The beauty of “Seinfeld” is that everyone has had, at one time or another, a moment in life that occured on an episode of this brilliant show. It may not be the exact same scenario, but close enough to evoke the spirits of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.
I just returned home from an almost three week visit to my family and friends in Toronto. Ironically, the episode when Jerry and Elaine go to Florida to visit Jerry’s parents was on while I was there. The scene where Elaine is struggling to find a comfortable position on the sofa bed and sweating profusely because of the lack of air conditioning is a plight I’m sure all of us can relate to. It’s hard to complain when you’re at the mercy of hospitable relatives, but that’s not to say the accomodations will resemble those of a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons hotel. More often than not, they don’t.
I hadn’t been in Toronto for over seven months and had a bit of trepidation about what had transpired since my last visit. Usually, someone or something changes radically in my absence and I have to reconcile myself with the new circumstances. It’s not that I can’t handle change; I talk to my family and friends quite often and am kept apprised of all the goings-on. Inevitably, there may be tidbits of information that get omitted during conversations. One thing I can always count on is my aunt, with whom I usually stay, telling me before I get there to “not forget to NOT wear any perfume.” Roger that, auntie; I hear you loud and clear. But what surprises do you have in store for me?
This time, the pertinent information omitted was that my aunt had radically changed her eating habits and will now cosume only organic foods. This mode of behavior sprouted from her being a Weight Watchers devotee, progressed to fanatical bouts of exercising, and evolved into “Evangelical Foodie-ism.” I’m not certain this is a documented condition, but when I showed up on her doorstep, I was lectured sternly about what foods she will not allow into her home:
Her: Absolutely nothing that is not organic or 100% natural. That includes no processed cheeses, breads containing gluten, caffeine, sugar and anything that is high in potassium. Your uncle is on a very strict low-potassium diet. Also, we aren’t eating any red meat; just fish and occasionally some chicken. What is that I smell?
Me: Uh, the body lotion I put on this morning before I left the house?
Her: What did I say about wearing perfume?
Me: It’s not perfume.
Her: Well, please don’t use it. It’s giving me a headache.
Me: Are you sure? I can’t even smell it anymore.
Her: Yes, I can smell it!
After a night spent tossing and turning on the ancient bed, getting tangled up and sweaty in the fleece blankets that still bore my cousin’s sewn-on name labels from sleepaway camp, I had that feeling of dread all houseguests feel when they realize they would have been better off staying at Bob’s Sleazy Motel, rather than dealing with their nutty relatives. In the morning, a breakfast consisting of a gluten-free organic bagel the size of a hockey puck with organic peanut butter and sugar free organic jam, accompanied by a weak cup of some atrocious herbal tea, convinced me that these were conditions I was not entirely willing to put up with. As I sat at the dining room table watching my aunt document every morsel of food she was consuming in her Weight Watchers food diary, I attempted to chew my gelatinous gluten-free hockey puck (I finally know what vulcanized rubber tastes like), and asked her:
Me: So, where does one purchase organic gluten-free bagels?
Her: They’re good, aren’t they?
Me: (struggling to swallow a rubbery mouthful) Mmmm…yummy.
Her: I get them at the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. If I’m not there at exactly 7 am, they sell out.
Me: Don’t go to that kind of trouble on my account. I’ll go to Bagel World and get some regular bagels.
Her: No, you will not. What did I say when you got here last night?
Me: What’s so horrible about Bagel World bagels?
Her: They’re unhealthy.
Me: I’ll take my chances.
Her: I refuse to allow them into this house.
Me: (not really wanting to move to Bob’s Sleazy Motel) Fine.
Her: Lunch today will be at 12:30 sharp. You’ll adore the zucchini and carrot soup we’ve been eating. It’s wonderful.
Me: (muttering) Can’t wait.
I showered, spitefully slathered myself in the scented body lotion I was told not to use, and went out for a Tim Hortons coffee and double chocolate doughnut. Yeah, I’ll probably end up in nutritional purgatory for eating this stuff. If I dare to contemplate having a Big Mac for lunch, my aunt might have me committed.
When I got back to the house, after surreptitiously brushing chocolate doughnut crumbs from my shirt and pitching my coffee cup into the recycling bin, the smell of raw red onions and garlic walloped me like a heavyweight prizefighter. In the kitchen stood Louisa, the care-giver hired to help with my aging and, much as I hate to admit this, increasingly infirm uncle. She was up to her elbows in shredded carrots and zucchini. “So you’re the soup-maker,” I said, introducing myself. She just smiled and politely shook my hand. I was told she was hired as a care-giver, not a soup-maker. Apparently, her job description encompasses care-giving as well as soup and salad making. During my stay, I did not witness her administer any care to my uncle. Her sole household activities were to shred copious numbers of vegetables, slice mounds of raw red onions and mince countless cloves of garlic. I could literally feel the the odors of onion and garlic permeate my clothing and seep into my pores. Surely my scented body lotion could not be as offensive as this.
As we sat down to our lunch of Louisa’s zucchini and carrot soup, the following conversation ensued:
Me: Wow, this is good soup.
Her: Really? I can’t taste it.
Me: Why not?
Her: I’ve got the smell of your perfume up my nose.
Me: I told you, it’s not perfume.
Her: What is it then?
Me: Body lotion.
Her: I will not allow it.
Me: Not allow what?
Her: You cannot wear that body lotion in this house.
Me: Well, I’m not exactly thrilled to walk around reeking of onions and garlic.
Her: You do not reek of onions and garlic.
Me: That’s what I smell.
Her: I can only smell that body lotion of yours.
My Uncle: SLURP!
Me: Can Louisa make Mulligatawny?
Her: What’s that?
Me: Never mind…
After leaving a trail of Tim Hortons coffee cups all over the city and eating out with my friends as often as possible, I returned home to my non-onion-and-garlic-scented house relieved to be away from the tyranny, er, pursuit of good health. No that there’s anything wrong with attempting to live a healthy lifestyle, but when it becomes unreasonably obsessive, I find I need to put as much space as possible between myself and those who are guilty of said obsession. I like to think that when it comes to food,everything in moderation is a good thing. But, standing guard in one’s doorway trying to keep out the evils of processed foods and scented body lotion is a bit much; especially when all you can smell inside the house is onions and garlic. I admire my aunt’s determination to be a warrior for good health, and I love her very much, but: be it ever so “unhealthy”, there’s no place like home. I was thrilled to return to my coffee-maker and my extensive collection of scents; not a raw onion or garlic clove in the bunch.