Monday, September 21, 2009

Food for thought

posted Sun, 08 Aug 2004

Harpo and I saw “Collateral” last night. I usually avoid Tom Cruise movies – he has become so cocky that I don’t like him anymore and I’m not keen on men who ditch their wives – but he did a good job of playing a self-important arrogant guy trying to convince the world he is a deep thinker intellectual.

I know people like that. They are really annoying. Pseudo-intellectuals. Or maybe true intellectuals. But the important thing to them seems to be convincing other people they are intellectuals, not actually BEING intellectuals.

Jamie Foxx did a good job as the cab driver who doesn’t dare eat a peach. Except for the Symbolic Moment when the coyote crosses the road, it’s actually a decent movie. I’m not used to actually sort of liking the bad guy.

But I spent most of the day traumatized by the poor state of the English language, which is to say the state of the English language when it is in the hands of the good people of M’town. Before the movie, we went to the little park they have at the river. It’s actually pretty cool – a half-mile scale model of the Mississippi river with all the elevations to scale and water flowing through. The Ohio, the Missouri and the Tennessee rivers and the dams on the Tennessee are modeled as well. At the end, there is a big pool that is the Gulf of Mexico. You can rent a paddleboat and play in the Gulf, only without sharks and red tide.

The trauma came when I read one of the placards explaining how something worked – a riverboat, I think. It said “…thats how the engine…” (Even Microsoft Word knew better and kept trying to put an apostrophe in the “thats.”)

Well. I cannot bear to see the language so mistreated, so with a smooth and practiced gesture (I have done this before), I whipped out my pen and drew an apostrophe in the appropriate place. Harpo asked if I was willing to get arrested for defacing public property. I told him that my cause was just and that no jury would convict me. No jury of English teachers, that is.

Then, when we were buying our movie tickets at the kiosk, I had to choose between “child” and “matine” tickets. After Harpo gave our tickets to the attendant, I told him to go ahead without me. He looked puzzled – you don’t want to hear this, I said. When he was out of earshot, I told the attendant that the word “matinee” on the kiosk was missing the last “e.” To his credit, he knew exactly why that was wrong. “You mean it says ‘may-tine?’” he laughed.

Harpo had come back and overheard. “You are such the factotum,” he scolded. “‘Oh! Oh! Teacher! Don’t we have homework over the weekend?’”

Someone has to defend the integrity of our language and culture, I replied loftily. Have you seen how they misspelled “apocalypse?” I had noticed that one my first time at this cinema, where the names of famous movies are painted on the walls. I even sent an email to the corporate headquarters about “Apocalyps Now,” but they still haven’t corrected it. It’s been two years.

In the interests of scientific research, I have been seeking the Elvis ice cream. But both times I have checked in the past week, my grocery store has not had it. They have had other flavors of Edy’s ice cream, but not the Elvis. Elvis week started yesterday. There are huge billboards advertising this ice cream. Yet they have stockouts. This is not good inventory management.

My cousin Suzanne and I have been comparing notes on regional foods. Until Prairie Home Companion, I never knew that I had an ethnic identity. I thought everyone put macaroni in their chili, that everyone kept a jar of bacon grease in the fridge just for when you need a little bit of extra flavor, and that everyone knew what rhubarb was.

But now I know that the whole world does not necessarily eat the right way and that indeed they need to be educated – kindly – as to the error of their ways. But because I am so magnanimous and generous, I have decided not to lecture and to teach through example instead. Also, rhubarb is hard to come by in M’town, so I really don’t want anyone else buying it.

Suzanne just returned from a week in Wisconsin, where she had Blue Moon ice cream, which I had never heard of, but then I only actually lived in Wisconsin for a year when I was in kindergarten and my dad was in Vietnam. Still, if it is part of my cultural heritage, I will make an effort to find some. Never let it be said that I shirked my duty.

Another amazing Wisconsin food is bratwurst, especially the brats my uncle Larry makes. Not to be ghoulish, but that’s what we had for my dad’s funeral lunch. It was delicious.

I am right now marinating turkey breast in mojo sauce, a taste I acquired while I was in Miami. Another delicious Cuban food – something I make a beeline for the second I land in Miami – is fried plantains. Yum. And pastelitos de guayaba. And batido de guayaba. I could get happily fat in Miami.

The food in M’town is pretty good if you stick with the basics – meat and three places are the best. Barbeque is good here – they do pork. I heard that the reason Texans barbeque beef is that it is easier to steal a cow from horseback than to steal a pig. I love Texas, but pork barbeque really is good.

It took me two years before I tried one of the local specialties. It sounded so awful I refused to touch it, but after I actually ate a fried dill pickle, I realized that they are delicious.

There are no decent bagels to be found here, which is ironic considering that M’town has one of largest orthodox Jewish communities outside of New York. Or maybe not. Maybe bagels aren’t a traditional orthodox food. Even though I belong to the JCC, I don’t know all the secrets.

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