When the character Blanche DuBois said, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," I thought she was plum crazy. Or at least the product of another era where people kept their front doors unlocked and welcomed weary travelers over for sandwiches and a tall, perspiring glass of refreshing sweet tea.
For the most part strangers leave me addeled; they cut you off in the road, walk slowly in front of you at the market, spit, swindle, and generally are a wholly unpleasant bunch.
Stranger danger is an appropriate phrase because so often in life we find it to be true. We warn children of strangers telling them, "They'll take you away!" to inflict the right amount of fear. We walk back to our cars from the bar eyes searching for strangers, and fingers wrapped tightly around car keys or a can of mace ready to go for the eyes.
Yet, since the fire I have been proven utterly and totally wrong. I've been rocked at the total outpouring of sympathy and compassion from strangers and, particularly, from you readers.
I cannot express how much it has meant to read your comments and e-mails. I've learned so much about all of you; heard tales of your own fires, earthquakes, and other disasters. Many of you shared how to best deal with complications such as insurance policies, or how to simply begin putting life back together as it once was.
Your words expressed joy at how such events can be a blessing in disguise. More than a few of you have noted that there is a certain ecstasy in the unbridled, somewhat gregarious, and at times obscene amount of shopping you're encouraged to do afterwards to replace things (I think I dropped a few G's in one day replacing all my crappy old furniture that was destroyed with new, shiny furniture).
I was amazed at how many people, total strangers, offered to send me books, spices, pots and pans to help replace what was lost and it brought me to tears and made me realize just how many truly, amazing, generous people are out there.
The other night I was out at Onespeed, a little place in Sacramento known for good pizza (to be honest, it had the best pizza I've ever eaten in the U.S.). A guy who worked there came up and said hello to me and wanted to express his sympathies for the fire and all that had happened. My mind flew into a panic at who this person could be to know my personal life. I couldn't recall his name or face. I didn't know this guy. I was a bit freaked out. Who is he? How does he know my life!?
Because I put it on a blog. And apparently he's a reader. And then he comped BF and me beer while we waited for our table. I was moved by this small gesture (and a little tipsy as I was on an empty stomach at the time) as it meant so much after a day of painting and plumbing. Duder, you rock my socks.
Of course, it isn't just strangers. Fellow bloggers have been willing to help me rebuild my kitchen.
When I lost all my cookbooks to water damage a few years ago Kalyn immediately sent me a copy of The Joy of Cooking. After the fire she raided her spice cabinet and sent me a veritable boon of spices. She says she got them as trials or samples; I think she raided a Turkish caravan on the Silk Road and left no survivors. How else does she explain sending me over twenty full jars of spices? Hungarian and smoked paprika. Garam Masala. Curry powder. Rosemary. Even marjoram, a spice I have never used and could use some advice on. Kalyn is the definition of kindess and, possibly, a spice bandit.
The ever poignant Ruhlman, a friend I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time
And, of course, I have to thank my best bud Elise Bauer. She, whom I called at 2 in the morning, crying as I watched my roof literally go down among flames and the rasping roar of firemen's chainsaws. Who gave me, my cats, and my roommate a place to stay. When we came in reeking of smoke and trailing ash and mud into her door she simply smiled and gave us made beds and a place to shower. Who put us up for a month and gave us free reign of her home. Elise, I don't know how to ever repay you.
Too many others have all pitched in to help, and you know who you are. Thank you.
So in all this I have learned to never underestimate the kindness of strangers - strangers no longer - and the kindness of friends.