- Well, how about that.
- I'll be.
- Isn't that something?
- I know you had fun/enjoyed that (or any sentence that politely repackages what the talker has just said to you).
I just spent a week in the South visiting friends and Crayton's family. We had fun, but the trip made me realize that despite being a Southerner by marriage for eight years, I still don't know how to conduct a proper conversation. Strangers -- the waitress at Waffle House, the lady at the gas station on the way to Charleston, a woman planting flowers in front of her home -- would ask me, "Hi, how are you?" I'd answer "fine" and then think... wait. Did they really want to know how I am? Did I answer correctly? Does not coming up with some sort of Southern witticism make me sound like a Yankee? (Or, what I truly am, a Southern California girl?) Crayton would answer as if he was born knowing the answer: “Hi, how are you doing?” In Greenville, SC, it took him less than five minutes to ascertain that the guy behind the rental car counter was a Clemson fan. At a restaurant in Charleston, a guy in the men's bathroom commented to him about the weird angle of the sinks, and Crayton replied, “Well, whatever gets the job done.” He's full of these little sayings. So is his family. While visiting his grandparents outside Greenville, I listened a lot. They did most of the talking, and it hit me that with a small arsenal of pleasant replies, you can propel a conversation forward in a genteel way. These replies include:
My husband is not a fan of seafood. Usually when I tell people that, they say, "Anything? He doesn't eat any seafood?" And I say, "No. Nothing." And then they persist: "Not even shrimp?" And I say no, not even shrimp. Slowly, slooowly, I've been trying to introduce fish, because of its health benefits. But it's been hard to find a fish that's not overly fishy-tasting. (And it pains me to say that, because I love fish that's overly fishy tasting.) A while back when we lived in Texas, I asked him if he wouldn't mind tasting some tilapia. He agreed, and so I baked it in parchment and drizzled on some olive oil and lemon juice. To my shock, he actually ate the whole thing. And he didn't grimace, which is what he usually does when he doesn't like a certain food. (The funny part is that he doesn't know he's grimacing. It's pretty cute.) We haven't eaten fish in awhile, so yesterday I bought a few tilapia filets and decided to cook them in Yucatecan pibil-style spices. Pibil comes from the Mayan word "pib," which means "cooked in an earthen oven." The term generally refers to meat that's been marinated in a mix of achiote, sour orange juice, garlic and spices. It's wrapped in banana leaves and baked -- traditionally in an underground pit -- on low heat, until the meat is falling-apart tender. Cochinita pibil is perhaps the most famous dish made this way. The pibil spices aren't hot, in terms of chile peppers. The marinade is a combination of subtle flavors, with a zesty kick from the sour orange juice. It's also pretty easy to throw together. If you don't have sour orange juice, you can use half white vinegar and half regular orange juice. I'm calling this "improvised" tilapia pibil because I baked it in aluminum foil, not banana leaves. (Not because I eschew banana leaves -- I just didn't have any on hand.) It worked fine. I need to keep banana leaves in the freezer though, because they impart a certain aroma that you don't get with regular old foil or parchment paper. By the way, Crayton enjoyed this. He ate the whole thing, again, with no grimaces. So we're tilapia 2 for 2. Recipe below. ...
Our flight from New York was delayed last night, so we finally walked in the door at about midnight. We set down our bags and collapsed on the couch. I stared off into space for awhile. Then I happened to glance over at hubby. A black, purplish looking bruise had formed underneath his eye, starting from the corner of his eye and tracing underneath his eyelid. I frowned. "What's wrong?" I asked him. "Huh?" "What's wrong with your eye?" He shrugged. "You have something on your eye!" I said, a little panicked now. "It looks like a bruise. But it wasn't there before. And -- " I peered at his other eye, where a faint smudge of black had bloomed, and now appeared to be spreading. "You have it on your other eye too!" He leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes. "It's probably nothing. I'm tired." "No, it's not nothing! This has never happened to you before. Those look… really bad." Suddenly it hit me that maybe Crayton's blood had gone sour. Maybe he'd stretched himself to the point of exhaustion, and these two bruises were signs that he cannot live this crazy, work- and travel-all-the-time lifestyle anymore. Maybe he was about to have internal bleeding from the exhaustion, and what was I supposed to do? Then he spoke. "You know what?" he said. "I was reading the newspaper. It's probably just newsprint." He raised his harm and rubbed his bruised eye. I winced. But sure enough, the black smudges disappeared. "You know how I rub my eyes all the time." I frowned again. Really? That was it? "I don't know…" I said. "I'm fine." Newsprint. Of course. He'd been reading The New York Times on the entire plane ride home. We sat there in silence, and the flutters disappeared from my stomach. My blood-gone-sour theory dissolved, dusted onto the imaginary newspaper pages that now filled my head. I gave him a tiny smile. He smiled, too. "Sorry," I said, feeling absolutely lame. "But really, you never know...."
