Fiction – The Inquisitive Eater New School Food Fri, 23 Jun 2017 16:00:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 TIE Story of the Month: ‘Hoagie’, by Jack McKenna Sat, 29 Apr 2017 13:00:55 +0000 Dad, you carve eggplants with the sickly kitchen knife, then place the slices onto the sandwich you’ll be feeding me. It’s a hoagie, and when it’s done it’ll be filled with meat, very manly, and topped with a garden of vegetables all cut with the diseased knife. The knife is an old heirloom, brought to America all the way from Germany, and I guess the knife is so old that it’s now grown cancerous. There are tumors jutting out of the blade, leaking the pus. I’m not just if the secretions are from the cancer itself or an infection caused by it. But either way, that is the knife you use to prepare my meal.

The hoagie does not need an oil and vinegar dressing on top, the knife you’re using is providing that liquid with its pus. A thick yellow pus that we both know is infected, even though the Cartoon Network shows have told me my whole life that infected things should look green.

Your hands shake as you cut each vegetable. Your knuckles are thick, knotted tree root knuckles growing over scarred hands. The skin on the fingertips are calloused from years of missed knife strokes during woodworking. You love woodworking, a trait picked up from Grandpa, but you’re terrible at it. Your carved elephant statue stands unfinished in the top shelf of office cabinet. You did manage to finish the birdhouse though, however uneven and misshapen and un-house-like it is. Of course you use the diseased kitchen knife for woodworking too. Those poor blue jay hatchlings probably have to grow up inside pus-drenched nests.

You cough, not bothering to cover your mouth because it doesn’t matter; the sandwich will get me sick either way. You take a shot of whisky. You’re dressed in your favorite AC Moore’s sweater, the plain green one. Bought for three dollars because it was supposed to be drawn on with glitter glue as a craft for children, and yet somehow you still managed to find a sweater too big for your shoulders. It’s clear even to me that you can’t dress for shit. You also can’t cut vegetables either. Your slices are uneven and you cut too much, so now you have to throw out half a pepper.

You pull out the meat tray. Every meat imaginable sits there ready to be served. Cow meat, chicken meat, goat meat, pheasant meat, crocodile meat, kangaroo meat, Red-and-black Grosbeak Cardinal meat, Carolina Anole meat, human breast meat (female), human breast meat (male), humpback whale meat, iguana meat, horse meat; every animal on the Arc died for this meal, and it all came individually packaged and each meat was made of 65% soy substitute, of course. You unwrap the meats unceremoniously and throw them onto the sandwich, but you’ve saved the best for last. You pull out a genuine pig sausage, made from a genuine pig raised on a genuine Amish farmstead. It’s a big sausage. A nine incher. Girth. This you cut slowly, religiously, and you top off the hoagie’s meat pile with the sausage one slice at a time. The fresh pig blood turns the pus pink. When you finish slicing you take another shot of whisky.

You plate the sandwich and place it on the tray table in front of me, so that I can keep watching the television. The television is an action cartoon, with men and laser shooting robots fighting. Men with big muscles, unlike yours. You tell me that if I want muscles like that someday I need to eat lots of vegetables and meat. You say I’ll crave hoagies someday, like Grandpa did. I look at the sandwich on the tray, not touching it. The bread is soggy. I take the top slice off to look at the inside, and wish that I hadn’t. Ripples in the pre-sliced cheese has gathered the pus into pools. It smells like car tires.

I turn back, looking away from the cartoons and the sandwich to look at you. You are in the kitchen, holding the knife in a gentle hug, careful not to cut yourself, but letting the pus leak onto your stomach as you rotate in a small, shuffling circle. You’ve done this ritual every time you put the knife away for as long as I can remember. You’ve always pretended this post-culinary dance is something your father taught you, but I know you find this meditative. This calms your firing nerves, even though you pretend to not need the calming. Will you give me those nerves Dad? That anxiety? That history of depressive episodes and risk for alcoholism?

When you finish, you sit with me on the couch. You put your arm around me. I shift so that I’m not leaning against your pus covered stomach. I can smell the whisky on your breath. You point to the sandwich, encouraging me to try it. I reassemble the hoagie. I take a bite, and manage to bite directly into a pool of pus, which gushes into my mouth and tastes bitter and soapy. I swallow. I pretend to like sandwich as I choke it down, hoping to impress you. You ask me about the cartoon I’m watching, and I tell you about it. You see, the men are inside the fighting robots. You nod. The names and the backstories of the characters seem to confuse you. But you smile though and we keep watching. The channel goes to commercial.


Jack McKenna is a New School student expecting to graduate with his MFA in Creative Writing in May 2017. Previously he completed his undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh in 2014, majoring in English Writing and Music Composition. He has read his work frequently at The Salon Series, The KGB Bar, and at student readings. The recent shift to weirdness in his writing is largely the fault of the excellent advice of his thesis advisor, Shelley Jackson. This is his first publication.

featured image via Gerrity’s.

TIE Story of the Month: ‘Foodie Cultured’, by Anju Treohan Fri, 31 Mar 2017 21:30:58 +0000      For their first date, they met for happy hour. Ben suggested Inde Blu, a classy little restaurant with an Indian inspired—not fusion—menu. Sonia thought it was kind of cute, like– Oh! He’s picking an Indian restaurant because I’m Indian. She didn’t call him out on it. She told him it was a great idea, that she’d never been, and heard the food was tasty.

     It wasn’t what she was expecting. In her 20s happy hour meant sliders, cheese fries, pizza, wings, tacos, chicken fingers, well-drinks, PBR, Yuengling, and shots. But nowadays happy hour wasn’t a food-drink special between five and seven. It was any hour past noon that she could steal with someone, dining on cheese plates, charcuterie, Kobe skewers, sushi, avocado fries, oysters, wine, top-shelf liquors poured straight, and cocktails—cocktails that were not listed on the five-to-seven happy hour menu. But never ever had happy hour meant Indian food, even for her.

     Sonia was walking fastish to Inde Blu recalling the two times she met Ben over the last five months. Once at an exclusive menu reveal party for the much anticipated vegan restaurant on the popular E. Passyunk corridor of South Philly that she was invited to by her new friend, who happened to be his pretty-good friend, Stephen. And again at a Toys-for-Tots fundraiser that Sonia attended with Allison because Allison was four swipe-right dates past desperate for a new social scene. Ben and Sonia had chatted briefly at both events, if one can call repeatedly cheers-ing cocktails and catching eyes while laughing, chatting. Ben was one of those guys that everyone felt warmly toward; he was kind, fun, and classically attractive.

     Sonia was half a block shy to the restaurant when she thought—oh no, what if this turns into one of those nights where our conversation centers around me translating Indian foods and curry attempting to find a decent American-food equivalent. She could just see it: Tandoori chicken is like buffalo chicken. Both are chicken. And red. But tandoori is made with a yogurt-based marinade of ginger, garlic and spices. And buffalo sauce is made of, I don’t know—sugar and hot sauce? Try the tandoori chicken, most people love it.  

     With that exhausting thought in mind, Sonia walked the last half block at a calmer pace, arriving on time, fully prepared to be Ben’s cultural cuisine guide for the evening if that’s how it went down.


     Inde Blu was a long narrow space with a cozy bar at the entrance and table seating in the rear. The interior was contemporary with dark hardwood floors and chandelier lighting. Thankfully, the design team managed to create a relaxed energy without the tackiness of turmeric-colored accents and a playlist drowning in whiny sitar music.

     Ben was sitting at the bar, toward the far right end, with a tall glass of water and the better part of a Bengali Tiger Six Point IPA finished. He was talking with the bartender and smiling aimlessly when he looked her way. His eyes warmed in recognition. Ben held his gaze, easily pulling out the bar stool next to him while remaining seated as Sonia made her way over.  She greeted him with the affection a sideways hug, which he returned with a small kiss on her cheek as she scooted on to the stool and said hello.

