Sunday, May 22, 2011

Apocalypse Picnic

Today was a rare day for everyone.

We can joke all we like about the World-Enders, but I will admit to whistling past the graveyard. I figure that all such predictions have at least a shot at being right. And if they had been right today, I would’ve been boarding a short bus straight to Satan Academy.
But wrong they were because, well-- here we are.

In fact, today was as far from apocalyptic as it is possible to be, at least in our little corner of the world. After weeks of rain and unseasonable chill, we woke to sun, blue skies, and temperatures already edging towards the eighties.
But that’s a small thing compared to the fact that Patrick, for the first time in weeks, was feeling good. So we were determined to get out and enjoy the day—we decided to go out to the City Market, and maybe have a picnic lunch.

Taste Memory (an excerpt)

At the grocery store, I wander up and down aislespiled high with fruit, icy caverns of florescence
it is the produce that looks unnatural.
No odors of earth, not even by the crates of mushrooms

or among the root vegetables, great bearded purplish heaps of turnips

hyper-sanitized in plastic bins, disguising origins.Subtle stickers whisper when you turn the apples over,
Producto de Ch
ile. New Zealand oranges.

Taste is the great underrated sense as a bearer of memory,
its importance secondary to the necessity of nourishment.

I am reminded of the old dim markets I once walked,

tagging along after the women of my family,
in one shop and out another, lugging our bags and carts.

We knew them all,
the florid German butcher,
his stereotypically v
ast belly barely sheathed in a stained apron,
looming behind
the scales,
his brutal fascinating displays:
pig’s feet and ears and snouts, beef tongue and head cheese,
a cracked concrete floor wi
th rusted drains.
He considered
me over the counter whenever I came in
before whispering to my grandmother,
"You know, I have five sons."

The Mexican grocers o
n the Boulevard where we bought
masa by the buckets, cornhusks for our tamales.
We knew the baker
s, Reina’s pan de huevo,
bars of Ibarra’s mulled
the day-old bread store o
n the Kansas side,
steeped in sugar and vanilla smells
dyed icings and toothsome little cakes
that came in pastry boxes, cellophane lids crackling.
Cinnamon rolls, and plain cake donuts
a staple in my grandmother’s home,
to be taken with coffee.

Then the city markets with their haphazard crates and shallow fronts,
the Chinese woman in a corner stall that I trotted hurriedly past
with my nose pinched shut, the overwhelming fish-smell
that revolted my inland dweller’s sensibilities. I had not yet learned
to eat things that swim.

Old Italian men who once gambled in speakeasies with my grandfather
Inquired after ol’ Sally.
A pat on the head for me, followed by a wink and a nod
that meant I had the go-ahead to grab gratis
handfuls of cherries from their bins to carry in my bunched shirt,
and I’d spend the rest of the day shedding stems and pits,
hands and mouth stained grappa-red.

Jingle’s, the Korean convenience on Summit with
bluish lighting, created from deep shade by their few windows
and steeply sloped striped awnings.
I remember their bottles of neon-colored soda.
And the Little Holly Market we could walk to,
if we were in a hurry, to grab a loaf of Wonder bread
for later, when we’d eat sandwiches or grill melts,
getting them gritty in childish hands . . .

Let me create memories for you in courses and feasts,
teasing out your tongue.
The Catholic buried at the back of my consciousness
salivates at the plain wafer.
I will give you something purer. . .

Empty chairs crave your arrival, as I do.
And when this evening’s done, what will my tongue remember,
what taste of you?


It’s funny, all the women in my family were great cooks, but I was always convinced that I would be hopeless in the kitchen. Then when I grew up and got out on my own, I discovered that I wasn’t bad at it after all. And, more importantly, I loved it. From there, food has grown into a full-blown obsession. First, for pleasure. And lately, for more serious reasons.

One of the major problems we’ve been facing for over a year now with Patrick’s health has been stomach issues: lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Last March, he lost about 30 pounds while we scrambled around, trying to find a medication to help him stop throwing up, and having specialists run tests to rule out things like celiac and Crohn’s disease. One of the drugs they tried him on late last spring actually caused him to have a psychotic episode that scared me so much I almost called an ambulance, but wound up taking him to the ER myself. (There was nothing to do but wait for the effects of the drug to wear off.) Another drug he tried was something they give chemo patients, but it didn’t help. It goes without saying that good nutrition is important, but for a dialysis patient, proper diet is paramount—dialysis leaches protein from the body, so we have to make sure that he gets at least nine ounces of protein a day. That may not sound like much, but it's pretty tough to do when you can’t even brush your teeth without retching. Without the proper amount of protein, he could go into cardiac arrest.

Last fall, we hit on a combination of meds for a while that reduced the vomiting and helped stimulate his appetite sufficiently that he was eating two meals a day, which satisfied his doctor. Then, about two months ago, he started throwing up again.

Now we’ve learned that his body is no longer digesting food as it should. Apparently, this is common in dialysis patients, especially those on peritoneal dialysis. A catheter in your stomach interferes with digestion—go figure. When he tries to eat, the food just sits in his digestive tract and doesn’t move. Eventually, it comes back up.

So. More meds.

In the meantime, we have become big users of protein shakes. Over the past year, I have become hyper-sensitive to Patrick’s food cravings. On the rare occasions that he’s hungry, I happily try to supply him with whatever he’s in the mood for.

After we went to the River Market, we took a slight detour over to Columbus Park to a Vietnamese grocer/take-out and got one of his favorite snacks, pork sandwiches on baguettes with cilantro, carrots, cucumbers and peppers—only $2.50 apiece. I highly recommend. We bought two and he ate both of them.

Then we went up to the park on Quality Hill to snap some more pictures. And if the four horsemen of the apocalypse happened to show up and trample our picnic—well, let’s just say, I wasn’t havin’ it.
So who do I thank for today—who do I thank for this most perfect and glorious of days? God? Satan? I’m really not particular. I just want to give credit where credit is due. The pictures above really don't do justice to it all. The colors, the tastes, the sounds. There was a jazz flautist playing in the market, wooden flats overflowing with flowers. Women in sundresses like in the Rolling Stones song. When I stood in line at the dollar store to grab fresh batteries for the camera, a baby smiled at me.
World without end.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! I'm always amazed at how your desriptions seem to dislodge dormant memories within me in an almost physical, sensual recollection. Thank You.