I went to the Asian supermarket with my mom last week. It’s called Han Ah Reum. My mom likes to go there for the hard-to-find ethnic vegetables she uses in her Indian cooking, and I like to go there for the fresh produce that is so competitively priced that it would make Safeway’s prices blush. Ninety-nine cents on the pound for juicy, plump, vine-ripened tomatoes? Don’t mind if I do. I go there for the produce and the dumplings. I like the dumplings.
Anyways, last week as my mom was filling bags upon bags of tomatoes, I saw a middle-aged Asian father wrangling with watermelons. He was– and we’ve all seen this before– attempting to pick the ripest watermelon. He’d hold one in his left hand, tap it gently three times with his right knuckles, and hold it to his ear, listening most intently.
I have no idea what he was doing.
I don’t think he knew either.
My mother does the same thing with pineapples– not the tapping, but she’ll smell them diligently, and then aggressively push them toward my nose, asking me what I think. What do I think? I think it’s a goddamn pineapple. And I don’t even think you can smell uncut pineapples, much less guess how sweet it will taste.
And my mother has proven on many occasions the futility of her various fruit-picking methods by bringing home unsightly specimens: fruit that’s rotting on the inside, too sour, unripe, overripe, and what have you. I’d venture to say that the Asian father at Han Ah Reum had about just as good of a track record.
And yet we keep trying. Smelling, poking, prodding, tapping, and listening.
We do the same thing in life. Faced with a dilemma– say, how to pick a romantic partner– we invent our own sets of completely arbitrary tests and rules, hoping this will somehow produce the desired result: a perfectly ripe relationship. Maybe if you’re attractive you’ll be sweet on the inside? Nope, wrong. Maybe if I snap my fingers and click my heels three times I can mold you into the person I want you to be? Hell no. Does that ever work with vegetables? Pick a moldy potato and trying yelling at it and pleading with it. See how long it takes to turn into a nice, plump squash.
As with produce, it’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly what you’re getting until you cut the thing open. But rather than creating nonsensical methods of elimination, we can simply pay more attention signs that DO actually correlate with how the food tastes. If it’s too soft to the touch, it’s probably rotting on the inside. If it’s bruised, it might not taste as good. If it’s too tough, it may benefit from some time alone on the counter to ripen. If it gives just a little but not too much, this may be the one you’re looking for.
And the same goes with people. Once we drop all the distractions, we can focus on what really matters. Does he/she have a strong need to be right? Maybe pass this one along. Is he/she a little rough around the edges? We could focus on changing OUR behavior, and just seeing what happens. He/she listens to what you say, is eager to learn more, and has no trouble admitting to mistakes? Hey, maybe don’t leave this one at the supermarket.