Grateful

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Last evening as I was picking my way down a rutted forest road I had to stop to let three enormous javelinas cross the road.  This is the first time I’ve seen javelinas, although I’ve smelled them, and I’ve seen their lying-down places where they rest.

I had no idea that javelinas range so far north.  I thought they were a Texas and Mexican border kind of thing, but I guess not.

Javelinas are the northern cousins of the peccary, a wild and voracious pig that travels in packs and eats anything alive that it can overpower, even adult humans.  I was trekking with a native guide through the jungle in Costa Rica when we smelled the peculiar and disgusting aroma of peccary.  We tiptoed as close as the guide felt safe, staying downwind.  If the pigs got a whiff of us, the guide said, we would be dinner.

There must have been thirty of them, with a huge boar standing sentry.  That herd of pigs could run us over and make a meal of us in seconds, he said.  So we tiptoed back the way we had come, avoiding the horrible trees with long sharp spikes all over their trunks. 

Who can have read or seen the movie “Old Yeller” that does not vividly recall the terrifying fight between Yeller and the javelinas (I think they call them “wild boars”)?  Poor Old Yeller got himself tusked up pretty bad.

I thought of that last night at dusk, when I found a decent camping spot not very far from where the wild pigs crossed the road.  Atina fretted because I wouldn’t let her out after dark.  She would be no match for a hungry, angry, or frightened tusker.

I actually ate wild pig once.  My first ex-husband’s folks lived in South Florida.  They (the folks) ate anything they could catch.  Kind of like javelinas, come to think of it.

By the time he was a year old, my son had eaten (raw tuna, but that’s normal) fried squirrel (pretty good, actually), pheasant, wild duck, fried alligator tail (very much like chewing on an old tire, vaguely reminiscent of fish), javelina, crawdads, and who knows what else.  I tried not to look.  (He lived through it, and acquired a taste for weird and disgusting food.)

Some distant relatives threw a party out in the bush.  They owned a ranch, so they took a couple of days off and barbecued a whole cow and a couple of whole pigs.

One of the teenage sons trapped wild pigs in a pit trap, hauled them out of the pit, popped them into a pen, and fattened them up for eating for a month or so.

Normally javelinas are very tough, because they have to travel long distances, and they have to work for their food, subsisting on acorns, and anything they can root up or catch, such as household pets and small children.

Fattened up javelinas taste mighty good.  Tender and sweet, but not kosher.

At the ranch barbecue, the eating was all done outside in the blazing South Florida sun.  There was a large pole building right near the barbecue pit, but we weren’t allowed to congregate in there, for inside the barn was a gigantic U-shaped assemblage of banquet tables groaning with “salads,” the kind made of canned fruit ruined with gobs of pink or green colored Kool Whip, and punctuated with contrasting colored tiny marshmallows.  Some of the endless variations on this theme were sprinkled with toasted coconut.  I believe they call this “Ambrosia.”

Much more interesting were the tables laden with every kind of pie: blackberry, mulberry, cherry, lemon,  chocolate cream, banana cream, and my personal favorite, Shoo-fly pie.  Shoo-fly pie, if you haven’t had it, is all about the thick layer of molasses that blankets a rich, flaky crust on the bottom.  The crust and molasses are baked slowly till the molasses thickens.  Then a layer of vanilla custard is poured on top, the pie is cooled, and topped with whipped cream (or not).  The result is that the molasses kind of makes its way up through the custard, resulting in a delightful variety of tastes and textures.  Shoo-fly pie, yum.  Forbidden to diabetics.

Regrettably, we must return now to the present.

After two days of cardiology testing, Atina and I decided to do the old splitsky into the woods.  It’s Memorial Day Weekend, so I’m pretty sure that most of the good spots are taken by three day weekend revelers.  So I studied the Forest Service map and picked a likely looking road.

It took some searching, but voila, the photo above shows you the delightful camping spot I found, with a fine view of the San Francisco Peaks, which are the Westernmost boundary of the Navajo tribal lands, marked by four sacred mountains.

We’re sitting right about 8,000 feet, elevation wise.  Glad I filled the propane tank; it’s gonna be a cold night.

A Cautionary Tail

Donald started sitting in with our band.  At first I was pissed because everything about him was sloppy, including his guitar playing.  He banged away with abandon, juking his head around like a rocker.  We played Irish music, not rock. 

I knew J.J. wouldn’t let just anybody into the band, so I didn’t say anything.  Saying something might lead to several days of stony silence from J.J., which I both resented and feared.

After a few practice sessions it dawned on me: Donald’s wild thrashing was nevertheless in tune and on time.  He provided the solid backbeat the gave our other guitarist, Dave, the room to solo. 

