Discomfort Food: How I Ate My Heart Out

Photo: eltpics

Food. Sweet food, tangy food, spicy food, salty food, savory food, mind fuckingly good food, and straight through the bowels food, all of it, it means something to me. We’re all familiar with comfort food: ice cream, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, mom’s pot roast, mom’s spaghetti, anything from mom really, chocolate cake, and a much longer list. Yes, we all know what food gives us comfort. We know the situations that inspire the rapid inhalation of comfort food: break-ups, long days at work, and the death of a loved one. If comfort food is a response to an unsettling event, I suggest that “discomfort food” is a food experience that becomes an unsettling event. Awkward silences, flying fists, drunken squabbles, elevated decibels, tears, revelations, and unveilings all abound during discomfort food experiences.

It is long, twelve inches perhaps, wrapped up to protect the contents from the world, or perhaps the world from the contents. Pizza Stick. Pizza Stix after they’ve been given the opportunity to breed. This culinary delight resembles a Hot Pocket, though the elongated shape might conjure up different associations. The inside of a Pizza Stick is all too familiar: a cheddar and mozzarella blend, a red paste masquerading as tomato sauce, sticky and ever abundant red-orange grease, and perfectly circular, nickel dimensioned pepperoni cut-outs, all raised to a temperature that burns fingers and lips with no discretion. The Pizza Stick exists in one meaty flavor, one single shape, and after one unpleasant trip to the bathroom, it is but a memory until the following Tuesday.

One of my most vivid discomfort food experiences was at Lincoln Park Elementary, on a Tuesday in the sixth grade, during our lunch period.

“Quiet down, quiet!” Mrs. Champion shouts at the entire lunch room. She is such a bitch. Sure, the woman is a librarian, but why would anyone value silence so much? All we are doing is talking to one another and eating our crappy food. Today we get the pleasure of mouthing down “Pizza Stix.” We also get to eat baby carrots from small plastic bags. Where do they get all these itty bitty carrots? There’s got to be a farm somewhere where Oompa Loopma’s are watering these suckers with eye droppers.

We get two choices for our drinks: either 2% white milk or 2% chocolate milk. I get that they don’t want us to drink soda and eat junk food, but some juice or something wouldn’t kill them.

Maybe we have to eat this crap because most of us don’t come from rich families. Me and most of my friends just enter our special numbers into the lunch lady’s keypad and then voila, we get to sit down and eat without ever having to give her any money. I know this crap can’t cost much because you can get the same disgusting Hot-Pocket knock offs at the 7–11 for a dollar fifty or something. I wonder who pays for all of it. Maybe somebody just started dropping off bags of crappy food on the school’s front door step and the principal just started collecting it and giving it to the lunch lady. Yeah, this is probably food that no one cared about, so they gave it to us. Hand-me-down Pizza Stix are better than nothing, I guess.

I wouldn’t actually think Pizza Stix were so bad if I was stranded on a deserted island and I had to choose between eating one of my best friends or a Pizza Stick. There are no coconuts or sand at my school. There is only this long fold up table with blue plastic plates for seats, Mrs. Champion, a bunch of rowdy kids, some crappy food, and three more hours until we get to go home.

“All right, if you guys trigger the red light one more time, you will all have to spend your recess against the wall.” Mrs. Champion always talks to us like we’re bad kids, like we’re criminals or something. She acts like she doesn’t know what it’s like to be a kid. Someone must have offered her the choice of being a normal kid or being a mean old lady right from the start. I don’t see how she can care about any kid when all she ever does is yell at them. The only thing Mrs. Champion cares about is that stupid traffic light.

Yes, we have a traffic light at the head of our lunch room. This traffic light isn’t like the ones that dangle above asphalt. This one is school bus yellow and measures how loud everyone is in the lunch room. Green means we’re quiet, yellow means we’re a little louder, and red means that we’ve entered the danger zone.

