm) said.
“You just don’t have enough faith” I said.
Then, one day that summer, I went out onto the back porch to water it….and saw this:
OH MY GOD!
I ran inside, grabbed my little PlaySkool point-n-hope, and took that photo. Then I ran downstairs to where NewWifey(tm) and one of her stitching buddies were working on a project in her office.
“Honey! Honey! LOOK!” I shoved the camera in her face.
She took the camera, showed her friend, and they both started laughing.
“Why are you laughing?” I said. “My tree grew a lemon, just like I said it would! So there!”
She patted me on the hand. “That’s nice, honey. Now go upstairs and start planning recipes for it.”
What kind of reaction was that? I just got a lemon from the lemon tree I grew from a goddam seed! The least she could have said was, “Gee, I guess you were right. For once.” I walked back upstairs. I heard them giggling behind me as I left.
Fine. I would start planning recipes. It was just one lemon now, but more were bound to burst forth any day now. In fact….
I went back out on the porch to see if there were any tiny little lemon-ettes I missed in my excitement.
And that’s when I saw it.
I mean…you saw it already, right? That seam down the side of the lemon? The seam down the side of that PLASTIC lemon?
I’m sure when my nose was only 3 inches away as I was taking the picture I must have seen it too. But mania is a funny thing. I wanted a lemon so badly that my brain would not accept evidence that it wasn’t a real lemon. I was duped.
I turned to walk back inside, but as soon I did NewWifey and Co. started laughing again. They had snuck upstairs behind me and were gleefully watching as the dawning realization that I had been duped turned my ears fuchsia.
“Sucker!” they said in unison.
Two more years passed. The tree got bigger and bigger, but still no fruit. I still wasn’t worried, though. I’d allotted at least 10 years for The Joke to come to fruition, so this was only the halfway point. Poolie was gonna practically die laughing when I finally mailed her back those lemons! I couldn’t wait….
Neither could she, it turned out.
Last year Poolie wrote and told me she had cancer. Lymphoma. “But don’t worry” she said, “I’m gonna beat this thing!” She sent me out a green Lymphoma Awareness pin, which I pinned to my microphone at work and took a picture of (that’s her wearing the custom hat she sent out):
In return she sent me back this:
Apparently radiation treatments have some side effects.
Over the next several months we kept in constant contact, and if it weren’t for the pictures and flip, almost offhand, remarks about horrific physical symptoms she was dealing with, you’d never know she was battling a life threatening illness. She sent me an electric juicer when I told her I was jealous of hers, and for Christmas I got a barrel of artisan salted almonds. I sent her pictures of my Spongebob collection. She sent me pics of her in her hospital gown with titles like, “Check out the cleavage, big boy. Hubba!”
Then one day the lighthearted tone stopped.
After her first round of treatment the tests showed her cancer was in remission. We whooped and hollered and swore we’d get together – she was going to fly out to NJ and finally have a DangerMeal(tm), and we’d take her into Manhattan where one day she was gonna put on that Tony Award winning play, and we’d all laugh about how tough she was that she even beat cancer. It was gonna be great!
But the cancer came back. It came back hard. Masses had re-formed on her spine and in her brain. It didn’t look good.
I decided I had to end The Joke.
“Poolie, meet Oscar” I wrote, and included the pic of the greenhouse.
“Oscar?” she wrote, “Why ‘Oscar’?”
“It’s a Meyer lemon. You know – Oscar Meyer! It’s a mnemonic device so I can remember what the hell I’m growing.” Then I explained the whole plan. I told her she’d better hang on at least another five years so that I didn’t go through all that trouble for nothing. She laughed and said she’d do her best.
But she couldn’t hang on. In the middle of January she sent me an email headlined, “Scared out of my wits”. All it said was, “Cancer is back. They are running lots of tests. Does not look good for me. I am really scared.”
Through all the months of tests and raised hopes and dashed hopes and pain and debilitating side effects, I’d never heard Poolie say she was scared. Never. I started writing some crappy “buck up babe, you’re gonna lick this thing yet!” response, but then I realized that stupid platitudes were the last thing she wanted from me. So I told her that she had to at least hang on long enough for me to fly out there and grab one last cheap feel before she went. She wrote back, “Crazy Man, I will never let you go.”
But last Sunday, February 4, exactly two years and one day after she posted my very first Dangerspouse entry on WordPress, Poolie – Paula Brandes – did let me go. And everyone else, too.
In a few days her family is going to take her ashes out to sea and scatter them in the Pacific. She’ll finally and forever be the pirate she always wanted to be.
It’s taken me a week to write this stupid entry. I’ve known Poolie longer than I’ve known my wife. I was so upset by her passing that I couldn’t even acknowledge it at first. Then when I decided to write something here, I knew I couldn’t do it, or her, justice. And re-reading what I just wrote, I didn’t. I know she wouldn’t have wanted somber, not from me anyway. But…all I feel is somber.
I can’t write any more.
Farewell, Captain Poolie. Thanks for the love, and the lemons. Both were sweet, and gone too soon. And that’s no Joke….