THE YEAR IS 1980. Two red steaks, each "surrounded by a half-inch rim of fat, smoke and hiss inside my $2 aluminum frying pan. On an opposite burner, a small pot holds a cup of canned sweet corn, now deep in bubble world. Behind the corn, on the rear burner, is a pot filled with canned spinach. Inside the oven are eight 12-minute Brown ’N Serve rolls squatting on a rack dripping butter. Hum-de-hum-hum.
All of us are busy inside a small kitchen, say 8 x 8 feet, on the second floor of a 70-year-old apartment building off Fifth Avenue, four blocks from downtown Hillcrest. The original apartments have been divided by thin partitioned walls, doubling the number of rental units and giving each apartment a long, narrow Quonset-hut look. Heat doesn’t arrive until 7:00 p.m., and that’s only if Bill the Troll, who lives in the basement, remembers to stoke the burner, which he does about four times a week. The apartment’s best feature is the 11-foot ceiling. This must have been a lovely place 40 years ago.
Tonight’s meal is in honor of the fair Peggy O’Callahan. I’d met her last week at a barbecue in La Mesa. She’s my age, late 30s, has full breasts, tight butt, and black hair. But what got to me was her intelligence. She’s smart, funny, and independent. We sat on suburban back steps, gnawed on chicken, and talked for an hour. As we stood up, I invited her over for dinner. “You cook?” she asked incredulously.
“A little,” I replied modestly.
Now it’s time to stand and deliver. I open the ancient refrigerator door. Inside are two tubs of butter, two pounds of thick-cut bacon for my bacon sandwiches, a loaf of Wonder Bread, three cans of Coors, two bottles of cheap white wine, jar of mayonnaise, jar of mustard, a cucumber, two halves of two tomatoes, a bottle of salad dressing, and one head of lettuce. I retrieve the lettuce, note that the outer foliage is slimy to the touch. No problem; I’ll just rip the dead stuff off.
I reach for my 12-inch Buck hunting knife, begin to chop lettuce, finish, grab a tomato piece, begin slicing and dicing. “Shit!” I nick my finger. Blood squirts from my thumb. I pause, suck on thumb, return to work. Okay, what else do I need? I got the Lucky’s blue cheese salad dressing. Check. What else? Salad bowl. I open the cupboard looking for a bowl, hmm, don’t seem to have one. Again, no problem. I find and retrieve aluminum pot object, rake salad fixings off the counter into aforementioned receptacle, reach in and fluff salad with my fingers. Looks good.
Doorbell rings. I slog to the front door wearing the countenance of an overworked domestic, picture perfect with soiled kitchen towel draped over one shoulder. I open the door and regard a lovely, oval face, big blue eyes, lips forming a sultry mouth, and shoulder-length black hair. An ironic, feminine voice says, “Hello.”
“Glad you could make it.” Miss Peggy enters the apartment garbed in a long black coat that’s been left open, revealing a light turquoise dress cut at the knees. I direct Peggy down the hall into the living room, feeling for the first time like a bachelor, which is surprisingly unpleasant; until this moment I’d always felt like a hunter.
The focal point of the living room is a 10-foot yellow-and-brown couch I bought for 35 bucks. Off the far door is a tiny bedroom, the size of two queen-sized beds. Peggy takes a seat on the couch and asks, “What’s that smell?”
My expression deadens. I take a big whiff. Hmm. I don’t smell anything. “What smell?”
“The one that smells like a dead rat underneath a house.”
I march around the perimeter of the living room breathing deep and slow. Nothing. I return to the hallway, turn left, take an olfactory inventory of the bathroom. I’d placed a large cactus in there about a year ago, thought it would spiff the place up, notice it’s dead now. The plant has turned ghost white; it’s withered and missing chunks of skin. That's very odd. I examine the bathtub — it’s an old-fashioned, eight-foot tub — and realize that there’s an enormous black ring inside the tub, and the tub’s bottom is lined with black streaks. Strange. But I don’t smell anything. I return to the living room and in a genuinely puzzled voice offer, “It must be the neighbors.”
