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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Sunday, December 12, 2010

jed's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"More useful than a snail-stuffer," $6 and up

Jed's fave gadget had a starring role on TV - In 1991, I moved to Los Angeles to work as a writer for a game show. Both undertakings were foreign to me. Unused to such scattered urbanity and having no car, I rented an apartment a few blocks from the studio. The neighborhood, so innocent by day, turned out to be in the middle of gang territory, with helicopters and bullets flying overhead at night.
Work was equally strange. I had never written for television, didn't know anything about scripts, or how television was made, and it seemed odd to spend one's day trying to thing of antics designed to amuse a demographic of 54 year old women...(continued)

But I shared an office with Ralph, a 27-year-old who looked much older, tall but leprechaunish, balding with frayed blond hair, an eternally flushed face and a tense smile. He was rapier thin, slouched and he was the brains behind the show - the person responsible for inventing and producing each game. When I showed up the first day, naive and blinking as if walking into a bright light, he took me by the hand and showed me how to do my job.
One day he asked if I'd like to go with him to the mall to pick out some stuff. He had devised a matching game for a kitchen store, and needed some unrecognizable cooking utensils for contestants to identify. Stuck at my computer most of the day, this was a great escape for me. Off we went in his ancient Saab which he had painted a bluish turquoise, backfiring and spitting smoke and lurching occasionally at stoplights. For a gay man with good design sense and a campy sense of humor, he seemed to know a lot about cars as well. On the way to the mall he talked about engines, slant-sizes and such. I uttered an occasional "uh-hug." Obviously he had come up the hard-scrabble way, learning whatever he needed to do his own repairs. Seeing I was uninterested, he switched to books, movies, and his philosophies on life.
At the store, we confronted a wall of gadgets, with which I was mostly unfamiliar. My mother was a gadget fiend, buying all the latest kitchen appliances which were seldom used. I had little enthusiasm for them, holding that since her nickname was Charcoal Chef, she might do well to invest ina louder, mor insistent timer instead. Ralph picked up an object. It had metal handles like a can-opener, but had some sort of sharp,prying tip.
"Know what this is?" Ralph asked.
"Good," he dropped it into the basket. Then he picked up another object. It was a squeezing device. "What
s this?"
"A walnut holder?" I ventured. He smiled, shook his head, and dropped it into the basket. It began to dawn on me. "Wait, did you invite me along to test them on me?"
He nodded, laughing. "I've tasted your cooking."
"Fine," I said. "Show me the next one. If I don't get it, I'll buy it for you." He picked up an object lathed from a solid block of wood. It had a handle and above that, a sharply pointed teardrop shape with vertical grooves cut around the sides. I stared at it for almost a minute. "The only thing that comes to mind is something you would never say on TV,"I said.
"A lemon-reamer," he said, gloating like Rumplestiltskin at hearing the wrong name. And he made me pay for it.
The game was a hit. The husbands were as badly stumped as I was. The show was a hit as well, and we went on to do five seasons. Ralph, though, took ill. He declined over the course of many months and finally died of AIDS. About a year later, I received a laminated photo of him smiling, about 2 inches square, which read, "Thinking of you, hoping you're fine." He had arranged for his brother to send them out to all of Ralph's friends at a given time.
When the show was cancelled, at the end of production, the kitchen appliances were all lined up on a table for sale to the staff at discount prices. But the prop lady handed me a beribboned package, with a note on it in Ralph's handwriting to hold for me.
In it, of course, was my long-forgotten lemon reamer.
Over the years and the course of several moves, I misplaced Ralph's photo, which ad been taped to my fridge. I still have the lemon reamer, which turned out to be quite the handy item, far more useful than a snail-stuffer. And eery time I think of it, I think of Ralph, my first friend in Los Angeles. 

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