Thursday, October 15, 2009

Window Pain

I'm a list-maker.

  • Make doctor's appointment
  • Read some Chinese
  • Stare at wall

I like to see the things I want or need to do. The therapy of writing.

As a renter, there's many things I could contribute to the landlord's To-Do List. But I'm a tolerant tenant and put up with a lot. An unspoken agreement for cheap rent. Well, actually, it's because my husband fixes most things. (I married well.)

Except for the windows. They are old and either broken or in varying stages of breaking. In fact, more than a few panes are held together by packing tape -- which actually works surprisingly well.

After my son was born my worst fear was his going through one of the windows and landing three stories down. As if by genetic adaptation, though, he showed no interest in climbing or the windows.

But once during a severe windstorm I was standing in the kitchen when I heard glass break and saw the pieces fall to the ground.

“Oh, that sucks,” I remember thinking. “Someone’s plant just got blown through a window.”

A few minutes later, as I walked past my son playing on the living room carpet, I felt a cold breeze coming down the stairs. But all the windows are closed, I thought.

Feeling suddenly nauseous, I ran upstairs into his bedroom to find a sharp jagged broken piece of glass where the pane used to be, the curtain whipping violently into third-story air.

New To-Do List:

  • Break out remaining jagged glass
  • Barricade door

I pulled it together enough to hug my son and call my husband. Then hug my son again. I went back to that special flipped out place long enough to leave my landlord a flaming message.

"The glass in my son's bedroom window was just sucked out of the rotten casing by the wind!"

Or something like that.

A solid two years after this incident, the landlord pushed replacing some of our worst-case windows to the top of his to-do list. This includes replacing his temporary repair job in my son's room that left a gaping hole in the window sill.

When the window repairman came by to measure the windows I told him the story of how my son's window ended up in the alley below. He nonchalantly said, “Don’t worry. I understand. When I was his age, I fell 6 stories out of a window while my mom was in the shower."

What? Whatdidhejustsay??

He told me that when he was 4-years-old, he popped out a window screen in their 6th floor apartment and played a game of throwing out his toys one by one. Upset that all his toys were now on the ground, he leaned out the window to get them.

He remembers vividly hanging on, yelling, when a fire truck, sirens blaring, drove up. Out jumped a team of firemen carrying a trampoline. They yelled to him, “Go ahead. Jump! It’s safe! You’ll be okay! Just jump!”

So he jumped.

But that’s not what happened.

As the story was retold to him, a cab driver, lost in the neighborhood, looked up and saw what he thought was a doll falling out of a 6-story apartment window.

When he realized that it wasn’t a doll but a child, he rushed over to find the child on the soft, wet ground choking on his own tongue. He removed the child’s tongue and saved his life.

"Not a scratch or bruise on me," said the carpenter smiling in my doorway with his notebook of measurements in hand. "And I've been fixing windows for the past 35 years."

I am SO glad to be on this man's To-Do List.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Notes on a Food Purist

And so it began with a simple question. “Would you like some strawberry crisps?”

He says, “No thanks. I don’t like dried fruit."

She says, "They’re not dried fruit. They’re granola crisps."

He says, “I generally don’t like things called ‘crisps.’”

She says, “Just try one. They’re made with ancient grains, spelt, quinoa and uh, a-ma-ranth. Says right here on the bag it 'contains vitamin E and is good for the circulatory system.' You don’t like cold feet. Come on. Try one.”

He takes the tiniest nibble. “Too sweet.”

She says, “But it doesn’t have any high fructose … it’s a whole grain … oh, forget it.”

You could say I was forewarned that food would be an issue with my husband. While we were email courting, he bragged that he ate everything from “Albacore to Zucchini.”

Who brags about the variety of foods they eat, I thought? People who have been accused of overly selective eating habits. That’s who.

When it comes to eating, my husband doesn’t just have likes and dislikes. Well all have those. He has (an ever-growing list of) rules.

Don’t mix things that shouldn’t be mixed. Like adding buttered corn on top of mashed potatoes. (Yum.) Succotash is a big problem.

