“Do sandwich cookies ever get lonely?”
-Craigslist Personal Ad
“Do sandwich cookies ever get lonely?”
-Craigslist Personal Ad
No, this isn’t a story that suggests that dating is like a tater tot. Not at all. This story is about me and how sometimes I get home late and need a quick dinner.
I’ve been trying this thing where I don’t eat after 8pm. So tonight, when I got home at 7:30pm, I needed to make dinner fast. And what’s the fastest dinner of all? Besides leftover pizza. If I had had leftover pizza, I would have eaten that. The second fastest dinner is Breakfast Dinner! The ideal breakfast dinner is pancakes, or waffles, or anything that comes with butter and syrup, but the whole point tonight was ease and speed, so I went with an omelet and tater tots (pictured below). The only onerous thing about an omelet is getting it to turn over and look good, but hey, if it doesn’t turn over and it doesn’t look good you can call it a frittata. Or “loaded scrambled eggs.” Whichever applies.
You might be wondering about the tots. Why are they so flat? Why do they have grill marks? Well. You’ve probably been brought up to believe that “necessity” is the mother of invention. It is not. “Laziness” is the mother of invention. If it were “necessity” then, faced with the need to toast my tots, I would have invented a way to climb up to the uppermost cabinet where the toaster oven lives, lug it down, make room for it on the counter, etc., etc. But, being that the George Foreman is conveniently located on the counter by the coffee maker, I used it. Ergo, laziness begot the invention of Tots on the Georgie. It’s easy. Just nuke the tots to thaw them out, put them on the Georgie in a single layer, and shut the lid. Do be sure to plug in the Georgie. Serve with ketchup or mayo, if you like. Heck, try butter and syrup.
How do you know when the tots are done? Lift the lid and take a quick peek. If they’re crushed and crispy, they’re done. Oh, I’ll be damned. Dating is like a tater tot. When you’re crushed and crispy, it’s time to get out. That’s how you know you’re done. D.O.N.E. Done.
My plan for tonight was to wow you with some insightful yet hilarious prose about waiters and cutoff shorts , but my cat has taken up residence on the upper quarter of my tablet and just typing these few sentences has incurred lacerations on both of my wrists and, somehow, the palm of my left hand.
Yesterday I wanted Pecan Pie. I also wanted Chocolate Cupcakes. So, I decided to put the two together. Seeking guidance, I turned to the internet, where I found dozens of recipes, all written by witty ladies and teeming with glamorous photos of food.
Messy. Complicated. A work in progress.
And so, I bring you: Dating Is Like A Chocolate Pecan Cupcake.
The photo shows you my first tentative efforts. I’ve got the ingredients, I’m ready to go. I’ve told all my friends I’m going to pursue this, so I’m pretty much committed.
The internet ladies didn’t mention that there would be a cat in the kitchen, the one that wove itself between and around my legs while I tried to cook. The cat represents the things about the dating relationship that were cute at the beginning, but soon become a major annoyance, like his snoring or the way I sing Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” all day on Sunday when I do, well, the laundry.
Let’s say you get past the cat (although it never leaves the kitchen), and you make it to the point where you’ve got all the ingredients mixed together, the batter in the little fluted papers, and the pan in the oven. You look on the counter and there you see the pecans, which were supposed to go in the batter, and the Hershey’s Cocoa, which wasn’t even in the recipe. These are the little things you didn’t expect, like his friends being complete assholes or your insisting that he go with you to the “80’s Retro Dance Party” on the third Saturday of every month.
You try to recoup by pulling the pan out of the oven and sprinkling the pecans on top of the half baked cupcakes. The pecans are the guy in the accounting department who you keep flirting with, just in case your new relationship crashes and burns and you need a last minute date to your cousin Yvonne’s wedding next April. Speaking of crashing and burning, the pecans begin to smoke. No need to explain this, you all know the beginning of the end when you smell it.
But you remain hopeful, and leave the cupcakes in that 350-degree heat for another little while.
When you finally admit that they’re done, your friends look at your ruined cupcakes and put on fake smiles. “It’s not that bad,” they say. “You can try again another time, maybe use a new recipe.” That’s what all happily married women with 2.5 beautiful children say to their hopelessly single friends.
And now you’re stuck with the dishes. You’ve used every pot and pan you own to make this mess. You fill the sink and squirt in the detergent, you pull on the worn yellow gloves. You can hear your friends telling you that it won’t take as long as you think it will, that you’ll feel so much better when it’s done. You vow that next time you’ll do things differently, you’ll read the recipe all the way through, you’ll, you’ll – oh screw it, there is no positive spin to this. Everyone hates to do the dishes.
