Cooking For Two

Last week I had to make a trip to Phoenix to see the cardiologist. Phoenix being the smouldering Valley of the Desert Smog that it is, I knew I’d have to be running the air conditioning non-stop, because this fancy sardine can that I live in concentrates heat like the dickens. I booked two nights in an RV park as close to downtown as I could get, figuring I’d leave Atina the Wonder Dog at “home” safely plugged into 30 amps (RVs can plug into electricity to run all their systems) while I caught a ride to the medical center. She’d stay nice and cool.

Quick recap: Atina, my 3 year old Belgian Malinois, was born without kidneys. OK, she had the physical organs, but only about 10% functioning tissue. And as she’s grown, her body has outgrown her functioning kidney tissue. Dogs, for some reason, do not do well with kidney transplants, and only movie stars can afford doggie dialysis, so Atina’s lifespan will be drastically shortened.

One of the things that is bad for kidneys is heat stress. It’s something that’s seen in humans, notably in agricultural workers, say, in California, where migrant workers are frequently affected by acute kidney failure from working in extreme heat without sufficient water. Turns out dogs are extremely susceptible to kidney heat stress. Every episode, even those that pass unnoticed by observers, kills a little more kidney tissue. And for Atina, who doesn’t have much to go on, a bad episode could mean the end.

With all of my good intentions, there was one thing I couldn’t control: potty breaks. We had to go outside. For pee breaks, not such a big deal, since Atina knows what “Go pee, quick!” means. But poop has its own timing….very few of us can conjure up a poop on command, especially on short notice (well, there are those of us who poop, like, every five minutes, but that doesn’t count.) So in spite of my best efforts to plan for minimal heat exposure, there were several ten minute treks around the impeccable white-paved park, its fields of white gravel radiating 100+ degrees in spite of the relatively chilly 95 degree day. It turns out that even these brief exposures took their toll.

By the end of the first day I started smelling old pee. I checked myself. Nope, hadn’t had any accidental leakage, so where the hell was the infernal stench coming from? Atina jumped up on the bed. Yeccch! I whiffed her fur. Oh goddess, please no. It was urea crystals forming on her skin because her kidneys have stopped excreting it in her urine. Now she is peeing pure water, and sweating pee. Soon the entire interior of my van reeked.

I quickly hooked her up to the IV bag that hangs from a hook in the van.

I put 350 ml under the skin, to slowly absorb into her bloodstream and help wash the toxins out.

The next crisis came at supper time. She flat out refused to have anything to do with her prescription kidney-diet dog food that she’s been gobbling for two and a half years. She refused breakfast too. This is no joke, as she’s already lost 15 pounds over the past year.

After two missed meals I pulled out the “sick food:” rice with chicken broth. She sucked it down and asked for more. I let her have as much as I dared to give her. Then I sat and thought about how to proceed.

The object here is twofold: keep Atina feeling as good as possible for as long as possible, and…keep Atina by my side because she keeps me alive.

That’s an old joke between me and my psychologist. When business owners ask me what trained task my Service Dog performs, I can tell them honestly: “She keeps me alive.” And it’s actually not a joke. How can I kill myself at this moment, when my Doggess has tucked my foot under her neck as if it were her sleeping puppy? She guards my life from moment to moment. In fact, hearing me sniffling a bit just now, she’s gathered up my entire lower body and is wrapped around my legs peering anxiously into my face.

So you see I must take the best care of her that I possibly can.

I thought first about getting the hell out of hot Phoenix. To tell you the truth, I thought I was going to be hauling a dead dog to my vet in Flagstaff, or maybe a dog who would need to be euthanized as soon as I got there. I thought of calling ahead, but there was no possibility of speaking without breaking out into sobs, so I put the pedal to the metal and blasted up the 80 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation to my second home town on the edge of the Coconino Plateau (my first home town is, of course, Jerusalem.)

