February 2019

Convalescent Note:
Greatly Reduced
15 February 2019

¶ Having taken the podiatrist’s stern commands to heart, I was gratified this morning to see that the swelling at the base of my big toe was greatly reduced. Reading between the flurries of partial information that I get from the doctors, I gather that the foot is no longer infected. The wound has to heal, though, and that’s entirely up to me: stay off your foot. I find myself almost limping, as if in pain. As if, by pretending that my foot hurt, I might hasten the healing. 

Mere hours after Monday’s terrifying appointment, I ordered a few items to help me stay off my foot, among them a wheeled stool, which Ray Soleil assembled this morning, and which turned out to be something of a bust. My visions of whizzing from the bedroom to the bookroom, and around the bookroom — tiny distances all — were obviated by my weight, which, will also greatly reduced, remains excessive. While the stool supports me, its plastic casters revolve only grudglingly. I decided to use it as a footstool. It was not very expensive, considering the panicked state in which I chose it. I am still waiting for a “knee walker” to arrive, a more substantial piece of equipment that, for my purposes, will allow me to do things in the kitchen (stirring pots, mixing ingredients) while staying off my foot

I try to spend two hours each afternoon in bed (instead of sitting in my reading chair with my foot up), because it gives me the feeling that I am doing my Utmost to — you know. It is also very relaxing (a new experience), and I usually fall asleep over whatever I’m reading. All the better. Sleep makes the foot happy — I can tell somehow. 

Meanwhile, it’s Ray, and not I, who hangs up the old bedspread and the thermal blanket in the attic closet. The bedspread, which went off to the laundry a disgrace, has come back brilliantly white. But the miracle cost plenty.  

Régime Note:
Aubade
14 February 2019

¶ Never have I been so impatient, not for the warmer weather that Spring brings, but for the light.

Often, I wake up between six and seven, waiting for brightness between the slats of the Venetian blinds. The day begins when I can read without a lamp — whether or not I get up then. And it ends when the light dies. The difficulty is that I don’t know what to do with the evenings, now that I don’t drink. (Trying not to be aware of evenings as such is a help.) By the time night falls, I have done enough reading for the day; I can’t really think anymore. That was always the excuse for pouring a glass of wine at about seven — and keeping the glass filled. I don’t miss the wine, but I do miss the tidal change, the official time off.

A great part of me simply wants to go to bed when it gets dark. But Kathleen comes home, and we have some sort of dinner. (My repertoire is even more limited than it already was by the need to keep off my feet.) And as midnight approaches, I feel the old anxiety about getting to sleep, even though for weeks now I have had no trouble at all dropping off within half an hour of taking a pill. With the drink, it used to be chancy — the drink, which had once made falling asleep (passing out) easy, took to scrambling my brain so badly that no pill could calm it down. I worry that remembering those awful hours will keep me awake, but it doesn’t. 

Morse and Lewis have been a great help, filling up the time between dinner and bedtime. But I wish I could feel something like this new happiness of morning at the other end of the day.

What It’s All About Note:
Sex in the Workplace
13 February 2019

¶ Having done with Inspector Morse, we have sailed into Lewis, and I must say that I rather prefer the later series. No matter how violent or otherwise exciting, the episodes are quieter, because Morse is not ranting about minor matters. The raillery between Lewis and his sergeant, Hathaway, alternates patterns established in Morse even to the point of being overtly friendly. And of course everyone knows about the Internet — for better or worse. 

What astonishes us is Rebecca Front’s wardrobe. Taking the place James Grout’s Superintendent Strange, a man as unfashionable as he was substantial, Front’s Superintendent Innocent is not only shapely but always dressed to go out. In fact, she can be counted on to wear garments with necklines that Kathleen and I consider totally inappropriate for the professional environment of a police station. We wonder if a Point is being Made: women have the right to be as sexy at work as they feel.

Talking about this, I shared with Kathleen last week’s idea, that while men want one thing for different reasons, women want different things for one reason. The one thing for men is, very simply, orgasm. I haven’t got quite the right word for the one thing for women, but it has something to do with integrity, or integration, or completeness. A facetious way of putting it would be that women want Everything, but in a variety of wrappings. For some women, being sexy is part of Everything, while for others it really isn’t, and not just because they disapprove.

Men’s many reasons include gross pleasure, power, revenge, and — though often overlooked — contentment. Contentment is a kind of Everything. 

