This is mariachi operetta, nervous breakdown, a broken spirit stitched with corn silk. And this is breakfast. Breakfast after losing ourselves in the streets, after shedding the snakeskin of the guidebooks, dodging glass and flying water. Perhaps we will find our huitlacoche one day, but it won’t be today. Perhaps that’s the last anniversary a couple has before they die, no matter their age: the huitlacoche anniversary, attainable only on the verges, rendering in a smear of its black smut, the others obsolete: paper cotton leather linen wood iron sugar steel huitlacoche huitlacoche huitlacoche…

Louisa and I nearly fall from the street into the restaurant, México Viejo, Old Mexico, and are berated by its pottery, its orange walls, contained pockets of steam kicking like the tar pits into the yellow film of iron chandelier light. This is, after all, the best buffet we’ve ever seen, and the place is stuffed with patrons—families with freight trains of kids, business-suited groups basking in the lunch break, old men eating alone, old women staring them down from behind blue clay bowls of caldo de res.

The host, a barrel-chested man with a thick moustache, comes at us with a puzzled look. He stands about as high as my sternum, and I am only five feet, seven. He says nothing, carries no menu, and shrugs. I look to Louisa for help and, miraculously, she says, “Dos.”

“Una mesa para dos personas,” I say, needlessly, forcing my remedial Spanish onto anyone willing to listen. Yes, I am a gringo, I want to tell them, but not one of those gringos, you know? ¿Verdad?

The man nods, his moustache appearing to take flight, leave his face like some hirsute moth and flit about the room. He sits us at a wooden table as squat as he is and gestures, almost dismissively, toward the buffet with the back of his hand.

“Muchas gracias,” I say.

Here, the man stops and manages a smile, his moustache returning from its flirtation with some underage mamacita in a corner booth, once again perching on his face like some gothic canary. He parts his lips. His moustache flaps for dear life.

“De nada,” he says, or growls, or rasps. The words sound forced through knife-cut vocal cords and tracheotomy, plopping into our ears, rheumatic, robotic, phlegmatic, sweet. And we do, we do feel welcome.

Our waitress, a young, curly-haired woman in a flowing brown dress so diaphanous, she should be our waitressssssss, steps to our table with two mugs of coffee before we even order it. This is assumption of the highest working order and I want to stroke her hair, if only to test the perfect spring of the curls. Louisa blows her a kiss and descends into a clatter of South African-accented “Gracias, gracias, gracias…”

Our waitressssssss laughs, her voice carrying into the air like a coffee percolator run on helium, and disappears again into the psychedelic madness of the restaurant. Louisa and I look to the buffet, an L-shaped number covered in white tablecloths, different stations manned and womanned by the staff, clad in purple button-down silk shirts bearing white irises, the women with red flowers pushed behind their ears, flattening masa dough for fresh tortillas, searing various meats to order, juicing papayas and carrots, unraveling spools of white cheese, roasting green chilies until their skins blacken and blister, this tiny opera of food played out on a pot-bellied guitar, and we don’t now what to do, how we can accommodate all of this food, taste everything made to order, taste everything premade and marinating in pottery pots and bowls, painted garishly with fat women hauling grapefruit, with Jesus bleeding on the gustatory cross, his crown of thorns replaced with a mass of seething beans. All the juices, all the soups, each diner bearing a calm that we can’t seem to enforce upon ourselves, our hearts festering in pots of their own, the gas-heat turned up way too high, burning to the bottoms.

“Oh my god,” Louisa says, and she’s absolutely right. The best of nervous breakdowns. Of broken spirits stitched with corn silk. We stand. We step toward it, this burbling beast of breakfast. It opens its arms to us like the obese aunt, over-make-upped, over-perfumed, we only see at holidays. This buffet, before we are done, will surely pinch our cheeks red. I feel off-course, having jumped the tracks. I don’t know where to begin. Louisa slaps me on the ass, and rights me with a word.

“Taco,” she says.

Again, she is absolutely right.

