Sunday, January 27, 2008

Why Hungry

In 1984 I left my hometown with some clothes in a backpack, a new mac card, and my thumb stuck out. I was headed to Seattle to live with high school friends. Powered by Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and Bob Dylan, I was on the road, tangled up in blue, ready to fish for my own trout in the 300 million streams of America. I was setting out in the full regalia of young naivety to discover the world, become a man, and have some fun. Hopefully, a girl or two would figure in at some point. I figured it would take a week or so to hitch to Seattle, I told my post-operative breast cancer mother, and I'll call you on the way.

Amazing, that point in my 17 year old life. I can remember it pushed through the tammis of 23 years, 8400 days. But that day, that June day I stopped by to see my mother in the hospital and had my sister drive me out to the Interstate, that day I cannot recapture in any memory of mine. What was I thinking? How did it feel? I don't think I realized I was bailing on my mother, sister, and brother, leaving them to tilt at cancer, the eventual cause of my mother's death. I would be absent for that healing, as I would always be. I can't imagine what I, today, in my grown up calculus would say about that young man. As a father, I would be disappointed. As a man, angry that the eldest son left at such a juncture, such a point in time where his mettle was to be tested. The leaving, from this vantage point, was a failure. The man that I am now judges that boy and says "You failed." But that coward(?!), that nervous boy, that runner, he became me. Can the tree denounce the seed?

I wasn't some stoned out hippie, lost from family and friends. Just a normal kid, fairly good student, not too much trouble. I wasn't running from a pregnancy, a court date, a bad home. I was happy to depart my hometown, of course, small of course and poor it was as is the American legend. But not running. Not trying to get away and afraid that my actions would disappoint so many around me. Not running.

It was a going towards. A desire. Hungry. I wanted. What? Wanted. More room more memories more space more hope more perspective more food more. Wanted. Not greedy, for the greedy have and need to hold and ache for more. Not desperate, for in desperation hope is lost. Not hopeless on that sunny June morning I walked up the exit ramp onto I-80. Not angry not lost not scared.


My life has been defined by hunger. Hungry for food in our poor, poor childhood. Hungry to feel, to taste, to see, to try. Hungry to make a warm place and secure, to build a stockpile, to have and trust. Hungry.

The many numbered days have been filled with tastes. Some reckless, really foolish, the dirty acid death just missed. Really. Some warm, the soft umami of flesh and peace and love. The salt of blood and sweat with the struggle to make, to land, to be. Tastes of spice and sugar from great adventures in life where the oceans and mountains and sun and rain all existed in that moment to be beautiful for me to scream "Life Is!" and I take it to fill the belly of that day. Nude girls eating seaweed cross-legged on the floor in a circle around my not naked nervousness. My first sushi eaten to get a girls attention. Ingera for the first time - same reason. Krishna kitchens waiting through stupid sermons for free Indian food. Burritos from carts, stolen Baked Alaska eaten over the dish machine, the daily burger practice test of the young grill cook, papusas, the squid cart, dim sum chicken feet, the progression of fluke at Le Bernardin, ribs and ribs and ribs. Crab feasts and Virginia ham and long nights of Barcelona tapas and eating eating eating. Corn and tomatoes, every year is delicious. Ramps. Pig roasts. Tacos.

Eating is best told.