Monday, August 13, 2012

the anger muscle

I've said this before: in high school, when I was upset, I would smoke, curse, and play the piano. I wrote that in my journal when I was seventeen. Imagine my stunned recognition years later, when I read about Lucy Honeychurch, the apparently prim heroine of A Room with a View, who also deals with her choleric tendencies by losing herself at the piano.

Over the course of the story, Lucy transforms from a docile, conventional girl into a woman capable of various kinds of passion. Her anger plays an important role in this shift. During one conversation with her mother and her priggish fiancé Cecil, she moves rapidly from voicing a casual dislike of Reverend Eager to declaring: "I hate him. I've heard him lecture on Giotto. I hate him. Nothing can hide a petty nature. I HATE him." Mrs. Honeychurch responds, "My goodness gracious me, child! You'll blow my head off! Whatever is there to shout over?" For his part, dismayed by the vulgarity of Lucy's outburst, Cecil yearns to tell her "that a woman's power and charm reside in mystery, not in muscular rant." (We understand implicitly that this comment points to his unsuitability as a match for her.) Later, Cecil is taken aback when she directs her ire at him. As a joke on the local snob, he deliberately engages unsuitable tenants for a neighborhood villa in Lucy's hometown of Summer Street.  She responds like "a peevish virago," snapping at him that his little dig at Sir Harry has made her look foolish instead, and that she considers him "most disloyal." Never mind that the tenants he has found include the same young man who impetuously kissed her on a violet-strewn hillside in Fiesole during her trip to Italy. 

Happily for us readers, she doesn't attempt to curb her turbulent impulses for very long.

But in the meantime, for much of the novel, playing the piano seems to help her indulge this unrulier side of herself in a socially acceptable way. In an early chapter, before the aforementioned kiss, she is playing the piano in the Florentine pensione where she is staying with some other English guests. Several wander in to listen to her but all eventually disperse, with the exception of Reverend Beebe. If you want to watch and not read it, the Merchant Ivory film version of the novel is lovely, and the scene in question lasts from about 10:44 to 13:30. After Lucy finishes her performance (and that bit at 12:15? That is me as a seventeen-year-old, banging away at the upright Baldwin Acrosonic in my parents' living room), Mr. Beebe comments: "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her." In the film, Lucy actually utters the line that the novel relegates to an omniscient bit of narration: "Mother doesn't like me playing Beethoven. She says I'm always peevish afterwards."

When I think about the music my siblings and I liked in our teenage years, I'm struck by two simultaneous impressions: how sometimes complementary, sometimes completely divergent our obsessions were. Our tastes often overlapped. We all liked U2, R.E.M., and Nine Inch Nails, as well as early-'90s hip-hop groups like Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, Souls of Mischief, and The Pharcyde. But we also parted company sometimes. Jeff liked Bass Boy, every one of whose song titles had the word "bass" in it, and whose music likewise offered enough hertz to test the lower-frequency limits of his homemade subwoofer. Generally, I was a big fan of sweet British pop and shoegaze, like Ride, Slowdive, and Blur. Rhea loved the harsh edge of Minor Threat and the rasp of Dinosaur Jr. Admittedly, I had no tolerance for the latter preference of hers, and I never failed to bitch about it to the high heavens whenever she dared to ask whether she could play those tapes in my car. (Hence these days, hearing J. Mascis, or any man with a homely voice, always makes me want to bawl.)

Despite some squabbling, she and I could agree completely on two bands whose music we always marveled over for their ability to put us in a kind of trance: Cocteau Twins and The Blue Nile. One week during the summer after I graduated from high school, my family rented a house in Montreat called Over the Rainbow. It was done up in mint 1940s decor—I still remember the wallpaper, a large, diffuse pattern of deep green pine sprigs, a single pine cone nestled in each, on a blue-gray background.  The living room was full of yellowed magazines and vintage board games like Sorry! and Life. That week, she and I shared an upstairs bedroom. When you walked in, you faced a single window with a twin bed on either side. At night, we would chat for a while and then put Treasure or A Walk Across the Rooftops into the CD player we'd set on the dainty wooden nightstand between the heads of our beds, and then we'd lie in the faint glow from the nightwatchman outside, its light tangled by the window's lacy panel into patterns on our chenille bedspreads. We lay there in complete silence. The next morning we could never remember during which song we'd each fallen asleep.

