1000 Words of Summer, Days 7 - 13
Below are the words I've written for days 7 - 13 of 1000 Words of Summer.
I spent yesterday evening curled up on the back deck swing with a blanket. Larry tended the grill while I stared into the dark forest at the edge of our yard. The cheepers and peepers were in full force. And somewhere in that forest, Blinky's body lay rotting. Ugh. Why does my mind go there? Why can't I just remember Blinky as a living mouse? Those memories I have to manually call up. I've had a lot of pets in my life -- most of them during my childhood -- and every time one would go I'd remember them as I last saw them -- still and lifeless. Not jumping or running or playing. Same with Blinky... But she wasn't really a pet, was she? She was a wild animal. Yet I was about to build an elaborate network of tree houses for her and her progeny... all because of the way she looked at me? Am I really that crazy? A mouse looks at me and I go nuts. But it was those eyes! They held a depth of understanding, of intelligence. I felt a connection. Are there more like her in the forest? Or anywhere in the world? And so that night I went to bed with troubled thoughts of guilt and grief. If only I had put my foot down the first time Larry had wanted to boot Blinky out of the house. Or the second time. But as usual, I let Larry take charge of house-related decisions. He's the handyman, and he's the breadwinner. Me, I can't tell a screwdriver from a chisel, and I haven't sold a story in months. But eventually, the low thoughts drifted away and a deep sleep moved in...
By the time I woke the next morning, Larry had already left for work again. The sun was streaming through t the bedroom window, and the trailer was already warm. Now that the tree house project was scrapped, maybe it was time to work on a story. But I was still curious. So I got online and Googled "mice with big eyes," and scrolled through picture after picture. None of the so-called "big-eyed" mice had eyes as big as Blinky's. But while scrolling, I realized what a hypocrite I was. I was ready to devote weeks of time and energy into building a tree house for a mouse because I liked the way the mouse's eyes looked? There are hundreds -- maybe thousands of mice in the forest who are just as important as Blinky was! Such an anthropocentric trait -- to rank non-human animals with human characteristics as somehow more worthy than other non-human animals. This was the fault I was most vocal against on social media, and I was embodying it to a T... my stomach sank.
I have to repent. Cleanse my mind and spirit. Get back into true activism, not just privileged posturing. I spend the next few hours looking up local animal rescue organizations that were seeking volunteers. I want a chance to get my hands dirty and actually make a difference. Prove to myself and to the animals that I care about them, even if they look nothing like me. But what animal looks nothing like a human? A frog? But frogs have big black eyes... like Blinky. Damn. Think harder. A lobster? There are no lobster rescue organization in the state... or in any state, probably. And the nearest no-kill shelters and sanctuaries are miles away. If only I could just walk to a place that has animals that need love and care... OK now I realize I am as dense as the forest. The forest on the edge of my backyard has all kinds of animals that right this moment could be in dire need of assistance! A quick and easy fix for my existential crisis.
And so I change into long pants and boots, fill my water bottle, and off I clomp into the deep, dense forest. For the first few minutes of my rescue expedition, I don't see any animals. Not even a bug. But my eyes are still adjusting. And I'm probably walking too fast. I should slow down and listen, and let my intuition guide me. Become the Animal Whisperer. It's only then that I can hear something besides my breathing. It's a humming. Bugs. Lots of them, now that I'm standing still. I focus on the tree trunk in from of me. A long line of ants are marching up into the canopy. They look nothing like me, except for their long legs. But they all look alright. No ants in distress. Where in a forest would an animal be in distress? On the ground? I crouch at the base of the tree and part the undergrowth with my hands, working my way around the trunk. No baby birds out of their nests. From my low vantage point, I scan the few clear spots in the area for distressed chipmunks, squirrels, and bunnies. None. But if they were truly distressed, they'd likely be in their burrows, not out in the open waiting for a predator to eat them or me to rescue them. Frustrated, lay back on the forest floor and look up at the slips of blue sky peeking through the far-off leaves. So this is what it's like to be an animal in the forest. Everything is so big. And peaceful. And ticklish... Ants! Ants are crawling on my face! I scream and jump up, frantically brushing the ants away. But now the tickling is inside my shirt so I strip that off and brush the ants from my skin and pick them out of my hair. Oh god... I hope I didn't smush any of them... Why is animal activism so hard? As I smooth my hand over my skin, I feel a bump above my hip. A tick! Luckily, it hasn't burrowed completely into my skin so I pinch it between my fingernails, yank it out, and fling it. Ugh! Ticks look nothing like humans. That's my "activism" for the day. Time for a long, hot shower.
