The Process

Category: Essays

Kitchen Trails and Industry Fails

 

When looking for work, restaurant employees, especially cooks and chefs, are normally expected to trail in the restaurant for a day to see the inner workings of the place and to give the employer an idea of their work habits and skills.  Trails are a simultaneously smart and tragically stupid way to interview candidates for a job.  For a first job, a trail makes sense in the same way the SAT is used to measure learning aptitude.

Does the person take naturally to the work or stand there like an awkward scarecrow?  If they are enrolled in or have graduated from a culinary school, do they have anything to show for it, or are they dumb as rocks and have no idea how using a knife in school translates to using one in real life?  Do they know how to use salt to their advantage, or do they not even realize its importance in cooking?  To verify a new cook’s capability, a trail makes total sense.  For those more experienced, however, a trail can be an awkward, backwards, aggravating, and/ or laughable experience.  For someone with a proven record of experience, in my opinion, a general trail is a waste of time when an interview and tasting or cooking practical would be more than sufficient.

Beginning the search for a job with a trail often has the “starting from scratch” feeling.  None of the cooks are usually informed about the qualifications of the candidate and sometimes don’t know what position he or she is trailing for.  In some cases, that’s because it’s for one of the jobs held by the cooks or chefs present.  Often, the chef who beholds the information about the candidate is too busy and/or too introverted and/or too socially anxious and/or too hungover and/or has forgotten they scheduled a trail today and/or pretty much anything to brief the staff on the person’s background or goals.  And, so, The Trail (as the staff commonly refers to this human who has already introduced their actual name–something I’ve been both guilty and victim of) is guilty of idiocy and ineptitude until proven innocent.  And so often, the real trial–line cooking– doesn’t start until after a couple hours of prep work patronization.

In general, you can’t blame the staff for over-explaining the steps of work to The Trail.  After all, this alien in the kitchen is going to be responsible for some of the food preparation for the restaurant, and it has to be right to serve.  To best prevent any mass destruction, that means that usually the cooks will either play hot potato with The Trail and try not to let it help them by saying things like, “I’m good, do you need it?”  I’ve had the distinct honor of being on a trail the same day as someone looking for a culinary school internship and being pawned off to another cook as in, “Are you using both of them right now, or can I have one?

“No, do you need one of them?”  No names, of course.  The minute things get named, relationships get complicated, after all.

Otherwise, the cooks will give the trail the golden opportunity to chop herbs or go gather all the shit they keep forgetting in their ADHD cooking brains: “Here’s a list of all the things I still need for service, which started five minutes ago.  Can you grab them?”  And so, after a couple hours, the only discernible qualities this human has is whether they can not cut themselves with their own knife on the first task and whether they are able bodied enough to see shit and carry it in their hands.  Having been in the position of both cook and chef administering many trails, I have seen plenty of dumb or green potentials that make a solid argument for the way trails are conducted currently: they cannot be trusted with anything more than the bare minimum.

I’ve seen a guy cook meat on a grill for kebabs and put it on a stick after it was cooked!  I’ve seen a girl label a container of zested citrus as “juice meat” instead of “juice me.”  I’ve had to tell a guy that salads should be dressed with salt, acid, and oil as opposed to just black pepper and oil.  I’ve had a girl triumphantly spilling over with excitement that she knew about the word umami.  That same girl slapped my ass when she left her trail even though I was the one who was deciding whether or not to hire her.  I’ve seen a man go into the bathroom with gloves on and come out wearing them.  For these people, a trail is a kind buffer between them, the potential employer, and their respective and mutual fates.

For people that have years of experience in cooking, though, the time spent dicking around and standing there with a thumb up their asses while waiting for direction (or even watching the cook who owns them for the day do a terrible job and refuse help or advice) is not the most productive way to convince the chef or coworkers of their ability.  It’s quite like if instead of taking the SAT to get into college, you had to take a basic addition test where the first section was finding pencils and proving that you knew how to count to ten and no one was really sure if you’d ever made it past the first grade anyway.

Lately, in my own hunt for a job, I’ve been subject to some interesting moments in kitchens around the city.  Being young hasn’t done me any good in commanding immediate credence in each new kitchen team.  Looking even younger than I am has done me less good.  And say what you will about it, being a female has probably done me even less good.  I get it.  I look more or less like a cherub out of a Michelangelo swathed in chef garb.  My looks don’t give off the same aura of strength and badassery as that possessed by tall, lanky men covered in tattoos, often ones who have chosen to grow a beard to suggest wisdom.  And no matter the growing quantity of damn amazing female chefs out there, the industry is still dude obsessed.

I’m small.  I can’t grow a beard at all.  Automatically, nothing much is expected of me, especially physically, and I’m not established enough in the industry to have a reputation that precedes me.  Staying at the same acclaimed restaurant and climbing through the ranks is a good answer for that, but I don’t like staying somewhere for four years.  So I go back into the culinary playpen every so often.  Here is a list of some times I had to reach deep inside myself and not let myself stick my hand in a flame or chop off a digit to get out of the trail or even first days of a new job early:

  1. When I dropped a microplane on the floor and a cook told me I had to wash it before using it again
  2. The time no one, not even the chef on duty, was informed that I was trailing for a sous chef position and I was therefore lumped in with the culinary school extern hopefuls.  The cook in charge of The Trails was new to cooking and taught us very badly how to make a beurre blanc sauce, wasting expensive cheesecloth as she made her bouquet and including her own variations that she followed based allegedly on her mood any  given day (something very scary to hear from a line level employee charged only with keeping up the consistency of the chef’s recipes).  Luckily, this was also the time I got pawned off on another cook
    1. The time that same girl told me it was best to put hot used pots and pans in a separate bus tub from dirty plastic containers.  Mind blown.
    2. When the other cook I was pawned off on asked me if this was my first restaurant but then said he could tell it wasn’t because I did a good job of slicing bread.
    3. When one cook told the other not to throw away extra jus, because it’s expensive, and she replied, “we don’t buy the jus; we make it in house!”
    4. At the end of the night when the chef on duty, after paying me no attention during my trail, asked me if I was still in culinary school and whether I was looking for a cooking job there
  3. The time a cook on the meat roast station at a well known restaurant told me that he only put the garlic and thyme in the roasted mushrooms when he had time.  He wasn’t busy all night and only did it right on one pick up.  Another very worrisome moment for consistency in New York City
  4. The time a sous chef, whose job I was previously offered, told me that leaving a sauce on a burner without stirring it would result in scorching
    1. When that same sous burnt a batch of crackers and threw them all away except for the amount needed for the night’s service instead of making new ones in the ample time left in the day.
  5. The time a cook asked me if I had heated up the sauce I was spooning over a hot fish entree

It takes a lot of effort on the chef’s end of things to coordinate trails and find suitable employees; the kitchen is such a rotating door of staff members, and a lot of times, potential candidates have a lot of trails lined up and will of course only be choosing one place.  So it does seem a little bit to ask of chefs to plan better for trails or interviews with people who are barely invested in taking the job as much as they are just curious about behind the scenes and tasting some fancy food for free.  However, it seems to me that with a little extra research into the candidate (calling their references, etc.,) and some kind of premeditated cooking practical, a chef would be able to make a much better informed decision about a new hire and waste less of the The Trail’s time and anguish as they do pairing them with some half baked newbie line cook for Picking Parsley and Getting Salt and Squeeze Bottles of Oil and Water.

 

 

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Boring Ways to Say What I Feel Amidst the Better Written Articles Being Published These Days Sponsored by the Fact that I Almost Cried About Four Times at Work Today but Didn’t Because I am a Strong Man Lady but Mostly Because I Feared Overseasoning the Food

  1.  I am profoundly sad.
  2. I don’t know that much about political history, but when was the last time an election left masses crying for days or weeks straight.  First at the outcome.  Then at the fear for the future digression.  Then at feeling of soft spot in heart when a stranger smiles knowingly.  A grieving process is talked about.  But this is not.  Void of acceptance at the sight of all of us.  A grieving is for a forever loss.  This is a pain from an abuse.
  3. I am not ashamed to be white, and I am tired and sad of hearing people say they are.  This is Regarding Race, all this being [The United States Presidency, as it devolves].  This is also regarding gender.  Sexuality.  Religion.  If you must be ashamed, be ashamed of everyone else who voted Trump, but be not ashamed of your skin color.  Or gender.  It’s as though Being Alive has become some sort of thing requiring a background in High Math.  There are still allowed to be white, straight, cis-gendered men and women.  We’re still allowed to like them.  Everyone on our side is necessary.

