Et Tu, Pancakes?
It’s 8:30 am on a Saturday morning. I’ve been watching cartoons for at least an hour. I’m seven years old. My eyes dart from the television back to the clock expectantly. The rustling started from my parents’ bedroom 30 minutes ago. My body is restless and excited to engage in the weekly ritual of making pancakes with my mom.
She would carefully amble down the stairs with a cheerful greeting, and I’d leap off the couch, darting into the kitchen. She took the ingredients out of the cupboards, and I’d drag a step stool over to reach the counter. We’d describe the mixing dry and wet ingredients aloud as we donned exaggerated Julia Child voices, pretending that we had our own cooking show.
Once the griddle was hot enough she would pour out a small test pancake into the center. I’d watch vigilantly, spatula at the ready, as the small bubbles began to fill the circle to look like a jiggly pumice stone. When the whole patch of batter was covered with tiny craters I would seize my opportunity to turn it over and watch as it rose, like magic.
Those mornings made me feel special in a way that I craved. I felt wanted and worthy whereas in other areas of my life I did not. Nothing mattered to me more than getting the full, undivided attention of my working mother whom I love so much. I was jealous of the children who got to see their moms all the time, which made one-on-one time with my own so precious.
I carried this association with pancakes as comfort to my adulthood. I insisted on having a griddle mixed in with my first set of pots and pans when I went off to college. However, in just a few years, pancakes would deliver a slobbery, syrupy sweet kiss of Judas to my tender ego. Betrayal thy name is flapjack.
I’ve been chubby most of my life. You can really see the progression if you line up my soccer photos starting from age 6-12. If you played soccer in the suburbs, you know the photo I’m talking about. It’s you, in your uniform, capturing the length of your body as you put your hands on your hips and rest your foot on the top of the ball. In mine, you can see my thighs hang lower and lower, and my body stretch wider and wider as the years rolled on.
By the time I was a teenager I was checking off all the boxes on the ugly list. Fat? Check. Braces? Check. Acne? Check. Frizzy/Curly Hair? Check. Glasses? Check. Frost this awkward cake with being goth-y, naturally quiet, and having a Jewish last name in a primarily Irish/Italian town where the anti-Semitism is best described as “casual”. Fitting into my surroundings was difficult from an early age, thus feeding the lumbering social anxiety beast that I still drag around on a leash.
I began to lose weight the summer before my senior year of college. It was around that time that I was both broke and bored, a surprisingly winning combo for losing weight. I started eating lots of vegetables because they were cheap at the Chinese grocery near my first apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I walked endlessly for entertainment and to save money on a Metrocard.
The combination of diet and exercise led to the pounds gradually peeling off. As this happened, the attention from men started to pile on. I didn’t know what to do with most of it. I thought people were just getting nicer. An attractive man would shoot me coy glances on the subway. I would get nervous and raise my book up to cover my face. The cutie at a bar would banter and joke with me for an hour, and I’d bid him a good night with a small curtsy because I refused to acknowledge the signs of interest. Good looking people weren’t for me. Every new hottie left me dumbfounded, and encountering the Pancake Prince at an open mic was no exception.
I met him at a time where I was trying my hand at stand-up comedy. I had been a fan all my life, and with some gentle pushing from a very good friend of mine I gave it a try. Stand-up comedy takes some degree of vulnerability, because it’s centered on you and how your brain processes the world. Emotionally, I’m a masher. I swallow how I feel and grind it down into a fine paste and use it as mortar for the emotional wall I construct for myself. There was a freedom to being vulnerable through stand-up because you control perceptions of yourself and feed it to others, instead of allowing others to do it for you.
I also enjoyed the creative outlet and meeting new people to talk about “the craft”. There are a lot of men in the New York City comedy scene; it’s common to be hit on. I brushed it off most of the time due to a combination of denying my own attractiveness and disinterest. I don't like to shit where I eat. Until one night when the Pancake Prince glided into my favorite open mic and I felt an urge to take a powerful dump right then and there.
He was gorgeous.
