#67 One Peculiar Day Out Of 23,000

There is a law of nature that we, making an assumption that I am not alone, all have abnormal days that would be better spent under the covers.

One night I drove back from New York after a few days spent with friends. My mind was filled with stories from the visit. As I left I checked messages at home and there was the voice of someone I hadn’t heard from in years saying he was back in the area. I didn’t even know he and his wife had moved away. I called from the car on my mobile phone, which is not safe or legal in New York. He told me the highlights of his crumbled marriage, court injunctions, wife breaking into homes, wiping out their bank accounts, stealing from friends. He was staying in a tent at a lake for the night so I offered my den couch.

It was late when I arrived back in Pennsylvania and he was there moments later needing to talk. Fatigued, I listened four more hours to the saga. I got out the coffee maker, dusted it off and showed him what he needed in the morning because I had no intention of getting up. Nice. I got into bed, my brain ready to burst.

Sleeping through phone calls, I didn’t wake until noon. And was tired enough to go back to sleep but hungry enough to scrounge in the kitchen. There was evidence that coffee had been made, but I had forgotten to show him where to find filters. I have no idea what sludge he drank to start his day.

I was desperate for food so grabbed crackers, peanut butter and a new jar of blackberry jam, which slipped from my grasp and smashed to the floor in slow motion near my bare feet. Too hungry to do anything about it I retreated to the other side of the kitchen and ate whatever I could reach without walking on glass. Feeling fed, I cleaned up the worst of the damage.

Then I tried to cancel an order I had placed just before my trip. It was some television offer, a miracle cure, and I had buyer’s remorse. When I had given my credit card number and the operator was explaining something to me, the connection was lost. I called back and asked for operator 28 and was told they were all operator 28. Having no idea if the order had gone through, the second operator 28 hung up on me. (I wasn’t as pleasant as I might have been). I called again, getting another kinder gentler operator 28 who was unable to tell me if the order was confirmed. She advised me to call another number.

I did, and that operator 28 said I would have to call another number. All I wanted was written confirmation that no order had been placed. She advised me that if I had difficulty, to ask for a supervisor. I always do. So I dialed that number and was told that the order was stopped because it was on back order anyway. This made no sense since originally I was paying for speedy delivery for the miracle cure. Out came my “let me speak to your supervisor” self. “He’s not available,” I was told. I said, “I’ll wait.” She said that I couldn’t wait. I said, “All I want is to be emailed confirmation that the order had been cancelled.” “They don’t do that,” I was told. “I bet the supervisor is free now,” I said. “No,” I was told. And then I heard someone next to this operator 28 say that they send out post cards to verify if an order was cancelled. This was the best I was going to do. My fatigue was unbearable, so I put in my calendar to check in seven to ten days.

I unpacked my suitcase and realized I had left my travel laundry bag at my host’s house and had to leave a humiliating message that I would send a stamped carton so that she could send me my dirty underwear. Especially humiliating since I’d just written a book on how to be a good host or guest.

It was evening. I hadn’t showered and still hadn’t completely dealt with the mess in the kitchen.

I got an email that two more publishers rejected my book.

There was also a letter that I was in a pool for jury duty, again.

Back to the kitchen. I had wiped up the never tasted blackberry jam. I vacuumed for the thousand slivers of glass, but sucked up a string from the ironing board, which jammed the vacuum and it started to smoke. For the first time in a very long time I got out the mop. Only I had already removed the old sponge. Aha. When I bought it years earlier, I brilliantly bought an extra sponge, apparently assuming I’d be doing a lot more mopping. Even I could attach the new mop sponge. I cut the plastic cover off and attempted to click the mop head onto the holder. There was no click. There were instructions, which yes, I cut through with the scissor. I tried to align the clear plastic bag to read the instructions. I got two plastic clips into place. But that was all. A room full of engineers jamming the sponge onto the mop head in every conceivable direction couldn’t have reconstructed the thing. A friend later told me that she had never been able to replace a mop head in forty years and just buys a new mop. I didn’t know of this conspiracy.

It’s a small kitchen. I dampened the new unattached mop head that’s been waiting to be put into the game for years, and kneeled down in my nightgown to clean the floor. The mop was useless so all I had was a long yellow stick, which is handy for yanking out something dropped behind the refrigerator.

