Thursday, November 28, 2002

It's all about food.

It's All About Food
The Longest Entry I'll ever write, with tons of links.

I got a job at Target. If all goes well, I start Monday.

It's Thanksgiving, and I'm in hiding.

I had planned to spend the holiday up in the mountains with Dustin, not because that's really where I wanted to be, but because he asked me to come visit and I judged that town would be the most out of the way I could get. The idea of spending a holiday weekend reading comic books tucked in somewhere warm and unbothered by much appealed to me at first, but the more I thought about the visit the more I realized I might get in the way of other events just under the surface up there in Morristown. It was better that I was left without a ride, with no way up into Appalachia this week.

My two weeks of oddness earlier in the month in Nashville put that town out of the question, not that I wanted to spend the holiday there anyway.

I had thought about going to Augusta to eat with some of my father's family, but I've had little contact with them since I moved back South.

I suppose I could have managed Brunswick if I really wanted too, but my Grandparents aren't very happy with me at the moment. I was the one who got the education, who was supposed to inspire everyone else to go to college. Instead I've moved back home and got a job in retail again - and they're at a loss with me suddenly. I've disproved their dearest-held beliefs about how blue-collar Americans are supposed to get ahead. This makes them rather cross with me.

I've been invited to eat in my aunt and uncle's neighborhood, and the idea is tempting. Instead I'm using them as a front. I've told everyone that's where I'm going, but I have no intention of actually attending. Hopefully everyone will assume I've eaten dinner with someone else, and I'm not going to disabuse them of the notion. I like Thanksgiving, but I just don't feel like the bother this year. I hate lying about where I'm going, but if people found out that I was *gasp* skipping a holiday, they'd freak out. Honestly, it's not depression, just that this feast would seem like an anticlimax after all the other good food I've had this year.

I've had Thanksgiving over and over again this year out of season, meals that make the Turkey and gathering today seem redundant. How could anything I had today compare with other meals I've eaten, the food that's passed over my tongue from friends and family at moments when they couldn't understand how important the meal was to me? No one understands how important the little feasts were to me, because I almost never get around to writing about them. I have a passion for food. Maybe I can explain it better by making a list.

Meals that I was thankful for in the past year:


Aral made Pad Thai for Tasha and I , or maybe it was Gretchen who was with us. Aral's cooking always knocked my socks off, and I probably would have lived my entire life without knowing good Pad Thai without her. She made everything herself but the noodles, and I could smell the cooking through the whole building when I came home in the afternoon. Noodles, bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro, limes. Garlic in there somewhere, with fried tofu and ginger and soy sauce. The tastes so foreign and delicious jumped all over my tongue, made me eat almost more than I could bear, and yet were kinder to the stomach than many things less tasty. I would sit on the uncomfortable chair so that Aral and her guest had the couch, and we'd drink beers and concentrate on the very fine food while the guest talked about whatever. The living room was lavender and blue and teal, and Mr. Puck would hunt our water glasses. It took Aral all day to make her Pad Thai and when I left Boston, I left her my Wok because I couldn't bear to think of trying to cook in it after she had made her Pad Thai with what I now regarded as a holy instrument. Before I left, she taught me how to make fried tofu, but it's not even close to the same.


I had taken that job at Dunkin Donuts on the side - mostly because in addition to cash, the place provided me with a free meal a shift, croissant sandwiches I made myself with double helpings of bacon and ham. But that's not what I really remember February for.
I was dating James, and he took me to China town for my first Dim Sum. The foods were off a cart and at table manners of those around us quite different from anything I'd ever witnessed before. I had a fried scallop something, lighter than anything people from the South could fry, amazing. I was the only white person in the restaurant for a while. Later James took me to a bakery and I had lotus pastry for the first time, and when I asked how they made the filling, James said "They take pollen and do to it what bees do" I almost said "THEY PUKE IT UP!?!", but luckily I realized he meant that they sugar it. Close call, and you'll note that my reaction did not make me stop eating the pastry - lotus has become one of my favorite fillings.


