The other side of the hinge now; or, origin story

October 21st, 2014

I keep thinking to myself that I feel like a baby, new. Not only is that one of the most hackneyed cliches in existence, but I also think that by all accounts I had a pretty horrible time as one, so I think I probably don’t feel like a baby. At least not a me-baby.

I’ve been told that when I wasn’t screaming, I was vomiting, or running a high fever, or all three, and I was covered in a rash. I was always sick and had terrible fevers, and I truly don’t know how many times I “had to be put in an oxygen tent” but I understood it was a big deal when I would overhear my grandmother telling people about it. I see pictures of myself from around the time my mother got her act together and showed up again and it was probably the worst. I looked like a six-year-old tiny Lydia Deetz, pallid with dark circles under my eyes.

I told myself I was going to take a break from whinging about my health for a while, and I’ve made somewhat good on that, but things are getting…a little weird. I’ve had tinnitus and vertigo since high school (twenty years) and it’s suddenly evaporated. I was holding my breath waiting for it to come back, but it’s been a couple of weeks now. Normally cessation for me is a couple of hours. Sometimes people would be talking and my hearing would just cut out and be replaced by the sounds you hear in a hearing test. I’d just watch their lips move and nod. Or guess.

“Yes, I would like it in the butt,” I would reply, my whole head going BEEEEEEEEEEEP HUUUUUM RIIIING.

“WHAT?”

“Wait. You feel like you’re in a rut? Sorry, keep going.”

Now I am an explorer on an exploration mission that is always christened, “What is making that noise, I don’t think it’s coming from inside my head.” [Spoiler: it is the refrigerator.]

Sometimes I like to play “DID YOU KNOW?”

Me: DID YOU KNOW the porch light makes a really loud buzzing noise?

P: Yes.

Me: DID YOU KNOW the dining room chandelier makes a humming noise?

P: Yes.

Me: DID YOU KNOW the toilet in the guest–

P: YES.

No one else likes this game. Sometimes it makes me cry a little, like in the case of the porch light, but not really in a bad way and I get over it quickly.

And now there’s the wiggling and stretching. I will be stuck in a waiting room and if I’m left for too long I start moving. I tell myself I want to stretch, and I do, but then it becomes a test. What if I do this? Does that still not hurt? What about my neck? Okay, neck’s okay. Shoulder joints are always bad, soo…nope, they’re like butter. By the time I am called I am practically rolling around on the floor, looking like a cat stoned out of its mind on the nip. “Ha ha, I was just testing the back of my knee (IS THE NURSE BUYING THIS??).”

I test myself in bed, too. I had that nasty nine month patch where my shoulder was just a little out of joint, causing constant pain. I didn’t realize until it was over that I was kind of rocking Bob Dole arm since it hurt so bad to move it. I had to get used to moving my arm again. So, just having this fixed, I felt much freer, but sleep was a strategic exercise in trying to minimize pain and praying that I would stay asleep for more then four hours at a time. I used to have very specific positions I could sleep in (sometimes) and if I was lucky I would not wake up with both of my hands dead. Now I sleep ON my hands sometimes, for kicks.

“I am sleeping on you, hand,” I say. “Just try something.”

“While this is probably not the best for our circulation, I am aware that you are sleeping on me because I am not wracked with nerve pain/burning from being dead asleep.”

“Okay see you tomorrow, when I will use you to hold up a book or do a project for more than three minutes without a break.”

I looked out the window on Sunday and realized I could read the street sign across the street. I can write words sequentially and without a million typos. I can write like it’s NBD, it’s just flowing out of me like diarrhea. Which is ironic, because what is NOT flowing out of me is diarrhea. HA. Sorry…I am not sorry.

I’m not wracked with anxiety or unexplained black moods. On nights that I slept deeply enough to dream, I would dream about break-ins, being held hostage, being tortured. I would snap awake at the slightest sound coming from outside. Slowly I am retraining myself that I don’t need to take more than normal precautions, that this house and neighborhood are normal and safe. I knew the fears I’ve had since moving into this house were irrational, but now I really believe it.

There’s actually more little things that have improved, like my nails don’t peel down to the beds anymore. No more pica. A year ago I was with a friend, putting my hair into a ponytail, when a clump of it just came out in my hand. A significant one, like a piece of fettuccine, like my weave was coming out. I was kind of embarrassed, but he was extremely unsettled. “I haven’t seen that since my wife had cancer,” he said.

“I’m fine. That was weird,” I said. I knew I couldn’t stop it so I just accepted it.

I had decent patches as a kid when I wasn’t anxious for no reason, and even as an adult where I would muscle myself into getting things done. But I always felt like something was missing, like normal was just out of sight somehow. This was just a crazy notion from hunchport but I didn’t think there was actually anything off with my brain. I tried anti-anxiety and depression meds when I was younger and nothing seemed to really help. I thought about my family history of thyroid issues, and strokes, and how they took one of my grandmother’s inner ears to “fix” her vertigo, and I thought I was just walking that path.

I think the weird exclamation point on all this that made me want to write about it again happened last night. I was in the kitchen and, naturally, the subject of head injuries and how much they bleed came up. I mentioned what was probably by biggest head injury, which was when one of those 300 pound dart machines you find in bars fell on my head and made a split in the skin. It didn’t bleed as expected, I think maybe because the machine was so heavy it sort of split the skin and then compressed the open vessels against my skull somehow? I was only about 25% Carrie on prom night until they started sewing me up in the ER and then it went full Carrie, blood running down my face.

“I was your age,” I told Strudel.

“WHOA!” she said.

“Your mom has a huge scar on her head, you should feel it,” P. said.

This scar has been with me since childhood, huge and raised. My stylist comments on it every couple of years or so, since it’s so obvious once my hair’s parted. She always asks if it’s recent. Occasionally it starts hurting again, especially in the presence of orcs. He prodded my head to show the kid, since I was up to my wrists in lemon juice.

“I can’t find it,” P. said.

“Hang on,” I said, rinsing. Then I couldn’t find it. It was flat. I immediately checked one of my other ancient scars, the infamous hole in the roof of my mouth. Still holey but no longer painful! I keep prodding it with my tongue, like my rolling around in waiting rooms. Does it still not hurt? HOW ABOUT NOW? Sometimes I like to sneak up on it when it’s not paying attention.

JAB JAB JAB

“Do you, like, need something, man,” my hole says. It’s the Dude now.

Now I have a new hole: a lack of all this shit I’ve been wrestling with for my whole life. What do I do with myself now? I feel like I’ve been playing on the hard setting for 36 years and someone just unlocked God mode. I don’t feel manic, though, just calm. Steady. Productive. Trying to figure out who the fuck I am and what I want. Everyday life is now super easy and not torture or battling back one symptom or another, but I am confused about the big picture. My goals actually seem attainable now, like doing a lot of writing and having my own business someday.

P. and I talked about it the other night and he was very, very honest with me and it made me happy but it almost made my heart break a little.

“Now that you’re feeling so much better, there’s a part of me that’s afraid you’ll decide you don’t need any of us and blow out of here,” he said.

I don’t think so. It’s no fun to cook for myself.

TL;DR: I have had celiac-induced malnutrition my whole life, it’s had an impact on things. Currently I cannot eat wheat, dairy, or corn, and my intestines are mostly a waterslide so this shit 100% does not apply to me. I am going to keep an eye on myself, keep taking vitamins and keep getting my thyroid tested.

Noir Fest and Dinner: He Walked by Night (November 1948)

October 17th, 2014

This week we send a middle school note folded like a football with a greeting that reads “‘Sup” to the amazing year 1948. Let me say that, like my life in middle school, my visit to 1948 was a bit of an embarrassing disaster. The movie this week was He Walked by Night (1948).

To summarize briefly, the movie is about a cat-and-mouse game between the police force and a murderous thief with a well-trained dog. The dog is not integral to the plot in any way and its big scene is when it hops around on two legs making strangled noises until the criminal gives it a plate of cream. It does not humanize the criminal. I am going to guess that the producer was sleeping with a dog trainer. That is the only logical conclusion here.


ARGLEBARGLEAROOOOOO “Oh shut up already”

I had kind of a bad feeling at the beginning when the cheesy narrator, whose voice did not seem to belong to anyone who was actually in the film (a la the conceit of the detective talking about the dame that just walked in on those pins), informed us that this was a TRUE STORY taken from the LOS ANGELES HOMICIDE FILES. P. and I looked at each other: was this shit about to get real, or real boring? (The answer was “B.”)

