Tags: get the eff outta here

Ten observations from our trip to St. Louis

 Ten observations about our trip to St. Louis (with subjects ranging from televisions to cooking to sex) begun last Thursday and concluded today:

The road was wearisome as ever. We made our customary dinner stop, glad for a break in the drive. The Mexican restaurant in Springfield was laboring under a suspension of its liquor license. As a former owner of such a restaurant, I felt badly for its owner. Ninety days of not being able to sell margaritas or beer would have been lethal for us. As customers at this place, we were a bit disappointed. We didn’t really need a drink at the mid-point of a long road trip, though we certainly would have drunk a beer or two had it been available. We could have instead gone to the Applebee’s across the street, but then that would have been a situation where the living would have envied the dead. Unlike Applebee’s, the Mexican joint had the obvious virtues of not being crowded in general, not being crowded with assholes in particular, not being a douchebag chain restaurant, and not being the worst restaurant on the planet. But neither was it anywhere near the best restaurant on the planet. After we resumed the road, J complained of stomach discomfort. But I suspect this was due more to the quantity of food he consumed than its quality. For him to fully consume a plate of beef enchiladas and all the side dishes is remarkable.

Fuck driving in bad weather. Fuck it all to hell. I’m sick of it.  All my driving life since I left Wisconsin to attend college in Iowa, there has been time after time after bloody fucking time of needing to travel hundreds of miles by road to visit family members in other states, and so many times this has occurred during snow storms, ice storms or, as in the case of this trip, blinding, torrential rain. Night had fallen, the road was slick and black and flooding over. Of course, even though I-44 is continuously under permanent construction, they can’t ever manage to paint or re-paint the lines on the road, so it’s nearly impossible to see where the lane divisions might be. And it always seems that all big-rig truck driving in America needs to happen during the shittiest weather. It’s as if the trucks are monsters sitting in the truck stops waiting for inclemency before firing up their engines and rolling across the blasted and blighted middle regions of the country. I’ve decided that it is ridiculous to risk our lives in this manner of travel, though I do not doubt that we will continue to do it.

Mom’s computer:
            “So what should I set as my homepage?” she wondered. Jeff had no real opinion on the matter, but he pointed out that while this decision was perhaps of no great import in its specifics, she would indeed need something as the homepage. She had considered not even having one. “But what will open when you go to the web?” he wondered. “Since something must open, it may as well be a page that you enjoy.” Eventually she settled upon the Gmail page. Chris located the Windows Live Mail application and configured it in such a way that mail from her new Gmail account would download automatically and be accessible to her by way of a mailbox icon on her desktop. “So now you can have something else other than Gmail as your homepage,” said Jeff. “You don’t even need to go to the website now to get your mail.” She retained the Gmail site as her homepage. She said that there wasn’t really any other one that she needed as her homepage at this time. Perhaps she would join Facebook later and switch to that.

            Mom had been lacking a working computer and home internet service for a number of years. She was delighted that her son Jeff and his boyfriend Chris came to St. Louis and assisted her in purchasing a computer and a number of other items at Best Buy. She got a very inexpensive Toshiba laptop, preloaded with the new Windows 7 operating system. Chris was intrigued to see the new operating system but concluded that it was still very Windowsy and not Mac-like at all, but he refrained from sniffing in disdain at it. He knew that this computer would be perfectly adequate for Mom’s needs, and he conceded that it was a probably a better computer than its very low price would have suggested. She also purchased a wireless router, a 19-inch flat screen TV, a TV antenna, and a DVD player.

The TV:  We experienced much frustration with the new TV. Mom needed a new TV for her bedroom, but she doesn’t have a cable jack in there. The new TV, therefore, needed to simply receive its signals out of the air. None of us had ever seen the new style of TV using the new style of broadcast signal (digital) up close before. Great tedium resulted from trying to scan in the channels and fuss with the antenna to achieve best reception. Eventually it seemed that it was working—at least well enough—but we discovered that we were missing channels 5 and 12. After much more mucking about, Jeff managed to tune in channel 5. Then we discovered that there is no channel 12 at all. Though listed as 12 on the cable system in the living room, it is actually channel 30 when one tries to pull it from the air, and it had been there all along, perfectly tuned. We relaxed and laughed at all this once it was done. Interesting trivia: the new TV retrieved a hazy signal from a hitherto unknown low-power analog channel which was airing reruns of Dragnet. I wondered if there was somewhere nearby a TV rebel, perhaps a radical broadcast pirate testing out his still-secret TV station, an old VCR whirring in a basement or a bedroom, playing tapes of old TV shows, preparing for headier days to come.

