Pictured below is an edible treat from Ruth, diminutive of Ruthless, my company’s fierce general manager (lightweights need not apply to work her job).
It was sitting with its chums in a bowl in the Accounting Department. I asked Edith, the data entry operator:
Me: Hey Edith, what are those things?
Edith: Something Ruth picked up in Chinatown. I’m stayin’ away.
Edith said this in a tone reeking of such disgust, to an untrained ear one might have had the impression that Ruth picked up the gift of scurvy for her staff. These hairy lychee nuts did look rather homely to me, but homely in an interesting borderline erotic way if I were inclined to violate myself with skin ripping prickly things. (Note: I don’t have that particular kink.) At least these conversation pieces were compact unlike this infinitely bigger source of visual pollution that’s been haunting West End Avenue ever since the economy tanked.
Currently, it’s parked outside my Upper West Side abode. I do not begrudge whoever resides in this rolling eyesore. That genius has certainly hit on a very cost-effective way to avoid the monthly pain of paying rent that’s “too damn high!”
As I was exiting Accounting, Ruth called out my name, beckoning me to return. I did. She offered me one of her treats.
Me: What are these things?
Ruth: I don’t know what they’re called. Take one. Eat it. They’re good.
Ruth takes one and puts it in my hand. It feels rough. If anything tastes remotely good to our Accounting staff, it’s devoured at warp speed, so I’m skeptical.
Me: If they’re that good, how come your staff hasn’t inhaled all of them?
On cue, three members of her staff are on their feet walking toward me, curious to see if Ruth can get me to eat one.
Me: Besides how do you open it, with a jackhammer?
Ruth takes one, digs in her thumbs and peels back the skin. It comes off as easily as a horndog politician’s Dockers revealing the pale fleshy fruit within that does resemble a lychee nut. Linda, one of Ruth’s minions, approaches:
Linda: Ruth, you’re a pro at peeling that off!
Ruth: It’s easy, Linda, try it.
Linda has one on her desk. She’s using it as a paperweight.
Linda: I need to know the nutritional value. Is it high in sodium? Will it lower my cholesterol?
Ruth bites into the flesh, and makes a monosyllabic sound as if in ecstasy. She insists:
Ruth: This is really good you guys!
I like lychee nuts, and I think I would like this thing, too, but now I want to show it to Ling to find out what it really is. Ling’s Chinese-American; she knows all the fruits and vegetables of her ancestors. I hightail out of Accounting and make a beeline for my buddy. I return to my desk showing off my treat. Ling squints:
Ling: What the hell is that?
Me: You don’t know. Isn’t it some kind of hairy lychee nut?
Ling: I don’t think that’s a lychee nut. Lychee nuts are smaller, redder and their bumps are different. I really don’t know what you have there, but when you’re ready eat it, I want to know what it’s like.
Elsbeth, our superior was hovering, so for now it’s sitting on my desk serving as our conversation piece. I did Google “hairy lychee nut” when I returned home and learned that it’s actually a tropical fruit called a rambutan that’s native to Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and other places in Southeast Asia. No mention of it being popular in Ling’s part of the world, the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border side of China.
For anyone that shares Linda’s obsession with nutritional value, here’s what the USDA has to say about canned rambutan packed in syrup.
It appears to be a significant source of niacin, vitamin c, and manganese, as well as an addition to my now expanded vocabulary.
Update: as I was leaving work on Friday, I realized that in my usual bored-out-of-what’s-left-of-my mind haze, I completely forgot to eat my rambutan. Ling said:
Ling: You probably should have refrigerated it. On Monday, it’ll probably be dried out.
I grabbed it off my desk and plopped it into my satchel. Once in the confines of my inner sanctum, I attempted to peel it. The skin was more resistant to shedding for me than it was for Ruth, and I got a big squirt of juice in the face. Once stripped, the fruit was still plump. As for the taste, it tasted very similar to a lychee nut, sweet and flavorful. Then, I chased it with a Heineken to officially kick off the weekend.