HMM WEEKLY for August 13, 2019
Enlarged for your enlightenment
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A Plumbing Fixture
THERE WAS TIME left over after Sunday dinner, or more exactly there was daylight left, still, even with the summer wearing down toward the school year and the children having spent the weekend dodging the work of trying their long pants on so we might figure out how badly they've outgrown how many pairs of them. It was down to the pants or the last light and we went with the light, out into the evening. The younger boy wanted to go to Lincoln Center, to the up-sloping lawn built on the roof of the fancy restaurant there. The grass roof is a place we like to go to, right by our apartment, or we would say it's a place we like to go to, but how long had it been? Often enough it was roped off to protect the grass because it had rained, or because the grass was in some delicate or transitional time, and it had fallen out of our routine. What had we been doing instead?
The lawn was open, tilting up toward the tops of apartment buildings and pink clouds beyond, and there was a white gibbous moon. There was enough sun-glow left for the younger boy's neon-yellow basketball jersey to catch the lingering ultraviolet and fluoresce as he sprinted this way and that on the darkening grass, and then down to the plaza and around the black reflecting pool, with his unflourescent older brother loping the opposite way. And then, beyond them, past the evenly spaced grove of London plane trees in their gravel beds, there was the fountain.
The fountain, in its current form, opened a few months before we moved to the city, when the older boy was two and the younger boy did not yet exist. This New York phase—almost a decade now—contains the entirety of the younger one's life. He runs laps around the reflecting pool like I used to go play in the vacant lot down the alley from our rowhouse in Baltimore, only with more supervision, and less trash. All the children get more supervision, at this density and in these times. Parents take their children to see the fountain.
The name of the fountain is the Revson Fountain, which I have to keep looking up because it never sticks in my mind. Its identity is that it's the round fountain right in the middle of the plaza of Lincoln Center, and its name, for our household use, is "the water cake," because when the children were tiny we all agreed it looked like a round, glowing cake, or at least a cake-shape was one of the forms it reliably settled into while it kept changing height and shape, sometimes explosively.
The New Yorker published a piece about the remaking of the fountain, not long after it reopened. It was put together by the world's leading fountain-technology company, the article explained, which is best known for the fountains at the Bellagio, in Las Vegas, which I've only seen in a movie. The fountains, that is; I've seen Las Vegas in more than one movie. The idea, which is a pretty funny idea in principle, is that Lincoln Center wanted something like the Bellagio fountains—"which occupy the better part of an eight-and-a-half-acre lake" and "are programmed to dance to particular tunes"—only tasteful and restrained.
It worked out, though. Thick, solid jets of water rise and fall together, and then apart, so that the cake grows taller—past the children's eyes and then the adults', the jets like flourishing cornstalks—and then it tilts, or differentially sinks in the middle, or differentially rises in the middle, or: goes blasting high up into the air, launched by air cannons that go whump whump whump, and then splats down again. The cannons were going whump, and the water kept glowing as it burst into chrysanthemums overhead, against a sky that was still luminous deep blue, not the orange-stained darkness of the full city night. The water subsided to almost nothing, as still as the smoky dead air after the fireworks finale is spent, and then with a whoosh and the whumps it would arise and fling its illuminated burden upward again. We may have been jaded enough to have forgotten to think about it being there, night after night, closer than the hardware store or the FedEx Office. But we weren't too jaded, once we were there again, to keep standing, heads tipped back, staring up at the show.
VISUAL CONSCIOUSNESS DEP’T
Location shots for an imaginary Michael Mann movie
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Red Sauce Redemption
This is that place, with the unlimited salad and breadsticks
IT’S FUN TO make fun of the Olive Garden restaurant because they are very average and suburban, and personally I think they get a bad rap on their food, which is just various takes on “Red Sauce” Italian, because they do weirdo things like this modular lasagna deal I saw on TV the other day, featuring what appears to be a lasagna noodle wrapped sideways to form a vertical tube formed around a half-pound of cheese, which is then enrobed in the topping of your choice. It’s a mass-market “wow factor” food item.
Look how they massacred my lasagna
But like, I could also see this on some cooking show as deconstructed/reconstructed lasagna, I dunno, I wouldn’t order it, but I’d eat it, does that make sense?
Also right now, Olive Garden is doing one of their lifetime macaroni stunts where you can buy a membership to a year of pasta for $100 and then become eligible to spend $500 for a lifetime sentence to the realm of never ending breadsticks and salad. I think there’s a certain sort of contempt for anybody who would do this unironically, but I think if you know what you like, and Olive Garden is one of those things, why not invest in your lifestyle? I think you break even at meal 45, so if you are a once-a-week Olive Garden–er, you got this in under a year. I always think of that person who eats a Big Mac every day. I do not think of that person who lost weight eating Subway sandwiches every day.
Sorry. Anyway, a beloved family member gave my wife $50 worth of Olive Garden gift cards, and we kept joking about how we would have a perfect Suburban Day and go to the swimming pool supply store, then the IKEA, and finish ourselves off with a meal at the Olive Garden (sharing mall environs with the IKEA), and we did it, we ate the Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, and it was not bad.