A spider has laid eggs in the side of my face.
The turgid mass has grown so large that surely, at any moment, it will burst and spew forth dozens of arachnid progeny. I am certain of this.
The lump is definitely not a massive zit that I have manhandled to the point where the resultant purple and yellow bruise is scaring small children.
No. A spider has laid eggs in the side of my face. I am certain of this.
If you recognize those words as having been spoken by a turncoat Lindsey Bluth in shorn hair and a business causal suit, then I am happy and sad for you. Happy because you discovered the snarky genius that is Arrested Development; sad because you watched the fourth season. You watched all the way through to the last episode of a season that should have never happened.
Walls. Walls are good. Walls keep the A/C in and the mosquitoes out. Walls define where the TV should go versus where the stove should go. Walls keep us from having to see what our neighbors look like first thing in the morning. That’s the physical walls, the ones made of brick and sticks and stones. But it’s the emotional walls that do the real work. How can something invisible be so impenetrable?
Here’s my lunch from yesterday. Please admire how the baby carrots form a wall that keeps the BBQ sauce from getting on the cherries. This is an important wall if you don’t like BBQ sauce on your cherries. But what if you’ve never had BBQ sauce on your cherries? What if, in a fit of contempt prior to investigation, you’ve dismissed BBQ sauce on your cherries as something that will taste bad and might even hurt you?
“Might even hurt you.” We’ve clearly moved beyond physical walls and into the more interesting world of emotional walls. I have emotional walls, as pointed out by every man who has ever dated me and doesn’t date me anymore. They haven’t told me anything I didn’t already know, I put up the walls intentionally. They have purpose. Emotional walls keep me from getting too chatty with the cute guy in my yoga class (he could be an axe murderer, etc., etc.) Emotional walls keep me from confiding too much in my friends (they could turn on me at any time.) The walls keep me safe. The walls ensure that I won’t get all vulnerable and end up hurt. Hurt, you know, like how you can choke on a BBQ sauce covered cherry.
I’ve experimented with lowering my walls. They’ve gone from gargoyle-festooned castle walls to chain link fences to curbs. Not the curved, bicycle-friendly curbs, mind you. They’re the old-fashioned hard right-angle curbs that can stub your toe. A stubbed toe incites a unique pain, the type of pain that can make you want to dissolve and ooze back over the curb and right down the gutter to the nearest “Chesapeake Bay Sewage” drain. I don’t want to get drained. Too risky. Let’s do it, Lindsey, let’s build that wall.
Four hundred and fifty thousand Americans are blogging right now about their 4th of July gastronomic adventures. You can only read so much about burgers, wings, and beer. So, to maintain your interest, I have included a fun tip, a lesson of the culinary kind.
My 4th celebration was at home. With my cat. At 2pm. I had no grill to scrub, no drunks to kick out, and the whole afternoon and evening was left open to nap. But that’s not the lesson.
BBQ, store-bought in a tub with the addition of bottled sauce. “Addition” sounds like a lesson, but that’s not it. Mixed greens and kale with Caesar dressing. Baby carrots. Sweet corn boiled up with salt and sugar added to the water – that could be a lesson but everyone knows that’s the only way to boil up corn. Now you’re seeing it. The buttered bread. Who has buttered bread on the 4th of July? Only those who have learned the lesson, my friends. Only those who have learned the lesson.
Growing up, how to eat corn was a challenge that plagued my family every summer. Of course the “holders”, plastic miniature corn cobs with dual spears, were mandatory for getting a grip on the thing. Butter and black pepper were indicated. Nay, required. You can put as much salt and sugar as you like in the boiling water, but sweet corn ain’t no good iffin’ it ain’t got no butter and black pepper. The conundrum: how do you make the butter stick? In magazine photos there is always a geometrically perfect pat of butter perched atop the ear. Good thing they snapped that shot when they did, ’cause two seconds later that pat of butter oozed its way off the corn and onto the plate, un-scoopable and worthless.
My family did try that ‘roll the ear right on the stick of butter’ fad, but once my mother saw all the wayward corn silk stuck to the butter plate she put the kabash on that right away.
