Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So cut out the morbid verse / I know you'll make it work

Oh! Freedom!

A zig-zag knit sweater with a circle zipper pull. A piano that's busted, so you can paint it white and then draw all over it. A bread truck with no doors rattling along the highway at 80 miles an hour!

I recently turned in an article that had taken a lot longer to research and write than I'd anticipated. Before that, it seemed like every waking moment was spent painting this house and putting it back to rights. Remember that? Oh, those were FUN blog posts.

Now. Now, after I drop the kids off at day camp, I open all the windows and turn off the book on tape (although Tim Curry reading Lemony Snicket is pretty inspiring. I don't even hear the words, I'm so busy concentrating on the syrupy, hoarse, wet, dry, raspy, silky, papery lisping chortling VOCAL RANGE that's coming out of the speakers). I hurtle down the interstate like a flare shot out of a gun into humid summer sky. I let my mind wander.

I love humans. Humans think, and make things, and, as far as I know, they are the only species that consciously tells jokes. I love the different things humans do when they have time between the eating and sleeping and shitting and daily-bread-earning. They play guitar, or they build a treehouse. They read science fiction novels until their brains run out their ears. My girlie Constance looks at all the beautiful beads and scraps of paper and stuff she's collected, and lets her brain tell her hands how to put them together into something gorgeous and unexpected.

Tim Curry probably sits around and experiments with all the different ways you can say the word 'speculum'.

Penn Jillette and genius juggler Michael Moschen grew up together. Penn once said they they "practiced juggling with the focus that can only be attained by young boys who have not yet discovered masturbation." I paraphrase. I can't find the interview. I think it was in Smithsonian, and whatever else you think of Penn, you have got to give the man props for getting a masturbation reference into the official organ of our national museum system.

I don't juggle. When I read books aloud I cannot muster the spit and gravel that Tim Curry can. And I'm not much of a maker of objects.

I like looking at a vine surging slothlike up a telephone pole and thinking about the future. I like remembering the day they brought a giant squid into the museum of natural history, and how in that instant I saw a cryptid switch teams.

There's a corn truck up by camp, manned by a milky-eyed old farmer with square fingers and a stoop. The truck always parks at a bend in the road that makes me think of the one in Close Encounters of the Third Kind: there's a drop-off and a tremendous view on the other side. Just corn fields and sky, but maybe I'll go early and sit with him for a while, watch the weather.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult

Camp. Camp is summer, summer is camp. Drama camp, sleepover camp, orienteering. Art camp, nature camp, G&T camp (for those of us who were truly stymied by the outdoors as children). My kids are in the middle of the two weeks of day camp they get this summer, and they've been coming home every day tired, and filthy, and happy. Makes me smile.

first day of camp

Makes them smile.

We picked this particular camp because of its idyllic wooded location, its all-outdoors all-day programming, and, erm, because it's only insanely expensive, and not mind-explodingly expensive. Seriously, some of this shit is like Montessori on the pocketbook.

So when I found out last year that this camp, which has a (nominal) Native American theme, teaches the kids archery and "riflery" (BB guns), I took a deep breath. The kids were thrilled. The safety precautions are thorough. I figured that they'd be taught that Native Americans hunted for food, and I'm good with activities that encourage thought about food and where it comes from.

Yes. I am aware that I overthink. Leave me alone. In my world, I call it 'rationalizing.'

Wednesday afternoon, Zhou was complaining that he didn't do so well at BB guns this week. He said, "The safety glasses got in the way so I couldn't look through the rear sight and through the front sight and see the lady."

"That's weird," I thought.
"What lady, [Zhou]?" I said.
"The Native lady on the paper," he explained.

Huh. I figured I wasn't understanding this right, or that he misinterpreted the picture on the target. So I asked Mao.

"What were they using for a target in BB guns this week?" God I love talking to a seven year old. You can just say what you mean, you don't have to think of coming up with words that he'll understand, or subterfuge - ok sometimes subterfuge.

