Sunday, August 4, 2013

Exposé: potlucks

Many moons have passed since my last entry. 

So many moons, in fact, that the last school year has set and a brand new one has risen.  Like the legend of the phoenix.
Making this transition during the past week has been abrupt and unforgiving, which is understandable under normal circumstances.  But then I remember that I missed an entire moon during the return flight from the U.S. … and I silently moon over my jetlagged self.

Oh, the U.S.  I miss it only sometimes.  But I miss my family always.  And I will never get used to certain things here in India.  I used to think I would never get used to things like this:
"still not used to it... will not stop taking pictures"
^ taken from Facebook post on August 31, 2012 ^

Captioned words officially eaten.

My curiosity is no longer roused by these Curious Little Georges.  Instead of snapping shots of banana-wielding beasts, I actually find myself more focused on developing loaves of banana bread.  My life has become such that a successful baking experiment trumps an exotic, experimental animal species. 

“Why not just give up on banana bread, freak?”... you might ask.
“You can go without it for another year, fatass”… you might think.

But can I?  Can I, really?!  Because I say that this process is not a selfish preoccupation or an obsessive manifestation; it is a social necessity stemming from the looming entity that is…

Because I’ve recently reentered the teaching mindset, allow me to unmask the term’s etymology:

The term potluck comes from the traditional practice (not that it's entirely unknown among us moderns) of never throwing anything away. Meal leftovers would be put into a pot and kept warm, and could be used to feed people on short notice. This practice was especially prevalent in taverns and inns in medieval times, so that when you showed up for a meal, you took the "luck of the pot."
This info came from—how much more legit can you get?—but it might read better as:

This practice is especially prevalent in Woodstock staff housing at all times, meals, and occasions… even the special occasion of occasionlessness… so that when you show up for a meal, you are expected to bring something goddamn delicious.  From scratch.
The problem is that my pot is never lucky, and there's certainly no skill involved.

I think people are starting to catch on to this, probably because I always bring the same item, which is actually not banana bread.  I haven’t yet made a piece with a passably solid consistency, though I may have discovered a fifth state of matter.  No—the only thing I can carry into a potluck with confidence is my hummus, so there’s at least an 81% chance that hummus will be my chosen contribution at any given event.  Even if that event is a Cinco de Mayo party:
"Whatcha channa bring to the potluck this weekend"

No one prepared me for this.

I was warned about the monkeys.  I was aware of the meager salary.  I was ready to face the relentless monsoon.  Hell, I was even told to bring a baseball glove. (<WTF?!)  But the onslaught of potlucks?  The merciless drone of pressure cookers, aptly named, that hiss a steady reminder of your incompetence? 
To make matters worse, you can’t pass off your cooking incompetence under the guise of a silly mistake or simple inexperience, because there’s always going to be another potluck.  And it’s probably going to be next weekend, so you’d better order some more tahini and lemon juice now.  And you’re probably going to be delivered lemon-lime juice, because who really knows if just plain lemon juice exists here?  I don’t.

Tangent over, fun game starting:  In order to prove that I am not cooking up a crock of shit, I am going to keep scientific track of how many potlucks I attend this school year.  Sounds simple, right?  One potluck, one point…eight potlucks, eight points… right?  WRONG.  The potluck is no simple creature.  There are shades to the potlucking culture that must be taken into account and, in doing so, be exposed. 

Because I’ve recently reentered the teaching mindset, allow me to unmask the official rubric:

2 points: A required potluck.  This potluck would be listed as an official event that I, as a teacher, would be expected to attend.  My very job may depend on a potluck of this caliber.
1.5 points: A holiday-themed potluck that a majority of staff attend.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the like.  It gets intense—was there an unspoken expectation to smuggle a gourmet pie in my carry-on?

1 point: A generic potluck.  You’re expected to bring something.  If you really mess it up (holla!) or just don’t go, you won’t get fired or blaspheme the birth of Christ.

This is a weird no-man’s land that deserves special consideration.  If someone invites you over but says you can bring something if you want, or that they will provide a few finger foods, a careful analysis of the host, the guest list, and the general tone of suggestion is necessary.  Much of this is intuitive and difficult to formally assess.  If I bring something and was right in doing so, I will give myself the point.  If I bring something but probably didn’t have to, I’ll concede and go with the half-point.
½ point: A Jack-in-the-Potluck.  You go to someone’s house, completely unsuspecting, but—surprise!—people bring stuff.  You lay low, eat very little, and immediately recheck your email invitation when you get home.  Sometimes you feel justified and sometimes you feel like a jackass.

The numerical results of this social experiment will be revealed at the end of the year.  I have already accrued 3 points. 

And with that, I leave you with a groundbreaking meme that encapsulates all that is wrong with my current cooking situation:

Special thanks to Claire for capturing my face in such a fascinating state of distortion, then labeling it.  And to Lindsay, for providing moral support (to Claire).

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