Mom’s scalloped potatoes in a creamy grey milky sauce looked like something you’d see coating a Paper Mache monkey, or what I would later realize in an “oh wow” moment, covering the android Ash in “Alien” during his barf and whacking scene (Actually, the scene reminded me of both Mom’s potatoes and spaghetti).
The grey goop sat in a steaming rectangular CorningWare dish with little polka dots of pink spam poking toe-like at every angle. Mom’s cooking was always a sort of building caved in on itself. Splashes of pink in food could have been anything. Anyway, she had cut the spam into brick shapes. Odds and ends. Curves. There was never any real order to her cutting anything. I couldn’t even say her bricks were stackable, which is why they looked like toes.
A big heaping spoonful on my plate meant watching a soupy gooey mess slop off the potatoes, not much unlike flesh caught in a flash fire and falling apart. I figured if potatoes could scream they would. But they didn’t. And neither did I. Not for the first fifteen years of my life anyway.
When I think about Stevie Wonder sitting at a grand piano tink-tink-a-tinkling those keys and singing about whatever is on his mind, I imagine he still sees beauty. There’s still a gorgeous world, right? You know, Mary Ingalls, she imagined beauty too while standing at the window in her family’s little house in Walnut Grove, or on a street corner, just gazing, like pretty stars were everywhere (and big angel wings on everyone). It was all beautiful.
I know it’s just TV. But the blind can see beauty. Yes’m.
Then you take something like food. If you’re blind to the nuances of its varied bland tastes practically your whole life (until you’re a teenager) then you’re really messed up. The good thing is, when I was around fifteen, food became epic as the fast-food nation craze in the Eighties saved my ass. And I have to say, thank God my parents’ relationship fell apart in the Eighties. Mom’s cooking disappeared and Carl’s Jr. was the Buddha. And thank God for Asia Market, because as greasy as that little store’s kitchen noodles were, it was my first foray into exotic foods. Moo shoo salvation.
Back to the Seventies.
Sure, those years often revolved around TV dinners. Little foil trays filled with goodies cooked in the oven. There was lots of Swiss steak. Mountains of it. Talk about another soupy gooey mess. Mom made her version of it too. Only, I’m not sure anything covered it but some weird gravy and onions. And the meat was tough and probably ripped right off the cheek of some cow (Pops was always finding a deal, and he carried lots of big knives and a gun).
Come to think of it, Swiss steak was a real delicacy in our house. As plain as it was and as canned as the mashed potatoes were, it was just a fucking treat. I gobbled the shit like it was straight from some old fat European cook dumped right on my plate (I’m a quarter Swedish. Mom was half. So maybe she loved the Swiss! Wa-la! Wasn’t like she was going to get to sleep with one).
And yes, her delicacy smelled a little like dog food. But that could have been because our fat sheltie’s dog dish was always a big splattered mess under the kitchen table. Every dinner smelled a little like Alpo. Or the generic equivalent.
It was great preparation for the years I worked in a dairy.
Now, Mom’s corned beef hash made me gag. I wouldn’t touch the shit. Give me her crummy attempt at chorizo and eggs anytime over that plate of dog crap. I’m half Mexican… Warning: Never let a white Midwesterner from Iowa cook your family’s Mexican food. You will be fucking screwed up for years. Although, why the hell Pops never complained is beyond me. He ate the shit like he was the dog getting a plate of mom’s salty spaghetti. Our dog, Candy? She wouldn’t touch the corned beef hash either. Poor thing. Probably what killed her in her sleep. I loved the little bitch. But I don’t even know what was in the hash mash, and I refuse to describe its texture, so let’s move on.
A real family delicacy down in the south side of Bakersfield where I grew up could really fill the house (and the neighborhood) with a foul smell. You think Mom’s corned beef hash could turn away a starving army? Or that her chorizo was all that could give an entire ghetto of my Mexican cousins the shits? Try a hot steamy cookie sheet filled with hot dogs carefully sliced down the centers (because Mom took care in slicing her wieners) and then heap (I mean fucking heap) mounds of fake mashed potatoes on top. Take that shit and slam it in the oven for an hour, so that no juice is left in those dogs (By this time every particle is in the atmosphere scaring the little cholos back inside their houses). Then, pull those dogs out of the oven and put those bad boys on the dinner table. That’s where we all sat, Pops at the head in his big wooden chair (us on benches). Once in a long while he blessed the food (Don’t remember what he said because I was usually holding my breath). And then chow time.
You’ve never seen such burnt potatoes slide eagerly down so many throats. I mean, we would have eaten that shit raw Mom’s cooking was so bad.
Oh, man, Pops. He sat there in his shorts (never wore a shirt) with his big brown hairy belly smashed against the table, and he would slop on half a bottle of ketchup. Leaning forward, he ate those bitches like they were some kind of fancy French eclairs some fat fucking Frenchman would buy all warm and tasty on the way to the Paris Metro. And there Pops went, eating three helpings, and the dog whining cause she didn’t get any, and me eating my food, trying like hell to crane my neck to see the TV because the “Wonderful World of Disney” was on and this was a bonafide Sunday evening treat.
I can go on. But I just wanted you to know why I boycott spam, or anything that claims having been scalloped, or chorizo from even the best Mexican restaurants, and most skinny noodles (Mom cooked Fideo and it looked like some poor soul’s brains had been cooked with the meninges melting away into a noodle stew).
Ah, the delicacies. I sure hope it’s dinner time for you. Word to your mother.