I have mixed feelings about the avocado.
Because I teach fiction writing to beginners, I have a professorial dislike of the phrase “mixed feelings”—it’s hazy and rather flippant, often used in undergraduate writing to mean anything from being in love to contempt, and is aligned in popularity with other unlikeable words and phrases such as “relatable,” “smirked” to mean smile, “defiantly” to mean definitely, and “little did she know.”
Yet I have mixed feelings about avocados. Avocados come from an evergreen tree—the family Lauracea—and the fruit itself can be three to ten inches long, oblong, round or pear-shaped, and the skin may vary in texture from smooth to pebbled and in color from black to green. By any standards this is a mixed bag of traits which is already well on its way to producing mixed feelings.
The buttery, smooth taste of the avocado is exquisite. When I hear someone describe a food as “rich” I think of the avocado. On a salad or a sandwich, the avocado moves the eating experience from mediocre to interesting, from perfunctory to attentive. I would love, some summer day, to take an avocado mud bath, all avocado, no mud. And fresh guacamole is as delightful as a sudden tight embrace from a friend. The piquancy. The recollection of a history of good times. The sheer exuberance of it.
Over time I have become a master at hefting an avocado to determine its ripeness. One always stands four-square in front of a stack of avocados in a store. They dislike stacking and will leap to the floor easily, so it might be necessary to lunge to their rescue. They are a physical fruit in more ways than one. There’s an obvious connection to love-making here—the way one squeezes but doesn’t grasp at the fruit in loutish haste, the way one proceeds apace from fruit to fruit, squeezing here and there, the mind disengaged, the body all alertness. There’s a distinct pleasure in the physicality of this selection process, copping feels in search of the perfect avocado. I, for one, let out a sigh when I finally find it.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a six second period of time that moves the avocado from superb fruit to brown-speckled, slightly soft, slightly watery, and definitely (defiantly) nauseating refuse. The trouble is one never knows when the six seconds might occur. Sometimes my salad with avocado is perfect twenty minutes after its creation; sometimes I can hardly finish making the salad before the avocado has all the consistency and much of the appearance of bird droppings. Once I froze a slice of avocado to see if this was perhaps a work-around. I don’t recommend it. After the six second transformation, the thing is a new thing, a much worse thing—in some ways the fruit equivalent of an evil thing.
In the end I think we must put the avocado in a special category. I believe that category is: Romance. There’s a come-hither quality to finding the perfect ripeness. There is a titillation of the appetite when eating that seems to go beyond taste and texture, the parts greater than the whole. There is a sense of triumph when your avocado is discovered among so many others. It is, for a while at least, richly rewarding to the successful suitor.
But there is the darker side of things. In my own romantic experience one can be seduced by a pretty face and firm flesh only to find there is more seed and rind than fruit; promise and potential can unfold eventually into studied carefulness, or worse, secret bitterness; and there can be wrenching change between first touch and last.
About all of my personal romances, I also have mixed feelings. On the other hand, I don’t regret a single one. I think we must all be optimists of some kind, for living a life seems grueling without avocado, without romance. Perhaps mixed feelings should be honored for what they are: our hearts looking for what’s next in the stack, though we have been disappointed before and will again; everything in our emotional architecture, good or ill, defiantly wagered on the touch of a moment; everything we desire pulling us forward in spite of the long, long odds against perfection.