Saturday, December 27, 2003

What do we get the foodslut? 

Pig. Glutton. Gourmand. Seau. Goinfre. Guzzler. Foodie. I've heard many variations in several languages and they all fit. I am a total foodslut. Converting from omni- to phytovore about a decade ago forced me into learning cooking skills a bit earlier than usual. My mom was so mistrustful of the vegetarian credo that she would sometimes sneak meats into my dinners or, occasionally, refuse to accomodate my new lifestyle in her cooking altogether (it sounds severe but it wasn't... if everyone else was going to have beef stew, I got a salad instead of a vegetable stew). When my whining didn't work she suggested that I pick up a cookbook and spend some time with her at the stove. I did, and thank god.

Probably any vegetarian can recall the boredom of the first year or so of ignorant eating. Goddamn it, by the end of the first few months I was ready to never again eat or see another baked potato or salad. The trouble was that I was making do (or at least trying to) in a household stocked, understandably, with foods meant to supplement a meat-oriented diet. Greens and roots were all that anybody in my family knew how to prepare. Those were the days when even I scoffed at the mention of tofu, which is now probably one of my favorite foods (if, you know, cooked properly).

Needless to say I gradually learned new shit in the kitchen. Tofu and tempeh came first, then sprouts and thousands of new (to me) kinds of salad greens. I started trying raw vegetables and yogurts. Before I knew it I was totally hooked. No one thinks of fat vegetarians (is that a real thing?), but by the time I started college I had plumped up to a healthier than healthy 211 pounds. That was my top-out weight and I have since gradually whittled away around fifty pounds, but the love of food I discovered as a part of my conversion has never left me. To be accurate I'd say that my food lust has intensified, a degree of intensity that I credit to a brief stint staying in France with a family of foodsluts.

Now I can get to the point: I just opened a by-mail gift from my sister and her husband, and it's a gift certificate to Jungle Jim's! SCORE!

I'm sorry, what? You don't know what Jungle Jim's is? Oh, children, come closer... let me tell you...

Jungle Jim's is a grocery store of sorts outside of Cincinnatti. I say "grocery store" because I can't think of a better term. Think of a Wal-Mart (Supercenter, no less!), now expand its floorspace to a solid four square acres, add in a 75-foot long wall of beer, 8,000 stocked wines, 1,600 cheeses, two aisles devoted entirely to hot sauces, grocery items divided by fucking country of origin, an international video store, a chocolatier, a handful of in-house sushi chefs, and a bunch of singing animatronic jungle creatures and you've got a good idea of the bounty that is Jungle Jim's. On my first visit I found a Korean product, shelved amongst dozens of flavors of potato chips, that looked like a bag full of thousands of little dried and salted fish. I also found a medical-style bottle of cloudy, opalescent hot sauce that, according to the label, was nothing but pure, synthetically prepared capsacin. I found a fruit called a "pluot," a hybrid of a plum and an apricot. I saw a whole vacuum-sealed nurse shark in a refrigerated seafood section. Amongst the high-end chocolates one could find malted insects and chocolate-dipped ants. Fascinating place.

La femme d'argent 

Damnit, damnit, damnit--I hurt this morning and I blame S. I won't even mention why he was in a drinking (or consumptive in general) mood, but suffice it to say his reasoning is the impetus behind many a binge. He had called and left a down-sounding message on my machine at around two in the afternoon, but I didn't get back into Little Rock until almost seven; by then S.'s coffee table had amassed a small (but respectable) army of beer bottles. He hadn't drunk himself beyond lucidity, rather to the giddy shores of pure buzz. We smoked and drank and watched movies about bowling and robots and Welsh kids. Soon a solid half dozen former students from our high school showed up, after bowling of all things. Some had graduated before us, some after, and some I had simply never seen before. Whatever--by that point I was elated independently. At some point after M.'s arrival we learned of a brilliant invention begging to be made our own: a chess set in which the pieces are shot glasses. You take a piece, you shoot. We will have it built by New Year's Eve, oh yes.

