Illustrations by Armando Veve
Oh hey, what's in your salad?
Avocado? Chicken? Love it.
Are those white things artichokes? Well, shoot. I'd be all over that salad if it weren't for those 'chokes.
I haven't touched a 'choke in 20 years.
You're probably wondering why I haven't touched a 'choke in 20 years. It's difficult for me to talk about.
Wanna know why I haven't touched a 'choke in 20 years?
When I was a child I suffered artichoke trauma.
It was September 1995, the first day of sixth grade, and my mom was packing my lunch.
"Shit's changing around here," she said. "You're practically an adult, so from now on you'll have to pack your own lunch. I'll be busy fighting with your father in the morning and won't have time to pack it for you."
But I didn't want to.
"Pah-lease pack my lunch," I said.
"Fine, I'll keep packing that shit. But you have to realize that some mornings I'll be too busy arguing with your father to pack a good, nutritious lunch. You'll have to eat whatever I pack."
I said that was fine. Big mistake.
The first two weeks of school my lunches were great: ham sammies, chips, juice—the juice I liked—all that good stuff. There must have been ten nutritious lunches in a row.
But one day I opened my bag and found a can of Diet Rite and one celery stick with margarine. That is not a nutritious lunch.
My friends laughed at me and called me poor. They laughed so hard the teacher's aide came over and told them to hush up.
The next day my lunch was worse: another Diet Rite (this time it was half-empty, with Saran wrap covering the top) and a stick of Fruit Stripe gum. Now, Fruit Stripe is a fine gum. For 20 seconds maybe! Once its flavor ran out I was very bummed. I was so bummed that the teacher's aide came over and asked what the matter was. I said nothing was wrong.
That night I was like, "Mom, what's up with these lunches? A half-empty Diet Rite? Fruit Stripe?"
"Listen: Lately I've been very busy fighting with your father in the morning and haven't had time to pack nutritious lunches. You're welcome to pack your own." I was like, nah, no thanks.
Next day in the cafeteria I opened my bag to discover a raw artichoke. That's it, one 'choke. And it wasn't even plump. Maybe at one time the 'choke was plump but had withered, or maybe it was withered all along and had never plumped on the vine or tree branch or whatever 'chokes grow on, but at the time I didn't know how to tell plump 'chokes from withered 'chokes, and I still don't know, so we'll never know whether it was always withered or not.
Still, one raw 'choke, withered or plump, is not a nutritious lunch. I was bewildered, and I was bummed. My friends laughed and called me Artichoke Boy. They made such a ruckus that the teacher's aide came over.
"What's the deal?" she said.
"My mom packed me a raw artichoke for lunch, and they're making fun of me. But it's OK—I deserve it. I should start packing my own lunches because I'm practically an adult now."
"Come with me," she said. "I'll get you some nutrition."
She led me into her office and told me to lock the door, and I did. She opened a desk drawer and pulled out a Snickers bar, a bowl of hummus, and pita bread. "Eat, eat. You're skin and bones."
She took off her sweater, and her V-neck tee revealed very much. She touched my cheek and said, "Mmm, is that stubble?"
"Yes, I'm practically an adult now."
She poured me a glass of Scotch. "Drink this," she said. "It'll put more hair on your face."
She put her hand down my shirt and tickled my back. "You might even get some hair on your back. Maybe your neck too. That would be fine with me. I like a man who has hair to spare. Don't get hair on your shoulders or hands, though. I wouldn't like that."
"OK, I won't."
"My husband... ugh, he hardly has any hair. That's why I call him the Porpoise. No hair, no principles, no money. That's my Lionel. Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Are there any girls at school you like?"
"That's good. Girls will mess with your brain. Only a grown woman can set you free."
She had a shot of Scotch and took off her shirt.
"I may only be a teacher's aide, and not a real teacher, but I can still teach you boys a thing or two about nutrition."
And that's how I lost my virginity.