Rural Manhattan

By Jim Mullen

NEA Columnist

I was reading New York magazine last week. I used to live there (in New York, not the magazine). I like to keep up with what’s going on. It’s full of the usual stuff of magazines - what to wear, who’s wearing what to wear, where they’re buying what to wear, where they’re wearing what to wear, what they’re talking about when they’re wearing what to wear, what gadgets they’re buying when they’re wearing what to wear, what restaurants they go to when they’re wearing what to wear, and what they are eating at the restaurant when they are wearing what to wear.

It is a magazine that has no equal when it comes to explaining the huge differences between a tiny, black leather $700 purse and the identical (except to the trained shopper’s eye) $1,400 purse; between the $1,200 shoes and their offensive look-alike $300 cousins.

A few weeks ago, New York magazine ran a feature in their food section on how to prepare burdock roots correctly for your next dinner party. If you live in the country, you know what burdock is. Every now and then your dog or cat or child will come home with prickly, sticky balls of burdock in their hair that must be painstakingly and painfully combed or cut out. But like many people, you may never have eaten a burdock root. You may not even know anyone who has eaten a burdock root. All I could think was “Who could possibly know more about eating burdock than a New Yorker?”

In Manhattan, where almost no one drives a car, where almost no one grills a hamburger on summer weekends, where there are no lawns to mow, where there are no shopping malls, where there are no Wal-Marts, where it’s almost impossible to find a gas station, where there is no burdock - they know about burdock roots?

Recently, The New York Times ran a story about a new trend - olive oil tastings. You mean you haven’t been to one yet? Wine tastings and bottled water tastings and oxygen tastings are so passe. Where have you been?

A recent headline in their Travel Section read, “Why is Everyone Going to Bhutan?” I’m waiting to cross Quebec off my “Places to Go Before I Die” list and they’ve already been to Bhutan?

My only problem with all this is that many New Yorkers think it’s normal. And many of those New Yorkers spend their weekends at my farmhouse in the country where they like to suggest practical, thoughtful and easy ways Sue and I can improve our sad, pathetic, empty, non-Manhattan lives if we would only do things their way.

“Why don’t you get some chickens?” Bob Ferguson asked. This is the same Bob Ferguson who calls the super to his apartment when a light bulb goes out because he doesn’t know how to change one.

“Because we’re saving up to go to Bhutan,” I said.

“It’s not what it’s cracked up to be,” he said.

“You’ve actually been there?”

“Not for a few years, but you know, back when it was the place to go. Back when everybody was going. Maybe it’s changed.”

Bob was teaching Sue how to make “authentic” southern fried chicken from a recipe he had cut out of The New York Times.

“They went down to North Carolina or South Carolina or someplace and found this old woman who everybody said made the best fried chicken in the land. They spent weeks down there researching and learning exactly how things were done.”

The first line of the recipe for Authentic Southern Fried Chicken read, “Take a teaspoon of Kosher salt ...”

Salt is salt, and it tasted just like my Southern mother’s fried chicken, but I had to wonder where in world they got this recipe. Is there a Bhutan, North Carolina?

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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