Thursday, December 1, 2011

In which I have a romantic lunch that starts with zucchini tart and ends with throwing up

Remember Yves, the millionaire boyfriend (he claimed to be a millionaire, but would a true millionaire not even have his own washing machine?) who proposed to me nine months after he broke up with me?

We took a trip together -before he broke up with me - through the south of France. It was actually a lovely trip. He did all the driving and I decided where we were going. We got to see little villages you can't get to by train and he knew that crazy French driving rule that you yield to the driver coming from the right even if you are on a major road and the other driver is on a minor road. When Primo and I were in France last year and drove from Paris to Mont St Michel, I expected death from the right the entire time on the road, which seemed like four straight days but was probably less. Which was probably oh one afternoon. But one afternoon on French roads can feel like an eternity.

We (Primo and I) also discovered the joy of driving up a hill in Rennes 1. without snow tires 2. during a snowstorm with 3. other drivers without snow tires. Yes, it does snow in France. The only time it snowed during our week there was the day we had to drive back from Mont St Michel to Paris. The rest of the time, we had cold rain. France in November. There's a reason it's easy to find a hotel room in late fall.

Next time Primo and I go to France, we are taking the bus. Let someone else worry about the rules.

But Yves and I had a nice time going through the little villages and small cities and up to the top of Les Roches. It makes it easier to travel when you are with someone who speaks the language and knows the rules.

The only sour note - apart from the time

WAIT! THIS IS GROSS! YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP IT! Start reading again after the last set of all caps.

apart from the time when we were in the hotel in Arles where the toilets used about four ounces of water each flush I AM WARNING YOU STOP READING RIGHT NOW IF YOU GET GROSSED OUT DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU

and we all know that sometimes four ounces isn't enough, which is why the hotel provided a toilet brush


which Yves DID NOT USE so when I went into the bathroom, I saw quite clearly that he was an evening pooper who ate a lot of fatty food and not much roughage.

And that's as far as I'll go except to say that cleaning someone else's poop was not what I had in mind for a romantic vacation. He didn't leave his towels on the bathroom floor, but this was far, far worse. Picking up someone else's towels won't make you gag.

Related story: I used to swim at the JCC before I would go to work. That was back when I had a job and some degree of worth in the open market. Now I am just a parasite, consuming without contributing. If Primo dies, I am stuck. There is not enough life insurance to last for the next 50 years of life I undoubtedly have left, at least if there is anything to genetics, and the marketplace has made it quite clear over the past few years that it has no use for my talents. I better keep that man alive and working.

I would go to the JCC at 5:30 a.m., swim, shower, then go to work.

One morning, I arrived at the gym. I put my purse and sweatpants in a locker, then carried my towel and bath kit to the shower to leave it. I opened the door to the showers and a smell hit me.

It was the smell of poop.

Which as everyone knows does not belong in a shower.

I tiptoed to the first shower stall - there were four - and pulled back the curtain.

Someone had smeared poop on the wall.

I felt myself start to vomit.

I backed away, grabbed my towel, and ran out to the front desk.

"Someone smeared poop on the shower walls in the ladies' locker room," I told the attendant.

Her eyes flew open. "Oh!"

"You need to have someone clean it up."

She nodded vigorously. I went into the pool, swam my lazy 1,200 yards, and returned to the locker room.

When I opened the shower room door, the smell was still there. The shower had not been cleaned.

I grabbed my towel again, wrapped my body for modesty's sake, and marched out to the attendant. "It's still there!" I said.

"I told them," she protested.

I returned to the showers, used the stall on the very far end, which was clean, got dressed and left.

I came back at lunch to use the weights. Out of curiosity, I checked the showers.

Still poop laden.

I couldn't believe it.

I found the attendant and hissed, "IT'S STILL THERE!"

She shook her head. "I told them."

"You didn't check to make sure it was done!"

"That's not my job," she snapped.

"Yes! It is! It is your job to make sure it has been handled! All you had to do was walk thirty yards and check!" I stomped away to find someone who would actually give a damn. For five hundred dollars a year, I wanted clean showers. Was I asking too much? I don't think so.

She was unconvinced. "Besides," she said, "Our cleaners aren't paid enough to clean poop."

I whirled back. "Yes, they are! I cleaned poop for $3 an hour. If it is your job to clean the showers, then you clean the damn showers." [I did, when I was a lifeguard during college and the boys thought it was funny to poop on the men's room floor and the City of Converse would not let us lock the bathrooms and require patrons to request the key.]

One of the coaches overheard me. I told him the story and he was appalled. He glared at the attendant and promised, "I will make sure this is taken care of immediately." And he did.

Wow. That's a lot of poop talk for a story that is not about poop.


