Noir Fest and Dinner: Quicksand (March 1950)

November 4th, 2014

Welcome to 1950! Get comfy, we are spending three more weeks here. I made this dinner on October 30th, but then shit got crazy with me quitting my job and P. turning 40 last weekend. Whew!


Once you pop, you can’t stop

So: I chose this film because I absolutely could not find the intended film for this night, Shakedown (1950) anywhere, either locally or online. I emailed Tony D’Ambra, briefly explained what I was doing, and asked him if he could recommend a comparable film from 1950. He kindly and swiftly replied with a whole list, from which I chose Quicksand. HE IS A CHAMP AND MY IDOL.

I got EVEN MORE THRILLED when I discovered that Quicksand stars Mickey Rooney! And Peter Lorre! Jackpot! This could make up for the last couple of weeks. I had heard that Mickey Rooney had a career slump during/after WWII, but I didn’t know he revived his career with a stint in noir. Whatever pays the bills, eh? I think today Mickey Rooney would be a Steve Buscemi type–the unattractive, sad sack underdog.

The plot is pretty linear, no flashbacks, but compelling. Remember that asshole who traded a paperclip for a house? This is like that, except it starts with Rooney nicking $20 from his boss’s till and ends with COLD-BLOODED MURDER. There’s voiceover narration, which always thrills me, and one really dumb loyal dame (today we would call her a codependent enabler), and a mercenary one (played by Jeanne Cagney). I think we were supposed to be unsympathetic to her character, but she was the only one making sense to me. I liked that there was a scene with him walking down the beach with Cagney and he was on the higher part of the shore! He still looked shorter than her.


Perhaps my career is under this shell

I would recommend this film, which is the first more obscure one I would recommend (Maltese Falcon is a no-brainer). But it’s outside of the official film festival. Whoops! Oh well.


The liquor tag reads “eau de vie de frambroise.” I am jealous. My liquor tags just say things like “scotch.”

Since we have jumped into both a new decade and spring, there is an article on pineapples. I am very familiar with pineapples since Strudel’s birthday is in March, and we eat them a lot then, as well as having pineapple upside down cake.

It’s a lovely motif from a badass graphic arts perspective, but then we have unidentifiable (at least to me) topless natives. Who bring the readers pineapple? I don’t know. Awkward.


Bitches be drivin, AMIRITE? “This is food-related sexism, let’s run it.”


Oh well if a dentist said it

There was another article, and I am kicking myself for only capturing half the name in my photocopy. I was fascinated by it, because it was written by an American woman with an Asian-sounding last name, Ruth Tao Kim Hai. I could find very little about her online anywhere, except on Gourmet.com. She was married to a Vietnamese man (named Andre M. Tao Kim Hai, who became a French citizen). It seems that she chronicled a couple of months of their travels through Siam.

I was kind of tickled by the article because she discusses what are today commonly known Thai dishes that must have seemed extremely exotic to the readership then. She opens with this:

Chinese food is to the Orient what French food is to America. If you have a visiting fireman on your hands, where do you take him to dinner? To a French restaurant of course. And when it was our turn to be visiting firemen all the way from Bangkok to Honolulu, we were invariably taken to Chinese restaurants. Not that I have anything against Chinese restaurants…but Hai and I wanted to find out what people in the Orient ate when they weren’t having shark’s-fin soup and and the crackling brown skin of roast duck.

Good for you, Ruth. She talks about squid as an apparent substitute for chewing gum, mee kroab, kung tom yum (“It was a soup of prawns boiled with ginger and red peppers, so hot as to make you forget the taste and even the existence of anything you had ever eaten. It took several cups of tea and a slice of cold astringent papaya to revive me.”).

Alas, there are no recipes, because many of the ingredients, like cellophane noodles, were completely unobtainable. Imagine that!

…Mee kroab, which I met that evening for the first time and will remember with fond recollections until we meet again. Unhappily, we aren’t apt to meet again until I can get back to Bangkok because the chief ingredient of mee kroab is not to be had on this side of the Pacific. It is made of tiny noodles the caliber of vermicelli and the length of young fishing worms, lightly fried and and lightly sprinkled with…other spices I couldn’t identify….life isn’t the same without it.

There was nothing about the couple on Wikipedia that I could find. There is a mention from a blogger and artist who knew them personally. They seem to have gone poof into history.

