LET ME BEGIN by saying that I am not one of these people who blames his parents for his own screwed-up life.
Oh, you know the type. The type who goes through three boxes of Kleenex explaining to the therapist: "See, doctor, the reason I've been divorced seven times is because my mom made me take ballet lessons when I was 10 even though I was big and fat and had legs the size of bridge piers and looked horrible in leotards and blah, blah, blah."
No. That's not my style. I took those ballet lessons and didn't complain. Sure, it was rough taking all that crap from the other guys in the neighborhood -- you know how cruel kids can be. But I don't blame Mom. She did the best she could.
Having said that, however, it must be noted that there are certain foods I can't even look at because of unpleasant memories of childhood.
Meatloaf is one of them. When I was a kid, it seemed that every other meal my mom put on the table was meatloaf.
Oh, I don't blame her. She did the best she could, although it would have been nice to have chicken or spaghetti or even pork chops occasionally. But that's water over the dam now.
In due time, of course, I grew to hate meatloaf with a passion. But whenever I whined about having to eat the stuff, Mom would give me this look and say: "You know, 40 million starving kids in China would love to have meatloaf."
The thing was, the number of starving kids in China kept changing with Mom.
One time it was 40 million starving kids, the next time it was 70 million, the next time it was 100 million. I knew China was having problems with its economy, but apparently things were a lot worse than I thought.
Whatever the exact number, Mom insisted these Chinese kids would kill for a helping of meatloaf, which I found very hard to believe.
People kill for a lot of reasons, but never once have I seen a police report that read: "Victim was eating meatloaf sandwich, now missing."
Again, I don't blame Mom. She did the best she could, although perhaps a quick call to UNICEF headquarters in New York would have ascertained exactly how many starving Chinese kids we were talking about.
It would have been better than just pulling numbers out of the air, it seems to me. But that's neither here nor there now.
Somehow I survived this strange dietary dependence on meatloaf and grew to adulthood. My loathing for meatloaf lay largely dormant for many years. Then last week I attended a party at which hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and meatloaf were served and all the old memories came flooding back.
Naturally I assumed people would avoid the meatloaf as if it were radioactive. Instead, an amazing thing happened.
People were eating the meatloaf. And talking about the meatloaf. And kicking around their favorite meatloaf recipes. And swapping stories about how much they enjoyed meatloaf as kids.
God, it was frightening. It reminded me of a dental hygienists convention I stumbled into some years back, when just about everyone in this huge ballroom at the Sheraton was talking about flossing.
You'd be standing there and suddenly this perky young woman with a glass of white wine would materialize at your side and begin talking earnestly about the latest improvements in flossing. Then she would hand you a brochure on the history of flossing and a flier on flossing do's and don'ts before the next flossing Moonie appeared at your side.
After about 15 minutes in this place, I realized I'd made a terrible mistake. Taking the stairs two at a time, I fled to my room, where I quickly locked the door and watched a "Charlie's Angels" re-run until sleep came.
Thankfully, the convention was over the next morning, so there was no need to call around for another hotel room.
The point is (getting back to the party) that my feelings for meatloaf haven't changed a bit. I still can't look at the stuff. The thought of eating it still buckles my knees and makes my stomach queasy.
Oh, I don't blame Mom. She did the best she could, even though she could have given us a break once in a while instead of MEATLOAF, MEATLOAF, MEATLOAF UNTIL YOU JUST WANTED TO SCREAM AND DIAL THE JUVENILE AUTHORITIES AND SOB INTO THE PHONE: "START THE ADOPTION PROCEEDINGS, I'M OUTTA HERE!"
Honestly, I don't know what the woman was thinking.