The mental energy it took to plan for the following two weeks was almost as exhausting as physical energy it would take to carry out my upcoming tasks. Preparing for the fundraiser consumed almost all of my free time and what was leftover was reserved for marathon training. I had to come up with two more hors d’oeuvres that could be served cold. Oh! And I had to think of something for Marty’s birthday. Before Easter, his birthday gift was an easy undertaking because, up until then, we were just friends and running partners: no pressure. But our relationship had now taken a more intimate turn. I referred to Werner for assistance.
“Will you help me with something?” I asked over email.
“It depends on what it is,” he responded.
“What would preclude your assistance?”
– I am not a trained physician/dentist/therapist. Anything in those arenas would be amateur efforts, particularly if ‘something’ is stuck.
– if the request is about me doing any sort of heavy lifting, that is a hard ‘no.’
This continues ad infinitum in my ‘depends on what it is’ list.”
“Hahahaha OK. Marty’s birthday. I know he’s not into birthdays but it’s 40. I got him one of those little Japanese bears he collects and I was going to make a tiny pie. I’m not his girlfriend but not just his friend. Thoughts?”
“I think that’s about right on :)”
I added one last running-related item — one of those armbands for the latest iPhone that were apparently difficult to come by. It still didn’t feel like enough.
That day, I went to Stanley’s to buy produce. Grape tomatoes were on sale so I bought a bunch of them. Grape tomatoes and hummus was my most highly regarded snack — it’s where healthy and tasty intersect! Post-run snacks started swirling in my head.
I sent Marty a text.
“Do you like hummus?” I asked.
“Yes,” I got in return a response as curt as all of his texts were.
When I got home I boiled the chickpeas, but they weren’t quite soft enough to blend into hummus by the time Marty finished with work, so I bought Cedar’s hummus and brought that along with tomatoes to Marty’s.
After our evening training session, Marty collapsed on the couch and immediately lit up a cigarette as I piled grape tomatoes on a plate next to a stack of sliced cucumbers and a heap of hummus. How much longer can I ignore the health hazards of smoking combined with running, I wondered.
“I need to start eating better,” he said thoughtfully while scooping the mashed chickpeas onto a tomato. “Will you go to the grocery store this week and help me buy the right stuff?”
“Of course,” I said. “We could do it after running on Thursday.”
My brain got a tickle and I started thinking about the things I could make for him that would be healthy. He loved starch and protein (who doesn’t?) and I got excited about the prospect of converting him to the intoxicating world of vegetables. Kale, broccoli, Swiss chard — he had no idea what he was getting himself into with this request.
While coming up with things Marty would need to properly stock his kitchen, I simultaneously planned out the rest of my fundraiser menu and how I was going to get everything done throughout the week with enough time leftover to make Marty a pie by his birthday which was the Tuesday following the fundraiser. I had a lot on my plate, and I didn’t have a choice but to do it all.
The next day, I finished the hummus and experimented with roasted red peppers and artichokes. I made a spread that was inspired by another culinary compound I saw at Trader Joe’s.
I wasn’t sure if Marty would like the peppers, so I brought my homemade hummus to eat after our next run and the trip to the grocery store.
We ran three uninspired miles that night and went immediately to Strack & Van Til. Sweaty and salty, we sauntered down each and every aisle to make sure Marty had exactly what he needed to eat for any given occasion. He went a little crazy in the produce section. He wanted to buy everything. I was supposed to be teaching him how to grocery shop (I was quite gifted at grocery shopping) and I was failing. He wanted strawberries, apples, oranges, fresh spinach, and fingerling potatoes. Who was I to tell him not to buy things that were good for him? I didn’t say no and I let him buy fresh food that I knew he would never eat… and let go to waste.
When we got to the bread and cheese section there was a whole display for hummus and pita. He picked out the soft Greek pita and two tubs of Sabra hummus.
“Don’t get that,” I said. “I brought you hummus today. It’s in your refrigerator.”
He ignored me. He put the hummus in the grocery cart.
“You are hurting my feelings,” I said under my breath. “You are really hurting my feelings,” this time I said it louder.
“I will eat your hummus first,” he said and kissed me. The hummus burrowed its way into the back of my brain and stayed there as we continued shopping.
We bought pasta and sauce which I was opposed to.
“White flour is the devil’s talc,” I told him. “And why do you need to buy sauce when you can so easily make it?”
“I like pasta and I’m not always going to have time to make sauce,” he responded.
I reluctantly let him buy some penne and rigatoni and some Mario Batali sauce.
In the personal care aisle Marty asked me if I wanted to keep tampons at his house. This was a reaction to an accident I had on his sheets two days earlier when I forgot to bring tampons with me for a sleepover. He didn’t get mad and this was not a passive aggressive gesture; it was pure kindness and a genuine act of caring.
I was touched and said, “Sure.”
In the end, the trip to the grocery store cost him $400. For one person! I forgot that you had to spend a lot when you’re building a pantry from scratch.
When we got back to his house, he got out the grape tomatoes and opened the store bought hummus. He didn’t even look at my hummus. I let it go, but that he wouldn’t even touch my hummus festered in my head and my heart.
The next morning, I got up at 5:00 and pedaled off to work. I made my scrambled eggs and bacon and started on the beans for burritos.
In the middle of a text exchange with my friend Kathy in New York about cupcake recipes for her boyfriend’s birthday, I broke down over the hummus.
“Oh dear,” she wrote. “Never fuck with a woman and her hummus. I totally understand. It’s insulting. And comes off callous. Ugh. Maybe you have to mention to him that it upset you? I mean, it’s one thing if what he was craving and bought was, like, salsa or something. But to buy the very thing that you gave to him that day? That’s fucked up. But I’m quite sure he is not trying to hurt your feelings here. We have to chalk this up to him being a guy/idiot.”
As I was finishing up my spicy green sauce, the hurt over hummus got the best of me and I sent him a text — even though he hated texts — telling him that my feelings were really, really hurt.
It took a few hours, and I didn’t expect a response, but I got one.
“What’s going on?” he wrote.
I wanted to respond and tell him how awful it was that he didn’t eat my food. But this would color every food experience I had with him after this, I told Kathy. I would never be able to show him my affection through food beyond that. Denial of my hummus was a crippling insult to me.
“I’m never making him food again.”
“But what about his birthday pie?!” she asked. “Food and cooking are important to you. Don’t let him destroy your spirit.”
“I’m thinking about just getting him a store bought pie :(“
I had to respond to Marty’s text.
“You wouldn’t eat my hummus,” I wrote. “You ate the entire tub of the store bought stuff and you wouldn’t even touch mine.”
“I’m sorry,” he wrote. “I’ll eat it. I have a texture thing that I need to get over. I’m not disrespecting your cooking abilities. I’m sorry.”
I accepted the apology and buried the memory under chocolate cupcakes, with a peanut butter filling, chocolate frosting, pretzel bottom and caramel drizzle that I added to my list of things to make in the following week.