Life is made up of firsts: first step, first word. First kiss. First pet. First slow dance. First snowfall. First heartbreak. First time you (fill in the blank). It’s largely impossible to categorize those firsts, placing one above another. Sure, you might rate that first heartache well below everything else, but how can you place meeting your love for the first time against the birth of your first child? No can do.
Among my memorable firsts is the first time I tasted kiwi fruit.
I was living in New York City at the time, in Manhattan, in a poor neighborhood right on the edge of the Bronx. (It wasn’t as scary as it sounds, believe me. I had more problems with obnoxious men on the streets of mid-town Manhattan than I ever did riding the subway back and forth from the Bronx. Our neighborhood was poor, but they were mostly friendly and they looked out for one another.)
I’d been living with friends in Queens, but they were a fairly newlywed couple and I felt a bit like a fifth wheel. I’d made a couple of female friends through a writing group and they were looking for a third roommate, so I went in with them. Buzzy and Stookie (okay, yes, obviously not their real names) were Heavy Metal headbangers with an unhealthy fixation on Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS. They were also vegetarians, something I’d never encountered before, and it opened a whole new world to me.
Stookie was chief cook (Buzzy and I the bottle washers) and she produced some amazing meals in the course of the few months I was with them (until I found a place of my own in Brooklyn). I was introduced to the wide pallet of Indian and Asian food, as well as a fine twist on many so-called American dishes. But one afternoon, sitting around talking and listening to music (I think it was Van Halen, back when David Lee Roth was still their front man), Stookie excused herself for a moment and came back with a plate, a knife, and this fuzzy green/brown thing about the size of a hamster.
“What the heck’s that?” I said.
They exchanged a look. “You’ve never eaten kiwi?” Buzzy was incredulous.
With a single deft stroke of the knife, Stookie pared a slice and handed it to me, a circle of jewel-like green studded with tiny black seeds. I stared at it, pondering the risk. See, I’d been tricked like this before. Years earlier, while dining at a Chinese restaurant, a cousin had assured me that wasabi was extremely mild and I should give it a try. (I don’t do hot foods.) Me, being the trusting sort (a situation that came to a rapid end where that particular cousin was concerned), I scooped a healthy gob of the stuff onto one finger and put it in my mouth. A tenth of a second later I dove for the water-glass as my cousin howled with laughter.)
I glanced from Buzzy to Stookie and back again. Same earnest, guileless expression as my cousin. Oh, what the heck. The worst that would happen is that I’d hate it and have to make a run to the bathroom to spit it out. I placed the slice of kiwi in my mouth and bit down.
My taste buds exploded, my saliva glands squeezing with an intense pleasure/pain that was both sweet and tart. The texture was firm, yet pulpy. Not crisp like a pear or apple, not soft like a plum or peach. It was, in short, like nothing I had ever experienced. Buzzy and Stookie laughed at my expression and, in a show of immense generosity, let me consume the entire thing.
Since then, I’ve eaten my share of that scrumptuous fruit. Familiar as I now am with it, I’m always taken half-unaware by the burst of flavor, the unexpected piquancy. For me, it was (and remains) a first.