Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Disappointing Gifts.

It all started in Frau Sundeen's sixth-period German class. As a former member of International Club, I can picture it clearly: map of Deutschland on the wall, “Velkommen!” sign above the door, and the good Frau herself, with her blonde coiffure and Christmas cardigan. It was mid-December 1994, and the class was having a little Weinachtsfest to celebrate the last day of school before winter break. At the party, over some homemade strudel, they learned about Knecht Ruprecht--an evil elf that fills the shoes of naughty German children with horrible presents. 

I wasn't in that class at East Grand Forks Senior High; I was in far away Moorhead, studying plagal cadences and suspended seventh chords. My brother Andy, however, was in that class. 

The gears in his brain began to turn. 

A plan formed...a diabolical plan, a plan that would pay off beyond his wildest dreams--in fact beyond the wildest dreams of younger brothers everywhere; younger brothers that yearn for new ways to torment their older sisters like a wino yearns for a fresh bottle of red.

Fast forward to Christmas morning. 

Home from my freshman year of college, I was having trouble sleeping in the relative silence of the house. I woke up around five a.m., and unable to relax, decided to check the Christmas tree for presents. I couldn't find my glasses, so I tiptoed downstairs without them. I am legally blind without glasses or contacts. This is important.

I could hear my mother snoring from the couch in the living room, so I approached the tree with the stealth of a ninja. Merry strings of colored lights dimly illuminated the scene. I crouched in front of the fragrant pine...every gift was wrapped in cheerful paper; snowmen and Santas winked back at me in the muted light. I spied a present that didn't match the others. It wasn't wrapped, and the box was darker in color. I picked it up.

“JILL--OPEN ME!” it read. 

So, I opened it.

When my mother tells this story, she describes waking up to the tree branches shaking, ornaments clinking and rattling, and my tremulous voice from somewhere in the darkness calling, “Mo-o-0-0-OM??” I then came lurching out from behind the tree, half walking, half crawling, tripping over my robe and nearly face-planting into the carpet. I was so panicked I was almost hyperventilating. “Mo-o-om!”

She sat up and flipped on the light, took one inside the box I held clutched in my hand, and burst out laughing. 

“What's so funny?” I demanded breathlessly, almost in tears. “I think someone went CRAZY!” 

She shook her head, tears of laughter coming down--a reaction that my addled brain failed to comprehend. “I wondered what your brother was doing with all those Halloween props!” 

The horrible box? Was FULL of very lifelike severed fingers and Heinz ketchup. When I say lifelike, I mean LIFE. LIKE. I don't remember one single solitary real present I received that year, but I can picture the contents of that nightmarish box like it happened yesterday. OH, TENENBAUM OF UNHOLY TERROR! I was traumatized for days afterwards.

I knew there was a reason I took Spanish.

Over the next few years I let several opportunities for retaliation slip past. I had one semi-brilliant, if time-consuming idea—to mix up the CDs, cases, and booklets of my brother's entire precious music collection—but Andy somehow sensed what I was up to and kept his bedroom door locked when he was not inside. “Rats! Foiled again!” I hissed when it came time to go back to school.

The first Christmas after the great Red River Flood of 1997, donations from all over the country were still pouring into Grand Forks/East Grand Forks faster than they could be distributed. Our church delivered a box of lovely items to our doorstep—mostly quilts and non-perishable food items, with one exception: a mangy, well-past-their-prime bag of whole carrots. I had friends and family that lost nearly everything to that flood and were still living in FEMA trailers months later, and I still can't fathom any of them were hard up enough to consume brown, musty, mummified carrots. It's the thought that counts, right? 

My mom was about to toss them in the trash when I stopped her. “Knecht Ruprecht,” I whispered. Then, “Revenge.

I found a large box and stuffed it extravagantly with festive tissue paper and confetti, burying the carrots deep inside. I wrapped the gift in glossy paper, taking care that the taped edges were as smooth and flawless as a department store display. I tied bolts of colorful zip-ribbon around the package, curling the ends into fistfuls of luxurious spirals. Lastly, I chose the biggest and brightest gift tag I could find, and in buoyant script wrote, “Andy! OPEN ME!”

Cackling with glee, I placed the box beneath the tree, and waited for showtime. 