So the cops break into our antagonist’s car trunk at the beginning after he botches a break in and runs off. It’s full of crazy weapons and weird machines, and you think, “Ho ho, this guy’s going to be some kind of diabolical genius, this should be fun!” But no. It’s revealed he steals the machines and passes them off as his own in some kind of consignment shop for real evil geniuses maybe?, and the weapons are just weapons. No freeze rays. Then he becomes a stick-up artist and there is a strange and protracted scene at the police station where the police use a slide projector overlay device to mix up facial features until all of his living victims cry out that the nose matches the chin well enough. It’s like Guess Who? for grownups who have been pistol whipped by this asshole. What’s wrong with an old fashioned sketch artist, I ask you?

Then the police catch him. The end!

I wish I could know what the significance of this movie is in relation to the film festival downtown that I am shamelessly and Scrooge-ily biting the steez of. I know that the theme is “Live by Night” and indeed, the movie takes place primarily at night, except for one scene where the cops work super hard all night and then the sun comes up. Man, that’s dedication! The whole thing really read like an ad for the LAPD.

Okay, I will say that I got my hands on a pretty fuzzy copy of the print. I have seen screenshots of more cleaned up versions of this film on the GIS and I’m sure the sewer chase scene at the end rendered sharply on an even bigger screen than my classroom-sized projector screen must be pretty badass. But man, it was not worth it to get to the climax! Just skip to minute 50 or so.

I have seen some dogs in the previous annual noir fests, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed them, but this–this was like the great-grandpappy of all mediocre police procedurals from the pre-CSI era. In contrast with The Maltese Falcon, which was “missing” voice-over narration (but not really, it was fine without it), He Walked by Night was missing another classic element of film noirs: there were no turns or twists, no double crosses. The storytelling was linear, and I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, some hook, or a dame, or something. What is the thief’s motivation? How did he turn out this way? We’re not sure, he just is an evil thief or something. All Strudel cared about was “What will happen to that poor dog??!!”

Speaking of what happened to poor dogs, let’s talk about food. This issue of Gourmet from November, 1948, was similar to the 1947 issue, even with many of the same ads from year to year, much like, say, The New Yorker today.

As with the previous 1947 issue, there is a mix of vague instructions and precise ones. Sometimes the reader is instructed to cook with a slow or fast oven, and sometimes exact degrees are given. Sometimes there is a call for exactly 3 sprigs of parsley, sometimes it is a vaguer amount of herbs.

I was thrilled to discover that this was a wild game issue. Just look at all those animals in the background! I will eat you all. Even you, doggy!! (Don’t tell Strudel.)

I should also apologize for the wubbly quality of the images. I am aware they are crooked or distorted. I really didn’t want to reef on ~70 year old bound journals just to get some perfect snaps. I think you can get the picture okay, though.


I, Asshole: Untouched by human hands!!

Unlike many cooking magazines today, Gourmet of the 1940s felt no pressure to provide complete meals or menus, and even omitted complete categories, like, say, vegetables. I appreciate that there were deeper, travelouguey dives into regional cuisine (like articles on Basque main dishes with no thought to sides or desserts) or just a focus on 12 types of rice dishes. There was a template of sorts that the editors obviously followed, but as I said, the picture did not add up to something that would please everyone and make a whole meal. If you were diligent, however, I think it would be possible to cook your way through the index in one month’s time, unlike later issues, as we will see.

If I recall correctly this issue had many, many recipes for frittered veggies, and while I like them, I’d rather not do gluten-free fritters if I can avoid it. I attempted to choose recipes that were natively gluten free or would take easy substitutes. So for this meal I am serving simple mashed potatoes to complement the rabbit.


It sure is, Mr. Beard!

This article looked very similar to articles on meat carving that appear in Cook’s Illustrated today. In fact, now I see what Cook’s Illustrated is up to, with their arty cover paintings and drawings. It’s Gourmet plus SCIENCE!


Tortolettes just sounded so awesome and delicious I had to capture it. So exotic! From way out California way!

This issue did not feature a cocktail recipe, in addition to no recipes for non-fried vegetables, so I am taking liberties here. I was going to make hot buttered rum based on inspiration from an advertisement (and then I discovered that dairy is giving me weird lesion-y hives right now, sorry, TMI). I thought mashed potatoes would be nice with the hare, and I served a simple green salad to balance out all the (forgive me) warm mush happening here. Don’t get me wrong, I find warm mush dinners soothing in the fall. I just need some contrast. I will focus on only recipes I have taken from Gourmet below.

MENU

Civet of Hare with Wine
Mashed potatoes of your choice
Simple salad
Angels on Horseback

Dessert:
Coconut Creams

Cocktail:
Trader Vic’s Hot Buttered Rum

RECIPES

Let’s start with a success: angels on horseback. I dithered about what size oysters to buy. I know sometimes they have huge shells with tiny little guys inside. Sisters Points were kind of on sale, but they ended up pretty teeny. I could get four angels out of each strip of bacon.

It was okay, though. Sometimes it is okay to have a teeny bite of something delicious. This is no establishment that serves bloomin’ onions. We had three apiece. This part of the meal was like when the police found all the weapons and devices and machines in the thief’s trunk: tantalizing and promising!

Going in:

And coming out:

The rabbit was not as good as I recalled from my Victorian year. I think my rabbit dishes turned out so well I kind of romanticized the meat itself. And then I remembered, they are a bitch to break down into usable tidbits. But I got there.


Marinade with wine and aromatics

The real sticking point for me is the “silverskin,” which is a pain to remove. In short, I think anything I would like to do with rabbit, I would rather do with chicken. I assume wild hare has a gamier flavor and could not be replaced with chicken.


Darling illustration for the civet of wild hare recipe

As the recipe called for, I swirled in some blood sauce to finish, and then served it over a mesa of potatoes. It was very homey and warming. But again, not really worth it in the end! This represented the part of the movie where the voiceover guy came back while we literally watched people stuff envelopes with the police sketch of the thief for their NATIONWIDE MANHUNT! Boring. But comforting and necessary? I dunno.

MMMM I am humoring my snap happy mother who will not let me get through a meal:

Alright, now let’s talk about dessert. This is the part of the movie where you realize you don’t care about any of these people and there is going to be no character development and NO PAYOFF even when you see the thief lying facedown in a storm drain, dead. Dessert was DOA.

I picked this dessert because of this hilarious letter written by a shitlord hater:

I love it when the response to hate mail is provide the recipe. I had to try it. Well, friends, I suck at soft ball candy (fondant), it seems.

Things were going okay:

Then a burn bloomed through the pan, sigh:

I don’t know what possessed me to spread it out in the designated pan anyway. I guess I thought it might cool faster and I could dispose of it more quickly.

I did have fun pulling the sugar into what would be a horrible jagged painforest for say, a mouse.

I tried again and took the sugar syrup up to “soft ball” stage more quickly this time, which seemed to be the key somehow. I whipped it as the instructions suggested for a long time with a flipper and “worked it about” with my hands as well, and it never really stiffened into anything that I could see forming into balls.

It just maintained a resemblance to my favorite answer in Mad Libs to the query “a Liquid.”


JIZZ

I tried to find a tutorial online somewhere, but all the videos I could find about fondant were that modern nightmare smotherpaste people put on wedding cakes. Once I was at a birthday party at a scary cocaine gangbanger sushi bar and someone handed me a fondant vulva off the erotic cake being served there. WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A FONDANT VULVA? I carried it around for several minutes offering it to people. “Vulva?” No takers!

And drinks! Hot buttered rum, I love you. You are perfect for October. I cannot drink you right now. Oh shit, I could totally do this with coconut milk…wait, no, STAHP. So this non-existent drink represents the part of the movie where there should have been suspense and character motivation.

See you next week!!

P.S.

Other people liked this movie. I like what Tony D’Ambra says: “DP John Alton’s visual poetry offsets zero characterisation.” TRUE FACTS.

After viewing The Maltese Falcon recently I got caught up on Karina Longworth’s wonderful podcast and lo there was an episode called “Bogey Before Bacall.” Great insights if you don’t know much about the man himself, as I did not.

Advice Wednesdays: February 21, 2002

October 15th, 2014

DEAR ABBY: I am the other woman you rarely hear from. I had an affair with a married man and married him after he divorced his wife.

Please warn your female readers that even when an affair leads to marriage, it isn’t going to be what they expect.

My husband and I have been married nearly nine years. We have a beautiful daughter. She is the only good thing that has come out of this mess. My husband is selfish and cares only about his own needs. His ex-wife still won’t speak to me (not that I want her to), and their son barely acknowledges my existence. All I feel is guilt over breaking up their marriage and remorse for the mess I made of my life.

So, Abby, if any of your readers are dating a married man — give them this warning: Run for your life now! He may seem sweet and caring, but that is only because he likes the chase. Once he gets you hooked, you will be treated the same way he treats his present wife. If you complain, he will tell you that you “asked for it.” After all, you knew he was married. — SORRY FOR EVERYTHING IN TEXAS

This is a textbook example of what my inbox looks like day in, day out: a depressing stew of cliches from an embittered person. Most people get my form response, since there’s simply too many letters to personalize an answer for every one, and my stock reply usually includes suggesting some kind of writing therapy. This advice may seem ludicrous on its face, but I figure if they think writing to me could help them, they may be inclined to keep writing. I’d like to think I am responsible for no small percentage of little outposts in the “blogosphere.” Even if it’s just a Myspace “blog.”

