Wicked things I did as a child
The next three blogs showcase wicked things children do. None of these stories, all culled from friends, were meant to hurt another. Rather, they illustrated the clever ways kids survive the challenges of their youth. Marguerite Thomas, one of my favorite writers, kicks off this series. Her story is from a book she is writing called Dance Me / My Twentieth Century. In the book Marguerite talks about her grandfather and father’s careers in the film industry as well as her youth in Hollywood and Europe. The subtheme was how her father managed to continue to work even when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
This particular “wicked” story takes place at a Hollywood boarding school, one of the many (23 in total!) schools Marguerite attended while growing up. Read how, at age six, she triumphed over liver.
Needless to say, I was never invited back to the big girls’ dorm, but orange peels were the least of my gastronomic problems at this school, where the bland institutional fare turned my already finicky taste buds into full-blown food phobias. There were strict rules about finishing everything on one’s plate, but as this establishment wasn’t in the business of catering to fussy eaters I spent many lonely hours sitting by myself at the dining table, staring sullenly at the uneaten food in front of me long after the other kids had gone out to play. Don’t ask me how a child who managed to swallow raw orange peels without complaining could gag on a cooked carrot, shriek at the sight of chicken skin, or burst into tears if a forkful of spinach came within her range of vision.
As it turned out, since even I couldn’t indulge in this contrarian behavior indefinitely, some part of me finally decided to make the best of the disagreeable situation. I was surely one of many kids in the dining hall who came up with the clever idea of washing small morsels of un-chewed food down her gullet with gulps of milk, but I raised that basic technique to a fine art. Sadly, this gastronomic subterfuge could not save me on Thursday evenings, when calf’s liver was on the menu. I know I wasn’t the only child with an aversion to liver, but I was probably the most noncompliant little girl in that dining hall. The meat’s metallic odor made my stomach churn, its flavors made my eyes water, and the texture made me gag. Even with the help of a guzzle of milk, even when I held my nose and squeezed my eyes shut—even with all that I still couldn’t make the tiniest sliver of the terrible liver slide down my throat. I was inevitably caught when I discreetly tried dropping pieces of it under the table, or hiding chunks under my plate, or wrapping it in my napkin. Defeated every Thursday night, the best I could do was sob, gasp, grab at my throat and beg for mercy, until, finally, I’d be sent to bed.
Eventually, desperation led to inspiration. Forking a small piece of liver into my mouth, I’d use my tongue to tuck it safely inside one of my cheeks, then proceed to make chewing motions until the supervising teacher’s bored gaze wandered off to settle on some other potential miscreant. The moment she looked away I’d slip the liver out of my mouth and deftly slide it into one of my shoes. The entire charade was repeated bit by little bit until my plate was empty and my shoes were filled with soggy chunks of liver. As soon as we were excused from the table at the end of the meal I’d walk squishily from the dining hall to the bathroom, where I’d empty my shoes in the toilet, flushing away the evidence. As Monty Python’s Eric Idle once pointed out, boarding school is an excellent training ground for criminal activity.