I have eaten more sausage gravy than any man should. I am sure there are men who could eat more sausage gravy than me. That would be a decidedly bad idea. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Food
I lived on Park Place for ten weeks in a spacious apartment. We had no furniture other than two folding chairs and a card table that we bought at Target. My brother slept in the first bedroom, next to the front door and the bathroom. Tiles fell off the bathroom ceiling into the tub, which didn’t drain until week nine when the plumber extracted a plug of hair from the drain. The brown and black hair was compressed and stretched into a vaguely phallic shape, like a voodoo charm or a teratoma trapped under a young girl’s left lung, filled with baby teeth and a little beating heart. The plumber left it under the sink. I almost tripped over it.
The kitchen was no better. Two of the gas burners worked properly, enough for French toast or a pot of chicken curry, but certainly not for anything more elaborate. On the Fourth of July, I cooked pork chops, spinach, and sweet potatoes, a meal that just about strained the capacity of the stove to catastrophic failure. Early, perhaps the third week into our lease, we detached the kitchen smoke alarm. I prefer cast iron, and to cook properly in cast iron, one needs to heat the oiled metal till it splutters and blows thin smoke. The sink filled with flies, our milk went sour every Monday after Sunday shopping as though cursed, and I could barely manage to maintain a baseline threshold of cleanliness. No matter how much effort I put into scrubbing the Tupperware we used instead of china, grime seemed to accumulate in the corners with disturbing regularity. A minor tragedy. But in summation, the many minor tragedies of 600 Park Place made normal life a near impossibility. No air conditioning, broken windows, missing light fixtures, crumbling plaster, water damage, and the occasional rodent renter. Like with human cohabitants, the mouse demands a degree of privacy. When encountered in the middle of the night, on the way to the fridge for a sip of spoilt milk or a piss, the mouse darts for his lair behind the plastic garbage can. The intruder, equally startled and embarrassed, sidesteps towards his final destination with a nod of recognition, eyes turned down to avoid obligatory conversation.
The Franklin Avenue Shuttle runs above ground past Park Place. Every morning, I crossed the street, bounded up two flights of narrow stairs and snagged the train on its brief bobble between Prospect Park and Franklin. At night, however, the train still operated with the same regularity, departing in seven-minute intervals, or thereabouts depending on the style of the conductor on duty. Trains really do chug, I learned this summer: they clatter and rattle rhythmically like a predictable jazz drum kit warming up for a solo. Have you ever lived under the train tracks? Eventually, you fall asleep in a hypnotic daze, pounded into bewilderment by the continual crush of steel wheels on steel tracks. It is not a restful sleep, the slumber of those living under train tracks. But like Alvy, Woody Allen’s delicious nebechal who lives under a rollercoaster in Annie Hall, the trauma of mechanical motion becomes a part of ordinary life. I think I will miss the sound of the subway. An empty space will open in my sleeping mind, and something nasty will want to creep in, a hairy ball of waking neuroses. Right now, the train protects me from unconsciously turning daylight horrors about my palms; soon, I will need to face the plumber or the broker banging at the door and demanding to show the apartment to two clients who ‘came all the way from Texas.’ Continue reading
The terrifying thing about New York City is that, unlike Paris, one realizes that the streets are exhaustible, that eventually, one will have seen everything. And it will be time to go. I came to that realization the last two weekends, on journeys to the Bronx. Continue reading
Sunset Park smells like barber’s lather and masa.
I went for breakfast on a Saturday, just as the barbershops started opening for business. Electric clippers, the faintest match strike of a razor strop, rumba on the radio; but I smelled the shaving cream first.
These are my morning smells: black coffee, dried figs, the clean emptiness of yogurt, which has no smell at all, and is intended to fertilize the bowels with cleanliness, and Gillette shaving cream. I am always thirsty for coffee in the morning, as soon as I wake up, and smell someone walking past on the sidewalk with a cup from a corner donut cart. Then, my mouth and nose water and I want coffee. I have not shaved in a few weeks, so I cannot honestly say I miss the scent of shaving cream. I can experience shaving well enough from the voyeur’s vantage point. Continue reading
The Ganesh Temple Canteen is a basement annex of the temple proper. Visitors enter through a steel door on street level. Next to a security booth, there are neat rows of sandals and sockless shoes, battered and electrical taped empty sockets. Down two flights of stairs, the canteen smells like a fine dusting of curry powder. As a boy I mussed the tops of pewter curry plants that I grew in tomato planters. The smell of rich yellow would cloud my eyes like a bottle rocket set off on asphalt and brimstone. Although my plants died in the St. Louis summer, even hotter than the immense fiery imaginary sun of India, I nourished their memory in the architecture of my upper skull. My sinus chambers would resonate with the twang of pulluvan paattu. I caught a green snake and smelled my fingers. His dusky skin, shedding on my hand, reminded me of my garden, something grassy and thrumming. Continue reading
“I’d never expect to meet a writer in Hoboken.”
