Why I Love BJ’s, Part 2 — Basket Case

BJ's Basket

Here I am again at BJ's, the cut-rate Costco. Why come back after the other day's purse skirmish? Need kale -- yes, I'm admitting it, sue me. So I grab a snowbanked cart from the lot to use, even for one item, thinking that the checker would be less likely to ask me to open my small black bag and divulge. My, there's a lot of paper garbage in the cart: the usual store coupon-books -- so primitive, they actually make you clip them -- as well as one of my favorite racist coffee-table reads: "Long Island Fugitive Finder." Issues of Fugitive … [Read more...]

It’s My Bag

My old purse

Ever since I came out, when I was a grad student in '70 or '71, I have carried some kind of small bag. My friends at the University of California, San Diego, may recall that I was never without my red, mirrored Indian satchel -- until it fell apart, dropping random mica chips under the campus's fragrant eucalyptus trees. At the time, I occasionally wore bell-bottoms with lace I sewed on the cuffs and soft beige blouses, hoping not to get mascara on the silk: very hard to wash out. That was when the … [Read more...]

Finding My Chowder — Part 2

Corn Chowder

Corn season on the East Coast is ending, sweetness flying off cobs to hole up for the winter and be retrieved -- if we are lucky -- for our next warm time. Still, there's an autumn corn-ucopia to be had. The few farm stands that remain open are stocking swollen cauliflowers and glossy leeks, hard parsnips, more and still more carrots. But the late corn in their coolers, tassels limp, allow us a final chowder. Brooklyn kids from the '50s rarely saw corn on a cob. Canned corn, even dairy-free "creamed style," was considered lazy roughage, so … [Read more...]

Finding My Chowder — Part 1

cannedlunch

  I don't know where she was born, and I don't know her real last name. When I say this to friends or even to party strangers, they quite rightly raise eyebrows. My late mother lived to almost 90. What kind of adult son would have been so profoundly uncurious? As of now, I've found no record of her before her marriage to my dad -- no marriage certificate, either. Her maiden name is "Browne" on the photostat of my birth certificate, but she told me later that that was not the case and offered another one -- also, as it happens, … [Read more...]

Cooking Alone

Broccoli and tagliatelle.jpg

Writers, even on Facebook and Twitter, are solipsistic. Writers burrow, like moles or voles, in whatever dirt we find ourselves to make some kind of momentary home. Because cooking is a form of writing, as eating is a form of reading, I've always felt most comfortable and free when I'm cooking in a tunnel, for myself. Solo menu choices narrow to a slim juggle (no whole turkey tonight), but the ego of one's appetite has the final say. First question: What do I -- I! 80 decibels -- want to eat right now? Too bad there's no microwavable … [Read more...]

Potato Bravo

YukonGold

Potatoes soak up words exactly as they soak up butter. Mash them in, stir them in, whip them in, makes no difference, they disappear. Descended into a silken maelström, language dissolves, and no amount or quality of writing can resist the potato's absorptive, neutralizing nature. Thoughtful or ardent spud poems are doomed in advance. Moby Dick was really the Great White Potato. My strategy here is to keep everything away from the brink because a single, recent kitchen victory -- stirring potatoes -- needn't go far. The only better ones I … [Read more...]

‘Dirt Always Wins’ (Part Six) — Conclusion

Another Country by JamesBaldwin

This would normally be where a guy like me concludes by showing how I resolved my dirt issues, or at least negotiated a balance between cleaning and living free. But that would be a kind of cleaning up, wouldn’t it. At the same time, because pornography has entered the building, the dirty-string gatherer is tempted to state that he can literally visualize dark-blue passages in his introduction to printed dirt: James Baldwin’s  Another Country, which was passed around in high school till it disappeared. Don’t believe me? “Did he fuck … [Read more...]

‘Dirt Always Wins’ (Part Five) — Pay Dirt

Sexplosion

Now I was set up in San Diego, studying English and American literature because a really nice professor I knew with the odd first name of Sacvan – yes, Sacco and Vanzetti, plus his parents named his red-diaper sister “Ninel,” which took me forever to figure out – said anyone could do it, could do lit, and he eased my path. Hard to know in retrospect if he had been kidding. How would I make a living? Teach Jane Austen and Karl Marx to sun-dappled surfers, whom I knew had something to teach me, though I didn’t yet know what. Supplement that … [Read more...]

‘Dirt Always Wins’ (Part Four) — Master of Alconox

Gilbert chemistry set

When, for his ninth or tenth birthday, my spouse received a Gilbert chemistry set, all he wanted to do, he told me, was to make perfume and explosives. I had begged my parents for the same gift, probably for similar reasons, but a cheap plastic microscope must have “fallen off the truck,” because that’s what I got instead. What a whiny child I must have been. Quickly amoeba-centered and science-tracked, I was given the opportunity to work with a scientist at what was then called the Rockefeller Institute, in Manhattan, before leaving high … [Read more...]

‘Dirt Always Wins’ (Part Three) — The White Goddess

Clorox "Butch"

  No good will be served if I demonize my mother and claim that she was responsible for who I am, dirtwise. But almost everything I know about cleaning clothes and floors and toilets I learned from her. Since I was 6, I measured laundry powder, ironed shirts, polished mirrors and even memorized cleaning-supply jingles on TV because they were sung in a code that it was up to me to break. Mom told her friends that she was training me because she thought boys should be self-reliant, but it was actually because she wanted help in the house, … [Read more...]