By Matt Gordon
Nothing says summer like that all-too-familiar open-toed shoe foot smell. Then there is the heat and humidity, the browning of the dead grass, the peeling skin as a result from burns acquired by a malevolent sky fire 93 million miles away. Yes, it is the sweetest time of the year—all sweat and odor and costly trips with screaming children to weddings and family events you don’t want to attend. It is poetry. That is, if poetry were an indoor cage which prohibited any venture out-of-doors into the menacing volcanic swelter.
Summer brings a lot of questions with it. Like, What do I do with all these children? and How can anyone be a teacher? and When does school start back up? and How do I access my 401K to pay for a bunch of overnight camps?
But perhaps the most pressing question is obvious: How to pick a good watermelon?
People really love watermelon, and you can see why. For starters, it is the most cumbersome fruit. You don’t just pluck a watermelon and dive in, like you would an apple or orange or banana, or normal earth candy. No, you need a dolly to tote around a watermelon. Fatfruits, as I’ve taken to calling them, refuse to fit in a bag or any sort of container. A really wonderful summer pastime is purchasing a couple watermelons at once. You forklift them out to the oversized SUV you rented for the occasion, and just sort of let ‘em loose back there in the trunk space. As you drive, they ping about like a couple of bloated, drunken atoms. When you get home, it a scene more like a split atom. Ever have to clean watermelon from a dome-light? What a treat!
Aside from sheer heft and immovability, watermelons are also super popular because they are incredibly messy. Before you schlep them off to pricey overnight camps, your children will cover their bodies in watermelon, becoming sticky globs of disobedience. There are seeds too. Pretty much everywhere. You can spit them and look like a complete hillbilly or swallow them and feel like one. You can take out a second mortgage and go seedless too, which is about 17,000 fewer things to clean up when they explode in the back of your vehicle. Plus, there are rinds! Recently, I wrote about my son eating an entire pear—waste not, want not. But even he won’t attempt to down a watermelon rind. No, these rinds are only good for makeshift boomerangs no matter how many times you tell your demon offspring that if one more person pretends a watermelon rind is a makeshift boomerang then adventure camp is canceled. They know a bluff when they hear one, and the boomerangs fly with hedonistic abandon.
Added to all this is the watery taste of watermelons. They often taste, well, like water. Watery water. That may be how they got their name even. When I’m really hankering for a good old swig of water, I usually can find a less sticky solution, without rinds. But where is the fun in that? Occasionally, you’ll get a bad watermelon. After throwing out your back carting it home and wielding an appropriately-sized ax to split into the monstrosity, you dig into to a well-earned summer treat. And you take your summer bite—big and expectant; you’ve been waiting all winter for this. And what greets your mouth is death. Other fruits let you know when they are bad. Apples get all mushy. Bananas brown. Not so with watermelons though. Nothing looks amiss, and you play back the utter deceptiveness of the whole charade as you wash the flesh-taste from your mouth with actual waterwater.
And for all the work and mess and potential for rotting-chameleon fruit, it becomes so very important that one selects the optimal melon. Some would say that is more important than selecting a mate—certainly it is more cumbersome.
First, you approach the melons. You want to take your time on this; you always must when it comes to approaching melons. Before you is a journey, a quest, a walkabout of epic proportions. You will hoist that melon and heft it through the store, the precarious tile floor always calling to it like the Ring beckons Frodo. The floor and melon want you to drop it at the checkout line. They want you to look like an idiot. They want you to have your shins and shoes and the celebrity mags all covered in sticky melon. They want you to dog-cuss the store and the earth and your wretched life in front of these strangers and neighbors in aisle seven. And if you don’t lose the melon and your religion, you still have to haul the thing home, carve it up, confiscate the rind helmets your kids made, and dispose of the waste. No, you are on the front-end of things. Take your time. Enjoy this last bit of freedom. Treat it like your teenage years. Like every high school-based dramatic film ever knows, “Everything is about to change . . . for the worse.”
Sometimes, before approaching, I stand in the glimmer of fluorescent light and I like to sing a bouncy little watermelon ditty that goes like this:
Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon, time
Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon, rind.
Please be tasty and give me a nod,
Because of you, I question God.
Just helps me get my head right. Feel free to use it if you want. Make it your own. Have fun with it.
When you feel good and ready, and you haven’t been spared by a store fire alarm or cosmic intervention, take a melon in your arms. Cradle it close, like a baby. Caress it. Love it. Coo at it. Note: If the watermelon coos back, then you have made a mistake. You have, by accident, approached and lifted a baby of some sort. This can happen. What cannot happen is for you to continue to be there with that baby who isn’t yours. This is a good time to place the child back where you found it and calmly, quickly, head for the exit. You may think the old I-thought-it-was-a-watermelon explanation will play. It won’t. Believe me, I’ve tried.
If the watermelon stays silent, you can assume that it is not a baby—or at least you got a good quiet one—and it is probably a watermelon. A good way to confirm this is to shout, “IS THIS A WATERMELON!?” It may take eleven or twelve tries, but I guarantee you a store employee—usually a manager in my experience—will come and politely, yet urgently, confirm its essence. Often a passerby beats the manager to it, but, as a sucker for authority, I usually wait for the expert. You can’t be too careful these days. There are nutjobs everywhere.
Now, what the internet suggests, is that you look for pale spots on the watermelon. It also prescribes some Morse Code style knocking on different places on the watermelon. As usual, the internet is pretty stupid. Loaded with fake news. I think a big ploy of the internet is just to make average folk like you and me look dumb. Don’t knock—there is no answer, trust me.
Instead, what I suggest is placing the watermelon gingerly back in its place. Then, take the small cleaver from your belt-cleaver-holder and carve into the watermelon on the left, beside your original watermelon. Remove the melonballer from your belt-melonballer-holder and take a little gobble. If the watermelon is watery and terrible, like most are, disregard it. Move along to the watermelon on the right of your original watermelon, and repeat the cleaver-melonballer-and-taste test. Is it delicious? Then you have a winner. If it isn’t, try these steps on your original watermelon. Continue on in this manner until you find the tastiest of watermelons. You may opt to take this, the belle-of-the-ball, home with you. But usually, I’m pretty full of it by that point and I just go home, red faced and sticky, sweating my way through another torrid watermelon summer.