July 20, 2009 | 5:10 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
I learned a new word this week: gastrosexual. That’s a straight man whose knowledge of food and proficiency in the kitchen makes him attractive to women. A gastrosexual is a metrosexual who doesn’t decorate. A man might know many things—how to please a woman in bed, how to replace a timing belt, how to play the stock market—but a gastrosexual knows one thing, and knows it well: she doesn’t have to have sex, fix her car, or work every day, but she has to eat, three times a day, for the rest of her life. Long before the word came to be, I was a gastrosexual.
My shtick was this: I was a freelance writer, consistently underemployed. I drove old cars whose dents I couldn’t afford to fix. And I was poet skinny, six feet two and a hundred and fifty pounds—you could serve soup out of my hip sockets. But if I could just get a woman to my kitchen, I could usually get her to my bedroom. I don’t think it was because my food was always so sensational that it made them swoon and lose control. I think the act of being served, of being taken care of, of knowing they would be taken care of, was seductive to the women who I found attractive. Gastrosexuality worked for me.
Until I met the rabbi.
The moment I saw her I knew I wanted to marry Naomi. My friend Justin Rudelson and I had been taking a course in Jewish mysticism from a
bearded Chabadnik, He taught in a classroom that was part of a Conservative synagogue in Venice Beach, Mishkon Tephilo. I didn’t
understand a word the rabbi said. We read these deep religious books and listened to him explicate the authors theories about the layers of
holiness, the essence of being. I was in the class for the same reason every guy there was: we were lost. And if we could just draw close to God and unlock the mysteries of the Universe—we were golden. But as soon as the earnest rabbi started speaking, I knew it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t experience God. So how could I intellectually understand Him? It was all just words… words…words, and then:
“Hey, you guys want to go meet the new woman rabbi?”
The young Chaadnik, beard down to his collarbome, finally said something I understood. We rushed out of our chairs and out the hallway, toward the sanctuary. And there, in that narrow space, I saw her coming toward me. “This is Rabbi Levy,” our rabbi said.
She was wearing a green Ann Klein businesswoman’s suit. I could overlook that. She was slender, with thick brown hair and sensitive, wise eyes. She
“Hello,” I managed.
She winced a smile and walked past.
To this day she swears she doesn’t remember seeing me in that group. But from that day on I was smitten.
There was a long, agonizing period of months that followed, during which I tried every legal way of getting her to notice me. I came to
services every Shabbat, Friday night and Saturday morning. The words and melodies never moved me—I was still far, far away from the whole
God thing—but her presence really did shine a light for me. I wanted to be near her, and I knew if she gave me a chance I could sway her. The thing that worked before, I figured, would work again: food.
Naomi announced to the congregation she’d be teaching a class called, “Love and Torah.” It was a look at the Biblical idea of love through
the lives of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. It sounded mildly interesting to me, until she said the day and time of the class: Wednesdays at noon.
Perfect, I thought. There were a lot of young eligible men in the congregation after the single rabbi, but they were all successful, with real jobs. My Wednesday noons were free. As were my Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday noons. Saturday I was in synagogue stalking Naomi—I mean, communing with God and my People—and Sundays I usually had catering gigs.
I showed up to the first class and saw the brilliance of my plan: inside the rabbi’s study sat the rabbi herself, and six stay at home moms.
I pressed my case, again with food. The day Naomi read from the Song of Songs, the most sensual of all the Biblical passages, I brought in
three cartons of ripe strawberries from the farmer’s market. The day before she got to the passage about frankincense and myrhh, I
drove 30 miles to a bodega in Burbank to find real frankincense and myrhh. To me, it was a major score. The other women knew I was going for
extra credit—they knew exactly what was goin on. Naomi, my rabbi, remained oblivious. I had finally met someone who seemed impervious
to the senses, who couldn’t be swayed by ripe beries or beautiful smells. Was that even possible? Was she truly so involved in the higher spheres, in God and the soul and the Holy Books and their 1000 laws, that the things of this world held no power over her? Food had worked wonders for me before on every woman I had set my eyes on. But now that I had found The One, food was getting me know where. My arrows comprised of one of life’s great pleasures—one of my great pleasures—struck her chest and fell dull and bent to the floor.
And then, my next big chance came. I had one arrow left.
One afternoon, at the conclusion of services, Naomi asked if I wanted to walk her home. Sure, I said. And my heart leapt: there are kitchens in homes.
We walked the mile to her apartment, she invited me in. I was hungry, and I bet she was too. Services went from 9 am to 1 pm, with only a
light spread afterwards—and she was always talking and greting people during it. Not that I was watching or anything. Anyway, I had visions of using whatever she had on hand to whip her up an amazing lunch. It was a warm day, I’d pull some white wine from her fridge, set out a platter, and that would be that.