Dustin and I spend one very odd night chasing affordable Middle Eastern cuisine around Boston with our electric-colored hair. We wind up at a place near Simmons, a place I also took Sara when she had been in town a few months before, a place I had eaten with Jennifer, with Ford, with Ryan, years ago. I marvel at how time laps one happening onto another, layering them so with memory quite accidentally as I eat what I always have, pork cured with apple cider vinegar, wrapped in flat bread with vegetables and a sauce. I have to pick out the raw tomatoes. It's called Schwarma, and it reminds me of other things when it's passing through my mouth. The meat is spicy sour chewy delicious. Outside it's cold and Dustin and I walk back through the night and it's odd to have his shape beside me, walking home this way as I always do, but not alone. Later in the trip I'll accidentally rub pepper oil into one of my eyes while trying to make what turns out to be an abysmal chilies rejenos. Well, what else can you expect from March?


Marching in DC, with very little sleep and nothing on my stomach but Luna bars and soda. Later my friends devour my emergency stash of protein I take on trips, eating my tuna and power bars and candy with nuts in it, but I'm so happy to see them I don't care. Sunday morning Kati, Dust, Michael, Will and I are in a car - wait, no that can't be right - how would we have all fit? Anyway, we ended up somewhere out in the Virginia countryside at an Asian bakery that morning. We have doughnuts and cookies of a superior quality, and I get a little bag of sesame seed balls filled with lotus. I give one to Kati and she says "that's altogether unlike anything else I've ever tasted" she likes it. I'm surrounded by friends and the smell of fresh bread. There are hugs and little cookies shaped like men. This is a feast too, just as good as any other. Later that day there's a much more formal Dim Sum in DC than in Boston. Mat, Emily, Devon and Erin are there, and the company is the feast here, much more important than the food. I haven't the heart to tell them about my bakery experience, I randomly still dream of the sesame balls.


Tea with Kati and Michael is better than the food at the Harvard faculty club. I also recall that we went to the Brown Sugar Café, which knocked their socks off.


I eat piles of food at my Grandfather's, but the best of all these things is the fried brim. You put the tail in your mouth to get the bones off, and the meat is so soft and flaky white and everything that is good and fresh and healthy in the world. My Grandmother takes me to Archie's, where I have eaten many times since I was very tiny. Archie's menu says: We are good. We are polite. But we are not fast. Also on this trip, Underdown takes me to Waffle House, and I swipe the menu for Aral, to show her I'm not making up the $0.99 egg sandwiches. Cairy and Michael and Molly with me, out drinking and restaurant hopping.


I eat the fabulous produce my Grandfather gave me, and then I exist on hummus and crackers, emptying my cabinets slowly and methodically. There's tea with Josh, and a walk where we poke at a dead squirrel with a stick. I boil peanuts in ninety-degree heat, and squish their delectable salty-warmness against the roof of my mouth like little pieces of heaven. It makes me feel like I'm eating the food of my childhood so I can crawl back into that skin again. I make one pie after another in my unemployed state, and Aral and I compete with our cooking to heights unimagined by folk with jobs. We get drunk and high on our states of laziness, and no one comes to call.


The world breaks open - and - dinner with Josh, dinner with Jennifer. Aral's unbirthday feast of Indian food with Sarah from Seattle, which gives me a proper goodbye to my favorite restaurant in that town. In Atlanta, a welcome back dinner of shrimp and everything else, perfect, unreachable by other mere things people dare to call "meals". Grilled foods again in my diet, because cooking is too hot to be done inside. Dragon Con stuck on at the end, a haze of alcohol and sweets and friends all around me again, surprised faces and hugs and party, party, party. Goddamn.


Nashville, where my father buys me barbecue, proper barbecue for me means pulled pork on a bun, smokey juicy sweet with cole slaw, bought from a dingy little grocer's deli. Cola, dill pickle flavored potato chips. I teach my sisters how to shop at the health food store, and I realize Sara is following me down this path of food association, eating her pomegranates and humus and odd foods for fun, taking a joy in rolling odd fruits and foreign delights around on her tongue as if they were gold. Well, maybe it’s genetic. Right before I leave there's La Siesta with Cairy.


