by Edward O’Neil
Save my City Aurora —Message written on a t-shirt, worn at a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Let me bring you up to speed. My name is Wayne Campbell. I live in Aurora, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago. Excellent. —Wayne’s World (1992).
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are 29 towns named “Aurora” in the United States. Before Friday, July 20th, 2012, most Americans of a certain age and cultural persuasion had heard of one, the home of Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, two twenty-somethings who host a public access show out of Wayne’s basement. The movie Wayne’s World, released in 1992, was based on a popular Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name starring Mike Myers as Wayne and Dana Carvey as Garth. “Aurora” is a kind of Anytown, representative of boring, straight, stiff, white American life. It’s the perfect setting for Wayne and Garth’s bizarre antics, including a “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along, Garth’s homemade Taser, and sticking it to “the man,” figured as a rich old dressed-up dude whom Wayne accosts at a traffic light with a request for “Grey Poupon.” Although Aurora is a boring-as-hell middle-American pit, in Wayne’s World, it becomes surreal, a place where the laws of probability devolve and absurdity feels just par for the course. The great joke of Wayne’s World plays out in the tension between Aurora’s obvious banality and Wayne and Garth’s peculiar fantasies. Wayne and Garth radiate an electromagnetic field that distorts Aurora’s diners and guitar shops into a theme park populated by post-adolescent grotesques. Continue reading
by Andrew Luzmore, Cornell University
Following an arduous eight days in the south of Italy characterized by numerous misbooked accommodations and non-functioning credit cards, my friend and I found ourselves in Amsterdam on the final day of our summer trip. Content to never hear another “Grazie” or “Prego” again in our lives, we walked across the tarmac to the terminal of Schiphol Airport. It was cold and wet outside, and although we were still wearing shorts and t-shirts, the inclement Amsterdam weather provided a welcome respite from the intense Italian sun, as rain drizzled down and hit our tired, sunburnt legs. Continue reading
by Andrew Luzmore, Cornell University
It is a central irony in high-end restaurants that those who prepare the food often never taste the fruits of their labor. With the exception of those involved in conceptualizing and creating the menu, the majority of the work force, consisting mainly those of Latin American, West African or Southeast Asian extraction, rarely have the means to dine at the restaurants in which they devote their lives. Instead, daily sustenance in the restaurant in which I spent my summer was taken from the quotidian tradition of the family meal: a meal made by a single cook on a rotational basis for the entire staff using whatever is lying around, and more importantly, cheap. Although considered a necessary evil by some because of the rushed and sometimes careless fashion in which it is put together, for most the family meal serves as a mechanism to share in the culinary traditions of others and a much-needed outlet to unwind after a long shift. Continue reading
Zach Bell, Yale University
This may not look like the best burrito I have ever eaten. In fact, this burrito looks woefully shrunken in the middle, wrinkled, not stuffed to bursting like a paragon burrito should. Despite its visual deficiencies, I can assure you that this was a burrito sent from the heavens.
Due to space constraints and certain so-called copy ‘rules,’ my latest column for the Spectator appeared in abridged form. Here, I am publishing the full version. It is not that the Spectator version is inferior—some may find it infinitely more enjoyable—but rather that it is different, both in aesthetic effect and implicit meaning. You will notice that in the Spectator version, all quoted source material has been excised. In this unabridged version, the quotations remain in their original, unattributed form. If you are interested in finding out where the quotes come from, I’m happy to answer any and all queries. Click here for the abridged version.
