October 21, 2014

WEISMAN | Back to Basics

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“That’s all you want? Just plain?”’

As a person who has been called “Plain Jane” my entire life, I hear this a lot. When asked this question at countless eating establishments, I am more used to saying, “Yes, that’s all,” or “Yes, just plain,” than most Chipotle lovers are used to saying, “Yes, I know guac is extra.”

My taste buds never seemed to live up to anyone’s standards. From a young age, I have been questioned and teased for only liking vanilla desserts, refusing to eat chocolate and sticking with the same foods all the time. My parents — probably rightfully so — became frustrated with my limited palette, since there were only so many foods they could make for dinner that I would eat. A common dinner for seven-year-old Sam included pasta with butter or a bagel with cream cheese, even when the rest of the family was eating Chinese food.

Trying broccoli at age eight was a huge accomplishment. I was at a friend’s house, and her mother sent a picture of me eating it to my mother, since she knew she wouldn’t believe it otherwise. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?

I used to get frustrated when all of my friends were eating chocolate chip cookies, or when parents of my friends didn’t make something I liked for dinner. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that most of this frustration was with myself. I can’t control my taste buds, but I can control my willingness to try new things.

At this point in the column, you may be thinking, “What sort of real world issue is Sam going to try to spin this into today?” Don’t worry — I’m not going to try to tell you to try more new things or that being picky is going to hold you back from opportunities. In fact, I would sort of like to advocate for the opposite. Sometimes, going back to the basics and being a Plain Jane can be really nice, or even successful.

On Sunday night, John Oliver, host of the new HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, aired a hilarious segment about the Supreme Court. Since only the audio of Supreme Court proceedings is available to the public, Oliver played the audio from a recent case over a scene featuring dogs as the justices. While the backdrop for the video is intricate — they created a replica of the Supreme Court, sized appropriately for dogs — the concept itself is pretty simple. Instead of coming up with a complicated and never-before-seen idea, Oliver literally set an audio recording to dogs sitting in chairs. Evidenced by the massive amounts of Facebook and Twitter posts I have seen featuring the video, people loved it. The simple idea of showing dogs instead of people was still funny and extremely successful.

Last Thursday, I attended A Capella United, a performance featuring 13 of Cornell’s a capella groups benefiting the United Way of Tompkins County. While all of the participating groups are talented, the ones that stood out to me were the groups that played it simple, by choosing talented soloists to sing songs suitable to their voices. The groups that played to their strengths, as opposed to singing complicated or risky songs, were the most fun to watch and seemed to have the best time performing.

Although I have certainly tried more new things and foods as I’ve gotten older, I always appreciate a trip back to Simple Town. Let’s take CTB for an example: My staple is a bagel with cream cheese. (Lately, I’ve been loving the seasonal apple cinnamon ones — I highly recommend them.) But sometimes I tell myself I should venture out of my comfort zone and order one of those fancy bagels that everyone is always posting pictures of on Instagram. More often than not, when I order these elaborate creations, it doesn’t live up to the hype and I regret my choice (the important decisions, I know). Sometimes, I tell myself, it’s okay if I don’t want to venture out of my comfort zone. While getting a plain bagel might seem lame or boring to some, to me it represents comfort and reliability. And it may be silly, but when faced with a choice between comfort and risk, every now and then, sticking with your version of a bagel and cream cheese might be all you really need.