Lettuce Prep

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Pezibear

The lettuce on your In-n-Out Burger was handled in-house by four distinct hands. Two of them belong to an associate on Board, the station designated for dressing and wrapping the burger which will land on your tongue within 8-10 minutes of ordering. The other two hands belong to the prep associate from the morning shift. All the hands that have touched the lettuce are trained experts. Cooks spend years before they hit Board. Lettuce is learned for months before an associate officially becomes a prep body. At my store, a grown mother and daughter duo herald the lettuce team. The two come into work before dawn on weekdays to tackle the preparation process. The daughter leaves before two o’ clock to pick up her sons in elementary school. 

On the weekends, management leaves lettuce in the hands of day associates, at times myself included. My touch is clumsy; I am still unfamiliar with the craft. Our lettuce is first treated to an ice bath. I reach beneath the canyoned sinks and grasp the L-shaped handle that shutters the drain. I turn the metal. The drain is shut, the cold is clogged. 

To keep their hands from freezing, some girls wear two pairs of gloves at once. I choose to instead clutch my palms as soon as they tingle, to comfort them out of their terror. Lettuce is stored in a double-walled cardboard case. I ask men to carry it for me, but I am not too weak to shoulder it. I leave the muscle to anyone but me. Instead, my focus is on the 24 to 36 whole heads of lettuce inside the case, tasked to me for unraveling.

We use only iceberg lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is tough, tight, round. English dictates a whole round lettuce as a ‘head’. The leaves of the iceberg curl around one another, fists within fists. Each leaf is larger than its sister below. Eventually, the outermost green blooms out into the open air. Upon discarding these feathered layers, you will find an oblong sphere, a shape parallel to the human brain.  I cannot help, as I handle the plant, to feel a sensitivity to it. This is why round lettuce is known as heads.

My job is to uncurl the fists so that the heartiest leaves, the protein lettuce, can be used to wrap sandwiches. The bath I’ve drawn acts to soften the leaves. For each small brain, my hands dip into the sink and cradle the whole round. The heads instinctually slip from my gloved finger tips. Like an Atlantic fisherman, I scoop them from the freezing until my hands sting. I must pull the pair apart and stretch my two first fingers so that the lettuce lays between four fingertips. The sink is divided into two by a thick steel rim. I place each head on this rim before I wring my two palms.  Like a mother loosening grass from a picnic blanket, I shake out the cold. My shivers discard into the air until my hands can feel once more. The ice water, which was pooled deep into the smallest caves of the lettuce, has flushed down the rim of the sink. All steps are streamlined from here. Shuck the largest leaves, cut them square, then crush the head into cold lettuce chips. Those chips I will pluck from the hard white stem and leave in a separate bin, for Board to use on top of the patties.

Cold glass can shatter under water that is too hot. Tight jars will burst in the below zero temperature of a freezer. My hands are glass in this arctic sink, so when I am finished with my process, I always run a cold tap to warm my hands. I must not overdo it. I treat myself cold to cold, like I would the glass cup. As I let the water run out of my sink, I remind myself of the pink flesh inside my skull. So much more fragile than lettuce or glass, so much more valuable than any money I could make from this job. I treat myself gently, I take my time at the sink. If I don’t, I may just shatter.


Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by xarkamx

Anyone who knows me today would be shocked to hear it, but I spoke Spanish fluently until I was six, the same year I moved out of San Diego county. I was born in a small city called Escondido and carried out in a rush, before I ever attended school. Though Escondido’s populationis richly Mexican, it was not the source of my Spanish knowledge. It’s all correlation–my grandma Martha, a native-born Mexican, spoke to me in her first language. Alone at night, I would recite my catholic prayers with the lilts and twists of the Spanish tongue. The ritual would disappear after I moved. I grew up Christian, discarded my prayers. Soon, isolation would greet me in my childhood town.