MENU

I think I got so distracted by all the exotica going on in this issue, I did not actually choose a hearty main showcasing a big hunk of meat per usual. Between a rice casserole and a fish salad we are covered, however.

Dinner:
Rice a la Grecque
Crab Louis
Oignions a la Monegasque

Dessert:
Pineapple Melba

Cocktail:
Bacardi Cocktail

Again, no cocktail recipe, so I relied on an ad again. I know I could always choose a wine, since there are always wine articles, but I rarely have cocktails and they seem so quintessentially midcentury to me.

This drink was nice! Kind of a sweeter daiquiri. My sister, ever the discerning cocktail critic in contrast to me, the Human Spittoon, liked it.

As I mentioned, dinner was kind of all over the place, which is how I like it sometimes. When I was a youth I used to go to the 24-hour fancy bar and grill and order waffles and cioppino at 2 a.m. This is kind of that dinner.

The rice, “rice a la Greque” was a throw-it-in-a-pot-and-bake-it affair, no risotto-esque babysitting. I liked this in spite of the fact that some stuck to the bottom. It was like the baby of a Greek omelette and a paella. I have all these lovely recipes that call for fresh sausage, which I tried to buy the “house made” from my local store, but their ingredients list was smeared beyond recognition, so I had to go for some precooked safe sausage like with the cassoulet. Tres bummer. But it was tasty! The recipe called for frying up some raisins in butter (awesome, I used oil) and tossing in some peas and sweet peppers at the last minute.

The onion dish called for a pound of the smallest onions possible, which I interpreted to mean pearl onions, which you can find in any grocery store, even the hateful ones. Strudel wanted to help me, bless her evil heart, so we sat and peeled 18 ounces of onions, which was about the visual equivalent of somewhere between your average cantaloupe and a soccer ball. We cried. We swore. Then I remembered the garlic hack and I tried that. It did not peel the onions, but it softened them up and made it really easy to peel the last layer, speeding up the process greatly.

Then you cook the onions for about an hour (90 minutes seemed too long) in a mix of vinegar and water. My kitchen was filled with Victorian smells and I was afraid it would be overpowering, but the final product, after being chilled in the fridge, is really an amazing side dish. I would serve this year-round. I am not the biggest onion fan. I like them a lot and I put them in almost everything, but I don’t really think about serving them on their own, but this is GREAT: sweet, tangy, sour, really balanced. This may be making a comeback for Fangsgiving. Partly to have something tasty but also something that does not take up a burner! The name–Monegasque–refers to Monaco.

Then, the centerpiece for my family, which are like 70% crabpigs. (Except for P. I panfried some sea scallops for him to have on the side and he was happy.)

Crab Louis!

I liked how simple this recipe was. It called for leafs, crab, eggs, chive. I think that’s about it. Also, Russian dressing, which is a matter of great debate on the internet. Some people say it involves beets and caviar, others say it is an earlier take on Thousand Island. I did a chili sauce/mayo/dill pickle variation, and I did not make it sweet in any way. It went down well and we’ve been eating the leftovers all week. I wish I would have had time to hunt down a Russian dressing recipe from this era in Gourmet. Searches for Russian dressing from 1950s publications were not super helpful either. Still, the one I made went pretty well.


Dressing pictured on the right

Finally, dessert. HOLY SHIT this was fun.

I made a pineapple melba, which called for gutting pineapples and making ice cream out of the flesh. Again, I love the notion that you can just go fuck off and fetch up your own pineapple ice cream recipe or that you already know one. What kind of 50’s housewife are you, anyhow?? I did a very modern thing and bought a couple of pints of Coconut Dream’s Pineapple-Coconut flavor. I figured the tropicalness of it all would work in a pineapple. I saved the flesh for a couple of days of crazy sweet fruit with our breakfasts. YUM.

I have one nit to pick with this recipe. To make good ice cream, you need quite a few hours, ideally twenty-four, between letting the custard chill and then letting the final ice cream freeze up. This calls for gutting the pineapples and then, I guess, letting the shells sit around. Pineapples have a very short window of deliciousness and prettiness, so I think my way was actually better in this case. No one wants to buy two times the needed amount of pineapples, and no one wants to look at brown tops either.

The melba sauce was a hit too and inspired some undignified bowl licking in the end.

