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Thursday, December 26, 2002

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

Ha! I have fooled poor Andrea Harris into thinking I was all profound 'n shit, when we all know that Christmas is really about the LOOT!

It took us all day to open our presents, because we must open them one at a time, try to preserve the paper (it goes into scrapbooks, or gets re-used), and exclaim over each gift.

I had a nourishing day with the Four Basic Present Groups all represented: books, music, videos, and software. (Don't you try to foist none of that jewelry or perfume crap on me.)

One of the books was Kitchen Kitsch, which is like Lileks's Gallery of Regrettable Food, except that not all of the food is regrettable, and there's no funny commentary. In fact, there's almost no commentary. There's a one-page intro which basically says, "The artwork in American ads and give-away cookbooks in the 1920s through 1960s was interesting. Here's some of it." The same intro is repeated in German and French, and that's it.

There are a couple items in common with Regrettable Food. There's an ad for Spry (vegetable shortening), but no Aunt Jenny. There's a couple graphics from 500 Snacks, but this edition is in living, glowing color (Lileks's was black-and-white).

I really wish for Lileks when looking through this book. What would he make of the Mary Celeste kitchen (everything's ready, the oven door's been pulled open, but where are the people?). Or a Dali impersonator posing as a Viking selling that most ruthless and bloodthirsty of foods, Ry-Krisp? How about the fact that several of the brands seem to be named "Good Luck"? Is that a cynical, mocking laugh I hear? One of these is "Good Luck, the original cold pack RUBBERS", which gave me a bit of pause until I realized they were seals for Mason jars.

Then there's "The Prince of the Gelatin Isles", which seems to be a children's story revolving around Jello. And the Masked Chef: no doubt the isolated housewives of the '30s and '40s fantasized about having a handsome man burst into their kitchens, ravish them, then teach them how to make a really good souffle.

And finally, there's this...thing---apparently published (by the American Meat Institute) soon after WWII. On a blood red background stands a slab of prime rib, several inches thick. It's accompanied by a a sinister-looking black knife and fork. And that's it. The copy says:

This Is Life

This is not just a piece of meat...this is something a man wants to come home to...something that helps children to grow...something that makes women proud of their meats.

This is a symbol of man's desire, his will to survive. For as old as man's instinct to live is his liking for meat. And to be satisfied in its eating.

Is it any wonder that, as meat moves back to the Home Plate, we look on meat with new regard, not just for its enjoyment, but as a nutritional cornerstone of life?

(Ellipses in original.)

That's not an ad, that's a sermon. "Now let us read from the Holy Book of Basting, in the Gospel according to St. Brisket of Angus..."

I bought Regrettable Food for my mother; she says she likes it. She also says she has several of the cookbooks pictured in it. She seemed a bit miffed at the insult offered the dendrite salad (shredded cabbage in lemon jello). She says that stuff's OK, and I believe she has a point.

Most gender-role-busting present: Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail. Besides having many beautiful pictures of sailing ships, it has swell diagrams of the ships, their sails, the rigging, armament, and various sailing maneuvers. I got into this sort of thing by reading C.S. Forester novels, which use a lot of 18th-century technobabble. I wanted to know what all that jargon meant. Since I haven't read the book yet, I don't know if it answers the Great Question of square-rigged ships: just what do all of those sails do?

Weirdest present: You know the Starr Wars poster from MAD magazine? The one that parodied Star Wars, and featured Clinton and Lewinsky and Starr? Well, it seems the tiny pseudo-country of Abkhazia (that's it in the NW of Georgia, by the Black Sea), has released it as a set of stamps. And Niles got me a sheet. According to some web sites I am far too lazy to read carefully, some people want Abkhazia to be independent. There are sites calling themselves the One True Official Website of the Legitimate and Not at All Phony Government of Abkhazia. As we all know, the first step in declaring independence is to release a goofy stamp. (Very soon, every square km of the world will be independent of every other square km, and then we will finally have Peace on Earth. Except for all the wars, of course.)

OOPSIE: These aren't legal stamps! Who knew??