Barbecue


This is where you get to hear the non-fun parts of what it’s like to have a portion of your body progressively cooked. I’m lucky- so far I’ve experienced Barbecue Lite. God knows there are people in this building who are experiencing far worse.

1. I feel tired. A deep tiredness that overtakes around 10 or 11. Sometimes noon. When it hits, if I can, I just need to lie down and sleep. Usually two hours. It’s hitting right now in fact so I’m thumbing on autopilot as I ride BART down to SFO to meet Anna. The tiredness feels as if my bodily reserves are all being enlisting to help repair the damage being inflicted on my neck.

2. Hunger. I need to eat constantly – every 3 to 4 hours, I crave protein and fat. In the mirror today my body was beginning to appear ever so slightly withered as if it was beginning to consume itself. Which it is. CatsM lost 35 pounds and would spend a day nursing a milkshake that killed her to swallow. Losing 10% of your body weight leads to a feeding tube. You don’t want the feeding tube. For me the Maginot line is 135 pounds.

3. Taste. And here’s the rub: I’m hungry as hell, but food tastes like clay. Over the last week it’s felt as if layers of my taste buds have been peeled back resulting in a uniform deadening of taste. I began to lose salt first (soy sauce now tastes sweet. Salami tastes like sweet meat), then some of the more nuanced flavors – cocoa, aromatic herbs – and now I’m even losing the taste of sugar. I had a bowl of grapenuts with milk and bananas this morning and each of the elements tasted the same: clay in three forms – hard, soft, and liquid. Yesterday I had an italian hoagie from the Philly Cheesesteak shop. I’d had one the week before, and truly it was one of the best I’d ever had – these guys really really know what they’re doing. But this time round there was little of it. The textures were all the same, but as for flavor I had to summon it from my memory and imagination. I think of that story from the intense famine of wartime japan. Once a day the members of a particular village would gather in a room and each would be given a few grains of rice. They would place the rice on their tongues and a village member would slowly describe a delectable multi-course meal. Their eyes shut, they would listen to this bountiful feast.

Of paticular interest is water: it tastes like metal. As does butter. As do a lot of things. And I still have sour. And I still have bitter. Which makes me wonder if pleasurable sensations are the gratuitous ones and are hence the ones to leave us first. What remains are the foundational sensory nerves and corresponding pathways – the warning bells and flashing red lights that tell us DANGER DANGER something is going wrong. It prevents us from licking lead (though isn’t lead paint suppose to be sweet? I can’t recall from when I use to eat it as a kid. And antifreeze is suppose to taste kind of nice – that’s why condors go for it) and chowing on arsenic and cadmium. At the very least our tongues need to work well enough to prevent us from killing us. That’s what drove the evolution of taste in the first place – it’s job was to steer us clear of the bad stuff and – as in sex – incent us to steer toward the good. So you peel away the pleasure. And then there’s pain. When all is said and gone, isn’t that usually what we’re left with?

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2 thoughts on “Barbecue

  1. Andy.

    Great writing!

    Tell us another story! How about the one of your historical interst in living in San francisco! It is a great story, you story teller you!
    George

    • This is an interesting one. History, I can tell. And San Francisco I can tell. But both? I’ll need to defer to my friend Leif for that. Except that wait, shit, I think I got this one from him:

      Once upon a time, a long time ago, through a series of ecosystem successions, enormous forests emerged on the eastern seaboard. The first Europeans to experience the woods were astonished at the almost park-like feel – the result of generations of thinning and burning of the understory by generations of the native inhabitants who each spring would clear the woods to make it easier to track and follow game. The Europeans experienced grassy glades shaded by enormous maples and conifers with trunks that were an easy 10 feet in diameter.

      We all know what happened, of course. Over a 100 years all of New England was timbered out – I think Vermont became 98% deforested and the land turned over to sheep and dairy. A chunk of that wood made its way down to Boston and Maryland where it was refashioned into clipper ships, things so strongly masted and engineered that they could cut around Cape Horn with record speed. These were the ships that carried all the miners to San Francisco in 1849, and when they arrived in SF harbor, they would essentially be abandoned because the crews would quit and head up into the mountains to work the gold fields. So all those boats floated amouldering in San Francisco, a forest of masts, a nation of hardwood that was gradually dismembered and refashioned into all the homes that graced this city.

      That was until 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18th, 1906, when the ground shook so fiercely that the city collapsed and the gas lines burst into flames and within days had consumed over 25,000 buildings.

      How was it that those wonderful ancient forests tended by the Algonquin and Abenaki, and tendered by hundreds of years Atlantic nor’easters, came to be consumed in a conflagration on the shores of the Pacific?

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