On November 24, 2005 (Michelle’s 30th birthday, in fact) we gathered at her house for a games night like any other. There would be games (Pictionary was a favourite), snacks (any corn or potato product, fried), and mayhem (shouting, laughing, bum cupping). The Cruise Group was in effect.
Kari opened the Pictionary box, removed the board, the instructions, the dulled pencils, the pads of blank paper, and one solitary pretzel. Kari held it up, examined it and showed it to the rest of the group. The pretzel was greyish and slightly fuzzed. All were silent.
Alison was the first to speak up, admitting her mischief with an ‘Oh my Gosh!’ She had placed the pretzel in the Pictionary box exactly one year earlier (Michelle’s 29th birthday), as something of a gonzo science experiment. She desperately wanted to know more about the life span of a pretzel, and she thought the games box was as safe and sterile environment as any other. Alison spent at least 16 seconds examining the pretzel before making her prognosis. She declared the pretzel to be ‘moldy’ and placed it in the centre of Michelle’s coffee table.
The Cruise Group struggled to move in closer: Tricia shoving Kari toward the fireplace; Lisa tripping up Alison, Chris (Michelle’s very patient and loving husband) pushing Michelle down a small flight of stairs; each wanting to get nearer to the superb specimen.
Kari inched her way back toward the coffee table, crawling between Lisa’s legs and then pushing past Alison’s ample cleavage to get another look. The crowd gasped as Kari reached for the pretzel and then held it in her small, pale hand.
‘I dare you to eat it.’ I said, in haste.
Michelle then piped up: ‘I’ll give you twenty dollars if you eat that pretzel.’ Kari, a nursing student – well-versed in disease, catheters, bed pans, and the like – tilted her head to the left side. She was considering it.
I upped the ante, ‘I’ll give you five more dollars.’ Kari didn’t have to think twice. She popped the pretzel in her mouth, chewed for six seconds, wrinkled up her nose in disgust and then swallowed. The Cruise Group watched, and waited.
Michelle pulled out her wallet and removed two crisp ten dollar bills and handed them to Kari. I checked my wallet (empty) and said, ‘I’ll have to write you a check’ (the very next day I posted a check to Kari’s home address for five dollars, after writing ‘eating a moldy pretzel‘ on the memo line).
Alison handed her a glass of tepid water and gave her two whacks on the back. Kari cleared her throat and declared herself to be ‘fine’.
We all moved to the kitchen table to get on with the game. As we were picking teams, I thought I saw Alison flip Kari the bird. She insisted she was scratching her nose, but I couldn’t help but feel she wasn’t telling me the whole truth.
Months later, Alison and I were sitting at Starbuck’s drinking tall, non-fat, skinny, chai tea lattes (180 degrees) and I asked Alison if she was still upset about Kari eating her science experiment. She laughed said, ‘Of course not!’ But her eyes… Well, they definitely said: ‘Hell yeah!’
On November 24, 2006 the Cruise Group once again joined together to celebrate Michelle’s special day and once again there were games, snacks and mayhem.
As Chris slid open the Pictionary box with the sound a game box makes (a box fart), he reminded us about the moldy pretzel. I glanced at Alison: her gaze was fixed, her jaw was clenched and her fists were tight at her side.
Kari laughed and then said, ‘I can laugh about it now.’
All eyes turned toward Kari as she relayed her pestilential (look it up) story. Two days after eating the pretzel in an act of provocation and defiance, Kari became ill with a digestive tract calamity so severe that it can only be described as that: a calamity. For nearly a week she experienced loose bowels and did the technicolor yawn. Kari said that she had never been so sick in all of her life, and that eating the moldy pretzel was definitely not worth the twenty-five dollars she received as payment.
Michelle was all apologies, and I experienced the regret normally reserved for Expo ’86.
And I think (though I can’t be sure) that I saw Alison smile.