Sunday, December 20, 2009

And then they're gone

I think a lot about death. I think it may be because I don’t believe in an afterlife. Lacking that belief does seem to make the whole DEAD thing seem a lot more immediate.

When my beloved Frank died, I missed the funeral. I missed it because I didn’t take the paper at the time, and no one called me to tell me he had died. On a whim, I went online and pulled up the free obits for a glance, and there was Frank. It was the day of his funeral, and it was already over. Yes, I cried a whole big bunch over that one.

A few months later, someone came to my door. My mother answered, and, not recognizing the 6 foot tall, cowboy hat-wearing, exceedingly intoxicated man on the porch, lied about where I lived. She was scared. He seemed scary to her. I can understand why. She told me when I got home that some scary drunken person had asked for me, stammered something about Frank, and then wandered off. I knew immediately.

I took a deep breath, girded myself, and went next door, my brave and wonderful husband in tow. See, I knew it was Shawn. Shawn, Frank’s grandson and my one-time best childhood friend. And I knew he would be impossibly inebriated. Why? Because Shawn had been impossibly inebriated for most of his days since his early teens. Shawn’s childhood didn’t give him much of a chance at being anything but that.

Shawn and I hadn’t really spoken to each other in over twenty years. But he knew me instantly, and I knew him. He grabbed onto me like a man drowning and hugged me, sobbing. He was so wasted, had that scary, thrumming mixture of booze and meth going on. He just wanted to touch, to talk, to rail against the unfairness of Frank’s death. He paced, punched the air, staggered, sometimes doubled over with the pain of his loss and his terrible addictions. He bawled openly while telling me that he had been too inebriated to make Frank’s funeral, and how terrible he felt about that. Even sadder? I found out later that he HAD made it to Frank’s funeral, but had been so intoxicated that he didn’t remember being there. Isn’t that awful?

A neighbor came over after an hour or so, lied and said that Shawn’s Aunt (Frank’s daughter) had demanded we leave immediately or she was going to call the police. Yeah, I know you lied. I asked Frank’s daughter later on down the road, told her what you'd said and done in her name. You heartless creep. I started to argue with this neighbor, asked him for Frank’s daughter’s number so I could call her, explain things, but Shawn cut me off. He mumbled that it was all perfectly okay, and started to get into his car. I argued that he was too messed up to drive, while yon neighbor pushed for him to do it, arguing that it wasn’t very far (30 blocks), and it would be fine. I offered to drive Shawn, but he refused. He took out his keys, placed them in my hand, hugged me again, then ran off into the night. Heartless neighbor was joined by the father of the registered sex offender who lives across the street (with his sex offender son); they both began pushing me HARD to get the car out of Frank’s driveway before Shawn came back. Had it not been Shawn, had Shawn not been Frank’s grandson, I’d have told them to do their own damned dirty work.

Yes, both these men think they’re good guys. But that wasn't compassion going on, it wasn't goodness--it was a big, fat case of NIMBY . . . like the father of a sex offender has any right to whine about what goes on in ANYONE else's back yard.

I drove Shawn’s car (used to be Frank’s) back to the house where Shawn and I had played so many years before. The car still smelled of Frank--of hay, leather, mud, and clean, happy dog.  The house had been his mother’s when she had been married to the mean bastard Shawn called a step-dad through most of his childhood. His mother had married “up” and left the place to Shawn while she kept herself in much nicer digs. I parked the car in the driveway, locked the doors (it’s not a great neighborhood), and hung the keys on the inside handle of the screen door. My husband had followed in our car, and he drove me home.

I never saw Shawn again. He came by my house a couple more times (once at 10 pm, once at midnight, both times completely intoxicated), but I was on vacation when he came, and, to be brutally honest, I was glad. I have a husband, our son was seven years old then, and I just didn’t have a place in my world for a wildly unstable drug addicted alcoholic who shows up at all hours of the day and night needing to be rescued. I couldn’t be someone to answer his cries for help, I couldn’t be the person who would drop everything, family and home included, to be his savior. And the guilt has gnawed at me all this time. Because I wanted to be the person who could “save” Shawn. I wanted to be that hero, that wonderful, selfless saint. But I wasn’t, and I’m not. I am selfish, I put my husband, my child, and myself before the Shawns.

Shawn died just ten days shy of Christmas this year. The obituary said he died of head injuries sustained in a fall. That he died in the loving arms of his mother and sister. The obituary didn't say what all of us who loved Shawn knew. It didn't have to.

Could I have saved Shawn? I don’t think so. I mean, we all want to think we’re somehow magical, that we can reach people who’ve been far beyond the reach of others. But realistically? No, I don’t think I could have made a difference. Many others tried, including a number of professionals. No one could save Shawn, and Shawn couldn’t save himself. He was unarmed and ill-prepared for this life. And so he ended.

I don’t believe in an afterlife. But if I did, I’d put Shawn, clear eyed and peaceful, riding horses along a stream up over Monte with his Grandpa Frank. Maybe riding SiSi and Zen. Cindy trotting alongside, fetching sticks and chasing squirrels. Saddle bags loaded with Vienna sausages, Snack-Pack puddings, and a few cans of Fanta Red Cream Soda. A blanket, a beaver dam, and a forever full of laughter and love.

I’m so sorry, Shawn. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. I’m sorry you couldn’t help yourself. If there is something else, something beyond this, I hope you’re finally happy.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Because we've all got to have a talent . . .

I slaughter song lyrics. Other people do constructive things, artistic things, perhaps even create their own beautiful music. Me? I do the Weird Al thing and mangle the works of others for my own entertainment. It’s not because I don’t like their songs. It’s not because I think I’m somehow improving upon their work or lack respect for them as artists. It’s not because I’m trying to pass off anyone’s work as my own.

Nope, I do it because it’s ingrained in me. Much like compulsive spoonerizing, I MUST mangle song lyrics. It quite literally hurts when I don’t. If I cannot change them, then I must make them utterly nonsensical. “Twenty-one Guns” becomes “Benny-bum Dungs.” “Spaceman” becomes “Facespam.” I can’t help it. Really. No doubt there’s a name for that out in the psychobabbl-y world. There’s a name for everything, isn’t there?

No, I don't think the name is "schizophrenia." Yes, I heard that.

I remember driving down the road (or passengering, actually), Scritch behind the wheel of her sorry little poop-brown Toyota Celica. It was a Celica, right? The year was 1986, and our boyfriends were stashed in the back seat . . . that’s telling, I know. I guess I just really didn’t want to be stuck in the back seat of a 1978 (?) Celica with some slacker git when I could be up front with my best friend, who was far better company. A song came on the radio, and she and I began to belt it out at the tops of our smoky lungs.

You remember the song—sing along! It went something like this:

And though I treated you like a child
I’m going to miss you for the rest of my life
All I need is a miracle
All I HAVE is YOU!

No, we actually didn’t notice the silence from the back seat. It was too quiet a silence to capture our collective attention, I guess.

Next song up? Another favorite of the day, and once again we opened our throats and let loose. Let’s see if you remember this beaut:

Oh, I—I just died in your arms tonight!
It must have been something you ATE!

The silence from behind became so deafening that we heard it over the flapping of the torn sidewall. Even Scritch, locked in a life-and-death struggle against a steering wheel determined to wrest control and send us careening into a river, noticed. We tried to explain that we’d made up those lyrics long, LONG before we’d met them. What? Oh, God, he's not CRYING, is he?

I think it comes from my Father, who taught me to say grace like so:

Rub-a-dub-dub, thank God for the grub
Yay, Christ!


Two! Four! Six! Eight!
Who do we appreciate?
Goooooo GOD!

My Father, who set me up for utter humiliation at YMCA Camp by teaching me the following lyrics to “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
A bulldog ran my Grandma down . . .

Yeah, I think I can blame Dad (though credit is due Scritch, who both indulged and conspired). I remember turning “I am Woman” into “I am Obese.” “It’s a Heartache” into “It’s a Hard-on.” “Uptown Girl” into “Uptown Squirrel.” And “Rock Me, Amadeus?” Well, that became either “Eat Me, I’m a Danish,” or “____ me, I’m a Dentist.”

You know:

I’m a Danish, I’m a Danish!
Eat me, I’m a Danish!

My crowning glory? Sorry, I can’t say here. This is a PG rated blog.

I wish I could say that I put effort into this. I wish I could I could say it takes a ton of work. But I don’t, and it doesn’t. This stuff rolls off my tongue with zero forethought. The song comes on, I open my mouth, and WHAMMO! New lyrics. Just like that. I couldn’t stop it if I tried.

My husband has become a fair hand at this, and we’ve dragged our son into this twisted compulsion. He loves it when we do it, and he’s trying his hand at a few himself. I’m not sure if I’m proud of him or horrified at myself for perpetuating this particular family tradition. We’ll see where it takes him. It’ll probably wind up in his book.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Be Still My Heart

Yes, I’ve been letting the blog slide. I’ve been cranking out a couple thousand words a day since December 2nd, and writing for recreation has taken a back seat.

