Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pro Cooking Tip

After measuring cayenne pepper by hand, resist the urge to scratch.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Naked Singularity

Sergio de la Pava's A Naked Singularity is the most impressive debut novel I've read since William T. Vollman's You Bright And Risen Angels. And though I suspect that book is unfamiliar to you, I request that you trust me when I say that this is high praise. Want more familiar touchstones? Well, that would take a less interesting novel.

A Naked Singularity revolves around a young defense attorney named Casi who has never lost a case that went to trial. He lives in Brooklyn, a place the author bio on the back assures us that de la Pava does not live. We begin with a series of interviews he performs with the night's arrested, followed almost immediately by their bail hearings, a section of the book that is openly hilarious as well as clearly questioning the justice system. From there the book proceeds to continue with both the humor and questions throughout its remainder, to great effect. Often a loner at the office, Casi befriends a fellow attorney named Dane who is interested in the pursuit of perfection, a cause which in the past has lead him to smoke crack. Dane draws Casi to plan a perfect crime using information from one of Casi's clients, a cause which seems in no way complicated by the fact that Dane never appears when anyone else is around. In opposition to their proposed crime is a larger-than-life character called Ballena, who may exist or may be symbolic (This is not to say he does not exist in the world of the book. He certainly does. However, I favor a slightly-less-literal interpretation). Does this have your attention yet? If not, I don't think I want to spend time with you anymore.

Sprinkled throughout are scenes with Casi's family, Colombian immigrants on both sides of the law. These never really tie into the book's main themes, but they have the courtesy to not drag. As things progress, Casi's views of justice shake and change, leading to one especially wonderful legal brief. He runs afoul of both the judges he defends clients in front of and his co-workers. He has lengthy discussions on the nature of God with his Landlord and said authority figure's roommates, one of whom is attempting to bring Ralph Kramden to life by watching The Honeymooners endlessly via DVR (Other letters are involved in the acronym). And once again, yes, this is a comedy.

Are there bum notes along the way? Absolutely. One philosophical discussion with his fellow buildingmates involves the exponential pace of human invention, a conversation which calls into question the reverence the book places on Television, a noun which is always capitalized. Some of the family set pieces are not at all necessary. And the book does drag a bit in the middle part. But with the scope of the issues the novel tackles, which come to a semi-climax in Casi's co-defense of a mentally-challenged man sentenced to death in Alabama, more than merit a misstep or two for the insight and impact the book places on many of the issues we as humans face nowadays, both those covered by Dostoyevsky and those which have come up since. If you are interested in contemporary fiction in almost any way, and especially fiction attempting to push for importance beyond the medium, you should have stopped reading this a while ago and found yourself a copy of this book. And as to how it ends up, as they say:

"We're going to be all right,"he said.
"No," I said. "But we're going to live."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How To Know You've Been Working In A Kitchen Too Long

In the bar bathroom above the sink, someone has scrawled the words "You look good". When you see them, the upper-case L keeps curving into a 'C'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Working In A Kitchen

I've heard it said that working in a kitchen is nothing more than a 24/7 dick-measuring competition. I cannot think of anything that could be both more accurate and more wrong, all at the same time. Kitchen work is a survival of the fittest sort of thing. And I mean that in a very literal sense. You very rarely see people who have a similar body type as the customers standing next to the grill all night. And if that does wind up occurring, they either quit or sweat it off pretty quickly. Spending forty plus hours a week in that sort of environment is a challenge that many people are not up to. Forgive me if this gives those of us who can do it, sometimes well, a bit of an ego to match the callouses on our knife and saute hands. There is a continual showing off aspect to the whole thing, a bit of stage show provided, not for the customers, who will never be allowed near the whole lurid spectacle of professional food preparation if management has any idea what is good for them, but for one's co-workers. The basic premise of the enterprise is that, as kitchen work is not an office job, the goal should be to commit some sort of act that would get one fired from any self-respecting office at minimum once per hour. Working through hangovers, or while in the bag or on most any ingestible substance, is the mark of the line cook. If you manage to somehow (Probably through some sort of misunderstanding or trickery) find yourself in a stable relationship, you have committed a minor sin. Not vomiting over the railing of the deck to close the night because you wish to spend time in the company of said other may up the deal to felony level. Why would you want to go home for sex when the waitstaff is in such close proximity? In short, it is all about the Three B's: Booze, bluster and bullshit. And it is wonderful.

 Now, make no mistake, there is no actual dick-measuring competition going on back where your food is prepared. For one thing, there is little use for a ruler in a kitchen, and kitchens tend to get trimmed down to the essentials. This would leave any sort of serious contest woefully imprecise. But more importantly, unless you're running El Bulli, there is likely a limited amount of space in the back of house (If you are running El Bulli, the extra space is probably filled with unpaid interns. Perhaps stacked). To have a dick-measuring competition would likely mean having to wash your cutting board, and given the usual state of affairs in the dish pit, it's almost always best to simply keep it zipped up unless/until the new host walks by. Instead of taking a physical form, this leaves the favored game as verbal abuse.

