Pigs symbolize greed and gluttony, but Pinky can fly, and anything is possible when pigs fly!
Snakes symbolize evil and deception, but Boris is based on the Ouroboros, an ancient symbol of a serpent eating it's own tale that represents the perpetual cycle of self-re-creation!
I hate beets, so when my mom isn’t looking, I slide them off my plate behind the radiator next to the table. Three days later, the house smells pretty bad, but she doesn’t know why yet.
This morning Kierstin Turzo walks right up to me and says, “I’ve been watching you, Jason Mathews Gottlieb. And I know what you do. You pick your nose and eat it!” I say, “No, I don’t. I just bite my nails and pick my nose at the same time.” I’m telling the truth, but she doesn’t believe me.
My brother and I pose for a Pizza Hut ad because my father makes us model for his photo shoots. It’s annoying, but it’s nice to get the attention. He hired another kid as a hand model today, because I always bite my nails down to bloody nubs.
My dad says I’m a picky eater, but I eat lots of different stuff. I just don’t like vegetables, seafood, some fruits, that stinky cheese my mom likes, chili, and capers. Every day after school, I eat a whole box of plain pasta with butter and salt. My chubby babysitter Brenda says I’ll get fat, but I never do.
I just ate a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, even though it always shreds up the roof of my mouth. I like to use my tongue to pull off the torn flesh, although occasionally I need to use my fingers. Sometimes I spit out the flesh, but sometimes I swallow it. My brother says there is a class-action lawsuit against Quaker Oats for this very reason, but I hope it isn’t successful.
The microwaved string beans my dad made tonight disgust me, but he demands I eat a tiny bite before I leave the table. He even takes away my water so I can’t wash the beans down like a pill. We sit at the table for over an hour before he finally gives up. He’s pretty ticked off. Conveniently, my brother and I always go back to Mom’s house on Sunday.
On Sunday, my mom plans the week’s dinner menu on a yellow legal pad, as always. Monday–Fish a la Grecque with Couscous and Asparagus. The menus help her make a shopping list, which is important since she is way too busy to shop during the week. She’s a successful partner at a law firm downtown, but she feels guilty about the long hours. She slips last week’s menu into a filing cabinet under “proof that she fed us.”
I stop at Roy Rogers on my way to school, and the woman behind the counter slips a triple portion of bacon into my egg sandwich, as usual. She winks at me as she slides it onto my tray, and she gives me a long warm smile. My mom often leaves for work before I get up, and cereal is no competition for triple bacon. American cheese melts on my tongue as I walk up the hill to school.
My dad takes us on all sorts of adventures. We explore ice caves, petrified forests, and abandoned coal mines. When we talk about our trips, my dad says, “Jason, all you ever remember is the food!”
The Candy Kitchen smells like hot cinnamon gummy bears, sweet butter creams, and intoxicating chocolate swirls. I look at all the different candies before I make my selection, and if I find a red star on my receipt, I get a free pound of fudge!
After hiking for six hours, we eat, and everything tastes incredible. Food is scarce in the wilderness, so I trade my Funsaver camera to another camper for a can of sardines to spread on my cracker rations. We reach the mountaintop, pour powdered Kool-Aid over snow, and celebrate.
Mom looks exhausted, but she is determined to cook Pork Chops, Mac & Cheese, and Baked Tomatoes. She only makes two tomatoes, because she knows I don’t eat them. The food is delicious, and my brother and I inhale it. I finish eating before my mom sits down and I slip into the basement to watch Dick Van Dyke and eat pie. I hope Brian will stay at the table until she finishes eating, because I don’t want her to be lonely.
I’m terrified, because Danny is projectile vomiting on the rug in the sun room, and I think his guts are literally spilling out onto the floor. I unplugged the phones earlier today to avoid any premature 911 calls, so I am fumbling to put the cord back in the wall, and he says, “I think I’m OK.” I analyze the puke to make sure there are no internal organs, and it checks out. It looks like food for sure, but neither of us can remember what we ate.
Boarding school was my decision, but I didn’t anticipate the cafeteria. It smells bad. People line up like pigs at a trough to be slopped with slimy stinking ooze. I eat lunch in the dorms with Sam instead. He’s even pickier than I am, so lunch is always the same: Velveeta Shells and Cheese. In fact, Sam only eats five things: shells and cheese, cheese pizza, tacos, fried chicken, and sometimes dumplings. Anything else makes him gag if it even gets close to his face. In the dormitory kitchen Sam can cook what he wants. When I’m with Sam, I eat what Sam eats. Sometimes I miss other foods, but Sam is great company. We’re best friends.
I ate donkey last night, and it was good. It was prepared like jerky and was rich and chewy. Maybe it was the novelty or the taboo that made it good, but I felt like I had a new experience under my belt. Donkey? Check! “What other animals are available here?” I ask my brother. My brother once ate a giant pile of bees (cooked), and I was inspired. Before I left Beijing I ate turtle, shark, and something called a dragon’s eye. I couldn’t bring myself to eat a “thousand-year egg,” but I have no regrets.
At the Beijing aquarium, women in mermaid costumes swim in the tanks. My brother pays a guy fifty bucks to let us swim alongside them. We put on scuba gear and jump in. Children and parents peer up at us through the glass. I’m ecstatic. Afterwards, I photograph aquatic life in the tanks. I also took a picture of the large sign above the aquarium cafeteria that says, "Good Flavor Island–Yummy Yummy." They serve fish, and I love that I can be entertained by an animal all day and then eat it. Before returning to the United States, I purchase a large ceramic statue of Mao Tse Tung, which I hit with a hammer and place among the other broken idols in my kitchen aquarium.
We made a gingerbread house for Christmas. Instead of a door, it has a menacing face with jagged teeth. We are burning it down, and the heat is making the marshmallows puff up to twice their size and is melting the candies into glittery goo. The candy is tantalizing in its new form, so I reach out for one of the glistening sugar trees. I go for the green gummy Norway spruce, and I grasp it firmly. The goo is much stickier and hotter than I had imagined, and it instantly bonds to my hand like sap and scalds my skin. I gnaw off the molten sugar to save myself from further burning.
“What’s the weirdest thing you ever fed your kids?” I ask Inna. She says, “Slugs ate all the mushrooms I was growing, so I cooked them the slugs instead.” I say, “You fed your kids slugs!? That’s awesome! And since the slugs just ate all your mushrooms, it’s like they were pre-mushroom-stuffed!” Inna smiles and and nods knowingly.
© Jason Mathews Gottlieb 2013