"You aren't eating your asparagus," my wife said the other evening at dinner.
"I don't like vegetables," I said.
She put down her fork and looked at me as if I had just confessed that I was a serial killer.
"You don't like vegetables?" she asked incredulously.
"I have never liked vegetables," I said.
As long as I had come out with it, I thought, I might as well go all the way.
"How come," she asked evenly, "you have never mentioned it in 40 years?"
"Closer to 47," I said.
"How about artichokes?" she asked. "Don't you like artichokes?"
Of all vegetables, I hate artichokes the most. I confessed it. In the first place, I pointed out, eating them is an ordeal. One must peel the leaves off one by one, making sure not to get pricked on a fingertip by the spines, then dip them in the melted butter and scrape them off the leaf by pulling them through one's clenched teeth. In that process one creates an enormous heap of discarded leaves, which must either be dropped onto one's plate or into a bowl especially provided for that purpose.
"It's tedious," I pointed out. "Also, there's something primitive and ritualistic about it."
And then when you get down to the heart, you have to gouge out all those terrible little spears, which, I have no doubt, it would be fatal to consume.
I knew I was wounding her. Artichokes are among her favorite vegetables, and she loves all vegetables. She would be very happy as a vegetarian.
"Well," she said, "I can't believe it--that in all these years you've never said anything."
"It just never came up," I explained weakly.
"I thought you liked beans."
I admitted, with enthusiasm, that I liked beans--especially refried beans.
"How about potatoes? Don't you like potatoes?"
I could also say that I liked potatoes. Especially hash brown, or baked, with butter.
"What about green beans?"
I had to be honest. "I hate green beans," I confessed.
"Why didn't you ever say so?"
"Well, I knew that you liked them. I didn't want to deprive you of that pleasure."
She wasn't finished yet. "What about Brussels sprouts?"
Brussels sprouts! The very thought of Brussels sprouts makes me ill. When I was a small boy, my mother was always serving Brussels sprouts, and I despised them.
I had an Aunt Betty who sometimes ate at our house, and when she did, she gallantly ate all the Brussels sprouts on my plate. My mother pretended not to notice. I always loved my Aunt Betty for that.
My mother also insisted that I eat my broccoli, which was just coming into fashion. Our relationship was exactly illustrated by that famous New Yorker cartoon of the mother assuring her little girl, "It's broccoli, dear," and the little girl replying, "I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."
Spinach, by the way, is the worst of all. It reminds me of seaweed.
If anything is worse than Brussels sprouts and spinach, it's turnips. How I hate turnips! I can hardly believe that whole nations in Eastern Europe have survived on turnips and potatoes.
"How about eggplant?" she said.
I was afraid she was going to ask about eggplant. She loves eggplant. She has the notion that eggplant can be disguised to substitute for meat, and she is always cooking up something like eggplant parmigiana, in which eggplant is fried or baked with cheese.
You can't fool me with eggplant. It is not veal, and no amount of spices and Parmesan cheese will make it taste like veal.
"Don't you like peas?"
For one thing, I have always resented the amount of work that goes into preparing peas for the table. I remember too well my hours of drudgery in the kitchen after school, shelling peas for dinner. Then, adding nausea to tedium, I had to eat them.
"I've just never liked your going to all that trouble," I said.
She said, "You like jicama, don't you?"
"What's jicama?" I asked suspiciously.
She explained that jicama is a white, stalky vegetable, about as crisp as a carrot, but juicy and slightly sweet.
"You're always eating it at cocktail parties," she said, "with your wine."
"Oh, that," I said. I do eat it at cocktail parties, I explained, because to sustain life at those rituals one must eat whatever is offered, and it is either jicama--or zucchini or mushrooms, which are worse.
"How about tomatoes?"
"Tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable," I pointed out. "Anyway, I don't like them, except in soup or salsa."
I knew I was probably about to lose my cook, but I couldn't stop.
"I also don't like squash," I said, knowing it was one of her favorites, "and just as a warning, don't ever serve me rhubarb."
She said, "Eat your asparagus."