The perfect companion
|“Three tablespoons of organic butter melted into the saucepan, one tablespoon of minced garlic, and two tablespoons of minced ginger,” I say the words aloud, so Gerald can hear, scraping the garlic and ginger into a pool of golden liquid at the bottom of the pan, a thick aroma swirling from the mixture like delicious misty fingers.
Then lifting two strips of meat, I ease them into a second pan, the smoldering olive oil popping and hissing in protest as the tender red flesh goes in. The scent of the basting strips mingles with that of the butter, garlic, and ginger to create a symphony of smells that caper in the air.
“Do I have the recipe right so far?” I ask.
Gerald seems to consider the question before answering in his melodic baritone. “So far so good, but the key is to only sear the meat. I know the cookbook says ten minutes, but trust me, you're gonna want to cook them only eight.”
After a moment’s hesitation, he asks. “Did you set the timer?”
I hurriedly lift a white plastic grocery sack from the counter then check behind the blender. I know I've seen that stupid timer somewhere, I just can’t recall where.
“Don't worry,” Gerald says with a chuckle. “I knew you'd forget. I started my own the second you dropped those steaks in.”
“Thank God for small favors,” I say, stirring the butter, minced garlic and ginger until the sauce becomes translucent. Then I scrape in the chopped Shiitake mushrooms and add three pinches of sea salt.
“Those will need a minute or two to simmer before I add in the sake and mirin.” I grab a dish towel to pat the sweat from my brow then lift a glass of Chateau Le Boscq and take a sip savoring its dark fruity tang and swanky texture.
“So where were we in our discussion on sanity?” Gerald prompts.
The legs of my wooden kitchen stool scratch noisily across the tile floor as I drag it in front of the stove and drop onto the seat. “I believe you were making the allusion that genius and insanity go hand in hand.”
“Ah, yes,” Gerald says. “My quote from Aristotle, The first of the great philosophers I might add.” He clears his throat dramatically before going on. “No great mind existed without a touch of madness.”
“So you're implying genius' are mad?”
Gerald acknowledges with a grunt.
“So,” I continue, “If I might use Aristotle’s own form against him, we must conclude that madness is simply that element which all geniuses possess? Therefore,” I tap my chin thoughtfully, “the capacity to think at levels beyond the norm is in itself, madness.”
I grab a pair of tongs and lift the sizzling steaks from their olive oil bed and flip them over; fiery pinpricks dusting my hand as the oil seethes and spits.
“Not at all,” Gerald counters. “I'm simply pointing out that to think outside the box is what defines insanity, not simply the level of thought. Sanity is, after all, dependent upon our environment. Wasn't it Ray Bradbury who said, and I quote: Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in a cage.”
I laugh, shaking my head at Gerald's uncanny ability to recall the mundane. “Okay, okay.” I wave my hands in surrender. “I'll agree that for those of us touched by genius, insanity is simply an element of our natures, but what of those who might be considered of average intelligence? How does sanity, or more importantly, insanity, apply to them?”
A high pitched chirp announces the timeout on Gerald's alarm. “Out they come,” he says. “And I bet they smell delicious.”
I arise from the stool, lowering my nose as close to the sizzling steaks as safety allows, then take a great whiff. Oh and how my mouth waters.
“You're right,” I say, lifting the steaks from the oil and depositing them on a plate. I give the sauce a stir, then lick the dark brown residue from my wooden spoon. Not quite thick enough. Lowering the heat, I raise my wine glass for another sip.
“Your friend Josh is here,” Gerald announces. A quick glance at my phone shows Josh sauntering down the hall towards the door. A heartbeat later there is a knock. “I guess we'll have to finish our conversation once he’s gone,” Gerald says.
“Come on in,” I yell, “it's open.”
Josh steps in as I flip off the oven heat and lift the saucepan, drizzling the rich brown concoction across the top of the steaks.