After my steaming hot shower, I made myself a lettuce and onion salad for dinner and sat in front of the TV. Larry sat beside me, having his usual hotdog/ hamburger / steak / random animal part. With a side of potatoes, of course. I picked at my salad while he clicked through sitcom reruns.
"How's your tick bite doin'?" he said.
"OK. It's just a tiny pink mark, and that's from me digging into my skin with my fingernails."
"Gotta be careful. Don't wanna get Lyme disease." He shoveled another animal part into his mouth as grease dripped off his chin.
I took a deep breath. "How about one of these weekends we go volunteer at an animal sanctuary?" The laugh track on the sitcom boisterously chimed in. "It'll be fun. And we'll be doing something good."
Larry gave me a sideways glance. "How far away would I have to drive?"
"The nearest one that's taking volunteers is about two hour away."
"Two hours?" His knife clanked on his plate. "You know I don't like the smell of those places. I'm not going to spend eight hours out of my weekend driving back and forth just so you can play with some animals."
"They don't smell bad," I said. "They smell like... animals. And you don't have to drop me off, you can join in the fun too."
"Sorry, honey. I'm allergic to mold and mildew. And I know those places are teeming with that stuff."
I took another deep breath. "So... how about we adopt a shelter animal?" I smiled at him. "A dog or cat, or... whatever they have they you want."
Larry chewed his meat. Then cleared his throat. "Dogs and cats aren't cheap to keep. How about a fish? A little goldfish. You could keep it in a bowl."
"A fish in a fishbowl?" I gasped. "Are you kidding me? That's cruel!"
Larry squinted. "How's that cruel? People have pet fish all the time."
"A fishbowl is just too small for a fish. It's not their natural habitat."
He shook his head. "How about an aquarium? Then you could put a dozen fish in there, and they could all play together. And aquariums don't stink, as long as you keep 'em clean."
I sighed. "But fish don't cuddle on your lap."
"And they don't poo on the floor."
"But they don't play with toys."
"And they don't shed all over the furniture." He frowned. "Hey, I thought you were an animal lover," he mumbled as he shoved another forkful of meat in his mouth. "Don't you always say 'Fish are people too'?" Bits of half-chewed meat flew out of his mouth.
I felt my face turn hot. Damn. He was right. I only wanted to help animals who would love me back, or who at least looked kind of like me. Like having a face and arms and legs. Fish don't care about people. And that tick I flung back into the forest doesn't care about anything besides sucking blood.
"Yes," I said softly. "Fish are people too. And so are ticks."
"What? Ticks are people too now?"
"Well, maybe not ticks." I leaned back and crossed my arms, remembering how I had to pull the tick out of my skin with my fingernails. "I don't know! They're animals, Earthlings, they live on this planet.
Larry patted my arm. "There, there," he said, smiling. "If you want to help the tick-people out, just spend a few hours rolling around in the forest. But just don't bring them back into this house."
After dinner, I sat on the swing on the deck and stared out into the black forest. I pictured myself stripping off all my clothes and offering my body to all the hungry forest ticks who could latch on. Rolling around in the brush and brambles, my skin scraped and bleeding, the scent of blood drawing all the famished ticks out of their hidey-holes, grabbing onto my body and burrowing their tiny faces into my skin. After a few hours, when there wasn't room on my body for another tick, I would stand up and stagger into the backyard and collapse on a tarp Larry had laid out for me. Then he would cover me with a blanket (too keep the ticks warm, as if they were nestled in fur) and I would be a living sacrifice to ticks... as cows, pigs, and chickens are a living sacrifice to people. Because if fish are people too, ticks are people too. I giggled. All the parasites are people!