Because I am pretty overwhelmed (but happy) with starting a new job this week, I am going to push my next festival date to this Saturday. Then I can cook all damn afternoon if I like! To quote my favorite podcaster, JOIN US, WON’T YOU?

Diane I am holding in my hand a giant pillowcase full of candy

October 31st, 2014


She was so happy.


Solving crimes with her best friend Mario?

The big one is off with her dad and I am told I will see pics on Monday!!

Halloween Pre-vue

October 30th, 2014

SO. My power flickered Monday with all this wind we’re having and my connection has been super flaky since then. I realized the flaw in my plans yesterday when I was trying to write and I was getting kicked on and off the internet, and I realized I don’t have offline word processing software anymore. I started a story about a man stuck on some crappy planet like Tatooine where people ride giant birds around and kept getting kicked out and my Pandora station that has me Pavlov’d into Get Ur Writing On was cutting in and out. Probably for the best, though, really.

Last night we carved pumpkins. We took two years off! Last year we all forgot and then all of the sudden it was Halloween. I think all four of us have been slowly grinding to a halt for a while now. Now we can actually do things like run errands in the evening and stay awake until 10! I even made savory (truffle salt, black pepper, garlic) and sweet (pumpkin pie spices) pumpkin seeds! Craziness!

Franny shaved her pumpkin down to do some kind of moon/silhouette thing and then it kind of collapsed. She got really frustrated and I felt bad for her. She turned it around and made a lightning bolt, which she was not thrilled with. But I like it.

P. made a crazy face with pointy goblin ears.

Strudel made a kitty. She informed us that other parents carve pumpkins for their kids and it’s boring. I am sure that other kids are allowed to carve. Maybe not at six though.

“Remember that year I cut myself?” she asked.

“Which one?” we said.

I made a spaniel face.

Frannie is doing kind of an On the Waterfront hipster thing lately, which I am loving.

Of course she is wearing her lipstick she made out of crayons.

Recently I dropped some shredded oxtail down the slot between my oven and counter. Edith discovered this, which saved me the trouble of fishing it out. Now she thinks that this slot is a magical meat dispensing vending machine, and often hangs out here when I am cooking dinner. She’s what’s known as “food motivated.”

Here is a little Strudel Halloween preview. Here we are at Men’s Wearhouse, trying on her rented suit.

“She looks just like Ramona Quimby!” the clerk said.

Yes she does. Heh.

And sometimes, disturbingly, like Michael Cera.

This is the last day of my job I’ve had for 3+ years. It was a hard run. For the first part I was in court and then for the second half I was really ill, and then finally part time this summer. I sort of feel like I was docked in a little hospital for the time I’d been with the company, since it was not fast-paced or really challenging like I am used to in the tech world. It’s not a slam–it was just very different culturally than other corporate environments I’d been in. I thought it would be a nice contrast to my free time, which involved being locked into a custody battle.

I think about how the last few years have gone–starting with the IUD (some people think hormonal birth control depletes magnesium and other vitamins. This is interesting to me because I had signs of mag deficiency back to 2008 when I had it inserted.), to barely recovering after having it removed to being launched into court and then getting sicker and sicker. On Monday I am moving onto a role that is very different than what I’ve been doing (drawing on my old writing/marketing background) and I am very excited for a new challenge!

Noir Fest and Dinner: Abandoned (October 1949)

October 25th, 2014

When I watch these movies, I think to myself, how would I describe them to an alien? How do I actually feel about them? Is this good “for a noir,” or is it actually good on its own merits? Abandoned is another movie that may have lost its original meaning and significance. Like He Walked by Night this is also a “ripped from the headlines” thriller, except there’s a crime ring instead of a lone killer, and the ring is selling dem babies to unscrupulous couples longing for children. It was not very thrilling or sensational, of course. Perhaps this was very thrilling and sensational in 1949?

Since I am completely disinterested in anything resembling real deal film criticism, I will just say I think my favorite scene was when the police set up a sting to catch the baby-peddlers, and they planted a pregnant woman at the whelping house. A couple came in and asked to “see” the mother. Ultimately they spoke with her too, but I totally thought about the process of acquiring Edith and buying something like a pet. Edith’s mother was lovely, like Lady and the Tramp lovely (and we saw how that turned out, cowlick, freckles, less Lady and more Elly May Clampett). Point being I thought this couple in the movie was about to check her teeth.

