Episode 57: Spaghetti, My Beard – Shel We Read a Poem?
British Voice: Shel We Read a Poem.
Russ: Hello all and welcome to Shel We Read a Poem. I’m Russ.
Lauren: I’m Lauren.
Russ: You have brought us here on an unusual day.
Lauren: Yep, I’m not gonna be around on on Saturday so…
Russ: We generally record this thing on Saturdays. I think we’ve said that before in reference to another unusual time. But yes, it is now a Wednesday. And so that means we only have Wednesday things to talk about, which includes highlights like my first floor neighbor having a giant plush Doraemon in the window and the fact that there’s a guy with a big beard that feeds the crows.
Lauren: Wow, that’s way more than I have to talk about. Russ laughs. I’m not sure what I’m going to talk about because we just recorded recently, and I’m not sure I have a lot to say. But I’m going to Leavenworth this weekend and that’s why we can’t record this weekend.
Russ: I see. What’s happening in Leavenworth?
Lauren: So it’s my friend’s 40th birthday and so she rented like some chateau and we’re going to be there for a couple days. And maybe we’ll go snowshoeing, but I don’t know if there’s going to be any snow left. Leavenworth is this town that’s done up in some German style and everything has to look really German. It’s definitely a tourist city.
Russ: See, I have no experience with the place.
Lauren: I don’t either. This will be a new thing for me.
Russ: Huh. Leavenworth? Okay. I’ve just looked up photos of Leavenworth. Does anyone actually live here? Or is this just completely for tourists?
Lauren: People live there but I think it’s mainly for tourists.
Russ: This looks like like living in Disneyland. Wow.
Lauren: Have you never been to a town like this?
Russ: I’ve been to towns that have kind of elements of this but this whole town looks built around one theme. Like it looks like there’s an old like town square. And I don’t mean like they had a town square from way back. I mean, like they built the town to look kitschy.
Lauren: Right. It is.
Russ: That’s wild. Well now I kind of want to go just as like a curiosity effect.
Lauren: I’ll go there and report back maybe it’s…
Russ: Please do.
Lauren: There’s one place in California that I’ve been to that’s kind of like it. I’m trying to remember the name of the town. Is it Slovang? Yes, it’s Slovang. The city is Slovang, the Danish capital of America.
Russ: Laughs. Okay.
Lauren: Yeah. Leavenworth is the Slovang of the north.
Russ: In Texas, there’s a few places that have like a surprisingly big German influence—like New Braunfels and Gruene and, well, and Fredericksburg, to a degree—and they have kind of, like, there’s some cutesy little shops—but they don’t have the whole town built around a theme like that. So it seems cool. Or perhaps nerdy. Maybe we’re just old people at this point.
Lauren: Slovang isn’t that exciting. It’s mainly you go there to see it look kitschy and then you’re like, “Yep, that looks kitschy. That’s kind of delightful.”
Russ: Described in an earlier episode is the kind of place that has a store that only sells fudge. I turn 40 next month, and I am not doing any of those things for my 40th birthday. I’m visiting you like 10 days before my birthday.
Lauren: So I guess we’ll do that as your birthday.
Russ: Yes, we will. It’ll be great.
Russ: Plans! I’ve just realized this has been my first birthday in two years.
Lauren: Because you didn’t have… You didn’t turn a different age last yaer?
Russ: No, I wasn’t. No those don’t count.
Russ: I didn’t have a party. I didn’t have cake. I didn’t have… Wait. No, I did get cake.
Lauren: Okay, well, if you had cake, you had a birthday.
Russ: Okay, fair enough. What are you reading today?
Spaghetti, spaghetti, all over the place,
Up to my elbows—up to my face,
Over the carpet and under the chairs,
Into the hammock and wound round the stairs,
Filling the bathtub and covering the desk,
Making the sofa a mad mushy mess.
The party is ruined, I’m terribly worried,
The guests have all left (unless they’re all buried).
I told them, “Bring presents.” I said, “Throw confetti.”
I guess they heard wrong
‘Cause they all threw spaghetti!
I’m gonna to do that to you on your birthday.
Russ: Throw spaghetti?
Lauren: Yeah, why not? Throw it to the wall. See if it sticks.
Russ: The mind reels on this one. So I’m reminded of the scene from The Odd Couple where Walter Matthau throws a pot of spaghetti at the wall. I’m reminded of Patch Adams, where that old woman, her dying wish is to bathe in a tub full of noodles, and for some reason weddings come to mind, but we’ll go into that later. So why have you chosen “Spaghetti?”
Lauren: Well, first I need to describe the image, which is a person who is covered in noodles to the point that you can only see his hands grasping up into the air. And there’s even spaghetti wound around them and one foot sticking out of this spaghetti mound. And why did they choose it? Because that’s one of the poems left.
Russ: Laughs. We’re not even coming up with reasons to do the poems anymore.
Lauren: I have stuff to talk about, but it’s not… There’s no, there’s no reason to for this particular poem. Other than it’s one of the ones that’s left, but I do have stuff to talk about.
Russ: By all means.
