Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | April 19, 2009

From One Generation of Impoverished Students to Another

Thirty years ago, my mother presented me with an amusing little book she had found. Technically it wasn’t even a book; containing all of 48 pages, it qualifies as merely a pamphlet. I’m not sure where she had found it, but she thought it was funny, starting with the “Analytical Index,” a table of contents presented in the form of a flow chart. She presented it to me on the occasion of my first (and only, as it happened) year living off-campus in my second year of college. I also found it hilarious, and I enjoyed it immensely.

In addition to discourses about kitchens vs. KITCHENS, spice racks, and assorted recipes, it also held forth on such topics as the correct construction of the venerable brick and board bookcase, and suggestions for shared bookkeeping (toilet paper counts as food; liquor does not count as food.) It became one of my treasured possessions, living to this day alongside the rest of the cookbooks I consult regularly.

It was called The Impoverished Student’s Book of Cookery, Drinkery and Housekeepery.

What made it so damn funny? The humor is dryly intellectual in both format and style. Homemade bread is described as:

…one of the few gifts of the gods to man not mediated by a hierarchical priesthood.

Here is what the Table of Contents has to say about Sandwiches:

Wherein the author, assuming the reader to know his own mind, says all he wishes to say on the subject of sandwiches in the compass of one page.

The section on “Budgetry” offers this:

Giving three methods for keeping books in various situations, at least one of which generates a beer fund.

Within its pages are contained recipes I have used many times over the years, primarily for punch (contained within Subsection the Third: NON-BEER-COLD of Section the Third: DRINKERY). One of these, labeled “Highly Spikable Punch” (frozen lemonade prepared with lemon-lime soda instead of water) has the following note:

Into a gallon of Highly Spikable Punch, one can pour with impunity an entire fifth of gin. It will not be noticed. Indeed, it can only be detected by sensitive chemical analysis. Vodka cannot even be detected that way.

I can personally attest to the truth of these statements.

As I say, it became one of my most treasured books. I recently had the occasion to take it down from the shelf and share it with the NinjaBaker, as he prepares to move into an off-campus apartment himself for the coming school year. Because he shares my sense of humor as well as my love of cooking, he too found it highly amusing. When he asked if he could take it with him (I was culling my cookbooks to provide him with some basics) I hesitated. More than twenty years after my mother’s death, I have few tangible memories of her; this little pamphlet — complete with the notation “Price: $2.95” on the cover — is one of them. I declined.

As I went poking around it, though, imagine my amazement at discovering that this tiny beloved volume was originally penned in 1965, a good fifteen years before my mother discovered it. As a general rule, I have found that humor tends not to age well. That I enjoyed it a half-generation after its composition was cool. That it continues to appeal to my children thirty years later is truly a marvel. It appears that certain elements of college life (the appeal of beer funds, among others) are eternal. That, along with the author’s acknowledged rhetorical gifts that obviously transcend generations. This thing reads like something CrankyProf could have written, if she happened to leave her potty mouth in the shop.

Remembering that this is the Age of the Internet, I discovered that my beloved pamphlet was still around (2 available, Used, from $29.90) on Amazon. That seemed a little steep, so I googled the author, one Jay F. Rosenberg.

It turns out the guy is now a professor of philosophy in North Carolina. His home page has pictures of his 60th birthday party, his daughter’s wedding, and a grandchild. He’s an aging hippie who looks like someone I know. I can’t tell who; I just get the feeling I know him, probably because I know so many people who look like him. It also turns out that that very self-same home page contains the following link:

  • Reed College Bookstore (where you can buy my Impoverished Students’ Book of Cookery, Drinkery, and Housekeepery!)

Joy!

It turns out that the pamphlet, reissued in 2002, costs $9.95 ($2.00 shipping) when ordered from them. Anything (under $20) for the NinjaBaker! I promptly ordered him his very own copy, pleased once again to be able to pass along something originally from my mother.


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