Dear Dara

Well-reasoned rants on mayonnaise, plagiarism, and the hoped-for demise of the pretend seaside

Dear Dara;

I am fairly new to Minnesota and I have recently become a reader of your articles. Bravo--real writing about the truest good food here. Thank you. I'd really like to know how you arrived at this place in your career. Do you ever speak or write about that?

Christine of Minneapolis

Not-so-fast seafood: Corvina sea bass at Vincent a Restaurant
Kathy Easthagen
Not-so-fast seafood: Corvina sea bass at Vincent a Restaurant

Dear Christine;

By this place, I assume you mean with all the restraining orders from local restaurants? Well, as with most young women who have come to grief so young, I blame it primarily on that demon of the wee hours, reading. For instance, I have been finally catching up on whatever the folks at Newsweek do with their lives, and how many of us truly reckoned with the story they ran last December on Japan's new "Mayonnaise Kitchen" restaurants? Where one can order a "mayo fondue," and wash it down with, ahem, a "mayogarita"? The recipe wasn't given, but it apparently involves a blender, tequila, and guess who. It is reportedly the darling of mayo-maniacs throughout Japan, who are cutely known as "mayoraas"--people who adore mayonnaise.

Like most of you, I initially responsed by snapping a Kryptonite lock on the fridge, and then started working the phones, calling every single person I knew in Prior Lake, Wausau, and Young America, to shriek like a badger caught in a combine: You ninnies! You dropped the ball! In the decade I have lived here, I have seen mayonnaise on sweet potatoes, on peas, on Jell-o and marshmallows; our hippest youth nightly eat entire casseroles of hot mayonnaise blended with canned artichokes, and they are mayoraas? What next? Will Pakistan trump us in corn-dog supremacy? Shall I look to the Philippines the next time I need to use up a case of Huber bock, some old cheddarwursts, and the rhubarb? I never thought I would live to see the day.

Of course, if I'm truly honest, perhaps I'll admit that my very first thought wasn't to shriek like a sorority pledge hyped up on a garbage pail of Tang-and-tequila punch who comes upon some old cheddarwursts. My first thought might have been to see if I could plagiarize the Newsweek story--because, after all, like the rest of the cultural elite, I've been breathlessly following the New York Times plagiarism scandal, and it's filled my head with ideas.

Not ideas on fabricating quotes, mind you, because any real journalist could tell you that the things that people do say are far, far more disturbing than the things you would like them to say. For instance, in the course of reporting this column I've had ordinary Minnesota food types tell me that they took over the family business after chasing Dad from the farm with a loaded shotgun, that they've eaten bald eagles, that they thought followers of the dominant religion of the state were stupefied zombies in need of forcible eye-opening, and much, much more. Frankly, stealing some other writer's description of the view off a POW-mom's porch would seem to me to be an outrageous intrusion in the Dara Dara Dara Show.

So, I would say that one should always use these criteria when plagiarizing: a) Could you not do this yourself? b) Is it worth it?

Now, consider: The view from a porch. Clearly, this is something that one can do oneself. Or, at this point, why not plagiarize others' holiday postcards? "Wish you were here..." Really? Well, we'll see what the fact-checkers make of that, won't we?

Now, consider the passwords and account numbers on Saddam Hussein's Swiss accounts. And so we move this project into the to-plagiarize basket, and gather the interns.

Which brings us to the only thing really worth plagiarizing, which is Edith Wharton's House of Mirth, or possibly Shakespeare's Hamlet. Obviously, a certain familiarity with these titles would tip off the culture police, which is why I am thinking of re-titling the first Bridget Jones Diary III: Shocking Orgies and Guaranteed Diet Success!, and the second, The Bible: Now, with Fewer Rules.

Oops. Bad news. Calls to the publishing cabals out East reveal a stunning lack of sympathy to these plans. But I am not to be deterred! Instead, I will rely on my Midwestern do-it-yourself roots, and enjoin each and every one of you to lay hold of a black Sharpie, locate your copy of House of Mirth, scratch out dear Ms. Wharton's name, and replace it with mine. I wouldn't have asked this of you a few months ago, but must confess I am so flattered and impressed by the fact that so many of you have figured out how to spell my name, as evidenced by all your write-in votes which allowed me to win City Pages' own best-columnist award, that I am prepared to run amok.

Now, I am not much joking: I am particularly flattered because it's not like you had to write in Ann Smith or something actually doable. I have seen how many consonants are piled up after the Dara, and it makes even me a little dizzy. To tell you the truth, I didn't even figure out how to spell my name until my mom came up with a way to sing it in time with the "Mickey Mouse" song. And I've called the house, and she said that not only did she not share this trick with you, you didn't even get a meatball on a fork to march around the kitchen with, so really I can't even figure how you pulled it off. (A word to the wise: If you wave your fork around wildly, the meatball will come off, and the dog will get it, and that's it for you until dinnertime, for meatballs don't grow on trees. Heed these words!)

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