Monday, January 29, 2007

For The Widows In Paradise; For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti

Every perfect day needs a topper-- an apex from which every blissful moment can delicately unfold before beginning its descent. But what happens when the day is flat lined on a negative scale with no hope of a point of increase?
Your tires get slashed.
It was bad that I could not find my carpool. It was worse that I was stuck in slippery heels without any way to contact my friends whom I was supposed to drive. But the climax-- the minimum point of my day, the anti-apex, if you will-- became tragedy when I coatlessly found the New Yorker sitting on a slope that allowed the rim of the back tire to kiss the asphalt in a most threatening manner.
Someday I would simply like to go home after school. That's it. No unclosable doors, no dead engines. Someday I would like to hop in my car and have it take me places without running the risk of suicide from an imploding radiator.
So I passed this anticlimax by standing in shock next to a car with peeling red paint and 'YSLER' glued in rusted silver letters across the back, utterly at a loss for action.
I decided that putting on a decent facade of knowledgeable tire-changing skills for the sophomores congregating on the driving range would be a good start. I opened up the trunk, where I knew a spare tire was kept. I pulled on it. It would not give. I tugged on the jack next to it. I have found that in calamities biceps and arm muscles are extremely useful. If nothing else, they give comfort in their existence. Mine exist, but only for a taut allowance of minimal tasks-- such as holding a spoon and waving at people in the hallways. My arms are not meant for manual labor.
With half my body immersed in the open trunk, my bare knees anchored on the sagging bumper, and my sleeves rolled past the elbow, I pulled and pulled at that blasted tire. By this time I had grime on my legs and hands, and was feeling extremely frustrated.
And then he came, an enormous angel who was extremely scary and simultaneously wonderful.
"Well, that sucks!" said Coach Gross, as he leaned over me to inspect what little progress I was able to make with the immovable tire.
He moved it with one hand, picked it up like he was picking up a plastic ball. He raised and lowered and unscrewed and basically lifted the entire car, while I stood back, shivering in my stupid little pink heels, feeling the negativity that comes with feminine helplessness-- or perhaps just my weakness and failure as a human being.
As I was driving home slowly on my newly changed, bike-sized back rear tire, I reflected on the goodness of human nature. Nobody had to stop to help me. I could have stood abandoned in the parking lot for a long, long, time.
Every perfect day has an apex.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hoarding it for Home

My life as a health addict has not always been severe. Our cupboards at home are usually decorated with Wasa crackers and various healthful condiments from foreign countries. But every once in a long, long while we go on a junk food binge that ultimately leaves us fat and panting for celery and chickpeas.
I remember one such sugar-spree in particular. My father was shuffling through the contents of our refrigerator in an attempt to find something to prepare for dinner. Towards the back of the second glass shelf-- between the Shiitake mushrooms and bell peppers-- he discovered an unnamed science experiment contained within the careful plastic of Glad's Tupperware. Holding the container cautiously over the sink, he slowly pulled the lid off to reveal a medley of molding green nastiness that had been shoved to the back of Leftover Corner and had gurgled happily there for Heaven only knows how many weeks. My mother was away visiting family at this time, and perhaps in a rash act of desperation and helplessness my father emptied the fridge completely of all the organic and easily perishable ingredients that my mother had carefully stocked upon its shelves prior to her departure. From my short perspective I could see a familiar glint come into my father's eyes which could only mean one thing-- chips.
Whenever my mom left town, my dad was left in charge of the grocery shopping. Buying food with Dad was like going on holiday. He is a bargain shopper, which means that he will tear down the cookie and cracker and cereal aisles and throw anything with a 2 for 1 special sign into the cart.
"Pop tarts? Frosted flakes? White bread? Throw it into the cart and let's get out of here!"
For a family who is accustomed to eating twelve grain wheat bread, flax oil, and fortified omega 3 eggs, junk food is a big deal. By the time Dad and the girls (everybody came along for the ride and to help load ice cream into the cart) arrived home, the backseat and trunk of the minivan were weighted down with bouquets and caboodles of sugary and salty snacks that yielded far more calories in one serving than what we were used to consuming in an entire day.
After the initial grocery trip life went downhill. I remember the first few days were glorious; we ate cold cereal for breakfast and bacon and chocolate and Heinz ketchup and other such foodstuffs that most true-blue Americans take for granted. After several meals of unending glory and sugary delight, the novelty of this American life would begin to atrophy and most family members were left feeling chubby and empty and fiber-less.
The crap food would be thrown out immediately before my mom's return, which would be greeted by an empty refrigerator that she would promptly replace with cucumbers, spinach, and mozzarella cheese. She would hustle and bustle and complain, exclaiming:
"For the life of me I can't figure out how you all go through so much food when I'm away!"
So break out the Wasa crackers again, Mom. Our eating habits are as dull as two dry toasts, because after all, you are what you eat.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lutefisk: a little piece of Valhalla

My first encounter with 'Death in the Form of Fish' came at our annual Norwegian Christmas party, six years in the past.
The celebration took place in the basement of some shady building sometime in mid-December. The room was very cold, and filled with accented strangers who all wore sweaters and smelled like mushrooms. At last the talking ceased and dinner was served.
Mary Hoblastad, a long time family friend, approached the table at which I was sitting and asked if I was going to eat anything. I stared down at the odoriferous goo on my plate, whose gelatinous texture and rancid oiliness rendered the whole creature completely inedible. I shook my head.
"You don't like fish?" she exclaimed wildly, attracting the attention of several suspicious old men passing by, plates loaded with cod, "And you call yourself Norsk! For shame!"
The situation was further worsened when I learned the history of the dish. It was a Scandinavian delicacy known as lutefisk - which means, literally, "cod soaked in plutonium."
I had given a report in Mrs. Powell's sixth grade class about Norway, and to the delight of the sick minded 12 year old boys I had mentioned the gross practices of harvesting the cod, wrapping it in toilet paper, greasing it in Vaseline and then burying it for several weeks to create lutefisk.
I had not cared to try it since.
Despite the fuss I made over the lutefisk- or perhaps because of it-I was persuaded to take one forkful. One bite, and that was all.
How to describe that first bite? It's a bit like describing passing a kidney stone. If you are talking to someone else who has lived through the experience, a nod will suffice to acknowledge your shared pain, but to explain it to the person who has not been there makes mere words seem inadequate to the task.
When I think of that fateful moment when the fork met my lips and the lutefisk touched my tongue, the phrases, "nauseating sordid gunk", "unimaginably horrific", and "lasting psychological damage" come to mind.
There is a reason why lutefisk is only eaten once a year: anything that has been soaked in chemicals and allowed to ferment should not be allowed to pass through the digestive system-- it does detrimental things to the body.
But these descriptions seem hollow compared to the actual experience, so I will have to resort to a recipe for a kind of metaphorical lutefisk to describe the experience.
First, take jet-puffed marshmallows made without any sugar, blend them together with overcooked Japanese noodles, some canola oil, and Parmesan cheese, then bathe the whole liberally in acetone. Let it marinate in cod liver oil for several days at room temperature. When it has achieved the appropriate consistency heat it to just above lukewarm, sprinkle in thousands of tiny, sharp, invisible fish bones, and serve. Voila! You have lutefisk, or at least a very close representation.
Now you can empathize.
And so if I ever create a ruckus over fish, you will know why. There is only one word to describe possibly the most abominable recipe created by mankind-- and it is lutefisk.
Viva la Norge!