I don't want to give the wrong impression about my interactions with my brother and sister. All this melodic lulling of teenage beasts sounds very peaceful, and we three did get along much better as we got older, but our relationships were neither always, nor often harmonious. For instance, as kids we used to play a game based one of our favorite Saturday morning cartoons, Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling, a show that featured Hogan and his band of wrestlers in episodic conflict against a group of "heels" (wrestling lingo for a jerk, or an "evil" character) fronted by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. Interestingly, one of the reasons why the show didn't last long was because its narrative failed to keep in sync with actual WWF storylines: professional wrestling is notorious for the vicissitudes of its characters, who incessantly shift from hero to heel and back.
made entirely out of fists

Our own version of Rock 'n' Wrestling was far less sophisticated and usually went something like this. Rhea and I would suggest playing it. Jeff, wearing his standard childhood uniform of whitey-tighties, would give his assent to the game, chanting with his (in retrospect adorable) speech impediment, "WOCK-in WESSA-lin! WOCK-in WESSA-lin!" Once the two combatants had lined up on either side of the "ring," we would intone, "ding ding!" at which point Rhea or I would step forward, grab him by the hands, swing him around until he had gathered sufficient centrifugal force, and then arbitrarily let go of him. Inevitably, he would go sailing across the room and hit a wall or the fireplace. Jeff's temper was incendiary. A bit dazed by the impact, he would usually leap up, growling loudly in his throat, and run at us red-faced at top speed, like an enraged elf made entirely out of fists. Jeff may have been four years my junior (and two years Rhea's), but I found these assaults more than a little scary, notwithstanding the fact that I had provoked them deliberately. I remember the last fistfight he and I ever had. I was fourteen, and we locked horns in the upstairs TV room, where we were probably arguing over who got to pick the channel. Somehow, though he was a full head shorter than I was, he managed to roundhouse kick me in the chin. I am still sort of mystified by the physics of that.

For our part, while Rhea and I usually battled Jeff and not each other in our Rock 'n' Wrestling game, we had our own fights, too. Every night in high school was another installment in the epic saga I'll call Who Gets to Use the Phone Tonight? I remember this as an ongoing, identical sequence of scenes. At around eight o'clock, I would pick up the phone, and if I didn't hear a dial tone, I would storm all the way down the hallway (since I habitually walk on my heels, I'm sure she could probably hear me coming as soon as I rounded the corner), bang loudly on Rhea's door, and bark, "Get off the phone! I need to call Lauren!" If I was feeling generous, I would allow her perhaps two minutes to finish her conversation, usually picking up the handset in my room at least once—at which point she would screech into the receiver, "Get off the phone!" When I felt a decent interval had elapsed, I would thunder back to her room, fling open the door, and roar, "GET OFF THE PHONE NOW!!" Every night, I would slam her door, and every night, the moment after I did it, I could hear her bulletin board, which hung above her bed, jostle loose of its small nail and fall with a muffled clunk behind the headboard. Then she would holler, "UGGHH!! HEATHERR!!"

Sometimes, if our fight had been particularly nasty, I would come in from school the next day to find my room had been cleaned or there was a new pair of earrings or tube of lipstick on my pillow.

don't be fooled
Until very recently, these knock-down drag-outs were the last real fighting I did with anyone. But lately I've begun to feel again the subtle but definite flexing of that imaginary muscle—my will, my anger. The fact that I have to work at convincing myself that anger can be a good thing and there are times when it's called for tells me how much I have grown to like peace and harmony—probably too much.

This summer I went to Louisville as I always do for ETS/College Board's annual AP reading. This means that I was cooped up with 1200 other English teachers for a week, grading English Lit essays from the year's current crop of examinees. There are some rowdy individuals among us, and while I have counted myself among their number at various points, generally we're a bookish and introverted lot. My friends in particular are some of the coolest, smartest, and gosh-darned sweetest women I know, and I roomed with Jennifer, who epitomizes all those virtues. She and I were ideal roommates: we were considerate, stayed out of each other's way, shared snacks and bottled water, and agreed beforehand who would take the morning and the evening shower. I volunteered to make coffee each morning for both of us. One afternoon when we returned to our room from a day of grading, I realized that housekeeping had forgotten to replenish our store of packets for the room's tiny coffee maker. For no apparent reason, I was furious. Well, okay: I knew how god-awful I would feel the next morning without coffee, and I was not going to queue up for one of the urns at the convention center, which always seemed to tap out just as I got to the front of the line. I stomped around the room, bitching about the fact that there was no coffee, and after a while, I declared, "I can't believe they forgot! I need my coffee! I am going to make a pile of trash and leave it on the coffee table for them to find tomorrow to show them how pissed-off I am!" After a beat, Jennifer replied, "Or: we could just call down to the front desk and ask them to bring us some more coffee packets."

