The caricature in my high school yearbook showed me shoving three hot dogs, buns and all, into my mouth at the same time.
I just assumed that, come mealtime, I’d sit down, the food would be there and I’d eat it.
Being the son of a restaurateur, you'd think I'd have known and appreciated
food more than that. Someone like me was supposed to dine, not wolf it down
like a starving man. I suppose, like most teenagers, I didn’t have much time for eating—or anything that didn’t involve learning, sports or my friends. I must
have just assumed that, come mealtime, I’d sit down, the food would be there
and I’d eat it.
At any rate, it took a stint in the US Army for me to realize that food was no
longer something I could—or would—take for granted.
~//~ ~//~ ~//~
It was July, I was at Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training, and I was the lowest of the low. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such an oppressive collusion of heat, humidity, physical exertion and psychological intimidation.
After a grueling day of drilling, marching and physical training, punctuated by verbal and physical harassment, even that staple of institutional feeding, “shit on a shingle” (creamed beef on toast) was looking mighty good to me.
Our drill instructors made us perch on just the
front two inches of our chairs while we ate.
But the powers that be, in their efforts to strip us recruits of any pretense of autonomy, weren’t about to make anything easy, not even a well-deserved meal. In a trick borrowed from the Marines, our drill instructors made us perch on just the front two inches of our chairs while we ate.
You can imagine how hard it is to relax and enjoy a meal with your tailbone grinding on that unforgiving edge, your thighs straining to support some of your weight. The good news was that, at worst, we’d only have to endure the pain for ten minutes; that’s how long they gave us to eat.
And, as if that weren’t enough abuse, the guy serving mess that night (that pimply, gap-toothed guy from Arkansas, drunk with power from his recent promotion to corporal), might have been having a bad day—or maybe just hated you because you went to college—in which case you got only half a portion.
So, as much as I’d have loved to really enjoy those grudging morsels, I learned to shut up and chow down. In fact, if such a thing were possible, I learned to eat even faster in the Army than I did in high school.
The whole experience was about as close to incarceration as I ever hope to get. All the while I dreamed of freedom—especially the freedom to take my time and really savor a meal.
Ever since my last day at Fort Dix, I’ve seized that dream. So much so that a present-day update of that high school caricature would more accurately show me leisurely sniffing the bouquet of those hot dogs. A real lunch laggard, a dinner dawdler, or...no, I've got it: a mealtime mullosk.
Don't they realize the freedom, the privilege, the gift of an unhurried meal?
I see so many poor folks rushing their meals these days, acting as if eating were the last thing in the world they want to be doing. Don't they realize the freedom, the privilege, the gift of an unhurried meal?
Now I’m certainly no connoisseur, so it doesn’t take fancy cooking to please me. But I know good food when I taste it and appreciate the dining experience on many levels. Whether it’s a burger and shake or sake-poached prawns with rutabaga confit, I enjoy every nuance of presentation, taste and texture. Not to mention the good conversation a leisurely meal so often nourishes.
For this I must thank my parents, of course. It was they who set such a good example for me of patience, discrimination and moderation. But I give even more credit to Corporal Billy-Bob or whatever his name was and United States Army for teaching me about freedom.
So...this might be a good time to apologize to my family and friends for the countless aggregate hours they've patiently—and not so patiently—waited for me to finish my meals. I hope this helps explain my odd behavior.