A meal with Dustin's family where everything seems surreal to me, American cuisine viewed in fractal form from a month spent eating standing up in my parent's kitchen. Back in Georgia, I make too many cakes again, too many pies. This is the Southern response to grief, cooking, and I can't seem to stop myself. There's a real feast again though, at my Aunt and Uncle's neighbor's, where there's a pork roast so tender it falls apart in its own juices. There's cornbread and collard greens and creamed sweet white corn and lima beans. We eat all this in large shallow bowls where the juices can properly run together. There's red wine to go with all this and I nearly fall over, it's so good. It's one of the top meals of the year, and the house is full of children and family and everything seems right with the world for a few hours.


Now, at the end of the year, all these meals seem to mix together in my mind. If I could construct my own Thanksgiving table, it would have things from all these meals. A heaping wok of Pad Thai would sit quite happily next to the peach buns I had last week with Winn, and barbecue from my father could be eaten with the mango Lahssi Sarah from Seattle had in Boston. Tea from Cambridge with brim caught in a South Georgia creek , pork collards with Quesadillas, Schwarma with banana pudding and my mother's favorite brand of strawberry Popsicles. Fried okra and nan and pinwheel and doughnuts and the French Onion soup my aunt made all the way from scratch. Lemon pepper chicken with broccoli like I make for myself, and pork chops smothered in onions and peppers. Aral's fried tofu and Andrew's party treats. Thai and Mexican and Indian and Southern and Processed American with Italian pasta and French pastry. I am Thankful for all the things I have received this year, yes I am. I am even more thankful for the people I shared these meals with. Happy Holidays, everybody.

Thanksgiving 2000

Thanksgiving 2001

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Pastry & parties

Pastry and Parties cure many things

Last week, after I found out there would be no pay for a week and a half of hard labor, after I realized how bad things really were in Nashville, after I gave up on a lot of stuff I kept hoping would happen, after I popped some blood vessels in my right eye from stress, after I had recycled the sand in the sandblaster so many times that it was like working with confectioner's sugar - after all that -

I went out and had two days of incredible fun.

Thursday after noon I dropped what I was doing and called Dinan, who is also unemployed, broke, and verging on despair. We decided to have a good day, and walked from her house on Belmont down to the Village, where we got us some fancy-schmancy bakery lunch at Provance, our favorite place in Nashville. I had a squash tart with little leaves cut from pastry dough on the top. Dinan had a pasta dish and we both drank expensive hot tea and laughed and carried on because we crack each other up. We loafed around a shop or two and then sat down at Fido's coffee shop to read the Scene and wait for Winn to pick us up for a party.

By then it was already after 7, and the party was already going at Underdown's. A lot of my favorite people were there - Kati, Michael, Andrew, just to name a few - but the house was full, from top to bottom. I got hugged a lot. A lot of people said, "What happened to your eye!?!" and I laughed and told them it was stress, but I think people thought I was lying because I was in such a good mood. I wished Cairy and Skeet were there, but it was already getting late in the evening.

The party went on for a few hours, and a pagan circle was held to which Dinan and I were the atheist observers. Later, there was Waffle House and more laughing and Kati was practically glowing, she was so happy. And we were all - it was one of those nights - well, that defy proper description, I suppose. I was happy again. After a month of nearly having no hope at all -

Friday I slept past noon and then Dinan and I drove around Williamson County listening to mix CD's and looking at the countryside. It was winter suddenly. We made fun of the horrible McMansions going up everywhere and made fun of stupid landscaping decisions. Then we went to Lowe's and looked at Hardware, but didn't buy anything. Some girls go out for shoes, Dinan and I go out for lighting fixtures.

Later we picked up Ron and rented a subtitled French action movie and I stayed up way late. I woke up and read trashy science fiction and then researched a little about the Knights Templar, as they had been mentioned in the movie the night before. It was Saturday, and Winn took me out for a Chinese lunch, where I saw foods again I hadn't seen since Boston or DC. Pastries filled with lotus, Dim Sum. We both admitted we liked each other more than we should. The sun was shining. I managed to get back to Atlanta Saturday night, and I have an interview with Target Monday morning. It's OK. It's all right. Things will work out. For the life of me, I can't remember why I was pushing so hard. Stress does terrible things to your body. I'm nearly better now.

