Monday, August 07, 2006

10. "You are not the boss of me"

Although I got to know Mario three years after Gregory’s death, the impact of losing a love who seemed so vigorous and vital has probably made me a little obsessive about Mario’s heart and health.

Aside from that single McDonald’s indulgence, Gregory ate such a healthy diet that one of his best friends remarked at the memorial service, “When we’d go out to eat, everyone else would order enchiladas and beer, and Gregory would get a salad and water.”

But because Gregory steadfastly refused to go for a physical, I’ll never know if medication – or some sort of intervention – would have lengthened his life. Like so many men, Gregory took better care of his car than himself. (That’s another story.)

So it is refreshing that Mario is almost girlish in his attentiveness to his body, making sure to get regular physicals and going to the doctor if anything seems amiss.

Mario cuts a leaner profile that many men half his age. Yet he is a little overweight. He is a committed runner. But work and knees sometimes conspire to prevent his doing this regularly. He eats better than 90 percent of Americans, with an affinity for salmon and spinach. But he has a weakness for cheese, in particular Upland Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which won Best of Show at the 2005 American Cheese Society conference.

In addition, Mario can get passionately, exquisitely angry. He hates stupid drivers (see “idiot-watching with Mario” in No. 5). He hates hot weather. He hates his pool, declaring yesterday, as he toiled beneath the unrelenting sun, “I’ll never own another pool again!” He rails against politicians he believes are wrecking the country and bemoans how greed has replaced relationship-building in business.

The thing is, Mario expresses this, rather than holding it in, as Gregory did. More accurately, Gregory learned to do what his father did: withhold, withhold, withhold, then explode in a violent rage. By the time Gregory met me, this had been largely tamped down, one of those things he shoehorned into his heart-as-vessel.
Despite Mario’s obvious attention to his own wellness, I still want to give him “advice” about his health. Sometimes he welcomes this, as when I helped devise a plan where he lost about 10 pounds. (Of course, he’s lost 10 pounds in Italy before, just by walking.) More often, when I mindlessly say something like, “No. You’ve had enough of that,” he comes back with some defensive retort, such as: “You are not the boss of me!”

But Mario is no 3-year-old. He means it. Yet he is happy for me to cook on weekends, a way I can covertly, creatively control some of what he eats. He’s got a well-equipped kitchen, too, remodeled about a year ago. So I cook at his house a lot.

Shortly before Gregory died, he had begun to provision his own kitchen. After living with and taking care of his mother for about four years, he had moved to my condominium complex. For reasons that I’ll explain in a future posting, it fell to me to pack his things and close the place up.

His dishes, flatware, knives and pots and pans were all new. Yet I was reluctant to give them to charity. Sometime during the dull throb that follows a death, I hit upon an idea: I would pack them away for my daughter, Helena, for when she left home. Even though she was only 12 at the time, I knew the day would come. Gregory would have approved, and Helena would appreciate that the things had been his.

In fact, in less than a month Helena is moving with her boyfriend to a new city to start her third year of college. The two have rented a house. Just enough space for them, their two cats and the rabbit. Already, Helena cooks. She is 20, beautiful, and full of herself – which Gregory would have loved.
She may not know it, but when she sets her table with his dishes and cooks for the boyfriend and others with his pots and pans, she will be setting the table for her own party of two, or four. Only, being so young and full of the potential of life, she will not have to make places for those who have left. At least, not yet.

Next time: Mario speaks.


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