Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Probable Causes of a Crooked Spine

I took advantage of a free medical screening through my job and ended up in a crowded waiting room with some very sick people. An elderly woman in the chair next to me was pushing a walker back and forth across the waiting room floor.

“They told me I had to stop eating meat to save my life while I was in the hospital, so I stopped eating meat. Any time they bring me food, I just eat everything but the meat,” she said. “I lost sixty-five pounds.”

The slouching men behind her laughed, swinging their heads back, crippled by the hilarity.

Another woman stepped into the conversation. “Don’t laugh, she was trying to save her life. Meat is bad for you. Pork isn’t so bad, though.”

“I had open heart surgery and they told me if I didn’t stop eating meat, I’d die,” the woman with the walker said. “And if they told me to stop eating something else, I’d do it. I have diabetes. My feet swell up so much sometimes they turn red. And I have asthma. I went to the doctor one day because I couldn’t breathe. He said I have COPD.”

All the men in the waiting room seemed to have gimpy legs and dragging feet. One woman was trying to get an appointment for her baby, but the baby was too young to see a general physician.

After filling out some paperwork, it was my turn to see the doctor, a chiropractor. I have scoliosis, sporatic sciatica. I used to be a gymnast; I thought my spine was made of rubber. I wanted to be a Chinese acrobat but I wasn’t even remotely Asian. I carried a bulging backpack that was a third the weight of my late bloomer body throughout middle school. All the standing at work hurts my shoulders and neck and these seem like probable reasons for a crooked spine. If being healthy were a competition, the baby in the waiting room probably would probably win but in spite of everything I was in an admirable second place.

I told these things to the chiropractor and he wanted to see my back for himself. I stood in socks and a dress in the waiting room, touching my toes and standing at different angles. He showed me a picture of a human spine from the side.

“See this curve below the neck? That’s supposed to be there for shock absorption. You don’t have a curve, your spine is perfectly straight.”

My back, with curves in all the wrong places.

“Could that be causing my neck pain? The lack of shock absorption, right?”

I need to know the cause and effect of things and connect the dots. This often annoys doctors.

“It’s very likely. And your hips are uneven. One is higher than the other.”

“Is this why I have scoliosis? My spine is adapting to fit my hips?”

“It’s very likely. Your spine will always adapt to keep your head upright. In extreme cases, you’ll see some people with “s” shaped curves in their back but their heads will always be upright.”

“Is there anything I can do about this? Yoga makes my back feel great, but I can’t do it very often. My cat claimed my yoga mat as her territory. If I try to do yoga in my apartment, she will actually attack my face.”

The chiropractor laughed. “You should video that, you could win a few thousand dollars on World’s Funniest Home Videos. I’d vote for a video of your cat attacking your face while you do yoga.”

“Then I could put the money towards a larger apartment and put a door in between me and my cat.”

In the lobby, I waited to find out information about my insurance from a pregnant receptionist with a striking baby voice. There was another woman next to me this time, the grandmother of the baby. The others in the waiting room declared her a female Chris Rock, to which she responded that she knew she was funny and she wrote things sometimes.

“I’m ready if I ever get into the White House. I’m sick of looking at the White House. It’s boring. You’ll know if I’m president because I’ll paint the White House green,” she said. “I liked to see the look on Romney’s face when he lost. He didn’t have anything to say, he only had an acceptance speech. He looked like he was crying. Now he has to go explain to his seventeen grandkids that they aren’t going to live in the White House. They be like, “What happened, Grandpa? I thought we was gonna move?”

The receptionist came back with my insurance information.

“Every time she speaks I think, ‘where’s the baby?’” the woman beside me said.

“It’s just her voice.”

“I just keep thinking, maybe that’s not her voice. Maybe it’s the baby inside talking.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Month of Cat

Penny is about a year old, which makes her a young adult. I tell myself that Penny is old enough to make her own terrible life decisions. Before we adopted her, she lived in someone’s garage and birthed a litter of kittens. She looks stout and stunted. I think pregnancy halted her growth, like coffee or arsenic.

Living in a studio apartment is not unlike living in a garage, and therefore Penny has no interest in conquering the great outdoors. Garages and garage-like places are all she knows. I found this out when I chased her around the apartment with Olive’s leash, which she misinterpreted as an attempt to hogtie her. I walked Olive by the pine trees outside of the window so that Penny could watch.