Down in the city, our old homeland where we breathed the sweet air of freedom for the first time in over a year, we visited our good friend of many years and her new girlfriend. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, I will thinly veil their identities by calling our friend “E” and her girlfriend “V.” To begin, I should say that it is quite possible that V is a horrendous bitch. We had some forewarning of this. It was made known to us that V did not wish us to visit E. “Why must they come and ruin your birthday?” it is reported that she said. Also, “Why are they coming at all?” V’s disapproval of our visit was rooted in the crazy belief that the main purpose of our visit was to have sex with E.

Jeff and E have been best friends since they were teenagers, but they have never fucked. Not even once. I don’t believe that J has ever done it with a female at all much less his best friend E. It would be like boning one’s sister. I have known E for about a decade, almost as long as I have known J. I have never fucked her either, nor even considered it. Not even once. Furthermore, E is more or less a lesbian.  She swings both ways, but she is more a lesbian than anything else. This new girlfriend of hers, V, seems to find the basis for her jealousy, mayhem and foolishness in a cultural bias. V is from one of the countries of the Indian subcontinent, specifically one of the Islamic ones. Where she comes from, we are given to understand, it just doesn’t happen that men and women are friends with no sort of sex or romance implied. To her it beggars the imagination that E would have been “just friends” with J and me for this long with no sex going on. I wonder what her more conservative religious brethren have to say about her smoking, drinking and lesbianism.

So we knew to expect some friction coming into the situation, but we ended up feeling quite relieved and delighted when V proved to be sociable and friendly toward us. In fact, she seemed to have dropped her misgivings about us entirely. She was preparing intensely aromatic food when we arrived. She created a huge feast of dishes based on her homeland’s cuisine. It was beautiful and delicious. Indeed, it was restaurant quality and we told her so, and she seemed delighted that we enjoyed it so much. The evening ended in a very amiable fashion, and we left thinking that things were much better than expected with E and V.

As J and I drove away, en route to O’Connell’s for a beer, J’s phone rang. We gleaned through a series of ringings and hangings-up that E and V were going at each other hammer-and-tongs. Evidently E was trying to call J to get some testimony from him about what “really” went on that evening, but V was grabbing away her phone and hanging it up. We learned that as soon as we left, V accused E of having managed to either make out with or fuck both J and me during our visit. She’s out of her goddamned mind and we abandoned our briefly-held good feelings toward V.  But that food was still really good!

At the Zoo with E, we saw: penguins, puffins, sea otters, sea lions, and various primates. The visit was brief, but we were glad that we finally saw the new exhibit with the Antarctic birds as they are quite cute and interesting to see in person. The Saint Louis Zoo is one of the best in the world, and admission is free. Beer, however, costs about sixteen dollars for three servings. Fortunately E was buying.