    See, I’ve had problems understanding things in the event of disaster.  A great example is the tragedy down in Orlando.  After the fallout of the shooting, and after the fallout of so many hate crimes this year, the affected group is riled up against “others” sharing their pain or joining in the grieving process.  In that case, specifically, many gays were offended to see straight/not targeted citizens of Orlando mark themselves as safe on Facebook.  Later on, I read a post by someone livid that a straight person was trying to apply for funding to create an artistic memorial for the victims.   Well, I for one was glad that my family in Florida was safe.  And what’s the real issue with someone outside the targeted group commemorating the victims?  What we are afraid of is someone outside of a targeted group to commandeer the oppression as their own.  We are concerned that people will disrespect and misrepresent our hurt.  But pushing away those who support us most and who are doing their best to fight by our side–our friends and allies–is counterproductive.  Divides us further.

    And now.  People are scared that black, Asian, Mexican, Middle eastern, etc. etc., people will be disgusted with our whiteness?  My brother started an email the other day with something like, “I know I’m a heterosexual white male, so I don’t have much of a say.”  Well fuck that, quite frankly.  That brother of mine is smart, compassionate, thoughtful, and someone who should be able to be my and our ally without being ashamed.  I know who I voted for, and I know who I stand by and with.  My girlfriend is Middle Eastern  No matter how westernized anyone is, all the hate and bigoted comments about people with brown skin–many kinds of brown skin–is terrifying to me.  She doesn’t say, “oh well you have nothing to worry about, because you’re white.”

  4. How am I/are we supposed to afford the amount of alcohol we deserve to get through this whole month if not the next four years.
  5. I wanted to get married my whole life.  Not in the way that I imagined a fantasy wedding with a fancy white dress and horse–well of course; I never really imagined myself in a big, white wedding gown–but just because I wanted the ability to have what my parents have.  The greatest love turned into an exciting partnership with many milestones.  I never thought much of it.

    I didn’t pay attention to marriage equality throughout my teens, because I was busy being a normal, confused, horny teenager focused on competitively achieving impossible female beauty standard of being under 100 pounds on any given day.

    | Sidebar: can we not have a president who pushes the most ridiculous idea of the female ideal on the public?  I thought we were getting somewhere.  Finally, we were getting to a place in society where I thought, hm…maybe I can actually have kids I will encourage to just be healthy and they’ll be like, ‘good idea!’  From more or less six years of experience with eating disorders, I can say that it’s not that fun to go to bed so hungry and in pain, not cushioned at all with my knee and leg bones touching each other, thinking, ‘I’m afraid I might not wake up tomorrow.’  But at least I was skinny.  And I’m kind of chubby now, but I’m also kind of like, ‘fuck you, Trump.  I hope you were right when you said Alicia Machado likes to eat, because I definitely do too, and I’m having fun doing it, assclown!’ |

    I dated boys and never thought that much about it until I met my long term college boyfriend.  He was so great and is to this day, but ultimately, we went our separate ways, at which point, like many do, I found myself smack in the midst of exiting my “possibly a bisexual person in conversation on my most blackout drunk nights” into full fledged homosexuality in one night’s time.

    I say homosexual, because that’s what I am, day by day, every day, especially in my current committed relationship with my girlfriend, Bettina.  But there’s always my broader view about the whole thing of sexuality in this article I once wrote.  And basically, what I’m getting at, is why the shit can I not get married?  And gay people could, by the time I was out of one closet and deep into another one full of Birkenstocks.  But only in some places.  I remember when Marriage Equality was passed.  I was so pleasantly surprised but also felt like, ‘right on, America–keep on pushing!’  Like this was a logical step in our progress.  Because it was.  And now, based on the politicians Grabbing The White House by The Pussy, we’re potentially about to go back to an old world style of not letting us homos get married.  And I’m sitting here like I THOUGHT THINGS WERE LOOKING GOOD FOR MY RELATIONSHIP!   And also…

  6. Not letting ladies govern their own bodies.  Ha!  First of all, let’s just all take a moment to bask, at a distance or as close as we feel comfortable with, in the inferno that Trump’s fucked up rhetoric about women left burning forever.  Like, if I’m even allowed to have children in the future, I don’t know if I want them to read what he said in their history text books.  But then again, at the rate we’re going, maybe we will be lucky if objective texts are still allowed to be taught.  So now that we’re all aware of pussy grabbing, defamation of women based on their weights and ethnicities; sometimes even pregnancy, we know where the basis for this sort of government control on reproductive health comes from.

    We need to be able to obtain affordable birth control.  Who knows what the final call on this healthcare provision will be, since Trump is now apparently up in the air about it.  I mean, when you are a dude known for getting with women all over town, it would probably be convenient to have birth control OR abortions be accessible instead of neither.  There are so many reasons for women to seek birth control, so what if it becomes harder to access affordably?  Period pain and symptoms, excess hair, unbalanced hormones, bad skin…who cares?  Right!  Whatever, man!  Women, right?   LOL.  And let’s not forget the icing on the cake–reconsidering Roe vs Wade!  And sidebar, is anyone familiar with the theory that unwanted pregnancies can lead to neglected kids who can become criminals?  It comes from the idea that crime dropped significantly a couple decades after Roe vs Wade was passed.  If Trump wants to reduce crime, I’m just sayin’ there’s kind of a theoretical shortcut here– don’t force women to bare children they aren’t ready or equipped to take care of.

  7. Am I supposed to be afraid to be Jewish again
  8. I know adults–not only young ones–but grown ass people who were so scared about Trump winning that they called their parents for comfort.  Many of the parents didn’t understand the drama.  To me, this was sad.  I have family who have suggested his campaign is nothing, that he will focus on straightening out (see what I did there!) finances and bounce without affecting social issues.  But then it’s like oh, Mike Pence, hay gurlllllll~~~~  And all the other people crawling into the festering, old Trump cabinet to take all the good away from us.  Most of us don’t have a comfortable sentiment about this.
  9. I imagined killing myself.  Why stay in a world where this stuff is fine and wins an election?  Basically, half of the country conveniently to actively doesn’t give a flying fuck about us.  The jokes we all mad about moving elsewhere if Trump (LOL!  Obviously kidding!) would ever get elected feel empty now.  I, among many, feel weak and nervous about the idea of leaving the beautiful, multicultural country we grew up in.  Our families and friends live here.  We like it here.
  10. We’re all people, people.  I’m so disappointed that the best credit I can give Trump supporters is that they’re after the financial side of the deal.  Well, I guess I didn’t realize money was so valuable to everyone that our neighbors’ safety and rights were up for reconsideration.  Not just our neighbors, but in many cases, our friends and for some of you, your goddamn children!  Shame on that.  But for those of you who share those views–the xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, racist ones that are making us all scared right now, shame on you so hard.  You are not Americans.

