When Liz and I began dating, I didn’t own plates. Or a bowl, or a fork, or any other utensils or kitchen paraphernalia and I had never—not once, ever—purchased any groceries to place in the kitchen of the home that I—at the time—had been living in for just over six months.
The home was a two-story, four bed/two bath in East Stockton, one room of which I was renting for $400/month, the other three rooms occupied by other renters, none of whom I ever actually met or ever had a conversation with but that I would occasionally catch glimpses of as they darted in and out of their rooms. Each room served as a sort of mini-apartment, with its own lock and key, and my mini-(mini-mini-) apartment had everything I needed at the time: twin bed, closet, bookcase, desk, lamp, a computer and a waste basket and a jug of water and that’s it. Well, and a bottle of cheap vodka in the closet.
The kitchen of this house was a common area, but—because I owned no groceries and no implements with which to cook or eat those groceries—one which I never used or for that matter ever entered, eating every meal (and I mean every meal) at either Jimboy’s Tacos, Jack in the Box, Long John Silver’s, or Panda Express, the last of these—to my mind, at the time—being the healthy choice, because it’s mostly rice and vegetables and stuff, followed in second place by Long John Silver’s, because even though it’s mostly batter that I’ve drenched in malt vinegar, Hey, it’s fish!
But though LJS’s and PE were common stops, my caloric intake was handily dominated—and had been for about the previous decade-and-a-half—by tacos and cheeseburgers, both of which I always order meat and cheese only.
I’ve never been a healthy eater; I gave up vegetables while still in the single digits and my oddly adept metabolism growing up had allowed me to eat as much as I wanted (and then it abandoned me completely eight years ago). These behaviors were compounded when as a teenager I began competing in high school rodeo, and later college, amateur and professional rodeo, all of which required frequent travel, which in turn caused one to frequently frequent food wagons and fast food chains. And gas stations. I ate a lot of meals purchased at gas stations. Some gas stations would have “hot food” usually consisting of chicken strips, potato wedges, and chimichangas, but some didn’t, and my favorite “meal” from those that didn’t was something called The Big Italian, which was just what it claimed to be: a foot long Italian (ham, salami, pepperoni), prepackaged and distributed to gas station food marts nationwide, each one identical—the red hue of the aforementioned meats having shifted to more of a grey, a single jalapeno pepper mashed against the top slice of bread, an addition I generally discarded but the flavor of which, having permeated the sandwich, as through osmosis, over the course of The Big Italian’s travels, I much appreciated. It was this consistency of The Big Italian that made it a favorite; I could always count on finding one, and for better or worse, I could always count on it tasting exactly the same.
In college I was so broke that I often ate three meals a day at the same Carl’s Jr.: either one Spicy Chicken sandwich or two Spicy Chicken sandwiches (99 cents each) and a glass of water (FREE!, unless you count as a cost the shame of having an employee hover about you making sure you don’t fill the little cup with soda).
And so it was when Liz and I got together: we spent one of our first dates—her shock at learning of my eating practices having had time to subside—at the grocery store, where we purchased, along with groceries of course, two bowls, two forks, two spoons, and a pot, returning to my until-then-neglected kitchen where Liz prepared for us a meal of pesto and fruit salad, a meal that I will never forget as it not only kicked off the most memorable—in a good way—summer of my life, filled with many more such meals, and not only merged me onto a path that is probably longer than the one I was on, but perhaps—though I had been employed in the adult world for several years and for the same amount of time had pretended to be one—finally introduced me to and entered me into adulthood.