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Spaghetti & Clams

I make spaghetti and clams, but not in the same old way. I don't make spaghetti and clams with the big overhead light shining down from the kitchen ceiling like a search helicopter. I only use the light from the stove, and maybe a candle or something small to add a bit of glow from some far corner of the room. People make food all wrong. They forget that the best part of cooking isn't eating—it's cooking. And if you think I'm a fool, if you think that food doesn't give a damn how it's prepared or what kind of freaking light is shining in the kitchen when it's moving slowly towards its next role in life, its next reincarnation—dude, you're wrong about that.

I open a can of clams. I open another can of clams, I hear them. I sip a tiny bit of wine and drain the juice from the can into a pint glass so I can dump it in the sauce after I slide the chopped parsley in, and I feel good enough, electrified enough by the buzz, by the evening wrapping her arms around me from behind, that I can hear f*cking clams from a can talking to me, trust me.

And what they say isn't all that important. Canned clams, even fresh ones, they talk jive. They don't beg for freedom or anything like that. They want to be eaten. They want to play a part in something big, something meaningful, just like you or me or anybody else. Human beings go around thinking they have the world corned when it comes to feelings and dreams or whatever, but we're just morons. Other stuff is living too, even when it seems like it ain't. Garlic has eyes. Linguine, she watches.

Anyway, the thing is, I make spaghetti and clams and it lifts me up. I put on my jazz, I keep the lights low, I peck at the wine in my glass. Nothing can touch me when I cook this meal. A small plane could crash into the side of the house and I wouldn't stop my slow stirring. I'd just take a small splash of wine and let it roll down my throat and dig what I'm feeling inside.

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Here's the thing though. I've made this meal, I've done this spaghetti and clams thing hundreds of times over the last decade. But I've only ever cooked it for Monica. Maybe I cooked it a time or two when some guests were over, but Monica was always there, you know? It became one of those things that I did for me, but also for her. I'd never cook spaghetti and clams by myself. I mean, I couldn't. I'd miss her too much and every bite would taste like some other time, some other evening long since come and gone, when we would sit there on the couch slurping the limp pasta off our forks as it tried to slither its way back down into the sauce pond on plate.

I let the jazz float up into the air above my head and it makes me higher than all the dope in the land, drunker than all the wine in the kingdom, as I take two plates out of the cabinet, one for me, one for her.

I'd always wait, sometimes interminably, for her to say the words she'd ultimately say. She never gushes unless she's drunk. She doesn't heap praise over to my side of the couch with every damn bite because:

a) she doesn't roll that way


b) she knows, subconsciously, that I want her to say it, to praise the f-ing meal, and she likes to make me wait, I think.

It was a dance. A spaghetti and clams dance between me and her, between her and the only person in the world who had connected the very art and practice of preparing and then downing a certain meal with her very existence. With her very presence in his evening, in his world.

We split up and I never even bought a can of clams. Never even looked at one. To hell with them, I thought. I can't go down that road. It's an oddity in a sense, I suppose, to be immediately haunted by a woman so strongly the instant you snap the can opener into a three-dollar can of dead, chopped shellfish, but there you go. Love is an oddity. Lost love is a plastic shake bottle of parmesan cheese that talks to you when you drink wine.

I don't even know what that means. But I know it to be true, OK? Believe me—there is a lot of wordless writing going on here.

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Time went on and you know how it goes with these things. I never made spaghetti and clams because I loved it too much because it was me and her and now it wasn't. I never smelled the garlic heating up in the olive oil anymore. I never bought jars of clam juice down at the Walmart. I didn't do any of it and I missed all of it and that sucked, but slowly, over time, you let things slide away from you. You begin to forget what you never dreamed you'd forget.

I switched to rigatoni. Alone. Rigatoni All Aloni. Ha. I made marinara instead of clam sauce and I kept the lights low, played the jazz, the whole thing, but, yeah. It wasn't the same. You can't replace someone sitting there in the other room, sipping her wine, hungry, staring at the TV, someone wildly special waiting patiently for you to get through your whole preparation waltz, waiting happily for you to move down through your own personal Tommy Lasorda trip until you finally snap out of it and serve her your finest.

You can't eat magic food by yourself and expect it to be anything but lonesome and weird, really.

But the galaxy has a funny way of steering you around, man. And I'm cooking the spaghetti and clams again, here and there. It feels so good, too. I can't even tell you. It's scary and uncertain and all, I guess, but at the same time, I can't lie to you:

I stand there in that kitchen with the lights twisted low and the garlic hissing in the oil and I let the wine slip down into the fire that has always burned inside me, and I look at myself in the reflection of the window above the sink, a window which—if I were to shatter the glass and crawl out into the cold, cold night—I could just start walking straight into the darkness and never ever look back and I could be very, very far away from everything and everyone in two or three dawns, and I shake the box of linguine side to side like an instrument, like a shaker or a maraca, and I let the jazz float up into the air above my head and it makes me higher than all the dope in the land, drunker than all the wine in the kingdom, as I take two plates out of the cabinet, one for me, one for her.

One for me.

One for her, dude.

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