Ignoring her response, I move on to the centerpiece of the evening. “Why don’t we have a little dinner?”
Double doors lead to the dining room. Normally, the scarred maple dining room table is my work desk, crowded with computers and papers. I’ve stacked computer disks, newspapers, magazines, pens, printer ribbons, the office junk normally found on the dining room table to one side. In their place I’ve laid out two candles, two place mats, unmatched silverware, and two dishes I purchased on Martha’s Vineyard, each etched with a legend that reads, “Votes For Women.”
Pulling out a chair for Peggy, I notice there is a rank smell, and it’s coming from the kitchen. “I’ll be right back,” I mumble and roll over to the doorway. THERE’S A GREASE FIRE! Blue and red fire tendrils blast upwards through the top of the oven door, extend three feet or more into the air. I hear grease snap, see thick, white smoke pump out from the stove like the chimney of a goddamn steam locomotive. SHIT! I rush over and open the oven door; a wall of fire leaps out at me and singes the hairs on my mustache, eyebrows, nostrils, and wrists. Pushing my hand through the flame, I turn off the oven, run to the sink, ratchet the tap on full, grab a pot from the windowsill. Ripping the dead plant and dirt out of the pot, I place it under the tap while holding my hand beneath the container’s bottom hole. The pot quickly fills. I run over and throw water into the oven and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Peggy, standing in the doorway, asks, “Are you all right?”
“Just a little domestic mishap. Everything is fine now.” I can’t see all of Peggy’s face for the smoke but suggest to the blurred figure, “Maybe you could open the windows in the living room.” Ducking under most of the smoke, I make my way to the hall closet and retrieve my summer fan, then return to what is now a large barbecue pit, open the kitchen door that leads outside to the fire escape, plug in and turn on fan. Crouching under the smoke again, I retrieve Brown ’N Serve rolls from the oven. They are wet and coal-black on the outside, fiercely hot inside. I seek out my guest and find Peggy struggling to open a living room window. “Here, I can get that.” Keeping my palm open, I throw a terrific right uppercut, moving the window upwards all of four inches. The next window is impossible, the third opens easily. I wheel around, experience inspiration, beam, “I tell you what, let’s eat in the living room. Grab an end of the table.” Peggy and I carry the dining room table into the living room and place it adjacent to the windows. I flutter about and gracefully light candles.
“You just relax and I’ll get dinner.” I return to the kitchen, water everywhere, smoke still billowing. No problem; I move the fan a little closer to the oven, grab a scouring pad, scrape the burnt skin off the Brown ’N Serve rolls. Next I find a fork, remove the brownish-black steaks from the frying pan, and put them on a chipped serving plate. Raucous laughter blasts from the dining room. I carry the steaks to the table, trudge back to the kitchen, seize the pot of spinach, the pot of corn, carry them in to Peggy and deal out two heaps on two plates. Still at it, I retrieve the Brown ’N Serve rolls (which, I must own, now look pretty decent) and proudly present them to my guest. I smile benignly, sit down—OOPS! Forgot the salad.
Salad is brought to the table, wine opened and poured. I gently take my seat and with a wave of my hand say, “Dig in.” Knife and fork at the ready, I hack at a piece of meat, lay on a row of salt, take a big bite, lean back, king of the manor, content with the world and all its creatures.
Peggy, who has not yet picked up her silverware, whispers, “Patrick. ”
“You’re bleeding on your food.”
Below me, on the edge of my plate, is a dark blood drop. The thick, rusty, oval blob has a different color and texture from the pool of cow blood surrounding my steak. Hmm, there are drops of blood on the table. Jeez, it’s coming from my thumb, the one I cut a few minutes ago. My opposable digit is bleeding little blood drops onto my food. I try sucking again.
