January 2, 2015: Soup for Dayz, Day 2

Happy official New Year, my angels! Hope you rang it in exactly as you wanted (I was in bed at 10pm, per my usual NYE routine: rockstar) and here’s to 2015 being a year which brings you strength, joy, clarity and continued health. Always be grateful for what you have and who you are.

And of course, I broke my resolution to blog every day right exactly on New Year’s Day itself, but it was worth it. I finished a job application last evening after spending the day hanging out with my awesome neighbors; the latter being an especially delightful event from which I still feel energized today. There is nothing better than connecting with other people and having a good time and great conversation, nothing better at all (not even those three long, mentholated cigarettes we smoked, as a rare treat, frontin’ like bad kids!).

Back to the magnificent Soup fah Dayzzzz!

Now we’re on Day 2. This may even be a workday for you so you can do this second day of cooking after you get home from your job. The most time-consuming part has already been completed now that the base has been attacked; the next steps are building on that base and letting the flavors steep and develop.

Take the casserole out of the fridge and put it back under that really low flame, at a bare simmer. You’re not working for heat here: you are working for time and building cohesion. The soup will be in the form of a very concentrated stew, not taking up much room in the casserole; there may even be a coagulation of oil at the top, which is fine. Give another good round of spanking with some fresh ground pepper and cut up another lemon into 8 pieces, carefully removing seeds, and squeeze by hand into the soup. Add another half cup or so of water so to maintain the liquid content: those veggies need to stay nice and saturated. Use a wooden spoon to scrape down any errant pieces off the side of the casserole pot: get all the bits back into the mixture. Cover and let simmer at the lowest heat possible to ease it out of refrigerator mode.

Now we can start to add more ingredients, some which will be repeats. I prefer not to use carrots to the soup base because of the lovely sweetness they bring to cooking (you may want to, however, for that exact reason) but I will certainly add in those fab orange puppies now at this stage of the game. I use one large carrot, pared and then sliced into discs about ¼ inch think. I then cut each disc into tiny pie-shaped pieces. The smaller discs I just cut into halves or quarters, but the larger slices I will cut into eighths, sometimes even more: again, my theory is, the smaller the pieces, the greater the melody when it’s finished. The soup even looks nicer with all these tiny pieces, especially the carrots which add that pop of color. If you want, throw in more than one carrot, just make sure you chop it all down to size.

Also at this point, after I have added the carrot, I like to add in another onion flavor layer, perhaps maybe a bunch of gorgeous scallions: cut the white bulbs into thin slices and then separate all the little round rings (again, as always: tiny pieces are this soup’s best friend); chop the leaf greens finely, discarding any yucky bits but feel free to use as much of the leaves as you want, just make sure you chop them to oblivion. That’s one of the great things about this concoction, and any other homemade soup for that matter, you can use as much of your vegetables as possible.

Another option for this second round of onion-ation is to add any stinky bulb(s) you may have hanging around, even the proverbial half red onion wrapped in tinfoil that seems to live in all of our refrigerators. Yes, even if it is kinda old and sorta dryish: this soup’ll wake it right up and benefit from what is always dependable onion-osity. Discard the papery ends and top layer, because those do not cook well; I’ve tried because I hate to waste food but they don’t absorb the moisture. One option with those pieces is to pop them in the oven until they get crispy, not burned, to eat as a chip of sorts, but that’s really stretching the whole no-waste routine; sometimes some things just have to go straight to composting. With the usable onion you have left (and you know what I am going to say), chop it down to itty bitty, teeny weeny bits and then chop those down even more.

To cement this second day, let’s toss in more garlic, shall we? No such thing ever as too much garlic for this Queens girl. We don’t need another whole head here (but you could do that, if you want: and if you do, when are you having me over for dinner?) so you could use as few as two or three cloves although I suggest using at least five for this stage, especially if they’re not that big.

Here’s my lesson on garlic dicing: slice a clove into thin lengthwise discs, by standing it on its side and carefully cutting from top to bottom. Stack the discs, as many as you can; I can usually stack two to three at a time, sometimes more, if they’ll stay in line. Julienne those discs lengthwise into little sticks. Line up the tiny julienned sticks and cut those down crosswise, millimeter by millimeter, making a nice pile of garlic mulch and making sure to cut down any overly large pieces. Since we’re not cooking these directly in oil, as we did on Day 1, you want to make sure you have finely chopped these garlic segments to death, honey. Like to a consistency of grainy paste.

