The 5 Napkin Burger

I’ve always felt a little awkward when it comes to eating in social situations. I mean really, I’ve always felt a little awkward in any social situation.  But eating is a big one.  It’s especially bad when other people are around and I’m the only one eating.  I try to avoid those types of scenarios as best I can, but sometimes a girl’s gotta eat.  Related depressingly funny anecdote follows.

Last week I had dinner at 5 Napkin Burger, a slightly upscale chain restaurant on Ninth Avenue.  It was a spur of the moment decision, one that was fueled primarily by, well, hunger of course, but also by my almost monthly urge to consume a hunk of partially cooked cow meat.  The meat that makes up my home cooked meals is almost exclusively chicken.  I happen to like chicken a lot, it is the most cost effective thing for me to eat, and it also has a reputation for being one of the healthier animal products to deposit into your body tube.

Hells-Kitchen-in-NYC-Five-Napkin-Burger

More like WHAT NAKIN BURGER AM I RIGHT?

But as I said, about once a month, I get a primal craving that chicken alone cannot satisfy, and forth I go to find a burger!!!  Hence, 5 Napkin Burger.  It was a nice day, which I point out because it was a nice day in a sea of what have been terrible, cold, rainy spring days. Accordingly, I requested a table outside for one.  The hostess gave me a long look, turned to a server and said, as loudly as if she wanted to broadcast it to the entire restaurant, “SHE NEEDS A TABLE FOR ONE”.  With a pitying look, the server led me outside and I sat down at a table.  There were two couples sitting on either side of me.  One couple was sharing a milk shake.  It was depressingly romantic.

I order the 5 Napkin Burger.  Side note: It confuses me when people go to restaurants that have a “thing” for the first time and proceed NOT to get that “thing”.  It’s called building a base, bruh.  Although what generally ends up happening is that I am severely unimpressed by the “thing” and never return to the restaurant, so maybe every single friend and family member I have is onto something.  Whatever.

So there I am.  Eating in public.  Which I hate.  ALONE.  Which just cranks it up from feeling uncomfortable to feeling both awkward and uncomfortable.   My food comes.  I immediately wolf down most of the fries before even looking at the burger.  I can’t turn away from hot fries, okay.  I eat 3/4ths of the burger.  Honestly, it was pretty good.  This article is really not about the food at 5 Napkin Burger, but if you want a rating, I’ll give it 4 out of 5 burgers.  I’m taking one burger away because A) you don’t even get ANY napkins.  All you get is a fancy cloth to mop up your face juice.  And B) they have friggin’ GLASS KETCHUP BOTTLES.

I’m sitting alone outside on Ninth Ave.  The burger is mostly gone and I turn back to the now slightly cooled fries I hadn’t devoured when my plate first came out. No longer bolstered by steaming hot grease, the salty potato sticks are just begging for a slick coat of the bright red culinary miracle we know as ketchup.  (Some chef is probably cursing me to hell for saying that.)  I reach out for the bottle.  The battle begins.

People pass by the restaurant in a constant stream.  It’s 6:30PM.  It’s New York City.  It’s warm outside.  You get the picture.  I grab the ketchup bottle by the base, flip it 180 degrees, and start banging at the bottom.  The ketchup sticks resolutely to it’s glass-walled home.  I would estimate that roughly 2 minutes pass by as I continue to try and fail at getting the ketchup out of the bottle.  Of course, in my mind, every one who is walking by is silently making fun of me for not only daring to eat in public, but for being completely unable to do something as simple as extract ketchup substance from a bottle.

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The ketchup bottle that shall not be named.

“Hit the 57!”  Suddenly I am being ambushed by an older woman with a shopping cart.  “You gotta tilt the bottle then hit the side!”  Unable to speak for embarrassment, I do as she says.  Turning the bottle sideways, I tap meekly at it’s neck.  No ketchup emerges.  She continues to stand at my side, rooting me on.  We cycle through a few other suggestions, such as using my steak knife to “scoop” the ketchup out.  Nothing works.

