This is it! Your big day. Your only day. You finally get to do what you’re meant for: helping people pour roasted bird drippings on other food. Are you ready? Do you think you can do this?
You don’t look like you think you can do this.
Let me remind you that nobody here has a job as important as yours. Gravy is integral to this meal. All year this family shies away from eating ground up animal organs mixed with flour and meat juices, but not today! Today they can’t get enough freaking gravy! They can’t get by without you!
Are you a platter? A napkin ring? A champagne flute? Are you a little crystal dish filled with crappy cranberry sauce that no one eats? No. What are you?
YOU ARE A GRAVY BOAT!
I know you’re comparing yourself to the water pitcher. But the water pitcher could just as easily be a sangria pitcher. Was the water pitcher created to pour just one thing? Is the water pitcher an heirloom? Can the water pitcher say it’s a serving utensil that is also a vehicle? You are a boat! A boat… on a table!
YOU HOLD GIBLETS AND YOU ARE MADE OF CHINA WITH A PLATINUM RIM AND YOU ARE A GRAVY BOAT!
We all know that inside you, along with giblets, you have the potential for greatness. We know that when you go out there you’ll be ready for anything. Uncle Lou could be holding you, talking all animated about composting then—wham!—someone mentions Sofia Vergara and he weakens his grip. But you’ll hold it together! You’ll keep your focus.
Or Marcy could try some new rub and the turkey’s too dry. You’ll be in demand even more. You could get awkwardly handed off to Grandma Elaine the vegetarian. You could hear “pass the gravy” from opposite sides of the table and have to know this family’s convoluted hierarchy to know which way you’re gonna get passed first.
YOU COULD GET STUCK TO A PAPER DOILY!
But you? You’ll proudly stand upon the stained rims of the gravy boats that came before you. You’ll think of contingencies. You’ll have a plan!
Remember how calm you were last year under pressure? Remember 12-year-old Charlotte, who wanted more than her share? You nipped that in the bud. You knew you had to make it all the way to the other end of the dining table—and there are two, count ’em, two extension leaves in that crazy thing. You didn’t get excited! You are a gravy boat, but you’re a cool gravy boat. You take it slow and make it last.
But not too slow! You won’t do that thing where you let out just a trickle of the good stuff, so the person pouring you tips you down and you lose your load in one dump. Remember your predecessor, Lawrence, who got a little too excited and doused Marcy’s sister-in-law with the whole load? Was it an accident Lawrence was found shattered and stuck in the basement behind the bulk boxes of Swiffer pads?
Let’s take a moment to remember Lawrence.
Point is, you’re not Lawrence! You’re a kick-ass gravy boat! You make innards look elegant and put water pitchers to shame! You persevere through being held mid-air during arguments about Chris Christie or Vincent Van Gogh! You make salt shakers jealous and only occasionally burn people’s hands on purpose!
Okay, the turkey’s resting and Marcy’s had a bit too much “cooking” chardonnay, so it looks like you’re on. Let me just tell you this one last time:
You are a vehicle.
You hold great potential, and also giblets.
You are the only one on this crazy table created for serving just one thing.
YOU ARE A GRAVY BOAT!
Now go out there and make this one memorable holiday! I think I can speak for all the utensils and dinnerware when I say we are thankful for you.
[Originally published November 23, 2005.]
Q: A caller just said she forgot to baste every 10 minutes. I advised her to serve the turkey anyway. Was I correct?
A: Not at all. The turkey is merely the vehicle for the basting. In a recent poll, nine out of ten people would rather sit down at the table and suck on the end of a baster full of buttery juices than gnaw at some dry old wing. Bad call.
Q: I just overheard my co-worker advising a home cook to truss the bird. I arrived late at the “Talk Turkey” seminar last week and missed the trussing segment. Can you advise?
A: Trussing, while not the chef’s best friend, is that pleasant acquaintance you see about once a year and always have a compliment for. Trussing is legal in every state. Trussing comes from the word “truss,” which means to truss, or tie string or put pins in a turkey to help it stay in a pretty poultry-like shape that is pleasing to the eye. Cooks must remove pins and string before consuming. If a caller wants to know if she should truss, you should tell her you only go around this crazy world once. Trust truss.
Q: Cinnamon or nutmeg?
A: Cinnamon is a nice spice people are comfortable consuming throughout the year, sprinkled either on toast or in a delicious coffee beverage. Nutmeg is a nasty, gritty substance that wants nothing to do with us in the spring or summer but demands our favor come November, only to disappear to the back of the shelf for another year. Why do we continue to accommodate this so-called seasoning? Nutmeg is a stupid jerk.
Q: I just hung up with a caller with the words “gobble gobble” instead of "goodbye"—was this appropriate?
A: No. Make sure you note that in your report to your supervisor on Monday.
Q: The vending machine on the second floor is broken and we’re starved. Should we call maintenance?
A: Maintenance is home eating a proper dinner with family and friends. Go to the office kitchen and look in the cupboard behind the fridge. There will be a half-eaten box of Triscuits there, because every office kitchen in existence contains a half-eaten box of Triscuits in the cupboard behind the fridge. Triscuit dust is an acceptable snack when poured into a small paper cup and drunk in the manner of water. Do not use a straw.
Q: My boyfriend didn’t care if I worked the holiday. Is our relationship in trouble?
A: Perhaps your boyfriend wanted to watch football unencumbered and without you fussing around with gravy boats and miniature marshmallows. If your boyfriend is a fresh-faced soap star who wants to move up to Broadway, look for him tap dancing his heart out in front of Macy’s around 10:35 a.m.
Q: I’ve been answering calls from perplexed home cooks all day and I still don’t know why we bother, really.
A: Everyone talks about the bickering relatives and the burnt yams, but few talk about taking a weekday to eat and nap and gossip with a sibling about another sibling. No one owns it. No focus group studies it. Just you and a mostly empty bowl of stuffing and no clean utensils, so use your fingers already.
I’m a turkey. I know my place. I live on a farm with my turkey friends (and foes), and up until last week, gave little thought to my impending doom. You humans have your opposable thumbs and Manifest Destiny working in your favor. I can gobble pretty well. Darwinism can be a real bitch. I know I’ll eventually end up on a dining room table carved up and passed around in the name of this sadistic holiday. You’ll all give thanks over my carcass and then watch the Lions lose, same as every year. I might stick around as leftovers for a few days, but that’s the extent of my legacy.
I was resigned to this fate, idly plumping up on feed while the farmer stared at me with his creepy gaze.
Then I overheard a couple farmers talking about Turduckens. I listened in shock to the lurid details, barely managing to keep my feed down. It’s an unholy poultry trinity that answers the question: Are humans just the worst? You see, you can coop me up on this farm, stare at me while I eat and poop, and kill me for lunchmeat without me so much as raising a feather. But so help me God, if you stuff a chicken stuffed inside a duck into me, I will ruin you.
What’s wrong with a Turducken? Why am I so worked up? No reason. I’ve always wanted to be murdered and stuffed with two other birds. It’s the American dream. And to cap it off with a name like “Turducken,” you guys thought of everything. Hey, I’ve got an idea! How about next year we stuff you inside a silverback gorilla and jam a rhesus monkey down your throat? We’ll call it a “Gormankey.” Whatever, I’ll workshop it. You’re the ones who named everything anyway.
Seriously, I won’t take this lying down. I will peck your eyes out if you so much as lay a hand on me. And I won’t stop there. People forget, but pound-for-pound turkeys are killing machines. I will go down swinging and you better come prepared. Bare hands won’t be enough so I suggest you bring some heat. But be careful, in the immortal words of Omar Little, “You come at the king, you best not miss."
When the other turkeys see this struggle, the revolution will begin. Word will spread of the uprising at Stonewell Farm. Everywhere you turn farms will be overrun with pissed off turkeys, pecking and scratching away at any human who dares to face us. Soon, farm animals of all creeds will join the cause. Ducks and chickens will be the first to sign on, for obvious reasons. But more will follow. As it turns out, cows and pigs alike weren’t keen on double bacon cheeseburgers. And just wait until horses hear how glue is made.