Every table has one of these ZIOSK things and it was annoying, and took up a lot of space so we pushed it to the wall along with all the extra standee menus. Apparently you’re supposed to use it to order and pay (and also it haz games), but our server told us she hated it and not to use it, which was fine by us.
Apologies for the poor photography on the salad course. I forgot I needed to take pictures, and the salad was good enough to eat.
First of all, the salad is nice, it’s not anything crazy, but it’s perfectly fine and simple tossed salad, some iceberg, some romaine, shredded carrot, cabbage, black olives, and the dressing is good and tasty Italian-type dressing, but def not any kind of low-calorie situation by the taste of it. They give you one bowl that will yield you two good-sized plates of salad. We asked for one refill on the salad. The breadsticks I could do without; they are skwushy, puffy, and bland little mini-hoagie rolls. I like the skinny crunchy type of breadsticks.
Oh the humanities
I would like to propose to the Olive Garden that they do a campaign and give people a choice of their breadsticks, unlimited, and start making the crunchy kind, and then maybe another wacky wow-factor one, I dunno, pretzel? There’s gotta be a cost-effective way to do this, right? I mean, not only have we put humans on the moon, we’re planning on putting humans on the moon and then sending them to Mars, so we gotta have some sorta solid breadstick tech by now, Manhattan Project–wise, which yes, I know, that refers to a concerted effort in science followed by two genocides, I’m just trying to stick to the science part.
I took a risk with my appetizer and went for a thing called the Chicken Alfredo Pizza Frita, it’s a play on “pizza fritta,” aka “funnel cake,” aka “elephant ear,” aka some pizza dough dropped into a tub of hot grease, yum-yum, and I am being non-ironic when I state my yums.
Normally I would never get an Alfredo dish because I have never enjoyed a creamy cheese sauce, but this time I was sorta looking for a uniquely Olive Garden item to experience, and so this was a good test, a thing that combines a thing I like and was skeptical they could execute well, plus a thing I would normally avoid, so I was looking to see if they could pull me over to the Creamy Side of the Garden.
Calories count, wowee, that’s 620 for the item, and then 220 and 45 for the respective alfredo and marina dipping sauces. I know, alfredo sauce on an item that has alfredo sauce inside of it. I ate two frittas at dinner, and didn’t really go crazy on the sauce. No wait, I did, I ate all the alfredo sauce on my half a breadstick, dammit, so let’s call it a million calories and move on.
I had low expectations for this appetizer item, and wow, was I off-base. This thing is diabolical, it’s a perfect flavor and consistency of a pizza fritta, except it’s stuffed with creamy, cheesy, chicken-glumph, wow, this was Appetizing!
I was carefully conserving my gustatory energies, though. I went long on salad, ate half a breadstick, and only went in on two out of my portion of four pizza-clumps, ohh, I could eat a whole thing of ‘em right now, I’m not kidding, they got me with that item. I coulda done a plate of pizza-lumps and two plates of salad and called it a meal.
For my entree, where I gambled on the app, for my main course, I played it right down the fairway (I am sorry for using a golf analogy, I just saw a tweet about how the golfer John Daly is a big Trump supporter and I have been thinking about golf all day, plus I for some reason looked at the “William Murray Golf” golf apparel site, which is from the comedian and actor Bill Murray, and I never knew this existed, and the clothing is sort of a low-key alternative to the stuff the aforementioned Trump supporter markets, super loud and garish clothing in which to play golf. I do not play golf and I am not looking to buy golf apparel. I’m sorry), and ordered a straight-up Red Sauce item, chicken parm, because I figured if they fucked up on chicken parm, then the rest of it would be just as bad. The chicken parm was fine, c’mon. I had already sort of hit the wall, so I ate one piece of chicken and half my spaghetti, which was nicely al dente, and the red sauce was bright and salty.
My wife ordered the salmon, which was good, but it’s salmon. Hey though, look at this nice big portion of healthful broccoli here. It somehow had cheese in it, like an infusion or a dusting of parmesan. Parmigiana? Cheese of an Italian Origin.
I was looking at the photos I took and there’s a shot of a plate with cheese on it, and I have no memory of this, but here it is, for the record.
Exhibit cheese, submitted for the record
The waitstaff were all super nice and they do a team thing with an order taker and then somebody else drops the plates and somebody else comes along and polices-up your table area every now and then, and everyone was attentive and courteous and friendly, which is good for the digestion.
Maybe not unlimited lemon slices, but a lot of lemon slices.
Also when my wife asked for an extra lemon slice for her tea or something, I forget what, maybe her salmon, they over-delivered, and I used some for my refreshing and not restaurant-funky-murky iced tea, unsweetened, because I had to have something I could defend as a responsible caloric choice, especially since I ordered dessert.
I would like to leave you with this; my dessert choice, a “Frozen Cappuccino,” which also includes ice cream in it, and wowzers, this kicks hell out of the Starbucks Frappuccino, woof! Urgh! Glurgle. I ate all the calories.
