Thu, 12/10/2020 - 7:05am

Pickle Juice and Explosives

There's a world of wisdom in that vintage sauerkraut crock

I am an old soul, having always preferred the company of the older and wiser.  To this day, I relish the habits and customs that were gifted to me by my German great-grandparents and grandparents – making dill pickles and sauerkraut in German fermentation crocks.

Several of these crocks remain in my possession, and each year I relive my childhood by selecting the perfect small- to medium-size cucumbers, washing them, and placing them into the bottom of the crocks along with bunches of fresh dill, garlic cloves, white vinegar, water, salt and crushed red pepper. The pickles are submerged under the liquid by placing a plate on top – weighed down with a Mason jar filled with water. Every morning before going to school and on returning, I would carefully examine each crock, remove any film that had developed, return the plate, and wait until the pickles came to full fermentation. 

My own secret inspection, along with my older sister, JOCEY, was not part of the elders’ plan. It involved sampling the pickle juice along the way. To this day, I can determine the perfect pickle from the taste of the juice, and I drink a small glass every day. Who knew early on that I would become a scientific study for the benefits of drinking pickle juice?

Before departing to the Richmond airport for judging the Thanksgiving Cluster of dog shows held in Springfield, Mass., I check the two full crocks of pickles, clean the film off one, place the plates and weights back on both, and leave detailed instructions for BIG MICHAEL. Oh, I almost forgot – I filled four small, individual TITO Vodka bottles with pickle juice and elderberry juice (two each) for the short journey, securing them in a Ziploc bag alongside the underwear in one of the small zippered compartments of Black-Ballistic-Nylon-Rolling-Garment-Bag (BBNRGB).

Along the way to the airport, I phone JOCEY for a quick chat that includes updates on our aging parents, her soon-to-be-new Boston Terrier puppy from the fabulous CHAD HOWARD, and our mutual love for pickle juice and its many health benefits. 

I am thrilled to see that the airport is rather quiet for the weekend prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. BBNRGB is checked at the ticket counter. Black-Ballistic-Nylon-Mini-Man-Bag and I, along with my new traveling companion and first-time flyer – RESMED AirSense CPAP, in its very own travel bag – head for the gate. 

I am grateful for my new traveling companion, having been recently diagnosed with sleep apnea by my dentist, IRINA, a feisty Russian who determined that I needed professional testing based on my perpetual teeth grinding.  

It’s obvious that traveling with CPAP machines has become the norm, as nothing is opened or questioned while going through TSA PreCheck.

Hartford’s Bradley International Airport is bustling a bit more than Richmond. With CPAP in my right hand and BBNMMB over my left shoulder, I briskly march to the lower-level baggage claim to collect BBNRGB. While waiting, I inquire into the on-site COVID-19 testing taking place in a makeshift operation directly opposite. “I will make this happen upon my return home,” I mumble to myself, taking mental notes on the procedure in order to expedite the process on my return to Virginia. This will make my fourth COVID-19 test in as many weeks.

BBNRGB is the first bag to appear from the luggage cave. The four of us proceed to the center island, lower level, to meet PAT, one of the staff members at the newly renovated (formerly Holiday Inn) Fairfield Inn & Suites in Enfield, Conn. 

PAT arrives full of life, and love. She embraces all that is good in her role as one of the staff members at the hotel. She and I share our mutual love and recipes for goat meat and other delicacies from her native Jamaica. I strategically do not include the pickle-juice conversation until we have had a better opportunity to bond over the next couple of days.

Other than running into a masked SID MARX in the lounge area for a brief second, COVID-19 judging does not lend itself to any social intercourse. Back in the room, GRUBHUB, and then to bed.

At 7 a.m., SID MARX chauffeurs me, along with one of my favorites, SAMMcD, to the show site. I am grateful that both these gentlemen have been judging for the past two days and know the routine, and they quickly bring me up to date on the protocols. Having registered online for travel in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, and received my latest negative COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours, I am good to go on step number one.

Step number two – the car slows down, the rear window opens, and a masked lady wearing surgical gloves puts a handheld thermometer to my forehead. “You’re good to go!” she joyfully remarks as SID MARX pulls to the next checkpoint, where we three each receive round, adhesive lapel patches with the number three, representing the show’s third day.

Pulling into the official parking lot, we are instructed to social-distance the vehicles, leaving an empty parking space between each car. The show has more than 2,000 dogs each day, spread throughout three buildings. You would never know on entering the main building. Other than a few club members, official AKC staff (AKA – CHIP) and a spattering of exhibitors, it could be an entry of maybe 200 dogs or less. The attention to COVID-19 details is amazing, and it certainly allows me to take a bit of a breather, as it’s my first all-breed show in nine months. Even the pre-boxed judges’ lunches provide a sense of security from the unknown.

On Sunday, the last day of judging, there are only two judges in the isolated piped-and-draped judges’ eating area. The area offers four large twelve-top tables, giving plenty of space for social distancing.  I am one of two judges, the other being the delightful and witty JANINA LAURIN. The fruit does not fall far from the tree, as her mother, EDELTRAUD, is one of my all-time favorites. I have not seen JANINA in some time, and quickly notice her personal wellness/fitness transformation, which drives our lunchtime conversation beyond the initial polite family inquires.

One question leads to another question, which leads full circle to our mutual German roots, and – YES, YOU GUESSED IT – A LIFETIME OF PICKLE MAKING and our mutual love/appreciation for drinking PICKLE JUICE.