Throw in that garlic mulch, spank the black pepper grinder anew, stir the soup, wipe down any errant pieces with a wooden spoon, cover the pot and let this simmer for at least an hour, preferably closer to two hours. Check every twenty minutes, making sure the heat is as low as possible. Your home will smell awesome. After two hours, turn off the heat, let cool for about an hour and then pop back in the fridge.

Day 2 over! The mingle-ation continues as this soup keeps being heated and cooled while the days pass: just like with any fabulous dame, it just gets better and better with time. Directions on Day 3 are forthcoming, kittens…

A sad note from my wonderful borough of Queens concerning this exact subject: the home cooking of soup. There was a horrific fire in the LeFrak City housing complex in Corona which claimed three lives on Wednesday night, New Year’s Eve. Homemade soup meant to celebrate the incoming year was left unattended on the stove and caused a blaze which killed a middle-aged couple and their niece. My heart goes out to this family: there but for the grace of the universe go I and all of us chefs. Here’s to every one of us always being mindful of our cooking and never, ever leaving the home with any kind of unsupervised fire going, be it a candle or a low simmering soup. Even if you are running out of the house for only a minute during the cooking of, say, this amazing Soup for Dayz or any other wonderful creation: turn the fire off, blow the candle out. It’s never worth it to take that chance. Always be aware of an open flame and always, always take care, for your sake and your neighbors’ sakes.

The number one rule in the kitchen, above all, is safety. It ain’t gonna taste like anything if you’re not alive to eat it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014: Soup For Dayz, Day 1

This is the recipe for what I basically live on: it’s a hearty, vegetarian, salt-free stock with which I create meals. It’s cheap and healthy (xactly: just like me) and no-fail (yup: not like me at all). Even though I am providing some sort of a concrete process for the base, it, as well as the other stuff you throw in, can be played around with and you can use whatever you have in the fridge or whatever’s good and/or on sale at the market.

The base is a variation of a mirepoix or holy trinity, with celery and onion: I then add garlic at the last minute, instead of bell peppers or carrots, which I may or may not throw in later. The magic ingredient of this handiwork is time which you sneak in over the course of a few days. Many times, I’ll have one batch of this soup in the “build” stage on the stove and then another, more finished batch in the fridge, ready for chowtime. This soup does not go bad, it just gets better and better with time (again true: just like me).

My suggestion is to start this process on a lazy weekend morning or afternoon; you’ll need to tend to this for about three hours at its start and I suggest using a large 5 to 6 quart casserole pot for the cookage process. You’ll cook this for dayz, bunny: it tastes so much better, just like love, if it isn’t brand new.

DAY 1 – here’s what you need for the base:

1 big yellow or white onion, or two smaller ones

½ bunch of celery, give or take a few stalks – you want to have about the same amount of celery and onion

Chop these up as finely as you can bear: the finer the chop, the more potential for flavor so take your time, turn up some music and chop away; get it all down to tiny pieces – you’ll have roughly two cups or so of each vegetable. There’s nothing wrong with doubling this recipe, too; just bear in mind it may take longer to cook it all down.

In the casserole pot, gently heat up some olive oil on low heat for about a minute: use enough oil to generously coat the bottom of the pot, a good long pour; you can always add in more, as you need, since you don’t want your vegetables to burn or get dried out.

After that minute of heating the oil, add in the finely chopped onion and celery: the oil should never get too hot; you don’t want to shock or scald the veggies. Coat the celery and onion mixture, making sure all of it gets good and oiled; even add more olive oil if you need. Make sure your heat stays at an extremely low simmer, then top the mixture off with a good spanking of freshly ground black pepper (be generous because you won’t be using salt, so this will help the flavor as well as the cooking) and let this simmer, very low and covered, until the onions and celery get really soft. This will take some time; I let this go for well over an hour, usually close to two hours (remember: you won’t be eating this tonight, you are just building your base). Check on the mixture and stir every 15 to 20 minutes or so: make sure the heat stays super low and add more oil, if you need, to keep the mixture soft, and definitely feel free to re-pepper.