There’s a place on I-17 coming into Flagstaff where you power up the steep grade of the Mogollon Rim, and just before it levels off, a breathtaking view of the four Kachina Peaks fills the sky. These peaks are where the Kachinas, the Holy People of the Hopi (and Navajo, under a different name), came out of the Earth to serve the People. They stand like 14,000 foot guardians over the land between the Mogollon Rim and the Grand Canyon. White people call them the San Francisco Peaks.

As soon as the Peaks came into view, Atina was all attention at my elbow, peering out the windshield. Not dead. Not a bit!

So I kept on driving, stopping to get groceries and top off the diesel tank before setting out into the Coconino National Forest to find a good spot to camp….and cook.

She loves potatoes, and yams, and rice, and cooked veggies. For protein, I add pretty much whatever I’m eating. I searched the veterinary Merck Manual and found critical information on nutrients in kidney failure, which I now use as a guide in my home hospice nutrition program. I did make an appointment with her vet to talk about nutrients and what to do when…..

We’re doing daily subcutaneous fluids now, and this has had the strange effect of taking away her sense of thirst. It frightens me that she doesn’t drink. The vet says the subcu fluids do her more good than what she actually drinks, and of course my medical brain knows that but it makes no sense to my human brain.

The temperature is a balmy 63 degrees in the daytime and in the 20’s at night. If you hadn’t seen my girl when she had a bit of kidney function, you’d never know she was sick. She’s hell on squirrels. If a squirrel comes into her perimeter, she’s off like a shot, hell-bent for the Ponderosa pine she knows that squirrel is making for.

Today she treed a bigger trophy: a lost hiker! Poor fellow, he had got himself turned around in the woods because he was trying to navigate with a dim photocopy of an outdated map and got on the wrong trail. Atina found him, though, and scared him witless by leaping up and staring into his face again and again. In the K-9 business this is known as a “silent hold-and-guard.” In the lost hiker business, it’s known as “out-of-body, where’s-the-toilet-paper!” I pointed the poor chap on his proper path and took Atina home for a few Milk Bones. I never gave her Milk Bones before (“doggie junk food”), but now that she is on hospice I don’t care. She can have whatever makes her happy, as long as it fits the ratios of protein, calcium, and phosphorus that rule her diet now.

She is the best Doggess.

Night of The Flamingos

The full moon hangs over my patio, illuminating the palo verde trees, the bamboo, and….the flamingos.

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.

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.

Troublemaker

I’ve been thrown out of two places in my life: a leather dyke bar in Provincetown, Massachusetts, because I wasn’t butch enough; and just tonight, the campground I’ve been staying in on and off since February.  My crime: complaining to the manager because my camp furniture had been removed from my campsite; and when they claimed they hadn’t removed them, then I reported my possessions as stolen.

Tonight as I came in to pay for my reservation, they informed me that I was no longer welcome because I had “made a scene.”

Hmmm.

I don’t think asking to speak to the manager because one’s personal effects have disappeared really counts as “making a scene.”  Especially since this was the second time things of mine have “disappeared” at this campground.  The first time I also reported it, and got blank stares for an answer.  This time the blank stare treatment really got to me, because you’d think they would care if their paying customers were losing their camp furniture.  So I said I wanted to speak to the manager, who shrugged and said she didn’t know what had happened to my things.

I tried to think of other reasons they might want to get rid of me.  Maybe it’s because I always pick up after my dog.  Maybe it’s because I’m very quiet, am rarely seen aside from taking long walks with same dog, never play music except with headphones, and don’t make trouble except for when my zero gravity lounge chair and a whole load of laundry disappear.

It would have been nice if they hadn’t waited till I came in, after dark, to tell me I’ve been banned.  I had to scramble to find a place to park my van for the night.  It’s too late to go up to the forest, so I have to make do with the truck stop.  It’s usually OK to park overnight at Wal-Mart, but not here.  Fortunately there’s a truck stop an easy drive away.  Very, very noisy, but any port in a storm.  Time to break out the earplugs…

This is very inconvenient, at this particular moment in time, because I have to make my special oat matzahs for the Passover Seder tomorrow night.  I was planning to make them on my portable grill tomorrow morning.  Cooking in the truck stop parking lot is considered poor truck stop etiquette (!), so I will have to figure out something else.  Maybe one of the marijuana dispensaries will let me get my matzahs baked in their parking lot!  Just kidding.  Sort of.

