In the year of 2020, there was the summer of spaghetti.
Throughout 2020 I cooked spaghetti to live and lived to cook spaghetti. Steam rising from the ceramic pot was my pride and joy, tomato sauce simmering in the saucepan my one and only hope in life.
I’d gone to a nearby boutique culinary gadget store and bought a fancy pasta machine and a ceramic pot, big enough to cook a beast in. Then I went around to all the off the beaten path supermarkets that cater to people like me, gathering up an assortment of accoutrements and exotic spices. I picked up an antique Italian cookbook from an acquainted thrift store of mine, and bought tomatoes by the sackful.
I purchased every type of tomato I could lay my hands on, simmered every kind of sauce known to man. Fine, flavor filled particles of garlic, onion, fresh-picked oregano, and hand-pressed olive oil, swirled about, throughout the air, forming a harmonious affinity that penetrated every nook and cranny of my in-law unit, permeating, even staining, at one point, the floor, the ceiling and the walls, my chef clothes, my books, my records, my golf clubs, the kids nerf guns, even my endless bundles of old love letters.
It was a fragrance a man might have smelled on ancient Roman aqueducts during the Renaissance period. That summer of 2020 I cooked spaghetti like it was poetry.
This is a story from the summer of spaghetti, 2020 A.D.
As a personal rule that summer, I cooked spaghetti, and devoured it, alone. I had convinced myself somewhere along the way that spaghetti was a dish best served alone. There is no explanation for the way that I felt, and for that, nothing is wrong.
I always drank beer—cold snacks, to be exact—with my spaghetti, and I would always eat a traditional Caesar salad. It was important to have plenty of both. I’d always make sure that all my needs were mise en place—right where I needed them to be—while enjoying a leisurely meal and glancing over all the mentally exhausting notes from my day, as I ate away at all that spaghetti. From Sunday to Saturday, I lived six different ways to cook up spaghetti. And each and every Sunday spelled spaghetti a different way.
Whenever I sat down to plow through a plate of spaghetti—especially on windy days—I would be washed over with the feeling that someone would soon knock on my door, maybe they could smell the fragrance of tomatoes simmering from miles away. Sometimes I imagined a beautiful stranger, sometimes it was someone I thought I knew. Once, it was a girl, vaguely familiar to one I dated fresh out of high school, she had slender legs and a very particular perfume. And once, it was myself, from 2018, come to pay me a promising visit. Another time, it was none other than a hardly recognizable boy selling his “heart on a sleeve.”
None of those that I mentioned, though, actually made their way into the reality of my living space. They wandered around just outside my door, without so much as a knock, like fragmented memories, lost forever in the puzzle of me, they wandered away, yet within.
May, June, and most of July, I cooked away, as if cooking spaghetti were an act of painful reverence. It was like some lonely, jilted, broken old soul throwing long lost love letters into an ash-filled fireplace, I tossed one handful of homemade spaghetti after another into that brand new pot.
I’d gather up the timeless strands of love, knead them into these various shapes of a gentle beast, toss them into rolling boiling water, and sprinkle it all with salt. Then I would let my mind hover over the steam, oversized tongs in hand, until the time had come for the spaghetti to be done.
Strands of spaghetti are a crafty bunch, and never could I ever let them out of my sight. If I were to turn around without paying proper attention, they might, just as well slip over the edge and vanish into the void of nothingness, or worse, I may overcook the shit out of them, turning it into one heaping pile of mushiness.
Like the wilds of a wilderness waiting to swallow up vibrant butterflies with the eternity of time, the void always waited in silence, waiting to consume the prodigal strands.
Spaghetti alla carbonara
Spaghetti alla parmigiana
Spaghetti alla napoleon
Spaghetti alla tangerine
Spaghetti alla bolognese
Spaghetti alla aglio
Spaghetti alla forgotten
And then there was the sorrowful, nameless, leftover strands of spaghetti, tossed haphazardly into the cold depths of the fridge. Those leftovers were always a dish best served cold. Spaghetti alla revenge. But I have never been fond of leftover spaghetti, as it never reheats well, and was better thrown away to rot in the landfill of the past.