     He was dressed well, gray slacks, collared shirt, and crewneck sweater. His hair, dark brown and cleanly combed, was styled the way Sonia had seen before, like a modern Ronald Regan, just shorter on the sides and more severely parted left. His neatly trimmed beard was full but not overly thick, affecting the appearance of a gentleman verses a tragic hipster. Sonia was a total sucker for those preppy guys, and she was getting into this gentleman’s-beard-look.

     Cocktails were ordered, and Sonia allowed Ben to take the lead.

     “I was thinking we would order a few things. Are you hungry?”

     Ben passed her the evening menu. Sonia glanced over the small plates section. “Oh! There’s a lot of stuff that sounds tasty–”

     “They have a great menu, right! I was thinking the naan pizza, the spinach chaat, and shrimp-goat cheese samosas.”

     “Let’s do it!” Sonia shut her menu—and wow! This man knew his Indian food—shame on me, she thought.

     The food was delicious. Ben was a darling. The drinks were the right degree of strong—they each had three by the time it was said and done—happy hour was a success.

     After that night, they weaved into each other’s schedules, making the most of their free pockets of time. Dinner at 11? Sure. I have a ten-minute break before my next meeting, let’s grab tea? Yes. Replying to a text after six hours, not a problem, he/she is busy. I’m working all weekend but have Monday off, wanna drive to the shore for the day? Let’s do it. I can’t make our 3pm lunch– that’s OK, I’m swamped here too!

     Sonia and Ben had made a smooth transition from dating to being in a relationship. But it was early and many things were still new.


     About a month in, Ben called, “Hi babe, how’s your day going?”

     “Not bad, working from home. How about you?”

     “It’s going well. I have an event tonight, but it shouldn’t be too late, hopefully done by 10.”

     “Oh nice. I cooked dinner. Swing by after your event. There’s plenty of food, if you’re hungry.” Sonia invited.

     “Perfect. I’ll text you when I’m wrapping up.”

     Sonia cooked all the time. Ben came over all the time. And they ate together all the time. But, even though it was casual, this would be the first time Ben would come over for dinner.

     Ben arrived at 10:30, knocking-knocking-knocking on Sonia’s door.

     “What’s for dinner!”

     He brushed a quick kiss on her cheek, walking past her, dropping his event-planning bag on the floor, aiming for the kitchen. Ben opened the oven, looked at the stove, eyes and hands ready. He saw the covered Corning Ware dishes on the island counter, peeked inside, covered them again, and looked to Sonia for help.

     “I ate a while back. But, I left the food out for you.” she encouraged.

     Ben seemed to understand. The stuff in the Corning Ware was dinner. “What is it?” he asked. Sonia had cooked a few of her standards: chicken curry, cauliflower with peas, cucumber riata, and white rice. They were basic dishes, recognizable even in it’s Indian preparation, but there were no Yelp reviews or Instagram pics to preface or validate their tastiness.

     He seemed confused. She was confused. Sonia gave Ben some space to adapt to his new idea of dinner. She poured him glass of wine and re-filled her own. Ben picked up a bowl but decided on the plate. Touching the spoon, he grabbed a fork instead.

     “What’s this again?” Unsure, he pointed at the riata.

     “It’s a yogurt mix. It makes the food creamy and cools down the spices. There’re cucumbers in it. Kinda like tiziki on gyros. Or sour cream on tacos.”

     Ben served himself white rice—lots and lots and lots of white rice, two small spoonfuls of cauliflower—no peas, and a huge dollop of riata. He sat down at the kitchen table, shoveling forkfuls in his mouth, eating fast. Sonia was sure he didn’t even taste the food. They didn’t talk about it, the dinner. He finished and joined her on the sofa with the bottle of wine, and the rest of their evening fell into place normally although she went to bed not knowing what had happened.


     To be clear, Ben—Benjamin Bridges, was white. His parents were white. His parents’ parents were white, and their parents were white. At some point long long ago, Ben’s lineage crossed international borders—maybe his origins lay in Italy, Ireland, or Germany, but there was no distinction of that anymore. He grew up in New Holland, PA, a mid-sized township with some grit, twenty minutes northeast of Lancaster and a solid hour and a half west of Philadelphia. This boy was as white as they came. But that’s not to say he was culturally unaware or uneasy in mixed settings. No no—Ben was relaxed and intelligent with all varieties of company: male-female, straight-gay-transgender-drag, wealthy-homeless, tall-short, big-boobs-no-boobs, Christian-Muslim-Buddhist-Hindu-Catholic-Scientologist, black-white-yellow—the kind of guy who could have a beer with anyone, feel like he was in the company of his other-half, and exchange some meaningful dialogue. But social behaviors and paradigms on private archetypes don’t always mirror, and can be jarring when one ideal seeps into the other.


     Sonia woke early the next morning with last night’s meal still laying heavy on her mind. She slipped out of bed, closed the bedroom door, quietly left the apartment and walked to the gourmet deli around the corner. She purchased all her favorites: eggs, croissants, kiwis and peaches, cheese, thick-cut apple-smoked bacon, fresh squeezed OJ, coffee and two chocolate donuts. She returned to the apartment and made a big breakfast, a buffet of American yumminess.

     When Ben peeked into the kitchen, he looked adorable, all happy-eyes and smiling body, “It smells amazing! What’s going on in here!”

     “I’m cooking you breakfast, babe. I don’t think you ate well last night.”

     “I ate well!” He said as he settled on a barstool at the kitchen island, mixing milk and sugar into his coffee.

     “Ben…” Sonia insisted looking over her shoulder at him.

     “I just thought we were having brussel sprouts. And grilled chicken maybe.”

     “Brussel sprouts?” That seemed odd. Sonia continued slowly scrambling the eggs and it began to dawn on her—was Ben foodie cultured? Did he only venture new foods if they were trending? What did he think she normally ate at home? She asked the obvious, “You know I’m Indian right?”

     “But you’re American.” He said slicing the kiwis. Sonia thought he was being cute and slid the eggs in the empty space on his plate.

     “Babe, if I’m cooking dinner, there’s a really good chance it’s gonna be Indian food.”

     Ben was so deep into his eggs and bacon and croissant he didn’t seem to hear her and they finished every last bite of everything.


     Several months into their relationship, Sonia accompanied Ben to a black-tie event for his work. It was a beautiful evening. They strolled around the party, chatted with his colleagues, stole flirtatious moments for themselves, snacked lavishly on crab cakes, filet mignon sliders, mushroom risotto, and drank glorious glasses of dry Riesling. It felt like a scene from a movie, the formality and decadence of it all.

     Hours of socializing passed and the event began to relax; the silent auction table was replaced by a dessert buffet, a coffee bar appeared. They made their way to the patio joining their friends that were lounging on and by the steps, enjoying the cooler night air. Ben sat next to his former boss, Ms. Lisa Stockholm, and Sonia sat next to him. Ms. Lisa Stockholm was a dignified lady, a businesswoman, who lived a colorful life. Sonia was introduced as Ben’s girlfriend, and enjoyed being a mostly silent witness to their fond catch-up session.

     The conversation touched on a business venture that Ms. Lisa Stockholm was pursuing, one that would take her to Bangalore, India for the better part of next year. Ms. Lisa Stockholm asked Sonia, politely recognizing that she was very clearly Indian, which Sonia confirmed that she was, if she had ever traveled to Bangalore. Sonia had and absolutely adored the city, which derailed the general conversation as the two ladies lost themselves for a moment connecting on their loves and annoyances of popular Bangalore culture.  