Dave was a respectable flat-picker. 
He also brewed killer ale.  Brewing back then was not the snobbish high tech fad that it is today.

In the ’70’s beer was made the regular way, with a largish ceramic crock, some water, canned hopped malt, regular beer yeast, and a layer of cheesecloth tied over the top to prevent wild yeast, bacteria, mice, and small children from getting in.

Once the beer began to “work,” making a disgusting cap of brownish foam on the top, caring for it became a collective labor among the residents of the house.  Whoever happened to walk by the crock, if there happened to be scum on top, he skimmed it.

But this is not a mere diversion.  The beer was what brought Donald in the first place.  It was at one of the delirious parties at Jacob’s.  Through a thick haze of Morgan’s Ale, his guitar playing seemed outrageous and just the thing.

Once J.J. brought him home to practice, it seemed like a done deal.

Only thing was, he was always doing disgusting things, like eating his boogers.  Jeezis, I cannot stand that type of thing.  If I were the vomiting type, there would have been even more of a mess.

How relieved I was when Donald announced he was going to Ireland to learn to play the concertina!  Thanks to all that is divine!

The night before he was to fly to Ireland, I am sorry to say, he came over to light farts with J.J. 

The Morgan’s Ale was flowing, and the two of them were in hysterics, making torches out of their asses.  I went upstairs to hide.

Suddenly violent screams burst out downstairs.  I ran down to see what the emergency was, and cheeses k. reist if Donald didn’t try to one-up J.J. by taking off his underwear! 

Now Donald had–HAD–a very hairy ass, which went up like a torch when ignited by his gas jet.  He received bad burns to his delicate parts. We transported him to the small town hospital in the back of the car, face-down, butt-naked on top of the sofa cushions.

He couldn’t change his plane ticket, so after his convalescence he booked a flight to Newfoundland.  I secretly snickered at that.  I lived in Maine for a few years.  One of the great Maine forms of entertainment was to trade Newfie jokes, like this one:

“If there are two kids playing in a sandbox, and one of em’s a Newfie, how do you know which one?”

“I don’t know, how?”

“It’s the one the cat’s trying to cover up…”

Both: “HAHAHAHAHAHA!”

Well.

The moral is, if you’re going to light farts, keep your underwear on.

You’re probably wondering what ever did happen to Donald.

He enjoyed New Foundland so tremendously that he went for a hike in the interior, failing to bring with him any water, map, compass, or any other of the Ten Essentials.  Of course he got lost, was not found for several days. After an extensive search, he was discovered, dehydrated, hungry, and hypothermic.  It gets cold at night above the Arctic Circle.

We received letters from Donald (letters!) every few weeks.  Then the letters stopped.  In a very brief and scratchy transatlantic telephone conversation, Donald related how, by the time he recovered from his case of exposure, the sea ice had locked Newfoundland in.  No ships could get out or in.   Airplanes weren’t flying; it was too cold.  He would be back in the Spring.

Spring came, and no Donald.  Married a Newfie girl, gonna have a little Newfie of their own!

All’s well that ends well.

Just remember what I told you…

Not Camping Here

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I think it was once a skunk.  It doesn’t smell like skunk, but then it is a bit aged.  I’m inclined to think it was a skunk; otherwise it would have been totally eaten by now.

I am impressed at the length of its spine.  And its feet are not prehensile, like those of a possum.  I have never seen a possum corpse just lying around.  They’re good eatin’, I hear.  Maybe that’s why you never see them: the carrion eaters clean-up crew get to them first.

In my youth I had a friend who had a family to feed, but no money.

He was a practical man.  Whenever he found a fresh road kill that wasn’t too mangled, he’d take it home, clean it, and put it in his enormous deep freeze.  They’d make possum stew, raccoon stew, and if lucky and careful of the law, deer stew.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To show the possum that it could be done.

I was exhausted, so I did camp there for one night.  In the evening, when the air currents lie low, is the best time for scent tracking.  Atina’s eyes grow wolfish when she latches onto a scent–in this case, skunk perfume!  I followed along as she was tracking, and soon I caught whiffs of eau du striped kitty.  Uh-oh, I see their burrows!  Yikes, let’s get out of here!

Atina has her nose buried in one of the burrows-oh no! What will I do if she gets skunk sprayed?

I couldn’t let her in the van.  What could I do?  I don’t have a crate I could put outside.  And Little Miss has not spent a single night away from me since she bounced into my life last July.  Even if I had a crate, imagine her misery if I left her outside!

And then what?

How would I get her somewhere with water for washing?  I would have to take her to the vet, but that would mean stinking up the van…

Let me tell you, skunk spray is a complex stink bomb.  It’s made of a cocktail of volatile oils that penetrate absolutely everything. I wish my perfumes lasted that long!  I’m talking about the perfumes I make.  I could take a lesson from the skunks!