Sweet is sweet. Savory is savory. He wants to keep it that way. Sweet potatoes? Not his thing. And the whole honey-mustard combination disturbs him. Luckily, I don't have to deal with the conundrum of serving duck topped with a fruit compote or a ham with pineapple glaze because he’s a lacto-ovo pescetarian.

No fake meat. When I made vegetarian stuffed peppers, I told him I used wheat gluten flavored with oregano which I knew would be oddly more appetizing to him than "vegetarian sausage." And he doesn't want to actually see the vegetables that make up his veggie burger.

Only black beans. You'd think a lacto-ovo pescetarian would love beans. But I can’t ply him with a great northern, garbanzo, kidney, cannelloni or lima bean to save my life. He says he eats pinto but I've never actually seen this occur.

Sushi is a nighttime food. End of discussion. Dim sum brunch? I do that with other people.

If you like something at a restaurant, it’s a waste of time, not to mention risky, ordering anything else. I could even order for him at a restaurant we’ve never been to before.

If a salad contains vegetables, they are to be eaten first. Nuts and fruit on a salad shakes his belief system to its very core. Which is fine because he's allergic to nuts. (And onions.) And easy on the romaine. When I make a caprese salad, I make two: one for him undressed and one for me with olive oil, salt and pepper, the way they do in Italy and on Wikipedia.

Finish one thing on the plate completely before moving on to something else.

The size of freshly ground pepper shouldn’t be too big. “Why do people on these cooking shows always season everything with salt and pepper?” he wonders aloud as we watch the Food Network.

No eggplant. My beloved eggplant makes his mouth itch.

Biscotti? Nope. He doesn’t like the name. On that note, he refuses to say anything in a semi-French accent. So, he’ll eat a crepe, but call it a thin pancake.

Nothing with any hydrogenated ingredients. Ever. Goodbye Little Debbie. And all things Hostess.

And I truly think if were practical to set up a non-profit organization whose sole mission was to save carrot cake from walnuts, raisins and pineapple, he would.

Funny thing is, he’s not a health nut. Loves candy. Booze. Chips and ice cream. He just likes to keep food simple. And that can really complicate things.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ode To A Houseplant

To remember people and events important to us we keep physical things around as reminders. They make our lives layered and colorful.

For me, one of those things is plants. My two-story apartment is crawling with spider plants, wandering Jews, cacti, even a small tree. Houseplants fill me with giddy, sublime joy. But not for reasons you might think.

First a little background.

In some genetic roulette game, I inherited all of my mother’s Hungarian gypsy blood from her brood of seven. At age 21 I moved to China where I lived for over three years and traveled all around Asia. In a two-year period, I lived in 14 different places including a squat in New York City, a youth hostel in Seattle and a truck going cross country.

So, I owned very little. Committing to even a houseplant was out of the question.

That’s why in my late-20s while finishing my second degree, working as a reporter and a waitress, performing in theater and traveling quite a bit, I was shocked when a friend, who knew me quite well, gifted me a plant.

An African violet, to be exact, with delicate purple flowers nestled amid its foliage -- a living thing that without proper care and attention would die.

How very thoughtless.

What about that 3-day music festival on my calendar? What if I wanted to disappear for a month? The camping trip? I feel the walls closing in.

“What, pray tell, am I supposed to do with this?” I ask Rachel, my best friend and roommate in our railroad-style Victorian two-story walk-up apartment.

“I don’t know,” she answers. “Water it?”

While no veteran of 4-H agricultural camp, Rachel's advice is spot on. I water The Plant. I even enlist others to water it when I go traveling.

My commitment to The Plant shows. It thrives under my care. Always fresh looking, always green. I must have a knack. My arms ache from all the back patting.

About a year later, Rachel and I decide to rent a house with another friend and to leave our beloved apartment. We chat in my room about the move and what we plan to bring. Standing between us stands a small table and on that small table is The Plant, its pretty purple petals staring up at us.

“So, are you bringing all your furniture?” Rachel asks.

"There’s not much," I say. "My futon mattress. (looking down) This table. The Plant, of course.”

Our eyes both fall on The Plant.

