Monday, March 31, 2014

Old Mr. Flood

Old Mr. FloodOld Mr. Flood by Joseph Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Old Mr. Flood is determined to live to 115 on his steady diet of whiskey, oysters, and good stories in these wonderful New Yorker pieces.

This book makes me so sad that the only "oysters" near me are the Rocky Mountain kind (and yes, I've tried them - deep-fried). When I lived in Seattle, a few friends and I made a day trip to Quilcene to go oyster hunting. I had never eaten an oyster before, and was unsure I would enjoy the taste or the texture. Raw shellfish? What? But being a fan of sushi (shout-out to Baek Chun Sushi, the most amazing sushi I've ever had, believe it or not), I decided to give oysters a chance.

My friends and I went out in our boots in the oily tidal flat mud, gathered up a number of thick knobby shells in a bucket, and went back to the beach to pry them open. All we had - and all we needed - was Sriracha and lemon juice. We cracked the oysters open in the cool winter sunshine and slurped them out of their brine, discarding the empty shells on the beach. The oysters, as it happened, were sublime. I have dreams about those oysters.

I'm with the Walrus.

But I won't eat seafood in a state with no ocean view; no oysters for me in Colorado.

So when I read about Old Mr. Flood in one of my favorite book blogs, I immediately bought it on my Nook. It's made up of three short New Yorker pieces from 1948, basically character studies of a vigorous old man named - you guessed it - Mr. Flood. Obsessed with living to 115 on his diet of seafood and whiskey, he tells stories to the narrator and is pretty much great at being an old man, living the good life.

Coming straight from An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine, I was ready for another lovely character study, despite the fact that I'm normally only hooked by a fast-paced story. But these pieces made me willing to also check out more of Joseph Mitchell's collected short stories about the denizens of New York City: Up in the Old Hotel.

I lift my glass of 12-year Scotch to you, Mr. Flood, and to you, Mr. Mitchell. Sláinte.


"Ask the man for half a lemon, poke it a time or two to free the juice, and squeeze it over the oysters. And the first one he knifes, pick it up and smell it, the way you'd smell a rose, or a shot of brandy. That briny, seaweedy fragrance will clear your head; it'll make your blood run faster. And don't just eat six; take your time and eat a dozen, eat two dozen, eat three dozen, eat four dozen." - 14

"'Well,' he said, 'there are days when I hate everybody in the world, fat, lean, and in between, and this started out to be one of those days, but I had a drop to drink, and now I love everybody.'" - 30

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