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Uncivil liberties.

While I was in Brazil, I found out about presliced bananas. The discovery had no connection with the prevalence of bananas in Latin America, although Latin America would provide some good location shots if we decide to make a movie of all this. It wasn't that I found myself in an awkward social situation and tried to break the ice by saying, "Hey, is this one of those banana republics I've heard so much about?" The subject of presliced bananas actually came up quite unexpectedly at the tag end of a gathering in Sao Paolo. We were discussing hard-boiled eggs at the time.

I had just explained to one of the other guests that I can blow a hard-boiled egg out of the shell about seven times out of ten. He responded by telling me that he could slice a banana without peeling it. You might say that we were in a bragging contest. I suppose I could have countered by saying that I can blow a hard-boiled egg out of the shell while standing on one leg--you'd be surprised how many people think that's more difficult than doing it with both feet on the ground--but he would have probably just tried to raise the stakes a bit by saying that he peel an apple in one unbroken peel, a trick I consider to be of purely manual dexterity. Instead, I asked him how to preslice a banana. Escalation has to stop somewhere.

I realize that there are people who don't understand why I would be interested in presliced bananas--people who have never grasped the notion of pure science. "So what?" those people say when they read about some biologist who has discovered that boll weevils sweat. "What use is it?" If you grasp the notion of pure science, you can thirst for knowledge of presliced bananas for its own sake--although, as it happens, I was planning to use the knowledge to impress my daughters, who had shown indications of becoming blase about the hard-boiled-egg trick ("Not again, Daddy"). I don't see the egg-blowing trick as part of the movie, by the way, except maybe as a sort of teaser before the credits.

Don't think that the diminished impact of the hard-boiled-egg trick has left us with no science around the house. We happen to be one of those families that has stimulating scientific discussions at dinner most nights. We have talked about whether saccharin draws ants. We have talked about what sort of tweezers might be used to remove the caffeine from coffee beans. I noticed, though, that the last time I raised the caffeine-removal question my older daughter just smiled. She didn't say, "Talking about tweezers reflects a misunderstanding of the entire concept" or anything like that; she just smiled. I needed a new trick.

I had already decided against some common trick of purely manual dexterity, like peeling an apple in one unbroken peel--a decision I reached after spending some time behind closed doors with a sack of apples and a paring knife. That's why I came right out and asked the man in Sao Paolo how to preslice a banana. He told me that you use a needle and thread. That surprised me. Just for a moment there, I let myself think that maybe caffeine is removed from coffee beans with a needle and thread, but I couldn't really see it. To preslice a banana, the man told me, you circumscribe the banana just under the skin, being careful to put the needle back into the hole it just came out of; after the final stitch, you pull both ends of the thread out of the original hole, severing the banana inside the peel. The banana remains unmarked. when people speak of the wonders of nature, the man in Sao Paolo told me, they should include the miraculous speed at which a banana skin heals over a needle hole.

I needed practice. By chance, I had to spend a week in Texas just after I returned from Brazil. If this is going to be one of those technicolor movies that goes from exotic setting to exotic setting, Texas would be good. First, you have an establishing shot of the vast Texas horizon, with the camera pulling back slowly to show a Holiday Inn. Then there's an interior shot: A man is sitting inside his motel room, going at a banana with a needle and thread. Occasionally, he grimaces; the needle has rubbed up against an old paringknife wound. Then there is one of those shots of an airplance taking off. We see a plane full of businessmen-clicking their calculators, snapping and unsnapping their attache cases. One of the businessmen turns to the traveler next to him. "I couldn't help noticing that you're sewing a banana," the businessman says.

"It passes the time," the traveler replies.

When I arrived home from Texas late one night, I handed my wife a banana. "It's presliced," I said.

"Oh, did the girls tell you about that?" my wife said.

"The girls?"

"They do it with a needle and thread," she said. "I think they learned it from that book Fun 'n' Play for a Rainy Day."

"I learned it in sao Paolo," I said. "Sao Paolo, Brazil."

"Well, it must be all around then," she said. She peeled the banana and started to eat it.

But that's no way to end a technicolor movie--with a grown woman eating a presliced banana. In the movie, the traveler would present his family with "some of these new presliced bananas from Brazil," provoking a stimulating scientific discussion about how Brazilian agronomists grow bananas presliced. Maybe workers tie strings around newly sprouted bananas, and as the bananas grow the strings cut through them, the traveler suggests. The strings are not noticeable because they are themselves made out of bananas--those kind of stringy things you sometimes pull off a banana before eating it. Other theories are offered. Then the traveler reveals that he is the one who presliced the banana. It's a trick. His daughters are impressed. They say that some people's fathers can only do tricks like peeling an apple in one unbroken peel. "Show us, Daddy!" they say. The traveler preslices a banana for his daughters. Then he does it standing on one leg. Fade-out.
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Title Annotation:humor - presliced bananas from Brazil
Author:Trillin, Calvin
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 13, 1984
Previous Article:Right turn only.
Next Article:H. Ross went seven bubbles off plumb (and other tales); letter from Texas.

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