When he saw it, and saw it was for him, his eyes lit up. He seized the package and shook it, listening carefully. “Ooooh. What IS it?” he wondered aloud.

I remained aloof and silent. Catlike, in my stealthy plotting ways.

“I bet it's something good!” he exclaimed, rattling the box again.

I had to bite my fist to keep from chuckling out loud.

“What was that?” he asked, whipping his head around to look at me.

“Nothing,” I said innocently. “Just, uh, thought I might sneeze.”

He turned back to his present, holding it up to the light for examination.

When it came time to open gifts, Andy saved the best for last. The entire family watched as he tore into my present. Shreds of paper and shimmering tinsel flew everywhere. He flung the lid aside with gusto, and dove into the tangles of stuffing, pawing through it with one, then both hands. Near the bottom of the box, he paused. His expression changed from elated, to puzzled, to alarmed. He lifted the cellophane bag containing the decrepit root vegetables high, squinted at what he held for a disbelieving moment, and said: “Carrots.”

A moment of stunned silence followed.

Then he started to laugh. And the rest of us joined in. Before long we were howling, knee slapping, and rolling on the floor, and it felt great. The carrots are the only gift I remember giving or getting that Christmas, which was otherwise not exactly the best one of any of our lives. Baby Jesus might have warranted gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; for my money, those carrots were a Nelson family Christmas miracle, bringing us all together in a shared moment of (admittedly perverse) joy.

This launched my family's semi-annual Disappointing Gifts tradition. I highly suggest you try this—though maybe not if your brethren are easily offended. It is often the best laugh we have all year. There is a five dollar limit, and the goal isn't just to find something bad or worthless; it has to be disappointing, which takes a certain amount of finesse.

For instance: poster of a person skiing--lame. Large, ugly poster of a person skiing off a cliff, with an enormous caption reading, “OH SHIT”--disappointing. (To my mother. I would think it was awesome, obviously.)

Dollar store makeup set--lame. Expired Wet N' Wild Makeup Set with greyish pearl nail polish (separated), red lipstick (waxy), and blaze orange lip pencil (broken) with the “HALF OFF” tag still attached? Disappointing.

Here's where things can backfire: the ULTIMATE disappointment is when a carefully chosen disappointing gift is mistaken for a real gift by its recipient. My brother once sent Jeremy a cheap hand soap dispenser in the shape of a piece of pie. I totally see what Andy was going for--I mean, who would want that?—but to his chagrin, Jeremy thought it was the coolest thing ever. “How did he KNOW I love pumpkin pie? Did you TELL him?” Jeremy crowed, as he proudly set his present next to the kitchen sink, then stepped back to admire it. My brother was crushed. It was amazing! Not “carrots” amazing, but pretty damn good.

In conclusion, as the Halloween decorations go on clearance and the Christmas tumor metastasizes in your favorite store, don't walk past those seasonal leftovers. If your family is anywhere near as delightfully twisted as mine, you may just discover the spirit of Christmas next to the discount cobwebs on aisle nine.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jeremy gets all self-referential.

JEREMY: [Sitting at his desk.] You know, if I could do my teenage years over again, I would totally wear t-shirts from Hanoi Rocks and The Replacements, and I would be the most esoteric fifteen year old in f*cking high school. Mötley Crüe rocks? F*ck you. Hanoi Rocks. You want sex, drugs, and rock n' roll? The Replacements were too f*cked up to even make it on stage.

JILL: [Sitting at her computer.] I, like, totally love you right now. [Opens new word document, starts typing.] ...Say, can you repeat all that?

JEREMY: In a minute. I'm busy looking for obscure sh*t on Ebay.

JILL: [Grins.]

JEREMY:...Someday I am going to find that Saigon Kick t-shirt with the lizard on it--the same one I have on my shoulder--so I can wear a shirt that matches my tattoo, with the image on it that inspired my tattoo.

JILL: Wow, meta.

JEREMY: [Grins.]

[end scene]

Tuesday, October 18, 2011




Monday, October 17, 2011

A glam punk valentine to Michael Monroe.

So Jeremy and I just went to the Michael Monroe concert and it was goddamned amazing.
Station 4 is a gritty, bare-bricks rock club with dart boards and Coors cans and restrooms that would make your mother cry, and last Sunday night magical things happened in and around it. First, I got to watch Jeremy skip through a piss-scented alley, because he was so excited to get there. Second...Michael F***ing Monroe!