Lauren: Did you ever read the book Strega Nona?
Russ: I did not. Tell me about it.
Lauren: So Strega Nona was a book written by Tomie dePaola. And it was published in 1975 and won a Caldecott honor in 1976. And it was something that featured prominently in elementary schools, at least that I went to. The story is supposed to be an old Italian fairy tale, but it’s not really; it’s made up. But it’s about this woman, this old lady who lives in a village in Italy. And she has this helper named Big Anthony. And so she has this big spaghetti pot. And so whenever she wants to start the spaghetti, she tells the pot to you know, start making spaghetti. I don’t remember what she does to make it start boiling up the noodles, but when she wants the pot to stop making spaghetti, she blows through kisses to it. And so it’s very similar to the story of The Magician’s Apprentice. So she’s gone one day and Big Anthony comes by and he takes the pot and wants to impress all the villagers with how cool he is. So he starts making spaghetti and it makes a lot of spaghetti. And, oh dear. He only ever saw Strega Nona turn the pot on. He has no idea how to turn it off. The whole town just gets covered in spaghetti and the townspeople are so mad, they want to kill him. But Strega Nona comes home and she turns off the pot by blowing three kisses to it. And then she’s like, “No, no, the punishment must fit the crime” and she makes some eat all of it, which, you know, would actually kill him, but he’s just very full.
Russ: But not in fairytale land.
Lauren: Yeah, so it’s similar to The Magician’s Apprentice where… I’m sure you’ve seen The Magician’s Apprentice, the Disney thing.
Russ: Sorcerer’s Apprentice?
Lauren: Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Yes.
Russ: For a moment I was uncertain if you’re referring to the novel series or…
Lauren: I meant The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The thing where Mickey Mouse sees his sorcerer master dude, making all sorts of things happen with his wand. So then he decides to not do any more chores. Because really, the sorcerer doesn’t pay him any attention except just makes him mop the floor. And so Mickey gets the mop to do its own thing with the wand, but then he can’t stop it. And it finds a way to multiply itself and then everything’s overrun with this mopping, mopping mop that will mop everything to death until the sorcerer comes in and makes it stop.
Russ: Laughs. Were you watching Fantasia recently?
Lauren: No, it’s just when I talk about Strega Nona I also feel the need to talk about The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Russ: Understood. For whatever reason, the image of weddings popped into my head.
Lauren: People throwing rice?
Russ: Yes, people throwing rice, which you’re not supposed to do anymore, I’m told because it’s bad for birds. I don’t think it actually is.
Lauren: It’s bad for humans. The woman who started the Girl Scouts, her name was Juliette Gordon Low. And she went deaf in one ear because at her wedding, people threw rice and it got in her ear.
Russ: That is a wonderful fact. You just have that one in reserve?
Lauren: Let me make sure it’s true, but that’s what we were told and Girl Scouts all the time was that she went deaf from there being rice in her ear.
Russ: Seems legit to me, or partially deaf it says. Yeah, yeah. Checks out.
Lauren: Yeah. So don’t throw rice.
Russ: So don’t throw rice. Well, what have they done and—you know, spaghetti wouldn’t be advisable either—but what have they done at recent weddings that you’ve attended?
Russ: Bubbles. That was the last one that I went to was bubbles. Okay.
Lauren: Did you ever sing the song, or hear the song “On top of spaghetti?”
Russ: Absolutely, I did.
Lauren: Yes. Isn’t it great? “On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed.” And I think I remember it first from the Snuffleupagus singing it on Sesame Street. But I definitely had like a book of children’s songs that also had it.
Russ: Perhaps by that point, it just entered the cultural Gestalt. We are not good at singing along over Discord. My last spaghetti fact was: Did you know it used to be a tourist attraction in Napoli or Naples (laughs) to go watch the locals eat spaghetti with their hands?
Russ: Yes. In one particular section of town, spaghetti was served as a street food. And they would pick up handfuls of spaghetti and tip it back into their waiting heads like baby birds feeding themselves. And then that became kind of the publicity for the area. It’s like, “Oh, this is the way we do this here. How strange.” And then people would come and watch that.
Lauren: Yes. Spaghetti is not a food that seems like it’s particularly easy to eat with your hands.
Russ: And you’d have to tip your head all the way back.
Lauren: Yeah. Things that are drapey? Not so great for eating with your hands. Russ laughs. So I’ve started a new job recently. And today… They like to ask odd questions of new people. And today it was “if you could be a type of pasta, what would you be?”
Lauren: Why penne?
Russ: Okay, you can do a thing if the fork is the right size, where you can get two penne on the fork at once, acting is like a little scoop. And then you can scoop up things with your pin a shovel. I used to get one particular dish at a local Italian place just because that gave me such tactile pleasure, making like a little penne fork out of my already metal fork.
Lauren: What did you scoop up?
Russ: Well, sometimes it would just be like cheesy sauce. But then sometimes I would have to use the fork a little bit, either as a jabby point or as kind of a scoopy helper, because there was sausage in this dish and then I can get that up on there as well.
