Not so long ago, I walked past a cheese shop on Lake Street (this was in Chicago) and something caught my eye. Was Jersey Blue on sale? Was my eye drawn to a crunchy breadstick tree or a jar of free-range quince jam? No. I saw a baby hanging comically in a sling and had to investigate. I decided if I found a wheel of $20/lb. cheddar cheese in the process, well, that was fine.
I watched it at it as it hung there, totally powerless and adorable while Mom browsed the bins. As I marveled inconspicuously — I did get this single picture, unseen — I was plunged into a line of existential questions that I know the baby would have answered if it could have.
Existential Cheese Baby, what do you see? Do you see the array of cheeses or do you just see shades of yellow? Can you identify yellow, yet? Do you realize that if I had to try and explain to you what color is, it would take me so long to make any sense of it you’d have a beard by the time I was done? Oh, you’re a girl baby. Sorry.
Do you know purveyors of cheese used to be called cheesemongers? No, I don’t know why they’re not called that anymore. Things change, Existential Cheese Baby, and they keep on changing. Why, not so long ago, I was your age and my entire life was before me. That’s what I thought, but who knows? My entire life might be behind me because I could walk out of here and get hit by a bike messenger. You don’t think that would be enough to kill me? Have you seen those guys? I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.
What are you good at? You don’t even know! You don’t even know what your interests are, much less if you’re good at any of them. You could be good at sports or arithmetic or spelling or capoeira but we won’t know for years! And your parents might not give a rip what you’re interested in and push you to do something you hate because they wanted to do that when they were young. Then whose life are you living, Existential Cheese Baby?? Life is absurd and confusing and then you end up in a cheese shop at thirty-six, staring at babies, only later to write about it publicly while slumped in a chair in Iowa wearing a pair of socks you borrowed from your philosophy professor boyfriend who technically lives in Germany.
Your mother appears to be wearing fringed hotpants. I thought you should know.