"Damages" Season 5 Episode 3

Every season of "Damages" fictionalizes some real-life scandal. This fifth season, the material is Wikileaks and the sexual charges against Julian Assange. My understanding of this material is, as with every other season's, limited. But it was the first season whose references I broadly understood, which had me giddy in the same way a birder identifies the bird in front of him. That is to say, cursorily.

The plot of this season combines Assange's sexuality and the functioning of WikiLeaks. That word, leak, echoes around as a kind of innuendo, until in the third episode it reaches a pitch of conflation. Sitting on the toilet taking a leak, I come to the depressing realization that all of my thoughts on the matter of leakage hinge on an Anne Carson essay--depressing not because, gosh, thoughts come from somewhere, but because I've come to the conclusion that every essay that uses Anne Carson's work does so in the manner of quoting gospel, and the effect upon the essay is invariably death. She is so unassailably cool in the eyes of certain people (of whom I'm one) that she cannot be quoted without taking over as sole purveyor of meaning. Which is why it is better here to instead cite a glaring plot point. The "whistleblower", as those who supply information to the Assange analog are called, is a woman whose leak, when it gets leaked onto his website, for some reason contains personal emails detailing her, as a newspaper puts it, sexcapade. The leak, ostensibly about the leakiness of her company, is also, through some unidentified leak, about her sexual leakiness.

If I say leak one more time, I'll kill myself. Which is what the "whistleblower" almost but did not do in response to hers. In the events leading up to her death, she and whatever his name is meet in a hotel room, against protocol, to discuss the information she is to supply. He assures her that it will be confidential, then comes onto her. She pushes him away, and then says that "I'm afraid this isn't something I can follow through on" "What isn't?" he asks, and she says "the leak" (saving me, happily), but in what comes out of his mouth immediately afterwards it is not clear what, or rather which: "You think I can't take what I want?", "I think this is what you wanted", "If I give you what you want will you give me what I want?" (As he unbuttons his pants and forces her onto the bed.) I believe I've made my point as clear and articulate as a blog post demands. As for the show, what exactly is being said is unclear to me, but it sure is bludgeoning it into us.

29 July 2012

Potatoes Fried in Fat

There are rules to cooking, but you can't follow them. Foremost among them is: Nothing ever goes according to plan. Understanding this rule is not precisely fruitful. Planning for plans to go awry is futile hubris. The best you can hope for is flexibility of some sort; to stick to the plan is generally worse than making a new one. The original plan, however, isn't so easily left behind.

On my way home today I had an impulse, brought on by the sweet-spoken words of a "Chopped" contestant from Texas: "nothing's better than potatoes fried in duck fat." I doubted I would easily find duck, and if I did, I doubted I would want to pay for it. Duck, in my plan, became chicken. I would find either chicken drumsticks or chicken wings, melt the fat from their skins, and fry potatoes in that grease. At the store, however, the only chicken parts for sale with skin attached were drumsticks in huge, 5lb packages. (Having already that day visited The Food Co-op, where chicken parts of all kinds come in small packages, I went to Safeway--too embarrassed at the prospect of returning to the Co-op.) Instead I bought a pork shoulder steak. It appeared well-endowed with fat.

At home, I chopped potatoes and half a yellow zucchini. I salted the pork steak and seared it on both sides, thinking that the latter would lead to an effusion of grease, but the pan remained dry. What was the best temperature for melting fat? I wondered. It was at this point I had to give up my dream of potatoes soaked in hot animal fat. A few tablespoons of olive oil went in, along with the potatoes and a splash of water. Covered with the heat low, it became a braise. Some fresh thyme leaves, salt, and black pepper were sprinkled.

After about ten minutes the zucchini was in. Not long after, the meat was out--it was already done, and--sliced into--it was good. I wanted to eat the whole thing before any of the vegetables were done. I held back, wanting still to have a semblance of what I had imagined: everything together on a plate. To the imagined dish I still clung. I removed the lid, trying to boil off all the liquid and thereby return the potatoes and zucchini to frying. It was taking a long time, but it was working. Everything was browning and sticking to the bottom of the pan. The zucchini became soft and that was my cue, in my impatience, to eat.

