Outta My Yard


By Elizabeth Peavey
By Elizabeth Peavey

Seize her salad

As anyone who knows me or has read my columns can probably guess, it’s not easy being Elizabeth Peavey. First, there’s all that cheeky, snotty, outta-my-way, I’m-better-than-you attitude. (Being a jerk takes a lot of energy.) There’s also the cootie-phobic, germ-averting neurosis. (Avoiding contact with anything that was possibly touched or sneezed upon by another person also takes a lot of work.) And then there are all the rules: the elaborate recycling rituals, the no Starbucks (unless I’m in another city), the no Wal-Mart (no how), the no fast food, no reality TV, no Nikes, no gas-guzzling vehicles, no cell phone, no Blackberry, no cable TV, no high-speed Internet connection, no fax machine, no business cards, no Web site, no big sunglasses, no Uggs, no Crocs, no clogs, no nips (except of the liquid variety), no tucks, no tats, no hair coloring (I earned every one of these grays), no – well, you get the picture. 

Yet, while all these quirks are pesky and can make navigating through the day a challenge, they pale in comparison to the thing that really makes an uncomplicated life impossible for me: my freakishly hyperactive imagination.

I will say having an over-inflated fantasy life comes in handy in my work. It allows me to transmogrify the mundane and scintillate the so-so. Indeed, this power of imagination is the very breakfast food of creative geniuses. (“Free toy surprise inside every breakdown!”) But there’s a cost, and the piper usually likes to be paid in the deep, dark hours of the night – with unmarked bills. But see, I’m already getting carried away.

For example, I recently found out John served me a cuke from our garden with a non-human bite taken out of it. While he said he had liberally cut away around the bitten area and washed it thoroughly, I was unmoved. I immediately Googled “rabies” (which is what I was sure he had given me) and came up with enough information to keep me up way past Letterman.

I must add here that Googling has elevated my neurosis to heights I had only heretofore dreamed of. Instead of just fretting, I now have validation. Thanks to the wonders of the Web, I found that the rabies virus is transmitted – via regular bacterial germs from the mouth of an animal – not only through bite wounds or open cuts in your skin (this much I knew), but also (and this is the beauty of Google) through mucous membrane, which includes the eyes and mouth. Ergo: the infected rodent bites the same cucumber as I, and that’s as good as swapping squirrel spit. The virus then spreads into my brain and major organs and, despite the heroic efforts of my medical team, I die. 

These are the kinds of mental pictures that have me shaking John’s shoulder at 3 a.m., demanding to know just how much he had cut away and how much he had washed and wasn’t he feeling just a little frothy, too? 

The only way I was able to get over being convinced I had rabies (which, I also read, has an incubation time that can range from a few days to several years) was by supplanting that notion with my most current fear: E. coli poisoning.

This flight proved to not be as fanciful. I actually ate a salad product – Hannaford’s “Inspirations” spring mix – that may or may not have contained spinach. What happened is this:

We were on a sailing trip with our friends Roy and Kim the weekend of the outbreak. That Friday – the day the news came out – the four of us had stopped at Moody’s Diner for breakfast en route to the boat, and overheard one of the patrons warn the waitress not to make her spinach dip that weekend. There’d been an E. coli breakout in Wisconsin, she’d said, and spinach was the culprit. We all found this mildly amusing at the time, thinking about the bridge club or church social spoiled by the absence of Irene’s famous spinach dip. We made spinach jokes over the weekend while we were at sea, even as we ate the duck salad on mixed greens John and I had brought – “Do you think this is going to kill us? Ha, ha, ha.”

Even when we got home and caught up with all the killer-spinach hoopla, I still had my focus on rabies – that is, until I went to Hannaford to do groceries and saw there was not a box of “Inspirations” spring mix to be found. It had been yanked from the shelves. Suddenly, I felt really funny.

You see, I already felt a little funny because my delicate constitution easily gets thrown out of whack by environmental changes, such as not being in my own home. Things are never quite right for me when I am afield, especially when that afield is asea and involves sharing a head (nautical jargon for the toidy) in a fairly intimate space. Returning home usually rights the problem, although it may take a day or two to get fully back – as they say – in the swing.

So, I did not pay much heed to the fact I had experienced some innard turbulence – again, until the dread trip to Hannaford. I let this morsel of yanked-spring-mix information incubate overnight, watched my husband for signs of “violent evacuation” (and I ain’t talking about exiting the building), and e-mailed Kim in the morning, alerting her to be on the lookout for “signs,” as I termed it, of “distress.”

By that afternoon, after a good turn around the Google dance floor, I was convinced I was ready for blood transfusions and dialysis. Right before I left to teach my class, I called Hannaford to see if any outbreaks had been reported from their store. The person I spoke with mentioned something about going immediately to the emergency room if I was experiencing symptoms. He then conferred with his manager, and I was promptly shuffled to their spinach “hotline,” an 800-number, where my name and address was demanded before I was given no information (some hotline) and referred to the Centers for Disease Control’s Web site. 

The CDC Web site. Like I hadn’t already logged enough frequent flyer miles there prior to the call. Even though only three cases of E. coli had been reported in Maine, Hannaford’s handling of me felt like spin control, a cover-up. For the first time in my 13 years of teaching, I considered canceling class. But no, I would brave it. After all, there was no cure. What good would a trip to the E.R. do?

Well, it’s been nearly three weeks since that fateful salad, and since I never really evinced symptoms, I guess I may have once again dodged the bullet. But you never know. I did find a site that said one of the symptoms may be no symptoms at all. Between that and my incubating rabies, I’m sure to be a goner one way or the other. The vegetable world, it seems, is intent on doing me in.

McDonald’s anyone?

If you think being Elizabeth Peavey sounds awful, try being married to her.

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