I knew going in I would have a good time, but I was so blown away by what I saw and heard that I will now spend infinity being an ultra-mega-über-geek about him, writing “Jill hearts Michael Monroe” on my Trapper-Keeper, and creating awkward moments by bringing him up out of the blue in conversations about unrelated topics, with people who think Coldplay invented awesome.* Those who know me well know I am fully capable of this Defcon-1 level of nerdery. Like a feral raccoon, new and shiny things can, and sometimes do, stop me in my tracks--and this show was the equivalent of a disco ball glitter bomb going supernova in my face. Yeah, it was that good.

So, who is this magical Michael Monroe? Why, I'm so glad you asked! I will TELL you!

For starters, he's the pretty one in the middle of this album cover from 1982.

Seems kind of cliched, right? Not so fast; according to Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters, “The Hollywood scene changed in just one night after people saw the pictures of Hanoi Rocks. After that everyone was wearing the same kind of hair, clothes, and makeup as Monroe.”** So there you have it; they basically created this look, and everyone else just copied their notes.

What makes this level of influence all the more impressive? Hanoi Rocks were from Finland. Finland! That's about as far from California as you get, but acts like Mötley Crüe, Jet Boy, LA Guns, Ratt, and Poison knew a good thing when they saw it, and immediately purchased scarves and eye shadow. Additionally, the band's musical pull on Guns N' Roses was so powerful that there were rumors Paradise City was just a bunch of Hanoi riffs strung together.

So: if they were so influential, why have you likely never heard of them? Tragically, the band's drummer, Razzle, was killed in a car accident on December 8th, 1984--on the verge of their U.S. breakthrough. Vince Neil of  Mötley Crüe was driving, and both men were intoxicated. Neil got what amounted to a legal slap on the wrist, and his star continued to rise as Hanoi Rocks receded. The band eventually split up. 

About eight years ago, I saw Vince Neil play at the Target Center in Minneapolis (also present: Poison, and a group of random dudes claiming to be Skid Row), and he was stuffed into distressed jeans and an oversized football jersey, phoning in Crüe's greatest hits in front of what appeared to be a wrinkled bed sheet with his name scrawled on it in Magic Marker. He may have been laughing all the way to the bank, but he did not make a compelling argument for the excesses that come with fame and fortune; it was impossible to look at him and think, “Well there's a dude that's living the dream.” He had no swagger.

Michael Monroe, on the other hand, is a poster child for the benefits of healthy living--he doesn't drink or use drugs, and claims to have never spent the night with a groupie, putting himself in the minority of his chosen profession. Monroe takes care of himself and he loves what he does, and it shows. He spent the entire hour and a half of the concert tearing it up: straddling the three foot gap between the stage and the barricade to high-five the audience, gleefully jumping off of the drum stand and climbing onto the speakers, playing saxophone and harmonica like a maniac***, twirling the mic stand in the air like a giant baton, and working the crowd into a frenzy. Even the punk kid with the halo traction neck brace was bouncing up and down.

It gets better, because Michael Monroe is more than just a person: Michael Monroe is also a band, and the band is fantastic. I can't even deal with how freaking awesome they are: U.S. born Steve Conte (New York Dolls) and Sweden's Dregen (Backyard Babies, Hellacopters) on guitars, and Finns Sami Yaffa (founding member of Hanoi Rocks, New York Dolls) and Karl Rockfist (Danzig) on bass and drums. Karl Rockfist should have an exclamation point, don't you think? Karl Rockfist! Rhythm guitarist Dregen has stage charisma for days, he stomps and prowls and runs all over the place, and frankly it's just fun to say his name: Dregen, Dregen, Dregen, Dregen, Dregen. He, Conte and Yaffa provide kickass backing vocals, that actually sound like what you hear on the album-how often does that happen? The level of musicianship is off the charts; as a group, they are about as good as it gets. It astounds me that we live in a world where they are not HUGE, when you think about how many hours of mediocre entertainment you have likely endured.