So living with a meat-eater has twisted my mind, apparently. if I were to become a living sacrifice to ticks, I wouldn't be much good to other animals. And being good to as many animals as I can is my ultimate goal as a vegan. I need to surround myself with like-minded people for a while, to cleanse my thinking. Find a group of animal-loving vegans to hang out with. Ah-ha! A vegan retreat. I've seen ads for those online. And they usually cost less than the purely self-indulgent retreats for meat-eaters. But Larry wouldn't want me to go by myself, so he could come along... if he could handle a few days without hamburgers. I would have to find a retreat that didn't have "Vegan" in the name. Then I could persuade him. We haven't had an overnight vacation ever since we moved into this trailer park. And when we got there, he wouldn't even know the burger he was eating was a veggie burger. And all the "hippie-dippys," as he calls vegans, would simply be "hipsters," as I would explain. And at the end of the retreat, he would feel so much more energized from all the awesome vegan food, and only then would I tell him it's because he hadn't eaten animals the whole time. Brilliant. I found a way to help animals, cleanse my spirit, and finally turn my meat-loving husband into a vegan. Now all I have to do is find a cheap vegan retreat within driving distance (one without "Vegan" in the name) and convince Larry it's a "Couples Retreat."
With newfound slyness and resolve I began Project Veganize Larry. It will be a huge vegan victory to get a hard-core meat-and-potatoes man to convert. But I know that deep down, Larry is an animal-lover. He told me he had a pet dog as a child. It only took me a few minutes to find the New World Weekend Resort online -- about a couple hours north of the trailer park, in Derry. Technically, it's more of a yoga retreat which just happens to serve all-vegan food, but I'm not quibbling. And they're located next to an animal rescue farm, so visitors can pet the animals. Only $400 per person per weekend, food included. Plus "miles and miles of winding walking trails crisscrossing the Cowbell Creek." That will be my selling point -- fresh air, sunshine, and views. I spent the next five hours cleaning the trailer from top to bottom -- not that Larry would notice, as he only notices when something isn't clean. But just in case. I even dusted the covers of his ammo catalogs and polished his gun safe.
He came home about an hour later than usual, sweaty and grimy, and muttering under his breath. I almost postponed PVL. But I mustered up my vegan courage and plowed forward.
"Happy weekend, honey!" I began. "Can I get you a beer?"
Larry plopped into his chair and grabbed the remote. "Sure. Thanks, hon."
I walked down the hall and into the mudroom. Glancing out the window, I saw the compost pile in its new location. To think I was gonna build a mouse house in the ground, or in the trees! How self-indulgent of me. Converting a carnivore to a vegan is so much more... noble. I giggled as I reached into the beer cooler and pulled out "The King of Beers." Me as Vegan Nobility. Vegan Royalty. If I could pull this off, I'd certainly have bragging rights in my online vegan circle.
Back in the front room, Larry was watching NASCAR reruns. Or rather, listening to them. His eyes were closed. And his shirt was soaked with sweat.
"Would you like me to get you a fresh, clean, dry shirt, honey?" I said.
Larry's eyes fluttered open, and I handed him the beer. "No thanks. I'm too tired to put one on. Rough day at work. It's nap time."
"Oh." I tried to think of something else to say, to keep my PVL momentum going. "I cleaned the house," I offered.
But Larry was already snoring, unopened beer can resting on the cushion next to him. I gently lifted the can from the seat and carried it to the kitchen fridge. Then I turned down the remote, put on my boots, and stepped out onto the deck. I spent the next hour moving the compost pile back to where it belonged. Then I puttered around in my garden, pulling weeds -- or what I thought looked like weeds. Too early to tell. But a few minutes in I smelt that familiar sizzling, guilty smell. As in the smell that shouldn't smell good to a vegan, but somehow still smells good to some of them... including me. Not that I would ever eat animals ever again, now that I realize animals are people, and people are animals... but sometimes I smell Larry's meat cooking on the grill, and I'm instantly transported back to my childhood, back to before I was vegan, before I knew about factory farms, before all the worry and pressure and tragedy of adulthood filled my life. When my role in life was just to be a kid, and all the adults in my life were there for the sole purpose of taking care of me. And I would wander outside on a summer day -- no school, no chores, not a single responsibility -- and spend the day just... existing. Enjoying the sun, the clouds, the breeze. The ants crawling on the cracked sidewalk. The spider web stretched between the fence posts. Then the smell of summer and family gatherings and happy adults and carefree children would come wafting down the road... The smell of burning flesh on a grill. Usually cow, pig, and chicken flesh, but sometimes turkey flesh too. And I would happily eat the animals with everybody else, because it tasted good, and because I didn't know.