6

At night we argue until I decide to spend the next day cleaning the house, and what I do is hire someone else to do it while I clean the crevices in my teeth, because I thought I smelled the dying person smell on them, because my agreement was to become gone as soon as the old breath happened in this life, and it’s too early as just the other day I got home first and was alone and the cats were out because they’re not here and I was shocked and disabled by my solitude and as a result shocked and upset at the inability to be around nobody, not even fur balls and skin balls with legs, and I walked around and around and laid down and was forced to go inside my own body, which I rarely have to do.  She got home a few minutes later, and I could come out again, and I didn’t have to stare at my own hands anymore; I looked at her, because I like to, and she is not me.  Today we drank coffee and ate pasta and I put on an alpaca hat and scrubbed her skin in the shower because I had already washed my hair because I had gone to the gym to exercise in vain, so vain, because I know I will be stopping soon and have so much more weight to gain than to lose, because that is usually the case for most people, and there’s a long way to go until the opposite is true, and this concept forces a person to realize This Fat Ass is the smallest version of itself left in this lifetime, and that forces a person to befriend it or even to just stop dreaming of looking like a skinny Asian or white man.  The hat in the shower got damp, and I figure my hair smells a lot like a barnyard animal, which is probably gross to everyone around me, which is no one, so it’s alright.  And I worry, a little, about the cleaning person coming in, because I hope it brings its own soap and stuff, and paper towels, too, because we are out.  But when I was four, my babysitter washed my brother and sister with shampoo in the bath, and she told me it was the same thing as soap, and she was right, and I liked it, and to this day it makes me think anything is transferrable, like any glue, and my girl says there is shoe glue to glue shoes back together and ceramic glue to glue ceramics back together, and the only ones I knew were Gorilla and Elmer’s and the two questions are “why are so many things breaking?” and “if shoe glue is for shoes and ceramic glue is for ceramics, then is Gorilla glue really for gorillas, or do gorillas just trump everything, and if part A is true, then who is Elmer, and is he fine?”  But I’m more worried about talking to the cleaning person, because I am not supposed to leave it here alone, in case it steals all my broken shoes and ceramics.  I don’t know where I’m supposed to hide while it cleans, so I chose not to have my bed made so that I can use my bed as a private island.  Can I tell the person that the private bed island is sound proofed?  Does the cleaning person supervisor role allow me to get drunk on the Isle of Bed while the person is there?  Do I have to give it a drink if I’m having one?  Should I  offer it a snack?  Should I get cash for a tip?  Can it use shampoo to wash the floor?  Is it voting for Trump?  I’ve eaten 6 slices of turkey and some poofy but not puffed Cheetos today.  My dad said he eats canned beans and broccoli for lunch, and I agreed with him that sometimes I just eat food that barely qualifies as it in the name of energy or even health, such as the time I ate mainly chickpeas out of the can for days because of poverty but actually because of being lazy and disgusting.  But if I want to get something with good flavor in it, I will have to go quickly in case the cleaning person gets here too early while I’m flossing and listening to Patti Smith and breaking and glueing and having sore muscles that make me want halal food which is so delicious.  And my sister wants to talk on the phone–and that is what I’ll do!  I’ll Skype my sister so that I can ignore the cleaning person!  And she can watch me in case it is secretly a killer on the loose and that way she will have all the clues!  I like it, I like it a lot a lot.

This Person

Earlier today, I got my sister to go to The Meat Hook with me in Williamsburg so that I could buy a beef tongue. I was surprised when she said yes, considering what a busy student she is.  She’s studying fashion at Parsons.  She told me about a project she was working on concerning modern style related to the new romantic.  She was considering interviewing me for the project, because I tend to dress like a manish lady or something.  Today I was wearing a David Bowie printed track jacket, red jeans, red socks, and crocodile loafers.  The sole of one of my shoes fell off as we walked into the store.

When we walked in the door, we both smiled at the cured meat smell.  So very particular and so very delicious, it is.  It reminded me of the way I feel calm when I’m bombarded by the smell of abundant and great cheese.  Which reminded me of the cheese shop I went to growing up, owned by a man named Rick.  The Ridgewood Cheese Shop, it was called, before it became a subset of a store called “Super Cellars”…

There was hunger involved when I wanted to learn about food most.  Self inflicted, wretched, diet-y hunger, like the kind that makes you loose your mind.  Of course, though, the hunger piqued my appreciation for the food and its nuances.  Which is why I loved visiting Rick.  Rick knew a shit ton about cheese.  He was a fucking obnoxious prick to those normal bitches who came in for whatever mild brie bullshit they needed for an unoffensive night at book club, but for me, he was a big, generous man willing to let me behind the counter to inspect the gooey, dank cheeses often unappreciated by the upper New Jersey clientele.  Of course, Rick could sell it anyway, because he always had some great, crowd-pleasing pairing of cracker, jam, and (insert cheese) or a truffled this or that for fancy motherfuckers.  He was a large dude who was seemingly tired of the people, but he did the work for the love of cheese.  And I saw him smile when he would tell me about something good.

Once, Rick told me that he would take a particular cheese–now I can’t remember which but I imagine it was point l’eveque brie or traditional French Muenster–and set it on top of his clock/radio while he listened to Jazz, his favorite genre of music.  After the radio warmed up from use, it rendered his cheese gooey and submissive for his eating privilege.  And I love that about him.  He was the id to my ego at the time and influenced some the way I roll in life now.   I believed we both hated the world but loved cheese and needed a chance to let life resolve our misgivings with humanity.

I bought some beef tongues at the shop, as well as some bread and pastrami.  Sydney and I tried the pastrami once outside the shop.  It was so fat-streaked, that I considered letting it warm on the heat of my thigh at home, a la Rick.  But it seemed wrong to do or something, all alone.  Sydney did the interview outside of someone’s apartment before we got back to the train, asking me about my aesthetic, inspiration, and why I like menswear.

All I could do was say, “what exactly is the new romantic?”  “Oh, Boy George?  Mom says I look like him.”  I talked about how I seem to model parts of myself after the real Pocahontas, who, as I’ve come to learn, is often portrayed as more of a dyke-y Native American lady with some Spanish Inquisition style than a princess canoeing through the wild in a turquoise necklace.  And of course, that’s just based on drawings rather than pictures, which did not yet exist.  During this interview, I failed to mention my obsession with Peter Pan’s lost boys, but I talked about a lack of conviction on feeling gender-strong.  Having spent the first six-ish years of my life imitating male role models, I can’t assert with confidence loving and choosing womanhood.  I wanted to be Kocoum long before I wanted to be Pocahontas.  Sometimes I wonder why my nanny didn’t tell my mom I was a tiny lesbian or boy or why my mom didn’t think so.  And yet I find myself very blasé in the genital changing category.

Strange, how it’s all so related and unrelated.  It is so hard to separate what we want from what society expects from us.  Like wanting to be skinny but knowing that eating all the cheese is more fun.  Or wanting to dress like a boy while simultaneously being a girl who wants to have a boy’s body but also not be a boy.  And not turning into Boy George or David Bowie but rather retaining a self.  While braising a beef tongue for dinner.  This print is an ode to this thing, this being in a skin and thereby having to do something about it, such as talk.

And I Hated the Sand and I Hated the Sun

GRAND CENTRAL STATION AT 5 AM

Is where drunk people go to sit down without their shoes.  We were afraid we couldn’t get our tickets because the doors opened at 5:30, and our train was at 5:30.  It turns out you can enter at 5:20.

It seemed fancy to be sitting on a train in a straw hat and sunglasses on the way to Block Island for the weekend.  Like old time-y or some shit, but only if I was ignoring the brevity of the trip.  And the train itself, which was frigid and hard…but then to me, every train is the Polar Express if I need it to be or I’m going somewhere good.  And I had yogurt covered pretzels, so there was some scrappy luxury to be had.  My girlfriend, Bettina; my sister; and I all slept most of the way to the ferry, since we left at the ass-crack of dawn.  Once we got to the boat, we waited a bit on line behind some boring teenaged girls, and then we finally boarded.

I’m used to the normal ferry, since I spent my whole childhood getting my sea legs and learning not to throw up on it, but the newer, high speed boat we took was a new beast to surmount.  By the time we got to the island, I was feeling shitty and already tired of the day-tripper tourists everywhere.  Since I’ve always associated the ferry ride with “on my way to grandma’s house,” I’ve never really been able to relate to the people out on the deck getting drunk and ready for a day or weekend of revelry.  Anyway, my mom picked us up from the boat and brought us to my grandma’s.

MY GRANDMA

Is an artist and one of the nine-hundred-and-something year-round residents of the island.  Nothing is open in the winter on Block Island.  I have been in the winter.  What happens is five things:

  1. The ferry is extremely terrifying, and a woman on the boat has a parrot.
  2. I make dinner for my grandma and some of her island co-habitant friends.
  3. It’s so cold that my bread dough won’t rise.
  4. It turns out a lot of the co-habitants like scotch and water or soda.
  5. I’m so cold at night that I almost cry.

My grandma also has a cat named Rosalinda.