Tired Puppy

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We had a big day today and both of us are beat.  However, if you look at the above photo you will see two squiggly lines.  The red one on the right points to Atina’s “squirrel.”  She has to have it in order to sleep.

The blue line on the left points to my foot.  She is using it for a pillow.  This means that I cannot move, or else I will wake up Sleeping Beauty and then what would happen?

What I want to know is why I get all excited about some new Bipolar management strategy that’s working, and immediately get rid of one of my drugs.  I do that frequently, and frequently pay the price.

For instance, I just started Clonidine for my blood pressure, and it has the side effect of relaxation.  I was getting over-sedated from the benzos I take plus the Clonidine, so I decided to start weaning on the benzos because I hate them anyway.

So after a couple of nights of half doses, last night I skipped the lorazepam entirely.

All well and good, I fell asleep just fine.  But it turns out the Clonidine has a very short duration of action, so I found myself irritability awake and looking for someone to kill at 4:30 in the morning.  Well, the only person I found at that time of the a.m. was me, so I lay in bed till it got light, and then I remembered that someone did me the favor of stealing all my camp furniture yesterday.  Kill!  Kill!!  But I had to wait till the office opened, so I guzzled coffee and planned my angle of attack.

It didn’t work any better than the last time I got robbed in that particular campground, which unfortunately has many advantages, which is why I stay there a lot. 

Last time, someone stole my one good pair of chinos and six pairs of blue Smartwool socks, only a couple of years old.  Fuck, fuck, fuck.  That was the find of a lifetime, Smartwool socks in the most lovely shade of blue.  I guess somebody else thought that too.

I told the incredibly rude cunt bitch fuckhead office person about it, and she just sneered at me, so I asked to see the manager, who was very nice and promised to look into it for me but I doubt she will.

I don’t know why, but the office staff all treat me like I have leprosy even though I’ve been paying to stay there intermittently since February.  I stay there when it’s really cold so I can plug in my little electric heater instead of using the propane furnace, which makes these unholy clicking noises all night.  I don’t think I do anything weirder than any of the other weird campers.  I don’t even allow myself to go around having a running conversation with myself like I normally do.  I think they’re all afraid of my dog, who wouldn’t even bite them unless they threatened me, which is one of the reasons I have her.  The other reason is that she’s sweet, sweet, sweet.  Maybe I’m creepy without knowing it.  Oh well, I’m paying them, and all they have to do is take my money, so I get to be myself.  But I miss my camp furniture and socks.

Tonight I’m in a way over my head expensive and chic campground that is far too near Sedona, which is why.  That’s OK though, because tomorrow I’m off to the Mogollon Rim.  I’ll explain more about that later.  I can’t look down to write anymore tonight.  My neck is killing me. 

Oh My Aching….

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Yes, that is a portion of my ample posterior.

Yes, that is my Sexy Sparkly Michael Jackson Stretchy Glove-type thingy.  I wear it under my wrist braces to keep my skin from wearing out.

Let’s see, now.  It’s all getting blurred together.  Thank God for credit card records.  That’s how I know where I was and what I was doing whenever I get injured.

I think the first thing was the wrist (again).  Since the last of the LEFT wrist surgeries was all the way back in 2000, I didn’t even think about the possibility of another one when I tripped over a log in the pitch dark and went ass over teakettle, making a one point landing on my left palm.

I felt the all too familiar sick crunching sensation, followed by excruciating pain.  Thank goodness I was with a friend, who helped me up, which I doubt I could have accomplished by myself, since I was upside down.

“Oh no!” He exclaimed.  “Can I do anything?”  He is a really nice man.

“Yes, help me up!”  At least I think that’s what I said.  He would be better able to tell you, or maybe not, as he was nearly as distressed as I.  He is a really nice man.

After a few volleys of,

“It’s broken.”
“No it’s not, it can’t be broken.”
“Yes it is, it’s broken.”
“No, it can’t possibly be broken.”

