Marty got dumped before I met him. She broke it off after he took her to a concert he only went to because she needed someone to go with.
He’s a man of simpler pleasures now. He likes cider and fixing gadgets and falling asleep to the BBC World Service. He’s probably better informed than any of us through osmosis alone, yet you’d never know. But Marty has one great pleasure, one great love above all others: Doner kebab.
For the uninitiated, Doner kebab is a gyro-esque Turkish-born take on the classic meat-shaved-off-a-spit-and-stuffed-in-flatbread theme that permeates Mediterranean cooking. It’s cheap, greasy and for most omnivorous palates, the perfect balance between chili sauce-soaked exotica and the deliciously, almost primal, globally familiar realm of indeterminate meat roasted over flame and separated by a sword-like device.
Most human relationships I’ve seen lack the love and devotion Marty has for the Doner kebab. He had never had one before moving to England for university, with a bunch of friends all from the same small town in the north of Ireland. When he returned home after his first year, they’d reached County Tyrone, only they were six pounds, he told us, and certainly not the same as the ones he tried and fell madly in love with in Liverpool. It’s a manifestation, I think, of that transformation that happens to you your first year of college or otherwise living on your own, that avalanche of new experiences and exposures, that first taste of something that is novel or exotic at least to someone. Love—or at least lust, anyway—germinates quickly under this condition, spurred by novelty.
The ritual Marty-and-kebab dance would go something like this: we’d all be at his flat, seated around the living room, watching the BBC World Service (of course) and warm and malleable after one lager too many. Around midnight, Marty would informally poll the group to see if anyone else wanted to order a kebab later. Never mind that there was a perfectly satisfactory kebab shop not even half a block from his flat, no—only the kebabs from one purveyor would do. The Nile, a hole-in-the-wall takeaway in the heart of Liverpool’s student enclave, a veritable spirit-house for zealous kebab-seeking pilgrims, produced the kebabs—massive and blanketed in warm, sweet, fluffy naan—that were the objects of Marty’s affection. He enjoyed the effort, I think. The pursuit. A man of high standards in low places.
On the rare occasions he chose an alternate purveyor of kebabs for the sake of convenience, one could detect the defeat in his voice as he ordered, the deflation of being forced to settle. The idea of cheating on his beloved with another kebab shop just did not sit well with him.
He did occasionally cheat, however, searching for a cheaper date than The Nile kebab by attempting to make them at home. Working in frozen food had made him a connoisseur of pre-cooked meat products, although the first couple of attempts—involving steaming in tinfoil over an open flame, the way you would with fish on a grill—ended badly. The meat looked as though it had given up halfway through the cooking process, a thoroughly depressing brown-beige mass with bits of foil stuck to it. He ate it anyway, assuring his disgusted barbecue guests that it ’wasn’t that bad,’ feigning his pleasure, faking the foodgasm.
Occasionally, they got kinky, Marty and these frozen-meat kebabs, most notably in an unfortunate incident involving the freezer-bag product, some very hungry friends, mind-altering intoxicants, mayonnaise and Nutella. Rather unsurprisingly, this got rave reviews.
Back in the living room again, at around 1 a.m., he would ask again, and again, every five minutes or so until some hungry, reckless or inebriated soul would give in. His behavior in his campaign to recruit for the kebab brigade was akin to that friend in every group who really, really wants to try online dating but is too scared to do it alone. ‘You should sign up with me! It’ll be fun!’ Either he was self-conscious about his love, or just highly enthusiastic. Marty was like a newly-smitten love interest, a textbook dating-website success story eager to show his beef and lamb beau off to everyone in the vicinity.
At around 2, the kebabs would finally arrive, warm and dripping, with garlic mayo and chili sauce seeping like ‘50s horror film nuclear waste around the edges of the Styrofoam container. They were enjoyed all around, to the point where the kebab experience became an almost automatic routine—a familiar, sating lullaby for the taste buds, a warm duvet for the stomach and a harsh, remorseful wake-up call for the digestive tract. But Marty wouldn’t eat with the rest of the group. He’d retreat into his room, where a squeeze bottle of off-brand peri-peri sauce would be waiting on his desk for him to pour onto his meaty prize, sit over the desk and devour, with the BBC World Service or maybe some contemporary folk tunes—Damien Rice, Mumford & Sons, that sort of vein—to keep him company. He didn’t like eating in front of people, he said. Not like this.
The eating of the kebab, for a ritual that he entered into with such joy, such urgency, such reckless abandon, was something that was somber, intimate, almost holy. In public, he would be so persuasive, such a strong and enthusiastic advocate for us all to meet and share in the joy of the kebab with him, but when it came down to the act itself, the moment of consumption, he wanted it to be just the two of them, a private affair. I suppose most new relationships are like that.
It took a while for Marty to get over his ex. This may make it sound like he used Doner kebabs as a crutch, as a substitute for a real, human relationship, but I can assure you, that is not the case. The parallels between his garlic mayo-soaked fling and the way most people conduct themselves in the early stages of a relationship are evident, but he’s got plenty of other things going on. He takes to most passions—his self-designed karaoke nights, his computer repair business, his well-maintained friendships—the same way he does to the kebabs: with persistence, a bit of innovation and most of all, a blind, ridiculous love for the thing itself. And with those attributes in mind, he’ll be more than alright. He will find that kind of love one day, or be just as happy and validated single and with a passel of good friends to keep him company, but in the meantime, The Nile is open late seven days a week.