Convalescent Note:
May I?
12 February 2019

¶ Because of the snow, Kathleen worked at home today. She had brought her computer from the office in anticipation.

Throughout the day, but sparingly, I interrupted her, to play a game of Elementary School. If I wanted to go somewhere or to do something, I asked Kathleen’s permission.

— May I go into the book room and sit at the computer for a while?

— May I go into the kitchen to make a sandwich?

— Do you think it would be a good idea if I put on those new shoes? (The podiatrist had said that I ought to wear shoes — a simple-seeming instruction that was problematic at best, given my collection of old shoes that never really fit to begin with and new shoes that haven’t been broken in yet because I’m supposed to stay off my feet.)

Kathleen invariably approved my requests, probably because they were carefully considered, and, also, not very frequent. I did not ask anything like 

— Would it be okay to vacuum the rug in the foyer? 

— Do you think I could bake a cake? 

I asked because I really wanted her opinion. If I went to sit at the computer, or to make a sandwich, would that be too great a breach of the rule about staying off my feet? It is a difficult rule to apply — unless, of course, it comes with a wheelchair, or a pair of crutches at least.

Naturally, I had to be on my feet to make today’s appointment with the Infectious Disease specialists, whom, like the podiatrist, I had not seen since my stay in the hospital. Tomorrow, I will have to get to the dermatologist’s office somehow. How do you get to a taxi, if not on your feet? 

I am looking forward to Thursday, when I won’t have to go anywhere. 

Recovery Note:
Riot Act
11 February 2019

¶ I am home, not in the hospital. I have just written an entry describing what the podiatrist said, but I think that I will keep that to myself, and just celebrate the fact that I am at home, for the time being. I have to work a bit harder at keeping off my right foot. “Walk less.” 

Write more. And I have!

Footwear Note:
Three Pairs
8 February 2019

¶ I wore three different pairs of shoes today.

First, I put on the grey cloth slip-ons that I bought from a big-guy outfit shortly after coming home from the hospital. Then I went to Fairway and did the shopping. I meant to kick off the shoes the moment I got home, but while waiting for the grocery delivery I got involved with baking madeleines. One thing led to another, and by the time I took off the slip-ons, I’d been wearing them for nearly three hours. Not a good idea, although no harm seemed to be done. The shoes are extra-wide, but they don’t particularly feel it, not yet.

Second, I donned the driving mocs, with woven-leather insteps that both Kathleen and Ray Soleil thought only old Italian men would wear, especially when carrying bocce balls (Walter offered to buy me some gold chains). What dreadful snobs! I think the mocs are perfectly nice, especially as they have  low vamps and are easy to get into, even for my swollen foot. The errand this time was briefer, but I got fully dressed for it. I’ve been living in comfy fleece trousers, but I put on dress pants for this occasion, to go with the dress socks that the mocs seemed to require. The waist of the pants stood out an inch from the waist of me, which was gratifying, and I slipped into a sportsjacket that I’ve been dreaming of wearing again for more than ten years. All this to cross the street to Schaller & Weber. The line at the counter was no shorter than it had been on my way home from Fairway, but I wasn’t carrying ice cream this time, and I wasn’t worried about missing the grocery delivery. The driving mocs came from an online source called Hitchcock Wide Shoes, or something like that. If I’d known about it, I’d never have developed this infection. The swelling, by the way, does seem to go down, slowly but perceptibly; Kathleen is very pleased. I hope that the podiatrist will be, too, when I see him on Monday. I hate to think about what-if-he-isn’t.

Third, I wore my bedroom slippers to go downstairs to pick up the laundry. I still had the dress socks on and was enjoying a day off from the ragg sock that I’ve just about worn to death. (The small hole at the toe is is not shrinking.) It was obvious that the right slipper is not wide enough and probably never will be. “Wide” — just one “E” — doesn’t cut it. Or rather, it does.

Cortisol Note:
Temperate
7 February 2019

When I sat down at the desk today, I was informed  that an accident involving a cable in New Jersey had disabled this site — along with lots of others, I presume. It was not fixed until tomorrow.

I did not rave or rail; I did not feel put out in the slightest. I worked on the writing project instead. Remarks that I might have made about Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing, which I watched during yesterday’s nap, flew right out of my head. I had seen the movie only once before, and remembered it a little differently. I’d forgotten just how certifiable Keir Dullea’s character is. and Noël Coward didn’t seem so creepy. But Laurence Olivier’s performance was as uncharacteristically mellow as I recalled. I’ll have to watch it again, just to see if he raises his voice even once. Ray Soleil, when I mentioned this later, credited the actor’s subdued demeanor to Marilyn Monroe, with whom he had just made a film (directing as well as acting) that fell far short of “box-office hit.” But I think that Olivier cannily recognized that there was already a surfeit of hysteria in the Preminger’s movie. 

