Waffle As Drug
told that sugar’s a poison when injected into the bloodstream of a moody
animal such as myself. Or if not a poison, at least a factor that swings a metabolism
into places where I’d rather mine weren’t, stimulating corresponding
imbalances (addled serotonin levels) in the brain; boomerangs you into places
in which, like the cocaine user or the runner breaking the 12-mile mark, you’re
first speciously euphoric before the drug goes bad on you and the sugar dulls
and thickens your blood like brandy in coffee–and you’re suddenly
turning morbid, and the insides of your ears ache, and you feel the dullness
insinuating itself throughout you, and you’re reintroduced to that sense
of humming, electric, melancholy distance that you thought you’d beaten
for good years ago. It’s like you’re communicating with the world
from behind a scrim of cheesecloth, and there’s cotton in your ears.
Waffle As Drug
"Sugar and starch both.
They’re not so much depressants as just bad for your equilibrium. Swing
your emotional state away from a center…"
"The center that you
have to maintain if you–" I started, rehearsing to myself these things
like an old wife rehearses her catechism.
"If you want to do
anything as a human," she finished for me.
And then off the phone and
into the small redemptions of everyday existence. Stupid stuff, like rearranging
paper clips, imposing on myself the idea of order, which is a good thing and
that–and this is one of the consolations of life–you don’t need
much of to keep your mind clear. It’s amazing how functional you can be
with just a little bit of effort.
So one night a couple of
weeks ago, after hearing this news, and after working late, which is a satisfaction
to me (summer sunset blazing on the far side of FIT and gracing the good, homely
hills of Jersey, and the rational white clarity of these clean offices, and
my man Michael Kay calling the Yankees game on WABC), I stopped, on my way back
to Brooklyn, at Bulgin’ Waffles Cafe, the new waffle shop on the corner
of 1st Ave. and 3rd St., on that bleak stretch of 1st Ave. across from those
housing projects. Ordered something called a Bulgin’ Waffle (actually I
just said, "Um, can I have, you know, a big waffle, and with blueberries?"–being
at the age, after all, when Schubert had already finished most of his life’s
work, and therefore uninclined to speak in preadolescent dialect when I’m
ordering a fucking tasty snack), took a seat at a tall table in that casual,
comfortable place (cool summer night with a door open and an empty midsummer
ghostliness on the booming humid avenue) and waited for the food to come.
The meal consisted of two
squares of thick waffle wondrously fragrant and dusted with confectioner’s
sugar on a humble run-of-the-mill white plate, like some good bit of fried pastry
you buy from an alleyshack in New Orleans or on the AC boardwalk or a thousand
summer boardwalks just like it. As soon as the European guy slid the plate in
front of me, I prodded the things with plastic knife and plastic fork, exploratorily
and with apprehension.
The guy had, in a sense,
slipped a drug in front of me. Because starch and sugar are what waffles with
syrup are, and not a thing else. It would be a challenge to think of a food
more void of nutritious value. These waffles, I imagined, were the toasted analogues
to the romantick philters you read about in the fantastic literature of the
19th century, which transform their drinkers into monsters, apes, demons and
gruesome expressions of their ids. Eating them might not be good for me.
Poked at the things, frowning
at them–man, did I ever look fiercely at those dopey ironcakes–
…And consumed them…
…And fell to the floor
of the restaurant after the first bite, my head screaming, the faces of the
restaurant’s servers and sparse clientele lengthening in horror as I twisted
and clutched my throat in agony, before–transmogrified into a physical
expression of my subconscious, wearing a wrecked stovepipe hat, a sooty overcoat,
a ghoulish green pallor and yellow fangs–I slouched into the street with
my eyes ablaze, ready to spend the night breaking into morgues, climbing drainpipes
to present my deathly face in the windows of orphanages (scarring the little
ones for life) and running hooting and waving my arms alongside the carriages
bringing gentlemen home from jowly clubs. A Robert Louis Stevenson horror.
Nutritiously useless that
the waffles at Bulgin’ Waffles might be, they’re incredible in that
revelatory way in which silly, humble food can be incredible–you get satisfaction
from taking pleasure in a small thing, even on top of the fact that that thing
happens to taste good. These sonsofbitches are light, and perfectly cooked,
and, when they bring them out, you smell that egg and vanilla and warm-toast
scent coming at you (comin’ at ya!) from 7 feet away. The blueberries I
ordered on the side were disappointing–they came in the type of plastic
cup in which spit samples are usually sealed, and they were unpleasantly chilled.
But that served me right. Eating them was as conceptually inappropriate as it
would be to try to wolf down a banana between bites of cotton candy. The waffles
cost as little as waffles should cost–only if you order the ones powdered
with high-grade cocaine instead of powdered sugar will your bill run you more
than 10 dollars. There were some options to which I didn’t pay attention
(ice cream, some orange soy slop, whipped cream, etc.), in addition to coffee
This is a good place to
come for a late breakfast, actually. Newspapers and magazines are littered over
the mismatched tables and chairs and besides, the playskool decor–deep,
rich, highly saturated primary colors blocking the walls in the golden light,
the scene reminding me of the atmosphere in the Elizabeth St. Nursery School,
from which I graduated in the Year of Our Lord 1975 with a minimum of hassle,
in a river village you’ve never heard of far, far upstate–at night
just looks kind of antic, skewed and queer.
Grabbed the place’s
card off the counter and inspected it on the train home and was inordinately
moved and comforted by the little slogan it bore: "relax eat well enjoy."
God, that’s pathetic. But you take it where you can get it.
Bulgin’ Waffles Cafe,
49-1/2 1st Ave. (E. 3rd St.), 477-6555.