Saturday, October 9, 2010

Snack Segregation

I don’t normally go to the gourmet market in town, because they refuse to stock decent organic produce no matter how much I complain, the prices in general are stultifying, and twice I got food poisoning from their hummus. But they do have one redeeming quality: a twinkly, magnifico candy and chocolate department. You can buy beautiful homemade chocolates by the piece or by the pound, including peanut butter cups the size of hockey pucks. They sell retro candy like horehound drops, teaberry gum, circus peanuts, and Peeps in every flavor and color. But my favorite? The giant island of bulk bins, containing everything from burnt peanuts, sesame sticks and gummi worms to Reese’s pieces, yogurt-covered raisins and dried apricots. Mix and match, all for the same price per pound. Heaven.

Today the chocolate craving called me there. I got a plastic bag, scooped in a few dark chocolate-covered peppermint balls and miniature peanut butter cups. I looked at it, thinking, “Now, that’s just too much chocolate. If I eat that I’m going to have hot flashes until my skin roasts and probably will go into convulsions while I’m driving. That would be bad, although death by chocolate would not be the worst way to go.”

Then I remembered something I learned from a holistic nutrition class. If you balance flavors like spicy and mild, light and heavy, and sweet and salty, you’re less likely to have cravings and more likely to feel satisfied. That’s probably why many women’s ultimate PMS food is chocolate-covered pretzels.

So I figured I’d add some salted mixed nuts to my chocolates. Weird, maybe, but that’s how I roll. Creativity knows no media; it just wants expression. Who knew peanuts and chocolate went so well together until that first, fictional collision? (“Hey, you got peanut butter on my chocolate!”) Also, I’d get the added bonus of slowing down all that speedy carbo-fuel with protein from the nuts. I mixed, I matched, I played. Then hit the register.

The cashier held up my bag, and instead of displaying subtle amusement at my snack combo, she grimaced as if it were something my dog had left behind.

“You mixed this?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s all the same price, right?”

Her face didn’t change. “It’s the nuts.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Nuts and chocolates, they should be in separate bags.”

I’d combed every inch of that blissful bulk aisle as I’d selected items for my goodie sack and nowhere, not next to the gummi sharks or the burnt peanuts or the chocolate-covered pretzels did I see a single sign indicating the apartheid situation that existed between the nuts and the chocolate.

“But I didn’t…”

“That’s the law,” she said brusquely, setting my bag on her combo scanner/scale. “Nuts get taxed.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s the way food items are broken down.” Foods that are unadulterated, she explained, like the nuts, get taxed, and others, like the chocolates, don’t.

“But the nuts are adulterated,” I said. “They’re roasted in oil, and then…”

“Salted,” she said, nodding.

I backed down and paid my stupid half-assed half-tax. But since I’m the type of person who has to know everything about everything, I looked up the New York State tax code when I got home.

And it’s ridiculous. Really, I should have known. Some years ago, a friend was training as a new hire at a local supermarket, and having some trouble understanding what was tax-exempt and what wasn’t. Exasperated, his supervisor finally said, “If it goes in you, it’s not taxable. If it goes on you, it is.” (My friend practically made his supervisor’s head explode by asking in which category condoms would be placed.)

But I think Albany’s gotten more brain-dead since then. For instance, marshmallows are tax-exempt. Licorice is not. Cookies are exempt. Soft drinks are not. Nuts are exempt. (Hah! The cashier was wrong!) But chocolate (except for baking chocolate) is not. So when I return to this market, I must put my nuts (adulterated or not, as long as they’re not coated with candy or sugar or heated), uncoated pretzels and marshmallows in one bag and my chocolates and candy-coated nuts or pretzels in another. So apartheid rule remains strong in the candy aisle.

You know, if it made sense, I’d be more understanding. If completely unadulterated food, like fruit and unroasted, unsalted nuts was exempt and anything processed was taxable, owing to the extra labor involved, I’d get it. I’d gladly separate my goodies and pay what I owed.

But this is just plain nuts.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Present Tense

"Feh," I said, sitting in my chair as the television faded out, wondering where I could find a flashlight. The remnants of tropical storm Nicole sucker-punched the Northeast and knocked out our electricity. After a bit of fumbling, Husband and I found and lit candles, and did the things you do when you don't know how long the juice will be out (like, calling half the people in the area on our cells to ask if they have power, and, for some reason, trying to flip light switches when entering a room.) Then I settled in to savor my secret love of reading by candlelight. I know I have the ability do this any time I desire, but it's more special knowing that I can't turn the lights on even if I wanted to. No e-mail, no television, no Facebook, no work. Nothing but twin tapers and The Heretic's Daughter, a historical novel about the Salem witch trials that I'd been looking forward to stepping into since I rescued it from Barnes & Noble's remainder table.

Husband, however, did not approach the prospect of going Luddite with the same enthusiasm as I. He turned into a great grumbling ball of worry. "There you go," he said, with a huge groan. "Forget about going to sleep tonight. I'll be up all night making sure the basement doesn't flood."

