On Friday afternoons, in and around the Mods, the smell of plain pasta sticks to the air. When he first encountered this scent at his window in Walsh, young Tony dismissed it as nothing more than a mirage. Only later, when he found a flier in Lower calling underclassmen for “The Great Mod Pasta Cook-off of 2014,” did the gears begin to click. This was a sign from above. The Mods had created a platform for him to embrace his unique calling. He could finally cook Pasta Duecento.
Memory is tied closer to smell than any other sense. As he raced home past the Mods to prepare, Tony recalled afternoons at Grandmamma’s house, watching her cook her signature dish. “Pasta Duecento,” she always called it. Tony still remembered the recipe:
Cook pasta. Add more pasta. Add more pasta. Add more pasta. Add more pasta. Add more pasta…
Grandmamma’s simple prose hardly indicated the mammoth task of making Pasta Duecento. Tony would always run out of something—time, pasta, water, gas. Truthfully, Tony had never seen Grandmamma prepare the full 200 servings. He had merely heard her outlandish story. Grandmamma claimed to have made Pasta Duecento for the troops during World War II.
“We kept them fed for months,” she said. “It was our duty to help and defend the nation.” She herself claimed to have briefly been a symbol of national pride. Tony would later learn that Grandmamma didn’t move to America until 1954, a fact which slightly soured her story’s message. But it had always seemed like exaggerated folklore anyway … until today.
At the Mod, Tony met Derek, who explained that he and his boys “were trying to do a rager” but Boston College’s rules for registered parties required they cook a pound of pasta for every unit of alcohol. So Derek and his boys and his boys’ Mods who were all “doin’ ragers” recruited underclassmen to cook their pasta, the winner’s prize being a party invite and “most of a handle of Ruby.” This made the other competitors’ eyes light up, but Tony had no interest in the alcohol. Immediately, Tony knew his competition stood no chance. The amateurs were trying to make pasta for 25, 35 people, such was their lack of vision. Tony remarked that he had not been provided enough boxes of spaghetti. Derek and his boys were stunned. One of Derek’s boys called Tony a “hardo.”
“Do not leave food on the table!” Grandmamma could always polish off small hills of plain pasta, but a 9-year-old’s digestive tract fared worse. Usually, Tony only had to eat enough pasta for four adults, but if Grandmamma was in one of her moods, Tony could find himself staring down two cake sheets of spaghetti. “All boys must eat lots of pasta!” Grandmamma would repeat when Tony stopped eating. “Then they grow up big and strong to defend the nation.” Eventually, Tony learned to wait at the table until Grandmamma dozed off to Wheel of Fortune. He would go to the window and pour the pasta out in the backyard for the rabbits. The evening Grandmamma caught him broke her heart, and so Tony vowed never to disrespect large amounts of plain pasta again.
If Grandmamma could see him now, Tony thought, her heart would be full. It was as though she were guiding his hand the way she did when she taught him to make Pasta Duecento. He was standing next to her, hovering over the stovetops, flanked by the spice rack (all salt) and the framed photo of the funny military man with the big chin. Not even Derek’s house music “Cook-off Banger$” playlist could distract Tony, the last great “quantity chef,” keeper of the Pasta Duecento secret. He was whole sheets of pasta ahead of his competition. A freshman girl had made the mistake of heating up sauce for the pasta. This was an unnecessary waste of time, as Tony knew, and Derek’s boys all dismissed it as being most “hardo.”
“The Cook-off is finished,” Derek announced. “Here come the RDXs.”
“Ugh no, they smell like mulch,” his boy Steve protested.
“It’s either them or the cops.”
The RDXs were among the most enigmatic and powerful of the University Officials. They were “resident” “directors” of something, but no one knew where they resided or what their power was. Tony didn’t know what the X stood for. But they were always lurking, and everyone knew to fear them. The corrupting influence of unchecked authority had given their early-to-mid-20s faces the weathering and jaundice of late-30s smokers. Three of them entered Derek’s Mod with silent footsteps, their skin wrinkling as they scanned the room, squinting at the beer and pasta.
“You have lots of alcoholic beverages,” the shortest RDX commented. Derek nodded. There was a tense moment.
“But you also have made a very large amount of pasta,” the tallest RDX added in the same monotone.
The widest RDX walked to the table. “May we have some.” They had some. The widest RDX smiled. “This pasta tastes like it could feed many people. We are satisfied.” They filed out of the Mod, and Tony felt a rush of joy. He had done it. Within seconds, he was holding the handle and everyone was celebrating. Derek cranked “Cook-off Banger$” and Tony rested on the couch, feeling like he’d performed a miracle.
Something caught his eye. Derek’s boys were all shirtless in their yard, looking up to the top floor. They were chanting. “MAKE IT RAIN! MAKE IT RAIN! MAKE IT RAIN!” Tony raced upstairs to find Derek teetering a tray of pasta on the windowsill. Tony’s heart sank.
“Wait wait wait, you’re gonna waste all the pasta!”
“The rabbits’ll eat it, dude.” He heaved the pasta out the window.
Tony heard a loud dudebro whoop. Three more trays followed. For a moment, Tony considered pouring the handle out the window to prove a point. Instead, he took the handle home, drank half of it, and had a very sad night indeed.
Featured Image by Matt Liber / Heights Staff