And that is what I smell every time Larry fires up the grill and cooks his animals. My childhood summers. But not once have I been tempted to eat an animal as a vegan. The idea of it seems immoral, like killing and eating a person. Of course I don't dare tell any of this to Larry; I know how preachy and judgmental it sounds to non-vegans. And I want to "recruit" people to veganism (as non-vegans would say), not give them an opportunity to say, "Just sneak a little piece of chicken... I won't tell." Yeah, just sneak a little piece of person... I won't tell. Because, of course... chickens are people too.
By this time I really was hungry (I wasn't just primally reacting to the smell of charred flesh). So as I walked across the deck I looked away from the grill (away from the animal flesh dripping blood) as I always do, gave Larry a kiss on the cheek, and stepped inside the trailer. In the kitchen, I opened the fridge and pulled out a zucchini and a summer squash. I opened the cupboard for a couple of potatoes and onions... and saw the live trap. How quickly I'm forgetting about Blinky, when just a few days before, I was planning to devote my entire summer to building a Dreamhouse for her! Was I really that fickle? Or was my short attention span just another side effect of having my vegan mindset constantly challenged by the meatful mindset of a carnivore? Must. Vegan. Harder. I will not relent until I convince Larry to go to Derry with me... then Project Veganize Larry will work its magic on Larry's meaty brain.
From the side yard, I could see Larry with a big grin as he flipped his cow patties on the grill. "Hey, you're smiling," I said as I walked up the deck steps.
"Yep! " Larry replied over the sizzle of dripping fat. "You know the smell of hamburgers always makes me happy. It's comfort food." He flipped a patty, then glanced in my direction. "But I know you don't understand."
"Yeah," I said softly, looking down at the deck. "Sure don't."
"I put on some potatoes and corn on the cob for you," he said, poking at some aluminum-wrapped bundles on the grill.
"Thanks, hon." I took a deep breath. "You are so sweet. Thanks for always doing the sweetest things for me."
"Sure." He patted my back. "That's what I'm here for."
"How about we do something we'll both like and go on a couples' retreat?" I blurted out. "We haven't had an overnight vacation since we moved here. I already looked it up and it's only $400 per person, and only a couple hours away, in Derry."
Larry laughed. "A couples' retreat? Like a second honeymoon?"
"Well, some couples do that for a second honeymoon, but others do it just for fun. And I know we both like that."
"Everybody likes having fun." He teasingly poked my side.
"Yes, including us. So I will go ahead and book us for next weekend. Two and a half days. You won't even have to take any time off work."
"Hold on." Larry stepped back from the grill and turned to face me. "This isn't gonna be a retreat full of workshops where everybody has to discuss feelings and tell romantic stories, is it?"
I laughed. A bit too loudly. "Oh no!" It's not a structured retreat. Couples can do whatever they want. They have workshops, or classes, where you can exercise. But that's optional. Yoga and stretching and stuff like that. And you can eat at the restaurant on site anytime you want. The food is included in the price. I read that it's a five-star restaurant. Several reviewers said this. And you can even order it delivered to your room."
"Food... " Larry said softly. I could almost see the gears turning underneath Larry's skull. I went too heavy on the food sell. "What kind of food?"
"All kinds of... good food," I fumbled my words. "All the food groups. Something for everyone. Five stars."
"OK. You talked me into it. As long as I don't have to do yoga or eat tofu." He turned back toward the grill.
I felt my face turn pink. "No, of course not. Those things are completely optional."
I practically ran inside the house to book the room online before Larry had a chance to change his mind. I admit it was easier to persuade him to go than I thought it would be. He hadn't even asked to see the website. He's so trusting of me.
The next five days I spent making sure the house was spotless. I had an ice-cold beer ready for Larry the second he came home from work. No dishes waiting in the sink, no clothes waiting in the hamper. I had to make sure Larry would be in a great mood when we pulled up to the New World Weekend Resort and Larry saw the words "yoga" and "vegan" everywhere.
The following Friday I had our duffels packed when Larry walked through the door.
"Happy couples' weekend, hon! Time for your much-deserved vacation!"
"Oh yeah, that starts today." Larry grabbed the beer I held out for him and plopped down in his chair. He grabbed the remote. "What time do we have to be there?"
