Last night I had a nightmare about donuts. In the dream I was very hungry and I was eating donuts, lots of donuts. Every donut I ate, I got hungrier. I poured down glass after glass of milk, tearing apart glazed donuts and swallowing huge chunks of them, barely chewing. Then sort of half asleep, half awake, I realized it was just a dream. It was like when I quit smoking and then dreamed I had started smoking again. I felt the same emotions–horror, disgust, self-loathing.
It must mean something that donuts are practically a universal food. Humans must be hardwired to desire them. Donut lust is part of our unconscious. Who came up with the idea of frying dough, then rolling it in sugar, pumping it full of custard, slathering it with jam and icing and chocolate? Probably the same kind of people who thought of the lethal injection.
Years ago, when the Dawn’s Donuts appeared on the corner of Center and Hemeter in Saginaw, it was like something exotic and magical had come from outer space and settled on that corner. One happy day an ice storm blew through Freeland, uprooting trees and downing powerlines. School was closed, and a bunch of us piled into Richard Roche’s blue Chevy II Nova and rode to Dawn’s Donuts, where we drank mugs of coffee and ate donuts. That may have been the first time I ate a cruller, sometimes called a “French Cruller,” though the term “cruller,” according to Free Merriman-Webster, comes from middle Dutch crul, meaning curl, although according my urban dictionary, cruller also means “anus” (“yank those rosemary beads out of my cruller”) and “a man who likes to pee on himself” (“My friend is a cruller so he always takes the stall instead of the urinal”). Very well then. But the best definition, at least the one that best harmonizes with my upbringing, is “a tractor tire shaped donut.” That pretty much nails it, while inducing fantasies of size. When I was in the ninth grade, if there had been a cruller the size of a tractor tire, it would have been heaven. Or perhaps an inner-tube-sized cruller, enabling a gluttonous adolescent to float down the Rifle River, yanking off hunks of donut and stuffing them in his mouth.
Then when I was in college Tim Horton’s came along. At that time, Tim Horton and Wendys had not yet become a multinational corporation. Tim Horton’s was still a far-off Canada thing, making it more exotic than Dawn’s. I had a pal from Philadelphia named Denise who, one weekend when her friend Lynne was visiting, decided to join me on a trip to Stratford. We saw Love’s Labors Lost, slept in pup tents in a hot weedy lot posing as a campground, the two of them together in one tent, me solo in the other, and sat at the counter in Tim Horton’s eating crullers and drinking Tim’s heavenly coffee. For me, donut regret had already crept into the experience. Even one tasted like too many.
At that time, my friend and her companion had a Philly pal studying art in London, so on our way back to Detroit, we stopped to visit this friend Sharon, who was older and married and had a house. To celebrate this little reunion, we did not eat donuts. We ate scrapple, a Philly delicacy also known as “pon mus” by the Pennsylvania dutch, as “pork mush” by people who prefer not to use words like “pon mus,” and “death by sandwich” by anyone not raised in the mid-Atlantic states. What else are you going to do with your hog offal?
It was a brief stopover, marked by an awkward moment when Sharon’s husband, who wore baggy shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, and had long shaggy hair, ushered us into the vagina room, formerly known as the dining room, to show us the latest masterpiece in his wife’s oeuvre. The painting was right above the buffet, a woman’s thighs and this gigantic sexual vortex. There was nothing stylized or abstract about it. There was no Georgia O’Keefe flower imagery. It was just a big anatomical billboard, in garish colors, that caused me to reflect on the difference between art (take a long look, it makes you feel good) and porn (take a quick peek, it makes you feel bad). But this thing seemed neither art nor pornography.
Denise and Lynne gazed, nodded, and approved. They said it made a statement. Sharon said that was her purpose. The feminist movement was in full swing, represented in the popular imagination by bra burning, by Gloria Steinem and her glasses, by Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique. This work of art, Sharon said, was neither aesthetic nor erotic. It was a rhetorical.
Yeah, the Philly girls said. It’s political.
We stood there in silence, sucking scrapple from our teeth, contemplating the political vagina.
What do you think? the husband asked me, with obvious pride. I had an idea it was not entirely political to him.
I was at a loss. I would have been happy going back to the kitchen, even if it meant eating scrapple. Finally I just said what was on my mind: It’s really big.
Many years after that my wife and I took her cousin’s family, visiting from Italy, to Disney World, where we encountered no end of food difficulty. It seemed to me, Mickey and all those roving characters notwithstanding, the place might have more properly been called Hormel Land. It seemed like Hormel and its smoked processed meat were everywhere. Breakfast in particular was a challenge. How do Italians start the day? Sausage and eggs? No. Cereal? Don’t believe those mueslix commercials. They like coffee and pastries. Italian kids like cookies and chocolate spread. There was no chocolate spread. None of the cookies were right anyway. The cousin’s wife could find nothing to feed her child, a nervous little boy around three years old, until the second day, when she discovered sugar donuts that resembled their bomboloni, which she broke into pieces and fed to her boy, who lay back in her arms in dreamy donut esctasy. What he didn’t eat she finished. They had finally found a food they could reason with.
I took psychology in college. Child psych, abnormal psych, psych of religion, psych of sex. I may even have read some of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and learned about the pleasure principle and wish fulfillment, about unconscious desire finding expression in dreams. The idea of dream interpretation seemed appealing. As far as I could tell, there were no rules, other than this stands for that and make it work: In your dream you are running. You’re trying to get away from something. Those white basketballs in the dream, those are cauliflowers, which stand for your mother. You’re trying to get away from your mother.
I have an idea what Freud would have said about my donut dream, about donuts in all their various permutations. He might have been right. Anymore, I can’t drive by Tim Horton’s and not think about political vagina. But is that unconscious turmoil and wish fulfillment going on there? I don’t think so. For one thing, to borrow from Dorothy Parker, deep down, I’m a very superficial person. And for another, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a donut is just a donut.
Rick Bailey‘s work has appeared in The Writer’s Workshop Review, Ragazine, Phantom Kangaroo, Fear of Monkeys, and Atticus Review.