I bet you Mrs. Champion fantasizes about that red light. The woman always looks so happy while she punishes us, always wearing the same type of clothes. She wears black high heels, a black skirt that goes past her knees, a solid colored T-Shirt, and a grey wool vest. I’ve noticed that the T-Shirts she wears are never happy colors. She never wears Otter Pop orange, yolk yellow, or sour grape green. All her T-Shirts are rust red, prune purple, and bowel movement brown.

“That’s it! I warned all of you. As soon as you’ve been excused, you need to go sit against the wall outside the lunchroom. Maybe tomorrow you guys will learn to be quieter.” She says all this while smiling at everyone. It looks like she is challenging anyone to stand up to her. I’m pretty sure no one would be surprised if her eyes turned red and she ripped off her human skin (what would be underneath? Uh, Steve Bannon?). She probably makes out with that stupid effing traffic light when all the kids have gone home for the day. Sometimes I think about all the gross stuff she probably does with that dumb machine.

“Beep boop. Beep boop. You make my red light turn bright, Champ-Tron. Keep. Yelling. At. Me. Champ. Tron.”

“You are a bad traffic light. If you keep mouthing off like this I will turn you off.”

“Beep boop. You can never turn me off, Champ-tron. If you try to un-plug me, I’ll plug you.”

“Oh, Traffy!”

“Oh, Champ-tron!”

It’s been so hot outside this week. It’s supposed to be like a million degrees out today. I don’t know how the heat hasn’t killed her by now. This is the fourth time this week that we’ve had to sit against that fucking wall. She always stands there with us getting blasted by the sun. I thought old people weren’t supposed to be out in the sun for so long.

We can’t even leave the lunch room when we want to. We have to raise our hands like little kids before we can be excused to go stand in line.

I raise my hand after I’ve muscled down my pizza stick, carrots, and chocolate milk. Mrs. Champion doesn’t even walk over to excuse students. She just makes eye contact and then points. She moves you out of the room with her index finger. I eye her down and she eyes me back. She releases me from one prison to another with a swipe of her evil finger.

I saunter over to the opposite side of the lunch room and join the line of the other sheep just waiting to be herded. There is a large blue stripe that runs along the course of the white walls inside the lunch room and along side the outside of the building. The stripe runs parallel to the floor and the ceiling. The principal and Mrs. Champion probably thought that we weren’t smart enough to figure out what a single file line looks like.

As soon as we’re all lined up, Mrs. Champion gives the go ahead and we begin our trek along the stripe to the detainment zone outside the building. Sometimes I like to pretend that I’m James Bond during our walks of shame.

“Come on, guys. Backs flat against the wall or we’ll fall into the lava. Hold onto the blue stripe, that’s our support line. We need to save Pussy Galore before the bad guy kills her.” I call out these commands to my classmates and everyone is immediately on board. Our parents and teachers say we’re too old to pretend, but we don’t care. We all love pretending to be superheroes and secret agents. We start side stepping along the wall, inch by inch, toward Pussy, toward victory. Our slow movements soon cause us to fall behind the rest of our classmates. Mrs. Champion hones in on the gap. It’s like the woman is a fun seeking missile.

“Hey! Stop fooling around or you’ll forfeit tomorrow’s recess, too!” Damn, the bitch figured out our only weakness, not kryptonite, but recess. Anything but our recess! We say goodbye to Pussy Galore, James Bond, and the lava below us. Everyone complies with Mrs. Champion’s demand without any back-talk. One of my internal twigs finally snaps. Maybe it’s the heat, or maybe it’s having my recess threatened one too many times, but something snaps and I decide that today is the day that I’m going to stand up to her.

I’m not going to bend the knee today. The Karate Kid wouldn’t take this bullshit. The Karate Kid would assume the grasshopper stance and kick the oppressive smile right off Mrs. Champion’s dumb head. Instead of sitting against this goddamned wall, I’m going to walk right up to her in front of everyone, call her a bitch for always stealing our recess, and then I’m going to walk home. I know mom will understand. This is more than unfair, this is injustice.

