Politics & Policy

2001, a Spice Oddity

Goose cooking with Miss King.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Florence King’s annual “last issue” column was always a favorite–serving up a smorgasbord of curmudgeonly critiques about rubes and all else bothersome to the Queen of Mean. Her December 31, 2001, “Misanthrope’s Corner” entry was a perfect example of such, and this particular feast weighed heavily on cooking and cooks. Among the geese Miss King cooks are Martha Stewart and the baddabinger himself, Emeril.

You’ll love it. You’ll beg for seconds. Thirds. More. But to satisfy that hunger for more Florence, you really must order the complete, unedited, unabridged collection of Miss King’s curmudgeonly oeuvre–STET, Damnit! The Misanthrope’s Corner, 1991 to 2002. This big (518 pages!) beautiful book is the perfect gift for yourself or that special friend who will appreciate Miss King’s special brand of unbridled impatience. STET, Damnit! is available only from NR, and can be ordered securely here.

Dear Gentle Readers:

Welcome to the last issue of the year, when I get to write my favorite kind of column: a chatty letter, instead of a logically (more or less) argued, structured (sort of) disquisition on what are grandly known as the Issues of Our Times.

As usual, the first order of business is choosing a suitable quotation for 2001. I came up with several dyspeptic enough to suit my tastes, including one by my soulmate, Schopenhauer, but this time I decided that the clear winner is something that was not said, but would have been if my mother were still with us and could register her opinion on whether we should stop the bombing during Ramadan. I can hear her now. . . .

“That’s the best time to get ‘em–when they’ve got their faces in the rug and their asses in the air.”

I have big news. Remember my Passive Suicide Cookbook? Well, forget it. Around this time last year, I got such an awful pain in my right knee that I had to use a cane. While I was hobbling around, I also found out that my blood pressure was 154/94, so I went on a diet and have so far lost 60 pounds. My blood pressure is now 123/75 and the knee is back to normal. I heard that every excess pound of body weight puts five pounds of pressure on the knees, so no wonder I was practically crippled.

I didn’t go on any particular diet, and, needless to say, I didn’t join any of those clubs or support groups. I just did commonsense things, plus mild exercises at first, and later, long walks. I even dieted on Christmas last year and Thanksgiving this year–freelance writing is the best training in self-discipline there is, and I have a Southern advantage when it comes to Thanksgiving. When I was little, my grandmother’s aunt was still living at 94, and had vivid memories of what she called “the Woah.” She considered Thanksgiving a Yankee holiday and made a point of observing it with soft-boiled eggs and bouillon, so I had the same.

I may feel better physically but my mental outlook is the same as ever, so let’s get to my list of what irritated me the most during the past year. Since I’m already on the subject of food, I’ll start with noisy TV cooks.

Emeril, who has a band, is the most nerve-wracking. All of them talk too much, kid around, do tricks with utensils, mug for the camera, keep up a steady stream of unfunny patter, and in general show off for the audience, who invariably respond like schoolchildren with a teacher who can’t or won’t maintain discipline. The din and distractions make it impossible to follow the recipes or study the techniques. Having an audience is part of the problem; it’s like trying to cook and converse with your dinner guests at the same time. The kitchen is one place where show biz doesn’t work; the sole shining exception being Julia Child–a comic genius without trying.

Not all TV cooks are obstreperous. Martha Stewart is a model of discipline, but that’s just the trouble. She reminds me of Fraulein von Frumpel, the villainess in a WWII-era Saturday serial designed to keep us phartlings pumped up for the war effort. Stewart says all the right homemaker things, but I can’t help feeling that somewhere in there is an “Achtung!” waiting to come out.

If noisy cooks don’t kill me, quiet appliances will. I need white noise; I can’t function without it. I have window fans, ceiling fans, and an air purifier going constantly. White noise makes it possible for me to write, to convince myself that there’s no world beyond this room. White noise is the sound of silence, the buzz of solitude, so of course America is resolved to stamp it out.

Every machine is now advertised as “quiet” and “soundless.” The only way to get a grinding whir is to buy a defective product, but you can’t very well demand one without attracting attention to yourself. My latest fruitless search is for a clock that ticks. One ad I saw said, “It doesn’t tick! It listens!” Oh, God, I thought, a selfless, compassionate clock. Turns out, what it listens to are signals from the Atomic Clock in Fort Collins, Colorado, which assures its accuracy. Another tickless wonder gives daily moon phases until 2019. I’ll probably be a moon phase myself by then. In the meantime, I want loud, tinny TICKING! Is that too much to ask?

I just had an eye exam and don’t need new reading glasses, which is lucky because the kind of frames I like–heavy, owlish hornrims that can be put on and removed with a careless sweep of one hand–are completely out of style and unavailable. The latest styles have wire rims and tiny lenses not much bigger than the eye itself. They flatter no one, yet everybody is obediently wearing them. Why do people want to look like Victorian schoolmarms? Sometimes I hate conformists so much that I’d like to sic al-Qaeda on them.

As always, language irritants have abounded this past year. Leading the list is “It’s not a matter of if, but when” in reference to the next terror attack. I don’t contest the truth of it; what irks me is the preening that accompanies it–liberals suddenly advertising themselves as realists after spending their entire pre-Sept. 11 lives as total idiots.

Speech habits of the rich and famous have gotten on my nerves so much that I can barely watch the news. Why doesn’t John McCain go to the dentist and get that whistling tooth fixed? He sounds like Jack Lemmon in The Out-of-Towners when he broke his front teeth on stale Crackerjacks. Worse, Bush’s sibilant esses are turning into one long hiss–or as he would say, “hissssss.” Somebody must have told him to sharpen his diction to banish the image of the lazy scion and come off as crisp and decisive, but overcompensating always has the opposite effect. Now he sounds as if he doesn’t know his asp from third base.

My defining moment of 2001? During the PBS biog of Napoleon, when they gave the dimensions of St. Helena, I thought hungrily, “That’s just right for one person.”


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