I’m seated on the toilet in the bathroom at my house in Siberia With a View, plaid PJ pants at my ankles, book in hand.
I’m re-reading one of Nabokov’s lectures on literature, the piece on Ulysses, thrilled that I still remember Boody, Dilly, Katey, and Maggy. I regret I’ve not known a woman named “Dilly.”
I’m reminded of Nabokov’s theory about the identity of the man in the brown Mackintosh.
He’s probably right. If anyone knows what Joyce is up to, it’s Vlad.
Joyce spent 15 years in Trieste, so I think about Italy.
I hitch a ride on the Mnemon Express to Chioggia, to a dilapidated hotel located 25 yards or so from the waterfront, no more than fifty feet from an arched bridge over one of the canals. I hear accordion music in the background. I dislike accordion music; the squeezebox rivals the banjo as a tool for torture.
When I hear accordion music, I’m taken back to Lincoln Elementary, to the yearly student talent show, to a girl a year older than I, a spotlit lanky contortionist in pink tights who plays Lady of Spain on the accordion before setting the bulky instrument aside and twisting her limbs into unusual and often grotesque positions. The school auditorium is down the hall from the cafeteria. The talent show is held just before lunch and the auditorium smells of chicken ala king. To this day, I smell chicken ala king or hear Lady of Spain, and I whimper.
But now I recall a garret room, with a beamed, sloping ceiling, cracked plaster walls, cheaply framed Canaletto repros, a worn and dirty carpet, a bed with a body-battered mattress.
And the best damned bidet in all of Europe.
Well, at least the best damned European bidet I’ve experienced.
I’ve shot water on my ass in England, France, The Netherlands, in Italian bathrooms in lodging establishments located from the Swiss border to Sorrento. This beauty in Chioggia tops them all, and negates all but one of the hotel’s many shortcomings — the past-its-due date carpaccio served in the restaurant. I ate two servings the previous evening. As a result, I’m well acquainted with the bidet.
There is a window in the Chioggia bathroom. I open the window, sit on the bidet, rinse and re-rinse my hatch as the carpaccio-tainted debris departs, and I watch water taxis leave the docks below, ferrying passengers to Venice, across the lagoon. A breeze blows. I smell the remains of polluted thinly sliced beef in concert with the odor of rotten sea stuff, the scaly scraps left on the docks and the unwashed decks of small fishing boats to decompose in the summer sun. I hear accordion music.
The view, the smells, murky water splashing into a bowl … all but the music is magical.
HER: “Karl, you’ve been in the bathroom for half an hour, and it’s the third time you’ve been in there this morning. Hurry it up. I want to take a leisurely stroll next to the canals and shop for cheap trinkets I can take home, put in a drawer, and find in twenty years.”
ME: “I’ll be out in a few minutes, darling.”
HER: “What’s that sound? I hear water splashing. Hey, wait! Are you squatting on that bidet again? Tell me the truth. I know about your thing with bidets. You’re blasting your butt with water again, aren’t you?”
ME: “It’s science, darling. Poison carpaccio and personal hygiene. I’m recording data as I drain and rinse. I might write a book about past-its-prime raw beef, European bidets, and the art of ass washing during a crisis. I’m a writer, you know; I arrange words in a certain order — nouns, verbs, adjectives, whatnot. It’s stunning how few Americans know the bliss afforded by the bidet. A bliss amplified by distress, I might add.”
We are scheduled to stay in Chioggia two days and two nights, and our visit ends the next morning. I mop up and hustle to the front desk at the hotel to book an extra two days. Who needs Venice? Too many tourists, too expensive. Not a big fan of Tintoretto. A lot of mold. Inadequate bidets, unsatisfying WC expeditions.
I return to the room and inform Kathy about the change in plans. I tell her I want her to have the opportunity to fully explore the Chioggia trinket experience, and to sample the wares at each of the many gelato outlets adjacent to the main drag, the Corso del Popolo. She’s a big fan of pistachio gelato and our attempt the day before to visit the vendor touted by our concierge as Chioggia’s Master of Pistachio was thwarted by a large rally held by the local communist party candidate for mayor, the mob blocking entry to the Master’s shop.
Kathy hurries to the lobby, cancels the extension, and we’re off to Venice the next morning, me hoping the last of the beef has vacated the system. If not, it could be a dicey journey.
What Kathy can’t cancel is the fact I’ve bonded with a bidet.
