At middayÂ on Friday, June 19th, 1987, while en route to a convention in Minnesota, Barb and I stopped in Clear Lake, Iowa. I had just started writing my second novel, Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, and Clear Lake was a logical place to take some pictures and do a little research. It was the town where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson had played their last concert on February 2, 1959.
At the Clear Lake Public Library, a helpful librarian told me a story about Buddyâ€™s glasses. It seems that someone (the county coroner?) from Mason City (the county seat) had taken the glasses from the site of the plane crash . . . and as far as the librarian knew, they were still locked up in a desk at the courthouse. Buddyâ€™s widow, Maria Elena Holly, had even asked for them â€“ andÂ had beenÂ refused. The county, for some odd reason, thought they should hang on to them . . .
Two Headed Baby played a special gig last weekend.
It was a good weekend for me, in many, many ways. Iâ€™m planning to post in more detail on that later today or perhaps tomorrow.
I set up a laptop to record the gig as best I could through a single mic off to the side, and seem to have caught about two-thirds of it on disk. Iâ€™ve just finished processing a couple of the songs, and thought you might enjoy listening to THB in full fury.
Rachael was there, and told me that we sounded awesome, but she was being especially kind to her Papa last weekend, because I was suffering a great loss. The audience danced their asses off, and didn’t throw anything sharp or too hard at us. I figure that we probably didn’t suck, much.
As you may know, our old drummer got bored with just hitting things and wandered off to try to learn how to be another goddam dime-a-dozen guitar player. Bob Yeager, who still enjoys smashing the hell out of everything, has gracefully taken his place.
Caroline Spector on bass, cello, and vocals, Warren Spector on rhythm and lead guitar, Gilda Ginsel on vocals and keyboard, my nice friend Bradley Denton on vocals, harp, and rhythm and lead guitar. I was up there, too, mostly played rhythm guitar.
However, we made the mistake of allowing both GreyLion and Bulky Jones to sit in. And they wanked endlessly. Please forgive them.
Iâ€™ve whined repeatedly about the Loudness Wars, but â€“ I smashed the hell out these recordings, just because it seemed the rock â€˜n roll thing to do. Another mea culpa for that. I tried to leave a few dynamics in place.
This stuff is meant to be played loud, though, so you should turn the volume knob all the way to the right. I hope your neighbors donâ€™t find it too painful to listen to.
Pics credit to Cheryl Collum, who, incidentally, happens to be my baby sister.
I would like to give you the impression that my culinary life is one amazing adventure after another. The truth is that much of the time I eat pretty boring food. But when I do have a food experience that I think could conceivably give the impression that I am living the high food life, I like to blog it. For a Chowhound, the ultimate food experience is the unexpected, the hole in the wall that turns out to be great, the different.
Once in awhile it happens just like that.
Many months ago, Bob and I read an article about a restaurant called Little Thailand. The legend is that Dick was in Vietnam back in the day and married a Thai girl. He brought her back to the states. It didnâ€™t work out. But somehow along the way he ended up marrying another Thai girl and building a restaurant/bar called Little Thailand. She cooks Thai and he makes the steaks and Hungarian Goulash and the hot sauce.
A framed review on the wall calls Little Thailand â€˜a trailer park temple to authentic Thai foodâ€™ and thatâ€™s probably as good a description as any. The restaurant is in the front of a low ceilinged building out past the airport. We drove into the Texas dark, out into country where Austin has not yet become cool and found it under the Garfield water tower as promised. Itâ€™s the kind of place that has handwritten signs stuck on the wall that say things like â€œKiller Thai Bloody Mary’s Awesome and Lip Smacking.â€ Bob orders one.
It is the spiciest-hot Bloody Mary either of us have ever tasted. It is the first time I have ever had a drink that required a glass of water to go with it. Continue reading →
(This is a reprint of an essay I did for Small Beer Press–I’m headed to the airport and pressed for time. Next week, I promise, back to stuff about food, dogs, and TV.)
