She drove us to BART at 9. Our linen pants were wet with dew (they had been left outside as we slept in our bikini), and we had forgotten our flip-flops in Sean's car. We took the train into the city, and as we waited outside the Civic Center station on that drizzly Sunday morning for Sean to appear in his SAAB and whisk us back to the Elysian realm of hot showers and clean sheets, a homeless man came up to us and asked, "Why aren't you wearing any shoes?"
It was time for some serious changes in Dog Bites' life. We needed to take the first step on a new road to sobriety. Friends had sworn by a fast called the "Master Cleanser": For 10 days one eats and drinks nothing but water, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and maple syrup. The idea is to put nothing of consequence into one's system for enough time that everything already in there can work its way out the other end. The only evidence of the fast we could find online was a 1976 paperback called The Master Cleanser by Stanley Burroughs (the avuncular name evoked images of a nebbish writing in a corner of his Manhattan apartment). Yeah, the fast sounded weird, but we were desperate.
On Monday we embarked for our temp job carrying a 26-ounce jug of maple syrup, a 15-ounce bottle of lemon juice, and a jar of McCormick's cayenne pepper. Rumor had it that one friend had made it only six days. But Dog Bites is made of hardier stuff. We would make it to 10. Indeed, we had fantasies of making it to 15. We had hope.
After work we go to our friend's house in Lafayette to help clean up. He makes burgers. We feel this is unkind. We watch About Schmidt, unable to concentrate during the funeral scene, wondering what kinds of casseroles people brought over.
At home, when Sean takes the dog out, we pull the leftover pizza from the fridge and smell it deeply. We hear Sean coming and slam the pie back in the fridge. We go to sleep fantasizing about chili cheese dogs, chili cheese fries, and cheeseburgers.
We are edgy and irritable. Why are we doing a fast we've barely researched? Our stomach starts to cramp.
When Sean picks us up from work, we dream of spending the weekend at the Mark Hopkins, watching HBO and ordering room service. We become obsessed with the idea of room service.
We buy "Smooth Move" tea at the health food store. At home we make a saltwater flush -- two tablespoons of sea salt in 32 ounces of warm water -- something we've read about on the Web. The salt makes us gag, but we choke down our "oral enema." We start watching Taxi Driver but our bowels begin to churn after half an hour. We rush to the bathroom and open the "Weddings/ Celebrations" section of the New York Times. A quart of water is expunged. We return to the living room. Sean wants nookie. For his sake, we decline.
We go online before bed and look at the Mark Hopkins Web site. The room service menu is nowhere to be found.
We run for the bus. This is extremely difficult in $200 Fluevog boots, not to mention aboard legs starved for energy by a caloric intake of zero.
Our co-workers are supportive and curious. Our supervisor shows particular interest in our bowel activity. We go to the Mark Hopkins Web site again. The room service menu is still not there.
That night, with Sean sequestered in the bedroom, we inhale deeply of all containers in the fridge. We sniff tubs of Gorgonzola cheese, pasta sauce, leftover hot-and-sour soup, and salsa with tiny mold islands floating in it. Then we unscrew the lids off all the condiment jars: olives, Heinz 57 sauce, Safeway honey smoke barbecue sauce, A.1. We linger over the A.1.
When we wake up, we feel rested and serene. Sean says we look emaciated.
Fasting is particularly difficult while working with the special events unit at JPMorgan. All day, our co-workers plan dinners for investment bankers. One of them, Amy, is planning her mother's 60th birthday dinner as well. She shouts over the partition, "Do you think I should do the vinaigrette with the fish sauce, or the Mediterranean? I have to do chicken, shrimp wrapped in bacon, melon with prosciutto, and carrot cake."
Our eyes bulge.
"When you make prosciutto and melon, do you make it thin or do you slice it in squares? Prosciutto already is thin, right? This recipe says, 'Drape prosciutto over slices of melon, or roll melon in prosciutto, stick in a toothpick, and serve.'"
Saliva drips onto our keyboard.
After work, we go to Rainbow Grocery. Other fasts we've researched say to use bentonite to remove mucoid plaque from the walls of our intestines. We want to see something interesting in the bowl, damn it! We also just kind of want to hang out in a grocery store. After we find a jug of bentonite, we visit each section of the store. We tell ourself that it is perfectly normal to be in a grocery store. All these other people are in here. We go to the bulk bins of pesto and red pepper spread, ecstatically lifting spoonfuls to our nose. We stop in front of the cheese fridge, eyes crossing. We force ourself to exit.
What no one tells you about fasting is that it's boring: no meals or snack times, no tea or coffee breaks, no going out to a bar!
Our mood has risen, however. Acute hunger has waned. We are able to focus. We feel calmer, notice our posture, have a better sense of humor. We think about this as we stand on Market Street, waiting to cross, when a bus zooms by with an ad for the new McDonald's grilled breakfast sandwich. We chase down the bus and put our teeth into the side of it. In our mind. Then we cross the street and go to work.
Sean gets pizza for dinner. When he's in the other room, we smell it. We lean so close we get pizza grease on our chin. Our hopes soar. We can lick it off! Instead we mop our chin with a towel. We are nothing if not dedicated to the cause.
After dreaming, inexplicably, that we are in the 1998 NBA finals with Michael Jordan, we stumble down the hall at 7:30 a.m. At the doorway to the bathroom, we realize we cannot see the toilet. Black fuzz obfuscates our vision. We feel weak. We prop ourselves against the door frame.
We wonder if it would be so terrible to drink a little orange juice. Once this thought has entered our brain, this is what Dog Bites thinks: orange juice, orange juice, orange juice, orange juice. We return to bed and stare at the ceiling fan. We throw on clothes. We have a headache and are shaking. We stumble outside to the corner store. We buy a carton of Tropicana Original and set out for home. The 45-degree hill on which we live is a concrete Everest. We are on the verge of collapsing. We make it to the apartment, pour a glass of juice, and take a huge gulp.
That night, we realize we are not hungry beyond belief. We are bored beyond belief. Nothing is coming out of our butt. We are ready for the Master Cleanse to be over.
We decide to move to the vegetable broth phase of the fast, and rush to the health food store and load up on kale, chard, beets, spinach, cabbage, carrots, and celery. Back in our kitchen, we go into a frenzy of chopping. We cook everything for a half-hour, then ladle out a bowl.
The Web says not to eat too many of the vegetables, but we are not friends with the Web anymore. We swallow a spoonful of carrots, instantly experiencing a skin-crawling sensation: soft lumps of food going down not just our throat, but through whatever comes after that, and whatever comes after that. We can feel the food making its way to our stomach.
We want cheese on our soup. We get the Parmesan from the fridge and read the ingredients. One is "powdered cellulose to prevent caking." Another is "potassium sorbate as a preservative." We think about the goals of the Cleanse. We put the cheese back. But the knowledge that cheese is in the vicinity makes our soup taste bland. We go back to the fridge and dump Parmesan on our soup. It tastes amazing!
Later, we meet Sean at a bar. The bartender makes us one of his specialties, the strawberry-and-vodka Nina Fresca. It is delicious. We have three. Our stomach is cramping, but we feast on french fries.
Four hours later, the bartender pours us a tequila shot for the road. At home, we pull Sean's leftover pizza from the fridge and crank up the oven. We grab a box of Wheat Thins (partially hydrogenated soybean oil! high fructose corn syrup!), pile them with cheddar slices, and slather them with mustard. When the pizza is ready, we drench it with Tabasco and Parmesan. It tastes fabulous!
We feel proud of the decisions we've made this week, especially the last one: If Dog Bites is going to go down, we're going to go down in flames.