ELLO AND WELCOME, new readers of The Poor Mouth! In honor of the official launch of this site—meaning I clicked a box in TypePad that says “Yes, publicize this blog”—I’m going to beg you for money like the 501(c)(3) I wish I was. But instead of offering you a garishly decorated tote bag or a pamphlet with your name listed under “Benefactor,” “Associate,” or “Amigo,” I’ll tempt you with something that’s actually cool: a damaged and pencil-marked but AUTOGRAPHED first edition of Duncan Hines’s Duncan Hines’ [sic] Food Odyssey (1955).
Needless to say, I have only one of these, and I’m saving it for whomever sends me the biggest PayPal donation by December 20th—which is to say I’m giving it to my mom for Christmas unless one of you is man enough to stop me. Did you know that Duncan Hines® was a real person before he was So Moist. So Delicious. And so much more?™ According to the Food Odyssey, which in the history of literature is second in importance only to the regular Odyssey, greasy-fingered Duncan is
an erect and well set-up individual, just short of six feet tall, with thinning gray hair, a ruddy complexion, a genial twinkle in his eyes, and only slightly on the rotund side. While undoubtedly one of America’s best-known gourmets, he is definitely not a gourmand. During the past thirty years he has traveled over two million miles by automobile, train, and plane throughout every state in the Union, parts of Canada, Mexico, and the Hawaiian Islands in the quest for good food and good living. He has probably eaten in more different places that any other living man.
Duncan Hines® may be So Moist™ and so forth, but Duncan Hines the man was probably something like Don Draper’s senile father-in-law. The Food Odyssey is full of tidbits like: “You may even ride about the grounds in a genuine Chinese pedicab, half bicycle and half ricksha [sic], pedaled by an authentically costumed ‘coolie.’” And how about this Runyonesque dialogue?
[W]e were ready to drive away when around the corner of the square came a colored man carrying a basket covered with a snowy napkin and calling out, “Fried chicken, twenty cents a hunk!”
“Twenty cents isn’t much,” I said to my friend. “Let’s try a ‘hunk’ of his chicken.”
To our amazement it was excellent—warm, crisp, and golden-brown. I asked the vendor what he did to get his chickens so tender.
“Well, suh,” he answered, “I gets up early in the morning and chases them roosters around the yard until they gets up a good hot sweat, and then I wrings their heads off right now!”
It is, in spite of these embarrassing morsels, a remarkable book, “with lots of authentic recipes,” as the jacket promises. Think of it as a hokey, unreconstructed cousin of Mark Kurlansky’s The Food of a Younger Land. And then pay me for it. But why? Well, I could tell you that Stefan Beck® (So Charred. So Congealed. And so much less satisfying than you’d imagined.™) suffered a variety of unexpected setbacks in fiscal year 2009 and can really use the help. Or that he’s seriously considering culinary school and needs tuition money. Or that he’s fighting the obesity epidemic by teaching schoolchildren to render their own animal fats in a safe, environmentally conscious way. None of these is strictly untrue. But—why donate money to The Poor Mouth by clicking here or on the button to your right? Just ask Mr. Duncan Hines himself, on page 186:
BOUT A MONTH AGO, after $677.17 in car repairs, 2851 miles of driving, and an evening of mind-shattering hip hop in a North Little Rock “Shenanigans,” I found myself in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I knew of this so-called “powder-blue heaven” only from the ravings of a deranged Tar Heel I’d met in college (for some reason you can also see him in this HBO documentary), but my associate Rollo had just started business school at UNC and had a room to let, so I decided to give it a shot. Since I don’t own any furniture, Rollo, a more than gracious landlord, gave me a love seat and helped me drag a gently used particle-board desk from someone’s trash pile. We then set about getting drunk enough to forget our respective Troubles—that I was broke, unemployed, and miserable, and that he had a mandatory “improv workshop” to attend the next morning, as part of his B-school orientation.
We did this with Keystone, just as we’d done the last time we were roommates—our senior year of college. We had come full circle, and the pathos of this situation wasn’t lost on us. Now, classier readers are most likely unaware that Keystone cans are decorated with haiku-like “Unsmooth Moments,” ostensibly meant to be funny but in fact brutally accurate reflections of the average Keystone drinker’s daily travails. When I plucked out a can reading GOT 2 NEW ROOMMATES (THEY GO BY MOM AND DAD), I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “This could have been me,” I thought. “This could all too easily have been me.”
Well, guess what? I wasn’t in Chapel Hill two weeks before a combination of credit card debt and family obligations* put an end to my southern sojourn and pulled me back into my clan’s upstate New York orbit. Now I live several blocks from my parents in a non-residential studio space—the worst of both worlds!—where my “kitchen” comprises a hot plate, a slow cooker, and this mini-fridge, kindly donated by my uncle (note totally sick Rolling Rock decal).
Dishes must be taken care of in the bathroom sink. I have lived in an apartment where the bathroom sink was in the kitchen, but never vice versa. It doesn’t get much more humiliating than this. (Well, it does, but at that point you no longer have Internet access and can’t blog about it.) Luckily, the Hudson Valley is full of edible and sometimes affordably priced cuisine. So, can I make the best of a truly abysmal situation and remain the same sophisticated glutton I’ve always been? Keep checking back to find out!