There are rules to this sort of thing, but they vary from kitchen to kitchen depending on the backgrounds of the crew contained therein. The general policy is that if you think you can say it without getting stabbed, it will be coming out of your mouth. Sometimes even these remarks get uttered if it seems likely that their emittance will remain unpunished. If you ask anyone in a kitchen about this atmosphere, they will tell you they're just busting someone's balls. Nothing more to it than that. But this is incorrect. You see, there is an eventual goal to this eternal show of machismo. What everyone is trying to do back there is to be the one who pushes a fellow employee over the edge, dropping the final insult on some poor bastard who didn't have the intelligence or opportunity to choose a career path better-suited for his particular temperament. This goal remains unacknowledged, as talking with your co-workers about your continual attempts to get them to kill themselves would probably put a damper on the sort of camaraderie needed to get through a busy Saturday night. Yet it still exists. And the undiscussed reward is just as widely known as the contest itself: The winner gets eternal free drinks from the remainder of the staff. To help him forget.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pro Cooking Tip

When making New England Clam Chowder, it is comforting to see the words "Made with natural clams" on the side of your bottle of clam juice. This way you are assured that your chowder is not made with gay clams.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Really Important Site News or Something

I talked about this blog with a man who knows about this sort of thing, and he said that it's not dead. It's merely mostly dead. So rather than going through the site's pockets for loose change, I have decided to hope for a miracle. It recently moved its head (The blog, not the miracle), so I have hope that this endeavor may be successful. For now I am going to make a list of my assets. If anyone has a wheelbarrow or a Holocaust Cloak, please let me know.

Thank you,

The Management

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Supposedly Steven Sondheim is some sort of musical theater genius. But from the two shows I have seen that prominently feature his name on the marquee (Into the Woods being the other one of these, that being a show that was completely derailed by a terribly-written second act featuring the most painfully obvious overarching metaphor I have ever had the misfortune of being exposed to), I will dispute that claim with anyone who cares to get into an unwinnable argument likely to leave both parties angry. Now, it is true that my issues may not be strictly with Sondheim, as I believe he sticks to writing the music and/or lyrics of his shows, not the scripts, which is where the majority of the fault lies. To this I say: tough. Either write it yourself or find a better scriptwriter. Odds are they'll all work for food, so cost is unlikely to matter. Go for the quality.

As you may have figured out, I recently saw a Sondheim piece. Company, to be specific, showing at Renegade Theater in what I'm sure the tourism department refers to as beautiful downtown Duluth. As you may also have figured out, it is not overly good. In fact, it fails on almost all counts. Perhaps the music was amazing. Whatever. Don't care.

More to the point, Company revolves around the central character Bobby, a man whose name is repeated a minimum of 5 million times by the various cast members. Bobby has problems, and we (the audience) are lucky enough to get to see them play out. You see, Bobby is unmarried and seems to be somewhere around his thirties, at an age where most of his friends have settled down. This makes him the titular company when he comes over for dinner, which he seems to do with great regularity. Beyond saving vast amounts of money on Bobby's food bill, this allows us a glimpse into multiple short, comedic marriage-related set pieces, which we shall discuss shortly. It also gives us some insight into Bobby, apparently quite the Lothario, as the parade of names his friends throw out as past romantic foils attests. But as things go on, we learn that Bobby actually really wishes to be married, he just hasn't found the right girl (Actually, this seems to be the only problem Bobby has. I shouldn't have pluralized that earlier. My bad). To show this, we are treated to scenes involving three romantic matches, ranging from recent to current. Two are presented as dimwitted (Technically I suppose one was more of a post-hippy stoner idiot, but I have no qualms about lumping them both under this banner), while the other one is never given more than a couple lines, leaving her a completely forgettable and unused character. If these are the types of women Bobby finds himself spending his times with while secretly yearning to be married then he is most certainly doing it wrong. Fortunately for the play as a whole (And audience by extension), the writers decided that this was all the characterization Bobby would be given in two and a half hours. This leaves us with, not a main character, but an utterly unconvincing piece of furniture who exists solely for the reason of giving us access to a number of marriage-centric vignettes, which occupy the bulk of the play.

These are certainly the foremost strength of the play, primarily the first scene, which is outright hilarious at points. After the opening high this brings, however, the rest could be safely skipped by an efficiency-minded theatregoer without missing a beat. The only impression these give off in the end are to repeatedly say that married people sure are wacky. This concept comes very close to matching in overall profundity Sondheim's follow-up masterpiece, Women Be Shoppin'. What we have here is an empty shell of a play, with a vacant hole where the lead should be, and nothing of any substance to say. It feels as though someone involved wrote a couple of the marriage pieces, showed them to someone who encouraged him to write more, then gave it a thin concept to try to tie it all together without bothering to put any effort into it. Then songs were tacked on at the end for no possible comprehensible reason, as many of them seem completely awkwardly shoehorned into a near-total void of a script that somehow still doesn't make room for the music. Some of the transitions are worse than mine have been so far here. I'm sure that the music is excellent, and I'm simply missing Sondheim's brilliance here. But you know what? Once he bothers to learn to write, I'll see if I can be bothered to care about his songs. Until then, I remain thoroughly unimpressed.