Last night, we had nothing in particular in the house for dinner, so I threw together a “cupboard supper” out of roots and tubers and frozen things. It was, I’m not exaggerating, a sublime meal. Cupboard suppers always are, for some reason. We ate every scrap and washed it down with rioja, then port, then hard cider. I felt it was my duty to drink up all the liquor in the house, and Brendan kept me company. I was holding a sort of wake for my friend Michael, who died of a heart attack in his sleep 2 nights ago at 49. He was the best guitar player no one’s heard of. He took terrible care of his body. He didn’t eat much food or drink water, and he could put away more liquor than you’d think was humanly possible. He also smoked constantly, and he did God knows how many drugs, or what kinds, but it’s unclear whether taking better care of himself would have prevented his heart attack. He was adopted and didn’t know his family health history. According to the coroner’s report, his arteries were hardened, and his heart was a “ticking time bomb.”
I loved him. Everyone did. He lived in New Orleans and came from Philadelphia. He was an instigator of three-day benders, a sly, brilliant provocateur, a merry chuckler, a generous friend, one of the great eggs. No one could have thought he’d live forever, or even for long, but he had an aura of indestructibility, permanence, like an institution. My memories of Michael piled up like billowing cloud-pictures in my head last night, the way they do when someone dies, with a finality: these are all the memories there’ll be of him, no more.
Today we’re hosting a small afternoon party in honor of Brendan’s friend, Colie, who died a year ago at 29 — a solstice party in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, in Brendan’s family farmhouse, the house he was born in, in this beautiful, remote place where he and Colie grew up together. They believed in druids, they played Battle Beasts, and they had each others’ backs all their lives. Last time we saw Colie, he described the wedding he wanted to have, some day when he met the woman he’d marry. We’re going to have that wedding ourselves, for him.
Colie died in a car accident not too far from his house. He was on his way to buy a Christmas tree. He wasn’t wearing his seat belt, and his car went off the road — no one knows how or why.
There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a friend who dies unexpectedly and suddenly and young — Michael and Colie were both self-destructive, and, paradoxically, fully alive. They were free of bullshit, both of them, unencumbered by dogma, obligatory proscription, and niceties. They were two charming, wild, badass, generous, straightforward, kind, brilliant, funny men, and I am going to bake a big, fat, juicy, amazing ham today in their honor.
You get a phone call from your ex-husband telling you a beloved old friend has died. You haven’t bought groceries in days, and it’s time to make dinner, and it’s too late now to shop, and you don’t feel like going out. Look in the freezer; look in the pantry and cabinets; check the basket where you keep potatoes and onions. You have the makings of dinner, it’s just a matter of figuring out where they are.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. You’ll want a hot oven, no matter what you find.
From the freezer, unearth a package of frozen chicken thighs and that ancient half-bag of peas. Dump the peas in a pot with some water. After thawing the package of chicken in a bowl of hot water for 15 minutes, put the thighs on a cookie sheet with some peanut oil and salt and pepper.
From the basket on the counter, take five potatoes that are beginning to sprout and a yellow onion that’s in pretty good shape. Wash and trim and cut the potatoes into wedges, peel and slice the onion. Spread them on a cookie sheet with peanut oil and salt and pepper them. Put them into the oven.
After a while, timing it so they’re all done at the same time, put the thighs in the oven on a lower rack. Boil the peas, eventually. Throw a bit of butter on them. Make a dipping sauce for the chicken and potatoes out of a dollop of ketchup mixed with a dollop of mayonnaise.
Serve up two big platefuls of everything. Eat it all. Wash it all down with whatever you have on hand — rioja, port, and hard cider will do nicely. Toast the recent dead with every sip.
It’s good to be alive, it’s good to make a hearty dinner out of nothing, and it’s good to drink, remember, and cry.