I went back to bed.

There have been plenty of those days out of 23,000. I just happened to write that one down.


#66 Smaller Knuckleheaded Stupid List

It was time to add chlorine tablets to the pool in Connecticut. At the instant I unscrewed the lid of the large tablet container, I took in a deep breath, certain I would die.

Trying to put summer-like streaks in my own hair in 1970. I didn’t realize that even though my hair was dark blonde, it would not lighten. I was up all night assuming that keeping the goop on longer would work. What I ended up with was a bright clown orange crown of my head, no sleep and an appointment with a hairdresser in the morning.

Not boiling water even though the city warned about a water main break.

Unprotected sex.

Learning to drink. And unprotected sex.

Expecting any lawyer to just take care of me.

When severe weather caused a friend to be re-directed to Baltimore instead of the original flight to my city in Pennsylvania, I drove through the worst storm in decades, speeding, beating her there. 

The much-deserved ticket and points for going 85 mph because I was late leaving to pick up a friend flying into Syracuse.

So desperate for something sweet, found a packet of ancient chocolate pudding in the back of the cabinet. I took a breath just as I put a spoon of dry pudding in my mouth and had chocolate filled lungs. Did the chlorine incident teach me nothing? I coughed for 2 hours.

Living in Greenwich Village in the early 70’s without exploring that neighborhood. I worked hard during the day, came home, ate food from a deli and went back to work the next day. My dog ate better than I did.

On weekends I taught skiing when I first moved to New York. Coming from the west, the eastern ice was new to me. I started my first beginner’s class out on a low hill. The entire lesson was keeping them one by one from skating down hill over the road and getting hit but a bus.

Back in the 70’s, flying through Chicago to Milwaukee from Seattle at Thanksgiving. First of all, flying any Thanksgiving; stupid. All flights were cancelled out of Chicago with no food left in the airport. People were charging $5 for a quarter for phones. I had my dog to rescue at the kennel. So I rented a car. I was dumped in the middle of a lot without boots. I had to keep brushing snow off the license plates to find the car. I drove alone to Milwaukee in the biggest snowstorm in years.

Not taking more furniture when #7 The Air Vent Conversation guy and I broke up in Milwaukee.

Not getting to know more people in East Hampton when I had my house there. Nah, maybe not.

One time in the 80’s I was working on my birthday. I learned that there was a cake for me. I was so averse to forced birthday occasions, I called in to say I was going directly home. What a snot.

Not enjoying more of Connecticut during my 5½ years there. 

In New York, early 80’s, I had no idea that everyone was doing cocaine. Reference any of the So I Bought Him A Humidifier essays. I made cookies for my clients at Christmas. Some were getting drugs from the competition.

When I announced my departure from New York radio in the 80’s, it was a huge decision and then a let down. A few people wished me well, but suddenly I wasn’t allowed to attend meetings, even though I was working for a few more weeks. After I left, turned out there was a corporate celebration combined with a going away for me. I never went because I felt that I had left and that was that. I wasn’t invited to meetings because they were planning my party, which I didn’t know.

A friend, a pal in my life invited me to go around the world with him. He was separated but married. And I had my job. But weighing all that vs. seeing the Andes, the Himalayas?

A neighbor who was letting me use his computer to write my first screenplay came in one night, after he had had several drinks. He thought he was showing me how to save the file. He deleted the whole thing.

Not taking paintings and furniture when I left #56 It Takes Two. Nah!

After being away from golf for 20 years, a friend invited me to join a foursome with the loan of some clubs. I was hooked again immediately and bought a new set the next day. Not long after they were sold with most everything else when I really sized down.

Talking on the phone to a friend up ahead of me on the Ferry to Nantucket. I hadn’t parked the car and didn’t realize the wheels were turned in. As I pulled forward, BIG SCRAPE, as I heard the mate say, “that was an expensive phone call.”

Never never making agreements up front, whether in friendships, partnerships, volunteer work, even with hairdressers. Especially hairdressers.

My tenacity in trying to make terrible situations or relationships work.

All the times I was returning phone calls from my car on my way home from work because it was the only chance I had. I’d end the conversation when I got in my garage. How rude of me.

My apologies to all the people around whom I smoked for about 12 years.

