Steak and Potato


Steak and Potato
by Marin Kosut

I was born to vegetate. As a juvenile, I’d stare at my blank bedroom wall. I’d stare out at the driveway. Not even the sky or the ceiling. I’d lay on my bed looking down at the middle of my body and stay outside myself inside the house. I wrinkled with time on top of my sheets. Sometimes, admittedly, I flipped through the Pennysaver. I didn’t know nothing, but I wasn’t totally rotten. 

There’s a current self-care routine called bed rot. I like the acoustics and economy— three letters, three more letters. If you say it fast, bed rot sounds like bedrock. Most beds are empirically rotten, at least the grubby ones I see laying abandoned on New York sidewalks. An instinctual bed rotter, I became a bed writer. Even if I begin writing upright, I find my way to the bed—my domestic coffin, my familiar rotten place. 

Lying in my bed, I watched Karl in a suitcoat at a podium at Yale giving his “Why I Write” lecture. Karl said he was born to read. I knew it. As a child he read voraciously, any story, even if he didn’t understand it, he read it. His bone marrow manufactured words; writing was in his blood. But his life wasn’t painless, it was boring like mine. Karl looks like a writer. His body is a slim volume and time has carved his face, like a sculptor addicted to Gauloises. I turned off Karl’s literate talk at thirty-four minutes and seven seconds. I had to come back to the crap job place, with children growing up without books, sleeping on stained mattresses on beds nobody cares to make. Five minutes later, I read “By Hook or By Crook,” an essay by Miss Unity about tricks and Johns. When Unity was a hooker, he serviced between two hundred and three hundred dicks. Puked on one. I wondered how many dicks I’ve dealt with, probably dozens, no comparison. But I always compare. Comparatively, I haven’t read as many books as Karl or handled as many dicks as Unity.

An hour ago, I read an article about the author of Everything’s Fine. Before her book dropped, the Goodreaders averred racism and anti-Blackness. They zero-bombed Everything’s Fine. The Eat Pray Love author didn’t even publish her book, because it was set in 20th c Russia and the Goodreaders loathed the location. Goodreaders are passionately compelled to kill stories. Febos says we must tell our stories, and Didion says we tell ourselves stories in order to live, but you can’t feed your dog stories. 


I paid to hear about what Alexander Chee learned editing the best American essays. I learned Chee reads two to four essays every day; if he had a hobby it would be reading essays. I learned he lives rustically, walks to a firepit in the woods where local men socialize. You never know who may be there. These men have very good taste in gin. I thought about the cups (tin, plastic) and the glasses (mugs, tumblers) the gin goes in and these men staring at log fires and talking politics, the post office, and who knows of a dependable dog walker. One of them is off to Europe soon. These men summer. I think of summer as noun, a season. It’s also a verb, a destination. 

Great essays anchor on outings. They beach on jaunts of self-discovery. They unfold quietly; a wayward sock missing from a suitcase becomes a foot print to a plot line. Pilgrimages work well; the seeker returning transformed. Obstructions also warrant exploration; alcoholism, colitis, suicide, childhood emotional negligence, a slap by a man who throws you in a room without windows. Build on the path, literary bricks and canonical pebbles. On X, writers send hourly updates about walking around weighed down, blocked with dirt and stones. Can’t they see the lapping ocean in the distance? 


I was driven south to Florida in the back of a Caprice Classic to attend a great aunt’s funeral. Took two days to get there, eight-track deck played songs about an American woman and putting parking lots over paradise. I saw dead people leave their objects behind; a gilded Aztec starburst wall clock that barely makes it inside the trunk, a lamp with a porcelain black stallion base. Parks meant to amuse didn’t. Waiting in lines, standing still, then going upside down, getting splashed in the face with water from somewhere. Adults stuck in animal costumes waved in the heavy heat. I wore a pink plaid hat and matching pink plaid shorts. A pigtail memory from a photo. I preferred old clothes; scratchy, pearl and jewel encrusted, mildew and mothballs garments. I liked to wear another person’s life. I was the kid who wrapped in the residue of death and smiled. 

Can the best essay fall out of the banal and stay put? Positioning head hair, picking up dog shit, paying parking tickets, supplanting passwords. What I learned from wasting time and waiting for something to happen. The struggle. What I learned from wiping my ass with a chamois cloth. In a documentary about a chamois cloth salesman, the salesman travels to small towns and sets up a puny card table and lays out his chamois at farmers and flea markets. Nobody buys them (people go for blackberries, corn on cob and collectable female figurines) and the chamois salesman eats dinner alone in a florescent motel restaurant near the interstate. The camera zeros in on his plate—a steak with a bone, a bare baked potato. No parsley.  It’s the saddest arrangement, that stark steak and potato. If our sense of taste is from the head, not the tongue, and you’re staring at a plate with a steak and potato, then you’re staring at your reality. Your past and future looks back at you. 

I worked as a wench waitress at a medieval surf and turf joint. Humiliation was a part of the job I swallowed. Unseen service. I saw women with bulging calves and bunion feet, smoking Winstons, parenting alone. I learned the world is divided between the servers and the served, the tippers and the tipped. I learned to take it, to smile, to bend over backwards and frontwards and hesitate for a moment so the man with the credit card got his eyes filled. Fifteen rises to twenty; you want to leave with three figures. Your feet aren’t so sore and swollen with cash in hand. Money makes you revert tomorrow. 

All roads lead to the bed. 

It’s American to end at emission. An essay knows its edges. I see Wojnarowicz’s black and white photo of the diorama of the buffalo tripping over a cliff, stuck tumbling in air.


Marin Kosut is the author of Art Monster: On the Impossibility of New York, forthcoming from Columbia University Press in July 2024. She founded Pay Fauxn, a gallery in an abandoned pay phone shell at a Brooklyn bus stop. A MacDowell fellowship recipient, she holds a PhD in sociology from the New School.

Image source: Martti Leetsar/Unsplash

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