Do You Like To Eat?

By SCOTT SAALMAN

I rcropped-grimmshowscott1.jpgan into my high-school best friend’s mother, now in her 80s. Many years had passed since we last spoke, so I was prepared with stock answers to questions one would expect to be asked after such a time span: “How are your kids?” “Did you remarry?” “Where are you working?” Or, “Who did you say you are again?”

Her actual first question caught me off guard: “You’ve put on some weight. Do you like to eat? You like to eat, don’t you?”

I felt waylaid, ambushed. Others around us during the inquisition intently awaited my answer, as if I was about to confess to the murder of the century. It was like that infamous Sharon Stone interrogation scene in “Basic Instinct,” except I wore underwear — which suddenly felt surprisingly tight.

I stammered, then replied, “Yes.”

Which was true.

I like to eat.

I know of no one who would answer “no.” Well, other than if you are sick and the last thing you want to do is eat something — likely the whole reason you are sick though is because you like to eat.

My dad shared a food-related horror story with me not long ago, a retelling of a supposedly true tale he heard a guy tell. My dad said the guy said this guy was eating crab at a seafood restaurant. He cracked one open and suddenly a bunch of tiny baby crabs birthed from its shell and scuttled across his plate. I bet, at that moment, had you asked the guy if he liked to eat, he would have screeched “no” just before projectile vomiting across the table.

I wasn’t going to lie to my high-school best friend’s mom, even though I haven’t talked to him in decades.

“Yes,” I said.

No one around us seemed surprised by my response (was it that obvious?). No one gasped like they might do learning that Colonel Mustard killed Mr. Boddy in the Library with a Lead Pipe, which could really happen. Question: Do colonels naturally keep a lead pipe in their possession? I’d ask Mr. Boddy, but he’s apparently Dewey Decimal dead now. I bet Colonel Mustard died not long after from lead poison after carrying a lead pipe all the time. Colonels should carry a candlestick. They can still do skull damage with it — or singe someone’s eyebrows — and live long enough to get a government pension, unless opposing armies find the candlestick more comical than threatening, break into a spirited Disney-esque rendition of “Be Our Guest” just before beating the colonel to death with lead pipes.

My high-school best friend’s mom said other things too, but I can’t recall what — maybe she asked about my kids, my marital status, my job — because all I kept seeing in my mind was her lips forming the same question, “Do you like to eat?” in incessant instant replay mode.

Oh, she also laughed after asking, as if it was just harmless good ribbing between old friends, the two of us in on the same joke that instantly ate away at my self-esteem.

“Do you like to eat? Ha-ha-ha-ha.”

Of course, the “you’ve put on some weight” precursor to her question was not lost on me either.

What was her benchmark? — high school? I was a scrawny 118 pounds when I graduated. Two slices of pizza filled me up. Now, I can eat a whole pizza. So, sure, I guess (I know) I have gained weight since then.

Do you like to eat? Do you like to eat? Do you like to eat?

A couple years ago, I finally ran out of notches on my trusty old belt. Belts don’t lie. I bought a new belt, slightly bigger than its predecessor. Could she tell my belt was fairly new? Is that what prompted her question?

I have also conducted internal debates lately about whether to undo my belt while driving — and I don’t mean my seatbelt. What if I did undo my belt and was pulled over? There’s no way a man can talk his way out of that one, though he’d likely not get frisked.

Policeman: Do you know why I pulled you over?

Me: Because you smelled that rotting corpse in my trunk?

Policeman: No. You just looked too comfortable driving. You obviously have your belt undone. I’ll let you off with a warning this time. Now put that belt back on.

Me: Thank you, officer.

Policeman: Say, what’s that horrible smell anyway?

Me: Uh . . . uh . . . my catalytic converter?

Policeman: Jesus, son. Get that fixed. It’s like somebody died in here.

Do you like to eat? Do you like to eat? Do you like to eat?

A photo was taken after our conversation — or my high-school best friend’s mom’s conversation with someone pretending to listen. She said her son would get a kick out of seeing it. Seeing what? That I’m obviously a porker now? I sucked in my newly-discovered gut and waited for someone to tell me to say, “Say cheese.” Although, to me, it would’ve sounded more like, “Do you like to eat cheese?” making me break down and confess aloud, “Yes! Yes! I like to eat cheese!” Who can say “no” to that question?

Scott Saalman and the Will Read and Sing For Food players will perform a public benefit for Habitat For Humanity at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 18, at Kimball International Auditorium, 1600 Royal St., Jasper. Special guests are Wade Baker and Channing and Quinn. Admission is $12.

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