Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Profiles In (No Culinary) Courage"

Yesterday, I told the story about my heroic nine year-old classmate, Arye Leibowitz, who, withstanding pressure and persuasion, refused to eat the hamburgers and hot dogs served at my birthday party, because, by his ultra-Orthodox (or, to him, simply Orthodox) standards, they were not kosher enough.

Today – same story, different central character. Call it:

Earl Pomerantz – Picky Eater.

To avoid another “Kosher Kerfuffle” such as the one that befallen my ninth birthday party, the mothers now opted for “The Dairy (not meat) Route” in their menu selections, serving nothing that could lead to any kind of dietary disturbance. The result was a duo of offerings more suitable for a Hadassah Ladies Luncheon than a childhood celebration. The food choices were now:

Egg or salmon.


Little Early P. did not like egg. And he did not like salmon.

(It is unproductive for picky eaters to try and justify their objections. Let’s say, “I reject the two on textural grounds”, and leave it at that.)

Cut To:

The birthday luncheon of another nine year-old boy in my class.

We are arrayed along both sides of a long table, prison-style, wearing colorful party hats secured by thin rubber bands tightly beneath our chins. “Serving Mothers”, balancing trays piled with sandwiches worked their way down the line.

The “Egg or Salmon Express” was barreling inexorably towards the station.

It was only a matter of time before they got to me. Torturing me with the (literally) unpalatable question:

“Egg…or salmon?”

Throughout that tension-building day, “The Question” was absolutely the only thing on my mind. Navigating my mother’s drive to the “Party House” it wasn’t locating the address penciled on the slip of paper clutched in my sweaty palm that I was focusing on. It was,

“Egg or salmon?”

Wandering blindfolded towards a suspended cardboard donkey, his missing follicular appendage clenched tightly in my outstretched arm, it wasn’t that tailless target I was thinking about. It was,

“Egg or salmon?”

Buying time by racing into the bathroom when “Lunch!” was called, it wasn’t peeing that dominated my attention – I didn’t have to pee – It was,

“Egg or salmon?”

That was the nightmare – my unavoidable collision with the “Sandwich Choice Choo-choo.” You could hear the rhythm of the wheels, powering inexorably in my direction:




It was Zero Hour.

The “Party Mother” hovered over me wielding metal tongs, ready to transport a sandwich to my clown-stenciled plate the minute I answered the determining question:

“Egg or salmon?”

I do not now, nor have I ever had, a “Poker Face.” The face that I helplessly turned up towards the mother said, “Don’t make me eat this.”

Then, suddenly, a light bulb clicked on in her brain.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “You’re the ‘Special One!’”

And she immediately disappeared into the kitchen.

It was not clear what was going on. I only knew I had won a reprieve. I’d have been happier if the mother hadn’t blurted, “You’re the ‘Special One’” quite so loudly. Being singled out for uniqueness is invariably a mixed blessing. Check out the historical track record of “The Chosen People.”

It did appear, however, that I’d been spared the “Egg or salmon” dilemma, relieved of the necessity of mumbling my feeble, prepared response:


Moments later, the “Party Mother” smilingly reappeared. She headed my way, a single sandwich sitting on a paper plate, which she placed before me with a cheery, “There you go.”

I looked down at the sandwich. It was not egg. It was not salmon.

It was peanut butter and jelly.

I don’t like peanut butter and jelly.

Any more than I like egg or salmon.

I just sighed. Not at that table. Just now. Because I have to explain this. And I know that I won’t be convincing.

Okay. Peanut butter I like. It’s smooth and it’s sticky. Jelly, on the other hand, is bumpy – from the pieces of fruit in the mixture – and it’s slidey. To my – undeniably finicky – palate, “smooth and sticky” does not go with “bumpy and slidey.”

At all.

But there it was. Sitting on my plate.

It was clear that my mother had called ahead on my behalf:

“He doesn’t like egg or salmon. He likes peanut butter.”

The “Party Mother” had generously put herself out, preparing a special sandwich just for me, adding the jelly because,

“Who doesn’t like peanut butter and jelly?”


I didn’t want to eat it.

But I did.

And as I dutifully forced down that concoction of slippery-sticky goo, a beaming mother hovering over me, delighted to have made a little boy happy, a searing thought echoed accusatorily through in my brain:

“You’re no Arye Leibowitz.”


joe said...

I would have hollered "Soylent green is people!" but that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I could not and still can't abide a sandwich made with cheese and mayo. Since I've never been a picky eater it's easy enough to avoid one or two things to leave out of my diet. Until my boss, whom I had worked for many years and is home recovering from back surgery, makes me his favorite sandwich because he appreciates my help. Not only did I eat it, but I'm pretty certain that he never knew how hard that was. Was that courageous?

Rich said...

Your situation was totally different. You wouldn't have been standing up for a principal as your friend did. You would have just been a selfish little snot who refused to, just one freakin time, put himself out just a little and eat something he didn't like, prefering to cause grief for a nice lady who went out of her way to do something nice for you. You did the right thing, you special little guy.