Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It’s Not That I Don’t Want to Be Supportive, I Just Really Want to Eat the Cookie

While I’ve never been the overt cheerleader type, I like to think that when there are things that are important to the people I care about, that I’m supportive of them and whatever they need to do to achieve their desire. But apparently the line to my supportiveness is drawn at my generally atrocious diet.

I freely admit that my dietary habits are mostly garbage: bread, cheese, pasta, chocolate, sugar, fried foods…if it’s something that would appear in the smallest area of the food pyramid (or whatever they’re using to teach kids about nutrition these days), then I want to eat it. I’ll occasionally begrudgingly eat a salad if I’ve been on a particularly bad streak of eating unhealthy foods, but I’ll be silently lamenting the fact that it’s not a cheeseburger the entire time. To combat my poor eating habits I’ve found a fitness regime that motivates me enough to stick with it and keep me in the “could be in better shape if she tried harder, but not a total slob” weight class. This worked for me, until Remus, the man I share a home with, decided he wanted to live a healthier lifestyle, and ruined everything.

Between having a stressful job that doesn’t inspire a lot of physical movement and falling into the “not trying” comfort zone of being in a committed relationship, Remus found that he was lacking energy, had put on a few pounds, and just generally felt crappy. I suggested he start joining me at the gym. He decided to start eating better. And then my world fell apart.

Now if I brought home sea salt brownies from Trader Joe’s, instead of having to fight him for them, he’d ask why I had brought them into the house. If I suggested spaghetti for dinner, he’d want grilled chicken and vegetables from the local Mediterranean place. If I was baking cookies for a party at work and offered to leave him a couple he would wonder if I was trying to sabotage his diet with my demon butter and sugar discs. If I was eating from a bag of pita chips, he would read the nutritional label on the bag and comment on “how bad these are for you.” (They’re fucking pita chips and they’re mine! Go away, you food buzzkill!)

Since I live firmly in the mindset that life is too short to deny yourself the things you love, my way of working around my new roommate, the Nutrition Nazi, was to simply stop telling him what was available to eat in our home. I could still enjoy my indulgences, and he could play the role of dietician when he found an empty Oreo package in the garbage and got to regale me with the calorie breakdown of just one cookie.

Dining out is less of an issue, since he can have his salmon salad and I my fried chicken, but deciding on meals to cook at home is a challenge, complicated by the fact that neither of us is a very seasoned cook and our joint repertoire mainly consists of pasta dishes, tacos, and a chicken and rice dish with everything smothered in broccoli and cheddar soup. Due to these culinary limitations, we’ve been ordering takeout a lot more often, and I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “What do you want for dinner? I don’t really want pasta. Or pizza. Or burgers. Or Chinese.” Having destroyed everything I love, we inevitably order from the place that makes made-to-order salads large enough for two meals, and I demand he order an extra side of bread.

The struggle over what we can eat together and both be happy continues, with no easy solution in site. In the meantime, I dropped four pounds in a month and Remus has yet to discover the box of Skinny Cow ice cream bars in the freezer (the word “skinny” is in the name, which makes it OK). And I am preemptively crafting my arguments as to why having our eventual wedding dinner consist of grilled veggies, quinoa, and fruit cup for dessert is completely unacceptable.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Not So Great Moments in Romantic History

While not every potentially romantic encounter I’ve had is worthy of its own story, there are several moments that deserve to be documented.

There’s the guy in Boston who I met for a casual lunch who kept his sunglasses on the entire time inside the (not especially bright) café. He would let the conversation frequently lapse into silence by simply not responding to a question I asked, choosing instead to creepily leer at me from over the top of his shades. Needless to say I never went out with him again and we never even spoke again until many months later when he randomly pinged me online with the message, “Do you like apples?” I didn’t respond and blocked him, even though yes, I do like apples (preferably in pie form).

There’s the guy I had dinner with who spent most of the evening talking about his beloved dog. He worked in an industry known for not paying well, but had his own place. I, also working in an industry known for not paying well, was sharing a house with four male roommates, so I asked him in all earnestness how he managed to afford to live alone. He responded that after he paid his rent, his utilities, and covered whatever the dog needed, he was usually left with $15-30 each month. Ignoring the fact that this meant he had absolutely no savings to speak of and would be completely screwed if am emergency situation should arise, I asked how that didn’t put a damper on his social life. He told me that all he wanted was to find someone who was happy to hang out at home with him and his dog, so it didn’t really bother him. I suppose, at its core, that’s all most of us are looking for, but how you don’t see that buying a large pizza will cause you financial ruin as an issue is beyond me.

There’s the guy in New York who worked backstage in some capacity at a theater. This meant his working day started around 2:00 in the afternoon and ran through the night, and his days off were Sunday and Monday. I was a typical Monday-Friday 9-5er, so aligning our schedules for just the first date wasn’t easy (it wound up being a Monday night dinner). We had a good time and agreed to meet up again. I suggested we do something the following Sunday. He said that he liked for Sundays to be his day to do nothing. Then I suggested that he pick a weekday--any weekday--to come into the city a bit early and I could meet him for a bite to eat during my lunch hour. He said that he didn’t like getting up or traveling to the city any earlier than he absolutely had to. Annoyed, I suggested that he should only date women who also work in the theater industry with the same wonky schedule, because I wasn’t going to be satisfied with a relationship exclusive to Monday nights. This apparently pissed him off as he copped an attitude with me for being “so inflexible.”