There’s no way to isolate it, and there is really no way to remove it, since the volatile oils penetrate skin and hair.  And wood, leather, fabrics….everything.

All the classic skunk stink remedies like bathing in tomato juice, lemon juice, etc, merely mask the eau de skunk with something else, making it more tolerable for a few hours.

I quickly decided that since skunk mitigation would be impossible, the better part of wisdom would be to scram.

We did.  First thing in the morning….and I am relieved to say, without skunk disasters.

Everyone Knows It’s Windy

Ahem.  Yes.  1967.  I was 13.  Remember 1967? 

It’s windy.  Today and yesterday, in NOAZ (that’s what they call Northern Arizona), upon wave of wind up to 50 miles an hour!

The sky is a perfect blue diamond.  I’m surrounded by forest, Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, some kind of Spruce.

The waves of wind from the South-Southwest pile up on that majestic escarpment, the Mogollon Rim, and spill over into the Coconino Plateau, which rides above the Rim like a giant plate rising to 8,000 feet before cracking in half to form the Grand Canyon.

And I, in my tiny RV, with my not so tiny canine pal Atina, had a choice to either go crazy in the two days (so far) of relentless waves of wind, or…or not.

At times the wind rocks the RV so hard, I think it’s going to tip over.

Atina thinks so too.  I can tell by the way she clings to me and farts.  As I write she is wrapped around my leg with her ass in my face, farting great clouds of evil fumes.  At the risk of being covered in red volcanic dust, I have had to open the window.

Every three or four minutes, another wave of wind-here it comes now-roars through the tree tops and through my window.  Atina sleeps, heaves a big sigh, farts.

I’ve been nervously checking my NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) high-definition radar app for any approaching precipitation.  This volcanic soil, when rained upon, becomes a treacherous soup of slippery mud.  If the soil becomes saturated, it can turn into quicksand.  So I watch the sky and keep track of the aviation forecasts.

I’ve always loved weather.  When I was 10 or so, a gigantic tornado passed right over our house.  We were listening to a record on the old record player.  Suddenly there was a deafening roar.  The dog dove under the couch.  The lights flickered.  The phonograph slowed eerily to a halt.  The lights went out.  The roar passed overhead…we thought it was a low flying jet, but strange… Then the lights came back on, the record player started up again, the dog came out from under the couch, and everything went back to normal.

The next morning my mother and I went to the laundromat.  It wasn’t there.  Just nothing but the concrete pad it was built on.

The mile-wide tornado sheared the city of Toledo, Ohio, off at second-story level and dumped it into Lake Erie.
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My father and I were big buddies.  We used to pack a lunch, a frying pan, a little bag of corn meal, a couple slices of bacon, and our fishing tackle, and we’d go fishing.

Dad taught me to fly fish.  I was good at catching twigs from overhanging trees.  We never caught anything, but we did forbidden things like chewing tobacco (yecch) and smoking corncob pipes (blecch). 

We did better fishing in ponds, where we caught pan fish: crappie, sunfish, bluegill–cleaned and scaled them on the spot.  Dad taught me how to make a small cooking fire, and we’d fry the bacon, roll the fish in cornmeal, and fry them in the bacon fat.  A delectable feast.  We ate them, fins, tails, and all.  Crunchy.

We went surf casting in the ocean, using long heavy rods baited with 8-10 inch long Styrofoam lures called Atoms, bristling with hooks, in hope of catching a bluefish and not getting bitten.

Once I was in a rowboat in Narragansett Bay with my friend Becky.  The bluefish were running, a huge school of them, so many that it seemed the boat was riding on top of waves of bluefish instead of waves of water.

We happened to have fishing poles, so we threw a line in, without bait, just bare hooks.  Becky hooked one immediately, and it fought so hard it took both of us to get it into the boat.

(Breaking news: Atina just puked.  She’s such a good girl, she urgently asks to go outside when she has to puke.  It was the Malinois Empty Stomach kind of puke, so I just fed her.)

We got the angry bluefish into the boat.  It thrashed and snapped, jumping around in the bottom of the dory.  Bluefish have a mouthful of deadly sharp teeth.  They can take a finger off, and bluefish bites seem to always get infected.

Becky yelled, “Hold into him, there’s a club in this boat somewhere!”

It was her father’s dory.  He was an avid fisherman, so there had to be a club in the boat, for whacking fish over the head.  That’s how you kill a fish.

She had to find the club, because the only other choice was to throw the fish overboard and cut the line.

But this could not be done without getting bitten, because a dory is a deep sort of boat.

