July 4, 2009 in True Fairy Tales of New York
It was the summer of 2002. I’d just graduated from NYU and was trying to adjust to the adult world. So far so good; I was working at a popular magazine and had found a cheap share in the East Village. I also thought my new roommate, Gia, was very cool – even if I was too shy to befriend her.
By June, however, things at work had taken a strange turn when pay was inexplicably frozen for my department. Each morning since missing our May paycheck on June 1st, we trooped into accounting to see if our checks had come in and each morning, they had not.
“We’re working on it,” said the accountants. “All you can do is wait.”
By July, we hadn’t been paid in 8 weeks. My work lunches had once been bought from Wendy’s or Au Bon Pain; now I was bringing Cup Noodles and washing them down with the office kitchen’s packets of Swiss Miss hot chocolate. Dinners were similar. Heifer was only fed twice a day, as opposed to her usual 6 feedings. I know. I was a cruel mistress but times were hard.
July 4th came – a beautiful, sunny day. Gia and her boyfriend had organized a barbecue to be held on our roof top.
“You’re more than welcome to come,” Gia said as I slumped, hunger-struck, on our couch. “Nick’s making all sorts of great things!”
She didn’t have to tell me – I’d seen his grocery bags, overflowing with meats and thick cobs of white corn. My eyes had bulged to see him plucking fat scallops from their shells and wrapping them with thick pink bacon before piercing them with a skewer. Nick was something of a gourmand; there were blue corn chips instead of regular tortilla shells and bunches of cilantro to cut into the hamburger patties. He’d also bought juicy sausages and was busily browning them on the stove. Their exquisite perfume made my eyes water with desperation.
The guests began arriving bearing 6-packs and I shrunk further into a corner. Gia had invited me to join the party, but I felt uncomfortable doing so because apart from Gia and Nick, I didn’t know anyone there. One by one, they trooped upstairs and finally, Nick, too, was gone. When the door slammed shut, another gust of deliciousness was fanned my way and then, finally, I was alone.
I got up and stars of hunger swam in front of my eyes. Now that everyone was gone, I wouldn’t be too embarrassed to have my ramen dinner. The wonderful smells of barbecue preparation had left me even weaker, and I dragged my feet to the kitchen with effort.
That’s when I saw them – the 12 brown meat patties lying atop the stove. I’d been left alone with the burgers.
When you’re hurtling down a hunger spiral and left alone with meat that doesn’t belong to you, several things could go through your mind. One of them might be guilt for wanting to help yourself to an innocent little patty. Another might be the thought that there are so many, no one will notice that one’s gone. Besides, you were invited to the party – why can’t you have a burger? That said, if you take a burger, will you have to go to the party? Oh, but don’t those burgers look luscious. Wouldn’t it be nice to eat something other than styrofoam and MSG this week?
That’ll probably be the last thought you have before you eat one. It was the last thought in my mind, anyway.
The next was: this meat is raw.
Raw. Not rare, mind you. I love rare meat. This meat was raw. When I horrifiedly spit it out into a napkin, I saw that it was cold, pink, and marbled with gelatinous white fat.
There’s just one thing to do when you’ve had a blob of raw hamburger in your mouth: wash away the injury with a cold beer. Fortunately, I knew just where to find one.
It’s now been 7 years since I was hungry enough to steal a browned-on-the-outside-completely-raw-on-the-inside burger and I still haven’t figured out why anyone would brown just the outside of their burgers and leave them alone before taking them upstairs to finish grilling. Does it help pack in the marinade? Could it be to prevent them spoiling? Why leave them at all?
Gia doesn’t know, either. Shortly after the party – my first rooftop Fourth of July in New York City – we became friends. Eventually we became close enough that I could confess to her my crime of hunger. She had broken up with Nick by then so I suppose neither of us will ever know.
The accounting department finally paid us the next week, with never a satisfying explanation as to why they had withheld our checks for 8 weeks. I paid my bills and bought soap, groceries, and lipstick. Heifer went back to eating 6 times a day. That’s why I call her Heifer, you know.