I apologise for the run-on sentences and fragmented thoughts. I should be collected again in a week or so.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Death of a Season

A wake for my white collar dreams

This November, as the year begins to pass on, I'd like to write a few words in honor of my philosophies that died this year. If you'd rather read something more entertaining, I wrote a few nice stories here.

And now, an eulogy:

After 18 months of searching, I've come to the conclusion that it's unlikely I'll ever get a job as an Archivist. I liked the idea of being an archivist. I enjoyed the jobs I had in the field, and always got good remarks from my supervisors. But it's been a year and a half now, and I need to accept that this career probably isn't going to happen for me, no matter how much I want it too. It doesn't matter that I trained at Harvard, or that I love the work, or that I applied myself in my studies. I can't force anyone to hire me, because that's not the way the world works. I'll probably continue, off and on, to apply for positions that interest me in archives. But I've come to terms with the fact that this dream is dead.

My logic for years went along these lines: if I work hard, and sacrifice everything for a higher education, why, I can have a nice white collar career. When I get out of grad school, I'll have a guy waiting for me and we'll be able to get a house and surely, all those things I've ever wanted - bills paid on time, a freezer full of extra groceries always full, hard wood floors, a washer and dryer, cars that always start in the driveway, clothes that fit whenever I want them and kids - yeah, just getting an education was going to make all that happen.

Of course, I've had my degree for a year now, and I'm as broke as I've ever been. I gave up any conventional ideas of romance and family years ago, and so I don't really miss that part of the dream at all - but I thought, if you got an education, your life (or at least the bill paying part of your life) was supposed to get better. It hasn't. I'll never regret all the years I spent chasing my dream, or the fantastic adventures it lead me into. This dream was worth every ounce of sacrifice, if not every penny.

As I mourn this dream, I think about all the Dickens novels I read as a little girl. Somehow all those orphaned boys managed to make the transition from blue collar to white collar, and in retrospect I see that it was because they were taken in by wealthy patrons. For some stupid American reason, I thought sacrifice and hard work pushed people ahead. Well, I guess there's a reason people still read Dickens, and no one I know has ever picked up a volume of Horatio Alger.

This dream is dead, and I'm symbolically burying it in the backyard of my parent's house in Nashville under the elevated garden I'm putting up this week. I hope dead dreams make good fertilizer for bulbs - maybe the Irises this spring will be more spectacular than any others.

My new dreams are a lot more practical than my old one. I dream of a small house in Atlanta, made in the old craftsman style, a bungalow. I dream of just one full refrigerator, a car that runs well enough that I can repair it without much pain, and healthy, happy children that know I'll pay the bills on time when I can. This is the new dream. My dreams are always only the best I can hope for.

When this year is over in five weeks, I'll start pursuing the new dream as hard as I can. I'll get on as a manager at Target or somewhere, and go back to retail, and be happy about it because it's what will get me where I want to go in life. I'll put my old college ID's in a photo album, and never mention them again. I'll accept what I can't change, because one something is dead, it's gone, and there's no asking for it back. My library days are over, and I understand that. My academic career is over, and I understand that too. It's time to hold the funeral now, and then back to living my life. No regrets, no use crying over what I can't have.

When I started this journal, when it came time for me to leave Boston, I realised that the only constant in life is change, and I keep thinking about how true that is. The only constant is change. All that matters is whose hands you hold as the world spins around you, ever shifting, taking you places you'd never thought would be so beautiful to see and know.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Another 3 stories about Nashville

The man in charge of Vanderbilt University's almost $2 billion endowment was paid more than anyone else at a private college or university in 2000-2001, according to a survey being released today.

-"VU portfolio officer tops pay list", The Tennessean 11/17/2002, b1

Another 3 stories about Nashville.

