David Edelstein

       It is the loveliest day of the year, I have been married a month, and everything is birdsong apart from the jackhammers that are ripping through the foundation of a building next door. I fetch a Tab from the refrigerator. People grimace when they hear I drink Tab in the morning, but that first can of the day tastes sharp and fruity and has the added benefit of eating the plaque right off my teeth. The kitchen is in a shambles. In a moment of grandiosity, I volunteered to furnish the cake for the wedding of my wife’s best friend, Erik, in Toronto next week, and my education in baking has turned our small Manhattan apartment into something out of Independence Day after the aliens have moved on. I am on my eighth trial cake and my third chin. The good news is that I’m closing in on a final recipe–a golden, white-chocolate butter cake with lemon and raspberry mousseline buttercream. The bad news is that I don’t know what will happen when I multiply the recipe by a factor of 10.
       With my Tab I eat a slice of wedding cake and make a note in my lab book to reduce the proportion of rose water in the fondant. Now, being a famous film critic, I must sit down and do some real work. This morning, I will type up my notes from a Sidney Lumet movie I saw on Friday. I can’t say whether my thumb is up or down because the picture doesn’t open until next week, but it is puzzling that the very Latin-looking Andy Garcia has been cast as a man named Sean Casey, and that his dad, an uneducated Queens cop, is played by Ian Holm, currently howling into the winds as King Lear in his native England. As always, my greatest challenge as a film critic is trying to decipher my handwriting, which, even when I haven’t been scribbling furiously in the dark with my eyes fixed on a screen, resembles Hebrew.
       At lunch time, my lovely new wife, Rachel, and I head out to look for a bigger apartment away from the jackhammers. We’d like to move to Park Slope, Brooklyn, where people pushing baby carriages make nice-nice with hand-holding lesbian couples. Dreaming of a more civilized place to raise my children, I swerve to avoid a cab that stops short to pick up a passenger, whereupon a bicyclist calls me a cock and accuses me of trying to kill him. Meaning to explain that I had narrowly averted an accident and to inquire after his welfare, I say instead, “Fuck you, asshole, I wish I had killed you.” Rachel finds my behavior disturbing and wonders if I see too many violent movies. I am convinced it is the sugar from all those wedding cakes, or possibly the Tab.
       Park Slope has become nearly as expensive as Manhattan. The so-called third bedrooms of the three-bedroom apartments we view are too small even for a young child, unless one wanted to do some sort of Skinnerian experiment in sensory deprivation. Yet, wandering through Prospect Park on this gorgeous day, my spirits pick up, and I buy some soft-shell crabs for dinner. As it will be several hours before I can cook them, I take them home alive, thinking it will be a cinch to “clean” them myself. It turns out that to “clean” a live soft-shell crab, you must first take a large pair of shears and snip off its face. It gets worse after that. Meanwhile, the crab continues to wriggle madly, albeit minus a face and innards. Using tongs, I roll one in flour, then in a beaten egg, then in bread crumbs. Still, its body moves, while, from the sink, its face and the faces of its fellow crabs stare up at me in mute reproach. What have I done? Clearly, the fastest way to end its misery will be to slide it into the hot butter–where it unfortunately continues to wriggle. After what seems an eternity, I serve up four amber, lightly crusted crabs, which Rachel pronounces the best she has had this season. I pray, as I cut into mine, that it won’t let out a yelp.
       It’s odd that my empathy does not extend to humans on bicycles. Or on the screen. After dinner, I head out to catch up on what I missed while eating vongole in Venice on my honeymoon. Breakdown is a Straw Dogs-issue yuppies-besieged-by-rednecks picture that exploits class hatred in a country that claims to be above such things. Kurt Russell wears a lavender alligator shirt, but he covers it up with a dirty windbreaker when he must become a man and save his wife (Kathleen Quinlan, who looks awfully good in ropes). The working-class-white-trash-sumbitch bad guys think he deserves to die simply by virtue of his shiny new sport utility vehicle with its Massachusetts plates. The movie is well made, but it seems to me that when the bad guys get it, they don’t get it good enough, so that they really, really suffer. (In Cliffhanger, for example, the bad guys not only die in agony but are shown, just before the light goes out of their eyes, to recognize the innate superiority of Sylvester Stallone.) Rachel worries that soon all I’ll want to see are movies like Make Them Die Slowly. But there’s no time to discuss this tonight, as I must rise early to bake a wedding cake. As we fall asleep, the garbage trucks come.