During this time, chop a half a head of garlic, about 10 – 12 cloves or so. If you are like me and living in a world where no such thing as too much garlic, use the whole dang head. Chop every clove by hand as finely as you can, itty bitty pieces, to almost a paste. Yes, it takes time so catch up on some crappy TV on your DVR and not feel guilty about it. Pretend each clove is an absurd old problem that you are literally cutting down to size. The finer the chop, the more tasty the final product: chop, chop, chop, chop and chop away with love in your heart.

After 90 minutes to two hours, your celery and onion (the dynamic duo for the time being) should be nice, soft and translucent: add a little more oil, pepper it up and stir for minute or two so that the added oil gets some heat.

We’re now about to enter phase 2: where the dynamic duo meets the superhero garlic and the angels above your head sing to the newly formed trinity.

Add in the garlic, stir well and stay put by the mixture. It’s important that the garlic not get burned or fried, so this phase only takes about two minutes, tops. Once you start to really smell the garlic, once all the fabulousness has been released by the heat after about a minute, give it another thirty seconds or so, stirring and smearing it all around, getting the celery and onion good and saturated with the miracle that is garlic.

Phase 3: another nice, long sleepy phase – add a little bit of water, like a half a cup or so, to this mixture no more than two minutes after you have added the garlic. You could even add white wine, if you’d like, for some zing. If you are a total cheater (and I ain’t hatin, playa), you could actually add some other stock, but it’s healthier if you stick to H2O because this will allow what you have slaved over to actually come through once you are finished. Believe me, it’s worth the wait. The addition of this liquid will allow the ingredients to continue to soften and mix.

Cut up a lemon into 8 pieces, making sure to remove all seeds. Carefully squeeze out each piece into the mixture, checking for and removing any errant seeds; squeeze out every last drop you can. You could use a juicer but I think you get more juice if you do this by hand; as well, there is something about the ceremony of squeezing, and chopping by hand. It just tastes better, in my opinion.

Phase 4: let’s call this mixture “soup” – we’ve earned the name and it certainly has by now. With both the water and lemon juice, the soup should be a nice and chunky dense mix. Add some more freshly ground pepper and let it continue to simmer, over that low heat, for another hour. Then turn the heat off, keep it covered and let it sit to cool enough to go into the fridge, for about another hour or so (no worries if this is longer: it’s not going to turn into poison if it doesn’t go into the fridge immediately after an hour).

Whew: Day 1 is ovah! Instructions for Dayz 2 and on are forthcoming.

Happy New Year, by the way! My resolution is to blog every day. Let’s see if that happens. I am just glad I finally started this thing this year and I am very excited to see what the next year brings. 2014 was the end of some stupid stuff for me so I bet 2015 will be the start of some not-so-stupid stuff, just like this post depicts the start of some not-so-stupid soup: the elixir of the earthling! Soup for DAYZZZZZZ!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014: Wheels

I geeked out over the sunset yesterday. And I may do it again today: second day here at my coolbeans temp gig, with three huge windows behind me plus it’s another slow day at the office, kids. As I write, glorious upon mcglorious roiling clouds are foaming up the New York skyline and, as this amateur photographer can tell you, clouds are a sunset lover’s best friends.

I failed photography as a class the only time I took it in the 7th grade: I handed in a portfolio of only three pictures; one was of a puddle with no reflection. The best thing I remember out of that class was my teacher Mrs. Lazar’s exclamation when she touched a very hot lamp: she bellowed out in agony, in front of us not-so-innocent thirteen-year-olds, “Jesus Christ on wheels!” The picture which instantly sprouted in my head was that of the savior of all Christians stumbling around on key-tightened roller skates; for some reason, my mind decided that Jesus would not have fared well on wheels. The phrase however could have also meant he was hell on wheels, a real pro, albeit probably not too thrilled to be referred to as “hell” on anything, maybe even not thrilled to be newly on wheels. Maybe it meant he was in a car, or driving a van of sorts, as long-haired guys did back when I was a teenager. Googling the phrase hasn’t unearthed much: Leonardo di Caprio seems to have said it in a movie (couldn’t tell which) and a person dissing Taylor Swift also used it in a blog comment. The fact that my photography teacher was in pain has always made me equate this phrase with something bad, or perhaps something that is just incongruous, like a man from the first century flailing about on metal skates. It’s a phrase that’s never left me: it was my photography education experience in a nutshell.

Until I got my iPhone in the fall of 2011.

That changed everything.