“There’s blood on the floor.”
I examine the aged, nicked hardwood floor.
Sure enough, a line of blood tippytoes out of the living room, through the dining room, and into the kitchen. Amazing, there’s also blood on the kitchen floor.
I go over and study the kitchen’s linoleum floor. Yup, there’s some blood there...little pools running from the refrigerator to the counter to the doorway. I’ll be damned, there’s old, caked blood on the face of some cabinet drawers. Suddenly, I notice the floor is layered in dirt; it’s hard to recognize the original yellow color. When did all that happen? How long has it been like that? That's very, very odd. Don’t remember all that dirt and scum. Funny. I turn around, smile, call into the living room, “How ’bout some more wine?”
I AM NINE YEARS OLD, sitting at the yellow breakfast table in Piney Points, Texas, watching my mother work in the kitchen. She moves quickly between the sink and the stove. I see a blur of wet, clam-white hands, a hunched back, and her mealtime grimace, the scowl she always wears when preparing food.
My mother is the toughest human being I have ever known, and of four children, I am her favorite. I know that she can command the world with her love, her powers feel that big and that strong. She is also a wretched, even a brutal cook.
On this day I am one-third of the way through my nine years of ham sandwiches on white bread prepared by Mom for school lunches. Breakfast is corn flakes, dinner is macaroni or steak or Spanish rice or meat loaf. My mother raised a family, always held a full-time job, kept house, did the laundry, and moved our family from one end of this country to the other at least 20 times, following my job-jumping father. She regarded cooking as one more oppressive chore. I fully agreed.
When ordered, I’d accompany my mother to the local Winn-Dixie, only rarely getting what I wanted, which was the month’s hot new cereal with a toy inside the box. Returning home, I’d haul the groceries into the kitchen, then watch as my mother unpacked a dozen jumbo-sized paper bags. Next, Mom spent 45 minutes to an hour cooking gruel, then set the dining room table, called in a husband and four ungrateful children who’d wolf down her offering in ten minutes. After dinner she’d scrub-a-dub an enormous heap of dishes, pots, pans, and silverware. Then she’d do it again the next night, and every night thereafter, unto the last day of eternity.
It all seemed like a torturous room in hell to me. Although I had no idea what I would do with my young life, I knew that cooking wasn’t going to be part of it. In the meantime I stayed away from my mother while she prepared dinner; I was afraid her job might rub off on me.
THE YEAR IS 1973. I’m living in interior Alaska, starting my eighth winter in the woods. I am 29 years old, captain to a 16-by-24-foot, two-story cabin built from scrounge wood at a cost of 300 bucks. My home is near the top of Easter Dome, 30 miles west of Fairbanks, about 2500 feet up from the Tanana Valley floor and a mile walk in from the nearest dirt road.
I have no running water, no electricity, no indoor plumbing. Heat comes by way of an Ashley wood stove and a Superior wood cook stove. If you were crazy enough, you could walk out my back door and hike 500 miles to the Bering Strait and not cross one highway along the way. In winter, I stand on my front porch and look 150 miles south to the Alaska Range, snow all the way. I feel like I’m on a raft in the middle of an ocean of white.
I don’t think about cooking. Young men don't think about cooking, they eat peanut butter sandwiches or have girlfriends cook for them. Between girlfriends or traveling or simply taking a recess from the sexual wars, I could count on one last dependable way station along the food chain: The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.
The largest oil field in North America was discovered on the Arctic coast of Alaska in 1968. What that meant to me and my friends was 15 years of steady work. When I got broke or bored — or even, on occasion, when I wanted to do the laundry — I’d drop by the union hall in Fairbanks, take a dispatch to Prudhoe Bay, catch a ride to the airport, fly north, and get fed, clean, and moneyed up.