The tongue is a lean muscle. It swims through linguistic fluid, writhes over benthic riddles, stiffens and retreats like a sea slug crawling across strange corals. Like a pig’s tongue—snuffling tree roots or extended in squeals—the human lingua, from to root to apex, is a fleshy, muscular organ “divided into lateral halves by a median fibrous septum which extends throughout its entire length and is fixed below to the hyoid bone.” Without the tongue, we could neither taste nor speak—the essential consumptive and expulsive functions of the oral cavity would be rendered pleasureless. I feel sorry for the pig who gave his tongue for our dinner at Best Fuzhou. What a dull and inarticulate life! But if the mouth of the righteous is sodden with wisdom, the perverted tongue will be excised. I have personally performed a glossectomy of necessary and delicious ends. Cooked in soy sauce and chilled until dense and gelatinous, my pig’s tongue tastes like curses and corned beef. Continue reading
Andrew Luzmore, Cornell University
Feeding oneself is a topic that often stirs anxiety among college students. For many, it is a question of what they will eat. Will there be a vegetarian option? They expect me to eat that? However, for most it is a question of with whom. Logistically speaking, we college students tend to eat 3-4 meals a day and taking into account varying schedules and the limited Rolodex of potential dining companions a first-semester freshman can have, chances are every now and then you’re going to be eating some of your meals alone. Continue reading
I traveled an hour and a half for lunch, which seems insane until you consider my destination: Neerob, New York’s most famous Bangladeshi restaurant. As Dave Cook writes in his review for the Times, “good Bangladeshi cooking is hard to come by in New York.” Switching from the 1 to the 2 to the S to the 6 (Parkchester Local) to the 6 (Pelham Bay Local) is, in my estimation, a fair price for an exceptional meal. I convinced two friends to come along; I studied Serious Eats, Chowhound, and the other relevant scholarship on Mohammed Rahman’s cooking; I bundled up in a barely heated subway car and read graffiti on abandoned auto shops, eavesdropped on audio backwash, scraped gum off my shoe and buffed fingernails on my canvas jacket. It’s 2012 and the Bronx isn’t burning, but buildings and faces still show scars—hard, shiny, wounded surfaces covered with keratomas, knotty swellings of numb trash growing on shop windows and noses. Across the subway aisle, a man watches me the whole trip, eyes almost closed, head plugged with earbuds, secure in his hostile indifference. At the last stop, he disappears down the stairs and we—Jason, Frankie, Wally—are alone on Westchester Avenue. The street is empty, except for cars speeding towards the Cross Bronx Expressway and three white boys running across traffic. Continue reading
“Are we that conspicuous?”
We are walking around the Goody Goody Diner, looking for the entrance. On a warm January morning—thin blue sky, no breeze, sun like unsalted butter—the parking lot looks half-full. A man wearing a red apron chats into an open car, smoking, on break.
“It’s around that way—” he points, smiling and squinting. I start wandering between cars, completing one full lap around the diner to find the door. My brother, Zach, follows, camera slung over shoulder, but my mom pauses. In a strained, uncomfortable voice, she laughs—forcing breath out through the nose and teeth with a tightening around the lips. (Having inherited this habit, I understand its mechanics well.)
“First time here?” The cook asks, and I call back over my shoulder “Yeah,” but my mom slows, laughs, stands for an obvious millisecond.
“Are we that conspicuous?” She says. We are indeed that conspicuous—because she carries a black Kate Spade bag, because despite my Einsteinian tangle of hair and half-shaven cheeks and defeated corduroy coat I wear jeans washed in a certain dark blue/black dye not available at So Flyy Hair Gallery and Mr. Fish—because we are white and walking around Pine Lawn (St. Louis suburb, 95.96% African American, 36.9% below the poverty line). Of course, we also look lost and confused and hungry and in need of assistance. But we mainly look like we don’t belong here, on Natural Bridge Avenue, down the street from Hair Graphics and Princess Beauty Supply and Fashions, Reynolds’ Bar-B-Que, and a lineup of empty nightclubs. Continue reading
“The photographs are not illustrative. They, and the text, are co-equal, mutually independent, and fully collaborative.” James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, xi.
Piglet is squealing.
Mark Ladner, chef at Del Posto, wears square granny glasses and blue latex gloves. With a practiced snap to check for fit, Ladner bends over the cutting board.
Pig: Sus scrofa domesticus: child-like. Its hairy and pink skin reflexes upon palpitation; it snuffles to the human touch. Cradled in the arms of a pubescent girl, its heart beats in languid, muffled, contented ka-thumps. It avoids cold, wet, and windy weather, preferring the safe habitations of a straw-lined litter. In the bluster of a kitchen, the pig peeks its pointed head between open oven doors, inquires into burbling pots, and trips, nervous, as though made uncomfortable by the warm voices far overhead. They speak of dinner and death. Continue reading
I’m in Chengdu Heaven.
There’s a plate of pig ear chopped in thin chunks, absolutely drenched in chili oil and Sichuan peppercorn and covered with something green that tastes like scallion, and I’m stuffing my face. The chopsticks won’t stop careening from styrofoam plate to mouth; I want to stop and my tongue buzzes but my hands involuntary swipe at more ear, rubbery and crunchy like giant pale rubber bands. “This is some pretty good pig ear,” I say, in between bites, and Chef (who’s worked at all sorts of Michelin starred and otherwise applauded restaurants) just nods, his mouth full of dan dan noodles or tripe slathered in more of that ma la concoction, I can’t really tell because he’s really shoveling it in vigorously and enjoying it. Frankie From Seattle is taking a break from the tripe (which also comes with tongue) and is capable of agreeing with me in no uncertain terms: “The best ear I’ve ever eaten.” Continue reading