I am telling you this story so that you can enjoy a laugh at my expense, the same way I had to utter a startled bark of amusement as soon as Jennifer said that. (My response? "No! That would be too easy." By the end of the sentence I had trailed off and was grinning sheepishly.) I also admired her straightforward gumption. You know, the grown-ups always used to say that we couldn't have coffee because it would stunt our growth. I don't think that ended up happening. Instead, I suspect at some point between Rock 'n' Wrestling and adulthood, my anger got stunted instead. My pathological need to be nice compels me to add an epilogue: I did not, after all, make that pile of trash for the housekeeper to find, and every morning that week, I picked up after myself before I left for work, like a good girl.

At the end of my week in Louisville, I went to Knoxville for a few days. One evening while I was there, I hung out with one of my best friends, who had just been screwed over for reasons that I felt were ridiculous to the point of insulting. I asked him if he was angry about it, and he was astonishingly good-natured, saying no, he wished the other person well and was just trying to focus on the future. I exploded, "How can you not be completely infuriated by how unjust this is? Where does that asshole live? I want to go to his house and shit on his front porch!" I was as shocked as he was by my sudden, vocal fury.

When I returned home, I told these two stories on myself to my analyst, who—also a huge surprise to me—did not denounce them as evidence of some juvenile regression back to immaturity. Rather, she was delighted by my childish anger (though she did add, "I don't recommend literally shitting on anyone's porch.")

I also told Valerie about it, and she said it reminded her of when I used to come over to her place to play Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat. In our GTA games, I would steal all kinds of cars. Moreover, I loved pulling over my ill-gotten vehicle every so often to pick up a prostitute. After I'd availed myself of her services—and gathered the health points that our encounter, quite reasonably, had restored to my totals—I would kick her out of the car and refuse to pay her. I also loved it when I found a tank to steal, because then I could just ride around, rolling over everything in my path. In Mortal Kombat, similarly, we would often play single-player games so that each of us could battle the computer. This was more fun for both of us because she played more often than I did and was much better at the game. In addition to one-on-one fights, the game offered the chance for a player to enter a "nether realm," a village where we could gather information, learn additional fighting skills, and collect treasure and money. As I strolled through the streets of this other world, some imp got a hold of me, and I started indiscriminately punching and kicking everyone I saw: warriors, tradesmen, elderly people, mothers, children. Sometimes I would push the button to get the information or valuable item from a character, and then knock him out. To their credit, the makers of the game must have foreseen a player like me because all of my victims responded with justifiable indignation to my abuse.

Valerie was amazed at my arbitrarily brutal gameplay. She said she kept marveling, "Is this Heather? But she's always so nice! I mean, I would call her temper impish, never angry and violent."

And in real life, I did do playful mischief: rigging up Rhea's toilet seat with snap 'n' pops under each rubber support while she was out one night so that when she came in after midnight and tipsy, she'd be startled by the bangs when she sat down to pee. In college, MJ and I sneaked into several friends' dorm rooms while they were in class, unscrewed their shower heads, filled them with powdered hot cocoa mix, and then spread a fake rumor that the toilets had backed up on the floor above ours, so that when they went to take a shower that evening, they'd think of it when they saw the brown water streaming out. Another night, we dressed up as... well, I don't even know what we dressed up as. I think we were going for demonic. We puffed white powder all over our faces, lined our eyes in heavy, dark eyeshadow, put on black lipstick and long, sharp, fake black nails, and wore band leader hats and bizarre outfits. Then we went behind Howerton Hall and knocked on various guys' windows, trying to scare them by making hideous faces when they raised the blinds. Thinking back, it doesn't strike me as any coincidence that MJ and I used to have a Thursday afternoon ritual of going to Pizza Hut in Black Mountain, gorging ourselves on the lunch buffet, and then bellying up to the arcade console for several bloody rounds of Samurai Shodown: Charlotte v. Nakoruru.

