I don’t like calamari. It’s not a big deal, but it’s emphatic. I really don’t like the stuff. It’s rubbery and unpleasant in the mouth and it tastes like dead fish. So I don’t like calamari.
I’m surrounded by people who loooove calamari so I can’t figure out why I don’t. And every five or 10 years I lose some of my sense and figure: What the heck — it can’t be that bad. Everyone else loves it, and I love all these other things that they love. Even difficult things. Like roasted brussels sprouts. So I’ll try it. Um, no. It’s always a total, damned-near-to-gagging-at-the-table (my grandmother would be appalled by my manners) failure. Some things are just not meant to be liked by me.
It’s not that I spend a lot of time thinking about my hatred of calamari. In fact I would say that I spend more time thinking about toothpaste or shoelaces than calamari. It only comes into my consciousness at all when I pass it by on the appetizers section of the menu at the Italian place in town. You know going through the appetizers… Antipasto plate — no, too much; bruschetta — maybe; calamari — ugh, No; bread sticks and fruity olive oil — yeah, that’s what I’m in the mood for.
On the other hand I can dislike olives without the drama. No, I don’t like olives. But my dislike of olives is just a basic “I’d rather not but it won’t kill me if there are some in the salad.” I’ll pick out the ones I can see and leave them on the side of the plate but if I accidentally get one on my fork and into my mouth then it’s not great trauma, I just won’t like that bite of salad as much as the one before or the one after — unless of course I’m being particularly hapless and both of those also contain an olive. Okay, there’a certain level of suspense in the olive thing, but not real drama.
Calamari involves drama. An unsuspected bite of calamari is absolutely revolting. That texture first and then the taste of bilge water. (Yeah, I do know what bilge water tastes like, and yeah, I do think that calamari carries with it not only the taste of stagnant sea water but a hint of kerosene.) There’s an actual catch in my stomach and a little hint of a flip — a threat, if you will, that any further attempts to inflict calamari on the system will result in open revolt.
There’s something shameful in not liking calamari, it’s like not liking oysters. Calamari, like oysters, are grown up food. Marks of having made it out of childhood food preferences and taboos. Being willing to eat those salty, sea-tasting and rankly slimy delicacies. I’m not an oyster fan either, but somehow I don’t find myself trying oysters every five or 10 years and being revolted back into my senses.
Some people are like olives — the ones I’d just as soon avoid but if they end up in the same conversational group at a party it’s not big deal. I won’t walk away or sulk and I don’t particularly wonder how it is that anyone else could like that person. They’re just not my taste. Live and let live.
No matter how much my friends and family are always going on on about them — “Joe is so funny.” “Lucy is so sweet and a great cook!” Joe and Lucy just aren’t going to be on my list of people I want to spend time with. Joe is an egotistical blow hard and Lucy is just so damned twee it makes my teeth ache. On the other hand Joe is someone’s favorite uncle and Lucy has never let anyone suffer a bereavement without a good supply of casseroles in their freezer. But they’re like olives. It’s not going to ruin my evening if they happen to cross my path or end up monopolizing a bit of conversation. They’re just olives.
And then there are the calamari people. The ones whom I can’t understand how anyone tolerates, and whose presence I will actually be rude to avoid. There’s Tony who is consistently cruel in the way that only guys who weren’t one of the cool kids then but are now can be. And Joyce whose all-encompassing jealousy poisons even the most casual friendship.
The stupid thing is that for at least one of them I have to go back and remind myself every so many years why I don’t like them. It takes forever to get the taste of kerosene out of my mouth.