Little Bags of Crisps

I just ran out of toast. There is the potential for "real food," I guess, but why properly cook when I can buy more snacks? Detectives, it seems, agree, but they are on the other side: They have no time for anything but snacks, and so they idolize meals. Watching them, and having plenty of time to cook meals, I lust for snacks.

I'm really just talking about one detective, though snacking is part of the genre. She crunches on little bags of crisps, and I salivate for all things snacky. Her face shocked me on the Hitchcock poster. I tried to emulate her haircut. This too was a grass-is-greener phenomenon.

Yesterday I had at my disposal an odd thing: a snack that I labored over for hours. I baked it because I ran out of topics that might interest a guest--ran out of talk altogether, actually--and turned the kitchen instead into a stage, where I performed Tarte Tatin. "Real pastry," he said, "good for you," and went back to reading coupons on newsprint.

When the morning came with its disappointment (consciousness) and relief (the guest gone), the previous night's labor allowed me to avoid one of morning's major groanings (cooking breakfast). All I had to do was coffee. Late afternoon came, and I ate more tart. It was not snacking in the way that chips provide an action for anxious cogitation. It was snacking in the I'm-too-lazy-to-cook way, and in its nutritional content: flour, butter, sugar (and a bit of fruit). Its rejection of all things "substantial."

One thinks one is allaying the passage of time by refusing to spend it cooking, and by lazing around with tart, coffee, book, and computer, but now it was already dark. It was time to go, and I had not eaten anything but tart all day. I ate another piece of tart, so that I wouldn't be hungry (I would be gone for three hours).

My guts undulated. I recalled an exchange with last night's guest. "Not much sugar you put in, did you?" "2/3 of a cup. Lots of butter though--a whole stick in the crust, and half a stick in the filling." (As if sugar and butter are interchangeable by virtue of being considered unhealthy.) There was a certain advantage, though, to filling the stomach with butter and coffee: I didn't want to put anything else in there. Guts had been inverted.

Those are the extremes of snacking's see-saw: I either don't want to eat anything, ever, or I want to eat ALL THE SNACKS (as Hyperbole and a Half would put it) and to never stop. Eating is either a bother or a never-complete transubstantiation. These might sound opposed, but both are attempts not to move forward--either through outright refusal or by the rapid lateral motions of a hermit crab. Detectives snack wen the case isn't going anywhere. When they're stuck. At a narrative level, an investigation consists of long periods of frustrated stuckness and desperate grasping punctuated by sudden leaps forward.

Meals punctuate. To eat a meal is to admit that one needs to eat, ergo to admit that time has passed since one last ate. It is especially difficult to admit that time has passed when one has done so little during that time now gone, and when one thinks that something has to be done with time, otherwise one does not deserve it.

Detectives who have not cracked the case eat "one of those frozen chili con carne things" one night and "one of those frozen chili con carne things" the next night. They do not appreciate someone butting in to cook "proper food" for them. Begrudgingly they will eat what is cooked for them, but they will not allow its punctuation. The cook will get angry and leave; the detective's problem with this meal (one of many) will thus be side-stepped.

3 November 2012