Posted on February 14th, 2013
Somewhere, deep in the more nostalgic regions of my psyche, there is a mausoleum for some of my dear departed friends. It has rooms and hallways and niches lined with shelves to memorialize the loved and lost. But it’s not a particularly mournful or melancholy place–instead it’s kind of wistful, full of sentimental memories and the stuff to launch a million mouth-watering daydreams. Every now and again I spend some time there, reliving good times and soaking in the inspiration of the deceased.
It is where I place the food and drink lost from my life.
There are a variety of reasons these friends of mine were taken from the world. Some arrived in these culinary catacombs long ago, some quite recently. Some were in my life for years before they were placed here, and some just a matter of minutes. But they all have something in common – I ate or drank them, I loved them, and they are gone.
Some of the interred items arrived under rather abrupt circumstances as the casualties of complete and straightforward loss. Discontinued brands, hastily-shuttered restaurants, and the loss of the person who made the item (whether a physical or emotional loss) are among the causes of fatality. Urns are filled with bare remnants, ashes and bones and scraps of box tops, all breaking down as time kills memory. Here you would find, among many other items, my great-grandmother’s tuna noodle salad, Jell-O pudding pops, numerous Ben and Jerry’s flavors, and open-faced turkey sandwiches on egg bread from the Lincoln Del, closed when I was in high school. This overall category of loss is often particularly difficult to bear, since items here are generally unable to be recreated, due to unwritten recipes and secret formulas and specialized ingredients and technical processes. Here, these items find a place of honor.
A second area is occupied by victims of my own personal geography. It is abundant with things ingested while traveling and favorite foods in neighborhoods from which I’ve moved away, all lost to me by inaccessibility. Their remains are accompanied by colors and smells and sounds, and by heat and humidity and snow and crisp fall air and the way the city looked that day. This is a category of food and drink that fuels my wanderlust and dawns many daydreams, and I spend a good amount of time here looking for inspiration. The shelves are packed floor to ceiling with greasy packets of Colombian street food and glorious loaves of Austrian bread, nameless Latin American stews and bottles of Cuban rum, French wine and fresh Prince Edward Island oysters, and thousands of items from cafés with names and locations long forgotten. They share shelf space with my absolutely perfect custom sandwich order from the on-campus diner at my alma mater, the raspberry cheesecake from the coffee shop down the street in Corvallis, chocolate-banana milkshakes from my favorite diner in Minneapolis, and every burrito from everywhere in the vicinity of Los Angeles.
There is another area here for experiences killed by a changing palate. This is a particularly haunting place, the shelves lined with mere holograms of items still readily available. All of these items were once able to elicit a sort of pleasure they no longer do, many of them having been discarded in lieu of more flavorful, sophisticated versions, and for that they’ve earned a space. The shelves here are lined with countless beloved childhood favorites, including Velveeta “cheese,” buttered toast spread with garlic salt, bubble gum ice cream, and mashed potatoes dyed pink with a healthy dose of ketchup. There is also a special shelf here for alcoholic beverages I once somehow managed to drink, mainly in college, that will never again find their way to my mouth but that, at one time, were extremely enjoyable (butterscotch schnapps, anyone?).
There is one last area that is different from the rest, established as a small niche many years ago with a good dose of frustration, and each year receiving a tentative, ramshackle expansion. The urns here are dusty, fully abandoned, hiding away the items no longer available to me because of my own body. It is a body that joyously partakes in everything but that must also face the truths of time and biology, and here sit the fatalities of that process. On these shelves we can find items exterminated by allergies that pop out of nowhere, by the discovery of new and exciting types of indigestion, by the development of strangely heinous hangovers, by a gradually slowing metabolism, and by a variety of the other ailments that will come to pass as I grow older. Under duress, I continue building it, mourning all the while the crab cakes and sugary cocktails and everything else that lies within it.
There are many memorials stashed deep in the halls of these crypts. There are personal bereavements and happy memories and perplexing puzzles, places where I go for creative stimulus and reveries that take me halfway around the world. It is full of friends lost, but more importantly of friends had, and for that I will continue to let it be.