"Oh, anytime before 10 p.m." I sat down beside him. "But the earlier, the better, because we don't want to miss dinner."
"Why? What are they serving?"
Again, I pushed the food thing too far. "Oh, I don't know. They have a variety, just like a regular restaurant."
"So I can order a steak? Or a burger?"
"Um... " I desperately tried to think of a way out of the food trap I had created. I thought back to their menu I saw online. Did they have anything that could pass for a steak or a burger? Maybe portobello steaks and veggie burgers? Of course, Larry would see the words "portobello" and "veggie" on the menu, but we'd cross that chasm when we came to it. "Yes, steaks and burgers!" I smiled wide. "Even nuggets!" I added, hoping they had falafel on the menu. OK perhaps that was again going too far.
Larry nodded as he flipped through the TV channels. "Sounds good. I just need to unwind a bit before we head out."
"Sure thing! Our bags are packed. I'll be in the office." Then I just sat there, wondering whether I should confess. Would Larry throw a fit when he saw the vegan menu? Would my plan backfire and drive him even further away from veganism? Our non-refundable rooms were already booked. Maybe if I told him now, he wouldn't cause a scene at the restaurant. I turned to face him... but he was already snoring.
I stood up, walked to the office, and turned on the computer. I spent the next hour first scrolling through the New World Weekend Resort's menu, then searching for nearby restaurants that served steak and burgers. I found a steakhouse half an hour from the retreat. But... no! I couldn't crumble now. This was meant to be a veganization of Larry, and it's gonna stay a veganization of Larry! I had put up with his animal-eating for years, smelling his cooked meat and washing his greasy dishes. Now it was my turn to surround myself with like-minded people, enjoy the animal-loving camaraderie, and let the vegan magic happen. Larry would see how happy I was that he was trying vegan food; and by the end of the weekend, he'd know that portobello steaks and veggie burgers taste the best.
On the drive up to the retreat, we saw two police cruisers with their lights flashing, and one fire truck. Larry was a fire fighter in his home town, so flashing lights and sirens put him in a good mood. I wanted to keep those positive vibes going for as long as possible, hoping they'd spill over to our dinner at the vegan restaurant. So for the next two hours, I sat silently in the passenger seat while my imagination conjured up the upcoming scene at dinner: The restaurant would be packed, and Larry wouldn't even bother to look at the menu because he'd already decided he wanted a steak, medium well, and a baked potato with extra sour cream. I'd try to explain to him that not all restaurants served steak and sour cream, but he'd just laugh and make a joke about the barbequed tofu I was about to order. Then the waiter would ask for our orders, and when Larry told them he wanted a steak and the extra sour cream, the waiter would say, "Very good -- a portobello steak with extra sour soy cream on the side." And Larry would say, "Portobello -- is that like 'porterhouse'?" The waiter would explain that a portobello is a mushroom, and Larry would realize we were in a vegan restaurant, and would storm out, leaving me to dine alone in front of gaping onlookers. I couldn't let Larry cause a scene at a good vibes vegan restaurant. My only option was to tell him right then, as we were pulling into the parking lot of the retreat.
"Hon, I think maybe the restaurant has some vegan dishes that you'll absolutely love. It would be nice if we could both enjoy a nice vegan dinner together. How about it?"
Larry chuckled. "No thanks, hon -- I've been looking forward to a big, juicy steak all week. You go ahead and order your lettuce and tofu salad, though."
"They don't have animals on the menu," I blurted out as we were pulling into our parking spot.
Larry sighed and turned to face me. "Then after we check in, we'll go eat at a restaurant that serves normal food."
"But I want to eat here. I've been looking forward to it all week."
"What about my steak that I've been looking forward to all week?"
"They have portobello steaks."
"Is that like a porterhouse steak?"
The resemblance to the scene in my imagination was uncanny. Larry was as predictable as a compass. "You know what a portobello mushroom is. I buy them at Market Basket."
Larry thumped his palm against the steering wheel. "Dammit, why didn't you tell me this before?"
"Because if I told you the restaurant was vegan, you wouldn't have given this couples' retreat a chance. You eat meat every day. Please, at least just look at the menu."
Larry muttered something about working hard just to spend money on organic tofu. He cleared his throat. "Let's check in. I'll look at the menu."