Oh you iPhone camera you: you little taker-of-exactly-what-I-am-looking-at, you. You’ve changed my life. You put Jesus Christ back on terra firma. Now, I get it: now, I understand what all the fuss over photographic documentation is all about. Now I am addicted to capturing, or at least trying to, all the beauty around me, the majority of which involves the setting sun. I had already been a big fan of witnessing the sunset, especially now that I live out here, in the sweet borough of Queens, where we gasp at that large yellow orb lowering like buttah through the slits of majestic buildings, creating a sharp dark, promising urban silhouette; night wakes up gorgeously over in our neck of the woods.

For years, I had already been hauling my fat cheeks down to Hunters Point, to darling Gantry Plaza State Park, to behold the kir-colored skies, to see the far off lane of airplanes line up so to march their descent along the span of the purple East River, towards one of our two airports. I had been instantaneously sprung: open air, low buildings and an expansive water view were not elements I experienced growing up in Manhattan, and the sight of so much light and play of color made my eyeballs and heart join hands and sing. I never considered I could capture on film what I saw with any justice; when vacationing, store-bought postcards always depicted foreign beauty much better than any crappy camera I had brought along. I had given up on trying, quite content with my own memories being an alternate self-camera, all the documentation I needed.

But for some reason, one evening down by the gantries, out on my favorite third pier, the one where you can look straight down 42nd Street, as the river lapped in the dusk breeze, I pulled out my iPhone and took a shot of the Chrysler and United Nations buildings, as they seemed to paint a path of metallic light on the water.

When I got home, I looked at it. “Not bad,” I thought. That first photo is now my phone screen saver, all golden reflection and cobalt twilight sky. And that’s pretty much all she wrote: I have never stopped taking photos since then, chasing the sunset whenever I can.

And yesterday, I was ridiculous. I didn’t need to chase it: an insane bloody sky, spectacular spreading and fast-moving clouds were right over my shoulder, here at the reception desk, where I find myself lucky to be temping. (Notice that I am blogging too: #thankfulforaquietweek) I literally sat on the office window radiator, something that no humble object should ever be subjected to. Gasping “god!” while sucking in my breath, muttering in tongues, drooling like I had found gold (I had, kinda: red, sunsetty gold), I craned my neck and torso, getting as close to the window glass as possible and took pic after pic after pic. I knew around 3:00pm that the day’s demise was going to be something special: it was the clouds. The clouds bounce the light, the clouds give reflection to absurd colors and those insane colors give me evidence of something so much greater than this world, than us, than this life.

The most incredible part of a sunset is the aching quickness with which it changes: it’s over before you know it so you shouldn’t take your eyes away for a second. When it’s at its most unbearably beautiful, when the whole world seems to be consumed by a violet glow, it’s suddenly gone, like a death. It’s over: it was so amazing, so devastatingly pure and now it’s gone, now it’s just growing darkness, ordinary and predictable night setting in, like a hungry in-law.

That’s why I take photos: to catch that moment, that moment when the sky is neither blue from air nor yellow from sun. I use my phone to cement proof that pink exists outside of flowers, that blood oranges live above us for a few seconds, that red flows when it’s not blood. I want to make the ephemeral last, I want to debunk natural order, I want to stop time. And I want to keep it, keep it with me always, take it off its wheels and make it stay a while.

ineffable malignity

The Newtown Pentacle

Holy Cow!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saturday last, one found himself aimlessly wandering down Skillman Avenue in Long Island City’s Degnon Terminal and towards the Smiling Hogshead Ranch. The community garden was deserted, of course, and offered one such as myself little succor. My uncharacteristic desire for the company of others thwarted, my languid steps began to scuttle towards the Waldes Koh I Noor complex, whereupon I discovered a herd of cattle. A single one of them was scarlet in coloration, which might have some significance to certain shunned societies which live amongst the Uigar of North Western China’s cold waste.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As has often been posited at this, your Newtown Pentacle, the native art form of the Borough of Queens is surely illegal dumping. Nowhere else do you see the sort of attention to detail, the little splashes of color, the artful composition and…

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Monday, December 29, 2014: Temping, Blogging, Hungry and Halves

I’m temping this week in a quiet office; I am filling in for the vacationing receptionist. It’s a beautiful day here in NYC: it’s New Year’s week so the city, or at least the office workforce city, is more calm and unpeopled than usual.

