The following hasn't a thing to do with food or other topics normally discussed in this space. Apologies to those seeking a recipe. (I was in a mood, okay!) Please check back next week.
Many nights before going to bed, often after a spoonful or two of Italian-manufactured Nutella, I take a good long slug of cold milk. Sometimes in a glass even.
I like the taste of milk and drink it a lot. Always have. My father drank it. It's supposed to be good for you. Calcium-rich milk, I was repeatedly told as a boy, helps to build strong bones. My mother taught me that.
And so you can imagine my surprise when, on the occasion of my 40th birthday, I received the highly disturbing if not life-changing news that my bones were not quite what I had thought. In fact, and because of their weakness, I had become less of a man than I was at 39.
I was shrinking. Already by a whole inch. A little more actually.
This discovery took place at around 7 p.m. While putting on a clean shirt for dinner, in a spare room that serves as my pigsty/dressing area, I noticed that all of the blue jeans strewn about the furniture and floor, four or five pair I'd estimate, were rolled slightly in the leg to create a cuff. I haven't deliberately worn cuffed blue jeans since Jimmy Carter was in the White House, and even then I wasn't crazy about the look.
After several desperate attempts to measure my verticality, employing not one but four different instruments, the verdict was in: 5' 11". It was all I could do to rally myself and head out to the birthday dinner which had been planned by others weeks earlier and which this measuring exercise had already made me late to attend.
Two days later I went to see my doctor. I had moved to Maine about a year earlier and so he and I had only seen each other once or twice before.
"So, what's up?" the internist asked looking at a manilla folder which I assume contained my brief medical history under his care. "You look pretty good to me."
In the car driving over I had rehearsed various methods to explain my insistence on an immediate appointment — and refusal to describe the nature of my concern over the phone.
"I'm shrinking," I blurted out, a little shocked at how effortlessly I tossed out my prepared script.
This doctor, whose name is Bill, and who I took a liking to the first day we met, has what I would call a very respectable poker face. And he used it here well.
"You're shrinking," Bill said looking straight into my eyes. "Really, that's why you came in?"
"I'm down more than an inch. I've been a little over six feet since high school but now I'm only five eleven. So, yeah, that's why I'm here. I want to know what the hell is happening to me."
Bill glanced at the manilla folder, likely in order to buy time before choosing his words.
"How's everything else going with you?" he asked, raising his glance out from the folder and back toward me. "Anything else I should know about? Things okay at home, at work, all that?"
"You mean am I a mental patient? No, I'm not a mental patient. I'm a 40-year-old guy who's got a room full of jeans that don't fit anymore because his legs aren't as long as they were when he bought them, that's what I am.
"Nice try though."
Bill smiled, tossed the folder on his desk and, reluctantly I thought, commenced to measuring me.
"Five eleven," he said. "On the nose."
For the next several minutes we sparred over my height loss. Bill kept saying that he had no "baseline" to conclude there had been any loss, as there was no record of my height in his folder. I kept countering that I was his baseline because I know damn well how tall I am supposed to be; at one point I even handed him my driver's license.
"It says six feet there, doesn't it?" I barked. "There's your proof."
In the end it was a standoff. Bill told me that he wouldn't worry if it were him; I said that I wanted some kind of a test to figure out what was wrong.
"Nobody else I know who's my age is shrinking," I said. "This just plain isn't right."
A few days later I was at a medical facility getting a bone density test, the kind of test they give to old people to check for osteoporosis, and a couple days after that, in the evening actually, I got a phone call from Bill.
"Everything's normal so don't worry," he told me, sounding tired. "People do shrink as they get older, you know. Okay, so not always as young as you are, but what are you gonna do? You're tall enough. And healthy. So chill."
I was standing in my kitchen at the time, cooking dinner, sipping a glass of wine and looking at those dumb ass cuffs on my faded Lees.
"Easy for you to say, but now I've gotta go out and buy all new pants," I said. "And just so's you know, if I ever drop below five eleven we're gonna have a real problem with each other."
"I'll keep that in mind," Bill said laughing. "Have a good night, okay, Stumpy."
And just like the inch-plus of my vertical self he was gone.
That was several years ago now. I still measure out at 5' 11" but my driver's license, which has been renewed at least twice, still says 6' 0". I continue to drink a lot of milk, even though it hasn't done me much good. Bill is still my doctor, too, but we haven't talked about the whole shrinking thing in a really long time.
Loss just isn't an easy topic to discuss, I guess. Not even when you're only talking inches.