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July 21, 2007

If I strip for you will you strip for me? Uh-huh!

I had thought that the best thing that would come in todayâs mail would be the final Harry Potter book. Itâs interesting and anticipated, certainly, though Iâm not very far into it yet because I got sidetracked on a project. Additionally, while delightful, the book was not unexpected or inexplicable like the baffling $6.00 check I received from my health insurance company (despite my most cynical instincts, I cannot believe that this is what theyâre kicking in toward my $12,000 tonsillectomy). But todayâs prize goes to something I was about to throw away as junk mail until I glanced at it again.

Until today, the things I knew about this apartmentâs previous tenant were few. I knew her real name, which I will not share here; I knew that she was or had been a college student; I knew that she received Proactiv by mail and wasnât too quick about changing her shipping address; I knew that she had at one point owned a copy of Romeo and Juliet and a package of purple tissue paper, which she had left behind; and I knew from photographs left on the same shelf that she had once taken the obligatory pictures of her feet and that she had had a gathering here which was attended by, among others, a kind of dorky sweet-faced guy and a self-consciously punk-rock guy in a Tiger Army t-shirt. Oh, and I knew that when she moved, she left behind a lasagna pan containing an open Costco-sized bag of pancake mix and a large number of silverfish and silverfish eggs. I spent months hating and cursing her for that every time I found a bug in this apartment. In the last months, however, I have softened toward her on that score, as I have been forced to conclude that this apartment sits atop colonies of millions of ants and thousands of silverfish, and that no matter how clean you keep the place they will come inside to investigate. I now believe that she was neither responsible for or pleased by this situation, and have, during some dark times evicting ants in the wee hours, speculated that this may have had something to do with her decision to move. I have even come to regard the previous tenant fondly, as a sister warrior in the battle against this apartmentâs evil wildlife. And you know I donât say that kind of womynâs-solidarity-Lilith-Fair bullshit lightly.

Today I learned something new, which began with a presorted standard-mail postage-paid postcard announcing the settlement of a class-action lawsuit, Jon Talarico v. VistaPrint USA, Inc, and VistaPrint.com, Inc, for those who ordered business cards during a specified date range. The postcard was addressed to an individual by the improbable name of Felicia Fearless at a business called Bare Skinned Beauties, in my apartment.

Now, my apartment, while adorable, is not very large. Itâs large for one person, but if you try to configure several full-grown adults horizontally in here it gets very small very fast. As well, my shower, though odd, is decidedly unsexy. And Iâd seen what the place looked like when Ms. Fearless lived here, when I came to see the place before she moved out: it was a small, crowded apartment, much like it is now. So it was unlikely that there had been porn filming going on here; what, then, could it have been? Simply a business address? A holding pen for the talent? Naturally, I investigated further, and with the help of the telephone and the internet I have made the following discovery:

During Ms. Fearlessâs tenure here, my apartment was home base for a company of strippers, or possibly "strippers" (read: escorts?). They took Mastercard, offered discreet 24-hour service, were duly registered with local and state business authorities, received a 1-out-of-5 star rating on one adult directory website, and offered helpful map links showing the way to my apartment. Another address that popped up is a couple of blocks away, and whether this is an error or Ms. Fearlessâs new home for the past year I couldnât say, as I was unable to trace her current Proactiv delivery using either her given or business names. The phone number is still operating, however, and when called (did you think I wouldnât call?) leads to a voicemail message on which a female voice curtly skips greetings, pleasantries, and the standard âYou have reached...â rigamarole and instructs you to leave your information. The only information I wanted to impart to Ms. Fearless was my sheer delight, but that seemed unbusinesslike so I declined to leave a message.

However, I will use to the power of the internet to make this overture as an open letter to Ms. Fearless:

Madam (ahem),

I have your postcard with your redemption code for your settlement benefits for your business cards. If you would like it, I am sure we could work out some kind of trade. Your 1-star rating does not exactly set my pants afire, but since all Iâm offering is a postcard, it seems like a pretty decent deal for both of us.

