Friday, August 31, 2007

Peach # 81: A Helping Peach

Photo from Phil Romans' Flickr page.

It was a day scraped from the bottom of the barrel of hot August days, gritty and lazy. I decided to beat the malaise by taking a walk down to a nearby lake, dribbling along in the water for a while, and having a snack of peaches after I was done.

I haven't had too many good peaches lately. Most have been so bad that they're almost bitter, and when I've chanced on a good peach, it's never been delicious, only edible - which is a change, certainly, but nothing to jump up and down and scream about. But that day, in the last of the August heat, I knew that I was going to have a good peach. I had to - everything else was perfect, so I was going to have a good peach.

On my way to the lake I saw a homeless man standing in the middle of the street holding a cardboard sign up to passing drivers. I turned away and didn't bother to read what the sign said. It was hot out,r andin the middle of the busy street your atmosphere was a thick soup of charred exhaust fumes and mingling with the ozone of rush-hour-angry traffic. The man had a modern prosthetic leg and an overgrown soul-tash. He looked like he could have stumbled out the back door of any college dorm or frat house, ready to make an inappropriate joke about a girl's breasts or sing along to a 311 song desperately out of tune, but then had a couple too many pitchers and somehow gotten lost for a couple days and fallen on some hard times. But here he was, missing a leg, begging on the street. They must have been some hard time.

I usually don't give anything to homeless people for a simple reason: I'm so poor myself I never have spare change. But something about this guy touched me. I had to give him something. So I handed him a peach. He smiled, revealing decayed stumps of teeth.

And then after my swim, when I was laid out on my bath-towel, a good book cracked open across my bare chest, mottled sunlight falling on me - in as picturesque position you could hope for, is what I'm saying - I took a bite of my eighty-first peach. It was another disappointment: chalky, and so bitter it almost made me pucker. I spat the rest of it out into the trash can and didn't bother to even try to eat the rest of the peach. But then, as I was settling back on my towel to peer through another chapter or two, I realized: that homeless guy probably doesn't have the luxury of spitting out his bad peaches. Which is sad. It's sad if life makes you eat a bad peach.

Last night I devoured a burrito at a bus-stop on my way to say goodbye to a friend who's moving country today. A couple minutes after the burrito had been masticated and deposited in my stomach I realized that I hadn't spent the time to actually taste it. I lingered, then, over my memory of that burrito - I recognized that the salsa had an overpowering oniony taste to it, that the flour tortilla was too soft, I felt the chicken against my palate again, sweet and soft - I tasted the burrito again, but really tasted it, and it felt like I was tasting it for the first time.

There can be so much beauty in eating. But when we're so poor that we survive only on cans of tuna or animal crackers, eating can be a flat annoyance, on the same level as a bad cough that creeps up on you when you're not thinking about it. So I think it is one of the better comforts in life to be able to be picky about your food, to be able to savor it, love it, and when the time comes - to spit it out if it sucks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Peachy Meeting

Three peach lovers stood around the peach-pile at a supermarket. They circled the fruit, squeezing them and then only occasionally lifting them to their nose to take in a deep whiff at which point they would inevitably put the fruit back and look for riper prey.

“Have you had these peaches?” One of the peach-lovers asked.

“From Colorado? They’re good.” The second chimed in.

“A bit expensive,” number one said. “But they’re out of the California peaches.”

“I was just in Colorado,” the third piped up. “The peaches there were fantastic.”

The three went back to selecting their fruit in silence for a moment. The first peacher sniffed a peach, and for a moment it looked like she would put it in her plastic bag, but she hesitated, sniffed again, and then put it back in the pile with a bit of disdain. “Not ripe,” she said.

“Didn’t think they had peaches in Colorado,” the second said.

The third nodded. “They grow good peaches up there, the Western slope.”

This was serious business, and another thirty seconds or so before any of them broke the silence of their work to talk.

“It’s just so hard,” the third stuttered, “because when you eat a bad peach.”

“Yeah,” the first peach lover said, “the peach, among all fruits, is the one that is most temperamental. When you eat a bad peach…”

The second peach-aficionado picked up the thread: “It is like you have lost your job. A good one.” But she just shook her head and, in a sudden impulse, put another peach in her plastic produce bag after only barely sniffing it.

“A good peach,” the third said, “then it’s like nothing else, you can’t believe it.”

And with that, they returned to their task.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Peach # 66: This Is What It's All About

There was a single peach left in the glass bowl propped amid the clutter of my desk, and the peach - swelling, round, with its burnt red skin touched in places with beams with sunset yellow - reminded me of what this peach project was all about. Instead of going straight up to the peach and gobbling it down, knowing that it would be peach number 66, I instead just looked at it.

