The Bachelor Zone

… episode #1

Imagine, if you will, a man, torn from his beloved family and Airstream and sent to a strange land where nothing is as it used to be.  Food no longer magically appears on the table, ready to eat.  Uninterrupted naps are possible at any time of day.  Things left out, stay out.  Working by day in one’s underwear, and venturing by night to the local art cinema, become the norm.  You’ve entered … the Bachelor Zone.

I have never been separated from Eleanor and Emma for the length of time that now lies ahead of me.  Three weeks of complete bachelor-hood is the program for June, as I live in the Tucson house while they spend the summer in New England.  I will survive only by my own skills (and those of Eleanor’s via telephone link, more on that later).  I will pace the house wondering why it’s so quiet.  I will buy my own groceries.  I may get to a level of loneliness experienced only by prison inmates on remote desert islands in French novels, and end up giving names to the cockroaches.  But I will persevere, because this is all part of the grand adventure of Temporary Bachelor Man.

On Wednesday Eleanor and I drove down to Manchester NH for a night in a hotel, so that I could catch the 6:20 a.m. flight to Tucson this morning.  It was cool and damp in Manchester, the way June has been consistently in the northeast this year.  Two easy hops, and by 10 a.m. local time I was stepping out in the morning sunshine of Tucson, with the temperature at 86 degrees and rising rapidly toward 103.  Even without the three hour time change, the change was disconcerting.  I had left Manchester wearing warm socks and a fleece, feeling like mold was going to grow on my skin from the relentless humidity, amidst the gray industrial/commercial wilderness that is so common in the northeast.  Back at home base, I had the strange sensation of having never left, because out here in the desert the seasons are subtle and things always seem to look approximately the same.  It was just like the day we pulled the Airstream out, back in May, except hotter.

The house has survived well without us.  A thin layer of dust covers everything outside, of course, since it hasn’t rained in a long time.  Inside, a few plants died and there was the unfortunate discovery of three dirty plates in the dishwasher, but otherwise the house just seemed empty.  (The food on the plates has baked on in the sealed environment of the dishwasher, and the smell is … unpleasant.  Fortunately,Temporary Bachelor Man — TBM — knows how to turn on a dishwasher.)

Despite being seriously jet-lagged, I attacked my first task — groceries — almost immediately.  Right off the bat I needed Eleanor’s guidance.  She left the freezer packed full of pre-cooked dinners for me, but I had no idea of what the house might be missing for my other meals.  As it turned out, the house had been mostly stripped of the really useful food items, e.g., those which can be prepared easily and quickly.  All the good stuff was in the Airstream, 2000 miles away.  We consulted on the phone for a few minutes (the first of many telephonic consultations), and with a short shopping list in hand, I headed off to the grocery store.

But let’s not get our priorities mixed up.  A car left outdoors in Tucson quickly becomes unconscionably dusty.  It wouldn’t do for TBM to be seen in a filthy car, so I hit the local car wash first.  Once the car was appropriately shiny again, I felt it was safe to attempt the grocery store.

There are mostly two types of people in a Tucson grocery store on a 100 degree afternoon on a weekday:  Moms, and old folks.  And me.  I felt a bit out of place, but then it wasn’t a comfortable geek-land like Best Buy.  This was a place full of mysterious packaged items, none of which plugged into anything.  I was definitely out of my element.

Although I had been in that particular store many times, it was still a battle to find the Bachelor Essentials, such as prepared guacamole and salsa. I never paid attention to where things were, before.  Eleanor was not answering her phone at that time for some reason, so your hero was left to his own devices, but I maintained my composure and came out with everything I went in for … plus a few things that seemed critical to bachelorhood once I saw them on the shelves.

Ask Eleanor the definition of an “ingredient,” and she might mention examples like paprika, eggs, and butter.  My view is that the ultimate bachelor ingredient is the “Spice Packet,” as mentioned on the side of a box.  (“Empty contents of Spice Packet into bowl with 2 cups water and contents of box…”)  Ah, the miraculous Spice Packet.  It’s right up there with the amazing Sauce Packet used to complete the premium-type macaroni and cheese.  Who knows what’s in it?  It doesn’t matter, it’s darned convenient.  When the Spice Packet is around, a pair of scissors are the only cooking implements needed.

My first cooking attempt went well, involving two microwaving experiences and one Spice Packet.  Sure, it was easy, but it’s best to ease into new routines.  I also made a salad, although “made” is sort of hyperbole when the process involves a pre-mixed tray of salad greens into which I sliced a couple of mushrooms.

Once these domesticities were completed, I realized two fatal mistakes:  (1) No entertainment; (2) No ice cream.  See, the house lacks a TV.  When we are here in the winter, we watch movies on the laptops (streaming them over the Internet via Netflix or on DVD).  We don’t have cable or satellite.  If we want a larger screen, I unhook the Airstream’s TV and haul it in to the living room.  But the DVDs and TV were still in the Airstream back in Vermont, and I had forgotten to remove the vacation hold on the house’s Internet.  Mindless video entertainment is a staple of bachelorhood, but for one night I was happy to make an exception and continue re-reading “The Count of Monte Cristo” on the Kindle.

The ice cream problem was more solvable. There are three large grocery stores within 3 miles of the house.  So I’m now set for the next hot quiet evening with Klondike bars and fruit pops, streaming Internet videos and, once the mail arrives, DVDs from Netflix.  Already the house feels more bachelor-like.  By the time Eleanor gets back here, I might have fully converted it …