But I have lifted your letter out of the dross pile because today, it resonates with me. Since you don’t actually have a question, let me ask you one: what do you think sets man apart from the animals? I like to ask people this question as an ice breaker at parties. I know the answer, but I always pretend there isn’t one. Most people will say things like, well, clothing. Or medicine. Or even the heart of your letter–infidelity.

We can make claims that animals participate in all the rituals–the expressions of our human-ness, if you will–that man holds dear and believes are unique. Infidelity is an obvious one, but I could make compelling, if slightly tortured, arguments about animals and their use of clothing, medicine, politics, rudimentary postal systems, and so on.

Alright, lest you begin to suspect I am being paid by the letter, I will out with it. What separates us from the animals is the notion that we are special. Think about it. Celebrities think they are special and it is proved to them by the number of pageviews on their particular pudenda. Your coworkers think they are special. They do not even think they are coworkers! That guy you saw on the bus one time wearing a hat in the form of a frog’s head, even he thinks he is special, as if he held some kind of patent on being a loser.

As of this writing there are about 6.5 billion humans on this planet. If everyone realized tomorrow exactly how special, how un-unique they were, you would hear the wailing sound of an entire planet’s human hearts breaking in unison. There would of course follow rioting, men raping everything in sight, and sportkillings. The fact that we’re all just basically deer in pants will be our secret, okay?

Reread your letter. Do you know how many of this flavor of confession letter I get a week? Christ. It’s like a treatise on the futility of human existence. I recommend having someone read you some Russian novels and spending less time outdoors, or failing that, leaving the thinking to the professionals.

That might have been a little harsh. I mean, even I, “Sorry for Everything in Texas,” have fallen prey to thinking I was special. I, too, was once the other woman. Because of my notoriety as an internationally-acclaimed and award-winning advice columnist, it has been challenging for me in the past to have a normal dating life. I can’t just walk into the pub and grill down the street and meet the man of my dreams. I mean, I could, but I might get stepped on.

See what I did there? I think you could use a little self-deprecating humor in your situation as well.

Naturally I did what any woman would do with additional dating challenges: I logged on to the World Wide Web and I found what was the only site at the time with the mission of connecting little women with the men who adore them. There were some unsavory sections of that site that I avoided spending time on, involving relationships of a more “casual” nature and downloadable photos and “art.” No, I was looking for real, lasting love with a man who understands the specifics of my situation and was willing to prove it by building me special staircases.

Then I found Him. His profile said “divorced.” His children were grown, and of average size, having taken a big bite out of his genetics. He was a professor of Etruscan Studies, the real deal, leather elbow patches on his tweed coat. If that doesn’t send your heart racing then you and I should probably never go out for lemondrops.

After months of getting to know him, I flew to his city. On leaving the airport, I had my driver take me straight to his office at the university. My future husband had offered to meet my plane, but I demurred. I didn’t want to make a scene there; I knew if my driver opened my bespoke traveling case I would be immediately recognized.

Upon being delivered to his office and first laying eyes on him, I immediately felt this intense connection between us. I asked my driver to beat it for a couple of hours. I felt foolish and hypocritical that I had repeatedly cautioned my readers about internet romance and how it is false and dangerous, when here I was standing in front of a man I thought I knew so well. I managed to keep my tiny pants on through exactly one scotch, which he had helpfully provided to me in an antique glass thimble.

We made love then. I will avoid boring you with the lurid details, since we’ve all been there. I guess it’s a little different for me. Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of people standing next to a great sequoia? Or perhaps you have stood next to one yourself. Let me say, though, it was not my first time at the giant redwood rodeo. I was not afraid. I knew I was in love.

Afterwards, as I laid out across his hands, he admired my perfect proportions and extremely toned arms. I have never had a special typewriter or keyboard made until recently, so when I work it’s a process that looks a little like cross-country skiing, or like I am using giant dialing wands. Why not multitask, has always been my philosophy.

There was a natural lull in the conversation and I knew I was getting a little sleepy from the scotch and our frenzied activity.

“I have something to tell you,” he said.

“Let me guess,” I said. “You’re married.”

I moved to be near him before the ink was even dry on his divorce papers. I spoke with his wife exactly twice. The first time was before the financial settlements were finalized, in the home where they had raised their children. I was living with him in his temporary apartment by then, and he drove me over so we two could meet. It was a kind of formal attempt to be civil, since it wasn’t like I would act in the capacity of a stepparent to their grown children. And she already knew who I was, of course, having seen my face over the column in the newspaper every morning for a dozen years.

They had been married for twenty-seven years, and I was surprised how resigned she seemed about their impending divorce. She was just under three feet tall and even managed to make a few jokes, which as I said, is a trait I always admire. I sat on the armrest of the couch, with him next to me for support, though he assured me he did not expect an emotional scene.

“Well. Good luck with him,” she said, putting her feet up on a tiny footstool with an embroidered cover that I could probably not even touch the top of without a strenuous jump. She tsked at me, and addressed my soon-to-be-husband as if I was some kind of pet or a child. “Smaller than me and famous. What a coup for you.”

As the tiniest living woman in the world, nay, in all of recorded history, it was a coup for someone who loved small women. He could do no better than me, and I believed other women posed no threat. I was his prize, his jewel. Our small, private marriage made minor headlines with the attendant puns, like “Thumbelina Marries Paul Bunyon” and other ridiculousness. Reputable publications were respectful, and we even granted People a short interview, which became a sidebar on married couples with physical compatibility challenges.

It was a happy time. I had a new book to promote and was glad to make the breakfast show circuit, which allowed me to gush about married life a little. He was traveling for work and preparing to publish a paper on some pottery fragments that had been found in the Alps, but he was set to wrap up his travels and settle in for the new school year, which was about to start.

In the midst of all of this we managed to find a small 40s bungalow and I was having it retrofitted to my specifications. Due to some childhood trauma relating to dogs, I prefer to travel on special walkways that are near the ceiling. The house had a child’s bedroom upstairs that overlooked the back garden and I did my work there, stuffing silicone in my ears to block out the hammering and sawing that went on all day long. My favorite times were when neither of us were traveling, after the carpenters had gone home for the day. We ate with a fire crackling, and I sipped claret out of one of my thimbles while I ate a tiny piece of his lambchop. We applied to adopt a child, and we thought we were in the running for a precious little boy whose young mother consistently peed clean. Our lives felt complete.

However, the honeymoon, as they say, did not last. His paper on the new Alps pottery find was accepted by a prestigious archaeological journal and published. As the bustle of the new school year turned to the tedium of winter, he was out more at nights. He was distant, distracted, unavailable for conversation behind his stacks of papers. Too tired to make love. This was a man, who, a year before, would stay up on the phone with me until two a.m. his time, chatting to me about my day or asking me to describe my tiny custom-made undergarments, his breath growing ragged on the other end of the line.

I knew he was always surrounded by excited, fresh-faced graduate assistants, both young men and women, clamoring for his attention (and probably ready to give him some as well) behind his closed office door. I tried to ask subtle questions about the physical appearance of his colleagues and mentees, and scanned the room at university cocktail parties from my perch on his shoulder, on the look out for any small women.

Again I took a path contrary to all of the sound advice I give to my readers and stand by, now more than ever, after bitter experience. I snooped. I looked through his desk at home; I “accidentally” logged on to his academic email. I was not satisfied that this lack of evidence was a true indication of his fidelity. After all, he had kept me a complete secret from his first wife.

I saw on his calendar that he had written in a regents’ dinner for that night and I hastily concocted a plan to travel to his office. Either he would be out, and I could snoop, or he would be in his office, probably not alone, and I could catch him red-handed. I had my driver bring me to the campus and let me off on a dark corner, making the excuse that I wanted to surprise my husband.

“I don’t think this is a great idea, Ms. Van Buren. What about, er….”

“Cats? Birds?” I said. “I think my biggest worry might be rats. If people are walking dogs on campus they will probably be leashed. This is for the best. Can you park nearby and I’ll call you in about an hour.” It was more of an order than a question, and my driver was always very good about doing what I asked him to.

I had a little antique walking stick that I believe was some kind of skewer or cocktail pick that I carried on rare occasions I went for a walk outdoors. I had used it as an impromptu weapon in the past and I knew how to defend myself. People were not a threat to me in an environment like a college campus because I avoided sidewalks, preferring to hike through the hidden miniature forests under the carefully-manicured shrubs. I made my way to my husband’s office, which was a short walk, and slipped in the door of the archeology building when a group of students left.