“You know, I’ve been wanting to ask this for a long time," begins Rachel. "But, um, that plant … is it (pause) real?”

What? Did she really just ask that??

With my best defensive posture and emphatic enunciation, I say, “Rachel. Look. I think I can tell the difference between a fake plant and a real plant.”

I flip my hair back. I don't want to. But she deserves it.

“I’m sorry. Really,” counters Rachel. “It’s just that, … well, it’s never changed. At all.”

We stare at each other.


We look down at the plant.

Longer Pause.

I reach down and bend a leaf. It springs back with elastic vigor. I tug at a flower and the whole plant pops out of the little terra cotta flowerpot revealing not a spec of dirt, only Styrofoam. For one second, the entire year spent watering and caring for The Plant flashes through my mind like a movie montage.

Rachel and I stand there staring at each other, The Plant's silky polyester leaves dangling between my fingers. A purple flower pops off. I snap it back on.

"We need never speak of this again," I manage to say in complete seriousness before we both fall to the floor in a fit of giggles that lasts for days.

When I first wrote this story, I thought that she hadn't told anyone. But after reading my blog, she confessed to me that she has, in fact, told this story often over the years. To many people, actually. Sometimes to complete strangers. Standing in a grocery line, the topic of plants will come up and she'll hear herself saying, "You know, I have this friend who watered a fake ..."

I can't blame her. The comedic value is pretty high. And it's part of an unspoken agreement we have with each other - to sacrifice self-respect for a good laugh.

And that's why I love having houseplants around.

And Rachel.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Girl and Her Dishwasher: A Love Story

Recently my husband suggested that we hire a monthly cleaning person.

I hesitated.

It wasn’t an I-can’t-believe-how-much-I-love-this-man hesitation.

It was more like a But-at-what-other-time-can-I-drink-beer-at-noon-on-a-Monday-in-my-underwear-blaring-Electric-Light-Orchestra-and-Queen-wearing-tap-shoes-while-I push-a-vacuum-around-a-bit? type of hesitation.

I should've jumped at his offer. But actually, (surreptitiously looking over left shoulder then right) I don’t mind cleaning.

It relaxes me.

Mainly because as I'm doing the actual cleaning the last thing on my mind is the actual process of doing the cleaning. "Don't forget to print the lyrics to Yellow Submarine. Why don't I know the words to Yellow Submarine? Yellow. I look terrible in yellow. I really need to edit my wardrobe. Ooo, this is a good deep leg stretch. I'll have to incorporate this into my routine. Hmm, what is the Chinese word for 'routine' anyway?"

And that's how things can go very wrong.

Take for example my relationship with the dishwasher. I met Dishwasher when I moved to Washington, DC in 2002.

“Hello, Dishwasher. Nice to meet you. Oh look. You open.”

Our first time together was pretty typical. Dishwasher got loaded and then turned on. But not before I filled the receptacle-tub-indentation-place with liquid dish soap and then, thinking that wouldn't be enough, randomly squirted the dishes and inside the machine as well.

There. Easy. Dishwasher whirred contentedly.

Ten minutes later, though, on my way to the kitchen, I ran into a three-feet high, three-feet thick glacier of suds inching its way into the hallway. My kitchen looked like Studio 54. And Dishwasher, spewing and frothing from every available crevice, was the life of the party.

Instinctually, I jumped into action. Meaning I quite literally jumped into the suds, clapping and stomping. (I didn't say which instincts kicked in.)

My husband’s untimely return home to see my par-tay in full swing initiated a brutal line of questioning.

Him: “Um, what did you use in the dishwasher.”

Me: “Dish soap.”

Him: “We don’t have any dishwasher soap.”

Me: “Whaddoyamean?”

Him: “How much did you use?”

Me: “Why? I don’t know. I didn’t measure. There aren't any instructions anywhere. And just what are you trying to say anyway??"

I mean, you couldn't really call it a mess. Messes are dirty. These were suds. Suds are clean. But they do take a surprisingly long time to clean up. Well, at least, I think they do. After my husband kicked me out of the kitchen so he could clean up the suds, it's all a bit fuzzy.