Friday lunch was a disaster.
Lunch at my house means salad. That's life! A fat girl lives here. On occasions of special indulgence it might be Something with Salad but the more general rule is Salad with Something. The Something might be leftover chicken from dinner the night before, or if there aren't leftovers it might be tuna from a can. If I'm wildly enthusiastic or wildly intent on work avoidance, lunch might be my famous Everything Salad, which could boast cottage cheese and a pile of home-grown jalapeno slices, a boiled egg, garbanzo beans, cold Brussels sprouts ...
You get the idea. Salad is my life. It doesn't make me thin but it allows me to remain in my own home, as opposed to burgers and fries which would shortly compel me into orbit. One way or the other, this is a salad-dependent household.
This is also a would-be producer-as-opposed-to-consumer household. I'm one of those rabid earth mothers who love nothing more than growing in my garden that which I serve on my table.
So you would think that lunch Friday would have been seriously red-letter. I had run out of store-bought prewashed lettuce and neglected to buy more, because--drumroll, please--my homegrown mesclun mix was finally ready to harvest. So noontime should have seen your narrator proudly perched at the porch table, perhaps snapping a photograph of the multicolored foliage adorning her plate to post boastfully on Facebook.
Instead, lunchtime found me morosely gnawing a couple of cold leftover oven-baked chicken fingers--we call 'em Thangs around here--with nothing to go with them except a few miserable carrot shreds. The year's first lettuce harvest had been resplendent! magnificent! But I couldn't eat it. Why? Three words:
Larval life form.
I had inspected every lettuce leaf front and back, washed it, inspected it front and back again and then spun it dry in the salad spinner, only to find as I emptied the lettuce into the salad bowl a tiny, fetally curled caterpillar the exact festive spring green as much of the lettuce.
And that was it. My anus sealed shut with a noise--ping!--and I put the lettuce back in some water to soak. I had failed as an earth mama...as in so much else!
What self-help books, memes, personal coaches, and TV commercials tell us more or less constantly is to BE ALL YOU CAN BE! CHOOSE HAPPINESS! DON'T LET FEAR HOLD YOU BACK!
And I try, I try. I don't know whether I work so hard at self-improvement because I'm more driven toward virtue than others or whether I was just born a more pathetic heap of steaming excrement. But I'm always trying to overcome something or achieve something else.
How the self-help books, memes, et cetera, tell us to do this is FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT and ACT THE WAY YOU WANT TO BE. I try that, too. Just because people put it on memes doesn't mean it's not true, I figure; or at least it was the Wizard of Oz's modus operandi. What the Wiz gave people was not brains or courage but diplomas and medals that helped them pretend they were smart or brave.
As far as that damn salad was concerned, what I wanted to be was the kind of earth mama who flicks vermin off the plate with her fingernail, makes some sort of hearty earth-mama quip about extra protein, laughs loudly at her own joke and chows on down.
That's the way I try to act. But one look at that little green embryo and I reverted to a suburban prisspot squealing "Ooh ooh icky poo," the kind of sissy who thinks dirt is dirty and doesn't know how to pee outside. As I chewed on my carrot shreds in disgrace, I wondered: What would the Wizard of Oz have given people who don't want to eat bugs?
But never mind the salad! In broader life what I want to be is a fearless journalist, overcoming the paralytic shyness that blighted my youth to ride boldly into battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way! One of the proudest moments of my life was when a lawyer I had irritated at a trial snapped, "You've got a lot of nerve." He couldn't have known how happy he'd made me--all my life I'd wanted to be somebody who had a lot of nerve!
But broader life has its little green larvae too, and for every happy moment like that there have been five more where I spent an evening or a weekend curled fetally like the caterpillar, because someone had hurt my pink feelings and I hadn't been able to shake it off. By nature I'm not so much a cowardly lion as a cowardly weasel. Hell, a cowardly earthworm.
Anyway! That evening, dinner was a disaster, too. We ate out. After the miserable lunch I was starving and in need of bolstering, so when the server said hushpuppies came with the dish I didn't argue. Now, never in my fat-girl salad-intensive life would I order hushpuppies. But if hushpuppies come with the dish and you tell me you're bringing them, hushpuppies had better by God make it to the table so I can eat the crap out of them.
They did not. The server forgot them. Then she said she'd bring them in a minute. She did not.
Here is what I want to be in relation to hushpuppies: Of course, ideally it would be nice to be someone who eats them and never gains an ounce. That ain't happenin', though, so what I want as a consolation prize is to be is the kind of woman who is not susceptible to hushpuppies, who would have said no thanks to hushpuppies.
And lacking that, I thought as we walked around Cloudland Canyon after dinner (me wondering what the Wizard of Oz would have given people to make them immune to hushpuppies), I want to be the kind of cheerful, uncomplicated woman who doesn't brood about hushpuppies. Who would have forgiven and forgotten all about the hushpuppies the minute she left the restaurant. But I had been too worn down today even to pretend I was someone like that. Glaring into the future, I could see myself living to 115 and bitching about hushpuppies on my deathbed.
So I was a failure as a hushpuppy denier and a failure as a hushpuppy forgiver and I expect I would have gone on hushpuppying my way morosely around the canyon had we not just then come upon a copperhead. My husband saw it first and said,
grab a dog and walk around, it's a copperhead.
I was familiar with copperheads as a peril to the dogs. What dogs do when they come upon a copperhead is lean down to sniff it, like, Hello! I'm a dog! What kind of animal are you? So the copperhead bites them on the nose but it's not all that serious, you just have to dose them with Benadryl.
But then I saw this particular copperhead and it was the size of the Ritz. And I said:
That's it. Nothing terrible happened; the snake didn't bite any of us, canine or human. But it was another instance of my cover being blown.
What I want to be in relation to copperheads is a Mighty Outdoorswoman, striding through the woods like Paulette Bunyan, impervious to bear or reptile. I want to say things like, "Don't be ridiculous! They're much more afraid of us than we are of them!"
Instead I say things like EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, and that's what I said--again!--when, shortly after that, my husband picked up a gnarled tree root and waved it in my face to frighten me.
What I also said was ASSHOLE, and that's when my husband began singing this song he had learned in the Boy Scouts. Here is what he sang:
It sounded like, "Asshole! Asshole!" But then when he sang it the third time you understood it was "A sol-, A sol-, A soldier went to war!" And then it gets even wickeder. The soldier goes to war--
"F'cu! F'cu! For curiosity!"
And as for armaments:
"He had two pis -- Two pis -- two pistols by his side!"
And I won't even try to transcribe the line about him defending his country.
In September I will have been married to this particular husband for 30 years and I had never heard the song before. Girl Scouts didn't learn that sort of song, we had to content ourselves with Ah-wooney-cooney-ah-cha-wooney and Kumbahyah.
Anyway, I expect my sense of humor is sort of basic but the song made me laugh so hard I forgot to be unhappy. I forgot my failure as an earth mama and a brave person and a cheerful person and a hushpuppy forgiver. It's why I'm writing this column in fact. I reckon it's what the Wizard of Oz would have given somebody like me and I wanted to pass it on.
I think the wisdom of the Wizard and the memes and the self-help books is basically sound: You should definitely act like you want to be, merry and kind and brave in my case, or anyway brave enough to eat my own lettuce. But when you can't be brave, when your cover gets blown by a larval life form or a hushpuppy or a big honking copperhead, you can anyway be defiant. You can walk around singing:
F'cu! F'cu! For curiosity!
Or at any rate, it's what I plan to do myself.
Though I still haven't decided what to do about the lettuce.