#

When looking back at those times with Mrs. Champion, I can’t help but think that we were probably being too loud. I have some understanding of her purpose, but she was off with her method.

I never did end up confronting the old bitch in front of my classmates. I almost look back on those memories with a sense of nostalgia. You can’t challenge authority if there is no authority to challenge. I think of Mrs. Champion as a social scientist looking to plant the seeds of rebellion in young budding minds. In some bizarro universe, maybe she recognized the heroes in each of her students, but felt that they would never reach their full potential without a supervillain. After all, who would Superman be without Lex Luther?

They serve it on a plate. This should be the first indicator that something has gone awry. Good salads come in bowls, so that all the ingredients get the opportunity to socialize in the middle. Caesar Salads from Red Robin come on white, round, flat plates. The “chef” is stingy with the already thin dressing. The browning iceberg lettuce calls back to the kitchen for even a few more drops of Caesar love. By the way, don’t icebergs sink DiCaprio movies? The croutons resemble pyramid building blocks, and they’re just as hard. It’s difficult to botch the final ingredient, but they find a way. One might expect a thin grate of Parmesan cheese or perhaps some heavier shavings. Instead, they choose the powdered variety. Diners might rightfully ask, “Does this need to be cut before ingestion?”

These are my reflections my my “date” with Sharon. We “met” through a friend on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). Sharon lived in Lake Charles, Louisiana when she and I began our online friendship. There was an instant chemistry between us. I italicize chemistry because for one thing, we were sixteen years old, and for another, we were teenagers chatting on the interweb. Regardless of these details, the flirtation was unmistakable.

#

“So Kyle, what’s your favorite position?” The text appears in an italicized purple. I hate purple most of the time, but there is something attractive about girls that don’t mind occasionally dialing up their femininity.

“You dirty vixen! Ehm.. I would have to say Doggy Style. Definitely Doggy Style : ) What’s your favorite position?” I don’t mind omitting the fact that I’ve only had sex with one girl, and we only did it in two positions. I wonder if she’ll be honest about what her favorite position is.

“Well, I like to call it the crab. I used to climb on top of my ex-boyfriend. He would be naked and I would be naked. I would crab walk above him until he would put it in me. I would brace my arms on his chest as he pumped in and out of me. The crab. That’s my favorite position.” Jesus, that is some next level shit. I better get some practice in before I ever see this girl F2F.

“Hmm that sounds like a good time. I can’t wait to see you in person : )” Sharon seems like the perfect girl. She is so hot in all of her photos. She’s smart, funny, and she likes having sex. I wonder how big her ex-boyfriend’s dick is. I think I have a pretty regular sized dick.

“Aw, I’m looking forward 2 seeing you 2.” She signs off and leaves me with nothing but purple print and awkward thoughts.

#

“So, have you ever been to Red Robin?” This is kind of awkward so far. I don’t really get it. We get along so well online. She’d probably like me more if I didn’t drive us here in my beat up, egg white, Ford Taurus. The white stallion.

“Nope. This is my first time.” Every time she talks she raises her eyebrows, and it looks like she is mustering every ounce of energy she has not to roll her eyes. I really should have chosen a better restaurant. This place doesn’t even have a real theme. Behind Sharon, there is a blown up, plastic framed, black and white photograph of construction workers eating sandwiches on top of a metal skeleton. Resting to the left of my head is a picture of a Dalmatian wearing neon blue sunglasses. This place sucks so hard.

“Oh, well, this place is famous for their burgers and fries. The fries have this really bitchin’ seasoning. See, they give you as much as you want at the table.” I hold up the fry seasoning like the plastic bottle contains finely ground gold. Why am I such an idiot? Why would an awesome girl like Sharon, or anyone really, want to hear me sell fry seasoning.

