I YAM WHAT I YAM

In high school, I wanted to be just like Ann. I loved the way she looked, charmed, and innocuously lured all the boys to her yard. Ann however, wanted to be like Lynn. There was something about Lynn’s charisma that intrigued her. Lynn on the other hand was impressed with Jennifer. But Jennifer had a hero as well. She wanted to be like me. Turns out, all I had to do was be myself. Yet a girl had to wonder. If human cells are replaced every seven years, I never knew who the heck I was going to be.

Growing up, I spent a lot of flourishing identity time idolizing famous women. Agatha Christie. Farrah Fawcett. Betty White. Betty is splendidly humorous. Farrah had a hot bod and great hair. And Agatha could write. But the teen years yielded unidentifiable results. I was forever trying to find myself, sometimes behind the locked bathroom door facing my reflection. “Mirror mirror on the wall” was my standard questioning while my siblings stood outside practically wetting their pants. But dad said that port-a-potties would just depreciate the property value. Thankfully the time spent evaluating my entity wasn’t caught on some hidden camera. People wonder when I began talking to myself. I was about three when I started all those facial aerobics. I should have been either a physiognomy contortionist, or a cartoonist.

I wasn’t an exclusive arbiter of mirror watching. My girlfriends did the same thing. One day a playmate decided she wanted to be me and I agreed to be her. So we took on the devilish act of disappearance, with both our parents being completely incognizant of our switching places. I pulled it off by blending nicely into her brood of eight. She on the other hand, came running back to her house yelling at me for not doing my homework or cleaning my room, and demanded that we change places again immediately. So much for a shared friendship. If she had been a devout replacement, she would have picked up my clothes and solved those hard trigonometry problems for me.

Hanging out at her home was no different than being at my house with my own renegade brothers. One minute her male siblings were terrorizing me with worms and the next, calling me chicken for not daring to jump off their roof. I didn’t know if I was fish or fowl. It was a clear case of mistaken identity confusion and I found myself sticking my tongue out and yelling to those rascals, “I know you are, but who am I?” I knew who they were. I narrowed the list down to a pack of halfwit hotshots. I had this nutty theory that in the course of this adventure, their mother would slap them upside the head. But she was used to having rapscallions. She also never bothered to look at faces at her dinner table. Assuming I was her daughter, she asked when I dyed my hair blonde and started biting my fingernails.

If you had asked the boys in school what they found beautiful about me, the dedicated voyeurs would have said my breasts. Even so, mine didn’t look as good as Deborah’s. Not everything in life is framed by beautifully rounded hydrangeas, so I had to light up lives with an eclectic bevy of other characteristics. Long nails didn’t define me unless I was prepared to date Edward Scissorhands. I tried plumping my hair to look like Farrah’s. But without the styling help of hair professional Jose Eber, my mane always appeared as if there was no gravity.

It was bad enough I couldn’t find myself behind the massive amount of metal in my mouth. But I found that I could generate attention through some awfully luscious lip gloss with two simple ingredients. Vaseline, and peach pulp. Inner beauty is great, but I figured a little mouth seductiveness just might bring all the boys to my yard instead of Ann’s. Yet I learned from experience that long hair and a pound of lip gloss was a struggling combination in a wind, or when fans were blowing. So was my mother and any boy who came near me. She was always the abrupt reminder that sex was to remain precious, and never performed on her premises. But like any girl, I was curious. My parents did catch me getting ready to go out in outfits that didn’t befit my innocence. They told me the less I encouraged provoking male libidos, the better. They wanted me to be a nun, and must have thought we were the Von Trapp family when I overheard them saying, “How do we solve a problem like Maria.” I knew darn well they were referring to me. I suppose I could have gone on to make an expensive hourly wage as a floozy. But I was the least of their worries once the rest of my siblings entered the world and fraught them with difficulties. I think I turned out okay considering I’m prayerful, and drink alkaline water daily to stay as pure as possible.

No one ever knew exactly who I was on a resume either. I was an overachiever with a boat load of inaccuracies that made me look stupendous. I may not have looked great in person, but I looked ridiculously good on paper. Most of the time my name was Patty, but on occasion Pinocchio, with a slight variation to the nose. I kept being congratulated for having been head of the class and homecoming queen, four times. After toiling tremendously with an identity crisis, now I know exactly who I am. I’m the queen of Home Goods spending, a real hell on heels, but more of a cursive and often cursing post traumatic parochial attendee with the gift of jab and a blood flow of vintage grapes. I’m also intelligent enough to figure out that one and one is two, in a crisis any wine will do, and if I could just find the right hairdo, I would feel thoroughly complete… and what a wonderful world it would be.

