Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Kitchen Therapy - Part 2

I deserved to get fired. As much as I wish I had been a responsible, plucky eighteen year old fighting to make her way alone in the big, bad world, I was a moron like most eighteen year olds.

I got fired because I wanted to hang out with my friends. Their idea of a good time was to eat Indian food then all do acid and turn out the lights in the apartment, cut open glow sticks and spin around wildly so that the surely highly toxic glowing liquid would splatter every surface. Then we would all undulate dreamily to some My Bloody Valentine, dazzled by our own coolness, pretending we were floating in space, because that's kind of what it looked like. I guess what it would look like if space were green rather. It is important to note here that while I ate Indian food with gusto that I did not do acid or smoke pot or do Ecstacy with my friends and roommates. I was not a drug user. I was too scared and wary of being out of control to ever try such nonsense. I heard the stories about people thinking they could fly and jumping out of fifteen story windows and I took these stories very much to heart. One of the strangest things about young me is that I was the biggest, prudest goody-goody you ever met, but I couldn't stand to hang around with others of my same, boring ilk. I was attracted to the wrong crowd. I loved hanging around with the cool kids who did drugs, but I never succumbed to any peer pressure. Actually, there was no peer pressure. I can't think of a single time when anyone ever pressured me to do drugs with them. No one really cared if I altered my mind or not and I was strange enough on my own without drugs. They may have needed LSD as an excuse to twirl around with glow sticks and dance in the middle of the street in a thunderstorm, but not me.

And that's what they did my cool roommates and friends and at the time this was more fun than I ever imagined possible. It was way more fun than slicing cake for assholes until one in the morning, so one evening when my bi-polar roommate came home from his current job of driving an icecream truck (this lasted all of about one week by the way) with some acid, I decided to just not go to work that night. Then I decided to call and say I had Diabetes and was in Diabetic shock and had to stay home and eat sugar to recover. I'm not kidding you. I actually said that.

The next week the same thing happened and the last time had been so much fun that I decided I couldn't bear to miss another night which began at a cafe, progressed to our apartment, proceeded to the rolling hills on the South end of Piedmont Park, then ended up back at our apartment where we had installed some red lightbulbs to make it even trippier and where we wound down our fun by listening to Billie Holiday and acting like we knew French. If I had to miss that, I felt like I might just die, so I decided to skip work again. Logically, I knew I couldn't use the diabetes excuse again and what are the odds that I would have come up with another life threatening disease so soon? This time I decided to just go ahead and not call at all. Because I was responsible that way.

That's what got me fired.

And I was really fine with that, at least for a couple days until I realized that I was hungry and had no money to buy food and pay the next month's rent. Ramen noodles were a quarter a package back then so I pretty much lived on them. Sometimes Maria, my roommate, would share her macaroni and cheese with me. She was kind and generous, but I felt guilty always eating her food. I used to walk down to the Winn Dixie, which is now the Midtown Trader Joe's, and walk the aisles imagining the day when I could buy groceries.

I dreamed of food. I liked standing in front of the jelly display looking at the bright colors inside the glossy glass jars. I remembered how when I was little my grandparents always had three or four different flavors of preserves in their refrigerator, how my mother made me peanutbutter and concord grape jam sandwiches. I wanted apple jelly on buttered toast. The cereal aisle seduced me. I loved Oatbake, Chex and Cheerios. Rice Krispies with banana and a drift of glittering sugar. Even the dairy case was alluring with all those clear plastic bricks of cheese. There were so many kinds I had never had. I wanted a grilled cheese, soaked in butter, with stretchy muenster. I found it so calming to wander the Winn Dixie looking at food. It was air conditioned, organized, everything in categories. There was order to the grocery store and I liked that even if all I could afford was an apple and some soup. One day, I thought, one day I would have enough money to buy a carton of brown eggs and a pack of bacon, maybe even English muffins and orange juice. Strawberry preserves. Seedless blackberry jam. Apple butter.

I thought of little besides food. I don't remember a time in my life where I have ever been as truly hungry as I was back then. One night my roommate brought home her leftovers from dinner and gave them to me. It was spinach fettucini with a pesto cream sauce with broccoli and walnuts. There was even a side of garlic toast. When I had eaten it all I took the empty styrofoam container onto the fire escape in the dark where no one could see me and I stood there and licked up every bit of sauce until the container looked as if it hadn't been used. That is what dogs do when you give them table scraps.

I rode the bus. I had never owned a car and could never have afforded one so I walked where I could and rode the bus, though bus fare equalled four packs of ramen - four meals. I thought of everything in terms of meals and the price of meals. I constantly negotiated. One day I walked all the way from my apartment on 14th Street to Pharr Road in Buckhead via Peachtree Street. This, dear readers, is a very, very long way and it was in the middle of a scorching Atlanta summer. I did this to look for jobs. I applied everywhere and was turned down everywhere. I remember my big dream was to work at Pier One. They weren't hiring. After that I wanted to work at a bookstore. They said I wasn't qualified.

"You don't have a high school degree," they said, "We need people who know how to read, who know about books."

"I have a GED!! I read books all the time. I write stories! You don't understand!" I protested.

"I'm sorry, we're not hiring."

"You have a sign on the door."

"We filled the position."

Regretting my terrible, terrible stupidity that got me fired, I spent every day looking for work and thinking about food.

On the bus one day I sat next to a chef. I knew he was a chef because of his outfit. He must have been going to work.

"That must be fun," I said.

"What?" said the chef. In an accent. Instantly I was in love with this man. Food and an accent. Wow.

"Cooking. Like for a job. Is it fun?"

