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Knock on wood 

It's part of a complete breakfast

Maybe it's me, but I do not see the appeal of Daniel's banana-colored Lily Pulitzer man pants with the smiling sea creatures all over them. But he insists they're a rare vintage find (flawless condition!), and that they'll fetch a fortune on eBay. If you ask me, the only guy who would buy these things is looking to get his ass kicked at a biker convention.

"Bitch," Daniel says. "You should buy them. I'd wear them myself, but the waist is a 34, and I'm a 32."

"Oh, fuck you," I bellowed, because there's nothing more humiliating to a woman than a dude offering her his too-big man pants, even if the dude is Daniel and the man pants have a 12" bell at the bottom of each leg.

"Seriously," he laughed.

"Seriously," I huffed. "Fuck you."

Jesus God, is it too much to ask for a friend to ignore the obvious and pretend I'm still the hot-ass babe I was when we first met 10 years ago? How hard is that? It's not like he has to sleep with me himself. I admit I'm touchy, especially lately, when the results of the "eating cycle" I entered last January have finally translated into a closet of clothes that don't fit me anymore. About the only thing I can still fit into are my ex-boyfriend's boxers, but at least there's that. Knock on wood.

"What's happening to me?" I wailed to Grant over breakfast at Thumbs Up the next day.

"Don't talk with your mouth full," he answered sagely.

"Then I'd be mute," I said.

I never used to eat breakfast, but then I heard breakfast is important if you want to kick-start your metabolism for the day. My own mother used to leave me and my sisters a bowl of Halloween candy for breakfast before she left for work each morning. That's the ideal way to start the day, if you ask me, so it's a wonder I acquired an aversion to the meal later in life. But no matter now. I even order breakfast for lunch these days or for just, like, a snack. I find it absolutely fascinating that some places in this city let you have eggs-over-medium at four in the afternoon.

Maybe it's a phase. Maybe it'll pass. The eating thing. Grant is already offering to supervise me on his famous three-day lemon juice-and-olive oil diet. He went on it last year and lost 10 pounds, but afterward had to abandon his mattress in a dumpster.

"Really," he insisted, "it's great. The stomach cramps eventually subside."

"Really," I told him. "I'd rather just swallow a rope and pull it through."

In any case, I figure I'm doing better than my own mother did at my age, knock on wood. I remember her as having a diet that consisted solely of Slim Jims and cigarettes, and the effect was as you'd imagine. She died young and so skinny she could have sat in a carseat during all the trips we took to the Tijuana clinic in our futile attempts to cure her cancer.

One memory that stands out during that time is of the Haiti-trained doctor, who kept asking me and my sister to knock on his arms. "Knock right here," he'd say, indicating his forearm, and we did as he asked. Oddly, his arms were hard as wood and seemed just as hollow. He claimed it was due to some illness that slowly hardens you, evidently until, unchecked, you become stiff as a board and just as dead. Luckily, though, he'd caught it at the arms and cured himself. He'd lived in order to open this here clinic to cure other people of their sicknesses.

Every day he would administer cancer treatments to his patients, treatments that were unapproved in the U.S. But since the last words spoken to my mother by her American doctor were, literally, "Take this medicine that doesn't work once a day until you die," she figured she didn't have a lot to lose going to Tijuana.

All the patients at the clinic had that in common; having been left for dead by the American medical industry, they journeyed to a place that offered hope, even if it was just in the form of a wire-haired old idiot walking from bed to bed brandishing his forearms as evidence of a cure. "Knock on wood," he'd laugh, and everybody did, even my mother, who couldn't lift a hairbrush.

Sometimes I'm overcome by the memory, and the sorrow sinks me; it weights me down like a Mafia hit victim. Christ, I wish my mother had taken better care of herself. Or I wish I could forgive myself for failing her, or forgive her for failing me, or forgive that doctor for giving us hope when there was none. I wish I could harden myself -- stiff as a board -- against the memories, but it's been awhile and I know I never will. So they knock against me, and in response I might handle it fine or I might find comfort in other ways.

"Pass the butter," I say to Grant, who hesitates. "Pass it over," I hiss. Jesus God, it's not like I'm morbidly obese or something. It's not like there's no hope. I can pull myself out of this. Knock on wood.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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