PAR FOR THE MAIN COURSE Iím Doing A Dangerous Thing.

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Iím doing a dangerous thing....

Iím spending tonight outdoors alone.

Ah...a fire, the stars, the sounds of nature, and my dog curled up
beside me munching contentedly on a mystery bone, the origin of
which I choose not to ponder.

A special time, tucked away in these Vermont hills, sitting in the
cool, muggy, late-evening air of a waning summer, the only lights
coming from my backyard campfire and the celestial pincushion
sky...the only sounds sifting through the distant fields from the deep
woods beyond: the twitters, cheeps and croaky passwords of
patrolling bugs and reptiles answered only by my internal sentryís
countersigns of deep thoughts.

It is a time for profundities, for soul-searching, for redefining
oneís mission in life and the life in oneís mission. A time for
realizing, as I watch the lunar satellite track across the treetops...
that a golf ball is sitting up there somewhere, puffed into the dust of
a moon dune.

Oh, no, itís happening again. Suddenly, I feel like Mack Sennet
at a Carl Sagan testimonial dinner.

I catch sight of the Martian star, and the notion of a
solar-powered robot jalopy rear-ending a boulder named after a
cartoon character fills me with enough hilarious angst to distract me
from my quest for an upcountry beatitude. Again, the surreal goes
slapstick. It also beguiles my marshmallowing, and I unwittingly
drop the flaming cube on Muttleyís tail.

It puts him right off his marrow, and sends me back into the
house, sidetracked but undeterred from my search for universal
Truth. And, it is the first time Iíve seen Muttley walk backwards
and look at me like I was the Grand Inquisitor.

But, the damage is done. My introspective scavenger hunt has
been set in motion, and I walk into my kitchen ready to discover
the meaning of life and death. If I think therefore I am, and if I am
what I eat...I think my identity waits for me in the refrigerator.

I pull up a chair, sit before this great white reefer of
enlightenment, notepad and empyreal appetite at the ready, and
open the door.

Four kinds of mustard in here.

Itís a rough start, when one is expecting to be handed a Cosmic
key that will unlock the secrets of time and space, only to find a
variety of moldy condiments. Not only are the mustards long past
their expiration dates, they are redundant. Not to mention fuzzy.
Yet, there has to be some deep, symbiotic relevance here, waiting
for me on the doorís bottom shelf.

Is this just a camouflaged reverence for the changing seasonís
seasonings? Does my summer palate yearn for a squeezable yellow?
Is winter a need for a hot & spicy blend? Does spring demand a
sharp Country Dijon, and autumn a creamy Grey Poupon?

If this is a Truth, then why, since the only food I ever eat with
mustard is burgers and hot dogs, and I havenít had either in years,
have I held them in reserve? Yes, I removed meat from my diet, but
have I gone on to live as an unrequited Tofusian? Am I still in
mourning for a Big Mac? Are the burger wars reducing these
posthumous urns of spicy cremains to nothing more than animal
fat epitaphs?

I move on, convinced now that self-illumination is more than a
door-activated lightbulb....

A jar of Umeboshi paste: Here lies the last earthly remains of
pureed Japanese pickled plums, half-departed. Where has the other
half gone? I canít remember ever cooking with or eating oriental
putty, much less buying pickled putty, and donít have a clue why it
rests here.

A tub of Imitation Cream Cheese. On the label, the inscription
reads: ďBetter than cream cheese.Ē Hmm...possibly a subliminal
link to my belief that the art of a chicken definitely precedes the
imitation of an egg. Metaphors begin mixing like batter in the
windmills of my mindís eye, and the mystery continues to unfold....

A cellophaned bowl of gritty, decomposing sludge, perhaps once
a side dish eulogy for the deceased stir-fry lying in the open
Tupperware coffin on the shelf above.

A crumpled aluminum foil packet of leftover frozen
something-or-others. Probably vegetables, though they look like
grieving lupine seedpods, no doubt now cryonic donors awaiting
reanimation in a hosting stew base.

A glass pitcher, one-tenth full of a murky beverage resembling a
Umeboshi Pepsi. Encouraged that my first reaction is to see it as a
minimum of liquid rather than a maximum of air, I press on.

A plastic bottle of lime water seltzer, nineteen/twentiethís
devoid of a twenty-serving supply. So much for reckless optimism.

A bag of very real petrified bagels lying in state. They await a
spreadable requiem mass of imitation cream cheese.

I begin to panic. I will not go gentle into that good beddy-bye
without a snack, and marshmallows are out. The odor of singed
dog still burns my nostrils. I continue my fruitless search, not
counting the shriveled bananas and deflated apples preserved in a
bowl of mummified ambrosia.

Heavyhearted artichokes, bereaved pudding, sobbing jalapenos,
there has to be something in here worth resurrecting....

Right about here, I wish I could tell you I reached a culinary
nirvana, that I found the essence of my life and the life in my
essence tucked in a furry green tortilla, first vegetable drawer from
the left.

Fact is, Iím now lying in the dark eating a flexible pretzel
smothered in stiff clam dip, and outside the bedroom window, first
horizon from the left, a shooting star streaks across the sky.

Course, that couldíve been a flaming golf ball, or a hard-driving
marshmallow arcing oíer the fairway of life.

Donít fear the reefer, my fellow Marchers.

Muttley? Here, boy.

Copyright 1997 B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved.