OCD, Mise en Place, and the 21st Chromosome

original_regali-di-natale-2014-tagliere-di-designBy my estimation, the knife sits in proper proportion to the cutting board: 90-degree angled, blade turned inwards, at least two inches separate from the mise-en-place.  The thumb-bowls are three in number.  Julienned radishes, slivered scallions, and minced garlic in symmetric row.

I rest an avocado near the cutting board and, by no accident, it completes some idea of balance.

I could take a picture of this.

I set a fork down.  The tines are pointed north.  Were they south, I just might feel uncomfortable.

Findlay sits in his high chair and grunts.  Nine months in and that’s his contribution to the world: seat-bouncing bearish grumbles.  I’m attempting to re-situate the mise-en-place, placing a pepper-grinder left of center, and exclaiming: ‘Be right with you, Finn.’  He’s meanwhile manhandling a crinkly toy, smunching cellophane with his hands and starting to fuss.

‘Be right with you, Finn.’   My voice is reaching a slightly higher register.

I move the pepper-mill two centimeters to the left.  Suddenly, I’m ok.  You could project the Golden Mean over my kitchen set-up, and there’d be perfect alignment.sandwich-artist-art-food-design-feel-desain  The radishes are amazingly julienned, uniformly 1/8 inch in cut, and I’m creating a perfect brunoise from a willing carrot.  With the leeks perpendicular as they are, this mise-en-place may well as be a Piet Mondrian done in food.

Finn cries.  He’s my square peg in a round hole.

I turn my attention towards Finn and the crying stops, neatly.  It’s uncanny: one minute it’s an exhaustive cry, then—upon inhalation—it’s a laugh.  His eyes widen blue when meeting mine.  It’s his gambit, his manner of saying, ‘ Daddy—your move.’  He actually pushes forward in his highchair as emphasis.

“Kid—I don’t understand you.” I smirk.

I’m met with a smile, stereotypic.  Children with Down syndrome share faces and that smile is a reminder Finn belongs to something else besides his particular heredity.

He’s actually been watching me for a spell and suddenly I feel exposed.  ‘Obsessive Compulsive Symmetry Disorder.’  I’m self-diagnosed, and that’s the worst diagnosis to have.

Still, I move and remove things from the kitchen to exact a space. I’m always in the practice of ‘even-ing’ things, dismissing whatever is odd and creating scalene balance out of Mason jars, prep bowls, and cutting boards. I arrange compulsively in direct defiance of entropy, else relative to it. Bailing against the tide.

‘Daddy, what’re you doing?’  those blue eyes implore.

Would I could explain this.  Stokpic_4It’s a foolhardy gesture to lift a chin against the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  The Second Law dictates how energy always decomposes into degraded form, order forever slipping into chaos.

In an old story, Sisyphus is cursed to push his boulder up a mountain.  Every time Sisyphus pushes his rock up the mountain, it’s always sure to roll down the other side.  Sisyphus is condemned to push it back up, senselessly, and with callused hands.

Sisyphus, mind you, deserved his fate by Olympian standards.  You can look it up in Greek mythology.  He earned his eternal task of fruitless labor by upsetting the order of things. He was too arrogant, too callow. Too trickster. Still, in lending Sisyphus some sympathy, there is nothing so frustrating as seeing a task undone. To experience the undoing of a doing, to watch entropy punitively take over and reduce your labor to a sum-nothing–well–the Second Law of Thermodynamics sucks. And so does potential, if it only means a boulder is going to wind up, stupid, at the bottom of a hill, its coefficient having expired.

In modern day terms:  don’t we all just hate dusting? When dust collects shortly after we’ve passed a rag over the countertop?

“I know, Finn,” I take care to turn the cumin seed bottle label-frontwards.  I check the cork-stopper. I twist it twice.

“I know, Findlay.”  Finn smiles. Findlay is the easiest kid on the planet.  He allows me my behavior, my Custer-worthy calvary charge against entropy.

Finn’s blue eyes are constellated with white dots. They’re decorated with Brushfield Spots, anomalies reserved for children that share his particular syndrome.  Stromal hyperplasia is the scientific term.brushfield

All means Finn’s eyes have aggregate cells, extra cells which pearl something fantastic along the iris perimeter.  I liken them to the quartz crystals that decorate expensive men’s watches.

I don’t own a wristwatch.  But I have Finn’s eyes that lend me the time.

We all have something, something that pretends pause to stop the futility.

This friend of mine: we’re shooting darts in a garage and he laconically smokes a cigarette.  ‘For a year,’ he says, ‘I never used a declarative phrase.’ He ashes, expertly.

