I was a very lucky kid.

I never got consigned to day-care, and rarely had a babysitter.  I only remember one babysitter, actually, and the fact that I remember her is a pretty good sign that I didn’t need her–I had two sisters, for heaven’s sake, one two years older than me and the other five years older.  What did we need a babysitter for?

My dad was a college professor and sometimes he worked through the summer.  When those summers coincided with the summers that my mother was a Girl Scout camp counselor and both of my sisters were at camp, guess what happened to me in lieu of day-care.

That’s right:  I went to Girl Scout camp.  I was an honorary girl.

At first, I was horrified and humiliated, but eventually it dawned on me:  “Hey, girls is cute.”  And after a while I wasn’t just an honorary girl:  I was an honorary Girl Scout.  To this day, I can sell cookies and do CPR like nobody’s business.

I never got the green vest or the sash or the knee-socks, but that’s okay.  I learned how to fold a flag and got to look at lots of girls.  Lots.

There were occasional summers when, instead of going to Girl Scout camp, my mother would just drop me off at the UTEP campus, where my dad worked.  I guess she assumed that I would make a bee-line for my dad’s office, but I never did.

My first stop was the Centennial Museum.  I got to look at shrunken heads, stuffed animals, a planetarium-in-a-box, and rocks that glowed in the dark.  I loved that museum, until that S.O.B. Bill Clements became governor of Texas and decimated funding for anything that smacked of education.  His tenure was, in my opinion, Texas’s darkest hour.  It was awful.

Anyway . . . .

After I toddled around the museum, I’d go toddling around Leech Grove, which was a very pleasant little park, and then I’d wander off to the library, which was an awful place.

The library, by that time, was a hideous concrete confabulation of ugliness and efficiency-at-any-cost.  I’ve never been in any prison, but I’ll bet you anything that every one of them feels like that awful, awful old library.  Every time I walked in there, I thought “Man, this totally sucks.”  It seemed to have been designed to keep people away from books rather than attract them.

The worst part is that, contained within the old library was the older library, which was a beautiful and serious old building of Georgian architecture, with arches and columns and busts of great thinkers above the marble lintels, and mottoes in Latin inscribed beneath them.  In the middle of the older library was an enclosed atrium, with exotic flowers and–rarity of rarities in El Paso!–humidity, and marble benches where librarians sat and ate their lunches.

It’s the worst part because you had to negotiate the ugly, cold confines of the newish library in order to get to the old one, and that little garden atrium within it, with the sweet flowers and the solitude and quiet, and the marble bust of Descartes and the inscription “Cogito, ergo sum” beneath it, and the musty smell of hundred-year-old dictionaries.

Being a youngster, it didn’t take me long to get bored, so then I’d wander off and go sit on a rock wall over a ditch and wait for UTEP’s innumerable feral cats to come sneaking out from the big concrete pipes.  It got to the point that I saw the same ones so often that I could recognize them individually, and I gave them names:  Ma, Jiggs, Otis, Barney, Blinky.

Eventually, I’d find my way down to the Liberal Arts building, where my dad’s office was, and I’d wander in there, sunburned and cat-scratched.  My dad always had a couple of work-study students and teaching assistants within hollering range, so as soon as I showed up, he’d holler for one of them–usually either Chita or Marisol–to take me away for something to do.

Chita always took me to the cafeteria.  She’d hold my hand and tell me I could have anything I wanted, but for some reason, all I could ever say was “A apple.”  She’d ask “Is that it?  Are you sure?  (¿Es todo?  ¿Seguro que si?),” and I’d say “Yes, please,” and then she’d hold my hand and we’d wait in line along the chrome bars where people rested their trays until we got to the cashier and Chita paid the twelve cents for my apple.

I don’t know whether my dad ever reimbursed her.

Then, still holding hands, Chita and I would walk down University Avenue, to a concrete picnic table between the hideous library and Magoffin Auditorium.  I don’t remember anything about the apple.  I only remember that I was always wearing shorts, and the heat from the concrete, against my thighs, kept getting worse and worse.

Twenty years later, I was a graduate student at UTEP, studying rhetoric and literature, and I spent many hours sitting at that same picnic table reading Aristotle and Tennyson and Joyce and all that.

Nobody else ever sat there.

One of my graduate classes was a Milton seminar, which was pretty grueling.  I hated the professor, who was a pompous ass with a reputation for being a genius.  The other students in the seminar–all of whom I liked–fell on the “He’s a genius!” side of the fence; I seemed to be the only one who thought “He’s not a genius; he’s a pompous ass.”