Lauren: I said I didn’t know really what my soul pasta would be…
Russ: Laughs. Your patronus. Pastronus!
Lauren: Pastronus! … But I did like fusili because the spirals are able to like hold sauce really well. And so it’s a good vehicle for sauce. And then I was thinking—as they were talking about it somebody mentioned ravioli—and then I’m like: yeah, maybe if my pasta, if there was a soul pasta, would be ravioli because you’re never entirely sure what you’re going to get out of a ravioli. Sometimes it’s delicious. And sometimes it’s really unpleasant. And then as I was thinking that, a woman in the organization said that would be her pasta and it for exactly that reason. But then I didn’t feel so original anymore.
Russ: But did you run in and become her like new bestest friend
Lauren: No. It was through Zoom and everybody’s faces are really blurry and I’m still not entirely sure which, like, human object shape said that.
Russ: That’s a shame. Well, I’m going to do “My Beard.”
My beard grows down to my toes,
I never wears no clothes,
I wraps my hair
Around my bare,
And down the road I goes.
Russ: And the picture is a little guy who looks to be nude, except he is clad in his own beard walking down the street.
Lauren: It’s such a delightful poem. Like something very much you would say. “I wrap my hair around my bare.”
Russ: Down the road, I goes.
Lauren: I bet Shel wanted to be that guy.
Russ: Oh, the beardy fella?
Lauren: He did have that bald head and ferocious beard. And I get the feeling if he never had to wear clothes, he’d be into that.
Russ: God dang it. You are so right. Why didn’t I pick up on that before? It’s just pure author insert. It does bring up like feelings where it’s like, “Ooh, what would that feel like to be covered in a mess of my own hair?” and, I don’t know, cuts down on friction.
Lauren: Sometimes when you you grow your hair really long and it covers your breasts you can call it “mermaid hair” because…
Russ: I’ve heard this.
Lauren: …the artistic depiction of a mermaid is just their nipples are discretely covered by their very long.
Russ: Yes, always.
Lauren: And as somebody who has had mermaid hair, for most of her life, your hair gets stuck in a lot of places. Under your armpit, mainly under your armpit. It gets stuck under my armpit a lot.
Russ: Well, I have never had that experience. I did at one point own a Charles Darwin style beard. One that was beautiful to the point that he got me stopped by strangers offering compliments. I’m rather hairless these days.
Lauren: Yeah, I did not know you during this time, did I?
Russ: It was kind of during that time where… the middle years like think 2014 to 2016 in there.
Lauren: Oh, I blocked this out. I see.
Russ: But the pride in beards is one of those kind of odd things unless it’s like really neatly kempt or something because we will take pride in anything, but just being prideful that you can grow hair on your face…
Lauren: It does have to do with genetics. And some people think it makes you more masculine.
Russ: Secondary sex characteristics.
Lauren: I mean, there’s whole groups of people who don’t grow beards. This genetic population genetically just doesn’t grow a beard. And so, obviously, it’s, it’s an odd one to think of in terms of masculinity, if there are whole groups of masculine people who can’t grow it.
Russ: Have you followed the market for, like, beard supplements?
Lauren: No, I know there’s like waxes and stuff for making it pretty.
Russ: No, no. These are ones that purport to make your beard come in more thickly and more gorgeously. And of course, it’s all snake oil in the same way you can get calf implants.
Lauren: I mean, you can get stuff that will grow your eyelashes more, but you have to be careful with it, because if you get it on other parts of your face, it will also grow hair there.
Russ: Okay, this has to be like a party favor thing. Like we need to get some of this stuff and like write on our foreheads.
Lauren: Laughs. Just no, no. Oh no. I find this really upsetting. I don’t want…
Russ: Would it come in eyelash material style?
Lauren: I don’t know. It’s called Latisse. Look it up.
Russ: Latisse? Okay, “Latisse can you use elsewhere?” Both laugh. This has to be my favorite string I’ve ever Googled. “Can you use Latisse eyelash serum elsewhere?” I don’t think it’ll work elsewhere. Maybe it might work on other parts of the face a little bit, but kind of like your eyebrows or your cheeks kind of. But it doesn’t like you could write messages with it. This is unfortunate.
Lauren: Do you recall a child’s song called “Father’s Whiskers?”
Russ: Oh, I don’t know. But I think you just tripped a memory.
Lauren: I don’t remember the whole thing but I just remember the chorus which was: They’re always in the way. The cows eat them for hay. They hide the dirt on daddy’s shirt. They’re always in the way.
Russ: Nope. I know that tune.
Lauren: Yeah, it’s it’s just about someone’s dad having really long a really long beard. And I think my remember my mom would sing a verse something about like “My mother eats them in her sleep. She’s think she’s eating shredded wheat.”
Russ: And that’s how you get bezoars.
Russ: This episode’s gross
Lauren: And also real scattered.
Russ: And we can close with the immortal words of Jorge Luis Borges. “It’s always the same: if someone is against convention his only way of attacking it is by creating another convention, so that when most people are clean-shaven he grows a beard, and when beards are worn he shaves his off. He’s merely changing from one convention to another.”
Russ: The best people.