Let’s you and I time-travel to the north slope of Alaska, into the mess hall of Prime Camp. Prime Camp is the Los Angeles of Prudhoe Bay, located on the east side of the oil field, consisting of a string of ATCO trailers stitched together by a giant arctic walkway that goes on for a quarter-mile. Prime Camp houses 2500 workers.
“Hey, Big Dog, they don’t run out of food here.”
Speaking is Frank Wright, a journeyman electrician I’d worked a few jobs with over the last five years. Between us, we possess six feet of ponytail and three feet of beard. Frank is standing above me holding a cafeteria tray filled with salads and fruits, a repugnant sight. I am at work before two steaks, mashed potatoes, gravy, lobster, sweet corn, chocolate pie, carrot cake, four dinner rolls, coleslaw, cranberry sauce, turkey dressing, milk, and coffee. Outside is a void of darkness. Prudhoe Bay has not seen the sun for a month, won’t see it for another month.
The wind is blowing 40 miles per hour, the chill factor is 110 below zero.
I am happily indulging in first-night-in-camp food behavior, to wit: stumble into a colossal dining room filled with hot, free food, take a seat, and eat as much as you can.
I shovel another chunk of steak into my mouth, calmly consider Frank’s greeting, then look up and reply, “You might trust these bastards, but I don’t. And Big Boy, if you don’t lay off those goddamn fruits, your little wanger is going to be as worthless as the rest of your deformed ass.”
There were 35 construction camps in Prudhoe Bay, and every one of them had a mess hall. Daily menus were planned to give an average male worker 3000 to 4000 calories a day. An unintended consequence of that life: I had — how can I say this — I had a 15-year period where my cooking skills were left undeveloped.
THE YEAR IS 1984. I am living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley with Significant Other, Miss Katherine Friday. She’s been campaigning for months, barnstorming around the apartment demanding food equality. The gauntlet has been thrown this very day. Miss Friday expects me to help with the cooking. Moreover, the wench demands that I go to the grocery store and shop. Or else.
Which brings us to this ugly moment. I am stepping through the front door of Andronico’s, my countenance set to grim purpose. Andronico’s is a grocery store, the kind that doesn’t carry 1 variety of pear, they carry 17. They don’t stock 5 kinds of cheese, they stock 200. Andronico’s sells every exotic piece of leaf, meat, cheese, fruit, and wine that a sensitive personhood could possibly desire. The store gleams; the feel is oppressive cleanliness. Uniformed employees are always in motion, cleaning floors or shelves. Workers are polite, even courteous, but the undertow is union-wage house servant, underpaid caregivers to the affluent.
I take a point position by the grocery carts. Clutched in my right hand is a list of crap, a shopping list it’s called, given to me by Significant Other. S.O. is an American woman and therefore a feminist. Feminism means many things, but mostly it means, “I’m not doing all the cooking.”
I consider the question of the hour one more time: “Why don’t I just leave this country and go find some domestic peace?” I envision myself boarding a big jet airplane, see myself wave to the camera, then intense sunshine, a big aloha wreath hung around my neck. I picture a petite woman who cooks and doesn’t whine. I arrive home to Southeast Asian bungalow in jaunty mood and exclaim, “Hi, honey. What’s for dinner?” She smiles, looks up from a stove crowded with pots of boiling liquids, and says without a trace of bitterness, “It’s something special. How was your day?”
I blink my eyes under Andronico’s harsh fluorescent light, dodge a shopper, savor the bungalow scene for a long moment, then let out a sigh and mumble out loud, “No, not today.” I scan the grocery list again. It’s a sheet of paper filled with gobbledygook; it could be a page of chemistry equations. I don’t recognize 80 percent of what is written.
This is my first trip alone to Andronico’s. I have accompanied Significant Other on occasion, usually enduring five minutes before I break for the parking lot to pace and smoke.