Then I took slow, calm bites, watching the juice swell from the exposed flesh, bead, and then fall down the peach's skin. I tore off bites of peach and looked at the texture of the flesh, how it looked like fabric, almost. And then I slid them into my mouth.

And it was a good peach. But maybe one of the things about eating a peach that I've forgotten about is that a peach can be good or bad, sure - but it's up to you when you eat the damned thing to realize that what you're eating is actually tasty. What I'm talking about is tasting the peach actively, energetically, felling your mouth wrap around each and every bite. That a good peach eaten badly will not be a good peach; and likewise? would a bad peach eaten well be a good peach?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Peach # 61: Morning Peach

I wanted to start the morning right. So, finding that a couple of my peaches had ripened, I thought to supplement my breakfast with some nice stone-fruit. But, just a couple feet outside my door I bit into this - only my second peach in the Twin Cities - and found it unripe, sour, and inedible. Which meant that I held the damned half-bitten thing in my hand for a couple blocks, embarassed, until I could find a trashcan. And what's worse, the taste of it would not leave my mouth until I basically gargled with coffee, so I spent the entire bus-ride to work with the nasty peach juices marinating my tongue.

Now, a lot of my friends think I'm a bit wimpy for counting these horrible peaches in my peach-tally. They think that, in the interest of peach-ography, that I should eat the whole damned thing. But I can't imagine that. I have nothing but pity for people who, on eating a nasty peach, think that they have to finish it. If I did, then I would just vomit. Everywhere.

The Twin Cities peaches suck. I don't know, maybe it's the hot weather, or my house, of something, but my peaches go from being unripe inedible hard things to rotten inedible muhsy messes without ever lingering in-between for an hour to actually be tasty ripe peaches. I'm getting fed up. So far I've eaten two bad peaches, and thrown out seven rotten peaches. This has to end. Now.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Too Many Vietnamese Places!

Seriously. The Corner near my house has not one, not two, but three Vietnamese places on it. It's crazy! I wonder if the owner's are all friends and play cards together, swapping economical recipes, or whether they all hate each other, or simply think that having three Vietnamese places on one corner is just, you know, normal.

Friday, August 10, 2007

And Then There Were None

So this, my most recent haul of peaches - sucked. Every time I looked at the pile of peaches, every single peach was still unripe. Except, that is, for the one peach that was - inevitably - rotten. And this morning I had one peach left. was going to eat it on my way to work and write about how wonderful it is to eat a peach first thing in the morning, on your way to work, and how it made your entire day wonderful. But I couldn't. Because guess what? when I went downstairs I found the peach - which was completely unripe yesterday - covered in nasty mold. This means, out of a batch of five peaches, I ate one peach which sucked and threw away four. This, my loyal peach-readers, does not bode well for Minnesota's peach haul. Neither does it bode well for my peach project. I have, what? Forty peaches to munch on before the end of the season, right? And not much season left.

This means it's time for some serious peach-eating.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Peach # 60: DO NOT WANT

Things take on a certain delicacy when you're a newcomer. There is so much unknown that anything from getting a bite to eat to your first day at work can feel like a discovery; and so, after a while you are tired of the new discoveries, and you just want something whose dimensions are familiar. Because you do not need much delicacy when dealing with familiar things. You can, you know, let it all hang out.

And then at the same time, you have days full of firsts. Your first breakfast in the new place, your first newspaper - your first peach.

I ate my first peach of the Twin Cities in the pristine kitchen of the Utne offices, as part of an extended snack that covered for my lunch. I had bought five peaches from the local hippy grocers, but one had not survived the car-ride home, so I picked the softest, ripest peach from the bunch, put it in a plastic bag with the rest of my meager lunch and headed out.

I first cut out the bruises and then took my first bite, nervous, for one, because it was a peach; also nervous because I'm new to the office and feel - quite rightly - that I am acting the proper part of an awkward but cheerful intern. I was also kinda hoping that my peach obsession had filtered around the office and someone would come up to me and say: Oh wow, you are eating a peach, how is it? and I would get to act authoritative, like a real blogger.

The peach tasted fine. It was sweet, but with an almost bitter aftertaste. The problem was that the peach was incredibly grainy. It had the consistency of mishandled Styrofoam. I tried to continue eating the poor peach, but I just couldn't do it, and so I threw the offending stonefruit half-eaten into the trash.

