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Death Before Fruitcake

December 17, 1995|PHYLLIS DILLER

Some scientists who went pawing around under the Siberian tundra found a perfectly preserved fruitcake with one large bite missing. Nearby, they found the remains of a mastodon. The autopsy proved what I had guessed all along: The mastodon passed away of starvation. He'd taken one bite out of that fruitcake--the only food within 50 miles--and then decided he'd rather die.

Maybe there was once a point in making fruitcakes, but I doubt it. It all started as the kind of handmade gift of love that could be transported over long distances without spoiling. But you can say the same thing about a wool muffler, and it tastes a lot better.

People are always sending me fruitcakes. Unfortunately, ever since I threw away my first boyfriend back in the fourth grade, I haven't been able to throw anything away. So I have several refrigerators filled with fruitcakes.

A couple of years ago, I had a bright idea. I took the 73 cakes on hand and sent them out as Christmas presents. For a year I knew peace. But the next Christmas I got all 73 back, plus four new ones.

My basic rule on food (known as the "Diller diet" has always been: If you want to know if something is really good to eat, first try it out on your kid. Or your dog. As a result, I have lived for many years on a diet of candy bars, pork chop bones, Screaming Yellow Zonkers and dog food. But I have learned that if there is one thing no kid and no dog will touch, it is fruitcake.

Have you ever known anyone who bought a fruitcake for himself? Of course not. They are purchased as Christmas gifts, mostly for people you don't particularly like. The only exception is during wartime, when anxious relatives buy them up by the millions and send them overseas, or wherever we're fighting at the moment. For some reason, war hysteria seems to wipe out all the facts about fruitcake, except that it doesn't spoil easily. (How can something spoil when it is already rotten?)

During World War II an estimated 700 million fruitcakes were sent to the European Theater of Operations. A few traveled in pairs, but most were alone. On VE Day a crusty old general said to me (in between indecent proposals), "We could have won that war six months sooner if we hadn't tied up so many ships transporting those goddamned fruitcakes." I was a mere child at the time.

In Transylvania, the inherent hatred of fruitcake surfaces in a strange way. If a rich, unmarried girl becomes pregnant, her condition is explained away by claims that she was impregnated by a "devil's date" in a fruitcake. Everybody meets in the village square, and the accused fruitcake is placed on a platform for everybody to sneer at. The mayor then asks the girl, "Is this the fruitcake that did it?" And she answers tearfully, "Yes, that's him. No doubt about it. I'd know him anywhere. Yuck! Oh, it was awful! Awful!" After the fruitcake is found guilty, the people dance around it, throwing rocks, spitting on it and beating it with sticks and clubs. It may seem cruel, but consider what the fruitcake has done. (It would become crystal clear if you were rich and had a pregnant daughter.) Also, consider that you can beat the average fruitcake with a club for five or six hours and never put a dent in it.

Many fellow sufferers have written to me telling of inventive ways to use unwanted fruitcakes. For instance, C.Z. Fulgill of San Francisco writes:

"I live on one of the steepest hills in the world. I used to have a lot of trouble with my $85,000 Rolls-Royce rolling down the hill, crashing through Arnold Krausemeyer's butcher shop, and winding up on its back in the city dump, which was usually on fire. Krausemeyer wasn't exactly crazy about the whole thing, either. But now the problem is solved. A fruitcake my sister-in-law gave us is perfect as a block for the car wheel."

And Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has so many muscles that he has to make an appointment to move his fingers, got that way when, as a child, he amazed the adult world by lifting his Aunt Emma's fruitcake over his head. No one in the family had ever succeeded in lifting a forkful, much less the whole cake.

I did have a fruitcake once that must have been made by a swinging baker. It was drenched in so much rum and brandy that all I had to do was hammer a hole in the top and put in a straw to get the old-fashioned thrill grandma must have known.

But beyond that, I've never met a fruitcake I liked.

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