Saturday, March 22, 2014

Relationships and Taboos

For reasons never quite clear to you, your mother, with some regularity, served bacon or ham and eggs for weekend breakfasts but responded to other aspects of pork, say pork and beans, as a vampire would when confronted with a cross.

Your father, who took wry, humorous views of most things, including your report cards, was wont to say of your mother in circumstances where bacon or ham were served, "Perhaps she thinks they are from a zebra."

Within this atmosphere of yes to ham or bacon and eggs but no to pork and beans, you began to notice the tendency of seemingly disparate things to be paired.  Say rice and beans, or cornbread and buttermilk, and of course, lox and eggs, later expanded to include lox, eggs, and onions.

Other pairings, such as hot dogs and sauerkraut, peanut buter and jam, ice cream and chocolate syrup, Coca-Cola and fresh lemon or lime, creamed tuna and toast, and cottage cheese and pineapple were combinations you more or less took for granted, assumed everyone knew of and appreciated them.  One of the major flies in the ointment was your mother's highly individualized taste in all things.  

You did not, for instance, try to combine striped clothing with a checked jacket, nor, after one or two return trips to Weiner's grocery, did you bring home Hellman's mayonnaise for use in making egg or tuna salad, when Best Foods was the known standard, just as French's mustard for hot dogs always trumped Gulden's.  And how could you know that the sprinkling of white or brown sugar on a piece of bread and butter was taboo until you related being served that delicacy as an afternoon snack at the home of a friend?

Thus most of your introduction to relationships and taboos came, as it were, through tummy-related chemistry.  Thus corned beef and cabbage made sense, but you were not certain why, chicken soup and noodles made sense, but chicken soup with rice did not, nor, in fact, did you understand why Jello and whipped cream was acceptable, but Jello with a dab of mayonaise, even Best Foods mayonnaise, was not.

Such whim was an integral part of your own growing awareness of relationships and taboos of your own.  The preference for siphon-bottle seltzer for bottled soda water for such delicacies as egg cream, cast against the anomalous preference for Scotch whisky and water as opposed to Scotch and soda, the vodka martini as opposed to the gin, and yet the growing favoritism for the Ramos Fizz, which was made effective by gin.

For a time, you were a meat and potatoes man until you almost always left your potato untouched in favor of something green, slathered with Hollandaise.

You were well into your third decade before you realized you were on a vector for relationships, not only of a friend and romance nature but of a more existential state of being where uncharted combinations beyond kitchen, cocktail lounge, and bedroom held out a lure you are to this moment unable to resist.

The relations between individuals and between individuals and things are essentials of story.  From the pratfall comedy of Michael Frayn's play, Noises Off, to the more substantial dramas of Arthur Miller and Lorraine Hansberry, from the best laid schemes of John Steinbeck and John O'Hara to the laid-back irony of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, story is all about the attempts of individuals to translate often inchoate yearnings into reality, often with startling results.

You find yourself at times in the midst of writing something, borne along by the energy of a connection you had not seen, blossoming in totally unexpected ways.  This is why you do it.

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