Libido: From Doctor Drain’s notes regarding the proclivities and behavior of the Subjects C and J: Marked heightening of libido is generally observed in these subjects whenever they travel. This is supported by a large amount of information that we have gleaned from their implants over several observation sessions from the year 2000 to present. The reason for this is not yet understood, though a hypothesis was suggested last year by Doctor Benway and other members of the project  [Lab notes, 2008:0816].   “We did it a lot on the last trip, but not so much this time,” said Subject C, who requested one type of activity this morning, was denied, then requested a variant form of that same activity and was again denied. He made a third request, this time for an entirely different style of activity, and was once again refused. Subject J, as his reason for declining these requests, cited the proximity of his parental unit only a room away. “I can be quiet,” said Subject C. “We did it last time, and I managed to remain silent throughout.” Subject J remained firm in his position on the subject. He left the bedroom and prepared coffee. We next observed the subjects at a breakfast restaurant where Subject C made it known first to us via the implants and then to Subject J verbally that he was experiencing arousal induced by their waiter’s physical attributes. “He knows that you think he’s cute,” said Subject J. “He is responding with predictable and appropriate behaviors and signals. In other words, he’s ‘working’ it.”  Subject J is an expert in restaurant table service and knows the behaviors and signals that servers employ to discreetly “flirt” with their clients. “Too bad,” J said, “that he doesn’t know that Mom is the one who is tipping!” Both subjects found this to be ironically funny. Subject C adhered for the next hour to a fantasy of inducing the waiter into joining Subject J and him in a tripartite adventure of rather elaborate and unlikely specifications, but Subject J was less enthusiastic about this idea, not finding the waiter to be as attractive as Subject C judged him to be. A marked disparity between Subject C’s arousal state and Subject J’s persisted throughout the day. We concluded that that there would likely be no shared activities between these subjects today and shifted our focus to other subjects.

Chores to assist Mom:  I broke down an old computer system and an old desk and hauled all that junk out to the trash. We also threw away an old non-working analog TV and its useless antenna. She didn’t need that stuff anymore, since she bought all that new equipment at Best Buy a couple days earlier. Plus, none of it really worked anymore. I thought it was a shame to get rid of the desk, but I suspect that a neighbor dumpster-dived it right away. Jeff potted a plant for her, one that he had brought as a gift from our garden. He also hauled up from Mom’s basement storage locker an antique radio cabinet. It now sits where the obsolete desk and computer were.  While these tasks were perhaps not a lot of fun, neither were they too onerous; and they were things that she would have had difficulty doing on her own. So we were glad to help.

Jeff prepared hot browns for dinner Sunday night. It was delicious. Here is a recipe for that dish, excerpted from the unfinished draft of my cookbook/restaurant memoir Stackin’ Hogs

            Like some of the lunch items that we discuss in another chapter, the Hot Brown is a regional curiosity.  It’s native to Louisville, Kentucky where it was developed at the Brown Hotel (hence the word “Brown” in the dish’s name). Jeff prepared them at Lynn’s Paradise Café in Louisville years ago when he cooked there, and has been a sort of evangelist for the dish ever since.

            Though slight variations may be found, it is built like an open-face sandwich with some sort bread topped with roasted turkey, smothered in a white sauce, topped with tomato slices, bacon strips and some melted cheddar cheese.  The bread may be toasted or not and the white sauce may or may not incorporate cheese into it.  We had it on the menu at the Saint Louis Art Museum for several years when I was chef there, and we used a Mornay-type sauce, which was simply a basic white sauce with shredded Gruyere cheese melted into it.  We also called it by the wrong name, as Jeff has never tired of pointing out.  St. Louis local cuisine also features this dish, but there it is known—incorrectly—as the “Turkey Prosperity.”  Another anomaly is that it sometimes shows up in St. Louis as a conventionally constructed sandwich that has little in common with the Hot Brown (or “Prosperity”) other than containing turkey, bacon and cheese. This approach, as Jeff would tell you, could not be more wrong if they were using a steam-driven, copper-plated wronging engine.

            Most recipes that we have found say nothing about toasting the bread and Jeff confirms that it was not done like that in Louisville.  Authenticity aside, I insisted that for the Jasoom rendition the bread should be prepared in the form of thick chunks of garlic toast. This ended up being a big improvement on the “original” (in my estimation anyway) since it provided an enhanced layer of flavor and texture at the ground floor of the dish.

            So this isn’t really a recipe so much as an assembly.  To make a Hot Brown, have on hand some toasted bread, some sliced roasted turkey, slices of ripe tomato, strips of cooked bacon, shredded cheddar cheese and the white sauce of your choice (ours was made my melting 2 tablespoons of butter and whisking in 2 tablespoons of flour and then adding 2 cups of milk and cooking until thickened; we seasoned with salt, pepper, granulated garlic and a splash of hot sauce).  [Alternatively, start the sauce with finely chopped onion and minced fresh garlic, as Jeff did last night.]

