5.20.2009

Balanced Diet

Being the child of a nutritionist, food was way too important in my life as a kid. There were so many rules and so many no-no's. Every mealtime was like a science project or well, Judgment day. It mattered more than grades if you were "good" and ate only lean meat, mostly vegetables and never, ever anything processed or white.

By high school I had to simplify or I'd go insane. I figured I'd eat one healthy food for every one unhealthy food. It was my version of a balanced diet. My friends used to tease me but there was a lot less teasing than when I tried to follow all my mom's complicated rules about food in public.

Even this kind of balanced diet wasn't easy. Life gets in the way. Instead of thinking and talking about what you ate, what you should have eaten instead, and what kind of rash or headache you might get from what you already ate, it's more interesting to talk about life. Nobody cares what you ate. You get another crack at it in just a few hours so consider that a make-up quiz.

Balancing life is much harder still. You wish you could make good things happen to balance out the bad stuff. You probably don't wish the other way around except to people you don't like. That kind of thinking has nothing to do with balance, though, does it?

I hit my limit today of exactly how many strange and nasty smells from inside my own apartment I could tolerate. I also hit the limit on how much garbage and recycling I could take out, how long I could go without a shower, how many days I could go without doing laundry, and how much tea and chocolate I could possibly ingest and call it dinner. I hit the limit of enjoying talking to my husband on the phone only late at night when he's not working. I hit the limit of enjoying the icy-cold wind whipping through the apartment's dry-rotted, single-paned windows. I hit the limit of listening to Miss Stomper pound around wearing heavy shoes in the apartment above and the shaking and banging from noisy boiler in the utility room below.

My niece calls to invite me to a jazz festival in their town. She's chatty and cute and funny. My sister's driving but my niece is talking. They're both talking. I can hear both of them and it's like eavesdropping except they're both talking to me. It's very exciting. I can keep up just fine. This fun phone conversation makes me feel better. It's a good thing, balancing out my bad morning. Everything's going well so far.

My sister says, "Which apartment are you in?"

"101."

She lived here twenty years ago or so. She knows the history of this place, the strange tenants we've had, the smells and the weird way my dad used to coat absolutely everything with Navajo white paint: doorknobs, hinges, even the furnace cover.

She's quiet.

"The tenant who lived here before had birds," I say. "It has a certain smell."

"That's Bill Metcalf's old apartment."

"No!"

You know how some toxic people are in your life for most of your life, like some sort of plague or handicap? That was Bill Metcalf for my dad. His mother was one of the original tenants when my great-grandfather built this place in 1930 so Bill moved in when he was maybe four.

He lived here his whole life and left a legacy of dirty shoes on the shared hallway carpet, smoking so much you could smell it, constantly drinking crappy beer, and bothering absolutely everybody since he didn't have a job, ever. He only left a year ago by dying.

When my dad, now the owner, came by last week he pointed to stains in the carpet on the stairs and said, "Those are Bill's bloodstains from when they wheeled him out." Yup, even after he died, he had to stain the carpet one last time.

"I wish you hadn't told me that," I said.

My dad bought me a carpet cleaner.

It's going to take something big to balance that out. I try chocolate even though it's not going to work in the quantities I'm consuming. Tea doesn't balance out this much chocolate.

I quickly feel the effects of my unbalanced diet and not in a good way. But the phone rings so I'm excited because this is my private phone. Only good people call me on it.

My husband ducks out of a meeting to use the restroom and instead, calls me. He's talking a lot, all excited about the two guys he promoted, and high on cheap, white celebrate-the-promotion cake with pineapple filling. It's so good to hear his voice, so nice to hear all his compliments that I feel like I've tipped onto the positive side of today, finally.

As soon as I hang up, my son calls. He lives upstairs in the apartment with a sunny view, clean white grout, only one or two coats of paint and no nasty smells to Febreze away. Seeing him, his fiance, and their crazy-cute daughter are more than worth it to live here.

I love my kids so much there are no words. I love them all more than I love anything and I don't love one more than another like you sometimes do with dogs. It doesn't matter which kid I'm around, they're all fun and interesting and make everything worth it, and that includes living in a super-stenchy apartment with a dead man's carpet stains and highly toxic bird feces' smells.

"We're at Safeway," he says. "We're going to make ribs for dinner for you, okay? Do you want us to get you anything?"

I can't think of a thing. No matter what I smell for the rest of the day, I'm way into positive territory now.