There is a brown banana sitting on a fruit rack. The dark-wood fruit rack has three tiers that taper to its top. It is a prop reminiscent of the Dutch masters—the scenes they studied with oil paints. If you were to inspect it more closely, you would find a thin layer of dust that gives the rack its Old World earthiness—a real craquelure quality. The banana isn’t alone on the fruit rack: There is a globe of garlic, with one clove missing. Hard, green tips protrude from its tissue-paper wrapping. Although the garlic is no longer edible, it will sit on the fruit rack much longer than the banana, for obvious reasons. Your desire for a banana is more frequent than your need for garlic. The need for garlic pertains to the desire you have for cooking. Contrary to the cupboard of cookbooks above your stove, you never have the desire to cook.
You buy these bananas knowing one banana out of the bundle will be thrown out four weeks later. It doesn’t matter if you reduce the number to three or two bananas because you’ll inevitably leave the last one to die. Nor can you buy just one banana without a second one to occupy your pantry. The last banana is a comforting charade, a tableau of security, as effective as a set piece. X amount of bananas for eating, plus one just in case.
As the yellow banana loses its green tinge, grows spots, and finally becomes dark and squishy, it will act as a marker of all that you have not done. You will look at this browning banana and think, “Wow, I thought I just went to the store.” You will recall the last time you went to the store and find you cannot place the date. It was so long ago—perhaps three weeks. And you will think of all that you haven’t done in the “perhaps three weeks” since you last did such a productive thing as go to the store.
But you are much, much too busy to go to the store. You have an unending list of things to do.1 For all of your efforts to save time, you wasted it three weeks ago when you went to the store to buy the dying banana. You spend some time contemplating this: You ask yourself if now is the time to make your next trip to the store. You will not make that trip to the store.
Besides, you’re low on money. You bought too many bottles of wine and too many six-packs of beer when wine became too expensive. You ordered too much delivery when you came home several times to find nothing but a dying banana in your kitchen. You take a second look: “Well, the banana isn’t so brown. I’ll eat it later.” In the meantime, you can excuse the purchase of Cheez-Its at Duane Reade as a snack while you wait for later. In actuality, you will slowly eat the Cheez-Its and nothing else for a whole day.
You will never find a dead banana in your mother’s house. Unless, dad put it there. She lives deliberately, while he shops unreasonably. His is of an apocalyptic nature: a bag of rice, cans of baked beans, a lot of granola, and nut butters find their way into the grocery cart. They gather in the darker corners of the pantry. He forgets about them—distracted by things like Ebola (I mean Zika), nuclear war, or farming strategies in the event of an ice age—and buys them all again the next month. Mom, on the other hand, created the very practical Thanksgiving tradition of consolidating all turkey and stuffing leftovers into a casserole topped with cheese. Guests are invited back to a second dinner two days after the holiday. Ron could not stay until Saturday, so mom sent a frozen cube of turkey hash to Rochester—not because he asked, but because she said she would. Mom takes care of her dead bananas.2
Fresh food is an obligation: You are plagued by the responsibility that lingering bananas elicit. You must vow to the beet stalks, the broccoli head, the bundle of carrots, never to the celery, “Yes, I will eat you.” Cheez-Its, pizza—preferably delivered pizza—ask nothing of you. They are food for the inconstant, the uncommitted. This is why the healthy people parade out of farmer’s markets with that determined, pious pride. Their canvas bags bulge with green plumage. They hold lists of ingredients in their hands like a daily prayer: kale. And here you are, open-palmed with orange crumbs falling off of your fingers, while this banana dies of a fruitless existence.3
But there are countless dead bananas in your life. A shoebox accumulates scribbled-on bits of scrap paper with phrases that will never find a story. You will never see that friend; “let’s catch up” is not an invitation, but a strange spasm of guilt expelled each absent month. Your books fill three shelves and grow along the floor in a tight trail. Most of their spines are uncreased. Some have dog-ears around the 30th page. Only a few have been closed, for good, by their back covers. You are a vegetarian, until Thanksgiving. You are a runner, until it snows. It’s hard committing to anything—let alone a banana.
1. An unending list of things to do:
laundry, Duane Reade (tissues, toothpaste, Cheez-Its), homework (this has a separate list), print timecard (after Sunday shift), deposit paycheck, do the dishes, put laundry away.↩
2. Hopefully, without creating a new one for Ron.↩
3. Although grossly underappreciated, a successful pun really can make you feel better.↩