I didn’t consider myself a person who had a lot of opinions about domestic stuff until this summer, when I had the good fortune to spend a week at two homes where the people in charge have dust ruffles on every bed. As I was about to leave each house, I was making a whole bunch of beds, and I kept accidentally shoving the dust ruffles up under the mattresses while tucking the regular sheets in, and the only way I could manage not to do that was to put one foot on the dust ruffle, hold the mattress up on my shoulder, and use my other foot and some spastic swiping motions to pull the sheets under the mattress and then drop it very quickly, scraping up my collarbone each time.
I do not understand dust ruffles. To use them, you have to acknowledge that there is a whole pile of dust under the bed and your decision is to drape it with an expensive but cheap-looking slippery tarp and sleep above it like it isn’t there, just because it’s under a skirt. I think we should either clean up the dust or sleep openly above the dust. I know that that is a repudiation of about six subcultures, not least that of WASPs, and that my constant acknowledgement of what is going wrong at any moment makes me tiresome to hang out with — for example, if you want to go see male strippers, invite me and I will ruin it for you (because it is like the patriarchy trying to self-objectify but, because they are wearing both thongs and combat boots, it doesn’t totally work and that confusion of prerogatives gets taken out, eventually, on some of the easier-to-lift audience members).
Anyway, I also used to think that eating at a restaurant was always better and more easeful than cooking at home, until I ate at Fire and Ice. Fire and Ice is a chain that bills itself as “interactive, and all-you-can-eat.” “Interactive” is code for “we are a lazy corporation with no point of view except that we do not want to pay a chef or develop a menu.” At Fire and Ice, you wander in to a “restaurant” and then go to a “market.” You fill a bowl with stuff from the market. The market offers ingredients for “Asian, American, Latin, or Italian” food. Then you move along to a sauce bar. Then you give it to some people at a circular fry grill and they “grill it up!”
And then you wander, dazed, back to a booth with your heap of hot garbage. It’s basically the idea of food in general, with no further clarity. It’s maybe what you’d eat before coming up with the idea of the Fyre Festival, or a film called “Boobies, Thongs, ’Splosions!”
We went there because it was handy to something else we were doing, and because I mistakenly thought it was, you know, a restaurant. We sat down and then were told to get up. We got big dishes and browsed through the market. It wasn’t clear to me what flavors might go together, and I briefly channeled my college self, the self that was convinced fusion in general was always going to work. I tried to stay in the Asian section, and started with soba noodles, but then it got confusing. Did I want rice and noodles? And for the toppings, should I pick the things I never bought at the store, or things I knew I liked?
I chose sunchokes, then sliced red bell peppers, tofu, a dog’s ear, some dried bees, selections from a tray of non-apologies (“I’m sorry if anyone feels offended by what I said”), doubled back for udon noodles, some eyeliner shavings, and then free-styled into the sauces section and got hoisin sauce, garlic, a petunia, all the baby teeth I keep in my jewelry box, chili paste, rhinestones, and the buckle from a trench coat belt. I looked for the smell of my brother’s old hockey bag but they didn’t have it, though they did have the hot breath of an old man at the bank. I got excited, and asked if I could top it all off with a translucent dragon egg so I could crack it over the whole damp mess and a little wrinkly tail could draggle off my plate.
Then what? Then! Then we joined a mob jockeying for position in front of the blazingly hot cooking surface.
They don’t even spring for one big Benihana-style table per dozen customers. You are just made to approach a circular fry table with your incoherent heap, and then wait behind a barrier. Teenage boys take people’s rice and pesto and lemongrass and carne asada and hamburgler parts and shuffle them around with metal spatulas that have so many layers and coatings of flavors that it’s just an all-flavor-everything zone. And because there is no order, you actually compete to give the boys your bowl, so everyone is jostling and it’s a cage match of inopportune flavors. No one looks thrilled like the people in the photo above. It’s just mingling and shuffling and elbowing and mingling and sweat. You are then directed to “enjoy your creations!” which is usually what toddlers at craft-centric birthday parties are told. “Slap that shit together and enjoy!” But really the kids just get glitter everywhere and make a cardboard thing with too much glue that goes and lives in the car forever.
When the teenage boys scrape your lemongrass beef cacciatore taco salad off the grill and back into your slippery bowl, it is immeasurably depressing. It’s like attending a wedding where you’ve been promised some self-penned wedding vows and, although your expectations are low, you are hoping for at least one reference to a rippling hot stallion and one acknowledgement of heavy drug use that is definitely way in the past now, but instead the couple just recites social media analytics as they enter into an extremely complicated commitment that is legal and emotional and physical and financial. “And then 75 people liked our Cabo photos in the first hour, and we got an open rate of 14% for our save the date email…” etc.
Eating your steaming pile of uncurated nonsense that has every flavor profile and therefore no flavor profile, you begin to drift across a steamy pond into a dead zone, but the pond is balsamic vinegar and your boat is tempeh, and it doesn’t work, and then you sink slowly into a situation where you are about to pay $37 apiece because neither of you had any portion control or sense of pricing, and whatever you thought you were going to do, well, you are not. You will spend the rest of the evening shitting your guts out. The goal therein may be for the Fire and Ice people to shrug off even more responsibility. If you are sufficiently weak and dehydrated and have a profoundly fresh understanding of how easily you throw away money, you may be lured by the invitation on THE LANDING PAGE of the website, which urges you to just take the fuck over and become a franchisee. Have you taken misery into your mouth and chewed it and accepted it into your insides? Well, here is a way to go deeper into that feeling. Present every sad sack on the street with so many options for a new vision of self-styled eating that never materializes that they too give up. Give up! Give in! Open a Fire and Ice.