Yes! A Trader Joe’s opened in my neighborhood. No longer do I have to drive far to have my class identification subtly reinforced by things like “Country of Origin: Madagascar” on the pepper grinder. More important: parking. I’d heard rumors that the store was going into the old Cost Plus World Market in a big-box Power Center that lost most of its tenants, so I drove over today.
You know what’s in the old defunct abandoned Cost Plus World Market store?
Cost Plus World Market.
They came back. The store closed, the signs were taken down; the Power Center was reduced to a desultory depressing Staples (home of the impulse purchase of a block of gaily colored Post-It notes) and a Michael’s. Off to the side, the dark carbuncle of a busted dead Circuit City store. Abandoned forever: a CompUSA, where I used to go on weekends with the Giant Swede to look at software in boxes on shelves, as archaic as that sounds. I knew they were in trouble when they started selling television sets and CDs, and reduced the shelf space of software down to 10% of the store. It became the Flailing Around Center for Selling Low-Margin Stuff Everyone Else has, and then: poof.
But now Cost Plus World Market is back in the same spot, like it never left. I don’t know I’ve ever seen that happen anywhere ever. The Circuit City is Trader Joe’s, with no more items than the other store has. They only have so many things. But there’s parking. Correction: at the other store, the stuffed animal kids are supposed to find is a wolf; here it’s an eagle. I saw a kid who found the eagle at the same time I did. Blocked that little jerk with my cart and grabbed it off the top shelf. I WIN! I WIN!
They gave me a sucker.
Best part of the experience: as I was looking at overpriced wraps, the Muzak came across with Anita and Gene Krupa: Green Eyes.
. . . then went to a bumpty-hotcha 1920s number, something straight off the “Boardwalk Empire” soundtrack. I looked around, and wanted to say: IS EVER-Y-BODY HAPPY? Because you just couldn’t help not being happy. The store’s open and the sun is out and there’s free segments of pumpkin bars in the back.
Then I realized: Holy Smokes, it’s Bix.
That's a good first trip at any store.
You know what happens ten years after you write a book about strange food of yore? This happens.
You go to dinner at someone’s house and they make something that belongs in the Gallery of Regrettable Food, or its unjustly forgotten sequel, Gastroanomalieishwuuiesesx or whatever the hell they insisted on calling it. See, I had a different editor. Couldn’t name it the same - you know, the Gallery of Regrettable Food 2, or Gallery of Regrettable Food: Second Course, because she had to make the book Her Own, and so it was saddled with an unwieldy name and the BITTERNESS, OH the bitterness. But nevermind.
It was a Salmon Mold on a sea of blue cream cheese, with worstershire dots. Really delicious, too.
The dinner was a remarkable event all around. A fellow who follows the site, read me in college, and had the same teacher in college, the ineffable Norman Canedy, art history prof from the U. He was my favorite teacher. During my most marvelous year of college, I had the same three classes: Art History in the morning, then 19th century European History with the brilliant David Kieft, then a series of Russian Lit classes. Readers of “Graveyard Special” might be nodding, here; the Russian Lit teacher is based only slightly on one of the profs, inasmuch as she was dark and alluring, and Prof. Canedy is described as well. I’d give anything to go back to those lectures. Sitting in a dark room in the morning, cup of cafeteria coffee, watching the glories of the Baroque splashed on the wall, the Prof striding back and forth explaining everything we saw and all the things we didn’t. Energy, wit, delight, an almost feverish desire to explain and make it live. Plus, when he stopped and stood in one place, you’d see the arse of a putti on his forehead.
He retired some years ago. Hadn’t seen him since I paid a visit a few years after I took his class to tell him how much I’d enjoyed it.
Well, he remembered me. Perhaps they all say that. And so I had the chance to tell him I’d never forgotten him.
Met his wife as well, who’s funny and brilliant and warm, and of course somewhat annoyed that her husband doesn’t finish the damned book on Raphael, already. Well, he’s finished it, but it needs revising. I’m on her side: the good professor possesses the answer to what was on the wall in the Loggia; his previous monograph on a Renaissance artist was the only work that explored his sketchbooks, and the artist drew the very spot in the Loggia wall where there’s a missing piece.
Adding one to the other and explaining what was there - that’s a thing for which a man is known. Teaching thousands and making an indelible impression, burning the rudiments of the Western tradition into the minds of people who just showed up to tick off a box and ended up connecting with a cultural tradition they only suspected they shared - that’s the thing for which a man is remembered.
One of my favorite moments: we were talking about “Fargo,” the movie, and that got off on the Coen Brothers and their works, and the Prof leaned over and said “I’m sorry, who are we talking about?”
“Rena’s boys,” his wife said.
I’m sorry, what?
They knew the Coen brothers’ mother from the academic community. Rena’s boys.
The other favorite moment was discussing seminal 70s New Wave bands with our host, and having him note that the guitarist for that band happened to be living in a house he owned . . . but that’s another story.
That was Saturday. Went home; daughter hadn’t burned down the house. Sat down to do some work - and then I thought for heaven’s sake. It’s Saturday. Leave it be. I finished “John Carter,” which I liked. A lot. Some quibbles with the costumes and the technology, but it’s the sort of thing you’d see explained in the nine-hour director’s cut, or a sequel. I didn’t quibble with the things that were left unexplained - those bald guys with the blue technology, the backstory of the two species. Didn’t quite get the ninth-wave thing, which occurred only when I’d finished: what was that about, again? That’s what happens when you watch a movie over four nights, I guess.
But there’s no reason this thing got slagged as a bomb, a dud, an inert red rock. It had the most engaging CGI creatures I’d seen in a long time, mercifully well-paced action set-pieces, a strong lead, great actors slumming, one of those endings that made you realize “hey, I completely forgot how this thing began.” and a perfect balance of proto-pulp sensibility, slavish fandom, and mass-market popcorn appeal. To sound like a lousy blurb writer.
When I was young we got “Soylent Green” and “Omega Man.” If I’d seen something like this when I was 12, I don’t think I would have gotten over it for decades - just as the director of the movie never got over reading the stories when he was a boy.
So you’re praising something aimed at the inner 12-year-old, you say.