Corn on the curb

Pub date September 1, 2009
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink

CHEAP EATS I pick up my brother at the airport. It might not always be the Oakland airport, but I will always pick up my brother at the airport. Besides love, there’s corn in it for me. Ohio corn. I didn’t know about this angle when I tried to lift his suitcase, while he was busy with a big ragged box with duct tape all over it, situating this in the back of my little car — just so, because that’s the way he is.

Me, I’ve been struggling with the Meaning of Life a little lately, and you never know where you will find a sense of purpose. Why not at the curb outside of baggage claim? I didn’t know, I just thought I would make myself useful.

I got the suitcase about an eighth of an inch off of the ground, then decided to just wait quietly for my hug, and let it back down.

"I’ll get that," he said. After he got it, after the hug, we were driving away and he said, "Do you know what’s in that suitcase?"

"Something really very heavy," I said.

And that was when he said, "Corn."

"Ah," I said, as if corn, all things considered, made perfect sense.

"Ohio corn," he said. "Picked this morning. Four dozen ears of Ohio corn."

"OK then," I said.

He had me go through his old neighborhood, which is West Oakland, because he wanted to leave some on his ex’s steps, and his buddy Ron’s steps, and for all I knew some other people’s steps.

But it was 10:30 at night and I wondered about raccoons and other terrorists. I wondered this out loud.

"You’re right," he said. "I’ll deliver it in the morning." And we got back on the freeway.

We went to my house and started eating the corn in my kitchen, standing up. We didn’t bother to boil it or anything, and it was pretty good, but I still didn’t know about bringing four dozen ears of fresh corn on an airplane to California. It seemed a little illegal, if not — I don’t know — pointless.

"The fact is," I said to my brother, halfway through my first ear, "we do have corn here." To illustrate my point, I opened the refrigerator and showed him an ear. I’d just bought it at the grocery store. It seemed pretty fresh too. This is California.

"Ohio corn," he said. There was a piece of it on his chin, and his eyes looked glazed, maybe because of the time difference.

I’m supposed to be a food writer, and I wasn’t sure I could tell the difference. It was good, yes. I ate another piece, steamed, at my cousin Choo-Choo’s house the next day. It was great.

But sometimes I get a great ear of corn at the farmers market, too. I guess the meaning of life is that corn means different things to different people, and while a lot of people have little brothers, few if any of them arrive at the Oakland airport with a suitcase full of corn. So there’s that.

Grateful, charmed, and educated, I offered him my life. My cabin, the kids, this column. He said he’d take my records, and my car. "It’s all or nothing," I said. And for the next couple days I went around buying ears of corn at all the local markets.

I’d pay 99 cents (in some cases) for one ear of locally grown organic corn, and eat it raw, or in some cases cooked, and of course in other cases barbecued. And you know what? It never tasted as good as my brother’s suitcase-smuggled Ohio corn.

Which is gone. My brother’s still here, for a couple more weeks. I called him and said, "OK, you can have my records."

He deserves them, but mostly I just love to think of one of my sisters picking him up at the airport in Ohio, trying to lift his suitcase, or his big taped-up box, and not getting it more than an eighth of an inch off the ground.

"Do you know what’s in there?" he’ll say. And she’ll never guess. I wrote this while eating a Vietnamese sandwich at:


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L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.