No, this story is not about poop. It is about vomit.

So the only sour note was the time we stopped for lunch at an idyllic little cafe in the country. The narrow road was lined with elm or chestnut or whatever kind of tree it is that lines country roads in Europe. We don't have many of those - tree lined roads - here. Possibly none. My neighborhood's streets used to be lined with elms that bent over and met in the middle of the street, but that was before Dutch elm disease. Now I just have a maple that drops its leaves overnight three weeks after all the other trees on the street have dropped and two weeks after I have had to rake everyone else's leaves out of my yard. This year, I just waited for the wind to blow my leaves from my yard into the other yards and darn if it didn't work.

But in Europe, they have old roads lined with trees. The sun shines between the leaves and branches and casts dappled light on the road. It was a warm, beautiful day. There might have been cicadas humming, although maybe not as we took this trip in May and I think May is too early for cicadas. Not that I am a cicada expert or anything, but I think they are a late summer thing.

We pulled over and walked to the cafe. The garden was just starting to bloom. A few people bent over the outdoor tables, holding hands across the bread and butter. This was a romantic place. Good. I needed some romance to make up for the you know what. (I'm not going to say it for the sake of the people who skipped the gross part.)

We sat. Looked at the menu. The special looked fabulous: starter of a zucchini tart, then poached fish with asparagus, then a chocolate mousse. Yum. I ordered the special, Yves ordered the steak frites.

We were starving. We hadn't eaten anything since our very light breakfast of bread and cheese and that had been five hours ago. I don't like to go more than ten minutes between snacks, so I was ready to go.

They brought out my tart.

I ate daintily, as Yves and I were still in that stage where we were trying to show each other our best face. Or at least I was. Yves had apparently gotten over the "She must never know I have bodily functions!" horror.

Primo and I still do not pee in front of each other. Yes, we have seen each other naked and our bodies are not as pretty as they were 20 years ago. He has pulled a white hair out of my chin and I have cleaned his infected leg wound, but we close the bathroom door. Every time. There has to be some mystery.

But Yves was either clueless or far less modest than I.

I ate daintily. I finished my small slice of tart. Yves at his small appetizer, whatever it was. I was going to say a salad, but then I remembered that the French don't eat their salad at the beginning of the meal. Or so I've heard. When Primo and I were in Paris, we were not eating multi-course meals. We had a lot of bread and cheese and just one fancy restaurant meal at Le Relais de Venice with the birthday money my mom sent me. I think there might have been salad, but what I remember is the steak and the great sauce that came with it. I even ate the french fries, which I only eat about once a year, just so I could have more of the sauce.

We waited for the next course.

And waited.

And then my stomach started to rumble.

I started to feel - not well.

I started to feel like I was going to throw up.

I rarely throw up. I had food poisoning in Albuquerque in 1986 and again in Memphis in 2003. I threw up both times. I can't remember much more throwing up besides that in my adult life except for the time when I decided to go to Europe after grad school even though I did not have a job. I was so stressed about doing something so irresponsible that I threw up and burst all the blood vessels around my eyes, making it look like someone had given me a light beating.

I burst those same blood vessels again a few months ago after several minutes of Downward Dog at the yoga class my orthodox Jewish acupuncturist who works at a drug rehab clinic had recommended for my headaches. Yoga not only did not stop my headaches (turns out that quitting caffeine was all I had to do for that) but gave me more, plus that lightly beaten about the eyes look.

I am a Delicate Flower.

Point is that I rarely throw up.

But I knew what was about to happen.

"I have to go to the bathroom," I blurted to Yves as I ran. I got there just in time. Chewed tart hurtled out of my body. I kept retching even once my stomach was empty. I vomited so hard that my stomach muscles, which are rarely used, started to hurt.

I flushed twice, wiped the specks off the seat, flushed again, then sat on the toilet to rest.

Throwing up is hard work.

I washed my hands, then rinsed my mouth. I looked at myself in the mirror: I was pale and sweaty. Not a good look for me.

I walked slowly back to the table. Yves stood. "What happened?" he gasped.

"I threw up," I told him.

"But why?"

"I think the eggs were bad in the tart. It's the only thing I can think of. It's the only thing I've had to eat for hours."

He frowned. He looked up, raised his hand and summoned the waitress.

"She is sick because of the tart. We are leaving. Cancel the order. I pay for my appetizer but not for hers."

The waitress tried to protest, but Yves would have none of it.

He threw some bills on the table, gently took my elbow, and carefully guided me to the car, where he reclined my seat. "You just rest," he commanded. "You just feel better."

A few hours later, we stopped for chocolate. I felt much better. But no more undercooked tarts for me.