There’s Octopussy. In the aforementioned house in Boston that I shared with four male roommates, three of them were perfectly nice guys in serious relationships, so I rarely saw them, and when I did they were great roommates who respected everyone’s space and even let me have my own bathroom to myself. And then there was Octopussy. He was English and living here on an expired student visa, working at a cater waiter for special events at the university he never managed to graduate from. His hobbies included sleeping all day, not showering regularly, making a mess in the kitchen and leaving it for someone else to clean, and trying to shag his way through the city of Boston before he inevitably got kicked out of the country.

He campaigned hard for a while to get a dog for the house, for the sole reason that “dogs are a great way to meet women.” When none of us were interested in this endeavor, he said he’d get one on his own, until one of the other roommates said that according to our lease, pets weren’t allowed, and that he was allergic to dogs, so we couldn’t have one in the house anyway. “I’m also allergic to horses, so don’t ask if we can get one of those, either.”

One Friday night I found myself with the rare treat of having the entire house to myself, so I decided to celebrate by watching TV in the living room while wearing my flannel pajamas. Octopussy eventually stumbled home after a catering gig and flopped on to the couch with me, asking if I had anything to drink. I said I had some mediocre booze left over from a recent weekend visit to an out-of-town friend if he was interested in that, which of course he was. Barely one drink in, he began rubbing my back and declared that this would be a banner night of “drink a little, watch TV a little, and hook up a little.” I rolled my eyes and retreated to my bedroom, wondering when immigration services were going to deport this jackass already.

The incident was never spoken of and he never tried anything again, so I just put it behind me. He eventually asked if he could use my computer while I was at work to send emails--he didn’t have his own computer, no surprise, and this was a few years before smartphones were a thing--and I said fine, then after a couple of weeks started coming home to pornographic fan-fiction-esque entries left up on my screen for me. Luckily, I got a raise at work around this time and could afford to get my own place. Which led to me meeting…

There’s the real estate agent in Boston who helped me find a new apartment. He was around my age and really cute, so when he asked me out I was beyond delighted. Unfortunately, our date didn’t go so well as we didn’t have a lot in common to talk about, he wouldn’t stop trying to unnecessarily touch me, and he gave off a very weird vibe, primarily when we stopped into a bookstore and he saw a display of tiny books each featuring the origins and historical insights about a specific name. He wanted to get one for his brother’s new baby, but couldn’t remember exactly what said baby’s name was, and proceeded to get into an argument with the salesgirl about their return policy if he happened to buy a book featuring the wrong name. When he dropped me off at home I thanked him for dinner and tried to quickly duck inside, but he caught me by the elbow and actually said the words, “Let me give you a kiss,” and then awkwardly tried to make out with me while I kept my mouth clamped shut, resulting in him licking my teeth.

When he called asking for a second date, I straight up told him I wasn’t interested and didn’t hear from him for at least six months. During this stretch of time an on-again, off-again bullshit excuse for a relationship that I foolishly dragged with me from college into the real world finally blew up in my face, leaving me feeling every shade of hurt, angry, embarrassed, and vulnerable. Teeth Licker must have sensed this somehow, as he popped up out of the blue to call me and asked me out again. Not really wanting to go, but feeling low enough to say yes anyway, I did stipulate that I was only interested in hanging out as friends and wasn’t looking to date anyone. He agreed, but then tried to maul my face again at the end of another night filled with absolutely no chemistry of any kind. When he called the following week looking to go out again, I informed him that I was having my wisdom teeth removed that week (true story) and would call him after I recovered. And then didn’t.

There’s the guy in DC who I met for one date and had a really good time with, but felt absolutely zero physical attraction to. When he asked if I’d like to go out again, I said sure, but that I was really only interested in friendship with him. He told me pointblank, “Thanks, but I really need a girlfriend.” Fair enough, buddy.

There’s the guy who was in Alcoholics Anonymous. This didn’t bother me because A. good for him for realizing he had a problem and getting the help he needed, and B. I’m not a huge drinker anyway, so it wouldn’t put a damper on my lifestyle. What did bother me, however, was that he had traded his addiction to alcohol for an addiction to adrenaline. He belonged to the fitness cult that is CrossFit, and on the few dates we went on all he talked about was his daily visits to his CrossFit gym, how much he was lifting, how far he was running, and how he was in training for Tough Mudder, an extreme physical challenge that people have actually died while doing. It got to the point where every time he would talk all I could think of was this:

When he eventually informed me that between his daily AA meetings and CrossFit workouts he really didn’t think he had time for a relationship, I was neither surprised nor particularly disappointed. I sometimes wonder if he’s continuously trading one addiction for another and will eventually wind up with a massive collection of porcelain dolls or unable to stop smelling sweaty gym socks.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Losing the Zoo

Way back in 2003, when I was one year out of college, I received a large enough raise at work that would allow me to afford an apartment on my own (in Boston at the time). So I happily bid farewell to the house I had been sharing with four roommates and got my very own one-bedroom apartment, which I still mark as my first big grown-up decision.