I cringed at the life-size posters of people in yoga pants doing yoga poses adorning the walls of the lobby. The only decorations in the place, save for a few potted plants and a wind chime outside the door. But glancing at Larry, I could tell he wasn't focused on the decor. He was focused on going through the motions of checking into our room so he could pretend to look at the restaurant menu, so he could declare he wouldn't try any of it. Then with a smile, he would tell me he's going to a steakhouse, and that I could come along and get my usual veggie-only chef salad. But I wasn't gonna settle for iceberg lettuce, and I certainly wasn't going to a steakhouse during my vegan treat! This was a time for me to cleanse my vegan spirit, and soak up the good juju radiating from my fellow vegans. And if some of that good juju -- even just a little -- managed to penetrate the first few layers of Larry's meaty brain, this truly would be a "couples' retreat."
In keeping with the minimalist, spirit-cleansing theme, our room was nothing fancy: Two twin beds, a plastic chair with cushions, a fold-out desk, and a mini fridge and coffee maker. A tiny bathroom. And no TV, just as the website stated: "We proudly offer paper books to educate and entertain our guests instead of televisions." An assortment of books were fanned out on the desk: ayurveda, tai chi, feng shui, and the tao of zen.
"Where's the TV?" Larry said, looking like a lost hiker in the wilderness.
"This is a couples' retreat, remember?" I forced a laugh. "I'm sure couples can find other things to do besides watch TV." Larry just stood there in the middle of the room, tightly gripping his duffel bag. "We can take a walk to relax before dinner," I added. "The scenery out here is gorgeous. I saw pictures on their website; and tomorrow-"
"I want a room with a TV," Larry interrupted. "I'm going back to the lobby to get a normal room. You coming?" He turned and grabbed the doorknob.
"Wait -- none of the rooms have TVs! You can live without a TV for two and a half days!"
Larry slowly backed up to the bed, then let himself fall backward. He rubbed his hands over his face and groaned.
"Glad to see you're starting to relax," I said with a weak laugh. "Well, I'm going to take a shower before dinner. I know you're not a reader, but I think those books on the desk have pictures." A few minutes later, my hair still dripping wet, I peeked around the corner to check on Larry. He was sitting on the bed, his back against the pillows, looking at his smart phone. "How you doin'?" I said.
He looked up and nodded. "At least they have wi-fi in this place. I can watch King of Queens reruns on YouTube."
"Oh. I'm glad you're enjoying yourself. I just need a few minutes to get dressed for dinner. Are you taking a shower?"
"Later. I just wanna get this over with."
I stood wrapped in a towel in the doorway of the bathroom, trying to think of a snarky comeback. But then I remembered we were on a couples' retreat (well, sort of) and this was supposed to be a fun time for both of us. For me, so I could cleanse my vegan spirit, and for Larry, so he could become a vegan. And he could only do that if he was in a good mood. And so instead of saying "I'm so glad I married an understanding, open-minded, romantic gentleman," I said "I'm so glad we're on our second honeymoon," and peaked around the corner to see his expression. He was fully absorbed in his phone.
I only spent a few minutes blow-drying my hair -- I put it in an updo to save time. Even though Larry was watching his reruns, I knew he liked to have his dinner at the same time every day, and it was getting close to 7:00. So I quickly put on the slinky black dress I had packed, and some eye makeup and lipstick. I stepped out of the bathroom. "Ready, hon?" I said, giving a twirl. But Larry was still engrossed in his phone. "I'm ready, hon!" I said, giving another twirl.
"OK," he finally replied. "Give me a minute in the bathroom." He got up and walked past me.
"Take your time, hon. No rush." I called through the bathroom door. Then I looked down at his phone on the bed. He hadn't been watching King of Queens. He had been looking up local steakhouses! So that was his plan. Glance at the vegan menu, declare he couldn't eat any of the food they had, then go get his steak dinner at Billy Bob's Cattlehouse. Ugh. He wasn't even trying.
But he patted my back as we stepped out into the cool evening air. I shivered in my spaghetti-strap dress. I made a show of rubbing my hands over my arms. "A bit chilly for a summer night," I said. We continued walking along the winding sidewalk to the restaurant, perched on a hill. "I'm glad you got to watch your reruns, and I'm glad you're genuinely giving this restaurant a try. It means a lot to me. Thank you."
Larry gave a deep sigh. "What if I don't like anything?" he said.
