'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
BETTER TO HAVE LOVED AND LOST...
Ours 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.
Over 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.
Now, 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 & Cheese.
I have a very soft place in my heart for that little blue box, not to mention a soft place around my mid-section.
It was January, 1977. I had returned to college three weeks before the spring semester was to begin. However, when I arrived on campus, I discovered the cafeteria was closed and would not open until classes began in February. What was I to do? In twenty years of living, I had never given any thought to my next meal; it was simply there waiting for me each and every time.
I was facing certain starvation since I had calculated 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.
On 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 instructed me to come to his room in twenty minutes, the time it would take him to drive downtown and back.
When 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. I watched in amazement as Ace whipped up a batch of Mac & Cheese on an electric hot plate.
When he was done, he held out the pan and exclaimed, “Voilŕ! 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.”
All 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.
When 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.
But 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.
No, 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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