I was almost five years old the very first time I went to Disney World and though I hardly remember anything from that time in my life, a few moments stand out like those images and memories were initially captured in a colored film stock while the rest of it was all recorded in a stark black and white. I recall being very excited that the monorail ran straight through the lobby of our hotel. I know that I waited on lines for Peter Pan and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for hours, my nostrils all but shoved into the ass crack of whichever strange adult was standing in front of me, and I did it without complaining. I remember being very afraid to go into the Haunted Mansion and steadfastly refusing to enter those doors on day one of our visit, but privately gathering my confidence and requesting – to my parents’ shock – if we could begin our last day in the Magic Kingdom at the ride that had the ghosts, and I remember trembling something fierce as those doors flew open but I also remember what it felt like to get through it and to feel that pride of facing my fears. I can close my eyes and I can see us all having dinner at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and I have never forgotten that my waiter’s name was Byron and that he kept bringing me mini strawberry shortcakes to my delight and, besides John Travolta, Byron might have been my first crush. I remember being pulled onto Space Mountain with my father and going almost catatonic from the speed and from the drops and how someone asked me what my favorite part of the ride was and I answered immediately, “The end.”
I cannot actually remember moments with both of my parents together and engaging with one another, but I know they were both there and I think it’s actually very sad such an image never stayed stuck in that visual part of my brain because it might be very nice to be able to access such a picture whenever I choose, but what is more confounding to me about all it is why I can’t harness a memory of a positive family dynamic in the happiest place on earth, but I can close my eyes and see that humongous turkey leg that was sold all over the park like it was the day before yesterday.
Have you ever seen that turkey leg that I’m talking about? If not, let me walk you through it. It’s a hunk of meat that looks incredibly similar to something Fred Flintstone would order. The bottom part of the leg is wrapped in one flimsy napkin and people gnaw that thing in the most primitive example of eating that I’ve ever seen outside of a Tarzan movie. There’s this ravenousness to how people tear with their teeth into the meat and it’s more than just a little prehistoric and I remember looking at someone eating one with gusto once and how I thought “man is just another animal” and I guess that the whole thing was really kind of interesting in a kind of revolting sort of way.
Even today, I like going to fairs and carnivals and theme parks. It’s not something I do often – I don’t think I’ve actually been to one in a few years – but there’s something about the flashing lights and the dinging of the bells and the enormous teddy bear that I absolutely have to win and I will spend the equivalent of a mortgage payment to get that fucking thing and the smell of anything that can be deep fried sifting through the heavy air. I don’t love rides and I do believe that sticking me on Space Mountain before I was technically able to give consent is probably at least one layer of the reason for such an aversion, but I never mind waiting as other people go on rides. I get some sun and I strategize how I will fit the eight foot monkey I just won into the car and I try to determine if it’ll be necessary to open the sun roof and I’ll look around at what everybody is eating.
See, there’s something about that kind of place – a fair or a carnival or a Six Flags – that brings out the need to fry everything you can get your hands on, dust whatever you’ve fried with some powdered sugar, and sell the thing for some insane markup to a person who could very well end up with diabetes by the end of the day. There are some fried things now that are pretty ubiquitous at any theme park: fried Snickers, fried cheesecake, fried butter. Then there are those places that kick it up a notch – and by “it,” I’m referring to your cholesterol. Now you can fry Kool-Aid, beer, pecan pie, and White Castle cheeseburgers. Seriously – people are frying beer. They pour it into kind of a ravioli pocket and fry the fuck out of it and then serve it to you and tell you to do your very best to avoid the third-degree burns that could occur when you bite the thing and the scalding beer shoots out from the middle.
I have never once had any of those things, but I did once have a fried pickle slice and a fried olive. They were both delicious, but how could they not be when you combine something perfect like a pickle with something decadent like a deep fryer? It’s like a marriage made in heaven, which is where you’ll end up if you keep consuming that garbage because just looing at a fried Twinkie might very well shorten your lifespan by a minimum of three years and two months.
I thought about the fried array of foods that exist in some alternate universe – a place I sometimes I think I’d like to visit – because someone I know sent me a text with a picture of a new pizza that has a crust made entirely from pigs in a blanket. Now, pigs in a blanket are probably my favorite appetizer ever and I don’t care if they are considered kind of gauche because I love them and I have loyalty to that which I love and that includes snacks. Still, taking just a quick gander at that new form of pizza made me pretty nauseous.
Was this something our society has been screaming out for? I texted back. Holy gluttony.
