Shop-Rite. A & P. Foodtown. Gristede's. D'Agostino. Stop N Shop. How come all their vegetables look like turd and taste like wax? Makes no difference whether it's peppers or cabbage, broccoli or beans, turnips or beets, mushrooms or leeks, potatoes or cauliflower. You take it home, put it in a pot, or in the oven, or a saute pan, or a steamer, and you give it that wry Bittman-like pinch of salt and a couple of twists of the pepper mill. Then you watch it boil, or bake, or fry, or steam. You gotta watch it close, cause here's the thing -- you mustn't overcook it or you'll destroy the nutrients! -- so you keep watchin it, and you prick it or squeeze it or poke it until it feels just right. You gotta get the consistency perfect. Firm but not raw, tender to the tooth, but not at all mushy. Al dente. Don't burn your fingers, poot. You have done good, you have cooked it just right. You can feel the virtue runnin up from your diaphragm like acid reflux.
You take that steamy, sexual first bite, the one that will get your whole mouth involved, lips, tongue and teeth, contractin and salivatin and achin for more. That first bite's the caress. Ahh! It's so good for you. So many minerals and vitamins, makin you feel so virtuous and healthy.
And then it happens. The Big Letdown.
This vegetable, the one you cooked so well, it don't taste anything like it's supposed to. It tastes like hot water, maybe with a hint of salt. It tastes like paper, like cardboard, like wood chips, like an egg carton. Yeah, that's it. An effin egg carton that you heated up in the microwave! It tastes like lint, like cotton underwear, like a dead leaf. It tastes like Factory Farms and Cheap Freight. Like Q-Tips. Like the foam core in a packing crate. It tastes a little like the tiny oval sticker they put on each piece so the cashier can find the PLU. It tastes like hospital food. It tastes like a Band-Aid.
You go to the grocery store and they charge you good money for this stuff. $2.99 a pound. Four for $5. This week's special $1.99! Oh boy! Now I'm gonna start cookin all my meals at home. Shoot, I'm so excited I can't control my wee-wee. This is great. This is real. Who gives a hee-haw whether or not these vegetables taste like anything? Just cause they come from California or Mexico or Honduras or Peru or Florida don't mean they weren't grown just for you. Hell, this shite's keepin you alive.
Two hours after dinner and I'm watchin the Rangers get clobbered by the Bruins. That ain't the worst of it -- I'm hungry again. It ain't right, I ate a pound of broccoli, or cauliflower, or beets, or cabbage, or some other tasteless plant-like thing. Shoot, I'm gonna be so regular, NASA'll be able to launch a moon-shot on my time-clock. But I'm still hungry.
I got a gnawin, a gnawin in my gut. I been through the Big Letdown, so now I'm on my own. What would you do, poot, if you was in my place? Howl at the moon? Take a cold shower? Heat up some Campbell's Tomato Soup? I'll tell you what I did. I went down to Route 46 off the Letchworth Circle and got myself a sack of White Castles. Indian lady behind the counter there took my ten and smiled an extraordinary white smile. Had to be at least 100 watts worth. "You want extra ketchup," she asked. "Yes, please. I'll take five, six packs. Thank you." She dumped a handful in the bag and said, "Goodnight, Mister. You look like you need some food. Enjoy."