Sometimes—very rarely—I funnel my industrialist impulses into writing something other than a blog post or an email. And sometimes—even rarer still—I will share those impulses here. Stuff you read here is somewhere between brand new and a decade-or-so old. Thanks for reading.
If they got angry with each other, angry enough to walk in different directions without turning back, and if they kept walking for years like that without ever checking over their shoulders to verify the continued opposition, would he then—years later when she dialed his number (after so much time of the habit's remission) and said quickly on hearing his voice, "Sorry, wrong number," and hung up—would he recognize her in that voice? And would he click his heels and turn back? And would she?
He appeared in the bathroom doorway fresh from his self-inflicted shearing, tiny drops of water still navigating the rivulets between his now microscopic hairs, grinning with the self-satisfaction of misbehavior. Was he disappointed when her face registered no shock or distress or, worse still, amusement?
What's a curry turnover doing on the menu at a Chinese place? Who cares. She loves the sweaty perfume of cinnamon cumin cardamom. And Ella Fitzgerald loses the letter to her love in the soundtrack of every meal she eats here. At this Chinese place in Iowa. And, Jesus! the potsickers! Inspiring the meal she'll share with him months later at 4AM in Seattle, the meal she'll wake at 1AM to prepare: postickers full of color and love in her brand new stainless steel frying pan that will never be the same. And so Ella will sing to her in that memory movie, too.
For weeks, she worried privately that the nicks and scabs on the knobby parts of her feet and ankles were signs of some quiet bodily degeneration. And she complained about the thick, pointy edges of his toes, those weird chitinous vestiges of prehistory. She hadn't made the connection. And then, suddenly, as he wrapped his legs around her, he stabbed her with those treacherous toenails. Her shriek concealed the relief at her core.
A love like this, is it impossible?
Her first failure in the genre, with the one before him, had its end's beginnings in a flea market. When the went in together on the antique blender with the sturdy glass pitcher. They both egan wanting the thing, this home-economical bagatelle, more than they wanted each other. That night the margaritas were bitter and watery. And they screamed and fought on the grimy floor in spite of the friend who was in town all the way from Prague. "Why are you doing this to me?" he wailed.
Was the emphasis on why or this or me? I don't remember. Why: Must I neatly relate my hysteria to a single moment, one cause? Then I don't know. Try this: because he saddens me, he frightens me—even now, so many years later, in clouded memory—his fascination wih all the women who weren't me, even shapely glass ones designed to mix cold, frothy drinks. This: Yelling? Failing to relent? Because sotto voce is not my stile, because I need this volume to quiet the terror whispering at me, because if only he can hear me, he will stop shoveling back that Becherovka. Me: Him? Because he invited me, he promised me a modicum of love, there is no customer service number to call, I have lost confidence in this purchase.
Though its demise was wrought many months later by more powerful cruelties, she is sure now a poisonous mixture of blended and diluted tequila and lime and ice weakened their love that night. She drinks them on the rocks now.
These days. Of late. Recently. She is exposing herself to him. Here she is in their bed: stretched out, limp, demanding his attention. Here she is huddled into a ball at her desk in the kitchen, screaming and weeping over the IRS and her 1040 at 11:35 PM on April 15th. Oh, and here's another: that's her reading a love letter she didn't write to him—it fluttered to the ground while she was cleaning, honestly—it fluttered with the syrupy sentiment face-up so she had to. She had to read it. A love like hers. Is it impossible? Is she?
He has clung to highway barriers, walked eight miles at 2AM. He has caressed (nothing more! he insists) two women at the same time. He has driven across the continent with a lover who was not her. Once, he drew her picture, better looking than she is.
It's been years now since she had a curry turnover at Cafe Su. He was in Los Angeles. She moved to Seattle because it was closer to Los Angeles than Des Moines. But shaving 1000 miles off of a 2000-mile distance was only coldly comforting. So it wasn't long after they dined on early morning potsickers and held each other on the Murphy bed in her new Seattle apartment that he came to drive her battered station wagon with the two bald tires through the night and the ice and the snow to Los Angeles and the late morning sun—just in time to hit the traffic left behind by the Los Angeles Marathon. That was three years and two apartments ago. He used to brag to his friends that she knew her way around L.A. better than he within a week of moving here. They pretended to be impressed.
There is still the magic, though, right? Like the tiny plastic street signs (froma train set?) she finds around the house once in a while. She just looked over and saw the one with the international sign for "traffic flows in both directions" on her desk. How long has it been there? Is he trying to tell her something?
A thumb is a finger the way a square is a rectangle? Right?
The supermarket industry standard stock number for asparagus is 4080. Which I know because they are the PLU (I can only guess this stands for "produce labeling unit," but I don't know for sure) numbers listed on the four thick purple rubber bands that once secured bunches of asparagus and that I now wear on my left wrist.
I have long avowed a strong distaste for purple as a color and am not much of an accessorizer, as fashion goes. I think because they are so wide, my rubber bands make me look kind of bad-ass, in a biker chick sort of way, but that isn't why I wear them either.
The Audrey Hepburn of the vegetable set, asparagus grows in tall, thin shoots above ground that seem to defy gravity. And, in a way, they do. When buffeted by wind or cold, asparagus stalks secrete a chemical that toughens their fibers, allowing them to remain standing straight, and causing, to the dismay of diners, stringy asparagus.
Cleaning my kitchen one morning, I absently slipped a rubber band from the previous night's asparagus onto my wrist. Later that morning, thinking about a friend whose husband was battling cancer, I glanced at my wrist and noticed the purple rubber band. I thought of the way asparagus is built to withstand the adversity of wind, and in its presence to become stronger. And that is what I wished on that little purple talisman for my friend.
Rubber bands are not as strong as asparagus or people, and the original one I wore has long since disintegrated. Now I wear four instead of one because, well, because four is just the best damned number out there. Some people have rosary beads, some rabbits' feet or lucky dollar bills. I've got my purple 4080s quietly reminding me, in the face of a headwind to straighten up and get tough.
(ed. note: I wrote this in February of 2001 for a food blog I had started called Tigerella. I think I gave up on the purple rubber bands sometime in 2002, but I still think about them and what they represented to me then and now. I tried, before posting this here, to confirm the central premise of this post, that asparagus produce lignin in response to wind, but I have not been able to. It seems like something I would have learned from Harold McGee's indispensible On Food and Cooking, but I couldn't find it there. Maybe I invented the connection. I'm not sure it matters.)
We ate ice cream from tiny paper cups,
standing in the snow,
facing the wind
on Nevsky Prospect.
That was after you taught me
we thumbed a ride to the Mariinsky;
I pretended to be deaf
so that we could pay in Rubles.
That was after we watched
the painted little girls and boys
dance the Merengue
in the local semifinals.
After you spent all night
teaching me to say "camel" in Russian.
After I told you how "Santa Barbara" would end.
By then I knew enough
about being cold
to get by.
The in and out,
the heave and sigh--
we needn't choose our breathing
but have it chosen for us.
Nor are these electricities,
the shocks that join us as synapse,
born of a volunteer spirit.
No. Such a thing as love
by a grammar that does not reflect
For all our choosing and doing,
decisions and deeds we record
in private registers of pride,
we are arrested
by the joy that chooses us,
that can predict our covalency.
In spite of all our willful blunders,
the molecules of our own rude design
have failed their bonds
that this one might prevail.