The lesson, the tip, is in the slice of bread. My mother is from Jersey, my father is from Alabama, so it’s not a Northern nor a Southern thing, but when I lived in a double-wide out in Southern Illinois I was introduced to the glory that is the butter-to-bread-to-corn application system. Must be a Midwestern thing. Not difficult in preparation or execution, the diner simply smears butter on bread, holds bread on palm of hand, slaps the corn cob in the middle of the bread, squeezes hand around bread and uses other hand to twist cob around and around. Laws of physics ensue and the butter gets on the corn. The corn gets buttered. Even those little spaces between the kernels get jam-packed with butter. The process is inspired. Transcendent. The result: delicious.
Now, that’s your lesson. Your fun tip. Perhaps you have learned something today. Perhaps you’ve been reminded of something you forgot. Perhaps you already knew this, have been doing it for years, did it this very day, this very 4th of July and you’re thinking I’m pretty lame for making you read this whole post. Nope. I’m just glad you read it. There’s a lesson in that, too.
Leslie had never wanted to drive on the freeway. She never wanted to go that fast. She didn’t ski, she didn’t bike, she didn’t rollerblade for the same reason. Going fast wasn’t desirable. Going fast risked being out of control, at the whim of gravity and unpredictable factors like angry drivers, roads in poor condition and stray animals. No, freeways were laden with dangers, rife with the chance of pain and death.
Not that death was that scary. There were plenty of days that death seemed appealing. A way to stop all the hopelessness and anxiety. What if I’m in this job forever? How will I ever find another job if I lose this one? How can I have a PhD and be so unqualified for anything?
So, most days she was open to death. It was the pain that worried her. Dismembered, brain damaged, these were the real dangers of going fast. A rock on a bike path could throw her off balance and crack her skull. A mogul, coming up too soon, could incite a swerve into a gully and break her legs. A bear, wandering onto the freeway… and so on. So many scenarios that could bring pain and a longer, more miserable life than the one she had now.
Fairytales would have her meet a man or take up a hobby that filled her soul and brought her joy. She wasn’t keen on either of those.
What brought her a reluctant sense of relief was to stop going on about how depressed she felt, get up from her desk and fucking do something like, for example, get dressed and go to work.
Leah is in the breakroom, mournfully stirring Coffemate into her cup of decaf. Out the window she can see the rain falling on the morning mess of traffic on 23rd street. Across the street there is sodden mess of a construction site, all lumber and blue tarps and puddles of mud. As bright and perky Dan comes into the breakroom, Leah feels her grip tighten on the cup in her hand. There are small scratch marks where her nails press into the styrofoam.
“What did you say to me?” she asks Dan.
“TGIF!” Dan sings. “Thank God It’s Friday!”
“Really?” Leah says. She takes a deep breath and sets her cup down on the counter. She looks up at Dan and exhales, turning to face him head on. “Really? Did you know my husband is out of town so it will be just me with our twin 5th graders all weekend? Did you know it’s mid-June and summer vacation is almost here? My kids are crazy excited that they’re about to get out of school, they’re crazy angry that they still have a week left of school, they’re anxious and antsy, they’re belligerent and sullen, they’re hot and they’re cold and dammit Dan, did you know it’s going to rain all weekend? I’m stuck inside with them for the next two days! So no, Dan, TG I am Fucking not!
Dan takes a step away from Leah and fumbles in the pocket of his blazer. He extends his hand to her. “Here, you need this more than I do,” he says. “TGIC.”
I’m soaking wet, but I don’t mind. In fact, it feels good. I’m tired, my back aches, and I am utterly clueless as to where I am or what I’m doing. What day is it? I ask myself. That’s always a good place to start. Friday, okay. Friday. So what am I… oh. I close my eyes. It’s Friday morning. I’m in the shower. I open my eyes and look around. How long have I been here? Have I soaped yet? Shampooed? Is it time for the conditioner or should I reach for the face scrub? I have no idea. I have not a clue about what I’m doing, but it’s okay.
I’m barely conscious of what goes on after that. I find myself eating breakfast and drinking tea, so I presume I toasted Eggos and boiled water. The cat seems to be happy so I must have given her some kibble and cleaned out her litter box. My next awareness is that I’m at an office; I have to assume I dressed myself and drove the half hour it takes to get here. I cop a quick feel to make sure I’m wearing a bra. Yes. Good.
I’m sitting at a desk dominated by two monstrous monitors and covered with piles of papers. Budget projections, pricing proposals, requests for equitable adjustments. It washes over me that I work in accounting. For a government contractor. This is my job? Me, with a degree in ceramic arts? Me, an aspiring writer? I look at the papers and the jumble of Excel spreadsheets on the monitors. I don’t know what to do next, not even where to start. I have not a clue about what I’m doing, but it’s payday.