It started with paper towels and toilet paper. That was why I went to Costco. I need household supplies. Abundance and low price was critical. I dealt myself in for a stop at Costco but committed the ultimate fail.
Prior to entering the retail warehouse, I did not commit that critical oath: THOU SHALT NOT BUY ANYTHING MORE THAN WHAT YOU CAME HERE FOR. So, of course, I fell victim to Costco and the $4.99 rotisserie chicken. Not one. But two of them.
Why? Because I suffer from that affliction that says: If you are going to buy an item at bargain prices, do not just buy one. Buy two. Buy 10. Because to only buy one -- even though you only need one -- would be like losing money. I mean, $4.99 for a whole, cooked chicken is ... a great deal!
The real problem with the Costco rotisserie chicken isn't, however, that it is so inexpensive that you buy more than you need. It's that they really aren't THAT good. They are reliable, but only in a serviceable way. They are juicy in the way that they must be injected with some kind of juice solution. I'm not certain, I'm just guessing, since they are juicy. Maybe too juicy. Far more juicy than the $8.99 rotisserie chickens they sell at North Shore Farms, which may even be organic chickens and are not nearly as big or juicy but, in fact, they do taste better.
Anyway, these rotisserie chickens are now looming in the refrigerator. It THE DAY after I went to Costco and succumbed to the pair of chickens. And now the realization that I must actually make USE of these chickens is getting me a little stressed out. I feel, frankly, oppressed. Usually, I use these chickens to make chicken soup for my family. But I realized TOO LATE that I still have an entire batch of chicken soup in the freezer from the last time I bought a pair of Costco birds.
Worse, my daughter informed me that after last week's spate of chicken dishes, she's sick of chicken. So she's been eating peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for the past 36 hours.
Tonight, I'm going out to dinner. I'm going to a Greek restaurant in NYC and I will not order chicken, because all I will be able to think about is how, back at home, there are these two chickens that have to be consumed. One of them is upstairs in the kitchen fridge. The other is in the spare fridge in the basement, because, after all, who has room in the main fridge for two chickens? Not me. Which begs the question: WHY?
Next time, I will take the oath. No rotisserie chicken from Costco. Ever.
No one cares that I had pneumonia once. I don't necessarily care, either, except to say that I am glad I didn't actually die from it the way I thought I was going to for a few harrowing days before and right after I was finally driven to a hospital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The attending doctor in the emergency room was so alarmed by the severity of my symptoms that he actually asked me if I had been on a drug or sex bender since my blood counts were so awful and my lung so filled with crud that he thought I might have Legionnaires Disease or, worse, AIDS! Talk about surreal.
At the time, I was a sports columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. This was a newspaper that I had been hired to write a column from a new and outside-the-box point of view in 1993. Unfortunately, within months of arriving at the P-I, one of my male colleagues filed a lawsuit against the paper, saying I had only been hired because I was a woman and that he had been denied the job because he was a white male. The lawsuit dragged on for years, and the tension in the small department of almost entirely male staffers became a source of great anxiety for me. I wanted to succeed. It's why I moved all the way across country from New York to take on the exciting job. But I felt the odds and perceptions stacked against me. All around, it was a very troubling feeling to contend with, especially since I was not a hardcore sportswriter but a columnist who had been asked to look at sports with a wider lens. My fellow sportswriters and editors didn't seem to appreciate what the papers' editor and managing editor wanted out of me. Many wanted me gone and, over the years -- despite refusing to fold or be run out of town or out of my career path -- I, too, knew I had to find a new job when a good one came along.
Then I got pneumonia.
It was April 2001 when I had flown from Seattle to Harrisburg to attend my grandmother's surprise 80th birthday party. For a few weeks that spring, I had felt increasingly weak and exhausted, but figured it was a bug or bad cold and eventually my normally healthy immune system would throw it off. I started to feel some effects of a horrible cold in February, when I flew to Las Vegas to cover the ESPY Awards. I went to spring training with the Mariners in Arizona, and continued to fight through fatigue.
