I used to tell people the simple truth: that I just don’t like mint. The ensuing conversation was never simple.
“What? Wait—you mean, like, mint, like the leaf?”
“How can you not like mint?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t like it in food. It always tastes wrong.”
“Now, wait a minute here. You’re saying that…”
Inevitably, they would work their way to toothpaste, and they’d have me there. Of course I like mint in toothpaste. I’m not a caveman. But toothpaste is not food. I’m not arguing with the flavor. It’s very refreshing. I wouldn’t have my gum/Altoids/menthols/toothpaste any other way. I just don’t want it mixed in with my chicken. Chicken shouldn’t ever refresh me.
Conversations like this usually spring from the classic Thursday-night-let’s-get-dinner-out discussion, where Thai food is apparently now a must for consideration in any cosmopolitan setting. I say, “No thanks. I don’t really like it,” to blank, confused faces. I explain it is mostly because of the mint. They are baffled and actually upset with me. They want to spend ten minutes trying to unearth some tragic memory locked deep in my psyche, some wretched beginning to my hatred of their fair leaf. Was it an accident in the mint factory, Tommy? Did you have an uncle with especially fresh breath?
I imagine it’s the same way I react when I learn someone doesn’t like avocado. It’s like they just told me they don’t much care for pillows. It’s not that it’s bad or that I feel sorry for them. It just isn’t possible. If Human, then love of pillows and avocado…ergo….”What the shit is your problem?”
Saying I’m allergic to something implies everything that isn’t true, but should be, with regards to things I don’t particularly like. First off, it might kill me. So right off the bat, it gets rid of the whole “Well, maybe you just haven’t had it done right…because I know this perfect little place on 16th…” Sorry buddy: death. Nobody can say a thing. It’s unarguable. Allergic says, “Fuck you, I’m handicapped, and I’ll thank you never to bring it up again.”
Which brings up the second thing it does: it disallows curiosity. A person can’t ask too many questions about an allergy; it’s not polite. All they can do is lower their eyes, shift on their feet, and smile the biggest smile of definitely-not-pitying-you they can muster while thinking, Poor bastard. Part of his body just doesn’t work. You might be thinking that pity is harder to ingest than mint but, believe me, I’ve tried both, and I take pity every time.
Besides pity, there is an air of strength in having an alleged allergy. “Look how brave he is, Barbara,” is just the sort of conversation I imagine my friends having after I tell them about my allergy (assuming anyone I know in this day and age is named Barbara). It says: I’ve overcome my burdens. I am surviving, despite my sad, sheltered, Thai-less existence.
Then the days come when I just don’t mind and I give up on all the protesting, on the whole allergy farce. I concede the mint. I just go for it, because: why should I always get my way? It’s important to try things again, even things you know you really don’t like, if for no other reason than to practice tolerance. We sit happily in the restaurant, my friends and I, and it really is a pleasure seeing how excited they are for the food. The last course arrives, and I’m really proud of myself for letting down my guard. The meal is actually quite lovely. Then I see it:
“Wait a second. Is this fucking fruit in my salad?”