My first was in Kingston Riverside in London. I wasn’t expecting him to show up, how could I? I wasn’t enough of an optimist that I could have even conceived of the very idea of him.
When I first made eye contact, I thought he must be too good to be true. Is that a mirage? It – wait. No. It can’t be. I felt my heart stop for a moment. I inched forward, closer to the counter, but still keeping a safe distance; like a rescue dog tentatively sniffing an outstretched hand.
I’ve seen potato products before.
I’ve been disappointed before.
He was five quid. Even when I placed my order, I didn’t let myself quite wrap my brain around the idea. Keep expectations low, I told myself. Protect your heart. And then they handed him to me, the stick swaddled in a paper napkin. He was bigger than I’d expected, taller, and heavy. He smelled incredible. It was at the end of a long workday where I’d felt insecure about everything I’d done and my place in the world in general, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the photo.
Everything I hadn’t let myself hope for had been true.
An entire potato.
Turned into an unending spiral. Like magic.
Dipped in batter.
Deep fried in oil.
Covered in salt.
So much flavour!
Sometimes when I was little and we’d get fish & chips for tea (name a more NZ phrase, I dare you) I’d sneak in one little cheeky potato cake to the order. To have my first tornado was to come out of the shadows and announce to the world who I was. This isn’t sneaking one cheeky potato cake into a group dinner. This is saying, out loud, that you want an entire potato’s worth of cakes, strung together as brothers, displayed so proudly and so confidently on a stick.
This is me. This is who I am. Ich bin ein tornado.
2018 (four years later)
It’s April, and my head isn’t right. Somewhere along the way things have gotten corrupted, the messages have been lost. After years of potatoes at every opportunity, I’ve decided I need a tornado tattoo. Charging ahead with my idea has made me begin to inspect every twist.
“I need a picture of the perfect tornado to show my artist” I would explain, snapping pictures of my tornado on its own, without me nestled in beside it. Alone and aloft and uneaten while I inspected his form. He grew cold and exposed while I frowned at the bits that weren’t quite symmetrical.
Yes, I found some perfect specimens; it’s wasn’t that hard. But that’s not what life is about.
It’s the connection you have.
That’s what matters.
2016 (Two years prior)
It was January. Summertime. In summer there are festivals, markets, parties. Icecream stalls and food trucks lining park edges, borders around celebrations, hugging people in close with warmth and carbs and deep fat fryers.
It was my first summer in Melbourne, and I had quickly discovered that the tornados were everywhere. They don’t need a lot of equipment to make, they’re profitable, and they’re a family favourite. They are also Korean in origin (ask for ‘hoeori-gamja’), which means that they fit tidily under the “Asian food” umbrella; giving them a red carpet invitation to Asian food markets on top of night markets and day markets and weekend markets and the rest.
And, in this case, Chinese New Year.
I was counting calories down to the gram, not drinking during the week, working out every single workday. I was in the smallest section of my three-sizes-section wardrobe and was deadlifting 100kg for reps. I was strong and fit. I felt good in my skin.
But that summer, I didn’t fight the inevitable. Calories be damned, I couldn’t leave the potatoes behind. So I gave myself an allowance of One Tornado a Week.
Do you realise what that means? That I had the opportunities for more tornados that I would turn down? The idea that on a Sunday I’d have to say “no thank you, I had one Friday night?”
It was such a pure time. A time I vow to replicate. May every summer be so full of activities and life and sunshine that you have the chance to do the twist more than once in seven days.
A blessed life indeed.