My blueberry pancakes were a calculated choice. I had to go from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. without lunch or even a snack. Poor, pitiful me.
The Graduate Record Examination, more commonly known as the GRE revised General Test, maintains strict rules for food and beverage consumption and bathroom breaks. I had a plan: leave my room at 9:30 a.m., walk 10 minutes to Deluxe, order blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon and black coffee, wait 15 minutes for my food, enjoy pancakes-bacon-coffee for 30 minutes, walk five minutes to the subway station, ride 20 minutes to Penn Station, scout out the Prometric Testing Center at 1 Penn Plaza, drink iced tea, wander the subway, listen to buskers playing punk, smell buttered popcorn, explore Kmart—if I bought a five pound bag of Snickers® Fun Size Candy Bars and ate them all, slowly and with great deliberation while hunched over a clipboard copying in broken cursive ‘I will not cheat,’ would people think that I was crazy?—then up 16 floors to a warren of nylon carpeting and cubicles. The test is four and a half hours with one 10 minute break (sprint to the bathroom and back, eight minutes including check-in, check-out metal detector-ing and body cavity search), and that’s it.
I need a vacation from thinking.
As I was eating breakfast, I thought to myself, why do I like pancakes so much? I mean, I love pancakes: I once drove an hour through the White Mountains to a town called Littleton, N.H. because it sits between two famous pancake parlors; I have felt my life was complete after a brunch of buckwheat pancakes in Nashville; I have been late to work because I was too busy eating banana walnut or sweet potato pancakes at Tom’s.
When I look at a glistening stack of pancakes, I cannot help but think, goddamn, and imagine my breakfast as an Audrey Flack painting: supersaturated and so real the butter looks so buttery you can’t believe it, a big pat melting into a translucent, amber sheen of real maple syrup, three puffy griddle cakes with bubbles around the browned edges, a heavy white plate, vinyl diner stool, outdated calendars, and old 4-H club photos over Mr. Coffee.
After I finished at Deluxe, I ran my fork over the plate. I rubbed the tines through the leftover syrup, and I suddenly remembered and understood why I loved pancakes.
Growing up, my mom made breakfast every morning before school. The menu rotated through a predictable list: “breakfast pizzas,” little frozen disks of biscuit dough spackled with reconstituted egg, bacon, and sausage gravy; store-bought cinnamon rolls or lemon poppy seed mini muffins; Pillsbury Toaster Strudel® Frozen Pastries stuffed with apple or cherry; Eggo® frozen waffles; and terrible frozen pancakes. I dreaded mornings when my mom served those frozen pancakes. They were tough and springy like surgical sponges. My dad bought plastic jugs of Hungry Jack® Microwavable Syrup. He licked it off a spoon. I could spy a caramel-colored stain on his starched white coat, reflected in the convex curve of the spoon. When cold, the syrup set like wet glue on pasteboard. I could barely swallow. But I made it through frozen pancake after frozen pancake, eight years, and the tacky crinkle of fork pulling free from fake syrup impressed itself on my psyche. “We’ll pay for your therapy someday,” my mom would say.
I think that I am obsessed with pancakes because I am trying to recover something not really absent from my childhood. Because I feel a boring and horrible guilt about my anger. Because I love my mom and am rewriting a history incompatible with what I think is true about her. Because I need to imagine some trauma, anything really, in my suburban past to justify my disaffection with a world of things.
I am constantly searching for relief from the narrative in my own head. The voice-over only stops when I’m running or eating. So I run, and I eat, but there is always the afterward, in which I think about running and eating, and think about what it means to think about running and eating and everything else stuck in-between. Experience unmediated by thought is wonderful, and I have possessed it. At least, I think. I don’t want to talk about it.
Jason Bell is a Columbia College senior majoring in English. In Defense of Delicious runs alternate Fridays.