When I was a child I used to sometimes watch an after-school cartoon series on the BBC called Bananaman. The absurdist premise of this superhero parody concerned Eric, an ordinary schoolboy who, for reasons unknown, would transform into the titular character each time he ate a banana. I mention this because recently I too have undergone an unexpected transformation of the musa acuminata variety. Yes, I’ve started eating bananas.
I know what you’re thinking: big deal. Perhaps, but not for someone who had hitherto enjoyed his entire life banana-free. For the last thirty-two years I have steadfastly shunned this popular hand-fruit and onetime comedic prop with a vehemence matched only for my distaste for that vile grey fungus otherwise known as the mushroom. Indifferent to the banana’s mild flavor and wary of its unpredictably mushy texture, I had always preferred to play things safe in the fruit department, invariably reaching for a crisp Golden Delicious, or, when in season, a juicy clementine.
Now that I think about it, bananas were pretty big in the eighties. In addition to Bananaman there was also the chart-topping girl group Bananarama, while inflatable bananas were a popular accessory among British soccer fans. But none of this was enough for me to start eating them. My father and I share many common tastes, though when I was young bananas weren’t one of them. I used to watch him slice a banana onto his muesli in the morning, or add them to peanut butter and toast as a late-night snack. When he offered me some I would turn my nose up in staunch refusal. Parents are often reluctant to accept that their child might not like a certain food, and mine still persist in trying to feed me things they’ve never seen me eat. Now I know why.
I can’t pinpoint with any certainty the moment my attitudes towards bananas changed, but it must have been sometime last summer. Thanks to her experience in Cuba, my wife had already introduced me to the undeniable pleasures of fried plantains (the banana’s feisty Caribbean cousin), and I’d enjoyed eating amarillas in San Juan and tostones at Casa Adela on Avenue C. When I worked at MoMA, my penchant for banana bread from Remi To Go had earned me mockery from colleagues. I’d also opted for banana flavored post-workout protein shakes. Meanwhile, in an attempt to save money on wildly overpriced cereal I’d begun purchasing oats, flakes, nuts and dried fruit in bulk from the health food store on West 13th Street and mixing them at home. My customized muesli was an instant hit (I also drew both internal satisfaction and amusement from the fact that I’d awoken my long dormant inner bohemian).
One bright morning I was preparing my breakfast when I saw a bunch of bananas sitting in the fruit bowl, at which point something must have come over me. It was almost like I was no longer in control of my own body, because before I knew it I’d taken a banana from the bunch, peeled and sliced the whole thing into my cereal bowl. I then ate the entire contents without trepidation. A sense of rare achievement washed over me. The next thing I knew I was buying Chiquitas by the bunch at the supermarket. At first I cut them into narrow slices, so as not to risk eating too much at once, but soon this irrationality subsided, and I began chopping at the flesh haphazardly with one hand while the other tended to the simmering coffee pot.
This routine continued for a couple of weeks until one morning, half out the door, I became compelled to take a snack to work. I scanned the kitchen and immediately went for a yellow banana. Once outside, I broke the skin (with some difficulty at first), peeled it back slowly and took a bite. That strange unique texture that had repelled me as a child was no longer unpleasant to my grown-up tongue. I took another bite. Then another. I reached the end of the block and saw I was holding an empty banana skin. Tossing it into the trash can I bounded down the street with new purpose. Suddenly anything seemed possible.
Almost overnight, bananas became my snack of choice. I even called my dad to tell him the exciting news. I began eating them more often than any other fruit, in the mid-morning with coffee, or as an instant potassium boost before hitting the gym. Bananas have superficial qualities too: they make a great desk accessory and I honestly believe you automatically look cooler when eating one. Thanks to my meandering walks home from work I have memorized the locations of a dozen fruit stands, where a dollar buys you between three and five bananas depending on the day (or maybe on the weather). I have discovered that even by fruit’s lousy standards bananas have a spectacularly short shelf-life. Personally I like to let them ripen until they’re on the cusp of collapsing into your mouth.
My only regret is that it didn’t happen sooner. So why now? It’s perhaps no surprise that my new-found love for bananas coincided with a long period of severe professional frustration and personal depression, which left me seeking new experiences in places I’d often overlooked. I was like George Costanza in “The Opposite”, consciously ignoring every instinct I’d ever had in a desperate attempt to better my life and improve my situation. And it really worked.
As adults, there often comes a point where we develop a tendency to accept that we are a certain way, and of a type or mind from which we cannot deviate. It’s a common mechanism for dismissing the unknown from our experience, but with it we risk sliding into predictability. The feel-good moral to this story (besides the one about parents always being right) is that it’s never too late to change who we are or who we want to become. And there’s perhaps no sensation more terrifying or thrilling than the realization that we don’t know ourselves half as well as we think we do. I still don’t like mushrooms though.