His door was ajar slightly and the light was on–had he gone to dinner and absentmindedly left things this way, or was he down the hall or in the restroom and returning shortly? No matter–I knew I could easily hide if I heard someone coming. My heart pounded in my ears and I listened intently to every sound from the corridor or outside.

I knew his drawers were on a very easy glide system, since I had given him this desk after we were married. Even I could open them. In addition to the potential peril brought about by common domestic animals, I was also vulnerable to danger in the form of drawers, cabinets, and vases. Everything in my life needed some kind of latch or release on the inside. In theory, I could starve to death in a bathtub and I took measures to make every aspect of my life safer.

I shinned myself up to his chair and desk by way of his wool overcoat. He was right-handed so I opened his top right drawer first, figuring that was where the good stuff might be. I was in the drawer sorting through a stack of receipts that he was overdue to expense when I heard his voice in the hall, low, murmuring. He closed his office door quietly and I heard his feet scuffle. Was he drunk?

Then I heard a feminine laugh, loud and large, and the unmistakable sound of compatibly-sized mouths meeting with a hungry suck and pop that disgusted me from my spy’s nest in the drawer.

“Come here,” he said to her in his low voice, heavy with desire, that I had once heard over the phone.

That was when I heard your voice for the very first time, soft, girlish, with a Texas twang. I don’t remember what you said; it doesn’t matter. I pictured your face at the last cocktail party: soft, eager, eyes bright, turned up to my husband like you were his own baby bird waiting eagerly for your next meal. I guessed he wasn’t going to stick regurgitated worms in your mouth, though.

Suddenly my drawer slammed shut and I lost my balance then as everything went dark. I bit my tongue as I went down and almost cried out. When the desk started rattling, I wish I would have cried out in pain when I had my chance. I suspected that once you were really going at it, you wouldn’t have heard me had I yelled. I waited for it to be over. I told myself that you were a phase, a fling, and that I sat at the true throne in his heart. Fat, hot tears came quickly.

And then when I heard my beloved husband tell you, “Sorry for Everything in Texas,” that he loved your “monstrous vagina,” my heart broke twice. Once was for my marriage and this man I held so dear. The second break was the sound of me realizing, that I! Not even I was special. Like I said, this belief that is the real thing that separates us from the animals–it will be our secret.

P.S. Apology accepted.

Disgusting dinners

October 13th, 2014

Strudel hath attended another recital. She survived, though it was a close thing. I guess the other parents are nicer (natch) because she was probably one of the most together kids.

She did very well. I am sure it’s going to be her turn at some point to majorly fuck up, but it did not happen Saturday!

Like a bad debt that you can’t pay; or, my fucking eyebrows grew back.

October 13th, 2014

I woke up.

This shit still hasn’t gotten me laid; I still have to do it on my own merits.

I’m sure this will end. Now I will have to find full time employment. Fuck me gently with a chainsaw etc.

It has been suggested to me I should get back to writing porn. Yes, race against life, I am going. ZOOM. Any other advices? I am hearing it.

F is for fourteen

October 10th, 2014

Franny’s been ill this week.

She said she could sort of taste her cake, and she suspected it tasted good.

At her request I made her a red Thai curry. It turned out really well in spite of the fact I completely forgot to buy limes. I put a splash of rice vinegar in at the end and that was sufficient.

She’s been an interesting kid lately. I realized I have past advice from Tadpoledrain, Helen, and Miss Piggy mentioning magnesium, and lo, I was super scary rock-bottom low prices on it in a recent blood test. We all started taking it and it’s evened her out a lot–much less on the aches and pains front. Strudel is sleeping better. I am feeling better as well. I am holding my breath here but my tinnitus of twenty years now (!) has been on break since I started taking it. I did not know my porch light buzzes.

Point being, Franny is doing a lot of art right now. She hit this kind of blah wall last winter where she wasn’t even sketching like she always used to do, incessantly. She came back with this from her dad’s house on Monday:

“Okay, I copied this from a book, but I didn’t trace it,” she said.

“I can tell it’s not traced,” I said.

“ARTY KID ARTY KID ARTY KIIIID,” my sister sang.

I don’t think she would have had that kind of concentration a few months ago to even start something like this. She’s gobbling up books, her algebra class is “easy and fun” and she’s cranking out at least a drawing a day. Between the diet and the vitamins SOMETHING IS WORKING so I am not going to stop.

She also made lipstick out of crayon nubbles and coconut oil on one of her sick days.

“I saw this on YouTube.”

It’s been a good week.

When I first saw my endocrinologist, she said, “We’re getting into the land of the expensive tests.”

“The cheap tests aren’t showing anything,” I said.

Yesterday I thanked her for doing the expensive tests.

“Mmm we’ll see if you still feel that way when you see your bill,” she said.

Advice Wednesdays: December 5, 1991

October 8th, 2014

DEAR ABBY: A while back, you had a letter in your column about a girl who got an engagement ring that looked like a big diamond, but it was an imitation (cubic zirconia) which she was proudly showing around to all her friends and relatives, thinking it was real.

I guess she fooled some of the people some of the time, but it could have caused her a lot of embarrassment.

I have a different problem concerning my diamond engagement ring. My boyfriend told me that his father got it at a very good price because it was “hot” — stolen.

I love my fiance very much, but I do not feel comfortable wearing this ring, knowing its history. I do not want to appear ungrateful, and I don’t want to insult my boyfriend — or his father — but every time someone compliments me on my ring, I want to crawl into a hole and hide.

What should I do? — ASHAMED IN BUFFALO

Do you remember that series of books from a few years ago that promised that whatever you thought about, could come true? You could even make, like, posterboards about your most fervent desire and tack things to it, like it was some kind of science fair project, except the experiment was your own self-actualization. The money attraction one said you could even tack on cash, which I never really got, because that was money you were not spending or saving, and someone would probably just steal it off your board anyway.

I always thought it was more useful to just think about things. I guess I learned about the Power of Thinking Really, Really Hard (PoTRRH) when I broke up with my last boyfriend. He was on what seemed like his twelfth part-time “gig” after graduating. (Lesson: do not date someone who calls work “gigs” if you are committed to the PoTRRH Way.) He had just cracked into my last package of those little Swedish gingerbread cookies that I had been saving since Christmastime, which was the last time my sister was able to give me a ride down to IKEA. It is important to buy at least six and then they only get to come out once a month for a special occasion, like a series finale or your friend gets an overdraft notice text when they’re at your house.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I think being fired counts as one of those times.” He always ate like a starving wolverine and a constellation of crumbs appeared in his beard.

“But it’s my thing,” I protested. “And I don’t think you can be depressed if the job you were fired from was five hours a week and on a volunteer basis.”

I went into our bathroom and thought about it really, really hard, and realized the best way to get rid of someone was to pretend to be very crazy. It has all the perks of being actually crazy, except you could shut it off again. I might be on to something, I thought to myself as I used three fingers to scoop all of the expensive shaving cream out of its heavy glass jar. I was excited when he became interested expressing himself in a testicularly-artisanal fashion but then it took at least 45 minutes to shave when I took him out. He hadn’t touched it in months after he went Movember and never came back.

Globs of richly-scented shaving cream rolled off my fingertips and into the toilet, scenting the air with sandalwood and ylang-ylang. I aimed them at his antidepressants, which were now floating in the toilet as well. I worried for a moment about invoking the landlord by backing up the toilet, but “causing plumbing problems” was probably a plus-one in the crazy column. Points removed for making ocean fish sterile with the pill run-off, though. It was a wash. Literally!

“You sunk my Lexipro ship,” I said, watching the pills get taken down by the cream and flushing. I washed my hands and hid all of the evidence in the trash.

“What are you doing in there?” he asked, though another mouthful of my ginger cookies.

“Kegels,” I said, opening the door and walking past him.

I went into the bedroom to turn one of his prized vintage Lacoste shirts (“coral,” 1983) into a string of obscene paper dolls. I will admit to you I stole the idea from my Crafting for Cunts classes, which spent a lot of time re-appropriating traditional feminine arts into statements about the patriarchy.

(That’s right, the bowl you ate that nut mix out of is resting on a doily patterned with erect penises that I tatted myself. The group was all going swimmingly until it was overrun by polyamorous Burners. UGH.)

I find that breakups are a good opportunity for change. I would do things differently going forward. I started thinking really, really hard about what I wanted from life and more specifically, a relationship. I even created a board, like the book said.

I couldn’t remember what the book said to put on the board, but I decided interpretation of memory was the key here. Besides, I owed too much at the library to check anything out. Did you know they will send you to collections over twelve dollars? Consider yourself warned. I went way back into time, listened to my dreams, and delved deeply into my psyche. Who was the perfect man for me?

