Most nights when I’m trying to fall asleep, instead of counting sheep, I design utopias. These utopias vary, though all involve everyone spending at least 3 hours a day outside with no cell reception, and all the ideation is overshadowed by my understanding that utopias all falter and then are abandoned. There’s a photographer named Regina Mamou who made a series of large-format photographs of defunct utopian sites in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic. Called Unfortunately, It Was Paradise, the photos all depict dead, beautiful places. (You can find them on Instagram or here.) Dystopias seem to have a longer shelf life, unfortunately (Kim. Jong. Un.), and now I’m awake and not trying to fall asleep so I’m going to describe for you a couple of the dystopian platescapes that I imagine when I have made something awful and want to know that there is something out there that, to me, is worse.
I want to point out that I’m not talking about actual problems, like being force fed glass bits and the ground remains of a beloved pet while slavery is reinstated everywhere and civilization is destroyed around you by ideologues. I’m just talking about a situation where a privileged person is dismayed because she is presented with foodstuffs that are not to her liking.
No Thank You #1
Gaggers in daylight
Few people in RI would agree with me on this one, and a couple of years ago I felt differently, but I can no longer eat New York System hot wieners. If you are from Rhode Island, skip the description because you know all about it, but hot wieners are “small, thin hot dogs made of veal and pork” and, if ordered “all the way” are served in a steamed bun with celery salt, possibly yellow mustard, chopped onions, and ground meat. Yes, you eat them when you are drunk. But if you take your kid there during the day as a little date, the sun shines upon your plate with the sober clarity of an evangelical virgin and you see that under the celery salt and ground meat (which is the equivalent of croutons on toast but okay) the wiener is pink, like somewhere between dodge ball pink and core sample of a pink river dolphin’s flesh pink. It is also very, very firm, and the bun is damp because is has been steamed, yes, but also because the guys who make them line them up on their bare forearm and it’s hot in the kitchen, yo. At one point, a colleague at a former job made a special request for these as her birthday lunch, she called them “gaggers,” and about 16 of us had to gather around a big conference table and eat at least two. The last time I was at New York System, I just got French fries, and was so unskilled in my efforts to get ketchup out of the bottle that both the guys behind the counter and the drunk guys sitting at the next table shouted instructions at me (Hold it horizontally! Tap the 57!) until my friend just shoved the end of his fork into the bottle. Has New York System won accolades from James Beard? Yes. Is it an institution in Rhode Island? Yes. Will I probably at some point eat another hot wiener all the way? Not in daylight.
No Thank You #2
Menu for a Dinner Party That Would Cause Me to Fake My Own Death So I Could Be Carried Out of There:
Sashimi, passed around
I once watched a not-sober friend slowly carve up a piece of fish for sashimi in a posture that can best be described as Dissolving Shepherd’s Crook, and for every piece of fish he put on the platter, he would slip one into his mouth. He was in tough shape, and I still can’t believe he could handle that sharp a knife without injury, and something about it – okay, specifically the fact that he was not quite getting the pieces of raw fish all the way in his mouth but would have to kind of slurp them in – turned me off not on drunk chefs but on sashimi.
Any large squash, especially spaghetti squash, cut in half, doused in maple syrup and butter, and roasted
It’s like a waffle without any of the benefits of being a waffle. Plus, if it’s spaghetti squash, it’s hairy.
Boiled Brussels sprouts
Which, unless cooked in bacon, are just very firm fart-flavored chew toys
The juice box of hypoglycemic adults
Yes! I would like you to take a big, boney fish, do nothing to it except slap some lemon slices on it, apply heat, and then give it to me on a plate so I can dissect it for four hours while it watches me do so.
Tall Glass of Goat’s Milk
Warm and frothy and so very goaty
I once had this for dessert after a lovely dinner. It was just sugar cereal dumped into a pile of ice scraped off the freezer, with pineapple chunks or something. Everything was just wet and cold with spots of bright sugary terror.
Syrup that tastes like black licorice, which in turn tastes to me like tar scraped off your tires
Someday, jellyfish will be smart enough to fold themselves into a flan pan and jiggle jaggle their way onto your table and then attack! Flan is the cellulite of the treat world. I imagine that cosmetic surgeons practice vacuuming up flan out of hip-and-saddle bag shaped molds while they are wearing Swarovski-crystal-encrusted lab coats in a Santa Monica storefront clinic, or wherever they train.
Carrie Underpants Underwood, esp. anything anthemic; Hotel California on repeat; Eminem in his most complainy mode; that song FourFiveSeconds which causes a full system shut-down every time I am forced to hear it; the Pandora station my husband sometimes puts on that starts with Neutral Milk Hotel and then suddenly becomes just Nasal Nasal Nasal; various J.Lo.
One of those terry cloth tube tops with a towel bottom that people wore for a while in the early 2000’s,
So you see the stakes are low. I would be very easy to antagonize into a state of collapse. I would basically fail any attempt at SERE training (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape)… the military trainer would simply have to present me with various fish dishes.