Etc, etc.  Look, we’re both Jewish, and we’ve known each other a really long time.  Thousands of years.

After a few of those volleys, he helped me back to my rig–that’s what you call any kind of a camping vehicle type thing–where I trussed my throbbing wrist up, smoked some pot, took a tramadol, which I soon regretted because, you know, the itch thing, did the dishes and went to bed.

In the morning I un-trussed my aching wrist and did a careful exam, gingerly palpating all the little bones and checking range of motion–clunk–there it was.  Not good.  I trussed it back up.

My phone rang.  It was my Hebrew Brother.

“How’s your wrist?”

“Broken.”

“Broken?”

“Broken.”

“Oh, well, how long are you staying?”

Before we hung up I heard him yelling “Goodbye!” from his Jeep outside my window.  Dear soul!

I moved farther North to get out of the blazing desert heat.  Three or four hundred miles and two thousand feet of altitude didn’t seem to make it get any cooler.

But since my destination had electricity and therefore air conditioning in my rig, I decided to make it my base camp for scouting hand surgeons.  I did find one, but he wasn’t going to be in the office for a week.  In the meantime, they told me, I could go another half a day’s drive North, where they had a walk-in orthopedics  clinic.  I opted for that.

In the meantime, I was not just sitting on my ass.

The campground is situated on a completely barren stretch of dessert, devoid of any vegetation save the thorny kinds.  I recall, in my college botany classes, learning that desert plants have to have thorns in order to protect themselves from being eaten.  In that case, why doesn’t everything that grows have thorns?

It’s easy to walk your dog there.  All you have to do is go to the “Designated Green Space”

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And there you go.  Actually, there the dog goes.

My dog is VERY friendly, and everyone wants to hear all about her.  You might say she’s a conversation piece.  You might not.  She doesn’t care.

A friendly couple with an aged obese spaniel were admiring her.  While chatting with them, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that she had another admirer: the biggest, sassiest raven I have ever seen.  It strutted up and down, perhaps ten feet from us, uttering little raven-speak cackles and gurgles.

(Did I already write about this, or am I having a deja vu all over again?  Oh well.  A good story bears retelling.)

One moment, I am standing chatting with these nice strangers, and the next, I was hanging, suspended by invisible wires, my body parallel to the ground.  Then somebody cut the wires, just like in the cartoons, and my body obeyed the laws of physics and hit the hard packed sun baked desert with a thud.

That naughty raven got on Atina’s last nerve and it broke, and she bolted out of the gate like a two year old racehorse, forgetting about the me who had a good grip on the other end of the leash.  Before my lightning fast reflexes had a chance to unflex my leash hand, it was too late: the deed was done.  I was horizontal.

When she heard the resounding report of my corpus hitting the desert floor she came running and threw herself down beside me, plastered right up against me, panting desperately.

The shocked couple wanted to know if they could help me up.

“No, thank you, she will brace for me, it’s one of her jobs,” said I, placing my hands on her withers and pushing myself to my feet.  Atina rose to hers and flanked me closely as I hobbled to my rig.  Nothing broken.  Baruch ha’Shem.

You know how when you’ve got a headache, and then you drop a hammer on your foot, you forget about your headache for a while?

Well, first my wrist felt better, and after that my ass felt better.

Then they both started up hurting at once, and I didn’t want to drive anywhere, so I turned the AC on “deep freeze,” smoked the rest of the pot, and read escapist novels for a couple of days.

Eventually I had to (had to) take a shower, and in the course of human events I passed by the mirror and–holy mother of goddess, what in the hell is THAT???

You see that black, green, alien looking lump of dough?  That ain’t half the story.  You should have seen it a few days ago.  I should have snapped a shot then, but I was dizzy and had to go lie down for a while.

And now, just to ice the cake, I’ve been gifted with (drum roll Sheldon) a brand new thrombosed hemorrhoid!  Ain’t that nice!

Today I finally made it to Flagstaff, and called around about a hand surgeon.  I was dreading the inevitable question (which I did get):

“If you hurt your wrist days ago, why did it take you so long to call us?”