I spent my childhood in Temecula, California, a small town known for luxury wines and olive oils. For such a pastoral description, the town itself is pure suburbia. While the wines and oils wear the name “Temecula”, the grapes and olives are grown in the sprawling landscape that circles the town, Wine Country. Temecula is the corporate-run commerce center of the area. My earliest memories occur in shopping malls and car rides. My family’s living routine revolved around chain restaurants, beginner dance courses, and Stater Brothers grocery. In place of tradition and ritual, I engaged in popular culture and consumerism. I was the target cereal-fed, television-tuned, American child. I would age as expected, gravitating towards fast fashion and fried food.

Though I learned Spanish young, it is unfamiliar to me now. My school, neighborhood, and household spoke English. My father, also full-blooded Mexican, knows nothing of the language. My mom, who has known Spanish her whole life, did not teach me. And though she is technically fluent, she feels her accent is subpar. She hates to speak it to this day. I would forget the language my grandma kissed between my forehead and with me, the language died.

I’ve only been to Mexico as a stop on the Carnival Cruise. My family who’d lived there until adulthood could only speak limited English. My Spanish was just as limited. When I was small, my parents would take me to parties rich with tradition. As I cornered puberty, the parties dwindled. I remember tall aunts skilled at long, joyous mariachi gritos (yells). My Aunt Jen, a petite and thin indiginous-featured artist like me, took frequent trips to Mexico. Because we were alike, I expected to bond with her one day. I dreamed that I could take up an artist’s residency with her in the center of Mexico. And then, as soon as my skin was fatter than my bones, there were no more visits to deep San Diego. My family crumbled apart. All of these memories of community and jubilee will only ever be claps of dust between concrete stages of life. My mother and father are now divorced and the family on my father’s side, the ones I grew up with, are modern strangers.

“Mexican pride!” As a teen, the phrase would skip down my tongue. How could I ever claim to be Mexican without participating in the community? Without a family to visit or sing to me stories? My understanding of Mexico is baseless. I don’t know what Mexico looks like. Is it glazed clay plates of tortillas, caramelized chunks of red meat, a table set in colors of orange and hot teal? Or are these just the cardboard cut-outs my mother’s family has replaced our history with? I miss my dad’s cousins who screamed with delight. In place of those big reunions, my mom takes me to her sister’s weekend brunches. The breakfast burritos cannot compare to home-cooked spreads. Our Spanish words are chopped with American pronunciation. And in place of joyful yelps is a silence only ever broken with small talk.

I don’t judge my mom for her choice to only speak English at home, but I can’t help but wonder who I could be if I was bilingual. How much would I know if I could speak to my elders when I was young? I would ask them what kind of flowers bloom in their hometown. I dream the language could bridge the unbearable silence that drapes over the traditions I have now. Maybe we’d be able to give our fears out to song, to yell out color in place of our quiet. I want to know what Mexico genuinely looks like. I hear it’s grit. I hear it’s pure pigment. I hear it’s unconditional love in all seasons of life. I’ve seen it before. My aunts live with each other; My grandparents live with their children. Where is that love when I sit at Thanksgiving dinner today? Being Mexican should be liberating. I remember that liberation from before: the whoops and hollers that would escape the lungs of my aunts like pink birds in the sky. At night I hear my neighbors’ parties filled with those same screams. I wish to be another lung in melody. I wish to be a tone in the crowd. I wish to be colored pink.

I Died: Lessons From the Age of 21

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by John Diez

I was born a fat, happy bug when something cosmic charmed me gold. Never once broke a bone, no allergies to gluten or pollen. Lucky enough never to grieve another. My wishes dropped from the sky. I once asked my parents to buy me a soda from the vending machine, and upon their refusal, strolled to the plastic door of the vending machine drop box. Two Sprites tumbled to the ground. Most likely, someone punched in the wrong number and left in frustration. In my story, that someone who keyed the numbers was my friend Pure Luck. Luck loves me. Luck lives in the house next door.