"As long as you pick out something and actually taste it, then decide you don't like it, then I won't be mad if you decide to go to a cowhouse after I have my nice vegan dinner. But surely there's something on the menu you'll like. They have potatoes. You like potatoes."
"But I need to eat something besides potatoes."
"Honey, please. We aren't even there yet."
We walked the rest of the way up the hill in silence.
The Om Bowl was the largest building at the retreat -- a log-cabin with a tin roof. "A log cabin... you like log cabins," I said.
"I can't eat a log cabin," he retorted.
I was about tell him he could put a log you-know-where, but when I took a breath to speak I smelled the most amazingly appetizing cornucopia of herbs and spice. Such a delectable aroma I was almost dizzy with delight. "Oh my god, Larry, do you smell that? All that is vegan food... smells like heaven!"
We paused outside the restaurant. He wrinkled his nose. "Smells weird," he said. "Whatever is smelling like that, I don't want it." I grabbed his hand and pulled him inside the Om Bowl. The place was crowded, but there wasn't a line to be seated, so right away a host led us to a table for two in the middle of the restaurant. I knew Larry liked booths, so I asked the host whether there were any booths available.
"During dinner, all our booths are reserved for families."
"Families?" Larry said. "I thought this was a couples' retreat."
The host looked confused, so I said, "We're on our second honeymoon, so a table for two is perfect. Thank you."
Mercifully, Larry acquiesced, and we were seated.
Every dish had an accompanying picture, and everything looked so delicious. And the enticing smells of the food were making my stomach rumble. Scanning the descriptions, a picked out what I wanted. The Good Karma Bowl -- barbequed tofu, edamame, corn, onions, sweet potatoes, roasted peppers, and walnuts topped with more barbeque sauce.
"I'm getting the Good Karma Bowl," I said, grinning. Looks like they have a lot of Bowls you would like, too."
"I don't see potatoes anywhere," Larry said loudly.
I studied the menu. I didn't see any potatoes either. Only "sweet potatoes." Crap. I had conflated "sweet potatoes" with just "potatoes" in my haste to get Larry to agree to this vegan retreat. But... it wasn't a vegan retreat. It wasn't even a couples' retreat. We were at a vegan restaurant at a yoga treat, something Larry would never have agreed to, had it not been for my deception. So much for my good karma.
"Oops," I said. "Sorry, honey. But they have sweet potatoes. That's what I'm getting."
"You said they had potatoes," he said, raising his voice. "Where are the potatoes?"
I admit I felt sympathy. Larry was hungry, tired, and now realized the one thing he was counting on was not on the menu. I glanced around at the other diners. I think some of them were staring at us, but I tried not to make eye contact. My prediction that Larry would cause a scene in the Om Bowl was coming true.
I leaned forward. "Honey, please. Just pick out something."
"I already did. I picked out potatoes. I don't see my potatoes."
"Look, the Bodhisattva Bowl has seitan. That's like steak."
"There's steak in it?"
"No, but it's like steak. And the Good Karma Bowl has sweet potatoes. The Mandala Bowl has black beans, and the-"
Larry stood up, scooting his chair back loudly. "I'm going to the restroom. You order what you want."
I reread the menu while eavesdropping on the other diners. Cheerful couples and laughing groups of friends talking about chakras, meditation, and their next trip to the Hamptons. I thought about waiting for Larry to come back to order for himself, but... he was rude to leave all of a sudden. So rather than prolong an uncomfortable dinner, I would order for him. I reread the menu several times, weighing the bowls in order of possible Larry-appeal. Veda Bowl, Dharma Bowl, Zen Bowl, Nirvana Bowl, Lotus Bowl... But then decided he would probably like them all equally well. As in probably not at all, as he had already made up his mind that no-meat is a no-go.
So I hoped Larry would be back before our waiter came, but-
"Are you ready to order, miss?"
I looked up at the waiter. I shrugged, smiling. "Yes, I'm ready. I will have the Good Karma Bowl. And something for my husband... " I scanned the menu again. I craned my neck to see the back of the restaurant. But no Larry.
"Would you like more time to decide?"
I sighed. "No thank you. My husband will have... What do you recommend for someone who... " I lowered my voice. "Doesn't like vegan food?"
"Pardon?" The waiter leaned forward to hear me.