ROSALINDA

Is a Havana Brown cat named after a woman from Havana with beautiful eyes from Billy Joel’s song Rosalinda’s Eyes.  Rosalinda has a terrible temperament and quite entitled behavior, probably because she knows Billy Joel wrote a song about her.

BETTINA

Tried to play with Rosalinda, because she thinks she’s a cat whisperer, but Rosalinda doesn’t have time for the paparazzi, so she was rude.  Whatever.  We all got our bathing suits on and went to the beach.

I HATED THE SAND AND I HATED THE SUN

When I was a teen, because I was too cold to go in the water, because I was too skinny, because I never ate, and the sand felt gross, because it’s tiny rocks, and the sun reflected off my sternum and burned my chest from the inside.  Once, I almost passed out walking to the beach, and I had to sit down in a lounge chair by the water where I could just have the nothing, and the wet was containing the sand, and the wind was dispelling the sun, and I was unoppressed.  It all hurt, and I was so hungry, but I looked good in a bikini, and that meant something to some other iteration of myself.

This time visiting the beach was the inverse, and I loved it all.  Sand got all on my towel–the same towel I’d been bringing to the beach since I was a kid–a towel from some unknown dance studio.  I went swimming with my sister and her boyfriend, who I’d never met before.  His name is

WILL

And he admitted that later that night, when I was carrying a platter of boiled lobsters to the dinner table and fell holding the tray, that he was mostly concerned for the lobsters.  I had to agree that I felt the same.  Luckily, only one fell off the tray, because I knew I was going down the minute my foot teetered on that goddamn uneven stone step that lies in the pachysandra between the deck and the grass in grandma’s backyard.  I ate the man down, and I enthusiastically approved this new boyfriend.  This man with his priorities straight.

WE USE THIS OUTDOOR SHOWER

That my grandpa built a long time ago.  Someone replaced the wooden slats on the bottom of it, which made me glad, because I’ve peed in that shower so very many times growing up, amongst the spiders webbing in the corners, and after a while, maybe it was getting a bit much. I wasn’t going to shower that day, because there’s nothing like hair full of salt water to make a person look like they have a chance at babeliness.  But I’m glad I did, because as it happened, it was a heavy seaweed day in the ocean, and I found a bunch of seaweed in my cunt.  And that can be quite terrifying if you’re not expecting it.

I HAD TO HAVE BLUEFISH

While I was there.  I wanted and needed it, and no one eats it in the civilized world except some people, so it’s nowhere to be found.  So we bought some on Sunday and made it for dinner.  We sat out at the same back picnic table as we had the night before with our lobster boil, and we had a feast.  Bettina and I made the fish with roasted cauliflower puree, aioli, charred lettuce, and green apple; we pickled the fattest, coral colored mussels and served them with grilled eggplant and scallions.  There was some garlic-y flatbread involved that everyone tore at with their hands despite its oiliness.  And we drank.  Gin cocktails that made everyone dumb.

MY MOM

Said, “Bettina’s name is Bettina.  And she’s tiny, and then she’s also TINY!”  And

MY GRANDMA

Said, “Yes, Bettina, tell us…how do you stay so tiny?”  The real answer is probably that I eat all the food, but I don’t remember what the given excuse was.

The rest of the night, we went dancing and drank giant cocktails in giant communal mugs and talked about reasons why our childhoods fucked up our psyches and how we all met each other and all the things you talk about when you drink a bowl of moscow mules.  Last call on the island is one, so afterwards, we took a cab home and raided the main house for foodstuffs.  Back at the cottage, I made cheddar and brioche grilled cheese, and we ate and drank whiskey and yelled at me about what kind of a person carries weed without anything to smoke it with, and I said I just wanted to have the option.  And we didn’t play any board games, which is nice, because it seems like a lot of couples do that together, and it hurts my heart to think about that, because I hate games.

The next day, we went home on the normal boat, which was nice, and we laid outside on the bow in the sun and bummed about how we didn’t have time to see the alpacas and llamas at the zoo this time.  But it was fine and we’d go back one day or put in our notice at work and go back right away and never be seen again, which is quite a jump from my old feelings about being on the island in all that sand and sun.

THE TRAIN HOME

Was ugly, and I drank a diet coke, and my skin hardened up as we approached the station, I guess.  But then we just went home and made matzoh ball soup, so that made me feel fine, I guess.  Actually, quite nice.

Are You Comfortable With Your Mortality?

So the other day, I was massaging my girlfriend’s back, because she said it hurt from work.  “Am I dying?” she asked.

“Well…” I began.

“True, we both are.”

“Yeah, but it’s OK.”  I’m pretty sure that’s not the normal way that conversation is supposed to go.  I feel like most people would say something sweet like, “no, babe, you’re gonna be fine,” or something.  But we spend a fair amount of time thinking about the philosophy of life and death, and therefore, we build a lot of thoughts on the basic knowledge that we are rocketing towards death at an unquantifiable speed every waking second.  It’s just true.  For everyone.

Originally, I wanted to write about how I perceive a lot of human behavior as avoiding facing our imminent death.  More specifically, how I perceive a lot of goal oriented behavior as discomfort with mortality.  This is absolutely starting to sound like a bunch of hippie bullshit, but bear with me here for a minute.  My philosophy around the topic begins with a couple basic truths.  The first is that we are all humans that are going to die.  The second is that many of us would like to accomplish one or more goals in our lives.  The third is that failure to achieve the goals is possible.  I will use my industry, cooking, as the example for most of this article.

Let’s say my dream in life was to open a cafe and juice bar (this is horrifyingly far from anything I would ever want to do, but let’s just pretend).  There are many possible outcomes of my attempt to meet my goal.  But, assuming I would do whatever it took to open my cafe, let’s say that I worked my ass off, learned everything I could about coffee and juice, became a ninja in the art of the latte, went to business school to learn about running a restaurant, etc.  And I worked at a steel mill to pay my way through school, occasionally performing provocative routines at a local bar when I had the time.  I had a hard life without much time for social interaction, but it was worth it, because nothing would stand between me and my cafe and juicery.

But then let’s say that my business failed and I turned into a catatonic shell of a person and could never perform another flash dance, let alone get out of bed to go back to work at the steel mill.  In that case, I wasted years preparing to live my dream and then, essentially, lost my will to live.  Or better yet, let’s say that my business succeeded, but only enough for me to support myself comfortably for the rest of my life, and no one got much more than some coffee and juice from my shop, and maybe one day I would get tired of running the place and bequeath it to my long time started-from-the-dish-pit-now-he’s-here employee, Raul.  Then what?  Still dying.  There’s something inside of us that makes us feel good when we achieve something, but it’s strange how that’s a natural thing.  And maybe that’s because it’s not survival that is key but rather thriving just enough to be a part of the naturally selected race, at the end of the day.  To me, though, being “someone” or doing “something” is sort of something that people attempt order to deny the fact that one day this will all be gone.  The urge to leave a mark is something I pair with the fear of oblivion.  That it won’t matter that you ever were on Earth.

So, originally, that was my train of thought.  Why not just embrace mediocrity?  Why not just enjoy the days we have and cut out the risk of wasting time trying to achieve something?  The best analogy to explain this is school.  I’ll use my brother and sister as an example, because they’re both freshmen in college.  Say that Grant is busting his ass to get straight A’s this semester and doesn’t have any fun at school, because he’s too busy working hard.  And let’s say that Sydney doesn’t give a flying fuck about school and drinks her way through year one such that she barely remembers it come next week when she moves out of her dorm for summer break.  Now imagine that Grant gets mostly B’s and a couple A’s.  And Sydney gets mostly B’s and a C.  Imagine his disappointment and regret at all the wasted time.  It’s a weighing of opportunity cost.  That’s why I embraced the “let’s just shoot for mostly B’s” mentality in college.  Low-risk, low reward.  But I had a pretty good idea of what I had coming, and I was able to enjoy the time I saved by studying less.  We’re all dying, so let’s just enjoy this time we have.

