Things my brain ate and loved

Instead of lying here in bed at dawn compulsively composing then deleting mind-emails to personal heroes that will strike the exact right tone of non-cloying self-effacement and non-obsequious flattery that will move them to consider blurbing (awful word) my book, I thought I would write about my dinner, and some other things I consumed yesterday.

(A note before I start, though, that the insomniac nature of this endeavor is making me even more sensible than usual to the innate borders of my thinking and writing capabilities.  For weeks or maybe months now a particular quarter-articulated idea has been gestating in my brain and at this point it’s starting to seem like it will remain there, like um some dead unexpelled idea-fetus, forever.  Do you ever feel like this, like you are sort of almost but not quite up to synthesizing the information that’s in front of you?  I’m talking about that frustrating, tantalizing feeling of being almost smart enough to crack the code, but not quite.    Also it seems like stimulants (all my high-strung nerves can handle is a tiny amount of coffee) mask this feeling while depressants simultaneously exacerbate it and, at the right dosages, make you forget the feeling exists.  Maybe my 5am brain is my true brain.  Scary thought.)

Anyway, for dinner a friend and I went to Minetta Tavern.  We were celebrating her raise.  She has been working in book publishing now, on and off but mostly on, for eight years.  She is making more money now than ever before; she is making $36,000 a year, as opposed to the $28,000 a year she made at her first job out of college.    Oh, beautiful city of dreams!    Minetta Tavern was her boss’s recommendation; he said it would probably be busy but they would maybe be able to seat us at the bar.

This restaurant is one of those places whose popularity has coincided with the popularity of ‘Mad Men.’  A famous restaurateur or celebrity comes and refurbishes some “Old New York” dump’s interior and menu while retaining its exterior neon and interior low-ceilinged loucheness and thereby immediately creates an environment where rich and impecunious people can be nostalgic for something they’ve never experienced outside premium cable.  I’m not hating on these places.  I like a dark Marasca cherry in the bottom of my Manhattan; I don’t even mind that my Manhattan costs $14.  But I guess I am not around the fur-wearing, plastic-surgeried, heavily made-up type of restaurant patron often enough that I’m inured to the weirdness of these people’s ways (such as: they don’t seem actually at all to care about food? I saw a man remove the restaurant’s signature burger from its bun and eat it with a knife and fork. He entirely ignored his fries; we are talking about some pretty extraordinary fries here; I wanted to reach over and grab them.  First up against the wall, that guy.)  Also, the last time I was around these people often enough to become inured to their ways, I was on the other side of the being-served equation.  For a few months just before 9/11 (sorry, but that is when it was) I worked at a very “Old New York” steakhouse; at the time I was a vegetarian.  By October I wasn’t, but I no longer worked at the steakhouse.  Thinking of all the delicious beef scraps I could have eaten at staff meals still fills me with regret.

Indeed, there were seats — miraculously, it seemed, since they opened up the moment we walked in — at the bar.  We sat down and the bartenders made little napkin-placemats for us with a flourish, then chatted with us in a leisurely way about what we’d like to eat.  They wore blinding-white uniforms and all looked like off-brand knockoffs of actual Mad Men characters, like, “Roger Sterling-Plated.”    They subtly discouraged the cashmere-sweatered, polo-shirted young men behind us from leaning in over our heads to place their drink orders; this met with mixed results when, at one point, one of these fellows spilled half his martini down the back of the woman sitting next to me.  She was unfazed; she seemed not to feel the beads of moisture through her shirt, or maybe she’d already had a couple of $14 cocktails herself (they are excellent value, potency-wise).

We ate giant chilled shrimp served with artichoke hearts of a bed of “coral vinaigrette.” I belie my secret food non-expertise here when I say that I have no idea what was in this genius quasi-remoulade but it was very slightly spicy, astringent, and so good.  I had been skeptical about my friend’s decision to order the unprepossessing “dressed beets;”  at this point you can get a decent salad of beets and chevre anywhere (and for a long time I made a version of this salad at least weekly at home; it’s weird how we go through phases with foods where we wear ourselves out on dishes like we do with a favorite album).  But this version was different; there was something in the smear of chevre under the beets that gave the dish an unusual dimension of nuttiness, and it wasn’t just because of the walnuts that topped the salad.  Maybe it was walnut oil, or just the quality of the cheese?  Weirdly it reminded me of the “red eye gravy” at Momofuku Ssam which, I almost wish I didn’t know this, is a euphemism for “coffee mayonnaise.”  (I would eat a Dannon-yogurt-sized container of it by itself, probably).

Our main courses, beef marrow bones and steak frites, were very good but unremarkable (except in terms of the quality of the fries, which I have already remarked on).  We had switched to beer at this point.  I pushed through the crowds in the front of the restaurant to make my way back to the ladies’ room.  I didn’t see anyone who I knew enough to recognize as a celebrity but I did see several young women on dates with old men.  Or maybe I’m being unfair and jumping to conclusions and it is somehow Parents’ Weekend at NYU, though I think they are probably still on break.