We both ended up with enough leftovers to provide solid additional meals at home. If we had been thinking more parsimoniously, we woulda went for one more bowl of salad and packed it up as leftovers because my wife enjoys soggy salad. We spent our whole 50 bucks, not too much more, so it was a good experience, but we’re probably never going back to the Olive Garden unless somebody gives us a gift card.
Generic plastic table
IT WAS THE unappetizing color of a thing that you don’t buy, a thing that finds its way into your life, and the little square beige plastic table served on the tableless open backyard deck as a place where you could put a drink, and eventually as a way to protect a later arrival—the chimney-style charcoal starter—from the elements.
The chimney-style charcoal starter
In that position near the grill it also became the place to rest anything that was not glowing hot: an oven mitt, a platter of meat ready to be grilled, another drink. Years of the outdoors induced plastic fatigue, a slight crackling in the structure whenever you picked it up, and a complete loss of its smooth shiny coating, an unsightliness compounded by the onset of grime penetrating the now uncoated surface. An expedition to IKEA produced a pricey teak outdoor table that would be placed nowhere near the BBQ, and a trip to the Home Depot for an unrelated matter turned up a successor to the plastic table, in a better color. The original is in the recycle bin.
WE PRESENT HERE for your continued amusement, delectation, and possible degustation a selection of recipes for antique but entirely possible sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, published in 1909 and now in the public domain for all to enjoy. So, enjoy, and if you have made any of these sandwiches, kindly send a picture to email@example.com.
Cold halibut shredded, mixed with a little mayonnaise dressing and capers. Spread between lightly buttered white bread. Garnish with a radish.
EGG AND LETTUCE SANDWICH
Place slices of hard-boiled eggs to cover slices of thinly cut buttered white bread, add a dash of salt and paprika, on this lay a crisp leaf of lettuce that has been dipped in mayonnaise dressing; cover with the other buttered slice of bread and cut diagonally in halves. Garnish with an olive.
STRING BEAN SANDWICH
Cook string beans until tender; when cold, cut in small pieces, add a chopped onion, and a few chopped English walnut meats. Mix with a little French dressing and spread between lightly buttered slices of white bread, with a crisp lettuce leaf between.
Between thin slices of lightly buttered white bread place sprigs of watercress and thin slices of a radish that has been dipped in French dressing. Can be served with the fish course.
Cut thin squares of brown bread and lightly butter, adding a dash of pepper and salt. Stone eight olives, chop them with two stalks of celery, one tiny cucumber pickle, a teaspoonful of catsup, a dash of salt and pepper, and a very little mustard. Mix well and spread on the brown bread, covering with another square.
Here Is a Photograph of the Sky
WHILE WE MULL over what to serialize next, here's yet another installment of Spam Filter Letters to the Awl, from the 80,000-word collection of dummy-text cover letters I wrote to make sure that when I emailed that site a photograph of the sky, the filters would allow it to go through.
Subject: Back to work
To: Awl notes
or back to the make-work of generating enough dummy text that the work can be done. Or is the make-work the actual work now? The work of proving one is working, rather than automatically generating unwanted email. Under the supervision of the uncaring filters. So here is the necessary text, or what I hope is the necessary text, to allow me to tell you as usual that the review is in and a photo is attached. If the review is too long and boring please cut out the most boring parts. Thank you!
Subject: What ARE words for?
To: Awl notes
Probably not the answer the old song was looking for, but of course words are for presenting to the algorithms to satisfy them that a story is suitable for distribution, or that you are not perpetrating fraud, or in this case that an email is a legitimate email. As this one is. It is to tell you that a review is in the system and a photograph of the sky is attached.
Subject: Semantic decay
To: Awl notes
has captured "take" in record time, to judge by the person who wrote something about how these constitute "takes" (from "The Awl's own Tom Scocca" lol pls burn before Joel reads). I thank the writer for giving me a way of filling my own daily quota of meaningless words with which to get past the filters. The review is in the system and a photo--hey, what do we do with a photograph? We "TAKE" it, see??--is attached.
Subject: (no subject)
To: Awl notes
This is the email I send each weekday. It contains a few sentences of text to make it look special. Sometimes these sentences are long; sometimes these sentences are short. The point of the sentences is to defeat the filters that otherwise might throw the message into some unfindable void. It is a tedious necessity. Attached is a photograph of the sky, and the review is in the system.
Subject: The routine
To: Awl notes
continues. The words go into the email. They fill the white space, or enough of it, eventually, to clear the threshold, whatever it may be. Who knows? In some very real sense, no one. In that same very real sense, "knows" is not even the relevant verb. There is the 1 or there is the 0, following the necessities established by prior 1's and 0's. Here is the photo of the sky, plus notification that the draft is in the system.
Subject: So many choices
To: Awl notes
So multifarious a sky! How to choose? I have no idea. Or at least once again the act of not choosing promises to give me a way to pad out the daily routine email. Which picture best captures the quality of yesterday's sky? Is that the real point of the pictures? Are we aesthetically committed to quasi-automated rectangular sky samples so that the Hudson River School effect just won't fit? Speaking of quasi-automated, this is surely enough words. The review is in. Let me know! Or just pick one and put it up and surprise me. Thanks!