When I was in Mr. Fish’s class in fourth grade class at St. Columban, we had a mock election for President and I voted for Nixon. He won by a landslide. Granted, that was the year Nixon was re-elected in a landslide, but I proffer this bit of personal information as evidence that I am, at heart, a rather conservative person. I don’t want to be a conservative person. Studying literature and art, it becomes very clear that the really good writers and artists, the really important ones, are not conservative people. They are the people who institute change. Who make us see and think in different ways. So much of my life has been an effort to somehow convert myself from a mildly anxious, essentially conservative Catholic school girl into a radical, free-thinking writer. Continue reading →
Iâ€™m not by nature a nostalgic person. I think of my childhood as primarily a time when other people told me what to do, where to go, what to eat, when to go to bed, what to wear, and when my options were limited by my lack of resources. Sure, someone took care of me, fed me, bought my clothes, loved me, but for example, I was on a rural bus route that took an hour and I get motion sick. The doctor prescribed medication so I wouldnâ€™t throw up every morning, but no one ever offered me any options other than fly out the door at 6:15 every morning for a dull and mildly nauseating hour. That, as far as I am concerned, summed up a lot of childhood. You make the best of it.
Bob has been consumed by nostalgia lately. Heâ€™s reading about Ghoulardi, a kind of cult TV personality who was big in Cleveland when he was growing up. Iâ€™m painting a bedroom and I bought some photographs off Etsy to have framed and hung. Then I thought about how all those decorating shows tell you to frame your own photographs so I dug out my box of photos from China and started going through them. I discovered two things. Iâ€™m not a good photographer. And I am deeply nostalgic about the girl in those photographs.
I was 28 when I went to China. I had a sense of what my life could be that was very different (of course) from how it turned out. I like how it turned out, mostly because of Bob. But Iâ€¦regret is too strong a wordâ€¦I have some wistfulness about the other life, which involved a great deal more travel. The road not taken, so to speak. I wanted to speak another language, live in another country again.
Of course, what I forget about that girl is that she was unpublished and felt a tremendous weight of anxiety. When I was 28 I had a life of rented rooms. I had never owned a couch, which seemed to me at the time symbolic of some sort of rootlessness and lack of seriousness. I had spent several years chasing the dream of being a writer. For some of those years I didnâ€™t have a job or health insurance or a car or a boyfriend or a television. No dog, of course. I felt as if I was falling farther and farther behind in life. I wasnâ€™t sure that I would ever be a writer. Or that I would ever be anything other than marginal.
Of course, being marginal was what gave me the freedom to up and go to China. Now, painting and decorating a room in my very nice house, living as a writer, I know that I wasnâ€™t in fact falling behind. I forget all that. I see that girl and I forget all the anxiety of being young and uncertain. I see China. I see a time when who I was seemed more malleable. Itâ€™s a middle-aged kind of nostalgia. One I have no patience for in other people, and swore I would never indulge.
Bob hates reality TV. What he really hates is the elimination at the end of so many reality shows, where someone is ritually exiled from the group, their torch is put out, the supermodel tells them theyâ€™re â€˜outâ€™, they are fired, or they are told to pack their knives and go. Which may explain part of the appeal of the show that has snagged Bob. Folding laundry one night, searching the TV for something to distract him, he came across The Real Housewives of Orange County. And now heâ€™s a fan.
The Real Housewives follows six white, upper-class straight women who live in Orange County. They depict the Orange County lifestyle, which according to the show is gated communities of McMansions, Republicanism, rampant materialism and boob jobs. Cameras follow them around to catch them at their most entertaining worst. We are there when one of them goes to a consultation with a plastic surgeon to get her breast implants removed because her doctor says her DDâ€™s are the cause of her back issues and her husband complains that he doesnâ€™t want her to go too small.
Part of it is the unsparing but uninsightful eye of the camera. We see what the women do and what they say, but other than superficial commentary from the women themselves, we never get any real insight into why, for example, Vicki is so driven and controlling in her business and with her children, or why she drinks so hard at parties. (â€œThey say I did a â€˜woo-wooâ€™ shot with the bartender,â€ she says, â€œbut I donâ€™t remember it.â€ A pause. â€œI donâ€™t!â€ And then we see her on film, doing a shot with the bartender and shrieking â€˜woo-woo!â€™ with him.) There is an old saying that people who marry for money earn every dime. The same might be said for these women, who may not have married for money, per se, but who certainly pay a price for their devotion to what they call â€˜the OC lifestyle.â€™ Many have been married a couple of times, several have difficult issues with children, all of them have issues with their bodies. Continue reading →
To those of you who might have already read my posts about getting a dog in my blog, my apologies. But you know, I’m kinda excited and preoccupied, so:
Weâ€™re getting a new dog. Weâ€™re getting a rescue from a local Golden Retriever Rescue group. Our son is grown and out of the house. We have some disposable income. This whole exercise is clearly some sort of surrogate adoption experience.
It started with the adoption procedures. (Thatâ€™s what the rescue group refers to it as, â€˜adoption.â€™ Giving them a dog is called a â€˜surrender.â€™) I filed an application and paid a fee. That was followed by a phone interview. And then a house visit, where we wre again interviewed and our home was inspected for suitability. We discussed what kind of food we would give the dog, where the dog would sleep, and promised to repair a couple of places in our fence.
Then we got a call asking us if we would foster a dog with option to adopt. Thatâ€™s Hudson, the doofus pictured above. Heâ€™s 2 years old and was found running alongside the highway. The woman who rescued him has a child under two and another on the way and although Hudson is really good with her child, well, heâ€™s a dog. And he is more than she can handle. Could we take him? Absolutely.
Yesterday I got the stuff for the nursery ready for him to come and live with us. Because we already have the worldâ€™s most annoying mini dachshund, we put up the old giant dog crate in our bedroom where Hudson could retreat to safety. But he needed a mat for the crate, of course. So I went and bought a mice comfy foam mat with a cover that fits in his crate. And he needed a new leash, and Shellyâ€™s food is for Senior dogs and heâ€™s not seniorâ€¦well, you get the idea.
Thereâ€™s a commercial for a service that allegedly protects against identity theft. In it a guy sings about why he is wearing a pirate costume serving tourists in a restaurant. (Itâ€™s because he was bankrupted when his identity was stolen.) When I think of restaurants that set out to entertain, thatâ€™s the first image that comes to mind. The theme restaurant. Mariachi guys serenading over bad fajitas. Chuck E Cheese, where your kids will be distracted enough you might get a moment to just sit and watch them spend your money on games, or itâ€™s adult incarnation, Damonâ€™s, where you can play a quiz using the electronic quiz thingy on your table and play, not only against the other geniuses in your particular restaurant, but against people all over the country eating at Damon’s and ignoring their food just like you are. And although Damonâ€™s food is not horrible, it isnâ€™t exactly a crime to ignore it, either.
Thereâ€™s been a kind of an upsurge of food as fun for people who might even like to eat. Probably the bottom feeder of this is The Melting Pot, which is fondue. Fondue is a license to officially play with your food. But it isnâ€™t particularly great food. I mean, any time you let the customers cook for themselves, the point is really not cooking technique. I like fondue, but mostly I like it sitting around with friends, getting drunk and threatening each other with the little forksâ€”in other words, I like fondue the way it was done in the fifties, when everyone got a fondue set as a wedding present. The idea of opening a restaurant where I let non-professionals anywhere near hot oil for cooking seems rather scary to me.
My kid, Adam, is a meat eater. He, like me, would really like to be a vegetarian. But the fact is, if we were vegetarians, weâ€™d have to give up meat. Iâ€™ve tried. Iâ€™ve failed. Now I cook with duck fat and constrain myself to a kind of low level sniping at vegetarians who I resent because I consider them morally superior to me. Texas is a meat lovers paradise and Adam is a fan of BBQ. But I found a restaurant recently that pretty much nailed the food as amusement thing, the Brazilian Steakhouse. Iâ€™ve actually eaten steak in Brazil and itâ€™s very good. Brazil happens to be geographically sitting next to Argentina, where cattle is king. But when I was in Brazil, I never ate at anything like Fogo de Chao. First of all, the entire wait staff is wearing gaucho attireâ€”shirts, short pants, black shiny gaucho boots. I said to Adam that at least they werenâ€™t wearing pirate costumes and he gave me a withering glance. He was right, this wasnâ€™t exactly an improvement.
There are Brazilian gauchos, but gauchos and gaucho cuisineâ€”beef roasted over a fire and a drink called mateâ€”are really Argentinian. I donâ€™t know why Fogo de Chao isnâ€™t an Argentinian steakhouse. But I am quibbling. And Brazil is a big country with a number of different cuisines, including Bahianâ€”which figures big in Jorge Amado’s luscious novel, Dona Flora and Her Two Husbands. Maybe in the south, where the jungle gives way pampas, there are Brazilian steakhouses. Continue reading →
You don’t have to have gotten married at the New Year to be a Brainiac, but apparently it helps. Bob and I got married on January 2. (We wanted to get married on January 1, but the mayor was busy. Our suspicion was that it had to do with sports on TV.) I had ideas about marriage being a contract rooted in capitalist obsessions with property and was deeply ambivalent about the whole thing. On the other hand, I had (and have) a sincere appreciation for the importance of ritual in the human psyche and you don’t have many more fraught opportunities for ritual than a wedding. Bob just asked me to wear something other than blue jeans. He said he was wearing a suit. So I broke down and bought a cream colored suit which I subsequently wore to work.
It was, in fact, a contract rooted in capitalist obsessions with property.
But it was also a ritual of extreme importance. When the mayor spoke the vows, I had the sense of something deeply irrevocable happening. Not that I didn’t know of lots of people who got divorced. Not that I wasn’t aware of the utter fragility of those vows. But they were vows, and somehow that meant that this moment would leave a mark, would be scored on us in someway. Tribal scars of the psyche. It was a test of our optimism, I guess. I am not, by nature, an optimistic person. It was like playing a high stakes table and putting money down. Win or lose, you’re putting it on the table.
Tonight we went out with the boys to celebrate. It’s our fifteenth. Which is crystal. (Not as fun perhaps as the 3rd Anniversary, which is leather. But better than the 7th, which is wool. Or, if you’re modern, desk sets. Who is in charge of that, anyway?) There are things no one can tell you about marriage. When it works, mysterious partnership, there is the utter pleasure of being an expert at this one thing, being with each other. Knowing the rhythms of another as you know yourself. The sound of breathing, the physical cadence of a heartbeat. I know Bob across the room without my glasses. I know the way his shirts fit across his shoulders, and what it is like to touch the back of his shirt with my fingertips.
I’ve seen how awful a bad marriage is. There is nothing more lonely than being alone in a marriage, I think. But we are made for this pairing, however imperfectly we do it. However much biology says we are also made to push at it’s boundaries. It is something that suits me better and better with age. And I am grateful.
I posted last week about an Ebay auction and low and behold, this week I received the following:
I have some vague idea who might have sent such a thing–it has a US stamp and an Oklahoma postmark. And so I deduce that it might be in Czech. The only words I know in Czech are…well, I don’t know any words in Czech. But I went to grad school, dammit, and I had a language requirement, and if that taught me anything, it taught me how to make a half-assed translation in a language I didn’t know. As best I can figure, the postcard reads:
I cannot resist. Muzete me this translate? â€œgive me spout within beer.â€
While everybody else is spreading good cheer and all that, I view major holidays as an opportunity to eat. I canâ€™t actually afford to eat in the style that I wish I was accustomed to, so I cook. This Christmas is a traditional fat and carb filled extravaganza. Oh, weâ€™re having roasted green beans, but thatâ€™s about the only nod towards rational healthy eating. Otherwise weâ€™re having an artery-clogging, insulin cranking traditional feast. A big beef standing rib, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes.
