Pop.

I have never been the biggest fan of popcorn.  I have never disliked it, but it’s not one of those things I usually crave, or give much thought to.  Movie-going has never been a popcorn-mandatory thing for me, and those big metal tins of popcorn my mother would produce for us at holidays were… not bad.  But also not something I particularly looked forward to.

Learning to pop corn on the stove top shifted things a little for me.  I now had control of my popcorn.  If I wanted to pop it up extra spicy, spicy enough to make bring tears to my neighbors’ eyes, well, then, I could do that.  If I wanted to use sunflower oil or coconut oil, I had a choice.  But best of all, my little video game completionist self rejoiced in almost no unpopped kernels.

I’d made comments about how much better stove popped was over microwave a few years ago (asshole), and got a stinging verbal rebuke from friends about being elitist for dismissing microwave popcorn, saying that we can’t all trade convenience for taste that way, that it was a luxury to have the time to sit at stove and pop popcorn.

But microwave popcorn is not convenient.  You have to babysit it through the whole popping process (either method takes about the same amount of time), or end up with scorched popcorn.  That still hasn’t all popped.  And maybe you even accidentally lit the microwave on fire because you scorched it so badly (oops).  And yes, while there’s a taste factor involved (the major brands taste like plastic to me; I don’t know what they put in the “butter,” but it clings to the back of my throat like melted cellophane) the fact that I was too broke to afford a microwave was a bigger player in my decision to learn to make it on the range.

A few nights ago, my boyfriend purchased a box of microwave popcorn by accident when he ran to the store.  “Popcorn kernels” was the item on the list.  It didn’t occur to me that it could be interpreted as anything other than a jar of just the kernels, or perhaps that maybe popcorn just looks like popcorn sitting on the shelf.  Foolish human, I.  No one has the same mental image for things.  So, a box of three microwavable bags came home.  Some plain stuff, just palm oil, popcorn kernels, and salt.  We both tend to keep stuff simple.

I dithered and whined.  I may have even grumped a little (dear self: you’re a jerk).  But mostly I was anxious about using a microwave to pop them.  To the point where I cut open a bag, put a little oil in a pan, and used my tried and true stove top method: drop in 5-6 kernels, turn up the heat, let ’em pop, cool the pot for a 30 count to ensure even heat, then pour the rest in, fire the burner back up, and you have popcorn about a minute and a half later.  These?  They just burned.  Scorched to the bottom of the pan.

I tried the next bag in a microwave.  I hunched close the entire time, worried after an explosion… or at least a fire.  Or smoke billowing from the microwave and the fire alarm going off at 2am.  None of these happened.  But a good chunk of the bag didn’t pop.  ARGH!

“The things people will put up with for convenience,” smirked my boyfriend.

As we ate our bowlful, we speculated about what happened.  Did the palm oil have an effect?  Lower quality kernels?  We both groused about the unpopped bits, and I mentioned the past rebuke.

“Well, cooking popcorn on the stove takes more skill.  Microwave popcorn I know I can do, but I wouldn’t know where to start with the other,” he said.

“I could show you, though.  It’s so dead simple.” I had not quite recovered from my bout of nuker-anxiety.

“That’s not the point,” he said. “It’s simple for you because you know your way around a kitchen.”

I admitted that you had to know enough to use a high-heat oil, an not something like butter to pop your corn.

“See?”

“But it’s not like using a microwave takes no skill at all…” and I admitted to lighting my mother’s microwave on fire with an ill-fated bag of Pop Secret.  I didn’t mention the exploding microwave brownie kit.  The reheated spaghetti sauce hardened into a crispy crust.  The great butter fireworks of 2015. The Peep fire of 2008.  And then all the times I heated up food and forgot about it as I wandered off to do anything else.  I have a shit time with microwaves.

It takes skill to use either method.  One is not zero effort and the other effort-full.  We just lean on the more familiar set of skills.  Using a microwave to good effect is a skill.  It’s not one I’ve developed, since I’ve not always had one, and I’ve made disasters of more than one in my day.  Nothing hobbles the gaining of a skill faster than fear.

I’m handy with from-scratch stuff.  The chemistry of food makes sense to me.  I like how it forces me to be present, and I like the money I can save by doing away with “convenience” foods (it’s a lot of money saved!).  It’s a hobby as well as a means to feed myself.  It’s also not a skill everyone possesses.