            It works best to assemble the portions on the dish that you plan to eat it off of, though you could assemble them in a skillet or on a baking sheet.  At the restaurant, we used large deep bowls that we then underlined with a flat plate.  Place the bread on the plate, add the turkey, pour the sauce over it all and then arrange beautifully the bacon and tomato slices on top.  Sprinkle cheese all over it and stick it under a broiler or in a hot oven for a few minutes.  In that case, probably don’t use plastic plates.  It is done when the top is melted and luscious looking.             [Since the original drafting of this recipe, J has pointed out a number of times that since one does not use shredded cheddar cheese but rather squarish slices of it, one cannot “sprinkle” cheese on it, as I suggest above.]

 

We’re back home now. J is sleeping and so are the cats. They missed us, and we missed them.

 

Still wondering where we might live when we get the eff outta OKC

It seems the mostly likely thing is that (if we can ever reach escape velocity) we will end up returning to St. Louis. I'm still not convinced that this is the best outcome, and I'm not sure J believes it either...but it's probably the easiest and safest choice. if somehow end up with more resources at our disposal, however, I would like to consider other places. We are so limited, though, because of our criteria:

1. Decent climate; mild winter; preferably no snow or ice ever.
2. An affordable city center; we're urban boys; no suburbs, exurbs or isolated small towns
3. A sizable and varied immigrant presence (we need the resulting ethnic grocery stores close at hand)
4. We'd rather the place not be dominated by religious whack-jobs and Republicans
5. Some level of charm and history

Our current city actually fairly well meets the first three criteria, though we could do with still milder winter weather, but it fails dismally on 4 and 5. The problem is really our climate preference because so much of the warmer-climate swaths of America overlap geographically with where most of the number 4 types are concentrated. There are a few possibilities, however, but we need to do a lot more research, and I won't move anywhere again without knowing a lot more about it than I did about this place when we came here.

The fact that we hate winter's guts also precludes a lot of the "cool" (as in hip, trendy) places that I hear people bragging about all the time, cities that I'd be happy to visit in the summer but wouldn't want to see in the winter. Some of the places where the inhabitants seem the most self-satisfied about where they live are located in execrable climate zones. Colorado for example. J's brother lives there and to him, it is Elysium, it is Utopia, and he would never want to live anywhere else. We also think he's out of his frakkin mind when we hear the winter weather tales from up in the mountains. I have noticed, however, that Colorado's spell is indeed strong on those who have made it their home. Twitterati from Colorado (such as author Kevin Anderson) are always going on about all their hiking and outdoorsiness in the grand natural beauty of the place. Good for them, but I don't see it for us.

Possibly even more satisfied with their home than Coloradans are people from Seattle. As a group (and again this is just an informal assessment based on people that I follow on Twitter from there) they are the most inclined to point out in casual remarks that they live in Seattle. Often it's in the form of acknowledging something that is NOT so great about it: "Yeah, we have these kinds of things even here [link to some sort of atrocity]"  like it should blow the minds of the rest of the country that they have some dirt and scumbaggery in their darkest corners.  A lot of pointing out of their weather, too (which is what keeps it off my list of possible new homes). They might come in a close second to Oklahomans as far as discussing the uniqueness of their weather. I happened to be looking at the Twitter feed one night some weeks ago and I saw author Elizabeth Bear (who was soon to be going to Seattle to teach at Clarion West) say in a Tweet something like this: "Dear Everyone on the Internet: I know what the weather is like in Seattle.  Thanks!"   And then there's the Canadians, but obviously that whole country (much as I like a lot of stuff about it) is right out: the whole thing is located north of where I grew up in Wisconsin. So forget it.

I don't know where we'll go. Probably back to STL for a couple years. But I do have a few fantasy options that would require us to be a lot more prosperous financially: 1) Spain; 2) Hawaii; 3) Mars (post-terraforming); 4) Cuba (as gentleman farmers after the Castro government is gone); 5) The paradise spore planet from the Trek episode "The Side of Paradise." Hmm. That will be all for tonight.