Obsession

more avocadosI trace the origins of my avocado obsession to one night in Hawaii in December 2013. My girlfriend and I were hungry so I dug a large, ripe avocado out of the bottom of a brown paper bag, sliced it in half, and we scooped the buttery flesh out of the shell, sprinkling it with black Alaea salt between bites. We didn’t have lime. It didn’t matter. That avocado was sublime.

The avocado in Hawaii wasn’t my first, but before it I hadn’t yet become obsessed with them. From then on, however, I found myself constantly searching for the perfect avocado. At the time, I lived in Los Angeles. Avocados in L.A. tend to be very good, and affordable. I found them for as low as 69 cents each at Ralph’s supermarket. When I wanted to splurge, I’d buy organic ones for as low as $1.39 because I thought they tasted better. But I think the non-organic ones in L.A. taste as good or better than the organic avocados I find in New York City, and, here, they’re significantly more expensive, up to $2.50 a piece. As my habit isn’t cheap, I’ve scaled back. I’d gotten used to eating an avocado a day. Now, if I’m lucky, I’ll eat half. To eat a whole is a rare luxury.

After eating the Hawaii avocado I began to think of avocados as a way of life. Nutritionists, foodies and chefs extol the fruit’s virtues, its rich, buttery texture and taste – “the-butter-that-grows-on-trees,” the New York Times called it – as well as its health benefits, full of vitamins, minerals, high in fiber and monounsaturated fat – the “good” fat. I intend to delve into the facts – the history, the scientific studies, trade and commerce issues. But I don’t want to lose touch with what it is about avocados that made me become so devoted to them. As I search for what drove me out – and lured me back, again and again – into the bartending abyss, I’m also hoping to go on a kind of journey that illuminates what it is about avocados that made them the perfect antidote for nightlife-induced misery.

I’m interested not just in the cultivation, the farming, the harvesting, of avocados, not just in the avocado “rustlers” who strip bare whole fields of trees and sell the precious fruit at marked down prices, not just in the fraught avocado trade history between the U.S. and Mexico, or the fruit’s rise in popularity in the U.S. and the tactics, the marketing schemes, used to push the product, or in the controversies spurred by different cultivars, such as the debate between guacamole die-hards who swear by the Hass and a smaller contingent of “Slimcado” eaters in Florida who settle for a tropical variety that Hass lovers criticize for its watery texture and sweeter taste. In exploring all of these issues, I want to shed light on what I now consider the mythology of this fruit that became a symbol for everything good in my life. When my eyes cracked open from shallow sleep on a Saturday afternoon, my back and shoulders tense, my knees and wrists sore from working behind the bar the previous night, I’d stretch and twist in a field to wring poison out of my body and, afterwards, eat an avocado and think, “This is all I need.”

So I’m determined to “go in lack of peace,” as Michael said, to “run into the light,” which, in practical terms, means to inundate my brain with avocado facts. Anna said that perhaps, when I see them, they’re begging me to write about them, and I think she’s right. I’m writing about bartending and avocados, but, really, I’m figuring out how to write about wanting to leave that dark “home” that kept pulling me back, about why I stayed there for so long, and about the fruit on which I subsisted in the golden stretch of solitude before nightfall when I tried not to think about bartending but about what I would do if I got out.

I don’t know if this story will reference my past. Maybe my current dive into learning about avocados will be rooted in or pushed by memories of my tenure in a sickening place I finally escaped. I don’t understand what was so bad, at least not on the surface, about working as a bartender in L.A. I don’t know why it’s agonizing to consider writing about this, reporting it thoroughly by going back, why I feel the need to run in the opposite direction. I don’t know why a fruit became a symbol for what is good and healthy, an anchor for my conscience and sense of well-being, a reminder that I could still actually taste and enjoy something simple when all I felt was bitter, frustrated and worn-down. But I hope that in investigating avocados I may at least find a frame to begin to interrogate these questions, my struggle to reconcile nature and nightlife, to understand the daily contradiction, the sense of constant schism that held me for a decade.