Orange You Glad You Live in California (#209)

When I was a little girl, I always got an orange in my Christmas stocking. I would have preferred chocolate, but oranges were traditional. My parents got oranges in their Christmas stockings, and so did their parents, because back in the day, oranges were an amazing, exotic treat in northern locales.

Also, perhaps, because citrus crops are harvested in the winter.

Today, oranges are less special, thanks to big growers and modern transit. In fact, most of America’s seven million tons of oranges are now processed and turned into juice. When I shipped some belongings to college, a crate of oranges leaked all over my stuff — some of which wasn’t washable. One of my Florida classmates loved to come into my dorm room and sniff. “It reminds me of the orange processing plant back home,” she told me.

There are probably citrus trees in half the backyards in Southern California. Orange County, in fact, used to be filled with orange groves – hence the name. People from the Northeast find this unfathomable. I have relatives and friends who will insist on sending me Florida citrus every Christmas. Which is sweet, but my backyard looks like this:

When Baby Brother and his Excellent New Girlfriend came from NYC for a winter visit, they stopped in Palm Springs first for a romantic weekend alone. On their first early morning run, Excellent New Girlfriend spotted a grapefruit tree. She’d never seen a giant Oro Blanco grapefruit just hanging over someone’s back fence, ripe for the taking.

So she took it. Then she sprinted back to the hotel with the purloined grapefruit wrapped in her shirt, exhilarated by her treasure, yet terrified someone would call the police.

Baby Brother immediately dubbed her the Grapefruit Thief. He told me the story less than five minutes after they’d arrived at our house.

“The best part,” Baby Brother gleefully related, “was that when we got back to the hotel, there were complimentary grapefruits offered with breakfast! And by the pool! And at lunch!”

“But they weren’t as good,” the Grapefruit Thief argued, “My grapefruit was biggest and best and I’m lucky no one chased after me to get it back.”

Andy laughed so hard he was incoherent, mystifying the native New Yorker.

I explained. “There are so many citrus trees around, no one would care. If they saw you take one, the owners might run after you – but only to give you a bag and tell you to pick all you wanted!”

“No!” the Grapefruit Thief shook her head vehemently, “No way! No one would give away grapefruit.”

“No, really, they totally would. Grapefruit and oranges and lemons? They’re like…zucchini back east. They all ripen at once, the fruit is enormous, and people can’t get rid of them fast enough. Then you have to worry about rats.”

I don’t think the Grapefruit Thief believed me. Unless you experience Southern California’s citrus abundance, it’s hard to imagine. Take my nephew.

First Nephew grew up in snowy New Hampshire. The closest he ever got to an orange grove was his daily orange juice, fresh from a carton — until he came to visit us as a tween.

He loved being able to run around the neighborhood and shoot Nerf guns in shorts in December.

He didn’t love the fact that we did not have his beloved orange juice carton in the refrigerator. He sighed the first day. He whined the second day. The third day, he complained loudly.

For the third time, I reminded First Nephew there was an orange tree outside and he could pick his own oranges if he wanted them so badly.

“I don’t want oranges, I want orange juice.”

Irritated, I said, “Listen, mister—”

Andy stood and interrupted. “First Nephew, get up.”

“What?” asked First Nephew. But he got up from the table. “Why?”

Andy only said, “First Nephew, follow me,” and led him into the yard.

“What are we doing?” asked First Nephew.

Andy handed First Nephew a telescoping fiberglass pole with a basket on one end and took him to the orange tree. He said, “Reach up with that, and pick some oranges.”

After First Nephew had a bucketful, Andy led him to the hose. He handed him a vegetable scrubber. “First Nephew, wash those oranges.”

“Why? I said I didn’t want an orange.”

Andy didn’t answer. First Nephew washed the oranges. When he finished, Andy handed him a towel and said, “Now dry the oranges and take them inside.”

First Nephew said, “But I told you, I don’t WANT an orange. I want orange juice!”

Andy merely repeated, “Dry the oranges and take them inside.”

First Nephew grumbled, but brought them inside. Andy handed him a knife and a cutting board and said, “Now cut them in half.”

“But I don’t want—”

“First Nephew, cut them in half.”

Sulkily, First Nephew cut the oranges in half. I had the juicer ready when he finished slicing.

Andy said, “Now, First Nephew, put the orange on top of that juicer and press down.”

Our juicer in action.

First Nephew pressed. The juicer rotated, scooping out the inside of the orange and pressing against the peel. Juice flowed into the pitcher below. After several oranges were juiced, Andy poured the juice into a glass.

He handed the glass to First Nephew and said, “Drink this.”

First Nephew took a sip of his fresh orange juice and complained, “It’s pulpy!”