I grew up a charmed, caramel girl. I ran down the stairs because I knew I would never fall. I ate cookies off the floor and teethed around the mold on my strawberries; I could never get sick. I wore my charm like a dinner roll wears butter. Fortune was baked into my being. I lived full, impulsive, unrestrained until I no longer could, until all of it died.

I first grieved for myself in February after my 21st birthday. The grief struck me where I never expected sorrow to hit: during a run of Clueless. As the film came to a close, I felt a terrible longing for myself. This was very strange. Was I not sitting right here, watching the film? But I was nowhere to be found. Where was the breezy teen who gushed at the sight of Paul Rudd, who happily mouthed one-liners? Inside the warmth of my home, sobs heaved from my chest.

The young, golden baby I once was had been taken from me.  It was a loss that left my muscle bare, like the skin of a mango as you pull the flesh by your teeth. My 21st year arrived at the end of my first adult relationship. Twin flames hold a mirror to one another. Sometimes, they only act to reveal each other’s wounds. We tore each other to shreds. I didn’t want love like I knew it ever again. After we broke up, I shut out chaos. In the process, I lost my impulses and I lost my passions. 21 made an honest being out of me.

What a surprise the sincere world is. Teen romance no longer thrills me. I am more familiar with labor than luck. My tolerance for things is suddenly waning; when I have dairy, I get stomach aches. I have few friends. In one year I have aged 40. All of a sudden, my back hurts, I need seltzer water, and I have no crushes. I am no longer the golden bug, the buttered bread baby. I no longer race the asphalt on a candy high Halloween night. I no longer giggle when I meet someone new. Instead, I cook Thanksgiving dinner with only a recipe to keep me company. I eat with two utensils. To be content, I’ve stopped seeing the world as a bed of roses. I’ve abandoned the fawn. I share my poetry and when people tell me I use too many analogies, it’s true. Drop the metaphors, face reality. A minute is a minute and each day is a day.

Though dark, there is serenity in accepting reality. I no longer use love, luck, or entertainment as placeholders for joy. In exchange, I have room for gratitude. I make my own silver linings. I choose what I look forward to: time to cook a meal, the hesitant greeting of a cat on the street, moisturizing after a shower, and bedtime. Some days, if I really need a push, I buy myself flowers from the grocer. I am my own best friend. 

As I come to terms with reality, impulses run through me once more. I have a new motive to run down the stairs. I’m not afraid of tripping. I don’t need to know it won’t happen; I know it certainly will. I exist now on a beeline to the end of my life, which I will experience bright-eyed and alone. Before I die, I am going to rebuild Me. I am going to have very nice conversations with Me while I cook my meals. I will talk in depth about art and philosophy, and I will never come to a definite conclusion, only because I love it when I chat with Me. When I dine, I will eat with my hands. And one day, when I have someone who loves me enough to look at a rose and think of my skin, I will still buy myself flowers. I am my own best friend, after all, and I don’t want to lose Me ever again.

Trophy Wife Fantasies

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Vlada Karpovich

He is coming home soon, back to the dorms where I am now, in the near vacant west wing. We are all freshmen, and free time is new to us. We’ve become friends because we live together, so we are always together. But right now, I am alone. They are out, enjoying the cold–laughing and twirling on ice. The school is sponsoring a holiday skate rink for the night. I was supposed to be there, eager to be included. I’ve never skated before. We were both invited, in fact, but Cameron has convinced me not to. He jumped when his roommate walked in to grab a book during our screening of Futurama.. He didn’t want to go, and he told me I shouldn’t go. It can’t be that much fun. He doesn’t like anyone, anyway. Cameron prefers we hang out alone, instead. I tell myself that means he has a thing for me.