Or perhaps he was simply reacting against The Zombies, a Beatles knock-off band that is shown gyrating and inspiring dance-floor gyrations on a television in a pub. Kathleen tells me that The Zombies weren’t so bad, really; she even bought one of their records.

Pizza Note:
San Matteo
6 February 2019

¶ When I went to order a pizza from Vinnie’s the other night, this newly-discovered source of good but ordinary pie was not taking orders, nor was the phone answered. You tell me.

I moved on. Or rather, I moved back, this time making a more considered effort to give San Matteo a try. San Matteo had turned me down at the beginning of the quest, when I was told that I lived outside its delivery area. It seemed that I might have been trying to order from the 81st location, which isn’t that far away — but it’s one block more distant than the location on 90th Street. Having made sure that I was dealing with 90th Street, I ordered something with mushrooms and prosciutto. The order was handled by Slice, which made use of all the information that I had provided for ordering from Vinnie’s — a rare instance of online convenience. 

The pizza was Wow. I was reminded of the upscale pizzeria on Third Avenue, Loui Loui, where I had many an agreeable lunch in bygone days. I was reminded of the place that Megan ordered from when she lived on Avenue C. “Why can’t we have pizza this good on the Upper East Side?” I would whine, to which Megan would give a look that was less than a hundred–percent smug-free. Well, now we do have pizza this good. We’ve had it for a while (San Matteo didn’t exactly open yesterday). And now I’m enjoying it. 

San Matteo’s crust is light and soft and a bit charred at the edges — it would be delicious by itself. I can’t tell you why the rest of the ingredients made such a good pizza, because I’ve tried them all myself, and the result has never been better than passable. Not entirely okay. If I could copy San Matteo’s tomato sauce, I’d be halfway to real satisfaction. Their juicy, flavorful mushrooms were cooked, I conclude, separately, and were strewn on the pizza the moment it came out of the oven, not before. 

Kathleen is not crazy about prosciutto, so, when I ordered another pizza this evening, I asked in the “special instructions” box for sausage to be substituted in its place. I had no idea if this would work, but I was glad that I gave it a try, because the pizza that arrived was dotted with discs of sausage and no ham. I would prefer the prosciutto, but tonight’s pizza was just as scrumptious as the first one. 

Poor Vinnie’s. Were they having an off night, or did they go out of business all of a sudden? I wonder if I’ll ever find out. 

Reading Note:
In the Land of Id
5 February 2019

I’ve just read an unfavorable — I really want to say nasty — review of a book that I’ve been reading with keen interest. The book is Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want This, a collection of stories that contains “Cat Person,” the electrifying account of a bad date that, in case you’ve been struggling without your reading glasses for a year, appeared in December 2017 in The New Yorker, when #MeToo was taking up all the oxygen in the room, and immediately caught everyone’s attention. What made “Cat Person” arresting to me wasn’t so much the narrator’s plight — she discovers that the man with whom she has agreed to have sex expects her to behave like a porn kitty — as the state of the man’s imagination, which I would describe as extremely degraded if that did not suggest a former, healthier condition. “Cat Person” suggested that a generation of men (at least one) has grown into sexuality with the idea that dirty movies in which women are barely distinguishable from inflatable dolls are humanly normative: this is how it’s done. Expectations are both overly-processed and inadequately self-aware. There is too much “thinking,” but none of it is about the right things. The fantasies that enable Roupenian’s men to achieve orgasm, no matter how tightly contained, seem malignant and dangerous: the longest of the stories, “The Good Guy,” had me not only thinking of Ted Bundy but feeling that I understood him. 

Lauren Oyler’s grumpy dissatisfaction with Roupenian’s collection — her review appears in the current issue of the London Review of Books (41/3) — never crystallizes in a discrete statement, but is diffused throughout her remarks. It is clear enough that Roupenian has missed or ignored an important point about feminism and sex, but Oyler doesn’t tell us what this point is. Which is no surprise. For fifty years at least, we have been waking up to the fact that everything that we were taught about sex for the last two thousand years was not the whole picture but only the male half of it; one can only hope — and I mean this seriously, not as a mockery — that it will not take another millennium to learn about the other half. After all, our recent discovery about men and sex didn’t actually involve learning anything about men or sex, except that sex is different for women. No one, I fear, is in a position to speak helpfully, much less authoritatively, about what women want. The most we can say is that, while most men seem to desire one thing, the interests of women are varied, and we may suspect that some women will find the desires of other women to be as alien as the desires of men. That this seems to be the case with Oyler’s take on Roupenian is suggested by the following fragment: “the stories are written in a smug tone.” Smug amounts to dismissal without a judgment. 

