Cooking to me means nothing. I enjoy eating but it doesn’t really matter if it’s a fancy burger from a place called Eat in Los Angeles, or a cup of Easy Mac purchased at a Chevron station. “But how are you going to take care of a man?” my boss asked me one morning. Take care of a what? I stood baffled, like you do when someone has just revealed something you had never thought about before and turned your whole reality upside down. “What do you eat on your own?” my boss asked, changing the subject as he could clearly see he lost me. I told him. “Cup of what?” he shrieked. I sighed. “NOODLES. They have all different flavors, beef, shrimp, chicken-” He looked disgusted, “Beef flavor?” I stood blinking at him, how do I explain? “Yes,” I said flatly, and suddenly I was lost again, imagining myself preparing a shrimp flavored Cup of Noodles for an unlucky hungry man who had arrived home famished after a day of selling ad space. My face mirrored my bosses and we stood in the kitchen looking like we were going to throw up on each other. “I’ve made a boyfriend food before,” I told him, suddenly remembering I once had a boyfriend who’s favorite food was spaghetti and meatballs.
The spaghetti was easy but the meatballs posed a problem. “Garid, what do I do? It’s meat I’m going to make him sick,” I said standing over a package of raw ground beef cradling the phone between my ear and shoulder and holding a printed out recipe. My friend Garid didn’t offer any encouragement, but instead agreed. “Yes, you will make him violently ill if you attempt to cook meat,” and he hung up the phone and came over and made the meatballs while I stirred spaghetti sauce. Garid left before my boyfriend came over and I never told him until I was at his house for his mother’s birthday. “I hear you made him his favorite meal!” She told me beaming. Instead of hugging her or even high fiving her over our mutual admiration of her son, I panicked and confessed, “I boiled the water but my friend Garid cooked the meatballs, it was only because I didn’t want to kill your son, I care about him you see. I’m sorry, I lied to him, I’m so sorry.” She looked confused, and slightly defensive like my son better get rid of this shiesty two-faced liar, but even then I never made the vow to myself I will learn how to cook ground beef safely.
“You cannot cook the cup of beef flav- what is it?” I was getting annoyed at my bosses failure to accept Cup of Noodles like I had long ago in a dorm room. “Cup of Noodles,” I said one last time. Here in Hawaii I have access to what my boss calls the jungle kitchen. It is an outdoor kitchen, fully equipped with everything you need to cook, and guests are welcomed to prepare their meals there. It has a microwave so I have everything I need, but my boss insists I dapple in the art of preparing food. “I bought you chicken and these black beans,” he told me. The can opener, since living in the outdoor jungle kitchen for years, has rusted, and therefore posed a problem with the cans of black beans, until I used my new island problem solving skills and stabbed the can open using a butcher knife. A sweet older couple from New Zealand were eating their pasta dish at a nearby table, watching as I repeatedly stabbed a can of black beans open, dumped it in a bowl and nuked it in the microwave. I sat at a table nearby and raised my bowl of beans, “Bon Appetite,” I said. They looked horrified, similar to how I look if I browse through bachelorette party photos on Facebook. A pack of women wearing identical bathing suits around a pool at a country club and sashes that say bridal party and holding up lollipops shaped like a penis. This is life? This is real? It can’t be!
Ever since I frightened friendly innocent New Zealanders, I try to avoid preparing my meals in the jungle kitchen when guests are present. But sometimes you just get unlucky and another sweet foreign couple must force you to question am I a monster? It was raining and I was wearing my rain gear-a huge black rain jacket with a hood, black spandex under huge pajama pants that look similar to something you might typically see MC Hammer wearing at the peak of the 90’s, and my hiking boots. If my outfit wasn’t alarming enough on its own, the added setting of a pitch dark jungle in the pouring rain made my entrance that much more memorable to the adorable young French couple eating a five course meal they cooked together in romantic Hawaii.
As I emerged from the dark and into the light of the kitchen I removed my hood revealing my sunburned face and my hair in a bun at the top of my head like a Samurai warrior. The French couple didn’t gasp or run away, but instead smiled sweetly and waved. French people aren’t rude, I thought, wait who told me that? Why did I just think that? As I made my way to the freezer I pulled out a huge ziplock bag of already cooked frozen chicken strips. I piled several onto a pan and turned the oven on. As I waited for my chicken to re-cook, I looked at the French couple. They were holding hands while eating. There is no way that sophisticated French woman had a bachelorette party with penis paraphernalia, I told myself. Then something happened that I wasn’t expecting, something that has changed me forever- in a haunting sort of way.
As I was cooking my frozen chicken, a live chicken walked into the jungle kitchen and stood before me. As I looked at it I had to ask myself the uncomfortable question, am I a monster? The chicken and I looked at one another and I thought about how I was about to eat it. I imagined myself taking the butcher knife and chopping its head off, plucking out all the feathers as they flew around the French couple, the woman who was now crying, her husband holding her, covering her eyes from the sight of me- gnawing away, blood and feathers everywhere, the smell of death overwhelming the garlic in the French couples potatoes.
I wanted to cry, to kneel before the chicken and weep, do something to at least honor the sacrifice of it’s life for the continued survival of my own. I now on a much smaller scale understand all movies where an abandoned man in the wild eats a bluebird, just takes a bite out of it after he strangles it to death. If I didn’t eat I would pass out, and the chicken was all I had. I looked at the chicken who was now wandering around the kitchen- I’m sorry, I AM a monster, and I don’t care, me and the elephant man, he will be the man I care for. I opened up the oven and pulled out the pan of sizzling hot chicken. As I sliced it up on a plate I thought of what song should be playing overhead, as if I was in a movie or reality television show. Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy came to mind first because of the lyric:
The sweetest sadness in your eye,
My back is turned on you.
It’s a hauntingly beautiful song, perfect with the combination of the rainy setting, French lovers, and me and my chickens- both dead and alive, sharing a kitchen on a romantic island together. Love and Death. The French couple watched as I took my huge pile of dead chicken past the live chicken, all my existentialist crises solved, we are all savage at heart, life is meaningless, bachelorette parties with penis lollipops, whatever who cares, and disappeared back into the darkness, leaving the French lovers alone- all of us left to ponder- what exactly just happened?