     Lisa looked at Ben. “You should head-up this Bangalore project for me.”

     “Lisa.” Ben’s voice sounded heavy. “I would love to manage any of your projects abroad, just not Asia or India.”

     “Why not Asia or India?” Ms. Lisa Stockholm asked.

     “I don’t know. It’s so different.”

     “Well of course it’s different. That’s not a reason not to go,” Ms. Lisa Stockholm laughed. “There’s a lot that’s the same as well.”

     “Doesn’t seem like it.”

     “Ben, you know I’m Indian right?” Sonia asked.

     “Babe, you’re American. You might be Indian too, but you’re definitely American.”

     Sonia didn’t know how to respond.

     Others appeared, approaching Ben and Ms. Lisa Stockholm, and the conversation turned again. Sonia’s arm looped around Ben’s, she smiled alongside him inwardly wrestling with her thoughts.

     She was startled—not offended, but uncertain why Ben’s comment felt so impactful—redefining. She had no direct conflict with his statement. He was right. She was Indian. And she was American too. But for the first time she was directly faced with trying to understand how that translated to her romantic relationships, particularly now, being of an age where potential hinted at a serious future. It was a non-issue when she dated Indian guys who were raised in the states; she assumed they were more or less on the same page. And with Indian guys raised in India, she had long ago formulated lines in the sand on what she would protect of her American-ness if their relationship progressed. But now with American guys (guys of a non-Indian, or similar, background), she suddenly felt she was in the aggressor position—what margin of ethnic tolerance did she require, what aspects of being Indian did she want to share and for her partner to embrace, what was irrelevant.

     She wasn’t sure.

     “Babe. I’m going to grab a coffee. Want anything?” Ben asked. Sonia shook her head and he slipped away.

     Sonia watched her boyfriend—kind, fun, classically attractive—stride across the room. She liked his navy blazer and that she was his plus one. Ben got his coffee and stopped by the dessert bar. He popped a mini white-frosted cake square into his mouth and caught Sonia’s eyes.

     He gave her a twitch of a wink.

     She blew him a tiny kiss, from across the way.

unnamed Anju currently lives in Brooklyn and is pursuing her MFA in Fiction at The New School. She is a lover of animal socks, fruits (obsessed), and whispered conversations. And though many cities have been called home over the years, she always seems to find her way back to Philly.

featured image via Grub Street.

TIE Story Of The Month: ‘The Separation of Things’, by Chelsea Wolf Fri, 24 Feb 2017 21:00:02 +0000 When he left, he took the ketchup. I remember looking at it lying on top of a box filled with assorted condiments and packages of Rice-A-Roni and Mac & Cheese. We had bought it at Trader Joe’s the month before. It wasn’t even good ketchup. Not like the specialty eel sauce. This he took. Or the homemade strawberry-peach jam. This he left. No, the ketchup was ordinary at best. It was organic. It was $1.99. I remember looking at it and wondering, “Is this how it ends?”

When he left, we had been cat parents for almost two years. Chris had insisted on kittens. Up at the PetCo in Union Square, their adoption center nicknamed “The Upper Cat Side,” Chris spotted Kit and Toonces immediately. “These are them. These are our kittens,” he said. He was excited and shoved a finger into the cage to try to pet one of them. Together, they retreated to the back of the cage and huddled into one another. I halfheartedly attempted to point out other cats but I knew he wasn’t listening. When Chris made his mind up about something, any attempt to change it was futile.

Their adoption process was notorious for being over-the-top. Chris began to sweet talk the lady in charge. He told her about every cat he had ever owned, including the one-eyed orphan from the backwoods of Virginia to his parents’ big tomcat Morris. He ended his speech with the tragic tale of Curmudgeon, my scrappy senior cat who had passed away that August when a blood clot tore loose from his heart and lodged itself into his spine, rendering his back legs immobile. Charmed, the woman moved our application to the front of the pile.

After a thorough inspection of the apartment, we were deemed fit cat parents. We named them Kit, short for Kitmudgeon, and Toonces after the “Saturday Night Live” sketch about the driving cat. They immediately huddled together and cowered behind the toilet. Two tiny, furry bodies paralyzed in fear, eyes darting around looking for the nearest escape. By the end of that first night, it became clear that we had not adopted the “normal” kittens Chris had wanted. A website that specialized in teaching people how to bond with feral cats suggested that we each sit with them and say soothing words. I lay there for hours, with my head on their level, repeating over and over, “I love you. You’re safe now. I will never leave you. You are home.”

Early on in our talks of getting a cat, Chris decided that we should teach them to use the toilet. Always thrifty, he placed two 13×8 pans, one on top of the other, in the toilet bowl and taped them into place. These were then filled with cat litter. Chris thought they could be taught in a month. Every week he cut a hole, bigger and bigger, until there was almost nothing left of this aluminum-litter-box hybrid. Kit took right to it. Toonces, being much smaller and much more anxious, did not like this set-up. She would cry and circle around the toilet before peeing on the floor. Chris felt no sympathy towards Toonces and despite my pleas, would chase her around the house and back her into a corner before picking her up the scruff.
“No!” he yelled, pointing his finger at the puddle of urine and then shoving her face in it. “No! This is not where you go!”
When he let her go she ran to hide under the bed. I laid down on the floor next to her and we both cried.
“I love you. You’re safe now. I’m sorry,” I told her.
“You don’t discipline them,” Chris told me. “She’ll never learn if you don’t tell her she’s wrong.”


I am thinking of ketchup as he throws his clothes into trash bags and moves furniture into the living room. As he heave-hos the bed down the hall, leaving the cats wide-eyed and afraid. I laid down next to where they were crouching and told them over and over, “I love you. You are safe now. I will never leave you. You are home.” I used to think that ketchup was made the same way as wine. Or rather, how wine was made in that iconic episode of “I Love Lucy.” But that is not how ketchup is made. The tomatoes are buried in spices and set to boil. Once they reach a boil, they are lowered to a simmer, and the whole tomatoes are crushed with a spoon. The mixture is then left to sit, uncovered, for about an hour. Once it has thickened, an immersion blender is inserted to whir the partly crushed tomatoes into a red oblivion. Lastly, it is run through a fine mesh strainer and what remains in the pot is ketchup. The rest can be thrown away.

Sitting on the floor with our cats, I am wondering what happens to the parts of the tomato that aren’t made into ketchup. The stems and the seeds and all of the pieces too rotten for use. Nobody ever talks about that part. About what happens to the pieces of the tomatoes that are left behind. I am wondering all of this as he walks out the door. When he left, he took boxes and bags of our things. Plates and silverware. Wine glasses and mugs. He took the good pepper grinder. And the siracha. The yellow bag of quinoa. The remainder of the packs of instant ramen. The ketchup. The bed. Me and the cats, left behind. Three years, boiled down and reduced to nothing but the separation of things.

Chelsea Wolf is a writer based out of New York City. In her spare time, she writes and performs her own music, takes excessively long naps, and wrangles feral cats. You can follow her on Twitter (@chelswolf) or in real life.

featured image via Channone Arif on Flickr

TIE Story of the Month: ‘The Island’, by Dina Lee Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:00:13 +0000 By the time the ferry docked and they climbed into the taxi, the sun was already at high noon.  Mara knew this island intimately despite having never set foot on it until today.  She knew how high the coconut trees grew, how green the sugarcanes were, how white the wispy haze on the horizon became before a cloudburst.  She knew that women called on neighborhood boys to climb coconut trees in their backyards to harvest the fruit before the nuts dropped on children’s heads.  Do what you like with them, these women told these boys.  Gangs of teenagers stood on the side of roads pointing to green coconuts piled high on the beds of borrowed pickup trucks

Do you remember now, Mara asked her grandmother.  The taxi stopped at the side of the road and Mara handed the driver a five-dollar bill.  He left the car to talk to a teen with a machete tied to his belt.  The driver  came back with two open coconuts with straws sticking out.  Mara handed one to her grandmother.

