1: Composition of Place

by Amy Scattergood on October 11, 2009

 

olney

           Go past the other high school on the hill, a half mile down, another up the next hill, turn right past two chipped and whitewashed gates, a hundred yards past overgrown tennis courts and an unmoored volleyball net, to the concrete parking lot adjacent to three rising stories of brick and decrepit ivy, then turn right down the steps and into the basement and further down the unlit hallway, the pipes clanking, footsteps drumming overhead in quadrants of thunder, to the swinging doors of the old kitchen and through them and there, by the Hobart mixer, her hair blown grey with flour, a towel wrapped round her waist like a pinned and empty kite, you’ll find her if you want her.

       She looks up, her vision level with the grass-line bifurcating the basement window—a dichotomy of mysterious dirt and vague sky—a spider-web like a curtain sash, the grime of miscalculated years rubbing the edges of the glass pane opaque, unfocused.  She pushes the hair from her face, pale and shadowed with freckles, shifts her feet inside her worn leather clogs.  An abrupt bell, the fifteenth of the forty-four that will ring that day.  She scrapes down the bread dough from the cavernous sides of the mixer.  Her eyes scan the tops of the shelves, cluttered with vegetable oil vats, huge cans of tomatoes, cardboard government boxes of beans.  There is nothing to read.

            How she got here?  Fourty-five years clicked around their impervious circle, some clockwise, some not.   There was a childhood that belonged to someone else, years like water, repeating ghosts.  Murie Cornish was born in a small town in Montana.  No, Idaho.  Her mother taught kindergarten, her father worked in an office, her sister came and left.  Multiplication tables, bologna sandwiches in paper bags, boys with indecipherable eyes.  She remembered crying into her cat’s striped fur in the hot afternoons while her mother moved in a separate universe of laundry and envelopes.  I grew up, she says to herself, throwing flour across the old metal countertop and pounding the dough with the hard base of her palm.

            Murie spoons out ground coffee from a metal can into the old Chemex carafe she’d installed in a corner near the sinks, pours boiling water over the grounds, waits, pours some more.  Scalding hot, slightly bitter, black as tar.  The familiar comfort of it carried a fine edge of asceticism, as if the bitterness were a necessary aspect of the ritual.

            Through the swinging doors bangs the breakfast prep crew, a phalanx of disgruntled juniors and nervous freshmen.  Purple hair, Che Guevara t-shirts, Union Jacks sewn across broken jeans. Inchoate dreams of Vassar and heroin, swimming pools and imaginary suburbia.  Etc. 

 

 

(Photograph: Olney Friends Boarding School, Barnesville, Ohio; circa 1876.)

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Dante and the Lobster

by Amy Scattergood on September 17, 2009

lobster

 

Eating a perfectly cooked lobster, like this one here, beautifully prepared by chef David LeFevre of downtown’s seafood palace The Water Grill, (a wedge of lemon, drawn butter in a porcelain bowl like the hull of a docking ship) is a pleasure in its own right. Even more so when an impossibly polite server pins a square of immaculate white linen around one’s neck prior to eating. Which is just funny. Particularly since about 95% of the lobsters I’ve eaten were on the Maine coast, during or after college, where the bibs–if there were bibs–were crumpled plastic and possibly stolen from Red Lobster and mostly something we just laughed at and used to mop up spilled Molson and Moosehead. (Why are so many people–Woody Allen, Julie Powell–freaked out by cooking lobsters? I don’t know, but maybe it explains why so many people cook them so badly.)

 

Another pleasure of eating lobster is that it always reminds me of my very favorite Samuel Beckett story, Dante and the Lobster. In which Belacqua reads the Paradiso, makes a Gorgonzola sandwich (like shards of glass), considers capital punishment (foreshadowing), and brings a lobster home to his aunt. It is alive, of course. It will be a painless death, thinks a horrified Belacqua. “It is not.”

 

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The Hazel-Atlas Glass Factory

September 8, 2009

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
THE HAZEL-ATLAS GLASS FACTORY
 
For years his father had made fruit jars, ink bottles, jam and pickle jars, Vaseline jars,
blue glass pitchers with the opaque profile of Shirley Temple smiling, forever, bright as tourmaline.
He would come home, sometimes, his boots trailing river mud, his hat bearing the weight of a heaven
so low it felt like the [...]

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The Michelin Inspector

September 6, 2009

 
THE MICHELIN INSPECTOR

Eats alone in the ten abandoned rooms

of the provincial hotel, the paper stars
 

in his guide cut out and pasted to the tenuous wallpaper

like games his children might play if he could still remember them.
 

The notes in his anonymous book are exact,

coded, hieroglyphs for broken sauces, overdone halibut,
 

ways to escape his life filed [...]

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Burning the Library

September 6, 2009

BURNING THE LIBRARY

Obedient to the Caliph’s orders
Amrou walked the length of Alexandria
in a wash of salt
and set about his sad task of destruction.

Book by book he unstacked the library
while the birds went mad overnight
and Amrou’s feet burned tracks of ash
on the holy ground.  A thousand meteors fell

down around him as the ancient world
was fed in [...]

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How Atlantis Disappeared

August 16, 2009

HOW ATLANTIS DISAPPEARED

Under Socrates’ quiet direction
they took down the street signs and the house numbers.
One by one
the city councilmen dissolved

the ink on all the deeds and licenses,
while the mayor personally
destroyed the negatives
of every picture of the town.

Then, citizens, dutifully checking off a list,
erased the floor plan
of every house on every block.
In a single day

the city [...]

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The not-so-ugly Ducking: In search of whole ducks in Chinatown

July 18, 2009

I went in search of whole ducks yesterday, as paying exorbitant sums of money to _____ for two prepackaged duck breasts was not my idea of a good time. The aforementioned stores have whole ducks, but they go for about $5/lb. and are more often than not frozen. So I drove to Chinatown, to Peking [...]

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An interview with Intelligentsia’s Doug Zell

June 8, 2009

Intelligentsia Venice opened at noon today.  Shortly before getting on a plane for Columbia, Intelligentsia founder Doug Zell cheerfully answered a few questions.  Thank you, Doug.  Here’s to a safe and highly caffeinated trip!
Me: You’ve remarked that the new store has the potential to tranform LA’s coffee scene.  Can you expand on that rather provacative [...]

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