And then sometimes you remember why people should write down words

This NY Times article is just flat out fantastic. If you at all enjoy people putting together words, check it out. It’s the best piece of food writing I’ve read in 2009 so far, maybe the best piece of writing period.

What Mark Dow does with language in the whole thing — dang, man. Dude can write. He stitches together a bunch of semi-unrelated vignettes with this throughline that is just untouchable.

And then kills it with some sentences that I can only stand by sadly and wish that I had written. (e.g. "We write things down, and hold on to them, for many different reasons. To stop time and keep the “edge of marveling” honed, or at least handy. To create pockets of order. To prove to ourselves that we exist. To be able to immerse ourselves in whatever matters to us but is gone.")

First couple of grafs:

Amy and I stood at the Xerox machine watching each other pay attention to our own palates and tongues. We kept the chocolate-covered caramel-topped cookie pieces in our mouths as long as we could without swallowing, and I hit the reduction-enlargement button over and over again. We started nodding and laughing. We were pretty sure we could taste what our student heard, or see what he meant.

Amy was an art teacher and a therapist, and I was an untrained classroom teacher at the so-called special school in Massachusetts, where our student “Steve” liked to play with the Xerox machine in the teacher’s library as a reward on days he’d behaved. He liked to press the reduction-enlargement button and listen to the sound of the lens aperture closing and opening. He would do this over and over again. It was 1988 or so; the mechanism was easily audible. When I asked him what he liked about the Xerox sound, he said, I guess it’s a kind of a creamy, crunchy sound, like the inside of a Twix Bar.

He said this with deliberation because he wanted to get it right, but without self-consciousness about the words he was using. He was just answering another question from the adults.

First thing in the morning, Steve would usually say something like: “Last night I had cheese ravioli with marinara sauce plus a Pepsi. You do know that I really do love cheese ravioli and Pepsi, right?”

The next day he might say: “Last night I had chili with rice plus a Mountain Dew to drink. Mountain Dew really is my favorite thing to drink, you know.”

The next day he would tell me again that he loved Pepsi or Mountain Dew.

He would tell me again the next day.

Then the next day he would tell me again.

Often, of course, I’d get impatient, especially with a half-dozen other students careening around the room, and Steve had very advanced radar for impatience. When I told him I already knew how much he loved Mountain Dew, he seemed confused. I told him he’d told me already. He stared as if betrayed. He stiffened along the length of his newly pubescent body, and his hands and chin started to tremble. Then he was pleading.

“But you know that I really do love it. You really do know that, right?”

“Yes,” I said, backing off, and he breathed.

“So you do know that I really do love Mountain Dew, right?”

“Yes,” I said, and he told me again the next day. He always remembered having told me before, but it made no sense to him that it made no sense to me to hear it again and again.

Steve knew about boredom — he complained about it sometimes — but this repetition wasn’t boring to him, and he didn’t see why it would be boring to someone else. If it’s pleasant to eat one’s favorite foods over and over again, and to imagine eating them, why shouldn’t it be pleasant to say so repeatedly, too? Why do we draw the line where we do? I never came close to an answer until recently, about 20 years later, in a small book my brother Leon gave me, Franz Rosenzweig’s “Understanding the Sick and the Healthy: A View of World, Man, and God.” The sickness in question is paralysis, what we would today probably call clinical depression. It is the patient’s metaphysical prowess that paralyzes him. It has replaced the common sense that once allowed him to accept ordinary things. He can no longer go to the store for butter because, after all, “the butter remembered, the butter desired, and the butter finally bought, are not the same. They may even be quite different.” And yet he is able to make the purchase — or would be able to, if he would just move on.

Rosenzweig writes: “The continuity of life blunts the edge of marveling. Wonder is finally enveloped in the stream of time.”