June 1, 2000
Artichokes and Hot Tubs


You couldn't miss the signs: they were everywhere.

Driving north on Highway 1 along the California coastline, Sunday afternoon, the signs for roadside produce stands popped up every thirty seconds or so, like the old Burma Shave ads.






"Y'know what?" I said wistfully. "Artichokes sound sorta good."

David swivelled around in the driver's seat, blinking at me in surprise. "They DO?"

"Yeah," I said. "Let's stop." 

From the expression on his face, you'd think I'd just suggested we swap out the Lilith Fair for a little Bob Dylan.

Don't get me wrong. I like vegetables just as much as the next guy. And David has been modestly successful in his campaign, these past eighteen months or so, to introduce me to some of the more exotic veggie varieties. (Read this: any vegetable that has never had its own aluminum foil compartment in a Swanson's TV Dinner.) Stuff like chard, and kale, and grape tomatoes, and -- my personal favorite -- the gloriously mutant brocciflower. I've tried them all, with varying degrees of success (and heartburn).

But we had never attempted artichokes before.

When he realized I was serious, we pulled over at a roadside vegetable stand in Pescadero, just outside of Half Moon Bay. There we bought six artichokes for fifty cents each, plus a bag of baby red potatoes and a clove of garlic the size of David's fist. Once we got closer to home, we stopped at a grocery store in Alameda and picked up a couple of ten-dollar steaks to go with the vegetables.

Once we got back to The Castle  ...  sunburned, windblown, exhausted, famished ...  we didn't bother unpacking, but went directly to the kitchen. Cooking was a collaborative affair: David boiled the potatoes and the artichokes and broiled the steaks, while I sat down at the computer. (Hey, somebody's gotta check the e-mail.)  When the potatoes were cooked, he mashed them up with garlic and butter. 

The artichokes he plunked onto our plates as-is.

"You can dip them in either butter or in mayonnaise," he said.  And then he showed me how to pull the leaves off, one by one, and scrape them with my teeth. I dutifully peeled and dipped and scraped. And swallowed. And waited for the big fabulous *FLAVOR EXPLOSION* I'd been promised, but which never happened because the artichoke tasted like ... 

... nothing.

Seriously. It tasted like nothing at all. I've swallowed fingernails with more flavor.

"Well? What do you think?" David asked. He'd made short work of his own artichoke, and now he was eyeballing mine hopefully. We have an unspoken agreement about these things, as a rule.  I try the vegetable.  I don't like the vegetable. He eats my leftover vegetable. I make myself a salad. 

Everybody's happy.

"I think," I said, with as much tact and sensitivity as possible, "that it sounded a whole lot better than it really is." He nodded understandingly, as I scraped the rest of the artichoke off my plate and onto his. And then I went back and got second helpings of the baby potatoes.

What can I tell you?  Sometimes, the IMAGINING is better than the REALITY. 

*     *      *     *      *     *      *     *      

I'm not a big fan of hot tubs.

Actually I'm not a fan of TUBS, period. I'm a shower person. I prefer my daily cleansing ritual to be quick, neat and vertical.  I suffer terrible recrimination about this, of course. This is yet another one of those missing *Chick Chromosome* issues: a Girl Thing that I know I'm supposed to love ... but don't. Once in a while, in an unholy burst of feminine zeal, I'll run out and buy an economy size bottle of Vitabath, or a bag of little rubber ducks, or an inflatable bath pillow and an aromatherapy candle, in hopes that it may spark some latent girly-girl tendencies buried deep inside of me. But three and a half minutes after I slide into another tubful of ducks and bubbles,  I'm bored shidtless and ready to climb back out again. 

It never fails.

As for hot tubs? Suffice it to say that my last two or three *encounters* with them left something to be desired. (See: cheesy heart-shaped tub, Niagara Falls, March 1997.)  So let's just say that when David and I checked into the Del Monte Pines Motel on Saturday afternoon, the hot tub was not the first thing we went for.
It wasn't even the SECOND thing.  

David (joyously): "Hey! We have cable!"

It was Sunday morning, in fact, before we even got around to looking for the hot tub's on/off switch.  David seemed no more enthused about the idea than I was  --  he's strictly a *shower person,* too  --  but we both felt that as long as we were here, and as long as the hot tub was there, we might as well take advantage of the situation.

"If nothing else, it'll make an interesting journal entry," he said.  ("Especially if I take pictures?" I asked hopefully.)

So we turned on the water, and then we spent the next forty minutes watching a Planet of the Apes documentary on A&E, waiting for the tub to fill. When the water was finally ready, we flipped the switch to start the tub percolating, shed the rest of our clothes, and slid into the bubbling hot water. Once the shock of the water temperature/bubble velocity/*nudity factor* passed, I sat back and waited for the invariable wave of boredom to set in.

Forty minutes later ... I was still waiting.

"So ... how do you like it?" David asked me. We were laying side by side in the water, wrinkly hands and feet comfortably entwined. David was humming Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby," while I practiced holding my breath and ducking underwater. An interesting assortment of body parts bobbed on the water's surface.

It was sweet. And fun. In a vaguely disgusting way.

"I think," I said, "that it's a whole lot better than it sounded."

What can I tell you?  Sometimes ... the REALITY is better than the IMAGINING.

throw a rock