In heartfelt sincerity,

Posted by katie at 01:35 PM

July 20, 2007

Comparative Review: Liquid Vicodin vs. Childrenâs Tylenol

I am 95% recovered from my recent tonsillectomy, and can once again act as a productive member of society. No, no, silly, I havenât quit grad school and found a real job, but I have switched from my beloved liquid Vicodin to Childrenâs Tylenol to combat what remains of my sore throat during driving-around-shopping-and-going-to-the-beach hours. This is per my doctorâs instructions; Tylenol is the only over-the-counter painkiller that doesnât promote bleeding, and I canât swallow pills yet, so Iâm taking the liquid kind intended for small children. For those of you who may be surprised to hear that Iâve noted some differences between the two products, I have compiled a handy Comparative Review.

Liquid Vicodin

Form taken: Liquid (Hydrocodone-APAP solution)
Available flavors: Vomit
Taste: Initially awful, yet progressively numbing and welcoming
Mouthfeel: Syrupy, clingy.
Dosage: 5 to 15 ml (1 to 3 tsp)
Effects: Absence of pain, attention span, and motivation. Over the course of a day, interesting whole-body numbness can develop. Amuse yourself by pinching your arms and flicking yourself on the nose: fun for hours!
Pain relief: Highly effective on moderate to severe pain. However, this medication is apparently inactivated by the consumption of food or swallowing of any substance other than itself. If the tonsillectomy patient attempts to swallow, the rest of the body may remain numb but the throat will return to the state of agonizing pain.
Soporific qualities: Pleasantly drowsy.
Drawbacks: Not a good idea to drive, operate jackhammer, or do any task requiring attention for more than a minute or
Overdose risks: Difficulty breathing, coma, death.
Narcotic classification: Schedule II
Value for money: $$$$$. Pharmacy co-pay: $12.65. Approximate doses per enormous bottle: 40. Cost per dose: 32Â.
Other notes: Probably the third refill wasnât necessary, although this shit is still saving my life at night when Iâm trying to sleep and the residual swallowing pain is bugging the shit out of me.

Childrenâs Tylenol Oral Suspension

Form taken: Liquid (acetaminophen with multisyllabic additives, preservatives, corn syrup, flavorings and colorants)
Available flavors: Very Berry Strawberry, Bubblegum Yum, and others I havenât tried. (Note: these two taste almost identical.)
Taste: Cloying, so sugary it ceases to be sweet and actually burns the inside of your mouth.
Mouthfeel: Gritty like the icing roses on a cheap sheet cake. You can hear and feel the sugar crystals crunch between your teeth. Unbearable without immediate application of full dental hygiene regimen.
Dosage: Each 5 ml teaspoon contains 160 mg of acetaminophen, or 32% of a 500 mg Extra Strength Tylenol tablet. Standard dosage of 2 Extra Strength Tylenol tablets equals 6 and a quarter teaspoons of liquid, or approximately a quarter of the bottle at a time.
Effects: Irritation, compulsive tooth-brushing behavior, mild sugar high.
Pain relief: None recorded.
Soporific qualities: None initially, though after several hours the sugar crash leaves patient tired and with a headache.
Drawbacks: Feeling like a sucker; artificial bubblegum flavor impossible to eradicate.
Overdose risks: Diabetic shock. Also, if maximum daily dose of 4000 mg or 25 teaspoons exceeded, possible eventual onset of vaguely referenced liver problems.
Narcotic classification: None.
Value for money: Â. Drugstore price: 5 to 6 dollars. Approximate number of doses per bottle: 4. Cost per dose: $1.50.
Other notes: It has just been brought to my attention that, although I did not note this product at my drugstore, Tylenol makes a PM liquid in a flavor called âGolden Vanilla.â I am normally a sucker for such things, but this time it doesnât really help me because I already have a cost-effective nighttime pain reliever and sleep aid in trusty old Vomit flavor.

What have we learned today? Well, we've proved my long-held theory that Tylenol doesn't do shit. Let's look at the liquid Vicodin for a moment. It's hydrocodone (the generic name for Vicodin, Lortab, etc) in suspension with acetaminophen (Tylenol). On the foot-long warning sheet from the pharmacy, in the part where they "explain" how the painkiller works, the writers try to ascribe some effects to the Tylenol:

This medication is a combination of a narcotic (hydrocodone) and a non-narcotic (acetaminophen) used to relieve moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, and acetaminophen decreases the formation of prostaglandins, therefore relieving pain.

If we take a moment to parse this explanation we'll see what I mean. Acetaminophen acts to decrease the formation of a kind of fatty acid named after the prostate gland. That's all very interesting, but I don't have a prostate gland, and for pain relief my money's on the thing that's binding to my opioid receptors. If you look even more closely you'll see that we're tipped off further in the language of the sentence itself, where the writers start off by asserting that "[h]ydrocodone works," but in the sentence's second clause they avoid the parallelism that would have sounded natural there because they couldn't bring themselves to claim that "acetaminophen works." Instead, "acetaminophen decreases." You see?