I’ve jotted down a gaggle of ideas for my blog, but right now the only thing going through my head is my miserable heart. More specifically, this damnable irregular heart beat that has me so freaked it’s hard to think of anything else.

The whole arrhythmia thing started back in 2001 or so. I was exercising a lot, and had lost around 70 pounds (don’t worry, I gained it all back and ten of its friends). I smoked a LOT back then, and ingested rather astounding quantities of caffeine. When the “palpitations” started, I was a bit floored. See, I was born with a congenital heart problem, so to have my heart suddenly go nuts on me was a scary proposition. Being me, I tried to ignore it, but after four days (yes, DAYS) of increasing discomfort, panic, and pain, I wound up in the emergency room. The INSTANT I hit that ER, the problem resolved itself. No kidding. I threw exactly ONE PVC in the four hours I was hooked up.

Do I have to tell you how embarrassed I was, what with all those ER docs and nurses raising their brows and blinking in my direction? One doctor muttered something about taking magnesium supplements, and that was that.

I had zero problems for over six months, and then came another bout of PVCs. Those are “Premature Ventricular Contractions” for anyone wanting to know. It means a little part of my heart is jumping the gun and contracting before it should, which leaves it playing a little game of catch up. It’s an incredibly unnerving sensation. My new bout found me staying home, steadfastly refusing to go to the ER again. I cut back on the smokes, ditched the caffeine (a ditching that became permanent), and after two days, things mellowed out again. For about six months.

The next swarm? Astounding! I lasted five days before I was finally so terrified that I went to the ER again. And again, the instant I walked in, the PVCs STOPPED. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry—on the one hand, GOOD! I’m glad they stopped! On the other? Well, once again I look like a contender for Miss Hypochondria. Isn’t my insurance company going to start raising a stink? After all, these hospital visits ain’t cheap.

My third ER visit came yet one more year later. I’d been suffering through the PVCs every few months, but once again, they hit a fever pitch that couldn’t be ignored. And once again, they jumped ship as I walked into the ER. Try, for just a moment, to imagine how incredibly humiliating and frustrating this was.

After two more years of three or four times a year patches, I had another beaut (about six months after quitting smoking, in fact). But instead of going to the ER, I went to the local clinic. They hooked me up to a portable EKG, and the tech said, “Wow, that can’t be fun!”

What? Someone can SEE this? Hallelujah!

The clinic physician came in, watched the EKG readout for a few minutes, whistled, and told me that we’d talk after they unhooked me. He handed me a folder with my EKG readout, and told me he’d made an appointment with a cardiologist for the next afternoon. That, of course, panicked me worse than anything else—I must be terminal if I scored a NEXT DAY appointment with a cardiologist!

Next day found me still heart-skippy and miserable, sitting in the cardiologist’s office being rigged up to a Holter monitor. Yes, it is HOLTER, not halter. Named after Dr. Norman J. Holter. No, I’m not making that up. I was given a little notebook and a pencil, and told to push the button on the monitor every time I felt a THWACK in my chest, then write down what I was doing and what time it was. I had to wear this thing for 48 hours. I was then to return to the office, let them remove it, and they’d let me know where we would go from there.

That’s 48 hours without bathing. Nasty.

I did everything I normally do (except bathe). I even rode my incumbent stationary bike for 45 minutes each day. The only problem I had was the whole “push the button/make the note” thing—see, I was having palpitations so frequently that I’d have five more while I was writing about the first one.

The day I dropped off my Holter monitor, they did an echocardiogram. That’s an ultrasound, minus all the cooing and blushing. The echo looked great, they said. What a pretty heart!

Two days later, they called back—all the information had been sent back to the clinic, and I was to call them and make an appointment for a follow-up. Hmmm. What does that mean? I don’t need help, or they can’t help?

Made my appointment and staggered in. The doctor said that, according to the Holter results, I was tossing out around 3500 PVCs a day. A few PACs (those are Premature Atrial Contractions) thrown in to keep things interesting. Almost none while sleeping, which I thought (and still think) was supremely unfair. I was horrorstruck, but the doctor smiled and said, “3,500 isn’t really anything to be concerned about—we don’t really start to worry until you top 10,000, and we’ve got some folks who pop with 35,000 a day.”

What does that MEAN?

Well, in a nutshell it means “idiopathic arrhythmia.” No underlying pathology, everything looks lovely, so sorry, sucks to be me. When I asked what could be done about it, the doctor shrugged and said, “Well, that depends. The aggressiveness of treatment really depends upon your ability to put up with it.”


Turns out that some PVCs respond pretty well to Beta Blockers. Some don’t. Some respond fairly okay to Calcium Channel Blockers. Some don’t. Some can be eradicated via ablation. Some can’t. And some freak out when faced with Beta Blockers or Calcium Channel Blockers and create the emergence of a second, competing arrhythmia, a condition called a "proarrhythmia." This is more common in women. It’s more likely to occur in someone like me with PVCs and PACs. It can be fatal, and it's not something I’m eager to flirt with.

And it turns out that my irregular heartbeat isn’t likely to kill me any time soon. Go online and search the hundreds of cardio forums. Millions of people live with this, millions deal with it on a daily basis. As time has passed and the frequency of spates has gradually increased, I’ve become one of those millions of daily sufferers. If I get a two week break, I count myself lucky these days.

So I opted to let it do its thing. And it does, pretty frequently and sometimes, like tonight, pretty scarily. I’ve had the old ticker looked at since, including shambling through 20 hours of continuous in-hospital monitoring, a “Cardiolite” stress test, and two 64 slice CT scans (Is that you, Cancer? Hi! How are you? Yep, yep, see you in a few years!). My heart looks perfect.

Utterly flawless.

So why am I’m sitting here with pains in my chest and shoulder blade? Why am I suffering PVCs so intense it feels like I’ve got no normal beats going on at all? My heart feels as though it’s squirming in my chest, and I can feel myself ramping up to a full blown panic attack. What's that you say? Get to the hospital? I don’t think so—felt like this four nights ago, felt like it a week ago, felt like it three weeks ago, too. When that BIG ONE comes, I’ll totally miss all the warning signs, because I experience them half the time, anyway.

Wow, look at me whine! I know, I need to learn to relax. I need to meditate, take up yoga, and learn to let go what I can't fix. I'm a "stresser," and stress makes this worse. So does focusing on it. But you try having your heart dancing a tango in your chest and then take a shot at relaxing. Go ahead, try to ignore it. It’s a lot easier said than done.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

This Won't Hurt a BIT

I don’t trust doctors. Not even a teensy bit. No, no, not in some hermit-like, never seek medical care, chant in the moonlight, die-of-a-simple-pimple-gone-wrong sort of way. I still seek medical care, usually in a pretty timely fashion, but I don’t trust the men and women in the crisp white coats. I don’t trust them to actually pay attention, I don’t trust them to care about me, and I don’t assume that they’re particularly competent or any more intelligent than I am.

This mistrust has actually saved my life a time or two. We’ll get to that.

Where does this utter lack of faith come from? This discomfort verging on terror?

Well, it probably started in childhood. I was born with a congenital heart disaster which left me on a doctor’s exam table daily, getting injections. No, I don’t remember this at all, but the fear of needles held on for decades. The fear of white coats, too. No kidding, my mother had to change at work (she was a nurse) before coming home because I had come to associate people in white with pain. It wasn’t until my mid-teens that I was able to allow an IV or injection, and that was because the only alternative was allowing my gall bladder to continue wreaking stony havoc until I eventually died from it.

My feelings about doctors began to coalesce young. They were solidified by our move to Utah, which landed me with the meanest, rudest, drunkest old man there ever was for a GP. His name wasn’t Gus Spurland, but it might as well have been.

Doc Spurland was short, fat, thick-fingered, bespectacled, with one of those noses that proclaims a lifelong affair with drunkenness. Think W.C. Fields or Gimli from Fellowship of the Rings (the movie). He had a perpetual sneer and a way of making a child feel awfully stupid. I never liked him, I dreaded visiting him, and my pleas for a new doctor were met with round rebuke. My Mom has a bad case of “Omnipotent Physician Syndrome,” you see. It comes from being a nursing student in the 50s. All doctors are right and good and should always be respected and obeyed. End of lesson.

I stuck with Doc Spurland into young adulthood because—well, because he was the only game in town. No one else took payments, and I didn’t have health insurance. So I suffered through the “Cadillac of birth control pills” (made me gain enough weight I looked like a luxury car), the ridicule about the subsequent weight gain (“have you considered buying new pants if you’re going to be the fat pig again?”), and the perpetual drunken confusion about who I actually WAS (“You have any new social diseases?”). I used the campus doc whenever I could, but sometimes there was no avoiding the drunken old man.