Mars Music has begun the process of closing for good. Mars was the extension of Wal-Mart marketing into the realm of music supply, a warehouse type of store filled with every kind of complex sound machines down to the most ordinary of High School band equipment. Mars is going out of business owing everyone in the supply side tens of thousands of dollars. Worse, in their liquidation they are underpricing the smaller music stores dramatically, ensuring that their competitors have the worst sort of Christmas season possible.

They don't owe my family any money, but owe people who work with us money. As the biggest music store goes out of business nationwide, they cause big ripples in an all ready suffering small economy. I can't think of anyone who plays music professionally in the United States who won't be touched by Mars going under in some small way. Of course people who couldn't afford equipment before will be able to get it on the cheap as Mars dumps all its inventory in the market. I try to think about all this positively, but then I think of all the people this is going to hurt this season, and how Nashville is continuing to hurt. They say this winter will be cold, and all I can think of is the page of the OED where all the meanings of that one simple word - cold - are laid out before me, a blanket of small white specks like snow peaking through the even, mechanical type.

I came up to Nashville for a week - just one week, I told myself - to work for my father. Things are horrible lately, with Mars closing and the economy so bad. Dad has bought a 1966 GTO, and if we can finish restoring it by summer there will be a big payoff to help the family through the recession. So while dad was at the shop this week I learned how to sandblast, and worked on the chassis in the driveway, plastic around me and my little sister's turtle shaped sandbox between my legs to catch the rust and dirt that blew.

Since someone would be home to watch the workmen, it was decided that we could hire to independent contractors to finish off the bathroom in my parent's new-old house. The room needed new wallboard and a ceiling. The two workmen were, because this is Nashville, also musicians, and my father was able to pay them partially with store credit. I was to simply keep tabs on the workmen, to pop in and out of the house as I took breaks from sandblasting, to check their progress and to make sure they didn't rob us. I thought I did a pretty good job the first day, until I was cleaning up the garage that evening and found where they'd been using cocaine. When my back was turned from the garage, sandblasting - they were behind me, maybe four feet from me, doing lines from a small folded piece of red paper I found on the workbench. Having gotten high, the workmen had forgotten to hide their evidence.

My moral dilemma: do I tell them to go away with the bathroom half done, or never mention their drug use and get a finished bathroom? Well, we need the bathroom...the men came back the next day and I locked the garage from their use. When they left, my father and I found they'd scratched up the vintage tub we had just got refinished a month ago. Dad deducted the cost of fixing the tub from their pay, but I was just exasperated. Of course they scratched up that tub because they were working high. Finding your contractor's cocaine is Nashville. I'll never know why anyone other than the stupid super rich would ever touch the stuff. It can't be worth the cost - either in the price of the drug or what it does for you. They lost almost a day's pay due to a mistake they made because of cocaine, while they were working to get more money to buy cocaine. Besides, it's just so tacky.

When I was a very little girl, and I had just moved to Nashville, someone very smart went and built Dragon Park in a section of town called Hillsboro village. Dragon Park is a playground where a sea serpent made of concrete arches out over the ground in three loops with a long curving tail. The Dragon is perhaps 50 yards long (without straightening his loops out) and long ago tire swings hung under his two main arches, and a water fountain sprouted from part of his tail. Now the swings are gone and the fountain no longer works. The serpent is mostly covered in blue tile, but what really makes the dragon beautiful is that the children of Nashville were allowed to make mosaic pictures on its hide. I remember that each age group had a different theme they were supposed to make their pictures match. Older children did figures from fairy tales, mythology, and American history. My age group, the youngest, was asked to do sea forms, and I have a star fish immortalized on that mosaic dragon where the three bears march forever alongside knights, cowboys, and the odd depiction of George Washington staring out at a mermaid's breasts.