The flavor was marvelous. Well, sort of. The pork had an unidentifiable, sickly taint, but the potatoes and zucchini were coated in something delicious. The zucchini was overcooked, mushy, and falling apart--while half the potatoes were undercooked and still unpleasantly hard. Biting into my first unexpectedly raw chunk of potato, I thought again of potatoes perfectly crisped and cooked through in duck fat. (Which is not something I've ever eaten, mind you.) This mess of textures in front of me wasn't what I had in mind, but in its shortcomings the ideal kept resurfacing. A bite of potato blocked by unyielding flesh is perhaps better than a bite perfectly cooked.

There is this moment of eerie stereoscopy. Yes, the plate before me is there, and I eat it, but the other plate, the one I imagined, is there too, its golden potatoes generously shiny. The mind refuses to acknowledge what is before it, and goes off chasing a ghost. Which isn't to say it's less real. I couldn't tell you what the real dish I cooked tastes like any more than I could the dish I saw on television.

27 July 2012

Batman The Third

I've always been lured into the pleasures of watching movies already made sense of by a piece of writing, but it's always folly. Whether it's the gentler stuff of movie reviews, or the cocaine of academia, either I'm miffed (because the movie failed to live up to the exemplarity it was made to be in writing), or I keep up the same irritatingly mimicking zeal that the article sent me to the theater with. Well, okay--usually it's a queasy cohabitation of the two. Any kind of synthesis is out of the question.

While I was sent off to "Brave" with the promise of a smile by an analysis that tied the whole movie together, I hung to Batman (I mean "The Dark Knight Rises", if you can swallow that) by the thread dangling off the end of Anthony Lane's review. (Unlike Batman himself, who, while perilously strung throughout the movie for dramatic effect, is that which wins, we know. Surviving a nuclear blast, as he does at the end of the film--appearing like an American Jesus of The Good Life to Michael Caine, who makes a good stand-in for Mary Magdalene--is surely confirmation of this definition.) Having since the second movie petulantly rolled my eyes at the high-falutin seriousness that plagues this trilogy, Lane had given me high expectations for Cat Woman as precisely that element of ridicule. She is fun, but it occurred to me about the time she straddles Batman's motorcycle in skin-tight black, that Lane's article simply needed a closing twist, and the movie needed female eye candy. However, Anne Hathaway is the most entertaining part of a movie that otherwise does little else but beat drums in your ears for two hours. She has the cleverest lines, for one thing--maybe the only speech that's even written to engage us. While every other muscle-bound orator drones on (or, as the case may be, whispers, or speaks into a malfunctioning loudspeaker) about souls, fear, privilege, and power, she's amused, and almost leaves the doomed little island that Gotham becomes to save herself. There, there's my imitative little fit.

It sounds vaguely believable, but honestly I couldn't even follow most what she was saying, either. The plot was hazy to me. I think there was some big twist toward the end, as Marion Cotillard's knife twisted in Christian Bale. Turns out it was her who as a child escaped the prison, instead of Bane, the gurgling, mouthless villain. Okay. So I guess her and Bruce Wayne's little fling was a farce, but we knew that, in different terms. In any case, what, after all the explosions, dystopia, growling (and did I mention the drumming?), was the denouement?

There is for the first half a thick sense of portent brewed around Bane, while he remains underground the city. I don't mean so much the bits of dialog in which everyone worries about that crazy man in the sewers, but how the movie seems to cinematically strain to build this man's threat to a mysterious extreme. His mission is occluded enough at first that some sort of event seems sure to come, as if Nolan is screaming at us "SOMETHIN' GONNA HAPPEN HERE!" What happens? He gets himself a nuclear bomb. Any emergence this movie's emergency may have had just vanished. It is as this point I lost interest.

The "darkest" part of the film, then, coincided with my lowest. Bane became a surface-dweller, and proceeded to tear shit up like an adolescent's fantasy of revolution (release the prisoners! kill the rich!). Indeed, beside me, my brother was aping all this. He giggled, I think, at the shots of torn-up American flags, as if this was some profound ideological statement. He acknowledged it was all silliness when the lights came on, but as it unfolded in the dark I could tell he was thinking like one of those people whose idol is Tyler Durden.

Meanwhile, the on-screen gunfire sent me into paranoiac imaginings of the sensation of a bullet entering my skull. When the lights were dimming and the movie began, the man in front of us turned conspicuously around, seeming to inspect the platform from which an Aurora imitator might target the theater. Perhaps this fear is why the movie's attempts at terror disconcertingly struck home.

