You can’t imagine your childhood without Alton Brown. He was a fixture, popping in periodically on weekday afternoons to play puppets and build nifty contraptions with you. He always had something cool to show you about the food you took for granted. He made you laugh, equipped you with a list of fun facts to impress your young friends.
Your mother liked him, because he made you learn things without you ever realizing you were. Your father didn’t, because your father doesn’t appreciate alt-comedy genius.
You’re not a very good cook, but your mother encourages you to try the recipes you see on Food Network. Girls need to know how to feed others before they become women. You’re not a very good cook, but it’s fun to try and apply your new knowledge. To see how close to edible you can get.
The years pass, and the family television loses its prized position to your new laptop. You stay up past midnight in your bedroom watching pirated episodes of the shows your friends at school talk about, trying to piece together the pop culture vocabulary everyone else but you seems to have. You learn to communicate in quotes from The Office and references to SNL sketches.
You grow up. You move away.
You fall in love with someone who doesn’t deserve you. He breaks your heart repeatedly and profoundly, sending your psyche careening back several years. You don’t remember how to keep yourself alive. You’re a child, and you know nothing. You’re a grownup, and you’re all alone. There is no one to feed you.
Your face is swollen and sticky from crying, and you carry a dull ache in your chest right where you used to feel your heart beating when you grew still. All you want is comfort. Comfort food. Simpler times. You learned to make a baked macaroni and cheese when you were about thirteen. You were so proud of it. What was that recipe? Someone taught you how to make it. More than that, someone taught you why it worked. Why can’t you remember how it went?
It would be rude, wouldn’t it? To reconnect with an old family friend whom you’d quite forgotten solely to ask for a favor? You do it anyway. Your limbs have turned into lead, and you just want to feel okay for a moment. Okay, or something like it. He won’t mind, will he?
He does not. Same as he ever was. You remember how to make that macaroni and cheese now. It hits the hollow spot in your stomach, your soul. It’s the one spark of joy you’ve felt all week. Alton came through for you. You will not forget him again.
Alton is the same as he ever was, but you are different. As a child, you did not have the awareness to articulate why you liked him. Now, you can say things like, “His humor is the perfect blend of ridiculous and intelligent. He’s just like me- goofy, but very smart.” Or, “He knows how to make me curious, how to make me care about things I never thought I’d find interesting.”
His old show, his podcast, his Twitter account. They are all staples in your life now. You will not forget him again. You feel something stronger now. A respect and a trust you’ve never felt for anyone. Not even the one you used to be in love with. You can’t imagine your adulthood without Alton Brown.
When you find out about his new show, you check it out immediately. “It will be good to see him again,” you think. Then, he walks in the room.
You’ve never seen him in a suit before.
Nothing’s changed. He’s the same person he always was, right? Nothing’s different. Nothing has changed. Wait, you already said that.
You know where this road leads, and you are not prepared to go down it. It seems like you are pushing thoughts of him out of your mind more often than you are thinking of anything else. It would be so much easier just to give in. Just accept it. You don’t want to own up to your weird, uncomfortable feelings, but fighting them off is simply more work than it’s worth at the end of the day.
Where were you when you realized you were in love with Alton Brown?
When you were a child, you pulled any weed with leaves on it from the yard and counted them with “he loves me” and “he loves me not”. (If you chose a weed with an odd number of leaves, you would end on “he loves me”.) You’re a grown up now, and so you idly count the petals on the flower you tore from your neighbor’s bush with “he’s thirty years older than me” and “he doesn’t even know who I am” and “why am I so creepy?”
Oh, of course you’re not really in love. You may be young, but you’re not stupid. The reason you cling to your fantasy of this man, the reason his voice gives you butterflies, the reason you spent seventy dollars for a distant seat with a bad view at his live show is something more symbolic.
Your childhood was not particularly happy. Most of your memories are painful and lonely. Adulthood has not been much better. You have never felt like you belong. You have never felt secure. You look completely different every time your parents see you. You can’t seem to settle on an identity that feels like home. You’ve been wandering since day one, and you feel no connection to your past selves.
There is nothing that you love now that you could use to relate to your child self. Nothing that has weathered all your changing phases. The books, the music you used to like… It all seems stupid to you now. You’ve been so many different people since your birth, and you struggle to find a single thread to connect them all. You have nothing in common with anyone else you’ve been.
You gravitate toward Alton Brown because he connects you to your past in a way that feels warm and safe, fun and exciting. He makes you feel the way you rarely ever did when you were a child. Comfortable. Engaged. Understood. You can sit with your memories of the first time you made baked macaroni and cheese in your parents’ kitchen, armed with the knowledge Alton gave you, and you can feel like the same girl. You can seize onto this one piece of consistent happiness that stretches back through all your darkest days. You’re the same girl.
Maybe all you really need to feel like a single, cohesive person is one bright spot to anchor to. Maybe all you really need is Alton Brown and baked macaroni and cheese.
That’s why you love him. Why you “love” him, anyway. Everything else that reminds you of your childhood makes you feel cold, fills you back up with fear and isolation. He’s the one bright spot, the safe place. The reminder that things are okay, or something like it, sometimes. There have always been occasional bright spots. There always will be. At least as long as you keep him around.
Plus, Alton Brown is really fucking hot.