I haven’t blogged at all in the past month, even though I have so much on tap, in draft form, to post about my neighborhood, about racism, about my family, about food I love, about being alive and getting older. I’ve still been flirting with the Master Cleanse: not quite fully committed, which is typical of me, in so many ways. But I have been working out more, doing my crazy Bound Lotus yoga routine and fairing very well in keeping my ice cream consumption in check. I actually have a half pint leftover in my freezer right now (Bourbon Pecan Praline, limited edition Haagen Dazs: double thumbs up), evidence that I can actually from time to time be a normal person who doesn’t snort up a whole pint in one sitting.

In this office where I am temping, I can’t log into my Gmail account via their desktop nor can I even post anything on Twitter or Instagram on my iPhone, so shame on me for not having my own wireless access. I can, at least, check my email on my phone so I don’t feel like a total Flintstone but I am a lil itchy to post pics from this phat 32nd floor sunny view: I can see so far into Jersey, I bet I could almost make out Ohio but I’ll have to wait until the workday is over to attack the rest of my social media. Yet somehow, happily, I can connect to WordPress here, which I guess these guys don’t view as social media or as a site of general-screw-offedness, so that’s awesome. The universe is thusly directing me towards bloggage: onward!

It’s lunchtime, I’m hungry and there’s no free office food but that really is another blessing. It’s not the worst thing in the world if my broke large butt can’t scarf down Luna Bars I didn’t pay for. I am very happy instead to be sitting at the dreaded receptionist desk, writing and getting paid for just being here. My broke large butt serves a purpose if only by existing to these gentle folk who’ve hired me for this week so I shall choose to feel touched and lucky. Plus I have all those limes at home, just waiting to be squeezed, waiting to be used for the purpose of cleaning me out, giving me a recharge, challenging me to fight my laziness. Being hungry is good for me.

And I am lazy. I hate to admit that. I’m complacent. I’m content when stuff isn’t great. I’m fine if things don’t work out or if I fail or if I lose. I busy myself with delusions that the next great thing is around the corner and I distract myself by walking to the waterfront at Gantry Plaza State Park, taking pictures of Manhattan at sunset, thinking I am contributing something to my future by posting photos of pink skies on Instagram, by taking long walks, by just existing. Sort of like my being in this office right now. In my heart of hearts, half of me thinks I deserve more than I am willing to work for, which is absurd. Whether it’s my own arrogance or how I was raised or the insane comfort I have known on this planet as a white, educated American, this half of me has a slanted, almost collapsed view as every year sees more and more of my innate drive being chipped away by my laziness and complacency. I never got married or had kids because of my inertia. That, and my ridiculous theory that something better is always looking for me so I shouldn’t make any drastic moves; I should just sit tight and wait for the grand reward to fall from the pink sky. This is the half of me I need to leave behind: this is the half of me that doesn’t live in the truth.

The other half of me is much darker but also more urgently poised, more alive really. This other half is the half that knows I am quite mediocre and isn’t surprised when someone is mean or rude to me; this is the half that is insecure, on the edge, alone, a little muddied. This half of me is angry, wants more, feels frustrated by the first half’s yawning slothfulness: this half can’t believe what the other half does or thinks. This half is sick of rolling through the other half’s life, with bits of ice cream and Thai food flying off the crooked, squarish wheels of its apparatus.

This second half is where my energy lives despite the fact that my self-hatred has planted a few nubby roots: this second half cares deeply, feels deeply. It is irritated: things count to it. It’s not satisfied. It’s yelling at me. It’s hungry. And it doesn’t want ice cream.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014: Master Cleansification and Anniversaries Today

I AM EASING my flabbo caboose back again into the Master Cleanse.

I need to. I have been indulging a lot lately and although it’s certainly all been worth it, every bite and quaff, I need to take a break. I’ve been so out of control lately, my clothes are tight. It will be good to pause, step away from the fridge, stop swiping on GrubHub and regroup; I always appreciate my breaks.

Right now, having last night indulged in that spectacular sweet sausage salad from Mamu Thai on 36th Ave and 36th St (their new shiny fall menu just went live last week!) plus those 2 pints of ice cream I’ve downed in the past 3 days, it is time for me to return to the Master Cleanse: my old friend. It’s been a few months since I last did it; I usually don’t go this long without doing it, it’s such a good balancer for me so I’m looking forward to getting back on the wagon.

