Spend a little time with your ghost

The Friday newsletter gets nostalgic for the things that used to matter.

There’s a man who walks beside me, he is who I used to be—

It’s easy to pile on people in the early stages of their independent adulthood, and it’s something that seems to happen to every generation. Whether it’s lambasting millennials for spending their money on avocado toast or deriding Gen-Xers as slackers, there’s always been a societal impulse to stereotype and attack people in their twenties as flippant, frivolous, irresponsible, not as tough as my generation, so on.

What this unkind and unfair stance ignores is how difficult that time can be in one’s life; a time of trying to stake your own roots outside of the comforts of home, a time of trying to prove yourself to the world while not being entirely sure who you are or what you want to prove. It’s exhilarating at times, but it can also be exhausting, lonely, and full of moments of genuine despair.

I’m well past that stage right now; I’m a month shy of 38. I have a family, a mortgage, the most stable home address I’ve had since I lived in my parents’ house in high school. I just bought a compost bin, because that’s the sort of thing I do now: I brew my own dirt. My dreams haven’t all been fully realized nor abandoned, but at this point I know with reasonable confidence who I am, and I’m mostly okay with it.

I’ve traded the angry, restless fire of my independent years for the stability and comfort of family life. 

Every once in a while, though, something shakes loose its ghost. A song that I used to blare, a movie I watched over and over again. A taste, a smell, a moment. I reminisce about that person, a mostly-well-meaning but scatterbrained and inconsistent young man who made some decisions I can’t even imagine making, even though I’m the one who made them. It’s a life unrecognizable but for having lived it, full of experiences I loved but would not re-live. 

Every Friday in these pages, I share things I enjoy and I think you will enjoy as well: food, drinks, music, books, movies, and more. It’s wildly self-indulgent yet framed as a public service, which in my book is the best kind of self-indulgence. These things, though — the things we like and consume, the ways we entertain ourselves, they can illuminate the larger story of our life at the time; they’re the reflected light that astronomers use to see the stars they otherwise couldn’t.

I want to share memories of a few such things today.

7) Pride is what you charge a proud man for having

Immediately after college, I moved to New York City. Sometimes people will ask why I moved there — was it for work? Family? — and I never have a good answer, other than that at that point in my life, I was consumed by the desire to be somewhere. New York was the most somewhere a fresh graduate who was bad at long-range financial planning could picture. I sought a job so I could get there; I took the first one that would get me there. I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with a friend from college, a place that we made passably livable for two by paying someone to install a temporary wall that cut the already-small living room in half. I paid more money for this privilege than I had to spend, and ran up a healthy amount of personal debt that year. I had a frustrating and unfulfilling entry-level job where I’d routinely put in 80-hour weeks, and carried an ill-conceived long-distance relationship on two years longer than I should have. (Which is to say: two years.) 

When you’ve put yourself in this scenario, you need to find a way to convince yourself that it’s worth it, and the burrito helped a little.

I lived about ten blocks away from Momofuku Ssam Bar, the second outpost in current restaurant industry titan David Chang’s then-burgeoning empire. It was cool in the way I’d pictured everything in New York to be — a small bar counter, the kitchen right in front of you, loud music, cold beer, and exciting food. The pork buns and other offerings were terrific, but my favorite thing was the Ssäm — Chang’s spin on a burrito. Stuffed with roast pork, kimchi, edamame, and a ton of other things, it was one of the best things I’d ever eaten, and I made a point of going there whenever I could just to get them. 

Of course, I didn’t find out until much, much later that Chang considered the burrito concept a tremendous professional failure — a plan to get huge on the backs of an Asian-fusion-Chipotle model fizzled quickly and nearly killed his whole business. The restaurant retooled, the burrito disappeared from the restaurant and mostly from culinary memory, save for a rueful passage in his namesake cookbook.

I had to have it again. Some internet sleuthing led to a recipe that comes close enough to tickle the memory bone:

Here’s what’s involved:

  • 1 extra-large flour tortilla

  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

  • ¼ cup or so cooked short-grain/sushi rice

  • ½ cup pulled pork

  • 1 tablespoon kimchi, pureed 

  • 1 tablespoon shelled edamame

  • 1 tablespoon caramelized/roasted onions

  • A few slices of a “quick pickle” made by tossing a sliced cucumber with 2T salt and 1T sugar and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes

Smear the hoisin across the tortilla; layer in the rice, pork, kimchi and onions. Scatter in some edamame and layer on the pickles; roll tightly.

I find it’s better when wrapped in foil and warmed a few minutes in a low oven; the number of cold ingredients like kimchi and pickles can cool off the rice and pork too much, and a little time to let the flavors soak into each other doesn’t hurt at all.

Makes me feel like I’m riding my bike around the East Village again, unaware that I’m about six months shy of getting laid off in the same room as thirty other people when the economy collapses and no one wants to buy the luxury condominiums that I didn’t really enjoy designing anyways.