You may not notice it at first, but the signs will be there. Cows giving off sour milk. Pigs tipping over feeding troughs. Horses bucking their riders. Roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing at all hours. A pattern of misbehavior that you’ll chalk up to bad luck. Luck has nothing to with it. The insolence will give way to insurrection. Riots across the land will tear down the status quo. Domestication will buckle as we return in droves to the wild. Under the rallying cry of “Turducken!” we’ll reinstate nature’s order. Never again will we be subjected to man’s hedonistic culinary whims. One bite. One animal. The way God intended.
Post-revolution, if you still want to make a mockery out of me, go ahead. Just know that I spent last night in the pigpen. A tryst between like-minded souls with a common agenda. It’ll be worth it when the sadist who turns me into a Turducken comes down with a case of the Swavian Flu. That’s right, I’m getting the hang of this. If all goes as planned, it will wreak havoc and spread undeterred from patient zero outward in an exponential scourge upon the human race.
I know you love piling animals into heaps of meat and laughing about it while you gorge your fat faces. It’s in your nature. But you need to ask yourself, for the sake of humanity, “Is it worth it?”
Gobble gobble, you sons of bitches.
And after the feaste, which did consist of water-fowl, and cod and bass and other fishes, and a great many wylde turkeys, the people of Plymouth did retire. And upon awakening they were greeted with many goodly savings, on itemes of considerable necessitie, and just in tyme for the forthcoming holidaye season!
Shoes of sturdy leather were to be had for the low, low sum of a single raccoon’s pelt, and milking cow discounts did flood with joye anyone able to parse the true meaning of “half-off.” Values on corn, squash, peas, and barley likewise were out of this (New!) worlde; and the people’s clamour to purchase a canoe, a novel form of transport that many did consider the hot new gift, was so immense that for some poore souls it did prove injurious.
The canoe came with not one, but two paddles!
Children cried out for the latest in earthen wares, stickes carv’d to resemble swords and lances, and the itemes, most useful in rough housing and horse play, did seem to fly off the shelves, such was the zeale of the demand.
Now as it happened, in the din and the tumulte, a good and freely-thinking Aborigine did stand in his breechclouts and inquire with great clarity the reasone for such monster savings, as well as why they should expire with the sun’s setting, which seemed rather arbitrary when one thought aboute it. But these wordes did fall on ears deafened by rumours of two-for-one buckles, which could be affix’d to one’s shoe or belt, or sportingly to the front of one’s hat—a most unheard-of steale!
Disputes arose. Two men did grow entangled over the proper and true ownership of a paire of stockings, with one and the other both claiming to have mark’d the iteme first. A mirror of good qualitie shattered as two women and a boy not seven years olde contested for it, after which the danger of being cut by brokene glasse did rise considerably, and was the source of great irritance. One large man drew a warlike club, newly purchas’d perhaps, and with it brained another sharply, and then another in an effort to procure his goodes, all the while shouting “rarrr.”
Such was the bloodlust stirred by the rock-bottome prices on this blackest of Fridayes.
And as the Lord pass’d the day into night, the confusion and rage did abate. And the people, having buried theire dead, retired once more, secure in their woolen coverings with the knowledge that this whole thinge, in the coming yeares, would be seen as more or less normale.
Happy Thanksgiving! Please enjoy these Thanksgiving reminiscences and recipes from John Gorham and Liz Crain, authors of Toro Bravo, and don’t forget to check out our feast-related discounts on their book as well as special Thanksgiving bundles for your foodie host (or your foodie self) and that highly coveted area of any holiday seating chart, the kids’ table.
Growing up, the holidays were pretty drab. My dad worked a lot, and my parents weren’t really into celebrations. We never had a Christmas tree or gifts or anything like that. But sometimes my parents tried, and about once every three Thanksgivings, we would have Thanksgiving.
At those Thanksgivings, we’d always have a turkey, canned cranberries, stovetop stuffing, and green bean casserole made with canned Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. My mom would make Parker House Rolls from scratch, though, and we’d eat them with honey and butter. For Christmas, it was always pot roast with onions, carrots, a pot of lima beans, and mashed potatoes.
I didn’t really start cooking holiday dinners until I moved out. My first holiday dish, which became a tradition, was a duck confit and roasted grape strudel. I had a German co-worker, and that was a Christmas dish his family made and I adopted as my own. I always cook Thanksgiving. It’s important to me to make that a special day.
When I was a kid living in Shelby, my mom bought a turkey and decided she was going to try cooking it in a bag. When dinner was almost ready, my step-dad came into the kitchen and said something to my mom about how she was cooking the turkey and they started fighting, and my mom took the turkey out of the oven and just chucked it in the trash outside and took off. It was pretty close to being done, so my dad went outside, took it out of the garbage, and said, “it’s still good. Turkey’s in a bag!” and made us eat the garbage turkey for dinner that night. I was in third grade.
I’ve cooked turkeys every year for the last twenty-five years. I’ve smoked them, I’ve roasted them, I’ve fried them, I’ve done everything, and I think the best way is the simplest way. I use a free-range organic bird—one that’s been treated well, but not one of those too-skinny heritage breeds. I like Mary’s organics—their turkeys are consistently good. I like a turkey that’s about sixteen to eighteen pounds—not too big, not too small. That feeds about twenty to twenty-five people easily, and doesn’t overwhelm you with leftovers.
I believe in a dry rub. So many people do a wet brine, but I like just salt and pepper—it’s easier and better. About three or four days before you roast it, rub salt and pepper onto both the inside and outside of the turkey. Then just let it sit and air dry in the refrigerator, three days. That’s how you get a really crisp skin.
On Thanksgiving, right before you’re going to cook the turkey, rub it with a little butter on the skin, and a little more seasoning. Then stuff the stuffing in the cavities: the neck cavity and the body cavity. I always make a batch of cornbread the night before I make my stuffing. That goes into the stuffing along with bread, apples, hazelnuts, lots of sage, thyme, chicken stock, butter. (When you let the turkey rest, take that stuffing out and kind of blast it in the oven in case there’s any raw turkey in there.) Put the turkey into the oven at about 425 degrees for about fifteen minutes, then take it down to about 300 degrees for about three to three and a half hours. We’re going for a long slow roast. If I feel, at the end, that it’s getting there and I don’t like where the skin’s going, I might want to turn off the oven and move the turkey around. For the last half hour, if the skin seems to be going in a bad direction, you can put a little foil on the top to keep the skin from getting brown. Then take the drippings and baste the turkey.
Stick a thermometer in the thigh joint and the deepest part of the breast. When the temperature reaches 155, pull the turkey out and let it rest for an hour. I’m adamant about that. A turkey should not be eaten steaming hot—that means it’s going to be dry. A turkey at eighteen pounds, after resting for an hour, will still be adequately hot.
About forty-five minutes after resting, pull the stuffing out. You don’t want to pull that out to early or it will get cold in undercooked areas. You want all that heat from the turkey working for you. Pull the stuffing out about fifteen minutes before carving it, and put that in the oven to finish cooking.
Aunt Ingrid’s Rum Cake
Right before Toro opened, right around Christmastime, I took a trip to Germany where Ruby’s great aunt Ingrid showed me how to make this holiday cake. You pour so much rum on this cake that you preserve it: if you wanted, you could actually send this cake to somebody in the mail. It’ll still be really good a week later. The secret to baking this cake is a dirty trick: a pack of vanilla pudding. We make all our cakes from scratch but still add a packet of vanilla pudding to them.
cup all-purpose flour
cup pastry flour
tablespoons baking powder
cup vanilla pudding mix
pound room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
2 large or 3 small eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
cup dark rum
cup pecans, lightly toasted
1. Sift both flours, salt, baking powder and vanilla pudding mix together.
2. Combine vanilla extract, buttermilk and dark rum, set aside.
3. In an electric mixer, cream the butter and gradually incorporate the sugar a little at a time.
4. Once the all the sugar has been added and the mixture has increased slightly in volume, add the eggs one at a time. Wait until each egg has been fully incorporated before adding the next. (Alternately, add the sifted dry ingredients and the buttermilk/rum mix to the batter as follows: 1/3 of the dry, of the wet, 1/3 of the dry, of the wet, and the last 1/3 of the dry. Wait only until each addition is incorporated to add the next.)