Grocery stores are extremely claustrophobic — too many people in too small a space surrounded by too many unknown, foreign items. Andronico’s is a high-end joint, so it contains said foreign items times 20. Also, the store feels evil. I don’t like the overabundance of alien food, the wretched fruits that are quadruple-decked and go on for 100 feet inside brilliant showcases. I don’t like the weird, dark jars with weird, dark names, or the half-block selection of meats, the 30 different kinds of sausages, the overstocked fish counter containing alien dead sea beasts lying on ice with mouths open and unblinking black eyes staring at you. I especially don’t like the people.
Humans who shop here are filled with an unpleasant expectancy, a desperate urgency akin to grabbing the last seat on the lifeboat. Self-entitled yuppies prowl the grocery store in search of the last Château Montelena as if their very chakras depended on it.
I dislike, particularly, the men who shop here. Their fragile figures tiptoe around the premises. Their expressions are disturbed, frantic. Every male seems to have a tiny, well-trimmed, black beard. One observes tight little male butts packed inside corduroy pants, and on their backs, spanky L.L. Bean light winter jackets.
Revolting as well is the cash register drama. By the time a boy has grown into a man, he is familiar with women and checkout stands. A man watching the checker work retrieves his money from wallet or pocket, or secures his checkbook or credit card, and at the appropriate time simply hands payment over, accepts his change of signs his slip, and leaves. Bingo.
Women will stare in a bovine stupor as 150 bucks’ worth of groceries are rung up, one item at a time. Finally, the bill is presented and women become transfixed, frozen like a deer that’s been jack-lanterned. The feminine mind slowly engages. “Oh, it’s the bill. It’s in my hand. Now what?” The woman looks to her purse. “Do I have enough cash? Should I write a check? Where is my checkbook? Where did I put it?” And the sinkhole of a purse is hoisted onto the checkout counter while a general search is launched. For women, every time at the checkout stand is the first time. There is a zero learning curve.
Here at Andronico’s, male yuppies do the female thing with a twist. After they go through the shock of being presented with a bill and realize they’re going to have to pay for groceries, it’s the same ordeal deciding what form to render payment. A long pause as the selected instrument is produced and another long pause as money is passed. At the very last instant, a little tug-of-war ensues. (It is so hard to let go.) Finally, a little shag head shakes in remorse, the little frail face squints and peers into the grocery sack, makes sure everything is there, checks the sales slip, makes sure there are no extra charges, and the little bag of male preciousness regretfully, hesitantly leaves center stage.
I have made it 40 years without having to deal with this horseshit, and now it is upon me. Great balls of fire.
Might as well start. I guess you get a wheelbarrow first. I retrieve a shopping cart, gape at the grocery list again. The first item is Pate Mousse Marcey. What in the fuck is a Pate Mousse Marcey? I push my four-wheeler down aisle 7a, regard cutesy sign announcing Nalley’s chili con carne with beans. I turn around, face the opposite aisle, confront Granny Smith’s apple juice, see no Mousse Marcey. What else is on the list? Milk. I can get the milk. I travel the length of the store, pushing my empty cart along Andronico’s far wall I find milk—eight brands of milk, to be precise. I chose the one in the middle. Okay, what else? Lettuce. I can find lettuce. I trudge back the length of the store and face 12 kinds of lettuce, pick the one in the middle. Okay, we’re making progress.
Out the corner of my eye I perceive a Kansas City cattleyard of checkout stands. Each checkout stand has a line of shoppers ten deep. The scene appears very much like the death shoot where cattle make their last walk to glory. I shudder, realize I’ve managed to hit Andronico’s at prime time, 6:00 p.m. Everywhere, agitated yuppies dart down the aisles. One bumps into me and scurries on. They’d kill me in a heartbeat if I got between them and the celery-root dijon mustard.
Like a wolf circling a herd of caribou, seeking the very old, very young, or very lame—or in this case, the butter section — I circle Andronico’s with my shopping cart. I find butter headquarters on the second pass; it contains 12 varieties of butter, go for the one with a picture of a deer on the package. Next, toilet paper and paper towels are scored. Just working away like a water buffalo.