I tacked a flattened Amazon box up on the wall where my boyfriend’s dresser used to be for my board. All that I had so far was a picture of Jason Priestley from a Tigerbeat scan that I had secretly printed at work. I decided that represented “dreamy eyes.”

My Power of Thinking Really, Really Hard board was next to my mirror. I spent a lot of time looking into the mirror, into my own eyes, questioning, seeking. Then I realized one night when I was trying to sleep, what I wanted was someone who would take care of me how I took care of other people. More than one friend had commented on what a perfect girlfriend I was. I made every birthday special, and it didn’t just look that way on Instagram. Sometimes things I did for him didn’t even end up getting posted.

“That’s what I want,” I said. “Myself.”

The moon shone into my window and hit me while I lay in bed, which is rare enough, because it seems like it’s always cloudy here when the moon is full. The cat was restless and walked around on my legs. I enjoyed watching the moonlight in her fur. Suddenly I felt hot and pulled off the blankets. My skin started to tingle and felt tight, which I assumed had to do with all the bourbon I drank earlier, or the new lotion that came in a beauty sub box I found on my neighbor’s doorstep. The last thing I remember was my cat meowing loudly and then everything was dark!

I woke up cold, and the ceiling was lit like it was midmorning. Saturday, I thought. I tried to move, but felt like I was tied down. I turned and somehow I had moved the mirror in the night…I looked into my eyes—but no.

“Hello,” I said to myself, lying next to me. I thought maybe my double looked younger, but then she hadn’t been trying to quit smoking for the past…seven years.

The split was incomplete and we were still partly connected by fleshy fibers that reminded me of gum, but it was gum made out of flesh. Gross. Other than that, the bed was surprisingly clean. I expected gore or glop like health class childbirth films.

“What can we do about this?” I asked my double.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this,” she said.

And she did. How I had longed to hear those words for so long. She moved her hands along our side and unzipped us somehow. We were two.

We alternated between periods of speaking and not-speaking. I knew what she was going to say, usually, and she knew what I was going to say. Of course she didn’t know what happened to me when I went to work, or out with friends, so she was eager to have me fill her in.

“What did you do all day?” I asked her.

“Well. Today I went to the farmer’s market and bought raw milk and I made butter. I didn’t really have time to do anything else, so we’re pretty much having French bread and butter for dinner.”

“Sounds good,” I said. “Thanks.” Every day was an adventure now with her there.

“I’ve always wanted learn how to do that,” she said.

“I remember.”

I was concerned that someone I knew would run into her and find out I was at work at the same time. We decided we would cut and dye her hair and call her “Jane.” That was not an easy talk but I tried to spin it like we were wacky spies or something.

“I like our hair the way it is,” she said, but relented. I did a great job, I think. I had been cutting this hair for years, after all. I made her into a dark brunette, a look I knew was good on me, but I thought was too boring to stick with. If she ran into my friends and they called her by my name, she was to pretend she didn’t know them or who I was.

I began to call her Jane around the apartment as well, just to have something to call her, like if I was in the bathtub and my tablet died. I couldn’t call her by my name, after all. The first few times I saw her face fall a little, or her body turn inward with a small cringe, but she got used to it.

Overall I think she was having a fulfilling life. I was sure jealous of her! Jane even began to bring in some money selling crafts online, since she had my work ethic and could not be a lady of leisure forever. It helped offset the costs of her little hobbies. She was an excellent tatter as well, but preferred abstract shapes or leaf patterns to cocks. I took her out for walks in the evenings I wasn’t seeing my friends.

“What are we doing tonight?” she asked. “Doctor Who?”

I shook my head and chuckled. Oh, the delights of being able to watch the doctor all the way through for the first time. I knew she’d love it.

“You know I have my book group tonight,” I said. I hooked my bra and began to pull it over each shoulder.

“Hold still,” she said, and turned my back to the light.

I could see her face behind me, in the mirror, concentrating on a small spot on my back. She went to work on the zit, which I hadn’t even noticed and quickly had it lanced. “You’re so busy lately,” she said. I felt the sting as she prodded the sore spot. “I hope that wasn’t too painful.” She looked into my eyes in the mirror, which were watering. I realized she was beautiful. She reached for a tissue to dab at the blood. I waved her off and threw my shirt on. It was a dark color.

It’s such a cliche, but yes, we barely talk about the book of the month at our club.

“You’re looking good,” Katie said, refilling my wineglass in the kitchen of her small open apartment. We were so grown up, with our book club and our casual chit-chat. She was a roommate in college for a couple of years. “Are you seeing someone?” I felt three other curious heads swivel and focus on me, abandoning whatever they had been huddling over on Facebook.

“Sort of,” I said. “I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

“Really?” Katie said. In the past she was used to me giving the blow-by-blow of every late night text, every email, every conversation. How could I talk about my current situation? I decided it was basically like talking about myself so I would just frame it that way.

“I’ve decided to just be single for a while. To take care of myself.”

My friends—well, they’re not really my friends, they’re more like Katie’s friends that I’ve kind of gotten absorbed into—their heads all nodded in unison. I knew they all had their struggles, but in that moment I felt like I had won, transcended somehow. It was one thing to nod along with what Oprah’s army was churning out for waiting room consumption, and quite another to be living it.

My eyes landed on Katie’s face and I saw that instead of nodding her head was slightly tilted. I saw it in her eyes, a flicker that said she didn’t quite believe me.

“I’m sorry,” I said, setting down my nearly full glass of wine, “but I’ve got an early morning and I should pack it in.”

I insisted on letting myself out, to get out into the cool air of the street as quickly as possible. I heard the conversation dip for a moment and I felt my ears prick.

“Pregnant,” was all I was able to pick out. Was that MacKayla? I closed the door behind me with as little noise as possible. As far as they were concerned, I was already gone.

When I came home, Jane was already in bed, asleep with the lamp lit on my side, just as I’d left it. Nothing was moved or touched. It almost looked like she’d gotten straight into bed as soon as I’d left. She stirred when I came in.

“I thought this was your movie night,” I said to her back.

“Didn’t feel like it,” she said. She sounded more than just sleepy.

I felt my words coming out stilted. “Are you okay? Is winter bothering you? They can be brutal here.” She shrugged.

This was not how I expected things to be with my other half, or my double, or whatever. I was pretty sure I had given her everything I’d needed–freedom, space, privacy. When I was honest with myself I knew she was living the life that I wanted, and I tried not to be resentful about it. The silences, which had seemed so cozy at first, now seemed ominous and heavy. “Can I do something for you?”

“Just come to bed,” Jane said.

I turned off the lamp and slid out of my clothes, which I remembered was a lot easier when I wasn’t drunk. My brain was very clear. Before I lived alone, I often didn’t get undressed at all, or I would wake up completely dressed from the waist up, dried semen on my thighs to let me know that no matter how much I hated my ex at the end, at least he couldn’t say I wasn’t putting out.

I wrapped my arm around Jane, curled my city-cold body against her back. She sighed and I smelled my—our—good bourbon. Her body felt different to me lately. She was no longer my exact double. She felt fleshier. I watched her dress in the morning, and I recognized that body, it was the one I’d gotten after my second abortion, the one with the guy I actually liked, but who wanted to go study in Germany and then did. I hated the flesh on my own body, but I liked it on her.

Jane moved her hand away from her stomach. I hadn’t realized I’d been stroking the soft skin of her belly that now pooched out and oriented itself down toward the mattress now. I knew her breasts were larger as well and I felt my hands roam of their own accord. She sighed again and laid back, legs spread slightly, submitting. I wondered if she would remember it if I got her off. I decided against it and lay back, and sleep came quickly.

Then, suddenly, it was spring. I had some idea that maybe I was ready to start dating. Maybe I was over what happened last summer—I had even unblocked him on Instagram. I knew I didn’t want him, but maybe it was time for me to make a new board and start thinking really hard about bringing love into my life from the outside. I probably had time to add one more class—I had every other Tuesday free, and Sunday afternoons, like today.

“Fuck!” I stepped on something embedded in the rug. I turned my foot over and saw that a piece of wire was stuck in my foot. I pulled it out, watching a drop of blood well up where the wire was. Maybe I would start to think really, really hard about attracting someone who had a social security number and could work a job that didn’t involve making terrible wire jewelry incorporating women’s discarded IUDs and dental retainers. I was pretty sure I was over the whole feminist thing.

Jane came out of the bedroom, where she had been working on some kind of new drawer organization scheme she’d read about on Apartment Therapy. She bent over my foot and gave me a look (apologetic?), though she said nothing.
“When did you cut your hair?” I asked. She had short, crooked bangs that made our face look even rounder than it usually did. It was far worse with the extra weight she was carrying.

She shrugged. “I don’t know, a few days ago.”

