Our bank scheduled a rep to come and talk to us about maybe setting up a new account. Right on the dot, the young man breezed in. “What do you do here?” he asked, looking around at the many racks of drying herbs and long shelves of tinctures and extracts. I looked at him carefully before I answered – early twenties, fresh out of college, his suit looked new and he had peach fuzz on his chin. He didn’t look like a corporate guy, he looked more like he belonged on the high school debate team. “We make skin care,” I answered. “Cool!” he exclaimed, but then his manner unexpectedly grew serious. He looked at me gravely. “I need some skin care,” he whispered, “some anti-aging products.” He was pointing to his face as if there was something horribly wrong. It was my turn to suddenly grow serious. I turned to hide my reaction, went to the window and stared out for a very long time.
When I make papaya extract, it’s a fun but messy operation. Mostly, it involves getting a dozen or so whole papayas mashed down into our Texas-sized blender. I choose them on a spectrum of ripeness. Some are a little hard and green, some are very ripe and squishy and the others range between – this gets a good assortment of all the gooey goodness that madam papaya offers. I grind the whole fruit, seeds and skin included, and end up with a thick, yellowy puree with tiny black speckles of seeds all mixed in. I usually had to do this on the sly ’cause everyone here wanted some – eating it like ice cream, spreading in on toast. Sarah would stir it into her tea (funny, people didn’t come running when I was boiling down and mashing the seaweed!) One day this guy from a popular ingredient supplier calls me, says he’s got organic papaya extract, says he’s going to send me a sample. When it arrives, I open the package and I’m a little perplexed. It’s a dry and dusty gray powder that smells like superglue. The accompanying paperwork was a warning to keep away from children and pets, don’t get in eyes, keep from contact with skin. I wondered what to do with it. I finally settled with flushing it down the toilet. But later, thinking about fishes and plankton, I didn’t feel so good about that.
A lady called on the phone, “I need to return all the products I ordered.” “OK,” I said, was there a problem?” “Yes,” she said, “I can tell they’re not very effective.” Hmmm, I wondered, checking the order date – she only had the products for a day or two. I was a little puzzled. “I just don’t see any changes,” she said. “What changes were you looking for?” I inquired. “Well, it’s skin care . . . it’s supposed to be tightening, lifting – you know, fixing my skin!” she exclaimed, more than a little peeved at having to deal with an ignoramus. I was quite familiar with this expectation of sudden results and explained, “Real skin care is food, so the improvements may take a little while to become obvious – same as when a person starts eating a healthier diet.” But then I opened my mouth a little wider to make it easier to get my foot in and said, “for instance when you eat your steamed chard, you don’t expect to feel immediate changes.” “I don’t use chard as skin care,” she snapped in an impatient tone. “We do!” I said brightly. “In fact, there might be some chard in the product you ordered.” “You’re kidding,” she cried, now genuinely horrified. Later, before she hung up, she said in a very stern voice, “This isn’t the dark ages, you know!”