So what's left? Should we look to the wisdom of Robin's take on all this? He resigns from the police, saying to the commissioner by way of explanation "you know what you said about structure becoming shackles? You're right--I mean, who's going to know who saved Gotham?" The trouble with the Law, apparently, is that it prevents (super) heroes from public recognition.

The only conclusion I can possibly come to is that "The Dark Knight Rises" has abandoned the project of adding up to anything. The noise, the darkness, the talk of class and privilege, the violence, the tests of mettle, the mushroom cloud, the resurrection: it doesn't mean anything. Stepping out of the theater, my brother said it was awesome.

25 July 2012

Chopped

In Magic: The Gathering there is a card called Meekstone. It makes life difficult for anything large. It manipulates the rules to privilege the small, the creatures you wouldn't expect to make it or to do much of anything. An oddly negative card for the righteous (it's white, the color of piety), it does so by punishing the bold player who puts down something quite clearly intended to win. Winning must be done cryptically, through a guise of defense.

In this cutthroat world some of us morally-inclined goody-goodies might wish for a Meekstone, something to make effective our agonizing qualms. We think, by way of self-justification, that the concept of humility is not still at work in the wider moral culture.

Nowhere is this more apparent than "Chopped". The show, I am fairly sure, encourages its contestants to boast on camera. Then they get chopped. There are gradations and flavors of vocal hubris. The first episode I watched had a young Boston chef whose cold eyes glowered out from deep eye sockets. At every moment he told us how confident he was of his cooking. While one of his competitors--a French woman with an earthy aesthetic--flipped out, vocalized her every worry and mistake, and thought out loud in French-accented English, he excercised a rigid, aspirational control. He was constantly saying he was in control. It was such pleasure to watch him get chopped.

Not every boaster is so clearly straining. Some really seem to believe their self-aggrandizements. These are the sort who tell us in the mandatory post-exile interview that they disagree with the choice to chop them. They tell us that they're the better chef. Usually these are older men, curmudgeonly and arrogant. I love to dislike them, and the show gives ample opportunity to ridicule them. A worthy chef does not say how great he or she is. A worthy chef is humble.

I can't decide whether my favorite winner is the taciturn lawyer-turned-chef whose poise was immaculate, neither boasting nor caving under pressure, maintaining a calm poker face, or the Hannah Horvath of chefs, who moved to New York penniless with culinary dreams, and lives with her friend. Of course, Hannah wouldn't burst into tears at everything and anything. This contestant was not shy about describing how her anxiety felt. She said she felt like "throwing up" or "crying in a corner" or "I was having a nervous breakdown." She cried in interviews, she cried when critiqued, she cried when she won.

22 July 2012

In Private

For exaltation my memory is effectively very short. Anything that is good is The Best Thing Ever until there is something else. The nicest meal I've ever had is, I suspect, something only to happen and be appreciated in solitude.

Some would find the presentation too artful; they insist that all food be slopped on a plate (or piled into a bowl) without intention. To them, artifice is to be sniffed out and slandered, and they posit that absolute accidence is possible, like a grungy teenager trying to find the zero-degree of unkempt. They would ridicule the way the egg is nestled carefully atop a mound of yellow zucchini, but they would not say so outright. "Oh, very fancy," they would say, beaming at their plate and emitting hyperbolic oohs and ahhs. They would not intend to mock, but haplessly it would slip through the surface of their praise.

Others would poke at the oily squash distrustfully, smiling, wondering where the meat and potatoes are. But they, too, would not say this. Although vegetarianism has passed through several phases of It and Not, they wouldn't want to be so far behind the times as to dismiss it entirely. Some of their best friends are vegetarians. One must embrace all things; nothing is bad or wrong, not even personally, just different. Trying to prove themselves adaptable, they would grab hold of a sturdy rung of relativism. "Mmm, it's quite good," they would say, "I like zucchini," leaving half their portion of that vegetable on their plate.

Still others would find a dish of just two items--dividing food into items as they do--unfit, following the rigid, contemporary notion that what makes a meal is a protein, a starch, and a vegetable. Always this prefix of "a". Without starch what is it? A snack perhaps. They would finish their sunny plate with gusto, finding it charming, amusing, and then expectantly wait for the next course. Maybe, if I had any, I would find them some bread.

