CURVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (22)

By: Michele Carlo
September 3, 2023

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of reconsidered passions, reassessed hates, and reversed feelings everywhere in-between. Series edited by Adam McGovern.

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IF I KNEW THEN

“No! Take it out! Take it out—now!”

Was this the response to my deflowerment? Begging my current partner to dispose of the dismembered mouse one of the cats deposited under the daybed? Requesting a hit job on my former partner? Nope, I was simply a child suffering the indignity of my abuela putting the beans on top of my rice instead of next to it, along with picking out every pepper, tomato, onion, and green bit—or I would not eat. And the rice had to be white, not yellow, the meat without a smidgen of sauce. Or, I would not eat.

Except I did eat. Too much actually. I was quite a chubby kid. I ate all the pizza, French fries, hot dogs, burgers, mac and cheese, cold cuts, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (the kind that was ribboned together in the jar) I could get, washed down with Yoo-hoo, Hawaiian Punch or Fanta grape soda. Also, Wise potato chips, Funny Bones, and those mutant Hostess-brand cakes called “Sno Balls” with plastic-pink frosting and cardboard coconut sprinkled on them. I would suffer milk (if it was on Alpha-Bits or Lucky Charms). But what I absolutely would not eat was Spanish food. The food of my heritage. The food that had sustained multiple generations of my family in Puerto Rico and on the mainland. The food both my abuelas repeatedly tried and failed to get me to willingly sample, much less appreciate. Every meal at either of their apartments started with cajoling which escalated to frustration which led to blood-boil—and caused both abuelas to ask my mother (separately and unknown to each other), “What’s wrong with you, why are you bringing Michele up to be white?!”

Let’s leave the ridiculousness of that statement aside for now. For a chubby kid, I had so many food phobias, I probably would have been catatonically medicated if it wasn’t the late 1960s–early 1970s. I wouldn’t eat eggs because they were wiggly, tomatoes because they were gooey, fruit because it wasn’t sweet enough. Onions were bitey, peppers were spicy, veggies were gross, and any meat or fish that resembled the animal from which it came, was disgusting.

And, somehow, I lived. I’d even slimmed down by the time I was a teenager (ah, growth spurt!). Then, when I was 20, I fell in love with a boy from my Life Drawing class, an immigrant whose parents hailed from opposite ends of what was then the Soviet Union. Strangely, when I was with his family for dinner, I scarfed down dishes that would have made my 10-years-younger self scream: Shakshuka eggs in tomato sauce; the eggplant, pepper, onion, and tomato stew called Imam Bayildi; rice pilafs with nuts and fruits; various sharp sheepy cheeses; olives—and wait for it—whole fish.

And then the day came when I brought him to my remaining abuela’s where she had prepared a feast: chicken soup (with feet); black rice with octopus; bacalao (codfish) stew; a red onion, tomato, and avocado salad; and red beans in sofrito with yellow rice. For me, there was a plate of white rice, plain chicken, and plain beans. During dinner he whispered to me, “Why don’t you eat your family’s food? It’s so good!” And guess what. The next time I was at my abuela’s I closed my eyes and tried what everyone else ate. She nearly fainted. And I didn’t die.

That boyfriend has been loooong gone, but I retained the love of foods from many nations— especially of Latinidad. And neither ribboned PB&J, Hawaiian Punch, Yoo-hoo, Funny Bones, or those horrid Hostess Sno Balls have crossed my lips in over 40 years.

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CURVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Tom Nealon on PIZZA PURISM | Holly Interlandi on BOY BANDS | Heather Quinlan on THE ’86 METS | Whitney Matheson on THE SMITHS | Bishakh Som on SUMMER | Jeff Lewonczyk on WHOLE BELLY CLAMS | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER | Nikhil Singh on LOVE ISLAND UK | Adrienne Crew on CILANTRO | Adam McGovern on MISSING PERSONS | Art Wallace on UFOs | Fran Pado on LIVERWURST | Lynn Peril on ELTON JOHN’S GREATEST HITS | Marlon Stern Lopez on ADOLESCENT REBELLION | Juan Gonzalez on STAN & JACK or JACK & STAN | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on BALTIMORE | Josh Glenn on FOOTLOOSE | Annie Nocenti on SIDEVIEW MIRROR | Mandy Keifetz on BREATHLESS | Brian Berger on HARRY CREWS | Ronald Wimberly on GAMING AND DATING | Michele Carlo on HERITAGE FOODS | Gabriela Pedranti on MADONNA | Ingrid Schorr on MAXFIELD PARRISH AND SUE LEWIN | Mariane Cara on ORANGE.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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Categories

Enthusiasms