Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stranger Than Fiction

I make things up.

The stories I tell on this blog are true, allowing for a little artistic exaggeration and simplification. But in real life, I’m prone to telling anecdotes that I think would have been funny, whether or not they actually occurred.

I also feel compelled to invent common ground in uncomfortable social situations. This happens a lot in my receptionist job because silent people hovering near my desk make me nervous, so I feel pressure to make conversation about something. Also I’m fairly confident that I won’t ever see them again and have to remember my story.

I’m trying to limit this habit, because it’s going to get me some day.

My conscious mind isn’t the only one with this problem, though. Secret portions of my brain regularly invent stories without permission and pass them on to me as truth.

In 7th grade English, we spent a few weeks on song lyric analysis. One of the groups picked “Eleanor Rigby” for their project, and in the days before easy online music access, I borrowed my parents’ copy of The Beatles 1 for some extra home studying.

I also carefully explained to them the assignment, its purpose, and the specific song I would be playing, because somehow I had come to believe that the Beatles were an objectionable, adults-only source of entertainment off-limits to me, like The Simpsons. I didn’t have headphones or a Walkman until high school, so I sat by our 1990-made boom box and conscientiously stopped the disc after my assigned song. Once I turned the volume way, way down and let “Penny Lane” play next, fearfully waiting to be caught or corrupted.

My parents, of course, had no problem with the Beatles and were happy to have their children listen to this music (perhaps with a few exceptions). Six months later, they rented A Hard Day’s Night to get us some more culture. I had no reason to attach a stigma to the Fab Four—my brain just wanted to mess with me.

I should have expected this cerebral betrayal, having fallen victim to a similar trick the year before.

In 6th grade orchestra class we learned to play “Jamaica Farewell,” which features this chorus:
I’m sad to say I’m on my way
Won’t be back for many a day
My heart is down, my head is turning around
I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town
The teacher noted that her 5-year-old son had a kids’ version with some lyrics changed to avoid mentioning the singer’s girlfriend. I was puzzled because my mind had informed me years earlier that this song was about a kindly bus driver. Clearly, the little girl didn’t have enough money to pay the entire fare, so he couldn’t take her farther than Kingston. He was really torn up about it.

Whatever is wrong with me, it has evidently been going on for quite some time.

Moving forward, I’m trying to deal with my predilection for fiction by at least recognizing when I’m making things up.

I’m still refining my approach.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Technicolor Yawn

We planted tomatoes in the back yard every year when I was growing up. Summers featured vats of homemade pico de gallo, and the night before the first projected frost featured 200 green tomatoes wrapped in newspaper on the kitchen counter.

Tomatoes will eventually ripen in carefully prepared boxes in the garage, but the wait requires patience, which I do not possess when it comes to food. One year I found a delicious solution—recipes for cooking the tomatoes while they were still green.

I settled on Curried Green Tomatoes because of the promising ingredient list, and each step in the cooking process smelled more delicious than the last—sautéing garlic, caramelizing onions, blending spices; we couldn’t wait to try it.

You know that feeling in your nose and throat right after you throw up? The one where you can still feel all the soft-edged food chunks that have just passed through your respiratory system? My curried green tomatoes tasted exactly like that, right down to the viscous drool and the lingering acid burn.

My kindhearted father kept trying to swallow his bowlful until I swore that his stopping would not offend me.

NOTICE: The rest of this post is still about barf. If that’s not going to work out for you, maybe skip it and come back next week. Then again, if vomit is a problem, you probably stopped reading my blog a long time ago.

The next major intersection of cookery and pukery came one summer in college, when I attended a week-long camp retreat and someone thoughtfully brought a stomach bug up the mountain. Sixty percent of the camp was stricken in about 24 hours, which made for a lot of people who didn’t want their dessert, so I was initially pretty happy.

But none were to be spared, and my moment came a few hours later, signaling the end of a previously respectable pair of shoes.

Yet this particular outpouring was weirdly delightful. Every heave tapped into a little pocket of joy and wellbeing, and before the last rope of bile had left me, I was feeling unreasonably terrific.

My mood did deflate a little when the staff member coming to my aid brought a single Kleenex as her contribution. She stood watching for several minutes as I tried to portion out the tissue plies among my mouth, nose, hair, and surroundings, before asking if perhaps I wanted a second one.

Still, my triumph over intestinal ills enchanted one of the other staff, who started towing me around to share the story with others. I felt a little like a trained monkey, but as we’ve discussed, I don’t exactly mind attention.

Most of the camp had recovered by the next morning, but breakfast inexplicably triggered a widespread relapse.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More Powerful than a Nuclear Blast!

My office has a cockroach problem.

We also have an exterminator. This means that we see a lot of roaches in the halls, but 95% of them are nearly or completely dead. I’ve largely given up trying to convince my coworkers that these feeble husks are not a threat—a cockroach that cannot flip itself right-side-up cannot hurt you either.

Still, I understand that roaches are icky. Also, since I’m rather fond of attention, I don’t mind being the brave soul who picks up dead bugs and throws them away.

In addition to the corpses, we occasionally encounter unpoisoned roaches that present more of a challenge. This past week featured one very, very alive specimen who was dedicated to being as terrifying as possible, and after a quick bout of panic I felt like the Ultimate Warrior Woman.

I think this victory calls for cake.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Super Powers, Part III.5: Not Liking Coffee, Sort Of

I am not exactly a connoisseur of coffee.

I’ve spent most of my life smugly disliking the stuff. I felt superior and health-conscious. Every warning I saw about negative effects—cardiovascular damage, weakened teeth, pre-caffeine morning stupor—inspired a self-satisfied “Not me!” I even told a congratulatory little story about my superhuman resistance:

I got all these benefits without any sacrifice—if you sincerely dislike something, you do not get Martyr Points for giving it up. This logic did not stop me from regaling others with the tale of my impressive willpower at every opportunity, though.

The trouble was that I kept tempting fate. I still liked how coffee smelled, so I would try it every now and then to see if my tastebuds had changed. It’s the same way I occasionally sample brie and V8 in case they’re no longer disgusting and I’m missing out. With every test, though, I continued to file that cup o’ joe under “gross.”

So what major life event—what monumental stressor—finally got me to drink coffee?

I realized that fat is delicious.

I bought a carton of heavy cream for the fridge at work, and it took a single cup to corrupt my once-touted purity.

(Plus I got a nifty mug like this one, and I really had to start drinking something that leaves stains so that no one else would try to borrow it.)

Despite this shameful fall from grace, I held onto a last shred of superiority: Up until recently, I was not aware of any personal standards for coffee quality. All the fuss about finding the good stuff or being the world’s best sounded affected and needy—unlike the fine gradations I recognize in ice cream workmanship, coffee pretty much seems to be coffee.

Last month, however, I faced a 12-hour, overnight drive across six hundred very flat miles. This trip led me to sample a great deal of the coffee available in the wee hours of a West Texas morning, and my palate mustered up some previously unrecognized discernment.

At my gym, the tanning booths are in between the front door and the women’s locker room. When I walk past them, the surrounding area is usually scented like tropical fruit or lavender. Occasionally, though, it smells disconcertingly like dinner.

That’s what it tastes like when you pull into a small-town McDonald’s at 4 a.m. and they pour you a cup from the pot left untouched by last night’s shift. The greasy savor of roasting skin.

I don’t have a good way to end this post. It’s hard to rebound from flesh coffee. Instead, you should listen to this song, which I heard on vacation and which is now my very favorite snake-related song of all time: