Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Cure for Dying

I pick at death like a scab. Well, not entirely like a scab—no relief comes, there's no satisfaction in it. But I do pick at it. I direct my attention to eternity every now and then. And when I do, something that was previously sealed up nicely bleeds and stings. I feel that dizzy fear, that forever fear, the fear that nothing can heal.

No, that's not right. Life is a scab, not death. The distraction of every day life forms a protective coating. Death is the blood that flows forth when I scratch.

Mike says he's afraid of suffering, of pain, but this is not my fear. This is far too rational. For Alek and Rachel, it's life's meaninglessness, the fact that all of this will eventually be dust. I see their point, but no, that's not what scares me either. My particular manner of fearing death feels inherited, inherited from my people, the Jews. It's a whiny, anxious fear, a fear that wrestles with life's basic premise.

This is what scares me about death: not pain, not suffering, not being forgotten, but of being left somewhere forever. And when forever is over, more forever after that. It's the windowless waiting room I sat in as a child when I accompanied my grandma to a doctor's appointment. There were no Highlights magazines, no toys, no light from the outside world. Just green chairs and ugly adults and an oppressive air of resignation. If my mom was there, I'd be complaining vociferously. Instead I sat in itchy, uneasy silence, poised to claw my skin off.

I waited for 20 minutes while my grandma visited with her doctor. That's it—there's nothing more to the story. But children are as animals, lacking the experience to distinguish actual threats from imagined ones. Like a cat yowling in its carrier, I wasn't sure anyone would ever come to retrieve me. I genuinely believed this was my life now, sitting in the waiting room among the gray borings. That, however silly, is how I picture death.


After living most of my 31 years with this fear—a fear that I accepted as the burden of consciousness, an inevitable shadow—it recently occurred to me that my fear was misplaced. What I was afraid of this whole time was life, of what it would be like to live forever. The whole point of death is that you don't have to experience it. You're not there during that long forever. The only way to experience that would be to not die. If forever is what scares you, death is the good guy, the one who rescues you from your fears. How kind of death to obligingly play the bad guy, to accept my scorn and derision when all the while he was the one protecting me.

The fear that nothing can heal. Yes, nothing can heal it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

treatise on textures


Cornbread is the opposite of oysters. Cornbread is gritty, all those little grains of meal like footholds for your tongue. Tongue-holds. You feel the individual grains dissolving at different rates, and it's as if you could taste the twinkling night sky.

Oysters are nothing like this, of course. Oysters are a fog of sex and seaweed; they make me forget who I am. Cornbread's grit gives you something to hold onto, oysters are slippery and hard to fathom.

Most viscosity is disgusting: think of the quivering translucence of under-fried egg white or the loathsome semen of someone you don't love.

Now think of the semen of someone you do love: no less disgusting, but you love it in all its disgustingness. Love doesn't overcome disgust; it includes it. This is how it is with oysters.


I used to live around the corner from a fancy chocolate shop run by an old French man: a Frenchman. Chocolate was his passion and he read your confectionary palate like it was your palm. The first time I visited, he laid out five squares of chocolate on the marble countertop and watched as I tasted each one. I don't remember the first four, but the final square I will never forget: it had the texture of sand.

Tell me your favorite, he said when I finished. I pointed to the sandy one. Ah, he said knowingly. That means you are impatient. Most chocolate contains an emulsifying agent, which slows its disintegration to convey an impression of melting. The chocolate you chose contains no emulsifier—it dissolves quickly on the tongue. You sacrifice butteriness for instant gratification.

That's not what I like about it, I protested. Without emulsion, each individual particle of chocolate is perceived separately. It cackles! It's more interesting.

No, he said. That's simply another way of describing speed.


I enjoy voices. They're what I remember best about old boyfriends. Niko's voice tasted squished. Not squishy, but pressed, as if it was being run through a panini press and you could hear the cheese gasp and the bread brown. Galen's voice was so lovely, with its rounded words like intricate hollow objects, or piping with water trickling through. And Tyler had a pop-goes-the-weasel voice, with all sorts of crackling surprises that made me blush and demur and look on in awe.

Mike's voice is like an airplane. It's cold metal but there's an engine behind it.


I was at a sushi restaurant in LA a couple of months ago, and a plate appeared with a beautiful iridescent shell. It looked like I should put it on my ear. I turned it over and lifted up the little disc that covered the opening, and a jet black length of snail came spiraling out. I didn't eat it.

I have a history with snails. I worked on a farm for a year after college, and we were always finding snails on the lettuce. We flung them into the dirt, until someone got the idea of collecting them for dinner. All the snails we found that day were placed into a sealed container with some cornmeal to purge them of funk and improve their flavor. There they remained, day after day after day. None of us could muster the courage to cook them.

