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Davis, California

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Humor: How I’ve trained my whole life for the Quad Stack Challenge

MACLEAN HARTFORD / AGGIE

A personal essay

When I was a little girl in Russia, my mother used to say, “The shrimp cobbler must have tiny hands,” and I would reply, “Shrimp don’t wear shoes, Mother.” And we would settle our funny, little differences with raf coffee and bean sandwiches. But my affinity for cornbread did not develop for another two years.


When I was 5 years old, I traveled to America as a stowaway aboard a ship delivering, ironically enough, chili beans to orphans. For three weeks at sea, I ate nothing but beans, beans, beans. When I arrived in America, I found employment at a shoelace factory in New York. From sunrise to sunset, I worked as a machinist, pushing a little cart of tools and stopping to talk with the women at the machines.


“You must be hungry, Pooshky,” one woman would say. “Here, take a little bread.” I was starving, so I accepted the bread and devoured every crumb, pressing my dirty fingers to the sweet morsels that landed on my overall bib.


“They call it cornbread,” said Shiva, one of the workers. From that moment on, I thought only of cornbread. Where could I find more of this delectable manna? What varieties might I try? I was never satisfied.


10 years later and now living in Elsbury, Missouri, I was passing through my high school’s bake sale, when I met eyes with the corn farmer’s son, Boon. He stood leering over a pan of freshly baked cornbread. I approached him, hoping to purchase a slice, but he only nodded in vague apprehension. He was a simple boy. He let me take the entire pan. So, I left town and headed west for California!


I arrived in Sacramento with a suitcase containing a sock and a buffalo nickel. But I was determined to find a helping of chili beans and cornbread that would once and for all satiate my strange hunger. I traveled out into the fringes of the city, talked to people on the streets, learned the seedy underground networks and hitchhiked my way to Davis — where I began working as a janitor. When everyone left campus in the evenings, I would sneak into the math building and solve complex proofs left on the chalkboards, because I was secretly a genius. It was just a diversion, though. Something to keep my mind off of my real goal: ingesting an unhealthy amount of chili and cornbread.


Last week, while walking aimlessly through campus and meditating on how I could use my answers to the Millennium Prize Problems to buy a lifetime supply of johnnycakes, I passed the CoHo South Café. I smelled something familiar: cornbread. I pressed my nose against the glass window, ignoring the students inside. That’s when I saw the sign for the Quad Stack Challenge — and the photos of the smiling, happy people who’d conquered the golden, legume-strewn behemoth and I knew.

I was ready.

 

 

Written by: Jess Driver — jmdriver@ucdavis.edu

(This article is humor and/or satire, and its content is purely fictional. The story and the names of “sources” are fictionalized.)

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