So it is not a dish I would serve. I wouldn't make it in company either. It wouldn't occur to me to do so. With others my imagination doesn't reach to pleasure myself with things untried, but scurries among the staid for something that might displeasure everyone least. On the other hand, if I were trying to impress rather than comfort, I would do something flashy--which sauteed zucchini and poached egg is decidedly not.

If I served it to me, though, I would think it has too much olive oil and would prefer butter, I would want another egg, would revel in the simple seasoning of salt and black pepper, congratulate myself on the softened but not mushy zucchini, delight in this newfound pleasure, the poached egg, which happily lacks those automobile qualities of the fried egg--rubber and grease--and I might make it again sometime. But that's always a questionable urge.

16 July 2012

More Short Recipes

On a hot day, chill a peach. Cut it in half. Remove its pit. Slice it thinly. Pour lightly whipped (not stiff) cream over these slices. Is any slice not mealy? Eat it.

Squeeze twenty small lemons. In a large sauce pan, sear some tender meat on both sides and remove quickly to a plate. In the same pan, sautée onions and garlic. Once golden brown, deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of stock. Add lemon juice. Thicken with a tablespoon of flour, and cook down to desired consistency. Plop the meat back into the pan and remove from heat. Salt to taste. Let stand indeterminately.

Grill several chicken legs. Ensure that the grill is very hot. Every five minutes, flip them over, and pour a generous layer of barbecue sauce over each. If excess barbecue sauce does not cause flames to leap from the grill, use olive oil. Keep flipping and lathering until the legs develop a thick, black crust. Meticulously scrape off this crust with a knife.

16 July 2012

Coq au Vin

I tried cooking coq au vin. I know I could've just asked you for the recipe, but that would've defeated the point. Besides, as I kept harping on while we ate, recipes are useless without instruction of another sort. You can't exactly show me how you made it. So I did what I always do: impatiently skim the first few Google hits, omitting any ingredient I don't understand. Most noteably in this case, tomato paste. Isn't tomato a bully of a flavor in a sauce of wine? I think the vocabulary a restaurant critic might use is that the tomato would "deepen the flavor", or perhaps "broaden". These spacial metaphors. Well, my sauce is an empty room then, with a puddle of wine on the floor and some greasy chicken splattering the walls.

I don't mind the supposed minimalism in the mouth, though. It was, admittedly, filled out (there's another one, caprciously sprinkled to goad your characteristic optimism that spacialization isn't integral to language) with carrots and celery. But tasting my sauce now, in retrospect I detect the fullness of tomato in yours. The wine you used was also, I think, less fruity. The bottle I used was brought by my uncle, and its label described its final blast of berries as "elegant", which makes me suspect they know it isn't.

In sum, while I was quite happy with my hapless foray into coq au vin, and was in some ways pleased with how it deviated from what I remember, it seems that yours was expertly executed. In fact, having perused a few recipes, your rendition seems so to-the-letter that I wonder if you actually bought it from the hot deli of Whole Foods. They have such things, don't they? If this is the case you might be amused, if not I imagine you're at least a little offended. You've never really been one to let anything get to you, although I suspect you're just very good at acting unperturbable. Which may be the same thing, really--something has to bother you in the first place for you to have any hand in keeping it at bay. Blissful ignorance is quite different from deliberate control, and I think with you it's probably the latter. This faithlessness on my part is usual, but only because I'm compensating for my gullibility. The truth is I'm just as dubious of doubt as I am of easy verity, which is another way of saying I'm utterly lost. I've never been sure how one might think or even intuit these things through, leaving me with wide-eyed credulity on one side, and hysterical doubt on the other, with not much in between but hand-waving.

It's quite possible that the same nostalgia for the dish you served me--completely new to me--that made me try to recreate it also has me funneling the memory of its taste into an ur-coq au vin amalgamated from what little I've read about it. The more I try to taste it through what I have here, the less I realize I remember of it. I remember a feeling, and to put that down would be folly. At the moment of the most precise reconstruction, the memory slips away. Which is what one wants, really.

The loss is there already, though--reconstruction is not necessary. I won't try to find the same brand of stoneware, paint my dining room the same color, eat at the same time of day. No matter how I try to hold my fork in the same peculiar way you did--with only three fingers and no thumb, as if uncaring that it could slip out of your grasp--I will not divine the moment or you through a fork. For one thing, my hands aren't small enough.