I experience a letdown when we return home to Siberia With a View.
The bidet experience is hard to come by in the good ol’ US of A. We’ll waterboard suspected terrorists without hesitation, but we’re reluctant to shoot a stream of H2O into and around our trash chutes.
After I ascend the K2 of bidets in Chioggia, I have bidet dreams. A recurrent dream involves me sitting on the bidet, vulnerable, with Eleanor Roosevelt operating the controls. The dream includes more, but I’m reluctant to reveal too many details in times like these, when the ire of the morally pure and publicly virtuous is so easy to rouse. I’ll just say Dream Eleanor is a big fan of latex bodysuits, Vanilla Wafers, and what she calls “anal hijinks.”
I go without the actual hygienic/recreational treat for quite a while.
Until this week.
I’m seated in the bathroom at my house, savoring Nabokov’s insights, imagining a Dilly, thinking about Italy, and firing a max-pressure stream of warm water around and on my back door.
It’s the third consecutive day that I’ve power washed the undercarriage, indulging the experience at least twice each day. Kathy asks me why I use the bidet if I haven’t taken a dump.
My answer: “Practice.”
She knows better.
I’m now able to enjoy a topnotch bidet experience at home, but not because I purchased the traditional porcelain perch and had it installed at great expense. Rather, Kathy and I receive a Christmas gift from our daughter, Ivy: the Tush Spray Multi-Temp Adjustable Nozzle bidet attachment. Made of top-grade American plastics and a bit of metal, it’s a work of down-home genius (genius often involving the use of common parts in the creation of a novel whole). The Tush Spray couples the pressure in the home water lines with diminished diameter tubing and simple valves to produce a crack- and pleat-targeted hydro delight.
Should a dolt hazard the remark “America isn’t what it used to be,” reply with this: “Oh yeah? Wise up you dumb fuckwad: we might not make Studebakers, but we’ve got the Multi-Temp, Adjustable Nozzle bidet attachment. So, whaddya say about that, huh? What do you and all the other ‘Make America Great Again” dunces think about that?”
I have a neighbor who veers close to the MAGA line now and then. I like him, so I intend to offer him a chance to drop in, take the Tush for a test drive and, sparkly clean, to adjust his attitude.
The neo-facists in the community call this a “proactive tactic,” as in “proactive policing,” where an officer of the law stops anyone of color and/or with too many tattoos who drives a vehicle between the hours of 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., frisks the perp and searches the vehicle without probable cause. I think proactive butt washing will work, unlike proactive policing, which serves only to provide a private prison system with steady revenue.
Following a turn on the can, thanks to the Tush I plod confidently ahead to confront the day’s challenges. There’s no poop crust or slick I can’t conquer, my water-born joy being the icing on the cake.
As long as I monitor my diet.
Last night, I prepare four immense Swedish cod cakes, with very little roughage to buffer the blow. An error, to say the least. As an old dork, I can no longer pack down a carb, starch, and dairy masterpiece without paying some dues.
The dues: There’s nothing leaving the waste processing plant this morning. A couple of weak farts, nothing more. And no promise of productive activity in the near future.
I attempt to flush it out.
I set aside the Nabokov, turn the pressure of the Tushy stream to max, the temp to max, and adjust the spray head to direct the hot stream directly at the eye of the storm.
The desired enema effect does not result; the blockage has length, formidable girth, and troublesome density.
I strain a bit, with no result; I’m stuck, grinding gears. Any more strenuous an effort and I’m headed to the hospital for hernia repair.
What to do? There’s a barricade on Colon Boulevard, and prospects for a complete H2O adventure are dim. The max cleanse is absent, only the tickle remains, and pleasure is impossible since full-bore satisfaction involves an initial, successful bowel movement.
How to put the scat train back on the tracks?
The answer: consume a big load of my hybrid green chile.
If this can’t disassemble the clog, few things can. If the chile doesn’t work, it’s on to glycerine suppositories. If those don’t break the dam, it’s up to a homebrew colonoscopy prep involving several quarts of Gatorade and a champion’s dose of Miralax.
If that fails: surgery. Thank god for Medicare!
I think the chile will do the trick; it’s a muscular brute, a worker of many miracles.
I develop my recipe nearly forty years ago, taking for my inspiration a green chile served at a hovel located north of Denver, an establishment discovered by my pal Jim during one of his sales forays in Sleazeland.
