July 27, 2022

Fountain Street

In the sweaty June of 1986, after my first year at Wesleyan. I decided to spend the summer in Middletown, Connecticut. After yet another fight with my dad -a deadly combination of hormones, blossoming feminism, and current politics - mostly it was about money, and I wanted to prove to be independent.

Rent was a mere sixty dollars a month, which I had finagled through University housing. I lived with my former RA and my best friend. Her boyfriend was a constant feature, and the one who dubbed me, "The Macaroni and Cheese Queen." My boyfriend at the time was doing house painting with CollegePro and was crashing various floors unless I rescued him in my trusty Honda.

I scored a second job in short order as a cashier/deli girl at Sunshine Farms ($3.50 an hour plus tips), which was only four doors away from our house on Fountain Street. I would wake up fifteen minutes before my 6:30 am shift, pop in contacts, brush teeth, maybe hair, throw on t-shirt and jeans, and show up in time to make coffee for all of the summer construction crew. I also continued to do nude modelling for art classes, for a lofty five dollars an hour. The only time I felt ashamed or embarrassed was when those same workers walked by the studio when the blinds were not drawn, and I was clearly that nice girl who sold them lottery tickets every morning. Or so I imagined.

That summer, and quite a few times since, mostly I ate macaroni and cheese. There was a nominal employee discount, so a stick of butter, a lunchtime carton of milk, and the blue and white Kraft box with the perky yellow lettering, added up to all of 50 cents or so per serving.

I would start, of course, by boiling water with a little salt for the noodles. Meanwhile, I'd slice my butter into thin pats for easier melting. Once the noodles were done, tossed into the colander to lazily drain into the sink, I'd get to work - Popping the pads of butter to melt in the still hot noodle pan, ripping open the foil pouch to reveal the magic orange powder, whisking it in a fury with the now gently bubbling salty goodness, plus quite a heavy sprinkle of black pepper (which I'd always hated as a kid, when did my taste buds change? Die?) This created a roux that would make Julia Child's eyes roll to the back of her head. Next, folded in the tender noodles. Last, put one oven mitt on top, one on the bottom, then, stuffed the whole thing into my favorite canvas book bag.

I'd head on over to Olin library, flashing my student ID, jaunting downstairs to where my best friend had her job in the reserve room. She would have put up the ``out to lunch" sign, a bummer for the poor students taking summer classes trying to find their particular professor's particularly obscure articles.

We'd hide deep in the stacks, sitting cross-legged with the pot of macaroni and cheese between us, forks in hand, gossip filling us more than the carbs. I can still remember the taste of cheddar cheese, pepper, and that little spice that tingled our lips.