I’m getting more and more agitated by the second, and I have a terrible feeling that she’s about to grab another person from the street for additional support.  At this point I’m not sure how to get this woman away from me.  I say, “ah, it’s okay,” and  point a good-natured grimace in her direction.  My tactic falls flat. She doesn’t get it.  “I don’t know why they still use those bottles,” she says conversationally.  I don’t respond because I’m frantically shaking the bottle.  I understand that this curse will only be lifted when I get some ketchup out.  I tap harder on the 57.  Miraculously, a few drops fall onto the plate.  Relieved, I thank her, point to the ketchup, and raise a french fry to my mouth.  Smiling triumphantly, she departs.

As soon as she leaves I go at it again with the bottle.  I have no better luck with round 2.  It’s at the point where I literally have 5 fries left to eat but god damn it if I don’t want that ketchup!  The couple to the right of me are giggling in a cute way.  At my other side, a young woman is sitting alone.  Her date must have left sometime in the midst of my ketchup battle.  She’s talking on the phone about going on some sort of tour and it sounds pretty important.

She looks at me, and she looks at the ketchup bottle.  “Hold on,” she says to Important Phone Person.  She tells me to put the cap back on the bottle, shake it upside down, and then try to get the ketchup out.  Thankfully she doesn’t keep watching me but goes back to her phone call.  I try her method.  It works!  Kind of.  I get enough ketchup out to finish the fries.  What a happy day!  I eavesdrop on her call for 5 minutes.  It sounds super important and also super glamorous.  I have a brief fantasy about us becoming best friends due to this 5 Napkin Burger encounter and about how she takes me on her glamorous world tours.  I try to think of a funny comment that will immediately charm her and show her that I am best friend material.  Nothing comes to mind.

Finally she finishes her call.  I turn around and say thanks.  She tells me I am welcome.  Then she points to the empty seat next to me.  I tense up in excitement. This is it! She’s about to sit with me, we will become best friends, and I will never be alone again!!

She smiles a big, friendly smile.  “My friends are meeting me in a bit.  Can I have that chair?”

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An Adventure in Granola

As my time in the southwest region comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on some changes that I’ve made to my overall approach on life.  And one of those changes is that I’ve become a lot more “granola,” a word which I’ve come to learn means people who are health conscious, physically active, environmentally aware, most likely living in Boulder, Colorado, and who are lastly, but most importantly, very, very self congratulatory on being that much better than everyone else around.

Me, at the Grand Canyon.

Me, looking positively crunchtastic at the Grand Canyon.

In the past ten months I  have purchased Chacos.  I have willingly done push ups.  I curse myself when I leave the house without my CamelBak or Nalgene.  I’ve cooked (and eaten) quinoa.  I have even been known to enjoy a (light) hike.

And it has only gotten worse.  In the past month or so I have come to discover the existence of entire books and websites and blog communities that revolve around this granola life.  Or better, a life that would be better described as crunchy.  What the heck is “crunchy” you ask?  It’s sort of a derivative of granola–well, let us look no further than our auld friend urbandictionary.com, whose first entry is this:

1. crunchy

Adjective. Used to describe persons who have adjusted or altered their lifestyle for environmental reasons. Crunchy persons tend to be politically strongly left-leaning and may be additionally but not exclusively categorized as vegetarians, vegans, eco-tarians, conservationists, environmentalists, neo-hippies, tree huggers, nature enthusiasts, etc.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand yes, I may have gotten slightly addicted to reading some of these “crunchy” type blogs lately.  Buuuuuuuuut no, I have yet to run off to the nearest Whole Foods to replace my entire pantry with organic, unprocessed, unrefined, real foods.  I have not given up using toxic cleaning chemicals, detergents, soaps and shampoos.  I have not completely renounced toilet paper, deodorants, razors or tampons.  Well.  I may have done some of these things.  And I believe I eventually might do all of them.  But for now the lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t have to do them right now.  It’s best put as my mom always used to tell me: “This is neither the time nor the place.” (Source: mom) (Thank you mom.)