I stayed behind because he did too. I needed to tackle the chores in my room. Alone in the dorm, my knees on pine, I place and replace objects of sentiment. I dust down my corner of the room. I even check out a vacuum and mop from the student center. I’ve never been good at cleaning, but it’s important to me tonight because I’ve made a game of it. The rules of the game are: everything must be perfect before he arrives. If everything is perfect, then when he comes back, he will announce himself and kiss my cheek. He will declare this space a home.

I throw all my love into the composition of my bedroom. I deconstruct columns of books and paperwork. I leave the middle of the desk clear; I hang my clothes, once habitants of my desk chair, in the closet. He is coming back soon, to my room, to our beautiful home.

When I am done, I have enough time to do something for myself. I unfurl my thick purple yoga mat on the sparkling floor. I pull my body so that I can uncork my head. I twist into myself and I see all the hot yellow hope for tonight. I unroll my body, trying to stretch far enough I can reach him, wherever he is at right now. 

I hear steps down the hall. He comes inside, standing tall with his bass trombone in hand. I am seated on the ground. I am planted in the dirt. I don’t tell him to take off his shoes. He steps on my purple mat. He suggests maybe can we go to his room instead?

This guy is unbelievable in the very best way. He’s tall, smooth, and built tight, like a whippet. His interest in me begins and ends with my virginity; this will be my first time with a boy. I’ve had experience, no doubt, but I felt like I wanted a relationship before I went all the way. I managed to avoid it at the dorms and even when I started living alone. By now, though, it’s been long enough. I don’t mind that he doesn’t want to date, because I don’t want to date. I just want to try something new. 

We don’t even get 10 minutes into the movie before he gets on his knees and pulls down his sweatpants. I am happy to go with his flow. We kiss, we touch, and eventually, he tells me to get on top. I wrap around his body with my head buried in his shoulders. I only perceive the orange and blood space between two bodies. I feel welcome in this warm vacation, the wavy paradise that only exists in the heat of two strangers. 

I know only his name and his Instagram handle. When we finish, he makes a joke along the lines of: You’re so small you remind me of a child and that is so hot. When we finish, I roll my eyes and I roll out of the body and back into the head and think about things like “I want that dalmatian print sweater.” But when we finish he insists on staying in that warm vacation place. Sleepily, he pulls me back. 

Tonight, he is holding me like I’ve never been held before. I am locked between the tension of four limbs and brushed by soft kisses. He’s kisses are slow clouds passing over dandelions. This big, tall hunk who only ever saw me as a hole has not stopped kissing my cheek all night. All of what was once a hot, wet night has laced into vulnerability. Fast, hard, and out of control I think, “the kids will be in the next room over.” My brain in the aftermath of a speedway collision: “The kids are sleeping in the next room over and we’ll all wake up come sunrise and I will serve everyone smiley face pancakes.” 

I am older and wiser and hotter now. I am a good feminist. I don’t wait around for boys who don’t like language. I don’t eat the crumbs the tall boys leave to catch me in the woods. 

As a good feminist, I waited to fall in love with someone who is kind. My lovely someone takes good care of me. I feel loved, seen, understood. He is happy to share a home with me. And so am I, as long as he is happy. My home is built around him.

A perfect night:

I will be sitting when he arrives at the door. I will be curled and cozy with some dignified text in hand. Dug into shelves of words I have no attention span for, my brain will be pinned only on one thing: him. 

He will bust open the door and stand without direction, waiting for me. I affirm his inaction, and lift my body up from my tasks to wrap my plentitude around his form. I’d have taken a shower earlier so I can smell like roses. After his long walk home it is all he can take in. I am so squeaky clean that I am his soap and his sponge. I’ll hold my body against his long enough that the air of his lungs comes out floral. Under his hold, I keep myself small and my heartbeat slow so that his breath can follow the tempo. 

He will be so tired, so weary and tired that I can take from my fullness and feed him. I want to have food on the stove. I want to scoop him a plate. I want to be the cushion of his seat. I want to kiss him everywhere as he devours the meal, the fruit of my labor.