But I kept thinking about this question…are you comfortable with your mortality?  Am I?  What is the converse?  What happens if you don’t try to accomplish?  What is the other side of all of this?  So what am I doing if I’m not striving to open my cafe and juicery for America’s finest basic people?  Besides ruminating over life’s philosophical quandaries?  Having experiences.  What kind of experiences?  I make art, I like to eat and drink, have relationships with friends and a significant other, etc.  Why is it that I like these things?  Because they’re fun.  Why are they fun?  Because they distract.  Distract from what?  Life.  And that’s the goo right there.  That’s the fucking answer, man (you may wish to imagine me saying this with a beanie on my head and a joint in my hand; none of that is accurate.  Actually, I’m just sitting around in my pajamas).  Digging into experiences as an outlet is an escape from the reality of being a human on this earth that just needs to consume energy and water and air to exist.  All that is so boring, existing without distraction.

So by extension, if I’m an experiencer instead of an achiever (for example), am I fully embracing mortality by constantly attempting to deny that I’m just alive?  Is wanting out of life just wanting death?  Is that why French people call an orgasm “le petit mort” (the little death)?  Because it’s an out from life?  So are experiencers just fucking in love with mortality, or what?  And are achievers and experiencers mutually exclusive?  Is the definition of a well-adjusted human someone who balances these two desires well?  The desire to transcend death but also to die?

Ultimately, I do think it’s fucking naive to be a power-hungry, achievement oriented person who can’t wake the fuck up and realize that at the end of the day, we’re all going to die. Even if we do something as impactful to the human race as inventing the wheel, it still wouldn’t matter, because advancement is sort of so random that the human race would be impressed by most growth, regardless of what it is.  If no one had invented the wheel, someone else might’ve invented a more accessible way to fucking fly or move shit around without a wheel, and maybe it would’ve been better.  The way in which we advance is not only irrelevant to us, since we will be dead in a short while, but it’s also irrelevant for future generations, because they will adapt their needs to the times accordingly, and who cares what we did for them?  However, it is possible that being defeatist and cynical enough to ride a wave of hedonism right into the ground for the rest of our lives is silly.  But it still wouldn’t matter, because Grant and Sydney both got mostly B’s, right?

Is it Alright With You if I’m Just Out as Human?

“Oh yeah, Eddie?  I haven’t met him, but I’ve heard he’s a really flamboyant gay type.”

“Really?  I always thought he was pretty effeminate, but actually I fucked him once,”

“Wait–what?  I thought you were…”

“A lesbian?  Yeah…shit happens, you know?”

“So you just like…”

“Do what I do…”

“Like you just like people.”

“I just do what I do.”  As a self-proclaimed misanthrope, I did not miss out on the irony when one of my co-workers asked if I just “liked people.”  Me?  Like people?  No–I hate people!  What are you talking about?  I left the conversation there, because I didn’t want to argue against this statement and seem like some sort of super-hater…But the inability to explain myself caused me to think more about the conversation.  As one of my writing professors once put it, I was unable to “eff” the ineffable.  And you’re sitting there like, dude…you’re bi.  Just say you’re bi!  But I don’t want to say I’m bi.  Labels–only really since I’ve been prodded to apply one to myself–have always left me a little frustrated.  How do I answer this question of “well, what are you?”  And the more I think about labels–the more I try to categorize myself–the more I wonder whether it would just be alright if we all came out to each other as human.

The topic is particularly salient to me recently, because someone close to me came out as bisexual to her family.  It was important to her not to just come out as gay, as though she had switched to dating women, because she is still attracted to men and would still consider being with men in the future, should her dating status change (even though it probably shouldn’t, since the girl she is dating is actually me).  She prefers to label herself as bisexual.  And that works for her, and that is great.

For me, the issue with committing to the bisexual label is that it feels very 50/50.  And I don’t really feel very 50/50.  In fact, I don’t really want to date men.  But I have had a serious long-term relationship with a man before.  But just one.  So by society’s rules, would I say “I was just straight for him.  But I’m gay.”  Or “I’m bisexual because I was serious with one dude.”?  There are so many labels to describe the same situation.  But situations…those are concrete to me.  Why commit to “being bi” if I’m in a serious relationship with a woman and don’t pursue men?  It would almost feel like saying “well, I’m keeping the door open…because men have happened and could happen.”  It’s easier to me to say, “this is my girlfriend.”  And that’s just a truth.  I don’t have to say, “I’m a lesbian, and this is my girlfriend, and yeah, I did date that guy in college…and yeah, it was real…and I did sleep with that guy that time after the New Years party…oh was he gay?  I don’t know, but he got it up, so maybe he’s bi?…”

And it’s not that I grew up hating labels.  Like anyone else in society, I found them helpful or at least meaningful in helping me decipher how people were.  We use labels to help us understand each other and also to help us bond with each other.  But it is strange how the LGBTQ maybe started as LG…then became LGB…then became LGBT…and then LGBTQ…and I probably am missing yet another letter in this series, because everyone wants their specific preference to be identified and accepted.  But then will it become LGBTQRTUVWXYZ vs straight people?  Are there even any more straight people out there?

People say they are straight.  So they are.  Because if you think you are something, you are that.  But I recently remembered this article I once read in a book.  It was basically a study about arousal.  The study involved homophobic straight people, straight people who didn’t give a fuck either way, essentially, and gay people.  They actually were divided by those three categories, although I’m describing it in layman’s terms, because I’m a layman.  Sorry.  But basically (it might have been an all-male study), they put a device around the men’s penises that would measure engorgement and then showed them all gay and straight pornography.  And there were various results of this study, but the interesting one was that the participants who got the hardest during the gay porn were the homophobic participants.

I’m not suggesting that straight people don’t exist.  We all exist.  But what is this business of categorizing ourselves so finitely?  The funny part about it all is that when you cut out the bullshit, it turns out that we are using labels to give each other very specific ideas of what we like to do with our genitals.  Why?  A server at work the other day came to the kitchen and said “Table X is so awesome.  It’s two lesbians, etc., etc., etc…”  And I’m thinking…so what you just said to me is, “Table X is awesome because of X, Y, Z, and also they eat pussy!”  Personally, I was glad to hear they were into that, because so am I, but it’s irrelevant to their awesomeness, if we’re being fair as a human race.  It’s so strange the way that we do this.  And it’s the same with the introductions involving sexuality.  Or identifying ourselves as a certain sexuality to people we barely know.  “I’m Shaina, and my bedroom is sunny with a very low chance of penis.”  Why do we do that?

And that is part of my curiosity about whether we could be an all-encompassing sexuality known as, simply, “human.”  Because everyone has his or her own human experience and set of preferences and turn ons.  But not everyone knows them all right away.  People become acquainted with themselves at different paces, and that’s pretty normal.  Especially with the norms around which we grow up and the repressions present in our various cultures.  Even though it’s not as though I’m writing this to explain myself, I think the easiest way to explain why labels are too black and white is to explain a bit of my human experience.

I am a girl, first of all, which is how I was born and how I am happy to stay.  I never dated another girl for the first twenty years of my life.  I began my adolescent dalliances phase at eleven, had a couple not serious boyfriends in high school and then had one serious boyfriend in college.  I never had sex before college.  I never really thought about girls before college.  The idea of being a lesbian seemed foreign to me.  I met my first girlfriend when I was twenty and dated her for a year and continued to exclusively see women after dating her.  And you know how they say hindsight is 20/20…well, you can’t imagine how many times I’ve looked back on my behavior in life and thought how achingly dykey I have been all along…and that it only makes sense…and it all started when I was four.

The first confrontation I had with my tomboyish nature and desire to delve into the manly side of things was at my preschool’s circus.  Every year, we put on this circus, and every student got to pick what group and performance routine they wanted to participate in.  We had ballerinas, elephants, you name it.  I chose to be a strong man with a bunch of the boys in my class.  I never thought about my decision twice, but when my teacher was helping us dress up and it was my turn to have my sick, black handlebar mustache painted on my face, she asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to be a ballerina.  And I really had no idea why the fuck she was asking me this inane question.  Why would I want to be a ballerina?  Lame.  Strong men are awesome.  Mustaches are awesome.  “No,” I said.  I wish I had known to tell her I wouldn’t be an object of her consciousness and that I had free will.

When I was seven, I dressed in full drag for the first time on Halloween, when my friend and I went as Danny and Sandy from “Grease.”  I was obsessed with “Grease,” and at that point in my life, my dream probably was to be Danny in real life.  But I didn’t want to be a man.  I just wanted to dress like one.