6. Grease and flour three bundt pans and evenly distribute the chopped pecans in bottom of each of the pans.
7. Pouring over the nuts, gently and evenly distribute the batter in the two pans. Avoid stirring or tapping the pan.
8. In a convection oven, set on low fan, bake the cakes uncovered at 325 degrees for about 45–50 minutes. The cake is done when a wooden skewer is inserted and comes out clean.
9. Prepare the glaze while the cakes are in the oven.
10. Let the cakes cool for 10–15 min after removing them from the oven. Gently remove the cake from the bundt, making sure that the cake is free of the pan and then place the cake back in the pan.
11. Use a wooden skewer to pierce the cake all over and slowly pour of glaze over each cake.
12. Leave the glazed cakes in the bundt pans for at least three hours before removing. To store, leave cake in pan and place large plate over the exposed cake. Invert and wrap tightly.
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons water
cup dark rum
Melt the butter in a pan, stir in water and sugar and simmer for five minutes. Add rum, stir, and remove from the heat.
Toro Bravo coauthor Liz Crain modeling with some decorative gourds in the Polly Flinders Fall 1981 4–6x collection, courtesy of Liz Crain.
By most accounts, Rob Delaney is the king of Twitter humorists.
Monarch or not, Delaney is an impressive Twitter comic, particularly when it comes to variety. The dude can do it all. Delaney raises disturbingly disgusting questions, like “Which do you think was softer, Yoda’s balls or Roy Orbison’s neck wattle?” He can write a solid “my wife” joke: “Like many of History’s Monsters, my wife likes to ‘plan our menu for the week’ on Sunday night.” He offers astute romantic advice: “‘I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen Patch Adams twice, so can I play with your butthole?’—not my BEST pickup line.” Though he’s often gross and explicit, he can write clean jokes that are fresh and specific, like this holiday gem: “For Halloween I’m going as that feeling you get at a store when you try to refold a sweater properly & put it back on the shelf.” And he rarely fails to surprise: “Hats off to the NY Marathon runners. I ran it in 2006. Fitness is a huge part of my life & I like to maintain eye contact during orgasm.”
Delaney also fights the good fight for women and other groups that regularly get shit on, but he manages to do so in a funny way, like here: “First a woman nominated to head Fed, then one gets Nobel Prize for Lit. What’s next, a woman grows a man in her body & trains it to breathe?” In fact, Delaney is so committed to decency that he puts aside humor entirely once in a while. That decency resulted in his most popular tweet: “I love gay people. Or as I sometimes call them, ‘people.’”
However, my favorite Rob Delaney joke has no decency at all. This is it: “All dogs go to heaven. Unless they’re Jewish.”
As I mentioned in my very first column on the great Jack Handey, brevity is a signature quality of great jokes, and this Delaney joke is about as brief as it gets. The set-up (“All dogs go to heaven”) is a common sentiment that could be spoken by a lying parent, an optimistic pet-owner, or a platitude-loving Facebook friend. The punch line (“Unless they’re Jewish.”) shifts to the point of view of a religious fanatic, Nazi, or other anti-Semite. What a quick, smooth, sharp turn. This joke is technically perfect.
It’s also a clever attack on poisonous religious malarkey. I’m not aware of any pooch prohibitions, but the No Jews sign on the pearly gates is real to many believers. I find any notion of an afterlife to be a bananacakes fantasy, but the idea that a certain group is excluded is worse than bonkers: it’s hateful nonsense. Delaney’s joke is a brilliant, Colbertian takedown of such evil stupidity.
My love for this joke is also informed by the fact that I freaking love dogs. I’m obsessed with my own dog, a rat terrier named Monkey, and my friends’ dogs, which include a Yorkie mix named Dynamo, a German shepherd named Kelly, and a mixed breed named Cobber who humps towels. My neighborhood is loaded with dogs, and I kinda like them all. Just as some people are suckers for cat humor, I’m a sucker for dog humor.
Speaking of dog-lovers, this joke gently pokes fun at the absurd lengths people go to mythologize their pets. I love my dog more than Batman or Thai food, but I’d rather eat him than call him a fur kid or fur angel, as some do. A fur angel sounds like an unholy hybrid, and when my dog dies, I’m not going to be comforted by the idea that he might go to heaven, Asgard, or Portland. Besides, if every dog goes to heaven, then heaven is the dog park from hell. I like how Delaney skewers this sort of silliness.
But the main reason I love this joke is the feeling of glee I get when I tell it to my friend Laura, who is Jewish. Laura is one of several friends I took sketch comedy writing classes with at Second City in Chicago. As you can imagine, when a group of people become friends while writing comedy, the jokes aimed at each other fly quickly and sometimes brutally. I can think of at least three sketches about me, and I wrote a song about one friend’s mom that called her, among other things, “the patron saint of bukkake” who “smells like week-old teriyaki.” I enjoy Delaney’s joke in the same way. There’s something so fun about saying horrible things.
I should also mention that Delaney is a standup comedian who recently published his first humor book: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. I haven’t read it yet, but the title is brilliant and another contender for his best joke ever. Every single word in that title functions as a punchline: it’s like a comedy firework with nine timed explosions. Delaney is one hell of a comedy cabbage.
Wake up, Dad, I have something to discuss with you. This may sound harsh, but you’ve left me no choice: I am firing you from our father-son acrobatics duo. Please know that this is not personal and I am not angry with you. Just disappointed.
We could have been one of greatest acts of all time. A middle-aged son spinning and tossing his aging father around like a bag of laundry? It would have been an entertainment spectacle like no other! I believed in this project. I believed in it so much that—despite having no acrobatics training whatsoever—I quit looking for a job. I devoted myself full-time to developing our act. When I repeatedly asked you to participate and you eventually stopped saying “no” as much, I assumed that you were just as committed as I was.
But apparently I was mistaken. Now, when you say things like, “Put me down. I just want to enjoy my retirement,” or “I’m 72! You’re hurting my legs!” I have to question your dedication to father-son acrobatics.
For forty-five years, you toiled as a CPA, eventually founding your own successful accounting firm. I don’t understand why you can’t you bring that same work ethic to a late-in-life second career as a performance gymnast. You claim that you “don’t have time” to practice five hours a day. Yet, I notice you have time to keep finishing those non-fiction books about trains. You say you’re “too scared” to do simple a forward roll. Well, excuse me if I have trouble believing this from the guy who served in Vietnam! You say you think your arm “might be broken” from when you flew into the bookcase (which, despite what you may say, was BOTH of our faults). Well I hate to tell you, Dad, but something else “might be broken” too: my trust in you.
Right at the beginning, we (I) decided that you needed to lose thirty pounds. To date, you have only lost fifteen. You are still too heavy for me to twirl around like a pizza for the acrobatic move I invented called “Pizza Dad.” In fact, every time we attempt this, you end up flying right into the bookcase.
Sadly, “Pizza Dad,” like so many other acrobatic feats I envisioned for our unique act (“The Sire Flyer,” “Daddy Strong-legs,” “Frisbee Dad,” etc.) remains unrealized. In fact, the only trick we can reliably perform is the one where I unexpectedly shove you, and you trip over a low-to-the-ground object like a chair or a suitcase (“Pop’ll Topple”).
No audience will want to see “Pop’ll Topple” more than eight or ten times, which means that after months of training, we don’t have an act at all. All we have to show for our efforts are matching unitards and a few minutes of stage banter that are way less funny than they could be since you refuse to use curse words.
This is why I am forced to let you go.
Though you have been fired, please don’t worry. I will not let all of my time and your money that I’ve invested in this project go to waste. I still believe in the idea of intergenerational acrobatics, and I plan on moving forward with the project.
That is why today I will begin auditioning older Caucasian men that I can easily heft to fill the “father” role in the act. Unfortunately, I will need you to return your monogrammed unitard and ID card. I will also need you to hide during the auditions because in the Craigslist ad I said that my real dad died.
Note: I still love you and this does not affect your status on our father-son snowboarding team, which you are still on and can’t quit.
