Late one afternoon, shortly after taking a wander around my office and confronting a number of things that are either possible to eat or things that people seem to think other people might eat, if those other people are just desperate or human dumpsters, I had some thoughts.
I thought: I am going to make a delicious, customized bowl of hot noodle soup for each of my family members! I viewed several recipes and videos, including one for red curry noodles that had no words at all but did feature a cook flopping a sharp-edged square of what I think was flank steak on a hot pan and hovering over it as the steak withdrew into itself, becoming a sizzling, be-grayed and harassed-looking collection of protein. Watching it contract in the heat was like watching children sitting cross-legged on the floor retract all their limbs because their substitute teacher was letting a ferret run free on the reading rug.
Because good cooks are supposed to read recipes fully and “shop smart,” I jotted a few items from six different recipes on a sticky note and then, on the way home, decided not to go to the grocery store because if I went to the grocery store I’d get started on dinner too late. That is sort of like saying the election results won’t be done on time if you count all the votes. But I guess I was going for the best customized noodle bowls one could find at a locked Broward County polling place.
Once at home, I found we had not red curry but green, not steak but tofu, not cabbage but… just not cabbage. There was broccoli and a halved onion that had been in the fridge so long that the cut side had started to bulge outward from the center in segments and recede toward the skin like a pyramid and there were crystals of something on its surface. It was slightly magical in this way, like a tomb for some member of the allium family that wanted tiny beings to march up translucent steps to the center of all tears. I had also written “mushrooms? Bell peppers?” And “scallions” on the sticky note.
Scallions I buy often, and by the time I attempt to use them, are either a liquid mass or have aged in the cold fridge and begun to spoon each other limply. When I was a kid, I used to pick bouquets of the short white and purple violets that grew around my neighborhood and give them to my mother, but I’d grip them so tightly that I essentially handed her a fistful of sweaty grass. They have naked stems and are only about three inches tall, and my mother would put them in a little juice glass of water, from which they would slowly fall, weighted by what was left of their petals, to their final resting place, the window sill above the kitchen sink. That image always comes to mind when I regard the scallions – because I regard the scallions! Like I’m sizing them up via a one-way mirror before a job interview! – in the vegetable drawer. Our compost barrel is probably 35 percent scallions. I should just stop buying them. But because a hulked-out and possibly possessed raccoon punched through the compost barrel grate, sometimes our compost roots, and once we seemed to be growing an onion and a pumpkin. So there is a small chance my scallions will rise again, like a hot smelly phoenix, from our compost heap.
Not far from our compost barrel is our friends’ sailboat, which is under a camo tarp. I recently saw one of the neighborhood outdoor cats approach the boat and pee on it. I am allergic to cats and do not know their ways, but are cats supposed to be able to piss vertically? Because the cat peed in a high arc and the pee just absolutely pelted the stiff camo tarp and made SO MUCH NOISE like it was being hosed down by firefighters dousing bits of smoldering debris. And then the cat just casually walked away, like it was no big deal to be able to urinate with the same Satanic verve of Las Vegas show fountains. Which, by the way, should just use cat pee, because psst, it’s the desert and what a waste of water. And as I understand it, the casino owners want the gamblers to stay inside, where there are no clocks or windows and lots of drinks. Urine fountains would be a great reinforcing strategy. Urine fountains are a real deliverable.
Anyway, I began conceiving of this meal in the spring of 1929, at Le Boulou – a small spa in the Pyrenees Orientales where I was hunting butterflies – and finished it… wait, I’m sorry. That’s not how I conceived of it. That’s how Nabokov conceived of The Luzhin Defense. I conceived of this meal as I mentally went one-quarter of the way around the table of contents in my mind under the section “Fuck, it’s Almost Dinnertime.” The table of contents in my mind is shaped like a traditional wall clock, if you are wondering. It’s not a vertical list. That includes pasta, heaps of things arranged on lettuce, hot dogs, an entry I like to call “Tofu Plus—?” and a few other items.
When I stuck my face into our refrigerator, I just thought, “Why is this not a treatment for rosacea?” and then, immediately, “oh, because it is wasteful and stupid, but so cooling, and slightly too aromatic.” It also seemed like a good opportunity to veer dynamically away from customized noodle soups. I often wish “soup” had a silent “t” at the end. Soupt. Does that not sound better and more definitive than “soup?” It doth.
What is for lunch, you ask? Soupt! It doesn’t matter what kind; there are no further questions. But it’s probably onion soupt. Heavy, heavy on the onions. Medicinal and thick and it thoroughly alters your bathroom schedule.
But what was for dinner? After cooling my face in the fridge, I inspected the oven for indicators of incendiarism. Often there are chunks of charcoal that were once glops of pizza cheese on the floor of the oven. If only I gripped them tightly enough for long enough, they would become diamonds, but I like to focus my tension in my shoulders, so that my shoulders could pass for mahogany balustrades in a dark haunted house where you just have to feel around. (I don’t want anyone to feel around further than that.) So I spent some time swiping at the oven coals knowing that the kitchen was still likely to be completely smoked out if I used it, failed-raid style.
Still, I had no ideas for dinner, but had said I would make it, and I was silently breaking this promise and time was ticking, and everything had the terrible feeling of a salvage operation at sea when everyone knows the boat has drifted and it’s very cold and the wind is either shifting or dead.
I put a pot of water on to boil. Why? I did not know. We had four half-boxes of pasta, each with a different cooking time ranging from 13 to nine minutes. I sliced deeply into the half onion and found some normalish onion that I diced, yielding about 2 teaspoons. I located a couple of Italian sausages. I can’t go on. I just massacred a bunch of food that had slumped past its prime and then I covered it with decent cheese. I’m pretty sure I went to high school with at least one guy name Sean Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Scott Parmigiano-Reggiano. He was just fine. So was dinner.