It is my habit to do the Master Cleanse with some regularity, even if only for half a day at a time, breakfast and lunch. Most likely, though, before long, I take it to a full day, and then graduate to lasting more than one full day. The best effects happen for me if I last about three or four days. Then I get really hydrated and really clean.

I love this cleanse, I recommend it, but I also tweak it. Traditionally, the Master Cleanse involves adding two parts freshly squeezed lemon juice to one part grade B maple syrup (alleged to be richer in minerals and other nutrients than its grade A brethren), plus a smidgey pinch of cayenne pepper to a tall glass of water. The major substitution for me is using limes instead of lemons; no other food is to be consumed but you can drink as much of this juice as you want during the day.

This concoction is also referred to as lemonade since the Master Cleanse is sometimes called the Lemonade Diet. Its most famous user Beyoncé lost ten pounds on it for her role in Dream Girls. Internet searches on Master Cleanse surged after her performance: junkies were born, me included. One famous practice-r planted a lemon tree orchard on her Southern California property in order to have fresh citrus on hand (which is so not like me, what with my dozens of discount Northern-Boulevard-bought limes, frozen as juice in washed out salsa jars in my freezer).

My super secret-not-secret weapon, even more so than the tangy limes, is the use of a ton of cayenne because it is the cayenne pepper that does the cleaning, baby bears: use as much as you can stand. I use a lot, like close to a teaspoon with each glass.

Because for me, cayenne pepper is the magic ingredient of the Master Cleanse; it is the fast-paced vehicle responsible for literally yanking toxins out of my muscles, I swear that’s what it feels like. A good dose of cayenne seems to pull out all the tar of my ingested evils from my very cell membranes. I feel it, as crazy as it sounds: I feel my body let go of its poisons as the cayenne hits my system.

And I do love my poison, girl: all 19 of them. I love cans of local craft beer, pints of artisan ice cream, red meat, really good Thai takeout. I balance it out with raw vegetables (that’s the rule with takeout: must be accompanied by many raw greens) and pounding as much water as I can remember to drink. But, boy do I love my rich foods, my desserts and my drink or two. I can’t do it bigmeal and alkydrinky every day, which is a really good thing. I pay for each of my sins, I don’t like to overindulge: everything I ingest comes with its own price, its own consequence.

If I have too much beer, I suffer insanely the next day. I can’t have more than two a night: it’s tempting to have more sometimes, but the payment, the hangover and lack of sleep, gets worse with every day lived. It’s just not worth it: better to stick to the rules. My insides, my soul and stomach, though, are attracted to being bad; I like decadent stuff, I just can’t manage a ton of it so it feels best to balance. I realize it’s truly a gift that I can’t tolerate too much playtime, too much booze, too much overeating. I always say I drink the way an alcoholic wishes they could: I feel the buzz immediately upon consumption and the best buzz happens when I stop at one drink. My body craves the opposite of playtime as much as it craves actual playtime. For that alone, I am lucky.

My body loves the Master Cleanse, it loves this cleaning, these days when I need not partake in amazing Mamu Thai sweet sausage salad with sticky rice, a cold small can of SixPoint The Crisp (or two). I’ll miss these things. But I’ll enjoy them better, later on in the week, wearing clothes that won’t be as tight.

THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE happened on this day 36 years ago, November 18, 1978: Congressman Leo Ryan was shot dead along with 4 other people on a Guyanese airstrip, and then one of the worst mass killings of Americans on foreign soil happened a few miles away, deep in the South American jungle. The assassination of Ryan is to date the first and only murder of an active congress member; it was an unprecedented event on its own but was then almost overshadowed by the 900 other deaths which occurred on that day, in that jungle. Some people were shot by crossbow arrows, some killed by guns, some by lethal injection, some duped to consume a concoction of FlavorAid mixed with cyanide by order of religious leader and Jonestown founder Jim Jones.

The story goes, per the culturally iconic punch line, these people all lined up willingly to “drink the KoolAid” and blindly follow their leader to death, but that’s not fully the whole truth or the whole story at all, not even the KoolAid part; the joke even gets the brand name wrong. No one these days knows much about Jonestown or Peoples Temple. It’s a story we stopped telling very quickly afterwards, other than judgmental one-liners referencing that powered beverage. We remember the drink, we remember the name Jim Jones; we care to remember or know little else.

