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Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2007.
on the best of days
november 1, 2007
We paid off our mortgage.
We took out our mortgage in 1991, so long ago, before both our mothers died, and my father; before Mary's stroke; before I became self-employed, as a consultant.
Our lives are quite different now, from that day sixteen years ago we sat down in front of a loan officer's desk, in a fancy, high-ceilinged bank.
We took out a conventional thirty-year mortgage, meaning we'd still be making payments until the year 2021.
After Mary's stroke, we signed-up for the accelerated payments program the bank offered, so that we paid every two weeks, rather than once a month. This change, in and of itself, meant our mortgage would be paid off in 2015, six years ahead of schedule.
But then we decided, talking it over between ourselves, Why not just pay it off now, and be done with it?
Our balance at that point was sixty-five thousand dollars.
I called the lender to get the pay-off amount, which was good for thirty days, then sent a cashier's check for that amount via DHL.
Within a week, we received confirmation our loan had been paid off, and the bank's lien on our property released.
So now we own our home outright. It's ours. Not "kind of ours," with the bank being the true owner.
We saved about seventy-five thousand dollars in interest by paying off the mortgage in advance.
We still have to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance, of course. That process now falls on us, rather than the lender, who used to put part of each mortgage payment in escrow. But that's fine with us. We now control the process.
We control the horizontal, we control the vertical.
It's a great feeling.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a Lately column on Popeye's red beans and rice.
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, Popeye's is a fast food franchise, much like McDonald's, except instead of hamburgers, it serves Cajun and Creole food.
Cajun and Creole food, native to New Orleans, to my taste, is one of the best cuisines in the world. If I want a really good meal, I want either Cajun/Creole, Greek, or Mexican. Forget Italian, French, Chinese.
Fast food franchises tend to proliferate because they come up with one or two recipes that are really, truly, deeply, madly, delicious.
Take McDonald's Fish Fillet. It's a great fucking sandwich. When I have the warmth of a McDonald's Fish Fillet sandwich in my right hand, I'm happy.
Same with Kentucky Fried Chicken's legs or thighs; Jack in the Box's Monster Taco, Sourdough Jack, or seasoned curly fries; or Taco Bell's Burrito Supreme, Enchirito, or Mexican Pizza.
But there is one dish that rises above all others, that is sublime, and that is Popeye's red beans and rice.
I've eaten in a lot of New Orleans restaurants, and New Orleans-style restaurants, including Copeland's, which is owned by Al Copeland, the same guy who owns Popeye's, but I've never, ever, had red beans and rice as good as what's served at Popeye's.
Some recipes are fairly easy to duplicate.
Want Taco Bell's burrito supreme? In a saucepan, combine one can of Taco Bell's refried beans with one can of beanless chili. Believe it or not, it's that simple. That's a burrito supreme.
But Popeye's red beans and rice?
I don't have a clue.
So I was all the more interested when Joseph Breaux contacted me via email.
He read my red beans and rice column.
So there it was, advice from the inside.
The big revelation to me, the big secret, and it made sense, was that Popeye's red beans and rice includes minced pepperoni. That would never have occurred to me, but it did make sense. That intense salted meat flavor, I realized, was indeed derived from minced pepperoni. Why had that never occurred to me?
And boiling the rice like spaghetti, instead of steaming it? I never would have thought of that method, but again, it sounded authentic.
Later, he sent me more information, including the perfect way to get the red beans started.
Most recipes for beans just say soak them overnight in water. Or, for a quick soak, place the dried beans in hot water.
What Joseph does is start off by placing two ham hocks in a dutch oven with enough water to cover the hocks by two inches, adding a half onion (not chopped up, just the half onion), and a whole Anaheim pepper. Simmer that covered for one hour, then remove the half onion and Anaheim pepper.
This adds an incredible amount of flavor to the soaking liquid.
Turn off the burner, add a pound of dried red beans to the ham hocks, and let sit covered for two hours.
Proceed with what you believe would make the perfect red beans and rice dish.
Don't forget the minced pepperoni.
We bought a new bed, and we bought a new product, Reynolds Handi-Vac.
The Handi-Vac is incredible.
The thing about freezing meat in a freezer bag is that it's impossible to get all the air out of the bag. I drop in a couple of pork chops, draw the hard plastic tab at the top almost all the way across, then hold the bagged pork chops against my chest, wrapping my forearms around the bag, squeezing, squeezing, to get out as much air as possible, then zip the tab the last, suffocating inch.
But there's still breath inside. Even if it's just a final breath.
As a consequence, after about a month in the freezer, those pork chops in the freezer bag have white frost on them, looking like ghosts of themselves. When you thaw the chops, the texture of the meat has deteriorated, because of freezer burn.
What the Handi-Vac does is allow you to place raw meat into a special freezer bag, then suck all the air out of the bag using a handheld, battery-operated vacuuming device.
