Hmm Weekly for March 2, 2021

There is no effective vaccine for Tuesdays

NATURAL HISTORY DEP’T.

NOTE: This department contains images and descriptions of carnivorous behavior.

THE HAWK WAS so close we almost didn't see it. We were barely even into Central Park, at the near corner of the Sheep Meadow. I'd just swept my eyes over the open grass, thinking about how empty it was, when for some reason I carried my gaze around to my left and caught a glimpse of something immense and whitish in a tree. I'd taken another step or two, so that I was turning back over my shoulder, before I processed what I was looking at: it was so low in the tree, and so near to the path, and so evidently unbothered.  

I called a halt and we doubled back. It was perched on a thick hump of a branch, right before the tree trunk. Even while we came closer, it still didn't fly off, and as I tried to figure out why, we saw a squirrel's tail hanging limp behind the branch. The hawk hunched over it, busy at work. 

We circled a quarter-turn around the tree for a clearer angle. The hawk looked at us with a pale eye, then returned its attention to the meal at its feet. It had a sharp white eyebrow and, between that and its ruthless mien, I kept wanting to resolve it into a dashing, forest-hunting Cooper's hawk. But the short thick tail and the plump white breast, with the familiar watch chain of brown streaks below, patiently insisted that here was a plain old everyday red-tailed hawk, too juvenile for its tail to even be red yet. 

It was not every day that even a red-tail showed up like this, though. The branch was 12 or 15 feet up, and we were standing about 12 feet off, so the hypotenuse wasn't even 20 feet. I tried to think of whether I'd ever been this close, for this long, to a live, free, uninjured hawk, with no glass in the way. I'd held trained ones before, an experience of awe in its own right, but those hawks weren't exercising full discretion. The hawk tugged at the squirrel with its beak, stretching the dead tissue, tearing pieces off with a rubbery snapping sound. 

Joggers and cyclists and strolling people kept going by. A few stopped and took pictures, but most didn't notice what was going on. Here was nature audibly ripping meat apart, and there, a few yards off, was normal human business, flowing on at eye level. We'd nearly flowed past it, too. 

The squirrel's tail swung in time with the hawk's exertions, but it had lost most of its volume. Whatever squirrel vitality had once made it fluff and bristle was gone with the brain stem down the hawk's gullet. Had I seen this squirrel before, intact, among the other squirrels? One afternoon I'd tried to snap pictures of their long little bodies bounding over the grass of the meadow, with the lowering sunlight drawing them out all the more, but I couldn't get the timing right. 

The hawk defecated, throwing a rope of feces through the air. It splashed down not far from where we'd first been standing. Then the hawk bent back to its meal. A few years ago I read H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald—her memoir of training a fractious goshawk to hunt—with a sort of raptor-eyed fascination. At the age my children are now, I was more than semi-crazy for birds of prey myself; when I was in seventh or eighth grade, my mother had willingly taken me up what was then called the USF&G Building, the tallest building in Baltimore, so I could snap an endless stack of color slides of Scarlett, the resident peregrine falcon there, as she sat on her nest on the ledge outside an office window. Helen Macdonald had gone down a road I might, possessing a little more personal intensity, have ventured along too. She hadn't mentioned, or quite possibly I hadn't retained her having mentioned, how slow the eating process could be. One little scrap at a time! My children were interested enough in the hawk, but not devoutly so. 

Then the hawk fumbled what was left of the squirrel and dropped it. The gray furry thing plopped at the base of the tree, flat in the dirt, its front parts missing and tail and hindquarters intact. 

The hawk shuffled and turned around a little, tensing up and settling and tensing up again. It had lost command of the situation, and the equilibrium had been destroyed. People nearby were a matter of indifference when it held the meal in its own feet, but now it had to weigh the risks of trying to retrieve it. 

We moved off a little, to give it a better chance. It stood where it was, undecided. If it had eaten its fill, presumably, it would have given up and left. It still wanted the squirrel. Another red-tail, this one in mature plumage, circled in the sun-filled sky nearby, then slowly receded eastward. One passing dog, a husky type, caught the smell of the carcass, and then another did, but their owners kept their leashes moving on a straight line even as their snouts turned toward the foot of the tree. 

The volume of passersby thinned, then thickened again. The hawk could not convince itself to make a grab for it. We retreated further, but it stayed stuck on the branch. Finally we gave up and moved off, for the Wisteria Pergola, where we’d been headed in the first place. When we made it back to the corner, on the way home, the hawk was gone and the squirrel-half was still there. 

Another Week, Another HMM WEEKLY

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THOUGHT DEP’T.

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CONSUMER AFFAIRS DEP'T.