“That explains the headbands,” I said. “I could have told you not to cut bangs. When I was nineteen I went through this Bettie Page phase…”

Jane reddened and looked down and away. I know that look and I knew to drop it. I realized then she seemed less like my double and more like a series of snapshots. She was my past, I could see that now. A reminder of all the mistakes I’d made and all the bad things I’d done. I had to get out of there.

“Listen, it’s a nice day,” I said. Sun lit the apartment, illuminating how dingy it had gotten under cover of the dim winter light. I wanted to go for a walk on the street near our house that was full of blooming plum trees. I would buy her a small present when we were out, admire her new jewelry designs, then coax her into dusting later. Maybe she could clean the windows as well. I could do the vacuuming, which I find relaxing.

Tears spilled out of Jane’s eyes and she bit her lip and closed her eyes, shaking her head. I couldn’t even suggest a walk to her anymore. She looked ugly when she cried, and she cried a lot. I’d been with a couple of guys who were criers and I always acted like I thought it was great they were that sensitive, but the reality is that I hate it when anyone cries around me. Living with a woman was like entering the varsity level of the crying championships.

I realized maybe if I really loved her I would think she was beautiful when she cried or something. If I thought about this really hard could I fix it?

“Jane,” I said. I recalled words that had been used on me in the past. “I don’t think this is working out for us. You don’t seem happy. I just think we’re in two different places.”

She stopped crying then, sniffed, and looked into my eyes. I always expect her to be shorter than me, smaller than me, because she’s so much weaker than I am. Occasionally she would stop slouching and pull herself up to her full height and stare at me like she used to at first. I saw my collarbones, softened, lost in flesh. I took in the dark circles under her eyes, under the redness of her face from crying. I saw the light roots of my hair coming in under the dark brunette, which I realized now just made her look washed out. I knew there was a reason I had stopped dyeing my hair that color.

She went into the bathroom. I realized that the hole the wire made in my foot was now dripping blood onto the rug.
“Are you getting me a tissue?” I asked. “Or a bandage?” She slammed the door in response.

I took in the blossoms, but had quickly gotten bored alone, and went down the street to knock back a couple of drinks. When I came back to my apartment later, all was dark except for the light streaming out from under the bathroom door. I felt contrite, ready to give things another chance. I knocked softly on the bathroom door.

“What are you doing in there?” I asked. I heard sniffling. Still crying.

“Nothing,” Jane said. Her voice sounded hollow, airy, like it was being piped in from somewhere else and she was far away, in some other bathroom.

I tried the knob and it admitted me. When I cracked the door, a wave of tropical air hit my face. I thought she’d taken a shower, or had been bathing. A smell followed, dank and primal, almost like sex, or animal guts. I paused on the carpet outside the door, letting me eyes adjust to the light. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open.

“It’s cold,” Jane said. She was in the tub. She was wet, or sweating, but the tap didn’t appear to have been turned on, since it drips for hours after anyone takes a shower. Her eyes, my eyes, were the same as when I had pneumonia and I was admitted to the hospital. I forgot where I was and ripped out my IV out and walked to a mirror and opened my eyes there. They were glassy, sunken. Her skin looked transparent. I knelt by her on the floor next to the tub, on her abandoned pile of clothes.

“Are you alright?” I asked, stupidly.

“I’m sorry about the mess.”

I saw her relax some then, the strain leaving her face. Was this what I would look like when I die? I hoped it would be some time from now and I would look much older at least. I hoped I would be surrounded by my grandchildren, or at least some fans. Not alone in a bathtub—melting?

Jane’s skin began to slip a little then, and the liquid parts ran out and toward the drain. Her eyes closed and she looked peaceful. I turned on the tap then, and the water hit her feet, which foamed and began to melt away like soap. Some parts took longer than others. I considered pulling her teeth out, but it seemed disrespectful somehow to hurry the process along by throwing the more stubborn parts of her away. Finally her hair caught in the drain and dissolved away as well.

I turned off the tap and sat back against the tub. The apartment was dark and empty and smelled of cold air, coming rain.

Sometimes I still find a short brunette hair around the apartment and it always stops me. I can’t help it—I always have to put it in my mouth and swallow it. It all has to go back where it came from. Every last bit.

Noir Fest and Dinner: Out of the Past (November 1947)

October 3rd, 2014

This week’s movie is Out of the Past. The female lead, Jane Greer, was unfamiliar to me. She has one of those faces that are so, so lovely and perfect that if you’re me you forget them instantly. I much prefer someone slightly unusual looking, like Barbara Stanwyck.

I looked Greer up, and bango bingo, there she was in Twin Peaks. I didn’t think she was great in Out of the Past, but I think she was perfectly matched as Norma Jennings’ mother: wide-eyed, glib, and with slight undertones of psychosis underneath, like Norma and Annie. That’s just my reading though.

Kirk Douglas and his many clefts and dimples smarmed his way through each scene. But, sadly, not chewing quite as much scenery as he did in Lust for Life, which has to be one of my top ten movies. In addition to the extremely photogenic cast, it was also shot well and just interesting to look at.


UK title, after the original novel

Look at the cartoon of Mitchum! He looks like a Looney Tunes gangster.

Foodwise, this is a fun week. I got my mitts on the actual real-deal Gourmet Magazine, fully bound and gathering dust downtown. I was giddy, or perhaps it was the offgassing of decaying old journal pages.

This is the Thanksgiving issue for 1947, and it contains recipes for turkey, stuffing, holiday snacks, and side dishes as you might expect. The template was already in place for modern holiday magazines.


Doesn’t that turkey look..uh…look at the time!

I love this cover artist. It’s hard to tell in my terrible reproduction, but he had a real way with crystal objects, which show up on his covers repeatedly: goblets, flagons, decanters. Also notice how the salt cellar lurches towards us to show us its innards while the (sweating?) turkey is shown almost from the side. I have always maintained that perspective is for jerks. Also that crystal “bone” propping up the knife? WHAT IS THAT CALLED? HOW QUICKLY CAN I GET ONE???

I should confess I am not at all familiar with Gourmet Magazine as an entity. I never subscribed or picked it up. I am very aware of Gourmet‘s last editor, Ruth Reichl, and have read some of her memoirs. I understand that this was a big deal, important magazine. Since I started cooking in the 1990s, however, what caught my eye was impossible looking things on the cover of Martha Stewart Living, so that was my manual of choice.

I’m a little surprised I never jumped into it, actually. When I was a kid I used to collect old magazines that I would find at flea markets, like Life. I always thought I would make Important Feminist Collages with them, or at least frame some of the ads, but I could never bear to cut them up. I put them on my coffee table, as if it was June 12, 1961 at my house or something.

With that preamble out of the way, I should jump in to the amazing year 1947, a year before Ruth Reichl was born. The ad sections were full of gift ideas, including regional specialties from all around the country, such as Grade A syrup for Vermont, and nuts from California.


God it’s so true

There was also the theme of what I think of as the “angry wife” running through this issue. I’ve only reproduced one cartoon that shows it, but there were multiple cartoons featuring angry women and their hapless spouses.


Here’s your fucking toast asshole

I mentioned this to my majordomo of cocktails, John Smythe, and he expressed surprise that this was present.

“I would think the audience for a cooking magazine in the 1940s would be women,” he said. “It seems weird to have a bunch of sexist comics throughout it.”

I would think so too, but after looking at several issues, it was so upscale and aimed at food geeks (which were at one time known as “epicures”), who obviously had money to spend. These aren’t articles about how to bang out a meal and get it on the table in less than an hour, how to reduce your grocery budget–in short this is no Good Housekeeping. I didn’t count, but there seemed to be an equal number of men and women contributors via the letters section (“Sugar and Spice”) and in the recipe requests section (“You Asked for It”). The letters often started off with statements such as “My wife/husband and I loved the recipe for fricasseed coswallop and would like to know if we could substitute…,” which leads me to think that being an epicurean was often a hobby that was shared between spouses, much like today.

However, someone would need to fund such a lifestyle that involved the possibility of traveling on your appetite, procuring exotic, expensive ingredients that were often available only via mail order at the time, and I am guessing that someone would probably be a man.


I choose to pretend that this is what hotdogs in a bathtub used to be called. If he dumps you, call me bae

I opined to John Smythe that we also shouldn’t underestimate the role of internalized sexism. I wish I would have said it that elegantly, though. What I said was something like, “You know how shit is all fucked up around women and they think it’s all normal?” There was lots of handwaving too. Quick, someone get me a TED talk.

There were some bright spots, though. I have no beef with this. I love to see some ladies getting their gimlets on. Fallen arches, AMIRITE, ladies?

The standout in this issue for me was a folksy article by a Colonel S.P. Meek (“Aided and Abetted by Edna Noble Meek”) on what amounted to a recipe for barbecue and another for roasted duck, which included a lot of chuckle-ly anecdotes and asides from his wife, including one about intimidating the barbecue recipe out of an African American cook, whose dialogue is written in what is supposed to be Mississipi dialect.