“I don’t really eat burgers. I think I’m going to get a Caesar salad.” I guess eating right isn’t such a bad thing. However, I’m 100% sure that my honey mustard chicken burger, oozing with sharp cheddar cheese and avocado, would kick her Caesar salad right in the cunt.

“Oh, salad. Nice choice. Do you think you’ll get it with the grilled chicken?” I’m pretty sure only crazy people and Kim K eat Caesar salads without the grilled chicken.

“No, I don’t really like chicken either.” Whaaa? Who doesn’t love chicken? Communists and girls named Sharon.

“Hey, guys. I’m Jess. How are we doing today?” Evidently Jess, our red-shirted maitre d’ for the evening, prefers to address diners using a first person pronoun. Delightful.

“Good, thanks.” Pleasantries are fine, but I see no need to draw them out.

“What would we like to drink tonight?” This “we” thing may melt my brain before dessert.

“Water with lemon.” That’s why I like Sharon. Her shortness and tone reveals her mutual distaste for our server.

“I’ll take a strawberry lemonade, please.” I know my beverage will look like period-blood diffusing into urine, but I’m willing to overlook that fact given its immeasurable deliciousness.

“Sounds good, I’ll be right back.” Jess waddles away from our table with a plastic grin attached to her server face.

“So, Sharon, how are you enjoying yourself now that you’ve moved to Reno?” Get her talking about herself. That’s a thing, right? The more she talks the less opportunity I will have to spurt out my poetic brand of awkward.

I could really use a drink right now. This place has a pretty large bar, ripe full of my favorites. I bet that lonely bartender would love to make me a tall Jack and Cherry Coke. Some booze would loosen this conversation up. Some booze would loosen me up.

“Ahh, it’s fine I guess. I hate all the Mexicans here, though.” She proceeds as though she didn’t just drop a bomb. Maybe she was joking. Sharon is a funny girl. Funny people tell jokes. Some funny jokes are racist, but that doesn’t mean you need to be racist to tell a racist joke. Beautiful girls aren’t racist, right? Fantastic, here comes Jess with our drinks.

“Are we ready to order?” Jess maintains the unnecessary familiarity.

“I’ll have the Caesar salad. Dressing on the side. No chicken,” Sharon says without a drop of sugar-coating.

“Okay,” Jess says now understanding the vibe of the table. It seems that Sharon’s shortness finally penetrated Jess’s plastic server demeanor. The plastic smile never leaves, but the loss of enthusiasm in her, “okay,” is unmistakable. Jess turns to me, her eyes and ears hoping for a friendlier food order.

“May I please have the honey mustard chicken burger with a side of ranch?” I tried to add a little sugar to my tone. No use in having two women dislike my company during this meal.

“Yup.” It looks and sounds like Jess’s friendly front will be out of commission for the rest of our meal.

“So, you don’t really have a problem with Mexicans though, right?” I have to be sure. There’s no harm in being sure. She’ll roll those pretty eyes and laugh at how silly I’m being.

“Well, I guess it’s probably not just Mexicans. All the spics in Reno are pigs.”

“Say what?” My eyelids won’t come down. I think she’s serious and my eyelids refuse to budge. Euphemisms and disguised tones are put to rest at this point. Fuck liking an ignorant racist, even if she is beautiful, funny, and pseudo-smart.

“You know, all the spics here. They’re all greasy animals that try to grope me at every opportunity. You know what they’re like, right?” The disgust on her face and the malice in her tone pleads with me for reassurance. I provide none. She doesn’t like burgers. She doesn’t like chicken. She doesn’t like respecting people she hasn’t met yet. I know now that I don’t like her, that I can’t like her, that I’ll never like her.

“Are you remotely serious right now? How can you stereotype an entire people? Some of my best friends growing up have been Mexican. Racism might be cool in Lake Charles, but not in Reno. Respect for others is something we tend to value here.” She looks like I just backhanded her. The miles of white around those beautiful brown eyes is all I need to know that this date is going down at terminal velocity. At least I didn’t gum down her bullshit like I’m sure every other drooling asshole does.