She let me in her apartment—aground level one bedroom with a living room window facing the distant but shimmering Pacific. We began to
talk. And talk. I figured at some point the conversation would veer toward, “Are you hungry?” or “Want a drink?” but it never did. She asked me about
myself, what I wrote, my Jewish education. At one point she offered me some chamomile tea, and I said yes, but she never seemed to move to
get it. Finally, Naomi excused herself to go to the bathroom.
When I heard the door close, I jumped up from the couch and made for the kitchen. I was hungry. Services had gone from morning until 1
pm, and I hadn’t eaten anything before, just black coffee. Afterwards there was that spread— dry challah, dry cookies, tuna salad that
looked like it came from a jar, cream herring and some grapes, all picked over by a mob and tempting only to people with direct
experience of the Holocaust.
Now I’d been sitting on her futon couch for over an hour, and all she offered me was chamomile tea. Which she never brought out. I opened the first cabinet, above the counter. It was empty save for a few ceramic plates. I picked one closer to the stove. Empty. A tall cupboard by the refrigerator, the pantry cupboard in most normal homes. Barren. I heard the toilet flush. Last cupboard, just across from the sink. Three cans of tuna fish and a small white bag of Passover potato chips. And a box of chamomile tea. During Passover observant Jews will only eat special potato chips fried in certain oils—cottonseed is one of them. The bag was open but only half eaten.
Who was this girl? What kind of person has only a couple cans of tuna fish and some chips fried in cottonseed oil? What kind of person opens a bag of chips and only eats a little bit at a time? And who really likes chamomile, the urine sample of the tea world?
Naomi appeared behind me. I grabbed the tea box.
“I can make it,” I said. “Want some?”
She nodded. She didn’t seem to care that I was in her cupboards—she didn’t seem to use them much herself.
“Can I ask you something?” I said after we started sipping our teas.
“What do you eat?”
“I mean, what do you eat? You have no food.”
“I have tuna.”
“What do you do with it?”
“I eat it.”
“You mean like a sandwich?” I asked, though I hadn’t sen any bread, mayo, celery. I suppose if she had said yes I would have pegged her
for an eating disorder right then. She said no.
“Like in salad?” I didn’t see any no olive oil, no lettuce, tomato, bread. The kitchen didn’t have a crumb. Or a pot or a pan, for that matter.
“No,” she said, “I just eat it.”
I tried to hide my disbelief. “Out of the can?” I said. “Like a cat?”
She was starting to get annoyed. I knew that, but I couldn’t help myself. The women I dated until then had either been in the food
business or food-obsessed. The caterer, in oakland the sous-chef in Santa Monica. Sara in Israel who couldn’t buy a kilo of fresh guavas
without eating half of them with her hands, right out of the bag. Katie in Venice who warned me that when her last boyfriend dumped her
he said, charmingly, “You always have to have your holes filled.” Women of appetite.
And Naomi saw my questions as a judgment. And she bristled at the nerve of me even presuming to think she cared for my opinion on what
she ate. But I pressed on. “Not even with a squeeze of lemon?”
“Then you have to cut it,” she said. “I have salt.”
I just stared. I was smitten all right. I had passed the point of caring what I found in her cabinets that afternnoon. I WAS IN HER APARTMENT. If I
had reached in and pulled out sheep’s intestines and a dead cat I probably would have found it charming and kind of sexy. I’m in, I thought. She doesn’t know from cooking. She doesn’t know from EATING. I’ll cook for her. I’ll bring in my skillet and she’ll help and it will be cute like Harrison Ford and Meg Ryan on a date. And then, I’ll seal the deal. Seal the deal with a meal. A gastrosexual ahead of his time.
“Hey,” I said. “I have an idea. One day I can bring a bunch of stuff over and we can cook together, a great lunch. Or dinner. “
I waited, the hook was floating in the eddy and I just needed her to bite. Who wouldn’t? Who hadn’t before? The guy who cooks. The straight guy who offers to shop and make dinner. I didn’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times this worked. I waited. And waited.
Finally, Naomi shrugged.
“That’s okay. I like tuna. “
She sat on the couch. I sat on the chair across from her. This was not going to be work. Something else was called for here. At the time I
didn’t know what. I couldn’t rely on dinner. On food leading to love leading to sex. Naomi had splintered the triumverate. What was going
to work? A great fear over took me. She was speaking, but inside I was trembling. Naomi didn’t want dinner. She wanted a relationship.
“Naomi, ” I interrupted her.
“Can I have some of your potato chips?”
She looked at me. “I have potato chips?”
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