Since Andy looked like he might explode, I took over, placing a strainer over another glass. I said, “First Nephew, pour your juice into this glass.”

First Nephew did. I handed the strained glass of juice back to him. He drank it down and declared, “That’s the best orange juice ever!”

Then he said,

“But it still doesn’t make up for the days when I didn’t have orange juice.”

Like a Pill (#208)

I had headaches most of my childhood. Maybe it was my poor eyesight. Maybe it was bad nutrition. Maybe it was the stress of divorces, remarrying parents, and more siblings. I tried all the drugs in various parents’ medicine cabinets, to no avail. I learned to power through head-pounding misery.

I worked as a cashier in high school. An assistant manager noticed one night that I was more sullen than usual. She asked if I was okay. I explained that I had a headache.

She said, “I have something that will fix that right up.”

“It won’t work,” I told her. “I’ve tried aspirin, Tylenol, Excedrin. Nothing helps.”

“Give it a shot,” she said, handing me a maroonish, brownish pill with “Advil” written on it.

Twenty minutes later, my headache was gone. I turned cartwheels and called it a miracle.

I’ve worshipped at the altar of Advil ever since. Or at least until the generic version of ibuprofen came out, because that is way cheaper. If I feel a headache coming on and I can get to ibuprofen fast enough, I can prevent migraines, even the ones with nausea and stabbing pain in my eye.

I carry a bottle in my purse, my gym bag, and my backpack. I’ve taken it for the flu and torn muscles. Ibuprofen was the only pain reliever that made menstrual cramps bearable until I went on birth control pills in my twenties.

But you know what? When you’re trying to get pregnant, ibuprofen is forbidden. Early in pregnancy, it can cause a miscarriage. Later, a fetal heart defect.

When my gynecologist broke the news, I let out an involuntary moan. Okay, maybe it was more like a loud shriek. A nurse poked her head into the room to ask if everything was okay.

“NO!” I howled. “The mean doctor says I can’t take ibuprofen while trying to get pregnant or being pregnant! And it’s the only thing that works!”

The nurse clucked sympathetically and left.

“You can take Tylenol,” the doctor said.

“Oh, yay,” I told her. “I’ll take it with some fairy dust and foo cha tea and I’m sure any headache will disappear immediately.”

“Some of my clients swear by acupuncture,” she offered.

“That’ll go great with my vasovagal response to needles,” I shot back. “We’ll get to spend a lot of quality time together in the Emergency Room after I pass out.”

“Essential oils—”

“Essentially useless!”

“Then you’re down to icepacks and moist heat on your forehead. Good luck and take your prenatal vitamins.”

*****

My luck lasted three weeks.

I missed my ibuprofen the day after a grueling volleyball tournament, but the hot tub at the Y and some stretching got me through.

When a loose pit bull mix went after my dogs on a walk, I got knocked down and dragged before my ferocious Fey sent him on his way (with scabs). I pined for my ibuprofen that afternoon as I covered my bruises with ice packs.

Then came the evening when my forehead started to throb. My stomach grew queasy. The pain spread over my head, down to my neck. I lay in a dark room for a while before crawling to the bathroom.

“Want me to get anything?” Andy called out. “Some ice?”

After I finished retching, I weakly called back, “A gun. So you can shoot me.”

Bastard only brought me a pillow and a blanket, though.

I fell asleep some time before dawn, and woke up pain-free.

I repeatedly congratulated myself on surviving a migraine without ibuprofen throughout the day.

The next day I got my period.

And I cursed. I could have taken ibuprofen and spared myself all that misery because there was no fetus in danger of being miscarried, damn it.

I called Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and bitched. “I can’t believe it. I was so sure I’d get pregnant right away!”

“You might be lucky you didn’t. There’s no official stats on it, but when I was working my OB rotation, this one super experienced obstetrician talked about how she’d just seen too many weird pregnancies with multiple embryos and complications when her patients got pregnant on their first cycle after going off the pill. She always advised at least one regular menstrual cycle before attempting to get pregnant.”

“Huh. I didn’t know that.”

“It’s just anecdotal,” Dr. Sis said. “It’s not like there’s any research to back it up.” Dr. Sis is a mega-fan of peer-reviewed studies and has killed no small number of mice in her own research. “But I found it moderately interesting. And hey, how are you enjoying your first period off the pill?”

“Oh, it’s fabulous.”

“Really?”

“Of course not, Dr. Sadist! It’s come back with interest or a vengeance. I felt like there was a knife in my gut and now I’m bleeding like there’s a knife in my gut.”

“You don’t sound that bad.”

“Of course not,” I told her.

“Because I already took four ibuprofen.”