Ma stored it next to the pull-out wastebasket under the sink. She hated it, but couldn’t throw it out, knowing it made us happy: The Grilled Cheese Maker 3000.
We—my brother and I—we’d each pull out two clean slices. Believe me, it’s got to be Wonder Bread: bleached, square, basic Wonder Bread. Pull out the machine, plug it into the nearest outlet, watch the roaches scurry behind the soap dispenser, open the mouth of the machine, slap two slices down, grab some cheese squares, pull ‘em out their plastic blankets, two per sandwich if you’re feeling cheesy, slap two more slices down on top, close that baby up, press, and watch the red light blaze, and don’t forget about PAM, got to PAM both sides, got to. Watch closely, it’ll all be over in a couple minutes. Browned, crispy, ooey, gooey, melty grilled cheeses. Steam puffin’ out like dragon’s breath. Little sizzle on the tongue. Dip it in some ketchup or eat it straight up.
Twenty years later, little bro and I, we got a little money now. We’ve moved out of the projects. Out the Rego Park Houses. Out where there’s grass. Picnics and backyard BBQs with our families in progress. But we still got the Grilled Cheese Maker 3000. Multigrain, nine grain, sourdough, power protein bread and whatnot. Hold up! Deep in the back, I pull out a stack of Wonder Bread, the rainbow polka dots like used car lot streamers on the expressway. Reminds us of a time when we’d stay up watching Knicks games on a wiry antenna TV, drinking strawberry milk, eatin’ grilled cheeses while Ma, Dad, Chacha, Chachi, Dada, Dadi, the cousins, and a stray uncle or two slept sprawled ‘round the living room of a two-bedroom flat. We fired that baby up thinkin’ this was the end. But it never was. We got used to the Knicks losing, but the machine never failed us. It survived. And we always knew where to find it: under the sink, next to the trash, below the cabinet with the Wonder Bread, out of Ma’s view.