Jim, an insanely energetic, world-class sales maestro, levers a serious wad of cash out of the owner of several Adams County massage parlors and, tuckered out, he needs lunch. It can’t be just anything; Jim knows food, and fast food is out of the question. It’s fuel, nothing more. And low-octane fuel to boot. Jim requires the real thing: unleaded premium .
Jim motors west on 88th in his gold Monte Carlo and his keen, Trenton-trained eye fixes on a hand-fashioned sign reading “Gud Mexican eat” nailed off square to the front of what was once a gas station. Jim knows this indicates either 1) treasure, or 2) a gastrointestinal disaster. The man is a gambler by nature. He tells himself, “Take the chance. What are you, a fuckin’ ballerina or somethin’?”
Another crude sign reads: “Lolito’s Burritos.”
The physical plant is one click to the plus side of a teardown, though once white people with money discover the food a few years later, the owner expands and modernizes the place, turns the heap into a paddy-friendly facility with no charm and lower-grade fare, makes a fortune off BMW-driving Yuppies, retires, buys a ranch in Chihuahua, and leaves the operation in lesser hands.
Following his discovery, Jim returns to our office, aglow. Jim knows his chow, and claims he has eaten one of the world’s greatest bean and cheese burritos, the fat tube smothered with a blanket of incomparably good green chile. It earns his seal of approval: “This shit is first-class.”
Jim takes me to Lolito’s the next day, right after our lives are threatened by the ominous gun-toting owner of a whorehouse located on North Washington.
Jim does not exaggerate in his assessment of the food. He’s good at this. To this day, if I rely on anyone for food tips … Jim’s my man.
Lolito’s green comes in three octane levels: regular, hot, and extra hot.
Which would you prefer?
Which do I order?
Lolito’s concoction is outstanding: abundant roasted and chopped chiles, chunks of pork shoulder, a deep base (I suspect he uses chicken broth) thickened slightly with a lardy roux, quite a bit of garlic added with some oregano, salt, pepper and, if I remember correctly, a bit of chopped tomato — an unnecessary and unwanted addition in some quarters. Like, my quarters. No tomato, please.
I carefully study this chile during subsequent visits; Jim and I stop in for lunch whenever we’re in the neighborhood. We’re often in the neighborhood, since this part of the metroplex is the Wild West, sleazewise. It’s an unincorporated section of a county, law enforcement is minimal if it exists at all, and nearly anything goes. At times, this situation is invigorating. At other times it inspires terror.
The green at Lolito’s is invigorating, an eye-opener. My formative years were spent in the red chile zone, my love for red engendered early by the food prepared by my friend Mark Vigil’s mom, delights I shared with Mark during after-school forays to his mom’s kitchen. Red was the word.
But, here comes green, and the race is on.
I learn things from Lolito as I devour his work, and I set to creating my own recipe, experimenting for a couple years before I get it right. And, since the final recipe includes no exact amount of any ingredient, it is right damned near every time I make it.
What’s in it?
First: a mess of roasted, peeled, chopped green chile, preferably Hatch. I exhaust my supply too early this year, failing to purchase and freeze enough peppers in September. I’m reduced these days to including a commercial product. There are only two brands that provide an adequate substitute for the just-off-the-farm, just-out-of-the roaster delights purchased at a store north of Espanola on U.S. 285: Bueno (Hot or Autumn Roast-Hot) or Young Guns (Caliente or Muy Caliente). They’ll do in a pinch.
Second: a shitload of garlic, as much as a head’s worth if I’m intoxicated, the cloves peeled and chopped fine. If I have the energy, I microplane some of the cloves.
Third: chicken broth, with the boost of some chicken base.
Fourth: pork. My latest move is the use of pork loin ribs — half the load boneless, half bone-in.
When I arrive in Siberia With a View decades ago, I’m shocked to find a host of locals making green with ground beef. It’s horrifying. Fortunately, most of these cooks have died. A few people tell me that they prepare green with chicken. I erase their names from my list of desirable social contacts. They need to relocate to California where they’ll be among kindred spirits.
Fifth: Half of a yellow onion, chopped.
Sixth: Lard or, lacking the unadulterated leafy pig flab sold by honest butchers, olive oil.
Seventh: All-purpose flour.
Eighth: Ground cumin, dried oregano, salt, and pepper.
