Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No B.S.

"When I wrote Kitchen Confidential my business model was, 'I Don’t Give a Shit,' and I'm trying very hard to keep that as my operating business model. I never, ever think, what will they like, what do they expect, what should I do next. The business model is to not be full of shit. That's about as much as I can hope for from myself, and to write something that’s entertaining to me and presumably to others like me -- that is, other cooks." -- Anthony Bourdain

How many people want to live this way, but do not? How many people can only afford to say they live this way after they've made it, but not when they're actually at a low point, an underdog, struggling to make it -- or just simply struggling not to disappear?

How many people have ever gotten so far by being frank as Anthony Bourdain has?

Some rare souls appear on the 2010 MacArthur "Genius" Grant recipient page. The videos are worth watching, if you're looking for life inspiration. Conversely, they're freaking depressing -- I have no hope, for example, of being this accomplished or looking this amazing at age 48 (an act of genius in and of itself). But I can choose to be heartened by these no-bullshit people who are being honored, in many cases, beautifully late in life.

Music: "Are You Experienced"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

He Said, She Said.

I can't walk into a copy shop without thinking about this classic sketch from the Chappelle Show. Not fair, perhaps, but copy shops are like the DMV, the post office, economy flights and HMOs: You go in braced for the absolute worst.

It was very quiet at the FedEx Print & Ship tonight -- like the calm before a storm. One placid-looking guy was waiting behind a confused old lady at the register. All of us waited patiently while the lady talked her issues out with the cashier. No worries! Our short line advanced, and then... something happened.

I don't have any experience with retail registers, so I don't have much insight here, but it seems that the cashier rung placid guy's purchase on his coworker's number after she had already closed her register. A lot of discussion ensued. "Wait. How did it end up on my register? You entered the wrong number," said the coworker. Cashier guy seemed very confused and kept asking how to void the transaction.

There would be no voiding.

"Just give him his change. My register will be short, and yours will have a surplus. You'll have to ask Julia what to do." Cashier man did not like this answer. He immediately raised his eyebrows in a look that said "Oh no you didn't just refer me to JULIA" and gave a small, persecuted sigh.

"I don't know how this all becomes MY fault, Juan! You're the one who made a mistake," the woman said. It was escalating to open conflict, a state that always makes me retreat, despite the many years I lived in New York City. I immediately occupied myself with my phone while Placid Guy continued to wait impeccably for his change.

"Do you want to talk outside?" Juan asked his coworker in a conversational tone. "No I don't want to talk outside," she said. "This is ridiculous."

It was quiet again as Juan managed to deliver Placid Guy's change. My turn. "Hello, may I help you?" Juan said, as if nothing at all had happened. Oh but something had happened. I warily stated my business.

While Juan attended to my request, his coworker (let's just call her Juanita) was mouthing words to herself with a neutral expression on her face. I saw "not my fault" pass through her lips. At first, it was hard to tell who had the upper hand in this fight. Juan was bespectacled and obviously had a better sense of how to behave in front of customers; Juanita was on the defensive and attitudinal, but seemed more knowledgable.

Juan, meanwhile, screwed up my request, and then got slightly defensive about it. That was the last piece of evidence needed for this Judge Judy: The court finds Juan guilty of screwing up Juanita's register, and of being an ineffectual d.b. about it.

I guess my relationship with open conflict is love-hate, because now I was waiting and hoping for the brewing dispute to erupt in my presence. And it did.

"I'm not signing anything! YOU'RE the one who made the mistake." Now really free to let loose, Juanita was going OFF. Juan's murmured, calm replies only brought more heated denials from his adversary. "No. No. Juan. No. I DID close my register. I DID close my register." Juan, in turn, was getting quietly sassier. "Next time, you need to make sure you fully close your drawer when you end your shift."

I had to hand it to Juanita, even though she was being totally unprofessional. Juan's doltish obstinacy would have had me in tears by now, but she was unbowed. Meanwhile, this dispute wasn't worth more than $5, if I remember Placid Guy's purchase correctly.

"No, YOU'RE unacceptable," she was saying, as I left unnoticed. Another poor sap stood bewildered at the register, not knowing what he'd walked into.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Failed Candidacy.

Here's a draft of my speech from my run for treasurer in elementary school. I did not win. Pretty clear signs here that I was no Obama.

Hello. As you know, I am Christina Nunez and running for treasurer. Though I have had no previous experience in this job, I think I could do it, because I am an honest, good student who can take the responsibility of handling money. I am scarcely late or absent, and, if absent, I am responsible enough to make sure I have a replacement. So, when you mark your ballot, remember Christina Nunez for treasurer.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Windows on the World.

Normally Saturday mornings are reserved for catching up with magazines and my couch, so it's not as if I would have turned on the TV anyway, but I really wasn't going to turn it on this weekend.

Still, Sept. 11 found me. I picked up my New Yorker and there was the profile of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, conveying all his vainglorious, devastating awfulness. Outside, there was the blue, newly cool sky, almost (but not quite) as clear as it was on the day that acrid, dark smoke blew across it in such a way that I could never look at a vivid September day the same way again (is it possible to gain a sense memory of a very particular set of weather conditions?). There was my mom noting what I know but never manage to fully absorb: that Sept. 11 was always a marked day for her, because it is her beloved, departed father's birthday. And there was a matchbox I found while rummaging through stuff at my parents'.

The first time I went to New York, at age 13, was a surprise. We had gone on a cruise for a family vacation, and my dad notified us that we were staying an extra day in the city where we'd docked. For us Potomac kids, it was EXCITING. We ate dinner at Maxwell's Plum (I saved the psychedelic balloon that was tied to the back of my chair) and watched the rollerskaters and break-dancers in Central Park. That's about all I remember from the visit, and it was enough: I definitely wanted to live in New York City when I grew up.

