December 5, 2016

SUN STORY SUNDAYS | Ingredients Like Time And Other Unexpected Outcomes

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This is the final installment of Sun Story Sundays for the semester; stay tuned for more fiction in January. The audio component for this story can be found here.

Ingredients Like Time And Other Unexpected Outcomes

I try not to organize my life into chapters. But there are years when I have time for walks, followed by years of a severe un-grounding of the self and absolute avoidance of small talk.

My friend Tamar says that’s called bipolar disorder.

Enough small talk, I say. Let’s get to the meaty stuff.

What I can control is this:

A run on the Venice boardwalk. A man with a smeared forehead and exposed nipples eats a band-aid. He could be my dad.

Weaving through bongo-players and pot-sellers. Any of these people could be my dad.

My dad flosses twice a day and knows the name of every construction worker on our street. Also, his nipples are rarely exposed. But what I mean is they could be.

Sometimes Tamar runs with me. She tells me about her life in the (underground) L.A. punk scene and shows me her blisters from being a line-cook at an expensive bakery.

When we first became friends in middle school, I was cooler than Tamar. But I gave up my delinquencies and started watching sci-fi television with my dad on Friday nights while Tamar was practicing guitar and honing her inner voice. Now I’ve grown quieter and she louder, but we make a point to run together. It’s relieving to run with Tamar because she knows what’s going on.

After our runs we strip down to our underwear and baptize ourselves in the pacific. Something I never do on days when Tamar isn’t there with me. Her brown head peeks up after every colossal wave. I worry she might float away, but she always stomps back to me through the current and says Ready? nodding towards the boardwalk and our shoes.

So how do you properly mince thyme?

It’s easy, she says. You pick the leaves off the stem and chop.

I’m not so sure, but I’m pretty out of breath.

There are more questions I want to ask her — like how to pickle cabbage, or what’s pecorino all about, but I figure I’ll save those for our next run.

For now, I have her shakshuka recipe to perfect. My eggs keep turning out runny. A gooey layer over the tomato base like I was trying to warm the thing with the friction of a snail’s underside. It slides down your throat like Jell-O.

I joke with Tamar that it’s because she gave me the recipe while running, but I suspect it’s a reflection of my impatience. I’m a precise measurer of ingredients, but I don’t trust timers.

Did you know that there’s a way to make scrambled eggs the best you’ve ever had, super fluffy, but it takes an hour to cook on low heat while you break up curds every time they form?

No, Tamar didn’t know.

I like that sort of attention to detail because I was almost a chef, or a baker. It could have gone either way, and plus, I have the stamina to stand all day, but my hands are soft and blisterless. I’m no Julia Child, but I dabble in raising my own wild sourdough yeast strains and flash boiling tomatoes.

I know that the best banana bread is made by squishing overripe bananas through your fingers and folding in butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking soda, vanilla, salt. I know to shape matzah balls with moistened palms, to add them to salted boiling water for 25 minutes or until it seems like about long enough, to drain them in a colander. I even know when to bring warm soup to a sick friend, like when Itai broke up with Tamar and she couldn’t get out of bed for three days.

After swimming, we carry our shoes and walk along the water. We walk by women with sagging red skin, loose over nutrient-deprived bones. We walk by old men who stare at our bodies. These things are okay, and I move through them untethered. What really gets at me is kids sculpting sand castles, packing down wet sand with cupped palms and digging out moats to fill with seawater.

I want to say, hey kids, scram! or stomp through their unwitting kingdoms. I want to lower myself to their eye-level and say without any affectation that high tide will come twice a day.

Of course I don’t say these things, I just sort of fidget with my watch strap and bite my lip, though on Venice Beach anything goes, or at least until the police come. But that’s not how I was raised.

I ask Tamar, isn’t it silly to make things? When so little of what we do fits together or goes as planned?

She says: nihilism, nice.

I laugh but file away the thought for later.

And after more deliberation I think that maybe she is right. Knowing is nice — the other way is much harder.

Lindsay Borman is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Comments may be sent to associate-editor@cornellsun.com. Sun Story Sundays appears alternate Sundays this semester. 

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