Anyway, what have you been cooking these days?

11 July 2012

Short Recipes

Cover Your Ears Shuck two dozen ears of corn. Pile the husks in the center of the table. Drop an indeterminate number on the floor.

Cherry Cherry Pie Pit a pound of cherries and collect the pits in a bowl. Crack their shells under a towl with a hammer. Run the nuts through a food processor until they become a fine meal. Add an egg, half a cup of sugar, and a tablespoon of flour, and mix to create a paste. Smear the paste evenly in a shallow tart shell. Eat half the pitted cherries. Place the other half on top of the paste. Bake at 350 F until the edges of the tart are brown.

Salade de Dents Longues Toss together a large salad mainly consisting of lettuce. Eat as much of it as you can. The rest conserve in a clean yogurt cointainer in the fridge. Two weeks later, open the container and serve.

Redfish Prehead oven to 300 F. Place two salmon fillets in a large baking pan. Pour 3/4 a bottle of Merlot over them. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bake until fish flesh is firm. Remove fillets to a plate. Continue baking the liquid in the pan until it is a viscous sauce.

Fried Green Tomatoes Chop the roots from a tomato plant and wash it. Pick the leaves into a large saucepan. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and fry the leaves on medium-low heat for a minute. Juice a lemon into the pan and add 1/4 cup of water, a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of black pepper. Cover and increase heat to medium-high. Boil until steam spits from the sides. Uncover, and reduce the liquid until flavorful and manageable. This is a well-known point, the elaboration of which is outside of the scope of this blog post.

In the Spirit but not the Method of Molecular Gastronomy Pick any number of large, fragrant roses with many petals. Cut as close to the bottom of the flower without removing its integrity. A pile of petals will not do. Roll them in flour, then in egg, then in bread crumbs. Deep fry them. Serve hot.

Fireworks in a Bowl Mix together half a cup of flour with half a cup of water. Place in a shallow bowl. Cover with a translucent lid, and leave outside for a week on a sunny table in summer. Do not lift the lid until the moment it is about to be consumed.

9 July 2012

Spelunky

There is no saving. There is no level the same as any other, but neither is there a level much different from any other. Level by level you go down as far as you can into the cave, until you die.

It's easy to die in this world composed of limited elements lifted from Indiana Jones. There are snakes (you hate those), homocidal Oriental musclemen, rolling balls of stone twice your size released when you steal a golden idol, bats, spiders, animated skeletons, and most lethal of all (because easy to forget), arrow traps.

To replenish your life, there are damsels. From the corners of this infinitely rearranged maze, these blondes scream "HELP!" They go limp when you carry them in your arms, and sometimes limper when you throw them into the paths of arrows to disarm traps or at creatures to bludgeon them to death with her body. If dead they are excellent body shields, if alive, they are cashed in for longevity at the maze's exit. She walks through the doorway, and you gain a heart: You can now be hit once more before dying. Where they go is unknown. When you go follow through that same door, you enter another, deeper maze.

So long as you live you may acquire money. On the surface this is your only desire. Your greed for gold coins, idols, and gems is as insatiable as it is casual. It is, seemingly, your reason for exploring. You use your ingenuity to access the riches scattered throughout the caves. When you die, none of this capital is preserved.

When you die, the path you have forged through the cave is not a path at all, because you can't retrace your steps. Nothing you did matters any more. Yet you continue to spelunk, the reborn you. What carries over between your numerous deaths at the bottom of each new but very similar cave? You learn better how to navigate these caves, to go further down into the world that never translates.

While it becomes a familiar background, you nonetheless attune yourself to the sonic quality of the caves. Unlike the caves themselves, their sound repeats. Each iteration is a perfect reproduction of the previous. What you attune to is the difference when the cave's patience with your presence is running out. Sound slows down, distorts. At first this is not alarming, or even noticable, because the cave's sound is defined by an eery bending of square waves. After the first time you die from a haunting of a cave ghost, the ambiguity turns over: The mundane bending sounds like it might be the end of your days. You develop an anxious ear. The familiar repetition is ever on the brink of an intimation of doom. You begin to really listen.