Ninth: The final ingredient is what drags my blend into the “hybrid” category — a blast of Chimayo red chile powder. This is not the atrocious “chile powder” sold in supermarkets, the dusty crap of undetermined age polluted by all manner of odd flavors, the mix deployed with a heavy hand by louts who brag about their special “chili and beans” recipe and insist you sample the garbage at their Labor Day cookout. No, this powder is pure: Chimayo peppers, dried and ground, sold at the aforementioned store on 285, just north of Espanola. Nothing else will do. The powder is available in various amounts, up to five pounds per bag, at four different levels of heat — mild, medium, hot, and extra hot. The extra hot is for professionals and fools.
Given my current blockage, I need emergency assistance ASAP, so I’ll concoct a batch of my green as a delicious laxative. Other times, I’ve been known to cook the green when conditions in the world outside my basement become distressingly turbulent and more stupid than usual. The green can clear the intestines, but it also has a wonderful effect on mind and nerves, resulting from a massive rush of pepper-prompted endorphins.
With regard to such turbulent and stupid conditions, I recall a comment made by Leon Trotsky, and I modify it here: most people live physically in the 21st century, their lives supported and enhanced by the devices, systems and sustenance provided by science and industry, but they exist intellectually and emotionally in the 12th century. They know how to drive a car, turn on the lights, and cruise the Internet, but their minds are stuffed with thoughts of human-like gods, saints and demons, with fantastic notions, conspiracy theories, and fear of the unknown.
It’s difficult to live in a world crammed with goons who can’t pass a fifth-grade spelling test, who don’t know anything about biology, Ingres, or the Weimar Republic, but assure you that if you need the answer, they’ve got it. Many add: “I’ll pray for you.” Endorphins soften the blow.
To the green:
- Two years ago, I obtain an InstantPot. I use this beauty to prepare my reparative green. No pot? Use a heavy pot on the stovetop, and extend the cooking time, over moderately low heat.
- Lightly brown the seasoned pork ribs on all sides in lard or oil using the pot’s sauté mode, remove the meat to a bowl, toss the onions in the pot. Cook the onions until they are soft (but not browned) then back in go the ribs with the garlic, accompanied by a flutter each of oregano and cumin, four cups of chicken broth, and a tablespoon of chicken base. Slap on the lid, switch to the pressure cook mode, set the timer for 30 minutes, and allow the pressure to release naturally when time expires. Stovetop time: two hours.
- Remove the lid, take out the meat, put it in a warm bowl, and turn the pot back to the highest setting in the sauté mode, bring the liquid to a boil. Make a roux with lard (oil) and flour in a pan on the stovetop, over medium high heat, cooking the roux to dark blond. Take broth from the pot a half cup at a time, whisk it into the roux until a smooth paste is achieved, then stir the paste into the broth in the pot a bit at a time, adding it slowly until it thickens the broth — not to a gravy-like consistency, just a sturdy liquid. Some cooks reject the roux and use a corn starch slurry or some other weak-kneed thickener at the tail end of the process. The move deserves disdain. It’s easy, it’s uninventive, it adds no flavor to the chile; it’s use is a sign of an ill-formed culinary consciousness.
- With the broth thickened, it’s time to add the green chiles and the remainder of the garlic, whisk in a sturdy tablespoon or so of the red chile powder, add the meat, turn the sauté setting to low, and simmer the mess for an hour or so, until the liquid has reduced to the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
- Final step: turn off the heat, tend to the meat. The boneless ribs will fall apart easily and can be left in the pool. The meat on the bone-in ribs is stripped from the bones, refrigerated and used (sooner rather than later) in tacos or enchiladas rancheros. The chile sits out long enough that excess fat can be skimmed and discarded.
Try to have a batch of pintos or Anasazi beans ready for use at all times, the dried legumes soaked overnight then cooked in the company of several (three or more) cloves of garlic, and appropriate herbs and spices. A bean and cheese burrito (or two, sometimes three) ends up drowned in a pool of zippy sludge. The leftover chile is refrigerated and used to smother breakfast eggs wrapped in tortillas with fried potatoes, and in an enchilada casserole.
This time around, given the disaster at the waste factory, I’ll consume a bowl or two of the chile, sans tortillas, beans, and cheese, and let the unadulterated brew get to work on the problem.
Should the green break the dam, I’ll have one problem left to solve.
How to hide the next water bill from Kathy.