People Staring at Menus

Amanda Ackerman

I miss the underwater city.   The ocean swaddled and rocked you.  The water always talking to you and telling you who you are outside of time.  I miss it.  I really do.  There was the primordial soup.  The primordial coolant.  Algae growing in chains like ferns.  The steam and oil from rotting carcasses of whales and sharks.  The water was clean, can you imagine?  The stillness.  And what people hung on the walls.  Hair, bodies tangled, water bodies, unkempt tissues of hair.  You can smell blood underwater and the juices of different fruits.  We lived differently.  We didn’t even have a word for nuclear family.  Picture it like a watery prairie or picture it like a floating landscape dotted with tall blue molten huts and picture the huts in rings like the way liquid scatters when someone skips a pebble into a pool.  We had get-togethers.  Lighting firecrackers.  Visitors waiting at the door at sunset with a hat in their hand.  But a friend told me it’s a terrible paradox: as long as we consider the question of how we should be living then we are not living.  Human conversations are for the most part pretty stupid.  And it is easy to be unconventional. 

I’ve blocked the memory of the day we were forced to leave but it felt like being swallowed up by the mouth of a big metropolis.  We went out there to live and just stayed.  Once you were there you couldn’t move out.  Civil administrators.  A lot of things were taken away.  They can’t tell me the exact year I was born.  In the underwater city, no one was outspoken, or we all were.  I miss it.  I figured out that conversation was a way I could sidestep the voice in my head.   I suppose you could say I like to keep things simple.  So, sterility—racism—exploitation—sexism—exhaustion—kleptocracy—homophobia—weapons—poverty—illness—prisons—old-age—bad-food—poor-soil…: I had been taught to navigate them with social grace and self-assurance, like one problem among many other problems.   Solitary confinement becomes one problem among many other problems.  Sexism becomes one problem among many other problems.  But I gave up the anxiety that stems from the feeling you can’t convince others they’re wrong.  You can’t steer an unreachable wretched wayward mind.  I gave up illusory fear and despair.  The surprises I enjoy now are the result of my having low expectations (like, the sushi at the airport wasn’t terrible).  But I like to be prepared.  I like having things to look forward to.  I like to go dinner with friends or when I’m dating someone.  I can look at the menu for a lot longer than most people even though it disrupts the conversation at multiple intervals; it’s not socially acceptable behavior but it nearly is. 

None of us wants to get the wrong thing.  I would rather bore and annoy the person I’m with than get the wrong thing.  It’s nice when you have your heart set on something in particular. 

Just the other day, I was in a long line to order food.  It was lunchtime so I didn’t have a lot of time.  They only give us a 45-minute break.  It took almost 9 minutes just to get to the cashier.  Then the gentlemen in front of me in a fedora, it was his turn, was staring up at the menu even though it was his turn to order. 

            I said, why do people stare at the menu when its their turn to order? 
            Someone said, you should already be making up your mind what it is you want while you’re in line. 
            I said, right, don’t stare while in line and continue staring when it’s your turn to order. 
            Someone said, they shouldn’t wait on someone who can’t decide what he wants. 
            I said, I wish this place had a drive thru. 
            I said, what do you think? 
            You said, I think you should stop being so dark.
            You said, it makes the darkness more manifest.
            Someone said to me, I think you should stop staring at other people. 
            Someone said, all five of us could have gotten in our order while the guy with the fedora was asking questions about every single item. 
            I said, welcome to the home of libertines. 
            I said, the lofty home.  The lofty libertines.
            Someone said, this isn’t a big deal. 
            Someone said, calm yourself.
            I said, but some people just stare like, “decisions, decisions.” 
            You said, I swear, everyone is in such a rush. 
            You said, the world does not revolve around you. 
            Someone said, an order should take 90 seconds to complete. 
            I said, right, you should only ask questions that can be answered quickly. 
            I said, the answers to my questions are always quick. 
            I said, I only ask questions that are easy to answer. 
            Someone said, all the answers are on the goddamn menu, do you see what I’m getting at? 
            You said, who’s really being negatively affected by this, you or him? 
            You said, of course it didn’t bother the guy with the fedora because he’s selfish. 
            I said, everyone is ignorant of the ripple effect their actions are causing. 
            You said, this is why we should all bring lunches in brown bags and eat in parks with the elderly. 
            Someone said, let it go. 
            Someone said, not everyone is going to behave the way you and I think is proper.              I said, I wholeheartedly agree, maybe for the first time in history. 

You see, I am supersensitive to privation.  Heart.  Breath.  Blood vessels. 
            You said, it was bound to happen. 
            I said, I do try to be considerate.  I always try. 

But I miss the underwater city—
There is the peace I know and the peace I don’t know.  Change in the air, yes.   All bodies are porous, yes.  In this new city, I want to scrape my hands against all hard exteriors, all the brick, the rounded clean trees.  A desire that comes from just walking around with no one else to talk to.  I say to myself, take me home.  Take me back to the city I never left.  Bring me my love.  I scrape the sides of buildings with my hands as I walk by them but this is a forced pleasure.  I touch the snaggled sunbaked brick.  There are all the other conversations. 

Hey Georgie, you’ve been scientifically banned.  We all have.  And so I have an interest, a kind of Texasism interest, in all of it.  They even tried to declare us extinct.  We used to have suits of pearls.  I had my own and you had yours.  No territories just brackets of sea foam and roaming homes.  I read a famous story.  Once there was an old man who spent all his time beside a dry well choked with leaves.  If the man could even get a drop of water he would be immortal.  Each time the well produced water he was asleep.  You know that I am a very jealous person.  I am jealous of others when they stumble upon a truth.  But getting the words exactly right is a form of grotesquery, right?  I believe all the competition in the world does more to harm the truth than foster it.  Languages come and go.  Languages die.  It still doesn’t change who I am.  I let go of the idea of purity.  Sometimes you pushed me to be better.  Sometimes you held me back.  I cannot accept this body as it is.  I will work and work and work.

Amanda Ackerman is the author of four chapbooks: Sin is to Celebration (co-author, House Press), The Seasons Cemented (Hex Presse), I Fell in Love with a Monster Truck (Insert Press Parrot #8), and Short Stones (Dancing Girl Press). She is co-publisher and co-editor of the press eohippus labs ( She also writes collaboratively as part of the projects SAM OR SAMANTHA YAMS and UNFO. Her book The Book of Feral Flora is forthcoming from Les Figues press.