hunger game: how to feed 1,000-plus pounds of manly flesh

by bam

dispatch from the land of 02139 (in which chief cook and mama of big strapping man-boy stands at the cupboard of her cambridge flat, scratching her head, trying to determine just how to feed the hungry hordes due to descend any hour….)

tisn’t a nursery rhyme, and though my last name isn’t hubbard, i do feel a bit like that old mama who stood before her cupboard and found it, if not bare, at least begging.

here’s the backstory: for 48 years now, the great rolling river just at the bottom of our hill (the charles is its name, so given by colonialists who offered a nod to their faraway king) has been the site, every third saturday and sunday in october, of what’s billed as “the world’s largest two-day rowing event,” drawing some 9,000 rowers from all over the world, who will put boats and oars into the water, and row, baby, row.

it’s called the head of the charles regatta, HOCR for short or those in the know.

and this is that weekend, which the lovely organizers refer to not merely as the “third weekend in october,” (how pedestrian) but rather as “the penultimate” (that’s second to last, you’ll recall; oft-confused, wrongly, as best of the best) full weekend in october. (this is cambridge, people, where words are pulled from the highest of shelves, never down low where mere commoners forage).

it’s a 3.2-mile paddle down a sinuous river that threads under six bridges and takes not one but two rather sharp turns, and apparently makes for some fierce banging and clanging of boats, oars and expletives, as boats that don’t make the turn smash into the flanks or the rears of those that do. sounds like a blood sport on water.

and how nifty could it be that after five seasons of rowing, and lord only knows how many miles of wishing, our very own rower, that strapping 6-foot-almost-3 lad, is for the very first time dipping his toe and his oar into the head of the charles, and paddling like heck, from the start at the dewolfe boat house, near the charles river basin, way, way down to the finish, just past what’s called the eliot bridge.

with his very own mama and papa and wee little brother screeching their lungs out, from high atop a footbridge that’s just down the lane from where they happen to be dwelling for this one sumptuous year.

there is a God, and she must be a rower.

ah, but the olympic feat for me, the one that has me up nights making my list and checking it twice, has nothing to do with oars or turns in the charles, nothing to do with coxswains and shells (the $75,000 fiberglass rowboats), and everything to do with hunger.

the entire varsity boat (minus the shell, thank goodness) is crashpadding with us.

that’s 1,000-plus pounds of manly flesh and bone. and that’s five bottomless tummies.

heck, we’re just up the riverbank. we’ve a roof and heat. and who cares if there aren’t nearly enough beds?

apparently, collegiate rowers do not.

all they care about is the cupboards, and what flips from the cookstove.

that’s where i come in.

early on, the plan was that i’d be feeding them the eve-of feast (the carbo-load, thank the heavenly hosts, was last night in the college cafeteria, as it needs to be 48 hours pre-paddle). but, turns out, (and with college kids there are always U-turns and roundabouts) i get the post-race nosh, saturday night, and the morning-after gorge, come sunday.

be still my hungry heart.

i’ve stored up mounds and mounds of bread (the freezer looks like a tundra of challah and sliced-up baguettes). i plan on clearing the shelves at the grocery today of all cheeses and plump links of sausage. henhouses are on high alert, as i need, oh, five dozen eggs. for starters.

and juice. oh, lord, juice. i might just dial a tanker, and have it lurch to the curb out front, unspool a hose, thread it up through the windows, and have the boys stand there and guzzle.

don’t even whisper the R word — “red meat,” if you must — for i’ll be taking out loans to leverage that big whopper of a bill.

and once we conquer the feeding, we shall inch our brains to that other obstacle of the weekend: the toilette.

hmm. four big boys and a lithe little coxswain (pronounced coks-en, she (for often it’s a she amid he’s) is the one who sits down low at the bow of the boat, screamin’ and hollerin’ and calling out which way to turn). one porcelain bowl with seat, lid and flusher.

hold that pretty thought in your head.

i have. (remember folks, this is a two-bed apartment with a one-toilet bathroom, that is shared, now that i’m letting you in on all of the secrets, with our sweet little kitty’s very own rendition of a powder room, aka the litter box.)

maybe, while i’m dialing up the OJ tanker, i ought to scroll around for the port-a-potty people, and add one or three to the weekend tab.

let it be declared, high and low, that there is not so much as a droplet, not even a micro-driplet, of complaint here. (and, yes, i know you know that already, those of you who know that i live and breathe to flutter about like a mama hen, feeding my hordes, cooing and clucking.)

it’s just that, well, it’s going to be a page in my scrapbook that i’ll never ever forget.

mostly all i can picture is the morning after, when all those tired-out muscles, those floppy hard limbs, will be splayed this way and that on the floor of this pad, and i’ll tiptoe over and through the mounds, trying to get to my skillets and oven.

then, while they dream of the bends and the bridges of the great river charles, the ones they’ll have coursed — please, God — without collision, i’ll be steeped in my weekend’s challenge: cookin’ up vittles (slang spelling for victuals), to sate the hungers of my very own rower and his bottomless crew.

recipes, please?

dear chair people, and so another week passes. this one certainly held highlights: the visit from grammy (who now knows what it is to sit in a harvard lecture hall, surrounded by laptopping freshmen); dinner at the over-the-top over-baroque home of an ambassador named swanee (yes, as in the river) hunt, in which for the first time outside a church i sipped from a sterling goblet at a table set thusly for 24 hungry nieman fellows; a visit with the former greek prime minister, george papandreaou; and to round it all out, a fireside chat with the CEO of NPR, who in a previous life was head honcho at sesame street, and thus might be the rockstaringest dude in the media pantheon. 

i realize i’ve been amiss in playing word-of-the-week, so to make up for missed opportunities, i’ve a slew to toss your way, all culled from virginia woolf’s sublime “mrs. dalloway.” here goes:

lollop: to move in an ungainly way, clumsy paces or bounds; or to bob

concord: agreement, treaty

obsequious: trying too hard to please someone; excessively obedient or respectful

pother: a commotion or fuss

pertinacious: persistent or determined

breasting (as in breasting the stream): to face and move forward against or through

vagulous: wayward, vague and wavering, a Virginia Woolf-ism

and because it’s all so sumptuous, how bout  few fine lines, to boot (again, all from “mrs. dalloway”:

“…she was like a bird sheltering under the thin hollow of a leaf, who blinks at the sun when the leaf moves; starts at the crack of a dry twig.”

on sewing: “…her needle, drawing the silk smoothly to its gentle pause, collected the green folds together and attached them, very lightly, to the belt.”

describing grand houses of London: “….halls laid in black and white lozenges…”

“turning one’s nerves to fiddle strings….”

“long streamers of sunlight…”

on “the compensation of growing old”: “the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained — at last! — the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence, — the power of taking hold of experience, turning it round, slowly, in the light.”

so that’s it for this fine friday.i’ve a class to dash off to. and one pulsing question: how would you feed my hungriest hordes?