I nipped into a boutique burger joint recently. I hadn’t eaten much that day, so the sums in my head added up happily to a strong “yes” vote on the question of a lunchtime treat.
I’d spent much of the morning interviewing a Holocaust survivor, would you believe, for my podcast The Nitty Gritty Committee. He’d tracked back through the years of degradation and starvation he’d suffered, telling the stories he’d told so many times before, stories we both worried had been told too many times, and somehow didn’t seem to startle as they once had.
I was very present, please don’t misunderstand me, but I was also sitting happily with the knowledge that I was going to satisfy my demon that day. Yes, as I listened to a man talk about his youthful hunger, about digging up a dead, diseased, concentration camp guard dog, and secretly eating it in the dark of night, knowing that discovering would mean his own death, I rocked gently with the anticipation of my overpriced lunch.
“Would I have chips?” (Of course!) “Which sauce would I have?” (The creamiest one!) Much softer, though still clearly audible, “why do you trust your numbers? Any reflective surface will tell you they don’t add up! You, madam, do not understand the numbers. You don’t understand anything.”
“Nope,” I refocus, “the numbers definitely add up today, I’ve been over them and over them, it’s absolutely OK for me to eat that hamburger and by Christ, I am eating it.” I drove the short distance from the Holocaust centre to the burger bar, euphoric.
I yanked my car into the parallel park out front in one fluid movement, like a Jedi through a waterslide. Once inside, I move with precision. There was no agonising consideration of the menu, I knew exactly what I was there for and was in no mood to dilly-dally. The numbers didn’t often add up this well on a day I happened to be in the vicinity of this hamburger. Who knew when the stars would align like this again, if ever? I wasn’t interested in playing coy.
I strode to the counter, which was helpfully vacant from the customer side, and placed my order with all the confidence and authority of a five-star general about to claim a pointless island in the middle of an overwhelming sea.
The girl took my order in the same vein. She was attentive and efficient and seemed to understand the seriousness of the mission. In retrospect though, I wonder if she really was focussed on her engagement with me, or just focussed on not engaging with someone else, a certain elephant in the room perhaps.
I started stuffing my change into my wallet and moved to a seat, counting down the minutes to my escape. I tried to stay calm, but I was pretty excited by this point, visualising myself accepting my bag of goodies and walking calmly to my car. It didn’t occur to me to eat inside the burger place. It wouldn’t. My mother never failed to pass comment when she saw a fat person eating in public, so I learned early and I learned well that my eating had to be done in private. In secret. The more exciting the eating, the more imperative the privacy.