I was riding the train this morning, as I often do, and the train car was overcome with the scent of tortillas. It smelled like someone was actually cooking tortillas on the train. Instead of being annoyed or disgusted I was reminded of a moment in my youth.
When I was still in grammar school my father was part of The Holy Name Society. It was really just a catholic excuse to get together with a bunch of other guys to drink and talk about the other catholic men and their wives. On some nice summer afternoon my father took my sister and I up to the lakefront to join the other Holy Name Society families for smelt fishing.
Smelt as you may or may not know are small fish that live in the Chicago River that are apparently so dumb they’ll swim right into an un-baited net without much prodding. They are about the size of your hand and are supposed to be pretty tasty. I don’t recall ever eating one but I do remember a fellow named Bobby tearing the head off a freshly caught smelt with his thumb just to gross us kids out.
As the sun set and dusky eve set in I remember Mr. Lopez on his little hibachi type grill heating tortillas and beef. I remember the smell of the tortillas cooking over the smell of the stupid fish. It was the first time I had, “authentic”, Mexican food. I had several of the tortillas and ground beef and I never went back to eating hard shell tacos. From then on I always wanted soft shell tortillas.
So as the train rattled along its tracks this morning I was reminded that I was young once and I had so many things to experience. And I wanted a burrito for lunch. But overall it got me thinking about my spent youth. I try to imagine myself, thin, wiry, full of unleashed potential, probably thinking about one of the girls in my class and why my stomach felt so weird when I thought about her. That little boy never imagined himself working in a cubicle. He was still worried about what was going to happen to Optimus Prime in that two part Transformers episode. That kid wasn’t immune to heartache and saw too much of it, but he was still innocent; unpolluted by the daily tribulations of a filtered and diffused life.
I never thought I’d be here. I don’t remember where I thought I’d be or if I was even capable of envisioning a future for myself. I just remember the smell and the train ride this morning threw me back to a time and a place where it didn’t matter what my future would be, just that I was there and there was time enough for everything.