I Ain’t Got No Culture

I once tried to make chicken Parmesan with drumsticks baked in the oven and I ended up with inedible chicken that was burned on the outside and raw on the inside and was covered with melted Parmesan cheese. I thought I didn’t have the oven turned up high enough.

There was a period when I thought I was becoming something of an epicurean and was cooking with wine if I poured most of the bottle into the stew. Subtlety was not in my culinary vocabulary so if a slight hint of wine was good then a lot of wine must be better and so on. That is true when you’re drinking wine but not true when cooking. The result, as expected, was food that tasted more like the wine which overpowered anything I was trying to cook. That was around the time when I was buying expensive wine and would swirl a bit in my mouth, claiming I could tell the difference from cheap wine, when the reality was that all wine tastes the same to me other than Manischewitz which is disgustingly sweet and should only be sold to older, Jewish women who tuck used tissues in their sleeves, wear flowered dresses and stockings that fall below their knees. Similarly, I bought six different individual beers as part of a tasting adventure and found that after the first three beers it didn’t matter whether I was drinking top of the line ale or Rheingold and I realized that I had spent a lot more than was necessary.

I even made my own tofu which was a laborious, multi-step process but it was rewarding to know I had turned soybeans into something edible and the best was fried tofu.

I used to spit shine my shoes, literally using wads of wet cotton to spread the shoe polish and then buff it with a brush with the goal that I could see my reflection in the shoes. Socks with the slightest hole were tossed in the trash.

And I would wax the car, first preparing it with rubbing compound and then applying the polishing compound, using all the elbow grease I could muster and enjoy when it rained and seeing how the raindrops would form little droplets on the wax. I’d vacuum the interior, making sure to remove any hint of anything foreign from the mats and the seats, right down to the lint and hair that nobody would see. And there would be nothing in the rear, no books on the back seats, no magazines on the floor and you could eat off the ashtrays.

And in the same way, I also changed the oil in my car, including the oil filter, every thousand miles, religiously changed the air filter regularly and even put new spark plugs in although one time I cross-threaded one of the plugs and had to get it fixed at a service station and it was not cheap.

I ironed my shirts, wore sports jackets and sometimes suits, had a variety of ties, got regular haircuts, splashed after shave lotion on my face and liberally rubbed deodorant on my armpits. One time I put on an ascot, smoked my pipe with a sophisticated aroma filling the car and drove for hours, listening to Frank Sinatra tunes. I wore overcoats and sometimes rain coats like London Fogs. I had a beret.

What was I thinking?

These days, partly inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, partly fueled by age and economy and partly a result of a growing realization that it doesn’t matter what I wear or how I look, whether my shirts are wrinkled or my pants have a hole in the knee and as for haircuts, I haven’t had one in 10 years and that is why my white hair is tied in a ponytail and people tell me I look like an old hippie. I like to think my style is early-Brando.

I do draw the line at odors but I deal with that through regular showers as I don’t like putting potentially abrasive chemicals on my pits to cover up the stench and anyway, I don’t get close enough to most people for them smell anything untoward.

And so, my efforts at becoming cultured eventually went down the drain. I’ve tried to figure where it started going south and it could have been in college when my cowboy boots developed big holes and I used pieces of cardboard to cover the holes. Maybe it was just the whole ’60s thing where everything goes as long as it’s not something that violated the everything goes principle. Or maybe it was just economy driven, where I had to choose between a new shirt and a six pack of expensive IPA beer and the IPA beer was a no-brainer. Overcoats were unnecessary because I took to wearing leather jackets and raincoats were similarly not needed because a hooded sweatshirt kept me dry and warm.

My post-college years were often not very sophisticated. One apartment had no heat in the one bedroom but there was a big closet where I piled all dirty clothes until no more would fit and I was forced to go to the Rub-a-Dub. I think the last time I wore a tie and sports jacket was at my mother’s funeral more than a decade ago and spit shined shoes have long since gone the way of motorcycle boots that are impervious to any of the elements.

I have become something of a T-shirt maven, with a few dozen T-shirts in my collection. They have served me well and many I have worn until they become so tattered that they just about fell off my back, which is sad when it comes to a favorite T-shirt like one I bought at a Springsteen concert.

And as far as socks with holes, the real challenge is to turn the sock in just the right way so a toe doesn’t stick out and make it thoroughly uncomfortable. My car is lucky if it gets an oil change twice a year and one tire has a slow leak but rather than buy a new tire, I bought a tire inflater gizmo so that whenever the tire looks perilously low, as if it might blow out, I simply attach my tire inflator and voila. The same goes for the battery which is not very healthy and so rather than spend for a new battery, I bought a portable charger and that always gets me out of a pinch, although I have to be careful not to forget the charger in the garage when I take a trip. There are times when it appears that there are no back seats because they are covered with all the flotsam I tend to toss back there.

I still cook occasionally with my forte everything from pasta to hamburgers and hot dogs, which are really all any man really needs to survive, anyway, washed down by a few Rheingolds.




Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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