Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Monster Vanquishing Day or is Lola secretly a spy?

Some people might think of today as Valentine’s Day, but seeing as I believe in celebrating my partner every day, I consider today a day to celebrate the monsters in my closet – one of which I set out to vanquish today.

So Happy Monster Vanquishing Day!

The monsters we create are everywhere – in the things we somehow convince ourselves we can’t do, in the phone calls we’re afraid to make, in the ways we stop ourselves from moving forward.

How many of those monsters are rooted in childhood, back when we were powerless to change our situation? How many of those monsters could be banished by simply facing them as adults?

When I decided to sublet the apartment I’m staying in, the lovely owner even took photographs of the laundry room for me. Then I saw where it was located… the basement is an industrial-looking utilitarian space with long, echoing hallways and identical-looking doors on all sides. There was no way I was going anywhere near the place. But I loved the apartment and there was a laundry drop-off just up the road.

I have a mild phobia of basements. It’s mild because I can actually go down there in a pinch without hyperventilating or passing out. In fact, most people probably wouldn’t be able to tell that my heart is pounding and that I am – for lack of a more elegant term – very very very afraid. I fear being stuck down there, that I won’t find my way out, that a monster will jump out from behind a corner with a machete.

Basements have all kinds of nooks and shady corners to them – they are where we hide our mess, where we put things we don’t often use, where the administrative bits of the house, meters and such, are usually located. The pipes are hidden down there, with spiders skating across their webs from room to room, and rats nesting, sovereigns of their subterranean kingdoms. The sounds are all clanky and creaky and eerie; in my opinion, every basement is haunted.

Having now spent a couple of weeks in this leech of a Big Apple, and seeing as how I am at least $20 poorer every time I leave the house -- How?! It’s one of those eternally unsolved mysteries -- making use of the laundry room has become a necessity rather than a question of appeal.

A few days ago, I woke up to the realization that I was out of clean knickers. I had procrastinated descending into the dark depths of the building for so long that I no longer had a choice… So down I trudged, commando.

Like that thank you note you know you have to write and yet it sits on the corner of your desk for a few days and then a week, month, before it’s simply way too late to send the damn thing – it’s become an insult rather than the grateful acknowledgement you intended it to be. Until you get the courage to hide the happy “Thank You!” under some books, or full-on throw it out (in the recycling bin, of course – it’s the least you can do!), it stares at you, wagging its finger in pregnant recrimination. You should have, you could have… And then one morning you’re clear out of underwear and socks and you have a meeting with a potential client or an old high school friend.


No, I don’t like basements.

But the real reason lies somewhere between imagination and perception.

Were there monsters? Of course not.

Was there anything to be afraid of? No, not really.

Not in my privileged middle-class life.

I’ll be the first to admit that there is no logic involved, though there is definitely rhyme as well as reason behind my childish fear: when I was little, and I mean tiny, we lived in a suburb of Chicago Illinois. I was probably around four years old. My father was not only in the closet at the time, he also spent most of his time at home locked away in the basement (and you wonder about my initial anxiety re: marriage…).

Down there, with the rats, he would indulge his love of DIY for days on end -- hammering, sawing and drilling away at God knows what. Every so often, he would call me down to his lair. I would hear his powerful voice wafting up through the floorboards in the dreaded summons. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with my father – on the contrary, I adored every single rare minute I got to spend with him – but descending those steps into the darkness of the basement was a waking nightmare in my little world.

Of course all these images might be the distorted memories of a child barely past toddler age, but as I remember it, the basement was a long, dark corridor that started at the top of the stairs and continued with garbage bags that made funny noises and shone as random rays of light hit them at odd angles, old suitcases filled with God knows what, and monsters on all sides. The walk from the entrance of the basement to the light at the end of the tunnel – literally – where my father was, seemed endless. Once I’d made it, a heart-thumping little bag of nerves, my father, standing by his workstation, screwdriver in hand, would have a go at me: “You do take your time! Next time, hurry up! I don’t have all day!”

The situation worsened when he took to hiding behind things and jumping out at me, grabbing me so hard that the few shallow breaths I had left would be forced out of my lungs like when a cat jumps on a balloon – “Boo!” He’d yell. Bam! I’d feel his hands clamp around my waist, encircling me so I had no way to escape. I remember wanting to scream but not being able to. It used to amuse my father no end, to hide in the darkness and see how many times in a row he could scare me. “Aw,” he’d chide when I’d start crying. Then he’d get mad; “she can’t take a joke,” he’d tell my mother, casting me off like a shirt he no longer had any use for.

The anticipation was the worst part. I walked towards the elevator in slo-mo, pressed the capital B button, with my elbow as my arms were full of almost every piece of clothing I own in this country. It took a few minutes to arrive but in my mind, I was already getting stuck down there, alone, lost, with no recourse and no one to save me from the monster/rapist who was waiting for his next innocent prey. I saw his eyes – crazy and piercing, animal-like, having long ago lost the capacity to see women like me as human.

When the elevator door opened, as I took those first few steps towards the laundry room, I felt my father hovering nearby, ready to jump out at me. I was transformed back into the terrified, shaking four-year old as I waited for a pipe to start making some kind of strange, scary noise, for something to loudly and suddenly clatter to the floor, for someone to grab me from behind. When nothing happened, I ventured further down the hallway with my heart on standby.

Between a lack of sufficient quarters which necessitated an extra trip, and the complicated transfer from washer to dryer, by the time I’d finished folding my last pair of clean socks and had stuffed them into the top drawer of the bedroom dresser, I had returned to my thirty-something self. The basement, a symbol of my four-year-old’s terror only hours before, had become … a basement.


There is little that compares to the joy I get from eating something prepared especially for me by someone I love. The few times D has cooked for me have – without exception – been some of my favourite meals ever. It is also a little known ancient remedy for combating monsters: nothing is stronger than feeling loved.

Whenever we go to my uncle and aunt’s house in Haifa, they make an incredible effort to prepare not only amazing mains that I can enjoy, but also sweet treats.

When my uncle made these brownies for the first time, I calmly ate one piece with everyone else and then later polished off the entire Tupperware he’d sent me home with in one sitting. Lola, my mother’s cat, sat next to me, watching, her blue-green eyes wide and accusing like a Weight Watchers' spy (hmmm....), as I calmly chewed each bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite.

And lest anyone think these incredible brownies are only for those who eat like me; my happily omnivorous cousin (he doesn’t like raisins, but that’s about it) special-requested them for his birthday. What can I say? People can’t believe these brownies aren’t “real” – whatever that means.

Thank you Eric!

For so many things.

Including these brownies.

And for helping me battle those damn monsters!

(and thank you for letting me post your recipe!)

Uncle Eric’s Brownies a la GG

1/2 cup pure cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups rice flakes*
1 cup agave
1 bag baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs

mix the dry ingredients well.
beat the eggs and oil well.
add the dry ingredients gradually until an even batter is achieved.

oil a medium-sized baking pan and spread the batter evenly

bake at 170 degrees for not more than 30 minutes (25 for a more fudgy result)

*I soak them for about half an hour in some water to soften them up