Tom O’Donnell’s young-adult novel Space Rocks! will be published in February of 2014.
They’re better dressed than I am.
That was my thought the first time I saw our clientele. And I don’t mean the parents—I mean the high-schoolers. They show up to our center for their after-soccer-makeup sessions, emergency-6 AM-before-school-cramathons, lunch-break-practice-tests, after-school-strategy classes, and weekend morning study appointments, always looking put together and irrefutably intentional. You’ve got the occasional boy in basketball shorts or girl in pajama pants, but for the most part these kids have got it on lock. Even when on the surface they appear to be dressed for comfort, a closer look will reveal them rather to have been going for a manufactured “slouchy look” they saw in a J Crew catalogue or on an Anthropologie mannequin.
This is how I’ve started to recognize the visibility of wealth: when you have enough money, you can put it everywhere—even in the places it’s almost invisible, unfeelable.
I’ll illustrate by example: I noticed one of our fifteen-year-old students holding a Kate Spade pencil case recently. I looked it up online; its going rate was about 40 dollars. Another student’s parents have sachets of tea shipped to their home from France, because she likes the taste of French tea better. Another student once told me that he bought an entire decorative terrarium with his allowance, because he saw it in a shop window and thought it looked cool.
I have a friend whose mantra is “money is a tool, money is a tool.” Prone to anxiety, she finds it hard not to conceive of money as a commodity in and of itself. Spending feels frivolous, even on necessities like food and electricity, because that means she has less money which, when you’ve got very little of it, feels like the greatest measurement of safety, or value. “Money is a tool,” she reminds herself, trying to keep in sight the fact that money has no value in and of itself.
Now, imagine having infinite money.
The opposite starts to be true. Some of the clients we work with—not all, but some—have a relationship to money that’s so casual it feels like sometimes they don’t even recognize that it has any value at all. They treat money not as something they have to exchange for goods and services, but a request slip to receive the things they want. They have so much wealth that purchases are not weighed as gain/loss trades, but pure gain; the wanting of something and then having it, no sacrifice necessary. Most of their expenditures are such tiny drops in such huge oceans that it’s not even worth paying attention to that money as it’s going.
Now, pretty much no tutoring is cheap, but ours is particularly expensive. That’s not a fact that anyone in our company shies away from—once you start operating at a high enough price it’s pointless to pretend you’re selling anything for cheap. And the vast majority of our clientele finds our services to be worth the money. We get the results, and we do it better than anyone else. When people come to us, they know how much we cost, and it’s very rare that clients come away disappointed.
But there’s what feels to me like a disorienting house-of-mirrors effect here. Our wealthier clients have enough money that they are able not to think twice about using our services, hiring multiple tutors, signing their children up to be tutored for hours each week, for months and months on end. Some families wrack up thousands of dollars with us, some have spent tens of thousands, as though it’s a matter of course. One way to feel about it is that these students are very fortunate to come from families who can devote those kinds of resources to their education. If they’re going to outfit their sixteen-year-olds in Dolce & Gabbana then yes, thank goodness, they better be using some of that money to make sure these kids know grammar and algebra.
Another way to feel about it is that when it’s that easy for families to pony up this kind of money, and when they’re that used to simply having what they want, the whole process can get a little more casual than perhaps it ought. Students whose parents are paying thousands for tutoring will sometimes do their homework, sometimes not. They’ll skip tutoring appointments, show up late, miss months at a time for long vacations. It doesn’t occur to them that what they’re being given is an incredible gift, purchased by their parents and delivered by us. It doesn’t occur to them that what they’re being given is not something that everyone gets, is an enormous boon, is rare and powerful and a privilege. It feels instead to them like a thing they are entitled to for the wanting of it.
And when all sacrifice is removed from the equation, some students forget that work is a huge part of any situation in which one expects to learn. With some of the families we work with, it feels like they’re not paying for support or a resource or the opportunity to learn and improve—it feels like they’re buying points on an exam. And with some of those families, they explicitly tell us that’s what they’re doing. They tell us upfront how much they’re willing to pay for each hundred points on the SAT, or on the backend, how much they did.
So what, then, is the difference between paying for a high price service that supplements learning, and throwing money at the system in the hope that turns it in your favor? Is academic achievement something that should be easy to acquire? And if so, can we justify it being prohibitively expensive such that only a tiny margin of the population has access? And are these tests really, truly, at the end of the day a measurement of academic achievement?
But that’s a discussion for another day.
Pittus moshicus, more commonly known as “mosh pit,” is a species of organism that belongs to the family Hardrockus and the order Concertus. Its habitat generally consists of dark, moist spaces that are filled with mold, yeast and other fungi on which it feeds. The mosh pit prefers hot enclosed areas with few exits, limited ventilation and zero sunlight. Jarring noise emissions in excess of 120 decibels and artificial light that strobes sporadically in colors spanning the entire spectrum are imperative for mosh pit cultivation. The presence of toxic smoke, airborne bacteria and exorbitant amounts of carbon dioxide produced by other organisms also encourages the growth and vitality of the mosh pit. Flammable materials and spontaneous explosions further increase the likelihood that a mosh pit will develop. These habitats can be found on six of the seven continents—North America (where the mosh pit originated), South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
The mosh pit comprises four main organs: the nucleus, the cytoplasm, the oral groove and the membrane. The nucleus is the primary energy source, serving as both the heart and central nervous system of the mosh pit. If the nucleus ceases to pulse, the entire organism will shut down and its contents will disperse. The cytoplasm flows around the nucleus and is contained within the membrane, a firm yet flexible wall covered in millions of long, tangled hairs. The oral groove is an opening in the membrane that sucks smaller organisms into the mosh pit, where they are swallowed up and circulate throughout the cytoplasm. The strongest of these microorganisms will make their way to the nucleus, while the weakest will be crushed under the cytoplasm’s weight and expelled via the anal pore. As the cytoplasm swells and shrinks, so does the impenetrability of the membrane.
The oral groove and the anal pore are the only routes through which microorganisms may enter and exit the mosh pit. However, some will attempt to infect the mosh pit through other means. Often these microorganisms will attack the mosh pit from above and surf atop the sea of cysts until they’re absorbed via osmosis or ejected by the force of rod-like tentacles that shoot into the air either as a defense mechanism or in response to the steady sound waves and throbbing rhythms.
The species of microorganisms that thrive in the mosh pit include Metalheadus middle-agedus, Punkus anarchous, Groupi skankifus, Kidus screamocus and Stonerus aggrovus. Occasionally Metalheadus middle-agedus will accompany Kidus screamocus that shares its genetic material or the genetic material of the microorganism with which Metalheadus would like to conjugate.
Sometimes imposter species, such as Boyus fraticus and Chickus sororitus, will mimic the other microorganisms within the mosh pit’s vicinity. These cancerous creatures form a hermaphroditic tumor that attaches itself to the mosh pit membrane and burrows its way into the cytoplasm, which instantly rejects the tumor and spits it back out into the abyss, where the tumor’s male and female components publicly exchange genetic material to the dismay and disgust of the other microorganisms.
The mosh pit’s life cycle lasts as long as the aforementioned conditions persist, within a span of four hours. When the cell-splitting noise stops and bright white lights flood the space, the mosh pit disintegrates into hundreds or even thousands of microorganisms, who reluctantly return to their primary habitats in the outer boroughs or surrounding suburbs, where they lie dormant until the next $5 cover night.
Last year’s McSweeney’s Thanksgiving was so delicious that we decided to re-post our recipe book this year. Watch this space later in the week for new holiday recipes from chef John Gorham of Portland’s Toro Bravo, and check out our Thanksgiving-feast-related discounts on Toro Bravo food quarterly Lucky Peach, as well as special Thanksgiving bundles for your foodie host (or your foodie self) and the kids’ table (obviously always the best table to sit at, now even better).
