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Steak 'n' Shake

Flow My Tears, The 12-Ounce Can Said

I know it’s generally a lame joke pertinent to pregnant women, but everyone now and then gets food cravings. The thing is, many of mine are recurrent; worse, some of them are totally perverse and shameful. This is fine for kids; kids are supposed to act in perverse ways (though not shameful–that’s for the parents). For a while when I was about three, for instance, I craved nothing more than raw butter. My parents would find me in the kitchen gnawing happily on a stick of butter, and then of course they would hurl me into the dark basement as punishment, which was fantastic for me, because that’s where they stored the potatoes, my other weird, awful craving: raw potatoes. I’m not kidding (except about the basement-punishment, of course); I loved me some raw potatoes. Fortunately, none of these had any lasting power, of course, and I grew out of them in due course. Also fortunately, I also grew out of most of my unfortunate dietary obsessions, such as, for example, my preteen penchant for peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches. (For years I ate these noxious things, until one day I hit upon the brilliant idea of peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwiches. Further proof that children are horrible, freakish little goblins who should be bound in shrink-wrap and kept immobile until the age of eighteen.)

There is one thing I didn’t quite grow out of, at least not totally; almost but not quite, and it fills me with horror to even confess this, but: Spaghetti-Os. I don’t know what to say about this, except that there is evidently some tiny, unkillable node somewhere in my brain that every now and then raises itself from its torpor and barfs up some synaptic whatsis that generates a bunch of electrochemical holy-fuck all over the goddamn place until finally my brain gets it and throws up its cerebrospinal hands and yells, “Jesus, fuck and Liberace, we have to buy Spaghetti-Os again.” I don’t know why, and it’s horrible. Maybe some reptilian olfactory voodoo that’s sitting in my cortex gets all sentimental over this shit, but it drives me crazy; every now and then (maybe every year or two), I get this violent, deep urge to eat some Spaghetti-Os, and I battle with it, knowing that I’m doomed, I’m going to cave in, but maybe this time . . .

No, fuck it, of course I’m not going to win, and I have to go buy Spaghetti-Os. I do this even knowing what a cruel, vicious letdown the experience is going to be in the end; it doesn’t matter. It’s nearly publishable fucking proof of determinism, quite a feat in today’s world of quantum sleight of hand, but there you go: Spaghetti-Os are particles more fundamental than quarks. Fuck you, Murray Gell-Mann.

So inevitably I find myself, a grown man, trudging desolately to the supermarket to buy my stinking can of Spaghetti-Os. You have no idea how embarrassing this is for me, and I don’t make it any easier on myself either, because I’m so psychically shattered by the whole debacle, I don’t even possess the wherewithal to conceal or even mitigate my terrible purchase. I could hide the can inobtrusively amongst a bunch of other groceries, or perhaps kidnap an errant child off the street and force him at knifepoint to pretend to be my offspring, and isn’t it cute how the little scamp loves his Spaghetti-Os? (Smile for the nice checkout lady, or it’s curtains for you and Mr. Boo-Bear.) No, not me: dazed with sad horror over my state and filled with foreboding at my upcoming culinary Waterloo, I generally just shuffle over to the ghoulishly merry wall o’ canned goods, select one solitary can of Spaghetti-Os (with Meatballs! It’s IMPORTANT!), and wander unsteadily to the checkout line and plunk my sad, lonely freight down onto the conveyor belt. What a picture: a beaten, flutter-eyed guy, obviously single and given to gloomy bouts of cheerless masturbation, purchasing his one measly can of Spaghetti-Os, probably bought with the last couple bucks left from his long day of giving plasma down at the blood bank. At least, that’s how I feel. Then I scuttle home with my awful booty, and the real fun begins.

Of course, it’s all free-fall from here on out. I break out the can opener and skreek off the top of the can, and that smell fills the room; I am instantly at war with myself. My kidhood nostalgia (what a great smell!) wages a pitched battle with my adult rational mind (what an unholy reek! please don’t eat anything that smells like that!), but events that have been set in motion are now unstoppable, no matter their violence to reason and judgment. I dump the radioactive wobbly cylinder of jack-o-lantern colored sludge into a pan, where it slumps morosely. A mushy orb of near-meat detaches itself from the mass and makes a break for it, only to bump sadly up against the side of the pan, where it stares up at me helplessly, beaten and afraid. “I’m sorry too,” I whisper, and turn the heat up. Presently, the mass has settled into a dire puddle of sauce and broken pasta rings and meat-lumps, and it bubbles wanly.

I dump it into a bowl and eat it. That’s all, I just eat it, like an automaton, blank-eyed and efficient. It tastes, I hardly have to point out, like it came from some joyless, gray kitchen manned by Strindbergian vampire chefs who evilly suck all the nutrients and decent flavor out of their dishes and then serve them to their doomed, emaciated guests. It’s over. I feel vague relief, coupled with a sense of disappointment that yet again, I’ve lost another battle. The eerie taste-not-a-taste coats my mouth, and will for days. But the important thing is, it’s over.

For now. Reset the clock.

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