Manic Manicotti

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

I haven’t been myself lately. 

For longer than lately, maybe.

My grandfather used to say this too. “I’m not myself,” he said, sitting in an upright chair in his living room, his feet flat on the floor, palms facing down in his lap. Just staring.

Before my grandfather got sick, he never sat in this chair. This chair was wing-backed, Victorian, confining. His chair was on the opposite side of the room. An oversized, tan recliner. He used to pull the lever all the way back, foot rest up, ankles crossed. He puffed on a oversized cigar and watched reruns of MASH or the Beverly Hillbillies. He sat in this chair so much that my sister crocheted him a headrest to prevent his thick, silver mane from soiling the back of his chair.  

“Come here, babydoll. Give your pap a kiss,” he would say to me, to her, to anyone.

In this new chair I would kiss my grandfather’s cheek and say, “Hi Pap, you doing okay, today?” 

He would turn his head to me slowly, his eyes canvasing my face until he found something familiar. 

“You feeling okay, Pap? Does something hurt?” 

“No, “ he said. “I just feel...blah.” 

I hated when he said this. Such a vague explanation ruined any hope for getting to the root of his malaise. 

These days, I can’t seem to get to the root of my malaise, either.

Today I just want to make manicotti. 

I turn to cooking and music to pull myself out of my funks.

I grab a metal bowl and some eggs. I beat the eggs with such vigor it scares me. Maybe if I whisk hard enough I can beat out all hurt, loneliness, embarrassment and regret. I add water, salt and flour and continue to whisk until I’m left with a thin, smooth batter.

I pour the batter into a six-inch skillet my grandfather bought me long ago. A skillet just for manicotti making. I flip the pancakes out onto a piece of wax paper, paper thin. Like the crepes I’m making, I too am delicate and fragile, ready to tear at any minute.

I turn on Spotify and it plays Clifford Brown and Max Roaches version of “Delilah.” The drums swing back and forth like a pendulum trying to find balance. The trumpet pleads and moans. The piano lurks beneath, brooding in the background.

I change the channel.

I find the Stevie Wonder station. This station plays Stevie’s, “Don’t you Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” Aretha Franklin’s, “Say a Little Prayer,” and Sam Cooke’s, “Bring it on Home to Me.”  I start to feel better.

Now for the filling. I add ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan to a bowl. I add the eggs, parsley, salt and pepper, and mix. 

The next song that plays is Smokey Robinson’s, “The Track of my Tears.”

“Okay,” I think, “ It’s just one sad song. I can handle it.”

I scoop out heaping tablespoons of ricotta and plop some on each crepe.

Suddenly, I hear the opening strings of Stevie Wonder’s, “A Place in the Sun,” a song about finding your way in the world.  

And that’s what I’m feeling, maybe. A little lost. 

Jesus. That’s it. Forget this. Just like me, Spotify’s algorithms are all wrong.

I type in Tito Puente’s, “ Dance Mania Vol.1.”

I love this whole album. It instantly puts me in a good mood. Always. But today I’m not messing around. I go straight to my favorite song, “Mambo Gozon.”

The horns blurt out a bold introduction. The piano plays a fiery montuno. The rhythm of the percussion is quick and mesmerizing.

My hips sway. My head lifts and nods from side to side.

I roll each ricotta-filled crepe to the mambo beat.

I want to feel as full as this stuffed manicotti.

A horn plays a three-note melody, another horn joining in at each repeat: until the sound is full, growing and swelling, screaming and bursting.

I begin to cry despite myself. I put my manicotti in a baking pan and pour sauce over them.

I bake the manicotti until the mozzarella melts and loses it shape, now indistinguishable amongst the other ingredients. 

I sit down in my orange dining chair from Ikea. Feet flat on the floor.

Later, I put a piece of manicotti in a dish. I taste it. My hips sway and my head lifts and nods from side to side.

I ask myself, “You feeling okay? Does something hurt?”

Yes. But right now, I feel almost fine.

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