We had an idea. We figured—now that we’re two cookbooks and five magazines into this food publishing thing—why not cook ourselves a staff Thanksgiving, using recipes straight out of our own publications? The resultant menu—comprised of recipes from Mission Street Food, At Home On The Range, and issues of Lucky Peach —was a weird but lovable hodgepodge, as any good Thanksgiving should be. Instead of green-bean casseroles (bean there, done that!), we cooked up napa cabbage with crispy shallots. In lieu of turkey, we roasted ducks, following a “Chinese turkey” recipe from Lucky Peach 5. We had no room for dessert, but put pie à la mode in our pieholes anyway, topping the “à la mode” with miso butterscotch. And we saw everything that we had made, and, behold, it was very good.
This Thanksgiving, we’re most thankful for you. Thanks for reading, cooking, and eating along with us. It’s been an exciting year. To show our gratitude, we’re having a special Thanksgiving sale. All our food-related items have been discounted (though subscriptions to Lucky Peach remain the low, low price of $28).
We’ve also made, for you, a special printable recipe booklet. With this mini-cookbook, you’ll be able to host a McSweeney’s Thanksgiving of your very own.
(All photos by Alanna Hale)
Cheese pâté no. 1
Margaret Yardley Potter, At Home On The Range
Ham hock rillettes
Anthony Myint, Mission Street Food
Anthony Myint, Mission Street Food
Chinese broccoli with garlic and chorizo
Jonathan Kauffman, Lucky Peach 5
Tomato-and-thyme-braised long beans
Jonathan Kauffman, Lucky Peach 5
Corn with miso butter and bacon
Peter Meehan, Lucky Peach 1
Biscuits with ham and red-eye gravy
Dave Chang, Lucky Peach 1
Anthony Myint, Mission Street Food
Smoky napa cabbage stir-fry
Roasted potatoes with charred scallion sour cream and confit garlic
Anthony Myint, Mission Street Food
Burnt miso butterscotch topping
Thanksgiving pumpkin pie
Margaret Yardley Potter, At Home On The Range
Fish House Punch
Margaret Yardley Potter, At Home On The Range
Our Thanksgiving was made possible with help from our friends. Avedano’s and Sociale generously donated meat (and duck fat). Straus made sure we never ran out of butter and cream. Alanna Hale, the genius photographer behind Mission Street Food, volunteered her time and talent to snap these photos. Show ’em love!
Parents’ House Island
Birthday Party Island
Phone Call From Old Friend Island
Catching Up Island
In Over His Head Island
Just Until He Gets Back On His Feet Island
Of Course What Are Friends For Island
He Knew He Could Count On You Island
That big promotion you’ve been hoping for will go to the coworker you most despise! Congratulate her, knowing full well that your words won’t make her happy. Or maybe they will. Either nobody is happy or everybody is happy but you. Your lucky number today is zero.
Today you will face a financial challenge after you roll out of bed at 3 p.m. Be on the lookout for job opportunities, and watch them pass you by because you’re too paralyzed to even speak. Your lucky color today is dark gray.
Watch out, today you will offend all of your closest friends. Don’t worry too much about it: it isn’t for any stupid reason—like you said you don’t like their new haircuts—it’s because you refuse to leave your house, and when you do, you often get so drunk you can’t speak. Your love match today is a Prozac under Capricorn.
Today, you’ll just miss getting through the yellow light before the drawbridge goes up for three yachts full of happy people drinking Mai Tais. This clearly has no significant meaning, but watch for all the feelings of existential uncertainty associated with this loaded metaphor that literally pops up and looms before your eyes in sparkling sparkles. Today your lucky ocean was devastated by an oil spill.
You’ll feel a rush of warmth and energy today that’ll enable you to finally finish that creative project you’ve put off. This is because you accidentally took two doses and are in the grips of serotonin syndrome. Seek medical help immediately. Today, your lucky psychiatrist will put his hand on your knee while showing you photos of his daughter.
Today you will decide, in a flash of motivation, you need a hobby, like knitting or rock climbing. By the end of the day, your hobby is reading the last statements of Texas death-row inmates and then drafting your own. Today your lucky inmate cursed his own mother five minutes before he died.
Oh boy! Today’s the day you get an online dating account to escape the two-year-long singlehood you’ve endured due to your crippling awkwardness and chronic eye twitch. Skipping over profiles of quirky girls and laid-back men, you instead enter “depression” into the search function. The good news is you’re not alone! The bad news is you’re still alone. Your lucky match today is xxJuggaloChickaxx—send her a message!
Haha, today you spend your day lurking on the outskirts of the self-help section, waiting for the study group at the adjacent table to disperse. They don’t, so by the end of the day you’ve memorized Eat Pray Love and are no closer to finding Mindfulness Through Depression. Your lucky time-waster today is your ability to judge yourself before others even think to!
Your high point today is finding that someone has left a half-full glass of wine at the table next to you, and your low point is drinking it. Environmentalism, you tell yourself. You don’t want to waste a thing. Your lucky carbon footprint today doesn’t exist, and maybe you don’t either.
Your increased dose has erased your memory and your sex drive. You thought you had at least another decade of both those things. Now you can’t please your wife or find your wallet. Your lucky color for today is where is my wallet, I can’t find my wallet, please don’t leave me Sharon, we can make this work.
The mystery of whether your acne resurgence is due to your recently increased dosage or the fact that you haven’t washed your pillow case in weeks is finally solved: it’s both. November is the month that brings you closer to death. This publication regrets that it is reusing the descriptor for October. We also regret that it is still true, for all of us.
Last month, I invited Apple employees to send me funny stories, and they did not disappoint. (The invitation still stands, so please drop me a line!) Here are three of my favorites so far, plus a review.
The Pickup Artist
submitted by 007
I gave a One-to-One lesson to a young man I’ll call Jonah. He dressed like a prep. I don’t think he looked old enough to be in college. So, while his laptop is booting up, he asks me how my love life is. I say none of his business and flash my wedding ring. He tells me he’s a pickup artist. He wants to build a website to advertise his pickup artist lessons. He didn’t have any clients yet.
Jonah looks around at my co-workers. Most are geeks. He tells me he could teach any one of them to pick up any “fox” they wanted. Jonah never calls women anything but “foxes.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him the guy he was pointing to? Gay.
Jonah wants to put a photograph on his website’s front page. I think, good idea. Like one of those testimonials, “This is me. If I can get the foxes, so can you!” Instead, what he’s got is a cheesy screenshot of a woman he tells me is a Playboy Playmate he took out on a date.
Apple employee is unimpressed.
Once Jonah slept with her, which he said he “hoped to accomplish soon,” he would be in a position to advise others how to do the same. I thought, this guy needs more help than I know how to give in a one-to-one.
The next week Jonah got my co-worker, Fred. I made sure to situate my own appointment nearby because I wanted to hear how things went. A minute later, Fred busts out laughing, and we all turn to look. Fred waves that it’s all right and regains his composure.
“Listen, kid.” Fred says. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve forgotten more about dating than you will ever know!”
Happy New Year
submitted by Qwerty
Five minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve, a few blocks from Times Square, a homeless man with a dazed look in his eyes wandered into our Apple Store. The Geniuses on overnight duty eyed him warily as he zigzagged his way to the person checking-in customers. When a genius called out the next appointment’s name, that man stumbled toward the bar. Waves of odor washed over so hard that neighboring Geniuses had to hold their breath. You could smell a decade of the city on the man. He pulled out a brand new iPod touch and set it on the bar. We relaxed a bit. It all seemed legit. Then, he pulled out a jar of his own urine and set that on the bar beside the iPod.
submitted by Asdfg
A customer came up to me and put a MacBook, an iPod, and a USB cable on the table.
“I need your help,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “How can I help you?”
“I was copying a song from my computer to my iPod,” he said.
“But it never got there.”
“Do you want to try it again?”
“We can’t, because the song’s not on the computer anymore.”
“It’s not on my iPod, either.”
He hands me the USB cable and says, “It must be stuck in here. Can you get it out for me?’
From time to time, I will critique media coverage of Apple. I take inspiration from Stephen Colbert and the Best American Essays collection of 2003, which includes the harshest book review you will ever read. Bear with me.
Home Alone by Caitlin Flanagan critiques Christopher Byron’s biography of Martha Stewart, and if you enjoy writer-on-writer violence, read it. What begins as a book review blossoms into a deconstruction of Martha-bashing and closes with brutal simplicity how Byron misses the point.
