Once a potato thought it heard a voice. Not just any voice. The voice of a fussy child, to be more precise, debating with itself where on the potato to attach an outsized plastic ear. The pain soon visited upon it by the sharp jabbing in of the spike-tipped ear was bad enough, but when the child must have decided a second ear was necessary and tried one clumsy thrust after another to secure it in some desired but mysterious relation to the first, the pain was multiplied many times over. After which came a nose planted between the two ears, then one eye and nearby another, this one after four tries. Where each feature ended up suggested a master plan not too well thought through or else settled on by default when patience ran out. “There, that’ll do” must have been the decision ultimately arrived at, followed by a giggle of delight at the effect produced. That satisfied giggle caused the greatest pain. Waiting as the child searched for the next cartoonish piece to jam into it, the potato struggled to understand what could possibly be going on in this little tormentor’s mind that would justify such playful mayhem. Only when it felt the gashing thrust of a pair of lips did the potato find itself blurting out, from hitherto unsuspected depths within, the words “Why are you doing this to me?” At first, the child only giggled some more, as though its own pleasure was answer enough, before leaning over to pick up another potato and bring it up close. “Mrs. Potatohead, Mr. Potatohead. Good? Good? Happy? Happy?” What a pitiful sight! The potato could hardly bear the shock of what it beheld. The same seemed true for the other potato, judging by its equally pained reaction. Then tears pearled in the facing potato’s eyes and at the sight, its own began to cloud as well. How like a willful child to believe the innate attractions of a potato could be improved upon. For in place of the wonder to be found in a splendid tuber fresh from the earth, the full richness of life in all its natural swellings and indefinable potential, in place of creation at its most spontaneously fertile and then its most beautiful just before an equally spontaneous decay, the deep mutilations worked upon “Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead” betrayed the brutality of an arbitrary perfection. To judge by the repeated efforts at fixing ears, eyes, and all else in just the right places, the goal must have been some rigid combination of absolute symmetry, balance, regularity, completeness, permanence, sublime transcendence and ultimate truth as the universal ideal. Quite a lot to demand of a potato. But far less, in fact, than what the merest spud attained to without any guidance or model whatsoever. Such a mismatch between reality and wish-fulfillment in imagining a perfect beauty was bound to have unwelcome consequences. And when these became obvious, the child’s disappointment quickly turned to frustration and from frustration to a wailing tantrum directed at the objects of its mounting discontent. “Ugly Mr. Potatohead! Ugly Mrs. Potatohead!” the child raged, finally hurling both to the floor and stamping them to a pulp.
Copyright © 2013 by Geoffrey Grosshans