“Being in Plays” — Ed Skoog

“Being in Plays”

by

Ed Skoog


Ethics are learned from who you sleep with
the first few times, and theater is sex,
almost. Being in it, I mean, and being young,
with a lot of group undressing
and silence in darkness, chaste
permissions of the cast party,
spiked punch in the recreation room.
I was always cast as Old Man
with tennis-shoe polish for white hair
and lines drawn where my lines now are,
forehead haiku, the eyes’ briffits,
and parentheses around the muzzle.
I guess I miss it, achievement’s sense,
the way a show’s run ends
and everyone knows it together,
a social pain, like the death
of a popular imaginary friend.
When lights between scenes dim,
I like to see actors take props offstage
or team up with stagehands to move
the built elements of our fantasy.
I hope they keep going, and sneak
some of the properties home to mix in
with their private dramas. I pass theaters
the way I pass churches, but like
better this foldable theater
half-constructed in the mind,
sometimes thrown away
along with the day’s receipts.
Nothing’s lost. I carry my own
props in—red telephone,
bowl of apples—and then with me draw
back into the unseen.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s turkey leftovers

From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebooks

TURKEY REMAINS AND HOW TO INTER THEM WITH NUMEROUS SCARCE RECIPES
At this post holiday season the refrigerators of the nation are overstuffed with large masses of turkey, the sight of which is calculated to give an adult an attack of dizziness. It seems, therefore, an appropriate time to give the owners the benefit of my experience as an old gourmet, in using this surplus material. Some of the recipes have been in my family for generations. (This usually occurs when rigor mortis sets in.) They were collected over years, from old cook books, yellowed diaries of the Pilgrim Fathers, mail order catalogues, golfbags and trash cans. Not one but has been tried and proven—there are headstones all over America to testify to the fact.
Very well then: Here goes:

1. Turkey Cocktail
To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.

2. Turkey at la Francais.
Take a large ripe turkey, prepare as for basting and stuff with old watches and chains and monkey meat. Proceed as with cottage-pudding.

3. Turkey and Water
Take one turkey and one pan of water. Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator When it has jelled drown the turkey in it. Eat. In preparing this recipe it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.

4. Turkey Mongole
Take three butts of salami and a large turkey skeleton from which the feathers and natural stuffing have been removed. Lay them out on the table and call up some Mongole in the neighborhood to tell you how to proceed from there.

5. Turkey Mousee
Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.

6. Stolen Turkey
Walk quickly from the market and if accosted remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn’t noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg-well, anyhow, beat it.

7. Turkey a la Creme.
Prepare the creme a day in advance, or even a year in advance. Deluge the turkey with it and cook for six days over a blast furnace. Wrap in fly paper and serve.

8. Turkey Hash
This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it. Like a lobster it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomes bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around.
Only then is it ready for hash. To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose—and then get at it! Hash it well! Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.
And now we come to the true aristocrat of turkey dishes:

9. Feathered Turkey.
To prepare this a turkey is necessary and a one pounder cannon to compell anyone to eat it. Broil the feathers and stuff with sage brush, old clothes, almost anything you can dig up. Then sit down and simmer. The feathers are to be eaten like artichokes (and this is not to be confused with the old Roman custom of tickling the throat).

10. Turkey at la Maryland
Take a plump turkey to a barber’s and have him shaved, or if a female bird, given a facial and a water wave. Then before killing him stuff with with old newspapers and put him to roost. He can then be served hot or raw, usually with a thick gravy of mineral oil and rubbing alcohol. (Note: This recipe was given me by an old black mammy.)

11. Turkey Remnant
This is one of the most useful recipes for, though not, “chic”, it tells what to do with the turkey after the holiday, and extract the most value from it.
Take the remants, or if they have been consumed, take the various plates on which the turkey or its parts have rested and stew them for two hours in milk of magnesia. Stuff with moth-balls.

12. Turkey with Whiskey Sauce.
This recipe is for a party of four. Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours. Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest.
The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.

13. For Weddings or Funerals. Obtain a gross of small white boxes such as are used for bride’s cake. Cut the turkey into small squares, roast, stuff, kill, boil, bake and allow to skewer. Now we are ready to begin. Fill each box with a quantity of soup stock and pile in a handy place. As the liquid elapses, the prepared turkey is added until the guests arrive. The boxes delicately tied with white ribbons are then placed in the handbags of the ladies, or in the men’s side pockets.

There I guess that’s enough turkey to talk. I hope I’ll never see or hear of another until—well, until next year.

