When I was a child, my father lived in an apartment directly between my house and my brothers’ day care provider. He was a single man in his mid-thirties, working at a tech company with a two bedroom bachelor pad, a Beta deck, not-entirely-orange furniture, and six children between the ages of 13 and one. Six children, mind you, who would all descend on his apartment like a plague of hormonal locusts every other Friday night, consuming every natural, unnatural, and Nintendo-based resource in our path.
Children, like bees, can smell fear.
When you are a bachelor with six children from two different mothers who are all expecting you to feed and entertain them four nights per month, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself, like, “Why didn’t they invent condoms before the 80’s?” and, maybe more importantly, “How am I going to appease six children who’s names I can’t even keep straight all by myself and live to tell the tale?”
Shredding cheese, that’s how.
Every other Friday night, we’d eat spaghetti and Twizzlers for dinner, then have 7-Up floats while we watched all the movies our mothers wouldn’t let us. The next morning he’d give us something sensible for breakfast, like Pac Man cereal, and by noon we’d be peeling all the popcorn off his ceilings and ‘accidentally’ watching all his porn, on Beta, so he’d do what any man with a semblance of a self-preservation instinct would do…he would give us sharp objects and put us to work.
Our mothers found this preferable to the one weekend he had us to trim the hedges out front. Which turned out to be poison ivy. I have scars to prove it.
He’d give each of us a half-pound chunk of cheddar cheese and one of those triangular things the CIA uses to shave the knuckles off known Enemies of the State and there we would sit, working our little biceps to pulps, sweating out all the red food coloring and HFCS he’d fed us all weekend, making delicious orange mountains that he would turn into this.
This is kind of a thing with my family. I think everyone has some simple food that instantly makes you a happy little kid again, and for it, it’s macaroni cheese & tuna. Some families fight over who gets grandma’s diamonds or Uncle Joe’s stock options, but we fought over who would get my grandmother’s macaroni cheese & tuna casserole bowl. My big brother won. He is an a-hole.
What goes it in isn’t really the point, just like it never is with these sorts of meals. All that’s in it is macaroni, tuna, cheddar cheese, a little salt and pepper all layered up, and a splash of milk. There is nothing special at all about it but it is one of the most special meals we eat, because what’s really in it is my kids’ mother, their uncles, their grandfather and their great-grandmother.
There is ancestry in that bowl. There is also a lot of cholesterol.