Dirty Water Tube Meat

There is something inherently disgusting, yet exquisitely divine about a hotdog. As a New Yorker, I feel it is hard to refuse one, as if you by some unseen force, you are attracted to every dirty-water steam cart you pass by on the sidewalk. Pretzels and hot dogs–and when I say pretzels I mean big, kosher salted, soft pretzels, warm enough to almost burn your tongue. I swear, New Yorkers could live on that diet. Don’t forget the Dr Brown’s soda, with the rat feces flecked across the top and lip of the can. It is as if everything about this operation is unsanitary, filthy, and, unhealthy. But that seems to be the draw. For some reason the cart excuses the unknown ingredients of the tube meat–the chemicals which are poured into the casing, the lips and assholes that are ground together to make nirvana in a bun–because of all this, it is ok.

Now, if you were in a restaurant, and you sat down, that would instantly change the appeal. Could you imagine if you took the cart, and expanded it to a restaurant. The same guy serving you the hotdog, out back as the cook or chef, slinging your food around the kitchen, the same fingers handling money, handling your bun and dog, you would walk out demanding a refund. But there is something inherently mystical about street food, something we just can’t live without. It is as if the pulse of an area is measured by how many food trucks, trailers, and carts can ply their cheap food to the public, without some unknown, intestinal illness, striking the population.

We all love this food, and the cart, well it forgives all this. The big yellow umbrella, it just draws us in. I think it is our inner child screaming to relive the fourth of July, or family barbecues when you didn’t have to host them, but instead ran around barefoot in the yard, chasing fireflies and shooting off illegal fireworks much to your neighbors chagrin. Our inner teen remembers the nights at 7-11, where a buck-fifty bought a big bite, with all the toppings you could get–where the hotdog was lost, awash in a sea of chili and radioactive orange cheese, the greenest, most verdant relish known to humankind floating atop this diarrhea inducing delight. So, I say, here, here, to the most dirty of our foods, handled in the most unsanitary ways, in which we all shrug our shoulders at and say, ‘just one more.’

And then, there is food at a fair……

The Recluse

The man never left his apartment. I swear to you, he never left his apartment. I sat on the stoop that summer, drinking gin and tonics out of a mason jar, the squeezed lime languidly floating in the clear effervescent liquid. The ice rattled as I swirled the perspiring glass around, mixing the drink. The Domino’s pizza man would arrive, and knocking at his door, would flush out my prey, the skittish animal, only to be exposed a second, before scurrying back into his dark hole. It was interesting to watch this man as the heat pounded down on me, the sun circling high above and a listless wind barely twitching a leaf with its frail blow. I sat there, knowing it would be hours before the Chinese food delivery man would arrive, to feed him his nightly meal.

I noticed the first week living in my apartment that the man was a shut in. What first drew my attention to his apartment was the television that was constantly on. Now I don’t make it a habit of peeking into neighbors windows, but it drew my attention. His television was directly in line with the front window of his apartment, and with the blinds not up, but the slats opened, I noticed it was on 24/7 and on ESPN. I found this odd for a few reasons. First of all, have you ever been somewhere and ESPN was on the television, set as a neutral programing for people to watch. I admit it is a good choice. Not offensive, easy background noise, no politics, no debates, no guns or violence, I get it. But, what becomes torturous, what grates on me, is the constant sports update, which is not so much an update, as a 7 minute long repeat the whole day, on every 15 minutes. It is hellish, because hell is repetition. Another odd thing was the television was on, constantly, every day. Now I know it seems like a stretch, but there were many hours that I was up at odd times, and always noticed the electric glow beaming through those open slats. With all that ESPN watching, one must build up an appetite.

After a while I began to notice my neighbor’s eating habits. Always pizza at lunch. Always Chinese at night. Always delivered. I just assumed breakfast was leftovers or the meat from the frozen dead corpses in his basement freezer, I don’t know. All I know is, he ordered take out everyday I was there. It was like clockwork. The kind you could set your watch to. I began to wonder if these two establishments didn’t have standing orders to deliver. I can imagine, at these fast food restaurants, the employee taking his order, again, everyday, again. What must have gone through their minds, as they wrote down his order for the thousandth time? And the delivery driver, what did they think? They never seemed to linger long enough to have a conversation. You would think that constant repetition would build up something of a rapport between them, but money exchanged hands, and they were on their way in opposite directions.