Notwithstanding all this tomfoolery and cyber violence, I'm betting most people would describe me as "nice" or "quiet." Some people think I'm stuck-up, but if you know me well, you know nothing could be further from the truth. I generally feel that I'm less important than other people. It's just a paralyzing shyness about face-to-face interaction that tongue-ties me and bears only a superficial resemblance to snobbery. In fact, I may be the most accommodating person you've ever met. I've been told that more than once. Over the years, I've bent myself every which way, adjusting my desires to fit what I convince myself are others' far busier schedules, more important work, more urgent extenuating circumstances, more tragic or stressful histories. I've never really been comfortable saying no, and thus I have seethed with resentment and anger for much of my life. I didn't know how deep these underground pockets of magma went until I started digging around in my origins. I began Jungian analysis. I wrote down my dreams. I asked my mother questions like, "What happened, again, that day I threw the fit?"

not a saint
She told me that I was two years old at the time, and she was late in her pregnancy with Rhea. I was lying on the bed, and I didn't want to go to sleep. I cried and cried, and then in a sudden fit of rage, I flung myself backwards, hit my head hard on the bookshelf headboard, and spoke in tongues for about thirty seconds. However, Mom added that this was a pretty anomalous occurrence, that I wasn't really a willful child at all. She described me before Rhea was born as bright, precocious, creative, and full of myself, but she also discovered from the time I was really small that she could reason with me "like a little adult," and I would respond to it with good behavior. In fact, she remembers that my preschool teachers saw me as such a "perfect little lady" that they cast me as Mary in the nativity pageant.

Suddenly I realized that that person who played Mortal Kombat and punched out people in the nether realm was part of me that I had been trying to play out through dreams and video games, or through criticism of others for qualities I myself possessed that didn't square with my view of myself as a "nice person." She was a part of me who was a furious, grabby witch. A total hellcat bitch. A kind of nether Heather.

Five years or so ago I read about just this sort of thing, and even then the idea drew me. I don't think I was really ready to think too much yet about what it meant, but it felt true. In Robert Bly's short Jungian work, A Little Book on the Human Shadow, I read about this hidden side of our identity. In the second chapter, "The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us," I felt another stab of familiarity at Bly's account of childhood, and particularly his own:

                When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360-
                degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts
                of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. We had a ball of
                energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn't like certain
                parts of that ball. They said things like, "Can't you be still?" Or "It isn't nice
                to try and kill your brother." Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part
                of us that our parents don't like, we, to keep our parents' love, put in the bag.
                By the time we go to school our bag is quite large. Then our teachers have
                their say: "Good children don't get angry over such little things." So we take
                our anger and put it in the bag. By the time my brother and I were twelve in
                Madison, Minnesota we were known as "the nice Bly boys." Our bags were
                already a mile long.

In the bag lies our shadow, that material that we deny, but which contains great potential for nourishment and creativity—as well as for destruction, if it is denied. Later in the book, Bly talks at length about a modern parable of the "nice man" who denies his shadow side: the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As the good, compassionate doctor gets nicer and nicer, his alter ego becomes more savage and enraged.

Reading this made me think of Frankenstein—maybe because D recently made me a present of a pop-up book of the novel.

Whenever I teach Mary Shelley's novel, I always point out to my students how we tend to confuse and conflate the name "Frankenstein": when you say it, most people immediately picture the "monster," but Frankenstein is actually the surname of the creature's creator, Victor. In our discussions of the novel, I make a point of asking the class, "Who is the real monster in Frankenstein?" It engenders some lively discussions; many readers seem to have come to the same conclusion that I have over the years: that Victor is a total dick, the true "monster" in the tale. And further, that it is not merely by knitting together the body parts and physically reanimating the tissue of his creature, but rather by denying his own creation, failing to give him love, and banishing him to isolation in the wilderness, that he actually gives life to the brutal, rancorous killer who destroys everything and everyone Victor holds dear. When the creature finally catches up to Victor in a remote cabin in the Alps, he charges his creator with a failure to recognize the being to whom he has given life:

              "I expected this reception," said the daemon. "All men hate the wretched; how,
              then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my
              creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties
              only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How
              dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine
              towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions,
              I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of
              death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends."

That's quite a serious threat. But then, I can see where the creature is coming from. Who among us wants to feel invisible, having been denied basic recognition by our creator? And further, is it not possible that we might have sides of ourselves that could convict us of similar crimes? You refuse to acknowledge me. Victor spends most of the first two-thirds of the novel willfully ignoring what he has made, trying to keep it secret from his friends, family, and society. This takes an enormous amount of energy—energy that might have gone towards more productive and revolutionary work. Instead, for the remainder of the novel, Victor chases his creation to the far wastes of the Arctic, intent on destroying his daemon—and himself, if necessary, in the process.