I don’t, her grandmother said.  It was the first time today the woman spoke.  She’d been mute during the ferry ride.  Her eyes held a hint of panic.

Try, Mara replied.

The taxi soon deposited the women and their suitcases in front of a cafe.

Listen! Do you remember the people, Mara asked.  The talk around them buzzed of the coming heat, recent births and deaths, weddings and divorces.

No, her grandmother replied.

Do you remember your daughter?  I was named after her, Mara said.


She’s to lunch with us before taking us to her home.  What used to be your home.

I never lived here.

Mara guided her grandmother to a seat in the cafe.

You told me stories of rising before dawn to fish with your father.  You’d catch flying fish.

I was never a fisherman, her grandmother muttered.

You’d help your mother grill them for dinner and use homemade hot sauce.  You taught me your recipe – vinegar with bonnie peppers.  You’d make rice with coconut milk.

I wasn’t a cook.

And sometimes, Mara continued, when aunts, uncles, and cousins came over, you’d make coconut ginger bread with your sister.  You said it was the best thing in the world.


Oh, the stories you’d tell.

A curl of scent drifted towards the two.  It was slight, barely distinguished from the salty sea air or the diesel smoke from the highway.  But it was there: a sugary nutmeg, ginger, and coconut essence.  Without ever having tasted it or seen it, Mara knew.  Someone, somewhere, was baking coconut ginger bread.

Oh, her grandmother said, oh.

Mara watched her grandmother close her eyes.  The scent would soon vanish and with it, the memory.  It did not matter.  Mara finally saw what she had been waiting for.

Profile Dina Lee Dina Lee is a second year MFA Creative Writing student in Fiction. She came to The New School with a background in screenwriting and advertising, and is currently working on her first novel.

featured image via Never Done It That Way Before.

TIE Story of the Month: ‘The Potluck’, by Lia Ryerson Thu, 03 Nov 2016 15:00:54 +0000 Last week That Tracy threw a big party and our invitation came in the mail.

Her name is actually just Tracy, and she is my 4th grade class’s Parent Representative of the Month. When I asked my mom why she has never been my 4th grade class’s Parent Representative of the Month, she did that thing where she goes deaf for three minutes and pretends to not understand me.

“My God, Adinah, what’s happening to me?” she croaked. “Is it a fever? Depression? Could I be anemic? Potentially cursed? Hurry—go and bring me a bright light to look at. It might be the hiccups!”

Privately, I bet she didn’t get chosen because That Tracy smells like honeycomb and wears her hair in a long, pretty braid, while my mother processes fish for a living and has a bald spot on her head in the shape of a dreidel.

Dear ZIMMERMANS, read the letter. The thick stationary was blueberry-scented:

To celebrate a successful first term serving as Parent Representative of the Month, I, Tracy Kreul (Milo Kreul’s mother), am throwing a potluck for the 4th grade class alongside my husband, Diedrich Kreul, on October the 22nd of this year. Parents, you are WELCOME here! Kindly DO attend!

            We ask that you please DO NOT bring anything with WHEAT byproducts or gelatin of any kind, due to essence of HORSE HOOVES that Milo can actually detect on his taste receptors. If you do not wish for any of your child’s fellow classmates to EXPIRE, kindly also refrain from bringing snacks that include:

  1. tree nuts
  2. peanuts
  3. egg YOLKS (whites o-k)
  4. corn
  5. soy
  6. shrimp
  7. small seeds
  8. rye
  9. cow dairy
  10. goat dairy
  11. GMOs

            NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!! We cannot wait to host you.

            Yours sincerely,

            The Kreuls

             P.S. An “adult beverage” WILL be served — and it rhymes with O’KREULS 😉

So we packed up the van with three jars of my mother’s gefilte (the matzo-free-gluten-free-egg-yolk-free type), and drove to That Tracy’s potluck, which is a word I thought was like sharing but my mom said is like Bolshevism.

“What do you say, Adinah?” she asked me on the drive. “We drop in for a second, have ourselves a little nosh, and then make like Elijah and ghost.”

“But don’t you want to stay a while, and see the Kreul’s trout-stream?” I asked.


“Their petting zoo?”


“How about their in-home theater? Their botanical garden? What if it takes time before the food’s ready? Don’t you want to taste it all? Milo is always talking about this meal his chef makes their family. He calls it bouillabaisse.

“Gesundheit,” Mom barked.

I don’t know why she gets so defensive sometimes. She’s just defensive. So we finished the drive down the Kreul’s winding driveway, and through their iron-wrought gate toward their manor in silence. Even though my mom’s huffing grew fainter as we approached the front door, I knew that she was feeling flustered—her bald spot was bright red.

I’d wanted to see the Kreuls’ manor for a while, but the potluck was held in one of their four “Depositories,” which I guess is what rich people call their garages. A tall man in trousers named Norman met us at the front door and directed us there.

Out of all the garages I’ve been inside, the Kreuls’ Depository is probably my favorite—it was bigger than my room, with a high, vaulted ceiling and large windows framed by plushy, thick drapes. When we arrived, everyone was slurping from identical bottles of O’Doul’s and admiring the several paintings of what looked like Cheetos on the walls, but actually were family portraits. Over in the corner, the Kreul’s parrot was perched in an ivory cage and wearing a bowtie.

“Some place, huh?” my friend Pat and her dad walked over. He was holding a large glass bowl that contained what he called a seven-layer dip. “I spent four hours constructing this—see these beans? I foraged them myself.”

“Wow,” complimented Mom.

“This is the kinda place you go all out for, you know?”


“I heard the Johnsons brought a vegan-cheese plate,” Pat’s dad lowered his voice, “From the grocery store. And it stinks like rotten tuna, can you believe that?”

Which made me feel kind of bad because that smell was coming from maybe our gefilte fish but definitely Mom. She spends most of her days at the factory, though, so she can’t really help it. Forget having the time to mash and layer foraged beans in a big, fancy bowl just-so; she barely found time to scrape the fishbones out from under her fingernails before the potluck.

“Grab her,” cawed the parrot. “Grab her!”

“Hush, Rasputin!” That Tracy called. “We’ve been trying to teach him the word cracker; he’s almost got it.”

Over in the corner, a man dressed all in white played a large, shiny piano. We had been at the Kreuls’ for nearly ten minutes before the chimes of the music faded; The Depository grew silent. Milo’s father, Mr. Deidrich Kreul, marched in.

The first thing I noticed about Mr. Kreul were his eyes. They were blue, swollen and enormous. His eyelids puffed up above them like big, fat sacks of flour, and he never blinked. His hair was golden, swept over and thinning, and he was dressed sharply in a dark blue suit.

“People,” he boomed, clapping his hands together. “People, people. I’d like to welcome you all to our home. You are now at the best potluck,” he paused, dramatically. “Of all time. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it.

“I hope you’ve all heeded my wife’s warnings. There are a lot of kids with allergies here. Not me, I don’t have any. I have built myself a great digestive tract—and nobody has a digestive tract stronger than me, believe me—and I can eat anything. Meat. Bones. You name it! But Tracy went vegan during her pregnancy, and now Milo has paid for that. He’s got allergies; he’s got intolerances. Total disaster! If you go vegan when you’re pregnant, then your kid won’t be able to eat egg yolks. Mark my words.”

“Oh, you,” That Tracy interrupted. Just like her husband, she had dressed elegantly for the garage; her arms were covered in sparkling, golden bangles that tinkled as she moved. A few of the parents giggled in a way that sounded like gulping. “Boys will be boys—”

“Wrong,” said Mr. Kreul.