“Food” — Donald Barthelme

Food

I was preparing a meal for Celeste-a meal of a certain elegance, as when arrivals or other rites of passage are to be celebrated.
First off there were Saltines of the very best quality and of a special crispness, squareness, and flatness, obtained at great personal sacrifice by making representations to the National Biscuit Company through its authorized nuncios in my vicinity. Upon these was spread with a hand lavish and not sitting Todd’s Liver Pate, the same having been robbed from geese and other famous animals and properly adulterated with cereals and other well-chosen extenders and the whole delicately spiced with calcium propionate to retard spoilage. Next there were rare cheese products from Wisconsin wrapped in gold foil in exquisite tints with interesting printings thereon, including some very artful representations of cows, the same being clearly in the best of health and good humor. Next there were dips of all kinds including clam, bacon with horseradish, onion soup with sour cream, and the like, which only my long acquaintance with some very high-up members of the Borden company allowed to grace my table. Next there were Fritos curved and golden to the number of 224 (approx.), or the full contents of the bursting 53c bag. Next there were Frozen Assorted Hors d’Oeuvres of a richness beyond description, these wrested away from an establishment catering only to the nobility, the higher clergy, and certain selected commoners generally agreed to be comers in their particular areas of commonality, calcium propionate added to retard spoilage. In addition there were Mixed Nuts assembled at great expense by the Planters concern from divers strange climes and hanging gardens, each nut delicately dusted with a salt that has no peer. Furthermore there were cough drops of the manufacture of the firm of Smith Fils, brown and savory and served in a bowl once the property of Brann the Iconoclast. Next there were young tender green olives into which ripe red pimentos had been cunningly thrust by underpaid Portuguese, real and true handwork every step of the way. In addition there were pearl onions meticulously separated from their nonstandard fellows by a machine that had caused the Board of Directors of the S&W concern endless sleepless nights and had passed its field trails just in time to contribute to the repast I am describing. Additionally there were gherkins whose just fame needs no further words from me. Following these appeared certain cream cheeses of Philadelphia origin wrapped in costly silver foil, the like of which a pasha could not have afforded in the dear dead days. Following were Mock Ortolans Manques made of the very best soybean aggregate, the like of which could not be found on the most sophisticated tables of Paris, London and Rome. The whole washed down with generous amounts of Tab, a fiery liquor brewed under license by the Coca-Cola Company which will not divulge the age-old secret recipe no matter how one begs and pleads with them but yearly allows a small quantity to circulate to certain connoisseurs and bibbers whose credentials meet the very rigid requirements of the Cellarmaster. All of this stupendous feed being a mere scherzo before the announcement of the main theme, chilidogs.
“What is all this?” asked sweet Celeste, waving her hands in the air. “Where is the food?”
“You do not recognize a meal spiritually prepared,” I said, hurt in the self-love.
“We will be very happy together,” she said. “I cook.”

From “Daumier” by Donald Barthelme.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — Elliott Erwitt

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1988. Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928)

At the Kitchen Table with Football — Desirée Holman

At the Kitchen Table with Football, 2007 by Desirée Holman (b. 1974)

Sassafrass’ Rice Casserole #36, a recipe from Ntozake Shange’s novel Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo

Sassafrass’ Rice Casserole #36

1 1/2 cups medium grain brown rice

3 ounces pimentos

1 cup baby green peas

1/2 cup fresh walnuts

 

2/3 pound smoked cheddar cheese

1/2 cup condensed milk

Diced garlic to taste

Cayenne to taste

 

Cook rice as usual. In an eight-inch baking dish, layer rice, cheese, pimentos, walnuts, and peas. Spread garlic and cayenne as you see fit. Pour milk along side of dish so it cushions rice against the edge. Bake in oven 20-30 minutes, or until all the cheese melts and the top layer has a nice brown tinge.

–From Ntozake’s Shange’s novel Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo.

Sassafrass’ homemade banner hangs above her stove:

Allegory of Desire from the Fourth Freedom — Marc Dennis

marc-dennis-allegory-of-desire-from-the-fourth-freedom_2014_oil-on-linen_44x52inches

Allegory of Desire from the Fourth Freedom, 2015 by Marc Dennis (b. 1971)

Saint Reading the Scriptures — Bernardino Luini

Saint Reading the Scriptures — Bernardino Luini (c. 1480-1532)

Heimito von Doderer’s The Strudlhof Steps (Book acquired, 15 Nov. 2021)

Heimito von Doderer’s The Strudlhof Steps is forthcoming in translation by Vincent Kling from NYRB. Their blurb:

The Strudlhof Steps is an unsurpassed portrait of Vienna in the early twentieth century, a vast novel crowded with characters ranging from an elegant, alcoholic Prussian aristocrat to an innocent ingenue to “respectable” shopkeepers and tireless sexual adventurers, bohemians, grifters, and honest working-class folk. The greatest character in the book, however, is Vienna, which Heimito von Doderer renders as distinctly as James Joyce does Dublin or Alfred Döblin does Berlin. Interweaving two time periods, 1908 to 1911 and 1923 to 1925, the novel takes the monumental eponymous outdoor double staircase as a governing metaphor for its characters’ intersecting and diverging fates. The Strudlhof Steps is an experimental tour de force with the suspense and surprise of a soap opera. Here Doderer illuminates the darkness of passing years with the dazzling extravagance that is uniquely his.

