Pick Me Up
Updated: May 31
A CHEF, any gender, separates eggs, performing for a computer camera
CHEF: Amici! Carini! Benvenuti a tutti!
Egg yolks plop into a bowl
This is my first virtual feed...food feed... From the one, the only... Bistro Dolce Vita!
Let’s celebrate our collective vitas by making a famous dolce, beloved by my diners for its many fine qualities – sweet, silky, spongy –
The Pick Me Up... Tiramisu!
Throughout the monologue, CHEF demonstrates, measuring, mixing and tasting
To begin, we blend egg yolks with a quarter cup of sugar. Beat vigorously, until tripled in volume. Whisks Come on, baby. Puff up. Expand. Go, go, go...
CHEF takes a breath, steps back, exposing an empty kitchen
Usually it’s elbow-to-elbow in here. But for the foreseeable future... Welcome to my private gondola.
Don’t you wish we really were on a gondola. A crowded gondola. Or wading across the Trevi Fountain, hounded by paparazzi.
Alas. We are not in Venice. We are not in Rome. Italy. We’re not even in Venice, California.
But we are in Naples! At the MonteBella Senior Estates...
The gondola that never goes anywhere.
Usually, my cucina would be bustling at this hour. Aneesh and Jose’ chopping. Keisha and Usman setting up. Mei Ling, Carlos and Fatima. Mihn and Marisol. And Chaz.
CHEF looks around, spooked by the empty space
Not that we get here early to make sauces from scratch. Our diners don’t go in for spice. Not much sugar. And salt??! Nothing crispy, chewy, stringy or tough. Bake and boil. That’s what my horde goes for.
I guess that’s how I think of my diners. A horde calling out, “the meat is too pink, give me the dressing on the side…” Now according to Mei Ling, that word horde comes from the Mongol invaders -- who swept their way across Asia. She also says we probably all have a little horde in our DNA. Not hoarders -- but never mind. That’s a whole other thing.
In China, Mei Ling also tells me, they honor this horde. This horde would be having home cooked meals. In a real home. Same thing in Mexico, according to Carlos.
But as head of this kitchen, I can vouch for MonteBella’s “variety of home cooked food, prepared by an international chef. “ That's me. I took a cooking class in Rome. The real Rome...not the one in Texas. Hey, at least this job comes with health insurance.
Anyway. I’m here extra early today – in anticipo – which means early, but I think of it as “in anticipation,” because I have that heart-beating-fast, touchy stomach that feels like anticipation...
CHEF struggles to remain calm and sets out a second bowl
Because I have to make a special birthday dessert. For Ed.
Ed is one of my demanding diners. And last night, Ed demanded a tiramisu. A pick me up. For his birthday.
CHEF pours cream in the new bowl, then reveals a slab of cream cheese, which he mixes with the cream, and adds more sugar
This is where you blend in cream cheese -- this place charges a fortune, but they won’t let me buy real mascarpone... And don’t tell anyone, but “Ed, I don’t really care about your glucose and your veins today!”
(CHEF combines the cheese with the sugar and eggs) Blend until it forms peaks. Pay close attention to those peaks.
Because, actually... Today isn’t Ed’s birthday. Ed’s real birthday is September 11 – a date you don’t forget. But after hearing that every guest would now dine from a tray left outside his room -- Ed suddenly announced that today was going to be his birthday!
Having made peaks, CHEF sets out a pot of coffee and a bottle of Jim Beam.
I hate that kind of shenanigan – claiming a bogus birthday, but since nobody’s in the dining room, so nobody else can demand an extra special dessert, too...
And maybe I could use a little pick me up.
Combines bourbon and coffee. A double take to the bourbon
You’re really supposed to use Vin Santo for this recipe. Sainted wine... What wine isn’t sainted?
CHEF hesitates, then takes a tiny sip of bourbon, relaxes a little
I think Jim Beam is more to the point.
Like most of our diners, Ed is well heeled. What does that mean -- Ed wears expensive shoes? Actually, he does. On line-dancing nights. Ed is a good line-dancer. Which is amazing, because half the time Ed demands help just to stand up from a chair -- but turn on the Dolly Parton and Ed transforms into a rare commodity here; a single, breathing male -- with some very nice moves.
But no lines are allowed right now...maybe a dotted line...but that’s not what these players are thinking about.
Do you know what goes on in these places!!? And by the way, Tiramisu doesn’t just mean Pick Me Up. It also means Pull Me Up. Lift Me Up. Pull It Up.
The life force.
Takes out a sheet cake
What’s really strange is that, before MonteBella, Ed was single. Not like being-a-player single. Ed lived with his mother. For fifty years. Then he lived alone.
Like I do.
Cuts the cake into oblong strips
Ed had one highlight in his life. A real highlight. Near Florence, Italy. When Ed was in the army.
Ed was a scout, so he’d go first, looking for danger. He slept in abandoned pig sties. Ed calls them styles – pig styles. Ed still has this gun – a German Luger he got after some kind of meeting with...somebody. I don’t know why Ed even decided to tell me about the gun, except that I like hearing Ed’s stories. Even though, knowing Ed has that gun, which I’m sure doesn’t still work, makes me even more...In anticipo.