“—What a thing,” she finished, laughing. Mr. Kreul cleared his throat.

“Okay, enough. That was just Depository Room talk. Let’s dig in.”

Nobody except Mr. Kreul moved though. He marched over to the buffet table all alone and picked up a spoon.

“This split-pea soup?” he tasted the first dish. “Well, it’s okay, but Tracy and me, we have a chef, and she makes the greatest deconstructed pea foam. Tremendous deconstructed pea foam. We have the best deconstructed pea foam. Delicious.”

The thing is, I’ve seen foam before and it came out of a snail in the sun on my driveway. Maybe Milo’s dad has a better palate that I do, but if somebody had tried to feed me that foam, I’d have puked right there on our Geo Prism.

Mr. Kreul continued down the table to Pat’s bowl. That Tracy disappeared into the manor.

“If I had made this dip, believe me, it’d have a lot more than seven layers. And they’d be huge layers. The best.”

Next the fruit and cashew-cheese platter:

“Raisins are sad. They started off as real winners—as grapes—but raisins? They have no stamina; they let themselves get dehydrated. Low energy. I would never let that happen to me. I’d drink water first. I’d reverse the process. I would Make Raisins Grape Again!”

It was weird. Whenever I complained to my mom about her food, she laughed in my face and told me to go and bang my head against a wall (which doesn’t help, it just hurts a lot); but as Mr. Kreul approached us, I got a sort of weird feeling inside because I knew that if he didn’t like it, Mom wouldn’t yell at him. The only thing worse than when she yells is when she cries.

Just then That Tracy and her billion bangles and rings reappeared. She cling-clanged over to us, carrying a wicker basket full of apples.

“Here are our orchard’s Pink Lady apples,” Mr. Kreul announced. “I love ladies. Especially pink ones. Not nasty ladies. Not Granny Smiths, no way. They wouldn’t be my first choice.” He turned back to our jars.

“Fish?” he said. He leaned down, sniffing into one of our jars. A shekel dropped. “They’re losers.”

Next to me, my mother’s red bald spot turned scarlet. Mr. Kreul continued.

“I don’t eat them. They got caught. I like foods that weren’t caught. Okay?”

But I didn’t say “okay” because that would have been a lie, and lying is what adults do when they want to give children nightmares. Once my mom didn’t want to pay for our electric bill, so she said that the Grinch would come steal me from bed if we strung up Chanukah lights; she told that that just like moths he was attracted to flames.

“You didn’t even try it,” I said.

The Depository’s acoustics were great; the sounds of several parents gasping reverberated across the room.

“I don’t need to try it.”

“Oh, come on. Just do it.”

I got the feeling Mr. Kreul wasn’t used to being told what to do, and especially not in front of so many people. But after a pause he puffed out his lips and picked up one of our fish jars.

“What’s your name?” he asked me.


“Crooked Adinah!” he said. “Women—they’re always trying to feed me. Listen, folks: You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful foods—I just start eating them. It’s like a magnet. Just eat. I don’t even wait. When I’m hungry, my chef just steps back from food prep. She lets me do it. What a nice woman. She’ll show me the pink ladies—I grab them by the stem.

“But I’ll try this food for you, Adinah. Listen. I’m never wrong. This fish is a disgrace.”

He spooned off a generous portion of the gefilte fish and plopped it into his mouth. Then he spooned another bite off. Then another. He swallowed and finished the fish.

My mother cackled.

“Well would you believe it? He loves it. So there you go.”

“I do not.”

“You ate the whole thing, after all that kvetching.”

Mr. Kreul flung out his hands.

“That’s it!” he cried. “The dishonest and so corrupt Adinah and her mother are liars, and they have poisoned the spirit of the potluck. But unfortunately for them, I think you all are seeing through it. You see through it.” He popped another gefilte fish in his mouth.

“Adinah? Big liar. Very, very big liar. Good fish? Wrong. Me enjoying the fish? Never happened. This entire thing is rigged. Rigged. That’s it—crooked women!”

I guess all it took was my mom seeing him eating her fish to snap back to normal, because she walked up really close to Mr. Kreul and put her face right next to his face and then said in this loud voice that rattled the windows: “Mazol Tov on your four garages, you great, big Schmuck!”

Then I yanked our two unopened jars off the buffet and we ran out of The Depository. When we got to our Geo Prism, Norman threw us our keys, and we drove down the driveway and out through the gate before anybody could catch us.

As we drove home Mom started laughing, which was the first time I had seen her smile all afternoon. All of a sudden it didn’t matter that she was never going to be my 4th grade class’s Parent Representative of the Month. She was much more fun that That Tracy anyway, and pink lady apples taste like snot.

When I told her that she went deaf again and pretended to not understand me, but I saw her bald spot go red again, so I guess in the end she had fun.

Lia Ryerson is a Brooklyn-based writer and friendly human girl. She is currently an MFA candidate at The New School.

featured image via Cooking at Debra’s

TIE Story of the Month: ‘Saucisson’, by Ali Osworth Mon, 03 Oct 2016 17:30:03 +0000 Because I’d never driven before, they arranged for a carpool with the music teacher, who lived in the same trailer park I’d moved to. He was young, like me, and dressed like he was pretending to be a professor. I don’t even think his glasses were real. But I guess I was trying to look a way, too, with my pleated skirt swinging like a ringing bell and a pencil stuck through my curls.

He drove an old blue pickup truck he said the high school auto shop fixed up for him at a discount, and it must’ve been a hell of a discount because it still smelled like flood water and the vents blew only hot air, so I rolled my window down right away. We kept passing old, rusty equipment pressed into the craggy sides of mountains. I imagined “rural” meant farms when I signed up for the program. Sweet, family farms and a small white schoolhouse.

“So you’re teaching French?” the music teacher asked. “Yeah,” I replied.

“You ever taught in a school like this before?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I lied. Truth was, I’d never taught in any school before. Just tutoring. After school. I couldn’t stand how fake we both were, in this moment, but I didn’t know how else to be.

He turned right, into a parking lot overgrown with weeds. Heat rose off the cracking tar. We weren’t at the school yet—it was a corrugated metal shack. Painted on a piece of standing plywood were the words Taco Rick’s.

“Pro-tip,” said the music teacher. “It’s cheaper than cooking for yourself, sometimes.”

I reached into my purse and pulled out the clear plastic water bottle I’d filled up that morning. “I’m only drinking juice right now.”

The music teacher raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t that expensive?”

“Can’t put a price on health,” I answered weakly and I blushed at the look on his face because disbelief, that was the look he had on his face.

“Aren’t you gonna pass out?” He followed up quickly with, “It’s pretty hot. I would pass out.”

I shrugged. “Nah,” I said. “I got this.” Because this was my new life. And I was determined to ignore how they didn’t have kale or spinach or anything green except iceberg lettuce at the grocery store and how I had to make my juice with fruit from cans in a barely functional blender in a trailer in a trailer park and I definitely had not thought this all through. Because I had had a vision. I was gonna look a way. Be a way. I was gonna teach some farmers’ kids some French. Rural.

My vision just about evaporated into the heat when the music teacher came back to the car with a tight little breakfast burrito, smothered in hot sauce and nestled in shining tinfoil. I could smell the egg, the potato, the beans. I took a sip of my juice. It tasted like a warm fruit cup. I gulped.

A half hour later, I was in to the taupe hallway, pushing a cart, loaded up with thirteen near- ancient French textbooks, a projector and a tape player, which I didn’t think they even made anymore. One of the wheels was squeaky and dragging and I muscled the cart forward, looking for room 203, which didn’t mean it was on the second floor like you’d think, just in the “200’s” hallway, which is an asinine way to organize a building.

