Fried: Chow Bella Writers Tell Stories of Food and Heat

DRIVE-THRU
by Katie Johnson
"Welcome to McDonald's. May I take your order?"

I'm 7 years old and I'm kneeling behind a low wooden chest in my parent's cookie-cutter home in Ahwatukee. My stepfather, Jim, is on the floor with me. Hunched over in wilted work clothes, he studies a nonexistent drive-thru menu at the far end of my bedroom.

"Yeah, can I get . . . a Big Mac with large fries and a Coke, and . . ." he says, leaning in to get a better look at the invisible menu, "a Happy Meal, please."

As he gives his order, I immediately begin sorting through my eclectic collection of plastic fruit, meat patties, bread slices, and pea-pile molds. I package them into brown paper lunch bags and hand them to my all-too-familiar customer, exchanging pleasantries about our families, the weather, and the never-ending workweek.

We finish our transaction and Jim crawls out of my unmarked drive-thru, dropping the bags subtly behind the door so that I can retrieve them, dump them out, and start this whole game over again — and again and again.

At 7, my life goals are simple. I want to look just like Cindy Crawford, I want to drive a pink Corvette like Barbie, and I want to be the drive-thru girl at McDonald's.

When I disclose these dreams to my mom, she informs me that Cindy Crawford is not really human but rather a goddess among women, that Corvettes are only for strippers and men, and that being the drive-thru girl at McDonald's is a rather lackluster ambition for a girl who can work the TV like a pro.

But I love it.

I love the simplicity of it. People drive up, they order, you deliver, they pay, you both smile, the end. There is a routine to the drive-thru and I am a child who needs routine.

I am what my family describes as "intense." As a child, I will focus to the point of not being able to let go. I will be late to even the most important days at school because I insist on completing the hopscotch before I enter the building. I will watch feature-length films all the way through to the credits, rewind them, and watch them again without distraction. And I will make my stepdad crawl on his knees through my makeshift McDonald's to the point of rug burn because I am a child who does not like change.

Of course, at 7 years old, the irony of my fry-girl fantasy is lost on me, because in the real world, nothing about the drive-thru is permanent. People roll out of your life just as easily as they roll into it. Exchanges are quick, insubstantial, and with no guarantee of happening with the same person twice.

But this daily real-world change is something I simply cannot grasp as a child. I cannot grasp it on the days that Jim is not in the mood to play drive-thru. I cannot grasp it on the nights when I wake up to sounds of him and my mom yelling. And I really cannot grasp it on the day she packs up her Honda and drives me and my sister out of Ahwatukee.

But the nice thing about change, I will learn, is that though I may not perfect the art of embracing it, I will nonetheless encounter it — encounter it so often that other changes will get eventually get pushed aside. Big changes will eclipse smaller ones, the new will replace the old, until one day, 21 years later, I'm lost and wandering in Ahwatukee. But rather than stop and mourn what could have been and kept being, I'll simply just drive through.


DEEP-FRIED JERK
by Amy Young
Somehow, I still feel disappointed and cheated that the memory of the first time I ate deep-fried jumbo shrimp is a reflection that is bittersweet. To me, bittersweet food memories that are twisted up with another person should be ones in which at least a modicum of affection was part of the equation. Like in the neighborhood of feeling dizzy as you pull a slice of Brie away from its wedge, recalling the first time it hit your lips, fed to you by an amazing lover, who, of course, later destroyed the fuck out of your heart. Or, maybe, getting a bit choked up opening a jar of pickles and thinking about the late nights spent as a teenager laughing at your sister as she made her favorite cheese-and-pickle sandwiches which you devoured while laughing ridiculously at the overwhelming general dysfunction of your family.

Instead, when I first tried the crispy crustaceans, it was with my gramps. My nana, also known as his only saving grace, was there, too, but that didn't matter; the mere presence of my grumpy grandfather was enough to put a cloud of crap over any decent moment. Clad in his version of shorts — plaid pants hand-cut to just below the knee, the bottom trimmed in a triangular pattern to give them a "design," as if to somehow disguise that he was the man behind the scissors, he informed my nana and me that we were going with him to "look at a piece of land in Orlando."

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