As far back as four years ago, the first semester I taught at Alabama, when my students read Frankenstein and I was planning my lesson on the novel, I found some online articles to get me started thinking about where to take the day's class discussion. I apologize that I'm not able to locate the exact article I read, but here is what I remember. It offered a well-developed exploration of the term "monster," which the writer argued was descended from the Latin word monēre ("to warn") or the Old French mostre ("prodigy, marvel"). To illustrate, it's a term that shares the same root as the word "demonstrate." These monsters are there as a signpost, a literal message to show us something about ourselves.

The article also happened to mention the word daemon, which is used in the passage above and is the archaic spelling of the word we now know as demon. The etymology of this word has been long discussed, so forgive my summary here. According to the OED, our modern term demon comes from the Greek δαίμων: "divinity, genius, tutelary deity." Note that it was originally an ambivalent word, describing spirits of either good or evil intent. The emphasis lay not on judging the moral quality of these tutelary spirits, but rather on their power to inspire, warn, and teach. The OED offers another archaic usage of the term: at some point, it could also mean "an attendant, ministering, or indwelling spirit; a genius."

Bly offers a couple of ways to become more closely acquainted with this inner teacher, the shadow we have stuffed in the bag, so that we may avoid what happens to Drs. Frankenstein and Jekyll when they abnegate—and hence unleash—their destructive alter egos on the world. First, he quotes Marie Louise von Franz, who "suggests that we regard our anger as a person and talk to it. Rather than acting as a conduit for our own anger, and focusing it on another person, one turns one's face and body to the anger itself, and asks: 'What do you want from me? What do you want of me?' That is honoring the anger, just as we honor everyone whom we turn to face."

The other way works less effectively, but it is the preferred method for most of us, who don't entirely get rid of the anger, but still want to keep it leashed. Bly uses the analogy of the crime boss, who hires a petty gangster to do his dirty little jobs, keeps everything under the table, and then refuses to pay up or even acknowledge the minion when he returns from his seedy errands to demand his just recompense. Bly warns: "I have mentioned that we lose energy whenever these shadow powers are allowed to operate under the table. But we would also have to say that the danger is not only the danger of losing energy: there is the question of the anger itself being angry at us. The anger is angry with us for not honoring it, for treating it shabbily, for getting out of it what we want without ever bringing it in and introducing it..."

When I was little, I was angry at Rhea for having gloriously disheveled white-blonde hair and a natural sense of rhythm. Was it rational? Of course not. Was it real? Of course it was. No one in my family ever put pressure on me to put these things away. Instead, I figured out how to reason with myself. I was very good at it.

In high school, Rhea and I made surreptitious fun of pretty much everyone. We were not unique in this respect, I realize. Teenagers can be so mean. Our preferred method of mockery involved drawing cartoon panels with speech and thought bubbles featuring people we knew, as well as some odd fictional people we had invented, in compromising or embarrassing situations. I alternate between cherishing these evidences of our mean streaks and feeling like I could sink through the floor from shame. Dad had long called us "sugar snakes": sometimes sweet as sugar, and sometimes mean as snakes. Maybe it would help if I said we were both disproportionately tender-hearted about animals, the homeless, and high school outcasts.

During the two years after I left for college in Montreat, Rhea began to come into her own. She fought my goth/alternative/misfit influence and emerged as a senior in high school, finally knowing who she was and what she liked. She was more popular than I had been. She was a homecoming queen. She still liked the old stuff all right, but now she preferred different music. Her friends were "conventional," a word I had avoided so assiduously in high school that there had been a slightly hysterical, judgmental quality to my "nonconformity"—a phase that I'm happy to report I eventually outgrew.

Even though we were developing in different directions, we missed each other, and she still wrote to me. Here is one of her letters, in which she eagerly anticipated my return home for the summer, so we could get back to eating junk food and "driving around making fun of people, relentless fun of people":

Please don't ask me about "Docta Jamison." It's a really long story that was only funny to us.

In 1995, I transferred home to the University of Tennessee as a junior. That year, I complained in my journal: "I am close to Rhea, but nowadays she really does have her head up Matt's ass, and sometimes she does act bitchy and lazy." It pains me to admit that Rhea was far more loving and direct with her criticisms. In a note she passed to me during one Sunday church service, she responded to some self-effacing, self-pitying thing I'd written by declaring, "Oh, you're very beautiful (if you'd just sit up straight & quit picking your scabs!)" Another time she said sharply, "Quit being so quiet! Everyone thinks you're a snob."