Which doesn’t mean that I was right:  It just means that it was, for me, a tough semester, and I suppose, now, that you could be a genius and a pompous ass at the same time.

Bach, for instance.

So, we spent three months doing nothing but picking apart Paradise Lost.  I learned to love it.  I learned to love Milton’s idea of how God and the angels tried to corral the earth and all the people on it, and I learned about the natures of Satan, Sin, and Death, and their relationships with God.  I also learned about God’s approach to Adam and Eve, which was pretty telling–how He dispatched an archangel to remind them not to do what He had already told them not to do (although, being omniscient, He knew they would go ahead and do it anyway).

Here’s the bit from Paradise Lost that hit me like a baseball bat in the crotch:

She touched; she ate

It hit me for a couple of reasons.

First, Eve has gotten a bad rap.  You have to remember that she and Adam both were totally innocent in every way–they had no concept of harm or foul, or sin.  So, Satan appears in the form of a serpent–why should Eve doubt the credibility and kindness of a serpent?  Incredibility and unkindess had never existed in Eden.  It was Paradise, after all.  There wasn’t anything to be afraid of.

Satan, though, was one bad-ass mother, and he managed pretty neatly to connive innocent Eve into doing the one and only thing God had told her not to do:  touching the fruit from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So she comes wandering back into the glen or the dale or whatever, and Adam sees her, and he knows, immediately, that something’s wrong and that Eve has screwed up, big time.  He can tell just by looking at her.  She has fallen.  She had touched; she had eaten.

What does he do?

More to the point, what should he have done?

Well, he should have fallen to his knees and cried to God:  “It was her!  Not me!  I’ve kept your one and only commandment!  I ain’t done nothin’!”

But did he?  Heck, no.  He hitched his wagon to a woman he knew was fallen, and he took his own bite of the apple anyway.  Pretty stupid.

For my money, innocent Eve was bamboozled by the ultimate irresistible salesman who can make anything look good (that being Satan).  Adam was pretty much just a guy with a boner.

We all know that the Bible doesn’t say that Satan took the form of a snake (“serpent,” which could mean pretty much anything legless, I guess), and we all know that it doesn’t say that the forbidden fruit in question was actually an apple–it just says “fruit.”  More likely, it was a fig or an apricot or a date.

So now Eve and apples are both taking a bad rap.  That’s not cool.

Why’s the apple the scapegoat?  A fig looks like a dessicated snotball, an apricot looks like a peach that didn’t make it, and a date looks like a fig.  Why pick on apples?

The only answer I can up with:  They’re red and they’re shaped like hearts (okay, they’re not all red, but they’re certainly not dates, figs, or apricots.  Botanically, I think that green apples came much later, and in a different hemisphere).

Mostly, I think, it hit me because those four words, right there, say it all:  Somebody succumbed to temptation, in such a seemingly harmless way, and it’s all been downhill for everybody since.

There’s a great deal of meaning in those four words:  “She touched; she ate.”  You could spend three months just on that.

For whatever reason, and in spite of all this anti-apple and anti-Eve haranguing to the contrary, I grew up as an apple kid.  I never liked cake, for instance:  Every time my birthday rolled around, I would ask my mother for an apple pie, not any kind of cake, and I always got that pie.

This here’s a bit odd, because I grew up in prime apricot country (Shirley O. Corriher, one of my favorite food writers, praises El Paso apricots in her book CookWise).  Still, I’d much, much rather drive a few hours north, into New Mexico, and take advantage of the High Rolls apple harvest than eat an apricot–which, incidentally, we had growing in the back yard of my parents’ house.  Peaches too.  And plums.

When I lived in Vermont, I had my first tastes of real, fresh apple cider, both the hard and soft varieties.  I also tasted “boiled cider,” which is apple cider gently reduced down to a syrup, and used in place of butter and maple syrup and things like that.

Kind of makes me wonder why I ever left Vermont.

My second year of teaching at UTEP, I had a very attractive young student named Leslie (she was a model and an aerobics instructor to boot).  I didn’t think too much about it at first, to be honest, but one day, she came to my office and set an apple at the edge of my desk.  It was November.  The apple was red and flecked with gold and had a long stem with a drying leaf on it.  I could smell the apple from where I sat.

“From my tree,” she said, smiling.  “From my own yard,” and then she smiled more, showing her perfect white teeth.

“Oh, God,” I thought; “I’m screwed.”

And indeed, once again, I was.

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