Nine-Dollar Spaghetti

SINCE MARCH OF the year 2020, I have been attending a “Happy Hour,” every Friday, except it’s not a Happy hour, it’s a few of us standing around, spaced out, in a parking lot near a bourgie wine and liquor store, drinking beers. The store also has beers. My wife invented it, this not-Happy hour, and we call it Crappy Hour™. The idea is we have this crappy thing to do until we can be Happy, in a real bar, with proper drinks in front of us. We don’t know when that will be.

The store where we get our drinks is kinda fancy. I can’t call it a complete deli, but they have a counter with meats and cheeses they will slice up for you. The sliced meats and cheeses are so fancy that as you get your order sliced, they put a piece of paper in between each slice of your meat or cheese, to separate them, in order to make it less difficult for you to use your slices. The place also has fine imported chocolate candy bars that have way too much cacao in them for my taste, but it’s the kinda chocolate that goes well with some snappy vino or a fine cheese, I get it. 

Also, for a few months, this store has had a display of imported pasta in colorful wrappers in a non-conforming length, like, double the typical length, and every week I’ve been in there getting a tall can of whatever beer, I’d eyeball the display, until I finally was in there re-upping on probably my third beer and I pulled the trigger and grabbed a pack. It cost nine dollars. Nine dollars! 

I justified it in my mind by reasoning that it’s fancy imported pasta, and it’s at least double the normal amount of a single package, it’s a one-time thing, a culinary exploration, if you will, and I further and finally justified it by reasoning the purchase as kind of a tax, for using the store’s bathroom every week. The store has TWO really nice bathrooms and hot water for the hand washing, plus a choice of paper towel and/or hot and loud hand blower-on-er. Anyway, I brought nine-dollar spaghetti home. 

It’s a beautiful package, and that’s always a big part of my experience as a consumer. I will buy stuff just because of the package at least once, but nine bucks for spaghetti? Anyway, I cooked some of it, and it was good, it was fine, it was spaghetti, what the fuck was I thinking? Nine dollars! OK, $8.99. Maybe I shoulda tried the vermicelli.

ADVICE DEP’T.:

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VISUAL CONSCIOUSNESS DEP’T.

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SANDWICH RECIPES DEP’T.

NOTE: This department contains descriptions of carnivorous behavior.

WE PRESENT recipes for sandwiches from Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Recipes, Copyright 1916, by David McKay, Publisher, and now in the public domain for the delectation of all, written by Marion Harris Neil, M.C.A., former Cookery Editor, The Ladies’ Home Journal, author of How to Cook in Casserole Dishes, Candies and Bonbons and How to Make Them, Canning, Preserving and Pickling, and The Something-Different Dish.

CHEESE AND PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES
1/2 pint (1 cup) peanut butter
1/2 pint (1 cup) cream cheese
1 oz. (2 tablespoonfuls) butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoonful orange-juice
Brown bread

Cream the butter, add the peanut butter, cheese, and seasonings, and spread on small rounds of thinly cut brown bread. Serve on a dainty sandwich tray.
Another method.—Chop tender and crisp radishes fine; chill on the ice; then mix with them grated American cheese and whipped cream. Spread between dainty rounds of buttered bread.
Or mix peeled and chopped cucumbers with grated Parmesan cheese and a little red pepper, and spread between thin slices of either white or brown buttered bread. Cut into triangles.

CHEESE AND PICKLE SANDWICHES
1 lb. moist cheese
1/2 pint (1 cup) sour pickles
1 lb. (2 cups) butter
Salt and paprika to taste
Brown or white bread

Put the cheese and pickles through a food-chopper and season to taste with salt and paprika. Cream the butter and combine gradually with the cheese mixture. Chill and spread evenly on thin slices of bread and press together.

CHICKEN LIVER AND BACON SANDWICHES
Chicken livers
Crisped bacon
Salt
Pepper
Buttered bread
Parsley

Cook and cool the required amount of chicken-livers; mash them to a paste, season to taste with salt and pepper, and spread over thin slices of buttered bread. Cover with shreds of crisped bacon and place other slices of bread on the top. Cut into rounds, ovals, triangles, or fingers, and serve garnished with parsley.

If you decide to prepare and enjoy any of the above items, kindly send a picture to us at hmmweekly@substack.com.

HMM WEEKLY IS written by Tom Scocca, editor, and Joe MacTriangles, creative director. If you enjoy Hmm Weekly, please let a friend know about it! If you're reading this because someone forwarded it to you, we invite you to sign up for a copy of your own right now. Thanks for reading, and any time you want, email us at hmmweekly@substack.com.