Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Penne is Mightier than the Kebab

News from the motherland is that some Italian burgs are banning adding any new establishments that offer "ethnic foods."

[Side note: One of my favorite signs in the local supermarket is the one designating a certain aisle for "Ethnic Foods" -- things like soy sauce and salsa, which are probably in the refrigerators of ninety percent or more of households in America. That may be surpassed in entertainment value, however, by the presence of an "Ethnic Products" section in the local drug emporium -- and what they mean by so-called "ethnic" includes products such as Murray's Hair Pomade, Ultra Sheen, and Ambi lotion.]

Anyway, apparently some Italians don't like the plethora of kebab and shawarma shops in their piazzas. Interestingly, I believe I've heard people who've spent time in Italy talk about how "un-diverse" the cuisine is, and that it can be very hard for someone used to American-style variety to try to find good, affordable Thai or Japanese food; I suppose it depends on the city.

As the article points out, the supreme irony is that many staples of Italian cuisine, including the New World tomato that is paramount in the south, are of non-native origin. One wonders what the Romans were eating; I've never really thought much about that. Spit-roasted lamb with rosemary and a side of bulgur wheat?

There always seem to be people who become nervous or feel under attack somehow due to the penetration of various "ethnic" businesses or communities in their midst. Possibly it's just due to fear or dealing with the unknown. I don't understand it well because I've mostly surrounded myself with people who love ethnic variety, for lack of a better phrase. Though I did argue with my brother a couple Christmases ago because he couldn't understand why, and seemed to be slightly perturbed by the fact that it seemed that almost every gas station in New Jersey is owned by Punjabis (he may have actually uttered the word "towelhead," but I choose not to dwell on that too much). I still don't understand why it even bothered him, although I feel that part of it has to do with the influence of my conservative, xenophobic father (with whom I'm no longer in contact).

I also recall working with a sweet Jewish woman named Lil almost twenty years ago. She and her husband had recently moved back to New Jersey after living for many years in Miami. She had rather benignly said something once about how Miami was "almost like a foreign country" with all kinds of Latin American restaurants and shops and so many people speaking Spanish. I naively and guilelessly made a comment about how "that must be kind of nice and interesting sometimes," to which she shot back very bluntly, "Not in my country!!" Needless to say, we changed the topic of conversation rather quickly.

I love ethnic enclave communities, as much for the culinary variety they provide as anything else. When I go back to New Jersey, I love the fact that Oak Tree Road in Edison is a true Little India of restaurants and shops. I love the fact that the neighborhood in which my grandmother grew up has again become a very Polish area (if it ever, in fact, stopped being one). Then again, I grew up in a very different time, in a New Jersey that was already becoming very ethnically diverse with the "new immigrants" of the sixties and seventies. And of course, that was after the great immigrant waves of the early twentieth century, the result of which made it seem that almost everyone one knew was either Italian, Polish, Irish, Hungarian, Greek, German, or some combination thereof.

I wish Italy luck in sorting this out. Perhaps the city of Lucca may be written off as a provincial, closed-minded backwater, but the fact that this is spreading to Milan in the wake of rising popularity of the Northern League does not really bode well. In the meantime, Viva il Döner Kebap!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance

OK, I'm exaggerating. Anyone who knows me knows that the title of this post is very far from the truth... and if you can't be bothered to keep the nasty, dusty crud and shorthairs wiped off the rim of your toilet bowl, please don't talk to me. Shallow? Maybe. But in this case, I'd rather be shallow than scandalously uncouth.

However, I'm here now to tell you about my amazing discovery, which is not doing the laundry. You can actually pay people to do that shit for you. And that's exactly what I did today. And je ne regrette rien! In fact, I'm pretty damn pleased with myself.

I had actually made a lifestyle change many years ago that involved never, ever again washing and ironing my own dress shirts. Ironing is the most ridiculous chore on the planet, and if there are people willing to do it for money, well, I'm going to pay them. My time -- even if I'm just lying morosely in bed feeling sorry for myself -- is worth far too much to me to spend it doing the ironing. So $2 per shirt or so has seemed like a small price to pay for that luxury, especially since (a) I only wear a dress shirt to work maybe four or five times a month at most and (b) I can get a good two to three wearings of a dress shirt before it needs to be laundered again (yes, undershirts are key... otherwise, that would be gross; what do you think I am, a sweat-stained-shirt-wearing pig?).

Well, making the leap to sending the laundry out is just another level of epiphany.

Now, before anyone gets all up in my face about how I can't be bemoaning my debt and collection notices in one post and be trumpeting my lazy-assed, extravagant exploitation of immigrant labor in another, I need to explain a couple of things that might make this situation seem a smidge more economical:
1) The house in which I rent my apartment does not have laundry on premises
2) For the past three years or so, during which I've been car-less, I've depended on the kindness of a friend who would give me a lift to a laundromat, after which we'd spend a couple hours having coffee and reading the Saturday paper at the cafe across the street. Said friend has decided to end this ritual.
3) The primary option left to me would be to take taxis to the laundromat and back, which, after adding in the cost of the machines, would probably only cost $8-$10 less than the cost of same-day pick-up and delivery service of my dirty drawers.
4) As I only do laundry every other weekend, this will probably cost me only $20 or so per month more than the alternative, without the headache.

I'd be a fool not to outsource the sudsing of my scanties. Plus, it leaves time for more important tasks, like updating my Facebook status.