At 11 a.m. on Monday morning, a white urban-assault vehicle, better known as a local cab, arrives to take me to Bradley for my return to BIG MICHAEL, SAM THE CAT and SADIE FRENCH. The American Airline flight does not depart until 2:30, giving me plenty of time to check in and go back down to the baggage claim for my planned COVID-19 test.

I am the only person at AA checked in. BBNRGB is once again tagged, labeled and tossed on the moving belt and sucked away. Every time we are separated, I cringe at the thought of something happening that would keep us apart forever. “Listen, let it go. Not the time to polarize and over-process. Focus on getting the damn COVID-19 test,” I say to myself and anyone else close enough to hear.

Since I detest using escalators, I opt for the long flight of stairs, lowering myself between baggage claim and the area dedicated to having a cotton-tipped stick rammed up my nasal passage.  

There is a large blue, white and gold sign on the wall that reads: Genesys Diagnostics Inc., 8 Enterprise Lane, Oakdale, CT 06370. Two lines move people forward – those who pre-registered online and those who did not. I move toward the wall, engage GOOGLE PIXEL 5, pull up the website and quickly enter the necessary requested information, included personal data, insurance information, etc. I click send and within seconds, I am informed via a text message that I am registered and ready to approach the line. There are four passengers in front of me, and through observation, I realize that I will need my photo ID and insurance card out for when I reach the masked, gloved, surgically gowned lady sitting at the table with a laptop computer and hundreds of test-tube vials.

“Your name, please?” she politely asks as I approach.

“Michael Faulkner!” 

Second question: “Date of birth?”

I reply, and after about one minute I am handed a vial, wrapped in my personal printed data. I move behind the curtain, where two women eagerly wait to caress my nasal cavity and release me. It’s all over in a matter of seconds. I grab BBMMB and quickly march up the stairs and enter the TSA PreCheck line. I wait patiently for five minutes or so before it is my turn.

While waiting in line, there is an announcement over the PA system: “May I have your attention. Would local security and the Hazardous Device Unit please report to the baggage-claim area?” The message is repeated, and I pray that whatever is going on does not delay me getting home.

I approach the young, seated TSA officer in uniform, insert my photo ID and freeze. “You may proceed, sir, you’re clear to go.” 

“Oh, my God, I don’t have CPAP, where is she?” Mumbling to myself, I pull back out of line and dash to the check-in counter to see if I had left her there before getting the COVID-19 test. NO! Not there. 

I move as fast as I can down the long flight of stairs, back to the testing area. It all comes back to me. I placed CPAP on the ground, against the wall between the airport information booth and the entrance to Genesys Diagnostics Inc. CPAP is nowhere to be found.

I proceed to the information booth. “Excuse me, ladies. Did you happen to see a small case leaning up against this wall?” The two ladies look at wild-eyed me, smirking. 

“Oh, yes, we did. AND you had better come with us. You have caused quite the disruption down here.” 

I feel my face turning beet red.

They escort me to a back area where CPAP is being sniffed and prodded by several bomb-sniffing dogs within a circle of at least 10 official security personnel and police.  

“Sir, is this your bag?” 

“Yes, sir, it is. I was getting a COVID-19 test and forgot I left it against the wall.”  “I’m not interested in why you did it – I just want you to fully understand the magnitude of your error,” the tall man in uniform blurts out from behind his dark mask.

 Now, don’t get me wrong, usually tall men in uniform wearing masks can be appealing – this, however, was not one of those moments. 

“Trust in knowing, officer, that I am very sorry for the trouble I have put all of you through.” 

He continues to speak while fanning through the novel that was in CPAP’s side pocket. “So, who is BARBARA?” I realize he is reading the inside cover, on which my friend Barbara, who lent me the novel to read, inscribed her name. “She is a friend of mine who let me borrow the book.”

“I see – well, MR. FAULKNER, here is your CPAP machine, your book and I hope you stay focused and have a safe journey home. And, by the way, I have the exact same machine at home.” Catching the little smile through the corners of his eyes, I quickly retreat up the stairs and through the TSA. 

“I need to get something in my stomach after that debacle!” I look around, proceed down the corridor and settle on an establishment named D’ANGELO, est. 1967 – Grilled Sandwiches and Salads. I order a Greek salad, a bottle of water and I am handed a receipt and instructed to collect the water from the cooler to my left. 

I wait patiently while an exceptionally large man wearing sandals without socks retrieves his Coke from the cooler while balancing two large steak-and-cheese subs. I cannot help but notice he is missing five toes – three from the left foot and two from the right. Diabetes, I’m sure. 

I wait and watch the gentleman make my Greek salad. He places assorted fresh greens, onions, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, feta, dressing, cucumber and avocado, and finishes with the last five slices of DILL PICKLES from a medium-size jar. He turns slightly to the left, toward the sink with the pickle jar. 

I seize the moment. “Please, sir, STOP! Don’t toss that PICKLE JUICE. Put it in a cup and give it to me.” 

He looks at me as if I were just released from 12 years of solitary confinement on an asteroid.

“No, seriously, I love PICKLE JUICE, if you don’t mind?”

He shakes his head, looks at his colleague, and the two of them have a good chuckle while handing me a small glass filled with the clear green liquid. They then gawk as I drink the light green goodness, totally self-absorbed in the journey and once again thankful for the wisdom of my elders. 

Mazel Tov, My Friends!



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