One of my girlfriends, as I’ve mentioned before, is working in Mongolia for the Peace Corps. She writes her friends bimonthly emails about the mysterious ailments she contracts, the felt tent in which she lives, the pleasure of finding a bottle of steak sauce to enflavor her diet. A while ago she sent everyone a wish list, assuring everyone that she was “not starving, just dying for variety.” The list included Advil Cold & Sinus, warm socks, and hot cocoa packets.
I woke Saturday morning with the apartment to myself for the first time in months, and luxuriated in my bed, wondering what to do with my day.
I couldn’t think of a damn thing.
Mentally accumulating a list of personal items I needed, and eager to hop in my mom’s car and listen to Beyonce’s “Sasha Fierce” album, I decided to go to Walmart. When my mom lives with me she has to bribe me to visit that den of suburban sin, but I didn’t want to mope around the apartment and needed Olay’s face cream and didn’t feel like spending $12 for it at the nearby Rite-Aid.
Sasha and I whooped and hooted our way out to the ‘burbs, navigating the crowded parking lot, obtaining a cart, and weaving into the cosmetics department. The big box store looked more like a swarming anthill that clear Saturday, but I didn’t mind. I don’t often feel rich, but Walmart has an insidious way of deluding very poor people with its low prices. “Go on,” it whispers, “You can afford it… It’s only $4.56! For an entire gallon!”
I bought makeup. I bought shirts with puff sleeves, and pajama pants with superheroes on them. I bought ingredients for three meals. And pushing my cart down an aisle laden with soy sauce, hot sauce, olives and pickles, I bought a few choice items for my girlfriend in Mongolia. I left having stockpiled for the rest of the winter and only $104 poorer- yeah job outsourcing!
I also bought green chilies and green hot sauce. I came home, packed my friend’s care package, and made tacos laden with sliced jalapenos. For the past three days, I’ve been pouring hot sauce in my hummus, drinking cup after cup of tea, eating jalapenos on corn chips. Instead of my usual hunger for sugar, flour and chocolate, I’ve been stuffing my face with hot, and not just since visiting Walmart. The jalapenos flying from the jar finally caught my attention, but for a couple weeks I’ve been dousing my sushi in wasabi, ordering my Tom Ka soup a brave medium spicy at the Thai restaurant, my sandwiches with the green chile bread or Cajun aioli.
At first I thought I was just looking for flavor that didn’t involve the deep frying, cheese and general fat that upsets my stomach so. It’s a little more extreme than that now though… and so is the weather. The thermometer claims it’s a mild mid-fifties outside, but with Lake Erie on one side and Lake Ontario on the other, Buffalo is never as warm as thermometers claim. I wear a coat and gloves walking to work, shiver in the office if I’m not wearing two layers, and my skin’s taking on that lovely old-lady parch from living in forced-heat environments.
Still, snow isn’t falling, frost isn’t building, and I can still sleep in a t-shirt. Forking out a pile of jalapenos, I realized I’m freezing inside, bracing myself, tight with anticipated rather than actual cold.
Last winter was hard, not just literally, but emotionally. Trudging through snow, my feet going numb if I wasn’t wearing two pairs of socks and my fur-lined knock off Uggs, sharing a bed with my mom in my brother’s apartment, missing Mr. Hotness in so much more beautiful England, I’m pretty sure it was the crappiest winter on record.
I need hot green things to steel myself for that.
I told my brother the other day that I envied the friend in Mongolia- as close as she sounds, sometimes, to losing her mind, she’s out there living life at its riskiest and tastiest. “Hey,” my brother said, “You’re doing the same thing… Buffalo is like the American Mongolia.”
He has a point. But which is braver- to live far from home, in a foreign brand of awful? Or to live close-ish to home, in a familiar-ish brand of awful-ish?
I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that it took me a week to admit that I was putting together this care package for her with such glee because her list was so simple. She’s assured of her purpose in being there, assured that she’s got two years and then she can come home and have dinner at Pastis. I, meanwhile, have no idea how long I should or will put myself through this, whether I’m staying out of courage, or fear, whether I’ll ever get my “Sex in the City” moment again. Her care package is easy: cocoa packets, socks, a book or two. My care package would be much harder to pack: a lover, an apartment of my own, smiles on my family members’ faces.
But, barring all that, go ahead and send the socks and the chocolate. I prefer the former striped, and the latter dark, with something gooey inside. Or maybe red chilis.