Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gnocchi on Heaven's Door

Last night I was on a second date with a woman I met a few weeks ago. (As you may know, I generally keep my dating life off this blog, so I'm not going to mention her name or what she does or anything, but the fact that this was a second date is important to the story, so just this once I'm caving on my principles.)

We wound up at Porter's, on 7th Avenue and 23rd. It's a nice, roomy space, rather dimly lit, with what was, I guess, an Asian-fusion menu. A perfect place for a little romantic conversation--which we proceeded to have. We ordered an absolutely marvelous red wine. (Negroamaro Salice Salentino--not that I'm an expert, but it was incredibly sweet and unsubtle, which is exactly what I like in a wine; I hate wines that are smarter than me) We'd taken just a few sips when the waiter came around, and I passed, while my date ordered the gnocchi. (Asian waitstaff, Zen decor, gnocchi on the menu; I'm guessing fusion.) More chatting. It's clear we like each other. Things are warming up, and the gnocchi arrives. She offers me some.

"What's gnocchi?" I asked.
She said, "It's just pasta with potatoes in it. Oh, but there's a cream sauce. If you're allergic to milk, that might be bad."

I'm not allergic to milk; I'm merely intolerant of it. As regular readers know, I have a host of foods that don't actually kill me, but that I don't handle very well: corn, soy, garlic, and apples top the list. Milk I can handle in small amounts, just like peanuts and chocolate. The only full-on allergy I'm aware of is almonds, which I haven't actually tested since I went into anaphylactic shock a few Christmases ago. (I've never had enough money or medical coverage to say, "Just to be sure I'm actually allergic to almonds, let me just eat one while sitting in the emergency room.")

I've been nervous around strange food ever since, but I've never actually had an incident that couldn't be chalked up to generalized anxiety. There have even been two occasions where I've actually bitten into almonds I didn't know where there, and spat them out, and suffered no consequences at all except more panic as I fumbled for my Epi-pen and waited for my heartrate to normalize. So I've been at the point of wondering if the original anaphylaxis was some kind of fluke. Maybe it wasn't almonds, but some kind of spider bite or some reaction to the desert in general. All I know is, it happened once, and for as long as I've eaten things since, there's never been another medical incident.

"I can handle a little cream," I said. So I ate the gnocchi. (Technically, I ate a single gnoccho; Merriam-Webster confirms.) And immediately I got a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth, and my lips began to tingle. "Uh-oh," I added.

"Are you okay?" she said.

"Probably," I replied. When I went into anaphylaxis, it felt like a current shot clean up my spine and shoulders, like an electric shudder. That wasn't happening here. But on the other hand...

"My lips are swelling, aren't they?" I said.

"Oh god," she replied.

"Yeah, you know what?" I said, standing with remarkable outward calm. "I'd better get my Epi-pen just in case." And I strode frantically to the coat check, legs all noodly, and retrieved my coat and bags, where I keep my Epi-pen and my Benadryl.

I have found that Benadryl is often handy to allay my worries about anything I've eaten. If I have, say, a Take 5 bar, and I feel a little funny--probably because of the peanut butter and chocolate--I can pop a Benadryl and feel like I'm not going to die. Very handy on long subway rides if you don't want to start clawing at the sides of the train in an attempt to burrow to the surface. So I did some quick calculation: if Nonexistent Panic Attack = 2 Benadryl, Actual Death-Threatening Allergy = 4 Benadryl. Pop pop pop pop. I didn't even use water.

My lips kept swelling and burning and I thought (was it my imagination? It often is) there was also a little bit of swelling in my throat. Ack! So, Epi-pen at the ready, I lurched outside and called over my shoulder, "I need to get to a hospital!" And my date said, "I'll be right there!"

I hailed a cab and waited in the cold, passenger door ajar, while my date collected her things--and, it turns out, settled the bill, which is more conscientious than I'd have been in this situation. And as I waited, I stared at the Epi-pen in my hand. You know you're poor when you actually have to gauge whether or not to use an Epi-pen. "On the one hand, I might be dying," I thought. "On the other hand, these things are like fifty bucks." It's like I actually live out that old Jack Benny routine: "Your money or your life!" "I'm thinking! I'm thinking!" In the end, I put it away.

The nearest hospital, it turns out, was St. Vincent's at 14th and 7th, which I knew about because my friend Ryan wound up there two Thanksgivings ago. So it was only $5 away by cab, including the tip. I covered it, fearing to ask how much my date had just paid for undrunk wine and uneaten food. (The wine, at $8 a glass, was an easy twenty with tip. I bet she'd just thrown down two twenties to be done with it. Oy.) We sped into the ER, and then everything got taken care of. Except, of course, for the bill, which I worry about a great deal, since I'm unemployed and hence uninsured. (Good news, however: unlike my last anaphylaxis, I'm not paying for an ambulance this time. So I saved a good $500 right there.)

The upshot: It wasn't anaphylaxis, but it was (obviously) a severe allergic reaction, albeit not a life-threatening one. (The culprit? Probably pine nuts. I guess "tree nuts" are now my thing to avoid on ingredient labels.) So I still have my virgin Epi-pen, and they pumped me full of a steroid drip and then let me go after two hours. Also, the doctor (whose last name was Marvel!) said, "You took four Benadryl? You're going to be zonked out in, like, twenty minutes. In the future, even if it's actual anaphylaxis, you shouldn't take more than two tablets."

Oddly, though, I didn't feel tired for the entire two hours (my guess: adrenaline). And my new friend actually sat with me the whole time, cracking wise and sharing banter even as she started to get visibly slumberous. Then to top it all off, she called a cab and we CABBED it back from St. Vincent's to Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. (Not a hellishly long way, I guess, but it's more than I would ever normally ask a cab to do, and probably another $20.) Then she called today to make sure I was all right. She sounded happy to hear from me, and we plan to try again at a more non-lethal restaurant.

Anyway, now I know that I really am allergic to tree nuts, and it wasn't all in my head. As for my date, it's hard to know how to repay someone for life-saving AND patience, but I think I'll start with a nice bottle of Negroamaro Salice Salentino...



Blogger Chad E Burns said...

3 things:
1> "I hate wines that are smarter than me" is a GREAT line!
2> "You know you're poor when you actually have to gauge whether or not to use an Epi-pen." LMAO funny!
3> "I think I'll start with a nice bottle of Negroamaro Salice Salentino..." Classy! Nice move!

2/28/2008 1:23 PM  
Blogger Jason Rohrblogger said...

Women LOVE a man with only a few moments to live. He's not afraid of a life-long commitment...

2/28/2008 1:47 PM  
Blogger that atheist guy said...

Great story! She sounds like the kind of girl who'd unlock the driver's side door for you.

2/28/2008 7:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You should have named this post "Gnoccho? Oh,No!"

2/28/2008 7:20 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

You should have named this post "Gnocchi On Heaven's Door"...oh, wait, you did :)

2/29/2008 11:34 AM  
Blogger hebegeebee said...

brilliant anecdote... but the italophilic pedant in me has to point out that the singular of "gnocchi" is "gnocco" -- without the H. when making the plural you gotta add the H to keep the C hard. (sounds vaguely obscene, doesn't it?)

3/05/2008 11:32 PM  

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