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Episode Five: Tyler Kord
Sixty-nine Words for Fifty Dollars
Squirrel Tomatoes chronicles my attempt at growing tomatoes while battling squirrels. You can read my last installment, The Swamp.
It also features guest authors who I ask to write anything they want as long as it is at least 69 words in length. I gift them $50 for their efforts. I do not edit them, and they retain all rights to their work.
Today’s guest author is Tyler Kord. Tyler is the chef and owner of No. 7 in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. He has never broken a single bone and thus there is no empirical evidence that his bones are even capable of being broken by any existing object, technology, or idea. Follow him on instagram @tylerkord.
I love what Tyler wrote.
Sixty-nine Words for Fifty Dollars
by Tyler Kord
I asked the Google machine speaker thingy if it could possibly not chime in response to my queries, and it chimed, and said it didn't understand. It chimed again to prompt my response, and I repeated my question and it, again, chimed and said that it didn't understand. It chimed to let me know that it was listening, which, frankly wasn’t even warranted but spoke to Google’s kindness, and I said, "nevermind" and then there was silence. Nothing. And I thought, "Oh, how gracious!" I felt so fancy. If I were the Google machine thingy, I would have apologized for being so unhelpful. But the Google machine taught me a quick and effective lesson in grace and I immediately questioned why I apologize so much. Not because I have nothing to apologize for, but because I do it habitually, and the robot mechanically, or maybe spiritually (I don’t know how smarthomes work!) pointed out that, for instance, I apologize to my wife to make her realize that I am helpless and stupid, even though I seem to continually and irrationally demand respect and to make her feel bad for scolding me and it's like I am a child.
Last year I got asked to profile a famous chef for a famous magazine. I write, but I’m not objectively great at it, and yet I’d still like to think that my knowledge of food and how restaurants operate was as relevant to the job offer as my inherent privilege. Call it “white exceptionalism” or “he just gets hired because he is weird and skilled and smartish, but also white and safe,” but my continual employment is probably like 70/30 privilege to hard work and skill (and for what it’s worth, I work super hard and may the greatest white male chef in history). And I am aware of that and working on figuring out the ramifications, and so realizing that I am a white chef profiling a famous white chef, I knew that I had my work cut out to really do something special. The chef and I spent time together at his restaurant and went out to lunch. We talked, and I recorded our conversations and he was genuinely kind and I liked him and he really is a very talented chef. Nonetheless, I ended up with what, to my eyes, was a big, ziplock, sous vide-ready bag of 8 pounds of 78 hour short rib nothing. I didn’t know how to write a beautiful and meaningful poem about capitalism. So I wrote a 2000 word version of The Great Gatsby, decidedly not something that would signify a profile, admittedly, wherein I was just some obsessed chef-dude, writing about this other, much more famous, chef-dude’s abstract (or maybe not so abstract) passions and confused (or maybe not that confused) reputation, which was also about myself and how horrible the restaurant industry can be, and while he didn’t manage to die at the end, it still felt tragic. I submitted the piece, and they made me rewrite it, full of quotes from our conversations. I still managed to make it about the price of selling out, and the expectations of a food media obsessed with identifying who is the greatest white male chef (surprise, it’s me!!) and then they rewrote parts of it to make it about literally nothing and then they published it, and I just wanted to tell you that.
But also, I could have said, “Hey, I’m a white chef profiling a white chef! Maybe there is somebody better fit for this job!” But I didn’t because the last time I wrote for this magazine they asked me to contribute to a column by “Cool Dads” for “Cool Dads” and then listed three other white men, much more famous than me, that would also contribute and I asked if there were plans to have broader representation beyond us four famous and incredible white dudes, all of whom were actually famous where I am not, and they were put out, and I am an activist who almost invariably falters when it counts, so, I guess, not a good activist, and when this new opportunity came up it seemed like a chance to have an impact by making a piece of art, however crude, and I think that even the Google machine would understand the cloudy fog of ambition and when it lifts, that specific feeling of regret. This is not an apology, because I am simply sorry for so much, but I intend to do better. I do not promise to “do the work” because I often break promises, and as good as I am at doing work, I hate it and I just want to retire. I’ll still do the work anyway, but regardless, I am committed to being honest, so we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past, or, you know, let’s get what we deserve as human beings.
Thank you, Tyler.
Please join us next time for an interview with Cathy Barrow.