Never learning how to get help.

Trying Zumba classes. Are you kidding?

#65 We Are What We Eat

If we really are what we eat, then my right leg is made of sugary white icing. And part of my brain must be scattered with M&Ms.

The happiest news in my world would be if I could take a pill as a meal. With my daily phalanx of supplements, I practically do. Thankfully the men I’ve lived with were decent chefs.  When you live with someone, you can’t have a candy bar or popcorn for dinner, unless they’re just as stupid about food as you are.

I don’t like shopping for food, or planning meals, or preparing meals or most of all cleaning up after meals. For many years living alone meant heat to eat. That’s changing but I have to factor how long I’ve lived that way.

Decades ago I was waiting for a flight sitting next to Linus Pauling, the king of vitamin C. I was smoking back then, probably blowing smoke in his face. So he kindly gave me a lesson. He explained that every cigarette depleted me of about 60mg. of vitamin C. Did I quit smoking? No. After that trip I bought a carton of vitamin C.

Back in the late 70’s I read a lot about world hunger. Reading about world hunger led to reading about fasting. There were movements to fast at least a day a week, or a week a year in order to counter world hunger. I read about proper fasts, which include resting and drinking only water. I tried it but I was working, commuting and drinking coffee and smoking. Not a proper fast. I remember one day walking up and down the aisles on the commuter train because I was so jazzed.

I was impressed by the notion of self-control with fasting. And a few years later in Pennsylvania I researched fasting clinics. My primary goal was to quit smoking, but I also wanted to learn to fast properly. I found a clinic in Pawling New York, near Hyde Park. I signed up for a week.

I smoked my last cigarette on the drive from Pennsylvania. The location was beautiful. It was winter and there was snow on the ground. Instead of staying in the main house on the grounds I chose one of the motel rooms. I had read about how to prepare for the fast and that there would be some tough times early on. We were to take no vitamins, or even use mouthwash or toothpaste. I couldn’t do the last one.

The doctor showed up that Monday morning. He explained the process and would check me twice a day.  I’d get all the water I wanted. They had daily nutrition classes in the main house. There was a lean-to near the house and I enjoyed sitting in the chairs in the sun in the cold.

I stayed away from the people in the main house because all they talked about was food. I’d walk slowly around the grounds. I kept my journal and I watched TV a lot. And that’s when you learn how many commercials are for food. Ironically the American Culinary School was just down the road, and I’m convinced that some of those ladies were sneaking out or ordering pizza in.

I met lengthy residents trying to cure serious illnesses, Asthma, even tumors. The woman in the room next to mine was there for Colitis. I felt like a piker just trying to quit smoking. I quickly learned the added benefit. There was a scale just doors from me so I went daily to check my weight. The doctor talked me in to staying another week, which turned into three weeks. They fasted me 15 days. And that’s water: hot water, cold water, tepid water. Just water.

When he announced that it was time to break my fast I almost cried. I had never felt such energy. I haven’t read my journal from those weeks in many years, but I know it was pretty lively. Friends came to visit me from Connecticut and took me to do laundry since it was an extended stay. I don’t mean I could have run a race, but some compare the energy feeling to a runner’s high.

So the first food after the 15 days of water only was 8 ounces of freshly squeezed orange juice. I had to consume it with a spoon. It took an hour. The impact, the pow of flavor on my clear taste buds almost hurt. Then for the next few days I was brought small carefully balanced meals. When I went home I became a vegetarian for about six months. But I had not quit smoking.

I returned to that clinic for a week after I did quit smoking. For many years I could fast a week on my own following the resting and water rules. You learn how social food is. Go to someone’s house you’re offered food, even if it’s something to drink or a bowl of peanuts. So now when I do fast, and I did 10 days at the beginning of this year, I stay away from social situations. Two people get together and there’s food.

The other wonderful things about fasting; no trips to the grocery store, no planning, no cooking, no cleaning up. Food takes time.

I don’t go around recommending fasting to people. But it’s an exceptional experience when done properly. I don’t do it without letting my doctor know.

So going back to age twelve. I was the first one home, alone for a while. If my father came home in an edgy mood, that determined the mood of the house. But he wasn’t usually there. My mother was the screecher and batterer. So I had an hour maybe two all to myself. I treasured those hours more than I did time with my friends.