As for being attracted to females, it’s hard to say where that began.  I have early memories of being interested in female bodies, but I almost think it’s hard to say anyone doesn’t.  So many straight girls check other girls out all the time, because the female body is sick.  It’s just interesting.  But I also went through my own period of self-inflicted repression, which I think may have stifled my acquaintance with my sexual id for a long while, sort of like being cryogenically frozen–er–frigid?

I went through puberty at a young age–somewhere around eleven, which was hard.  Although it was pretty cool to be the tallest in my grade for a year (this allowed me to be a point guard in recreational basketball), it was not that exciting to gain weight and get boobs and acne while my friends were all still thin little waifs.  Actually, I took it kind of hard.  So I decided to lose some weight and get myself looking like everyone else.  And that went well for a while–I had better self esteem, I felt good, and I started to feel good about my body.  But I did become obsessed with diminishing myself and ultimately fell into this quasi anorexia.

This may seem totally irrelevant, but it’s not.  What I’m starting to get at is that although I was turning into a sexually curious, hormone-infused teen, I was so consumed by this power struggle with starvation and succeeding in school and winning at everything that I never really got to know my sexual id.  Id–not ID.  I sort of just went with the whole society’s ego “girls date boys” mentality and had a couple blasé high school relationships involving a lot of kissing and watching tv–nothing that really moved me (sorry to those boys, but I’m sure I wasn’t much fun either).  And the eating issues colored my mood, so being freezing cold, skinny, hungry, and depressed all the time was not fun.  And it made me hate everyone.  And when you hate everyone, you don’t really find out what kind of people you’re interested in dating.

When I went to college, I started having fun, drinking and starting to give less of a fuck about my body.  I still did, because as anyone with eating issues will tell you, they don’t go away overnight, but I was happy.  I started liking people and having fun, and when I was a sophomore, I met a guy I really liked, and my life changed.  We dated for two years, and I became happy.  My focus shifted from being power hungry and angry to being fun-loving and happy with someone.  Things were good.  And it didn’t last, ultimately, but it was a relationship that changed me in many ways into the person I longed to be under all the angst and desire to live in a body of straight lines.

During our relationship, though, we sometimes talked about sexuality.  I would argue about the validity of hard lines in sexuality, and this was a conversation he didn’t love.  Which is understandable, because perhaps it was a prequel to my desire to be with women.  But at the time, it was more of a philosophical debate to me.  Later, I did want to be with women.  And then I was.

The first time I talked to my parents about being with a girl, I was drunk.  I think I texted my mom something about a girl I was interested in.  And she didn’t make a big deal of it.  And then I didn’t make a big deal of it.  The “we’re all cool with this” mentality was good with me.  But ultimately, when she and I became serious, I realized my parents weren’t necessarily on the same page as me.  If you’ve ever had anyone call your significant other your “friend,” you understand me here.  So the next step came with a sit down talk that never involved the words “gay” or “lesbian” but did involve the words “I love her” and “she is my girlfriend.”  And so this situational explanation worked for a while.  I never asked my mom how she reacted toward this quasi coming out until over a year after it happened, and she actually admitted she was a little nervous about what other people would think.

What the fuck?  What who would think?  Her friends?  Our relatives?  I never thought that would be a concern to her, because we have a family of very open minds and a sort of “whatever makes you happy” mentality.  But I did understand that she had to go through this process of accepting something unexpected.  And that was OK.  But there’s still this “gay gay gay gay gay gay gay//lesbian lesbian lesbian lesbian” language.  And it’s fine, because if my family needs that to understand that I’m dating a woman, then OK, but need is a strong thing.  I think we want a word to explain what’s happening.  But it’s entirely superfluous.

I was watching this movie called “Waking Life” with my girlfriend the other day, and in one scene, a woman talks about how the human language fails to communicate nuances through its words because of the connotations words have to different people based on their personal experiences.  Like love.  Or, extending the concept to my argument, “dating.  “Gay.”  “Bi.”  How can any of these words really describe what we’re doing here?  It reminds me of when people try to categorize their eating habits as “flexitarian” or “semitarian.”  I want to say, “do you eat goddamn meat or not?”  And it’s like…they’re eating food.  Just as we’re all fucking people.  And I’m so tired of us all defining ourselves and how we feel about each other based on the words we choose to associate with our sexual preferences.

What I’m trying to illustrate, here, is that I don’t have a word for being a girl who was born a girl, stayed a girl, dressed like and still sometimes does dress like a boy, who once dated men and now doesn’t, eats meat, vegetables, gluten, and dairy, is white, has blonde hair, blue eyes, and is short.  That’s why we have names.  I’m just Shaina.  And you’re just you, and if you want to classify yourself to help someone understand what you do with your genitals, because we’re a society so obsessed with sex (not that that’s by any means bad), then you can do that, and that’s cool.  But at the moment, and most likely for all of the other moments, I am going to consider myself out as a human. C’est la vie.  

Love in the Time of Cholesterol: A Tale of Fried Bologna

It started out with an epiphany: I was at work one day and realized that I had a favorite food.  It may sound odd, but if you ask a cook what her favorite food is, your likely response is going to be somewhere between “go fuck yourself,” and “who’s your favorite child?”  I was at work prepping, in my own little world, when it randomly occurred to me that the most delicious and valid food I have ever known might be the fried bologna sandwich.  My mom made it for me when I was a kid a few times, but it wasn’t even something I had on the reg.  Why now?  Why realize this as I’m preparing to lay my metabolism to rest when my twenties end?  But mostly, enough with the questions, because it’s a goddamn revelation to realize that you have a favorite food.

I didn’t act on the epiphany right away.  Many cooks don’t cook much during their time off, unfortunately, and in my case, I try to avoid cooking myself all the dankeries my heart desires, because I feel that when it comes to the size of my ass, there’s a fine line between bounty and excess.  Long story short, I don’t really have food at my place.  However, around the time I realized my one true food love, I met this woman.  She was also a cook in New York, we hit it off fairly quickly, and once I felt I had almost won her heart, I decided we had to make one of these sandwiches together. I got the ingredients and brought them to her place, and we set to work.

I fried the bologna in butter first, crisping up the edges and watching it contort into its wavy, strange fried bologna shape.  The transformation is nothing short of a Pokemon metamorphosis.  It’s intense.  After the bologna was crispy and dank and delicious, I took it out and added more butter to the pan.  Then, I slathered a piece of whole wheat sandwich bread with Hellman’s mayo and laid it in the pan, mayo side up.  I shingled the little rounds of bologna all over the bread–but not too much, lest the sandwich be too meaty…maybe two layers.  And then I topped it with another mayo’d bread slice, flipped it, adding more butter to the pan to ensure for perfectly crispy bread.

We cut it in half and took a bite when it was golden and perfect, and the thing was nothing short of glorious.  “Mouthgasm” could come close to describing it, but that seems cheap.  What happens when you take a bite of this is that your mouth corners immediately shoot up into an involuntary grin, and your mouth waters in rapturous satisfaction at the perfect combination of brown butter, meat, salt, and chewy wheat.  And it bothered me, you know, when people on Instagram laughed at the wheat bread.  They said, “Oh, to balance out the bologna.”  “Trying to be healthy.”  But no…that’s just the kind of bread I had growing up, and it tastes so much more intense than white.  White would ruin this masterpiece.

So the woman fell in love with me, maybe, or maybe me and the sandwich, much in the way the couple in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” needed Scarlet Johansen to make their love life whole.  Either way, we have been very happy.  But one day she woke up hungry and wanted fried bologna, and we didn’t have any more bologna.  And we didn’t make it that day. But then a day came when we woke up and decided that we would go seek out the ingredients and take control of our destiny.  And it turned out the deli downstairs from her place had bologna all along, so it wasn’t even that difficult.  We bought so much bologna that we had at least a half a pound left after we cooked, which comforted us, because we are Jews, and we need to know where our next sandwich is coming from.

Back in her kitchen, we produced two perfect fried bologna sandwich specimens, made coffee, and brought the feast to her bed, as we do. “Wait.  I have to take my pants off.  Sorry.  I just do.  It makes sense,” she says.

