One afternoon last summer, I fell asleep on the patio and dreamt that a deer walked up and licked me. I awoke with a start and there in the distance stood a doe, gazing at me, and — I am not making this up —her eyes were filled with longing.
No surprise, really, when one considers that I am perpetually covered in a thin sheen of salt, a side-effect of hot flashes. That day was no different. To the doe, I must have appeared a rounded-off salt lick.
It wouldn’t be the first time, either. When I was sixteen and alone on an island in Canada, I awoke to a beaver nibbling on my foot. It was the end of an Outward Bound survival expedition and I hadn’t seen a bar of soap in weeks. No doubt the beaver smelled my salty scent and came to investigate. I don’t know who was more scared, he or I. When I jerked awake, he gave a little jump, poor thing, and turned his fluffy bottom around, waddling away as fast as he could. I felt bad for him.
Plus, I missed him. He and I knew each other for but a few brief seconds but we shared a connection. You see, this was Day Two of the final portion of Outward Bound called “solo”, where the leaders deposit each kid on a separate island to spend three days alone with nothing but a sleeping bag and a diary. No food, no bug spray, and worst of all, no one to talk to. I wrote about Mr. McBeaver in my diary. I looked for him in the underbrush. At night when I couldn’t sleep because of the Satan-like mosquitoes, I held imaginary conversations with him. And to be honest, I imagined eating him. Three days with no food is ridiculous. I don’t think the Outward Bound organization is allowed to do that anymore. I looked like Rose of Sharon from The Grapes of Wrath when I returned to suburbia.
This is a prolonged introduction to a story I came across recently about an eight-year-old girl with a compulsion to lick antiques in the mall. Like a pint-sized axe-licking Yukon Cornelius, this little girl could discern the value of an item based on how salty it tasted. Her mother used her like a divining rod to ferret out pre-Columbian pottery.
I’ve tried the past hour to find the reference. Stupid internet, you can never completely retrace your steps. But it doesn’t matter because the story is one-hundred percent plausible. We rely on our senses when making decisions about what to buy, and indeed, some people rely on their sense of taste to judge an object.
Like the man I saw licking jewelry at an estate sale once. He was not an eight-year-old child, nor did he look like Yukon Cornelius, so his licking did not go over well with Barb, the woman running the sale. I've been to lots of Barb's estate sales and you don't rile her if you can help it. She once chewed out a sweet grandma who had the audacity to fall down the stairs of a sunken living room. Barb could moonlight as a prison guard at the maximum security state penitentiary up in Waupan, and no one would be shiving nobody.
So when Barb caught the man licking her goods, she gave him a tongue lashing that I tried to record on my phone, but my hands were full. It went sort of like this:
Barb: "What in Sam Hill are you doing?"
Jewelry Licker: "I'm testing the purity of these gold bracelets."
Barb: "No you're not."
Jewelry Licker: "I am. It's a well-established fact that the purer the gold, the more the piece tastes like strawberries."
Barb: "Get your slimy tongue off my jewelry and while you're at it, you can lick my @#$ on your way outta here."
I left shortly after the jewelry licker did. You can guess where I went. Straight home to lick every piece of jewelry I own. No hint of strawberry whatsoever. The salt though? I definitely tasted salt.
Photo via National Archives. Author's Note: The name "Barb" is a common name among the many estate sale operators I know.
I'd love to hear how you evaluate an object's worth. Are you a sniffer or a licker? Leave me a comment below!
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