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Crossing the Manly Line

by Stephen Lautens


July 6, 2001

I once was out with a bunch of my male friends, having a beer, when one of them asked out of the blue: "Do you ever think about your role as a man?"

Talk about a conversation stopper ­ at least after we all stopped snorting and realized he was serious. It was one of those lines that guys only cross with caution. Like a manly hug ­ which should only last long enough for one slap on the back and have a clean release. Or crying at anything other than an playoff game.

Unknowingly, I wandered into one of these situations today. On my way home I ran into Jeremy, one of my good friends I happen to work with. He had made a stop on the way home from work and had a box under his arm. It was a box of jam jars.

"So, you making jam tonight?" I jokingly said. The look on his face made it clear I had crossed one of those unspoken manly lines. Or the only thing worse - I had caught him crossing one.

"Yep," he admitted. "I'm making jam."

So it turned out he had been strawberry picking on the weekend and got carried away. I don't blame him. At a buck or two a basket, it seems like quite a deal at the time. Especially after the ones we get from California the rest of the year that cost a dollar a piece and are made of wood. The only problem with the fresh ones is that they only last a few days after they pick them.

Hence the jam.

You have to understand that earlier that day I listened to Jeremy earnestly discussing NHL draft picks. He's been hauling around rocks to build a deck and plays a mean game of pool in some pretty questionable bars. In short, he's not what at first glance you'd consider to be a jam-making kind of guy.

"So," I ventured further into dangerous territory, "how much jam are you making?"

"Well, this is my second box of jars. I filled a dozen last night."

Unmanly or not, I was now determined to get myself a jar. Especially now that I knew there was a couple dozen going.

"Do you seal them with wax?" I asked. I remembered my grandmother doing that when she made the world's best grape jelly. And melting anything on the stove was pretty cool.

"No, if you heat the jars in the oven you can sterilize them without having to use the wax."

One of my fondest memories was cracking the wax plug on a fresh jar of my Grandmother's jam. Of course it also meant that if you did it wrong you'd be spreading wax chips on your toast for a week.

I was really starting to get into the discussion. "What about pectin?" I asked, "And I hear adding a little lemon juice can give the jam a real zing."

A guy across from us reading the sports pages was starting to look at us funny.

"So, how about those Blue Jays?" I said loud enough for him to hear. "Did they ever stink up the field last time out."

To heck with him, whoever he is. He's not getting any of my jam.

© Stephen Lautens 2001

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