Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
BETTER TO HAVE LOVED AND LOST...
was a long and passionate relationship. We met at college and the
attraction was swift and powerful. It didn't take long to realize we were
meant for each other. Although we were together virtually every day, there
was never any talking between us. Communication was entirely non-verbal as
our relationship existed solely to fulfill basic, physical needs.
the years, spanning more than two decades, the bond between us remained
strong. Even as I moved out-of-state, got married, and started a family,
we would often arrange a clandestine weekend rendezvous. On those
occasions, I must confess, my ravenous appetite would be shamelessly
satisfied. It was the height of decadent indulgence.
however, an unexpected medical diagnosis has doomed our relationship
forever. In all likelihood we will never be together again. On that
fateful day when the doctor informed me that I had become lactose
intolerant, I knew it was all over between me and Kraft Macaroni &
have a very soft place in my heart for that little blue box, not to
mention a soft place around my mid-section.
was January, 1977. I had returned to college three weeks before the spring
semester was to begin, having heard it was an fine opportunity to broaden
one's social horizons (party! party! party!) without the encumbrance of
when I arrived on campus, there was some very disturbing news. The
cafeteria was closed and would not open until classes began in February.
What was I to do? In nineteen-and-a-half years of living, I had never
given any thought to my next meal; it was simply there waiting for me each
and every time. For eighteen years, my dear mother took care of this
chore, never failing to provide a hearty meal, upwards of six times per
day. And since entering the world of higher education, I had become very
accustomed to walking into the cafeteria building, flashing my I.D. card,
and sitting down to a two-hour, all-you-can-eat, buffet-style snack;
again, upwards of six times per day.
suddenly, there I was, facing three weeks of starvation. I calculated that
my funds would run out in less than a week if I ate all my meals at the
only other source of sustenance I knew, McDonald's. And that included
dipping into my beer money, a thoroughly reprehensible thought.
the verge of panic, I sought the counsel of "Ace," who was wise
beyond his years and lived down the hall. He smiled knowingly and gave
assurance there was nothing to fear. He asked me for a five-dollar bill
and instructed me to come to his room in twenty minutes, the time it would
take for him to drive downtown and back.
I stepped into Ace’s room, a strange array of items met my gaze. An
empty supermarket bag lay crumpled on the floor. On the desk sat a quart
of milk, a pound of butter and a dozen thin blue boxes. Ace reached into a
drawer and pulled out a sauce pan and a strange electric appliance which
turned out to be one of those outlawed, but nonetheless widely used, hot
should last you a week or so," Ace said, flipping a couple of
quarters at me, "…and change back from your fiver!"
sat there in silent amazement watching him work. He brought some water to
a boil and poured in the noodles. When they were ready (he demonstrated by
flicking a few against the wall with a fork—they stuck!), he showed me
how to wrap a T-shirt tightly around the rim of the pan and strain the
excess water through the shirt and out the window.
he dumped in a hunk of butter, a splash of milk, and the contents of that
little packet, the mysterious cheese powder which turned everything a
florescent shade of orange.
stirred the contents for a minute and then held the pan towards me. "Voilà!"
he exclaimed, "Instant food! Four-for-a-dollar. Do this twice a day,
kid, supplemented with mega-doses of liquid hops and barley, and you'll
stay strong and healthy till the cafeteria opens."
I could do was whisper a reverent and prolonged, "Wow." I was
amazed. All this nourishment out of a little blue box for only twenty-five
cents. On that day a whole new horizon opened up for me. For the first
time, I felt that maybe—just maybe—I could survive on my own in this
cold cruel world.
I think back on some of the major milestones in my life, that distant
January when I survived—no, thrived—on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and
Iron City Beer is near the top of the list.
our long and poignant relationship is finally over. It is such cruel irony
that my stomach now treats as poison the very thing my heart cherishes. I
have been tempted to try various medications such as "Lact-Aid"
to overcome this problem. However, I have never felt comfortable with
artificial protection; practicing "safe food" dampens the
unbridled passion while never fully eliminating the risks.
I'm afraid the noble course of action is to go our separate ways,
harboring only memories of a love once shared. But on those rare occasions
when I find myself in a supermarket procuring mundane foodstuffs, I just
may detour down a particular aisle, slow imperceptibly as I glance at a
row of thin blue boxes, and break into a wry smile, the depth of which my
fellow shoppers will never comprehend.
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