Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Please Excuse the Mess

If someone knows of a service where it is possible to rent a flat exactly like yours, preferably in the same building as yours, with all your stuff, and clean, please do let me know.

Last night, on our second date plus 10 months, The Fig wanted to come back to mine. This will not exactly come as a shock to anyone who has ever seen my office -- I had to tell him the flat was a disaster.

“I don’t care,” he said.

“You don’t understand -- it’s not girl messy,” I said. “We’re not talking one pillow out of place and nail polish on the coffee table and a few dishes in the sink. It’s seriously messy.”

“I’ll give you a 10-minute head start,” he said.

“I’d need about 10 hours,” I said, thinking that even 10 hours wouldn’t be enough.

“How bad could it be?” The Fig asked. “Is there grime?”

I thought of a date I had years ago, in DC, where I couldn’t invite someone home because the place was a mess. I can still hear my friend A. laughingly yelling at me: “Next time you go out on a date, clean your place up first, OK?” Occasionally I think about her words when I’m heading out on a date, but I’m superstitious.

I tried to impress upon The Fig that this was not a rejection – that this was no ordinary mess, but how to explain that my flat is junk shop meets sample sale meets frat house… meets, I don’t know, condemned without actually using those words?*

*For the record: It’s not that I like living this way – it’s just that I’m busy, and I come home and look at it all and just sigh.

* * *

Also last night, on our American-style date, The Fig and I discussed very British dates – four plus rounds of alcohol, no food, bill split evenly down the middle.

“It’s called going Dutch,” he said, making a face at me.

“I don’t know why,” I said. “It ought to be called going British.”

* * *

Yesterday a woman in my office told me I was looking really well.

“I’ve lost three stone,” I said.

She looked shocked. “You never looked like you had three stone to lose.”

I have plenty of photographic proof that says otherwise, but nice to hear, anyway.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Why I Hate My Job, Part 732

Spending all day trying to crash a Yeltsin obit for an audience that will not understand the phrase "tank-top defiance" without an explanation that he was not, in fact, baring arms. And spending all day trying to crash the Yeltsin obit after having received idiotic queries from fact-checkers at midnight the night before about another story that was supposed to have closed the previous Friday, but I am in fact still closing as we speak.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

The Secret Is Out

My sister shares a name with a princess – in middle school, I enjoyed calling her a royal pain – and she’s hardly the queen of subtlety. She was particularly bad today, as we were discussing our upcoming trip to LA, asking things like, “So when’s the last time you wore that dress?” and “Have I seen that dress?” and “Which jeans are you wearing?”

“What are you trying to ask?” I finally said.

She sputtered a little, then said: “I was just telling Dad yesterday that I think you’ve got a surprise for us.”

Why don’t I tell my family when I’m trying to lose weight? I’m this way about talking dieting with almost anyone – it’s like ”Don’t look! Work in progress! Not finished yet! Not discussing it means not being asked about it, which means no one but me has to know if I fail. Besides, I’m always reluctant to discuss weight with my sister, mostly because she can be competitive about these things, but also because she has a way of making me feel like a freak. I remember trying to explain my binge eating to her, and she just stared at me and said: “I just don’t know how you could buy all that food in public – I’d be too embarrassed to do that.”

I tried to explain that I was embarrassed, but that at the heart of the binge was an urge for food that overrides everything else. “I just could never do that,” she said.

In the spirit of doing things a bit differently this time around, I have been slightly more open about my weight loss efforts. I told a couple of friends, and I even told my sister I was trying to stop binge eating. (Knowing her penchant for questions that make me feel uncomfortable, I requested she not ask me about it unless I brought it up first – a condition she didn’t like.)

I asked my sister what clued her in that I’d lost weight.

“Well, the last time I asked you what dress you were wearing you said you might wear your bridesmaid dress from my wedding,” she said. (I did think about it – the wedding we’re attending is black tie, and I’ve been rather cash-strapped lately.)

Then my sister, who with time and distance surprises me more and more often with how wise she can be, added:

“And you keep saying how excited you are to see us. Not that I don’t think you are, but you know how when a big event comes around and you’ve known about it for months and you’ve meant to do something about your weight and you just haven’t, you just don’t want to see anyone?”