“I respect those who respect me. All the dirty fucking Mexicans in this city disrespect me and therefore do not warrant my respect. You obviously have no idea what it’s like to have your tits and ass grabbed while you’re walking through the mall. I think I’ve lost my appetite.”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

#

I don’t frequent Red Robin much these days. It’s been many years since that date with Sharon, but the details never really filtered out of my head. I paid for her meal out of some outdated notion of chivalry. Whoever wrote the book on chivalry obviously wrote it when damsels were still in distress, before the second wave of the Women’s Lib movement, before beautiful maidens thought it acceptable to pollute clean rooms with ugly bigotry.

I’ve thought a great deal about what it means to respect other people since that date. In all reality, it’s likely that neither Sharon nor I got it completely right. I’m sure many of the Hispanic men Sharon encountered during her short sixteen years did in fact disrespect her with gropes, grabs, and mamacitas. I’m sure she didn’t do anything to warrant the harassment.

She may have felt entitled and even righteous in calling those pigs out as members of a homogeneous shitty group. She may have had anecdotal proof that Latinos cat-call and harass women, but I still stand behind my point. I still believe that it is foolish and lowly to stereotype an entire people. However, I now also realize that the world is much bigger than my perception of it. A single person is too complicated to fully understand, let alone a people, or the world.

Crab. Any food that gets easily associated with a sexually transmitted disease cannot be worthwhile for consumption. In-shell steamed crab is particularly sinister. Not only does the chef expect you to shell your own crab with a primitive set of pliers, yes pliers, but also, like there needs to be an also, it’s on you to season your sea-spider. Purists might suggest that you eat it by itself as to not dilute those delectable “sea” notes. Professional buffet-a-teers will gladly throw purist restraint to the wind in favor of everyone’s favorite churned cream, BUTTER. Those not in the know might spread a bit of butter on their crab MEAT (still talking about seafood), but their more educated dining companions would skillfully demonstrate proper butter application: full submersion of the sea meat until complete saturation is reached. One might reasonably state that delicacy and (butter saturated) sea-meat are mutually exclusive.

I arrive late. I know I should have left my home earlier, but I did not. The asshole feeling rarely subsides. I park my silver Nissan Pathfinder on the street. Most everyone parks on the street in Sparks. The house is just like my grandma’s, old and white with a beautiful green yard. There is a small flower garden directly in front of the house next to the concrete porch. I’m pretty sure all the houses in Sparks were built at the turn of the century. Real childhoods take place in these houses. Kids are free to play tag and soccer in the grass. These yards allow you to pitch tents and pretend like you’re camping.

Mine and my mom’s “cottage” in Reno doesn’t have a yard. Cottage was the description used to describe our home in the wanted pages several years ago when we decided to move into it. You might think that cottage refers to some cute and quaint feature of our home, but in reality it is just a euphemism for tiny, yard-less, shack. There is no place to play tag, soccer, or camp at our house.

If Rachel and I ever have kids, I want them to grow up in a place like Sparks, in a place with a green yard. We’ve been dating for two years now, but actually having kids with her still isn’t something I want to entertain. I take a deep breath before knocking on the front door.

“So it begins,” I say to myself before Rachel opens the door. I peck her before crossing the threshold. The scent of cooking crab meat and tears enter my nostrils immediately after entering the home of Karen, Rachel’s grandmother. Everyone’s eyes are mostly red, and not the good kind. The sheer heartbreak in the room is palpable. This is the first Christmas dinner since Joe, Karen’s husband and Rachel’s grandfather, died.

