Saturday, March 6, 2010

How to Eat Like a Dog (Or Like a Heisenberg)

Something1 reminded me of an incident that occurred about 5 years ago to my son, Ian, when he was five. He and I were at home together having dinner alone, probably because it was Teh 'Bride's night to work late at the library, and I made my usual Tuesday night dinner of pasta and microwaved frozen meatballs.

Stupidly, I gave Ian one of the meatballs after having cut it merely in half, rather than into quarters or eighths, even, and — I've probably telegraphed where this is going already — Ian, of course, shoved one of the half-meatballs into his gob and tried to swallow it whole and it, predictably, got stuck in his throat; and for the first time in his life, Ian choked on his food.

I mean, that meatball was really stuck because I could see his eyes growing wide with a sense of panic as he realized the food wouldn't go down and, more disturbing still, he couldn't bring it back up, either. I jumped out of my seat, ready to give him the baby-Heimlich maneuver, but before I could, the incident was over: He horked the offending half-meatball back up on his own.

It was a pretty scary moment and Ian, having never really choked before,  was having a hard time processing it. I discussed it with Ian after he calmed down a bit: "Yeah, that's really scary, isn't it, when you can't breathe and you can't get that thing out of your throat? But Daddy was there for you and I was going to help you; but you got that bad meatball out all by yourself, didn't you? Yay for you, Ian! You did a good job!"

Because even though Ian was 5, this was the first time he'd ever choked on food. And so it was also sort of a rite of passage for him; because Heisenbergs — especially Heisenberg males — eat quickly and loudly, like ravenous curs, the act of food-consumption accompanied by lots of smacking sounds and burps and even, inexplicably, farts not to mention other bodily eruptions that may actually be unique to the animal N*ts@ckus Heisenbergus. And so it was a bit of a surprise to me that it took Ian a full FIVE years to have his first choking experience, because I think I myself had my first one in utero (which is a town somewhere in South Joisey, I think) and Heisenberg males, once born, tend just in general not to chew much when they eat and we choke — I mean really choke — about three times per meal, and I'm talking even while eating snacks. And the point is not to let the choking slow you down much because that's for luuuuzers because when you grow up in a  family of 7 kids and you're the sixth of those  7 you learn by example that the faster you eat the more food you get and the Purpose of Life is to be the one who dies with the most food crammed down your gullet because that means you won and YES IT IS A COMPETITION!1!

And believe me, in this regard, I was no luuuzer.

And so it was perplexing to see that it took Ian a full five years of life to choke for the first time because, man, wasn't he paying attention? I mean, did he think I was choking three times per meal for my health? Didn't he realize these were tutorials on how to do it right?

But then I remembered my mother.

Now, the Heisenbergs are all Irish2, but whereas all the rest of us are Shanty Irish, my mother was Lace Curtain Irish, and she did not eat the same way the rest of us did.

Because Teh 'Mom3 was quite possibly Teh Slowest Eater On Earth and, because of her Lace Curtain Irish Pretensions, she insisted that no one leave the dinner table until "everyone" was finished. Now, this was the functional equivalent of saying "no one leaves until Teh 'Mom was finished" because, take a look around the table, Mater, everyone else was finished like 45 minutes ago! But no, Teh 'Mom actually insisted that the rest of us couldn't even have dessert "until everyone was finished" the main course because "it was rude" to do otherwise but evidently making 8 other people wait 45 minutes for their dessert was the height of magnanimous, selfless consideration4.

But it was excruciating to watch Teh 'Mom eat, because she slowly pushed her food around on her plate and would eventually scoop a dainty bit of it up on her fork and slowly, slooooowly lift the fork mouthward and I remember being all Thaaaat's it, Mom! Higher ... higher ... Come on! Put the food IN your mouth ... O, fucking hell, she put her fork dowm without taking a bite! Come ON, Mom! I got things to DO! That TV in the playroom isn't gonna watch ITSELF!1!

And this game went on and on for what seemed, at the time, to be forever. And Teh 'Mom would, not infrequently, somehow end up with food on some weird part of her face, like near her ear — not much, just like one grain of rice or or a kernel of corn or something, and nobody knew how she got it there, least of all her5. And so you'd make hand gestures to her, saying "You've got a little food ... No, Mom, it's not there, it's actually nowhere near your mouth ... move your napkin down toward your neck ... no, your lower neck ... there you go! Got it!"

And so then, FINALLY, dessert and off to play or watch TV or whatever.

This, to a kid, was sheer torture.

Teh 'Bride and I decided, when Ian arrived, that, except on rare occasions, we would eat our dinners at the dinner table; because when it was just the two of us, we kinda fell into a routine of eating a lot of them in front of the TV. But Teh 'Bride said, "We should eat as a family, around a dining table and talk6."

And I totally agree with that.

But when Teh Boy is finished eating?

He's free to leave the table whenever he wants!
1 Actually, someone.

2 Yeah, I know "Heisenberg" doesn't sound or look Irish, but that's an Ellis Island spelling. It was originally O'Heisenberg.

3 Who tried for all she was worth to get us to call her "mother", which was a total non-starter, and secretly, I think, longed to be called "Mater", and hated the fact that we all called her "Mom," but the fact is she was lucky — we being Irish and all — that she wasn't called "Ma" or "Herself", which would have driven her absolutely around the bend.

4 There's some fucking Lace Curtain Irish logic for you.

5  It may've been the food's way of getting back at her for teasing it so.

6 As opposed to eating in the living room while watching TV and then having Teh 'Bride remember something that happened at work which she then "shares" and I'm all "I'm trying to watch this here" and "Sigh NOW I have to rewind TiVo to catch what you talked over" and Teh 'Bride looking at me with squinty eyes that fairly shout, Why are you such a dick sometimes?


  1. Heehee!! Teh Mom totally reminds me of my brother. He took theeee longest time to eat, & it was annoying because although I didn't have to sit there & wait for him to finish eating, it was distracting me from my TV show to hear him getting yelled at to "HURRY UP AND FINISH EATING ALREADY YOU STILL HAVE TO GET READY FOR SCHOOL!!!!!

    He still eats like that, except he's added a finicky characteristic to his meal consumption. It's fucking weird. First, he always needs utensils. Even when he's eating a cheesesteak or pizza. Then he has to consume his food by category. Has to eat all the mash potatoes first before he'll touch the turkey, then he'll eat the corn. What a wack job.

    And you know the worst part?

    He's passed that on to MY DAUGHTER of all people.

    What. The. Eff.

  2. I'm one of five kids, and so I vacuum up my food, too. It's disgusting, really.

    I can't believe you've had this blog up for months. Now I'm going to be all worthless at work tomorrow, because I'll be up half the night playing catch up.