Kitchens

In college I only learned that it's dreadful for a stranger to live in your kitchen. And this only at the very end. I was never much concerned with kitchens. I had no need to be. Like the socks my parents always gifted me for Christmas, most of the necessary implements and space were just always around. When landlords rent to summer vacationers and students, the kitchens are never quite empty. In houses in small towns, kitchens are rarely cramped.

It took moving to an apartment (a word that became more ghastly with every week I lived in one) to realize how lovely the kitchen of my childhood and current home is. Not because it has the latest doodads, but because cooking there doesn't feel like a perversion.

Between a house on a hill and a shoebox of a converted hotel room, I became an aesthete of kitchens. Oddly, the top and bottom of this relief were built in the same year, 1905. But where the house's kitchen has always been the kitchen, the apartment's kitchen was added in 2003 in a slobbery effort to turn a dilapidated building into rent revenue.

If the windows are eyes, the apartment's kitchen is hidden in the dark. The fact that it's as far away as it can be from the windows, and only connected by a narrow doorway, gives the hot air it generates the longest, most arduous escape. There's a fan, but it doesn't do much. To cook there is to steam in my own cooking.

The excreta of cooking is all close enough to touch. I must be vigilant in cleaning, and prepare ingredients in just the right sequence, because there's only enough counter for one cutting board.

For all of its visual obscurity, the sounds of cooking can be heard by all. If I can hear my neighbors watching a movie, or the incomprehensible mumble of their conversations, they must be able to hear me whipping cream in a metal bowl at one in the morning. That's the thing about an apartment--it's apartness is shouted for all to hear. Tolerance belies antagonism, and an apartment is specified amidst intimacy.

Everything in the pantry I bought for myself. While at home I grumble about having to put up with other's neuroses, in an apartment all to myself there is nothing but my own neuroses. It's nice not to encounter someone else's dessicated oatmeal or molding bread, but it's needful to find ingredients I didn't think I wanted. Despite and because I hate excess, I take pleasure in making something out of my father's neglected, nearly-rotten vegetables.

At home, the kitchen is porous. Light comes in the windows, air flows. The counters are usually a mess, but they can be cleaned if I need more room. With space and food going to waste, I'm not intensely aware of time passing. It's not a pod in which to carry out the necessary task of making something to eat, but a place to do whatever.

By aesthete I really mean I admire and am jealous of kitchens. Like yards, they seem of a better life. Not every kitchen, of course. But sometimes my eyes grow wide and I say "what wonderful light." And then they tell me about their plumbing problems, their mice, or how the height of their sink has given them chronic spinal pain.

8 June 2013

Cherry Preserves

For all its sugar, according to its packaging, jam needs to be refrigerated. A fridge collects of all those things that would otherwise spoil. It puts side by side items that would otherwise have nothing to do with one another. You may object that food has to be stored somewhere, next to something. The fridge is not remarkable in this way. True, but what it brings together is particular to refrigeration.

Another property not at all unique to the fridge is its extension beyond the practical need it fulfills. Some things go into the fridge not because they'd go bad otherwise, but because they go in the fridge. I want to say there's paranoia in storing eggs in the fridge, but that hinges on the "rationality" of leaving eggs out. Gross. I'll keep that for later. Or maybe for never. An uncanny consequence of having a receptacle of instant preservation is that more ends up going in than gets used. Cleaning out a fridge is an archeology of desires never acted on. Or more often, incompletely consumed. At some point they go bad, and even if they haven't, ancient jars are easily shunned for the possibility they might be spoiled.

Going in the opposite direction, the taste of cherries is smelled more than tasted, and anticipated more than smelled.

The trouble with the essay is its preoccupation with putting things together in sequence. One comment about refrigeration becomes a thesis, which is a kind of smell. If I say, for example, that sometimes I think there are no thoughts, only images, I must insist upon why this is relevant. Of course, you could say that my trouble with the essay is my insistence on turning it into a fridge. Rather than a thesis I have a theme, overextending into everything that happens to fall under my preoccupations. Then again, who is to say my preoccupations are unrelated?

If not necessarily related, a 92-year-old man tells me that his life's stories, between them, have everything. "Everything's in there," he says. He thinks his job as a typewriter repairman in New York extended into every cranny of life. "There are over 200 stories in there," he says, patting his tome. If his life is his job, as he says, then his job is also as he says--a survey of every form of life, or at least every job. That made use of a typewriter. His book at once has demographic ambitions and is contained by a peculiar circumstance.

He also tells his life as an ideal example of the universal possibility of the American dream. He began impoverished; now he's comfortably retired in the city of retirement. The way he claims himself as an example is, of course, an awfully exemplary example of a common idea. Is the idea of his life as a proof of an idea related to his life? In one of his stories, the woman he later marries calls him a crook, because instead of going to dinner he goes to repair a typewriter. The joke is, as it is in situation comedy, that he's a victim of circumstance, not a crook. He's not much of a crook, but the name "the crook" stuck.

It's the same with lemons. You know what I mean? You can't really intend something to be uncalculated, can you. Even absolutely nothing can insinuate itself. Forget essays, this is the trouble with being awake--everything has to be related! If late at night in the dark you happen to be thinking of haunting, it's hard for any subsequent screaming not to be related. I thought I heard the screamer scream "WHO'S THERE?!" but surely not. I'm not convinced that doubt isn't a kind of faith. Obviously the noises following the screaming, of rustling and clanging and thumping and creaking were the noises of other doubters waking up, and walking down the hall to investigate. Everything turned quiet soon, but I kept the lights on until it got light out, and only then slept. It's not that in sleep nothing is related, but is relation even a question? What goes in a dream journal without the idea that dreams mean something?