“See, Penny? This is what the leash is for.”

Penny responds with a meow so awkwardly deep and husky that you might suspect that she has been smoking for the past twenty years while working as a waitress in a casino. This is the only sound Penny makes, from the moment she wakes me up at night galumphing back and forth across the headboard to the sound she makes when she plunks into the toilet.

Penny is incurably clumsy. She balances herself over the toilet like the ninja spy that she is not, but someday hopes to be: three paws splayed across the toilet seat, one paw dipping surreptitiously into the sage green basin, lowering her head  towards the prize. She licks her paws with quiet satisfaction before her shaky legs get the best of her. I hear a thump. A trail of paw prints leads away from the toilet to a dryer place. A place with towels.

Penny meows for food she cannot have. She nonchalantly helps herself to multigrain chips and sesame seed bagels and mushroom pizza. She will dip into the garbage looking for a savory morsel. Penny did not grow up with Science Diet Cat food; her palate is not accustomed to giblets. After Penny laps up the gravy, stands over her bowl of giblets scratching the wood floors and meows desperately. I resent this, says the cat. Dave mushes up the seafood giblets with a fork until it becomes a pate. Now that Olive has seen that the giblets can be refused, she has joined the hunger strike in reluctant solidarity. In the end, all the cats will get pizza. All the cats in the world will have their pizza.

Penny is still hungry but leaps onto my lap. She leans against me, sticking her butt in the air for rigorous lower back scratch. Penny falls asleep in my lap at night and I don’t want to move her and wake her up. I wonder if I am her person.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Boston Highlights

When we arrived at the station in Boston, my stomach growled and my head ached from whacking my head on the low overhang above the Megabus seats (something every Megabus passenger experiences at one time or another). Dave was sniffling from allergies and drowsy from napping in awkward positions over the sound of the archetypal crying infant on a bus. Yet in spite of waiting for an hour behind a sign on the sidewalk that read “Bostof,” we arrived at the intended destination.

Our trip was short – if it hadn't been, we would have been stuck in Boston through the duration of the hurricane. I certainly would not have complained.

Our first night, we went looking for some spectacular clam chowder. Quincy Market was all lit up like a Christmas tree. I described it to Dave as an endless food court with better food.

We found a little seafood restaurant called Boston Chowda and Dave ordered a bread bowl full of clam chowder. Dave decided it was the best clam chowder ever. Clam chowder makes me reminisce about a restaurant I used to go to with my Grandpa where bloated exotic fish blow kisses at you from behind an enormous glass tank as you slurp your soup.

A big sopping mess of chowder.
Dave and I resisted a multitude of candy coated brownies under glass cases and continued to the North End, the Italian neighborhood of Boston.

The main street was bustling, crowded with travelers, accordion players, and a clown twisting balloon animals. We were lucky to find a seat in a twenties-style café called Cafe Vittoria. Dave ordered a cappuccino with a frothy chocolate surface and I savored a square of tiramisu. Beyond the vintage signs and curling gold chairs a football game played in the background, confusing the ambience.

On our way back to the hotel that night we stopped to browse costumes and thrift shop clothes at the Garment District. The costumes were almost cleaned out but for a few mascot heads, fairy wings, and top hats. You could still get any size, shape, and color of fishnet tights you can imagine, but otherwise the Halloween hurricane had already come and gone. Savvy ladies dug through racks of vintage prom dresses and 70s skirts to construct Jackie O and Esmeralda costumes. Sequestered in a musty dressing room with a bulging stack of garments, I found the ideal sweater for a Cheshire cat costume. Halloween may have been derailed, but next year I’ll just need a pair of furry ears.

The second day was another food adventure. The Boston Vegetarian Food Festival deserved its own post, you can read about it here.

We walked to Boston Commons and the public garden. As we crossed Boston Commons we passed a man in a Dalmatian costume with three dogs in T-shirts. A one-man-band performed in the public garden, some amalgamation of a guitar, harmonica, drums set, trumpet, and a washboard. Dave fed the ducks in the pond some leftover cracker samples from the vegetarian fest, starting a feeding frenzy. We have more pictures of ducks eating crackers than anything else.

Dave photographed random strangers, perfecting the art of creeping around with a camera.