Then came a trip in mid-March to cover the NCAA Tournament in Memphis. Gonzaga -- a Washington state school that had become a huge national power -- was playing in the South Region. All I can remember that long weekend in that famous Tennessee city is wondering why I was so freezing cold, and why I had no energy or interest to go sightseeing. Graceland was minutes away and, instead, on an off day between games, I stayed in my room and fitfully tried to rest. This was just not like me at all, but I still did not figure there was something really wrong.
Finally, on Opening Night for the Mariners' 2001 season, I chattered through the game in the open-air press box. I typed my game column and dragged myself home, just in time to start feeling intense pain around my heart. I don't know what I thought it was: A virus that effects the heart? I did not go to the doctor. But I did call my sister back in Pennsylvania to tell her maybe I shouldn't come to the birthday party because I was sick. My reason was I didn't want to get anyone else sick, but she insisted that no one would mind and I had to be there. So I flew across country with my newly adopted 2-and-half-year-old daughter in my arms.
By the time I arrived in cold, early April Pennsylvania, I was just feeling like a ghost. I was out of it. In pain. On the first night there, I actually got sick to my stomach. (Turns out it was pleurisy that caused the vomiting.) The next day, we headed up to Bloomsburg for my grandmother's party. I lasted about an hour before, exhausted, one of my cousins drove me to her house so I could sleep while the party went on. In that bed, under piles of down comforters, I felt so cold, I began to lose sense of reality. I could not even imagine getting out of that bed.
By the time my parents came to pick me up, it was clear. We headed back down to Harrisburg, straight to the hospital, where I was admitted after X-rays showed severe pneumonia. When the administered a nebulizer and a massive dose of antibiotics, I looked up at my mother in the blur of emergency room lights and thought this was it. I was dying. Luckily, I responded to the antibiotics and, after three days in the hospital, was allowed to be released. I was driven to New York where the doctor had told me I had to stay for two weeks: No flying.
My father had called the sports department initially to tell them I had been hospitalized. Now he called again to say I was going to be out of work for two weeks, at least. On the other end of the phone, the tone was not exactly sympathetic. It was more suspicious. Was I trying to get out of work, or was I trying to find another job back East? The resentments and lack of good working relationship with my editors and colleagues was that bad.
The idea that I would fake a case of pneumonia to take two weeks off back East was, well, another dispiriting blow. I had never been so sick, yet the guys back in Seattle who felt I wasn't good at my job or that they could do better had no particular sympathy. All those weeks that early spring of traveling, tying to do a good job writing and giving readers insight or a fresh look at their sports stars or favorite teams, I did not consider calling in sick or declining a coveted assignment. As a woman in a man's game, the stakes were high. It is very difficult to explain what it feels like to try and work in these conditions, in this kind of environment, without sounding like you're complaining or trying to make excuses. Especially when you come down with a whopping case of pneumonia. But within a year, I finally landed another job in Baltimore where the atmosphere inside the sports department was much better -- until the sports editor offered a new sports columnist exactly twice in salary what I was being paid. Within a year, I quit sportswriting altogether. I didn't like the fight.
Here's hoping Hillary Clinton recovers nicely from her current bout of pneumonia.
A taco truck on every corner. Imagine that. Imagine that a taco truck on every corner is now a symbol for how big a threat Mexican immigrants pose for Americans. This is the rhetoric from the campaign of a major party candidate for president of the United States.
The "specter" of such a phenomenon rose its "ugly" head this week when a Mexican-born American who now supports Donald J. Trump went on a cable news show and, when asked what he was so opposed to when it came to other Mexicans immigrating to the U.S., he said Mexican culture is so dominant that it would lead to a taco truck on every corner. His name is Marco Gutierrez. It all but blew up Twitter courtesy of the hashtag #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner. Why? It seems it's because most Americans who like food and like their neighborhoods and country diversified because, after all, this is a nation of immigrants, found the statement to be another sign of an unhinged candidacy, though it's hard anymore to pin down just exactly where the bottom is for Trump and his supporters.