One night, we were having a late night cavort, sitting in our little outdoor kitchen drinking whiskey and looking at the moon. “I have to go to bed,” I said—I was always the first one down. Tyler sensed a rigidity in me that I could tell he was desperate to break.

“You don't have to do anything, Lindsay,” he said with eyes aglow. “You can stay up all night and go for a run on the beach at dawn. You can even eat a snail.”

The plastic container was on the shelf just beside him. He reached for it and plucked out a specimen. He held it an inch from his face, and after a brief hesitation, slurped the snail from its shell. Then he took a shot of whiskey and ate another.

I couldn't eat the snail—not that night, and not any night. The texture of snails, I know without eating them, is like the inside of your body. You don't often encounter the inside of your body, but think about your eye, now think about peeling back your skin and everything underneath is all eye, one big continuous eye with rivulets and folds. I can't.

Monday, January 30, 2017

My Oatmeal

I will share with you my special method for eating oatmeal. I cook it the night before with a little bit of miso paste. Miso contains enzymes which break down the starch in the oats, and if allowed to sit at room temperature overnight, a bowl of oats inoculated with miso will turn sweeter and milkier than any you've ever had.

It has to be the right kind of miso, the young kind, it won't be any good at all if you use aged and salty miso. Young miso is sweet and light, like butterscotch almost, which I don't like. I don't like sweets, but I do like it when things that aren't meant to be sweet are sweet. Like bacon, salad dressing, scrambled eggs next to pancakes when you purposely let some of the syrup touch the curds. Or just scramble them with sliced dates as they do in the Middle East. Other cultures seem to understand better about commingling their sweets and their savouries.

The oats: steel cut, always. I let them bubble away on the stove for half an hour or so, then turn off the heat and let them cool just a bit before I add the miso. The oats always congeal as they cool, but when I stir in the miso they loosen back up again as the enzymes begin to act immediately. The effect is quite magical, and I often call Mike in to witness it. When the miso is sufficiently mixed, I cover the pot, lick the spoon, and leave them be.

In the morning I re-heat the oats and prepare the following accoutrements:

  1. A ripe banana, cold from the fridge. I leave half on the counter for Mike to add to his cereal when he wakes up. The other half I cut into slices and fan them out in a small rectangular tupperware (this container allows me to easily capture each banana slice by trapping it between my spoon and the vertical wall).
  2. Black sesame, ground over the sliced bananas from a spice mill.
  3. Salt after the sesame—salt is very good on a ripe, sweet banana.
  4. Walnuts—toasted, of course. Walnuts are better than almonds or really any other nuts, and nothing goes better with bananas than walnuts, except maybe salt. And these, these aren't just any walnuts. I make them in a very particular way, which anyone who tastes them says are the best walnut they've ever had. I break up my magic walnuts one by one and arrange them atop the banana slices according to size—larger walnut pieces on thicker banana slices and so on. When all the bananas have their walnut I remove one final walnut from the jar and set it ceremoniously atop Mike's banana half. If he happens to wake before I've left home, he'll try to goad from me another walnut. I usually acquiesce, but it pains me.
By now the oatmeal is hot. I take the long handled spoon I have been borrowing from a Korean restaurant for about seven years and peel off a wisp of butter. Then I hold the spoon over the bowl and pour just enough maple syrup to come to the lip of the spoon. Next, I pour the steaming oats into the bowl and stir so the butter and syrup dissolve. That is the preparation.

This is the eating: I set before me the bowl of oats and the tupperware with the bananas. I spoon up one walnut-topped banana slice and dip it into the hot oats briefly—I want a temperature contrast, not a mushy banana. Scoop, dip, bite, scoop, dip, bite, all the way through until I've eaten the last banana slice, at which point plenty of oats still remain to eat all by their splendid porridgy selves.

Thank goodness for a meal that is eaten alone so it may evolve over the years into precisely the thing you crave. I love a late Saturday morning scramble with buttered toast and a glass of grapefruit, but I also need time to enact my strangest impulses, and if this can be done in a domestic and routine setting, all the better. For then there is always space for it. It is never furtive. It is there, beckoning me from bed at 6:30am. It is there, when I go to sleep on a Tuesday with nothing in particular to look forward to the next day, it is there: my warm miso oats, milky miso oats with the cold bananas all fanned out in the Tupperware in two neat layers—three layers, perhaps, if the banana is large. It varies barely, but my allegiance to it is strong, my ritual, my breakfast, mine.