Every time I’ve visited home over the last eight years, my mom has asked if I’m ready to take my salad spinner back to California.
It’s a teal Martha Stewart edition, which she gifted me after college graduation -- a symbol, I suppose, of my having arrived at a stage of adulthood where I would own more kitchen appliances than a Magic Bullet. I loved the salad spinner. I didn’t use it once. Because instead of moving upward in life, I decided to move to Los Angeles.
My first apartment was a shared 600-square-foot cube with an oven too small to fit a cookie sheet. Needless to say, there was not the adequate cupboard space for a bulky plastic bowl whose only justification for existence was that it cleaned one vegetable really well. Mine was not a graduation into a higher standard of home life, but rather a much lower one, at 4x the rent.
The high rent was not due to the apartment, of course, but the perpetual sunshine outside it. I get that you’re sick of hearing about California’s weather but the truth is we should all be talking about it more. So ideal is this climate, so glorious are its conditions, millions of people are content to live their entire adulthood in what amounts to dorm life.
This limited square footage does come with unexpected perks, though. I learned the benefits of Marie Kondo-ing my life long before she was a household name. Keeping up with the Jones’s was surprisingly not a thing, because unless you belong to a different stratosphere of wealth, living in a big home is simply not an option in Southern California. No, our envies are much smaller -- think in-unit laundry, or a dishwasher. Maybe ceiling lights, if you’re really lucky.
Call me a cliche, but my eating habits couldn’t help become greener after living in a place where frozen pressed juice passes for dessert. It was not long before I was blending boxes of spinach for breakfast; shunning Iceberg (it doesn’t even have real nutrients!). I learned to not bat an eye when a salad cost $17, pre-protein. This was the price of health, and health cannot be far from your mind when it’s jogging season year round.
Any time I have purchased lettuce in the last eight years I’ve thought fleetingly about my salad spinner, collecting dust back at my parents’ 6-bedroom rambler in Utah. If only I could spin this! I’d think, before remembering not even the Magic Bullet fit in my excuse for a cupboard. I’d sigh in resignation, running some tap water over a bunch of Romaine and then lazily bundling it up in paper towels.
The lettuce always goes bad. It gets too soggy or it rusts because I didn’t bother to remove the twisty tie. In five days I inevitably throw it away, rationalizing, who wants to make homemade salad when you can buy one from Mendocino Farms?
This salad-spinner-less life continued from apartment to tiny apartment. Occasionally Scott and I would imagine what it would be like to live near our families in Texas or Utah. Think of all that space! we’d marvel, think of all the salad we could spin! But then we’d walk outside into the perfectly dewy, 72-degree air and all thoughts of leaving would cease.
Finally we made the migration south to Orange County, thinking if our place was still going to be tiny at least maybe its outsides didn’t have to smell like garbage? To our surprise, this migration landed us in an affordable two-bedroom mansion condo. There was a pantry! A garage! A garage I more than once tried to convince Scott we should Airbnb. We were barely using it, after all, and the thought of space going unused was simply unthinkable. California friends came over and gasped at the laundry nook. Our parents came to town and said, “Mmm, this is…nice!” But we were happy. We’d finally found the place we’d never have to leave!
Until, of course, we did.
And it’s strange but the only thing I can really pin it on is the salad spinner.
See, I became re-acquainted with the appliance when I used my mother-in-law’s over Christmas. We were making some lavish meal in which the salad played a minor role. I got her spinner out, trying to remember how to use it. As I pushed its little knob and watched the salad whirl, I remarked at what a delight it was to use. “It is!” she agreed, before adding, “I haven’t used that thing in ages.”
It amazed me, the luxury of owning a thing you didn’t use every day. I realized with excitement that I now had space for mine at home! I vowed that the next time I was in Utah, I would finally collect my own spinner and take it back to CA.
But then tragedy struck. On January 1st, our landlord texted to say they were selling the condo. We had 30 days.
Panicked, we moved most of our stuff into storage and the rest into a teeny one-bedroom sublet in Newport Beach that smelled strongly of dog. It was dingy and dark and the water temperature was only ever scalding or freezing. We stopped showering. Stopped sleeping, due to frequent weeknight parties thrown by fratty neighbors. It was the saddest place we’ve lived, in the most pristine location. Never had I leaned more on the outside of my apartment to make up for its inside, but suddenly it wasn’t enough.
People want to know why we left California; I don’t have a good reason. Of course there’s the fact of both our jobs taking us to Utah. There’s lower cost of living and family and mountains. But to me, California never lost its Katy Perry magic. The whole time I lived there I felt like I was getting away with something. Sure there’s traffic, but there are also podcasts. Yes it’s expensive, but can you put a price tag on Mendocino Farms?
There is no good reason to leave Southern California, but there does come a time in life where you want your salad spinner. We are in our thirties now, and it just feels like time to properly rinse the Romaine, you know?
We moved into a three-bedroom townhome on a mountain. The shower is so large. Our queen mattress fits in the closet. I keep wondering, are we wealthy now?, before remembering we are paying significantly less for this space than any of our California apartments. The place feels exorbitant, wasteful, absurd, but I know it is necessary. Because come winter, its spacious interior will be called upon to make up for the horrors outside it.
Maybe I’ll invite you over for a lavish Christmas dinner. Maybe as we cook I’ll be like, “Oh, this recipe calls for diced pimento olives? No problem, I’ll go grab a can from the basement!” I will roast a big old turkey in my regularly-sized oven and, on the side, serve a salad with freshly spun lettuce.