Furthermore, my controlled laboratory experiments (data scrupulously reported above) offer incontrovertible proof of my theory. By itself, the Tylenol does nothing, so why would we imagine that it's doing something when shaken up in a bottle with the much more powerful hydrocodone? Clearly, it's only there to dilute the opiate, or to "water it down," if you will. Ergo, the bottles of Children's Tylenol I've been buying are, in fact, sugar water. QED. This can only mean that the slight lessening of pain in my throat is due to the placebo effect, or else that my sore throat is being effectively overshadowed by the sugar headache and the slight twitch I've developed.

Posted by katie at 03:56 PM

July 18, 2007

The Bacon Sandwich of Regret

Since tonsillectomy recovery is now speeding along quite nicely, meds are leaving my system, and any day now I'm going to fully recover my judgment and vegan principles along with my voice, I decided yesterday to give in to my unbridled food fantasies. I had a BLT for the first time in lo-these-many-years that I've been moaning about bacon.

This is so predictable that I think everyone can jump in and sing the chorus with me: the best part of the sandwich was the tomato. It was delicious. Everything else was okay, and the bacon was... well, it was just the tough, oversalted side of a pig. But the tomato was really, really good. Eventually I pulled out the rest of the bacon and enjoyed a delicious LT.

*Sigh.* Well, I guess I can get on with my life now.

Posted by katie at 09:13 PM

July 12, 2007

Savory Dreams

I had my tonsils wrenched out a week ago. Since then, Iâve done about 80 crossword puzzles, watched 40 or 50 DVDs, and worked on my burgeoning addiction to vile-tasting liquid opiates, which are basically the only thing I can swallow right now. Any POW will tell you what happens when a person is confined to a small space and systematically and continuously deprived of the basic human necessities of food, water, sleep, and variety of entertainment; in fact, they told me all about it in our conversation in my kitchen the other day after we watched The Great Escape. You start going a little bit nuts.

In my case, I think the early signs that Iâm cracking are starting to manifest in the utter destruction of two of the most important things in my emotional life: my waking and sleeping relationships to food. A week ago, I managed to harmoniously balance two seemingly contradictory elements into a personality Iâd call Vegan Foodie. Today, or tonight, or whatever time it is, I stand, or rather awkwardly recline before you a changed and broken woman.

Before the surgery I bought every vegan foodstuff I thought I might be able to eat while recovering: sorbet, soygurt, soy milk, pureed soups, cream of wheat, baby food, non-gelatin-based fruit suspension cups. I had planned for several phases of recovery: soft, mushy, pureed things at first, with slightly more substantial things to follow. Rice, bread, oatmeal, gnocchi, things of that sort. My Darling Baby Sister pointed out that since I donât have much of a sweet tooth, I would probably go crazy eating nothing but sweet things during the first phase. She was right. I stocked up on every savory vegan item I could think of that is smooth, liquid or mushy, and can be eaten cold or at room temperature. This basically amounted to polenta, instant mashed potatoes, V8 juice, and hummus. The polenta and the hummus I havenât been stupid enough to try. The V8 juice (salty; chunky), the mashed potatoes (thick; gritty), the cream of wheat (thick; pointy) and the soygurt (thick; revolting) were excruciating enough. The yams were agonizing. The "first phase" has turned out to be much longer than I'd anticipated - probably two weeks at least - and much more restrictive. It may give you an idea if I say that even drinking water is really, really painful. Here, then, is a complete list, in alphabetical order, of the things I have managed to get down over the last week, approximately three to four tablespoons at a time:

Baby food (I decided against buying any of the savory flavors, although Iâve lately been thinking that the strained peas would have been a good call)
Juice (though it gets painfully tangy)
Non-gelatin-based fruit suspension cups (mandarin orange only; the cherry has too much fruit in it and is too tangy)
Pureed soups mixed 50-50 with soy milk and served cold
Sorbet (though it gets painfully tangy)
Soy ice cream (though it makes a horrible coating in my mouth)
Tea, if cold

Youâll note that all of these things save the soups are sweet, and considering that one of the two soups is Sweet Corn Chowder, mixed with cold vanilla soymilk, itâs basically like drinking melted corn gelato.