The article is called “I Like Good Food” because apparently the editor was struggling for a unifying theme in this grab bag of wtf, and possibly because, “I Am an Entitled Old Cracker” was taken up in the previous month’s issue.

The Colonel, who is no Calvin Trillin, speaks:

The barbecue is to Southern California what the fried clam is to New England, the tamale to Texas, and the hot dog to Coney Island. I wondered at the alleged superfluity of good barbecue cooks, and in the interests of gastronomy I made of martyr of my stomach and stopped at sixty-five barbecue stands in the course of twenty miles of driving and sampled the product. Some were bad and some were worse, but patience was finally rewarded. At a little place near Montecito, I found food that started the tears of recollection flowing and I sought the cook that I might weep on his neck.

[Spoiler alert: Colonel Meek did kind of the opposite of neck-weeping next.]

“Git away from me, white man,” said the Ethiopian brother when I attempted to carry out my program of rejoicing. [Good instincts.] “Ah ain’t done nothing the sheriff wants me fur.”

“Son of Ham,” I demanded. “Ah you from Miss’sippi?”

He recognized the accent.

“Boss, Ah is. Cap’n, howdy suh. Admur’l, ohduhs from yo’all is ohduhs. Guv’ner, what does yo’all want?”

“Boy,” I said solemnly, “I’m the Representative of the United Amalgamated Pure Food and Correct Cooking League of the World and Adjacent Universes. In fact, I’m the Lord High Grand Exalted and Otherwise Prominent Gazinkus for Southern California. My orders are that you tell me how to cook that barbecue.”

“Bobbycue, Gin’ral? Yessuh, Senatuh, Ah’ll shuah tell y’all.”

We have it all, really. A (God I hope) fictionalized African American man who addresses the Colonel by a thesaurus’s worth of honorifics, is afraid the authorities want him, and can be hornswoggled by a high falutin’ made up title. Not to mention the illustration.

At this point I am thinking, in between bouts of nausea, “GOURMET. Pull the other one, it has bells on.” Looks like SP Meek was a real dude though, a hack writer who obtained a degree in Mississippi but didn’t really grow up there.

There was also a Turkish recipe–obtained from a real Turk! Just like the real barbecue when he happened to find a Southern transplant barbecue cook in Southern California. Despite all of this busted-ass, Walter Mitty-esque creative license, I found his recipe for wild duck a la Bordeaux interesting (obtained from a gen-yoo-ine Frenchman!) and I settled on that as my entree for this week.

MENU

Dinner:
Wild Duck a la Bordeaux
Cauliflower Gourmet
Sweet Potato Balls

Dessert:
Spiced Nuts

Cocktail:
Blood ‘n Sand

RECIPES

Dinner was kind of a mixed success, as usual, when I am at the helm. I have never met a recipe I won’t run off the road.

I buy my ducks at a dodgy Asian market near me. Not all Asian markets are dodgy, especially in Seattle, but this one assuredly is. It’s funny, because a million years ago when I first moved here, it was the nicest, hoity-toitiest supermarket in the city. This is well before the rise of Whole Paycheck. I look at the scuffed and cracked tiles on the floor, stained with streaks of something being dragged across them, and I think about how I used to buy fancy candy to sneak into a movie here. Or wine. And now, head-on duck.


A terrible vanitas to non-delight you

[Smaller child, walking past disembodied duck head on counter: "IS THAT A DUCK HEAD THAT IS SO COOL."

Larger child, returning from school and walking past disembodied duck head on counter: "IS THAT A DUCK HEAD EWWWW."]

I also picked up a couple of frozen rabbits for next week’s dinner. I couldn’t find them right away because the freezer they used to be kept in was broken and walled off with a display of Mexican cookies (more red flags for this market really). I waited at the meat counter and was behind a guy who was impatiently yelling about the fact that he was in a hurry as the meat cutters intermittently popped in and out of the back room.

Finally it was my turn, and the impatient guy was having some huge slab of halal meat cut down.

“Do you still have rabbit?” I asked a meat cutter.

“No, but we have dog. HA HA HA.”

Me: :|

Impatient Guy followed us over to the rabbits’ new home (in a fish case, why did I not figure that out myself) and said, “Rabbit! What do you do with that? Barbecue?”

“You can poach it in wine, broth, and herbs. It’s very tender with a delicate flavor.” He looked a little surprised to hear this answer come out of a disheveled woman with out of control hair that looked like fuzz on a traumatized coconut, a hoodie, and pants with paint stains, I think. Maybe he expected me to say “YEEHAW I AM BBQ’in WITH MY HUSBROTHER.” My point is that I did look like white trash yesterday (if the Ugg fits).


DOCTOR IT HURTS WHEN I DO THIS

Since it wasn’t a wild duck and was super fatty, I decided I didn’t need to cover the duck as the recipe called for. We’ve been having issues with grease smoke in the house from roasting birds, so I made a little foil drip catcher that would let grease go in but not back up. This meant basting was out, so I soaked the dook in the spiced wine for about 45 minutes before it went in the oven. I funneled the spiced wine back into the bottle and poured it over the duck every so often while cooking in lieu of a baste.

I did more of a chicken roast with it (higher heat than called for). It was nice, but I wish I would have cooked it even higher so the fat would have rendered better. But it was a lovely rosy color, and I hear you lose some of that when you cook it high.

I got a little flame effect while serving, and I regret adding the lime juice to the brandy before pouring. Oh well! I am looking forward to using the ducky leftovers. I am thinking soup with duck egg and buckwheat noodles.

The sides were actually my favorite, particularly the Cauliflower Gourmet.


And it gave me an excuse to buy tarragon vinegar. YESSS


HEY MY EYES ARE UP HERE WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM

I went to talk to P. like this and casually asked him a question, which he halfway answered before triple taking on my lumpy jugs. Twas awesome.

Once removed from shirt, soaked in a solution of vinegar and saltwater, and cooked, cauliflower gourmet called for a bagna cauda sauce to be poured over the whole boiled heads. I have never served cauliflower whole, but it wasn’t as unwieldy as I thought it might be, and “made a nice presentation” as Beeton would say.

The sweet potato balls were unremarkable, and reminded me a lot of Victorian potato rissoles. I didn’t want to get gluten-free bread crumbs, or make them, so I minced cashews and tossed in some coconut flour. I took this inspiration from a former-favorite of mine, peanut-crusted chicken.

Drab to look at, but it worked somewhat well. The drawback was that the cashew bits didn’t cling as I thought they would, since I did not use an egg dip as for rissoles. The balls had less of a structure than they should have, but were also less heavy and gluey as the rissoles always were. The coconut flour browned nicely, though. I would do this coating again with an egg dip.

I finished them off in the oven because I knew the sweet potato had gotten so cool that the frying wouldn’t totally warm them through. Instead of butter and cream, I used about 1/2 cup of my own kefir. Why not go with lower lactose, I figure.


Pan fried and ready to go in the oven.


After they came out, they were quite soft. But good!

The dessert was my favorite kind, which is to say, premade. In all my days of candying things, I have not seen a recipe that called for dipping the nuts into the egg whites in a strainer. How did I miss this small piece of cooking brilliance?

Scooping the nuts out of the sugar was a different story. All of a sudden I was like, ARGH, catboxy!

Another outstanding thing about the spiced nuts was the fact that they contained SO. MUCH. CLOVE. I am a HUGE fan of clove. When I was a kid I ate clove candy and gum, and graduated to clove cigarettes (sigh) and I will often just chew on a bud if I’m hanging around the house. The recipe calls for many other baking spices, but it is a TABLESPOON of clove to 2 cups of sugar. Holy shit! If you bake, you know that most recipes call for a much more moderate quarter teaspoon or so. It is a background flavor that adds all that “mmm mmm there is a cozy food blanket in my mouth and now I have something to live for this winter and it is apple tart.” These nuts were more like KICK YOU IN THE FACE gingerbread.

I am told that clove was often used as a numbing agent in dentistry in the mid-century and for that reason many older people hate it. So this recipe surprises me a little. A+, will totes make again. I had so much extra sugar and egg wash that I made almost an extra cup of walnuts, because I knew I would not save the mixture. Oh, I also consulted with my My First Cookbook and did them on 300F for 40 minutes instead of 250F for 2.5 hours because that seemed a bit overkill.

I didn’t get a final picture and then I sent the leftovers home with my sister for her boyfriend, but trust that they looked less catboxy when they came out. I spent some time keeping them broken up as they cooled because I WAI crowded the cookie sheet and they wanted to cleave together.

So, the cocktail. I almost arm-pumped when I found this letter. I LOVE THIS DRINK. Thank you, Gourmet Chaos gods.