I am going to stove pop my popcorn because I am broke and cheap.  I can make it fancy without spending extra money.  I am going to do this because it’s what I know the best, and it’s what I feel at ease with.  I won’t judge you for your microwave popcorn.  But if you value your microwave, please don’t ask me to make it for you.

 

 

Ducks Aren’t Known for Wisdom

It’s raining.  I am sitting by the pond’s edge.  The ducks are perturbed, but they’re assholes, so I can’t say that I care what they think.  I’m back “home,” after spending three entire twenty-four hour periods in the middle of a cowfield which sprouted tents and toys and music and art for the course of one weekend.  Being back feels weird.

There are joggers circling the lake, even in the rain.  I make assumptions about them: “I could never talk to any of them about the current state of industrialized agriculture in our society, or the narrative implications of white middle-class American culture’s lack of a trickster figure.”  These may very well be silly assumptions, but I am afraid to test them.  I smile at a jogger.  She smiles back.  I am afraid of her running shoes.

There are people who live far away whom I can call if I fish my phone out of my pocket, and ask them, “What do you think of Marquez’ comparison of love to disease in Love in the Time of Cholera? With more and more people generating their own power for electric companies to buy back, what do you think will happen to solar power as it threatens the longterm viability of our current model of power generation and distribution?”  But I’m afraid to interrupt their work days.

There are people who live nearby who could maybe come over for coffee tonight and we could talk game design and politics, but mostly I’m scared I bore them.

The ducks are yelling at me, waddling halfway up to me before taking a step back, unsure.  Yes ducks, you’re right.  I know I’m the problem here.

A Spite Note to Tallahassee

Dear Tallahassee,

I do not like you. I understand you’re trying to win me over with your tawdry shows of azaleas and camellias, but I am unmoved. Everything is dusted in yellow, and my stepson breaks out in hives if he opens the front door.
You had your chance to win me last June.  You had your chance, and instead you folded me into unbike-able hills laced with roads that ramble aimlessly from one boarded up shopping plaza to another.  You tossed me into bizarre traffic patterns, into a town frothing with college sports, complete with wasted eighteen-year-olds throwing up on my lawn.

So now that your listless attempt at wooing me back has failed, you lean heavy on petty revenge, these mosquitoes and crisp evenings.  I will get by on hating you, portioning out my spite by the teaspoon.  I will smuggle in south Florida to feed my contempt fruit by fruit: mango, avocado, pineapple. 

And one day, Tallahassee, I will be free of your football cult, your vindictive chains of no U-turn signs, your thinly-veiled backwater mentality.  One day, Tallahassee, I will leave.

Gunpowder

Firing a gun does not make me feel powerful.  Firing a gun does not make me feel safe.  Firing a gun does not make me feel large or small or in control.  But firing a gun is loud and concussive, it requires my focus, and just after I fire, the smell of gunpowder fills the air.

Grief is a knot that lives in my chest.  I have grieved under fireworks in the past, blasts thundering through my lungs as the sparkle faded.  I have grieved under fireworks, the smell of gunpowder thick in the air, and the booming loosened the tightness between my ribs.  It finally allowed me to gasp air and cry.

So again, the smell of gun powder fills the air.  I try to ease into the trigger pull, to let the recoil be a surprise, then marvel at the new hole that appears in the paper target.  But mostly I just let each shot that I fire loosen the tightness between my ribs.  It finally allows me to breathe slowly and stop crying.

I have to think “I will be crushed to death by a bus,” or “my sister will die in a car wreck,” or “my mother will have an aneurism,” in order to be okay.  I have to think about how peculiar this condition of consciousness is in order to accept its vanishing.  I have to write it down and and leave it here for people or the process doesn’t get under way, it gets stuck, and I’d need fireworks every night.

I can’t imagine what it’s like closer to the center of this blast, to be closer to this death.  I don’t have the right to.  I want to be able to help, to soothe, but there’s fuck all anyone can do, but be there and grieve, and say things like, “it’s okay that it’s not okay.”  That’s all I know how to say.

Firing a gun does not make me feel powerful.  But it allows me to breathe.

Eleven Years

That was all it took.

And though there were days when it was only my rage that held me together, and nights when but for fear I would be lost, I held to my heart the truth of my years: these are not the only times. And though you are out there, and your presence pains me, and I pray that you harm no other as you harmed me, I know this as well: that we share this rock, and we are part of the same organism. For all the energy I waste on hating you, I may well hate my lungs for all the good it would do this world. You and I, we are human. And even if that is all we share, it is enough for me to wish you this: peace, sir. Peace.