"What do you recommend for someone who... Doesn't... Like... Vegan... Food." I glanced around at the other diners, but they were too busy enjoying themselves to hear me or even care.
"I assure you, all our food is top-quality and very delicious," the waiter said.
"Yes, I'm sure it is. But could you recommend something for a... " I motioned the waiter closer. "Meat eater?" I whispered. "Not me -- my husband."
The waiter stood up straight and pursed his lips. "For our finicky guests, I recommend the Chili Bread Bowl."
"Oh? I didn't see that on the menu." I scanned the selections again.
"Here, on the back, under the drinks." He pointed to some small print at the bottom. Sure enough, it was right there: "Our finicky guests will enjoy the Chili Bread Bowl."
"So... that has chili in it? Actual chili?"
"Yes, actual chili made from texturized vegetable protein, tomatoes, and a special blend of spice."
"Oh. I see." I bit my lip. "A Good Karma Bowl and a Chili Bread Bowl, then. And do you have potatoes? Not sweet potatoes, but regular potatoes?"
"We offer French fries for our guests with children."
"Could you just add those on, please?"
"Very well. And to drink, miss?"
"Two waters. Thank you."
I sank down in my chair. A fine start to our vegan retreat. Larry had taken his phone with him to the restroom -- or to wherever he had gone (it could've been back to the room for all I knew). And I hadn't brought my phone with me on the trip-- I had wanted no distractions from the vegan immersion experience. So I couldn't call him, and couldn't busy myself with scrolling through Twitter. I imagined myself dining alone while Larry's Chili Bread Bowl grew cold across from me, as he ate a steak dinner at Billy Bob's Cowhouse. Rather than let the bread bowl get soggy, I would eat that too, and the French fries, and take a couple hours just to finish both meals. Then I'd order a Chardonnay. I deserved it. Finally, I'd walk back to the room by myself, and Larry would be there, already snoring, sleeping off his meal of cow parts.
"Hey, hon," Larry said behind me. "Sorry I took so long. There was a line at the restroom. Can you believe they only have one restroom here -- for both men and women? Awkward."
"Hey, that's alright." So he really was trying. "I ordered for you. Chili and potatoes."
"Larry sat down. "Really? They have regular food here too?"
"Yes, for their finicky guests."
"Thanks, hon. I didn't see that on the menu. Are you sure it's real chili? Not some weird vegan substitute?"
I tensed and met his stare. "It's... chili. Real chili... I mean, they don't make it in a replicator," I pedaled back.
"Never mind, here it is," I said as the waiter put our food on the table.
I raised my water glass. "Cheers to our ve- I mean, our very special couples' retreat."
"Cheers to real chili!" Larry said, smiling. We clinked our glasses. Larry shoved a few fries in his mouth, chomped happily, then dove into the chili. I watched his face as he chewed the first mouthful... expressionless, except for a slight furrowing of his brows.
I took a bite of the barbequed tofu in my Good Karma Bowl. Sweet, salty, smoky umami perfection. It tasted just like the barbeque I used to eat as a kid. Except this had no animal parts. "My bowl is absolutely delectable!" I grinned. "How about you? Yummy, eh? I can smell the chili across the table. Smells, um... meaty. I mean, in a good way."
He took another bite and chewed very slowly. Unusual for him. He had a glazed-over look in his eyes, the same look he got while scrolling through TV channels and listening for a laugh track.
"I guess it tastes so good, you're speechless, huh? See, I know you'd find something you like. I can even get the recipe and make it at home. I mean, if I tip our waiter." I laughed.
"It tastes right," he finally said. "But the texture's off. Has kind of a rubbery feel between the teeth."
"Like the way cartilage feels rubbery? I thought you liked that." I forced another laugh.
"No," he said, staring into space. "More springy."
"But the flavor is perfect." I jabbed the air with my fork. "You said it tasted real."
Larry scooped another forkful, but paused mid-way to his mouth. "I said it tasted 'right'. Hey..." He plopped his fork back into his bread bowl. "Is this some weird tofu chili?"
"Tofu? Of course not. I know you don't like tofu, so I didn't order a tofu dish for you. I ordered a chili dish." I could feel my face turn pink. I took a gulp of water.
Larry took another bite and swallowed without chewing. "Yep, it's real chili alright. Thanks for ordering it for me."