Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Banana Gestalt

   When Brad and I travel by car, I always pack a brown bag of ready-to-eat snacks. Generally, these are items which require no refrigeration, things like pre-washed apples and carrots, almonds, and protein bars. This habit keeps us from eating junk food. It also staves off boredom and virtually eliminates the need to stop and check out the candy bar situation at rest stops. There's just one little problem. When I'm groping through the snack bag which I myself packed, why do I always end up with a fistful of old bananas? I've discovered that inevitably, before we leave the house, Brad will hastily toss in a couple of bananas from the blue ceramic bowl on the counter when I'm not looking. Although his intentions are good, these bananas are usually brown and unappealing, and they rarely get eaten. Like shriveled stowaways, the bananas accompany us throughout our trip, but unfortunately, they don't end up right where they started. By the time we get back home, they are so mushy and unpalatable that they end up in the trash.
     What is it about bananas that the men in my life find so fascinating? For instance, my father's internal clock was rigidly and predictably set to the timely consumption of three bananas per day, morning, afternoon, and night. If he was eating a banana in the afternoon, we knew it must be four o'clock. In 1996, Dad accompanied me to Macon for my first medical school interview, and I was a nervous wreck. We were staying overnight in a hotel so I could be fresh for my interview the next day. Among other things, Dad brought along a small bunch of bananas, one of which he whipped out with Swiss quartz-like precision promptly at 10 pm. This eruption of activity occurred in the midst of a conversation we were having while I was driving. It happened so abruptly and without prior warning that it actually startled me a little bit, but Dad continued in our discussion without missing a beat. From where he was sitting, I knew he couldn't see the clock on my dashboard, nor do I remember him checking his watch. His banana gestalt had alarmed: it was Chiquita time.
     Once, when Nick and Rory were very small, maybe three, Dad was baby-sitting them. Being in dire need of bananas, he plunked the boys into their car seats and they all drove to the grocery store. Since Nick and Rory were pretty good-natured kids who usually did as they were told, Dad thought it might be fun for them to purchase the bananas themselves. He gave them some money and assuming they knew how to count, instructed them to go into the store to buy eight bananas. Of course, he meant a bunch with eight bananas in it. They toddled into the store with the money, and emerged about fifteen minutes later with eight bunches of bananas. It was a classic Bartek* moment. I can only imagine the look on the cashier's face when those two tiny blonde tots arrived at her register, heaving their fruity booty onto the conveyor belt. I'm sure Mom was thrilled to have her kitchen overrun by bananas, but I'm fairly certain they all ended up being consumed. Dad hated wasting food!
     As a kid, I used to be embarrassed to find a banana in my school lunch; there was something almost perverse about it. Despite the fact that they are a potassium-rich, peel-and-eat fruit, I think bananas are fussy. Unless you green bag them, they only last a day or two on the counter, and then you're left with the what-am-I-going-to-do-with-all-these-bananas dilemma. My freezer is filled to capacity with brown bananas, and it can't accommodate anymore. I've probably got 50 years' worth of banana smoothies in there. While it's true that you can substitute mashed bananas for the oil in baked goods, there's only so much banana bread a person can make. For those of us who work, the probability that those old bananas will be re-purposed into a fragrant, nut-studded loaf is darn near close to zero. I'm not sure what compels me to keep buying them, week after week. Maybe it's the idea of wholesome simplicity or the visually pleasing aesthetics of a bright yellow bunch, resting inside that blue bowl.  Brad likes his bananas green. For me to enjoy a banana, it has to be perfectly yellow, with a few tinges of green at the stem and tip, and absolutely no brown spots. The banana distributors euphemistically refer to these blemishes as sugar spots. They're not fooling me. Just like the cougars who plague my son, Rory, when he's on tour with his band, I know a brown banana reached its prime long ago. In an attempt to distract me from its withered exterior, this crafty banana will skillfully endeavor to convince me that it's only gotten better with age, luring me with promises of the vintage sweetness that lies within. This begs the question: why hasn't anyone invented Botox for bananas? Let me assure you, Chiquita would be all over it.
*Bartek: Dad's nickname

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