Here, see for yourself--the sound isn't perfect and it's broad daylight, but it still tells you what you need to know. This was Dregen's first show with the band, and they still sound tight as hell:

The second song, in particular, I will never ever get tired of--they ought to play Got Blood as a form of therapy for people with temporary paralysis, because it is impossible to sit still while listening to it. Learned that one the hard way waiting for the light rail with my headphones in--I'm fairly certain the nice lady next to me thought I was having a seizure.

In summary, if you looked me in the eye and said “Michael Monroe is an immortal Finnish deity who survives on nothing but sunlight and guitar riffs,” I would totally believe you. He is a glittering peacock in leather and eyeliner, a forty-nine-year-old dude who can kick higher than his head, do the splits, and perform backflips off the stage, with a Scandinavian complexion women in their thirties would kill for and plumes of white-blond hair, and I'm telling you if you handed me a test tube full of sulfurous, fizzy green liquid and said “Michael Monroe drank this and that's what made him awesome,” I would slam that sh*t down, no questions asked.

Just look at him! He is in a tree

That would be the best zoo ever, amirite?


is a great f***ing album; it is in fact one of the best albums I have heard in recent memory. You should definitely own it. Don't tell me you don't have room on your iPod for some catchy as hell, bluesy, punk-influenced Glam rock. Stop being such a hipster, and face facts: you need something in your life with a little more kick and and lot less auto-tune. Use it as a palette cleanser between Radiohead and Lady Gaga, if you must, but unless you hate fun (in which case you probably stopped reading this five minutes ago), do give Sensory Overdrive a try. Don't make me go all Clockwork Orange on you.

Oh last tiny little detail:

Yep. Jeremy's Cheshire Cat grin is the Cliff's Notes version of my fangirl ramblings. He has met Kiss, Ozzy,and Rob Zombie. He has interviewed Alice in Chains, Blackie Lawless, Animal Bag, Blind Melon, Ugly Kid Joe, Dee Snider, King's X, Megadeth, Soundgarden, Dream Theater, Pantera, and King Diamond, and he has been to dozens, perhaps hundreds of rock concerts. I have NEVER seen a bigger smile on his face. He jumped around and sang along to every song; it was really quite alarming and amazing, and frankly kind of adorable. Kids get less excited on Christmas morning.

Enough said!

[Yells "ROCK LIKE F***, startling the cat. Apologizes to cat. Hits "publish."]****

* My apologies if this is you...but really. They are a coma in musical form.

** Another quote that I love, from Def Leppard's Joe Elliot: "The only band — and I'm not saying it because we're here (Sweden Rock Festival) — the only band that did pull it off was Hanoi Rocks. I thought Hanoi Rocks were a good band, and they looked… Michael Monroe (Hanoi frontman) was one of the best… I would have shagged him. [Laughs] I like Michael, I think he's sexy, and I'm not gay. And I think Andy McCoy (Hanoi guitarist) does the best kind of Keith Richards... so much better than Mötley Crüe or Poison or any of those bands. They (Hanoi Rocks) were real — the rest of the guys, it was all a bit fake for me."

*** If Wikipedia isn't just telling sweet, sweet lies, Monroe also plays the harp. PLEASE let that not be a euphemism for harmonica, because Holy Mental Image! :)

**** "ROCK LIKE F***" is one of Monroe's favorite things to yell onstage. Hanoi Rocks were, naturally, huge in Japan (to the point that even people in Finland were surprised by the level of Hanoi hysteria in Tokyo), and Japanese band Loudness was known to scream this in broken English during their concerts. I think it's pretty funny.

Recipes of the Damned Volume III: The infamous Penny Supper.

From the Family of God Lutheran Church Cookbook, circa 1984

Penny Supper
6 wieners, thinly sliced
4 medium potatoes, cooked and diced
3 tablespoons onion, minced
¼ cup soft butter
1 cup cooked peas
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 can cream of mushroom soup
salt and pepper

Combine wiener slices with potatoes, onions, and butter in casserole.

No. I will not combine them.

Mix in rest of ingredients.

Absolutely not! I will not mix them!

Bake at 350º for 25-30 minutes.

NO! I WILL NOT BAKE IT! That releases the...the...smell!

Penny Supper. The. Infamous. Penny. Supper. In my family it has ascended to a legendary status. Penny Supper kind of, sort of hits me where I see, I left something off of this recipe: the name of the person that submitted it for publication.

