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How to Derive the Maximum Enjoyment from Crackers in Bed

A brief spin down some internet rabbit holes made me aware of the existence of the amazing essay “How to Derive the Maximum Enjoyment from Crackers in Bed,” published in 1964 by guitarist and composer and comedy writer Mason Williams in his essay/story collection Boneless Roast, later serving as inspiration for a very cool concept-art book by Ed Ruscha. It really deserves to be held among the great pieces of  comic food writing of all time, and because the only other places I can find it online are random forum posts, I’m parking it here for the benefit of future generations. My good deed for the day, done.

How to Derive the Maximum Enjoyment from Crackers in Bed

Mason Williams, 1964

Speaking man to man the most important element in deriving the maximum enjoyment from crackers is the choice of a companion to help you enjoy them. She must be someone whom you admire. A beautiful woman, elegant and accustomed to sophistication, a woman whose company is a challenge to enlist, a woman that’s hard to get.

In approaching the companion that is going to help you enjoy the crackers, it is best not to tell her of your intention; let it be a surprise to her. Be charmingly mysterious, saying only that you are going to do something currently different. If she accepts your invitation, proceed in making the following arrangements.

Reserve two hotel rooms for the same night in two different hotels; one a single room in a skid-row flop house, and the other, a suite of rooms in the finest hotel in town. If you do not own an expensive car, make arrangements to have one at your disposal for the evening.

On the day of the occasion, a few hours before you are to pick her up, purchase several heads of lettuce, romaine, endive, fresh spinach, etc.; several pounds of fresh ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, olives, green onions, and so forth. In other words, whatever ingredients you would choose to make an attractive salad. Finally, you must also purchase five gallons each of the following dressings: Roquefort, French, Russian, Thousand Island, and Vinegar & Oil.

Take these ingredients to the room at the skid-row hotel. Pull back the covers on the bed and make a four or five inch layer of salad that covers the entire surface of the bed, tossing the salad well with your hands. Pull the covers back over the salad and re-make the bed. Be sure there is no salad on the floor. Place the twenty-five gallons of dressing in the closet.

With the above accomplished, proceed to dress for the evening. Dress as though you were a waiter or a wine captain in an expensive restaurant, but leave doubt as to whether or not this is what your attire really suggests. The doubt is, of course, a personal matter. When you are dressed, and all of the necessary arrangements have been made, proceed to pick up your date.

When you call for her, create an air of wistful mystery. however, try not to make your mystery dark and ominous; keep it light and taunting. If she asks you what is planned for the evening, it is very effective to look into her eyes, smile faintly, but say nothing, and then look away.

Drive casually to the flop house. Make interesting conversation; keep her wondering; answer her questions about what you are going to do with only, “You’ll see.”

When you arrive at the flop house, take her quickly to the room you have rented. Once inside the room, ask her this question: “By the way, what salad dressing do you prefer?” When she has told you, go into the bathroom and drape a small hand towel over your forearm (a la fancy waiter). Return to the room and pull back the covers on the bed to display the crisp green salad.

One of the high points of the evening is now at hand. You must coax her to lie down in the bed. She may possibly reject such a notion at first, and may even attempt to leave. Reason with her adroitly. One of the finest points of argument to convince her is that it is perfectly all right is “salads are good for you.” If she is still hesitant, you can even go so far as to chide her for not being adventuresome. Whatever you do, get her in that bed; get tough if you have to, but get her in that bed!

After she is in the bed, go to the closet and take out the five gallons of her choice of dressing, and with great flair, pour it over her entire body. She will probably make some remarks like: “What is the meaning of this ridiculous tableau? Are you mad, you crazy son-of-a-bitch!” Enjoy them.

When you have emptied the entire five gallons of dressing on her, snap your fingers and say “Crackers!” Begging her forgiveness, explain that you have forgotten the crackers. Tell her that you will have to run to the store, and for her not to move a muscle.

