Oh My Sweet Potato

by jkatejohnston

2 April 2016

Dear Max,

I think I should get an exemption from getting fatter as I get older. I was a fat kid. I’ve done my time. (Fat by 70’s standards, but still.) It’s a variation on my feeling about aging and death in general: they’re not for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but I’m doing other things. Anyway, the exemption has not come through. All my work clothes are tight. I feel sausage-y and depressed.

For the record, I’m 47. I read, or maybe heard on the radio, that middle-agers are the unhappiest people in the world. Young people are full of hope. Old people too—who knew? Studies show (I love studies) that it’s because people my age have parents and children at the same time, and it’s hell. I think it’s because we’re getting fatter and fatter and fatter until we explode.


A few days ago at dinner I put one chunk of roasted purple sweet potato on Enzo’s plate. His No Thank You Bite. (Fuck.)

When I looked up, he was eating his canned corn, and the one bite of sweet potato was gone.

“How’d you like your purple sweet potato?”

“Fine.” But he looked pleased with himself.

“All right, where is it?”

“I ate it!” Big smile.

“Yeah, right.”

“I put it on your plate and you can’t find it.” I looked at my plate piled high with roasted sweet potato chunks, slivered almonds, gorgonzola and tangerine slices. I could have explained that sweet potato chunks are fungible, and here’s one of mine right back at you, but my sweet potatoes were all gorgonzola-y, which I knew he’d reject. (Can you believe it? Double fuck.)

“I win,” he said, “I win. Boom.”


I’ve been meaning to write about those purple sweet potatoes. I ate a lot of them a few weeks ago while Teresa and Enzo were in Reno. I was alone with the dogs, writing in my head about the freight train cars and the trashy houses at the construction site. See my attempt at punditry:


I started sorting the world into authentic and not-authentic. Freight train cars (authentic); trashy houses (not). Converse All-Stars (authentic); shoes-with-toes (not). Libraries (authentic); museums (not). I’m sure museums are authentic for some people, but I always feel like there’s some experience that I’m supposed to be having, and where’s the gift shop? Anyway, it was really a list of things I like and things I don’t like.

And the whole time Teresa and Enzo were gone, I was eating these cold roasted sweet potatoes. When you eat them outside in the sunlight and break them apart, their color looks artificial, practically glowing, maybe even nuclear. But they’re long and lumpy with inconvenient twists and turns, about as un-engineered as you can get. I wondered if they were some GMO wonder or maybe an heirloom variety. And I knew I’d been alone too long when I found myself staring down my dinner and thinking, “Oh my sweet potato, are you authentic?”