When I was a kid, we never ate at my grandmotherâ€™s. Other people remember grandmaâ€™s cooking. My grandmother was not domestic. She didnâ€™t actually wash her glasses, she just rinsed them, which my mother found so skeevy that I donâ€™t think she ever drank so much as a glass of water at her mother-in-lawâ€™s, although she also never said anything until long after my grandparents were gone. We did eat there once. Overdone roast beef, potatoes, and those ice cream cups with the little wooden spoons. As a kid, I found the whole bag-of-little-ice-cream-cups thing enchanting. And I suspect it certainly saved on clean-up. But what I remember even more were the roasted potatoes. Brown and caramelized on the outside, meltingly creamy on the inside. I had never had a perfectly roasted potato before and to be frank, I donâ€™t think I ever have since. I have always suspected it was an accident. Or maybe it was the one thing she cooked really, really well.
So when I found Nigella Lawsonâ€™s recipe for roasted potatoes, promising the secret to the perfect crunch brown exterior and the soft, creamy interior, I was instantly reminded of those wonderful potatoes from my grandmother. Nigella says that the perfect roasted potato is all a matter of one simple thingâ€”the fat. And the fat is goose fat.
In my fantasies, I donâ€™t imagine dinner with Voltaire (happy birthday, V.) or Abraham Lincoln or Will Rogers. I donâ€™t picture in my head what I would serve to the Dalai Lama, or Matt Damon (the sexiest man alive) or George Clooney. No, when I seat imaginary guests at my dinner table, theyâ€™re chefs. Right now, I can think of no more fun guests to have than Michael Symon of Lola and John Besh of Restaurant August. They both went to the finals of the Next Iron Chef competition and they made great food, and were really funny and fun. (Michael Symon, shaved head intense-looking, has a shotgun giggle that I find terrifically endearing.)
I write for an imaginary audience. What some people call the ideal reader. I cook for a couple of audiences. My husband, especially. But also for the ideal eater. And chefs seem to me to be people steeped in food. Demanding, of course. Understanding and catholicâ€”they get food and what was done with it, and they have to be able to eat broadly. Not all chefs, of course. A chef is the guy in charge of the kitchen. He is the one who creates the menu, tells the line cooks and dishwashers what to do. Heâ€™s a business manager. The guy in the local Big Boy is technically a chef. But thatâ€™s not what I mean. I admire a good chefâ€™s ability to meet price points and organize a kitchen, but what I want is someone who really really thinks a lot about food.
Thanksgiving is a balancing act between the real and the imaginary. My Thanksgiving Menu, posted below the cut, reflects that. Continue reading →
Holidays are bigger than they were when I was a kid.
Christmas is bigger. It starts earlier, and the expectations get higher. I read one time that at every family Christmas celebration, a woman is sitting on the back steps of the house, overwhelmed, exhausted and crying. Halloween is bigger, too, but I have to say it seems singularly less fraught than Christmas. We donâ€™t have any obligations to be happy on Halloween. No one says, â€œThis was the best Halloween ever!â€
My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Your family gets together, eats, talks, maybe plays Uno. The guys fall asleep with the game on. My favorite part of the whole holiday is after the meal while the pie plates are still sitting there and a couple of people are drinking coffee and everyone is just talking. My mother would sometimes pick at leftovers, so we could all pick at leftovers. The whipped cream was homemade. My mom made pumpkin, my sister made pecan pie.
But Halloween is a close second. I love handing out candy. I love the teenagers who are really too old, still caging candy. I love the little little kids who take the front steps like mountain climbers, their M&M costumes flexing. I love the really little ones in tiger costumes with whiskers painted on their faces. I always get good candy. Decent sized chocolate bars and at least one good non-chocolate candy for the kids who donâ€™t love chocolate as much.
I have a family member who was Evangelical Christian who didnâ€™t allow her kids to trick or treat. It was the devilâ€™s holiday, I suppose. Look close and theyâ€™re all the devilâ€™s holidays. Easter bunnies, jolly old elves in red suits and flying reindeer. Itâ€™s all grafted on older holidays, and go deep enough and our holidays are all rooted in rhythms of seasons in Europe. Itâ€™s all about the length of the days, the crops coming in, our own sense of mortality and our fear and joy in seasonal change.
