Wednesday, January 18, 2006

against analysis; for appetite

I probably said too much last night. But I used to be known (and good) for that. So, let's just chalk it up to rediscovering my personality that was a little bit blunted while living in a foreign country.

It was my first dinner party with P's PhD pals. A couples party. So there was the PhDers and the significant others: one an artist (pregnant), one an architect (self-employed) and me.

Dinner was great. A salad of snow pea shoots with a roasted shitake and a great dressing, followed by a pasta with spicy Italian sausage and broccolini finished off with an apple crumble with dulce de leche ice cream. But dinner conversation kept drifting to the boring (counter top treatments, kitchen finishes). Of course that meant that P and I tried to spark it up.

At one point we began discussing how D & A were living in a trailer along the river upstate and commuting down.

"A trailer trailer?" I asked. "A manufactured home?"
"Yep," D said, nonplussed.
"Not an airstream? We can count out the hipster value; nothing kitch about it?"
"No we thought it was an airstream until we got there..." and he continued on a little about how it's not so bad, quite large enough for them. Their cats love it, etc.
"Is it a single wide?"
"Oh, I grew up in a single wide. It's not so bad."

All eyes turn to me. It's one of those moments when you know that you're supposed to be a member of a certain class, a certain group, so that others feel like they can talk freely and reveal prejudices or say cute things that they would never say in front of that group if they knew they were present. You know like white people do about minorities when they're not around (it happens) or rich liberals do about people on welfare.

So I kept on, explaining how both sisters live in double-wides and P was able to experience his first and how plush they really are.
"Except hollow, step too hard and you think you'll put your foot through the floor."

And then I did something I would never have felt comfortable doing with four nearly complete strangers facing me: I gave a reductive explanation of the world.

"There are two types of people around here. Those that are born into nice things, know them and take them for granted. And then there are those that are born without knowing much of anything and they spend their time gobbling up as much as they can so they can learn what the others are talking about."

Little laughs as people try to figure out how they fit into the equation.

"I'm, of course, one of the latter. I mean I never saw real garlic or used actual olive oil until I got to college. It was all garlic salt, galic, vegetable oil."

Nods of understanding, quiet. We continued with dinner.

In fact it's an idea I've been thinking about quite a bit lately, partly sparked by an essay written in Swink called, "Against Connoisseurship," by Ginger Strand. In it she discusses how on the path from "naif to sophisticate" you lose something, when you know that there's a "right thing" to like, then you stop liking it for an intrinsic value and start "appreciating" it for its commonly understood value. That's me trying to condense a very well written essay into a couple of sentences, but really what got me was this gobbling impulse.

In the beginning, us unsophisticates know there are good things out there and we just gobble gobble gobble it all up. But eventually we get to a point where we have to start making personal value judgements. Do I like this because I'm supposed to or because I sincerely do like it? I've been facing this (especially living with an architect with an "eye" for things and a vocal voice of criticism) quite a lot lately. And in NY it's only getting worse. When you start bumping into the bigtime connoisseurs, they try to diminish you even more and even more effectively.

But then I also read an article about chefs and how well their children eat in the NYTime's Magazine. And somehow this all began to coalesce into something larger, this world of tastes and things great and small, good and not so good. But for some reason I'm beginning to own up to my humble beginnings, am open about my prior Velveeta mac & cheese passions (although I don't eat it anymore -- too scared what's actually in that "cheese) and happy to say that I want to appreciate the good things in life but still have an appetite for all that stuff that never fails to make me who I am.


At 8:01 PM, Blogger a said...

I have been in your place so many times. When I try to explain to people that I had never had real butter or cheese that wasn't wrapped in cellophane until I was in college, they look at me like I have three heads. The same happens when I tell them I lived in a trailer park in junior high, but I always quickly add that we moved up to a double-wide when I was in high school. I think people are shocked that anyone gets out of a trailer park.

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Guillem said...

That essay sounds interesting. Any chance to read it online?
I've often thought about that process of learning and shaping taste or, at a bigger scale, personality, since that's what we're talking about. You learn to like - to appreciate - and what you like (and therefore buy or touch or suck or just admire) makes you who you are. Or maybe it's the other way around. But at the same time "thinking" and "liking" can be such contradictory verbs...

I'm not making any sense. I spent all the morning trying to figure out an original way to kill Angela in the soap...

oh well

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

every now and then, you should eat Velveeta. I do. If you just eat it every now and then, then the bad stuff - the chemicals and carcinogens - can't build up in your system and do any damage to you. Also, it's tasty; I had some last night in fact.
Plus the best part, besides the taste, is that you remind yourself of your origins. It's like you're slumming, but you're OK with slumming. It doesn't diminish your sense of worth, and can in fact reinforce it because you can say, I eat Velveeta and I'm OK with that. That is all. Michael Wall

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Dee said...

Those poor people had no idea what they were getting into.

When I was young and lived in a singlewide trailer, D. H. Lawrence would come to me and say, "And how can any man be free without a VELVEETA of his own, that he belives in and won't sell at any price?"

At 4:34 AM, Anonymous Glenn said...

I don't often mention the trailer home history either. I often wonder how I'm revealing myself as a fraud at a party.

If you're really avoiding the Shells and Cheese, try Amy's Organic, as it is as tasty, plus has the hoity-toity factor.

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Dee said...

Strand's essay raises interesting questions, but YOU, Potty, you so contraDICKtory! Just a little while, ago, you was all, "Access! Access!" and now you is all, "Singlewides! Mac 'N' Cheese!"

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Jerry said...

I should confess my love for velveeta really comes from the block that my mom used to make homemade mac & cheese. To this day it is the creamiest, best mac & cheese I've EVER had. And that's saying a lot since my mom isn't all that much of a cook and I've eaten at a lot of meat & threes in my day (and starch is normally what you get as one of those threes).


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