Sunday, June 8, 2014

Life, Newton and Clam Sauce

Today June 7th, 2014 is a Saturday and it is my fifty sixth birthday.  My wife and children were generous and gave me space to plan my own day with whatever I wanted to do, save being on time for a dinner reservation for Kathy and me at our favorite restaurant.  Not a bad deal.

I planned to take a 45-mile ride on my bicycle through the nearby Shawangunk Mountains and do some hard elevation riding.  It is my view that there are fewer places on earth more beautiful and well suited for cycling and I enjoyed every instant of it.  When I am on the bike and “in the cockpit” I feel like I am 25-years-oId and am always ready to embrace this sensory math with gusto.

Before the ride, we had some unexpected company, people I love and was glad to see, so I stayed for a visit.  I got a late start and was concerned about our dinner reservation, but set off on my venture.  The solo ride went well despite the extra poundage I carry, winter pounds that seem more difficult to lose with each new spring.

 As I climbed above the famous Hairpin Turn near New Paltz, New York I was trying to calculate the additional force/energy required to carry my weight and how much faster I would be if I lost the extra pounds.  This is a form of self-inflicted mental punishment for aging athletes while we suck air into our lungs in order to keep peddling without stopping.  It seems to work.

My wife, being the great planner she is moved the reservation out just in case, so when I got home I was able to shower and quickly dress and we were on our way.

Il CenĂ colo in the town of Newburgh, New York is one of those rare restaurants that people, common and famous, will travel many miles to in order to enjoy the exquisite food and wonderful dining experience it consistently offers.  Tonight I decided to break from my vegan diet and splurge, ordering spaghetti and clams in white clam sauce, along with an organic salad.  Not a special and nothing fancy, but something I seemed to be craving.  Such a meal can be messy, so I delicately tucked the corner of my linen napkin into the front of my lime green, button-down Polo shirt.  This is my version of thinking ahead.

The meal was splendid and Kathy and I got to relax and enjoy the food and each other’s company.  Not a drop of clam sauce got on my shirt and after spooning some of the remaining sauce into my mouth I removed the napkin.

Kathy continued on slowly with her meal and then decided she’d had enough, but invited me to try her Rigatoni Manzo. The Manzo is a house special with a delicious Bolognese sauce.  Reaching across, I lifted two rigatoni with a generous lump of sauce above her plate. My hand and the Manzo then began the short lateral journey to my plate. 

Most accidents and sports injuries happen during the deceleration phase of motion.  This is a fact I am acutely aware of.  However, there are sensual moments when our instinctive awareness of Newtonian physics leaves us and desire becomes the overwhelming force.  This is life, isn’t it?

In a cinematic moment that seemed to last forever, I was able to sit back as an observer and watch the two pieces of manzo-laden rigatoni make their vertical descent from my overloaded fork toward the placid pond of clam sauce resting in my concave dinner plate.  It was the special moment when time slows down and one can realize they are about to experience a sensational event.

I think the great Ernie Kovacs could have planned this sequence for everyone in the restaurant to see.  I would like to say that in the brief moments of gravity observation I thought about an estimated mass-times-acceleration equaling a certain force and then the likely dispersal pattern of the delicious liquid medium that awaited this pending collision, but no such exercise occurred.

What I was able to muster was this.

“Oh shit!”

The clam sauce received the rigatoni in a way that would not disappoint the most avid calamity watcher.  The splatter pattern was amazingly even as predicted by transient ballistic flow in Fluid Mechanics.  My lime green shirt became the primary recipient of the droplet array, starting at the collar and working its way down, proportionately, to the middle of my shirt and both sleeves.

Looking up from the moistened and now fragrant shirt, my gaze passed over the useless napkin, lying in a lump next to the plate, then at eye level to other dinner guests in front of us and then to each side as they politely dropped their own gazes in what seemed tender acts of mercy.

“You better use your napkin and put some sparkling water on that right away.”

“You’re right.”

Normally one uses this instant cleaning method in a discrete way, when there are one or more spots to attend to.  I began, furiously dipping the corner of my napkin into the Italian sparkling water and dabbing it onto the numerous spots on my shirt as Kathy directed me to additional locations that I couldn’t see for what seemed like five minutes.  At the moment we determined that I was done, my pressed shirt, rather than having spots of clam sauce all over it was now completely drenched with over-priced San Pellegrino.  It looked as though I had just come in out of the rain.

Looking up again I could now see everyone in the restaurant watching on in apparent horror at my petty act of barbarism.  Truthfully, I shared their revulsion…. for a moment.

With dessert yet to be ordered, but my tableside laundry finished, destiny left only one more thing to do.  Thank God for spontaneity.

On the down beat, my dear wife and I burst into laughter, harmonizing heaves and giggles for several minutes, unable to stop as we leaned over the table and fell back in our seats repeatedly, tears rolling down our cheeks.  In passive periphery, I could see other patrons taking in the entertainment in good cheer, but I didn’t care anymore as I was simply taken up in our moment of joy in innocuous life.  It was a day to remember.

Sometimes joyous life comes in wonderful little accidents.