He stood tall with dark hair that fluttered and moved despite there being no breeze in the room. You could see his meaty muscles bulge through his light cotton hoodie. Even though I was a few feet away I could tell that he had incredible blue eyes that shot lasers of pheromones directly into my lady parts. He looked like a cross between Prince Eric and Gaston, a perfectly drawn specimen.
I did my usual thing when I see a man of that level of conventional attractiveness. I registered him in my mind as attractive and I went about my business. It would have never even crossed my mind to try and talk to him because of how I was conditioned. Fat people in Disney movies, where this man was clearly from, are pokey sidekicks typically modeled after some sort of chubby animal. Hamsters come to mind. Sidekicks don’t get the prince at the end. So, I didn’t think anything of it when he ended up sitting down on a stool next to mine.
Eventually I did my six minutes of jokes that involved my usual repertoire of pooping and excessive body hair. Being both Greek and Jewish has gifted me with a genetically sewn-on fur coat. I collected my laughs and sat back down. Pancake Prince leans over and says, “I really liked your set.” I thanked him, and he continued to talk to me. I must have been saying human words aloud, but inside my brain I sounded like a jumble of emotionally strained audible mush.
We somehow exchange numbers; the tempest of blood pumped from my rapidly beating heart to my brain has left me unable to remember too many details. Then, after some light text exchanges we agree to meet up one Saturday afternoon for coffee.
He was an interesting guy, and was very forthcoming about his battle with food addiction, like SUPER forthcoming. I felt like I should have some rosaries or some Hail Mary’s to assign him with all he was spilling. I’m pretty food obsessed, but by choice, it’s not an uncontrollable urge.
He did a lot of talking. To be honest, I was still too stunned by his beauty to contribute much anyway. There was nothing more interesting to me in that moment than this situation that I found myself in, so he could talk all he liked. Eventually, when I mustered the ability to open my mouth to speak without vomiting from anxiety, I spotted the waitress carrying a plate of pancakes to a girl sitting one seat down, to my right, within his eye line.
Now, I looked at the pancakes, briefly, registered them as delicious, knew they were not for me and I moved on. I looked back at the Prince and he had a fixed gaze, directly over my right shoulder. There was lust in his eye, and it wasn’t for me. He was eyeing a stack deliciously large, fluffy pancakes lathering up seductively in a scoop of butter, preparing for a syrup bath. He looked like he wanted to fuck those pancakes.
I was not an object of desire. Instead, I was betrayed by the very food that made me feel desired. I could hear the pancakes behind me, a light, feminine giggle, laughing at my defeat. A syrup gargled whisper sealed my perceived inferiority, “You did all you could May, but no one can resist me. Not even YOU.”
I thought I had caught a prince all on my own. From not only my looks, but through confronting the things that I was the most insecure about, like my heritage and body hair. But here she was, Ariel with her siren song, tempting him away. I attempted to politely snap him out of his trance. I spoke a little louder, moved my head until his eyes landed on me again. Here I was demoted back to plucky sidekick, pushed aside for tall, sweet, blonde layers.
I was disappointed at first, but after reflection I realized we really didn’t have much in common. In fact, we had very little chemistry overall. Ironically, chemistry is an important component in the creation of pancakes. I agreed to see him one more time, just because he was that good looking and growing up fat doesn’t shield you from being shallow.
But I made that choice because I value myself. I accepted it as not meant to be and I didn’t beat myself up about it. I wanted his attention because it validated my own sense of worth, but in retrospect, if we did have a future together, I don’t think I could have handled finding him one day at home his beefy body lubed up with maple syrup, the sheets damp with butter, and him holding a hotcake at ten and two, justifying his actions by shrieking, “WE’RE IN LOVE!” Like a pre-diabetic banshee.
Since then I’ve repaired my relationship with pancakes. I still get cravings on Saturday mornings. Often, if I catch my roommates awake when I start pulling out the milk, flour, eggs, butter, salt, baking powder, and sugar. I’ll give a hearty, “Who wants pancakes?!” It quickly turns into a communal brunch where we make some eggs, add some bacon or sausage and have a nice leisurely meal. I’ve taken back control of the griddle. I hope that whomever I make pancakes for feels loved, and that includes me.