When my wife goes out of town, I revert to my bachelor days. The toilet seat remains up, every light in the house is off except for the room I’m in, and the thermostat is turned down to a temperature you’d set your fridge at.
When it comes to meals, while there is a slight increase in take-out, I make the meals that got me through my college days when I was on the skimpiest of budgets. I do this not because I’m trying to save money but because I enjoy these dishes, I miss having them, and my wife has all but forbidden me to make them when she is home.
One such delicacy is a dish I lovely refer to as goulash. When my wife returned from a previous trip and asked what there was to eat, I told her I had leftover goulash in the fridge. She had never before seen or heard of my goulash and eagerly asked “You made goulash?” Opening the container she stared at me as if in her absence I had made little hats for the cats to wear. She quickly put the lid back on the container and asked what the hell that was.
She forced me to go look up “goulash” online and I saw then that my dish was errantly named, so I changed it to “poor man’s goulash” (for reference in her presence only).
Unlike real goulash, mine is nothing more than macaroni, ground hamburger, a can of diced tomatoes, salt, pepper and some seasoning salt. That’s it. I don’t even use diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning, it HAS to be just the plain diced tomatoes. I tell you it’s lovely.
Called suddenly out of town, my wife left a few days ago to attend to her mother; her plane not in the air more than 20 minutes and I was already staring at the grocery store’s pasta selection.
“Are you finding everything ok?” a young male shelf stocker (or stalker as it sometimes seems to feel like) asked me, as he replenished the sauce jars 10 feet away.
“I can’t find macaroni.” I said.
“The Kraft Dinner is at the other end of the aisle.” he replied.
“I’m not after KD.” I said, “I just need plain macaroni.”
“They make different kinds.” he replied, as he started to walk to the other end of the aisle, presumably to get me a box.
“I don’t need KD!” I softly yelled at him.
He stopped, turned, and as he walked back to me said “I don’t think we carry it any more, everyone buys KD instead.” I chose to ignore him and the stupidity of his remark even though he was now standing next to me, assisting with my scan of the shelves. “Here it is.” he replied, picking up a bag of cavatappi (a.k.a. Scoobi-Doo) and started to hand it to me.
“No.” I calmly but irritatingly said to him. “Those are scoobi-doos. Do you even work in this store or are you perhaps covering an aisle you’ve never been in before?” I asked.
“I’m just trying to help, sir.” he said.
Feeling slightly embarrassed for my remark and thinking he missed some integral part of his childhood, I began to explain macaroni to him stating “It’s kind of like scoobi-doos but it only has one curve and none of these little ridges in it.”
“You could always just get these and bust them up.” as his assistance continued.
“You gotta have macaroni here somewhere, I’ll just keep looking.” I told him.
He went back to his jars and I continued to study the shelves, but now focussing on the empty spots, thinking one must have been for macaroni and they were just out. I was now more interested in finding it to prove its existence to him than I was to eat it.
Upping his game he says “I don’t think they make it any more. People want pastas their kids can play with. Macaroni is boring, it’s like ghetto pasta.”
I stared at him but forced my eyes to briefly show him only the whites, then asked “You didn’t make macaroni art in school?” I continued to check the shelves adding “They still make it. You may not have it for some reason, but they still make it.”
“You can’t just use something else?” he asks, “It’s all just pasta.”
“Instead of giving you a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, if I handed you scoobi-doos’ meat balls, does that sound right to you?” I replied. “They make different kinds of pasta for a reason.”
Even though the meal I planned to make could easily have any kind of pasta substituted for macaroni, I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell him that. Besides, once you’ve had it one way, you need it that way to bring back all the fond memories.
He said nothing and having extended my search to now include the more expensive boxed pastas that supposedly everybody in Italy eats, my Holy Grail finally revealed itself.
Not caring that I was now going to pay twice the price for half the pasta, compared to the package I usually buy, I grabbed the box and let out a loud “ah-ha” and shook it towards him as I walked by.
He wished me a good day but I left feeling that when he got off work, I’d be the subject of a story he’d recite to his equally young friends where I’d be described as having acted like an ornery old codger, desperately constipated and in need of a particular brand of stewed prunes.
But I cared not, I had all my ingredients and as I gleefully ate my meal that evening in front of my computer, I looked up things like how many different kinds of pasta there are and why we have so many kinds. I learned there are approximately 350 different kinds of pasta and even 4x the amount of names for each. As I see it, the addition of “Ghetto Pasta” just gave macaroni its fifth name, making it the champion of all pastas.