And speaking of gluttony, how about some of the other foods that actually exist and are legal to serve and consume in a way that other things that are probably less harmful are still unwaveringly restricted? For example, did you know that Pizza Hut serves a pie whose crust is stuffed with a chili dog because dough and cheese alone are not decadent enough and neither is just the hot dog on its own – that’s why it’s covered in chili. Arby’s serves something called the Meat Mountain – which, by the way, is the best porn name ever – and it’s a sandwich made out of the following:
2 breaded and deep-fried chicken tenders
1.5 ounces of roast turkey
1.5 ounces of ham
1 slice of big-eye Swiss cheese
1.5 ounces of corned beef
1.5 ounces of brisket
1.5 ounces of Angus steak
1 slice of natural cheddar cheese
1.5 ounces of roast beef
3 half-slices of peppered bacon bun
You know, just a simple meal made out of slices of every animal that’s ever roamed the planet. What frightens me, though, is that there are people who order this – and not just on a dare – and there are also people who sat around a conference table in some room at the Arby’s headquarters and listened as this monstrosity was proposed and then nodded and put it into production even though they knew better.
There are Taco Bell items that now come stuffed with Fritos. There’s a place you can order a cheeseburger that, instead of on a classic bun, is served in between two glazed donuts. And speaking of donuts (which I crave constantly) there was a donut released at some point recently at Dunkin Donuts that was stuffed with brownie batter because just a donut covered in icing and sprinkles was not enough.
The scary thing is that I wanted so badly to try that particular donut, but I feared the levels of sugar within just one bite could kill me or at least turn me blind.
I did just recently see a report that there’s a new kind of ice cream sandwich being served now at Baked, this amazing bakery in Tribeca, and the ice cream is shoved between two black and white cookies. And you know what? I’ll try one of those happily and I’ll eat one just one time and I will probably tell everyone I like that they must try one too because there’s a difference between a momentary and fleeting decadence and a lifetime of questionable consumption and that difference is often measured by a spike in blood pressure.
Are you eating tongue? I once asked my stepfather when the entire family was at a gourmet deli.
Your father ate tongue, he replied. I heard he liked it.
Has anyone mentioned that he’s dead now? I asked.
Yes, I remember my father taking my sister and me to eat at Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse, a restaurant on Chrystie Street in Manhattan. They made old-fashioned egg creams and the actual restaurant was in the basement of the building and the tables were so close to one another that you could reach over and help yourself to someone else’s pitcher of chicken fat, which was actually kept on each table in between the salt and the pepper. I sat there with my mouth open and watched people pour literal chicken fat on top of bread and then eat it. The entire thing probably threw my vegetarian sister into some benign form of convulsions, but I was literally slack-jawed at the display before me. I didn’t try the chicken fat as a condiment because it really looked disgusting to me; my father did, and I certainly will never know for sure, but I’m wondering if I might have had at least an extra few days with him in my life if we’d eaten Greek salads that night.
It wasn’t until college that I first tried chicken parmigiana. I have no reason for such an omission in my life except that it wasn’t something anyone made at home and I never saw anyone in my family order it when we were out so I was just kind of unfamiliar with it. I tried it finally at seventeen and oh my God – cheese does make everything better! But then I made the mistake of mentioning my new favorite food to a friend of mine who was a Nutrition major and she told me that the translation of “parmigiana” might as well be “throw on an extra layer or two of fat,” and well, that kind of ruined it for me. The other Food Gone Wrong experience I had was also in college during a semester where I didn’t properly manage my money so there were a few weeks there when all I could afford to eat were those ramen noodle things that come with a packet that’s allegedly made up of seasonings. What I realized on the night when I required an army to pull off one of my rings that was stuck on my incredibly swollen finger is that “seasoning” in this case actually meant “sodium.”
The truth is that I love junk food more than almost anybody I know, but I guess I’ve finally learned to love it in moderation. I’ll take a bite or three of anything that looks good to me, but I’ve realized that I can’t keep anything really bad for me in my house because there’s just no such thing as self-control when it comes to a Pringle. And I will happily bury my head in the sand and not listen to the person who wants to tell me what the cheese inside of a Combo is really made from (hint: it’s not cheese) because every now and then, I want to eat some Combos and there are just some things that shouldn’t be compromised. That said, if anyone you love out there in the world mentions that there’s a new bacon chili cheeseburger served on a mac and cheese stuffed bun, you should believe that person because such a thing does exist – and then perhaps you should recommend that ten of you share one or that you all avoid it like the plague because gluttony is not one of those Seven Deadly Sins for no reason at all and willfully allowing that kind of garbage into your body could eventually take its toll.
Instead just have yourself some nachos with the florescent orange cheese that might include hidden Led Zeppelin lyrics if you stared at it for long enough under a black light and then call it a day.