When I’m not writing, I’m in the kitchen. This is, after all, what supports the poetry and the arts. Over the years, I’ve learned this place of knives and cutting boards, this space of ingredient-stocked walk-ins, is a place where I am constantly pushed and tested. Challenged for how good I can make certain items and always pushed, if not harassed, for time. The combination of speed and predilection for achieving goodness in every dish is most desired in a kitchen. It should be highly desired, but, over time, it has revealed politics too is a game changer in this environment. Do you sell your soul, compromise every bit of your integrity for a piece of the pie? It’s just pie… sold at a grocery store near you.
However, today I’m remembering a different type of test. The kind which I didn’t know whether I passed, but one I’ve always felt I failed miserably. Of course, food was involved.
College. Long Beach. Supporting myself for the first time. Money was hard to come by. Worked at the bookstore, studied at night. Every penny reserved for books and tuition. For dinner one night, it just so happened I had 20 bucks on hand just to get me some nachos with carne asada at the corner tacqueria down the street. So I walked over, got in line, paid for my nachos with $10 and some coins as change in my pocket. Just when I was about to walk back to my apartment, a man accosted me. He didn’t have speech to his name nor did he have money which is what he asked from me. His face was brown and wrinkled and his shirt was grimy. I gave him the change I received, but held on to the $10. Based on his facial features, this was not enough for him. I wanted to give him more, but I remembered how I could not part with that $10 bucks. I had to save it. I walked home thinking I had $10 bucks and it seemed wrong trying to save it. And when I realized I had to definitely part with it, I ran back to the corner tacqueria prepared to part with both nachos and $10 bucks. Only when I arrived at the corner, the same unkempt man without speech was nowhere to be found. I searched every street nearby, he couldn’t have gone far. But he was gone. Disappeared.
Throughout the years, the face of this man would haunt me. His gray, curly hair which matched his dirty shirt would enter in and out of memory. He was the one I wasn’t able to give to freely. He was the test and I failed him miserably. This moment in my past would be one my initiations, my rite of passage to food. What ought food to be in this world and, in essence, what ought riches to be used in this world? I’ve collapsed the two together, I know. Food and money are both currencies in this world which we shouldn’t hold on to so tightly, but what I’ve learned is that it must be shared. The path my life has taken, having hoarded so much whether knowledge, the amount of food I’ve eaten or even the amount of poems I’ve held back, everything must be shared.