Race out of the flop house, drive swiftly to a store and buy a small box of saltines. Do not buy fancy crackers. When you have purchased them, drive to the fine hotel in which you have rented a suite of rooms. Go directly up to your suite, place the box of crackers on the nightstand beside the bed, take your clothes off, and get into bed. Turn the lights off, settle down, and nibble on the crackers one by one. You will derive a maximum enjoyment from them.

Le Parcel et Moi

If ever you feel that your menses are not Wes Anderson enough, the world now contains Le Parcel, a monthly subscription service that entitles you to an elegantly colorful box containing chocolates, a “mystery gift” of cosmetics, and your personally curated selection of 30 sanitary items across a variety of brands, direct to your mailbox on a recurring date specified by you.

I’m not going to lie, now that this exists, I kind of want it. But I also think that it is vaguely problematic on a zeitgeisty/feminist level when the accoutrements of one’s period become worthy of Pinterest.

The New Childhood

PicMonkey Collage

Selections from Mr. Porter (okay, the sale section). Jil Sander dinosaur intarsia hat, Richard James ribbed socks, Michael Bastian cashmere Charlie Brown sweater.

Not that I’m complaining.

Breakfast in the Sky

It’s not so bad to have this laid in front of you an hour before your descent into Istanbul. Turkish Airlines knows how to bring it in the breakfast department.

Someone asked me the difference between Monocle and N+1

And here’s what I said:

Both magazines are wearing $500 APC jeans. Monocle’s are dark-wash Japanese selvege, and they treat them like precious diamonds. N+1′s are pre-distressed and threadbare, and they pretend they spent $5 on them at a goodwill in Connecticut.

The True and the Better

In New York, the Neapolitan pizza is better than Neapolitan pizza in Naples. In New York, the Jordanian food is better than Jordanian food in Amman. In New York, the French brasserie food is better than French brasserie food in Paris. I believe these things, and I believe it’s probably true also about sushi and Southern/soul food and Chinese food (and notably not Cajun/Creole, or Mexican food, or Southern Indian or Thai). Not only do I believe these statements to be true but I’m pretty sure I understand (or at least, have a working hypothesis that explains) the social and economic processes that led this all to be the case. The question I have though is this: What is it called when the facsimile eclipses the original? Is there a word for that? Have there been scholarly papers written about it? If not, why the hell not?

1048 Words about Pete Wells and Guy Fieri

The review that Pete Wells wrote for today’s New York Times in which he straight-up eviscerates Guy’s American Bar & Grill is, justly, already a legend. A teardown in the greatest tradition of teardowns. And maybe it’s the case that here in America, the only thing we love more than destroying our idols is getting angry when someone has the guts to tear down our idols, because almost as soon as the twitterstorm praising Wells’s (hilarious) review picked up steam, a simultaneous cry went up deriding it: Wells was a lazy marksman, it was a cheap dig, it was a transparent ploy for pageviews or buzz or whatever metric it is by which newspaper food sections measure their success.

I certainly felt that way about the anti-Fieri sentiment when I read Steve Cuozzo’s crabby zero-star for the Post, or Josh Stein’s weirdly self-conscious slam for the Observer (he actually liked the food, but wrapped his praise in paragraphs upon paragraphs of plebe-bashing in order to justify what appeared to be a pre-decided zero-star). And I kind of felt it for the first few paragraphs of Wells’s review, maybe the first quarter—but then Pete calls Guy “television’s answer to Calvin Trillin,” and it all fell into place.

Because the thing is, Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives is actually a great show. On it, Guy does this really wonderful, tremendously generous thing where he takes restaurants that are inexpensive and unpretentious (and largely without the unsettling veneer of sanitized cultural appropriation that comes standard with most New York journalist-approved dives), and praises them without concern for anything but the sheer deliciousness of their food. Guy’s unironic, never-say-”guilty-pleasure” embrace of good food regardless of provenance was almost entirely unique on television, or in almost any media, when the show launched in 2006. (For context: 2006 is the year Serious Eats and Grub Street launched. Eater came into existence in 2005.)