Um, yes. In fact, that feeling and I are disgustingly well acquainted.

I wasn’t happy that my secret is out of the bag, but her words were a nice reminder of one of the fringe benefits of all this work: Looking forward to things that deserve looking forward to, instead of dreading them because I want to hide -- and because finding any clothes, let alone the ones I know are appropriate, is such an ordeal.

Friday, 20 April 2007

If I Knew Then...

Last night I saw the Fig for the first time in 10 months and some 40 pounds (I have no idea what I weighed in July).

I walked in to the pub to find him playing one of those video trivia games. He looked at me and said, “Something’s different about you – you look taller,” to which I struggled not to roll my eyes, sigh, and possibly cry. I’ve lost 40 pounds and all I look is taller?

I shook my head.

“Well, you look well,” he said.

After a bottle of sauvignon blanc he said he could tell I’d lost weight, but didn’t know what to say. (He still insisted that the weight loss did, in fact, make me look taller.) He also said something that surprised me: That he had fancied me (yes, he’s English) last summer.

It surprised me – and made me sad -- because I’ve spent no small amount of time since last summer thinking that if I had just been thinner, things with him would have worked out differently. We went out several times and had a blast (and some lost email), but nothing ever happened. Then he disappeared. It just had to be the fat, I was sure of it.

I was wrong.

I’m too superstitious to write much more, just as I’m too superstitious to store his number in my mobile again. (He told me he’d never deleted mine – see “bottle of sauvignon blanc” above, and we both laughed when I pointed out that he hadn’t used it, either.)

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

It's a Date

Tonight I went on a date with a guy who picked his teeth. Not with a toothpick, even, but with his fingers. Endlessly. And we hadn't eaten anything.

For me, nights like tonight historically have been binge triggers. I think the urge to eat comes from some primal need to fill the emptiness – the emptiness that is three hours of trying to connect with someone with whom I am not meant (I hope) to connect.

Lest I sound judgmental, it isn’t because of the teeth-picking (and, OK, his stereotypically English teeth). It’s because of so many seemingly insignificant things: the weird way he smiled at me; the awkward long silences (even though he’s a journalist, and journalists are supposed to know how to chat to anybody) he made no attempt to fill.

I first met this guy about two years ago, when I was at one of my smallest adult sizes, Seven For All Mankind and all. I spent the two weeks’ notice I had of this evening worrying that he would be horrified about how much heavier I was, never thinking to consider – until the moment I walked through the door of the Charlotte Street Hotel – that perhaps I might not find him at all attractive. Physically or otherwise.

In the course of our typically British date – four drinks, no food; bill split evenly -- he made a reference to dumping an ex because she didn’t walk fast enough. I couldn't bear another 10 minutes in his company, so -- wearing my adorable Beatrix Ong peep toes -- I made a joke about not walking fast enough and he (graciously?) allowed me to totter off to the Tube alone. Along the way, I passed a Tesco and a McDonalds, among other things, but I ignored them.
Progress. I think.

* * *

As of Tuesday, I've lost 40 pounds. Why, when I look in the mirror, do I feel fatter than ever?

* * *

Yesterday, while I was in Paris doing an interview, I got a call from one of the magazine's fact-checkers in New York.

"We need you to file how to say [a particular word] in Belgian," said Miss Fact-checker, whose job, I might remind you, is to keep errors from creeping into print.

I resisted the urge to tell her that was like asking how to say something in, say, Canadian, and instead said: "Well, do you want it in French or Flemish?"

"I need it in Belgian," she said patiently, as though talking to a small child.

"Right," I said, not at all patiently. "They speak French and Flemish in Belgium."

"Oh," she said. "Let me check on that."

Sunday, 15 April 2007


Spent the weekend travelling the Wine Road in Alsace with a friend from Frankfurt who had a baby a year and a half ago and needed a break.

