For a year, except for carefully calibrated trips to the doctor or dentist, I truly was happy in my little 680-square-foot apartment. I considered it a variation on a theme of Michael Cohen’s house arrest.
I cooked for a very small circle of friends. I shared a pod of sorts with a neighbor who has become a dear friend. I’ve become a kind of surrogate grandmother to her 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. I’ve even dog-sat for Khan, their 12-year-old mixed-breed something or other.
For exercise I swam when and where I could, walked from my tiny abode to the trash room–and—if feeling ambitious, all the way down to the cavernous 1st floor mail room.
To bide the time I did what others across the country did and watched tv, read new and old books, raged at right-wing Republican callousness, and spent ridiculous time on the phone. I was already hopelessly addicted to Facebook. . . .
And then it happened.
But to understand this bizarre event, we must step back a moment in time.
My daughter, who lives about 1500 miles away, gave me an exotic violet plant for Mother’s Day in lieu of joining me for lunch or brunch on this made-for-the-day, outrageously expensive, meal.
I was so moved I vowed not to kill it as quickly as I have caused the demise of its predecessors—including cacti.
I read up on the care and feeding of African violets. I bought violet food, read and reread the instructions. I consulted with friends who were gardeners. I positioned my gift so it got just enough light.
It rewarded me by not dying.
In time little leaves got bigger. Biden got elected. Vaccines hit the market, and free vaccinations were decreed for all. Being of a certain age, I met Moderna reasonably early in the game — on the first day of March to be precise.
About that same time, something magical happened: the violet bloomed. I almost cried. I took pictures from different angles and sent them to my kid.
Calling upon my great gift for creativity and imagination and as a sign of great joy and gratitude, I named my blooming plant “Violet.”
That’s when things got strange.
I took to talking to Violet, which I know some won’t think odd because they talk to their plants too.
But Violet starting talking back.
She became annoyed even if I apologized for leaving her to start dinner.
Things then took a really dark turn: carrots, celery, onions and garlic got snippy about spending unnecessary time on the chopping board. “Either you’re going to make Bolognese or not,” huffed the thyme and oregano.
I had recently fallen under the spell of Stanley Tucci in Italy, a country I’ve been trying to visit for years. When I had the time, I didn’t have the money. When I had the money Covid crept in — hence the vicarious visit to Bologna.
But I digress.
Just as I was halfway through dicing a yellow onion, a plaintive voice from across the room whined, “I’m thirsty.”
I realized I had originally stopped to visit Violet to check the soil and to water her.
A smart aleck garlic clove whispered to the carrot, “This sauce will never get made. Y’all might as well go on and wilt.”
“I heard that,” I snapped, then glanced furtively from side to side, as though fearing someone in the empty apartment might hear me and not the gabby flora.
When my brain stopped sizzling and the circuits readjusted themselves, I realized I was having a post-lockdown, pre-freedom episode. I was beginning to experience short-termer hallucinations.
And then the call came.
Moderna #1 was scheduled, and, in short order, done. Thirty-four minutes, in and out, including the prescribed 15-minute wait.
In 28 days Moderna #2 would occur, and after 20-some hours of abject misery and a 10- or 16-hour wait, I’d be free to move about the cabin. The light at the end of the tunnel would not be an oncoming train.
I would soon cast off jeans and t-shirts, trading them for girly girl clothes. I’d don my favorite green, linen dress and the handcrafted copper-and-beaded earrings that look like little pea pods and hope like hell they didn’t start a conversation.
There are some unexpectedly comforting things about the Coronavirus semi-lockdown. One is the growing ability to attend meetings across the ocean while comfortably installed at home, meetings one never would have considered due to cost and travel. I mean who am I to take a jet from Dallas and fly over the Atlantic to hear speakers in London or Paris?
Well, thanks to our present Covid 19 situation, I did zoom to a meeting in the American library in Paris in the fall and take part in a European club gathering of my undergraduate school some weeks ago. Yesterday, I clicked into a presentation of my distinguished graduate school of global affairs, Fletcher, by the British Ambassador to the United States. This was the Covid era equivalent of an annual event with some eminent speaker held in London.
It was so pleasant! I was settled in on the sofa in the back room of my house, a coffee within reach on the little table beside me. I was in my nightgown and robe, lying back, two pillows holding me up, with a toasty, down cover over my extremities, and the laptop propped up on top of my knees, right before my face.
Oh, yes, the meeting was starting at nine-thirty in the morning Dallas time, which is four-thirty London time.
It was going to be the most pleasant hour and a half, especially since the horrible winter storm that had kept Texas below freezing for almost a week was going away, with sun and temperatures promised to climb into more temperate zones in the upcoming hours.
I sipped my coffee as the meeting started on the special relationship between our two countries, when suddenly a question popped up in my mind. Perfect. I clicked on the Q & A and wrote it in, continuing to listen. The Ambassador, the first woman to be named to Britain’s most important posting, was doing a first-rate job on the subject, and, unlike so many speakers, did it in a rather short period of time leaving plenty of room for questions. I was looking forward to perhaps having my question read by the Dean of Fletcher, as had been the case in other Fletcher Zoom gatherings. Then, I heard words that literally made me jump. Questions would be read on camera by those raising them.