I estimate that by my very best efforts Iâm managing to get down maybe 400 or 500 calories a day, with perhaps two cups of water. Iâm accustomed to eating about a billion calories of zesty, savory, crunchy, spicy food a day, and drinking about a quart of coffee in the morning and another quart of whiskey at night. In addition, even though the rest of me is blissfully numb with a warm belly full of liquid hydrocodone, my throat is still alive and screaming, so that I can sleep for an hour or two at a time before I swallow in my sleep and I wake up in agony, stagger into the kitchen, pour some more narcotics down my gullet, shuffle back to bed, try to find a less awkward reclining position, and do three or four crosswords before I can get back to sleep. Iâm accustomed to sleeping about eleven hours a day when schoolâs out.

The result of spending my waking hours screaming between tiny, ice-cold bites of sweet mushy foods and my sleeping hours sitting up and drooling is that Iâve started to have very strange dreams about food. I started trying to write these down when I wake up in order to create a chronicle of my descent. Iâm not making any of these up. Hereâs a small selection from the last few days:

Iâm at a department event where the normal university catering has been supplanted by competing trays of ever-more-enormous, pillowy, fresh cinnamon donuts. Iâm about to eat one when Fred Astaire dances by, takes me by the arm, and leads me over to a vending machine, where he buys me a small, dense cellophane-wrapped cinnamon donut and has me eat it while he waltzes me around singing a song about how if itâs not full of partially hydrogenated oils, itâs not good enough for me.

I buy coffee from a vending machine. The people in line behind me applaud. I turn around, fix the young man behind me with the most evil glare I can muster, and tell him loudly, âDonât you ever fucking patronize me again.â More applause.

I must find this one sandwich shop in Berkeley that makes a blueberry-and-Brie sandwich to die for. I find a shop that has such a thing, made with mustard on foccaccia, but I balk at eating lunch there because they donât have the kind of potato chips I had set my heart on, a new flavor of Kettle Chips called âExtra Hard.â

My American Studies advisor comes over to yell at me about books and ends up performing an elaborate chai-making ritual for me. I finally tell him I donât like chai, and he fixes it with a teaspoon of Tabasco just for me.

Iâm feeding chickpeas one at a time into a shiny red-and-chrome Rube Goldberg device that makes exactly one beanâs worth of hummus right onto your fingertip.

On my lunch break, I go to four different shops looking for the brand of canned salad I like. I finally find it. It comes in a normal, 15-oz tin can, and when you open it, out comes about four headsâ worth of fresh, crunchy Romaine lettuce hearts and a small stratum of lentil dressing. Iâve been talking it up to all my coworkers. It turns out to be less flavorful than Iâd remembered.

This oneâs from this morning: Iâm in Berkeley visiting my sister one last time before she moves, and I make a secret stop on the Northside to go to this chocolate shop I love. Itâs on Euclid Avenue, and Iâm hiding my face behind a newspaper so that my sister wonât catch me dallying in there while I try to decide between my two favorite flavors of chocolate truffle: oregano and enchilada.

There are more, many more, but I can only half-remember them, or theyâre only weird if you happen to know the person I was eating buttercream-glazed chicken wings with and so forth.

In my waking life, such as it is, Iâve entirely stopped thinking about the vegan foods I could be eating right now. I spent the first day or two planning to make my special, amazing, tofu-based vegan manicotti when this is all done. Fuck that. Iâve set my sights higher. Iâve now started sitting in bed dreamily architecting the sandwich I canât wait to eat. It started as a Monte Cristo, but itâs acquired layers of bacon and steak, calamari, honey mustard sauce, and onion rings, and itâs fried to a crisp. Monte Cristos are normally served with a sweet dipping sauce like currant jelly, but since I never want to see another cup of sweet pureed anything as long as I live, this one comes with one ramekin of chipotle mayo, and another one of ranchero sauce. Tonight when I wake up screaming Iâm going to work on adding more layers to my Tex-Mex-Croque-Madame-de-Monte-Cristo Surf-n-Turf Club Sandwich and see if I can find a place for some shrimp inside and a fried egg on top.

Anyone want to have lunch in a few weeks, when my throatâs better but my judgmentâs still impaired? Iâm ready for a heart attack on a plate, and Steve McQueen says he's hungry too.

Posted by katie at 08:57 PM