The reason I am not in the proper place in life to implement most of these things is primarily my age, and secondly my income.  The majority of these blogs are written by mothers in their 30’s or 40’s with children and a disposable income to spend on things like yucca root powder. And I’m okay with that. I am still glad that I have found these blogs, especially all of the ones that all have the words “green”, “simple”, “natural”, “crunchy”, or “mom” in the URLs.  Because there will come a day when I shop at places other than Wal-Mart and when it comes this information will still be useful to me. I also admit to a sort of hedonistic glee that sounds something like “haha I still have time to do stupid things and not care because I’m young!”

Dr. Bronner's label

I think people buy Dr. B’s just to finish reading the label.

And I am young! Coming from “the big city” (New York), from parents who cooked good ol’ rice, beans and meat for every meal and considered a Wii-Fit session sufficient and effective exercise, the health world is still fairly new to me.  Organic used to just mean “rich people food,” and I don’t think I had ever met a vegan.  I believed tofu was a shape that was being confused as food.  (I still firmly believe this.)  (Haha, FIRM.) Sure, I knew general “health”  Dr. Oz-ish advice, like “drink 8 glasses of water a day” and “avoid  saturated fats and cholesterol”.  And even those things have now  been flipped on their heads!  But I do know what “no poo” means now. The words fair trade and organic make my decisions for me and I’ve googled things like “homemade” and “DIY” more times than I can count.  I can list off the evils of parabens and aluminums in our beauty supplies and explain in detail why polyunsaturated fats are poisonous.  I own Dr. Bronner’s Magic soap and a variety of essential oils. I’ve been known to drink kombucha to contribute to healthy digestive flora.   I know what earthing is.  Do you?

In any case, the conclusion that I’ve come to with all of this is to chill out for now.  It’s exciting to think about growing my own food one day and wearing products that are exclusively natural and basically transforming into the total and complete hippie we all know I am, but I don’t think it behooves me to actively stress about these things at the moment.  I’ll start feeling better than you right now, though.

Impression

I shuffle in with rubber soles that slide along because if I don’t make footsteps no one will know I’m here and so I move quickly, quietly, almost pressing myself into the walls in a desperate attempt not to be seen, not to rustle so much as an oxygen molecule as it floats (for lack of a more technical term), welcome among its kin, through the spaces in between those who will judge me, look at me, and perhaps even see me for the stranger I actually am.

My eyes only know one direction but my ears tell me where to go, helping me navigate through the rows of people who are like me but different, who are sharing pleasant chatter, laughs and humanity. I carefully count my paces, steady and soundless.

I am just a few more steps to an empty seat when I drop my phone and the world freezes. Ice spreads through my veins as the phone tumbles down to the ground and my terror rises into my throat; as the traitorous thing crashes down I think nothing has ever been this loud.

My heart thaws and I am sitting before I realize I was at a seat and it isn’t the one I was walking toward but worlds of time has passed since then and I reach down to grab my phone, part of me hoping it has been damaged in retribution. I pause with my head a foot from the ground, where my eyes feel safe enough to scan the floor and I am finally aware of my breathing and my phone is not where it was?

My neck is stiff as I rise from the short solace and because I am staring straight ahead I only barely notice a shiny, black rectangle oscillating in my periphery. The irrational ice is back but it is hesitant, only lurking, only making sure my fingers shiver almost imperceptibly as I reach out to grasp what unfortunately turns out to be a completely unharmed mobile device from the fingers of a stranger. Our fingers just barely brush but I feel every nerve ending involved in the exchange and my hand shoots back, not bothering to glance at the phone but hurriedly stowing it in a vain hope that once it is out of sight the disturbance it caused will be forgotten.

I force my neck to turn and look back at someone who is looking at me and I am looking at a face and I am looking at a nest of dark hair and inquisitive eyes and in them I think I can see my mouth open and I think I utter, “thanks,” and I think I was audible and I know my face is warming and I turn away before I hear a response.

The rest of my time is spent staring straight ahead in my seat where I relive the moment a thousand times over, perhaps hoping on that thousandth time that I could change the events to what would preferably be me never being pushed into this world and yet I can’t stop feeling that unfamiliar hand on my own, infecting me with tiny embers that sizzle insistently at the tips of my fingers.