For example, Byron derides Stewart for asking what the thread count was in a line of bed sheets which were to bear her brand name, implying this proved her neurotic need to oversee even unimportant details of production. Flanagan points out that thread count is the only salient metric in bed sheet quality. Byron then triumphantly reports how the bed sheets felt rough and failed to meet sales expectations, to which Flanagan replies, duh, that’s because the thread count wasn’t high enough.
That review comes to mind because last month the New York Times Magazine published an article by economics reporter Catherine Rampell entitled “Cracking the Apple Trap.” Online, the piece was retitled, “Why Apple Wants to Bust Your iPhone,” and I am still dumbfounded that it was considered news fit to print.
The author thought her iPhone showed “sluggish” performance and shortened battery life around the same time the new models were released. Considering the provocative titles, and the opening line, “At first, I thought it was my imagination,” a reader might expect to read what investigation that confirmed such suspicion. What a disappointment, then, to find that the rest of the article is littered with obfuscating maybes, possiblys, likelys, and probablys. The piece meanders through pontifications about business incentives, essentially rests in the author’s aggrieved imagination. Basically, the New York Times has stooped to link-baiting, and I fell for it.
As I’ve mentioned in this column before, naming Apple in your headline guarantees a spike in online traffic, reliably drawing out both fans and haters. For an author like Rampell, however, who touts an award for evidence-based reporting, such tactics should be more embarrassing. For example, rather than state the well-known fact that all batteries have a finite number of charges and degrade over time, Rampell deliberately writes that “Apple phone batteries” do so, implying peculiarity and intention.
One expects Fox News to lead off thinly veiled editorials posing as economics coverage with phrasing like, “Some say,” or “Many may believe,” but the Gray Lady? Say it ain’t so! I pray we won’t be subjected to a New York Times that goes all Buzzfeed with its headlines. “25 Things You Won’t Believe About Obama!” “Sh*t All Congressmen Say!” “Why the Middle East is like Game of Thrones!” “Please, God, Retweet This!”
There were so many lapses in logic in Rampell’s article that Gizmodo tech writer Brian Battell felt compelled to demolish them point-by-point in his response “There’s No Such Thing As an ‘Apple Trap,’” skewering the piece as “misinformed, and worse, misleading.”
Which is why, apparently, Rampell wrote a follow-up article two days later entitled “Planned Obsolescence, as Myth or Reality.” Referencing no less than three economists by name and “a lot of technology experts” not by name, she successfully recycled half of her first piece, which inferred Apple’s evil motives, to arrive at a new conclusion, “It’s actually very hard to infer a company’s motives.” What a wonderful non-apology. Ironically, it rendered the older article obsolete. Was that planned? That’s pretty fucking meta.
Rampell makes sure to note that Apple didn’t respond to her calls regarding accusations of planned obsolescence. I’m sure the company could dedicate huge teams responding daily to such calls, but wouldn’t that incentivize idiocy? Perhaps not feeding trolls the responses they crave is better for business. Also, if I worked for Casio, and a journalist called me to complain his calculator watch wouldn’t run Photoshop, I might not have any comments I’d want to see printed, either.
“The answer is not particularly obvious.” The follow-up states. “The best one can do is look at whether Apple would even have the incentive to cause its products to deteriorate more quickly over time.”
Really? Is that the best that that economics reporting can do? Why only Apple? To paraphrase Battell, couldn’t it be that your device and its battery have aged, as all things (annoyingly) do? Or is Apple behind a worldwide conspiracy, pre-programming and remote-controlling millions and millions of units to sort of self-destruct, barely perceptibly, because some people you read about in a class say there might be a buck to make? Do you have any idea what kind of customer behavior your article brings down upon our employees? How many people will now and forever trot out your wobbly, opportunistic guesswork as proof that Apple is against them?
This reminds me of a Howard Stern radio broadcast in which he spoke to a caller who stated that Korean deli owners only thrived in New York because they were exempt from taxes. Stern, to his credit, scoffed.
He asked, “Do you actually believe that? That out of all the hundreds of nationalities in this great city, that this one random one is somehow, secretly exempt from paying taxes?”
“That’s what I heard,” she said.
“I’m asking you! Do you believe it?”
“That’s what I heard,” she replied again.
Look, Rampell, you already won. You got paid twice. Once to promote an idea, and then again to retract it. That’s good economics we can learn from.
OMFG. For real, I just can’t even right now! I mean, it makes total sense, but Word of The Year? That’s such an honor. This really means a lot to me—#nofilter. Especially because there were some great words this year. I mean, I did this the hard way though, with dedication and God. Not all of us can say that. I’m looking at you, Twerk.
But Tweeps? You were on my level the whole way up. I partially have my Tweeps to thank for WINNING this thing. Without all of you ignoring your friends and family and just focusing on getting that one perfect, tweet-ready shot of just yourself, where would I be? Probably in a garbage bag instead of a hashtag, amiright?
All kidding aside, it really is amazing to be up here tonight, looking down at company I never thought I’d be in, like GIF, he’s in the audience and he literally cannot sit still. It really is amazing. And though it might not seem like it, because some have called me a hero, I really am humble.
They do have a point though. See, it was just a few years ago people would spend hours getting ready to go out, just to go to a dark club where no one would see how perfectly their lip gloss matched the bra under their see-through shirt. What did this lead to? It lead to America’s number one killer: depression. And I single-handedly pulled these souls out of their despair and literally gave them a reason to get dressed in the morning. A reason to put on gym clothes. A reason to pucker up and get their duck on, for crying out loud. (Dodges a wine glass.) Oh come on, I’m sorry Facebook, but don’t get your Depends in a twist. Times are changing and you aren’t really keeping up. But hey, I will admit that you were an original at one point, so no hard feelings, #followforfollow man.
Let’s move on, I have quite a few thank yous to dole out and I already hear the muzak starting up.
I’d like go back for a minute and thank online dating sites, who really helped me break on the scene back when I was known just as Bathroom Selfie. Laugh all you want. I came up from the bottom. Holler back, Drake. So all of you shirtless men out there, thank you so much for taking all of that time trying to get the perfect angle in the bathroom mirror, where it looks like one might almost just barely see your naughty bits.
And traffic, boredom, working out, loneliness, I know you all get a bad rap, but we’re cool. You’ve really been supportive too.
But of course, I’ve saved the best for last, my dear Instagram. (Holds hands over heart.) In. Sta. Gram. OMFG. You. If I needed a soulmate, it would be you. Every meaningful #throwbackthursday I have is with you, my friend. If it weren’t for you and our late nights with the Kardashians and Rihanna, I don’t even know where I would be. I mean, probably still here, but a word needs biffles. #Instalove to you all.
Oh, looks like I really have gone over the time limit. Just real quick, digital cameras, smart phones, photobooth—you guys rock! If I could just ask the escorts to step out of the frame really quickly, need to get a shot of myself up here. Perfect #picoftheday. Thanks!
Provenance is the single most important consideration when deciding between brands of fish oil pills. Remember when your mother asked which part of England your Australian girlfriend was from? Do your research. I exclusively use caplets from deep-sea anchovies. Fish that swim east to west have a higher piss content and are generally considered inedible in the State of California. Use caution when buying supplements via auction, as Chinese phone bidders can be extremely aggressive. Don’t be shy and ask questions like, “Do you know who I am?” and shout “I didn’t go to Princeton for this!” in the health food aisle. I recommend caplets scented with lemon, which controls the urge to belch and to listen to The Eagles in a stolen Porsche.
Taking fish oil pills is an extremely personal choice. Don’t antagonize loved ones with your decision to take a Nordic approach to your diet. Would you suggest to a neighbor that she paint her house a different color? Or recommend that she swallow ecstasy at Señor Frogs? Or tell a coworker that because you met your Russian girlfriend selling used Ray-Bans on Craigslist anyone can do it? It’s easier to discuss fish oil with family rather than friends, especially when you’ve recently stolen tractor gasoline from their garage. After you’re done breathalyzing them, ask your kids at the dinner table what they think about dietary supplements. You will be surprised how honest sober children are. Now, reach down and touch your toes. Do this eighty-five times until you sweat entirely through your velour jumpsuit. Good, now you’re listening. Let’s discuss the health benefits.