7 July 2012

Everything I Write is as Over-the-top as Richard Klein's Cigarettes are Sublime

Cigarettes are Sublime has emboldened me in my love of infusions of bitter aromatics in lemonade. I've often wondered why I add rose water or cloves to lemonade when essentially it makes the lemonade taste worse. The smell of roses or cloves may be pleasant (although whether they go with lemon is debatable), but they taste bitter. You may object that bitter is sometimes a good flavor, and I would agree, but I must first posit bitter as essentially an unwanted flavor to explain why it can become desirable. Klien is insistent upon the point that tobacco smoke has never been reputed to taste or even smell good, and that nicotine addiction is insufficient to explain the particular pleasures of smoking or its role in the production of 20th century art. He is insistent on this, he says, because of the pervasive witchhunt on smoking (it's no longer 1993, but this persists). The bitter taste of rose water doesn't carry the same stigma or the same genuine threats of poor health and death. It would be going a bit far to describe all bitter tastes as sublime, but Klein's account of the pleasures of the consumption of unpleasant things suggests an explanation of all the vile things I like or liked: coffee, the overconcentrated tea I used to drink as a teenager, chocolate, lemonade with rose water.

Being an academic, Klein has to explain, too, the hyperbole of his discussion of cigarettes, and he does so hyperbolically, in the wordplaying convolutions vagueness of someone who has waded deep into post-structuralist prose. There's something absurdly reverent about the way he writes about cigarettes. He paints portraits of modernists smoking to commune with the unrepresentable beyond that modernists reach for. Instead of the philosopher contemplating his chair, Klein gives us Sartre contemplating his cigarette. Cigarettes provide "little terrors in every puff", or an "intimation of mortality." He also terms the "negative pleasure" of smoking "a blockage", and it is in this sense that I enjoy bitter lemonade. On this point it becomes apparent that my pleasure in bitterness is as invested in a beyond as Klein is. Or is it? Is my pleasure in bitter things as simple as that, not because bitterness forces an encounter with a barrier I can't cross, but just because bitterness tastes good to me? Do I simply desire bitterness--something within reach--or do I desire an impossible infinity through bitterness?

I think I add far too much rose water. More overpowering than the scent is the causticness that lingers in the throat. It slows me; rather than gulping the lemonade, I sip it, savoring and at the same time keeping at bay the flavor. The cominbation of floral and bitter is much like chewing on a lavander spring, another of my habitual negative pleasures. The lavander-chewing dries out my mouth during precisely the hot weather in which I want to be quenched. During the summer, rose lemonade is at once refreshing and dehydrating. It pickles. There's a luxury in drinking something that does not taste entirely wet. I should be keeping myself hydrated, but I'm not doing much about it. Plain lemonade, on the other hand, may be drunk like gatorade. It disappears alarmingly quick; its passage is easy.

It's just this lack of blockage that makes this post so malformed. Not needing to write it all now, I keep deferring the difficult parts. I leave threads bare, promising to weave them in later. The whole thing becomes frayed and unfocused because I still think it can be better than it is, eventually. Not accepting the mediocrity it's bound to be, it becomes worse.

4 July 2012

Giseppi's Pizza

To begin with self-referenciality, this blog is beginning to resemble my now defunct autobiographical coffee shop blog, Psychocafegraphy. I was more distant then, but the mystical, hyperbolic, half-baked wisdom is returning. To write anything at all these days I have to push myself up against gears, grind myself a bit. Not because I love making it difficult (well, okay, maybe), but because it's easiest to mine solipsism for a topic, and because I don't know how to muster the attention for any other kind of writing than the bear-my-soul variety, even if (often) through a layer of metaphor.

What emerges in the confessional I've turned this blog into, though, is a sense of having bullshitted. Ursula le Guin's complaint against the written medium is that once you've written it down, you can't change your mind. She was troubled enough by this to publicly disagree with her own novel (The Left Hand of Darkness), and capitulate to critical interpretation. In autobiographical writing, what's troubling about the written word becomes uncanny--all these ghosts of yourself floating about wily-nilly. It brings me to yelling profanity at myself on a daily basis. But along with the megalomanical shame that comes with putting an intimate picture of myself into permanent language, there is an odd kind of relief. Even though niggling tendrils work their way out of it, the door has been shut on whatever subject I just wrote about. But actually, if I shut the door firmly enough, I find that it's wide open again. Writing Psychocafegraphy, the doors were literal and geographical as well as personal. I was closing off whole areas of the town to myself, revealing my ways of inhabiting each and (eventually) every coffee shop. It didn't matter that almost nobody read what I wrote. The glimpse of myself in the mirror was enough to make me avoid certain places and to multiply my already obsessive self-consciousness. Eventually I just shifted. The coffee shop I vehemently loathed on the blog became the one I frequented most--a new secret to inhabit.

