02.25.11: ask kidchamp, round III {meat, gifts, greats}

do you cook meaty meals for joe at home? what's an example of something you've whipped up?

A: my shifts at the student coffeehouse's sandwich counter in college were my last official food-prep-with-meat experience; i was a pretty lousy sandwich maker, as i couldn't differentiate between meat-varieties especially well. i do buy kielbasa at the greenmarket for our annual nyc-based holiday shindig, and i used to pick up requests like salami and prosciutto at the butcher's counter at the amish market; i kind of sucked at that, too (seriously, omnivorous halves of blended couples: don't tell your vegenauts to "get whatever looks good"), so it's probably best for everyone that joe went fish-only this past fall. it's a pesco, internet! we had one fairly short conversation about the ethics behind his decision, but i'm not interested in hustling him into premature ultrameatlessness; like the cuttlefish, i will camouflage myself and lead him to believe he is alone on the sea floor.

Dear Kidchamp,

What should I buy as a wedding gift for my friends who are getting married this summer? She is an art history phd with interesting taste in surrealist installations. He is a poet/barman who likes to pretend he can cook. She lives on black coffee and muesli. They are both 24 & expect to move around a lot over the next few years for her work.

They are not registered or I would buy them towels and a toaster.

Tell me what to dooooo.

A: from most to least practical, i'd say
- an immersion blender, for it can almost always stand in for a food processor and is far simpler to clean and store (and is so very good for soups and drinks);
- a proper ice cream maker, for hardly anyone is frivolous enough to buy one for themselves and yet it produces the ice-cream-eating equivalent of the moment when dorothy steps from her house into the land of oz;
- the times comprehensive atlas of the world (12th ed.), for with a great book of maps one is always formidable and prepared;
- little joseph the hand-painted porcelain head, for one's twenties should have a witness, and when you apply a candle to him he develops the loveliest waxy hair.

I'll bite: based on your reading, who is the greatest LIVING author? (yes, I know, opinion vs. fact, but that's how I roll).

A: my first knee-jerk answer is david mitchell, my second is salman rushdie, and my third is philip pullman; i think that third knee is the one to watch. while it's entirely possible that i'm giving him extra credit for being "the most dangerous author in britain," it remains that he champions humane self-actualization and spins a ripping good yarn. both mitchell and rushdie are stronger technicians, but pullman is hardly atheism's stephenie meyer; the his dark materials trilogy was necessary for my very survival for the days it took to read it, sure, but it's beautifully made, and it's stuck with me and informed subsequent reading and, er, living. hey, i see you looking at me like i'm holding a copy of the fountainhead. quit it, man.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 pescetarians. are they fooling themselves?

02 how many kinds of meat d'you figure you can identify on sight?

03 what's the best wedding gift you've ever given?

04 could you sleep near a doll head?

05 from which living author would you most like to receive a wedding gift?



SURVIVOR: rabbit at rest (john updike)*
CHALLENGER: lit (mary karr)

i'm new to the one-two-three punch of mary karr's trio of memoirs (the liars' club, cherry, and lit), but i knew from the beginning that i'd prefer her to elizabeth eat, pray, love gilbert;** i knew karr's story would eventually involve david foster wallace, for one thing, and for another i was completely unable to imagine what her gelato-eating face looks like. karr also did a fairly decent job of convincing me that her motivation was at least as kapow- as it is cha-ching-based (liz gilbert, i'm looking at you again):
"I threw this book away twice," Karr says. "I walked around in my bathrobe for three days and made obscene gestures at the rafters. And there are a couple people I call at such times, sort of the way the president would push the red button. I'd call these people. So I called Don DeLillo, and DeLillo sends me a postcard that says 'write or die.' " Karr's reply speaks volumes about her thick-skinned perspective and dark humor. "I think I sent him one back that said 'write and die.' "
setting aside the fact that no one should write to don delillo, karr sold me on the idea that she decided she needed to tell us about becoming a drunk, a wife, a mother, a writer, a teetotaler, and a catholic, not necessarily in that order.

here's where that gets problematic, and i apologize in advance (this once) for a major excerpt. in an introduction to a published version of his screenplay for an education, nick hornby had some terribly interesting things to say about adapting lynn barber's memoir:
[B]y its very nature, memoir presents a challenge, consisting as it does of an adult mustering all the wisdom he or she can manage to look back at an earlier time in life. Almost all of us become wiser as we get older, so we can see pattern and meaning that we would not have been able to see at the time. Memoirists know it all, but the people they are writing about know next to nothing.

