In those days I had a friend, married to one of my fellow art workers, who was a remarkable draftsman, an artist extraordinaire with a strange vision of what needed to be preserved. She drew decay. Each Monday morning, she walked down to Chinatown, bought vegetables -- perhaps an eggplant, Bok Choi, a squash or two, a head of lettuce -- and set them out as a still life on her drawing table. Then, she would sharpen her pencils and create oversize glorious drawings inch by inch, day by day, a new drawing everyday for week, recording with her pencil (and her erasure) the collapse of all that fecund vegetable flesh. The first drawing would be of plump sassy vegetables and fruits, the second the same but showing a bit of wear. By the third drawing, the squash might be collapsing, the lettuce withering. She would keep drawing until everything had dried or melted. The drawings were meticulous, beautiful, and alive with an inexplicable magic.
She left this planet some time ago, but every time I open my refrigerator and see my now nearly four-month-old Romaine lettuce, I think of her. Even she would not have the patience required to draw this slow rate of decay. Living things that never age are boring; lacking shrink or fizzle they drift into a disconcerting sameness, alarmingly flat and subdued. My still perky aging lettuce now has a few brown spots along its ribs, and one leaf is slightly brown on top, but for lettuce cut clean from its roots sometime back in early November, it's still disturbingly fresh.
It doesn't feel magical, just unnatural.
I feel the same way about facelifts, boob jobs, tummy tucks, and cherry red lips on sun broken faces.
Out of habit, I almost ate a piece that had broken off in the bag, but I stopped my hand before it reached my mouth. Of course, I have no intention of eating it, and, of course, I will leave it in my refrigerator. Next month, I'll snap another photograph.
I wonder if this head of lettuce will make it to June or beyond. It just might.