We'd seen similar devices on infomercials, but they were big, cumbersome, and expensive, one hundred to two hundred dollars.
The Handi-Vac is about nine bucks. It's sold in supermarkets in the storage bags aisle.
As it happened, Mary and I bought a lot of meat the same day we bought the Handi-Vac.
I was a little skeptical at first.
We took two pork chops out of their store wrapping, placed them in a Handi-Vac bag (you get a few free bags when you buy the device. The bags come in quart and gallon size.)
Once the two pork chops were in the Handi-Vac bag, I used my thumb and forefinger to seal the top, as always.
Then you place the front of the hand held machine (about as big as an over-sized electric toothbrush) against a red circle in the bag.
Squeeze the trigger, nothing happens for a few seconds, then you see the bag slowly collapse against the pork chops, molding around them.
It's really cool.
And it's so nice to be able to actually see what's frozen, in close-up. All the bones and marbling.
It gets the SENTENCE Seal of Approval.
The only weird thing about the appliance is that one of the disclaimers says, Do not use on body parts.
So, out of corporate responsibility, is Reynolds writing-off the serial killer market?
I don't know. Maybe.
And we also bought a new bed.
We have a cell phone.
We've had a cell phone for, I don't know, maybe ten years.
We keep it in the glove compartment of our car (should the term "glove compartment" be updated?) We bought it in case our car breaks down on the road. We've used it for that purpose only once in ten years, when our car broke down in northern Dallas, while I was on my way to pick up Mary after work. Every other time we've used it, it's been to order pizza.
The cell phone stays in the car. We don't carry it with us, holding it against the side of our face, like a security blanket, when we go shopping, or to the doctor's.
(In a recent survey, researchers stopped people on the sidewalks of New York City who were talking into cell phones, to ask them if in fact they were really talking to another person, or just pretending to. In almost all cases, the women they stopped were actually talking to someone. In the majority of cases (I forget the exact percentage), the men were just talking to themselves. There was no one on the other end of the line, and in fact the cell phone wasn't even turned on. The men said they pretended to be talking to someone on their cell phone while they were on the sidewalk because they felt it would make them look important, and therefore more attractive to the women they were passing.)
About two years ago, we decided to buy a new cell phone. I forget why.
The young clerks in the cell phone store were politely shocked we were still using something so big and clunky. The new cell phone they sold us was about the size of a business card, and almost as thin.
We were astonished at how small cell phones had gotten.
When we bought our bed, we were equally astonished at how big beds had gotten. Maybe because they're not electronic. In these times, electronic things tend to get smaller, while non-electronic things (like McMansions), tend to get bigger.
We didn't realize how big beds had gotten in the Mattress Giant store (although the name should have tipped us off), because all the beds were big.
Just inside the front glass doors were mattress and box spring sets selling at four thousand dollars.
Who would pay four thousand dollars for a bed?
Holding hands, we wandered over to the rear of the store, where perfectly good sets were on sale for one thousand dollars.
We bought a set, arranged to have it delivered the next day.
The two guys who came out carried off our old set, carried in the new set. (One thing I've noticed about deliveries, and this cuts across type of purchase, stores, etc., is that when there is a delivery, only one guy shows up. He handles a lot of the preliminary work, a lot of the grunt work, and just when you think he's all by himself, a second guy shows up to help out with the finishing touches. What's that all about? Why is the second guy just sitting in the truck? What does he think about while he's in the passenger seat, where on the best of days all he gets to see is some guy down the block mowing his lawn?)
Once the bed was installed and they had left, we went into our bedroom to see our new bed.
The first thing that struck both of us was how tall the new bed was.
The box spring, and the mattress, were each about twice as high as the old set we had been sleeping on.
Which meant the bed itself sat much, much higher off the floor.
Our old bed skirt didn't work, because its sides weren't tall enough.
Whereas before we used to walk to the side of the bed, lower our body down onto the mattress, now we had to hitch up our hips, to climb onto the mattress, much like mounting a horse.
Sitting on the edge of the mattress, our feet dangled above the carpet, as if we were kids again.
This increased height transferred over to walking.
Strolling around our home, I felt like I was two feet taller than I used to be. The floor looked two feet lower.
My novelette Red Boat will appear in the first volume of the new Dark Distortions print anthology series published by Scotopia Press. The edition should come out before the end of the year.
My story Mice Leave Tiny Bites will be in the fourth issue of Trunk Stories, which should be published soon.
The twentieth edition of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, published by St. Martin's Press, is out. I'm proud to say two of my stories were awarded Honorable Mentions: Fleeing, on a Bicycle with Your Father, From the Living Dead, which first appeared in Midnight Street; and The Little Girl Who Lives in the Woods, which first appeared in the anthology, Read by Dawn.