June 1, 2006
The summer after my first year at Humboldt State College (before it was a "university") I moved into a big old house a block off the Arcata Plaza. It was a time of deep conversations late at night that sometimes led to 2 a.m. journeys out the back door and down the alley to Don's Donuts, where we'd find Don or one of his lackeys putting out fresh blueberry donuts, still warm from their hot bath in some unidentified fryer oil, glazed with a topcoat of cane sugar. Even then I knew they weren't good for me, but they were cheap and oh so tempting, and I was a bulletproof youth, so the knowledge didn't stop me from eating them.
I think it might have been my sister Kathy who gave me a copy of Let's Eat Right To Keep Fit by Adelle Davis, a forerunner of the holistic whole foods movement who suggested better ways to eat that might be the cure for various ills. I still have the tattered paperback somewhere, probably in the attic in a box that also holds a food-stained copy of The Moosewood Cookbook, another early '70s relic.
Davis gave advice on the use of various vitamin and mineral supplements that I never followed. My wife is not exactly a Davisite, but she forgoes breakfast most mornings, just drinking strong coffee and eating a handful of pills and lozenges: calcium (recommended by Davis), mega-doses of vitamin C, glucosamine for her knees and fish oil concentrate, which, according to the bottle, "contributes to heart and vascular health."
It's thinking about heart and vascular health that got me thinking about those donuts. Yes, I still stop by Don's in the wee, wee hours on occasion. I did so this weekend after a night of wild rock `n' roll. Before walking to my home across the freeway I succumbed to the craving. Don's was chock-full with an after-hours crowd and a line slowed by several orders for their now-famous (apparently labor-intensive) multi-cultural Southeast Asian bagel sandwiches (a topic worthy of further discussion some other time). A spirited argument broke out in line regarding "donuts on acid," with one guy suggesting they were "totally amazing," while another argued that they were "absolutely hideous," adding "I can't think of anything worse."
But I'm getting off-topic here. When my turn came I bought a couple of glazed old-fashioneds, a buttermilk and a few decadent holes. (The new Don's no longer makes the blueberry kind I liked.) I ate one hole, gave another to a hungry panhandler (I know I probably shouldn't encourage them), finished off one oldfashioned and took the rest home to be washed down with my morning super-mochachino deluxe semi-grande (strong coffee with hot chocolate mix and 2 percent milk) on Saturday morning before the glorious launch of the Kinetic Sculpture Race.
What got me thinking about my diet in general was a call yesterday from my sister. She actually called my mom first — from an ambulance. She was on her way to the hospital after suffering a heart attack. She's a nurse, so she recognized the symptoms, which, I should point out, are different for women. After a Memorial Day weekend "adventure" that involved a difficult jaunt in a rented canoe, and a walk up a steep hill, she was feeling nauseous, then felt an aching in her jaw, followed by pain, "like and elephant was stepping on my chest," as she put it.
What does this have to do with Don's? Well, when I called my sister at the hospital we got to talking about diet. Over the years she's gone from being omnivorous, as we were raised, to vegetarian, to vegan (but setting that aside for special occasions like Thanksgiving) and back to semi-omnivorous. In light of recent events she's thinking about limiting or eliminating her intake of white flour and white sugar, two things she seriously avoided in her vegan phase.
And since our dad had a quadruple bypass and eventually died from a stroke, we touched on the possibly hereditary propensity toward spare tires, which I've been fighting none too successfully as I age rather gracelessly. I have to admit: I do not watch what I eat at all. For the most part I eat what's handy, which in some cases means donuts.
I've also slipped into a job that usually does not require much exercise. I used to joke that I took a walk every day — across the street, to get the mail — but at our new place it comes through a slot in the front door about two steps from where I'm sitting right now, in a comfortable chair that I spend far too much time in. My sister made me promise to take a walk more often, and last night when I got off the phone after our talk, I did just that. It was a fine evening, the sun going down made for a lovely sky over Arcata. I walked down a hill and back up, looping through a couple of alleys to head home. I could have strolled down to Don's, but I didn't. And next time I stop in the place for a late-night snack, I think I'll get one of those Southeast Asian sandwiches, piled high with vegetables.
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