I went to see the Dragon with Christi and Sara this week. Their company cheered me, as did the company of Winn, Kati, Dinan, and the few others I've been lucky to see on a week where I've worked my body hard enough to make my shoulders ache by supper time. Friday was the most fun; Tony and Andrew and I went to see Harry Potter for free at a theater well known to us, and entered perhaps ten minutes before the anxious lines of waiting children, got the best seats, and hashed out the themes of the film for hours into the night. We laughed and gossiped at our favorite Mexican restaurant, and while I was with my friends I felt that the world was a beautiful place indeed, despite the coming winter.

read the first three Nashville stories

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Instructions for a Bad Mood

Instructions for a Bad Mood
written especially with the perpetually happy in mind

Working up a really bad mood takes some effort. Now many people think that one has to be born with a talent for being grumpy, and to these people I would say that while being born a screaming, sleepless baby certainly helps those of us in the business of being in a bad mood, everyone has within them the capacity to get into a really dark funk and stay there for as long as they'd like. For the really cheerful people out there who have often lamented their optimism in a gratingly chipper voice, I offer the following helpful instructions on how to work yourselves to a really dark state of despair:

1. Think about dreams deferred. The best way to get moody to is ruminate on life plans you've had but never fulfilled. While some big dreams - like becoming a mouseketeer, or the next Jacques Cousteau, or perhaps even that dream you had as a four year old of growing up to be Superman or a Kangaroo are clearly unattainable - the secret to really getting down is to think about the realistic dreams you had but couldn't fulfill because of circumstance or chance. Perhaps you wanted a college degree, but family problems kept you from completing your studies. Perhaps you'd like to travel more, but simply can't afford it. Maybe you wanted to be a fireman, but were rejected because of poor eyesight, weight, or illiteracy. It doesn't matter what failed dream you pick, so long as you really dwell on it. Ruminate on that dead dream. Bathe in its failure. This is the most basic form of self pity, and it's great for building the base of a serious funk.

2. Remember the significant other who let you down. Most bad mood rookies will take this to mean the lover who dumped you, but seriously grumpy people will know that this piece of advice is handy for more than just your post-breakup funks. This rule is exceptional when applied to family members, teachers, coaches, camp counselors...anyone, really, who promised you something that couldn't, or just wouldn't, remember to do. If you're into seriously advanced grumpiness, you can even apply this rule to the bus driver who was late that day it rained. Or that day when it was really hot, or heck, that day when you were not really inconvenienced. The point is, the bus driver was late. Get grumpy!

3. Criticize Yourself. Now some people think that the key to a really bad mood is to place blame upon others, but the pros know that the real blame for everything rests squarely on their own shoulders. Blaming other people for the woe in your life merely leads to a good mood again, because you can claim that nothing is your fault, and that you're simply a victim. Throw that victim talk into the trash can! The reason you don't get what you want out of life is all your own fault. The layoffs at your plant? It was all you, man. All 7,000 jobs. If only you had filed your paperwork faster, they would have never moved the plant to Mexico. Also, the dog was hit by a car because you owned the dog. And yes, you do know all about your parent's divorce, you homewrecker.

4. Think about the state of the nation. Bush is president. Think about that. George Bush Junior is President of the United State of America. It's permissible to cry. Then watch cable news networks all day. When you've seen the cycle repeat itself twice on one network, switch to another. With the current upswing in unemployment and crime, there's constant fodder on television for moodiness. Even if they're covering completely different stories, you should be good and grumpy after hitting just three stations, although if you're in a hurry, about 30 minutes of Fox news will make you pretty darn irate.

5. Compare yourself to others unfavorably. This works best if you have over-achieving relatives who are distant, so you only know about their successes without actually knowing about their very human downfalls. A great way to use this method for getting down is to read some of those really obnoxious holiday newsletters people put out with only the most positive things in them. If you can sustain the illusion that somewhere out there people are living a carefree, productive life while you languish in the hard work and drudgery of cleaning dishes everyday, you'll work yourself into a really fine bad mood. Sometimes sit coms are great for this, because people on TV always have spotless floors are are almost never seen scrubbing the toilet, as we all know everyone must do.

6. Be Creative. If you're still in a good mood after trying all five of the tips listed above, try to think of other things that get you down. You can result to the old standbys of Israel or Ireland if you're into "the whole world is shit" kind of funks, or if you're more of a local kind of person, and wish to concentrate on how bad your particular town might be, I would suggest thinking about the state of public education in order to get into "I hate this place" kind of evil feeling. To each very grumpy person his own brand of bad mood.

Now, as Oscar the Grouch would say, SCRAM!