I’m a disordered eater: I drop peas in my lap, find it impossible to furl spaghetti around a fork and can’t keep lettuce corralled in my salad bowl.
I try to be ladylike. Once, as my brother and I walked in a parade on a blistering day, Mom came out of the crowd and handed us each an ice cream cone. What a dilemma: I loved ice cream, but couldn’t eat it. Spectators lined the sidewalk, and everybody knows eating in front of others is rude.
I tried to pick up the pace, thinking I could enjoy my treat at the end, but Bob lollygagged, licking with gusto. Obviously, he lacked my gentility.
I clutched my soggy cone and stared disapprovingly at my heedless brother. As chocolate ice cream overflowed my hand, dripped off my elbow, and trailed splotches down my white skirt, I prayed for the end of the parade and the crowd’s increasing interest. People pointed at us and giggled — at Bob’s bad manners, undoubtedly.
In sixth grade, I minded my manners at Good Gert’s Restaurant in Salt Lake City, where my class stopped after a field trip to the zoo. I sat straight, studied the menu and with a graceful swish of my ponytail, ordered the fried chicken special.
Then I disgraced myself. When the waitress asked if I wanted soup or salad, I responded, “Yes.”
She again asked, “Soup or salad?”
I again said, “Yes,” but increased my volume.
Exasperated, she tried again: “Which one? Soup or salad? You can’t have ‘em both, girlie.”
I thought she was saying super salad. They still talk about it at class reunions.
My eating ineptness peaked when I was a sophomore in high school.
I remember sitting tight to the passenger door of a pick-up parked at the A&W, feigning interest in my date’s detailed description of the pain he had inflicted during the football game that evening.
As he talked, I rued my slowness of thought on Wednesday when he loomed out of the crowded hall at school and asked me to go to out with him after Friday’s game.
The minute I stammered, “Yeah, sure, I guess,” I panicked. Bobby Wall was not what I had imagined for my first date in high school. But, because my mother refused to call him and deliver the sad news about my polio, I was stuck.
Bobby’s head sprouted red-orange hair in wayward directions; his nose, many-times broken, took a turn to the far left. He wore barn boots decorated with cow manure to class and propped them on nearby desks, smiling like a demented jack-o-lantern if a desk occupant complained.
On the football field, he spit on opponents he had mashed into the grass, earning his nickname: Barbarian. As we drove to the drive-in after the game, he burped the alphabet for my amusement.
The arrival of a carhop with our order interrupted Bobby’s monologue. I reminded him of my invented 9:00 curfew; he paid the bill, distributed the food, and started the truck.
I discarded the straw for my strawberry milkshake because it didn’t allow a satisfactory gulp. Gazing out the cracked side window, I tipped my head back and lifted the thick concoction to my mouth just as Bobby rammed his truck over a gutter.
Twenty ounces of freezing avalanche hit my face: coating my bangs, running my mascara, plugging my nose, dripping off my chin, drooling down my neck. I was iced, blinded, airless. Squawking, I turned toward Bobby.
“Good God, girl,” he bellered. “I expected to have fun with you, but didn’t dream it would be this good!”
In terms of barbarity, Bobby and I were a matched pair.