Reading Oyler’s take on the stories, I was aware that I myself didn’t really read them as stories. The sequence of events that leads Margot into Robert’s bedroom, in “Cat Person,” did not interest me very much; it was merely unpleasant. What interested me was the unveiling of Robert’s pathetic failure to grasp (or even to guess at) the erotic possibilities of generosity. Roupenian’s stories are essentially portraits. Composed in words, they necessary unfold over time, both the reader’s and the narrative’s, but the climax is not an event but rather the display of a muddled, flawed character. The picture of this character is composed rather like a painting: there is no moment of surprise, no unexpected reversal. Because of the subject matter, it’s true, the tales are embedded in the possibility that terrible things might happen, but even where terrible things are alleged to happen, as in the sensationally well-put-together opening story, “Bad Boy,” they happen only in the reader’s imagination, and appear to have no mortal consequences. If we worry about Margot’s safety in Robert’s house, we come away with the vague feeling that we have given Robert more credit than he deserves.

Twenty years ago or more, You Know You Want This would have been hailed — or denounced — as a book about people behaving badly. (Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior, for example.) Bad behavior is certainly a salient in Roupenian’s stories, but it strikes me as confused rather than intentional. Lust is a swamp in which Roupenian’s people lose their way, mostly during adolescence, when pathways are beaten in shame and ignorance. Having stated the current justification for writing about sex (it enables analysis of gender and power), Oyler hauls in a colorful metaphor, writing that Roupenian “attempts to jump on this bandwagon and at the same time tip it over. She ends up driving it in a circle.” But it is Roupenian’s characters who are stuck in circles. For all their analysis and experimentation, they cannot figure out how reconcile their carnal desires with their everyday personae. They joke and tease; they interrogate with irony. But they are never funny, nor even amusing. Because the cancer that afflicts them is static and will not kill them, we cannot even feel particularly sorry for them. What we feel sorry for (or about) is the world that has failed to guide them, that has left them to their own inadequate devices. The consolation of musing on some eternal (or at least persistent) human condition is also denied us: these stories are very much about the pathologies of Now, of possibly allergic reactions, say, to the smartphone. Many amazing things have become possible in recent years, and we are still so amazed that we are powerless to prevent ourselves from being destroyed by them. The bandwagon is full of striking faces that may turn out to have the horribly discordant monotony of clowns. 

Ambulatory Note:
Dithyramb
4 February 2019

Ever since coming home from the hospital, about three weeks ago, I’ve been acting on the assumption that I ought to keep my right (infected) foot elevated whenever possible. I don’t recall that anyone actually told me to do this, but the proposition seems to be confirmed every morning when I get up and see that a night in bed has greatly reduced the swelling. But there’s more to bed than mere elevation: I am also asleep, and sleep, I think, works its own magic. In any case, keeping my foot up during the day, mostly on a hassock that is very nearly the height of the seat of my reading chair, appears to accomplish nothing. This morning, in fact, my foot seemed to swell a bit while I sat reading the Times. I take it that most of the daily swelling is a kind of edema, rubbish-bearing fluid pooling in my foot (and no longer in my calf or ankle) whenever I am upright. The actual infected bits are a little swollen, too, but less and less every day. It’s not difficult anymore to distinguish one kind of swelling from the other. 

Nevertheless, I try to stay off my feet, and this only makes me more aware of being on them, again and again throughout the day, as I tend to this or that bit of “necessary” housekeeping. I do a great deal of standing in the kitchen, just like anybody else who cooks, and I think I can tell that it is more taxing than sitting at the computer (with my feet also on the floor). But what bothers me most is the getting up and down all the time. For all intents and purposes, I feel altogether healthy, better than ever thanks to the alcohol cutoff, and it’s boring to the point of physical unpleasantness to stay seated in my chair when there are “things to do.” I manage to do a great deal while seated, but, whatever the task, I have to fetch what I’m going to work on (a disorganized drawer, say) and then put it away when I’m done. Bear in mind that one disorganized drawer yields from three to six or more piles of sorted crap, quite aside from whatever remains in the drawer. These piles have to removed from the area around my reading chair and put somewhere. A lot of getting up, walking, and standing around is involved in all of that.

