Taco Tuesday—it always seems like such a good idea. An easy meal to make, and everyone loves it. An unconstrained variety of ingredients, anyone’s perfect meal. Shrimp and black beans for me, spicy beef and cheese for my kids, Susan likes tacos as a vehicle for avocados and Cholula. We all like the salsa. But then we have to clean up. Or I do: the kids bolt to their homework. Susan, off to yoga class or a massage (giving not getting). And I’m left behind, shocked and numb by the stack of dishes to be cleaned. Two pans for meat, one for rice, one for beans, usually an extra one for corn or broccoli or another vegetable. And during dinner, everything was moved to serving bowls. It’s more sophisticated, more fun. Two sets of everything, and everything’s gross with taco sauce and sour cream. The rice pot’s a nightmare. Taco Tuesday fills an empty dishwasher.
Today is Wednesday. I’m still thinking about last night’s cleanup. I’m thinking about our cheese grater. When I was cramming it in the dishwasher, wondering if it would really get clean with a plate hovering over it, I tried to remember where it came from. It’s stainless steel, but a little rusty anyway. It’s old. As old as my marriage. Older. I think one of us brought it to the relationship from single life. Probably me, I went through a pizza-making phase. That was before I met Susan, 1992 or 1993. So old!
We’re in that stage of life, our kids are halfway through their childhood. Everything we own is from before they were born. Everything’s worn out, but working. I recognize this stage from growing up. I remember when my parents went through it. Their couches, their cars, lawn mower, golf clubs, all out of date, unhip, slightly beat up. Growing up, my parents had the toaster they got as a wedding gift four years before my birth. This was before toasters were made of plastic. Actually, to this day, my dad is still using it. I’m 53.
The other twenty-five-year-old cooking implement I used last night was the can opener. We have two of these. The newer one neatly separates the lid from the can. It was a gift from my mother-in-law a few years ago. It leaves no sharp edges to fool with. If the can opener misses a spot the first time around, you simply make another lap. I hate the thing. I’m old school. I like the can opener that cuts off the lid with leverage and skill. I like the snapping sound it makes as it breaks through the can-lid, as it releases the air inside. I like the way my cats come running because they think tuna is involved. I like that if I screw up on the first effort, it takes persistence, aptitude and a couple of band aids to complete the job. What I really like is that you can use the lid to strain the contents of the can. This doesn’t work when I use the new can opener. The lid doesn’t fit inside the can.
Our can opener is bent, dull, somewhat rusted and gunked up. It should have been replaced fifteen years ago. But they cost five or six dollars, so I’m still using the old one. Plus, based on my childhood experience, you never throw away a can opener. You just spend more time opening your cans.
I started taking stock of the old crap in our house—well really just in the kitchen. Our principal cutting board, also left over from my pizza phase. Glassware that survived from Susan’s childhood. Some of the plates and bowls that we got as wedding gifts twenty years ago. And the lonely, forgotten beers in my refrigerator—a Dogfish Ale, an Anchor Steam, and two Guinness Pub Drafts—three months old. Beer doesn’t age like wine. It goes bad; it changes flavor; it tastes wrong. Like so many other things in my house these beers are getting old.
They’re becoming invisible in the fridge. Anything that sits in the refrigerator long enough eventually disappears. It doesn’t go away, you just stop seeing it. For example: the fish sauce we bought for a specific Thai recipe four years ago. It’s still in there. At first we kept it because it was kind of expensive, and we only used a little of it. We vowed to make that dish again. Eventually, we just stopped seeing it. The sauce slid to the back of a shelf, out of the way, and started its new life as clutter. Now that’s happening to those beers.
This reminds me of a super-model walking into a country club swimming pool… and no one checks her out. These beers are accustomed to being noticed. They’re the first beers someone grabs when they want a beer. But no one wants a beer any more. They were bought because they’re the best. Two thirds of a mixed six pack Susan bought in January. A period when someone was typically stopping by for a beer or a glass of wine a couple times a week; back when there was always an open bottle of red; when Susan often cracked a beer while she was making dinner; when I finally decided to quit drinking.
Four bottles of wine are aging along with the beer. They’re in the wine rack not the fridge. It’s not the high-end stuff, not the best, but it’s way better than crap. Clines and Coppolas—pinot noirs and zins. I’m less agitated about the wine. It will keep, maybe even improve. And wine always makes a good gift when going to parties – better than bringing a plastic grocery bag with random beers. But taking alcohol to a party is all theoretical right now. I haven’t done anything social this year.
Susan didn’t quit drinking, but for her it’s an after-thought. Not something she craves. Getting together with friends is usually in the daytime, over tea, not drinks. And she does this a couple of time a week. Me? I’m still getting used to being a non-drinker. Socializing was always easier with a glass of wine. My safety blanket, an oral fixation, something to do with my hands. The anticipated buzz, no matter how minor, smooths away the sharp edges of any situation. I’ve tried to do this with seltzer and a lime. It doesn’t work. It looks like a drink, but it’s impotent. Around our house, Susan has stopped drinking as well. She thinks it will be disrespectful to me.
When it first came out a decade ago, Susan and I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It’s the fourth movie of the Harrison Ford franchise, and thankfully the last. In this movie, Ford still looks like his old self, but watching him run from mishap to mishap is painful. He’s lost the spring in his step; his knees look sore, his feet arthritic, his back, inflexible. Like my cheese grater, he’s still doing the same job, but he’s showing his rust. Certainly, this didn’t happen overnight, but because I only see Ford in his movies, he is frozen in time… until his next movie.
The past three months, my non-drinking months, I’m like the aging Ford. At a quick glance, I look the same, but something has fallen out of my step, too. I’m feeling wobbly, unsure, used up. And for me, it really did happen all at once. Or maybe it happened over time, but I was distracted by my wine. Now I stay at home, night after night. I don’t go out to socialize, because I no longer know who I am.
Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t drink up the good stuff before I quit. I remember my last drink. It was a mediocre glass of wine. Sunday night—I’d planned on quitting the night before, but a friend was coming over for a couple of drinks with Susan and me. I didn’t want to let her down. I finished the last open bottle of red—something I bought because it was cheap. It wasn’t even enjoyable. I should have opened the Cline Zinfandel. But I knew I wouldn’t finish it, so it would get poured out, thrown away. I could have had the Anchor, or a Pub Draft. Either of those would have been memorable—a last hurrah.
But I didn’t. Three months later, those beers are still sitting there, slowly sliding to the back of the fridge. They’re unwanted; They’ve become clutter. And I too sit here, night after night, feeling forgotten, wondering how to restart my social life.