How to Be a Chef
Start on a Thursday. Get out the biggest pot in the cupboard and all of the measuring cups. Bring down the flour and the sugar and the Worchester sauce and the peanut butter. Lay everything out neatly and recognize that none of it will stay that way.
Wash your hands and realize that you are wearing sleeves that will drag in the sauce. Go up to the bedroom and change the shirt. Look in the mirror and see that your pants no longer match. Slip them off and admire your underwear. Mourn the fact that no one else has admired them in several months.
Put on old jeans so that you can wipe your hands on them when they are covered in butter. Return to the kitchen.
Hear the phone ring. It is your mother calling to check in, because she hasn’t heard from you in five days. She asks how your dissertation is going. Lie and tell her you have turned in a draft to your adviser. You are an anthropology doctoral student, and have been for five years. This is supposed to be your last, but you know that it won’t be. You can’t even remember the name of the village in Namibia where you gathered most of your data. The experience seems acrid and unfamiliar now, like good wine left in the fridge too long.
You make a mental note to buy wine for the sauce.
Remember the chicken is still in the freezer, and curse your forgetfulness. Hold the phone against your ear and feign interest in your mother’s conversation as you shove aside frozen pizzas and old Bacardi in search of the chicken. Run hot water over it and hold the phone close to the stream. Tell your mom you think you’re breaking up. Hang up.
Return to the counter. Put two sticks of butter in a saucepan and set it on the stove to melt. Unscrew the smoke detector, which goes off every time you turn on the stove. Chop some vegetables.
Open your computer and pull up Hulu. Switch to your email. Then your other email. Answer the message from your aunt about Thanksgiving. Tell her you will bring the apple cider, because no one believes you can cook. Though you have told them numerous times that you make stir-fry and quiche and banana bread all the time now, your family only remembers the time that you put ramen on to boil and forgot about it for two hours while you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They refuse to let you near the kitchen.
Switch back to Hulu. Find a TV show that you like, and mute the computer while the ad plays. Smell something burning.
Run over to the stove and realize that your two sticks of butter are now a crusty brown coating on the bottom of the saucepan. Curse yourself for unscrewing the smoke detector.
Return to your computer, and pull up your email again. Delete the message from your dissertation adviser. Wonder briefly if this is a constructive use of your Thursday, and remember that you don’t really have anything better to do. Most of your friends have found work as junior staffers and admin clerks or teachers or editors in online newsrooms. They lost touch when you went abroad, and you never bothered to call when you returned. Now you feel like you have nothing to report.
You have lived in this basement apartment in Rosemont for two years, ignoring Baltimore and its greasy, crime infested streets except for occasional forays out to Lexington Market for cheap asparagus or raccoon meat or something else you can’t find at Giant.
When your scholarship expired, you did a nude photo shoot at Graffiti Warehouse for 200 bucks. One more thing you couldn’t tell your college friends.
Turn back on Hulu and resume your place at the counter. Measure out two cups of flour and a cup of breadcrumbs. Add garlic salt without questioning what made the salt garlic-y in the first place. Add pepper and imagine a thousand microscopic ants crawling through your batter.
Take your big pan and throw canola oil in it, splashing it on the stove and the counter and yourself. Wipe your hands on your jeans and wonder if the stain will ever come out. Set the dial to three hundred and fifty, then go over to the chicken. Smack the package in frustration when you realize it isn’t thawed yet. Turn the stove burner back off.
Stick the chicken in the microwave on defrost and think about how many pages you could have written about rural-urban migration and water rights in the time it’s taken you to burn some butter and thaw chicken. Not that many pages, actually.
Glance over at the TV program you pulled up and realize you were never going to pay attention to it. Chop some more vegetables. The crunching is therapeutic and makes you feel proficient at something.
Eat some Chips Ahoy cookies and wipe the crumbs on your jeans. When your hands come back greasy from the oil, scrunch your nose up in disgust. Wash your hands with too little soap and wipe the remaining grease on your dishtowel.
Take the chicken out of the microwave and get juice on your hands. Ignore it and close the microwave anyway. Wonder if you can get salmonella from raw chicken. Try to remember the last biology class you took. Get discouraged realizing how long ago you were an undergrad.
Think about your art history major and wonder why you didn’t do something with it. When you declared in sophomore year, your mother looked at you like you were an alien. You mean I’m spending $50,000 a year for you to learn about paintings? She said pretty much the same thing about Anthropology in graduate school.
Slap the chicken down in your flour mixture and send white puffs of coating everywhere. Cough on the dust. And the chicken.
Turn the stovetop on again and wait for the oil to heat up. Knock the dishtowel on the floor. Munch on some broccoli.
Stand far away from the stove and drop the chicken into boiling oil. Recoil quickly, but not fast enoughand burn your arm with the oil. Scream and bite your lip, then run your arm under cold water.
Flip the chicken carefully and wait. Daydream about being Giada DeLorentis and having your own food network show. Daydream about fucking Giada DeLorentis.
Look outside and watch your neighbor roll his garbage can back against the house. He is tall, with dark ebony skin and long, thin fingers like a piano player. The garbage can seems heavy for him and he walks stooped over a bit. Wonder what his name is. You have lived in this apartment for two years, and you have never introduced yourself. It’s not bad manners, you tell yourself, just apathy. He’s just as guilty.
Pull the chicken out and set it to drain. Pat it dry with the last of your paper towels. Throw the dish towel in the laundry basket. Look at the clock: 7:30. Decide the vegetables are just fine raw.
Grab a plate and turn on the television. Watch How I Met Your Mother and eat the chicken. Wipe your hands on your jeans and feel guilty. Wish your anthropology degree could get you near Neil Patrick Harris. Make a mental note to do laundry.
Clean the plates with hot, soapy water and feel satisfied with how full you are. The grease tastes good on your lips. Your jeans are shiny and smell like canola oil. Decide to throw a dinner party. Meet the neighbor. Call your college friends and tell them you make a mean fried chicken.
Bianca Palmisano is the owner of the healthcare education company Intimate Health Consulting and a sex educator based in Washington, DC. Author of the two poetry collections, The Empty Spaces and Will This Be On The Final?, she is a literary creative sponsored by Aois21 publishing. Sometimes heartbreaking, occasionally laughable, but always insightful, Bianca's writings tell stories of personal education and growth through yearning, travel, and loss. Her writing echoes her roots in the queer community, as a DC PFLAG board member and activist for the trans community.