BLURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (18)

By: Mimi Lipson
August 29, 2022

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, delivering brief remarks on mottos, mantras, speeches, slogans, and other words to live by. Series edited by Adam McGovern.

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Photo courtesy of the author.

“Cheap food tastes better”

Once upon a time, my father led adventurous tours of the Soviet Union. His customers were mostly college students and mostly in his thrall, for he was a sort of Pied Piper. They traveled by V.W. microbus and stayed in campgrounds to avoid the expensive Western-style hotels that Intourist, the official Soviet travel agency, pressed upon foreigners. Campgrounds were not just a far less costly option; they were places where ordinary Soviet citizens congregated — and authentic Sovietness was his lodestar.

From the information handout, under the heading “Minor Mishaps”:

Perhaps the most enriching experience of all is to get sick — but not too sick — and spend some time in the ward of a Soviet hospital. Even if you don’t succeed in getting sick in the Soviet Union, you might want to invent something during your last week. It can teach you some things that any number of museum tours cannot.

Along with accommodations, the price of the tour included all non-restaurant meals, which the college students and others shopped for with group money. My father invented the concept of “protein poisoning” as a premise for lean stretches, when staple foods were harder than usual to come by, so he could sell the students on the benefits of a diet of black bread and radishes. By playing the cheapskate grifter and bringing everyone in on the joke, he managed to both prevent a minor uprising and save money.

I don’t know the origin of his motto “cheap food tastes better.” He might have first said it on the Soviet trip, but not necessarily. He was the same charming rogue with his students, his kids, and everyone else in his crowded orbit. Also, he did like cheap food. He was an ardent fan of cafeterias and trolley-car diners. Free food was even better; he always made a beeline for a booth where the plates hadn’t been bussed yet, so he could graze on leftovers.

It was understood that this principle didn’t just apply to food. Our clothes came from Morgan Memorial, the Army-Navy store, and only if necessary, from Sears. His idea of a great minivacation was to take a Greyhound to Fall River or Haverhill or some other down-at-the-heels Massachusetts town, check into a modest motel, and walk around town in search of a cafeteria.

Reduced to its essence, “Cheap food tastes better” wasn’t even about cheapness. It was about the pile-up of good luck that rewarded the adventurer. Protein-free bread, the cultural enrichment of a Soviet hospital ward. It was a summation of one of his great gifts as a tour guide and a father: his ability to spin inconvenience, austerity, and disappointment into pure gold.

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BLURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Ran Xia on BLACK CROW BELIEFS | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on LEFT-CORNER BRICK | Andrea Diaz on JOY IS RESISTANCE | Lynn Peril on TO THINE OWN SELF | Miranda Mellis on THE FUTURE IS PASSÉ | Bishakh Som on LET THE WEIRDNESS IN | Lucy Sante on FLAUBERT’S PERFECT WORD | Stefene Russell on CRYSTAL SETS | Crystal Durant on LIFE IS A BANQUET | Adam McGovern on EVERY MINUTE AN OCEAN | Josh Glenn on LUPUS LUPUM NON MORDET | Heather Quinlan on SHUT UP, HE EXPLAINED | Adrienne Crew on WATCH YOUR PENNIES | Art Wallace on COME ON AND GIVE A CHEER | Julia Lee Barclay-Morton on WILLIAM JAMES, UNADAPTED | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on TO EACH HIS OWN | Nikhil Singh on ILLUMINATE OR DISSIPATE? | Mimi Lipson on CHEAP FOOD TASTES BETTER | Kahle Alford on NOT GONNA CRACK | Michele Carlo on YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT | Marguerite Dabaie on WALKING ON WATER | Raymond Nat Turner on TRYIN’ AND TRANEIN’ | Bob Laine on WHEN YOU GROW UP | Fran Pado on THE SMILEY EMOJI | Deborah Wassertzug on PLACING YOUR BETS. PLUS: BLURB SERIES CODA by Lisa Levy.

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Enthusiasms