On the way home on the subway I finished reading “My Lost City” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I had never read it before.  (Bennett gave me his copy of “The Crack-Up” over Christmas.)  “My experience of being young and hopeful and then disillusioned in New York City” is a very specific genre of essay, a sort of hard-to-fuck-up genre of essay if you want to be unkind about it, because your audience is already so poised to have “omg me toooo” feelings.  But this essay is also a pinnacle of something besides that genre.

Reading it I had the thought of, it would be funny if the This Recording kids were to put it up with just a few alterations to obscure anachronisms, under somebody else’s byline — it would probably read just like a This Recording essay and everyone would be fooled.  Then I got home to find that they had!  Well, not really.  But this summing-up of the aughts by Alex Carnevale is a very good example of the genre I just mentioned, a great one, actually, and a textbook example, if you needed one, of what the Internet can do (via, basically, just juxtaposing text and music and pictures, I know that sounds pedantic but I’m trying to preach to the unconverted here a little).

Another manifestation of what the Internet can do/ recent obsession is the Firmuhment tumblr.  This is an example of someone who is using Tumblr “wrong” (while still being, or at least pretending to be, caught up in its addicting popularity-contest aspects) but actually using the blog form completely right — counterintuitively, in this case, by refusing to participate in the conventions (linking out, linkability, dashboard-feedability) we now expect of blogs.  And the writing and the feelings, those are good too.

I have also become totally obsessed with the Luxirare food and clothing blog.  This woman “Ji” constantly fields questions from commenters who want to see her obsessive, bizarre, high-concept food and clothing creations, which she photographs with magazine-quality production values, turned into something they recognize as the next level of notoriety — a magazine, a cookbook, a TV show.  She rebuffs them by saying that the Internet is her medium of choice; there are things she can do there that she can’t do elsewhere.  It’s a little weird to me that at least some of these things haven’t been forced upon her a little bit anyway; if I were a fashion or even a New York magazine editor I would make WHO IS JI? a cover story.  But aside from my curiosity about how she affords it all (though I guess she has mentioned, half-jokingly, a trust fund),  I am not remotely skeptical about her strategy.

11 comments to Things my brain ate and loved

  • Meghan

    I now simultaneously hate and love you for introducing me to Luxiraire.

  • emily

    You’re welcome! Ha. I know *I* have sat for hours trapped in a Luxirare k-hole, reading every single post.

  • Stephanie

    Yes thank you for the introduction. Would love to see more recs like this.

  • OMG, what steakhouse. I worked briefly at the original Palm on Second Avenue with ancient Italians and was basically scarred for life (in sort of a good way).
    Also: Have you read ‘My Misspent Youth’ by Meghan Daum? In my opinion, one of the best of the Disillusionment in New York genre.

  • emily

    @Claire Keen’s! And yes, I love Meghan Daum and I love that book.

  • KM

    If you like Luxirare, you’ll love FaceHunter. Its a street style blog. Its in French, but basically just pictures of people on the street who’s style she likes.

  • fs

    I assume you’re familiar with Luc Sante’s entry into this genre as well.

  • Tim

    $14 martinis, yikes! I’m glad I don’t drink (or smoke) anymore. Being straight may be boring and make me less interesting, but it saves me $20 per day.

  • anon

    what’s your opinion on this?

    So you want to be a writer by Charles Bukowski

    if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
    in spite of everything,
    don’t do it.
    unless it comes unasked out of your
    heart and your mind and your mouth
    and your gut,
    don’t do it.
    if you have to sit for hours
    staring at your computer screen
    or hunched over your
    searching for words,
    don’t do it.
    if you’re doing it for money or
    don’t do it.
    if you’re doing it because you want
    women in your bed,
    don’t do it.
    if you have to sit there and
    rewrite it again and again,
    don’t do it.
    if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
    don’t do it.
    if you’re trying to write like somebody
    forget about it.

    if you have to wait for it to roar out of
    then wait patiently.
    if it never does roar out of you,
    do something else.

    if you first have to read it to your wife
    or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
    or your parents or to anybody at all,
    you’re not ready.

    don’t be like so many writers,
    don’t be like so many thousands of
    people who call themselves writers,
    don’t be dull and boring and
    pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
    the libraries of the world have
    yawned themselves to
    over your kind.
    don’t add to that.
    don’t do it.
    unless it comes out of
    your soul like a rocket,
    unless being still would
    drive you to madness or
    suicide or murder,
    don’t do it.
    unless the sun inside you is
    burning your gut,
    don’t do it.

    when it is truly time,
    and if you have been chosen,
    it will do it by
    itself and it will keep on doing it
    until you die or it dies in you.

    there is no other way.

    and there never was.

  • Tim

    @ anon – Charles Bukowski is/was really Larry Flynt.

  • Ji Yun

    I love the blog you introduced!
    probably she is a korean and Ji is the first or second half of her first name (like I am and like how my name is).

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