We’re all here for Christmas dinner, only it’s not Christmas and it’s not really even dinner time. It’s 3:00pm on a Sunday, about two weeks before Christmas. I never think to ask why they eat this special meal early; I just accept it as they do. The regulars for the last couple years at these dinners include: Rachel, her parents, her grandparents, her uncle, and me, the awkward boyfriend.

We are missing two regulars at this particular dinner. Joe and Gary are not in attendance. We lost Joe to cancer. Gary, Rachel’s uncle, decided to spend this sacred and sore time with his new girlfriend. I believe Joe is the only person that rightfully deserves a “Get-Out-Of-Dinner-Free” card. I think Gary and bimbo №9 are at a buffet. No one seems to know or care what his girlfriend’s name is or what buffet they are dining at.

“I just can’t believe they aren’t here. I can’t believe that he isn’t here.” Karen sobs as she stews over the fact that not only did her husband desert her, but also one of her sons. Every time I see her now, she seems to be crying.

“Grandma, we’re here for you. You know how Uncle Gary is. Just think about all the great food we’re about to eat: steamed crab and prime rib.” Rachel grabs her grandmother’s hand. Grandma tears are contagious and Rachel, too, begins to cry.

“Rachel’s right, Mom. We don’t need to be thinking about anyone that doesn’t want to be here. We all love you and we’re here to enjoy ourselves. Do you want another rum and Pepsi?” Connie, Rachel’s mother, addresses Karen as mom, though they share no blood relation. Rick, Rachel’s dad, and Gary are Karen’s only children. Connie’s eyes are red, but I think her disdain for Gary keeps her eyes dry.

“Yes please, Connie. Oh, and Connie, don’t go easy on the rum.” I know just what Karen means. Rum isn’t like Ibuprofen. Rum does not reduce inflammation to relieve pain, nor does it fight fevers. Rum is like watching the aftermath of a magnificent and terrible car accident. You can become distracted for a bit, but then you’re right back to living your life.

“So, Mom, have you decided how you want to re-design your porch? Do you think you’ll go with the octagonal grey brick, or maybe some good old fashioned red brick?” Rick will not tolerate the sadness in the room. Emotional responses are not the man’s forte. It is not as though his father’s death did not affect him, but I believe he works it out when he is alone, where the only tears he can see and feel are coming from his own eyes.

“No, Rick, I haven’t decided yet. Will you and Rachel please go and check on the food?” I know that Karen recognizes and appreciates Rick’s efforts, but it seems like home improvement is far, far down on her list of priorities right now.

“Of course, Mom,” Rick says to his mother trying to offer her more than he can in every word.

“You got it, Grandma,” Rachel says in an attempt at a brighter tone. Rachel, like Connie, seeks distractions through the company of other people, and not through handyman projects, like Rick.

“Kyle, I meant to thank you for the flowers. Everyone else’s flowers have died already, but not yours. The purple ones on the mantle, they’re still alive. See?” Karen points me toward her mantle. Flowers, flowers, I didn’t buy her any flowers. What is she talking about? Shit, she thinks I bought her flowers and now she watches them flourish while her husband is dead. I cannot rightfully take the credit for these miracle flowers. I suspect that she wakes up every morning, waters these stupid fucking flowers, and thinks about the good times with her husband and about me, the person that did not give her these small, purple, lying flowers. I think I’m blinking too much. She’s going to know that I’m full of shit. She’s sitting there across the table thinking that I’m full of shit. Wait, I think I told my mom about Joe. Right, mom, mom got Karen the flowers. Mom is the hero, not me.

“Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Purple is my mom’s favorite color,” I say to Karen not knowing what I should be saying. Purple is my mom’s favorite color? What the hell is wrong with me? The woman’s husband died, and all I can talk about is the color purple. Stop being such a douche and just say something nice.

“Oh, Karen, I never really got a chance to talk to you at the wake. I’m so sorry for your loss,” I say with my second attempt at comforting Karen. I’m sorry for your loss? Can I come up with anything anymore generic and heartless? Karen and Joe were never anything but sweet and caring to me, and all I can come up with is, “I’m sorry for your loss”. I want to give her more, something substantial, something that means something, but I’m reaching for a behavior I do not know.