He looked at me as if I were insane.

"What do you make?" I asked.

"You like food?"

"Are you kidding?" I said, "I LIVE for food. All I want is food. All the time. I just love me some food. I even like looking at food that's how much I love food."

"What kind of food are you loving so much then?" asked the chef.

"Oh lord, all kinds. Like macaroni and cheese and fried chicken and red velvet cake, with pecans. I hate when people leave them off. Red velvet has got to have pecans. And cream cheese frosting, which is also good on chocolate cake but a lot people don't know that. I know it though. And roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, cole slaw, and oh SPAGHETTI. Fettucini alfredo. Boiled crabs. No! Shrimp cocktail. Nachos and guacamole. Soup. Anything with honey mustard on it. You know what I love? Rice pudding. I freaking love rice pudding. And raisin toast. Let me think what else. CORN BREAD. PICKLES. Turkey and dressing, but no giblets, they're gross and FRIED FISH. My friend's mom makes this scalloped potato and ham casserole -"

"Ok, ok. You just liking this American food. This food you people here in the South eat. This is not always so good. There is a world of other food you need to try. You would love."

"I know!" I said.

"You know? You don't know."

"I collect cookbooks. Or I did anyway, when I had money or people would give them to me. I like to look at cookbooks in the bookstore and magazines in the grocery store. One day I'm going to have a subscription. I like looking at all the fancy food pictures, but I've never really tried it."

"You should," said the chef, "You have a great passion for food. You just never try good food."

"I can't afford it. I don't have a job. One day."

"How old are you?"

"Eighteen. I mean eighteen and a half. I'll be nineteen soon."

"So young. And skinny. You should learn to cook. Cook for a job. Like me."

Miraculously, I didn't say it, but my first thought was that, yes, yes I should cook for a job like him because then at least I'd be able to eat.

"That would probably be a lot of fun," I said, "but I don't think anybody'd hire me."

"Maybe try some day."

The chef got off the bus. I exited a few stops later and continued my job search. I didn't try any restaurants.

When I got home that night, my roommate Ian, the guy who wouldn't take his meds, who had driven an icecream truck for one week, who was now shoveling crap and hosing down cages at an animal shelter, had picked up two homeless girls who described themselves as "hobo backpacking gypsy adventuresses." They called themselves Cat and Dog. I thought they were the coolest, most beautiful girls I had ever seen.

"We want live here in Atlanta for a while before we move on," they explained.

"We're out of money," said Cat.

"We want to get jobs, see if we want to stay," said Dog.

"Or not. Whatever," said Cat.

"Good luck with that," I said, "I've been looking for a job for a few weeks and nobody's hiring. It's awful."

"So strip!" said Cat.

"Are you crazy??" I said, "No way."

But inside, I considered it.

To Be Continued....


JoeinVegas said...

So strip - simple answer

L. said...

Please write Part 3 for Friday, or I shall die of curiosity.

p.s. at the last part, I thought "Oh, the Chef will offer her a job" and this is while I'm dying of hunger with all the food descriptions ... I didn't see that curve in the road until it was too late (Gypsies and stripping).

p.p.s. in fact, if this series goes beyond Part 3, I am hoping you'll keep rolling it out over the weekend, just a little wish :P

catherinette said...

How can you leave us hanging like that??

Jean_Phx said...

Yeah, Kit Kat Lounge story!?!

Anonymous said...

Ramen. I lived on it during my second year of college and parts of years 3 and 4. In Los Angeles in 1987 you could get up to 10 packs for $1. This meant I usually had enough to buy a weekly pack of on-sale hot dogs for 79 cents, a head of lettuce and a few onions. Sometimes even a carton of eggs. Any or all of these were chopped up and tossed into the ramen. Or I'd make the ramen, drink the broth and stir-fry the noodles with my added ingredients.

- lowwall

Eric said...

Girl, this is a great story.
More Must have More

Nanci said...

Oh my WL! I know the feeling of being attracted to the wrong crowd. The friends I had as well were drinking and doing drugs and I never really realized it because they never pressured me to try either. I was quite surprised to find out all that was happening (years after), but they knew I was not interested so they never bothered to offer. Not to mention my parents were never worried that I would try drugs because I'm terrified of needles and have asthma. (Nerd alert!)

So strip...Hmmm, I thought it might be a quick fix for myself as well until I fully thought it through -- back then my Father was a sales representative for a major building materials distributor and frequently took his clients to strip clubs. Could you imagine the look of horror on his face trying to close a business deal as I walked out and twirled on that pole?! Not only would the business deal have fallen through, I would be skinned alive; in front of everyone, possibly on the stage even! The thought did not appeal any longer to me. Thankfully, I thought everything through!

Thank you for your story and PLEASE keep us updated! So excited to hear about the next adventure.

Melanie said...

Have you ever read "Hunger" by the Nobel Literature Prize Winning author Knut Hamsun? You should; it's excellent. And I know after reading this blog entry that you would identify strongly with the protagonist.

Calamity Anne said...

Hi there!

I bestow upon you the Kreativ Blog Award!!! Stop by Calamity Anne’s Adventures to pick it up!

P.S. This is the real McCoy…no spam happening here!

Anonymous said...

I quit a job at a pizzeria because I was told to clean up the bathroom, and there was piss and garbage everywhere. I thought I was "above that." Decided to just not go in for my next shift. I was young--19, and it was my second job, so I didn't put myself in the poor house. But I think it's funny how when you're young you just make the silliest decision. Now I'm a registered nurse. I encounter piss and poop all the time. Ironic, no?

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