We become other things, too, as well as wise: more articulate, more cynical, less naive, more or less forgiving, depending on how things have turned out for us. The Lynn Barber who wrote the memoir - a celebrated journalist, known for her perspicacious, funny, occasionally devastating profiles of celebrities - shouldn't be audible in the voice of the central character in our film, not least because, as Lynn says in her essay, it was the very experiences that she was describing that formed the woman we know. In other words, there was no 'Lynn Barber' until she had received the eponymous education. Oh, this sounds obvious to the point of banality: a sixteen-year-old girl should sound different from her sixty-year-old self. What is less obvious, perhaps, is the way the sixty-year-old self seeps into every brush-stroke of the self-portrait in a memoir. Sometimes even the dialogue that Lynn provided for her younger version - perfectly plausible on the page - sounded too hard-bitten, when I thought about a living, breathing young actress saying the words.
somehow, karr hops back and forth between Wastrel Mary and Memoirist Mary in a way that makes both of those selves less knowable and less interesting. the first chapter, in which she has the shit scared out of her (and the her scared out of california) while hitchhiking along the beach at 17, gave me a sense of how good her other memoirs must be; too many of the other chapters are cutesy peek-a-boo games ("[m]y thesis advisor, louise [gl├╝ck], baked ornate pastries at home, then sold them in local shops or restaurants") about writing programs and famous friends (if you're hanging out with, say, tobias wolff, just say you're hanging out with tobias wolff***). calling her ex-husband (the poet michael milburn, who agreed to a pseudonym in lieu of vetting karr's manuscript) "warren whitbread" auto-caricatures him (so much for a nuanced portrait of that marriage), mentioning that she, robert lowell, and anne sexton had been institutionalized at the same hospital trivializes...everyone, i think, and karr more or less loses my sympathy long before her moment of clarity and conversion to catholicism. which sucks, because sprinkled in with her didi-and-gogo, "don't question me! don't speak with me! stay with me!" show and tell are some really marvelous descriptions. her account of flying home to texas for her father's funeral, the horrible, hollow-stomached relief you feel when a long-suffering loved one finally dies, is wonderful. her much-anticipated (by me, anyway) run-ins with a puppyish david foster wallace, moreover, are just the details i want:
[on divvying up stolen cupcake frosting after an alcoholics anonymous meeting for which part of their carpool fell off the wagon]

David? I say, leaning forward.

Yes, ma'am. He turns down the radio.

Any chance you cadged that frosting?

Gross, Gerry says. You're not gonna eat that.

David unzips his backpack, flips off the frosting lid, and hands it back, saying, I feel like I should wipe the edge on my T-shirt. You know, sanitize it.

Taking the can, I dig in and run my finger around the edge, then stick it in my mouth just as Gerry's hand reaches back, hovering for the handoff.
karr's charming when asking her readers to make small emotional investments, but when she gets to lit's big sell - her sobriety and submission to a higher power after a number of signs - her salesmanship dries up. good - nay, miraculous - things (jobs, grants, interested agents) happen to her after she prays for them, but we never quite believe she's the slacker she says she is: though she's "unhindered by a high school diploma" and admits that she's "published one slim volume of verses and some essays, but so has every other semiliterate writer in cambridge," her fortune's pretty clearly not falling from the sky. then again, does it matter that i'm not buying her story? as i avoided this review by reading up on karr around the web, i found the slate interview in which she says she "didn't [write lit] to help anybody. I did it for the money. I did it because I’m greedy and I like living in New York." oh, that thick-skinned perspective and dark humor! i'm having a hard time feeling something after all.

VICTOR: updike; he's like three mary karrs tall, or was, and would flatten her with a description of septuagenarian golfers while she fumbled for a salty texas epithet.

as lit was the last book i finished in december, that means...rabbit at rest was the best book i read last year, and updike is the first inhabitant of THUNDERTOME valhalla. clear the arena for 2011! (two months late, but shh.)

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how would you respond to a WRITE OR DIE postcard from don delillo?

02 if you've read karr, do you buy her modesty?

03 would you share frosting with a casual carpool?

04 if you could get away with referring to a literary light by a nickname in mixed company, to whom would you refer, and what would you call them? dibs on peaches hemingway.

05 if you were spending a week in iceland at the end of march, how many hours would you be willing to spend on an off-season bus to see necropants (defined below****)?

06 would you wear necropants?

*previous battle here.

**full disclosure: i haven't read all of eat, pray, love, though i have read committed. it was okay.

***unless you're a stanford undergrad, in which case you should know that talking about "tobi" makes you look like alex trebek when he pronounces something in spanish.

****"Of all the strange displays at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft, perhaps the most bizarre is a plastic replica of the legendary 'necropants' - trousers made from the skin of a dead man's legs and groin. It was commonly believed that the necropants would spontaneously produce money when worn, so long as the donor made an honest verbal agreement that his corpse could be skinned upon his death. Once dead and buried, the donor corpse had to be unearthed at the dead of night, then a magic rune and a coin from a poor widow...were placed in the dead man's scrotum.

The necropants brought incredible wealth to [their] wearer - anytime money was needed, one could reach down into the scrotal area and...voila! There was a catch, however; if you were to die wearing the necropants, your soul would be condemned to roam the earth until the end of time." (lonely planet iceland, 7th ed.)


cat, box

happy valentine's day, internets; i hope each of you is as cherished as chuck's giant hat box.

02.13.11: texts

1 {5:32pm}: Leaving flushing for the gaf soon, hoss.
2 {5:33pm}: Awaiting sushi. Will leave once I finish eating.
1 {5:33pm}: Sushi waiter.
2 {5:35pm}: Flushing queen.

02.11.11: the dirty dozen {mystery train}

the time has come to see if you've absorbed the subway reader patterns i've been broadcasting in my homages to coverspy. can one judge a reader by his or her text? do all mass market enthusiasts use industrial-strength product? is everyone so poor at this point that they're rereading the books they were too cheap to sell back to the bookstore in college? so many questions.

here are the latest twelve titles i spied on trips around town; who's reading what, smarties? if you pair a book with its reader, i'll update the lists; you probably won't win anything, but one never knows, now does one.

{the peeps}

[01] M, early 30s, reddish forelock, tortoiseshell glasses, tan and grey plaid scarf, navy pea coat with anchor buttons, black slacks, black capped oxfords, F train [the death and life of great american cities, jane jacobs - per george, as planners know planners]

[02] F, 20s, thick-frame black glasses, green fleece princess coat with hood up over sage green cap, silver nose ring, red fishbone messenger bag, fingerless gloves with LOVE knitted across the knuckles, F train [another country, james baldwin - good call, gracie]

[03] F, 50s, holding orange eyeglasses, black newsboy cap, lavender scarf, blue plaid shoulder bag, whole foods shopping bag, black faux-fur-lined boots, F train [sweet misfortune, kevin alan milne - george's need for order carries us forward]

[04] M, 30s, neatly trimmed red beard, smudged black writing on back of right hand, oatmeal fisherman sweater, khakis, tan hiking boots, F train [the dark is rising, susan cooper - that book scared the crap out of me when i was a wee lass, katherine]

05 M, 20s, thick black hair, charcoal coat, grey shirt, japanese denim skinny jeans, tan brushed twill bag with red zipper and a yellow bow on the handle, narrow black sneakers, F train

[06] F, 20s, fantastic black eyebrows, black ferragamo bag with gold hardware, black cowl-neck coat, black and white umbrella, caramel leather boots, F train [who can ride the dragon?: an exploration of the cultural roots of traditional chinese medicine - burninated by gracie]

[07] F, 20s, no makeup, ribbed knit eggplant cap pulled down to eyebrows, sky blue quilted jacket, acid green crossbody bag, running shoes, D train [the omnivore's dilemma, michael pollan - katherine knows her brooklyners]

[08] M, early 40s, rectangular glasses, black-and-white-striped saint james cap, black cotton varsity jacket, faded grey slacks, green manhattan portage bag, F train [main lines, blood feasts, and bad taste: a lester bangs reader, lester bangs - gracie strikes again]

[09] M, 30s, shoulder-length black hair, beard, long, double-breasted tan coat with faux shearling, kelly-green-and-white argyle socks, black loafers with bit hardware removed, F train [rich dad, poor dad, robert kiyosaki - george's OCD at work]

10 F, 30s, blue wire-frame glasses, earphones, dreadlocks in a high ponytail, red cloth trader joe's bag, black purse, bookmark with ivory cord, F train

11 M, 20s, gelled curly hair, chin strap with soul patch, black coat with faux-fur-lined hood and gold zipper, black jeans, black north face backpack between feet, D train