No luck with the club, so we pulled one of the oars and whacked the fish to death, but then a wave came along and snatched the oar; and we were forced to paddle back to shore with one oar, which was not an easy task.

In normal conditions, if deprived of an oar, a person would jump into the sea and push or pull the boat ashore; but the sea was filled with snapping bluefish, so we managed, after a long time, to get the boat to land, more worried about what Becky’s father would say about the lost oar than anything.  Becky’s father was a kind man; he didn’t say anything.  He was a man of few words.  Not so, her mother.

One bright blue morning, Dad and I packed up our surf casting gear and headed out for Horseneck Beach to try our luck.  Somebody had told somebody else, who had told Dad that the bluefish might be running.

By the time we got to the beach, it was starting to cloud up.  Nevertheless we hauled our tackle to the shore and threw a line in.

The tide seemed to be coming in strong, although by the tide tables it should have been turning, just at the end of going out and starting to come in (“neap tide,” in fisherman’s terms).  High tide wasn’t for a good few hours yet.

But we cast our lines and tried to smoke, he his cigar and I my Balkan Sobranies, daring black cigarettes with gold leaf where the filter would have been, if there had been a filter, which there wasn’t.  By this time it was impossible to smoke, as the wind kept putting our smokes out.  So we put them away and turned our attention to trying to get our lures in the water.

But the wind, which was now howling like a banshee, kept throwing our lures back in our faces along with sheets of rain and salt spray.  We decided to pack it in and go have lunch.

We threw our fishing gear into the back of Dad’s Ford pickup and wallowed through the driving rain to a nearby fishermen’s bar that served the best conch chowder ever.

The scratchy t.v.was on.

When we came through the door, soaking wet, stamping our dripping boots on the mat, the boys at the bar said,

“What in the world have you two been doin’ out THEYAH?  In the middle of this hurricane?  You-ah lucky you didn’t get taken by a storm wave!”

Hurricane?  HURRICANE!  Nobody said anything about a hurricane.

The lights went out, and the barkeep lit kerosene lanterns.  Dad ordered us beers (yes, I was only fourteen, but the law was that a minor could drink if accompanied by a parent), and we lit fresh smokes.  The fishermen looked on approvingly.  We ordered hot conch chowder, and crumbled Common Crackers, which the barkeep scooped from a barrel, into the rich stew.

It made us forget, temporarily, that we were soaking wet.

(For you who did not grow up in New England in the ’60’s or before, Common Crackers, also known as Ship’s Biscuits, are rounds of flour, water, and baking soda, slowly baked until completely dehydrated, and dangerous to teeth unless broken up into chowder.  They keep indefinitely when stored in an airtight container, and thus were taken on long sea voyages on whaling ships.  As long as they don’t get wet they are good practically forever.)

After the wind died down some, we hydroplaned for a couple of hours till we got home.  My mother was frantic.  No cell phones in those days.  For all she knew (she wailed, through tears), we could have been taken by a storm wave.

Mom seldom approved of our adventures.  That’s one reason we seldom took her along.

The wind-waves seem to be slowing down now.  The NOAA weather discussion said it was going to, but I don’t trust it, as that’s what it said last night and today was worse than yesterday.

So I’ll keep on recollecting pleasant memories of dangerous adventures that turned out good.  Atina and I are warm and dry, and we’ve got plenty of food and water, without bluefish…although they are very tasty.

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My father, with a giant pot that he made for a demonstration at some art school or other.  Note that the pot is wearing his apron and hat.  He was 5’8″, so that gives you an idea of the size of this pot.

Below on the far left are a salt glazed porcelain teapot and vase that he made.  The rest of the pots were made by his former graduate students.  From a show in 2001 more or less.  I hope he’s playing in mud in Potter’s Heaven now…and enjoying a good conch chowdah, with a good cigar for dessert.

Amy Tan: Where does creativity hide?

Amy Tan: Where does creativity hide?
http://go.ted.com/NNPduw

Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club and many other wonderful novels and stories, is one of my major writing heroes.

She has the magic.

When her Chinese immigrant characters speak Chinese immigrant Engrish, I hear my Si-fu (Chinese martial arts master and surrogate mother for 29 years and counting) talking to me:

“Lawla!  Did you know, you reary have a velly big bottom!  How come?  We go to eat now!” 

Perhaps because of my long immersion in Chinese culture, I fall into Tan’s novels and happily drown in them.  I melt into them, I swim in them, and when they end, I find myself gasping in the thin air that lingers after the book is closed, or listening to the faint babble of rising and falling Cantonese in another room, longing to know what they are talking about.

Maybe my big bottom.  Reary.

My Si-fu’s father, known to us students as Dai Si-fu (meaning Great Teacher), always promised to teach me Chinese.  It generally went something like this:

Dai Si-fu:  “(something in Chinese), now YOU say same ting.”