Born by heat, all those strands of spaghetti washed down the river of 2020 and vanished into the void of me.
I pray for them all—every last strand of spaghetti devoured in 2020.
When the phone rang at three thirty three p.m. I was sprawled out on the floor, thinking of waking my ass up, staring into the void of Heaven above. A pool of summer’s afternoon sunshine had gathered with delight by the puddle of me in which I lay. Like a dying caterpillar I lay there, vacant from it all, beneath a sort of 2020 spotlight.
At first, I couldn’t recognize the sound of the phone ringing. It seemed more like a forgotten memory that, without a lack of hesitance, slipped between the simmering layers of an heirloom tomato kissed air. Finally, from the sound I found shape, and, in the end, a phone ringing was, without a doubt, what it was. It was one hundred and ten percent a phone ringing in seventy seven percent real time. Still sprawled about, I reached out my hand, picked up the phone, and slid my finger across her smile to answer it.
On the other end was a voice, a voice so distinct that if unanswered by three thirty four, it might have very well disappeared into the void forever. She was a delicate interest of someone I knew. Something had brought them together, this someone and this distinct voice I knew, and this something that had led them together, had, just as well, led them their separate ways. I, had, I must admit, somewhat played a significant role in bringing them together in the first place.
“Sorry to bother you,” she said, “but have you seen him around lately?”
I looked at the phone, running my eyes down the invisible thread. The thread was, as sure as shit, attached to something not of this world. I managed a half-ass reply. There was an ominous depth in the woman’s voice, and whatever trouble she was brewing, I wasn’t concerned with getting too heavily involved, not today.
“Nobody knows where he is,” she said with a chilly tone. “They’re all pretending they don’t know. But there is something he needs to know, so please—tell me where he is. I promise I won’t drag you too far into this. Where and the hell is he?”
“I honestly haven’t a clue,” I spoke. “I haven’t heard from him in quite some time.” My voice now unfamiliar to my own. I was speaking in regards to the truth about not seeing him for awhile, but not the other part—I knew exactly where he was. Whenever I tell a little white lie, something changes, like the octave of my voice.
The void listened silent.
No comment from her.
The phone went ice cold.
“I really don’t know what to tell you,” I said. “He vanished a while back, without so much as a word.”
The girl angrily giggled. “Give me a fucking break, he may be clever, but he’s not that fucking clever. We’re talking about a guy whom has to make sure his voice is heard, one way or another, no matter what he does, or even if, he doesn’t even try.”
She was right you know. The guy really did have a peculiar brightness about him for being such a burnt out bulb.
But I wasn’t about to fill her in on where he was. Do that, and he’d be on the phone in a heartbeat, giving us both an earful. I was done getting caught up in cleaning up his messes. I’d already dug a makeshift grave in the backyard and was in the process of burying everything about his past that had to be buried. There was no way I could dig it up again.
“I apologize,” I said.
“You don’t like me, do you?” she said out of nowhere.
I couldn’t find the words to say. Go figure. That was a fucking first.
I didn’t dislike her at all. To be honest, there was something about her that I might’ve fell in love with. But I had no real impression of her at all, and it’s impossible to not like someone, or have a negative thought about them, if you have no real impression of them at all.
“I’m sorry,” I said again. “But I’m cooking something up right this minute.”
“I said, I’m cooking something up,” I almost lied. I had no idea why I said that. But that “almost” lie was already a burden upon me—so much so that, at the moment at least, I was opening the refrigerator to gather my mise en place for my Sunday choice of spaghetti—spaghetti a la ding—as the refrigerator light chimed on, came a chilly shiver. At least, that “almost” lie, wasn’t a lie at all, I thought to myself.
But I went on ahead inside my head and filled an imaginary pot full of water, lit an imaginary burner with an imaginary match.
“So?” she inquired, startlingly, still on the phone.