But speaking of a taco truck on every corner, this leads me to another story that took place this week in America. It took place, actually, in Houston, on a thriving neighborhood about a mile from downtown Houston called Montrose. This spring, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Houston while covering the U.S. women's national soccer team's victory tour. Between practices and the game, I did a fair share of exploring in this Texas city, which I had not visited since I was a kid. There are many museums, including the Menil collection, the Rothko chapel, a small gallery dedicated to one of my favorite artists, Cy Twombly. There was redevelopment of downtown, particularly around the three new sports stadiums for baseball, football and soccer, leading to new townhomes and condos being built, streets repaired. And, as with so many U.S. cities, the outer ring of neighborhoods have seen new residents buying homes, fixing things up and opening great new restaurants.
However, one of my favorite finds were the icehouses. These are old corner lots with a ramshackle structure dating back to before refrigeration, when ice was sold to keep food cold. After ice became less important a daily item in people's lives, the icehouse owners started to sell and serve beer as a way to generate income. One of the most lively icehouses I found was the W. Alabama Icehouse in the Montrose neighborhood, and after the U.S. women's soccer game and en route back to my beloved Marriott, I stopped in for a beer and to experience a night at the icehouse.
An entire culture and community was born in these informal watering holes and continues to thrive. All kinds of people come in to hang out, to have a beer or mineral water or soda. The W. Alabama Icehouse, like all of them, is pretty open air, with overhangs and canopies providing some shade or cover. Fans blow but do little to stave off the Houston humidity. There are picnic tables, dart boards, pool tables in the garden. Strings of lights decorate the place like Drunk Uncle's Christmas. Usually, there's a resident dog that takes its place on a table. No one cares.
That night at the W. Alabama Icehouse, I met a lot of people and had a great time talking and learning about Houston. The barkeep was lively. A local architect sitting next to me gave me the lowdown on hot neighborhoods and what locals were doing to remodel homes and upgrade neighborhoods. Then, around 10 p.m., with no food served at the icehouse, the mood shifted towards anticipation. This was around the time that a local restauranteur would stop in with the nightly load of tamales. Sure enough, he walked in with a container heaped with these fresh-made tamales, which were sold out in a matter of seconds. The picante sauce, the barkeep said, was to die for, and she was right. Nothing had ever been so perfect -- except, my architect friend pointed out, for the tacos that you could get in the morning and throughout the day from the truck parked right behind us.
We turned and he pointed it out: "Stop there on the way to the airport tomorrow. Two of those breakfast tacos and you will never want anything else for breakfast ever again.''
I did not stop at the taco truck the next morning on the way out of town. However, that night in Houston is one I will never forget. What a lucky person I have been to be able to travel and spend time in so many American cities. It is one of the blessings of my life and has filled me with so many memories and thoughts about how Americans live, what they think, how the differ and how they are so much the same.
This week, on Facebook, I noticed that my Houston friend had posted a Go Fund Me item. This philanthropic site allows people who need money to solicit from strangers for issues or events that have made them in need of cash. Well, it turned out that the owner of the taco truck on the corner of W. Alabama in Houston -- the taco truck parked next to the W. Alabama Icehouse -- had just lost her daughter. Maria Victoria's 22-year-old daughter, also named Maria, succumbed to a brain tumor. Now the family that owns Tacos Tierre Caliente needed money to bury her. Someone at the Icehouse started to Go Fund Me page. They sought $5,000 to help with the burial costs.
The moment I saw this, I whipped out my Marriott Rewards Visa card and tapped out my $20 contribution. I scrolled through the list of other names of people who had contributed and watched throughout the day as the $5,000 goal was reached, then exceeded. I got a few alerts from the Go Fund Me site saying updates were posted. The fund was now up to $16,000, on its way to almost $17,000. The Go Fund Me drive was going to be closed, since the goal had been met and exceeded.
Again, I read through the comments on the page. The contributors flooded in with messages of sorrow and love and condolences. One of them had been Maria's teacher. She was heartbroken. She said what a great student Maria had been.
An entire community reached out with thoughts and prayers and money for this family. They are one of the clan. They are part of the neighborhood. These people who put a taco truck on a corner in Houston were not going to be dealt this blow and go it alone. A taco truck. In America. It's Mexican owners. Beloved.
The final tally for the funeral and burial was $17,903. It was raised in a single day.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.