I love to eat rice and beans, it makes me feel like a worker in the fields, the ones with the straw hats and sandals. They bend over with account books pressing down upon their backs. History can be oppressive and ugly. Broken bones and scars are the story of slavery and servitude and the company store. The pain wraps around the world thousands of times, each vertebra and tibia, each twisted smile, all connected like a string of stolen pearls. Everything lost and without sound.
Today I ate beans and rice and sipped water with a squeeze of lime. In my mind the workers took a break and drank from a stream. Birds pecking nearby spoke to them and together they sang a song stretching all the way to the dawn of civilization as if George Gershwin was opening a new opera called The Birth of Food. Birds were extremely critical to civilization. The stage designer constructed a massive spotlight that acted like the sun, with singing birds flying through the light. Unfortunately, the fake sun partially blinded most of the audience. The law suits were too much for Gershwin.
He died not long after that. During his last days he cursed technology, but his real complaint was that everything smelled like burnt rubber. When he gave dinner parties, he would take the food off the plates and throw it at the guests. “This shit tastes like burning rubber,” he shouted. He also would yell, “I can’t teach birds how to sing, they either have it or they don’t.”
This story was meant to be about a demented woman who stood over my table at lunch. I was eating rice, beans, and tortillas. The woman wanted to talk about the kitchen crew. She must have been at least 90-years-old. I acted like I couldn’t hear her, but she kept talking about the cooks, Javier and Renee, and her beautiful, gentle daughter who was a great painter from ex-Yugoslavia. I finally got up to wash my hands. When I came back she was eating my leftover chips. I went to the bar to pay my bill and asked the waiter about the woman. He said, she came in every second or third day and her daughter had told them to please feed her and for them to keep a running tab and at the end of the month the daughter would pay for it. The owner of the restaurant never charged the daughter and they had been feeding the demented woman for five years. Mostly she ate leftovers at people’s tables, like mine. They couldn’t stop her, even when they offered her new food, she turned it down. She was like a street dog in that respect. She wanted used food, not the new kind and so I stood in the doorway watching her eat chips and that was when I thought about George Gershwin and The Birth of Food and how Gershwin died from a brain dysfunction, like Thomas Wolfe and an old girlfriend, and it seemed that everyone was a victim of having their brains eaten out by something gone wrong. If not the brain, then the heart. I stood frozen there until she finished and slowly she wandered back through the door of the kitchen and disappeared.
I left and half way home it began to rain. I cherished the water as it hit me and the drops were like the days of the old woman and I couldn’t move again.