Essays

My Young Coconut Juice

So this one morning I wake up and check my business e-mail—which gets forwarded to my personal e-mail account—and there’s an e-mail from Silverman. Hmmm… He never e-mails me. What could this be? Perhaps an apology?

I open it and it’s an accusation, he states that he’s just placed the project I’ve been programming (for weeks now) “online” (on the somewhat serious-sounding “Production Server”) and that it’s broken. But worse than simply bringing this to my attention, this mother fucker has gone to great lengths to capture and include screen shots of error messages that he has gotten that clearly name my project as the source of the errors (these messages even go so far as to specifically transcribe the dubious lines of code—code that anyone could tell was written by me), and he’s then proceeded to copy the world on this e-mail (my boss, her boss, various “Project Leads”), all of whom are “big picture” people and therefore are ignorant about low-level details like how to program, meaning that they have no other choice but to trust this apparent indictment of me.

But these errors are illusional, they are caused by the server having been set up wrong (Silverman’s responsibility!); the reason the errors appear to come from my program is because my program expects things from the server that the server cannot provide (because the server has been set up wrong!)

Silverman must pay.

Yes, and how will I make Silverman pay? I have found that, in business, when co-workers whose own incompetence has caused an error the likes of which pushes them to the dark, desperate edges of human existence where all pretense of civility is shamelessly dropped in favor of unabashed uncontrolled lashing out like a pack of snarling dogs, I have found that the best way to make them pay is to leave the error uncorrected. Let them lash on, all day, all night, indefinitely, for as long as possible. This seems to eventually successfully teach them (better than words can): “If you want me to do something about it, you had better approach fucking gingerly! And say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ too!”

So I send my boss an e-mail: “Dear Peg, By the way, I forgot to tell you yesterday, I am on vacation today.”

Then I wonder what to do with this beautiful, physically perfect day. Work has been tense lately (what with the somewhat serious-sounding task of getting this project ready for the “Production Server”) and frankly the vending machine and—on a good day—McDonald’s lunches that have been all I’ve had time for lately are getting wearisome.

I decide to go to a Thai restaurant. It’s just a little, cheap storefront on the slightly edgy fringe of the city, but the two times that I’ve been there before have led me to believe that its food is more impeccably prepared than most others’ is. And I have found that at a place like this, in spite of (and because of) the cheap prices, I can heighten the hedonistic sense of food-as-luxury by ordering multiple courses, pretending it is the chef’s dégustation. A key piece of this sense of luxury is the idiosyncratic beverages that places like this always have. In fact, one of the most hedonistic things that I know of is “Thai Iced Coffee” and that is precisely the beverage I’ve been planning to order since the moment I set out toward this restaurant.

But, now that I’ve arrived here, I notice something on the beverage list that I hadn’t noticed before: “Young Coconut Juice.”

Hmmm… Young, Coconut, Juice. For the record, I truly love the cool, paradoxically rich yet refreshing, sweet, creamy, tropical flavor of real, fresh coconut (I love it at least as much as I loathe the barfy-wax flavor of the preserved shredded coconut confection that “flavors”—more accurate would be to say “texturizes”—“Mounds” candy bars and that forms the outer crust of every pink-and-white coconut cake that’s ever sat in a bakery’s window. For example, although store-bought coconut ice cream (note that I am also a big fan of ice cream) is hard to come by (I think that Ben and Jerry might make something that uses coconut-flavored ice cream as its binder, but I despise their “let’s just throw in whatever miscellaneous shit we happen to find on our pantry floor” method of making ice cream—I like perfectly smooth ice cream or, at the most, ice cream with small bits of a single pure real fruit—cherries, peaches, figs—in it that isn’t aesthetically disconcerting ice-gravel but, rather, has a pleasant chewy texture that complements the heavy viscosity of the ice cream), my freezer, nevertheless, is constantly stocked with the next best thing that’s easily attainable: boxes of coconut popsicles (the smooth and creamy “all fruit” kind of popsicle—except not the “All Fruit” brand of them because that brand’s are dry, waxy-hard, “Mounds”-like). I count on these popsicles whenever I’m in need of rich, creamy, refreshing, exotic decadence.

But what of this “Young” “Coconut” “Juice”? An enigmatic combination of words. I wonder, does this unusual word-formula refer to the refreshing, rich, sweet, creamy, tropical, exotic, real, fresh coconut of beverages, or to the “Mounds” of beverages?

