Let me begin with a confession:
For the first 27 years of my life (pre-Spaces project) I went through life as a Food Wimp. Not just a Food Wimp, but a Closet Food Wimp. I projected a "try anything" attitude, but really I wouldn’t touch a hamburger if there were a dab of mustard on it; I spit shrimp cocktail discreetly into napkins; I forensically inspected my salads for traces of red onion…
Like many of his generation, my grandfather was the opposite. He’d eat his shirt if you stewed it for a few hours, buttons and all. His method of eating (and of living in general, I think) was governed by what I like to call “The Irish Method.” The only way of properly explaining it, I think, is to first recite a yarn I heard one night when I was bartending in Ireland.
Once, on a cold and rainy day, an old priest staggered into a pub. Everyone could see right away that the priest was drenched. His white hair was matted to his forehead and his glasses were fogged and speckled with rain. He was covered from collar to cuff in mud, as if he’d just climbed from a ditch. And, this was the strangest part—he wasn’t wearing any shoes! The old, dripping priest moped across the pub, head down, in a deep and melancholy trance, oblivious to everyone pointing and whispering.
“Whoa there Father!” the barman said. “Yer soaked!”
The priest looked down and noticed that he was indeed soaked.
“And yer glasses are fogged!”
“And you’ve lost yer ring?”
“Have I now?”
“And by God, yer not wearing any shoes man!”
“Am I not?” He looked down—and noticed this too was true.
“What’s happened?” the barman asked.
“F----’ Celtic,” he muttered (meaning the soccer club).
And everyone in the pub shook their heads. “F-----’ Celtic!”
It’s your standard Irish joke. Priest walks into a pub. Priest arrives at the gates of Heaven. Shepherd walks into a pub. Shepherd arrives at the gates of Heaven. Priest and a Shepherd go in together on a football bet. Come to think of it, that’s about all the premises there are. But there are a billion variations within.
Every variation reveals a slightly different truth, or micro truth—in this case how God seems to have made it impossible (or at least very difficult) for our brains to process more than one terrible thing at a time. Who would know this better than the Irish, who’ve spent nearly the whole of their existence getting rained on with a boot pressed to their throats?
In my family, with regards to food, it went like this: if your steak was burned so badly that it looked like a recently-hewed chunk of anthracite coal (as most assuredly it was, if my grandmother was cooking) then you ate your potatoes, which were so lumpy it was 50/50 that you would a) finish them or b) have to use your butter knife to perform your first ever emergency tracheotomy on yourself. But you know what? In that moment, you’d forget about how awful the meat was! When you couldn’t stomach the potatoes anymore—then you switched back and chiseled at the meat. Back and forth you went until it was all gone, and then you said, “Well, that wasn’t so bad. What’s for dessert?” The key, again, was that you could count on your mind to only be able to process one horrible thing at a time. And it could always be worse.
When I used to run to my grandfather with petty schoolyard scrapes and bruises he always said the same thing: “Well come here and let me punch you in the arm so you forget how much your leg hurts.” This perverse form of Irish optimism has been passed down through the generations. I didn’t quite see the wisdom in it at the time. But I do now.
I still have Food Wimp tendencies, but I’m getting better. I’m working at it. I remember being out on the road, at a truck stop in Oregon, and so hungry that—using the Irish Method—I plowed through my $6 Meatloaf Special (really a baked dishwashing sponge and a side of drippy gutter tennis balls). That’s when I thought up the name. I imagined my grandfather sitting across from me in the booth. “What do you think of that?” I said, nodding down at my empty plate.
“The name needs work.”
“What, the Irish Method?”
“Yeah. I have to be honest…it kind of sounds like the worst form of birth control ever.”
I laughed, imagining this exchange, as the waitress laid my check face down on the table.
**Today's exercise: write about one of your "kitchen table memories." Doesn't have to be long, or make any great point, just bring us there as vividly as you can.