Friends I — Susanne Kühn 

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Friends I, 2021 by Susanne Kühn (b. 1969)

Barthelme/Calvino/Garner/Jackson (Books acquired, 19 Nov. 2021)

Spent a spare hour this afternoon at the local used bookshop.

A few months ago I found a first edition of Donald Barthelme’s collection Forty Stories. This afternoon I picked up a first edition of my favorite Barthelme novel, The Dead Father. The jacket design–by Ruth Ansel–is really cool, which doesn’t really come through in the photograph. The back cover simply reverses the silver-black set up of the front cover; the spine reads bottom to top instead of top to bottom, like most U.S. titles.

I’ve never read Under the Jaguar Sun by Italo Calvino, but I picked it up because I enjoyed rereading three by Calvino earlier this year (and it’s very short and has a cool cover by Malcolm Tarlofsky).

I’d never heard of Alan Garner’s 1973 novel Red Shift until today. I always pull NYRB spines out, and the novel’s description on the back caught my attention. Part of the description:

In second-century Britain, Macey and a gang of fellow deserters from the Roman army hunt and are hunted by deadly local tribes. Fifteen centuries later, during the English Civil War, Thomas Rowley hides from the ruthless troops who have encircled his village. And in contemporary Britain, Tom, a precocious, love-struck, mentally unstable teenager, struggles to cope with the imminent departure for London of his girlfriend, Jan.

The blurb from Ursula K. Le Guin (“A bitter, complex, brilliant book”) made me pick it up. I love the NYRB cover, which has a My Bloody Valentine feeling to it, at least to me, but I also am a big proponent of genre covers–sci-fi/fantasy covers that might not be as “respectable” as the “literary” crossover covers that adorn works that live a second life. So I trekked over to the sci-fi/fantasy section to see if I could find another edition of Red Shift. This is what I found:

I regret not looking for the artist’s name now. I dig the Ballantine cover, but the NYRB edition was far more readable in the end.

From the sci-fi/fantasy section, I somehow wandered into U.S. history, staring at an endcap titled “Salem witchcraft.” I did not know that Shirley Jackson wrote a book about Salem—or Salem Village, as she points out in her initial note—a place that is not the same place as Salem—I did not know that Jackson wrote a book about the Salem (Village) witchcraft trials. I picked it up and started in and didn’t want to stop.

Apparently it’s a children’s book.

The Six — Axel Krause

The Six, 2007 by Axel Krause (b. 1958)

Richter’s Cat — Marc Denis

Richter’s Cat, 2021 by Marc Dennis (b. 1971)

“Oysters” — Anne Sexton

“Oysters”

by

Anne Sexton


Oysters we ate,
sweet blue babies,
twelve eyes looked up at me,
running with lemon and Tabasco.
I was afraid to eat this father-food
and Father laughed and
drank down his martini,
clear as tears.
It was a soft medicine
that came from the sea into my mouth,
moist and plump.
I swallowed.
It went down like a large pudding.
Then I ate one o’clock and two o’clock.
Then I laughed and then we laughed
and let me take note –
there was a death,
the death of childhood
there at the Union Oyster House
for I was fifteen
and eating oysters
and the child was defeated.
The woman won.

Reading Girl —  Liu Ye

Reading Girl, 2008 by Liu Ye (b. 1964)

Ed Skoog’s Rough Day (Book acquired, 13 Nov. 2021)

So we had a great long weekend with some friends in New Orleans. We stayed in Marigny—great food, great music, maybe too many drinks—but made it into the quarter for a few hours midday Saturday. I led our little group to Jackson Square where we respectfully finished our Bloody Marys before entering St. Louis Cathedral. My real aim though was Faulkner House Books on Pirate Alley right by the cathedral. Faulkner House imposed a strict four-guests-at-a-time policy, so my friends found a bar while I browsed. The stock in the small store is impeccable. Plenty of NYRB titles, a cadre of hardback Bolaños (including almost all of the poetry available in English), more Anne Carson than I’ve ever seen in a store. (I didn’t make it to Faulkner House when I visited NOLA in late 2016, but in 2012 I got some good stuff.) This time, I picked up a signed copy of Ed Skoog’s Rough Day, which seemed fitting—I’d scheduled a post that day of his poem “Run the Red Lights.”

After I finished up I headed to a bar on the outskirts of the Quarter to meet my friends, but first popped in to Arcadian Books & Prints on Orleans St.—perhaps the most chaotic bookstore I’ve ever been to. 

As always, I loved NOLA and look forward to returning sooner rather than later.

The Inaudible — Agostino Arrivabene

L’Inaudibile, 2020 by Agostino Arrivabene (b. 1967)