Oh, dear. They would see my robe! The Ambassador would see what was behind my sofa — a door. My hair was not even combed. I looked dreadful even for the seventy-three-year-old I am! My question, from my vantage point, seemed to be the first. I could not run upstairs to wash my face, do something to the hair, change into something more appropriate. Help!
Calm down, I said to myself. Churchill often wore his robe as he pondered on how to deal with the latest horror during World War II.
I gently picked up my laptop and walked it over to my little library, settled it on my solid teak desk, and sat down, facing it. At least now, whatever happened, they would see books on the shelves behind me. The first question was not mine. I ran my fingers through my hair. The second question was not mine. I adjusted the collar of my robe. The third question was not mine. I smiled and relaxed.
“Yes, next question from Tatiana….”
Oh, there it was, the camera taking in my face with my glasses while the written question disappeared. Smile on, I raised it, changing a few words, and Her Excellency, the Ambassador, smiled, too, hopefully not noticing anything strange in my appearance but the difference in the wording of the question.
I did something almost Churchillian afterwards. I put some butter on a piece of French baguette and had it with a glass of red wine. That was before noon, a no, no in my life, where wine is limited to a glass with lunch or dinner. Of course, Churchill had a cigar and whisky, but he was also bigger, broader, and faced a war! Like everyone else, I’m only facing Covid.
Ah, guess where I am writing this from.
First appeared in Tatiana’s blog, which can be found at https://louiseleiften.medium.com, linked here atTatiana Androsov – Medium.
These days, when tired of reading, writing, calling, and binge watching, I turn to the kitchen. But when I do cook, I do not bake. I’m one of those who could screw up Duncan Hines; I stick with what I know I can do: cook. It is my most serious, absolute, and unequivocal commitment to domesticity. Dust bunnies don’t bother me nearly much as a deficiency of butter, Herbes de Provence, or Old Bay.
I can cook on a generous budget, a low one, or an almost-no budget. I once threw a party for a group of reporters from 11 countries. I set a buffet table representative of each visitor’s culinary tradition, almost all by myself. Took three days. Loved every minute of it.
I cook when I’m happy, sad, or, worst of all, angry. There’s something frighteningly satisfying about holding a well-sharpened 8-inch chef’s knife and pretending you’re severing vital body parts from a miscreant, or, on one memorable occasion, a malevolent manager.
There I was, fresh from food stamps and five months of being unemployed, but now comfortably ensconced in a fabulous job in a Fortune 100 company — but with an incompetent bully for a supervisor. She immediately endeared herself by advising that I was so lucky to have been hired; that I had a very demanding, responsible job; and she would be watching me carefully to see if I measured up.
All the while I’m nodding, smiling, and thinking Who the fuck does this bitch think she’s talking to, her 6- year-old niece? It’s difficult to not react under such patronizing circumstances, especially when you’ve moved with from the Midwest to the fast-paced East coast — and you’ve been unemployed for five months . . . !
Then, as if to confirm my worst suspicions, the shrew relocated an office mate I was just getting to know to make room for another new hire: a Chinese woman whom I came to admire and respect. Our supervisor thought we would be “happier” together.
(Did I mention we were the only two minorities in the department’s writing group?)
That’s when I started keeping daily notes of what was said and done. The snide comments. The nitpicky edits that occasionally were made for no reason other than personal preference. Not to mention edits that changed meaning from right to wrong. I hadn’t experienced bullying since seventh grade, and this woman had elevated it to an art form.
After a day of unadulterated nonsense, I went home and fired up all burners. Boiled eggs for a tuna salad. Made a spaghetti sauce with tons of sliced mushrooms. Chili. Macaroni and cheese went into the oven. Chopped salad to go with whatever got done first.
Imagination went into overdrive. Slice carrots, her neck. Dice celery, amputate arms. Chop green onions, off with her legs. Cut a tomato, off with her head.
At one point my daughter peeked into kitchen with the gentle query, “Rough day at the office, huh?” She turned and quietly returned to her room. “I’ll just get something later,” she said as she closed the door to her room.
Meanwhile, back at the office, the browbeating and penny-ante criticisms continued unabated. OyKue — who held two masters degrees, one in biochemistry and the other in technical writing —eventually resigned. I took my notes to EEOC after reporting my “concerns” to HR.
It took a while, but in the best corporate tradition, instead of being fired or encouraged to retire, the bully was transferred to a corporate conference center in Princeton. She went from supervising a staff of 40 to an office with one assistant: a retired U.S. Marine drill sergeant who just happened to be a black woman.
In time I invited the drill sergeant to dinner to thank her for her service.
I pulled out all the stops: salmon on toast points with shallots and caviar; Boston lettuce salad with a lemon vinaigrette; braised short ribs in a wine sauce; baby new potatoes; buttered asparagus; key lime tarts for dessert.