Second grade. First thing, first day, second grade. I consulted my sheet. Ms. White’s class, 203, three times this week for half an hour at a time. Not near enough to learn a language and then next week they’d only have me once. I couldn’t figure out the method. I thought I was gonna have a classroom until the music teacher had set me straight, hot sauce running down his chin and dangerously close to his professorly tie.

I banged the door open with my butt and dragged the car in behind me. When I turned, I stared down into the green eyes of a little girl with straggly, dishwater blonde hair and eyelashes so pale they were translucent. “You have legs like sausages,” she said, and clapped her hands over her mouth as the class laughed. There was genuine surprise in those green eyes, like she couldn’t believe what she’d done, so I smiled even though I felt like I was cracked and breaking.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Cheyenne. Sorry, ma’am.” I flaked some more—legs like sausages and old enough to be a ma’am. Or big enough to be a ma’am. Miss was only for delicate people. But it wasn’t her fault, she was just calling it like she saw it.

“It’s not sausages,” I said. “It’s saucisson. Un saucisson.” It’s a fun word to say and they repeated it to me a few times with enthusiasm. While I shouted it back at them like a demented butcher, I counted. Thirty-five children. I eyed my too-small pile of text books. It was time to improvise with the box of half-broken chalk.

“Bonjour!” I wrote. We repeated that word for a while. Then— “Je suis!”

“Tu es!”

“Il est!”

“Elle est!” And so forth.

At the end of class, if you could call it that, Cheyenne looked up at me, her teeth sticking out in all directions. “Je suis,” she said proudly, “un saucisson.”

I snorted because kids are funny. “No,” I said, “You aren’t a sausage! Tu es une fille!”

“Je suis une fille,” she said back and I was floored. One measly lesson and this child made a sentence. She was marvelous.

Then I had the fourth graders. Room 400, Ms. Jackson’s class. It was a totally different story. There were no exclamation points at the ends of repeated sentences, when I could get them to repeat anything at all. Mostly they sat, drawing on their own arms with gel pens. Some stared out the window. Some passed notes, not even bothering to contort themselves so I couldn’t see, not bothering even to pretend to hide.

I found myself slamming one of the unusable textbooks down onto my cart. “What’s up with you all today?” I asked, loud and angry and pretending I knew what they were like on other days, like this wasn’t the first time we’d ever faced down each other. “You’re performing at a lower level than my second graders!”

A few of them blinked at me. Once. Twice. A boy in the front row raised his hand. “Yes,” I said, glad someone was finally going to take the chalk from my hand and try a conjugation.

“Ma’am,” he said, “with all due respect. The second graders don’t know yet.” “Don’t know what?”

The boy, freckle faced and shifty eyed, remained calm, as though he were the adult and I was the nine-year-old. “That none of us ain’t never going to France.” There were giggles all around—someone chucked a gel pen at another girl, who tried to catch it and missed, provoking more laughter. But the boy remained solemn, wise. I got lightheaded and reached for my juice, downed the last sickly-sweet sip. My stomach grumbled.

I gave the classroom back to Ms. Jackson five minutes early. When I hauled my cart into the hallway, she followed and lightly touched my elbow. “We’re required,” she said and it startled me because I was thinking about how poorly the class had gone.


“We’re required. By the State. To teach at least one foreign language.”

“Then why not pick something—“ I cleared my throat “—something closer to home?” I thought of Taco Rick’s and wondered if they spoke Spanish.

Ms. Jackson turned her eyes downward, toward the taupe tile. “Now that,” she said softly, “I couldn’t tell you.”

Realization hit me in the back of the head like a two-by-four. “I was your only candidate, wasn’t I?”

Ms. Jackson still couldn’t meet my eyes. “Likely, yes.” And that’s how the first three days went.

On the fourth day, I had Ms. White’s second grade class once more. This time, just after recess. I’d come to love the younger students. They threw themselves at things, the second and third graders, with wild abandon. There was hope for them. If me and the music teacher and the art teacher with our carts and hearts, if we all taught them well enough, vigorously enough, maybe they could leave this place, this place with rusting equipment no one looked at anymore.

“Une fille!”

“Un garçon!” And so forth.

I drank my water. Much like the fourth graders, I hadn’t seen any progress with my juice fast. But I figured it had only been three days. Maybe after seven, my face would start to thin.

I felt a tug at my skirt. It was Cheyenne. She smiled up at me and said, “Je voudrais un saucisson.” I near about dropped my chalk. “Very good,” I said.

“What does that mean?” whined the boy sitting, cross legged on the rug, next to her.

Before I could answer, Cheyenne piped up, a smug smile on her face. “I would like a sausage.”

I knelt down so I could look her in the eye, deliver the praise she so rightly deserved. “How did you figure that out?”

“I signed out the computer during recess.” I looked around room 203—there was no computer there. “In the library,” she squeaked. “We can sign it out for five minutes at a time.” She showed me her arm. She’d written, in lime green gel pen, the present and conditional conjugations of the verb vouloir. To want. “Now I just need to memorize it before it washes off. And tomorrow, I’ll get another five minutes!” She was so excited.

“You only get the computer for five minutes?”

“At a time,” she replied. My relief was short lived, because she continued—“There’s only one. So we have to take turns. We can only have two turns if there isn’t a line.” She paused. “There’s pretty much always a line.”

My stomach sank into my saucisson legs. I tried to stand quickly, to hide my dismay from Cheyenne so she wouldn’t get the wrong idea, wouldn’t think it was her. A piercing ring sounded in my right ear and before I could turn my head to see what it was, everything turned purple until, through a tiny porthole, I could only see that eager, little girl face staring at me.

I was looking up at the ceiling and Ms. White’s waif-like face. “Someone go get the nurse,” she said as I pushed myself up on my elbows. I forced myself to smile, feeling bruises and bumps on bits of my body.

“No, it’s okay!” I said. “I just got up too fast.” I didn’t say I’d been drinking nothing but juice for three days. It seemed really silly, just then, that I’d had a vision for myself, that the future could be any different than it was in that moment, on that reading rug, surrounded by children who weren’t going anywhere. Inertia is a force that cannot be reckoned with.

When the day came to an end and the music teacher drove me back down the mountain, I motioned for him to turn left, straight into Taco Rick’s. “Had enough?” he asked.

I wanted to tell him that there was only one computer in the library, that over the course of three days I’d seen one-hundred-fifty students, maybe more, and I hadn’t even gotten to them all yet, that none of them ain’t never going to France. But I didn’t want to show this stranger my soft underbelly. So instead, I said, “yeah.” And, “I’ll be right back.” I pulled the lock up and launched myself up from the front seat.

A man, Taco Rick I assumed, stood behind the counter in the heat. “One breakfast burrito, please.” I felt like I was begging him.

Rick shook his head. “It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, we don’t sell—“ but he held his hands up and stopped his sentence short as I burst into tears. Without any other words, he turned on his heel and began to raid the fridge for eggs. I wiped the tears from my face as best I could and was silent, burrito in bag, all the way to the trailer park.

“You can eat that in here,” the music teacher said gently. “I don’t mind.” But I shook my head, waited until he dropped me at my trailer. It was too hot to eat inside, with nothing but a sorry fan manufacturing an ineffectual breeze. I sat in a lawn chair, one I didn’t own, okay? It was overturned and probably a neighbor’s but it looked abandoned enough, so yeah, I stole a green plastic lawn chair and rigged my umbrella, so big I could’ve never carried it in the city, so it stuck out my window at an angle. And I sat in that lawn chair and ate a breakfast burrito in the middle of the day, looking up at the mountains, the sun glinting off equipment long abandoned. It was hotter than steaming pig intestines and I bit into my burrito and it popped like a zit and it was just as satisfying, all that egg and beans and sausage, and I didn’t care one bit as the hot sauce dribbled down my chin. Not one bit at all.

