Recipe for Disaster

by | Apr 9, 2024 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Eight

2014

A very insistent bug clicks rhythmically outside my door. Like rain if an insect were made of rain and able to click. Mid-July in a Florida palmetto jungle, and everything’s alive.

At Our Lady Star of the Sea, when I spoke briefly about my life – in general terms – a woman touched my arm and flew off as if I burned her. You scare me, she said, off in a corner of air. She returned slowly, as if darning the gap, help someone, she said. Help someone every day. It doesn’t matter what that is. Anything. Say hello.

Click click watery click. Maybe it is raccoon teeth on the door or sidewalk. A wet raccoon. A raccoon can take an arm off with his teeth. Maybe it’s a water moccasin slapping its tail on the wet sidewalk. Or a rained-on armadillo clicking its scales like a suit of armour, lots of metal. Like he could just shuck it off and be a whole other creature inside.

Lexa asked, Can you waitress? I explained my terrible waitress story, my you-are-the- worst-waitress-I’ve-ever-seen-but-you-can-live-with-me-if-you-need-a-place-to-stay story. She asked, Can you carry plates? I said, Yes. Little beads of sweat on her face as if she’d been in a sauna or a hot tub. Not beads, more like tiny translucent wings. Lexa’s cooking for us, 30 artists visiting for a few weeks.

I carried plates. Then took my seat at the end of the long table. Lexa said we had to tell the person across from us a recipe and have them write it down. But Tala didn’t want to write mine down. Nor did Chris, and Rita didn’t understand the assignment. So we all just wrote our

recipes down for the community cookbook Lexa was going to make. She wanted us to include an “as told to” with the recipe, but we hadn’t told ours as asked. The only recipe I could recall is the one Janean heard years ago on the radio. I could remember it because it was easy. I called it “nice salad as heard & remembered by Janean Williams on NPR.” I wrote “spinach in a bag, black olives, hard parmesan, olive oil, salt.” Maybe add tomatoes, Tala suggests, dark eyes shining, as if the kindness of a thousand kind people has been poured inside. Her eyes brim with something liquid – light, water.

Lexa came over, held my card. Asks Tala, Did you transcribe this? Tala looks sideways, then asks me, Should we tell her? Lexa said, Assholes, in a friendly way and went down the line of diners, picking up cards. I can’t lie, Tala said. Your life will be better for it, I said. As if I am the voice of centuries, an Oracle in striped maxi dress. She and Rita had just been to Cassadaga, a nearby spiritualist camp also known as the Psychic Capital of the World. Rita had a photograph of her aura taken. Tala had a tarot reading. She lives in Palestine. Her recipe said to bathe the onions. Handwriting small and precise. Mine a scratch of crutches crisscrossed across the page.

I like the idea of a recipe for disaster, I said.

Tala said, That would be pretty bad, if someone wanted a recipe for that.

Or, a recipe to avoid disaster, I said. Though that seemed like a lot of work.  Step one: Help somebody every day. You were a great waitress, Lexa said. It’s nice bringing people food, I said. Even though some diners didn’t even really see me or say thanks, just took their plates, as if I were a real waitress.

***

One of the other artists, Agnes made a break-up video. A man lies on a couch covered with newspapers and a little white dog nestled in his armpit. Shelves surround him, full of many books and cds. While Bob Ross suggests using a bright yellow-green paint, like sun in a forest, and Whisperers make quiet soothing sounds like ruffling a window blind, or running their hands through their hair, and a deep-voiced man says he likes role-play, each item in the room is erased.

First, Agnes outlines the object – a book in thick gray like a dead body map on a street. Once outlined, a crosshatched white erases the thing. On the couch, the newspapers go first, then the dog goes after a voice asks, Did that give you comfort? Then the man himself is gone, just white scales, one on top of another. Another kind of armour. Erasure amour. Once a French student who’d been in my ESL class walked to my desk and sat on the edge. How do you spell knight in shining amour? he’d asked. I’d asked them to write their own version of Woody Allen’s “Death Knocks.” Write their own stories of Death coming to visit them. I belonged to the Book of the Month Club and one month, I’d received two or three books by Woody Allen. This was one of them. A strange assignment to give these English language learners on a summer holiday course. Tell me how death will come to you. The boy’s knight forever now in my memory a heartthrob or at least a flatterer, heartbreaker, his love and outfit shiny. Perhaps the French student had thought that a teacher who would give such an assignment needed the flattery of a young man sitting on the edge of her desk, lounging, asking spelling questions.

The body of the man in Agnes’ video is kind of schlubby, flabby waist. He’s stretched out on the couch sleeping. He’s let himself go. Could this man have been Agnes’ actual boyfriend? Agnes with her spaghetti blond hair and tiny dancer body, who walked over to us in the dining room when Lexa was showing me her rainbow-colored lightweight bra because it was one of her favorite items of clothing, and Agnes said, I don’t wear bras, and looked down at her breasts motioning to their smallness, though they didn’t seem all that small, not washboard or ironing board, more like oranges. She’s not in her 40s, Lexa said, as I tried to imagine my life braless. Would my nipples be visible in blouses/T-shirts? Would I have to wear a tank top underneath? A few days before Magda told me she stuck little flowers over her nipples, so that she didn’t need to wear a bra. I’ll show you, she said. It seemed unlikely Agnes would have not only have been with the schlubby man, but also have been so upset by the breakup with him that she made a video in which she erased all evidence of him and his/their life.  Agnes said all these things happen, but then nothing happens. She made it sound like a recipe for disaster. But which part? Dating schlubby man? The erasing actually sounded like a recipe for averting disaster.  Which did seem like too much work to come up with. So instead I gave a recipe for a salad. But, okay. A Recipe for Averting Disaster – Step 1: Erase Schlubby Man and All Evidence of Your Life Together.  The real name of the video is “Untitled (or How to click until fingers hurt which lets you achieve new dimensions of thought so you can forget”). Break-up video. It would hurt to click enough to erase all those items in the apartment. As each one disappeared, I breathed a little easier. Each erasure making more room.

Tala who showed me her recipe the night before is from the West Bank, and when I’d spoken of wanting to write a recipe for disaster, and she had said who would need a recipe for that, Gaza was being bombed by Israel. I watched the light that landed in a place where people

lived, rising up from buildings. I thought how can they be sure to miss the people? Wouldn’t they be aiming for some kind of site, an airport, a warehouse, stockpile? But it seems they just attacked a regular place with buildings where people lived, and a hundred people died. Tonight Tala reads a poem about a mother shielding the speaker with her body, the mother dying. She says that tires don’t float or don’t sink, I can’t remember. She says that bodies don’t sink at first, or they rise later and have to be fished out like children. I don’t know what any of this means now. I just see a mother who is a shield, armored in front of her child, and bodies floating and sinking and rising. Someone dragging someone to shore.

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