It was difficult for me to listen to her complain about how hard it was to take off the baby weight when she’s currently a size eight. Over the two and a half days we spent together, she consumed: a Croque Monsieur, mozzarella “beignets” with sauce (really just fancy fried mozzarella sticks) followed by an entrĂ©e that included sausage and ham, an ice cream cone a day, croissants, a raspberry macaroon, a French ice cream and meringue-based dessert (on top of the day’s ice cream ration), lots of bread, and of course, plenty of Alsatian wine.

Besides that and her constant need to stop in baby clothing and toy stores, we had a good time -- one day even renting bikes (at my suggestion!) and cycling between wineries. And she spoke a lot about the baby, but only because I was quizzing her about it. She’s a friend from Washington DC who wasn’t allowed a work permit when her husband got a job in Germany, so she’s learned German (hers is more fluent than her husband’s) and had a baby. Only in recent years have I begun to think I might have a baby if ever I got married (for years I swore I’d never have one), and listening to her made me reconsider yet again. The hours and hours and hours spent entertaining and cooking for and looking after a little being who does not, in her words, give much back sounds both frightening and horrible. She said on her last visit to the work permits office, she wanted to beg them for the stamp, telling them she didn’t want to take a job away from a German – just that she absolutely had to get out of the house for a little while.

Her story reminds me of a brilliant writer friend of mine who recently had a baby. There was no problem this girl couldn’t solve; nothing she couldn’t make happen. A. was convinced that looking after a tiny baby couldn’t be as hard as people said it was – that mothers must just like to whine.

Shortly after her son was born I started getting humbling emails from her at strange hours of the night. “It is every bit as hard as people say it is,” she wrote. “In fact, it is harder. I can’t wait to go back to work.”

When I told my friend about what A. had written, she paused and said: “Well, she can’t be doing too badly if she has time to email.”

Tuesday, 10 April 2007


I called my sister today as she was just finishing lunch: Trader Joe’s lentil soup, rice, and yogurt, with a serving size package of almonds for later and oatmeal packets in her desk drawer in case of extreme hunger.

I know this because we talked about it for at least 15 minutes, and had I not had a deadline to meet about, I would have quizzed her about it for longer. “You eat this every day?” I asked, sounding, no doubt, as surprised as I was. The twin sister I remember did not eat a meal that sounds like something out of a Self magazine “Make Your Body Over” diet plan. The twin sister I know loved California Tortilla and Starbucks gingerbread lattes and frosting and not nuts or yogurt and definitely was not organized enough to bring lunch. Or if she was, she’d forget it.

We spend time on the phone and email catching up about Major Events, about which lunch does not qualify. So I was surprised at the window into her life that her lunch offered – and how suddenly, deeply sad it made me that I didn’t know these things; how little I know about her day-to-day life, especially compared to how much I used to know.

The last time my mother came home from the hospital – when my sister and I thought it was yet another in a long string of scares – my sister went grocery shopping. In an attempt to get my mother to eat, she bought (and made) comfort foods special to our family, or at least, to my sister, my mother and me: turkey meatloaf (a recipe of my mother’s, made with French onion soup mix and yogurt), Stouffer’s spinach souffle. The foods sent a message, had my mother been able to receive it.

My sister doesn’t eat meat of any kind any more, and she’s a die-hard Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods shopper – the kind who’d turn up her nose at the chemicals that are probably in a Stouffer’s. (In the days when we ate Stouffer’s, no one looked at the ingredients). The Great Starts frozen breakfasts we used to love have sausage – see “vegetarian,” above – and, if I remember correctly, more calories than is recommended for breakfast and lunch combined. When we last lived in the same city nearly five years ago, she was on an Annie’s whole wheat mac and cheese kick, but I have a feeling that’s long over. It makes me unbearably sad that if ever I wanted or needed to do for my sister what she did for my mother, at this point I’d have to ask her husband. I’d have no idea what to make her.

* * *

O. and I went to see Treats and then got dinner last week. I quizzed him about the Fig’s behavior, asking him whether he would agree to a drink with someone he sorta dated and then just weasel out on coming up with a date as opposed to just saying no in the first place. Or as opposed to just not answering the drink question at all.

“Well, seeing as I’m currently sleeping with three of my ex-girlfriends, I can’t really answer that,” he said.

