The Banana Incident

I hate bananas.

Actually, hate is inadequate to describe the depth of my feeling. So is despise, detest, abhor, loathe and revile.

Bananas assault all of my senses.

The wet sticky sound when you eat them reminds me of dogs licking themselves. The smell gags me. The cloying drape of the peel makes me shudder. When I was a kid, my brothers tortured me with banana peels, laying them across my face while taking a nap. I’d wake up, sputter and fling the peel across the room.  I’ll admit I haven’t tasted a banana in at least 60 years, but I’m not about to give them another chance.  The phallic implications of the visual are disturbing.

I’ve always been discreet about my banana issue, except for one salient event about thirty-five years ago.  Nick and I were newlyweds in the Chicago, looking to expand our social circle.  Jay and Sallie, also newlyweds, were prime candidates.  We had some mutual friends, all of us athletic and sharing the same hobbies and interests.  I could see a long friendship, the type that becomes as comfortable as a pair of old shoes.

I was excited to solidify our friendship when Sallie invited us for dinner.  They were also newlyweds and I wondered if they shared my agenda.  Sallie had invited another couple – young, athletic and cute. I felt a bit of competition and jealousy, particularly since this couple was younger and more athletic.  After all, his name was Jock.  Maybe Sallie thought they’d be their perfect friends, but I knew I had a leg up.  The couple was from the East coast, transferred from some New York bank. They were just doing their time in Chicago waiting to be called back to their home town.

I knew the type. Dartmouth squash players who’d be surprised you couldn’t see all the way across Lake Michigan or wonder if you could turn right on red all the way out here in the Midwest, or say they missed the smell of salt water. I wanted Sallie to know I was in it for the long haul, I was a Midwesterner, a low key and loyal friend. I went into the kitchen to help while the other nibbled on hors d’oeuvres in the living room.

She was stressed out, worrying about the entrées, the timing, whether or not she had the right garnish. I told her to relax, everything would be great and then offered to take over the dessert.  She wanted to duplicate a soufflé she’d seen Julia Child make.  She had set a high bar, not only Julia Child, but soufflé, a very fussy dessert requiring exquisite timing and a deft hand with the soft white peaks of egg whites.  Sallie handed me a bowl and I prepared to whip up some egg whites.

It wasn’t egg whites.  It was a bowl of over ripe bananas.  “Here, can you mash them up?” Sallie asked.

I was anticipating a chocolate soufflé, a lemon soufflé, anything besides a banana souffle.

Decision time. Big decision.  I’m not kidding, bananas are a serious problem for me. The sight and smell of the bananas set my salivary glands gushing and I had to repeatedly swallow to keep from succumbing.  My usual work around is to find a plausible reason to leave the room when bananas are present. This was not an option.

If I took that bowl and started mashing, that would be a lie, and not the most promising way to begin a friendship. I also might upchuck in the process. And if I mashed those bananas I’d be committing myself to eating the soufflé – another possible upchuck event. If my acting skills were good enough, Sallie might think banana soufflé was my favorite and make it her “go-to” dessert at all our meals together. Until we died.

And then there was the tyranny of the lie. Once made it would be hard to undo. If I ate bananas once, and then again, and then fessed up, wouldn’t Sallie think this was the worst kind of betrayal? Or patronizing, trying to make her feel good about her cooking skills?  I could tell her right up front about my troubled relationship with bananas, but I didn’t want to aggravate her frenzy. I had come into the kitchen to help, not to reveal that her dessert would make me vomit.  What kind of friend is that?

I felt the tightening grasp of the humble banana.  It held the power to scuttle a promising friendship.

Options and their implications whirred through my mind in the second or two to decide whether to accept the assignment. “Hand me the bowl,” I said, “I’ll mash them for you. Banana soufflé, what a great idea for dessert.”

I kicked the can down the road, embraced the lie, accepted the consequences, the most immediate being eating the dessert.  But it seemed worth it.  I could handle it.

I mouth breathed to block the smell as I mashed the bananas into sticky, dog ball-licking slurry.  Eyes wincing, swallowing hard, but I got it done.

I whipped up the egg whites, folded them in, shoved the concoction in the oven.  I have no recollection of the entrée, which was probably a thing of beauty.  I was numb, reading the final course.

The desert looked gorgeous.  Julia Child would be proud.  It had risen well outside the bowl and had a nicely browned crust. Sallie served it with a flourish.   “Look what Liza helped me make. It’s a banana soufflé. It looks just like Julia Childs’!”

I steeled myself for the final assault, hoping a massive dollop of whipped cream would blunt the taste. Nick looked up surprised. “Sallie I can’t believe Liza helped you. She hates bananas. In fact she can’t be in the same room as a banana.”

I was outed. Ashamed, devastated, a friendship in ruins before it even started.

The room fell silent. I didn’t know what to say. I had been prepared to live with the lie, but wanted to manage its inevitable reveal, soften the blow. But my lie lay openly on the table for everyone to see.

My sweet husband sensed the disaster he’d created and rose to my defense. “Sallie, you should be honored. Liza has never given me the same consideration. I love bananas, but she makes me eat them by myself in the car. I’m impressed.”

Sallie, to her great credit, blushed. “Liza, I’m so sorry.  You didn’t have to do that.”

And then I covered myself in apologies as I pushed the dessert aside.   Everyone else raved about the dessert.  Nick ate mine as well.

Nick’s outing was the best resolution to the dilemma.  An impulsive lie, following by a quick reveal.  It was like ripping a band aid off, positioning the banana incident as a testimony to my loyalty and support.  We’ve been best friends ever since.  That other couple has long since scurried back to their motherland on the East Coast to smell the salt water.

Someday I’ll get around to telling Sallie about my issues with peanut butter and black olives.



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