I read an article today asking if kidâ€™s costumes arenâ€™t too risque. Maybe they are. Lord knows, tweens dressing like Brittany Spears is a scary idea to me. But I remember micro-mini skirts from the sixties. Weâ€™re always afraid that our kids are too precocious. The waltz was deemed sexy and sinister, accused of whipping youth into a sexual frenzy. Halloween says something about who we are, and our fears about it also say something about who we are as a culture and a nation. Weâ€™ll x-ray candy (although no one can actually find any cases of tainted Halloween candy except for one boy who was poisoned by his father for the insurance claim.) Weâ€™ll have parties to keep them off the streets. But mostly, kids and dads will troop up and down the street with flashlights and glow bands and plastic bags.
This year Iâ€™ll be on a plane so I wonâ€™t get to see what Halloween in Texas is like. I know that the kids wonâ€™t have to wear winter coats over their costumes like they often had to in Ohio. But the leaves wonâ€™t have turned, either. Bob and I wonâ€™t be able to sit together on the front step, playing Brubeck on the boom box, handing out candy, while the leaves of the flowering pear tree burn brilliant yellow orange. I left candy for you to hand out, Bob. Tell me what the cute costumes were. Tell me if we had a lot of kids or a few. Tell me if Halloween is different in Texas.
Mary Doria Russell forwarded me a link about where writer’s write. It’s primarily about where British and Irish writers write, which already, for me, infuses the whole idea with a whiff of romance. I know a little of the lore of how writer’s write. Legend is that Guy du Maupassant had to have the smell of aging apples in the room in order to write and always kept an apple or two rotting in a desk drawer. Thomas Wolfe apparently was so tall that he stood and wrote on top of the refrigerator, tossing the pages over his shoulder for his sister to pick up.
I have a strong sense that where people write is somehow meaningful, although my favorite ‘office’ in the list is for the New Yorker Jonathan Safran Foer who says, “”I used to work in the Rose Reading Room of the 42nd Street Branch of the New York Public Library.” Seamus Heaney’s office is rather nice, too.
The image above is actually misleading since my desk usually has a pile of papers on it. I’ve worked in a variety of offices over the years. My bedroom when I was in Brooklyn since I lived in a rooming house. But it was a hundred year old brownstone so it was a splendid old place. My mother’s basement, where I finished my first novel. In our last house I had our smallest bedroom and my husband had a much bigger office, except he had to share his with the guest bed and sometimes with a guest. When we bought this house his devout wish was that he would have his own office without a bed, and he does. I had a room set aside for my office, but it occurred to me that in all the time we had a living room and a family room we never used the living room. It was the prettiest room in our old house and had the paintings you see on the right. Those were on the wall of my paternal grandparent’s house and they are very much of their time (around 1920, I’d say.) And the glass goblets on the low buffet (which is full of paper and envelopes and supplies) are bohemian glass, also from the same grandparents around the same time.
So this time, I left the little bedroom as a bedroom and set up in the living room. The funny pile of red plaid in the lower right corner is a dog bed and Shelly the dachshund sleeps there. What you can’t see in the photo are the filing cabinets. They’re under the window out of the frame to the left and they’re just ugly, metal filing cabinets. And you can’t see that my office is in a fairly large, fairly empty front great room and the side that is supposed to be the formal dining room has a Tama drum kit set up in it and not much other furniture.
Still, it’s the most lovely office I’ve ever had. And the amazing thing is I actually work in it. My suspicion has always been that I would never actually write anything in a nice office.
I know at least two of my fellow brainiacs have nifty offices. I’ve seen Caroline’s and it’s really exactly what I picture in my head when I think writer’s office–except that the wall color is better than what I picture in my head. And Steve, of course, built his. I think that photos of your offices should be posted. I’ve also seen Brad’s and it looks like he actually writes in it. And it has dog beds!
I don’t know what mine says about me, but at the moment I am convinced whatever it says is quite conducive to composition.