1990 was a bad year for me, medically speaking. No insurance, precious little money. I went to Planned Parenthood for my annual pelvic, and got some slightly wonky results back. They tossed me on some drug or another and told me to come back in six months. Six months later, even wonkier results come back. They handed me another scrip and told me to come back in six WEEKS. Just before coming back, I started suffering sublingual pain. Lo and behold, I had a large LUMP under my tongue! As a long-time smoker, I was rather concerned. As I was prepping to have that looked at (by another rude, self-impressed, ugly, mean-spirited ex-Army doc who fancied himself an oral surgeon and also took payments), I found a lump in my breast.

Two, in fact. Found them on the day that my Mother’s gynecologist shredded ten chunks from my cervix in hopes of figuring out why my paps were coming back bad. No anesthesia because, and this is a direct quote, “Women don’t have any nerve endings there, so they can’t feel anything.” The pain was pretty astounding. Almost as intense as my deep and undying dislike for that man.

What do you do when you find lumps in your breast? Well, you call your doctor, right? That’s what I did. I called Doc Spurland and asked him to schedule a mammogram for me at the local hospital. He was quite reluctant, but I persisted. See, I DON’T suffer from Omnipotent Physician Syndrome. He finally agreed, but then insisted I come into his office immediately afterwards. I agreed.

I got to the hospital and, right off, the rad techs and nurses could feel those lumps. Just as Marquis de Gynecologist had been able to. Just as my then-husband could. After an inconclusive mammogram, the radiologist came in—he could feel the lumps, too. He performed an ultrasound. Still inconclusive. So he did a fine needle biopsy and sent me on my way. To Doc Spurland’s office.

Spurland barked me into an exam room (sans attending nurse—he didn’t do things that way), told me to lay back, hiked up my shirt and did the most cursory of breast exams. He then glared at me with unmistakable disdain and muttered “There's nothing there--pull down your shirt and get in my office.”

Oh. Okay. I went into his office (think big, mahogany desk, red leather furniture, smoldering ashtrays--Great White Hunter-type stuff) and sat down. My mother was already there. And then he started.

I’m worthless. I’m a piece of dung. I’m a manipulative, cruel, hateful pile of garbage. I’m just clever enough to take advantage of everyone around me. I’m incapable of love and deserve no love from others. I’m a whore, I’m nothing better than a Petri dish for venereal diseases. I don’t have any lumps in my breast (I just made them up to scare my mom and torture my family), but he wishes I did have lumps, because the world would be a better place if I died. Look at my poor mother, look what I do to her. I’m tearing her heart out, the poor woman, and I should be ashamed. I’m scum.

I struggled to defend myself, but was so floored that just walking out didn’t even occur to me. My mother was sitting on the big leather loveseat with an insipid grin on her face, squirming like a child needing to pee. No, she made no effort to defend me. It was me versus the Omnipotent Physician--of course she wasn’t going to step up. I finally (to my shame) began to cry. I might have breast cancer, I might cervical cancer, I have a big lump under my tongue, and this guy’s shouting that everyone hates me and wishes I would just get on with the dying? Yeah, I cried.

And then it stopped. Spurland looked at me, looked at my squirming, useless mother, then back at me. And he said, “Oh, Christ, I’ve got the wrong one, don’t I?” My mother nodded stupidly.

That’s right. He thought I was my older sister.

He then cleared his throat, stood up from behind his gigantic rainforest-nuking desk, and walked over to me. He said, “Let’s go take a look at those lumps.”

Oh, yes. Please, take a moment to digest that. When I was my sister, there were no lumps. But now that I was myself again, there were lumps, and they were something to be concerned about. You see it, don’t you? If I were my sister, he was prepared to pretend nothing was wrong in hopes that I might DIE.

I hope you’re as horrified as I was.

He placed a hand on my shoulder and I went from sobbing helplessly to shouting berserkly . I swore. A lot. The gist? “Touch me again and I’ll plow you under in the parking lot like a stray shopping bag.”

I dashed from his office, grabbing my poor-then husband and pulling him along with me. I left my mother there to find her own way home. I didn’t want her in my car.

I’d been home for perhaps twenty minutes when the phone rang. It was Doc Spurland himself, calling to tell me that I’d forgotten my coat in his waiting room. Would I like him to bring it over personally? I told him that my husband would pick it up. He then asked what he could do about what had happened that day.

And I told him.

I told him that I was calling an attorney the next morning, but that I would hold off on taking any action against him for three months. During that three months, I expected to hear news that he was pulling down his shingle and retiring. If he didn’t, I was going to own his sorry ass. Yes, I could have sued. Yes, I probably would have made a little—enough to clear my student aid debts, anyway. But it wasn’t about that. It was about keeping him away from any other potential victim that might stagger into his den of torture.

The letters transferring his patients to new doctors arrived two weeks later.

Doc Spurland died a few years later. I wish I could say I felt awful, or that I deeply regretted blah, blah. Blah. But I didn’t. I felt no sorrow at his passing. I still don’t. One less mean, incompetent ass in the world. Bummer.

Now Doc Spurland wasn’t the only doctor to inspire mistrust or bad feelings, but he certainly takes that blue ribbon. But props must be given to the “hospitalist” who insisted that my ekg read-out indicated “unmistakable evidence of a heart attack” (the CARDIOLOGISTS disagreed rather angrily); the other “hospitalist” who attempted to threaten me (“I’ll tell your insurance company you refused recommended treatment!”) into taking a beta blocker for an irregular heartbeat even though my variety of irregular heartbeat can go bad—fatal, even—with the introduction of a beta blocker (good thing ONE of us knew that, huh?); the oral surgeon who ignored every call I made about the obviously infected wisdom-tooth socket (and then tore me up one side and down the other for not letting him know I “really” meant infected); the clinic doc who steadfastly insisted I didn’t have an eye infection (even though there were long, stringy GLOBS of pus coming out of my eyes); and the on-call OB who told me that my c-section incision had “lost a couple of staples” and would “be fine until next week” when my regular doc got back (in fact, my incision had ruptured all the way down to uterus due to a gigantic hematoma—it took 7 ½ weeks to get that closed) all leap to mind as close runners-up.

I don’t trust doctors. I’m sorry, I am. Obviously, I still GO to doctors when I’m ill, but I don’t walk in full of confidence that I’m going to receive the correct treatment from someone who respects and gives two spits about me. No. I walk in expecting to be dismissed and rushed through if I allow it to happen. I feel fearful, uncomfortable, and embarrassed to be there. I hope someday I find myself a doctor in shining stethoscope on his prancing white exam table to restore my faith in the medical community.

I can hardly wait. I mean that most sincerely.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Train Now Leaving on Track Five!

My first escape from Ogden, Utah came in the form of a car accident. Or the proceeds of a car accident, anyway. When the insurance adjuster handed me that big (ish), bad (ish) check, I made the (insane) decision to grab my then boyfriend (now husband), our too many cats, and pack it all up for California.

That’s Cal-ee-four-ny-ay!

Not really understanding that there were other truck rental choices out there, we went with that orange and white disaster we all know and despise, U-Haul.

Because we were moving, in effect, two households, we snagged a 26 foot monstrosity of a truck that handled like—well, like a 26 foot truck. Tacked onto the tail-end was a 17 foot auto transport for my newly put-back-together and freshly painted 1973 Mustang.

My joy.

According to U-Haul, a move from Ogden, Utah to Los Angeles, California should take, load to unload, five days. In some universes, that may actually be possible. Not so much in ours. In fact, by the time we hit the road, we were three days into that five day rental. No, we didn’t have an apartment lined up or any sort of employment planned. Ah, yes, those heady days before parenthood. I get all reflux-y just thinking about it today.

Aside from a back-and-fill disaster in a really bad part of Vegas, our U-Haul experience was surprisingly trouble-free . . . until that famous killer of moving trucks, Cajon Pass. It was there our truck decided that gears are for wimps. In fact, it decided it had only two gears—reverse, and a rather sad first gear that topped out at a whining 15 mph. Yes, even downhill on Cajon, 15 mph was our maximum speed.

Have you ever driven rush hour freeway in SoCal at 15 mph? We didn’t dare establish eye contact with our fellow highway-mates for fear of being shot. No, I’m not joking. Californians take their freeway speed very seriously.

Not wanting to be stuck on the side of a busy interstate, we decided to take the first likely exit to come our way. It only took us about an HOUR to get there (at 15 mph): Rancho Cucamonga.

Rancho Cucamonga, did I say?

Yes. Yes I did. And until that very moment, I had spent my life believing that Rancho Cucamonga was a creation of Looney Toons. You remember, don’t you? “All aboard! Train now leaving on track five for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc... amonga!" Almost immediately, I realized that the make-believe Rancho Cucamonga was bisected by the equally mythic Route 66. I had that momentary, “Oh, hell, I’ve wound up in another David Lynch movie” feeling as Tommy hung that right turn and put us smack in the middle of . . . not a lot.

