Today I was in Pike Place Market, and I saw a homeless man blow his nose with a dollar bill, and I thought, "Incredible!" It’s like he’s saying, "Yeah, I don’t have a home, but that’s not going to stop me from living the dream. Dollar bills? Who needs ‘em? I drop a Washington every time I sneeze!" And then I thought, "Perhaps this is why he’s running low on cash."
I buy my vegetables and walk back to work. I’m peeling potatoes when I realize I’ve forgotten the milk.
"Augh! The milk!"
"Esteven? You need some milk?" Enter Pascual, our warehouse manager. I don’t understand what he is saying most of the time. All I can gather is that he is very, very smooth. So when he asks me if I need some milk, he asks as though there were a special magical milk that was hidden in a far-off land whose geography only he knows, but if I said the word, he would lasso a feral steed with a licorice whip, lash it to Apollo’s chariot with Bubble Tape and ride it to the Promised Land for a thimbleful. Which would be totally unnecessary. So I suggest the corner market, and he seems pretty open to that, too.
"What are you making there?" A wide-eyed grinny woman is leaning over the counter at me.
"Tortilla Espanola," I reply warily.
"Ohhhhhh…" She leans in further, straining to see. "Tor-TILL-io." I know she doesn’t speak Spanish. I also know she wont leave me alone without a conversation. I decide to play the foreigner card.
"Um. Jes," I slur.
"So where are the tortillios?"
"Jes. I think ju are thinking of Mexican tortillas. Dis ees potato, and egg, and onion, and olive oil…"
"Ohhhhh…" She is concentrating furiously as I brush the top with olive oil. When she speaks again, it is slowly and clearly, so I can understand her English. "SO THEN…YOU PUT (here she gestures wildly) THE TORTILLIOS ON TOP? ON TOP?"
"Have you tried this wine? Tried? This wine?" She is pointing at the bottle while waving it with the other hand. I stare at her blankly.
"Oh!" I say. "Jes. It ees so good. It ees…undescriptable." She is delighted.
"What is it like? What does it taste like?" She is pointing to her tongue. "Taste?"
"Iss great. Iss like…with the berries and the fruits? And tastes with the…with the…" I struggle for the words. Her brow is furrowed sympathetically. I continue. "With the espices? En jus bery small tastes licoriss."
"Black licorice?" No, RED licorice, lady. The wine tastes like RED licorice. And then there’s just a hint of Blue Razzleberry and a flutter of Red Hots–are you kidding me? This is seriously the third person to ask me this. Do people not know that there is no such thing as red licorice?
"Esteven!" Pascual has returned. "I have returned," he whispers. "The milk. For you." The woman takes her wine downstairs, and Pascual flashes me a wink and a smile as if to imply that this milk is my very own dairy valentine, my golden fleece from the end of the rainbow and yet no trouble, no trouble at all.
I saw the end of the rainbow, once, driving back from Portland. It arched from behind the distant west hills and fell into a meadow. You know what was at the end of the rainbow? A Chevy pickup. I know. It was all very disappointing.
"Esteven! Your tortilla!" I’ve just pulled it from the oven, and it crackles brown and gold. Pascual’s earnest eyes meet mine, and he speaks with devout conviction. "Your tortilla is like a beautiful woman," he says gravely, "I cannot look away."
"That’s very kind, Pascual, thank you."
"How do you make it so round? You must use a compass." He is grinning widely.
There’s a sign on the wall, an advertisement for Andalusia, Spain, that says, "Why do Andalusians smile so much?" Underneath the question are pictures of a man conducting an orchestra, a woman dancing flamenco, a man preparing an elaborate feast. None of these people are smiling. No one on this poster is smiling. So I guess my question is "Do they?" Maybe it’s some kind of logic problem, and the pictures are hints! We can definitely rule out music, dance, and food. What could it be?
"Everyone gather please!" It’s Pascual. Often, we get samples of new products to try and then determine whether or not we’ll carry them in stock. Chocolates, fig bread, dabs of jelly, roasted nuts, truffle oil. Today it’s Chapurrines. Dehyrdated grasshoppers. "Esteven? You will try the bugs with me?"
"Sure," I say.
"Brenda? You will eat the bugs?" Brenda looks appalled.
"My father used to chase me with grasshoppers."
"So you’re just going to keep running from them?" I prod, "Like Pac-Man and ghosts? Maybe it’s time to face this fear." She turns to me coldly.
"When my father said, "Brenda, follow your dreams," I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean my nightmares."
"Oh. Ok. Wow."
Grasshoppers are peculiar creatures. Looking at them, you’d think they were no fun at all. Clenched jaws, beady eyes, steely gaze. And yet, their lives are spent playing leapfrog, and hopscotch, and fiddle jigs. They’re like the Westside Story of entomology. Sure, they talk tough and flash their knives and flex but all they really want to do is high-kick and shimmy and sing. That’s why it makes sense to me that perhaps there was a grasshopper on his deathbed, with his dear ones gathered ’round, who said, "Well, no one lasts forever. I’ve had a good long month. I don’t want to be buried when I go. Instead, I’d like to be toasted and salted and eaten like popcorn. I want to be a crispy-crunchy treat!"
So even though they darkly glower at me through the wall of the jar, I know they mean no harm. Because really, they’re in grasshopper heaven, high-fiving, and swigging Guinness, and doing the Rumba. I pop one in my mouth and crunch down. It tastes like a pet store. A very salty pet store. Like what fish food might taste like. I can feel its little legs crackle between my teeth. This is not a crispy-crunchy treat. It is a spectacular exit for a grasshopper, though. An incredible way to go. I reach for another. It’s an odd feeling, putting a whole creature in your mouth. I feel like a dinosaur. Or Jonah’s whale. Or Pac-man. I waltz him across the table.
"When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way–" CRUNCH! Another peeks out meekly from the jar.
"Mariaaaaa!" he warbles, "I just met a girl named–" CRUNCH! They never see it coming.
The verdict? I give them a 10 for entertainment value, and a zero on taste. These are seriously a blast, but they’re really not delicious at all. If someone could make these taste great, they just might be the perfect food. In the meantime, does anyone have a dollar? I think I need to spit this out.