THE ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES – Mike Nagel

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What has frozen yogurt ever done for you that you couldn’t have done for yourself, dairy-free? At these yogurt shops you pay by the ounce. A conflation of weight and worth. How much more valuable is a gummi bear than a fruity pebble? (“Weigh the ashes of Caesar and the town drunk. Find that they weigh the same.”) I try not to think about it. I try not to get clever. I devote myself to simple, obvious combinations. Reece’s Pieces and mini marshmallows. Granola and M&Ms. I stick to the fundamentals. Meanwhile, the kid in front of me is piling a mountain of strawberries on top of a mountain of Swedish Fish. A mixed strawberry metaphor: the thing and the imitation of the thing. I want to ask him if he’s out of his fucking mind. Instead I open my eyes wide and look around the store hoping to implicate some other customer into my awe.

I don’t remember where I heard that line about Caesar and the town drunk. Nothing comes up on Google when I search for it so I must be remembering it wrong. Or maybe I made it up. It’s a good line. It means: when you boil things down, it’s all pretty much the same. (Reader, I was ten years old before I realized there is only one flavor of M&M.)

We are living in one of history’s all-time great frozen yogurt eras. These yogurt-times come and go. The last one was in 1972. Many yogurt historians believe it was largely in response to Watergate. We needed a frozen novelty confection we could TRUST. Like all fads — fear of quicksand, movies with adorable talking animals, writers who address their reader as “reader” — our fro-yo fixation has deep implications re our cultural mien. What I’m trying to tell you is that frozen yogurt has something to do with us. After all the wars that have been fought and legislation that has been signed and passed and protesters who have held up hot pink signs outside of abortion clinics — after Carl Sagan turned Voyager 1 around and snapped a photo of the earth suspended in a sunbeam, instantly shattering everybody’s notion that they/we/anyone was kind of a big deal — after all that, we have arrived at a period of history known primarily for its wide variety of frozen yogurt establishments. They have clever names. Froyo Dojo. Sweet Frog. Yogurt Story. This yogurt’s got a story. Surprise: it’s the Hero’s Journey. “Every story,” the filmmaker tells me — a man largely responsible for the realistic SFX humanoids in the blockbuster film Avatar (the artificial creatures were created by motion-capture: the thing and the imitation of the thing laid on top of each other) — “is the exact same story.”

He was exaggerating, of course. Every story is one of seven. Confirmed on the Wikipedia page “The Seven Basic Plots” for Christopher Booker’s book “The Seven Basic Plots,” which proposes the following as being, pretty much, every story ever told: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. There are those stories, and then there is the one I am telling you now. There is very little need to see another movie, unless you’re curious how realistic the special effects have gotten.

Is our boredom with Hollywood reflected in our mass-market preference of iced-dairy desserts? Fro-yo is about as bland as it gets. Inherently alternative. A reactionary goodie asymptotically approaching the flavor of ice cream: it will always be almost but never quite as good as the real thing. (But does any of this explain my inability to speak to you with a straight face? My love for the imitation over the “real thing”? Think of this piece as brought to you by Haribo. Artificially flavored. I write one-handed. My other arm is behind my back with my fingers crossed.)

On Wednesday afternoon, I go to the fair with CB and IB. A big blue day. Temperatures in the mid-to-low 70s. My weather app tells me that it hasn’t been this cool since April. We are experiencing something. None of us have real jobs so we get there around 2pm along with all the other people who don’t have real jobs. A multitude of alternative laborers.”The sky looks especially far away today,” I say.
“The sky is just colors bouncing off the atmosphere,” IB says. “There is no such thing as the sky.”
We walk around. 277-acres of sugar-glazed, dough-wrapped non-food. The big winner this year is the Deep-Fried Thanksgiving Dinner. CB shows me a picture of it on his phone. It looks like a meatball. It also looks like a lump of shit. “That’s what Thanksgiving dinner looks like if it was boiled down to just one thing,” CB says. And I would be lying to you, reader, if I told you that my mouth didn’t start to water.

We left the fair at 5pm and compressed our bodies onto a train packed with fair-goers and professional commuters. I said: “It’s a quirk of spatial physics that there is no limit to the number of people you can fit onto a light rail train.” Our sugar-coated skin rubbed together, creating tendrils of cotton-candy that floated through the car like cigarette smoke.

Later that night, before J got home from her real job as a 3rd grade English teacher, I put a tray of Totino’s Pizza Rolls in the oven at 400F and swallowed a mouthful of rotgut vodka I keep above the cupboard. Then I stood naked in front of the bookshelf and tried to decide what to read. I stood there for a few minutes, sensitive to inklings and moods. My body decides what it wants my mind to read. And what it wanted my mind to read was The Origin of Species. I slid the book out from under a stack of naval-gazing existential novels. I have the portable edition. The size of a stack of graham crackers, which don’t taste like anything in nature. An imitation without an original. Both artificial and the real McCoy. “It’s time,” I told my dog, “for me to know where we come from.” I laid back on the bed with the book above me. The answer was on page 2.”Should’ve seen that coming,” I said, closing the book and setting it on top of Renata Adler’s Pitch Dark. I walked back into the kitchen where the pizza rolls were starting to hiss. A pneumatic leak. The air smelled like something that tasted like pizza. When J got home (at the end of everything I write, reader, J is always getting home) she pressed her nose into my chest and told me I smelled like shit. Which is, of course, what everything smells like: the smell of everything all at once.

 

 

 

Mike Nagel is an essay writer in Dallas. Find selected nonsense at michaelscottnagel.com or follow him on Twitter @misternagel

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