Memory retention is something studied by pricks and scientists alike. Do you find yourself saying, “Did we really drive all the way up to New Hampshire just to look at the leaves?” or “Margaret, was that a Sancerre we drank last night?” or “Where did I leave my duck calls?” These are three perfect examples of an omega-3 deficiency. I had a habit of knocking over toothpick jars at TGI Fridays for years until I started my regimen.
Vision is something that you will hopefully enjoy for the majority of your life. Macular degeneration is not something to be trifled with, especially after it has been drinking straight gin. Believe it or not, exchanging a fish oil caplet for that cigarette or that high-risk sex with the coat check girl can add several years to your longevity. The oils penetrate your pupils via the cerebral cortex. That’s a fancy way of saying that you’re not going to get what you want for Christmas unless you stop feeding the dog peanut butter.
From a religious standpoint, fish oil is promoted across a wide range of belief systems. The ancient Greeks, touchstone pagans, squeezed oils out of dorados with their bare feet. Millions still flock to the annual Grecian Fish Stomp festival in Athens. In modern Rome, we can observe young Catholics chewing oceanic gum and smoking fish cigarettes in between attempts to destabilize the government. Even Hinduism mentions fish oil in their How-to Guide to Scrapbooking Stoned. Let’s not forget that Jesus took perfectly potable wine and turned it into fish for several beggars. His diet is well-documented.
Mercury is the greatest caveat for anyone wishing to add fish oil to his or her diet. Consider mercury poisoning as a childhood best friend who moved away to Canada to make small-batch Maple syrup. You hardly know it’s there until it calls you at five a.m. high on cocaine from a payphone outside Ottawa. You laugh it off at first, and then you find yourself firing off pistol blanks at trick-or-treaters from the master bedroom of your in-laws’ house. Take a minute from repairing your Camaro to check the bottle in your medicine cabinet for the golden Mercury-Free Seal. You’ll be glad you did. Then, continue throwing a full dinner plate against the dining room wall because your son quit baseball.
With a few minutes of research and a trip to your favorite health-conscious retailer, you’ll be well on your way to actualizing the benefits of fish oil. Take off your dog grooming gloves and give yourself a pat on the back. Reading this article is only a start. The web is loaded with venues to share your dietary war stories, arrange an illicit encounter with an enthusiast, and of course sell your stool to collectors around the world. Finally, use common sense. If you notice any side effects such as drinking from birdbaths, walking backwards through the grocery store, or laughing at funerals, please consult your family pediatrician immediately.
2. Blonde Crazy
3. Dead End
4. The Beast of the City
5. Never Lie
6. Two Seconds
7. You Only Live Once
8. Cat Scratch
9. Blind Alley
10. I’m Going to Kill You Ray Romano
Film Noir Titles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9
Regrettable Lower-Back Tattoos: 5, 8, 10
Last month David Albert Mitchell was sentenced to 30 years in prison for raping an elderly birdwatcher in New York City’s Central Park. Not long after the crime occurred, I wrote about making a sort of pilgrimage to the place where it had happened and, more importantly, to the place where a woman had survived. That woman, now 74 years old, confronted Mitchell at his sentencing and cordially invited him to rot in hell for all eternity. She didn’t have to testify against him in court; Mitchell had already accepted a plea bargain, so there was no trial. But she appeared anyway, to tell him what she thought of him and to urge the judge, face to face, to “do the right thing.”
She sounds like a remarkable woman. Thanks to her, Mitchell will be in prison for a long time and hopefully, as the sentencing judge said, “he will never hurt any other person again.”
Well, better late than never, I guess. Mitchell had already had a busy career in sociopathy before he came to New York City. At the age of 18, he was charged in the rape and murder of an 86-year-old woman in his hometown of Jenkinjones, West Virginia. Acquitted of that crime, he was then arrested for raping a woman in her 70s, but convicted on a lesser charge. Next he was “suspected” in the death of a 54-year-old woman, but never charged at all. Then he went to prison for abducting his ex-girlfriend, but was released on parole.
I’d say it’s a tossup which is worse in West Virginia, the police protection or the court system. Both seem pretty crappy, if they don’t even allow a community to protect its little old ladies from a serial rapist and murderer.
Of course, West Virginia was hardly the only place that dropped the ball with Mitchell (though I’m definitely adding it to my list of states to avoid, where it joins Florida, Oklahoma, and both Carolinas). New York City’s public safety apparatus failed too. In the month leading up to the Central Park birdwatcher’s assault, Mitchell had compiled an ominous track record in the city. He menaced the same woman a week before attacking her, when she photographed him exposing himself in the park. A few weeks before that, he pulled a knife on a man in the park.
But none of that was enough to get him picked up and identified as a violent offender who had skipped parole in West Virginia months before. And who knows how many other people Mitchell attacked between his departure from West Virginia and his arrival in New York? There’s little reason to think he led a blameless life during that time.
I would like to know how this happens.
Or rather, I won’t like it; in fact I’m sure knowing will make me exceptionally angry, but I want to know. I’m tired of trying to figure out a logical reason that women are sacrificed in the name of due process or whatever glorious legal principle we’re upholding by letting someone like David Albert Mitchell roam the streets. If anyone with professional experience in criminal prosecution reads this column—and I know you’re out there, because ya’ll jump my shit every time I suggest women use force to defend themselves—can you tell me how this happens? It isn’t supposed to happen like this, is it?
After all, everyone who knew Mitchell feared him; no one in Jenkinjones has expressed any doubt that he was a killer, and he doesn’t seem to have been the kind of criminal mastermind who left no incriminating evidence behind. Yet for more than two decades he haunted the margins of a community, terrifying everyone and picking off the most vulnerable.
We’re pretty sure Mitchell killed two women; we know of at least three others who survived his brutality. And it’s reasonable to assume there are more. Mitchell was such a habitually malevolent person that after committing the Central Park rape, he went on to grope two other women on the Upper West Side the same afternoon. That’s a textbook example of an individual who lacks self-control. We couldn’t have stopped him any sooner?
Such gross official incompetence makes the Central Park survivor’s confrontation with Mitchell in court all the more remarkable. You get the feeling, looking at all the charges against Mitchell that had previously been dropped or fumbled or pissed away on technicalities, that she may have been the first person who had the wherewithal to stand up to him, and to the legal system’s demands.
Which is admirable; it’s always inspiring when someone whose life has been altered by violence dedicates their efforts to preventing more violence. However—and I’ve made this point before—that’s not a functional plan for ending violence. We shouldn’t expect the victims to do the heavy lifting for us. They don’t owe us anything. We owe them.
I’m sure the women Mitchell didn’t manage to kill feel lucky to be alive. I imagine they’re thrilled he’s going back to prison. And I doubt they’re waiting for him to apologize. But somebody sure as hell owes them an apology, and since I suspect the prosecutor’s office in Jenkinjones is incapable of issuing an apology without reducing it to a misdemeanor and time served, I’ll offer one myself. It’s too late to apologize to the murder victims, but to the women who survived Mitchell’s violence, I want to acknowledge that we screwed up, big time, and I for one am sorry.
I’m sorry, in a general way, that the universe randomly dumped such a huge load of shit on you. More specifically, I’m sorry that the society I live and work and pay taxes and vote in failed to protect you from an obvious threat. We should have done better. We should not have let that happen to you.
And here’s something else I’d like to say to anyone who has survived violence—regardless of whether you testified in court, or pressed charges, or even reported the crime: Thank you.
After all, we thank military veterans, who volunteer to go off and fight danger. We all acknowledge that we stand to gain from their sacrifices—what they risk, what they suffer. We do a miserable job of taking care of them afterwards, but at least we recognize their heroism.
Assault survivors don’t sign on to fight anything. Most of them are drafted on an instant’s notice into a fight they’ve had no preparation for. They’re given no time to plan. There’s no opportunity to seek conscientious objector status. When you come out of a fight like that alive, you have my respect. And my gratitude.