“Thank you, sweetie.” She reaches out to me from across the cheap four-legged table. I think she would get up were it not for the condition of her left ankle. I don’t know what’s wrong with the ankle, just that it doesn’t work. Rather than reciprocating her gesture with my own hand, I get up, walk around the table, and crouch down to hug her. Neither of us says anything, but I know this is better than, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Pepper, Joe’s dog, lies under the table while everyone else tries to make sense of their human emotions. I wonder what Pepper thinks of all this. I bet her emotions are not so different than everyone else’s.

“Where is Papa? I miss him. Why is he gone? Why didn’t he take me with him? He always takes me with him. No one here pets me like he does. I’m going to be sad if he doesn’t come back soon. I bet he’ll come back soon.” I know that people take issue with anthropomorphic descriptions of animals, but I see this dog sitting at my feet; I see her limp body; I see a tail that does not move; I see a head resting on paws; I see all these things, and I believe that she is grieving. Perhaps Pepper’s grief doesn’t have the complexity of our own, but who am I to trivialize her pain?

“Hey guys, dinner is ready,” Rachel calls out to Karen and me. She then makes her rounds to the back yard, where Connie has been smoking a cigarette, probably multiple cigarettes. Everyone there seemed to Spackle little bits of familiarity onto a piece of life that seemed so strange and unnatural.

“Mom, dinner is ready.” Connie, Rachel, and I all meet Rick in the kitchen.

“Here’s a plate, Kyle. There is crab in the pot on the stove, and here’s the prime rib. There are some bacon-wrapped shrimp and salad on the counter over there. There’s beer in the fridge in the garage. Feel free to drink the Sam Adams, it was Joe’s.” Connie hits me with food and drink details like I’m about to set off on a journey for the center of the earth. I don’t know why she thinks I would want to drink a dead person’s beer. Perhaps she didn’t offer it consciously, but I still think it’s weird. What if he comes back as a zombie someday and comes after me, because I drank his Sam Adams? I feel bad for thinking this somewhat callous thought, but I also feel bad about drinking my girlfriend’s dead grandpa’s booze.

“Thanks, Connie, but I still have a fresh Blue Moon.” I gather a plate full of crab, prime rib, and bacon-wrapped shrimp. I plant myself next to Rachel on Karen’s couch. Karen’s bacon-wrapped shrimp are always delicious. All she does is wrap the shrimp with bacon and bake them. They are simple, but I always gobble them up. The crab and burnt prime rib are another story. I don’t even like crab, but it would be sacrilege not to eat some, especially during this particular dinner. Crab and prime rib were Joe’s favorites.

Everyone seems to know that Connie will fix Karen a plate of food. That’s love, I think. Love is too dense to describe with words, chocolate, teddy bears, and flowers. Love exists in small gestures of unsolicited kindness. At no point during this dinner will Connie realize the true gravity of re-filling a bottomless glass of rum and Diet Pepsi.

Karen, too, may not see Connie’s small unsolicited gestures of kindness. It seems like none of us know exactly what to do, but we all “do” something to continue floating. Karen will cry, Pepper will lay, Connie will smoke, Gary will buffet, Rick will fix, Rachel will distract, and I will hug until the sting of loss stings a little less.

#

Some people don’t seem to realize the amount of time that we spend eating with friends, family, and strangers. We eat at the breakfast table, the lunch table, the dinner table, the café table, the snack couch, the picnic basket, the kitchen counter, and the bedroom. Relationships are born and broken around food. There is a reason why so many people propose in restaurants. Food is more than nourishment. Food is art, pornography, science, and love. Comfort food soothes injuries. Discomfort food may not soothe us, but by unsettling our daily routines, it opens our mouths and minds to the gradations of the human experience.

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