Civilians continue to stream into the store. My heart is pounding, my palms are damp. I peer at the hated shopping list: Now what? Clabber Girl baking powder. I tramp down aisle 8b. Nothing. Try aisle 6a, 10b, 12b, and 4b. Nothing. This is not working. Next to me is an elderly lady, maybe 75 years of age, gray hair, kindly expression. I gently ask, “Pardon me, do you know where the Clabber Girl baking powder is?” She looks up from her hunched stoop, her entire being filled with hate, spits out, “No,” using a tone of voice that if she were a man I would have had to slap her.
Forward. I stop the next shopping personhood, ask politely, “Excuse me, do you know where I can find the baking powder?” The woman manages a weak smile and says, “Try the baking goods section.” I beam.
I clickity-clack around the store, ask a passerby for directions to the baking goods section. I find it, consider this in itself a big victory for the people. Stepping away from my cart I slowly inventory every wretched bottle and package, five shelves top to bottom, 150 feet east to west, then repeat the procedure on the aisle opposite. Do not find the Clabber Girl.
Humans bustle, crisscross the store like locusts in a wheat field. Shoppers are coming at me from the left, from the right, back and front. This is intolerable, I can’t breathe, my heart is exploding. I push my pathetic, poverty-stricken cart — empty save for one quart of milk, one head of lettuce, 6 rolls of paper towels, and 12 rolls of toilet paper — to what I guess to be the vegetable section, by the potatoes, anyway. I park the food wheelbarrow, walk out the store, turn right, perambulate two blocks into a wretched Thai restaurant that also has a bar. Bill is working behind the counter. He greets me, “Yo.” I return the salutation, “Hi-ya, hi-ya. I'll have a scotch and soda, double.” Bill serves up. Bill seems content. Bill has no bitch with me. Its quiet in here. There is no talk of dinner duty, no grasping at kumquats, no double-step death march to the back of a 20-foot line.
After three scotch and sodas I lurch back to Andronico’s. Unbelievably, the store is even more crowded. I retrieve crumbled-up shopping list from my back pocket, wander around the premises looking for my cart. After five minutes I come to the chilling conclusion that my cart has been stolen.
Back to ground zero. Manfully striding to the shopping cart corral, I obtain another wheelbarrow and retrace my steps to the toilet paper, paper towels, milk, and lettuce. (How do people do this every day?) I study the stained shopping list again. It still says Clabber Girl baking powder. I take a deep breath, grit my teeth, push hard down aisle 5b, turn the corner, run into a pyramid display of Stoned Wheat Crackers. The pyramid crashes at my feet. Instantly have a vision of enraged shoppers stampeding down aisle 5b ready to rope me up. I bang my head on a protruding shelf while bending down to deal with Stoned Wheat Crackers, manage to pick up three cartons, become too frightened to continue, quickly slink around the corner.
Adrenaline pumping into overdrive, I leave the cart in front of the frozen peas, stalk up to a checkout line, bull my way past five huffing and puffing standees, stick my head over the counter, and ask the woman checker, “Do you know where the baking powder is?”
The checker jumps back, takes on the expression of a disturbed Rottweiler, and blurts out, “It’s on aisle 7a.” I turn and wade through the angry line muttering, “Gotta get Clabber Girl.”
I return to my cart, wheel it real fast to 7a, actually find Clabber Girl. Huge success. The next item is brown Cow Farm nonfat creamy yogurt, log back to another checkout stand,bellow over the heads of six customers, “Where’s the Brown Cow Farm nonfat creamy yogurt?”
People leaving the store stop, turn around, stare. The checker squeaks, “It’s on 11b.”
