I wrote this in the late 80's. Excuse the dated references. It was published in Read Me, a Seattle literary magazine.
|Bounty of Betrayers|
I've never liked fruit much, but until recently I never knew why. Suddenly, I realized: I don't trust fruit.
Posturing itself as a wholesome example of everything that is natural, self-contained and desirable in a food group, fruit will fool you every time. Take a walk through the produce section and you'll see the fruit on proud display, glistening under the artificial light: shining strawberries, glowing grapefruit, beckoning bananas. Their naturally vibrant colors speak to you, the unwary consumer, as your first stop in an otherwise dreary shopping landscape. But you will come to know what the artist has always known: fruit is best served as the subject in a still life.
Meanwhile the aggressive fruit will try desperately to make its way into your lives. Pineapples are likely to reach out with their gay festooning and grab you by the shopping list. Apples will roll off their precarious perches of "pomme" pyramids and into your basket. Suicidal berries jam the shelves, hoping to find their way to a sure death at the bottom of the cart. You'll find a certain competition even in the vegetable bins, as they vie for the same attention given fruit. Tomatoes, still uncertain about their classification as fruit or vegetable, will try to mate with the nearby pears. The so-called "alligator pears" also suffer from an identity crisis, but finally hope to align themselves with the brazen fruit kingdom.
Simply weasels with a waxy skin, the fruit bandits will succeed in making their way into a thousand homes, even as we speak. And it is at home that the real treachery begins. A glance at the line-up:
No greater oxymoron, no greater lie exists than "Red Delicious" apples. Avoid this sign in the stores the same way you would turn back from a "Wrong Way" sign on the freeway. Red, certainly. A red so brilliant that you feel you have to touch, to feel, to buy, to take home, and to get burned. Delicious, certainly not. Perhaps to a connoisseur of cardboard, perhaps to a woodchuck. Distant cousins of the Red Delicious, with less dishonest names such as Rome, Macintosh and Pippin, may have a tiny bit more flavor, but let's face it: only a worm could be happy with a mouthful of this stuff.
The pears are simply hand grenades in a garish green camouflage, some sort of wartime surplus. You may become confused and ascribe the rock hard texture of the pear to simply a stage in the ripening process. You will take the pears home and let them serve as a handsome centerpiece in the mistaken belief that one day they will ripen. You might as well teach your children to duck and cover. Just as we lost the conflict in Vietnam, we will lose the battle to transform the hand grenade into something edible.
Unlike the Red Delicious apple, the orange at least lives up to its name. An orange generally is orange. But anyone expecting an orange flavor within had better inquire at a carton of Minute Maid, or its goofy colleague Donald Duck. Most oranges taste more like their citric cousin the lemon, one of the few fruits that delivers what it promises.
The peach, a word that has come to mean a condition of pleasant well-being, is the hemophiliac of the fruit family. As we all know, "bruise like a peach" has come to describe a person who turns black and blue at a stern glance. The peach, subject as it is to the constant handling that fruit demands, will bruise at the slightest provocation, rendering its pulpy insides even slimier. Another drawback to the peach is its furry skin. While the warm and fuzzy lovers among us may find this endearing, it has absolutely no place in your diet. You'd be better off gnawing on a stuffed animal, which you'd find tastier too. Perhaps we should start a campaign to get the peaches off the shelves and into the hospital where they belong.
The expression sour grapes, meanwhile, was not created from whole cloth. It came from years of collective grape-eating experience. Grapes are sour. Sure, if you spend a long time with a big enough bunch of them, you may find a sweet one here or there. But why spend a couple of bucks for a nickel's worth of decent grapes? If the little devils have seeds, you have another problem. Unless you have the skill of a professional baseball player at spitting deftly and distantly.
No wonder they named a disease after berries. Berry squared, wasn't it? These fruits rival the peach for sickliness, and compound the problem with their treachery. All of the clans are the same: the Straws, the Blues, the Blacks and the Rasps. Like sick patients who knowingly infect their partners, berries will stun the consumer after making their way into homes and hearts. Somehow, the berries have conspired with the store owners to keep you from handling them in the store, by demanding a protective wrapper. But like the bride who does not lift her veil until the wedding night, these berries have something to hide. Here you are, hoping only to add a little color to your monotonous cereal, unwrapping the carton only to find an unspeakable green mold growing beneath the villainous front-line berries who conspire to hide their sick brethren. You are left once again with plain corn flakes, which you no longer have an appetite for, and the question of whether you know anyone who has some penicillin.
The melon family fancies itself as powerful and fancy as the Pittsburgh magnates of the same name. Speaking of this meaty fruit, we can only agree that the name may carry as much weight. The fact that the grapefruit has made such a name for itself in the dieting world speaks volumes. People, in a desperate attempt to shed some pounds, will do almost anything, including choking down this acidic, sour fruit with a difficult texture. What other foodstuff, with the exception of a steak, requires a special utensil? You'll note that people speak of having their grapefruit in the morning with the same excitement they do of taking the morning constitutional, no doubt with considerably less pleasure.
Cantaloupes represent one of the nastier, more insidious fruits. Hiding, as they do, any indication of ripeness beneath a thick skin of indifference, they force you to go through ridiculous contortions in the grocery store to determine readiness. No doubt you've seen people shaking these melons, holding them up to their ears and generally carrying on with this tough fruit. After disgracing yourself thoroughly in the aisles, you tote the cantankerous cantaloupe home where have no better chance of getting a ripe one than a melon that did not "speak to you." The last laugh is on you. And I assure you that the malicious melons are tittering away in their bins.
The unspeakable behemoth of the melon family, the watermelon, should be put out of its misery at once with a lethal injection of vodka.
Bananas remain the least objectionable tasting fruit, but manage to stir up mistrust and misunderstanding because of their shape. The dangers of the banana skin are well known. But the shape is so evocative that many women cannot eat a banana in front of people. If they do, they will ritualistically break it into bite size bits before putting it into their mouths. It is a brave man or woman who will meet a banana head first in public.
Apricots, plums, kumquats, cherries are, of course, all the pits. What is one to do with the disgusting memento, the afterbirth, if you will, of a consumed fruit? Nature is playing her nasty tricks with us again. When one is finished with food, the melody should not linger on. As with a nice serving of mashed potatoes. You can count on a potato not to leave you with a pit.
In the exotic fruit category, the pineapple reigns supreme. The self-coronated Carmen Miranda of fruit, the pineapple and its ridiculous foliage has danced its way into many homes. One thing as a headdress, another as an edible, the pineapple demands that you work for your dubious rewards. You'll need a good knife to remove its bark. Once you're finished, you'll still be stuck with its bite--a tartness that rivals the more pliant and generally cooperative lemon.
A whole array of so-called exotic fruit is now making is way onto the shelves of yuppie grocery stores across the land. A whole new crop of objectionable, not-to-be-trusted fruit with unlikely names like "kiwi," "papaya," "mango." I wonder why such slimy substances with such cutsey names attract such big prices and popularity. But tell a yuppie he can't have what they're eating in Maui and Cabo, and you'll be prying the papaya from his cold dead fingers.