12 M, 20s, dirty hair, headphones leaking industrial rock, khakis, tan coat, jittery tapping foot, F train

{the books}

deception point, dan brown
[main lines, blood feasts, and bad taste: a lester bangs reader, lester bangs]
[sweet misfortune, kevin alan milne]
[another country, james baldwin]
brother, i'm dying, edwidge danticat
[who can ride the dragon?: an exploration of the cultural roots of traditional chinese medicine, zhang yu huan and ken rose]
[the death and life of great american cities, jane jacobs]
hegemony or survival: america's quest for global dominance, noam chomsky
la muerte de artemio cruz, carlos fuentes
[the dark is rising, susan cooper]
[the omnivore's dilemma, michael pollan]
[rich dad, poor dad, robert kiyosaki]

02.07.11: the dirty dozen {twelve places in nyc at/in which i would eat mexican food}

patty's tacos (b/w) - visible

01 tehuitzingo deli & grocery, hell's kitchen (taco counter at the back of a grocery store)
02 tulcingo del valle, hell's kitchen (no-frills decor, puebla-style eats)
03 taco chulo, williamsburg (best quesadilla on the planet, as god is my witness)
04 los feliz, lower east side (fine hibiscus tacos, competitively priced mezcal)
05 casa mezcal, lower east side (homestyle oaxacan)
06 la esquina, soho (scene-y but solid)
07 cascabel taqueria, upper east side (casual, delectably spicy)
08 patty's tacos, upper east side (the little truck that could)
09 rockaway taco, rockaway beach (beach-hippie at its most earnest)
10 los dos molinos, gramercy (AZ mex, gone but not forgotten)
11 el paso, upper east side (comfort food)
12 my apartment


i've been hard at work on the last THUNDERTOME of 2010 (it's december in my head), but it's been a rough one; i finished mary karr's lit more than a month ago, and (spoiler) i didn't have all that much to say about it at the time. if you initiate a gladiatorial book review series on your blog, internets, know that inertia hits like a novelty sock full of buffalo nickels when you fall behind on your battles. i've also been wooing an icelandic tattoo studio (it's march in my head), closing a spring issue at the office (it's april in my head), and, like, learning the finer points of beekeeping ("the point of beekeeping is keeping the bees in the box"). know that i am coming for you, mary karr, and that i'm calling you out for uncute peek-a-boo name-dropping.* in the interim, non-karr passages i've enjoyed:
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential—as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

(bill watterson, via sarah brown)

Call it “squinting”—you will have your own term. You’ve chosen a favorite musician, probably in your teen years, and the relationship grows through awkward phases—nautical dress, orchestral arrangements, dodgy collections of poems. Along the way, you find yourself squinting to keep seeing what made you fall in love; you will need to pretend that the accordion and the Balkan song cycles are something else. (Fans of Bob Dylan have unusually deep creases.)

(sasha frere-jones, "gut check")

With the success of last summer's Shakespeare in the Park productions of The Merchant of Venice and The Winter's Tale, the 2011 Shakespeare in the Park summer season will once again present two Shakespeare plays in repertory, giving audiences eight straight weeks of free Shakespeare at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

Daniel Sullivan, who recently directed Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice in the Park, will direct All's Well That Ends Well and David Esbjornson, who directed Much Ado About Nothing in the Park, will direct Measure for Measure.

"Last year's Shakespeare rep was a thrilling success; the current run of The Merchant of Venice on Broadway is a wonderful reminder of what made last summer so magical," says Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. "This year, two of Shakespeare's richest and most rewarding plays make up our season. We are delighted that once again an American Shakespeare company will light up New York's summer."

(the public, via my inbox)

who has two thumbs and gets to see two productions of measure for measure in less than a year? that's jealousy you're feeling. oh, but it is.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how do you keep the bees in the box?

02 for whom do you squint?

03 measure for measure: how many times would you be willing to see it?

04 on viewing, how's the oscar movie death race going? we finally saw the king's speech this past weekend; mostly great acting, questionable history.

05 if you were going to make vegetarian chili for a super bowl gathering and chili festival ("cookoff is so adversarial"), what would you simmer?

06 you'd let me know if i got too commercial, right?

*"Three weeks after the lamest stab in suicide's history, I sit typing in the sunlit hall of that asylum so famous one Ivy-League poet later suggests I include my time there on a resume."


studio 54 steve

steve's lived with us for a year. he still smells like kettle corn most of the time.