No, not a lot. In fact, it took us half an hour (at 15 miles per) to find a gas station. Apparently, Rancho Cucamonga doesn’t believe in gas stations. They also, we discovered, don’t believe in pay phones with return numbers. I guess that’s to discourage the bangers and drug dealers. Unfortunately, it also discourages U-Haul’s customer service folks, who refuse to deal with anyone who can’t provide a return number. We wound up having to call someone back in Ogden to act as go-between for us. No, the gas station basta—uh—clerk (ahem) wouldn’t let us use his phone, either. But we managed to bypass the hassles and wheedle a third-person promise from U-Haul that someone would be “right there.”

Four hours? Yeah, that sounds about right. Four hours stewing on the grass, dying for a bathroom (yes, that same phone-denying "clerk" wouldn't let us use the restrooms, either). And when the magical tow truck from U-Haul DID show up, it was . . . itsy? We had a 26 foot truck with a 17 foot auto transport, and they sent a converted Ford Bronco to tow it? Hello?


More wrangling, more hassling third-person, and we’re told, once again, that they’ll be “right there.” Mmm. We weren’t nearly so impatient this time around—we knew what to expect, wait-wise. We walked over to a Jiffy Lube and used THEIR restrooms. About an hour into our new wait, as it became dark, there was a shout from the gas station and a teenage boy ran out at top speed, right toward . . . my CAR. My freshly painted, gorgeous Mustang up on her auto transport trailer. The kid leaped up on the trailer, planted a hand in the middle of the hood, and vaulted over. Forgetting that I was in Southern California, I launched myself from the grass and gave chase, shouting, “Hey, you #$@!, that’s my @#@! CAR! You %$@# up my car I'll take it out of your @#$!"

Stupid is as stupid is, right?

The kid was caught (trapped between us and the basta--clerk from the gas station), the car un-dinged, and no one got shot. Sadly, none of the ugly possibilities had gone through my mind as I dashed after our young shoplifter. That’s the crazy thing about traumatic brain injuries—sometimes they do a real number on impulse control and the like. Heck, sometimes it's so bad you toss all your stuff in a U-Haul and take off with no real plan.

Now, I know this all sounds terrifically UN-lucky, but that’s not the case at all! See, the new, big, wowser tow truck came and the driver/mechanic (who, upon learning were were homeless, slipped us a business card for the apartment complex he lived in) determined that the truck was utterly unbailable. That being the case, they dragged the whole mess to their tow yard (in Rialto, another fictional place), then helped us unload the car and place the contents (for free) in one of their locking storage sheds.

They then informed us that, because of the mechanical failure, they would hold onto our stuff for as long as it took us to find a place, and then drag the broken-down disaster to our new place at our convenience for unloading. Oh, and they’d pay for our hotel room, too. That took us from “oh, hell, we only have until tomorrow morning to find a place, unload the truck, and get it back before the 10 am deadline” to taking a few days to find a place with no time limit and no additional charges. So the breakdown wasn’t bad luck at all! In fact, it bailed our sorry behinds!

Funny thing is, after a few days of apartment hunting, we wound up calling the number on the tow-truck driver's card, and two days later we were moving in . . . U-Haul delivered as promised, and picked up as promised when we’d finished unloading. Were we in Los Angeles, our original destination, our dream? Nope. In fact, we never made it anywhere near. We were in Fontana (often called Fontucky, and for good reason), a good 45 miles east of L.A.

But we DID manage to get our kicks on Route 66 every time we headed to L.A., the beaches, Hollywood, or really anyplace worth going. And th-th-th-that's what it's ALL about, folks!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Will You Please STOP That?

It's been one of those days. You know, the kind of day that leaves you contem-plating stupid things that really get under your skin? Okay, so maybe I'm the only person who does that. Regardless, it left me wanting to jot down a few (or sixteen) things that piss me off. Understand, this is just MY list of peeves (and a partial one, to be sure). I’m not looking to start a fight, and I’m sure you all have your own pissers-off (piss-offers?), some of which are probably things I do. I’d love to see yours, if the mood strikes you.


People who fiddle with electronic gadgets of any kind while attempting to operate a motor vehicle. You may think you’re fully attending to that road, but fact is, you’re not. Pull over and play, or disconnect and drive. Your potential victims thank you!

People who dump ashtrays, car trash, dirty disposable diapers, or whatever horrifying thing it is all over the ground. That includes you, Mr. (or Ms.) “Flip-your-cigarette-butt-and-leave-the-empty-quart-oil-containers-in-the-Walmart-parking-lot!” World’s not your garbage can, babe. Pick it up.

People who make grand, sweeping political statements when they haven’t done an ounce of homework on the issue. Reading a paragraph in Newsweek, catching 30 seconds of Katie Couric, or having Glenn Beck tell you so doesn’t make you well-informed on the issue. Sure, you have a right to speak . . . and I have a right to tell you that you’re utterly clueless.

Cats that piss wherever they please. Yeah, that includes a cat or two I’ve owned. Nothing takes “oooohhh, cute kitty” love into “I hate you” quicker than watching the paint peel off the top of your brand new clothes dryer because Kitty has decided that the lint screen is where cat piss really belongs.

People who think that “loyalty” means backing their play regardless of what they’ve done. Hey, you may be my friend, but if you rob a bank, shoot a cop, and run over an old lady in a crosswalk (or any combination thereof), I’m turning your butt in. I'll still love you, and I'll visit you in prison. But I won't cover for you, I won't lie, and I won't turn a blind eye. Sorry, bud. Know that now and befriend me accordingly.

People who lurk. You know, every time you look up they’re peeking at you, following you, staring at you, reading your private emails over your shoulder, or listening to your conversations? Go! Make your own friends! Get your own life!

Large red diesel trucks. Yeah, that’s it. They don’t even have to be moving—the potential for utter idiocy is so great that actual motion isn’t necessary. Of course, when they are moving, it’s almost always too fast, too carelessly, and too dirtily. "Clean" diesel? If it’s so danged "clean," why can’t I breathe when one of those monsters is within five car lengths?

Excess. You know, conspicuous consumption? When I read about some diamond dripping, fur-draped celebrity blowing 10 grand a night on a hotel room, my nails itch. Have you ever stayed in a 500 dollar-a-night room? I have—it’s sumptuous, palatial. It’s positively sinful, it’s so luxurious. Let’s say "Prad Bittley," being Mr. Wonderful-Super-Mega-Actor, needs twice that to serve his ego and make him feel as important as he believes he is. He needs double the luxury, double the sumptuousness. Okay, fine, there’s your thousand-a-night room. Give the other nine grand to someone who really needs it. Look around, I’m sure you can find someone.

Quadruple-Whoppers with Extra, Extra Cheese, add mayo. That’s just nasty. ‘Nuff said.

Across-the-street neighbors who sneak around your back gate and then narc you out for not keeping your back yard in the condition they think it should be. Hey! Nunya! Mind your own business! If I’m not storing toxic chemicals or unstable explosives, growing marijuana, hiding kidnapped children, or keeping old, locking fridges and cars on blocks, it’s none of your danged concern! What do YOU care if I’ve created a deadfall against a back fence so the birds will have a place to nest? How does that possibly hurt YOU? You can't even SEE it unless you're TRESPASSING! Nosy buggers.

People who think that divorcing and remarrying somehow relieves them of their parental responsibilities. Hey, don’t start a “new” family if you can’t afford to keep the old. 200 bucks a month child support is a joke, and yet you’re shirking even that? Get your tubes tied, get a vasectomy, stop breeding.

Restaurant nose-pickers, nose blowers, farters, belchers, and all-around slobs. Hey, I don’t want to see your snot while I’m eating, I don’t want to hear it blasting into a tissue or see you checking out that tissue to see what sort of cool toys you got this time. I don't want to see your food as you chomp and slobber with your mouth wide open, either. I don’t want to hear you belch, and I certainly don’t want to share in your flatulence. A good rule of thumb while eating in a restaurant is “IN ONLY.” If it needs to come OUT, go to the bathroom.

People who treat waiters, waitresses, clerks, checkers, etc. poorly. Come on, what kind of boor snaps fingers at a waiter or puts a hand on a waitress’s behind and calls her “sweetheart?” What kind of impotent tyrant takes out frustrations on some poor checker at the grocery store? It doesn’t make you cool to abuse people who are powerless to stop you. It just makes you a coward and a creep.

Folks who think that ex-smokers are just “bitter and jealous.” Believe me, not even ONCE since I quit smoking have I thought, “Oh, man, I wish I hadn’t quit! What a stupid thing to do! I wish I were still smoking!” Nope—when I see those smokers huddled outside in the icy rain, chewing their fingernails and tapping their feet on the train, or getting up to dash outside for a fix between courses at Chili’s, I am not even a LITTLE bit jealous. And the only bitterness I have going on comes from the anger at myself for blowing 26 years doing that to myself and the people around me.

People who, after the engineer announces that between-car doors must remain closed to prevent a dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, decide that their desire for a beer or a hotdog is more important than the safety of fellow passengers. Sit down! Stay away from those doors! It’s only a ten minute tunnel, you’re not going to starve (or die from dehydration)!