For those still shaking their heads in disbelief at the utter profligacy of it all, a final anecdote: I once read that the elites in colonial Brazil considered it fashionable to ship their clothing across the ocean to be attended to by laundresses in Lisbon. Now that is outrageous.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Let’s get back in line again and ride the big one

I don’t wanna fall, I don’t wanna fly
I don’t wanna be dangled over
The edge of a dying romance
But I don’t wanna stop
I don’t wanna lie
I don’t wanna believe it’s over
I just wanna stay with you tonight

~ Matt Alber, "End of the World" [via JMG]


I feel so paralyzed that sometimes it's like being psychically entombed in concrete. I wish I knew where I was going — or even if I'm not going anywhere I wish I felt at least somewhat content (as I once did, I think) in the place where I am. The debt's not quite "de Maupassantian," the disease isn't debilitating... but both seem like tremendous weights that can only keep pulling me down. I'm a little bit sick and a lot tired.

I know, I know: it's all about "reframing."

Oh well. As the cheeky t-shirt maxim goes: "I Love My Attitude Problem"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

“Our ability to measure and apportion time affords
an almost endless source of comfort”

OK. Has the “change” begun yet?

It's been awhile since I've posted anything. Not much has been happening. I've had some nice times, and life's humming along all right, but I still have this nagging feeling of being out of sorts.

I'm still bored to death of my job, and even more bored and apprehensive over the changes that will be coming in the next month or two. It's nothing compared to being unemployed or destitute, but if the point of comparison were always absolute poverty, no one I know would ever have a single thing to be unhappy about. I'm often not sure what downward comparison is supposed to do for us. Watch Slumdog Millionaire and feel uplifted and warmhearted that All Is, In the End, Good in the World?

Diversions haven't helped.

A couple weeks ago I saw a documentary called The Spider, The Mistress, and The Tangerine, about artist Louise Bourgeois. Seeing some of her installations and hearing her often-rambling musings about her art and life were incredibly exciting and inspirational. Yes! To create.... Art! To accomplish so much and have an outlet for one's convoluted thoughts.

One of Bourgeois's quotes stuck with me: "My emotions are inappropriate to my size."

She was feisty and seems to have been prone to lash out in anger at times. I understand the impulse and I'm often ashamed of it, though I wish I weren't. I'll never be quiet and polite and have an appropriate sense of "deferring to authority." I just know it.

I also saw Revolutionary Road last week. It was often melodramatic, and contrived, and included many of the types of plot devices that I find too didactic. Why must there always be a huge, roiling climax in so many stories?

The tragic moment... I often hate it. I finally understand that I'm more often drawn to the story that doesn't have a magnificent crest or even a "proper" ending. That's how life is, isn't it?

I was surprised to learn soon after seeing the film that the novel by Richard Yates upon which it was based was written in 1961, which means that Yates was only looking back on the milieu of the novel (early- to mid-1950s) through a fairly short lens. I'm halfway through a New Yorker essay by James Wood on Yates, and it's also made me curious to read Madame Bovary, of which Road apparently a "brilliant rewriting."

No time to go into the entire essay here, but the following insight from Wood has been haunting me since yesterday afternoon:
“…mid-century American suburban man is so maddening because he is both a rank escapist and a conservative pragmatist: he has arrogated to himself twin rights that ought to be incompatible — to dream of escape… while simultaneously dreaming of timid stability.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my problem in a nutshell. I hate the feeling...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Another chance, another start, so many dreams to tease the heart

Happy New Year.

My friend R was nice enough to invite me to a party held in a leafy (well, not at this time of year) neighborhood of Asbury Park, a renowned "gay enclave" on the Monmouth County shore. I was anxious about it being full of judgmental and prissy gays (my issues, my issues), but reality couldn't have been more warm, welcoming, and suburban. There was even a dad with a very cute toddler in tow. Cocktail shrimp, stuffed mushrooms, and sangria were on offer. Anxiety was never so undeserved.

Needless to say, I had a nice time. We all even got little individual Ziploc bags full of 12 grapes each to pop into our mouths at midnight, as one of the hosts was Cuban-American.

2009: I look forward to it as a year of deep housecleaning.

R thinks I'm crazy, but I'm more determined than ever to move back to the Garden State. As I told one of the partygoers last night, it's either that or moving to the Bay Area (or Portland, Oregon?) for a decade or so. The problem is that those locations are just as far from my family, and that really has become a concern. I want to be able to pop over for Sunday (or Wednesday) dinner anytime I want.

The Job has also reached a point at which it makes sense to break it off, though that is certainly the main cause of anxiety. Unemployment and possible loss or reduction of health coverage needs to be handled delicately. It feels like jumping into the deep end. But I believe that it's time.

Also, New York was so much fun last weekend. And though I realize that "fun" can be had rather easily on a weekend jaunt almost anywhere (and that quotidian boredom can set in anywhere), the other part of the equation is that it is something new -- a place to discover all over again.

A sense of discovery and thrill has really been missing from life for awhile. A change in geography isn't the only way to correct that, I know, but I'm pretty sure it's the direction I want to take.

Yes, it's difficult. However, I received enthusiastic support from a couple of new lesbian acquaintances, so who am I to let them down?

And on that note, best wishes to you for 2009, my "handful" of faithful readers. I'll keep you posted.

For now, I'm heading back to Santa Barbara tomorrow evening.