2 breakfast mascots, one representing rice. The other oats. Just add water. Boil in pot. Let simmer to desired thickness. Sworn enemies. A black man in America, and the well-fed colonizer. Is he a really a Quaker? (Does he truly quake?) Does he sit in a silent circle once a month? As for the Cream of Rice man, the bow tie suggests Nation of Islam affiliation. Perhaps a stint in prison led to his conversion, his record marred by a string of oat-related misdemeanors. Can a man find God or just his own ideas about God?
Rice is grown in swamps. Oats grow in fields. There is sowing, growing, harvesting. Photosynthesis to commerce, a chain of interrelated activities. Human hands. Give and take. The product arrives in bulk, in barrels, is cut, chopped, heated, cooled. Stored in drums. During packaging, these are placed in containers that bear the likeness of either an elderly, friendly black chef or a blue-eyed, white-haired pilgrim whose serene countenance implies membership to the clergy. But who are they really? Ben Vereen & Robert Bly? Morgan Freeman & Alec Baldwin? Malcolm X & Buckminster Fuller? Inside their hermetic packages, the oats and rice lay in total darkness.
I walk the aisles. I go Kroger-ing, looking for our usual foods. Looking for low prices. I hope to find both. If so, I feel successful. If not, so be it. A man's gotta eat. Now everything's "organic." Decisions, decisions. Plastics coming from China are cut with cyanide and goat dung. Baby toys injected with lab rat piss. The spinach is sprayed with waste-water from a local penitentiary. (Buy the iceberg lettuce. It looks less threatening, i.e. not as swarthy. A light, promising green.) I swipe my card. Now I swipe the other one. Yes, I tell the computer screen, I am a member.
Rice for the wife. Oats for me. Sometimes we switch up, though. First things first: Pour the oats into a glass mason jar. Recycle the colonial emperor. Put rice in similar container. Recycle Ben Vereen. Confuse rice with baby's rice. Confuse rice with cornmeal. Miniature confusions: the price you pay for being eccentric. Confuse oats with nothing. (What could a man possibly mistake oats for?)
When I was a lot younger, my sister once had a boyfriend named Carlos, from Carmel Beach. He looked like a chicano Roger Moore and had every bit of magnetism that his origins (West Coast aristocracy) had equipped him with. He wanted away from all his parents' money and social ties and expectations, so he had moved to Georgia, got a job as a waiter, and starting taking classes at Columbus College (just down the road from Ma Rainey's old place).
Carlos was a man of honor. He lived in an apartment with 2 other guys, who I thought were both hilarious, and who only played video games and sweated profusely. One day I visited Carlos at his apartment. One of his sweaty roommates answered the door and I walked in to find Carlos in the kitchen stirring a big blue ceramic pot of oatmeal, maybe five gallons worth. "Hey, Jonathan," he said through the rising steam. He was adding ingredients - cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and so on. "This has gotta last me a month," he started to explain, "so it's gotta be good."
The guy was broke and in love with my sister. He was eating oatmeal twice a day, waiting tables and taking classes at Columbus College. "This poor, poor bastard," I thought. And now for my secret ingredient, his eyes glimmered in a faux-excited, just-shy-of-sarcastic but still charming-as-hell way ... a little cayenne.