There was also a bell I couldn’t unring after a certain point, when I noticed that almost every single line of dialogue was rapid-fire zingers, and not very good ones, at that. From a character’s voice perspective, there were three types of characters in this movie: wise guys, bad guys, and innocent dames. Heaven help us when two wise guys get together on the screen, because then you get snappy fatigue.

Barkeep: I haven’t seen you around much, Mark.
Sitko: I’ve been patronizing the bars with the uncut whiskey.
Barkeep: Are they still operating? I’ll have to take it up with my union.
Sitko: Anyhow, I got a problem.
Barkeep: (looking at Sitko’s female companion) I should be so lucky as to have your problem.
Sitko: I got a friend–
Barkeep: Coulda fooled me.

THAT’S ENOUGH, you two. Irwin Geilgud, tsk. (Though I am intrigued by his title I Was a Shoplifter. Weren’t we all, though.) Geilgud died young too, 42. I can’t find any information on him through a quick search. I always wonder about these Hollywood not-even-footnotes.

Thank god Raymond Burr is so enormous, though, or you would mix him up with the other guy (Sitko) who is trying to white knight the dame in question. I made the mistake of sharing the observation about the dialogue out loud, and then my sister and P. couldn’t unhear it either.

Okay, forget this mess. Let’s talk about the success of the evening: the food!

We remain in the same decade, but we climb out of November release dates back into October, which is more my speed. What terrors lie within? The cover is promising. Yes, I want to get down on whatever is in that pot while gazing out at a storybook castle. Window sill carrots you say? JOLLY GOOD. Oh! It’s cassoulet!

Hooray, there is an article on apples!

And an extensive one on cassoulet, as the cover promised! So many cassoulets it was hard to choose. This may turn out be my favorite week of the festival. It’s the halfway point already, whoa. Eight films goes a lot more quickly than a whole year of Victorian cooking, that’s for sure.

There was also an excerpt of An Alphabet for Gourmets by MFK Fisher. People like to chickity check my cooking cred by ascertaining that I have read all of Fisher, and you know, I haven’t. I am just not that into her, and I don’t remember why exactly. Maybe I will try back in a few years and something will have changed.

HOWEVER.


Dear Sirs, please send a gross of these to my house immediately, find enclosed a bank check for $48 Kind regards

Also I died of jealousy when I saw this ad:

$57.50!!! What a steal. But that’s about $500 in today’s dollars. Seriously, I did not know they were mass-producing duck presses at this late of a date. There will be a duck press at my future inn. OH, you’re too fancy for pressed duck for breakfast?? GO STAY AT THE HOJO DOWN THE STREET.


What the sherbet

MENU

Dinner:
Cassoulet de Castelnaudary
Habichuelas a la Vizcaina (String Beans Biscay)
Whipped Avocado
simple salad (no recipe)

Dessert:
Apples Bourgeoise

Cocktail:
London Fog

Recipes here.

A quick eyeball of the prodigious cassoulet recipe led me to think that it would take about 6-7 hours of cooking and preparation time, which I forgot about when the actual day rolled around. There are dozens of ingredients. Ay carumba! I started cooking at 2:30, and I probably could have pushed it back to 1 or so, seriously.

The first thing I did when my sister walked in was hand her a London Fog. It’s becoming our tradition to have the evening’s signature cocktail first. To be fair, she’s not really a cocktail person (being a Millennial she is like 2% wine, the rest blood and pus or whatever), but I wish I would have snapped the look on her face when she took a sip of Pernod and gin. Poor thing. I drink peaty scotch and apple cider vinegar on purpose and sometimes even Pernod on ice. I like anise-flavored things. But that drink was too much even for me. Sometimes I think people try so hard to make their mark on the cocktail world they do some hateful things.

My girls are used to eating fairly late by American standards (we often eat at 7 or 7:30), and my sister eats later too, but I didn’t want to push things too late since we had a film to watch as well. I did something a little goofy and made two desserts–I thought the whipped avocado might be a terrible flop, so I wanted to have a “real” apple dessert in the wings.

So, my backup plan as the clock was ticking down was to serve the simple green salad with a Dijon vinaigrette (seemed on theme) and the whipped avocado as a first course. I thought that would keep people pretty sated (but not full) through the first half of the movie while the cassoulet finished in the oven.

