We’d been doing civics for the past month. I was teaching second grade at Witherspoon Elementary, struggling to teach the meaning of Gettysburg and the Battle of Princeton to a bunch of eight year-olds, especially without giving a diatribe about the evils of slavery and making them bring that shit home to their parents.
One day, I was stuttering through a lesson on a states’ rights speech by Jefferson Davis when, suddenly, Jimmy blurted out, Mr. Johnson, you look like a banana! The other kids laughed their asses off, latching onto the joke immediately. Yeah, a big, fat banana! A big, fat, stinky banana!
Alright, alright — I know my clothes are a little funny. I was wearing a yellow Ralph Lauren button-down and some bright, mustard khakis. Brown shoes, too — the stem, I guess. Just for today, you can call me Mr. Banana. The kids exploded after that. We didn’t accomplish much for the rest of the day, but I wondered if this whole Mr. Banana business might actually be good for them.
On the way home, I decided to buy some stuff from Greene Street: a couple of yellow button-downs, some yellow ties, a few pairs of pants. I signed the receipt Mr. Banana; the cashier didn’t notice, but I chuckled as I walked out the door.
Walking down Nassau, I had the sudden craving for banana bread, so I went to Wawa and bought some ingredients. Figured I would bake one for myself and one for the kids. When I got home, I mixed up the ingredients and put two loaves in the oven, then I pulled up an old episode of Sesame Street on YouTube. I was thinking a lot about yellow, I guess, but it had never occurred to me how magnetic Big Bird was: that lovable behemoth, always brightening everyone’s mood. There’s this one episode where he goes to school for the first time, and he tries to take his desk from the classroom because the teacher said it was “his.” I laughed thinking about having a giant bird in my classroom; everything would probably go to shit.
Anyway, once the banana bread was done, I sliced myself a big piece, squirting a little whipped cream on top. It was good but tasted a little strange. Figured I would change up the recipe if I made another batch.
The next day, I came into school in full-yellow garb; a pineapple tie, some pastel pants — even an old pair of shoes that I spray-painted yellow. Once the kids sat down, we went through our daily salutation, with a slight twist:
Gooooood morning, class.
Good morning, Mr. Banana!
Every kid got a piece of banana bread wrapped in plastic. Between the gluten and walnuts and eggs, I probably would’ve been sued if a crumb fell on the floor.
Somehow, we made some headway on the Civil War that day; I showed them segments from a documentary about Abraham Lincoln, and they actually sat still, fumbling the banana bread in their hands.
I started getting emails from parents a few days later:
Alice absolutely loves your class! She said you’re the funniest teacher she’s ever had — keep up the good work!
It was nice to get that approval, like I was actually doing something important. Hell, maybe these kids would even remember some of the stuff I taught them.
So, I started to go all out, bringing in yellow streamers to hang across the classroom, typing up the weekly newsletter with a banana-themed border, taking showers with L’Oréal Banana Blast Shampoo. I spent hours on Google, just so I could do a “Banana Fact of the Day” for the kids. Turns out the scientific name for “banana” is musa sapientum, which means “fruit of the wise men.” Go figure.
I decided I would bring in banana bread every Monday — something for the kids to look forward to at the beginning of the week. I added a few sprinkles of cinnamon to the second batch, but the batter still didn’t taste right to me. I figured a few strands of my banana-infused hair might do the trick; so I chopped off a few stragglers from the back of my neck and sautéed them in some olive oil. The batter had a slight punch after that — definitely an improvement.
I met with Principal Dole the next morning. Felt a little ridiculous going to a meeting in a neon-yellow Jerry Garcia, but he didn’t seem to mind.
You know, Mr. Johnson, I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about your whole fruit-themed initiative. Seems to really keep the kids focused.
Anything to improve those test scores, right?
Hey, if it works, it works. Keep it up, and you might find yourself tenured in a few years.
I’m just happy to get through to these kids, sir.
It was almost June, and the mosquitoes were starting to come out. Turns out banana peels are a good cure for the bites. I asked anyone in class if they wanted to volunteer; Jimmy had a big, nasty bite on his arm, and he wiped the peel all over his arms in front of the class — on his face, too.
How does that feel, Jimmy?
Really cool, Mr. Banana!
Anyone else want to give it a try?
Everyone in the class raised their hand.
When I got home, I turned on a documentary about corruption in Chiquita Brands International — apparently they brought cocaine to Borneo on some of their ships. Treated the plantation workers like shit, too. I thought it would be nice to write a letter to the company about my initiative. Figured they might like to know that their product was more than just a topping for oatmeal. I spent the whole night writing, and it turned into a few thousand words about my theories on elementary education. I didn’t really think much of it, but I sent it with the subject “Bananas Are More Than Just Food” to [email protected] — it would probably be lost among all the shit from angry customers, anyway.
It didn’t cross my mind again until that weekend, when I got a phone call on the treadmill at Planet Fitness.
Mr. Johnson? This is Sophie from the Star Ledger. Just got an email from someone at Chiquita — do you have a few minutes for an interview?
Um, yeah, of course.
I was on the cover that week. It was a photo of me, dressed in full-yellow, pointing above the camera in the foreground with all the gape-mouthed students behind me: “Mr. Banana Peels Away the Doubters.” The local CBS station stopped by the school for a segment, too.
