Eating a meal my father has cooked is a little like being the winner, or maybe I should say “victim,” of some dubious sweepstakes prize. “Congratulations!” the announcer says, flashing you a winning, yellow smile, “You’ve won one free dinner cooked by a Medieval Viking!”
On the appointed day, a knock comes at the door, and you open it to find a surly six-foot man in furs with a bag of disagreeable-looking tools standing on your doorstep. “Come in,” you say, graciously, “The kitchen’s just down this hall,” and you lead him to the stove, thinking that whatever he makes will be something simple, rustic, brawny, and uninformed as he is; a reindeer steak with some kind of Nordic vegetable side, or perhaps you’re overestimating him, and he’ll present you with raw meat on sticks.
But he turns to you with a stony face, and instead presents you with a mile-long list of sophisticated ingredients and the cash to buy it all. “You go to store and you eat good tonight,” he says in a thickly accented growl.
Walking through the aisles of the grocery store, you gaze at the list and wonder what a Viking Warrior needs with such materials. “Scallions, really?” you think, “What on Earth does he need with scallions? How did he even hear about them?” You buy it all, anyway, and load it into the trunk, but you’re still half-sure that he’ll end up burning it in the backyard as fealty to Odin.
When you arrive, he totes in the bags, unloads them, tallies the ingredients, kicks you out of the kitchen, and closes the door. Now, of course, you’re scared of what he might do to the granite countertops, especially when you hear the noises that filter through the door. You hear the sound of something crunching sickeningly, though that may be the bones of the live goat he asked for. There’s sawing, and splashing, and cursing. Sulfuric odors waft through your house. A couple of times, you’re sure you hear a sword unsheathe, but there’s nothing you can do, because the moment you so much as crack the door, he turns from the countertop (and the pristinely executed goat sacrificed upon it) and yells for you to get the Hel out.
After waiting into the evening, your stomach growing ever more uncomfortably empty, he walks from the kitchen proudly carrying a platter on high. He serves you and himself enormous portions, and proceeds to shovel in the food with his hands, swallowing it whole. What eventually takes you an hour to eat has just taken him five minutes. You take your first few bites, and find it is delicious (imagine that)! “Congratulations, indeed,” you think, “Dinner cooked by a Viking is not a bad deal.”
After staring at you eating for about five minutes (which makes you profoundly uncomfortable, but the food is too good to stop), the Viking seems to warm up to you, and he begins to tell you stories. They’re all good stories, with entertainment value, and most of them are hilarious, but some of them aren’t quite right for the dinner table, and some of them are disgusting. Thank God you have a strong stomach, but woe to anyone who meets this man who has not. Throughout the night, you laugh and cry, and sometimes avert eye-contact, and the two of you generally have a jolly time, and you eventually fall asleep on the couch watching a gory crime show while he siphons up his leftovers.
In the morning you wake up, and the Viking is nowhere to be found. The only traces of him are a dented mace underneath your couch; a badly spelled letter thanking you for the opportunity to cook for you, and asking you to keep a lookout for his mace, which he could not find upon leaving your house; and in your kitchen, which you never did get a chance to look at last night, the chaos of Ragnarok. You can no longer see your countertops because every dish you own is piled haphazardly atop them, coated in rotting ingredients, and there is a film of grease over every horizontal surface and every wall. Your trash is piled over and around the can, like a skyscraper of garbage. Every dish towel you own is stuck to the floor or some other surface by the spill it was set there to clean. Your fridge is empty and there are several old coffee cans scattered around the kitchen, the first of which, when opened, contained something unmentionable, the rest of which, you are afraid to touch.
For years to come, you will look back on that night, and pine for the Viking’s fabulous lamb and scallion something-or-other, but then you will look back on that morning, and think to yourself “Never again.”
My father does this every single night.