Gregory Pardlo’s Air Traffic and zucchini tots (no, really, both of these things)

Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America Cover Image
Air Traffic is a complicated memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gregory Pardlo.

Honestly, I was going to opine about zucchini and how thanks to Maggie M. at my YMCA, I’ve learned about zucchini tots which are just like tater tots, except, you know. Then this morning I finished  Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gregory Pardlo’s “Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America” (Borzoi, 2018).

A frequent Facebook comment of mine on others’ posts is “Wow. Just. Wow.” Also appropriate for this complicated remembrance, especially the section on the family’s attempted intervention in his younger brother’s alcoholism.

“Of course,” writes Pardlo, “I should have ‘been there’ for him. Of course, I should have fought for him. He’s my fucking brother. When he was starting, I was a veteran drunk. Could some part of me have wished my demons onto Robbie back then? The old fears and insecurities are still with me, robust as ever, and I still know, like Robbie, what it feels like to be trapped in my head with a toxic imagination. It takes one to know one.


I remember my younger sister, who’s been dead for almost two years, standing in a bathroom here in our house, shooting up with insulin, saying she’d rather eat “the cake” and take the shots. In the end, diabetes likely accelerated the clusterfuck of ailments plaguing her and hastened her death at 69. Could I have been more helpful and more encouraging of her taking care of herself? “Take care of your body as if it belonged to someone you love,” is a self-help slogan Pardlo quotes.

And there, of course, is the rub. Neither of us Rhodes girls was raised or ever encouraged to love/take care of ourselves. And as we aged into our 60s and 70s, we still lacked the strength or tools to do that. Mostly. On nine days, say, out of 10.

Jill was so loving toward me; much more so than I toward her. And when she treated me like a rock star, I wanted to run in the opposite direction. Still do. People will know I’m a fake if I stick around when they’re saying or doing nice things. Gilt-edged guilt and the spider skeins we spin to justify neuroses.

Through this entire harrowing chapter, I found myself substituting food for alcohol addiction. “You have to sit with the horror of your inability to promise (to get sober), and surrender to it,” says Pardlo, himself a recovered alcoholic. “Sobriety (eating healthy) requires the opposite of will.” Oh no, please no. It’s something I can’t manage or legislate? Nope. Right now, with almost another week in this stupid fracture boot, I’m thinking I’ll keep on tracking my intake on the Weight Watchers’ app, admit I’m powerless in the face of chocolate candy and maybe not start eating it because I can’t stop.

And cook more with zucchini. This year’s crop is the best we’ve ever had, and the zucchini tots are made thusly (measurements are approximate — you’re not making an angel food cake here):

Zucchini tots

1 giant zucchini that you missed until today because it was hidden by a leaf

Bread crumbs

1 egg

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 to 1 teaspoon McCormick® Roasted Garlic and Herb seasoning

1/2 to 1 cup grated Cheddar with some zip to it

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grate about two cups of zucchini. Add beaten egg and at least a palmful of breadcrumbs (regular, not panko). Mix in seasonings and grated cheese and shape into golfball-sized balls.  If the balls won’t hold their shape, add some breadcrumbs. Bake on baking sheets for 15 to 20 minutes or until they’re as crispy as you’d like them. I like crunch. Maggie M. likes hers more tender. These approximate amounts yielded about 24 tots. Freeze leftovers for a cold winter’s night.

These little guys are just starting to brown and crisp on the edges. They freeze well too!




One response to “Gregory Pardlo’s Air Traffic and zucchini tots (no, really, both of these things)”

  1. They look yum. I have some zucchini (courgette as we call it in England) in the fridge I keep ignoring.
    I like the quote about treating your body as if it belongs to someone you love. That is very deep.


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