Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Essay About Sturgeon Spawn, Cassava Starch, and Drive-Thru


Recently, my 8-year-old daughter--while riding along in contemplative silence in the backseat of the car, her weekend gymnastics practice once again behind her--broke the quiet and asked me what caviar was.

"Well," I began (my mind racing to quickly catch up with her line of thinking and to set aside whatever it was I had settled my mind to think about on the drive home and to concentrate, instead, on the mysterious world of fish roe), "caviar is a food that costs a lot of money," I told her. "It's raw fish eggs, and you eat it on a certain cracker, or sometimes you spread it on bread, or sometimes you can eat it by itself. Only if you do, you're supposed to eat it with a small, wooden spoon. The kind of tiny spoon that you sometimes get with ice cream samples..."

"Caviar is fish eggs?" she asked, getting right to the point--after all--and cutting off my ridiculous soliloquy (which was, more than obviously, an attempt to mask just how little I really knew about caviar).

"Yes, honey. It's fish eggs. Raw fish eggs."

"Ewwwww! That's so gross!"

"Yes, well..."

"That's disgusting! Who would eat raw fish eggs?"

"Well, actually a lot of people, as it turns out. But to be honest, I think most of the time it's probably for show. It's very expensive--good caviar is, anyway--and only people with a lot of money can afford it. So sometimes I think people order caviar at restaurants just to show they can afford it."

She obviously didn't care for my Marxist deconstruction of the class-consciousness permeating something as seemingly innocuous as ordering a dish of raw fish eggs. All she knew was that it sounded absolutely crazy.

"That's crazy," she said.

"Yes, well..."

"What's it taste like?"

It was here I coughed, I believe. "Ummmm...I can't really tell you what it tastes like, hun, because I've never had it. But I've seen it, and I know it looks sort of like a jelly, only with very small eggs in it. Caviar has the texture, in a way, of tapioca pudding."

She softened somewhat. She likes tapioca pudding. "So, it's sort of lumpy like that?"

"Yeah, lumpy...kind of like tapioca." (And as I listened to the sound of my voice droning on and on about something I knew little to nothing about, I realized--with a sinking realization--that if she turned the conversation now to tapioca, I knew even less about that. Just what the fuck is tapioca, anyway?...)

"Caviar still sounds gross," she declared with a sense of finality to the conversation. A satisfactory summing-up--in her 8-year-old mind, anyway--of all that made sense in the world and all that didn't. "Who would eat something like that? That's crazy."

I sighed, and smiled, and had to agree. Then I asked her if she was hungry, following her rigorous morning workout on the balance beam and the uneven bars and the tumbling mat. She paused for just a moment and then realized that, yes, in fact, she was hungry. Oddly enough, too, with all the talk about food I consequently knew nothing about, I had to agree that I was a little hungry also. So I pulled into a drive-thru lane at the nearest McDonald's. (After all, time was of the essence. Who has time these days--particularly following a rigorous gymnastics workout--for something as needlessly time-numbing as the delicate harvesting and consuming of raw fish eggs?) Once at the drive-thru, she ordered a Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal (a 6-piece, I believe, since--as it turns out--she was really quite hungry). I ordered a Big Mac for myself, with french fries and a medium Coke. And it was good. In truth, it was very good. Delivered in its recycled, biodegradable cardboard, it was a proletariat feast that would have made even Tolstoy proud, what with its complete denial of the self, its celebration of simplicity, and its renunciation of something as ill-suited as noblesse oblige.

"So, how was that?" I asked her, dabbing with a recycled, biodegradable napkin at a blotch of grease and "special sauce" staining my shirt. "Did you get enough to eat?"

"Yeah," she said, her voice growing quiet again in the backseat. Her stomach now full. Weariness settling in. The lulling comfort of the road taking hold. Her eyes growing heavy. Contentment. A satisfactory summing-up of all that makes sense in the world and all that doesn't. And all under $10. And with time to spare. And with no questions asked.

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