My mouth dropped open.

“I’m sure I told you that,” he said.

“No-um-noooo you didn’t,” I said.

O. did not look sheepish. “Well, Emma was really drunk,” he said. O., however, does not drink any more. And yet still slept with Emma, aka the girlfriend before the one who is currently eight months pregnant with his child, aka the girlfriend who was such a drill sergeant (and so bad, seriously painfully bad in bed) that he and his friends used to refer to sleeping with her as Camp Breadbasket, after the British-run camp in Basra where prisoners were tortured.

He proceeded to tell me about a “revolting” birthmark she has – one of the few details he apparently managed to leave out in the conversations we had when the two of them were dating.

I was revolted, but fascinated at the same time. There are loads of things women think men don’t notice or don’t care about (haven’t a newsstand’s worth of women’s magazines told us every single month that men don’t really notice any of the little flaws you think you have) that at least some men notice. I know perfectly well that if someone is really that into me he’s probably not going to be complaining about any of the things O. and his friends complain about, but it is horrifying to hear just the same.

“If you keep talking like this, I’m never going to be able to date anyone again,” I said. “Please, can we change the subject?”

I added, laughing: “You can even complain about Sarah and the baby again.”

O. squinted at me, raised his eyebrows – and thankfully, mercifully, changed the subject.

* * *

A friend and I spent the long Easter weekend in England’s Peak District, about three hours north of London and a world away. There were sheep (and lambs!) and horses and – at one point – cows blocking an underpass we needed to walk through to get back to our hotel. The sun was shining, the grass was brilliant green, and daffodils bloomed everywhere. We took long country walks. I loved it.

The English call it walking and not hiking, and there is a difference. In the U.S. we treat hiking like something to be accomplished – we hike mountains, charging our way to the top (checking our watches to see if we’re making decent time) and fortifying yourself with trail mix and Power Bars like the workout we often see it as. Almost anything else is just a stroll. In England walking includes country lanes and hills, but almost all the published walks include stops at scenic (and not so scenic) country pubs – and some even have stops for lunch and cream tea.

I much prefer theirs (and not just because of the food!) It was more relaxed, and – even though I’ve seen beautiful scenery in the U.S. – more about the journey than the destination.

And yeah, I had a molten chocolate pudding with chocolate mousse for dessert Saturday night – this on top of a leaving lunch with champagne for two colleagues on Thursday, plus random other "I'm on a trip" food over the weekend – and still lost two pounds this week.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Calling Miss Manners, Part II

Last night I was invited to attend an executive women’s dinner at Soho House in London. I don’t know what it is about people thinking it is polite to say (as they do, particularly when you can tell they think they’re very smart), “I never read [insert name of my publication.]” Usually in a very flat tone and with a very particular smile that suggests they are being indulgent to a small child just by speaking with me.

I realize I’m sensitive because I take this as a comment on my own intelligence, instead of just some socially inept, insecure women. Upon meeting other people with vaguely unusual career choices – or choices I don’t understand – I don’t say, “Damn, I hate going to the dentist,” or “I’d never create an online personality.” (At least, I wouldn’t say that the first time we met!)

When faced with the “I never read” comment, I usually just laugh and change the subject, but I’m becoming increasingly irritated. Suggested responses appreciated. I’ll be hunting down some Crackerjacks (as rare in London as Peeps at Easter, which is to say nonexistent) for a prize for the 50th respondent.

Monday, 2 April 2007

The Return of the Fig

Alternate title: Just how stupid am I?

I bumped into The Fig online, and we exchanged a handful of emails. Partly because I am not a very bright girl, and partly, frankly, because I'm wearing my James jeans and the (funhouse?) mirror at the gym seemed to suggest this morning that I might actually have lost some weight -- I suggested we get a drink. He said sure. I suggested a couple of dates. He has not responded.

I don’t know whether I’m more annoyed with him or with myself for even bothering. This is exactly what he did in September.

I happen to know The Fig thinks he’s charming. I’m so tempted to write to him and say that if he wants to carry on thinking of himself that way, next time he shouldn’t answer the drinks question at all.

But even I am not that stupid.