I had almost exactly one year of living in the same house with Rhea as an adult, and only a few months of that were pre-leukemia. Several weeks before she went into the hospital for her transplant, we had what I think might have been our last fight. On our way up to Norris State Park to see our parents, who were camping, we argued about something—I don't even remember what. She was driving, and she responded in her usual way by snapping, "Whatever," and then sliding a CD into the player and cranking up the volume to indicate that the conversation was over. Of course she chose a country song; she knew I loathed country. Specifically, she picked Sammy Kershaw's "Vidalia," perhaps one of the most offensively nasally, twangy country songs I've ever heard: "Oh, Vidalia, Vidalia—girl, won't you tell me why, / sweet Vidalia, you always gotta make me cry?"  I wanted to hit her, I was so mad. Now I want to cry.

I guess the question I've been left with is this: what do we do when we discover that we cut off our anger (or sexuality or curiosity or rowdiness or jealousy or competitiveness) at some point early on, in order to mollify others? Bly recalls having read a book by Alice Miller that depressed him for weeks, because Miller acknowledges that yes, "we have betrayed ourselves, but she [also] says, 'Don't blame yourself for that. There's nothing else you could have done.' [...] We did, as children, the only sensible thing under the circumstances. The proper attitude towards that, she says, is mourning."

Mourning does feel right. That, and trying to find the creature we once created, and ask it what it wants. Maybe it's hungry. Or maybe it just wants to hear us call it by its name.    

All right. Now, at last, let me show you my mussels. I think you'll like them when they're angry.

Recipe notes:

First, the idea for the name of this recipe comes from JCT Kitchen and Bar in Atlanta—a place I've never visited, but that I saw profiled on the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate (the bacon episode).  I liked their idea of spicy mussels, and I thought chorizo might be a good substitution for the bacon. Because they have a decidedly Mexican flavor, I decided to give them a Spanish name: mejillones enojados.

Now. There are basically two kinds of mussels, wild and cultivated. Both are delicious, but they are different. Wild mussels take a bit more scrubbing, as well as a good bit more work to get the grit out (i.e. a longer soaking time), but they're meatier and have more flavor. We used that kind for this recipe. On the other hand, cultivated mussels are usually milder in flavor, smaller, and more tender. In any case, make sure the mussels are refrigerated through as much of this process as possible.

The chiles are the real variable in this recipe, so you should experiment, but you should also know that their heat is unpredictable. On our first attempt to create this recipe, I would call our batch of mussels "peevish" but not angry. That said, D's bowl was absolutely infuriated because he added a handful of minced fresh habaneros at the end. I tried the broth and then had to sprint into the kitchen and bolt a glass of milk. So you can always add some more chiles later, if your mussels aren't hot enough under the collar for you. Only you know how angry is too angry.

Finally, I admit that D and I got into a fight while cooking these mussels—but that seems appropriate. I had to go in and tell him I was sorry for being so bossy in the kitchen. I'm happy to report that by the time we sat down to eat, we were good again.

mejillones enojados

4 lbs. mussels, scrubbed
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
2 bay leaves
crushed red pepper
1/2 of a roll of Mexican chorizo
1 white onion, chopped
1 c. dry white wine
4 plump cloves garlic, minced
2 roma tomatoes, seeded, peeled and chopped
1 anaheim chile, minced
1 serrano chile, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 habanero, minced (optional)
a small handful of cilantro, washed and torn

Prepare mussels. Place them in a colander under running water, and scrub them well with a brush, removing any barnacles or grit. Discard any mussels with broken shells.

In a large bowl, whisk flour into about 2 quarts of cold water. Add mussels and very gently move them around. Add water if needed to cover all the mussels. Let them sit for about 30 minutes (twice that, if they're wild mussels), so that they spit out as much grit as possible. Carefully put them back into the colander, leaving the gritty flour-water in the bowl, and rinse them well with cold water.

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil and butter over a medium flame. Add bay leaves and a pinch of crushed red pepper (as big or as small as you like), and stir to coat with oil. Let them infuse the oil for a minute or so.

Add chorizo to the pot and break it up a bit with a wooden spoon. After it has begun to brown, add onion and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add chiles, stir, and sauté.

Make a bit of space in the bottom of the pot, add a tiny bit more oil, and put in garlic. Sauté for about thirty seconds, and then stir it into the rest of the ingredients.

Add white wine and deglaze the pan. Let it boil for a couple of minutes, until alcohol has burned off.

Quickly add mussels, and carefully stir them until they're all coated with the mixture in the pot. Cover the pot and steam them for about 8 to 10 minutes, until all mussels have opened. Discard any mussels that don't open.

Serve in large bowls topped with torn cilantro, and with toasted baguette halves on the side.

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