She’s thin—thin enough to say so—with black hair, 45 years on the face and a toddler. Dames Coffee sells iced mocha chai whatever, enough of an excuse to sip awhile on a 95-degree afternoon. While circumnavigating Hoboken I sweated through my t-shirt twice, but she still bothered to notice: “Will Write For Food”: silkscreened and chipped around the corners. I love that shirt for no decent reason. It provokes awkward compliments wherever I go. On the 2 train to Flatbush, a homeless man with wriggling veiny arms shook my hand and said, “I’m a writer too, great shirt.” The shirt’s simple, banal wit resonates with an original American platitude. We all dream to be something that can’t support our dreaming habit. That’s why so many I-bankers quit Wall Street and start chocolate shops in Bay Ridge.
Frizzled from the heat: “Have you ever heard of The Moth? You should check it out,” my new friend says, explaining NPR’s live storytelling project. I wonder if she ever dreamt of writing; whether she ever realized that being a writer is nothing more than a declaration and a loose commitment. Or, in my case, an old t-shirt. Continue reading
South Williamsburg is bundled up in wool pants and black jackets. The umami of sweat smell, like leaded gasoline, fogs the sidewalk, humid and dense. The Hasidim must suffer from New York summers—but you will never hear a complaint. The men just drip, tight-lipped behind tangled beards, and the women are speechless despite the discomfiture of bottlebrush wigs. I regularly run through the neighborhood, cross country shorts flapping high on my thighs, sweat soaking through a mesh t-shirt. We pass on the sidewalk without eye contact. There is a palpable hostility that dissolves in the air like a bitter lozenge. Then again, the hatred and fear do not only circulate between the Hasidim and intruders: smiling and casual conversation are discouraged. Men walk side-by-side, heads bent together, beards growing together, twining like vines and tree limbs forced together from lack of light, whispering, peyes bobbing like synchronized springs. Their wives keep a watchful eye on children from balconies, or push strollers and scold their babies, or conduct serious tribunals on their stoops. Surveillance is reciprocal; purity is maintained within a system of implicit discipline. Gangs of children, all toddlers and adolescents, roam untethered, but never fear, no Clockwork Orange shit here. Chaos boils inside a latex bubble, elastic and capable of absorbing violence. The occasional rupture—child molestation, a kidnapping, race riots—is incorporated back into the membrane and dampened into a silent ripple. History becomes the stuff of nightmares, never discussed or remembered during the day, but a constant threat when the ladies let their real hair down—or run their fingers through air, because many shave their skulls short. Continue reading
My most restful nights have been by the sea.
I can sit on a vinyl recliner and let the air wash my face. The sea air is delicious and full of extra oxygen. It is especially nutritious and satisfying to breathe. The wind lifts ancient minerals off the waves. They trickle through the nasal epithelium and tickle the brain. My lips tingle. My most restful nights have been by the sea.
If you start from Coney Island and follow the sea you will eventually find Brighton Beach. Last Saturday looked Moscovian. Gray and white clouds dwarfed the sand and sucking waves. Highrise apartments were flat prints on the skyline. The subway lurches across metal stilts and shelters beneath its pantaloons a romantic avenue of liquor stores, groceries and restaurants and fruit markets, Soviet electronics, cell phones, CDs and VHS tapes, souvenirs, dance halls and nightclubs, cheap insurance, doctors, etc. An alternative universe has budded off the train and dangles, contained by its own surface tension—two blocks away from the umbilical bubble, you are in dark uterine trenches, suburban, overgrown and peeling like seashore homes tend to during unseasonably cool summers. Even compared to Flushing or Sunset Park, Brighton Beach is glowering and mysterious. With less friendly teenagers and more grumping octogenarians, maneuvering through the barricaded shops can be stifling. Frankly, if you are young and hanging out you considered a threat to general order and unwanted. Although we encountered welcoming and interested faces, we also met rude clerks who wanted nothing to do with a few Russian Jews strung out along a genealogical strand. When exploring this neighborhood, the intrepid cosmopolitan must prepare for the best: confusion and outright hostility. Continue reading