If it was reasonably priced, this would be a no-risk dilemma, I would simply order it, plus a Thai Iced Coffee to fall back on, if it came to that. And if it proved to be delicious, I would then—because of the combination of it and the coffee—be in an over-the-top hedonistic paradise! But this beverage cost $2.95—far and away the most expensive drink on the menu. And this is really a very cheap place (for purposes of comparison, the first appetizer that I’ve already decided to order costs only $3.95). So I couldn’t justify ordering both drinks. But would the coconut juice be the right choice? Hmmm…

“Young.” What does that mean? I’ve often seen self-described “young coconuts” in a Thai market that I visit. They’re very large (much larger than the common brown “adult” coconuts) and very pale tan in color. And very smooth. It first appears that they have yet to grow any of the fur that covers their parents (by which I mean, not the tree, but the common brown furry adult coconuts). But they are also very different in shape (which will reveal something about their lack of fur): instead of the sphericity of common brown furry adults, they are flat-bottomed cylinders with pointed tops, like short, very squat, fat little whittle-sharpened pencils. It’s this whittled appearance that betrays something about their lack of fur: it is not that they have yet to grow any; it is that it has been manually removed, probably with a machete. Why? To appeal to the pedophiliac natures of the affluent tourists who visit Thailand for its young whores? No. In this same Thai market I have also seen a brand of canned coconut milk that calls itself “young” and has pictured on its can a big, spherical, bright green, furry coconut. I therefore must conclude that the fur is removed to increase shelf life, as this young green fur has been deprived of its chance to sun-dry itself into immortality, and surely would rapidly discolor and then rot in the constantly wet stillness of a grocer’s produce case.

But speaking of coconut milk, what of this third word, “Juice”? Does “Juice” mean “milk”? Is it, maybe, a glitch of translation? Or perhaps we are talking about a juice product of some sort that is coconut-flavored? (I am reminded of the clear, artificially-flavored, carbonated, Goya-brand Coconut Soda that happens to be extremely delicious—because the artificial flavor that they’ve chosen to use is the fresh creamy real kind of flavor instead of the “Mounds” kind of flavor.) Whatever the case, certainly we cannot be talking about the coconut water, which is the naturally-occurring clear liquid that takes up about one-quarter of the space inside common adult coconuts (the rest is air) and which all professional chefs tell you, in their cookbooks, to promptly dispose of. I defied the chefs once and tasted some of this liquid: it was totally innocuous, but, also, not worth a second thought and certainly not worth drinking for pleasure: it tastes like dry (in the wine sense) greasy water, with only a barely perceptible hint of coconut flavor (the dryness makes it almost taste like it’s a negative flavor, like negative water, water that doesn’t refresh, but sucks away refreshment, sucks away flavor). This water also has visible impurities in it, which can only increase the distaste that one feels toward a product that is already extremely low on taste. Certainly no restaurant in the world would charge the price of an appetizer for a beverage made of this worthless water that all professional chefs tell you to promptly dispose of. Therefore, I conclude that this “Young Coconut Juice” must be either coconut-milk based (I say “based” because coconut milk also is too dry (again, in the wine sense) to drink straight but I am sure that with a dollop of heavy cream and a tablespoonful of sugar, it would be totally delicious!), or a Goya-brand-Coconut-Soda-like concoction, and I proceed to order it.

In the few minutes that I must wait, I get so excited about the idea of coconut-y decadence that Thai Iced Coffee no longer even exists for me now.

And then I receive a whole Young Thai Coconut, filled to the brim with Juice, which appears to be the very coconut water that I have just convinced myself it could never be. Or maybe it’s just water. Water that cost me as much as an appetizer. Served in a very squat, very fat, whittle-sharpened pencil of a very large, flat-bottomed, hairless tan cylinder, with its sharp point of a top sliced open (but not off) to make a flip-top lid, into which a curly-beverage straw has been light-heartedly inserted.

Well, perhaps “Young” coconut water is not the same as adult coconut water… I take an eager swig and learn that this is very true. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. What is this feeling I am feeling? I think it is shock. Once, I accidentally stabbed myself in the leg (the knife slipped) and everything instantly became a dream, the event itself and its immediate results, the knife in my leg, the gushing torrent of blood pouring out all over everything, the eventual throbbing pain, all, not really happening. Denial. It’s happening in someone else’s dream, maybe, but not here, not now, not to me. That is what I am feeling now. Especially the denial part. Whatever just happened, it was a mistake. Something was wrong, something went wrong somewhere, but it wasn’t this coconut or its water. I am going to try this again. Whatever just happened, let’s move on, let’s forget it. Clean slate. I will swig this coconut water as if for the first time.

