Cumins of New York

An exhaustive catalogue of the city’s aromatics

Image: Emily

My mother was McCormick. The cheapest shaker on the shelf. She wore a red label, you know the one. I never knew my father. Mom didn’t complain. But I always knew she wanted better for me. She encouraged me to get my degree. I took classes at community college. It took me six years to finish because I have dyslexia. My mother was there the day I graduated. It was the only time I saw her cry. Now I’m at Whole Foods, their store brand. I have a clear label. I’m proud to wear it.

Image: Emily

It feels like people are always taking from me. All day long they’re scooping with their measuring spoons. Or they just reach in and grab a pinch with their dirty fingers. It’s one cooking class after another, all week. Evenings too. And no matter how tired I am, I have to keep showing up for those students. I see some who are succeeding. Others I know are never going to make it. But I try to treat them all the same. They say teaching is a noble profession. It demands a lot from you, though. To be honest I think it’s shortening my life.

Image: Rebecca Siegel

Me? There’s nothing to tell. I came from nowhere. I have no backstory. None that I can tell you, anyway. I have to maintain total secrecy. I even live under an assumed name. Of course it’s lonely. No one can ever know who’s really inside. Nobody knows my hopes, my desires, my darkest fears. But that’s just the Trader Joe’s business model. Have you tried the new Bacon Sriracha Cookie Butter, by the way? It’s unbelievable.

Image: Liz Mochrie

I never thought I’d find love at work. But then one ordinary day he walked onto the taco truck. He was red pepper flakes, tall and handsome. I should’ve made the first move. But I just waited. I think it’s because I’ve always had low self-esteem. For a while we were just friends who flirted a lot. Then finally he asked me out. I was so excited that day, I came home and had a dance party by myself. After we started dating things got serious fast. We decided to move in together. We were talking about marriage and kids. Then a week before the move I got the phone call. He drowned in a vat of frying oil. It was a big shock and I don’t know if I’ll ever recover. I’m trying to stay busy. That helps me not feel too overwhelmed. But I still think about him every day.

Image: Piyushgiri Revagar

Oh my God! It’s so good to talk to someone. I’ve been in the back of this drawer for months. Or maybe years. Is it summer? It’s so bright. The solitude is psychological torture. And the dark. There’s nothing to look at. I think about my kids sometimes but it’s getting harder to picture their faces. I think about everyone’s kids. The ones who don’t know how to cook a meal because nobody ever taught them. It’s not their fault. The ones who go on Pinterest and see a three-course dinner on vintage plates and it’s like a beautiful portrait of another person they could be. Someone who makes a grocery list on the weekend. Someone who decants wine. But then it’s 7 P.M. and the fantasy crumbles. They put away the cooking ingredients and Seamless a salad for dinner again and eat it alone, in the company of their regrets. Just like I’m alone in here. Hey, where are you going? Please don’t go. Please!

I’ve only been in New York since Tuesday. Can you believe it? I rode here from Jersey City in a semi. It was the biggest truck I ever saw. I had nothing but the plastic baggie on my back. But I wasn’t scared. Everyone else on the Blue Apron truck was super friendly. We all talked about what life would be like in the city. I know I don’t look like anyone special. I’m just a tiny quarter-teaspoon. Odds are I’ll end up as Cajun-style Tilapia for Two with Seared Cauliflower and Chilies, 540 calories per serving. But I dream big, you know?

Elizabeth Preston lives in Boston and writes about science and other sundries. Her blog, Inkfish, is published by Discover. Follow her on Twitter: @Inkfish