TOO BAD IT WAS KIND OF TERRIBLE. I really think it was our fault since we went with Luxardo, which was the cherry liqueur we had on hand. P’s feeling was that we should have something like Cherry Heering, so it wasn’t just predominantly ORANGE and SCOTCH and SWEET. Looks like others agree. I was interested to see, also at this link, that the drink was created for the premier of the movie, Blood and Sand [1922]. The name makes more sense now, but also the fact that it’s hung on. Cocktail people love silly names like “corpse reviver.”

Blood and sands are scotch, orange juice, cherry brandy, and sweet vermouth. I love all of those things (with perhaps the exception of sweet vermouth, yuckth). It was not undrinkable, but I wouldn’t want one like that again. We switched to wine pretty quickly.

Thank you 1947! It was fun to visit you!

Advice Wednesdays: Dear Abby, May 15, 1991

October 1st, 2014

DEAR ABBY: I am a 28-year-old, reasonably attractive woman. I dress stylishly and wear subtle makeup. I am very nearsighted and wear glasses because I can’t tolerate hard or soft contact lenses. (Believe me, I have tried.)

Abby, it infuriates me when men (whether they are dates or not), casual acquaintances or co-workers think I should feel complimented when they say, “You’d be much prettier without your glasses.”

I am sometimes tempted to say, “And you’d be even more handsome with a little more hair on your head — or less padding around your middle.” Or, “You’d be a much nicer person if you had better manners!”

Abby, please tell these oafs to look in a mirror before they start giving women fashion advice. Thanks. — FOUR EYES AND WELL-ADJUSTED

First of all, it’s “ouves,” not oafs, derived from the Basque. Did you go to an accredited college? Did you check that it was or just assume? I don’t mean to be harsh, but maybe the glasses are only part of the issue. I think the issue that’s deeper here might be one of credibility. You say that you “dress stylishly” and are “reasonably attractive,” but then you use words like “oafs” and are not stranger to “using scare quotes incorrectly.“ The good news is LASIK is about to become available next year. The bad news is that it’s hard to get out of the habit of sounding like a school marm.

Let me put this another way: when I was ten I used to roam through a forest preserve that abutted my parents’ property. A couple of rivers ran through it, with wide pedestrian bridges spanning the river. In the beginning I spent time on the bridge in the sunshine, amusing myself by dropping pebbles in the river’s leisurely current and playing Pooh sticks.

However, and this is important, I spent so much time by myself that gradually my appearance became quite frightening. My clothes were unkempt and my hair had not seen a comb in so many months it was beginning to clump and seize. You know the old saw: one man’s dreadlock is another man’s shitwig. I was in bad stead, sister. One day I peered over the edge of the bridge and I saw a reflection I did not recognize. However, my unfamiliar visage did reflect the drawing on the wanted poster at the Ranger Station.

I went underground after that. I had one connection to the outside world and it was the jogger who left me store brand No-Doz. We all know the song: WHEN YOU SLEEP IS WHEN THE GRIM-GRAW COMES, OUT OF HIS CAVE, NO TIME TO RUN. I would wait until he had trotted onward and then I would retrieve my prize under a rock next to the tree that was nearest to the bridge: Leafy. Sometimes there was a brief note from him about price increases as well.

Another unfortunate side effect to what I affectionately call my “Walden years” was that I lost all track of time. The leaves had just begun to turn, so I assume it was fall. I was able to play Pooh sticks now with my friend Leafy, who was throwing his head-salad into the water. I went under the bridge to cheer him on as he ambitiously launched four leaves into the river all at once when I saw it: the body.

The raccoon was puffed up like a stripy watermelon, and the air was thick with flies, all gathered for one last hoedown ere winter’s icy claw returned to scrape at our coin slots once again. I readied myself with a stick in case it was in league with the Grim-Graw and would flip over and begin scuttling towards me, ready to suck out the sweet nectar of my skull through one of my eye sockets.

I approached the raccoon’s bloated carcass slowly, stopping every couple of feet to listen, stick at the ready in front of me. I could only hear the trickling sound of the river as it licked the pebbles on its bank, the only motion near me besides the flies was Leafy and other trees blowing their autumnal loads into the water.

Carefully I prodded the raccoon’s body, knowing that if had ingested a pixie shortly before death, its belly would be full of gold. How many bottles of No-Doz then? I cackled to myself. No more smashing the Friends of the Forest box that was chained at the southern trailhead with a rock until it barfed up its cache of tatty singles and pennies.

One more touch and BOOM. The raccoon absolutely exploded like a piñata of decay (whoops, did I just name your death metal band?). My face, which was none too clean after I coated it in river mud a few days before to keep the chiggers off, got even more coated. I barely noticed the feel the gore over the smell, like the smell of a Dumpster, expired chicken, and the corner in my parents’ den that was referred to as the “diaper pile.”

I’m sure you understand what point I’m making by now, so let’s move on. I’m going to guess the real issue is that you look like this:

Do you look like this? IS THIS YOU? That is the only reason I can think of for all the scare quotes in your letter. Those people don’t really want you to take your glasses off. They just think they want that. The glasses are your trademark. What would you look like without your glasses? Like no one, unrecognizable. Or like someone people might actually want to have sex with.

I’m like you in a lot of ways: I realized people wanted to have sex with me until I took my clothes off. Now I start naked, which avoids rejection, and people pay me to put my clothes back on. You see how that works?

“How quickly would I die If I jumped from the top of the parachutes?”

September 29th, 2014

A quick note to say I have a page up now with movies and recipes for my mini-noir fest. I will expand on it this week until it’s done, but this week’s is up. I will link this in my sidebar for easy access as well.

It was, I have to say, a pretty good weekend for me. I managed to get downtown and go spelunking through old copies of Gourmet as planned, as well as pick up an old cookbook (Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book, 1898), which includes regional American food such as Hawaiian, Creole, and Mexican. There is a recipe for alligator pear! I had to look that one up (avocado). I also got some new cookbooks, such as Simply Gluten Free Desserts, which looks like one of the best ones I have found, and is a relief with all the October birthdays coming up. It’s kind of like a Moosewood dessert book in its scope and range.

A bit of a mixed bag for the girls, since they are having ongoing digestive problems and Franny is having weird muscle spasms. I am encouraging them to stick with their diet while I am trying to get to the bottom of what is setting them off.

I got a call from Franny’s doctor this morning, who said her “thyroid looked good” with no real explanation of what that meant and I didn’t bother. She tested negative for “everything” so that is that with that doctor I suppose. I don’t believe I can work with her to get to the bottom of this. I feel like I am in reverse Back to the Future where I am playing my guitar at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance but instead of me and my siblings disappearing, I see years of misery in a futuristic photo of my children stuck in my guitar neck! I HAVE TO HURRY. TORTURED METAPHOR. Ummm…line please! Hello?


Day 38: the humans still won’t let me in.

I took Franny to a homecoming football game so she could watch her BFF who goes to a “normal” high school cheer. Afterwards we were to bring her home so she could spend the night. Franny and Strudel spent a lot of time going up and down the stands and I sat with my tablet, reading in the visitor’s section since the home section was packed. The visiting team was from one of the islands and was very, very white. Every cheerleader was wearing a Northface jacket, I kid you not.

On the way home the BFF lamented the fact that all of their middle school cohorts no longer seem to talk or hang out. I feel kind of bad because she is a lovely, funny girl and she is quite lonely right now as the only freshman on the cheer squad. Most of her time is spent cheering so she doesn’t have much of a social life. I know things will change for her, but I remember the suckiness of being new. Franny already has a handful of friends at her new school, which is completely unsurprising.

I fed them fancy brunch the next morning with sweet potato fries, bacon, a scramble, fruit, and various pickles and hot sauces. I seem to have attracted some stray cats in the form of some neighborhood foster kids who tell Strudel they sometimes get cut out of meals at home, and one of them who was over was VERY eager to join our brunch. They are quite skinny. I know that’s not always an indicator that one is underfed, but the way they hoover up all my snacks I tend to believe it. Underfed foster children! :((( There is so much banal heartbreak in this world. I want to adopt all the strays.

The girls went off to a neighborhood fair with rides on Sunday so I am assured that they have caught up and rebonded. I was afraid Franny would lose touch with her busy BFF but they still seem tight. “My mom says she will work to make sure we see each other,” I overheard Franny say. Hee.

It’s fun to see exactly how embarrassing I am when Franny has friends over. I was in the middle of writing and said something about “fashioning a cover” for my oil rain lamp since I don’t turn it on in the summer. Was that a smurfy thing to say? Yes, it was. It just slipped out.

“Fashioning! Oh MOTHER you talk so funny!” Franny said. To be fair she says this even when friends aren’t over. But I do feel her distancing herself from me when we have guests. I think it’s normal.