As I write this, the aroma of taco meat is wafting down from the upstairs kitchen, with its savory mix of beef, chili powder, cumin, garlic, onion, paprika, Mexican achiote, red pepper sauce (lots and lots), coriander, and other spices I will not divulge even under the threat of public execution …..
I prepared the dish this morning, during a break from work, in an empty house. It now rests in the refrigerator. I will pull it out later to simmer some more, because simmering is important – do not underestimate the value of simmering, simmering, simmering, allowing the various spices and flavors to dance and mingle, to make sweet love to each other, until they form the most perfect union.
For now, I’m back at my desk, back at work, after taking a short break to watch some football with the volume up loud. Later tonight, I’ll watch more football with the volume up even louder. I have college games to catch up on, NFL games to catch up on. I usually don’t have much time to watch them – or much opportunity, because our youngest daughter tends to commandeer the living room, where the TV is.
But not today. Not tonight. Today, tonight, tomorrow, the next couple of days – the house is empty save for myself, and the living room is mine, all mine.
The females of the house – my wife and two daughters – are off on a three-night trip to Bruges, Belgium. It’s the midterm school break, and the girls have the week off. My wife has paid vacation she needs to use up.
I had to hang here in London to work. Being a free-lance writer – an independent contractor, for tax purposes – I only get paid when I turn in assignments. And there are a whole lot of assignments to turn in.
So, I remain behind while the others travel. They took the train to Belgium today. We’ve been in steady contact thanks to the miracle of text messaging. I am told the weather is beautiful. Belgium is a lovely country. We visited Brussels 4.5 years ago – our first of many excursions into Europe since moving to London. They will have an All-Girls trip, and they are excited, as well they should be.
But weep not for me, my friends. For I, too, am excited. I will have three-plus straight days of not having to ride trains, hunt for a bathroom, stand in line, ride more trains, hunt for more bathrooms, stand in more lines, hunt for more bathrooms, hunt for more bathrooms.
I enjoy traveling, and we have done a lot of it in the nearly five years we’ve been here. We’ve been to 17 cities in 15 countries in Europe and North Africa (I think that’s correct). We also have traveled to the U.S. four times in five years, only missing the 2020 trip because of COVID. On one swing to the States, we hit Charlotte, Las Vegas, and New York City. On another we hit Charlotte and Seattle before jetting back across the pond.
These have been fun and full experiences that you cannot put a price tag on, but they are also exhausting.
By any objective measure, I am no longer a young man. I feel great and get regular exercise and eat right, but young, I am not. I am old enough to be our daughters’ grandad. In fact, I have grand nieces and nephews older than our daughters. Energy is something I rarely lack, but man, does it get used up when you are raising kids at my age.
When traveling, you can multiply that by a factor of four. My wife does pretty much all of the travel planning over here, so I don’t have to worry about keeping up with all that. Even so, traveling takes its toll, bouncing to and from various transit facilities, checking into hotels, going hither and yon, meeting schedules, seeing all there is to see and packing it all into a certain number of days and nights.
It can wear an old boy down….
Do you know the hardest part for me on vacation – the seriously hardest part? Scheduling bathroom visits. Bathroom visits begin to suck up an increasingly large part of your brain as you age. I have the bladder of a gnat anymore. I drink a glass of water and feel the urge to piss it back out about four minutes later.
When traveling as a mature humanoid, you keep an eye out for bathrooms the way others keep an eye out for boutiques, museums, restaurants, etc. Here in Europe you can’t just waltz into the nearest Target or grocery store to take a leak. None of the stores have public restrooms. You must plan, strategize.
Hotels are usually good for sneaking in a bathroom visit — especially big ones with huge lobbies and public facilities. The hotel staff don’t know who you are, and so assume you’re a paying guest. But Europe tends to favor smaller designer hotels with tiny lobbies and staff that eyeball you the second you walk inside, asking if they can help you, ready to pounce if you tell them you need to take a leak.
I usually just end up waltzing into a bar, ordering a drink, using the bathroom, and leaving the drink behind.
Do you know what I am not worried about right now, during my work/staycation here at home? Going to the bathroom. There is literally a bathroom less than four meters from where I am sitting. I can visit it anytime I want! I can get there in 1.3 seconds! Even when I am upstairs on the bathroomless middle floor, I am no more than a 6-second dash from the bathroom! Sometimes I live dangerously and hold it off as long as possible – in which case I can hit the bathroom in 4.37 seconds!
I cannot tell you how GD happy I am to have a bathroom all to my own, right here and right now, right behind me. And since the house is empty save for myself, I have full and immediate access to two bathrooms! All mine – all mine mine mine!!!!
Did I mention the hot sauce I put into the taco filling? I gave it a good, righteous pour. It’s not too spicy – my preferred brand is Texas Pete’s, which, despite the name, is made in my home state of North Carolina. I have to order it off Amazon because the UK does not sell it. It is not terribly spicy, but it is very flavorful. Even so, when cooking for the rest of the family, I tend to go easy on the Texas Pete’s.
Not now, though! I can dump that sumbitch in there like a Boss, and a Boss is what I am right now.
I will do the same thing with the pot of chili, should I decide to make it. I might also with the Pollo Guisado I plan to make on Friday. That’s a Puerto Rican chicken stew I’ve never made before but plan to go all-in on Friday. My wife (Susan) shared the recipe with me (she does that when she sees stuff she might enjoy eating). I might not spice it up too much, because I’ll serve it for leftovers when the fam gets home, so Susan (my wife) can eat it, and also our oldest daughter, who is very adventurous with food for a teenager.
Thursday night I will make a big pan of lasagna. Just a big old, decadent pan of lasagna, perfect for scarfing down and then freezing and reheating.
I will play the music loud as I prepare all this food. I might even dance around a little.
The fridge is full of cold beer. These I will imbibe at will, whenever I want. Not that I can’t, anyway, but I find that drinking beer saps me of the will to do anything besides nothing at all, and that is not an option with kids to raise.
This is a kind of dream Bachelor Dad stay/workcation for me – working, cooking, watching sports, drinking beer, not standing in line, not hustling to make the train or plane on time, not going through customs, not scouting the nearest bathroom, because a bathroom IS LITERALLY SECONDS AWAY FROM ME AT ALL TIMES.
In truth, the trip to Belgium should also be great fun for the rest of the family, since they don’t have to stress about me stressing about whatever it is I happen to be stressing about.
I look forward to future vacations with the family during our remaining time over here. We might go to Holland in February. We will definitely make a return trip to Paris next May, so I can finally see the French Open tennis tournament.
But for now, I’m just happy to be in the comfort of home. I miss my family and send godly thoughts for their safety, but other than that, all is copacetic. My blood pressure is so low you can crawl under it. The food smells magnifique. The beer tastes beery-delicious. There is football to watch, and work to do, and football to watch, and the food is spicy/succulent.
I’ve had, Christ, probably 25 different homes in my adult life. When I was younger they were just a place to put my stuff, sleep, and take a shower. Today, they are a comfort zone. The older I get, the more I need that comfort zone.
Like I said, I enjoy traveling. But I enjoy staying home in almost equal measure these days. There are no lines, and the bathroom is seconds away.