When I began to eat things happened,
Or, The Night I Was Accidentally Abducted by Ina Garten
I sweat. I swear. I sweat. It is the hottest night of summer. Humidity is at an all time high, moisture packed into the air, tighter than the audiences into The Producers back on Broadway in the early naughts. I am walking up Lafayette in my signature striped shorts and a v-neck t-shirt that’s so old I probably shouldn’t be wearing it anymore, but I still do, because I’m poor. I pass a hoity-toity-looking French joint, The Crimson Macau. Inside, the rich white old people drink wine and talk about tennis or Canasta or fiscal conservatism. Heat lightning strikes overhead, and I shudder, wondering if heat lightning causes heat thunder, and if so, will I have to drug my dog tonight when I get home, to calm her down. Rose hates loud noises.
The door to The Crimson Macau explodes open, and who runs out, drunkenly laughing, but Ina Garten — The Barefoot Contessa — followed by her Keebler Elf husband, Jeffrey. I do love the Fudge Stripe Cookies, Count Garten, I sure do. Ina looks at me with a sparkle in her eye. She knows. She knows when there are gays afoot. This is no different. I am a gay and I am afoot. She subtly winks at me, as if to say “You can arrange my flowers anytime, sweetie, and we’ll drink vodka lemonades after! Bottoms up!”
She falls into the open door of the Escalade waiting to take her and her husband home. The car begins to pull away.
I had recently been told that you miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take. So I give chase and quickly climb onto the roof of the Escalade, hopefully not making a sound. There is a heavy bass beat pulsing inside the car. I occasionally hear Ina’s laughter as we head toward the Brooklyn Bridge.
And then we stop short. We stop short and turn around. Head west, towards New Jersey. Not east, towards Amagansett and Ina’s Hamptons compound. We speed up. We stop short. We stop short again. We speed up.
Something flies out of the driver sear window. Someone flies out of the driver seat window.
And then it’s all orange.
Jeffrey has slit the throat of the driver, and thrown him out of the car. We are hurtling through the Holland Tunnel at a most impossible speed. Who knows where this night will lead? I can hear Ina’s quiet trademarked giggle from within the limits of SUV’s protection.
My heart catches itself in my throat as we fly out of the tunnel in a flash of terror. Truly, I thought my presence had been revealed. I am unable to tell by what combination my body is shaking so hard: is it from the adrenaline of Count Garten’s need for speed, is it the fearsome juices released into my veins as Ina leant out the window and screamed “BOW TO ME” and looked toward the sky, or is it merely that I am separated from the Ephemeral Hamptons Goddess by mere inches of steel and glass? I curl myself into a ball in hopes of not being recognized as a roofly parasite as we stun through the EZ Pass booth and soar onto unknown highways. I am in it for the long haul, it seems.
The car began to glow from within. Purple? No. Yellow? Scarlet. Yes. Scarlet. The car gains speed and seems to lift from the road like a speeding propeller plane. The scarlet blinds me. I hear Justin Trudeau waxing poetic inside the car more and more frantically, as he opines about equality for all. Louder and louder, he competes in volume with Ina who is reciting her recipe for porterhouse steaks and a creamy Roquefort chive sauce.
Which direction we are going?
There’s no knowing where we’re rowing
Or which way the river’s flowing.
Is it raining?
Is it snowing?
Is a hurricane a-blowing?
They are screaming at the top of their lungs and then: it all stops. Blackness. And the cool mountain air. I peek my eyes open. Trees. Pine, birch. Snow. The only light comes from the millions and millions of star casting their pasts on the vista present before me. A road, with a single dashed yellow line as far as the eye can see, as though I am driving down a line in a kindergartener’s basic composition notebook. And straight ahead, towering above us. A mountain.
We head straight for it. The mountain. The road leads directly into cliff’s side. Ina gets out of the truck and recites a Walt Whitman poem while Jeffrey sings the plays of Racine as recitative. Justin Trudeau holds the hand of a proud gay man, marching in a Pride Parade. If you’re wondering where Justin came from, it’s Canada. How he fits into this narrative isn’t quite clear yet. The walls of the mountain undulate and split. A wide chasm. An abyss. And then…the scent…Freshly baked Snickerdoodles…with…walnuts…The scent is…overwhelming…and I…am beginning…to black out…
I jolt awake. The space is illuminated from everywhere and nowhere, an ominous midnight blue. Dripping. Drip. Drip. Drip. I hear a gentle other breathing, other than mine own. I roll over and — hark! — Jeff Mauro lies across the space from me engaged with Morpheus in deepest somber slumber. Jeff snores quietly. I slowly sit up. I realize I have been entrapped in chains. I’ve been caught. I’ve been found. But by whom? And how did they find me atop the roof of the Countess’s Escalade? Drip. Drip. Drip. Knock knock knock. Drip. Drip. Drip. Knock knock knock. A door opens, closer than you’d think and farther than you’d expect. Her silhouette. The Countess. She is singing a little song. She enters the space, and the door slams behind her. She approaches me slowly.
“And who do we have here?” She sings a small song.
“And who do we have here,” the saucy Countess wonders again.
