Salt Peels Beneath My Footsteps
By Nick Pattison
Most people think of others as adjectives and pictures and faces and bodies, but I think of people as cheeses. Yes, cheeses, like Fontina and Asiago and Parmesan and American and Cheddar.
I enjoy, during my free time, sitting by the steam of a large green tea on the porch of a coffee shop in downtown, looking across the street and watching the cheeses melt, slice, and cube in front of me and my tasteful tea.
My first peculiar cheese today was a man, dressed finely in khakis and a blue blazer, strutting heels-first by the soles of his “shined-so-I-can-see-my-own-reflection” penny-loafers. He’s so Mozzarella. I can imagine him sitting down tonight, with a fine glass of imported French wine, sipping it with utmost care, while reading the Opinion section of “The Republican.” He’s like the kind of mozzarella that is fancy and fresh, bubbling milky juice when you unfold the surrounding BPA-free plastic wrapping to reveal the fresh, soft, cloudy, expensive, classy wonder inside. Maybe even drizzled with balsamic vinegar and garnished with a slice of tomato and a leaf of fresh basil, yes, that’s you, Mozzarella Man.
Behind him, in line for a smoothie, is a girl with short, spiked hair, a few tattoos, too many bracelets and a bag that looks like hungry children in Africa once stored rice inside the beaten leather flaps. Her black leather jacket makes her look like a Pepper Jack. A spicy, flarey cheese, like seeing the Fourth of July fireworks in a boat going sixty miles an hour straight towards Turtle Island rock. Like the bird that jumped out of its nest a little too soon before it was strong enough to fly, and no mama bird was able to catch it and bring it back up to the safety of the nest. It was left to live on the ground, vulnerable and young, to find her way among the foxes, rabbits and hawks. Maybe that’s why her bandanna looks like clown vomit on cotton. But even though her clown vomit shows her rough beginnings, she still has some spunk and liveliness to offer to this little coffee shop. Thank you, Pepper Jack Girl.
Next is another girl, maybe nineteen, with dark black mascara and deep red lipstick, making her mouth look bloody and eyes beaten and bruised. I am ashamed to even have looked at her as she walked in with her low-cut tight tanktop with a few inches of midriff that led to shorts that were pulled far enough down I could see the top of her ass, but still shorter than my boxers. American Cheese. The whore cheese, too many cheeses combined, too overly processed. It’s the cheese for greasy hamburgers and oily French fries: cheap and gross and impure. An invalid cheese, an invalid human. A void disaster. Like a spinning wheel into dark madness, even the ocean stood up and walked out on her, and now she’s left slaving her body for pay.
A man, your classic disheveled middle-aged man with graying hair and bunny-ear pockets turned inside out in a rush to get his coffee this morning. Parmesan? That’s him, with his staple-cotton garments showing his personality like cheap and shaky wood shavings in a bottle. Too gross, too factory made, like a bunch of fine-pressed cows, or the smell of an industrial linen factory. Even the real Parmesan is too weak, too little, too much of a topping, can’t make a real hearty meal by itself. Can’t hold its ground for what it is. Mr. Parmesan, grow a little more gray hair, then you’ll be the main-course cheese.
After seeing all these cheeses, I wonder what I really am, like what cheese other people think I am, or even looking into a mirror and seeing my own cheesiness.
I look up to the coffee bean studded ceiling and fill my lungs with the smoothie-machine air, seeped by the quiet cringle of my tea like water between tennis balls. My legs kick the floor, pushing my hips up and away from the chair, through the swinging doors and into the grass.
Lying in the sun is like hearing the voluptuous soprano of a woman’s voice in an opera. It’s the tree above you, take a deep breath in, and dissolve into pieces of diced cheese on the grass. I squirm between the blankets of air and earth, a snake across water, a spider behind the wooden panel. The pine tree waits, static from the amplifier sizzles, frying my mind, pink slime to scrambled eggs.
But, after some thought, wrapped in the bark of a tree, caught in the green circle innards, the salt of the ocean peels beneath my footsteps. I take up the crusty salt flake and peer through its crusty-white window.
Cheddar. That’s me back there, real Upstate New York-made Cheddar, straight from the farmer in the market. Extra sharp, the flannel shirt says. Eat me and pucker your lips a little, make a clip-clap noise with your cheeks, like a farmer slapping the ass of his cow, yelling at it to speed up. Cheddar opens your eyes a little and makes you want a little more. Cheddar’s natural, light, airy, down-home twang needs no combing in the morning. Cheddar can stand alone on a plate, but can accompany a cracker, a sandwich, a pizza, or a quiche, with no extra processing. Cheddar keeps well, is hardy, is pleasing in any form, and is balanced.
A block of cheddar left out in the sun, left to melt, to break off into thousands of pieces, lie unassembled in the sun, happy, content, until a server—dressed in a white shirt and black vest, black slacks, black bow tie—steers your way, with a silver plate and stabs toothpicks into you, puts you on a plate to be thrown into the lavish tusks on the gutters of the sea.