Me:  “(what he said)”

Dai Si-fu:  (falling on the floor, despite his eighty-something years, laughing hysterically) “Hahaha!  You just said, ‘Rady’s vagina’! Hahaha!”

Si-fu runs down the five stairs into the taichi studio:  “Fadder!  (Indignant Chinese scolding)!”

To me:  “Lawla!  I am so solly!  He awrays do dat!”

I try to maintain composure but it doesn’t work, and I fall apart laughing.  Si-fu vibrates with semi-genuine indignity and flounces out of the room, flinging behind her:  “Ten more minutes, then we go to eat!”

As soon as she is gone, Dai Si-fu and I meet eyes and crack up until we can’t breathe.

“Ten more minutes, then we go to eat,” he flounces out of the studio.  I’m dying of conflict between betraying my Si-fu and delicious conspiracy.

To watch this video of Amy Tan explaining her muse is like having a private audience with the Chinese Five Elements: Earth, Wind, Metal, Fire, Wood.  These are the sources that make up the world we live in, our bodies and minds being a microcosm of the macrocosm.

When I read Amy Tan, I constantly see and feel these elements dancing in their natural order.  They are inseparable from any person of Chinese ancestry.  Everyone has them, but they are as clear in the Chinese aura as the color red.

To watch and listen to her, I understand.  The color red, the Five Elements.  The fact that I am “klazy.”  The simple paradox.  Paradox made simple, in no easy lessons. 

As for her personal muse…be sure to watch carefully all the way to the end.  It’s in the bag.

If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another

That’s what I always say.

Yup.

I’ve been stranded at this rather dull RV park for over a week now.  Maybe longer, I don’t know.  The days here waft from one into another.  There are benefits: the Catawba River runs through my back yard, and even though the ground is still soggy from last week’s flood, Atina revels in having a place to run.

It’s a joy to watch her stretch out like a greyhound–she has the deep chest, sucked-in belly, and long legs that eat up the ground.  She never lets me out of her sight, though, and after a scary misadventure getting stuck in briars chasing a squirrel (she can’t resist a squirrel!), she always comes to my call.

Today she even got to play with a short pudgy mutt who didn’t mind getting tromped all over by a puppy three times his size.

There are real showers, and an expensive but clean laundry room, and a restaurant where they serve breakfast and lunch for cheap.

In fact, this morning while I was in the canteen filling up on lousy coffee, Atina found the new bag of laundry detergent, the kind that is little pouches of clear liquid, and decided to sample the wares.  Imagine my chagrin when I came in and found the bag ripped open, with an oozing pouch, and a guilty looking pooch on the bed.

I know a bit about detergent ingestions, and although I am trained not to panic, I did, a little, then read the label.  It said to wash out the person’s mouth with water.  Do not induce vomiting.

First I checked her mouth, in the vain hope that she had perhaps just sniffed the material and realized it’s not a treat.

But oh no, her lips and gums were slippery!  Thank goodness, she was not foaming at the mouth…But I had to wrestle her mouth open to check it (just try prying a Malinois’ mouth open, I dare you.  They’re not called “Malligators” for nothing!)  Her tongue felt unnaturally slippery, and there was a faint but present aroma of unscented soap.

So I wet a shop towel and went to work cleaning her lips, gums, teeth, and tongue.  Guess I won’t have to brush her teeth tonight.

Remembering the olden days when my ER was also the regional Poison Control Center (with a red phone, just like the White House), I counted up the pods and was relieved to find that all were accounted for, and that the one she had punctured was mostly full.  That was reassuring.

I did call the vet just to make sure, and he said the worst that could happen is diarrhea (oh boy!).

This is a great place to camp for a night or two, rest and refresh, fill up the water jugs and dump the holding tanks and be on one’s way West.

However.

It’s not the amenities that keep me here, but the repair shop.  Sadly, I’m becoming a regular.

First it was the mishap with the waste water tanks.  I went over a steep spot in a parking lot driveway and bumped the underside of my rig.  Interestingly, I was on my way to this very RV park to do my weekly chores (real shower, laundry, dump tanks, take on water) when this occurred.  I discovered the damage when I opened the “black tank (aka toilet waste)” valve to dump it, and instead of going down the sewer pipe, the nasty stuff poured out on the concrete pad, right under my rig!  Shit.

This was right before Christmas.  I begged and pleaded with the service manager to get my rig into the shop, just to look at it and see if it could be quickly mended, but they were working with a skeleton crew and could not do.

So I hung out till the following Wednesday, when they were at least able to look at it and decide that they could fix it, which they did and I am glad.