And lastly (for now), people who abuse or ridicule other people for their physical appearance. Why? What makes that funny, cool, impressive, or enjoyable? What’s lacking in YOU that makes you want to hurt other people? Shame on you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Every Kid Deserves a Frank

When I was six years old, I found myself lost in Ogden, Utah. Not lost like hey, where’s my house? But rather lost in that whoa, this isn’t my home, I’m all alone sort of way. I did a lot of sad meandering about, a lot of hanging out in my room with my toys, and a lot of dreading school because so many of the kids were less than friendly. All of this was made much, much worse by a father who hit and ridiculed, a mother who had a tough time getting out of herself long enough to care about her kids, and an older sibling who had no time for her clumsy, desperately sad little sister.

It was a rough time. Until Frank.

There I was, one long, miserable fall day, moping about the back yard. I heard a familiar noise from near the fence dividing our space from the neighboring yard to the south. A noise that made my heart leap and my eyes widen.

I heard a horse.

I crept closer to the fence and, sure enough, there was a horse. There were TWO horses, in fact. Two horses, and no humans to be seen. Being the timid, fearful child I was, I scaled the fence in seconds. I approached one of the horses (a blue-eyed vision named Zen, as it turned out), took him by the halter, and led him over to the horse trailer parked in the driveway. I climbed onto the fender of the trailer, then scrambled onto Zen’s back. No, I didn’t actually know how to ride. In fact, I’d only ever been on pony rides at Susquehanna’s Harford Fair before.

And Zen KNEW it.

He turned, blinked scornfully at me astride him, then wheeled about and merrily dragged me through the clothes line. I was scraped neatly from his back and thumped rather impressively to the grass, flat on my back. He considered me for a moment, snickered (I swear), then returned to his task of mowing the lawn with his teeth. I lay, sprawled in the warm grass, and gazed adoringly at him. It was love.

Imagine my surprise when, in the middle of this little one-way love-fest, two big, strong hands slid under my arms and yanked me to my feet. I closed my eyes and waited for the blow I knew had to come. My Dad had caught me. My Dad had found me screwing up and now he was going to slam me around until I cried . . . and then slam me around some more for crying.

But it wasn’t my Dad. It was my neighbor, Frank. Frank of the horses. My relief was only temporary, as Frank kept his grip on one arm and began marching me home. Oh, please no! The only thing worse than being caught by my father was being ratted out by someone who’d WITNESSED my stupidity. With my father, anger + embarrassment meant a whopper of an ass-kicking. I was dead. I was dead and I didn’t even have the strength to plead. I stumbled along beside Frank, knowing that this was it. This was the end of me. Frank pulled me up the steps onto our front stoop, reached out, and banged on the door.

Oh, please. Please.

My Dad answered, his eyes immediately narrowing at the sight of Frank beside me. He knew. He could SMELL my screw-up. And his eyes lit up with that manic glow—like they always did when there was an ass-kicking in the offing. Frank smiled, exchanged polite greetings with my Dad, and then it came . . .

“Would you mind if I taught your daughter how to ride horses? She seems quite enamored, and I think she’s got a knack.”


I goggled. My Dad goggled. We both looked at Frank, sure we’d misheard. My Dad, ever hopeful, asked, “Has she done something she shouldn’t have? Has she caused you any problems?”

Frank smiled and shook his wonderful head. No problems. No trouble. Would it be okay, then?

My Dad agreed, reluctantly. What he really wanted was to clout me in the ear, but since that wasn’t going to happen, at least he could get me out of the house for a while.

And boy, did it ever get me out of the house! Every afternoon after Frank got off work, we were at the pasture, caring for the horses. Every weekend, every holiday, we spent entire days doing the things that must be done for horses. And no, this wasn’t some easy thing. I wasn’t even allowed out of the paddock until I could catch my own horse, do a good job grooming, mount up by myself, and pick my mount’s hooves. I didn’t get to use a saddle and bridle until I could care for my own tack, saddle the horse myself, get that bit in there on my own, AND correctly identify, on command, equine anatomy.

Yeah, I still know my hocks from my polls, my croups from my pasterns.

For seven years, it was heaven. For seven years, Frank kept me alive with trail rides in the Uintas, overnighters on Monte, and the occasional rounding up of the chickens just for fun. Even baling hay and souping out chicken coops was bliss. Because with Frank, I was competent. I was valued. I was possessed of expertise that was acknowledged and appreciated. I trained horses, I filled in muskrat holes, I even drained wounds, de-wormed, gave injections, trimmed hooves, and, as a crowning glory, I stitched up wounds. I wasn’t ridiculed, belittled, or ever, ever hit. When I mounted a horse, I was someone worth admiring. When I say that Frank “kept me alive,” I mean that in the most literal sense. Frank, Janith, Susan, Brian, Nola, plus Zen, SiSi, Fairy, Red Cloud, Tony, Musti, and Shahla. My life preservers.

I let myself be jerked away from Frank in 8th grade. I’d say, “Blame my bad-ass Camaro-driving friend,” but that’s not fair. It was me. My Dad was finally gone, and I was angry. Angry, and looking to show the world that I didn’t have to buckle to authority any more. No, Frank never told me, “I don’t want some drunken stoner hanging out with me.” I told myself that the two were utterly incompatible, and then I made my choice. I chose poorly. I remember watching with regret and longing as he would back the horse trailer out of the driveway in preparation for a fishing trip or trail ride without me. I never dared walk over and ask if I could come along. He might have said yes. I’ll never know.

Decades later, I sat down for a few hours and talked to Frank. About what he’d done for me, about the compass he’d provided that, even through my darkest druggie days, never failed me. About the scared, self-hating little girl I’d been, and how his heart had saved me. I told him that my greatest hope for every lost, lonely child is that they, too, find their Frank. Every kid in trouble deserves a Frank.

A year after that, Frank told me that he was done. He was tired, and he’d done everything he’d ever wanted to do. It was years since he’d had horses—a bad heart and arthritis had spoiled that for him. He smiled and said he was all tuckered out. It was time to hang up his spurs. Three months after that, Frank fell in his kitchen, fracturing his pelvis. He lingered a few months in a nursing home, seemed poised to come home when he gave it up and—well, he went home. He was almost 85 years old. Born in the long-gone town of Devil’s Slide, he was a Navy man, he was a lineman for the power company, he was a horseman extraordinaire, he was a conservationist before anyone knew what that was, and he was the best neighbor anyone in this town ever had. But more than that, he was my hero. He was my proof that men didn’t have to be abusive, sarcastic, or mean. He was everything I loved about this place, and he saved my life. He was my Frank, and I will miss him forever and ever.

That's me on SiSi (Cecil).  Ignore the awful 70s attire.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Adventures in Lynch-land

In our early days, Tommy and I spent a lot of time beating up on rocks and digging holes. They call it “rockhounding,” and so long as you’re not leaving eyesore holes or trespassing, it’s an honest, respectable way to break a sweat.

Our first trip to Topaz, Utah was an educational one. Twenty-eight years old, and no one had ever told me about Topaz. No history teacher, no college professor. Sure, I knew that Japanese-Americans had been wrong-headedly rounded up and held in “internment camps,” but I didn’t know I had one in my back yard. It’s a desolate place, and, at the time, all that was left was a water tank, some tar paper, and a lot of old, rusted barbed wire. I understand the locals have created a museum detailing Topaz’s miserable history. I guess that’s something.

For this adventure, we loaded up my Mustang (my bad-ass Mustang, in fact) and headed toward Delta, Utah. See, Delta is where the gas station nearest Topaz resides. We wanted to fill up the tank before heading off into the big, bad desert.

We reached our campsite after dark (of course). We didn’t really know what we were looking for or where we were supposed to be for our rockhounding adventure, but it was late at night, so we decided to pitch our tent, get some dinner into us, sleep a bit, then worry about where the pretty rocks were hiding come morning.

This was terrifically educational on so many fronts. One thing we learned? There is NO firewood in the desert! Seriously! Unless you want to uproot sagebrush (which we didn’t), there’s not a danged thing to burn. Luckily, some rockhounding pros happened by and gave of their firewood stash.

Another thing we learned? Ants go to ground in the dark.
Why would that be important? Well, picture this: it’s dark. You’re tired. You look around (in the DARK) for a likely spot for a tent. You decide on a nice little hillock under the dubious shade of a twisted juniper (actually THE twisted juniper—there weren’t any others around). You pitch your tent, unroll those bags, and climb in for a nice night’s sleep. When you wake up? Well, you notice the exterior of the tent is making strange skittering noises. So thick that it’s almost a buzz.

Did you know that big, red ants wake up in the morning? And they tend toward unhappy when they find tents pitched directly atop their home? Yeah. Like I said, educational.

After de-anting the tent and moving our campsite to a less ant-y spot for breakfast, we decided to go geode hunting. A few miles on the Topaz road, then 7 miles on the old Pony Express trail, and there it (allegedly) is—a treasure trove of geodes.


