A Basket Full of Surprises
Call me old fashioned, but I think one needs to be prepared for guests not only at the table, but also in the powder room. Guest towels, at least a half roll of TP, soap and lotion, and, most important of all, appropriate bathroom reading. A nice basket with maybe a couple of magazines with lots of photos (nothing too political or medically depressing as you want your guest to emerge eventually in a reasonably good mood). Or, even better, stock the privy with books that can be read in short episodes, such as Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, a commode-side basket godsend filled with short essays on less than intelligent criminals, palindromes, anagrams, urban legends and hoaxes, failed inventions, histories of everyday things, and accidental discoveries, as well as articles on pop culture and celebrities. And yes, there really is an Uncle John who started this series of books.
Or you could pick a topic you love, for me obviously it would involve food: One grateful guest gave me Dover Publication’s Food And Drink – a Book of Quotations to add to the collection, which has entertaining quotes from a fascinating range of celebrities ranging from Samuel Johnson to Julia Child — all pertaining to what and how we eat. One of my favorites comes from Mark Twain: “Eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
Not So Endangered Reading
Which brings us to Endangered Pleasures. by Barbara Holland. Looking back on the La Cuisine sales statistics, Endangered Pleasures was probably the highest selling book in our very tiny (some now would say curated) selection of books about food. From the complete title, it’s obvious that four of her pleasures she feared for most were Naps, Bacon, Martinis, and Profanity. The one that is included in this humorous group of essays, although not in the title, was smoking – which, in the end, put a period to her life at age 77.
But in the meantime, Barbara Murray Holland wrote some pretty interesting stuff, including a most incisive memoir of growing up in Chevy Chase, Maryland after World War II. Read it and you will get a frisson in view of what we are subjected to in currents news about adolescence in suburban Washington. When All The World Was Young chronicles her life with a somewhat reclusive mother (who was a children’s book writer and illustrator) and a stepfather she detested. A repeated winner of National Poetry competitions in high school, she worked at Hecht’s and later as a copywriter, while publishing essays in magazines and more than a dozen books. One of my favorite quotes from her is her rejoinder to Virginia Woolf’ statement that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Holland wrote, “No, Mrs. Woolf.” She must have a job.”
On Coffee, Sports, and Bedtime
But just to get you started on the episodic joys of Endangered Pleasures, below are excerpts from three favorites (although it was hard to choose). I find sometimes when the world has not treated me very well, that I pull this well worn book out of the guest bathroom basket and take it to bed. You should, too.
“Instant Coffee is the measure of America’s anti-pleasure bias. Since it ‘s no faster or easier to make than real coffee, it apparently exists only as a kind of punishment, a ritual morning flagellation of the senses, to ready us for whatever nastiness the day may bring…Getting out of bed to find real coffee already made is a civilized way to begin the day and incentive to fling off the covers and rise.” Details follow on how to make a decent cup even when you are hampered by well intentioned instant coffee lovers.
“Life, after we’d had a few millennia to observe it, turned out to be dreadfully unfair, so we invented sports. Sports are fair. If you or your team loses, it’s because you weren’t good enough to win. Your opponent played better. It may hurt, but it doesn’t rankle. If you win, it’s because you were better and your victory can be savored without guilt. If you try to win by unfair means, such as stomping your opponent’s groin, someone will most likely penalize you.” She then explained to me how sports, no matter how shady the players and team owners are, create a sense of community, no matter how transitory, and that cheating at sports imitates life.
“As a reward for getting out of it in the morning, we’re allowed to get back into bed at night: get gloriously horizontal again, after the vertical day spent carrying our bones around by ourselves. Being so uneasy with self-indulgence, Americans tend to slight the comforts of the bed. We don’t even allow ourselves to be ‘sick in bed’ anymore; we pick up a bottle of antibiotics on our way to the office, bearing flu for our colleagues.” And she digresses into four witty pages of bed dreams, including her opinions of chaise longues and their offspring, recliners and loungers.