I ask if the stains on her shirt are blood.
“Oh, no. It’s my homemade marinara, of course!”
And she laughs. It echoes.
Drip. Drip. Drop. Something heavy falls from the vast above. A mass, wrapped in tight swaddling cloths. Jeff Mauro screams awake, hollering like a bat trying to find its way around with echolocation. He scampers over to the mass and begins to unwrap the thing.
“Feeding time,” the Countess chuckles. She reaches her hand out to my face, and pulls it extremely close to hers. Our noses touch accidentally, and a small static shock is felt between us. The Countess’s eyes smile, but her heart does not.
“So sweet. So handsome. Such a future you might have had,” she whispers.
I frantically reply, “Might have had?”
“Eat up,” she demands.
I turn my head to see that Jeff Mauro has revealed Sandra Lee beneath the cloths, and he is dining tenderly and furiously on her liver. Ina gestures towards Sandra Lee’s deadness, and insists that I join Hungry Jeff. I slowly stumble over. Nervous. Scared. Famished. I squat on Sandra Lee’s left side. Jeff looks at me briefly. Considers defending his food, but doesn’t. He’s seen folks like me before, Ina’s prisoners. He knows I’ll be gone soon enough. I see it in his eyes. He knows, and he knows I know. I lift up Sandra Lee’s arm, and bite down.
It is delicious. Sandra Lee tastes delicious.
After feeding, I rest. The unknown possibilities of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow frighten and titillate me. Jeff Mauro roars for an extended length of time, without taking a breath, and then collapses into sleep once more. I decide to take advantage of Jeff’s resting and Ina’s departure to explore the space. I walk. I walk. I walk and I walk and I walk and walk and walk and walk and —
There he is again. In front of me. Jeff Mauro. Sleeping. And the pile of Sandra Lee’s bones, now devoid of any remnants of meat. I seem to have walked in a massive circle, though I was sure, absolutely sure that I walked in a straight line. I hear a menacing laugh. He is nearby. Jeffrey. He is omnipresent.
The door opens again. The same heavy bass beat from earlier. She is back.
Jeffrey’s soft lady giggle turns into a dubstep beat as Ina stalks in, in platform heels and wearing an exaggeratedly large shent — one of those shirt-tent combinations she is known for wearing. The dubstep beat grows thicker, boots and cats and boots and cats and boots and cats and, and she raises her arms, and the bottom of her shent splits, and her Army of Gays emerge, all wielding weapons: vases, DVDs of French silent films sharpened into throwing stars, handknit tablecloths available for sale at artisanal boutiques across Long Island’s East End.
“Attack,” she screams. “Attack him! Make him submit to my will! Force him to enlist in my Army!”
The gays shriek and slowly strut towards me, brandishing their weapons with as much fierceness as they can muster. I look around for something I can use to fend them off. And then I see it.
Sandra Lee’s femur.
I grab her bone and start swinging wildly. I have a brief flashback to my childhood stint as a Little League Baseball Least Valuable Player. I fight. I break vases, I rip tablecloths, I ask the Gays how dare they disrespect the Jean-Luc Godard films like that. I am winning. I am winning.
Once the gays have all been dealt with, it is just me and Ina, and Jeff Mauro, still asleep. She looks at me.
“Very well, young one. You destroyed my Army like Hurricane Sandy destroyed portions of my beachfront Hamptons home,” she whispers, and it fills every inch of my body. “Just one more thing before you go. If you go.”
She opens her mouth, and instead of human noise, she emits a sound not unlike a factory whistle indicating shift’s end. Her eyes become completely black. She shakes. She shakes.
From beneath her shent emerges Justin Trudeau. He looks up at the Countess with curious eyes, waiting.
“Mom, what should I do?” he asks. She simply raises a finger and points at me.
He turns. He takes me in. He walks towards me, and builds up into a run, full speed ahead. He collides with me, and envelops me in the warmest hug imaginable. How he hugs, he could hug forever. I begin to melt. No. I will not fall prey to this Evil Countess. I harden myself against the hug and fight off the Canadian Prime Minister.
The right side of Ina’s face has gone slack. The left side of Justin’s has too. They melt. Ina screams as she becomes a puddle of butter and wine. Justin screams “EQUALITY” as he fades into nothingness.
All now that remains now is the Shent.
I pick it up. I sniff it. It smells exactly how you’d imagine she smells while watching her Back to Basics programming. Like strawberries, and lavender, and, yes, love.
I consider Sandra Lee’s bones for just a moment. Nah.
I hold the Shent. I spread it wide, holding it to the wind.
I don the Shent. The world becomes impossibly bright.
And then —
A Meadow. I am in a Meadow. Jeff Mauro sleeps nearby.
He opens his eyes. Sees me in the Shent. He growls, and falls back on his rear legs, ready to pounce.
“No, Mauro, NO! Bad boy! No!” I hit him on the nose. He whimpers. “Heel, boy. Heel!” He heels. I exhale. I look around.
A vast meadow on all sides, out to the horizons of the endless sky.
I look at the Shent. I look at the Sky.
I am the Barefoot Contessa now.
I am the Barefoot Contessa.