Reality Truck

A Good Thing?

Her kitchen is dense with Stewart touches: 48 gleaming copper pots hang above the stove, hundreds of antique dishes fill the glass-fronted cabinets, and the dishwashing liquid is decanted into a glass cruet beside the sink. Still, I said, it’s a pretty small room to produce much food. Not to worry, she replied, smiling. ‘I have 18 burners in an annex out back.’

—Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker interview with Martha Stewart, February 3, 2003

Just because she’s headed for the Big House doesn’t mean that Martha Stewart’s influence is really going anywhere—a rude awakening that I’ve come to in the weeks post-sentencing—a realization that I’ll never really be free.

This first came up when I started getting my house ready for my Mom to move in as my roommate for a few months here, a few months there while she undergoes medical treatment nearby—treatment we all frequently refer to as “rehab”—which has had the unforeseen effect of lots of people thinking my mother has substance abuse issues (which she obviously doesn’t, because God knows if she did, I’d have written about them long before now).

So when the facelift at the house started, it was pretty easy to attribute all this renewed zeal for home and hearth to the impending arrival of my mother—whose standards for keeping an impeccable house far exceed my own.

But while there’s no denying she is the very epitome of the charming, southern, Episcopalian hostess (at least that’s the Mom everybody knows NOW, refusing to sympathize even remotely with the incredibly CRUEL version of her that I remember from childhood—the one who repeatedly sent me to bed without Chico and the Man for the most MINOR infractions)—I must finally acknowledge that it was the spectre of something far more insidious that has long since permeated my house.

I came to this conclusion when I recently painted my kitchen (after having my new upstairs bedroom painted…three times, along with the dining room).

After the bedroom and dining room, I discovered that the kitchen (formerly a charming periwinkle) now clashed with the ENTIRE house.

I had screwed up the first two color selections so badly that I realized it was time to just admit the obvious and go to the Martha Stewart color palette. C’mon. It’s a kitchen.

It isn’t as easy as it sounds because there were roughly 8172 colors to choose from (color number 8172 is, by the way, “buttercup” if you’re interested).

I narrowed the field to Lawn Frost, Fen, and Rubbed Sage.

I toyed with Gull, Sourdough, and Otter Point—but honestly, they were just out of my league. I am not the kinda woman who can pull off “Gull…” It’s the sort of subtle (yet slightly breathtaking) shade that—upon one look—would have visitors muttering under their breath, “Who the hell does she think she’s kidding?”

Overcome with an uncharacteristic insecurity, I solicited reams of advice—making it very clear that I wanted “discernibly green, but subtle.” I was adamant after the first version of the bedroom turned out to be “Vietnam,” despite its pleasant sounding label of “hearth.”

A committee of close friends and advisors agreed on Lawn Frost.

Next up, I had to find a painter—because frankly, I was too embarrassed to call the first crew back.

After asking around, there was a consensus that “Jimmy” worked fast and cheap (I think that’s his real name, but if he has a last one, I don’t know it). He’s not in the phone book or anything. You just have to leave a message with his brother-in-law. Hey, I was desperate (what with the clashing periwinkle and all).

So Jimmy arrived at the appointed time and I headed out to Farmers’ Market to give him some time and space.

I interrupted him briefly, later on, to put away some produce—whereupon he asked, appropos of nothing in particular (or so I thought), “you don’t care if I’m a beer drinker do you?”

I responded with a generous No, of course not.

To be honest, I detest it, and while I don’t personally drink it, if I developed any real moral objection to beer, my social circle would dwindle to even smaller ranks.

And then I went about the rest of my Saturday chores—without a single debate on the merits of say, foreign vs. domestic (or even cans vs. bottles), because this is just one area of taste where I really couldn’t care less.

It was only when I went to empty the trash and noticed an inordinate amount of clanking aluminum that I realized his question had been logistical, rather than theoretical, as I sorted an astonishing surfeit of empty Keystone cans into the recycler.

And so here’s the thing—something I really should’ve learned after multiple, painful, expensive, heart-wrenching lessons—contractors don’t really deal in the “hypothetical.” They tend to require excruciating degrees of specificity.

Instead of saying I had no objection to beer, it would’ve been prudent to follow that up with a disclaimer about how I think it’s an ill-advised beverage to consume when trying to complete most ANY task. (And here I’m trying not to be rigid. I’m trying to give folks the benefit of the doubt… but …. No, I can’t think of any job performance that would be improved by the consumption of beer. Particularly none that are scheduled for TEN O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING.)

In the end, it didn’t matter.

Aside from paint all over the floor ing (which needs to be replaced anyway—at least that’s the philosophical, zen-like response I’m going for), the quality of the work turned out to be irrelevant.

Because “lawn frost” is actually “off-white” once you get it on the walls.

True, it’s not as bad as periwinkle, but it’s sure as hell no “Gull” either.

I’m now debating Fen versus Rubbed Sage, and in the meantime, just trying to stay out of the kitchen.

It’s just as well, after I completely WRECKED the last meal I made.

After spending an ungodly amount of time picking a selection of the 13 varieties of basil I grow in my kitchen garden to make the perfect pesto (a passé 80s trend that’s happily making a culinary comeback—it’s the new black), the entire dish was RUINED when I couldn’t find DeCecco pasta and settled for some equally over-priced, annoyingly precocious brand that was supposed to be just as good.

Well. It wasn’t. It had all the taste and consistency of library paste (not that I was a kid who ate that stuff, but I heard the reviews).

Not content to suffer alone, I complained endlessly, ensuring that my Insignificant Other couldn’t enjoy his meal either —despite the fact that he generally has the palate of a 13-year-old and would likely eat anything I put in front of him, in peace, up to and including the aforementioned paste. (Since he lives out of town—where NO one cooks—and travels constantly for work, anything above truckstop fare gets a rave review from him.)

And the thing is, neither of us even really LIKES pasta, but based on the handful of occasions a year that I serve it, I still impetuously concluded that a pasta-maker would have to be purchased and lessons taken.

Then I spent the rest of the evening banging around in the kitchen, taking out my rage on cleanup and the dishes (which are most definitely HIS jobs).

He later tried to elevate my mood with bad jokes about “eating at the Y”—which he first had to explain, and which I might’ve found MILDLY amusing under another circumstance, but I was having none of it. He coulda dialed zero on the pink telephone from now till Christmas —but THAT number was outta service. Off the hook. Temporarily disconnected.

And nobody’s gettin’ leftovers either.

Reviewing the debacle, it’s clear that there’s only one person to blame and that’s Martha Stewart—because while I was raised by two great cooks with perfectionistic tendencies, NEITHER of them taught me that there’s any dish that would necessitate 13 varieties of basil. We certainly didn’t have a “kitchen garden,” we had a FIELD. It definitely wasn’t “staffed”—it was a weed-infested, chigger-ridden corner of hell that served as the bane of mine and my brother’s existence.

And if you asked anyone in my lineage to distinguish between lawn frost and rubbed sage, their response would most certainly include some unenlightened aspersions about homosexuality. n