I went back up the mountain to my own property for a couple of days, because they were going to fix something else on Monday and I wanted a break from here.

So, on Sunday I started back down the mountain, because I had to have the van in the shop by 8 and I am not an early riser, so I planned to camp here the night before.

What is this “down the mountain”?

The locals call it “Cox’s Creek.”

It’s the most dangerous piece of mountain road in the Eastern United States, and according to one truckers’ guide to mountain passes, the most dangerous in the country.

Marry up continuous switchbacks with grades ranging from 7% to 12% and you’ve got a recipe for trouble.

Signs warn:

“The ONLY runaway truck ramp,” and

“ROAD WORSENS BEYOND TRUCK RAMP”

…balm to the soul.

I’ve been having some issues with the traction control thingie, or at least that’s what I thought it was.

Nope.

As soon as I pointed ol’ Jenny’s nose down the mountain, something went very wrong.

The front end of the van started bucking like a bronco.  I tried to slow down, but couldn’t!

I switched over to manual and put her in third, and the thing over-revved so I had to slow her down by tapping gently on the brakes until I came to THE ONLY RUNAWAY TRUCK RAMP, where I pulled off and got out to check for a flat tire, but there was none.

So I crept down the mountain at 15 miles per hour, with a veritable parking lot honking at me from behind, but there was nothing to do about it.

Got down to the relative flat, said a prayer, went to the repair shop in the morning, got my whatever it was (I forget now) fixed, and headed out the park gate to go back up the mountain to get something done before having to be back here on Friday (tomorrow) to get the furnace fixed.  Ho hum.

But as I took the gentle left curve out of the park, my brakes locked up completely and I came near to sliding clean off the road and over an embankment.  I caught the fear in the eyes of the driver in the oncoming lane.

So, rather than going up the mountain, from which I could no longer come down, I went to Wal-Mart to stock up, since it’s clear I’m not going anywhere for a while.

Having arrived safely at Wal-Mart, I thought it would be wise to check the fluids.  I grew up with grease on my hands, and even though these newfangled vehicles are now foreign territory to me, they still have oil and transmission and brake fluids, so I checked ’em.

Sonofabitch but the brake fluid was low.  Very low.  That made sense!

I consulted the manual to see what kind of brake fluid this beast takes, since I was at Wal-Mart and all.  But it said DON’T top it off if it’s low, because being low means there’s a leak somewhere, because it’s a closed system.

And so forth.

But what luck!  The town I happen to be stuck in is home to the only Chevy dealership for miles around that has a lift that can handle a 4 ton van!  Yay!

So, after another weekend stuck in my RV park (which is not free), I get to haul ass over to the Chevy place on Monday.

I was really, really hoping to get the fuck rid of this van before shit like this started happening.  I can smell a lemon when I’m living in it.

My new “unit,” as RVs  are called, should be finished, um, next week.  I’m supposed to drive to northern Michigan to trade in this heap and pick up my freshly built one, with dual wheels and four wheel drive, yay!

However.

I am not at all sure that I want to make that trip, in the middle of the WINTER that I was not supposed to be here for, in The Lemon.

Tomorrow, while the furnace is being fixed, I am going to call the factory that made it (The Lemon) and explain all these things.  My aim is to have the new unit delivered to the local dealer, with a considerable upward adjustment of my trade-in allowance.  Or Else.  Something.

As for The Lemon, all I ask is that it gets fixed sufficiently to get me where I’m going next.

Wherever that is.

Creepy, Crawly

Anyone want to come help me?  Yes?  I’ll send you my coordinates.

I’ve been gone from The Studio (as you certainly remember, I lived in my late dear Daddy-o’s ceramics studio, without plumbing, for four years, while he was in the process of dying in his house up the hill) since March 4th, and the spiders, as my son so eloquently said, “have set up shop in there.”

Have they ever!

When I first got in–my mother having had her handy man jimmy the lock since I hadn’t left her a key and she wanted to look at my mess, so the lock is now, uh, fucked up–all I could see, as far as the eye could see, were webs, with those charming little sticky balls containing future little baby spiders stuck up in them.

They were everywhere.  Everywhere.  I had to fight my way in with one of those disposable dusters on a long handle.  Ugh!

Think hobbits stuck in spider webs in Mirkwood.  That’s how many webs there were.  Good thing my poor relative, who has a phobia of spiders and their webs, was not there.  She vomits when she sees even a little thread left over from a web.  Imagine the mess!

It is fortunate that at this season, at this latitude, the female spiders have already eaten their paramours and laid their eggs away in spider egg-cases, tucked them to bed in special egg-case-webs, and died, died, died!

Now there are dead spiders everywhere. Ewww!  Had I returned even a month ago, I would have been greeted by 2,000 square feet of–ugh–live spiders!