I watched my segment that Sunday: a few minutes of my awkward teaching voice, interspersed with interviews from me, Principal Dole, and a few parents. Apparently, some other elementary school teachers were starting to do it too; Mrs. Strawberry, Mr. Blueberry — I wondered if anyone else was doing the banana, too.
Once the special was over, I went to work on my third batch of banana bread. I sprinkled the cinnamon, sautéed some of my neck hair, but the batter still tasted a little flat to me. I looked down at my hands; it occurred to me that my skin was starting to turn a little yellow — probably from all the bananas I’d been eating.
I wondered if my skin had any of that flavor, too. I grabbed the tweezers and plucked a thin piece from the tip of my thumb; it was a little salty, but definitely had a fruity taste to it. I figured I’d try it out in the batter, so I took a bowl and plucked some skin off all ten of my fingers, then I mixed it in. Tasted great.
That morning, people actually recognized me in the streets. All those Princeton kids must watch the news; I couldn’t make it more than a few steps down Washington without being stopped for a selfie or a congratulatory handshake. It was nice, actually — I never thought wearing silly clothes would make people like me so much.
I threw up in the trashcan when I walked in the classroom. Figured I’d been eating too much potassium. It was pure yellow, of course: that bright, bile-and-banana mixture — must have been churning in my stomach for days. I was there early, just so I wouldn’t have to engage in that jealous, snarky small talk with the other teachers: So you’re some sort of teaching genius, huh? I wrote the “Banana Fact of the Day” on the blackboard, then sat at my desk, shaking, waiting for the kids to arrive.
I handed out the rations of banana bread after the Pledge of Allegiance. I wondered if the kids would still eat it if they knew they were eating a piece of me — figured I should keep it a secret for the time being. Plus it was my best batch yet; they didn’t need to know how it was made.
That night, I got another email from Mrs. Goldman:
Good evening, Mr. Johnson,
Congrats on your fifteen minutes! Alice just loves the idea that her teacher is famous! We really appreciate all of your effort — especially baking for the kids every week. Just a heads-up: Alice found a hair in her banana bread this evening — make sure you’re keeping things clean at home. We don’t want her to get sick and miss out on class!
I went to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. Still dressed in my work clothes, it occurred to me that I was really starting to look like a banana. I gelled the top of my hair into a curved, pointed stem and turned sideways, arching my back. For a second there, my face in the mirror disappeared; I was perfectly smooth, perfectly curved, perfectly ripe. I almost cried thinking about changing into my pajamas. Instead of a delicious, yellowish pulp, I was just a freckled, overweight sack of blood and bones.
I peeled off my clothes and walked into the kitchen. Just to make sure, I took a kitchen knife and made a small incision on my forearm. The blood immediately oozed out, and dark, purple sludge began to drip onto the floor. I sliced the other arm to the same result, then sat down, watching the blood sputter angrily onto my thighs.
I woke up a few hours later, shivering, caked in a brown, metallic crust. I ate some breakfast, took a shower, then put on my full-yellow outfit. Figured I should wear long sleeves for the next few days.
On Friday, the students performed a little play about Appomattox Courthouse. Sitting in the back of the classroom, I wiped my eyes and typed an inquiry into Google: Did the confederate soldiers eat bananas?
I spent the weekend at home, lights off, watching the same episode of Sesame Street on repeat: Big Bird yanking, yanking, on the desk, the nails screeching from the force. You said it was mine! You said it was mine!
On Sunday night, I chopped off my left pinky and fried it in the skillet. I sliced it into tiny pieces and mixed it into the batter. The banana bread came out darker than usual — a little savory, but still delicious. I wrapped my left hand in gauze and went to bed.
I woke up late the next morning — only had a few minutes to get ready. I slid into an Average Joes T-Shirt and a pair of yellow khakis, stuffed the banana bread into my backpack, and walked out the door.
The kids stared at me warily as they walked into the classroom. Once they sat down, Jimmy raised his hand.
Mr. Banana, what happened to your hand?
Oh, this — just a little accident. Nothing to worry about.
I held up my hand for the whole class to see.
Were you climbing a tree?
No, Jimmy. Just an accident in the kitchen.
What are those scratches on your arms?
I looked down. My forearms were crusty with blood — must’ve opened up the cuts again, somehow. I hadn’t showered in days.
Don’t worry, kids. Let me run to the bathroom and clean up.
I rushed out of the classroom into the bathroom across the hall. I took the gauze off my left hand, then I pounded my fist against the hand dryer until every bone shattered.
I woke up to the sound of a faint whisper behind me. I stood up and turned around; it was a banana — slightly bruised, but a beautiful shade of yellow, with sharp lines protruding from the stem. He turned sideways, revealing his perfect curvature, and flashed me a big smile.
I walked toward him, closer and closer, until my nose was inches from the glass.
Then he reached up and grabbed the top of his stem, stretching it sharply to one side. Slowly, he pulled it apart, revealing that incredible white flesh inside: radiating, breathing, beautiful.
So I did the same: dragging my fingernails down my scalp, carving into my bones. The fresh, airy pulp coated my forearms, and clumps of yellow shrapnel fluttered to my feet.
And then I was naked for the first time, staring into my own eyes, my own flesh, panting, finally believing that I was something more. I pressed my lips against the glass, a cool breeze rushed to my core, and then I was gone.
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