I went on about sprinkling imaginary salt into the imaginary boiling water, gently lowering a handful of imaginary strands of spaghetti into the imaginary pot, and set the imaginary timer for eleven minutes and eleven seconds.
“So I need to run, or else, my spaghetti will turn into a mushy mess.”
Not a word from her end.
“I’m really sorry, but cooking spaghetti’s a delicate operation, especially when you cook with every last ounce of your soul.”
The woman still silent. The phone, frozen in hand.
“If you’d like, you are free to call me back?” I said without much patience.
“Because you’re in the middle of something?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am I am.”
“Are you making it for someone, or do you prefer to eat alone?”
“Tonight, I’ll be eating beside myself” I said.
She held her breath for an eternity. She finally remembered to breathe out. “There’s no way you could know this. But I’m really in trouble. I don’t know what to do.”
“I can tell. I’m here to help you, but not in the way in which you expect that I want too,” I said wholeheartedly.
“There’s something else involved, too.”
“I owe that something, something?” she said. “It lent me something it shouldn’t have, something I didn’t ask for, but it had no choice, I guess He felt that it had too.”
I went quiet for a moment, my thoughts drifting away towards tomato gravy and spaghetti. “I’m sorry. Though I’m sure no one is to blame, and I’m sure it’d be alright if you gave it back to whomever needs it as you are able, and of course, at your leisure. If it was that of a big deal, and if it felt like you owed it something, it is the type of thing that doesn’t come around asking for it back. But figuring these delicate things out takes some time and soon enough it could turn out far better than you could ever imagine. But I’ve got some spaghetti to tend to, so…”
She let out a listless laugh burdened by hints of happiness. “Say hi to your spaghetti for me. I hope everything turns out okay.”
Keeping it simple, “Be good, be happy, remember to breathe, and thank you, for you,” I said.
The other end fell back into the void with a sigh, then a hollow click. The conversation had ended without so much as a goodbye. I listened to the loneliness for another minute within eternity before finally gathering my wits about me.
When I finally hung up the phone, the light had come full circle on the floor, shifting in a spiral direction, I lay down again in that pool of light as it grew, and resumed staring into the nothingness of Heaven above.
I lay there thinking about the simplicity of cooking spaghetti, the kind of spaghetti that boils over in the endlessness of eternity but is never quite done—spaghetti a la eternity—I thought. It’s not as sad and depressing to think about, as much as one would think. For God’s sake—it is just spaghetti.
Now I kind of regret, a little bit, that I didn’t tell her much anything about my reality nowadays, and the sort of friendly feelings I had for her. Perhaps maybe, I should have. I mean, the guy she was looking for wasn’t much to start with—an empty shell of a man with artistic pretensions, a great talker who tends to stutter when he gets too damn excited, a sort of idiot-savant when drunk and someone whom very few seem to trust for reasons he’d rather not understand.
She sounded as if she were really strapped for something that once was of worth to her, and, no matter what the situation is, you’ve got to lend a helping hand to those in need of it, regardless of whether or not you plan on getting it back.
Sometimes I wonder about her, though—the thought usually crawls into my mind when I am about to devour a steaming plate of spaghetti. After we hung up, I wondered, would she disappear forever, sucked away by the strands of time? Were either one of us to blame for playing our little game? Honestly, I feel the answer to both questions is, in fact, no. But then again, what do I know.
You must understand my position, though. The one in which I lay at this moment. At the time, I need not be involved with anyone except myself, and perhaps maybe, once again, I’ll finally sing along with the flutes of me. That’s why I keep on cooking away at this spaghetti, all by myself, in a pot, big enough to boil a beast.
Can you imagine how dumbfounded those ole Renaissance Italians would be if they only knew that what they would be creating in all those ancient little noodle factories, exporting those strands of durum semolina and golden wheat, from Shanghai to Reno, and all else in between that never-ending summer of spaghetti, in 2020 A.D.
Perhaps they’d see one cooking away to the imagination of all of his hopes and crazy little dreams.