As soon as the deadbolt locks into place, we exit the hallway. It’s a quick procession past closed doors, down the stairs.
Our march is clumsy. My feet jump and miss a few steps of wood. Her hair bun emerges through the opening of a pullover she’s indefinitely borrowed from me.
The meeting is about to start downstairs — it’s time for tuna melt sandwiches.
My left arm is managing our necessary goodies and my right arm is slung around my girlfriend’s shoulder. We grab the handrails when necessary, a blue apron swaying in the way, our pupils dilating in the dark of the house.
Two right turns lead us past the dining room to our playground: the kitchen’s stovetop.
There’s a hardened enchilada in the sink. Chunky peanut butter smears the metal counter. A mound of salt sits disturbed and scattered. I pinch the salt and toss it over my left shoulder.
There’s no time for curses or bad karma during our Tuna Melt Club meeting. The scene is nasty, so I wipe and toss the lost treasure a foot into the trash can. I realize there’s no trash bag.
We have a problem. The countertop griddle is marred by burnt cheese, a dirty brown stuck on the surface. In order to craft our desired tuna melts, we need our workspace to be spick and span.
So we disband to clean. There’s a satisfying snap of latex over our hands. Her fingers twist both of the griddle knobs counterclockwise.
As the heat reaches the edges of the griddle, we take turns pouring white vinegar along the stainless steel. It falls and lands, erupting into a sizzling chaos.
We’ve already laid out six pieces of wheat bread. A 4-ounce can of regular tuna sits quietly, drained.
Today, I’m feeling a bit wild. I’m craving some crunch with my sandwich, maybe a little grease to keep me unhealthy. So I opt for butter, reaching past her cooking spray for the yellow sticks.
It’s a fantastic fiasco to watch. Yet we turn to look away — long enough to catch repose behind the pantry door. The smell of the kitchen follows us, but we aren’t concerned; we trust our process. The meeting is heating up.
For the Tuna Melt Club, there isn’t a membership fee or an application. Meeting times depend on hunger. Sandwiches change from time to time because of limited ingredients. Ingredients change because of desire. Smacking lips and rumbling stomachs are the main discourse of the meeting.
You just have to love tuna melts. And maybe me.
It really isn’t a club because it’s just the two of us: my girlfriend and me. But calling it a club just seems better. We are both presidents that way.
The idea of the Tuna Melt Club came from my mom — she’s OG.
Mom and I had our routine. She’d pick me up from high school, driving down the boulevard blasting ABBA to the burger shop by the freeway. I’d eat as much as I could: grilled cheese, pineapple shake, maybe an avocado burger with fries if I had time for the bathroom.
She would order the tuna melt every time.
But you have to know, my mom is a small lady. She’s got a fancy for small portions.
So at this burger shop where portions were too big, she’d often ask if I wanted to finish the other half of her tuna melt.
And most often, I did, willingly and still hungry, leading me to miss a few swim practices from the stomach aches.
Our Tuna Melt Club was a front for my mom and I to bond, hang out and chat.
I try to remember those moments spent in the booth. Not just the conversations, the gossip or the minute lectures, but the joy and giddiness before we ate.
Too often, melted cheese clamped onto my gums. The pineapple shake stuck to the straw. French fries burned my tongue. My nostrils flared and settled when the tuna melt would arrive at our table, a straight line from the kitchen — tuna definitely smells.
The name of our “club” originated from a family rivalry.
Both Dad and Sister read a lot of books. I used to not care until Mom started working me up, telling me they were sharing book secrets and coordinating discussion times. Sure, I got a little jealous. They would discuss it, I would sit and stare.
But I wanted something better, my own club for Mom and me. It’s a competition, a rivalry of sorts. We had tuna melts, they had books. Food is delicious, and you can’t eat a book.
There are several other burger shops by the freeway now. But the tuna melt one still exists. Mom is still around too, and she still lectures. Our roundtable for two is on hold until I leave for college.
I savor that time. I savor the food. I savor the sensations of comfort eating and I savor the nostalgia. But tuna melts with mom isn’t like time with girlfriend. It’s just not comparable.
And so in this kitchen of old enchiladas and forlorn trash bags and broken spatulas, my co-president and I take turns flipping the tuna and pressing the bread. We joke, she smirks, I laugh.
We horseplay until the sizzling sprays. American cheese melts diagonally on the bread. With a twist, her fingers reveal bits of golden orange over the griddle, chunks of yellow and ivory cheese falling onto the tuna.
Our emotions play off of each other’s excitement. As the semester goes on, we find an appeal in cheap comfort food. It’s our incentive to finish homework. It’s our therapy to cook side by side, feeling the heat in the kitchen with her.
In less than 10 minutes, we finish cooking. I’ve burned my bread and her sandwich is more cheese than tuna. But we toast to our imperfect creations, finishing half a sandwich before reaching the dining room. The stove light goes out and the meeting adjourns.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.