 

**NOTE** Please forgive me if I do not respond to your comments.  I am presently on the road for my BAROLO Book Tour.  If I’m coming to your area for an event, I’d love to extend you an invitation!

Tour schedule here: http://matthewgfrank.com/?page_id=101

Info. about the book here: http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Barolo,674189.aspx

Thanks!  -MGF

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Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer (W.W. Norton: Liveright), Pot Farm, and Barolo (both from the University of Nebraska Press), the poetry books, Warranty in Zulu (Barrow Street Press), The Morrow Plots, and Sagittarius Agitprop (both from Black Lawrence Press), and the chapbooks, Four Hours to Mpumalanga and Aardvark. Recent and forthcoming work appears in The New Republic, Field, Epoch, AGNI, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, Seneca Review, Crazyhorse, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, Indiana Review, North American Review, Pleiades, Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West, Crab Orchard Review, The Best Food Writing, The Best Travel Writing, Creative Nonfiction, Prairie Schooner, Hotel Amerika, Gastronomica, and others. After spending over 17 years of his occupational life in restaurant kitchens—from fast-food chicken shacks to fine-dining temples of gastronomy—he now teaches creative writing in the MFA Program at Northern Michigan University, where he is the Nonfiction Editor of the literary journal, Passages North. This winter, he prepared his first batch of whitefish liver ice cream. It paired well with onion bagels.

22 responses to “Breakfast Beast”

  1. The writing here is absolutely great. Very lyrical. Love it.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    Once again, Matthew Gavin Frank, you set the bar so very high with your vivid descriptions.
    I would like to see through your eye one day… I would love to see the world as you do.
    So luscious. So sumptuous. So alive.
    Bravo.

  3. Thank you so much, Zara.

  4. As always, Matthew, wonderful writing. Have a great tour!

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    So much energy in the opening, Matthew. I hate the way your posts always make me hungry for food, but I love the way they always make me hungry for experience and colour in my world.

  6. Thanks, Simon. Eat! Eat!

  7. Joe Daly says:

    Very fun read! Totally related to your noble attempts at Spanish as well. Here in Southern California, I try to throw it out when I can and deep down inside, while I hope they don’t think I’m one of those gringos, I suspect that my efforts reveal me to be precisely that.

    Good stuff. Viva Chicago!

  8. Thanks, Joe. Viva SoCal too, from one gringo to another.

  9. Dana says:

    Taco!

    Gracias.

  10. Meg Worden says:

    “the huitlacoche anniversary, attainable only on the verges, rendering in a smear of its black smut, the others obsolete: paper cotton leather linen wood iron sugar steel huitlacoche huitlacoche huitlacoche…”

    MMMmmm, food as quintessential element. Nourishing on every level, a celebration of love.

    I really think your writing is transcendant, Matthew…your descriptions envelope and take me to a real visceral experience. I am no longer reading. I am there…

    Best on your tour!

  11. Judy Prince says:

    Pure stir of sense-peaks, Matthew.

    Loved thisssssss: ” in a flowing brown dress so diaphanous, she should be our waitressssssss . . .”

    TACO!!!

  12. Erika Rae says:

    This is my absolute favorite thing of yours that I’ve read on here. And I’m still bummed I didn’t get to meet you in Denver!

  13. Thank you so much, Erika Rae! Hopefully our paths will cross eventually.

  14. Dana says:

    If it wasn’t clear Matthew, “Taco” is a huge compliment coming from me.

    I have this weird thing about foods (it appears to be familial) wherein I recall foods consumed to a weird degree. Like the lemon gelato I had 4 years ago, or the pumpkin gnocchi, or the margarita at Luna Maya…

    I will most definitely be ordering your book!

  15. Thanks so much, Dana! That pumpkin gnocchi sounds awfully seductive…

  16. Irene Zion says:

    Matthew Gavin,

    I do love how you write.
    Wish your trip took you to Miami!

  17. angela says:

    now i’m hungry and want to go somewhere exotic.

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