Ali Osworth is an adjunct at The New School, where she teaches people how to write on the internet. She’s also the Managing Editor of Barnard’s Scholar and Feminist Online and The Geekery Editor for Autostraddle. She’s a huge nerd.

featured image via Christopher Craig on Flickr.

‘Do You Like Pinabora?’ by José García Thu, 08 Sep 2016 15:30:28 +0000 I used to live in a building that belonged to a Pakistani family.

“Welcome,” I was greeted once, after class, by one of the owners. “What’s your name?”

“José, from Guatemala,” I said. Before coming to NY I had spent a week in Miami with other international students so I picked up the habit of adding my nationality whenever I introduced myself.

“Hussein?” she asked, she looked baffled, surprised, almost in shock. “Are there a lot of Husseins in Guatemala?”

I get this pretty often. Apparently there’s a phonetic likeness between the American Jo-sé, or Jou-seh, and Hussein.

The building was in the middle of a deep renovation, so a lot people –mostly Hispanic– came and went. Every once in a while, out in the hallways, there were heavy sacks of concrete or sand, or the pieces of a new armoire.

Aside from the construction workers, cleaning ladies engorged the Latino population of the building. Often I found them laughing hysterically. They all had that unique Latin carcajada: loud, huge, and grandiloquent. “Gud mornin,” they’d say, or “jelou,” or “buenos días,” they’d say even to the English-speakers.

It was with Valeria, from Puerto Rico, whom I talked the most. Valeria, or Vale, was from San Juan and lived in the Bronx with her two daughters. She was 47 and had come to the US in the mid-nineties with her husband, “un desgraciado” she said.

Often I found Valeria munching on some peanuts, crackers or raisins. She always kept a bag of chips in her cart.

“You like to cook a lot, right? I see you a lot out here?” she said to me one day. I shared the kitchen with four other tenants.

“Not really,” I said while I organizing my collection of dishes and frying pans. “But I don’t like to store things in the fridge.”

“I see. Are you going to finish soon? I have to clean.”

Another time she asked me when had I come to New York, if I liked New York so far and I told her I did. “And what do you like about Nueva Yol’?” she said, with an L at the end of York. Boricuas often replace the R for an L.

“Well, the rhythm of the city. The art, museums, parks.”

“It’s your first time here?” I told her it was. “Right. And have you gone to Puelto Lico?”


“You should. You’re from Nicaragua, right?”


“Right, right. Well be careful here, acabo de mopear,” she said, like that, ‘mopear’, conjugating mop as if it were a Spanish word. Mopping or trapear in Spanish became one tropical, heavily seasoned word. Mopping became mopear.

All my meetings with Valeria were like that, brief, incidental and, somehow, always memorable. Sometimes she’d say hi over the loud tronazón of her cellphone, sometimes she’d have Shakira on, sometimes Diego Torres. We never had an actual meaningful chat, but it was nice to speak Spanish from time to time.

One day, while I was reading at the basement, Valeria walked passed by with a heavy basket filled with fruits, vegetables and canned food. She said hi first.

“¿Te gusta la pinabora?” she said. “Do you like pinabora?”

“No,” I said, although I didn’t know what it was.

Pinabora, I said to myself, I had never heard such word. I repeated the syllables in my head, pi-na-bo-ra. That word seemed so distant and foreign, but at the same time it didn’t. What could it be?

I thought Valeria must’ve been talking about a fruit. In Spanish fruits have colorful names such as carambola, rambután, pitaya and guama. I imagined that pinabora was a mix between piña and caimito, maybe. Perhaps it was a traditional Puerto Rican treat, a San Juan delight, a dessert that Valeria might have had as child. I thought about my grandmother, and how she’d often buy me figs at the local mercado.

“No,” I said to Valeria. “Well, I don’t know what it is,” I added.

“You don’t know what pinabora is?” she said.

It has to be a fruit, I thought. Valeria had the same fanatic indignation my friends show whenever I tell them I don’t drink coffee, that I don’t like coffee.

“No,” I smiled.

Among the variety of products Valeria had in her basket, she took out a plastic bottle and handed it to me. “Try it,” she said. “You’re going to like it.”

It was a bottle of peanut butter. I was still confused so I said “pinabora” out loud, or rather, I asked.

“Sí,” Valeria said as she walked away.

I flipped the bottle and read some of the ingredients until I understood and smiled by the amazing flexibility of Spanish, by Valeria’s rhythmic Spanglish.

It was a bottle of pea-nut bu-tter, or, written phonetically in Español, pinot boter, or, according to Valeria’s accent, to her Puerto Rican: pinabora.

“¿Te gustó la pinabora?” she said a few days later. “Did you liked the pinabora? I still can’t believe you hadn’t had it before.”

José García is a second-year Fiction student at the Creative Writing MFA program at The New School. Born and raised in Guatemala City, where he has worked as a cultural journalist for over eight years. He mostly writes about social issues, family, racism, and migration. He is currently working on a short-story collection that spans the last 70 years of Guatemala, alongside his family’s history.

featured image via Anna on Flickr.

Young Eaters: ’12-Year-Old Angry Vegan’ by Lauren La Torre Thu, 05 Feb 2015 19:30:23 +0000 source


12-Year-Old Angry Vegan

by Lauren La Torre

The day Toby died was the day I became vegan.

Toby was my best friend. Okay, it sounds a little lame for a fish to be your best friend, but he was. We were exactly the same age, and I mean we were both exactly twelve. My parents told me that the day they won him at a carnival was the day my mom found out she was pregnant. We even grew at the same rates; as I graduated from bassinet to crib to bed, Toby needed progressively bigger tanks. Every day after school I would feed him and talk about my day. Yeah, I’d be talking to a fish. But the thing is, unlike my parents, he would really listen. He would fix his great globe of an eye on me and look directly into mine, opening and closing his mouth in exclamations of “oooh” and “oh.” He was a way better listener than my stupid classmates.

One day without warning I came home from school to an empty tank. Even worse, my dad had “disposed of the remains” before I had the chance to say goodbye. My parents told me Toby was buried in the yard, but I had heard the flush.

That night I ignored my parents’ calls to dinner; I was determined to stay in my room all night. Hunger won eventually, though. I trudged downstairs to find a glistening whole fish on the table, ribs exposed, fleshy strands hanging in sinews from the bones. But the worst part was the eye: the glistening globule quivering on my dad’s fork. I watched it jiggle as he gestured to me and said: “Glad you decided to join us, Max.” I immediately turned around and retched. Toby was all I could see.

My mom figured it out first. “Oh, Max, honey, I’m so sorry!”

I couldn’t see her, as I was hurling up the little food I had eaten that day, but I heard her clank the dish into the sink. I wanted to love her for that. But I hated them both now, those zombie parents. They lie and are cruel and eat the flesh of the living.
Without Toby I had to turn somewhere else for comfort. Thank goodness for the Internet. As I searched, I realized there were tons of people like me who didn’t want to be cannibals, who wanted to fend off the zombie apocalypse of mindless meat-eaters. I thrilled each time I crossed off my mental list a type of food that my parents used to serve me but I would no longer eat; fish, chicken, red meat, and turkey sandwiches were just the beginning. Did you know that chickens grow boobs with all the hormones they pump into them to make “boneless skinless chicken breast?” Or that they’re kept in diseased cages where they give birth to tons of diseased eggs? Dairy was out, too; who in their right mind injects antibiotics and hormones under a cow’s skin so they produce more milk? How about honey? No way. I mean the bees are dying off as it is. Tell this stuff to a parent, kid, or anyone and they try to avert their eyes and go back to their honey-barbecue chicken tenders. Toby would always look me right in the eye.

