a breakfast serial

One bite-sized story every morning to uplift, motivate, or provoke thought.

Pass the Alla Vodka

< by Dave Heller >

For some or no reason, my childhood lacked pasta. Consequently, I developed an unfounded distaste for the presumptively bland noodles. My college roommate, who spent a summer waiting tables at Olive Garden, was appalled. He promised that I would enjoy, at the very least, one specific variation of pasta: Penne alla vodka (with chicken). Out of curiosity, I succumbed to the notion that, if I were to enjoy pasta at all, it would be this one.

Penne alla vodka belies the common notion that pasta equals the sum of noodles, boiling water, and sauce. Vodka sauce is a mess of cream, butter, tomato, onion, seasoning, and vodka, thrown into shiny pots and pans that stubbornly clang and belch their ingredients. Then there’s boiling penne to the proper doneness, which is approximately when you remember that it’s on the stove. And then there’s chicken—add 30 minutes.

What began as merely cooking dinner became a feat of endurance and mental strength. Pasta, chicken, and sauce occupying three burners? This was my Everest.

Eventually, the final product simmered in one large saucepan, ready for consumption. Staring at the bubbling concoction in front of me, I was ready to challenge my potentially stubborn aversion. The time was right, as was the smell. I was curious, and I was hungry.

I carefully poured the fruit of my labor onto one of the paper plates I always used, and sprinkled some parmesan on top, which seductively melted into the sauce. With the Jeopardy jingle just beginning, my excited hunger reached critical mass.

During the three seconds it would take for the plate to go from kitchen table to coffee table, the bottom of the plate disintegrated, giving the carpet a complete helping of penne alla vodka (with chicken).

I screamed—it would’ve been the F-word if I had enunciated better. Heaving with deep and angry breaths, at the prospect of losing my dinner and now having to clean, I let out one last primal groan. I crouched by what was then the most elaborate fake vomit in history, and with my index finger and thumb, I grabbed one piece of seemingly unaffected penne, and ate it. It wasn’t worth it.

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