Creative Nonfiction: The Food Issue
By Barbara Genova
Far back as the connected mind stretches, food scared us. It's good! We need it! It's ninety per cent waste! You will freak out vertigo in any superstore you set foot in, because of endless choice and the niggling feel of we should be out there, having a wild time doing crime mid-level drug lord stunts head on. I'm in a superstore, I'm not raiding, I'm not on day four of a speed-fueled knock out spree. Just some loner in a ski jacket dragging her hooves, petrified of whatever awaits next, next. What's outside and what's behind the corner. Have a clear rewind of me standing in the cereal aisle in Zollikon and pressing pause on the apocalypse by the wistful purchase of a single-portion harlequin cereal pack – twelve separate sample boxes from Kellogg's – and that switches the child self back on: you can survive, so you will, remember when there was a future, you dressed up in pink and teal, square neon fleeces, you bared your midriff and prayed for sunlight to dry the fat out, you were beastly and unkempt but maybe, brain hope trick, you wore it, your bones would snap into a fresh combination, stun, your form would spell honey blonde girl.
Pureblood Americans know little of it, tigers do know some of it. White religion kids in Michigan suburbs know nothing of it, no matter how trash their lineage when you slide it under a microscope – well well Kylie, look at this drop of come on your screen, if we break the DNA down you will be shocked and dismayed to learn –
The woman loves arcades and malls if defunct, abandoned or imaginary. She's a hunter. I perceive her ease, the key in the lock smooth, we can be here, it's cool, whenever we step into the limited options zone – gas station sushi our dancing dress: factory sandwiches, triangle shaped; Starbucks dispensers for warm chai lattes; chocolate bars of medium to low quality; two apples, yellow; white yogurt, bitter, smack nice, gooey, acid and solid, works your tongue and your throat for a song if you add lime; lime green, the taste of brilliance; all and more for sale in your average Swiss minimart, with your Mary
Long cigarettes and your small talk on Serbian basketball. This I can do. I can shop in dire places. I can feed myself super fine.
God is grand.
There might be a rule, speak it now: the farther you drift, the more secretive you become about your food. In Zurich we love eating in stealth mode – lunch and dinner from a superstore, wait for the communal microwave, heat it up; ramen and sliced toast are good for park benches. Prohibitive cost of living grinds everyone to flat pancake.
Too much or nothing was the clock rule where I come from. Nothing – carry edibles on you, otherwise they will let you starve. (Had blueberry cereal bars in the bag at all time over the last year, despite being, three two one, a fucking headliner, a main stage guest.) Too much – they lure you to events, invitations and email chains they choke you until you tap out fair okay i'll go, tap tap tap, you get there, no one else does, your host rubs his claws, let's eat! You're supposed to be placated by hundred buck steaks and mushroom spaghetti, hand rolled: you live in fear of sit-down dinners. Or buffets. Those are grim. You have to sit down. Nothing counts. Why are you not smiling. Hell alive is wrong with you.
Never wonder why you don't have this at home: show some respect and hold still when you cross the border North, here you can shop for better food in cleaner stores, they have smoked salmon here, soft pop music playing in the aisles. The soothe. Full refrigerators a chime in the sound of other-people lives. Abundance was amazing when it came to other people's houses, I went quiet in admiration and tingle joy as I watched food reserves, pantry shelves, the Cold War bunker basements used for storage. Another fact to dissect a couple decades down the line: half of my own lived, ate and slept one floor above their own nuclear facility. Glass cage biscuits. Plum cakes. Whipped cream tin cans. Sprite. Laundry detergent. Tampons, individual coral pencil packages. The sedated we've got this domestic front I deemed necessary to have adventures, break in one hundred and into the night you sneak through a garden window. You leave you're nine / you turn blonde, demure seventeen year old soon as
the moon hits.
Blonde is all I want. Break off a chunk of that ice and smoke it, crush some lick the paper dip a smoke in the crumble, fire it up, walk around in the rush of golden bullet good.
Being a beautiful woman was the only future activity to grab my visceral interest as a kid, not to the point I did shit about it – so many treatments so little change, plastic wrapped around me to sweat the fat out, can you believe I laid down in plastic boxes sealed in a skin suit and I exercised pulling levers, metal wires, weights and restraints, it was a rope system – then I got acid injected in my arms, back of the gym stuff, then I got told I needed to laser my forehead all the way off – I did, correctly, intuit the key had to turn different. There was a door to walk through. Once you found the handle, you could get reborn on the other side, a mouth blasted wide open in light.
Beauty is the ultimate speed. It's not the head turn: it's the cold assessment you can. Open the door, walk into a room, any room, bottom lip swipe, say your name is Kimberly Marie Low, room goes, no further questions about the lady's name. That's beauty. That's power.
Bet you can taste the way I look from the way I sound.
Precious few pursuits got me so ravenous (no appetite, it's devotion, dust and ritual) – on redacted everything was future and present a double line to strum, crystal I miss the flood of light keeping a girl walking after 2 am, rain or snow, but blow my god I loved blow as a young one, I loved the hack of getting stoned, chop, the act of chopping lines was a hate thrill with the feel of being made by it – this is a place huh – this motion gathers and defines me in the best white possible way, chop, line, focus on the sequence right here. Action item. Finger smack, gum mouth, slim, short, clack. All about the pause in the middle of the search for a better grasp on reality, a combination so undeniable it would leap you over the confines of the single body, the limitations of the single room, the single life, the inexorable tap tap of the minutes sliding off –
Food and beauty make the day pick up slow down, weave in and out separate cut scenes. Drugs work too. But I've been clean longer than I've been using – using, classic NA parliance, flick it off, let me be spun – and no matter the stage of the drift, I left that particular move in the rearview mirror ten stations past, and drugs are a creature's game anyway – do you want to get blasted when you're technically homeless, no chill-out room on the event horizon, no social interaction without the underneath loom of danger poison get found – can't be safe.
So it's nicotine and honey rides. Letters to write and not to send, you gotta keep that sweet water gushing out. As long as I'm moving love is still a possibility, and the sliver of let me come home can remain bright, the oil lamp on a painted sill.
Barbara Genova (she/they) is the pen name of a former actress/writer who chose to start over after getting stranded in Central Europe during the first of many Covid lockdowns. She's the author of Dirt City, a monthly column hosted by Bureau of Complaint. Selected credits include Hobart, Strange Horizons, Expat Press, Misery Tourism, 433, FERAL, Scissors and Spackle.