Everybody in this food emporium seems to be wearing a fright wig and an expression of revulsion. Strange. I travel to 11b, don’t see the yogurt, query a nearby shopper, “You know where the Brown Cow yogurt is?” Although my voice is slurred, I possess what I believe to be a winning and warm smile. The shopper ignores me, moves on. I step in front of the next human and bluntly demand, “Where’s the yogurt? Brown Cow. Nonfat. Creamy.”
The little male stops, cowers, turns, goes directly to the Brown Cow yogurt, hands me the carton. I am overwhelmed and gush, “Well, thanks, pardner.”
Next on the list is organic whole-wheat vegetable elbows. I stroll over to the meat counter, ask the butcher for the location of vegetable elbows. The butcher is unhelpful. I roam the store asking humanity the essential questions of life: “Have you seen the organic vegetable elbows? Do you know where the vegetable elbows might be found?” Feel like I’m climbing the north slope of Mt. Whitney on crutches. I’ll never get to the top; this interval will never end. What to do?
I roll the cart next to the manager’s office. A man is inside, at work behind a steel desk. I tap on his glass window, wanting to make sure I’m heard, and roar, “DO NOT STEAL THIS CART! I’M COMING RIGHT BACK!” The manager freezes. I stroll through the front door and hippity-hop down the block, back to Bill’s. Bill brings a drink. I clasp the glass and inquire, “Do you cook?”
“TV dinners and steaks is about all.”
“Are you married?”
“She does the cooking?”
“How in the hell do you manage that?”
Bill’s deeply lined, oval face turns grave. “Son, there are some things you don’t ask another man.”
As usual, Bill is right. I stay for three drinks, play liars’ poker, break even, make my way out of the bar, and lurch two blocks back to ground zero. I enter Andronico’s and instantly feel like I’ve been trapped inside this goddamn store for the last 72 hours.
I find my cart, which had been left undisturbed, and set myself to resume the hunt. The store manager, wearing a spunky red vest, appears in front of my cart, and gently asks, “Can I help you, sir?”
My eyes pop. Fabulous! Help is such a fine idea at times like this, and what could be more helpful than a personal shopper? “You betcha,” I say while removing the torn, stained, wet shopping list from my back pocket. “I need all this stuff.”
The manager studies the list and says, “Why don’t you just stay here for a moment and I’ll get these items.”
Sensible! Brilliant! Absolutely first-rate! I hand over the list and gush, “This is executive thinking! This is a great idea!” The manager leaves, and I lounge on a 50-pound package of Purina dog food and hum “The Girl from Ipanema.” In a few minutes, the manager returns with my cart, now loaded to the tits. “Here you are,” he says.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude and slobber on my new friend, “I’ll always shop here. I’ll go nowhere else, ever, for as long as I have life on this earth. And if there is a spirit kingdom, and I am fortunate enough to become a spirit in that kingdom, I will protect this store with all my spiritual powers until even the mountains rot like snails on asphalt.” I have become breathless with excitement.
The manager thanks me. With a flair I push my full cart to the only open checkout stand. Once there I encounter some difficulty as all my bills are wadded up into little balls, and it takes a bit of time to unwad each one until the sum of $172.78 is reached. Three checkers were standing over me when I finally finished.
Paroled! I bang out the front door into the parking lot and notice for the first time that the moon is full and huge and the night air especially sweet. What are the non-shoppers doing, I wonder. Laughing, no doubt, probably having sex, listening to music, swimming naked in warm, blue waters. I visualize warm, blue waters as I throw nine grocery bags into my truck’s cab. Suddenly, milk gushes from beneath the alarmingly large sack containing Pate Mousse Marcey.
I clench my teeth so hard I may actually be breaking a molar and scream, “DIE, YOU BASTARD!” at the pate. This is an evil, evil night. God help the next person I see.
