Frank Ur


Michele Blackwell

For me, it was college. As it probably is for many people. First time away from home, first time truly on your own. A great opportunity to experiment. 

Nervousness is to be expected. A little sheepishness while exploring the unfamiliar. That’s the point of college, exploration. The panic eventually sets in, nothing unmanageable-

What if I’m doing it wrong? What if they don’t like it?What if I am bad, like really bad? WHAT IF-There’s always a “what if?”

It’ll be my first time, so it makes sense. 

The best way to get over performance anxiety is to prepare. Nothing extensive, some blog posts here, a video tutorial there. Just an idea on how to get the job done. In reality, I know it will be my own flair, a lil pizazz and flick of the wrist. 

It’s always nice to see what others do, gives me a good starting point. There’s the skill and potential in everyone, but it’s a matter of unlocking and using it. Just doing it well is where time and practice come in. 

For some, it’s second nature, a type of born divinity. There are those that have the skill, but they have to refine the technique. Then there are the poor souls that need help every step of the way. Practice makes perfect, right? 

Hopefully, I’m one of the first two. A boy can dream. 

I’ve got the basic theories down, took notes from the blogs and videos, now to see if I have the right supplies. After a lot of rifling and A LOT of cursing, I realize: Gotta go to the store. 

No big deal. Get in. Get what I need. Get to self-checkout. Get out.

Bing. Botta. Boom.

It should take no less than twenty minutes. My mind begins to strategize: 

Five possible exits. 

Two emergency exits. 

Three safe ways out. 

You know, in case I screw up.  

To the store I go.

Confidently, I walk in. I’ve got  a slightly smug look, even a puffed up chest. The inner monologue sounds like: I’m cool, everything is good. No one’s looking and it doesn’t even seem like there’s anyone in self checkout.

Well of course not, because they’re closed for repair. The plan I meticulously put together, has already begun to deteriorate. 

Three exits. 

Slowly my bravado deflates. I’m left with a pinch of overwhelming panic, a dash of dread, and sprinkle of paranoia. Now, everyone’s looking. Directly. At. Me. 

Swiftly, I walk to aisle six. I glance at my watch, five minutes have passed, fifteen more to meet my twenty minute quota.

O Madonna. There are so many types. 

Who can decide, do I get straight up tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, whole plum tomatoes, pre-seasoned, no salt, the list goes on. Do I call mom, she’d know exactly what to get? There comes a time in every young man’s life that he must duplicate his ma’s gravy. This is my big boy moment. What did you think I was talking about? Like a good Italian, I’ll be using the term gravy from here on out. Don’t like it? Then stop reading and instead take it up with the wooden instrument in my utensil drawer. That’s what I thought. 

Today’s my day. 

I remind myself that not everyone knows what to do with a can of raw tomato sauce. If everyone only knew the sheer power that can be unleashed from the correct ratios. For a first timer, the isle of tomato products can be intimidating. Even to a home grown Italian it can be. The weak ones go to the jarred sauces. 

How many YEARS have I watched gravy simmer? Countless Sundays spent breading cutlets, avoiding the aerial assaults from gravy eruptions and spattering oil. Birthday’s plenty with the aroma of sautéed garlic filling the house. Christmases watching my aunt burning the gravy. It’s the blood flowing through Italian veins, and I’m standing here spacing out.  

It’s okay. I know I need four cans of-or is it six? Do I need the peeled plum or crushed red, both, how many of one or the other?


Inhale the gravy. Exhale the ragù.

It’s fine, I’m cool. Crushed is basically whole plum. Two cans sounds good. Gravy can’t be too chunky, three cans of sauce for the smooth-chunky ratio. One more can of crushed and a can of whole peeled plum, just in case. 

Okay, tomatoes have been taken care of. Now to the seasonings. The one thing I know by heart. How many times have I picked up cilantro instead of parsley, too many. I’ve almost destroyed two family dinners. Dried parsley isn’t the same, but will work. 

Parsley is bagged and I grab an onion. I’m not making meat gravy, but onions are delicious. I have to give it my own twist. 

I can’t help but think I’m forgetting something. So, I pull out my list: 

Tomato Sauce Check

Crushed/Peeled Plum (?) Check

Parsley Check

Onion Check

Angel hair and other seasonings are at home… 


I hear it, clear as mom yelling mangia!  My body redirects to the fresh bulbs of garlic. Pre-peeled and pre-chopped are one of several deadly sins to an Italian. Fresh or it isn’t suitable for the table. 

All ingredients have been procured and rest safely in my shopping basket. Time to checkout, go home, and start the hours long process of watching gravy boil. 

Since self-checkouts a bust, I’ll have to go through the introverts hell of regular checkout. What really gets to me is the meaningless conversation which, correct me if I’m wrong, typically goes: 

“Hi, how are you?” 

“Good, you?” 

“Good, your total is $12.72.” 

My takeaway from this brief interaction is that I’m expecting $7.28 in change. 

Unloading items onto the belt can be more of a struggle than small talk. When there’s no divider with the person in front of you, it becomes the glare off of “that better not touch my groceries and I SWEAR to GOD if they scan it as part of my order.” But, nine out of ten times you get the olympic rated cashier who’s hands could match the feet of Usain Bolt. Then they wait on you to finish unloading and by that point you’ve taken up 95% of the belt and there’s a two inch gap between each item as you frantically put everything on the belt sweat beading down your face intense eye contact with the cashier-  

“Looks like you’re makin somethin Italian, whatcha cookin?” Wow, she’s quick. Scanned, bagged, and still time for awkward small talk. At least she’s making an attempt, there may be hope yet.

“I’m makin a gravy.” I don’t think I’ve ever gotten such a confused look. 

“Isn’t gravy brown?” I can see the gears frantically turning in her head. Unbeknownst to her, the line has grown under her interrogation.

“Italian’s use the name gravy and sauce interchangeably.” 

“Sauce, like Prego?” 

She. Didn’t. That’s like saying breathing is the same as holding your breath. Ever black out for a few seconds and watched as you, hypothetically, backhand someone? Maybe that’s just me. Okay, a bit dramatic, but she assaulted my culture. 

“Sure, it’s similar.” Sometimes you can’t educate the uneducable. Granted, I didn’t really try. But, with the wind tunnel of huffs and puffs behind me, I pick my battles wisely. 

“Well, good luck with your sauce.”

“Thanks.” I pickup my bags, lose all circulation in my hands, and proceed to my car.  

I load up the backseat of my car. Keys in the ignition, I battle my turn to escape the parking lot. I can’t help but feel that I forgot something-

Extra Virgin Olive Oil.




Frank Ur works for a small liberal arts University in Nebraska and is a simple boy who enjoys reading, writing, and trying to, unsuccessfully, answer the questions of life. He has recently discovered that he is 36% Italian which helped to validate his Italian identity, despite growing up in a very Jersey Italian household.