takeaways from youth

(not a comprehensive list)

It is March and I am now definitively 30, as in more than halfway to 31. Which means I’ve already shown up late to write about a new year, and a new decade, and my own new decade; and so remain very much a never new me. I’ve decided to be consistent in some of my laziest convictions and talk to you about takeaways.

This is a list in the most useless sense; not top or best or worst or recommended or informative or even complete. I have eaten a lot of — on average, mostly average — takeaways in my 30.5 years of existence. These are the things I’ve chosen to remember about them; at least, for this essay’s sake.

Queen’s Pizza & Wings

One of the few traits that I have inherited from my dad, besides looking almost exactly like him, is my compulsion to turn what should be cursory social encounters (the real small between strangers kind) into incredibly drawn out conversations that seem to last until time’s end, and loop back, again and again and again. 

This means that wherever he goes — whether it’s the grocery store or every hardware store or his favourite Vietnamese restaurant in Hamilton — my dad will know someone, or will be getting to know someone. This, I now realise, seems to have always been his vibe. But was also something I hadn’t given much consideration until I was 19 or 20 and all my nights out (which were the only nights I took into account) seemed to end at Queen’s Pizza & Wings. 

Queen’s Pizza & Wings was, and likely still is, just your average pizza & wings place. There was nothing inherently special about it, for me at least, other than its proximity to Hess Village, which is where you are going out in Hamilton when it’s the summer of 2008 and you’re 19 or 20. By the time I had reach the Queen’s Pizza & Wings pizza stage of the evening, the only things I wanted in life were hot cheese on bread, blurry darkness, aloneness and bad tv. These were the dreamiest, melted hours and, as I know now, the most justifiable raison d’etre for going ‘out out’ anywhere. 

The thing about Queen’s Pizza & Wings is that my dad used to go there too. The first time I show up post-Hess, at the very reasonable hour of 2AM, I notice that my dad has left his drawn out chatter all over the countertop. The man behind the counter knows my dad. He seems to know me, because he knows my dad, and maybe I’d visited with my dad before, I don’t remember. But he asks about my dad; every time he asks. How is your dad? Why does your dad never come to get pizza anymore? The truth was that my dad had started getting his pizza elsewhere. But of course, I felt compelled to reassure this man that yes my dad is coming back, of course he’s coming back. And then I’d order my pizza, and I’d talk and talk and talk until the end of time. Just as my dad once had, and can only assume still does, as I still do. 

And even though I spent most of my youth thinking we were incredibly different — that I was so much, too much, my mom, and her mom, and maybe even her mom — it’s nice to think that our shared, drawn out chatter has cumulated on countertops, and down the aisles of grocery stores, all over the world. 

Salsateria

Guelph, Ontario in the early 2010s was a city that felt, to me, like the most beautiful place on earth. It was more town than city; more community than town. I was something like 22 and felt more alive and self-assured than I had ever felt, or would ever feel. I was reveling in the evolving, totality of me-ness. I had the best friends, I had the best cat, I had the best apartment, I had the best nights out and every day felt like a state of eternal becoming. I was yet to face the realness of my mid-twenties and was well beyond whatever the fuck had happened before. I had a messy car and I was on the other side of a messy break up and now I was skillfully — with the help of friends, family, therapy and medication — managing the mess that had been my mental health. And everything was just great.

Every Thursday, my friends and I would get overdressed and go to a bar called The Albion. The Albion was not a gay bar, but it was not not a gay bar, especially on Thursday nights, which everyone called Thursgay and I really hope, but doubt, they still do. We’d go and dance to the same songs, especially Heads Will Roll, which I would request over and over and over. It felt like you could be who you wanted to be, with whoever you wanted to be, and that these were the most beautiful, best people on the world. I wasn’t high or anything; this was just how it felt to be alive and young and happy. 

