Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Advice Columns allow people to tell total strangers (often called “columnists”) intimate details of their personal lives. Then the columnists tell them what they should do. Publicly. It’s almost as good as cockfighting. But there’s a problem. The advice these columnists give is often too general. It seems like it has to be that way. Readers are looking for insight into their own lives, and they can’t do that if the columnist’s advice is too specific. But doesn’t it seem like general advice doesn’t cut it? It isn’t compelling in a dirty, this is what-you-do-in-the-darkest-hours-of-the-night kind of way. A column containing advice tailored to individuals with incredibly specific problems would be impractical, uncomfortable, and downright wrong in its very nature. Fortunately, this is Swarthmore, the home of such impractical-wrong-yet-sexy ideas.
Have you ever wondered how to use the cutlery at your wealthy boyfriend’s house while simultaneously wrestling with the feeling that you’re a class traitor? How to steal your best friend’s car after she betrayed you in a very intimate and personal way? How to most effectively use your young children as weapons in your thirty-year war with your neighbors? How to inflict terrible psychic pain on your elderly coworker by moving her potted plants around when she’s not looking? How about how to fall in love when you can’t bear to let anyone touch you? No? Congratulations, you’re very healthy and well-adjusted. These probably aren’t the right questions for you.
Maybe this is:
Recipes for a man whose wife has left him after twenty years of marriage, who has never had to cook for himself
Pan Fried Hamburger, With Bourbon
Turn burners to ‘HI.’ Drop a gob of meat in the pan. Pour yourself a glass of bourbon. Go into the living room. Stare at the quilt your wife sewed last winter. Turn away from the quilt. Go outside to your front porch, to your rocking chair. Watch the grass roll, high and yellow and dead. Thirty minutes later wake up and rush back inside, through the black smoke. Grab the fire extinguisher. After all that’s done, look outside, through the smoke. The sun is setting. Shadows chase themselves across your lawn. Try to feed the burnt-out bits to your dog. Your dog takes a nibble, runs away. Order from Chang’s House of Sweetness. Maybe you should order wontons and General Tsao’s chicken. In Boston they call it general Gao’s. You met your wife in Boston. Oh God.
Order the cashew chicken. That’s the same everywhere. Pour yourself another glass.
Penne In Cream Sauce With Marscapone and Hammered Mint leaves, With Bourbon.
Watch the sauce. Watch it turn from white to dirty cream. Oh that smells great. Watch it turn from dirty cream to brown. Looking good now. Time to pour yourself a glass of bourbon—oh shit. You turned your back for a minute. A fucking minute and it’s turned black. The onions look like tarballs. And now with the smoke. Turn off the burner. Your dog doesn’t want it. Sit outside. Order from Chang’s House of Sweetness. Pour yourself another glass.
The Hamburger Again, With Bourbon
Maybe you should have put butter in the pan. Maybe that was your mistake. Your mom, God rest her soul, she put butter in the pan. Her hamburgers were delicious. Smear some butter in the pan. Two tablespoons doesn’t seem like enough. Maybe you should put more in the pan. Pour yourself a glass. Drink it. Pour yourself another glass. That smells good. Oh wow, that smells great. Butter’s the secret. Put the rest of the stick in the pan. Slap some meat onto the pan. Watch out for the spitting butter. Wow … that really spits. Now it’s starting to turn brown. That can’t be good. Go into the other room to Google ‘too much butter in the pan.’ Hear a woosh behind you.
Later, after the fire trucks have left, offer the pan to your dog. He doesn’t trust you anymore. Order from Chang’s House of Sweetness. Do we need to tell you to pour another glass of bourbon?
Sweet Christ, Just a Simple Bowl of Instant Noodles, How Can This Go Wrong? With Bourbon.
So. You bought yourself a water heater. That means you don’t have to boil anything on the stove. Which is good. You just press a button and then the water boils and then you pour it into the styrofoam cup with all the noodles. This is easy. You can do this. Pour water into the heater. Press the button. Pour yourself a glass of bourbon. The water starts to boil. Pick up the water heater. The lid wasn’t secured correctly. Burn your hand. Drop the water heater. Pour scalding water on your crotch. Oh Jesus, get your pants off, get your pants off. Oh good Christ, your testicles feel like dumplings. Ah. Ah. That’s better. That doesn’t hurt so bad. Dump out the fucking bourbon in the sink.
Now would be a good time to inspect the state of your life.
You’re thirty-nine years old. You’re standing in your kitchen in your tighty-whiteys touching your scalded man parts. And the lawn’s rolling outside like amber waves of grain because you haven’t cut it since your wife left you. You married her when you were young. Neither of you were ever bad. It was just that your marriage didn’t leave either of you any room to be good.
The trees form shadows on the grass outside. The Richardson’s sprinkler turns in regular increments. The sun is red and massive on the horizon. Feel something in you unclench. Order from Chang’s house of Sweetness without shame.