A man’s gotta eat. Since I’m pretty much out of money but own a lot of books, thus far this week I thrice journeyed downtown to Strand (“New York City’s legendary home of 18 Miles of new, used and rare books. Since 1927.”) to sell two suitcases full of mostly unread tomes per trip in order to obtain cash for groceries. Needless to say, selling books to Strand is a ripoff of Brobdingnagian proportions, but I don’t have a better idea—if I possessed evolved sales & negotiating skills or any intuitive business sense whatsoever, I probably wouldn’t be in the position of having to sell my beloved books for food in the first place.
To the reader concerned with my physical well-being, rest assured that my mom wouldn’t let her grown-up baby starve or suffer grave hardship of any other kind. In the end, I’m a spoiled only child who feels that things will always work out somehow and who’ll always be safe no matter what, even if the whole planet collapses around me. As a result, I’m somewhat sympathetic to the politically conservative notion that too much of a safety net (“nanny state”) is a bad thing, because people will begin to rely on it in the back of their minds, assume it’ll always be there, and never feel the urgency to develop genuine survival skills. I’m afraid I’m the poster child for this type of learned helplessness. Perhaps I’d be a screw-up either way, but I do have a hunch that my flaming out like this may—at least in part—be due to too great a sense of security in my life.
Nonetheless, I still try to crawl through timespace on my own four limbs without availing myself of my familial safety net too much, mainly in order to preserve the smidgen of self-esteem I have left in the waning days of my calamitous nearly 18-year-long New York adventure, which, once upon a time, I embarked upon armed with the quixotic and—in hindsight—fairly fatuous notion that I could “make it” in this world on my wits, god-given talents, and innate ingenuity alone, i.e., without getting a proper education and settling for a so-called “real” job. Oops.
In any case, after each visit to Strand—my two now empty suitcases in hand—I dropped into the Union Square Whole Foods located two blocks away in order to exchange my meager book money for wholesome comestibles. Each time, with a heavy heart and without grabbing one, I passed by the large pile of juicy organic watermelons stacked to the left of the entrance. I love watermelons—and I mean I love watermelons, preferably the kind with the seeds—but these days I must use the paltry few bucks in my pocket judiciously; I cannot splurge on luxury foods just because I want them. Watermelons are expensive, most likely because the weight of the inedible exocarp is included in the price by the pound. Thus, I’m better off buying apples, for with apples, at least I’m not being charged for any parts I can’t eat, as the entire fruit can be devoured, including the core.
Now, most of us, from the time we were children, have been taught that wasting food is a sin, since so many people in the world are starving. This often results in grotesque behaviors, such as stuffing oneself far beyond the point of satiety just to avoid having to discard leftovers. My paternal grandmother, who had lived through the harrowing privations of both world wars in Austria, was a champion at shoveling into herself with obvious difficulty whatever leftover foods remained on the table after a meal for the sole sake of them “being eaten” rather than thrown away. Of course, to an emaciated child in Ethiopia it made zero difference whether my grandmother chomped down an extra potato, fed it to the birds, or tossed it in the trash.
When I was working as a waiter (knock on wood—using the past tense sounds ominously optimistic), one of my (many) pet peeves were folks who hadn’t quite licked their plates clean and asked for the remaining dollop of mashed or that last lonely asparagus shoot “to go.” I often wondered as to the fate of all the leftovers I kept wrapping up day after day. My paramount theory is that most of it probably ended up in people’s fridges until it went bad and was ready to be thrown out. After all, tossing spoiled food is easier on the conscience than tossing it while still edible. On balance, the sheer volume of to-go containers manufactured and expended for this kind of symbolic nonsense causes way more damage to the environment and hence to humanity than “wasting” food by not having it wrapped.
That said, I was a trifle miffed yesterday when I came across the following tweet by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, accompanied by the image displayed at the top of this post:
That’s great. I want a watermelon, I can’t afford one, and the Customs folks are blowing ’em up. I tweeted back in protest, and their response was that, and I quote, “one watermelon blown up to inform the millions of people about the life-threatning [sic] dangers of illegal fireworks is worth the $.”
I guess so, and I understand that watermelons make for nifty target practice because they explode in a very photogenic manner when struck by a speedy projectile, and that the number of melons murdered for safety demonstration purposes is unrelated to how much watermelon I, personally, get to feast upon.
Still, it hurts to see my favorite fruit blown to pieces like that.