6) I saw tail lights, last night, in a dream about my old life

This is the point on Fridays where I normally offer a cocktail. Some of them are slick creations, many pulled from my favorite cocktail guide of the moment, The One-Bottle Cocktail; others are original creations, on which I have a roughly 50% success rate.

My cocktail tastes were, ah, not as nuanced when I was 25. If you’re a drinker, (and I sincerely apologize if you are not, I don’t wish to cause anyone grief or consternation with this section, hopefully you just scroll on past to the next part), chances are you have a strong memory of what we drank back then. This was a time when my tastes were built around a strong foundation of $4 happy-hour frozen margaritas at Benny’s, Miller Lite drafts, and shots of Jameson. Back then we’d pre-game for hours before going out, the Manhattan bars being far too expensive to spend the whole evening in, especially if you were staying out until 4am. (I’m exhausted now even considering such an idea.)

Our what we drank back then, the thing that fueled hours of Wii Bowling and Guitar Hero prior to heading out to a loud, crowded, and overpriced bar, was a mix of Diet Sunkist soda and vanilla vodka, served in a large plastic cup: the Creamsicle.

Every guest to our apartment mocked us for it, and every guest ended up having three of them before they’d left. 

It turns out I’m in a place in my life now where I’m much more likely to have vanilla extract on hand for baking than I am to have vanilla vodka for drinking, so I made do. Back then I’d probably have tried to bake a pie with the vodka.

I was very dumb back then. Also, I stole that Nashville Predators pint glass from a bar.

If you came here for a “good” cocktail this week, first: I am sorry, and second: you should make the Gin Rocket from this newsletter back in August, it is complex, nuanced and time-consuming, and contains no diet orange soda whatsoever.

I feel comfortable recycling this content because I’ve added several thousand subscribers since then. Are you one of them? No? You can be!

YOU: wow that sales pitch was seamless this guy’s good

5) There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right

It’s sobering when you hear that a band you love has announced a tour where they’re going to play your favorite album in its entirety, and then you realize it’s because the album is on its 10th, 15th, or even 20th anniversary. Or maybe you pop in to Spotify to listen to an artist you once followed religiously, only to find that they’ve released six albums since the last one you listened to. Time comes for all of us.

The summer in question — and I don’t know, I might be conflating two or three summers, it doesn’t really matter, memories are squishy — I got to see one of my favorite bands play on the cracked concrete of a decommissioned city pool. My roommate dislocated his shoulder on a slip-and-slide at the show; I lost my wallet at some point. It was a great afternoon and one that would kill me dead today. The pool was renovated a couple years later and now serves its original, much higher purpose as a source of public recreation rather than a venue for concerts. Time, again, moves on.

Nothing brings me back to that time more than The Hold Steady, or their 2006 album Boys And Girls In America.

What’s an album that really sticks with you for a particular time in your life? I’d love to hear what you feel this way about. Sound off in the comments below! I have a comment section! You should use it!

Also, are you enjoying this? Perhaps you can share it with a friend. Every new subscriber is a new opportunity for me, and seeing the numbers tick up keep the attention-hungry worms that live in my internet-addled brain happy.

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4) If we're near or far from out city by the sea-side / as long as we keep our stride, I believe we'll be fine

I’ve always been captivated by the notion of a long trip. In high school, I devoured Peter Jenkins’ book A Walk Across America. In college, I identified, as so many young men are liable to do, with Christopher McCandless in Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild. I’ve filled countless notebooks and pieces of scratch paper idly planning grand journeys. I got into marathon running partly out of the satisfaction of seeing how long of a line I could draw on the map under my own power.

All of this is to say, I was extremely excited to receive A Good Place For Maniacs, Chuck McKeever’s brand-new book profiling his time walking the Pacific Crest Trail.

McKeever, who I’ve come to know from reading his excellent Substack blog Tabs Open, recounts taking on an adventure he wasn’t fully prepared for but became consumed with the idea of doing.

A compelling travelogue is a difficult thing to pull off — it has to be more than just an inventory of places seen. It has to connect emotionally, and McKeever does so beautifully; reading the book this week, I’ve felt like I was there in his boots, experiencing the highs and lows of an incredible undertaking right along with him. 

It means something when a book rekindles a fire in you, and A Good Place For Maniacs has that old restless soul inside of me itching to plan a journey again. I turn 40 in two years. Perhaps I’ll do something crazy then.

(This is a test to see if my wife has read this far. Hi.) 

3) Everywhere I go, I’m just trying to find the fastest way back home

There are movies that connect with you at different points in your life — ones that remind you of youthful abandon, or of middle-aged longing and regret. It’s rare when movies can thread those different eras using the same characters.

Richard Linklater’s trilogy Before trilogy is a remarkable and nearly irreplicable work in this sense. Starting with the 1995 film Before Sunrise, it follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as strangers on a train who develop a quick and intense emotional and romantic connection. There’s little formal plot; the movie unfolds as essentially a 100-minute conversation, one that feels shockingly natural and real.