While the Topaz road, a cracked length of red dust and hardpan, rode smooth as silk, the Pony Express trail’s looks were deceiving; what appeared to be a wide, level, well-graded road was actually so heavily washboarded that driving at any speed over 7 mph set up a vibration in the car so violent it shook off the side mirrors. Now, if you’ve ever driven a big ol’ muscle car, you know that 7 mph is nothing more than a microsecond’s tick between stop and GO. The car idled at 15 mph. That left me jumping back and forth between braking and downshifting in hopes of keeping the car from overheating AND the brakes from burning up. We made it, but it wasn’t even a little bit of fun.

How were the geodes? Well, the dig began with the ugly realization that, through no fault of anyone’s, we had no WATER in the 100 degree heat. I had, back at camp, called out to Tommy, “Get the water!” That’s ALMOST what he heard me say, with one crucial difference.

He heard, “I’ll get the water!”


We spent four hours or so digging holes in the blazing sun with no water. While we found some very pretty rocks with fascinating crystal inclusions, we came up utterly geodeless. We finally looked at each other and silently admitted defeat. We tossed the assorted tool-type things into the trunk and off we went.

At seven miles per hour.

By the time we hit the Topaz road, I was so dry I could no longer make spit. Unfortunately, we were down to less than a quarter tank of gas. Backtracking to camp for water would leave us without enough fuel to make it into Delta. There was that decision made for us, huh?

At this point came the black helicopters, but I think I’ll save that story for another day.

By the time we made the highway (a strong term, as the road ended a mile or two to the west), we were on fumes. I stopped the car, and Tommy hopped out and grabbed the gas can from the trunk. One gallon of gas in a car that got 15 miles to the gallon. Sixteen miles to Delta.


Tommy hopped back in and off we went, hopeful that the one gallon plus fumes would be adequate. After a couple of minutes, trouble came looking for us. Tommy squinted in the miserable heat and asked, “What’s with the road up there?”

The road ahead, you see, was--well, it was undulating.

I stopped the car dead in the middle of the nominal highway, and Tommy got out to investigate. By the time he got back to the car, I already knew. And I was horrified.

Gophers? Something like that. Hundreds upon hundreds of gopher-like creatures darting back and forth across the road. Why? Who knows why gophers do things? All I knew was that the road was covered in gophers and we needed to be on the other side.

Tommy, bless him, tried very hard to come up with a passage that didn’t involve squooshing gophers. He suggested turning around and finding a back road around the gophers. Had I not been half dead from dehydration and the car not nearly out of gas, this would have been my choice. However, when faced with dying in the desert or some dead gophers, I had to go with the latter. Tommy suggested he walk in front of the car, shooing the gophers out of the way. That might have worked to save a few gophers, but would have involved driving at 2-3 miles per hour. At 3 mph, that Mustang would have gone exactly 67 feet before running out of gas, plus the gophers shooed from the front tires would merely wind up under the rear. On a real highway, I might have opted to pull over and hitch into town for more gas. But this wasn’t a real highway, and we hadn’t seen another vehicle on a road since leaving Delta the day before. Understand that, by this time, I had stopped sweating. Walking the remaining ten miles into town just wasn’t an option.

With a sick resolve, we nodded to each other, cranked up the tunes, and plowed through the gophers. Tommy’s jaw was set, eyes down. And me? I laughed. Not a “ha-ha, funny” laugh, but an, “Ohhhh, noooo, this is too horrible to be real” sort of stunned bray. And it was horrible. Horrible enough that, even today, my stomach lurches just a little when I think about it too hard.

We rolled into the one gas station we could see on the fumes of fumes. We pulled up to the pumps, and Tommy headed in for refreshments while I pumped gas. The two teenage boys who made some serious moves on me were adorable. Not so adorable was their response when I told them how old I was. Yeah, that’s right, boys. Old Lady Kris still remembers, and she still knows where you live.

Pulling under a large elm at the edge of the station's dirt lot, Tommy and I climbed on the hood of the Mustang and sucked down Gatorades like—well, like dehydrated people. After about ten minutes of lazing and sipping, we climbed down, intent upon visiting the local hardware store for second pickaxe.

Or not.

Even before I spied the tire, I knew it was flat because of the way the car was sitting. Rear driver’s side. Nail. Marvelous.

We popped open the trunk and pulled out the spare and jack. It didn’t take long to realize that whatever moron (me) had put on those fancy chromed lug nuts had over-tightened them. They weren’t budging. We tried, both separately and in tandem. We did all those things you aren’t supposed to do (like standing on the star wrench and bouncing), but no go. Tommy looked up, and, like magic, there was a TIRE STORE right across the field behind us. How convenient, huh? Almost as if by design!

Who says there aren't miracles? Yeah, that's sarcasm.

Tommy walked over to see if someone could give us a hand (a FREE hand—remember, we’re poor). I hit the bathroom, bought another few drinks, and cat-napped just a bit while waiting. I awoke to the sound of footsteps on gravel.

And nearly screamed. I’d fallen asleep in Delta, Utah, but had awoken in a David Lynch movie.

Tommy had returned with a dwarf. A wild, Gimli sort of dwarf, with beautifully tangled black hair and bright, blazing blue eyes. A deep tan, a chambray work shirt, and a nametag that proclaimed him, “SHORTY!” Oh, and a gun in his belt. Mustn’t forget the gun.

The powerful sense of unreality that washed over me was nearly overwhelming. I blinked at Tommy, he shrugged, and we got down to business. What else was there to do?

Shorty was buff. He was tough. He could have kicked both our asses without breaking a sweat. And he whipped those lug nuts off in—yes, in short order. Couldn’t help myself. Mea culpa.

After dispensing with the lug nuts, he began changing the tire. We told him that wasn’t necessary, but he insisted, saying it was what he did for a living. We were grateful . . . for a moment.

And then Shorty started talking. He started rambling about his days as a heroin runner, his run-ins with the law over certain relationships he’d had. He ranted about Los Angeles, and how beautiful it had been before the “blacks” (NOT the word he used) took over.


We were cowards, I admit it. We looked over his head at each other (not hard to do), looked back down at the gun tucked into his belt, and made that choice to keep our mouths shut rather than risk inciting rage in a racist, muscle bound, well-heeled dwarf.

After Shorty had changed the tire, he offered to patch it for ten bucks at the tire shop. We agreed, and followed along. In the shop, Shorty took up his rambling where he’d left off; the wonderful prostitutes in Vegas, his incestuous relationship with his older sister, and, finally, his years in the Navy. And that was it, my mouth was open before I even knew what was happening. I muttered incredulously, “The Navy? The NAVY? What, were you ballast?”

It’s amazing how dangerous someone that small can look. He asked what I’d said, I backpedaled and mumbled a question about back roads from Delta to Topaz. Shorty shook his head, said there were none that would be passable in my car. He then turned, quite obviously sized me up (you know the old up and down—makes you feel like you need to bathe?), and demanded of Tommy, “So, she yours?”

I quite literally choked.

Tommy feigned ignorance. Shorty, not to be distracted, persisted. “Is she yours? Are you married?” Tommy shook his head, said no, we weren’t married. Shorty smiled like a man looking to make a deal. You know, the sort of deal that involves trading time with your girlfriend for a ten dollar tire patch? Tommy, looking absolutely trapped, cleared his throat in a most manly fashion and mumbled,

“Um, I’ve, um. We’re attached.”

I left.

Tommy caught up back at the Mustang. I couldn’t explain why I was so pissed off; I wasn’t sure myself. But I was. I was angry in that grand, splattering way that soaks anyone unlucky enough to come near. Tommy tossed the patched tire into the trunk, and off we went. It took us a few miles to realize that we were both craning around to look back, making sure Shorty wasn’t zooming up behind us. Yes, that really was a concern. This was, after all, a David Lynch movie—why wouldn’t the dwarf follow us and kill us in our sleep? Probably with poison darts or hallucinogens in our baked potatoes.

We made it nine miles toward camp when we saw the gophers in the distance. Seemingly unfazed by the ugly demise of their comrades, they were still zipping back and forth across the road with manic abandon. I pulled over. I looked at Tommy. He looked at me. And we began to laugh. Wrenching, raucous, uproarious laughter. We laughed until tears were flowing down our snorting faces. Then I put the car in gear and, sniffling, we mowed over the gophers to get back to our blessedly ant-free camp, where we ate, drank, and slept the sleep of the sleepy . . . with one eye open, ever-watchful for creeping dwarves in the night.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Psalm 109:8

Or Bible as Bludgeon--How to Cheapen a Faith and use Scripture to Attack Political Rivals

A couple of days ago, I got a little blurb in my Facebook feed from a friend. A woman I’ve never met, but have known for years online. An intelligent, kind, compassionate friend I’ve always had the utmost respect for, even though our political and religious ideologies (if you can call mine that—I don’t HAVE a religion) are a million miles apart.

As always, I was happy to see her on my wall—until I read what she had to say.

You’ve probably already seen it. Hopefully, like me, you’ve seen it for what it is. Stupid, sneaky hate.