But what does this say for my life in the Twin Cities? I am trying my best, this time around, to be very open and social - to have, frankly, a peachy time. But it's hard, especially since these first couple days afford me a whole bag of excuses why tonight I can't go out, why today I can do a little bit less than I want to. I hope that this does not become a metaphor.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Peaches # 54-59: Not As Bad As I Thought. Not Bad At All.

So after those horrible, soul crushing peaches I gave a small shudder whenever I passed the fruit bowl and tried to ignore the batch of peaches as best I could. But my grandma, watchful as she is, kept on reminding me that the peaches were getting riper and riper and that soon they wouldn’t be good anymore.

Well. The last ones could never be good. But I was stuck. I had to eat them sometime. The surprising thing was that they were good. Every single peach was good. And I’m not saying that they were okay, or that they were good compared with the last couple of peaches – I’m saying they were some damned good peaches.

The first peach of this batch I ate and kept on telling myself that it was a bad peach, too mushy, almost disintegrating in my mouth. But then, about halfway through, I realized that I was just being squeamish, and the peach was nicely ripe, if a bit soft around the skin.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Peaches # 52 and 53: MONSTER PEACH

My grandma, whose tastebuds have been napalmed from a whole life of cigarettes, told me that the peaches she’s been getting in Florida this summer have been really really amazing. I went and believed her, because I like to believe in amazing peaches, and so as soon as I landed in Florida I scurried over to the local supermarket’s produce section to see what I could see. I mean, I’m staying with my grandmother, in a place with cable TV and no internet, so I was expecting to do nothing but eat. And being a peach maven, I should damned well eat some peaches.

Well. These particular peaches did not look enticing at all. Especially after the heavenly peaches I had been gobbling from Morton’s. They were bigger than apples, and I felt them – and while the little sign said TREE RIPE, READY TO EAT they were hard I could tell they’d have about as much taste as peach-flavored water. I brought each peach up to smell them, and they smelled like nothing. But hey, they were on sale. So I bought ten.

Yesterday, two of the peaches seemed ready. But they weren’t. Because these peaches would never be ready. Saying these peaches are ready is like saying you’re ready for a colonoscopy. Sure, it might be time to eat these peaches: but it will never ever be right. The first peach was bad enough. It was mealy without being soft, and tasted almost fermented without being sweet. After I was done the taste – the gassy, sour taste of failure – just would not leave my mouth.

But nothing could prepare me for the next peach.

I felt it, and while the skin had a bit of give, I could tell that the flesh itself wasn’t yet soft. But whatever. I bit into it.

And I was mistaken, for a moment, into thinking that I had bit into a plastic peach. It had no flavor to speak of. It was like chewing plastic. It was like chewing flavorless gum.

Well, when I eat a bad peach, it does something to me, and this morning I woke up and just couldn’t bare the idea of getting out of bed, because I knew I would have to try to eat one of the next eight peaches. And they, too, would probably suck.

There is a lesson in this, that I will expound upon later: ORGANIC FOOD REALLY – for some reason – TATES A LOT BETTER THAN THE CRAP YOU GET IN MOST GROCERY STORES.

You see, I have pity for all of those overly-tanned Floridians who have never eaten a peach better than these monster peaches, who think that peaches are meant to make you want to kill yourself, who have never actually felt the joy of biting into a peach and having all the juices run down your hands an have it be so beautiful you can’t stop smiling. It’s like they haven’t really lived.

Peaches # 50 and 51: The Goodbye

Alison, an old friend from college and her boyfriend Michael watched as I tossed two overstuffed bags into the backseat of their car. The bags had just about everything that I owned in them. This does not amount to much more than a bunch of clothes, a computer, and some books. It didn’t seem so small when they were in my room, but taken out of my room, folded up into bags, zipped up, and in the back seat of an old station wagon, my life seemed so tiny that it could be upset by just a small breeze. We drove away, and with that my apartment of two and a half months was emptied of everything except dirt.

But before we left, we each ate a peach from Morton’s. My peach was sweet, smooth, and just about the most wonderful peach I could imagine. I waved goodbye to my neighbor’s peach tree, the peaches still green and inedible, and then got in the waiting car.

My next peach I ate I shared with Alison at five in the next morning, as that same car was idling in the terminal of the Denver International Airport. Alison brought along some of her peaches and we ate one each. I felt like the peach I had should be amazing. But while it had a nice texture, and a good, if watery taste, I knew that for that particular peach to really be amazing, it would need to wait a couple days. But of course, it couldn’t wait: I was leaving. When I was done I threw my pit into the garbage can and hoisted my bags on my shoulders, and went through the automatic door that led into the airport, the taste of peach on my tongue.