Fire Ant is a local friend who once, when we were rooming together at a conference in Big City Like No Other, helped me achieve the accomplishment I’d like engraved on my tombstone: my blog is the number one hit on google search for “photos of naked middle-aged women.” In the process of taking her photo, we kicked over furniture in the hotel room, ripped down a curtain rod, and laughed so hard that the people in the next room called and complained about us to the front desk, but the photo shoot was a great success, setting the bar high for more naked photo shoots in hotel rooms across the country.
We do have our disagreements: she thinks, for instance, that Raggedy Ann is creepy. But despite that major philosophical difference, we share a love of poetry, a fascination with human relationships, and a willingness to exaggerate like crazy for the sake of a good story. I’ve given her several different pseudonyms over the years, but Fire Ant is what she calls herself on her blog.
One fall when we went on a picnic, I discovered that Fire Ant makes potato salad that is almost as delicious as her poetry. She used olive oil instead of mayonnaise, and lots of dill, with bits of cut-up onions and carrots and peppers, with black-eyed peas and fresh parsley, and I'm not even sure what else. All the ingredients soaked in the olive oil while it was still hot so the flavors blended together, coating each chunk of potato, which were still slightly warm as we began eating. I didn’t ask for her recipe because I was too busy eating. Besides, food tastes better when someone else makes it. I figured since she lives in town, I could just get her to make me the potato salad every once in a while.
She and I work on adjoining campuses, our offices only a five-minute walk apart, and she’s been known to bring containers of homemade potato salad to work. I decided that if I could just figure out when she’s bringing potato salad, I could stalk her.
But it turns out, getting her to strip her clothes off in a hotel room was way easier than getting some of that potato salad.
The first potato salad incident happened when I took a day to stay home and grade papers, knowing that I would never get the stacks marked and ready to hand back if I went to campus. My office is in the library, filled with students who love to procrastinate as much as I do; staying home to grade is the only way to avoid the students who will obligingly entertain me with stories of the things that went wrong on last week’s camping trip. Of course, the one day that I stayed home to work, I got an email from Fire Ant: “I brought potato salad to work today. Want some?” I was tired and hungry, and miles away from said potato salad; the message felt like a taunt.
The next week, I got a phone message from her just as I was about to leave for class: “I made potato salad. Do you have time for lunch?”
I didn’t have time for lunch. I was teaching three classes in a row and then going straight to a godawful meeting that lasted past 5 pm, past the time when Fire Ant would go home for the day. All through class that day, while trying to talk to my students about literature and writing and deep profound ideas, one thought kept going through my mind, “I want some potato salad.” I was so hungry that it was hard to concentrate.
That was just the beginning of a series of potato salad incidents. The circumstances got more and more ridiculous, involving phone calls, emails, and even a paid political announcement, but never once did I end up with a bowl of potato salad.
So when Fire Ant emailed me this week, telling me that the tree on her street was blossoming and that I should come take some photos for my blog, I thought immediately of the Potato Salad Episode. With my luck, a strong wind would knock the blossoms off the tree before I even got there. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to drive all the way to her house unless potato salad was involved.
“Let’s just pretend I visited you,” I emailed back. “It can be an imaginary blogger meet-up.” Then I took the photo she’d taken of the tree and put it on my blog.