killer kernels

by bam

maybe someone should come wire my trap. like gulliver, only with little steel cables, tight braces criss-crossing my teeth, the top to the bottom.
what i eat–no, what i religiously, regularly, reliably chomp–every night, going clear back to college, might kill me.
the good doctors now say so.
it was only a matter of time.
i found out last night.
like the rest of the not-so-good news that’s landed here lately, exploded right under my nose, this one came in without bombast over the email transom. laid there unsuspectingly, without warning or red flashing light.
i just clicked and i read.
“oh, dear,” i whispered out loud.
“this was in today’s times and on nat’l radio,” my informant began. “are you aware of the ‘popcorn habit’ illness from buttered popcorn made in the microwave? i think you don’t butter yours. ”
egad. i followed the trail.
sure enough, there on page 23 of the venerable gray lady, the times of new york, the paper they live by there on the coast to the right, and everywhere else where what you read defines you, tells the world your relative intelligence quotient. or so some people think (the ones always quick to inform that they don’t stoop to the paper i work for, don’t want to muddy their rarefied waters).
but back to page 23, top left corner, where editors put things they want you to see: “doctor links a man’s illness to microwave popcorn habit.”
it begins: “a fondness for microwave buttered popcorn may have led a 53-year-old colorado man to develop a serious lung condition that until now has been found only in people working in popcorn plants.”
oh, geez, i am so dead.
strike that. so asphyxiated. so bronchially buttered.
i happen to live–for the most part–as if i desperately want a tomorrow. i gulp greens. walk miles. floss most nights before bed.
for too long, as long as i can remember maybe, i’ve been afraid, deep down inside, of premature death. maybe it comes from having a father whisked away way too young. maybe it comes from my years as a nurse working with kids with no hair or a stump for a leg. kids who died in my arms. maybe it’s just how i’m wired.
but basically, mostly, i’ve avoided the things that would kill me. except for, apparently, i’m now finding out, that big bowl of popcorn i inhale every night.
oh, all right, so maybe it’s two.
i am hardly alone in the popcorn club. i know all sorts of folks who wind up the day with a big steaming bowl of the stuff. never mind how it gets stuck in your gums, how those delicate bits jam up where it feels like a humongous splinter and you go running for floss like it’s some kind of almighty savior. which, frankly, it is.
popcorn, i’m convinced, is rather hypnotic. you chomp and you stuff and you go in a trance. your worries are gone by mid-bowl, when really you’ve lost all your taste. you are, by then, merely chomping to chomp. your teeth seem to enjoy the percussive repeat and repeat. or at least mine do.
i cannot imagine a cocktail has similar effect. there’s no motor involvement. just the mere sipping. although there is that chemical thing. that might make up for the lack of the chewing.
and, curiously, i do know plenty of women, frustrated mothers, especially, who harbor their bowl before bed. why, it’s almost something that’s talked of in whispers. i know. i’ve whispered.
but now, i am quite loudly worried. who knew it could kill me, those innocent kernels of corn? killer kernels.
to be precise, and we should be, it’s not the fault of the corn. it’s the buttery spray that i spritz on the top. heaven forbid i should down me a genuine globule of fat. no, i prefer to spray on faux butter.
and, gulp, no surprise, now i find that that’s stupid. as if i shouldn’t have known that a bright yellow can with a push-button squirter would hardly be filled with anything healthy.
so now i find out that there could be a serious consequence. a diacetyl, they say, is the culprit. a something that’s naturally found in butter and milk and real cheese. but in synthetic butter, when it’s steamy and turns to a vapor, it gets in your lungs and clogs all the parts where the air goes. that is not sounding so pretty.
so there i sat late last night at the table, my one hand of course in the bowl, the other holding the paper. reading the news that the popcorn habit disease is so named, and the poor fellow out in the mountains is coughing.
i coughed too. choked, really.
and just about then, the boy who i love, the one who now knows from a razor, he strolled in, looked over my shoulder, and just about shouted.
“stop eating popcorn now,” he insisted, sounding like he now was the parent and i was the naughty young child.
“for the little guy’s sake,” he zinged, an arrow straight to my half-century-old heart.
“people like cigarettes and alcohol and cocaine, too, mom. they think they can’t stop.”
that’s when he opened the freezer, pulled out the tub of double vanilla, slow-churn, half the fat, a third of the calories.
“i used to think you were this super emotionally strong person,” he said, scooping. “but now you can’t stop eating popcorn just cuz it tastes good.”
he sat right beside me.
“they make popcorn-flavored jelly beans,” he said, licking the spoon. “we could get one of those hundred-flavor packs, and i’d give you all the popcorn-flavored ones, and then i’d conveniently take all the rest.”
i put down the bowl and the paper. i coughed once or twice. just reflex, really. or maybe a once-crunchy puff now caught in my throat.
“don’t start coughin’ on me,” he said, shooting a gleam through the curls that boing over his eyes.
hmm, i wondered as i dumped out the little bit left, would a big bowl of carrots work quite so well to clear out my head, to lull me to sleep, at the end of a very long day?
it is highly unlikely.
and if you care to join me, the 12-step unchaining of me to my popcorn begins, well, maybe tomorrow.

don’t you hate when science ruins a very good thing? have you had to stop some habit you loved, some habit that brought you great solace? i’m not talking of ones that ruin whole lives, bring down a whole house while they’re at it. i’m talkin’ your garden-variety screech-on-the-brakes because someone somewhere found out that running was bad for your knees, or caffeine would slaughter your sleep. or popcorn and movies would have you gasping for air. any bedtime routines that a.) soothe and b.) are fine for your lungs? i’m taking ideas….