I’m sure I reek of BO, it’s been days since I’ve seen a bar of soap, but I am immune to my funk. Also I'm completely aware that I look like a thrift shop cast off, which could compromise any explanation to the security guard as to why, in my three-gallon purse I have: a 12-inch chef knife, likely worn Hanes Her Way briefs, a rancid baby bottle, and one fine bone china tea cup, plus all the usual shake accumulated in any woman’s bag. In past weeks, I have moved, cooked elaborate events, thrown parties, endured my husband's vasectomy, had a car crash, root canal, and now the last cosmic straw: Jury Duty. I’m done and unleash upon the public my full frontal no-makeup-salt-stained-full-length-parka-moon-boots-teeshirt-I slept-in snarling self.
Finally, I’m called up from the pool of jurors and 20 of us file in the jury box for questioning: Voir Dire. Dire indeed. The defendant is seated in handcuffs and the prosecutor asks s systematic questions about name, address, occupation, possible biases. As they needle a Walgreens pharmacist, and a truck driver, it’s curious to me that my fellow jurors divulge so much irrelevant information: the cat hoarding, the husband in wheelchair she fights with, divorces from 1973; maybe no one has talked to these people in a while, and they’re seizing the chance of a little "me time."
I fancy myself as a team player and have courteously rehearsed my answers to less than one minute. “Hello, Marianne Miller, am I saying your name correctly?”
Kill me now! I think, “Yes.”
“Occupation, Ms. Miller?”
“I’m a cook and I write,” I say quickly.
“Really? That sounds fun! How did you get into that line of work?” he prods.
“I like to cook and write.”
“Fair enough, but how did you become a cook?” I glance at the defendant, tense and wide-eyed. I just cannot endure flaccid small talk rife with illicit intentions. My frontal lobe screams, “Say because your grandmother was such an amazing cook! Say that and skate out of here!” Or screw it, tell the truth? . . . I take a deep breath of surrender.
At 18, I didn’t know exactly what power I held, but at night I would brush my cheek against my outstretched arms and feel the powder magic of my skin. Holding the keys to the universe: young, in love with the world, and blessed with dumb luck, I played and moved without restraint. After a night on the line, local cooks flocked and bellied up to Bourdainesqe debauchery. I met a very well respected chef with a lilting French accent, and his ability to hold his liquor meant he was mine for the night. Chatty and weaving, I fell through his condo door, this was a grownups place and I tried to compose myself. I swayed in the foyer as he turned on a soft-papered light and smoky jazz. My brain was small at this age but I knew enough to keep quiet about it because I wanted something from him. I was here to crib notes, figure out how to shape shift into a great chef. His home was spartan and in the kitchen a dozen well worn, well-sharpened knives stood sentry to the negative counter space. I wanted to have things like this, like his whole life’s work. To be young and have all the wisdom of this middle aged, balding man who was shaped like a potted pruned topiary. I wanted his off-handed confidence of all things culinary, the CliffsNotes on gastronomy swagger to lift and pass off as my own.
He came out of the bedroom with a set of pressed cotton pajamas while dragging the down comforter from his bed on to the kitchen floor. He asked me to undress as he ran the sink with warm water and soaked a tea towel with meyer lemon. I kicked my checks over to his puddle of black and whites, both of us naked silence. He motioned for me to come to the sink and he wiped away the night's grease, garlic, sour beer, and the dirty dish smell. From my toes to my hair, he carefully blotted and rung out spent citrus water until I was soft again. He took the bottoms and buttoned me up in the top that smelled of a cedar linen closet and asked me to sit.
On a silver try he assembled foreign cheeses, exotic jams, and random broken pieces of chocolate, eau-de-vie, dainty cups rimmed with honey, and set it in front of me. Sitting down next to me like a Buddha he began my education. “This is Caciocavallo cheese, close your eyes and open your mouth.” He placed a dime size taste on my tongue and told me the history and pairing notes. He continued with each item and the new tastes dissolved into me while he whispered my tutorial in metered breaths to me alone. “This is pear brandy, now kiss me slowly.” He held the brandy in his mouth and kissed me flooding the burning liqueur until it scorched a fiery trail that warmed my stomach. After, he fed me melted white chocolate to soothe and then kissed me again imparting more brandy. By the time the liquor radiated to my hips the sun started to creep in and I felt drowsy with satisfaction. As the night passed we ate and tasted while he took the time to manage my pleasure, premeditate my happiness, and although we did not have sex, I felt completely seduced by the lustiest of carnal pleasures. I felt completely taken care of and cared for. From that night, I sought out places of employment where I could reproduce that culinary moment in time, where I could have the platform to create a transcending experience where only the eater or reader matter and the menial laws of world do not apply to us.
Either way . . . I was promptly kicked off the jury.