My mother.

And she will swear to you that it is delicious.

Memory is an imperfect thing, and it has been about twenty-seven years since I have scooped up a steaming forkful of this tantalizing meal, but I remember it smelled like feet and tasted like sadness. It just goes to show that one man's feast is another's famine, as my mother is an otherwise excellent cook, and a person of sound judgment.

Since she is one of my six followers, I think I will use this platform to ask her a question I have occasionally pondered over the years: Is this recipe called Penny Supper because all of the ingredients are inexpensive, or because thinly sliced pieces of hot dog resemble pennies?

[Dry heaves.]

Just, uh, wondering. Love ya, mom! I also love your cabbage rolls, Mexican pasta shells, carrot cake, and BLTs! Let's not allow this one little recipe to come between us.

Although...if it does come between us? I can't promise I won't use you as a human shield. :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I will deny this ever occurred if you bring it up in polite conversation.

(2002. An apartment on the west side of Saint Paul, Minnesota.) 

I would like to share a cautionary tale about what happens if you do not send the CD club postcard back on time.
(Holds up compact disc, which she now owns. It is Kid Rock's “Cocky.”)


I mean, what are we going to do? Listen to it?

(Peals of dismissive laughter.)

(End scene.)

(One month later. The living room of same apartment.)

(Jill and Laura shamelessly rock out to the music of Motor City's native son as they straighten up. It is clear this has happened before.)

(Fluffing couch pillows.)
They say I'm COCKY, and I say WHAT? It ain't braggin' motherf*cker if you back it up!

(Straightening stack of books.)
THEY say I'm cocky, and I say what? It ain't braggin' motherf*cker if you BACK it UP! 

(Playing air guitar during interlude.)

(Folding a blanket in rhythm with the music, singing along with gusto.)
I'm from the outskirts of Detroit Rock City! A shirts, Cadillacs, big t*tties! Skinny models, you can keep those. I like BIG corn-FED midWESTern HOES!

(Raising the roof.)
Don't you KNOW?

(Doing the robot.)
Talk fast, pimp SLOW!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recipes of the Damned, Volume II: WOULD YOU RATHER?

Below are actual recipe titles from my vast, five-volume collection of vintage upper-Midwestern cookbooks. Do yourself a favor and read them out loud! If there are other people in the room, do not explain me, it's better that way. Feel free to use dramatic inflection. Something between Adam West and Norma Desmond should do nicely.

If you can't bring yourself to recite these abominations like a Shakespearean William Shatner--and believe me when I say you are missing out--imagine James Earl Jones doing it...and by "doing it," I mean reading these recipe names aloud in a theatrical manner. What did you think I meant? [Whistles casually, studies fingernails.]

[Cancels cue, Barry White.]

Favorite Fudge "Microwave"
Barbecue Sour Kraut
Chopped Egg Mold
Miracle Whip Cake
Moose Enchiladas
Curried Turkey Turnovers
Salmon Log
Porcupine Balls
Popover Buckaroo Beef Bake
Seafoam Cantaloupe Tarts
Stir-Fry Chicken Livers
Bison Slamdunk
Burning Bush*
Sunny Jim
Lemon Stuff
Goose Liver Bonbons
Porky Good Spread
Steaks Cujo
Gravy-Meat Casserole
Chicken Wiggle

Now: imagine yourself in a restaurant in some far-flung land. For the sake of this exercise, let's say your car just broke down in Roseau, Minnesota. There is only one greasy spoon open at the advanced hour of 8 pm, and you are absolutely famished. The items on this list comprise the entire menu. The waitress only speaks Norwegian, ya. WHAT DO YOU ORDER?

Before you go with the relatively innocent-sounding Favorite Fudge "Microwave" or "Beans," ask yourself why they need the quotation marks.

*[I have to say, Porcupine Balls and Chicken Wiggle notwithstanding, Burning Bush scares me most of all. Not only do I not recall what genre of food or drink it is, but it reminds me of an episode of Sex and the City and that is ALL I WILL SAY ON THIS MATTER.]

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jill vs. the French horn

When I was in seventh grade, one of our English class assignments was to write a letter to our twelfth grade selves, which we would receive at our high school graduation. In my letter, I said I wanted to go to Harvard and major in Trumpet. I was not joking.