"It was a picture of a Native woman."

Great. These idiots at this camp, whose "Indian lore" is as accurate as a tipi standing next to a totem pole, have finally figured out that the best way to refer to the indigenous peoples of North America is "Native," and they do so when they are encouraging children to SHOOT at them. You can't go around calling them "Indians" and at the same time pretend that you're all about respecting the red man. Sherman Alexie's gonna show up and beat your ass.

That afternoon, when I came to pick them up, I asked the hairless teen who was signing them out what they were using for targets during BB guns. Guilelessly, he replied, "Oh, it was a cartoon of an Indian."

Sort of nodding, my jaw locked and my eyes bulging, I growled, "I'd like to speak to the person whose decision that was." Kid took one look at my, I am sure, completely deranged face, and hustled off.

Only to return with another extremely youthful person, a British girl, as it happens. I think I managed to say, "Hi," before I waded in.

"The targets in BB guns this week: how did you decide to use a picture of a person as a target?"

"Oh!" Flail, taken off guard, backpedal. "We used a cartoon of an Indian..."

"Yes I heard that. In what context is it ok to aim a gun at a human being?"

"Well, it was Cowboy Week, so we figured, since the cowboys fought the Indians..."

"Cowboys did not, by and large, 'fight Indians.' COWBOYS, by and large, herded CATTLE. It was the U.S. government that fought Indians, and for the most part, we now consider that to have been a CRIME. Much like every other time that a person aims a gun at another human being."

"Oh, er, um," more flail.

"What do you teach these guys that guns are for?"

"Oh, well, hunting mostly..."

"And what do you teach them that hunting is for?"

"Well, for food..."

"So were you all planning to CONSUME the Native Americans you shot?"

"Well, no, of course not."

"Listen, will you not use those targets again?"

"No, we won't. We weren't thinking..."

"Do you promise? Because it's a long ride up here and I've had a lot of time to think about this. I could go all night."

And I have to hand it to that kid, it was only at this point that she looked at me with true alarm. I think it finally crossed her mind that she had an extremely verbal, old, tattooed punk hippie liberal standing before her, epically pissed off, and, she was beginning to suspect, enjoying herself just a little.

"No, yeh, I mean obviously, you know more about this than I do..." she babbled.

"Yes. I imagine any number of people know more about this than you do. You might consider consulting one of them next time." I smiled. "As long as you promise not to use those targets, we're done here." I looked at her expectantly.

So she promised, and I thanked her, and she wandered back into the lodge building looking a little like a frog that has just endured a session with a tenth-grade biology class, I'm sure to seek out the bottle of bourbon that every camp director I've ever known has had stashed in his/her office, despite strenuous camp policy prohibiting alcohol on camp grounds. They need it, people - don't begrudge.

The other counselor kids, who had been vociferous in their attempts to ignore the entire confrontation, scattered. It was rather wonderful - I felt like the drop of soap in the metal filings experiment.

I snagged the kids, including Prosper, our neighbor, and drove home. On the way I called Bob and related the conversation to him. I love cell phones - the kids thought I was talking to them, despite the fact that I'd already turned on their audiobook (Sea Monsters and other Delicacies, read by the GRREAT Gerard Doyle). They responded to what I was saying to Bob, and I took the opportunity to ask them what they had learned guns were for.

"For killing people!" was the zesty response from Zhou.
"What are they really for?" I asked.
"Shooting targets!" "Hunting!" said the other two boys.
"And what is shooting targets for?" I asked.
"Getting better at shooting!"
"And what is hunting for?" I asked.
"For food!"
"What kinds of animals do we eat?" I asked.
"Chickens!" "Deer!" "Ducks!" "Fish!" "Bears!" "If you're a velociraptor, iguanadons!"
"Humans?" I asked.
"If you're an ogre you eat humans," answered Zhou.
"Yeah but ogres don't use guns, right?" I replied. "Ogres just RRIIIP you LIIMB from LLLIIMB and gobble you up."
"Hobgoblins... hobgoblins use weapons..." "Criminals shoot guns at people..." "Murderers!"
"Yeah well it would be one thing if we were sending you to criminal camp. I'm sure at criminal camp they teach you how to shoot at people. At your camp, there's no reason for a human being to be the target."