What is the life story of a successful young entrepreneur without his belief in the positive effect of a positive outlook? What else might've brought together these incidents? With his girlfriend & business partner he traveled across country, sleeping in the car, washing in university bathrooms. It can't be a coincidence that his business is gift wrapping. His favorite form of anecdote is pride wrapped in incredulity. "They flirt with me for hours, but they won't have a business meeting with me!" "When they hear me talk about gift wrapping they ask me 'you're straight?' Seriously!"

Hold on, there's a spider on my desk.

6 June 2013

Nails

For about a month I had been noticing that my toenails needed clipping. Every time I walked around in shoes I thought "I really need to clip my toenails," because the nails jammed into the toes, which hurt. Then one day I did it! I don't know where the motivation came from.

I went to meet someone, and she said "you should really clip your fingernails, they're getting out of hand." I don't sleep with this person, but I was proud of the fact that I would not scratch someone in my sleep with my toenails, even though I had not been. I thought she would be pleased, even though she couldn't see my toenails. She just kept reminding me to clip my fingernails! I mean, politely, but still I almost took off my shoes and socks to show her what I had been up to.

There we were, eating chips on his floor. I'm sorry, I lied earlier. I thought it would sound better if he were a she, for some reason. Probably sounded worse. Anyway, I don't think his grooming advice was meant maliciously, because he was very friendly otherwise. "We should get high, dude," he said.

I said, "your floor is really dirty." In my defense, I really didn't want to get high. Or maybe I did, so I really didn't. Semantics, I guess. He didn't seem to hear me, because he was eating the chips really sloppily, getting crumbs all over the floor.

I can't really remember if we talked about life or played video games. I was too preoccupied. I couldn't figure out if I had a right to be angry or not. Besides, I was really quite happy, despite being uncertain.

Apparently, he was quite a chip connisseur. He told me about the factory these chips came from, and how they are made. He had been there once, on a chip tour. The workers were really quite well payed, with lots of benefits, he said. We could feel good about eating them. The Tostitos nacho dip was the ideal pairing for this chip, he said. I was engrossed by all this. I began not to care about how ruthlessly he had judged my fingernails. He had picked out the right dip for us.

It was late by then, and I didn't want to walk several miles home. "You don't mind sleeping on the floor, do you?" he asked. "No," I said, chips & dip already dancing in my head, and possibly my stomach.

In the morning, I looked at his toenails. They looked like mine did before I clipped them, except without the layer of fungus. He rolled over. His eyes were closed, but I could tell he was awake.

"Can I borrow your sandals?" I asked. He squinted. "Okay, but shouldn't we eat breakfast?" "Oh, yes! Absolutely. Never mind about the sandals."

After breakfast I scraped the crumbs off my feet, and put on my socks and shoes. As I was going out the door he called after me "really do something about those fingernails!" in a kind of loving tone.

A month later, I bought sandals. I left the store wearing them. The sun was out, so I walked to a park where children screamed and splashed in a shallow water fountain. I felt there was something strange about a giant fountain designed for children to play in. Someone later told me it's called a "water park." Every time I stopped admiring my sandals and opened a book, I got a whiff of sewage. I looked around at the other people basking in the sun reading hefty books or simply looking at the children playing and burping. Did they smell what I smelled?

I was determined to read just one more short story, but the smell kept nagging. More annoying than the smell, of course, was my inability to ignore it. I walked two blocks to another park, where I nestled low in the reeds, away from the wind. The day and the horizon, now obscured by cheerful vegetation, seemed to become the same thing. I was content. I ate a cookie. I felt I might pass out or throw up at any moment. I don't mind vomit so much; it's the feeling that I'll stop being me. I looked down at my toes. The nails were long and scaly.

Putting on my shoes, I saw a bus that was headed to where I lived. I got on with one lace untied. At the next stop, a man sprinted nearly three blocks to get on the bus. He was panting, but I envied him. Then a troop of children got on, who I recognized from the water park. They were all eating ice cream. I expected the ice cream to drip from their cones onto the floor, but they seemed to be expert at licking their cones to prevent this. It smelled like strawberry flavoring on the bus. More nausea. This time, I felt the absence of blood all over. I felt like I was dying. That's what it is, when you stop being you. I almost texted a friend "I'm dying!" But as I was about to hit send, the feeling passed. Then it returned, and passed again, and so on. I thought that if I sent the text, I would no longer feel this way. Because I didn't send it, I imagined myself collapsing as I got off the bus. Someone would come look after me. Maybe they'd carry me back to my apartment. Maybe they'd take me to the hospital. Maybe they would see my now immaculate fingernails. Or maybe they'd just assume I was a homeless drunk! I became determined to stay conscious until I got home.

As I exited the bus, my shoe fell off. I was embarassed, so I didn't tell the driver, and consequently didn't have time to pick up my shoe. I put my sandals back on. The chip conisseur was knocking on the door to my apartment. "Oh hey," he said, looking down at my feet. "My god! Your toenails are monsters!" I couldn't think of anything to say, so I unlocked the door and gingerly got into bed. He came in looking cheerful. "You okay?" Then he pulled a shiny pair of metal clippers from his bag. "Look what I brought!"

1 June 2013