Christmas passed without much hubbub. Since my sister now lives closer to my home by a factor of nine, our nuclear unit thought it best to quietly drive to her place without mentioning much to the rest of the family. The house is great, Clarksville is small but managably so (the mountains are a good apology), and they have enough space that we spent a few minutes collecting brush and fallen timber and had ourselves a bonfire. My sister also had a plan for this holiday: in turning a bit away from the old, unhappy rituals of Christmas with the whole fucking family, we should mirror that separation by welcoming in a whole new menu for the big meal. I've been vegetarian for long enough now that it isn't just me who gets bored at meals at which the only meatless dish present is the one I brought. Sister made some fucking A-list dish, man. Roasted bell peppers with feta-raisin-basil filling, rosemary pinwheels, grilled asparagus, hash brown casserole, deviled eggs, etc. It was a delicious gesture to accompany our insular attempt at restructuring a functional family around our own architecture. After my parents left, I returned to the fire with my sister and her husband where we talked and watched the stars and satellites for several hours. We came back in to watch t.v. and my sister asked me if I knew what that song was that is being used for the new commercials for the last season of Sex and the City. I had to shriek, "AAAH! THAT'S MY FAVORITE SONG IN EXISTENCE!" before telling her that it's Air and that I would make her a copy. Leaving the driveway to go home the following morning, my sister and her daughter were standing on their porch dancing, smiling to the bass thumping out of my car. It was as calm and low-key as I could have hoped for.


Thursday, December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas 

I hope everyone today is granted the will to maintain composure for at least the mandatory 24 hours of contact with extended families. I'm about to take to the hills yet again, but in a sense this truly is going to be a celebratory trip: it's just under two hours now, not nine,to get to my sister's place.

In the sappy spirit of this king of sentimental holidays (even I watched "It's a Wonderful Life"yesterday), I hope everybody is aware that, yes, I'm thinking of every last one of you.

Y'all enjoy your pecan pies and whatnot.


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Wrapping a present 

Today's my mom's 57th birthday. She dun me right, she did.


Monday, December 22, 2003


Drinking, sitting in the window reading a book about Steichen, listening to the ambient thrum of a distant freeway and the harmonics of freight train whistles from near the river; all I can think about is: how can I look back on this singular moment, x years from now?


Sunday, December 21, 2003


Positive and negative value judgments aside, most everyone agrees that it's a trip visiting extended family.

Boy howdy is it ever.

I should frame what I mean with a brief history. Our genealogical tree probably resembles a dense, squat bush with a single spindly branch leading as far away as possible from the central cluster: this branch is my nuclear family. When my parents decided to have children they made the undeniably wise decision to move away from the slovenly, ill-paced hills to the big city. To hear my mom retell it, they first experienced Little Rock as something of the apocalypse (and they lived in an apartment on Louisiana), but they stayed anyway. My mom still recalls the insomniac shock of hearing traffic... at night!

Leaving behind family and the associated psychological trauma was probably nullified by the simultaneous thought of leaving behind jobs at shoe and boat factories. I see my mom's hands chronically covered with splitting sensitized skin today and I am reminded of her stories of having to hand apply epoxy resins to the hulls of still-hot molded fiberglass boat hulls. The move meant that my parents were not only able to provide diversity and genuine education for their offspring, but also to climb the fiscal ladder themselves a few steps above their hometown potential maximum of shift manager at ConAgra and other hazardous comes-with-the-job duties.

I try to reflect back on this singular familial migration as often as I get pissed off at them for some behavioral quirk; I can never get too pissed off if I remind myself that my parents made a severe decision for the betterment of their kids before they even had any. Sure, the situation isn't unique by a long shot, but that doesn't diminish its importance in the least. When I see and speak with the family from which our branch has so strenuously deviated, I am at once shocked at the depths of human antipotential and warmed by my parent's will to leave those depths behind. I see what they must have seen when they reached the age of reproduction: fearful, ignorant people with agressive streaks and a mean distaste for productivity, or even activity in general. I see front lawns where the only things that grow are scrap metal tonnage and oil slicks. I watch three year old girls who can barely speak because they never hear any words tucked away in a tiny room away from the adults. I see the carcasses of dead dogs carefully staked to fallen trees in some grotesque demonstration of force. I see pictures of my 8 3/4-fingered cousin beaming gleefully as a bailiff escorts him into a jail cell.

I shudder at the sights. I think it's a genetic carry-over of the disgust and horror that my mom and dad felt when, confronted with the prospect of becoming parents, the truth of their situation suddenly came into critical focus. I thank that disgust as it was the impetus that foresaw my own conception and upbringing, the image against which I was fashioned.

Yesterday I went back to say hello to some of them as disease and other, more willful factors are beginning to encroach on the former structure of our family tree. I was uncomfortable most of the time, but then again I came across happiness in some unexpected places. Some photogrpaphs I took mimic nicely the oddity of finding a mote of beauty amid a sea of shit.


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