… when I bought the world’s smallest cheese grater
June 17, 2010
…was the white Marc Jacob’s ‘Vote’ tee-shirt that Donna gave me, seer-sucker shorts with silver buttons across the yoke and a pair of old Ravel flip-flips that were still quite smart if you didn’t look too closely at the insoles. I found the grater at a garden centre in one of those fenland villages near Cambridge. The place was enormous: a main building the size of a factory, sheds and greenhouses, a cafe and a lumberyard out back. There was even a walk-in aquarium, three walls of water behind glass.
I was looking to buy a pot of ivy and a couple of lettuce plants. We have a small courtyard garden and I had this idea that if I could get that space in order, the rest of my life would follow suit. Because things were not good: work problems, ill friends, a pervasive homesickness that was like a low-level flu. Things needed to change.
I was full of resolve, but as soon as I walked into the garden centre, I wanted to turn around and leave. It was like a scene from a bad sci-fi movie: thousands of dripping plants and sinister looking ground cover and a bewildering assortment of pots and planters, fountains and trellises, and strange quilted items to wear or kneel on. Even the ivy section was complicated: big leaves, little leaves, yellow stripes, silver edges. I stood there clutching my basket, feeling dizzy and stupid and then I saw the world’s smallest cheese grater, a four-sided object with a miniscule handle.
Of course, it probably wasn’t the world’s smallest; somewhere, someone has bothered to carve a grater on the head of a pin. This was more doll-sized than anything else, a nice fit in the palm of my hand, and holding it made me feel capable and big: a decisive giant. I put down the basket and dragged one of those monster trolleys over to the ivies. Three pots went in, along with a clematis and two boxes of rocket. I found an aluminium planter that looked like an Anish Kapoor sculpture and a length of garden hose in an aggressive shade of yellow. A local girl was working the cash register. She was wearing a blue uniform with white trim on the pocket, like a nurse in a Carry-on comedy. She ignored me, but when the grater rolled past, she came alive. ‘O, that’s so cute,’ she said. ‘Isn’t it?’ I said. We stood there admiring it, holding up the line and I was reminded of the year I lived in San Francisco. There, perfectly reasonable people – engineers and schoolteachers – talked about the benefits of pyramid power, about hanging one over the bed to absorb its energy at night. I had thought they were jerks, but here I was, potting soil on my shirt, communing over a cheese grater.
I showed it to my daughter when I got home. She said, ‘Yeah?’ and went up to her room.