Some men show love and affection through jewelry and flowers. Some men buy houses and cars.
I showed my love through eating.
It was the mid-1980’s. Big shoulder pads — and those were for the women. My favorite shirt was terrycloth. A baby-blue towel with pockets over both pecs. Cool, motherfuckers, cool.
We were poor. Starving students. She decided she was going to splurge. It was going to be our first “fancy meal.” She spent half a paycheck at the grocery store and made a Greek Salad just for me.
I don’t remember what exactly was in it. But most of it were things I had never eaten before or things I didn’t like.
I’ve had a life-long distaste for tomatoes. I can handle the red menace in ketchup or spaghetti sauce if you cover it with enough sugar. But the acid, and the texture and the “squish” when you eat them — ewwww.
My mother used to grow tomatoes in our backyard in Akron. We would put out pans with a thin layer of beer at the bottom to catch the snails before they ate all the tomatoes. I’d rather eat the snails.
I had seen olives before. They are the things my parents pulled out of their martinis in restaurants and threw away.
This enormous plate was full of tomatoes, grape tomatoes, 3 colors of bitter olives, cucumber and goat cheese with mold — or was it blue cheese with goat meat? Fuck I don’t know.
Topped off with raw onions and avocados, and sitting on a bed of romaine weeds. That shit wasn’t lettuce. I didn’t even know what “romaine” was. I thought she had picked this stuff out of the yard. I swear I saw a dandelion on top.
It was covered in some semi-clear oil. Did she spray it with WD 40?
“It’s virgin olive oil with a little vinegar,” she said.
The two salads I had previously in my life had been covered in enough ranch dressing to make the plants taste like crunchy bread.
Did I turn up my nose at weeds and oil and order a pizza? Fuck no.
This salad was my version of: “I would walk a thousand miles… just to fall down at your door.” I put on a fake smile, and shoveled that toxic shit into my mouth without saying a word. I tried to carry on a normal conversation and keep my face from twisting like a “faces of death” video.
But that didn’t work.
“Is the salad, ok?” she kept asking.
“Delicious.” I’d say and shovel another bit of slimy, bitter, squishy, crunchy shit in my pie hole. Survived the first round.
I finished every bite on the plate. She went and got the rest out of the bowl and filled half the plate again.
I gave myself a little pep talk like Midnight Cowboy.
“You know what you gotta do cowboy…”
On the second bite of the second round, my stomach started to turn. An enormous bubble of gas made a left turn past where my appendix used to be. Simultaneously my esophageal sphincter weakened. All those tomatoes and olives wanted to be free of me and join their brethren on the plate.
I smiled and shoveled.
“You don’t have to finish it, if you don’t like it,” she said.
I curled over the plate to abate the intestinal pain. I kept eating. I wasn’t going to quit like a god damn quarter-cookie-eating-little-fucking-pussy.
Every bite brought its own unique twist. Is this brown olive-shaped thing going to make me puke at the table or shit my pants?
Sweating it out
I’m not sure when the sweat started. It could have been early in the first round. But by the middle of the second, I was dripping. Sweat and olive oil don’t mix.
Finally got to the last bites. Maybe if there’s cake or pie, I can drown this bitter shit in sweets?
No dessert, she said. A meal wasn’t finished until the chocolate was gone, but not in her family…
I stopped sweating. Felt the blood drain from my face and the stomach cramps came on like a seizure. I counted making it to the bathroom before the Greek Salad escaped as a win.
It was a good thing I was still in my 20’s — or I would have been projecting “salad” out of every orifice.
She didn’t make Greek Salad again. When I ate my first meal with her family, I learned about tamales and corn husks the hard way.
In the 34 years since, I’ve learned to eat avocados, and cucumber. I look forward to cooking with olive oil. I can stomach a few slices of tomato.
But olives of any kind trigger PTSD — puking her “cooking” on our first “date.” I can’t even open the can.
Every time we eat mexican food, first thing I take the olive off my plate and give it to her.
“That’s why we get along,” she says. “You give all the good stuff to me.”