I decided to mash the avocado with a fork rather than getting out the mixer. It was fine, and no one really noticed the lumps. I did, however, make a change. I could not BEAR to add the 1.5 cups of sugar it called for. For three avocados! I took it down to about a 1/3 of a cup and kept the 4 tablespoons of lime juice. This is a keeper, and so easy.

Let me tell you, this was the shock of the evening! On one hand it’s dumb as fuck to put anything in avocado, which is basically the most perfect food, besides, say, salt and pepper, or dill and hot sauce…yum. But sweetening them absolutely transformed it into something different. My sister was getting honeydew from hers. But with that creamy texture. Pretty amazing!


Yes I served regular avocado in my salad, because I dropped an extra one and the skin cracked. I knew it would go brown. No one complained!

Next to the recipe for Whipped Avocado, I was very happy to find a recipe for forcemeats, which were apparently still a going concern in 1949.

So then we suffered through watched the first half of the movie, and paused when the cassoulet came out and the beans were done. Yes, I served beans on the side of beans. Green beans are more like vegetables though.

I’ll get the green beans out of the way. I didn’t love them. They were basically tomatoes, onions, and beans with sliced eggs on top.

“I can’t put my finger on why I don’t like this,” I said.

“They taste like oven porcupines,” my sister observed.

That was it! I was done after that. Our mother made them once a week for years and they were just so bland and boring. The rice at the bottom of the pan got soggy and the rice at the top of the meatballs stayed (or got?) crunchy. My mother wasn’t seasoning anything to an interesting degree when I was a kid. I don’t think she learned about the virtues of flavorful cooking until I was in my 20s.

Let’s talk about something more pleasant: cassoulet. I thought about modern cassoulets I’d made, which are much more streamlined and require much less cooking time. Was it worth it? I am going to say, yes, absolutely it was. Though this may be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I chose the “Castelnaudary” style Gourmet offered, because I liked the look of the ingredients the best. Interestingly, bickerpredia says that cassoulet from this region does not actually contain lamb. I am not going to split history hairs here. (I may be influenced by the fact that I love lamb so much and think it should be in everything.)

I did a little substituting, as I have been doing for this festival. For my Victorian year I tried to go as authentic as possible, but I am much more relaxed this go round, and am getting really used to doing on the fly substitutions all the time!

I did one-stop shopping at my nice local store instead of hitting a butcher. I bought a chunk of cooked ham instead of getting raw, though now I kind of wish I would have used prosciutto or something in my green beans. The cassoulet called for a garlic sausage and three raw pork sausages, but I couldn’t really trust any of the store-made sausages not to have wheat or accidental cross-contamination, so I bought some fancy pre-cooked ones with a reassuringly uptight allergen listing, but they tasted great after plumping up in the broth. My store told me they could order lamb breast, but that they don’t keep it on hand, so I subbed a shank.

After I amassed my ingredients, arguably the best thing ever happened at my house:


LOOK AT ALL THE MEATS I GIVE

Okay, this is not high art. But can I get a job arranging meat for a living? That is all I want to do all day. A pork fat rose. My heart sang.

This was a meal of taking up most of one’s oven. I had a pot going with the beans, bouquet garni, the salt pork, and the pork fat, and another to braise in some onions and rabbit broth I happened to have laying around *cough humblebrag.*

I roasted the duck legs in the oven. I know confit is incredible, but I couldn’t justify the expense of the the duckfat needed to bury the legs, not to mention the extra time. Roasting went very well, and the legs did not dry out.


And did I save this duck fat? Hells yes I did.

So then in stage two, everything pretty much got to be friends in the big pot, but not you, Monsieur Bouquet Garni! You get out of the pool now. Then there is more and more simmering so the beans can finish cooking and the meat can continue getting tender.

I didn’t wrap up the bouquet garni in cheesecloth like I was supposed to, because I think that step is bullshit. The result, of course, is that there were small amounts of parsley in the finished dish. It was interesting–heavy use of onions and garlic to flavor the meat, broth, and beans, but no onions in the final recipe. I think that is one of the biggest things that sticks in my crawdad about old thymey cooking. Don’t throw those aromatics out! My chickens often get my stock veggies and they love them.

Here they are poking around outside my window as I cook. They get two hours in the yard before dark now that the tomatoes are dead. If they stay out all day, they tend to take up residence on my back porch, leeching off the heat loss from my French doors. And loitering chickens means loitering piles of shit.