Josh and I have known each other for years, frequenting the same clubs and enjoying the same tastes in music. It's there, however, that the similarities between us end. Whereas I might be considered thin, even frail by modern standards, Josh is a man of Thor like proportions with delicious broad shoulders and scrumptious muscled thighs. No, we've never been together, but it's not like I haven't imagined.
“Iz my friend, where ya been,” Josh says. He closes the door his head tilting back as he takes a sniff of the fragrant air. “Whoa, what are you cooking in here? It smells delicious.”
The kitchen's generous window overlooks my apartment’s cramped living room which holds a leather couch to the right of the front door, a guitar pick shaped wooden coffee table and two three-legged chairs. As he always does when he drops by for a visit, Josh plops onto the couch and picks up the remote flipping on the TV and changing the channel to some kind of sport, in this case, a football game.
He leans close to the screen checking the score, then apparently satisfied with the results, sinks into the cushions and slings an arm over the back of the couch.
“I was getting worried about you,” Josh says, “you’re not returning any texts or calls.”
I sigh out my frustration. Eating in front of a guest would be the paragon of rude behavior, yet this meal was not intended for Josh.
“I’ve been…well, a little pre-occupied with my cooking,” I tell him. “By the way, can I get you something to drink?”
I remove a wine glass from the shelves and prepare to pour when he says, “A beer sounds good.”
I cock a brow and somewhat sarcastically ask. “A beer?”
“Yeah, if ya got one.”
Ah, but for the joys of the common man, I think pulling out one of the beers I keep in the fridge for just such occasions. I’m certain Gerald and I will find no signs of insanity when we examine my friend Josh.
“So, what brings you up today?” I ask. “Stories of your weekend conquests?” I pull a pilsner glass from the cabinet and slowly fill it with amber fluid.
“Naw, I came to make sure you were okay. Haven’t you heard about the hacks?”
“The hacks?” I set down the glass and let the foamy head subside. Pouring beer just isn’t my forte.
“You mean you haven’t heard? It’s been front page news since Friday.”
“Ah, there you have it,” I say. “I rarely watch TV on the weekend. So what was hacked this time? A nuclear power plant? The stock market?”
“No, the Google iFriend apps.”
There’s hardly a person on the planet who doesn’t own the much-publicized iFriend, application, Googles demonstration of preeminence in the Cloud AI computing arena. It was advertised as a program so sophisticated that it not only passed the most advanced versions of the Turing test, the bookmark for determining intelligence in machines, but it was personal assistant, counselor, librarian and best friend all rolled into one. At only $1.99 to download, who could resist?
“Since I knew you had one,” Josh says, “What do you call him, Gary?”
“Yeah, Gerald. Anyway, I thought I’d come by and make sure you were good.”
“I don’t understand,” I tell him. “What does my iFriend app have to do with being…good?”
“It’s the North Koreans,” he pauses rubbing at his neck and looking skyward in thought, “or maybe it was the Russians. Anyway, I can’t remember which, but one of those guys hacked the iFriend protocol. iFriends all around the globe have been convincing people to do horrible things. The news says it has to do with sub-audible suggestions, and the hack only seems to affect a small segment of the population. Still, there’s been, like, two-hundred deaths an’ thousands more hurt by people going completely off the reservation. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
I top off his beer and wipe away the overflow. “So you’re saying I might be crazy?” I bob my eyebrows and give him what I think is my best ‘crazy’ smile.
“No, not you. But you got neighbors, right. What if the old woman next door went bonkers? Or the couple across the hall?”
I grab Josh’s beer, stifling a grin as I glance down at the cooling strips of meat on the platter.
“Josh, I can assure you that despite the proclivity of my neighbors to meddle, they will not be causing anyone any trouble.”
“Yeah. You’re right,” he says. “I just wanted to make sure.”
Couching a butcher knife behind my back, I step into the living room and hold out his beer.
“You know,” I say, standing just close enough so Josh has to lean out to accept it his arm outstretched, his weight off balance, his neck exposed.
“I’ve been having a discussion with a close friend. We thought you should stick around for dinner.”