When we got home, I walked Prosper up to his house. I thought his parents would get a kick out of the classic Liberal Arts Major Gets Her Shout On scenario. We all shook our heads and giggled about it, and then I remembered that the counselor told me they'd ridden horses today, and there should be a photo in each kid's backpack. So Chris and Peter rummaged through the backpack, and found the picture of Prosper sitting proudly on a very patient horse (it was the same horse in all the pictures).

They also found this:

It's the target.

I had been picturing a cartoon Injun like out of a Yosemite Sam cartoon - angular, mean-looking, brandishing a bow and arrow. I assumed that my kids had identified the target picture as female because the figure had long hair.

But this.
  1. Clearly unarmed
  2. Possibly female
  3. Quite a bit childlike, in fact
The three of us sat quietly for a moment, trying to comprehend the train of thought that would, at the end of its journey, pull into Let's Have Kids Shoot at This Picture Station. Peter recovered first. "Well," he said. "At least he shot the bitch in the face."

If you look closely, Prosper in fact shot her three times in the face. Well done, son!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It eats you starting with your bottom

Going for it

Jonathan: You learned the entire Klingon Dictionary in two and a half weeks.
Andrew: That had much clearer transitive and intransitive rules, OK?
I've been thinking about verbs today. Verbs. Sunday night I sat at the bar at the Hamilton Tavern and ate a pulled-duck barbecue sandwich, straight through, no stopping, because it was the most heartrendingly delicious thing, with the cole slaw and all? Oh. MAGAD. And after I did that, Bob asked me a few times whether I wanted dessert. The third time he asked, I bloatedly gasped, "I continue to be unable to think about eating another thing," meaning - if you offer me a wafer-thin mint, I will not be responsible for the offal dripping from the chandelier.

Also, geeking out a little bit lately, hence the Monty Python reference. The Buffy quotes, for me, don't even count as geeking out.

So. "Continue to be unable". That is the present perfect progressive negative infinitive of "can". In Greek, this would get its own word:



Trust me. It would. But I have lost my undergraduate Classics-major chops to such an extent that even Mr. Internet cannot help me discover what that word would be.

Here is where my friend Jaime The Former Linguistics Major leaps in and tells me that not only have I mis-labeled that verb tense up above, but that my usage was incorrect in the first place. To which I can only say - hey! today I looked up all the Tarzan movies from the 1930's and 1940's to see if a villain named something like 'Ratarak' was in one of them. Also, I came up with at least 4 works of historical fiction for young people dismayed at this particular summer reading assignment, and I kind of got those kids excited about those books. And I have two broken toes. I think it counts that I would even try to parse that verb phrase.

My point? My point is that I was safely writing a list of young adult audio books that would not make a grownup want to drive into a bridge abutment, and I was going to use "Paradise by the dashboard light" as a title, and I somehow didn't manage to save, and I continue to be chagrined at the shittiness of Blogger.

You know I'm retired from hero work.
As am I Robert... as am I. And yet - here we

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wo der Unbekannte thronet

I've been thinking about Andy Goldsworthy today. It started when I admired my friend Aleph's pants and we started talking about outlet malls that we have known and loved. You see? The banal has its place. When I sang my paean to the Woodberry outlet mall in New York and said we used to stop there on the way back from Storm King, I then had to explain Storm King, which led to pulling up a picture of one of the coolest things I have ever seen: Andy's wall. I explained that it was dry-stone masonry, and so not only is it visually and compositionally spectacular, but a technical masterpiece as well.