I HATE SPIDERS!

Yes, I know they have a job to do, and they have been doing it very well, to judge by the piles of empty bug shells piled around the spider corpses.  Some of the bugs are fucking HUGE.  I don’t know what they are, and I have never seen them around here before, dead or alive.  The huge bug shells are lying next to the giant spider carcasses. EWWW!!!!

And the spiders themselves…ranged from the little bitty kind that I used to find in my bed when I lived there…to the horrid Brown Widow, whose bite contains a potent neurotoxin..to the enormous fleshy tarantula-like Wolf Spider, whose dried-up corpse is bigger than a quarter–ugh!   I’m sure there are some Brown Recluses among the remains–why not?  I’m very glad they’re all dead.

Well, almost all.

Even though I set off four bug-bombs that said they killed all types of spiders, I still found several little ones lurking under furniture when I moved it.  That makes me nervous about the larger pieces, like the enormous walnut breakfront and the smallish but very heavy chest of drawers, which I can’t move.

After filling up three large vacuum canisters with dead bugs and spiders and webs, I felt so sick that I had to repair to my camper van to avoid the fate of the above-named relative.  Tomorrow is another day.

I’d Do Anything If Only

Atina!  Stop shredding your bed!  Atina!  You can’t have chocolate!  You’re a dog!  Chocolate is NOT good for doggies!  Atina!  Get that goddam wet ball out of my face!  Atina!  SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!

Sigh.

Last night was a total wreck.  For some reason Atina spent her night growling, woofing, and outright barking, at something that I could not see. 

We are in a well-lit campground, so if there was, like, a bear strolling around, or a bull moose, or a hedgehog, I’m certain I would see it. 

Maybe it was some perv hiding behind a tree, whacking off.  All night.  Sheesh.

On this premise, I chalked Half #1 of the night up to Virtuous Vigilance on the part of the Pup.  But when Night Half #2 rolled wearily around, I got cranky.  I shushed.  I gave orders.  I YELLED.  I cursed. 

As grey dawn faded into a grey rainy morning, I felt worse and worse.  If there’s one thing that kicks me right out of orbit, mentally and physically, it’s sleep deprivation.

And of course my baby still needed her walkies, and breakfast, and more walkies, and playtime…And I needed large quantities of thick coffee, and something to force into my queasy stomach so I could take my pills, and I needed to use the bathroom, and brush my teeth, and put on clothes…And Atina, none the worse for her own sleepless night (who knows, maybe 🐶 s only take 😸 naps anyway…), was red hot and rarin’ to go, while I was dragging serious ass.

I got to feeling cross and cheated and just plain ill-tempered, and then I thought about something that happened, and my mind changed.

Here is what happened.

1989. I was pulling a two-week stint in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit–the PICU. 

My residency program was working us like slaves because we were down four warm bodies.  One, my sweet ward partner, died in a car crash.  One got meningitis from a kid she was treating.  One got hepatitis from her dear boyfriend when he got back from India.  And one was on a sort of permanent leave, because he had miscalculated a chemotherapy dose and the child died.

So the house staff were stretched much thinner than usual.  Instead of every third or fourth night call, we were on every-other or every-every night.

In the PICU we usually did every-other-night, actually 24 hours on, 24 off.  But since we were so badly strapped for staff, the PICU director came up with a brilliant plan:  he would live in the PICU for two weeks, and I would live in the PICU for the next two weeks, and then we’d switch off again for another month.  That way we’d both get to see our families, for the two weeks we’d be off.  And of course if things were slow, our families could come and visit us in the call room, which was an 8 x10 ft luxurious affair made of beige-painted cinderblock, with a tiny bedside table to hold up the phone, and a worn metal chair.  

When you switched off the overhead fluorescent lights, you were instantly plunged into darkness.  Fortunately, every doctor carries a penlight, so at least you could find the bed, if you ever got a chance to actually lie down.

Hypervigilance is a common symptom of PTSD.  Therefore, since half of my consciousness was always scanning the PICU for problems, I never really got to sleep. 

One night when we had a truly puzzling and terribly critical case on the unit, I lay staring into the velvety black of the call room.  Everything had been taken care of, rounds, orders, and the nurses were wonderful and right on top of things; so there was no reason not to catch a few winks.

But I was in the grip of free-floating anxiety, so I felt my way along the wall until I found the light switch, and lacing up my Rockports, I sidled out into the unit.

We’d received a case that day that came in via the ER.  It was a little three year old boy, who presented with a high fever and blueberry muffin looking rash.  I mean really, he looked like a blueberry muffin.  But unlike muffins, which are good, he was not good.  He was in very bad shape.  Septic shock of some kind.  Our usual tests could not detect the pathogen, or anything that could have caused his condition.  This was 1989, remember.  We’ve learned a lot since then.

