A real fool that gets paid to talk to strangers in the street.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Can Food Change The World?



Maybe this question is in fact the most important of questions, maybe it's not, but it's definitely an interesting one.  Especially for a former fat kid, especially for a New Yorker living in Los Angeles, and especially because if a meal can change my babymamma from the Antichrist to the sweetest human alive there's certainly a correlation between change and food.

Let's look at the most pressing and obvious way food can change the world and just get it out of the way. Child Hunger: if we feed the hungry, we change the world. As a new father, the thought of my boy going hungry makes me want to rip my arm off and feed him with it. But he's only just now starting solids.

Now that I got that out of the way, let's get to the fun part. Both God and Dave Matthews say the same thing, "Eat, drink and be merry." I couldn't agree more. Perhaps a sandwich is the perfect metaphor; it brings things together that wouldn't necessarily come together naturally and makes them one.

Food is an excuse to enjoy life with others.  We sit with each other and share three moments a day over food and drink (5-7 if you're in LA and 1 if you're lucky in NY). If you're not in New York or Los Angeles it's also usually when you put your phone down and the concept of interpersonal communication becomes a reality again. By virtue of needing both your hands to eat, we become people again three times a day, and it's nice to be people again. We're so into this togetherness that despite knowing better, Thanksgiving, the tragic foreshadowing of murder and genocide is celebrated nationwide with a cozily gluttonous family gathering.

I don't remember a lot of the difficulties of growing up. Sure I was fat, cross-eyed and liked Boy George and the Monkeys when kids were listening to Guns N' Roses and Warrant. Sure my mom cut my hair as if she had two left hands of all thumbs and sure, I had to wear a shirt when I went in a pool so the hottest girl in junior high wouldn't see that I had bigger breasts than she did. I really don't remember all that. I remember snack tables at family parties. I remember going with my father to get Buffalo wings with chunky bleu cheese dressing. I remember the smell of BBQ's in the summer and hot chocolates in the winter. Most of all I remember my best friends, Pop Tarts. I remember these things because I related to them. The phrase comfort food exists for a reason. As Americans these touchstones or "Food Nostalgia" is inescapable, and we pass it on.

I have a five month old son.  His name is Philip, we call him Flip for short.  He's just now getting into eating people food, fruit mostly (no arms). I can't wait to introduce him to the food that I love, and the food that he'll love on his own.  I love him, endlessly. The same goes for his mother. I spend at least an hour a day making her food while I drink an ice cold Northern California IPA. That is my zen, my relationship with food, my family and making merry with my meal.  

If food can make a new mom feel loved it probably could have helped out a few troubled dictators at some point.



Friday, July 4, 2014

The 4th


When I was five my family lived on the street called Ocean Avenue in Bay Shore New York. It was a great little Victorian house close to the water on the south shore of Long Island.

Once a year when green leaves thrived and the stench of barbecuing was in the air, summer was officially ushered in with a celebratory July 4th parade of people walking down our block with their lounge chairs, coolers filled with whatever fix they needed and beef. They would have their family in tow just to get their slice/plot of space at the marina at the end of the street to watch the fireworks over the body of water separating Long Island from Fire Island, the Great South Bay.

For some reason I was petrified by this day, this zeitgeist, this celebration.  The people walking toward these loud sounds didn’t make sense to my childish ears. I was frightened by the noises.  I was so scared that I would hide under my bed holding my ears with my eyes shut tightly until the bangs and booms had finished.

My father knew this and walked up to me and said a few choice words, “How about we walk down there early, before everyone gets there.  We’ll get our own spot and I’ll give you a hotdog.  Once the sun goes down you can sit in my lap holding your ears and closing your eyes until it’s over".  I disagreed, over and over again, until he said he’d let me eat chips too. 

I was a chubby kid – still am, and chips were everything, still are. 

I agreed.  I took his hand and walked to the end of the block.  He had his cooler and chair, and I had my father.

As people accumulated around us at the marina my father made it seem like it was just him and I.  He talked to the strangers around us like he was the mayor of the pavement we were sitting on.  He’ll disagree, but he was the mayor that night and he still is.  

Finally it was time for the hot dogs and hamburgers and I ate them with both ketchup and mustard like a good American should.  I also had three handfuls of ridged potato chips and a coke.  I remember this because we’re almost required to.  That’s what marketing is, and what America does.

The sun went down and I heard a crackle of a bang and closed my eyes.  I held my ear tightly while I sat in the middle of my father’s legs. I held so tightly I should have scars from it.  I was so scared I thought I was gonna die…until I heard my dad yelling in the breaks of the display, “JUST LOOK UP MATTY, IT’L BE OK…JUST LOOK UP!”

It took a minute or two of him saying this over and over  again. Then I slowly took one hand off my ear and unclenched one of my eye and glimpsed up. I looked up at the sky and what I saw was wonderful.   It was joyous.  It was perfect. 

These impermanent lights in the sky excited me in a way I’d never understood, still don’t.   I fell in love with fire works, and up until that moment they had crippled me.

I’m 33 now.  I’m in Los Angeles, the other edge of our country, those same fires are burring our sky annually reminding us of our…selves.  But I’m a father now as my son is sleeping upstairs as I'm typing this.  I rushed home from a BBQ just to make sure he wasn’t frightened. 

I’ve used that moment at the marina on Long Island with my father as a representation and example in almost every fearful moment in my life.  I just look up, or towards, or through, or around: because inevitably the bright scary lights welcome you if you just look up.

And that’s why I’m a father, that’s why I keep fighting, that’s why we’re a country, and that’s why I love the fourth of July.