Our Mexican bank screwed up the PIN number on my debit card, so I can't use the ATM. Lately I've had to ask Crayton anytime I need money. "Honey? Do you have 100 pesos? I want to take a cab to Polanco." "Honey? Do you have 100 pesos? I have my dance class today." Of course he doesn't care, nor does he ask me for an explanation. I automatically offer one because I don't want him to think I'm spending his money frivolously. Where did this "his money" stuff come from? As a married couple, we don't believe in it. His money is my money. My money is his money. We have a pool of "our" money, and we always have, since we got married. Under the budgetary rules we designed, both of us have a set amount of cash we can spend each month on things like dance classes and cab rides. (Or for him, beer and beer.) We don't need to report to the other person what we're spending. But now, well.... a tiny voice inside me has piped up. Maybe, because I'm not working, he controls the purse strings? Usually it's just a small pine-nut of guilt and I can ignore it. Because if he controls the purse strings, then that means I'm somehow less equal in our partnership. That the work I do -- cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, social-calendar planning, freelance writing -- is somehow less valuable. And I know in my heart that's not true. In order for this whole "not working" thing to work, I need to believe that what I do matters. And at this point, 95 percent of me does. The other day, I forgot to ask him for money to pay Lola. It happened to fall on a day when he couldn't leave the office. So I went and visited him, and it was nice to see him there, in front of his four computer screens. But it was weird that I was there for cash. (I tried to joke about it. "Can I please have my money, papá de azúcar? Thank you.") He gave me 200 pesos and I left. But then, when I got home, I realized I needed 100 pesos more. So I had to go back again. This time I felt a teensy bit more embarrassed -- a smidge more like a 50's housewife who needed cash for the hair salon. I got my money and left. Didn't say hi or smile at anyone. I know, I know there's no point in feeling guilty about any of this. There's no truth to it. I am spending our money. Not his money. We are both equal here. My new PIN number should arrive by early next week, and I'm sure once I can get my own money out of the ATM, I'll forget all about this. Can't wait to buy my own Starbucks coffee without asking hubby for change.
Since we've moved here, four of Crayton's dress shirts have developed a hole in the right elbow. Not a tiny hole, either -- more like messy, shredded tear, as if someone took a pair of scissors and stabbed the thing. Or, like, yanked on the fabric with his teeth. What's weird is that even though the hole is so severe, the shirts are perfectly fine otherwise. No missing buttons or threads hanging off. We've both been perplexed by this -- and annoyed, because two of the shirts were Brooks Brothers. So C went to work and asked his male co-workers if they had the same problem. Turns out they did. Tear on the sleeve, in pretty much the same spot. With one guy, it happened after he took the shirt to get dry cleaned. What is going on here? Why does Mexico eat dress shirts? And how do you say "torn dress shirt sleeve" in Spanish, so that I can freaking google this and try to find some answers? Last night I had some folks over for dinner. With all the men there having been smote by the Shirt Sleeve God, we must have talked about this for 20 minutes. Among the theories tossed around: Maybe Mexican soap is too strong. Maybe it's the washing machine. (This is my guess, because I washed Crayton's shirts in Dallas and never ran into this problem.) Maybe it's the dryer. Maybe it's the dry cleaning solution, or whatever they use to dry clean things here. In either case, we have to go buy Crayton some more shirts, because he doesn't have much left to wear. Luckily there are lots of men's dress-shirt stores in the area. An unusually high number, actually.... hmmm. Conspiracy? Better go continue my googling in Spanish. If anyone out there has solved this problem, please enlighten me.
Last night, somewhere around 4 a.m.... Me, envying how Crayton can sleep with half his body outside the covers, while mine has been tucked inside a sweaty, hot sheet cocoon and yet still gobbled up by mosquitoes: "Why don't the moquitoes bite you?" Him, not opening his eyes: "Did you put on your bug spray?" Me, pathetically: "It smells." This reminds me of an exchange from It Happened One Night, one of my favorite old movies. Claudette Colbert plays a rich, spoiled heiress on the lam from her father; Clark Gable is a salty newspaperman in search of a story. They end up sleeping in a barn one night while running from the cops. "I'm hungry," she huffs. "Eat a carrot," he offers. "Noo," she whines. That's me. I'm the carrot-girl. Now that the bugs have bitten me on my lower back, ankle, earlobe, and cheekbone in one night, it is time to stop whining and do something about this. I am breaking out the Vicks Vaporub. Lola says it works. I'll start the new treatment after I get back from Puerto Vallarta this weekend, though. Something tells me that crawling into bed slathered in eucalyptus-and-menthol ointment would kind of put a dent in the whole "romantic weekend alone with hubby."