How good of you to ass-k….

What Can I Add?

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Really, the sign says it all. 

This lovely “Green Area” is not a joke, according to the manager of the Escapees North Ranch campground near Congress, Arizona.  They’re one serious bunch here.

I’ve been here one whole day, and already I’m champing at the bit to leave.

For one thing, it’s hotter than hell.  I’m very heat intolerant.  Heat literally makes me sick.  Atina, too.  She demanded a walk at 2 p.m., and got diarrhea, which is a predictable consequence of heat stress.  We’re not going out again till after the sun goes down.  At least it does cool off rapidly, and even gets chilly enough for a sweatshirt at night.

The people here are unfriendly and unhelpful and even belligerent.  Very odd, since most travelers are very supportive of one another and eager to help.

I discovered this when I was forced to ask someone for help opening a water faucet at my campsite.  I am wearing a brace on my left hand, since I broke my wrist two days ago tripping over a log in the dark.  Even so, all the help I got was the loan of a wrench.

I’m looking for a place in New Mexico to wait for spring to spring in Colorado, where it is still colder than hell.

I camped at a really nice place near Silver City, NM last week.  I might go back there.  It’s inexpensive, the owner is nice, and the washing machine is free.  The shower is even decent, a big plus.

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This was taken from the Mc Donald Observatory in Southwest Texas. 

I was surprised to find that West Texas looks just like the country you see in cowboy movies.  This is a hundred or so miles north of Mexico, officially part of the Sonoran Desert.   It’s a beautiful place.  The people are friendly, and I saw several Roadrunners (meep, meep), but Wiley Coyote was heard but not seen!  Bugs Bunny did make a guest appearance, but he scrammed when he got a load of Miss Malligator (Atina).

http://youtu.be/hU9e-LZvYIk

Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere Too Soon

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We is snowed in!

Well…I had to break my blogging policy of only one post per day for this one.

Accuweather says it’s going to start snowing again in a few minutes, so we ran outside so Atina could pee and I could wrestle with the back door to get another bag of her food out.

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Atina makes sure there are no boogey-people lurking around

One good thing is, we don’t have to step down to get out of the van.  On the other hand, If we get the additional 8 inches that’s predicted, we won’t be able to get the side door open at all!

That’d be almost as bad as the time we got bogged down in cow manure out in New Mexico.  Fortunately there was some handy cut brush lying around, and I shoved that under the wheels and got out of there.

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Ol' Jenny is hibernating

One good thing, all that snow and ice makes good insulation.

Tales From The Roadtrek #2: The River Rats

I am fighting off a nagging desire to open with an apology for any indiscretions I may be, have been, or ever be guilty of, in my whole life.  That is because my Seroquel turned on me and gave me bad, bad extrapyramidal symptoms (twitches and a feeling like whole-body restless legs that makes me writhe incessantly, plus intolerable heat intolerance) that might not go away even though I have stopped taking it, and now I have nothing with which to quash the hypomania that dogs my heels like a nine-month-old Labrador Retriever, always pushing, pushing.

Nevertheless, I am having the best time I can have on two hours of sleep a night.

Now, disclaimers over with, I can begin today’s edition of Tales From The Roadtrek!

I fetched up last week at East Peoria, Illinois, along a sort of bayou that was once a marina, until the Illinois River left its banks and plowed it quite flat.

Once a marina, now a bayou off the Illinois River

Once a marina, now a bayou off the Illinois River

Everywhere you looked, there was some kind of interesting (or alarming) relic of this epic flood…..

Interesting

Interesting……………..

ALARMING...see the boat washed up on the levee, about 1,000 yards from the river????

ALARMING…see the boat washed up on the levee, about 1,000 yards from the river????

The campground was highly rated in both Good Sam, the premiere RVer’s resource organization, and Escapees (SKPs), the network for mavericks like myself who want to live life like they mean it and have a damn good time doing it.  Both outfits gave the place high marks for ambience, good facilities and clean showers/restrooms.

