My regular readers know that about four years ago, circumstances – what I’ll euphemistically call Mr. Wallace’s job – dragged us from our beloved de facto rent-controlled NYC apartment to the unwashed American mainland also known as New Jersey. Here we still sit. Don’t worry, we hate you too. I think of my nine years in New York wistfully and often, noticing that I stay committed to mere faint awareness of the ever rosier-colored glasses I apply to my NYC reminiscences. I fondly recall the delicious and diverse restaurant scene, the colorful bars, the many museums, and the beautiful city parks, while conveniently forgetting things like subway delays, the St. Patrick’s Day parade, parking spaces at least ten blocks from your destination, and tourists who almost kill you on the escalators in Penn Station. Not once have I felt grateful for having to leave. Until now.
In large part because I no longer live in NYC, I’m fairly privileged in this hell hole we call the COVID-19 pandemic. I have no kids to homeschool, our income hasn’t suffered, we can work from home safely, we have a backyard and a legit house. We as a couple have enough space to, eh, usually fend off spiraling into full-on Bitch Eating Crackers territory. We live in a solid blue state with a governor who’s working around the clock, allowing science and facts to be his guides, and bringing some serious Strict Dad Energy to this rotten situation. But the fortuitousness we possess cannot transform the crushing sadness and fear at *gestures broadly at everything* to anything remotely happy or peaceful. People keep saying this pandemic is also a mental health crisis, and they are indeed correct. Between people stuck in tiny apartments to small restaurant owners wondering if they’ll have to permanently close, to attempting normalcy with small inconveniences only to discover the dystopian world that awaits us right now, this horror is taking a toll on everyone.
A couple weeks ago, one of our cats got sick, and let me just say that if you are able to avoid vet visits right now, you absolutely should. It’s a freakish, chilling experience. You cannot go into the office or even the waiting room. You drive up, call the front desk, then someone retrieves your animal from your car. You wait in your car. They call you back when they have diagnosed the problem. They take your payment info by phone. Eventually they bring your pet back to your car. Even though you understand why it has to be this way, and it’s small in the grand scheme, nonetheless the entire experience is supremely unnerving.
Last week I noticed some discomfort in my right ear. I’ve had ear infections since I was little, and one comes around for me about once every couple years as an adult. I know what they feel like. Usually, the process is simple, a small annoyance if you catch them early. You visit an urgent care, they shine a light in your ear, they say, “yep, it’s infected” and send you on your merry way with a cheap prescription. A week of antibiotics and Tylenol and you’re good to go. Except, there’s now a global pandemic going on, a deadly virus raging, and a doctor’s waiting room is the dead last place I care to be. Our hateful insurance company (hiiiii, Aetna!) has devised a telemedicine phone app for us, which I thought appropriate to use under the circumstances. I logged on, filled out my medical history, and joined a virtual waiting room. A doctor appeared on my phone screen fairly quickly. I told him my symptoms. And then you know what happened? That asshole blithely responded that you can’t diagnose an ear infection without looking into the patient’s ear, and that I should just see a primary care physician. Flabbergasted, I explained there’s, um, a whole pandemic thing happening, maybe he’s heard about it(?), and that I will in no circumstances trot my ass into a doctor’s waiting room right now. He casually replied that shouldn’t be a big deal because internists aren’t authorized to treat COVID-19 – like that’s going to stop someone with symptoms from inquiring in person and coughing all over the waiting room? Also there’s that whole asymptomatic carrier phenomenon? He said if I kept refusing (yes, he used those words) then I could simply upload a picture of my inner ear. Say what now, professor? I logged off (after leaving a savage review) and quietly started to freak out. The next morning, ear pain worse, I tried the telemedicine service again, gambling on getting a different doctor. Thankfully this plot worked. I got a script for Augmentin and I’m on the mend, all from the relative safety of my bedroom. But the experience, which should have been a mere inconvenience, was an uncertain and nerve-wracking nightmare, thanks to this mismanaged pandemic. My anxiety was far worse than my earache.
This is a tragic horror show, but you’d hardly know that if you consume any media. The American death toll has climbed to over fifty thousand. FIFTY. THOUSAND. Yet our corrupt federal government sees no need to fly flags at half-staff, no need to express condolences to the bereaved, no need to honor any lost lives. In their incessant yet inexplicable desire to normalize our aspiring autocrat of an illegally installed president, mainstream media has taken an almost casual tone to this shitshow. Instead of constant eulogies and calls for Trump to resign in disgrace, we’re treated to daily slews of articles about how to maintain sourdough starters and all the ways cats have interrupted zoom calls.
I’d like a refund on 2020. Of course this pandemic has starkly revealed the complete dysfunctionality of our “recovered” economy, plus the maliciousness and malfeasance of our current administration, not to mention the utter fecklessness of Democratic leadership. No surprises there. But I think it has also let slip that most celebrities, without their handlers babysitting them, are all just Jenna Maroney from 30 Rock. Listen up fives, a ten is quarantined! The tone-deaf Instagrams, the complaints about being around your kid all day, the ineptitude for performing basic household chores without the help around, the unwillingness to part with a cent of their multi millions to any one of the struggling 26 million now unemployed Americans… It’s just one more element of exhaustion. And that’s just Hollywood. We can’t forget those certain celebrity chefs who use their social media accounts to oh so helpfully offer ideas of limited pantry quarantine cooking ideas, recipes you can make tonight with only three items! But then those items end up being a tin of caviar, some freshly pickled matsutake mushrooms you most certainly had in your fridge already, and like, a single feather from a dodo bird. Seriously guys (it’s always guys), just shut up already.
If we’re playing a game of Hardship Olympics (dear God, let’s not), know I’m well aware that a couple of vet visits and an ear infection don’t even qualify me for an alternate on the high school varsity team. Even so, I am grumpy. I am exhausted. I am horrified and crushed. I am not writing a fucking screenplay. I am mostly trying not to cry. I am watching movies from my 1990’s teenage years and cartoons from my 1980’s childhood. I feel accomplished for putting on pants. I try my damndest to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even though I am helplessly watching my America be permanently yet needlessly changed due to the unmitigated greed and sociopathy of a powerful few.
Ribs with Gochujang, Fish Sauce, and Honey
- 3 lb pork baby back ribs (this will probably be 2 racks, and this recipe halves easily for 2 people)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 12 oz bottle of beer, or 1 ½ cups chicken stock or water
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup gochujang
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tbs fish sauce
- 2 tbs soy sauce
- Season the ribs well with salt and pepper. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan where they will fit snugly end to end. Pour the beer all around the ribs, then cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
- Roast the ribs until they are tender and the meat has pulled back from the bone by about a quarter of an inch. This takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours.
- Remove the ribs from the oven. Set your oven rack to 6 inches from the broiler and preheat your broiler to HIGH.
- Use tongs to remove the ribs to a cutting board or large plate. Pour the cooking liquid into a saucepot. Transfer the ribs back to the original baking sheet meat side up, or if you used a larger roasting pan, a new baking sheet. Set the pot to high heat then whisk in the garlic gochujang, honey, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let it continue to boil vigorously until it’s thickened and syrupy, about 5 minutes.
- Brush the top of the racks with the gochujang mixture. Broil the racks until the glaze is caramelized, 2 to 4 minutes. Don’t walk away at this step, the glaze will go from nicely lacquered to burned and inedible very quickly. Repeat this process one more time to give the ribs a nice double layer of lacquer.
- Transfer the ribs to a cutting board, let them rest for just a few minutes, then use a serrated knife to cut them into individual ribs. Serve immediately drizzled with the remaining sauce if you like.