Anyway, in the first hours of every Friday morning, I’d end up at this place called Salsateria — a Mexican-style vegetarian and vegan street food takeout. Which, as it was 2011, meant that it was way ahead of its time. I would order a cheese quesadilla with extra salsa and I’d walk home with my best friend to the best two-bedroom apartment that ever existed. And it felt, at the time, like so much sadness was behind me. That underneath the smothering nothingness I had discovered a sparkling everythingness. That this me, clutching a foil wrapped hot-cheese-filled-tortilla in her hands, was the me-ist me that would ever exist. I wanted to freeze her in that moment, because she was so naive and so herself and so happy; her bursting insides safely contained in this wrapper of youthful self-assuredness. So now I have. 

To all the locals I have loved before

If you, too, feel the need to demarcate various chapters of your life every 1-3 years by moving house, neighbourhood, cities — and once, countries — I fully recommend holding off on the unpacking for several weeks upon landing. Leave it all in the suitcase, in the boxes. Take out what you need, when you need it. Don’t bother checking out the wardrobe capacity. Throw your clothes on the floor. You need to eat your way to the kind of belonging that comes from knowing where the best food is, approximate to your now unfamiliar life and living space.

Elite level tip. If possible, pal up those that work there. They will be there to offer you one pound discounts on a one pound fifty card charge, and maybe develop an uncomfortable crush on you, and may ultimately be the people who you rely on to feed your soul with rituals and neighbourliness and a sense of place and assuage the loneliness of the strange and new. 

Mommy Thai (2 spring rolls)

Once upon a time in November, I spent almost a month eating only antibiotics (oral and intravenously) and like 3 pieces toast and once, some deeply sad canned peaches served in a small metal bowl in the hospital. And when I got home, I ate exactly 2 vegetarian spring rolls from a restaurant called Mommy Thai. There’s no figurative takeaway from this; just want to give a shoutout because I’ve never tasted anything that made me want to happy cry.

Every pizza I’ve ever eaten alone in a hotel room 

I have a lot of flight issues, in the sense that I have big, is-this-a-normal-sort-of-turbulence-or-the-fall-from-the-sky-kind issues with flying. Also, the bad air travel experiences kind, where you’re stuck in between places for 1, 2, 3 days and everyone is just really angry about it. Since my mid-20s I have mostly travelled alone, mostly between Manchester and Toronto, which, combined with my flight issues means that on several occasions I have ended up stuck in hotels eating pizza alone, which would be sort of fun if it was planned. But because it’s not planned, and because I hate planes, I am quickly consumed by the Final Destination anxiety. Like perhaps I shouldn’t be getting on this flight after all. Perhaps this is a sign — or is it a sign, or is it not a sign, there is no such thing as signs, but perhaps in this case, this is the sign, perhaps perhaps what if perhaps. So to distance myself, from myself, I submerge myself in some unreality by eating pizza in bed and watching tv and pretending things are different, that I am choosing this experience and isn’t it glamorous. And I feel better. Because of course, the world isn’t ending and I’ll get home eventually and really, when it comes down to it, it really is not all that bad.

When I began writing this essay I didn’t anticipate that one month later I’d be in an Airbnb stress-eating a takeaway massaman curry from a bowl that is not my own, alone. I couldn’t have imagined that so many of us would be eating takeaways and spending almost all of our time alone, stuck in between our delayed, respective normalcies for the foreseeable, and possibly unimaginable, future. That the Final Destination anxiety is just one scrolling mess of the every day and it may be a very, very long time before we see the other side of it. Now, as I write this, when my friends are heading to work in hospitals, these words (of which there are over 1500) on the topic of takeaways seems so trivial. I’ve really got nothing more to add; except that sometimes, the ways in which we pretend that things are different — like watching sixteen episodes of Grey’s Anatomy or eating an entire garlic margherita or drinking wine in the bathtub or just breathing, on purpose — are the two metres of distance we need to keep on keeping on, when reality feels uncomfortably close.


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