Monday, February 04, 2013

chicken adobo, or: everyone’s an oncologist

1. at least frida kahlo had awesome hair

This morning at Starbucks an unassuming, middle-aged man came up to me and said he was gathering signatures for a new strip mall down the street. At first I was all skeptical and Occupy-ish, but then he said he was hiring a local architect, and I figured that local poor folks could benefit more from a 7-Eleven and a Chipotle than from a fifth record store or a seventeenth art gallery. So I signed.

He said he liked my Frida Kahlo day planner. I bought it because I wanted a daily reminder that people who spend a lot of time in hospitals can be fierce and glorious. He said he liked my hat, the one Keely made.
This is what people did in hospitals before iPads.

“Thanks,” I said. “A friend made it for me.”

“I have a friend who makes hats like that too,” he said. “Only she does it for chemo patients.”

“Well, that’s me right now.”

“Oh. Well, you look really healthy and vibrant.” (When people say this, I think what they’re saying is, You clearly have cancer and yet you’re also clearly under fifty. Brain. Can’t. Compute.) “What kind of cancer, if you don’t mind my asking?”

I feel like I should add here that his vibe was not creepy or intrusive; if it had been, I would have felt free to give him the ol’ I’m-Reading-A-Book-Here Starbucks glare. I struggle with my people-pleasing tendencies sometimes, but only with people who seem at least somewhat worth pleasing.

“Breast cancer,” I said.

“I had a good friend who stayed with me the whole time she was being treated for breast cancer. She’s doing great now. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself and eating lots of alkaline foods.”

I assured him I was doing my best to stay healthy, and we parted ways. I felt eight percent guilty for not doing the research about alkaline foods that I keep meaning to do. I felt ninety-two percent indignant, but not quite angry. As the daughter of a librarian, I default to free speech. You have the right to ask me for a zillion dollars; I have the right to say no. You have the right to give me unsolicited health advice; I have the right to post a blog re: What is up with that?!

As the daughter of a librarian, I also know that if I really wanted to be left alone to write, I could go to a library.


I’m sure every pregnant woman who’s had her belly rubbed by strangers or received dirty looks for sipping a beer thinks this too, but why is my body a public forum? (Again the effing pregnancy parallels. BUT WITHOUT THE BABY.) I recently read this post (thanks for the link, Tracy!) about fat acceptance, so I know it’s not just pregnant women and cancer patients either.

Would anyone ever go up to a fat person and say, “I hope you’re getting plenty of exercise and eating lots of vegetables”?

Actually, I’m sure some people would. It’s just that, as a non-asshole, I’m baffled by their behavior. I would never tell an overweight stranger (or friend, for that matter) how to take care of herself because:
1. It’s none of my goddamn business.
2. I don’t know why she’s overweight. Maybe she has a slow metabolism. Maybe she’s so stressed out from taking care of other people that she doesn’t have time to juice her own protein shakes or whatever. Maybe she works out five times a week and is actually in way better shape than I am.
3. I suppose it’s possible she’s one of the four people in America who just didn’t know that a diet of vegetables and whole grains was preferable to a diet of quesadillas, but what are the chances?
4. I’m not a doctor. What if I was all, “Just eat whole grains!” and she did, but then her thyroid problem went undiagnosed for years?
5. It’s none of my goddamn business.

But, sigh, everyone’s an oncologist.

2. and now i want some caramel. and a quesadilla.

Once Stephanie and I were traveling together and we met a woman who was originally from the Philippines. For some reason, upon learning this fact, Stephanie blurted out, “I love chicken adobo!”

The woman snapped, “There’s more to Filipino culture than chicken adobo.”
Normally I would say, "Sign me up for some tofu adobo," but I hear soy causes breast cancer. WHERE HAS ALL THE JOY GONE?

Stephanie is Chinese-American and got a degree from UCLA in the identity-politics nineties. If anyone knew not to reduce an entire culture to one stereotypical dish, it was her. But, as she sheepishly told me afterward, she’d just gotten excited. She did love chicken adobo. She wanted to connect with the woman.

I understand the impulse. It’s why all of us, in our own subtle or not-subtle ways, want to shout out, Some of my best friends are Filipino! Some of my best friends had breast cancer! Then again, no one really shouts out, Some of my best friends are white! Some of my best friends are totally healthy!

As any Psychology 101 student will tell you, everyone is a giant projection screen for everyone else’s shit. The bigger and more unresolved your shit is, the more it flickers at you from the human screens at Starbucks. The developer saw himself in my knit hat, and I saw myself in his questions about my knit hat.

Meanwhile, the girls next to me sucked their venti caramel frappuccinos through green straws.

“I love whipped cream,” one of them sighed. “Who even cares about coffee? I wish they would just give me a whole cup of whipped cream and caramel syrup.”

They were both pretty skinny.


Kim said...

It's so Los Angeles. The answer to everything, alkaline foods. Also, I'll be over to give you an acai enema any minute. Jeez!

Anonymous said...

By "alkaline foods" he revealed himself to be a believer in a balanced blood pH leading to eliminating your cancer risk. My grandfather had an entire nutritional health practice based on balancing your blood pH, and guess what? He died of lymphoma. The moral of the story is that eating alkaline foods does not equal not getting cancer.

Cheryl said...

K: Not even the Eastside is safe these days.

A: One more mark in chemo's favor: avoiding an ironic death.

Phillip Lozano said...

Some really neato mosquito writing here, snappy and witty and elegantly precise.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Phillip!

Bronwyn said...

"Everyone is a giant projection screen for everyone else’s shit."

Words to live and let live by.