Then there is the forgotten item. I sit down at the desk with everything but — my phone, my water bottle, a paper towel to use as a napkin, something. I have to get it and bring it back. I feel as though I am always on my feet, that sitting down in my reading chair with my right leg propped on the hassock is itself a kind of walking around, up-down, up-down. I am left with the strong impression that my life is amazingly disorganized, or my living, perhaps I should say. My perambulations, taken each by each, are not very productive. 

This is yet another thing that computers, and now smartphones, ought to be good at. You ought to be able to let them follow you around for a couple of days, after which they ought to provide you with more efficient itineraries. Sadly, though, our digital devices are still manufactured more to be sold than to be used, and we’re still behaving more like children at Christmas than as adults on Labor Day. 

Rep Note:
Schnitzel
1 February 2019

¶ Wiener Schnitzel — breaded veal scallops, sautéed quickly in clarified butter — is a nice treat, but to be honest it does not taste much like veal, or anything else. Chicken breasts do a better job of standing up to the breading and the frying. But there is a hole in even the most flavorful chicken, a blandness that tempts us to oversalt it, even when, as with schnitzel, there is plenty of salt in the breading. To counter this, I had the idea of coating the breasts with a primer of mustard. I put about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in a small bowl and then used a pastry brush to apply a very light coat to the moist chicken. Really, there were more streaks than there was mustard.

Then I dredged the breasts in flour, as usual, dipped them in egg, and rolled them in seasoned breadcrumbs. After a few hours in the fridge (covered loosely with wrap), they were ready for the frypan. (One of the advantages of any battered-meat dish is that it can be prepared well in advance, leaving only the brief cooking time to occupy the cook at dinnertime.)

In the finished dish, the mustard was undetectable as such, but the overall flavor was rather more lively. I wonder if the parsley that I usually add to the breadcrumbs would be more effective if minced by itself and stirred into the mustard. 

January 2019

Nap Note:
La Belle Paméla
31 January 2019

¶ Yesterday was the first day of convalescence that didn’t seem odd, that I didn’t feel adrift. I had a to-do list, and I got everything on it done, except for changing a $20 bill for two tens so that I can finally complete our Christmas present to grandson Will. It was idiotically satisfying to check things off. 

As a result of all the activity, my foot was fairly swollen last night, and, as usual, I found it hard to believe that a night’s sleep, stretched out in bed, would really undo that, but it did, as usual. The result of this see-sawing is that I feel optimistic in the morning and a pessimistic at bedtime. Maybe it isn’t the see-sawing; what could be more natural than to feel hopeful in the morning and fearful in the dark? Slowly, bit by bit, the foot appears to be returning to normal. The daily infusions appear to be doing their job. I never manage to stay off my feet as much as I think I ought to do, but it doesn’t seem to have any lasting effect. I am waiting for some extra-wide canvas shoes to arrive from an online outfit that specializes in wide shoes for men (which I will need anyway, even after the infection is completely vanquished), so that I can stop wearing a now-shapeless rag sock on my right foot while my left is more comfortably shod in a slipper.

But the absence of oddness, I know, had a lot to do with getting used to the absence of drink. It isn’t so much the drink, which so far I don’t crave and don’t even much think of (except at moments in the evenings when water begins to taste insipid), as it is the consequences of not drinking, viz a clear head. Having a clear head all day means that I don’t spend time stumbling around with a mild headache or reproving myself for a mite of overindulgence (as if overindulgence were the problem). I don’t throw up my hands and give up for the day, resigning myself to being good for nothing. I don’t do all sorts of negative things that used to take up a lot of time. What do I do with that time? 

