Stories

gingerbread_house1323439630.jpgTruth be told, I’m not all that social. It’s odd, since my actual job title is “Hospitality Coordinator,” a job for which I am completely without portfolio – my background in literature and law suggests something rather more Jarndyce and Jarndyce than Julie, Your Cruise Director. I dodge phone calls and invitations, ducking them as if they were fire-tipped arrows. I am often glad that I went wherever I went, but the dread is crippling. In some weird agoraphobia variant, I fear being buttonholed by a bore, made to act out The Twelve Days of Christmas or just jangled to death by the repetitive intrusion of other peoples’ noise and chatter and energy.

At this time of year, when events are thick on the ground at work and there are concerts, and holiday parties and family gatherings lurking around every corner, I find myself drawing into a tight, gray ball to think mutinous thoughts. I will wear all black to the Christmas party, I will sit in the back of the auditorium so I can leave quickly and quietly, I will extricate myself from the Never-ending Story by claiming that my phone buzzed and it’s probably my brother making his annual call from the research station in Antarctica, so I’d better take it.

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ramennoodles.jpgWhen I was a younger man, I was quite the spendthrift blowing through tons of money that I didn't actually have. Like many others of my generation, I lived way beyond my means on a series of credit cards that I would repeatedly max out the credit limits on and end up slaving away, some times for years, in an effort to pay off. When I first moved to New York in the late 80s to attend the NYU publishing program, I did so with visions of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City dancing in my head. I eventually landed a job at Random House and wasn't daunted by the fact that it only paid $13,000 a year because in my mind I was on my way to living the life I had always dreamt about.

Sharing a tiny three bedroom apartment in Soho with four friends from school, my portion of the rent was a whopping $700 a month. Despite the expense, we lived happily on ramen noodles and a shared jar of peanut butter, and gorged on occasional freebies we would scam via work or friends who tended bars and waited tables. President Reagan was in office and it was a time of conspicuous consumption, and though my friends and I lived virtually below the poverty line, we still managed to make every night seem like New Year’s Eve. We made friends with the doormen at our favorite clubs and scored a permanent place on their guest lists with tons of free drink tickets to boot. It was a time to "see and be seen" and looking the part was very important. Thankfully the gaunt look was in because no one I knew could afford to eat. And when we weren't drinking our dinner, the Grand Union Supermarket on University Place took credit cards (practically unheard of at the time) keeping us in noodles and PB&J sandwiches in an attempt to add nourishment to our skeletal frames.

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iphone-4s-appsSomeone wise once told me that ’shoulds’ lead to anger, and that if I ever found myself experiencing irrational irritation or annoyance I should look for ways I’ve decided someone or some thing ‘should’ be behaving, then decide if that ‘should’ is rational. This has proven a very useful technique for me, since I can pretty much chronicle my life through a series of frustrations with how the world behaves, in contrast to the way it behaves in my fantasies. ‘The World Is Not Enough’ would be a good title for the story of my life, had it not been taken already by the James Bond franchise.

A fairly recent exception to my chronic state of dissatisfaction, one that leaves me hopeful that I may have at last conquered my demon, comes in the form of smartphone applications (apps). What makes me especially hopeful that I’m cured is the massive potential for disappointment the smartphone presents. If you think about it, a device that can access the internet wirelessly, take high-resolution photos, talk, sense touch, recognize speech, know exactly where it is in the world (including which way is up), know whether it’s moving and how fast, and recognize the direction and strength of magnetic fields should be able to accomplish some pretty amazing feats.

To my surprise, I find that smartphone apps that should exist, often do. For instance, I take comfort in the fact that there is an app that finds the cheapest gas near my current location, and one that listens to a song whose name I can’t remember and identifies it for me, and one that overlays the constellations over the sky when I point my phone at any part of it.

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buzz.jpgLeftovers! Even our dog, Buzz, won’t eat anything stored overnight in the fridge. Usually, when we give him some yummy leftover steak, he goes to his dog dish, looks at it, makes a pass at sniffing its aroma, drops his head, and with a heavy audible sigh and plodding gait shuffles away yet once again betrayed by the owners he so dearly trusts. Once, in exasperation, I whined, “but Buzzy, these are Mario Batali leftovers!” He looked at me with a why-didn’t-you-say-that-in-the-first-place shrug, and returned to his dog dish to enjoy his prize. (True story)

There are leftovers and there are leftovers! A thought that made me reconsider of an old cookbook – MICHAEL FIELD’S CULINARY CLASSICS and IMPROVISATIONS: Creative Leftovers Made From Main Course Masterpieces.

When I have the time, I love trekking through the dust of old cookbooks. I have some books that go back to Depression cooking – with such titles as GAS Cookery Book and The Progressive Farmer’s Southern Cookbook. (One never knows when a tasty recipe for Raccoon will come in handy when guests arrive unexpectedly: "First you shoot a raccoon…")

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