Fear itself

Pub date May 19, 2009
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink


CHEAP EATS It was the stuff that nightmares are made of, two little kids, shrill and shrieking with maniacal laughter, chasing me around a cluttered house with huge, dripping spoonfuls of mayonnaise.

My bad. I’d made the mistake of showing them my Achilles heel. Still it’s remarkable how innately merciless kids, sharks, and hyenas can be. I begged. I pleaded. I tried to reverse my position: I LOVED mayonnaise, I’d in fact been overjoyed, appetized, and positively heartwarmed to find them dipping tablespoons into the jar and filling their faces.

Nothing worked. They were foaming at the mouth, lipslick and shiny, sticking out their whited tongues, baring their dripping teeth, spitting and tearing at me with greasy fingers, little glistening dollops flying every which way from their spoons and hair. If I didn’t already have PTSD now, after years of my mother’s cooking … forget it!

I’ll be surprised if I can open a refrigerator ever again, even in the safety of my own home, my own refrigerator … let alone order a hamburger in a restaurant. Let alone a turkey or ham sandwich.

And the sad thing is: I was just about to get over it, I think. After a lifetime of all-out avoidance, I had knowingly and ungaggingly ingested things with mayonnaise in them on three separate occasions in 2009. A dip, a dressing, and (I shouldn’t say this because it was a secret ingredient) a birthday cake.

Enjoyment would be a strong word for what I felt on each of these occasions, but after tolerance comes appreciation, right? And after that, enjoyment can’t be far behind.

My new favorite expression has to do with jumping over your own shadow. Which, of course, can’t literally be done, but once you make the decision to live poetically, as opposed to, say, politically, polemically, pedagogically, or potlucklessly, well …

Give you an example: I have three things, a passport, an airplane ticket, and a really very thick fear of flying — which, although it is not as deeply-rooted or legendary as my mayophobia, nevertheless requires more anti-anxiety medication.

Or did, but that might be about to change. Things do.

After the kids chased and caught and slimed me, I couldn’t get the gag reflex to go away. No amount of bathing helped. No amount of laundry detergent could induce me to ever again wear the clothes I was wearing. Dips, dressings, and birthday cakes I regard with tight lips and at least one eyebrow raised.

Yet I look forward to being with the little doodooheads. I admit I especially look forward to their bedtime, where my storytelling has taken on an uncharacteristically moral tone. Essentially, any chicken or other animal who exploits any other chicken or other animal’s weakness winds up being eaten by snails.

Hey, not my favorite kind of ending, either; just another hazard of the profession, like being sick most of the time and needing vacations. Why I am going to Germany for said vacation is a long, untellably excellent and delightfully moral-less story, more my speed, entailing swirls of dragons, dragonflies, butter, the color blue, my friend Kiz, punk rock, and the Loma Prieta earthquake …

Anyway, I’ve got one month left to live, for sure, and then a layover in Philadelphia, so I thought I’d practice on a cheesesteak. Enter Phat Philly, stage left. Make that stage 24th Street near Valencia, in the Mission. This is my new favorite-smelling restaurant, for sure. I would like to be laid to rest in there, unboxed, maybe taxidermed onto the wall, or just propped up in an out-of-the-way corner, even for a week, in case our sense of smell survives us some.

Classic pepper steak with provolone … I’m telling you, and the rolls are imported from Philly, which you wouldn’t think would be a good thing, normally. But: they work! They’re great.

And Sockywonk let me taste her onion rings, and did not pour ranch dressing in my ear. Adults are so cool!


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L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.