Mashed Potatoes and the Internet

Today, a Facebook Friend said

 ♥ instant mashed potatoes. Yeah I do.

 Now I haven’t met this person in real life, but one of the wonders of Facebook is that such details aren’t all that important in cultivating a real friendship.  However, I told her that this love of instant mashed potatoes might be grounds for our breaking up.

Mashed potatoes are not just a high-glycemic carbohydrate.  When the tuber is boiled, combined with milk and butter, and mashed, the resultant gestalt is home, family, nurture and nature – in short, love on a plate.  If the potatoes contain a few lumps, the effect is intensified.

Piffle - NOT a great value.

Instant Mashed Potatoes go with take-out Thanksgiving Dinners and gas station champagne.  Just because somebody sells it, doesn’t mean anyone should buy it.  Some things are travesties of the spirit. 

I was a small child during that era that Mad Men is making trendy.  Dinner was at 5:00 and involved meat and potatoes most days of the week.  Sure there were buttered noodles and converted rice as well as fried, baked or boiled potatoes, but mashed potatoes were the norm. 

When we moved to Hawaii in 1967, we were met with the potato problem.  Getting spuds to the islands was expensive and they arrived rotten.  That first box of mashed potatoes entered my mother’s kitchen.  Mashed potatoes were such a norm it didn’t occur to anyone to eliminate such from the menu in the absence of real potatoes.  I suppose if for some reason Thanksgiving found me without a home-cooked feast, I would succumb to Bob Evan’s take-out offering just as I have, on occasion, succumbed to gas station champagne.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and champagne my favorite party drink.  Still.  These are travesties of the spirit.

I cannot stress this enough, I am never going to post in my Facebook status that I  ♥ either one.  Let’s not get silly.

When we were stateside again, the return of real potatoes to the table was a delight.  My brother was beside himself.  He was so young when were in Kaneohe that he had no memory of real potatoes.  He fell in love with Idaho’s export.  The first thing he would do when presented with mashed potatoes was to look for lumps. 

 My mother did not use an electric mixer to mash her potatoes.  We had the tried and true masher.  And those things take work.  Only someone with a great hatred of lumps in the mashed taters would use one of those things long enough to eradicate every potato chunk.  Lumpy potatoes became a sign of non-instant potatoes.  Whoever mashed the potatoes in our house, and we took turns, did so intentionally leaving lumps.  Lumps made my brother happy. 

Lumpy potatoes = good. = great = love =somebody cares about me.

As a family, we talked about this. Lumpy mashed potatoes were explicit in our family culinary lore.  Besides lumpy, we liked our taters with enough backbone  to form a bowl to hold the gravy or the butter – none of this whipped into frothy, drippy frenzy of tortured tubers.  Oh no!  Our potatoes had character and a stiff backbone. 

My dad’s spaghetti sauce was legend.  The homemade pizza pert near.  And we were known for the taters.  Some folks ate them politely, but with varying degrees of puzzlement.  After all, we didn’t look like slovenly folk who would half mash the potatoes and be stingy with the milk.

 As my burgeoning interest in cooking collided with my anachronistic interest in 50’s music, I became obsessed with Dee Dee Sharp’s Mashed Potato Time.  A good friend and I, Charlene, made up our dance we dubbed the La Hava” which we could even do on roller skates.  We had to make up our dance because You Tube didn’t exist and we couldn’t find anybody to teach us the real Mashed Potato

The La Hava was very versatile and worked for lots of the 50’s songs we loved – Leader of the Pack, Why Must I Be a Teenager in Love and The Last Kiss.  We must have been quite a sight – our teeny bopper suburban hippy selves rocking out to my mom’s music.

Joy to the World

But before La Hava and Charlene, there was Nancy and long afternoons in my living room with a Monopoly board, iced tea, and the top-40 radio station.  We were wildly, giggly, obnoxiously in love with Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog as was much of the country.  [I was also wild about Patsy Cline, but Nancy teased me about it and I remember one horrible fight over it.]

I wonder if she remembers the day she and I, my mom and some more of our friends (including Charlene) danced around the living room to Three Dog Night.  My mom had the tambourine.  Nancy and I were using wooden fruit for microphones singing loudly and unabashedly off-key – drunk on happy music and the ridiculous sight of my mother with a tambourine.  Or maybe it was Charlene and I singing off-key.  I have this tiny, incomplete memory that Nancy may have been musically gifted.  [To this day I still don’t know why we had a tambourine – we were not then nor are we now a family gifted with even the semblance of musical ability.]

I found Nancy on Facebook the other day.  Quite by accident.  After 36 years, it will be like building a friendship.  I haven’t spent any of my adult life with people who knew me as a military brat.  Who knew me before life started settling into predictable patterns.  It will be interesting to see how building a friendship with someone I was once close to compares with building one with someone I’ve never actually met. 

Dancing to Mashed Potato Time wouldn’t have been as much fun if we hadn’t had to invent the steps.  I’m grateful You Tube didn’t exist.  I’m delighted that Facebook does so that I could reconnect with Nancy.  I’m also delighted with Facebook’s penchant to bring me friends I’ve never met.  I’ve switched to a Kitchenaid to make my mashed taters these days.  If you time it carefully, the lumps remain.  Technology preserving the old ways in new ways – if you time it carefully.

I can ask Nancy if she remembers.  I can also ask her if she knows where Charlene is.  If the La Hava becomes the next viral line dance, you’ll know we three hooked up in a bar somewhere. 