Since I’m describing ancient history, television reception meant three networks out of Seattle. But we were on the Canadian border with Canadian stations and their comedy was delicious. So were their afternoon movies, often British. That’s how my permanent love of old movies began.

I’d check the frozen supply of tollhouse cookies in the freezer. Remember I was twelve. I could take a few out and put them in the toaster oven. Microwaves were about 20 years in the future. I’d shuffle the remaining cookies around in the container to appear as though none were taken. Right!

When the cookie supply was too depleted to shuffle it around, I’d make a little bowl of vanilla icing. In the den I watched Sherlock solve an eccentric crime, and eat the entire bowl of icing.

This had to be timed to perfection. Most of the time I couldn’t get to the end of a movie because I had to start making dinner. But always I’d finish the cookies or the icing with a can of Tab.

Why icing? The one great treat I remember was a bakery that made super sugary birthday cakes. I just wanted the pink roses.

This was the age of Cool Whip, Wonder Bread and canned vegetables. There’s nothing so vile as canned peas. And I couldn’t drink milk if my life depended on it. There were times when my parents made me believe my life did depend on it. We all have stories of having to stay at the table to finish some food we couldn’t stand. I vomited the milk often enough for them to give up. But canned vegetables never gave me an appreciation for green food.

When at last I was on my own, living in Seattle, that meant yippee I could eat anything I want. Really. That’s what moving to Seattle, working, going to school mostly meant. I could eat anything I wanted; Hostess cupcakes for dinner.

This attitude toward nutrition did not change. I never connected food as fuel.  I didn’t plan meals. I had a couple of roommates back in those early days and I suppose we planned more than I had on my own. But I did not peruse the fabulous markets at the Pier in Seattle or later the Green Grocers in New York.

The men I lived with were decent chefs, or we ate out. I was the same meat and potatoes cook I was as a child. But fresh food as a concept didn’t sink in until just a few years ago. In fact when I was with the man I didn’t name in # 56 It Takes Two, his family was so huge, I started making birthday cakes. It would take at least eight hours to make each one. Friends said I should have sold them, but I would have to have charged $2,000 a cake. Even standing eight hours making a cake didn’t end my sugar cravings.

When I was publisher of a magazine I kept a bowl of M&Ms on my desk for everyone. But I noshed on them throughout the day. All that sugar in my system seemed to convince my brain that I wasn’t hungry. Living alone again, Friday night was pizza on the way home. And I was not yet out of the years of making bowls of white icing and eating it in front of a movie. Honestly.

Just a couple of years ago I was at a movie with a friend. We rushed through a meal before the movie and decided to return to the diner afterwards for dessert. But after the movie we skipped dessert. I dropped him off that Sunday evening and was still thinking about the carrot cake I had seen hours earlier. I stopped at a dreary convenience store and searched the aisles for sugar appearing like an addict searching for a score of cocaine. I bought horrible things and ate them in the car in the few blocks to my building.

It’s bloody astonishing that my blood sugar hasn’t failed. I don’t eat ice cream for dinner anymore, though at times cereal is just right. In fact try vanilla ice cream with cereal on top. It’s great. Mostly it’s easy.

Breakfast was never an option in my life. Though I’ve learned how vital it is, I have no appetite for hours after waking so all through school my first meal was lunch. Now I’ve learned to pour some coke into a bottle of Boost if I need something on the run.

A couple of years ago I went to a nutritionist. She worked with me so much we’ve become good friends. She walked me through the aisles of my grocery store to help me make better decisions. She’s seen worse cases than me, sad to know. But I was a challenge and she knew not to try too much with me too soon.

She had me writing down everything I ate, keeping track of sodium, calories, protein and fat, forcing me to think about it. And I learned to eat smaller balanced meals. Again, eating alone, it’s so easy to eat in front of TV without thinking. Now I have an Ap on my phone and it scolds me about sodium.

I’ve never really been fat, no matter how my brother convinced me I was as a girl. Working in Manhattan, walking everywhere frankly I could eat my way across town. Well that changes with age, but at last my brain understands balance. It may be late in life, but just like baseball, I finally get it.

I know though, I could always make a bowl of white icing.