Then you pull the meat and make it bite-sized, and it gets layered with the beans in a big pan. I am not a fancy French lady doing things all rural and effortlessly, so I don’t actually own a stoneware casserole dish. I knew this was too much food for my standard 13″x9″ Pyrex casserole, so I busted out my cheap turkey roasting pan that I got from IKEA a few years ago. IKEA is great for things you hardly use and don’t want to drop fat stacks of cash on, isn’t it? I’m relieved I don’t have to rely on IKEA for everything anymore, because that’s when you’re in the middle of a big dinner and your cheap turnip twaddler breaks.

It came out like this:

Not much crust, which is ideal, but plenty of broth at the bottom to keep things loose, like a good risotto. It tasted amazing. Some of the beans broke and I was afraid I had cooked them beyond edibility, but they were really great. This recipe is intense by modern standards, and could have been more so if I’d confit’d the duck. But I think it held up in taste. Everyone loved it.

Dessert number two was nice as well, and much more autumnal. There were a lot of crisp/tart/pie recipes in the apple articles, which makes sense, because apples in a crust are OUTSTANDING. I did manage to find a recipe I could do without wheat: Apples Bourgeoise.

The idea behind the dessert was this: you gently stew some apples in syrup, fill them with candied fruit, spread creme patissiere (pastry cream/custard) over the top of this candied fruit and the apples, and sprinkle something crunchy on top, then you broil the whole mess.

When I got this recipe, I thought I could still eat dairy. NOPE. So dig this: I made the creme patissiere with coconut milk and arrowroot. It was fricking delicious.

The market doesn’t have its holiday candied fruit on sale, and I probably can’t eat it even when they do, so I did a quick candied lemon peel for some zing and threw some chopped dates into the syrup as the peels cooked. Why not?

The topping called for almonds or crushed macaroons, so I used some shredded coconut I had mixed with chopped pecans. Then it went in under the broiler.

FOOMP! That shit was legit on fire when I pulled them out, all six of them. P. came up behind me and blew them out like birthday candles. I scraped off the tops and tried again. They were delicious and only a tiny bit cajun. The cream was not at all gross–it really tasted like a custard.

So other than the green beans (ugh) I found some real keepers this week! We were all happy and enjoying ourselves and having fun with new things, which is one of my goals. Finally, in week four, I have hit my mark.

NOTES

Here is a real review of the film if you care about such things.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt calls cassoulet “Southern French Beenie-Weenies” and he is correct.

Advice Wednesdays: August 11, 2009

October 22nd, 2014

DEAR ABBY: My 18-year-old sister, “Cheryl,” left home abruptly a week ago. She suddenly stopped taking all her medications, shut off her cell phone and left town with her underage boyfriend. She is a delightful person who also happens to be diabetic, asthmatic and bipolar. Mom received one phone call (from a landline) mentioning that she “might” be heading toward the East Coast.

I consider my sister dangerous to herself and others because she has a history of reckless violence when she’s off her meds. My question is, how can you find someone who doesn’t want to be found when they NEED to be found? — HEARTBROKEN SISTER IN INDIANA

You know one of those nights when you stay up too late and everything starts jumping around, just out of your line of sight? This was one of those nights, except, like, it started three nights ago. We hadn’t slept, we had to keep moving.

We were in a small town so far outside of Chicago it was more accurate to say we were in the next state. I say it was small, but it had all the trappings of everywhere else in this country: strip malls, the one megamart that never closes unless there’s a quarantine. We sat in the parking lot of that megamart now, listening to the car’s engine tick and cool.

I was on my fifth burner phone and I was staring at it now, wondering who I could call, and if I should bother. I scratched at my face, knowing I was at that in between place between respectable and complete hobo. I missed four check-ins so I knew I was beyond AWOL. I hoped my last message had gotten in or I knew they’d be hunting for me as well.

I turned to the cause of all of this trouble.

“How’re you holding up?” I asked her. She sighed, fidgeted with her book, dogeared a page. She was always glued to her phone in school and in the hallways, but I had backed over it as we were leaving town. Now I knew that the fact of the matter was she just needed to be glued to something, like she didn’t trust her hands if they were unoccupied. As we drove through the nights, too dark to read, she played with rubber bands, made little origami creatures, and finger knitted string into long, useless braids.