Before you start thinking I married Moses, a little background-we have a generator, and a house in the woods, where blackouts are common in bad weather. Thanks also to our wet basement (actually a dirt-and-rock-floored crawlspace), we have a sump pump. Without this, the basement floods and the water could damage our appliances: two furnaces (one for upstairs, one for downstairs) and the hot water heater. The set-up is not my choice; this architectural disaster came with the house, and we haven't gotten around to doing anything about it, because it would involve a backhoe and a boatload of cash, the former we haven't been able to borrow and the latter we've never had.

So we deal with what is. Or at least I did. Instead of pulling up a chair next to me, Husband vibrated with worry. Nothing I said could change his attitude, but for some reason I tried.

"You don't even know if the basement's going to flood," I said. "The power could come back on in few minutes. And besides, it's not even raining." True. During the storm-for at least the part of it where we didn't have power-we only experienced high winds and a bit of a sprinkle from time to time.

"We're all gonna die," he said.

No. He didn't actually say this.

But it often seems that way, when we experience any kind of crisis. It's as if, when we slipped the rings on each other's fingers, we divided up the world. I would handle what is, and he would handle what might be.

And when the lights go out, or the car won't start, I'll say to myself, "Okay. Crap happens. If there's nothing I can do at the moment to fix this, what can I do instead?"

He'll say, "We're all gonna die." Or words to that effect.

I never saw the sense in worrying about things I have absolutely no control over. It's a waste of energy, and, as I've been practicing mindfulness in the last few years, it's a waste of the moment. Living in the future or fretting about what the future holds negates anything good that could be happening in the present. When I find myself lost in a flurry of negative outcomes, I remind myself to "be here now." And then I can feel the breeze blowing against my skin or the beauty of the trees turning colors or, like that night, the sacred silence of a world without the banging, hissing, whirring, and clicking of our infrastructures.

So I let him be. He got into bed with his iPod and a crossword puzzle, came downstairs occasionally to fume and fret, while I stayed on the first floor enjoying the candle light and my novel. I even went out onto the back porch to feel the gusts lift my hair and cool my skin. I sat in my favorite outdoor lounge chair, tipped it all the way back, and watched in the dim evening light as the wind chased the clouds across the sky. I imagined living in a simpler time, an earlier time, when lighting tapers at sunset was a normal affair and not an emergency procedure.

When the electricity came back on, along with the lights and appliances with their clicks, buzzes and groans, I was slightly disappointed. But from upstairs, I heard Husband say, "Thank God." Then his computer and his television whirred into life, blinking their electric eyes.

The outage lasted three hours. Three hours that I spent reveling in the moment. Three hours that he will never get back. I believe I made the better bargain.

Friday, October 1, 2010

National Anything-You-Want-It-To-Be Month

As if you couldn’t tell from all that pink spewed across the landscape, it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. From this (and from me) you all know the drill: make that appointment, take those steps to reduce the discomfort, and GET THAT MAMMO!!

While breast cancer is a very important cause, and I’d never make light of it, did you know that October shares its media space with a veritable cornucopia of other causes?

Other diseases and health concerns are clamoring for your attention. Lupus, Psoriasis, Eczema, Dyslexia, and Downs’ Syndrome want your notice and probably a little research money from you as well. (I wonder what the ribbon for National Eczema Month looks like, and if you wear it, will you itch?) Backing these up are National Talk about Prescriptions Month, National Ergonomics Month, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, National Physical Therapy Month (I, for one, am thankful for its existence) and to keep it all straight, October is also National Medical Librarians Month and National Statistics Month (wonder if they keep statistics on which causes are assigned to which months).

And with a grudging nod from the AMA, October is National Chiropractic Month.

But did you know that October is National Dental Hygiene Month? Probably to get kids ready for the dental disaster of Halloween. And we are very concerned about children in October. It’s also Children’s Health Month, Window Covering Safety Month (so that children won’t strangle themselves in curtain pulls), Booster Seat Safety Month, National Safety Helmet Month, National Eat Better/Eat Together Month and Family Sexuality Awareness Month.

It’s a month for other important and overlooked life-or-death safety issues as well. October is National Crime Prevention Month, National Fire Prevention Month, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and, believe it or not, National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Have you updated your virus protection and changed the batteries in your smoke alarm yet?

Be kind to animals - it’s National Pet Wellness Month and Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. Prepare for winter because it’s National Fall Car Care Month.

But October isn’t all about scary diseases and serious causes. Summer’s over, school has begun, winter’s just around the corner and we need some fun, damn it. That’s probably why October is National Pizza Month and National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, as well as National Seafood, Pasta, Apple, Mushroom and (finally) Dessert Month. Work off those calories celebrating National Rollerskating Month. If you enjoy a quieter hobby, there’s National Book Month (every month is National Book Month in my house), National Stamp Collecting Month, National Art and Humanities Month, National Art and Framing Month and if you want to research your family tree, it’s National Family History Month. If you feel truly sinful about all that pizza and dessert, it’s also National Clergy Appreciation Month and National Christian Higher Education Month.

I don’t know who lobbied Washington to get this (probably someone who didn’t have much else to do…or recognized the need for a whole lot of TP in Washington), but it’s also National Toilet Paper Month. Like most of us weren’t aware of it already.

If you’re not exhausted already but still haven’t decided on a cause to put your effort behind this month, it’s National Make A Difference Day, so pretty much anything you want to offer would be appreciated.

And if there’s something you truly want to get off your chest (and out of your closet), October 11 is National Coming Out Day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…