If Ulrich hadn’t thrown his head at me, I would have made him my Plus One tonight at dinner. Now, it’ll have to be Plus Half. When I got to Kate and Ashantu’s house, I set the Jack-o-Lantern on the table. “Everyone, meet Ulrich.” You can imagine their response as it just sat there. Ravenwood, a thin man in a black sweater, chuckled. “You can just say your Plus One bailed. It’s okay. No shame.” Ulrich wouldn’t say a thing. “He’s a little unhappy. This isn’t the way we had planned to come tonight.” He had been loud and argumentative with me in the truck, threatened my life when his body showed up to claim him. For the last several times I’ve tried to visit him, he’d throw his head at me. So, this time I picked it up. “I don’t want to go to a dinner!” He wasn’t really a people person. He’d been bullied, hunted, shunned, wronged, even in death. I also knew his body would eventually catch up to us. An intervention was risky, but I thought a little warmth from people, a little conversation, some nice food smells would help him. Now he was an inanimate, stubborn, carved pumpkin.
They welcomed that pumpkin, even if he was going through a difficult period and didn’t want to talk. They fixed him a plate and put a very fat straw in the pureed carrot ginger soup and a straw in his wine. They included him in conversation, even if he didn’t answer. We all sat and talked about our lives with a Jack-O-Lantern and no one questioned my sanity. Ravenwood asked me, “So, how long have you two been friends?” Ulrich was silent. “It’s coming up on twenty years,” I said. They were surprised. “Ulrich saved my life.” I paused for a moment to see if he would tell the story. He didn’t.
So, I told them about how as a young man I was on shore between assignments—in my merchant marine years—and had met someone at a bar, as one does. But times being what they were, we were followed and harassed by a group of Angry Young Guys. “Ulrich showed up and did what he does best.” I leaned back in my chair to dramatically replay the scene, “He comes riding up on a horse, his head all aflame, scares them, and then he takes that flaming head and throws it at them! It streaks like a comet and hits one of them right in the chest. Boom! He lit up, tore off his shirt and ran screaming! Then Ulrich’s body, still on the horse, pulls out his sabre and holds it high in the air as his horse rears back!” I caught him looking at me. Did he remember that? “They ran off. I had to convince my guy to stay. He was plenty rattled too. But you know, I believe they would have hurt us that night. Maybe killed us. And I,” I raised my glass of wine. “I owe my life to his penchant for throwing his head at people.” Ulrich’s mouth moved and his eyes got softer, “I don’t like people.” Kate, Ashantu and Ravenwood all looked at him as his whole face became animate. “Normally,” he added. He smiled a jagged smile. “I throw my head at everyone. He’s not special.” I looked at him. Rave asked, “Why don’t you like people?” Ulrich said flatly, “They’re monsters.” He looked quickly at them, “Normally.” He said, “I just don’t like to be bothered.” His pumpkin mouth stretched a little to grab the straw to the soup, sucking it down. He smiled. “Normally.” It felt like he was warming up. “My body is coming and will cut off your head,” he said to me. “SLICE!” he shouted. They all looked at me. “Did you know that Ulrich was in the Revolutionary War? Part of a cavalry.” That began a whole conversation where Ulrich was the center of attention, talking about the war, about his life. I buttered another roll. I may lose my head, but I still thought the risk was worth it. He was enjoying himself. After an hour of lively discussion about cannonballs and mercenaries, Kate eventually got up and brought out a pear tart with blue cheese. It looked delicious. There was a knock at the door. Ashantu opened it and a headless man in a cape and boots, brandishing a sabre, walked through. “At last!” Ulrich said, swiveling his whole pumpkin around. “Come my Body, and take what is ours!” We all stood up, backed away from the table. “Yes!” Ulrich said, spinning his head to look at us. “SLICE!” The body stepped up to the table, his sabre raised, and sliced five pieces of tart. “But first, I want a taste of that pear tart.” He smiled at Kate. His body put down the sabre, picked up the head and placed it back on his shoulders. Then Ulrich Van Hesse, the Headless Horseman, my original Plus One, sat down for dessert.
Blue Cheese Pear Tart
a pie crust ((use your favorite pie crust recipe, or take 1 stick butter worked into (some) flour (Joey guesstimates it each time) then brought together with water))
3 pears, peeled and cored
some nice strong blue cheese
3 tablespoons of honey
Preheat oven to 450F. Line a tart pan with the pie crust. Slice the blue cheese medium thin (or crumble it) and line the bottom of the pie crust with it. Slice the pears thin and arrange the slices in a circular fan. Heat the honey and drizzle all over the pears.
Bake for 45 minutes until the crust is nicely browned and the pears are starting to color. The blue cheese should be bubbling in between the pear slices. Cool until it doesn’t burn your tongue.