Looking at the picture, Aleph said: "It's funny to think that if people two hundred years ago saw this thing, they'd be baffled that someone would build something so pointless." I looked again and tried to figure out what I wanted to say. I told Aleph that... I THINK that anyone looking at that wall - from space, from history, from childhood, from a position of utter ignorance about art - IF they understood that it was made by the hand of man (and the Goldsworthy stuff does have kind of an unfortunate possibly-constructed-by-fairies thing to it), that viewer would understand that the person who built that wall wanted to see a stone wall snaking through the woods and disappearing into the pond, and there was no stone wall snaking through the woods and disappearing into the pond, and so that person built that stone wall. So that he could see it.

I've been in a position to explain art too many times. (Not that Aleph needed me to explain anything - no. It's just that it's so difficult to do, I have to start from scratch and explain art to myself every now and then.) I don't like trying to explain art, because I have very little faith in my ability to do it, and because it's likely that I am wrong. But sometimes it's unavoidable. Sometimes I have to review a book about art for kids, and I have to compare the author's explanation to the way I understand art. Makes my head hurt.

Or sometimes somebody will ask something like, "Magdalena Abakanowicz what? How Magdalena Abakanowicz? And why?" and I kind of get sucked into answering. I'm a librarian - we answer questions. And I really do understand not understanding. Like, it took me a while to understand the composition of music. In fact, it basically took Immortal Beloved for me to understand the composition of music. I never understood that these crazy music-writing fuckers hear music in their heads, and would like to hear that music with their ears, so they write the music. Philip Glass also helped me understand that. You never heard anything like Philip Glass before Philip Glass started writing music, and apparently Philip Glass never did either, and he wanted to. And Koyaanisqatsi. Watching that movie, you can imagine the filmmaker looking at traffic and imagining what it would look like sped up, slowed down, pulsed, given rhythm and meaning. So then he did it. So that he could see it.

In other examples: Frank Miller and Geof Darrow wanted to see a picture of a man stopping a car with his foot:

This guy wanted to see a woman's head turned into a flower:

Yinka Shonibare needs to see Africa's relationship to European culture expressed through the medium of my dining room curtains. I love Yinka Shonibare.

How to Blow up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006

Here's another one, because I love Yinka Shonibare so much:

Three Graces, 2001

But I would really like to meet the person who needed to see this chair:

I would like to kick him in the shin.

Friday, July 03, 2009

STAY HUNGRY - Pull my pork

I'm making pulled pork for the 4th of July. I know, I know, it's Vegetarian Summer, but from the beginning we sold the kids on the concept by saying that we'd be FLEXIBLE vegetarians. Flexitarians, as a book we have at my library would have it.

Now, this is about the 5th time I've made this particular kind of North Carolina style pork (Eastern North Carolina style if you want to be specific, and one of the things I really like about the 2nd grade teacher is the fact that when I said I was making NC-style pork barbecue, she asked what kind?), and I've had to look up the base recipe every time, so I guess it's time to write your mother down.

EASTERN North Carolina-style pulled pork involves vinegar, and red pepper, and a little mustard. No tomatoes, no ketchup, no barbecue sauce. That's the difference between Western NC, Georgia-style, Virginia, and, Christ knows, Northwestern Kentucky-style. Every pork-eating place on earth seems to have a way of braising pork, and ALL of the ones I've come across have been worthy of a faraway look and a sigh.

My friend Sac' tells me Johnny Depp once wrote an essay about Jean-Michel Basquiat "under the influence of pork." I buy that. Pork can have the same effect on me as Johnny Depp can sometimes. Sigh.


Really. Sigh. Good pork.

Pulled pork/carnitas

Doesn't look like much though, right? This isn't even the recipe I'm making, but it does show my big pan, and pork.

I started with this guy's recipe. Credit where it's due. But the recipe has undergone major Paulafications since I've started making it. "Paulafications". That's what my husband calls what I do to recipes. Hee!

First, run the flame up high under your biggest widest pot. I put my big hunk of pork in there and sear it on all sides, salting and peppering each side as it comes up. No oil or anything, the pork begins to put off fat pretty quickly.

