Having arrived at age 50, I am striving for a degree of self-knowledge that might be called true wisdom. Yes, there is much to be learned from books and teachers, but I believe that the Greeks were right: a man who does not know himself, no matter what else he knows, is woefully ignorant.
The self-knowledge that I desire is, in the main, the knowledge of my own humanness, particularly the contours of my character, the weaknesses of my morality and, most of all, the temptations of my own sinful depravity. Prominent in that self-knowledge are those things which, when presented to me, hold unusual power over me; those particular temptations of the flesh and the senses that draw me ever deeper into the darkness.
The inventory of those things that I have great difficulty resisting has grown over the years.
For instance, it is virtually impossible for me to pass by a new biography of Shakespeare. If my childrenâ€™s shoe money were all I had in my wallet, I would spend it on yet another volume telling me the same facts about the Bard that my other 12 Shakespeare biographies have told me.
Or, being seasonal, anything remotely relating to a performance of Dickens’ Christmas Carol draws me like a moth to the flame. I have found it possible to resist the musical bastardizations of Christmas Carol that appear on TBN; awkwardly large religious dramas with a singing Scrooge destined to pray the prayer at the end of the “Four Spiritual Laws” and join the local charismatic church. These productions hold no power over me at all, but show me a bad high school production or a community theater with no one who can act or sing and I am in the front row singing and weeping.
Many of these weaknesses and addictions are related to a greater necessity and source of vice: food. Yes, we must eat. But Americans have developed an entire academy of sins surrounding what we want to eat. We are gluttons, this is true. We are also, some of us, potential terrorists over the right cuisine. There are foods that I simply cannot resist; foods that transform me into something from a bad horror movie. To see them, to know they are in the area, is to lust after them, acquire them and eat them. There is little question this will happen; only a question of what will be sacrificed in the process.
I ought to say that there are stadiums full of food that I do not care for at all. We have very little junk food in the house and we rarely go out to eat- perhaps 2 or 3 times a month. I know what it is like to live at peace with the temptations of the appetite, but I also know where the edge of sanity lies and what is on the other side.
Now the list of foods that have a strange power over me is long. The list of foods that simply-must-be-eaten is small. The list of foods over which I would endanger life, reputation and family is exceedingly short.
On the first list- Strange Power Over Me Foods- are pizza rolls, Ruffles chips and dip, Domino’s thin crust pizza, Penn Station Italian Subs and any well prepared Reuben. Ball park food has obvious appeal, but an Italian sausage properly prepared is a religious experience.
The second list is more formidable. These are foods that can cause me to take strange exits, stop driving and spend money intended for other more noble purposes. These are foods I will buy and not share, even with the hungry and the poor.
In the category of Simply-Must-Be-Eaten Foods, for example, is the T.J. Cinnamon’s cinnamon roll.
When I was a child, my mother made cinnamon rolls one Christmas, and but the pan of rolls on a furnace that was in the floor of our house. The aroma filled the house, and the scent, texture and taste of those rolls is permanently impressed in my brain along with thoughts of Christmas, family, mother and childhood. You see, I can be controlled. All you need is this.
Also in this category is a small vanilla version of an Oreo that, fortunately for all, is no longer manufactured. Placed into milk, a chemical-spiritual miracle takes place and I am reduced to the level of a crack addict. Imitations are available, but none seem to contain the magic power that would cause me to spend my retirement fund on cookies.
But there is a third, much smaller, category containing foods over which I have no ability to reason or resist. Should you wish to make a fool out of me, these are the foods that will facilitate the process. If you want to see a grown man reduced to the level of pure lust, this is the formula. If you want to frighten your children with visions of pure addiction, simply bring them over and set one of these foods before me. Just don’t put it in their hands or things could get ugly.
In this third category of food temptations beyond all reason is egg nog.
Yes, egg nog, that heavenly concoction that appears in the holiday seasons and lays claim on the minds, desires and appetites of those of us who have, after ten months, achieved some balance, sanity and clarity in life. It is entirely possible that one day, Denise will come home and there I will be in the kitchen, propped up in the corner, dead, surrounded by a dozen empty egg nog cartons. Pity me not. It will not have been an unpleasant end, I assure you.
Now I must quickly clarify that by egg nog I do not mean some milky sweet medium for the consumption of various kinds of hard liquor. Denise’s dear grandmother Lottie would end the family Christmas Eve dinner with a concoction that looked like egg nog, but which tasted, at least to my untrained Baptist palate, like gasoline. She would laugh with glee at this horror, and I would wonder how anyone could ruin the nectar of the gods.
In a review of egg nog in New York magazine, the author indulged in descriptions that approach the kind of religious devotion I feel toward egg nog. Here are some of the descriptions from the reviews:
[name] seasonal nog is superb: like French vanilla ice cream in a cup. Just the right thickness, with flecks of nutmeg. Very sweet, but not artificial-tasting.
There are thicker brands out there, but for the most part Axelrod gets the consistency right. Somewhat milky, extremely sweet, with caramel and butterscotch accents. Like drinking liquid candy — but tasty nonetheless.
The hands-down champ: extremely thick and frothy, just-right off-white coloration, flavor that’s sweet but not too. All-natural, and it indeed tastes absolutely farm fresh. Only available for two months of the year, but sold everywhere during that period. More expensive than the other brands ($7.99 at Balducci’s!), but worth it.
This is poetry.
We buy a large bottle of egg nog and set it in the refrigerator. The plan is for this bottle to be consumed in small glasses after meals, as a treat for the entire family. Then Denise goes to the refrigerator.
“What happened to the egg nog?”
Silly woman. Some questions are simply beyond the mind of limited human beings. There are mysteries at the heart of the universe. The unknown is always with us.
Of course, that’s not the case here. I just drank it all.
Denise imagines that egg nog is meant to be “cut” with milk. She is unable to comprehend the ingestion of pure egg nog as a beverage. Like a teetotaler suggesting the bourbon be diluted with lesser substances, she simply doesn’t understand that in the higher levels of addiction, it is blasphemy to dilute sin with any amount of righteousness. Let us have our sin straight. In a tall glass. Oh just give me the bottle.
Back in the day, we used to have a dairy called “Velvet Milk.” The Velvet Milkman would bring these big glass gallon jugs of milk to your door, take your empties, and come back as often as you asked. Included in this service, during the holidays, were big glass gallon jugs of egg nog, brought to your door every day.
Now this would be a reasonable service for a family like ours. It is true that we have little money these days, and Christmas will be modest. There are few presents under the tree and we are planning on being apologetic for the gifts we’ve purchased for others. Still, if the milkman would bring a gallon- or several- of egg nog to the house every day I believe we could make a sacrifice or two. Heat. Electricity. Cable. Phone. Shoes.
I should bring this post to a conclusion. God only knows what Phil and Frank will do with this. I’m close to waxing eloquent on visions of falling into a vat of egg nog or being hooked to an egg nog drip during the night. Or maybe I could buy one of these, specially altered for gallon jugs.
A man should know his own soul. I admit that I could become the Dr. Faustus of egg nog. I would appreciate your prayers.
Now, if you will excuse me, I hear something in the refrigerator calling my name.