But not me: I know a lot about Jonestown. It’s a story that never left me; I’ve done a ton of research, bought out-of-print books on eBay and Amazon. One day, when I have time, I’ll write a book about it. Too many people don’t know about it, it’s an extraordinary and unbelievable American story.

IT IS ALSO MY fierce friend MP’s birthday. She is such a badass: she is but initials.

Thursday, November 13, 2014: SigNotUre and Initials

I GOT MY new SAG/AFTRA membership card in the mail today. It’s always an issue when I have to write my brontosaurus signature on the back of any new plastic card, membership, credit or otherwise. I end up practicing on the back of a piece of paper I’ve already lined up for shredding: on it, I execute my signature several times, ’til it flows easily out of me, so I won’t blow it on the actual SAG membership card, which of course I’ve done in the past and such action has left scars.

My signature has been a source of ridicule from my family for years. Yes, it is illegible, unlike the signatures of my mother with her gorgeously chubby and curvy script, cleanly spelling out her name or of my sister Helen, whose linear, elegant, black piano-key-esque autograph almost echoes written music on white paper.

But I, the only other female in our family, have an unfeminine wipe of a signature: I start my first name, penning its capital C as coming out of the gate like some sort of tidal wave rising over the spewed-out snake of its subsequent letters, the whole word projectiled out, like old used beer. Other than the screaming C, the first letter, all the other characters in my first name aren’t even close to being recognizable as actual letters.

I open my last name with a huge whirl of an M, and then end with the cushion I create out of the Y’s under-loop, it being the very last letter of my name. In between these two curlicues, these two statement letters M and Y, like as had been with my first name, there is just a mess of a field, no comprehensible letters, instead an inky flat plane.

I’m good at framing, as I try to do with my photos, so my signature has a commanding beginning, a distinct middle and a rolled-up end. You could sit on my signature’s end, that loop, it’s solid, final and large.

My signature is three points: the first letter C, then that M followed by the Y. More like a drawing, three points, not writing. Three defining pops, three distinguishable forms.  The rest is road, flat ink, not distinguishable, not legible.

“No one can tell what your name is.” My mother squints when she sees me sign anything.

“Ugh, I’m aware you feel that way, Mom. But my name is already printed on the card, so they can tell my name.”

Because this,” I continue, pointing to the signature, while my quick glance confirms what I’ve written still looks like a scritchy map, “This is how I write my name and this is what it’s always looked like, Mom, for years.  For years.  It’s not going to change.”

My indecipherable signature is certainly consistent, so if you are the cashier who’s checking to see if what I’ve scrawled on the receipt matches what’s been inked on the back of my Amazon Points Visa Card, you’ll see it’s got to be me who signed both. My signature may be a mess, but it’s a unique and consistent mess and those three loops are hard to replicate.

And isn’t that really the most important part of a signature, most specifically as a means of identification, like a fingerprint: doesn’t it all come down to consistency? The name of the game must be regularity of product execution: your signature must always look the same every time you scratch it out. And mine always does look the same: every time I wrist out my autograph, my hand always swings out those same arcs, knowing those same sweeps: the camber never loses any humps. Even those practiced autographs for my SAG card, soon shredded, were still consistent, still had those main characteristics.

The electronic signature at the grocery check-out seems especially sensitive to these characteristics, those loops; I smash and splatter the plastic pen in circles against the blue screen after having said “credit” to the sweet pea who’s packing my bags at the Food Bazaar; I swirl out my signature.

No electronic screen has ever had any problem with my signature I keep meaning to tell my mother.

 

HOUSE OF DVF on E! is not to be missed simply because of Madame Diller herself, the shining, leeeeeeegendary Diane Von Furstenberg.

Miss DVF has spent decades not just designing dresses, hunnay, but also teaching my gender how to make it all look easy; when I was 12, I devoured the first edition of her 1976 bestseller The Book of Beauty, which I copped from the Book of the Month Club; at the time, I was shapeless, inflamed but very hopeful.  She offered hints on eating well, managing stress, taking off makeup, putting it back on.  I’ve been acquainted with all that is Furstenbergilicousness since back in the day, girl.

And Miss Diana alone is enough for me to watch this show: she enters a room like liquid gold, a contented grin never far from her wide-eyed and high-cheekboned kind face; her honeyed skin stretches her long neck and smooth shoulders, she is more dancer than grandma, always wearing a dress.

Easy to watch.