While the pig is making all that noise in the pot, I slice up onions. About 6 for an 8-lb piece of pork. Add them to the pot as soon as they're sliced, along with 3 bay leaves and about 10 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped (swear while you're cutting them, that's pretty coarse).

Now, while the onions are browning, mix up your braising liquid.

2 cups white vinegar
4T brown sugar
more Worcestershire sauce than you'd expect (mine has the plastic dropper top still in the neck of the bottle, so rather than measuring, I count to six 5 times while I'm shaking it out) (sorry if that's not all that helpful)
1 T dry mustard
1 T thyme
2 t celery seed

And then there's your red. If your kitchen is like my kitchen, you have several different options when it comes to red pepper. There's the cayenne, paprika, and red pepper flakes you get from the supermarket, then there's Hungarian paprika, Indian red chilli powder, the dark chili powder you use for making chili, and possibly the dried chili pepper flakes left over from the last time you made hot sauce (and yeah I got that recipe up too).

I put in about 2 T of the Indian chilli powder and about 2 of the Hungarian paprika. You're really going to have to judge for yourself how much hotness your guests can stand. Remember, you can always shake on some hot sauce individually.

So, mix that up with a fork and when the onions have gotten a bit brown, pour it in over the pork. There will be some sugar and stuff at the bottom of your bowl - rinse it out with another half-cup of vinegar and pour it in the pot too.

Now put the heat on low, clap a lid on that sucker and go do some laundry. Or go screw around on Facebook. Screw around with your lovah, even. Go yell at the kids - boy I tell you today my seven year old stood there and lied to my face. I was so angry I was shaking. "You tell me - what do YOU want to do when somebody lies to you??!!" I shouted. Defiant and crying, he yelled, "I want to smack them!" "Oh yeah?" says I, "Well that's another thing we have in common!" He just looked at me, and then he cracked up. It's a good thing we have the same sense of humor too.

Many hours will pass. Overnight, could be. Turn the meat over every hour or so. Turn off the flame when you go to bed. When the stuff is really falling apart every time you touch it (could be as little as 4 hours), it is ready to be shredded.

Pause. Evaluate.

1) Is there a lot of fat on top? There will be. Use a ladle to skim it off. Last time I did this I had near on a cup of rendered pork fat that I put in an old okra pickle jar and set in the fridge. "Vegetarian summer" my ass. I know it was my idea, but zucchini tastes SOOO much better sauteed in pork fat.

2) Is there a bone in your meat? Shut up. It's a legitimate question. If there is, turn out the flame and let the stuff cool so you can fish out the bones.

3) If no bone, get two forks and, using a crosswise motion, start shredding the news. You're leaving today. You want to be a part of it, and I don't blame you. Standing there shredding all that pork takes FOREVER. Especially when all you want to be doing is shoving it down your gullet. But it is TOO HOT. Resist! Or, god, why not. You've got like 6 or 8 or 12 pounds of pork there, go nuts.

Once it is shredded, pause once again. How's the consistency? Too dry? Hm I don't know what to do about too dry. You fucked up. Too wet though, you can turn that flame on a little bit and evaporate off some of the liquid. Or refrigerate the whole thing and when the fat solidifies (there will still be fat even after you skim) take it off. But remember, you'll be using a slotted spoon to dish it out, so you can let it drain at serving time as well.

We serve this with hamburger buns, cole slaw, and hot sauce. People make their own sandwiches. Put out mustard and mayo too, but hide the ketchup and the barbecue sauce. I'm sorry, but people who want to put that stuff on YOUR AWESOME PORK are just insulting you. And your piggie.

Ingredient list:

1 8-pound pork shoulder (any pork roast will do)
4 to 6 white or yellow onions, sliced
10 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3 bay leaves
2 cups white vinegar
4T brown sugar
Worcestershire sauce
red pepper / paprika / chili powder / red pepper flakes
1 T dry mustard
1 T thyme
2 t celery seed