That night we went to Harvard Square for our next adventure. Our hotel was next to the MIT campus and as we walked around we assumed that every person our age must be someone brilliant studying quantum physics and neuroscience. It was much the same around Harvard, even with everyone dressed up as video game and Adventure Time characters.

We got a latte in the Harvard Coop, which turned out to be a poorly masked Starbucks within a poorly masked Barnes and Noble. In its defense, the coop really did contain real students quietly reading textbooks and looking rather tired.

We found a little shop with an impressive chocolate collection and I stumbled upon something I thought I would only see again in the Czech Republic – Mozart Kugeln. I bought two little pistachio truffles to be enjoyed on the ride home and reveled in Prague nostalgia.

I expected Harvard Square to be filled with shops and restaurants with names that allude to literature and the periodic table. In this I was not disappointed.

Dave and I had dinner in a bar called Grendel’s Den. Inside, Harvard students in costumes and funny hats drank beer in the reddish glow of the table lamps.

Dave had a steak with a Greek salad, prettily proportioned on the plate. I ordered Peruvian quinoa and got my first taste of chayote squash smothered in warm white cheese - easily my favorite meal in Boston.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Boston Vegetarian Food Festival

Pretty, sugary things from the Vegan Treats Bakery.
I've been wanting to write all week about my trip to Boston (particularly the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival), but I was sidetracked by a certain super-storm. We got very lucky. We only lost electricity and we're just waiting for the power to come back on. I'm writing from Dave's parents' house where I am drinking tea to stave off a nasty cold and nibbling little rectangles of chocolate from the festival.

I first heard about the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival a couple of years ago and our trip to Boston just happened to coincide with the festival. I guess it was meant to be. The festival was held in an athletic center and inside there were rows of tables and a smokey Indian spice aroma. Vendors sold cookbooks, vegetables, vegan pastries, and tee-shirts. We met my friend Liza inside.

At tables cluttered with Beanie Babies, volunteers promoted a vegan lifestyle for the well-being of animals. Sanctuaries that harbor animals rescued from industrial farms looked for sponsors for chickens and cows. And, of course, there were free samples.

I had a plate of kelp coleslaw for lunch.
Fake meat abounded and, although I'm not usually a fan of fake meat, I tried fake sausage and chickpea hamburger. It turns out I'm still not a fan of fake meat, but I could how extensive the science of imitating meat has become when I saw fake scallops.

One of the first tables I stumbled upon was Theo Chocolate - they make my favorite fig, fennel, and almond chocolate that has two squirrels on the label and feels like it was made especially for me.

So much fair trade chocolate.
I sampled some of Theo's newest flavors, like chili and cherry (Dave's personal favorite), vanilla nib, pili pili chili, and sea salt. Proceeds from the chocolate bars support organizations that provide bikes to students in rural Africa and preserve farmland. I bought a couple of bars of my favorite fig, fennel, and almond chocolate and bar of vanilla nib to take home.

A rainbow of new chocolate bars.
We tried various Indian curries and vegetarian restaurant fare. I was curious about the meatless Ethiopian food but as the venue filled up with enthusiastic samplers it became increasingly difficult to access the stands. I was able to maneuver my way to the Coconut Bliss table where tiny sample cups of chocolate coconut milk ice cream were scooped out for the passing horde.

As the crowd grew larger and the heat from the veggie burners sizzling on tiny grills made the gym stuffy and claustrophobic. I found myself in the back corner of the room where some really magical vegan doughnuts and cupcakes were laid out by an open door, letting in a slight breeze.

By the time I reached the other side of the festival, the traffic almost slowed to a stop. I lost Liza and Dave somewhere around the pastries.

The doors of the festival were open to early risers for five dollars an hour before the rest of the public got in for free, and by the time I reached the last row of tables I understood why. I hope that they move the festival into a larger venue as it grows.

Vegetarian food enthusiasts stand shoulder to shoulder.
Just before I made an attempt to escape the crowd, I fell into the path of coconut milk ice cream once more. I got a taste of pumpkin spice ice cream from FoMu, which had a very impressive range of flavors.

I left the festival with a bag of chocolate, little bags of hemp seeds, and sample bags of Pukka tea that I have yet to try. Then Dave and I left to experience other parts of Boston.