Alphabet City

spicesMy husband and I are cooking dinner last night. We have been making a lot of things with ground coriander lately, but he can never find it. When he can’t find things he often asks me what I have done with them.

You might have tidied it, he’ll say, as if to tidy something is the same thing as say slipping it into a shoebox and shoving it onto a high shelf in a closet.

All of the people I live with can be found staring angrily into closets until I am summoned to extract lost items from the thin air that are right under their noses.

It is always my problem when things go missing.

The other night, I drove home, unlocked the door, did a few a things in the house and when I got back into my car, I could not find my keys. I used my spare key. Returning home, I went so far as to look in the kitchen trash, as this was the only way that the keys could exit the house. No one in the family was interested in this situation. They were blameless innocents, leaving me to blister in my own personal hell.

My method for finding things is to recreate the scene. This is no secret. I share this strategy with them but they deflect it. Not interested, lady.

You have to go back to the place where you last knew you had it. This is why some people never change their hairstyles. Sometimes the thing in question has even announced its impending departure to you in the form of a thought, like, it would be so easy for me to fall into a grate, or down the drain, a premonition which will haunt you, much like your last glimpse of your four- or five-year-old in a department store or a crowded playground the moment before she has slipped away to hide or chase a pigeon.

You replay the scene of loss in your mind trying to solve it or come to terms with it.

He has no time for this. None of them do. They don’t know what they were doing when, whatever. That’s in the past. Instead they stress to me the importance of having it back. They need it.

I am driving to work with my spare key when I realize exactly where my keys are. I almost call my husband to confirm this premonition but I figure the keys are safer where they are. When I get home, I pluck them off the shelf of what we call the snack pantry. I had grabbed a snack on my way to the car that night. The significance of the location was that anyone who went into the pantry the next morning, having been asked, not to actively look but to keep an eye out for my keys, had not seen them. They had gotten their cereal bars for packed lunch and perhaps even stared mournfully into the pantry during that period of famine between school and dinner, but the keys were invisible.

Here is my husband in the other pantry, where our spices are arranged on three shelves,  asking me for the second time in the week if we have coriander, because obviously we don’t, I have misled him about this. You said we had coriander. There is no coriander in here.

It should be on the top shelf, I say without having to look, in the middle. And it is.

This, I tell him, is why people alphabetize their spices.

We should do that, he says.

We do do that, I say. That’s why the coriander was on the top shelf, in the Cs.

Oh, he says.

We have always done that, I tell him, in all of the 11 places we have lived since college, for the past 25 years, I have always alphabetized the spices. I have even told you about it. There has been an order to the books, too, that has passed him by. All of the times when I have said, With the fiction, or Under U for utilities, could just have well been the unintelligible squawk of a trombone. He refuses to acknowledge the existence of the file folders I keep for all that paper crap you need as an adult. Just find it. I don’t care how you do it.

He laughs. He will remember next time how to find the coriander, maybe. The places we inhabit together can be different spaces entirely, the way I imagine the rooms in my head, or how, falling asleep, he will cycle his old route to work. An old argument about stamps or the location of the checkbook was resolved during a frustrating phone call.

“There is no middle drawer,” he had told me as if I had delusions about my own desk. I have placed the stamps, craftily, into some fourth dimension of my twisted imagination. No stamps for you, my friend.

Then: “Oh, there is a middle drawer.” “I never knew that.”

He hates to look for things in the same way that I hate to lose things. He may not be a finder, but he’s still a keeper.


13 Replies to “Alphabet City”

  1. Ernest always blames me for missing items which I have privately ascribed to his mother’s peasanty background but that breaks down now in Jim’s response…maybe it is just a male trait! Ernest also leaves cabinet doors open routinely..something I recall from my past with Jim. I have decided not to complain..just to close the door! was a bit taken aback by comment by Mario Batali, I think,that the first thing one should do was throw out all the spices as they shouldn’t be over a year old.


    1. Little A wrote to say that the men in her household have what they call Male Refrigerator Blindness, and then another friend sent me a link to a website that sells refrigerator magnets about MRB, so clearly this is a widespread phenomena. Leaving cupboards and drawers open is “a whole nuther” post.


  2. hysterical! great writing… i can feel your heat (and it ain’t coming from the coriander or the curry!). At the farmer’s market – which, incidentally, has every spice under the sun and CHEAP! – they display/store spices in alphabetical order (natch). Except, in the crazy logic of an alternate BIzarro universe, peppercorns are under P if they are white or pink, but under B if black. Who moved my pepper!?!?


    1. Hey, I went to your blog to see what you have been up to and read today’s post. Man, I know what you’re going through and it sucks and I’m sorry to hear it. Read a lot. Educate yourself and talk to people to find out whatever you can. x


  3. re finding stuff. yeah. i have a friend who is was a primary school teacher (male) for 30+ years. he calls what jim did in the spice cupboard ‘having a boy look’. they are almost never successful.


  4. thank you for reposting: i feel that this piece has been found — and i didn’t even know it had been lost! lost like so many things that we forget once they are out of sight. i loved it the first time (a year ago!!) and i still love it now. it IS a way of seeing the world.


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