THE YEAR IS 1990; the day, Thanksgiving. I have been invited to spend the weekend with the lovely Karen. Karen is an RN and an artist who lives in a two-bedroom Coronado condo. She is 5'8", with stunning red hair that falls to the middle of her back and large, firm, delicious breasts and an upturned butt—all wrapped in lovely, soft, fair skin. I am enthralled.
Under extreme duress, I accompanied Karen to Vons late last night. Avoiding crowds, moving quick, keeping low, we purchased 200 bucks worth of victuals. Earlier this morning the food materials were laid out on the kitchen counter. Right now it’s 11 o’clock in the morning and we are at grips with the day’s task: preparing Thanksgiving dinner.
We open cans, packages, retrieve bowls, knives, mixer — it seems as though everything she owns is carried into the kitchen. I am told to start dicing celery. Things appear to be going well, and I begin to think of myself as a promising pupil, imagine self as surefire cook, dishing up intricate meals, tossing off epicurean one-liners with a wry little chuckle.
Karen finishes with the pie dough and turns on the Cuisinart. I have unwrapped and hoisted the turkey onto the kitchen counter when the day’s seminal moment arrives. Before me, a 20-pound turkey lies naked on the crowded counter. I am ordered to remove the beast’s guts, which are wrapped up in butcher paper and stowed inside the turkey’s belly-chest. I place my right hand inside the cavern, root around the gut-hole, my hands turning pink. God, it’s clammy in there. Disgusting. I find and retrieve package of turkey guts. I put the guts on the counter next to the dead turkey.
A humorless voice orders, “Okay, now stuff the turkey with dressing.”
I regard a white ceramic bowl half-filled with stuffing, study the clammy, white carcass, take a deep breath, direct my bare, still-pink hands to the stuffing bowl, grab a gob of cold, moist dressing, and begin to shovel it down the enormous turkey wound. This is really disgusting.
“How’s it going?”
“Fine, just fine.” I pick up another handful of glop from the stuffing bowl, force it into the dead turkey. This is revolting. This is like childbirth or some sadistic medical school, pick-the-wings-off-large-insects-and-cut-open-their-abdomens lab class; some kind of primordial, kill the beast, hack its brains out, rip the fur from the gristle with your teeth, rub animal fat over your body and roll around in the dirt on top of intestines and blood and fat and guts and stringy flesh, and then eat it. Have vision of kitchen filled with dead carcasses; all the murdered bodies have green, rotting flesh and cold, wet, goose-pimple skins. Feel like I’m going to vomit. I mumble, “Think I’ll get some air.”
I wander outside, baffled. How could such a gorgeous woman, so delectable, so feminine that she makes my stomach fall a half-foot when I see her, enjoy playing with dead birds? The dismemberment and hacking away on animal flesh with such practiced, clinical ruthlessness is a frightening bit of self-revelation. I recall my father’s admonition, “Son, women are dangerous aliens. Never ask why.”
And sure, it might be fun, or at least weird, to sleep with a potential ax-murderer, but the bottom line remains in the same place it’s always been: I have no interest in this. I have no interest in stuffing, baking, frying, toasting, making bread or souffles or soups. I have no desire to learn this crap. I abhor fruits, I can’t stand most vegetables or juices, despise salads, cooking bores the living hell out of me. Mixing different kinds of food together with bare hands and playing patty-cake in the kitchen is prison, is a complete waste of my time. I hate it. I loathe it. I want to drink a dozen beers, get in my truck, and drive to Montana.
Oh, for the days when lunch was greasy bacon sandwiches, topped by a quarter-inch of mayonnaise and a little lettuce. When breakfast was four eggs, a pound of sausages, home fries, biscuits, and gravy served by a slutty waitress carrying a pot of coffee in her right hand. I loved all the cans of Campbell’s tomato soup, the 7-Eleven tuna sandwiches, the big bags of Fritos corn chips, cans of spinach, cans of corn, cans of beans, a half-dozen rotgut 12-minute rolls and a half-pound of butter, two meals a day, two Snickers at night, and the hell with it.