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...]

Seahawks Sweat-Soda (a Partial Repost)

bottlesandpac

That's Seahawks all-pro tackle Walter Jones selling it Perspiration in a Bottle Forgive me, I have never reposted anything, but the Superbowl opportunity smacked me in the face. These alluring beverages will not be available, except in stores that specialize in dusty sports memorabilia. I loved the inevitability of puns and wordplay when I was a kid, and so I thought the title of the oh-so-'60s musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd was an absolute laff riot. Still, though I could imagine what a crowd smelled like, … [Read more...]

“Dirt Always Wins” — A Story, Part Two

'30s girl injecting insulin

Sterile Technique There’s a curiously moving photo in a 1930s medical handbook put out by Dr. Elliott P. Joslin, who started a clinic in Boston that still specializes in treating diabetics. It shows a sweet Shirley Temple clone, almost 3 years old, the caption says, sitting on a wooden table and injecting her doll-like thigh with a needle and syringe that contains a dose of insulin. (A darling voice muffles an “ouch!”) She’s just a baby, yet she’s her own life-saving nurse. I became diabetic at 7 and almost died because the family doctor … [Read more...]

“Dirt Always Wins” — A Story in Six Parts

Stain wheel

One: Stains     Have you ever seen a stain wheel? It’s a practical novelty, die-cut layers of glossy printed cardboard that you’d have found in an old five-and-dime. Is something you love spotted or blotched? Merely turn the wheel to your problem: egg, gum, alcoholic beverages, axle grease, urine, mustard, glue, mildew, flowers, and the step-by-step stain solution, as it were, appears in a window. Similar wheels were made long ago for bashful young men who needed help in coordinating the colors of their suits, shirts and ties -- before they … [Read more...]