1940s Archive

An Alphabet for Gourmets

continued (page 2 of 5)

I drive home by way of the corner supermarket to pick up another box of Ry-Krisp, which, with a can of tomato soup and a glass of California sherry, will make a good nourishing meal for me, as I sit on my tuffet in a circle of page proofs and pocket detective stories.…

It took me several years of such fairly rare (thank God!) periods of being alone to learn how to care for myself, at least at table. I came to believe that since nobody else dared feed me as I wished to be fed, I must do it myself, and with as much aplomb as I could muster. Enough of hit-or-miss suppers of tinned soup and boxed biscuits and an occasional egg, just because I had failed once more to rate an invitation! Enough of gallant and basically boring solitude!

I resolved to establish myself as a well-behaved female at one or two good restaurants where I could dine alone at a pleasant table with adequate attentions rather than be pushed into a corner and given a raw or over-weary waiter simply because I might become a nuisance. To my credit I manage to carry this resolution out, at least to the point where two headwaiters accepted me: they knew I tipped well, they knew I wanted simple but excellent menus, and, above all, they knew that I could not only order but also drink, all by myself, an apértif and a small bottle of wine or a mug of ale without turning into a potentially maudlin pickup for The Gentleman at the Bar.

Once or twice a week, when it was obvious that none of my three types of acquaintances was going to dare feed me, I would go to the restaurant I had selected, and with carefully disguised self-consciousness I would order my meal, taking heed to have things that would nourish me most thoroughly as well as agreeably, because of the other nights ahead when soup and crackers would be mine. I met some interesting waiters: I continue to agree with a modern Mrs. Malaprop who said, “They are so much nicer than people!”

But my expensive little dinners became, in spite of my good intentions, no more than a routine prescription for existence. I had long believed that, once having bowed to the inevitability of the dictum that we must eat to live, we should ignore it and live to eat—in proportion, of course. And there I was, spending more money than I should, in a grim plan which became increasingly complicated. In spite of the loyalty of my waiter-friends, wolves in a dozen different kinds of sheep's clothing, from normally lecherous to lesbian, sniffed at the high wall of my isolation. I changed seats, then tables. I read; I read everything from Tropic of Cancer to Riders of the Purple Sage. Finally I began to look around the room and hum.

That was when I decided that my own walk-up flat, my own script-cluttered room with the let-down bed, was the place for me.“Never be daunted in public,” was an early Hemingway phrase which had more than once bolstered me in my Timid Twenties. I changed it now: “Never be daunted in private,” I said resolutely…

I rearranged my schedule, so that I marketed cozily on my way to the studio each morning and hid my more perishable tidbits in the water cooler just outside my office in the Writers Building, instead of dashing to an all-night grocery for tins of this and that at the end of a long day. I bought things that would adapt themselves artfully to an electric chafing dish … cans of shad roe (a good solitary dish, since I always feel that nobody really likes it but me), and consommé double, and such. I grew deliberately fastidious about eggs and butter: the biggest,brownest eggs were none too good, nor could any butter be too clover-fresh and sweet. I laid in a case or two of“unpretentious but delightful little wines.”

I was determined about the whole thing, which in itself is a great drawback, emotionally. But I knew no alternative.

I ate very well indeed. I liked it, too … at least more than I had liked my former can-openings, or my elaborate preparations for dining out. I treated myself fairly dispassionately as a marketable thing, at least from ten to six daily and at least in a Hollywood studio story department, and fed myself for top efficiency. I recognized the dull fact that certain foods affected me this way, others that way. I tried to apply what I knew of proteins and so forth to my own chemical pattern, and deliberately I scramble two eggs in a little sweet butter when quite often I would like to have had a glass of sherry and a hot bath and said to hell with food.

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