Not long after moving into that place, I made my second big grown-up decision to become the only kind of parent I would ever want to be, and adopted two three-month old kittens; a brother and sister pair who I named Capote (after author Truman Capote) and Moneypenny (after the secretary from the James Bond movies). And my Grinch heart grew three sizes that day as I instantly fell in love with my little furballs, crazy cat lady stereotypes be damned.

After an initial tentative warming up phase, they both turned into hyper affection bundles of unconditional love. I tried to train them not to sleep on my bed with me in a futile effort to keep everything single thing I owned from being covered in cat hair, but wherever I was, that’s where they wanted to be, and they would not be denied nighttime snuggles. Even on the occasions where I would soak in the bathtub they would hang out on the bathroom floor, calmly waiting for me to relocate to a place where they could easily crawl all over me.

As they got older, Capote grew into a normal-proportioned cat and eventually got too big to comfortably be in my lap (not that it stops him from still trying at times). But Moneypenny kept her dainty figure and kitten-like look, coupled with her chirpy high-pitched “meow” that she employed often as the chattier of the two. Throughout her entire life I don’t think she ever weighed more than 9 pounds, making it easy to scoop her up one-handed, where she would then cling to my shoulder like a monkey to be carried around.

Over the years we went through a lot together. A move from Boston to New York City that introduced a new human into their daily routine as I shared a place with my college roommate. After 8 years there, I uprooted us for a brief stint in Washington, DC, then to Chicago, which I drove to over two days, giving the fuzz twins their one and only taste of hotel living (it was well-received, even though I wouldn’t let them raid the minibar). Then in Chicago I met Remus, who quickly became a regular fixture in my apartment, and they easily warmed up to him; most surprising from Moneypenny, who was always wary of strangers.

And then came the big test: cohabitating with Remus and his cat, Ara, who was used to being an only child. After a tenuous few months, the three animals settled into what I would call a state of begrudging acceptance. We liked to joke about how our pets outnumbered us, referring to our home as “the zoo,” but it was a good balance. Ara (the oldest cat) was the cranky grandma, Capote was the independent guy, and Moneypenny, with her almost comically small stature, was the baby.

Not long after moving in together, we noticed that Moneypenny seemed to be constipated. A trip to the vet gave us the suggestion of a high-fiber diet and some over the counter meds we could try. But the problem never went away, reoccurring many times for the next year and a half despite many vet visits, different diets, and various medications. It was finally suggested that we take her to a veterinary surgeon for a consult, where we learned that she had a perineal hernia. Without hesitation I agreed to the surgery to correct it, and after an overnight stay brought home my poor girl--who had lost almost half her body weight throughout this ordeal--with a completely shaved backside, a cone of shame around her head, and a strict regimen of drugs to be administered.

When she was clearly backed up again a few days after her hernia surgery we had to take her back to the surgeon, where the news this time wasn’t nearly as simple. A neurological disorder that was causing her digestive tract to not work properly was suspected, and a trip to another animal hospital to get her an MRI was suggested as an option, but when I choked out the difficult question of if we got the MRI and it was indeed a neurological malfunction, was there anything that could be done for her, the harsh answer was no.

“If she were human, we would give her a colostomy bag,” our sympathetic surgeon explained, “but, unfortunately, she’s a cat.”

So, just a couple of months shy of her 13th birthday, Remus and I made the heartbreaking decision to have Moneypenny put to sleep. We had both had beloved childhood dogs put down, but this was the first time either of us were on the front line to make the call and be there when it happened. We jointly sat with her in the hospital room, saying final goodbyes while she contently purred in my arms. I always knew I wouldn’t have it in me to hold either of my cats as they were put down, but Remus was adamant that the last thing Moneypenny saw was one of us, so while I sat in the car sobbing he stayed with my kitty girl as she slipped away, an gesture so selfless and loving that I’ll never forget it.

Logical pet owners know going in that they will (hopefully) outlive their animals and eventually have to make hard choices at the end, but knowing doesn’t make it any easier when the time comes. Losing Moneypenny feels just like losing any other beloved family member, and while we always joked that three cats was too many, two doesn’t feel complete (but no, we will not be getting another any time soon). Bedtime is the hardest; whenever I would crawl within the sheets she would hop up within seconds, no matter where she was hanging out, eager to snuggle up and incrementally push me to the far edge of the bed as the night progressed. Now I can stretch out and take up my full half of the mattress, and it sucks.

But life goes on, and every day hurts a little less. Ara never liked the new female intruder, so she’s not fazed, and Capote doesn’t seem to be behaving differently now that his sister is gone. A nearly 13-year run isn’t too bad for a pet, which I have to keep reminding myself, and ultimately Moneypenny was loved deeply by someone who doesn’t love easily or often, so I hope she felt that in the end, as best as a cat can feel anything.

RIP, little one. Thank you for making my early grown-up years a lot warmer and exceptionally fuzzy.