Holy Fucking Shit. Don’t! Don’t panic. Suppress, must suppress the retching, must suppress the loud scene, the ugliness. Close my eyes, gather myself together. This is real, really happening, all too real: This gnarly shit tastes exactly like ass!!! Bad ass!!! The worst ass!!! Really, it does!!!

It’s like human skin. But not the warm, soft taste of (for example) a lover’s freshly bathed neck—this isn’t even the not-unpleasant taste of salt that you get when you accidentally touch your lips and tongue to the back of your hand while wiping sweat off of your face during a sporting activity. This is the flavor of the center of the grungy palm of your hand after you have spent two hours getting home on the most grueling, crowded to overflowing, urban public transportation (a bus, and then the subway, and then another bus) after a long hard hot summer’s day at the fishery with no time to wash up before leaving. It’s a flavor that is at first mild (and therefore insidious) with a sour-metallic, dirty, musky staleness, like a mouthful of powdery black mold spores. It is like the juice of a totally immature unripe fruit (whose idea was it to eat an immature fruit anyway?! everyone knows that unripe fruit is rock hard and bitter—inedible!)—like the bitter, astringent, wretched juice of a big, hard, green tomato—that has long ago gone rancid. It tastes like the dark place that has no name, and from which no one ever returns. Like ass. Like horrible, dirty, man-ass!!!

I tried to remain very calm. I tried not to draw the attention of others. I tried not to retch. I saw something that might take my mind off my troubles: the fresh young coconut flesh itself. I already knew that coconut water is not meant for human consumption (ask any professional chef). And yet the existence of this water in a common adult coconut does not make the flesh of that coconut any less delicious, does it? So why should this dirty ass-water do so to this coconut? Besides, the fact that this coconut was filled to the brim (when common adult coconuts are only about one-quarter full) leads me to believe that this water has only just now been added to this coconut (the water is probably kept in filthy used oil drums in the back alley, the coconut into which it will be served is probably taken out of a refrigerator shortly before serving, sliced open, then filled with the contents of the oil drums), and that, therefore, its vileness has no bearing on the coconut flesh itself. Perhaps the flesh of this young Thai coconut is even delicious, in spite of this (shudder) horrifying water that it surrounds?

No.

Not true.

Its touch on my tongue is almost electric. Torturous. It’s the same thing as before. As the water. It’s the real thing. The horrifying, dirty fucking ass thing. But worse: This time it’s creamy. (Because the young flesh is soft, not crunchy-hard like the adult flesh is.) Creamy and thick. Thick and creamy and greasy, like a mouthful of chilled lard. The kind of creamy, thick, greasiness that’s very difficult to remove all traces of from the tongue and mouth. Which is what I am now trying desperately to do. To do without retching, without too much loud retching, without too much disturbing violence.

I spend the next five minutes—stomach clenched, brow furrowed, sweating—pounding the complimentary iced tap water that I have also been given and chewing stick after stick of Orbit gum, which I was fortunate enough to have brought with me (spitting out each piece as soon as it is fully saturated with the coconut flavor, then quickly stuffing a new piece in and repeating).

The waitress then arrives with my first appetizer. I had pushed the big dinner plate holding the Young Thai Coconut and its Juice to the furthest possible opposing edge of the table, removed the curly straw, and closed the flip-top lid (because I knew that if I so much as glanced again at the liquid, I would heave), so the waitress assumes that I have completed the consumption of this beverage. But, in the surprise that occurs after she has prepared her bicep for the light weight of an empty papery shell of a coconut only to then unexpectedly subject it to the heavy bowling-ball weight of a coconut filled to the brim with ass-water, she freezes for just an instant. In that instant, I see her begin to express, and then rapidly suppress, a look of “oh, you’re apparently not done yet, so perhaps I should set this back down?” She steels herself, then the instant is over: With great tact, she manages to restore her arm and her torso and their planes of movement to the precise points they were at before the surprise had occurred, seamlessly continuing her original gesture as if it had never been interrupted, rapidly sweeping the coconut off of the table and out of my site. No, this is certainly not the first barely-consumed Young Coconut Juice that she has removed from a table here.

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