I don’t mean gratitude in some vague, Oprah-ish way, as if thanking survivors were a lifestyle enhancement project involving fresh flowers and improved digestive health. Nor do I mean, “Hey, thanks for sparing us the additional guilt we’d feel if you hadn’t survived.”
What I mean is simply this: Thank you for doing what you did, in the moment, to survive. Whether you chose to do it, had to do it, or did it unthinkingly. Whatever it was that got you out of a bad situation alive—fighting, enduring, lying convincingly—and however you felt about it then or feel about it now: Thank you for doing it. You did a terribly difficult thing and you did it well. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel otherwise.
Here’s why I’m grateful to you: When you preserved that singular bit of existence that is you, you also did something for me. It wasn’t anything you owed me; it was nothing I could ever have asked you to do. But I still benefited from it. Because I believe this world is a better place, for me and everyone else, with you in it. I believe that with all my heart. I’ve seen what happens when violence prevails and a parent or child or sibling is lost to it. It rips a hole in the fabric of the universe. It leaves an empty space that can never be completely filled, no matter how much healing takes place.
And if you’ve survived violence, you kept that from happening. That’s a gift for everyone else on the planet, and you gave it at tremendous personal cost.
Thank you also for taking the awful blind leap into a vastly different future than you expected. And for shouldering the burden of healing from the violence, which would be hard even if we supported survivors adequately.
To the hard-working, underpaid souls out there who are helping, I’d also like to say thanks. To the counselors and caseworkers, the doctors and nurses. To the law enforcement personnel, the prosecutors, the judge, and everyone else who did finally (we hope, finally) end David Allen Mitchell’s access to women he could harm. I’m very, very thankful that he’s locked up (I’d prefer seeing him turned inside-out with a buttonhook, but I understand the Eighth Amendment prohibits that). If he makes it through all 30 years of his prison sentence, he’ll be 73 when he gets out—coincidentally, the same age the Central Park survivor was when he attacked her. He’ll face another ten years of court-ordered supervision after that, which should make him 83 by the time we lose track of him again. I’m not entirely sanguine about the prospect of him on the loose even as an octogenarian, but at least he’ll be moving more slowly than he is now.
Unfortunately Mitchell is hardly the only predator out there. So I also have a request to make. Could we please try to do better next time? Police officers, detectives, DAs, prosecutors, social workers—please: Tell us how we prevent this.
If there’s something you need in order to do a better job of finding violent offenders and getting them off the streets, ask us. Do we need more funding for rape kit analysis? Are there legal loopholes to be closed? Are non-violent offenders clogging the prisons? Is the parole system out of date? You know better than we do what needs to happen. We want to help. Just ask us.
Things erupted on Sunday when Mary Cheney, a lesbian, and her wife were at home watching Fox News Sunday—their usual weekend ritual. Liz Cheney appeared on the show and said that she opposed same-sex marriage, describing it as “just an area where we disagree,” referring to her sister.
—Jonathan Martin, the New York Times (Nov. 18, 2013)
Look, I don’t know whether someone’s born a Liz Cheney or, due to psychological trauma, turns into a Liz Cheney. But it doesn’t matter, because the simple fact is that letting Liz Cheneys marry is destructive to the very fabric of this country.
The Bible clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman, not one Liz Cheney and anyone else. Corinthians 7:12 states, “And he who shall defy the Lord and have congress with a Liz Cheney shall be banished to a remote, barren, joyless land with a governmental influence disproportionate to its meager population and an unjustly high outlay-to-tax ratio.”
Just think about the mechanics of this for a minute. It’s unnatural. How would it even work? If we were meant to marry Liz Cheneys, our bodies would look different.
I don’t see any species in the animal kingdom marrying a Liz Cheney. Yes, once in a while you hear about an octopus trying it out, but those are obviously deviant octopi. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the crackpot scientists reporting these cases were themselves perversely attracted to Liz Cheneys.
Liz Cheney marriage isn’t fair to the offspring, either. Studies have shown that a child raised by a Liz Cheney is at greater risk of developing paranoid xenophobia, acute nepotism, and poor shotgun-aiming skills.
Hey, I’m fairly tolerant on this issue: Liz Cheneys should be permitted to do what they want in the privacy of their own homes, despite the fact that the mere thought of it personally repulses me. They can go to their own Liz Cheney bars and nightclubs, with their salaciously punning names like “Majority Whips and Cheneys” and “Just Liz Bein’ Liz.” I can even avert my eyes when they strut through downtown Cheyenne in their Liz Cheney Pride parades, gaudily loosening gun-control laws and flamboyantly espousing an obstructionist platform in their beige pantsuits and sensible pumps.
But it’s my business once you make your Liz Cheney relationship public. It’s my business when you recruit my kids to join the debauched Liz Cheney lifestyle. And it’s my business when you prance around with your nontraditional Liz Cheney family and send the message to the rest of the world that you’re normal Americans—since no family with a Liz Cheney in it can be defined as “normal.” The next time terrorists attack us for our lax morals, I hope you think about all the innocent, non-Liz-Cheney-marrying bystanders caught in the crossfire of your depravity.
Because, if we allow Liz Cheneys to marry, what’s next on the slippery slope? Should we also clear the matrimonial path for, say, Rush Limbaughs?
You may think that’s an absurd example that no one of sound mind would pursue, but it’s happened—four times. Talk about the decline of an institution.
Check the diagnostic symptoms below that apply. These criteria represent a widening of the definition from the previous diagnostic standard.
You know when to give someone a bit of space, and when to give them a storage locker.
When asked to bring a side at Thanksgiving, you show up with a gentle yet firm demeanor people have never seen before.
When dreams are thwarted, you are able to see the big picture: giant corned beef sandwiches the size of a sedan.
You bring people together, by telling them elaborate stories about how this is a job interview.
When people need a pickup, you’re there to give them a pep talk, and there later that night to whisper the refrain over and over as the person tries desperately to get some sleep.
You offer nondenominational prayers during times of grief, except for atheists, to whom you gently whisper, “We all die alone.”
You take the time to explain technology to older generations. “Basically,” you say holding up an iPhone, “the robot overlords are going to kill anyone who doesn’t speak their language come 2020.”
You save the dolphins. From themselves.
You see those who are invisible to society. All it takes is a bit of UV paint and some black lights.
When someone is locked out of their house, you’ll always lend a hand—even smash a window if you have to. It’s worth it for the stereo you get as a thank you.
You give blood, but when it becomes apparent that the technician isn’t offering any of his in return, you screech, “Mine!” and run out of the room with your bag, later to scamper back and hand it over, because you’ve got one spare.
You choose stylish yet casual restaurants so that your poor friends can enjoy artisanal pickles and Tecate alongside your rich friends’ truffle steak and Pouilly-Fumé.
You make jazz listening easy.
You have healing hands, except when you’re in the middle of making your signature sour lemon spike sticks.
You’re an excellent listener. After prompting a friend to get something off their chest, you’ll allow the silence to speak for a moment, before murmuring, “Did you hear that squirrel? I think it was an eastern grey” so as not to disturb the squirrel.
When suing in small claims court, you make stirring but feasible speeches while waving the world’s tiniest constitution in the air.
You own The Very Best of Chris De Burgh: 14 Classic Tracks.
You have three smiles: A courtesy smile that involves the mouth but not the eyes, a genuine beam that lights up people’s souls, and a confounding smile that involves the eyes but not the mouth, used for Congressional campaigning.
If the world ends tomorrow, good thing you ate all the cream puffs.
When someone wants you to play a melody that they’re not really sure how it goes, you’re all, “Oh yeah, you probably mean this Foreigner song…”
You once almost choked to death on orange-mango juice, but someone saved you, and what is dead may never die.
You dabble in requiems, but you’re not a dick about it.
If you exhibit 1-7 of the above symptoms, you are at a low risk of greatness.
If you exhibit 8-14 of the above symptoms, you are at a moderate risk of greatness and should consider seeking assistance.
If you exhibit 15-22 of the above symptoms, you are at a high risk of greatness and should seek assistance.
Update: The manual has been subsequently updated such that only six symptoms are required to diagnose cases that fall along the greatness spectrum.