“No, you’re right; that does make sense.  Why would this be a pants occasion?”

We wanted the best for ourselves, so we ate the sandwich that was fresh out of the pan first.  It was perfect.  So perfect, in fact, that we really almost cried.  I felt high.  We had arranged slices of extra fried bologna on the side of the plate just because, and that felt so right.  After the sandwiches, we laid in our coma of ecstasy for a couple hours, just basking in the glory of my favorite food.  It was so perfect.  And then we went for a walk in the sun.

When we sat down by the river, looking out at the nice day, I said, “You know, it’s almost kind of sad to take the first bite of the sandwich.  Knowing it’s never going to be better than that.  That the rest of the day may never measure up to that one moment of bliss.” “I agree,” she said.  And we just sat in the sun and accepted that life passes us by and that the sandwich moments happen.  We were OK with it, though, because we enjoyed what we had when we had it, which is the point.

“Do you think I should ask those people for a hit of their joint?  Is that rude?”  She said.

“Nah, do it.”

“Meh…”  We did not smoke their weed.

Later that night, we decided to go to a bar and attempt to enjoy ourselves despite knowing that we already lived the peak of our day sometime around noon, year of our sandwich.  So we got fancy cocktails and beers at The Dead Rabbit and talked and talked and talked.  We drank and smiled about how perfect our lives were, even in light of the passing of the sandwich moment.  How perfect we were, how anything was possible.  She talked about her upcoming trip to Iran, and I said how she better not show her hair to anyone but me, and we laughed.  I offered to wear a head scarf in New York for three weeks while she was away as a sign of my devotion and also to be funny.  I’ll do it, but I also kind of hope she forgets that I said that.

When we left the bar, we walked home, trying to figure out why it took so many matches to keep my corn cob pipe lit and whether it was worth it.  “I’m hungry,” she said, as we neared her place.

“I’ve eaten a fried bologna sandwich, a whole ficelle, and half of that giant salad you made today.  But I like eating.  What are we gonna eat?  I’m not eating when you go to Iran.  I’m gonna get skinny and then when you come back, we can eat all the things and I’ll get fat again.”

“That’s a good idea.  We have more ingredients for another fried bologna.  Let’s go smoke and make another.” I grin.

“OK.” We get into her place, and we hit her little bong a couple times.

“I want to make it this time,” she says.

“Yes ma’am.”  She does the sandwich process, but before she puts on the bologna, she says,

“I want to fry the mayonnaise side.”

“Sacrilege!” I yell.

“It’ll be good.”

“I guess I shouldn’t be against trying it.  But you have to put more raw mayo on it again before the bologna.”  I dip my finger in the mayo and put it in my mouth.

“OK.  Haha.”

“I just have to taste the ingredients in every different context, you know?”

“No…you’re just being luxurious.”

“True,” I grin, caught in my stoned bullshit. The sandwich comes out of the pan hot and beautiful, as usual.  We each raise a half to our mouths, bite, and get the sandwich grin.

“It’s the best one yet.”

“It is.  Oh my God.  And you know what?”

“What?”

“We beat the system.  It’s the best moment of the day…again…”

“We did beat the system.  I’m happy.”

“I’m happy too.”

Dear Grandma: Notes on the “Grotesque” in Modern Art

After I started this blog, my grandma commented on a link I shared from it on Facebook.  Yeah, my grandma is cool and has a Facebook.  As a matter of fact, you should like her page, “Marilyn Bogdanffy” (artist).  She is an artist, which is why I found her comment interesting.  She said,

“Why is your generation so bent on seeing the bad, sad and the ugly in their art? I get the black humor but it worries me.”  

and later commented on a print I posted:

“You’ve had the best of everything–cheer up!”

Her argument, for my case at least, was that kids who have a normal/privileged upbringing don’t have much to be upset about.  And then (and here I’m sort of inferring/extrapolating from her comment to encompass other artists of my generation who come from all walks of life), I think she wanted to know why the grotesque is more prevalent in all modern art.

My immediate reaction, being the contrarian that I am, was to ask, “is the grotesque really more prevalent in modern art?”  Was her question valid at all?  What about some of the artists who came before her–artists she undoubtedly studied during her development as an artist?  An easy example could be Egon Schiele.  What was up with his obsession with all those anorexic bitches?  What about the classic beauty of the curvy, feminine form?  I happen to love his work, but some would probably not enjoy his incorporation of the grotesque with beauty.

Grotesque?  Maybe...

Grotesque? Maybe…

Let’s go back a bit further: what about Hieronymous Bosch?  Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights has to be one of the most astoundingly grotesque/chaotic pieces of its time and even transcends the profanity of a lot of modern art.  Before even considering its meaning and/or message, let’s consider its general aesthetic.  It’s fucking ridiculous (I say that in awe and respect; it is actually my favorite piece of all time).  The triptych starts with this biblical scene of Adam and Eve, and then it goes into this insane depiction of society giving in to temptation and getting a little bit crazy.  It’s sort of like an old school orgy meets Burning Man meets “The Purge.”  Meets the bible.  And then, of course, there is the fiery hellscape after to show what happens when you engage in such activity.  Or at least to show how many people of Bosch’s time thought you would end up having exercised such flimsy egotistic will in life on earth.  Long story short, the piece is grotesque.  But we love it.

 

It's still sodomy, even if you say it with flowers.

It’s still sodomy, even if you say it with flowers.

And then let’s not forget Goya.  Do I even need to say anything?  I mean…really, Goya.

Saturn eating his son...I mean...if eating your son isn't grotesque...

Saturn eating his son…I mean…if eating your son isn’t grotesque…

So, I do argue that we, as a generation, are not a whole lot darker than the previous generations.  However, I will not simply dismiss the question as a crock of shit, because I do think our approach to art is changing.  And, of course, I don’t think a woman who has been actively observing the art world for over forty years would be making up a noticeable trend.

So, what is up with modern art?  What are we doing differently?  How are we being inspired?  For me, the word of our generation is disillusionment.  We’re done.  Done with ideals, done with synthetic happiness, done with living up to standards created by people situated in a different context, done with classic, done with society, done with bullshit.  That may sound very angsty teen.  I don’t really care how it sounds; it’s valid, and I’ll explain.  It’s an important point, because we aren’t a bunch of depressed, excessively emotional young people obsessing on the ugly.  There’s a method to the change.

Still framing this in response to my grandmother, I will quickly compare our generations to best explain why things are different now, and why, as I claimed earlier, we are done with so many things.  Our grandparents were alive during the Great Depression.  Most of them didn’t have much.  In my grandma’s case, she lost her father at a young age due to a freak accident, and her mother had to raise her as a single mother during lean times.  I’m sure that was  not easy.  In any case, my grandma grew up with a normal life, met my grandfather and married young, as they did back then, and then she started a family and raised four kids.  My grandfather served in the Navy and then worked as an engineer, and they provided a pretty classic middle-class American life for my mom and her siblings.  I’m sure they had times that were tougher and times that were easier, as most families do, but it seems to me that they were a happy, normal family.  As a matter of fact, she raised my mom and my aunt and uncles in the same town my parents raised my siblings and me.


Life was different for me.  I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs with three siblings.  I would categorize my upbringing as privileged.  I got to go on vacations with my family almost every year growing up, my parents were able to send me to an Ivy League school, and I never really experienced any socio-economic struggles.  But as anyone living knows, it doesn’t really matter how rich or poor you are growing up or otherwise; happiness is not really tied to financial ease.  Essentially, although money can help or hurt, it really cannot fuck with the crazy that already exists in our own minds.  The one privilege that I think is truly influential is having a loving family, which I did, and that was great.  That aside, though, I believe that privilege cannot change the emotions we are all able to have, entitled to have, and going to have.

So, here we are.  Some of us are more privileged than some of those from my grandmother’s generation; some of us are less privileged.  But when it comes to emotional inspiration for art, we all have the same feelings.  Life evokes passion, nostalgia, depression, hope…for all of us, because we are all human.  So no one is innately or contextually worse off, emotionally, let’s say.  But we have a different way of addressing those evocative things in our art.  And in society.