“I’m okay,” she said. Her voice bounced off the windshield and struck my ears, making me jump a little. I realized it had been several hours since we’d spoken. Her dark hair was braided back elaborately, more of her hands’ busywork, the long part held in place by nothing that I could see, but loose bits of her bangs covered most of her eyes.

When she shifted in the passenger seat I caught the coppery, dirty smell of old blood. My father’s truck always smelled a little like it for months after the fall hunts, no matter how much he hosed it out. There’d been no time to bathe after we blew town.

“I thought I’d go in first,” I said, pointing in the direction of the megamart that was beyond my fogged windshield. “Make sure this is the right one.”

“I know this is the right one.”

“Well, let’s just–”

“Wilson.” I knew what she was going to say. “I’d like to come in.”

“It’s too–”

“Wilson.”

“Kat. There are cameras everywhere,” I reminded her.

“I’m untagged. You know I’m untagged.”

“They’re going to look for you harder since they can’t just scan you. Let me go in and check it out first.”

Kat shrugged, turned away. “My hair’s dark, I look like shit, and I’m with a strange scumbag. They won’t look twice.”

I smiled. It was true, as far as anyone knew I was a stranger. We hadn’t talked at all in school, not until that last couple of days before everything went sideways.

“Okay,” I said, while feeling it was the wrong call. I had a nagging feeling she was getting so stir crazy that if I kept telling her no this close to our goal I would come back to the car and find it empty.

The megamart’s doors made their customary hiss and suck to admit us, chattering away all the while.

“HELLO VALUED SHOPPER. DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN NOW USE YOUR BENEFITS FOR MORE ITEMS THAN EVER BEFORE, LIKE VITAMINLIQUOR AND CHICKIENOBS? HELLO PETER FLAXMAN, HELLO VALUED SHOPPER.”

“Flaxman?” she asked me.

“I dunno. My personal address is set to rotate every fifteen minutes or so,” I said, tapping my arm. “Maybe I’ll find out more at checkout.” I was looking forward to collecting my paycheck, leaving her, doing a little shopping, and getting seriously drunk a safe distance from her radius of dysfunction. Maybe a couple towns from here. Then I would sleep it off and check in with HQ to see if I was still employed.

The store, other than its announcements and talking displays everywhere, was fairly quiet. The autochecks stood idle, except for the stand nearest us. It jerked slightly, repeatedly turning what served as its head towards us, big scanners looking us over.

“DO YOU HAVE A RETURN? STORE CREDIT IS NOW UNAVAILABLE FOR MOST ITEMS.”

I ignored it. There were no people in the front of the store, which seemed unusual, but maybe the autocheck manager was doing maintenance nearby.

“Look,” Kat said, pointing at the wall just inside the door. She walked to a screen displaying a loop of a man giving every valued shopper a politician’s smile and a thumbs-up as they entered. Words coalesced over his head: Store Manager, Todd Van Buren.

“I told you this was the right place,” she said.

“I don’t see the resemblance,” I said. Their hair was the same, but at least one of them was faking it. I had covered Kat’s light hair in the bathroom of a gas station a couple of days ago.

“Well, he’s my half brother. And a lot fatter than he was a few years ago,” she said, with amusement. “He looks like his mother.”

I took a look around the store. The ceiling stretched up fifty feet, shelves towering upwards almost as high, with just a little space for the skylights. My arm twitched and I glanced at my screen reflexively; the store’s map had dropped in. It was a typical setup: government services to the right, worker housing near the back behind that, and an unlabeled area near the back where I imagined we’d find Kat’s brother.

I was itching to get moving “Do you want to take the tram back, or–”

“Let’s look around some before we go into the back,” Kat said. I agreed with her–it seemed like a good idea to get the lay of the land before we went into an area requiring higher authorization.

We started in the main area of the store, in Personal Care, avoiding the Villages for now. It was the usual squalor I’d come to expect from a megamart–malfunctioning vending screens with flickering images of giant lipsticked mouths or made up eyes. Other displays were completely shattered, jagged shreds of screen hanging out. Spills on the floor with varying levels of stickiness. One brown puddle looked like it might be cola syrup, but was so sticky it had entrapped the plastic coating of the sole of a large shoe.

“This place has really gone into the shitter,” Kat said.