It was as if the sun would kill him. As if the world would snatch him up and devour him whole. I don’t mock him, or pick on him, but curiosity gets the best of me, makes me wonder what kind of life did he lead. You see him, and become used to this. He becomes a regular, a frequent character in your mind, but you know nothing of him, so you begin to fill in the voids. Maybe he is a shut-in with a dramatic and heightened phobia of the world. That if he stepped foot outside he would crumple into a ball of fear and anxiety. Then you wonder, could it be he is in witness protection, and so afraid for his life, that he deems it better alive and inside, then outside and possibly dead. Or, maybe, he is such a sports fanatic, he is a famous sports blogger, who is obsessed with ESPN. So many other options swirl through your mind, but in the end you are left wondering, with no answer to the mystery. But then again, thank god for characters like him, to pass the time on a hot summer day with a gin and tonic in hand.

Occupations

The prostitute whistled back to her pimp, with every loud, echoing clap, of his cupped hands. Out the window I could see a dreary fog hanging in the sky, turning the streetlights into a twinkling luminescence. The neighborhood seemed quiet, an eery pall draped over the old, cobbled street. I could hear the click of her heels on the sidewalk with every step she took, like two wooden blocks being smacked together by a toddler at play. There was a slow rhythm to her gait, and the cadence seemed very methodical, very intentional, as if someone out for a slow, sauntering stroll. Her sundress swished in the moist night, as a cool, early autumn breeze, blew a few dry leaves in her direction. Her skin pimpled from the cold, she rubbed her arms for warmth, as each drop of moisture in the air floated listlessly, separated in the murky light.

A loud thunderous clap, thrice, came from around the corner of the street, and placing fingers to her lips, she whistled a shrill, ear piercing sound, twice, continuing her rounds. The hushed street, her office, and she strolled down the sidewalk, familiar with every crevice, every fissure, which frost had heaved in the concrete surface. Watching her, it was as if she floated down the street, with a subtle and hidden grace. Her feet moved deftly atop the concrete, her heels belying her height, and she moved as if on a fashion runway, toe to toe, head held high, yet she did not exude the confidence that models show. Her head, held high, her eyes gazed to the heavens with a wistful stare, as if she could somehow peer through the fog and twinkling lamplight, to see the celestial bodies above.

Her brunette tipped, blond hair, fluttered in the slight breeze, and bracing herself against the chill, she hugged her chest, rubbing her long bony fingers across her shoulders. She looked haggard, like a skeleton in a loose hanging skin suit, and in the tenebrous light, her eyes seemed to sink in her head, dark sockets void of any life. Jewelry hung from her spindly wrists, almost falling off her hands, the small bobbles and beads seeming to weigh down her spaghetti arms. Somewhere in the distance, masked by the fog, three booming claps reverberated through the mist. Her whole body heaved with an frustrated sigh, and she flung herself onto the concrete wall next to my apartment window. Cupping hands over her face, sobs broke their way through the glass, which separated the two of us. She did not whistle back, but instead, he did. This time a sharp, strident whistle came from the fog, one loud shrill blast. She uncupped her hands and clapped, thrice, and the night went silent.

She sat there for quite a while, the fog, a moist blanket embracing her body. Her hair hung straight and wet onto her shoulders, she sat there, still, in the cool brume of early autumn. Standing up, she slowly wiped her fingers under her eyes, wiping away the mascara, which smeared on her cheeks. With the same fastidious step as before, she moved down the block, a sharp click of each heel. As she moved away from the window, her figure began to dissipate into the fog, but before dissolving into the grey, she stopped under a streetlamp. The dull orange light basked a glow over her, and she seemed to take on a warm feature. From the abysmal night came three booming claps, and placing her fingers to her lips, she whistled to this unrevealed character, and wiping a tear away from her eye, she moved into the consuming darkness.

Her silhouette faded into the dark fume as she moved down the street. Eventually she faded into oblivion, her features all waning from my view. Occasionally, as I sat in that window seat, I could hear the loud, thunderous claps, followed by a shrill whistle. An empty, hollow, despondent whistle.