Let’s go back to the idea of disillusionment.  There are a lot of standards that society accepted during my grandmother’s lifetime that our generation has decided to eschew.  For example, I’m sure the ideal female figure back then (in magazines and social scenes–not necessarily fine art) was always the thin model type.  That was still the ideal when we were teens.  People still want to be skinny; I’d be full of shit if I said I wasn’t fighting off my craving for a fat bagel smothered in cream cheese right fucking now for the sake of dropping a pound or two.  But these days, people are interested in different body types.  Thanks to the hip hop industry, my ass is more like a deity than a reason to go to the gym right now.  Ten years ago, people would probably consider me fat.  But now I’m just “probably related to Nicki Minaj” or something.  That’s cool with me.  Long story short, our generation has gone ahead and said “fuck you skinny bitches in the motherfucking club.”

The resemblance is pretty uncanny.

The resemblance is pretty uncanny.

We also do things like get married at forty.  We also fight for gay rights.  We also put our interests before our income.  We think about shit.  We take less for granted.  We question things.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m a contrarian.  I aim to be a rebel against bullshit, but a lot of times I end up playing devil’s advocate regardless of the situation.  Sometimes I unconsciously undermine myself.  The point is, nothing goes unquestioned.  We want reasons for the way things are.  We’re not content to be comfortable.

And that’s what’s showing up in our art.  Questions brought on by disillusionment.  Asking if things are right.  Giving everyone a voice.  Observing, playing voyeur, playing reporter.  Perhaps you do not know what the hell I’m talking about.  Because this is still an explanation to my grandma of my art, I will talk about a piece I did.  This piece, which I call “Train Experiences (#ILOVETRAIN),” is a large canvas on which I wrote snippets of stories I’ve experienced on the lovely subways of New York.  It is ugly, to be sure, and that is because I have terrible handwriting.  But it goes with the vibe I get on the subways, because it’s all gritty and pretty crappy on underground trains as it goes.

IMG_1455

Anyway, the first part comes from a time I got on the train after work at two in the morning, and there was a girl crying on the bench in the station.  I really prefer to listen to music on the way home, but I felt bad, so I asked her what was wrong.  She was sobbing but managed to eek out, “my boyfriend just told me he was gay.”  I ended up on the same train as her, and she cried the whole way, telling me how she should have known, because he was so conceited and obsessed with anal sex, and all this stuff…and to me, that was pretty funny.

Of course I felt bad for her, because no one wants to find out that their significant other is not sexually interested in them.  But this girl was talking to me without any inkling of who I was.  I could have been anyone.  Did she think, for one moment, that I might be gay?  She wasn’t a homophobe as much as she was naive, but she did say some things that I could’ve taken the wrong way.  But she was a drunk mess, and I didn’t judge her, because she was hurt.  But this was the kind of dark comedy that catches my attention.  The subways are replete with dark humor that borders on the terrible.

The second story in my piece is about a time I was going home after work and saw a woman with a very young boy on the train.  It was very late, and I didn’t know what a kid like that was doing out.  They didn’t look like they had money, but the kid could have been in school.  Why wasn’t he in bed?  And then a man across the train started flirting with the woman.   He was a dubious character and tactless enough to ask where the boy’s father was.  And the woman had said that he was dead.  In front of her son, who turned out to be just eight years old.  And then the man asked what happened.  What happened, for fuck’s sake?  And then the woman said he was stabbed.  And suddenly the boy goes, “he was stabbed in the stomach with a sharp pipe, like a ninja sword!”  That was shocking.  The levels of immaturity.  Of naivety.  Of comfort with a terrible occurrence like that.  How the boy didn’t quite seem to understand the severity of the issue/ how it was normalized to him.  That was a story that exploded dark humor.  It was dark…It was shocking.  But it was sick.

And then the last story was something that occurred to me once.  Nothing happened.  I was just on the E train back from JFK with my then girlfriend and saw this little girl on the train, and she was for some reason like this light thing in all the grime of the city.  It occurred to me that she might be god.  And it was a strange feeling, because I don’t really believe in any god.  But it did occur to me.  So this train piece was basically my desire to portray the sickness and oddness in the city that you get distilled on the train.  That’s it, perhaps.  Every train car a sample of New York’s finest.  Being trapped within ear and eyeshot.  Being a hostage to mouths.  This is my disillusionment…any New Yorker knows about it.  You hear songs about the Big Apple and all this bullshit Frank Sinatra shit, and then suddenly here you are.  And I still love it.  But what’s true is what we show.  I think Hemingway said that your writing will be good if you write the truth, and I think that goes for many things, like art.  And if, then, someone says it’s bad…are they calling us liars?

As for art by other modern artists, I would say the disillusionment is present for many.  Take Lena Dunham.  She’s one of the most influential artists right now, and her voice is honest.  I think it’s fair to say that her writing calls bullshit.  Great example: whereas TV shows of yore aimed to sell romance and hot sex, there’s that episode of Girls when Dunham’s character, Hannah, has sex with her friend’s awkward cousin (brother(?)) in the woods and later tells him, “you came in my thigh crease.”  That’s real.  Take the trend in cooking that chefs are following using lower brow ingredients and even junk food.  They’re calling bullshit on the fancy.  Old money cooking is still alive and well, but chefs like Christina Tosi are all getting at the id of the diner, asking us if we really prefer caviar over Cornflakes.

It’s all getting pretty ugly, by old society’s standards.  We’re promoting reality.  It’s chaotic, for sure.  But we’re over the masochism of white tablecloths and landscapes of rolling hills and excessively flowery literature.  We want the truth, I think.  And sure, we still want to escape it as much as anyone else, but we’re not into fronting.  Fronting, grandma, is acting like something is one way when it’s really not.  Putting up a farce, so to speak.  But we’re happy when we’re happy, like anyone else, and the institution of portraying happiness is still a thing.  Take Narwhal Jones, for example.

IMG_1402

Afghani Train Station Yoda Guy

Shaina Loew

The last person I met in Chicago was a man waiting to get on the same train I was.  I just wanted to sit down in the terminal and eat my Pringles two or three at a time in peace, but after a little while, the man next to me started talking at me.  You have to understand something: first of all, I don’t really want to talk to strangers when I’m sober outside of a setting that implies social interaction.  And then if I’m trying to do some real snacking, the introversion becomes a little more serious.  You know.

The thing is, though, that the man really looked more like a skeleton with clothes on than a person.  Well, he had skin.  But his goddamn eyes were sunken half an inch into his skull, and he was skinny as hell.  When he started talking, he was barely audible.  Well, he was barely audible at the end of his soliloquy/our conversation as well as throughout.  What I mean to say is I could not understand the poor bastard.

 He spoke of being old, spoke of traveling from Chicago to Canada, spoke of his family from Afghanistan, of his stronger days, and of how he never married because his family told him he wasn’t right in the head. 

Between his hand gestures and the words I could hear, I was typically able to deduce two possible stories from each he attempted to tell.  Either he had told me a joke, or he had told me that his entire family was dead.  “I agree,” I answered.  That seemed to go over well.  Then, he either told me that his family sold his mother for money or that he just hadn’t seen her in a very long time.  “That’s crazy,” I replied.  Then, he very specifically told me that in order to live very long (like him?), I must drink very little alcohol and a lot of water.  I tried to smile.

“You are definitely right,” I said.  I don’t think I will follow his advice, because I don’t think I want to live as long as he has.  I don’t want to talk at young people eating Pringles.  They won’t get my jokes if they can’t understand me, and I plan to be a very sarcastic, bitter old woman.  In any case, I go back and forth between being a staunch binge-drinker and fantasizing about joining AA, anyway.  They are both only fun in theory, absolute value-wise.

Even though I was pretty sure the man was on my train, I didn’t think to tell him that they had pre-boarded all the elderly.  Finally, when they called general boarding, I got up.  “It’s our train?”  He asked (I think).

“Yeah—the train to New York.  We have to get on now,” I told him.  I might have helped him over with his bags, but I didn’t.  I guess I told myself that he didn’t have many bags, that he was fine on his own, since he’d been traveling that way until now.  Instead, I turned around to become one of the many salmon in the upstream battle known as boarding the train.  If you drink plenty of water, you can do this until the day you stop waking up.