We ran through every possible infectious disease that we knew about, and every form of toxic ingestion or exposure, and every possible cause of bleeding and organ failure, but nothing came out positive.

So we did the only thing we could do: we put the little guy on life support, gave him fluids and antibiotics and steroids, and prayed that with supportive care, his body would come through whatever it was, and heal itself.

This was not to be.

Even with maximal supportive care, his body deteriorated.  He had been unconscious when he came in, and never opened his eyes or gave any indication of awareness.  His kidneys stopped working, and fluid was backing up into his organs and tissues.  We tried our hardest to keep up with that too, but soon it was clear that this little boy was not going to make it.

I can’t remember who we were waiting for.  His mother had died, I remember that.  It was just his father alone who took care of him.  We must have been waiting for someone else…to be there…when we took him off the vent.

As I turned the corner from my call room to the unit, I saw the boy’s father sitting on a hard chair, his knees up against the bed, stroking his little boy’s swollen hand and weeping, his shoulders heaving.

I laid my hand gently on his shoulder and said nothing, waiting.

“Yesterday,” the father sobbed, “He was running around making so much noise, I told him to shut up…Oh, if he would only make that much noise again!”

Back From The Dead, For Now Anyway

Atina lay on her bed painfully struggling to breathe for hours that felt like years.  I wrote the previous post during one of those years, and I thank every one of you who have sent me such sweet heartfelt thoughts.

Later in the afternoon she dragged herself up–still couldn’t get her hind end to cooperate–and between the two of us, we dragged her into my bed, and snuggled together.  Every once in a while she’d stretch her long neck around so she could clean up my face, and finally when she got some energy worked up, she tried to hold me down to wash me, as if I were her own puppy sniffling and snotting in the bed.

A couple more hours and she wanted to go out and pee, so we went out.  A naughty squirrel decided to tease her by getting way out on a tiny branch, and fell THUMP into the road!  It made such a cannon shot hitting the ground, I thought it must surely have killed itself, but it jumped right up and scampered up the next tree over.

I think this must be how you check for life signs in a Malinois.

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“C’mon, Mom, just let me climb that tree, O.K.?  Just this once, huh?”

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A Malinois isn’t dead until you can heave a squirrel at her and she doesn’t move.

But now she’s all worn out from her squirrel hunt, back in bed exhausted. 

If she’s still alive in the morning (no, I’m not joking here), I’ve decided to go ahead with the surgery.  The biopsy will give us the information we need to first of all know for sure what the problem is, and whether treatment can give her more quality of life (to spend cuddling with me, catching frisbees, and chasing naughty squirrels).

There’s a fair chance she won’t survive the surgery.  But her rapid decline over the last few weeks tells me that her quality of life is getting worse.  I love to snuggle with her, but she should be running me into the ground throwing frisbee, not the other way around. 

Wish us luck.

Losing My Buddy

Atina lies dying.  This morning she had a blast chasing her Kong.  Then she collapsed, exhausted from the effort of what was likely her last play session.

She spent the rest of the morning alternating between frenetic activity and exhausted collapse, with her head in my lap as I stroked her cool ears and told her it’s O.K., it’s O.K. to go.

Now she’s motionless on her bed.  Her breathing is irregular.  If she makes it till tomorrow I will be surprised.

Last night she got into bed with me–an unusual phenomenon–and we kissed and cuddled for hours, until I was exhausted and sent her to her own bed.  I woke at five.  She was sleeping in the driver’s seat of the van, same as always, same as Aress did when he was alive.

She jumped up when she saw that I was awake, same as always, and got in my way as I was trying to dress, just like she does every morning.  This morning I did not scold her, but snuggled her black head into my half-off pajamas.  I have known for a few days that it wouldn’t be long.

Yesterday I couldn’t believe, watching her fly after her frisbee, that her lab tests could possibly measure her life in days, maybe weeks, by miracles months.  Yes, her sides were heaving after just a few catches, but hey, she still had the want-to.

Today she’s been shitting her innards out.  The van smells vile.  I gave her a dose of Imodium, which has slowed things down enough so she can rest.  I’m cooking the rice with chicken broth, hopeful that she’ll rally; but to tell you the truth, I want her to die at home, not on the operating table surrounded by strangers.

Her surgery is scheduled for tomorrow.  If she’s still alive in the morning, I’ll cancel it.  They can look at her kidneys just as well at autopsy.

Yes, we will proceed with the autopsy.  I must stop the carnage in the place where I bought her.  I must save other dogs from being used as currency.  In that way, my beautiful girl will not have died in vain.