So what Pete isn’t saying in his review is what you might get on a surface read: “Ha ha, Obviously Shitty Restaurant is obviously shitty.” What he’s saying to Guy (and can we pause for a moment to acknowledge the rare successful deployment of the open-letter format in this review? If nothing else, Pete Wells, you are a champion for that) is hey, dude, no one is expecting Le Bernardin here. No one is even expecting Shake Shack. But Guy Fieri is the champion of the terrible-wonderful, he is the guy who lifted the veneer of shame from the chili-cheese-bacon-slaw-dog and taught us—not the “us” that is the five thousand of us who read food blogs and debate the relative merits of different types of hipster vermouth, but the “us” that is, like, actually everyone in America—that you can get your fix of soul-satisfying, sort of intimidating, deeply wonderful, calorically-dense, artery-freezing food without having to go to a soul-sucking chain restaurant.

He taught us that instead we could go to a restaurant that tells a story about its city or region, or at least about its ex-biker proprietor, and that in fact going to that restaurant and supporting that act of culinary storytelling was a really, really, really good thing. In a not-so-small way, Guy Fieri changed the way literally millions of people thought about dining. He taught people to readjust their judgment of “quality” from an axis of cheap-to-expensive to an axis of undelicious-to-delicious, which is—get real now—precisely how the world should be.

And then here is Fieri’s actual restaurant, the first of his many ventures that actually bears his name over the door, and in its extraordinary culinary ineptitude—its disrespect for both its product and its patrons—undoes every bit of that incredibly powerful, very pro-food, very pro-human-scale action that Guy has engendered with his television show and his public presence.

Guy Fieri may represent something culinarily unsophisticated and lowbrow (and even that’s in question, really), but nevertheless his beat has always been the authentic, the human, the real. And what Wells does is locate Fieri’s restaurant (which, let’s be honest, nobody ever actually expected to be any good) within the larger sphere of Fieri’s universe. This isn’t a restaurant review, it’s a referendum on Fieri himself, a man whose brand was built on his unreserved praise for food and people deserving of that praise, and who in entering the arena himself revealed a hollowness that threatens to undermine everything he’s done.

A restaurant review is a curious part of the critical landscape. A plate of food is never the same thing twice, so a good critic—one who understands what his role is in the great seething ourobouros of media and restaurants—writes with the broader picture in mind. A review isn’t about the burger that you ate on that one day in that one seat with that one beer. It’s about the entirety of that restaurant’s burger—where the burger fits in on the menu as a whole, where that menu fits in in the pantheon of the entire city’s menus, what that burger says about who we are as people and where we are in both geography and time.

But more than that, a restaurant review should have a life beyond the moment in which it’s written—a comment made in a publication like the Times is the reference point against which that restaurant will play out its whole existence. (Sam Sifton bookended his review of Vandaag with stuff about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, thus dooming his opinions on the (perhaps luckily now-closed) restaurant to never, ever be relevant outside of 2010.) Wells has understood that through his short tenure as the Times’s critic. His reviews have been thoughtful, deliberately given context both immediate and broad.

So what happens, as with Guy’s American Kitchen, when the restaurant is zeitgeist? When the man whose name is above the door itself is both a part of and a shaper of popular culture? This is the golden, shining moment any critic lives for: This isn’t the restaurant as a place to get dinner, this is the restaurant as culture, as a microcosm of the decisions that we make as a population about our priorities and our desires. Wells rose to the occasion, blazing righteous fire and never once throwing a punch that wasn’t deserved. That’s exactly what we want—and need—our critics to do.

Bedfellows

I cannot begin to express the unironic delight I felt upon finding an ad for White Castle on Saveur.com

white castle advertising on saveur.com

So amazing.

iPhoneography

If you’re an avid deep-diver into my Flickr account, you just may recognize the food photos featured in this extremely hilarious parody video made by the brilliant Adam Sacks.

/shameless self-promotion*

*But if I can’t do that here, where can I do it?

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