Hot Potato Wisdom

When you’re crossing the street, never trust the judgment of drivers. They may not stop for you. They may roll over you and keep on going. In fact, never trust anyone. They’re not your family, their blood is not half as thick as water, why would you take their advice? Do they have your best interests at heart? Not one bit, and, frankly, neither do most of your own relatives. It’s dog-eat-dog, it really is, although what can you expect? Life is hard. Life is a battle. Life is what you make of it.

All people are created equal–black, white, Chinese, Moroccan, it doesn’t matter. Equal. Everyone. All the same, whenever there’s a murder, check the newspaper to make sure the culprit isn’t Jewish–you’ll breathe easier if you do. Then double-check and make sure the murderer isn’t from New York–you’ll breathe easier still. Give to charity, but don’t tell your relatives that you do. Keep secrets well. Don’t lie, but never tell the whole truth. That sort of thing is too hard to swallow. That’s what fiction is for.

Anything served in a fancy restaurant can be equaled in your own kitchen. As a matter of fact, everything can be made out of potatoes–bread, soup, pancakes, cake. Alone on a desert island, all a person really needs is a bag of potatoes and a toaster oven. Forget planes, jets, cars, TV. Without a doubt, a toaster oven is the finest invention of the 20th century. It broils, it bakes, it toasts, it sits on your counter, small as a mouse. Always read labels. What? You’re surprised it’s so full of chemicals? You think these companies have your best interests at heart? But a potato: There’s nothing evil they can do to it. No additives or red dye or MSG there. A potato is 100 percent pure. It is what it is. Unlike most things.

Between men and women, love is not only blind, but also stupid. Oh, sure, love has a sense of humor, but the punch line is usually sex, money, despair, or kids–and none of these is particularly funny. Here’s how you test if love is real: Broil a chicken (with a side dish of potatoes) and invite him over. Cook badly. Even if you’re already a bad cook, make it worse. Trust me, it’s easy. Throw in anything you want. Too much salt, too much pepper. Feed him and see what he says. A complaint means he’s thinking about himself, and always will. A compliment means he’ll never make a living. But a man who says “Let’s go to a restaurant,” now he’s a real man. Order expensive, and see what he’s got to say then. Kiss him goodnight. Go ahead, don’t be afraid. Do you hear your blood in your head moving too fast? Are you faint? Do you need a Tylenol? Are you sick to your stomach and shaky in your knees? That’s love, all right, so don’t fight it, honey, because in such matters, no human is immune. Not even you.

Don’t ever do what I did and throw caution to the wind. Don’t marry for love. The one I picked, when I fixed the chicken and potato dinner to test him, he simply pushed his plate away. He was so lovesick he didn’t eat! I should have seen him for who he was. I should have known that this kind of man would wind up sleeping on sunny afternoons, stretched out on the couch, and that the smile on his face would be so sweet no woman with half a heart would dare wake him.

Sleep is overrated. Who needs it? Do you know how much you could accomplish while all those idiots out there are asleep? You could be first in your class, you could write 20 novels, you could polish your furniture–which I notice you’ve never before considered. And, after all, it’s true that with sleep come dreams. Sometimes when I wake up I look in the mirror and expect to see a girl of 16, and I’m shocked by the stranger looking back at me.

Women can do anything men can do and more, but is this any reason to tell men the true story? Let them think what they think. Do they believe the proper use of a screwdriver means a higher intelligence level? Fine, if they do, let them. Good luck to them. When you have a baby you will know a secret that no man can ever know. You may forget it later, but for a little while you will know that within yourself you hold another’s life. This puts the ability to use a screwdriver in its proper place: nowhere. Unless you’ve got furniture you need to put together.

If you ever lose a child, the way I did, then you’ll know the other side of the truth. You’ll understand what it means to be destroyed and still get up every day and fill the kettle with water. You will see steam from the kettle and weep. Insist nothing is wrong. A piece of dirt flew up and lodged beneath your eyelid. That’s all. On the street, tears will fall onto the sidewalk and fill up your shoes. Say the sun is in your eye. Maybe you have pinkeye. If you show your grief, it won’t go away. If you keep it secret, it won’t go away. It is with you forever and ever, but there may be an hour when you don’t remember. An evening when the sky is blue as ink. An afternoon when your daughter runs after a cricket she will never catch. Whisper your baby’s name. Then be quiet. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the name said back to you every time you close your eyes.

Adapted from Connecting: Twenty Prominent Authors Write About the Relationships That Shape Our Lives (Tarcher/Putnam, 1998).

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