Heaps of Words

I’m a fan of words. I used to spend time browsing the dictionary. Indeed, I don’t know what happened to that habit, though I suppose the convenience of an online version had something to do with it. Well, that and the fact the Ex took the humongous dictionary and I’ve yet to procure for myself a big, honking dictionary that weighs 50 lbs.

Someday I hope to own a complete version of the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s looking less likely – the publishers are suggesting they’re going to quit offering a print version. I suppose it’s possible to browse an electronic copy, but the aesthetics are going to be compromised. Of course, I have no idea where I’d find room to put the twenty volumes of the complete set, but I’m quite sure I’d have fun figuring it out. Less fun would be the process of trying to justify spending $995 (plus shipping).

Truly, yea verily, I do love words.

I can’t remember the first time I encountered magnetic poetry; nor can I remember if I actually squealed with delight or just remember it that way. I do remember delight turning to dismay when I looked at the price tag. A pittance in comparison to the OED, they hit the market about the time buying a cup of coffee at the McDonald’s was a major budget decision. The sets were expensive. If comparison shopping and looking at the price per word, magnetic poetry is far more expensive ($12 for 200 words) than the OED ($995 for 59,000,000 words). The magnets are sold in sets with themes – Shakespeare, haiku, erotica, food, etc. Choosing just one set was beyond my ability. After all, and is my favorite word. I wouldn’t consider owning just one or two volumes of the OED – when I want something, I want it all. It’s not likely there are enough themes to come close to 59 million words. It would be quite a feat to spend nearly a grand on magnets. While I do want it all, all does not include the Guiness Book of Records for most magnetic poetry sets.

Magnetic poetry stayed in vogue long enough for the budget to ease up. I was able to partake. In fact, the sets are still available although I’m not likely to find them in convenience stores like I could at the height of their popularity.

While I wasn’t an early adopter, I embraced the trend with fervor making up for lost time. As usual, I didn’t just wade in – I swan dived. I have hundreds of tiny magnetic pieces in stark black and white to jump start my creative engine. While I didn’t procure each and every word printed on a flexible magnet, I’m no dilettante either.

As did most folks, I placed my single-word magnets on the refrigerator. I’d wander by and move words into phrases, phrases into lines, lines skewing to Scrabble-like configurations. Eventually, I decided it would be more fun and far more comfortable to recline while wallowing in words. Ever mindful of my needs, the magnetic poetry folks manufactured a spiffy board to allow me to do just that. The refrigerator was denuded, words were arranged on a black metallic sheet and an old, pseudo-Chinese tin was used to store the excess pieces. All these accoutrements of my Inner Poet now reside on the étagère in the guestroom.

[I’m thinking of moving them back to the refrigerator. I spend more time near the refrigerator (as my hips will attest) than I do the guestroom. I miss sliding words around while waiting for water to boil or, too often these days, cherry pie to cool.]

Like every moody teenage girl (is that redundant?), I wrote poetry. With one exception it was all the purest of pure dreck. The one exception wasn’t all that good, but I labored for days to successfully fit my thoughts into the singsong, rhyming cadence I thought defined poetry. And I did so without it sounding like Dr. Seuss. It was a success of sorts and the subject meant a lot to me.

With enough reading, most former teenage poets figure out their poems were awful. The realization sometimes provokes cringing embarrassment and secretive literary bonfires. In my case, I don’t know where they are. If I did, I would carefully press them into a scrapbook to prove I was once young. I would also pull them out when I needed a good laugh. We’re talking bad – very bad. My poetry was maudlin, giddy, wistful, angry, lovesick, sentimental and jaded – sometimes all of that in just one line. Bad. Very bad.

The overriding charm of magnetic poetry is the end result isn’t supposed to be good as much as it’s supposed to be quirky. Moreover, unlike writing “real poetry”, composition is fun precisely because one doesn’t have 59 million words to sift through in search of the exact perfect word to capture the thought. Even for me, 59 million magnetic pieces is way too much to embrace. (The OED Magnetic Poetry Kit? Can you imagine? Do you think the publishers considered such a beast? Should they? Personally, I’m having a ball imagining the size of that refrigerator. Scaffolding to retrieve the ice cream?)

There’s also the Mmmmm Factor of selecting a few pieces at random and finding a word combination that doesn’t exist in nature, but should. Is that not one of the features of great poetry?

At times, times like today, I find myself wanting to sit down and write. During some of those times, including today, I find that desire be damned, I can’t render a single thought to put down on paper or in pixels. When such occurs, I dip into the Chinese tin and pull out 13 words. I don’t know why I select 13, but I do.

Today’s 13 are:

  • Universe
  • Change
  • Know
  • They
  • Those
  • Trust
  • When
  • Champagne
  • Rhythm
  • Pick
  • Question
  • Yesterday
  • Laugh

[Mmmmmm…champagne rhythm]

Champagne Rhythm

Would you laugh at the question?

When tomorrow knows
yesterday’s tango love
must trust the universe
not to change the tempo
to the sharp, sticky staccato
of jack and coke.

Spurred two-step missteps
impaling tender cherries
on a midnight plastic pick.
Sweet strawberries wafting
at the bottom of a hollow flute.

Waiting for violins.
Not knowing there’s
a shot glass for every state,
a rhythm for every beat,
a crystal ice bucket littered with
souvenir corks of The Widow.

Dance with me?

And now you know why I gave up poetry.  Leonard Cohen, however, is very good at what he does.