“Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.”
Take my grandmother Caulfield and her obsession with baking cookies for example. Every time we visited her house she’d have baked hundreds upon hundreds of cookies. She must have gone through a hundredweight sack of flour. They always had some sort of nut pressed into the top of them, and I was allergic to nuts. Mother said it was something to do with having grown up in the Depression, but that’s a lousy excuse if you ask me.
Those visits were torture, really. Children shouldn’t have to be made to do it. You have to wear a shirt and tie and brush your hair and sit in the back of a car with a paper bag in case you get carsick. Then once you get there your whole head gets kissed and your cheeks get pinched. What’s with pinching a child’s cheeks? What are they trying to find out? They always say you’ve grown, which is pretty damn obvious. Then they ask you about school and there’s absolutely nothing new to add, as far as I’m concerned, to that particular story. Being questioned about school is worse than actually being in school.
And then there’s the milk. Grandma always puts out a pitcher of milk before we arrive and by the time you are expected to eat all those cookies it’s been sitting out for hours and has come to room temperature. If you don’t drink the milk they start thinking something’s wrong with you and you get to hear all about how they didn’t have milk during the Depression or a pot to piss in and blah blah blah as if that means I have to drink all the milk in the world now. And if you do drink it, you vomit on the rug.
The thing to do — and this is my best advice, so listen up if you want to learn anything from my lousy example — is just to stand there, holding a cookie in your hand as if you intend to eat it, and stare at the plate pensively, as if you appreciate all the hard work and sacrifice that went in to doing so much baking. You don’t have to be actually thinking that of course — I think about baseball stats or what phonies my parents are for going along with this charade and how famous I’m going to become one day by writing all about it — and by the time your thoughtfulness has been noticed, you can put the cookie back and go throw a football around in the yard.
Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery Vol 3., Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1966