“I could’ve said, ‘This house is yellow.’ But I wouldn’t say that.”

He pauses to hit a trip twenty.

“Instead I’d say, ‘This house is yellow, I THINK.’”

“There was a…moral residue tainting my world.  Like, I couldn’t say ‘I’ with any resolution—that would’ve been somehow…less than benevolent.  This whole deferral system: it was a moral undertaking for me. ”

I appreciate this.  My friend always shoots for the bottom half of the dartboard,darts and he hits a triple ‘7’.  I always aim for the top of the board.  He wins periodically, as do I. We’re a pretty even match.

“I was obsessed with numeric systems: 3’s, 4’s, and 7’s.  Things that hold quasi-religious significance.”

Which means the trip seven’s are probably no accident.   Three equals trinity, and seven is the numerical symbol of fullness by biblical standards.  In Revelations, seven angels bring seven plagues, and upon the seventh trumpet, the mystery of God is supposed to be revealed, or ‘finished’ if you read the Greek translation.   In Greek ‘teleos’ is ‘finished’, else ‘fulfilled’ or ‘closed’.

We have our superstitions.  There’s that phrase, ‘a means to an end.’  As best I can figure, this OCD thing is an attempt at being teleological.  My friend—he has his lack of subjectivity and the number seven.  Me—I have my compulsion to arrange outside what’s rational.

When all’s aligned, which is not often,  there is closure and an extra-sensorial idea of fulfillment.  Which is really right fucking stupid—all superstitions are—but, hey, means to an end.  I just confess to finding comfort in a carefully orchestrated mise-en-place. Mise-en-place-1 Why that comforts me, I don’t know.  Would I could snip the nerve that finds peace in symmetry: it’s just faulty programming.  Symmetry always dissolves into the asymmetrical.  I’m left always wanting, the scale never exactly even.

The thing about Finn’s eyes:  the Brushfield Spots are gorgeous.  It’s a cruelty that they’re deemed a genetic mistake.  He watches me with an intensity that’s old-soul worthy.  Those precipitate spots are incredible.

A doctor took at look at my eyes once, and he told me they were beautiful, too.  He, of course, was looking at them through some optometric binoculars and was remarking my lenses, cholesterol spotted and galaxy-like in their disease.  I’m 35.  I’ve since had both lenses siphoned out of my eyeballs and new ones put in place.  Talk about genetic mistake.

There is a certain order in Finn’s eyes.  I see it, at least.  When we look at each other, it’s important.

You see: a recovery room nurse whose name I won’t remember, hinted at Finn’s diagnosis on the day he was born.  She couldn’t tell me legally what her suspicion was, and she just penned Finn’s name to a newborn cap and blathered on about cyanosis and improper oxygen registers.  She beckoned over other nurses and wordlessly point to his eyes, his head, his immature genitalia.  She batted away my questions.

I won’t say she was a liar, but she was.

The day was asymmetrical and I felt like I was falling upwards.  In a hallway, I paused with my phone open to the Facebook app.  What am I announcing exactly?  I was standing by a picture window and the society garlic was flowering.

I put my phone away.  I only had one bar anyways, an odd number.

The first thing I noticed was that Finn’s eyes were blue.  On a Mendelian Punnett Square, this was an improbability, but certainly a possibility. He came with an extra chromosome, too.  Improbable, but certainly not impossible.  We just had no idea.

I am uncomfortable when things aren’t aligned.  Trisomy-21.  That’s a three and a twenty-one.Downs-syndrome-trisomy-21-karyotype Mind you, this obliterates my sense of symmetry but I have to make sense of it.  ‘21’ is a three times seven.  Those threes and sevens again.

I’ve a hard time living in my skin, but when the math works its superstitious manner, I guess I’m ok.

Finn’s eyes have spots.  I know this well.  I have OCD.  I know this, too, though I haven’t heard it from a doctor’s mouth.

OCD runs in the family.  It has manifested itself in different forms, sometimes criminal, sometimes self-destructive.  Various family members have landed in institutions, corrective and otherwise.  I’m lucky, I guess.  My house is simply tidy.  And I can leave it voluntarily. No one’s affixed an asylum door to the house just yet.

I busy myself in the kitchen, frittering away, wheeling wider circles, too, as room by room I set the house into idiosyncratic order. I arrange and I adjust, waiting for that moment entropy is momentarily at bay and I can relax—languor, even—in that microsecond the universe is sufficiently aligned and my brain can stop emitting its maddening impulses, that moment when Sisyphus’ boulder is poised at the top of the mountain and the only energy present is latent and potential.

I rest my knife west of the cutting board and I look into Finn’s eyes.


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