Things to Do

Day Four: When Is Dinner Gonna Be Ready?

Day One: New Socks Day Two: White Elephants Day Three: Burger King on Colfax and Kalamath

“When is dinner going to be ready?” “When you cook it.”

In the dorms at The Campus Village at Auraria, on the forth floor of the east wing, there is a common area that serves as a kitchen. Actually, there’s an electric stove on top of which only three of the four burners cook, a sink that overflows with Cheerios and a dishwasher that fills with hot water, but doesn’t disinfect dishes.

It’s the perfect workspace to feed 17 hungry teenage boys. It’s almost as dysfunctional as the cooks.

Every night, it’s the responsibility of a selected few male CLE students to cook and clean dinner.

Then menu is simple: Spaghetti and meat sauce. The process of preparing the meal is anything but simple.

The ingredients are in a sack on the counter: Three packages of spaghetti noodles, two large jars of marinara sauce and three tubes of spicy Italian sausage.

“We’ll need a pot large enough to cook all this pasta at once.”

One of my students retrieves a pot that couldn’t boil four eggs.

“How do you boil water?”

I demonstrate. In a large pot, I run the sink until the pot is three quarters full. I put the pot on the coils of the electric burner and turn the dial to high.

“How will I know when it’s boiling?” “It’ll bubble.”

“Please grab a skillet for the meat sauce.” “What’s a skillet?”

On a cutting board, I slice one of the metal twist ties off the tip of the sausage tube and squeeze it into the skillet. I ask one of the students to repeat the task. In one hand he holds the tube of sausage in front of his eye, with the other hand he holds a sharp knife, blade facing his forehead. I intervene. I rub the surface of the cutting board and encourage him to use the wood, not his skull.

With both tubes of sausage in the skillet, I turn up the heat. “Use this spatula to separate the sausage into bite-size bits.”

“I see bubbles,” says the student I put in charge of the pot of water. He’s been hovering over the pot since the burner was turned on, his forehead is moist and red.

“Go ahead and open up the pasta and pour the noodles into the pot.”

I watch as he rips open the plastic like a birthday present, several noodles fall to the floor.

He starts to put the noodles in one at a time. He gets to seven before I suggest that he dump them all into the water at once.

“They don’t fit,” he says, the noodles stand erect, their tops above the water. “Should I break them in half?”

“It’s un-Italian to break spaghetti noodles in half,” the student in charge of the sausage interjects. He’s been rolling the cylinders of sausage in the skillet, not breaking them up into bite-size pieces as I asked. The sausage has browned on the outside. With his hand inside of mine, I clinch the spatula and thrust through the sausage, it’s red in the middle. I continue to chisel away, not letting go of his hand.

In this makeshift kitchen, it’s a hands-on process. These men are learning to cook for the first time. They’ll be attending college and living on their own soon. All men, with or without learning disabilities, need to know how to feed themselves.

“How do you open this jar?” A student asks while banging the glass on the edge of the counter like an egg.

Eventually, dinner is served. The room is silent; the only sound is the slurping of noodles and sauce. It’s the quietest room full of students with ADHD you’ve ever not heard. -- Jesse Ruderman

Jesse Ruderman spent three weeks this summer working for College Living Experience's first annual summer program in Denver. CLE specializes in helping teenagers who live with ADD/ADHD, Aspergers, psychosocial-maturational, nonverbal learning disorder and other learning disabilities transition into college and adult life with a three-week intensive college preparation session. More than 30 students from across the nation traveled to Denver, where they lived in their own dorm rooms, attended college-credit courses, traveled via public transportation, cooked and or ordered their own meals and were responsible for maintaining their own medications and hygiene, testing their ability to function independently.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Cronin