[Stares into your eyes for a long awkward moment.]

Needless to say, I did not follow this path, and there were two main culprits: braces and band camp. At a time where I would sit and actively think about things like embouchure and spit valves and Maynard Ferguson, a critical time in any twelve-year-old girl's life, my crooked, crooked teeth betrayed me. Do you know what happens when you practice scales for hours, a cold steel mouthpiece on one side of your lips and a garland of hideous metal brackets and wires on the other?'s somewhere between a paper cut and forty lashes, except inside your mouth.

Full of adolescent zeal, I forged on. I listened to Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis; I daydreamed about Carnegie Hall and Variations on 'Carnival of Venice'. I blazed through Arban's Complete Conservatory Method like a tornado through a trailer park. I lugged my trumpet case and music stand everywhere, including on our family vacation to the lake—Harmon mutes, valve oil, Jerry Coker's Method for Improvisation, and all. Surely people from the surrounding cabins were surprised to see a fourteen year old girl with a bad perm and a neon Gitano sweatshirt standing at the end of the dock, playing Taps for a stringer of walleye. True story, by the way.

Behaviors like this did not endear me to people in my age group, just in case you were wondering.

One of the proudest moments of my junior year occurred at the Spring Pops Concert. A handful of scholarships to International Music Camp were handed out...and my name was called! I felt like Miss America in an acid-washed jean skirt! In just a couple of short months I would be whisked away to scenic Dunseith, ND (the geographical center of North America!) to spend a full week honing my craft with teenage jazz fiends from all over the world—people just like me! Weird and ungainly people who knew the difference between a major, a minor, and a minor-major 7th chord! MY people!

Bursting with ambition, I practiced every day that summer. And as I practiced, I made some subtle adjustments to my technique, to accommodate my shiny new retainers. I started to play slightly off to one side of my mouth, which, as it turns out, is a Very Bad Thing if you want to be the next Clifford Brown.

The network of tiny muscles surrounding the mouth is delicate, and if the balance is upset, the entire mechanism can collapse like a house of cards. The damage is not necessarily reversible. Sometime in the middle of my week at IMC, this happened to me. Air (and if I'm being honest, spit) started to escape from one side of my mouth, and my range was reduced by half. My lips felt like bruised cardboard. The harder I tried to produce a brilliant tone, the more my playing sounded like the caterwauling of a dying moose. Quite literally, I busted my own chops.

The Ivy League would never know what it had lost.

Several months of soul-searching followed. All I wanted to do was play my trumpet, but every time I tried it was like running a marathon with a torn ACL. I needed a new “sport,” and my high school band needed a new French horn player. I gave it a try, and the mouthpiece was different enough that I could handle playing it, at least for short periods of time. But...French horn, you know? French horn. A French horn wishes it sounded like the caterwaul of a dying moose.


If the trumpet is a sleek and shiny Porsche convertible, the French horn is a station wagon with faux-woodgrain paneling. You spend so much time going oom-pah-pah, oom-pah-pah, that by the time you get a measure and a half of glory, an actual fragment of the melody line, it is guaranteed that the instrument will crack and bray like Peter Brady on 'Time to Change.' This is why there are no famous French horn players: they are all too embarrassed to leave the house.

I will leave you with this food for thought:

I like this person! This person is using the French horn to its best advantage, as a weapon of musical mass destruction.

Join me for the next installment of Jill vs. the French horn, where I will tell you about the time I was in a brass quintet, and how when we rehearsed, my favorite teacher would drop everything to stand behind me and laugh at my horrendous playing until tears came down. I did not mind this, as I was in on the joke...after all, I had ears...and if I started laughing into my mouthpiece while I played, well, nobody seemed the wiser.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Recipes of the Damned, Volume I

As found on page 69 of the Pine to Prairie Telephone Pioneers of America Cookbook, circa 1981.

