College x

For when the going gets tough, but your tough doesn’t want to get going.

We've all been there, the great hunt for a decent meal that won't break your wallet (Image via The Pennsylvania Punch Bowl)

It’s 4 p.m. on a Monday and you just finished class. After sleeping through your alarms for the first class of the day, your 9 a.m., you decide to skip breakfast and head straight out into the unpleasant morning. You got bold. Rookie mistake. Outside your door, on the porch, are a few empty bottles of bottom-shelf vodka, Twist and Coke. You can feel a little bile rise in your throat, but power through the urge to vomit and manage to hold your breath. You would prefer to ignore the smells of fermentation that stained the deck of your porch, as you attempt to suppress the same taste that rises from the back of your throat. Six hours, you tell yourself, six hours until I come back home to get comfortable.

The walk to class is longer than usual, and each face you pass looks both pissed off and confused, like Tucker Carlson’s face as he interviews someone:

Carlson’s face for reference (Image via YouTube)

The month of October is already halfway through but you are still walking in 85-degree heat. You curse the unseasonable warmth, leading you to overdress for this balmy morning of clear skies and slight humidity. Whatever. You will be eating your words come February. As you enter the building for class number one, relishing the coolness of the air conditioning, the first pang of hunger strikes, running like a steady current through your body. The day is going to be a trial.

Around noon, you stopped off at the vending machine near your calculus class for some much-needed sugar. The quarters fumbled in your sweaty hands, but slid into the machine easily, one mechanical plunk after mechanical plunk. The bottle of Coke was slippery and fresh, and as you drank the sweet nectar, you forgot your hunger. At present, four hours later, there is no respite. The warping, gnawing knots in your stomach are splitting you in half and distorting your mind. When you walk through the door, which was propped open with a rock, to your building, you are stumbling over yourself, hallucinating. Where’s the food in this shithole? You ask yourself as you shut the door behind you. Suddenly, you spot it, the grand, white behemoth of the kitchen—the fridge. What culinary delights hide inside?

That Pre-Made Salad from Four Days Ago

The first thing that catches your eye is the rectangular box of plastic on the upper-right shelf. You pick it up and evaluate the mix of spinach, carrots and tomatoes, and try to remember when you bought it. Was this salad from the Thursday when you were locked out and had to sit on the porch? Or Tuesday, when you found the extra $20 in your pocket and went on a spending spree at the 7-11 down the street from you?

You hope Thursday and open the packaging to let the limp greens, dry carrots and bruised tomatoes breathe—there’s no dressing kit. As much as you’re craving something green and healthy, the chances of you eating a dry salad are slim to none. You could always use the olive oil on the counter, but what are you trying to be then? Amish?

A Serving from the Great Tupperware Container of Spaghetti

Since the salad bore no fruit, your eyes shift to the enormous plastic bowl below. Ahh, hello, old friend, you think. Within it lies the food of lowest cost, yet greatest nutrition—spaghetti. The old, reliable pasta has seen you through your worst: welcome week, getting ghosted by Emily and an overdrawn checking account. For fifty cents, the stiff golden threads in the small green box bloom into great heaps of starch, perfectly filling if not the most flavorful. Perfect, this is dinner.

You lift up the container to feel the weight of the pasta, which seems to indicate a hearty meal after a day of self-inflicted fasting. You take off the lid, ready for a carb load, only to find stiff ropes of smushy noodles covered in sauce. Beads of condensation drip off the lid, flecking your fingers and soaking into the already moist pasta. Some of the noodles have gotten oversaturated with water, ballooning into pure mush and combining with some of the congealed sauce on the rim. You gag a little, cover the container and push it back to the far corners of the fridge.

Your Roommate’s Leftovers

As you return the mealy spaghetti to the shelf, you hear the familiar, dry rubbing of styrofoam. You almost don’t believe your ears. Two or three weeks have passed since you last ate out instead of in your dumpy kitchen—how can there be a takeout box in the fridge? Blinded by desire, you stick your arm in, feeling sweaty jars of glass and smooth plastic bottles until you hear that same sound.

The box comes out clean and fresh, and you estimate it is only a day or so old. Underneath the unfastened lid is one-half of a medium-rare steak and some mashed potato—Outback, you guess—looking devilishly good. You open the drawer for the silverware, reach for a fork but remember that this isn’t your food. This is Mike’s, from Saturday lunch, when he went out with his parents. In your head, you run up a tally: Mike has been keeping clean so far and keeps his dishes out of the sink. You, on the other hand, spilled jungle juice on the carpet twice and singlehandedly broke the door to someone else’s room. You don’t think you can float another strike against you. Fuck. Why can’t your parents visit more often? 

The Last Resort

It’s really come down to this. After scouring the fridge, you can only see separate parts: spare eggs, rotting vegetables, old meats and condiments. Cooking would be a take an eternity, and you’ve got a meeting for The Good Samaritans of Jackson County in an hour and a group project meeting after that. In addition, you can tell that the sink and dishwasher are full of dirty dishes from the funky smell coming from the standing water. You sprawl on the tile, clenching and convulsing, begging for food. This is the final straw. You pick up the phone, dial the number and listen to the ringing.

“Yes, hello, Domino’s? I’d like to place an order for delivery.”

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