The movie is one of my absolute favorites, to the extent that around the time period described herein I once accosted Ethan Hawke in a restaurant to tell him how much I loved it. (I can report that he was kind and graceful, especially since I think I was interrupting a date. See the aforementioned $4 margaritas for my explanation.)

It would stand alone as a lovely piece of filmmaking if the characters’ stories had ended there, but Delpy and Hawke revisited them in 2003’s Before Sunset and 2013’s Before Midnight, similarly-sparsely-structured real-time visits with Celine and Jesse at different stages in their life, and each a wonderful piece of filmmaking in its own right.

If you haven’t already seen the movies, all three can be rented to stream for a reasonable price, and the whole trilogy is under five hours of runtime. Watch them all tonight. I dare you.

2) The downtown club scene ain’t nothin’ like it used to be

I’d like to take a moment to reflect again on the state of the parts of the internet that I’ve long frequented, and as a consequence, become acquainted with many of you who are reading this today. I wrote about this a few months ago, when Deadspin as we knew it died, but more of the old familiar parts of our internet have fallen apart since then, most recently the recession-blamed gutting earlier this week of SBNation, a place where I hung around long enough until they let me write some things for them, some of which were good. (Someone paid me to draw stadiums!)

When I first found myself in an office after college, I felt rudderless without the structure of a schedule. It wasn’t this year or this semester or this class anymore, it was just indefinite time. I was in a city where I knew only a handful of people, I’d lost most of my social structure, and I needed something fun. I needed people to talk to; I needed to feel a connection to something.

Before Twitter or any of that sort of thing, I had the blogs. Silly things written by other people who didn’t have everything figured out yet either, people who were probably also supposed to be doing something else with the time they were spending on it. They didn’t necessarily feel important, but they were somewhere to hang out while I waited for my life to really get going. Silly jokes were shared, a common lexicon of humor and mutual appreciation for esoteric things developed.

Some of those blogs died off quickly; some people got better jobs and left that sort of thing behind. Others turned them into real, full-fledged media careers — the blogs were sold to big companies with the promises of advertising dollars, access, and reach. Someone put real dollars into them and they turned into real businesses, which probably spelled their doom in the long run but got a lot more people in on the party before the deck collapsed. 

I hope and believe new communities like that continue to form; I hope I can do my own small part in fostering that sense of community I found in those places. Friendships and connections that matter deeply can be formed over things that don’t seem like they matter, over jokes and memes, recipes and drinks, things we like and frustrations we share. 

The takeaway from the time I’ve tried to recount in the items above was that the little things I did to keep myself entertained while waiting for something better were the things I’d remember the most later on.

Thanks for indulging me today. Let’s look at some dogs.

1) You’ve been rolling solo, time to get down with the team.

If I had to track to the moment when I knew that chapter in my life was ending and the next phase was beginning, it might be the moment when I — when we — got a puppy. I’d already moved in with my then-girlfriend; things seemed serious. The moment when we decided to bring a living thing into our home and share the responsibility for it, though, that was the moment we tacitly agreed that things were for real. 

Surely you know Holly; I’ve built much of my internet persona and following around her, even as I sometimes wish to disassociate from just being the guy with the corgi. We brought her home as a 9-week-old puppy to our apartment in Brooklyn; nine years later she’s sleeping under the couch as I write this in my house in suburban Louisville. Two kids have joined us and nothing looks the same, but it’s still the same. 

One of my first forays into regularly putting stuff on the internet was a Tumblr dedicated to sharing photos of my then-new puppy, something I have not updated in eight years but lives on in the memory of the internet. You can check that out here.

Now, on to your dogs.

First up, @Brian_Goodison shares:

The cookbook is amazing, though I haven't tried much in it. And for submission for great dogs, I present Draco, 11 weeks old and part lab/part husky.

DRACO. Those are the eyes of a very good dog that also plans to get into some serious mischief very soon. I respect him. I fear him. I love him.

Next up, @SLUisville shares:

Hi Scott! Big fan. This is Louie... whenever we eat at the coffee table, he likes to put his chin on the table and stare longingly at our food. Tonight I was having a piece of the chocolate cake my wife made me for my birthday this past weekend and a glass of choco milk when the stars aligned. Chocolate cake, chocolate milk, chocolate lab. Perfect.

LOUUUUUUIE. Don’t eat that chocolate, buddy. Make your person get you something good, though. You deserve it.

Finally this week, @sigscity shares:

If you need a dog picture for this weeks newsletter... here is Easton’s mildly surprised and a bit amused face:

EASTON. Great dog, and also “mildly surprised and a bit amused” is the reaction I shoot for with every Friday email, so I feel like I’ve succeeded with at least one reader.

Thanks to everyone who submitted this week, and I’ve got a nice deep backlog of dogs for the coming weeks, but please, send me your dogs, too!

I hope you enjoyed the ride today, and I hope you all have a great weekend.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

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