I barely ate anything but lettuce and ketchup sandwiches in the early days; I had declared war on everything and everyone in the house. That wasn’t what drove me out, though. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when my mom, supposedly concerned with my lack of fat for a growing boy, spread a layer of butter under my ketchup. As if I couldn’t taste the hormone-laden cow excrement floating underneath? I stormed out of the house, taking a sweater (synthetic, not wool), flip-flops (my sneakers had “leather uppers”), water purifier, and Boy Scout knife. I was heading out into the wilderness for the night. And maybe forever.
I hadn’t gotten far before my flip-flops snapped. Cheap plastic, I grumbled to the trees. I took them both off, because, really, what was the point of doing something halfway?

The polyester sweater didn’t do much to keep my body warm once the sun went down. The thought popped into my head that maybe the woman who used to be my mom had a point about nutrition—I didn’t have the muscle I used to. I ran my hand under my sweater and was surprised to feel my ribs. As the image of the fish carcass flooded my brain, though, any credit I might have given my parents disappeared.

As the twilight blurred my vision, I decided it was time to hunker down for the night. I chose a spot near a stream so that I could more easily purify water, cocooned myself in polyester, and waited for sleep. As I was closing my eyes I saw something glint off the water. It was a fish scale. I opened my eyes widely so my pupils would dilate and peered into the water. Yes, it was a fish. A fish not unlike Toby. He was staring me right in the eye. I smiled, then closed my eyes and drifted to sleep, feeling more at peace with the world than I had ever before or would feel since.

The next morning I woke to see that the sky was dark and the air foggy. Could I have I slept all day, and it was now night? But if I had, why was I still so tired? Something wasn’t adding up. Who did I see just then to cheer me up? That same fish. He stayed. Man, fish are loyal. There he was, looking up at me, just as Toby used to do. I lowered myself to his level and stared into the now-murky water.  He really did look like Toby, I thought: the same speckled band under his chin. A similar scar near the fin. Weird. But cool.

I watched the fish dive and surface, dive and surface. It was calming at first, watching him swim in and out of focus, until I realized everything was swimming—the stream, the forest, the scales. Suddenly, a voice popped into my head. It was my science teacher’s. She had been teaching us about nutrition and the importance of all the vitamins in school, though I had only half-listened. “Some nutrients the body can’t make on its own,” she’d said, “so we have to get them from other sources.  For example, vitamin B12 is found in meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs.”

I realized those were all the foods I had checked off my mental list. I was tired. And my vision was blurry. What if it had been sunny out this whole time and I’ve just been too cold to feel it? This would explain why I wasn’t hungry, why my stomach felt upset all the time, and, frankly, why I was hearing the disembodied voice of my science teacher. But what could I get to eat that would give me these nutrients and was vegan? I tried to move but couldn’t, so my scope was limited. In a moment of desperation, I reached toward the insects crawling nearby, but hastily recoiled. No. Animal. Flesh. If I was going to die I was dying vegan.

The fish stared at me throughout my turmoil, unmoving. A little fish swam near him. He looked at it peacefully. He opened his mouth gently, as Toby always did, and in a gulp, the fish was gone. Just like that. Surely I couldn’t trust my blurred vision. Fish are cannibals?

I suddenly felt more human and less human than I’d ever felt. In nature, death is everywhere, and my parents were just trying to shield me from death in all its forms—Toby’s carcass, the discarded fish dinner, the butter on my sandwich to combat malnutrition. They were not the zombies, it was I who had become the living dead. I grabbed my knife and stabbed it into the fish’s eye. Goodbye, Toby, I said, biting through his raw flesh. You gave your eyes so I could see.


IDphoto face2Lauren received her Bachelor’s degree in English literature from Columbia University, and went on to pursue graduate study at Stanford University’s Ph.D. program in Renaissance English literature. She published an article entitled: “Dar la Luz: Illuminating ‘A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day, Being the shortest day’” in the John Donne Journal, Vol. 28 (2008), and completed her Master’s degree in the Teaching of English at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a licensed secondary school English teacher and substitute teacher who has taught at the elementary, middle, high school, and undergraduate levels, and has also written content for the educational website Shmoop. This past fall she began the New School’s Master of Fine Arts Program in Writing, specializing in Writing for Children, where she hopes to bring her love of teaching and writing together in writing books for young people.

Young Eaters is a series crafted especially for children and teens. This is Young Eaters‘s inaugural post.


]]> 3
Regulators Ban Cod Fishing In Gulf Of Maine As Stocks Dwindle Thu, 13 Nov 2014 19:30:26 +0000  

Foodnews 11.13.14 cod

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is shutting down cod fishing, from Provincetown, Mass., up to the Canadian border, in an effort to reverse plummeting numbers of the iconic fish in the Gulf of Maine…”This is uncalled for,” says Joseph Orlando, a fishermen who trawls for cod off the coast of Gloucester, Mass., just north of Boston. Orlando and a friend had had been looking forward to fishing heavily for cod for the next two months, when holiday demand boosts prices. Now, that’s off the table.


To read the full article please visit The Salt.

December’s Monthly Mix: Migration Mon, 30 Dec 2013 11:00:49 +0000 The Inquisitive Eater fed you three randomly chosen food related words; couscous, dough, and peas. One of our best responses was the science-fiction short by Eli Nunes.  


Dr. Salma Azoulay leaned lightly against a small, circular window. Beyond it lay the dark void speckled with promises and possibilities. One sphere loomed larger than the rest. Home. When she saw it, she wanted to feel memories of her family smiling and laughing over a glass of wine and a bowl of couscous with butternut squash. She wanted to see the sun rise over Earth and to appreciate how few have held this miraculous view of their planet. She could not.

All Salma could see when she looked up were melting ice caps, receding forests, plagues, and starvation.

Climate change, deforestation, genetic homogenization of agriculture; there were eight billion people on Earth and with less food and space than ever before. Already, the average family fought to find enough wheat to make dough.
She turned her gaze downwards. Humanity’s resignation lay before her and it manifested in a final collaboration to build hope for the future. The International Agricultural Moon Base stretched out on either side of the window with its gray tunnels like fingers to the dozens of greenhouses it connected and served.

“Soon, Earth will not be able support our people,” Salma remembered the UN Secretary General’s address to her crew not a full week prior. “You and your team are our only hope. If there’s no life for us out there,” the Secretary pointed to the stars, “there’s no life for us anywhere.”

Salma turned away and left the window to tour the IAMB’s greenhouses for the umpteenth time that day. Since they had arrived on the moon and sown their first seeds, Salma had barely slept a wink. She was too anxious. Earth was a lost cause. Humanity’s future depended on her team proving they could farm on their moon base. If humanity had a future, it lay among the stars.

Greenhouse Alpha appeared as she had left it. Dozens of rows of three by ten foot soil planters lined the floor. Salma loathed the blank brown stuff. She used to love soil for all it magically produced. But after less than a week, she couldn’t stand its sight. Every granule of the artificially nutrient rich dirt was a testament that nothing had yet grown. She feared the unpunctuated brown was as barren as the planet it had come from. Limply, she placed her hands in her pockets and paced around the greenhouse, searching for any sign of hope. She thought of Earth as she ambled, glad the rest of her species lived blissfully unaware that the moon-crops were not yielding.

Salma stopped in her tracks. She almost couldn’t believe what she saw. A break in the brown. She collapsed to the floor and knelt by the infantile flora, caressing it with a finger.

“Peas!” Salma laughed with relief as tear rolled down her cheek.


Eli Nunes is a lover of science fiction in all forms and is excited to begin a journey of contributing to the science fiction community with his first publication “Migration”. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in Political Science in 2011 and now works as a Sales Engineer for a small software company in Boston.