Trying to stay calm, CHEF refrains from another drink, and displays an oblong chunk of cake
Ladyfingers -- in Italian, Savoiardi. You dip each Ladyfinger in the coffee and booze ooze, then set them side by side... Like little coffins. These aren’t real Ladyfingers either --I defrosted a sponge cake, leftover from Mrs. Delgado’s birthday a month back. Her real birthday. Man, was that a lifetime ago... Mrs. Delgado took a bite of her cake, then lifted her fork to share it with a newcomer. Two mouths on the same piece of cake...
CHEF layers the cake and wet mixture
Layer the little coffins and the peaks...
CHEF’s hands are shaking. Drinks more bourbon
No baking for this dessert, which means I’m serving Ed raw eggs.
I had a nightmare about that, woke up in a sweat. It’s so hard to sleep. I don’t always know where I am. Like during the day, I don’t know what day it is – without Fiesta Fridays and Make-em-Yourself Sundays. I don’t know the time -- not without Keisha screaming for a break, or Jose’ phoning his kid when she gets home from school.
I got to just concentrate on the cake… Grated chocolate on the top…
Chef starts to grate chocolate on the top of the Tiramisu, then stops, in panic
Shit. That looks like ants. Ed sometimes sees bugs, which drives him crazy, which the drives me crazy. A piece of lint, a speck of dirt -- to Ed, it has arms, legs and a thorax! I tell him, Ed, it’s a poppy seed. But then, an actual bug makes an appearance. Airborne. And I want to squash Ed and those bugs… And right now I’m feeling kind of buggy, too. Short of breath. Shaky. My chest tightening like both Ed and Mrs. Delgado are standing on top of me.
Puts a candle in the dessert and tries to remain calm
I just need to step out of my gondola, and deliver this to Ed.
Pours extra bourbon over the top, takes another slug, then, with shaky hands, manages to light the candle
Okay, candle. Stay lit, you fucker. Breathe. Expand. Let’s go.
Juggling things, CHEF heads out, no longer trying to teach his cooking lesson
Great. All the doors look the same. What moron built a home for old people where you can’t tell one door from another?
That’s got to be it. Ed has a cat. Named Major Domo. Ed calls him Major Duomo.
Chill, Major D!
Cats know when something’s not right. They know. They bond.
Ed? Ed! You in there?
Eddie? Senore? Sir? It’s Head Chef.
You asked me to pick you up, and for once, I’m doing exactly what you asked. Just answer the door. I just want to see you, even if you’re not sure who I really am.
Oh, wait, man. I’m supposed to just set the tray outside your door.
The cat howls. CHEF knocks again. He puts down the tray.
For you, and Major Duomo. Just knock. Let me know you’re breathing in there. My friend.
My honored friend.
Finally, a knock comes from inside the room Incredibly relieved, CHEF takes a moment. He’s almost in tears.
I’m leaving now. If you want, I’ll bring you a Pick Me Up every day, ‘til this is over.
Give a taste to Major Duomo. Let me know how he likes it.
I’m outta here.
For making your own Tiramisù, try this stellar recipe by Alison Roman from NYTimes Cooking!
Linda Alper is an actress, writer and Fulbright Scholar.
She has co-written adaptations and translationsof Great Expectations,The Three Musketeers,William Saroyan’s Tracy’s Tiger, Eduardo De Filippo’s Saturday, Sunday, Mondayand Napoli Milionaria!, all produced at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with additional productions at A.C.T. (San Francisco,) The Denver Center, The Acting Company, Virginia Rep, plus Santa Cruz, Colorado, Stamford (UK) and other Shakespeare Festivals.
Currently, Linda is working on SHANGHAI, a new play about the Jewish Ghetto in WW2 China, commissioned by Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, Oregon, where she is a Resident Artist. SHANGHAI will be developed with LaunchPad, and is scheduled to be produced by Artists Rep.
A Fulbright Senior Scholar in Taiwan, Linda also earned a Taiwan Visiting Science and Artist Grant for Talk/No Talk, a play she wrote about cross cultural relationships. After completing a Fulbright Specialist Grant in Pakistan, Linda was awarded a U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Grant, for which she devised a theatre piece about terrorism and public space with Islamabad’s Theatre Wallay. She brought fourteen Pakistani artists to perform the piece at OSF and Artists Rep, serving as co-producer for their American tour. Linda has also been awarded an Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Grant for contribution to the arts.
As an actress at Artists Rep, Linda’s roles have included Nora in A Doll’s House Part 2, Ranevskayain The Cherry Orchard, Jeanette in The Quality of Life, Esther in The Price, Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest and Lynn Fontanne inTen Chimneys. She has appeared Off Broadway and at regional theatres around the U.S. A leading actress at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival for 24 seasons, she appeared there in over 50 plays and musicals and won a Dramalogue Best Actress award. Last season, she appeared there as Vera in Indecent. Linda is a graduate of The Juilliard School.
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