I linger in my chair as everyone else files out of the room, stomping loudly and talking happily and existing freely amongst one another and I wonder where I belong. Upon exiting I take a straight path down the center of the room, my only trace an imprint in the foam cushioned seat as I leave.

Arizona Dreamin’

Welcome to Arizona.  Everything here will hurt you.

I wasn’t sure if it was a joke, a warning, or an inalienable fact. Maybe it was a little bit of all three. I’ve certainly seen my share of dangerous things here: deadly scorpions, poisonous spiders, quick striking snakes and prickly cacti; but I’ve also been stopped in my tracks by the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen: mesquite trees with tops an impossible green swaying in the gentle breeze under a clear blue sky, colorful sunsets behind mountains that frame the proud silhouettes of saguaros in the distance, the night sky rivaling the brightness of day with the unbelievably  bright shine of a full moon surrounded by countless twinkling stars…. And herein lies the mystery of the desert. "Ocotillo" by Kevin Dooley

It is place where nature successfully toes the line of being beautiful and deadly as masterfully as any tight rope walker. There are the Ocotillo plants that are majestic and tall with bright red buds that peer up at the sun, Agave plants that are a deep, full green with ends so pointed Native Americans used to use them as hypodermic needles and rainbow colored cacti with bright, lovely flowers that just beg to be touched… BUT! Just one finger in the wrong place will earn you a barbed prick in your finger and a serious soreness that you’ll remember next time you think about stepping too close.

And then there is the sun. Always watching from above, the sun shines unforgiving in humidity of a mere 3 percent, where even your sweat evaporates before your pores have time to realize it was there. Dehydration is the real enemy when electrolytes vanish faster than you can take them in and there is no shade in sight, when there is no place to relieve your body from the sun’s assault and you think your insides just might be boiling. It’s no question as to why your mind is starting to feel fuzzy, and your limbs weak.

I learned very recently that most bats can’t take off from the ground and once they’ve hit it, without help of any kind (or perhaps simple sheer luck), they are dead meat (literally). Without the ability to take flight, grounded bats soon succumb to starvation, death by natural predators, and death by scared and/or ignorant humans.  A sad yet interesting fact, it got me truly thinking. I imagine the moment of that final fall.  After a life of constant flight, one where I am too busy to stop, always moving in body and in mind, dashing from one place to the next with only sleep to keep me still, would I be afraid?  After a life I thought to have lived to the fullest, all the while too scared to hit the ground, perhaps convinced that I am being held back by some unknown force… I think not!  I can’t help but feel that there would be not fear, but a brave curiosity, and excitement at that final moment I plunge, head first, heart racing, eyes unseeing as I crash down into the unfamiliar. credit: David Lawrence

Other desert life of note is the Palmer’s agave, or Century plant. Century plants (as well as other types of agave) grow even as they are approaching death. They produce a tall stalk that shoots up about 5 times taller than the plant itself.  To do this the plant uses all of the energy it’s stored up throughout its life to create its first and final bloom.  The plants feed nearby insects and bats as well. The beautiful stalks are an inspiring sight, up close and from afar.  Gazing at their peaks, I find myself deep in thought once again.  Should my goal in this life to reach out and create one lasting impression? Should I try to help as many others as I can before it is too late?   I think of the Century plant and wonder if it’s something to aspire to, creating something that, for however long, will outlive yourself.  I would like to sign my name across this landscape, as the agave do, leaving a unmistakable mark of life on the things that at first appear to have none. I will be saying goodbye to this inspirational yet fearsome place in just a few short weeks, yet I know the time I’ve spent here will last forever in my memories.

“Everything here will hurt you,” I was told.  I soon discovered the truth of that statement.  I later discovered the unsaid truths.  Everything here is beautiful.  Everything here is so full of life that they almost seem paradoxes of themselves.  Everything here has taught me the true meaning of resilience and how to overcome situations I can’t control by changing what I can about myself.  The truth is, we don’t belong here, among the Mesquite trees and the Javelinas, among the wild fires and the bats in their caves.  These things are not bad, they are not hostile, this is their home and we are merely visitors.  Welcome to Arizona.  Everything here will fight to survive.