BUGGED

I had a near death experience when my grown children came to visit and brought to my attention the expired dates on certain refrigerated items. All of a sudden I was hosting a thoroughly observant couple of killjoys, and contemplating my fate. Then again, they care about me. Maybe they care more about what happens to them if I feed them decomposing food products. I can still hear the tutelary deity of edibles to whom I owe my health and happiness. “The mayo was best used before last September. And the soy sauce expired in May 2013.” I don’t necessarily take on the rapid involvement of watching for expirations on groceries I have stored. Right before bedtime I couldn’t help but tell my fellow protesters, “Sleep tight. Don’t let the food bugs bite.”

I’d just like to say that if I die, I would like some of footballs cutest linebackers running to my rescue by taking turns doing mouth to mouth trying to resuscitate me. It stands to reason that if my kitchen contents can make people deathly ill or cause stray animals to come from a five block radius, I suppose I should toss noxious substances. I’ve had milk clogging the carton because of curds clumping heavily and cereal sliding out of the box in a solid block. I suppose I stand a better chance of surviving if cheese doesn’t show green fuzzy stuff and potatoes don’t grow foliage after leaving a long standing stench. Yet there are much bigger threats to worry about than my highly conspicuous consumptions. Like the danger of a communistic takeover of America. It’s a well known fact that human guts are filled with bugs and bacteria containing a highly diverse microbial community. Just to be clear, I’m not exactly enchanted at having anything roaming around inside me that will hatch and feed off my organs and central nervous system.

A cheerful enchantress like myself can surely turn into a grumbling kitchen examiner if I have to inspect ingredients in exchange for some pancakes or freshly baked muffins. My dad made the most amazing first meals of the day. And my mother was the ultimate hostess, serving up several of her gourmet goodnesses. I never once saw either of them investigating cupboard or refrigerated contents before cooking. What I saw was two people mumbling vulgarities when there wasn’t enough eggs or milk in the fridge to cook with unless the recipes called for cracked oval embryos or only a pinch of pumped moo extract. There was never the peril of food perishing when their ten offspring had wet tongues roosting only inches away from their plates and devoured Aunt Jemima and Oscar Mayer the minute they appeared at mealtimes.

It forced such inquisitorial dogma onto a ten year old when I had to ask my Dad, “When can I start learning to cook?” Now if it were me, my answer would have been something like, “Well sweetie, let me pass on what my parents told me as a child, thus sustaining sturdy evidence that cooking developed with the emergence of the extinct hominids, who a million years ago began rubbing sticks together when they became ravenous.” But since it was dad talking, he replied, “You can start cooking when your sleep deprived mother isn’t able to and you don’t use the smoke alarms as background music.” At the time, I’m sure he thought I would be a fine contributor to family safety if we simply went out and bought doughnuts. He didn’t mention that I had to watch for weevil Knievel’s doing crazy stunts inside the pantry.

In the interest of keeping a husband, I figured I should learn to champion the methods of menu making. It was better than polishing his hubcaps. But I never thought I would encounter food infestations. The first time I made a citrus salad with dinner, both male and female fruit flies interceded. Their genders were obvious when the male ones rested on the double cheeseburger, and the females landed on the steamy romantic paperback I was reading. My spouse immediately grabbed a butcher knife and heaved it towards his nutritional entree. I remember it clearly because I felt the breeze as it sliced a few hairs off my fake eyelashes. What can I say. Back then I had the look and bod of Twiggy and the brain of Peg Bundy.

I reassured my mate that a little extra meat wouldn’t hurt him, but he insisted that I make him something else. It was a problem since Jimmy Dean, Angus, and T-bone weren’t around as substitutions. While my chowhound waited, I pulled out the box of Bisquick to make some perogies and found little moths flying about. My newlywed grabbed a beer, and while ale companies don’t bother with expiration dates since they are never going to make it that far, I couldn’t help but sing, “Ninety-nine little bugs in the flour, ninety-nine little bugs…” The hubs joined his indignant songstress by concluding, “Take one down while there’s larvae around, there’ll be two thousand little bugs in the flour!” Then off we went to Denny’s, the most beloved name in fine dining. I had to wonder if they housed fruit flies and moths as well.

Caution to anyone else who comes visiting. If you get a hot dog hidden behind ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, and sauerkraut, there might be a slight chance the wieners are spoiled, all because I didn’t give the efforts of food watching the same enthusiasm that I give to gardening or sweepstakes entering. I might make funny faces, the kind of goofiness expressed when a woman is waiting for gag reflexes and a home inspection report. Children think they can rely on adults for protection and nourishment. Not to kill them. I’ve already asked Santa if he would bring me an automatically eradicating refrigerator this year. I might want to add muzzles for the kids, pending their re-entry and thrills of new expiries. Especially when they find out that I supply some loss in fluoride stability, since the toothpaste perished a year ago.