Mickey the Milk Man

It has been pointed out to me that I am often appalled by food. For someone who writes a blog about food I have remarkably little enthusiasm for eating. I push away my plate, content more with the freedom from having to eat I have just won. Eating is often merely a distasteful means to an end. Maybe this is because I read In The Night Kitchen over and over as a child. Or perhaps I read it over and over because in some way it spoke to my tendency toward disgust. In either case the book is certainly related in some way.

There is actually a convincing case to be made for the latter possibility that I have always been prone to rejecting food. As a very small child, I am told (I don’t remember this), I went so far as to pick the bowl off of my highchair and throw it at my parents. They were the oppressors who had introduced this cruel new economy into my life: to survive you must eat. I rejected it as a theory for as long it was possible to do so. The doctor worried. My parents worried and, hoping that the problem was merely an uncontrollable enthusiasm for throwing food at them, bought a bowl with suction cups. Somehow, I managed to throw this new bowl at them too. Their idea of why I did this remained unchallenged. But today I am convinced that I did not just take pleasure in throwing things at them (though I’m sure I did). I think that I was appalled by the notion that this stuff in the bowl had to go into my mouth, and moreover that I had to make it do so. No more were the good old days of breastfeeding and bottles. I’m sure I’m getting the chronology wrong somehow, but after a rather extended period of drinking from a bottle, I chucked it into a trashcan myself, in a symbolic gesture full of melodrama. I didn’t know at the time what I had just gotten myself into. My will to self-determination was propped up by the idea that beyond the bottle lay not just dignity, but freedom. Nobody ever told me that I would have to eat.

In a way my childhood fast is the very height of heroism, and in its extremity reveals heroism’s absurdity. Here is heroism: one stands between a reality and a truth and throws a fit. I would deal with primal loss by viewing the world with skepticism and occasionally denying its vicissitudes altogether. I would not accept eating as my access to the good stuff. No, it was just some new shit.

Mickey of In The Night Kitchen has a much less problematic relationship with, um, milk.

Among other things, In the Night Kitchen is the story of Mickey's nakedness.

Mickey falls into the night kitchen under a mistaken identity: milk. Yes, that is his hand.

Mickey asserts his identity, his separateness from the night kitchen and its ingredients. He is not a part of their mad cake production. He is not milk. He is special. Or at least he certainly has no doubts that he is.

Despite his protestations the bakers still take him for milk, and for this reason chase after him.

At this point he has transformed as if by magic two foods into tools for his use: a jumpsuit from the cake he was baked in, and an airplane from unbaked dough with which to evade the bakers. The bakers in fact form no real threat. He is the master, almost effortlessly shaping all the world to his will.

Refuting that he is milk, he goes to get milk. This is the story, then, of the formation of Mickey's masculine subject-position. I daresay it's not a coincidence that the bottle of milk is an enormous phallus and the tallest building.

But to get milk and yet be separate from milk he must form a new relationship with the milk. Rather than being confused for milk, he and the milk interpenetrate. Distinction is just another word for friction. Interestingly he and the book celebrate this moment. To have rather than to be might necessitate objects circulating through you, but it's not a price. It's a kind of glory, it seems.

The milk, it is worth noting, dissolves his cake-clothing. Getting the milk demands nakedness.

Mission accomplished. Mickey relishes in his newly forged identity: he gets milk.

This is the only red text in the book.

He is restored from nakedness to the regular world and clothedness, but now a boy. His identity is from the night kitchen is not lost, but reflected: oh to ho. He shares this secret joke with himself.

Perhaps I liked the book so much because it offered a new, exciting possibility for my relationship with things that come in bottles. Maybe I threw away my bottle in hopes of becoming Mickey, the perfect boy.

14 February 2011