“Really? This one actually looks pretty average to me.” A broken screen next to me popped and issued a small spray of sparks, making us both jump back. Kat laughed.

“Did you want to pick up some razors?” she asked.

“Yeah, maybe, if we can find them,” I said. We set off walking, passing through several aisles before getting to the shaving department.

“It’s really empty in here,” Kat said, stepping around a floor-cleaning bot that seemed to have somehow avoided the first aisle for a few months.

“I noticed that.”

A whoop-whoop rolled to the end of our aisle and turned its head towards us making its distinct siren sound. It had a stout body like an antique vacuum cleaner and a flashing light on top of its head to alert shoppers to current specials. Some of them issued discount codes or stickers for the kiddies. Others, I knew, were more like store bulls and were armed to protect against vandalism or theft.

“HELLO FLAXMAN, HELLO VALUED SHOPPER. I’D LIKE TO TELL YOU ABOUT SOME OF OUR SALES TODAY” –the whoop-whoop gave a judder here and its voice changed timbe, lowering– “BUT THIS IS A QUARANTINE SITUATION AND WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO ASK YOU TO PROCEED TO THE EXIT AT THIS TIME.

“Oh shit,” I said.

“Don’t worry about this,” Kat said. “My brother doesn’t keep a dangerous store.” She switched to the over-enunciation you use on particularly stupid machines, just in case. “Thank you, bot, list sales.”

“AUTOCHECK IS DEACTIVATED AT THIS TIME WITHOUT THE PROPER OVERRIDE PROTOCOL. WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO ASK YOU TO PROCEED TO THE EXIT AT THIS TIME.”

“Bot, call store manager,” she said, trying a new tack. I heard a noise and looked behind us; a second bot rolled up at the other end of the aisle, and gave the signature “whoop-whoop” of its siren that they were named for.

“PROTOCOL UNAVAILABLE,” the first bot said. “WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO ASK YOU TO PROCEED TO THE EXIT AT THIS TIME.” The clamps it had as quasi-hands that were used to clear the aisle of debris and errant children were clicking at us menacingly.

“Wilson, what should we do?” Kat asked. I stepped between her and the bot so it couldn’t pick up what we were saying.

“You think we can just ignore it?” I asked quietly. “Do you know any other codes?” She shook her head. On our drive she’d told me stories about spending her summers in the store when she was much younger, getting to know her other side of the family. I looked around–there was nothing in the aisle to slow the bots’ progress if and when they decided to move on us.

The first bot gave its siren another couple of blasts, followed by a whooshing noise. I felt a sharp pain in my left buttcheek, and turned in circles trying to remove it. It pinned my coat and my pants to my ass so every move I made wiggled it around a little, making it more painful.

“JESUS FUCK!” I said.

“HELLO VALUED CUSTOMER, PLEASE ENJOY A COMPLIMENTARY FLU SHOT, COURTESY OF TERRITORIAL GOVERNMENT EAST.”

“Oh my god, it darted you!” Kat said.

“Is this thing going to just annoy us until we leave?” I said.

“Probably,” Kat said. She gave me a slow blink then, and I saw one of her blue eyes drift down her cheek and give her chin a little nip. It drifted back up to its proper place on her face like a fish lazily being carried by a river’s current.

“I’ve got a plan,” I said. It took me ages to get it out, and I hoped she understood me. “Follow my lead, tell it we’re leaving.”

“Bot, we are exiting the store, thank you.”

“THANK YOU VALUED CUSTOMER,” it replied.

I dropped to my knees and crawled over the cracked linoleum to the first bot. The specks in the flooring were so beautiful, flicking along like a whole school of small fish. I dove towards them. I was a majestic kestrel. They tasted of dust and bubblebath.

“I’ve got him, Kat. You run!” I wrapped myself around his rollers like a doughnut and hugged it with my whole body.

She followed me over to where I lay, bent down, and pulled the dart out of my ass. “This is your plan? To hug this whoop-whoop to death?”

“It’s foolproof,” I said. So tired. There were spots in front of my eyes, like beautiful drifting snow. They made me sleepier.

“I don’t think that was a flu shot,” Kat said. That was the last thing I heard before everything went black….

Turn to page 98 to dream about spawning herring

Turn to page 164 to have Kat feed Wilson the antidote

Turn to page 31 to change the space-time continuum and turn right at the entrance instead of left

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.