That’s right. My friend smacked me with the hate-mongering “A Prayer for Obama: Psalm 109.8” rubbish, which is cropping up on t-shirts, truckers hats, bumper stickers, and other classy modes of communication. For those not in the know, Psalm 109.8 reads thusly:

Let his days be few; and let another take his office

Okay. That’s not nice, but it’s not particularly bad, right? It’s just the cheesy politicizing of one’s faith in order to take a jab at a politician. Cheap and dull, but not bad . . . or is it?

As folks are so often complaining about things being taken “out of context,” let’s take a good look at that particular Biblical verse in context. Let’s take a look at it with its neighboring verses intact:

When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.

Let his days be few; and let another take his office.

Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.


Now, I’m willing to give some of these Psalm-shouters the benefit of the doubt—maybe they’re just stupid and have latched onto this catchphrase without being aware that it is pulled directly from a chapter dedicated to wishing torture, death, and damnation on an adversary. Maybe they don’t actually understand what it is they’re wearing/waving/typing. Fair enough. But what about those others? The ones like my Bible-studying, church-going, scripture-comprehending friend? Can we let them slide by on the ignorance defense, too?

I don’t think so. I think that, when they type/wave/shout this, they know exactly what they’re saying. And I think they’re amused by their own inherently dishonest cleverness. Why? Because, if called to the carpet on their bad behavior, they can argue, “Nooo, I just meant that one itty, bitty verse, completely divorced of its real meaning or context!” If that’s really the case, then they’ve just cheapened their faith by picking and choosing, using their holy doctrine as a cheesy little quote-generating stick with which to poke a politician. If it’s not the case, then they’ve just vomited up a deathwish for our President via King James.

Regardless of their real intent (and who can really know what that is?), the sad fact is that they’re adding to the piss in the pool. You know, Karma—if we all scatter rose petals, then we all get to swim in sweet water. But all it takes is one Psalm-spouting, Obama-hating, scripture-swinging git peeing in the pool to foul it all up for everyone.

If you’re reading this and YOU’RE one of these Psalmers, ask yourself why you would do something this dirty with what is supposed to be the inspired word of your God. Why would you use your supposed faith as a political tool or a cheap whoopee cushion? And then ask how you would respond, were someone to cut up your holy scriptures in search of pithy quotes to use against YOU. Ask yourself these questions and be honest with yourself when finding the answers. And then remember that forgiveness rarely comes without sincere remorse.

Oh, and my friend? I’m ready to forgive you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Looks Like We're Camping Here

Hubby and I have a long history of sleeping in tents together. I think all of our camping experiences have been interesting, but some might not be categorized as "fun" by normal people. In fact, some could be termed horrific by those more attuned to what is and isn’t healthy and pleasurable.

The boring folks, in other words.

Back in ’94, when we were still fairly new, we took a little, bitty, baby camping trip. Our first--just a few nights, some rockhounding, a “getting to know you” sort of trip. We were fully prepared to head out early, scope out a campsite, then spend the rest of the afternoon whomping on whatever outcropping of stone caught our beady little eyes. Of course, being us, it didn’t quite work out that way. Really, when does it?

It’s not that we didn’t pack in a timely fashion. Heck, we had that little Corolla Wagon packed to the gills early on. No, the problem came when we tried to leave. Or rather, when we tried to close the hatch-back so we could leave.

It wouldn’t close. It stayed stubbornly aloft, one brow raised. Sneering. Really. No amount of cajoling, urging, begging, WD-40ing, threatening, or obscenity-flinging worked. We blew hours on that bastard, actually UNpacked the car in hopes of finding the problem and fixing it. No go. After way too much time, Tommy and I stepped back and nodded grimly at each other. And then we did it—we grabbed that bugger tight and yanked our hardest, dragging it closed. It cracked, it crunched, it snapped and groaned. And then it closed.

Sort of.

What it really did was BREAK, but I’m not going to let a little thing like semantics get in my way. Twenty minutes later, hatch bound shut with much orange twine, we were on the road.

Starting out so late was just the beginning of a trend with us. We are wicked bad for not finding a spot to camp until after dark. Yes, it’s stupid. And?

We cruised through Vernon (not to be mistaken for VERNAL), Utah well after dark, and were approaching Eureka when our cryptic map let us know that we wanted to “turn right at the second set of railroad tracks after the dirt road next to the power poles.” Being smarter than we look, we managed to hang that turn on the first try. Weee!

Speaking of that cryptic map, it also spoke of dirt roads that turn “bottomless” when waterlogged. Really, “bottomless” was the word. Goodness. Who thought THAT up?

We turned onto the dirt road parallel to the railroad tracks and headed toward the pretty lights in the distance (those pretty lights would be THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS INCINERATOR, but we didn’t know that). The road was a bit bumpy, with a little puddle here and there, but certainly passable. At first. After a few minutes, the puddles began to come at us faster and wider and deeper, and Tommy began his fancy slalom driving, keeping up the speed to keep us from bogging down. Perhaps a mile shy of our destination, we came over a rise to see an ocean of muck in our path. Side to side and at least forty feet long with no time to stop. Thinking fast, I shouted, “Shoot for the grass!”

Tommy looked at me, perplexed, and said, “Do WHAT?” Remember, the car was still careening toward our soupy doom.

I practically screamed, “THE GRASS! SHOOT FOR THE GRASS!”

Tommy shrugged, gripped the steering wheel tightly, and shot directly for . . . the very middle of the morass?


The car splashed, squidged, slid a bit, floated for a moment, and then sank. Straight down, waves lapping at the rocker panels. The tires whirred ineffectually in the goo, spraying icy grey water all about.

I moaned. I gestured helplessly. My lips moved, but no words would come. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply through my nose a few times, then turned to glare at Tommy, my expression dangerous, I’m sure. I tilted my head, brought my hands up before me, palms up, and near-whispered . . .

“What the hell was that?”

Tommy stiffened, hackles rising as he made to defend himself.

“You said shoot for the grass!” He pointed to the very center of the sea, where three or four sad, small blades of grass were poking up through the mud.

I goggled. I gestured expansively at the grass all around us, the meadow to either side of the sinkhole. I cried, “GRASS, Tom, GRASS! It’s ALL AROUND US!”

Tommy blinked. He looked around. Then a slow, sheepish smile spread across his face. “Oh, yeah. That makes a LOT more sense . . . so, what do we do now?”

I shook my head. “Looks like we’re camping here.” That became something of a camping mantra of ours in years to come. Yes, we did find ourselves stuck here and there pretty frequently.

Remember that map? The one warning of “bottomless” roads? I remembered it, too, as I pushed my door open, creating a wave of mud and chilly water. I stepped into the pond and found my shoe instantly grabbed. It was a heck of a tug-of-war, but we managed to free our feet with footwear intact and unload our gear. Getting the car free was out of the question. We hoped that the cold night air (and it was getting very cold) would thicken things up a bit by morning.

Lemme tell you something about setting up camp around Skull Valley in late springtime—it’s tough. The cheat grass is high and dry, and the nighttime winds are relentless. Not wanting to be one of those folks who torch 40,000 acres in their pursuit of the perfect weenie roast, I spent almost an hour just prepping a fire spot—fifteen foot radius of no torchable vegetation, a hole in which to put the fire, sides built up with rocks and dirt, then a screen placed over the fire itself. Anal? Sure. Beats dead or responsible for mass destruction, right? Best thing is, this sort of fire building leaves no sign when you’re done—fill in the hole, replant the plugs you took up, and a week later the spot’s invisible.

Oh, before you think Tommy was just lazing around while I cleared a fire-safe spot, know that he was busy dragging equipment from the gently bobbing car, pitching the tent, and setting up the gear. Tommy never shirks even an ounce of camping work. The man is a camping machine.

Dinner followed tent construction. Hamburger patties dropped into the dirt by accident (pretty sure it was an accident, anyway). Being broke and miles from town, we scraped them off best we could and ate them anyway. Grit aside, they were quite tasty.

Exhausted, we put out the fire (that involves water, stirring, more water, more stirring, yet more water, even more stirring, then a full burial with dirt, rocks, and sand), and climbed into the tent for some well-deserved (or at least greatly needed) sleep.

Sleep came, too—pretty quickly for me. I usually struggle for an hour or more before finding my way.

And then it came.

A blaring, deafening WHOOOOOOONK, the blinding glare of headlights, and the unmistakable roar of approaching death. No kidding, that’s got to be what death sounds like. Nothing else could push that much adrenaline into my blood in that short a time. No time to get out of the tent, no time to think, really, beyond the bleary, stunned “Oh, hell, the hicks have come to kill us!” We’d just watched Deliverance on video a couple of weeks earlier, and it was, apparently, still in my head. I scrabbled around in the tent pockets and found my handy, dandy bang-bang stick. Just a 38, not enough to stop a rampaging truck bent upon flattening us in our tent, but perhaps enough to put a hole in the radiator or take out a headlight or two. It’s not much, but when you’re about to die, you go for whatever little bit of something you can that will leave a sign of your once existence. The roar, the spectacular glare, the ear-splitting horn peaked . . . and then Dopplered. I don’t know any other way to describe it, but you know what I mean. It was obviously passing us. Quickly. We staggered from the tent to see the TRAIN rounding a bend a little ways away.