On my to-do list yesterday was “nap, 3-6.” The idea was not to go to sleep but to get into bed and watch a movie. Getting into bed for two hours — the three hours scheduled on the to-do list indicated a time frame, not a duration — kept me off my feet, and the movie gave my reading-and-writing eyes a break. I watched François Truffaut’s La Nuit Américaine, which I’ve seen only once before. (It’s called Day for Night here.) Why just now for a second look? Many reasons. Jacqueline Bisset, of course; she’s at her most gravely beautiful, as ravishing as Charlotte Rampling but altogether without the discontent and hostility. Graham Greene — did you know that the novelist has a cameo role? He plays some sort of insurance adjuster, and he delivers his one long line as if he were the most constipated habitué of Clubland, impossible to imagine chatting with Shirley Hazzard on Capri, much less dwelling on the thorns of Catholic faith. More seriously, Nuit is a droll movie about the weariness of filmmaking that is never quite funny. It ought to be funny — think of Madame Séverine blowing take after take of a lengthy scene by opening a closet door instead of the right one — but one is driven mad with sympathetic exasperation that, even more madly, the director, Ferrand, does not share. Truffaut himself plays Ferrand, as a figure of almost insane buoyancy and infinite adaptability, someone who does a great deal of cajoling, but  but who never resorts to authoritative diktat — not with the actors, anyway. Is that how Truffaut really worked? Finally, I was hypnotized by the title of Ferrand’s film: Je Vous Présente Paméla. I’d been mumbling this over and over for days. 

Also on my list was an errand to Fairway to buy lemons, for Kathleen’s Arnold Palmers. Somehow I’d forgotten to put lemons on Tuesday’s shopping list. I went early, and was rewarded with an almost empty store. Temperatures were at a record low, but I managed the short expedition without too much discomfort. I wore the other slipper, of course, not the sock,

And I typed up all those writing project notes before they became incomprehensible. It was only because I had read them over several times the day before that I was able to decipher them at all.

Niente Note:
De Minimis
30 January 2019

¶ Every once in a while, it must be acknowledged that There Is Nothing To Report. It wouldn’t be true to say that nothing happened today — something is always happening — but it is very much the case that nothing was achieved. No little stories came to a conclusion. One might say that lots of little stories began, or at least a few, but whether they’ll prove to be interesting stories won’t be clear for a while. Working on the writing project, for example, I turned for the first time in decades to a spiral-bound notebook, and I filled the first page with my illegible scrawl. (As soon as I’m done here, I have to type out the handwritten notes, while I still have an idea of what they were meant to say.) It was part of developing a method for working on the writing project that breaks with years of relying exclusively on the computer. The writing project has revealed a certain incompatibility with screens and keyboards and a need for paper and pencils. It must not be imagined that I am going to draft a lengthy document in longhand. But the method that I am developing will make use of old technologies as well as new. 

Aren’t you dying to know more? 

We did order another pizza from Vinnie’s, the place around the corner that I mentioned last week. This time, I figured out how to ask for mushrooms along with pepperoni, and ordering was once again extremely simple. The pizza arrived right in the middle of the infusion, but we were not too discombobulated because yesterday’s infusion was also interrupted by a delivery — by the delivery, as it happened, of this week’s medical supplies (including the antibiotic syringes, which keep in the refrigerator).

I wish I could figure out how to make my homemade pizzas taste like Vinnie’s, or at least make them share that basic pizzeria flavor that I happen to like. I understand that the whole point of homemade pizza is to avoid that flavor, which is why I’ve given up on homemade for the time being. Kathleen tells me that I’m crazy, that my pizzas taste great, but the fact remains that I don’t like them.

After the pizza, we watched “Deceived by Flight,” the Inspector Morse episode involving cricket and cocaine. Although I’ve seen it more often than most, and know every twist and turn, it’s always good to see Jane Hooker. And the pile-up of comeuppance at the end is not unsatisfying.

Staple Note:
Parmesan
29 January 2019

¶ Ray Soleil talked me into venturing forth on an errand to Fairway yesterday. He seemed to think that I needed to get a little exercise, even if it was only a walk across the street and back. (Was it that, or the scrum at Fairway, that left me almost weeping with exhaustion when we returned to the apartment?) I wasn’t entirely sure that it was a good idea, because my right foot is still just a bit too swollen to fit into its slipper comfortably, but I agreed with him about the exercise. Even more, I wanted to go to the store myself, instead of sending Ray with a list, and I wanted to pay for my purchases myself, instead of sending Ray to impersonate me with the credit card. Ray had “gotten away” with doing that once, but I spent the entire time he was gone frothing with anxiety. 

