September 17, 2013

Cutting Out the Clutter

When I offer a taste of my meal to my friend Edith at a restaurant, she takes her fork and assembles what she calls "the perfect bite": a little bit of every protein, carb, veggie, and sauce on the plate all in one big lump. I've now learned this technique myself and can assemble the perfect bite for her, offering her a fork instead of the plate itself.

But I, myself, don't consider this type of bite "perfect." It is one singular flavor, a brown mess akin to too many colors of paint combined together. The gravy overpowers the meat; the meat overpowers the greens. (A rare exception to this is the classic turkey / gravy / cranberry / stuffing combo, which makes a great sandwich.)

I like to taste each flavor individually. I like to focus on each one, feeling its individual texture in my mouth, experiencing the slow burn of a hot pepper, the long finish of barbequed beef, the slippery savory of umami, each in their own solitary states. I try my bourbon neat before I add a drop of water or ice (if ever the latter). I request my sauces and dressings on the side. If it were up to me, nearly every meal would arrive unassembled, deconstructed.

I have a hard time concentrating on anything. I've gotten my ears tested multiple times because of my difficulty hearing, but perhaps it is more a difficulty listening (which results in me insisting to see the face of the speaker so I can read their lips, making talk radio a near impossibility).

As a child, the desire to isolate experiences became a near obsession, eating each food group on the plate individually (with the exception of burying the peas in the mashed potatoes to cover their nasty flavor and texture). I ate my Froot Loops and Trix cereal one color at a time. (Yes, they taste different.) I ate the Berries before I ate the Crunch. I saved the Lucky Charms marshmallows for last. I cracked open an Oreo, ate the white filling, and threw the dusty black cookie away.

I find the chaos of modern times confusing, baffling. I am so overstimulated by neighboring conversations, overhead music, and background television noise that I have to either focus on them and only them, or ignore them altogether. Companions always ask me if I overheard what the people at the next table were talking about, or if I noticed what the guy who just passed us was wearing. I never hear it. I never notice. Because I'm not able to isolate them. They're all part of the brown mush of urban life.

I've spent so much time alone now, I have a hard time accomplishing tasks with other people around. People are naturally social, and are uncomfortable with conversational silences if they're around other people. So when I'm working, writing, ordering food, navigating a trip, shopping for clothes, if anyone else is around - whether accompanying me or simply working in the store/restaurant/whatever - they're bound to chat me up at some point. And I lose all concentration - and even memory! - of the event. I leave my sunglasses/keys/cellphone somewhere. I forget where I parked. I get lost.

And I'm a terrible conversationalist, because I'm trying to pay attention to some task at hand.

There's a reason why they don't want you to talk on the phone while driving. It's hard to pay attention to your surroundings with all that talking.

During my semester abroad in London, I could never concentrate on my homework or writing essays while in my flat, surrounded by chatty sorority girls who seemed to be having the best time with their best friends, while I was homesick, losing weight, and learning how to drink too much. I used to escape our overpopulated abode to a fast food joint - Burger King, McDonald's, Pizza Hunt - where I could stay for hours, toiling away at my handwritten assignments. I rode the Circle Line through Paddington and High Street Kensington and Embankment and Tower Hill and Barbican and Edgware Road, twice through until I started losing all sense of reality. I never successfully listened to music through headphones because I always wanted to sing along to the songs I liked. Instead, I would wait until the middle of the night, when everyone else was asleep, when there was nothing else to do but sleep, and listen to the radio for hours, when I could hear every song, uninterrupted.

I like this about spending time alone. I like really tasting my food. I like really reading the menu, not just glancing over it while trying to maintain a compelling conversation and remember anecdotes and historical facts and opinions and jokes and sexy repartee.

I don't fantasize about twins or threesomes or any combination of multiple partners because there are too many lips and limbs to keep track of. It's confusing.

Can we just sit on a bench high up somewhere and look out at the city below?

Can we stare into each other's eyes, and say nothing?

Can we sit beside each other in the front seat, and sing along to the same song?

Can I taste the tequila without the mix? The coffee without the cream?

Can I, for once, sleep without dream?

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