7 lb. pork shoulder, cooked and cut into small cubes

[rubs eyes, checks vision. Looks again]

7 lb. veal shoulder, cooked and cut into small cubes


1 c. French dressing
8 c. apples, cored, cut into cubes
8 c. chopped celery
1 ½ c. ripe olives, chopped
3 c. salad dressing
¼ c. (2 lemons) lemon juice
½ tsp. thyme
2 Tbsp. salt

Pour French dressing over meat. Mix thoroughly until each piece is coated. Let stand in refrigerator at least 2 hours to blend flavors. Add apples, celery, and olives to meat. Combine salad dressing, lemon juice, thyme and salt. Pour over mixture. Stir lightly to blend. Keep salad in refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve on crisp lettuce or other salad greens. Yield: 50 servings (¾ cup per serving).

This is a joke, right? This person is kidding? RIGHT? Because I'm not sure I want to live in a world where this meal exists. Like your wrist and your elbow, apples and olives should never meet. And why not just call it Pork-n-Veal McMeaty Meatpile with Saucy Salad Dressing Surprise if that's what it is? Don't overdo the thyme, Nellie...we don't want it SPICY! Remember that time you added that extra pinch of marjoram and Pastor Aasgaard's wife had a coughing fit and burst her girdle? There were CHILDREN present, Nellie! Think about the children!

You know what this recipe makes me want to do? It makes me want to punch a farmer. Logical? No...but neither is calling a dish made of pork and veal MOCK CHICKEN SALAD.

That is all.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

On German words with no direct English equivalent.

Picture yourself, for a moment, in your grade school cafeteria--with its plastic trays, milk cartons, and hot lunch line, all steamy and smelling of taco hotdish and shattered dreams. You slide your tray down the steel bars, holding it up to accept an ice cream scoop of "mashed" "potatoes" from a hairnet with a smoker's cough, and then raising it again for a ladle of ominous looking Turkey Tidbits in Gravy, served by the lunch lady with the hairy mole.

Your movements are automatic. All you are thinking about is catching a little Scooby Doo after school, maybe playing some kickball...but the universe has other plans. After today, nothing will be the same, at least not until summer vacation helps fade the collective memory of your classmates. Today you are a marked man.

As you turn around to find a seat, absentmindedly scanning the sea of faces for those of your friends, the untied shoelace of your left Reebok catches on the cutlery cart. By the time you realize what is happening, it's already too late.

[cue Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings]

You take a step, trip, and begin to fall.

As it often will during traumatic events, time slows to a crawl, and every pulse beat echoes in your head like muffled gunfire in a canyon.

Frame by frame, your tray floats from your hands, spiraling as gracefully as an Olympic diver, catapulting its contents through the still air towards the waiting floor below. Your milk carton explodes like a grenade. Fruit cocktail ricochets off the side of its beige plastic bowl, which bounces twice before coming to rest upside down near the lunchroom monitor's sensible flats; her mouth forms an O of surprise as syrup splatters her support hose. Gluey gobs of potatoes, Turkey Tidbits, and gravy (what kind of gravy? you know, they never do say) slap against the tile, mingling with greyish green bean shrapnel and cubes of canned pear.

Later, in your room--as you analyze the physics of this event--you'll wonder how you had time, on your descent, to watch that sixth grade testosterone case with the full beard nod approvingly, making the devil sign with both hands while his jeering buddies high-fived. Or how, as you braced for impact--scenes from your short life flashing before your eyes--you perceived your paper napkin drifting gently down from the sky, coming to rest by your outstretched hand like a white flag of surrender.

Time returns to normal speed.

The entire cafeteria erupts into applause.

As you attempt to pick yourself up--along with the last tattered shreds of your dignity--three hundred students share a rare, unified moment of undiluted Schadenfreude*, whooping, cheering, and stomping their sneakered feet. The mess from a dropped school lunch is awesome to behold, and pratfalls are a signature of juvenile comedy; but mainly, the other kids are rejoicing because this happened to you and not them.

In a way, you are a little bit of a hero--not that it feels that way, as Mrs. Erickson leads you to what she insists on calling the “lavatory” to clean the gravy off your Levis. There's a reason that a lunch tray gets dropped on average once per school, per school year. Tomorrow, while the other kids yell, “Hey, how was your TRIP?” and pretend to duck and cover as you make your way through the cafeteria, they will be gripping their trays of rectangular pizza, soggy California Mix, and apple slices with raisins just a little...bit...tighter.

* Not familiar with this marvelous and highly useful word? Here's all you need to know, courtesy of singing puppets!