Yeah, train. Remember those tracks? Yeah. Sure glad I didn’t shoot a hole in the tent, huh? Or the train? I hope that engineer got himself a darn good laugh. Once we got all the piss washed out of the tent, we thought it was pretty danged funny, too.

Monday, November 16, 2009

She's Getting NUTHIN' for Christmas!

Or What to get the Woman Who Needs EVERYTHING

There are women in the world who take great pride in being willing to learn anything and everything they can to better their situation. Women who only need to be shown a thing once to figure it out, commit it to memory, and then never need to be shown again. Women who are glad to be self-sufficient, who love not having to send up a cry for help every time something goes a tiny little bit wrong.

And then there’re those others. Those who wear helplessness like a badge, wave about their incompetence like it’s something to be proud of. I like to think of myself as a member of the former group, so those in the latter drive me utterly mad.

I had a roommate once who couldn’t change a tire. I know, sounds utterly clich├ęd, but she couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. She said that she didn’t need to change tires—she could just smile cutely at passersby until someone stopped to do it for her. Some nice, big, strong man. Hey, I have nothing against big, strong men—some of my best friends, you know? But didn’t this plan have a few gaping holes? What happens if no big, strong men wander by? What if someone stops with more than changing a tire in mind? What then? I wound up growling and shouting until she buckled and allowed me to show her how to change a tire. Again and again, until she had it down. She may have still been an idiot, but at least she was an idiot who wasn’t going to be at the mercy of whatever came down the road.

Or so I thought. About a year later, I was driving down the road when I saw my then ex-roommate. Flat tire, side of the road. Was she changing it? No, she was leaning prettily against her car and trying to wave down some big, strong man.

Why would she do this? Why would anyone prefer helplessness over competence?

I have another female acquaintance who holds her inabilities as points of pride. “I’ve never changed oil in a car and I never will! I don’t even know where the DIPSTICK is!” I could tell her where it is, but she’d probably be insulted. Ask her where her air filter goes and she sniffs and reminds me that it’s not her JOB to know that. But it’s worse than that—it’s not just automotive things, it’s ALL things. This woman brags that she can’t do much of anything—she can’t fix a loose screen, she can’t hang a picture or follow software prompts, she can’t DO anything . . . not if she can find someone else to do it for her, anyway.

What IS that? What would make anyone think that helplessness is attractive? I had one friend (another helpless Nelly) explain that “men like to feel needed.” My answer to that? Who wants to date a guy who’s okay with being manipulated like that? It’s one thing to not be able to do something. It’s another to pretend not to be able to in order to impress someone. Again, who’s impressed by inability?

Well, I’ve decided that what I’m going to give those women in my life who need EVERYTHING is a whole bunch of NOTHING. Can’t get that cable box set up? Read the directions. Need that printer installed? Pop in the disk and follow the prompts. Because I’m not doing anyone—them OR me—any favors by continuing to do it all for them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


When I was just shy of six years old, my family made the wrenching move from Hallstead, Pennsylvania to Ogden, Utah. I remember it quite clearly. Probably more clearly than I should.

I remember moving from the “endless mountains” of Pennsylvania to the ROCKY mountains of Ogden, Utah. Where was the green? Where were the TREES? Where were the lush meadows and gentle morning mists? And what the HELL was with those sky-high cliffs overhanging our helpless little house? Those aren’t mountains! Mountains are gentle, verdant, rounded things alive with cardinals, jays, and white-tail deer. These were angry, snaggle-toothed beasts! What’s that you say, Dad? We now live on a seismic fault? Overdue for “THE BIG ONE?” And what’s that falling from the sky in JUNE? Is that SNOW?

And what do those kids mean when they say they can’t play with me because we don’t go to the same church they do?

How did I feel upon arrival in this “Pretty, Great State?” I think it went something like this:

Oh, Christ, I hate this place. It’s utterly foreign, like Mars! The mountains are going to fall down on my house when “THE BIG ONE” hits! It snows in June! Some kids ask me what “ward” I’m a part of, and when I can’t answer they don’t play with me! The people don’t even speak the same language! They laugh when I say things like “drapes,” “shears,” and “davenport!” They think Box Elder bugs are fireflies, and they get mad at me when I try to explain that fireflies LIGHT UP!

Really, they do light up. They glow gold or green (or red, in some mutants). And, while I’ve heard rumors of some out Plain City way, fact is I’ve never seen a firefly in Utah. It’s something I’ve missed most bitterly. I can’t even describe how sad I was when we left the east coast at the end of our last vacation. After sitting on the damp, green ground near the Susquehanna River at dusk and nearly crying with joy at the sight of my fireflies (fireflies I hadn’t seen in 25 years), we left.

We left. Every mile west we moved, the harder it became to breathe. By the time we were back in Utah, I could barely bring myself to get off the train.

I know Utah has a lot to offer. I haven't spent 38 years glowering balefully at the mountains. I haven't steadfastly refused to partake of what Utah has to give. I don’t sit around looking at the leaves falling from my trees and think, “Oh, it’s rubbish, I’ve seen it all before!” I don’t breathe in the heady smell of our autumn grapes on the vine and think, “Pffft, it’s crap, I’ve smelled better!” I’ll miss these trees—hell, I had a hand in the planting of almost all of them! I’ll miss those grapes—we waited years for that vine to become something worthwhile. I think the desert is striking, and I’ve spent many nights by the campfire, listening to the coyotes sing in the breathtaking dark.

But I’ve done 38 years of desert, and I need a change. A return to something I love even more than howling coyotes and skittering lizards. I’m done living with greys and browns. I’m done living with prickly pear and dust. And I’m done having to search for my small treasures. I’m ready for lush woods, gentle mountains, salamander and crawdaddy catching, flaming fall colors in blinding profusion, and green everywhere I look. I’m ready for summers with rain, rivers of size, massive museums with world-class exhibits, and rockin’ mass transit. Ocean beaches, real Philly Steak sandwiches, vineyards, a multitude of lakes, and beloved relatives I haven’t had nearly enough time with.

And fireflies. I’m so ready for fireflies.

Never Knew no Good from Bad

This is my first entry in what will, hopefully, not become another dead blog littering the information highway. I should say, "another dead blog of MINE." Yep, I'm one of those bandwidth-clogging hit-and-run bloggers. I'll try to do better this time.I'm blogging because my husband, Tommy, suggested it. So did my other Tommy--my friend who lives happily in California and writes a wicked blog of his own. Which is not to say that my husband Tommy doesn't write a wicked blog, too. Because he does.

Shut up, Kris.

For my first entry, I'd like to jot down a bit about my early relationship with Tommy. My husband Tommy, that is. We met a long, long time ago in this very town. In fact, I met Tommy before I met my first husband, my second husband, and even my three month stand, Jimmy Page. Sure, Jimmy Page. Why not? What, you think I'm going to give his REAL name?

When Tommy and I first began "dating" (which isn't quite what we did), it was 1993, and we didn't realize we'd met before. In fact, it was a few months of coupledom before I mentioned wild teenage nights on the boulevard with my friend and her bad-ass Camaro (a combination of words always requiring bold, italicized emphasis). When I mentioned that this bad-ass Camaro-driving friend had a relative who overdosed on Dramamine and totaled his bad-ass Firebird whilst in the throes of bad-ass hallucinations, Tommy's eyes widened. He said, "Gwen? RON CLAIRE Gwen? She of the evil tortoise?"

Why yes. I don't recall it being particularly evil, but yes. It used to sleep under the pantry floor. Except when being used as a tool to torment poor Tommy, apparently.

Tommy begin to tremble (not really), tears welling in his glassy, fear-filled eyes (not really). He whimpered, in a small, tremulous voice (not really), "She lived just a couple of houses up from me. She used to . . . babysit me!"

I mis-swallowed. I gagged. I goggled. I brought my hand forward in a "little-bitty-boy-this-tall?" gesture. And then my laughter started. Raucous, uproarious laughter. The kind of laughter that makes a three-pack-a-day-er bring up half a lung. Because you see, it wasn't just my bad-ass Camaro-driving friend who used to babysit Tommy. It was her loud-mouthed, beer-swilling best bud, too. More than once. I was the go-to girl when my evil-tortoise-owning friend had other plans.

Yes, that's the sick, twisted beginning to our lifelong relationship. I was the babysitter. The naughty nanny. Every mother's worst nightmare. Never mind that 15 years had elapsed with no contact. Never mind that nothing untoward happened WHILE Tommy was the babysat. Nothing can mitigate the horror his mother must have felt when she discovered he was doing it with the babysitter. Even thinking about it makes me . . . well, it makes me want to talk in a thick Romanian accent. About terrible things. If that makes sense to you, I’d like to read YOUR blog.