Although the store was jammed, and my list was not short, we were on the checkout line within half an hour. As we turned into the final stretch, I put a hunk of reggiano parmegiano in the cart. For some reason, Fairway has a cardboard bin of plastic-wrapped wedges of the cheese right there at the corner of the long rear lane of the store and the aisle that leads to the registers. Why there? It’s the other side of the aisle that is lined with pieces of all sorts of different cheeses. The racks beyond the bins of Parmesan are filled with soups and spreads and ready-made sandwiches. And why is Parmesan given the impulse-buy treatment? It’s pretty pricey for pickup on a whim. And it was a whim, really, that seemed to motivate the attractive young woman just ahead of us to toy with and finally carry off a piece of the (to me) indispensable foodstuff. Falling into conversation with Ray, who had been helping me to decide just how big a hunk I wanted, she said that she had been “thinking about” Parmesan cheese all week, or at least since she read an article about its many health benefits. Ray said that he had read the article, too; when I put in that I’d missed it, he told me that it was online, which I suppose was an explanation. (I’ve grown very sparing about online reading.) Ray and the young woman fell into listing all the alleged benefits of Parmesan, making it sound like the El Dorado of nutrition. I said that I’d eat it if it were toxic. 

Later in the day, Ray sent me a link to Amanda Ruggeri’s parmesan piece. I learned that, on top of all the easily-digestible proteins, the vitamins and the minerals, Parmesan boasts a rind that is not only a great flavor-enhancer for stews and soups (I knew that) but also a balm for teething babies! It made me want to have another grandchild, just to see if it works. 

Did you by any chance see, years ago, Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show, God Said, Ha!? If you did, don’t you agree that the funniest of so many funny lines in that basically rather dark monologue was Sweeney’s mimicking of her mother, who was bemused by the piece of Parmesan in Sweeney’s fridge? “You don’t have to go to all that trouble,” the mother wailed in her broad Midwestern voice. “It comes already grated in a little green can!” In the audience, we all said “Ha ha ha!” Ruggeri tells us that the stuff in the little green can is marketed, in Europe, as “Parmesello.” Even so, when I was a kid, long before I knew any better, I was crazy about the stuff. Adulterated with wood pulp though it may have been, Kraft’s parmesello and butter were all that I would tolerate on spaghetti.  

Bedding Note:
Hemlines
28 January 2019

¶ For many years, we have covered our bed with a hobnail-pattern white cotton spread from the Vermont Country Store. Every once in a while, we have to buy a new one — I use them as blankets.

Until very recently, we had a rather high queen-size bed. It was so high that only a king-size bedspread would graze the floor. The bed, as noted in earlier entries, began to fall apart about fifteen years ago. When we replaced it last fall, the mattress dropped a bit closer to the floor, but was still high enough to require Kathleen to climb aboard. The bedspread’s tassels, however, puddled on the floor, and got very dirty. I thought that I had better order a queen-sized spread.

I did, and it took forever to get here, what with the holidays and back-ordering. I didn’t open it up until today. And what do I find but that the tassels barely cover the side-rails. Kathleen’s battery of under-the-bed storage boxes is plain to see. Actually, in order to see it, you have to be in the bedroom in a noticing frame of mind. Nevertheless, instead of throwing the old bedspread away, as I was going to do, I took it downstairs for laundering. That will cost a fortune, but less than another new bedspread.

We have noticed that other people’s beds are getting lower — I can’t look at a low bed without being seized by phantom backache — and now we know by how much.

Housekeeping Note:
Drawers
25 January 2019

¶ Although there are few things more satisfying— sometimes even amusing — than reorganizing messy desk and kitchen drawers, I can’t think of anything that I’m more likely to put off. Perhaps it’s a question of scale. Aside from frenzied searches for papers and utensils that it has suddenly become mortally urgent to find, drawers are mundane and their contents minute. Pencils, paper clips, letter openers, a pot of rubber cement. Post-its, in many different sizes. Latterly, ink cartridges and thumb drives. For volume, notecards, notepads, notebooks. It all seems so trivial — the mistake, I suppose, that allows me to rummage through drawers and, having found what I was looking for, to leave them in disorder. Almost everything is “more important,” more pressing than organizing drawers. Frowning over a drawer full of tumbled odds and ends, I sigh and close it — “I must get to that soon.” Which I don’t. 

Now, however, as I’m convalescing not only from an illness but from the stretch of fatigued anxiety that preceded it, and that to some, however small, extent brought it about, I’m possessed by the conviction that nearly everything is in the Wrong Drawer. In the book room, everything seems to be not only in the wrong drawer but in the wrong desk. That’s because I switched the two desks in here, moving each to where the other one was, only a few week before being felled by fever. The reason: in my Aeron chair, my legs fit under the the drawers of one of the desks but not in the kneehole of the other. Why it took four years to see this as a problem beats me. Moving into this apartment was a curious disjunction of order —  we knew where all the large pieces went —and rush — what to do with the immense quantities of little things? There was a great deal of shoving things into drawers simply to get them out of the way. Quite a few of those hasty, unconsidered deposits have never been sifted. 

