The Conversation

The Conversation” by Forrest Gander (who won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry with his collection Be With)

All the while he talks to
the boy, their son, on the phone,
she is interrupting, telling him something
to say, not to say, indicating
that she needs to talk to the boy
herself. Rather than dampening
her enthusiasm or trying
to listen to both at once, finally
he hands her the phone. And rather
than resentment, what he feels
inside himself is the primordial
upwelling of tenderness.

Ah, yes; somehow I feel that Gander was observing us when he wrote this, though I’m not absolutely certain that Andy feels “primordial upwelling of tenderness” when I grab the phone from him. You’ll have to ask him. Or better yet, go to today’s Andy’s Corner and find out about his phone-chat disability.:)

“The Conversation” is also the title of another good read. I have been a fan of The NYTimes Gail Collins for a long time. Gail is impressive (and I feel I can call her by her first name, since she’s just about my age). For example, she was the first woman to edit The Times editorial page and did that for 6 years; she wrote the well-received 2009 book The Amazing Journey of American Women; and in 2017 she joined with Bret Stephens to have “The Conversation” which appears every Monday in The Times…a written conversation – usually about politics – which I always enjoy.

The appeal of “The Conversation” is that both the participants are always very civil to each other, even though they may have wildly diverse takes on the political scene. Obviously, I’m not the only one who follows them. Their April 3 column had 1,300+ comments.

Maybe I’m also unusually interested in the two-some since their age difference is almost identical to the age difference between me and our son, Travis. In fact, Stephens – who has written for The Wall Street Journal and The Jerusalem Post, as well as The Times – was born the same month and year as Travis – November, 1973.

Gail Collins and Bret Stephens in conversation – May of 2017

Personally, I would like to have a conversation with some very dear family members (“hello, Brooklyn!”) about chicken thighs vs chicken breasts. It may be just as tense as a conversation between liberals and conservatives, but I’ll try to incorporate Gail’s approach. If she can do it, I can do it. Rather than lambasting the family with “who in god’s name eats dry, flavorless chicken breasts?!,” I will take the high road. I will say that maybe there is a solution to our differences and let us strive – together – to find this solution.

And, in fact, the solution IS a solution. A solution of warm water and salt. OMG – if all solutions were so easy.

Moist Baked Chicken Breasts

Moist Baked Chicken Breasts

Thanks to for the inspiration (don’t you love that blog’s name?!)

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, preferably on the small side
  • Spice mix of your choice
  • 2 T butter or olive oil

Basic spice mix

  • 1 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Mexican spice mix – add to basic spice mix

  • 1 T oregano (Mexican preferred)
  • 1/4 tsp ancho chili powder – or substitute 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp cumin

Middle Eastern spice mix – add to basic spice mix

  • 2 tsp sumac
  • 1 T za’atar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

About 20 minutes before roasting the breasts, add them to a mixture of 4 c of warm water and 1/4 c kosher salt.

While the breasts are in the salt and water brine, heat oven to 425 degrees and mix together the spice mix you’re using.

When the 20 minute brine time is up, remove the breasts from the water and pat them very dry with paper towels. Coat both sides of the chicken breasts with the oil or butter, then sprinkle all of the seasoning mixture evenly on both sides (note: use only part of the mixture, if you’re not “into” spice).

Place the breasts in a single layer on a baking sheet, being sure they’re not touching each other. Bake for about 18 minutes (160-165 degrees F, if you’re testing).

Remove from oven and let the chicken rest, covered with foil, for 10 minutes. Serve.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.


  1. tricia53 says:

    In response to Andy’s Corner, I wanted to say that I don’t think an enjoyment of phone conversations is a gender thing. I dislike phone calls, though do consent to FaceTime with our son (because he has a couple of our grandchildren) and my sister occasionally. When my mom was alive, I phoned on her birthday and Mother’s Day, period, though I did email her daily. Maybe it’s more of an introvert-extrovert thing? Anyway, Charlie is the Designated Caller in our family when calls must be made.


    • theRaggedys says:

      I’m surprised that you’re not the family phone guru given your sparkling personality and sharp wit. Actually, for most communication (if not with our kids or a couple of close friends) Ann prefers email. Like Charlie, when a call needs to be made I generally am called to duty.


  2. David Ewing says:

    Who you may address with her first name is more complicated than how close in age she may be to you. I began working closely with a nurse practitioner not much younger than I at a hospital early in my career. After several days on the job she asked me, “Dr. Ewing, we are going to be working together closely. Do you want me to continue addressing you as Dr. Ewing, or would it be ok for me to use your first name?” I answered, “Rosemary, please call me anything you are comfortable with…as long as it’s not ‘shitbird.'” It wasn’t but another week before that was pretty much all she ever called me. At one time in my subculture, the general rule was to use honorifics with people 15 or more years older than you; that is, to address them as Mr. or Mrs., and to respond to them with “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am.” I was once disciplined in the Navy when a Junior officer about my age overheard me respond to a Chief Petty Officer roughly my dad’s age by saying, “Yes, Sir.” It was against the ‘rules’ to address any enlisted man in that way, regardless of how old he was or how much you respected him. Nowadays, I still try to follow the 15-years-older rule. Sadly, I almost never meet anyone 15 years older than I am anymore. But I scrupulously avoid calling my patients by their first names, regardless of how old they are, unless they have explicitly requested that I do so.


    • theRaggedys says:

      Another consideration is the regional variations in how we address others. Your age criterion works seems to be the norm in the South. While living in Louisiana it was very common for even little kids to use sir and ma’am without even thinking about it. When my students would ask me how I wanted to be addressed I would tell them that I preferred not to be referred to as “Dr.” Deseran – I wasn’t a “human plumber”as one of my former professors would say. Actually, I preferred that they didn’t call me anything and just let me lecture uninterrupted.


      • David Ewing says:

        “Human plumber” indeed. He must have had a recent visit with his urologist or gastroenterologist. At one time when pressed to explain what exactly a psychiatrist does I said I was “a meat mechanic with a flair for flim-flam.” I still think that sums it up pretty well, and certainly better than “human plumber.” Once when drunk I tried to convince an artistic bar fly that I was a sculptor. She insisted on finding out in what medium I worked, and I finally told her that I was “a sculptor of the human soul.” That was a lie, though. In fact, I was the medium and the sculptors were my patients.


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