For my 16th birthday, my parents generously offered to take me on a short trip somewhere. I chose, of course, New York. We stayed in a tiny, stuffy room, but I didn't care, because the room was at the Plaza. We rode in a hansom cab, visited Trump Tower and Tiffany (it was the '80s, OK?), had dinner at Tavern on the Green, saw a revival of 42nd Street on Broadway, and had drinks (non-alc for me, natch) at Windows on the World at the World Trade Center.

It was the best 16th birthday I could ask for. I saved the matchbox from Windows on the World, where it sat in a tin for years and didn't resurface until I happened to pull out a box of stuff yesterday.

In a different box, I found a journal from second grade, stapled together with a construction-paper cover. The third entry, on that paper with alternating dotted lines used to teach handwriting, was carefully lettered:

Monday, Sept. 11 1978
Today we
switched for
reading and math.
Some of us go
to Mrs.

In future entries, I'd noted the first day of fall, Yom Kippur, Friday the 13th, Election Day, Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Made me wonder what schoolchildren today will write in their journals about Sept. 11.

Monday, September 06, 2010

J. Choclatier.

I've been pretty sour about the whole cupcake trend in D.C., because a) I'm inclined to disdain anything that's been relentlessly hyped and b) I honestly just don't really care that much about cupcakes.

But everywhere you go, and everywhere you click, it's cupcakes. Cupcake sales! Cupcake signs! Cupcake stories! Cupcake tweets! Cupcake shops! Hello Cupcake! Red Velvet Cupcake! And the mother of them all, Georgetown Cupcake!

The owners of Georgetown Cupcake have achieved something far more genius than any feat of baking: They have managed to get TLC to make a show about their shop. In the olden days, bakeries hoping to ignite a frenzy of publicity would strive for a mention on, say, Sex and the City. But now that absolutely every service industry can qualify as entertainment, making cupcakes now merits a whole show unto itself.

My annoyance at the cupcake trend is admittedly irrational. Had I ever even tried one of the famous cupcakes? No. Had I watched the show? No. And don't I love sweets? Yes. It seemed only fair to at least try the darn things, if only to cement my surly viewpoint on it all. So we set off for a walk from my Dupont Circle apartment, through the holiday weekend throngs in Georgetown, and up to the door of 3301 M St. to taste the hype firsthand. And we encountered this.

The line stretched up the block. We peered inside. Was it really cupcakes they were serving? Could it be crack, or $100 bills, instead? No, it looked like cupcakes. A woman sat dazed in front of the shop. She affirmed that she had made it through the line and procured her treat. Was it worth it? "It was OK, but nothing ... that ... great," she shrugged. Of course not. How could any cupcake be worth that long, sweaty line?

We turned away and crossed M St. I wasn't exactly crestfallen, having been partly afraid that I would try a cupcake and actually like one, thereby becoming just another who had succumbed. As we turned the corner, a chalkboard sign caught my eye, and I stopped. "Can we walk down here?" I requested. We made our way down a seemingly empty section of 33rd St., across from the crowds at Georgetown Cupcake.

I'm not necessarily a big gourmet chocolate person, either. A Heath bar or a Rolo will do me just fine, thank you very much. Yes, dark chocolate is very healthy. Flavonoids, percentage dark cacao... What were you saying, again?

But J. Chocolatier drew me in. Here's how:

1. Put up a sign right across from an overcrowded Georgetown Cupcake.
2. Write "fleur de sel and caramel" somewhere on the sign
3. Make the shop a little haven of delights

A little note in the window promised that this was a happy place. And so it was, but more in a luxe, museum-of-chocolate way than in an aggressively cheery, Willy Wonka way. Behind the counter, a modest selection of confections and baked goods waited under small domes at varying heights, little spaceships of pleasure hovering so close, yet so far behind all that glass.

The price of admission to these spaceships is not insignificant: Truffles are $2 each. But they deliver you the journey promised. As I mentioned, it was the mention of fleur-del-sel-spiked caramel -- not chocolate -- that brought me here. And the fleur del sel chocolates (center, below) were the perfect mixture of smooth chocolate, sweet caramel and crunchy salt.

A green tea variety (far left, above) was nice too, but without seeing the name and the matcha dusted on top, I'm not sure I would have known which flavor it was supposed to be. But one last selection made a serendipitous stop all the more so: one sign called out a basil flavor (far right, above), made with herbs from the chocolate maker's garden. Basil, you say? Come on now.

But yes. The sweet, bright basil creme leapt onto my tongue from its silky chocolate exterior. It was probably the most original and tasty chocolate I've ever had. Maybe that's because it challenged my expectations and then exceeded them, much like J. Chocolatier itself did with that sign across from the madness.

So much better than a cupcake.


J. Chocolatier
1039 33 St. NW (off M St.)
Truffles $2 each

Photography by sirmichael

Saturday, September 04, 2010

UncMo Hall of Fame: Jan Brewer.

I usually confine posts to my own uncomfortable moments, but this one from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is so transcendent that it has become the first inductee into my just-founded UncMo Hall of Fame.

As a Democrat, I should be happy to see a Republican eat it this badly on camera, but the moment is so painful to watch that I feel sorry for her. I couldn't even watch it again for the sake of writing this post.

I hesitate to bring up the big A, but that did come to mind. Whether it was a function of something neurological or simply a spectacularly bad slip-up, it's a moment that we call can look at on our worst days and say, "Hey, at least my mind didn't go completely, irrevocably blank for several seconds on camera during a key debate in my political career."