With the result that, every time a drawer is cleaned out, there’s at least one cry of “So that’s where that was!”

I’ll treat the problem of drawers-as-tombs in another entry. 

Delivery Note:
The New Dispensation
24 January 2019

¶ When we order from the Chinese restaurant that we like (but have grown somewhat tired of in the late foot brouhaha), we call them up, tell them what we want, and identify the last four digits of a credit card number. We add a tip to the receipt when the food is delivered. It is all very simple and convenient.

There used to be a pizza place where we could do the same, but it closed. Other pizzerie, I find, cannot be reached by phone. You have to go through a Website, and the delivery is outsourced. Not talking to an actual human being is disconcerting. Rationally, I understand the superiority of the new way of doing things. The order and its specifications are printed out for the restaurant, not dependent on the vagaries of a cashier’s command on English. The order is paid for up front, and without cash. Best of all from the business point of view, the restaurant does not have to employ a delivery staff. But the “technology” is still in its early days. Even when the restaurant’s Web site is easy to navigate, it still bristles with questions and boxes that must be filled out even though God knows why. (For some reason, Google autofill leaves it up to the user to supply the name of his or her state.) And then the sites are “upgraded,” altered in a way that imposes a new learning curve. 

Despite all of this, I was so desperate for a change last night, and so determined to stay off my feet, that I ordered a pizza from a place called Vinnie’s, around the corner apparently. The transaction was smoother than I expected it to be, and the pizza arrived in about forty-five minutes. It was okay, perhaps a little better than okay. It was in any case a very welcome change from our few other options. We ate the pizza in the bedroom, from a tray table that I set up so that I could keep my right leg on the hassock, while Kathleen sat in the chair that is normally occupied by the three medium tote bags that constitute my virtual backpack. (I’m afraid that vintage snobbery prevents me, as a grown man, from wearing backpacks.) It was when we were done that we proceeded to the dining table, which is where Kathleen administers the infusions of Ceftriaxone. Then we watched an Inspector Morse (“The Last Enemy”), and so to bed.

I’m reading The End of the Affair, as I said I might, and finding it rather more harrowing than I remembered. More than other Greene novels that I can think of, though, it chimes concordantly with Shirley Hazzard’s recollections of Greene’s all but crippling inability to handle the agonies and ecstasies afforded by desirable women. In her portrait, he comes across as part displaced patriarch and part arrested adolescent. Ditto the narrator of the novel I’m reading, who seems to thrive on hating everybody. But I’m bearing with. 

Convalescent Note:
In Hospital and Out
23 January 2019

The saga of my foot infection — which got out of hand because, thanks to peripheral neuropathy, I was completely unaware of it until it got rather serious; I thought that a blister had gotten out of control, and was no more than a skin wound — will not appear on this Web log, at least not in any comprehensive way. I was in New York Hospital for five nights, the weekend before last, in order to receive big doses of heavy-hitting Vancomycin. (Remind me to tell you the latest thinking about penicillin allergies in people of my age.) Then they sent me home. 

The things to note going forward are that I have given up drink, as of a month ago now, and without regrets or cravings, and that Kathleen is administering daily infusions of another antibiotic, which sounds more daunting than it is, except that it is rather daunting the first couple of times. But we are old pros now. I include myself because I keep time. Four syringes are involved in the procedure, and the one containing the antibiotic is emptied by small calibrated degrees separated by forty-second intervals. I man the stopwatch on my iPhone. The two of us exchange minimal relays of “okay.” Once a week, a lovely lady who looks like Anjelica Huston and sounds like the late Glenne Headly pays a visit to take blood and to clean the dressing on the PIC line. I try to keep my feet up, but I’m often up and about the apartment, re-establishing tidiness and order in a necessarily neglected household. A bit at a time.

Thanks to the neuropathy (which is caused by drink and is irreversible), I have felt nothing in my foot. A healthier person would be taking something for pain, but not me. 

Reading has been a problem. Nothing quite clicked, at least until the other night, when I pulled down Shirley Hazzard’s Greene on Capri (2000), a book that I enjoyed reading when it was new and liked even more the second time around. I think I’m going to re-read The End of the Affair, but I’ve ordered three titles that I haven’t read, including The Honorary Consul