One of many problems Marjorie has had in life is poor banana
management. She has always purchased too many bananas and half of them rot on
her kitchen table before she can eat them. Only fruit flies in summer prompt
her to throw the rotten ones out. But since she hates to throw anything away,
there are bananas, in different places, all over the house.
This is not the kind of problem a renowned artist like Marjorie
should have. Not only are her paintings on display at major modern art museums
but she also holds a doctorate with high honors in philosophy from Yale. She is
an accomplished woman, still attractive despite the passing years, the kind of
woman a distinguished widower might turn to for companionship after a graceful
mourning period had been observed.
Banana management, however, is not Marjorie's only problem in
the real world, as she calls life outside her studio and classroom. Marjorie
also has a problem putting gas in her car. Putting the hose in the tank evokes
thoughts of rape, even though she herself has never come close to being raped.
After many years Marjorie knows certain things are too much for
her. Banana management and filling gas tanks are but a few of the many things
she fears. These things, however, continue to grow in number and threaten her
mental and emotional balance in a serious way.
She knows she needs professional help but has yet to pick a
therapist to consult. In a small university town, everyone knows everyone.
Marjorie is a respected woman as indeed she deserves to be. No one, except for
me, has any notion of her problem.
I know about the problem because she explained it to me at great
length one day in the break room. We have been teaching at the same small but
prestigious university for many years. Although in different disciplines, we
know something about each other's work and often talk about our experiences,
both good and bad.
As a zoologist, I work with hamsters, and for the last decade
that work has been rewarding but at the same time very frustrating and I have
shared my frustrations with Marjorie many times. She is a good listener.
She knows that hamsters do well on a treadmill but otherwise
there's no predicting what they may do. And there's no shortage of them,
either, in my laboratory. I have cages and cages of them. They reproduce almost
as fast as the rabbits I worked with in preparing my dissertation.
I am no longer involved with rabbits, however, since losing my
position at another university when an animal shelter came to my laboratory and
took my rabbits away. Hamsters have been the focus of my research since
finishing my doctorate. So far no one has called an animal shelter to check on
my hamsters but the cost of food alone is killing me.
With regard to Marjorie, however, I suppose one reason she took
me into her confidence is that decades ago we had courted and even talked of
marriage. No wedding came to pass, however. Marjorie never married and I
married someone else a few years later. Marjorie didn't seem to mind.
I listened carefully to everything Marjorie had to say that day
in the break room. I knew about her banana management problem but her gas tank
situation was new to me. After bringing her up to date on my hamster research,
I thought it might help if I told Marjorie that Pablo Picasso once said "there
is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can
remove all traces of reality."
I suggested to Marjorie that Picasso's idea, properly applied,
might help her adjust to things in the real world. I suggested that she reverse
his approach and deal with things first in the abstract--as a philosopher to
get to the essence of things that bother her. And then as an artist she might
commit those same things to canvas in a way she would not find intimidating.
The process might help her, I said, come to grips with things as they are and
not as she now found them to be. Perhaps she could remove the terror involved
in throwing out rotten bananas.
For example, she might start with green bananas, first in the
abstract and then on canvas, and then graduate to bananas rotting on her
kitchen table. I did not tell her, however, that decades ago when we were
talking about marriage the reason I backed out was her ineptitude in banana
management. Dinner at her house was intolerable immersed as I found myself in
the stench of bananas in various stages of decay.
I did not tell her either that the woman I married has never
once in 40 years let a banana rot in our home. I had told my wife-to-be before
we got married that if she wanted to buy bananas, good for her, but not to
expect me to provide any help in eating them. I also told her that if I ever
saw a banana rotting anywhere in our house I would leave her for another woman,
one with no history of eating bananas.
I have had a wonderful marriage. This underscores for me the
importance of good banana management in any marriage. Of course, from my point
of view, the best banana management is no bananas.
After our talk in the break room, I told Marjorie that if I
could be of any help in the future in resolving her difficulties not to
hesitate to call on me. After all, she once adopted several of my older
hamsters and gave them a home even though I told her they had no history of
I simply wanted to return the favor and listen to whatever else
Marjorie might want to say. After all we have been through together, I might
have some insight, however serendipitous, into the problems she is living with
on a daily basis. I was there at the start, I reminded her, when the bananas
first became a problem.
Marjorie thanked me for my kindness in listening and then asked
if I could give her a lift home. She had run out of gas. Her car would be fine
in the faculty parking lot, she said, and she would call the auto club tomorrow
to bring another can of gas.
In the meantime, she said it might be nice to make a big bowl of
banana pudding. She admitted she always has a taste for banana pudding but
usually forgets to make it in time. I said that might be a good idea but
politely declined her kind offer to make an extra bowl for me.