I haven’t seen her in twenty years, but suddenly I am thinking about Laura Thompson. We went to high school together. She was one of my best friends–smart, dryly funny, a little goofy (we all were) open and generous with affection toward all of us in our little group of near-nerds, or, as we were referred to back then, “squids.” (how this term is any different from “nerd”, I do not know.) We all thought she looked like Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink (Disaffected, spunky and adorable!), and that only made us love her more.
Tartar sauce brought my old friend back to me today. Crappy tartar sauce out of a plastic container with a tear-away paper lid, spread all over a delightful chunk of white fish, beer-battered and deep-fried, crisp, oily-not-greasy and just busting with love. God, it was too delicious.
It was lunch time at Wegmans, and there I was, wandering among the yummies. Do I want Chinese food? Salad (no.)? Sushi? A bowl of crab and corn chowder? So many good options, really. No way to go wrong, as it were.
But how to go exactly right? Here’s where I suddenly remembered Laura. My first paid job was at a tiny luncheonette/ice cream shop in my hometown called A La Mode. Laura worked there with me. One of the perks, of course, was that we got to eat as much ice cream and heart-clogging fried food as we wanted. Fish sandwiches were a particular favorite. But that’s not why I ended up with fish & chips today.
What came to me was the relationship Laura had with food, or more exactly, with her hunger. I use that word here–relationship–because it seemed as if she was always in aware negotiation with it. She considered her hunger carefully. She inquired after it. She bade it wait for her. I mean this literally. Lunchtime would arrive and with it, the question of What to Eat. Laura had a system: she would pour herself a very tall glass of very cold water and drink it very slowly. She would think, during that drink, about what she really wanted. What would truly satisfy her. She’d finish the water, then wait yet another five minutes before making her choice.
It was amazing to watch. Like a meditation or a waltz or something else both bodily and spiritual. Even when I was sixteen, I found it powerful and profound. And look, it has stayed with me these many years. I don’t always do it, of course. In fact, I rarely do. But sometimes–like today–I remind myself to slow down and listen to what my body really, really wants. To imagine how something might feel in my mouth, what it might evoke in my heart. I remember that eating (even lunch on the fly in a grocery store) can be gratuitously, immediately delicious and that it can also be fully-considered and transcendently so.