I bring this up because there's this pizza place. There's nothing about it I like, and the pizza is, well, grody, but I go there habitually. I don't mean I go every day, or even necessarily every month. There's nothing regular about my visits, but they have a certain consistency.

It began with my visits to the University library. That library and the whole end of town that surrounds it have come to signify independence for me. It was on the university campus after all where sanctioned independence was first given to me in the form of Academy, a kind of academic summer camp for the "gifted and talented" (whatever that might mean). I can't remember how long it lasted. It may have only been a week, but for the duration we slept on campus in dorms. I think. I can't remember the dorms either, only vaguely the cafeteria, or merely that there was a cafeteria, that illicit items could be found there such as donuts, and that my friends and I indulged in them accordingly.

In high school, before the library was remodeled and it was decked-out in dingy browns and dark, pebbly concrete, I went there with lofty ambitions of soaking up the knowledge that the shelves were stuffed with. For some unknown reason the subject my whims landed on was astrogeology. It was literally and conceptually far off enough. I read about the geology of other planets, understanding hardly a word. It was the sheer reaching I wanted, to be in that position of trying desperately to understand something that vast and impressive, of looking up at it in longing incomprehension--a more or less religious experience.

Unsurprisingly, it was a girl a few years (or two, or one?) older than me who I held in a very similar regard to astrogeology who drew me there. I can't remember exactly how the two of us ended up in the library at the same time. Maybe I accompanied her there, on some errand for a book or to use their computers, or maybe when I went there to research my project on Buckminster Fuller I ran into her. In any case the place became hallowed in connection to her. She had read wider and more earnestly than I, and here was an opportunity to reach toward her. The library had become a shrine.

In my last year of high school, the library was the place we met to study for our comparitive government AP exam. The university was also where AP Chemistry labs took place, and where the video production class was held. It felt kingly to leave the high school campus. In my precociousness it was like being given another year of age ahead of time. At that time age was something I wanted.

I went to school at that university, too, for a year, during which time the library was being loudly renovated. But it wasn't until I left for Maine and came back with late essays to complete over College of the Atlantic's winter break that I found myself spending so much time at the renovated library, and going to Giseppi's pizza for dinner. I did so out of a desire not to go home just yet, despite being hungry. I found I craved it, the disgustingness of it, the assumption that my brother would disapprove.

In the summer I stayed out of the house for as long as possible by coming to the university and when I got hungry taking a Giseppis lunch special on a paper plate to the wide lawn next to one of the university dorms. The grease soaked into the plate. The lemonade or iced tea that I always got (a drink comes with the lunch special) was acrid, and the pizza itself was overcooked and sometimes stale. But I loved it, sitting there in the grassy shade of a tree, eating my nasty lunch and reading a book. I always wanted either to take my pizza to the dirty picnic table just out the door under the awning (if raining) or to the field across the street (if warm) because the inside is so abomidable. A cramped space with long bench seating on either side, bright red oilcloth covering the tables. It's filled with a few old arcade games and a teleivision always turned to some variety of sport. The walls are covered with photos of local sports teams, and loyalty to the high school football team, the Grizzleys, is declared loudly by stickers and logos painted on the walls. It is, in short, an utterly alien space for me to sit in.

Today I choose to sit inside, despite the warmth outside, contemplating fading photos of footballers. There is a picture of three teenagers atop a snowy mountain (either Mount Ashland or Mount Shasta), holding up a Giseppi's pizza in a box, showing it to the camera and to Giseppi's--we took your pizza up here! I wonder how cold and hard the cheese was.

The people who work at the counter have always intimidated me. I always sound stiff and out of place in the (to me inaccessible) comfort of brusque manners and dingyness. Coming here is for me an exoticism; it's an encounter, just a little frightening. For a timid yuppie in Ashland, this is as close as its gets to the titillation for slumming it.

1 July 2012