We had to buy an empty propane tank when we bought our grill on Monday. Home Depot assured us that we could fill up at "cualquier gasera." I interpreted this to mean gas station. We stopped at the gas station near our house, but they said they don't fill up propane tanks. So we decided to just wait for the gas guy. He yells, "Gaaaas!" every morning around 7 a.m. Naively thinking this would take a day or two, I went to Mercado San Juan and bought steaks and calamari and shrimp. Ended up having to cook the seafood on the stovetop, because we cannot find this guy anywhere. A few days ago, I ran outside and found my street empty, even though I'd just heard a loud "Gaaaaas!" A guy cleaning his windshield stopped to stare at me, probably because I was still in my pajama pants and my hair was all wild. This morning at 6:58, Crayton suddenly sat up in bed. "Is that him?" I asked. We listened. I heard, faintly: "Gaaaaaaaas!" He threw on clothes and flew out of the house. He came back maybe 10 minutes later. Nothing. Where is this guy? Obviously he does not visit our little street. But we're next to two larger streets -- you think he'd be there, right? But he isn't. The dude's voice must carry for blocks. I wonder if he ever gets sore vocal cords. Our next option is to ask the security guards across the street whether they know anything about the gas man's whereabouts. We're also going to ask the juice guy on the corner. If that doesn't give us any leads, I think we'll camp out at a cafe five blocks away, where I saw the truck two days ago, but didn't feel the urgency to ask the driver any questions. (I was having coffee with the girls! I wasn't thinking about the grill.) If you know anything about filling up propane tanks in Mexico, please do share. I will give you a luscious piece of T-bone steak in return. Or a portobello mushroom if you're vegetarian.
Seven months ago, I quit my job as a reporter to move to Mexico with my husband. With no job -- and no plans to get one, since we didn't need it to survive financially -- I promptly felt extremely guilty. What was I supposed to do with my time? Yeah, the writing thing, but what was I really supposed to do with my time? I wasn't even raising kids. I was just... there. At home. Mooching off the hubby, and redecorating our living room. This didn't seem honorable for a woman who spent eight years as a reporter, and graduated cum laude from an East Coast university. Granted, I could get a job. But really, I didn't want one. Or maybe I was just being lazy. Or worse, maybe if I didn't get one, my husband would start to think I was lazy. (I told him this. He said: "Never.") I confided in my friends that I wasn't sure what my identity was anymore. They told me to relax and stop worrying, and that it would all work out. They were right, because lately I've discovered that I really like being a housewife. Re-reading that sentence, part of me is cringing. But it's true. I derive joy from my housewifely duties. I've taken ownership of them. I'm proud of the work I do. I plan the meals, wash the dishes, do the grocery shopping, take our clothes to the cleaners. I spend Sundays wandering aimlessly around the tianguis, a dumb grin on my face. I love serving my husband a home-cooked meal after he's worked all day. Usually I even clear the plates. (Do you hear that mom? The girl who hated washing dishes as a child now clears the table with gusto!) This isn't the same joy that I got from working hard on a story, but still -- it's peacefulness. Happiness. Maybe, after 3 1/2 years of marriage, I'm finally getting comfortable being a wife, and welcoming the fact that our roles can evolve. Of course I won't be doing laundry and washing the dishes forever. But now, this is what works. I'm happy. *Pic above from our wedding day in San Antonio, TX
When I first moved to Mexico, I bragged to family members about how perfect the weather was here. "You can leave the windows open all night!" I'd said. By comparison, in Dallas, you can leave the windows open for exactly one week, and then the heat gets so oppressive that you start googling "How to fry an egg on sidewalk." The Mexico City weather tricked me, though. Everything was breezy and fine until a few weeks ago, when suddenly I started waking up with mosquito bites. ...
I couldn't sleep a few nights ago. I dreamt that someone was breaking into the house, and a creaking noise -- real or imagined -- made me sit straight up in bed. It sounded like footsteps on our laminate floors. Slow, cautious footsteps. Footsteps of impending doom. I got out of bed and checked that our windows were locked, but then my mind was awake, chattering away about the groceries and rice pudding and cinnamon buns and I don't know what else. I heard Crayton rustling around and thought maybe he was awake. Me: "I can't go back to sleep." He rustled some more. Then he said sleepily: "Do you want me to sing you a lullaby?" I'd asked him the same thing a few hours earlier, as a joke, when he couldn't sleep and went to the bathroom to read. Of course, when I woke up and didn't see him, I immediately felt frightened. Isn't it weird how that happens? One day I'm a strong, confident single woman, and the next day, or year, I'm a married woman in a foreign city, an expat wife terrified of robbers' footsteps. Now I thought he was kidding. I said yes, sing to me, and tried to go back to sleep. He exhaled soft and heavy like he does when he snoozes, and I thought he'd drifted off. Then, in a falsetto voice: "Look into my eyes.... you will see... What you mean to me.... Take me as I am... take my life... I will give it all, I would saaac-rifice...." I laughed and kissed him on the neck. Then, just like that, he was asleep again. A few minutes later I was out, too. Thank you, Bryan. I owe you one.