Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Food and other Follies

Earlier this evening I indulged an abnormal eating behavior that I rarely have time for these days. When I was in grade school and even later, in high school, I read a lot. I was sort of a bi-vert, sometimes an extrovert but often not, and in any case, would spend entire days and nights reading. Usually, if I started a book, I would read it non-stop until finished. I can still do that occasionally, when I take a plane somewhere, for instance or allow myself a day or a couple days in the summer with a novel. As a kid, one of the things that always struck me most powerfully about what I read were scenes that involved eating, especially scenes in which some single item of food was painstakingly detailed--fetishized, I guess we would say. I remember a few of these, though I've probably got the details wrong: little Laura Ingalls's uncle bringing her a delicate, heart-shaped cookie covered in crystals of white sugar in Little Cabin in the Big Woods; Heidi's grandfather toasting thick slices of crusty bread with cheese bubbling on top in Heidi; the crisp brown roast pig and assortment of pies that seduce Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepyhollow; the buffalo hump that Natty Bumppo--or Long Rifle or whatever he's called at that point--feasts on with the squatters in The Prairie (which hump, incidentally I mentioned to a Lakota woman, an author and sometime sojourner in this area; she claimed never to have heard of anyone eating buffalo hump, seemed not to know anything about buffalo humps. Yet just recently I noticed that Melville, like Cooper, refers to buffalo hump as a delicacy in MD, so maybe this is a mythical meal imputed to the mythical West by nineteenth-century New Englanders?). Anyway, it wasn't just that I liked to read about food. I liked to work up little imaginary scenarios for my own eating. I would take a break from five hours of reading and get a couple Saltines or a small bowl of cottage cheese. I'd reach to the back of the shelf where we kept the drinking glasses and get the miniature A&W Rootbeer mug and fill it with milk. Then, I would eat and drink very slowly, nibbling and chewing so daintily that every tiny morsel was completely savored, and I would imagine that I did not eat regularly and felt awed by the wondrousness of each curd of cottage cheese. Or chew the Saltine into a doughy ball and flatten it on my tongue and chew it up again, pondering the whole time how the food had arrived just in time to save my fading life. Then, I would imagine that other people were watching and encouraging me to go slow or else I would make myself sick, since my stomach could surely not handle so much sudden bounty. Or I would put a piece of bread in the microwave with slivers of cheddar cheese on top and stand next to the open back door chewing on soggy bread and wet cheese, listening to the wind whistle and imagining a fire crackling behind me, an old man knitting or darning a sock or something. Tonight, somehow, a chapter of statistics sent me to the kitchen where I thought about Moby-Dick and dry ship biscuit and salty, oily whale steaks and imagined myself a sailor just home from years at sea. My legs felt shaky--probably scurvy. I quickly slurped my way through an overripe pear and tore the skin off a grapefruit. Twice juice squirted directly into my left eye but so intent was my body on the need for Vitamin C that I didn't even feel the sting and kept digging the sour pulpy segments from the skin that clings so tightly. I eyed an apple but decided that my sea-faring stomach needed a rest. It was a harmless indulgence, and the pear needed to be eaten. I can't imagine that anyone would see such a thing as an eating disorder, although I was telling a friend recently, I used irrationally to associate inappropriate sandwiches with eating disorders. This was prompted by a roommate I once had who criticized a sex partner of hers for eating leftover spaghetti in a sandwich. She was majoring in Psych and said told me that putting everything in a sandwich was the sign of an eating disorder. I don't know how much of this I remember and how much I'm making up or made up in my own mind at the time, but I recall that the reason such sandwiches are a problem is that the person making these inappropriate sandwiches does so because he or she feels that by reducing the entree to an on-the-go sandwich, s/he has reduced a meal to a snack. This sort of delusionary behavior = red flag for the roommate who was obsessive about weight, eating, drinking, smoking, and sex.

Having nothing at all to do with food, except maybe the grocery-store setting, here is one of the weirdest things that has happened to me in the past six months. In May, I was getting out of my car in a grocery store parking lot, when the wind yanked the door from my hand sending it crashing into the car sitting in the next spot. I wrote a note with an explanation, my name, and phone number and was walking around the car to stick it on the windshield, when a woman and man approached. I asked if the car belonged to them; it did, so I explained what had happened and gave them the note with my phone number. The next day while I was playing soccer, the answering machine took a message from a woman who identified herself as the person whose car I whacked and left a phone number. When I returned the call, I also got an answering machine, so I too left a message--this is the person who dented your car in the parking lot, I am home, call me, blah blah blah. A few hours after that, I get a phone call from a woman who tells me she called the number I gave her but it was the wrong number. I say, "I'm confused. I only gave you my number and you just called it." So, she says, "I mean the number that that guy you were with gave me--your husband, I think--the number he wrote down." This really confuses me. I tell her I wasn't with a guy, that I was completely alone. I start to think she's putting me on somehow and ask her where the incident she is talking about happened. She says it happened in a Walgreen's parking lot in Fargo, North Dakota, where she was visiting, but that she's now back in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Well, I'm in Vermillion, South Dakota, I say, and my accident happened at HyVee--here. We're both silent. I ask for her phone number and check it against the number I called. I had dialed a single wrong digit . The person whose car I hit with my door had the same phone number except one digit as this other person who had been involved in nearly the same series of events on the same day, and of the ten digits, I misdialed that one. This is so much more exciting if you believe we live in a random universe!


miconian said...

Reminiscent of The Right Number.

ame said...

Yes, you're right. Although it hadn't occurred to me that I might pursue the discovery and formulate an algorithm. Like I could formulate an algorithm. What the hell IS an algorithm? Such an algorithm, if I could derive it, would be of monetary value to Geico, I'll bet. The Right Number is itself reminiscent of the far more disturbing Pi--the movie--don't you think?