I called for a reservation and was told I didn’t need one, and to just give a call when I arrived.  I did so, and was met at the entrance of a ramshackle trailer park by an enormously jiggly friendly fellow on a four-wheeler, who ferried me to a shady rise along a stinking sump that looked like this:

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“How many nights?” He smiled, looking up from his receipt booklet.

“Um, two, I guess.”  I kind of wanted to bail out, but hey, it WAS only $13 a night, and there were two other fairly spiffy looking rigs right next to where he put me.  For $13, if it got too weird I wouldn’t feel bad flying the coop.  So I gave him $26 in cash, which made him grin wider, and he took off, leaving me choking on his dust.

“Howdy, neighbor,” drawled my next-door neighbor.  He looked like he’d seen a bit of the world, and then some.  “Welcome to the neighborhood.”  He lit his next cigarette off the last one, being careful to toss the butt into a Coke can, which I appreciated.  I liked him already.

“Well, what do you think of our little piece of Paradise?”

“Er, well,” I stalled, trying to think of something, “well, to tell you the truth, it looks a little seedy.”

“SEEDY?”  Uh-oh.  “What makes you say that?”  Open mouth, insert ass, disappear.

“Um, things like, you know, THIS.”

2015-06-03 19.29.40

“Yeah, so?  Here, come on over here and set down.  My name’s Tuck.”

Thank the Lord.  Breathe.

Tuck fetched a well-loved lawn chair out of a cubby hole in his rig, blew the dust off it, and offered it to me as if I had never insulted his neighborhood.

I settled in, and for the next two hours did not get a word in edgewise while Tuck regaled me with his adventures in the Army, Navy, prison, long-haul truck driving, Military prison, County lockups, fights, liquor, AA, and two honorable discharges despite all the prison time.  He showed them to me, just so I wouldn’t think he was lying.  I would have, actually, because the usual thing when one gets in prison while in the service is a court martial leading to a dishonorable discharge, but whatever.

Next thing on the agenda was our other neighbor, Nancy, who was a well-worn lady of 45 who looked 60 and acted 30.  Three raucous boys surrounded her. One of them was her five-year-old grandson, whose name I never did get the hang of.  She didn’t know what it meant, and neither did he, so he made up endless nicknames for himself instead of trying to remember his given name.  He fondly reminded me of Israeli kids, who have no concept of mortality.  He was forever and constantly finding new and more exciting ways of leaping off of high objects onto things like gigantic concrete slabs, etc, that gave me nearly uncontrollable urges to get my first-aid kit out where I could see it.

Finally he did get whacked in the eye when the rotted rope of a tire swing gave out and he crashed into some other flying object.  After he got done crying he was pretty proud of his shiner, once we had explained to him what the word “shiner” meant.

The “we” in “we” was his grandmother, her boyfriend who looked about 20 and had twin freaky looking heads tattoo’d on his pectoral muscles, which gave me the creeps every time he moved, and Nancy’s daughter–the boy’s mother–who kind of slouched around looking perpetually uncomfortable, and the two other boys who turned out to be Nancy’s great-nephews, and Nancy’s mother who stayed inside Nancy’s travel trailer because she couldn’t be out in the heat.  And Tuck, of course, still chain-smoking, and me.

We hung out around Nancy’s totally amazing fire ring, created out of fragments of stone that the flood had busted up and thrown around.  As the sun settled down over the river, it started to look like this:

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And I started feeling pretty mellow as the many kinds of night-critters began tuning up their orchestra: peeper frogs, tree frogs, leopard frogs, the Purple Martins twittering, coming home to their house upon its pole that leaned crazily over the bayou.

It was time for me to leave all my bourgeois preconceptions of “quality of life” behind.  All these folks were here because here life was almost free and certainly unfettered, and a simple need for an affordable place to dwell had brought us all together.

And I?  I was the guest, as it turned out, who stayed for another two nights, drawn by the unquestioning offer of friendship and camaraderie, undeserving, from a warm and open-hearted group of fellow travelers, flotsam and jetsam all of us, who happened to wash up on the same shore.

And the clean washrooms and showers?  Burned down last year.