Frank Tertletaub stood on the precipice of history. Never before had he faced a moment like this, one that his life had been leading towards for all of his 18 years. As he prepared for this unprecedented moment, he found his mouth dry, his palms clammy and damp, and his left ear ringing slightly (though he always heard slight ringing in his left ear after a wasp took up residency there for several months when Frank was 11).
He had never been so nervous in his life.
An only child, Frank had been celebrated, doted on, and yes, you could say spoiled by his attentive parents, Jim and Molly, who had seen to his every need.
At the time of Frank’s birth, Jim and Molly had both retired from their jobs as day laborers in the strawberry fields of Central California. Most day laborers aren’t able to retire at age 32, but Jim and Molly had been particularly good strawberry pickers, perhaps the best ever (you may have heard of Jim’s patented “Tertletaub Toss,” which revolutionized the way that pickers put strawberries into a basket), and they had amassed a fortune that would have made Croesus blind with jealous rage (or at least very upset).
Because Jim and Molly were appreciative of everything the strawberry had given them, when they retired to Santa Monica, California, they built a solid-gold house in the shape of a strawberry. This was the home in which Frank would grow up.
If you’ve seen the TV show “Silver Spoons,” you have some understanding of what life was like for Frank in the strawberry house - it was as if someone had moved an entire wing of merchandise from Toys “R” Us into this solid-gold single-family home. Toys, games, trains, miniature cars, you name it - even Ricky Schroeder briefly lived there.
And the staff! Chefs, maids, a butler named Rhubarb…Frank never had to do any chores, never had to lift a finger to do anything, and never learned responsibility. But Jim and Molly were okay with that - Frank could concentrate on being a kid, focus on his studies, and maintain lots of friends. Thanks to the strawberry, Frank wouldn’t have to work in the (incredibly lucrative, as it turns out) fields like his parents, and Jim and Molly were proud of that.
Everything seemed to be going to plan until just before Frank was to go off to a prestigious university in the northeast. At that point, the family discovered that Frank had never actually eaten a strawberry - even though it was the foundation of the family fortune and the architectural inspiration for the home in which Frank grew up.
“I guess we just never bought any,” Jim said when the family made this revelation. “It never really crossed our minds.”
So on Frank’s last night at home, his parents presented him with a strawberry. It was a big, fresh, beautiful one, purchased at the Santa Monica farmer’s market earlier that day. Jim gave a speech about the importance of the strawberry, all it had given the family, and how special it was to see his son, just before going off to college, finally eat one.
All three Tertletaubs had tears in their eyes as Frank lifted the strawberry to his mouth, took a bite and…immediately spit it out.
“THAT’S what a strawberry tastes like? Jesus, it’s awful! That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted in my life!”
“Frank, wh-wh-what are you talking about?” his father stammered. “Who doesn’t like strawberries? They’re nature’s candy!”
“My God, are you kidding me? I can’t believe anyone eats those things! And this is the entity on which our entire lives are built?”
“Frank, honey, it’s okay,” his mother cooed. “If you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it.”
“Mom, it’s NOT okay! My whole life is a LIE! This is ALL a LIE!”
Frank very nearly had a nervous breakdown that night. But in the middle of attempting to destroy everything in his room, he suddenly stopped when he discovered a snow globe with a strawberry inside it. He picked it up and looked at it, longingly.
“Strawberry,” he said quietly. And then he collapsed, dropping the globe to the ground, and falling asleep in the middle of the floor.
When he awoke the next morning, Frank found himself filled with a resolve he had never felt before. He had realized the folly of his upbringing, how he had no conception of responsibility and was totally unprepared to face the world.
Jim and Molly were petrified when Frank came out of his room, but he quickly disarmed them with his suddenly discovered maturity.
“Mom, Dad, I’m sorry for what happened last night,” he began. “But tasting that strawberry helped me to realize all that you have done for me to get me to this point, but how I now need to start being a man and taking responsibility for my own actions. And when I get to college, I am going to show myself and everyone that I can be responsible and that I don’t need strawberries to be successful.”
“That’s wonderful, dear!” Molly swooned.
“Atta boy, son!” Jim cried out.
“My first order of business will be to show that I am a man and that strawberries are behind me for good: I am going to do something incredible, something unprecedented, something HISTORIC: I am going to do my own laundry!”
“Go get ‘em, son!”
Frank stormed out of the house into the family vehicle (a solid-gold car in the shape of, you guessed it, a strawberry), which took him to the family’s private plane (see: previous parenthetical).
Frank arrived on campus and immediately inquired as to the location of the laundry room. Although he had never seen the washer and dryer in his own home back in California, he had studied how to do laundry on the Internet during the flight to school.
He accounted for everything - proper detergent, bleach, fabric softener, proper water temperature, he knew it all - it was as if he gone to graduate school to learn how to do laundry (without actually having done a single load).
As he set to work, the process was still foreign to him, and he at times was unsure of himself. But he pressed on, moving his soaked clothes from washer to dryer while blinded by his zeal for the task and what it would mean for his future. He pressed “Start” on the dryer with a feeling of freedom and independence he had never felt before.
And that brings us back where this tale began. After 35 minutes, the dryer’s buzzer went off, sending sensations of anticipation, pride, and a little fear through Frank’s body. This would be the defining moment in his life.
He licked his lips, wiped off his clammy hands, took a deep breath and reached out for the dryer door, just as a large group of freshmen entered the laundry room. They were taking a tour of the dorm.
“This is the laundry room, guys,” the tour leader said. “And it looks like someone is already getting acquainted with the machines. Let’s watch!”
Frank paid them no heed as he swung open the dryer door. He reached into the dryer, grabbed two armfuls of clothes and pulled them out, exclaiming, “Today I am a MAN!” He turned to his fellow students, grinning with pride, clothes pressed hard to his chest. But the grin soon disappeared when the students began laughing uproariously.
What Frank didn’t realize was that there had been a hole in his laundry education. Nowhere in the literature had there been any warnings about checking the dryer for leftover clothing before washing with warm water. So he never noticed the red sock that had already been in the washer when he put his clothes in - the red sock that had turned all of his clothes to the color of…a strawberry.
When the laughing was at its peak, one student called out, “Who are you supposed to be, Strawberry Shortcake?”
Frank would never do laundry again. His dreams of independence and freedom were crushed for good. He would forever be known on campus as “Strawberry Shortcake.” His life, for all intents and purposes, was over.