Entry 1

My Great-Aunt Doris Klein

Dear Dairy,                                                                 

I’m going to write to you every day this week, even though I’m supposed to be against dairy products. Years ago, when I was a hysterical vegan, I learned all about how bad cheese is for you. But now I eat it. I reconcile my conscience, though, by eating organic cheese.

I still manage to not drink milk, but I do put it in coffee. I never use organic milk; I figure the heat of the coffee burns off all the chemicals and the antibiotics.

Anyway, what did I do yesterday?

Well, I woke up around 10 and felt depressed, lost, and anxious. Not good for a Sunday. I got some coffee at the corner bodega and poured in my milk and antibiotics. Then I came back here and fiddled with this digital camera that I’m to use for these dairy entries.

Being completely afraid of all things technical, my depression grew worse, but then my mood rallied: I was able to follow directions and the thing seemed to work. It was fun to play with, and I felt a spark of joy and had a glimpse of understanding why my fellow Americans are so gadget-happy. Then I had to rein in my happiness by thinking that gadgets are one more way for us to distract ourselves and to be spiritually vacuous, but I poured some hot coffee over that thought and it dissolved my negative attitude rather nicely. Hot coffee is really quite good for melting all sorts of things.

This camera business, along with some bath business and a piece of toast business, took about two hours, and then I headed for the subway. Every other Sunday, just about, I go visit my Great Aunt Doris in Queens. She’s 91 and lives alone. We’ve been very close my whole life. I’m 39.

Yesterday followed the standard routine: I picked up a New York Post and another coffee, and scandalized myself with the paper during the rather long subway ride—24 stops, about 50 minutes.

At the station in Queens there is a florist who operates out of a narrow little space but has beautiful flowers, and I always try to choose an interesting arrangement. Over the years, the florist—a sweet, gentle bear of a man—has come to know me and often gives me a free flower or two. Yesterday, I picked camellias, yellow daisies, two white-orange roses, and a sunflower, and the florist gave me a pink carnation.

Then I went to Ben’s Best Deli to pick up lunch. One of the men behind the counter—I think he’s Russian—has also come to know me and always says, in his accent: “How are you today, young man?” A few years ago, he asked me: “Excuse me for asking. But I see you for a long time with flowers. You go to your girlfriend?” When I told him whom I visited, he smiled broadly, and after that he always greets me so sweetly and usually gives me a piece of hot corned beef right from his hand. Because it’s from him, I don’t worry about germs. He and the florist are both very kind to me. Yesterday, the deli man wasn’t behind the counter and I missed him.

I went to my great aunt’s building, and she opened her apartment door and gave me a joyous smile—we are like kabuki actors, we do the same thing every time. After the smile, she admonished me and said, indicating the flowers, “You spent money!” She always says it with great sincerity, but then lovingly puts the flowers in a vase on the windowsill and then cares for them in the days that follow, trying to make them last as long as she can. She hardly ever leaves the apartment and sees almost no one.

After I hugged her to my chest and kissed the top of her head—she’s very tiny, like a child—we ate the lunch I brought, a corned-beef sandwich for her and cold fried chicken for me. After lunch, I lay on her couch and read her People magazine, a guilty pleasure, and she read the Post. Then I convinced her to go for a walk. We passed an old man, and she said, “A man who lives alone can go to a bar at midnight if he’s lonesome and talk to the bartender. But if I did that they’d think I was a pick-up.” She often tells me this, explaining why she has few options for her loneliness. Then we came back and played cards—gin rummy.

After about four hours I had to leave and said, “I love you,” and she said, “I love you more than that.” When I was on the street I looked up at her window and could see the flowers.